Blood Cross Chapter 16

They killed me already

I checked the old sites for new activity of a rising-rogue sort. There was nothing new at any of them, but at the third one, my feet touching the displaced circle of shells, I smelled something bad. The smell of death, rank and sweet and foul.

I moved upwind into the trees, away from the graveyard. Drawing on Beast's instinct, night vision, and svelte, lissome grace, I moved between the thickly growing trees, silent, not a leaf cracking beneath my boots. Sweat trickled beneath my leathers. I carried the vamp-killer in my left hand, the Benelli in my right, the butt stock collapsed so I could hold it one handed.

As I walked, the sickly sweet smell of death grew, and beneath it, an even older scent -

blood left to rot, the sacrifice for whatever dark magic had been done here. Floating along under the blood and death scent was the ozonelike taint of witch magic. Magic only recently spent. Magic still fresh and potent, smelling of piney woods and mushrooms, roses and fresh-turned earth, with a hint of brine, the scent of an earth witch with strong abilities and affinities for growing things and with the soil itself. Or maybe two earth witches, working in tandem. And under it all was the scent of dark rites. Fear, blood, and sacrifice. My hands clenched on the weapons and I relaxed them only by an effort of will, focusing my attention back on the scent signatures and what they might mean. I didn't like this. Not at all. The musk of my own fear-sweat joined the heat-sweat trickling down my sides. I unfolded the stock and held the Benelli at ready, able to fire one-handed if needed for a close-range shot, or quickly brace it with my left arm for a more distant one.

I didn't smell the fresh odor of anyone, maybe not since Ada. So the magic had been set on a timer or a trigger, warded for scent so no one could find it, and was only recently initiated. Since I hadn't smelled the site or the magics when I was here last, it had likely been under a stasis spell, but that didn't mean that there wasn't someone coming soon.

Or someone approaching from downwind of me. The back of my neck itched, an uneasy worry. I remembered the smell of angry vamp at the city park rising site. He had come back to see what rose, to inspect his scion.

Holding Beast close to the surface, I moved through the trees with catlike grace, slowly lifting and placing each foot. As I moved, I felt for my direction and decided I was heading vaguely north. Beast was better at knowing her bearings than I, but worse at translating and communicating her directional sense. I was sweating heavily, the new leathers' mesh pockets not a big help without a bike-generated breeze.

A tingle of broken magic brushed across my skin. I stopped. I had found a new ten-foot-wide circle in the trees, the shells still covered by debris from the hurricane. I sniffed, parsing the various scents, analyzing. Something was different here. Vamps rose on the third day after they were turned and died their first death. But from the smell, this one had been in the ground a lot longer. Long before Ada. Something said this was important.

Both instinct and experience told me that the many kidnappings of the witch children were about these vamp risings. With the thought, fear started to rise but I crushed it. I couldn't give in to emotion until the children were safe. I would not. I forced my mind back to the puzzle.

Why would witches and vamps work together to steal witch children? Why graves with crosses? And why leave a newly turned vamp longer in the ground? It was senseless. It had something to do with the curse and the curing process - but what? Stopping, I leaned against a tree, my vertebrae pressing through leather into the rough bark. I listened, sending out my senses to taste, scent, hear, feel everything on the night breeze.

Traces of magic floated along the skin of my hands and face, appearing tattered, smelling scorched. In Beast-vision, the traces looked much like the broken wards on Molly's house.

Ahead, something groaned softly and breathed through thick tissue, the sound making me think of a congealed mass. I tossed the vamp-killer lightly up and down in my hand, making sure of a firm, sweat-free grip. Ever more slowly, I moved deeper into the woods, staying downwind. The four crosses on my chest began glowing palely, alerting me to the presence of a vamp.

Something coughed. The sound was human, or almost, long and retching. A glob of something gooey was spat and my stomach wanted to turn. Beast's hackles rose, the skin and fine hairs along my neck and shoulders reacting to her instincts, in a rippling of raised flesh. She pushed my nausea down and away, looking through my eyes.

