As a child Anna Holden worshiped the ground he walked on, believing in his existence as a vampire until the day he left her. Her bitterness grew over the years, leading her to believe he was nothing but a con. Now, to fulfill the dying wish of her father, she’s on a quest to find his whereabouts and help him discover a cure she knew nothing about. Falling in love with him was not what she’d planned. But who was she to mess with destiny?
Never to speak his last words, Death would never lay eyes on him.
Never to witness the color of life, he will remain in darkness forever.
As immortal he will always be alive. As vampire he shall forever be dead.
And among the night, he will be in an everlasting embrace.
Demon Within-Twenty nine years ago
Tristan Ashfield looked out into the darkness. An empty world, familiar with his past, cast angry eyes back just as it had done for so many years. This night, as every other, misery encumbered him.
Like a painting with no color, no images to view but a dark spot on canvas, Tristan’s life was empty. He’d been a man, blood red as wine and flowing with warmth. Offering his attention to women who loved him, indulging in pleasures desirable by arrogant chauvinists, he’d been full of life—until he met Madeline. That was over four hundred years ago. If he’d known the evil lurking within her, he would’ve left her alone. Her beauty had astounded him, lured him into this dark world from which he would never escape.
This plague of eternal shadow kept him chained to the night like a vicious dog, undisciplined, and without a hand to settle the monster inside. If only he could embrace a mortal death and embark into the realms of afterlife, he would not be sitting on this dreadful balcony overlooking the ocean waiting for something that would never come, and that was his cure.
He focused on the town to the south. It was an ideal place to hide from the rest of the world. Meddling people infected small places like this, spreading gossip like a disease, but here in Manzanita nobody seemed to care. Nobody seemed to notice he existed. Maybe that’s why he’d decided to stay.
Dense fog smothered the town like an ominous being. It cried out for him to join in on its infiltration, to blind wandering eyes and make them unwary of his presence. How easy it would be to feed on the lost.
Among the hazy light from streetlamps shined one perfect bright light. Centered on top of a two-story building, gray paint chipped and darkened from the years beside the sea, the light called to him. As its whispers continued through the haunting, deep tone of the foghorn, it reassured him. There was one hand that soothed the monster, the only one who ever really cared.
Tristan leapt from the balcony. Clouds covered the full moon and the rain came. Lightning streaked, sparking the droplets as they fell to the crashing waves below. He soared through the sky, breathing in the salty air. How he loved the coast of Oregon and the pungent aroma of its ocean.
The waves pounded the surf. They echoed through the howling wind against his ears like an opera telling his sad tale of spite and betrayal. Soprano and thunderous bass joined in unison, as did his human soul with the night. In a way he loved it. Then again, sometimes love and loathing walked hand-in-hand.
As he landed on top of the building, he wondered what the night would bring. Most nights were uneventful, but every once in a while, a tourist brought in a fresh face.
He peered at a group of people in the alley. They reeked of booze as they laughed and stumbled toward the entrance of the bar—miscreants in an unfamiliar town—tourists who didn’t belong here on such a cold winter’s night. They were a livelier crowd, younger than the locals who frequented this place. He envied their enthusiasm so much that the hurt crept through his stomach as if he’d consumed a pint of sour blood.
If the sick feeling in his gut would just go away, he might enjoy immortality a little more.
As the tourists entered the bar, one of the men shouted, “Drink and be merry!”
Tristan sneered. To drown his sorrow for a little while would be nice. A bottle of wine, aged over five hundred years, was an appropriate crutch—King of Wines from his father’s collection. To drop it on his tongue, to taste its perfection, and explore inebriated mischief, he would feel alive once more. Funny how wine tasted better with age, but blood soured so fast. Maybe he’d be daring and order a crutch tonight. Then again, his stomach growled for something more suitable.
He dropped to the alley. He stuck his hands in his pockets as he stalked through the pouring rain to the entrance. Another night stuck in a bar with riff-raff. He’d sit at his table until morning, and then go home before the sun rose over the mountains. After a day of rest, and darkness settled once again on his world, he’d start the routine over again. This was his way of life now. He’d accepted it.
