The sign was plain. Someone had converted the l into a k and obliterated the ing in Darling. How apt. Cathrin Forbes sighed as she drove past it, into the city.
Like most cities around the world, Darling Cove had a dark side. By day, it was bright, cheerful, happy. Safe.
At night, it became dangerous, sinister. Evil.
Well, not quite evil, but close enough to it. At dawn and dusk, these two sides seemed to overlap and everything either was fine or total chaos.
She drove the Mercedes along Monolith Drive. Only the elite got into this part of town and driving the Benz was her ticket in. Too bad the car wasnít hers and she was returning it to its rightful owner. It would be strange going from a first class Mercedes to a second hand Jeep. It just wouldnít be as good.
She pulled a hard left into a long driveway and almost floored the accelerator. One last spin before giving it back. Mozart wouldnít be happy. She resisted the urge to do a 360 in the driveway, but it wasnít every day she got to drive a Mercedes. As if on cue, Wolfgang Amedeus Chilton appeared in the front doorway to the house. Mansion would be a better word, but the house was actually smaller than others in the neighbourhood. The man was built like a brick wall and almost filled the doorway. Wolfgang, or Mozart to everyone but his family, shook his head in disgust as Cathrin pulled up in front of the steps that led to the front door.
She rolled down the window and grinned at him.
"Hereís your baby," she told him as he casually walked down the steps.
"Thatís my new car and youíre messing with it. Itís not even twelve hours old and youíre messing with it. No, you canít borrow it, not after last time." he told her in his deep voice, a grin on his face. The last time he let her borrow his car, she totalled it, not on purpose mind you.
"Aw, Mozart, donít be so over protective. Itís just a car." she told him through the open window. He laughed, his deep voice booming like small rolls of thunder.
"If itís only a car, give me the keys." he said.
"I was hoping you wouldnít say that." she complained. "If I have to give it back, Iíll total it like the last one!"
Mozart grinned, his teeth flashing pearly against the dark coffee tone of his skin.
"Total it and you can pay for the next new one. Now give me the keys, Cathrin." he scolded her. He held out one of his large hands. She groaned in protest and handed the keys to him.
"At least drive me home in it." she pleaded.
He rolled his black eyes and sighed. "Humans!"
Mozart was a lycanthrope. Werewolf that is. She had met several different types of lycanthropes before, but more often than not, they were werewolves.
Reluctantly, she squirmed into the front passenger seat and waited for her friend to get into the car. She always felt unnaturally pale compared to him.
Somewhere in her family, there was an Irish ancestor, which explained her fiery red hair, stubborn jaw line and blue-grey eyes. She was cursed with a redheadís complexion, which showed every blush and blemish, bump and bruise.
Mozart sped away from the house, laughing softly at her shriek of surprise. He sped most of the way into Darling Cove. He only slowed as he reached the centre of the city and traffic began to build.
"You know thereís a new vampire in town?" he asked, breaking their lengthy silence.
"Should I be worried?" she asked.
"Perhaps. Maybe you should know who it is." he replied.
"Who is it then?" she asked.
"Quin. The Devil himself has come, gracing our fair shores with his presence." Mozart said with a grin. It faded quickly.
"Get ready for World War III if he really is in town. Andrews is still in residence." she muttered. This wasnít good. Quin was world renowned as being a ruthless and downright nasty vampire. He was feared by humans as well as his own kind. His methods of operation were what earned him the nickname of the Devil. Quin was one of the oldest, he was also the second most powerful in the world.
The honours of both oldest and most powerful went to Nicholas Calahan, who, unfortunately, also resided in Darling Cove.
Andrews was Quinís sire, the one who had made him a vampire. The two had been at war for centuries. Youíd think one of them would have won by now. Cathrin had better stay on her toes if Quin was in town.
Cathrin made a point of knowing the basics of vampirism, her job depended on it. She basically killed vampires for a living. People paid her to go kill them. It sounded a lot like she was an assassin, but what she did was legal in all commonwealth countries and most non-commonwealth ones too. She was called the Hunter because she was the best at vampire hunting. In the Dark World, the preternatural side of life, she was feared and loathed by all vampires.
Mozart dropped her off outside her apartment building and went on his way. Cathrin was edgy. The news that Quin was in the Cove along with his sire meant only one thingóa lot of deaths. She would have to take out one or both to end this. She didnít have a problem with that, nobody was going to miss a couple of vampires.
