Katelina’s wardrobe looked like someone who was out of touch with fashion had grabbed it in a hurry, which was exactly the case, so the following evening she and Jorick stopped at the local department store. She picked out some new clothes and pointed Jorick towards a white button up shirt that would make him look less like a cult leader or criminal. Both inferences aggravated him, though she noticed he bought it.
With their suitcase packed, they headed towards Katelina’s hometown. They drove for most of the night and, near dawn, checked into a shabby green motel. Katelina slumped inside. A strange sense of déjà vu swept over her as she glanced around the handful of worn furnishings. “This is lovely,” she commented sarcastically. “Why can’t we ever stay in a nice motel? Why is it always a flea pit?”
Jorick closed the door and set the locks. “Where would you prefer? The Ritz?”
“No, but there was a nicer one a few miles back.”
He moved to the window and checked to see if he could block the coming daylight. “After our last motel spree, I’m a little cautious. Imagine if vampires had crashed through the lobby in one of your better establishments. Besides, places like this have very few staff.”
“And very few visitors. They pay more attention to who checks in.”
The corners of his mouth turned up in a grin. “Perhaps. Normally. I’m certain they won’t even remember us.” He changed the subject. “This one is very tight with the furniture. It may be a bathtub nap.” He turned and stalked to the bathroom door.
In a flash, she understood the implication of his first statement. “You’re using mind tricks on the motel people, aren’t you? You know I hate that!”
“So much for a bathtub! There’s only a shower! Of all the ridiculous, cheap…”
He continued to grumble while she swooped towards him. A well-placed jab in the back got his attention. “Answer me!”
“Oh, fine.” He turned to face her, one eyebrow arched. “Yes, perhaps I am. Why does it matter? Don’t the ends justify the means? It’s to your benefit too, unless you want the police called? We’re wanted fugitives, remember?” An aggravated flush stole across her cheeks. He’d won, and the smirk on his face said he knew it.
As if from habit, Katelina rubbed the spot where her second mark was; the mark that had linked them. Only a week ago she’d have been able to feel his amusement prickling at her. Drinking the blood from Kateesha’s heart had undone the Linking. She couldn’t feel his emotions anymore. Bizarrely, she’d had the Linking forced on her to save her life, but now that it was gone, she kind of missed it.
“Hey! You’re not supposed to be doing that now that you can control it!” She narrowed her eyes at him.
“I never said I wouldn’t, only that I’m not forced to listen to the constant flow of your mental chatter anymore.” He turned suddenly serious. “We could remedy that. I could… do it again. You don’t have to be on the verge of death for it to work.”
“I just happened to be last time?” She didn’t really want to think about the circumstances that led to it.
He didn’t answer and she turned the idea over in her mind. What if he did re-Link them? “I do kind of miss it sometimes, but I really didn’t like you reading my mind all the time. And you said it got on your nerves.”
“It didn’t get on my nerves. It just took a while to get used to. Perhaps you could practice quiet thinking?” He laughed and stroked her cheek absently. “Seriously, Katelina, the choice is yours. If you want it back, all right. If not, I won’t be offended.”
She leaned against his chest and sighed. “You know how lousy I am at commitment.”
“I think you’ve improved.”
“Have I?” It was a rhetorical question, so she let it go. “I’ll have to think about it.”
“You do that. In the meantime it will be dawn soon. I think it best if I retire before the sun comes up. Since there’s no bathtub, it’s going to be the floor. If you don’t mind, could you wait until tomorrow to shower?”
“Oh, I suppose,” she said with false martyrdom. “If you insist.”
He caught her chin in his hands and gazed into her eyes. “I do,” he murmured, but his words had little to do with what he was really saying. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
She nodded, her attempted humor swept away by the intense something in his gaze. “All right. Have a good night.” A wry smile twisted her lips. “I mean day.”
“You too, little one.” He took her in his arms and kissed her deeply, then released her and headed to the bathroom.
