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What Comes In the Night... by Carla

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Welcome to my country
Welcome to my home
You could stay forever
You won't leave it alone
Welcome to the bush
Take what you may need
When shove comes to push
You want me to leave

I can't let go of the painted desert
I can't let go of the old way
I can't let go of the homeland
It's in the blood I can't let go

"In the Blood"-Robbie Robertson

Anna tucked her legs up under her, draping one arm across the metal armrest of the bench she sat on. The Boardwalk continued to bustle behind her, masses of tourists out for the warmest weekend of the season so far, but she ignored them. The only way anyone would draw her attention would be to venture too close to her sanctuary, but the waves of malignance permeating the air around her drove the mortals away. If one or two drifted too near, visions of their death and the horrible pain it would entail filled their minds, for no reason they could explain, and the groups of teenagers skirted around her secluded seat.

Though things were good within the Pack, friendships were growing stronger, bonds that had been ignored were healing, and bonds that had just appeared were becoming understood, she was hit with nostalgia so great she couldn't ignore it.

Instead of worrying the others with her dark attitude, she had left early to hunt, had eaten her fill, and now sat here, watching the waves crashing upon the beach, and letting her memories, thoughts buried since she'd left home at sixteen, build within her and burst free into the night.

I was an August baby
Conceived by the Christmas lights
I came into the world by the setting sun
On a humid summer night

"Shades of Grey"-Amanda Marshall

Anna's birthday was rapidly approaching, though she'd long ago stopped looking forward to them as she once had. When she was a child, young and na´ve, she'd appreciated the beginning of August, counted the weeks, days, and finally hours until she'd turn another year older.

Her parties were spectacular events. They began in the early afternoon, and the large backyard would be filled with whatever children her age the friends of her parents had. The kids, ones she'd seen every year, on every social event of every season, weren't what she would have called friends. They were more—acquaintances, thrown together by their parents' mutual associations, be that business deals or of other variety. Most had been business deals.

The adults came too, dressed in black, slick shoes and shining dresses, skin revealed down to there. The men hid themselves behind a thick veil of cigar smoke and the scent of alcohol. Heavy crystal decanters passed from one glove-encased hand to the next, and the light that managed to strain through the gray air about them glinted off of the decanters and the thick glasses they filled with drink, drawing Anna' attention and interest even when she should have been playing games with the others.

The only game she would willingly join into was Blind Man's Bluff. Even when it was her turn to play at being blind, something the other kids hated, she adored the game. When she was blind, the heavy scarf tied around her head so tight that she wondered if she'd ever be able to see again, she rejoiced in the darkness. At a young age she'd learned to focus on her other senses, and by her last birthday party, it was ridiculously easy to find the others.

She'd stand perfectly still, listening as they danced around her, their voices strung out and high. When she made no move to go in any direction, they fell silent, one by one, until no one dared to speak.

That was when she struck, drawn forward by their breathing. At times she would swear, if only to herself, that she heard their heartbeats resounding in her ears. No one would have believed her if she had shared the thought—at least not for many years and hundreds of miles.

She chose her prey wisely during this time of silence. It would always be someone strong, someone able to run fast, someone who should have been able to avoid her blind steps—and never her sister. Shauna was off limits, by Anna's own silent decree.

Her older sister was the model her mother held out before Anna, the epitome of everything she wanted from her younger child as well. Anna would have nothing to do with Shauna for this reason alone when she was older, but there were so many others to fill in the blanks left by that reasoning.

Their father, a tall Italian who commanded the fear of every man who met him and the desire of their women, adored Anna—at least as much as he could love anyone who wasn't himself. She was strong, stronger even than her sister, and he wanted to tap her. Though she was barely nine at the time, he'd made plans for her. She would secure his legacy, protect his empire—and he began to train her after that very birthday.

Things hadn't always been so tense between the sisters. When Anna first learned to speak, Shauna's name had been the first word from her baby lips. In the beginning she had followed her sister everywhere, wanted to do everything that she'd done.

By the time she turned eight all that had changed.

