Excerpt for The Ravenswynd Series Boxed Set by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



The Entire Ravenswynd Series





By Sharon Ricklin







Copyright © 2015 Sharon Ricklin

All rights reserved.

Smashwords Edition













No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written permission from the author.















Contents



Book One: Ravenswynd Legends

Book Two: Ravenswynd Dreams

Book Three: Ravenswynd Visions

Book Four: Ravenswynd Destinies

About the Author

Connect with the Author

Reviews of Other Novels

Time Travel Romance

Contemporary Romance

























RAVENSWYND LEGENDS





BY

SHARON RICKLIN









Ravenswynd Legends

Copyright © 2013 by Sharon Ricklin









No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written permission from the author.







Cover Artwork for Ravenswynd Legends

By Amela M. B. at Madhoshi Arts



















For Pam. Her encouraging words started it all.



























ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS



The author’s profound gratitude to…

My awesome editors: Amy Secklin and Barbara Secklin

My fantastic beta-readers: Laurel Johnson and Lisa McFerren

Enormous thanks to my sister Pam - who one day told me

that writing might be therapeutic. She was so right.

I will be forever grateful to my granddaughter Rachael -

Not only does she love my stories, her enthusiasm always

motivates me to keep writing.

I love you all.





A special thanks to Amela M.B. at Madhoshi Arts for her

gorgeous cover artwork.







Licking his lips slowly while gazing at my neck; his eyes began to appear metallic. A sudden dreadful feeling came over me - a feeling of utter fear and repulsion at the same time. Heart pounding, I swallowed hard . . . Easing farther away from him; I geared up to flee - sensing his impatience with me at once. His hand brushed over my cheek sending unwelcomed gooseflesh down my spine and then he swept my hair back - I assumed to get a better view.

“You have a delectable looking neck, I must say.” He cocked his head to the side – fixated, as though he could see through to the pulsing artery, and he sniffed deeply. His eyes: now dark pools of molten lava.









CHAPTER 1

DOCK OF THE BAY



The sound of blood rushing past my eardrums echoed the roar of my pounding heart. What the flaming hell was I thinking? My only solace came from knowing I wasn’t the only idiot waiting on a dark pier on Friday the thirteenth at exactly seven-thirteen. There were twelve others. Had anyone else noticed all the thirteens? Although I hoped that this was only a series of coincidences, an icy chill coursed through me as I tied it in with everything that my best friend, Fiona, had been saying all along about the secret party. Without question, something strange and frightening was about to take place. The air bristled with a weird intangible energy. And this weirdness was only a taste of what was to come – the party is the main entrée. I didn’t even want to think about dessert.

The three of us had arrived at the Marina just before sunset, but drove around the block twice before finding a parking spot. By the time we had joined the small group of people already gathered on the dock, all traces of daylight were gone. None of us spoke, but more than a few of the people shifted about, tugging at a zipper or fiddling with a cell phone, waiting to be ushered onto the boat. The water lapping rhythmically against the creaking pier rippled through the otherwise eerie stillness of the night. My twin, Melinda, linked her arm through mine, making me wonder if she felt as uneasy as I did.

“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this,” I whispered, leaning my head toward my friend Fiona and fighting the urge to grab my sister and run back to the car.

If Fiona felt any similar impulses, she hid them well as she shrugged. But of course she didn’t. Fiona was glad to be here and she smiled at the person next to her, a young man she had dubbed Random Guy because he had invited her as if on a whim. She had no idea who he was. I had accepted her invitation with little forethought – quite an uncharacteristic move on my part. And I had allowed her excitement to blind me to any possible risks involved - something she completely disregarded.

“Lizzy.” Her tone was soft. “Everything will be fine. Just try to enjoy yourself for a change.” Her fearlessness baffled me.

I kept both of my trembling hands in my pockets - a good place to hide my jitteriness. We stood silent for about ten more minutes. A gentle breeze blew through our hair, damp and briny and, fortunately, warmer than usual for this time of the year. My legs would have been frozen in my short dress if not for global warming. I glanced at the time on my cell phone and then peered over my left shoulder just past Fiona’s Random Guy and, in the faint light of the rising moon, I counted again. Yep, thirteen idiots.

This so-called party was by invitation only, and invitation was by word of mouth. Even the location was undisclosed to most, if not all, participants. All we knew was that the only way to get there was by boat and that we were supposed to know the person who invited us. We were each allowed to invite one guest, and once I had decided to go, nothing could stop me from asking my twin sister - not the strangeness surrounding the invitation and not even the possibility that the local vampire legends might be true. And if those legends were true, as Fiona had believed her whole life, we could be opening the door to an unimaginable outcome. Or - in my sister’s crude way of putting things - we might end up in some deep shit.

Melinda and I had been inseparable all of our lives, and even if my decision to go was misguided, I knew she would’ve been forever angry if I hadn’t invited her in the first place. And the keyword here: forever.

I glanced toward the boat docked at the end of the pier, now realizing by its size that it was, in fact, a yacht. There was just enough light at the bow to see the name: Aeternus Corvus. I certainly wasn’t fluent in Latin, but I could make out a few words. While musing about the name, thinking it had something to do with eternity and crows my thoughts were interrupted when I noticed someone climbing aboard a smaller boat docked directly to the front of the yacht. I stifled a low chuckle - we weren’t the only mindless idiots preparing for a nighttime boat trip.

