Things just seemed to go from bad to worse. The past two days for Cathrin were definitely right up there with the day Quin the vampire squirmed his way into her life. Two whole days had gone by and she was ready to throw the towel in. She had been getting threatening phone calls from Andrews, or someone who worked for him, at all hours of the night and they were filling up her answering machine.
And as for Quin, she hadnít heard a thing from him. It was like he had disappeared off the face of the earth. Well, that was fine by her. The less she saw of him, the happier she would be. The vampire had no right to go and muddle her up in his business.
Agreeing seemed to be the only way out.
She stepped out of the elevator and made her way down the hall. She pulled out her keys and went to put them in the door.
She had no door.
She stared in shock as she walked dazedly into her apartment. The couch had been thrown across the living room and papers and book were scattered everywhere. Her door was in the kitchenette, of all places, with all the knives driven into it up to their handles. The electronic equipment and her bedroom were left untouched. Why trash the rest of her apartment and leave her bedroom alone? She didnít want to think about it, especially if it had vampire involvement. She picked her way across her living room and let the couch fall onto all four feet with a dull thud. There was a note taped to one of the cushions. Hastily, she pulled it of and read it.
Since you lost me a servant, you will take her place!
There was no doubt that the note was from Edward Andrews. She crumpled up the note and threw it amongst the mess on the floor. If that pale parasite thought that he could just barge in and take over her life, well, he could take that note of his, bend over andÖ
"I love what youíve done to the place. What is this? The ransacked look?" a man said in an amused tone. Cathrin looked up to see Quin gracefully picking his way across the living room. She didnít realise he was there until he spoke.
"Lemme guess, there was no door so you showed yourself in." she said bitterly.
"Yes and no." he said as he came to sit beside her. She moved as far away as she could and curled up into the foetal position.
"What do you mean Ďyes and noí? Thatís not even a reply, itís contradictory." she snapped. His dark-eyed gaze flicked around the room before settling on her.
"Yes, I came in because there was no door, but I wouldnít have if you werenít here." he told her.
"You knew I was here?" she asked.
He shrugged. "I happen to be a lucky guesser. I came by to give you this."
He reached into his jacket and produced a small box. Like the first time they had met, the vampire wore a black suit and matching black turtleneck.
She took the box from his hand, opened it and looked inside.
An eyeball stared back.
Letting out a surprised shriek, she dropped the box. "That was sent to me this morning. Three guesses from whom." the vampire said and picked up the box with its awful contents and returned it to his jacket.
"Andrews, right? You carried that thing in your pocket from wherever to here?" she asked.
"Right and it could be worse. It could have been a head." he replied with a careless shrug.
"Youíve gotten a head before?" she asked disgustedly. To that, he smiled.
"Once or twice. I know Iíve sent a few." he said. "You are a monster." she informed him. He gave her a small bow from where he sat.
"Why thankyou. I do try." he said as his smile turned predatory.
"You also have a bizarre and twisted sense of humour." she added flatly. He gave her a quick, soft laugh, gone as fast as it came. The predatory smile remained.
"To have survived nine hundred and sixty one years, yours would be a little bizarre and twisted too. Though the thought of your humour warping any further unnerves me." he said before laughing again. She let the insult slide. She was amazed to find out how old he really was.
"Why else are you here?" she asked and watched him warily. He stood in one fluid movement.
"Come to the Dark World, with me. Perhaps together we can get some information to help you." he said and offered her his hand. She batted it away and stood. It looked like clubbing was becoming a regular thing for Cathrin.
Before they left, the vampire helped her re-hang her door and removed the knives. She couldnít be bothered driving and Quin had graciously offered to take her in his car. It was a British racing car green Jaguar. She did her best not to get too comfortable. She had totalled three very expensive cars in her life and none of them were hers. She didnít want to add this car to the list. This was one car that she couldnít even consider driving. It was too good for her touch of death.
On any other night when she wanted to get into the Dark World, and she was without Mozart, she either had to sneak in through the employees entrance or wait in the incredibly long line out the front. The back way was out of the question because there was a new electronic lock and only employees knew the code. That meant she had an unhealthy three or so hour wait ahead of her.
