After Daybreak

Darkness Before Dawn Trilogy 3


J.A. London

For all our wonderful readers

who embraced the characters and the world we created.

You made all the difference.


Sin watched them flee.

From atop the mountain, with his keen vampire sight, he spotted them clearly: Dawn Montgomery, who he knew would join him eventually, and his old friend, Michael Colt. Michael used a slender broken-off tree limb to stake the vampire coachman that had driven them here on Sin’s command. He watched as Michael then unharnessed the lead horse and mounted it. Dawn, now aware of the vampire blood coursing through her own veins, pulled herself up behind him. Then they were galloping away from the mountain as though the devil were coming after them.

But the devil wasn’t going to follow. Not yet.

Dropping his head back, Sin spread his arms wide, stared at the vast star-filled night sky, and relished the sensation of his power increasing. The blood of the ancient vampire upon whom he’d just feasted coursed through his veins. How long before he became imbued by the Thirst? Was it even possible? He had seen only the Lessers —humans-turned-vampires—succumb to its influence. Perhaps it was merely fantasy to believe it could have any effect on a born vampire, an Old Family descendant such as himself.

Yet even as he thought this, Sin smiled. No. It would happen. He could already sense the change taking hold deep within his heart. For years he had fed off other vampires with few knowing his dark desire to become one of the Infected. To many others, the Thirst was a myth. The thought of a vampire becoming a monster—developing an insatiable taste for his fellow kind, with human blood no longer serving to stave off his hunger—was the stuff of nightmares. Easier to deny its existence than to face its horrors.

But Sin basked in the reality, because in the Thirst he recognized limitless power. He would be untouchable, stronger than any other vampire. Then Dawn would realize how futile resistance was. She would take her place at his side and they could rule together.

Calmly, he watched Dawn and Michael flee farther and farther away. Sin looked across at the horizon. The sun would rise in a few hours and he would not fear it.

But the world . . . the world would fear him. For soon, all he saw, and everything beyond, would be his.

Chapter 1

With my arms wrapped tightly around Michael’s waist, we ride out fast, eager to escape the mountains, desperate to escape Sin.

Warm liquid pools against my hands. Michael’s blood. His chest is still bleeding, a four-strike wound from Sin’s claws as Michael tried to protect me. I press my palms against him, trying to stop the flow. Before Sin clawed Michael’s chest, he sliced open his cheek. The blood there has caked over, but the gashes must ache. We debated taking two horses from the coach, but Michael’s injuries are weakening him. I wasn’t certain how long he’d be able to ride if I wasn’t holding him. If he falls, I doubt I’ll have the strength to get him back on the horse. No way am I leaving him to the mercy of any vampires who are roaming the countryside.

Exhaustion threatens to claim me. I can’t give in to its allure. I can only imagine how difficult it is for Michael to remain upright. We don’t speak as the mountains behind us become mere ripples in the sky.

The clouds begin to change, lightening in shade, and then the moon fades. The sun rises, but it brings little comfort. It’ll send most of the vampires into hiding, but it won’t affect the Day Walkers.

Michael brings the horse to a slow canter, giving it a chance to catch its breath. “We should stop, check your wounds,” I say.

Michael shakes his head. “Let’s find some sort of shelter first. If I get off the horse, I don’t know if I’ll be able to get back on. Although . . . maybe you should go on alone, search for help. You’ll be faster without me.”

“I’m not leaving you.”

“Dawn, you might not have a choice.”

“I’m not leaving you, Michael.” I make my voice as forceful as possible. I don’t want to admit that he’s right. We’re the only ones who know the full scope and horror of Sin’s plans. One of us has to return to Denver, to let the others know so they can prepare to meet the new threat.

Time passes. I don’t know if it’s minutes or hours. The sun beats down on us. It’s so incredibly desolate out here. My mouth is dry; my lips feel as though they might crack if I talk again.

We have to find food and water, but where?

The horse slows to a plodding walk. Michael is drooping in the saddle. How much blood has he lost? How much longer can he ride?

Michael directs the horse to a steep hill and, kicking his heels against its sides, urges it up. We arrive at the top of the rise and look out over the vast expanse spreading before us. Thirty years of war decimated it. Ten years later, nature is still struggling to reclaim what it once owned—much as we humans are.

Michael raises a hand to his brow to shield his eyes from the glare of the sun. “In the distance there.” He points. “Is that what I think it is?”

It doesn’t seem possible, but through the wall of shimmering heat—

“It looks like a town,” I say.

The Vampire Human Treaty, or VampHu, outlaws the establishment of any town other than the twenty walled cities agreed to in the settlement that ended the war.

“Maybe it’s a mirage,” he says, and I can hear in his voice his reluctance to hope.

“I don’t think so. I mean, would we both be seeing it if it were?”

“Guess not. I’ve heard rumors that illegal towns exist beyond the walls, but I never thought I’d see one.”

I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but we need to be realistic. Without the walls that surround the major cities to protect them, the humans in that town would be easy prey. “It might be prewar, and the odds are that it’s abandoned, but that doesn’t mean we won’t find water or food there.”

“I could use a drink.”

He could use a lot more than that. He needs medical attention. Maybe we’ll find something that I can use to tend to his wounds.

The horse isn’t as sure-footed going down the hill, and I hold my breath, hoping it doesn’t stumble. But we make it safely to level ground and the horse trudges forward.

The town, so small it seems threatened by the enormity of the surrounding desert, grows steadily larger. I spot a windmill, hear the clacking of the blades echoing over the plain as the slight breeze turns them. The tiny buildings begin to take shape, their odd placement showing no evidence of planning, their even stranger form indicating a lack of craftsmanship. Walls curve and bend at unusual angles, stone is missing from key foundations, and the road through the town’s center is little more than well-packed dirt. The only impressive things are the thick, clay roofs, which seem to be attached to the unstable walls by some miracle of architecture.

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