Chapter 1: Letting Go
A restless ache bloomed deep in Bessina’s chest, racing from her heart to her feet. A visceral need to stretch her legs and free her soul nearly wrenched her in two. Her muscles ached and her head pounded. She needed to run, not to escape, but to free her mind of the ensuing chaos.
Instead, with her feet stubbornly glued to the dock, Bessina awaited dawn. She’d said her farewells, yet couldn’t bring herself to leave. Uncertain of what was holding her to the spot, Bessina sighed. She glanced up and watched as the moon made its slow descent across the sky.
Everything was familiar, but not in the comforting way it should have been. Instead of warm memories, reality reminded her of how fragile friendships truly were. High school had come and gone, and her first year of college had been cruel.
It was in the past year she’d discovered what could happen if you trusted the wrong boy with the wrong information. To add insult to injury, she’d also learned some high school bonds couldn’t survive the gravities of college or life as new adults. The realization she wasn’t leaving behind much, left a glacial void in her chest.
Bessina hefted the heavy Jansport book bag, attempting to relieve her pinched and bruised shoulder. It had all the belongings she thought important enough to take on her trip. After readjusting the backpack as best she could, she checked her wristwatch. She needed to leave for her bus soon, if she was going to make it to the Amtrak station in time. This would be a true goodbye to her painful past.
There was probably a faster way to get to Plushin, Ohio than a fifteen-hour bus ride, but she wasn’t in a rush. Just heading away from the past would be enough for her.
The oppressive midsummer Florida heat assaulted her back and Bessina longed for the cold artificial air of the A/C units at college. The thought reminded her she hadn’t enrolled in any sessions, officially withdrawing her from college; she could no longer live on campus and was in fact, homeless. Talk about rock bottom.
On top of which, Bessina’s savings had run dry . . . and calling her father was not an option. She’d gone against his wishes when moving to Florida to attend Howard Lee University instead of Central Christian College of Kansas, and her father hadn’t spoken to her since. Unless it was to make sure she was still breathing, of course.
Their semi-monthly talks consisted of her explaining the month’s events, and her father replying with a series of grunts and sighs. It wasn’t the type of conversation a young woman would choose to have with her father, but that was another story for another day. Bessina could only handle one horrible relationship at a time.
She heaved a sigh and ran a hand through her unruly curls. Annoyed with herself for lingering longer than necessary, she finally moved toward the parking lot, where the only payphone in the city was located. Her shirt clung to her back, and her jeans bunched in all of the wrong places.
As she reached the pay phone, she dug through her pants pocket for the quarters. Facing the phone, she lifted the handset from its cradle, only to see the frayed end.
“Just great.” Looking around the abandoned docks, she tried to see if there was another place to call the cab company. No such luck. Bessina would have had time to walk to the nearest bus station to make her bus and her transfers, if she hadn’t stayed at the docks for so long. But it was the abandoned dock she had to say her farewells to. Sad? Yeah, but who would ever know? She was there alone, with no one to see her pitiful ritual.
A warm breeze drifted over her skin, carrying with it a moan so soft, Bessina thought she’d imagined the sound. She slowly turned around, listening for the sound again. Narrowing her eyes toward the docks, she observed the surrounding area with an intense focus. Just as she felt she was going insane, the soft moan came again—throaty and deep, as if the person were in pain.
The need to help waged war with her common sense, which urged her to run away from possible danger. What if someone fell through the rotted wood? Before she knew it, she was moving toward the sound. The thought of an injured person had her full attention, pulling her further from the concerns she’d had of missing her ride out of hell.
Chapter 2: Burning Dawn
As the darkened sky released the moon, it gave way to pink hues, sending a warning to all of night’s creatures; the sun would soon be there. Trace watched as his wards lay on the docks, still shrouded in darkness. Suicide by sun was the most painful way to go for a pureblood vampire. Yet he could only assume, after a millennium, one such as Samuel would not fear the pain of the sun.
Trace’s assignment had only been for one vampire, yet Sam’s lover, or heir, had arrived as well. He was not sure what she was, but as far as he was concerned, the price Rhys quoted him had just doubled. He watched as the sun inched its way closer to the couple. After his own pitiful existence had come to its end, he wondered if he would have the balls to go out in style. Or would he cower before some sort of true death as well?
For after centuries of living, Trace had nothing to live for. Not that he was contemplating suicide, but the day would come when life would become an encumbrance. As a dhampir, the sun could not harm him the way it could harm and destroy a blood born vampire; however, his lifespan was also not that of a mere human.
He had centuries, if not a millennia left of his life . . . and if even a percentage of the future mirrored his lonely existence now, then ending that shit might not be such a bad idea. How long could he take the lives of innocent mortals solely to protect the existence of his kind?
At the signal of his cell, Trace left his thoughts and pulled it from his pocket, checking the screen and connecting the call. “Yeah?” He greeted Jax, his technophile friend, and partner in crime.
Jax wheezed out a cough and Trace repressed the urge to grin. He wasn’t a morning person, nor was he the type to call when Trace was on Watcher duty.
“Hey, I’ve got some news and I thought you might want to hear it.”
