It was stupid and I should have known better.
Of course, that's easy to say in hindsight but it didn't exactly help me in this moment. Glancing back over my shoulder, I saw that he still followed me. There wasn't much light around the campus and, really, he probably could have prevented me from realising I was being followed with a little care.
But no, he wanted me to notice.
He wanted me afraid.
I clutched my bag to me tighter and forced myself to keep moving. It wasn't that I was prepared to fight for my bag if he decided to get nasty, it was more the fact that it gave me something to cling to. That little comfort was nice.
His feet were soft and unhurried yet he managed to keep pace with me as I tried to get to my car as quickly as possible. For someone who was so short, I was moving quickly because I'd worn sneakers and soft, comfortable clothes.
It hadn't mattered to me what I looked like because it was nearly eleven at night and I was only here to finish my assignment before tomorrow. Home had held too many distractions for me and I hadn't been getting it done.
Like I said, stupid.
I half contemplated slipping down between two of the main buildings and then decided I didn't dare. I didn't exactly want to leave the relative safety of the main path that led to the campus car park. I wasn't that stupid.
Okay, maybe I was but I'd learnt my lesson now.
Glancing over my shoulder once more, I saw that he was even closer. I stifled a gasp and kept walking. I wanted to run, just give up all pretence and just run but something told me not to. This psycho was letting me know he was following me, letting me realise that he could keep up with me quite easily.
I felt like I was going to be sick.
I struggled to keep my breathing even as I got closer to my destination. It would be a bad idea to run, I told myself. For some reason I suspected that it would make things worse.
Then I stopped dead, a gasp finally escaping past my lips.
Ahead on the path, another man walked slowly towards me. He smiled then and I caught sight of his face under the illumination of a security light. He looked terrifying; tall, lean and straight dark hair that went to his shoulders.
Horrified, I glanced behind me but saw no-one.
A strange chill went up my spine, my anxiety climbing when I realised that I could only see one of them.
Without thinking, I slipped sideways between two buildings, beginning to jog. He followed after me at an impressive pace for someone who hadn't gone past a fast walk.
Something shifted in my consciousness, something impossible.
I finally admitted to myself that I knew it was the same person. True fear began to build up inside me as I broke out into a run, flying down a set of stairs that would take me on a circular route back to the car park.
How could he have...?
I brushed it aside, his impossible act not being my main priority right now.
I couldn't hear him, couldn't see him but I knew he hadn't given up. I reached the bottom of the stairs and took off, thanking God that I ran every morning and I could definitely run if I felt like it – and fast.
The sounds dulled to nothing, I could only hear my light, quick steps and my quietly erratic breathing. I hardly noticed the cool air, either. And maybe, just maybe...
I screamed as he suddenly appeared in front of me, his hand clamping down on one of my arms. In the same movement, he yanked me around and my back hit a solid wall while the other hand clamped over my mouth, cutting off my scream.
I tried twisting my head, struggling for air in my panic.
'Shhh,' he crooned softly. 'You can breathe just fine.'
Lifting my shaking hands, I tried pushing him away. He just ignored that and shook his head slowly. 'None of that now,' he laughed. 'You don't want to make me mad.'
No, I realised with a shudder, forcing myself to stop screaming. This guy was obviously a complete whack-job. I realised with a horrible twist of my stomach that not only was I pinned, immobile, to a solid wall but we were also in a deserted part of campus.
Even during the busy days I never usually came to this particular spot. He'd chosen well, I thought, incapable of preventing the sound of despair that came up my throat to be muffled by his hand.
I caught a faint waft of cinnamon then – something strange considering my current predicament and I half wondered if I was losing my mind. Most likely.
'Ah,' he said softly as he leant forwards. 'Your little human heart is racing.'
A bolt of shock ran through me, making my muscles seize up and my heart stutter. W-what?
Oh, God, I was going to die at the hands of someone who thought they were a freaking vampire.
The second voice was so unexpected – for both of us – that he abruptly let go of me, twisting sharply, his entire posture changing to one of belligerence.
Not prepared to be let go of, my knees gave way and I slumped to the ground without a single sound.
