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Authors: J. A. London

Darkness Before Dawn (22 page)

BOOK: Darkness Before Dawn
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“You shouldn’t be here.”

I turn around. Victor’s standing in the doorway, his back against the frame, arms crossed. His heavy coat is soaked through. He didn’t bother to wear a hat, just let the storm have its way with his hair.

“I have to be here,” I say. “It’s the only way I can survive the days.”

“And what about the nights? Vampires are going to be out soon. They’ll come here, looking for the homeless.”

“I’ll take the risk.”

“One day you might not come back.”

“What’s there to come back to?” I shake my head. “Sorry. This place just brings that out in me.” The encounter with Michael at school didn’t help. I may have lost him. Ironic when all I want is to protect him.

“Then why come here?” Victor asks.

“To mourn. To forget. I can be sad here, and no one will see that maybe I’m not as strong as everyone thinks.”

He walks past me and lowers himself onto the ledge, his legs dangling over the side.

“I’m sorry you lost your parents, Dawn.”

“How can you be sorry? You didn’t even know them.”

“But I know you. And I’m sorry because I can tell there are pieces of you missing. I wish I could fill them somehow. But I also know that those scars you feel inside are the things that make you strong. They make you who you are. Your parents’ lives define you as much as their deaths.”

“Sometimes I’ll go a whole day without thinking about them. I feel guilty about that.”

“You shouldn’t. I’ve lived long enough to know that all things fade in time. All things turn to dust. Buildings. Monuments. People. Even memories. The pain you feel, that anger, that hopelessness … they’ll disappear in time. One day you’ll understand their sacrifice, and then you’ll feel that spark of hope again.”

My parents were so sure the world would turn out to be a safe place for me, a better place when they were finished with it. But then they died, and I couldn’t tell a single difference they’d made. I’m only seventeen; how can I even begin to do a better job than they did? At times it feels impossible. But then I realize their legacy for me wasn’t a better world; it was raising me to be strong and confident and smart, and then I decide I have to try because I can’t let them down.

“It’s really coming down now,” Victor says, as a crack of thunder rolls through the sky.

Scooting nearer, I join him at the very edge. My own feet hang over. Eighteen stories up.

“You’ll catch me if I fall, right?” I ask.

Victor smiles. “I’ll catch you before you even slip.”

I believe him. A few inches from certain death, in a bad storm, and I feel completely, totally secure.

“Why are you so different, Victor? Any other vampire would’ve taken my blood by now. Probably would have killed me. Why not you?”

He’s quiet for a moment, and so still. I wonder what he’s thinking. Is the question so hard, or does he not trust me completely, the way I’ve begun to trust him?

“I like you, Dawn. I’ve seen a lot of humans, from far away and up close. I’ve never met one like you. I think you’re the closest thing to a sunrise I’ll ever see.”

My heart squeezes in my chest. The feelings I’ve been walling off come crashing in. But maybe here, in this building, I can let down my guard a bit. It’s a dangerous thing to do, especially with a powerful vampire involved. But I’m already at the edge; what’s another risk?

“I like you, too,” I admit. Even though I know I shouldn’t. I should want Michael here, but it feels right that it’s Victor.

“I’m glad you can’t resist my charms,” Victor says with a smile. Then he turns serious. “I know I’ve complicated your life, Dawn. But you’ve complicated mine, too.”

“How’s that?”

“I’m always fighting my baser instincts. We can dress well, conform to proper manners. But at heart we’re monsters—just like you accuse us of being.”

“You’re not,” I rush to assure him. “You rescue people—Tegan and me. You help vampires. Granted, by breaking the law and stealing blood, but your intentions are good.” I can’t believe I’m striving to convince him that he’s not evil. “You’re not a monster, Victor.”

“I wish that were true. But when I’m around you, all I can think about is … the temptation of you.”

My chest tightens, and I work hard not to let fear sneak into my voice. “My blood?”

“I’m a vampire. Blood is the first thing we scent, the first thing that draws us to humans. I fight it. But I can’t deny it’s part of who I am. I would never take your blood, though. No matter how strongly it calls to me. You have to believe that.”