The blue neon open sign blinked in the window as he strode through the door. From beneath wet strands of hair, he scanned the room for his one and only friend.
Mac Holden. The owner of the bar, the tender who knew Tristan’s poison every night, stood behind the counter. Rosy cheeks marked pale, wrinkled skin. Eyes of blue glistened beneath the hot lamplight above the bar. Salt-and-pepper hair, flattened on top from the wear of his beret was tucked behind his ears and careened down the length of his neck where his pulse beat strong.
Tristan arrived at the counter, and with a growling undertone parted his lips and spoke. “Good evening.” He gave a short, rare grin. Maybe the young tourists’ laughter had infected him more than he’d wanted.
“It’s good to see you, son.” The wrinkles in Mac’s face stretched as he reached under the counter for that special bottle. He popped the cork and poured the dark liquid into the glass. “Bloody Mary as usual.”
So rich in the color red and it smelled heavenly. It was a younger blood, female in her early twenties, the perfect age to drink from. This was a fine wine indeed, warmed, and not chilled like the bottles he stashed in his home. Mac always kept blood behind the counter. Tristan had never asked where it came from, but the thought had crossed his mind many times. It lingered for a moment as he strode toward his table in the dark corner of the room.
Tristan’s smile faded. He’d met Death long ago in the courtyard of his castle. The fear Death had instilled in him had spread over his skin that burned like paper in a fire. Though the pain was undeserving, it was a memory worth keeping— a frequent reminder of why his grin stayed concealed. He stole a glance at the tourists at the bar. Their laughter brought music to the place. Not the kind he longed to hear, but it was better than the quiet mumbles from the usual drunken crowd.
He sat on the wobbly chair near the back wall. He drew in a long swallow of his drink, and then set the glass on the table. Shaded in dark, he hid from the few glances he received when he arrived. Most of the time people dismissed him and went about their business. This time someone’s stare would not leave.
“That…freak comes in here every night.” An old, raspy voice carried to Tristan’s ears.
“Mind your own business, Slate.” Mac flashed the ratty, gray-headed man a warning glance. “You’ll find yourself in a heap of trouble if you don’t.”
Slate, the drunken fool, always sat at the bar, beer in hand, gloating about the war in which he’d fought. On the front line he’d killed many men, even one of his own for amusement. He rarely knew who he spoke to, and was too drunk to look around. Tonight Slate was wide awake.
Slate stared, sniffling in between puffs of his cigarette. It would be wise of the old man to keep his distance. If Tristan showed his true form in front of him, or these tourists, it might bring unwanted attention. The townspeople would try to drive Tristan away, but he wouldn’t go. There was nothing out in the world for him now. He’d rather cease to exist than abandon the pathetic life he’d made here.
Slate slid his fingers through the handle of his full mug. He swiveled his stool until he sat with his back against the counter. He drew a puff on his cigarette and inhaled deeply. He grumbled as he exhaled stale smoke through clenched, rotting teeth.
“He looks like a ghost. Pale enough to be one,” Slate muttered to the tourists beside him. “Or maybe he’s from one of those satanic cults I’ve heard about. They sacrifice animals and have orgies to please their devil god.” He put out his cigarette in the ashtray and gave a short laugh through his fat, porous nose. “Faggots. I’d stick ’em all in the ground if I could, but I couldn’t dig a hole deep enough.”
Mac pursed his lips. “Come on now. Turn around and drink your beer.” Slate’s scaly lips rose in a grin as he pulled the cigarette pack out of his ragged shirt pocket. He limped toward the back of the room where Tristan sat. He scowled for a moment then plopped his rear end on the chair across from Tristan who lowered his head to hide his eyes.
Tristan hated games, the kind he so desperately wanted to play but couldn’t. He wouldn’t pursue a fight. Not with Mac in the room ogling, heart drumming in worry that Tristan would lose control.
