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       Vampire Innocent (Book 3): The Artist of Ruin, p.1

          part  #3 of  Vampire Innocent Series

Vampire Innocent (Book 3): The Artist of Ruin


  The Artist of Ruin

  Vampire Innocent #3

  Matthew S. Cox

  The Artist of Ruin

  Vampire Innocent Book 3

  © 2018 Matthew S. Cox

  This novel is a work of fiction. Any similarities to real persons, places, or vampires is purely unintentional. No portion of this novel may be reproduced without written permission from the author.

  ISBN: 978-1-949174-10-6 (ebook)

  ISBN: 978-1-949174-11-3 (paperback)

  Contents

  1. Out of the Woods

  2. Long Term

  3. The Recital

  4. A Plea from Beyond

  5. Spiritualism 101

  6. Top Ten

  7. Kill the Music

  8. Reasons and Thingees

  9. The Talk

  10. Crash Pad

  11. Old Ellensburg Jail

  12. Artistic License

  13. Succubus

  14. Charity Cases

  15. Rebecca

  16. The Good Girl

  17. She Likes Me

  18. Possessive

  19. Attachments

  20. Best Friend

  21. Memorable Encounter

  22. Getting Personal

  23. Sally Ann

  24. Always

  25. New Home

  26. Ruin

  27. Risk Management

  28. Loyalty

  29. Road Trip

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  Other Books by Matthew S. Cox

  1

  Out of the Woods

  Adjusting to my new normal isn’t something I expected to deal with overnight. I mean really, how’s a girl supposed to deal with her own death? Under the circumstances, I think I’m doing okay.

  In all fairness, I had quite a few big things happen all in a rather short amount of time. My ex-boyfriend murdered me for one. Then I find out vampires are like an actual thing—and oh yeah, I am one. Oh, did I mention my ex-boyfriend, the one who killed me, got back up as a half-vampire thing that tried to kill my little sister. To be rid of him for good, I had to burn him alive. Okay, not alive. He was already dead, but still, watching the guy I spent two years thinking I loved roast like a marshmallow left a mark.

  Okay, I’m exaggerating a little—on the time. It’s more like a year thinking I loved him, a couple of months trying to convince myself that I still loved him, and about six more months trying to find the courage to break up with him. So… yeah. Murdered. Hey vampires exist, I am a vampire, and asshole refused to stay dead.

  I think most people would’ve had some difficulty coping.

  That said, I’m starting to get the hang of this whole undead deal. Oh, and the mood swings have stopped. No clue if they came from some part of my transformation into a vampire that hadn’t quite finished yet or if my watching Scott burn into a charred husk bothered me a lot more on an internal level than I let myself believe.

  Seriously, that was a really nice Jeep. Shame to waste it.

  The small army of stuffed animals is still out on my bed, but I’ve gone a whole week without randomly clinging to any of them. All recent clingage has been completely deliberate. In fact, I’ve decided to embrace the contradiction of being a dangerous, powerful immortal who sleeps in a bed that looks like it belongs to a tween. Maybe I’ll paint my walls pink and develop a bizarre fixation with Hello Kitty. That would really mess with people—especially my sister Sierra. Sophia would adore it, but nah. Beige works fine for me. I mean, I spent the past six years basically stuck somewhere between Bland Girl and a cover model for L.L. Bean.

  Anyway, since I’m conscious, I figure it’s probably at least two in the afternoon. My bones feel heavy and my muscles are threatening to go on strike. It’s like waking up on a cold February morning in a nest of warm blankets while it’s pouring rain outside—one of those days where the idea of getting detention for cutting school is totes worth it for staying in bed all day.

  Wait a second, I’m not in school anymore. Well, at least not in any school that would give me detention. Let me rephrase that. Today’s one of those days that’s totes worth quitting a job to stay in bed. Not that I know what that’s like. Well, I mean I have worked summer jobs the past two years, and I’ve definitely felt the ‘screw it, fire me’ temptation when the alarm clock went off. Though, back then I’d been too much of a chicken to cave in and sleep. My employment experience is hardly anything grand. I served ice cream at this one place between sophomore and junior year, waited tables last summer. So far, this summer, I’ve mostly just waited.

