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Edge Of Twilight
By Maggie Shayne
MIRACopyright © 2005 Maggie Shayne
All right reserved.
There was no way the woman could have known he was waiting in her apartment when she walked in that night. She couldn't hear him, because he made no sound. She couldn't detect his body heat, because he didn't emit any. He had all the advantages. He could see her just as well in the dark as he could have in full light. Maybe better. He could hear every sound she made, right down to the steady beat of her heart and the rush of blood through her veins. He could smell her. Strawberry shampoo, baby powder scented deodorant, aging nail polish, a hint of perfume, even the fabric softener scent that lingered on her clothes.
She stepped into the dark apartment, closed the door behind her and turned the locks, all without reaching for a light switch. She leaned back against the door and heeled off her shoes, shrugged the heavy looking handbag from her shoulder, along with her coat, and draped them both over a hook on the tree near the door. Still no light switch.
She sighed and padded across the carpet, sank onto the sofa, let her head fall backward. She worked as a nurse at an elementary school in rural Pennsylvania, spent her days wiping bloody noses and checking heads for nits. A far cry from her former career.
He waited until she'd closed her hand unerringly on the remote control and aimed it at the television before he spoke. "Don't turn that on."
The remote dropped to the floor, and she shot to her feet with a broken cry, her hands pressing to her chest as she searched the darkness with wide, frightened eyes.
"No need to be afraid," he said, stepping from the darker shadows near the door into the slightly lighter ones that surrounded her. She could see him now, just barely. A black silhouette in the darkness. To help her out, he shook a cigarette from his pack, put it to his lips, fired it up. He watched her fear deepen as the flame briefly lit his face. He took a long pull and released the smoke while she stood there with her heart pounding like a rabbit's."I didn't come here to hurt you. I will, of course, if you make me. I'd probably enjoy it. But ultimately, it's up to you."
"Wh-who are you? What do you want?"
He rolled his eyes at the utter predictability of the questions."Sit down. Relax. I only want to talk to you."He held out the pack. "You want a smoke?"
"N-no."She sat down, just barely perching on the very edge of the sofa, shaking from head to toe. "B-but..."
"But what? Go on, ask. The worst I can do is say no. What do you want?"
"Could you t-t-turn on a light?"
"No." He smiled, amused by his own little joke. "See? That wasn't so bad, was it?"
She let her head fall forward, catching her face in her palms. Crying now. God, he hated crying women. He reached out for a handful of the blond hair on the very top of her head, tugged her head upward. It didn't cause her any pain, but she whimpered anyway."Come on, now. I'm going to need your full attention for this."
She sniffled, wiped her eyes, squinted through the darkness at him. If she could see him at all, he supposed she could probably see his hair. He didn't really care. He'd only refused to turn on the lights because she wanted them on. He needed her uncomfortable, afraid and off balance.
"So here's the thing," he said. "I've been hunting for this man for...oh, more than forty years now. And during the course of my search, I found that he had a connection to you. A recent one, in the scheme of things. So here I am."
"What man?" Her voice was only a whisper now.
"Frank Stiles." He saw the way she jerked in reaction, then tried to hide it.
"Why is it you're looking for this...Stiles?"
He didn't have to answer. But he answered anyway. "He's a vampire hunter. I'm a vampire, you see. Thought it might be fun. Turn the tables, hunter becomes the hunted and all that."
"Oh God, oh God..."
"I understand you worked for Stiles five years ago or thereabouts." He took another drag, blew a few smoke rings.
"No. I...I never heard of him."
He moved his hand too fast for her to follow it, gripped her throat and squeezed. He kept the pressure light, just enough to cut off the air supply and reduce the blood flowing to her brain, enough to make her panic. Not enough to crush her larynx. She would be no good to him dead. He lifted her right off the sofa by her throat, while taking another drag from his smoke with the other hand. Then he let her go. She fell sideways onto the sofa, and her hands shot to her throat as she gasped for breath.
"You're going to tell me what I want to know before this night ends. It really doesn't matter to me how much pain you want to withstand before you talk. As I said, I'll probably enjoy it more if you make me hurt you. It's all the same to me." He sat down on the easy chair near the sofa, smoking and giving her time to catch her breath.
"Your name is Kelsey Quinlan," he said at length. "You are a Registered Nurse. You work at Remsen Elementary. Is all of this correct?"
Dragging herself upright again, still pressing a hand to her throat, she nodded.
"And five years ago, you worked for Frank W. Stiles as a research assistant. Is that correct?"
"Yes. I did. B-but --"
"Shhh. Just answer my questions. I'm not here to punish you for your crimes, whatever they may be."
She lifted her head, swallowed hard. It hurt when she did. He felt it."He's the one you want to punish, isn't he? What are you going to do with him when you find him? Kill him?"
"Oh, I've already killed him. A couple of times, actually. Oddly, the man keeps recovering."
The hand that had been rubbing at her throat went still, and the woman's face paled in the darkness."That's... not possible."
"That's what I thought. But I killed him really well the second time. Honestly. He was very, very dead. And then...well, then he just wasn't." He shrugged. "So what I need to know from you is just what kind of research he was doing when you worked for him?"
Her eyes shot wider. He smelled her fear. "I'm not going to punish you, Kelsey. I already told you that." Again he shrugged. "Unless you're into that kind of thing, in which case --" As he said it, he reached for her.
"I didn't do anything to the girl! It wasn't me. It was all Stiles. I swear it."
He didn't touch her, lowering his hands slowly now that he had her talking. The taps were turned, the pump primed. The information would flow now. "What girl would that be?"
She blinked slowly."The captive he held five years ago. The half-breed vampire."
Excerpted from Edge Of Twilight by Maggie Shayne Copyright © 2005 by Maggie Shayne.
Excerpted by permission.
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