Alone, she changed into her new pajamas; a pair of pink flowered pants and a white tank top emblazoned with butterflies and more flowers. Though it was too college girl cutesy for her taste, it had been the best of a bad lot. She hoped to scrape past her mother without having to stay the night, but she was prepared if she couldn’t.
She flipped out the light and threw herself into bed. She stared longingly through the darkness to the bathroom door and wondered if there was room for both of them on the floor. Even if there was, she knew he’d insist she stay in the bed anyway. That was so classic Jorick, “stay there and be comfortable, never mind if it means we’re apart.” Didn’t he understand she was willing to be uncomfortable to be with him?
She supposed he did. He knew the sacrifices she made and he made his own too. The trip was a huge sacrifice on his part. Her stomach knotted as she thought about the impending visit. What if her mother didn’t like him? How she couldn’t, was beyond Katelina’s comprehension. He was tall, dark and sexy, not to mention he had a very reassuring presence.
She closed her eyes and tried to imagine tall, dark, sexy, reassuring Jorick standing in her mother’s living room, surrounded by an explosion of kitsch. She pictured her mother’s stern appraisal as she demanded, “Why did you run away? Why couldn’t you stay here and date him? Where did you meet him? Why didn’t you ever mention him? Have you seen Sarah?”
The last imaginary question made her insides lurch. She squeezed her eyes tight to force the tears back. She didn’t know what she could have done differently to save her friend. As Jorick had once commented, Sarah wouldn’t have believed a warning, even if it had been given. Who would? Besides, she’d never imagined that Claudius’ goons would grab the wrong woman; taking Sarah instead of her. It was one of those horrific tragedies that no one saw coming and no one could prevent. Or at least that’s what she told herself.
Despite her nerves, Katelina eventually drifted into a fitful sleep, complete with nightmares. Sarah glared at her accusingly, and reminded her that she’d never get to bring a new guy home to meet her parents. It could so easily have been the other way around.
The next evening, Katelina climbed from bed in the heavy pre twilight, her eyes puffy and sore. She caught up her clothes and toiletries, and headed to the bathroom to take her delayed shower. The door wouldn’t open all the way because Jorick still blocked it, so she had to slide through. Once inside, there was barely room for her because he was sprawled over most of the available floor, not that there was very much of it. She could stand against the door and reach all the bathroom fixtures at once.
She prodded his cold, rigid form with a toe. He didn’t move. He normally woke just as the sun was disappearing, though he could wake at any time. She prodded him again. When she was sure he was really asleep, she slipped out of her clothes and stacked them on the toilet, then dodged neatly into the tiny shower. Though they were living together, they hadn’t made it to the shower-buddy stage yet, so she tried to be quiet. The shampoo fell over, she dropped the conditioner twice, and her razor tried to commit suicide. It was as though the harder she tried, the noisier everything was.
Despite the racket, when she finished her shower, Jorick still lay on the floor, perfectly still. She opened the door and made a grab for the towels, splashing a trail of water across him.
“Hey!” He jerked into a sitting position. “Would you mind not drowning me?”
Katelina let out a gasp and clutched the towels against herself. Her face turned deep red and her eyes narrowed. “I thought you were asleep!”
“Asleep?” He wiped his face with his shirt. “How could anyone sleep through all the noise? Not even the undead have a chance!” He grinned as his eyes roamed up and down her shimmering, wet body. “I thought it better not to disturb you.”
“You pervert!” She pressed the towel tighter. “What were you doing? Laying there watching me?”
“Old habits die hard,” he quipped unrepentantly as he climbed to his feet. She frowned and he shrugged. “You were thinking it, so I might as well say it.”
“You make it sound… I don’t know, wrong.” Patrick, her ex-boyfriend, had asked Jorick to keep an eye on her for her own protection. It was no one’s fault that, after three months, he’d come to enjoy it. Though she probably shouldn’t, she’d forgiven him. “Get out so I can get dressed.”
