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Crimson Groves—Chapters 1 & 2

My eyes shot open wide, instantly seeing what my new body craved. A disturbing thirst grew inside me as I watched tiny droplets of blood trickle down her neck. I stared at the crimson rivulets, mouthwatering, my fangs struggling to stay confined inside. My tongue stroked across my new canines—sharp and hungry. My refusal to bite her and drink her blood had been much easier before I saw it, smelled it, felt it sticking to my taste buds like honey. Sweet, scrumptious honey made of blood.

1

The Call

FOR THE PAST SIX MONTHS I’d been in a really bad mood. Today was no different. I walked with an empty purpose along the streets of downtown Clermont, staring at the scuffed black tops of my Dr. Martens boots. The empty part I blame on John and Mandy, the purpose…well that was because I was on my way to work. The tall buildings around me were older, some red brick, some gray cobblestone, and a few of them were just bland shades of white, slightly worn down from the weather. They were linked like a cut-n-paste project at school. Chunky, uneven brick pavers decorated the front of each business and cracked, distressed pieces of sidewalk filled the gaps in between. Distracted by my thoughts, I tripped over a huge dip in the walkway pushed up by a swollen tree root. I skipped twice, not so gracefully, but luckily regained my balance before falling. Thank God I wasn’t wearing heels or I would’ve just eaten the sidewalk. Some days you just can’t catch a break. Maybe I just caught one?

Letting out a deep, “woe’s me” kind of sigh, I looked up. The descending sun hung in the corner of the sky like a big round drop of spectral yellow paint, fighting to keep its place on a dusky blue canvas. A cool gust of air brushed past and my hair flew sideways, sticking to my face. Wrestling with it momentarily, I strained to see beyond the soft blond wisps, and as I turned a corner the breeze shifted gears, sweeping my long hair behind me. At least I could see where I was going now—not that it helped my state of mind.

A slightly overweight woman jogged past me wearing typical running attire: black leggings, skin tight neon green tank, and white Nike sneakers with a black swoosh. Her copper hair, pulled in a ponytail, poked out the top of a white sun visor. A chill brushed against my arms through the paper-thin poly-cotton material of my, black button-up shirt and I wrapped my arms around my chest, rubbing my hands up and down my arms trying to create a little heat with the friction. It was unusually cool for Florida this autumn—maybe that meant we’d actually get a real winter this year. “Yeah right,” I mumbled under my breath.

The street was getting busier, cars and trucks hurrying to beat the impending rush hour traffic. Some of the restaurants around here offered great happy hours to attract those who didn’t want to brave the streets, or that just wanted to get cheap drinks and bar bites. Even though the restaurant I worked at was upscale, they’d decided to start offering the same types of specials. My boss blamed it on the bad economy.

A group of men in suits walking in the same direction as me, but on the other side of the street, fit the profile of the mid to upper class business professionals my restaurant catered to, and I wondered if that’s where they were going. As I reached the intersection, I hit the button and waited for a signal to cross the street. Instantly, a light in the shape of a plump stick person lit up bright white. Lucky me! Could my day possibly be looking up? Letting out a heavy sigh, I stepped off the edge of the sidewalk. Suddenly a horn bleated. Tires shrieked. It was loud. So loud, I knew it was close—too close. I swung my head up in a panic only to find a red Volvo heading straight toward me.

It came to a stop just a few feet away. I gasped, fighting for breath as my pulse hammered in my head, my attention on the smoke drifting up from the tires. Then as I raised my gaze slowly, a Latino woman in the driver’s seat came into view. She looked young, barely out of her teens with a braid of long, dark hair draped over her shoulder. Her mouth gaped open, her eyes wide with panic. Swallowing hard, I tried to focus on steadying my breathing but the air seemed thin. My adrenaline was pumping as if I drank a can of rocket fuel, yet my limbs were frozen and I couldn’t move.

“Ma’am, Ma’am! Are you okay?”

Looking like she’d seen a ghost, I stared at the Latino woman through the windshield and I couldn’t help but wonder if something bad really did happen and I was having some type of out-of-body experience. Maybe she did hit me? Maybe I was a ghost?

“Ma’am!” The voice was closer and this time I registered it sounded more like a man than a woman—deep and baritone.

Slowly looking around, I saw one of the men in suits walking toward me, the wind blowing his dark hair sideways, and his suit jacket flung open. “Are you okay?” he called out, worry hardening his expression.

“Y­­­—” I choked up, feeling shaky all over. If I really were a ghost, he wouldn’t be able to see me. Right? “Yes, I’m okay,” I finally managed.

Suit man smiled as relief washed over his face. When I looked back at the Latino lady, she was giving me one of those “move out of my way” looks. And she was texting on her cell phone. No wonder she’d just about run a red light and hit me. Fighting the urge to flick her off, I followed behind suit man as he headed back to his group on the sidewalk.

