Terror ripped through me.
I had no idea where I was. I woke up expecting the familiarity and safety of my bedroom, and this wasn’t it. It was hot, almost unbearable. Sweat soaked my skin, but I shivered. Disoriented, I stumbled out of bed.
I tripped over my own foot and fell onto the floor with a heavy thud. Cursing myself, I rubbed my knee, even though the pain had stopped. I’d been training hard to work on my strength and grace, and I hated when my clumsiness returned.
The light flicked on in the room. I sat on the floor and squinted up in the brightness to see who turned it on Peter stood in the doorway, wearing only ripped jeans, and he stared down at me.
I finally remembered where I was, but I still couldn’t shake the panic. My heart pounded like crazy, and that’s what summoned Peter.
“What are you doing on the floor?” Peter asked.
“Are you okay?” He walked over to me and bent down so he could help me up.
I took his hand, and when he pulled me to my feet, I noticed the sweat gleaming all over his chest and his arms. If I hadn’t been so distracted by my own terror, I might have taken the time to hate how perfect and gorgeous Peter looked. Every time I saw him, I wished he would get less attractive.
“What’s going on?” His voice had taken on a protective edge that I was unaccustomed to hearing from him. He’d been working on showing me his gentler side, but it still surprised me.
“I don’t know.” I shook my head.
“Alice, you’re terrified.” He heard the panicked racing of my heart and no matter what I did, I couldn’t slow it. “What happened?”
I bit my lip and pushed my hair behind my ear. He put his hand on my arm, and his bright emerald eyes managed calmed me a bit. I wanted to tell him everything, but I couldn’t explain what freaked me out so much.
“It was like a bad dream,” I said. “But it wasn’t a dream. It was more of a … feeling.”
“What kind of feeling?” Peter asked
“Just fear, this really intense fear.”
“You were just sleeping, and then you were afraid?” He dropped his hand from my arm and studied my face. “No images that went along with it?”
“No.” I furrowed my brow, trying to remember what exactly woke me up. “There weren’t images, but I felt paralyzed. Right before I woke up, I felt really scared, and I couldn’t move.” I shook my head again, this time to clear it. “It’s over now, and I’m done talking about it.”
“As long as you’re okay.” Peter sounded reluctant to let the topic die.
“Yeah, I’m great.” I forced a smile. “Except I’m really hot. Why is it so hot in here?”
“The central air is broken. I’ve been out back trying to fix it, but the sun is really getting to me. And, as it turns out, I know nothing about air conditioning units,” he sighed. That explained the grease stains all over his jeans and the smudge that ran just above his naval, on the hard contours of his abdomen.
“That really sucks,” I said and looked away from him.
“I’ll call a repairman, but I don’t know how long it will take them to get here.” Peter ran a hand through his dark hair. He’d been wearing it shorter since he moved, probably because of the continuous heat. “It’s the drawback of living out in the middle of nowhere.”
“Yeah, I bet,” I said. “I think I’m gonna take a shower.”
“It’s only noon.”
“I doubt I can sleep anyway,” I shrugged.
“I’ll see if I can find a fan for you,” he offered and stepped towards the door.
“Alright. Thanks,” I smiled at him. He nodded, then left me alone in the room.
I went over to the closet to look for clothes. It was mostly bare since I hadn’t packed that much for my ten-day stay. As soon as we’d gotten here, Mae insisted on putting my things away and doing my laundry.
I would’ve been fine with living out of a suitcase, but Mae wouldn’t stand for it. With Daisy around, her maternal instinct seemed to be in overdrive. Really, I wasn’t sure how Peter tolerated it.
After Mae had gone against Ezra’s wishes and turned her great-granddaughter into a vampire, he’d given her three days to get out. They’d left in two. Peter chartered a private plane, and he, Mae, and Daisy had escaped to the Australian outback.
Even though they were gone, Mae still kept in contact with us, particularly with Milo. She’d been sad we spent the holidays apart, and after Christmas, she began plotting to see us.
Milo started school next week, so he decided now would be the best time to visit. Jack didn’t think it’d be good for him to come with because he didn’t really want to see Mae or Peter. He didn’t even want me to go, but he didn’t try to stop me.
It was just my younger brother Milo, his human boyfriend Bobby, and me spending a week and a half with Mae, her child vampire Daisy, and Peter. With a broken air conditioner.
Milo told me that January was summertime here, but if I had understood exactly how hot that could be, I might’ve put off visiting until July.
Peter bought a huge farmhouse about an hour away from Alice Springs in Australia. From what I’m told, it’s a nice town, and Sydney’s supposed to be divine, not that I’ve seen much of either of them. Sydney’s a four-hour flight away, but that’s not what stopped us from going. Daisy can’t go out in public. She’s only five and has almost no control over her bloodlust.
Milo’d tried to spin this as a trip in celebration of my eighteenth birthday last week, and in a way, it kinda was. Mae threw a little party for me, with a cake that only Bobby could eat. She gave me a lovely dress, and Daisy made me a card.
I got in the shower, and the cold water did wonders for me, but I couldn’t shake the trepidation. Something was off, and I couldn’t put my finger on it.
