Keeping Verity close to his side, Riley proceeded to close and lock the bedroom door. "It's getting dark," he explained, gently guiding her back to the bed. "They're more powerful then. It's… their time."
"Yours, too?" Verity whispered.
Riley nodded, a wry smile curving his lips. "Mine, too."
Verity fancied she heard a note of bitterness in his words. For a moment, she thought to ask him his story, how he had become a vampire, where he came from, how old he really was. Then she shook her head and settled closer to him, satisfied to know the things about him that she already did. He was the kind of man who would say what he wanted, when he wanted.
"Verity, you need to get to sleep now," he told her suddenly, startling her from her contemplation of his character. "I'll watch over you."
Verity twisted her mouth to the side, looking up at him. To argue, or not to argue?
He lifted his chin and raised one eyebrow.
Not to argue.
"Alright." She bit her lip and nodded. "Thanks, Riley." She turned to face the bed, reaching to pull back the covers.
Riley's hand suddenly closed around her wrist, and he gently turned her around to face him. "Good-night," he told her quietly.
"Good-night," she whispered, unable to hold back a smile. She shook her head. "I don't know why you insist on taking care of me like this."
"I do," he said simply.
Verity swallowed, nearly overwhelmed by the intensity in his eyes, despite the softness of his voice. "I don't want you to put yourself at risk for me."
"Too bad," he said, his mouth twitching. "You're going to have to live with it." He bent and kissed her mouth softly, then slowly pulled away, leaving her still and shivery inside with emotion. "Sleep, Verity," he said.
She nodded sleepily and laid on the bed, pulling the covers up to her chin.
Riley crossed the room to sit with his back against the door, resting his hands on his knees. Her guardian.
The booming of thunder awoke Verity from strange and disconnected dreams. She sat up with a start, glancing quickly at the clock on the nightstand. The big digital numbers read 3:11am. Verity sighed and started to lie back down, but a sudden ominous feeling made her freeze. Something was wrong. She could feel it. "Riley?" she called softly.
There was no reply.
"Riley? Are you still here?"
"I'm here," came his sharp reply. "Stay in bed, Verity."
Verity squinted toward the door. When her eyes finally adjusted to the dark, she saw Riley standing with one shoulder against the door. "What's going on?" she asked, jumping slightly as lightning flashed through the curtains.
"It's a storm," Riley told her flatly.
Verity instantly remembered the mystery caller and his warnings of a storm. "Riley--"
The haunting whistle of a train interrupted her, and she remembered the old black man's song about the old black train…
"Someone's coming into town," Riley whispered. "Stay in bed, Verity."
Suddenly, there was a banging sound, like a heavy knock at the front door. In fact, Verity was sure that was what it was. "Riley, someone's--"
"At the door. I know." He turned to look at her. "If they get past me, run as fast as you can to James Manson's house."
Verity shook her head, feeling numb all over with fear, but warm inside with her feelings for Riley. "I won't leave you. You can't make me."
He gave her a steady gaze. "Yes. I can."
She remembered him kissing her in his house, then, and she knew that he could indeed hypnotize her. She shivered and sat back in the bed, clutching a sheet to her chest. "Don't do it, Riley. Don't make me leave you."
He did not answer her, turning his attentions back to the door.
And suddenly, the door shuddered. Riley muttered something under his breath and pressed his shoulder tight against the door.
"Riley!" Verity cried. Oh, God, please let us make it through this night alive! she prayed silently and frantically.
The door suddenly heaved, bowing like no wooden thing should be able to bow, throwing Riley backward against the bed.
Verity jumped up and ran to him. "Riley! Are you alright!?"
Riley stood up shakily. "Verity, get back! Move!"
Verity just stood there at his side, clinging to his arm, stunned by fear and worry.
And the door suddenly flew open.
Riley grabbed hold of Verity and jerked her toward the window. "If we have to, we'll go out the window!" he shouted to her about the sudden cacophony of thunder.
