Chapter One

The Job

The wintelry gray sky of a new year already growing past infancy drifted over the snow laden metropolis of Bergstad. Nearly five months had passed since Corbin stepped off the bus in Ridgeville on that fateful night and those five months brought him farther in life than the twenty-four years before them. Along with discovering his unique heritage and the joys of family that came with it, he also found romance in the arms of a centuries old vampire and celebrated his first official birthday in nineteen years, having learned the true date of his birth from the inscription of a tiny sarcophagus in the family mausoleum that was believed to hold his remains after a terrible event befell his family when he was just five years old.

A surprise party orchestrated by Lydia on the day of December 10th had marked his twenty-fifth birthday with a moving celebration of his return. With Amanda at his side Corbin tearfully endured heartfelt testimonials from his three sisters and Gideon, who selflessly proclaimed what he meant to each of them, as well as what he meant to his deceased parents who had celebrated his birth a quarter of a century ago. Amanda skipped using words to declare her feelings for him, opting instead to display them through a passionate kiss that elicited a round of playful moans and covered giggles from those gathered, even leaving Corbin warmed from a slight blush. The occasion was then commemorated by a choked-up Corbin declaring his deepest feelings for those who had so graciously opened the doors of Allender Manor to him, restoring him to the love of his family and bringing him the happiness in life that only they could have.

At twenty-five Corbin was finally learning who he was, happily becoming the person he always felt was inside, but never had reason to venture out. Life for the Allenders themselves was full again, of purpose, meaning, love. Gale had even resumed her relationship with Ethan, her former fiancé, while Shade was removed farther and farther from her troubled past with each passing day. Lydia was blossoming into a confident young girl under the devoted care of her siblings and Gideon gladly witnessed the mending of wounds inflicted upon the Allender children so long ago when tragedy and grief took more than their parents from them. No longer did they look to distant memories for the comfort they now found so wholly in each other.

Just as the dense snow clouds hovering above Bergstad gathered to threaten the city with another round of snow, two unscrupulous individuals were gathering in an unsavory corner of Bergstad's criminal underworld to form a dastardly union which would threaten the tranquility of the Allender family.

In the back of a grimy little diner, hid away in a corner booth, a dark-skinned middle-aged man with a shaved head sat waiting. He was dressed casually, but a little too nice for the part of town he was in, yet his surroundings were not of any concern to him. He tapped a finger impatiently on the dirty table before him, then glanced at his watch to check the promptness of the person he was waiting for. In three minutes the time appointed would be at hand, in four the person expected would be late. He took a look around at the nearly empty diner to ensure that the privacy of his booth of choice was still intact.

The scrubbing sound made by the diner's worn out metal door against the floor when it was pulled open alerted the man to the entry of another person. He watched toward the door, which was out of sight from his booth, until a well-built figure in a maroon leather jumpsuit wearing black gloves and a matching ski mask with a single opening for the eyes came into view and strode confidently up to the booth.

"Merrick?" the figure asked through the cloth mask while keeping his unflinching eyes fixed on the dark-skinned man.

"Coltan I presume," the man at the booth answered, convincing the leather clad man that he'd found who he was looking for.

Coltan took a seat across from Merrick at the booth then proceeded to remove his gloves and the ski mask, revealing a closely buzzed hair cut and razor sharp features chipped with telling scars.

Merrick leaned forward with his arms on the table, then addressed Coltan with a heavy, authoritative voice. "Do you know why you're here Coltan?"

Coltan shrugged indifferently, realizing it was a question not meant to be answered by him. His silence prompted Merrick to continue.

"Because my sources tell me you're the best, and I have a job that only the best will be able to handle," he explained, knowing full well that what sat across from him wasn't just a man, but a surgical instrument used when things like laws and ethics got in the way of results.

"Those types of jobs don't come cheap," Coltan said bluntly, making his top concern clear before they went any further.

Merrick leaned back with the flash of a scowl, considering Coltan's dismissal of his professed high regard for concerns over fees. "Money is not an issue here. What's important is the job," he emphasized with a sudden annoyed sternness overcoming his demeanor.

"Alright then," Coltan complied, cocking his head to one side. "What's the job?"

Merrick studied Coltan's confident, almost arrogant posture for a brief moment with a subtle appreciation before reaching under the table for a folder laying next to him. He slid the folder across the table to Coltan but kept it planted firmly under his hand.

"This folder contains photos and intel on four marks living just outside Bergstad. They are to be captured unharmed and brought to a secured location that I will reveal once you have them in your custody ," he divulged, eyeing Coltan sharply.

Coltan returned the hard stare as he reached out to take the folder, unintimidated by whatever the folder's contents might be. Once his hand fell on the folder Merrick removed his, settling back against the padded booth while Coltan thumbed through the folder's contents, catching highlighted details on the files attached to each photo. After a passing examination Coltan peered up from the folder with an unimpressed expression that was equaled by his tone.

"You really want me for this?"

"Do not underestimate them," Merrick warned. "There is no room for error with this job," he added.

"What aren't you tellin' me?" Coltan asked suspiciously.

"Everything you need to know is in that folder. The rest is classified," Merrick asserted.

Coltan opened the folder again as he considered the job. He glanced over the photos of the unassuming marks, three females and one male, with the same surname printed in bold letters at the bottom of each photo: Allender. The job looked like easy money.

"Alright, I'll take it," Coltan said, shifting in his seat.

"Good," Merrick declared, with a pleased gleam in his eyes. "Even for a man of your reputation this job will require some assistance, so I'll be sending you a detachment of my men who will follow your every command."

Coltan grimaced at the idea. "Babysittin' costs extra," he disapproved.

Merrick leaned forward onto the table, locking eyes again with Coltan. "If you pull this off cleanly, my Master will triple your fee," he enticed.

Surprised, Coltan cocked a scarred eyebrow at Merrick's words, but not at his lucrative incentive; at his use of the word master. Inwardly Coltan scoffed at the idea, he regarded no one as master, or much else for that matter.

Merrick reached in his jacket pocket for a cell phone and a banded wad of cash that he pushed across the table to Coltan, who took them and stuffed them into zippered pockets on his jumpsuit.

"My men will reach you by that phone and when the job is done they will know how to reach me with it," Merrick disclosed.

Coltan nodded then put on his gloves and mask. He took the folder as he rose to leave from the booth. "Are your men coming soon?"

"They'll be arriving tomorrow," Merrick assured.

Coltan walked off with the answer and Merrick watched him leave the diner, satisfied with the promise of their arrangement, anticipating that his Master would be very pleased with his offering of the Allenders.

The next day Merrick's detachment arrived as promised, eight young men wearing matching military-style field jackets who rendezvoused with Coltan. They were taken by him to an empty, rented house in the country that was suitable for a base of operations because of its natural seclusion. No prying neighbors or passersby to stumble upon their presence, and it was conveniently positioned between Ridgeville and Allender Manor.

Coltan divided the men into pairs and assigned each pair with surveillance duties over specific marks. He laid out a plan to monitor them during the week in order for the men to become familiar with both them and the lay of the land, then they would take them on Saturday night when Coltan suspected they would be divided because of weekend activities and the cloak of night would aid their cause. He wanted to fall upon the unsuspecting marks within close intervals so they wouldn't have time to realize what was happening.