They were sharpened at one end.
"Crawfish etouffee," Maggie said, pausing at a stockpot. "My specialty. I gave the housekeeper the weekend off."
It seemed she exchanged a strange glance with her husband once again.
"What can I get you all to drink?" Maggie asked. "It's early, but I make a great Cosmopolitan."
"I could definitely use a great Cosmopolitan," Shanna said.
Jade lifted her hands. "Sure."
"Sean, would you run down to the basement and get another cranberry juice for me, please?"
"Sure. Anything else?"
She shook her head, her eyes meeting his. He smiled. She adored her husband. Jade lowered her eyes, looking away.
Shanna wandered into the family room, talking to the baby. Jade leaned on the counter, watching as Maggie stirred her sauce.
"You're from here?" she asked Jade.
"Born and bred. And you?"
"Yes. I was from here."
"Maggie, I just realized you're the Maggie from the shop in the French Quarter," Jade told her.
Maggie flashed her a quick grin. "Yes, it's my store."
"It's been there forever, right?"
"A very long time."
"Maggie," Jade said softly after a minute.
"There's garlic all over your house."
Maggie's eyes met hers. "Enough of it works, sometimes."
"And the stakes?"
"They work as well. Though you should cut out the heart or remove the head." Maggie Canady, tall, slim, totally dignified, was staring at her as if they were discussing her recipe for crawfish.
"They have some power, depending on the vampire. Personally I always love a beautiful cross. I'm very partial to jewelry."
"I'm not sure what you're saying. And Maggie, how could you know what might or might not work against vampires? If such creatures indeed existed."
Sean was still below. As Maggie set down her wooden spoon and stared at Jade, they could hear Shanna talking away to the baby.
"Because I was once a vampire," Maggie said, and turned and walked to a cabinet for more salt.
Jade stayed where she was, feeling as if a chill breeze blew over her. Now she really was losing her mind. "You were a vampire."
"But you're not anymore."
"You went from being a hideous, wretched bloodsucker to the wife of a cop?"
"Well, I suppose you could put it that way-"
"So it is a cult!" Jade exclaimed. "You were part of it, but you got out-"
"No. I was a vampire. And nothing is that black or white. I was never a vicious killer. The world is not so simple, not even the world of the undead. Some people are kind, and some are cruel. Some would give up their own lives to help solve world hunger, and some would slaughter in cold blood in order to steal a few dollars. Most creatures are the same."
"Men kill," Maggie said flatly.
"Vampires can't really exist!" Jade whispered.
"They can, and they do," Maggie insisted.
"I can't believe this!" Jade whispered. Tears suddenly stung her eyes. "I can't. Because I think you're trying to tell me that Lucian DeVeau is such a person, that I really was with a group attacked by vampires in Scotland, that they're killing all across the country, that-" She broke off. Maggie was just looking at her, listening. Watching, waiting for her to accept what she was saying.
Shanna, she saw, had risen, and was watching from the other room.
Sean Canady had come up from the basement.
"I think I should make those drinks now," Maggie said. "Thanks, my love," she murmured, accepting the bottle of cranberry juice Sean had brought up. She set it on the counter. "Jade, would you get the ice from the freezer for me?"
To her amazement, she did, getting a tray of ice, walking back to Maggie.
She gazed at her sister, at Sean, and then at Maggie again. "You were a vampire?"
"And one day you just said, 'I don't think I want to be a vampire anymore'?" Maggie had been putting the ice, vodka, cranberry, and lime into a pitcher. She set it all down, placed her hands on the counter, and looked into Jade's eyes. "Nothing in the world is ever that easy. There are strange laws that govern all life-and death. I believe that God exists, I always kept a certain faith, and maybe that's why I was finally given something back."
"I don't understand."
"Long before the Civil War, I met a man. My father knew what he was; I didn't. He never meant to hurt me. He really believed that his love was strong enough to give us both life. My father killed him, and I was tainted."