If you’ve ever had a near-death experience, then you know how your life flashes right before your eyes. I would’ve died sad, desperate, and alone. My tombstone would’ve read, Abigail Vaughn Tate – Beloved bartender. Isn’t that just a great way to go? And I thought I was having a bad day before this. No, I won’t ask what else can go wrong. I really don’t want to know.

The Beacon was just a little farther up ahead. With a silent prayer, I pleaded with God to let it be a busy night. Busy enough to keep my mind off John… and Mandy… and my near-death rendezvous.

“Hey, Abby,” a soft voice called out as I walked in. Jamie was just out of high school, not quite eighteen, but her parents were regulars here and pretty much secured the hostess job for her.

“Hey,” I said, waving at her as I passed the hostess stand. With a brief glimpse, I noticed how nice she looked with her mousy brown hair neatly tied in a bun and the deep red dress she wore hugging her slender frame. As the hostess, she was the only employee that didn’t have to wear all black, but at least I made more money.

Turning left, I moved through the bar area in the front of the restaurant. A wooden countertop stretched across the entire back wall with several barstools crowded around it, two of them holding up older men. Behind the bar, there was a mirrored wall that held every type of booze you could imagine, along with two flat-screen TVs. I headed straight behind the bar and stashed my purse in a cabinet by the floor. Then I stood back up, still a little shaken, and smiled at my coworker Justin.

“Abby, it was a slow lunch shift so I’m getting cut. Tonight’s all you,” Justin smarted. He didn’t look away from the wine glass he was rinsing in a small sink beside the icemaker. His tall, thin frame towered over me, at least a foot taller than my five-foot, four-inch height, and his short hair was a color somewhere between blond and brown. He was one of the few people I still bothered to call a friend.

“Sorry, life could always be worse.” Brushing his arm as I went past him, I added, “Like getting hit by a car and killed on your way to work?” then looked back to see his reaction.

He swung a curious look at me, one eyebrow arched higher than the other. “You what?”

“Yep. I can’t believe it’s still legal to text and drive. How many more people have to die before they outlaw that?”

“Well maybe you should’ve taken one for the team.” His thin lip arched slightly upward, releasing a sly-looking smile.

“Well, it’s the perfect time for me to be a human sacrifice,” I mumbled under my breath, half hoping he didn’t hear that.

“Let me guess…you’re still pissed about John and Mandy?” spoken with a sarcastic lilt in his tone.

“Shut up,” I hissed. “I don’t want to talk about them!” Remembering we weren’t alone, I looked toward the end of the bar where the old men sat, thankful their attention was on the football game.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to piss you off.” Justin ran his fingers through his hair leaving no proof that he’d ever touched a single strand of it. “I mean, you still haven’t talked to them, right?”

I absolutely hate how Justin tries to pry into my business. He’s not much of a gossiper, thank God, but sadly (for me), he doesn’t know when to leave things alone. “No, I haven’t.”

And just as if their ears were burning, here they came, walking straight toward me. John was 5’11”—slender, brunette, hazel eyes, charming—and the sight of him still caused my heart to do somersaults. He was wearing the jeans I’d bought him for his birthday last year and an off-white polo. He grinned at me: dazzling, breathtaking. Then I glanced over at Mandy, which instantly brought me back to reality. She was just a smidgen shorter than John. Her drably ash blond hair dangled slightly below her shoulders and some kind of clip held a large hunk of it to the side. A pair of faded skinny jeans and a tight red top with spaghetti straps completed her look.

“Abby, please come talk to us,” pleaded Mandy. She wore so much makeup, I thought she was made of plastic. At least her hooker red lips matched her shirt.

“Get the hell out of here!” Trying to keep my voice down, but anger surging up like a tidal wave, I exclaimed more loudly, “Now!”

John shook his head. “Please just step outside and hear us out.”

Seeing red in my mind, I stared daggers at the man I’d once wanted to share my life with forever, blah, blah, blah. “There’s nothing to talk about,” I ground out. “Please leave now or I’ll have you both removed.”

With watery eyes, Mandy took a small step forward. “Please,” she begged. Her voice was broken, desperate, pathetic—just like her.

“Look, you guys need to leave. Now.” Justin came over next to me and slid his arm around my shoulders.

“We don’t want any trouble,” John said. “We just need five minutes with Abby. Please.”

I slowly swung my head to the right, then the left. “The answer is no! Please leave!” Now my voice was borderline hysterical. Another quick glance around the bar confirmed the customers weren’t watching me, though without a doubt, I knew they could hear everything going on.

That was all it took for Mandy to start crying. I sure didn’t remember her crying this much when we were best friends. “But Abby,” she wailed, “it’s been over six months. I miss you! You need to hear our side of the story.”

“I already saw your side of the story. I don’t need to hear anything else.” A flashback of walking in on them having sex in the same bed I’d shared with John burned in my mind, and my stomach clenched as I pushed away that horrible image.

Letting me go, Justin turned on his heel and headed out of the bar area. “When I get back,” he declared over his shoulder, “the manager will be with me, and your asses will be thrown out!”