I slid through the trees, silent as a predator stalking prey. I saw movement as something paler than the trees lifted. It resolved into an arm, rising to wipe a face. A male, black, wearing a once-white shirt and dark pants, stood in a little clearing just ahead. His feet were bare. Moving drunkenly, he sat on a downed tree, coughing and spitting. I was about thirty feet away, close enough to study him with my better-than-human night vision. The pants resolved into jeans, and the shirt into a long-sleeved dress shirt, sleeves rolled up and a T-shirt underneath. He was about twenty, with tats up the side of his neck and along his arms in full sleeves. The neck tat caught the moonlight, revealing a black widow, red-dotted abdomen the size of a silver dollar beneath his ear, and its legs wrapped around his neck as if it held on while pumping venom into him. I was pretty sure it was a gang tat.

He smelled of old death and decayed blood and fear. The reek of the grave. Grave dirt and a degenerated slime clung to him. I must have made a noise, because his head came up, inhumanly fast. Far faster than a new vamp should have been able to move. He vamped out, fangs like small needles snapping down and eyes going blacker than the underside of hell. Without a visible tell, he attacked. My crosses blazed with light. A delayed fear response hurtled into my throat.

I raised my left arm to block him and fired one-handed, a three burst, the barrel lifting with each shot. He dodged around the first two blasts, so fast I could see his motion in overlays of images, white shirt shifting back and forth. The blaze of firing burned out my night vision, the last shot pointing to the sky, going wild.

He took me down. Crashing into the brush. I grunted as his weight landed on me. Fear slammed through me. His hands on my wrists shoved my arms apart and down.

Trapping me. His fangs tore at my throat. Hitting the silver rings on the leather. Ripping through to the silver chain-mail collar beneath. He screamed with pain. Pulled back.

And met my eyes. Spat. He drove for my face with his left claws.

One hand free, I jerked away. His claws landed where my head had been. It was not the uncontrolled action of a young rogue vamp.

It was the action of a trained warrior.

I punched with the vamp-killer into his unprotected side. But he was no longer there. He was on the far side of the shell circle. Vamped out. Holding his stomach. "Hungry," he said. "Please."

I rolled upright, taking up my weapons with me. Dropped the Benelli on its strap and slung it back, out of the way. I pulled two stakes, silver tipped and wicked sharp, and started across the clearing. Beast-fast. Before I realized that he had spoken. I halted so quickly I nearly tripped. This was a newly risen vamp - I knew it by the size of his tiny, needlelike canines, by the sight of the disturbed grave in the center of the pentagram.

Iknew it. No newly risen vamp was capable of coherent speech. They were rabid, feral killing machines, gaining the memory of speech over time. They had one need, one function - to eat. And through meeting that need, they killed. But this guy talked. He had saidplease . And he wasn't attacking. The silver crosses weren't hurting his eyes.

He was . . . watching me.

I could hear my breathing, strident in the awful silence. Dread crawled along my skin like slimy snakes in the darkness. I brought my breath under control, but when I spoke, my words were breathy and puny sounding. "You understand me?"

After a moment, he nodded. One quick downward jerk of his chin. He understood.

And then, suddenly, as if it had been there all along, waiting, I understood. The timing of the disappearance of witch children had never corresponded to the appearance of young rogues. Because these young ones were in the ground a lot longer than the expected three days. They were bound into the ground with a spell, like a stasis spell, to keep them there . . . in the hope that longer in the ground meant greater sanity. The vamps I was hunting had managed to raise a vamp that was sane right away. With no need for curing, no insanity. No curse. No devoveo.

All the other young-rogue risings had been failed experiments. But this time it had finally worked.

But why the crosses in the trees? Maybe the spell that kept the vamps in the ground longer was also intended to make them immune to the power of the cross. Vamps who didn't suffer from the curse, and didn't suffer from the cross. "Crap," I whispered as the implications flashed through my mind. The experimenter had wanted to make sure his creations weren't flawed.

