Caleb had learned that searches were not limited. But that was all he’d learned. He rubbed his aching temples and closed his eyes, resting for a moment from the flickering images before him. How did humans look at these things all day?
Frustration was starting to get the better of him. He had not been able to find Faith; that search had only brought up definitions of the word and pictures of sunlit crosses, that tickled his memory but he couldn’t think why.
His second search, this time for ‘plasma fruit’, had yielded some unusual results, from what he gathered was an alternate universe. None of the results seemed like they had any grounding in reality, and looking at them had caused a strange feeling of self-awareness that had caused his brain to do somersaults.
Finally, searching for ‘vampire cure’ had thrown up all sorts of weird results; he was no expert, but he doubted that rubbing garlic behind his ears would help. And drinking the blood of his sire was never going to be able to happen.
Whatever the magic was that powered this machine, it wasn’t particularly impressive.
He paused in a rather strange place that may have very well offered a cure for vampirism, but he couldn’t click anything on it unless he ‘logged in’ and he had no idea what logs had to do with anything. He drummed his fingers idly on the counter, wondering what to do next.
Perhaps he’d search for Seth? Yes, that seemed like a plan, but as he moved back to the search box to type his new query, he hesitated. Would Wyatt be able to tell that he’d searched for Seth? Would Sage? Lilith’s overriding instruction rang through his mind: keep your bloody mouth shut.
As with most things his sister told him to do, Caleb wasn’t really sure why he wasn’t allowed to acknowledge the existence of other vampires. But if the last month had shown him anything, it was that he should always listen to Lilith. He hastily abandoned his search and scrolled down the screen instead, bored, passing one request to ‘log in to view’ after another, until something caught his eye:
Hot women in *your area* want to chat to you!
They do? Caleb paused. He certainly hadn’t searched for that. He felt a hit of intense pride; it was another good sign, evidence of the progress he was making since being with April. He was in control of his lust now, choosing his opportunities carefully and finding outlet safely. He was sure that if he embraced this weakness, he wouldn’t inadvertently transfer it to his beautiful, little vampire wife.
And it was going great so far; Roxie had been a lot of fun and he hadn’t killed her! Plus, he’d been sitting in front of this thing for over an hour and searching for random ladies in the area hadn’t even once crossed his mind…
But now he couldn’t think of anything else.
He tapped his foot nervously. He stared at the stove, but his eyes kept wandering back to that tempting message. There are women in here, it teased him. Women who want to chat to you. He diverted his attention back to the search bar, trying desperately to think of something, anything to type to take him away from this page, but his vocabulary only seemed to consist of two words: hot women.
Now was not the time to be lusting after women, he reminded himself. Lilith would be calling any minute.
But… if they only wanted to chat, what harm could that do?
It could be an experiment. Lilith loved an experiment. He could show her that yes, he could control himself. He could simply ‘chat’ to women. He could prove that he had changed; he wasn’t just an unthinking, heartless, womanising rat. He was in control.
Caleb confidently ran through a few polite introductions in his head as he moved the little arrow from the search bar over to the text box. He did a double-take as the words vanished on his approach to be replaced by an image. A moving image of a woman beckoning him with her finger.
He could tell from her provocative pose that she was definitely a woman, and she was definitely hot as evidenced by her scant garments, yet Caleb felt duped.
She didn’t look like she actually wanted to chat.
He had scoped the layout in their prey’s head, checking carefully for any pitfalls in his precarious plan, so Seth’s reaction was rather muted when he unlocked the front door and strutted into his new penthouse. He tossed the keys into a bowl in the hallway, chipped from a history of being subjected to this very action, and waited for Faith to catch up.
His fledgling’s response was every inch his counter. Faith’s eyes were like saucers as she’d approached the building and had almost fallen out of her head when the pair had taken the private elevator to the penthouse suite. Faith had spent ten minutes on the landing outside the apartment, fawning over the gold tiles and a statue of something abstract Seth couldn’t identify.
As she stumbled into the hallway, Seth closed the door behind her and followed her as she ran from room to room, screeching and hollering in glee.
He followed her into the bedroom where she had stopped flitting and was admiring the view from the excessive number of windows that, as well as impressive, were certainly helping to soothe Seth’s claustrophobia.
“I take it this is suitable?” Seth asked with a wry smile as he snaked his arms around Faith’s waist. She melted back into him; her smile broad but her response typical.
“It’ll do,” Seth mimicked. “There is a goddamn pool in here, Faith.”
“Only a small one,” Faith teased. “Besides, you know I can’t swim.”
“All the more reason to get in,” he joked. “One less pain in my neck.”
“Don’t pretend that you wouldn’t miss me,” Faith hit back. “If it wasn’t for me, you’d still be sobbing in a forest afraid of your own shadow. You owe me.”
He raised an eyebrow, spun her to face him and gestured around the room. “I owe you?”
Faith smiled devilishly. “It’s a step up from the cabin, I suppose.”
“You can see the whole city from here.”
“Only because there are no curtains,” she pointed out, lifting the peak of his hat. “Half a pool and no curtains. The view is great… for the neighbours.”
Seth stifled a laugh, glancing at the balconies visible in the distance. He didn’t need to spot the distant glint of a telescope to know that the previous occupant of this apartment was a exhibitionist. Oh, what people would do for a thrill.