*~*~*~*~*~

Anna's little legs stumbled as she ran after her older sister. Five years separated the girls, and though Anna was tall for her age, Shauna was tall for hers and could escape the little ball of youth that orbited her at every chance.

Today Anna refused to let Shauna escape. She pushed her way through the vines, shoving between the tall hedges that formed the vast maze in their back yard. If viewed from above, the maze spread out from the edge of the children's play area all the way to the woods at the back of their towering mansion, the green hedges twisting and turning in intricate patterns that taunted all who tried to master it.

Anna wasn't allowed in the maze. No one under ten was allowed inside, and Shauna often escaped into the cool, green depths when she wanted to avoid her sister. Anna was tired of letting the older girl get away; she plunged into the dark mouth without a single hesitation.

An hour later, she was beginning to wish she'd stayed out in the yard. She could hear the other kids, invited to her eighth birthday party, laughing as they played the games—the same old games as every year before. Anna had no desire to join them, but darkness was creeping in rather quickly, faster than she'd imagined it could.

She wasn't scared of the dark, per say, but she was lost in the middle of the maze, hadn't heard a single peep from her sister in some time, and knew her mother would be furious when she saw her again. The bright white dress was stained with mud and grass, and the sharp spines on the bushes had shredded the delicate lace at the hem and neckline.

Anna sank down to the ground and pressed her hands to her face. She didn't want to cry, but hot tears burned at her eyelids until they had found their freedom and could trail down her cheeks. In the yard the adults lit candles and lanterns, bathing the play area in a warm, friendly glow.

From where Anna sat, when she allowed herself to peek through her fingers, she could just see the glow from the light over the top of the hedges, but it held no warmth for her. Instead it turned the spaces at the top of the bushes into glowing eyes and she wanted to scream, wanted to run away from them into the darkness to hide.

She stood, scrambling to her feet so quickly that she almost fell over again. When her white dress shoes found purchase on the ground she dug in, pressing away and bolting down the path, away from the light, and deeper into the maze. She careened around corners, caught her hair and her dress on the bushes and jerked it free with one movement, and kept running, ignoring the pain in her scalp.

Just when her breath came hard, tearing past her lips in frantic gasps, just when her little heart pounded so quickly she expected to see the movement through the front of her dress, just when her legs burned and she knew she'd have to stop running soon, she slammed into an ungiving figure and tumbled to the ground, scraping her knees and the palms of her hands on the hidden rocks.

The man, for it was a man, she could tell that even in the darkness that her young eyes strained to see through, bent over her as she rolled to sit on her butt, staring down at her bloody hands in horror. He placed two hands, pale but firm, under her elbows and helped her stand.

He tilted his head, pleased by her lack of fear. The child looked down at her hands again, and the scent of her blood hit him, fresh and pulsing with power, something he wouldn't have attributed to one so young.

"You've hurt yourself." His voice was smooth and low and swept over Anna like silk. She rolled her head to keep the feeling there, but it was gone and she found herself nodding and offering her hands up to him—as if he could save her.

The man bent over her again, cupping her small hands in his larger ones. He breathed in, deeply, and then let a puff of cool air slide past his lips. It brushed her skin, caressing the bleeding wounds and Anna whimpered, the sound half-pained.

She couldn't quite see what he did; the movement was a blur, faster than any she'd seen before, and his voice seemed to rumble in her ears again, distracting her from her careful watch.

He flicked his tongue over his lips even as he reached for a clean handkerchief. The blood was delicious, thick and sweet and he hadn't been mistaken by that power, it was there in spades. With gentle fingers he wiped away the blood from her hands, then lowered the bloody bit of silk to her knees and cleaned them as well.

A bright light flashed over him and he jerked his head to one side to hide the ridges and fangs. Anna blinked away the tears that formed, for the light burned her eyes. When she could see again, the man was standing, tucking away the handkerchief into an inner pocket, and the blood was gone from her body.

"Mother is going to kill you," Shauna laughed as she stepped into the pathway, a large flashlight gripped in both hands. "You're a mess. And you're annoying one of Father's guests; he'll have your hide for this."