The value of a spell to raise sane young was enough to start a war over. Rousseau, St.

Martin, and Mearkanis - were all three involved? No. Just Rousseau. No other clan scent was on this.

"Hungry," he said again, the word whispered and rough.

"I know you're hungry." His throat worked with need at my words. I held up the vamp-killer, letting the moonlight through the trees catch on the silver. "But if you can wait, if you can hold off, I'll get someone here to help. Understand?"

He nodded again and closed his eyes. "Hurry. Don't know how long . . ."

My mind raced. The first young vamp I'd taken down in this city had been restored to his sanity enough to make it into a club, into the ladies' room, and attack a woman.

He'd made a mate for himself. He'd claimed territory. Not normal. Not for a new rogue.

They got their name from their lack of sanity. Why hadn't I thought of that until now?

Because I was settled into the rut of my own expectations.

I sheathed the stakes and pulled my cell, praying for bars. There were three, and though I really didn't want to call any of Leo's people, not after the big boss tried to eat me for dinner, I didn't have a choice. I speed-dialed Bruiser. When he answered, I said, "I have a newly risen vamp in control of his faculties, behind the chapel at the vamp cemetery.

He says he can wait for a blood meal if you hurry."

"Talking? Not possible," Bruiser said.

"Fine. I'll stake him and we can argue over it later." The vamp across the clearing tensed and blinked slowly. I shrugged to show I wasn't serious.

Bruiser cursed once, succinctly. "Leo is . . . not available. I'll bring one of his scions.

Try to keep him alive." The connection ended and I folded the phone back into its pocket.

"You got a name?" I asked the newly risen guy.

He seemed to think, and as he did, the sclera of his eyes bled back white, as if the act of answering a question brought him back to his humanity. "LeShawn. LeShawn . . . B . . .


They didn't remember their names. Not for five years or more. "LeShawn, you think you can make it through the trees about two hundred yards?"

"T . . . try," he said. His fangs retracted and his human teeth were chattering in the heat as if he was cold. Which I imagined he was. They were always cold when they hadn't fed.

I controlled my fear and my breathing, making sure my reactions didn't push him over the edge. When I was calm, I pointed with the stakes again. "That way. You go in front."

He moved slowly, his feet shuffling in the underbrush. He shouldn't even be able to walk yet, or at least not without that zombielike lack of coordination. It took the newly risen a lot longer than this. Alot longer. Yet the girl who had risen in the park had been a typical young-rogue vamp and she had been under this same spell. Why not this guy?

Because of Ada and all the ambient energy she had brought ashore. The lightning had disrupted the stasis spell.

Near me, LeShawn paused and raised his head, that weirdly snakelike move they all had, and sniffed. "You smell good. Like meat and . . . sex."

"Move along or you'll smell like dead meat."

He laughed.Crap . Helaughed . That totally human laughter that took most of them a decade to relearn. He looked back at me, the grin still on his face. His eyes were human, brown irises with night-wide pupils. On my chest, the crosses decreased their glow. His eyes lit on my neck just below my jaw, the sliver of unprotected skin, and he breathed deeply, closing his eyes. "You smell so . . . good."

My crosses brightened, a weird fluctuation I'd never seen before. "LeShawn. Snap out of it or I'll stake you and you'll be true-dead.LeShawn ."

His eyes opened and he was partly vamped out. "They killed . . . me . . . already."

"Who killed you, LeShawn?"

He shook his head and gripped his middle, whispering, "It was dark. Hungry, hungry, hungry." But he turned and went where I pointed, back south, his bare feet noisy in the underbrush. I kept fifteen feet or so between us, and my shotgun up. I hoped it was enough space for me to react if he vamped out and came at me again.

