When Darkness Falls


Page 7









"Hey!" Shanna called after her.


"Yeah?"


"We're celebrating tonight. We're not going to get psychotic over what happened in New York!"


"No, we're not going to get psychotic over what happened."


He knew her address.


He had come before.


He stared up at the balcony for several long moments. He felt the breeze touch his cheeks, felt the night, the gentle, gentle kiss of the moon.


The doors to the balcony were open. The breeze stirred the curtains there.


He could go up. Touch the night there on the balcony. Know more.


He would watch. Stand sentinel.


He closed his eyes, then opened them, aware that she had come out to the balcony. Oddly enough, he felt that she was looking for him.


He stepped back into the shadows.


She leaned her arms on the railing, rested her chin on her hands, just staring down to the street. Let me in, he thought.


She would have done so.


No. Stay away.


There had been a time when he had known a pain and fury and an absolute sense of power that would have allowed him any action. He'd always had a certain restraint, an ability to rule his world, and himself.


But he might well have taken what he wanted: a tease, a taste, no great harm done. There and then gone


...


He stayed in the shadows.


Watching.


He had come to ...


Guard. To protect.


Then ...


He felt it. The strange disturbance.


And he knew. He closed his eyes.


Yes. They were in the city. There had been a time when he felt any rift, any change, any disturbance. He could have summoned any of their own kind, settled disputes, I spoken the law, and his word and would have been the ! end.


But now ...


She was free. Sophia, with her wretched-but powerful-fool Darian. They walked the world again.


And they were able to hide from him, despite the damage he had done- again-on that night in the old homeland. And he could only think, She has found the talisman, the locket, and I must somehow wrest it back!


Jade MacGregor stood on the balcony, looking out to the night. She lifted her hair from her neck, feeling the breeze against her flesh, then let it fall back.


He had to leave. To take action. The feeling of upheaval was growing stronger and stronger.


Why were they here, in this city?


He had not meant to come back here, no matter what his feelings for New Orleans. The not-too-distant past was still keen in far too many memories.


In his own.


What had finished had been just that-finished. He had played his part then, and moved on, only vaguely aware of the force reemerging. Reckless, harsh .. . ironfisted, iron willed. He had changed; he had not changed. No man was immune to those around him. He had learned. The world, in the light, out of the light, taught the simple lessons of survival.


He was evil himself.


But by all the fires of hell and damnation, there was one evil he would not allow to walk again.


There she stood. The American girl. Jade.


I wish I could touch you, he thought. Just touch you. Feel . . .


Remember.


The disturbance was growing, becoming ever stronger. If he closed his eyes, concentrated, felt his power ...


He could see ...


His enemies were busy.


Time was now of the essence.


He turned into the darkness.


And toward the evil he knew too well.


"But did you see this?"


Renate DeMarsh, a tenant in another part of the old antebellum house and the creator of the Miss Jacqueline mystery series, had come to the party armed with a pile of New York papers. Shanna had tried to stop her at the door; Renate had barreled on in.


At thirty-eight she was respected and had acquired critical acclaim for her mysteries, referred to in the genre as cozies. Cozies were great. They were the mysteries solved by the fireside by a sweet, gray-haired grandmother. They were loved and cherished by readers. Renate was petite and beautiful, with platinum hair and Liz Taylor blue-violet eyes. She was constantly on talk shows. Seven of her fifteen novels had been optioned for television and feature films-none had as yet been made. Although she lived well, Renate was frustrated. Her novels, though popular and acclaimed, still hadn't made her the fortune she thought she deserved. She liked to tell Matt that he wrote sick books for far too much money, while she wrote good, quality, literary books for far too little money. Her comments never offended Matt-he was very fond of making money and didn't give two figs about talk shows. Still, he admitted that sure, he'd like her critical acclaim, and she'd turn around and tell him that she'd like his cash flow. They were great commiserators for one another.


But now Matt was annoyed. This was, after all, his big celebration as well, and it was filled with nothing but talk about the murders in New York-and those Jade had survived in Scotland.


"Renate, I hadn't even meant for Jade to see what happened!" Matt said. "I forgot about the headlines when I left her the paper."


"Yeah. Pumpkin head!" Shanna murmured.


"What?" Matt said.


"Never mind," Jade said quickly.


