Looking at my hand-written directions, I sighed and backed up. According to my car’s GPS, there wasn’t even a road here. I’d been lost for about half an hour, trying to find my new home.
Getting out of the car on the dirt road, I took out my cell phone and looked at it.
No service. Of course.
The mountain forest surrounded me like a protective hedge. I looked up at the thin ribbon of sky between the tall pine trees, and inspiration struck.
Popping the trunk of my Tesla, I pawed through my suitcase until I came across the paperwork. I sniffed the edges, and Dr. Bennett’s signature.
I knew how I’d find him.
It was summer, and if he'd driven through here with his windows open, I'd be able to follow the scent.
My current identity was brand new. I sort of stumbled across it when my downstairs neighbor in New York died. Elizabeth Kepner lived alone and kept to herself. Besides, we looked a lot alike. She was a graduate student at Columbia University and had just received her Master’s in education.
Shortly after I found her body, I realized that she’d taken a teaching job outside the small town of Durango, Colorado. The students were the children of a widower and lived on a secluded estate.
It was just the kind of diversion I needed right now.
No crowds, few people, and open space.
The warm mountain air from my open windows swirled through the car. I smiled and nodded when I picked up the scent. To me, scents have a color, and I saw the winding green thread turn to the left up ahead.
Breathing in the fresh pine air and following the scent trail, I was happy to finally be on my way. Determined to make up some time, I shifted my car to speeds that tested its handling.
After several minutes, tall iron gates blocked the narrow dirt road, and I slowed to a stop. Scanning the forest to each side, I found that the fence continued out of view in both directions.
The hairs on the back of my neck began to prickle, and my inner warning made my mouth dry.
I pressed the button on the intercom and waited for a response.
“Hello?” A woman’s accented voice came over the speaker.
“Yeah, hi, this is Elizabeth Kepner. I’m the new teacher?” My voice ended on a questioning pitch.
She didn’t respond.
Turn around, leave this place.
I gulped and held my head up high. I’m a vampire; what would I be afraid of? Okay, other than silver.
The gates opened, and I followed the winding gravel driveway through the trees and into a meadow. There, across the tall grass, nestled in a wide copse of green and white aspen trees, stood a large Victorian house.
Suitcase in hand, I tried to peek through the antique glass windows that surrounded the front door -before pressing the bell.
The house was dark, so after standing there for several moments, I knocked with my free hand.
Just then, a blue SUV came into sight across the meadow, tires crunching on the gravel driveway. I turned, watching it, as it circled the house and parked to the side. Striding down the steps of the ornate front porch, I followed the paving stones toward a commotion of children’s voices.
Two little tow-headed youngsters came bounding toward me. The two rascals didn’t even take a moment to ask me who I was or even look me up and down before latching onto me with hugs and exclamations.
"Hi, Elizabeth! I'm Becca. Dad says you're from New York, and he works in New York. He also said that before that, you were from Texas. I've been there; Nana and Papa live there. We went to the Alamo. Have you seen the Alamo?” She continued to chatter as the siren song of her blood called to me.
I swallowed and held my breath. I can do this. I examined her and wondered if my own child would've been like this. Her eyes shimmered bright blue, her cheeks were red, and flaxen braids ran down her back.
Yes, she almost looks like she could be my own child.
“Yea! You’re here!” exclaimed the small boy, who held a small stuffed lamb. He managed to wrap himself around one of my legs, pulling my pants up to expose my five-inch strappy heel.
I held him away from me. “Whoa… back up for a moment. Let’s do a proper introduction,” I told him, unable to keep the smile from my lips. Besides, I needed to build up some resistance to the urges within me.
I felt my thirst, and it desired their blood.
“Alright, young man.” I bent down and held my hand out to him. “I’m Elizabeth Kepner. How do you do?”
He shook my fingers. “I’m Jack Bennett.” After he kissed the top of my hand, I raised my eyebrows. “Nice to meet you, Mrs. Kepner.” At five years old, Jack spoke like an adult.
