"Hey, thanks for coming." Jon greeted Lana with a short nod, then looked over her shoulder, eyes narrowed. "How did you get past Cujo?"
Lana rolled her eyes. "Cujo remembers me. He isn't afraid of me like you are. Besides, you're the one that told me to come in through the backdoor." Like a piece of scum, she added to herself.
Jon looked at her without comment. His dark eyes shone as he stared closely at her face. "You look good for a--"
She ignored his stupidity. "I'm surprised you called, I've been trying to see her for years, and you wouldn't allow it. What's changed?" Lana stood in front of the back door. Once upon a time, she'd lived a happy life inside this two-storey house with the man who stood in the doorway. But now all she wanted was to see the little girl he refused her access to.
Lana sucked in a deep breath and released it. Everything still looked and smelled the same. If anything, with her acute senses, the scent of her old life was more intense. It made her angry and melancholy. Her hands balled into fists at her sides.
"Are you going to let me in, or what?" She crossed her arms, ready to shove him out of the way. Now that she was here, she wasn't prepared to leave until she saw Christy.
Jon nodded, stepped further inside and held the door open for her. "Oh, yeah. I need to invite you in, right? Come in, Lana."
He must've done his vampire research with movies. So far, everything he'd said about her condition was one cliché after another.
She stepped out of the night and into the house. An unfamiliar scent in the air made her pause just inside.
Lana wanted to see her daughter so badly she couldn't hold back the excitement. Not even this strange sensation was going to stop her. Watching her daughter from afar wasn't enough anymore.
As she stepped into the kitchen, she noticed everything was in the same place. As if she'd left this morning, instead of years ago. She wandered out of the kitchen and continued into the corridor that led her to the staircase by the wall.
"Where is she?"
"Lana, you can't see Christy." He followed close behind. Jon was very good at concealing the truth or twisting it to suit his own agenda. She hadn't doubted there'd be a catch, so the answer didn't surprise her.
She spun around, and he stopped abruptly, a little too close for her liking. There were no emotions left for this man she'd once considered her partner in life. "Listen, you're the one that called me. You said--"
"I know what I said." He held up a hand, sighed, and took a step back. Jon's face was pale and drawn. As if he'd lost several nights' worth of sleep. "I'm sorry to get your hopes up, but I called you because I need your help. I didn't think you'd come if I asked you over the phone."
"So you used our daughter as something to wave in front of my face, like a treat to a dog." She was furious. This man hadn't changed a bit since the day he forced her out of their lives. Lana didn't miss him, hadn't missed him from the beginning. But her daughter was a different story. She missed her so much it felt like a piece of her very soul was missing.
"No, that's not what I wanted to do."
"Where's Christy?" she asked, with enough malice in her voice to make him flinch. He'd never accepted her as a vampire.
"That's why I need your help." Jon pushed a hand through his short hair and walked over to the staircase. He'd put on weight since she'd left. Jon had never been a muscled or thin man, but had maintained a healthy body. That was gone now. He lowered himself onto one of the steps and sighed. His eyes were watery when he met hers. "Lana, Christy was taken."
She glared at the man she'd exchanged wedding vows with and had loved for many years. He still couldn't bring himself to accept the change, couldn't accept her...
"You're a disgusting creature now. Christy will be better off without you," he'd said the night she'd finally admitted what she'd become. The hunger had been so overwhelming. All she'd wanted was to taste him, but Jon had freaked out. Funny, he hadn't complained about her newfound sexual appetite, just about her need for blood.
The look of pure disgust in his eyes had hurt more than the words. Jon still felt the same way about her, she could see it buried in his dark eyes. She found it impossible to tap into the way she used to feel about him. There'd been times in the past when she'd hoped they might get back together, but deep down inside Lana had only wanted him because he was her one connection to Christy. And now he'd called her over to drop this bombshell? Anger rushed through her body.
She swallowed the lump in her throat. "What do you mean, taken?" The room started to spin. Her body swayed, or maybe it was an illusion inside her head. She was positive she hadn't heard him right.
"Someone took Christy, and I need your help to find her." His voice quivered, and he focused his gaze on the floor between them.
She shivered in spite of the warmth inside the house. There was so much distance between them. For a second she had to wonder why he would call her. Why not the police? Why not a friend? Instead he'd called the wife he'd shunned and pretended was dead.
"How did this happen?" Her voice was a raspy whisper of pain and regret. She should never have allowed him to push her out of her daughter's life. Christy was her child as much as his.
"I let her out of my sight for two seconds." Jon's voice broke as he pressed his hands against his temples.
"We were out front with her bike, and the phone rang. She was gone when I went back out." He took a deep breath and released it slowly.
