Title: Kaitlin's Tale
Genre: urban fantasy/paranormal romance
Author: Christine Amsden
Publisher: Twilight Times Books
Kaitlin Mayer is on the run from the father of her baby – a vampire who wants her to join him in deadly eternity. Terrified for her young son, she seeks sanctuary from the hunters guild. But they have their own plans for her son, and her hopes of safety are soon shattered.
When she runs into Matthew Blair, an old nemesis with an agenda of his own, she dares to hope for a new escape. But Matthew is a telepath, and Kaitlin's past is full of dark secrets she never intended to reveal.
Re: Jason is Dead
Jason is dead.
Go ahead. Say “I told you so.” You never do, but just this once could you stoop down to the level of us mere mortals long enough to sneer like a ten-year-old? Put a little hip wiggle into it and wrinkle your nose. Roll your eyes at me like I'm the biggest moron on the planet.
After all you did, in fact, tell me so.
And when you're finished, I need you to do me the biggest favor I've ever asked in my life. In all likelihood, the last favor I'll ever ask. I need you to take Jay. I need you to keep him safe, because you and Evan are probably the only two people who can. I hope that one day you can find it in your heart to love him like you lo ve your own daughter.
* * *
“It's time, Kaitlin.”
Kaitlin rocked her one-year-old son back and forth, trying to convince him to go down for a nap, but Jay wasn't having it. He was teething, and it seemed to hurt him worse when he lay down in a horizontal position. He was so tired that Kaitlin swore she'd hold him upright for eight hours if he'd just fall asleep, but he seemed, paradoxically, too tired to sleep.
Jason's intrusion wasn't helping. Jay turned his head and reached his arms out for his father – or the vampire who had once been his father – instinctively begging for the love that should have been his by right. But Jason had never taken an interest in his son; he could barely stand to look at him. In fact, if anything had finally convinced Kaitlin that Jason was dead, it was the fact that the real Jason had died for his son. This thing now inhabiting his body wouldn't even live for him.
“Did you hear me?” Jason asked.
Jay cried harder. Kaitlin shushed him and rocked still more furiously, pretending she hadn't heard. Pretending she could delay the inevitable for a few more days. But she'd known this day was coming for a while now. Had sensed it would be soon. It was why she had e-mailed her best friend in the world, begging for help, prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of her son. But Cassie had not responded, and Sara, the nanny who had agreed to transport Jay, had disappeared two days ago.
“Answer me, Kaitlin,” Jason said in a voice that at one time would have compelled obedience. It no longer did, even though Jason continued to feed from her daily, simultaneously injecting her body with a venom that should have kept her in thrall. She wasn't sure why the thrall had gradually dissipated over the past few months, but her new clarity of mind had bigger problems to work out – like the fact that Jason wanted to make her just like him.
Jason took another step into the nursery. He rarely ventured inside these hallowed walls, but Kaitlin had spent more and more time there of late, requiring him to come inside if he wanted her.
“Can't you make him shut up?” Jason asked.
“I'm trying! Can't we talk about this later?”
“Can we? You never leave this room.”
And he never came in. Would Kaitlin come in after she turned? Or would she forget Jay's existence, the way Jason had? Her nightmare was that of Jay screaming for his mother, but she never came. Eventually, he would stop crying. Then after a few days, when no one came to feed him, he would stop doing everything else.
“Please, just let me get Jay down for his nap. Then we can talk.”
“There's no need to wait.” Another man came to stand just inside the doorway, a man who made Kaitlin's blood turn to ice whenever she saw him. Xavier looked so deceptively ordinary; it was part of his power. But she had seen him rip the throat out of men and face an entire heptade of vampire hunters without breaking a sweat.
He wasn't superhuman, though; he was inhuman. She couldn't fathom his purpose, but she suspected his goal was to create an entire new race of vampires under his control. At least, that's what she assumed happened to the dozens of people who came into their lives for varying lengths of time, most of them nearly catatonic from the vampire's thrall. She was not permitted to speak to them, and when they left, she never saw them again.
Xavier was over two hundred years old, but he didn't look at Kaitlin as though she were a child. He looked at her as though she were food. Kaitlin had long sensed that he was no longer human, that he was somehow alien. She had sensed it in him before the thrall had worn off, though she hadn't cared. The realization had taken much longer with Jason. Perhaps that sense of other increased over time.
Even Jay could sense the evil in Xavier. The boy started bucking and twisting, his tiny face turning red. He might have had his supernatural strength bound so he didn't accidentally hurt someone, but even without it he was a marvel of physical strength. He had crawled at about two weeks old. Now, at a year old, he could run like a ten-year-old.
“Please, leave us alone!” Kaitlin cried, trying with all her might to cling to the wriggling child.
“Sara can take him,” Xavier said.
