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Post  Kura on Sun Apr 30, 2017 6:50 pm


I DIALED 911 . A woman’s voice said, “Nine-one-one, what is the nature of your emergency?”

“Anita Blake, Federal Marshal.” I gave my ID number, then said, “Female, five-foot-three, long black hair, T-shirt, jeans. Two down. Officer-involved shooting. Partner wounded.” Technically, Jason wasn’t my partner, but he was mine, and they’d come faster for a wounded cop than a civilian. I’d sort it out later, after we survived.


“Shit, I don’t know.” I got up and looked out a window. There was nothing but trees. “They drugged us and we woke up here. I don’t know where here is, can’t you trace me by the phone?”

“Is there a landline?”

I looked around the room. “I don’t see one.”

“Try another room.”

“I don’t want to leave him alone.”

“We need a location to send help, Marshal.”

She was right, but I hated leaving him like that. I touched his hair, laid my cheek against his, and whispered, “Don’t die on me.” I walked back down the hallway past the bodies and tried the first door. It was a bedroom. No phone. The second door I tried was a kitchen, and there was a phone on the wall. “I see a phone, let me see if it’s working.” I had to put my gun down to pick up the second phone. “I’ve got a dial tone.”

“Call us back on that line, and we’ll be able to trace it to you.”

“Okay.” I clicked the cell phone shut, and dialed 911 again. It was a different woman’s voice, and I told an even shorter version.

“We have your location, Marshal, help is on the way.”

“How long?”

“You’re pretty isolated. We’ll try to get a chopper up, but there’s no place close to you to land it.”

“Okay. We’ll wait.”

“I can stay on the line with you if you want,” she said.

“No, I need to try to stop the bleeding on my friend, and I need my hands for that. Thanks though.” I hung up before she could say anything else. I clicked the safety on the gun and tucked it down the front of my belt. I’d bring Jason in here. I wasn’t sure how to stop the bleeding from so many wounds, but I knew keeping him warm was better.

Help was coming. We just had to hold on until they got here.

I knelt beside him. His hair was strangely clean, except where the side of his face had been on the blood. He looked like Jason again, instead of so much meat. I swallowed past something that tasted like tears. I’d cry later when he was safe. No time now. I rolled him into my arms, and he felt like dead weight. The heart was going and the pulse was moving, but there is a difference in bodies. Even unconscious, a body doesn’t roll like this. Just the way he felt in my arms scared the hell out of me. He rolled, and flopped, like he was already dead. His skin was too cold to the touch. I had to get the bleeding stopped. I had to.

It wasn’t weight, but sheer awkwardness that made me put him in a fireman’s carry across my shoulders. Blood trickled down my body from him. Shit. I tried to think of other things. I was glad that of all the men in my life, it was one my size. There probably wasn’t twenty pounds’ difference in our weight. I could carry him. Not forever, but down the hall. I carried him past the body of the vampire who had tortured him. My only regret in that moment was that I couldn’t kill him again.

I laid Jason down on the bed. He lay so still, so horribly still. I folded the coverlet around him, hoping to keep him warmer, and then I went in search of a first-aid kit, something, anything. I’d have traded my skills at killing for a little more first-aid training right then.

I knew what was in the bathroom, so I checked the kitchen first. There were towels, but no way to bind them in place. Maybe I could cut up a sheet to use as strips?

I got all the small towels and washrags that the kitchen had and carried them back to the bedroom. The only thing that showed above the coverlet was Jason’s hair, so yellow, so vibrant, but he hadn’t moved. I wanted him to move, so badly.

I put the rags down on the unused side of the bed and searched for sheets. They were in the closet. I had to go back to the kitchen to fetch a clean, sharp knife to cut the sheet up. I was glad the vampire hadn’t used all the knives in the kitchen, because I didn’t want to touch the bloody ones in the living room. It felt somehow like they were cursed. Not for real, but unclean, maybe.

I cut the sheet into strips, and then I had to uncover him and start looking at the wounds. They had bled into the coverlet, but no wound seemed worse than the others. It was like any one cut would have been fairly minor, maybe a few stitches. It was the culmination of all of them together that had nearly bled him to death.

