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Chapter 1

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I like my blood warm. I find cold blood as appetizing as an old stale cup of coffee. It's hard to choke down, but then again I'm finicky. Regardless, I've never had access to a blood bank. Our lives are nothing like TV. For us there is no daylight, no friends, lovers or family. We do not travel in packs. We're more like the clouded leopard or spotted jaguar, rare creatures, besieged by modernity, strangely fragile despite our steel strength. We are shy, solitary creatures-especially me. Thus, I haven't seen one of my kind for 50 years, having perfected the art of lying low. Camouflage and evasion are my great skills. Ten years is the length of commitment I give any place or any job. After that, it's hard to explain looking like a 29-year-old. I've spent nine years and nine months in this cold mountain town and soon my time here must come to an end.

As a mortal, I was plain, but since the turning all my physical qualities have intensified, becoming deeper and more striking. My hair is the color of night, cut in jagged edges above my shoulders, evidence of my desperation in the wake of obliterating fever. I wear it pulled back, hidden beneath a low navy work cap. My eyes are blue violet: intense and startling. When light hits them, they shine like a wolf's. I hide them behind a sleek pair of safety glasses, prescription, I lie, that cuts down the sheen. My skin is white. Not cream-colored or fair, but a pure porcelain white like Michelangelo's Carrera. Beautiful for a Venus or a Persephone, but unnatural for a human woman. Then again, I'm not human.

Or am I?

Nearly 200 years have passed and I'm still unsure what to call myself. Night Walker is what I've settled on. So much kinder sounding than demon or predator or that most heinous word of all: Vampire.

Long ago I was a teacher and then a writer, but now I am a tender of broken bodies and injured souls. The word they use today is paramedic. Some call me ambulance girl.

Tonight, heaven is brilliantly dark with a net of stars thrown above our heads so incandescent they illuminate the forest. My partner Dana peers through the headlights into the darkness. She is driving fast and lacks my night vision, though her eyes are young and strong. She likes to be in control and so always drives, which is fine with me. I prefer to be in back with the patients. It's easier to ward off starvation that way.

We are, as Dana puts it, "trolling for trauma" in a well-stocked ambulance courtesy of Asheville EMS. I've been a medic since the Crimean War. Dana Fitzpatrick, on the other hand, has been one only six months, and as she goes to nursing school during daylight hours, she is my partner on the night shift.

We are as opposite as the sun and moon. Dana's blonde hair cascades down her back in a silken ponytail she refuses to secure. She's all femininity but there's an assertiveness to her that hints at whips and knee-high, lace-up boots. An alpha female in a Delilah's body, she chafes at my slender, youthful authority.

She pulls out her glittering phone and starts texting.

"Who are you seducing tonight?" I ask.

She glances over at me wickedly. "Someone new and tasty."

"Please tell me he's not married."

"Like Tom? I'm over him. All he talked about was fires and hunting. Boring."

"He was a firefighter. A married firefighter."

"That's not my fault. Maybe if his wife wasn't fat, he wouldn't go looking for someone else."

"She's nine months pregnant!"

Dana ignores me and taps at her phone with one hand while steering with the other. Occasionally she glances up at the road. Winter is here and the naked trees flash by in the violet moonlight, spectral as ghosts.

Anne Brontë NightwalkerRead this story for FREE!