I SAT IN THE rear of the dimly lit auditorium, my ankles crossed and my Converse-clad feet propped on the back of the seat in front of me. The seats were worn, even threadbare in places, and the linoleum floor was scuffed and cracked. A strong citrus scent in the air told me it had been recently cleaned, but I could still detect a musty odor underneath. The college was small, poor—the kind of place that still put education above profit.
In other words, it was exactly the kind of place happy to get my call offering to add them to my speaking schedule. I had been booking one engagement at a time for the past six months, hoping each one would be the last. There was an end goal in sight and I hoped I wouldn’t have to traipse all over the country talking in Podunk schools waiting for the men I searched for to find me.
My fingers ran over the holes in my jeans as students shuffled in. Their sneakers squeaked on the floor and the murmur of their voices filled the air. None of them paid attention to me, which, honestly, was how I preferred it. Of course, my casual dress helped. Normally, I would have been in a dress suit to give my presentation and answer questions but my flight had been delayed. I’d barely had time to drop my suitcase off at the hotel and get to the college in time. As such, I pled embarrassment and convinced a professor to show the video in my place with the promise I’d stick around in case I was needed for questions.
An impeccably dressed man moved into the row in front of me while giving me a nod and a quick smile. This was no student. Or professor for that matter. His suit probably cost more than the dean’s annual salary. No, he was definitely out of place. My eyes locked on him. I dropped my feet to the floor and straightened in my seat. Nervous flutters swarmed in my belly and I was unable to look away. The man undid the button on his dark gray suit jacket and glanced around as if searching for someone before taking his seat. I felt woefully underdressed next to him. Conversations faded to an end as the lights dimmed further. Just before the doors shut, a tall, lean man slipped into the room and took the seat beside the one in the suit.
“Where were you?” The suited man’s voice was low and tight and I doubted anyone else heard him.
The new arrival glanced over with a smirk, flashing a dimple on his left cheek. “I was just grabbing a bite, brother. No reason to worry.” His English accent rolled through me, making those flutters start up again, for an entirely different reason.
The video began to play at the front of the room but my eyes never left them. For brothers, they couldn’t look more different. One was perfectly styled from top to bottom. His dark hair swept to the side and the suit had obviously been tailored to fit him. He sat straight in his seat with his attention on the front of the room. Only occasionally did he shift focus to his brother.
The other man leaned back in his seat, his legs crossed and his chin propped in his hand. He looked around the room, not interested in what was going on at the front. His hair was cropped short so it didn’t need to be messed with and he was in need of a shave. His eyes found mine and he smiled, giving me a little wave with the fingers of the hand his chin rested in. I glanced away, embarrassed to be caught staring, and heard him chuckle.
My gaze turned to the front of the room and the images playing on the large screen. The narrator droned on about werewolf and vampire mythology as found in cultures throughout the world and throughout history. The information was interesting in its own right but the focus soon switched to a discussion of the Curse of the Sun and the Moon. Legend said that a curse limited the vampires’ power to the night and the werewolves’ to the full moon. Unlike most myths that twisted and morphed to fit with various cultures, the Curse of the Sun and the Moon stayed fairly consistent from society to society and age to age.
The video was mine, the research was mine and I had seen the damn video enough times, I could recite it in my sleep. I leaned back to watch the others in the auditorium. The brothers seemed particularly interested in this part of the presentation. As the video ended and the lights came up, a middle-aged man in a faded brown suit came out on the stage, clapping his hands. Professor Simmons, if I remembered correctly. “Wonderful. Just wonderful. I’m so delighted that our school had the opportunity to be involved in this tour. If you haven’t had the opportunity, make sure to check out the exhibits in the main hall as well. Are there any questions?”
I sighed in irritation as the first two questions were about things already discussed in the presentation, but that was typical. No one had an attention span anymore. The suited man in front of me raised a hand to get the professor’s attention and I feigned disinterest. “Yes, I was curious as to where and when this information was obtained? Particularly those parts referencing the curse.” His voice was clipped and elegant.