“Don’t worry about it. We’re outta here.” John’s gorgeous face crumbled a little as he took Mandy’s hand and pulled. She resisted at first. Halfway between the exit and me, Justin watched them warily, his gaze warning, challenging. John tugged again and Mandy gave up, letting my former boyfriend—her sloppy seconds—lead her out of the restaurant.

Shaking his head and looking relieved, Justin said, “What a bunch of freaking jerks! Can’t they take a hint?” He meandered back to the bar and sat down at one of the stools. “You’re better off without them, you know?” His tone was louder than I liked, but I let it slide since he had just saved my ass.

“Thanks for helping me, but I really don’t want to talk about this.”

Placing his elbows on the counter, he said, “I don’t blame you. You’ve had quite a night so far.” He looked away, seemingly heavy in thought. When he turned back with an inquisitive gaze, I knew I was in trouble. “So do you think you’ll ever listen to what they have to say?”

Tossing my hands in the air I exclaimed, “I don’t want to talk about them. Please. There’s nothing more to say.”

Justin sat there for a moment, speechless, watching me with his moon-shaped brown eyes. Then moving his arms from the counter to his lap, he said, “You look like crap. Your eyes are bloodshot, your hair’s a mess, and you never smile anymore. I can’t believe you’re letting them get to you like this. What happened to my dear sweet friend? You remember her, right?”

Now I was the speechless one. Turning around, I stared at the mirror nestled behind the wall of alcohol. My reflection gazed back at me between the Grey Goose and Kettle One vodkas and that’s when I realized Justin was right. What a sad, pathetic, lonely person I’d become. Over the last six months, I’d managed to distance myself from anyone who cared about me. Losing my boyfriend to a backstabbing best friend was too much for me mentally to handle.

“Abby,” Justin called out, and once I turned to face him, he went on with his assessment. “You need to get back out there. Start dating. Maybe act nicer to the guys hitting on you. You never know, one of them might actually be a good match for you.”

“I’m not interested in meeting anyone while I’m working. Especially not at a bar.” I rested my hands firmly on my hips.

He looked down and hesitated for a minute, and I fought the urge to be immature and storm away. Then Justin stood up and said, “Whatever you say. Anyway, I’m out of here. Oh I almost forgot, your dad called earlier. I told him you wouldn’t be in until later. He said he would call back.”

I stared at Justin, feeling like he’d just slapped me across the face. He turned around and headed out of the bar. My father called? I hadn’t spoken to my father in fifteen years. What would he be calling for? He left my mother and me when I was ten, and we never heard from him again. My mother didn’t take it very well—years of depression turned into dark anger and loathing bitterness. Then one day out of nowhere, she started blaming me. “You were always such a brat! No wonder he took off. I should’ve gone with him,” were the last words she ever said to me.  Shortly after that, I moved out (with my good friend Mandy) and never spoke to my mother again. I’d heard “through the grapevine” that she remarried and had two more kids. Looked like she finally got her perfect little family after all.

Justin’s words echoed inside my head over and over again. I couldn’t help but feel anxious over the potential call I’d be receiving. Would he really call back? What would I say? What would he say? Shaking my head, I decided to put it out of my mind. The chances of him not calling back were far greater anyways.

“Excuse me, Abby,” Mel called down to me from the end of the bar, “can I get another glass of wine?” Mel was older, in his late sixties, with plump high cheekbones, thin stringy white hair brushed sideways in an effort to conceal his growing bald spot, and, was very overweight. His pants didn’t stand a chance of containing his oversized belly.

“Sure, sweetie.” After getting a fresh wine glass from a nearby cabinet, I grabbed an open bottle of Sequoia Grove, which was our house cabernet.

Mel smiled as I set the half-filled glass on the counter in front of him. “Thanks, Hon. You’re the best.” His chubby fingers gripped the stem as he carefully swirled the contents inside allowing the wine to breathe a little before he raised it to his lips and took the first sip.

“No prob—”

Ring ring ring—the sound of an impatient phone wailed behind me. I turned around and stared at it, unable to move.

“Aren’t you going to get that?” Mel asked.

Nodding my head, I reached for the phone and grabbed it, yanking it to my ear. “Thanks-for-calling-The-Beacon-this-is-Abby-how-can-I-help-you?” My shaky voice pushed each word out so fast they ran together, making my entire greeting sound like one long word.

“Abigail?” a deep, gruff voice spoke. “Abigail Tate?”

“Yes, this is she.” My free hand found a few strands of hair and started twirling them.