“What’s going on, man?” A sound in the distance took Trace’s attention away from his friend’s stressed voice. He froze, scenting the air. The scent of vanilla and fresh earth compelled him to make his way through the canopy of trees, closer to the vampires, Sam and Hope. His senses went wild with the exotic scents of mineral rich earth, smoky woods, and the sweet hint of vanilla. Never had Trace scented such a rare combination, as humans normally gave off simple scents with little to no variants.
Perhaps another vampire or dhampir had wandered onto the docks. With his advanced sight, Trace stationed himself far enough away to allow privacy in their final moments, but now he regretted the distance. The urge to move closer was so great, his legs seemed to move on their own accord.
Trace scanned the area, searching for the origin of the sweet scent, but came up empty. In his personal oath to his wards, one he’d never spoken aloud, but ardently upheld, he would always stay miles away from them until their deaths were complete. Trace believed death was a personal experience, not something to be tainted by his own ugly soul.
Even with his advanced speed, Trace’s feet felt as if weighted down by cement blocks. The sun continued its path up into the sky, illuminating the world around him. The sound of Jax’s voice broke his concentration, but only for a second.
“Maybe I should just tell her we can try again, but—” Trace had missed more than half of the conversation in his quest to locate the scent. “Avery isn’t the same. She’s chipper and happy, but I can tell it’s a façade.” Trace kept the phone to his ear but could only hear Jax as if he were talking through static.
A dark-skinned, coiled-haired female was making her way to the dock, exactly where his wards had positioned themselves. Trace observed the girl as she moved cautiously toward the sounds of Hope and Sam meeting the sun.
The scent of smoke pulled his gaze away from the woman and back to the disaster. It was too noticeable; she was sure to happen upon it. His gut tightened. Like a fool, Trace had believed Sam’s death would be one without incident.
Bessina pulled back at the smell of ash and smoke. She hadn’t heard any cars arrive, and had thought herself alone. That didn’t mean a car couldn’t have slipped past her notice, but it was highly unlikely. Whoever had arrived would have had to enter the same gates Bessina had to, unless they’d traveled through the murky water on the other side of the docks.
It could be some college students having a bonfire, she guessed. It was summer, and she and her old friends had often come there after parties to watch the sunrise. But they would be making more noise than she was hearing. The moans had since turned disturbing, as if there were a wounded animal on the dock just past the first empty store.
Smoke arched around something on the ground, and as Bessina moved closer, she could see someone had set something on fire. Not finding anything around to put it out, she cursed and barreled toward the site. Closing in, she realized it was two bodies set a flame.
Shocked, she stopped short, nearly falling off the dock. She landed on her knees and palms with a force that sent her skidding forward, every ounce of air disappearing from her lungs. Fear flooded her so swiftly and deep, she swayed from the intensity of it.
She stared into the burning eyes of a woman who was probably stunning at one point. Someone had reduced her to nothing more than some charred remains.
A scream ripped from her throat, so hard and loud, she choked on the next one. Pulling in a full breath, Bessina stood as best she could. What was she supposed to do? Her sight blurred. She feared she would pass out, leaving her vulnerable for whoever set those bodies on fire.
Marshaling her strength and will, Bessina stood straight and turned to run.
Trace eyed the girl warily before stepping from the shadows of the abandoned building into the cover of the dense trees. He’d smelled her blood as soon as she’d fallen. Every nerve in his body urged him towards the sweet scent of her lifeblood, mixed with cedar from her splinters and the rich minerals from the earth.
Her scent was distinctive, her eyes shone a preternatural golden hue and her heartbeat skittered in her chest faster than that of a human. She’d witnessed the death of two vampires, and though it seemed she hadn’t fully comprehended the magnitude of her situation, he had.
This woman—with the scent of an immortal, and wolf-like eyes—would have to be taken care of. A pity, really. Even with her face contorted in pain and terror, he could see she was stunning; her bright gaze held fear and a hint of primal intelligence. Perhaps deep down inside, there was a hint of enchantress blood coursing through her veins. Often times interbreeding with humans created half-breeds with latent powers, though he didn’t sense this was the case with her.
He watched, observing her movements. She was maybe a few years younger than his twenty-five. It never pleased him to have to kill humans. Their lives were already so short and insignificant. But death was his job. He possessed skills vampires didn’t. As a dhampir, one of those skills was the ability to survive the sun.
Tolerating sunlight meant he was perfect for his job. He was a Watcher, or as Trace liked to call it, a suicide specialist. Many vamps committed suicide; living forever wasn’t what movies and books portrayed it to be. To live through every war, epidemic, and fall of the economy, losing the ones you loved could devastate even the strongest of men. Once the Nation understood they could no longer stop it from happening, they went about creating Trace’s job.
A Watcher was nothing more than a voyeur, there to witness the end of a vamp’s life. It was also their duty to leave no witnesses behind, which brought Trace back to his current dilemma. The beautiful chocolate-skinned girl with sun-kissed hair, running from the ashes of Sam and Hope.
Calling his division leader, Trace detailed the info of the girl, and awaited the inevitable instructions to kill.
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