He stepped to the side and Kaitlin's heart leaped. Oh thank God! Not that she wanted to give up her son. It was the hardest thing she would ever do in her life, but she had gone over it and over it in her mind. She had no choice. Jason would not take no for an answer any longer. He would turn her into a vampire tonight and when he did, Jay would need protection. Even from her.
The middle-aged woman who had helped Kaitlin with Jay over the past year strode into the room as if she hadn't just disappeared without a word for two days. Kaitlin didn't need a nanny; as she'd told both Jason and Xavier a hundred times, she could handle Jay on her own. But Sara had provided some companionship and comfort to her, especially in the months since the thrall had worn off. Sara always had a friendly smile on her face, was infinitely patient with Jay (something Kaitlin definitely wasn't), and despite their age difference, they seemed to have a lot in common. They read the same books, liked the same movies, and both feared the men who haunted this house alongside them.
Kaitlin smiled at Sara despite the churning of butterflies in her stomach. Sara knew what to do. She'd pretend to take Jay for a quick drive to the store, but she wouldn't stop for diapers. She'd keep going, leaving their two-story house in Virginia and not stopping until she reached Eagle Rock, Missouri.
“Let me try getting him to sleep,” Sara said, striding over.
“It's no good,” Kaitlin said. “Maybe you could take him for a drive.”
When Sara reached the rocking chair, Kaitlin kissed Jay on the head, surreptitiously saying good-bye. Then she handed Jay to the nanny.
The baby cried harder still, his wails threatening to shake the house down. What was the matter with him? Jay was often quiet for Sara when he refused to settle for Kaitlin.
That's when Kaitlin recalled the coldness of the woman's arms as she'd passed Jay into them. The pallor of her skin. The slight yellow tinge to her eyes.
“No!” Kaitlin screamed, trying to get Jay back.
Jason got between the two women, using his superior strength to stop Kaitlin from moving at all. He had her arms pinned to her sides and then, inexorably, he pushed her out the door.
“It's really not so bad,” Sara said to Kaitlin. “I know you're scared of turning, but it's really very liberating.”
“No!” Kaitlin tried to dig her heels into the thick blue carpeting, knowing it was useless. Knowing Jason and Xavier had the strength to make her do anything. Knowing she was as dead as Jason. Knowing, but not yet accepting. “No! Not now! It can't happen now!”
Jason picked her up easily with one arm and clamped his other hand over her mouth. She fought. She kicked and strained with all he might, but to an outside observer she probably looked as docile as a kitten.
Jason picked her up easily with one arm and clamped his other hand over her mouth. She fought. She kicked and strained with all he might, but to an outside observer she probably looked as docile as a kitten.
Xavier followed in their wake as Jason made his way down the elegant, hardwood stairs to the sparsely furnished living room. Xavier was rich. Filthy rich after centuries of whatever he did. But he kept few creature comforts. When it came to houses he preferred quantity to quality – he had safe houses all over the world. In the past year, Kaitlin had lived in four of them.
Jason set Kaitlin down on t he beige couch then sat beside her, pinning her there with his size and weight. She had already stopped struggling however; it did her no good. She would have to think of something else, but what? She had been prepared to die to get her son to safety, but now it seemed that she was the only one who could save him.
With that thought steeling her resolve, Kaitlin calmed down. She might be the biggest moron on the planet for agreeing to run away with a vampire in the first place, but she was smart enough to know that if she had any hope of getting out of this, it was through words and cunning. She had no physical strength to pit against a vampire, one of the strongest creatures on the planet. Also, one of the fastest.
Jason placed a heavy hand on her pajama-clad thigh, squeezing slightly through the silky material. Kaitlin felt nothing but cold dead fingers, but she pushed away her revulsion the way she'd been pushing it away for the past few months. Closing her eyes, she melted against him, emitting a soft sigh of surrender.
“There, that's better,” Jason said as he continued running his cold hand up and down her thigh. “Xavier, I don't think you need to be here for this.”
“You've never watched anyone turn,” Xavier said smoothly. “And you've always been a bit of an idiot where that girl was concerned.”
Jason growled and Kaitlin tensed once again, not sure which of the two vampires she feared more.
“She's mine.” Jason tightened the possessive hand squeezing her thigh; she struggled to keep from crying out in pain. “That's what we agreed before you ever turned me.”
“She doesn't want to turn and she's immune to thrall.”
Immune? Did he know why? She dared to look at him; Xavier smiled, fangs bared, eyes yellow with bloodlust. He had looked at her just that way so many times she had lost count, but still she shivered.
“I can handle her,” Jason said. “But not with you here. She doesn't trust you.”
“Have it your way.” Xavier supplied a mock bow to Jason, shot Kaitlin another malicious look, then backed out of the living room by way of the kitchen. Since the vampires didn't eat food, she was sure he meant to go through it to the garage and indeed, a few seconds later, she heard the garage door open.
