Blood Bound Chapter 9

Andre was waiting for me in the parking lot, standing beside one of the seethe's interchangeable black Mercedes, ready to drive me to Stefan's home-as if I were stupid enough to hop into a car driven by a vampire I didn't know.

Despite Andre's objections, I followed him in my car rather than letting him drive me. Aside from being safer, when we were done, I could drive straight home instead of waiting for him to drive me back out to Uncle Mike's.

He was right, it might have been useful to talk and come up with a game plan-if I had trusted him a little more or if I hadn't had to go to work in the morning. Bills don't wait just because my friend was cut to hamburger and the vampire's mistress wants me to find a sorcerer who has killed more than forty people.

I took a tighter grip on the wheel and tried not to look at the broken dash, where Stefan, calm, quiet Stefan, had put his fist. What had made him so angry? That the sorcerer had beaten him?

What had Stefan said? That he knew there was something wrong with his memories because he hadn't remembered me. That I was not unimportant to him.

Stefan was a vampire, I reminded myself. Vampires are evil.

I reached out and touched the dash. He did it because I had been hurt, I thought.

He wasn't unimportant to me either-I didn't want him to be gone forever.

Stefan's house was in the hills in Kennewick, in one of the newer subdivisions on the west side of Highway 395. It was a big, sprawling brick house on a large lot with a circular drive, the kind of house that should have generations of children growing up in it. Surrounded by buildings with fake columns and two-story-high windows, it should have looked out of place. Instead it looked content with what it was. I could see Stefan in this house.

"You'd better knock on the door," Andre said as I got out of my car. "They've already refused to admit me once tonight-with every justification. Stefan might forgive me Daniel, but his flock will remember." He sounded mildly regretful, about on the level of a child who'd thrown a baseball through a window.

Despite the late hour, there were lights on all over the house. When I thought about it, it made sense that a vampire's people kept late hours.

Coming here had sounded logical when Marsilia had directed us here. I hadn't really thought about what it would mean.

I hesitated before I knocked. I didn't want to meet Stefan's people, didn't want to know that he kept them the way a farmer keeps a herd of cattle. I liked Stefan, and I wanted to keep it that way.

The curtain in the window next to the door moved a little. They already knew we were here.

I rang the doorbell.

I heard a scramble behind the door as if a lot of people were moving around, but when it opened, there was only one person in the entryway.

She looked to be a few years older than me, in her mid- to late thirties. She wore her dark, curly hair cut to shoulder length. She was dressed conservatively in a tailored shirt and slacks; she looked like a business woman.

I think she might have been attractive, but her eyes and nose were swollen and red, her face too pale. She stood back in silent invitation. I walked in, but Andre came to an abrupt halt just outside the threshold.

"You'll have to invite me in again, Naomi," he said.

She drew in a shaky breath. "No. Not until he returns." She looked at me. "Who are you and what do you want?"

"My name is Mercedes Thompson," I told her. "I'm trying to find out what happened to Stefan."

She nodded her head and, without another word to Andre, shut the door in his face.

"Mercedes Thompson," she said. "Stefan liked you, I know. You stood up for him before the other vampires, and when you believed he was in trouble, you called us." She glanced back at the door. "Stefan revoked Andre's entry into the house, but I wasn't certain that it still worked with Stefan... missing." She looked at the door a moment, then turned to me with a visible effort at composure. Control sat more comfortably on her face than fear.

"What can I do to help you, Ms. Thompson?"

"You don't sound like the kind of person who would..." There was doubtlessly a polite term for someone who willingly feeds a vampire, but I didn't know it.

"What did you expect?" she asked tartly. "Pale children covered with tattoos and bite marks?"

" Mmm," I said. "I met Daniel."

Her expressive eyes clouded. "Ah, Daniel. Yes. And we have a couple more like him. So, the stereotype is present here, but not all encompassing. If you went to another vampire's flock you might find it more like you expected. Stefan is seldom typical of anything." She took a deep breath. "Why don't you come into the kitchen and I'll pour you some tea while you ask your questions?"

