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Kadie Andrews eased her car to a stop when she reached the narrow bridge. She wasn't afraid of heights, or bridges, but the wooden expanse didn't look as if it would hold a VW Bug, let alone her SUV. Still, she had taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way, and now it was dark, and she was lost and very nearly out of gas. Peering through the windshield, she saw what looked like a gas station in the distance.
She had just decided to park the Durango on the side of the road and walk across the bridge when the storm clouds that had been following her for the last few miles decided to release their burden. There was a jagged flash of lightning, a deafening roar of thunder, followed by a sudden deluge.
Walking was out of the question.
With a sigh of resignation, Kadie turned on the windshield wipers, put the SUV in gear, and drove across the bridge as quickly as she dared, praying all the way that the bridge wouldn't break and dump her in the shallow river below.
When she reached the other side, she headed straight toward the gas station, her sense of unease growing as she drove down what appeared to be the main street. Only there were no lights showing in any of the nearby buildings. No cars on the street. No people in evidence.
The place looked like a ghost town, and she knew all about ghost towns. As a freelance writer and photographer, she had visited ghost towns from Bumble Bee, Arizona, to Vader, Washington. Some were truly ghost towns, with little left but the spirits of those who had once lived there. Some, like Virginia City in Nevada and the city of the same name in Montana, were not really ghost towns. Saloons had been revived and buildings restored, giving people a glimpse of what life in the Old West had been like.
Her most recent adventure had been to Rambler, Wyoming. It had been a difficult trip and not worth the effort, since little remained. But Wyoming was a beautiful place.
Kadie glanced out the side windows of the Durango. If there were any ghosts lingering in this old Wyoming town, she was certain they weren't the friendly kind.
Pulling into the gas station, Kadie stared in disbelief at the pump. Instead of the modern, automated kind she was used to, this one had to be pumped by hand. She had seen pictures of old pumps like this. They dated from the 1920s. She wasn't surprised to see a CLOSED sign on the office window. The place looked as if it had been out of business for decades.
Grabbing her cell phone, she flipped it open and punched in the number for the auto club, only to receive the message that there was no service available.
Chewing on the inside of her lower lip, she drove slowly down the main street, hoping she might be able to get a signal at another location.
She passed a quaint two-story hotel built of faded red brick. The lights were out.
The lights were out in every store she passed.
She tried to use her phone several times in different locations with no luck.
Tossing the phone onto the passenger seat, she made a right turn at the next stop sign and found herself in a residential section. The houses were mostly made of wood, set on large lots, well back from the street. Most of them had large front porches and old-fashioned picture windows. A few had cars in the driveway, cars that came from the same era as the gas pump. Every house was dark inside and out.
Pulling up at a stop sign, she glanced down the street, then smacked her hand against her forehead. Of course! The lights were probably out due to the storm.
She made a quick U-turn and drove back to the hotel. The Durango sputtered and died several yards short of her goal. Taking her foot off the gas, she coasted to the curb.
Kadie sat there a moment, reluctant to leave the shelter of the SUV. Rain pounded on the roof and poured down the windshield. No doubt she'd be soaked clear through before she reached the entrance.
She glanced at the hotel again. If the storm had caused the power failure, it was odd that the hotel didn't have a backup generator, or at least have some candles burning.
Leaning forward, she rested her forehead on the steering wheel and closed her eyes. Maybe she would just sleep in the Durango. She'd done it before.
She jumped a foot when someone tapped on the driver's side window.
When she looked up, she saw a man peering at her through the glass. For the first time, she wished she had taken her father's advice and bought a gun to keep in the car. "The way you go gallivantin' around the country, you might need it someday," he'd often said.
And now someday had arrived.
"Are you all right?" the stranger asked.
Kadie stared at him, surprised she could hear him so clearly in spite of the rain and the thunder.
"Fine, thank you," she said. "Except I'm out of gas. Is there a station nearby?"
"Just the one, and it's out of business."
Kadie frowned. She'd seen cars in the driveways. Where did they buy gas?
"You're gonna freeze to death in there," he said. "There's a tavern down the street that's open late. You can warm up inside."
Kadie shook her head. She wasn't crazy enough to follow a stranger down a dark street in the middle of the night.
"You'll be perfectly safe. Cross my heart," he said, his finger copying his words.
Kadie took a deep breath as she weighed her options. If he meant to do her harm, there was nothing to stop him from breaking into the SUV. And she was cold, and getting colder by the minute. Lightning lanced the clouds. A rumble of thunder shook the car.
"They have hot coffee," he added.
That did it. Grabbing her purse and the keys, she pulled the hood of her jacket up over her head and unlocked the door.
