Child of Twilight [Dark Changeling Series Book 2]
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by Margaret L. Carter
Category: Horror EPIC eBook Award Finalist
Description: Gillian, a vampire-human hybrid in the throes of adolescence, panics at the unfamiliar urges and powers surging through her. Overwhelmed, she runs to the half-human father she has never known. Psychiatrist Roger Darvell has come to terms with his vampire half and built a good life, with a satisfying career and his human partner, Dr. Britt Loren, who is also his lover. Gillian's sudden appearance out of a December night throws him into turmoil. Can he teach her how to live as an ethical vampire without violating either side of her nature? Before they have much time to learn to trust each other, a specialist in folklore kidnaps Gillian to study her. She is soon rescued--not by Roger, but by Camille, a vampire woman determined to avenge her brother, whom Roger killed in self-defense thirteen years earlier. Camille's wild, fierce lifestyle proves seductive to Gillian. Can she resist Camille's attempt to make her a "real" vampire--one who treats ordinary mortals as mere prey? Can Roger save Gillian before her human side becomes completely submerged in lust for the kill? [Cover art Dirk A. Wolf]
eBook Publisher: Hard Shell Word Factory, 2003
eBookwise Release Date: September 2003
29 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [476 KB]
Reading time: 292-409 min.
"Margaret L. Carter's sequel to Dark Changeling is everything a good vampire romance should be. The exploration of vampire culture, the villain who wants nothing more than to destroy Roger, the vampire's love for a human and his growing love for his daughter contribute to making Child of Twilight one of the best vampire books this reviewer has ever read. Hopefully Ms. Carter will write Gillian's story because readers will want to see what she is like when she is a grown-up."--Harriet Klausner, PNR Romance Reviews
"Introducing a new spin onto the vampire legend, Ms. Carter tosses readers headfirst into her world, and it's a chilling one, fascinating and dangerous. This novel gives the distinct impression of being a second or third book in a series; therefore, if there is a prior one, readers are advised to find and read it first."--Amanda Killgore, Huntress Reviews
"Like other books by Carter, the pacing tends toward languid rather than racing, but the plot unfolds crisply and there is never a sense of plodding along. In fact, the pace thoroughly supports Carters almost "domestic" vampires to a tee, making such a unique portrayal of vampire lore seem more plausible than unbelievable. The cover art notwithstanding, Margaret L. Carters vampires are not your typical "Lost Boys" munchers. Instead they are thoughtful, complex, and diverse making them - if you'll pardon the expression - more human. Just what you'd expect a human-vampire bybrid to be."--Patric Michael, Sime-Gen Reviews
NEVER LET THEM suspect what you are.
Her mentor's warning, repeated innumerable times, rattled inside Gillian's skull. What am I, anyway? And aren't I somehow part of "them," too?
Waving at the van whose lights cut through the sheet of rain, she buried these thoughts beneath the need of the moment. Her mentor had often cautioned her against excessive brooding, too. Cultivating self-doubt would make her vulnerable.
Not thinking can kill you; on the other hand, thinking too much instead of acting can kill you just as quickly.
Oh, leave me alone! she ordered the ghostly whisper inside her brain. She'd made the considered choice to run away from her guardian, Dr. Volnar; why couldn't she stop thinking of him for more than five minutes straight? At the moment she'd better concentrate on improving her condition -- tired, hungry, penniless, and wet. While the December rain didn't chill her, even in a lightweight jacket, she detested being soaked as much as any cat. And the money she'd pilfered from Volnar's wallet had paid for a bus ticket only as far as Richmond.
Besides, this is supposed to be an adventure. Her first chance to mix with -- their kind -- without her guardian looming over her shoulder. She'd better make the most of it while she could.
The van screeched to a stop on the shoulder of the on-ramp. When the driver, a lean, middle-aged man with a pointed beard, edged over to peer at her through the passenger window, Gillian heard him exclaim, "My God, it's a kid!"
Opening the door, he shouted to her, "Get in, you're drenched already!"