  Kinda hard to hold a day job when the day wants me dead.

  At least bright sunlight anyway. Oh, maybe that’s why I feel like this… The vampire version of ‘five more minutes, Mom’ has got to mean that it’s stupid bright outside and today is one of those days that’ll literally kill me. That I’m awake at all before sundown is a side effect of my being an Innocent. Yay me. I survive with anywhere from five to six hours of whatever passes for sleep now. Vampires from other bloodlines or tribes or whatever they’re supposed to be called are stuck as stiff as corpses from sunrise to sunset unless someone shows up trying to kill them. Yep. That’s my perk of Innocence. Extra time awake while stuck in my room.

  Maximum boredom.

  Though, I do have video games. I wonder what Count Dracula would’ve thought of them, assuming he existed. A guy like that probably wouldn’t have enjoyed a PlayStation. I mean why bother when he basically played Grand Theft Auto for real… running around killing actual people. He probably didn’t do much carjacking though. That idea gets me laughing as I imagine a video game version of GTA set in medieval Europe, the character tearing someone out of a horse-drawn carriage and taking off.

  Right. I need help.

  I force myself to sit up and swing my legs over the side of my bed. My bare feet settle into the carpet like I’m standing on an army of tiny fingers. Every individual pile registers to my brain. Vampires’ senses are like way tuned up. I could seriously tell heads or tails on a coin from pressing it against my hand. How exactly that would come in handy, I’m not sure, but hey! I’m fun at parties.

  Simultaneously, the clatter of Dad typing on his computer mixes with video game sound effects from my brother Sam’s computer on the second floor, Sierra’s PlayStation in the living room emitting gunfire and explosions, scratching that I guess to be birds or squirrels in the rain gutters, and something dripping.

  Okay, that’s going to drive me crazy. The dripping I mean, not hearing everything that’s going on in the house all at the same time. I grab my iPhone from the nightstand and throw on some music. Even soft music gives me enough to focus on that I subconsciously blot out everything else that I don’t try to listen to.

  I stretch and yawn mostly out of reflex because the brain still thinks that stretching equals yawn. My body’s continued resistance to activity tells me it’s a brutal one out there today, sun-wise. So, I’ll be hiding in my nice windowless room for most of the day. Options to avoid going insane include reading, doing some random computer-based educational thing, or video games. I mean, there’s always a steamy romance novel—hey, a girl’s got needs too—but one, there’s three sub-twelve-year-olds running around this place, not to mention two parents, one of whom has an annoying lack of respect for privacy. I’m not risking someone walking in on me in the middle of a bit of self-love.

  Ashley, my best friend, has a giant silicone… thing. I only found out about it because she told me her mom discovered it while cleaning like six months ago but didn’t bat an eyelash. I think Ash was more embarrassed at the non-response tha
n at her mom seeing it. As if her mother’s reaction implied it was a totally normal thing for a girl to have in her room. Worse, Ash worried that also meant her mother had seen them before… and I’m so not thinking of Ashley’s mother and one of those things in the same headspace.

  Gawd.

  I’m never. Nope. That’s all I’d need. Sam would find it. Dad would learn about it, and there’d be dildo jokes at every holiday dinner for the rest of time. I dunno what it is about my father, but he seems to take great delight in embarrassing the hell out of me. Like whipping out pictures of my two-year-old self doing mortifying crap whenever relatives show up. At least I never did anything like Sophia. At two, she covered herself in peanut butter because she saw Mom using some facial cleansing mask. It got all over the walls, the floor, the bathroom… Heh. I wonder if that had anything to do with her love of cosmetics.

  Taylor Swift’s Out of the Woods flows from the little speakers on my desk. I lift my toes and drop them over and over, losing a few minutes, mesmerized by the feel of the rug. A grin spreads across my lips. Yeah, she’s got a point. I think I am out of the woods in a sense. Despite the craziness of the past month, I’m at peace with what I’ve become.

