The night was cold. All nights are, but this was worse.
The window was open a crack, the gossamer curtain in front of it blowing around with every new chilling gust of wind. I sat on my bed, my legs huddled up by my chin. With wide eyes, I stared at the crack of moon visible between the fluttering fabric.
Its light cast an eerie silver glow over the room. It had this otherworldly feel. A tarnished one. It reminded me of a rusted coin whose face you could no longer see.
There was a sudden gust of wind. It took the curtains and blew them higher. It almost ripped them off their rails. It snagged hold of my bed covers and my light linen nightgown. It fluttered around my knees. And yet, not a single hair on my head shifted.
My heart did. Beating at a million miles an hour, I managed to pry a hand off my knees. My limbs creaking, I pulled myself off my bed. I reached for my window to close it. But that would be when something snagged hold of my wrist.
A man climbed right through and into my room.
In the brilliant bright moonlight, I saw his face – every detail, every mark, every line and shadow. From his powerful pale violet eyes to his angled jaw, to his lips as they pulled thin over his white teeth.
I couldn’t move.
He stood before me, and he stared.
I… I had to be dreaming. For the man in front of me was none other than Ridvarn Rose. The most powerful vampire in the city, a man who sat on the Council of Seven, an enforcer who kept the other magical races in line – that Ridvarn Rose.
He didn’t blink – not once. He angled his head to the side. The look in his eyes… it was endless. Those two pale violet pools watched me, taking in every detail, never missing a thing.
Just when I thought it would last forever, with me in his hand and me in his eyes, I heard a crack from downstairs. It was sudden, it was violent, and it pounded up through the floor like a hammer against an anvil.
Ridvarn let go of my hand. He tilted his head to the side and watched, his gaze slicing over to the door briefly before it magnetically locked back onto me.
I could hear a creak on the landing outside. It was the sound of footfall.
I lived alone. I didn’t own a cat or a dog or anything that could possibly be making that sound.
So there was only one possibility – there was someone in my house.
Ridvarn Rose just stood there, never saying anything, never interfering, just watching me like a show he’d been waiting for his entire life.
As my heart pounded so hard, it could have torn from my rib cage, I heard someone pause behind my bedroom door. Even from here, I detected their breath. With every sharp, husky inhalation, my hair stood on end and sweat slicked down my back and in between the webbing of my fingers.
The window was still open. Another gust of wind caught my nightdress and sent it fluttering around my knees just as the door creaked open.
A man walked in. He was twice as tall as my diminutive form. The silvery moonlight couldn’t reach him. It cast his bulky body into a long shadow that made him look even taller.
I couldn’t scream. The only thing I could do was defend myself as the man cracked his neck from left to right then threw himself forward.
My whole life, I’d always run away. From every fight, from every dream. But this dream no longer let me.
The guy reached me, pounding his suddenly magic-encased fist into my jaw. I was sent flying. I smashed into the wall beside me. My body struck it with such force, I went straight through the plaster and several supporting wooden beams beneath cracked under my weight.
I waited for my spine to break. I waited to cough up blood. It didn’t happen.
Because… this was a dream, right? It had to be a dream.
The guy grabbed me by my collar and pulled me up. The fabric ripped down one of my shoulders. Another gust of wind grabbed the tattered linen and threatened to pull it from my back.
But I had bigger issues right now.
The massive man snarled again. He brought his face close, his sneer taking up my whole world. Then he angled his head forward in a vicious attack.
I just managed to pull my face to the side so he didn’t catch me front on and shatter my nose. He caught me on my shoulder instead. Pain erupted through me. It started to challenge my assumption that this was just a dream. But it had to be. It had to be, because something was happening to me.
Just as the guy picked me up by my side and threw me down with an echoing thump that could’ve torn a hole through the floor, I felt something within me. This energy – this unstoppable force. It began in my stomach – reacting to the aching, goading fear. It pulled its way up through every cell. It gushed into my back, it raced into my throat, and it spread through my mouth as I screamed.
For the first time in my life, it wasn’t a cry of terror but one of anger.
When the guy came at me again, one yellow-encased fist smashing into my side as he let magic spread out and blast through the room, Ridvarn Rose just stood there. He stood there, and he stared at me. Not once did his eyes deviate off course, even as the guy came at me again and punched me hard enough to make my frigging head explode.
