TEEN VAMPIRES 1: THE RED CLAWS GANG
(Bella Shade Paranormal Romance)
Grapevine Books/Ediciones De La Parra
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
CHAPTER 1—THE RED CLAWS GANG
THE SKY LOOKED RATHER GLOOMY just outside the view of the Manhattan Journal´s presidential office.
The strong wind rattled the thick glass walls in constant hassle, making a nuisance of itself as it threatened to blow past the glass walls that made up the entire building.
It was the promise of things to follow, as a few minutes passed before the rain came hammering down in tiny droplets; the heavens shedding its tears in slow trickles before eventually letting down its emotions in a heavy pour.
The sight of the sky was a beauty to behold from the topmost office of the twenty storey building, giving an expansive view of everything ahead and anything in view.
It was the perfect spot to play God and look down on the lowly humans running helter-skelter in a tiny, ant-like fashion while cars sped along, almost as if they hoped to avoid the rain.
After all, it was Friday afternoon and everyone was busy working on the newspaper’s next edition. In my case, I hoped to leave the building within a few minutes if my father allowed it, having kept me confined in his office for almost an hour awaiting his return.
The beauty of having been adopted by a rich family like mine was having it all, and being able to enjoy what others could not. This included swinging in the expensive leather armchair my father had in his office, which gave a perfect 360 view of things around the glass-encased building.
Staring out the window, I noticed the rain had stopped. I stared at the clearing heavens, seemingly not far away, before glancing upon those struggling little humans which looked like insects down on the ground.
I was only 17 and felt I had it all. And I was pretty much glad I did, as I glanced around with boredom at the office I’d grown familiar with after visiting my father times without count.
A sudden knock came at the half-closed office door and Dad’s secretary, Ophelia Morris, poked her head in.
She was a chubby journalism student in her early twenties, with light milk chocolate skin and short, bushy hair. She was so charming everyone in the office loved her.
“Bella, dear, your father just called me from the conference room,” she announced with her usual sweet voice before entering the office. “He said he wants you to wait for him a few more minutes.”
“Is he and Uncle Rupert still interviewing Chief O’Neill?”
“Yes, but your father said he won’t be long.”
“Wow, it’s been such a long wait,” I said, glancing at the ebony clock on the wall. “It’s almost five … I´m afraid I need to go. Please tell Dad I waited for him for almost an hour; that I have an important appointment I can’t miss and that I’ll call him later …”
“Sure, dear. If there’s anything else you need just let me know.”
“Thanks, Ophelia. I’ll only stay a few more minutes. I’m fine.”
“You’re welcome, Bella.” She kindly grinned before popping back out the door and pulling it shut behind her.
“I´ll give him five minutes,” I mumbled to myself, glancing at my diamond encrusted wristwatch.
I knew I was probably going to be late for my meeting with detective Mike Ross, the private investigator I had secretly hired to help me find out about my unknown past. Dad wasn’t aware of this and would remain in the dark about the fact I had sought to pursue such knowledge about my origins. I had an in-depth desire to learn more about myself and how I came to acquire such a life of luxury, fame, and opportunities when I was only a child, after being adopted by one of the wealthiest families in Manhattan—who just happened to own one of New York´s most successful daily newspapers.
Taking out my compact mirror from my purse, I gave a quick look at the pale pink lipstick on my thick lips, checked the light makeup on my large blue eyes, and briefly smoothed my long, golden hair. I was ready to go.
I was just about to leave when the office door sprang open and in came my apologetic father, wearing the face I was all too familiar with.
“Bella! You look stunning!” he said, giving me a hug, a wide smile on his face. “Ophelia says you need to go.”
“Yes, Dad. Beth and Lulu are expecting me and I don’t want to be late. You know I’m having dinner with them and that I’m probably staying there for the night. But first we need to pick up a few things.”
“I’m sorry I kept you waiting, darling,” Dad said, a fatherly smile across his face. He lit up from ear to ear with a wild smile which spoke volumes that something was up.
“Don´t worry, I know you´re a busy guy,” I said sitting in his expensive chair, as I whirled around enjoying the feeling.
“Thanks for understanding, baby. We came up with new information on the pesky damned Red Claw Gang. I needed to make certain it went through the right channels,” he explained. “I know I should have gotten back here sooner instead of leaving you stranded,” he apologized, nodding his head in agreement to being unfair.
The mention of the Red Claw Vampire Gang made me uneasy.
Ever since Mom had been murdered by those evil vampires Dad had never been the same. I knew it was the one aspect of his life that gave him more headaches and less sleep than most. Since Mom´s death, a few months back, Dad had devoted his life to trying to bring the vampires to justice and pay for their multiple crimes.
I never quite understood why those evil creatures of the night, moving about in the shadows, had gone after Mom and brutally killed her like they did. All I know is that six months ago Mom had been kidnapped by those evil beasts while driving back home after having lunch with Dad on their last wedding anniversary. Her corpse was found three days later, with bite marks on her neck. There was little blood left in her body and most of her vital organs had been surgically removed. As the police informed us, she had obviously been the victim of the dreaded Red Claw Gang.
That unforgettable day marked the beginning of my father’s hunt for those vampires, after promising to grant them a deserved end for their crimes.
“Here,” he said, handing me a sheet of paper. “I want you to read what I wrote about the vampire gang´s latest crime.”
“I’m afraid so, honey. Chief O’Neill just gave me the details. It´s front page material for tomorrow’s edition.”
“Sure, Dad” I said, taking the paper before silently reading it:
Vampire Gang Slaughters Teenage Student
By ALBERT SHADE
NEW YORK — James P. O’Neill just released that the dead body of another young female was found in the Hudson Canal, her neck totally ripped out. The autopsy revealed that her body had been entirely drained of blood and that several of her organs had been surgically removed, including her heart, brain, eyeballs, lungs, kidneys, and liver.
