A Darker Blood

Finally, I’ve got round to self publishing my first novel. Since getting the rights back from my publisher, I’ve re-vamped (see what I did there) the cover and launched it on Amazon.

ADB new cover 2

Here’s a taste, if you like it, why not download it here

A Darker Blood

First in the Verado series

Prologue

The moon was no more than a sharp-white crescent—a vivid contrast to the starless blanket of black it rested upon. It was bright but not bright enough to illuminate the beach in the early hours of a Sunday morning.

The girl lay motionless in the man’s arms as he carried her across the sand to the rhythmic lapping of the tide. Her vision glazed as his image burned its way into her retinas with all the permanency of a photograph. She closed her eyes and her chest heaved as her failing lungs fought for their final breath. With her short life ebbing away, she fell from his arms into the clear, shallow waters beneath.

The cool tide began licking her skin and filling her nose and mouth with noxious liquid. Paralysed and incoherent, she lay there while the unforgiving waves spat and fizzed against the rocks nearby. Her deep auburn hair lay fanned out in a halo sprinkled through with grains of shimmering crystal. Each new wave formed a fresh well of water that pooled around her features, drowning her hazel eyes and stealing her soul from within them.

One arm lay across her body whilst the other lay gracefully by her side. The rushing water played her fingers like the ivory keys of a piano.

As her blood continued to seep from the fatal wound, it was cleansed by an ocean trying desperately to restore the girl’s mortal beauty.

Her backpack lay beside her—a poignant marker of the final days of the girl’s life and the only clue as to her identity. It quickly filled with water, turning the bright-red fabric burgundy, and ruining the contents forever.

* * * *

It’d been a moment of weakness. He thought his bloodlust was under control until that girl had crossed his path and his instincts took over. He’d suppressed those morbid urges for such a long time—it was hard, to the point of painful. He just couldn’t help himself. The relief at causing her death was immeasurable—like a high-pressure valve had been released deep inside of him.

The remorseless butcher walked away from the girl’s body without looking back. His footprints in the sand disappeared as fast as they formed as he strode along Aghia Pelagia’s quiet shoreline, leaving his latest victim to the mercy of the ocean.

As her body became weightless, it was carried beyond the sand, beyond the fizzing white foam and into the livid black waters of the Mediterranean.

For a while, it would remain lost beneath the tide—swallowed by the insatiable appetite of the ocean.

 

Chapter One

Bloodshot

Nicole Silverson woke to the sound of her mobile as it vibrated its way off the side table and wedged itself under the bed. Refusing to open her eyes, she clambered to reach it, inadvertently switching it on.

“Hello?” she rasped, cleared her throat, and repeated, “Hello?”

“Nicole? It’s me.”

“Oh hey, Jules.”

“Sounding a bit croaky there—did I wake you up?”

“Yeah, why what time is it?”

“Twelve here, so one for you I think.”

Forcing her eyes open, she glanced around the room. The early afternoon sun was streaming in through the small window and specks of dust spiralled playfully in the hazy beams.

“Late night?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Sounds like Anna’s been leading you astray again?”

“Hey, be nice. Anna’s great…she’s really taken me under her wing. I don’t know what I’d do without her?”

“Hmm, I remember what it was like last summer. You and me, hanging out in bars until three, and then me carrying you back to the hotel in a drunken stupor.”

“I think you’re forgetting who was carrying who,” countered Nicole.

“Ahh, don’t mind me—I’m just jealous. I wish I could’ve come with you this time. You’ve got the sunshine and the social life and I’m stuck here with your ex-boyfriend crying on my shoulder. You do realize you owe me big time?”

Nicole didn’t need reminding of the guilt she was still suffering for ending a four-year relationship. Rob was someone, who, she sincerely believed, deserved better.

“Yeah, I know. How is he?”

“Do you really want to know?”

“I guess not. I did the right thing, Jules. Rob just needs a bit more time to come to terms with it. It’ll be better in the long run. Well, anyway, when are you coming out to see me?” She sat up pushing a mass of dark blonde tangles away from her eyes, trying unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn.

“What’s the temperature like in Crete, in August?” asked Julia.

“Crazy-hot, just how you like it.”

“Mmm, well August it is then. So what are you up to today?”

“You really want to know?” Nicole couldn’t resist mocking Julia’s earlier words.

“Yeah, go on; see if you can make me even more jealous.”

“Okay, once I prise myself out of bed, I’ll head down to the beach ’til I can’t take anymore sun. Then I’ll come back for a nap before catching Anna for a drink when she’s finished at the restaurant. You?”

“Okay, okay, enough. I’m at work—working.”

“Hmm, is that what you call it?”

“Yeah, speaking of which, Mackenzie’s on the warpath. I’d better go. Call me soon. Miss you.”

The line went dead before Nicole had a chance to respond.

Julia had been Nicole’s best friend since pre-school and to say she missed her was an understatement. Nicole pictured Julia; so familiar, so pretty with shoulder-length, dark hair and skin that turned golden with a mere glimpse of sunshine. Her eyes stung as she tried to stop them from filling up. When you’re away from home and from everyone you love—you have to stay strong and Nicole was trying her hardest to stay strong.

Dressed simply in a denim skirt and white T-shirt, Nicole left her Stalis apartment and arrived at The Azure Pool Bar just after midnight. It was fairly quiet, with just a smattering of stray drinkers who’d staggered in off Malia’s chaotic Beach Road. Malia was a haven for partygoers and, for some time, had been known as the ‘Club Capital’ of Crete.

The barman glanced up with a smile as Nicole grabbed a stool. “What can I get you, honey?” His accent remained true to his west-Canadian roots.

“Just a couple of bottles of Bud please, Chris.”

“A couple? Buying me drinks already, Nicole, that’s pretty forward. Not that I’m complaining.” His grin spread shamelessly.

Warmth rose in her cheeks. “Don’t flatter yourself, the other one’s for Anna. She’ll be along any minute.”

“Ahh, that’s too bad, but you can’t blame a guy for trying.” He popped the tops off the bottles and set them on the bar. “So, to what do I owe the pleasure of your company this evening?”

“It was Anna’s choice to start out here, so it’s really her you should thank.”

“Don’t worry, I will. That’s what I love about that girl—she’s got such good taste. Anyway, you ladies have a good time.” He turned to serve an older couple settling themselves at the bar.

Chris managed The Azure Pool Bar. He was an easygoing, mild mannered character who Nicole already considered a friend. His unruly blond hair complemented his steel-grey eyes and he emitted calmness and magnetism that drew people towards him. It was a charming trait apparent in a few of Nicole’s new friends. She hoped they found her equally as easy to be around, but somehow doubted it.

Glancing out to the darkness of the outdoor pool, its restful surface glinted and sparkled with reflections from nearby street-lamps. Hypnotised by the dancing facets, Nicole considered her reasons for returning to Crete. Since her visit the previous summer, the island had a draw on her that she couldn’t quite explain. But it was the loose tales of witchcraft and sorcery that’d given her the reason she needed to return to the largest of the Greek islands. She intended to find out all she could and put a book together upon her return to England. It would be her second paranormal publication, and with the help of her new contacts, she was keen to make a start on it.

Nicole was lost in her musings by the time Anna arrived. The young, bohemian waitress snuck up beside her.

“Hey, daydreamer,” she whispered, then put down her bag and pulled up a stool.

“Oh hey, Anna—finally made it then. Have you got anything new for me?”

“Are we talking about your research into the paranormal or into the barman?” Considering she’d just put in a five-hour shift at the restaurant, Anna was vivacious and sparkled with energy.

“Well, what can I say? He’s hot!” The words fell from Nicole’s lips before her brain had a chance to engage. She glanced over hoping Chris hadn’t heard, but her gaze was met, causing the heat in her cheeks to intensify.

Chris smirked and turned away.

“Yeah, looks like he feels the same about you.” A schoolgirl grin moulded Anna’s features. “Anyway, did you bring your book for me?”