I picked a wound in his arm that seemed to be bleeding more than the rest, pressed a rag against it, and started trying to tie it in place. His arm was so limp that I had to trap his lower arm between my knees to get the knot tight enough to put pressure. But not too tight. I couldn’t remember, could lycanthropes suffer from getting their circulation cut off? I mean, if you could grow back a limb, then would too tight a bandage hurt you? I treated him like he was human, because I didn’t know. It had never come up.

It was when I was tying a wound on his thigh that I saw the first burn marks. Tiny, roundish burn marks on his thigh. More of them on the hip, and finally most of them on the groin. How had I missed these? They were smaller, less obvious than the bloody wounds, I guess. I knew I was in shock. I knew that. Shock softens things. It helps you see things in pieces sometimes; a little horror here, a little more when your mind thinks you can handle it. Shock, if you don’t go too far, helps you cope. I knew what had caused him to scream now. Burns didn’t heal on a lycanthrope like everything else. Burns had to heal human-slow.

I found more of the little burns all over the front of his body. The back of his body was untouched because he’d been tied on his back. To bind the wounds on his chest, I had to lift him, and he was still just dead weight. I should have seen the wounds beginning to heal by now. They looked the same. I knew in reason that he’d healed from the first moment I’d seen him. I knew that the shift to wolf form had helped him heal, because he wasn’t bleeding as badly as that carpet…but he wasn’t healing as fast as I was used to seeing lycanthropes heal. I didn’t know if Jason was simply a slow healer, or if there had been that much damage, or if the vampires had done something to the wounds to make them worse.

When I’d bound all the wounds I could figure out how to bind, I lay down beside Jason, with me propped up on the pillows, and rolled him against my body. I held him against me, and I prayed, prayed with that energy that true tragedy gives you. The loudest prayers must be when you hold someone you love and feel him go cold.

I knew warmth was important to healing lycanthropes. Cold was bad, that much I knew. My body heat was all I could think of. I got the gun out of my belt and laid it on the pillow beside me. I’d done everything I could think of; now we waited for help to arrive. Waited and prayed.

Jason didn’t feel like Jason in my arms. The washrags and sheet strips were rough and ruined the smooth feel of his body. My clothes were drying to my skin sticky with his blood. I should have taken them off before I lay down, so that Jason could be closer to my skin, but it had seemed to take so much effort to get him against me. I lay there, too tired, too shocky to move.

Why? Why had they tortured him? Why had they taken us? I remembered the man yelling, “Where’s Lorna?” We didn’t know anyone named Lorna, or I didn’t. Who the hell was she? I was betting that this had nothing to do with Jason, and everything to do with the Summerlands. Had Jason taken another beating for Keith Summerland? Was it that simple, or was something else going on that I didn’t know anything about? In that moment, holding Jason, feeling his blood drying my clothes to my skin, I was willing to believe there were lots of things I didn’t know.

I heard the door open. The outside door, because I heard the screen hit. Whoever it was, hesitated in the hallway. They’d seen the body. If it was the rescue crew they’d have called out.

I picked up the gun. The safety was already off, a round already chambered. I’d done that before I laid the gun down beside me. If anyone came through that door before the EMTs, they would not be my friend.

I sighted at the doorway and let out my breath. I let my body go quiet, and the gun was the focus of all that quiet. If Jason had moved in that moment I’d probably have screamed.

A man’s voice called from down the hallway. “I hear your heartbeats. I smell his blood. I see my men are dead, so I assume you have at least one of their guns. Mr. Summerland, I didn’t think you had it in you to be this dangerous.”

I didn’t say anything. If I was quiet enough, he might come closer for a look. If he came close enough I’d shoot him.

“Mr. Summerland, why don’t you answer me? If you would simply tell us where Lorna is, then we would let you go. We have no wish to harm the son of a governor.”

He was lying.

“Mr. Summerland,” he said again, “are you in there? Why don’t you answer me?”

I could smell dawn on the air. Not here yet, but close. I wanted to know if this was a vampire, but if I used my necromancy to sense him, he’d know what I was. I think they had thought I was just another of Keith Summerland’s women. It’s why they had left me in the bathroom, with no guard. It’s why this one was assuming that Keith Summerland had gotten away somehow and killed the two vampires. This guy was assuming that because I was a woman I wasn’t dangerous. Was it time to let the last man standing know that he’d made a mistake?

