Renate jumped to her feet, the stake raised high.
Lucian hardly seemed to move. But he was in front of Renate; then he'd seized the stake and broken it over a knee.
Matt and Danny instantly dropped their stakes, backing away.
"Never hesitate with a vampire," Lucian told Renate.
Renate stared at him. A small gasp escaped her. Her eyes fluttered. Then she fell into a pool at his feet.
"She's passed out!" Matt cried. He started for Renate. Lucian lifted a hand. "Allow me," he said quietly, and he lifted Renate, and set her in a stuffed wing-backed chair by the balcony window.
"There's ammonia under the sink," Matt said quickly.
"She's all right, isn't she?" Jade murmured.
"She'll be fine," Danny said. "I recognize a dead body when I see one." He caught Lucian's eye. "Uh, usually," he said awkwardly. "I mean, sorry, I-"
Matt was back, waving ammonia beneath Renate's nose.
She came to, looked at Lucian standing over her, and slumped right back into the chair.
"Excuse me, guys," Jade said with a sigh. "You all deal with Renate. I'm going to hop into the shower very quickly-and get some clothing on, if you don't mind!"
Danny and Matt both looked flushed-and scared.
She'd almost reached the bathroom, encompassed in her sheets.
"Jade!" Matt said.
She stopped, looking back. "You are seeing a vampire."
"I know! But it's all right. He won't hurt you," she assured him, and hurried on into the shower.
When she emerged, they were all sitting around the kitchen table. Someone had brewed coffee.
"There has to be a way to find out just who exactly she is," Renate was saying. She seemed much better-totally in charge of herself, and the situation.
Jade poured herself coffee. Lucian was sitting in one of her large, stuffed chairs. She perched on the edge of it. He absently set his hand on her back. It was an intimate and domestic gesture, and she felt incredibly fulfilled by that simple touch. As if she belonged.
"I know exactly what she is," Lucian told Renate. "Evil."
"Lucian has been filling us in," Matt explained, shaking his head admiringly. "Who would have imagined
"Not you," Renate reminded him. "He didn't want to believe me when I had facts to set right beneath his nose!" she said.
Lucian looked at Jade. "I've been trying to explain to your friends that they need to stay out of this. It is never so simple as finding a powerful vampire sleeping by light, and quickly driving a stake through its heart."
"But vampires can be killed," she said softly.
"Bram Stoker!" Matt said suddenly. "Everyone watches movies these days; they so seldom just read!
Dracula is not killed with a stake at the end. They cut into his heart, and cut off his head." He looked at Lucian. "That's why the kid's head was nearly off in that accident. Except-well, this Sophia of yours must have been the one to suck him dry. So why did she take his head off?"
"Because he meant nothing to her. Nothing more than vengeance, and a meal."
"But she had killed him. And she is a vampire. So why destroy him in such a horrible manner?" Danny asked.
"Think about it. There are laws, unwritten laws; the natural world is governed by certain laws," Lucian said. "We're not to create more than two of our own kind in a century. If there were no such laws, imagine. There would be more and more vampires-"
"And eventually no people left-"
"And then no mammals, nothing," Lucian said.
The room was silent. Lucian lifted his hands. "You shouldn't be involved. It was wonderful that you tried to protect Jade from me. But you mustn't be involved. It will only make you susceptible."
"But we know what to watch out for now," Danny said.
Lucian smiled. "No, you don't. You can't begin to imagine what you're up against."
"Lucian, honestly, we can help."
"Look, I appreciate your efforts. I appreciate the fact that you no longer want to stake, decapitate, and burn me to cinders. But you're not cops or soldiers, you're . . . writers!" he finished a little lamely.
"Excuse me, haven't you heard? The pen is mightier than the sword," Matt said.
Lucian grimaced. "I'm afraid that I've seen at times that that isn't necessarily so."
"We read, Lucian," Renate insisted.
Lucian looked down at his hands and sighed. "Look, you're not up against some green, new being with a unmanageable blood quest. She's ancient. She has powers-" He broke off suddenly.
"What?" Jade asked him.
"She must have the locket."
Renate hopped on that. "What locket? What is it?" He shook his head. "Years ago ..." Sometimes there were advantages to being the undead.
