Night World : Daughters of Darkness


Chapter 14


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They walked back to the gas station quickly, their shoulders almost touching. Mary-Lynnette found

comfort in Rowan's nearness, in her levelheadedness.She'd never had a friend before who was

completelyher equal, who found it as easy to take care of people as to be taken care of.

As they reached the gas station, they could see thatthe little group was now clustered around Mary

Lynnette's car. Jeremy was peering under the hood.Mark and Jade were back, hand in hand, but there

was no sign of Tiggy. Kestrel was leaning against a gas pump, and Ash was talking to Jeremy.

"So the werewolf walks into the second doctor's office and he says, 'Doc, I think I have rabies.'

And the doctor says ..."

So much for bluffing him, Mary-Lynnette thought.

Rowan, eyes shut and shoulders tensed, said, "Ash,that isn't funny." She opened her eyes. "I'm sorry,"

she said to Jeremy. "He doesn't mean it."

"He does, but it doesn't matter. I've heard worse." Jeremy bent over the engine again. He

replaced a cap with careful, even twists. Then he looked up at Mary-Lynnette.

Mary-Lynnette didn't know what to say. What's the etiquette when you've just discovered that

somebody's a werewolf? And that it may be their duty to eat you?

Her eyes filled. She was completely out of control today.

Jeremy looked away. He shook his head slightly. His mouth was bitter. "That's what I figured. I thought

you'd react this way. Or I'd have told you myself a long time ago."

"You would?" Mary-Lynnette's vision cleared."But-then you would have gotten in trouble.

Right?"

Jeremy smiled faintly. "Well, we're not really sticklers for Night World law around here."

He said it in a normal tone of voice. Ash and the sisters looked around reflexively.

Mary-Lynnette said, "'We'?"

"My family. They first settled here because it was so far out of the way. A place where they

wouldn't bother anybody, and nobody would bother them. Of course, they're all gone now. There's only

me left."

He said it without self-pity, but Mary-Lynnette moved closer. "I'm sorry."

Jade moved in on the other side, silvery-green eyeswide. "But that's why we came here, too! So nobody

would bother us. We don't like the Night World,either."

Jeremy gave another faint smile-that smile thatshowed mostly in his eyes. "I know," he said to Jade.

"You're related to Mrs. Burdock, aren't you?"

"She was our aunt," Kestrel said, her golden gaze fixed unwaveringly on him.

Jeremy's expression changed slightly. He turned around to look at Kestrel directly. "'Was'?"

"Yes, shemet with a slight accident involving astake," Ash said. "Funny how that happens some

times...."

Jeremy's expression changed again. He looked as if he were leaning against the car for support. "Who

did it?" Then he glanced back at Ash, and Mary-Lynnette saw a gleam of teeth. "Wait you think I did.

Don't you?"

"It did cross our minds at one point," Ash said. "Actually, it seemed to keep crossing them. Back

and forth. Maybe we should put in a crosswalk."

Mary-Lynnette said, "Ash, stop it."

"So you're saying you didn't do it," Mark said to Jeremy, at the same time as Rowan said,

"Actually, Kestrel thinks it was a vampire hunter."

Her voice was soft, but once again, everybody looked around. The street was still deserted.

"There's no vampire hunter around here," Jeremy said flatly.

"Then there's a vampire," Jade said in an excited whisper. "There has to be, because of the way

Aunt Opal was killed. And the goat."

"The goat . . . ? No, don't even tell me. I don't wanttoknow." Jeremy swung Mary-Lynnette's

hood shut. He looked at her and said quickly, "Everything's fine in there. You should get the oilchanged

sometime." Then he turned to Rowan. "I'm sorry about your aunt. But if thereis a vampirearound here, it's

somebody staying hidden. Really hidden. Same if it's a vampire hunter."

"We already figured that out," Kestrel said. MaryLynnette expected Ash to chime in, but Ash

was staring across the street broodingly, his hands in hispockets, apparently having given up on the

conversation for the moment.