“Abigail, this is your dad, if I can even call myself that anymore.” A long pause went by and all I could do was wait for him to continue, my voice stuck on the enormous lump in my throat. “Look, I know how bad I wronged you. And I know how angry you must be, but I need you to listen to me. Abigail, you’re in danger. He’s coming to find you. Somehow, I’m not sure how, but he figured it out. He knows how special you are. You can’t let him find you. You need to lay low and—”

I didn’t give him a chance to finish talking. “I haven’t heard from you in fifteen years and finally…finally, I get a stupid phone call. But it’s not because you miss me or even because you want to apologize for walking out on me. It’s not even because you care to know what I’ve been doing with my life. You just called to tell me some crazy story because you think I’m in trouble? Oh and let me guess, my hero father is going to rescue me? You’re freaking crazy! Don’t ever call me again!”

I slammed the phone down hard on its receiver and was shocked it didn’t break. Lifting my gaze to the mirror behind the wall of alcohol, I saw Mel and my other customer turn back toward the football game. Obviously I’d just put on a show for them, but at least they were pretending not to notice a thing.

“Stupid jerk,” I breathed. I hadn’t heard from my father in so long, and the only reason he wanted to talk to me was to warn me that I was in danger. What did he mean that I was special and that he knew? Who was he talking about anyway? None of that conversation made any sense. But my dear old dad had nothing to worry about. Since my breakup with John, I’d pushed him and everyone else out of my life. There was no one left that could hurt me, and I had no desire to let anyone in my life anytime soon. Sure I was lonely, but it definitely beat being heart broken. Didn’t it?

Shaking my head in disgust, I pushed my father and that deranged phone call out of my mind and tried to refocus on my work. The dining area of the restaurant was starting to seat people and that meant drink orders for me. And since I was the only bartender working tonight, I didn’t have to split my tips in half. Yay for me. I stole one more minute to mentally pump myself up with some positive thoughts (okay, so I tried), and then started to make my way toward the service window. There were already a few drink orders waiting for me, brightening my mood a little.

Ring, ring, ring—the phone barged in, causing me to spill some of the Stoli vodka I was pouring. Dang it! I scolded myself, then set the bottle of booze on the counter and headed the few steps to the phone. My hand hesitated a moment, hovering just above it. This couldn’t be my lunatic father again. No, surely it couldn’t. “Thanks for calling The Beacon, this is Abby, how can I help you?” I was more confident this time—you could hear each individual word.

“Abigail, please do not hang up. Please. You have to listen—” A loud banging sound burst through the headset of the phone making me yank it away from my ear. It sounded like a fight had broken out, no doubt from whatever bar my father was in. He’d probably pissed off some other drunk and then said something stupid. I tried to put the phone back to my ear, but the ruckus coming from the other end was still too loud. I felt shivers crawling up and down my spine. My heart started beating faster, harder. Even though I had zero respect for my father, the thought of someone else kicking his ass left me feeling uneasy and confused.

Then there was a deafening shriek, and my father, or maybe it was some other drunk, screamed out in agony. The horrible noise reverberated over and over. A big swallow failed to get my heart out of my throat, and my hand felt clammy on the phone. After what seemed like forever, the screaming trailed off taking the other noises with it. Pressing the phone to my ear at last, I listened for my father to come back on the line, or anything else that would let me know he was okay. “Hello, are you there? Hello.”

Then, the line went completely dead.

 

2

Encounter

I STILL HELD THE PHONE TO MY EAR even though there was no one on the other end. That call left me extremely unsettled, my nerves sitting on end and my mind nothing more than a jumbled mess of broken thoughts. What the hell just happened?

Finally, after God only knew how many seconds ticked by, I set the phone back on its receiver and returned to the service window, where five more orders were waiting to be filled. Like a robot on autopilot, I got busy making each drink.

After mulling it over for a few minutes, it occurred to me that the whole thing could’ve been a hoax. An awful prank that he’d played hoping to win me back as his loving daughter. When he realized he wasn’t going to win the “hero” card with me, maybe he’d shifted gears to the “father in distress” card. Perhaps his goal now was to get sympathy from me. What a sick man my father had become. Or maybe he was like that all along and he did both my mother and me a huge favor by leaving us.

Unfortunately for him, I was unable to see any positive reasons he would call and put on such a show. If I really were in trouble, why would he care? I’d been through my fair share of hard times with no daddy around to help. So that made it even easier for me to assume that my father was a drunk, and worse, that he concocted that stupid scheme as a way to slip back in my life. What a terrible thing to do to someone, let alone his own daughter.

With shaky hands, I kept busy making drinks, trying to keep an emotional safe distance from everyone. Twice Mel asked me if everything was okay and I just brushed him off with “Sure, it’s all good.” Dennis, the other bar patron sitting with Mel, refrained from saying anything at all. Except, of course, when he needed a refill of his Chimay Reserve.

Over the next hour, the busyness started to die off. Mel and Dennis still sat at the bar, their attention razor sharp at whatever game was playing as they munched on a mix of cashews and almonds. I started cleaning some of the used glassware in the mini sink, all the while, my mind kept replaying the two phone calls from my father over and over again—not that I wanted it to. I was stuck in a loop, the mental torture unfathomable.