Gillian climbed into the car, shrugged off her jacket, and dropped her backpack between the two front bucket seats. "Thank you for stopping, sir." She stole a longer look at the driver. He wore a fur-collared leather coat and matching leather gloves. His hair, receding in front, was curly and abundant elsewhere, gray-streaked brown like the beard. She felt indignation mingled with curiosity in the stare he gave her.
The van roared onto Interstate 64. "I'm Adam Greer. Who might you be?"
Hands folded in her lap, she kept quiet. The less she revealed the better.
"Good enough -- Gillian. Don't you have any idea how dangerous it is for a girl to hitchhike? Especially at night? Good Lord, I could be Jack the Ripper for all you know!"
"Impossible," she said. "He lived in the nineteenth century." Greer's answering chuckle reminded her of another of Volnar's warnings -- not to take every statement literally. Fortunately Greer seemed to accept the comment as a joke.
"How old are you, anyway?"
She saw no reason not to answer that question truthfully. As Volnar had instructed her (Why couldn't she keep him out of her thoughts? What kind of independence was that?), minimizing the number of lies one had to keep track of made life less complicated. "I'm twelve."
"Tall for your age," Greer muttered.
And skinny, she could almost hear the man thinking. Gillian wondered if she'd made a mistake, if she should have claimed to be older. Yet she knew her slim, flat-chested body didn't resemble a teenager's. Better to present herself as an unusually tall pre-adolescent. She ran her fingers through her dripping red curls and sat up straight, trying to keep water off the upholstery.
Squinting through dark-rimmed glasses at the highway, shiny with rain, Greer said, "How far are you going?"
A potential trap? No, what harm could that truth do her? "To Annapolis."
He made a hmph sound of acknowledgement. "Heading in that general direction myself. I'm going to a convention in College Park -- on the upper side of the Washington beltway, if you don't know the area."
"I have studied maps." The dubious glance he gave her worried Gillian. Her speech must not ring true for a twelve-year-old girl, but how could she remedy that problem when she'd had so little experience yet? Well, that's one reason I'm here, to get experience. "What kind of convention, sir?" Maybe she could get him to talk about himself instead of her.
Greer flashed her a smile. "It's a pleasure to meet a polite kid these days, but you don't have to overdo it. A science fiction convention -- I'm scheduled to be on a panel about UFOs. I teach sociology at William and Mary, and along with more scholarly articles on the topic, I've published a few popular books on contemporary urban superstitions. Hey, there I go lecturing, as if you'd be interested. Sorry, besetting sin of us academics."
Gillian rummaged through the mental file of her nonfiction reading and came up with a vague picture of what he meant. "But I am interested, professor. Superstitions? Like alligators in the sewers of New York?"
He seemed surprised that she'd caught on so readily. "Right, and the tale of the Hook, the spiders in the imported cactus, the organ-stealing crime ring, and all sorts of wild stories that go around with nobody sure how or where they started. And other popular beliefs that don't strictly fit the urban label, like Bigfoot and UFOs full of little green men from Venus."
"There can't be humanoid life on Venus," Gillian said. "It is much too hot."
"Right you are." Professor Greer laughed. "Gillian, you're something else, as we used to say at your age." His amusement faded. "I hate to think of you out on the road alone. I've got a niece not much older than you. Listen, if you're running away, you can tell me about it. I won't turn you in to the cops."
Gillian heard sincerity in the man's voice. The deep pink halo of his aura didn't flicker. Maybe she could tell him enough of the truth, shaded with fabricated details to win his sympathy, to induce him to help her. Either that or she would have to find another ride farther up the highway, and she was so tired already. She hadn't slept all day. "I'm going to visit my father, and I ran out of bus money."
The professor radiated skepticism. "Your parents are divorced?" She nodded. "So why didn't he send you enough money to start with?"
She scrambled for a plausible explanation. One sprang to mind from the soap operas she watched as part of her education. "He doesn't know I'm on my way. I couldn't get in touch with him." She injected a tremor into her voice. "He would have contacted my mother about the arrangements, and if she knew about it--" She paused, pretending to choke on suppressed tears, and watched the man's reaction.
