After Sundown - By Amanda Ashley

Chapter One
It was late Friday night. Steeped in black despair at the thought of what he had become, Edward Ramsey walked slowly down Hollywood Boulevard, unmindful of the moviegoers, the drunks, the panhandlers, the tourists, the endless parade of transvestites and whores.

Occasionally, he glanced at the faces of the strangers he passed by: young people talking about the scary movie they had just seen, homeless men and women clad in ragged clothes looking for a place to spend the night, well-dressed couples emerging from the Pantages Theater discussing the play they had just seen. Hah! They had no idea what scary really was, but he could show them. What would they think? he wondered. What would they do if they knew what he was? Would they recoil in horror and disgust, or stare at him in stunned disbelief?

Last night, the fourth since his life had turned upside down, he had considered awaiting the dawn and stepping out into the bright California sunshine to put an end to his cursed existence. As a new vampire, he would have little resistance to the pure light of day. The touch of the sun on newly made preternatural flesh, a quick burst of flame, and his life would be over, extinguished like the flame of a candle in the wind.

Vampire. How could he be a vampire? He had spent most of his life stalking the undead, destroying them. The Ramsey family had hunted the undead for centuries. Vampires were evil, abhorrent creatures, forever doomed. Forever damned.

But he didn't feel evil, didn't feel damned. Only unnatural, as if he were living inside someone else's skin. His senses were heightened: touch, smell, sight, hearing - all were more sensitive, more acute, than ever before. It was amazing how differently he perceived the world through his newborn vampire senses.

His vision was nothing short of miraculous. He could see great distances, detect minute details that ordinary mortals never saw. Each stitch in the fabric of his coat was visible to his eye. Colors were sharper, richer, almost as if they had texture and depth. Bright light hurt his eyes.

The noise of the city now seemed endless and sometimes deafening! And sometimes so overwhelming, he thought he might go insane. How had Grigori Chiavari stood it for so many years? There had to be a way to shut out the constant barrage of speech and music and traffic sounds that bombarded him from every side, but if there was, Ramsey hadn't discovered it yet.

He felt physically stronger than ever before. Indeed, that sense of physical power was so intoxicating that he might have wished he had been a vampire years ago save for the awful craving for blood. The smell of it was all around him on the boulevard, a pulsing flowing river of crimson. It called to him, excited him until he thought he would go crazy. He needed to feed but didn't know how. The hunger, the pain, had been with him every minute of the past five days, clawing at his vitals in bitter, relentless agony. He had made one clumsy attempt on a streetwalker but had fled the scene before his goal was accomplished.

He passed a man and a woman, heard the woman gasp, her eyes widening when she saw his face. He knew in that moment that he must look like death itself. He had seen that expression of horror before, when he had looked into the depths of Grigori Chiavari's hell-black eyes and seen his own death lurking there.

Chiavari. Of course! He would go to Chiavari. The vampire had cursed him with the Dark Gift. The vampire could damn well tell him what to do with it.

There were lights burning in the big house that Grigori Chiavari had bought shortly before marrying Marisa. Hard to believe only a few days had passed since he had seen Alexi Kristov destroyed in this very house. It seemed centuries had passed.

Marisa opened the door at his knock, a warm smile of welcome curving her pale pink lips. "Edward!" she said, extending her hand. "Come in."

"Where is he?" Ramsey demanded.

Ignoring Marisa's outstretched hand, he swept past her into the hallway, his angry stride carrying him into the living room.

"Where is he?" he demanded again. "Is he here?"

"What do you want, Ramsey?"

Ramsey pivoted at the sound of the vampire's voice.

Grigori Chiavari glided soundlessly into the room. He exuded an air of self-confidence and invulnerability that Ramsey envied in spite of himself, and never more so than