Witchcraft and War (The Vampires of Shadow Hills Book 7)Willow Rose
Four Months Before the Halloween Block-Party
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Copyright Willow Rose 2018
Published by BUOY MEDIA LLC
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No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission from the author.
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This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of characters to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental. The Author holds exclusive rights to this work. Unauthorized duplication is prohibited.
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Cover design by Juan Villar Padron,
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Four Months Before the Halloween Block-Party
"Are you sure about this? It's an awful lot of money."
Andrei looked at the guy behind the glass window, then down at the piles of money. It was all they had left from selling the house and everything they had, except for the RV that they lived in now. They had used a big chunk to pay off their credit cards and debtors, and this pile of money was all there was left. It was their entire life.
"I am sure. All of it on Starfire as the winner."
"You do realize that horse has never won anything before, right?" the man said.
Andrei swallowed. "I do."
"You still want to make the bet?"
The man sighed deeply. "Listen, buddy. You seem like a nice guy. We get a lot of your type around here. Sold everything and just want to take the chance. Hoping to strike it lucky and make a lot of money, fast. But when they walk out of here they're ruined and have nothing to go back to. Their lives are destroyed. I would hate for that to happen to you."
Andrei cleared his throat. Sweat sprang from his upper lip. He nodded and pushed the money further in behind the glass.
"I am sure."
"Okay, it's your funeral," the guy said and grabbed the money. He looked at his screen. "And you wanted to put it all on Starfire, correct?"
"Correct," Andrei said with a small gasp.
The man shook his head again, then printed the ticket. "Why her?" he asked as he handed it to Andrei. "If you don't mind my asking."
Andrei smiled. "Let's just say I feel very convinced that today is her big day."
The man scoffed. "Well, good luck then. You'll need it."
Andrei turned away from the window, the ticket with his bet curled up between his fingers. His hands were clammy. He was sweating nervously. Not so much because he was afraid of losing all of his money making a bet like this, no. But he was anxious. Oh, boy, was he ever.
Andrei hid in the crowd and found a good spot to watch the race begin. As the horses were released and sprang for their victory, each trying to fight the odds even though they never understood why, Andrei looked at the faces of the people around him. Their eyes were agitated, and their mouths were gaping open as they yelled at the horses while passing, aggressively urging and cheering them along. He didn't look at the horses as they ran. It wasn't that he was worried or even afraid that Starfire wouldn't win; no, he knew he would.
With only a few yards left, Sure Thing—the favorite to win—was going to trip and the two runners-up behind it would fall as well, causing more horses to trip, leaving an opening for Starfire to race to the finishing line. He didn't have to watch the race to see exactly when it happened; he could tell by the faces surrounding him and the devastation in the eyes of the many that had gambled on Sure Thing as the winner. He could hear it in the wave of gasps rushing through the crowd.
Andrei closed his eyes when he heard the announcer in the speakers declaring Starfire to be the winner.
Not that it surprised him the least bit, but he knew it astonished so many others, and he reminded himself to act amazed too once he received the money. All that good money that would instantly make his troubles go away.
As Andrei opened his eyes again, still feeling the rush and shiver of victory, he spotted a man standing in the crowd. The man wouldn't usually have attracted Andrei's attention if it wasn't for the fact that he was the only one—besides Andrei—who wasn't staring at the track and the many fallen horses. Instead, he was staring directly at Andrei, while a tarantula was crawling on his neck.
Veronika put her doll in the basket. She no longer had a bed for it since her parents had sold a lot of her toys when they sold the house and had told her she had no room for all of them in the RV, so she had to choose. Veronika hadn't complained when they had told her. She might only be ten years old, but she understood that her parents were in trouble, and she knew they needed the money. That's why they sold the house and most of her toys. Veronika had even given them her favorite music box, the one with the ballerina, to sell at the garage sale. She told them she didn't like it anymore, but that wasn't true. She loved that box and had used it to keep all of her treasures, her special rocks and shells that she had collected when they went to the beach together. But what was the use of having a beautiful music box to hide your treasures in if your parents were scared and unhappy?