I gazed up into the night sky. A thin cloud passed in front of the full moon, and I spotted the silhouette of a large bird flying through the shadow of the cloud. It was a beautiful autumn evening, and if I forced myself to believe that everything would be fine, perhaps I could truly enjoy it. I took a few deep breaths, willing my body to relax. It worked for a bit, but the false sense of peace was momentary at best. A voice coming from aboard the yacht jolted my reverie and drew my attention to the strange sight ahead. Electrified goose bumps prickled my skin, topped off with a tingling shudder.

A woman stepped off the yacht and glided down the pier, phantom-like. Surely my mind played tricks on me now. I turned my head to Lindy. Her wide-eyed gaze told me my mind was fine, but my churning stomach said that we had, indeed, made a colossal mistake. I looked back at the woman. Following close behind her came a short man dressed all in black - also gliding. He held in his arms what appeared to be a long, shiny, red over-coat. The way he hung behind and kept his head low and eyes downcast suggested he was some sort of servant.

The woman came closer. Her eyes gave off a vacant look as though she was quite bored. Although she never referred to it, she carried a large notebook hugged tight to her chest. Her dark brown hair was slicked straight back, wet looking, as though she had just stepped out of the shower. She stopped directly in front of Melinda. The woman stared into Lindy’s eyes, took a deep breath, licked her lips, and began her interrogation.

“Tell me who invited you and state your full name.” Her soft voice did not match her look in the least.

With an easy nod toward me, Lindy said, “My sister, Elizabeth, invited me. My name is Melinda Anastasia Rose.” The woman sighed, still straight-faced, and Lindy flicked her long hair back - an obvious attempt to appear unimpressed at the woman’s deliberate, yet impassive demands.

The woman edged in front of me and repeated herself. Here under the streetlight I could see all of her tattoos and piercings and a thick highlight along the side of her hair - the color of a bright copper penny. The ring in her eyebrow was glossy red and the one on her lip was silver and red. Just above her high cheekbone, to the right of her eye, was a tattoo of a tiny red spider. Silver skull and cross-bone earrings with glaring red eyes dangled from her ears, and the Gothic black and silver setting of her necklace held a huge garnet. Her full lips were painted such a dark red that they looked black and her skin was beautiful - not pale like I had imagined. The woman was tall - I had to look up to make eye contact. The thick blackness outlining her blue-gray eyes made them appear nearly white.

“My friend, Fiona, invited me,” I said, pointing to Fiona with my thumb. “I am Elizabeth Amarande Rose.”

Except for a slight raise of one eyebrow, her face continued to be without expression, but this time she said, “Indeed.”

She touched a finger to her nose, a finger with a super long and brilliant red fingernail. I would have expected to see them painted black. And if she had allowed a smile to part her lips, I was quite positive that I would have spotted a set of fangs. Perhaps that was why she remained so indifferent. Why take the chance of frightening your next meal away? Another chill shot through me as she lingered a moment longer - her eyes fixed on mine.

Frantic whispering came from my left just before the woman pulled her gaze from me, and she stepped in front of Fiona.

“And, who invited you?” she asked, with a slight mocking tone.

Fiona’s shudder reverberated onto my arm when she leaned into me for a second, and her voice came off shaky as she said, “My friend, Steven.” She cleared her throat and hurried on loud and clear: “My name is Fiona Ameretat O’Conner.”

It dawned on me then that, until the whispering had taken place, the harsh reality was that Fiona had no clue what his name was. She had called him Random Guy for a good reason. No wonder she was so nervous; this small technicality could have gotten her booted off the pier. Fiona breathed a sigh of relief as soon as the woman said, “Very well, then.”

Before the woman moved to the front of Random Steven, I was able to get a closer look at her other tattoo - a gigantic red serpent which wrapped around her upper arm. As it twisted and turned from her shoulder to her elbow, its under-belly was visible, a lighter shade of red. I couldn’t help but wonder if her preference to red was that it reminded her of blood.

She then continued down the line asking the same questions of the rest of our newly formed coven. Letting my imagination run amok, I envisioned our group now being inducted into the army of the thirteen immortals, and Red here would be our captain. I hoped we weren’t too dressed up for our covert operation into the murky waters of the Providence River. Muffling a nervous giggle, I thought that since we were about to board a boat, this would make us the Navy of the thirteen immortals. It was good I was able to make fun of all of this. If not, I would be screaming bloody murder.

It was no one’s fault but my own, I reasoned as we stood there under the one lonely streetlight. I certainly could have said no to Fiona. But I was intrigued by the possibilities she had placed before me. And I was tired of the routines of life, always choosing familiar things and making choices that included no surprises. I wanted something new, something different. I suppose, now looking back, this had been my intention when I had made up my mind to attend the party in the first place. Little did I know, that even before being invited or deciding to go, the gentle winds of change were billowing into raging storms that would ultimately alter my destiny.

What had started off as just another casual celebration turned out to be the catalyst for a chain of events which led to the most monumental turning point in my life. As I stood on that dark pier waiting for who-knows-what to happen next, I thought back to all the events that had led up to this evening.

* * *

About a month prior to my invitation to the party, Melinda and I had decided to celebrate our birthday by making a day of it: shopping, dinner, and a movie, though not in any particular order. Our best friend, Fiona, even managed to get the day off to be with us. It had been ages since the three of us had had the chance to get together. We knew it would be a fun day, and we were excited. However, when I first realized I was running late, I should have known it was going to be “one of those days.”

“Elizabeth!” Melinda called through the door. “Let’s go already!” Her tone left no doubt of her increasing agitation with me.