There were at least ten people besides Stefan living in the house: I could smell them. They kept out of sight while Naomi led me to the kitchen, but I could hear someone whispering nearby. Politely, I didn't stick my head into the room the whispers were coming from.

A butcher-block table that wouldn't have fit in most of the rooms in my trailer held sway in the center of the kitchen. Naomi pulled out a tall stool and sat down, motioning for me to take a seat as well. As she did, her hair fell away from the unblemished skin of her neck.

She saw my glance and pulled her hair back, so I could see that there were no red marks. "Satisfied?" she asked.

I took a deep breath. She wanted me uncomfortable, but the adrenaline rush from Uncle Mike's was gone and I was just tired.

I pushed back my own hair and turned so she could see the bite marks on my neck. They were mostly healed, so I'd quit wearing a bandage, but the skin was still red and shiny. I'd probably have a scar.

She sucked in her breath and leaned forward to touch my neck. "Stefan never did that," she said, but with rather less conviction in her tone of voice than in her words.

"Why do you say that?" I asked.

"Someone just gnawed on you," she said. "Stefan has more care."

I nodded. "This was done by the thing that Stefan went hunting."

She relaxed. "That's right. He'd said it attacked you."

Stefan talked to her, a hopeful sign.

"Yes." I pulled out a second stool and climbed aboard. "Do you know where Stefan went last night?"

She shook her head. "I asked. He wouldn't tell me. He said he didn't want us chasing after him if he didn't come home."

"He was worried about you?"

"Yes, but not the way you think," said a new voice behind me.

I looked over and saw a young woman in baggy clothes and long, straight hair. She didn't look at us, just opened the fridge and studied the contents.

"How so?" I asked.

She looked up and grimaced at Naomi. "He was worried that she would get the rest of us killed trying to rescue him. See, if he dies, so does she... not immediately, but soon."

"That's not why I'm worried," Naomi lied. I could hear it in her voice.

"See, the professor here has leukemia." The younger girl took out a quart of milk and drank out of the carton. "As long as she's playing blood bank, Stefan's return donations keep her cancer in check. If he quits"-she made a choking, gasping sound, then gave Naomi a faint pleased look. "In return she acts as Stefan's business manager-paying bills, doing the taxes... shopping. Hey, Naomi, we're out of cheese." She replaced the carton and shut the fridge.

Naomi slid off her chair and faced the younger girl. "If he is dead, that means no more free ride for you. Maybe you should go back to your mother and her new husband. At least until the Mistress finds you and gives you to another vampire. Maybe Andre would want you."

The teenager just stared at her, her gaze coolly mocking. Naomi turned to me and said, "She doesn't know any more than I do."

She glared at the girl one more time, then stalked off. The girl had come out the clear winner in their engagement. I found myself thinking she'd make a good wolf.

"I'm Mercedes Thompson," I said, turning on the stool so I could put my elbows on the butcher-block table and lean back in a nonthreatening manner. "I'm looking for Stefan."

She glanced around as if looking for him, too. "Yeah, well he ain't here."

I nodded my head and pursed my lips. "I know. One of the wolves he was with last night was returned to us in very bad shape."

She raised her chin. "You aren't a werewolf. Stefan said."

"No," I agreed.

"Anything that could take out Stefan could wipe the floor with old Andre out there." She jerked her chin toward the front door. "What makes you think you can help Stefan?"

" Marsilia believes I can." I watched the impact of the name hit her. For a moment, even with the veil of dark hair that covered her face, I caught a glimpse of the fear that rose from the depths of the house. Everyone here was very afraid. The house reeked of it.

"If Stefan doesn't come back," she told me very quietly, suddenly sounding much older, "I think we're all dead, not just Doctor Tightbritches. Sooner or later, we're all gone. The Mistress won't want us free to blabber about them. So she'll farm us out to the rest of her vampires, put us in their menageries. Most of them aren't as careful with their food as Stefan. No control when they're hungry."