As Chief O’Neill explained, a passer-by alerted the police around 8:15 a.m. An hour later a team of police and firefighters recovered the corpse, which was partially submerged in the canal.
Investigators identified the victim as 18-year-old Harvard student Lucinda Horton, of Upper East Side. She was reported missing last week and a news release about her disappearance was issued that same day.
Chief O’Neill also stated that this horrendous crime was evidently committed by the dreaded Red Claws vampire gang, responsible for over twenty similar murders in Manhattan over the last six months and linked to selling body parts to underground doctors both locally and abroad.
The FBI, which is also involved in investigating their crimes, revealed that the organs sold on the black market by the Red Claws have been secretly sold for up to $300,000 to desperate patients for transplants in New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. Recent investigations have shown that some surgeons either don’t know or don’t care where the organs come from. And always, at the end of the chain, is a wealthy recipient, willing to pay big bucks—no questions asked.
Although organ donation is strictly regulated in the US, the black market is alive and well. There are presently over 120,000 people in this country waiting for an organ, and 18 die each day whilst waiting. For the wealthy, money seems to be no objection when it comes to a vitally needed body part.
In spite of the investigations carried out by both the FBI and the NYPD, to date the identities of the members of the vampire gang are still a complete mystery, except for the fact that they are allegedly in their late teens and their bodies are marked with red claw tattoos.
Chief O’Neill also announced that the NYPD has decided to raise its reward from $10,000 to $20,000 for any information leading to their capture.
“How horrible, Dad!” I uttered once I had finished reading his story.
“That poor girl was only a year older than you Bella.
“Please promise you’ll always take care.”
“I will Dad, I promise.”
“So, tell me, are you still having dinner with your friends tonight?”
“Yes Dad, I am. But it isn’t far off from here, so I’ll definitely get there before sundown.”
“I’d never forgive myself if something ever happens to you Bella. You know you’re all I have left in the world.”
“I know Daddy. Please don’t worry, I’ll be fine.”
“I’m so sorry we still haven’t been able to bring those wicked criminals to justice. But I promise that they will soon pay for their crimes!” he boasted in prideful words brought forth from a grieving heart. “Something tells me that we’re closer than ever to ruining their organization and hammering their clan.”
I knew he missed Mom dearly and that with each passing second he only hated the evil gang more.
I could no longer be angry with him so gently springing up from the chair, I gave him a warm hug. I loved so him much, and never enjoyed seeing him in pain.
“I trust you Daddy. I know you’ll help to nail them soon,” I whispered into his ear, holding him close.
A wave of emotion engulfed us both as we stood in his office locked in one another’s arms, tears forming in our eyes. “It’s just a matter of time …”
As we hugged I stared at the gold watch around his wrist that Mom had given him on their last anniversary, causing the tears that could no longer remain in my eyes to roll down my cheeks.
“You’d better go now dear,” he sniffed, before pulling away from me with a genuine smile across his face. “I don’t want you to be late.”
“And tell Joshua to chauffeur you if you don’t want to drive. I´ll see you tonight,” he added giving me a warm goodbye kiss before returning to his chair.
“Sure Dad, take care!” I said with a wide grin before blowing him a kiss and whizzing out of his office, not imagining the perils of the evil nightmare that fate had in store for me.
CHAPTER 2—THE CALL OF DESTINY
THE ELEVATOR DOOR OPENED and out came Lulu Kennedy, a tall computer nerd with a lovely face, long ebony hair, and deep caramel eyes hidden behind retro gold-rimmed glasses. She was also seventeen and for years she and her cousin Beth had been my closest friends at the Collegiate School of New York, where the three of us had recently graduated from.
“Bella! What a surprise!” Lulu said giving me a quick, warm hug.
“Hi Lulu! What’s up? I didn’t expect to see you here at the paper.”
“Well, I just came by to drop off my weekly column. Beth´s waiting for me in the car. We’re kind of in a hurry and need to run. Do you know if your dad is in his office?
“Yeah, I just saw him there. So, what did you write this week?”
“Wow! You won´t believe it! I finally got to interview Yale Professor Bill Diamond. He just launched his new bestseller you know, Genetic Genesis of Vampire Clans.
“Isn´t he the guy who claims that vampire behavior is mostly determined by their genes?”
“Same one. In fact, Diamond was the first scientist to methodically study the genetic mutation suffered by humans when turned into vampires. After long years of research he identified a series of vampire genes that identically resembles part of the genetic chain of vampire bats, constituting what he calls a “genetic mirror image”. According to him, this organic similarity seems to determine why both species share similar natural traits, like feeding on the blood of large mammals as well as resting during the day and feeding at night.”
“But that’s not all. Diamond also concluded that this genetic pattern determines why both species have patriarchal societies. You see, just like other mammals, including wolves, wild dogs and elephants to name a few, vampire bats as well as human vampires both share hierarchical social systems led by alpha males, which are the original founders or breeders of the colony or clan as well as their natural leaders.
“Their genes, Diamond asserts, determine why both species conform to societies based on two main social classes: A high class constituted by a few dominant alpha males that lead the rest of the colony or clan, and a low class integrated by subordinate males and females, which constitute the majority of the family group.
“In all cases, the social cohesion of the vampire clan is determined by what Diamond calls “class loyalty,” which he defines as “the voluntary dependence of the submissive clan to their respective Master or Masters.” This loyalty shapes their societies and is genetically determined to guarantee success in the hard struggle for the existence of the species. And it also explains why those who follow do so eagerly, seeking guidance and stability from their clan leaders, whilst always accepting their role with natural submission.
“In the last section of his book Diamond describes why both species exhibit little or no aggression within their own colony but attack members of foreign colonies, always defending their communal foraging grounds against intruders. And that’s it. That basically covers all I wrote in my weekly column. What do you think?”
“I think it’s fabulous! You know I´m your hugest fan!”
“You’re not only saying it just because we’re good friends, are you?”