  “I am immortal,” I mumble… then flop backward onto my bed. “But this is comfortable.”

  Of course, maybe I shouldn’t trust the quiet. While I’m personally at ease with my reality, that doesn’t mean other people (or vampires) are. Like Eleanor St. Ives. She really wanted some stupid old telescope, and some of her underlings gave Sophia a hell of a scare trying to threaten me over it. Hopefully, that woman won’t blame me for how things went down. I mean the bitch did try to steal it in the first place. Or have it stolen. Then again, she is an Academic, and I’m told those vampires don’t have much in the way of emotion left—something like Mr. Spock without the logic or pointy ears. So maybe I am safe. Also, Aurélie said she’d handle that woman.

  My thoughts shift gears to my boyfriend, Hunter. I want to spend time with him, but our schedules don’t exactly line up. For one thing, he’s working long hours over the summer to build up money for college. For another, I’m a vampire with a severe sun allergy. Gloomy, rainy days are good for me going outside early, but they don’t make for the best dates.

  Thinking about him starts making me squirm, wanting to have him touch me. I almost slide a hand up under my giant T-shirt, but as if my mother has some kind of Puritanical sixth sense, she decides to pick that moment to make her way to my room. Fortunately, even the sound of her walking barefoot across the basement is obvious to me. It would probably take another vampire, or someone who’s been trained how to be quiet at like ninja level to sneak up on me.

  Mom knocks twice. “Sarah? Are you awake?”

  I gawk. That’s more of a shock than finding out vampires are real. My mother didn’t barge in.

  “Sarah?” asks Mom, when I don’t answer right away.

  “Yeah. I’m up. Is it bright out?”

  “A bit, yes. Mind if I poke my nose in?”

  “Sec,” I yell, and roll completely under my comforter. “Okay.”

  A blast of warmth washes over me, but nothing catches fire. As soon my door shuts with a thunk, I pull the bedding aside and sit up. Mom’s rocking a spaghetti-strap top with shorts. She totally looks like a soccer mom, except that none of my sibs play sports. Must be a weekend. Probably Saturday.

  “What’s up?” I ask.

  “Young lady,” says Mom.

  Great. What did I do this time? Since I’m entirely clueless as to the nature of any transgressions, I stare at her with my ‘I didn’t do anything’ face. Cluelessness and innocence are often interchangeable.

  “I’d prefer if you stop flying around with Sam.”

  Oh. That. “But Mom, he was like really depressed and it cheered him up.” I rake my fingers through my hair. Ugh. It smells stale. Time for a shower. “I didn’t go up that high, or fly that fast. And he loved it.”

  “I know.” She folds her arms. “He’s been asking me when you will ‘take him up’ again. I’m not comfortable with you doing that. Nine-year-old boys are not meant to fly.”

  “Tell that to the guy who invented trampolines,” I mutter. “The chances of a broken bone are much lower with me.”

  Mom’s stern demeanor cracks with a half grin. “Sarah… I’m just worried he could fall. Besides, if you’re staying low for his benefit, someone might see you.”

  “So, I’ll make them forget us.” I shrug. “I won’t do it all the time. Just when he needs it. Something put him in a really glum mood that night.”

  “What do you think is bothering him?” asks Mom, sounding concerned. She drags my wheeled computer desk chair over to the bed and sits close to me. “Do you think I should take him to see someone?”

  I shrug. “I dunno. He doesn’t seem that bad anymore, but I’m no shrink.”

  “Did you read his mind?” Mom tilts her head. “And speaking of that, what did you do to Sierra? She’s unusually clingy today.”

  “Nothing, Mom. I stay out of you guys’ heads. No mind control on the family, I promise.”

  “Sierra?” asks Mom.

  “Umm. She’s probably still trying to cope with everything. You know how she is. Keeps everything inside, acts tough. It’s not that hard to imagine she’s feeling a little scared. I mean she was kidnapped—even if Bree Swanson did it.”