There was a slight hesitation as the professor looked around the room before answering. His eyes fell on me. I gave a him a smile and a small shake of the head. That question was better answered in private. “I’m afraid that information is not available at this time. Are there any other questions?”
No one else spoke and people began to move toward the exit.
“Remind me again why it is we came here?” The more casual brother stood and straightened his leather jacket. He wore a dark Henley and faded jeans. His taste in clothes wasn’t much different than mine, but I would bet good money he spent more on one shirt than I did on a whole outfit. With the lights on, I could see his hair was a light reddish-brown and his eyes were a pale blue. Both men were far too attractive for their own good. Or mine, for that matter.
My eyes darted to his brother as he answered. “I told you I wished to speak with the person responsible for the article I sent you.” He rose and buttoned his suit coat before running a hand down it to be rid of any wrinkles. Not that there were any. They wouldn’t dare. I doubted there was even a speck of dust on his shoes.
“Well, it would seem they are not here, brother. What now?”
I interrupted before they could devolve into a full argument. Standing, I placed my hands on the back of the seat in front of me, gripping it for support. “Perhaps I might be of assistance?”
Both men turned their attention to me and heat flooded my cheeks. I took a deep breath and told my hormones to calm down. I was here for a purpose and it wasn’t to get laid. Besides, if these were the men I thought them to be, they’d been walking the Earth for a thousand years. I doubted they found much of anything interesting anymore, let alone someone like me.
Mr. Perfect smiled but it didn’t reach his eyes. He tugged on the ends of his sleeves. “I find that unlikely unless you happen to know where we might locate a C. Grimes?”
I held out a hand. “The C stands for Cassidy. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr.…”
“Smith,” he supplied after he found his voice. “I am Elijah and this is my brother Niklaus.”
Smith was a ruse, a fake name to throw people off, but this could be none other than the Originals. Finally. Two of the siblings of the Original family—the first vampires, turned by magic instead of blood. They were like super vampires. They still had to drink blood, but they could compel other supernatural creatures, walk in daylight and they were impossible to kill. I hoped they wrote off my racing heart as attraction instead of anticipation. I’d been searching for these two for a long time and they’d proven damned hard to find. Niklaus studied me with his pale blue eyes as if looking for some deception on my part. I gave him a small nod. They’d know everything soon enough. I just had to get them to listen to me first.
I shifted my gaze back to Elijah. “To answer the question you asked Professor Simmons, this project is the culmination of seven years’ work. The data was collected from several different sources. The information I was interested in was largely ignored by other academics but it was still there in their findings. I just had to dig for it.”
His eyes narrowed slightly and he still wore a false smile. “My brother and I wish to invite you to dinner to discuss your research in more detail. If you are available, that is. We find it quite fascinating.”
I bet they did. I had every intention of accepting, but I wondered whether it would be better to go someplace public or somewhere private. In public, they would be less likely to kill me before I could tell them everything but in private we would be able to talk more freely. Then I realized it was unlikely to be my choice anyway. Not with these two.
“Sure. Dinner would be great. Let me grab my things.” My laptop was still hooked up to the projector and I made my way to the front to retrieve it. The weight of their gazes made my scalp prickle with unease. Turning to head back, I found Niklaus smirking and Elijah gripping the seat in front of him, making me wonder what exchange had taken place between them after I stepped away.
“Shall we go?” Elijah said as I walked back to them.
With a nod, I led them out of the auditorium. I glanced back as we entered the main part of the building. “I need to check with the professor before I leave. I’ll just be a moment.”
Niklaus’s jaw tightened but Elijah merely nodded. “We will retrieve the car. Take your time.”
The conversation with Professor Simmons took longer than I intended. I’d merely wanted to make sure he had the address to send the exhibition pieces back to at the end of the week and had been roped into a conversation about my research. Fifteen minutes later, I made my way to the front. Elijah stood next to a black sedan. He smiled as he saw me and opened the door. I slid into the back seat. He closed the door then went around and got in on the other side. Niklaus sat in the front passenger seat next to the driver.
