AS TWILIGHT FALLS
Photographing ghost towns across the American West, Kadie Andrews takes a wrong turn and ends up in Morgan Creek—a spot that isn't on the map. It's a quaint little place, but there's something off about its complacent residents. And when twilight falls, it takes on a truly sinister air…
Unable to run or to find any way out, Kadie finds herself a prisoner, hunted for her blood. Still more disturbing, her spirit and beauty have captured the attention of the town's leader—the mysterious Rylan Saintcrow. When he looks into her eyes, she can see his hunger. When he takes her in his arms, she can feel his power. When he presses his lips against hers, she can taste his need. Saintcrow may be the most powerful creature she's ever imagined, but Kadie knows in her heart that he is also a man. A man who needs a woman. To want him, desire him, crave him. To be his willing prisoner—for all eternity…
Kadie Andrews eased her car to a stop when she reached the narrow bridge. She wasn’t afraid of heights, or bridges, but the wooden expanse didn’t look like it would hold a VW Bug, let alone her SUV. Still, she had taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way, and now it was dark, and she was lost and very nearly out of gas. Peering through the windshield, she saw what looked like a gas station in the distance.
She had just decided to park the Durango on the side of the road and walk across the bridge when the storm clouds that had been following her for the last few miles decided to release their burden. There was a jagged flash of lightning, a deafening roar of thunder, followed by a sudden deluge.
Walking was out of the question.
With a sigh of resignation, Kadie turned on the windshield wipers, put the SUV in gear, and drove across the bridge as quickly as she dared, praying all the way that the bridge wouldn’t break and dump her in the shallow river below.
When she reached the other side, she headed straight toward the gas station, her sense of unease growing as she drove down what appeared to be the main street. Only there were no lights showing in any of the nearby buildings. No cars on the street. No people in evidence.
The place looked like a ghost town, and she knew all about ghost towns. As a free lance writer and photographer, she had visited ghost towns from Bumble Bee, Arizona, to Vader, Washington. Some were truly ghost towns, with little left but the spirits of those who had once lived there. Some, like Virginia City in Nevada and the city of the same name in Montana, were not really ghost towns. Saloons had been revived and buildings restored, giving people a glimpse of what life in the Old West had been like.
Jerome, located atop Cleopatra Hill between Prescott and Flagstaff, Arizona, was one of her favorite places. Once a flourishing copper mining town with a population of 15,000, it had been known as the wickedest town in the West. Today, it was a thriving tourist and artist town with a population of about 450.
Calico, located in Yermo, California, was quaint. With its 500 mines, it had, back in the early 1800’s, produced over 20 million dollars in silver in twelve years. When silver lost its value in the 1890’s, the miners had packed up and left. These days, Calico was a favorite place for tourists and campers.
Visiting Bodie, also located in California, was like stepping back in time. It was a genuine ghost town, once inhabited by ten thousand people. In its prime, it had boasted 65 saloons, not to mention brothels and gambling dens. Walking along the dusty streets, it was easy to imagine the ghosts of former miners, school teachers, robbers, store owners, cowboys, and tarts hovering nearby.
Her most recent adventure had been to Rambler, Wyoming. It had been a difficult trip and not worth the effort, since little remained. But Wyoming was a beautiful place.
Kadie glanced out the side windows of the Durango. If there were any ghosts lingering in this old Wyoming town, she was certain they weren’t the friendly kind.
Pulling into the gas station, Kadie stared in disbelief at the pump. Instead of the modern, automated kind she was used to, this one had to be pumped by hand. She had seen pictures of old pumps like this. They dated from the 1920s. She wasn’t surprised to see a closed sign on the office window. The place looked like it had been out of business for decades.
Grabbing her cell phone, she flipped it open and punched in the number for the Auto Club, only to receive the message that there was no service available.
Chewing on the inside of her lower lip, she drove slowly down the main street, hoping she might be able to get a signal at another location.
She passed a quaint two-story hotel built of faded red brick. The lights were out.
Every store she passed was the same.
