Bewitched by the Vampire
BEWITCHED BY THE VAMPIRE
A Warrior Vampires Novel
L. J. Red
Markus huddled in the footwell, his face pressed against the old leather of the car seat. He had to keep reminding himself he wasn’t in the HUNT van anymore; he wasn’t their captive. He was free.
The past few days were a blur, escaping HUNT, running through the city with the vampire hunters following at his heels. Markus ran his hand down his leg and twitched in pain as his fingers found the jagged edges of a wound. Yes. He’d got the tracker out. They weren’t following him anymore. And this woman, the doctor driving the car. She wasn’t one of them. She was with the Shadows, the vampires he’d come to warn. He could trust her… couldn’t he?
The lights outside merged into a smeared blur. Sounds faded in and out. His limbs shook. His eyesight wavered. He felt so weak. How long had it been? How long had HUNT held him in captivity? Was this all a dream? Would he wake up and find himself back in that cell. Stark gray walls. Chains at his wrists and ankles…
“Hey, we’re here.” The woman had twisted round to look at him. Was that compassion in her eyes? Or was it fear? “You need to get down. Between the seats. Hopefully they won’t look too hard.”
Markus did as she directed, tucking his legs under him. He shouldn’t fit, he used to be big, his broad frame thick with muscle, but now he was skinny, worn thin. How many years had he been there, wasting away under the ground?
Darkness closed around him. Markus’ mind blanked. He lost the next few moments. He came back to himself as the engine shut off. The woman was climbing out of the car. Markus unfolded from the footwell. Shaky on his feet, it took him two attempts to get out. She had the door open before he was upright. His legs wouldn’t take his weight. So weak. He was sick of being so weak. Markus snarled, forced his treacherous limbs to carry him away from the car. He could feel the woman’s gaze on him. She was regretting bringing him, he knew it. But he needed to be here. He needed the antidote.
It wasn’t the torture that had made him so weak. It was the poison running through his veins. If he didn’t get the cure soon. He would die. He had to be strong.
They ran through the night, past young humans, backpacks and books clutched in their hands. They were laughing, joking, and listening to music. Markus was surrounded by life, by humanity in a way he hadn’t been for years. It made his chest ache. He’d forgotten this existed. Life, happiness. This place was amazing, it was heaven, it was…
“Sadie’s dorm room, this is it.”
“Sadie’s dorm room,” Markus whispered to himself, like a mantra. “Sadie.” A person, the doctor had said, Sadie was a person. She could save them from the poison. Could she save him?
They thundered up the stairs. Time was running out. Markus could feel it. Strange shapes closed in at the edge of his vision. Were the humans watching them? Was that a hunter there in the shadows? Could they be watching from the rooftops – their sights trained on the two of them? Half of him knew it was his paranoia talking; the other half twitched in anticipation of an attack.
The doctor shouted Sadie’s name up the stairway and Markus braced. Something was going to happen. Something was going to go wrong. The door opened. A woman appeared and Markus’ legs stopped working. He almost fell through the doorway. His gaze ran over her face, the curves of her cheeks, the bright brown eyes, the thick chestnut hair.
The woman’s hurried invitation reverberated through his ears and through his entire body. It shook him to the core, vibrated through his bones. His chest drew tight and then, like a shotgun to the chest, his heart thumped hard.
The doctor was talking, The woman, Sadie? Had barely glanced at him, but Markus was rooted to the floor. Light was coming from somewhere, warm, golden and healing. It soothed the jagged edges of his soul. Markus took a deep breath and for the first time he felt grounded in his own body.
They entered the room, ushered in by Sadie, closing the door behind them. She was doing this. Sadie. In some way he couldn’t explain, she was healing him. It didn’t make sense, didn’t make any sense, but Markus knew it was true. His eyes went back to her face, the shine of her eyes, the red bow of her lips. A bolt of lust shot through him, unexpected and vital. He wanted to hold her. He wanted to trail his fingers over those lush, red lips, he wanted… he wanted to bite.
Saliva filled his mouth and his fangs pressed against his gums. He ran his tongue over his teeth, trembling suddenly with a need that made him feel weak. He needed blood. He needed her blood, but with this poison in his veins, his control was shattered. If he started drinking, he wouldn’t stop. He’d kill both of these women and then, those people outside? Those living, breathing, laughing people he’d admired? They’d be next. Markus curled his hands into fists. He felt his sharp nails cutting into his palms. Markus turned away. He had to get out of here, he had to… but… The cure… he needed it or he’d die.
Torn in two, Markus finally tuned into what the women were saying. He edged closer. There was a low couch between them and Markus gripped it with white knuckled hands. Turning his head away so he couldn’t see Sadie’s face, so he couldn’t tempt himself with forbidden yearning.
“We need your blood,” the doctor was saying. “I can make the antidote, but your blood is key.” Markus knew he couldn’t wait for an antidote. HUNT would track him. They’d catch everyone and it’d all be his fault. No, he just needed enough to push the poison madness back a little longer. Sadie’s blood was what he needed. But could he drink it without draining her?
Markus looked up at her and met her eyes with a bolt of shock. Her gaze pierced him through. “Who are you?” Sadie whispered.
“Not someone you should know,” he said. He knew the tension he felt was clear in his voice. The doctor was giving him a wary look. She stepped between them. Brave little doctor. But she couldn’t protect Sadie from him. No one could.
The doctor took a syringe out of her bag and as she filled it with Sadie’s blood, the scent of it stained the air. It wrapped around his senses, called to him like no blood ever had. He had to drink. He had to take just enough, then leave her alive. He had no choice. He couldn’t hurt her. He’d die first.
He didn’t give himself time to change his mind. He sped across to Sadie, an apology on his lips. She turned her face up to him in shock. Fuck, he wanted to kiss that look off her face. He wanted to stay, to bask in the warm glow of her attention. But it wasn’t safe. It wasn’t safe for her.
Time seemed to pass in shattered images. One moment and he was across the room, looking down at Sadie, the next moment her wrist was in his hand, her skin at his lips. His fangs descended and broke skin and her glorious blood filled his mouth. His eyes rolled up in his head. He drank. One mouthful, two. He wanted more. He felt her pulse jump under his hand. He scented fear. Her fear. It turned the air sour; it made his entire body recoil. He was doing this. He was scaring her. He had to stop.
It was the hardest thing he’d ever done. His body rebelled, his heart thumped heavily in his chest and all around him golden filaments wavered and spun. They wrapped between him and Sadie, urging him back, giving him the strength to let her go.
The world was washed in a glowing haze, he could barely see, he just knew he needed to get out of there. He sped across the room to the window. Forget the stairs, they were too slow. He heard the doctor calling him back, telling him that blood wasn’t enough. Well, it would have to be enough. He couldn’t stay. Not here when his presence was putting Sadie in danger. And what about HUNT? What happened when they tracked him down? No, he wouldn’t lead them to her.
“I can’t stay,” he said. “They’ll find me, take me back. I’m not going back. I’m never going back.” He launched himself through the open window and landed hard many stories below. Instantly he was up, speeding into the darkness. At the last moment he looked back. Sadie was at the window, her beautiful face angled in his direction. There was no way she could see him; humans couldn’t see through the darkness like vampires could. But for a second Markus was sure she was looking right at him.
His heart thumped again and Markus realized it had been beating the whole time. His hand fluttered over his chest. He could feel it, right there. The thumping heartbeat shook his entire body. Markus stumbled back, rounding a corner and leaning back against the brickwork.
It didn’t make sense.
Vampires didn’t have heartbeats. Their hearts stopped the day they died and they never started again. Never.
Except for one reason.
A vampire’s heart started beating when they found their soulmate.
Three weeks later…
Sadie waited outside the fair. There was a cotton candy stall just inside the entrance and the smell was so enticing, if her friends didn’t arrive in the next ten seconds, she was buying herself an entire fluffy pink cloud.
The noise of the fair, tinny music, children’s screams, and the hubbub of conversation, spilled out along with the bright lights and sugary scents. She hadn’t been to a fair in years. Hope had suggested it, and Sadie could never say no to her best friend. They had invited Jo and Emily who shared the dorm room across from them, plus a few people from Hope’s pre-law class. They weren’t Sadie’s favorite people, but they were friendly enough until about eleven pm, at which point they would get totally wasted, stay up all night and then somehow, magically, turn up for classes the next day. Hope said it was a work hard, play hard, law thing. Sadie figured it was an illicit drug use thing, but who was she to judge? Her late teens had been way wilder. Not that you’d know from looking at her.
She was wearing warm wool tights under a short skirt, topped off with a fluffy jumper, fluffy scarf and fluffy hat. She liked to be warm. Something about the cold always took her back to that night. The night she’d discovered vampires weren’t the glamorous idols she’d thought they were, and her rebellious teenage years had come to an abrupt end. The night she’d almost died.
Sadie shivered. Nope, not thinking about that. Anyway, Chicago was full of good vampires now. Hope’s sister, Eden, for example. And the doctor Eden worked with, Aisha, who had appeared so suddenly in her dorm room three weeks ago with that strange, pale vampire with the green-eyed stare. Markus, Aisha had called him. Markus…
Hope’s voice cut across the din. Sadie snapped out of her thoughts. Her hand had strayed to her bag, and she dropped the strap hurriedly, waving wildly at her friend. There was a flurry of hugs as they greeted each other.
“Sorry to make you wait,” Hope said, jostling her friends aside to reach Sadie. “Some people—” she glanced over her shoulder at Jo “—didn’t want to leave the library.”
Jo flicked her glossy mane of hair over her shoulder. “Hey, at least we’re studying a real subject.” Her eyes cut to Sadie. Sadie flinched as Jo led the group past her.
“Oh yeah? Tell that to my Intro to Victorian Lit professor,’ Hope shot back. “He’s about this tall and all muscle. He’ll squish your little law nerd brain.”
But Sadie wasn’t listening. Hope was a good friend, but they both knew Jo hadn’t aimed that jibe at Hope. Jo was talking about Sadie. About the Shamanism and the Occult classes she was taking. She was a running joke amongst Hope’s friends. Sadie, the weird girl who studied magic. Ha, ha, ha.
What would they think if they knew the truth? That Sadie didn’t study witches. She was one.
A tingle grew in Sadie’s hands. She could show them, she could… a tiny flash of magic sparked between her fingers, shot through the air and… fizzled, fading away before it reached Jo’s back.
Well. If she was any good at magic at all she could show them. Sadie hunched her shoulders. Not much of a student, not much of a witch. What use was she?
“Whatever,” Hope said, and Sadie jumped, shit, she’d forgotten Hope was right beside her. Luckily, she’d been too busy staring daggers at Jo’s back to notice Sadie’s failed magic.
“We’re here now, that’s what matters.” She linked arms with Sadie and they followed the others in. “Whoa! Check that out.” On the other side of the fair, a Ferris wheel rose up into the air, dwarfing the stalls and rides around it. “That’s massive. It’s like, five times bigger than the fair itself.”
“No seriously!” Hope waved her arms about. “Pile the entire fair next to the wheel and it wouldn’t even come to half the height.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Sadie said, giving Hope’s arm a squeeze. Her eyes trailed up the wheel. She’d always loved those things. Perching high up above everyone. The whole world became matchstick sized. Nothing could touch you at the top of a wheel.
A warm weight grew in her chest and a tingle at her fingertips. She’d sat on a wheel like that a long time ago. It had been smaller than this one, peeling paint with a rickety sign out front. She remembered her little hand in her grandma’s big one. High above the world in their swinging seat.
“It’s like this little one,” her grandma had said. “A place like this, it’s got its own kind of magic. Laughter and music, sweetness and bright lights.” Sadie tasted cotton candy on her tongue. “We have it too you know,” Her grandma had continued, that spark of mischief in her eyes. “Goldman women, we’re born with it every few generations.” Her gaze had clouded. “It skipped your mother and I, but it’s in you, isn’t it? In here.” Her grandma had laid her hand over Sadie’s heart, thin fingers and papery skin and Sadie had felt it. Magic.
“Do you want to take a ride?” Hope said, pulling Sadie abruptly to the present. The glittering feeling of magic trickled out of Sadie’s hands.
Hope didn’t wait for an answer, but began tugging Sadie toward the wheel, when Jo called them back. “Oh, not the wheel, come on, that’s boring, you know there’s only one reason we came to a dump like this…”
“Oh, not this again,” Hope rounded on her friend.
They started to argue, and Sadie shrank back, rubbing her fingertips together. She hated fights, she always had. She’d never been any good at conflict.
“But they’re vampires!”
Sadie tuned back in abruptly. Vampires? Where? She craned her head to look past the group, a tingle of anticipation running down her spine. Could it be him?
In front of them was a big red and yellow canvas tent, the front wide open and above the flap a sign said, “The Vampire Outreach Society.” And in smaller script underneath ‘Fangs for visiting!” followed by a smiley face with two fangs peeking out.
Sadie slumped back in disappointment. Oh, this. They had a Chapter at college, it was for vampire groupies, the ones who knew nothing about what real vampires were like. They dyed their hair black, wore capes and called themselves Amaltheia or Vertuspina. Sadie avoided them like the plague.
Hope tugged Sadie to the side. “I can’t believe they’re into all this crap. Real vampires are nothing like… them.” She cast a scornful eye at the stand. It was easy to forget the vampires Hope and Sadie knew weren’t just any old fledglings. They were vampire warriors. Vampires from the elite Bloodlines. These vampires were just normal people who’d been turned. They lead normal lives for the most part, kept normal jobs and stuck to a liquid only diet.
Sadie sighed. She agreed with Hope, but their friends were adamant, Jo already leading the way in, and Sadie and Hope had no choice but to follow.
“We can do the wheel straight after,” Sadie promised.
The inside of the tent was lit with hanging bulbs, a warm yellow glow, almost cozy.
Sadie glanced over the stand. Jo and the others were clustered around a sandy haired man with a tight expression. His big muscles strained under his tank top. He was fit, Sadie guessed, in a bland kind of way. He didn’t have that edge the vampires she knew had. That undercurrent of danger, of strength. An image of one vampire in particular flashed through her mind. Markus. He’d been thin when she’d met him, tense, on the run from vampire hunters. Her hand strayed again to her purse. Where was he? Would she ever see him again? She needed to find him, but how?
