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       Kindred, p.1

           Erica Stevens
 
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Kindred


  PROLOGUE

  16 years earlier

  “Take them! Mary take them! You have to go!”

  Mary stared down at the two blond children that had been thrust into her arms. Her son was staring at her with wide blue eyes that were startlingly wise, and more than a little unnerving, for a one year old. His small hands curled around his blanket as he watched his mother silently. The other baby was just as quiet, her eyes wide and a shocking violet blue that also appeared far to knowing for her age. Though Mary had never said anything, the age within the children’s eyes had always slightly unnerved her.

  Now it terrified her.

  She blinked in startled surprise at the man before her, the man that had just handed her the children, John. He was her husband, but now, when it was too late, she realized that she didn’t know him at all. That she had never known him. The thought sent a fresh wave of cold terror down her spine. Goose pimples broke out on her flesh; she could barely breathe through the anxiety clutching at her chest.

  “Mary, you must get them to safety.”

  She began to shake, clinging tighter to the children who had yet to make a sound. “Take them! Take them where?” she cried, battling against the tears that filled her eyes and clogged her throat.

  Jessie, the girl’s mother, pushed John slightly out of the way as she stepped forward. Her dark blue, almost violet eyes were wide and fearful; her golden hair was wild around her face. “To my mother in Florida, she’ll know what to do. She’ll keep you safe.”

  “Safe from what?” Mary inquired, hating the hysterical note in her voice, but her body hummed with panic and confusion.

  “She will fill you in,” Derek, Jessie’s husband informed her. “You must go Mary.” Unlike Jessie and John, Derek was relatively calm. To calm considering the fact that he was telling her to take his daughter and flee to Florida. Flee from what, Mary didn’t know, but they seemed adamant that she go. “If you stay, you will die. They will die. Now go!”

  Mary gaped at him, her heart hammering, and her body cold with fear. “I don’t understand,” she cried. “I don’t understand any of this!”

  “I am sorry for that honey, but you must listen to us. You must get yourself, and the children, to safety,” John insisted.

  “What about you? Why don’t you come with me?” she demanded. She wanted to grab hold of his arm, to cling to him, to shake some answers out of him, but the children within her grasp stopped her from doing so.

  “We can’t, they will only follow us. We will meet you later,” Jessie informed her, though Mary realized with heart wrenching certainty that Jessie was lying. They would not be meeting her later. In fact, Mary was beginning to realize that she would never see any of them again.

  “The police, we must go to the police,” she whispered.

  “Are useless,” Brent said sharply. Mary’s gaze darted to the man that had been silent until that moment. Mary didn’t know Brent well, he had never seemed to like her, or approve of her much, for some reason. However, he had been friends with Jessie, Derek, and John for years, even though he was a good twenty years older than them. Mary had never understood their strange relationship, but they were extremely close, and often kept her in the dark as they whispered and spoke quietly with each other. She had always resented their relationship, and her exclusion from it, but she had kept her bitterness hidden, unwilling to hurt or anger her husband. “If you involve them you will only get them hurt, and yourself killed.”

  “They’re coming,” John said softly, his body tensed, his face twisted with anger. “Go!” he hissed, dropping a kiss quickly on her head before shoving her toward the door. “Go now, before it’s too late!”

  Mary stumbled as he shoved at her, pushing her out the back door to the waiting car. A car that she had not started, but it was running expectantly, and appeared to have bags shoved into the back. “Wait!” Mary froze as Jessie snagged hold of her arm; fear and misery were evident in her intense gaze. “Take care of my daughter. Please Mary I am begging you to keep Cassie alive!”

  Mary stared back at the frantic woman she had considered her best friend. Mary had never been more wrong about someone; Jessie was a stranger to her. Mary managed a small nod; her mouth was dry with terror. “I will,” she vowed.

