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The monster charged down the moonlit ally, right at Della Tsang. Even in the dark, she could see its yellowed fangs, its stained claws, and its horns, sharp and deadly. The thing reminded her of a supersized, chubby gargoyle, but in all honesty, she didn’t have a clue what it was.
Not vampire. Too ugly for that.
Maybe a rabid werewolf. She’d heard of them, but never seen one.
She tried to check its forehead to identify its pattern. Every species had one, and every supernatural could read them. This one, however, moved too fast.
One thing she did know: It hadn’t come in peace. The blood-red eyes, along with the look of pure evil, warned Della of its malicious intent.
Two options. Flight or fight, her instincts screamed. Her heart pounded. Only cowards ran. Taking a deep breath, she tugged at the shirt hem of her Smurf pajamas and prepared herself for the attack.
What was she doing in an alley wearing…?
The cobwebs in her mind cleared and she vaguely realized the third option. She could wake up.
A dream. Not real.
But even waking herself to escape felt cowardly. Della Tsang was no coward. So she allowed the nightmare to pull her in deeper, and watched and waited as the monster heaved closer. She had mere seconds.
The creature smelled of death. The huge beast barely got within a foot of her when it leapt up, twisted in midair, and pounced down behind her. Della hadn’t completed her turn when the creature latched on to her shoulders. She felt a pain in the base of her neck as if a claw or fang had punctured her spine. Grabbing behind her, she buried her fingers into a mass of loose-feeling skin, and with every ounce of strength she had, she hurled the creature over her shoulder. “Take that, you obnoxious lardass!”
A loud thud brought Della fully alert. Jackknifing out of bed, her heart pounding in her throat, she saw her pillow, the object she’d just mistaken as Obnoxious Lardass and thrown across her room, sticking half in and half out of her Sheetrock.
Correction. Not her Sheetrock. Her parents’ Sheetrock!
She was home on a mandatory parent weekend. Home? The word sank into her mind like a splinter.
This wasn’t her home anymore. Shadow Falls was home. The camp/boarding school that the outside world thought was a place troubled kids got sent to, but in reality was a place supernatural kids went to learn to deal with being … supernatural.
Kylie, Miranda, and all her friends were her family now. This place … She glanced around her old room, filled with old memories. This was where she came to be reminded of everything she’d lost.
She glanced back at the pillow and the freaking hole in the wall.
Catching her breath, she tried to think how she would explain this to her parents.
On the opposite wall stood her dresser with the attached mirror. When she looked at it, a plan emerged. A little furniture rearranging and the hole would be hidden. She glanced back at the pillow, and when she moved her head, a sharp pain pinched in the very top of her neck. Right where that damn monster had gotten her in her dream.
She reached up to rub the pain away and felt the cool stickiness. Pulling her hand around, she stared at the blood. What the heck?
Reaching back again, she felt a large pimple at the very base of her skull. Perhaps the pimple had simply been hurting and brought on the crazy dream. The smell of her own blood reminded her that she hadn’t fed in two days. But bringing a bag of blood home with her was too risky.
The last time she’d come here, she’d caught her mom rummaging through her things. Her mom had looked up guiltily and said, “I’m sorry, I just wanted to make sure there wasn’t any … I have to worry about your sister.”
“You don’t worry about me anymore?” Della had asked. It hadn’t mattered that her mom thought she was doing drugs, it was that she didn’t worry about her anymore that hurt the most. Then she’d left the room before she had to listen her mom’s heart beat to the lie she was about to tell.
Pushing the past back, she grabbed a tissue from her bedside table to stop the bleeding. In a few minutes, she tossed the tissue in the garbage, pulled the pillow out of the wall, and picked up the dresser and hauled it across the room to hide her dream-induced oops.
Standing back, eyeing the newly placed piece of furniture, she sighed in relief. They would never know—or wouldn’t know now. Someday her dad would find it, and he’d probably call her and tell her again how disappointed he was in her. But hell and pain later was better than hell and pain now.
