Oliver Ripley fled his youth, riding a bus. His future rushed toward him as he abandoned his past. Anything seemed possible, but what was to come shimmered just out of his imagination’s reach like the heat mirages that danced on the asphalt before the Greyhound mowed them down.
The first passenger to disembark, Oliver inhaled the odors of the Chicago bus station—diesel fuel, hot rubber, and corn dogs. He slung his duffel bag over his shoulder and walked out onto the busy sidewalk. The world waited, poised to spread wide before him.
No one paid him any mind. He was just another stranger in the nameless crowd. Hurrying people jostled him, and did not stop to apologize. The bum he gave a dollar to didn’t even say thank you.
When his back ached from the weight of his bag, he checked into a small hotel, drawn to its red sign. VACANCY. One C flashed, strobe-like. He paid for a week and settled into room 222. It smelled like cigar smoke and mildew. The bed was lumpy under a burnt-orange colored spread.
Propping open a broken window with the bible he found in the bedside table, he sat on the broken air conditioner and listened to sirens and traffic. He was happy but restless. Tomorrow was going to be the first day of the rest of his life and he was eager for it to begin.
A little after midnight, he left the hotel looking for a breeze and distraction.
It was a real scorcher, record setting according to the headline on the newspaper he bought from a corner store. No one talked to him, not even the store clerk who took his money without turning away from CNN. Oliver might have been invisible, and he did not mind at all. He relished the mounting sense of hovering in the night—just an anonymous instant in time—his future about to be. Fate would take him where he needed to go. The air hummed with potential.
He was lost, but not concerned, when he sensed the vampire standing against a wall outside a nightclub. A line of people waited between blue velvet ropes next to the building, but Oliver barely noticed them; his senses were full of the potent signal she cast off.
Her hair was black, the jagged ends tipped with cherry-pink. She lifted her chin and pushed a lock of hair behind one ear, meeting his gaze. Her eyes glowed like polished emeralds, reflecting the neon club lights. When she stepped away from the wall and walked toward him, he saw they were calmer in color like a pond back home in Indiana.
Oliver shivered and pushed away a flicker of unease. He was a Ripley; a vampire hunter. He could do this. If she talks to me, my future starts right now.
“Are you lost?” she asked.
Not anymore. “Maybe a little.” He stepped closer, catching her perfumed scent. “Do you know where the Admiral Arms Hotel is? I think on 63rd?”
She laughed, taking him by the hand as if they hadn’t just met. “You checked into a hotel and don’t know where? Come on, I’ll take you. The streets here are dangerous at night.” She wiggled her eyebrows, pierced with silver hoops.
She was petite, barely reaching his chin, even in her high-heeled boots. The thought of her protecting him was ridiculous, but he squeezed her hand and walked with her, letting her lead him deeper into his destiny. He wondered if she could feel it opening before them like a shadowy cave ready to be explored. Of course she doesn’t. She cannot see past the vampire hunter glamour masking what I am.
“What’s your name?” he asked in a casual tone. One slip could give her the upper hand. As long as she didn’t see him for what he was until it was too late, everything would be all right.
“Cire.” Her thumb stroked his palm.
“Like the orphan in that book? I read it in High School. You know what I mean?”
“Yeah. Dickens,” he said, faintly impressed she knew the reference.
“How perfect.” She grinned, still seemingly unaware of the danger she was in.
“Why, because I’m lost?” He grinned down at her, keeping the easy-going vibe going.
“Not lost. Found. I found you. Finders keepers, losers weepers.” She looked quite pleased with herself.
“It’s my birthday tomorrow. Today.” He wasn’t really into birthdays, but he wanted to keep her talking. Keep her distracted.
“Well, happy birthday then, Stranger. How old are you?”
“And, you’re all alone?” She looked up at him, and he thought he could see her calculations, her plotting and planning, as her gaze moved over his face.
“Not alone, with you. Kept, remember?” He smiled again, easing the taut feeling of anticipation and danger that seemed to snap in the air around them.
The walk back seemed short. They didn’t talk the rest of the way. The silence was peaceful. Back home everyone talked too much. Always telling him what to do. What not to do. Who to be. How to be.
VACANCY the hotel sign still read, one C blinking.
“Can I come up?” she asked as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
Startled at how easy this was, Oliver reminded himself that things would be different now, his family’s special rules for him left behind. He was already proving himself just as capable as the rest of them, and almost wished they were here to see it. “Sure,” he said, careful to keep his tone as relaxed as Cire’s, turning his thoughts back to the business at hand.
They climbed the stairs after discovering the elevator decorated with an OUT OF ORDER sign.
Signs were everywhere. Something magical was in the air; he felt it. He almost asked if Cire did too, but he didn’t want to alarm her when things were going so well.
After he hung the DO NOT DISTURB sign on the doorknob and locked the heavy deadbolt, he turned and watched her wander around the small room. She didn’t seem to notice the faint outline on the wall where the mirror had hung before he’d removed it and put it in the closet.
“Do you have any weed?” She sat on the edge of the bed, tugging off her boots. Her toenails were painted sky blue.
“No. I don’t do drugs.” Drugs, along with dating, had been discouraged by his family, along with so many other things. Normal things. But, that was behind him now; for the first time in his life, Oliver was free to do whatever he wanted, however he wanted to do it.