  Jessie released her; she took a step back as tears rolled down her cheeks. Mary had no idea what was happening, but their terror spurred her into action. Fleeing down the back stairs, she hastily strapped the children into their car seats. The children continued to watch her in eerie silence as she jumped behind the wheel. Her hands were shaking as she shifted the car into reverse and pulled out of the drive as calmly as her thumping heart would allow.

  She glanced back at the house, the home she had shared with her husband and his friends. People she now realized she knew nothing about. Nor, she realized with bone shaking certainty, did she know her own son. She glanced at the eerily silent children in the rearview mirror. The girl was usually fussy in the car seat; she was immobile now and did not fight against the straps. Her son was usually fast asleep the minute he hit the car, he was staring intently at her. With their blond hair, and wide unblinking eyes, Mary was suddenly reminded of the Children of The Corn. A chill ran down her back as she gasped and choked on the tears that burned her eyes.

  Shrill screams pierced the night. Mary jumped in surprise, her eyes flew wildly back to the house as the sound of splintering wood shattered the air. For a moment Mary could not move as more shouts, and the sounds of an ensuing battle, rent the silent night.

  Then, her survival instincts, for herself and the children, kicked into gear. Shifting into drive, she stomped on the gas. The tires spun on the asphalt, squealing loudly, before finally grabbing hold. The car lurched forward; the smell of burning rubber followed her as she sped down the road. She headed toward the highway, and Florida. It was almost a ten hour drive, but she had a feeling she would make it there in record time, as long as she didn’t get pulled over first.

  She never looked back; she knew she would see nothing but death behind her. There would be nothing left of her life, or her loved ones. In fact, she was certain that they were already dead, and that whatever had killed them would be coming for her next. But the fact that she had lost her loved ones was not nearly as unnerving as the fact that though she squealed through turns, raced through red lights, and people blared their horns at her, the children remained quiet, and knowing.

  ***

  Twelve years later

  Sorting through the change in her hand, Cassie hastily picked out the nickels and dimes, absently shoving aside the pennies. Sighing in aggravation, she glanced at the unattainable Coke machine before digging into the pocket of her cutoffs once more. All she wanted was a cold soda, was that too much to ask? Apparently as all she pulled out were a few pieces of lint, a gum wrapper, and dirt.

  Cassie fought the fierce urge to kick the machine in frustration; it was not its fault that the price of soda had gone up fifteen cents. It was the stupid, greedy, owner of the store. Glancing past the machine, she peered into the dingy windows of the Five and Dime. Mr. Lester was watching her intently, waiting to make sure that she didn’t do exactly what she longed to do most. She wanted to stick her tongue out at the man, but then she would be banned from the store, and he did have the best selection of baseball cards, candy, and comic books in town.

  Glancing longingly back at the bright red machine, Cassie heaved a sigh of regret, shoved her change back into her pocket and turned away. She would just have to drink from the water fountain during baseball practice, instead of having the nice, cold, wonderful can of Coke that she really wanted. She scrunched her nose slightly, already dreading the taste of the metallic water fountain.

  Grabbing her mitt from the store windowsill, she
turned back to the main thoroughfare. She didn’t make it one step before she was brought to an abrupt halt by a tall, thin man, with a pair of glasses perched at the end of his hawkish nose. His light gray eyes ran quickly over her as he studied her intently. Cassie’s hand tightened on her glove as she took a small, instinctive step back. She was not some five year-old who would wander away with a stranger, but she didn’t know what the odd man’s intentions were.

  Glancing briefly over her shoulder she was relieved to find Mr. Lester still watching intently, his eyes slightly narrowed as he observed the man. Though he liked to squeeze as much money as possible out of the kids, he wouldn’t allow anything bad to happen to her. She turned slowly back to the strange man. His eyes were still fixed upon her, but she saw no ill will in his steady gaze. Instead, there was an odd sense of relief in his eyes.

  A slender girl stepped beside him, her hand slipped into his as she squeezed it gently. Cassie’s tension eased at the sight of the black haired girl who was so trusting of the strange man. The girl studied Cassie from exotically slanted eyes; they were as dark and shiny as a gleaming onyx. Those eyes pierced Cassie, pinning her to the spot as they seemed to see straight into Cassie’s soul.

