©2006 N.J. Walters
All Rights Reserved, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.
The beast inside him rumbled to life. Every heartbeat in the room pounded in his ears. He could hear the swoosh of their blood pumping through their veins. The sensation was hypnotic. He licked his lips, almost tasting the tang in his mouth.
He was hungry and they were sustenance.
Closing his eyes, he willed the beast back into submission. It wasn’t easy. He could feel the sweat trickling down the back of his neck. As the nights seemed to grow longer, it had gotten harder and harder to even have the will to fight his very nature. It would be so easy to take what he wanted with no consequences.
Taking slow, steady breaths, he ignored his throbbing erection and centered himself until he was back in total control. He opened his eyes and carefully scanned the room again. Nothing had changed. No one here knew the battle that had just been fought and won. No one knew that their lives had just been spared.
The beer was cool and the bottle sweaty in his hand as he took a long pull. He welcomed the bitterness of the brew as it slid down his throat to his belly. It did nothing to still the hunger within him.
He knew he had to feed. His brothers usually drank blood that they purchased from various blood banks through dummy companies. He didn’t mind living that way, but on the road there was no other way for him to survive except to eat straight from the source. Stefan was always very careful not to take too much and to implant a pleasant memory in the mind of the donor. They were no worse off when he left them, so it didn’t trouble his conscience any.
He raised the bottle and took another swig. That was, if he even still had a conscience. Some days he wasn’t sure.
His brothers would be appalled at how close he was to the edge and it was that fact that constantly pulled him back from the point of no return. He walked a fine line between survival and insanity. His nights grew darker and bleaker as each one came and went.
He knew he could return to New Orleans. His brother, Lucian, and his new wife, Delight, would happily include him in their lives. Or, for that matter, he could fly to his homeland of Transylvania and spend time with his eldest brother, Cristofor, and his wife, Johanna. He was truly happy his brothers had found the women who completed their lives and made them whole.
But it was for that very reason that he stayed away.
Watching the two couples and their obvious happiness had almost driven him out into the killing sunlight. Almost. Stefan Dalakis was no coward and no quitter. But more than that, he would not do anything to hurt his brothers, who he loved more than his own life.
As the youngest of the three, Stefan had grown up being watched over by both Cris and Lucian. Even now, they still tried. But those days were long over. He was more than capable of taking care of himself.
His brothers, although both extremely dangerous and powerful men, had grown lax. He, on the other hand, had survived by pushing himself to his limits both physically and mentally, constantly testing his powers and learning more.
He’d wandered the world over the past few centuries and, for the most part, he’d enjoyed himself. He didn’t know what had made him stop at this particular roadside bar. Maybe loneliness. He’d been on the road for several months now, traveling the countryside in his specially customized truck. After Lucian and Delight had married, he’d just had to get away.
He knew what had led him to North Carolina though. He felt a small, but genuine smile cross his face. How could any vampire resist visiting a place called Transylvania County? The tall mountains and trees of the state reminded him of home and he had enjoyed several days there before moving on. But he hadn’t gone far. Just down the road really, a few counties north. For some unknown reason, he’d felt compelled to stop here.
So here he was, sitting in the corner of a dingy bar not really knowing how he’d gotten there. Maybe some hot, raw sex with the two blondes would lighten his mood. Maybe pounding his cock into their wet warmth would help him feel connected to another human being, if only for a brief moment. A quick glance assured him that the two women were still interested. One of them caught his attention when she opened her mouth over the long neck of her beer bottle, letting her lips slide up and down over it’s slender neck. His cock jerked. Oh yeah, he could use some of that tonight.
Taking another mouthful of beer, he casually listened in on the conversations going on around him as he pondered if he should try and find a motel close by to rent a room for the night. Most of the chatter he tuned out immediately, not really interested in whose wife was cheating on whom or why someone thought their boss was a shithead.
“…gonna be a problem.”
Stefan’s head shot up as he focused intently on the speaker. His heart was pounding in his chest and he had no idea why. With all his attention centered on the two men talking in low whispers on the other side of the room, he listened.
“She just needs a little more encouragement, is all.” The larger of the two men had long, shaggy brown hair and a bushy beard. He punctuated his words with a nod and a mouthful of beer.
“You think?” The smaller, skinnier one glanced around as he spoke. His leg bobbed in a nervous rhythm.
“Sure,” the big man nodded again. “Laurel Rose is a woman living on her own up in the hills. How hard can it be to scare her into moving?”
“I don’t know, Aaron.” He pushed his thinning, dirty-blond hair back from his face and swiped a hand across his chin as if thinking about what his friend had just said. “She don’t seem to be the type to scare easy.”
White teeth flashed through the bush of facial hair as Aaron smiled. “Don’t you worry, Clem. She’ll be ready to sign them papers and move by the end of the week.”
Clem nodded, obviously more than willing to believe every word the other man said.
Stefan sat frozen in his chair. He had no idea who this woman was and, furthermore, it was none of his business. But some primal instinct had kicked in at the mere mention of her name. Laurel Rose. He rolled it over in his mind, examining it from every angle. He whispered it under his breath. It was a good name, a solid name, and just saying it brought him more peace than anything else had in years.
His eyes narrowed at the two men as the hunter in him surged to life. He needed more information. But first he needed to appease his hunger in order to be at his peak strength. Leaving the bottle still half full on the table, he rose and strode out of the bar without looking back.
Once again, he felt all eyes on him as he blew back out into the night as swiftly and silently as he’d entered. Only this time, he sent out a mental command as he left. He walked around the side of the building and into the darkness. Leaning against the outside wall, he crossed his arms and waited for his company to arrive.