“Yeah, it’s in here somewhere.” Nicole rooted around her bag and pulled out a black hardback. As she handed it to Anna, her fingers brushed across the glossy printed cover and over the swirly-silver lettering that read—OUR HAUNTED ISLE by N. E. Silverson.

Nicole often glanced over her previous work as a reminder that she was capable of such an accomplishment. Although it hadn’t made the ‘Best Seller’ list, it was generating enough of an income to allow her to survive modestly.

“So this is what you did before you came here?” Anna stared momentarily at the cover image, which displayed a crumbling tomb swathed in ivy and surrounded by rusty iron bars—intended to either keep somebody out, or somebody in. “So you think some of these stories originate here?”

“Maybe not originate, but somehow found their way here over the years—yes. That’s why I came…research.”

Anna’s smile faded. “I don’t like your chances; the Cretans are pretty wrapped up in their own mythology. I can’t imagine they’d welcome any foreign imports.”

Her dismissal was a little surprising. Nicole had been led to believe, by Anna’s colleagues, that she had an overwhelming interest in the supernatural, so assumed she’d be a bit more enthusiastic. Refusing to be disheartened, Nicole replied, “Not to worry, I’ll head over to the old town sometime. I noticed a few churches over there. Someone might know something. You could come with me if you want.”

“I don’t know—maybe. Can I keep hold of this for a while?”

Nicole nodded.

Anna put the book in her bag and glanced at her watch. She took a long swig of lager and placed the empty bottle back on the bar.

“Come on, drink up. I promised Jon and Andy we’d catch up with them for a beer. I’ve told them all about you.”

“All good I hope.”

“Of course.” Anna pulled her compact out of her bag, touched up her already perfect makeup and tucked stray strands of sun-bleached hair neatly behind her ears.

As they packed up their belongings, Nicole’s eyes were once again drawn to Chris. She shot him her sweetest smile and was a little smug when he returned it.

By the time they left Azure, it was past two. The street was still bustling, the air was smouldering, and the music from the bars—deafening. There was less than an hour before Malia’s renowned three a.m. curfew, and the drunken tourists were spilling out onto the Beach Road.

‘The Garage’ was a grossly illuminated bar with an open frontage enabling its inebriated occupants to ooze out onto the street. The bar was packed and harshly lit with an array of different coloured fluorescents. It was crowded and Nicole wasn’t thrilled by Anna’s choice, but the girl seemed to be on some kind of mission and Nicole didn’t want to disappoint.

The bar was way too hot and the music far too loud, but thankfully, Anna’s contacts had enabled them to bypass the queue. The barman tossed over a couple of bottles of lager before they searched for a spot to stand, which was easier said than done. They were constantly getting shoved back and forth by crowds of sweaty teenagers. Nicole stuck it out for as long as she could but after what seemed hours, couldn’t take anymore. The alcohol was fizzing through her veins and her clothes were sticking to her hot skin. Anna seemed to gauge her discomfort. Above the pulsating dance music she shouted, “Hey, Nic…You want to get out of here?”

“Sure, if you like,” Nicole replied with relief.

Setting their half-empty bottles on the bar, they pushed and squeezed their way through the crowds into the cooler night air.

“I’m really sorry about that.” Frustration laced Anna’s tone. “I thought Jon and Andy would be here, they usually are, you’d love them. But they don’t need any encouragement if you know what I mean—more notches on their headboards than…well you get the idea.” Again, she glanced at her watch. “How about one for the road?”

“Sure.” Nicole tried to sound enthusiastic but her response was half-hearted. She was shattered and would have been more than happy to call it a night, but didn’t want to disappoint her friend. They headed further down the Beach Road for one last drink, which Anna promised would be non-alcoholic.

Making their way down the street, their footsteps became more audible as they left the booming clubs behind them.

“I’ll take you to Oasis. It’s quiet, you’ll love it.” Anna’s smile didn’t falter and Nicole wondered if her friend’s energy would ever wane?

As they continued down the street, two men walked towards them. They were brusque and laughing loudly. Nicole instinctively avoided eye contact, preferring to keep her gaze firmly fixed on the pavement. Without warning, the two men grabbed Anna by the wrists and pinned her up against a parked van. They laughed and goaded her. Anna was petite and in her mid twenties. Her hair, although naturally light brown, had more than enough sun bleached highlights to be considered blonde. She had cinnamon eyes and her nose was pierced with the tiniest silver-stud.

“Get the hell away from her,” screamed Nicole, as she grabbed Anna, trying desperately to prise her from the clutches of her captors. But Nicole was quickly seized, her screams muted, and both girls dragged into an alleyway.

Built like bouncers, the two men looked like they spent every waking hour in the gym. Their heads were closely shaven and they wore matching tight, white T-shirts. Their conduct told that they’d not got what they came out for that night and were running short on time.

“Please—please stop, you’re hurting me.” Anna’s words were stifled. “Please…

“I don’t think that’s what you really want, sweetheart. I know your sort. I know why you come to these towns—just begging for it.” His eyes were bloodshot and watery as he tried to focus on his prize.

No…I…” Anna struggled to free herself from his grasp, but this seemed to make him all the more desperate for her. He pulled a knife from his jeans, the silver blade glinting in the darkness. Pressing it onto her cheek, the metal ate into her soft skin and a shimmer of blood ran down her face.

“Just a warning,” he growled.

As Anna cried out, a hand was quickly clasped over her mouth. With a wide grin on his face, the second man watched the struggle whilst clutching Nicole tightly by the arms.

“Jesus, no, please just let her go,” Nicole pleaded, before being thrown back towards the van where everything around her went black.

 

Chapter Two

Spellbound

Hidden in the gutter behind the tyres of the van, Nicole awoke completely disorientated. Clutching the back of her head she winced as her fingers brushed over a painful swelling.

A deep-throated groan came from the alleyway. Nicole swung around and tried to call out but her voice wouldn’t oblige. With her head spinning, she clambered to her feet and fought for balance. Her instincts were telling her to run, to go and find help, but she knew there wasn’t time. Anna didn’t stand a chance against such merciless attackers, so she staggered forward and peered into the darkness of the alleyway. With her pulse thundering in her ears, she focused in and held her breath at the sight that greeted her.

The larger of the two men was laid out on the ground. A large gash in his throat was visibly spewing thick, dark liquid over his chest in rapid bursts. A horrendous gurgling sound was coming from the wound as his failing lungs fought for breath. Completely stunned, Nicole watched as the gurgling subsided and the man drowned in his own blood. Gasping for air, she tore her gaze away and strained to locate Anna in the darkness.

Just a few feet from where Nicole stood, the second man dropped to his knees. With a blade protruding from the back of his head, he fell forward, smashing his forehead onto the concrete floor. The dull thud echoed around the alleyway causing Nicole to bolt. Blindly, she stumbled out onto the street where she collapsed to the ground, eyes wide and struggling for breath.

Within moments, Anna emerged from the darkness.

“Nicole?—Jesus Christ, Nicole are you all right?”

Nicole couldn’t respond.

Blood was smeared across Anna’s skin and matted into her hair. The wound on her face was deep and looked painful but didn’t seem to slow her down.

“We have to go—we have to get out of here, I need to think.” Anna shook her head, exhaled, and stared back into the dark alley. “I can’t think, let’s just get away from here.”

Anna led the way down the road, practically pulling Nicole along behind her.

Where…?” Nicole’s words wouldn’t form. Anna appeared to be running on autopilot while Nicole tried, unsuccessfully, to keep it together.

They passed a group of people who, fortunately, seemed too drunk to notice anything untoward. They taunted Anna and gestured lewdly. She was stunning, even in the state she was in.

Slowly, Nicole emerged from her stupor and found enough voice to muster, “What the hell happened back there? I don’t understand how can you be so calm.”

“It’s okay.”

“No, it’s really not. Where are we going? We have to call the police.” She stopped, slammed her palms to her chest and dropped to her knees, hyperventilating.

Anna knelt down and put her arm around Nicole. “Just breathe,” she whispered. “It’ll be all right, I promise. I know what to do—we can’t go to the police. We have to go to Zeus Xenias.” Anna hesitated and closed her eyes. “We have to go to Marshall.”