For two long years Tristan had lived off wildlife and a few unfortunate livestock off the coastal highway. He’d made it into a game to see how long he could go without involving humans. With Mac providing sustenance every night, it’d been easy. With this man luring out his dark side, his adrenaline spiked like the one game of Russian roulette he’d played many years ago.
Tristan concentrated on his thirst as he waited for the inevitable cock of the chamber.
“Damn war.” Slate cringed as he stretched his legs out under the table. “I got arthritis in my legs from walking the front lines. I killed some people. So I’ll take it as fair trade.”
Slate lit up another cigarette. The reflection of flame from the man’s silver lighter danced on the table. Smoke permeated the air with the putrid scent of rotting breath. Most of Tristan’s taste buds had been taken away on his turning. Why did the other senses need to remain so keen?
“Smoke bothering you?” Slate puffed a cloud of smoke in Tristan’s face. “They say cigarettes are bad for you. Maybe so, but I’ll happily go to the grave with a pack or two in my shirt pocket. Hell, bury me with a damn carton, and I’ll never leave the grave.”
Slate guzzled his beer. It dripped from the corner of his mouth to his dirty white shirt, leaving a round, wet stain in the filth. His clothes reeked of pine and body odor instead of dead fish, like most homeless at the docks did. Tristan figured he’d taken refuge in the state park, living with forest creatures, fending off the cold with a newspaper cover or a wool blanket donated by some ignorant passerby who felt sorry for him.
“What will it take to get you out of my bar?” Slate inhaled a long draw from his cigarette. It caught in his throat. His bluish skin turned beet-colored as he coughed. The black rings under his hazy gray eyes deepened. No wonder he antagonized. Such a pity to see someone other people could praise as a hero look so fragile.
The man had cancer, no doubt. By the sound of his cough, emphysema had taken its toll. By the looks of him, he had a few months left of his life. Maybe less if he didn’t find shelter during this winter.
Slate caught his breath and then leaned back. He pulled the front legs of the chair off the floor then crossed his ankles under the table. As he lowered his thick gray brows, nostrils flaring and body straight, he glared at Tristan.
“Man of a few words, huh?” He cleared the remaining phlegm from his throat as he laid his cigarette in the ashtray. He flexed his old muscles as he pulled his shirt over his head. His lips tucked against his teeth as he glared. “Don’t get turned on now, sissy boy. I’m going to show you what a real man looks like.” He pointed at the tattoo above his left breast. “Got this in Afghanistan. The snake through the skull’s eye means I’m a bad motherfucker. You don’t want to mess with me.”
“I did not seek your table.” “So the sissy boy knows how to speak.” Slate lifted his half-smoked cigarette and stuck it between his lips. He rested his arm on the table, revealing a series of small round scars from his wrist to his elbow. “Every man I’ve killed is marked here, burned into my flesh because I like to remember them. Not because I gave a shit. I wanted to kill them. I enjoyed watching them squirm as they bled on the ground at my feet. They begged me to let them live right before I pulled the trigger. Bang!”
“Why do you think I care?”
“I don’t. You just remind me of the pussies I’ve killed.” Slate let the smoke whirl around in his throat for a moment then exhaled. “You don’t quite fit in with this town. So, why are you here?”
The urge to reach across the table and rip out his throat was strong, but Tristan kept his cool. “Why are you here?”
“I asked you first,” Slate replied like he conversed with an old friend. His mouth curved into a grin to show his crooked, decayed teeth. His right eye sagged. “You ignoring me, sissy boy? Are you asleep under all that queer hair? Maybe I should add a mark here for you.”
“You wish to murder me?”
Slate belted out a laugh. “It wouldn’t be right to confess such a thing, would it? If I said yes, you might run straight to the cops. Not that they’d do anything about it, the worthless piece of shits. But seriously, what kind of fun would it be for me if you didn’t fight back?”
“I do not wish to fight you.”