Greer exuded sympathy. Her technique was working. A tiny thrill tingled along her nerves. So this is what we cultivate them for! And it wasn't as difficult as she'd feared either.
"She'd stop me. You see, her husband--" Gillian covered her face with her hands, afraid to volunteer anything specific for fear of striking a false note.
"Poor kid -- you don't have to go into details." His voice rough with distress, Greer reached over to pat Gillian's shoulder. A rush of warmth suffused her. For a second she felt energized despite her fatigue and hunger. She wanted more of this!
"I couldn't tell my mother about it. She'd believe my stepfather, not me." Gillian groped for the professor's hand. The touch of his fingers sparked another delightful surge of electricity.
The van swerved. Snatching his hand away from Gillian's, Greer whipped the wheel around to steer the car back into its proper lane. "God, I must be more tired than I thought! Better take a break, get some coffee. I bet you'd like a snack, too."
"I would like a glass of milk," she said.
"Fine, I'll treat you to one." He glanced at the sign coming up. "There's an exit in two miles. Oh, I forgot all about this--" He dug into the pouch below the dashboard between the front seats and fished out a chocolate bar. "Be my guest."
She gave the standard excuse she'd been taught. "No thank you, I'm allergic to it."
With a shrug Professor Greer unwrapped the candy and started eating it. "No wonder I'm beat, grading exams until late this afternoon. Stupid of me not to wait until tomorrow to drive up, but I wanted plenty of time to meet with a few colleagues in the area. And a good thing, as it turned out, or I wouldn't have met you."
Gillian tensed. What did he have in mind? Could she accept help from him without compromising herself?
"I'll take you all the way to your father's. It's only an extra hour of driving time, no problem. You said he lives in Annapolis?"
Gillian decided to accept the offer. Wasn't there a saying about the teeth of gift horses? Once convinced that she was safe with her father, Greer would vanish from her life with no harm done. "Not exactly in Annapolis," she said. "Across the Severn River in an area called St. Margaret's near Route 50."
The van slowed for the exit ramp. "Have you ever been there?"
"Only once, when I was very little, so I hardly remember it. But I have studied--"
He laughed, "Yeah, I know, maps. So you can give me accurate directions?"
"I believe so." She told him the street address.
"Okay, it's a deal." He peered out the windshield at the deserted, wooded county road. The downpour had changed from rain to sleet. "I wonder how many miles to civilization?"
"I don't know how to thank you," said Gillian, quoting a line she'd often encountered in books and TV dramas. She was enjoying the way she manipulated this creature so easily.
With a dismissive wave he said, "Forget it. I'll feel better knowing you're safe. You can thank me by promising not to do anything this dumb again."
"Yes, sir." Partly to divert him from his too-solicitous interest in her and partly out of genuine curiosity, she asked, "Isn't it unwise for you to pick up strangers too? Aren't you afraid?"
"Not of a twelve-year-old -- no offense," he chuckled. "And I do carry a pistol in the glove compartment on these trips. Probably against some law or other."
Having read in the newspaper about armed conflict in California traffic jams, Gillian wasn't surprised to hear that the professor had a gun. "How many people have you shot?"
He burst out laughing. "None. I'm not what you'd call the desperado type--" He glanced at her, taking his eyes off the tight curve he was negotiating. At that moment the tires skidded on the ice-glazed pavement. The professor spun the wheel wildly from side to side. Gillian heard his heartbeat shift into overdrive. Her own pounded out of control. The van slid across the curve and onto the shoulder. Its right front bumper collided with a sapling and rebounded.
Gillian felt her safety belt strain against her chest. Greer's panic flooded her. She couldn't gather her wits to brace against the jolting of the car. She felt the brakes catch. The van fishtailed, plowed into a leafless clump of bushes, and stopped.
Gillian's vision went dim. Something more than the wind howled in her ears. Her skin felt on fire. She leaped up, lunging against the belt and barely noticing it snap. Her bones were cracking open, her body turning inside out, her very essence boiling up from her heart and bowels.