Markus was a fugitive, still on the run from the hunters that pursued him. Maybe still crazy. She should put him out of her mind. Leave it to the other vampire warriors to track him down.
She tried to focus on the vampire stall. A woman at the back was giving out leaflets, a tall man on one side was letting people inspect his fangs. She thought he looked kind of fed up. She’d be too if people were coming in and staring at her all day long.
A young man, little more than a teenager, with jet black hair and a pale face sidled up towards them. “Discount at the Fang-tastic bar on Fridays,” he said, holding out a brightly colored leaflet.
“Are you even old enough to drink?” Hope asked, hand on her hip.
“Old enough to drink… blood.” He grinned widely, as if he’d been hoping for a chance to say that, and exposed his fangs. Sadie’s heart thumped in her chest. They were turning kids now? Who did that? Someone needed to warn the Shadows, tell them to… the fangs went crooked, slipped and fell off.
“Oh, shit.” The teen’s hand shot to his mouth and Sadie’s heart stopped its drumroll.
“Plastic fangs? Really?” Sadie said.
Hope burst out laughing.
“Shit, don’t tell anyone please.” The teen wiped the fangs on his shirt. “They said I could help out as long as no one realized I was just a human. They wanted some of us here in the daytime, ‘cos it makes the real vamps feel sick so they got me and Kristy to even out the numbers,” he jerked his head to indicate the woman at the back of the tent.
Sadie realized that must be why the muscled one and the tall vamp at the back looked so nauseous. The day wasn’t quite over yet. She wondered if they got sick pay for working during daytime.
“Okay kid, chill, we won’t tell.” Sadie elbowed Hope, who turned her laughter into an unconvincing coughing fit.
“Come on,” she tugged Hope’s arm. “Let’s get going,”
“I’ll get the others,” Hope choked out.
Sadie walked over to the entrance. The sun was finally on its way down, setting into a reddish haze.
A prickle went up her spine. She was being watched. She glanced round warily, but no one was paying her any attention. She took a step to the side and looked down the side of the tent, still no one. Just thick cabling and the hulking shape of a generator for the funnel cake stall on the other side.
In front of her the crowd moved past. Kids with cotton candy, or clutching stuffed animal prizes, adults pushing prams, couples with linked arms. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Then she felt it again, the hairs rising on the back of her neck, an electric crackle that went right through to her bones. Someone was watching her.
Sadie walked back into the vampire tent. She clutched her bag, rummaging about for her bottle of mace, pushing aside a tightly wrapped syringe. Then she hesitated, her hand going back to the syringe. She kept it on her at all times, ever since Aisha had given it to her. It wasn’t for her. She didn’t need an antidote to the hunter poison that had ravaged her vampire friends. Markus did. Markus who was on the run, sick and crazy and… watching her?
She pulled her hands out of her bag. She’d felt this tingling feeling before, in the weeks since she’d met him. Could it be him? Could he still be following her, keeping close to her… She wasn’t sure if the thought made her afraid or… excited.
Sadie shivered. She remembered the intense look in his bright green eyes, that look had made her heart sing. She’d been fascinated by him from the first moment. Then he’d drunk her blood and run. Her hands strayed to her wrist. The tiny pinprick wounds from his fangs had long closed up, but for a moment she felt that flash of pleasure-pain once more. She remembered the roughness of his chapped lips on the sensitive underside of her wrist. Sadie swallowed; her throat dry. It was suddenly too hot in the tent. She needed air. Returning to the entrance, she had a flash of inspiration. What if she could find him? What if she could do what everyone else couldn’t? She had one thing they didn’t… she had magic.
Sadie glanced around, Hope was still tied up with her friends, the vampires and customers weren’t paying her any attention. She went back outside and picked her way over the cable, hiding behind the tent. No one would see her here.
That was important. No one could see her. She’d told the truth about magic once before and it had ruined her life. She wouldn’t make that mistake again.
Sadie shook off her fears. This wasn’t about her. This was about Markus and the antidote he needed. The antidote she’d been carrying around for him for weeks. How much longer would he survive without it? She had to find him, and she had to use her power to do it.
Gathering her hands together, she closed her eyes and concentrated. This wasn’t like the fizzled electric shock she’d sent at Jo. This was important. She thought of Markus’ haunting face, his angular cheekbones, bright eyes, and sharp, sharp fangs. A glow appeared behind her eyes, bright and liquid, crackling with pure energy. It pulsed once, then, flared, too bright. She couldn’t contain it. Before she meant to, it snapped free, zooming out from her hands in a widening circle.
Sadie’s eyes shot open as screams and shouts echoed from the vampire tent.
She rushed to the front. People were pushing their way out of the tent, eyes wide. She had to jump up on tiptoes to see past them, and what she saw made her cringe back.
The tall vampire at the back, and the muscled one at the front were glowing. A fuzzy bluish glow around their limbs and haloing their hair. The tall one was poking his arms in confusion. The vampire with the muscles was trying to calm people down. “It’s okay, it’s okay… it doesn’t hurt.” He seemed lost for words, then suddenly inspiration struck. “It’s just part of my vampire powers…”
Your powers? Sadie thought, I don’t think so. But as she watched, the glow started to fade. At the back, she caught sight of Hope pushing her way out of the tent with her friends.
“Got more than you bargained for, huh?” Hope was asking Jo.
“I bet he’s so powerful,” Jo said, craning her head to look back at Mister Vampire Muscles.
Sadie covered her smile with her hand. If only she knew. She turned back to look at the fair, and out of the corner of her eye caught a flash of blue above red hair. Her breath caught. Red hair? Could it be him? She moved forwards, and a balloon seller stepped between them. Sadie growled in frustration. Hope reached her at that moment, hooking her arm round Sadie’s, pulling her back.
“Okay! I convinced them to leave. Let’s go. I want to try the House of Mirrors, then the wheel.”
Sadie craned her head around the balloons, trying to see past the shifting crowd, “Uh, okay I just…” The man moved aside. No one was there.
Sadie settled back onto her heels, biting down her frustration. Had she really seen him? Or had it been just a man with reddish hair, lit by the setting sun. She let her friend pull her away and tried to set aside her disappointment.
“What do you think that glowing thing was, huh?” Hope asked as they joined the crowd, moving towards the rides.
“Oh, um,” Sadie gulped. “Uh I don’t know. Vampire powers, I guess.”
Hope shot her an unconvinced look. “Pretty sure if my sister had gained the power to glow like a lightbulb, she would have mentioned it.”
“Hmm, maybe…” Sadie bit her lip. She wished she could tell Hope. That was why she kept taking risks, wasn’t it? Using her magic so close to her. Part of her wanted to be found out. She hated keeping this secret. It had been hers to keep for so long and she was tired of it.
She should know better. Her parents had taught her that. If she wanted to keep her friend, then she had to keep her magic a secret. Hope would hate her if she knew the truth, that she’d been lying all this time, that she was different. Strange. Hope would reject her. Just like her parents had.
A little voice in the back of her mind protested. Hope’s sister was a vampire. Hope was a good person; she wouldn’t do that. But the voice was silenced at the memory of her parents glaring at her, slamming the door in her face. Casting her out. They’d been good people too, hadn’t they? And they’d not wasted a minute kicking her out once they knew how unnatural she was.
No. There was only one person who’d ever accepted Sadie for who she was. And that person was long dead. She missed her grandma with a fierce ache. Tears threatened to fall from her eyes and she blinked quickly. She was alone and that would never change.
* * *
“The Hall of Mirrors.” Jo called over her shoulder. She spun round to face the others and waggled her fingers sarcastically. “Oooh creepy.” She dropped her hands and rolled her eyes. “Don’t know why you want to do this lame thing, we’re not children anymore.”
“Oh my god you are such a buzzkill,” Hope snapped. “I don’t know why I invited you.”
Sadie gave herself a silent pep talk as they paid for their tickets, and followed the others inside. There was no use crying over her secret, and Grandma definitely wouldn’t want her to cry about losing her. She’d want her to live, to enjoy herself. She was here to have fun, so… time to have fun.
The Hall of Mirrors wasn’t very big, overshadowed by a carousel of spinning teacups to the left and a gloomy, Haunted House on the right. Sadie did a double take. Had that house always been there? Did they build the fair around it? It seemed too permanent, too well built to be put up and taken down whenever the fair moved on. Strange. She stepped over the long shadows the house’s turrets cast over the ground, and clattered up the rickety steps to the Hall of Mirrors.
The attendant let them in in batches, the others all going in ahead of her. Sadie rushed to catch up. Glassy reflections closed in around her, distorted versions of herself with tiny stumps for legs, or stretched out sticklike limbs. Her eyes in the reflections were wide and glassy, her mouth twisted. She averted her eyes, walked quickly to try and find her friends, unsettled by the images. She remembered this being fun when she was a kid. It didn’t seem so funny now. Everywhere the reflections seemed to be watching her… laughing at her.
She heard voices ahead. “Hope?” She called out, but her voice bounced back along with the reflections. She walked quicker, then abruptly hit her face on a reflection and stumbled back. Sadie cursed under her breath. Rubbing her nose, she stretched her other hand out and made her way forward more slowly. Her hand met glass on one side. She turned to go back and bumped another pane again. What the hell? Sadie felt claustrophobic. The reflections seemed to be jeering at her. Was that a smirk? Her wide eyes were transformed by the angles into vacant, ominous stares.
Something moved by her feet. Something black and snakelike. At first, she thought it was a shadow, but then it rippled, curved, gnarled and twisted like roots. More of them now, they curved up and pressed against the glass. Trying to get out? Or trying to get in?
Sadie held her breath, terror creeping up her limbs. The glass cracked, reflections shattering off in different directions. Sadie stumbled back and hit another pane. The glass was cold against her back. She tasted copper and salt. The air smelt burnt and her fingertips tingled. What the hell was happening? Had she hit her head too hard on the mirror?
Still the twisted roots came nearer, brushing against the feet of her reflection. She slammed her feet down, but there was nothing there. Sadie looked in the mirror again. The twisted shapes had disappeared. The cracked glass was whole again. Had she imagined it?
She’d had enough of this. She wanted out. She reached out, her hands knocking mirrors until finally they met open air and she stumbled backwards, moving the way she’d come out the entrance back into the fair.
A family group waiting in line looked at her strangely as she stumbled past them.
“The exit’s over there,” the little girl said, pointing. Sadie ignored her.
Outside in the fresh air she felt a little better. What the hell had that been? Could it be her fault? Because of the failed spell she’d tried earlier? But that had made vampires glow, it hadn’t made roots grow out of mirrors. Sadie shivered. There’d been something malevolent about them, something wrong, twisted.
She heard a snatch of laughter and she thought she heard Hope’s voice. Sadie spun and just caught sight of the group entering the Haunted House. When had they left the Hall of Mirrors? Sadie couldn’t remember seeing them walk past her outside. Perhaps she missed it.
“Hey guys, wait up!” Sadie called out, rushing towards the House.
The long shadows twisted over the ground as Sadie climbed the steps to the door. She pulled up short. There was no door handle. Just a looped door knocker made to resemble gnarled roots, and thorny stalks spiraling into the center, all twisted together. Sadie reached for it, then hesitated. Those thorns looked sharp.
She glanced around her. No one else was going for the house, in fact they seemed to be paying no attention to it at all. Didn’t anyone else notice how strange it looked, how solid, and dark compared to the flimsy rides on either side.
Sadie curled her hand into a fist and knocked hard on the door. Something within clicked. and the door creaked open.
“Very realistically creepy,” Sadie muttered to herself. If the others had asked her, she wouldn’t have picked a haunted house. Maybe she could find Hope and convince her to try the Ferris Wheel instead, and they could wait there for the others. Moving quickly, she slipped inside.
The interior of the house was musty, with an underlying sharp, almost coppery scent. Sadie wrinkled her nose. The scent seemed familiar.
She blinked against the velvety darkness; she could just barely see the dark shape in front of her. “Hope?”
Sadie took another step forward, and the door slammed behind her. The lights came up, sharp and bright and Sadie gasped, rearing back in fear, her face draining of blood.
“You?” She said, “but, you’re dead!”
Markus wove between the stalls. The sun was finally going down, and with it, the vice that had been tight around his head was loosening. He stopped to let a cluster of children rush past him, all bright eyes and big smiles, shouting loudly. Everything was loud. Children screaming on the rides, parents shouting over the noise, stall holders calling for customers. Fairs hadn’t changed since when Markus was human, running barefoot and ragged with his brother in Ireland. Sure, the rides were different. They’d never seen anything like the wheel that rose over the fair here in Chicago, but the atmosphere was the same.
He couldn’t remember if he’d liked fairs as a child. He supposed he must have, but that was a long time ago. He hadn’t been around humans in centuries, unless you counted HUNT. The mindless, violent vampire hunters that had held him captive for so long the years merged.
Sometimes he thought he was still there, in his little gray cell, bars over the door. They’d beat him, starve him, test their poisons on him until he no longer knew his own name, until his voice was hoarse from screaming.
The stall behind him suddenly lit up with bells and bright lights and Markus started badly. Was it an attack? Had they found him? He spun around, wide eyes, his hands like claws. The people nearest to him stared at him in confusion. A mother pulled her two children away from him, fear in her eyes. He was making a scene. It was just the stall owner turning on the celebratory lights for a winning punter. Someone had shot the duck off the coconut.
Markus hunched, tried to make his tall form smaller and slipped between the stalls, away from the human’s fearful gazes. He’d forgotten what that was like, those scared looks. He’d managed to cut the ragged ends of his hair, and exchanged his prison rags for a pair of stolen jeans and a hoodie. He looked almost normal now. People didn’t shy away from him on the street like they had when he’d first escaped HUNT. He’d been doing so well. He’d even found a way to get blood. Amazing how willing people would be to let him drink when they were drunk themselves. He’d taken to visiting the clubs at closing time, picking out a young man or woman wobbly on their feet, and after taking a little blood he’d make sure they got home safe.
Every time he drank, he regained a little more control, a little more sanity. But still the memories pursued him. The memories and his fear that HUNT wouldn’t give up. That they’d keep tracking him, that they were still tracking him.
He’d thought about leaving the city, going somewhere far away, but… he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t leave… her.
A warm glow started between his ribs. Markus leaned against the side of a stall and closed his eyes. He could see it in the darkness, the glowing threads that connected him to Sadie. The soulmate bond.