“Mr. Summerland?” His voice sounded a little closer. Did I wait for him to maybe get close enough for a shot, or did I try to get some answers?

Dawn was so close. If he was a vampire he’d been running out of moonlight, literally. If he was human it didn’t matter. I decided to try for information.

“Why would you think Lorna would be with him?”

“Oh, the girl.” He sounded genuinely surprised.

“Yeah,” I said, “the girl.”

“Do you know where Lorna is?” he asked, and there was a hopeful lilt to his voice.

“After what you did to my boyfriend and me, I don’t think I want to answer any of your questions.”

“We were harsh, and I am sorry for that. Genuinely sorry.”

“Liar,” I said.

“What is your name?” he asked.

“You first,” I said.

“They call me George.”

“I want to know your name, not what they call you.”

He laughed then, and he was good. It was a nice laugh, as if he weren’t standing in a hallway staring at the dead bodies of men he’d hired to kidnap and torture us. Of course, maybe he was just a charming sociopath. In that case the laugh was real. When you have no empathy for anyone else, other people dead or hurt don’t mean anything to you.

“Edmond, my name is Edmond. What is your name?”

I decided to try lying. “Katerine.” It was my middle name.

“Now who’s lying?” he said, and he made it sound playful.

Fine. “Anita, my name’s Anita.”

“Anita, now that is a lovely name.”

“What happens if you don’t find Lorna?” I asked.

He was quiet for a second or two, then said, “Her husband will not be pleased.”

“So, you find her and you’re going to force her to go back to him?”

“He is her husband and her master.”

Master, that was an interesting choice of words. Was Lorna the wife of the Master of the City Peterson had told me about? “He your master, too, Edmond?”

“He trusted me with this errand.”

“Yes, then,” I said.

“You do not speak like one of Keith Summerland’s bimbos.”

“Is Lorna a bimbo?”

“I would never call my master’s wife such a thing.”

“Then why did she think she could leave her master and husband and go off with Keith? Doesn’t sound very bright.”

“He looks too much like her long-lost love. She does not see his faults, only his face, like a ghost of things lost and forgotten.”

“She had the hots for Jedediah Summerland?”

“Who are you, girl?”

“Jedediah was killed by vampires; are you saying that Lorna saw Keith and decided to try to relive old times?”

“You are taking this all very in stride, girl. Anita, you said your name was?”

“I did.”

“You smell of blood, and sorrow, but you are calm. What is your last name?”

Dawn pressed like a weight against the window and its heavy drapes. He wasn’t panicked enough for a vampire above ground. Human, then, but I was betting human servant. Not just a human that hung with the vamps, but a true servant like I was to Jean-Claude. He said he could smell blood and sorrow, and if he was a longtime servant he might have gained the ability.

“You answer my question, I’ll answer yours.”

“Yes, she’s trying to relive her lost affair with Jedediah. He was misled by his own power, but he was a compelling man. The boy is nothing to compare to his ancestor, but the resemblance is almost enough to make one speak of reincarnation.”

“Genetics, Edmond, nothing but genetics.”

“I have answered your question, now you answer mine. What is your last name?”

“Blake,” I said.

The quiet was strangely loud, as if I could feel him thinking furiously. “Anita Blake,” he said, finally.

“Yes,” I said.

“Anita Blake, human servant to Jean-Claude, Master of the City of St. Louis?”

“Among other things, yes.”

“We did not know. I swear to you we did not know. We were told the room belonged to Keith, and Lorna was with him. We would never have harmed the human servant of another Master of the City.”

“Yeah, vampire law frowns on that.”

“I swear to you that I would never have sent these two to harm you. When I saw you, and realized you were not Lorna. I was told that these two were professional. I was misinformed. I mean, what sort of vampire mistakes a human for another vampire?”

“A bad one,” I said.

“Why were you with Keith Summerland?”

“Did he tell you his name was Jason Schuyler?”

“Yes, but you only have to look at him to know he is one of the Summerland twins.”

