Born in Twilight - An Excerpt



The Wings in the Night relaunch continues with book 5, Born in Twilight dropping about 36 hours from this writing on Tuesday, August 23rd.


Here is the opening scene of this bigger, thicker, lusher Wings in the Night novel. At the end there's button to click you through to the page with the blurb, all the order links, and the rest of the series. Paperback coming to Amazon any day now.


COPYRIGHT MS LEWIS 2002, 2022 - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. COPYRIGHT ENFORCED


BORN IN TWILIGHT

BY MAGGIE SHAYNE



CHAPTER ONE


“I am damned. I am damned. I am damned.”


Those words were the only ones I could utter as I stumbled through the city streets that first night of my new life. My hair was in tangles, my clothes torn and dirty. Passersby looked at me and then quickly looked away, their eyes flashing with alarm—or was it contempt?— as their steps altered to give me a wide berth. It was as if they knew.


I’d been on the right path. Or I thought I had. Perhaps I’d been a bit too confident in my righteousness. Pride goeth before a fall, after all. But surely the sin of pride didn’t warrant this severe a retribution. Surely it hadn’t been the hand of God that brought me this low.

No. No, God had nothing to do with it, nor Satan himself, but a monster—a creature far more hideous than even Lucifer in all his evil glory could ever be.


For thirteen years I’d been as pure and as holy as I envisioned the very angels to be. From the darkest night of my life—the night my mother had left me at the altar at St. Christopher’s, promising she’d come back for me soon—I had done only good. Though I’d barely been old enough to know good from bad then, a nine-year-old child abandoned by her mother learned quickly enough. If I were only good enough, perhaps she would come back for me.

She hadn’t. But it had only served to convince me that I hadn’t been good enough. It only served to make me strive to be better.


The sisters had raised me well, taught me all they knew of the ways of truth and righteousness for His name’s sake. And I hadn’t left them when I’d come of age, but instead, had clung to the refuge I’d found among them.


My final vows would have been spoken a week from that horrible night. Just one more week. And I wondered, for just a moment, if I’d have been safe from the monster had I taken the veil sooner. Would my devotion have protected me then?


“I am damned,” I muttered again, this time sinking to the steps of a beautiful cathedral. I didn’t gaze up at the spires, or wonder at the beauty of the stained-glass windows. I couldn’t. When I looked at the colors, my monstrous eyes refused to linger on the heavenly blues and greens and golds. They focused instead on the bits of scarlet-colored glass, and on those alone. That color caused a hunger to stir in the depths of my soul, a sinful hunger, one I could not—would not—assuage.


I’d gone out alone that wintry night, despite the sisters’ dire warnings....



 

My soft-soled shoes made squeaking sounds as I raced down the steep wooden stairs from my cell. I was in a hurry to be off. It was snowing outside! The first snow of the winter, and how I loved it. I’d been pacing my chamber, unable to concentrate on my studies, or much of anything else for that matter. All I seemed able to do was glance at the small, white-faced clock on my wall and scowl at its slow ticking, before turning back to my single window to gaze longingly out at the snow.


We were not a cloistered order, exactly. We did go out among the worldly, but only in service to the Lord or when Mother Mary Ruth saw it as absolutely necessary. Tonight, it was my turn to work at the shelter several blocks away. And while I knew I should be rejoicing at the opportunity to serve God by helping my fellow man in his time of need, I wasn’t. I was rejoicing in the opportunity to go out in the brand-new snow.


I pulled a light shawl over my habit, which was a simplified version of the ones the true sisters wore. I’d have one like theirs soon—in just over a week, when I took my solemn vows.

My steps faltered as I reached the bottom of the staircase and saw Sister Rebecca, who was to accompany me to the shelter, leaning against the newel post and looking sickly.

“Sister, what’s wrong?” I rushed forward, my heart sinking as much at the thought of having to stay in tonight as at the thought of Sister Rebecca being ill. We always worked in pairs at the shelter, always traveled there and back together.


“Stomach virus, or so I suspect,” she replied. She was young, like me. It had been only a year since she’d taken her final vows, and I sometimes thought it was a shame she’d never married or had children, as lovely as she was. And as I thought it a small, niggling doubt tried to creep into my brain, but I shook it off. This was the only life I’d ever known. I remembered almost nothing from before my mother left me here. I wouldn’t know how to live among the worldly. Besides, I wanted to be good. And there wasn’t a better way, was there?


“Don’t worry,” Sister Rebecca said, valiantly lifting her chin and trying to paste a smile over her grimace. “I’m not going to beg off. You’ve been looking forward to this all day.”

Had I been so obvious? I averted my face. “No, Sister Rebecca. I won’t have you going out when you feel so poorly. You should be in bed.” I pressed a hand to her forehead and felt heat there. Then I turned her around and helped her toward the stairs. “Now go on upstairs and rest. I can certainly tend to the needs of the homeless without a partner on the verge of collapse.”


