ORIGINAL BLOOD: Gailene’s Vow (book 1)

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DESTINY IS IN THE BLOOD

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GAILENE’S VOW is the delicious, but tormenting tale of two women as they become vampires. Gailene must rise from devastation, rage, and vengeance in 1790s rural England, leaving her human family to become a powerful vampire matriarch in fledgling America. Two centuries later, college coed, Zondra, discovers she’s the leader of her grandmother’s empire when she begins turning, though never bitten. Gailene’s story unfolds to Zondra through their familial blood, revealing the tragic destiny, but poignant love both women have for Jeremiah. He lives in anguish while preparing Zondra to protect her new family against the retribution of Gailene’s creator.

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“Live to the point of tears.”

― Albert Camus

*

CHAPTER ONE

Washington D.C.–present

My scream choked off as if frozen in the air along with the white puffs of my breath. Terror forced my ice skates out across the frozen pond, blood pounding in my ears with each thrust of my legs. When I chanced a glance back, he was impossibly gone from the wide-open ice. The Washington Monument, sleek and barren of emotion, loomed ominously above the trees in the distant grey dusk. Despair engulfed me as I jerked my eyes forward, flooding my mind with prayers that went immediately unanswered: his horrid, insipid gaze was just inches from

my face.He glided backwards on the ice as fast as I skated forward, though he wore no skates and his body showed no motion. His voice entered my mind: I’m going to taste you, Zondra. I tried desperately to stop, but slid into his outstretched arms and legs that wrapped about me like a lover, drawing me to him. I arched away, pushing against his chest as he bent toward my neck, mouth opening horridly wide as slender fangs seemed to materialize with a sound as soft as a breath.

His pallid face passed my vision when his cold hand angled my head to the side—and that’s when I saw him, just a blur of color, nothing really to focus on. In an instant, he was across the pond and upon us. The one who held me yelped, almost bird-like, when something snapped by my ear. Cold viscous liquid blasted the side of my face, my eyes—then the ice broke.

As I slid into the black water, I saw two others, lips curled back, talon-like teeth bared, collide with the one who had come to aid me. For that frozen moment his face turned toward me and I knew what should be unknowable: that I was, and always had been, his.

***

His smile was unusually calming. Some would probably say he had a perfect Rossetti-luscious mouth, but it wasn’t. It rose crooked on one side, as if a happy joke lay behind those slightly angled front teeth. Even before his mouth stretched into a smile, those lips carved in bold strokes were uncannily smooth and the color vague as if leached by a persistent sun. It was a mouth with imperfections, a mouth with character. It was the first thing I remembered after I died.

When I awoke, if becoming awake is in any sense accurate, I instinctively coughed, gasping for air. I clutched at my neck, feeling for something that was no longer there. I should have been frightened, hysterical even, but his smile brought my immediate panic under control. My eyes didn’t leave his captivating lips that now talked to me. I couldn’t understand what he said, for every sound was unintelligible oddly pleasant noise.

My eyes shifted up to meet his—the connection was immediate and profound: I was absorbed into memories of others. As with the image of his mouth, his eyes alone were all I could see. The lashes, delicate and long, blinked like pearlescent wings, opening to wide irises so dark their absence of light was like a vacuum drawing me in. Although only an instant, it seemed a lifetime, for when released from this mysterious grasp and my eyes slipped away, I felt a connection with him more complete than I had with myself. The pain of his suffering wrapped about me so tightly, I began to choke. Tears that seemed not to be mine alone gushed spontaneously. I absentmindedly wiped them away and looked down at my wet hands: they were covered in blood.

Dazed, my eyes climbed back to his. They were closed, his head tilted back in a kind of ecstasy while he inhaled as if trying to capture every nuance of an intoxicating aroma. The trance ended abruptly when he opened his comforting eyes to look directly at me. His lingering smile changed to concern when he said, “For the time being, Zondra, it would be best if you learned to cry in private.”

He handed me a small white towel that promptly turned red as I folded it around my hands. He sat on the edge of the bed and wiped my face with another towel he wet from a plastic water bottle. As he carefully tended to me, he seemed to be cooing, yet his mouth remained closed. When finished, he held me away by the shoulders, inspecting me as a mother would a child.

“Much better. You’ll have enough questions of your own without being grilled with those you have no answers to.”

At that prompt, the questions piled up inside me, caught at the back of my throat. He got up and sat in the chair next to the hospital bed. He was tall and lean, sinewy from some kind of work—not the gym. Maybe he was late twenties, thirty at most. He looked strangely odd in hospital whites. In one sense, he seemed ordinary, a guy you would pass on the street and glance up to, maybe smile, then go on your way. But if you happened to look again, you’d see what you’d missed, and then proceed to walk into someone because you couldn’t pull your eyes away. His eyes, melancholy within sensuous folds, offset a European face sculpted in hard angles and curves like his lips.

Suddenly, a flash of memory leapt up so immediate, I yelped, batting at black water closing over me. The image dissolved, transforming into an even more terrifying event: a hangman’s noose lowering over my head. My body jerked in protest until his cold hand laid on my arm.

