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Penance, Thou Hath Been Paid by Carla

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When family betrays you, where do you turn?

The question rolled through Keya's mind, twisted inside the dusky shadows of hatred, the boiling red water of anger, the purple-mists of longing. It cleared a path through her muddled thoughts, brushing aside stories long untold, desires unvoiced, and lessons unforgotten.

Like the slow sweep of tide against rock, in time it would have worn at her, chipped away fragments of her sanity until the cohesion of thoughts shattered and she fell into the eternal abyss of mental wards and medication.

Three knocks came at her window, straining the tenuous hold the thought had on her attention. Three more and she was able to sit up and look, consciously focus her gaze on the smudged glass and the darkness beyond it. The final three brought her to her feet, her worries lost in a wash of cerulean confusion. No one came to her window, not even when the sun glistened in the sky, lighting paths for visitors and foes alike.

Without allowing herself to think about what she did, Keya flung open the window, shoving the screen up out of the way, and stuck her head out, searching the cool air for what was beating her window.

"Wanna go for a ride?"

She gasped, the sound slight beneath the hum of traffic on a nearby street. Even this late, long after the sun had set and beach and ocean had given up its warmth reluctantly, cars traveled through the well-lit path. Here, however, in the shadows of her house, she had to strain to see who spoke.

Keya jerked backward, slamming her head against the window, which in turn made her bite down hard to keep from yelping. Her tongue got in the way, and the pain in her head was overshadowed, for a brief second, by the white-stab of agony when teeth clamped together on either side of the fleshy bit. She clapped one hand to her mouth to muffle the annoyed moan and tripped, the free hand flailing as she stumbled over a misplaced stuffed wolf. Her elbow banged the desk chair and at last she landed, in a muddled heap in the middle of her bedroom floor.

"This night just can't get any worse!" The words came out a whisper, slurred around the throbbing pain in her tongue, but to the man now perched half in and half out of her window, they were clear enough to cause his heart, long unbeating, to tighten.

"Like I said, wanna go for a ride?"

Keya, caught up in trying to rub her head and her elbow at the same time, could only look up at him, stare at him even though she'd been taught better manners than that. Her mind stepped back, it seemed, and took in details that she filed away to remember later, when she woke up, because this had to be a dream.

Except weren't you supposed to wake up when you felt pain?

The dull throb in her three injuries seemed to prove that this wasn't a dream, but there was no there explanation for how He could be there, in her window, grinning at her. Two dimples popped in the corners of his mouth, highlighting perfect teeth and a smile that was just crooked enough to be interesting. His eyebrows twisted, one lifting just a touch higher than the other, giving his entire face a sardonic twist. Dark eyes danced with playfulness and, she could only guess, amusement at her situation.

She laughed, suddenly, the sound loud in the stillness of the sleeping house. At once she cut it off, but the tension was broken and her momentary pain a thing of the past. Keya scrambled to her feet, no longer caring if this were a dream or not. If so, she'd live it up, no harm done. And if not …

She'd had a hell of a day. Surely she deserved at least a little fun before facing the inevitable questions that his appearance would bring. With quick, almost sharp movements, she dusted herself off, straightened her clothes, shook out wrinkles, and then grabbed a jacket from its spot draped haphazardly across the end of her bed.

"Sure, Marko, I'd love to go for a ride."

His smile grew even brighter, if such a thing was possible, and with a gallant bow—at least as gallant as he could get hanging half in and half out of the window—he helped her escape from the confines of her house and didn't let go until she was settled on the back of his bike.

"Better hang on," he called back to her over the roar of the engine as he kicked it and the entire bike shuddered twice before settling into a pleasant rumble. "I like to go … fast."

Hesitantly she placed her hands on his sides, the touch light enough that he, even with his preternatural senses, almost missed it. Then, as he knocked the kickstand up and twisted the throttle, she threw her head back and laughed, the wind beating at her unbound hair.

"I can move fast, too, Marko," she muttered, wrapping her arms around his waist. "Don't think I can't keep up."

"I'd never do something like that," he teased, reminding her that even the softest whisper was audible to the vampire. "That'd be something like blasphemy." *Blasphemy* her thoughts echoed, laughter bubbling from her lips. *Blasphemy, he says. Not him. Not … the Cute One.*

Familiar streets passed in a blur as he maneuvered through her neighborhood. Though not a rich area of the city by any means, it was comfortable, family-style, and as such, quite unused to the sound of a motorcycle passing by the silent houses this close to the witching hour.

Even so, lights came on only in one house, and only one head poked out to see what caused the disturbance. All he caught glimpse of was a glowing taillight and a heavy cloud passing over the thin sliver of moon. A cool wind swirled around his ankles and he stepped backward, slamming the door with a resounding thud.

In the aftermath of the noise, the only sound to be heard was the steady click of the locks being turned on the other side of the wood, and the fading growl of Marko's motorcycle, carrying Keya away from the familiar and into a world she didn't understand … not yet.
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