This vamp was the key to understanding the kidnappings. To finding Angelina and Little Evan. This vamp could talk. Hope soared through me, but I wrestled it down alongside the fear.

It looked as though we'd make it. I could see the chapel through the trees, glowing whitely in the rising moon. LeShawn slowed, his back to me. He put out a hand to steady himself as he stepped between two trees. His claws were out, sharpened and two inches long. They pressed into the dry white wood of a dead tree with small snaps as he tightened his grip. With his other hand, he gripped his middle. Stopped. My crosses began to glow again, making me blink against the brightness.

He was breathing hard, the reek of dead tissues stinking on the night air. I kept my voice steady, not reacting to the fight-or-flight impulse flooding my system. "LeShawn? Keep it together, man. Keep moving."

He turned, allowing me a half-profile view of his face, and dropped his head. "Can't.

Can't do it . . ." His hand on the tree made a fist. Cutting his palm. I smelled vamp blood, like dried sage on the air, sharper than the stink of death. He held out his hand, seeing the thin blood there. He put his palm to his mouth. And sank his teeth in. Sucked.

"LeShawn?" I took a single step closer.

--- Read books free online at ---

"Hu . . ." He quivered. Fell back against the tree, facing me, pressing his jaw into his palm. Sucked hard at his own torn flesh. He sobbed with frustration. "So . . . so hungry.

Hu . . . huuu . . ." In a flash he leaped at me, eyes insane with bloodlust. Vampy rogue insane. Time did that little shift and he seemed to slow, hanging in midair. Snarling. I raised the stake, gauging his arc. And he came down. At me. Onto the tip of the stake.

I watched it puncture his shirts. And knew my mistake even as I felt the silver tip slide between ribs. He crashed onto me, his claws closing reflexively on my upper arms.

Time juddered and resumed its slow pace.

"No!" I hit the ground with the force of his leap, LeShawn above me. Shock on his face.

Too late, I jerked at the stake, pulling it back. His eyes bled back to human. We bounced. I used the bounce to twist from beneath him. Yanking the stake. It caught on a rib and held. We were no longer at the proper angle for it to slide free. Time slowed again, flashes of reality painted across the dark of the night.

Twisting, the stake hung on the back of his sternum, trapped between ribs and the hard plate of bone in the center of his chest. His claws brushed across the metal of my jacket sleeves. Tiny clinks. The motion threw him farther to the side. Down. Hard. The landing shoved the stake into his heart with a little give. A small reduction of pressure as it entered the heart chamber. And all the way through, rubbery on the other side.

The sharpened silver tip cut through his shirt at the back. Stinging vamp blood splattered up in a thin fountain. Small droplets splashed my face. The vamp sighed.

Died. Shock stabbed through me. "No.No! "

On my hands and knees, vamp blood burning my face, I cursed long and hard, spitting my words at the earth. Frustrated tears leaked from my eyes as I swore. I levered my body up, sitting beside LeShawn on the bed of pine needles, one hand on his body, my legs splayed. The endorphins of victory shot through my bloodstream, clashing with the knowledge that I had lost my best link to the witch kidnappings and the maker of the young rogues. For an instant my emotions whirled, more dizzying than liquor, hotter than sex. I had survived. I had lost. "Oh . . . no," I whispered. I gagged with shock, the taste acidic and burning.

I took a breath that smelled and tasted of vamp blood, heavy and rank in the air. The elation dipped and died, crushed beneath the despair. "LeShawn. Crap." Tears pooled in my eyes, making him waver in the dark.

I had to cut off his head. I knew that. It was the only way to give him true-death. If his maker were here, or if I had used the ash stakes, without silver to poison his blood, he might have been brought back. Maybe. And maybe not. I wasn't sure. I hadn't known what I'd been dealing with until too late. Until after I had staked him.

Sitting on the bed of pine needles and leaves, I pulled my cell and hit REDIAL. When Bruiser answered, I could hear the sound of a car in the background, a faint, steady hum.