She tried to use her phone several times in different locations with no luck.
Tossing the phone on the passenger seat, she made a right turn at the next stop sign and found herself in a residential section. The houses were mostly made of wood, set on large lots, well back from the street. Most of them had large front porches and old-fashioned picture windows. A few had cars in the driveway, cars that came from the same era as the gas pump. Every house was dark inside and out.
Pulling up at a stop sign, she glanced down the street, then smacked her hand against her forehead. Of course! The lights were probably out due to the storm.
She made a quick U-Turn and drove back to the hotel. The Durango sputtered and died several yards short of her goal. Taking her foot off the gas, she coasted to the curb.
Kadie sat there a moment, reluctant to leave the shelter of the car. Rain pounded on the roof and poured down the windshield. No doubt she’d be soaked clear through before she reached the entrance.
She glanced at the hotel again. If the storm had caused the power failure, it was odd that the hotel didn’t have a back-up generator, or at least have some candles burning.
Leaning forward, she rested her forehead on the steering wheel and closed her eyes. Maybe she would just sleep in the Durango. She’d done it before.
She jumped a foot when someone tapped on the driver’s side window.
When she looked up, she saw a man peering at her through the glass. For the first time, she wished she had taken her father’s advice and bought a gun to keep in the car. “The way you go gallivantin’ around the country, you might need it someday,” he’d often said.
And now someday had arrived.
“Are you all right?” the stranger asked.
Kadie stared at him, surprised she could hear him so clearly in spite of the rain and the thunder.
“Fine, thank you,” she said. “Except I’m out of gas. Is there a station nearby?”
“Just the one, and it’s out of business.”
Kadie frowned. She’d seen cars in the driveways. Where did they buy gas?
“You’re gonna freeze to death in there,” he said. “There’s a tavern down the street that’s open late. You can warm up inside.”
Kadie shook her head. She wasn’t crazy enough to follow a stranger down a dark street in the middle of the night.
“You’ll be perfectly safe. Cross my heart,” he said, his finger copying his words.
Kadie took a deep breath as she weighed her options. If he meant to do her harm, there was nothing to stop him from breaking into the SUV. And she was cold, and getting colder every minute. Lightning lanced the clouds. A rumble of thunder shook the car.
“They have hot coffee,” he added.
That did it. Grabbing her purse and the keys, she pulled the hood of her jacket up over her head and unlocked the door.
She was careful not to get too close to him as they walked down the street.
The night club was only half a block from the hotel. Kadie hesitated when the stranger opened the door; then, taking a deep breath, she stepped inside.
Warmth engulfed her. The light from a dozen flickering candles revealed a large room dominated by a bar that ran the length of the back wall. A number of booths lined one side of the room; a dozen small, round tables occupied the other side.
She felt suddenly self-conscious as five men and a woman turned to stare at her.
Ignoring them one and all, she followed her companion to an empty table.
“Here, let me take that,” he said as she shrugged out of her wet jacket.
Kadie murmured her thanks as he draped it over the back of an empty chair, then took the seat across from hers.
A tall, skinny woman who looked almost anorexic approached the table on silent feet.
“Do you want anything besides coffee?” Kadie’s companion asked.
When she shook her head, he ordered a glass of wine and the skinny woman walked away as silently as she had appeared.
Kadie clasped her hands in her lap, looking everywhere but at the man across from her.
He had a faint English accent. Dark brown hair brushed the collar of his black leather jacket, his eyes were a shade lighter than his hair. “Kadie,” she said.
“What brings you to Morgan Creek?”
“I took a wrong turn,” she admitted, and felt a faint flush of embarrassment warm her cheeks. She had always prided herself on being able to find her way around. “And ended up here.”
“Far off the beaten path, to be sure.”
The silent waitress returned with their drinks, and silently departed.
“Is there something wrong with her?” Kadie asked.
He lifted one brow. “With Frankie? She’s a mute.”
“Oh, how sad.” Kadie watched the waitress move from table to table. The woman never smiled at anyone.
