CHASING ETERNITY, Chapter 1

New Orleans

Hayden stumbled out of the bar into a sea of people even more drunk than she was and that was saying something. Well, who could blame her if she’d spent the past few hours drowning her sorrows? 

She was dying—again—and she was damn sick of it.

The crowd carried her along, steering her toward nowhere in particular. Someone pressed up against her from behind and pinched her ass. Under normal circumstances she would have whirled around on the jerk and kicked him in the crotch. Now she didn’t even glance over her shoulder, preferring to let the revelers jostle her forward. 

The psychedelic cacophony of Bourbon Street after dark used to fire her senses with its sounds and colors. But it all seemed vaguely soothing tonight, the landscape of her hometown so blurred it was no more threatening than an impressionist painting.

She had the liquor to thank for that. And the fact that she was starving for blood.

Dying for it, actually.

Eventually she’d make it back to the furnished one-bedroom apartment she’d rented off Jackson Square, at which point she would collapse onto the cheap sofa bed and drift into a dreamless sleep. How long had it been since she’d fed? A week? Two? Like everything else, the days ran together and she couldn’t get a clear idea of how much time had passed since she’d turned.

Sixteen. The number inserted itself into the forefront of her brain, asserting its importance.

Sixteen days was a long time. Granted, she’d never spent much time around vampires before Valentin Grigorievich sank his teeth into her neck so she had no point of reference. For all she knew vampires could go months without blood, years even.

Based on her current state, she doubted it.

Ever since she’d left him the morning after he’d changed her she’d been getting weaker, paler, as if she were losing substance, fading away a little more each day. Her jeans kept slipping down over her hips and her collarbone was alarmingly prominent. Her breasts—never her best feature—looked like the breasts of a prepubescent girl. A few more days and she could throw her bras into the trash because she definitely wouldn’t be needing them anymore.

She didn’t feel like a vampire, she felt like a ghost.

How many more days could she go without blood? She’d thought eating regular food would keep her alive (such as it was) but that didn’t seem to be the case. Even steaks so raw they made her gag didn’t help. Nothing did.

She had to have blood. But she didn’t want it—couldn’t bring herself to drink the stuff—and she didn’t have a clue how to get it. Vampires had fangs, she knew that much. But as far as she could tell she didn’t have any. When she ran her fingertip over her teeth they felt the same as they always did. Maybe there was a kind of release mechanism, like the gas lever on cars.

If there was, she’d like to know how to activate it.

You could call him.

No. Whatever happened, she was not going to cave. She was not going to call the bastard. Even if she might have been falling in love with him. Especially if she’d been falling in love with him.

Valentin had used her.

Not just used her, destroyed her. Or come very, very close to it.

He saved you too, her overactive sense of justice insisted on pointing out. Yes, he’d saved her when he could just as easily have stood by and watched her die. But in her current state she wasn’t all that sure she was glad he did it.

“Hey, cut it out!”

The voice reached her as if it were coming from someplace far off, though she knew she couldn’t trust her senses anymore. Everything seemed far away, half hidden behind the veil of hunger and pain that clouded her vision.

“I said STOP.

Hayden stood perfectly still and tried to get a sense of where the voice was coming from. She’d reached the edge of the Quarter and the crowd had thinned out to a mere trickle of weekend revelers. Up ahead, a tour guide ushered gaggle of tourists toward a dilapidated town house. A couple leaned on each other for support as they veered into a bar. From somewhere far off, the sound of a lone saxophone echoed out across the silence.

No sign of the woman who’d cried out for help.

Had she asked for help? The woman hadn’t actually used the word—it was really none of Hayden’s business—but the cop in her couldn’t let it go. Adrenaline surged through her veins, banishing the veil and giving her new strength. 

To her right, an alley disappeared into the darkness.

She crossed toward the entrance, her hand reaching for the place where her holster would have been. Nothing there, not anymore. Before she’d left Boston she’d resigned her position on the force and turned in her Glock. She felt naked without it, absolutely vulnerable.

"HELP ME! PLEASE!”

The voice died immediately but it didn’t matter this time. No question it was coming from the alley. No question about it being her business. She set off down the alley, running full speed.

“STOP! POLICE!”

Not exactly true, but she figured the woman wouldn’t mind if she stretched the truth a bit. At the other end of the alley, two shadows detached themselves from the darkness, a woman and a huge hulk of a man whose hand was clamped over her mouth. The two of them were pressed against the side of a building, the man’s body blocking the woman’s face from view.

With his free hand, the man fumbled to unzip his pants.

“STOP! POLICE!”

The man glanced over his shoulder and went back to what he’d been doing. Shoving the woman’s head back against the brick, he freed himself and shoved a hand up her skirt. 