Verity nodded, clinging to him. Her eyes went to the open doorway of her room. She could see nothing but darkness… Until the lightning flashed. Then she saw the shadowy outline of a man… and chaos broke loose.
The shadowy figure launched itself at Riley and Verity, prying them apart. Verity fell back onto the bed. She scrambled to her hands and knees, looking quickly for Riley. She spotted him in the corner of her room, throwing a punch at the intruder. "Riley!" she screamed, jumping off the bed and running to help him.
"No, Verity!" he hollered, ducking a counter-blow. "Get out of the house! Run!"
Verity gritted her teeth, trying to fight the impulse he laid upon her. "Don't make me leave you!" she cried.
The dark intruder kicked Riley back against the wall and laughed.
Verity's blood went cold in her veins. That laugh…
"Go, Verity!" Riley cried hoarsely, staggering back to his feet. "Run now--to somewhere safe!" His eyes met hers, roiling with fury and desperation.
And Verity could not resist the power of those forceful blue eyes. Against her own will, she ran from the room, down the hall, into the living room, out the door. She ran out into the storm, sobbing, rain pelting her hard, wind barraging her. She clapped her hands over her ears to block the fierce noise of thunder and train. And then, her feet began to lead the way--not toward James' house, but toward the old abandoned train station.
She soon reached it and staggered up the platform, then just stood there, looking out over the train tracks. She could hear the train coming closer, could see its light glancing off the sheets of falling rain. She fell to her knees, wrapping her arms around herself.
"Oh, God, this can't be happening!" she cried hysterically. "Don't let that man hurt Riley! Please, no!"
Verity lost track of time, then, as she sat rocking herself on the cracked platform, watching the train roar into town with the storm. She nearly lost her mind when the train vanished into smoke just as it reached the station.
She climbed shakily to her feet, cold and soaking in her pajamas, peering through the smoke. She could just make out the silhouette of a man in the smoke…
Riley's voice was enough to make her turn her back to the newcomer. "Riley!" she practically screamed. "I'm up here!"
And then there he was, bounding up the steps to the platform, soaked by the rain, a thin rivulet of blood running from one corner of his mouth. Then his arms were around her, crushing her against his chest. "Verity, are you alright!?" he cried, burying his face in her wet hair.
She nodded weakly into his shoulder. The last thought she remembered before she fainted in his arms was, Here he is bleeding from a fight, and he's thinking of me…
Verity opened her eyes. She was looking up at the ceiling fan in her room. Riley brought me back, she thought with a smile. My hero…
"Verity?" came his worried voice from beside her. He was standing beside her bed, frowning.
She sat up slowly, eyes trained on him as he sat beside her on the bed. His lower lip was split, and there was a light bruise on his cheekbone. "Riley, are you alright? What happened?" she asked quietly.
He took her hands in his. To her surprise, his hands were shaking. "Don't worry about me," he said. "I'm worried about you. What happened out there at the station?"
"I think I saw…" She shook her head. "I don't know… A ghost train." She bit her lip. "Riley, am I going crazy?"
He lifted one of her hands to his lips and kissed it. "No," he said.
Verity reached out and gently touched his face. "He hurt you, that man…"
Riley chuckled. "I think I hurt him worse. He ran away." Then he frowned. "I didn't get a good glimpse of his face, though. I think he had some sort of mask on."
"I recognized his laugh," Verity said quietly, looking down. "He's the one who's been calling me."
"Wish I would have knocked him out," Riley muttered darkly.
They were both quiet for a moment.
"We've got to do something," Riley spoke up, holding her eyes with his. "This can't go on."
"So what do we do?" Verity asked, eyes wide. "How do we fight ghosts?"
"I don't think that man last night was a ghost," Riley countered wryly, brushing his bruised cheek with his fingertips.
"Riley, how are we going to stop them?" Verity asked.