"Right before the Civil War?" Jade said
"If you want to survive what is going on now, I suggest you open your mind and listen to Maggie," Sean said.
"I am listening!" Jade said. "I don't mean to mock or be rude, but-"
"Jesus, Jade!" Shanna exclaimed suddenly. "Don't you remember what it was like in Scotland? I wasn't even there, but I remember you after it all happened." Jade turned on her sister. "This is all absurd!" Jade whispered.
"Extraordinary, but absurd?" Shanna said. Sean came to her, placing his hands on her shoulders, meeting her eyes. "Jade! I was keeping guard in your living room, Shanna was there, and you heard a voice, and eluded us both by crawling down from the second floor to the street!"
She was shaking, inside and out. She'd been anxious to get to the hospital that morning. She'd been willing for Lucian to look over her stepmother. She'd had to have known why!
"Are those drinks ready yet, Maggie? If not, you could just hand the vodka bottle over to me?" Jade whispered. "Don't go for the straight vodka," Maggie murmured, handing her a glass.
She gulped it down, then handed the glass back. Maggie refilled it.
"I just can't. . . but. . . you really were a vampire. And you wore a cross?"
"A personal preference."
"So ... is there any real protection?"
"I guarantee you Darian doesn't like crosses."
"The tour guide, of course. I'll have one more drink." Maggie filled her glass. "The garlic must mean something."
"I think it will protect against Darian and Sophia, yes. It makes Lucian ill." Jade lowered her head. "I can't believe we're having this conversation."
"Yes, you can," Sean told her.
"You believe it, Jade," her sister told her. "You believe it because of Scotland."
"Oh, my God!" she sank onto a stool before the counter. "This Darian is ... the worst, the most vicious of the vampires, is that what you're trying to tell me?"
"Among them, yes. Sophia is actually the one who is the epitome of evil."
"Sophia-the dark-haired woman who was in the tomb?" Jade said.
"And she's very old as well, I take it?"
"Ancient. Older than Lucian."
"Is she stronger?"
Maggie hesitated. "Lucian is very strong. He is the one others turn to. He sees to it that the rules are obeyed."
"He's is the king of the vampires," Sean said flatly.
"The king of the vampires!" Jade repeated, feeling hysterical.
"Listen, you've to realize that it all began in a different time, a different world," Maggie said. "Vampires are ancient, nearly as old as man. And all those years ago, men were as brutal as any other creature. The Romans conquered and enslaved everyone in sight, the barbarians eventually helped the fall of Rome, Tartars killed anyone they came across, Vikings sailed the seas ... and God knows, few places were ever as cruel and horrible as medieval Europe. My God, torture is still practiced in hidden cellars in far too many places around the world."
"It's illegal and immoral to run around killing people today!" Jade exclaimed.
"Oh, yes, of course, we've grown more civil. Far more civil. And as man has evolved, so have other creatures. We share the world. We all have to find our niche in it. We're not living in a world of such violence and sudden death and ... most of the undead have learned to live quietly as well. Human blood is still the greatest temptation, and God knows, vampires kill, but most are careful. They select the ill, the aged-"
"Oh! Kind creatures, practicing a fine form of euthanasia?" Jade demanded heatedly.
"Sometimes death is a kindness," Maggie said softly. "But I'm not trying to tell you that any creature has the right to play God."
"We've watched someone we love die of cancer," Shanna reminded Jade bitterly. "There are things worse than death."
"Being undead?" Jade suggested, staring at Maggie.
"My wife is trying to help you," Sean said. His voice was hard; he loved her, and he was defending her.
"This is a lot to understand, to accept," Jade murmured. "I just..."
"It's all right, Sean," Maggie said. "She's right. And our meal is ready. Will you still join us, Miss MacGregor?"
"Of course," Jade murmured. "I, um ... what can I do?"
"The salad is in the refrigerator. Shanna, would you mind putting Brent in his chair?"
"No, my pleasure."
They set the table with casual, polite small talk suddenly taking the place of the conversation they'd been having. Sean sat at the head of his table, across from his wife.