"You haven't seen anything that could give you a due?" Mary-Lynnette said. "We were going to

lookaround town."

He met her eyes directly. "If I knew, I'd tell you." There was just the slightest emphasis on the last word.

"If I could help you, I would."

"Well, come along for the ride. You can put your head out of the window," Ash said, returning to

life.

That did it. Mary-Lynnette marched over, grabbedhim by the arm, and said to the others, "Excuse us."

She hauled him in a series of tugs to the back of the gas station. "You jerk!"

"Oh, look...................

"Shut upl"She jabbed a finger at his throat. It didn't matter that touching him set off electrical explosions.

It just gave her another reason to want to kill him. She found that the pink haze was a lot like anger when

you kept shouting through it.

"You have to be the center of every drama, don't you? You have to be the center of attention,

and act smart, and mouth off l"

"Ow," Ash said.

"Even if it means hurting other people. Even if itmeans hurting somebody who's only had rotten

breaks all his life. Well, not this time."

"Ow

"Rowan said you guys think all werewolves are low class. And you know what that is? Where I come

from, they call that prejudice. And humans have it, too, andit is not a pretty picture. It's about the most

hateful thing in the world. I'm ashamed to even stand there while you spout it off." Mary-Lynnette realized

she was crying. She also realized that Mark and Jade were peering around the edge of the gas station.

Ash was flat against the boarded-up window, armsup in a gesture of surrender. He looked at a loss for

words and ashamed. Good, Mary-Lynnette thought.

"Should you keep poking him that way?" Mark said tentatively. Mary-Lynnette could see Rowan

andKestrel behind him and Jade. They all looked alarmed.

"I can't be friends with anybody who's a bigot,"she said to all of them. She gave Ash a jab for

emphasis.

"We're not," Jade said virtuously."Wedon't be lieve that stupid stuff."

"We really don't," Rowan said. "And Mary-Lynnette-our father is alwaysyellingat Ash for visiting

the wrong kind of people on the Outside. Belonging to a dub that admits werewolves, havingwerewolves

for friends. The Elders all say he's too liberal about that."

Oh. "Well, he's got a funny way of showing it," Mary-Lynnette said, deflating slightly.

"I just thought I'd mention that," Rowan said."Now we'll leave you alone." She herded the others

back toward the front of the station.

When they were gone, Ash said, "Can I move now, please?" He looked as if he was in a very bad

mood.

Mary-Lynnette gave up. She felt tired, suddenlytired and emotionally drained. Too much had happened

in the last few days. And it kept happening, it never let up, and ... well, she was tired, that's all.

"If you'd go away soon, it would be easier," shesaid, moving away from Ash. She could feel her

headsag slightly.

"Mary-Lynnette . . ." There was something inAsh's voice that she'd never heard before. "Look

it's not exactly a matter of me wanting to go away.There's somebody else from the Night World coming

on Monday. His name is Quinn. And if my sistersand I don't go back with him, the whole town is in

trouble. If he thinks anything irregular is going onhere ... You don't know what the Night Peoplecan do."

Mary-Lynnette could hear her heart beating distinctly. She didn't turn back to look at Ash.

"They could wipe Briar Creek out. I mean it. They've done things like that, to preserve the secret.

It's the only protection they have from your kind."

Mary-Lynnette said-not defiantly, but with simpleconviction, "Your sisters aren't going to leave."

"Then the whole town's in trouble. There's a roguewerewolf, three renegade lamia, and a secret

vampirekiller wandering around somewhere-not to mention twohumans who know about the Night

World. This is a paranormal disaster area."

A long silence. Mary-Lynnette was trying very hard not to see "things from Ash's point of view. Atlast

she said, "So what do you want me to do?"

"Oh, I don't know, why don't we all have a pizza party and watch TV?" Ash sounded savage. "I

haveno idea what to do," he added in more normal tones."And you'd better believe I've been thinking

about it. The only thing I can come up with is that the girlshave to go back with me, and we all have to lie

through our teeth to Quinn."

