Home > After Darkness Falls (After Darkness Falls #1)(2)

After Darkness Falls (After Darkness Falls #1)(2)
Author: May Sage

Blair was Chloe's mentor. On the first line of her long message, she informed Chloe that this was her second time mentoring, and that the subject of her first mentee should never, ever be mentioned. And then, she merrily launched into what she called the "Survival Manual 101."

Bullet point seventeen said, "Travel: crash on your way to Europe. As a general rule, I find that if I'm going to the right side of the globe, I need to sleep and bring on the coffee."

Chloe hadn't been sure she'd be able to sleep in the plane, but the comfortable business-class seats were better than her bed back home.

She owed that, and so much more, to her boss. She never would have been able to pay for the cross-Atlantic travel on such short notice, on top of all her expenses. The school was funded by its alumni and didn't accept tuition fees from students, but still, the dorms and meal plans hadn't been cheap. Charles had made it a non-issue on the very day she received her acceptance letter.

"Chelle and I are your sponsors. You need something, you let us know. I'll book your tickets to London. From there, one of Chelle's contacts will pick you up and take you to the Institute."

"Will I have time to see the city?"

Chloe had felt pretty selfish the moment the words had crossed her mouth. She owed Charles and Chelle enough, and this wasn't a vacation—she was being hidden because her family's mess had blown up in her face.

Charles had just shrugged. "For a couple of days, sure. Wear a hat, no pictures on social media, and you're good. I don't think whoever's looking for you will think to check another country quite yet. Chelle will give you an address. When you're ready, head there."

So now, she had two days to enjoy London.

The City of Blood

Chloe didn't think that two months in the city would have been enough. She loved standing in the middle of the bridges, fresh air on her skin, watching the River Thames.

She visited Parliament, Buckingham Palace, and the Tower of London, and wished she also had time for Hampton Court, Windsor, and Kensington. She watched three plays, two ballet performances, and a pantomime—seeing one of those was enough to realize that she didn't need to watch any more. She might have loved it at six years old, though. Chloe ate at an Indian restaurant—the best kind of British food, according to everyone she talked to at the Bayswatter hostel where she crashed at night—and had Sunday lunch at a pub, as well as a fish and chips in the street.

Her first weekend abroad would have been perfect, if January wasn’t so very cold. Thirty-two to forty degrees—or, in Europe, zero to four degrees. She was great with numbers, but getting used to thinking in pounds, grams, and Celsius would take a while.

The two days practically flew by, and then she had to return to reality—a reality where she was knocking on a witch coven's door to find someone who'd take her to a college mostly accepting supernatural creatures. It was time to head to the Institute.

Chloe should have been afraid, like any normal person. But if she searched her feelings, she only found anticipation.

As she neared the address Charles had given her, she grew more surprised, and slightly concerned that she might have wandered into the wrong area. The neighborhood definitely didn't look like her idea of a witch's coven.

In New Orleans, the witches didn’t even attempt to blend in. Their houses were painted red or black or purple, and mysterious signs hung on their doors. But the quiet residential street off Regent's Park Road in Primrose Hill could hardly have been more inconspicuous, with rows of identical handsome white houses with tiny enclosed gardens at the front barely wider than the sidewalk.

Something felt wrong.

At Number 87, her destination, Chloe found the little gate of the half-meter-tall black fence around the miniscule lawn open. She looked up toward the house. A couple of steps led to a dark green front door that was also ajar.

There wasn’t anything wrong with leaving your door open, per se. Chloe had been guilty of that plenty of times back in her small town. But one wouldn’t expect that type of behavior in a city. Besides, a bad feeling had been making her stomach churn since the moment she’d turned onto the residential street.

After a moment of hesitation, Chloe pulled her phone from her pocket, finger hovering over Charles's number. Not that he could do anything from all the way back in the States, but if anything happened to her, at least he'd know.

Chloe felt her heart beating in her ears as she crossed the paved path. At the door, she gasped.

There was a body. A person, definitely dead, judging by the amount of blood coagulating on the carpeted floor. Then, her eyes traveled further into the house to see that the body wasn’t alone. There were two others just in the hallway: a man pinned to the wall by a long knife, and a woman on her back. Chloe couldn’t see any wounds from where she stood, but the absolute stillness was telling.

