"This one what?"
"He was bad."
"It's still a terrible death," Jade argued. "And if he was young, he might have changed; he might have grown out of being a delinquent."
Renate looked skeptical. She cast her head at an angle, studying Jade. "And he might have killed other people as well. Thank God he didn't kill some little girl or boy."
"Renate, once in a while-"
"I should look for the good. Yeah, yeah. But I write mysteries. All about crime. And I do research, and I know that people can be really terrible. They can be terrible more often than they can be good. Even people we think are good would probably be terrible if they thought they could get away with it." Jade lifted a brow. "Renate, there are good people and bad people, and there are all kinds of gray in between as well."
She stared at Jade, waiting for something, expecting something. "Well?" Jade murmured.
"Is Matt still at your place?" Jade queried, suddenly determined to turn the tables.
"What?" Renate demanded.
"Matt. Remember, you two left here with champagne and caviar."
"Oh, yeah. No, Matt is long gone."
Jade grinned, looking at her. "Did Matt get lucky?"
"Jade!" Renate smoothed back her perfectly styled hair. "Really, Jade, how could you ask such a thing?
"Renate! That's cruel."
"I said no such thing to Matt," Renate said regally, "so it's cruel only if you repeat it to him. And of course I'd call you a liar, and insist I never said such a thing."
"Matt is not repulsive-and I would never hurt his feelings by repeating such a thing to him."
"Okay. He's not repulsive. He's just not.. . sexy."
"He's as nice as can be."
"I don't see you having an affair with him."
"I'm seeing someone else. And Matt is my friend."
"Yeah, well, Matt is my friend, too."
To Jade's great relief, her phone started ringing. "Oh, hey, excuse me, Renate, will you? I've got to get that."
"Um. Well, if you get any good, usable information, you'll share, right?"
Jade got Renate out of her apartment. She went flying to the phone. It might be Rick. She hadn't thought of that at first, but it might be. He might be feeling really awful, even worse than he had been, and he might need her.
When she reached the phone, her machine had already picked up.
"Hello?" she said quickly.
"Jade? Jade MacGregor?" It was a woman's voice. Soft, hushed. "Yes?" There was a silence. Then a click indicated that the woman had hung up.
He could have entered at whim.
He stood in front of the fine antebellum mansion and hesitated. He'd never meant to come here again.
To see Maggie. Their history together had been long and rich, but it was now over. He had thought that one day he would hear of her death, that of an old grandmother, and he would come and cast roses upon her coffin.
She had found what she had wanted: a new life.
And the certainty of death.
He stood there several minutes, then reminded himself that he needed to knock at a door, and he did manage to do so.
She opened it.
And seeing him as he was, she gasped.
"Aye, it's me. And I'm sorry."
"Look, I haven't come to interfere with your life."
"There's more trouble afoot, and-"
She caught him by the shoulder, looking up at the intensity of the sun. "Come in, you fool. My God, you look like hell!"
They were old, old friends. And old, old enemies.
She could say that to him.
He smiled. He almost laughed. For the second time that day he said, "You should see the other guy!"
"I've been afraid. So afraid. The things in the papers, the things happening here ... I saw the write-ups last year about the murders in Scotland. And now in New York ... Lucian, just what is going on?"
"Rebellion," he murmured. "The past rising. A past I had done my best to bury for all time. I never explained to you how I came to be-"
"Lucian, you wouldn't have explained anything to me. You were the power, and you made the rules. But I heard things throughout the years."
"Oh?" he queried.
"Vampires talk," she teased. "Apparently death does nothing to still the urge to gossip."
"Then you heard about Sophia."
"Well, she has awakened, and Darian, her lackey, goes before her, protecting her from harm."
"So you fought Darian?"
"But he isn't-"
"Dead?" he supplied. "No," he admitted bitterly.
"But you can't really kill him, can you?"
"Not by all the ancient laws. And I am the keeper of the laws. But their depravities might well jeopardize us all, and if that is so ..."
"You can twist the law," she suggested.
He nodded. "But I still risk the wrath of an uprising." He spread his hands before him, suddenly noting the length and strength of his nails with distaste. The king of the undead! he mocked himself. Dimly he could remember what it had been to know a simple life.
And he could remember becoming what he had become.
And all the years.
Oh, God, all the years!
Since . . .
Maggie reached out and touched him. "I have never seen anyone with your strength," she told him.
He lifted his hands. "Darian just escaped me. I might have been too confident. In Scotland I didn't know until we came to the tombs that he was indeed with Sophia. I hurt them both there, but not enough." He hesitated. "They've been like weight lifters before a bout, gathering strength, drinking huge quantities of blood.... Sophia has now spent centuries gathering strength to topple me. And there was a talisman ... a locket. A gold locket; she wore it at all times. It was filled with the blood of a fallen angel."
"The . .. devil?" she inquired.
He lifted his hands. "I don't know. Christian popes are buried with their gold enclosures carrying the relics of long-dead saints; altars are built encompassing a drop of blood, a bit of bone. Sophia was ancient when I first knew her. She claimed to come from the beginning of time. She wore her locket always. She believes it gives her power. Perhaps a strong enough belief is as powerful as the truth."
"Where has this talisman been?" she asked him.
"At the bottom of the sea."
"But then how has she-"
"Retrieved it? I don't know. I don't know for sure that she has the talisman, but she claimed that it was her greatest source of power. But whatever the reason, she has healed- they have healed, and regained strength."
"You've tried summoning them?"
"They block me. They mean to seize complete power."
"You can't let that happen. You need to sleep, to regain all the strength you can," she said.
"I can betray no weakness," he murmured. Weakness! He was as frail as a kitten at this moment.
Her eyes studied his. "That's the truth. You can betray no weakness," she said softly. She touched his cheek, a gentle touch. "You've learned so much. Learn to trust an old friend. It's why you've come here, isn't it? Come in."
He nodded and came into her home-a mortal home, filled with warmth now. A rich, tempting aroma from the kitchen. The sound of a baby's cry. The softness of a mattress. The cradle of a pillow.
"Earth?" she asked quietly. "A wee bit of the old country?"
"In my pockets."
"Guest room," she told him.
He paused. "Thank you. I should explain that-"
"Later. Sleep now. You look as if you must have some time to heal." She eyed him carefully. "Have you
Had she sounded just a bit afraid? he wondered. She lived a different life now. He had left her to that life.
He grinned. "Yes."
"Lucian ..." she murmured, then hesitated. "Lucian, please tell me that you haven't been seizing upon the innocent. Tell me that you've been gnawing on vicious dictators, convicted killers, child-molesters-"
"I didn't gnaw on anyone. I went to the blood bank at the hospital." She smiled, looked down, laughed ruefully. "I'm sure that will be in the papers."
"I'm sure it will."
"Well, I married a cop, remember? You may be all that stands between us all and total insanity. Sleep.
You will need all your power."
"Later Sean will be home. He'll know more. He can help you. And you ..."
"You can help him," she said very softly. "For now, come with me." They walked up the grand staircase, past the remarkable Civil War picture on the landing. "Have you hurt Darian enough to buy some time?"
"Yes. I don't think he'll risk another encounter with me again soon. But he is not alone. He has Sophia-at the least."
"Still, injured ..." She inhaled, looking at him. "You're right. He won't want to tangle with you until he's gathered his own strength again. He-they-must find prey elsewhere."