“They were always getting mistaken for each other in school,” I said. I was calm; my voice had almost no inflection. Part shock and part certainty. I was going to kill Edmond, because killing him would most likely kill his master, and I wanted his master dead. Revenge, yes, but also, Edmond couldn’t let me walk out of here. I’d tell Jean-Claude, and he knew I would. If Edmond was to hide his mistake from his master, he had to kill us.

“What are you saying?”

“Don’t master vampires keep track of the names of the pommes de sang of other masters of the cities?”

“Not really, they are food.”

“We’re Belle Morte’s bloodline; I guess we treat our food better. Jason really isn’t Keith Summerland. He really is my boyfriend. He really is Jean-Claude’s pomme de sang. Do you know what vampire protocol is about harming someone’s pomme de sang, Edmond?”

“You can always get more food.”

“Do-you-know-what-vampire-protocol-is-on-the-harming-of-another-master’s-pomme-de-sang?” My voice wasn’t neutral now. I was beginning to rediscover my anger. If Edmond really meant to flee and leave us alive, he’d have started to leave then, but he was closer to us when he spoke next.

“It is within the master’s right to either demand a new pomme de sang from the offending master, or challenge the master to a duel.”

“I don’t think we’d like the kind of pomme de sang your master would choose, Edmond.”

“Jean-Claude would challenge my master to a duel?”

“Something like that,” I said.

“The pomme de sang is not dead. Let me call for help, get him to a hospital.”

“I’ve already called,” I said. “They should be here soon.”

“You called for help?”



“Before you came.”

“I don’t mean you any harm, Anita Blake.”

“Then why aren’t you running away, Edmond? I’ve told you the police are coming, but you’re still standing there. Why don’t you run?”

“What will you do if you trace my master back to his city?”

“What do you think I’ll do?”

“You are not just Jean-Claude’s human servant; you are also a vampire executioner. Would you try to get a warrant against my master?”

“I don’t know who your master is, Edmond.”

“Do not treat me as if I am stupid. There are not that many Masters of the City.”

“How many are married to a Lorna, you mean? How many have human servants named Edmond? I guess it does have to be a short list,” I said.

I heard him chamber a round into his gun. It’s funny, but once you know the sound of a slide going back, you never mistake it for anything else. I aimed my gun at the doorway, raising my knee up a little to help steady me, because my other arm was still touching Jason.

I saw his gun come around the doorjamb. I think he expected me to wait to see more of him, but I’d used this gun, this ammo, and it was an old house. I shot through the wall, behind his hand. He made a satisfying sound, a pain sound, and then he shot into the room without seeing first. I fired two more shots that went wide before he staggered into the doorway. I had a glimpse of a tall, pale man, with short brown hair, and a nice tan suit, and a shirt that was blossoming red, before I shot him in the head. He tried to raise his gun as he fell, and actually squeezed off a shot that went into the foot of the bed. I crawled out of the covers and fired twice more into his body. I walked to him, the gun aimed at him, held two-handed. I kicked his gun away from his limp hand, and then I put two more bullets into his head, until bits of skull and brain exploded onto the floor.

My ears were still ringing when I heard shouting, distant, tinny. “Marshal Blake, Marshal Blake!”

I yelled, probably louder than I needed to, “In here. We’re in here!” The cavalry had arrived.


HOURS LATER I was sitting in a chair back in the hospital in Asheville. Jason was in the bed, hooked up to machines and drips, but alive. The doctors said he was going to make it. He’d heal. I knew his body would heal, but I knew enough about violence to know that there were things that doctors couldn’t see, and IV drips couldn’t help. I sat in the chair, having moved it close enough so that I could hold his hand. The doctors said he was going to be all right; I believed them, but when I felt his hand squeeze mine, then I’d really believe it. Was that stupid? Maybe. But I was past caring. I sat in the chair and held his hand, and waited for him to wake up enough to hold my hand back.

I was wearing a borrowed pair of surgical scrubs, because they’d taken my clothes for evidence. I guess I was covered in blood. The techs had even combed pieces of brain and bone out of my hair, apparently. Blowback is a bitch.

