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Chapter One

There's something comforting about cemeteries.  When he was a boy, the man who now walked so comfortably among them feared them. When his grandmother had died and the family had followed his coffin deep into the old graveyard behind Sacred Heart Catholic Church, he'd clung to his mother, whimpering as she and the other mourners navigated the weathered stones on their way to where Nana Jane would be interred. The dirt was piled up by the grave, which lay gaping like a hungry mouth in the ground. The coffin, on metal supports, was already beside it.

"Hurry!" his mother had said, fretting that the other siblings of her large family had made it to the graveside before she had and would likely take up all the space under the tent. When they reached their destination there was indeed little space but she guilted one of her older brothers into moving so the two of them would have cover.

"You can't expect me to stand with him in the rain," she'd said, motioning to Gavin. He'd not spoken up, but he'd wanted to. He'd wanted to tell her he'd rather endure the rain than the close proximity of that yawning chasm.

"Our final destination is the grave," intoned the priest, and he had shuddered, clutching his mother tightly.

"It's OK," she'd said, leaning down. "Nana's at peace." But Gavin had not been shuddering at his Nana's death, but at the priest's words, at the thought that somewhere, someday a similar hole would be dug for him.

Now as he watched another funeral through the grate of an ancient crypt, he envied those who would someday have a grave receive them. He himself never would. In the single biggest sacrifice of his life, he'd traded his mortal existence for the existence of an eternal predator, and all so a sweet girl could end the torment she'd endured for centuries before Gavin's bargain with the Devil had given her eternal rest - and him eternal hunger.

He ran the fingers of his right hand through his grey hair. His hair had not always been gray. In fact, it had been black as night the day he'd met the Devil. It was only after the change, only after he'd looked in the mirror the next day that he'd discovered his hair had gone from black to silver. His skin, tanned from his working the streets as a detective, would remain forever so. His handsome face would remain as it was, his hair would remain as it was. He would never gain nor lose an ounce, never change. He was, physically, in suspended animation. He'd never know sickness or pain, apart from the discomfort of hunger or the pain of loneliness. He'd learned to live with both, but only fed the former. Since Delilah, he'd never entertained the thought of loving anyone else.

That is, until he'd met Morgan.

She'd been just three the first time he'd seen her. He'd just fed and was making his way back to the old house he'd purchased in the older part of the mansion district - the old part that had yet to see the efforts of regentrification. It was his anniversary; he'd been a vampire ten years to the day and he'd celebrated by killing a man he'd caught stalking a young girl leaving a club. The girl had been drunk and Gavin had grabbed the stalker just before he had grabbed her. He knew the man well - Roger Evan Greer III, age 32, history of violence against women, currently on parole. The girl who would have been his next victim turned and screamed at the sight. Gavin knew it must have been terrifying - her seeing Greer flopping like a fish as he leeched the blood from his neck. She was so drunk she would only remember having seen something terrible come the following morning - something that would stay with her and keep her from drinking or walking alone ever again.

He was more careful than Delilah had been. Having been a cop in his previous life, Gavin knew all the best places to hide bodies, and his current favorite was in graves in the poor part of the cemetery. It was easy enough to unearth freshly dug, unmarked ones and lay the bodies of his victims on top of the coffins of those recently laid to rest. His victims - former predators - simply went missing. And on this night after he'd buried Greer he was planning to go home and take a nice rest. But then he heard the child crying, and the sound of a woman pleading.

He followed the sounds to a modest house. Even though it was late, a little girl sat in the backyard by the clothesline, her knees pulled to her chin. She was rocking and looking towards the house with wide, frightened eyes. Through the window Gavin could see a man beating the woman inside.

He walked over to the little girl and knelt down.

"Don't worry," he said. "I'm going to fix this. He won't hurt her again."

It was dark. He did not linger and in the shadows she'd not gotten a good look at him. He was quick as he burst into the house, quicker than a flash. He could do that and he rushed in as a blur, grabbed the man and pulled him into the nearest bedroom, shutting the door so hard that it splintered the frame and wedged it there.

"What the...?" The man reeked of alcohol. He wore a pair of dingly blue work pants and a white tank top. Tufts of hair stuck out around the armholes. Gavin snapped his neck. He did not care why the man was hitting the woman. He only knew that he felt a blind rage at seeing the child out there, broken by the scene taking place in her own home.