“You’re having combined recollections,” he said, cutting through my distress. His voice lowered as if it was painful to finish speaking. “I hope to help you with them.”

I swallowed several times before I was able to force the words past the tightness in my throat. “You’re not a doctor, are you?”

“Actually, I am, but not yours.”

I tried to grasp a wisp of memory. “I know you, somehow.”

He nodded. “Yes. Somehow.”

I pressed. “How?”

“That will come later.”

My cynical side advanced. “Then what the hell are you doing here?” I looked around the double occupancy hospital room for the first time. The adjacent bed was empty. A plastic line of red led from my arm up to a blood pouch. The pitch of my voice cracked on a high note. “What the hell am I doing here?”

“You drowned.” His serene voice delivered truth without the sharp edges.

I smiled sardonically. “If I had drowned, I’d be dead.” I wrapped my arms across my chest, a defiant gesture, not to confirm the obvious. “Clearly, I’m not.”

With the same composure he stated, “You were.”

The hallway door opened and I turned as a young nurse strode in. The dividing curtains between the beds flew up in a sudden gust of wind, tangling across my lap. The surprised nurse threw up her hands when her hair whipped about her face and her dress fluttered around her legs. She squeaked something in another language, then stared at me in a second round of surprise.

“Oh my, this is such a good thing! You are awake.” She talked as rapidly as her little feet moved, rushing her to me. Clutching her hands to her chest like a little girl about to receive a birthday present, she continued in her heavily accented dialect. “How are you feeling? Oh, you just don’t know how special you are. Please, let me take your vitals.” She grabbed the call button lying by my hand. “Oh, the doctors will be so pleased. I am calling them now.”

“Well, there’s a doctor already here,” I began to tell her as I turned toward the now empty chair. Her eyes met my confused gaze as I turned back to her.

“Oh my, but this isn’t such a good sign.”

Within moments, a doctor hovered over me, poking through my hair. With a gasp, he jerked back from me. “What the—?”

His face was caught in surprise, stymied, as if he’d been slapped for no apparent reason. My uncharacteristically quiet nurse glanced up from swathing my arm where she had pulled out the drip needle. Fright wrinkled her brow when she saw the doctor’s wan complexion. Her mouth opened, but no words came out.

I reached up to my face to check for some massive disfigurement that had turned them both so pale, but the doctor leaned back in, brushing away my hands. Without finesse, he rummaged through my hair again, finally picking something out. He stiffened, and ran a hand over his face as if the world would change back to how it had been before he entered my room.

“I don’t understand it.” He shot a suspicious look at my nurse, and spat. “Is this the one from the skating accident?”

My petrified Chatty Kathy shrunk away from his stare. The doctor grabbed my chart from the end of my bed, poking his finger at it as he scanned every line. He stared at me and swallowed, but said nothing. I’d had enough.

“Just what’s the damn problem, Doc? You think I’m back from the dead, too?”

His eyebrows arched to his hairline. “Who told you that?” He shot a glance at my nurse, who weakly shook her head.

I brought his gaze back to me. “It was that inscrutable doctor that was just here, who I might add, mysteriously disappeared.”

My waif nurse spoke up before any accusations could fly her way. “I didn’t see anyone. I think it was the bump on her head.”

“That’s just it!” he stammered face crimson. “There’s no bump on her head. No cut, no mark of any kind. Only these.” He opened his hand, revealing several tiny black squiggly things resting in his palm. “These are your stitches.”

Within minutes, it seemed every doctor and nurse in the hospital was jammed in my room examining me, all like characterizations of Sigmund Freud, with hand to chin, going “hmmm, very interesting.”

By the looks in their collective eyes, they seemed to think that I was part of a conspiracy to make them all look like fools. When their lettered medical minds couldn’t figure out how I managed to miraculously heal a gigantic gash upside my head, they naturally assumed they had been punked.

During this medical brouhaha, I heard the background chatter of how I’d been pulled from a frozen lake with a bloody ice induced laceration on my head, essentially dead. Though I’d been laid out refrigerated on the ice ten minutes before they arrived, the paramedics, bless their courageous hearts, managed to bring me around.

I pictured their story just as any eavesdropper might, because I couldn’t remember any of it, except stopping at the pond on the Mall on the way home from work to watch the snow flurries fluff over the frozen surface. But that’s where my memory faltered. Ice skates and figure eights morphed into dusty images of bright moonlight through a thick canopy of fluttering leaves. I looked up as that noose of raw hemp came down again around my head.

My hands flew to my neck as I let loose a scream so shrill, it froze everyone in the room and brought me back to my hospital bed. Panic set in as I realized my pendant wasn’t there, and I lurched across doctors and nurses in a desperate attempt to check the nightstand.

“Where’s my pendant?” I shrieked in demented falsetto. “Give it back right-fucking-now!”

That’s all the combined medical force in my room needed to descend on me, holding down my thrashing arms and legs to administer a shot of something that within seconds, sent me leaping back more than two centuries.

