Rick Beaudreaux was sitting up in the coffin. His eyes were wild, trying to adjust. They fell on Lucian.
"Burning, man, I'm burning up. And starving."
He was staring at Lucian, all but salivating. He stumbled out of the coffin, rubbing his neck. "Dark in here, hot. Lucian. Man. Lucian, you look good enough to hug. In fact, you look damned good. Good enough to eat all up. What the hell am I saying? Man, I'm just so hungry...."
"I'm not what you're looking for, trust me," Lucian told him dryly. "What do you remember?"
"The sexiest broad in the universe crawling over me, and ..." Rick suddenly doubled over. "Man, I am in pain. So much pain. And I could have sworn ..." He rose slowly, still clutching his gut, looking at Lucian.
"I thought I was dead."
Rick finally got a look around the coffin. There was little light; night was coming again. But he could see, and well. Night vision was one of the advantages.
"What's the matter with me?" He closed his eyes. "I want to come out of here and-man, I don't believe this. I desperately want to drink blood. Warm blood. Fresh blood." There was a squealing from the rear of the crypt Lucian had collected some of the largest, fattest rats he could summon from the length and width of the cemetery.
Not surprisingly, they had been plentiful.
"Rats?" Rick whispered.
"They'll fill the need."
Rick didn't seem to have the power to resist the smell and the warmth of the creatures. He staggered toward the rear of the tomb.
The squealing increased to a fever pitch. Rick Beaudreaux glutted on the rats. Then, looking at his hands in horror-before deciding they weren't so bad and licking his fingertips-he leaned back against the coffin and stared at Lucian again.
"I'm dead, and in hell. Or I'm not dead, and this is the worst nightmare I've ever had. Or this is real, and I'm a ... vampire."
Lucian nodded. "I'm really sorry. I wasn't for this idea."
"You wanted to stake me, right?"
"Something like that."
"It's all right. Jade wouldn't let you, right?"
"It was a decision made by a number of them."
"Don't worry, DeVeau. She probably did it because she doesn't love me. But I'm glad. I'm telling you, I can ... I can do this."
"You're doing better than I did at first. I didn't want to accept it. But I warn you, being undead-damned, if you will, has its true miseries. Remember that hunger you just felt?"
"I can do this. Well, I mean, you can do better than rats without hitting on people, right? I mean, it could have been a cow."
"Sorry-I might have looked a little strange dragging Daisy or Elsie into a family mausoleum in the middle of a historical cemetery at the crack of dawn," Lucian said, aggravated.
Rick grinned, lowered his head, then looked at Lucian again. "It's not what I was planning. But I can do it." He was quiet a minute. "I want to find the killers. I guess you weren't among them. I'd rather be what I am-a rat-eater at the moment-and able to do something. I won't freak out and start attacking people I loved, will I?"
"It has happened," Lucian said. "But I intend to be with you. There are rules, of course, laws in this world, but you'll have to learn them as we go. Time is all-important to us now. There are a lot of arrangements to be made. We need to move."
Rick nodded. "As you say."
Lucian turned around to start out from the tomb, remembering that it would take Rick some time to learn the power of mist and movement, mind and matter.
Iron gates creaked open as he let them out into the night.
He started walking toward the gates, listening for Rick behind him.
He heard tears and hesitated. Up ahead, a young girl was kneeling in front of a freshly sealed tomb, crying.
She was about sixteen. Her hair was in a ponytail. As she sobbed, even he felt the pull of the long blue vein in her neck, made so visible by the height of her ponytail.
"Fight it," he told Rick.
"I'm cool; I swear it," Rick told him, and they walked on by, nodding sympathetically to the girl. "I'm cool, chieftain."
Lucian swung around. "What did you call me?"
"I don't know. Oh, chieftain."
"Why did you call me that?"
"Well, you're Scottish, right? Even with the name DeVeau."
"I was. Once upon a time," Lucian said, studying Rick. "Once upon a time, long ago."
"And now ..."
"Now, it's time to go home."