He snickered and bowed low. “As you command.” She flung the shampoo bottle at him, but he dodged neatly out the door, leaving only his laughter.
She dressed quickly, fighting the butterflies in her stomach. Though they’d get into town that night, they couldn’t very well show up at her mother’s house at one AM. Her mother was going to be fierce enough without being dragged out of bed, so they’d agreed to wait until tomorrow evening. She wasn’t sure the delay would make anything better.
When she emerged from the bathroom, Jorick had changed into another black shirt and was still in an unusually good mood. She took advantage of his cheer and talked him into eating at a truck stop. He ordered a cup of coffee and played with it while she ate her ham steak and fries. She should have enjoyed being in a restaurant, surrounded by normal people. Instead, she was all nerves. She kept waiting for someone to recognize them. She even feared that someone would know Jorick for what he was, and there’d be a mass panic.
Of course, no one did, though Jorick did draw a good deal of attention. They were probably the best served customers in the establishment. Every waitress stopped by more than once to make sure they didn’t need anything. Though they spoke to Katelina too, their eyes never left Jorick, and he gave them all tightlipped smiles for their efforts, which only annoyed her further.
When they left, Jorick dropped a five dollar tip on the table. As Katelina climbed in the car, she muttered something about encouraging slutty waitresses to throw themselves at him, but didn’t broach the subject conversationally. Still, as if to make sure he was aware of her annoyance, she slammed the door extra hard.
“Yes?” he asked as he started the car. “Something on your mind, precious?”
“Precious? That’s a new one.”
He deftly backed the car from the stall and feigned hurt. “You don’t like it?”
She snorted loudly, but refused to answer. Jorick parked next to the gas pumps. After he’d filled the car and returned, she was still aggravated. They pulled back onto the road and he sighed. “All right, I give up. I thought you wanted to go out to eat?”
She glowered at him. “You know what I’m mad about. Was that really necessary?”
“I think they earned the five dollars.” When she didn’t look amused he rolled his eyes. “Seriously, Katelina, you can’t be jealous? I will never see those women again, let alone abandon you for one of them. You’re just worried about the visit and taking it out on me. I refuse to be drawn into an argument simply to relieve your tension. If this is upsetting you so badly then perhaps we should have stayed home.”
“Perhaps we should have.” She turned on the radio to end his infuriatingly calm comments. Why couldn’t he just be normal and get angry?
The closer they drew to their destination, the more worried she got. It was midnight when they pulled into Dunwick, a small town only twenty minutes from her old home. Jorick slowed the car and asked casually, “Would you like to stay here or should we get a room closer to your mom? If we do, we could use it as an excuse when she invites us to stay with her. Though from what you’ve said, I doubt even a prepaid motel room will discourage her. On the other hand, I thought it might be,” he paused, “fun to stay here.”
His offence wasn’t feigned, though it faded quickly from his eyes. “You don’t remember, do you?” When she shook her head he made a noise of disgust. “I thought that women remembered everything important.”
She looked at him skeptically. “What’s important about Dunwick?”
He pulled into the parking lot of a pink ranch style motel and parked the car, then he stared at her accusingly. She stared back and desperately wracked her brain for what she was supposed to remember. Dunwick. They had a high school that caught fire a few years ago and the year before last the police had discovered thirty or forty stolen lawn flamingoes chained to trees in the city park. Other than that, nothing of any interest had ever happened there. In fact, the last time she’d seen the place she’d been in no hurry to ever return, considering there had been two dead vampires in the trunk and the room they left behind was full of blood and broken glass.
“We got attacked? Oren had to come get us and I was really freaked out.”
He cleared his throat and explained icily, “It was the first place we spent the night together.”
“Oh, well, yes,” she hedged. “Of course. I thought you meant something more monumental than your sleeping in a bathtub.” She offered him a smile that was meant as an apology.
He studied her and then said pointedly, “I might be willing to forget your lapse of memory, provided I’m done hearing about the waitresses.”