“You’ll be needing a place to spend the night,” Darrick said, drawing Kadie’s attention once more.
“Out of business. The place is empty. Has been for years. But I’m sure we can find you a bed somewhere.”
She didn’t like the sound of that. “That’s all right. I’ll just sleep in my car. I’ve done it before.”
He shook his head. “Not a good idea.”
The look in his eyes, the underlying warning in his voice, sent a chill down her spine. “Do you have a better one?” She blew on her coffee, then took a sip. It was stronger than she liked and she added a packet of sugar.
“There’s an empty house over on Fifth Street. The people took off in a hurry and left all their furniture behind. You can stay there.”
“You mean, break in?”
“The people aren’t coming back, so the house is just sitting there. You might as well use it.”
Kadie fidgeted in her chair. What he was suggesting didn’t seem right, but it was a lot more appealing than sleeping in her car, especially with the rain falling steadily and no end in sight.
She looked up to find Darrick regarding her over the rim of his wine glass. It was hard to think clearly when he was looking at her like that, as if she was the last cookie in the jar and he was starving for sweets.
He sipped his wine, his gaze never leaving hers.
His stare made her uncomfortable. He looked harmless enough. There was nothing threatening in his manner, and yet…she shook off her disquieting thoughts. She was probably just upset by the day’s events.
She finished her coffee and set the cup aside.
“Do you want another cup?” he asked.
“No,” she said, smothering a yawn. “I can hardly keep my eyes open.”
Putting his wine glass aside, he pushed away from the table. “Let’s go, then.”
“What about the check?”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it later.”
That seemed odd, she thought, pushing away from the table. But then, maybe he knew the owner or ran a tab.
He helped her into her jacket, then followed her toward the door.
Kadie pulled her hood up as she stepped outside. “Aren’t you cold?” For the first time, she noticed he wasn’t wearing a coat.
He shook his head.
“I need to get my things.”
Nodding, he fell into step beside her, waited on the sidewalk while she pulled her suitcase from the backseat. He took it from her, then reached for her hand.
Pretending not to notice, Kadie shoved her hands into her pockets.
“This way,” he said.
Filled with trepidation, she followed him down the street and around the corner. They didn’t pass anyone else, but then, who would be out on a night like this if they didn’t have to?
They went another block before they came to a neat, ranch-style house. Kadie hurried up the porch stairs, grateful to be out of the rain.
She hesitated when he opened the door, sent a quick prayer for protection to heaven, and stepped inside. She grunted softly when she bumped her knee on a table.
“Stay here,” Darrick said, closing the door. “I’ll find a candle.”
Kadie bit down on her lower lip. What on earth was she doing in a strange town, in a strange house, with a strange man? She had always hated those silly heroines who were too stupid to live, but she had a feeling she was acting like one.
She was giving serious thought to running back to her car, but she wouldn’t be any safer there than she was here.
He returned carrying a hurricane lamp. The candle cast eerie shadows on the walls and ceiling.
“I think you’ll be comfortable here,” he said, handing her the lamp. “There’s some wood in the hearth, if you want to start a fire.”
Kadie nodded, her tension growing with every passing moment.
“The power should be back on in the morning,” he said.
She nodded. “Thank you for your help.”
He looked at her, his expression enigmatic. He took a step toward her. She took a hasty step backward when she saw his eyes.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Your eyes…” She blinked and looked again. “Nothing.” For a moment, she would have sworn his eyes looked red. Probably just a trick of the light, she told herself. She placed the lamp on the mantel. Turning around, she said, “Thank you for your…”
Kadie stared at the place where Darrick had been standing only moments before. How had he disappeared so quickly? And how had he gotten out of the house without opening the door?
The vampire sleeping deep within the earth stirred, aroused by the scent of fresh prey in town. Gathering his senses, he deduced that the newcomer was young, healthy, and female. But it was the rich, warm scent of her life’s blood that called to him, drawing him to full awareness.
Just one single whiff, and he knew he would not rest until she was his.
