He noticed her as he stood smoking between the cars and scanning the crowd, waiting for the train to leave the station. It was the hat that did it, a broad-brimmed, low-crowned black felt hat that cast her face in shadow. If it was supposed to be a disguise, it didn’t work at all. The hat and black cloak only set off the mass of golden blonde curls that fell to her shoulders and positively glowed in the grimy light of the station.

There was a girl with her, shorter, younger, and apparently human, to judge from the pink glow of her complexion. He hadn’t known she’d have a companion, but it didn’t surprise him. Women of her kind often picked up hangers-on, young people mostly, fascinated by the romantic legends and the promise of eternal life. No doubt they were sexually engaged. The girl might even have begun her transformation.

He watched them board a coach three cars down, then threw his cigarette onto the track just as the conductor gave his last call and hopped onto the train, pulling the boarding steps up after him. The engine whistled three times and then the big wheels started to turn. Door slammed and locked the length of the train and the car lurched heavily under his feet as they started to move. They were under way, and the for the next fourteen hours the train would be their own little hermetically sealed prison, traveling through the world but not of it.

He walked back to his compartment now, squeezing past the other passengers, smiling politely and begging their pardon, but his eyes couldn’t help but scan them up and down as they passed, looking for that supernatural perfection that meant they might not be what they seemed. He couldn’t help it; it came automatically to him now, after so many years, and he was sick of it. This would be his last hunt. When this one was over, no more. He’d have to find something else to fill his time.

Once in his compartment he locked the door and fell into his seat, sitting backwards so he could see where he’d been rather than where he were going. The combination of melancholy and excitement inherent in the beginning of a journey was familiar to him, but sharper this time as the train left the outskirts of the city and entered the autumnal countryside. The sun was just dipping behind the clouds on the horizon, lighting the tops of the poplars with reddish gold as the train rushed past, fading as watched and leaving the purplish glow of October twilight.

As was his habit, he chose to eat an early dinner in order to avoid the crowds and be finished by the time darkness settled in, so he washed in his little sink, dried his face and hands and straightened his tie, then made his way to the dining car.

It was quite empty, the white tablecloths and silver cutlery looking quite handsome against the indigo blue of the autumn dusk; empty except for the blonde woman and her companion seated at the far end.

He made no show of alarm, but took a seat at a table on the near end, and looked innocently out the window. The waiter brought him a menu, and he pretended to study it as he looked over the top and watched the women.

The blonde was without her hat and sitting with her back to him; the girl across from her so he could see her face. It was a pretty face, young and fresh and framed by caramel-colored hair cut in a bob. Whereas the blonde was still dressed in black, the girl was in white, a curiously antique gown as far as he could tell, and hardly suited to train travel.

The girl raised her eyes over her menu, looked directly at him and smiled—a warm smile, one of invitation.

He quickly hid behind his menu and then the waiter was there, and he busied himself with ordering, a complicated process, it turned out, as the kitchen was not yet up to speed at this early hour and not everything was available. By the time he’d settled for the roast beef, rare, the blonde was gone and the girl was walking towards him, her smile tinged now with social awkwardness. He composed himself. These were strangers, he told himself. He didn’t know them

“Excuse me,” she said softly. “I don’t want to disturb you…”

He looked up into her green eyes. She had a cat’s face, the similarity charmingly disrupted by a rather full and sensuous mouth, her lips a glistening pink. The black velvet choker around her neck picked up the black accents on her gown, and added to the similarity, like a pet’s collar.

“No, that’s quite all right.”

The girl looked uneasily down the length of the empty car. “It just seemed silly for there to be only two of us in the whole car, sitting at opposite ends like we had the plague. I wonder if it would alright if I…?”

“Joined me? Certainly. By all means,” he lied. “Really. I was thinking the same thing, but I didn’t want to disturb you and your friend.” He looked down the length of the car and pretended to notice that the woman in black had vanished. “Oh— She’s gone?”

“Who? Marissa? Yes. She wasn’t hungry and went back to our compartment. I hope you don’t think I’m being too forward?”

He smiled dismissively. “No, really. I’m happy for the company. Here, sit.” He got up and gallantly held her chair for her. “I’ve just ordered. Let me get you a drink. Sherry? An aperitif?”

“Thank you. My name is Sarah Blaine. A glass of wine would be lovely, thank you.”