At the moment I was about to completely lose my mind, a very attractive guy came walking in. Feelings of peace and serenity drifted through me like a gentle whirlwind, blowing away those unnerving thoughts of my father. As the guy rounded a leather booth, our eyes connected and I looked down in a rush, embarrassment warming my cheeks. Though I knew it was impolite to stare, I couldn’t help but slowly lift my gaze back up and there he was, still heading toward me as if we were in a slow-motion movie scene. Swerving around a couple high-top tables, he made a beeline for an empty stool at the opposite side from where my other customers sat. He was tall, maybe six feet, with a rocking toned body, angular jaw, sexy plump lips, and silk black hair framing his smooth handsome face, sweeping to the sides just below his deep, dreamy eyes. Wearing dark blue jeans and a long sleeved black shirt, he was beautiful, perfect, and he was looking right at me. My heartbeat accelerated, thumping violently inside my chest and tingles raced up my back and down my arms like sharp electric currents.

By the time his elbows found the counter and his chin came to a rest on his hands, I was breathless. His fair skin was a creamy white, ghostly, but the sexiest ghostly I’d ever seen. A thought of touching him flashed in my mind, imagining my fingertips gently stroking his cheek, gripping the firm roundness of his upper arm, and at once, my stomach clenched with need, an inferno of lust arousing me with thoughts I’d never had before. Licking my dry lips, I looked away, but the heat still burned like hot wax on my skin. My hands were shaky as I handed Dennis his beer, and as I turned to meet my new customer, a hard knot formed in my throat.

Tranquil vibes shot through me the instant our gazes locked together, easing the erratic tension to the point coherent words formed and I was able to say, “Hi, I’m Abby. What can I get for you this evening?”

His lips twisted in a wry grin as he reached out a hand. “I’m Bronx.”

My fingers staggered as I reciprocated, and like a splash of water on my face, his ice-cold skin snapped me out of whatever daze I’d been in. Trying to hide my alarm as I pulled away, I stepped back, but forced myself to keep looking at him. “I would like a Crown and Coke, please.” His grin widened, a brilliant display of his pearly whites, and his voice was like a cool wind in my head—relaxing, hypnotizing me back in that strange stupor.

And just like that, I was his all over again. Bizarre excitement to get him whatever he wanted consumed me. “No problem, Bronx.” I nodded, smiling gently. “Coming right up.” Grabbing a glass with one hand, a bottle of Crown in the other, I got busy making his drink, all the while I could feel him watching me, but he was probably only making sure I didn’t under-pour the Crown and over-pour the Coke. After stirring the contents with a miniature straw, I began to garnish it with a lime.

“I do not need the lime. You made it perfect.” His tongue danced over his lips, its slow stroke back and forth only seeming to entrance me deeper. My whole body felt light as feathers and I thought at any minute, I would float away.

Nodding slowly, I handed him the drink. “Here ya go then, and thanks.” As he took it, his fingers laced with mine, my mind instantly registering they didn’t feel cold anymore. Actually the soft, warm, touch only reawakened my attraction for him, chasing away some of those lingering doubts.

“Hey Abby,” Mel called out, “I’m ready to put an order in.”

In desperate need of fresh air, I pulled away and stepped back. The clenching in my stomach was more intense, but I was still able to remember that Mel had just asked for something. “Be right there,” my husky reply surprised me. Was that really my voice? Releasing a long sigh, I glanced back up at Bronx who was still flashing me that same dreamlike smile.

My whole body bristled with confliction about not wanting to leave my sexy new customer, but knowing I had a job to do. “Alright Mel, what can I get ya?” A huff of words and I hoped my regular patron wouldn’t notice the impatience in my tone. And though I usually made healthy suggestions on what he should eat, it seemed too much work to think about that right now. Strangely, the only thing I wanted was to get back over there with Bronx.

“I think I’ll have the sliders, medium rare, and a side of the Parmesan crusted fries.” The Beacon served their sliders in twos, instead of threes like a lot of other restaurants, and garnished them with fancied-up sides of tomatoes, onions, and lettuce. Unlike the countless times before, I didn’t protest against Mel’s order.

“No problem. Need a refill on your wine?” Even though I asked, I hoped he didn’t. That would cost me more time—time I didn’t have.

“Sure Abby, thanks. And thanks for not lecturing me this time about the calories and fat I just ordered.” A slight jiggle moved through his waistline as he leaned forward to sip the last drop of wine from his glass. Tiny beads of sweat started to form on my forehead. Mel’s lips still moved. He was saying something, but I couldn’t hear him anymore. Giving him a polite smile, fake and forced, I anxiously looked back at Bronx, who didn’t try to hide the fact he was watching me. Where did this gorgeous man come from and why was he staring at me?

In a rush, I was at the computer screen typing in the food order, then moving even faster as I opened another bottle of house cabernet. I was cautiously aware of Bronx’s presence while I poured the wine in a fresh glass, trying to remember to smile at Mel as I handed it to him. The unusual pull to Bronx was getting stronger, more urgent, like we were magnets and I needed to go to him.

