This is unedited, but I’m hoping no one will mind (too much anyway . I’ll post the cover and another chapter or two in the next four or five days. Enjoy!
Elliot Hayden never met a woman that he didn’t find attractive in some way. Not all of them were physical beauties, but there was something about the spirit of a woman that he found irresistible. They were amazing creatures filled with a range and intensity of emotions that most men couldn’t comprehend. They couldn’t compare with most males in physical strength, yet they were stronger.
Over the two centuries of his life, he had observed them with careful curiosity. They could sustain themselves through the incredible, exhausting feat of growing a child within, and then, through arduous and long hours, they could birth life from their bodies. They could endure the hardships of war, famine, and sickness with the fortitude of a gladiator in battle. They could love deeper and sacrifice greater than any man he’d ever known. And, heaven help anyone who tried to hurt someone they loved—if there were no other options, they would kill regardless of the possible ramifications to themselves.
His thoughts paused as he flipped on his blinker and pulled the van into the turn lane. This would be the last of Lexington he would see as he headed down the long dark stretch of roadway toward the southwest.
He’d come into town on I-64 and this was the end of two nights of driving from Lou’s home in Maine. Lou, Dianna, Jay, and Doug, were the most unified group of creatures he’d ever met. They were more than friends; they had a bond most only dream about. And, even though his time with them had been brief, and horrific, he missed them in some odd way.
A spasm of sorrow cut into his chest. He rarely felt emotion. He wasn’t numb or dead to feelings; he was actually highly sensitive. When he became a vampire, he understood his acute emotional ability would either be his downfall or his weapon. He chose to hone its potency the way a laser hones light. He could absorb thoughts and emotions of those around him, intensify them then refract them at will. But, like any perfect refraction, the secret was to never retain. To save himself, he’d perfected imperviousness. Yet as hardened as he’d become there was a chink in his armor, and he found his most potent saboteur to be himself. He permitted this feeling, and it left him bruised internally. This pain was too fresh, too real, too deep, and too porous to block it fully. Caleb. Why couldn’t things have been different? His son—his only son—was dead.
He didn’t want to think about Caleb’s mother, Pamela, but she was one memory who refused to stay silent. She had been his ultimate weakness, and he never wanted another like her. She was innocent and resplendent; a beauty among beauties. She was frail and yet powerful enough to bring him to his knees. She agreed to be the one to free him from his sentence of eternal darkness, yet when she allowed him to disrobe her, he was overcome with need.
He sighed heavily as the lights of Lexington faded into the background. He’d made so many mistakes under the drug of passion. He lost Pamela, and now the son he created with her was also gone. He felt something cold on his cheek. He glanced into the mirror and saw the single tear resting on his cheekbone. He wiped it—and all his exposed emotions—away, carbonizing his non-beating heart.
“Never again,” he whispered.
Forty-five minutes later, he turned down the long, white-fence-lined drive, leading to Hayden Ridge. It had been over a hundred years since he’d been to this place. He loved it back then, until he was forced to leave. The year was 1913, and an eighty-seven-year-old Hayden woman known to him as Granny (yet actually was his cousin’s daughter who had been born in 1826) was in possession of the homestead. In years, he was older, but her wisdom astounded him. He may have surpassed her in age, but somehow humans of advanced years gain a different kind of knowledge. He often wondered if it somehow came about from their pending mortality, or was it something else? Whatever it was, she enthralled him with it.
She and her husband inherited the home from his side of the family, but now as a lonely widow facing the end of her life, she’d sought out the only person she knew to still be the rightful heir to the land: Elliot Charles Hayden. She’d heard rumors throughout her upbringing of a first cousin once removed who never aged and was, most likely, cursed. The night she met him, Elliot could sense that he frightened the old woman nearly to the point of heart failure; she collapsed in his arms.
Once her shock faded, she shored herself with remarkable courage and asked him what manner of curse had kept him youthful for a hundred and twenty-two years.
He still recalled the conversation and how her withered and creased face showed no sign of surprise when he told her he was a vampire.
“Are you frightened of me?” he asked.
She took a fragile breath, then gave him a rather tired look, “If you were intent on killing me, I reckon you would have before now. Besides, at my age, death becomes a companion, not an enemy.”
They spent several remarkable months together learning about each other. When her well intending neighbors became suspicious of her newly arrived relative, he knew better than to stay. She didn’t deserve the kind of trouble he would bring. Before he left, she told him the house and land would remain, in perpetuity, his. Should he ever have need to find a place to rest his head, this would be his home.
She transferred the deed into his name, and he had the property under management, leasing it out until about six months ago. At that time, he felt the end was near; it had become too difficult to stay ahead of Caleb. The battle, he knew, had become eminent and he would either retire to this wonderful place for as long as possible, or Caleb would kill him and inherit it. Either way, he felt a compulsion to keep it vacant in the latter months.
The house was dark with the exception of a single porch light. The real estate company he’d been working with had a locksmith change everything out. The keys were in a lockbox to which he’d been given the combination. Lumber and supplies he ordered yesterday were stacked in the driveway beside the large 150 year old home. It was 3 a.m. He had a lot of work to complete before the first rays of dawn would force him into hiding.