  Slightly unnerved by the girl’s intense gaze and scrutiny, Cassie turned her attention back to the man. Though he seemed to be in his late thirties, maybe forties, old enough to be the girl’s father, they looked nothing alike. His hair was a light brown, going gray at the temples. His eyes were far from dark in color, and unlike the girls smooth olive complexion, he was very fair.

  “Are you Cassandra Fairmont?” he inquired, the faint hint of an English accent in his tone.

  Cassie frowned at him, not understanding how this man knew who she was, let alone her full name. Her grip tightened on her glove, her stance shifted slightly as she prepared to bolt into the Five and Dime at a moment’s notice. “Do I know you?” She was proud of the fact that her voice didn’t waver.

  “No, but I may have known your parents.”

  Cassie’s heart leapt into her throat, her arm dropped limply to her side. Her fingers eased their tight grip on her glove to the point that she nearly dropped it. Other than her grandmother, and Chris’s mother, Cassie knew no one that had ever met her parents. Though Cassie often asked questions about her parents, her grandmother rarely spoke of them. Once in awhile, she would share stories of Cassie’s mother when she was a little girl, and her father, as her grandmother had also known him as a child.

  However, Chris’s mother never spoke of them; she hated any mention of Cassie’s parents, or Chris’s father. She used the mere mention of them as an excuse to retreat deeper into her drunken stupor, or to hit the bars in search of a new conquest. It was a fact that had once bothered Chris, but lately he had taken to ignoring his mother as easily as she ignored him.

  Now, this strange man was standing before her telling her that he may have known her parents, and quite possibly, Chris’s father. It was a lifeline, a level of hope that she had never experienced before. This man, this stranger, could be their one chance to get to know their parents better.

  “My parents?” she managed to choke out.

  The man’s eyes were gentle as he nodded slowly. “Yes, if they were Derek and Jessie Fairmont?”

  The man blurred as Cassie’s eyes filled with water. She rarely heard their names spoken, rarely had the chance to acknowledge that they had ever even lived. It was as if everything about them had ceased to exist when they were killed in the car accident. Not just their bodies, but their memories, history, their entire lives had been buried forever.

  Now, they were being openly acknowledged, openly conversed about, and it was by a total stranger. Cassie glanced at the slender girl, surprised by the wealth of caring and understanding that filled her warm onyx eyes. Swallowing heavily, Cassie rapidly blinked back her tears, trying hard not to completely fall apart in front of the strange pair.

  Taking a deep breath to steady her pounding heart, and raw nerves, she turned slowly back to the man. “Yes,” she said softly. “Those were my parents.”

  Relief filled him; his shoulders slumped as he broke into a brilliant grin. The girl squeezed his hand harder, doing an odd little jump step as she beamed happily. “I told you,” she said excitedly.

  The man shook his head at her, but there was no censure in the gesture as he continued to smile brightly. He thrust his hand out to Cassie. “My name is Luther Long; I’ve been looking for you for a very long time Cassandra.”

  Cassie stared silently at his extended hand as confusion swirled through her. Though she sensed no ill will from them, they still scared her a little. But then again, the strange man did seem to know her parents, and best of all, he seemed to actually want to speak about them. The temptation was more than she could withstand.

  Thrusting her hand out, she grasped hold of Luther’s warm, well calloused one. His grin widened as he shook her hand briskly.

  In that moment, when he found her, when their hands joined, her life was irrevocably changed. The course of her destiny forever altered. Over the years that followed, Cassie often wondered if she would have run screaming from him, and the changes that he would bring to her life.

  Though, she eventually came to realize that there was no outrunning destiny. It was very much like the Reaper in that way, as there was no escape. And like The Reaper, destiny could be cruel, unfair, and indiscriminate. Though these were things that Cassie later learned, she was still ill prepared for her life to be forever changed, her innocence to be shattered that day.