At first, Jade was convinced that they had all lied to her. They had pretended to save Rick, and they had gone down to the morgue and cut him to ribbons.
She had slept most of the day. They all had.
Amazing how time could turn around.
But once she had awakened, she had read the morning news. Rick Beaudreaux, a popular police officer, had died in the night. A fellow officer reported a couple who had come in to attack the officer, however, they had mysteriously disappeared into thin air. The unnamed officer how had been guarding the sick Beaudreaux had apparently injured himself in a fall-the insinuation was there that the fall had given the cop much more than bump on the head.
To make matters worse, Beaudreaux's body had disappeared. Cleanly, completely. He had been in the morgue; now he was gone.
She wondered if her father had had anything to do with the story. No. Peter MacGregor would never have said or done anything to make matters any harder on Jack Delaney.
Her hands were shaking as she put down the paper and looked at Maggie. Maggie smiled. "They might not have agreed with you, but they wouldn't have lied to you, Jade," Maggie told her.
"We'll have to hope that he comes back ... decently."
They were alone in the breakfast room. Jade had checked on her sister, and Shanna was still sleeping with little Jamie curled into her arms.
Jade stared at her coffee cup. "I still don't believe any of this. But ... if you were a really decent person, could you come back as a ... as a decent vampire?"
Maggie didn't answer right away.
She shrugged and sipped her own coffee. "Rational is probably a better word. The urge is there . ..
immediately. The urge to kill, to savage flesh, to feed ... but it can be controlled. I'm sure he's told you.
Lucian wasn't always quite so ... discerning. But even in the days when it appeared he was far harsher, sterner, and mocking of the daylight world, I don't think he ever enjoyed killing. Not even after Igrainia
... I think he wanted vengeance against Sophia. And when she was entombed ... he existed to keep order."
The phone started ringing.
Jade jumped up. "I'll bet it's my dad."
"No, I called him and said that we'd bring you and your sister later this evening. I'll bet it's that pesky neighbor of yours."
"The writer. That Renate DeMarsh."
"She's been calling?" Jade said.
"Again and again."
"She's convinced she has the answer to the locket situation."
"Maybe she does. You should talk to her."
Jade answered the phone, and Renate was tired and cranky. "Where is Lucian?" she demanded.
"Look, Renate, it was an eventful night. I don't know where he is right now."
"Well, you've got to get him over here. Quickly. Listen to me, the locket is all about an ancient Egyptian cat goddess-"
"Bastet?" Jade said, trying to remember all that she might have learned at one time or another about ancient Egyptian deities.
"No. Bastet is one, yes. But this was a cat goddess, more like a panther. She was called Ura. There's not a lot known about her, because in the days when they went to the new religion, they destroyed everything pertaining to her- every engraving, every statue, everything, because she was a blood drinker. They used to sacrifice to her. When she was at last destroyed, legend goes, she was burned.
But her ashes remained. If collected in a locket, they were said to give the possessor the power of pure evil. And unless the owner of the locket was destroyed in fire along with the goddess, the power would remain. So taking away the locket does nothing. Sophia has to be burned, and burned to ash."
"I'll call you, Renate. That's great information. You've been wonderful." Renate sniffed. "Hmff. I wish I felt wonderful. I'm exhausted. I've had no sleep. How are you holding up?"
"Did you steal Rick's body?"
"Well, call me. Have Lucian call me."
"I will. Thanks again," Jade said, and hung up.
"She knows?" Maggie asked.
"She's a researcher," Jade said. "She'd look up all sorts of stuff on vampires, and she and two other good friends decided to save my life by staking Lucian."
"They failed, obviously."
"But he talked to them, and they're trying to solve this whole thing through careful study and research.
And Renate does have an interesting legend to relate about a cat goddess and the locket-it seems Sophia has to be burned."
"That's probably much easier said than done," Maggie told her. "And then there is the whole thing about
... vampires are not to destroy vampires. Hurt them, maim them, put them away for centuries, but... Well, we'll have to figure it all out. It will be night soon. Why don't you go ahead and shower and change and we'll go in and see your stepmother."