“No, Lulu! How can you say that. Dad loves your work! Everyone does! You wrote a great column like always and all your readers will definitely love it!”
“Thanks, Bella. You know how much this means to me. In any case, please tell your dad I came by. I really need to go now. It’s getting late and Beth’s waiting, you know. I guess I´ll see you tonight.”
I cleared my throat.
“About tonight, Lulu, there´s something I need to tell you. Remember that detective I contacted last week?”
“The one who’s investigating who your real parents are?”
“Yeah. The guy called me about an hour ago and said he wants to see me later today.”
“You think he found something?”
“I’m sure he did!”
“Yeah, really cool. But I don’t want Dad to know. That’s why I want you to cover for me. I told Dad I was going to your place for dinner tonight.”
“Sure, that’s what we agreed …”
“Only that first I need to see the detective. So please, if Dad calls you before I get there tell him I’m busy or something and that I’ll call him back. I’ll only be gone around an hour, so I’ll probably get there before he even calls. Can I count on you?”
“All right, Bella. You can count on us. But only if you promise to tell me everything the private eye found. Geez, I´m so thrilled that you’re finally going to find out who your biological parents really are!”
“So am I, Lulu. I’ve been waiting to know the truth ever since the day I found out I was adopted! You can’t imagine how I feel.”
“Just take care and don’t be too late. Don’t forget that with those damned vampires out there it’s not safe for a pretty young girl like you to be driving around alone at night.”
“Don’t worry, Lulu. I promise I’ll get to your place before sundown.”
We said farewell on a high note, never imagining that I would not show up for dinner that night and would soon be swept up by a whirlwind of unexpected events destined to forever twist my fate.
I drove down to Fifth Avenue feeling rather guilty. After all, I hated having to lie to my father. But this time I really couldn’t find the courage to let him know the truth.
After leaving my car in a nearby valet garage I walked to the main office of the Enigma Intelligence Agency, considered one of the finest investigation agencies in town. As agreed, the retired police detective and former special agent Mike Jackson was expecting me. Yes, he was a top notch private investigator and to my knowledge one of the best in New York City.
I had hired Detective Jackson only a few weeks back to find out all he could about my birth parents whose identities, backgrounds, and whereabouts I was completely ignorant of.
I knew I had been adopted when I was only eight weeks old but that was basically all I knew, apart from the fact that my adoptive parents were infertile and had found me in the Spence-Chapin agency. Unfortunately they had deliberately ignored who my real parents were, whether or not they were still alive, and under what circumstances I had been given up for adoption.
Of course, when I visited Spence-Chapin a couple of months ago, they refused to let me see my records. And since there was no way I could get any sort of information directly from them, I decided to hire a private investigator.
Earlier that day Detective Jackson had called me to say he had found vital information about my birth parents, my past, and where I came from.
The fact that I had specifically asked him not to bring any of his findings over to my house until I came to see him made it only feasible that we meet in his office.
The bold sign on the wide bronze door reading “New York Intelligence Agency,” and the words “Private Investigations,” made me certain I had reached the right place, after having made the mistake of wandering elsewhere the first time I had sought him out to help me.
I entered the agency’s fancy lobby with nothing but a rush of anxiety fueling my body and an unceasing wave of thoughts flashing across my worried mind.
What if I found out things I wouldn’t like? I asked myself while following his secretary up to the celebrated detective’s office. My heart raced hard, making me numb in the knees. I felt the taste of anxiety in my mouth, and boy did it taste like torture. My throat was dry and my palms began exuding copious amounts of water. I desperately wiped it off against my black dress in a bid to gain some level of control.
Remember Bella, whatever he’s found changes nothing, I told myself just before entering his office. Whatever he tells me will change absolutely nothing at all, I reminded myself again, in a bid to remain calm and shove off the nervousness which had begun to eat at me deeply within.
His door had the following inscription:
“Mike Jackson PI: Whatever is hidden, I unearth; whatever they hope to hide, I find. I’m your best choice at snooping around.”
It was pretty much a cocky inscription, but I was aware of his success rate from the list of jobs he was swamped with when I first contacted the agency.
Ever since I hired him, and up to the movement he rang my cell to inform me of his progress and the need for me to hear him out, I had never thought of how difficult it would be to actually find out the truth about my past and lineage.
Jackson had made me pay half his wage up front, billing me higher than usual after finding out I was the daughter of the owner of the Manhattan Journal.
Summoning the final piece of courage I had within me, I took a deep breath and glanced at the private eye’s office; its walls were literally covered with large bookcases filled with books and thick folders. Behind his wide oak desk sat Detective Jackson with his thick glasses and goofy beard, his arms crossed over his chest, which coincidentally was same position I had left him in the first time I’d gone to see him.
I knew it was now or never. So, decidedly, I stepped into his office expecting to discover both the details of my most remote past as well as those of the future fate had in store for me. But little did I know that a shadow of horror was just about to creep upon me.
CHAPTER 3—MY UNFAMILIAR FAMILY
“HELLO MISS SHADE, I’ve been waiting to see you,” Jackson greeted me with a wide smile, looking through his weird glasses at what looked to be my file.
I nervously nodded, remaining wordless until he kindly asked me to sit down in front of his wide ebony desk.
“Well, well, well, Miss Shade, I guess we may as well get down to business,” he slowly said before handling the dark brown file that lay before him and slowly parting it open, a hard-to-read expression that only showed deep bitterness and uncertainty on his face.
“Please Detective Jackson,” I summoned impatiently. “Whatever it is you’ve found, can you just lay it out?”
“Sure thing Miss Shade, but now that you seem in a hurry to find out,” he replied with a snort, “I’d like to see the remaining half of my payment before I tell you what I managed to find and hand you this file.”
He winked in a manner provoking enough to make me want to slap him across the face, before stretching out his hand to collect the money, which I pulled out from my bag and handed over.
He took his time to count the bills before breaking the news to me.