I thought about calling Jack back in the States, but I hardly ever got any reception. Besides, I didn’t want to alarm him. He’d been convinced that this trip was a horrible idea, but it hadn’t been that bad. A little dull, maybe. Jack’s real fear, of course, was Peter.
When I got out of the shower, I went over to the dresser and pulled open the top drawer. Amongst my bras and underwear, I’d hidden Peter’s present to me. A beautiful diamond encrusted heart-shaped locket. I loved it, but I had no idea how to explain it to Jack.
Nothing was overtly wrong with Peter giving it to me, but Jack wouldn’t approve. For my birthday, Jack had a Muppet specially made to look like me and had taken me scuba diving with the sharks at the aquarium. They were pretty awesome gifts and I loved them, but they weren’t the same caliber as expensive jewelry.
Then again, Jack had also given me immortality, so he kinda had Peter beat.
“Is it cooler in here?” Milo opened my bedroom door without knocking, and I dropped the necklace in the drawer and slammed it shut.
“Um, I don’t know,” I said, taking a step away from the dresser.
“I think it’s hotter in here,” Milo groaned but walked into my room anyway. Like Peter, he had decided that shirtless was the way to go. “It’s got to be at least a hundred degrees here!”
“Have you tried the pool?” I asked.
“Yeah, right.” Milo wrinkled his nose and flopped back on my bed. “The sun’s still out, and even if it wasn’t, you’ve seen the pool.”
Something was wrong with the filtration system, so skeavy green moss covered the pool. There seemed to be something wrong with everything in the house. Apparently, it had been even more rundown when they bought it, but Peter and Mae were fixing it up. But the pool didn’t work, the air went out, the wrap-around porch sagged, and the roof needed replacing.
I went over and pulled back the heavy curtains, looking outside. The sun stung my eyes, and I stared out at the emptiness. They didn’t have a neighbor for miles, and everything looked dry and faded. I slid open the window and a hot breeze wafted in, but at least it was better than nothing.
“I’m starting to think this was a bad idea,” Milo said wearily.
“It’s not that bad. I mean, other than the heat.” I sat on the bed next to him. Beads of sweat stood out on his chest, and he looked up at me, his big brown eyes dejected. “You’ve had fun seeing Mae, right?”
“Kinda,” he shrugged and looked away.
Milo had been the baby, the one that had garnered all of Mae’s attention until Daisy came along, and she required a lot more than he did. He wasn’t a real jealous person, but this struck a nerve with him. Being ignored by our real mother had been bad enough, let alone her replacement.
“What’s Bobby doing?” I asked, hoping to cheer him up by talking about his boyfriend.
They’d been together for four months, and they weren’t “meant for each other,” not the way vampires are, but there was still something there. Bobby made Milo happy, and he was a good guy.
Bobby mostly lived with us back in Minneapolis, and despite my initial hatred of him, he’d really grown on me. Some of that probably had to do with the fact that I’d bitten him, bonding us together slightly. It tended to drive Milo nuts, but we couldn’t do anything about it.
“He’s sitting in front of a fan in our room,” Milo said, scratching absently at his arm. The spiders here were crazy about him. The bites didn’t really hurt him, but they left irritating, itching bumps for hours. “Even the heat is getting to him, so you know it has to be bad.”
“He’s probably just used to living in our climate,” I yawned. We hated being hot, and we constantly kept our house at frigid temperatures. Plus, we had just come from winter in Minnesota. “Ugh! It’s too hot sleep!”
“Tell me about it.” Milo looked up at me. “What time is it back home? Maybe Jack’s up.”
“I don’t understand the time difference. You tell me.”
“I don’t know what time it is here,” he said and made no effort to find out. “Have you talked to Jack lately?”
“The other day. The reception here is so shoddy, it’s hard for me to get through.”
My heart ached at the thought of him. I was bonded with Jack, so it was painful to be away from him. It had lessened a bit over the last few months, but it still wasn’t anything where I’d enjoy not being around him.
“How are things there?” Milo asked.
“The same, I guess. Ezra is moping around the house, and Jack can’t wait for us to get back.”
“I still can’t believe that Ezra hasn’t talked to Mae,” Milo looked a little wide eyed over it, and I felt the same way.
No matter how mad or frustrated I might get with Jack, I couldn’t imagine going months without talking to him. It would be like going months without eating.
Bobby shrieked from his bedroom down the hall, but Milo and I were slow to react. Spiders had been infesting their room since we arrived, and Bobby screamed like a girl every time he saw one. Admittedly, some of them could actually kill him, but most of the time, he’d already stomped on them by the time Milo or I came to the rescue.
I heard a door slam, followed by a bizarre clawing sound. Bobby’s heart beat frantically, but his wasn’t the only one. Another heart pounded hard and fast, but it was quieter and not as rapid as a human.
It was the sound of a vampire’s heart. A very small, very hungry vampire.
By the time Bobby yelled again, Milo and I were already running out of my room. His room was way at the other end of the hall, but we could see Daisy, clawing at the door with her bare hands. She was strong enough to tear the wood, leaving bloody trails as it splintered out around her fingers.
Before we had a chance to reach her, she managed to tear a hole in the door big enough for her little body to wriggle through, and Bobby started screaming like hell.