Nicole’s whole body was shaking, almost to the point of convulsing, as Anna continued to lead her down the Beach Road to the crossroads where they veered off to the right.

As they ran, her vision blurred. Dense shrubbery lined either side of the dusty road, and the route grew darker until it was almost pitch black. Unable to comprehend what was happening, she prayed it was just a nightmare that she’d soon wake from.

Trying to discern her surroundings, Nicole’s eyes were drawn to the unmistakable outline of a cemetery. The huge concrete tombs were only just visible in the darkness. She could also detect the sound of the ocean, its rhythm serving as a slight comfort, and aiding her orientation.

They followed the track a little further and soon approached a set of intricately carved oak gates. They were tall and stood wide open, revealing the most tantalising courtyard bar. Above the gates hung a large wooden sign with the words—Zeus Xenias’ burned into it.

‘Xenias was not a place Nicole had heard of and at that moment, it didn’t occur to her to ask why. Anna led the way in and Nicole timidly followed.

Strings of lights hung in formation, gently ameliorating the darkness. Calm music played softly in the background and the air held the light aroma of incense. The atmosphere seemed cool and subdued.

With crumbling stone walls and a dirt floor, the open-air courtyard appeared to be the relic of some ancient building. Weathered beech tables and chairs were arranged sporadically and adorned with flickering storm lanterns.

Nicole’s eyes were drawn to an imposing tree standing watchfully in the centre. Hauntingly beautiful, leafless branches twisted their way hopelessly towards the night sky. It was long dead and appeared to be locked in a perpetual state of winter. Rusted chains were eating into a silvery trunk that had grown to accommodate their presence, and fairy lights and Chinese lanterns illuminated the lifeless branches. It was a true centrepiece for such a bewitching venue, and Nicole was completely spellbound.

Although the bar was busy, the atmosphere remained tranquil. The clientele were milling around, quietly socialising or sitting at the many candle lit tables—their conversations hushed. This was not a sight she was expecting to witness in the riotous town of Malia.

Nicole recognised several faces as the staff from the various bars and clubs around the town. They were people that Anna had introduced her to over the weeks, and it dawned on Nicole that Zeus Xenias could be one of the exclusive worker bars she’d heard whispers about.

She spotted Anna’s friend, Kelly from Oileus, in the corner talking to a couple of her colleagues. Fenny, the manager of the Black Rose Café was sitting at the bar chatting lightly with the barman.

Nicole’s eyes were drawn to a table in the shadows. A group of men sat in the half-light with a particularly striking figure prevailing over them. Dressed in bike-leathers and a crisp white shirt, he was tall with swathes of long black hair reaching down as far as his waist. Anger and frustration shaped his features, which utterly captivated Nicole. At the table, three other men were listening intently to him, firmly rooted to their seats.

His conversation halted abruptly as he shot a glance over to the girls. His eyes widened as he locked Nicole in his stare and her heartbeat faltered. He looked intently at her before his attention returned to the three men and he continued his discussion. Nicole began to breathe again. She tried so hard to look away but her gaze was automatically drawn back to him. Nicole noticed the fear on the other men’s faces; they seemed disturbed by the confrontation and she couldn’t help wondering—Mafioso?

Anna followed her stare and heeded her reaction. “Nicole, you’re as white as a sheet!” She grabbed her by the arm. “Come on, I’ll get you a drink and find you a table. You need to calm down.”

They moved over to the bar where Anna ordered some drinks whilst exchanging a few words with the barman.

“Aiden, is Joel here?” There was urgency to her question and pain in her eyes.

The barman smiled. “Hey, Anna. No I haven’t seen him all evening.” His subtle accent was East-coast, American; he sported an unobtrusive mohawk and was littered with tattoos. Aiden’s smile faded as his eyes scanned her bloodied form. “My God, Anna, what the hell happened to you? Are you okay?”

She shook her head but didn’t elaborate and Aiden didn’t push.

“Joel’s not here but Marshall’s just over there.” Placing the drinks on the bar, he gestured towards the man Nicole had been staring at.

Anna nodded. “Come on, Nicole,” she said, grabbing her by the hand. She led Nicole to an empty table where they sat quietly for a few moments. Reluctantly Nicole sipped her drink. The alcohol burned her throat. Bourbon wasn’t her usual choice but she knew she needed something strong and the heat of the alcohol began to numb her anxieties.

Shifting in her seat, Nicole tried to compose herself. She glanced around at the other people in the bar. A few of them had noticed her and appeared as confused by her presence as she was. These people bore little resemblance to the sun-baked partygoers from the resort; many of them were pale in comparison—although they were all striking in a way she just couldn’t place. Nicole began to feel very conscious of the differences between them and herself, realising she was an unwelcome intruder within their discrete guild.

With the low light inadvertently camouflaging her injuries, several people glanced over at Anna, gesturing to her with a nod or a smile. They remained completely oblivious to what their friend had been through that evening and Nicole hoped it would stay that way. Anna sipped her drink whilst continually watching the back of the bar. Watching for who or what? Nicole didn’t know but the pressure of the situation was becoming unbearable.

“Look, Anna, this is all too much—I want to go. I need to get my head together. I’ll go to the police on my own if I have to.”

“No,” Anna snapped, then quickly backtracked. Gently placing her hand on Nicole’s, her expression softened. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. If you’ll just stay for a few more minutes, there’s someone I need to speak to and then I’ll take you home—I promise.”

As Anna spoke, the tall, dark-haired man advanced across the courtyard towards them. He moved quickly, his long hair billowing behind him with the momentum of his pace. Nicole couldn’t work out what it was about him that ripped through her, but she couldn’t take her eyes off him—and his remained firmly fixed on her.

His frame was muscular and foreboding. There was nothing subtle about him. His expression was cast defensively as he continued to glare at her, and she completely froze as he approached. She assumed he saw her as a threat, a stranger who’d infiltrated his clandestine organisation.

“Anna, you haven’t introduced us.” His deep voice was softer than Nicole had anticipated. His accent was beautiful, possibly local but Mediterranean at the very least. He spoke with a degree of urgency, preventing the intruder from leaving.

“I was about to…” Anna was quick to answer. “This is Nicole. She came out here several weeks ago. She’s become a good friend.” She smiled in an obvious attempt to put Nicole at ease.

The man’s eyes narrowed as he heeded the state of Anna. Reaching out, he brushed the wound on her face with the back of his hand.

“Who did this to you?”

Without responding, Anna reached for Nicole’s hand—a small comfort in the presence of such an intimidating character.

“This is Marshall.” Her eyes flickered up at him as she said his name.

“Marshall is—well, he’s kind of in charge around here. It’s okay, Nicole, he’ll know what to do.”

Moving into the seat beside Nicole, Marshall held his hand out. Nicole glanced nervously at Anna before reluctantly placing her hand within his, where it felt lost.

With his eyes set on Nicole, his conversation was clearly directed at Anna. “What is she doing here? You know the precedent, No Tourists…No Guests.”

Although his words remained firm, his expression softened and he laced his fingers with Nicole’s, causing her pulse to quicken. She studied him as he spoke; he was tall. His long, raven hair was swept neatly away from his pallid, olive features. His eyes were fiercely black and sunk deeply into the shadow of his brow; their darkness only seemed to accentuate the authority in his voice.

Anna broached him, her voice wavering. “Marshall, we need to talk. But you can see Nicole’s frightened. I think she should go. Let her leave, and I’ll explain what’s happened.”

“You’re shaking,” he said, letting go of her hand before calling one of the workers over. “Jon, would you please take Nicole back into town, she doesn’t look steady enough to go alone.”

Through her shock, she recognised his name as one of the lads Anna had been taking her to meet before their horrific ordeal.

Jon obliged without question. Needing no further persuasion, Nicole stood up and let Jon lead her out of the bar. She didn’t speak or look back, and her pace quickened with each step until she was running.