She doubled over, forehead on the dashboard. Abruptly the burning pain metamorphosed into a convulsion of ecstasy immeasurably beyond what she'd absorbed from Greer's touch.
It ended too quickly. Her eyes cleared. Meeting the professor's dumbfounded stare, she glimpsed in her peripheral vision what held him transfixed.
She saw the tips of her wings.
What did he see? Only wings? Or also dark fur sprouting on her skin, the fangs and pointed ears of some feral creature from legend?
His terror pierced her between the eyes. Or was it her own? This can't be -- I'm too young -- I don't know how! And then a still more terrible thought hit her: He saw me change!
She fumbled for the door handle, jumped down from the van, and launched herself into the air.
Fear-driven instinct made up for her ignorance. Buffeted by wind and sleet, she soared above the trees. Blindly she flew northward until exhaustion forced her to the ground. Landing in a wooded area a few miles from Interstate 95, she huddled in the midst of a stand of evergreens with her head buried in her arms, shuddering with tearless sobs.
When her panic ebbed enough to allow thought, she sat up and craned her neck to look over her shoulder. The wings were gone. I'm too young for the change! Dr. Volnar was supposed to teach me -- later. A mocking inner voice reminded her, You chose to run away from him, remember? Isn't there a proverb about making beds and lying in them?
The back of her blouse hung in shreds, for only a very mature member of her race could include clothing in the rearrangement of molecules. She ached all over. Even though her "flight" was mostly levitation, since the silken wing membrane could not support her weight -- despite her being both lighter and stronger than a human girl of the same size -- she still had to use hitherto unexercised muscles for balance and steering.
She struggled to bring to mind all she'd been taught about the change. Among their other psychic powers, her people could alter the external shape of their bodies. The change involved no loss or gain of mass, no reshuffling of internal structures. And the shape assumed was fixed in the genes, a cellular memory, apparently, of an ancestral form. What the observer saw, however, depended partly on what he expected to see. And someone with experience and control could project an illusion, making the shapeshift appear more radical than it really was.
This abstract knowledge wouldn't do her much good now. She needed practical instruction. Go back to Volnar and beg his pardon? Dark Powers, no! Absolutely not! She'd rather ask her father for help.
Assuming he would help, if he knew how. She'd told Professor Greer the truth about not contacting her father ahead of time. Knowing Roger Darvell hadn't wanted her to be born and hadn't shown any interest in her since, why should she expect him to worry about her now?
I'll face that problem when I get to Annapolis.
Meanwhile she had to get there. Several hours of night remained; she'd better travel while she could. The sleet had changed back to freezing rain and slacked off to a drizzle. She would have to walk, staying away from highways and towns. Hitching another ride was out of the question. She knew her ripped blouse would inspire too much curiosity. Besides, the thought of being seen by anyone else terrified her. Suppose the change seized her without warning again? So much for adventure!
She started walking north. As soon as she got the feel of the terrain, she broke into a trot, wishing she could run away from her fear. Unbidden, a memory from her eighth year sprang up to torment her.
Dr. Volnar had visited Washington on some sort of business and brought her along. One afternoon she'd awakened early and peeked into his half of the suite to find him still asleep. It had been a cloudy, gusty March day, she recalled. Bored, Gillian had decided to go for a walk along Connecticut Avenue. True, venturing out alone was forbidden, but she knew that as long as she stayed near the hotel the punishment would be slight, well worth the pleasure of the excursion.
She'd put on her sunglasses and straw hat and strolled down the street. In spite of the choking traffic fumes, the spectacle of so many people enthralled her. They frightened her a little, too, making her flinch when one of them passed too close on the sidewalk. Yet nobody gave her a second glance. She didn't stand out as especially odd. What was Dr. Volnar so worried about? After a few blocks she turned away from the hotels and restaurants onto a quiet street lined with gabled and turreted houses. The trees overarching the sidewalk provided relief from the sun that oppressed her even through the cloud cover.
Gillian remembered sitting on the front steps of a brownstone to watch a boy of about ten ride his bicycle up and down the street, making the bike rear up on its back wheel at each end of the block. He must have felt her steady gaze, for after several minutes he stopped in front of her and stared back. "Cool shades," he'd muttered.