I wasn’t quite ready and, just like everyone else I hated to be late, but even more so, if it meant arriving after the coming attractions started.

“Fiona is here!” Melinda called once more, even louder.

I opened the door a crack and said, “Give me a minute!” I felt rushed and now wished I had followed my own advice to get an earlier start.

I heard Fiona say, “It’s a good thing she wears her hair straight, or we’d be waiting another fifteen minutes.” Her loud chuckle echoed into the bathroom. She was well aware of how often my sister had been late for appointments and events.

“Bite me!” Melinda came back in her most irritated tone. “You know I only made us late one time since I started curling my hair. This time it is not my fault!” I imagined Fiona’s cheeks flushing now. She was so easily intimidated, and sadly, it sometimes came by way of sharp words hurled by my twin.

They both flashed a wide grin when I finally came through the door - an obvious pretense; I knew it bugged them that I had taken so long. As it was, it hadn’t been easy to talk them into this outing, and now because of me, we’d be late. Sometimes trying to get those two to cooperate was like pulling teeth. And I hated dentists.

“Ready!” I said cheerily. I gave a bright smile back and took a quick glance at their outfits, hoping I wasn’t too overdressed in my favorite leprechaun green sundress. The look on my sister’s face showed me her impatience and nothing more as she picked up her purse.

Fiona, on the other hand, reacted exactly the way she always did. “Lizzy! How cute! I didn’t know we were dressing up.” She looked down, putting her hands into the pockets of her black Capri pants and asked, “Do I look okay?

She was so insecure. I sometimes felt like I had spent all my time in high school building her self-esteem and here we were in our final year of college and she was still at it. I always had to be sure to compliment her outfit.

“Yes, you look great, Fiona!” I said with a smile, eyeing her cranberry tank top.

Melinda edged closer to the door. “Come on, you guys,” she said. “Who cares how we look anyway?” She could be such a phony at times.

“Get real, Lindy,” Fiona snapped. “You know how good you look.”

Melinda liked to be the center of attention and she sometimes wore quite revealing outfits. Her tiny, red, low-cut top and her tight fitting jeans were no exception.

“Look at your hair! It’s perfect as usual,” I said, shaking my head. “You’re not fooling anyone.”

Melinda rolled her eyes at me, flipped her head back, and opened the door.

Fiona drove as usual, and after speeding up and down several aisles we found the whole parking lot jam-packed. Melinda, annoyed and frustrated, pointed toward the street and belted out, “Just park out there, Fiona!” Finally parked way out at the farthest point of the lot, we grabbed our purses, and ran. Dodging cars and people, we arrived at the glass doors slightly out of breath.

“I hate being late too, you guys,” I said with a short gasp, “.... I’m really sorry!”

“We should have bought the tickets online.” Fiona’s voice was breathless. She cleared her throat and said, “At least that would have saved a few minutes.”

After buying our tickets we hurried to the concession stand. I sighed and rolled my eyes when I realized there were only two people behind the counter waiting on dozens of customers, and the two at the front of our line couldn’t seem to decide what to order. Why they never seemed to have enough staff working was beyond me. I shook my head in disbelief after glancing at the huge clock on the wall. Only 5 minutes before the movie started.

“Flaming hell!” I muttered angrily, feeling my cheeks flush.

“Why can’t they get more people behind the counter?”

Several minutes later, our arms loaded with popcorn, candy, and drinks, we hurried down the hall to find the number four movie screen. I pushed open the swinging door with my backside and turned into the theater. Holding the door for Lindy and Fiona, I then followed them into the darkness. We had to move slowly due to the temporary blindness, inching our way down the aisle while our eyes adjusted. It was nearly impossible to see anything, but somehow Melinda spotted three seats in the row we had just passed and when she stopped short, Fiona bumped right into her, stubbing her toe on the metal base of a seat.

“Ow!” Fiona yelped a bit louder than necessary, quite agitated at spilling some of her popcorn.

Someone in the next aisle said, “Shush!”

“It’s the coming attractions!” Melinda hissed, turning to the shushing person and added in a sharp, disgusted tone, “Get a life!”

Uneasy laughter came from a few people in the area, and even though Lindy was right, I was a little embarrassed at her short rant. The movie had not started; that person was completely unreasonable. But I heaved a sigh, wishing for once Lindy could control herself.

We edged into our row sideways, trying not to step on any toes or spill our popcorn and drinks. When we finally arrived at our seats, I was hot and sweaty and quite agitated. I sat down hard only to hit my head on the back of the seat.

“Oh, that’s just great!” I grumbled through clenched teeth, wondering if anything would go right this day.

“What’s wrong?” Lindy asked, leaning forward on the other side of Fiona. Always the motherly type, she watched out for me like a hawk. Being ten minutes older than me, she never let me forget it. I shook my head as I rubbed it, nearly dropping my popcorn in the process.

The movie might have been more enjoyable if the people in our area had been more considerate. The couple in front of us talked continuously, and the people behind us left the theater several times, somehow, always pushing into my seat with all their comings and goings. Every now and then, the person behind me would rhythmically kick my seat and I had to resist the urge to turn around and tell him to knock it off. At one point, someone behind Melinda got up to leave, and right as he edged along behind me, something sharp poked the back of my neck just below my hairline. I’d had enough and couldn’t contain myself any longer.

“Flaming hell!” I snarled, jolting forward in my seat and grabbing my neck.

“Sorry,” came a soft, deep whisper.