With her clearly confused chaperone a few steps behind, she hurried back towards the lights of Malia. Still reeling from the night’s events, nausea bubbled in her stomach, and she knew if she didn’t get home soon she’d either throw up or pass out.

 

Chapter Three

Into the Shadows

Consumed by guilt, Anna watched Nicole leave Xenias, looking utterly burnt-out.

“Will you please come with me, Anna?” Marshall’s tone was stern.

She nodded. Anna was used to keeping the company of vampires. She trusted them—they’d never given her a reason not to—until now. Not knowing what his reaction would be, Anna followed Marshall across the courtyard. She swallowed hard to try to relieve the ever-increasing dryness in her throat.

As they headed over to Marshall’s table, a second vampire, Joel came over. His dark blond hair fell lazily around his shoulders, and he wore the long, leather military coat with steel buckles that Anna loved so much. He pulled her towards him, his firm hold instantly melting her fears away.

Seconds later Joel’s brother, Joshua was by his side. From the sanctuary of Joel’s arms Anna glanced up at Joshua; his untamed looks were so familiar. Like most identical twins, these brothers were inseparable, but unlike most twins, they preferred their own metaphysical world to that of the mortals. They remained utterly silent, although they often glared at each other with an intense air of mischief. Anna often wondered what was going through their minds as they seemed to find it hard to keep a straight face most of the time.

Katya, Xenias’ only female vampire, was already waiting by the table. A silvery gypsy skirt sat on her slender hips and combined with a white lace top—contrasted beautifully with her long, black hair. Solid silver bracelets were clasped tightly around both wrists and as usual, her feet were bare. With piercing blue eyes and lips painted in the richest of reds, her appearance never failed to intimidate.

“Anna?” Katya’s eastern European accent was not as subtle as Marshall’s melodic tone. “What is this about you bringing a tourist here?” Her eyes narrowed as she awaited an explanation.

Joel turned to Katya. As his expression hardened, a low, almost inaudible snarl, emanated from the back of his throat. He was very protective of Anna; they had a bond that neither Katya nor Marshall completely understood.

Katya appeared unperturbed by Joel’s protective stance and knowing she had no fear of the twin’s impetuous temperament, Anna trembled. The shock of the situation was beginning to surface and an altercation with Katya wasn’t helping. Anna tightened her grasp on Joel before she could breathe her answer.

“It’s complicated,” she whispered, her voice struggling against her nerves. “I needed Nicole to meet you, she was with me when…well, she witnessed something I couldn’t explain. I didn’t know what else to do. I had to bring her here—to Marshall.”

“What? What did she witness?” Katya snapped, her eyes darting between Joel and Anna.

“Something happened back in town; we’d been drinking and were heading down the road to ‘The Oasis’. Two men grabbed me, they pinned me up against a van, then pulled me into an alley. They had a knife.” Unconsciously, she brushed the angry wound gracing her cheek and winced. “I had no way to defend myself, I tried to get away—I tried so hard but there were two of them and they were hurting me, they were going to” She tailed off, her eyes burning. She turned to Joel and relief came in the form of tears.

Through misty eyes, she glanced at Katya. Like a buzzard circling her prey, the vampire waited for her to finish her explanation. Anna inhaled deeply, wiped her eyes and continued. “Joel came to me.” She glanced up into the concerned eyes of the enigmatic twin. “Where did you go?” she whispered, before emotion got the better of her.

Rolling his eyes, Marshall turned his attention on Joel. “You killed them—in town—in front of that girl? I can’t believe you could be so reckless. How could you make such a huge mistake?” As Marshall spat his words at Joel, his balled fist struck the table causing a murmur from the workers at the bar.

“Where are the bodies?” he asked.

With a visible degree of self-control, Joel continued to glare at him. At that moment, his respect for Marshall clearly outweighed any other emotions he was feeling. Anna placed her hand on Joel’s shoulder and answered.

“I left them hidden behind the back of the bar.”

“Which bar?”

“I don’t know—I think…maybe ‘Temptations’. There’s an alley with some industrial bins. They’re behind there.”

Marshall stood up. “Joshua, I may need some assistance.” He scowled at the guilty pair and stormed off through the gates. Joshua stood up, and an eager grin spread across his face as he headed directly for his massive, black Honda Spirit parked out front.

Anna chased after them and grabbed hold of Marshall. “I’m sorry, I never meant for this to happen. Please don’t blame Joel. He was only protecting me. He’s just not learnt how to control himself as well as you have.”

“Not now, Anna.” Marshall shook her off and mounted his VMAX. The engines roared to life and the two motorbikes disappeared into the night.

“Let them go,” Katya called out.

Anna turned and walked back to the bar where Joel and Katya waited. Immediately, Katya continued her rant. “I can’t believe you. I always knew we shouldn’t trust you. Joel’s still too volatile and you’re clearly too inane. Marshall was crazy to assign you to him. It’s strange; he can usually read people quite well. Now he has to go and clean up your mess, and we still need to decide what we are going to do about that girl!”

Joel grabbed Katya fiercely by the arm, a low growl emanating from within him. With his teeth bared, the growling grew increasingly deeper as his face met hers, but Katya’s expression remained resolute.

Anna clasped Joel’s arm. “Please, Joel,” she whispered and turned to Katya. “It wasn’t like that, you don’t understand. It’s not the first time I’ve been attacked.” Her voice wavered as once again the confrontation made her tremble. “I froze, I don’t know what would have happened if Joel hadn’t come. They had me, before I knew it they’d fallen and there was blood everywhere—and Joel—Joel was gone.” She shook her head and dropped her gaze. “I don’t remember anything else; I just knew we had to come here.”

Katya glanced at Joel, then back to Anna and sighed. “Actually I do understand…” Just for a moment, her temper seemed to ease and Anna wondered if there was more to this vampire than just hatred. “To be honest, I expect most women can. Leave Marshall to me, I can calm him down,” she stated before leaving Anna and Joel alone.

Anna was surprised by Katya’s sudden change of manner and wondered what she meant. What hateful situations must she have encountered during her long existence to allow someone so naturally cold, to show such compassion? Anna had never been one to question the coven’s world, and up until now, had never really wanted to.

It was clear Joel wasn’t letting her out of his grasp, but she didn’t mind—there was nowhere else on the planet she would rather have been than in his arms at that moment. Marshall may have held her respect but her heart belonged solely to Joel, the vampire—Anna’s vampire.

As Joel gently wiped the blood and tears from Anna’s cheek, she wrapped her arms around him, buried her face in his long blond hair, and waited silently.

It seemed like hours before the thunderous roar of motorbikes resounded around the courtyard, signalling Marshall and Joshua’s return. Moments later the two vampires entered through the gates. Sporting a look of satisfaction, Joshua headed directly to the bar while Marshall headed directly for Anna, his white shirt stained red and black.

“Bring the girl back here early tomorrow night. I will discuss the situation with the others and decide what needs to be done. For now, Anna, go after her. I imagine she is in shock, so I need you to persuade her to keep quiet. Tomorrow,” he repeated before disappearing into the shadows.

Anna stood up, and quietly left the bar. She tried hard to contain herself as she passed the other workers, avoiding all eye contact. They were, by now, realizing an indiscretion had been committed.

It didn’t take long to catch up with Nicole. She was sitting on the pavement, in the predicted state of shock and exhaustion. Jon was helplessly hovering over her, looking just as useless as he must have felt.

“I’ll take it from here,” Anna stated, crouching down beside her friend.

“Cheers, Anna,” replied Jon, and left the two girls alone.

The street was deserted and the sky was beginning to glow with the pinkish hue of morning.

“Come on, honey, I’m taking you home.”

 

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A Taste of Blood – Chapter 7

A Taste of Blood

With arms inter-locked, Kelly escorted Anna back towards the fire. A few paces behind, Joel seemed content to let Kelly fill Anna in on her potential new life.

“So how long have you been out here?” Kelly enquired.

“Just two weeks. How about you?”

“Coming on four years, now. Like you, I originally came out here for a holiday. I wanted to get away from things back home…you know.”

Anna nodded.