They’d taken all the guns at the scene. Because I’d used the fact that I was a federal marshal to make the 911 call, actual federal marshals had come with the rest. They’d come to rescue me. They’d come even though I was one of the preternatural branch, and not all the marshals liked us very much. I couldn’t blame the ones who were leery of us. For some of us it was more like giving a badge to a bunch of bounty hunters with license to kill. We were a real administrative headache for the marshals. But when I put out the SOS they came. People I didn’t know, but who just shared the same badge. Maybe I was just feeling all sentimental because of Jason, but it meant something that they came.

But it also meant that I was on review for the shooting. I hadn’t had a warrant of execution for these vampires, let alone for the human servant I’d killed. Heck, they had only my word for it that he was a human servant and not simply human. I had invoked the new Preternatural Endangerment Act. It allowed a vampire executioner to act using deadly force if civilian lives were in imminent danger. The act had come into being after a couple of civilians had died while my fellow preternatural marshals waited on warrants. I’d thought it was just asking for civil rights violations, but now I was hiding behind it. Hypocrisy at its best. For at least the next couple of weeks I would be badge-less and
gun-less. I wouldn’t be allowed to take on any warrants until they reviewed the shooting. They took my official duty piece. That was fine; it wasn’t like I didn’t have others. I even had carry permits for several of my guns, because I’d spent so many years being technically a civilian but needing to carry a gun. It was going to be helpful while they looked over the evidence.

It looked like it would be ruled a clean shot. They’d found drugs still in my system. They were just impressed that I was able to function with that level of animal tranquilizers in

me. I left out the bit about Marmee Noir waking me up. They did ask about the claw marks on my chest. I just said I woke up that way. Truth, as far as it went.

I’d asked for and been given a morning-after pill. They’d offered me a SART exam, Sexual Assault Response Team, and I had declined. When asked why I needed the pill, I replied I’d had sex before we were taken but not had a chance to take my pill for that day. Again, truth, as far as it went.

We had a uniformed officer on the door. I’d have liked to fetch some of my guns from the hotel safe, but wasn’t sure how the other marshals would feel about me carrying when I was supposed to be under review. I felt naked without a weapon, but I’d flashed the badge and I had to abide by that. It also meant that the other bodyguards Jean-Claude would have sent to me couldn’t come in either. None of them had badges, and some of them had records.

The door opened, and I tensed, my free hand going for a gun that wasn’t there. Damn. But it wasn’t a bad guy, it was a wheelchair being pushed by a nurse. In the wheelchair was Frank Schuyler, Jason’s dad. He had tubes up his nose and an oxygen tank on the back of the chair, and two different IV drips, but he was here.

The nurse said, “I told you he won’t wake up until morning, Mr. Schuyler.”

“I had to see him,” he said in that deep voice that Jason would never have, and then he looked at me with those cavernous dark eyes. It wasn’t exactly a friendly look, more intense. Like so many people when they get whittled down by a disease, he was pared down to nerve endings, emotions, demands. It was there in his eyes, angry eyes—no, rage-filled. Angry at his body, maybe? Or angry in general. Whatever the cause, I was okay with it. If he thought he’d come in here and yell at me, or Jason, then he was wrong. Oh, he could yell, but I’d yell back. I was taking no more shit, and I was definitely making sure that Jason took no more, not from anybody.

Apparently the silence and the staring at each other had gone on long enough to make the nurse nervous. “Why don’t I take you back to your room?”

“Push me closer to the bed, damn it. I didn’t come all this way just to look at him.”

The nurse looked at me, as if for permission, or apology.

“If you can behave yourself, you can come closer; if you came here to bitch or yell, you can go,” I said.

He glared at me, and then his gaze shifted to my hand holding Jason’s. “You really are Jason’s girlfriend, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am.”

“And the fact that I’m his father doesn’t cut me any slack with you, does it?”

“Not today it doesn’t.”

“You’d really kick me out of the room. His dying father, out of his only son’s room.”

“If you get nasty, in a heartbeat.”

“And who decides what’s nasty?” he asked.


“You,” he said.

“Yes,” I said, and squeezed Jason’s hand a little tighter.

He looked back at the nurse. “Push me closer, and leave.”

She looked at me again. I nodded. She pushed him closer, but not like she thought it was a good idea. I wasn’t sure either, but I wasn’t sure it was a bad idea either. I didn’t move back, and my chair was moved up so I could hold Jason’s hand. The wheelchair was close enough that our legs almost touched. It was almost too close for comfort, too much interpersonal space crossed, but I stayed where I was, and he didn’t tell the nurse to move him somewhere else.