“Now that we got that out of the way, I must say I was able to dig up some interesting facts about your origins, Miss Shade,” he began by saying. “And these include both good news as well as quite sad news”.
“Sad? Please, don’t tell me my mother is a prostitute who chose to drop me by a dumpster where I was found and taken to the orphanage,” I cried, clenching my fists together underneath his desk, which helped to conceal my worry.
“Your birth parents were Mark and Lilly Grey, both New York doctors who worked in the Manhattan General Hospital before their unexpected and tragic death only a few weeks after you were born.”
“You mean they’re dead?”
“Yes, Miss Shade. They died in a car accident on their way back from work sixteen years ago. Fortunately, both of you were with your nanny back home,” Jackson explained, laying a hint of information that rattled me.
“What do you mean by ‘both of you’?” I asked almost immediately, still shocked after learning the fatidic fate of my birth parents.
“Oh sorry, I forgot to mention that you have an identical twin sister Miss Shade.”
“A twin sister?”
“That’s just what I said, Miss Shade.”
“What? Is she alive?”
“Yes. Your twin sister is very much alive. And she lives not far from here.”
“In Rumson, New Jersey, a prosperous city in Monmouth County, near the Southeast corner of New York State.”
“What else do you know about her?”
“Not much except her address and the school she goes to. But I must say she’s very much like you, Miss Shade. I´d say you’re both identical!”
“Just like you heard. Not even I could tell you both apart! But that’s not all. A couple of days ago I went to New Jersey and parked in front of her adoptive home. I waited for hours but it was worth it for in the end. I managed to take these pictures,” he said, taking a couple of photos from my file before showing them to me.
I couldn’t believe it when I saw her. There she was, my twin sister, and she actually looked exactly like me!
“Her name is Layla Poe,” he added, “and according to the records she was adopted only a few days before you were.”
Lost in confusion, I tried to piece together everything I had just heard and seen.
The fact that I had lost two mothers plus a father during my short lifetime struck me hard. However, I was oddly glad my birth parents had loved me and hadn’t abandoned me as I had feared but had been taken away from me by death.
But this other information about having an identical twin sister living in New Jersey was shocking and sent ripples of mixed emotions through me.
“Your sister Layla was adopted by a rich couple, Daniel and Mayra Poe, wealthy owners of one of New Jersey’s most lucrative shopping centers,” Jackson added, easing the bludgeoning news he had given me just a while back.
“What else did you find out?”
“That´s basically all I’ve got, Miss Shade. You’ll find your sister’s address in this file in case you decide to contact her,” he said kindly, handing it to me.
“Do you think I should meet her?”
“Why not? I certainly would if I were you.”
“Well, thank you Detective Jackson,” I said rising from my chair. “I’ll definitely think about meeting Layla. I must admit you did a really fine job.”
“Take care, Miss Shade. And don’t forget to call me if you ever need me. Working for you has been a real pleasure.”
CHAPTER 4—WHEN DEATH IS NEAR
IT WAS ALMOST SUNDOWN when I left Detective Jackson’s office. Holding the file he’d given me with both hands, I pondered my next move.
I could not stop thinking about Layla as I walked out of the building and hurried back to my car. What should I do? I asked myself. Should I go meet my new sister or leave things as they are?
It only took me a few minutes to clear my mind and decide that I’d really love to meet her. After all, she was my only true living relative and I had her address in hand.
After getting into my car I started the engine and recalled the day I’d found out I was adopted, exactly two weeks before my 15th birthday. That day my parents took me to my favorite park and told me they had originally agreed to tell me all about my origins when I reached my teens, not only because I truly deserved it but also because, sooner or later as Dad always said, “the truth always comes out.” And it sure did!
I remember silently listening to them as they told me all they knew, which really wasn’t much. They couldn’t have children, Mom explained, so they chose to adopt. The agency never told them who my biological parents were nor the circumstances surrounding my birth. All I can say is that my jaw literally dropped when I heard what they had to say. Everything was so hard to believe!
It was truly hard for me to accept that the parents I’d known for almost 15 years really weren’t my biological relatives. But at least that explained plenty of things, like the fact that I had always felt I was different from the rest of the family.
All of the sudden, things that had never made sense started making sense, like why I had never seen any pictures of myself as a newborn and the fact that I’m the only one in the family with light blonde hair and blue eyes.
I remember as a kid asking my parents why I didn´t look like them, though my grandparents had always said I did. I never saw the resemblance. After all, Mom was a brunette with hazel eyes, just like my grandmom, while Dad had black hair and brown eyes, just like the rest of his family.
Learning the truth was truly hard to digest. However, in the end my parents warmly hugged me and reminded me of how much they had always loved and cared for me, adding that the fact that I was adopted had never mattered to them. I was and had always been their beloved baby girl. And I had always loved them so.
As I pulled out of the parking lot I felt that my life was dramatically changing once again. I couldn’t believe I truly had a sister! I wanted to find out all I could about her, so why not just go see her at once? My desire to meet her was simply too strong to ignore.
Yes I know, it was getting late and, as Dad always said, driving around alone at night wasn’t safe for a young girl like me. But I literally had no choice. I just had to meet my twin sister.
Butterflies filled my belly as I took the highway and headed down to New Jersey thinking of Layla who, for better or for worse, was destined to forever change my life.
My drive to Rumson, New Jersey took no less than an hour. Zillions of confused thoughts popped into my mind, scrambling my head as I drove.
Should I meet her after all or was it a bad idea? Was I rushing things and taking this whole thing a bit too far? Didn’t my father deserve to know the truth before I met my new sister? And what if Layla and I didn’t get along after meeting and she ended up rejecting me?
Seeking to ease my nerves, I turned the radio on and enjoyed a couple of songs before I was shaken by a news bulletin that took me by surprise:
“A second murder victim was just found by New York detectives in the Hudson Canal. Just like the first victim, found this morning, she’d had her neck ripped out and was missing several vital organs.