“Ted Gregory,” he said. “I’m delighted to meet you.”

He reached over the snow-white tablecloth and shook her hand. Her handshake was firm and refreshingly confident, and her eyes met his in a way that was just this side of bold. She was a bit of a seductress, he decided, which might make things conside4rably easier.

Having just cleared off the other place setting, the waiter now returned with it and handed Sarah another menu, and Ted used the opportunity to order them a bottle of wine. She didn’t object. When she ordered the fish, Ted apologized and offered to exchange their red wine for white, but she wouldn’t hear of it.

The waiter left, and Sarah looked out the window at the shadowy landscape rushing by. The sun had completely disappeared and the first stars were gleaming coldly in the west.

She was a very attractive young woman and obviously well bred, not the kind of person he associated with creatures like Marissa. Her dress interested him. It was white, strange enough for this time of the year, and of some satiny material, either quite old or cut to look that way, with a rather low, straight neckline. She obviously wore a corset or other foundation garment that compressed her breasts and presented them most invitingly in a way that kept claiming his attention. The peaks of her young nipples were visible where the fabric stretched tight over them—a tart’s trick, and one that was most effective. He found himself considerably aroused.

She turned back from the window to find him staring, and she smiled.

“Forgive me, ” he said. “That’s an unusual dress.”

“Isn’t it?” She smiled at him, as if she knew some joke. “It’s appropriate though, don’t you think?”

He raised his eyebrows in confusion.

“Halloween?” she asked, waiting for him to catch on. “Today’s the thirty-first? All Hallow’s Eve?”

“Oh! Of course! You mean you’re traveling in costume?”

She shrugged. “Why not? It seemed like fun. Marissa and I are going south for the winter. She goes down every winter, but it’s my first time.”

“Traveling in costume! How ingenious. That must be fun.” He raised his glass to her. “Well, here’s to a good trip, Sarah.”

She raised her glass with a smile and touched it to his. “To a good trip. And new friends.”

She closed her eyes when she drank and her lashes were long and delicate. The sight of her parted lips on the glass awaiting the taste of the wine was stirring

“And you?” she asked. “Is this trip business or pleasure?”

“Oh, business, I’m afraid.”

“And you’re alone?” She asked it without a trace of embarrassment or hesitancy

He laughed. “Alone. Quite alone. So I’m grateful for your company.”

She smiled at him and then very casually said, “Marissa and I are lovers, you know.” She looked at him. “Do you find that shocking?”

He laughed a bit uneasily. “Would you like me to?”

“Most people do. But then, I don’t care for what most people think, do you?”

They both swayed as the train clattered over a switch. “I find very little shocking in this day and age, I’m afraid. It’s a very wide world.”

She looked at him approvingly. “Yes it is. And all sorts of things go on in it. I do miss a man’s company, though, so you mustn’t think I’m one of [I]those[/I] women, the kind that only likes other women. Marissa’s the same way. She likes men too, I mean, though she’s too stubborn to admit it. Have you seen her? The woman I’m with?”

Ted filled her glass again, using the pause to think. It was fairly obvious the way these two worked now, and he suspected he knew where this was going. Sarah was the bait, fully human and very attractive. She was very good at what she did.

“Yes. The lady in black?” He tried to sound innocent. “Yes. She’s hard to miss. Forgive my frankness, but she’s quite a beautiful woman. You two make a very striking couple.”

“Thank you,” Sarah smiled and raised her glass in a little mock toast to his perceptiveness, then leaned forward conspiratorially. “And my, can she fuck!”

She tossed the wine back, obviously enjoying his discomfiture, and this time he couldn’t hide his surprise. He stared at her a moment, speechless.

There was a brief jolt as the train left the tangle of switches and gathered speed on the mainline again. Ted poured them more wine to hide his consternation and Sarah turned again to the window, her satisfaction with the way this game was proceeding obvious in her little smile.

“An overnight train!” she sighed, her last statement forgotten. “Is there anything more romantic? Isn’t it breathtaking?”

He admitted that it was. It was night now and totally dark, and the countryside was invisible beyond the reach of the lighted windows of the car. Occasionally a village or town swept by, or the bell of a crossing sounded a mournful doppler, but as far as he could tell they were well into the woods now, an even darker dark beneath the starry sky. The wheel clicked reassuringly on the track

The waiter brought their food: roast beef for him, poached fish for her. Sarah put her napkin in her lap and gazed longingly at his meal for a moment.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “You’re not happy with your fish? Would you like some of my beef?” It was a terribly bold thing to suggest, but he hardly expected it would be remarked by a girl who was so at ease with four-letter words.

