A shadow in the sultry darkness of a summer’s evening, the vampire paced in a tight circle, waiting. He was irritable. The buzz of a thousand cicadas drilled holes into his brain and his anticipation of the night ahead sent adrenaline coursing through his cold veins. Would she come?
His pacing stopped abruptly. His head jerked. He caught his breath. Even through the din of insects, his predatory hearing picked up the slow clop of a horse’s hooves on hard packed clay and the gentle creak of carriage springs adjusting to ruts in the road. The scents overwhelmed him next. The warm, vibrant perfume of heated horseflesh, the mellow timbre of worn leather, and the musty stink of a fellow vampire.
Long minutes of frustrated waiting later, the vehicle hove into sight around a bend in the road. The vampire released the breath he’d been holding. Just maybe, for once, he’d succeeded.
The young vampire, a mere thirty years old—a virtual baby in the eyes of his brethren—stepped to the side of the country lane as the plodding carriage approached in no apparent hurry. Its opulence startled him. He’d expected the lady to rent a hansom cab, not arrive in a luxurious, gleaming barouche drawn by two quality horses with a personal driver at the reins. The driver, an aging vampire bearing centuries on his shoulders, wore funereal black with a stovepipe hat above the wispy white of his long hair. His sunken eyes gleamed silvery from a cadaverous, ashen face. Pale, almost skeletal hands managed the reins, though the sluggish pace he’d set for his pair of high-stepping matched bays was exercising neither him nor his horses.
The lady seated on the plush velvet seat rode with her imperious chin held high and her red mouth pursed with cynical amusement. She’d piled her rich, auburn hair atop her head in a smooth, convoluted knot and didn’t adorn it in any way, because it needed no adornment. Her face, milky pale in the moonlight, was lovely but cold. Tiny creases in the corner of her eyes whispered of scorn, not laughter. She’d chosen an elegant evening dress, corseted to a painful pinch at her waist, with a high, lacy neckline, professing a modesty the waiting vampire suspected she didn’t possess. Her delicate, pasty hand clasped an open parasol, as if to deflect the soft glow of moonlight from her fragile skin.
With the tip of her toe, she tapped her driver’s shoulder. He pulled the reins and the horses ambled to a stop, rolling their eyes and stamping, eager to set a real pace on the road. The driver tugged the brake and eased back in his seat to rest, his silvery eyes never leaving the face of the waiting vampire. The lady rose, snapped shut her parasol and, collecting her skirts in her free hand, descended regally from the barouche. With a swish of silken skirts, she sauntered towards the youngster who awaited her.
“Guldendal,” she purred, offering a limp hand. “So nice of you to wait.”
Guldendal accepted her hand and pressed his lips to its soft, icy surface. Although he presented an unruffled appearance to his lady, inside he seethed. He’d waited nearly two hours on this godforsaken country road while she dawdled at a snail’s pace in her fancy carriage. Of course, she could afford to make him wait. The lady’s fortunes were rising in Bostonian vampire society. Rumors murmured she’d be designated an alpha soon if she continued to play her cards right. Guldendal was hunting territory far above his lowly station.
“Rivalyn. A pleasure as always.”
With that sly smile curving her lips, Rivalyn sidled against him and rested her hand lightly on the arm he offered.
“Let us stroll, shall we?” She tilted that incredible face towards the moon to savor its touch. “I so love a moonlit walk.”
Guldendal gnashed his fangs but accepted the suggestion. He didn’t have another choice. Rivalyn controlled this engagement, controlled him, controlled his raging sexual desire, and they both knew it. She would surrender to his lust or not as she saw fit. He could only pray she did so. He’d suffered a long spell without a mate. The absence grated his nerves.
The Massachusetts countryside rolled out before them as an undulating quilt of blacks and grays under the shimmering moonlight. Rivers glinted white; forests brooded black. Human habitations, pale, little cubes, sprinkled the copses and fields. All stood lightless at that time of night. Not a single lantern or candle broke the serenity.
The world was ablaze with light, however. It flashed in iridescent, glowing green from every bush and tree. The field alongside the road glittered as if strewn with diamonds as lights winked and danced like fairies floating in the still air. The nearby forest glimmered in a breathtaking display of twinkling lights. Fireflies intent on their own mating rituals filled the countryside with magic. Guldendal hoped their beauty would melt Rivalyn’s frigid heart.