Slate scoffed. “I didn’t take you for a coward.” He leaned close and lowered his voice. “Come on, sissy. Dance with me. Show me what you got.”
Tristan fought back his demon. Just a few years before and he would have killed the man before he sat at his table. “You should leave now.”
Slate inhaled another puff through clenched teeth. He dropped his cigarette in Tristan’s wineglass then gave a smug grin as it soaked in the thick red liquid. “Pussy.”
Tristan growled. It was one thing to taunt a man to start a fight, but another to soil one’s drink. One glance would send the old man running like a frightened child. Chasing him down and killing the bastard would be exhilarating.
Tristan drew in a deep breath. The white flag of reason waved robustly in his mind as he stood. It’d been so long since anyone showed him negative attention, so long since anyone provoked him enough to make his cold, dark blood boil with rage.
Tristan raised his head. His midnight strands fell back from his face. His jaw tightened then relaxed. The corners of his lips rose from the usual stoop. The moment he released the tension from his body, darkness won over the man he wanted to be.
Fire burned in his black abyss. His human counterpart shrank away and brought on the devil he loved and despised. A million globes of fire shot through his veins that became passageways for the demon to take over his brain. Once he took over his mind, nothing could stop him.
Pain shot through the skin in his mouth as his canines bent and shaped into sharp daggers. They were his weapon against the innocent and undignified. He’d won so many battles with just a mere flash of them.
Making a person run in fear was part of the game, and he loved the chase. No doubt in his demonic mind, he’d become the bullet in the chamber of the gun, and it was about to shoot.
Slate backed away. His ankle brushed the leg of the chair and he lost his balance. With a yelp, he fell back onto the concrete floor. A shaky breath passed his agape mouth as he stared up at a nightmare he never prepared to face.
He scrambled to his feet and staggered toward the exit. The old man had escaped from the eyes of a true killer. Funny how quick he’d changed his tune. Ironic he’d run away when he’d spent so much effort to instill fear.
Hell was easy to release, but so difficult to bottle. A demon left unsatisfied could present an unpredictable outcome. If he let this phenomenal sensation ride, if he didn’t fight it with every ounce of strength and will, he’d kill everyone in the room.
Two choices, one difficult decision, but his discipline was strong—a focal point. He lowered his burning gaze to the narrow silver lighter Slate left on the table. Its intricate design etched into steel was too perfect to be carried by someone unworthy as the old man. The silver dragon intrigued him. It called to his human side.
Air filled his lungs as he fisted the lighter then slipped it into the pocket of his long black trench coat. His fangs crackled from the pressure of the bend. Intense pain shot through him as they returned to their place.
The gentle touch of a familiar hand found his shoulder. “It’ll be okay, son.” Mac picked up the ash-soiled wineglass and set a fresh glass of blood on the table. “Just let it go.”
“My apologies.” The burning in Tristan’s veins cooled, but the ache in the pit of his stomach lingered. He yearned to kill something—human, animal, it wouldn’t make a difference now.
“Sit and drink. It’ll make you feel better.”
Mac calmed him with his pleasant voice and amusing words. Without him, he’d have the entire city storming his front door with pitchforks and stakes, just like in the vampire movies he’d watched. They were foolish stories. This time, he couldn’t bring himself to listen. He couldn’t find the will to sit.
Tristan stepped away from his worried friend. “I must leave.” Mac gave a short nod then went back to the bar, no questions asked. Tristan couldn’t hold off any longer. He longed to be alone with his struggle.
The beach helped him through most nights when desperation peaked. The sound of the waves calmed him when the fire would not go away. To stand in the ocean and let salt water cleanse the blood of thousands from his body would somewhat cool his cravings. It’d be enough to go home and drink from the many bottles he stored in his house, aged to bitterness—Jester of Wines.
Tristan left his once lone haven now contaminated with the old man’s stench. No way could he rejoin the serenity of this place, at least not tonight.
Too riled up, he headed toward the door. As he passed Mac, he threw him a glare from beneath his dark locks then sneered as he stalked outside into a wintry mix.