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Tucked deep into a gorge of the Umbrian mountains, the 13th century stone fortress known as Castello Velo Oscuro rose between the steep cliffs. To the unseeing eye, the castle appeared to be uninhabited, an ancient relic of crumbling stone abandoned in time, swallowed up by thick ivy. It was obscured from view by dense woodland, and the surrounding terrain made it nearly impossible to reach. It existed only in legend. But if, by some chance a mortal did happen upon it, the knowledge of its presence and location quickly wafted into nothingness like smoke over an open fire.

The Scarlet Queen stood on the veranda outside her chamber with palms resting on the rough, archaic handrail. Rising up on her toes, she looked out over the parapet to the ground below. It was an eighty-five foot drop, a long way down. She had tested the leap before and walked away unscathed. Then she'd slipped that important piece of information away in an unreachable corner of her mind. Not today, she thought as she lowered her heels back down to the cobblestone.

Thick, dark storm clouds covered the sky and raindrops pelted the lush green Italian mountainside. Thunder crashed overhead unleashing its mighty power in a rolling boom, boom, boom that reverberated under the Queen's fingertips. Lightening flashed around her, illuminating the arched limestone walls. Patience, she warned herself. After all, what were a few more minutes compared to the eternity she faced with the dreadful creature? How it was that she became engaged to this man, the one who turned her and she swore vengeance on was complicated and hard to understand. She learned never to say never, because in the course of a vampire's life, never comes around much sooner than one would expect.

The wind howled and whipped around her as she waited for dawn, and the heavy shroud of near death like sleep began to creep over her. She was immune to it, though she still felt its pull. Only a Master Vampire could withstand its force. The corner of her mouth turned up. Unless, of course, the Master Vamp had been disturbed repeatedly and was sleep deprived. Which was exactly what the Queen had done for the last five days.

She tried to calm her nerves and anxious stomach. Too many lives hung in the balance. If she didn't get her emotions under control, he would feel her apprehension.

The sun rose silently over the horizon behind the dark cumulus clouds. It didn't matter that she couldn't see it. She could feel the lethargic weight lay claim to her limbs. The Queen fought the wave and stood strong against it. Another hour. She would give the vampires another hour to make sure they were 'dead' asleep.

Her sire had confiscated her passport and the few possessions she had brought with her when she arrived in Italy. The Queen had Mariposa to thank for helping arrange the escape, at great personal risk, by procuring a fraudulent passport and car. She hoped Mariposa had followed her instructions and taken the outlined precautions. Because if she hadn't and was caught, the consequences would be so dire eternal death would look like a blessing.

Lightning bolts arched through the heavens, highlighting the contours of her pale, youthful face. There were only three other vampires in the world that could stand in the sun as she could. They were the reason she was there. They were the ones that she had turned--unknowingly and unintentionally--in an effort to save their lives. They were her son and two daughters. She would never forgive herself for cursing them. And she vowed to find a way to make it up to them.

When she was sure the sun had done its work, the Queen raced to her bedchamber. From under the bed, she drew out a duffel bag and unzipped it. Pulling the black velvet gown over her head, she grabbed the jeans and t-shirt from the carrier, quickly throwing them on. She donned her socks, cons and black leather jacket. She checked the bag for the strap of cash and counterfeit passport. Flipping the little blue book open, she checked the page with her new picture. A rush of happiness flooded her as she saw her name in print. It was wonderful to be referred to as Madison Blake again. She stuffed everything back into the duffel, picked it up and raced out of the castle to the Bugatti that waited down the road.


Deep below the tufa outcrop was an underground system of caves and tunnels that crisscrossed below the castle forming the burial chambers where the vampires slept. A roar echoed through the necropolis and filtered up though the dirt stairwells. Rage, hot and fluid, flooded his body. Erdo slammed a fist into the rock overhead. He knew she was moving around above him, free to go where she wanted, free to walk about in the morning sun. Frustration seethed in his veins. His fists flew up, pounding two more quick, violent jabs into the stone. Rock crunched and crumbled littering his face with tiny pebbles. No easy fete given his supine position and inability to cock the punches. Erdo didn't trust her. He could feel her restlessness. His ancient bones told him she was plotting to escape the castle. She had done it before. She had managed to slip past the guards without detection. He had no idea where she had gone, to whom she had spoken, or for what purpose she had left. The anger washed over him again. But then, of course, she had her children to think about. She would never put them in danger. She had come back before, and no doubt she would come back again. At that he finally relaxed. With a smile on his face, he knew he would have to up the ante. It was time to play hardball. Time for his betrothed to learn her place.

Erdo picked up the phone and pushed a button. A deep voice on the other end answered, "Sir."

"Go to the Queen, inquire if she is in need of anything. Get whatever she wishes. Then I want extra guards on her room and eyes on the monitors. If she slips by you today there will be no mercy. I'll hold each and every one of you responsible. I'll make the last time look like a slap on the wrist. I'll use your heads as bowling balls."

The guards rushed to the Scarlet Queen's room and burst inside. But it was too late. Her dress lay in a pile on the floor and she was nowhere to be found.

Forty miles away Madison sped down the twisted, rain slick hillside just as a sliver of sunlight penetrated the clouds. And just as that thin line divided the night from day, so too was a line being drawn between good and evil.

Author's note: On February 20, 2015, I began posting the new story Sacrifice. You can find it on my profile page.

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