I didn't know what to say that didn't sound like a platitude, so I picked a thread out of her speech and plucked it. "Stefan keeps you alive longer than the others are able to?"

"He doesn't kill those of us in his menagerie," she said. I remembered that the London Zoo had once been known as a menagerie. She shrugged with studied casualness. "Mostly, anyway. When he gets us, we have to stay a couple of years, but after that, ' cept for Naomi-and that's hardly Stefan's fault either-we're free to go."

"Why a couple of years?" I asked.

She gave me a "how stupid are you?" look. "It takes that long for him to establish enough of a connection to make sure we won't go telling anyone we meet about vampires."

"How long have you been with Stefan?"

"Five years this August," she said, though she couldn't be over twenty. I hid my shock, but not well enough because she smirked at me. "Twelve. I was twelve. Stefan's a big step up from my folks, let me tell you."

Vampires are evil. Funny how I kept trying to forget that about Stefan.

"You probably know more about vampires than I do," I told her, changing my tack so I could get a little more information. "I grew up with the werewolves, and even though I've known Stefan a long time, most of our conversations are about cars. Would you mind if I asked you a few questions?"

"What do you want to know?"

"How much do you know about the thing that he was hunting?"

"He doesn't talk to us much," she told me. "Not like he used to talk to Daniel. He said it was a vampire demon thingy."

I nodded. "Close enough. Apparently if I can kill the vampire, the demon will just go away. No more vampire demon thingy. Marsilia told me how to kill vampires." I stopped speaking and let her think about that a minute. She was pretty bright, it didn't take her long to come to the same conclusion I had.

"Man, that's pretty scary, going into a battle with the Mistress as your intel. Sure, I'll tell you what you need to know." She ran her eyes over me and was unimpressed. "She really thinks you can kill this thing?"

I started to nod, then stopped. "I have no idea what Marsilia thinks." Uncle Mike hadn't thought me hunting the sorcerer was stupid. I wasn't sure if I should trust the fae any further than I trusted the vampire. I shrugged finally and told her the truth. "I don't really care. I'll kill the sorcerer or die trying."

"What did she tell you?"

"She said I could kill a vampire with a wooden stake through the heart, holy water or sunlight."

She leaned a hip against the fridge and shook her head. "Look. The wooden stake thing works, but it's better if it's oak, ash, or yew. And if you kill them that way, you have to cut off their heads or burn the body to make sure they stay dead. Remember, a dead vampire is ashes. If there's a body, it'll come back-and it'll come back angry with you. Cutting off their heads is pretty good, but difficult. They're not likely to stand around and wait for the chainsaw. Sunlight's good, too. But the stake and sunlight, they're like kicking a guy in the balls, you know?"

I shook my head, fascinated.

"They all know about it. They're not going to put themselves at risk if they can help it. And if you screw it up all it does is piss ' em off more. Holy water's mostly out. You'd need a whole swimming pool full of holy water to kill one."

"So how would you kill a vampire permanently?"

She pursed her lips. "Fire's best. Stefan says they burn pretty well once they get started."

"Stefan told you all of this?" I tried to imagine the conversation.

She nodded. "Sure." She gave me a considering look. "Look, I don't know where he went, but I know he was keeping a sharp eye out on the local news and the papers. He had a map of the 'Cities and he marked where there was violence. Yesterday he was pretty excited about something he'd noticed about the pattern."

"Do you have the map?" I asked.

"No. He took it with him. And he didn't show it to any of us."

I slid off the chair. "Thank you..."


"Thank you, Rachel."

She nodded her head and then opened the fridge again, dismissing me. I walked to the front door slowly, but no one else appeared, so I let myself out.

Andre was waiting for me, sitting on the hood of his car. He jumped off and asked, "Did they know anything?"

I shrugged. "They didn't know where he was, but I found out how he decided where to look. Maybe it'll help."