“Sorry that took so long. It’s never easy to disengage from conversation in a room full of academics.”
“That is quite all right,” Elijah assured me. “Our driver tells us there is a small restaurant not far off campus that has decent food. I hope this will be acceptable.”
I shrugged. “I’m not picky. I hope what I’m wearing is okay?”
The driver glanced at me in the mirror and nodded. Thank God. I didn’t need to feel any more awkward than I already did. Sweat coated my palms and I rubbed them on my jeans. I could do this. I’d been preparing for this for years. I just needed to remember to breathe.
The restaurant turned out to be a small casual steak house. The waiter escorted us to a table in the corner and the brothers took the seats that had their backs were to the wall. Nobody was going to sneak up on me with these two around so I took one of the other seats without complaint.
Once the waiter delivered our drinks and took our order, Elijah leaned forward. “So tell me, Ms. Grimes, you said your presentation was the result of seven years’ work. How old are you exactly?”
I lifted a brow. “I would think someone of your obvious manners would know better than to ask a lady her age.”
He smiled but said nothing else, simply waiting for my answer. Niklaus leaned back in his chair, arms crossed over his chest and studied me, much as he’d been doing since we sat down.
“I’m twenty-four. I began my research shortly after leaving high school.”
“If you don’t mind my saying, you seem quite accomplished for one of your age.” Elijah tapped his fingers on the table as he looked me over.
I huffed a laugh. “That’s one way of putting it. I graduated high school a year early and took heavy loads all the way through college. When my parents passed, they left me enough money that I didn’t have to work while I went to school.”
We fell silent as the waiter brought our food.
“I am sorry about your parents.”
I shrugged. I’d had a long time to process what happened to my parents that night. The vampire studied me clearly expecting some other response, but I had none to give him. I couldn’t tell them it wasn’t their fault or not to worry about it as politeness would dictate I do. Instead, I just continued to eat.
After a moment Elijah cleared his throat. “Tell me, when did you first hear of the Curse of the Sun and the Moon?”
I leaned back in my chair as I took a long pull from my bottle of beer. It was a passable dark lager but nothing special. I watched Niklaus cut into his rare steak. “You’ve been very quiet, Mr. Smith. Does this topic interest you at all, or is it strictly your brother’s obsession?”
He took a sip of wine and tilted his head to the side, a smirk on his face. “Call me Klaus, love. And I am interested in the curse. Far more than my brother in fact. However, I find it extremely unlikely that you could possibly know more about it than either of us. Besides I don’t bother with niceties, I leave that to Elijah.”
“Niklaus,” Elijah snapped. “I apologize, Ms. Grimes. My brother can be rather blunt at times.”
I waved a hand through the air in dismissal. “It’s Cassidy. And I prefer bluntness myself most of the time, so if you don’t mind, I’ll ask you a question. Exactly whose idea was it to create the curse in the first place? It’s quite a brilliant way to get everyone looking for what you seek.”
Elijah dabbed his mouth with his napkin. “I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean.”
“Don’t you, Mr. Mikaelson?”
Elijah went still, his face going blank and his dark eyes studied me. It unnerved him that I spoke so casually about things no one else should know. Klaus lunged toward me but my magic held him in place with a gesture from me. I prepared the spell long before we sat down. His jaw tightened and his face flushed as his eyes narrowed. Oh, the hybrid was not happy with me at all. Excitement and terror flooded through me in equal measure.
“What do you want from us, witch?” Klaus spat the words and a flash of surprise showed on Elijah’s face before it faded back to that blank mask.
I locked eyes with the younger Original. “I want nothing from you but I think you will want to hear what I have to say.”
Klaus’s pupils dilated as he stared into my eyes. “You will release me.”