"Never mind. He couldn't hold it together."


"Not yet. But I hit him with a silver-tipped stake. Through and through his heart."

Bruiser put it together aloud. "If we try to bring him back, it'll spread the poison through him before he can heal. That's even assuming we could find his master to give him a meal. Bethany is not well tonight. Leo could do it. But he's . . . not himself yet."

I bet he wasn't. I sighed, the sound whistling shrilly in the phone, and spoke mostly to myself. "I'll put the silver stakes away for the rest of this hunt. Not that it does me much good now." I cursed again, but my words held no heat.

"Hold off bringing him true-death until after the priestess has a chance to check him out.

If he was sane enough to talk, immediately after his first rising, she may be able to tell why."

I knew that the priestess had once spent the night in the chapel just ahead, but I didn't know for absolute certainty she was there tonight. I hadn't peeked in the windows. And Bruiser didn't know that I knew about her lair, if that was what the chapel was.

And now the lying and half-truths start.But I'd tell any lie I knew to get the children back. "How am I going to get to her?" I temporized. "I'm on my bike. I can't be carting a body across town." All truths. Truth hiding the lie beneath it.

"I'll contact her. Take the body to the chapel porch. Wait for her there."

Yeah. Right. "Okay." I managed to keep the ironic tone out of my voice. Then hope sizzled up in me. "Will Sabina feed him back - "

"No," Bruiser interrupted. "Sabina won't revive a young rogue. Don't ask. She's out-clan."

I closed the phone without a good-bye, tucked it away, drove the bloody stake into the ground, cleaning it. I'd wash it later, otherwise the acidic vamp blood would corrode the silver. My face stung where his blood had splattered me, and I used my saliva to clean it off. When I had my breath back, I tucked my crosses out of sight and stood. Secured my weapons.

With a grunt, I hefted the body up, over my shoulder. Already it stank of new death on top of the other scents: old death, vamp blood, and the grave. He had to be permanently dispatched. Otherwise there was a slim chance he'd rise at the full moon, a rogue of a different sort; a lot more deadly than the newly risen. There had been a few accounts over the years.

Placing my booted feet with care, I carried him out of the woods and into the moonlight.

He was heavy, and I was tired. Beast's offer of strength didn't extend to non-emergency situations and it certainly didn't extend to carrying a vamp out of the woods. I stumbled twice and nearly dropped LeShawn once.

Ahead, I could see the chapel, candles lit in the blood-tinted stained glass windows, the light throwing bloody shadows onto the shell walkways and the grass all around. I was approaching from the back left, and as I rounded the building, I saw Sabina Delgado y Aguilera, the priestess of the vamps, on the front porch. Just as I had expected, she had been in the chapel. And maybe not all was lost. Maybe the priestess had info she didn't know she had, which might lead me to the rogue-makers. If I asked the right questions, she might say something that would help. If I was quick with the right words. If I said all the right things and kept all the other things silent.Might, maybe, if. I was running out of time. I took a steadying breath. People skills weren't my strongest talent.

Once again Sabina was wearing a white skirt and an outfit that looked like a nun's habit but made of heavy white cloth. The wimple hid her hair and framed her face with white, catching the moonlight and forming pools of darker shadows. Her hands were folded into her sleeves like a mother superior's and her face was set in an austere expression, ascetic and grave. Ha-ha. Vamp humor.

I was huffing for breath as I walked toward her, making sure my boots crunched on the grass and the shells of the walkway. Making sure she heard me coming. She didn't turn to me, giving no indication that she heard me at all. She was immobile, still as the marble statues atop the crypts in the graveyard. A statue dressed in white cloth.

When I was twenty feet away I stopped, steadying the body. LeShawn's hands bumped my back and buttock. I had no idea what to call her. It didn't feel polite to call her Sabina. I said, "Bruiser - George Dumas - said he'd call the priestess."