“You said you are a Véradó?”

“Yes—but not to Marshall or the twins. I am Véradó to Katya.”

“Katya?”

“Yes. She is the only female in the coven. I think you’ll like her—although she is pretty strong willed. It’s Katya who showed me this way of life, and like I said, I’ve never looked back.”

As they approached the fire, the flames were dying down and the heat far less intense.

Marshall waited for them. In spite of his biker clothes, his demeanour appeared serious and businesslike. With a grin permanently etched on her face, Kelly handed her new friend over to him, and then stood aside.

For a moment, Marshall stood, his attention flitting between Anna and Joel. Breaking the silence, he said, “You know what we are now, Anna, and you know what it is that we do?”

Anna nodded. Sweat slid down her back, and her pulse quickened.

“But despite everything, Kelly tells me you want to stay here, on this island, with us?”

Again, she nodded.

“Do you understand what you are committing to? Joel is a vampire. For some time I have been looking for someone to assign to him—someone grounded and loyal. He needs a constant in his life, like Bonita is in mine.”

Bonita’s eyes shined at the mention of her name.

“Okay?” Anna replied.

He continued, “Our world is secret, and it has to stay that way. The bond you will experience with Joel will stop you being able to tell anyone our secrets and it will also create a compulsion that will draw you to him. The compulsion is not manufactured by us, it’s just the way it works.”

The words Marshall spoke weren’t filtering in. Anna could feel herself trying to absorb them, but they just didn’t seem real. Feeling a cool, reassuring hand on her shoulder, she glanced up into the eyes of a vampire…her vampire. And at that moment, nothing else mattered. Joel could be hers—this man could be hers—all she had to do was say yes.

“It doesn’t matter. I don’t care what he is—I just want to be with him. I know it’s only been a couple of days, but I can’t bear the thought of leaving tomorrow and never seeing him again. If he wants me…then I want to become his Véradó.”

“You are sure?”

“I am sure.”

“Joel…” Marshall gestured for his brother to hand Anna over—and he did. Gently Marshall’s hand slid down the length of Anna’s arm and he lifted her hand to his mouth. Watching intently, Anna held her breath and watched as his lips gently kissed it. Slowly, he turned it over and centred on her wrist—on her vein. For a moment, his mouth lingered on her warm pulsating arteries, and suddenly she became very aware of the blood coursing through them. Bracing herself, she drew a sharp inward breath…but as his razor sharp teeth penetrated her skin, she felt nothing.

Within moments Marshall released her hand, and Joel once again pulled her to him, his hold firm and protective.

Squealing with delight, Kelly stated, “You did it…you let him take your blood.”

“I did?”

“Uh huh. You’re one of us now. Anna, you are a Véradó. Welcome to our world.” Spinning around on the sand she grabbed Anna by the hand. “Come on…”

“Why…where are we going?”

There’s this little place I want to take you. It’s called Zeus Xenias…and believe me—you’re gonna love it.”

* * * *

A Taste of Blood is a short prequel to the Verado series. If you enjoyed this, please check out the next book in the series – Véradó – A Darker Blood available now on Amazon etc.

Véradó A Darker Blood on Amazon.com

Véradó A Darker Blood on Amazon UK

Véradó A Darker Blood on Nook

Véradó A Darker Blood on Kobo

A Taste of Blood – Chapter 6

A Taste of Blood

Walking along the shoreline, with white foam fizzing around her toes, Anna’s footprints were deep and precise. She’d needed time alone—time to digest what these people were saying to her. That they are vampires—did they really think she was that gullible? That she could possibly believe such utter bull? But as much as she didn’t want to…she did.

Subconsciously she rubbed the side of her neck, and then glanced at her hand. Blood was smeared, tarnishing the tips of her fingers, but the sight didn’t disgust her—it simply confirmed it.

Glancing back along the beach, fire rose out of the ground in a fountain of flames. Figures milled around and even from that distance she could tell which silhouette belonged to Joel. Sitting on the sand, she hitched her knees up and wrapped her arms around them. The tide seemed to lap at the shore in slow motion. Each time, swirling foam drew back and disappeared forever into the blackness. I don’t believe it—I don’t believe it—I don’t believe it… She tried hard to convince herself, but knew she was failing.

As she shivered, one by one the hairs on her arms stood up and she pulled her knees in tighter. A glance at her watch told her it was two forty a.m. Her friends would either be back in their apartment or waist high in foam by now. A large sigh escaped her lips and she bowed her head. The plane ride home was not going to be fun. How could she speak to them now? Anything could have happened, and they clearly didn’t give a damn. She could’ve been picked up by some psychopathic serial killer for all they knew…for all they cared. No this time she was through with them.

As the image of her friends faded, in its place manifested a clear picture of Joel and she wondered how well matched they could possibly be. Anna had always considered herself to be a bit of a hippy-chick a far cry from the biker-chick type she assumed Joel would be more suited to. Joel…a vampire—a vampire—a vampire… The words spun around in her mind. This is crazy…but I can’t get on that plane tomorrow.

Scanning the shoreline, her eyes fell upon Kelly. With a look of excitement lighting her features, it seemed she couldn’t hold herself back much longer. So in an attempt to put her out of her misery, Anna let her grin signal her invitation. And, it seemed Kelly needed no further persuasion. Already bounding across the sand, Anna stood to greet her.

“Are you okay?” Kelly asked. “I realise how tactless I must have sounded. It’s only that I just love seeing Joel like this. He deserves to meet someone like you—someone with depth and understanding. The twins…they are very special, and it takes a certain type of person to understand them.”

“I think I get that. But why me?”

“Because you haven’t questioned. You seem to accept him for who he is, and I can’t tell you how much that means to him.”

“Are you…”

“What?”

“Are you like them…are you one of them?”

“A vampire—me?” Kelly exploded with laughter and Anna could feel her embarrassment spilling out.

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be. It’s me who should be apologising. No, I’m not a vampire. Neither are the others. We are Véradó. We are the ones they rely on to help them maintain a normal existence in this world.”

“Véradó? I’ve never heard that word before.”

“I’m not surprised. It is Hungarian. It means we give them our blood.”

“Oh.” As Anna’s mouth stuck in the shape of an ‘O’, her breathing hitched and she physically felt the colour drain from her face.

Acknowledging Anna’s sudden fear, Kelly responded, “Honestly, Anna, it’s no big deal. Vampires need to feed, and this is the best way for them. It’s how they control themselves.” She lowered her voice, and a huge grin moulded her features. “And to be completely honest, it feels mmm…amazing.”

“And what’s in it for me?”

“Well, for a start, you get to be with Joel. You will become a part of something very special. Something most can only dream of. Marshall and the boys, they will be there for you, protecting you and welcoming you into their world. I’ve been a part of it for a few years now, and I’ve never looked back.”

“Tell me this is above board. No drugs, and no…well, you know what I’m asking. Jesus, do you realise how dodgy this whole thing sounds?”

“Yes I do, and no there is nothing like that going on here. These are good people, who just happen to be immortal. They would never do you any harm, and if you are not happy, you can leave at any time. All I can tell you is that they’ve given me something worth living for. My life before—back home was pretty awful. All I ever wanted was to be loved, and now—here, I am.”

“I don’t need rescuing, Kelly.”

“I’m not saying you do. You will still live your own life here, but they can find you legitimate work, and joining us each evening will give you a purpose and sense of belonging. This is a family—and that’s what is being offered to you. It’s your call.”

Anna fell silent. Staring out into the night, she contemplated the situation. It was hard not to believe Kelly. Although a stranger to Anna, and despite her appearance, there was something uniquely innocent about her. Unable to deny her need for the warmth of family, she could feel herself caving, and just at that moment, Joel came up behind her and rested his head on her shoulder. As his calming aura penetrated her, her lips automatically formed the words.

“Yes, I think…I’d like to be a part of this.”

Kelly literally bounced with joy. “Woo-hoo,” she screamed.

Wrapping his cool arms around her, for the first time in a very long time Anna felt warm and wanted.

