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Zane: Vampire Seeking Bride by Anya Nowlan (1)

1

Corinne

Dad? Where are you?” Corinne called out, weaving her way through the darkened halls of Matthews Transports.

There was none of the usual hustle and bustle, the desks now empty and the computers turned off. Corinne jumped over a bundle of extension cords, her phone glowing in her hand, with her father’s text message asking to meet right away still on the screen.

The place was familiar enough for her that she didn’t need to turn on the lights to find her way to her dad’s office, and there was really nothing to be afraid of, but something was putting her on edge. Maybe she had just watched too many horror movies, who knew, but the skin on the back of her neck was definitely prickling.

Why the hell would dad insist on meeting me here in the first place, and not at home? What could be so urgent that he had to pull me out of bed?

She let out a small sigh when she spotted light pouring out of a room at the end of the hall, the letters spelling out “Mr. Matthews” slightly faded on the glass pane of the door. Tucking her phone into her pocket and brushing a stray red curl from her face, Corinne marched over and didn’t bother knocking as she swung the door open.

She found her father sitting behind his desk, just as she had expected. But what she hadn’t counted on was another man standing in the small office, his back to her as he looked out the window facing the back parking lot.

The man had dark hair and was clad in a long, black coat, and while she could only make out a sliver of the side of his face, Corinne was pretty sure she had never seen him before.

“Oh. Hello,” Corinne said, skidding to a halt. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know you had company,” she added, glancing over at her father.

It was then that she noticed something was off about her dad.

Todd Matthews could certainly be anxious and restless behind closed doors, but he never let anyone besides family see him like that. He liked to project an image of stoic confidence to his employees and business partners, so Corinne was surprised to see him sweating bullets behind his desk. Glancing at the strange man every few seconds, this was as nervous as she had ever seen her father.

“Is everything alright?” Corinne asked, brow furrowing as she looked over at the tall man still standing with his back to her.

“Cori honey. I’m so sorry,” her father said, and she could see tears welling up in his eyes.

Every instinct Corinne had was suddenly yelling at her, telling her something was very wrong here. The late-night text, the mysterious stranger, the fear in her father’s eyes… Something bad was going on, and with only her phone in her hand, she felt ill-prepared to face it.

Just as she opened her mouth to ask what her father was apologizing for, the stranger in the black coat turned around, his gaze immediately fixing on her. He had a wide face, with a flat nose and heavy brow, and an odd-shaped scar zigzagging down his right cheek. Corinne couldn’t help but gulp as the man smiled at her, a predatory expression on his face as he bared a row of sharp teeth.

“Hello, Corinne,” he said. “My name is Murphy, and I’m here to bring you and your father a message.”

“Please, let me explain it to her,” Corinne’s father interjected, craning his neck to look up at Murphy.

Murphy took a step closer to Todd’s chair, the movement surprisingly graceful despite the man’s broad build. When he placed a hand on Todd’s shoulder, Corinne’s father stilled immediately.

Corinne was still standing near the door, her heart beating a mile a minute. Her fingers gripped around her phone tightly, and she was already eyeing the numbers nine and one.

“I don’t have time for you to beat around the bush or try to make excuses,” Murphy said, and Todd took to staring at his desk. “You know Keane is an impatient man, and he’ll be back from Romania in a matter of days. She needs to be settled in before he arrives.”

“Are you talking about me? Settled in where?” Corinne asked, her curiosity piquing despite the fear running in her veins.

Whoever this Murphy character was, her father both knew and feared the man, which was enough to set Corinne on edge. The fact that Murphy looked like he had just stepped out of an old-timey gangster movie didn’t help much, either.

Now that’s a goon if I’ve ever seen one. What’s my dad doing, getting mixed up with someone like Murphy? And who the hell is Keane?

“Your new home, of course,” Murphy replied, seeming to take pleasure in the confusion on Corinne’s face. “With your new husband.”

“My what now?” Corinne blurted out, looking from Murphy to her dad, who was still avoiding her gaze.

“Your husband. You see, Todd here owes us some money, or a lot of money, to be specific,” Murphy replied, squeezing her father’s shoulder hard enough to make him wince. “And you are going to be the payment.”

Corinne was only stunned for a moment, before nervous laughter bubbled up in her throat and she couldn’t help but laugh at what Murphy was saying.

“What do you think this is, the 1800s?” she scoffed, her annoyance making her forget about her fear for a moment. “I’m not marrying anyone, and I think it’s time for you to leave,” she said, holding up her phone. “Before I call the cops.”

Murphy didn’t look particularly threatened by that, as he just raised a brow at her, and folded his hands in front of him.

“You have a lot to learn, little girl,” he tsked.

“I’m not a little girl, and you need to get the hell off our property,” Corinne shot back, already busy dialing 911.

But before she could make the call, the phone was suddenly snatched out of her hands. All she could register was a blur of motion from the corner of her eye, as she was left staring at her empty hand in bewilderment.

“What the…” she muttered under her breath, her eyes growing wide as she spotted Murphy now sitting on the edge of her father’s desk, holding her phone between his thumb and forefinger as he easily bent it in half. “How did you…” she sputtered, trying to make sense of what just happened.

“Please, don’t hurt my daughter,” her father said, reddish-brown hair sticking to his forehead, the lines around his eyes more pronounced as his face scrunched up with a pained expression. “I’m the one who screwed up. She has nothing to do with this.”

“She has everything to do with this now,” Murphy shot back, letting Corinne’s mangled phone drop to the floor.

When he whipped his head around to look at her, Corinne was left to watch in stunned horror as Murphy’s lips peeled back and his incisors elongated into sharp fangs. Corinne’s fight or flight reflex was now in full swing, her heart racing and her limbs feeling fuzzy.

This can’t be happening, this isn’t happening… she shook her head, trying to wake herself from whatever fever dream she was in the middle of.

Running his tongue over his razor-sharp teeth, Murphy grinned at her, and Corinne was sure it was the most unpleasant sight she had ever seen. Feeling like a rabbit facing off against a hungry wolf, she couldn’t help but take a step back, almost stumbling over a fold in the carpet.

Every cell in her body was telling her to run, but she couldn’t just leave her father alone with whatever monster Murphy had turned out to be. Besides, by the way he had taken her phone, she was sure she couldn’t outrun him anyway.

“I’m getting bored, so just shut up and listen,” Murphy said, and Corinne was sure at that moment, she couldn’t have spoken even if she wanted to.

What struck her as odd was that even though her father looked frightened, he didn’t look all that surprised at Murphy’s abilities or his teeth.

“Your father made some bad decisions, and my Maker is not happy. To clear this debt between your dear dad and my boss, Keane has asked for you to be his bride. And let me tell you, saying ‘no’ is really not an option at this point.

“Unless you want daddy here to pay with his life, instead.”

With her stomach doing somersaults and her hands trembling, Corinne did her best to follow along with what Murphy was saying. She had never heard of this Keane character before, but then again, her father had never been too eager when it came to discussing business partners or investors with her.

I should have paid more attention. But business was going so great…

“What are you?” she couldn’t help but ask, staring at Murphy.

Could she have completely missed all the warning signs that she was losing her mind? Because this couldn’t be real. No way, no how.

“Did the fangs not give it away?” Murphy tilted his head at her, his tone patronizing. “I thought you’d be a little brighter than that. I’m a vampire, of course.”