He said grace before they ate.
Maggie passed the shrimp. Shanna was next to the baby, helping him with his mashed-up food.
"You really do believe in God," Jade said suddenly.
"I thank him every day for the life I have."
"But you also believe-"
"It's very simple, isn't it?" Sean interrupted quietly. "There is good and evil. Every schoolchild knows that."
"Was Rick attacked by one of these vampires?"
Maggie looked at Sean. Sean answered her.
"We think so."
"Our stepmother?" Shanna said softly.
"Yes," Sean said flatly.
"Oh, my God, then-"
"So far the two have just been playing, trying to cause havoc, to make Lucian realize that they can attack at will. So far they've not done tremendous damage. If they had really ripped into one of them ..." Maggie murmured.
"If they had," Sean continued, "the two would be tainted. They'd be themselves, but not themselves.
They'd be cruel. Then ..."
"A serious bite turns someone into a monster?" Shanna said, looking very pale. She glanced at Jade.
Dad won't be able to take it if anything really terrible happens to Liz.
"If Sophia or Darian were to choose to really rip into someone, you'd probably have a real monster.
We're not sure how, but it might even be some kind of a blood condition, and so when you have creatures with that kind of a vicious streak, you get another creature when the blood is invaded. I saw such a tiling happen to a man once," Maggie said. "He was a respected soldier. He went mad and viciously killed the men in the field who were wounded."
"What can we do?" Jade asked. "My God, my stepmother and Rick are so vulnerable-"
"They're guarded," Sean said.
"Sophia has been evil longer than anyone can remember," Maggie said. "Lucian has beaten her before.
He must beat her again."
"If he is the king-" Shanna said.
"Sophia has always been in rebellion, and Darian is her creature from hell," Maggie explained.
"If they've done such horrible things, and were beaten, why weren't they destroyed?" Shanna asked.
"It is a law: vampires are not to destroy one another."
"Even men destroy evil men."
Sean lifted his hands. "Really? Capital punishment is no longer acceptable in many places." Jade suddenly leaned forward. "Why are they attacking people close to me?" she inquired.
Sean shrugged. "Apparently they intend to finish what they started in Scotland."
"So they'd be after me. Why Rick, why my stepmother?"
"Why not torture you, and keep Lucian running ragged in the process?" Maggie responded. "They are after you. Very much so."
Jade shivered, feeling ill. Suddenly her memories of Scotland were all too vivid. "Because I saw their act in Scotland?"
"I don't know," Maggie said. "They might have put on that act in Scotland just for you."
Maggie hesitated. "You're very much like someone Lucian knew years ago. Sophia hated her. She saw you- and she hates you."
"This is very, very scary," Shanna said.
"Where is Lucian now?" Jade demanded.
"I'll take you to him soon," Maggie promised. She stood, ready to clear the table. Shanna instantly hopped up.
"Should I go with Jade?" she asked.
"Tonight you should stay here," Sean said.
"But my father, Liz-"
"Mike Astin is watching over them."
"And Mike knows ... all this?" Jade queried.
"Mike has seen strange things before," Sean told her.
Jade began to clear dishes. Shanna asked if she could help with the baby. Sean took the garbage out.
Jade rinsed at the sink while Maggie Canady loaded the dishwasher.
"When did you meet Lucian?" Jade asked her.
"When I became a vampire."
"He didn't make you a vampire?"
"No. But he ... summoned me," Maggie said, her head lowered as she slid a plate in.
"Were you ..." Jade couldn't quite bring herself to finish the question she had been about to ask.
"We're old, old friends now, nothing more," Maggie told her. She straightened, looking at Jade. "Lucian has had his times of bitterness, and he's certainly had his times of arrogance. He was the king, a teacher.
I would have perished without him. I learned the rules; he still came to my rescue. I wouldn't be here now, with Sean, if he hadn't. He wasn't always good. He isn't necessarily good now. But he is reasonable, and logical, and he always had his ethics, though I didn't see how strong he was, even then.