Hayden’s hand went to the stitch in her side. Waves of pain shot through her, forcing her to slow her pace. Another few seconds and she had to stop altogether. She thrust a hand out to steady herself against a wall and bent over, taking in air in great gasps.

Jesus.

She’d run, what, maybe ten yards?

Another glance in her direction. This time the man actually smiled, revealing crooked, yellowed teeth. His eyes were glassy drunk, heavy with lust. From behind him, the woman struggled wildly—and unsuccessfully—to free herself from his grasp.

Hayden staggered forward a few more feet before collapsing against the building. She slid to the ground, fighting the fall the entire way. Why hadn’t she brought her cell with her? What was in the name of God was happening to her—the old Hayden, the cool, controlled detective with a reputation for perfectionism, would never have made that kind of mistake.

“Enjoy the show,” said the man, returning his attention to his victim.

He yanked down the woman’s panties and pushed himself between her legs. Tears ran down her cheeks, black rivers flowing endless tears. Even from where she stood, Hayden could see her begging him with her eyes. 

She felt her own eyes begin to fill, another departure. The old Hayden never let anything get to her, never allowed emotion to interfere with anything. Why couldn’t she get up? Pressing both palms against the pavement, she managed to push herself to her feet, only to collapse against the building a second time.

Using her shoulder for balance, she propelled herself forward a few inches, then a few more. She wasn’t going to make it to the woman before he raped her. By the time she got there—if she got there at all—it would be too late.

He’ll kill her when he’s done. And then he’ll come for you too.

The realization shocked her. In all her years as a cop she’d never witnessed a murder. Sure, she’d seen cops hit and had investigated more than her quota of dead bodies. But she’d been there when the actual murder was happening. Or the rape.

He was inside the woman now, thrusting and grunting, no doubt turned on by her terror, the superficial scratches she’d managed to inflict on him with her broken nails. Hayden wondered how much longer he could last. Now that there was nothing to stop him, she just wanted it done. At least that way it would end.

Would it end this way for her too? What was the point of Valentin “saving” her only to be beaten and violated in a dirty back alley? And when it was over—when he tried to kill her—what would happen?

Could vampires die? Or did they go into some kind of eternal stasis, sort of like those deactivated Facebook accounts that never went away?

Her eyes met the woman’s and a moment of complete understanding passed between them. The woman wanted to die. She wanted nothing more of this life.

Just like Hayden.

Gripping the wall, she inched forward. “Don’t give up,” she whispered, unsure if she was speaking to the woman or to herself. “Don’t let go.”

Just as the man thrust a final time and groaned with release, a figure appeared at the far end of the alleyway. Bathed in the light of a streetlamp, he looked like an angel with his bright hair and his light overcoat flowing out behind him.

“Call 911!” Hayden shouted. Her voice wasn’t her own—it was hoarse, full of fear—but at least she’d gotten his attention. Of course, she’d also gotten the attention of the rapist, who quickly extricated himself and hurriedly adjusted his pants.

The angel at the end of the alleyway didn’t pull out his phone though. Instead he entered the alleyway, walking briskly in their direction. Not running, not pulling out a weapon, not yelling. Just moving at a moderate pace, as if he were out for a little exercise on a clear night.

When he got close enough for her to make out his features, Hayden noted with alarm the lack of expression on his face. He looked calm, almost serene.

“You’ve got to call 911,” she called out to him again, pulling herself up to her full height. “Can’t you see he’s—

Before she could finish the sentence the rapist reached into his jacket and pulled out a small object that caught the light. A switchblade.

He sank the blade into the victim’s gut quickly, expertly, releasing his hold on her and watching her crumple into a heap at his feet. Sobbing.

With a sharp thrust of his heavy boot, the rapist bashed in the woman’s skull. The sobbing stopped abruptly, the only sound the sound of his footfalls as he raced toward the opposite end of the alley, escaping via the same route Hayden had come in by.

The angel—or whatever he was, since her first impression was clearly b.s.—stood over her as she bent over and vomited the contents of her stomach onto the pavement. The reek of alcohol assaulted her nostrils, setting off another round of vomiting.

“Are you finished?” he asked.

She looked up at him through damp hair that reeked of alcohol. Most people would’ve asked if she was all right. Not this guy. 

“What do you care?” she shot back. 

He sighed. “I don’t, at least not in the way you mean. It’s damn hard to believe you’ve got anything else left inside you, but if you’re not done by all means, don’t let me interrupt you.”

He was right. There was absolutely nothing left inside of her. Nothing at all—though she wished there was so she could spew it all over his shoes. 

“You watched him kill her,” she said coldly. “You stood there and did nothing.”

“So did you,” he said, seemingly untroubled by any responsibility he might bear for the woman’s death. “Not to get technical or anything, but you saw exactly what I did.