“Cool. Just say no and all.” She walked to him and looped her arms around his neck. Her gaze had grown hazy. Her eyelids drooped.
She still seemed to see him as nothing more than her latest meal, unaware she’d stepped into a vampire hunter’s trap and was already under his spell.
He kissed her. It was like dipping his face into a mountain stream. Her tongue was velvety and cooler than the night air. Though it was his first time, he knew what to do. Without hesitation, Oliver pulled her short black dress over her head, curling his fingers under its pleated hem. Cire was naked underneath. Her skin was alabaster-white, her breasts small and up-tilted.
“This is crazy,” he said, cupping her breasts, slipping under waves of lust. He reminded himself again not to get too carried away.
She tugged his zipper down, reaching inside his jeans and curling her fingers around his erection. “Let me.” Her voice was hoarse.
She sank to her knees, pulling down his jeans as she went. Her hot mouth closed on his cock. She slithered her lips down the shaft.
Pleasure made Oliver’s knees buckle, and he groped for the wall behind him.
She glanced up at him with those remarkable green eyes, and he looked away, afraid she would see the triumph he felt mixed with his excitement. He felt like an actor about to step on the stage for the first time after waiting in the wings, hidden in the shadows. He was no longer the disappointment in a family full of standouts. Tonight, he was who he’d been destined to be—a true vampire hunter like the rest of the Ripleys. He was becoming everything he was meant to be because of Cire. She was his destiny, his future. Did she feel it too? Or did she still think she was the one seducing him?
He watched her, hypnotized by the slow bobbing of her head. A strand of saliva shimmered like a pendant when she stopped, connecting them as she sat back on her heels. She licked her lips and the thread snapped.
She stood and slid her fingers into his hair, pushing the long, tangled brown layers away from his temples. “You’re so fine,” she said, her lips moving against his neck.
He lifted her easily, putting her back to the wall, leaning into her and holding her up. Sliding his hands under her ass, he guided himself into her hot, welcoming body. Their skin was slippery, weeping sweat, making lewd sucking sounds as they surged together and came apart.
She wound her legs around his waist. Her back thudded against the wall with each thrust. Oliver wondered if it was possible to fuck someone so hard their bones shattered, but he didn’t stop. It was so good, everything he’d known it would be.
She tightened her legs around him. Her muscles convulsed as she began to come, and Oliver was lost to the exquisite heat shuddering snugly around him, milking him dry.
Oliver fell into the abyss thankfully, willingly. Was death like this, a complete letting go, an escape? For her sake, he hoped so. Surprised by the unexpected flicker of pity he felt for the vampire girl, he didn’t let it stop him from doing what he’d been born to do.
Around them, the air seemed to swell and pulse as their spirits crashed together in orgasmic bliss. His hunter’s soul reached out and captured her vampire spirit just as her sharp teeth brushed his throat. Before it was over, and she went limp in his arms, he saw the dawning in her beautiful green eyes when she realized what he was. He soothed her with gentle kisses.
“It’s all right. It will be over soon,” he whispered as she shuddered against him and then finally gave into the inevitable.
In the morning, he was tired. Thinking was like reading a book with a stocking over his head—blurry, suffocating and annoying—and he had a nagging feeling he forgot important things in the light of a new day.
He reflected on one blazingly clear moment from the night before, an odd wave of fear, right in the middle of things. Oliver had been looking down at Cire. Her pale skin had glowed, ghostly, bruised and marked from his use of her body. She’d appeared strong enough to take it, readily capable of stealing a foolish man’s life. Yet, just as he’d felt the vampire hunter rise up inside of him, ready to take her out before she could kill him, he’d doubted himself.
Now, he was troubled. What if fate hadn’t guided him at all? Perhaps he should have waited in his room until Jonathan arrived. Maybe he’d taken a wrong turn on the dark streets.
Last night, he’d ridden a seesaw of lust and doubt, confidence and terror. His recollection of events was filled with black spots he could not illuminate, no matter how hard he tried. Something sinister seemed to creep along the edge of his memories, and he wondered—if he could move his head quickly enough—if he might come face to face with it and be scarred forever.
Oliver recalled telling Cire that he loved her, and meaning it. Despite the one strange, fear-filled moment, everything had turned out all right. He’d proven himself. His future was secure; his brother was coming and was sure to be satisfied with what Oliver had done.
Oliver pushed his worry aside. He had been lost, but now he was found. He had not known for sure which way to go in life, and Cire had shown him the path. As a boy, he had believed his vampire slayer family was immoral, but now he knew they were just.
No one in the family had thought Oliver had it in him, especially his older brother. No one had faith in him—the black sheep, the little nothing in Jonathan Ripley’s shadow. How wrong they’d been.
Oliver arranged the vampire girl upon the bed, drawing the ugly orange bedspread back, presenting her on the plain sheets instead. Her skin glowed with the iridescence of pearls against the ivory cotton. Her crimson-pink streaked hair flowed like a fiery river over the pillows and her green eyes adored him, even in death.
She was so beautiful. It hurt to look at her. He turned away, listening to the sounds of his new city pulsing outside.
Oliver was no longer anxious or afraid; his future was now. He was a vampire hunter.