She didn't turn to me and the angle made it hard to see her lips move as she said, "He did. You are Jane Yellowrock, the creature who is helping my people."

Creature. Okaaay.That brought me down a bit. Helped me to focus. The children. And little Bliss. That was all that mattered. "This vamp just rose, his first rising, a couple hundred yards into the woods. He knew his name, was talking and coherent, walking with balance, able to take direction. Able to hold off bloodlust for a while. We were walking here to meet George and one of Leo's scions and blood-servants to get his first blood meal. But he lost control, attacked me, and I had to stake him. I mistakenly used silver and pierced his heart."

Slowly, she turned her head to me. Her shoulders stayed perfectly still, her head moving on the stem of her neck. The motion was almost robotic. Not human. I was glad I'd stopped so far away. Her mouth opened in her expressionless face, and she spoke with the certainty of experience, history, and Truth. A pronouncement. "A young vampire has no control. No speech. No memory. A young vampire is a ravening beast."

Beast was silent at the insult. "That's what I thought, until now," I managed, LeShawn's weight pressing me into the ground. "I think it has something to do with his rising in a charmed witch circle and pentagram, crosses nailed to the trees at head height, and the smell of decayed blood in the ground. Blood magic."

"No," she whispered, the note fading in the night.

I needed her to believe me. "It's true," I said. "It's happened before, hasn't it? I've heard the Sons of Darkness rose without devoveo. Someone has been able to replicate that." As I was speaking, it occurred to me that maybe I was stupid to mention the Sons again, after Leo's reaction, but I'd thought he was just being nutso. Apparently not.

At the words "Sons of Darkness," she started, and her eyes went half-vampy. Beast roared to the surface, and I tensed as Sabina stared at me, her gaze the most predatory I'd ever seen from her. But then the priestess seemed to win some internal battle, and her eyes eased to near human. Beast snarled and settled back.

"Listen, lady, this guy's heavy," I said. "And his body fluids are dripping all over me.

Mind if I put him down before we continue this conversation?" So much for my people skills. I am so stupid.

But the priestess didn't look as though her nose was out of joint at my tone. She pointed at her feet. I adjusted LeShawn's weight with a little shoulder twitch and knee bounce and crossed to the porch. I eased him down, but his head clunked on the cement floor anyway. Good thing he was already dead or he'd wake up with a headache. I took a deep breath and blew out the strain. LeShawn hadn't been a linebacker, but he'd been a meaty, muscular guy.

The priestess was suddenly gone. Just not there, the porch empty, leaving only a localized breeze where she had been. I blinked in surprise, looked around to make sure she hadn't come toward me; I had started to call out when she returned just as fast, appearing on the porch holding a short stubby candle in a little glass bowl, a white plastic box, and a chair. I managed not to flinch or make any move that might be construed as prey movements. Sabina didn't smell of fresh blood, and I had no idea how long since she had really fed, deeply enough to be satisfied. I had no desire to be her next meal.

Moving at more human speeds, she placed the chair near LeShawn and held out the candle and the box to me. I took them both and hitched a hip onto the porch, catching my breath and placing the candle so its light shone near the dead vamp's face. The box had a baby on the top and turned out to be baby wipes, which seemed seriously weird, but I was out of my league and I had no real idea of what was normal or not. I cleaned the blood and the grave-goo away as Sabina studied the new corpse.

Several silent minutes later, she leaned down and began to cut through LeShawn's shirt with a tiny pair of scissors no longer than her fingers. "Let me," I said as I gripped the edges of the cut shirt and tore it from neck to hem. A final snap ripped it through. When I was done, I realized the vamp could have snapped me in two as easily as I had the shirt. Despite what she looked like, she wasn't an old lady. She was an ancient vamp, which meant powerful. I could stop doing old-lady favors for her.