Such as when Conte de Brus first rode north to Scotland. He was a man more self-righteous, arrogant, and convinced of his own magnitude upon the earth than any other, even among the aristocracy
. He practiced cruelty at his estates in southern England, made war on the border lords, and came north to Scotland, where the wily king of the Scots struggled to keep his country from the far-reaching grasp of William the Conqueror, and the Norway progeny to whom he would leave his vast holdings.
It was a time when men were beholden to their clans. When a man such as de Brus ruled the family who rode with him.
By then his original band of Vikings was long gone. Only Wulfgar remained with him, for the disease that had claimed him at a young age had eventually caused Lucian to grant him the gift-or curse-that had changed his own existence. He had promised himself that he would create no more of his own kind, no more to suffer the agonies of the blood hunger, to fear the weaknesses of light, shun the sun, forsake the sea. Wulfgar had remained ever loyal through the decades. They have moved about, seeing the world, but always claiming kinship with the DeVeau family, a name that remained in the area-unaltered, even as most Norman, French, Flemish, and Norse names began to adjust, entering the general mainstream of the Scots.
With a French-tongued king sitting on the English throne, it mattered little.
But while Scotland struggled to create and maintain her independence, Norman lords encroached from the south; upon occasion the Vikings still attacked from the north. And within the country, lords battled over petty arguments, for land, for riches. De Brus settled near Edinburgh, claiming the land was owed to him, severing the head of the rightful owner, and augmenting the huge stone edifice already begun there.
Neighbor lords tried to fight him; great Highland clans came to the Lowlands to conquer him. His power seemed greater than that of the king.
Then Justin of Ayr, a priest, came to Lucian's Isle of the Dead. He came alone, a young man of the cloth with his own power. He brought a leather sack of gold coins and laid them before Lucian.
"I've heard what you are."
"And you bring me gold; you don't come to destroy me? How strange! A man of the cloth!" Lucian mocked.
"There is a cross upon the wooden mantel in the rear of your house," the priest pointed out.
"My wife is buried there."
The priest grinned suddenly. "They say there was a laird near here who hunted down the poor people who took his deer, and watched them strangle to death as he hanged them. The man disappeared when you returned from abroad."
Lucian shrugged. "I roasted him and ate him," he lied wryly.
"Will you do the same with this de Brus?"
The priest talked that night. Talked and talked. De Brus had a strange power. His own kinsmen feared him. Warriors who would besiege him were found maimed and decapitated on the battlefields the following day. Brave men ran from him. And it had come to where, in nearby villages, lotteries were held, and young women were chosen in that manner to be turned over to de Brus to go to the castle. He had taken a wife, it was said, or had a daughter of his own, a woman who gave him his power, and demanded human life in payment. She drank blood, and bathed in it.
"And how did you become involved in this?" Lucian asked carefully. He had feared that Sophia had healed, that she was back. There was much death and cruelty in the world, but few instances were as dark as this one at the de Brus property. And few created such a disturbance within Lucian, waking him even when he was weary, sated with blood, sleeping by high noon.
The young priest looked at him. "I came home from a pilgrimage to find that my sister had been taken." Lucian looked at Wulfgar. The next day they traveled with the priest.
At the walls of the de Brus manor, he felt an almost overwhelming wave of her power sweep over him.
He could not enter without being invited. He could wait outside for the next group of warriors brave and foolish enough to try to assault de Brus, but the priest was desperate, praying that he could still save his sister.
They watched the gate throughout part of the night. At dawn Lucian saw a woman in handsome apparel, with a cape of silk and fur, ride out from the courtyard unaccompanied.
He followed her. She came to a clearing, dismounted from her horse, sat upon a log, and wept.
He approached her.
She screamed and jumped up at his arrival, clinging to a tree for strength. "They warned me not to ride out, that I would fall prey to our enemies." She noted the huge sword swinging from the scabbard at his side. "They warned me that all of the family de Brus are in danger." She lowered her head. "For the pact with Satan we have made."
He walked with her, lifting her chin. "Is it Satan?" he inquired.
"It is my father's new wife. They call her a de Brus. She is not. She is spawn of hell. What you hear is true. I hear the young girls screaming...."