“It’s Miss Kepner, and it’s a pleasure to meet you both as well." I turned to Rebecca. "Nice to meet you, Becca. You're seven, aren't you?"
I felt a shiver go down my spine before a smooth baritone voice came from behind me. “Kids, not everyone wants you to hug them.”
Turning, I saw a man who didn’t fit my definition of a stuffy old scientist. There was no way he could be older than his late twenties, with pale amber eyes and unkempt chestnut hair. He wore a baby-blue button-up shirt, jeans, and flip flops, which seemed to be the footwear of choice in this mountain town.
My attraction to him was immediate, and my voice caught in my throat. I gaped at my new employer; he was beautiful in an old-fashioned way.
His mouth turned up into a cheeky grin, and he held his hand out to me. “Hi, I’m Owen.”
“Liz,” I breathed out, barely above a whisper. As our hands touched, a small shock of electricity went through me.
I’d wanted a distraction, but Owen Bennett might be a bit more than I’d bargained for.
Years ago, I vowed that I would never get involved in a relationship again.
The last time I fell in love, I thought it would kill me.
Shuffling the stack of papers on the desk in my bedroom, I sighed. It was late, and I enjoyed the quiet house and sound of the forest outside my window.
It turnedout, I wasn't actually working for Dr. Bennett but a company called Chronos Corp. I pursed my lips and read the next page. It was a non-disclosure agreement. I shook my head. What on earth went on in this house? I initialed and signed the bottom.
Reaching down, I opened my small ice chest and looked at the meager amount of blood I'd brought with me. After pouring a few ounces into a glass, I brought it to my lips.
I gulped the rest of my cup, after realizing my stash was starting to go bad.
Sometime soon, I needed to get more blood.
I hated the thirst.
When it took hold, I was unable to concentrate. I got shaky, and my blue eyes started to look inky. It wasn't good.
I loved the children; they were really sweet. Naughty, but sweet.
Me as a teacher was crazy! It was a good thing that I didn’t need much sleep, because I’d been on the Internet every night, trying to figure out what to use and buy to teach these kids.
When I heard that I had to teach, I thought it would be easy. Reading, writing, and arithmetic, right? But little Jack can’t even read! I’m the first real teacher the kids have had.
Owen said that now that Becca was seven, she was technically classified as a homeschooler, and he wanted someone who knew what they were doing! Yeah, I know, the irony. But I figured that I’d been around for a while and given my unusual life experience, I should be able to do it.
I’d like to know why Dr. Bennett doesn’t just send them to school. Also, where was the mom? There were no pictures, no albums, nothing. It's like she never existed. I mean, kids have to have a mom. I'd think they were adopted, but both look like blond versions of their father.
After ordering some readers on eBay for my surrogate kids, I wanted something sweet. I remembered seeing some M&Ms in a jar in the kitchen. Chocolate goes unbelievably well with blood. Weird, but true.
In the kitchen, I didn’t turn on the lights because I can see in the dark. Owen stood holding open the door of the stainless-steel refrigerator. The light reflected off his face, bare chest, and glossy dark hair.
His face wasn’t technically handsome, but edgy, and I swear that he was one of the most graceful men I’d ever seen. He seemed too young to be working on such important and mysterious things.
Standing there in the shadows, I watched him. I felt incredibly guilty, but I couldn’t help myself. He rummaged around, found some milk, and something in a glass dish that the cook, Elaine, had made. Elaine bought all the groceries and cooked all the meals.
I still hadn’t found out what Owen did for Chronos Corp. Was he a physician or a Ph.D.? That man was like a steel trap. However, I don't chatter much about my life either.
His back was turned, as he heated up the dish in the microwave. I back-tracked, made a sound in the hallway and turned on the light in the kitchen. Then I pretended to be startled.
Knowing it was wrong to embarrass him in his own house, I still couldn't help myself. I wanted his eyes on me. I wanted to hear his rich, smooth voice. It reminded me of the singer from Metallica.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “I didn’t think anyone else was up.” Which, in my defense, was utterly true before I saw him.
He looked up at me, eyes blinking in the brighter light.