They say a true vampire has no soul
. I know better. He is like a man, Jade. His world isn't all black or white. There are many, many shadows in it."
"He wanted me once. He never really loved me."
"I wasn't asking-"
"Yes, you were."
Jade flushed. "I barely know him."
"Maybe you know him much better than you think."
"What do you mean?"
Maggie flushed then. "I don't even really know. When I met Sean ... well, he had an ancestor-there's actually a statue in his honor in the city-who was a soldier in the Civil War. Sean reminded me very much of him. So much of him..."
She shrugged. "I think maybe he was Sean."
"And you think that I might be someone who lived long ago?"
"Who knows? Maybe Sean and I are meant to be together. And maybe ... well, Lucian was never really in love with me, but he was in love once. Years and years ago. More than a millennium ago." Maggie hesitated a moment. "I wasn't there for Lucian's extreme past. He is very, very old. He lived in the Highlands, and he was a chieftain there. And he had a wife. Igrainia. He was very much in love, and she was cast into the sea, where he could not go after her. Some say she survived, and some say she did not.
But the story goes that certain powers within the sea returned her, for certain hours, to be with him. And still Sophia discovered her, and killed her when Igrainia had come to land, away from the waters that would have saved her."
"She came from the sea?"
"There are more things in heaven and on earth-"
"Oh, Maggie, this is all ridiculous!"
"But you're drawn to him, right? You're angry with him because he comes and goes, because there are so many unanswered questions-because you're afraid. But you're drawn to him, and if he were suddenly to step from your life again, you would be devastated." She refused to answer that.
"But with Sophia-"
"She thinks that you are Igrainia. That you've come back."
"That's ridiculous. That was so long ago-"
"I'm telling you what I believe. And her rage is incredible. Long ago she came upon Lucian when she was with Vikings, terrorizing the coast of Scotland. She is obsessed. She saw him, wanted him, created him. No one refuses Sophia. She is beautiful, and she is powerful. But he despised her, because of Igrainia. She is obsessed. He has hated her forever, and so all that she wants now is to destroy him." Jade moistened her lips. "These are fairy tales."
Maggie shook her head. "The human capacity to deny what is in plain sight is simply amazing. As amazing as any of this!"
"I'm afraid to believe any of this. And I'm afraid not to."
"But you want to see Lucian?"
She winced, gritting her teeth, turning away from Maggie. "Yes. I have to see Lucian."
"We're finished here now. I'll take you to him," Maggie said.
"Are the others coming?"
"No. Your sister will be safe here, with Sean and the baby. And you'll be safe with Lucian."
"Safe. What a curious word. I'll be safe. With a vampire."
Maggie cast her a wry glance. "Yes."
She hugged her sister hard and close before she left.
They left the house together in Maggie's handsome BMW.
When they were on the road, Jade looked out the window, worrying that she had just left her closest relative and best friend in the hands of psychos.
"We are really trying to help you. I swear it."
She glanced quickly at Maggie, amazed. Maggie had read her mind.
Maggie grinned. "I still have the gift of getting into a mind now and then."
"I'm sorry, I'm just..."
"It's all right."
They drove in silence for several minutes.
Then Jade saw where they had come.
Back to the cemetery.
She stared at Maggie, fear creeping into her system.
"You asked me to take you to Lucian."
"He's alone," Maggie assured her.
Jade looked outside. Dusk was falling.
"Maggie, a voice called to me last night. I crawled out of a window and risked breaking my neck only to find myself running around in a cemetery."
"It can't happen tonight."
"How can you be so certain?"
"Lucian is expecting you. He wanted you to really understand what he is."
"And what is that?"
"Dead. Undead. A vampire."
Jade moistened her lips, seeing the rise of elaborate tombs over the edge of the walls.
She remembered what it had been like, being here before-when she'd thought she'd been dreaming.