Mary-Lynnette tried to think, but her head was throbbing.

"There is one other possibility," Ash said. He saidit under his breath, as if he wouldn't mind if she

pretended not to hear him.

Mary-Lynnette eased a crick in her neck, watchingblue-and-yellow images of the sun on her shut

eyelids. "What?"

"I know you and the girls did a blood-tie ceremony. It was illegal, but that's beside the point.

You're part of the reason they don't want to leavehere."

Mary-Lynnette opened her mouth to point out thatthey didn't want to leave because life had been

unbearable for them in the Night World, but Ash hurried on. "But maybe if you were-like us, we could

work something out. I could take the girls back to the island, and then in a few months I could get them

out again. We'd go someplace where nobodywould know us. Nobody would suspect there was anything

irregular about you. The girls would be free,and you'd be there, so there's no reason they shouldn't be

happy. Your brother could come, too."

Mary-Lynnette turned around slowly. She examined Ash. The sun brought out hidden warm tonesin his

hair, making it a shimmering blond somewherebetween Jade's and Kestrel's. His eyes were shadowed,

some dark color. He stood lanky and elegantas ever, but with one hand in his pocket and a pained

expression on his face.

"Don't frown; you'll spoil your looks," she said. "For God's sake, don't patronize mel" he yelled.

Mary-Lynnette was startled. Well. Okay.

"I think," she said, more cautiously but with emphasis to let him know that she was the one with a

right to be upset, "that you are suggesting changing me into a vampire."

The corner of Ash's mouth jerked. He put his other hand in his pocket and looked away. "That was the

general idea, yes."

"So that your sisters can be happy."

"So that you don't get killed by some vigilante like Quinn."

"But aren't the Night People going to kill me just the same if you change me?"

"Only if they findyou," Ash said savagely. "And if we can get away from here clean, they

wouldn't.Anyway, as a vampire you'd have a better chance of fighting them ."

"So I'm supposed to become a vampire and leave everything I love here so your sisters can be

happy."

Ash just stared angrily at the roof of the building across the street. "Forget it."

"Believe me, I wasn't even thinking about it in the first place."

"Fine." He continued to stare. All at once Mary-Lynnette had the horrible feeling that his eyes

were wet.

And I've cried I don't know how many times inthe last two days-and I only used to cry when thestars

were so beautiful it hurt. There's somethingwrongwith me now. I don't even know who I am anymore.

There seemed to be something wrong with Ash, too.

"Ash ..."

He didn't look at her. His jaw was tight.

The problem is that there isn't any tidy answer, Mary-Lynnette thought. "I'm sorry," she said huskily,

trying to shake off the strange feelings that hadsuddenly descended on her. "It's just that everything's

turned out so ... weird.I never asked for any of this." She swallowed. "I guess you never askedfor it,

either. First your sisters running away ...and then me. Some joke, yeah?"

"Yeah." He wasn't staring off into the distance anymore. "Look ... I might as well tell you.I didn't

ask for this, and if somebody had said last week that I'd be in ... involved ...with a,human, I'd have

knocked his head off. I mean, after howls of derisive laughter. But."

He stopped. That seemed to be the end of his confession:but.Of course, he didn't really need to say

more. Mary-Lynnette, arms folded over her chest, stared at a curved piece of glass on the ground and

tried to think of other phrases that started with in.Besides the obvious. She couldn't come up with any.

She resisted the impulse to nudge the glass with her foot. "I'm a bad influence on your sisters."

"I said that to protect you. To try and protect you.""I can protect myself."

"So I've noticed," -he said dryly. "Does that help?"

"You noticing? No, because you don't really believe it. You'll always think I'm weaker than

you, softer ...even if you didn't say it, I'd know you were thinking it."

Ash suddenly looked crafty. His eyes were as greenas hellebore flowers. "If you were a vampire, you

wouldn't be weaker," he said. "Also, you'd know what I was really thinking." He held out his hand.