Anna winced, but jerked her chin up when the movement was over. How dare her sister try to make a fool of her in front of her new friend—she was startled to realize that she considered the man a friend, more so than the children in the yard, even though she'd met him only moments before and didn't even know his name.

"Now, now," the man placed one hand on Anna's shoulder. She could feel the coolness of his fingers through the tattered edges of the trim and the touch soothed her, calming the wave of fury she'd felt at her sister for acting so high and mighty. She hadn't done anything spectacular to gain the attention of this new person, had she? No, she had not, Anna had, and Anna's heart swelled at that. For the first time someone was more interested in her, even when she wasn't acting like her sister—was, in fact, acting like herself. "She isn't bothering me. Why don't we all head back though; I'm sure your parents are worried about you, little one."

Anna let him guide her through the opening and into the next passageway; they brushed past Shauna almost as if she wasn't there. He didn't seem to need the light Shauna still held to find his way, and they were soon spilling out into the golden light filling the backyard.

"Angela!" Her mother's voice reached a shriek and Anna winced again. It was never a good sign when that voice lifted above a muted murmur when the other adults were present; she was in trouble for sure this time, and not even the presence of the man at her side or the other kids could save her. "What did you do? Your dress is ruined!"

"She had a fall," the man moved Anna back just a step, but it was enough that she could almost hide in the heavy black folds of his long duster. "It was my fault, really, Mrs. Cipriani. Please don't be angry with her."

Anna's mum was flustered, her perfectly manicured hands fluttering in the air in front of her body as she tried to handle the words and the sudden desire to follow whatever commands this man gave.

"I—Angela, go with Ma'am Betty. She'll get you cleaned up so you can come back to the party." The woman forced a smile, more for her husband's guest than for her daughter. "After all, it is your birthday party."

Anna scampered away after flashing a bright, thankful smile to the man who had stood up for her. No one ever stopped her mother from doing what she would, whether that be having the yard rebuilt mere days before a social gathering or punishing her children. She was in debt to this stranger; Anna knew that without understanding why she did.

When she came back down, dressed now in a velvet dress of the darkest blue, so deep that in certain light it was more black, the stranger was sitting with her father and some of his closer business acquaintances, along with the three men—Jones, Davis, and Anthony—who stood behind her father's chair during all business meetings. She knew Anthony well; when she was allowed to go into town, he followed her like a very large shadow. She'd know him even better in the future; he'd even tag along on her first date.

Anna wanted to join her father and her new friend, but they sat at the adult table, where she wasn't allowed. Instead she made her way over to the children's snack bar, helping herself to the wide array of desserts covering it.

"Angela, come here." Anna looked up, her mouth full of chocolate cream pie, when her father called for her, motioning her over with one beefy hand. Anna swallowed hard and started towards him, only to be stopped when Shauna grabbed her arm right above her wrist and pinched.

"You're in trouble," she sing-songed to hide the jealousy brewing in her stomach. Her father had never called her over when he was with friends; in fact, she often thought he forgot he had daughters when he was with the men.

Anna made no sound, but neither did she walk on, as she would have before, taking the punishment from her revered older sister. Instead one hand lashed out, gripping her sister's upper arm, and she pinched, snapping her wrist around as she did so. Shauna couldn't stop the yelp of pain. She clamped her hand to the spot as Anna moved on to her father, and when she looked down at it a second later, a black bruise was already forming.

"Yes, Father?" Anna stopped before him and lowered her body into a small curtsy of greeting, as they had been taught to do in public situations such as these. He rested one heavy hand on her shoulder and shook his head. It was time for her to do away with such a girly action, he decided.

"It seems you've made a new friend, Daughter," he smiled down at her as he motioned towards the man who had found her in the maze. "He has nothing but good to say about you."

"Thank you, Sir, for saving me from being lost," Anna dipped into another curtsy. Before her father could stop her, the man had, pushing her back into an upright position, then sweeping her up and planting her on his knee.

She remained there throughout the business discussion, kicking her legs in the shadows of the table so her father wouldn't notice. The man offered her a drink of his wine, and bits of food as they were brought to the table. She listened, head tilted to one side, even though she didn't understand a lot of the words flying around.