Anger stirred within him when he realized that Vaughan had claimed her. The man had been in charge too long, but that was about to change. It was time to remind Vaughan and the others who was in charge here.
Burrowing up through yards of earth, he made his way home. He would need to clean up and feed before introducing himself to Miss Kadie Andrews.
He paused outside the gray stone house that held his lair, listening to the sounds of the night. Morgan Creek was a quiet place after dark. He didn’t know or care what the humans did during the daylight hours. The only people seen on the streets after dark were those who had been fed upon recently. Not that holing up inside their houses did the others a lot of good. Out of sight, out of mind didn’t work on his kind. But he had no interest in the mortals who lived and died here.
After a quick shower, he donned a pair jeans and a shirt. A thought took him to his favorite hunting grounds in the city.
He would need a few days to get his hunger under control before meeting the new woman in town.
Kadie woke with the sun shining in her face. A glance out the window showed a beautiful clear day.
Fighting down a surge of guilt for spending the night in a house that wasn’t hers, she went into the bathroom to take a shower.
With the water sluicing over her head and shoulders, her thoughts turned to the strange man she had met last night. Who was he, really? He had seemed ordinary enough, and yet there had been something strange about him. She recalled the odd red glow in his eyes, then shook her head. It had to have been a trick of the light. Nobody’s eyes turned red.
After drying off, she pulled on a pair of skinny jeans, a long-sleeved tee shirt and her favorite high-heeled black books. Glancing around to make sure she had everything, she shoved her dirty clothes inside her suitcase, grabbed it and her handbag and left the house.
The houses she passed were all older homes, circa the forties and fifties, but they were all in good repair, the yards well-tended. Now and then she saw people staring out their windows at her.
Mostly women. Mostly young and pretty.
They all seemed surprised to see her.
She passed a handsome young man mowing his yard.
An older woman rocking on her front porch.
A pretty young woman pulling weeds along the edge of the driveway.
They all watched her, their eyes filled with curiosity. No one smiled. No one spoke to her, not even when she offered a tentative hello.
Not a very friendly town, Kadie thought, wondering at their reticence.
When she reached the edge of town, she glanced left and right. The streets were deserted. No sign of people hurrying to work, no children walking to school. No cars on the road. Of course not, she thought glumly. There was no gas to be had. How was that even possible in this day and age?
Her SUV was where she had left it.
The tavern Darrick had taken her to last night was closed.
Was nothing in this town open? And where was everyone?
“Hi, honey, you look lost. Can I help you?”
Kadie turned to find a woman walking toward her. She had short curly gray hair, brown eyes, and a friendly smile.
“What are you doing here?” the woman asked, frowning.
“I’m sorry, but we don’t get many new people in town. I mean, we’re not even on the map any more. How did you get here?”
Kadie gestured at her car, parked a few yards away. “I ran out of gas.”
“That’s unfortunate,” the woman said, sighing. “We haven’t had any deliveries in ages. Where are my manners?” she exclaimed. “I’m Donna Stout.”
“Kadie Andrews. What do you do for transportation if there’s no gas?”
“We walk,” Donna said with a shrug. “Where are you staying?”
“Well, I’m not sure. Last night I…” Kadie broke off, wondering if she should admit to where she’d spent the night. She had a feeling Donna Stout was the town gossip. Kadie shrugged. “I stayed at a friend’s house,” she said, stretching the truth a bit.
“You look like you could use a cup of coffee. The restaurant should be open now if you’d like some breakfast.”
Inside the restaurant, Kadie followed Donna to a table near the front window.
After ordering coffee and a short stack of pancakes, Kadie folded her hands on the table. “Is the town always this quiet?” she asked, noting that the streets were still deserted. “I mean, where is everybody?”
Donna looked at her, cleared her throat, then glanced away. “We…that is…you see, it’s like this. Morgan Creek isn’t an ordinary town. We’re kind of…um, unique.”
“People move in from time to time but….” She looked over her shoulder, her expression troubled. “As long as I’ve been here, no one has ever moved out.”