“Oh, no, no.” She shook her head and picked up her knife and fork. “Marissa just keeps close watch on me. She won’t let me have red meat except on very rare occasions. It’s the one thing I miss. That and men, of course.”

The food gave him time to think. His original plan had been to find them in their compartment during the day and take care of things then and there. That was the way he’d always operated, and a vampire in his coffin was a pitiful thing, hardly more than a hollow husk, and easily dispatched. But these two were involved in some seductive game that fascinated him.

Sarah was entirely human as far as he could tell, one of those sad, misguided souls who were attracted to what they saw as the romance of the vampire. Marissa herself couldn’t be very old as far as vampires went. She was still far too human, without that dry, insect-like vacuity that came to all vampires with age, to the point where they lost all capacity for feeling or emotion and became the dry, lifeless husks that existed for nothing but to feed. These were the ones he usually dealt with: easy to loathe, a pleasure to kill.

But this was intriguing. Sarah was young, beautiful, and seductive, and he was drawn to her. He had gone too long without any real human contact. That he should now find it with the companion of a vampire was an irony that wasn’t lost on him. When she openly suggested that they meet after dinner in the privacy of his compartment, looking directly into his eyes and subtly licking the rim of her glass, he wasn’t surprised.

He met her gaze, but inwardly he was trembling. “You’re joking,” he said, pretending to be shocked. He hated to disappoint her.

She smiled at him, a smile more overtly sexual than any he’d received so far. “No, Ted. I wouldn’t want you to get the wrong impression of me, but in this case, why not? We’re both adults. We know what we want, and attractive, liberal-minded men such as yourself are in such short supply. Why shouldn’t we?”

He felt the thrill of danger and the lure of attraction in equal measures. “I can’t think of a single reason.”

Sarah smiled and returned to her meal, and the conversation drifted on to other, more innocent things, but all the while Ted’s mind was racing over plans and stratagems. He was surprised to find that he wanted her, wanted her badly. It was a feeling he hadn’t experienced in months.

The meal over, Sarah sat back with a contented sigh and finished her wine. “There is one thing I should mention,” she said. “I have to clear it with Marissa first, but I know she won’t mind. She might even want to join us, or at least watch. Is that all right?”

He’d expected that and he smiled. “You are a strange couple, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” she said, pleased to be scandalizing him. She leaned forward to give him a good view of the deep cleavage between her ripe young breasts. “I told you. We’re not like those other women. Then you’ve no objections?”

“No,” he said, though this complicated matters.

“Good, then I’ll just— Oh, no need. Here’s Marissa now. Perfect timing.”

He turned just in time to catch the swirl of black as the other woman approached their table. From a distance, she had appeared rather severe, an effect no doubt enhanced by the round blue lenses that covered her eyes, but now, gazing down at the remains of their meal and the empty bottle, her face was open and friendly. She was smiling, and she was devastatingly beautiful—her face pure and angelic.

“Well, how was the meal, Sarah? Fish was it?”

Ted stood, rather too quickly. The train lurched and he almost lost his balance, causing the women to laugh.

“Marissa, this is Ted— Gregory, was it? Yes. Ted Gregory, and Ted, this is Marissa Boros, my teacher and lover.”

He smiled, trying to keep his composure while acting suitably shocked at Sarah’s words.

Marissa took his hand. Hers was cool and smooth. He detected nothing of the mature vampire’s leathery strength.

“Forgive me the dark glasses, Mr. Gregory. A touch of conjunctivitis, I’m afraid.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry. But think nothing of it. Sarah’s been telling me all about you. Please, sit. Should I order another bottle? Would you like something to eat?”

Marissa smiled and gestured for him to sit as she took a chair. “Thank you, no. I’m on a rather strict fast.” She settled into her chair and resumed the conversation. “So she’s been talking about me? Naughty girl. She loves to talk, this one. All lies, no doubt. Just what did she say?”

Before Ted could answer, Sarah chimed in. “I was just telling Ted I wanted to take him to bed. Would that be all right?”