She stiffened, as I’d feared she would. “You will most certainly not go out alone! You know the mother superior’s rules.”


“Surely she’d make an exception of she knew you were sick. She’d never insist you go with me.”


“She’d insist you stay home.”


“Lucky for me she’s not here, then.”


Sister Rebecca shook her head slowly. “Look at you! Your eyes are sparkling tonight. What has you so excited, Angelica?”


“The snow,” I said, spinning around and stopping when I faced the window and could see the snowflakes pirouetting in the glow of the streetlights outside. “I want to be in it. I want to feel it on my face.”


Her soft hand came down on my shoulder. “There will be other snow.”


“But this is the first,” I said, and I faced her once more. “Please let me go. I’m a grown woman. Grown women traipse about this city by themselves every day.”


‘‘Not women of this order,” she began.


“Well, technically, I’m not of this order...yet. So I can do what I want.”


“Angelica...”

I stopped on my way to the door, and turned to face her.


She smiled, and I saw the fever in her pink cheeks and shining eyes. One strand of golden hair had escaped her wimple and curled against her cheek. “You’re a very strong-willed young woman, Angelica,” she said, but her smile remained. “And adventurous, and more than a little bit mischievous. I often wonder if you’ve given enough thought to the decision you’ve made.”


But I only shrugged. “I’m going to the shelter. Mother superior can lecture me when she returns, but until then. I’m going out in the snow.”


She nodded as if in defeat. “Hurry, then. Don’t miss your bus. If you do, you come straight back here—” But I was already out the door.


Oh, the snow! I’d always loved winter. I tipped my face up to let the icy, wet flakes fall against my cheeks and my nose. And even tasted them the way a small child might do. They coated everything I passed, like powdered sugar on parked cars and sidewalks and windowsills and front stoops. I dawdled, because it enchanted me so. I remember thinking it was like magic, that first snow of the winter—like a fairy tale come true. And I remember telling myself that I was far too old to be so giddy over a simple thing like snow—dancing in it like a little girl. But I couldn’t help myself. I was giddy. 


And wrong, I was wrong to have come out alone, blatantly breaking the rules of the order. But I’d done so often enough in the past that the sisters must surely expect it by now. I disliked rules. I’d probably have to change my rebellious ways and conform a bit better once I took my vows, but I refused to do so until then.


After that...


Again, that shiver of doubt. Again, I shook it away. I’d think about that later. Not now. All I wanted to do right now was walk alone at night, breaking the rules with every step, and enjoy the snow.


And that is precisely what I did. When I finally reached the bus stop on the corner though, it was only to see my transportation rolling away without me.


It threw me, but only for a moment. After all, I was almost a sister of the Order of the Sisters of Mercy. I was good. I lived my life serving God, and surely no one else did so with such enthusiasm as I. Certainly, wherever I went I was walking within the protection of His love. In fact, I’m sure I felt invulnerable, though where I got that idea, I do not know. It was not something the sisters would have taught me, not something I’d read in my studies. But I felt it, all the same. I felt surrounded by a protective shield that would let no harm come to me, and because of it, I foolishly decided to walk the six blocks to the shelter. And that, I later realized, was the foolish pride that led to my downfall.


He was waiting, crouched in the shadows of a garbage-strewn alley. The monster called out to me as I passed, and my steps slowed to a reluctant stop. What a fool I was.


“Sister! Sister, please, help me.”


My beloved snow fell in gentle puffs as I turned to look into the darkness, unable to see the owner of that plaintive voice. I stood a little straighter, feeling a hint of fear for the first time. “Who’s there?” I called. “Come here, where I can see you.”


“I can’t. I’m hurt. Please, Sister. Don’t let me die here in the cold. Help me!”


My fear did not evaporate. It was simply outspoken by my unwavering confidence. I was a servant of the Lord, and I would walk where even His most trusted angels feared to tread, if that were what was necessary. I’d help this poor soul in the alley. But I’d be careful, cautious, wise. Tentatively, I stepped into the blackness, and an icy shiver raced up my nape, chilling me right to my soul. I should have known, oh, I should have known right then not to go a single step farther.


“Over here,” he moaned, drawing me closer. Closer, until the lighted, busy street was out of reach. And when I was close enough, still blind in the darkness, he came at me. Bony arms with the strength of Samson closed around me, nearly crushing me, and a hand clapped over my mouth. I struggled. Mightily, I struggled. For though devout, I had never been timid or weak, or cowardly. I kicked him with a force that surely should have broken his shins. And I boxed his ears hard enough to knock him unconscious, I twisted and pulled against his grip, and tried to bite the hand over my mouth. But nothing I did to him seemed to have any noticeable effect. He didn’t flinch, or even draw a harsh breath. My heart pounded so loudly it deafened me as he dragged me deeper into the alley. Silently, I began praying for, salvation from this madman, praying for my life to be spared. Lord, forgive me for that error. I should have been praying for my immortal soul, not the preservation of this life, this body.