Kadie stared at the woman. What was she trying to say? Or not say? “I don’t understand.”
“Of course you don’t.” She patted Kadie’s hand. “I wish I could explain it, but I can’t.”
“Because I can’t.”
Kadie pondered Donna Stout’s words while she ate. What was the woman hiding? It was almost as if she was afraid to tell Kadie what was going on. Was Morgan Creek the home of some kind of cult? Like Jonestown?
The waitress returned a few minutes later. “Can I get you anything else?” she asked.
“No,” Kadie said. “Just the check.”
The waitress looked at Donna, one brow raised.
“Kadie is new here,” Donna said, as if that explained everything.
With a nod, the waitress moved away.
“What was that all about?” Kadie asked.
“Nothing,” Donna said brightly. “Don’t worry about the check. I’ll take care of it later.”
“I can’t ask you to do that.”
“You didn’t ask.”
“Well, thank you.” Kadie pushed away from the table. “It was nice meeting you.”
“Where are you going?” Donna asked, following her out of the restaurant.
“I don’t know.” Kadie chewed on the inside of her cheek. There were no other towns nearby. Unless she could find a ride or some gas, she wasn’t going anywhere. “Do you know a man named Darrick?” she asked, thinking maybe he could help her.
“You met Darrick?”
“Only in passing. I met him last night,” Kadie said, wondering at the woman’s shocked expression. “Do you know where he is?”
Donna shook her head, her curls bouncing. “No. No. I mean…no. It was nice to meet you, Kadie,” she said, and hurried down the street without looking back.
Kadie stared after her. What was that all about?
And what was she going to do now?
She would go for a walk, Kadie decided. Maybe it would help to clear her head. Returning to her car, she put on a pair of sturdy walking shoes, stashed her suitcase and handbag in the back seat of the Durango, locked the car and tucked her keys in the pocket of her jeans. Standing on the curb, she played eeny-meeny-miney-mo, which way should I go, and struck off toward the west to keep the sun out of her eyes.
Maybe she was dreaming, she thought as she walked briskly down the sidewalk.
Maybe she had stumbled into a movie set.
Maybe she had landed in an alternate universe when she crossed the bridge last night.
She walked for several blocks, passing a movie theater, a number of department stores, a drug store, a barber shop and beauty salon. A swimming pool was set in the middle of a large park edged with tall trees.
Kadie was about to turn back toward town when she saw the house. Located behind a tall, wrought-iron fence, it was three stories high. An old-fashioned verandah spanned the front of the house. There was a balcony on the third floor. The paint had faded to a weathered gray; there were iron bars on the windows, a wrought-iron security screen on the front entrance. There was no sign of life, yet the yard looked freshly mowed, the trees recently trimmed.
She stared at it for a long time, wondering who lived there. A sudden chill had her wrapping her arms around her waist, and with the chill came the uneasy feeling that she was being watched.
Spooked, she turned on her heel and hurried back the way she’d come.
She hadn’t been able to get any cell reception in the town. Maybe if she crossed to the other side of the bridge, she could get a signal near the road.
The thought quickened her steps until she was practically running. The bridge. She had to get across the bridge. She had to get out of here.
Her steps slowed as she approached the bridge. The uneasy feeling she had experienced earlier returned, sending a shiver down her spine.
Fighting a wave of panic, she ran across the wooden expanse, a startled cry erupting from her throat when she reached the other end and suddenly couldn’t go any further. It was like trying to penetrate an invisible shield. Try as she might, she couldn’t get past the end of the bridge to the road beyond. Her feet moved, but it was as if she were on a treadmill, going nowhere.
She glanced around, only then noticing that the entire town was surrounded by mountains. There had to be another way out. A road, a deer trail, another bridge. There just had to be.
She spent the rest of the day looking for an exit but if there was another way out, it remained elusive.
This had to be a dream, she thought. A nightmare. Soon, she would awaken in her own bed.
“Please,” she murmured as she turned and walked wearily back to town. “Please let it be a dream.”