He’d known from the first moment he saw her that she was special. He’d been in the grip of madness, out of his mind thanks to the poison HUNT had pumped into him. Even now he felt it lingering in his skin and bones. Dark flames licking at the corners of his mind. Her blood had pushed it back. Her blood had been a lifeline to sanity, but more than that, the taste of her blood had bloomed across his tongue like jasmine and rubies. Precious. Overwhelming. Golden light had edged around the sides of his vision. At first, he’d thought he was simply still crazy, but then he’d felt his heart beat and he’d known the truth. Sadie was his soulmate. He could never leave her. But he could never be with her either. HUNT would find him one day; he was sure of it. And when they came, he’d die before leading them to her.
Markus crept round the edge of a stall, following the bright, golden light that he sensed more than saw, across the fair. A tall, gothic house stood ungainly and out of place amongst the brightly colored stalls. She was in there. He could feel her.
He needed to get closer, needed to catch another precious glimpse of her, see that she was okay, and then he’d leave, he’d stay out of her life another day, maybe a week, until the need to see her again grew impossible to ignore.
Markus began to cross the fair towards the house. He knew he was foolish in tracking her down, but he couldn’t help himself. At least he could make sure there were no hunters on her tail.
Suddenly the bond between them snapped with danger. Crackling energy ran through the gold and thumped into his chest. He could feel her fear, her shock. Markus’ head snapped up. His eyes narrowed and he sped between the stall, moving so fast he blurred, leaving gasps and confusion in his wake. The house loomed up before him. The main entrance was clustered with people, a long line of them snaked down the steps. The man at the front was wrestling with the big oak door that was refusing to budge. Sadie was in there, he had to find a way in.
Markus turned to go round the side, then pulled short in horror. The shadowy shape of a man disappeared around the corner before him. A man he recognized well. A man in matte black combat armor with long, stringy hair. Markus growled. “Hanson.”
Markus ran round the side of the house, ready to grab the hunter and tear him limb from limb, but when he got there, Hanson was nowhere to be seen. Markus scanned the area, turning back to the house, ready to smash a window and break in if he had to, until he finally saw a side door, paneled like the walls, almost hidden. Markus leaped forwards, wrenched the door open and fell into the darkness.
The door slammed shut behind him.
Sadie trembled against the door as the monster from her nightmares advanced towards her.
“Dead?” Kai taunted, his red mouth twisted into a smirk. “Oh, little Sadie, can’t you see? I’m right here.”
Sadie’s mind was blank, terror had filled it to the brim and was running over the edges. Kai was dead, she was sure of it, he’d been killed by… who had he been killed by? She couldn’t remember. She couldn’t think straight. He was right here, right in front of her, he was going to finish her. To do now what he started all those years ago.
She’d come to the city to find magic, to find the supernatural, and she’d found them. But she hadn’t liked what she’d found. Kai and his minions ruling the city. Kai, the killer.
Sadie pressed back, the door hard against her shoulder bags, the strap of her bag cutting into her neck. She scrabbled for the door handle, but the door behind her was smooth. No way out.
Kai kept coming closer. “You won’t escape this time, I’ll drain you dry, every last drop, then I’ll leave you strung up like a Christmas decoration for your friends to find. The last great kill of the Monster of Chicago. You’ll be famous, Sadie.” As he said her name, he lunged forwards. Sadie screamed and ducked. His sharp-nailed hand barely missed Sadie’s shoulder as she rolled out from under him and shot forwards. She had to escape. She had to find a way out.
“Come back here you little bitch,” he growled behind her. Sadie didn’t dare turn to see how close he was.
She ran down the wood-paneled hallway. Pale light came from dirty wall sconces, just enough to make out doors running along each wall. She frantically rattled one door then the next, all locked. She shot a terrified look back over her shoulder. Kai was still coming after her, but he wasn’t rushing. He knew she had no way out. The light from the walls painted his face a sickly shade, made him look bloodless and pale, his eyes dark and pitiless. Sadie’s fingers were growing numb, her heartbeat thundering in her ears. She tore her gaze away from his face. That was how they got you. That was what they’d done to her friends, caught them with their vampire gaze and drained them until their hearts almost stopped beating. Over and over again they’d played with the humans they should have protected. Over and over again until… until what? Her thoughts shattered. They still tortured humans. Kai still ruled Chicago, didn’t he? Why did she think anything had changed?
Kai was suddenly right next to her, his cold hand on her shoulder and Sadie yelled in fear. Her heart thumped hard, like it was trying to escape her body. She fell back, knocked her shoulder against a door and it moved! A pulse of hope went through Sadie and she shoved Kai back with both hands, an electric spark traveling through her body and down her arms. Kai’s eyes widened in shock and he stumbled back a pace, long enough for Sadie to escape through the door.
She spun and slammed it closed, but a hand appeared around the edge. Long fingers closing on the wood, the grip as solid as steel.
Sadie shuffled backward, her hands gripped around the strap of her bag. For a moment, her thoughts seemed to be working again. That spark she’d felt go through her body had cleared the fog from her mind for a moment. She cast her eyes to either side, but in this room, it was too dark to see. She gripped her bag tighter as the vampire started to push the door open and stood tall, silhouetted in the entrance for a moment. For a split second, Sadie was confused. Had Kai always been that tall? Then he took a step forward and she threw off the thought. She had to get past him, get out, but she had no way to fight, no weapon. Wait. She looked down at her bag. Yes, she did.
She shoved her hand inside, lightning fast, and closed her grip around the bottle of mace. It might not fell a vampire, but sprayed in his eyes, it would buy her some time. She grabbed the mace and brought it up. The vampire jerked to a halt and Sadie pressed down, spraying the entire bottle in his face.
He screamed, scrambled back, one hand clutching his face, the other scrabbling at the wall. His hand hit a light switch and light flooded the room as he slumped against the wall.
Sadie advanced, the mace held in front of her. The vampire brought his hand away from his face, his eyes as red as his hair.
Wait. Red hair?
Sadie froze. Kai didn’t have red hair. Sadie dropped her arm, shock making her fingers lax. The bottle dropped to the floor and rolled into a corner.
“Please, enough. No more poison.”
Sadie’s heart thumped, this time not in terror but in sympathy. “Markus, I. I thought you were—” Her thoughts were suddenly clear. She thought he was Kai? Who was long dead? Could she sound any crazier? She dropped to her knees next to the vampire. “I’m so sorry.”
Markus was already recovering, his vampire healing at work. Under the bright light, Sadie couldn’t think how she’d ever mistaken him for Kai. Markus was tall and broad where Kai had been short and squat. His hair was a brilliant red, his eyes, less swollen now, a piercing green. And of course, Markus was alive. Kai was dead, killed by Lucian, by the Shadows. Her mind supplied the facts with ease. Why hadn’t she been able to remember before? Why had she been trapped in a nightmare of the past? Had she hallucinated him? Was it Kai’s ghost?
“The hunters, where are they?” Markus asked her, pulling himself up towards her.
“Hunters?” She asked, confused. “There were no hunters. I thought I saw… someone else.”
“I saw them, Hanson and his guards. They came in here after you.”
“I don’t think so.”
Markus snarled. “Perhaps I was mistaken.” He scrubbed his hand over his face. “I saw them… I swear I saw them…” he trailed off, looking away from her.
He wasn’t sure though, Sadie thought. There was confusion in his gaze. He was second guessing himself. The look in his eyes made her heart ache. He’d started doubting his own senses.
Sadie reached forward slowly and took his hand in hers. She couldn’t believe he was finally here before her. His skin was cool, but his grip was strong. “I believe you,” she said. “If you saw them, then they’re here. It must have been some trick of theirs that made me see… the person I saw.”
Markus finally met her eyes and Sadie’s hand tightened on his in shock, A connection ran through them, a pulse she felt right through her body, that went deep, settling between her legs. His gaze heated for a moment, and Sadie’s mouth went dry. Then, too soon, he was pulling away.
“We should go,” he said, voice rough.
Sadie tried to control her breathing, standing up as well. “Yes, yes we should…” Wait a second. “How did you know I was here?”
Markus glanced at her, then away, evasively.
“You were following me?” Sadie said, her voice climbing. “I knew it! Why didn’t you speak to me?”
“I couldn’t let them know.”
“Them who?” Sadie asked, but as the words came out of her mouth, she realized who he meant, “the hunters,” she answered her own question. “You were keeping me safe from the men chasing you.” Sadie didn’t know what to say. The idea that a vampire as haunted as Markus, with his own safety to worry about, would instead spend his time looking out for her? She didn’t know whether to be grateful or exasperated.
She turned away from the vampire, trying to set aside her confusing feelings. Whatever she felt about him, the priority now had to be escape from this strange house.
They left the room and went back along the hallway to the entrance. Or what should have been the entrance. Sadie stood in the middle of the room, staring in shock. The big oak door she’d entered through had disappeared. The walls around were clad in unbroken wallpaper. No way out.
“This is impossible,” Sadie murmured, turning in a slow circle. Was it part of the game? Like the mirrors, a trick house?
Before her, a grand staircase spiraled up to the upper floors. The handrails swept down in a sinuous curve, the spindles carved with twisted branches, and the finial on top of the final post was in the shape of an acorn, but… Sadie walked closer, climbing the bottom step. The acorn was twisted and lumpy. There were lumps pushing out of what should be smooth wood like cancerous growths and pointed thorny snarls curled around the base.
“So… this is creepy,” Sadie said, pointing it out to Markus.
The vampire approached, and Sadie found herself breathing shallowly, her chest tightening. Get a grip, Sadie, she told herself. Just because he’s been looking out for you, doesn’t mean anything more. Anyway, it’s probably just a vampire thing, because he’s tasted your blood… “Oh, my blood!”
Markus’ head snapped round to face her. “You’re injured? Where?” He stepped closer and whoa, that shirt he was wearing was really far too tight. She could see all his muscles underneath it. Had he been that ripped when she’d first met him? Sadie licked her suddenly dry lips.
“Where are you hurt?” Markus purred, taking her hand in his and gently turning it round.
“I… um” Sadie’s mind was white static. “No, no.” Sadie shook her head. “You need my blood.”
A strange expression went over Markus’ face, a kind of hunger. His fingers squeezed tightly on hers for a moment then he was pulling away. “I’m fine.”
“You’re not fine.”
“I will not take your blood again.” Markus snapped. “It’s not safe.”
Sadie looked at him in confusion. “Not safe?” But Markus wouldn’t look at her.
Sadie shook her head. “That’s not what I meant,” she said, setting aside the questions she wanted to ask. “I meant the antidote. Aisha used my blood for the antidote to the hunter poison.” She rummaged in her bag and brought out the precious syringe. “I’ve been carrying it around, waiting for you to turn up for weeks now. I can’t believe you were following me the whole time. I knew it,” she muttered, unwrapping it and holding it up. “Aisha, the doctor. Do you remember her? She showed me how to do this.”
Markus came close and Sadie, her hands shaking a little, took hold of his arm. “Um, I think I can…” her hands were shaking more now. Her chest felt tight. Something about his presence was making her thoughts scatter. He took hold of her wrist and her pulse jumped under his thumb.
“You can do this,” he said, his voice steady. Sadie raised her head to meet his eyes. “I trust you,” he said.
The constriction around her chest faded away and Sadie was able to take a deep breath. Warmth filled her. A golden glow edged her sight. She held his arm firmly and in a few quick seconds had emptied the cure into his veins.
Markus hissed sharply, then was silent.
Sadie wrapped the syringe and replaced it in her bag, looking at him in concern. “Are you okay? Do you feel anything?”
Markus closed his eyes for a beat, then snapped them open, pinning her with the intensity of his gaze. “I feel whole,” he said. A smile broke across his face and Sadie realized it was the first time she’d seen it. It transformed his face, warmed those piercing eyes. She found herself smiling back at him, swaying closer. Her eyes traced the curve of those lips, the sharp dimple in his cheek, the strong line of his jaw. What would it feel like to kiss that mouth? To run her fingers through his red hair? to press close to his hard body?
She swayed, almost touching him.
His gaze was growing heavy lidded. “Sadie, fuck, you’re so beautiful.”
Surprise and pleasure rippled through her. “Me? Beautiful?” She laughed and the sound seemed to hang, golden, in the air.
“There’s something I must tell you.” Markus said, his hand on her shoulder, rooting her to the spot. Sadie tilted her head up to face him, her movements slow, like in a dream.
“You and I, we are—”
There was a thump from behind them. Then a loud crash as if something big and heavy had hit one of the doors. Moving fast, Markus spun Sadie around behind him, putting himself between her and the threat. Peering around his side, Sadie saw the door across from them shake once more with another thump, dust drifting from the frame. Markus tensed, but before he could move, the door crashed open and men clad in combat gear began pouring through.
“It’s HUNT,” Markus snarled. “You have to go. Sadie, run!” Markus shouted, pushing her hard up the stairs. and rushing forwards to fight.
Markus leaped into the fray, moving so fast his arms and legs were just a blur. Above him, Sadie sprinted up the stairs, searching for a way out.
There were too many hunters. Too many men. They forced him back up the stairs, step by step. The stairway was a chokepoint, slowing their attack, but for every one he struck down, another would take their place. It was a nightmare.
Behind him he heard Sadie frantically trying the doors, looking for a way out. “Run Sadie,” he shouted again.
“I’m not leaving without you,” she shot back, and abandoned the doors, taking another flight up, jumping the steps three at a time. He could hear her panting, hear her heartbeat thumping hard. She wasn’t used to running like this. She shouldn’t be here, she should be safe in her college, surrounded by her friends. This was his fault. He had to hold the hunters off, keep them back long enough for her to escape. But they just kept coming, their shock sticks swiping at his arms and legs, helmeted heads hiding their faces.
Markus leaped over the railing and vaulted to the upper landing. Taking a quick glance around he saw Sadie standing by the wall, catching her breath. The sight made his chest ache with fear for her, but there was no time to speak. The hunters were already swarming up the stairs towards him. The one at the front of the pack suddenly rushed forward, jabbing the shock stick upward and catching Markus on the shoulder. He cried out in pain, his arm going limp. Through the pain filled haze, he saw Sadie push away from the wall, coming back towards him. He hardened his gaze. “No,” he shouted, shifting his weight, pivoting with his back foot and then shoving hard with his good hand and sending the hunter backwards. The man tripped, fell onto the hunter behind him and, like dominoes, took out another two on the way down.