"Now, you go to sleep," she told, Emilie, her doll, and covered her with a dishtowel for a blanket.
Her mother was sitting by the door of the RV, biting her nails, looking anxiously out the window, jumping up every time she heard a sound.
Veronika didn't understand much of what had happened to her parents, but she did know that her dad had made some bad deals and that some bad guys had come to their house one day and told him to pay a lot of money.
They hadn't always been poor. They used to live in a nice house with a beautiful backyard that had a huge tree where Veronika had a swing. Her dad had even promised to build her a tree house, but he never got around to it. Maybe in our next house, her mother had said.
"Once we get some money again. It won't be long now, honey."
Veronika shushed at her doll and scolded her for not closing her eyes, then walked to her mother and grabbed her hand in hers. Her mother caressed her hair, but Veronika could feel her hand was shaking badly and it had her worried. Veronika wished so deeply that things would go back to normal, and hopefully soon. She didn't need a big house or any more toys. She just needed her mother to smile more and not to have that distant look in her eyes. She needed her dad to sleep at night and not toss and turn and moan in his bed.
And today was the day when it was all going to get better. At least that was what her mom had told her.
As soon as dad got back from the horse track.
Veronika had begged him to take her with him since she loved horses, but her dad had told her that this was no place for a little girl to hang out. She had made him promise that he would take her horseback riding another day soon before she would let him leave.
"Sure. And maybe we can get you your own pony, huh? How about that?" he had said.
Those were his last words before leaving, and they had filled Veronika with a thrilled hope.
"He'll be here soon, honey," her mom said and kissed her forehead. "Just a few more minutes."
And just as she finished the sentence, Veronika lifted her head as she heard footsteps outside the RV. Her mother jumped up, breathed a sigh of relief, and finally, she smiled that beautiful smile of hers.
"He's here," she said and grabbed Veronika's face between her hands. "This is it, baby. From now on, everything will change. Our life will be completely different from now on."
Veronika couldn't stop smiling when she saw the joyful expression spreading across her mother's face. She watched her mother walk to the door, but before she opened it, she peeked out the window, and that was when her mother's face stopped smiling.
"What is it?" Veronika asked, still hoping for the newfound joy to return to her mother's eyes. "Is it Papa?"
A shadow rushed over her mother's face. She looked down at her, then knelt.
"Baby, do you remember the place I told you to hide if the bad guys came back?"
Veronika swallowed. She felt like a lump was growing inside of her throat. The bad guys? They were back?
She nodded. "The closet. It has a secret compartment in the bottom."
Her mother was breathing heavily. "Exactly. Can you go hide in that for me, huh?"
"Just do as I tell you to, please?"
Veronika nodded, then walked past her, shoulders slumped, fear gnawing in her stomach. As she walked toward the bedroom, she turned around just before her mother opened the door.
"Is it the bad guys again, Mama?"
She shook her head. "No. Not this time. This is just one man who is with your dad. It's probably nothing, honey. But go hide just in case."
There was a knock on the door, and her mother signaled for her to hurry up. Veronika rushed to the bedroom, found the closet, and opened the compartment in the bottom. She was getting almost too big for it, but she could still fit. She closed the lid and lay completely still like her mother had trained her, while listening as her mother opened the door to the RV.
"Mrs. Mikhailov, my name is Mr. Aran," she heard an odd voice say. "I have a few questions for you. Your husband here has been so nice as to let me come back here with him, so we can all have a little chat. May I come in?"
"S-sure," she heard her mother say. "It's very messy, though."
"Oh, I don't mind a little mess. I’m quite the messy man myself."
Veronika heard the door slam shut. It was the strange man who spoke.
