Home > After Darkness Falls (After Darkness Falls #1)

After Darkness Falls (After Darkness Falls #1)
Author: May Sage

Eastbound

Just because a piece of advice was given by a serial killer didn’t necessarily mean that it was wrong.

Chloe’s father used to say, “If your day sucks, concentrate on one thing you can look forward to, and you’ll get through it.” At the time, she hadn’t known that he’d been distracting himself from his dreary routine by imagining what torture he’d administer to the victims he kept locked in the storm cellar, but still. Great advice.

She put it into practice, trying to forget why she was on a plane for the first time in her life and focusing on new experiences, and the destination. She managed a smile. Seven years ago, she might have even broken into a victory dance. Now, at twenty-five, after working her ass off night and day to pay the bills, a smile was all she had.

She'd changed. Not all of it was for the worse. Chloe was mature enough to recognize that she'd been self-centered in her teens; otherwise, she would have noted the strange things—the smells, the disappearances, the odd noises that didn't quite sound like they’d come from a TV. But she'd been too busy studying in her room, music blasting in her earphones, to care about what her father was doing.

Her world imploded in so many ways. With a father arrested, and then convicted as a serial killer, she never had a chance. The colleges that had shown some interest in her were all quick to dispatch rejection letters. None of her personal achievements had mattered in the end. Grades, chess, track, debate clubs—all had been for naught. She was George Miller's daughter, and that was that. The name stuck to her skin like a bad scent.

Her brother disappeared that same year. She couldn't really blame him. She also would have poofed into thin air, if she'd known how. Instead, Chloe had to grow up fast. She sold the house, sending all the profits to the victims’ families to pay for their funerals and everything else they had to deal with in the aftermath. That hadn’t stopped them from sending insults and threats, but they kept the money, and hopefully it helped. Then, Chloe left Colorado with her beat-up Beetle, her old cat, and a backpack in the trunk. Fast-forward seven years, and she was doing okay.

But okay had never been her aspiration.

Chloe soon found out that some people were more understanding than others. While humans—regular humans like her—weren’t entirely welcoming to the daughter of a cannibalistic murderer, sups didn't seem to care.

Since the Age of Blood, when the supernaturals had announced their existence to the world, they'd mostly kept to themselves, living in gated, tight-knit communities, but occasionally, someone who didn't fit in joined the regular human world. In her travels, Chloe met some shifters, mostly loners. They were a little unsettling at first, but she soon started to seek them out purposely. She preferred their company to the judgmental people who blamed her for someone else's sins. Sups entirely shrugged off her history.

They all had a horrific story about an uncle, cousin, or sister who'd gone rogue. Among sups, all that mattered was your own actions.

"One of my brothers went feral. He tried to eat my da'. We hunted him down, though."

Some people said sups disliked regulars, pushed them away. From Chloe’s experience, they just stayed away from assholes. She had no fur, no claws, no sharp teeth, and they'd been welcoming enough.

It was no wonder that the first time she’d settled down someplace for an extended period, she'd ended up working in a bar owned by a vampire and frequented by supernatural creatures.

Chloe was incredibly grateful for the chain of events that had led her to her place of employment. If not for her boss, Charles, she would be dead by now.

She didn't know why it had taken so long, but someone had finally placed a hit on her, and now thugs were trying to hurt her.

The families of her father’s victims weren't satisfied with her apologies, her money, or the fact that George was on death row, waiting for his comeuppance. They wanted her life as payment for the ones George had taken from them.

Chloe didn't know who had raised the bounty; any of the dozens of people her father had wronged could have been responsible. Charles was still looking into it. But she'd been attacked seven times in the last month.

After the first incident, Charles put a close protection officer on duty around her at all times—that meant hiring three guards who could take turns. He couldn't keep those resources focused on one waitress forever.

She'd expected him to fire her, or just tell her to sort out her mess herself. Instead, the vampire who ruled over the supernatural factions of NOLA waved his fairy godmother’s wand and made her wildest dreams come true. All right, not literally—although Chloe would have been surprised if Charles didn't own a wand, or a fairy costume. The man loved his masquerades.

Even in her youth, as sure as she'd been of her own intellect, her GPA, her list of extracurricular activities, there was one college she never would have applied to, knowing she had zero chance of being accepted.

The Institute of Supernatural Studies.

She didn't even qualify, because any submission needed to be sponsored by two supernaturals, and she’d known none in her teens.