Markus sprinted across the hall and up the stairs to Sadie, feeling gradually returning to his arm with a painful prickle. “Quick, that won’t hold them for long.” He pushed her in front of him. He could hear them shouting behind him, thundering to their feet and continuing their pursuit. There were too many, they were too fast.
Sadie kept trying doors, but each one was locked fast. Finally, when the stairs narrowed and curved onto the final landing, they found themselves in a long, narrow hallway, doorless, but, at the far end Markus could just make out a dark squarish shape in the ceiling. Hope filled his chest and he urged Sadie forward with a wary glance over his shoulder. They’d pulled ahead. They had a few moments before the hunters reached them.
“An attic! Sadie said, pointing at what was revealed to be a trapdoor when they got closer. “But there’s no ladder,” she said, her voice full of dismay. The trapdoor was wide open.
“We don’t need one.” Markus gripped her around the waist. No time to question why this door was open when all the others had been shut. He was too busy trying to ignore the distracting feel of her in his grip. The way his hands fit perfectly around the curve of her waist. The fact he never wanted to let go. He swung her up into the musty darkness of the attic, then followed on her heels.
“Find me something to brace it with.” He said over his shoulder. His muscles bunching as he jammed the trapdoor closed. Darkness settled around him. He listened intently for the sound of pursuit. Behind him, he heard Sadie gasp. A little light came in around the edges of the trapdoor, just enough for Markus to see by, but he realized Sadie, being a human, was probably having more trouble. He turned his head to the side to see, and saw her feeling her way across the attic, squeezing between the hulking shapes of discarded furniture: chairs with broken legs, half a dining table, a cracked mirror.
Floorboards were laid down the center of the attic, and spaced out a little to the sides. But between them was fluffy insulation and bare wooden beams. If she put her foot on the wrong place, she could easily find herself with little but plasterboard keeping her from coming through the ceiling below them. Right onto the HUNT guards. And clearly, she knew it, as she was making her way around the jumbled furniture carefully. Clever girl. Her hands closed around a chair leg with a leafy spiral curling up it. “That’s perfect,” he said softly. “And to your right there, the broken shelf?”
Hesitantly she brushed her hands over the shapes in the dark until she found what he was looking for, and brought it back to him. Markus took them gratefully and jammed them against the trapdoor, sealing it shut. Markus turned to face her. “Careful, they’re still coming. We should move back.” Sadie’s pupils were blown wide. With the trapdoor sealed, the attic was almost pitch black, and it was clear she was blind in the darkness.
Markus would need to guide her. Touch her, hold her. He swallowed. “Here, I can guide you,” he said, his voice rough. Sadie didn’t hesitate, she put her hand in his and gripped his palm tightly. With his help, they picked their way across the attic away from the trapdoor. “This is far enough. They won’t hear us.” Markus was about to take his hand away from Sadie’s shoulder when she cried out, “Don’t.”
“What is it?” Immediately he moved closer to her.
“Don’t let go,” she said in a small voice. “I can’t… I can’t see anything. Without you holding on to me…”
“I won’t leave you,” he promised. I’ll never leave you again, he thought.
After a moment, her voice a little more under control, she asked. “How big is this place?” She was trying to distract herself from her fear, Markus thought. And he felt a surge of pride in his brave little soulmate.
He turned to look around the attic. “Big”, he said, it covers the whole house, I think. Certainly, they were no longer above the hallway by the stairs. They’d moved too far for that. It was hard to tell exactly how far. The attic was so crowded with furniture and dusty heaps of moldy fabric. The dust got in his nose, made him want to sneeze. Up here the air was warm and close… Or was that just because of how close Sadie was to him? He wasn’t sure.
He settled in beside her, the hard length of his thigh pressed up against hers and he settled his arm around her shoulders. He couldn’t help himself. He wanted to be closer. Needed to be closer.
“Those men. The hunters. Why are they still after you?”
For a moment Markus was silent. Sadie turned towards him. her eyes danced over his face, but it was clear she couldn’t see him in the darkness. He wasn’t sure if he was glad. The dark let him hide, but did he want to hide from her? He hadn’t spoken to anyone since he escaped. He hadn’t sought anyone out. Not the Shadow vampires, not even his own brother, Drakon. But Sadie? He couldn’t stay away. He didn’t just want to be near her, he wanted her to know him. He wanted to tell her everything. No secrets between them.
“They captured me,” he said finally. “Tortured me for years. They had a facility. A prison. They’d bring captured vampires back there. They call themselves HUNT, vampire hunters. They hate my kind.”
“HUNT,” Sadie whispered. “I know that name. They’re the same ones who made the poison. The ones who—”
“Dosed me with it,” Markus said. “Yeah. They let me think I’d escaped. I was out of my mind with pain, but I knew what they wanted. They wanted me to lead them to the Shadows, to let the sickness in. I refused to do it… But they outsmarted me. I passed on the infection anyway. If it wasn’t for that doctor friend of yours…” He went silent. Things would have been bad. Very bad. That was why he avoided the Shadows. How could he look those warriors in the face and admit it was his fault they’d all almost died?
“The hunters are still after me. I have to stay away from everyone. I have to.”
He should stay away from her too. Markus loosened his grip on her shoulders and began to pull away, but Sadie grabbed his hand and held him close.
“No. That’s not true. We can’t let HUNT win. That’s what they want; for us to split up, to work alone. Aisha only found the cure because we all worked together. It took all of us, humans and vampires to beat them. Don’t let them win,” she pleaded.
Markus shook his head. “It’s my fault. I lead them here.” Markus didn’t believe her, but he’d stopped trying to pull away. It felt too good to have her close to him and he was weak. He’d been alone so long. If he could just hold her for a little longer.
He hated the weakness in him, hated that his presence endangered her. He’d been so careful and yet they still found him. How, he didn’t know. Had they really been tracking him without him noticing? He’d evaded capture for so long. Could they have been so close on his heels the whole time? And why go after Sadie first. Why enter the house rather than go straight for Markus while he was outside? It made no sense. He growled in frustration and shook his head. It didn’t matter how they got here. They were here now and he had to get Sadie to safety. That was all that mattered. “I have to get you out of here,” he said. “You’re not safe here. You’re not safe with me.”
“That’s ridiculous. Of course, I am.”
“No,” Markus snapped.
Sadie rounded on him. He saw a flicker of anger go over her face. “Is that why you ran after you… bit me? Because you thought it wasn’t safe.”
“Your blood.” Markus said after a moment, his voice tight. “The taste of it. It was like nothing else. Like nothing I’d ever tasted before. I wanted more, needed more. I had to keep you safe… from me.”
The scent of her was overwhelming. It tangled his thoughts. He couldn’t keep a proper distance when she was already in his arms, but her grip on his hand was so tight. And he’d felt that tremble when he tried to pull away, heard the shake in her voice when she thought he was leaving. He had to pull away, but he couldn’t bear to disappoint her. The conflicting urges were tearing him in two. It made it hard to think. Her very presence scattered his thoughts. Her scent surrounded him, sweet and heady. How could he focus with her body pressed against his?
His fangs lengthened and he was suddenly all too aware of the softness of her body and all the places they touched. Her heartbeat thumped in time with his own. The thrill of that, his heartbeat, started again after being silent for so long, was almost too much to take. She was his soulmate and she was right here next to him. The golden fibers of the bond seemed to flare in the darkness, wrapping them tighter, aching to be sealed, to be claimed.
In the meager light, his vampire vision could just make out the curve of her cheek, the roundness of her lips. His fangs sharpened, and a rush of desire left him feeling weak. The remembered taste of her blood rushed his mouth. Thick and coppery sharp. He hungered fiercely. The bond urged him to claim, to bite.
He had to get some distance from her or else he was going to do something terrible.
Sadie couldn’t see a single thing, but she could feel. She could feel every inch of Markus’ hard body pressed up against hers. She could feel the tremble in his muscles. Was that tension? Was he waiting for an attack? Or was it something else? Something to do with her?
She felt like she was trying to calm down a wounded animal, a wolf, brought down by hunters, baring his teeth.
“Markus,” she raised her hand slowly towards him and found his cheek. Her thumb brushed against his jaw and touched the curve of his bottom lip. A bolt of lust shot straight through her. It tightened things low in her body, leaving her gasping.
“Sadie, I—” He gripped her wrist, but whether to pull her away or urge her forward she didn’t know. Before he could do either there was a loud crashing at the trapdoor.
“Shit, they’ve found us.” Markus shot to his feet, bringing Sadie with him. Then Sadie heard a voice coming up from below, that same, creepy voice that haunted her nightmares.
“Sadie, little girl, come out to play.”
A chill ran up Sadie’s arms and she stepped back, out of Markus’ grip. “No, no, it can’t be.”
“Sadie?” Markus growled, “Who is that?”
Sadie’s eyes searched the darkness blindly, her pulse quickening. “It can’t be, it can’t. He’s dead.”
“Sadie. Tell me who.” Markus’ voice came closer.
“Kai. The Monster of Chicago. But he’s dead. He’s dead.” She shook her head, terror turning her mute. Her lips felt rubbery, her body was moving too slow. The darkness was closing in on her. Hot and close and impenetrable.
A hand landed on her shoulder and Sadie screamed, throwing it off.
“It’s me, Sadie, it’s me.” Markus said from right before her.
Sadie choked out a cry. “I can’t do this, Markus, I can’t face him.”
“You don’t have to. We’ll get out, we’ll find a way out.”
Something crashed against the trapdoor again. Sadie jumped, her eyes shooting to the source of the noise and to her horror, she realized she could see cracks of light edging around the trapdoor. With every thump, the cracks grew larger.
“Markus, look.” She pointed. At that same moment, a terrible splintering, cracking sound echoed through the attic. For a second, Sadie thought she saw twisted shapes, like roots and prickly snarls of thorns, twisting around the edges of the trapdoor. She clenched her hands together, magic shooting unbidden down her forearms. Her fingertips tingled with that familiar electric feeling. And then the trapdoor smashed open.
Light flooded into the attic and Sadie saw clearly Kai’s twisted grin as he began to climb into the attic. His vampire henchmen were clustered behind him, scrabbling up on his heels.
Sadie didn’t hesitate, she grabbed the nearest thing to her, a large ornate vase and threw it right in Kai’s face. But the vampire just swatted it aside to shatter against the beams.
“Finally,” he grinned, fangs sharp, his smile completely deranged.
Markus leaped forwards, snarling, but Kai’s henchmen rushed to meet him and crowded him back. She saw the wild flash of his eyes, the frantic movement of his body, as he tried to get to Kai, but there were too many of them.
Sadie grabbed whatever she could reach, a lamp, books, an entire box of little metal things that jangled and crashed as she hefted them across the space at Kai and his men. She may as well have been throwing pillows for all the good they did.
“We have to get out,” Sadie yelled at Markus, but Kai and his vampires were between them and the trapdoor and there was no other way out.
Sadie looked across the attic at Markus. He was barely visible now, just a flash of red hair under masses of bodies. Where had they come from? How had they got past HUNT?
“I’ve got you now.” Kai had almost reached her, when Markus gave a sudden hoarse yell. He threw the vampires off him, sending them up into the air to smack against the roofbeams. Kai was a single pace away. Sadie’s heart stopped. Markus leaped forwards, charged Kai and slammed into his side, bearing him down to the ground. He raked his sharp nails across Kai’s back and Sadie heard the satisfying sound of Kai’s scream. Then Markus jumped over him and reached Sadie’s side. Sadie grabbed hold of him, clutching him close to her. “There’s no way out.” She shook her head in despair. “We never should have come into this damned house. I’m so sorry. It’s my fault.”
“No,” Markus grinned sharply. “It’s mine. I wasn’t thinking… I forgot we were in an attic.”
“You forgot what?” Sadie asked, confused.
He began to tug her towards the side of the building, where the roof lowered and forced them to hunch. Where the floorboards thinned out, leaving large open gaps between them.
“There’s always a way out. You just have to find it.” He pointed down at the floor. At the space between the floor beam and the edge of the roof, where the only thing between the ceiling of the room below and them was thin boards and a fluffy mass of insulation.
“Oh,” Sadie looked up at Markus, realization dawning. Markus slammed his foot down hard. There was a splintering crack as the thin board beneath gave way, and light streamed up from the hole, making the dust in the air glitter.
Markus swept Sadie into his arms and jumped through. The last thing Sadie saw was Kai’s face, transformed into a rictus of hate as they escaped him.
They landed heavily in the room below. Markus rolled to catch and cushion Sadie’s fall. He came to a stop against the wall, Sadie wrapped in his arms, every soft and delicate curve fitting perfectly against his lean limbs. He didn’t want to move. He inhaled deeply, filling his lungs with her sweet, unmistakable scent. Maybe they could just stay here, wrapped up together, maybe—
“Markus?” Sadie turned her head, her hair tickling his nose.
“Are you okay?”
“Am I okay?” He moved back an inch, giving her enough space to turn and look up at him. How could she ask him that? He was the vampire; she was the one who needed protecting… didn’t she? He stared deep into her warm brown eyes. She really cared. That was concern for him in her eyes. Markus’ heart thumped hard. Painfully. The feelings growing in his chest were too strong, too devastating for his heart to bear. This woman. Did she have any idea what she was doing to him?
A tiny frown appeared between Sadie’s eyes. “Markus?” She said again and the sound of his name in her mouth undid him. He felt a stirring between his legs. He forced his arms to unlock before he did anything he’d regret, like kiss the name off those luscious red lips, like roll her over until he was pressed on top of her and… take everything he wanted.
Markus let her go.
“I’m fine,” he said roughly. “Fine.”
He straightened his shirt and tried to hide the shake in his hands. “We need to get out of here.” He looked around, finally paying attention to where they’d ended up. The room they were in was barely more than a cell. No windows. No door.
“I— um, okay,” Sadie stood up. Her top had ridden up and for a second Markus caught a glance of her hip and the smooth skin of her back. He clenched his hands, shoving them deep into his pockets to stop them reaching for what wasn’t theirs. She wasn’t his. She didn’t know about the heartbeat, about the soulmate bond, about any of it. And he was tainted, dangerous. He couldn’t let his treacherous body make decisions for him.