“According to information just released by the NYPD, the new victim was identified as Anne Marie Adams, a 16-year-old high school student who was reported missing last weekend. Unlike the previous victim, she was brutally battered and raped before being murdered.
“NYPD officials believe this new crime was also committed by the Red Claws Vampire Gang, responsible for over twenty similar cases in Manhattan. No additional news regarding the circumstances surrounding her violent death were provided.
“Mary Lopez, 17, said she’d been friends with the victim for five years and that they were “like sisters.” She said she didn’t initially fear the worst when she heard her friend had gone missing.
“‘Anne Marie had disappeared several times in the past and stayed at friends’ houses,’ Mary Lopez said. ‘So I thought this was just another one of those times. However, as the days passed I inevitably ended up thinking that this time it could be more serious. But I never suspected that Anne Marie had been kidnapped by the vampire gang and that she would end up suffering such a horrific death.’
“As the investigation continues, New York authorities are warning residents to be on the lookout for teenagers with red claw tattoos and to avoid going out alone at night.
“Stay tuned for more news.”
CHAPTER 5—NIGHT OF CONFUSION
AFTER CROSSING THE LINCOLN TUNNEL I took the New Jersey Turnpike and finally reached the waterfront town of Rumson. Driving down to Bingham Avenue, I parked my car in front of the white Victorian mansion where my sister Layla lived with her adoptive family.
I walked up to the main gate and admired the impressive three-storey residence, fenced by stone walls and surrounded by vast and beautiful gardens softly illuminated in the full moon.
From the looks of things, it was more than evident that my twin sister was pretty well off.
All I had to do was ring the doorbell to come face to face with her but as I raised my hand a sudden wave of fear and paranoia engulfed me. I could feel my breath tense up as I pulled back from ringing the bell.
What if all this is nothing but a huge mistake? I questioned myself, the fear of the unknown ravaging my mind. What if Layla still ignores that she’s adopted and for some reason her parents don’t want her to know? Would she resent them for not having told her the truth or even rebel against them only because of me? And what if she ends up rejecting me for telling her the truth? Oh, Lord, what should I do? Ring the bell or put it off?
My heart raced like crazy and my knees threatened to buckle as the cold night permeated my body. I stood there, silently, without a decision in mind and deeply hoping I could come up with one.
No, I just can’t do this, I finally said to myself before turning around to leave, just as a black limousine halted in front of the residence.
Suddenly tense, I hoped it wasn’t Layla or her parents. To my surprise, however, a gorgeous young guy jumped out from the back seat of the limo and turned to me, smiling.
I felt my heart melt as I laid eyes upon his perfect body, dressed in a black suit. As he walked towards me, I felt irresistibly attracted to him. I examined him from head to toe and was left without words. He was so stunning I simply couldn’t believe my eyes!
“Hey Bae!” he said as he got closer. “You’re not thinking about leaving without your Pietro, are you? I’m sorry I didn’t call, Layla, I was too busy. But now I´m free and just had to see you again!”
Layla? I thought to myself. I was about to correct him, but before I could utter a word he warmly wrapped his strong arms around me, leaving me speechless.
Pressing my body against his, he softly brushed his lips against mine, making me shiver. Paralyzed by desire, I could not pull back although I knew it was the right thing to do. Somehow, he was casting some kind of spell on me!
CHAPTER 6—LOVER IN DISGUISE
THE LIMOUSINE PARKED at the end of a long driveway, lined with pine trees, that led to an impressive waterfront mansion set on the banks of the Navesink River. Surrounded by a gorgeous garden with a large pond and shaped like a small, medieval castle, the gray stone building had two tall towers, large octagon windows, and was circled by an iron fence.
During our short ride, I had not found the courage to tell my unsuspecting escort that he had taken the wrong girl. I felt nervous that he’d get word from Layla but fortunately as soon as his limousine drew away he turned off his phone, determined not to let anything disturb us.
“I forgot to tell you that we´re having a party tonight,” he said before stepping down from the vehicle. “And what did you do to your hair? I love it! You somehow look different, that’s for sure, but also more gorgeous than ever.”
There was loud music coming from the mansion and, as soon as we arrived, we were greeted by some of his friends partying near the swimming pool.
“Hey everyone! Pietro and Layla just arrived! It’s party time!” the DJ screamed into the microphone, sending waves of excitement through everyone as his friends greeted and complemented us both.
It was damned hard to pretend to be someone I was not. Not only did I not know Pietro and Layla’s friends, but there were many things I didn´t know and obviously should, plus I wasn’t accustomed to people calling me Layla!
I felt lost but safe with him, wishing I could tell him the truth but also feeling selfish because I wanted to be with him for the rest of the night. Somehow, Pietro had cast a spell on me, a deep and sensual incantation that I could not find words to explain.
“Are you okay, Layla?” he asked me somewhat confused, without actually being able to pinpoint anything.
“I’m fine, why do you ask?” I asked.
“You just seem detached from our friends tonight,” he replied raising an eyebrow. “Why is that?”
“Sorry, honey. I guess I’m just not feeling quite myself tonight,” I promptly replied. “Let’s get a drink and go to the pool, please. I want this night to be just for you and me.”
We picked up a couple of drinks and walked to the poolside holding hands. After sitting near the far end, away from the crowd, I silently stared at him as I drank from my glass. I had decided not to speak too much or else I’d risk the possibility of getting found out.
Suddenly, a short, chubby kid with shaggy red hair and a particularly long nose walked up to us, a beer in his hand. He definitely looked like a cute hobbit!
“Wassup, guys?” he greeted us with a gentle smile. “Guess who’s here Pietro?”
“Don´t tell me you brought your mother Billy!”
“No way!” he replied chuckling. “I´m talking about your old pal, Cesar Diaz.”
“Cesar?” Pietro asked, evidently surprised. “He´s here?”