A Taste of Blood – Chapter 5

A Taste of Blood

For what seemed like forever, Anna waited inside Oileus for Kelly to finish her shift. And as the last few inebriated customers left, she wondered if she had enough energy remaining to keep up with the ever-bubbly Kelly that night.

Standing outside the front of the bar, Anna waited while Kelly disappeared around the side. Soon the familiar pop-pop of the viper starting up resonated around the buildings, and sent a shiver down Anna’s spine. The noise, however, was soon drowned out by the thunderous throbbing sound of a much, much larger machine.

As Joel pulled up in front of her, Anna grinned. “You again,” she whispered.

He wore faded jeans, heavy biker boots and a white T-shirt, and his loose blond hair fell lazily about his shoulders. Without getting off the bike, he simply smiled. This time, Anna needed no further persuasion. Her whole being felt drawn to him, and she had no intention of fighting it.

Clasping her arm around his, she hauled herself up and straddled the bike behind him, pressing her body firmly against his. The bike was quick to take off, and all Anna heard, when she looked back, was a distant and somewhat annoyed, “Hey!” coming from Kelly.

As the bike drove on into the darkness, Anna asked, “Where are we going?” But just as expected, got no reply. With her arms wrapped tightly around him, she wanted to absorb his warmth, and let it seep into her body, but he felt cool—surprisingly so. It didn’t stop her though. She pulled herself in close and rested her head on his upper back, feeling his strength as his muscles rippled beneath his clothing. The ride took them along the main road, beneath towering rock-faces, and adjacent to luscious olive groves. But in the darkness, all colour was gone, and the whole world took on a monotone hue. The flimsy chiffon fabric on Anna’s top billowed with the breeze and her shorts left her legs exposed. Joel dwarfed her petite frame and she felt small. But it was a feeling she was growing to love.

The ride was long, but not long enough for Anna’s liking. Soon they were, once again slowing down and Anna realised they were back at the same beach they visited the previous evening. It seemed that they had gone full circle, and Joel had taken her on nothing more than a heavenly joyride. He pulled up on the sand, and shut off the engine. But it was clear that he had no intention of letting Anna off just yet. He turned to her, and with his back to the handlebars, pulled Anna into him. With cool hands, he brushed over her arms and clasped her hands, guiding them back around his body. He then cupped her face and homed in on her mouth with his.

Joel’s kisses were like nothing Anna had ever experienced before, or believed she would again. The strength—the passion and the intensity stole her consciousness and her whole body craved so much more. There was a wildness about him, an untamed wanting that he didn’t seem to be in full control of. For a moment she wondered if she could be the one to tame him. But in all honesty, she liked him just the way he was.

The sound of people, not too far away, was a distraction she was trying to avoid. But it was Kelly’s contagious laughter that wouldn’t be ignored.

As she broke Joel’s embrace, the taste of blood lingered on her lips. She eased herself off the bike and reached for his hand. “Come on,” she beckoned, and led him across the sand.

Once again, Kelly was in the company of Bonita and several others Anna didn’t recognise.

Kelly called out, “Hey, what happened to you?” The sly grin on her face told Anna that she knew very well what’d happened, and Anna didn’t feel the need to respond. Letting her bashful expression do the talking, she kept on walking towards her new friend.

“I love it when we all come here.” Kelly announced.

“All?”

“Oh, yeah. You’ve gotta meet my friends. This is Jon, Andy, Fenny and Chris. Oh…and this is Joshua. At the mention of his name, Joshua turned to face them and Anna froze. He was the absolute spitting image of Joel. She swallowed hard, it felt like all of her Christmas’s had come at once. Kelly laughed hard and her eyebrow shifted upwards, “I didn’t tell you. Joel is one of a pair. That’s right, Joshua is his twin.”

Identical twins? Anna’s dream flashed into her mind as her eyes flitted between Joel and Joshua. Wow. There really are two of you. “So you all hang out together all the time?” Her question was directed at Kelly.

“Pretty much.”

“You really are so lucky. You have to go a very long way these days to get a group of friends like this. My friends abandoned me yesterday, to go clubbing in Hersonnisos. They just left me at the side of the road. I’d never do that to anyone.”

“Ahem?” Kelly teased.

“Hmm, well, okay, but that was different. Anyway, I can’t believe I’ve got to get on a plane with them tomorrow.”

“You don’t have to go, you know. There are other ways.” Kelly whispered before bouncing to her feet and taking off across the sand.

With thick fingers, Joel traced up and down Anna’s arm—his touch sending shockwaves through her system. As his arm crept around her shoulder, he leaned in and met her lips with his. Oh my God. With each kiss, his need seemed to intensify. Unable to break from his embrace, she sank into him, absorbing everything about him. As his mouth moved along the line of her jaw, she whispered, “Tell me more about these ‘other ways’.”

But Joel said nothing. Instead, he stood and pulled Anna up beside him. His eyes glistened, reflecting the night sky and all its embellishments.

Towering over her, with the ocean breeze playing his hair, Joel laced his fingers with hers and escorted Anna away from the fire. In the distance, where the sea caressed the shoreline, Kelly was dancing with her friends in the shallow surf.

Joel placed one hand on each of Anna’s shoulders. This time, his mouth didn’t seek hers. This time, he homed in on the side of her neck, and his teeth nipped and teased her warm skin.

“Mmm, so you wanna play?” Anna teased.

Joel’s affections became insatiable. Low growling noises emanated from deep within him, and Anna’s heart pounded with wanting. The sultry sounds of the night were muffled by the noise of her pulse racing in her ears. A slight stinging sensation caused her to flinch, but not enough to want to stop him. Letting out a long sigh, she said, “This is crazy. Or is it me who’s crazy. Look at you…I should be scared of you…but for some reason, I’m not.”

Joel simply laughed.

Curious about Kelly’s words she asked, “Is there another way? I mean—Kelly—what did she mean by that?”

With a nod, Joel grinned and looked at Marshall. For a moment, he just stared at him, and then, Marshall approached. “Anna?” he asked. His voice was deep and his accent soothing.

“Yes.”

“Hello, Anna, my name is Marshall.”

“Yes…I know.” Marshall…the name suited him. Although polite, this man seemed dominant and far more serious than his friend. Dressed in bike leathers and a crisp white shirt, his black hair fell across his face, partially concealing his features. He, too, was tall and far bigger built than any other man she knew.

“It seems my brother is quite taken with you.”

Brother? She found it a little hard to believe that these two were related, with their distinctly different colouring. “Taken with me?” she replied, fighting the burning sensation in her cheeks.

“Yes, and apparently Kelly has suggested you could stay out here in Crete?”

“She did…but…”

“Is that something you would consider?” His inquisitive tone was soft and gracious. Hardly fitting to the man conveying it.

“I guess…maybe…I mean…I don’t know. I’ve only just met you. How do I know I can…trust you?”

“You can trust us. We are peaceful and ask no more than loyalty and respect. In return, we can give you family and a sense of belonging.”

“Family? Are you in some kind of a gang?” she blurted.

Marshall laughed. “No…I don’t think we’ve ever referred to ourselves as that before.”

“Then what are you?” She wanted to understand.

Through the fire she caught Bonita staring back at her. Thankfully she no longer appeared to be threatened by Anna—well, why would she be? It was fairly clear Anna’s intentions were towards Joel. Beaming from ear to ear, Kelly came bounding over. “Well… are you going to stay with us, Anna?”

Ignoring the interruption Marshall continued, “We are simply a family, not one born of flesh…but of blood.”

“I don’t…” Anna shook her head in confusion.

“Don’t you get it?” Kelly interjected, seemingly unable to contain her excitement. “Marshall, Joel and Joshua—they are immortals—they are vampires!”

“Vampires?”

“Yeah—how cool is that?”

“Ha! You are kidding me…tell me this is a joke?”

Kelly’s expression didn’t change. “No, it’s not a joke. Don’t worry though. They won’t hurt you. This isn’t the dark ages you know, vampires can control themselves—if they want to.” Like a child her grin was enduring and her eyes sparkled with excitement.