She stormed into the building and jabbed one of the elevator buttons. The doors opened a little while later and she stepped inside. She didnít like lifts much, they made her feel a little claustrophobic.
With relief, she stepped out once it had ground to a halt and the doors rattled open. She fished around in her jacket pocket and pulled out her keys while she walked and stopped to unlock her front door. Once she opened the door, she saw the man sitting on her couch.
She gaped at him, then at the door and then back at him. The door had been locked, yet the man sat there, looking like he owned the place.
"How?" she gaped and dropped her keys. He sat there, watching her with dark eyes. She blinked and drew in a shaky breath.
"Who are you and how the hell did you get into my apartment?" she asked as calmly and as she could manage. That brought a small smile to the manís lips.
"Those are very interesting questions, Mrs Forbes, or should I call you Hunter?" he replied just as calmly, though he sounded a lot more confident than she. He had to be a part of the Dark World if he knew that she was called the Hunter. He stood in one fluid motion and held out his right hand.
"Allow me to introduce myself, they call me Quin." he said politely. Cathrin went cold. Quin the vampire, oh hell. She automatically shook his hand, her mind too numb with shock to do too much else. It wasnít every day she got to have a Lord vampire standing in front of her and she was completely at his mercy. From what she had heard of Quin, he didnít know the meaning of mercy. "As for how I got here," he continued as he released her hand from his firm handshake and sat back down. "One of your neighbours was good enough to let me in."
Cathrin bent down, picked up her keys, and shut the door without taking her eyes off the vampire. "After a bit of persuasion, Iíll bet." she muttered under her breath.
"I heard that." he told her.
"Goody for you, leech." she said heatedly. His smile flickered away. She could feel the weight of his gaze, the intensity that only comes with age. It felt as if he was trying to bore a hole between her eyes while only using his. And he was doing a pretty good job. She gazed right back, avoiding his eyes, unafraid.
But if he was going to kill her, why didnít he just get on with it?
There was a look on his face besides the cool, unnerved expression he wore that unsettled her.
Sheíd never seen respect in any vampire before. Fear and loathing, yes, but never respect.
Quin gestured for her to sit, letting his smile return and crossing his ankles.
"Please Hunter, you look like you need to sit. I have a lot to tell you." he said. Cathrin sat and watched him warily. He was polite, she gave him points for that. Maybe he was one of those sporting types that told you that you were going to die before they killed you.
This was the first, and hopefully last, time she met Quin. She knew him only by reputation. He probably only knew her in the same way, but how did he know where she was?
They sat in silence, studying each other.
God, he was beautiful. Handsome and gorgeous seemed to fall short. He was perfect and he knew it. He had short, glossy black hair that flopped carelessly over his brow. His face was sincere and incredibly handsome, if not beautiful. She couldnít tell if he didnít mean a word he said.
He was tall, a good six foot three. That made him six inches taller than her and she hated that. She hated having to look up to him for the brief time he had stood, towering over her. It made her feel small. His build added to that feeling. He had a medium build, but he was solid. He had broad shoulders and narrow hips and in between was solid muscle, not bulging muscle, but enough to be fit. His turtleneck sweater emphasised that. He wore black, a sharp contrast to his pale skin, but his black suit ensemble only seemed to add to his beauty, making him seem exotic and dangerous. Women and men would flock around him.
His voice, when he did speak, was a very pleasant tenor, but held a quality to it, almost like silk. No human could ever have a voice like that. It went with the ethereal looks and powers she supposed.
She admired him for a few more moments, wondering how he could be so beautiful and such a vile creature at the same time.
His small smile grew and she caught a glimpse of perfect white teeth.
"Appearances can be deceiving." he told her, as if replying her unasked question. "You obviously know my reputation or else you wouldnít be looking at me like that."
"How am I looking at you?" she asked warily. He laughed a soft, quick, amused laugh. Even after his face grew serious, the ghost of his laughter remained in his voice.
"Youíre looking at me like Iím a dangerous animal, beautiful to look at but would kill you without a second thought." he replied solemnly, his amusement there but fading rapidly.
"Would you? Kill me without a second thought?" she asked softly. For a moment, the vampire sat there silent.
"No. I would have second thoughts. You fascinate me. Youíre a human predator, a vampire in human form. And I hate you less than others of my kind." he told her. That would have to have been the strangest compliment she had ever received.