  Nor was she prepared for the day when he walked into her life four years later, forever altering it, and her, once again.

  CHAPTER 1

  Cassie ducked low, spinning as she threw a swift roundhouse kick. Her foot connected solidly with the twisted creature, catching it beneath its chin and knocking it back a good five feet. The startled grunt of surprise and pain it issued was music to her ears. The man/monster got caught up on a headstone and flipped over top of it; it sprawled out on its back in the thick grass, its legs momentarily caught up over top of the headstone. Cassie sprang gracefully to her feet, slipping the stake easily from her belt loop. The creature’s eyes widened upon her, he had expected an easy kill. Its eyes turned a fierce red as his face twisted into an animalistic snarl of fury.

  The rage that blasted from him pounded against her but did not slow Cassie down. She had grown accustomed to the hatred over the few past years. However, she didn’t know if she would ever become accustomed to the bloodlust that poured from the monsters in nearly suffocating waves. It was daunting to know that something wanted to rip out her throat and drain the blood, and life, from her.

  Though it was slightly overwhelming, it did not slow her down, and did not cause her to hesitate. There was no room for hesitation here. The smallest distraction could get her, and her friends, killed. No, her entire focus had to be upon the creature, and destroying it. She could not allow human emotions to slip in here; there was no place for them now. Here, there could only be the fight.

  And the death of someone. Preferably not her.

  Though she had the creature down, she was not fooled into thinking that she had him beat. Bracing herself, she leaned slightly back on her left foot as he threw his hands behind his head and thrust himself elegantly to his feet. Cassie eyed him with wary amusement; he was predictable.

  With a fierce snarl, he lunged at her, racing across the ground with the grace inherent to his kind. Cassie did not kick out at him again, did not throw another punch. She simply ducked low, spinning around as he raced past her. Thrusting the stake out, his forward momentum was enough to drive it deep into his chest cavity and pierce his deadened heart. He looked at her in shock and horror, his face contorted in pain as she twisted the stake deeper.

  He fell back, his body convulsing as he clawed at the stake. Though he tried to rip it free, it was more than obvious that the damage had been done. There was no reversing this death. Ca
ssie waited until he stopped struggling, and his eyes clouded over, before she ripped her lucky stake free. In life, he had only been a year or two older than her, barely a man yet. Though Cassie felt a twinge of regret about killing him, she quickly buried it.

  There could be no regret in her life; there could never be any regret. It would only eat her alive, and she hadn’t been the one to originally end his life. She could not question the where’s and why’s of her life. It was simply her duty, her birthright. Though she didn’t always enjoy it, and often resented it, she was good at killing, and she helped to keep people safe and protected by doing it. Even if people didn’t know that she was helping them.

  She turned her attention back to Chris and Melissa. Chris was struggling back to his feet as he had been knocked flat. The vampire they were fighting rushed past Chris, focusing on what he apparently (and wrongly) thought was the weaker female. Melissa grinned back at the creature in amusement, her stance widened as she braced herself for his attack. Her dark eyes twinkled brightly in the moonlight.

  In their lives it was just another night in paradise, Cassie thought with a sigh.

  Shaking her head, Cassie moved slowly toward them. Unlike herself, Chris and Melissa relished in the fight, the hunt, and the kill. They both loved what they were, and eagerly embraced their heritage. Then again, Melissa had been raised with the knowledge of what she was. And Chris was a teenage boy; anything he could beat up, punch, kick, and maim was fun for him. However, Cassie was not a boy, and she had been oblivious to what she was until Luther and Melissa had walked into her life at thirteen. She had never relished in the fighting, or the killing.

  Well, that was not entirely true. There were times when she loved the thrill of the fight, times when she loved the fact that she was making the world safer one murderous vampire at a time. She did not like the fact that this life had been forced upon her by birth, or that her life expectancy had been drastically lowered by a flip of the cosmic switch. She chafed against the bonds that had confined her to a life she had never even imagined could exist, and had never wanted.

 
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