Sarah Stratton’s eyes opened, a scream filling her throat, choking her as she fought it down, as her hand slapped the switch next to her bed. Light flooded the room and she sat up, her gaze taking in every familiar detail. She inhaled, a deep sucking breath that was more of a sob, like in her dream. “Stop it,” she told herself. It had been a dream, a nightmare, nothing more. The darkness, the terror— they weren’t real. Not this time. Hot tears flooded her eyes and she dashed them away angrily. Climbing out of bed, she stumbled over to her closet. There was no point in trying to go back to sleep, she had to get up soon anyway. She had two classes to teach and blue books to grade. Might as well get an early start, get in her morning jog, maybe have a real cup of coffee at the local Starbuck’s instead of sleeping that extra hour. It wasn’t because she was afraid of the dream, afraid the fear would come back, the helplessness— “Stop it, Sarah,” she repeated. She pulled on her winter jogging clothes with quick, sharp movements—warm leggings, a sweatshirt over a sensible athletic bra. It was nearly spring, but she’d learned the hard way that cold weather lingered here in Buffalo, especially in the mornings.
She twisted her long blond hair into a secure ponytail before bending to lace up her shoes. Downstairs, she grabbed her warm windbreaker from the closet and zipped her cell phone and ten dollars into a pocket, adding her keys once she’d locked the front door securely behind her. She paused for a moment to adjust to the freezing air, noting the slick spots on the short walkway down to the street. The girl in her dream—Regina she’d called herself—had fallen on a walkway much like this one. Sarah shook her head adamantly, refusing the memory. A dream, she reminded herself. She did a few warm-ups, leaning against the old wooden railing, stretching her hamstrings. The light was still burning on her landlady’s side of their shared porch, but it was too early for even that industrious lady. But not too early for Sarah. She took the stairs down at a quick jog, stepping to the side and running across the dead grass to avoid the slick pavement.
On the street, she settled into her regular pace, legs pumping smoothly, breath easing in and out in a steady rhythm, her body warm despite the icy morning. And finally, she permitted herself to think about the dream and what it might mean. It had been years since she’d had a nightmare that bad, the kind that brought her awake screaming, that brought back the cold and the damp, the despair . the wisp of humid breath over a bare cheek, the heat of a hand as it reached to touch— Sarah stopped in the middle of the empty street, breathing hard, her heart pounding. She bent over, hands on her knees, each breath a gasp for air. “Hey, you okay?” She jumped at the man’s voice, nearly stumbling as she backed away, eyes wide. He raised his hands, palms out and took a step back. “Sorry. I just thought—” Sarah forced a smile, trying to look normal, but she could tell by the look on his face that it wasn’t working. “No, I’m sorry,” she said, fighting to even out her breathing.
“I didn’t hear you coming. Yeah, I’m fine. Bad night last night.” The other jogger nodded, clearly not believing her, but anxious to get away from the crazy lady. “If you’re sure—” “Yeah. Yes.” She waved him away. “Thanks for stopping, though. I appreciate it.” She began to walk slowly, hands on her hips, cursing her own stupidity.
She didn’t even look up as the helpful man jogged past, not wanting to see the concern, or the curiosity, on his face. The dreams, the damn, stupid dreams. Why were they back? And why now? Her office was too warm. Coming from California, it was always a surprise to Sarah that people on the east coast kept their rooms so warm. It made her drowsy, which only reminded her she’d gotten up an hour early this morning, and why. She hunched determinedly over her desk at the university, trying to keep her eyes from crossing as she read what passed for freshmen college essays these days. Low music played in the background, a golden oldies station, playing tunes from the sixties and seventies, the songs of another generation that somehow spoke to her soul. But not even the sweet rhythms of Motown could soften her disgust with the essays she was reading. What did they teach these kids in high school anyway? Half of them couldn’t spell worth a damn and most of the other half had the vocabulary of a thirteen-year-old. Granted, most of them were only taking her World History class because they had to, but— A phone rang.
She’d already picked up her desk phone’s receiver before her brain processed the fact that it was her cell phone ringing instead. She dropped the landline receiver with a disgusted sigh and fished her cell out of her coat pocket where it was thrown over a nearby filing cabinet. Checking the caller ID, she smiled and flipped it open. “Hi, Cyn.” “You ever wonder what people did before caller ID?” Cyn asked. “Answered the phone and hoped for the best, I suppose. Why?” Cyn made a discontented noise. “How’s Buffalo?” “Hmmm. Okay, I guess. But there’s this white stuff everywhere.