“Sorry about him,” Jason said. “Now where were we?”
Kaitlin drew in a deep, shaky breath and forced herself to relax as he moved his hand away from her thigh, running it up her hips, around her waist, and then with an almighty tug, he pulled her forward so she sat atop his lap.
“We can't do this now,” Kaitlin said, keeping her voice gentle and sweet. “I'm weak. You forgot to give me that blood replenishment potion yesterday.”
“I didn't forget,” Jason said. “It's time, Kaitlin. Time for you to join me for real, the way you promised you would when you left Eagle Rock last year.”
“I will. Of course I will! But you know how important it was for me to nurse Jay. I want only the best for our son, like you do.” She held her breath, wondering if the lie would continue to hold one last time. She hadn't actually nursed Jay in at least six months. Apparently, exsanguination isn't good for a woman's milk supply, even with regular blood replenishment potions.
Jason frowned, but she forced herself to remain outwardly calm. He might not have seen through the lie; he often got that look on his face when they discussed the baby. If he'd paid any attention to Jay at all he would have noticed the feeding change months ago.
“Isn't the baby a year old now?”
“The World Health Organization recommends two years.”
“I'm not waiting another year,” Jason growled.
Kaitlin drew in a startled breath but forced herself to continue looking into his inhuman eyes. “I'm not asking you to.” She wound a hand around Jason's neck and leaned in close to place a soft kiss on his lips that he didn't return. Not a good sign. “But I should at least wean him slowly.”
“Why don't you want to turn?” Jason asked.
“Don't be silly.” Kaitlin ran a finger across his smooth, pale jaw, remembering how it had sported a five o'clock shadow the first time she'd seen him. The first time they'd made love. The night they'd unintentionally made Jay – not that she'd change that part now. Only what came later. “Of course I want to live forever. You know me. I live for 'happily ever after.'”
“I had to drag you down the stairs,” Jason said. “You've been distant since the thrall wore off. Don't think I haven't noticed.”
Kaitlin's mind raced. What were the right words? What would put off the inevitable? She had no idea, so she ended up blurting, “Why did the thrall wear off?”
“Something Xavier did,” Jason said dismissively. “He says it will make you a stronger vampire.”
Will it make me stronger now, when I really need it? Kaitlin wondered, but did not ask.
“Now answer my question” Jason continued. “Why don't you want to turn? You weren't in thrall when you first ran away with me.”
“I'm nervous. Weren't you nervous before you turned? Xavier said it took months to convince you.”
“I was a hunter, brought up within my order to believe vampires are soulless monsters.”
Are you? Kaitlin wanted to ask. Even now, she wasn't sure “soulless” was the right word. Something lurked behind Jason's eyes – and even Xavier's. She just wasn't sure it was anything she wanted to be a part of.
“Well, I may know better,” Kaitlin began, “but I'm still not sure... I mean...” She cast about wildly for an idea. Something to delay the inevitable. Anything. And finally, she settled on the truth. Or part of it. “You've changed. I don't pretend to understand how. I didn't know you well before I ran off with you; we only had the one night together. Mostly, I knew you from stories your cousin Cassie told.”
“You know me now,” Jason said, sliding a finger down her slender throat. “You've known me for a year. Haven't I treated you well?”
“Of course you have,” Kaitlin said. “You know I love you.” She leaned forward, letting the top of her button-down silk shirt part slightly, though Jason didn't seem as taken with cleavage as normal men. His favorite parts of her were the throat, wrists, and inner thighs.
“I haven't cheated on you,” Jason said. “I haven't hit you. I haven't even asked you to get a job. I take care of you.”
“And Jay?” Kaitlin asked, because what he said was sort of true. It wasn't a high standard, but she'd chosen some real losers in her time who had done all those things – cheated on her, hit her, and sponged off her hard work while they decided they didn't need a job.
Perhaps if she'd known Jason better in life she could be more certain now that he wasn't the same man. After all, aside from the bloodsucking thing there wasn't anything she could specifically put her finger on that was any different from regular imperfect mortals. Some men ignored their children. Some men were up at all hours of the night and slept all day. Some men only seemed to notice her when they needed something from her – blood or sex, it was all the same.
But it all came down to the one thing she knew for sure about Jason: He had loved his son. He had cared so much that he had died to protect the baby from his own father, who had planned to body-hop into Jason, then again into Jay when he was old enough. Jason even turned into a vampire – a being he'd been trained to hate – so he would still be able to guard his son in death. And maybe the vampire Jason would protect Jay if ever put to the test, but Kaitlin wasn't sure how he would even know the baby was in danger.