'What are you doing here?' Vincent demanded, not sounding too pleased. And... a little afraid?
I saw the other person then and I was a little stunned. He had pale blonde hair that seemed to create a halo around his head. In fact, it was so blonde it was nearly white. He glanced at me then and I was surprised by how green his eyes appeared, even in the semi dark.
'I could ask you the same thing,' he replied a little caustically, his eyes still on me.
For some reason I felt like I was the guilty one; this guy just had such a stern look to his eyes that I felt the need to apologise. Vincent was silent and the newcomer shifted his eyes to Vincent, his face coolly composed.
'This certainly goes against the restrictions,' he told Vincent.
The belligerent psychopath sneered at him. 'You sound like Ebony,' he told the other one.
'Someone needs to,' was the calm, slightly frosty answer. 'Leave.'
Vincent hesitated and I prayed that he would do what the white-haired one told him. Vincent terrified me so I was relieved beyond belief when he let out of a noise of disgust before disappearing around the corner of a building.
Which left me alone with the other one.
Without hesitation, he walked over to me and crouched down in front of me so that his face directly in front of mine.
'What is your name?' he asked, his voice almost toneless.
I swallowed nervously, unsure about this guy. 'Talia,' I told him, even though I felt like lying.
In fact, I felt like I wanted to hide away everything about myself; my long dark hair, my dark blue eyes, my normally tan skin which was probably as white as a sheet about now. I just wanted to curl up into a pathetic little ball and pretend he wasn't here.
He nodded and I had the impression he understood. 'My name is Zander,' he told me carefully, as though he was making an effort to be polite.
'Okay,' I said, thinking that this was the weirdest conversation I'd ever had.
'Tell me what happened,' Zander prompted.
I opened my mouth to speak and then froze. Because that just wasn't a normal question, was it? No, if you were someone attacked you'd most likely ask them if they were hurt. Or, since he'd seemed to know that guy, he should be telling me I was going to be okay. Or something like that.
Which left just one possibility; he knew what the other one was.
Or thought he was.
I gritted my teeth, confused.
Zander reached out and took one of my hands between his, though his face remained expressionless. The faint coolness of his hands made me flinch and my stomach twist sickeningly. 'It's okay,' he said in that same careful voice. 'Please tell me.'
I met his eyes, suddenly making up my mind. I told him how Vincent had followed me from the other side of the campus and how he'd chased after me.
It was easy then, to blur over the details and say that he'd only just grabbed me when Zander had gotten there. I shuddered, remembering.
'Thankyou,' I said, not quite able to meet his eyes.
Zander got to his feet then, my hand still in his. 'Come,' he said. 'I'll walk you to your car.'
I was a little stunned but let him help me to my feet and we began walking silently towards the car park.
Apparently that was that.
Neither of us spoke until I'd unlocked my car and thrown my bag onto the passenger seat. Zander put his hand on my shoulder as I made to get in. I looked at him curiously.
'I'll have to ask you not to tell anyone about tonight,' he said solemnly.
I stared at him for a moment, considering. 'Will you deal with him?' I asked after a moment.
Surprise flashed in Zander's eyes – the first sign of any true emotion, and then it was quickly gone. He just nodded. 'I will.'
I nodded in return. 'Then I'll forget it ever happened,' I told him and he didn't stop me from getting into my car this time.
As I drove away, watching him stare after me in my rear-view mirror, I considered what had just happened. I wasn't entirely certain... about Vincent. But I somehow got the impression that Zander could handle him.
Glancing at my bag on the passenger seat, I was relieved to see the corner of my assignment folder sticking out the top of my bag. I would hand that in tomorrow when the university was open and I would forget all about those two strange people.
And, I thought with a derisive smile, I wouldn't be so stupid ever again.
I could do that, right?
It only took me twenty minutes until I'd reached home; a nice little three bedroom house that had been elevated and the underneath enclosed for storage or an entertainment room, whatever its residents referred.
I grabbed my bag and lightly ran up the steps, feeling much safer when I was inside. I'd felt icy fingers of unease whisper over my skin when I'd arrived. I felt so exposed out there, knowing....
