Home > Zen and the Art of Vampires (Dark Ones #6)(8)

Zen and the Art of Vampires (Dark Ones #6)(8)
Author: Katie MacAlister

"I am a very fine lover," he continued, obviously feeling it was a point he needed to drive home. So to speak.

"Well, I'm flattered and all, but as I said, I'm not really that... er... desperate. Not that I'd have to be desperate to want to hook up with you, Mattias, but I'm sure you know what I mean."

"No, I don't think I do," he said, the frown having returned.

I ignored that, smiling brightly and taking a couple more steps backward. "Well, this has been fun, but I think I'm going to get going. I'll be sure to tell Audrey just how good you guys were, though. And thanks for the plump-but-still-attractive comment. It's always nice to know that there are men out there who like women who aren't walking advertisements for anorexia. Night!"

Identical startled expressions manifested on their faces as I turned and walked out the door. Either they had believed their acting was enough to suck me in or, what was more likely, Audrey told them I'd be an easy mark, lonely enough that I'd agree to just about anything in order to have a date with a handsome man.

What stung was just how close to the truth that was. "After all, you're on a tour meant to pair people up. You can't get much more desperate than that," I told myself. My conversation was short-lived when I heard my name being called behind me.

Mattias stood at the door of the church. The older woman shoved him out of the way, pointed at me, and snapped out an order. He looked surprised for a moment, but ran down the steps with a set look on his face that triggered a sudden spurt of adrenaline.

What if they weren't set up by Audrey? What if they were, in actuality, a creepy cult that seriously believed I was going to marry a complete stranger simply because my book had an odd bookmark?

"Oh, crap," I swore, telling my brain to stop thinking and start making my legs move. I bolted down the street, spinning around a corner into a darker street, hoping to lose Mattias despite the fact that he was much more fit than me, not to mention probably quite familiar with the town.

I dashed around tidy trash cans, emerging into a lit street, screaming at the sudden noise of an approaching car slamming on its brakes and squealing to a stop a few feet away. I didn't wait to apologize, just gathered my tattered wits and sped across the remainder of the street and into a twisty narrow passage that ran between two tall stone buildings.

A man's voice called out behind me. Damn that long-legged Mattias. I was already out of breath and had a suspicious pain in my side that warned of a stitch.

"Please let me get away, please let me get away," I chanted in time to my pounding footsteps as I ran blindly through the still empty town, my brain squirreling around frantically for some way to escape Mattias. I had to double back somehow. That would surely throw him.

As I emerged from behind a different church, I spied a narrow set of stairs that led down to a small landing beneath the entrance. I flung myself down it and hunkered beneath the cement bridge that spanned the area, my back plastered against the cold stone. I covered my mouth to silence the sounds of labored breathing.

A few seconds later, a shadow flashed on the ground next to me, paused for a moment, then flickered past me toward the main square. I counted to ten, holding my breath, until black spots threatened to dance before my eyes. Cautiously I crawled out of my hiding spot and peered over the edge of the railing toward the street, my lungs wheezily drawing in much-needed oxygen.

People were starting to appear from the direction of the park, some heading for cars, others going to the central square, where sounds of a band warming up could be heard. "The fireworks must be over," I mused aloud, "which means if I stay put, there will be a lot of people I can use as cover. That sounds smart."

"Excuse me, could you help us?"

At the soft voice behind me, I whirled around, clutching at the railing as my heart just about jumped out of my chest for the second time in an hour. "Holy cheese and crackers! You almost scared... me... to... uh..."

The two people who stood before me, at first glance, were nothing to make a mature, reasonably intelligent woman turn into a babbling fool, but that's just what happened. The man and woman were clearly a couple, because the woman, petite, with big, soulful eyes, clung to the man's arm as she peered up at me from under the low brim of a hat I vaguely remembered was called a cloche. She was wearing a low-waisted dress, while he was in an old-fashioned-looking suit and a fedora. But what had me stammering to a startled stop was the fact that the two of them were translucent, almost transparent, an odd bluish sort of glow about them as if they were made up of the ghostly images sometimes seen on old TVs.

The word "ghost" reverberated around in my head with growing intensity.

"We're lost. Can you help us?" the woman said, glancing up at her man.

"Uh." Hesitantly, I held out my hand, the hairs on my arm standing on end as my fingers reached the man's arm and passed right through it with only a tiny tingle.

"We were on a ship," the man said, looking around him. "We were going to Canada. But now we're lost, and we don't know where we're supposed to be going. You are the one who is supposed to help us, aren't you?" the man asked, a doubtful look on his translucent face.

"You're... not real," I said slowly, trying to understand what was going on. "Are you?"

"I am Karl. This is my wife, Marta. We were on a ship," the ghostly man said again. "What happened to it?"

"Karl, I'm afraid," the woman whimpered, pressing herself closer to her husband. "Maybe she is the other one."

I blinked in dumb astonishment. "I'm Pia, and frankly, I'm a bit confused."

"There's nothing to be afraid of," Karl told his wife, obviously trying to appear brave for her benefit. His expression continued to indicate that he was anything but calmly confident. "You are the reaper, aren't you? The old woman said there would be someone in town to show us the way. She said we'd know you by the light you carry." He gestured toward my hand.

I looked down in even more astonishment. The stone-bedecked bookmark that I'd looped around my wrist while I made my escape from Mattias had somehow morphed into a small lantern shaped like a crescent moon. It dangled like a charm from my wrist, and from it, a gentle glow illuminated the area immediately around me. "All right. This is going way beyond weird or possibly a mental condition, into the land of... well, I don't know quite what land it is. Maybe the unbelievable? Regardless, I'm not quite sure what to tell you. I don't think I'm the grim reaper - at least no one has informed me of anything like that," I said with a forced little laugh that sounded hollow.

   
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