The vampire almost didn't seem wholly connected to this world. He didn't see it the same way humans saw it. There was something alien in his eyes and cold in his touc h – and it wasn't just the fact that no blood ran through his veins. Maybe the vampire hunters had it wrong, maybe he wasn't entirely evil (though she wouldn't say the same about Xavier), but she didn't trust the vampire sitting beneath her. He wanted to seduce her into turning for reasons she could not possibly fathom, like trying to understand the will of God.
“Who will take care of Jay after I turn?” Kaitlin asked.
“What if I don't want to?”
“Sara will. Or we'll hire someone else. What does it matter?”
Indeed. “Just give me a few days. I told you I need to wean the baby. I can do it quickly. We'll drop one feeding per day so that will be...” Kaitlin tried to think. How many times per day did a one-year-old nurse? Well, she'd go with the number of bottles she gave him a day and figure it was close enough. Jason wouldn't know the difference. “... four days.”
“And in four days you're going to want to turn?” Jason asked. “I want you to want this, Kaitlin. Xavier says it goes better when they want it.”
“I do want it. Of course I want it.” She placed soft kisses on his cheeks, his forehead, his ear. He lifted his face to give her better access, making her think she had convinced him. Lulling him into a false sense of security.
“Liar!” He shoved her off his lap, not onto the couch, but onto the ground. Kaitlin, not expecting the movement, fell heavily to the hardwood floor and yelped when her bottom connected with the unyielding surface.
He stood, towering over her, and she scooted backwards on hands and knees, getting tangled in her long blonde hair.
“Xavier intercepted that e-mail you sent to Cassie the other day,” Jason said, stalking her as she scuttled across the floor.
“What?” Oh no. But that did explain Sara. And why Cassie hadn't replied.
“You were going to give away the baby.”
“Why not?” Kaitlin asked. “You don't want him! You said it didn't matter who raised him. You can't even call him yours! Or even by his name.”
“He's not mine,” Jason said. “But this host wants him, and so do I.”
Kaitlin's eyes widened. This was the first time Jason had ever let slip a hint that he was not now the same person he had been before he'd turned.
“You can't run from this fate,” Jason said.
Kaitlin's scrambling hands had found the edge of the stone fireplace and she stopped, able to m ove no further. Jason knelt to loom over her, cupping her face in his hands. From anyone else, it might have been a caress.
“Cassie and Evan can't protect you or the boy, you know,” Jason said. “Evan's strong, but he's never been much use against a vampire. I should know. I saved his life once.”
“You did? Or your host?”
Jason scowled. “There's no place you can run. No one to protect you. Give up. Give in. Come gracefully.”
He still wanted her to agree to this, Kaitlin realized. He still wanted her willing cooperation. She had no idea why, but she'd take any opening she could get. “Three days. Give me three days.”
“We have your blood,” Jason said.
“So?” Kaitlin asked.
“Didn't you learn anything about magic from Cassie? I haven't just eaten from you. I have your blood, and I'm a sorcerer as well as a vampire. I can use it to find you anywhere on this planet, so unless you can get to Mars, you can't hide from me.”
“Oh.” Kaitlin was shaking now. She wished she'd thought to start a fire in the fireplace behind her, though she doubted the warmth would have penetrated.
“Tomorrow night,” Jason said. “That's as much time as I'll give you to prepare.”
A reprieve. She had no idea how, but she had a reprieve. Twenty-four hours wasn't much, but it was more than she'd had a few minutes ago.
“Tell me you understand,” Jason said. “Tell me you'll come to me tomorrow. Tell me like you mean it.”
“I understand,” Kaitlin said.
And then she wound her arms around Jason, kissing him for all she was worth. She explored his mouth with teeth and tongue, tracing the outline of his fangs. He bit her lip, stinging her for a moment before the pain-numbing property of the vampire venom set in. After a minute, he drew his head back, traced the column of her neck with his index finger, and sank his teeth in with such force that for a moment she thought he'd snapped her neck.
“Oh!” she cried, trying to make it sound like a moan. It didn't hurt, but it didn't feel as good as it once had, especially now that she worried Jason wasn't planning to wait another night after all. What if he took every last drop? What if he drained her dry? He had never pulled from her so hard or drunk so long.
“Jason!” Kaitlin finally cried. “Please. You said tomorrow.”
He pulled back, fangs and lips stained red with her blood. The venom coagulated the wound so she wouldn't bleed out, but she felt so lightheaded she wondered if she'd lost too much blood anyway.
Jason ran his thumb across his lips. “Yes, tomorrow night.”
“Blood replenishment potion?”
“No.” Jason rose to his feet, taking several deliberate steps away from her. “I don't think I want you strong enough to escape.”
“You said there was no escape.”
Jason didn't answer, he just turned and walked away, leaving Kaitlin on the floor, her head spinning, her breath coming in shallow gasps, her pulse weak and thready. But she wasn't dead yet, and as long as she wasn't dead, there remained hope.