Authors: N. J. Walters
Thank you to all the wonderful fans of the Legacy series for embracing Craig and asking for his story, to my amazing editor for encouraging me to write it and last, but certainly not least, to my husband for talking out the ideas for the book over breakfast at the local diner.
Evie Pelowski stared at the check the owner of Espresso Yourself—a local coffee shop that carried her artwork—had just handed her. “He bought all three of them?” She was sure she couldn’t have heard right the first time.
“Yes, and asked if we knew how to contact the artist.” Amy pushed a heavy lock of black hair out of her face. “Of course, it’s policy not to give out the address of any of the artists we carry. According to Karen, who did the deal, he said he really liked your use of color. She told him she’d try to get some more of your work.”
Her head spinning, Evie tucked the check in her front pocket for safekeeping. Not only did this money mean she could pay her rent on time, but she could also buy groceries and some art supplies. “Did he leave his name or a card?” She was still having a hard time wrapping her mind around the idea that someone liked her work enough to buy three pieces. One, sure. She’d been supporting herself solely with her art for several years now. It sold well from this coffee shop and a few other local businesses that carried her.
Amy shook her head. “No, he didn’t leave a name.”
Evie shrugged. It didn’t really matter. All that mattered was three of her larger pieces had sold. She’d been afraid Amy was going to tell her she wanted to remove the paintings from the shop because they’d been there so long. The last thing she’d expected was cold hard cash.
“How about I buy you an espresso to celebrate?” Amy slipped behind the counter and began to make the coffee drink.
Evie slid onto one of the stools at the window bar, basking in the sunshine coming in from outside. She dumped her bag onto the empty seat next to her and then pulled out the check Amy had written her. She stared at it. The number didn’t change. The corners of her mouth tilted upward.
Maybe her luck was changing.
But a week later, Evie was sure that her luck was definitely not changing for the better. She was late for a friend’s gallery opening and it seemed every light on the way there was red. Her phone started ringing and Evie dug it out on the second ring. The light changed and she, along with a dozen other people, stepped off the sidewalk and across the road. “Hello?”
There was silence.
“I love the sound of your voice.” The person on the other end was male and his voice has a slight accent. It also wasn’t familiar.
“You have the wrong number.” She should have checked the number before she answered, but she was in a hurry. She was about to end the call when he spoke.
“No, Evie, I don’t.”
She stopped dead in her tracks and a man walking behind her almost bumped into her. He muttered an apology and hurried by her.
“Who is this?”
“A lover of your art. Soon to be your lover.” He laughed and it raised the fine hairs on the nape of her neck. This was beyond creepy.
She ended the call and hurried toward the gallery two blocks away. Her phone rang again. Even knowing she shouldn’t, she answered it. “What?”
“Do not hang up on me again, Evie. I don’t like it.” There was anger in his tone. She was getting totally freaked out.
“I don’t know who you are or how you got my number, but this isn’t funny. Leave me alone.” She ended the call and breathed a sigh of relief as she stepped into the gallery. Several friends saw her and waved. She went toward them, grateful for anything to take her mind off what had just happened.
Evie would have written it off as nothing more than a slightly obsessed fan of her work—something to be cautious of, but nothing to really worry about—but two weeks had gone by since the night of the first phone call and the mysterious caller wouldn’t leave her alone. Furthermore, his actions had escalated.
Evie glanced over her shoulder but kept walking down the sidewalk. It was just past seven in the evening, but it was dark. Night came early in November. But there were other people out and about so she wasn’t alone. Nothing to be afraid of.
There was no one following her.
She hurried up to a building that housed a clothing boutique on the first floor and a bunch of tiny studio apartments on the remaining two. Evie unlocked the entrance, stepped inside and pushed the door shut behind her. Thankfully, the lights illuminating the stairs were bright. No one was lurking. No one was waiting for her.
She needed to head upstairs to her apartment, but her feet refused to move. There was no safety to be found there. Twice in the past two weeks she’d walked in and found a red rose waiting for her on her bed. The lock hadn’t been tampered with and the window was undamaged. Then she’d started getting notes. They were short but to the point. He loved her artwork and wanted her exclusively for himself. There was no doubt whoever her mysterious patron was he was following her. He not only knew her phone number, he knew where she lived, and somehow he’d found his way into her home.
She’d filed a report with the police, but there was really nothing they could do to help her. She had no idea who was leaving the roses. Sure she knew it was the same man who’d purchased her paintings. There was no one else it could be. But for some reason, Karen at the coffee shop couldn’t really give the police a good description of him. Her memories were vague even though she’d tried really hard to remember him. Evie couldn’t blame her. Karen saw hundreds of people every day. Why would she remember some guy she’d only met once? Brown eyes, brown hair and well-dressed was the best she could do. That described half the businessmen who went through Espresso Yourself every day.
The nice officer she’d spoken with had told her to change her lock again, to make sure she was always aware of her surroundings and to keep her cell phone handy at all times.
She’d done all that, even added two more locks, but they hadn’t made her feel any safer. She was considering moving, though she couldn’t really afford to.