Glancing up, she saw herself in the mirror and had an epiphany. She might face monsters—in her dreams and even in her real life—but the thought of facing her parents, of seeing the sheer disappointment in their eyes again, turned her into a spineless little girl.
Every change that had happened to her since she’d been turned into a vampire had been seen by her parents as a form of rebellion. They believed her to be an unappreciative, uncaring teen—probably on drugs, possibly pregnant—and out to make their lives miserable. But better to let them believe that, than to believe her a monster.
Sometimes she wondered if it wouldn’t have been better to take the easy way out and just fake her death like most teens in her situation did. Losing her family would hurt like hell, but wasn’t she still losing them? Day by day, bit by bit, she felt them distancing themselves from her. They barely talked to her anymore, hadn’t hugged her in so long, Della couldn’t remember what it felt like. And there was a part of her that missed them so badly she wanted to scream that it wasn’t her fault. She hadn’t asked to be turned.
“What are you doing?” The voice shattered the somber silence.
Della swung around. With her supersensitive hearing, she could normally hear her younger sister turning over in her bed. How had she not heard her slip into the room?
“Uh, nothing,” Della answered. “What are you doing up?”
“I heard you…” Marla’s eyes widened. “You moved your dresser.”
Della glanced back at the piece of furniture. “Yeah, I couldn’t sleep and I just … thought I’d freshen things up in here.”
“That thing’s heavy!”
“Yeah, well, I’ve been eating all my veggies.”
Marla frowned. “You barely ate anything at supper. Mom’s worried about you.”
No, she isn’t, Della thought.
Marla looked around again. “Did you ask Mom if you could rearrange your room?”
“Why would she care?” Della asked.
Marla shrugged. “I don’t know, but you probably should’ve asked.”
Della bit the edge of her lip, realizing that before she’d been turned, she probably would have asked for permission for even something that mundane. Chalk up one positive thing for living at Shadow Falls. Holiday and Burnett, the camp leaders, ran a tight ship, but they gave the students enough rope to either swing on or hang themselves. So far, Della hadn’t gotten hung. Well, not hung too bad. And in the past six months, she’d grown to like her independence.
Marla walked closer. Her pink nightshirt only came down to mid-thigh. Della realized her sister was changing—growing. Now fourteen, she’d lost the little-girl look. Her long dark hair was blacker than Della’s. Of the two of them, Marla looked more like their father. More Asian. That should make Dad happy, Della thought.
“Are you okay?” Marla asked.
Before Della realized what Marla intended to do, she’d touched her. Della pulled away, but Marla held her arm. “I’m fine.”
Marla made a face. “You’re still so cold. And you don’t act like yourself anymore. You’re always frowning.”
Because I’m hungry! “I’m fine. You should probably go back to bed.”
Marla didn’t move. “I want my ol’ sister back.”
Tears stung Della’s eyes. A part of Della wanted her back, too. “It’s late.” She blinked, dispersing the watery weakness. At Shadow Falls she seldom cried, but here, tears came easier. Was it because here, she felt more human? Or was it because here, she felt like the monster she knew they’d believe her to be if they knew the truth?
“Dad’s so worried about you,” Marla continued. “I heard him and Mom talking the other night. He said you reminded him of his brother. He said he got cold and became difficult. Then he died. You’re not gonna die, are you?”
Della pushed her emotions aside to digest what Marla had said. “Dad didn’t have a brother.”
“I didn’t know about him, either. So I asked Mom later, and she said Dad had a twin but he got killed in a car accident.”
“Why doesn’t he ever talk about him?” Della asked.
“You know how Dad is, he never talks about things that hurt him. Like he never talks about you anymore.”
Della’s heart clutched. She knew Marla hadn’t said it to be mean, but damn if the words didn’t slice right into her heart. She wanted to curl up into a pathetic little ball and just sob.