I mumbled a few curse words under my breath while rubbing my neck. I had taken all I could stand and was ready to confront a few rude people, but when I turned around I was surprised to see most of the row was empty. I took a quick glance toward the exit thinking I’d catch a glimpse as he left, but there was no one in sight.

I watched the rest of the movie feeling strangely agitated, and was relieved when it finally ended. We decided to wait until the theater emptied out before getting up to leave. This was a mistake. As we sat there waiting, at least three more people either bumped my head or snagged my hair, but I bit my tongue to keep from saying things I’d only regret. I couldn’t get over how rude and clumsy everyone seemed to be.

“You’d think people could keep their hands to themselves and watch how they swing their purses in the wind!” I whispered to Fiona.

She giggled and said, “Yeah, there sure was a lot of commotion in here today.”

Finally, the torture was over and, as we left the theater, we deposited our trash in the receptacles near the exit and headed into the mall.

“Let’s go shopping!” Melinda called out with a giddy laugh. Apparently, she was as happy for that ordeal to be over with as I was.

After wandering around the mall for a few hours, we’d worked up an appetite and headed for the food court. All the different smells wafting through the air made my stomach growl. We chose the taco place, though this may have been another mistake. As luck would have it, the napkin container was empty and we three girls had to share one little piece of tissue between us. After a while, it actually started to be comical, and our giggles echoed in the huge dining area. We had bits of tomatoes, lettuce, and taco sauce flipped and dripped all over the place, and at one point Lindy spilled half of her lemonade.

“Oh, that’s just wonderful!” Her sarcastic remark was loud and she jumped up, knocking over her chair. The surprised look on her face was hysterical. Fiona and I burst out laughing when Melinda became even more animated as she stood her chair upright with a loud clang.

“Between taco sauce and tomatoes, I’d say you should think about wearing a bib next time, Fiona,” Melinda said snickering as she settled back into the chair.

“I wouldn’t talk, Lindy,” Fiona said with raised eyebrows. “At least I didn’t spill my drink!” Her comeback was good, but now Fiona’s face matched her red hair.

“I can’t believe you two!” I said, shaking my head. “You can barely act like adults.”

Watching the two of them making faces at one another, I chuckled, “You guys always crack me up. And look at this mess!” We all started laughing at once.

It looked like we just had a food fight at our table, but it felt good to laugh with my best friend and my dear sister. We picked up as much of the bits of lettuce and tomatoes we could without the benefit of napkins and threw our wrappers into the trash.

“Yuck.” Lindy let out a groan, wiping her hands together and said, “Let’s go to the ladies room so I can wash my hands.”

Our laughter echoed as the three of us walked through the long corridor side by side- Melinda in the middle. I tilted my head to the right and, as I started to say something, someone swept by my left side, brushing my arm with a strange electric tingle.

I turned to look - and my breath froze. It was a man. A beautiful man. An astounding man. I stopped dead in my tracks. My feet were iron; the floor a magnet, holding me in metallic silence. I couldn’t blink, couldn’t pull my gaze away. Time solidified. I could only focus on him as he walked away. Away from me.

“Lizzy?” Came a quiet question.

I couldn’t answer. I just kept watching. His gait was smooth and refined and effortless. His long dark coat drifted, weightless. He held his head high and steady. I never saw his face. Just the back of him, but it was enough to leave an impression. An impression of grandeur. Of elegance. And his hair! It flowed far past his shoulders. Long and straight and shiny and black. It was breathtakingly beautiful.

“What?” Melinda’s voice broke in loudly. They were back at my sides again. “Put your eyes back into their sockets, Elizabeth!”

Still mute, I raised my arm and pointed at the precise moment he turned the corner and disappeared from view. I took a deep breath and let out a slow sigh.

“Wow.”

“There’s no one there, Lizzy,” Fiona said glancing down the hallway.

She eyed Lindy with a puzzled look and asked, “Did you see anyone?”

“Nope,” Lindy’s voice snapped after a quick glance.

I couldn’t believe they had missed him. His hair was nearly as long as mine was. There was an absolute resplendency about him.

“Are you two blind?” My voice was subdued by unexplained sadness.

Melinda raised her eyebrows and shrugged, saying, “I wasn’t paying attention. I gotta get this stuff washed off my hands. I’m all sticky.” She took a few steps backwards, pushed open the door to the ladies ’ room, and left us standing alone.

“Who did you see, Lizzy?” Fiona asked. “Close your mouth, you look silly like that. And stop pointing!” She reached over and with a soft touch, eased my arm down to my side.

More often than not, my friend was kind beyond measure. I wondered why she acted so mean now, and why they seemed to think I had been seeing things. I knew what I had seen.

“I don’t know,” I said, still gazing into the empty hallway. “But…he…was… amazing.” I sighed. “It doesn’t matter; he’s gone.” I closed my eyes trying to shake off his image from my mind, but it didn’t work. He was there to stay. I glanced at Fiona. She looked puzzled and her eyes narrowed in confusion. I glanced down the hallway again. It was more than empty now; it was hollow. What the flaming hell was wrong with me? And what was it about him anyway? I hadn’t even seen his face!

I stood there for a few more minutes, dazed, waiting. But for what? I started to feel a bit foolish. Finally I said, “I guess he’s gone. Let’s go. I have to get up early tomorrow.”

My brain did not agree with my mouth. I turned and we went into the restroom, but the whole time we were in there, all that was on my mind was how I hoped that we would catch up to that man before we left the mall. I had to get a look at his face. If it was at all like his presence, or his hair, it would be magnificent.

I did not get my wish.



