Home > Rajmund (Vampires in America #3)

Rajmund (Vampires in America #3)
Author: D.B. Reynolds

PROLOGUE

Buffalo, New York

It was totally dark. She touched her fingers to her eyes to make sure they were open. They were. But the room was like pitch black, like she couldn't see her freakin’ hand in front of her face. Her mom must have pulled the stupid blinds down behind the curtains again to save energy. Regina was all for saving energy, but she wasn't a damn bat either. She sat up with an irritated groan and reached for the small lamp near her bed, nearly falling on her face when it wasn't there. She frowned and felt around blindly with both hands, finally hitting something solid. A small table lamp, but not hers. The first stirrings of unease coiled in her chest as her hand felt its way up the unfamiliar base to an old-fashioned push-button switch. A press of her thumb yielded a dim, yellow light.

She stared, abruptly wide awake. This wasn't her room. The strange lamp should have warned her, but somehow she'd still expected to see her familiar bedroom with the old-timey furniture she'd inherited from her Gramma Lena and the cheesy posters she'd bought with her twenty-first birthday money two years ago, the ones she'd thought were so sophisticated, but turned out to be just weird. But this wasn't her room; it wasn't even her house. So where the hell was she?

She blinked, forcing down her fear and thinking furiously. She'd gone out with friends. Right, okay. Katie's bachelorette party. But after that . . . She'd probably had too much to drink. All the signs were there, the sick stomach, the pounding head. God, had one of her friends dragged her home with them? Had she been that out of it? A wave of guilt swept over her, replacing the fear and tightening her chest with remorse. She could hear her mom's voice lecturing her, saying, “If you can't drive, you catch a cab or go home with one of the girls instead. Just make sure you call me, Regina, so I don't worry.” She clutched the rough blanket close against a sudden chill and swung her legs over the side of the bed. Her feet touched a cold, damp floor and she frowned at the sensation. A concrete floor? She looked up. No windows either. Was this a basement? She didn't remember any of her friends having guest rooms in—

It all came rushing back—the lights on the dark street, ice gleaming on the sidewalks. She'd almost fallen. No she had fallen. She flushed in embarrassment and remembered a strong hand gripping her arm, keeping her from hitting the ground. She'd glanced up, wanting to thank her rescuer and then—

She jumped as a noise broke the silence, something loud and heavy, a door slamming into a wall. She froze, listening, expecting footsteps. She heard a soft sob instead, a woman's voice somewhere nearby. She stood, taking a tentative step toward the door which was little more than an outline in the dim light. “Hello,” she whispered, wondering if the other person could hear her. She reached for the door knob. “Hello?” she said again, louder this time.

A heavy footstep scuffed in the hallway and she snatched her hand back, holding herself tightly. Her heart was racing suddenly, her breath fast and shallow, making her lightheaded as she strained to hear. A key rattled and the unseen woman began to cry, louder now, pleading. Regina stumbled back onto the bed, pulling her feet up, wrapping her arms around her legs, trying to be small, to be invisible.

The woman began to scream . . .

Chapter One

Sarah Stratton's eyes opened, a scream filling her throat, choking her as she fought it down, as her hand slapped the switch next to her bed. Light flooded the room and she sat up, her gaze taking in every familiar detail. She inhaled, a deep sucking breath that was more of a sob, like in her dream.

"Stop it,” she told herself. It had been a dream, a nightmare, nothing more. The darkness, the terror—they weren't real. Not this time. Hot tears flooded her eyes and she dashed them away angrily. Climbing out of bed, she stumbled over to her closet. There was no point in trying to go back to sleep, she had to get up soon anyway. She had two classes to teach and blue books to grade. Might as well get an early start, get in her morning jog, maybe have a real cup of coffee at the local Starbuck's instead of sleeping that extra hour. It wasn't because she was afraid of the dream, afraid the fear would come back, the helplessness—

"Stop it, Sarah,” she repeated.

She pulled on her winter jogging clothes with quick, sharp movements—warm leggings, a sweatshirt over a sensible athletic bra. It was nearly spring, but she'd learned the hard way that cold weather lingered here in Buffalo, especially in the mornings. She twisted her long blond hair into a secure ponytail before bending to lace up her shoes. Downstairs, she grabbed her warm windbreaker from the closet and zipped her cell phone and ten dollars into a pocket, adding her keys once she'd locked the front door securely behind her.