He threw me down among the rubbish so hard my breath was taken away when I hit. And then he came down on top of me, as I gasped for air among the fetid garbage. The stench was sickening. I caught my breath, parted my lips to scream, but he covered my mouth again. He sat there, straddling me, and with his free hand he tore the wimple from my head, freeing my hair and grasping handfuls of it. “Black satin,” he whispered as he fingered my hair. “And eyes like onyx. You’re perfect.” I struggled beneath him. “Perfect I won’t be alone anymore.”


I still could not see him well. Only the shape of his face, and the darker wells of his eyes were visible. But I could not escape the feeling that he could see me perfectly.


“I’ve been watching you for so long, you know. I’ve chosen you, of the many I’ve known. You should be grateful, Angelica, for the gift you’re about to receive.”


I shook my head, but to no avail.


“Yes. Grateful,” he went on. “No cloistered order for you, my perfect one. No vows. You’re not meant for that. You’re meant for me.”


The monster bowed over me, lifting me slightly from my bed of refuse. He bent to my throat, and my stomach turned when I felt the touch of his cold mouth on my skin. With one hand, he forced my head back until I thought my neck would break. And then the moment I shall never forget for as long as I live. Indeed, the moment I’d never dreamed of. I thought he would rape me, murder me. I thought many things when the creature bent over me that night. But I never thought this.


There was pain—brief, shocking pain, when his incisors pierced the tender skin of my throat. And then that pain was gone, and I was left instead with the horror of what was happening to me. His mouth sucked at my neck as he drank the lifeblood from my body. I could feel my essence leaving me through those two tiny holes in my throat. My mind swam, faded. Everything faded. The stench of the garbage and the chill of the cold winter night. The feel of those wet snowflakes on my face. The very ground on which I lay. Everything vanished, and I was left with nothing. Every aspect of me was focused on the part of me where this monster had fastened himself. My throat and his mouth drawing the blood from it, were all that remained of the universe.


He lifted his head. I lay still, barely conscious, unable to move or utter a sound. He moved, and there was a glint of silver. I couldn’t even feel alarm when it occurred to me that he held a blade. That he would finish me now. I could hear nothing. The sounds of the city could no longer reach my ears, only his voice.


He lifted me, pressing my face into the crook of his neck, and he whispered, “Drink, Angelica! Drink... and live.”


He forced me closer, his hand on the back of my head. My lips touched warmth, wetness on his throat. I tried to draw away, but my weakness would not allow it. Then the first taste of it touched my tongue, quickening my senses. A jolt, like a blast of icy wind, shot through me. I think my eyes shot wide. My lips parted on a gasp, and more of the thick, salty liquid surged into my mouth. Had I not swallowed. I’d have drowned. And if I’d been as devout as I’d prided myself on being, that’s precisely what I would have done—let myself drown in this cursed elixir and gone willingly into the arms of the Lord rather than surrendering myself to the instinctive need to stay alive. But instead, I swallowed. That was when I first felt the power of this devilish hunger. It shot through me, overwhelming all that I had ever been. It took control, a need I couldn’t even identify. I closed my lips over the wound in his throat...and I drank. Hungrily, greedily, I drank, and as I did, my body came alive with sensations I’d never known. So gluttonous was I, that he had to push me away when the curse was complete—had to push me, his unwilling victim, away from his neck.


I lay there in the garbage and my eyes cleared. I could see everything. Every aspect of his white face, and black eyes, and bloodstained lips. Every grain of sand in the bricks of the building beside me. Every star in the sky. My skin tingled with new life, new awareness. I felt in a way I’d never felt before; the shape of each snowflake as it hit my skin, every molecule of chilly air that caressed my face, every pebble and piece of trash that lay beneath me. I could identify each vile smell. And my hearing...I could hear the conversations of people passing on the street. The roll of tires on the wet pavement. The squeaking of snow-dampened brakes.


I heard the traffic light turn green.


“What is this?” I cried, and my own voice was so shockingly different, so vivid and rich and clear, that I pressed my hands to my ears and squeezed my eyes shut tight.


“You’ll learn to control it,” he told me. “You can close it out, hear only what you wish to hear. You’ll learn. I’ll teach you.” He removed my hands from my ears, pressed them to the rubbish at my sides. ‘‘I’ll teach you. You’ll live forever, Angelica. You’re not mortal anymore. You’re like me now.”


I opened my eyes. ‘‘Like you?” I was horrified.


“Yes.”


My heart turned to ice as I realized what he had done, what I had allowed him to do. “I’m damned,” I whispered.


