Loved, p.1
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         Part #2 of The Vampire Journals series by Morgan Rice
Loved
Chapter One

  The Hudson Valley, New York

  (Present Day)

  For the first time in weeks, Caitlin Paine felt relaxed. Sitting comfortably on the floor of the small barn, she leaned back against a bale of hay, and exhaled. A small fire raged in the stone fireplace about ten feet away; she had just added a log, and felt reassured by the sound of cracking wood. March wasn't over yet, and tonight had been especially cold. The window on the far wall afforded a view of the night sky, and she could see the snow was still falling.

  The barn was unheated, but she sat close enough to the fire for its warmth to take the edge off. She felt very comfortable, and felt her eyes getting heavy. The smell of the fire dominated the barn, and as she reclined a little bit further, she could feel the tension starting to leave her shoulders and legs.

  Of course, the real reason for her sense of peace, she knew, was not the fire, or hay, or even the shelter of the barn. It was due to him. Caleb. She sat and stared at him.

  He reclined across from her, about fifteen feet away, so perfectly still. He was sleeping, and she took the opportunity to study his face, his perfect features, his pale, translucent skin. She had never seen features so perfectly chiseled. It was surreal, like staring at a sculpture. She couldn't fathom how he had been alive for 3,000 years. She, at 18, already looked older than he did.

  But it was more than his features. There was an air about him, a subtle energy that he exuded. A great sense of peace. When she was around him, she knew that everything would be all right.

  She was just happy that he was still there, still with her. And she allowed herself to hope that they would stay together. But even as she thought it, she chided herself, knowing that she was setting herself up for trouble. Guys like this, she knew, just didn't stick around. It just wasn't how they were built.

  Caleb slept so perfectly, taking such small breaths, that it was hard for her to tell if he was even asleep. He had left earlier, he'd said, to feed. He'd returned more relaxed, carrying a stack of logs, and he'd figured a way to seal the barn door to keep out the snowy draft. He had started the fire, and now that he was asleep, she kept it going.

  She reached up and took another sip of her glass of red wine, and felt the warm liquid slowly relax her. She had found the bottle in a hidden chest, under a stack of hay; she'd remembered when her little brother, Sam, stashed it there, months ago, and on a whim. She never drank, but she didn't see the harm in a few sips, especially after what she'd been through.

  She held her journal on her lap, page open, a pen in one hand and the glass in the other. She had been holding it for 20 minutes now. She had no idea where to begin. She'd never had trouble writing before, but this time was different. The events of the last several days had been too dramatic, too hard to process. This was the first time she sat still and relaxed. The first time she had felt even remotely safe.

  She decided it was best to begin at the beginning. What had happened. Why she was here. Who she even was. She needed to process it. She wasn't even sure if she knew the answers herself anymore.

  *

  Up until last week, life was normal. I was actually beginning to like Oakville. Then Mom marched in one day and announced we were moving. Again. Life turned upside down, like it always did with her.

  This time, it was worse. It wasn't another suburb. It was New York. As in city. Public school and a life of concrete. And a dangerous neighborhood.

  Sam was pissed, too. We talked about not going, about taking off. But the truth was, we had nowhere else to go.

  So we went along. We both secretly vowed that if we didn't like it, we'd leave. Find someplace. Anywhere. Maybe even try to track down Dad again, though we both knew that wouldn't happen.

  And then everything happened. So fast. My body. Turning. Changing. I still don't know what happened, or who I've become. But I know I'm not the same person anymore.

  I remember that fateful night when it all began. Carnegie Hall. My date with Jonah. And then. . . intermission. My. . . . feeding? Killing someone? I still can't remember. I only know what they told me. I know that I did something that night, but it's all a blur. Whatever I did, it still sits like a pit in my stomach. I'd never want to harm anyone.

  The next day, I felt the change in myself. I was definitely becoming stronger, faster, more sensitive to light. I smelled things, too. Animals were acting strangely around me, and I felt myself acting strangely around them.

  And then there was mom. Telling me she's not my real mom, and then getting killed by those vampires, the ones who'd been after me. I never would've wanted to see her hurt like that. I still feel like it's my fault. But with everything else, I just can't let myself go there. I've got to focus on what's before me, what I can control.

  There was my getting caught. Those awful vampires. And then, my escape. Caleb. Without him, I'm sure they would have killed me. Or worse.

  Caleb's coven. His people. So different. But vampires, all the same. Territorial. Jealous. Suspicious. They cast me out, and they gave him no choice.

  But he chose. Despite everything, he chose me. Again, he saved me. He risked it all for me. I love him for that. More than he'll ever know.

