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The chandelier was crying, long tears of palest amber that streamed across her line of sight. Her mind was like shattered glass, jagged pieces that no longer fit together into a coherent whole. She lay, moored to the side of the large bed, that even now seemed to be pitching and heaving beneath her, and rummaged through her mind for thoughts that made sense....
Foremost in Melinda's mind was the paralyzing pain that ran down the right side of her body, emanating in dizzying waves from the welt on her neck. She probed gently at her throat, wincing as she touched the bruised and tender skin. Dried blood crumbled beneath her fingertips, as she ran her hands down her chest and arms to find the stinging traces of claw marks. She moaned and tried to turn over, but she was too stiff. She felt as if she'd been dissected and pieced back together.
Her memory yielded images unwillingly in self-defense, as she fought her way back to consciousness. She remembered fighting with her boyfriend, waiting alone on the deserted subway platform, and the bright lights of the approaching subway. She recalled boarding the train and staring at the drunken occupant who had passed out in the seat across the aisle. The train crossed a junction in the tracks, veering off to the right and downhill. The lights went out.
Something hunted her in the disorienting darkness, as she thrashed about the empty subway car trying to escape. Taloned hands tore through clothing and skin alike. She could still feel the hot breath upon her face, the odd pressure at her neck, followed by blinding pain, and the thick, black darkness that sucked her down into nothingness....
"You're awake," said a soft voice from the end of the bed. He turned into the candlelight, and Melinda looked into the face of her nightmare.
With a hoarse cry, she scrambled away from him, crouching in the corner of the four-poster bed. The sudden effort sent points of light searing through her vision. She fought for breath, for the tenuous hold on consciousness.
"Shh," he whispered, coming to sit on the bed beside her. Melinda tried to move away from him, but succeeded only in falling forward. He caught her in his arms and placed a finger against her lips to quiet her. Helplessly, she looked up into eyes that were a deep brown, bordering on black. He didn't look like the horror her fragmented memory insisted he was. Rather, he resembled a dark angel with his handsome face and head of unruly curls. But the powerful hands that held her with much restrained strength ended in ten, long, talons. He let her down against the bed and propped the pillows up beneath her head. His hands lingered against her neck.
"Stiff?" he asked with genuine concern. His voice was deep and melodic. She nodded dumbly.
With strong, warm hands he tenderly massaged the feeling back into her neck. "It'll pass," he said. And, for the first time he looked human, almost.
Solemnly, he surveyed the damage, running a finger over the red welts on her throat and arms. "You're hurt," he said, more as a statement than a question.
"Yes," she croaked, her voice a rasping remnant of its former tone.
"I'm sorry, you must believe that."
Melinda choked back a sob and stared at him in mute terror.
"The first time is always a shock. But you're safe now."
"Safe?" she whispered in absolute horror, "I don't think so."
"You'll see," he said, almost sadly. For a moment he looked as if his mind was far away, dwelling on some old and familiar sorrow. He looked back at her suddenly, making her jump. "Besides Melinda," he said. "You really don't have any other choice."
"How do you know my name?" she asked, trying to keep the tremors that resonated out from her knees from working their way up into her voice.
"I looked at your driver's license, of course," he said, as if she was incredibly naive. Then he remembered his manners and said almost apologetically, "Well, you've been asleep for a day and a half, it wasn't as if I could ask you."
She stared at him, waiting. "I don't suppose I'll need my license when I'm dead," she said finally.
"Dead? Whatever gave you the idea I was going to kill you?"
"Look what you did to me!" She wanted to scream. "You were trying to kill me!"
"I am trying to save your life," he said and looked away.
An icy shiver snaked down her spine. She hugged her wounded arms and shuddered.
"Really," he said gently. "I have no more choice in this than you."
"I don't believe you."
"As you wish." He grasped her head in his taloned hands and turned her face so she was forced to look into his eyes. "But I want you to understand something. You are in a situation in which you have very few options. In a few short hours you will be thinking very differently about all of this. I will await your call."
He left the room, pulling the heavy metal door to with a loud resounding boom that had an ominous note of finality to it. As if in emphasis, she heard the jingle of keys as he locked the door.
The room was spinning, clockwise, then counterclockwise. Melinda looked about slowly, trying not to turn her head too fast and send the dizziness flooding back upon her.
The mammoth bed on which she lay was the only piece of furniture in the cavernous room. It was an imposing creation with its heavy curtains and towering columns. Judging from the tiled walls and floor and the persistent rumbling above, she suspected she was still underground. An abandoned subway station perhaps. She'd read once that there were a couple in the Toronto Subway System. The place had a haphazard look to it, as if he made do in surroundings less opulent than he was accustomed. Tapestries, embellished with gold and silver thread covered the walls, and Persian rugs warmed the utilitarian tiled floors. The foyer was flanked on either side by what looked to be a small study and a large closet.
Gingerly, Melinda placed one foot on the floor, then stood, holding on to the bedpost for support. She willed herself to remain upright. Awareness was her only defense. She had to find a way out.
Slowly, she walked about the perimeter of the room, lifting up the corners of the heavy tapestries, examining the wall underneath. She pounded on the tile, bruising her hand on the hard cement it covered. Not even an echo. The place was as solid as a tomb. It was doubtful anyone would even hear her screams.
There were no windows, and the door was locked as securely as it sounded. She threw herself against it, gaining only an aching shoulder for her efforts.
Desperate for clues, she lurched toward a desk in an alcove off the main bedroom and almost fell into the fragile antique chair. She flipped through a stack of parchment papers on the side of the desk, searching for a means to defend herself.
Something silver slid from the paper, falling to the desk with a loud clink. Melinda turned the slender object over in her hands. Faded runes ran along the silver blade that was worn smooth by years of use. A blood-red jewel was set in the hilt. It could have been a dagger, but she guessed by its presence on the desk, he used it as a letter opener. She folded it tightly in her fist. As a last resort, it could be used as a weapon against him.
Melinda turned her attention to the row of leather-bound books on the back of the desk. A similar volume lay open before her, as if he had tossed it there expecting to return shortly.
She reached for the book, feeling its soft leather cover. The passages inside were scripted in a strong hand, a form of calligraphy so ancient and decorative it was difficult to read. The open page was dated the twenty-sixth of April. A few days ago then. Scrolls of red and black ink revealed the beginning of a poem, lovingly bordered with much care. Melinda read the words aloud, wondering at the odd imagery,
The blood of sunset stains the sky
lips, of ruby wine
darkness like a feather falls into the depths of midnight bless the glow of candlelight...?