I shook my head and tried to forcefully push the memories from my mind. Remembering wouldn't do me any good. It would just make me insane, probably.
'Hello?' I called out as I dropped my keys on the kitchen table. Silence greeted me and I knew my parents weren't home – they'd probably gone out for drinks with my father's hotshot lawyer friends. I had no idea how a group of people could be entertained by discussing contract law for hours on end.
The doorbell rang when I was halfway to my room and I hesitated. I was pretty sure I wasn't expecting anyone. I stood there for an age, flinching when the doorbell rung again.
For a while I warred with myself until I'd decided I was being stupid. I'd left Zander at the university. There was no way he'd followed me here – not when he'd made no move to get in a car. He couldn't have followed me. It was impossible, even for someone as strange as he was.
Shaking my head at myself, I headed for the door and opened it cautiously.
My heart jumped into my chest and I instinctively tried to slam the door shut.
His hand shot out to stop the door so quickly I felt the jolt up my arm at the same time I was jerked forward by his other hand at the back of my neck.
'Do not even think of doing anything stupid,' he warned me softly.
I couldn't speak, let alone move. I noted the dark hair, dark eyes and the pale skin. I also noticed that he was showing plenty of fang. I felt my entire body go cold and I raised horrified eyes to his. I would have recoiled at the cold intensity of his eyes if his hand hadn't been holding me in place.
'Invite me in.'
His words made no sense to me and I felt a little lightheaded. I couldn't think past the fact that I was in the most danger I had ever been in and the fact that I seemed to be trembling. I wished I could stop.
'You have three seconds,' he continued smoothly, 'to invite me in. If you don't I will drag you out here and then you won't live for very long.'
No, I probably wouldn't. I swallowed nervously, feeling like I was about to be sick. 'Come in,' I finally managed.
The hand gripping my neck instantly spun me around and I found myself propelled into the house and the door shut behind us. I stumbled in shock.
The vampire left me there and moved swiftly but unhurriedly through the house. I didn't know what he was looking for but apparently he didn't find it. He returned to stand in front of me and look at me in assessment.
I stared back at him, unable to speak. I felt like my heart was about to burst out of my chest but I made myself stand straight and stare him in the eye, even when I felt like running. This was a reality that I couldn't ignore.
'You are Talia Buchanan?'
I jerked at the sound of my full name. I hadn't even told Zander my full name. Why I would think of that though, was beyond me at this point. His eyes narrowed on my face and I made myself focus. 'Yes.' It came out thin and quiet but he seemed to have no trouble understanding me.
'You are the human who was attacked by the vampire Vincent tonight?'
His expression was impossible to read. I had no idea if I was in trouble or not. I guessed I was. I simply nodded.
Wow, but they moved fast.
For a long moment he simply stared at me. Then he took a step back and waved a hand towards the lounge room. 'Sit down,' he told me calmly. 'There is a discussion we must have.'
I forced myself to walk towards the lounge room, hardly breathing when I had to walk past him to go through the doorway. I realised that I was moving away from the exit and that this was possibly the intention. I also noted how tall and imposing he was. I sank down onto the lounge chair and worked desperately to hold it together.
The vampire followed me into the lounge room and elected to stand in the middle of it. I'd never felt so tiny in my life. His dark eyes watched my every move. 'Do you know who I am?'
I clasped my hands together on my legs to stop them from shaking and shook my head, keeping my mouth firmly shut. I figured discretion really was the better part of valour.
He was silent for a moment and I stared back at him, refusing to give in. Finally, the corner of his mouth tipped up and that scared me more than anything.
'My name is Chase,' he said at last.
The name meant nothing to me and it didn't seem to require an answer so I stayed silent.
'Zander had quite a story to tell,' Chase informed me, watching me carefully.
'Did he?' I said weakly. 'I didn't think there was anything too interesting about it.'
'Didn't you?' Chase said softly. 'I wonder.'
Again, I hoped that was a rhetorical comment. I certainly didn't feel like answering it.
'Are you ready to admit to what you saw?' Chase asked.