“You! You did that on purpose! That’s not fair!”
“No, I didn’t.” His eyes danced with unvoiced laughter. “I’ll go check in while you think it over.”
She called him a cheat, but he was already long gone, so she turned her attention to the motel. It looked the same as it had two months ago. The realization of how little time had passed staggered her. It hadn’t even been a full two months, and yet so much had changed. She didn’t even feel like the same person. Back then she’d been someone weak and cringing and terrified of feeling anything for anyone, someone haunted by dark shadows and dreams of a blonde ghost. Of course, she still had her ghosts, but they were new ones, and she liked to think that after all she’d endured she was stronger.
Jorick returned and they headed for their room. The salted pavement crunched beneath their feet, and the low hum of the outdoor lights created a heavy atmosphere. With much less ceremony than she expected, Jorick opened the door to reveal the ugly orange décor that she remembered. She’d never forget the hideous bedspread if she lived to be a hundred.
She threw the suitcase on one of the chairs and eyed the room speculatively. “Sleeping in the bathtub again?”
“I thought I might try the bed this time.” He grinned. “Unless you object? I suppose you might want to relive the last time we were here. Though, since you’ve forgotten, it might be more of a new experience than a repeat.”
“I get it, I get it. Fine, no more remarks about the waitresses, all right?”
“Deal.” He turned suddenly, caught her with one arm and pulled her to him roughly. His lips nuzzled her neck and he murmured against her skin, “Since it’s early how about some sightseeing?”
She jerked away and stared at him as if he’d gone insane. “Sightseeing around here? You must be joking.”
“Not at all.” He offered her a mysterious smile. “There are a few places I’d like to check out. Besides, I’m hungry.” He released her and walked towards the door, pulling his long black coat closed. “Come, bundle up. It’s cold outside and I know how delicate you are.”
“I haven’t gotten unbundled yet.”
He opened the door wide and gave her a satisfied smile. “So much the better.”
Twenty minutes later, they drove along a gravel road. Naked trees slipped past, their branches like interwoven webs left behind by an evil black spider. The only clear radio station was classical music, and with no lyrics to distract her, her thoughts turned to the impending visit.
Jorick tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. “You should listen to this more often, it’s a much closer approximation to music.” When she didn’t reply he added, “For wanting to come on this lovely holiday, you’re very sulky.”
“I’m not sulking. I’m panicking.”
His tone was serious and concerned, “You’re really that worried? Why? It’s only your mother, and I’ll be right there with you. Just stick to the stories we rehearsed and there won’t be any problems. It’s not as if she’s one to focus. Just keep her distracted.”
Katelina started to agree, then comprehended the words. “You sound like you’ve run into her before.”
“I suppose I saw her a good deal. Just because you weren’t at home didn’t mean I wasn’t keeping an eye out.”
“You followed me to other places?”
Though he looked uncomfortable, he answered her anyway. “Only a few. Just to your mother’s and to Patrick’s. Oh, and to the brunette woman’s house.”
“So just everywhere I went?”
“No, I didn’t hang around at the bars.” He cleared his throat again. “Not most of them anyway.”
“I’d have noticed you.”
“Apparently not. No offense, but you’re not the most observant.”
“Gee, thanks.” She crossed her arms over her chest and continued to stare through the windshield. She still couldn’t believe that she’d have missed someone who looked like him, not in a small town bar. There was no point in arguing, though. “So where are we going?”
“First I want to see if anything survived of Oren’s house, and then I have another stop or two. It won’t be that horrible.”
“Oren’s house? But that’s in Virginia.”
“No, not that one. The small one, where Michael was.”
“You mean that house on Farm Mill Road?” She was sure she’d never forget the small dusty house, or his speech about the unimportance of possessions as it burned. “I thought that was yours!”
“Mine?” He laughed. “Hardly. It was Oren’s. He purchased it some years ago to keep an eye on Claudius’ ‘Summer Home’.”
