Grace finished locking the door to her sound-healing studio and turned to the group of attendees still lingering on the sidewalk in front of the building. She looked into their sincere faces and smiled. It was the same every time. People got so energized after participating in the sound circle that they tried to stretch the evening out as long as possible. She, on the other hand, yearned for peace, quiet and a large glass of wine. After a session, she needed to be alone to recharge. Walking home through the quiet, tree-lined streets at the end of the evening had become a private pleasure.
Grinning, she reached into her shoulder bag and pulled out a small aerosol canister. “Don’t worry about me.” She raised the container. “I’ve got my trusty pepper spray. I’m armed and dangerous. Besides, my house is only a few blocks up the hill, and in all the years I’ve lived here, nobody’s ever bothered me.”
She almost mentioned she’d never even encountered a mountain lion, but decided not to raise the issue. It wouldn’t be wise to give the group any more ideas about why she might need company – whether she wanted it or not. Nothing scary had ever happened to her – fanged predators or otherwise. Unfortunately, she thought, nothing exciting, either.
“I’ll see you at the next sound circle.” She waved and hurried down the street before the singers could foil her escape. She loved all her clients and circle members, but it had been a long week and it wasn’t over yet.
Taking a couple of deep breaths, she felt herself begin to unwind. She walked until she came to a dead end, then turned toward the foothills, climbing the gentle trail that lead to her house. She gazed up and smiled. The full moon illuminated the peaks of the Rocky Mountains, outlining them in breathtaking detail against the star-studded tapestry of the night sky. Lights from the houses sprinkled across the canyon glittered like suspended fireflies in the magical darkness.
The late summer air held a subtle hint of fall, her favorite season, and she fantasized about the Autumn Equinox sound ritual she’d be creating again this year. She had invited sound healers from all over the world to participate. Thinking about the event, she remembered the face of the handsome Brazilian musician she’d met at the Summer Solstice celebration in Rio.
He’d smiled at her with those amazing, full lips – displaying wicked dimples and beautiful white teeth – and she’d lost the ability to speak. His eyes were the color of the Mediterranean Sea, and she’d longed to dive in. That memory caused heat to shimmer through her body, and she unbuttoned her jacket.
Of course, she hadn’t had the courage to take him up on his unspoken offer. So, what else was new?
She’d mailed him an invitation to her Equinox ritual, and she didn’t know what worried her more – that he wouldn’t attend, or that he would.
She shook her head, thinking how pitiful it was that even the thought of the musician caused her body to overheat. She was too old for that kind of reaction. She wanted to get over her dating anxiety and find a relationship – like a normal woman. How could she be so confident as a performer and healer, yet such a basket case about men? Why did she turn into a tongue-tied teenager every time a handsome guy came near?
A rustling sound a few feet away snapped her attention from the Brazilian. Startled, she stopped and raised the pepper spray, scanned the bushes and trees, and listened. Her heart pounded against her ribs, adrenaline shot through her system.
That’s what she got for being cavalier about mountain lions. She should know better. Simply because she’d never come across one of the beasts, didn’t mean they weren’t there. Her hands trembled so badly she almost lost her grip on the canister, and her knees threatened to fold. She’d heard the deadly cats stalked their prey. Was one watching her now? Her mind spun as she tried to remember what the article in the newspaper said about the lions: try to look big and never run. Run? Even though that was what her brain demanded, she didn’t think her legs could manage, since they seemed to be made of rubber.
She waited in the thick silence with her finger poised over the canister, her stomach tight. The seconds passed like hours. She finally let out a shuddering breath, relieved that her imagination had probably exaggerated the sound of a deer or a raccoon. She’d just relaxed her shoulders and taken a couple of shaky steps up the path, when something large burst out of the bushes.
Pivoting toward the movement, she screamed and pressed the spray button, sending a shower of the caustic substance into the eyes of a large man who’d lunged at her, hands clutching, mouth gaping to reveal long, bloody fangs. He shrieked as the irritant coated his eyes and face, but still managed to tackle her ferociously, slamming her body down onto the asphalt path. Her canister bounced against the ground and rolled away.
The man – or whatever he was – had outrageous strength. He pressed against her like a concrete slab, easily holding her down, while madly swiping at his eyes with one of his hands. The treacherous, long, razor teeth she’d glimpsed as he’d leapt at her were poised over her neck, dripping saliva and blood. She could feel the slimy, wet substance oozing down her shirt as she choked on the hideous stench of his breath.
His long, dark hair hung filthy and stringy, his skin deathly pale, his clothing torn and foul.
She kicked and flailed, pushing against his powerful shoulder, trying to dislodge the unnatural, unbelievable beast. Her arms ached from the useless pounding, her throat went raw from screaming. His body weighed so heavy against her chest, she feared her ribs would snap any second. Her heart thundered in her ears as if about to explode from the terror.
He’d kept up a growling rumble, punctuated by yelps and groans, as he frantically worked to clear his eyes and wipe his face.
Struggling for air, she made gasping noises, all the fight gone out of her limbs.
The tips of his pointed fangs broke through the skin of her neck, sending a wave of pain radiating down her body. This is it! As she braced for the expected horror, suddenly the monster was gone. His weight no longer pressed on her chest so she could breathe. Shocked, she blinked her eyes – realizing she must have closed them in her panic.
For a moment she felt certain she’d died – that the thing had torn out her throat or crushed her heart. She hadn’t seen a white light or a tunnel. There were no idyllic scenes – no relatives coming to guide her to greener pastures. And, it was strange that her body still hurt, but she had to be dead – there was simply no other possible explanation.
She’d looked up and seen the perfect face of an angel.
And then nothing.
* * *
“Shit!” Ethan yelled. He grabbed the back of the undead troublemaker’s filthy shirt, jerked him off the woman, and dangled him in the air. “Nelson! Come and take this disgusting specimen, would you?”
He turned his gaze to the frightened eyes of the beautiful woman sprawled on the path, gave her the command to “Sleep,” and watched her eyelids close.
Of all the rotten luck. He’d lost sight of the brainless newbie for one minute and look what happened? Of course there had to be a mortal walking around. Why didn’t these humans stay in their houses at night, like they’re supposed to?