The tats on the guy's chest were both prison tats and the kind of fancy work only a master artist can create. The black widow on his neck perched at the top of a web spanning his entire torso and both shoulders, and the other tats were caught up in the web. There were crosses and hearts and inked initials, the word "MOM" with a red rose, a tombstone with the name Mary on it, an eagle, and a pit bull. And there were scars, one from a knife wound and two from bullets; the scars had been included in the artwork. It was a tapestry of his life, of the good moments that had made him who he was, and the bad times that had shaped him with pain. There were also arcane symbols and initials - the gang tats that claimed him forever.

Sabina sighed. "I believe you."

I looked up in surprise. "Why?"

"Those tattooed with crosses do not survive to rise. The crosses should have burned through him to the bone when he awoke." She sat back in her chair, which creaked softly in the night. "Where is this place of magic?"

I pointed in the general direction. "And there are three other sites, older and overgrown, in the woods nearby."

Her lips thinned and turned down, making wrinkles in her pale face. "How could this be? I am here. I would have known. Ishould have known."

"Not if humans prepared the ground by day and witches set it under something like a stasis spell combined with a protective ward. Not if the vamp waited until nearly sunrise to do his work," I said, thinking of the vamps that took the children, moving at dusk, sunlight still bright on the western clouds. Had witch magic given them protection from the late-day sun? Or were they practicing other magics on themselves? Yeah. That.

They're not just trying to defeat devoveo. They're trying to make an ubervamp. A vamp with all the strengths and none of the weakness of regular vampires.My breath caught.

Sabina seemed to come back from a faraway place, and when she spoke it took her a moment to find the words. Or perhaps the language. How many languages and dialects did a person learn while living two thousand years? "Witch charms hid where this child rose? Powerful witch charms?"

"I'd say so, though I haven't had a witch out here to scan the place yet. Do you recognize the scent of the makers?" My heart tripped again with hope.

Sabina leaned down again and drew the air in over her mouth and through her nose, much as Beast scented. She went still, the breath dead in her lungs. "The smell is familiar," she breathed out, scenting again. "No." She sat down with a sudden thump, her white skirts on the porch floor. Sitting there, she shook her head, a weirdly human gesture, her expression dumbfounded. "Surely not . . ."

I realized that Sabina, priestess of the vamps, knew exactly what was going on. She had seen the kind of vamp burial before. When she didn't go on, I prompted, "Not what?"

"It is not possible. The maker I scent is long ago true-dead. I killed him myself." Her face cleared of the nearly human emotion. She smelled again, her nostrils fluttering.

"His heir. He made himself an heir before he died. Yes." She sniffed again. "Yessss.

His heir is now the leader, but he does not work alone. His acolytes assist him."

My hope died. I kept the reaction off my face by an effort of will, clenching my teeth together against the setback. If Sabina didn't know the makers, I was back to square one.

"The makers are of the Rousseau line and are young, only a few centuries old." She stood again, moving human slow, studying me. "I cannot help you, creature who hunts."

I figured I was the creature who hunts, and my blood spiked, sharp and fast, through my veins. But I shoved my need to know of my kind deep. Not until the kits were safe. I turned back to the body of the dead vamp.

"I did not believe that any of us could bear the power of a cross without burning." It was said with that tone she used when making pronouncements of ultimate Truth, like a law of nature and physics, like: None of us can fly, none of us can breathe underwater, and none of us can survive without blood. But it wasn't true.

"Youdid," I said softly. "The night the" - I wanted to say liver-eater, but changed it in time - "old rogue attacked. You drove him off with a cross. A wooden cross. And it blazed like pure silver."

Sabina Delgado y Aguilera's eyes raged into black pits. Her fangs snapped down, three-inch-long spikes. She was on me before the crosses hidden in my collar had time to glare with light. Before I could blink. Before I could draw breath. Her motion was so fast that I didn't have time to reach for a weapon. Her hand slammed me against the wall of the chapel so hard I heard the stucco crack. Icy fingers tightened around my throat. Her breath moved against my jaw, cold and smelling of old blood and dry herbs.
Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies