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If there was one power a vampire could really use, Graf McDonald figured it would have to be internal GPS. Steering his cara black 1974 De Tomaso Pantera L, a total snatch magnetwith one hand, he jabbed at the tiny screen of his TomTom GPS thingie and said words his mother would have made him eat soap for speaking.
His BlackBerry vibrated against the leather of the passenger seat, seconds before Lady Gaga blared from its tiny speaker. He ripped the GPS from its suction cup base and took it in his left hand, steering with his knees while he answered the phone with his right. That was another thing vampires could use. Extra limbs, to be utilized whenever they willed it.
"Sophia," he said into the phone as he pounded on the TomTom screen. "What do you want?"
"Darling!" Sophia called everyone darling. It was her thing. "You're on your way, yes?"
Of all the traits that got Graf all hot and bothered about his sire, the way she would end questions with the answer she wanted to hear was in the top five, at least. He couldn't help but smile to himself at that. "Slight delay. This stupid GPS thing isn't working."
"Oh, no, no!" Sophia clucked her tongue, and even that sound had an Italian accent. "Darling, you're not going to miss my party, no?"
Graf flicked his gaze to the windshield, to the straight road that hadn't changed since the last time he'd bothered to look at it. "Not if I can help it."
"Well, where are you?" she asked earnestly.
"I'll be honest with you, Soph. I have no fucking clue where I am." He braced himself for the reprimand that was sure to come.
"Graf, your language! You sound like a peasant." She sighed. "You have my address, yes?"
"Yes, I have your address. I programmed it into the thing."
Fucking technology. Usually, he loved it. The internet, thank God for that. High-definition television, yes, yes, yes. Little weaselly devices that pretend like they're going to help you and then stab you in the back? Those could suck his big, fat
"Honestly, I do not know how you have such difficulty with directions. Get on the highway and go toward Washington, D.C. It is not difficult!" Sophia pouted over the line. "Do that!"
"Well, I would, pumpkin butt, but I dropped the damned TomTom in the parking lot at Denny's, and now it's all in Spanish and I can't get back to the map screen." He took a deep breath and propped the phone against his shoulder as he fished for the cigarettes in his jacket on the seat beside him.
"I do not understand you, you men," Sophia said, sure to lean on the word enough to let him know she meant it as an insult. "You know, I only turn women now, yes? Because they are not as vulgar and stupid. I do not wish to hurt your feelings, sweet Graf, but it is true, it is just my opinion. Now, why do you not find a place to pull over and ask for directions, and then you hurry here. Okay, good boy. Bye-bye!"
As always, she hung up without a chance for rebuttal. He tossed the phone back onto the seat, threw the TomTom on the passenger side floor, and lit a cigarette. When he looked up at the road, the biggest deer he'd ever seen stared back at him.
With a shout, he jerked the wheel and veered onto the shoulder, narrowly missing the animal. Tall grass and a ditch loomed just past the shoulder, aching to chew up his paint job and destroy his aftermarket ground lighting. Unacceptable. He fought to get the car under control on the gravel shoulder, and brought it to a stop in the center of the road.
Very few things got Graf's adrenaline pumping the way a threat to his car did, and he leaned over the steering wheel, his heartwhich usually didn't beatpounding in his chest.
"Christ," he muttered, easing the gearshift back to First. Okay, maybe Sophia was right. It was time to swallow his pride, ask for help, and keep his eyes on the road.
The trouble was, he reflected as he slowly rolled down the road, scanning the fields on either side for more white-tailed devil creatures, there didn't seem to be anyplace to stop; he'd passed plenty of farms, lots of little ranch houses with decks, aboveground pools, and absolutely no shade trees in the lawns, but nothing that would indicate a town was nearby. He'd passed a grain elevator, but it had been abandoned. When he tried to remember the last time he'd seen anything that promised civilization lay ahead, he had to reach at least an hour back. And he was cutting his trip close If he wandered around all night, he'd have to find a hotel to stay in. And if he didn't find one before sunup
He swallowed the lump in his throat and forced himself to take things one step at a time, without panicking. He'd been stranded at sunup before. The memory of prickling pain flaring into full-blown, fiery agony spread over his arms in a heated warning. A cold sweat of blood broke out over his forehead, and he wiped it away with a curse, ordering himself to get his fear under control. Yes, being burned by the sun had been excruciatingly painful. Yes, it had taken a long time to heal. But he'd been younger then, with less healing ability. The entire situation could be avoided, if he kept a cool head.
To distract himself, he thought of all the fun he'd have at his intended destination. Sophia's July Fourth parties were legendary. All those years ago, she'd been in England when news of a potential uprising in King George's colonies had caught her attention and Sophia, never wanting to miss out on anything exciting, had hopped a boat and relocated. Thus, she'd been at the very first July Fourth, and the revolution that followed it.
"Darling," she had told him once, "it was either going to be a historic moment, or it was going to be chaos. How could I miss either? All of those bodies lying around, the countryside unprotected as the men went off to war. Delicious."
Graf smiled at the memory. His sire was well, she was spectacular. The only thing he didn't like about her was that he had to share her with her other fledglings. She turned about three a year and sent them on their way, like she was a friggin' vampire factory, but, somehow, she made them all feel special and loved. Just receiving her blood was an act of love in itselfwhat more precious gift could you give someone than the gift of eternal life?
From the corner of his eye, he spotted light. Not enough that a human could have seen it; vampire eyesight was beyond excellent. A beam of light swung wildly through the darkness. A flashlight. Inside a structure of some kind. He hit the brakes and pulled over, examining the source of the light. The building was a gas station, all closed up snug for the night, because nothing in these Midwestern middle grounds stayed open later than ten.
A gas station would have a map. And if someone was robbing the place, he could get one for free. And pick up a snack.
He pulled closer, then killed the engine and let the car drift into the gravel lot, not closing the door when he got out. The element of surprise somehow made people taste better, and if they had a gun, he didn't want to get shot. It wouldn't kill him, but it would hurt like hell.
As he approached the building, it became apparent that the place wasn't just closed, it was abandoned. Several of the windows were broken, but no one had bothered to board them up. The price of cigarettes displayed on the faded sign in the one nonshattered window would have made Graf weep with joy had it been current. He pushed open the unlocked door and a bell jingled. So much for surprise.
The shelves were bare, so the place had clearly been looted. Why would someone even bother to break in?
"Hello!" he called cheerfully. "Anybody home?"
Something scurried in the farthest corner of the store, near the empty, glass-fronted coolers.
"Look, I know you're in here. I saw your flashlight." This was, Graf reflected, the kind of thing that would happen at the beginning of a horror movie. Cocky, confident guy walks into a creepy place, thinking he's the toughest thing in there, something horrible jumps out of the shadows.
But he knew he was the most horrible thing there at the moment, so the horror-movie comparison made him grin. "Okay. You want to do this the hard way? We can do it the hard way."
Whoever it was scurried across the floor. But they didn't move away from him. They approached on hands and knees. A hand grasped his ankle, and he kicked to dislodge it.
"Stop! It will hear us!" A feminine voice, consumed with panic. "Get down! It's coming!"
"What's coming?" He crouched, but not out of fear of whatever this woman thought was heading their way. He needed to get a better look at her, to decide if she was crazy or just plain terrified.
Maybe both, if he had to judge by the eyes staring back at him. The whites shone like the moon in the darkness, with huge pupils obscuring nearly all the green around them. Her lips, the same pale of her skin, pursed against the agonizing wait. Fear radiated from her, from the scent of her sweat to the unrelenting grip on his wrist she'd secured when he'd knelt. Suddenly, she released him, turned her face up to the windows just above their heads. She pressed one finger against her lips and moved backward in a slow crouch. Graf followed, though he still had no idea what the hell was going on. A meal was a meal, and this one looked pretty tasty, despite the bone-chilling terror that gripped her.
She pushed open the door to the back room of the store, and they crept inside. She motioned, still silent, to the desk in the corner, a clunky metal contraption that no one had seen fit to take with them when they'd closed down. Climbing beneath it, she motioned for him to follow.
Here was a predicament. She was a hot little piece, and under normal circumstances, he wouldn't have minded squeezing into a tight spot with her. But if there actually was some ominous thing coming for them, being trapped when it got there didn't seem like the best idea. On the other hand, hiding out in the back room would be fine once the sun came up, because it was mercifully windowless.
An inhuman roar shook the walls, and that made Graf's decision for him. He dove beneath the desk, and the girl tried to avoid him with a squeak. "It's here!" she screamed, covering her ears with her hands and squeezing her eyes shut tight. The sound of her rapid breathing and wild heartbeat filled his ears, and his fangs slid down in anticipation.
Then, the groan of rending metal sent daggers of instant "Oh, that can't be good" shooting to his brain. As ridiculously quick as vampire reflexes were, he didn't have time to react before a gas pump shot through the wall like a knife through hot butter, and asbestos tiles rained from the ceiling like snowflakes in hell.
"We should probably get out of here," he said, but it really wasn't up to the human to decide if she wanted to leave or not. He grabbed her by the wrist and pulled. If she wanted to keep her hand, she would follow. She did, but screamed, "Don't go out there!" even as he pulled her through the door.
"There's my car!" he shouted over the sound of the gas station's roof tearing off. Something moved in the darkness, but getting away from it was more important to Graf than getting a good look at it.
The girl hesitated, and he shoved her through the driver's side door and climbed in after her as she scrambled into the passenger seat. "Drive!" she screamed as a chunk of roof fell on the hood of the car.
She didn't have to tell him twice. The engine roared and the transmission protested as he pushed all three hundred and fifty of the horses under the hood to haul ass and get them out of there.
"What was that?" He checked the rearview mirror. The gas station, a crumbled ruin, stood alone at the side of the road, but nothing around it had been disturbed. The power lines stood, the cornfield waved placidly. "Was that a tornado?"
"How did you get here?" The human trembled, gripping the dash with one hand as she sat sideways to face him. Her voice held some of the same panic she'd had in the darkened station, as though whatever the hell had just happened to them hadn't ended yet and that his relief was premature.
Very few things rattled him anymore, but the strangeness of her question did. Not a good feeling. "How else do people get here? I drove."
"No, that's impossible." She sat back, stared blankly out the windshield. "This can't be happening."
Shell-shocked human. Fantastic. He should just pull over and eat her, dump her body in the ditch and keep going, but some instinct that was smarter than him warned that it wouldn't be a good idea. "Well, I hate to tell you, but it is happening, and I'm about two seconds away from kicking you out of this car if you don't stop acting so damn crazy. If you're lucky, I might even hit the brakes first."
"Oh my God, you're really here. From the outside." Her eyes got even wider, if that were possible.
"The outside of what? Ohio? What, are you Amish or something?" He pulled the car to the side of the road. Something about the whole situation was fishy, and he had a personal rule about getting caught up in human problems. And he definitely didn't eat crazy.