He laid his hand on Jason’s leg under the covers, then said, “Get out, I’ll buzz you when I need you.”

The nurse gave a look like she wasn’t sure she should be doing it, but she left. He waited for the door to hush closed behind us before he spoke. “I’m sorry I didn’t believe that you were his girlfriend.”

“Me, too.”

We sat there in our chairs, me holding Jason’s hand, him with his big hand on his son’s leg. The room was very quiet, only the whirrs and hush of the monitors on Jason, the faint drip of the various IVs, his and Jason’s. It was the kind of quiet that stretches out and makes your hair itch, because you know you need to say something, but nothing comes to mind. This wasn’t my father. This wasn’t my mess, but somehow I was the one sitting inches away from a dying man while he looked at his injured son.

“You’re not like most women,” he said.

I actually jumped a little, just from him breaking the silence. “What do you mean?” I asked. There, that was a good question, make him talk again.

“Most women need to talk. They hate silences.”

“Sometimes, yes, but I’m okay with quiet, especially when I don’t know what to say.”

“You don’t know what to say to me?” he asked, giving me the full weight of those deep-set eyes.

“Not really,” I said.

He smiled, and squeezed Jason’s leg at the same time. “But you admit it, most people wouldn’t.”

I shrugged. “I’m not most people.”

“I heard you killed three men to save Jason,” he said, and this time he looked at Jason, not at me.

“Two vampires and one man, yes.”

He looked back at me, when he asked, “Does it matter to you that two of them were vampires?”

“Vampires are harder to kill; it makes the story more impressive.”

He almost smiled. “You are a strange woman.”

“Would any other kind be able to keep up with your son?”

He looked at Jason then, and a look more tender than anything I’d expected to see filled that harsh face. “We’ve always been too different to get along. I blamed, well, you know what I blamed.”

I had no idea what he blamed, but I kept it to myself. I had the sense that I might learn something if I kept quiet.

“Why did they do this to Jason?” he asked.

“He took another beating for Keith Summerland, just like in school.”

“They did this because they thought Jason was Keith?”


“Why did they want to do this to the Summerland boy?”

“Apparently, Keith was messing with someone else’s wife, and the husband took exception.”

Something crossed Frank Schuyler’s face, some pain that flitted through those dark, hooded eyes. “You know, don’t you?”

“I know a lot of things,” I said. “You’ll have to be more specific.”

He reached up to Jason’s hand, which was still in mine. He hesitated, as if he might put that large hand over both our hands. That seemed disturbing, so I moved my hand. I left Jason’s hand empty, and Frank Schuyler wrapped his big hand around Jason’s. He held his hand as if they were any father and son. It was a shame that Jason wasn’t awake to see it.

“Iris and I had separated. My fault, I’ve always had a temper. We dated while we were separated like most couples do, and when she got pregnant with Jason, we got back together. He was our reconciliation baby.” He held Jason’s smaller hand in his large one, and stared down at his son.

“A lot of people get back together that way,” I said. I wasn’t sure where the story was going, but I wanted to hear it.

“I thought I finally had a son of my own. I thought that he just looked like Iris, until I saw the Summerland twins. Then I knew, I knew she’d been with Summerland.”

“Have you seen the kids in this town, Mr. Schuyler, most of Jason’s friends look like they were chipped off the Summerland block.”

He gave me an unfriendly look. “I asked Iris, and she didn’t deny that she’d dated him. The Summerlands were separated at the same time we were. It was a rough year in the town, tempers short. We all got back together because we thought we were going to have children.” He rubbed Jason’s hand with his fingers.

I realized then that I’d been slow. Jason had hinted at it, and there had been other things, but so many of the girls in the wedding had looked just as much like Jason. His mother looked like the Summerlands, for God’s sake.

“Jason said you were always mad at him, no matter what he did.”

He nodded. “That’s fair. It wasn’t just that he looked like the twins. He didn’t do sports. He danced. He was just so…”

“Not the son you wanted,” I finished for him.

He gave me an unfriendly look again; this one had some real anger back in those dark eyes. “You have no right to say that.”