Marissa didn’t bat an eye. She studied Ted out of the sides of her glasses. “She’s an excitable girl, but we’re really quite open with our sexuality. I hope she didn’t embarrass you?”

Ted shook his head vigorously and Marissa smiled. She turned to Sarah. “I think it would depend on how Mr. Gregory feels about it.”

“Ted, please.” He corrected. “As for me, yes, it would be fine. It would be more than fine. Wonderful is more like it! And may I add how terribly refreshing it is to find two such fetching women who take such a sensible and refreshing view of such matters.”

They laughed again, companionably. The waiter came by and slid the check to Ted. The car was starting to fill up with regular diners now, and the waiter, unusually solicitous, asked Marissa once more if she was sure she wouldn’t dine, but again she begged off.

Ted took the opportunity to study her. She was more mature and womanly than Sarah, but that was more a matter of temperament than one of years, and her sense of sophistication was all the more attractive for being set off by a face that was both girlish and classically beautiful, with fine, regular features and a strikingly clear complexion, although unusually pale. And there was something else—a haunting sadness, some hidden sorrow he had never heard of in one of her kind, usually devoid of any emotion.

She was a shape-shifter of course, and could appear as whatever she liked, but even so the form she chose to show the world said much about her inner nature. Marissa chose to present herself as a woman of almost ethereal beauty, of a kind that nearly transcended the sexual. It was terribly clever, to hide such evil behind such an angelic face.

He looked at her nails and saw that the moons didn’t show, the beds were white, and it struck him that she was starving. He’d seen it before in vampires deprived of food. She should be feeding well on Sarah’s blood—he assumed that was what the girl’s choker was for, to hide the marks—but for some reason she was not availing herself of the blood available, but intentionally starving herself. That would explain the slow grace with which she moved as well. She was weak, even dying perhaps. Strangely he felt his heart going out to her.

“Sarah tell me you’re her teacher,” he said, once the waiter had left.

“Oh yes,” Marissa said proudly. “I’ve taught her almost everything she knows. She’s a very good student, too. Shall I show you?”

Without awaiting an answer, she plucked a grape from Sarah’s plate. “Sarah?” she asked, as one speaks to a pet about to perform a clever trick. “Open,” and when the girl opened her mouth, Marissa placed the grape on her tongue.

“Watch,” Marissa said. “She has a truly exquisite mouth.”

Sarah sat with eyes closed, her mouth working behind her closed lips. In a moment she opened her mouth and extended her tongue, and there sat the grape, glistening and gelid, neatly and completely peeled.

“Wonderful, isn’t she? Can you imagine what else that mouth can do?” Marissa took the grape in her fingers and showed it to him. Her nails were long and exquisitely manicured, but still, there was that paleness beneath then.

“You can have her,” Marissa said, “But only if I can watch.”

He looked at Sarah, but now that Marissa had joined them, she was silent, her eyes on the tablecloth in front of her, a child in the presence of her elders.

He cleared his throat uneasily. “You want to watch?”

He could see the glitter of her eyes even behind her glasses. “If you’re good, I might join in. And you look like you’ll be rather good. Is that satisfactory?”

He nodded.

“Good. What’s your compartment number?”

For a moment, he couldn’t think. Marissa was terribly beautiful, more beautiful than he’d expected, even after he’d seen her board the train.

“Seventeen,” he managed at last.

She stood up. “Very well. Give us some time to refresh ourselves, and we’ll meet you there. Sarah? Up.”

Ted stood up as Sarah rose and smiled demurely at him. It was all too bizarre, too perfect. His heart was thudding in his chest as he caught the scent of Marissa’s perfume, wild and sensuous. He’d never known a vampire to wear scent.

“See you soon,” Marissa said, and then she turned and walked back through the dining car, Sarah following in her wake without so much as a glance back.

Ted signed the check, his hands shaking. He left a generous tip, and then made his way quickly back to his compartment. He didn’t have much time.

Once inside, he took down his black valise from the luggage rack, laid it on the old-fashioned bench seat, and opened the locks. He rummaged around inside, pushing aside the mirrors and crucifixes and vials of holy water till he found the stakes. The simple one made of Linden wood would do for Sarah if it came to that, but he didn’t think it would. She wasn’t one of them yet, and simple force would do for her. Still, why take chances? He took out the stake and held it under his arm.