“Your boldness surprised me,” the lady murmured as she paced slowly at his side. She slid a glance sideways to study his reaction. “Aren’t you in over your head, little one?”
Guldendal gritted his fangs. He reminded himself she’d test him. Vampire females always forced their mates to work for the pleasure.
“Noting ventured, nothing gained,” he replied. He kept his chin lifted and his tone light. He wouldn’t reveal to her how he’d desired this meeting.
“Ordinarily, I would have scoffed at your daring,” she said, returning her gaze forward.
Her words stung. “Why didn’t you, then?”
She stopped and turned. Her smile deepened. A strange gleam flickered in her dark eyes. “I find you fascinating, Guldendal. Utterly enchanting.”
Halting alongside her, the younger vampire frowned. He suspected she was playing with him. “How so?”
Taloned fingers raked through his fashionably long blond hair. They caught in the bow that held it in a queue against his neck and freed the corn-colored strands to fall about his face.
“I’ve never seen hair this color on a vampire,” she breathed. The stench of blood and death coursed across Guldendal’s features, intoxicating him. “And those eyes! My dear! Where did you find those eyes?”
Guldendal’s brow pinched. “They came standard.” He knew his brilliant blue eyes were an anomaly as was his blond hair. He didn’t know females found such coloring alluring.
She continued to smile as she toyed with his hair. “I spotted you at Battengal’s soiree the other night. Couldn’t take my eyes those shining locks. I just had to touch them, to know if they’re real.”
“They are.” Guldendal couldn’t keep a trace of ice from lacing his words. That she didn’t desire him as a male vampire and had dragged him out into the hinterlands merely to play with his hair deflated him.
“Such color certainly makes you stand out, little boy.”
Finally, Guldendal’s control broke. He growled low in his throat at the insult.
The growl amused her. She chuckled. Then her sly gaze studied his long, lanky form. “I will make a prediction,” she said, stepping back from him, her eyes appraising. “You shall rise high someday. I sense greatness in you.”
Guldendal’s lips opened. He began to speak but she cut him off.
“Just not today.”
A shadow flitted in the corner of his eye. Before Guldendal could react, the cadaverous driver belted him over the head with a wooden bat.
Stars as bright as the fireflies spangled Guldendal’s eyes. He crumpled to the dirt as waves of pain seared his temple. He thought his throbbing head would burst from his eye sockets.
“Live and learn, little one,” he heard Rivalyn titter as she swept away. “You strove too high and insulted me. But I forgive you. Find me again when you’ve reached your apex. I’ll wait.”
For a handful of seconds, Guldendal watched a billion stars dance, some from inside his head, some from the fireflies, before darkness swept him away.
Mariella Cruz’s tug on his arm dragged Niles Gule’s thoughts from the distant past. He started, then eased as the world of now settled around him like a comforting cloak. He and Cruz sat on a bench in a park overlooking Baltimore. The night air was sultry. The aroma of lathered horse filled his nostrils as two riders on hack ponies rode slowly past, the clop of their hooves on the pavement and the creak of their saddles taking him back in time.
Darkness swathed the park. Here and there tiny pinpricks of light winked and danced, fireflies on the hunt for mates. Yet they were sadly few. Niles envisioned that evening with Rivalyn and the incredible display of bioluminescence, then he considered the modern world. Lights still shimmered in the darkness, but they were the lights of the city below the hill. The ephemeral beauty of the fireflies had faded to a mere whisper of what it had once been.
“Why so quiet?” Cruz asked.
Niles shrugged. “Just remembering the world as it once was.” He wrapped his arm around her hot shoulders, grateful for a female who accepted him exactly as he was. “Did you know fireflies are disappearing?”
She started. “No.”
He nodded. “Decimation of habitat and light pollution are destroying them. You have no idea how breathtaking their display once was. I miss it.”
She turned, a frown between her brows. “If you could go back, would you?”
Niles considered the question for only a moment. He knew the answer.
He squeezed her against his side, all human warmth and tantalizing perfume.
“No,” he said. “I wouldn’t go back.”
He wouldn’t give up Cruz, but he missed the fireflies.
© 2020 Newmin