Not sure what he meant, she had let the remark pass and said, "You ride very well. I wonder if I could do that?"
"You ever ride a freewheel bike before?"
"I have never ridden a bicycle at all." She'd stood up and sidled over to him, brushing the chrome of the handlebars with her fingertips.
He'd let out a wordless hoot. "You got to be putting me on! Then if you tried this, you'd probably break both legs."
His derision angered Gillian. "I would not! I can do anything I want to do!"
Even then, perhaps, she'd owned a trace of the power of compulsion she expected to develop as an adult, because without another thought the boy had dismounted from the bike and shoved it at her. "Go ahead and try! But if you wreck it, your parents have to pay for it. Dumb girl!"
From watching the angle of the boy's torso and the rhythm of his legs as he'd pumped the pedals, Gillian had rapidly picked up the basic technique. She wobbled up and down the street once, then rode smoothly on the next pass. The third time around she felt ready to practice the stunt he'd performed. After a few false starts she had balanced the bike as deftly as the performer in the circus she'd recently watched on television. Drop-jawed, the boy had watched her ride faster and faster, weaving in and out of holes between parked cars, making the bike jump up and down curbs, glorying in the swift movement and the breeze whipping her hair.
Then a familiar voice had shattered her pleasant trance. "Gillian! Just what do you think you're doing?"
She'd locked the brakes and jumped clear of the bicycle. Striding across the street, Dr. Volnar had seized her hand. After one look at the tall, grim-faced man in dark glasses, the boy had retrieved his bike and fled on it.
"I was only playing," she gasped as Volnar half-dragged her toward Connecticut Avenue. "He let me use the bicycle -- I wasn't doing any harm--"
"No harm!" Volnar paused to glare at her, then resumed his rapid pace. "You know very well that you are never to show yourself in public without me."
"Yes, sir, I know." The blaze of his anger blotted out all the joy of her new accomplishment. He'd never reacted this way the other times she'd slipped out by herself.
"And you are never, never to show off in front of people."
"Oh. I didn't think--"
"You certainly did not." They crossed Connecticut and walked in the direction of the hotel. "He was only one boy, and when he talks about your -- demonstration -- his elders will say he's exaggerating. But suppose you'd done something more obviously impossible? Or suppose he had noticed your teeth?" At that stage her dentition had resembled a wolf's more than a human child's. "And what if adults had been present?"
Thoroughly miserable now, Gillian had said nothing.
"Fortunately in most cases people refuse to believe the impossible. They will deny their own senses rather than let their world-view be overturned. But you cannot count on that weakness. You must never count on it!" He'd punctuated that sentence by grasping her shoulders and spinning her around to stare into her eyes.
"Yes, sir," she whispered. "I'll remember."
"Indeed you will. I intend to imprint it on your mind." Instead of taking her back to the hotel, he had walked her to the National Zoo. Now, jogging through a forest on a December night, inhaling the scent of wet pine, Gillian vividly recalled the ammonia smell of the animal cages stinging her nose.
Volnar had hustled her straight to the big cats and pulled her to the rail overlooking the tiger pen. One of the tigers had lain on his side, motionless except for the flick of his tail, basking in the feeble sun diffused through the overcast sky. The other tiger had paced an unvarying path along the edge of the artificial hill, his muzzle always turned toward the spectators. Gillian recalled a whiff of rotting meat from the tigers' last meal and the shrill cries of two little boys in overalls a few feet away, fighting over a box of popcorn. Their mother had shrieked at them, "You two stop that this instant, or it's back to the car! Come over here and look at Tigger!"
Staggering from sensory overload, Gillian had let Dr. Volnar guide her away. When they'd settled on a bench in the shade, he'd said, "Would you want to spend your life like that -- imprisoned, on exhibit, viewed as a rare and dangerous wild beast? Would you want to be responsible for hundreds of your cousins being hunted down and forced to live that way?"
In a quavering voice Gillian had given him the answer he wanted. And then he'd drawn the moral: "Never let them suspect what you are."