The Institute was one of only a handful of colleges run by sups, and its alumni ruled the world. Not many regulars were accepted, but those who graduated with one of the Institute’s degrees became presidents, Fortune 500 owners, foreign diplomats. Even the occasional king.

Chloe never truly gave up on her aspirations; it wasn’t in her nature. She’d always wanted to be successful, driven by a need to prove herself, so she signed up for online undergrad studies after her father's arrest. She had a hard time paying for the tuition and studying while working full time to support herself, but she finally got her BA last year.

She'd toyed with the idea of starting a post-grad course. It wouldn't hurt. If she had an MBA, maybe someday Charles would promote her within his small empire. Never in a thousand years would she have thought that she'd get to work on her degree at the Institute.

“It's a fortress,” Charles had told her. “No human can reach you there. I made a few phone calls. Chelle likes you; she said she'd vouch for you too.”

To the rest of the world, Chelle was Michelle White, the queen of the witch covens of Louisiana and a frequent customer at Sucker Punch, the bar where Chloe worked.

Chloe liked Chelle, if only because the woman was kind, tipped well, and never acted superior, but they didn’t know each other well. The one true interaction between them had been over a year ago, when Miss Prissy Paws, Chloe’s seventeen-year-old cat, had been ill. Chloe took her to the vet, and the scans revealed a footlong list of issues associated with her eyes. They said the kind thing would have been to put her down.

Chloe couldn’t even recall a time when she hadn’t had Priss. She didn’t even think. The pet carrier against her chest, she walked right out of the vet and into Michelle White’s distinguished home.

She’d left without her cat. Because the moment Priss had come to, after the healing, she’d jumped on Chelle’s lap and claimed a new owner.

Animals took to witches, sometimes. Chelle apologized profusely, but Chloe had just been glad Priss was healthy and happy.

Still. That the queen would go through the trouble of writing her a recommendation blew her mind.

Chloe had refused to let herself believe that her luck could finally have turned, that she could really have a future—a good one that didn't involve her killing her back, legs, and wrists while sleazy assholes called her names and touched her ass. She didn't have a thing against waitresses—they were practically saints for putting up with the amount of crap customers dished out at them—but God, she really, really didn't want to do it until retirement.

Telling herself that she might get into the Institute, and then having to face disappointment when the refusal came, was not something she wanted to go through again.

But the letter that had arrived from England had started with "Congratulations."

If someone had told her seven years ago that she’d be admitted to the Institute someday, she would have snorted and recommended that they lay off dodgy mushrooms.

There were a lot of things she wouldn’t have foreseen back then.

Now she was heading to another country, where the name George Miller meant nothing, and Chloe Miller, even less.

This was a chance, a new beginning, and she wasn't messing it up. Even if it killed her.

Chloe grinned as the customs employee stamped the very first inked logo onto her brand-new passport.

"Welcome to London, miss."

He smiled pleasantly as he handed the documents back to her.

"Thank you. Glad to be here. Anything I shouldn't miss while I'm in the city?"

It occurred to her then that the tall, handsome man with sun-kissed skin, Indian features, and a delightful British accent was part of the border force, not a tourist guide, but, as always, her tongue had worked faster than her brain.

The man leaned forward, lowering his voice to a whisper.

"You want to take a hop-on hop-off tour; it'll stop at every landmark so you can get off and visit. And if you're into that sort of thing," he added with a wink, "there's also ghost tours."

She beamed, glad she’d asked. Ghost tours.

"Thank you, Henry," she said, glancing at his name tag. "You have a good day."

“Same to you, miss.”

He tilted his hat and rearranged his features into a severe expression before calling the next traveler forward.

As she only had a backpack, she headed right out of the terminal and took the train from Heathrow to Paddington, in great spirits and ready to immerse herself in the unfamiliar city.

Chloe had slept most of the six-hour flight, which had left at seven in the evening and arrived at seven the next morning. What a headache. It was now one in the morning back in Louisiana, and if she hadn't crashed, the jet lag would have been a thousand times worse.

She felt a wave of gratitude toward the stranger who’d written the highly detailed correspondence to her. Along with her acceptance letter, the Institute had added a thick envelope with the most useful welcome pack she’d ever seen. Bubbliness oozed from each of the three pages of longhand advice written on thick, grained paper by someone named Blair Lawson, who perfumed her letters and sealed them with wax and a bit of lavender.

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