Evie shifted the tote bag on her shoulder, hitching it higher, and took the stairs one at a time, her boots clicking against the scarred hardwood stair treads. She stopped on the first landing and went down the short hallway to the second door on the right. Her new locks gleamed against the bright blue door.
Her keys jingled when she pulled them out of her pocket and unlocked all three locks. She opened the door, reached in and turned on the lights. She could see the entire apartment from the doorway. The tiny kitchenette took up one corner of the room, the daybed took up another. Bookshelves covered one entire wall and housed her small television. The tiny café table and two red metal chairs sat in front of the lone window. The only other room was the bathroom.
Evie stepped inside and shut the door, making sure it was secured before she set her bag down on the floor. She made herself look at her bed and sighed with relief. No red rose waiting for her this time. No note either.
She took off her coat and hung it by the door before wandering to the refrigerator. What would she have for supper? She wasn’t really hungry, but knew she should eat something. Maybe she’d call for takeout. The Asian restaurant down the road delivered. No way was she going back out there tonight. Not with her unknown stalker out there.
Her phone was still in her coat pocket. She went to retrieve it, already able to taste the wonderful sweet and sour chicken she was going to order. It was a splurge, but what the heck, she deserved it.
A dark shadow detached itself from the bathroom. Evie jerked backward, her shoulders hitting the wall as the shadow moved into the room. No, not a shadow, a man. There was a stranger in her home.
Oh God. It’s him. The man who’s been stalking me.
He wasn’t overly tall, but he had at least half a foot on her. He was dressed in black slacks, shiny shoes and a long wool overcoat. He looked harmless enough with dark-brown hair and brown eyes. But looks were deceiving. Pure evil surrounded him.
Why hadn’t she seen him or at least felt his presence? How had he gotten into her home?
Panic threatened to choke her. Evie scrambled toward the door, her fingers clawing at the locks. She had to get away.
Male laughter taunted her as he moved closer. “You can’t escape me.”
Vladimir Drake watched the woman tugging at the locks on her door, enjoying her panic. Her fear smelled sweet and heightened his anticipation. He’d been following her for several weeks now. Evie Pelowski’s paintings had caught his eye and the artist herself had fired his bloodlust.
He licked his lips and prowled toward her. That was the problem with being as old as he was—he’d done it all, seen it all and was bored. But Evie with her long black hair, almond-shaped green eyes and unique artistic talent was exotic, different.
Rather than discard her after he’d gorged on her blood, as he’d done with hundreds of beautiful women over the years, he followed her. Every night he watched her, enjoying her growing trepidation, laughing as her terror of him mounted.
He felt like a god. Was a god.
He was invincible.
“You cannot escape me.” He pushed a fair amount of compulsion through his voice.
She stopped trying to open the locks and faced him. “Who are you?”
He smiled and stopped two feet away from her. “I have had many names over the years. I was born two hundred years ago as Richard Locke in Kent, England. Now I go by the name Vladimir Drake, but you may call me Vladimir. Much more fitting, don’t you think?”
“What do you want with me?”
He frowned when she didn’t comment on his name. He’d expected better from her. More. Of course, she had no idea just who he was yet, what he was. That was about to change. He’d played with her long enough.
“I’ve chosen to give you a great gift, Evie.” Her eyes widened when he said her name. He took a step toward her and she took one away, moving back toward the small kitchenette.
“Whatever it is, I don’t want it.” She yanked open a drawer and pulled out a knife. “Stay back.”
Vlad laughed, pleased by her puny show of defiance. “I will enjoy teaching you your new place in life.”
“Thanks, but I’ll pass.” She waved the knife toward him, but he barely noticed. All his attention was on the throbbing vein in her neck and the pounding of her heart. He licked his lips again and his fangs elongated.
Her face paled and terror enveloped her like a fine perfume. It intoxicated him and fanned the flames of his bloodlust.
“You’ll be mine. Forever.” Vlad sprang and slapped the knife out of her hand. He grabbed her shoulders and yanked her to him. He struck hard and fast, driving his fangs into her neck. She screamed and fought, her small fists striking his face and chest. He tightened his hold on her until he felt her bones crunch beneath his hands. No matter. The change would heal her.
He was going to keep Evie with him forever. Or at least until he tired of her.
Craig Lawton pried his eyes open and reached for his phone, which was buried under the mess of papers, takeout containers and empty coffee mugs that littered his desk. The muscles in his back and neck protested and he swore under his breath. He knew who was calling but glanced at the Caller ID display just to be certain.
“Hey, Meredith.” Meredith Striker was a ninety-year-old werewolf who looked more like a very hot thirty-five. She owned and ran Haven, a jazz/blues club in the heart of Wicker Park, Chicago. She was also a good friend.
“You sound tired. Are you taking care of yourself while your family is away?” Meredith’s smooth sultry voice made him smile. She mothered everyone around her.
“I’m good.” He pulled the phone away from his mouth while he yawned. “I stayed up late working last night and was taking a nap.”
“I didn’t mean to wake you.” He could hear the concern in her voice and it warmed him.
“It’s probably just as well.” He really should shower and get something to eat.
“You fell asleep at your desk again, didn’t you?” She already knew the answer to that question. She’d been a good friend for five years now and knew him well.