She was careful not to get too close to him as they walked down the street.
The bar was only half a block from the hotel. Kadie hesitated when the stranger opened the door; then, taking a deep breath, she stepped inside.
Warmth engulfed her. The light from a dozen flickering candles revealed a large room dominated by a bar that ran the length of the back wall. A number of booths lined one side of the room; a dozen small, round tables occupied the other side.
She felt suddenly self-conscious as five men and a woman turned to stare at her.
Ignoring them one and all, she followed her companion to an empty table.
"Here, let me take that," he said as she shrugged out of her wet jacket.
Kadie murmured her thanks as he draped it over the back of an empty chair, then took the seat across from hers.
A tall, skinny woman who looked almost anorexic approached the table on silent feet.
"Do you want anything besides coffee?" Kadie's companion asked.
When she shook her head, he ordered a glass of wine for himself and the skinny woman walked away as silently as she had appeared.
Kadie clasped her hands in her lap, looking everywhere but at the man across from her.
He had a faint English accent. Dark brown hair brushed the collar of his black shirt and his eyes were a shade lighter than his hair.
"Kadie," she said.
"What brings you to Morgan Creek?"
"I took a wrong turn," she admitted, and felt a faint flush of embarrassment warm her cheeks. She had always prided herself on being able to find her way around. "And ended up here."
"Far off the beaten path, to be sure."
The silent waitress returned with their drinks, and silently departed.
"Is there something wrong with her?" Kadie asked.
He lifted one brow. "With Frankie? She's a mute."
"Oh, how sad." Kadie watched the waitress move from table to table. The woman never smiled at anyone.
"You'll be needing a place to spend the night," Darrick said, drawing Kadie's attention once more.
"The hotel ..."
"Out of business. The place is empty. Has been for years. But I'm sure we can find you a bed somewhere."
She didn't like the sound of that. "That's all right. I'll just sleep in my car. I've done it before."
He shook his head. "Not a good idea."
The look in his eyes, the underlying warning in his voice, sent a chill down her spine. "Do you have a better one?" She blew on her coffee, then took a sip. It was stronger than she liked and she added a packet of sugar.
"There's an empty house over on Fifth Street. The people took off in a hurry and left all their furniture behind. You can stay there."
"You mean, break in?"
"The people aren't coming back, so the house is just sitting there. You might as well use it."
Kadie fidgeted in her chair. What he was suggesting didn't seem right, but it was a lot more appealing than sleeping in her car, especially with the rain falling steadily and no end in sight.
She looked up to find Darrick regarding her over the rim of his wineglass. It was hard to think clearly when he was looking at her like that, as if she was the last cookie in the jar and he was starving for sweets.
He sipped his wine, his gaze never leaving hers.
His stare made her uncomfortable. He looked harmless enough. There was nothing threatening in his manner, and yet ... She shook off her disquieting thoughts. She was probably just upset by the day's events.
She finished her coffee and set the cup aside.
"Do you want another cup?" he asked.
"No," she said, smothering a yawn. "I can hardly keep my eyes open."
Putting his wineglass aside, he pushed away from the table. "Let's go, then."
"What about the check?"
"Don't worry about it. I'll take care of it later."
That seemed odd, she thought, getting up from the table. But then, maybe he knew the owner or ran a tab.
He helped her into her jacket, then followed her toward the door.
Kadie pulled her hood up as she stepped outside. "Aren't you cold?" For the first time, she noticed he wasn't wearing a coat.
He shook his head.
"I need to get my things."
Nodding, he fell into step beside her, waited on the sidewalk while she pulled her suitcase from the backseat. He took it from her, then reached for her hand.
Pretending not to notice, Kadie shoved her hands into her pockets.
"This way," he said.
Filled with trepidation, she followed him down the street and around the corner. They didn't pass anyone else, but then, who would be out on a night like this if they didn't have to?
They went another block before they came to a neat, ranch-style house. Kadie hurried up the porch stairs, grateful to be out of the rain.
She hesitated when he opened the door, sent a quick prayer for protection to heaven, and stepped inside. She grunted with pain when she bumped her knee on a table.
"Stay here," Darrick said, closing the door. "I'll find a candle."
Kadie bit down on her lower lip. What on earth was she doing in a strange town, in a strange house, with a strange man? She had always hated those silly heroines who were too stupid to live, but she had a feeling she was acting like one.
She was giving serious thought to running back to her car, but she wouldn't be any safer there than she was here.
He returned carrying a hurricane lamp. The lamp's light cast eerie shadows on the walls and ceiling.
"I think you'll be comfortable here," he said, handing her the lamp. "There's some wood in the hearth, if you want to start a fire."