The sounds from the attic had stopped. What had happened to their pursuit? The vampires that had come after them. That creepy one who’d scared Sadie had been almost on top of her, but now… Had they fallen through more than one story on the way down? Markus frowned, turning away from Sadie to stare up at the ceiling. Surely, he would have noticed.
The hole in the ceiling had jagged edges, but the space above was inky black, it swallowed all light, thick and impenetrable. Creepy. Impossible to pierce even with his vampire vision. How was that possible? He’d been able to see in the attic at least a little. How could he not see into the hole now? Markus took a step closer. Come to mention it, where was the light coming from for him in this room? His eyes flicked from side to side. There was no light on the ceiling. There were no windows and there was no—
“I’ve got it!”
Markus spun around to find Sadie standing next to a half open door, light spilling, warm and buttery yellow, from beyond.
“What the fuck?” He stalked forward, ran his hand over the edge of the door. “There was no door here.” He turned to face Sadie, not noticing the way she shrank away, her hands going behind her back. “Where did this come from?”
“It was, um, it was hidden, you know like those servants’ doors in old houses?” Sadie inched backwards, her mouth running a mile a minute. “And so, I thought, maybe if I looked for a seam or an edge or something.” She was hiding her hands, why was she hiding her hands?
Did she know the door would be there?
“Did you have a key?”
“What? Oh, n-no, no key.” She took her hands out from behind her back and spread her fingers wide.
Unease trickled down Markus’ spine.
“I just… found it.” She looked up at him with wide, earnest eyes.
Markus felt the tips of his fangs poking through his gums. There was something strange happening here. She was keeping secrets. The thought twisted through his chest. “What aren’t you telling me?” he growled.
“Nothing, Markus, nothing.” Her heartbeat skipped, there. His vampire hearing picked it up clearly. A lie.
“Come on Markus,” she pleaded. “Let’s just get out of here.” Her gaze flicked fearfully toward the hole in the ceiling. Markus hesitated. She was lying about something; he was sure of it. There had been no door here when he’d looked, just smooth unrelenting walls. Could he have missed it? Could she have really found it while he was staring at the ceiling?
“We have to go.” She glanced up at the attic and the fear he saw in her gaze was very real. That decided it. Whatever the truth was, he’d feel better with a solid door between him and that hole and he knew Sadie would. He gripped the door and pulled it open, following Sadie out into the hallway.
Sadie looked around in confusion. They were back in the upstairs hallway. The lights here, coming from old fashioned sconces and flickering slightly, illuminated the scuffed and dusty carpet, and faded green wallpaper. Every couple of meters, windows interrupted the wallpaper, letting in a little light, and the bright colors of the fair. Sadie rushed over to the first. Gripping the handle tightly she tried to open it, but it was stuck. Sadie gripped tighter, putting her body into it, but the window wouldn’t move.
The window glass was bubbled and cloudy. She was reminded of the funhouse mirrors. The people outside seemed to slip and slide through the glass, first moving slowly, then suddenly jumping across the distance. Even the colors seemed distorted.
She heard Markus walk past her to try the next window along.
Markus growled in frustration. “They’re jammed shut.”
Sadie was about to go to him, when she noticed a familiar looking face out of the corner of her eye. She snapped back to the window. Yes, there. Hope was standing across from the house, her friends clustered next to her. Sadie was too far away to make out Hope’s expression, but she seemed to be looking around a lot, then checking something in her hands, her cellphone?
Sadie struggled to pull hers out of her pocket. Was Hope trying to call her? A flutter of excitement lifted her chest. If she could only tell Hope they were trapped in here, maybe Hope could send help.
But when she got her phone out of her pocket, it was black and dead. Clicking the power button did nothing. It was fried. It was a new phone too. She’d killed her last one by accidentally sending a light spell too close past it while practicing in her dorm room. Technology and magic didn’t get along, and technology usually lost.
Sadie frowned at her phone. Technology and magic…
“Hey!” Markus’ shout distracted her from her thoughts. “Hey over here!” He shouted again, banging on the window. Sadie slipped the phone back into her pocket and walked over to him.
“It should break,” he said, glancing at her. “These windows. They must be reinforced.”
“They’d have to be seriously strong to stop a vampire,” Sadie mused.
“It’s HUNT.” Markus growled. “Has to be.” He snarled in frustration. “Let’s keep moving.”
Sadie nodded, unease filling her. As she passed the window, she glanced out, and stumbled, shocked to see the Ferris wheel rising tall above the fair. Wasn’t that on the other side of the house? She hadn’t seen it when she’d been looking at Hope, had she? She looked back at the other window, took a step towards it, when the lights above her flickered then went out.
The darkness was thick, impenetrable and somehow malevolent. It sent a shiver up Sadie’s spine. She turned back and hurried after Markus.
Ahead of them the lights shone steadily and the hallway opened out onto a familiar landing.
“Hey, we’ve been here before.” Sadie said, running her hand over the smooth banister. “But how is that possible?” She looked back the way they’d come, frowning, then ran her gaze up along the ceiling. “We went right to the back of the attic.” This house didn’t make any sense. Was it built that way deliberately? Made to confuse the customers?
Markus shrugged. “I don’t care. We got in down there, we can get out that way too.” He pinned her with his sharp green eyes. “Unless you want to magically find us another door?”
Sadie’s throat closed up, “I-I didn’t” She choked out. “I just found it.”
“Hmm.” Markus just watched her. His regard was heavy, she could almost feel it in her skin, in the blush rising to meet it. Did he know? Or was it just coincidence he used the word magic? He couldn’t know. It was impossible. No one knew. But with the blush on her cheeks, and her heart thumping hard in her chest, she was suddenly afraid he would ask. If he did, she wasn’t sure she could lie again. She was so tired of lying.
But Markus didn’t ask. He turned away, and gestured for her to follow her down the stairs. Sadie wasn’t sure if she was relieved or disappointed.
The stairs swept down in a familiar curve, ending with that ugly acorn finial. Sadie pulled her hand off the rail, unwilling to touch the strange lumpy shape. Something about it just screamed wrongness.
“No door.” Markus said angrily. “And no pursuit. They should have been right behind us.”
“Did you want them to be?” Sadie snapped, fear making her sharp.
“Of course not.” He rounded on her. “But I’d rather have them where I can see them.”
Sadie shivered at the thought of Kai sneaking along the darkness of the hallway, getting ready to ambush them. She shivered, hunching up small. Could he be there, waiting?
She looked up at the shadowy hallway. Was that a movement just there, or the flicker of the light?
“No. It doesn’t make sense.” Sadie forced her shoulders back, striding into the center of the hall. “Kai’s dead.” He was dead. She knew he was. His body turned to ash. “There’s no way he can be here, chasing us. It’s just not possible.” She turned to look at Markus. “There’s something else happening here. I’m sure of it.”
“He’s ash?” Markus said, pushing away from the wall and stalking towards her, his tone skeptical. Sadie stood her ground.
“He’s dead. Gone. He can’t be here.” She had to tilt her head to look up at Markus as he approached. He towered over her. And yet, he didn’t scare her. He was a vampire, a feral one if her friends were to be believed. And yet, all he’d done was protect her.
Would he protect her if he knew the truth of what she was?
Sadie turned away.
“It’s HUNT.” Markus said roughly.
“How can it be them? Sadie asked, a defeated slump to her shoulders.
“I saw them come in here. They’ve dosed us with something. One of their drugs. It wouldn’t be the first time.”
Sadie shook her head.
“Think about it,” he urged. “Hallucinations, making you see what they want you to see. The hunting, the attacks.”
“But this house.” Sadie gestured around them. “It’s a funfair ride. There are kids outside. There’s no way they could have planted this whole thing…”
“Couldn’t they?” Markus raised an eyebrow.
Sadie sighed. “But why? Why would they bother?”
“To catch a vampire. To catch… me.” Markus’ expression changed, sharpened. A tension appeared across his brow, a shine to his eyes. Sadie’s heart ached for him.
“I should never have come near you,” he growled, his gaze latching on hers. “I put you in danger.”
“Don’t be stupid. I’m the one who came into this house, there’s nothing you could have done.”
“I should have done something. I should have found a way to protect you.”
Sadie went silent. She could see she wasn’t going to convince the protective vampire it wasn’t his fault.
“I don’t feel drugged,” she said after a moment. “Do you?”
Markus said nothing, but she could see he was thinking it over.
“You’d know, wouldn’t you? You’ve been poisoned by HUNT before, we both have.”
“Yes, but the same poison,” she insisted, stepping closer. She knew she was right. This wasn’t poison. “It made us weak, sick. I don’t feel sick, I feel…”
She felt afraid. Sadie trembled.
“Who is he? Kai?” Markus asked after a moment, his voice gentler.
Sadie shivered, her hands coming up around her arms. “He…” she trailed off.
Markus took a step back. Sadie blinked, confused, was he leaving? Then he swept his jacket off his shoulders and in one swift move, placed it around Sadie.
It wasn’t warm. He was a vampire, they didn’t get hot, but it kept the chill from the air getting to Sadie’s skin. And it smelt…. it smelt like him. Cinnamon, cedar and something else, something that made Sadie’s heart thrum and a tingle start deep in her core.
“You don’t have to tell me,” Markus said roughly, his arm curving around her shoulders as he settled beside her. She didn’t resist. She let him pull her into his embrace, close his arms around her body. She let him keep her safe. For just a moment, the outside world was kept at bay. Sadie closed her eyes, and into the darkness, she began to speak.
“I worked for the vampires at the Sanctuary. Not the Shadows, this was before they came. I worked for Bloodline Radiance.”
Markus’ arms tightened around her. “I take it they weren’t good employers?”
Sadie bit her lip. “I didn’t know any better. I was so desperate to escape my home, my parents, and their rules. They hated anything that wasn’t… normal. They hated me.”
“They were fools,” Markus growled.
Sadie shook her head. “They couldn’t understand me, I guess.” But his defense of her loosened something deep in her chest. Something that had been tied up tight for so long.
“What made them think you weren’t normal?” Markus asked. “You’re human like them. What was their problem?”
Sadie wished she could tell him. Instead, she moved on with her story, wanting to get it over quickly.
“The Radiance vampires were awful. Their whole bloodline was corrupt. They used us, the vassals, like blood bags. They’d drink too much, take away our wills so we couldn’t leave. They wouldn’t pay us. They kept us penned in the Sanctuary basement.” She sniffed.
“They turned you into thralls,” Markus snarled
Sadie hunched against his chest, wiping her eyes “I didn’t even know what that word meant until the Shadows came. I thought all vampires were like that. I thought it was the best I could get.” She’d been so happy to find out the supernatural existed. So full of hope. And then she’d been trapped. No way to escape, no money, no one to turn to.
“I’ll kill them.” Markus said, his voice full of rage, his hold on her tight. “I’ll kill them all.”
Sadie laughed bitterly. “Too late. They’re already dead.”
“What?” Markus pulled back so he could see her face. “Ah, the Shadows,” he said.
Sadie shrugged. “I don’t know the details. All I know is Kai and his leader, Roman, were doing something evil. Working with HUNT.”
“Vampires working with hunters?” Markus asked, shocked.
Sadie nodded. “Kai dosed me with an early version of the HUNT poison. I thought I was going to die.”
Markus turned her in his arms, one hand going to the small of her back, the other tilting her face up to meet his gaze. “We’re not all like that. Vampires. You know that, right?”
Sadie nodded. “Of course. It was a vampire that saved me. Aaron.” She hesitated. “Do you know him?”
Markus laughed, a light entering his eyes. “Aaron? He’s only the leader of my own Bloodline.”
Oh, Sadie blinked. “I didn’t know that.”
“Hmm, there’s a lot you don’t know about me,” Markus murmured, pulling her in closer, his thumb brushing over her chin.
A warm glow started in Sadie’s chest. She was suddenly aware of how close their faces were, close enough to kiss. The front of Markus’ shirt brushed her chest and her nipples hardened.
“Markus,” she said breathily. He ran his thumb over her bottom lip. A thrill rushed through her, piercing and sharp. It sped through her body, right between her legs. An undeniable bolt of lust at his touch.
“Markus,” she said again, this time more of a moan. She arched into him, half urged by his hand at her back, half her own desire pushing her towards him. She licked her lips and saw his fierce green gaze go hooded as he followed the motion.
Slowly, dreamily she raised her hand to trace his sharp cheekbone. Then, unable to stand it, unable to wait a second longer, she reached for him and pulled him close, meeting his lips hungrily. Markus kissed her, hard, demanding and fierce.
She wanted more.
Sadie melted into the kiss. She pressed against Markus, opening her mouth to his and let him guide her deeper. Delicious sensations surged through her. Immediately he took control. His hand tightened at the small of her back, pulling her roughly towards him. Pure need shocked straight through her body. She couldn’t stop a moan from escaping into the breathy space between their lips. Markus kissed her again and again, like he was hungry for the taste of her lips, the glide of her tongue. Sadie’s eyes fluttered open briefly, then swooned close once more as Markus slid his hand down her back around the curve of her ass and pulled her impossibly closer to him. She was plastered to his front, her softness yielding to his hard planes. His thick thigh between her legs, a delicious friction.
In the darkness behind her eyes, golden threads burst into being, flaring wide around their bodies and flexing them tighter, hot and thick, they seemed to sink into her skin, setting her body ablaze with lust.
Her desire drenched mind was slow to form thoughts. Markus left her lips and pressed quick kisses to her jaw, her cheek, her neck. Sadie moaned again, distracted by the onslaught of touch. And yet, the golden fibers didn’t leave, if anything they flared brighter. Was it magic? Was it all in her mind? Or was it…
Sadie opened her eyes with a gasp, pulling back slightly. Was it a soulmate bond? Hope had told her about the magical connection that existed between the Shadows and their mates. Hope’s sister had described it to her as a glowing bond that connected them together. Sadie blinked slowly, her eyesight hazy. Or was it just the flare and flicker of the lamps high up in their sconces? She couldn’t be Markus’ soulmate. Her? Surely not. He deserved someone better, someone…
Markus pressed another hard kiss to the curve of her neck, and Sadie felt the hardness of his fangs against her skin. She jumped, at fear or a sharp spike of arousal, she couldn’t say.