Tonight, however, she walked straight in after Quin, who gave the bouncer a stern glare. Inside was dark and hot with people everywhere talking, drinking, dancing and generally having a good time.
Devon was behind the bar, serving drinks. She was one of those few bartenders who could spin and twirl the bottles through the air and catch them without a second glance. People usually crowded around the bar just to see her put on a show. She saw Cathrin and smiled in her shy manner.
"Do you want a drink before your meeting?" she asked over the noise of the club.
"Meeting? Huh? I donít drink and I donít have a meeting." Cathrin replied. Devon frowned.
"You do have a meeting. I even have the message." she said and pulled out a neatly folded note from her jacket pocket. She pushed her glasses up her nose and handed the note to Cathrin, who opened and read it.
Cathrin and Calahan, conference room 3, 9:30 was written in Mozartís spidery handwriting. She handed it back.
"I never agreed to this meetingó" she began.
"So I agreed for you." Quin cut her off. Because of his silence, she had forgotten he was there. She glared at him as he stood casually next to her, half melting into the shadows because of his black attire. He was playing human, pretending to fit in with those around him. She was sure that could change in the blink of an eye.
"You what?" she demanded. The vampire tried to look innocent and failed horribly, his smile destroying the expression.
"I knew you would never agree so I did on your behalf, after all you and Old Nick are persona non grata with each other. He wanted to talk to you so I said yes for you." he told her.
"Did you now?" she asked suspiciously. "You couldnít say Ďhey, Calahan wants to have words with you.í and this is your way of doing it without copping my verbal abuse?"
He nodded, his black hair flopping over his brow.
"Something along those lines." he said.
"Tough luck!" she snapped. "I am not going to meet with Calahan! I donít care if he is the oldest, most powerful leech in the world. And heís your ring leader. That doesnít give him much credit in my opinion. And who died and made you my decision maker?" His smile faded, as did his expression, and became emotionless.
"You husband." he replied. Okay, that was a below the belt comment.
"Hey, donít you dare bring my husband into this! Heís two years dead, so leave him that way, dead and gone. I wonít have you bringing that up all the time. If you think you can unnerve me, forget it. Iím over it, even if you did kill him. Whatís past is past, leave it that way." she told him, anger boiling through her veins. He shrugged carelessly. It only just dawned on her then that he didnít give a damn about what she thought. He didnít care about anything at all.
"Just go to the meeting, Cathrin." he told her.
"No." she said stubbornly. He glared at her. She could feel the heat of his gaze. He wasnít very happy. He was getting angry. Great, just what she needed, one angry bloodsucker. How to piss off a vampire in one easy lesson; refuse it.
"Go to the meeting." he growled, a silent or else added to the end of the statement.
"I donít want to." she said and sat down. She saw him purse his lips and rake his fingers through his hair. "Go to the meeting, donít argue. Go or I will lose my temper and patience with you." he said quietly over the background noise, his words suddenly devoid of every emotion but anger.
"So? Go on! Throw a temper tantrum in the middle of a crowded nightclub, see if I care! I am not going." Cathrin said finally and crossed her arms over her chest. Devon glanced from one to the other and went down to the other end of the bar. Wise person. "Youíd like that, wouldnít you? Youíd love it if I did something that would give me away." Quin said and sat down beside her.
"I can be just as stubborn as you." she told him. "Weíll see about that." he replied and leaned on the bar. She suddenly felt the air around him come alive. That was the only way to describe it. Energy seemed to swim through the air and crawl over her skin. It grew thick and it became hard to breathe. She gasped, gulping down hot air to prevent herself from choking while the vampire sat casually beside her, with no apparent care in the world. The longer she sat, the thicker the air became and the harder it was to breathe.
"All right, you bastard! Iíll go!" she growled through clenched teeth, her lungs burning for oxygen. Quin smiled and the energy disappeared, like someone turning off a light. She sat still for a few minutes, recovering from what had happened. The vampire appeared like nothing had happened.