Faith followed his gaze and smiled back at him. “You like the sound of that don’t you? You dirty old man.” She inclined her head towards the bed; that familiar impish glint in her eyes telling him that she was game.
“Five minutes,” he muttered, rolling his eyes. “We’ve been here five minutes.”
“What can I say?” Faith purred, dragging her fingernails along the back of his neck prompting him to shudder. “My body is hard-wired to respond when it sees a passably attractive man next to a bed.”
“Or any remotely flat surface,” Seth joked. “Or any man, for that matter.”
Far from her usual rebuff, mock outrage or even genuine outrage, Faith’s manner changed. She growled, grabbing a fistful of Seth’s hair and clamping her nails firmly into his scalp.
“Are you mocking me, boy?” she asked.
For a moment, Seth had no words. No reaction. Frozen on the spot as a thousand grisly, similar events flashed before his eyes.
He cleared his throat, shoved her away, focused through the smoke to see Faith grinning at him. “Don’t call me that,” he managed.
“Call you what?” Faith asked. “A passably attractive man? OK, Mr. Sensitive.”
“No,” he said with irritation. “Don’t call me boy.”
The fledgling blinked at him; her own face as annoyed as his. “I didn’t,” she replied, flummoxed. “Bloody hell, don’t tell me you’re deaf as well as fucking mental.” She walked over to the bed and threw herself on to it. Seth watched her, expecting her to disappear into a billowing cloud of plush pillows but instead heard a distinctive crack.
“Oof,” she groaned, rubbing her bottom. “That’s firm.”
Still confused by Faith’s changing demeanour, Seth stood at the foot of the bed scanning her face as she thumped the bed into submission. She writhed on the sheets, making exaggerated noises of pleasure even as she grimaced. She appeared as immature as she ever did.
Had he misheard?
Was he, as she so eloquently put it, fucking mental?
He sensed her body still and she fell silent, gazing up at him, biting her lip, making him realise he’d been staring at her. Or rather, through her, but that nuance didn’t appear to register in her lustful haze.
“See something you like?” she cooed, kicking off her shoes in a manner that would have been seductive, had the second one not circled back and knocked over a vase. He laughed.
“I do,” he admitted before he could edit himself, much to her satisfaction and his chagrin. Faith licked her teeth and patted the bed beside her, an invitation.
“Good,” she purred. It’s about time.
Lilith was taking the long way back to the village. The morning sun burned her retinas and made her skin feel tight and dry, but she preferred feeling like the early stages of a raisin to being in Sage’s company. Part of her wanted to rush back; to be there when Sage landed, to intervene when Melinda asked a hundred questions and to lie through her teeth when the girl no doubt told Sage all about Seth and that he definitely had a long and complicated history with the Vatores.
But the other part of her was so exhausted by it all. Her intentions were good so how had things gone so badly? She considered diverting completely off course, finding a nice spot to lie down where she could surrender herself to the sun. It would probably take a week or so before she completely dried to ash, and hell knows how many bugs and critters would have bothered her by that point. Not to mention how bored she’d be, waiting for the end to come.
She dragged her feet a little further, spiralling steadily closer to the walled village square. In three hundred years, the paths had barely changed; a labyrinth of dirt tracks, broken signage and endless shrubbery, that had caused many a traveller over the years to lose their way. Travellers who saw no threat from the young woman who would conveniently appear to guide them, and who would greet her with a smile.
Hunting in Forgotten Hollow had never been the same. Nobody went to Forgotten Hollow to explore, no one got lost travelling through it; humans and vampires alike throughout time immemorial had gone there for one reason and one reason only – to disappear. They would roll their dead eyes in Lilith’s direction and simply submit to fate.
The only thing worse than feeding from the world-weary husk of a human, was living with a vampire who had just fed from one.
Lilith approached the riverside and gazed out over the twinkling surface allowing the sounds of the flowing water to rinse her mind of yet more dark thoughts and weighing up her options.
She would head back to the apartment; face the music. Sage would no doubt want to interrogate Melinda without Lilith present, befriending the girl in that sickly-sweet, sly way she did and wheedling out what she knew, but perhaps there was some time. Sage was all about her family, both biological and spiritual. April being a relative and being unwell could possibly override any desire to wring Melinda. And while Sage tended to April, perhaps Lilith could convince Melinda to stay quiet, too; convince her that omission was in everyone’s best interests. After all, Melinda knew better than most how family bonds meant nothing to the will of the curse.
Lilith pulled the head off a flower and threw it into the water. Sage wouldn’t try to keep Lilith at the apartment indefinitely – she wasn’t that foolish – but she was unlikely to let Caleb go, bound as he was, to April. Lilith would have to trick Sage to let Caleb leave the apartment; her brother could flee in a heartbeat with April over his shoulder given half a chance, but of course Sage wouldn’t give him half a chance. She’d rather blow up a bloody house in broad daylight than lose her insurance.
Sage might be confident in her ability to blindside the coven, but Lilith knew that eventually, she would be forced to prove that she was the formidable vampire hunter she pretended to be. Which was laughable when one considered that there was only one vampire Sage Harper had ever been trying to find and, almost three centuries after her vow to her mother to do so, she was no closer to finding her father.
And so that will remain, Lilith thought as she approached the town walls.
This secret is going to the grave.