Markus groaned, a desperate shiver went through his frame. “Sadie, Sadie, I need you.”
Adrenaline rushed through her body. Markus pulled back and a thrill went through Sadie when she saw his eyes were glowing with an unearthly light. His fangs pressed against his red lips. His gaze pinned her into place. He’d never looked so much like a vampire. he’d never looked so powerful.
“Sadie,” he whispered, his eyes watching her hungrily.
Shouldn’t she be afraid? Shouldn’t she want to run to safety? She’d been the plaything of vampires before. She should be terrified.
Why did she instead want to bury her hands in his hair and tug his face back to her neck? Why did she want to offer herself up to him? Why did she want to feel those hard, sharp points of his fangs as they broke skin, and immerse herself in the delirious rush of a vampire’s bite?
A hot pulse of desire curled between her legs, and Sadie had to clench her thighs together, trying to contain it.
“Sadie, stop. We have to stop,” Markus moaned, his pupils blown wide with lust.
“Why?” she whispered, unable to stop herself from closing the gap between them again, tilting her face towards his. “I want this. I want you,” she breathed.
A flash of unrestrained desire went through Markus’ eyes. His grip on her tightened, she pulled herself closer, sitting on his lap. She could feel his hardness between her legs. But Markus pulled away. His grip on her hips like steel, holding her back from following him.
“No. No, we can’t.” Markus said from between his teeth. “I won’t be able to stop. I can’t trust myself. Your blood. I can smell it.” His lips drew back from his fangs. “I want it. Too much. I might hurt you.”
Sadie shook her head. “You never will. I trust you.”
She arched up for another kiss, but a flash of fear ran across Markus’ expression and the next instant, he was pushing her away from him, tipping her off his lap as he stood. Sadie stared up at him, loss clawing at her. Didn’t he want her? For a second, the golden fibers were visible again, stretching, pulling, and then Markus took a step back and they went taught, some of them tearing apart.
Pain lanced through Sadie’s chest. Sadie couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe. All she knew was Markus didn’t want her. “No,” she cried, and, without knowing what she did or how she did it, she reached for Markus, moving instinctively, gathering bright magic in her hands. She closed her fingers around the thick web of golden strands, a bond that shouldn’t exist in the real world, that should be impossible to touch.
The moment her fingers connected, a vast rush of emotion filled her bright and powerful, like a wave made of light. She gripped, pulled and her world came apart.
Markus snarled, and Sadie felt a ripple of his confusion run down the bond into her hands. The light flared impossibly brighter, then the bond flexed, bucking her off and throwing them apart.
Sadie stumbled back into a world suddenly dark. The glittering bonds had disappeared again, only afterimages stayed burnt across her eyes.
“What the hell was that?!” Markus roared.
Sadie swayed, grabbing the banister to keep herself upright. “I, I don’t know,” she mumbled, reeling from the jumble of sensations. She blinked to try and clear her sight.
“You’re lying.” Markus’ voice was taught.
Sadie shook off the aftershocks and focused on Markus. On her soulmate. That was what he was, there was no denying it. That bond was real. She’d felt it. It was pure magic. It didn’t matter that they’d barely spent any time together. She knew him. Deep in her bones, she knew him. She was his. And he was hers.
“Did you feel it? Did you see it?”
She took a step towards him. Not recognizing the fear in his eyes, not noticing the flinch that went through his frame. “Markus.” She came closer and raised her hand to his cheek, but before she could touch him, Markus’ hand shot out and gripped her wrist in an iron hold. Only then did Sadie realize how cold his eyes had become.
“What are you?”
“I— What do you mean? It’s me, Sadie,” She stalled for time, fear thrumming through her veins. But Markus’ grip was tight, and his eyes icy. In between one blink and the next, she saw the bonds again. Fraying, again, pulling apart. A tearing sensation grew inside her chest, pain like her insides were being scraped raw.
“Tell me the truth. Tell me what you are,” Markus growled.
“I’m, I’m not lying.” Sadie sobbed, tears gathering in the corners of her eyes. Markus still had her wrist in a punishing grip. She tugged, but there was no way she could break his hold.
She couldn’t tell him. She couldn’t ever tell him what she was. He’d cast her away. This fragile bond that was barely formed between them, that rush of light and love that she’d felt under her fingers. It would grow cold and dead. She knew it. Her parents, who had loved her, who had put food on the table and clothes on her back, who’d told her how important she was, how they loved their good, quiet, obedient Sadie. They’d cast her out when they discovered the truth, and Markus would too.
A tiny voice of doubt whispered in the back of her mind. Somewhere deep in her thoughts she wondered if they really loved her the way they’d said. Didn’t true love mean accepting someone as they were, not as you wanted them to be? But the voice was quiet, weak, drowned out by the rush of fear at the thought of another rejection.
“I’m not, I’m normal.” She tugged her hand again. “You’re hurting me, Markus.”
Markus’ face blanched and he immediately dropped her wrist, but before she could reach for him again, before she could try to explain, he was walking away from her.
The pain in her wrist was nothing to the twisting pain in her heart as he turned his back on her. “Fine. Keep your secrets.” Markus said, pacing away from her.
Sadie wrapped her arms around her body, tears escaping her eyes and trailing down her face. Had she made a mistake? Was this the right thing to do? Keeping her secret? She thought it was, but why did she feel so much pain? Why did she feel more alone now than ever before?
Sadie walked slowly back to the stairs and sat heavily on the bottom step. Her entire body ached. The house seemed so much darker now, with Markus on the other side of the room to her. Colder too. She shivered, bringing her hands around her body and rubbing her arms, wishing instead of Markus’ jacket, she had his arms around her again.
If this was the right choice, why did she feel like she’d made a terrible mistake? She’d been worried Markus would reject her, but now he was refusing to even look at her.
Silent minutes trickled past. Markus was searching the walls, gripping his fingers into any crack, knocking on either side of the beams to try and find a hollow patch. Sadie left him to it, tucking her arms around her knees and pulling them in close. She felt so small, so alone. Markus was right there; her soulmate was right there. This was wrong. She’d been wrong. She had to tell him. She had to fix this. She had to be brave.
“Markus?” She said, her voice small.
She cleared her throat and tried again. “Markus, I…”
He ignored her.
“Markus, please, listen to me. I was lying. You were right.”
Markus stilled. The line of his shoulders tense. “You don’t have to tell me,” he said roughly. “You don’t owe me anything.”
“Yes, I do. You know I do.” Sadie’s voice hitched.
“We barely know each other.” Markus spun about. His gaze was hard. “We’re practically strangers.”
“Don’t say that.”
“There’s nothing between us.”
“We’re soulmates!” Sadie shouted.
The echoes faded away, then Markus twisted his lip. “Not if we don’t want to be.”
Sadie’s heart broke. “No,” she whispered. She took a step towards him. Markus stepped back. And the wall behind him rippled.
Sadie’s eyes widened in shock. “Markus, look out!” she screamed, springing forward. He didn’t have time to move, to react. One moment he was leaning against it, the next the wall stretched like a bubble about to burst, and swallowed Markus whole.
A second later Sadie slammed into it. The impact shocked across her palms. The wall was solid. Unbroken.
Markus was gone.
The world around Markus shattered. Formless shadows rose up around him and swallowed him down. He felt a heavy pressure against his temples, a heaviness behind his eyes. An impossible pressure bore in on him from all sides. He lost all sense of time, all sense of place. His grip on reality stretched, slipped and was lost. Markus sank into unconsciousness.
Markus opened his eyes to blank gray walls. Familiar gray walls. Rough concrete, harsh fluorescent lights that bit into his eyes. He was in a cell. Not any cell, his cell. His cell in Brightbrook. Horror washed over him. He tried to stand, tried to spread his arms, but he was tied down. Thick metal cuffs at his wrist, chains at his ankles. He could feel the hard metal of the chair he was tied to cutting into the backs of his knees and pressing against his back. Even his clothes were the familiar prison track suit he’d grown to hate.
Hadn’t he been wearing something else? Hadn’t he been somewhere else? His thoughts tangled around themselves. A pressing, painful constriction seemed to tighten around his temples, sending sharp thorns between his thoughts, cutting them to shreds.
No. He’d never been anywhere else. He’d been dreaming, high on the poison cocktail HUNT had pumped into him. He’d always been here, in HUNT. He’d never escaped. Despair clawed at his insides. There was nothing he could do. No hope, no freedom. No one was ever going to find him. No one was even looking.
Markus dropped his head, defeated, and for a moment he thought he saw a thread, a tiny little spark of gold, that flexed and twisted across the ground. For a second, he smelt a new scent, not the musty underground miasma of despair, but something bright and fresh and sweet.
He was forgetting something. Some… one?
The thorns tightened around his mind and Markus cried out in pain.
“Ah, he’s awake.” The voice came from behind him.
Markus tried to snap around, but he was bound too tightly, he barely managed to rock in his seat.
“So glad you’re back with us,” the voice continued, and with a sinking feeling, Markus realized he recognized it. He heard footsteps and he had barely a second to steel himself before Hanson, Markus’ most hated torturer, stepped into view. His straggly hair was bound behind his head and his eyes were lit with mad hatred. “Hello Markus.” He smiled.
“Hanson,” Markus growled, putting all his hatred into the name.
“Ah good, so your mind isn’t broken. I was worried for a moment there, you were out for so long.” He stepped closer. “Had some nice dreams?”
Markus snarled, rage descending upon him. He strained against his bonds, trying desperately to get free. The muscles in his neck and arms corded with tension. Hanson just laughed.
“Bring the trolley,” he said to someone behind Markus’ back, and a second later a guard appeared, pushing a trolley. He stopped it by Markus’ chair and Markus ran his eyes over the array of scalpels, knives, needles and pincers with grim resignation. He recognized those tools. Hanson had used them all on him over the years.
“Ah yes, I can see you remember these. My favorites, my tools.” Hanson crooned.
“They’re not tools,” Markus bit out. “Tools serve a purpose. There’s no purpose to this.” He raised his eyes to Hanson’s. “Don’t act like you’re doing this for any reason other than your own enjoyment.”
Hanson laughed again. The sound was sickening. “Oh alright, you got me.” He leaned forward, an evil glitter in his eyes. “I hurt you because it’s fun.”
Markus snarled and lunged forwards, close enough that Hanson jerked back despite himself. Markus counted that moment of fear he’d seen on Hanson’s face as a win, but it didn’t last.
An angry expression overtook Hanson’s face along with an ugly red flush. He hated that Markus had caught him out. “I can see we’re going to need to teach you another lesson.” He tsked. “Such a bad student, you are.” He picked up a scalpel and raised it so that it caught the light. “Yes, I think this will do perfectly.” Then he reached under the trolley and took out a jar from a lower shelf. Markus’ chest clenched in remembered pain.
“Hmm, you recognize this delightful concoction, I can see.”
“Hard to forget,” Markus growled.
Hanson opened the jar and dipped the scalpel inside. It came out coated in fine white powder. Poison, specially created to slow a vampire’s healing and cause more pain.
“We’ve been working on this formula for a while.” Hanson said, running his eyes over the blade. “We’ve had quite a breakthrough. Oh yes, I think I’m going to enjoy this.”
Markus focused on a point behind Hanson’s head and clenched his muscles. There was no escape, but he’d be damned if he gave Hanson the show he wanted.
Hanson’s hand snapped out, scoring a line across Markus’ front. Markus just grunted as sharp, biting pain bloomed across his torso. Blood followed a moment after, spreading across his shirt. Then the poison started to work. The pain was unbelievable. It ate its way into his skin like acid, but he bit down on his lips, refusing to give Hanson the satisfaction of a scream.
“Oh, I see we’re going to need to take our time. Someone is feeling stubborn.” Hanson tapped the flat of the blade against Markus’ cheek. “Tut, tut.” he said mockingly, before turning the blade and slicing down Markus cheek to his jaw. Markus shook, involuntarily jerking away from the blade from the pain. Tears gathered in the corners of his eyes, but again, he didn’t scream, didn’t beg.
Hanson cut his chest, before dipping the bloody scalpel into the poison again and trying first Markus’ back, next his arms. Over and over Hanson cut him, switching to a serrated knife when he was bored of the scalpel, then needle thin blades when he was bored of the knife.
Markus lost himself to the pain. His world became a bloody red haze. His entire body burned.
Hanson was suddenly behind him, leaning over his shoulder, his fetid scent crowded Markus’ nostrils, making him choke. “Let’s see you be silent through this,” Hanson hissed and then he stabbed Markus in the back. The thick, sharp blade cut through Markus flesh until it scraped, raw against Markus’ hip bone.
Markus’ eyes went wide and a hoarse gasp escaped past Markus’ lips. Immediately. Markus closed his throat against the scream building in his chest. He bit down hard, his fangs piercing his bottom lip. Blood rushed his mouth. The pain was unbearable. He couldn’t think, couldn’t move. He was pinned into place.
His entire hip was burning. He couldn’t feel his legs. His strength was spent, shoulders slumped. His head was too heavy to hold up. Blackness ate at the edges of his vision, and still Hanson leaned over him, laughing now, shaking his head from side to side. “You never could hold back. You always screamed, always. Just like this time. You’ll see. It won’t be long now.”
Markus twitched, turning his head a millimeter. Hanson’s face was close, his eyes shone with madness, his straggly hair brushed Markus’ shoulder. The amulet around his neck slipped free of his collar and swayed across Hanson’s chest. It caught the light and Markus saw the twisting spiral shape carved into it. An acorn in the center, and all around it, a spiral edged with thorns.
Then Hanson pulled the blade out of Markus’ back and Markus sagged against his chains, as the pain dragged right through his body. The next blow would break him. He would scream, he knew it. He should be steeling himself against it, preparing somehow, but instead his mind had caught on that strange detail. The amulet. He turned the shape over and over in his mind. A spiral. It was familiar, he knew it. But Hanson had never worn an amulet before. He was sure of that too. He recognized everything about the man who had made his life torture for so long. The thin hair, the sharp cheekbones, the hatred in his eyes. But an amulet? Hanson wore no jewelry.
So why did it seem so familiar? Where had he seen the acorn, the spiral? The spiral that curved around and around… his thoughts turned and twisted. He remembered running, remembered taking the stairs two at a time.