  I have to help him back. He thinks I'm the one, some kind of vampire messiah or something. He's convinced I'll lead him to some kind of lost sword, that will stop a vampire war and save everybody. Personally, I don't believe it. His own people don't believe it. But I know that's all he has, and that it means the world to him. And he risked everything for me, and it's the least I can do. For me, it's not even about the sword. I just don't want to see him go.

  So I'll do whatever I can. I've always wanted to try to find my dad, anyway. I want to know who he really is. Who I really am. If I'm really half vampire, or half human, or whatever. I need answers. If nothing else, I need to know what I'm becoming. . .

  *

  "Caitlin?"

  She woke in a daze. She looked up to see Caleb standing over her, hands resting gently on her shoulder. He smiled.

  "I think you fell asleep," he said.

  She looked around, saw her open journal on her lap and snapped it closed. She felt her cheeks flush, hoping he hadn't read any of it. Especially the part about her feelings for him.

  She sat up and rubbed her eyes. It was still night, and the fire was still going, although it was down to embers. He must have just woken, too. She wondered how long she had been asleep.

  "Sorry," she said. "It's the first I've slept in days. "

  He smiled again, and crossed the room towards the fire. He threw several more logs on, and they crackled and hissed, as the fire grew greater. She felt the warmth reaching her feet.

  He stood there, staring down at the fire, and his smile slowly faded as he seemed to become lost in his thoughts. As he looked into the flames, his face was lit with a warm glow, making him look even more attractive, if that were possible. His large, light brown eyes opened wide, and as she watched him, they changed color to a light green.

  Caitlin sat up straighter, and saw that her glass of red wine was still full. She took a sip, and it warmed her. She hadn't eaten in a while, and went right to her head. She saw the other plastic glass sitting there, and she remembered her manners.

  "Can I pour you some?" she asked, then added, nervously, "that is, I mean, I don't know if you drink - "

  He laughed.

  "Yes, vampires drink wine, too," he said with a smile, and came over and held the glass while she poured.

  She was surprised. Not by his words, but by his laugh. It was soft, elegant, and seemed to fade smoothly into the room. Like everything else about him, it was mysterious.

  She looked up into his eyes as he raised the glass to his lips, hoping that he would
look back into hers.

  He did.

  Then they both looked away at the same time. She felt her heart race faster.

  Caleb walked back to his spot, sitting on the straw, leaning back, and looking at her. Now he seemed to be studying her. She felt self-conscious.

  She unconsciously ran her hand along her clothing, and wished she were wearing something prettier. Her mind raced as she tried to remember what she had on. Somewhere along the way, she couldn't remember where, they had stopped briefly in some town, and she had gone to the only store they had - a Salvation Army - and found a change of clothes.

  She looked down in dread, and didn't even recognize yourself. She wore torn, faded jeans, sneakers a size too big for her, and a sweater over a tee shirt. Over that, she had on a faded, purple pea coat, one button missing, also too big on her. But it was warm. And right now, that was what she needed.

  She felt self-conscious. Why did he have to see her like this? It was just her luck that the first time she met a guy she really liked, she didn't even have a chance to make herself look nice. There was no bathroom in this barn, and even if there were, she had no makeup on her. She looked away again, feeling embarrassed.

  "Was I sleeping a long time?" she asked.

  "I'm not sure. I just woke myself," he said, leaning back and running his hand through his hair. "I fed early tonight. It threw me off. "

  She looked at him.

  "Explain it to me," she said.

  He looked at her.

  "Feeding," she added. "Like, how does it work? Do you. . . kill people?"

  "No, never," he said.

  The room fell quiet as he collected his thoughts.

  "Like everything in the vampire race, it's complicated," he said. "It depends on the type of vampire you are, and the coven you belong to. In my case, I only feed on animals. Deer, mostly. They are overpopulated, anyway, and humans hunt them, too - and not even to eat. "

  His expression turned dark.

  "But other covens are not so gracious. They will feed on humans. Usually, undesirables. "

  "Undesirables?"

  "Homeless, drifters, prostitutes. . . those who won't be noticed. That's the way it's always been. They don't want to draw attention to the race.

  "That is why we consider my coven, my breed of vampire, to be pure blooded, and other types to be impure. What you feed on. . . it's energy infuses you. "

  Caitlin sat there, thinking.

  "What about me?" She asked.

  He looked at her.

  "Why do I want to feed sometimes, but not others?"

  He furrowed his brow.

