Relentless (Vampire Awakenings #11) - Brenda K. Davies

Chapter One

“Do you think you can find her?” Mrs. Abbott asked.

Dante stared at the picture she’d given him. At sixteen, Julie Abbott was a pretty girl with brown hair and blue eyes. Her cheeks held the pudginess of youth, and the sparkle in her eyes hinted at her mischievousness. She looked sweet and innocent in the picture, but the young girl had gotten herself into something she shouldn’t have.

“I’m going to do everything I can to find her,” Dante promised. “When was the last time you saw her?”

“Two weeks ago.”

Two weeks was a long time to be on the streets alone, especially for someone like Julie who, judging by her home, had grown up in the lap of luxury. It had been a while since he’d been in a home as lavish as this three-story brownstone. The elegant, white furniture emphasized the royal blue and gold throw rug and blue, gossamer curtains on the near floor-to-ceiling windows.

“Do you know why she ran away?” he asked.

Mrs. Abbott’s blue-gray eyes darted away from him. She wrung her hands nervously in her lap as she gazed over his shoulder. Dante didn’t have to turn to know she was staring at the fireplace behind him; he’d surveyed the room and learned the location of everything when he entered.

Photos of a loving, happy family lined the fireplace mantle. The attractive couple and their young daughter were all grinning at the camera. They weren’t the strained smiles of a family pretending to be happy together; they were happy to be together.

So, what changed?

“My husband died in a car accident six months ago,” Mrs. Abbott said. “Before then, Julie was….” Her voice trailed off as her gaze shifted to the windows. “She was perfect.”

Outside, a horn honked and a dog barked; it was the most noise he’d heard since entering the home on Beacon Hill. And that noise was short-lived as the street returned to its normal flow and the hum of tires on pavement drifted to him.

Mrs. Abbott blinked away her tears before focusing on him again. Cut into a stylish bob, her graying brown hair came to a point at her chin. In her early fifties, the elegant pantsuit she wore emphasized her trim figure.

In the pictures behind him, she could have been mistaken for someone in her early forties. However, the loss of her husband and daughter had created black circles under her eyes and etched deeper lines around her mouth.

She was all that remained of the beautiful, happy family behind him, and it was destroying her. He’d bet she hadn’t slept more than an hour or two at a time in the past two weeks.

“I know a lot of people say their children are perfect, but Julie was. Don’t get me wrong; she had her not-so-perfect moments. She can be emotional, hot-tempered, and not always easy to deal with, but she was never spiteful, didn’t do drugs, did well in school, and never broke curfew.”

The grandfather clock in the corner ticked away the seconds as Dante waited for her to say more. When she didn’t, he spoke again. “Are you sure about the drugs?”

He hated asking the question, especially as a single tear slid down Mrs. Abbott’s cheek, but if he was going to find Julie, he had to know everything.

Mrs. Abbott lifted her chin and straightened her shoulders. She removed a tissue from her pocket and dabbed at her bloodshot eyes. “Six months ago, yes. Now, no.”

She kept her chin held high as she slid the tissue back into her pocket. Dante saw no sign of more tears as she stared at him with eyes that held steely determination instead of sorrow.

“After my husband’s death, Julie became an entirely different person. I didn’t recognize her, but then, she probably didn’t recognize me either. My husband was the glue, and when he was gone, we both fell apart. By the time I pulled myself back together, it was already too late. I wasn’t there for Julie when she needed me, so she turned to someone else.”

Dante lifted the small pad of paper and the pen he set aside when Mrs. Abbott gave him Julie’s picture. “Who?

“I don’t know. I found her diary after she left, and though I swore I’d never read it, I did. I had to know what was going on, what she had been doing, and if I could find her.”

“You had no other choice,” Dante assured her. She was dealing with enough guilt; she shouldn’t feel bad about invading her