I looked at Andre and wondered if Marsilia had left out the part about decapitating the staked vampire on purpose. It didn't take much thought for me to decide she had.

"How would you kill Littleton?" I asked him.

"Fire," he said promptly. "That's the easiest way. Staking works, but you have to decapitate them afterwards."

It didn't mean anything. From my question he'd have known I'd asked Stefan's people.

"That's not what Marsilia told me."

He gave me a faint smile. "If you just staked him, she could capture him, make him hers. There aren't a lot of vampires, Mercy, and it takes a long time to make them. If Daniel hadn't belonged to Stefan for so long, he'd have died permanently. Marsilia doesn't want to waste a vampire-especially not one who has all the powers of a demon at his touch. If he is hurt badly enough, there are ways of bringing him back under the control of a more powerful vampire, like Marsilia. He would make her position unassailable."

"So you intend to capture him?"

Andre shook his head. "I want the bastard dead. Permanently dead."

"Why is that?"

"I told you, Stefan and I, we have been friends for a very long time." He turned his face into the light that illuminated the driveway. "We have our differences, but it is... like family squabbling. I know this time Stefan was really angry, but he'd have gotten over it. Because of this sorcerer, I will never get the chance to make peace with him."

"You are so certain Stefan is gone?"

Stefan's VW Bus was parked off to the side of the garage, covered by a tarp to protect its unusual paint job. What kind of vampire drove an old bus painted like the Mystery Machine? Last Christmas I'd gotten him a life-sized Scooby Doo to ride in the passenger seat.

He must have heard the answer I wanted in my voice because he shook his head slowly at me. "Mercedes, it is difficult to keep a human captive. It is almost impossible to imprison a vampire. Stefan has ways... I don't think that he could be imprisoned-yet he has not come home. Yes, I think he is gone. I will do everything I can to see that this Littleton follows him."

They made too much sense, he and Adam. I had to believe that Stefan was gone-and Ben and the young vampire I'd only met the once were dead as well. If I wasn't going to cry in front of him, I had to leave really soon.

I glanced at my watch. "I have to be up in three hours." If I knew how long it was going to take us to find the sorcerer, I'd have had Zee take over the shop, but I couldn't afford to do that for more than a few days a month, not and keep up on the mortgage and food.

"Go home and go to bed." He took out a slim leather case and withdrew a card, handing it to me. "My cell number is on this. Call me tomorrow at dusk and we can discuss where to go from here."

I tucked the card in my back pocket. We'd stopped at the door to my car so I opened it and started to sit down when I thought of another question.

"Stefan said that Littleton was new. Does that mean there's another vampire controlling him?"

Andre inclined his head. "A new vampire is under the control of his maker." He gave me a smile that was faintly bitter. "It's not willing service. We all have to obey our maker."

"Even you?"

He gave a short, unhappy bow. "Even I. As we get older and accumulate power, though, the control diminishes. Or when our makers die."

"So Littleton is obeying another vampire?"

"If the vampire who made him isn't dead, he should have to obey him."

"Who was Stefan's maker?"

" Marsilia. But Stefan never had to play slave as the rest of us did." There was sheer envy in his voice as he said, "He was never a thrall. It happens sometimes, but such vampires are always killed upon their first rising. Any other vampire would have killed Stefan as soon as it was apparent that he wasn't under their control, but Marsilia was in love. He gave her an oath of obedience, though, and to my certain knowledge, he never broke it." He looked out at the night sky.

Abruptly, he shut my door. "Go home and go to sleep while you still can."

"Did Marsilia make you too?" I asked, turning the key in the ignition.


Damn it, I thought, this was so stupid. I didn't know anything about vampires and I was going to bring down one who had taken out two vampires and a pair of werewolves? I might as well shoot myself in the head right now. It would save time and effort.

"Good night, Andre," I told him and drove out of Stefan's driveway.

