Chapter One

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Cool evening air slapped against my face as I sprinted down the road, bringing with it the smell of freshly cut grass. Someone must have mowed their lawn that afternoon. I closed my eyes and breathed it in.

Life was good.

A month had passed since I'd left behind my old vampire hunting team - and my parents - and though I'd all but dropped the brutal training regime my father, Noah, had put me through on a near-daily basis, I wasn't giving up running. That was the one thing he'd made us do that I actually enjoyed.

My running shoes slapped the concrete pavement as I turned the corner, and sudden joy unfurled inside me as I thought of getting home to Luke, the vampire who'd completely changed my life, who'd swooped into my grey world and turned everything to light. Ironic really, considering he couldn't go out during the daytime.

I turned another corner and the Waffle House, a recently-built American-style diner, materialised through the gathering dusk. The neon lights atop the roof were already switched on, shining brighter than the streetlamps intermittently lining the streets. Dalwick was a small, rural town, and this was the first time we'd had anything like the Waffle House here. It felt like the town itself was getting a new start.

As I jogged past the diner, I reminded myself to stop by some time and check out its closing times. If it stayed open during the evening, Luke and I might be able to arrange some dates there. It wasn't the most obviously romantic setting, but there weren't many places in Dalwick a girl could take her vampire boyfriend.

Thinking of him brought another smile to my lips, and I put on an extra burst of speed. A couple of months ago, if someone had told me I'd look forward to going home, I'd have thought they were crazy. That was before I had people I really cared about, before I'd found a real family. Before I'd found Luke.

Now there was nowhere I'd rather be.

I was maybe ten minutes from home when I skidded to an abrupt halt. Houses lined the street in neat rows on either side of me, their small front lawns speckled with clusters of shrubs. And just ahead of me to the right, a pair of feet were sticking out from beneath one of those shrubs.

Unease slithered through me. It was possible that the feet belonged to someone who'd got too drunk at one of the nearby pubs and hadn't quite made it to their front door, but my instincts told me otherwise. And I trusted my instincts.

I cast a look around me but the street was empty. It wasn't late, but with autumn creeping in, it was already dark and chilly enough that everyone's curtains were drawn. I was the only one out here.

I approached the feet. "Hey," I said. "You okay?" I wanted the figure to answer. I wanted them to be that clumsy drunk who'd tripped over their own feet and hadn't been able to get back up. I wanted to ignore the feeling of unease tightening my chest.

The overgrown shrubbery spilling across the lawn was like a leafy shroud covering the figure. I eyed the house at the end of the front garden, but the windows were all dark - no one was home. Unless the homeowner was lying under a bush at my feet.

I crouched down and pushed away the foliage, revealing a man in his mid-forties, his bearded face twisted in a grimace of pain and fear, blood soaking the front of his shirt like a ghastly bib. Someone else in my situation might have panicked, but he was hardly the first dead body I'd seen. The clinical detachment I'd learned as a vampire hunter slid back into my brain, and my eyes narrowed, focusing on the blood soaking the man's collar. Carefully, I eased his collar to one side so I could get a look at his neck. Twin puncture marks glared out from his bloodied throat, ugly ragged holes that his life had drained out of.

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