“Yeah, bro. He just got back from Chicago and dropped by to say hello. He’s eager to see ya. Let me get him …”
As soon as Billy left, Pietro turned to me and said: “I know you’ve never met Cesar, but he’s part of the fam. We grew up together and he’s always been one of my best friends. Man! It’s been over a year since I last saw the dude. I wonder how he’s doing …”
Less than a minute later, a tall and slim albino walked toward us. His long, wavy hair was as white as snow and fell upon his broad shoulders, framing a thin, pale face that gave him an odd ghostly look.
“What´s up, buddy? Long time no see!” he said with deep voice, greeting Pietro with a warm hug.
“Cesar! It’s great to see ya! I’m really glad you dropped by. Honey, I want you to meet my friend Cesar,” Pietro said, introducing us with a grin.
“Pleased to meet you, bae,” Cesar said, turning to look at me. I must admit I felt rather uncomfortable when he laid his intense, gray eyes upon mine and gently kissed my hand.
“It’s my pleasure, Cesar. I´m Bella,” I nervously said, accidentally using my real name instead of my sister’s.
“Bella?” Pietro grunted, gazing steadily at me with a frown.
“Just kidding, honey. I´m Layla,” I chuckled, trying to play it off as a joke. “Pietro says you’re one of his dearest friends.”
“I sure am, Layla. We’ve been buddies ever since we were in first grade.”
“So, what brought you to New Jersey, pal?” Pietro asked curiously. “How long are you planning to stay?
“Just a week, buddy. I came to see a client I’ve been doing business with.”
“So, are you still working in real estate?”
“Yeah,” he nodded. “How about you, Pietro?”
“Killing it, like always. You know how it is. I´m making tons of money so I really can’t complain. Well then, are you staying for the party?”
“Sorry, buddy. I need to see my client tonight.”
“What? Don’t tell me you’re leaving.”
“I have to, Pietro. Business is business.
“Come on, pal. At least stay for a while.”
“No can do, sorry. I really need to take care of my client tonight. But why don’t we get together Sunday night and play some pool at the Yacht Club, like in the good old days?”
“Sounds cool, Cesar. Will do. Too bad you can’t stay. But give me a call tomorrow and we’ll work it out. We really need to do some catching up!”
As soon as his friend Cesar left us, Pietro put his drink down and pulled me closer to him. His blue eyes mirrored the beauty of the sky, shaming the moonlight glare in their perfection.
Falling prey to his handsome sorcery, we locked lips and made out. My breath became heavier with each melting kiss, until he suddenly stopped and led me into his mansion.
CHAPTER 7—THE VAMP BEHIND THE MASK
PIETRO’S BEDROOM WAS beautiful and luxuriously decorated, with huge, colorful paintings covering the walls and a cozy fireplace flickering in one corner. Its red curtains were opened, showing the full moon, and a king-sized bronze bed sat against the back wall, its satin sheets silently calling our names.
After lighting a pair of black candles, Pietro opened a drawer and took out a small jewel case before showing me the most beautiful necklace I had ever seen.
“I got this for you, my dear.”
Attached to a shiny golden chain hung a small verdant green emerald shaped into a heart.
“For … for me?”
“Of course, Layla, especially for you.”
I was speechless.
“So, Layla, do you like it? You know I’ve never been able to read your mind. Like I say, must be your genes.” He chuckled.
“Don’t be silly, Pietro!” I sighed. “It’s gorgeous, of course I like it. How could you not know?”
Instead of answering, he silently leaned forward with a smile and delicately clasped the necklace around my neck. I looked up at him, pressing my hand against the jewel, while he wrapped his arms around me and gave me a deep, delicious kiss that made me shiver from head to toe.
Dropping on his bed, he gently pulled me on top of him as he lay on his back, pressing my body against his while running his warm hands down my back. I was deliciously consumed by desire when he started kissing my neck and worked his way down to my collar bone, his hands caressing me everywhere he pleased. Forcing a gasp from my throat, he pressed his thigh between mine, making me tremble with agonizing pleasure. My heart pounded hard as we continued kissing. In spite of my scarce experience with men, I knew exactly where this was going.
Sure, I had slept several times with Jason Mijalevich, my former boyfriend. But although being with Jason had been a delightful experience, it was nothing compared to this!
I must admit that deep inside I knew I was making a huge mistake. But somehow Pietro had a strong spell on me, a crazy enchantment that didn’t allow me to stop. We were both literally on fire that night and, without him knowing that I was actually the wrong girl, we inexorably ended up making love.
Sensual, wild, steamy love.
As we lay naked on the bed, silently caressing and staring into each other’s eyes, there was a sudden knock on the door.
“Who’s there?” Pietro asked with a frown.
“It´s me. Joe. We need to talk, dude. It’ll only take a minute.”
“Wait hun, I’ll be right back,” he said jumping off the bed before putting on his pants and answering the door, shirt in hand.
I almost cried out when Pietro turned his back on me. I actually couldn’t believe what I saw. There, on the back of his left shoulder, he had a red ink tattoo resembling an eagle’s claw!
A sudden wave of fear groped my heart and made me tremble as I realized it looked just like the symbol used by the vampire gang terrorizing Manhattan.
No! It can’t be! I desperately yelled within myself as he dashed out of the room, shutting the door behind him.
CHAPTER 8—THE FACE OF TERROR
COLD CHILLS SWEPT through my body as I scrambled out of bed and heard their conversation through the door.
“What’s up, Joe? How’s the party?”
“Way live, Pietro. I hate to interrupt, but we really need to talk.”
“No sweat, man. Just shoot.”
“Well, Doctor Roberts just came by and dropped off the new body. What do you want us to do with it? Dump it in the canal like the other two?”
Biting my lip, I tried to keep still as I felt the ground crumbling beneath me.
“Is Roberts done with her?”
“Yeah. But he decided not to take her lungs.”
“He said they were trash. That badass slut was a heavy smoker, man.”
“That sucks, Joe. That’s gonna cost us a few grand.”