I was tired enough to sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. I dreamed of Stefan's poor menagerie, doomed, if Rachel was to be believed, by Stefan's death. I dreamed of Stefan driving his bus with that silly stuffed Scooby Doo perched in the passenger seat. I dreamed he tried to tell me something but I couldn't hear it over the noise.

I rolled over and buried my head under the pillow but the noise continued. It wasn't my alarm. I could go back to sleep. I was tired enough that even dreaming of dead people was preferable to being awake. After all, Stefan was as dead and gone when I was awake as when I was sleeping.

It wasn't a really loud sound. If it had been less irregular, I think I could have ignored it.

Scritch. Scritch  -  scritch.

It was coming from my window near the bed. It sounded like the rosebush that had grown outside of the window of my mother's home in Portland. Sometimes it would brush against the house at night and scare me. I wasn't sixteen anymore. There was no one but me who could get up, go outside, and move whatever it was so I could go to sleep.

I pulled the pillow tighter over my ears. But there was no blocking the noise. Then I thought- Stefan?

In an instant I was fully awake. I threw the pillow on the floor, sat up in a rush, and turned to press my face up against the window and look out.

But there was someone's face already pressed up against the window. Someone who wasn't Stefan.

Gleaming iridescent eyes stared at me through the glass, not six inches from my own. I shrieked Samuel's name and jumped out of bed, away from the window. It wasn't until I was crouched and shaking in the center of my bedroom floor before I remembered that Samuel was still over at Adam's.

The face didn't move. He'd pressed so hard against the glass his nose and lips were distorted, though I had no trouble recognizing Littleton. He licked the glass, then tilted his head and made the sound that had drawn me from my sleep. His fang left a white mark as he scored the glass with it.

There were a lot of little white marks, I noticed. He'd been there for a long time, watching me as I slept. It gave me the creeps, as did the realization that unless he was very, very tall, he was hanging in the air.

All my guns were locked in the stupid safe. There was no way I could get to them before he could burst through the window. Not that I was sure a gun would have any effect on a vampire anyway.

It took me a long time to remember that he couldn't get into my home without an invitation. Somehow that belief wasn't as reassuring as it ought to have been with him staring at me through a thin pane of glass.

Abruptly, he pulled away from the window and dropped out of sight. I listened, but I couldn't hear anything. After a long while, I accepted that he was gone.

I wasn't going to be able to sleep on that bed though, not unless I pulled it away from the window. My head was throbbing from lack of sleep and I staggered into the bathroom and got out some aspirin and gulped them down.

I stared at myself in the mirror, looking pale and colorless in the darkness.

"Well," I said. "Now you know where he is, why aren't you out tracking him?"

I sneered at my cowardly face, but some of the effect was lost in the darkness so I reached over and flipped the light switch.

Nothing happened.

I flipped it twice more. "Stupid trailer." The breakers often switched off on their own  -  someday I was going to have to rewire the trailer.

The breaker box was on the other side of the trailer, past the big windows in the living room and the smaller one in the kitchen. The one in the kitchen didn't have a curtain.

"Fearless vampire hunter my aching butt," I muttered, knowing I was too thoroughly spooked to go and reset the breaker unarmed. Stalking out of the bathroom, I opened the gun safe. I left the pistols in favor of the Marlin 444 rifle which I loaded with silver-though I didn't know if the silver would do any more harm to a vampire than regular lead. They certainly wouldn't do less.

At any rate, the Marlin would give me enough confidence to go back to sleep.

I shoved the finger-long bullets into the gun impatiently. If those things could stop an elephant, I had to believe they'd make a vampire sit up and take notice too.

I knew I shouldn't turn on the bedroom light. In the unlikely event that Littleton was still here, it would ruin my night vision and it would silhouette me in the light, making me a good target if Littleton the vampire and sorcerer decided to use a gun-unlikely considering how much he'd enjoyed killing that poor maid slowly. I wasn't enough of a threat to deprive him of that much fun.

I hit the bedroom switch next to the bathroom door, anyway. Nothing happened. The bedroom and the bathroom were on different circuits, they couldn't both be thrown at the same time. Had Littleton cut the power to the trailer?

