There were no vampires on the airplane. Still, Oliver Ripley didn’t relax his guard until the seatbelt light went out, and the flight attendant began serving cocktails. He ordered two.
Miranda sat next to the window, her eyes smudged with shadows underneath and turned to the clouds outside.
Oliver covered her hand with his. Her fingers were cold, and she didn’t respond to his touch.
The impatient flight attendant cleared her throat. “Peanuts?”
“Vodka for her too. Ice, please,” Oliver said. “No peanuts, thanks.”
He hadn’t eaten since Paris. Already, yesterday seemed like a lifetime ago. He’d had a crepe purchased from a street-vendor. Miranda had been too upset to eat. Later, captured and thrown like dogs into cells, no one had asked if they were hungry. After that, they’d been on the run. No time for food.
They’d escaped—had heard and done crazy, impossible things—and Miranda had killed his brother.
“I’m sorry about Jonathan,” Miranda said, her voice trembling.
She still didn’t look at him and didn’t have to tell Oliver that she’d read his troubled mind. She could pick up his thoughts as if they were broadcast whenever he was upset. Just one more thing some vampires could do that made them so dangerous.
“He deserved to die,” Oliver said and, though it was true, he felt a twinge of sadness.
It was hard to let go of old beliefs, hard to let go of family. His brother was gone. His mother was dead to him now. She’d probably already sent her assassins—vampires and vampire hunters— after them.
“Yes,” Miranda said, still not looking at him, her fingers unmoving under his hand.
Oliver didn’t know if she was agreeing that Jonathan had gotten what was coming to him or if she was reading his mind again and agreeing with his assumption about the killers on their tail. He dipped into her mind with his new-found ability and found a whirl-wind of scattered, broken, and confused thoughts. Mostly, Miranda wanted answers and wanted them now. She was a kick ass and take names later sort of person and desperately wanted to find order in the chaos that had suddenly become her life.
Oliver couldn’t give her what she wanted, couldn’t explain why she’d suddenly developed vampire abilities when she’d always been so different from the other Vladula vampires before. He couldn’t explain why vampires and vampire hunters from their families had joined forces to hunt them down. He couldn’t make sense of anything for either of them.
Miranda rested her head against the high-backed seat and closed her eyes. “How soon until they find us?” she asked as if there was no doubt they’d be tracked down no matter how cleverly they’d tried to hide their tracks when they’d fled Paris.
Everyone they’d trusted had lied to them, hurt people they loved, and tried to kill them. Oliver wouldn’t say meaningless words just to give her a temporary Band-Aid for her pain.
“Soon, I imagine.” He poured two tiny bottles of vodka over the ice in his plastic cup and drank it down like water.
She nodded, still not looking at him, and gave his hand a gentle squeeze. “No matter where we go, they’ll find us.”
Maybe not, Oliver thought, a bit of the old optimist wanting to believe it. But he knew as well as she did there was nowhere to hide, nowhere to run, no one who would help them or shield them. All they had now was each other.
“Maybe it’s enough,” she said, reading his thoughts again. “They did all this, joined together, planned for years, killed . . . for what some of them thought we might be able to do all by ourselves.” She opened her eyes, such pretty blue eyes, dry and all cried out now.
Oliver tucked his head next to hers, not letting go of her hand. “And now we’re together.” Half vampire, half vampire hunter; they were mutants unlike any others on earth.
“Together. Different. Alike. And, for now, safe. Alone.” Miranda’s voice slurred as if she’d been the one to drink the vodka.
“With time to figure out what we’re capable of doing.” Oliver matched her quiet whisper.
He cupped her cheek, gently kissing her lips as they moved beneath his.
“Time to prepare,” she said as if reciting a pact or words to a prayer.
“Time to fight,” he answered, watching her eyes drift closed.
“Time to . . .” Her voice trailed off, and her body slumped against him as sleep finally overpowered her nervous energy and worries.
Die, Oliver thought, glad she wasn’t awake to hear it.
He closed his eyes, unable to fight off the insistent tug of sleep any longer. Still trying to find answers that were not there, he dreamed of vampires and vampire hunters.
They landed in Mexico City and made it past the officials with no problems, despite their hastily altered passports.
Cab drivers swarmed the terminal and sidewalk. “You need ride? I take you anywhere you want to go, cheap,” they all offered as if each had read the same guide to picking up American tourists.