  "I'm not sure. It is different with you. You are a half breed. It is a very rare thing. . . . I do know that you are coming-of-age. With others, they are turned, overnight. For you, it is a process. It may take time for you to settle, to go through whatever changes you are. "

  Caitlin thought back and remembered her hunger pangs, how they'd overwhelmed her out of nowhere. How they'd made her unable to think of anything but feeding. It was horrible. She dreaded it happening again.

  "But how do I know when it will happen again?"

  He looked at her. "You don't. "

  "But I never want to kill a human," she said. "Ever. "

  "You don't have to. You can feed on animals. "

  "But what if it happens when I'm stuck somewhere?"

  "You will need to learn to control it. It takes practice. And willpower. It is not easy. But it is possible. You can control it. It is what every vampire goes through. "

  Caitlin thought about what it would be like to capture and feed on a live animal. She knew she was already faster than she'd ever been, but she didn't know if she was that fast. And she wouldn't even know what to do if she actually caught a deer.

  She looked at him.

  "Will you teach me?" she asked, hopefully.

  He met her stare, and she could feel her heart beating.

  "Feeding is a sacred thing in our race. It is always done alone," he said, softly and apologetically. "Except. . . " He trailed off.

  "Except?" she asked.

  "In matrimonial ceremonies. To bind husband and wife. "

  He looked away, and she could see him shift. She felt the blood rush to her cheek, and suddenly the room became very warm.

  She decided to let it go. She had no hunger pangs now, and she could cross that path when she came to it. She hoped he would be by her side then.

  Besides, deep down, she didn't really care that much about feeding, or vampires, or swords, or any of it. What she really wanted to know was about him. Or, really, how he felt about her. There were so many questions she wanted to ask him. Why did you risk it all for me? Was it just to find the sword? Or was it something else? Once you find your sword, will you still stay with me? Even though romance with a human is forbidden, would you ever cross the line for me?

  But she was afraid.

  So, instead, she simply said: "I hope we find your sword. "

  Lame, she thought. Is that the best you can do? Can't you ever get the courage to say what you're thinking?

  But his energy was too intense, and whenever she was around him, it made it hard for her to think clearly.

  "As do I," he responded. "It is no ordinary weapon. It has been coveted by our kind for centuries. It is rumored to be the finest example of Turkish sword ever crafted, made of a metal that can kill all vampires. With it, we'd be invincible. Without it. . . "

  He trailed off, apparently afraid of voicing the consequences.

  Caitlin wished Sam was here, wished he could help lead them to her dad. She surveyed the barn again. She didn't see any recent signs of him. She wished, again that she hadn't lost her cell on the way. It would have made life so much easier.

  "Sam always used to crash here," she said. "I was sure he'd be here. But I know he came back to this town - I'm sure of it. He wouldn't go anywhere else. Tomorrow we'll go to school, and I'll talk to my friends. I'll find out. "

  Caleb nodded. "You believe he knows where your father is?" he asked.

  "I. . . don't know," she answered. "But I know that he knows a lot more about him than me. He's been trying to find him forever. If anyone knows anything, it's him. "

  Caitlin thought back and remembered all those times with Sam, his always searching, showing her new leads, always getting disappointed. All the nights he'd go to his room and sit on the edge of her bed. His desire to see their father had been overwhelming, like a living thing inside of him. She felt it, too, but not as badly as he. In some ways, his disappointment had been harder to watch.

  Caitlin thought of their messed-up childhood, of all that they'd missed, and suddenly felt overcome by emotion. A tear formed at the corner of her eye, and, embarrassed, she wiped it away quickly, hoping Caleb hadn't seen.

  But he had. He looked up and watched her, intensely.

  He got up slowly and sat beside her. He was so close, she could feel his energy. It was intense. Her heart started to pound.

  He gently ran a finger through her hair, pushing it back off her face. Then he ran it along the corner of her eye, and then down her cheek.

  She kept her face down, staring at the floor, afraid to meet his eyes. She could feel them examining her.

  "Don't worry," he said, his soft, deep voice putting her completely at ease. "We will find your father. We'll do it together. "

  But that wasn't what she was worried about. She was worried about him. Caleb. Worried about when he would leave her.

  If she faced him, she wondered if he would kiss her. She was dying to feel the touch of his lips.

  But she was afraid to turn her head.

  It felt like hours passed until she finally summoned the courage to turn.

  But he had already turned away. He was leaning gently back against the hay, eyes closed, asleep, a gentle smile on his face, lit by the firelight.

  She
slid closer to him and leaned back, resting her head inches away from his shoulder. They were almost touching.

  And almost was enough for her.

 
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