Bleeding Hearts Page 41

The Hel-Blar continued their forced march. These were particularly feral, barely able to speak. They were savage, furious, and wretched.

And enslaved.

We all watched, stunned and silent, as they climbed the hill, stopped in front of Saga, and then knelt at her feet. They twitched their heads and snapped their teeth, clawing at their collars as if she held them in iron chains. She whispered something.

They stood as one and bent their heads to show the sides of their vulnerable necks. It was a sign of submission among older vampires, something I’d never actually seen done. No one in the Drake family was very good at submitting or surrendering. Saga didn’t smile or react; she just whispered another command. They dispersed, scurrying through the trees like beetles and badgers.

She’d just proven she could control them. But she hadn’t killed them.

Because if they were dead, she couldn’t use them as a weapon against us.

I caught a glance of Isabeau. She looked angry and impressed but mostly sad. She wouldn’t even put collars on her dogs. Solange looked enthralled.

Bruno was the first to speak, standing on the step of his truck.

“Well, I’ll be damned.”

Chapter 16

Christabel

“I’m so sorry,” Connor mumbled at me before he crumpled, falling onto the floorboards. Dawn lit the dust motes as they danced over him. I dropped to my knees, searching him for wounds. He didn’t move at all. And he was cold to the touch, as if he’d been hiding all night in the snow-dusted forest.

“Did you kill him?” I gaped at Aidan.

Aidan shook his head. “He’ll be fine come sunset. He’s young, and daylight hits them hard.”

I sat back on my heels, stunned. “What?” For someone so in love with words, I was repeating “What?” an awful lot.

“You called him Connor. He’s one of the Drake brothers.” Aidan crouched and lifted a trapdoor in the floor. “This may work to our advantage, actually.”

He reached over to grab Connor’s arm. I clutched his other arm. “Don’t!” I wasn’t sure what I was telling him not to do, but I felt strongly about it regardless.

“I’m not hurting him,” Aidan said patiently. “I’m helping him. He’ll be sick as a dog if he sits in the sun all day. And if anyone else comes across him like this, he’ll be defenseless.”

“Oh.”

Aidan hadn’t lied to me yet, unfortunately. I watched glumly as he rolled Connor over the floorboards and then dropped him into the cellar below. The trapdoor fell with a bang and a cloud of dust.

“You can try to run,” Aidan said wearily. “But he won’t move a muscle until sunset. You’d have to leave him behind. Are you willing to do that?”

Leave the guy who’d crawled into this broken old house to save me?

Of course not.

And Aidan knew it.

“Try to rest,” he suggested, not unkindly. He looked tired but not tired enough to fall over like Connor. “There’s water in that jug and food in the basket.”

“Thank you.” Was I thanking my kidnapper, as if he’d offered me chocolate? I suddenly felt like a Jane Austen heroine, proper in the face of adversity. Never mind, I still wore my combat boots. I must be tired, too—I wasn’t making sense, even in my own head. But I knew I couldn’t sleep, so I went out to the porch. Aidan was already gone. There was no one around except for Connor under the floorboards. The mountains were a hundred shades of gray and indigo as the sun rose.

I really was in a ghost town, full of weeds and muddy lanes and leaning houses that looked like they might fall right over if the wind changed direction too suddenly. The saloon doors creaked. The general store had no windows, but it did have faded gingham curtains. The wooden horse trough outside was filled with dead leaves and pine needles. I wouldn’t have been entirely surprised to see a mail coach or a sheriff with a gun holster. The historical geek inside me bounced on her toes and wanted to skip into every deserted building. A very thin layer of frost coated the peeling shingles, already melting in the morning light. The sky was a field of red roses, pink tulips and lilacs.

It might have been beautiful if I wasn’t suddenly afraid I was going to be stuck here. No hundred-year-old gingham curtains or pretty sunrises could make that okay.

I picked at the cuts on my palms, from where I’d dug my nails in. Vampires didn’t exist.

Never mind the pile of blue gray ashes in the middle of the road from the thing Aidan had staked. Never mind Connor’s cold, pale body in the cellar.

Just never mind.

I went down the stairs, avoiding the rotting step. The sun was higher now, shooting sparks off the dew and melting ice. I decided to explore the rest of the ghost town, which was really just one street, since my other option was to stand there and go quietly insane.

Luckily, anything antique, poetic, or just plain old always distracted me. I went into the saloon first, the red paint peeling off the creaking wooden doors. The floor was slanted, the bar polished wood. Behind it was a shelf full of old whiskey and sarsaparilla bottles. There was a staircase in one corner, missing most of its stairs, leading to a balcony where women in red corsets would have lounged. The tables tilted drunkenly, missing legs and covered in dust. I even found a bullet hole in one wall and couldn’t resist sticking my finger in it.

I went into the general store next and poked about, lifting lids off glass jars dusted with sugar inside and lined with broken candies, finding a mouse-nibbled bonnet with moth-nibbled flowers, a barrel of flour full of insects, and rusted horseshoes. I explored a small house, the iron stove still filled with long-dead embers. There was a ladderback chair and clay jugs in one corner and hooks with pewter mugs. I could write poetry about all of this, once I was safely back at Uncle Stuart’s house.

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