"Better hurry, itís nearly half past." he told her and she pushed past him. She went through a hidden door. There were four meeting/conference rooms behind the club, each at the end of a short, separate hallway. Cathrin had only had a few meetings back here. None of them had been pretty. This one was expected to be ugly, considering who the meeting was with. Who in their right mind would like the idea of meeting with the worldís oldest vampire in a sound proofed room? She came to the end of the hallway and pushed through the door.
"Ah, dear little Cathrin. Itís been such a long time since we last met." a man crooned. She glared at the short man on the other side of the room. As far as vampires were concerned, this one looked quite ordinary. When most think of vampires, they think of Dracula, or a vampire very close to it, like Quin. This one was nothing like that. He was a good foot shorter than Cathrin, had honey brown hair, pale skin, no striking features other than his eyes. They were a brilliant emerald green. She had seen those eyes only once in her life and she would never forget them.
Despite his ordinary appearance, he wore casual yet clearly expensive clothes.
What was it with vampires? Were they all filthy rich? Well, if you live a few centuries, guess you learn how to save money.
"Not long enough, Old Nick. Twenty years is not nearly long enough." she told him. He gave her an expression of mock surprise.
"Twenty years already so soon?" he asked.
"Drop the high and mighty act, Calahan, it doesnít work on me. Youíre just a parasite, nothing more." she snapped at him. To that he smiled, flashing his fangs. She and the vampire had an uneasy truce. He didnít do anything to provoke her and vice versa. She sat in one of the chairs as he slowly approached her. Once he was only three yards away, he too sat.
"What do you want?" she asked once they were both seated. His smile faded.
"I have been informed that you have been hired to do a job concerning Edward Andrews." he told her. Gee, word travels fast.
"On what grounds? You have to have a reason to do this, or you can be arrested for murder. What is your reason?"
"Itís official, you can rest easy on that. He forced someone to be his servant."
"Ah, that. Walk away."
"Too late, Iíve already filled out the paperwork."
"Walk away, Hunter, leave this to us, it is our matter."
"Itís mine too."
"Andrews wants me to take her replacement and Iím not about to do that."
"You delight in being obstinate when it comes to matters like this, donít you?"
"Absolutely and proud of it. Face it, Iím going to do the job I was hired to do and I wonít stop until itís done."
"Do you honestly want to get caught up in something you know nothing abut? This war between Andrews and Quin is age old and very, very ugly. Iím surprised they havenít killed each other yet."
"So am I, but I already am involved thanks to you, you got me caught up in this sort of thing twenty years ago. Let me do my job and I wonít bother you." "This time I canít let you do that. Andrews is mine. You kill him and I will retaliate."
"Goody, then I can deal with you too. If you get in my way, I will take you out of the equation."
"Then I will be at your funeral." he sighed.
"Or Iíll be at yours." she retorted sharply. The vampire glared at her.
"Donít be so sure. I have lived nearly two millennia, you have lived barely a second of my life. You are just a mosquito to me, a minor irritation that needs to be squashed. And I will squash you, donít think I wonít do it." he said harshly.
"Like you squashed me twenty years ago? A big olí monster scaring a child? Iíd like to see you try. And donít think I wonít stop irritating you either." she told him and stood to leave.
"Walk away, Hunter, walk away and live. That was your last warning." Calahan said heatedly.
"Donít waste your warnings on me. Itís twenty years too late for them. I canít walk away any more." she said finally and left the vampire in the conference room.
Quin was nowhere in sight when Cathrin returned to the main room of the club. Devon only handed her a note when asked where the vampire was.
Gone hunting. Keys to car with Devon. Go home, Iíll be by later to retrieve the car. He was letting her drive the Jaguar. Bad idea, very bad idea. He obviously didnít know about herÖquestionable driving skills. She retrieved the keys from the bartender and bid the other woman goodnight.
She was just making her way toward the very expensive car when she heard "Psst! Cathrin!" whispered hoarsely. She stopped and peered into the darkness. "Whoís there?" she asked and nearly cringed. Usually, people who ask whoís there? end up getting an unpleasant reply.