Never mind Charles. She had to call the police. What number should she dial on this side of the world? She was pretty sure it wasn't 911. Shit, she definitely should know this. Maybe she'd tell Blair to include it in her survival manual…if she actually made it to the Institute. The murderer of those three people might still be here, looking at her right now with a smile on his lips, glad to have another prey. Perhaps the families of her father’s victims would be happy to hear the news.

She forced that thought away, concentrating instead on the closest corpse, not a foot away from her toes.

The body in the hallway, right in front of the door, belonged to a broad, bald man with tattoos at the back of his skull. Chloe leaned forward.

"You don't want to touch that door."

She turned toward the low, suave voice, and found a man standing behind her.

He wore a sharp black suit with a pristine white shirt and gold cufflinks. She was used to attractive people of all sexes—sups had a tendency to look better than your average Joe, probably thanks to some kind of magic. But he wasn't attractive. He was ridiculous.

The concept of a man who looked like him should have been entirely absurd. The stranger would have made anyone drool—man or woman, young or old, whether they were into gruff lumberjacks or clean businessmen.

He had a strange complexion, not quite olive, definitely not entirely white either. She would have guessed he tanned well in the sun, unlike her. His eyes were dark and dangerous, but not as dangerous as his mouth. The things she could do to that mouth! And she'd just seen dead bodies. A new development for her, but she was pretty certain that dead bodies did nothing for her libido. She should not have been in a state to appreciate beauty. His hair was long and brushed back neatly, his facial hair carefully trimmed. Wildness and control, merged into one perfect man.

No, not man. No man strode quite so confidently. No man made her want to run the other way and leap into his arms all at once. Chloe was a rather simple person at the core: she liked to be friendly and enjoyed the company of people. She’d never met anyone she wished to harm. And yet…something inside her whispered the strangest things. What did his blood look like, feel like, taste like?

What was wrong with her?

Then, she realized it had nothing to do with her at all. He was doing something, making her feel a certain way.

What was he?

“Not without gloves,” the thing added. “We don't want your prints at the scene.”

The conversation was too real, too casual. Chloe would have liked to pretend that she’d passed out and was just dreaming the whole thing, but his matter-of-fact tone robbed her of that illusion. She wouldn’t have imagined a man who looked like him and then made him talk about fingerprints.

He pulled an unexpected object out of his pocket: a phone. His hands would have been better suited to holding a dagger, or at least a gun.

"It's me,” he said into the receiver. “Rose's Coven, on the hill. Send a clean-up team and call the humans on your leash. It doesn't look good, but I can't stay to investigate." After a beat, the stranger added, "Keep me updated," and hung up.

Chloe’s eyes were locked on him during the whole exchange, because it beat looking at corpses. Now she glanced back toward the house.

Oh God. Until now, she’d held her breath, but now she’d made the mistake of inhaling.

She was going to throw up. That smell. What was that smell? Again, she wanted to simultaneously step forward and run away as fast as her feet could carry her.

"It's lucky you weren't here."

The stranger's smooth voice pulled her out of her funk. Chloe suddenly realized that she could have been here. Should have been. Had she not decided to take a couple of days in London, she really would have.

What was she supposed to do now? She felt incredibly selfish for thinking about herself while towering over three corpses, but there didn’t seem to be anyone left alive here, and those witches were supposed to take her to the Institute. She didn't know its location; her letter hadn't provided it. Chloe knew the school was well hidden—one of the reasons why it was the perfect place for her.

She crouched down and hugged her knees, keeping her head low, and breathed in and out, trying to calm herself. Although it was still incredibly freezing outside, cold sweat gathered on her forehead. The last thing she needed right now was a panic attack. She wasn’t the one in trouble. She could just call Chelle or Charles. They'd tell her where to go.

"Are you all right?"

No.

"Yes," she said. She had all her limbs, and her blood wasn't marring the marble, so, yes, compared to some, she was just peachy.

"Good. Come on, Chloe."

Her head snapped to the beautiful creature. How did he know her name?

Her heart, already thundering, beat even faster.

"Fuck! You're here to kill me,” she gleaned, wondering why her instincts hadn’t screamed at her, demanded her to run. “Did you kill these people to get to me?"

The beautiful man laughed low.

"Darling, by now I could have destroyed you a thousand times, in so many different ways, if I'd wanted to."

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