"Why are you here, Quin?" she asked after another short silence. She could almost feel his gaze travel over her body, a calculating and approving look on his face, and sighed.
"How healthy are you?" he asked.
"Thatís none of your business!" she told him. He crossed his arms across his broad chest.
"Actually, it is my business. I need you alive and well, not knocking on deathís door." he said.
"Need me? Sorry pal, Iím not for use, by you or anyone." she snapped at him.
"I can pay," he offered.
"I donít want your blood money." she refused. He uncrossed his arms and let out an amused laugh. It floated around the room like butterflies or bubbles, rich and captivating.
"Thatís rich. Blood money!" he muttered as his expression slowly melted back to solemn. "Blood money, indeed. Do you honestly think I donít earn a living?"
"I donít care if youíre the Pope. I donít want your money, itís as simple as that."
"I was only thinking out loud."
"Then think in your head like everyone else."
"No need to be snide, Hunter, you should be grateful to me."
"Why? Weíve never met before today."
"True, but this visit is two years overdue. Thatís when I was here last. You havenít changed a thing in here since. And I saved your life on my last visit."
"How?" she demanded, her anger barely contained.
"A certain someone was going to kill you, yet he opted for death. And itís a very long way down from here." the vampire replied casually.
Cathrin clenched her teeth. Two years ago, her husband had been murdered by a vampire, his body thrown from the balcony. The police said it was the impact that killed him, not the vicious wounds before hand. The offending parasite had turned up on the security camera as a dark blur. She had spent the majority of the last two years hunting down her husbandís killer. Well, now she could stop searching.
"You!" she said through her clenched teeth. He only smiled. "You bastard!" she shouted and sprang to her feet. Quin was suddenly on his feet, standing opposite her. She didnít even see him move. "Youíre the parasite!" she accused. His smile turned cruel yet remained handsome.
"Do you want to know what happened when I got here? Before I threw him off the balcony over there?" he asked, taunting her.
"No!" she fumed and clenched her hands into fists. He chuckled coldly, the sound chilling as it floated around her.
"Did you know he was a married man? That he had to kill his beloved wife or he would be changed? And he wasnít alone when I got here. No, the poor, dearly departed husband was with another woman. I can still smell her in this room." he continued and closed his eyes, drawing in a deep breath.
"Youíre lying!" Cathrin growled. "My husband would never do something like that!"
The vampire opened his eyes, his face very cold.
"Iíve been called a lot of things, many are true, but I hardly ever lie." he said emptily, his voice and face devoid of all emotion.
She lashed out at him, punching his handsome face. There was a satisfying crunch as her fist connected with his perfectly straight nose. He staggered back two paces, dark blood slowly dripping down his face. He gingerly touched his nose and looked up at her, his eyes black with anger.
She could only stare at him, seeing the blood creep back into his slowly straightening nose. His lips twisted into a snarl. She caught a glimpse of two very sharp fangs. She couldnít do much else. She made the mistake of meeting his eyes and now he had her in his power.
"Iíll let you have that one, Hunter, but that will be the only one." he said slowly and carefully, calming himself.
"Get out." she told him and tried to point to the door. His lips curved into a smile.
"No." he said simply.
"Get out, Quin, or Iíll kill you." she managed to say sharply. He said nothing as he made his way toward her. Cathrin tried to move, tried to look away, but he wouldnít let her.
"Tut-tut, Hunter. You should know better than this." he scolded her like a child. He drew close to her and for a moment she was left looking at his mouth. Then he tipped up her chin so she was looking into his eyes.
"What do you want?" she murmured, fear beginning to coil around her spine.
"I told you, but you didnít want to listen. Itís almost out of my hands, so whatever happens next is your own fault. If you want a fight, you have one, but I will tell you now, you will die. However, I am polite. I will give you another chance." he said softly. His eyes were like two bottomless pools of dark brown, almost black.
"IÖis thaÖthat aÖa thrÖthreat?" she stammered. His smile faded.
"Consider it a warning, Hunter." he murmured. She blinked. Suddenly, she was alone. One moment the vampire was there, the next gone.
A card fluttered to the floor. She picked it up. It was blank except for one line. Tonight, Dark World nightclub, 10:30, room 2.
Looked like Cathrin was going clubbing.