"Me, Quin." came the reply. "You should see this."
Warily, she walked toward the shadows, not really believing that the vampire was there. It didnít seem like something he would do and besides, he said he had gone hunting.
However, her curiosity had been perked, and she wanted to know who had been calling to her and to do that, she had to go into shadows.
She had barely stepped into the darkness when a hand clamped over her mouth.
"Donít bother to scream." someone hissed into her ear and began to drag her away. Cathrin dropped the keys and stumbled helplessly along. She could feel the strength in the grip that help her and if she struggled, her neck would be snapped like a toothpick. The last thing she saw was a wall rushing up to hit her faceÖ
Quin saw his car parked by the curb. He supposed that Cathrin was still in the club. Then he noticed the keys on the footpath. There was also the faint scent of a human. The fragrance was spicy and carried the tang of danger. That scent was unmistakably Cathrin. That faint perfume was nearly drowned by the sickening stench of another. The scent was the same as the one that had clung to Cathrinís apartment for the last two years.
He snatched up the keys and silently cursed himself. He was going to have to visit an old enemy.
Cathrin opened her eyes. Pain shot through her face and head like icy needles.
"Itís about bloody time!" a woman growled. Cathrin turned to see who had spoken. Bad move. Pain shot through her head again, On the bright side, she did see who the speaker was. It was a woman with long silver-blond hair and ghostly pale skin. She had thin features and bore strong resemblance to Edward Andrews. She smiled, or it was supposed to be a smile, but it was more like a baring of teeth. Cathrin saw two very sharp looking, elongated, upper canines.
"Father will be pleased that I rounded you up. And you took your sweet time in waking! That will have to change. Or else Father will get very snappy with you." the pale woman said bluntly.
"Who are you?" Cathrin asked through clenched teeth, trying to stop her head from throbbing painfully.
"Never you mind, Caathriin." the woman crooned, drawing out her name. "You canít go around asking questions all the time. Only the stupid ask questions and Iím told youíre not stupid. You seem spirited, that is rather splendid. I will have fun trying to break that spirit of yours."
"Now, now, Caitlin, donít go provoking her. Donít you know who this spirited lady is?" a man scolded the woman, Caitlin. Her deep blue eyes widened.
"No! This cannot be! You mean to tell me, Father dear, that this frail woman is the Hunter? A woman? Itís unheard of! Women donít hunt us, they donít have the stomach for it." Caitlin said and sniffed indignantly.
"Then you have been far too removed from the world at late, daughter, and you speak too much. This woman is indeed the Hunter and she has more stomach for this life than you ever will." the man said as he came into view. Cathrin groaned softly. It was Edward Andrews. If Caitlin was his daughter, Cathrin was in trouble. One Andrews was bad enough, let alone two. He narrowed his eyes at her and glared at his daughter. "Did you do this, daughter?" he demanded.
"Do what, Father dearest?" she asked sweetly. He caught her in a backhanded slap, sending her sprawling onto the floor.
"Her face, did you do this to her?" he snarled at his daughter.
"I canít help it if a wall gets in my way!" she snarled back. That earned her another slap, which sent her further over the floor.
"Get out of my sight or your pretty face will not be so lucky." he told her. She visibly trembled, but not with anger. Fear.
"But Father," she began calmly, as if to smooth things out.
"Go." her father ordered. She glanced at Cathrin before hurriedly walking away. It was clear that from this little display, the Andrewsí were anything but a big, happy family.
The remaining Andrews turned to face Cathrin and looked her over.
"I apologise for that. My daughter sometimes forgets her place. You will not do that, now, will you?" he made it sound like a rhetorical question, so she didnít bother to reply.
He came over to her and took hold of the jaw. His touch made her skin crawl.
"Look at me." he told her. She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to turn her face away. He shook her jaw, his cold fingers digging into her skin.
"Do it!" he ordered. Cathrin opened her eyes so her would stop shaking her. Her vision swam and more pain sliced through her head like an icy knife. Then those midnight blue eyes engulfed her world.