Turning on my heel, I started his way.

“Hey, Abby,” Dennis called out, halting me. “Can I get a Jack instead of a beer this time?” I headed back reluctantly. Dennis was about Mel’s age but thinner, a lot thinner, almost skeletal, with a sunken face, dark circles under his eyes, a wrinkly bald head, and long boney fingers nudging his empty mug toward me.

“No problem,” I said with a counterfeit smile, trying my best to maintain a polite composure with my loyal regulars. Neither of them had seemed so demanding earlier, but then again that was before the perfectly gorgeous guy arrived.

I moved so fast, I was lucky I didn’t spill or break anything. With that fake smile plastered across my face, I set the drink in front of Dennis and turned around, heading straight to my gorgeous new customer at last. Perhaps Dennis thanked me but I didn’t hear it. My mind was tangled up on Bronx and I couldn’t figure out why I wanted to get back to him so badly. Heated emotions expanded in my chest, churned in my belly, and though I tried to make sense of these over-the-top feelings, my ability to concentrate remained somewhat challenged. Thoughts on how I didn’t know him interspersed with wanting to know him and a need to feel close to him.

Each step closer to Bronx became more comfortable. I looked down at my feet briefly, feeling a little self-conscious, and then back up at him. That’s when our gazes locked and the room began spinning, leaving me feeling dizzy and disoriented. Grabbing the countertop to steady myself, and still unable to look away, I inched closer and closer to him. Then I was there, no more than a foot away from him, standing at the edge of his event horizon, his dark eyes full of mystery—which only strengthened our magnetic attraction. Glimpsing his flawless, smooth face, I imagined touching it for the second time. Gently caressing as I ran my fingers over his cheek down to his lips. What the hell was I thinking?

He broke the silence by saying, “Is it possible for us to talk a little? I would love to get to know you better.” He stretched each word out, making it last.

My cheeks flushed warm—definitely blushing. None of this made any sense whatsoever! Why was I so mesmerized by him? What the hell was I feeling? For the last six months I’d successfully shielded myself from anyone who hit on me. How did this strange but beautiful man just barge right through my barrier?

“That sounds great. What would you like to know?” was what came out of my mouth, but not what I’d been thinking. Yet I was comfortable with him and it seemed normal to feel that way. A slight tilt of my head and my hair fell sideways, sweeping over the side of my face. Some might have mistaken it for a flirtatious gesture, which, in all honesty, it was. I’d done that without thought, my body acting in some strange, trance-like autopilot. I’d never been like this before, swept off my feet by a wannabe Mr. Prince Charming. I’d also never been interested in anyone I had met at a bar. That was a rule I’d had long before my relationship with John, and it bounced straight back at me once he got caught making Mandy a friend with “benefits”.

“Abby sounds like a nickname.” He sipped his drink, full, moist lips brushing against the glass.

Twisting rings of my hair, I nodded. “Yeah. My real name is Abigail but I don’t really like it all that much, so I go by ‘Abby’. I was named after my grandma, but she passed away shortly after I was born.”

“Abigail it is then. Of course, if that is okay with you?”

I nodded without thinking. Yes that name bothered me, but it was okay if he called me it. What was I doing?

He gave a graceful shrug, smile widening across his face. “You are absolutely beautiful, if I may be so blunt, and I would much enjoy learning more about you. It appears slower than usual tonight so I thought this would be a good time for me to come in and meet you.”

Was this guy for real? Should I totally freak out right now? Or was this the most romantic thing that’d ever happened to me? I couldn’t shake the amazing vibes I was getting from him nor could I calm my thundering heartbeat. His eyes seemed to get deeper, bottomless, and I couldn’t look away, as if they were sucking me inside their depths. All of a sudden I was paralyzed, frozen, couldn’t move, couldn’t think anymore. I was his, mesmerized, captivated, and he was in full control—control I wanted him to have.

Leaning in closer, because somehow I knew that’s what he wanted, my hair swept across his cheek and I glimpsed his tension in the way he compressed his lips, and for some reason that only excited me. Mouth lowering to his ear, I asked, “Have you been watching me?” in a whisper of words, then added in a soft, disappointed tone, “Why wouldn’t you come inside before now to meet me?” I lifted my head back up, just enough to find his eyes again.

He half laughed. “Would you believe me if I told you I was afraid to approach you? Afraid you would not receive me the way you are this evening?”

“Well, I’m very happy you made it in tonight.” I said it, I meant it, but I didn’t recognize my own voice. I knew I should see a red flag and run for my life. This perfect guy had been watching me, stalking me. Didn’t he have anything better to do? He was gorgeous and could probably be with anyone he wanted. Why me, an average girl that bartended for a living? How could that impress him? How could he think I was pretty enough to come in here and say that without even knowing me? He was either a total freak or this was love at first sight, which made me a total freak to even think that. “What else do you do, besides watch me?” I asked, smiling.