"Ah, the life of a traveler. So exciting to always be on the road, huh? Just going exactly where you want to go and being where and when you want to be. No chains to hold you down, not a care in the world, huh?"
"I…I don't know if…" her mother said. Her voice sounded so nervous; it terrified Veronika to the bone. Who was this man and why was her mother so afraid of him?
"Now…your husband here made quite the win today, did he tell you that?" the strange man then said. "Or maybe you already knew, huh?"
"N-no, I…I was hoping…we've been having financial troubles for some time; we were hoping to make a little…"
"It was quite spectacular, I tell you," the man said. "For him to bet on a horse that ab-so-lu-te-ly no one else would think could stand a chance and then…what do you know? There's a crash. Can you believe it? I almost couldn't. I have to say, it was very remarkable, remarkable indeed. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. So much chaos, so much havoc, all at the same time. So many horses out of the race, just like that," he said and snapped his fingers. "And your horse, the one you gambled all your money on as the winner, nonetheless, makes it first across the finish line. What in-cre-di-ble coincidental luck, don't you think?"
"I…yes, I guess that's incredible, honey…" her mother said.
Why doesn’t dad say anything? Why doesn't he tell this man to get lost, to get out of our home? Tell him, Papa. Tell him to leave us alone!
Once Veronika's dad finally did speak, he didn't exactly say the words his daughter wanted to hear from him. Instead, he spoke with anxiety and a begging voice.
"Please, sir. We meant no harm…we didn't mean to…"
"No! You just thought what could it hurt, didn't you? You looked at one another, then told each other that it would only be this one time. No one would notice, and then all your troubles would be over, didn't you? Was that what you were telling one another? Just one time. It won't harm anyone? I betcha' that's what you said. Am I right, hm?"
"Please, sir," Veronika's mom said, utilizing the same pleading tone in her voice that her dad had. "We didn't have a choice. We will never do it again."
"Exactly," the man said, raising his voice slightly from its otherwise calm state. Then he breathed in deeply like he was enjoying this, enjoying hearing them pleading with him.
At first, she thought her mother had started to clean, but Veronika couldn't believe her mother could start cleaning in such a strange situation, yet she could still hear the vacuum cleaner as it roared through the RV. It only lasted for a minute or so before the sound stopped, and the RV fell completely silent. Not a single word was spoken.
Then, she heard footsteps. Heavy steps walking through the RV, approaching the back bedroom where Veronika was hiding. She heard the steps coming closer and then stopping. Then she heard the closet door being pulled open and, after that, there was silence.
Veronika waited for them to pull the compartment open like they had trained when rehearsing for this type of situation. She waited for them to look down at her with smiling faces, telling her it was all over now. She could come out.
"Wait for us to open the hatch, you hear me?" she could still hear her mother say. "Only then will you be safe."
Veronika waited and waited for the hatch to open, but nothing happened. She could hear movement in the closet, could hear clothes being moved around, then the door closing. Seconds later, she heard the front door close as well and, after that, all she could hear was her own ragged breathing.
For several minutes she was lying there, listening
to the silence. She was wondering about her parents, wondering when she would be able to get out, if they had forgotten about her, while tears were streaming across her cheeks. Then, finally, she heard the door to the RV open once again, and more movement as someone entered. She heard voices, voices she didn't know, and footsteps, agitated footsteps, and soon someone yelled.
"I think I found something."
When the hatch was opened, and the light came in, it almost blinded Veronika, but after a few seconds of getting used to it and blinking her eyes, she spotted four faces. Four women were looking down at her. Four sets of strange eyes.
A set of arms reached down and helped her get out, and she held the woman tightly when she spotted the dead bodies of her parents in the living room behind her. Veronika held onto the woman as her body started to spasm and tears welled up inside of her, tears she had no outlet for since there were too many.
"Hold onto her, Claire," a voice said. It belonged to a gorgeous blonde woman, unlike any creature Veronika had ever seen.