I was still staring at the switch when someone screamed Samuel's name. No, it wasn't just anyone screaming-it was me. Except that I hadn't screamed again.

I jacked a shell into the Marlin and tried to take comfort from its familiar weight and the knowledge that Littleton couldn't come in.

"Little wolf, little wolf, let me come in." The whisper filled my room, I couldn't tell where it was coming from.

Breathing hard through my nose to control my panic, I knelt on the bed and looked cautiously out the window, but I couldn't see anything.

"Yes, Mercy?" Samuel's voice this time, light and playful. "Sweet Mercy. Come out and play, Mercedes Thompson." He had Samuel's voice down cold, too. Where had he heard Samuel speak?

Something scratched down the side of my trailer, next to the window, grating with the unmistakable sound of bending metal. I scrambled away and aimed the Marlin, waiting for his shadow to pass in front of the window.

"Little wolf, little wolf, come out, come out wherever you are." Warren 's voice this time. Then he screamed, a roaring sound of pain beyond bearing.

I had no doubt that Warren had made those noises, but I hoped he wasn't making them right outside my trailer. I hoped he was safe at Adam's house.

It was a good thing that he'd started with my voice-if I'd believed Warren was screaming outside my trailer I'd never have been able to stay inside. Where it was safe. Maybe.

The last of Warren 's cries subsided, but Littleton wasn't finished with me yet. He tapped his way along the wall that was the end of the trailer. There was a window in that wall too, but I didn't see any sign of him, though it sounded as though he was tapping on the glass again.

He can't come in, I reminded myself silently, but I still flinched as the metal siding of my home shrieked and the trailer rocked a little. Then there was a brief silence.

He resumed his tapping, though it sounded more like banging now. Each time he hit the walls, both my home and I jerked. He continued around to the back, the sounds he made changing as he hit the bathroom wall. One of the tiles fell off the shower stall and shattered.

I kept the Marlin aimed toward him, but I kept my finger off the trigger. I couldn't see where I was shooting, and my neighbors' houses were well in range of the Marlin. Even if I managed not to kill any of them, shooting a gun would be bound to draw their attention. My nice neighbors wouldn't stand a chance against a vampire, especially not this vampire.

As far as my other, tougher neighbors were concerned... I was a little surprised the noise Littleton was making hadn't attracted them already. Still, Adam's house was well insulated. They might not hear Littleton 's voice well enough to worry about it, but a gun shot would bring them running.

Werewolves and sorcerers were a bad combination, though, according to Uncle Mike. I believed him-which is why I hadn't tried calling for help. I was beginning to think that Littleton really couldn't come in. He could scare me, but he couldn't come in and hurt me unless I invited him in.

"Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin," I muttered.

He banged the wall again and I jumped. Seconds passed, a minute, then two and nothing happened. No screams, no bangs, no ripping siding-how was I going to explain that to my insurance company?

"Yes, Ma'am," I tried out. "This vampire queen asked me to hunt a vampire and demon combo. He found out somehow and it ticked him off so he ripped the siding off my house."

I sat down in the middle of my floor with the gun under my arm. "I guess I'll have to fix it myself. I wonder how much siding costs. And whatever else he damaged out there."

I couldn't remember if I'd gotten Medea inside before I went to bed. I usually did, but I'd been so tired... As soon as I got my courage up again, I'd go out and make sure Medea was sleeping in Samuel's room where she preferred to spend the night. I could call Andre-but...

My shoulders were stiff from the tension and I leaned my head to the side, stretching. Suddenly the floor underneath the carpet bent upwards with a tremendous noise. I sprang to my feet and shot my floor while it was still vibrating. I might not be super strong, but I am fast. I shot twice more in rapid succession. Then I waited, staring at the holes in my floor and the powder marks on my cream-colored Berber carpet.