“I do.” My voice lacks conviction. We’ve never discussed the differences in us except in anger. To admit to them now, in this place, is scary. Makes the differences more powerful, because I wish they didn’t exist.

“It’s not just your blood that tempts me,” he admits. “In four hundred years, I’ve never dreamed. Vampires don’t. But after I saved you on the trolley that night, you invaded my sleep. In my dreams, we’re the same. We can touch, kiss, love. And every dream ends with us … being together forever.”

“I’m mortal. I don’t get forever. Not unless I’m turned, and I’d never… I’d never willingly—”

“I know. It’s just a dream.”

But I can see in his eyes how he wishes it weren’t. There’s something developing between us that I don’t understand, that I never wanted. His nearness makes my heart pound, my skin grow warm. Maybe it’s just this building, but here I consider that impossible things could actually become possible.

“Is it scary? Being turned?” I ask. “Hypothetically speaking.”

“I wasn’t turned, so I can’t speak from experience, but from what I understand it isn’t. I’d take your blood, give you mine. And then you’d die. It wouldn’t have to hurt. You’d just… wake up and be everlasting.”

Victor and I are so close together that if I shift my weight even a little, I could touch him. It would be easy to nestle my face against his shoulder. To draw comfort from him.

“I should probably take you home,” he says.

I look out and realize that night has fallen.

Victor starts to get up. A loud crack of thunder makes me jump, and I slip. But as he promised, Victor grabs my arm before I can even inhale to scream, and he pulls me up and away from the ledge. So quickly that I bang into his chest. He’s staring down at me, his arms circling me, clutching me to him. He’s so warm and solid. Part of me longs to stand here forever, locked in his embrace.

“Thank you,” I whisper.

His gaze drops to my mouth. I’m barely breathing. Just waiting. Not even sure what I’m waiting for. I can’t deny the attraction I feel, even though I know it’s dangerous. But sometimes I can almost forget he’s a vampire.

Then, as quickly as he snatched me from death’s door, he releases me, steps back, and shoves his hands into his jeans pockets. I’m disappointed; an emptiness worse than anything I’ve ever felt washes through me. First Michael rejected me, and now Victor is. For some reason, the second one hurts more.

“Have you ever seen a movie in a theater?” he finally asks.

“No.” Entertainment isn’t a high priority on the rebuilding efforts.

“Would you like to?”

“I’ve seen movies on TV.” I’m trying to pretend nothing just happened. And I have to resist the temptation to spend more time with him. But why should I? Michael is probably with Lila.

“It’s not the same as seeing one in a theater,” he insists. “We’re not that far away....”

No, we’re not. And the trolleys are still running. The truth is, I’m not ready to say good night to Victor, either.

“Yes. I’d like to see a movie.”

Victor’s hand holds mine gently as he leads me through the darkened theater, up a different set of stairs than I used before. I try not to think about how much I like the feel of his touch.

“How does hot buttered popcorn sound?” he asks.

“Unhealthy.”

“Which is what makes it so good.”

We round a corner and go into an alcove that smells heavenly. I hear a click, realize he hit a light switch. It’s still not very bright, but I can see Victor move around behind the stainless-steel counter. He’s opening doors, flicking other switches. “I used to love to come here before the war. The first time I ever saw the world in sunlight was when I watched a movie,” he explains.

I jump when the popcorn starts popping. He turns to it, scoops some into a bag, and adds butter. Lots of butter.

“How do you get this stuff?” I ask, as I take the bag from him.

“I have ways.” He retrieves two sodas from a small refrigerator.

He starts switching things off, leaving the lights for last. We plunge into shadows. “Let’s get comfortable.”

I follow him into a theater and realize we’re up in a balcony section. The lights are low, and he leads me to a row of chairs that actually look fairly decent. When I sit, the chair rocks a little.

“I’ll be right back,” he says.

I twist around and watch him move along the top row to where a projector protrudes through a hole in the wall. He reaches in and suddenly there’s flickering light and a steady clicking sound.

When I turn back, colorful images are dancing on the screen. Victor returns and sits beside me.


Singin’ in the Rain
. One of my favorites,” he says.

I reach for the popcorn at the same time he does. Our fingers brush. Still. I wonder briefly if coming here was a bad idea, but then again, doing anything with Victor is a bad idea.