"Want a sample?"

Mary-Lynnette said abruptly, "We'd better get back. They're going to think we've killed each other."

"Let them," Ash said, his hand still held out, but Mary-Lynnette just shook her head and walked

away.

She was scared. Wherever she'd been going with Ash, she'd been getting in too deep. And she

wondered how much of their conversation had been audible around front.

When she rounded the corner, her eyes immediately went to Jeremy. He was standing with Kestrel by

the gas pump. They were dose together, and forjust an instant Mary-Lynnette felt something like startled

dismay.

Then her inner voice asked, Are you insane? You can't be jealous over him while you're worrying

whether he's jealous over you, and meanwhile worrying about what to do with your soulmate.... It's good

if he and Kestrel like each other.

"I don't care; I can't wait anymore," Jade was saying to Rowan on the sidewalk. "I've got to find

him."

"She thinks Tiggy's gone home," Rowan said, seeing Mary-Lynnette. Ash went toward Rowan.

Kestrel did, too. Somehow Mary-Lynnette was left beside Jeremy.

Once again, she didn't know the etiquette. Sheglanced at him-and stopped feeling awkward. He was

watching her in his quiet, level way.

But then he startled her. He threw a look at thesidewalk and said, "Mary-Lynnette, be careful."

"What?"

" Be careful. "It was the same tone he'd used whenwarning her about Todd and Vic.

Mary-Lynnette followed his gaze ... to Ash.

"It's all right," Mary-Lynnette said. She didn't know how to explain. Even his own sisters hadn't

believed Ash wouldn't hurt her.

Jeremy looked bleak. "I know guys like that.Sometimes they bring human girls to their clubsand you

don't want to know why. So just just watch yourself, all right?"

It was a nasty shock. Rowan and the girls had saidsimilar things, but coming from Jeremy it sank in,

somehow. Ash had undoubtedly done things in his life that ... well, that would make her want to kill him if

she knew. Things you couldn't just forget about.

"I'll be careful," she said. She realized her fists were clenched, and she said with a glimmer of

humor, "I can handle him."

Jeremy still looked bleak. His brown eyes were

dark and his jaw was tight as he looked at Ash. Underhis quietness, Mary-Lynnette could sense leashed

power. Cold anger. Protectiveness. And the fact that he didn't like Ash at all .

The others were coming back. "I'll be all right," Mary-Lynnette whispered quickly.

Aloud, Jeremy said, "I'll keep thinking about the people around town. I'll tell you if I come up with

something."

Mary-Lynnette nodded. "Thanks, Jeremy." She tried to give him a reassuring look as everybody got into

the car.

He stood watching as she pulled out of the gas station. He didn't wave.

"Okay, so we go home," Mark said. "And then what?"

Nobody answered. Mary-Lynnette realized that she had no idea what.

"I guess we'd better figure out if we still have anysuspects," she said at last.

"There's something else we've got to do, first," Rowan said softly. "We vampires, I mean."

Mary-Lynnette could tell just by the way she said it. But Mark asked, "What?"

"We need to feed," Kestrel said with her most radiant smile.

They got back to Burdock Farm. There was no sign of the cat. The four vampires headed for the

woods, Jadecalling for Tiggy, and Mary-Lynnette headed for Mrs. B.'s rolltop desk. She got engraved

stationery only slightly mildewed at the edges-and a silver pen with a fussy Victorian pattern on it. "Now,"

she said to Mark as she sat at the kitchen table. "We're going to play List the Suspects."

"There's nothing in this house to eat, you know," Mark said. He had all the cupboards open. "Just

things like instant coffee and green Jujyfruits. The ones everybody leaves."

"What can I say, your girlfriend is undead. Come on. Sit down and concentrate." Mark sat down

and sighed. "Who have we got?"

"We should have gone to find out what the dealwas with that horse," Mark said.

Mary-Lynnette stopped with her pen poised overthe stationery. "You're right, that must be connected. I

forgot about it." Which just goes to show you, detective work doesn't mix with 1-with idle dawdling.