She couldn’t help but chortle. “No wonder you were so calm about burning it down! How many fires does that make for him? Three?”
“Yes, he does seem to have bad luck lately.”
He stopped the car along a lonely patch of road and peered through the window. Then, he got out and disappeared through the weeds. He returned shortly, shaking his head. “They’ve filled it in,” he explained as he climbed back inside. “I could go through the tunnel entrance, but I doubt it would lead far. If Oren wants to salvage anything from the catacombs underneath he’s going to have to drill down.”
“Did he have much there?” She tried to recall the house. She remembered sad, empty rooms and a basement lined in mysterious doors.
“Not a lot, but he did have a store of weapons off the main room. Oh well, at least it wasn’t a wasted stop.” He gave her a fanged smile. “I managed to find a snack.”
Katelina didn’t bother to ask what animal he’d fed on; she preferred not to know. When she didn’t take the bait, he started the car and pulled back onto the road. They made a U-turn and drove back the way they’d come for a few miles, then turned down a maze of gravel and dirt roads until they reached a large metal gate that stood open. Jorick studied it for a moment and then drove through it. They followed a snowy driveway that curved towards an ornate fountain. He stopped the car in front of it and nodded to Katelina, as if to signal they’d arrived. Then he turned to the backseat, and rummaged for something.
She hesitated, but curiosity got the better of her, so she climbed out into the cold. “Where are we?”
Jorick mumbled a reply that she couldn’t catch. She glanced back at him then moved cautiously to examine the dry, snowy fountain. Stone cherubs danced around the basin in the usual poses, holding silent jugs. As she drew closer, she realized that instead of angel wings they had bat wings and vampire fangs. She shivered at their faces; childlike and innocent, but marred by the demonic additions. The severe lighting of the bright headlights didn’t help the illusion of evil; the deep shadows were a significant contrast against the light stone.
The headlights went out, and she drew back as if the fountain might come to life in the blackness. Jorick joined her and handed her a flashlight. He pointed his beam of light at a dark house that sat back from the driveway. Katelina caught her breath as he moved the light around to reveal little pieces of a stone mansion. It was larger than the house Oren had shared with his wife and probably much more expensive. Beautiful stone angels with bat wings, completely out of place in rural America, decorated the house at intervals, and heavy, leaded windows reflected back the flashlight’s beam. The front door was atop a large, sweeping porch that was trimmed in wrought iron and two side doors were trapped behind scrollwork fences.
“Shall we?” Jorick asked and offered his arm.
With a mute nod, she took it and let him lead her across the yard and on to the large front porch. “Who lives here?” she whispered, afraid that anything louder would wake the sleeping monsters in the corners of her dark imagination.
“No one.” Jorick examined the heavy door and surrounding area. “I hate to have to do this.” He motioned for her to step back and then kicked the door. The heavy wood splintered, but didn’t give immediately. A second well placed kick made the door collapse on itself and left a yawning black hole.
She stared at the destruction, aghast. “It’s a shame you don’t really have some kind of super unlocking ability.”
Jorick took her arm again and led her inside. “True. Or that Claudius didn’t have the good sense to leave a spare key.”
“Claudius?” His name was enough to freeze the blood in her veins.
“Yes, but you don’t need to worry, little one. He’s dead. You saw it yourself.” He came to a stop in the middle of the room and gave her a reassuring smile. “This was his ‘Summer Home’, or his retreat. Whenever he got bored he’d come here, sometimes only for days and sometimes for years at a time. He usually brought most of his coven and a host of friends.”
Jorick shone the light around the cavernous entrance hall. Katelina did the same. The beams bounced off of polished marble floors and huge crystal chandeliers. Formidable white columns rose to the ridiculously high ceiling, their bases flanked in gold. A matching pair of curving staircases, garishly carpeted in red, sat at the far end of the room, connected by a balcony that ran the width of the hall.