“You eat food?” I ask to break the tension.

“Just for the sensual experience. I derive no nutrition from it.”

He moves his hand aside, and I grab some popcorn. I can’t remember the last time I had any. Still, I barely notice its flavor. I know being here is the latest in a series of bad decisions I’ve made lately. But I’m still glad that I’m here.

I shift my attention back to the movie, try to concentrate on it. There’s so much vivacity on the screen. People are dancing and singing. They’re just … happy.

I glance over at Victor. The lights and images from the screen are playing over his handsome face.

I can’t believe it—he’s mouthing the words that the guy on-screen is singing. Victor must feel my gaze on him, because he slowly turns his head to look at me.

“Was it really like that back then?” I whisper. “Were people so happy?”

“People were sad, too. The movie is all illusion. How people wish things were.” Slowly he reaches out and pushes a few strands of my hair behind my ear.

“Are you working your powers on me, Victor?”

“You mean am I controlling your thoughts and desires? It’s a myth that vampires have that capability.”

“It can’t be. Too many people—”

“Fall to the lure of the vampire? It’s easier to blame us for humans’ lack of control than to admit their weakness.”

“I’m not weak.”

“No, you’re not. That’s what I like about you. You’re strong, bold … reckless.”

“I prefer the word
adventurous
.”

He gives me a small smile. “That, too.”

“Why are we here, Victor? Why are you suddenly in my life? What do you want with me?”

“Things I shouldn’t want.”

He cups his hand behind my head, then leans toward me. I know I should move beyond his reach. But I don’t. His lips touch mine. A whisper at first. Soft, gentle. Between one heartbeat and the next everything changes. Passion rises up, and there’s a hunger between us that I don’t understand. That I’ve never felt, not even with Michael. I feel the point of his fangs, know I should be frightened or repelled by the reminder of what he is, but I’m not. I’m lost in the pleasure of a kiss that is anything but simple.

Michael and I have kissed. A lot. Yet I’ve never felt anything like this—a kiss that seems to encompass and inflame all of me. Is it because Victor is a vampire? Does he have a special power, despite what he claims? Or is there something between us, something primal that I don’t want to acknowledge?

When he finally draws back, we’re both breathing heavily. One of his palms is resting lightly against my throat, and I know he can feel the rapid pounding of my pulse, the rushing of my blood.

“I know I should resist. Vampires and humans … they never work out.” Victor’s words are only halfhearted, and he leans in to kiss me again. But this time it’s bittersweet.

“I should take you home now,” he says, “before I do something I’ll regret.”

I don’t want to leave. But he’s right. If I don’t go,
I
might do something
I’ll
regret. Because I’m not a hundred percent sure where Michael and I stand. We’ve never fought before. I don’t know if our relationship is over.

Victor doesn’t even bother to stop the movie. It just continues to play as we step out into the hallway.

“There!” someone yells.

And suddenly, Night Watchmen are rushing toward us.

Chapter 22

F
our Watchmen are on a collision course with us, their black dusters flowing behind them as they run at remarkable speeds. Their faces are covered in dark cloth that hides everything but their eyes.

I’ve never seen them in a group, but I understand instantly why vampires fear them. It seems like they’ve become the new rulers of the night.

I don’t have much time to admire them, though, as Victor rushes forward to meet the elite guards who’ve come here to slay him.

The Watchmen fight him with the respect he deserves, whether they know he’s Old Family or not. Stakes drawn, they dance around him, trying to disorient the vampire. One goes in, and Victor easily takes his stake before throwing him across the floor. But the timing of the squad is perfect, like a clock whose gears have kept pace for centuries, and the next Watchman darts forward. His stake fails to find its mark, but comes so close that I scream.

Victor throws him against the wall, and the guy lands in a heap. The third Watchman moves up, but Victor punches him hard and I hear his nose shatter. As the fourth and final hunter comes in, Victor wastes no time, shows no mercy. With amazing speed and force, Victor drives his stake through the attacker’s thigh. He cries out in agony.

Victor whirls to me. “More are coming.”

BOOK: Darkness Before Dawn
9.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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