Maybe it was because I was tired, or because I loved Jason and couldn’t understand why his own father didn’t love him, but I said what I was thinking, “I said it because it’s true.”

He glared at me, and I gave him empty cop eyes back. I was too tired to be angry. Finally, he looked away. “Maybe, all right, yes. Every man dreams of what his son will be like. I guess I wanted someone to carry on, and he seemed to be carrying on the Summerland values, not mine.” He kept holding Jason’s hand while he said it, though.

“Jason’s values are just fine,” I said.

“I’ve half-hated him all his life, blamed him for not being what I wanted him to be. When I heard he…I made them bring me down when he came into emergency. I saw him hurt.” He held on to Jason’s hand, tight. “I didn’t think, There’s that Summerland bastard. I thought, There’s my boy, dying. I remembered his first Christmas, and how happy I was. It was before I knew. But when I saw him like that, I thought about him when he was little. I thought about him in the plays and musicals in school. I realized that I’ve missed a lifetime with my son. I missed it and he was right here.”

I stared at him. It was a Hallmark moment. I didn’t trust Hallmark moments; they were usually fake. I watched the first tear glitter down Frank Schuyler’s face, and had to believe that he meant it. I guess sometimes miracles really do happen.

Then we got our second miracle. Jason said, “Dad,” in a voice that sounded so weak, so un-Jasonlike, but his eyes were open, and he repeated it. “Dad.”

Mr. Schuyler held his hand tight and said, “Jason, I’m here.”

I got up to leave them alone. Men need privacy when they finally break down. Jason said, in that weak voice, “Anita.”

I turned and looked at him. “I’ll be back.”

He managed a very weak smile, then said, “Love you.”

I smiled. “Love you, too.” I wasn’t sure if the love was for his father’s benefit, to prove his heterosexuality, or if it was simply true. We’d never be each other’s one and only, but I think we might always be each other’s now and then. I was okay with that, and so was Jason. What more did we need?


JASON HEALED ENOUGH to fly home. His father has had one of those amazing remissions that you get sometimes with cancer. The doctors don’t explain it, they can’t, but they’re giving him a little longer to live. Not cured, no, but months instead of weeks, maybe. A little less pain to deal with. Jason’s planning on flying back alone to visit them

all in a week or so. My excuse for not going is work; besides, I think that Jason and his family can handle it on their own.

The Master of the City of Charleston, South Carolina, mysteriously died. His human servant was Edmond, and his legal wife is Lorna. She’s free to marry Keith now, and if what I saw on the news is any indication, he’s going to do it. The marriage to Lisa is off, and I think Lisa is well out of it. So are the governor’s plans to run for president on a family conservative ticket. You can’t have your son being an adulterer with a vampire’s wife, and even worse marrying a vampire, and have it play well in the press.

Peterson told me that it was Chuck who used our room and us as a stalking horse for the vampires. Chuck’s defense: he thought we’d win. I guess no one expects vampires to use flash-bang grenades and tranquilizer darts. I’m still hoping to hurt Chuck in some way. I just haven’t figured out a justification for it that doesn’t seem petty, or illegal. If he vanished now, I think the cops would come knocking on my door.

J. J. is planning on visiting St. Louis and spending a few days with her old friend Jason. He’s the one man she’s never really gotten out of her system, and she’s the girl he might have married if she hadn’t liked girls as much as he did. They’re both still looking for Ms. Right. Maybe they’ll look together for a while. It was Jason’s fear of commitment that saved me from Richard’s version of the ardeur. But he’s pretty thrilled that J. J. is coming to visit. She’s already made noises that she’s cool with the vampire thing. Good to know.

I was cleared on the shooting. The two vampires actually had records as humans. They’d been bad guys when alive, and being dead had made them worse. The one guy really was a torturer. Someone you called in when you wanted information. He’d worked for some very bad people over the years. Apparently, in private, I’d done the world a favor. In public I was cleared, but we weren’t allowed to be so cheerful about it. I sleep just fine about killing them. My sleep is a little disturbed about Jason. I’ve had a few dreams where I find him on the floor again, or I realize it’s not Jason and it’s one of the other men in my life. Jason’s bunked over a couple of times; he’s sleeping rough, too. But he sleeps better when someone’s there to wake him from the nightmare, and cuddle him back to sleep, or as on a couple of mornings, get up with him and drink coffee in the kitchen. Nathaniel and I have been taking turns watching dawn come up through the trees with him.