CHAPTER 2

INVITATION



That evening I had a nightmare. It was one of those dreams that just hang around forever and pop back into your mind at only the least bit of prompting. The funny thing about it was that, when I first woke up and thought about it, I knew there was a lot more to it, but I could only remember a small but blurry scene: I was petrified and cold, and my heartbeat was wild and furious. It was dark, and everything looked fuzzy. Two men were in the midst of a ferocious fight. I heard the crackling slug of knuckles colliding on a jaw and seconds later I saw a body being flung across the room and landing with a bone-crushing thud. Vehement shouting came next, but the exact words were muffled and unclear. And then I saw feet running up a flight of stairs, one set chasing the other. The man in pursuit had long black hair. Nothing else in this dream seemed familiar or real. The fear I felt was paralyzing, and one thing stood out that was indisputable: the smell of blood was all around me.

***

A few weeks went by and I couldn’t stop thinking about the man in the mall and several times a day I recalled the dream. I recognized my fascination with the man, but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why this particular dream chose to haunt me. I could not make any sense of it. Not much seemed to make sense in my world anyway.

My twin, Melinda and I had spent most of our lives isolated. All we ever had was one another. When we were three years old our parents died in a plane crash and because neither had any siblings or any other living relatives, the state placed us in an orphanage. Two years later we were placed in a foster home together. Melinda says she has no memory of our parents at all. The only memory I have of my mother is when I was sick with a fever, and she held me in her arms all night long as I fell in and out of consciousness. I believe the memory stayed with me because every time I opened my eyes I saw the frightened look on her face. And any time I’ve ever been sick since that day, I’ve been haunted by her fearful look.

The little we knew about our parents came in bits and pieces through the years from our foster mother. She had told us they were originally from Peace Dale, Rhode Island, and they moved to Providence just after their marriage. The few pictures we had of them revealed how much we resembled our mother, especially around the eyes. I would like to believe our foster parents took both of us in after falling in love with our cute little heart-shaped faces and dark, sapphire-blue eyes. But the reality of it is more likely due to the fact that we refused to be separated. If and when anyone ever tried, our blood curdling screams caused them to re-think their actions immediately.

Even our teachers learned their lessons quite fast. One time in grade school, the teacher tried to make my sister sit on the other side of the room, farther away from me. It only took five minutes of stereophonic, high-pitched screaming for that teacher to change her mind. It didn’t matter how much reasoning was used: we never gave up; we would not be separated - period.

It wasn’t until our senior year in high school that we attempted to become two separate individuals. We determined together that eventually we might want to go on a date alone, possibly even kiss a boy, and we were sure none of the boys at our school would feel the inclination to ask the two of us out together. So it was then, in our last year of high school we told our guidance counselor that we both wanted to try taking a few separate classes. Melinda took the initiative to enter his office alone and told him about our decision. He just about fell off of his chair, and of course, he had to check with me first before he could change anything. By the look on his face when I entered his office, sans my sister, he was almost positive Lindy had just changed her clothes and re-entered.

He put his pen down; a puzzled look wrinkled his face, and said, “Melinda?”

After extensive persuasion, he finally believed I was indeed Elizabeth, and not my twin. We had decided we would try two separate classes: English and History. These two subjects being our easiest, we could study and do our homework alone, finally not relying on one another for help.

This arrangement worked out so well that we even decided to make a few changes in our appearance. There was no one acquainted with us besides Fiona who had the ability to tell us apart, including our foster parents - not that they would take any notice even if one of us had shaved her head. We were quite sure the only reason they became foster parents was for the money.

Halfway through our senior year, Lindy started to curl her hair. Not frizzy curls - not spiral curls. She just took a curling iron and sort of twirled the ends a little, which was not much of a change, but enough so people had at least a small clue as to who was who. We had raven black hair that hung down to our waists - pitch black and pitch straight, thick, and full with no bangs. While growing up, if anyone ever tried to cut our hair, we gave them our infamous scream. After one or two tries, our foster mother gave up the idea. We trimmed one another’s ends once or twice a year once we were old enough to handle a scissors, trusting only our love and passion for what we hoped to be our most attractive quality. It seemed like a constant struggle for me; and so much work went into keeping my hair tangle and frizz-free. Although we both invested in so many products that our bathroom overflowed into our closets with straighteners, dryers, creams and conditioners, I was convinced that Lindy’s hair was much thicker and prettier than mine was. We ended each night in our room brushing our hair together. We once read that brushing it nightly like this would make it shiny and beautiful - a crown of glory - and we knew it had to be the first thing anyone noticed about us when we entered a room. And even though we sometimes did get those envious looks, so often the only thing I liked about my hair was its length. And after Melinda took to curling hers, not only did we begin to receive more attention as individuals, but now my hair even looked longer than hers. Fellow students started to treat us like human beings instead of some sort of untouchable, inseparable twosome. It was a big change. And it was a little sad. But all in all, it had been a good decision - a decision which marked a turning point. We became less reliant on one another, and we made friends - some alone and some together. We even went out on dates with boys - separate dates that never amounted to much in the way of real relationships. We enjoyed our last year of high school learning to grow apart while still remaining best friends.