“I know. Just tell Master Cain that we’ll still make plenty of bucks with her other organs. I know he’ll understand.”
“Sure he will. But we gotta make a better choice next time. Only non-smokers from now on.”
Leaning on the door with a broken heart and tears in my eyes, I sighed and continued listening in shock.
“About the body Joe, forget the canal. Haven’t you seen the news? That place is loaded with cops!”
“So, where do you want us to dump it?”
“Let Roberts handle it. I’m sure he’ll think of something. Right now we need to concentrate on our plans for tomorrow. Don’t forget Master Cain wants us to raid the New York Mayor’s home shortly after sunset. He’s throwing a family dinner and we´re gonna drag him to the ground! By the way, did you tell the fam?”
“Done, man, the fam already knows.”
“By the way Joe, I want you to take a quick look at the floorplan of the Mayor’s mansion. I saw the layout of the back entrance and really need your opinion.”
“Sure, dude. So, you finally managed to get a hold of the floorplan, after all?
“Yeah. Sal brought me a copy last night, as promised. It’s down at the library, let me show it to you. It’ll only take a minute.”
My heart pounded fast as I heard them leave.
Crying bitterly and with growing tightness in my chest, I headed for the window to catch some fresh air. I was in despair and could hardly breathe. But I almost fainted when I looked out and saw Pietro’s friends naked in the swimming pool. They were all wildly dancing; their long, sharp fangs, bloodshot eyes and red-claw tattoos visible for all to see!
This horrible sight boosted all my fears. I needed to escape as fast as I could!
Knowing that Pietro had gone to the library for a few minutes, I picked up my dress and quickly put it on before making my escape out the window. A nervous wreck stormed within me as I descended the stone wall and reached the lawn. Straightening up, I wiped away tears and adjusted my dress as well as I could just in case someone saw me and got suspicious. Watchful of my surrounding, I remained in the shadows and breathed deeply, trying to keep my cool.
A few seconds later, I rushed down the empty driveway, my feet loudly pounding against the pavement. Fearing the worst, I took my shoes off and made a run for the front gate. Fortunately, there was no one in sight and I managed to open the gate with no problem. Convinced that nobody had seen me, I finally dashed out of the place as fast as I could.
When I reached the street an empty cab happened to drive by. I felt so lucky! After flagging it down, I hopped in and told the driver where I needed to go. He rapidly took me back to my sister’s house, where I had left my car earlier.
Trembling and crying, I started my vehicle and rushed back home. I just had to tell my father about my horrendous experience (skipping all the private stuff, of course), including what I’d heard about the teen vampires’ new victim as well as their vile and imminent plan to attack the New York City Mayor.
That had certainly been the scariest night of my life –or so I thought at the time, for I was ignorant of what fate still had in store for me.
CHAPTER 9—WHEN LOVE AND HATE COLLIDE
I WOKE UP the following morning with a profound feeling of vast emptiness filling my soul.
Was it only a dream? I asked myself before reaching for the necklace and gently caressing its heart-shaped gem. I needed to send it to Layla anonymously. It really belonged to her, not me.
Every cell in my body longed for Pietro, even though our love had never meant to be. Damn it! Not only was he in love with my twin sister instead of me, but he was also a vampire!
Oh, my God! I suddenly thought to myself. I need to warn Layla before it’s too late! But how?
I was too shocked and confused to think straight, so I ultimately decided to leave it for later. Yes, that was the best thing to do.
The previous night I had fallen asleep thinking of Pietro, after telling my dad everything I knew. Of course, he immediately picked up the phone and had a long talk with Chief O’Neill.
I spent most of the day in bed, crying my heart out and thinking of Pietro and all the possible could have beens. When evening arrived I finally summoned the courage to leave my room in search of something to eat, having taken nothing the entire day.
Oh, Lord I hated him for being a vampire. But at the same time I missed him so!
That night my dad got home earlier than usual.
“I sent Mike and Freddy over to the Mayor’s house to cover the news,” Dad commented when he arrived. “If anything happens tonight, they’ll be the first to know. I also told Joan and Bob to take care of the new edition as soon as we get some information about the Red Claws gang. So far everything looks calm. Are you sure they’ll attack tonight?”
“That’s what I heard Dad.”
Shortly after dinner, the phone rang.
“It was Jane,” Dad told me after hanging up. “She said the police just managed to defeat the vampires and told me to watch CNN.”
After turning the TV on I sat with my dad in the living room and we both turned our eyes to the screen and heard the breaking news.
“The Red Claws Vampire Gang suffered a major setback tonight while plotting to kill the New York Mayor after a fierce confrontation with the New York police force and FBI agents.
“After months of successfully terrorizing the streets of Manhattan and eluding the authorities, the teenage vampires suffered their first defeat thanks to an ingenious trap designed by the NYPD and the FBI’s Vampire Slayer Unit. Over a dozen members of the dreaded Red Claws Gang were either killed or apprehended after a brief and intense battle.”
As the news recounted the event, I awaited the list of causalities as I was certain the names of those killed would be read out.
I closely listened as the broadcast continued:
“In spite of the fact that that the vampires defeated tonight only represent a small percentage of the total members of the Red Claws Gang, it has been confirmed that one of its main leaders, who went by the name of Pietro Milani, stood amongst those who were slain during the combat.”
I was deeply struck when I heard the broadcaster read out the painful news. In a bid to conceal how I felt I ran off to my room, weeping fervently over Pietro’s death. It was so hurtful to hear he had been killed; I decided to lock myself in my room with no intention of ever leaving. The fact we had shared such a wonderful night made me feel hurt within. I could still perceive Pietro’s sweet fragrance on the dress I had worn the previous night. My God! How I wished things had turned out differently! Yes, I had definitely fallen for Pietro and losing him wasn’t something I could easily cope with.
Suddenly, my father knocked on my door.
“Hey Bella, are you all right?” he kindly asked.
“Yes Dad,” I bluntly replied.