Jason is my wolf to call, which raises the possibility that I’ll be able to have an animal for each of my metaphysical beasts. Only the Master of Beasts, a vampire council member, has been able to do animals to call that are both canine and feline, oh, and he does rats, too. We’ll see how I do.

Jean-Claude let it be known through the undead grapevine that Jason and I will be punished for our indiscretion, once he’s healed. I already felt punished, and I hadn’t even done anything wrong. But we are doing what Jason had suggested, confirming the rumors. We’ve started with Asher, because that’s the easiest. Now it’s a matter of asking

which of the men are okay with it being confirmed. Have you tried asking a heterosexual man if he’s okay that he and you acknowledge publicly that he’s bisexual, and does men? Not an easy sell.

Asher would be more thrilled if the truth were really the truth. We’ve set up a date between the three of us—Jean-Claude, Asher, and me—to see if that boundary can really come down, or if my head will explode. We’ll see.

I’ve agreed to be less of a pain in the ass in the outward vampire community so that it looks more like I’m being a good little human servant to Jean-Claude. Yeah, I know, how long can I behave myself? But I am trying. Jean-Claude says I get points for trying, since he knows it is opposite my personality. Gotta love a man who loves you in spite of, and sometimes because of, your little foibles.

Rowe is being charged with kidnapping and attempted murder. You don’t have to wield the knife to be charged; just helping the killer get his victim is enough legally.

Why did he do it? Some money, but mostly I scared him in the hallway with the ardeur. He was convinced I was a vampire and the only way to save himself was to get rid of me.

Was he always a bad guy, or had the ardeur and I done something to him? No way to tell, but I take some blame for Rowe.

Max is still pissed I rolled Crispin, but Jean-Claude made noises that once Max knew how much our Jason looked like the Summerland boy, he should have warned us. Because, of course, Max knew about Keith and Lorna’s elopement. Max would never admit that he didn’t know, so the two Masters of the City traded insults, but we have a truce. We also have plans for Crispin to visit St. Louis. Not sure how I feel about that, but I did roll him, and at twenty-one, and very mortal, he doesn’t have the strength of will to break free of me. I owe him something, even if it was all accidental on my part.

The weretigers cut me some slack because of the whole kidnapping hospital thing. But they are coming to St. Louis. Apparently, Crispin and Alex Pinn have gained power from being with me—powers that are only legend among the tiger clans now. But it isn’t me who did it. I know it was Marmee Noir. I don’t know what she’s up to, but she wants the tigers, and she’s using me to get them. The call has gone out, and to the tigers I made the call, so I’m stuck with the results, but I know who really called them. She woke me up when I was drugged. She helped me save Jason, sort of. She also cut me from a great distance with the claw of a cat that hasn’t walked the earth for a few thousand years. The marks are healing, but her being able to cut someone up from a distance is a power she hasn’t had in a while. Maybe the tigers aren’t the only ones gaining powers from dealing with me.

The vampire council is voting on whether to kill her before she wakes. If anyone were asking me, I’d say do it. But I think she knows what they’re planning. I think the Mother of All Darkness is afraid. She’s still weak, still trapped somehow in that false sleep. If

they try to kill her, will it work? Can you kill the darkness itself? Can the night die? I don’t know. The really scary thing is that I don’t think the vampires know the answer either. Some are even afraid that if she does die, all vampires will die. That somehow she’ll take them all to the grave with her.

All I know for certain is that I asked for and got extra charms. I sleep, bathe, everything but make love to vampires in a cross and that charm. So far, so good, but good has nothing to do with the Mother of All Darkness. No, bad is definitely more her style. She saved my life, and by accident, Jason’s. I’d be more grateful if I weren’t so certain that she only protects what she finds useful. She only protects that which she needs. Why does she need me? Is she really gaining power through me? The truly frightening part is that I think if I thought hard enough in the night, she might answer me. If you could ask the darkness anything, would you ask? If you did ask, would the darkness lie? Bet on it.

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