“Holy shit,” Katelina muttered, overcome. “This is like something on TV.”
“Yes, a bit cliché. Claudius enjoyed that. He had a flair for drama but he lacked originality. I’m sure you’ve noticed that in his other dens.”
“The one Kateesha took over was different.”
Jorick smirked. “Maybe to you, but it’s classic subterranean dungeon den.”
Katelina bit her lip to keep from commenting that he sounded like something from a twisted version of the Home and Garden Network; “Stylish Crypts of the Undead.” She was sure that could be a catchy show.
“Shall we?” he asked again, and again she nodded her head. He led her between the staircases to a pair of French doors. He opened them easily and they walked into the next room. One wall was made of mirrors and shot the light back at them. Large, glimmering chandeliers hung from the high, carved ceiling. They caught the refracted light and threw it all around, illuminating what was a giant ballroom; complete with parquet floor and suits of armor at strategic intervals. A bank of French doors graced the farthest wall and led out onto what was probably a veranda. The wall opposite the mirrors was painted in complicated murals, depicting strange scenes that looked familiar, yet skewed.
Katelina caught her breath as she stared at the murals, but Jorick only chuckled. “I told you he wasn’t very imaginative.” He pointed to the wall. “There’s Adam and Eve and Lilith, if you even believe in that story.”
She followed his gesture to see a man and woman holding a blood red apple, while a beautiful vampiress stared at them from behind a twisted tree. Katelina’ eyes locked with the painted eyes of the vampiress. The mural was almost disturbing in its clarity and the illusion of reality made her shiver. “Wasn’t Lilith supposed to be Adam’s first wife or something like that?”
“Yes, something like that.” Jorick snorted in contempt. “You’ll find she’s very popular among some of the Old Ones. At one time it was believed she was the Great Mother of the vampire race. I find it all a bit ridiculous myself.”
She tore her eyes away from the painting and looked at Jorick. The reflected light splashed across half of his face and left the other half in deep shadow; half dark, half light, much the way she sometimes thought of him. “You don’t believe in God, do you?”
He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, his voice bitter. “I don’t deny that God may exist but, if he does, he does not protect my kind.”
She cocked her head to one side and studied him. “Why? If God created everything, then he created vampires. Why would you be any more eternally damned than the rest of us?”
A smile stretched across his full lips, though it held no mirth. “And why would God create a vampire?” Before she could answer he added, “Let’s not stand here quoting old legends. Come, I want to check the cellars. With Claudius dead, there’s a chance that rogues may be nesting here. I have no doubt that Kale will eventually take possession of this den.”
“Why would he?”
Jorick seemed to choose his words. “When Kateesha killed Claudius it became her property, and when she died it should have gone to the vampire who claimed her heart. Since it was agreed that no one claimed the coven, that means no one claimed her possessions. As you know, Kale collected up most of the vampires that were left from her coven, and as he used to belong to Claudius, I imagine he will eventually claim all of Claudius’ property. Though I doubt he plans to start trouble, I’d rather he gain no new followers.”
”Is that why we’re here?”
Her eyes narrowed. “And what’s the other?”
He winked. “To explore, of course. How many mansions have you been in?”
They made their way to the wall of mirrors and stopped at a calculated spot. Jorick ran his hand along the wall, as if feeling for something. Suddenly, a look of satisfaction filled his eyes and the mirror sprang aside to reveal a dark, narrow stairway. “You’ll notice the dramatics again.”
He led the way down the stairs and Katelina followed, cringing. Despite Jorick’s cheerful cellar, she had a general superstition of dark, underground rooms, and the suggestion of “nesting rogues” didn’t help.
The gloom in the cellar seemed thicker than the darkness upstairs and their flashlight beams seemed narrower. Jorick stopped at the foot of the stairs and sniffed before he plunged forward. The stone room was large and filled with ten plain, smooth coffins. “For his personal army,” Jorick explained. “In case of attack they’d be killed first.”