Fiona had been our closest friend since just before junior high school. We grew even closer when she told us that she, too, had spent time in foster care, but her life seemed far sadder than ours. She had been bounced from family to family, and without any siblings, she had to endure it alone. We understood exactly how she felt; we at least had each other. Being such a dreamer and superstitious sort, Fiona had always been a huge fan of the local legends and would keep us well informed and entertained with her stories, sometimes keeping us awake at night during sleepovers, shivering as we imagined all the ghosts, goblins and vampires. She never relented. Her face would become as red as her hair if we ever acted amused or disbelieving. These fantastic stories, which she swore she had not made up, went on past high school, slowing down only a bit once we started college. But we loved our crazy, little dreamer and would not have wanted her any other way. We were wrong to think we’d spend all our college years together. Instead, we ended up with another roommate and were not able to see Fiona as often as we had hoped. She simply could not afford full tuition plus the cost of a dorm room, so she lived at home, working and going to school only part time.

The day I was invited to the party is one I’ll never forget. I had just left my building and started down the sidewalk. The sudden winter-like chill in the air went right through me and, once again, I had the strange haunting dream on my mind, which in turn, brought back the memory of the beautiful man in the mall. Weeks later and still he was in my head. I was just about to Gage Hall when Fiona stopped me mid-jog, interrupting my thoughts.

“Lizzy!” she shouted, out of breath from trying to catch up to me. She took a deep breath, blew out a huge plume of steam that seemed to float in slow motion from her mouth into the frigid air. “Brr. I can’t wait for winter to be over,” she said as she wrapped her arms around herself with a shiver, “and it hasn’t even really started yet!”

“Fiona, I don’t want to be late. What’s up?” I attempted to sound sincere, but was sure she noticed the tone of impatience in my voice.

She appeared to be searching for the right words and stumbled over them for a few seconds - seconds that irritated me more and more. Why couldn’t she hurry up and just spit it out already? At this rate I’d end up missing my exam! My impatience smoldered as I felt my cheeks turn red with more than just the cold wind. I wrapped my scarf around my face pretending to be cold and I stamped my feet a few times, feigning my chill.

“What is it, Fiona? I can’t be late for Anthropology. We have an exam today!”

“Well,” she started out slow, “I’m wondering if you’d like to join me this Friday night.” She pulled her hood tighter and tucked in some stray wisps of red hair. “There’s a party I’ve been invited to,” she paused and seemed to struggle to get the words out, “and I’d like you to come. Everyone is allowed to invite one other person.” She raised her eyebrows and widened her green eyes. She tried to sound calm and collected, but I had known her long enough to know she was anxious. Her extreme blinking gave her away. At first, I couldn’t understand the obvious nervousness at her invitation, other than the fact that she knew I hated parties and seldom went to anything that even closely resembled one. Before I could object and run toward the building, she grabbed my arm with her brown-gloved hand.

“It’s not what you’re thinking either, Lizzy,” she said and then lowered her voice. “This is the party of the decade. THE Party!” The way she emphasized the word sent serious chills up my spine. “The party I’ve been telling you guys about for years.”

The wind stopped for a few seconds, and I heard the faint sound of a siren in the distance. Fiona’s face was all screwed up: partly a smile - partly a fearful grimace. I didn’t know if I should believe her or if she was trying to pull a fast one on me. After all, this coming Friday was also the thirteenth. How convenient.

I thought back for a minute while we stood there silent as statues listening to the wind picking up again - now an eerie howling sound. This party she spoke about had to do with a vampire legend. Supposedly, once every decade there was a gathering of vampires from all over the world. No one knew for sure what they hoped to achieve by including humans, but it was rumored that they came peacefully and only privileged humans were invited and sworn to secrecy.

“I’ve heard that if you are invited to this party, you can actually join them if you want to!” This had always been one of Fiona’s favorite stories, and she never showed one ounce of fear while telling it - almost as though she wished it was true. And it always led to another: Bram Stoker himself had researched the history of our town before he wrote his famous book, Dracula, simply because of all our legends. One night when she talked about the vampire legends we had been camping out in our backyard in a tent. I can still hear Fiona’s voice as she went on and on in her excited, pleading tone.

“They do exist, you guys! Why else do you think he would bother researching our town? I believe he found the truth, and then wrote about it in his book.”

She then told us another more grisly, yet famous vampire story. “It was a bitter cold winter in 1892 when Mercy Brown died of a mysterious disease. So cold, in fact, that the grave diggers couldn’t get through the frozen ground.” Fiona spoke in hushed whispers as we huddled together in the small tent.

“They had no choice but to place her body in a crypt and then, afterwards, people reported seeing her walking about town. Soon after her death her brother, Edwin, became deathly ill too. Their father feared the worst: that Mercy was a vampire, and he got permission to exhume her body. When they did, Mercy still looked alive and seemed to have moved inside of her coffin, and when they cut out her heart they were horrified to find it full of fresh blood!”

I remember the look on Melinda’s face at this point in the story. She always pretended she wasn’t afraid, but her wide eyes told me that she felt the same goose bumps crawling up her spine as I did.

Fiona’s face glowed in the thin beams of our flashlights as she finished her story. “After Bram Stoker died, guess what they found among his papers? Clippings from the Providence Journal about Mercy Brown!”

The sound of a siren brought me back to the moment. Fiona’s eyes were glued to mine as she waited for an answer. My mind whirled with memories of her stories through the years. How could she still be so gullible? Providence: home to vampires? This idea bordered on the ridiculous. Who would believe such nonsense anyway? I supposed people in the old days did. After all, they believed anything that went bump in the night had to be some sort of evil entity. Surely not now, in this present age of science and knowledge. And surely not now when I was already late for my exam!

“Listen, Fiona, I’ll have to catch you later. I’m sure you understand that I have a few questions for you before I can give you my answer. Okay?” I took a few steps backwards toward the building as I spoke. A furious wind started to whip up around us now, no doubt, surprising all the meteorologists with this sudden burst of winter-like weather in mid-October. Crisp orange and red leaves rustled and twirled around my feet as I eased my way toward the glass doors, hoping beyond hope to avoid my redheaded friend, at least until Saturday.

Her freckles seemed to stand out even more in the daylight as she smiled and said with a note of sadness in her voice, “Sure, Lizzy. Don’t forget though.” She took a quick glance around and added in a tone much like she had a huge secret, “There are rules that can’t be broken. Don’t mention this to anyone until you give me your answer. If the rules are broken, we won’t get to go.”

I wondered how “they” would know if I did bother to mention this silliness to anyone, but I nodded my head as I waved, turned and jogged the rest of the way to the doors. I smiled to myself and tried to forget about Fiona and her ridiculous party. I had to gear myself up for the exam and force myself to focus on that, and nothing else.

Fifty minutes later I dropped my exam off on the professor’s desk and left the building. The instant the howling wind slapped me in the face it reminded me of Fiona's invitation. I pulled my coat closer to my chilled body and tucked my hair down into my hood as I ran to the Café to meet Lindy for lunch. Immediately upon entering, I spotted her black hair. The sunlight coming through the window made it look radiant with hues of dark blue streaking through the blackness. I had no doubt that my hair appeared smashed down flat from my hood after running through the wind. I pulled off my hood, shook my head, and untangled it with my fingers. I couldn’t help but notice a few eyes glance my way and then back to my twin. We were an unusual sight, I supposed, identical in every way. But I was sure, too, that they noticed how much nicer Lindy’s hair was.

I glanced down at the rest of Melinda’s lunch when I joined her at the table and realized we had purchased exactly the same meal: a turkey club sandwich wrap with bacon, a large gourmet cookie, and a bottle of water. We both reached for a napkin at the same time and laughed as our hands touched. Her giggle echoed mine. Even our voices were identical, especially on the phone.

I set my things down on the table and hung my coat on the chair behind me. We exchanged smiles as I started eating my sandwich, and she finished hers.

“Did you see Fiona today?” she asked, brushing some crumbs off her lap.

It was an innocent question, but I had hoped to avoid all talk about Fiona until later.

“Yeah, but we didn’t get to talk much. I didn’t want to be late,” I mumbled, sounding vague. After all, what if I decided I did want to go to the party? I’d have to wait to tell my twin about it and ask her to come after I gave Fiona my answer. Actually, the whole concept of vampires had started to intrigue me. Maybe it would be fun... and enlightening. Maybe it would finally put to rest the whole idea of the crazy, unbelievable legends once and for all. Or maybe I’d find out my crazy friend had been right all along! Nah, that was impossible. Although the more I thought about it, the more fascinated I became.

Melinda tapped her fingers on the table to get my attention. I looked up into her almond shaped eyes, mirror images of my own.

“Lizzy! You’re a million miles away. What in the world is churning in that mind of yours?” She stopped tapping and rested her chin on her hand.

I put my sandwich down, half-eaten and all but forgotten, flipped my hair back away from my face, and said in a voice as monotone as possible, “Nothing. Just wondering if I passed my exam.”

“Sure you are.” Sarcasm radiated on her face as well as in her voice as she picked up her cookie and took a large, crunching bite. “You’re hiding something from me!” She chewed with a deliberate slowness as she narrowed her eyes and then dabbed the paper napkin on her now pouting lips.

“Ok, you got me.” I tried to keep a straight face. “I can’t talk about it just yet, but I’ll tell you later, I promise.” I held out my hand, holding up my pinky finger.

Lindy reached across the table as a smirk touched her face. She linked her pinky to mine, saying “I knew it! It’s a guy, isn’t it?” Her voice became soft and inquisitive.

“I said I’ll tell you later. You know my pinky promise is good, sis.”

She flicked back her hair, mimicking my earlier show of aloofness. Her blue eyes twinkled as she stood and said, “Alrighty then. Later it is. I have a class in five minutes. See you back at home.” She grabbed her coat and backpack in one hand, her empty wrappers with the other, and kissed the top of my head. She didn’t say another word. As she hurried off I enjoyed the slight scent of her jasmine perfume in the soft trail of wind that followed her away.

I had to admit I was glad she had to rush off. If not, she would have pestered me with questions right up until the time I had to leave. As I thought about our brief sisterly tiff, my mind went back again to the party. As if on cue, Fiona appeared before me. I cringed at the sight of her heading straight to my table. I still hadn’t quite made up my mind, and, even though I flirted with the idea of going, I didn’t feel like dealing with it right this minute.

Her curls bounced like springs now that they were freed from her hood. Her red hair was short in comparison to ours - only to her shoulders. She smiled as she approached my table and then placed her salad down across from me.

“Hey, Lizzy,” she said as a hopeful look washed over her face.

“Hi, Fiona. No, I haven’t said anything to anyone. Sit down and relax!” I smiled at my fantastically loony friend.

“Thanks, Lizzy! I so want to go. I have been waiting for this for years!” Her whole face beamed relief.

“So, refresh my memory about the secret bash,” I said in a sweet voice.

“Okay.” She sat down and dropped her book-bag on the floor, and then leaned forward. “The only way to get an invitation is by word of mouth. No one is told where it’s held, and the only way to get there is by boat. Each invited guest is allowed to invite one other person.” Subdued fervor filled her voice as she went on. “Once your invitee says yes, you can tell them where to meet, but not one minute sooner.”

I had to ask the obvious question. “Who asked you to go?”

“Oh, just some random guy I met at the coffee shop. It was so strange. He just came up to me while I stood in line and handed me a slip of paper with his number on it. He asked if I might be interested in going to a party and, if so, I was not allowed to tell anyone else about it, but I could invite one other person and give them the same instructions. I knew immediately this was the party!” Her eyes were large, and her face was flushed with excitement.

“Fiona, in all seriousness, do you believe all this? How could a true vampire keep himself away from such easy prey?”

She leaned closer still and whispered, “The vampires will not feed on humans during the party; it is forbidden. And in no way can they change a human into one of their own, unless specifically asked to do so by the human. The humans are sworn to secrecy about the party regardless of their outcome - what they decide to do. These rules cannot be broken.”

I could only assume that after the party all the rules were suspended and worse yet, if a human spilled the beans, the only recourse would likely be death. And not the kind that was enjoyed by these so-called undead beings, such as having eternal youthfulness, being forever healthy, and basically, immortal. It probably meant really dead. Dead without benefits!

Fiona remained calm as she went on. “Of course, it’s likely there are more rules and regulations that we will learn about once we attend the party...”

I interrupted her, “If we attend.”

“I am going, Lizzy!” She picked up her fork and stabbed at her salad. Fiona had been a vegetarian for years and she eyed what was left of my sandwich with disdain. “Are you sure you didn’t say anything to your sister?”

“I swear! Although it wasn’t easy. You know Melinda. She can tell if I’m hiding something from a mile away.” I winked at her trying to lighten the increasing sense of mistrust she now showed me.

“But you did manage to keep your mouth shut, Lizzy? Not a word?” Her voice was hope mingled with doubt.

“Not a word.” I echoed her question. At the same time, something else had dawned on me. I had always been interested in local history, though I never did find anything in my research regarding these legends and I supposed, if there was any truth to them, nothing would be written down anyway. Stories passed down from generation to generation would have kept the legend alive. But, during one of my family history searches, I did uncover something a bit strange and I decided to share it with Fiona now.

“Did I ever tell you what I found the last time I researched the Rose family?”

She knew how obsessive I could be regarding my ancestry. Her chewing slowed down as she shook her head.

“Well, it’s quite interesting! There was an article online about the Rose family from Peace Dale, Rhode Island that took place in 1874. Now, don’t get me wrong. I have no proof that these people are my ancestors. Anyway, somehow the patriarch of the Rose family decided that his deceased daughter was a vampire and he took it upon himself to exhume her body and cut out her heart, burning it afterwards!”

Fiona’s mouth fell open and she became saucer-eyed. “For real? Awesome!”

“Awesome? She was already dead! What will burning her heart do?” I asked rhetorically as I shook my head and continued. “I know you’re probably comparing it to the Mercy Brown legend, but listen! The freaky part about this story is - our paternal grandmother’s name was Ellen…Ruth…Rose.” I paused a moment and then said in a more excited tone, “Fiona, the story I found said the heart-less exhumed body was none other than Ruth… Ellen…Rose.” I said the names slowly for effect, somewhat pleased I could finally offer Fiona a creepy story for a change. But then, I reconsidered and continued with less enthusiasm, concerned I might be fueling a dangerous fire.

“There wasn’t much more, but I remember the father’s name was William G Rose, and there was no mention of any other children, living or dead.”

“This is no coincidence, Lizzy.” Fiona’s eyes were wide as she shook her head back and forth. “I bet you and Lindy are related to these people! I’d bet my life on it.” As usual, the stranger the story, the more fantastical and attractive it was to Fiona. “You simply must come too!” she said, starting to stab her salad again.

It hit me then, exactly how much Fiona had been looking forward to this party, and how very important it was for her to have me come along. I knew, too, that she would still go, even if I didn’t. Worried that her excitement would end up getting her into trouble, I decided she’d be much safer if I went - if we went with her.

Slowly but surely, I had talked myself into going to the party, and now, I’d have to invite my twin. Even though we had learned to be apart more often, something this huge had to be shared. I could already picture Melinda rolling her eyes in disbelief, but at the same time, I knew how she loved a good party. She’d accept the invitation, I was sure of it.

“Yes. I’ll go with you,” I said without another thought.

“Oh, thank you. Thank you, Lizzy!” Fiona’s smile was wide. “I wanted you to come so badly. And as much as I do want to go, I think I’d be afraid to go alone.” Her salad stabbing increased in speed as she finally started to eat again. Her furious eating made me think it was good she was a vegetarian. Surely she’d choke on meat as fast as she stuffed her face. At least in her frenzy, she had the common courtesy to keep her mouth closed.

“Do you want to stop home with me later so I can ask Lindy?” I snickered. “I hope she doesn’t think we’ve gone completely mad!”

Fiona was not at all surprised by my choice to ask my twin. But she looked at me with a question in her eyes, and then she frowned like a child caught in the act of making up a story.

“Lizzy, you do believe me, don’t you? I mean, about the legends and all. It really is true. You’ll see.”

“Fiona, all I know for sure is that I’ve agreed to go out on Friday night. I have no idea where, or who else will be there other than you and my sister if she says she’s even interested. And that I plan to have some fun.” I felt like I had succeeded in avoiding the question quite well, but then I saw the look of hurt come across Fiona’s face. Her eyes became moist with tears, and I thought she’d lose the battle to hold them back if I didn’t add anything more. I reached across the table and touched her pale hand.


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