  “I thought you said that girl was under compulsion or something like that?”

  “Yeah. She was. I mean, that’s like getting kidnapped by Princess Peach. If a kid’s going to be abducted, Bree kidnapping her was like being in a movie made for little kids. Not all that scary.”

  “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” says Mom. “Please tell me I won’t need to put two of my kids in psychotherapy.”

  “Sorry,” I mutter.

  “For what?”

  “Almost getting killed. Was dumb of me to break up with Scott alone in the dark like that. As much as I didn’t want to admit it to myself, I knew what kind of guy he was.”

  “Stop blaming yourself, Sarah.” Mom hugs me. “Nothing that boy did is in any way your fault.”

  I hug her back in silence for a while, not entirely used to Mom being so physically affectionate. I mean, as far as teenage girls and mothers go, our relationship has been pretty great, but she’s not usually this outwardly emotional. Wonder if law school has like a class on stoicism or if it’s more that people who are good at hiding their emotions tend to go for law degrees more often than others.

  We talk for a little while more about the past two weeks. Things have been almost painfully normal. Except for missing two day-trips with the family due to sun issues, I can almost pretend everything is normal.

  “So, I guess you’re going to be lazy and not get a job this summer?” asks Mom with a smile.

  I shrug. “Thinking about it. I suppose I could if I can find something with late hours.”

  She grins. “I think your father would go crazy if you worked as a security guard.”

  “Mom, that’s not the only late night job out there. If you really think I should work, I could wait tables again at some place that’s open late.”

  “Restaurants aren’t open that late.”

  I raise both eyebrows. “I could always go stripper. Aren’t those places open until like three in the morning?”

  Mom turns bright red. “No, you cannot.” She tosses my comforter over my face. “Besides. You’d never be able to do that. You’re not that kind of girl.”

  “Think about the money I could make now, Mom. We moved like $400 of Girl Scout cookies in two hours. Imagine that at a go go bar?”

  Heat in my face tells me I’m blushing like mad, and Mom has to know I’m totally kidding, because she’s not freaking out.

  She tries to sigh at me, but winds up laughing. “All right. I gotta get back upstairs before there’s blood on the walls.”

  “Okay.” I duck under the comforter so she can leave
the room without cooking me. “Let me know when the sun’s no longer on death mode.”

  “I will.”

  Once she closes the door behind herself, I sit up again. Hmm. Job. Nah. It’s not like I really need money. Past two years, the ’rents wanted me to get a job more as a responsibility lesson, teaching me what the ‘real world’ is like. The real world indeed, one where vampires are made up creatures for movies and books. Thinking about not needing to work makes me feel guilty about Hunter since he can’t afford to go to college without it. I mean, it’s not like any job a kid our age can get would pay for college these days. He’s working more for living expenses and supplies while relying on student loans. Hmm. Would it be unethical to find where his mother works and compel her boss to pay her more?

  Not bothering to put on anything more than the oversized T-shirt I slept in, I get out of bed and flop down on the wheeled chair in front of my computer. Video games will eat up time until I can leave my room. Damn, it’s a good thing I never have to go to the bathroom—unless I eat normal food, that is.

  Hours later, my kid sister Sierra screams my name from upstairs, sounding pissed. Wow. That’s ‘controller goes flying across the room’ pissed. The lethargy’s left my body, so I pause what I’ve been playing (the new Doom, single player mode), and creep over to my door. It doesn’t throw off heat like a furnace, which is a good sign.

  “Sarah!” shouts Sierra. “I need you!”

  She sounds furious, not terrified. No need to panic or rush. I ease the door open an inch. Okay, sun’s out, but not ‘melting my face off’ hot. It’s a few minutes after five in the afternoon, so we’re well past the worst of the brightness. Sierra demanding my presence is probably going to result in me sitting on the floor in the living room, so I pull on underpants before heading out the door. The T-shirt’s down to my knees, but I’m not taking any chances.

 
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