Chapter One

Happy Birthday

High above the night-soaked streets of the inner metropolitan area of Bergstad, in a penthouse condominium far beyond the reach of the city's tireless lights and clamoring traffic, Gideon sat alone in the dark. The eyes of a vampire do not require any assistance to see perfectly in the dark, so the bright glare from the laptop screen before him at his desk was the only light pushing against the darkness of his den.

Gideon's handsome, but eerily pale features, were highlighted by the shrouding glow of the screen's light as his stare was locked onto the images and words that scrolled before his gray eyes. He unwittingly rubbed his chin in deep thought with one hand as he steadily operated a wireless mouse with the other, absorbing every detail he could glean from the local news articles he searched online.

Over the last two weeks in the greater Bergstad area there had been a rash of random disappearances among the huge city's wealth of citizens. The people who were missing seemingly shared no ties with one another. A waitress from an eastside diner, a mechanic from a downtown shop, a taxi driver, a toll booth attendant, and so on. As Gideon scoured the related articles he found that the list went well over two dozen people, an unusually high number even for a burgeoning metropolis, and each person vanished from their lives without a trace.

What concerned him most though was the type of people missing. If they shared any common link it was that they weren't high profile individuals. They weren't the kind of people whose mysterious disappearances would be noticed outside of their families and friends, which meant finding out what happened to them wouldn't be considered a top priority by the over-burdened authorities.

The disappearances didn't have the mark of Jarell, which was always Gideon's foremost concern. During the uneventful, peaceful spring and summer that had passed after the incident at Compound B there had been no sign, no hint of Jarell or his minions anywhere. The Allenders had been enjoying a blissfully ordinary stretch of days, weeks, and months which had brought them to the return of fall in the mountainous region of Bergstad. Still, Gideon knew that Jarell was lurking behind the scenes of another sinister scheme somewhere, which is why he spent hours each night monitoring current events online.

This sudden outbreak of disappearances triggered a different alarm within Gideon, an alarm which called out to the hunting ways of his fanged nature. Even if he and Amanda were not treated to an ample supply of donated blood from Corbin and his sisters, the two of them would not have to kill over two dozen people in two weeks time in order to survive. No, that number was far too high for anything other than a group of vampires; or just one caught in the powerful grip of uncontrolled blood lust. Either way, Gideon suspected something ominous behind these disappearances, and he would not be able to rest until his suspicions were dispelled.

The door to Gideon's condo was flung open by Amanda, who marched in with a singular purpose. The usually casually attired vampire was adorned beautifully in a purple designer dress that melded well with the moonlight complexion of her exposed shoulders and neck, where her wavy black hair encroached upon her lovely face. She hurried straight to Gideon's den where she found him hypnotized by the laptop in front of him.

Standing in the doorway, she spoke with a subdued sense of urgency."Come on Gideon, we're going to be late."

Gideon swiveled around in his seat to face her. "Have you noticed any...peculiar happenings in or around Bergstad lately," he asked, ignoring her concern of tardiness.

"What? What are you talking about? What do you mean by peculiar?" she asked, slightly annoyed by the delay his question tolled.

"Well, I fear that as creatures of the night, we may not be alone in Bersgstad any longer," he hinted, hoping to hook her interest.

His claim pulled her a couple steps into the room with a contemplating look on her ageless face. "You think there may be some new vamps on the block around here?"

"Indeed," he asserted.

Amanda thought about the idea for a moment before snapping back into her eagerness to leave. "Tell me about it on the way," she instructed as she turned and left the room.

Gideon rose from the chair and slipped comfortably into the suit jacket that had been hanging from the back of the chair. After adjusting the cuffs around his wrists he followed after Amanda.

A short time later Amanda's silver roadster zipped up the long drive to Allender Manor, coming to a rushed stop near the front entrance of the gothic house. She and Gideon got out, then met at the trunk where they retrieved two colorfully wrapped gifts with streaming bows. They started for the manor with gifts in hand and were greeted at the door by an elegantly dressed Gale whose blue eyes were enlivened under her blond bangs when she gave them both a warm smile as they entered, then she led them to the dining hall where everyone else was assembled.

Upon entering the vast room, Amanda received an affectionate kiss from a sharply dressed Corbin after he cut a path straight to her from his seat at the table. He complimented her appearance with a sincere gleam in his doting gaze, then offered to take the gift she was holding over to the far end of the long table where he placed it amongst an assortment of other gifts. Then he escorted Amanda over to the seat next to his and the two love birds settled in at the table.

Gideon dropped off his gift with the others, then was immediately corraled by Shade when she strutted up behind him. Turning around, he grinned approvingly at her leather cocktail dress and stylish boots which suited her confident, often times cocky, demeanor. Her cascading brown hair and dark, mysterious eyes were alluring attributes of her lethal beauty that went well with her choice of clothing. She flashed him her trademark smirk, then started up a conversation as they wandered over toward two empty chairs at the table.

Gale's polite, charming fiancé Ethan stood by her side in his best formal suit until she departed to check on Lydia, who was the focus of the lavish gathering at the manor. Then he joined the others at the table where he was welcomed into the ongoing conversations. Though he and Gale had yet to seal their bond with marriage, the long time love they so openly shared for one another was enough to acknowledge him as family in the eyes of everyone gathered.

Moments later Gale returned with Lydia, who was a breathtaking image when she walked through the doorless opening of the dining hall in a long dinner dress to a waiting chair at the head of the table. Her raven black hair fell over her shoulders and her happy brown eyes could not be more captivating. A mannerly hush swept the room as everyone at the table stood for the guest of honor. Lydia glanced all the adoring faces, trying to hold back a huge smile that pushed against her cheeks.

Corbin left his chair to stroll around to Lydia with an endearing stare aimed at his little sister, who was so clearly becoming a young woman. She lovingly watched him approach with that familiar expression of care fixed in his affectionate purple eyes, then she smiled coyly when he silently mouthed the words: You're beautiful.

He gentlemanly pulled out her chair, then waited for her to sit down and adjust her dress before returning to his seat. Everyone remained silent and standing as Gale slipped away into the kitchen, returning moments later with a generously sized chocolate birthday cake with fifteen lit pink candles. When Gale placed the cake down in front of Lydia, a chorus of "Happy Birthday to You" began that filled the dining hall with a festive air, causing Lydia to turn loose her beaming smile. When the jovial song ended, she made a silent wish before blowing out the candles to a round of congratulatory applause.

Afterward, the cake was set aside until the four course meal prepared by Gale was served and enjoyed, then came the cake and presents. Being Lydia's first birthday since she had used her telepathic gift to summon Corbin back to his rightful place within his family, he wanted to make it memorable by suggesting a formal occasion. His sisters were only too happy to accommodate.

The rest of the celebration passed with the dining hall becoming a grand ballroom for formal dancing after the table was pushed out of the way and the appropriate music filled the air from a portable stereo. The lively hours that passed were filled with playful, family fun. Gideon dared not threaten the festive atmosphere with his lingering suspicions. Those would have to keep at least one night longer.