The wind outside howled rattling some of the windows in the darkened inn. The noises of hustle and bustle coming from downstairs had died down as everyone settled in for the night. Zahra sat in her chair, blankets tucked around her for warmth and tried for the umpteenth time to get some sleep. She cradled her necklace in her hands, feeling it take some of the fear away and calm her frayed nerves.
And yet, just enough of her fears remained to keep her awake. The horrors she’d witnessed the night they’d escaped were still fresh in her mind. The stone in her hand did a good job of taking those anxieties away.
She’d gone full circle in thinking about her life in the past few hours of darkness; from her stolen future with a man who loved her to this new unknown. She glanced at the children sleeping soundly. Marie had her arm around her little brother who was huddled against her.
Seeing them this way reminded her of her experiences with her own brothers and sisters. They had often huddled together for warmth when they were much younger. She remembered those moments fondly as they never really went to bed when they were supposed to and would end up talking until late into the night. Her mother would wake them up before the sun to carry out duties around the house and they would be so tired from the night before…
She had imagined a similar life for her own children with Hadi. They would have huddled together for warmth and sometimes for comfort. She would have loved her children. A tear slipped free before she had realised it. She’d rested her hand against her stomach at some point in her musings. She would have had a child by now if she hadn’t thrown caution to the wind and run headlong into the cabin where Mister Galagher had been in the process of defiling another girl for his sordid pleasures.
She shook away the awful memory and settled herself once more to try and get some sleep.
Why had Lavinia thought that this was a good idea? She was beginning to doubt her ability to care for them as she ought. She’d taken it upon herself to take the dinner dishes downstairs and the innkeeper’s questions, while justifiable, had been intrusive and she’d only barely managed to give credible information. He’d dismissed her with a nod and gone on with his business. If he suspected anything, she couldn’t tell and she would honestly rather not find out what was going through his mind.
Worse still, as she’d made her way back to the room, something had drawn her attention to one of the patrons in the dining area. Unlike all the others, talking and laughing with one another, this one sat alone and he was watching her. She’d felt a stone in the pit of her stomach, heavy and unsettling. Something about him rubbed her the wrong way and if there was one thing she had learned to count on, it was this feeling.
When she returned to the room, she’d made sure to lock it behind her. Perhaps it was merely her imagination. She hoped it was the case.
A branch from the tree outside her window tapped an unsteady rhythm against the window, swaying with the turbulent wind. The noise had startled her the first time she’d heard it, believing that someone was attempting to come in through the window. Now it was only a mild annoyance – mild compared to the fact that, the more she thought about it, the more she felt that something wasn’t right about her circumstances.
She and the family had been attacked by unknown assailants. Master Paul had been conveniently called away during the entire ordeal… did he know what had become of his family? If Master Lucas had managed it, he would have sent word already. She glanced at the children’s sleeping forms again and absently rubbed her thumb over the stone’s pattern.
The mounting dread she had tried to tamp down for the last two nights had grown. She felt it when they escaped. She felt it when Lavinia prepared her children to depart with Zahra that morning. She didn’t know what to expect. Everything was uncertain and maybe that same uncertainty fed the anxieties. Either way, she did not feel that her soul was at peace.
A noise in the hall caught her attention.
The insistent tree branch at the window tapped away at the glass as Zahra listened. When she heard nothing more, she settled down in her chair once more, only to hear a floorboard creak. This she couldn’t ignore. Setting aside the blankets, she quietly rose from her chair and made her way to the door. There, she waited and listened. Something was wrong here. It could be only random noises playing against her fears but she couldn’t risk it. She had two more to worry about – more than she’d ever worry about herself. She would die before she saw the children come to any harm.
Muffled voices met her ears. She held her breath and listened again. Late night patrons making their way to their rooms? Were there still people awake this late in the night? She couldn’t be sure. So she waited. Then she heard the muffled footsteps heading for her door. Her fingers found the cold brass of the handle and she stood stock still. Whoever it was, they weren’t going to get in. Not on her watch.
Another minute ticked by, then another. Then she heard a door open and shut – the room across the hall – and she felt the tension ease from her muscles. Her eyes were heavy and she let out a breath. Still, she stood at the door for another moment and then another.
Perhaps she was too tired to think about this logically. Nobody would attack her in an inn full of people would they? She turned to the window. The wind had begun to die down and the taps were only sporadic now.
She settled back in her chair and covered herself with the extra blanket. She had to hope that Lavinia and Master Lucas found her in the morning. She could really use some extra protection at the moment. She could only imagine the kind of trouble she would get into if she walked out of there with the children. She lay her head back against the wood and stared into the darkness letting her mind wander.
Where was Phillip at that very moment? Did he know what had become of her and the household? Was he settled in his home? What did he do in his spare time? Would he sit in his library reading? In the early morning, would he go out riding or take a long walk? He seemed more like he was born for the outdoors. Perhaps he spent time with friends or attended lavish parties. Maybe too, he took to the sea looking for some new land or adventure, further than she could ever dream or imagine.
He must have met some lovely Miss by now. Perhaps he’d always known one. She would be called Rita or Amelie or some such exotic-sounding name. and have long glorious curls of dark hair and a beguiling smile, mischief flashing in her sultry brown eyes. She would glance at him and he at her and then…
Tap. Tap-tap. Tap.
She shut those thoughts from her mind, a frown falling on her face. Well then, if he liked her so much, he should just marry her, she thought with a huff and crossed her arms under the covers. They would live happily on his farm with a dozen children, some with the startling blue of his eyes, some with hers, some with those thick dark locks of hair.