He exited through the window, taking the body with him. It was no small feat; the man barely fit. Gavin took him back to the graveyard and buried in him in another freshly dug grave. He went back to the scene of his crime before going home. From his perch in a tree he watched as the bruised mother put the little girl to bed. His keen hearing could detect the conversation.

"It's alright, Morgan. Dale's gone..."

"Did the man take him?"

The woman picked up a glass from the beside table. Her hands were shaking as she sipped the amber liquid.

"Man? I didn't see a man. But he's gone, OK?" She began to cry.

"Don't cry, mama," she said. "Dale was mean. He hurt you."

"Yeah. Well now I'm alone. I don't know where he is..."

She got up and shuffled out and Gavin felt his hear twist. As a cop he'd seen so many women like her - abused, demoralized - and yet they preferred abuse to being alone. He knew it had not been his place to get involved. He knew Morgan's mother likely relied on the man to help her get by. And he decided the little girl deserved better.

From that day on he sent a modest weekly stipend to Rita Milan. She was a rough woman who cleaned houses, and at some point she may have been pretty. But life had been unkind and Gavin was determined to see that the little girl he'd spotted crying by the clothesline did not end up like her mother. He did not know why he was so affected by her. He only knew that he felt strangely protective of the child, and that doing something positive for her and her mother made him feel human somehow. For his first decade as a vampire, he'd told himself that he was helping humanity by following in Delilah's footsteps and targeting the vicious predators in society - the pedophiles and rapists and murderers who had either not been caught or had escaped justice. But there was a certain coldness in being an executioner. Occasionally his targets were wealthy drug dealers and their cohorts who would make the news by suddenly having "disappeared" along with their hundreds of thousands of dollars. It was those types who kept Gavin living a comfortable lifestyle. He was not prone to extravagance even in his mortal life, and now he was careful not to draw attention to himself in any way. The authorities could not touch him; he had the advantage of his new powers and a knowledge of how they worked. But Gavin still did not seek to invite attention.

He was already withdrawn from society for the most part and often found himself lonely. Leaving money for Rita and Morgan gave him a connection to two other people, and he found himself caring for the pair, although it was hard to care for Rita. The more he observed them from his vantage point in the tree or by the fence, the more he realized that Rita cared more about finding ways to escape than she was about being there for her daughter. To her credit she did use the money to keep Morgan in essentials, and to keep the power and heat turned on. But she also used some for drinking and there were several occasions when Gavin, watching a seven, ten and then fifteen-year-old girl weather her mother's verbal abuse before cleaning the older woman up and helping her to bed found himself wondering if Morgan would be better of without her. But from what he could see, Rita was all Morgan had and despite her challenges the girl was devoted to her mother.

Morgan was also a good student. She kept up with her lessons and brought home good grades. Gavin saw her in her room going through college brochures and then crying because she realized an education was out of her reach. One night when she'd gone to the bar to drag her mother back home, Gavin made his way into the house and took note of the one college acceptance letter that had made her cry the most. It was one from a nearby private college offering a partial scholarship. It was a respected school, expensive, and not easy to get into. The next day Gavin wrote a check for the balance of the tuition along with a letter asking that the gift remain anonymous. He watched with pride several days later when the young woman joyfully showed her mother the letter. It was one of the rare times when he saw Rita as happy as her daughter.

Gavin continued to watch. There were breaks in his attentions; sometimes he went to Europe or Asia or Africa to feed on miscreants he read about in the news - corrupt politicians, warlords, child sex ring leaders. He'd returned to find Morgan a little more mature, a little more beautiful and Rita a little more frail.

How had time passed so quickly. She was twenty-three now and working as a librarian for the county. The frightened three-year-old was now a shapely brunette with porcelain skin. Only her eyes were the same, large behind the glasses she wore. Gavin's heart twisted as he watched her take them off now, brushing away tears as she looked down at Rita's coffin. He wondered how much the funeral had set her back; she was no longer cashing his checks even though he sent them to her religiously. She paid her own way, and would have paid him back if he'd allowed it. He knew from correspondence with the college that she'd requested to know the identity of her benefactor; he would never allow it.

Rita's end had come painfully for both her and her daughter. The official cause of death was sciroccos of the liver and towards her torturous end there were times when Gavin considered easing her suffering for the sake of her and her daughter. But something told him that this was wrong, that this was one situation in which he had no moral right to interfere.