I took a deep breath, held it, and then carefully let it out. 'I saw nothing,' I told him firmly. 'My guess is that Vincent was trying to rob me only he was interrupted by... Zander,' I said, the name feeling strange on my tongue.
Chase watched me so carefully that I wanted to move sharply and see if I could startle him. Only I suspected that could have dangerous consequences. 'Isn't there something else you saw?' Chase asked softly and I felt a shiver scud down my spine.
I stared back at him with a stony expression. 'No.'
But my heart was beating fiercely and I had a horrible conviction that he could tell.
Now he smiled and it was a disappointed one. 'Are you absolutely certain about that?'
'Yes,' I insisted.
He paused and then smiled in a way that made the bottom drop out of my stomach. 'You're quite sure you didn't recognise Vincent as a vampire? Not even when he spoke of your blood?'
Talking of... I felt the blood drain from my face. 'I saw nothing,' I repeated carefully, even if my voice wasn't as strong. 'And I recognised nothing.'
Chase smiled again and if I hadn't been so scared of him, standing there in the middle of my lounge room, I would have thought he had the face of an angel. No, a fallen angel; heartbreakingly beautiful and terrible. His dark eyes and perfect cheekbones alone were enough to keep me from looking away.
'Then let me make is easy for you,' he said softly. 'I am a vampire. As are Vincent and Zander.'
I closed my eyes, dropping my head forward. Great. Just freaking great.
With a horrible sense of resignation, I lifted my head and opened my eyes to stare at him. I swallowed nervously, something that he appeared to watch with fascination. The silence that surrounded us was only broken by the faint sound of a car driving along the road past the house but even that thought was very fleeting.
I knew without being told that he had a purpose in making me confront what he was. He wasn't here simply to make sure I understood what I'd seen. I could only imagine that he would kill me now to keep the secret. Understandably, I wasn't too thrilled about that.
'Please, 'I said quietly, my voice croaky. 'I don't know what else to offer you except my silence.'
For a long moment, the silence stretched out between us. Watching him, I was surprised by the look in Chase's eyes; it somewhere between approval and triumph.
'This is the deal that I will offer you,' he said at last and I felt a sickening leap of hope in my stomach. 'Swear allegiance to me completely and I will bring you under my protection.'
For a long moment, my brain refused to process that statement.
Then it kick-started again with a rush of pure adrenaline. In that moment, I knew my decision would change my life completely. I knew swearing allegiance to him would give him the right of allowing me life or death. But he probably held that right already now that he'd specifically tracked my down so in my mind there was actually little difference.
I wasn't entirely sure what swearing allegiance to him entailed but I was pretty sure it wouldn't be anything I would be too keen on. On the other hand, I knew he wasn't just making a suggestion.
A small movement made me look down.
I looked up from the hand he was offering me to his cool, dark eyes.
He smiled at my continued wariness and it wasn't a happy smile. 'Time's running out,' he warned softly. 'Make a decision.'
I bit my lip, even as I slowly unclenched my fists and placed my hand in his. I didn't need to make a decision. Not really. I'd never been capable of choosing death over life and he knew it.
He smiled again as he closed his cool hand around mine. 'Good girl.'
I met his eyes and my heart turned over unpleasantly.
Chase suddenly released my hand then and he looked like he was already thinking of other things. 'We have a deal now,' he said quite impersonally. 'You are not to tell anyone of this or do anything else that constitutes stupidity on your part. Disobey me and I won't hesitate to kill you,' he warned me, even as he was heading for the door.
I stayed where I was, stunned for a few minutes after I heard the door shut. Snapping out of it, I jumped to my feet and ran to the door. Flinging it wide, I saw no-one in the darkness. I stared out into the night, only realising how I looked when a teenager cycled down the street and gave me a strange glance.
With all that I knew now, I wondered how people still did not know about vampires. The boy continued on down the street and I suddenly envied him for his ignorance. I shut the door and stumbled numbly through to my bed. By the time I collapsed on top of it, I was shaking so badly I didn't think I'd ever stop.
But it was over now – he was gone. For now. But this moment was precious because I was still alive.
I'd deal with what tomorrow would bring later.