I’m not sure what it is exactly, but it’s cold and slippery.” “Sounds intriguing. Except for the cold and slippery part.” “Yeah, well, not really. So, not that I’m complaining—because I’m grading blue books and I’ll take any excuse for a break—but why are you awake? The sun is shining, where you are anyway. Shouldn’t you be cuddled up next to that gorgeous vampire you’re living in sin with?” Cyn blew out a dismissive breath. “Don’t be stodgy, Sarah. You’re too young for it. Besides, we did the whole blood exchange thing . repeatedly actually.
We’re mated and that’s the vampire equivalent of marriage. When in Rome . ” “Okay, yuck on the blood thing. I still don’t understand how—” “The blood thing is important, Sarah. Especially for a super vamp like Raphael. It marks me as his mate, which is a sort of protection. And it links us in a way . I don’t know if I can explain it. But it’s important.” “All right, I believe you.
Changing the subject now. Please tell me it’s not like eighty degrees in Malibu.” “It’s not. It’s raining, which means the natives are convinced the end is near and are engaged in ritual auto pileups in an attempt to appease the angry gods.” “I remember it well. So why are you awake? It’s barely past noon on your coast.” “Shareholder’s meeting. I had breakfast afterward with my father and grandmother. Sometimes I don’t think we’d recognize each other if not for the family resemblance.” Sarah thought about her own family and forced a polite laugh.
Cyn, of course, wasn’t fooled. “Everything all right, Sarah?” “Sure, why?” “Oh, man, that was weak. What’s going on?” “No, really. I’m fine. It’s probably just this God-awful weather.” “You’re the one who wanted to move far away from sunny California.” “Yeah.” Sarah sighed deeply and said again, more softly, “Yeah.” “Okay, that’s it. We need to get you out of that two-horse town.
I think a vacation is definitely in order.” “I can’t, Cyn. Even if I had the money, which I don’t—” “I’ve got—” “—I can’t take the time off. I’m teaching two classes and they’ve loaded me up with committee work. I’m the new kid, I’m untenured and I’m female, which means I get all the crap assignments, because they know I can’t refuse.” “A weekend,” Cyn insisted. “The university won’t collapse if you take a weekend off. Come on. Somewhere close. What’s close to that place? Niagara Falls? Hell, no,” she answered herself.
“Full of tourists and all that water, which is probably frozen stiff by now. Wait! Where’s my head? Manhattan! You’re like an hour away by air, and my God, Sarah, the stores!” “Cyn, I can’t. Besides, we’ll never get a hotel—” “Who needs a hotel? My father has a townhouse or a condo or something. It’s always empty this time of year. He hates the cold.” “Okay, fine. One weekend, Cyn. That’s it.” “What a grouch. Is this what happens when you become a professor? You’re not wearing tweed, are you?” Sarah laughed at last.
A real laugh this time, not the forced, polite one from before. “No, no tweed. That stuff itches. I’ll figure out which airline to call and—” “No, I’ll make all the arrangements. I don’t trust you. Any weekend in particular good for you?” “No, they’re pretty much all the same,” Sarah admitted, contemplating her dreary life. “Well, Jesus, Sarah. No wonder you need a vacation. Okay. Let me talk to Raphael and I’ll get back to you.
This is going to be fun!” “If you say so.” “Work on that attitude, girl. I’ll call you back.” Sarah pulled the phone away from her ear, feeling abruptly deflated as Cyn disconnected. She could have told Cyn about the dreams. Cyn would have understood, would have tried to help. After all, she was living with a vampire, for God’s sake. What was a little telepathic dreaming compared to having your lover suck your blood every night? But Sarah had never told anyone. Not since she’d gotten out of that place. Maybe Cyn was right.
She’d been under a lot of stress with the new job and the move across the country to a city she’d never even visited, except for her job interview. And Buffalo was so different from L.A. or even Berkeley, especially Berkeley. She stared at the backlit screen of her cell phone until it went black, then slid it into her pocket and went back to her blue books. There were pills one could buy over the counter now, sleeping pills that worked as well or better than some prescription meds. Maybe she’d stop at the drug store on her way home. Bad enough that Cynthia would show up looking like a runway model; there was no need for Sarah to look like five months of bad weather. Even if she was living in Buffalo.