“Come. Your first lesson awaits.” He hauled me to my feet, dragged me toward the mouth of the alley, though I pulled against him. My habit was torn as he grabbed at me. “Strong,” he said. “Already, you’re very strong. You’ll be even stronger, Angelica, after we feed." He stopped, holding me there at the mouth of the alley, and I watched his odd, black eyes scan the passersby.


“Feed?” I whispered, terrified.


“Yes,” he said, and he smiled. I saw his teeth then, his fangs, razor sharp and glistening. “On them.” He nodded toward the people who passed.


Horror enveloped my heart. He was a monster! A demon. A vampire. I shivered as the word whispered in my mind. He’d made of me another creature just like him. And I’d allowed it I’d even taken part in it. I’d—


He caught me up in his arms, though I fought, and he carried me back into the alley. Slinging me over his shoulder, he clutched the side of the building and began to climb. Like a spider, he made his way to the very top, and I stopped my struggling for fear I would fall. Higher and higher he went. The wind blew stronger up so high. My beloved snowflakes became weapons, tiny arrows slung by the Angel of the Lord to punish me, cutting my face with their biting touch. And yet I did not shiver or suffer from the cold, only felt it more acutely than I ever had.


He climbed onto the roof, and then raced over rooftops, leaping from one to the next. I think I screamed as we seemed to sail through the night sky like true demons. I think I screamed. If so, the sound of it is only a vague memory now.


We made our way to the ground again, to the streets, and I knew where we were. Not far from the shelter where I’d been so arrogantly going this night. Oh, why had I been so rebellious? Why?


He pointed, and I looked. A handful of the city’s homeless stood around a fire barrel, warming their hands near the dancing flames. Red-orange light painted their haggard faces and illuminated their tattered clothes.


“There,” he said. “Our victims...ours for the taking, Angelica. Their lives will be no great loss.”


The people I’d spent years trying to help. This man intended to feed on them, to use them in order to sustain his own cursed life. “No,” I begged him. “No, please, we mustn’t. It’s a sin to kill!” For I knew that murder was exactly what he had on his mind.


He left me free to run if I chose. He must have known, animal that he was, that I could not. Like a great, stalking wolf, he approached them in absolute silence. He moved quickly, so quickly there was no time for me to shout a warning. And then, without hesitation, he grabbed one. There was a shout of alarm, and then the others scattered, vanishing in the night. He held the man he’d chosen. I looked at the terror-stricken, aged face that I knew I had seen before, in the shelter. He’d come to the soup kitchen where I’d worked. I’d given him blankets, and that very sweater he wore. I’d prayed with him.


I raced forward, but too late. The beast had plunged his wretched teeth into the neck of the innocent old man. I beat the monster about his head, clawed at his face, but he only released his victim when he’d taken his fill. He lifted his head, and he smiled at me, and his lips gleamed scarlet in the firelight. I backed away, shaking my head, working my mouth but unable to speak.


The man whose name I could not recall slumped to the ground, eyes wide, but already glazing over. His face was the face of death, bathed in the dancing glow of the fire in the barrel beside him.


The monster licked his lips, and then with the speed of a striking cobra, snatched a handful of my hair and pulled, making me cry out in pain. “You shall never fight me again, Angelica. You’re mine now. Mine, do you understand? All your life I’ve watched you, waited for you. You’ll go where I go. Do as I say. Feed when I feed.’’ He glanced past me, into the shadows, and that evil smile returned. “Even now your first victim waits. There, quivering in the night, thinking we cannot see him in the darkness.’’ He stared down into my face. “I’ll bring him to you, and you will take him, Angelica. You will drain him dry, or suffer my wrath.” And then he released me and started forward.


I turned and saw a boy dressed in tattered rags, crouching in the darkness, shivering and wide-eyed with fear. And I could not let that creature take his life. I could not.


My hand closed around a piece of wood that protruded from the fire barrel. The end I grasped was not burning, but as I pulled it out, I saw that the other end was aflame. With a low growl, one I could not believe came from me, I lunged forward, swinging my torch-like weapon with all of my newfound strength.


But it wasn’t the force of my blow that did the deed. The flaming end of the club crashed against the vampire’s head, knocking him to his knees. But I’m sure the damage it did was minimal. It was the flame. The blaze seemed to leap at him, fire licking at his hair, and then at his clothes. He surged to his feet, his lips parting in a snarl as he came at me. But the fire...I crossed myself as I watched it engulf him. It seemed as if he’d been doused in gasoline, the way the flames spread. I backed away when he reached for me. And that was all. He fell to the ground, and there was a surge of white-hot flames. And then nothing.


The flames died away as if they'd never been. Tiny sparks and embers sailed into the night and blinked out, one by one and not even ashes remained to soil the perfect white snow at my feet.


The boy in the shadows was gone, his fleeing footsteps still reaching my ears as