Riley set his jaw. His eyes looked particularly dangerous at that moment, sharply, coldly blue. "I'll find a way," he vowed quietly.
Verity gently touched his bloodied mouth. "We'll find a way," she whispered. "Because wherever you go, I'm going there with you."
Riley smiled at her and puckered his lips gingerly to kiss her fingertips. "I know you are." Then he looked away from her, and an odd look crossed his face, one of remembrance and perhaps pain. When he looked back at her, his eyes were calm. "We need to find my father. I think he can help us."
"Your father…" Verity frowned at her sudden wondering. "Riley, James told me he's not a vampire. So how has he lived as long as you and your mother?"
"James is right." Riley nodded, keeping his eyes on hers. "My father's not a vampire. He's… something else."
"What?" Verity asked, unable to restrain her curiosity.
Riley shook his head. "It's complicated. I'll tell you later, alright?"
Verity nodded slowly, slightly annoyed at his reticence, but understanding that the topic of his father was a sore point with him. "Alright."
"You go back to sleep now. I'll guard you," Riley told her, standing and drawing his hand from hers. "Tomorrow, I think we need to go see James. He can help us find my father. And I think we need to keep a close eye on Tammy, too."
Verity frowned as she settled back against her pillows. "Tammy? Why?"
Riley's look was one of worry. "Her husband, Edward Black. He's on the side of the Ashlings--and not exactly human."
"An Ashling…" Verity mused, tapping her lower lip. "That makes so much sense now." Then she sat up quickly. "Riley… What does that mean about her baby?"
Riley's eyebrows shot up. "Her baby?"
Verity winced. She had not meant to spill Tammy's secret. "She's… Tammy's pregnant. I'm not supposed to tell."
"Her baby, Riley," Verity pressed, touching his arm. "What about her baby? Is it… Will it be a vampire?"
Riley shook his head slowly, his blue eyes narrowed. "No. Shouldn't be." He sighed and looked down, running a slender hand down his face. When he looked up again, his eyes were haunted. "But it might turn out like my father, poor kid."
"Tell me about him, Riley," Verity pleaded, gently squeezing the vampire's arm.
Riley bit his lip, looking suddenly helpless and young, certainly not appearing to be a worldly-wise, long-lived vampire. "I don't know if you're ready for this, Verity," he said quietly. He looked away from her. "What he is… It's a part of me, too. I don't like it. And I know you won't."
"Riley, nothing you tell me about yourself could ever change the way I feel about you," Verity insisted honestly, her fingers gently stroking his slender wrist. She smiled crookedly. "I didn't kick you out when I found out that you're a vampire, did I?"
"No," Riley conceded quietly, glancing down at the place where her hand caressed his arm. Then he met her eyes and took a deep breath. "Verity, my father is not completely human. I suppose you've read in the Bible about the nephilim?"
Goosebumps rose on Verity's arms. "Yes," she said softly, keeping her eyes on Riley's. "Giants, men of renown and all that--in the Old Testament. Uhm, weren't they the offspring of… fallen angels and human women?"
Riley was silent.
Verity's lips formed a silent "oh." Then she took a deep breath. "So, your mother is a vampire and your father is nephilim." She forced a teasing smile. "I suppose you're somewhere in between?"
Riley shrugged and looked away from her. "I took more after the vampire side of the family. Kinda goes with being bitten on the neck." He sighed. "So now you know." He winced. "Do I get kicked out this time?"
Verity's fingers found his hand and grasped it tightly. "No," she whispered.
Riley looked at her sideways. "You're not scared of me?"
She shook her head silently.
"Good," said Riley. He leaned forward and placed a soft kiss on her lips, then stood and left the room, turning out the light as he went.
Verity laid back against the pillows. "Oh, Riley…" she breathed, her heart filled with compassion for the man she loved.
(A/N: Sorry it's taken so long to update. Busy-ness!)