"No, that doesn't sound right." Lana shook her head. An uncanny feeling swept through her. Why was he avoiding her eyes? His story didn't fit somehow. "What are you leaving out?"
"Did you call the police?"
"When did this happen?"
"Two days ago," he answered.
Alarm bells went off inside her head. Why was he lying about something so important? She couldn't take his word for any of this. She might've loved him in the past, but he'd treated her like an animal after her change. She ordered her feet to move forward, toward her daughter's room before he could stop her.
She made it upstairs in seconds and pushed the white door open. Her heart sank. She'd personally painted and decorated this room before her baby was born. Except now, Christy was old enough to use all the things she hadn't back then.
The crib in the corner had been replaced with an unmade bed. Crayons littered the top of the white desk pressed into the other side. Toys and dolls littered the floor, and her wardrobe was still open. The unique scent of her child still hung in the air, and her heart ached.
She thought it strange to find the room felt so lived in if Christy had supposedly been missing for days.
Lana entered the bedroom with slow, steady steps. She picked up a brown teddy off the floor on her way to the single bed with the pink comforter. She sat down and held the soft toy in her hands. Lana could still remember all the times her daughter had hugged it. She'd bought this teddy while she'd been pregnant, and Christy took to it instantly. She wondered if she still loved it. Did her little girl ever think of her? She'd been a baby when Lana disappeared from her life.
Tears burned the backs of her eyes and slid down her cheeks as she looked around. A sob threatened to tear through her, but she took small, calming breaths. Nothing remained to remind Christy of whom her mother was. She hated Jon for telling Christy she was dead. How could he be so heartless?
Lana had stumbled on that information by accident. The day she'd followed them to the cemetery.
The creak on one of the floorboards in the corridor alerted her. When she looked up, a stranger blocked the doorframe. His scent had affected her when she'd first walked into the house.
She narrowed her eyes and took in every dangerous detail within seconds. He was tall and broad-shouldered, but slender. His hair was dark and curved into the collar of his jacket. He had large blue eyes that shone bright even from a distance. Something was strapped to his narrow waist, and it glistened with the sparkle of silver. He clutched a wooden stake tight in his gloved right hand.
Suddenly the other details weren't important.
"What are you doing here?" she whispered as the tears dried on her face. Lana refused to give him the satisfaction of wiping her eyes in front of him. She'd been caught in the middle of her sorrow by a stranger, but now he would pay for the disruption.
She briefly wondered where Jon was. Not because she gave a shit about that piece of crap, but because this was starting to feel too much like a setup.
"I think you already know why I'm here," the man answered in a deep, masculine voice. He took a step forward and the details of his face were easier to make out. The high cheekbones, the way the stubble complimented his hair, his nose, the full bottom lip. He was a very handsome man.
Lana shook her head. She ignored the coil of hunger suddenly twisting inside her stomach. She'd be lying to herself if she labeled this reaction under blood lust.
"If you don't mind, I've got more important things to do at the moment." She didn't move an inch, just held the teddy tight in her hands. Lana wasn't prepared to fight in here. She could take care of herself and would make this hunter sorry for interrupting her, but not in here. Not inside her little girl's bedroom.
"Don't worry, in a few minutes you'll have nothing to do."
That's when he charged. He didn't waste another second. With stake high in the air, he closed the distance between them.
She was off the bed before he got there. "If you want to continue this, you're more than welcome to--"
"Oh, no. I plan to finish this now!" he growled. The look in his blue eyes was feral.
"Not in my daughter's room," she snapped. The teddy was still in her hands and she grasped it tighter.
His laughter boomed off the walls around them. "Wow, a compassionate vampire ... who would've thought, huh?"
She snickered back. Fight fire with fire.
The man took another swing, but she avoided that one too, with a simple step to the left. He couldn't match a vampire's strength or swiftness.
Lana noticed the window near her daughter's desk. There was only one way out of this, and that was to get out of here. This time she didn't waste another second. Turning away from the man, she ran for the window and dived through the glass, using her shoulder for impact.
She fell through the air in what felt like slow motion. Tiny pieces of glass tumbled with her.
When she landed on her feet, she took the pressure off her fall by hunching downward. Lana turned around in time to catch a glimpse of Jon's nose pressed to the living room window. He took a step back in an attempt to have the curtain conceal him.
Too late, she'd already seen him.
She backed off the front lawn. Pieces of glass crunched beneath her boots when she reached the sidewalk. Looking up, she met the vampire hunter's gaze.
He flashed a small smile and mouthed, "Another time."
She hugged the brown teddy to her chest and ran down the length of the street.