Markus blinked. Shaking his head, blood dripped across his eyes, droplets flicking off his hair. It was so hard to think. He was so tired, in so much pain. But… there had been stairs, there had been a railing…
Faintly, Markus heard someone call his name.
Markus raised his head. Hanson was running his hand across the torture devices, his hands finally landing on a weapon that made Markus’ blood run ice cold. A thick handle, a long shaft narrowing to a point. The entire thing was made of wood. A stake. The one tool guaranteed to kill a vampire. There was no coming back from ash. This wasn’t torture anymore, this was an execution.
A whisper reached Markus’ ears. Someone was calling his name. Markus blinked, and behind his eyes, glittering lines painted across his vision.
“Markus!” He heard the voice, clear for a moment. Markus snapped his eyes open, searching.
“Who are you?” he shouted. But no one came forward.
“Hanson, have you forgotten?” Hanson snorted, the stake in his hands now. Markus shook his head, craning round to try and see past Hanson. A band of pain grew solid around Markus’ head. Blocking him from thinking.
“Hey, focus here.” Hanson snapped his fingers in front of Markus’ face. “Don’t you have any last words? Hmm?”
“Shut up,” Markus said roughly, and focused his hearing again. Was he crazy? Hanson was about to stake him and he wanted to listen to the voices in his head?
The pain around his head grew tighter.
Hanson looked almost comically insulted. “Hey look at me!”
Markus ignored him. There was something else going on here, something more important than Hanson and his posturing. His head was full of crippling pain, but he needed to follow this thought through, he needed to ignore Hanson and focus on that voice.
Someone was calling him. Someone important, someone precious, someone he… loved. Golden light flared into existence around him at that thought and the constriction around his head slipped for a precious moment.
Sadie. Her name was Sadie.
The pain in his head grew knives, it stabbed across his temples and shattered against the wall of his thoughts. He had her name now. He remembered Sadie. He loved her. She was his soulmate.
The golden filaments burned brighter, setting themselves against the pain constricting him and burning it away.
He’d been with her. With Sadie in the house. The house full of spirals.
Markus tore his eyes open, staring around himself in horror.
Hanson was frozen in front of him, his mouth was moving slowly, but Markus couldn’t hear any words. The whole scene, the gray walls, the blades were becoming hazy, warped. Like it wasn’t real. Like none of it was real.
He could hear her now, hear Sadie calling his name.
“Here, I’m here!” He shouted, his voice rough with desperation.
Hanson was coming closer, blurred and distorted, like an image seen through water. But the stake in his hand was steady, coming closer and closer to Markus’ unprotected chest. He was going to die here, alone, unless he did something
“The bond!” he heard Sadie’s voice. Faint, desperate. “Reach for me, Markus, I’m coming.” But Markus didn’t understand, he didn’t know how to do what she asked.
Hanson was right in front of him now. He reached a hand to Markus’ shoulder, bracing himself for the killing blow. Markus closed his eyes. He saw gold all around him. Surrounding him, and suddenly it all made sense.
Markus let go of the tension in his body, let go of his fear, and he reached, reached up and through and into the golden light all around him. He reached for Sadie.
Light flared so impossibly bright for a hot, heavy second.
And then Sadie’s voice came loud and clear, “Markus! I’m here.”
Markus opened his eyes to see her, lined in light, her hands raised and holding onto to a fire that burned like the sun.
“Get away from him,” she snarled, her face transformed with a righteous anger. His vengeful angel.
Hanson’s eyes widened, but he was too slow to get out of the literal fireball that Sadie released from her hands. it whacked into Hanson’s side and threw him across the cell. The light sank into him. Roiling and tearing under his skin, it tore outwards until Markus could see it red and boiling under his skin. Then Hanson exploded in a scream of sparks.
From behind Markus, hunters began to stream into the cell, but Sadie just threw her hands in the air. Spinning blades of light sparked away from her. Each one found its home in a hunter and burst them apart in a blaze of fire.
Step by step she approached Markus, full of light. Markus couldn’t take his eyes off her.
“Markus,” Sadie said softly, her eyes running over his shattered form. Her heart ached.
From the moment the house had taken him from her, she’d been acting purely on instinct; she’d followed the few golden threads that still bound them together. She’d kept hammering at the wall, her fingers scratched and bruised, until the wallpaper and plaster came apart under her hands, and she’d found herself staring through the opening into an impossibly vast space. Sadie hadn’t hesitated. She’d leaped in. She’d been surrounded by darkness. Cold and endless. The only light had come from the bond, the magic that bound them together as soulmates. The light that had finally led her to him.
“Oh Markus,” she said again, a sob in her voice. He was covered in blood, one side of his face completely red. His clothes were in tatters and his chest a ruin of wounds. She didn’t know what to do, but again the magic guided her, urging them closer. She reached out her hands, still glowing. For a second, she felt a flash of fear. Would he pull away? Would he shun her?
But he did the opposite. Markus strained his bonds to move towards her, in his eyes she saw only awe.
She pressed her hands to his shoulder and the chains around him melted away. A second later, he was in her arms. They embraced, gold flying around them wrapping them tight, bonding them closer than ever.
“You’re amazing, amazing. My angel, my angel,” Markus whispered into her hair.
Sadie sobbed. “I should have told you. I should have explained.”
“Magic.” Markus said.
Sadie nodded, hiding her face in his chest, not ready to see his expression, but Markus’ hand was suddenly at her chin, tilting her face up to meet his. Surprise zinged through Sadie’s chest when she read the look in his eyes. Awe. He was looking at her like she was his savior.
“You’re amazing,” he said again, and this time the words penetrated Sadie’s mind.
“You, you don’t think I’m… unnatural?”
Markus snarled, “I’ll kill anyone who dares to say such a thing,” he said, pulling her tighter to him. “I think you’re perfect,” he said, his hand at her hip, then his face descended and he was kissing her. Golden light flared, healing the wound inside her; the fear that her parents’ rejection had left festering within her chest for so many years. “Completely perfect,” he said between kisses, his arms solid around her body, barely an inch of space between them. Sadie finally let go, her old fears unraveling under the sweetness of his kisses.
They gripped each other, shaking with the force of what they’d been through. Finally, Sadie tucked her head under Markus’ chin and closed her eyes. She never wanted to lose him again. She could hear his heartbeat echoing through his chest. The beat mirroring her own.
“How, how did you hear me?” Sadie finally asked, drawing back to look him in the face. “I was calling for so long, I almost gave up” In the darkness, it had felt like an eternity.
Markus shook his head. “The house had me, it trapped me in this… nightmare.” He gestured at the wavering cell all around them. “I don’t know what to call it—”
“I do,” Sadie interrupted. “A curse. That’s what it is. It took magic to destroy it.” She shook her head “I should have known from the start. If I was a better witch, I would have.”
“You’re an amazing witch,” Markus cut in. “You saved me.”
Sadie shook her head, “You saved yourself. You rebuilt the bond. I couldn’t find you until you called my name. You showed me where to go.”
“It was the spiral,” Markus admitted. “The amulet Hanson wore. Fake Hanson,” he amended. “That wasn’t really him. None of this was real, was it?”
Sadie twisted her lips. “The wounds they inflicted on you are real,” she said angrily. She hated that the house, the curse, had done this to Markus.
“What amulet? She asked, her mind clicking into gear.
“A thorny spiral surrounding an acorn,” Markus said. “The same spiral I’ve been seeing all over the house, in the walls, on the doors…”
“On the stairs,” they both said together. They stared at each other in shock.
“That’s it! This house, the whole house is the curse,” Sadie breathed, everything finally clicking into place. “The stairs are a spiral, going all the way through the house. The wooden acorn. That must be the heart of the curse.”
The ground beneath their feet trembled, and the house emitted a terrible, creaking groan. Markus gripped Sadie tight as the walls curved and bowed. The floorboards cracked with a noise like gunshots.
“It’s the house!” Sadie shouted over the noise. “It wants to stop us from breaking the curse!”
“Let’s go,” Markus grabbed Sadie’s hand and tugged her towards the hole she’d left in the wall.
The floors rocked from side to side, but Markus leaped over them, gripping Sadie tight and pushing his vampiric speed to the maximum. In his embrace, Sadie’s hands began to glow, throwing crazy shadows across the broken walls as they raced to freedom.
The house was churning and changing around them, it had given up the pretense of being a real place governed by physical laws. The magic of the curse was raw and desperate. Markus leaped through a nightmare mess of doors and windows. Sadie just held him as tight as she could, and focused on the bond. The glow of his presence made her light up from fingertip to fingertip.
Markus caught purchase with his toes on the handle of an upside-down door, and leaped to catch a curtain rail that clattered, like snapping teeth and began to slide them into a dark pit that opened under their feet. With a grunt, opening all the wounds, blood slick against Sadie’s grip, he flipped off the curtain and grabbed a hold of the edge of a window sill. Glass shattered across his side as he launched Sadie through the holw first, then rolled through after her.
The house was throwing everything it could at them, nothing around them made sense. They ran across ceilings, tore through fabric, smashed through walls, all the while moving closer and closer to the spinning center, to the stairs that Sadie’s golden light showed before them. Finally, Markus leaped, landing on the banister and sliding down the spiral, Sadie clutched tight to his chest, the both of them moving terrifyingly fast.
Golden light grew in the air around them. Sadie had never felt as strong as she did in this moment, pressed close to Markus. It was the soulmate bond. It was the only answer she could think of. It was amplifying her strength somehow, giving them the edge they needed to combat this cursed house.
“Together!” Sadie shouted. “We have to hold it together.”
Markus met her eyes, a fierce light reflected in them and at the final moment, they reached forward, together.
Sadie gripped the acorn from one side, Markus from the other and they flew off the end of the banister into the black void. The wood of the acorn felt slick and wrong under her skin. Thorns thrust themselves up from under the wood and pierced her hands, trying to throw them off. There was nothing to stand on, nothing solid anywhere except between her hands. Sadie lost her hold on Markus, lost her hold on everything except for the acorn and the fierce glow inside her body.
Magic rose around them, the air electric, making her hair rise in a cloud. Lights strobed through the darkness. A high-pitched whine cut through her ears. The curse pressed close, twisted, cold and evil. Sadie felt a moment of fear, but in the next second, the soulmate bond flared, coiling around them, thick and glowing and humming with power, like a snake, it moved by itself, leaving her fingers and wrapping itself around the acorn, squeezing so tight. The pressure reached fever pitch, her ears popped and then with a resounding boom, the bond clenched tight, its fierce strength crushing the acorn to pieces. The shockwave threw them both to the ground.
Sadie was lying on the floor. All around her the house creaked and groaned as the curse faded away into nothing. The walls shuddered into place around them, the darkness began to dissipate. The twisted scream of the curse was silenced. For the first time, Sadie could hear the noise of people outside.
Sadie picked herself up off the floor and stood tall on shaky legs. The room was the same, but the gloom had gone out of it. No longer ominous, and shrouded with shadows, the house was finally what it was meant to be. The lights were no longer flickering and ominous, but steady and electric.
Markus appeared by her side, vampire speed bringing him to her in a second. Sadie stumbled into his embrace. They held each other tight, shaking, unable to believe it was over. All around them the house grew still.
There are no more spirals carved into the mantels, just cheap plaster and painted wallpaper. The house looked like a fairground attraction again. Flimsy and fake, no longer full of danger.
“We did it,” Sadie said, looking up at Markus.
“You did it,” he said, his green eyes on hers. For the first time, she knew he was seeing all of her, all her secrets laid bare. He didn’t pull away; he didn’t reject her like she’d feared. Instead, he held her even closer. Sadie was overcome with emotion. “You saved us,” he whispered into her hair.
Sadie pressed her eyes closed, savoring the moment. “No,” she said, finally. “We saved us. It was the bond, the soulmate bond. It amplified my magic.”
“Made us stronger,” Markus murmured.
She wasn’t sure how long she stayed there, wrapped in his arms, but finally she forced herself to step free. “We need to get out of this house.”
Markus nodded, and strode towards the door that had finally reappeared. Sadie made to follow him, then noticed a round shape on the ground, jagged and misshapen. It was a piece of the acorn, blasted apart. She bent and picked it up. The wood felt dead in her hands, hollow of the magic that had sustained it. Just a piece of carving.
“You’re taking it with you?” Markus asked as she caught up with him.
“Proof,” she said. “I think the Shadows would like to see this.”
Markus hummed noncommittally. Was he still wary of them, she wondered, but he didn’t protest. Maybe he was finally ready to let go of the fear that had haunted him since he escaped HUNT. Maybe he was ready to come in from the cold. If she closed her eyes, she could feel him through the bond, the warm, steady presence beside her. Flickers of want, curling through it.
Sadie snapped her eyes open, a blush rising in her cheeks. Oh yes, she could feel him now.
That want, that need, it was all directed at her.
Sadie stumbled on the step as they exited the close darkness of the house. The night air was chill, but oh so welcome.
Outside, the fair was almost empty. Hours must have passed while they were trapped inside. They left the house and wandered, with no aim in mind, just glad to be free of the curse. Finally, Sadie looked up to see the Ferris wheel rising above them.
“Can we go up?” She asked, an idea coming to her. “I want to check something.”
They joined the short line and were quickly able to enter their own cabin, two seats and a clear window curved all around to the roof. The cabin rocked around them as they rose, meter by meter into the night air.
Sadie leaned carefully over to the window. “There, look,” she whispered, shock making her voice tight. There was the haunted house, and all around it a large, black, ashy spiral on the ground. But even as they watched, the ash lifted off and dispersed, fading like smoke.
Sadie could almost feel the final echoes of the spell lift from them and disappear, like a chorus of whispers, fading into the night.
“It’s finally over,” she said, relief moving through her, and she leaned back against Markus. She felt again, that thrum of warmth, a strange resonance, like a plucked string. It urged her forward, pulled her closer to Markus. It felt like there was something missing from the bond, some final act left undone.
“What is it?” she asked, turning towards him, not needing to explain. She knew he would know what she meant. Markus stretched out on the bench, pulling her between his legs.
“It’s the bond,” he said finally. “It wants to be sealed.”
Understanding dawned. “You… you have to bite me, don’t you?”
“I don’t have to,” Markus said quickly. “It’s fine, I can just… we can just stay like this.”