“But you left in such an awkward manner, honey. Are you sure you’re alright?” he voiced his concern.
Mopping my face dry and keeping calm enough to speak I said, “I’m fine Dad, I just need some time alone.”
“Okay dear. By the way, Chief O’Neill just called. He´s coming over tonight and said he needs to talk to you.”
“Does it have to be tonight? Can’t it be some other time?
“He said it’s really urgent. Is that all right?”
“I guess so Dad. Just give me a few minutes.”
“Take your time, honey. I’ll wait for you downstairs,” he said before walking away from the door.
No sooner had his footsteps faded than I continued weeping, wetting my sheets with more tears.
CHAPTER 10—FINAL ATTACK
AFTER TAKING A WARM BATH I stepped down to the living room where my dad waited for me. I found him sitting in front of his laptop, reading the front-page story Joan had written about the Red Claws Gang.
Just as he stepped into the kitchen for some water, I heard someone knocking at the door.
“Bella, can you please get the door?” Dad said from the kitchen. “It must be Chief O´Neill.”
Thinking it was truly the New York City Police Commissioner, I opened it absentmindedly. To my surprise I found my sister Layla standing by the door.
Jesus! It was though a mirror had been placed right in front of me, there at the doorway, showing me an exact image of myself! But what the heck was she doing there? And how had she found my address?
“You slut!” she screamed as soon as she saw me, without showing any surprise, before slapping me on the face with inhuman strength and making me fall backwards in pain. Her eyes were as red as hot coals and her teeth long and sharp. Oh no! She was a vampire too!
Letting herself in without any invitation, Layla growled and looked at me with bloodshot eyes.
Still on the floor, I barely had enough time to cry out in pain before she started kicking my stomach with extreme violence and rage. I had never had the slightest idea that she was a vampire and now that I did, I realized it was too late to save myself from her dreadful fury.
“I hate you!” she screamed as she continued kicking me with rage.
“Please stop!” I cried out desperately as I tried to block her powerful blows with my arms.
“You slut! You not only slept with Pietro but you also got him killed! You bastard! You snitched him off to the police, didn’t you?” she cried, continuing her horrendous assault. “And you thought I’d never find you, didn’t you? Well, you can thank my father for installing the security cameras that got your car’s license plate! And now, prepare to die!”
Hearing our loud screams Dad came rushing into the living room, his jaw dropping when he saw Layla. In utmost shock, his eyes swept from me to my identical twin, who turned to him with rage.
“What in God’s name is going on here?” Dad howled in confusion.
I felt the guilt within me grow intensely, wishing I had told him about Layla and how I came about the information about the Red Claws Gang.
Opening her mouth wide to reveal her extended fangs, Layla picked up an iron chair and violently hurled it at my father. Fortunately, he ducked in the nick of time and ran to get his shotgun while I got back on my feet.
“You! Stay right there!” she cried, turning to me with deadly intent written all across her face.
“Please sister, take it easy,” I barely managed to say before she sent me crashing backwards with a mighty kick to my gut.
Picking me up from the floor with both hands, she angrily hurled me to the far corner of the room, just as my dad returned shotgun in hand. I was badly hurt. Everything had happened so fast it was difficult to keep track on what was going on.
“Hey! You blood-sucking garbage. Leave my daughter alone!” he cried out, aiming at Layla before shooting at her a couple of times.
The loud blast from the gun filled the room as Layla received the powerful blows against her chest and fell back. As she dropped to the floor, I got up immediately and ran towards my father, who tightly held his smoking gun.
“Let´s get out of here, Bella!” he cried, still aiming at my twin sister.
I ran towards the door but before I could reach it, Layla suddenly sat up and jumped back to her feet.
“You fools!” she cried out in rage. “You really think mere bullets can kill me?”
Dad fired again, but this time Layla rapidly jumped to one side and he unfortunately missed.
Soaring towards him at incredible speed, Layla knocked the gun out of his hand and grabbed him in a choke hold before hurling him across the room.
“Dad!” I screamed as my father smashed a wooden table that ended his fall.
Picking up the shotgun, Layla aimed at my father and cold-heartedly shot him without thinking twice. My heart sunk at the sight of my father lying motionless on the floor, a horrible wound upon his bleeding chest.
Layla laughed wildly as I ran to his side, tears running down my cheeks.
“Daddy!” I painfully cried, feeling for pulse. But there was none.
“What the hell have you done, you monster?” I roared with rage, turning my eyes to Layla, who was aiming directly at me with a wicked expression on her face.
“Shut up you slut!” she yelled. “Don´t you know you’re next?”
“You can go to hell for all I care,” I voiced in hurt, raising my middle finger towards her. I could tell it irked her badly and made her snap. She spat on the floor and pulled the trigger, but nothing happened.
Hurling the gunshot away from her, she lunged towards me with open fangs and a wild look on her face. I could feel death racing towards me as she got closer, evidently set to kill.
Expecting the worst, I desperately grabbed one of the splintered wooden legs of the broken table and held it up against her with indescribable fear. Blinded by rage, Layla had already jumped towards me and, unable to stop, inevitably ran directly into the pointed stake. Letting out a loud shriek, her body twisted in pain as the stake´s sharp end sank deeply into her chest. Her wicked smile, which she had conjured upon the thought of killing me, forever disappeared as her blood made its way from her mouth and nose. The wood had driven through her heart and dealt her a deadly blow.
With a heavy heave, I shoved her dead body away and turned my gaze back to my dead father. I had never felt so much pain in my life! Caressing his blood-bathed body, I remained motionless with his head resting on my thighs.
The Red Claws Vampire Gang had completed the malevolent duet of killing both my father and mother and I wasn’t going to let them get away with it.
No matter what it cost, I swore I would make them pay!
Bella Shade is a 17-year-old rich girl whose mother was murdered by the treacherous members of the Red Claws Vampire Gang. But she never expected her life would soon be in danger, changing things for ever.