“I enjoy hunting…and I have gotten rather good at it. I also like long walks at night, preferably when there is no moon. Since my house is not that far away, I actually walk a lot.”

I took a deep breath; it was steady, didn’t tremble. “I don’t live that far from here either.” Didn’t know why I said that, but I did.

“May I escort you home when you are finished here?”

Without thinking, I nodded.

We talked a little longer, smiling, laughing, and carrying on like we had known each other for years. I’m not really sure what we were saying. My mind felt empty, blank of thought. A few other customers came in, briefly pulling my attention away from Bronx, and I was able to breathe again, like my head had lifted out of the water. My hazy state of mind sharpened, and I took down the new drink orders with a plastic smile.

Once everyone was happy, fresh drinks in hand, I looked back. Bronx was gone. His glass was empty, except for a few remnant ice cubes, almost fully melted. My heart jumped up my throat and that horrible clenching in my stomach returned. I needed to be close to him again. Where had he gone? I couldn’t believe he’d just left without even saying goodbye. Was he coming back? He’d said he’d walk me home.

The rest of my shift I was moody, and when it was finally time to go, I grabbed my oversized black purse out of the cabinet and headed out of the bar with a heavy heart. Bronx never came back. I’d probably never see him again. Releasing a deep sigh as I walked out the door, I startled when I saw him leaning against a streetlamp post. It shone on his face, illuminating his deep, dark eyes. Only now there was a thin crimson ring wrapped around his pupils. That hadn’t been there before. What was it? Stepping closer, I strained to see him better, and instantly a hazy wave swooped over me and I forgot what I was doing.

He was beside me. I hadn’t seen him move. He pulled my arm against his chest, intertwining it with his. His shirt was soft on my skin, his body hard, solid, and cool underneath. “Sorry I left unannounced,” he said, voice deep, very resonate. “There was something I needed to do before I could walk you home.”

My mind struggled with a barrage of thoughts, both cautious and reckless all at once. But as quick as they came, they were all gone. “That’s okay,” I told him brightly. “I’m glad you made it back to walk with me.”

He gave my arm a tight squeeze before releasing it, then he gently grabbed my shoulders, his face lowering toward mine. I took a deep breath, held it in. His lips were there. I could see them through the darkness a split second before they brushed across my forehead, then down to my cheek. They were plump, cool, moist. They inched toward the edge of my face, hovering between my neck and ear. “Shall we get going?” his voice strained.

I nodded, couldn’t speak, like my throat was squeezed shut.

He put his arm around me, pulling me against him, and then guided me down the sidewalk. Most of the shops were closed—lights out, dark inside. The streetlamps were lit, illuminating a small area around them. Craning my neck, I looked up at the black, velvety sky. There were a few bright stars scattered about, and the moon, with its wide arc of craters, looked like a smiling Cheshire cat. I guess this wasn’t a good night for walking with Bronx since a moonless night would be at least a week away.

His grip around me tightened. It felt really good, a little cool, but strong and secure and I instantly started getting those crazy feelings of doing just about anything for him again. All he would have to do was ask, and I would jump at the opportunity to make him proud of me. Smiling, I nestled closer against him, feeling relieved and reassured.

Our feet moved as one as we walked. His fingers stroked my hair to the side, softly and gently. We came up to the gated entrance of my neighborhood, “The Groves”. A small silver box hung on a brick wall beside the gate. Bronx punched in a code and the iron gate swung open. “You know my code?” I asked, astonished.

“I live here too.”

Panic surged, breath deep and short, heart racing out of control. But then I couldn’t remember why. I relaxed, shrugged my shoulders. Everything was okay again.

Following along with him, we moved down this street and then another one, dimly lit by lamps. Faint light gleamed from inside some of the houses and somewhere off in the distance, a dog was barking. A garage door opened and closed. At last, we were at my street, but when I turned, he tugged me back with him and kept walking straight ahead. Oddly, I wasn’t worried, though maybe I should’ve been. Everything was okay. Maybe he wanted to show me where he lived first, or maybe he was taking the longer, more scenic way to prolong our walk. Whatever the reason I kept walking with him.

A house on one of the dead-end streets in the back of the neighborhood materialized as we made our way to the driveway. It was heavily treed and landscaped which gave it a lot more privacy than any of the other homes in here, including mine. One of the reasons I liked this neighborhood was because of the oversized lots every house inherited. But this home seemed to sit on two, maybe three of them. From what I could see in the outdoor lighting, it was expansive, with a turret on the front giving it a castle-like appearance.

We were at the front door, walking inside. Walking inside? I wanted to turn around and leave, but I couldn’t remember why. It was okay to be here. I was okay where ever Bronx was. We stood in a dark room, darker than the night outside. My eyes struggled to focus, but I couldn’t see anything. Bronx pulled my hand and I followed, completely relaxed by his touch. He squeezed me—gently, reassuringly.