“I will release you,” I repeated in a monotone. Triumph lit Klaus’s features until I added, “when I’m finished. I can’t be compelled, gentlemen. Not even by the likes of you. So sorry.”
If Klaus looked furious before, it was nothing compared to how he looked now. His face was red in his rage and he actually trembled, doubtless with the desire to rip my heart out. Elijah, on the other hand, looked intrigued. I gestured to their plates. “You might as well finish eating.”
“I would, but I can’t move.”
“I have not restrained all your movement, Klaus. Only those actions which would harm me or allow you to leave. You can’t hear what I have to say if I’m dead.”
“I would be happy to live in ignorance,” he bit out.
Elijah frowned. “What is it you think to tell us that we do not already know?”
“There are things the Original witch kept secret about the curse placed on your brother.” While the Curse of the Sun and the Moon was as fake as they come, there was a curse. Klaus had been born from an affair with a werewolf. When he was turned into a vampire and triggered the curse, he became a true hybrid. One of a kind and near indestructible. His mother placed a curse on him binding his werewolf side. He’d been trying to undo it ever since.
Elijah shook his head. “You will have to forgive us if we find all of this difficult to believe. We cannot simply take your word. We have acquired many enemies over the years that would not hesitate to use an innocent to get close to us.”
I pulled my phone from the pocket of my coat. “I was going to show you this later but I suppose, if nothing else, it will at least buy me time to explain myself.” I scrolled through the gallery until I found the picture I wanted and handed it over to Elijah.
His eyes widened as he looked between the picture and me. “Katerina.”
Klaus immediately quit struggling against my magic so I released it. He snatched the phone from his brother’s hand and glared at me. “Where is she?”
“That is not Katherine.”
“Impossible,” Elijah argued. “Who else could it be?”
I smiled, knowing I had them. “That is my little cousin. Elena.” My cousin was a doppelganger, a duplicate of the original girl sacrificed for the curse. Her blood was required to break the spell. Katherine was also a doppelganger but she managed to turn into a vampire before the sacrifice. She’d been running from the Originals’ retribution ever since.
Though they tried not to give anything away, I could see the interest in both of them. “Eat and I’ll talk.” Klaus laid the phone on the table beside him, as if afraid the image would disappear if he handed it back. Once they both resumed eating, I started talking. “Katherine had a child out of wedlock prior to meeting you. The child was taken and given away and Katherine was banished from her family and her home. Her travels led her to England, which I believe is where she met you, unless I am mistaken. That child is our ancestor.”
“As far as I know, Elena is still unaware of this. She’s was adopted at birth. Her birth mother was my mother’s sister. Right now, I’m just a family friend.”
Klaus studied me while I finished my beer. “If she is your cousin, why are you handing her over to us?”
“Oh, I’m not.” I could almost feel the irritation radiating off the men. “Perhaps we should finish this conversation somewhere a bit more private.”
“Of course.” Elijah pulled out his wallet and dropped several bills on the table. “Shall we adjourn elsewhere? Our suite, perhaps.”
I stood. “I need to go to my own hotel and freshen up first. My flight was delayed and I didn’t have time to do much before I had to go to the college. I can meet you shortly.”
Klaus snorted. “If you think I’m letting you out of my sight before I have all the information I need from you, you are sorely mistaken, love.”
I shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
The driver pulled up as we stepped outside.
“Niklaus, take Ms. Grimes to her hotel in the car. I will meet you back at our rooms,” Elijah instructed.
Klaus nodded once and grabbed my upper arm to steer me to the rear of the car. He opened the door and directed me inside and across the seat. He slid in behind me and shut the door. I glanced at him before turning to the driver.
“I’m at the Jasper Inn.”
We rode in silence to the hotel but Klaus’s eyes were on me the whole time.
Not a word was spoken as I led him through the lobby to the elevators. He hovered inches behind me like a predator stalking his prey. I could almost feel him breathing down my neck. The man was unnerving. I used my keycard to let us in when we arrived at my room. The moment the door closed, a hand closed around my throat.