"All right," she said grimly. "So let's assume that whoever killed the horse was the same person

who killed Aunt Opal and the goat. And maybe the sameperson who broke the gas station window-that

hap pened last night, too. Where does that get us?"

"I think it was Todd and Vic," Mark said.

"You're not being helpful."

"I'm serious. You know how Todd is always chewing on that toothpick. And there were

toothpicks stuck in the goat."

Toothpicks... now, what did that remind her of? No, not toothpicks, the bigger stakes. Why couldn't

she remember ?

She rubbed her forehead, giving up. "Okay...I'llput Todd and Vic, vampire hunters, with a question

mark. Unless you think they're vampires themselves."

"Nope," Mark said, undeterred by her sarcasm. "I think Jade would've noticed that when she

drank their blood." He eyed her thoughtfully. "You're the smart one. Who doyou think did it?"

"I have no idea." Mark made a face at her, andshe doodled a stake on the stationery. The doodle

changed into a very small stake, more like a pencil,held by a feminine hand. She never could draw

hands....

"Oh, my God. Bunny."

"Bunny did it?" Mark asked ingenuously, preparedto be straight man for a joke.

But Mary-Lynnette said,"Yes.I mean-no, I don't know. But those stakes in the goat-the big ones I've

seen herusingthem. She uses them on her nails. They're cuticle sticks."

"Well ..." Mark looked dismayed. "But I mean ... Bunny . C'mon. She can't kill a mosquito."

Mary-Lynnette shook her head, agitated. "Rowan said she had a lamia name. And she said something

strange to me-Bunny-the day I was looking for Todd and Vic." It was all coming back now, a flood of

memories that she didn't particularly want. "She said, 'Good hunting."'

"Mare, it's from The Jungle Book ."

"I know. It was still weird for her to say. And she's almosttoosweet and scared-what if it's all an

act?" When Mark didn't answer, she said, "Is it any more unlikelythan Todd and Vic being vampire

hunters?"

"So put her down, too."

Mary-Lynnette did. Then she said, "You know, there's something I keep meaning to ask Rowanabout

how they wrote to Mrs. B. from thatisland-" She broke off and tensed as the back door banged.

"Am I the first one back?"

It was Rowan, windblown and glowing, slightlybreathless. Her hair was a tumbling chestnut loud around

her.

"Where's everybody else?" Mary-Lynnette asked.

"We separated early on. It's the only way, you know, with four of us in this small of an area."

"Small!" Mark looked offended. "If Briar Creekhas one good thing-and I'm not saying it does it's

space."

Rowan smiled. "For a hunting range, it is small,"she said. "No offense. It's fine for us-we never got to

hunt at -all on the island. They brought our mealsto us, tranquilized and completely passive."

Mary-Lynnette pushed away the image this evoked. "Urn, you want to register a guess on Whodunit?"

0Rowan sat down in a kitchen chair, smoothing a wisp of brown hair off her forehead. "I don't know. I

wonder if it's somebody we haven't even thought of yet."

Mary-Lynnette remembered what she'd been talking about when the door banged. "Rowan, I always

meant to ask you-you said that only Ash could havefigured out where you were going when you ran

away. But what about the guy who helped yousmuggle letters off the island? He would know where your

aunt lived, right? He could see the address on the letters."

"Crane Linden." Rowan smiled, a sad little smile. "No, he wouldn't know. He's ..." She touched

her temple lightly. "I don't know what you call it. His mind never developed completely. He can't read.

But he's very kind."

There were illiterate vampires? Well, why not?Aloud Mary-Lynnette said, "Oh. Well, I guess it's one

more person we can eliminate."

"Look, can we just brainstorm a minute?" Mark said. "This is probably crazy, but what if

Jeremy'suncle isn't really dead? And what if-" At that moment, there was a crash from the front porch.

No, a tap-tap-crash, Mary-Lynnette thought. Then she thought, Oh, God . . . Tiggy.


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