There were few mourners apart from several of Morgan's co-workers. She was quiet and bookish and kept to herself; relationships did not come easily to her. Books were her friends and the house she'd shared with her mother was full of them. He wondered where she would move now; the day of her mother's death she'd placed the tiny cottage on the market and he could understand why; there were far too many bitter memories for the young woman.

Now everyone filed away. It had started to rain. The crypt where Gavin had taken refuge the night before was damp and dank and dreary. He longed to leave it so he could go over to where Morgan stood. He imagined himself casually strolling over and introducing himself as a passerby and offering his condolences. Would she recognize him? Surely not after all these years.

He felt a lurch of sadness in his chest as she finally left the graveside, her shoulders slumped in grief. He wanted to follow her but could not - not in the daylight. Morgan had stayed and watched the grave filled, even though the priest had urged her to leave before the final, somber act of finality. But she'd insisted on remaining by her mother and had stared at the mound of red clay heaped over her mother's coffin as the rain had come down, sending red muddy water down off the mound of Rita's and onto the only really good shoes her daughter owned.

It seemed like days he spent in the crypt until nightfall. Gavin did not need to feed, but he did want to check on Morgan. Her house was dark and he wondered where she was. He could understand why it would be painful to go home, but where would she possibly be?

He put it out of his mind and spent that night in his mansion writing out checks to pay his bills as he listened to opera on his stereo. The sad, haunting music fit his mood. Gavin felt on edge, and angry. He could not get images of Morgan out of his mind. He was a handsome man and garnered female attention no matter where in the world he went. Something about the curse of vampirism left him exuding a certain power that - when combined with his sophisticated good looks - had women practically throwing themselves in his path. But he'd remained largely asexual and had not even thought of carnal pursuits for fear of whether indulging them with a mortal would release another, darker kind of hunger that would result in an untimely death. He did find women particularly appealing and his draw to Morgan was strong on multiple levels.

He needed to put her out of his mind. He had to.

But he could not and for three night went to her house. On the third he saw her coming in from her late shift at the library. A car pulled up just as she reached her front door. He recognized the driver as a young man who sometimes frequented the library. Gavin did not go there often, just on occasion to see how Morgan was faring. He always made sure he was undetected by her and left before he could be spotted.

The young man was attractive, with auburn hair and a lopsided, boyish grin that some women found charming. But even from across the street Gavin could smell the traces of marijuana smoke on his clothing, and a stronger smell of the actual substance secreted in the pocket of his jacket. And there was something else, too. Something acrid. He sniffed the air. Pills.

He had a bad feeling.

He changed vantage points when the young man entered. They were sitting at a table. Morgan had made tea. The young man was looking around. There were boxes stacked everywhere; the house had sold. It had not brought much, but there would be enough for a decent apartment in the respectable downtown district within walking distance of the library. Her voice floated to Gavin through a crack in the window. It was sad.

"I can help." The young man pulled a baggie and a glass pipe out of his pocket. She waved him away and said something Gavin could not detect.

"You're not your mom," the young man was insisting. "Just because she was an addict doesn't mean you will be. And look at yourself, Morgan. You're strung tight as a rubber band." He reached into his pocket. "Here.."

He tossed the packet of pills on the table. "I can get you anything you need. These will boost you, help you focus, make you feel better about things. No charge. It's on me. I just want to help. Let me help. I've always liked you." He smiled his handsome, crooked smile. "You should get out more. When you get settled..."

"Yeah," she said, picking up the baggie. But she wasn't looking at him. She was looking at the pills. "Maybe..."

The talked for a few more moments. Gavin didn't like the way the young man looked at her, as if he was expecting more of a young woman left emotionally vulnerable. He allowed himself to be shown out with some reluctance by Morgan, who sat back down at the table and picked up the bag. Gavin felt his heart surge towards her as she removed her glasses and wiped tears from her eyes. The pills in the bag were small. Uppers. Morgan opened the zip top and removed one.

Gavin usually had such stellar control. He was rarely impetuous; in fact, his last impetuous act had been to kill the who'd been beating Morgan's mother. But suddenly he was bursting through her door and was there then, in her kitchen.

He snatched the bag from the table and the pill from her hand with the deftness of one snatching a fly from the air. Morgan's hand had been on her way to her mouth. The teacup she held in the other fell to the floor and shattered and she found herself standing there looking at a man. The man. The monster/savior from her childhood.

"It's you!" she said, and he knew then that she'd never forgotten.

"Yes," he said. "And I'm not about to let you do this.."


 


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