The wind continued to rage through the open window. My gossamer curtains whipped across the windowsill, making the only noise aside from my attacker’s grunts as he came at me again.
This time, he grabbed me up by the throat. He easily pulled me off my feet. He brought me close enough to his eyes that I saw right through. They glowed this blood red – this fiery, chaotic color no ordinary human’s irises could ever achieve.
They spoke of endless pain and endless power – all of which would be directed at me.
I freaked out. One last torrential downpour of horror struck me. It shook through my body. It pulled up my hands, and it spoke to that power buried deep in my stomach.
It rose through me in an unstoppable wave. Just as the guy tightened his fingers around my throat, just before he ripped it right out of my damn neck, I screamed. And I fought back.
A wave of magic blasted out of me. It pulsed through the room. It smashed into my desk, upturned it, and sent every single paper on top scattering over the floor. It also struck the door. It pulled it right off its hinges and shattered the wood into a thousand pieces.
It tore the covers off my bed and set my pillow on fire. But more importantly than all of that, it struck my attacker – right on his chest. He went flying. He smashed into the window, but he didn’t stop there. He was blasted right through. He sailed down the side of my house and out of sight forever.
I staggered to my feet.
There were two soft footsteps. Ridvarn Rose, the most powerful vampire in the city, stopped right in front of me. He pushed one hand toward me, his fingers open in a clear invitation. His other hand disappeared behind his back.
I didn’t know what I was doing. My mind was fracturing on fast forward. I had… I convinced myself this was a dream, but now I wasn’t sure. Though I’d had crazy dreams my entire life, none had ever been as intense as this. As I stared at Ridvarn’s hand, I saw every detail. From the lines in his palm to the perpetually glowing red rose tattoo on his wrist.
“Take it,” he said, his voice vibrating through the room. It was the first time he’d spoken.
Lost, alone, and terrified, I lifted my hand. The wind was still fluttering in through the now completely smashed window. It gently brushed my fringe and sweaty hair like a lover’s touch.
“Take it,” Ridvarn said, his deep voice vibrating through the room, shifting into the floor, and pitching up into my stomach.
Closing my eyes briefly, I reached out. I took his hand.
That’s when he brought his other hand around from behind him. I opened my eyes to see a rose – blood-red and encased in wisps of black smoke. He grabbed my hand, spread it open with a broad stroke of his thumb, and shoved the rose into my grip. He forcibly closed my fingers around it until they were cut by the scalpel-sharp thorns.
As I stared up in shaking fear at Ridvarn’s face, my blood trailed down my wrist.
Never taking his eyes off me, he slowly traced a finger down my blood. Then he lifted it up to his lips. “From today on, Valerie Stevenson, you’re mine.”
I awoke, covered in sweat and screaming.
It took 20 gut-wrenching, fear-filled seconds until I realized that had just been a dream.
Shuddering and locking a shaking hand against my forehead, I doubled forward. I grabbed my pillow from behind me, locked it against my stomach, and rocked back and forth. “What the hell was that? What the hell was that?” I bleated louder and louder.
From beside me, my alarm rang. Its insistent tones shook through my reverie. It reminded me that, not only had that crazy nightmare been a dream, but the real world was waiting for me and I had 10 minutes to get dressed and rush for the bus.
“Valerie,” I said to myself as I squeezed my pillow tightly once more, “that was just a freaking dream. It’s not as if you’ve never had them before. Now thrust it aside,” I forced myself to push my pillow off my bed, “get up,” I shoved off my covers and stood, “and get to work.”
I rushed to get dressed. That’s when I noticed that my window was open a crack.
It sent me straight back into the arms of that terrifying dream. I’d been somewhat lucid of the fact that I was dreaming while I’d been stuck in that nightmare. It was enough that it reminded me sharply of how real it had seemed.
“But it was still just a dream,” I said forcefully once more as I marched up to the window, closed it, tugged my curtains shut, and turned hard on my bare foot. I had work to do – a normal life to lead. At the end of the day, no matter how real or violent, dreams cannot hurt you unless you let them.
At least, that’s what I told myself as I left the house. When I returned, I would be a different person.