CHAPTER TWO

Holly-on-Brighton, England–November 1789

Rough breath panted at Gailene’s ear in rhythm with her racing heart. Her body, coated in a sweaty sheen, glowed in candlelight as she slid upon another in pulsing cadence. Arms and legs tangled, fingers reaching for one another. Glorious moans escaped lips with each breath, while salt burnt eyes and flavored roaming tongues.

Gailene drew herself up to ride Fenton in full gallop. By the same wavering light from the hearth that threw her lithe silhouette onto the log and mortar wall of the cabin, Fenton’s powerfully cut features stood out in sharp relief. The hard straight edge of his nose that settled into hollowed cheeks gave him the air of a Greek warrior from which he laughingly swore descendancy. However, the fire in his swarthy eyes betrayed Spanish heritage. Except in name, there seemed nothing English about him. It was staring into those eyes that weakened her resolve and made her wet.

She arched her back away from the overpowering fireplace heat to meet the cool air of the room that flowed down over her face and breasts, renewing her. Rocking hard against Fenton’s thighs, she ground down while he plowed up deep into her. Each thrust was like cannon fire between her legs, unifying their rapturous screams.

Gailene collapsed onto Fenton with a sigh. He stroked her hair and whispered into her ear. “Why the lament, dearest? Do our rendezvous upset you so?”

“On outset, I am eager, but on conclusion, there are regrets.”

“Then why don’t you come and stay with me? By God’s truth, I can care for you better than Kerrick.”

She rolled off him onto her back, staring at the shadows jumping on the ceiling from the firelight. “He is my husband and I love him. You are his best friend and should love him also.”

Fenton turned on his side to study her silhouette and the now steady rise and fall of her breasts. Her skin, as smooth and white as a dove’s breast, begged to be touched, but her deep jade faraway eyes, naturally defiant, kept everyone at bay but for him and Kerrick. Her lips, full and always flush, cut to a fine taper where they met her cheeks. Hers was a mouth that drew attention in its serenity, a mouth that rarely smiled. But it had always smiled for him.

“I do love Kerrick, as a man can love a brother, and you know the truth in that.” He ran coarse fingers over the tender skin of her cheek. “But I love you more, my Gailene.”

She batted his hand away as if it were a mouse fallen from the rafters. “Just stop that talk, Fenton Ryder! You don’t love me and I am not yours to love.”

Sitting up, he grabbed her hands. “Then why do you call me to you? Are you so fond of torturing me?”

She pulled away, slipping off the bed, her thatch of red hair seemingly igniting from the firelight as it slapped against her back. “Me thinks I torture myself all the more for these rendezvous. I feel but a harlot at these times.”

Fenton reached for her, but she stepped further away into the shadows. “Please, darling, don’t speak of yourself as such. We’ve held company since we were children.”

“How can I not, when I desire your sex so strongly, the same as any streetwalker.” She came back to the bedside and took his hands. “T’were better we finished such trysts and live blamelessly.”

Alarmed, Fenton sprang from the bed to gather Gailene in his arms. “You cannot mean it!”

She pushed against his comfort. “I’ve made up my mind.”

“But dearest, I don’t want—“

“This isn’t about our wants, Fenton. Our desires are wrong, and we both know it.” She pushed harder against his still wet chest. “Release me and don your clothes.”

Fenton’s will dissolved and his arms fell to his sides. His powerful muscles were no match to Gailene’s resolve. He felt like a boy before his scolding mother, powerless and guilt ridden.

She went to the washstand and poured water from the clay pitcher into the plain ceramic bowl. “Get dressed, Fenton. Kerrick arrives home come morn.”

He gathered his clothes, and pulled them on as he watched her wash. His heart and loins ached for her, but talking was useless now. Another month, maybe, but not now. In minutes, both stood dressed and silent at the threshold. Fenton went to embrace her, but she moved back. He couldn’t even gaze into her eyes for she hung her head low. He swept his dagger and flintlock pistol off the side table and stuck them in his waistband, then took up his sabre from its perch by the door and affixed it to his belt.

While his hands were busy at that task, Gailene stepped in and embraced him, trapping his arms. “I do love you, Fenton, and this will not change. But please, I beg of you, go back to being Kerrick’s true friend and leave me to be his true wife.”

She stepped away and with great difficulty, pulled her wet eyes up to his. His strength to oppose multiple adversaries in combat was not sufficient to keep the tears from his eyes. Forcing his words was harder than facing death. “I will abide by your desire, my—”

He stood motionless, lost in the universe of his empty heart, then leaned forward and brought a handful of Gailene’s hair to his face, inhaling its fragrance for the last time. Within the moment, he was out the door, swallowed by the darkness. Seconds later, the whinny of his horse and sudden thumping hooves, were testament to his painful departure. When the horse’s rhythmic clomp died away, Gailene fell against the door, pushing it shut as she crumpled to the floor. Shaking in silence, she bit back the tears until her screams of agony and regret finally escaped.

***

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One Comment:

  1. This was amazing, Stuart! It’s going on my to-read list!

Thanks for reading. I'm eager to hear what you have to say.