She stopped that line of thought too. Phillip hadn’t truly been hers, had he? Jealousy over a life she could never have had was pointless and it didn’t become her… which didn’t mean that she didn’t feel it still. She let out a quiet sigh.
She wasn’t meant for that life.
Tap. Tap. Tap
Had her circumstances been different, maybe she would have believed differently. Had things been different for her, she might be married herself now too and be curled up next to Hadi and their child. She would never have lost him to war… and she would never have known Phillip.
Phillip who had looked at her in that special way that made her heart sing. It beat a wild rhythm in her chest whenever he was near. She never would have known love again, for she recognised the feeling even though she had never spoken it out loud. No, she would never have known Phillip… Would never have had to imagine him with another woman in his arms.
But she had understood that she was never meant for him. The conviction she had heard in his voice had fed her hopes and she had let them. The flames of that hope had burned bright when he had whispered his words of promise reverently. He had spoken to her with a conviction that made her want to believe him – that he would truly return for her.
He had wanted her.
She glanced at the children again, sleeping soundly, peaceful, far and away from this life and the circumstances that surrounded them. She had no idea what the morning would bring and she had a responsibility to them. They would have to live very different lives now.
And so would she.
It was greater peace than she had ever known… but something about it felt wrong. Something was wrong about the darkness. It was incomplete.
Somewhere above the woman, light shone. Her limbs floated, yes floated. She could barely move them. She was not free to breathe… what was this? She was not in the open air. Air. Was she breathing? No, she realised. She was not.
Why not? How was she floating yet…?
The insistent light above drew her attention again. It shimmered oddly, casting weak rays upon her and on her surroundings. It looked beautiful, distant… familiar.
Where was she? What was happening? Who was she?
She tried to draw a breath and something entered her lungs but it wasn’t air. It was some other thing that she knew. Something that shouldn’t be in her lungs. Was this… was it water?
Suddenly she knew the reason for her immobility and she felt dread creep up her spine.
She was in the ocean. The sun was up and shining down on her. The water was everywhere, surrounding her, cradling her, lulling her back into oblivion. Large masses of water were pure torture to any vampire.
But she was not fully vampire. She was more.
Perhaps that was why she could still move. She willed her hands to move and it almost sapped her strength to do so. She touched the ground around her. Bottles. Pieces of metal. Sand. Rocks. She was at the bottom of the ocean, fathoms deep. How had she ended up here? What had brought her here?
Her awareness was returning in bits and pieces; pinpricks of clarity piercing through the haze of her mind. Her name... What was her name? Li… Le... no that wasn’t right. La… Lavinia. That was it! Her name was Lavinia.
The current of a wave swept by her lifting bits of sand and debris, some of it getting in her eyes and mouth. Something was keeping her anchored her where she was. She looked down at her chest with some effort. A long, thin, silver blade with a broken hilt was embedded just above her left breast.
Silver. It was bad for her, she knew. Silver... silver, she’d been told, weakened her kind significantly. Silver in a vampire’s body made it turn to lead, slowed them down significantly in large amounts or if they were exposed to it for greater amounts of time. In water, it was worse. A curse of the sea, someone in her memories had called it. In deep enough water, a vampire was unable to free themselves from this curse. She was a slave to the water - she would remain sunken unless... unless she could remove it.
The current swayed her moving her body, each movement filling her with pain. The weapon was barbed. She reached with much effort, for the broken shaft of the weapon, each movement painting new lines of agony on her face.
Then she remembered.
A drowned scream of frustration left her waterlogged system.
None of it made any sense. And discovering the answers to her many questions would not help her at all if she was trapped, far away from where she could help in any way.
The silver from the blade was flowing through her. She felt its weakening effects. Happily, however, she’d had the foresight to have two shared-blood stones sewn into her gown – her assailant having ripped the other from around her neck. She felt them even now strengthening her, attempting to repair the effects of the silver with little success. They were probably the only reason she was still alive. She reached slowly towards her chest and her fingers brushed over the broken hilt of the knife.
She gripped it lamely, the jarring of her fingers and another current washing over her. Her best chance would be to rip it out and allow the stones to work their magic. All she needed was the will. She reached her second hand towards the weapon and tugged. It hurt like the devil and several expletives crossed her lips muffled by the water. She felt the strain of her muscles as she pulled with all her might.
The pain was blinding, searing, but she kept at it. Then she felt it come loose within her, barbs dragging against flesh and bone, and she released her effort. She would not let this pain stop her. Her heart and organs were destroyed. She was no doubt severely poisoned by the silver. She could feel the stones working harder to repair her. Healing would take time. Too much time.
Time that she didn’t have.
She couldn’t give up here. She had to get to her children. And to Rose. Rose who was just like her. Rose who was still too young. Rose who was even at that moment in terrible, terrible danger.
Steeling herself and using the momentum of the next wave, she tugged again at the weapon, breaking bone and ripping flesh. Blood filled the surrounding water in graceful clouds. The dark water rippled, then darkened to a bright crimson. The knife was halfway out. With a bit more effort, she would be free of it. Her waning strength had her clutching at the knife loosely.
She needed to be free to heal or meet her fate. She was unsure how long she’d been there and worried that she might even at that moment, be too late. Maybe the silver would send her into her final death as she lay there. Maybe the traitor had already found her children and heaven only knew what he would do to them.
Shutting her eyes as she steeled her resolve, Lavinia gripped the jagged hilt of the knife, prayed for strength – and pulled.