I woke slowly, gradually becoming aware but not sure what had awakened me. I opened my eyes and scanned the room, searching the heavy shadows. Birds chirped outside the window, alerting me it was morning, but thanks to the blackout shades, the room was still plunged in darkness. I also heard soft snoring. Frowning, I turned my head and saw Nicky lying on the pillow beside me. He was still dressed and on top of the covers, but his arm was lightly draped across me.
My stomach did its little fluttery thing at the realization that instead of leaving once I’d fallen asleep, Nicky had stayed at my side while I slept, watching over me and keeping me safe. If someone had told me a week ago that I’d be in Nicky Blue’s house, sleeping in bed with him, I would’ve called her a liar—plus another couple of names that were even less complimentary. Then again, if someone had told me a week ago that I would be jumped by vampires, attacked in my apartment by a seriously pissed off ghost, and psychically invaded by Dracula himself, all in the same week, I wouldn’t have believed that either. Guess life was just full of surprises. . . .
Feeling a sudden shift in the air, I shook off the last remnants of sleep and squinted into the darkness. There was a heaviness in the room that I couldn’t quite place. All the hairs on the back of my neck jumped to attention, and my blood went cold. No, wait—it wasn’t my blood. It was the temperature in the room itself that had plummeted several degrees. Next to me, Nicky shivered in his sleep.
I swallowed hard, then whispered, “Nicky!” My breath came out as a frosty mist that curled before my eyes.
Shit. Not good.
In a panic, I tried to get up, but I was completely paralyzed. I tried to call out to Nicky again, but all that came out was a strangled rasp. As I lay there, completely helpless, the shadows swirled and shifted, slowly taking form as they moved toward the bed. A moment later, the silhouette of a woman took shape at the end of the bed. I felt the mattress dip down by my feet as the shadow-woman put one knee on the mattress and then another and began to creep toward me.
In the next moment she was straddling me, her face just inches from mine. I was trembling so violently, I couldn’t believe the shaking hadn’t woken Nicky. As if the phantom had heard my thoughts, she glanced over at where he lay, then ran a ghostly finger from my forehead down along the bridge of my nose until she reached my lips. “Don’t bother trying to call for him,” she said, her voice edged with amusement. “He can’t hear you. It’s just you”–her finger continued down my chin and along the edge of my throat–“and me.”
I wanted to look away, close my eyes, pretend this was just a dream, but I couldn’t. It was as if she was controlling me.
She chuckled, a low, throaty sound. “No, silly girl, it’s notme controlling you.” She bent forward until her lips were near my ear. “It’s the master,” she whispered, her breath an arctic blast on my skin. “You tasted the blood of one of his children. And now you are his.”
My eyes went wide, remembering how, in desperation, I’d bitten the vampiress the other night, how her blood had flooded my mouth when my teeth had broken her skin.
“You weren’t the one he was hoping for,” she giggled, “but after meeting you face to face last night, he thinks you’ll be a lovely addition to the family.” She shifted and pressed her lips to mine in a slow kiss, then grinned down at me. “Oh, we’re going to have so much fun. . . .”
She turned her head to regard Nicky for a moment, her blonde hair sweeping across my face. “What do you think,” she taunted, “should we bring Mr. Blue into the family, too? He’d be such a delightful plaything for the other girls. So handsome and strong.” She giggled again and gave me a lascivious wink. “They’d enjoy sucking him dry in more ways than one.”
Fury so powerful engulfed me, it shattered the hold over me. My arm shot up and grasped her throat, and I flipped her onto her back, now sticking my face into hers. “You and whatever vampire whores Dracula has recruited will stay the hell away from Nicky Blue, or you’ll have to deal with me.”
The ghost merely laughed, her eyes twinkling with amusement before she dematerialized and reformed beside the bed, safely out of my reach, proving just how empty my threat was. She adjusted her fluffy pink sweater and pulled her mini skirt down a notch before giving me a patronizing grin. “I’ll be seeing you soon, sweetie!”
“Don’t count on it,” I hissed. “I’ll take on that son of a bitch Dracula any day, any time. You tell him to bring it on.”
She suddenly swooped forward, her face morphing into a horrifying replica of Sebille Fenwick’s rotting corpse, somehow knowing about the nightmares that had plagued me for the last few months. Then she grabbed my throat and squeezed. I clawed desperately at her ghostly hands, doing nothing more than scoring my own skin with my fingernails.
“Do not underestimate the master,” the phantom warned, her breath rank, making me gag. “You are his, Trish. And you’ll be joining him very soon.”
With a parting cackle, she flung me backward, but instead of hitting the mattress, I kept falling, the darkness growing deeper. Screaming, I threw my arms out to my sides, desperately grasping for anything to stop my descent. My nails dug into something soft and foul. Was it dirt? Just when it felt like I would fall forever, I suddenly hit bottom, and the air was forced from my lungs.
“This isn’t real,” I panted, squeezing my eyes closed with relief. “It’s just a dream. It’s all just a dream. Wake up, Trish.”
But when I opened my eyes again, I was still lying at the bottom of a freshly dug grave hundreds of feet deep. “It’s just a dream,” I ground out, balling my hands into fists. “Wake up!”
I suddenly felt an arm snake under my back and around my shoulders. With a gasp, I rolled toward my unexpected companion in the grave and found myself lying on top of him, his blazing red eyes burning into my soul. “What the—”
“Hello, little one,” came the low, hypnotic voice, the tendrils of sound wrapping around me, drawing me closer.
I was still screaming when his fangs plunged into my throat.