Something moved in one of the holes and I jumped back, shooting again as several small objects were forced through holes that they were too large for. A moment later I heard a car door slam in my driveway and a German engine purred to life, a BMW like Littleton had been driving at the hotel. He drove off, not in a hurry, just another driver out on the road, and I stared at the four, misshapen, blood-covered, silver slugs he'd given back to me.

When my alarm went off, I was sitting in the middle of my bedroom floor with Medea curled up purring in my lap for comfort. Why is it that in all the adventure movies the heroine doesn't have to get up and go to work?

It had taken me an hour to send my neighbors back home. I'd told them the damage must have been done by some irate customer-or maybe one of the local gangs. Yes, I'd fired the shots to scare them off-I didn't think I'd hurt any of them. Maybe they hadn't known anyone was home. Of course I'd call the police, but there was no sense getting them out this late. I'd call them in the morning. Really.

I'd been planning on talking to Tony anyway, though I doubted I'd say anything about Littleton 's attack. There wasn't anything the police could do about him.

I could call in Zee, just for the day, but I wasn't going to sleep today anyway. I might as well save Zee's help for another day. I turned off the alarm and pushed a protesting Medea off my lap and threw on clothes so I could take a look at the damage Littleton had done to my trailer in the morning light.

The damage was worse than it had seemed last night. He hadn't torn off the siding, he'd cut it to ribbons from the roof to the bottom in segments a finger-length apart. I also had the answer to how he'd gotten underneath it. The cinder block foundation in the back had a person sized hole broken through it.

My trailer was a 1978, fourteen-by-seventy-foot model, long past its prime. It wasn't a showpiece, but it had, at least, been in one piece when I went to bed last night. Fixing it was going to cost an arm and two legs-if it could be fixed at all.

To that end, I'd better get ready to go to work or there would be no money to fix anything, including breakfast.

While I showered I thought about what I'd learned and what I hadn't. I didn't know where Littleton was now. I didn't know if a gun was useful against a vampire. I had three bullets that said perhaps not, but then they had been covered with blood so at least they'd done some damage. I didn't know why seeing ghosts made me dangerous to vampires, or how being immune to their magic was going to help me against a vampire who could do what he'd done to my trailer. And, after the demonstration Littleton had given me last night, I knew I was going to need Andre to destroy him.

I called Adam's house before I left for work to check on Warren. I was also wondering why no one had come over to check out the shooting. The phone rang ten times before someone picked it up.

"Hey, Darryl," I said. "How's Warren doing?"

"He's alive," Adam's second told me. "Unconscious but alive. We heard the shooting last night, but the wolf we sent over said you had it under control. Is Samuel around?"

"Samuel stayed over there last night," I told him.

He made a noncommittal grunt. "Samuel's not here, and Adam apparently left the house about two in the morning. I didn't think to ask the guard about Samuel."

Darryl must be worried if he was telling me all of this. I rubbed my forehead. Two was a few hours before I'd had my visitor.

"Did anyone ask Kyle what they were talking about before they left?"

" Warren 's... friend was asleep. Warren is drifting in and out, but he is pretty agitated when he is awake. He knows something, but his vocal cords are damaged and we can't understand a thing he tries to say."

He was answering me as if I had some authority, I realized, as if he really were talking to Adam's mate.

"What do you think happened?" I asked.

"I think Adam-and Samuel if he is gone, too-figured out where the damned sorcerer is. I don't see Adam leaving Warren alone in this bad of shape otherwise."

Neither did I. I pinched the bridge of my nose. "That could be bad."

"How so?"

"Last night, Uncle Mike told me that having a demon and a werewolf together could be very dangerous. Demons have a deleterious effect on self control, which is very, very bad for werewolves. Uncle Mike was very concerned."

He absorbed that for a moment. "That could be bad. It might have been nice to know that sooner."

" Mmm." I sucked in a breath. There was more that he should know, but I wasn't happy telling him. Still, with Samuel and Adam both missing, it wasn't smart to withhold information from one of the few allies I had left.