Her father noticed the attentiveness, and rejoiced in it, his body warming. His little Angela Demone, named for the gift from heaven she'd been, and the heat that had struck as she was born, a symbol of hell, would do him good yet.

Shauna's eyes remained focused on her younger sister. She ignored the kids there her age, the boys she normally would have been teasing with her lightly bared skin and pouting lips. Tonight her eyes were all for Anna, and her body boiled with jealousy. She'd struggled for thirteen years to get her father to notice her—it just wasn't fair.

"Angela!" Ma'am Betty called for the little girl. "Time for bed, Bambino." Anna looked to her father, her lips pursed out in a pout. He laughed but nodded, not wanting her to stay up too late and upset his wife, who already looked like she would explode when she got him alone.

"Go on, Little One," he patted her head, offering her a rare smile. "It's long after your bedtime already."

"Yes, Father," she sighed but hugged him, then started to slide off of the man's lap. He stopped her and gave her his own hug. The golden scruff on his chin scratched her cheek and made her giggle before she ran off to her nanny.

"She's going to grow into something special, Nicolo," he flashed white teeth at the businessman. "I'd like to see her again, when she is older." Nicolo nodded, his lips pressed together tightly.

"She'll be trained when she is nine," he told the man, though he spoke more to himself than the others. "And if you wish, you may come back and see her when she is of age, David."

The vampire sat back, a please smirk twitching his lips. It would be a long wait, until she was eighteen, but if he could, he would return to see the adult the girl-child would grow into.

Of course, things change, and by the time the girl was of age, she was gone from her family, and David was caught up in a destiny that would see his final death—and then his second chance. By the time he'd meet the young girl again, he wouldn't remember her. . .not in the form she would then take.

*~*~*~*~*~

"Angela, come here." Just as he had the year before, Anna's father called her over. She left the game, shedding the scarf from her eyes before she'd had the chance to capture her prey. The tall boy she'd been stalking toward breathed a sigh of relief, for when she captured whom she was following, blood always flowed.

"Yes, Father?" She stopped and bowed to him, a slight inclination of her head. No more curtsies for her, not since she'd turned eight and had been rescued by the spiky-haired stranger. At times she could still feel the brush of a growing beard against her skin, and it never failed to bring a smile to her face.

"Would you like to work with me, Angela?" Nicolo asked, reaching for her hands with one of his own. "I'd like to teach you the family business, now that you are no longer a child. Would you be willing to learn?"

"Me, Father?" Her face lit up, even as questions flashed through her blue eyes. "Not Shauna?" He could feel her excitement, see it in the trembling that swept through her body, shaking even the blond curls that hung halfway down her back.

"Yes, you, not Shaunaline. She is your mother's; I want you. You are strong, Angela, and I want you to learn what I do." She nodded fiercely, her hair bouncing around her head and he laughed, the sound dark, but not as smooth as the stranger's had been. "Well then, girl, your training will begin tomorrow. Be up early. And Angela, go play now. Tonight is the last time you will have a party like this."

"Yes, Father." Anna nodded to him again, and then hurried off to grab more sweets, to run and stretch her young legs, and torment the other kids for the last time. She was becoming an adult, even her father said so. A bright grin split her face and she laughed out loud as she hurried toward the others.

She never noticed the anger and hatred burning within Shauna's eyes where the young woman sat with their mother and her friends, mimicking their every perfect movement. If their Father wanted to pay special attention to Anna, so be it. She'd see to it that their Mother liked her best, as she always had.

And if she had her way, she'd get to learn whatever Anna would; she'd prove to the family that she was the better daughter, no matter how strong Anna was. She wouldn't let her baby sister get the better of her. She couldn't. Family pride was at stake here.

Besides. She'd been having dreams lately, dreams that were too real to be simply something her mind made up. Her friends might not believe her, but she was having—visions.

And Angela Demone, known to her sister alone as Anna, would destroy their family if she had her way. Shauna knew that truth without the slightest doubt. She would do anything it took to stop it.
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