My knees brushed against a soft, squishy fabric. There was a chair or sofa in front of me. “Please have a seat,” he said, voice subdued and inviting. “Would you like a drink?” He leaned across me, tapping something and a light flashed on, faint and mellow. My eyes flicked back and forth, focusing on the area around me. There was a dark brown sofa next to a small table and the light came from a lamp on that table.

Sitting down as instructed, I said, “Sure.”

After watching Bronx turn abruptly and leave the room, I looked around everywhere. A couple feet in front of me was a table, most likely a coffee table, and there was an expensive-looking oriental area rug on the floor showing off gray and red floral shapes. I couldn’t see beyond that—the light wasn’t bright enough. I turned around; there was nothing behind me, just the floor, made of some type of fancy-looking wood. It led to another room, but it was black and dark.

“Abigail.”

I gasped and swung back around. Bronx was there, which created an unexpected excitement inside me. As he came closer, my pulse sped up to the point where I could feel it in my ears. My head felt swollen and heavy on my shoulders so I leaned back against the sofa seeking support, but sinking deeper into it instead. As the cushions eased me in, electrically charged butterflies took flight in my stomach.

He sat down beside me and my body leaned toward him. Getting up would not be easy when the time came.

“I hope water is okay, I did not realize I was out of everything else.” His voice was like a hypnotic song.

Scooting closer, he lowered his face toward mine. Almost touching, close, so close. Then he was there, lips on my cheek, kissing me—gentle, soft baby kisses. My body froze. I tried to swallow a lump of emotion, but it seemed to be lodged in my throat. His lips trailed over to mine, then he pressed softly against them. I closed my eyes, squeezing them shut, then, instead of getting up and running for my life, I kissed him back. Throwing my arms around his neck, I kept kissing him, each one more passionate, harder than the last. In the heat of the moment he dropped the glass. I heard it thump on the rug before I felt a subtle splash on my shin through my pants. Bronx embraced me so tightly that I could hardly breathe anymore, let alone worry about getting wet. I desperately sucked at the air around his lips as he rubbed his hands up and down my back, massaging it aggressively. His kisses grew more urgent and sloppy. Moving my hands from his neck up to his hair, I grabbed big handfuls of it, lightly pulling and tugging. Then he slowly leaned back, giving me a brief moment to catch my breath—or at least attempt to.

Gasping as his fingers caressed my cheeks, he trailed his lips down my neck, then began kissing and sucking. “I have wanted you for so long,” he growled, and I could feel the vibration beneath the muscles of chest. I let go of his hair, inching my fingers toward the buttons of his shirt. He sucked harder, pulling me closer. It felt so good that my insides were about to explode. Struggling with undoing his shirt, I tugged more aggressively and finally the top two buttons gave way. My fingers traced his skin to the next awaiting button.

His body tensed. A deep groan rolled off his throat, though it sounded more like a growl. Then suddenly, he bit down into my neck. His teeth were sharp, instantly puncturing the skin. Flinching, I tried to pull away but he held me too tight—I couldn’t move, couldn’t budge. I was in pain, but I was so scared I barely felt anything. Adrenaline raced through my veins like water bubbles floating to the surface. Then, in a rush, a wave of intense pleasure came over me. It felt good, so good, better than anything I’d ever felt before. It was absolutely incredible, sort of like your first roller-coaster ride multiplied times infinity. My body trembled, barely able to handle the intoxicating surge of emotions.

Then those euphoric feelings eased up, bringing with them a sense of awareness. I don’t know how long I was out of it, or whatever I was, but Bronx was still on me, slurping and sucking. There was something wet running down my neck. Was that his saliva or my blood? I felt hot, moisture beaded across my brow and pooled at my nape. Then everything got really cold, but I was still sweating. Though I was paralyzed by fear, I knew I needed to do something to get him off of me.

Pressing my hands against his chest, I pushed, straining with intense effort, but he barely budged an inch. His body was hard, heavy, and beneath his shirt, his skin was like ice. “Please don’t do this!” I screamed, voice broken, frantic. I was losing consciousness. My eyelids were like mini black curtains closing over my eyes and without a doubt I knew I was going to die if I didn’t get him off of me. Pushing as hard as I could, I tried again, my fingers digging into his skin. But this time he didn’t move at all. Questions crowded my mind: Who was this guy? What was this guy? Why was he biting me? Did he know I was dying?

Too much blood loss, body trembling, feeling weaker, frailer. A tear streamed down my face as I tried one last time to get him off, but I could sense it was too late. My emotions went numb—no more fear, no more questions. All sound faded as if the volume were suddenly turned off and I couldn’t hear anything, the silence absolute.

Then, everything went completely black.

 

5 comments on “Crimson Groves—Chapters 1 & 2

  1. Pingback: Crimson Groves Reading | ashleyrobertsonbooks

  2. Pingback: Crimson Groves Gets A Makeover | ashleyrobertsonbooks

  3. Pingback: Crimson Groves eBook is FREE! | ashleyrobertsonbooks

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