She pushed a strand of vomit-soaked hair behind her ear and took a step toward him. “I was trying to get to her. In case you hadn’t noticed, I can’t move.”

“Again, not too get hung up on technicalities, but you’re moving now,” he said. “Aren’t you?”

She wanted to slap him hard across the face. Or maybe punch him in the gut, in the exact spot where the dagger had entered the victim. “Yes,” said said through gritted teeth. “I am. Just consider yourself lucky I’m not at my best right now.”

“Consider me in your debt,” he said drily.

“Well, at least there’s one thing we agree on.” She took another step toward him. She hoped her breath stank, she really did. She hoped she repulsed him. If she died right there in front of him—and God knows he’d never call an ambulance—she’d die a happy woman if she could do something to wipe that peaceful expression off his face. 

When she fell against him he laid both hands on her shoulders and held her steady. 

“There’s something else we agree on.” He furrowed his brow ever so slightly.

“And what’s that?”

“You’re dying.”

For a second, she thought she’d misheard him. Then in a moment of panic she wondered if she too had been stabbed and was imagining the entire scene. “Dying?”

“To answer your question—well, the question you no doubt have been asking yourself these past few days—vampires can die. Well, not so much die as rejoin the ranks of the inanimate. It’s difficult as hell to bring them back once they’ve passed a certain point, a point you’re very close to. So you’ve got to eat.” 

He turned her so that she faced the slain woman’s crumpled body. A pool of blood seeped out from  “No point in letting a good meal go to waste.”

The worst part was that she wasn’t totally repulsed by the idea. Not totally, anyway. Part of her wanted to feed, wanted to drain the corpse of every last drop of blood. “Please tell me this is a dream. Because I really, really, really want this to be a dream. All of it.”

“Sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s not. On the other hand, you’re pretty lucky yourself. Another day or two without blood and you won’t wake up, dream or not.” His hands were still on her shoulders. He was close behind her, so close she could feel the warmth of his breath against the back of her neck. So whoever or whatever he was, he wasn’t a vampire. Or one of the undead. But if this guy was human she had a whole new conception of humanity.

Summoning all her strength, she wrenched herself from his grasp. “I’m not touching that body.”

Another sigh. “I was afraid you’d be difficult.”

“Is that what you call it when someone doesn’t want to pull a Hannibal Lecter in a dark alley?”

“She’s already dead,” he pointed out.

"Is that another one of your technicalities?” She hadn’t meant to yell but she wasn’t sorry she had.

“All right, all right,” he said. “I get it. You don’t want to feed off the victim. Looks like we’re going to have to move to plan B.”

“If you think I’m moving to any plan that involves you, you’re crazy.”

“Now that,” he said, the corner of his mouth tugging upward, “is a definite possibility. But you’re going to need to come with me if you value your life and beneath all that false bravado I’m guessing you do.”

She didn’t answer him. She hated him for being right. She hated that she didn’t have any other options than to trust some callous jerk. It wouldn’t be the first time. “Why don’t you just force me to go with you?” she asked. “It’s not like you couldn’t make me, if you wanted to.”

He could too. For all his reserve, he didn’t look weak. Quite the opposite. He wasn’t overtly muscular but beneath his could his shoulders were broad and his stomach looked pretty well defined. Plus he had a good six inches on her. And then there was the small matter of him not dying. It wouldn’t exactly take much effort to force her to do whatever he wanted.

A group of college girls started down the alleyway and turned abruptly, hurrying away in the opposite direction. It was dark but apparently not dark enough. They’d seen the body. Even worse, they had seen the two of them. Seen her. Visions of being arrested by the guys she trained with in the police academy flitted across her mind.

Turning back toward the guy in the trench coat, Hayden tried and failed to come up with a way out of the situation that didn’t involve him. She wanted to ask how he’d known what she was. Or why he just happened to turn up in that alleyway when he did. But most of all she wanted to get the hell out of there. “All right,” she said tersely. “What’s plan B.”

Was it her imagination or did he look relieved? “There’s not much to it,” he said. “You come with me to my home. And I give you what you need.”

“As in blood?”

“As in blood.”

“Don’t tell me you’ve got a basement full of corpses stashed away.”

“Don’t be facetious.”

“I wasn’t.”

“As I said, I can’t make you do anything,” he said. “But we can’t waste any more time. Someone’s bound to call the police soon. So if you’re coming with me, let’s go.”

As if on cue, the distant wail of an ambulance cut through the night. She didn’t protest as he wrapped an arm around her and led her back toward the street, where he piled them both into a waiting taxi and tapped the glass divider.

It was only after the taxi pulled away from the curb that she realized he hadn’t given the driver an address.

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