Oliver ignored them, holding Miranda’s hand and tugging her along. His eyes shifted left and right, scanning the crowd. He wasn’t taking any more chances. He might not have all the answers, but he was coming up with plans anyway.
They’d been careful in Paris, selling their tickets, credit cards and cell phones, doctoring the new tickets they bought and their passports, not using any of the money Miranda’s father had given them when they’d foolishly thought he’d been on their side and had wanted to help them escape. As they made their way through the airport, Oliver looked for loose ends the vampires and hunters could have walked through to beat them here. He found none.
“You thought of everything,” Miranda said.
“Don’t do that.” His voice was hard. Impatient. He needed to think without the needy grab of her mental fingers digging into his brain.
“I’m sorry.” Wounded, her voice was small, childish. Unlike her.
Oliver’s temper flared. “Stop apologizing. None of this is your fault.”
“I know, but—”
“Enough.” He kept moving, faster now, angry.
We’ll talk later, the old Oliver wanted to say. The new Oliver kept Miranda’s hand locked tightly in his own and said nothing more, glad she fell silent and did as she was told.
Outside, the sun was shining. Horns honked, tourists milled about, and Oliver and Miranda lost themselves in the crowded streets around the airport.
In a rough-looking neighborhood full of squat, square houses with flat roofs and colorful signs in a language neither of them could read, they traded Oliver’s watch for a tiny, four-cylinder car with balding tires and a quarter of a tank of gas and headed south.
They paid for gas with too many American dollars and only later did Oliver think of how stupid that had been, how everywhere they went, they were leaving a trail. Rude Americans, always in a hurry, a woman with flaming red hair and a man with long hair who looked tense and hard. A rare watch, valuable and precious, traded for a crappy car with no title. Obvious. Sticking out. Stupid.
He needed to start thinking straight, think for the both of them, stop reacting and start planning. Food first. He pulled into a gas station, used the restroom, and asked the man behind the counter about the road ahead as any normal tourist might do. He bought a map and a guide book, Fritos, candy bars and water. He leaned casually against the car and pretended to look at his map and not at the restroom door that had closed behind Miranda. He didn’t appear to notice the men who hung around the garage, or the way the man behind the counter’s gaze had followed Miranda, but he did.
He grit his teeth to keep from yelling at Miranda to hurry the fuck up when she came strolling out of the restroom after what seemed like an eternity.
She leaned a hip into the car and took one of the candy bars from him, tearing off the wrapping and licking the chocolate that had already started to melt in the warm, Mexican sun.
“We need to find a bigger town and a store,” Oliver said.
She didn’t ask him why.
Good, she was learning. Act, not react. Do what needed to be done and forget the rest.
They went south, leaving Mexico City behind. On and on they drove, finally finding what he was looking for in a town that would have been considered small anywhere else—a large market that might have been a Wal-Mart had it not been for the crates of chickens in front of the store next to the bottled water and suntan lotion display.
They bought brown hair dye, cheap, white canvas sneakers for her and fake leather deck shoes for him. T-shirts, shorts, scissors, and lotion with self-tanner. Bronzer, makeup, more snacks and water. Money dwindling.
They stopped for the night at a small hotel that was the sort of place an American would gravitate to with a McDonald’s next door. Without discussing it, they got a room on the second floor and pushed the dresser against the door before stripping off their clothes and falling onto the narrow bed, curling around one another, their disguises still in the bags.
“I love you, Baby,” he said, wrapping his arms around her, a wave of protectiveness washing over him as he held her close.
She rested her head on his chest. “I know,” she whispered, her lips moving against his neck.
They made love, and he didn’t try to stop the vampire hunter in him from responding to the vampire in her. Though genetically half and half, perhaps a life-time of being told he was a vampire hunter overpowered science. As Miranda succumbed to desire and welcomed him into her body, her aura grew into a cloud he saw around her. Glowing bluish-purple light containing the essence of what made Miranda who she was engulfed him. He could have snuffed out that bright light forever. He could have taken her very soul and extinguished it, the way generations of Ripley vampire hunters had done to the vampires they seduced. He could have killed her. Instead, he loved her. He held her body and soul close and let go of his own spirit, sharing his strength with her until she cried out in pleasure and the worries fled her mind.
Later, he held her close as she slept. He was glad she hadn’t wanted to talk after. There’d be time for that later. First, he needed to get it together. Put the past behind him, along with the pain and worry. Figure out what to do next. How to keep them alive. For now, it was enough that they were together.
No vampires came for them that night. They’d survived another day.