Anna couldn’t quite grasp her ability to accept the situation. “This is crazy.” Although she was thinking allowed, Marshall responded.

“Crazy—perhaps, but like I said Joel is very taken with you. He wants to know if you would like to stay here—on this island, and spend more time with us—with him.”

Vampires? “I—I would but…it’s not that simple. I’d need to find work—and a place to stay.” Vampires…

Snaking both arms around her waist, Joel pulled her into him. His hold was firm but gentle and once again, Anna melted.

“Don’t worry—we can organise those things for you. But please, Joel would like an answer. He is young and can be very impatient sometimes.”

Joel lifted Anna’s hand and brought it to his lips—the chivalrous gesture conflicting with his rugged appearance. Oh my God—oh my God—oh my God…

Directing her conversation to Joel, Anna said, “But I only met you yesterday. How can you know you want this so soon?”

Silence was Joel’s only response.

Anna pushed, “Please, will you say something…I’m really struggling here?”

“It’s no good,” Kelly interjected. He doesn’t speak. Neither of the twins do.

“Then how do you know this is what he wants?”

“Oh believe me—he’s let it be known,” she replied.

A Taste of Blood – Chapter 4

A Taste of Blood

The slamming of the apartment door, and subsequent drunken giggling tore Anna from her dream. “What the hell?” Groaning, she forced open her eyes.

“Shhh…shhhhh.” Then more giggling constituted the response.

As Anna’s bleary eyes slowly focused, the sight of her friends wasn’t a welcome one.

“Hey, Anna,” slurred Sarah, as she stumbled into the side of Anna’s bed. “Did you have a good night?”

Lisa was already locking herself in the bathroom—and the subsequent sounds of dry-heaving—and not so dry-heaving, told its own story.

“You are kidding…right?”

“What? Aww you’re not mad with us are you? We did try to get hold of the rental guy but…well…my mobile was completely out of juice.”

“Then why didn’t you go back into town and get someone? You left me there, all by myself.”

Sarah laughed. Her mousy hair looked lank after a night of heavy partying, and what was left of her makeup, seemed to have drifted southwards. “What…you’re all right. I knew you would be. I have complete faith in you. You’re very…resourceful.”

“For God’s sake, Sarah, anything could’ve happened.”

“But it didn’t.” Her raised voice conveyed her annoyance. “Christ, Anna won’t you just relax. Nothing happened. You’re okay, we’re okay, now go back to sleep.

It was clear that arguing with a drunk wasn’t going to be productive, and Anna didn’t have the energy to continue. “Fine. But this isn’t over.”

* * *

The following morning, Anna bypassed her comatose companions, trying hard not to wake them. After a refreshing shower, she grabbed her book and headed out to the sun-terrace for some much craved solitude. The late spring sunshine beat down on her tender skin, and the air was filled with the sweet scents of wisteria and jasmine. An hour was all she asked, but thankfully was blessed with more than two before the forlorn pair emerged from the darkness of the apartment, like two bears emerging from hibernation. Sarah hid her red-rimmed eyes behind a pair of dark glasses, and, as ever, Lisa followed suit.

“Morning, hun.” Sarah’s usually high-pitched voice was course and gravely.

Anna didn’t respond. Picking up her glass of fresh orange, she slurped and then noisily turned the page of her book.

“Shame you didn’t come with us last night. We had a real blast. Lisa had her face stuck to this God-awful guy most of the night. It was hilarious.”

Still Anna didn’t respond. I can see why Joel prefers silence, she thought.

“Not still pissed are you? … Jeeze.”

Slamming her book on the table, Anna got up. “Go to hell, Sarah. I’ve had it with you two. You’ve gone too far this time. I’m not your doormat. I should never have agreed to come on this holiday. I know you only needed me to share the cost of the apartment. You never wanted me here—God, I’m such an idiot.”

Laughing, Sarah muttered something to Lisa. And although Anna couldn’t be sure, it sounded a lot like; “You’re not wrong.”

* * *

Heading down the Beach Road, with her book in hand, Anna watched the workers hosing down pavements and laying out tables in anticipation of the lunchtime rush. A pretty ice-cream parlour caught her eye and seemed like the perfect place to unwind. Wicker furniture and brightly coloured floral hanging baskets created a cheery atmosphere that she hoped might rub off. Calling to her from the menu was an enormous strawberry sundae that she was unable to resist, and without hesitation, she ordered.

As she tucked into her ice cream, and flicked through the pages of her novel, it was Kelly’s bubbly voice that interrupted her this time.

“Hey you…what are you doing here?”

“Oh hi, Kelly. I’m err…just reading. I couldn’t stay at my apartment. I’ve had it with those two.”

“Mind if I join you?”

“No, not at all.” Anna handed her a spoon, grateful for someone to share the gargantuan dessert with.

“Great, thanks. I usually hang out at Oileus at lunch time, but they’ll only get me working, so this is way better.”

“You’re so lucky, you know,” Anna stated.

“Why?”

“You get to live out here, in this heat and sunshine.”

“Yeah, it can be pretty nice, I guess.”

“And you get to hang out with…”

“With Joel?” Kelly’s cherry pink lipstick glistened in the sun.

“Well, yeah, that too.”

“You know…you could stay here. There are plenty of jobs, and I have a few contacts who might be able to help. In fact, the guy who owns Oileus, Demitris, also owns loads of other bars and restaurants around here. I could have a word.”

“I don’t know. I have a job back home.”

“And is it a great job?”

“Well, no, but…”

“Think about it. What have you got to lose? And you wouldn’t be alone out here. You have us…if you want us.”

“Huh, you’ve no idea how tempting that sounds.” Anna took a huge spoonful of ice-cream while taking in some of the sights the busy street had to offer.

Kelly continued, “Anyway, our little gathering was cut short last night. Joel and Marshall had to help out back in town. They promised they’d come back tonight…if you’re interested.”

A Taste of Blood – Chapter 3

A Taste of Blood

Gesturing for Anna to stay seated, Joel got up and headed over to the others. Kelly was quick to take his place.

“Well…?” she asked.

“Well what?”

“What do you think of Joel?”

“You are kidding, aren’t you?”

“No. I’m guessing he’s pretty into you—so what about you?”

Really? He’s into me? Stifling her enthusiasm, Anna responded, “Yeah—I reckon I could get pretty into him, too.”

Once again, her eyes sought Joel. He was standing with the tall, dark haired man. Although they didn’t appear to be talking, they seemed to be engaged in some kind of silent contemplation. Looking awkward and superfluous, the Hispanic woman began walking towards Anna and Kelly.

“You must be Anna.” Her Spanish accent was melodic and carried on the breeze.

“That’s right. I’m sorry, I don’t know your name.”

“My name is Bonita.”

“Nice to meet you, Bonita.”

Staring Anna up and down, she replied simply, “Mmm.” Bonita’s hair was like molten chocolate, and her skin, flawless. Dressed in a dark brown strapless dress, her figure was to die for and Anna clawed back the feeling of inferiority.

“And what brings you to our little beach tonight…Anna?”

“Oh…err, Kelly invited me. I met Joel today, and Kelly thought I might like to come here to see him again.”

“Is that right.” Her eyes narrowed and her lips hesitated. “You’re lucky you know.”

“Lucky?”

“Yes. You chose the right one.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, I’m sorry you don’t know do you.” A sly smile shaped her features.

“Bonita!” Kelly scolded.

Anna pushed, “What don’t I know?”

“I’m sorry, it’s not for me to say,” taunted Bonita.

Frustration, laced with fear, gnawed at her. “Kelly…what is she talking about?”

“I’m sorry too, Anna. Bonita shouldn’t have said anything. But she is right—it’s not for us to say.”

“Should I be worried?”

“No…not at all. Look, relax, Joel’s coming back.”

It was difficult not to be reassured by Kelly. She seemed to have such a gentle nature. Bonita, on the other hand, she couldn’t quite fathom.