This was Darryl, and, since he was treating me as though I really was higher in the pack than he was-and since he was unlikely to care much about me one way or the other-he wasn't going to forbid me anything. "I was in Uncle Mike's meeting Marsilia. She wants me to find Littleton and kill the sorcerer for her."

There was a very long, telling pause. "She thinks you can do this?" His disbelief might not be flattering, but I kinda felt that way myself so it was all right.

"Apparently. She's got one of her higher ranking vampires helping me out."

" Mmm," he said.

"I think he's actually okay. He's a friend of Stefan's."

"Adam wouldn't let you do this."

"I know. But he's not there. If Warren regains consciousness, I want you to call me." I gave him my cell number, home number, and the number of the shop.

After he'd written it all down, I said, "You need to call Bran and tell him everything."

"Even about you?" he asked. He knew what Bran would think about me going after a sorcerer with a vampire.

"Yes," I said. I wasn't going to put him in a position that would get Bran angry with him. Bran could get angry with me-I'd had a lot of practice at dealing with that once upon a time. I supposed I could get used to it again. It helped that he was hundreds of miles away and I had caller ID on my cellphone.

Even so... "But only if he asks," I added hastily.

Darryl laughed. "Yeah, I remember using that trick on my mother. Hope it works better for you than it did for me."

I hung up.

Adam and Samuel had disappeared before Littleton had started his little performance at my trailer.

Littleton had Samuel's voice down pat. After four hours, Adam hadn't called to check in on Warren, who was not yet out of danger-nor had Samuel.

Littleton had them both. If Littleton was like other vampires, he would not be active in the day. There was a chance they were still alive. Littleton liked to savor his prey.

I had to find him before nightfall.

I called Elizaveta and got her answering machine.

"This is Elizaveta Arkadyevna. I am unavailable. Please leave a message with your name and phone number and I will return your call."

"This is Mercy," I told it after it beeped at me. "Adam and Samuel are missing. Where are you? Call me or Darryl as soon as you can."

I didn't know enough about witchcraft to know if she could help or not. At the very least I could pick her brain about vampires and sorcerers-if I could convince her that Adam's orders not to talk to me were out of date.

I called all three of Tony's numbers and told him to call me on my cell. I called Zee, but only got his answering machine. I left a detailed message on his phone also. That way Darryl and Zee both knew what I was up to.

Then I took my cell phone and headed to work. I'd send Gabriel home for the day and close the shop.

My watch said I was fifteen minutes early, so I was surprised to see Mrs. Hanna. She was hours ahead of her customary schedule.

When I parked in my usual spot, she was next to my car. Frantic as I was, Mrs. Hanna's very presence demanded that I be polite. "Hello, Mrs. Hanna. You're early today."

There was a pause before she looked up at me, and for a moment she didn't know me at all. A month or two more, I thought, and there would only be a little personality left.

But for today, her face eventually lit up, "Mercedes, child. I was hoping to see you today. I have a special drawing just for you."

She fumbled around in her cart without success, becoming visibly more agitated.

"It's all right, Mrs. Hanna," I told her. "I'm sure you'll find it later. Why don't you leave it for me tomorrow?"

"But it was just right here," she fretted. "A picture of that nice boy who likes you. The dark one."


"Tomorrow will be fine, Mrs. Hanna. What brings you out so early?"

She looked around as if bewildered by the question. Then relaxed and smiled. "Oh that was Joe. He told me I'd better change my route if I wanted to keep visiting him."

I smiled at her. When she'd been alive, she'd talked about John this and Peter that. I never had been sure if she really had boyfriends, or just liked to pretend that she had.

She leaned forward confidentially. "We women always have to change for our men, don't we."

Startled I stared at her. That was it exactly. I felt as though Adam was changing who I was.

She saw that her words had hit home and nodded happily. "But they're worth it, God love them. They're worth it."

She puttered off in her usual shuffle-shuffle step that covered a surprising amount of ground.

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies