Albert sat on the park bench, staring into the distance. On the other side of the walking path lay a grassy clearing where two members of his faction’s security team were playing Frisbee, but he didn’t want to appear to be looking at, let alone appear to be with them. Nor did he want to appear to be with Eunice, who sat on a bench farther down the path, reading. Or seemingly so. Perhaps she really was.
A couple more members from the security team were farther up the path, ostensibly bird watching. Beyond them sat a water fountain. When…no…if—Albert shook his head. No. He set his jaw decisively. When he received the alert that Phillip Brewer had turned down the path they expected him to take, Albert would casually walk to the water fountain, feign taking a drink, then stroll back, timing his arrival at this same bench to correlate with Phillip’s.
He pulled out his phone and flipped through screens so to the casual observer he would appear to have a purpose for sitting on the bench. Never mind that it also gave his fingers something to do as he anxiously awaited the next update.
Even with as many recruits as he’d approached in recent centuries since the vampires had organized, he’d never felt so edgy. So uneasy. Almost panicky to the point where he’d discussed it with Eunice. In the end, she’d agreed he was still the most likely to facilitate a positive outcome.
A blood-mate, finally, after two thousand years on his own. Albert closed his eyes and sucked in a lungful of the fresh, late spring air. Many of the petals had fallen from the flowering trees, so the air wasn’t as overpoweringly fragrant as it had been just weeks ago.
Yes, a blood-mate. While Albert wasn’t one hundred percent sure on a conscious level if that was the case, he felt it in his bones. Phillip was still human, and the full potency of the blood-mate connection wouldn’t be felt unless…until Phillip was changed into a vampire.
Until…he had to focus on that word. Phillip had left his apartment almost twenty minutes ago. Considering his current physical state, the fact he’d gone out at all was a positive sign. They hadn’t been sure that he would go out today…or ever again. Some of the sounds vamp agents had reported coming from the apartment had been concerning.
Albert knew Phillip was headed toward the park as of the report from ten minutes ago. No report since then meant that status hadn’t changed. It all boiled down to which path he’d take once he arrived at the park.
The wind’s direction changed, and Albert’s eyes popped open again when he caught a whiff of that scent that had so tantalized him just the other day. The sound of Eunice’s book thudding to the path reached Albert’s ears a moment later, and he stiffened, waiting for the word that would follow.
“Whoops,” Eunice muttered, and Albert smiled and stood. “Damn” would have been bad, but “whoops” was good. It meant Phillip had turned down their path. She wouldn’t be able to see him yet; she was just passing on what she’d heard.
Albert strolled to the water fountain and dropped his phone as he leaned down for the pretense of taking a drink. He wasn’t signaling anything to his people, not intentionally anyway. He supposed he was effectively signaling his intense nervousness, though.
He straightened his back and shoulders. Those nerves were something he needed to get under control. A calm demeanor was essential. “Fate,” if there was such a thing, had done its part getting Phillip to take his usual path. The rest was up to Albert.
Whether Albert got his blood-mate—a shudder rippled through him—or had to give the signal to have Phillip painlessly taken down if he refused the offer, it was in his own hands. He could blame nobody except himself if the mission failed now.
He turned to look down the path. Phillip was now in sight, and Albert strolled nonchalantly back toward the bench that his security team had chosen for many reasons ranging from its lack of security cameras and general seclusion from the street, while being in a part of the park that didn’t get overmuch foot traffic at this time of day (although they could thank Phillip’s routine for that) but still had nearby spaces where agents could be stationed without looking out of place.
As Phillip passed Eunice, she glanced up at him and nodded with a quirk of a smile. Phillip returned the gesture. Albert’s own lips reflexively twitched up at the sight. The breeze carried a heavier dose of Phillip’s scent, and this time it worked to calm Albert’s worries.
Phillip glanced around, noticing Albert, the frisbee players, and the bird watchers. He blinked a couple times before his gaze moved back to Albert as they jointly reached the bench.
“Hello,” Albert said. He came to a halt in front of the bench. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?”
To Be Continued…
🔽 🔼 POV Switch - Park Scene from Albert's POV - Part 2
POV Switch - Park Scene from Albert's POV - Part 2
Recognition flashed in Phillips eyes. He must remember their brief meeting—passing, really—on the street the other day. That was a good sign—that Albert had made enough of an impression on Phillip to be remembered.
Phillip also halted. “Sure is.” He added a light, wry smile. The man should have been in the prime of his life but was instead going through the motions of his final weeks, and he knew it. There wasn’t much for him to truly smile about, and it said a lot that he was trying to find reasons to.
Albert moved to the bench and raised a brow in what he hoped was a welcoming fashion, silently inviting Phillip to join him. This was the first hurdle that needed to be passed. If Phillip declined to even sit…well, they had alternative plans, but those weren’t as likely to work.
Getting Phillip to join him here was critical, and not coming across as an edgy creeper with an ulterior motive was essential to making that happen. Phillip shrugged, and some of the heaviness lifted off Albert’s shoulders.
“My name’s Albert.” He held out a hand, and Phillip shook it.
Phillip’s hand was warm and dry. “Phillip.” He didn’t elaborate, but Albert didn’t expect him to.
“I’m pleased to meet you, Phillip.” Albert paused. He hadn’t forgotten what he’d planned to say, of course. Or rather, the long list of options that varied depending upon the situation, or the personality of the person he was facing. But, part of what made it fairly easy to come across as natural during these discussions was the fact that much of the conversation did end up being customized on the fly while reading the expressions on his companion’s face.
“Likewise.” Phillip once again kept his reply simple. His countenance indicated he’d perceived there was a purpose to Albert’s waylaying him, but he proceeded to the bench seeming curious but unconcerned.
Which was basically perfect. Small talk wouldn’t be necessary here, and would, in fact, likely make Phillip uneasy.
So, Albert looked directly into Phillip’s eyes with a steady gaze and cut to the chase. “Phillip, I want to show you something, and I ask that you keep an open mind and hear me out before reacting.”
Phillip sat back and was easy to read. Albert had certainly caught his attention, but he still gave off no airs of anxiety. People at that stage of their life usually didn’t. What did he have to lose by hearing what Albert had to say, or watching what he had to demonstrate? Worst case scenario, a couple weeks of his life, but the nearby reader, Frisbee players, and bird watchers would likely put him at ease.
“I think we can help each other,” Albert continued.
“I’m dying,” Phillip said. Which, of course, was obvious, but Albert could certainly see how his statement might lead Phillip to think he didn’t realize that. “Whatever you have in mind, I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to make a deal with you.”
“Please, hear me out.” Albert held out an arm. Best to regain Phillip’s attention with a visual and tactile demonstration. If Phillip was feeling any pull at all due to the possibly impending blood-mate connection, his illness was weakening his ability to recognize it, or maybe to care about it, figuring it was pointless. “This seems like an unusual request, I know, but I’d like you to examine my arm. Go ahead and touch it. I want you to assure yourself that it is, indeed, my real arm and not any kind of advanced prosthetic or makeup designed to create a special effect.”
Phillip’s eyes widened, but not, thankfully, with alarm. With curiosity. Possibly the best diversion he’d had in a while, dealing with his illness.
Albert left his arm hanging in the air while Phillip briefly paused before putting both hands on Albert’s forearm. As expected, based upon the vampires’ background check, Phillip was thorough in his exploration. He would trust his senses, but he would be systematic and meticulous to make sure his senses weren’t being tricked as if by a professional street magician.
Phillip felt for a pulse and found one. It took nerves of steel not to react as Phillip ran a hand over the hairs on Albert’s arm, watching them move appropriately. He manipulated Albert’s arm and fingers, carefully observing the play of muscle and the movement of tendons at the inside of his wrist. He even pinched Albert’s skin.
When Phillip withdrew his hands, Albert lowered his arm. “Are you satisfied that this is indeed my natural arm?”
“Yes.” Phillip eyed him warily.
“Remember, keep an open mind and maintain your composure. Give me the opportunity to explain what you’re about to see.”
Phillip narrowed his eyes, but they still conveyed a mood of curiosity rather than concern. “All right.”
Albert took a quick glance around, then quickly checked himself. Damn his nerves. He shouldn’t have given Phillip that visual clue, because the man was too smart not to pick up on it.
Nobody was in sight other than his own people. He hadn’t expected to see anyone else, because he would have received an audible alert if anyone was heading down the path. But, at least the coast was clear to proceed. Thankfully, because at this point a delay in the action could have seriously disrupted Phillip’s acquiescent mood. Either nobody was about, or his team members at the split were successfully diverting anyone who appeared to want to come this way.
Moving quickly, before Phillip could react, he pulled a small razor blade out of his pocket and slowly drew the blade across the arm Phillip had just examined, gritting his teeth against the pain as the blade cut deeply enough for the tissue to separate and blood—black blood—to appear. Due to Albert’s advanced age, the gash closed up within seconds as the razor dragged up the length of his forearm. There was no way to interpret this demonstration for anything other than what it was.
“What the hell.” Phillip gasped and seemed to be fighting to keep his respiration steady as he turned to stare at Albert’s face.
To Be Continued…
🔽 🔼 POV Switch - Park Scene from Albert's POV - Part 3
POV Switch - Park Scene from Albert's POV - Part 3
Albert unclenched his jaw and strove to regain a relaxed demeanor. “Do you trust your own eyes?” Albert asked. The razor disappeared into a pocket, replaced by a cloth handkerchief, which he used to wipe the remaining blood from his arm.
“I’ll admit I’m drugged up, but nothing that would explain that.” Which Albert already knew because his research team had reported Phillip’s medical records and medication regimen. Phillip had pointedly requested medication that would not cause him to hallucinate or overly diminish his ability to reason. Albert couldn’t help but admire Phillip’s desire to remain alert enough to appreciate his surroundings. Although that had also concerned them as a sign that he might not hold out until his natural death.
“You accept what you just witnessed at face value?”
Phillip pursed his lips a moment before replying. “Okay. Yes. Obviously, there’s something superhuman about you.” His brows drew together as if another though occurred to him.
“That’s one way to put it,” Albert said. “I was once fully human, but now…no, not quite human anymore.”
Phillip sat still, apparently digesting that comment. Mulling over the possibilities. “Please.” Phillip swallowed, and a slight shiver drifted along his body. “I need you to spell out what you meant—earlier. Before your demonstration.”
Albert smiled. He’d hooked him. Now he just needed to reel him in. “About helping each other?”
“You don’t need to die yet. I’ve been walking this earth for more than two thousand years.” Albert spoke calmly as Phillip froze in place, clenching his hands at his belly. That number tended to inspire awe.
But, of course, such a comment also inspired a touch of concern. But just a touch. The carrot at the end of the stick was too tempting to walk away without hearing Albert out. “Who are you? You’re immortal. But how?”
“Immortal in the sense that I, and others like me, won’t appear to become older beyond our age at the time of transition. Nor will we die of natural causes. We can be killed, though. You’ve witnessed my self-healing abilities, but anything that would instantly kill a human will kill me…us, too.”
“So, if I agree, this cancer would disappear just like that?” Phillip snapped his fingers.
“Like all of our ‘supernatural’ capabilities, self-healing improves over time. As a new convert, you won’t immediately feel better. It’ll take about a day for you to feel one hundred percent.”
Phillip was clearly enthralled, sitting straighter, fully alert. Albert was holding back, though. Dropping the “V-word” too soon would be a mistake. Damn the myriad of fictional accounts of vampires and their extreme notions of vampire conduct.
“You still haven’t answered the question. Who are your people?”
Albert hesitated, but eventually the word had to be said, and further delaying after being pointedly asked the question would be worse than saying it. “The word you’re searching for is ‘vampire.’”
Phillip burst out laughing, and a bit more tension peeled off from Albert’s shoulders. After catching his breath, Phillip grinned. “You had me going there for a while.”
Tilting his head to the side, Albert raised a single eyebrow as he continued to gaze at Phillip. “Not the usual reaction.” Which was more likely to be a cynical eye roll. This sense of humor was better. Definitely better. “Intriguing, though. You don’t believe me, do you?”
“Please,” Phillip scoffed and gestured toward the bright sun overhead.