She paused for a moment to adjust to the freezing air, noting the slick spots on the short walkway down to the street. The girl in her dream—Regina she'd called herself—had fallen on a walkway much like this one. Sarah shook her head adamantly, refusing the memory. A dream, she reminded herself. She did a few warm-ups, leaning against the old wooden railing, stretching her hamstrings. The light was still burning on her landlady's side of their shared porch, but it was too early for even that industrious lady. But not too early for Sarah.

She took the stairs down at a quick jog, stepping to the side and running across the dead grass to avoid the slick pavement. On the street, she settled into her regular pace, legs pumping smoothly, breath easing in and out in a steady rhythm, her body warm despite the icy morning. And finally, she permitted herself to think about the dream and what it might mean.

It had been years since she'd had a nightmare that bad, the kind that brought her awake screaming, that brought back the cold and the damp, the despair . . . the wisp of humid breath over a bare cheek, the heat of a hand as it reached to touch—

Sarah stopped in the middle of the empty street, breathing hard, her heart pounding. She bent over, hands on her knees, each breath a gasp for air.

"Hey, you okay?” She jumped at the man's voice, nearly stumbling as she backed away, eyes wide. He raised his hands, palms out and took a step back. “Sorry. I just thought—"

Sarah forced a smile, trying to look normal, but she could tell by the look on his face that it wasn't working. “No, I'm sorry,” she said, fighting to even out her breathing. “I didn't hear you coming. Yeah, I'm fine. Bad night last night."

The other jogger nodded, clearly not believing her, but anxious to get away from the crazy lady. “If you're sure—"

"Yeah. Yes.” She waved him away. “Thanks for stopping, though. I appreciate it.” She began to walk slowly, hands on her hips, cursing her own stupidity. She didn't even look up as the helpful man jogged past, not wanting to see the concern, or the curiosity, on his face.

The dreams, the damn, stupid dreams. Why were they back? And why now?

Chapter Two

Her office was too warm. Coming from California, it was always a surprise to Sarah that people on the east coast kept their rooms so warm. It made her drowsy, which only reminded her she'd gotten up an hour early this morning, and why. She hunched determinedly over her desk at the university, trying to keep her eyes from crossing as she read what passed for freshmen college essays these days. Low music played in the background, a golden oldies station, playing tunes from the sixties and seventies, the songs of another generation that somehow spoke to her soul. But not even the sweet rhythms of Motown could soften her disgust with the essays she was reading. What did they teach these kids in high school anyway? Half of them couldn't spell worth a damn and most of the other half had the vocabulary of a thirteen-year-old. Granted, most of them were only taking her World History class because they had to, but—

A phone rang. She'd already picked up her desk phone's receiver before her brain processed the fact that it was her cell phone ringing instead. She dropped the landline receiver with a disgusted sigh and fished her cell out of her coat pocket where it was thrown over a nearby filing cabinet.

Checking the caller ID, she smiled and flipped it open. “Hi, Cyn."

"You ever wonder what people did before caller ID?” Cyn asked.

"Answered the phone and hoped for the best, I suppose. Why?"

Cyn made a discontented noise. “How's Buffalo?"

"Hmmm. Okay, I guess. But there's this white stuff everywhere. I'm not sure what it is exactly, but it's cold and slippery."

"Sounds intriguing. Except for the cold and slippery part."

"Yeah, well, not really. So, not that I'm complaining—because I'm grading blue books and I'll take any excuse for a break—but why are you awake? The sun is shining, where you are anyway. Shouldn't you be cuddled up next to that gorgeous vampire you're living in sin with?"

Cyn blew out a dismissive breath. “Don't be stodgy, Sarah. You're too young for it. Besides, we did the whole blood exchange thing . . . repeatedly actually. We're mated and that's the vampire equivalent of marriage. When in Rome . . ."

"Okay, yuck on the blood thing. I still don't understand how—"

"The blood thing is important, Sarah. Especially for a super vamp like Raphael. It marks me as his mate, which is a sort of protection. And it links us in a way . . . I don't know if I can explain it. But it's important."

"All right, I believe you. Changing the subject now. Please tell me it's not like eighty degrees in Malibu."

"It's not. It's raining, which means the natives are convinced the end is near and are engaged in ritual auto pileups in an attempt to appease the angry gods."

"I remember it well. So why are you awake? It's barely past noon on your coast."

"Shareholder's meeting. I had breakfast afterward with my father and grandmother. Sometimes I don't think we'd recognize each other if not for the family resemblance."

Sarah thought about her own family and forced a polite laugh. Cyn, of course, wasn't fooled.

"Everything all right, Sarah?"

   
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