But she couldn’t do that. Vampires weren’t weak or pathetic.
Two hours later, the sun still hadn’t risen, and Della lay there, head on her monster pillow, staring at the ceiling. Not sleeping wasn’t unusual. But now it wasn’t just the normal nocturnal tendencies keeping her burning the midnight oil. The pimple on her neck throbbed. She ignored it. It would take more than a pimple to bring her down.
She remembered an old saying her mom used to tell her: “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”
Her mom was so friggin’ wrong.
You know how Dad is, he never talks about things that hurt him. Like he never talks about you anymore. Those words broke her heart.
She lay there feeling the night ease by, and then she remembered something else Marla had said. He said you reminded him of his brother. He said he got cold and became difficult. Then he died.
Marla’s words kept flowing through her head as if they were important. Della suddenly bolted up when she realized why. Did he mean cold literally? Or cold as in distant? Could her uncle have been … a vampire? Did he fake his own death to save his family from knowing the truth?
The susceptibility to the vampire virus ran in families. And she knew her cousin, Chan, was a vampire. Only he bordered on being rogue, making it hard for her to have any kind of a relationship with him.
But her father’s twin … if he was at all like her father, he would be a stern man, but a man with principles. He would be a rule follower to the point of being a hardass. He wouldn’t be rogue. If … he was like her father.
But how would she know? How could she find out with nothing to go on? Obviously her dad wouldn’t tell her. Nor her mom. And she suspected Marla had told her all she knew.
Questions started forming in her head. What was his name? Where had they been living when he went missing … or when he died? She accepted she could be wrong. Her uncle could have really died.
A memory from the past suddenly started tapping at her brain. A book. An old photo album. Her dad had pulled it out years ago to show them a picture of his great-grandmother. She remembered the old leather cover and she recalled that her father had put it in that drawer beneath the liquor cabinet in his study.
Was it still there? And if so, could it possibly contain a photo of her dad’s twin? Maybe a photo with his name? She stood up, clenching her fists. She had to look. Glancing at the clock, she saw it was four. Her parents didn’t wake up until six.
Taking a deep breath, she quietly walked out her bedroom door, went down the steps, and moved into her father’s study. It was his room, his private space. Her father was a private man.
She hesitated and swallowed a lump of emotion. Violating his space felt wrong, but how else was she going to get answers?
She twisted the doorknob and stepped inside. The room smelled like her father. His aftershave, and maybe hot tea with special herbs with a hint of the expensive brandy he sipped on Sundays. Memories of them spending time in here together tiptoed across her heart. He’d helped her with calculus sitting at that desk. He’d taught her to play chess with his love of the game, and after that, at least once a week, he would bring her in here to play. He usually beat her. He was good. Though a couple of times she suspected he’d let her win just to make her happy. He might have been strict, and even a hardass, but he’d loved her. Who knew his love had been so conditional?
There were no more games now. No more father-daughter time. But maybe, just maybe, if she was right, she might find a man who was as good as her father. A man who would understand the difficulties she faced. A man who might care about her now that her father had turned his back on her.
She knelt down in front of the cabinet. If she recalled correctly, the book was in the back behind her father’s favorite brandy. She pulled the brandy out and reached deeper in the cabinet. When her hand touched the smooth, dry-feeling old leather, her heart beat a little faster.
She pulled it out, sat on the floor, and opened it up in her lap. She needed a light to make out the images. She remembered that her dad used to keep a flashlight in his desk for when the lights went out. She stood up, opening the drawer quietly.
She found the flashlight, but it was what else she found in the drawer that had her breath catching: the picture of her and her dad playing chess at a tournament. At one time he’d kept it on the shelf. She looked up at the bookcase where the image had once rested. The spot was as empty as she felt.
Suddenly more determined than ever to find her uncle, she went back to the floor.
She brought the book on her lap and opened it up. She turned on the flashlight and shined it at the book. The images were old, faded, and even with the light she had to squint to make them out.