She nodded and flashed her light around, uncovering a doorway that sat in the farthest wall. Jorick led her to it, still sniffing, and they found themselves in another room that held ten more coffins. Their corners were reinforced with silver and shining silver crosses decorated the lids.
“For the rest of the coven and the guests.” Jorick pointed to doors that flanked either side of the room. “As are those. He could house quite a few, it appears.”
He checked the side rooms while Katelina added up how many vampires had been living off and on just a stone’s throw from her hometown. The numbers made her shiver.
With the rooms checked, Jorick led her through the last doorway. The third room was different from the others. Instead of simple stone, the walls were hung with heavy crosses. In the center was a large, carved dais, resembling an altar. On it sat an intricate coffin made of a dark, shiny wood and accented with gold. Surrounding it were five coffins that, though ornate, looked plain when compared to the one in the center. One of the five was on a smaller platform, directly in front of the elaborate affair, while the others sat on the floor, two on each side.
“That would be Claudius’.” Jorick indicated the largest, though he needn’t have bothered. He pointed to the smaller dais. “That would be Arowenia’s, and I imagine those belonged to his three personal servants and Troy, who I’m certain you’ll remember.” Though the words were flip, both his bitter tone and tight jaw proved they weren’t meant to be.
Katelina shuddered at the mention of Troy’s name and evil memories flashed through her mind. She wasn’t surprised that he spent his time lurking in a dark basement.
“It’s more theatrical,” Jorick commented to her thoughts. “Claudius couldn’t be a ‘proper’ vampire with a bedroom, now could he?” He gave her a teasing wink, then turned serious. “However, it appears that someone else has decided to set up shop, as I suspected.”
“Where?” She turned a panicked circle, expecting a vampire to leap from the shadows.
“They’re gone at the moment.” Despite his words, he tightened his grip on her hand. He drew in a deep breath through his nose. “There are three. Two males and a female. It’s no one I recognize, which may or may not be good.”
She started to ask how he knew, but the answer was obvious. Of course he could smell them. Why not?
Wordlessly, they walked back through the basement, and upstairs. Their footsteps echoed eerily in the darkness and each shadow seemed like an enemy waiting to kill them. Something moved in the darkness and she jumped. Jorick followed her terrified gaze and offered her a comforting smile. “There’s no one there. It’s just your imagination.”
Imagination or not, she couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was creeping along behind them. She spun around several times only to find the empty hallway staring back. When they entered a lavish den, her eyes darted around suspiciously. The room was large and the shadows were thick and long. The huge bookcases, massive desk and heavy leather chair made the perfect hiding places for an ambush.
“I told you, there’s no one here or I’d smell more than just a lingering scent. Besides, in case you haven’t noticed, I can sense the presence of others.”
“Is that one of those vampire super powers?”
“As a matter of fact, yes.” He tipped her a wink and moved to the nearest bookcase.
With an odd faith in Jorick’s senses, she released a pent up breath and sank into the chair behind the desk. She stood the flashlight on the dusty surface so that it shone upwards and lit the room like a lamp. Jorick nodded to her and pocketed his flashlight. She watched as he examined the bookcases. He drew an old volume out now and again, only to make a clicking noise and stuff it back. When she couldn’t stand the crushing silence anymore, she asked, “What are you looking for?”
“Something I haven’t read yet. But it seems his library is as uncreative as he is.” He suddenly tensed and his eyes shifted to the door. “And they’re here,” he whispered. “And probably very aware of us.”
“You did kick in the front door.”
He shrugged, but regret showed on his face. “What’s done is done. Come.” He held his hand out and she crossed to him quickly. He took her arm and drew her behind himself, so that he stood between her and the door. “Stay behind me until I tell you otherwise.”
She agreed wordlessly, and strained her ears against the silence. Though she couldn’t hear anything over her pounding heart and rapid breath, he could.