But Sadie knew he was lying for her benefit. “We can’t,” she said, turning and raising up onto her knees so that she was facing him. She was straddling him, she realized with a sudden thrill, and heat rose along her arms, and legs. She bit her lip. “I mean. I don’t want to stay like this.” The bond urged them closer. She wanted to drape herself over him, wanted to press her body against his. She trembled, holding herself back
“I want to seal the bond,” she said, speaking softly now, urging Markus to understand. “It saved us. I’m not afraid of it.”
Markus shook his head, but said nothing
“You’re worried you’ll take too much?” Sadie asked, the bond coaxing her along to understanding. “You won’t,” she insisted, bringing her hands to Markus’ face
“What if I hurt you?” Markus whispered. His deep green eyes were full of pain. “I’d never forgive myself.”
“You won’t,” Sadie said, her heart filling with love for her wounded, protective vampire. “You could never hurt me, I know it.” She leaned closer, so close their lips almost touched. “Trust me. Trust the bond,” she urged him
Slowly, so very slowly, Markus reached for her. He lifted her long hair from her back and pulled her close. The thick male scent of him almost made Sadie swoon. Shivers ran through her. Anticipation and desire mingled in her chest. What would it feel like? She wasn’t afraid, she knew Markus wouldn’t hurt her. She wanted it. The bite.
“Are you sure?” Markus said, his lips inches from her skin.
“Yes,” Sadie hissed, “I want it,” Sadie insisted. “No more secrets between us, no barriers. Just us. Just this.”
Markus held back for a single final moment, and then his lips were on her neck. His fangs, sharp against her skin.
* * *
As Markus bit down, the brief flash of pain from the bite instantly transformed into pleasure. It flooded her veins, pulsing in time with her heart. She swooned, boneless, falling against Markus. His arm was steel around her body, bracing her, holding her close. The terrible vulnerability of her open skin, her unprotected neck, the edge of fear instantly transformed into a delicious rush of arousal. It felt glorious, thrilling, to open herself up to the bite, to submit to the pleasure lancing through her body. To put herself entirely in Markus’ control.
The heat of her desire sank through her limbs, gathering between her legs. She felt a rush of wetness and clenched her legs together, a moan escaping her body. The bite was amazing, better than sinking into a warm bath, almost better than sex…
She lost any sense of time, and when Markus finally lifted his mouth from Sadie’s neck, she almost pulled him back to her, wanting more of that sensation.
“Easy, easy my love,” Markus whispered, “Not too much. Can’t you feel it?” He meant the bond. Sadie searched inside herself and there it was, glorious and bright, stronger now. Unbreakable.
She looked into his eyes. “Nothing can tear us apart.”
“Nothing,” he agreed, pulling her to him and kissing her again, blood on his lips. Coaxing her deeper into the kiss. She fell, gladly, into the depths. A frantic slide of lips and tongue. Sadie shivered, her legs trembling to keep her braced. She wanted him so much, she wanted to let go, to drown in the feel of him underneath her, just kissing him over and over again forever. She’d never get tired of it.
But a flare of deeper heat was beginning between her legs, a slow curl of want curling around her hips. Her breasts were heavy, sensitive, the juncture between her legs growing slick. She wanted him in her core. She felt a yearning to be filled.
It wasn’t just her. She could feel his answering desire through the bond. She could feel that same want, that same aching need to be connected reflected back at her. Sadie dragged her eyes open and took in the sight of him, her gorgeous vampire soulmate, That sharp, wicked mouth, those deep green eyes. All hints of the wretched, haunted vampire she’d first met had faded away. The bond had made him whole. It had healed him, transformed him. He wasn’t just handsome, he was devastating. He was hers. A flare of possession coursed through her. She laid her body over his in one motion, pressing them close. The cabin swayed as her movement made the whole thing rock dangerously from side to side. She could feel him against her, feel his hardness, undeniable proof of his desire for her.
His hands flexed, tightening, his palms smoothing down her back and curving around her behind, pressing her against his hardness.
“Fuck, Sadie, I don’t think I can wait,” Markus moaned. She could feel the thickness of his erection press between her legs.
“Then don’t.” Sadie said, a thrill running through her.
“Are you sure?” he said, his eyes hazy with desire.
“I want you,” Sadie said. “And I don’t want to wait.”
Markus didn’t reply with words, instead he slid his hands between their bodies. Sadie rolled her hips up to let him unzip her fly. She bit her lip, kicking her pants down to her knees. This was bold, reckless. She’d never done anything like this before.
“I’ve got you,” Markus purred, his hand smoothing along her bare leg. “Wrap yourself around me, yeah, like that.” He moved her closer to him with slow, sure motions, and with every touch, Sadie’s nerves faded away. Markus dipped his hand between their bodies, his fingers finding their steady way between her legs. His broad hands cupped her wet heat. Sadie gasped as he slid his fingers past her slick folds. Sadie fell apart under his fingers. His sure hands coaxed more and more delicious sensations from her body.
The feeling was almost too much, pleasure too sharp. Markus’ touch was like a drug, it dazed her, drenched her in lust. His free hand slipped under her shirt to her breast. He rubbed her hard nipple with his thumb, his wide hand stretching over her sensitive skin. She wanted more, she never wanted it to end. She could barely think. Pleasure throbbed through her body. She felt feral, frantic, hungry for more than just his fingers.
“Inside,” she moaned. “I need you, need to feel you.”
“Right here?” Markus teased, gesturing to the swaying cabin.
Sadie blinked; she’d forgotten they were still in the Ferris wheel. The cabin was swaying dangerously from side to side with the strength of their movements. But she didn’t care. “We’re on top of the world here, no one can see us.”
Markus grinned, “That’s my girl,” he said, unbuckling his belt in quick, desperate movements. A second later they pulled together again, like magnets, unable to stay apart. His thick length was right between her legs, pressed against her wetness. Then in one smooth move Markus thrust up against her. Sadie cried out. She grabbed onto the side of the bench to brace herself as he entered her. Markus gripped her hips, and worked himself in. Sadie froze for a moment. He was so thick, so big. The stretch, the sensation of it was earth shattering.
“So good, Sadie,” Markus moaned against her ear, and Sadie cried out as pleasure rocketed between them through the bond. She’d never felt anything like it. She could feel his lust for her, looping and thickening through the bond between them. After a moment, when she regained some tiny shred of control over her body, she flexed, tightening deep inside her and Markus cried out, his green eyes flaring with an unearthly light.
Then he began to move and it was Sadie’s turn to gasp.
He thrust up into her, at first slow, but growing quicker, Sadie had to brace harder, one hand wrapping around his broad shoulders, the other on the back of the bench. He gripped her hips tight as she rode him, going deeper with each thrust, shattering her thoughts, her cares. She didn’t notice the wheel reaching its highest point, didn’t notice they’d begun descending. All she could feel was the hot, wet glide of their bodies and the growing heaviness of her orgasm between her legs.
He raised himself up at the last moment, searching her mouth, and she lost herself to the slide of lips on skin. He drove her higher and higher, her nerves alight with exhilaration. This was perfect. This was her whole world. She was drowning in pleasure. Her body shook with her desire for him. She pressed her eyes shut. The golden light of the bond flared all around them, golden and fiery. Lust crackled down the bond, looping back and building between them until she couldn’t bear it, until her legs were tight around his body, her muscles flexing, sweat breaking out on her skin. She was part of him, he was part of her, both of them bound in golden light. She couldn’t hold on any longer.
The bond stretched wide between them and Sadie’s orgasm finally tipped her over into white hot pleasure. Fierce, unstoppable, it slammed through her body, her muscles locked, her back arched and she screamed his name. Everything was light. The bond roared open between them and she felt Markus come a split second later, the pleasure looping and circling over and over until Sadie thought she might die from it. She let go. Let go of everything, and fell back against him, utterly spent.
Hours, maybe days later, Sadie came back to herself. The Ferris wheel cabin was rocking fiercely, creaking and groaning loudly. Markus was draped across the bench, his eyes shut, long lashes fluttering. Sadie panted, her chest heaving, and dragged herself up to rest her chin on his chest. Outside she could see the tops of trees, the peaks of the tallest tents.
“Oh shit.” She mumbled, even speaking too much effort.
“We’re in trouble.”
Sadie didn’t remember leaving the Ferris Wheel. She didn’t remember what excuse she gave for the rocking of the cabin, or how they managed to get their clothes in order before stumbling out of their cabin, with eyes only for each other. She knew she should feel embarrassed, Sex in public! She’d never imagined she would do such a thing.
But she didn’t care. She was too wrapped up in Markus, in his steady presence by her side and the delicious feelings still running through her body, No one else even existed.
It took her a whole minute to realize someone was calling her name.
A second later there was a rush of movement. Markus body-blocked someone rushing towards her and only at the last second did Sadie recognize Hope’s wide-eyed face.
“Wait! She’s a friend!” she cried out, pulling Markus back. Hope stared between the two of them, her eyes wide. “It’s okay.” Sadie rushed to reassure her friend. “He’s…” my soulmate? “He’s safe.”
“Okay?” Hope’s voice was frantic. “I’ve been looking for you for hours! I was going to call in… reinforcements,” she said, with a sharp look at Markus.
Sadie realized she was talking about the Shadows. Shit. That wouldn’t have been good. She can’t imagine how those protective warriors would have reacted to finding her and Markus locked in their embrace up on the Ferris wheel.
Hope must have caught sight of the blush staining Sadie’s cheeks, because she pulled up short. “Oh. I see,” she said meaningfully.
“Um, this is Markus,” Sadie said into the suddenly awkward silence. “He’s, um, he’s a vampire,”
Hope put her hands on her hips. “So that’s how this is? You two have been together the whole time? Why did you ditch me?” Sadie could see her friend was hurt at the thought Sadie had dropped her for a booty call.
“No, no. It wasn’t like that.”
Hope snorted. “My sister is soul bonded to a vampire. I know what that look on your face means. And have you seen your hair?”
Sadie raised her hand quickly to her head. “What’s wrong with it?”
“Nothing’s wrong with it,” Markus growled, shooting an angry look at Hope.
Hope rolled her eyes “Talon does a worse scary face than you, mister. Chill out.” She turned to Sadie. “I meant, you’ve got a serious case of bed head, and I’m guessing Tall, Redheaded and Fiery, here, is to blame?”
“It’s, I mean, we were on the Ferris wheel, but…”
“Holy shit you did it on the wheel?” Hope’s eyes widened. Sadie blushed hard enough she thought her entire face would catch fire.
“I didn’t mean to say that.”
“Lady, I am impressed.” Hope said. She stepped closer, a wary eye on Markus, and gave Sadie a quick hug. “I mean I was worried out of my mind, but still, nice one.” She pointed her finger at Markus. “You, I’m still not decided about.”
“No no—” Sadie reached between them “ —please don’t fight. Honestly Hope, it wasn’t like that. I didn’t mean to leave you.,” she said, growing serious. “Look, here.” She pulled the crushed acorn from her bag. “We were trapped in the haunted house. It was a curse.”
“Curse? What, like Magic? Hope took the acorn and turned it over in her hands
Sadie swallowed, steeling herself. Next to her, Markus slipped his hand into hers. She could feel his support through the bond. With Markus by her side, telling Hope suddenly didn’t seem as scary as before
“I’m a witch,” she said.
There was silence for a moment, then Hope looked up from the acorn. “Dude, seriously?”
Sadie nodded tightly.
“Awesome,” Hope said, her eyes wide and a grin splitting her face. “That is like, so cool. Do you have a wand? Are you like Harry Potter? How does it work? Can you fly on a broomstick?”
Sadie laughed. Hope wasn’t rejecting her, why did she ever think she would. If anything, her energetic friend was more excited than Sadie had been when she discovered her magic for the first time.
Sadie sniffed. “I love you,” she burst out, and wrapped her arms around Hope.
“I—oh, okay, hug time.” Hope squeezed her back. “Shit, you didn’t think I’d freak, did you?” She pulled back so she could see Sadie’s face. “Ah, Sadie.” Hope hugged her again. even tighter than before.
“I just… I’d never told anyone except my parents before,” Sadie sniffled as she finally admitted the fears that had lived inside her for so long. “They reacted… really badly.”
“So that’s why you don’t talk about your folks,” Hope said, finally letting Sadie go.
Sadie nodded, moving back to Markus’ side. Her soulmate laid his arm over her shoulders and the tension that had lingered in Sadie’s back, finally faded away.
Hope shook her head, turning the acorn over in her hands. “I mean, I expect a full recounting when we get back to the dorm, because learning your best friend is a witch is kinda a big deal. But, honey, my sister’s a vampire, I can roll with it. And as for your parents? Fuck ‘em. They were idiots. They— She broke off. “Hey, what’s this?”
Hope turned the acorn over and a tiny canister fell out. Sadie and Markus moved closer as Hope held it up to the light. It was empty, but a faint white powder still clung to the inside.
“HUNT,” Markus growled, taking it carefully from Hope, not touching the broken edges. He sniffed it carefully, then winced, holding it at arm’s length. That’s HUNT poison, I’d know it anywhere.”
“HUNT has magic now?” Hope said, her voice hollow with shock “HUNT, the same hunters who tried to kill everyone in the Sanctuary only last month?”
Markus nodded grimly.
“We have to tell the shadows.” Hope said
“No,” snapped Markus.
“Okay, look, you put that blissed out expression on my best friend’s face, so you get one pass, but dude, I don’t care how good you are in bed. This shit—” Hope pointed to the canister “—is above all our paygrades. HUNT is bad news.”
“You think I don’t know that?” Markus growled.
Sadie rested her hand on his arm. “They might be able to help us. It’s like the bond,” she whispered, glancing at Hope, who grinned, but stepped back, giving them privacy. “We’re stronger together.”
“What if I lead HUNT to them?”
Sadie shook her head. “HUNT is chasing all of us, right? Vampires and anyone close to them.” She gestured to Hope. “Hope’s sister is a vampire.” She turned to face Markus. “And you’re my soulmate. We’re in this fight already. HUNT wants us alone. I would have died in that house without you. They wanted to break us apart but they failed. Together, we can fight them.”
The bond flared between them, bright and strong.
Sadie saw agreement dawn in Markus’ eyes. He pulled her to him and kissed her hard.
“All right. Let’s do it.”
Ready to dive into the next book?
Find out how Ben meets his mate in Beloved of the Vampire