Kadie nodded, her tension growing with every passing moment.
"The power should be back on in the morning," he said.
She nodded. "Thank you for your help."
He looked at her, his expression enigmatic. He took a step toward her. She took a hasty step backward when she saw his eyes.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"Your eyes ..." She blinked and looked again. "Nothing." For a moment, she could have sworn his eyes looked red. Probably just a trick of the light, she told herself. She placed the lamp on the mantel. Turning around, she said, "Thank you for your ..."
Kadie stared at the place where Darrick had been standing only moments before. How had he disappeared so quickly? And how had he gotten out of the house without opening the door?CHAPTER 2
The vampire sleeping deep within the earth stirred, aroused by the scent of fresh prey in town. Gathering his senses, he deduced that the newcomer was young, healthy, and female. But it was the rich, warm scent of her life's blood that called to him, drawing him to full awareness.
Just a single whiff, and he knew he would not rest until she was his.
Anger stirred within him when he realized that Darrick Vaughan had already claimed her. The man had been looking after the town's affairs for too long, but that was about to change. It was time to remind Vaughan and the others who was in charge here.
Burrowing up through yards of earth, he made his way home. He would need to clean up and feed before introducing himself to Miss Kadie Andrews.
He paused outside the gray stone house that held his lair, listening to the sounds of the night. Morgan Creek was a quiet place after dark. He didn't know or care what the humans did during the daylight hours. The only people seen on the streets after dark were those who had been fed upon recently. Not that holing up inside their houses did the residents a lot of good. Out of sight, out of mind didn't work on his kind. But he had little interest in the mortals who lived and died here.
After a quick shower, he donned a pair of jeans and a shirt. The hunger clawed at his vitals, yet he hesitated to leave the security of his lair. Though thirty years had passed since he had gone to ground, he remembered all too vividly his last foray outside Morgan Creek ...
It had been a beautiful summer night and the city had been alive with people. Walking among them, their combined scents had aroused his thirst. A Fourth of July celebration was in full swing at the park. After the fireworks, there had been music and dancing.
Spying a beautiful young thing in shorts and a halter top heading away from the crowd, he had followed her. He had been closing in when he felt a sharp pain in his back. Too late, he realized he had walked into a trap. A dozen hunters swarmed over him, driving him to the ground. He fought back, breaking a neck here, a leg there, sinking his fangs into another, but they never let up. Fear had been like ice in his belly when they splashed him with gasoline. He fought with renewed energy when he caught the scent of sulphur, roared with pain as his clothes and his hair caught fire.
The flames had driven the hunters back. It had taken every ounce of preternatural power remaining to will himself back to Morgan Creek and bury himself deep in the earth so the healing could begin.
The pain had been constant, relentless. Even trapped in the dark sleep of his kind, there had been no escape from the agony of blistered preternatural flesh. It was definitely an experience he didn't want to repeat. Even now, it was hard to believe he had been so careless. It was a mistake he would not make again.
Shaking off his morbid thoughts, he willed himself to the nearest city. He needed blood to complete the healing before he approached the woman whose mere presence had called him from the arms of the earth.CHAPTER 3
Kadie woke with the sun shining in her face. A glance out the window showed a beautiful clear day.
Fighting down a surge of guilt for spending the night in a house that wasn't hers, she went into the bathroom to take a shower.
With the water sluicing over her head and shoulders, her thoughts turned to the strange man she had met last night. Who was he, really? He had seemed ordinary enough, and yet there had been something strange about him. She recalled the odd red glow in his eyes, then shook her head. It had to have been a trick of the light. Nobody's eyes turned red.
After drying off, she pulled on a pair of skinny jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt, and her favorite high-heeled, black boots. Glancing around to make sure she had everything, she shoved her dirty clothes inside her suitcase, grabbed it and her handbag, and left the house.
The houses she passed were all older homes, circa the thirties and forties, but they were all in good repair, the yards well tended. Now and then she saw people staring out their windows at her.
Mostly women. Mostly young and pretty.
They all seemed surprised to see her.
She passed a handsome young man mowing his yard.
An older woman rocking on her front porch.
A pretty young woman pulling weeds along the edge of the driveway.
They all watched her, their eyes filled with curiosity. No one smiled. No one spoke to her, not even when she offered a tentative hello.
Not a very friendly town, Kadie thought, wondering at their reticence.
When she reached the edge of town, she glanced left and right. The streets were deserted. No sign of people hurrying to work, no children walking to school. No cars on the road. Of course not, she thought glumly. There was no gas to be had. How was that even possible in this day and age?(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Vampires of Morgan Creek"
Copyright © 2018 Madeline Baker.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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