From behind, Joel wrapped his strong arms around Anna and rested his head on her shoulder. At the same time the dark haired man summoned Kelly and Bonita over to him. Although Anna couldn’t hear what was being said, something told her their evening by the fire was coming to an abrupt end—and she was right. Joel spun her around, and kissed her with just as much passion as the first time. And with her head still spinning, he left her on the sand.

Gathering herself together Anna turned back to Kelly and Bonita. “Who’s that other man?” she asked, pointing to the man with long dark hair.

“His name is Marshall. But he is of no concern to you, mi amor,” purred Bonita.

Acknowledging Anna’s discomfort Kelly put her arm around her. “Oh don’t mind her, she’s can be a bit possessive sometimes.”

As Anna watched, Joel and Marshall made their way across the sand towards a pair of huge motorbikes, and were quick to disappear from sight. Clutching her shoes in one hand and the skirt of her long dress in the other, Bonita, too, headed off across the sand. Kelly reached out and clasped Anna’s shoulder. “Sorry, sweetie, they had to go.”

“Oh,” she responded. “Will they be back?”

“Not tonight. Come on, I’ll take you back into town.”

* * *

Anna closed the door to her hotel room and rested her back against it. Wow, was all she could think. Wow...

Laying in her bed, with the no-vacancy sign periodically flashing streams of unwelcome blue light into her room she closed her eyes. Sleep was quick to claim her, but as it did, her dreams didn’t feel like her own.

Anna found herself standing alone, beneath a tree, but she wasn’t really alone. There were people all around her, but not with her. The feeling was odd—lonely even. She stared up into the silvery branches set against the jet-black sky. Fairy-lights and coloured lanterns illuminated bare branches, in place of leaves that clearly no-longer grew there.

Her attention diverted to the image of Joel, standing by what appeared to be a bar with other people she almost recognised. The atmosphere was quiet—tranquil, and Joel looked up. She smiled but his gaze appeared to be looking straight through her. Anna turned to see what it was that had caught his attention, and was stunned to see his very same image walking in through open gates towards her.

A Taste of Blood – Chapter 2

A Taste of Blood

On the pavement, alone in a crowd of thousands, Anna stood waiting, for what…or who, she didn’t know. Music pulsed all around her and the air was infused with the impending scent of summer. As a voice chimed from behind her, Anna’s consciousness returned.

“Hey, are you okay?”

Turning her head in the direction of the voice, Anna focused on the pretty girl addressing her. Short platinum blonde hair spiked off in all directions, numerous tattoos adorned her arms and heavy black lashes framed her pale blue eyes.

“Oh…err—yeah, I think so, thanks.”

Leaning in, the girl whispered into her ear, “I see you met Joel.” Her smile was clearly audible.

“Joel? …You know him?” Anna pushed her light brown tangles away from her face, feeling unkempt after her impromptu bike ride.

“You could say that.”

“Who is he?”

“He’s Joel—like I said.”

“I meant, well is he…is he okay? I mean…”

“You mean, is he dangerous?” Her tongue peeked cheekily through her teeth.

“Hmm, something like that.” Anna could feel herself flushing, but fought the sensation.

“No, I don’t think so. I think if he wanted to hurt you, you wouldn’t be standing here with me right now.”

Anna didn’t quite know what to make of that response. Shaking it off she replied, “And why exactly am I standing here with you?” Aware her voice was beginning to convey her annoyance at this girl’s apparent upper hand, she tried to keep it in check.

The girl hesitated. “I’m not sure. I guess Joel wanted us to meet.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know…unless…” She stopped, but the sparkle in her eye continued her story for her.

“So, who are you?” Anna asked.

“Kelly! I work here. And you are?”

“I’m Anna.”

“Well, hey Anna. Wanna come inside for a drink. I think that was probably Joel’s intention.”

Feeling a little more at ease in Kelly’s company, Anna replied, “Sure?”

Inside, the bar was heaving. Rock music banged in time to strobe lighting and the dance floor rippled and swelled with dancers. Kelly gestured to a colleague who, in response, thrust two bottles of Budweiser towards her.

“Here,” she said, handing one to Anna and quickly chugged back her own.

Obligingly, Anna took a swig. The cool larger fizzed in her throat easing its way down. Relief was instant, and she quickly followed it with the remainder of the bottle.

“Better?”

Anna nodded.

Heaving herself onto a barstool, Kelly questioned, “So, are you a worker or a tourist?”

“Tourist.” For some reason, Anna felt ashamed by her reply.

“And when do you go home?”

“I’ve still got a couple of days left. God I wish I didn’t have to go.”

“Why?

“I don’t know—I guess it’s because things like…‘this’, don’t happen very often back home. My friends—the ones I came here with, are all I have, and to be honest, they treat me like shit, you know.”

Kelly nodded. “Huh, yep I get it. Look. Once I’m done here, I’m heading off to the beach with some friends. Wanna come?”

Anna hesitated.

“Joel might be there.” Kelly coaxed with a beam.

An uninvited smile formed on Anna’s face. “Well, in that case…”

“Really…?” Was Anna’s reaction as Kelly brought her pink Viper moped around to the front of Oileus.

“What?”

“If I’d never seen another moped in my life it would’ve been too soon.”

“Oh, really, why?”

“Long story—never mind.” Grinning Anna hopped up behind Kelly and braced herself for the ride.

It wasn’t long before they drew up on the sands of the local beach and as the engine shut off, crisp sounds of the ocean filled the night air.

“Come on…” Kelly chirped before making off across the dunes. Anna’s head buzzed with curiosity as she ran to catch up.

Across the long stretch of beach, the blaze of a bonfire beckoned and several dark figures sat around it. High flames turned the beach orange and caused long fluttery shadows to spill across the sand.

“Woo—hoo,” screamed Kelly, and all the figures turned to face her.

As they got closer, Anna recognised Joel and she couldn’t prevent her full grin breaking through. He’s here. Oh, my God, oh my God…

As Joel stood waiting for her, his coy grin matched her own. Biting her lip, she tried to look confident, but knew she was losing the battle.

Slowing to a more respectful pace, Anna approached him. “Joel…?” she questioned.

A slight nod confirmed his name and his smile was effervescent. Dropping his gaze he simply laughed.

“Well…hey, Joel, I’m Anna. It’s good to meet you…again.”

Without a word he reached for her, wrapped both arms around her and homed in on her lips with his.

Following a deep, intense kiss, Anna asked, “Is that how people greet each other around here?”

“Sometimes,” Kelly whispered from behind. Laughing she skipped away and stood beside the fire. The flames seemed to lick at her skin turning her platinum hair, golden. As Kelly relaxed with her friends, Anna glanced at each of them in turn.

Three younger men stood, talking, and drinking, and Kelly looked at ease in their company. Sitting close to them was a woman; her dark hair and olive skin told Anna she was probably Spanish. Ensnared in her arms was a man—even sitting down, he looked tall and well built. His dark hair was long, almost touching the sand. And as Anna glanced at the pair, the woman’s eyes flitted up to meet her own. The look she conveyed was an obvious warning and Anna was quick to drop her gaze. Seconds later Joel grasped her hand and then proceeded to lead her away.

Around the opposite side of the bonfire, Joel planted himself on the sand and beckoned Anna to sit beside him. Needing no more encouragement, she obliged. The fire’s warmth was intense, but soothing. Waves of heat distorted the view along the beach and the ocean seemed like a mere memory.

Sidling up to him, as discretely as possible, Anna absorbed his scent—his aura, and felt hypnotised and completely relaxed. Through her lashes she glanced up at him. “You don’t say much, do you?” she stated.

Joel raised an eyebrow.

Reaching up, Anna pressed her hand to his cheek and for a few moments just held it there. His rough skin felt cool and soothing.

“It’s odd really. You don’t seem like a stranger to me. It’s like…like you’ve always been there. Does that sound too cliché?”

The dark ocean was only just audible above the hissing and spitting of the fire, and steel grey ribbons of smoke were swallowed up by the eternal night sky.

Letting out a huge sigh, Anna said, “Why couldn’t I have met you two weeks ago?”

To be continued…