And now, reflected Gillian as she maintained her steady trot, Professor Greer knew there was something strange about her. He didn't merely have cause for suspicion; he had seen her change. She had broken one of the most vital rules. She couldn't begin to guess how Dr. Volnar would punish her if she went back to him. So she didn't dare go back, not for a long time. Her father, at least, would understand. Maybe.
After a while the rain stopped. Her energy was fading again. Wearing only the remains of a blouse, she found the night chilly and wished for her jacket, which she'd left in Greer's van. Along with the backpack containing extra clothes and everything else she'd paused to grab on her way out of the hotel in Atlanta. She fingered her one remaining asset, the delicate gold cross that hung around her neck. That was worth money, she knew, but she had no idea where to sell jewelry. She wasted little thought on her losses. More important at the moment, she needed food.
Slowing to a walk, she tiptoed soundlessly among the trees, listening and sniffing the air. The wet soil and plants carried odors well. Within a few minutes she scented a rabbit crouched under an evergreen bush. Squatting a few feet away, Gillian focused on the motionless animal. The healthy glow of its aura made her mouth water. Still as a stone herself, with one hand outstretched, she silently called to the rabbit. This talent she had possessed for several years. Unlike her new sensitivity to human emotions, her link with animals didn't overwhelm her and shatter her control.
The rabbit inched from beneath the tangled branches and gave a tentative hop in her direction. Gillian held her breath. She mustn't make a hasty move and scare the creature away. It hopped closer. She encouraged it with a soothing hum. One more hop and it hunched within reach of her hand. She stroked the rough fur on its back until the rabbit's racing heartbeat calmed. Picking it up, she cradled the animal in her arms, exposing the nearly hairless belly.
Its body heat was balm to her cold, aching limbs. With a sigh of relief she sat down against a tree and pressed her mouth to the rabbit's abdomen. The razor-sharp edge of her incisors opened a minute slit in the skin, and she sucked avidly. Her prey sank into sleep, coma, and finally death without the slightest spasm of pain.
Gently laying aside the drained body, she resumed walking. Soon dawn would force her to seek shelter. She couldn't travel any farther without a good day's rest. About an hour later, she came upon a dense thicket of pines tainted by no lingering scent of human intrusion. From the map she'd consulted, she knew this area must be part of a national forest. The trees would screen her from the view of low-flying light aircraft as well as from the sun. With luck nobody would stumble across her hiding place while she slept.
She nestled into a pile of sodden leaves, grumbling at the chill and dampness. All the other times she'd spent the day outside, the excursions had been planned. Volnar had provided her with a sleeping bag and pup tent. How she longed for those amenities now! Tired as she was, though, discomfort couldn't keep her awake for long. Nor could the worries that revolved endlessly in her head. Would her father accept her at least temporarily, or try to send her back to Volnar? She knew her father hadn't wanted a child. He'd been pressured into begetting Gillian. Half-human himself, he had bequeathed human genes to her, traits that made her incomplete, defective -- or so she'd heard it whispered for most of her life. On the other hand, human fathers, unlike males among Gillian's mother's people, were supposed to care for their children. Why hadn't Gillian's father defied Volnar's rules to contact her at least occasionally?
She dimly remembered her one visit to Annapolis, sometime in her third year. At that time she'd still been living with her mother, Juliette, who had thought Gillian's father was entitled to a glimpse of the baby he'd sired. During the brief meeting her father had shown polite interest, nothing more. Gillian wondered if this quest would prove a waste of time, if she ought to go straight to Juliette instead. No, Volnar would look there first. Juliette was visiting her literary agent in New York, and Volnar had been taking Gillian there for her semiannual visit with her mother when Gillian had decided to run away. Juliette, who approved of Dr. Volnar's teaching methods, would certainly send Gillian right back to him.
There was at least a chance, Gillian thought, that her father would resist turning her over to Volnar. According to rumor, the two didn't get along well. Comforting herself with that prospect, she yielded to sleep.
Copyright © 2003 by Margaret L. Carter