“They’re heading to the basement first. No, the female and one male,” he corrected. “The other male is coming this way, but slowly.”
The mysterious male’s footsteps became audible to her only a second before he appeared through the door, a fireplace poker in his hands and a snarl on his face. He was tall and looked to be in his early thirties with dark hair and light eyes. He wore a heavy parka and a pair of dark pants complete with snow boots. If not for the vampire fangs shining in the glow from her abandoned flashlight, she’d have taken him for a human.
“Who are you?” he demanded. “What do you want?”
“I could ask you the same thing,” Jorick responded casually. “What business have you here?”
The new vampire took an uncertain step forward, brandishing the poker threateningly. “What’s it to you? You’re the one trespassing.”
Jorick narrowed his eyes coldly and the tension thickened. “Who is your master?”
A high, lilting voice rang out from the doorway, “I am.”
Katelina’s eyes snapped to the room’s entrance as a slender woman stepped through it. Her hair was long and dark and her eyes were large and fringed in heavy lashes. She wore a white coat that swished around her legs as she moved and a pair of high-heeled boots. “And I know you. You’re Jorick, the Master of Oren.”
“And who are you?” Jorick kept his attention focused on the male vampire. “What right have you to claim this house?”
“I’m Hectia, and this was my Master’s house. He’s dead now, thanks in no small part to you.”
Katelina clutched Jorick’s back, but didn’t make a sound, content to hide from Hectia’s dark, piercing gaze. She ran through tangled memories of her encounters with Claudius’ coven to try and place the vampiress. She’d all but given up when a picture jumped out at her, like a still framed photograph. It was of a scantily clad vampiress holding a white towel and bowing low to her sulky blonde master. Hectia was one of Claudius’ three personal servants, all of whom were supposed to be dead.
“And how is it that you came to be here and not in Kateesha’s coven?” Jorick asked.
Hectia growled low. “I wouldn’t follow a usurper such as her, no matter what The Laws say!”
“Kateesha is dead and Oren has her coven now.”
Katelina recognized the lie, but she had no intention of correcting him.
“It makes no matter.” Hectia’s eyes were fire. “I will follow no one but Claudius.” Her head snapped around to her fledgling, as if she’d just remembered him and was trying to calculate if he could be useful.
“Should I kill him?” he asked. His gaze flicked from his mistress to the intruders and he took a menacing step forward.
Katelina stiffened, but Jorick only asked calmly, “Do you think you can?”
Just then, the second unidentified male walked into the room, holding a long, slender club. His shoulder length hair was so red that it looked fake, and his slanting eyebrows were bright slashes of crayon colored on his pale face. He wore a long black coat and a pair of leather gloves. His eyes darted from one occupant to the other as he quickly appraised the situation. “Maybe he can,” he answered for his companion. “And maybe he can’t.”
Hectia didn’t bother to acknowledge the newcomer. “You’ve broken into my den, Jorick, and you’re not welcome among my Coven. I believe you know what The Laws are concerning that?”
“Oh yes,” he answered and Katelina could hear the smile in his voice. “But your own breech warrants death. By rights this den, and your allegiance, belong to someone else.”
“Do you serve them again?” Hectia asked suspiciously and took a cautious step back. She looked quickly between Jorick and the redhead. Katelina realized she feared him as a member of The Guild, though he could kill her just as easily without them.
Jorick was slow to answer, as if trying to decide whether a lie would make a difference. “No. But that won’t stop me from reporting this.”
Obviously relieved, Hectia walked towards the desk. She perched on the edge of it and picked up the flashlight. Thoughtfully, she turned it over in her hands. The light danced around the room as it moved from one palm to another. “If you hadn’t helped to kill Claudius, Jorick, I’d have treated with you, but I’m afraid I cannot, not when I know that you had a hand in his death.”
The flashlight shut off with a loud, echoing click. Katelina bit back a scream as darkness swallowed them and then Hectia’s voice rang out, cold and clear. “Kill him.”