Shadows Strike

By: Dianne Duvall

Chapter One

Fog stole across the ground and curled cool fingers around Heather Lane’s ankles. Shivering, she pried her gaze away from the eBook on the tablet in her lap and studied her surroundings.

Tall, dark, hulking trees surrounded the small clearing in a cylinder of dense foliage her eyes couldn’t penetrate. A full moon had set about an hour ago, leaving behind blackness and twinkling stars occasionally obscured by wispy clouds. Slouched in her comfy tailgating chair, Heather glanced at her watch. 5:43. The sky would soon begin to brighten with dawn. Until then, lawn lights encircled her like a fairy ring, providing ample illumination.

It was so peaceful here, the quiet and dark beauty loosening the knots stress tended to lodge in her shoulders.

She dropped her gaze to her tablet once more.

A faint rustling sound distracted her.

“Please let that be birds or squirrels up, foraging about early,” she murmured.

Unable to locate the culprit, she lifted her feet and propped them on the portable footstool that matched her chair. She really didn’t want to encounter any less-cute members of the rodent family. Or snakes. But if she did, she might as well make it harder for them to skitter or slither up her pants leg.

A breeze whipped the fog into a mild frenzy, carrying with it a noise that seemed out of place amongst the chirping of crickets, croaking of frogs, and scuttling of squirrels.

Please, let it be squirrels.

Heather tilted her head to one side, listening.

Seconds later she heard it again.

Was that . . . voices?

Setting her tablet aside, she sat up straighter and lowered her feet to the ground.

A faint shout floated on the night. Then another. And another. Words indiscernible.

Her eyes fixing on the forest to the west, Heather tucked her tablet into the backpack beside her chair.

Branches snapped in the distance, the pops and cracks increasing in volume as if some huge creature barreled through the forest toward her.

Heart hammering in her chest, she slipped her hand deeper into the backpack and curled her fingers around the grip of the Walther PPQ 9mm she kept hidden there.

Thuds. Curses. Grunts. Branches still crackling. Foliage rustling.

She rose, withdrawing the weapon. What the hell was coming?

Dark figures burst from the trees on her left.

At first, she couldn’t determine what the hell she was seeing. Even with the lawn lights aiding her, it looked almost as though a blurry tornado had spiraled into the clearing. Then...

Her eyes flew wide as the tempest’s movement slowed.

Men. Seven of them. With eyes that glowed brighter than the stars above.

As they noticed the lawn lights, half of them paused to examine their surroundings.

Eyes that glowed and long, glinting fangs that didn’t look like the cheap plastic store-bought fangs she saw each year on Halloween. These looked real.

The other half of the men fought some foe dressed all in black, circling him like hyenas and darting in to strike whenever they saw an opening.

The vibrant blue gaze of one of the males who had gone still latched onto Heather. His lips stretched into a sneering smile.

Oh crap.

Raising the 9mm, Heather aimed it at him, hoping she wouldn’t have to pull the trigger.

Red liquid splattered one side of the sneering man’s face.

She swallowed. Was that blood?

Two men fell limply to the ground behind him.

Yeah. That was blood.

The figure in black stilled and looked her way. He was well over six feet tall with broad shoulders encased in a long, black coat. Large hands clutched gleaming sais that dripped crimson liquid. His handsome face—bracketed by short, wavy, black hair—might as well have been carved from stone. Dark brows. An angular jaw shadowed with stubble. Luminescent amber eyes that caught and held hers as his lips parted, revealing fangs that rivaled those of his opponents.

“What the hell are you waiting for?” he growled. “Shoot them!”

He sprang back into motion. Blood sprayed as two more . . . vampires? . . . fell beneath his blades.

Ignoring his fallen comrades, the sneering vampire took a step toward Heather. Then another. Then shot forward in a blur.

Heather stumbled backward and fired her weapon.

Brah! Brah! Brah! Brah!

Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!

Heather jerked awake. Heart racing, she glanced over at her alarm clock and threw a hand out to hit the button. 5:00.

When the annoying beeps ended, she slumped back against the covers and waited for her heart to stop slamming against her ribs.

Frustration pummeled her.

She would never feel rested as long as she kept battling freaking vampires in her sleep!

Tossing back the covers, she stomped into the bathroom to brush her teeth. Seriously, who dreamed about vampires?

Heather zipped through her morning ablutions.

She didn’t even read vampire novels or watch vampire movies, yet almost every night she had the same damned dream.

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