"No, no, no," Renate said impatiently. She stood before him, hands on hips, very dignified and regal-she had a flair for just the right clothing. Her eyes were large and sharp, demanding that she receive her just attention, and she was determined that Jade was going to read every word in the articles on the murders.


"It's important that Jade read all about this!" she said indignantly.


"Why?" Shanna demanded.


"The same sick people could be involved."


"Oh, Renate-" Matt began.


"You people all deal in the fantastic," she interrupted sternly. "Whereas I deal with real police procedure. There's always a motive, you know."


"Yes, but there are cult members all over the world," Jenny Danson put in. She was pretty, buxom, and plump, and, like Matt, almost always cheerful and pleasant. A mother and nurse for twenty years before she ever started writing, she had made a quick success with stories about the struggle between career and family and the foibles of everyday life. Nothing got Jenny down.


And now she was facing Renate. She wasn't going to allow any of them to tear down Jade's hard-won grip on normalcy. "Oh, now, Renate, you don't read newspapers any better than the rest of us! You're not a homicide detective or a behavioral scientist. Jack the Ripper is gone, Bundy is dead, but there will be more serial killers. New Orleans was ravaged by a monster not long ago at all! They are not all going to be the same, and they are not all going to be after Jade."


"Did I suggest such a thing?" Renate demanded.


"Well, sort of," said Danny Thacker. A lean young man, he looked the part of the starving artist; Danny had published several papers and some articles and stories in magazines, but he hadn't yet managed to sell his novel.


He did work part-time for the coroner's office. A good credential at the moment.


"I suggested no such thing, Daniel Thacker," Renate said firmly. But she looked at him and smiled. He helped Renate out a lot-he didn't seem to mind that she had an ability to use him. He liked Renate, and he liked being with her. Why she chose to be with him didn't matter.


"Renate, come on, seriously, we can all read, and we all know what happened. You'll scare Jade!" Matt said.


"Knowledge isn't going to scare me," Jade said. "Not knowing things is very scary."


"But there's surely no need to know more about New York City," supplied Todd, Jenny's equally cheerful husband. "Jade, you're in your home city, you know. In your home."


"With us," Jenny added.


"Oh, boy, now there's a piece of security!" Shanna said lightly.


"You all are getting into a tizzy!" Renate argued. "Jade is right, and Jade is sensible. Forewarned is forearmed, I always say."


"Yes, you do. Over and over again in every book," Matt noted.


Renate cast him a withering glare. "All right, all of you," she insisted. "Just let Jade see this one article.


After that I'll say no more. She can decide for herself whether she should worry or not. You know, I have a friend with a large bulldog. A pit bull. One of the meanest I've ever seen."


"All pit bulls are not mean," Matt protested.


"This one is. And it would probably maul each and every one of us to a pulp, dear," Renate said.


"Renate, Matt, mean or not mean, I'm not getting a pit bull," Jade said.


"Jade," Danny commented, "those little cheese-puff things are delicious. Did you make them?"


"No, they're from the restaurant below."


"Wow."


Again, Renate sighed.


"The hell with the cheese puffs! Jade, I mean it; it's important-read this!" Jade arched a brow. The others fell silent. She stepped forward and picked up the article that Renate had indicated.


She read about the murders. Black-and-white, no-nonsense, nonsensationalist reporting. Cold, almost.


Blood and guts, horror and terror-stone cold. The facts, ma'am, just the facts. And then she saw the fact that Renate had been so determined she notice: the list of the dead.


And the name Hugh Riley. It seemed to jump out at her. It seemed to scream.


"Hugh Riley!" she said it out loud. And she remembered him. The boy with the mile-wide shoulders who had known his history, quiet most of the evening, coming to life when he knew all about Countess Bathory. She remembered his face, his eyes, his walk. ...


He had survived that night in Scotland. He, too, had been found in a shroud among the gravestones.


He had been found among the gravestones once again. In New York.


Only this time ...


His head had been missing.


Chapter Two


Cathy Allen left the restaurant late that evening, long after dark.


She worked most mornings, and a few lunch shifts, but this was the first time she had ever helped out with the dinner rush. But Loren and Jeffrey had both called in sick, and so she had stayed. She was missing a class, but it was Spanish, and thanks to a summer in Spain she had an excellent grasp of the language, so she wasn't too worried. She needed the money more than the class, since she was doing school on scholarships and what she could make working-and Tulane wasn't cheap.






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