She was running. Throwing the door open. Visionsof kittens impaled by tiny stakes in her mind.
It wasn't Tiggy on the front porch. It was Ash. He was lying flat in the purple twilight, little moths
fluttering around him.
Mary-Lynnette felt a violent wrench in her chest.For a moment everything seemed suspended-and
If Ash were dead-if Ash had been killed ...
Things would never be all right. She would neverbe all right. It would be like the night with the moonand
stars gone. Nothing that anybody could do wouldmake up for it. Mary-Lynnette didn't know why-itdidn't
make any sense-but she suddenly knew it was true.
She couldn't breathe and her arms and legs felt strange. Floaty. Out of her control.
Then Ash moved. He lifted his head and pushed up with his arms and looked around.
Mary-Lynnette could breathe again, but she still felt dizzy. "Are you hurt?" she asked stupidly. She didn't
dare touch him. In her present state one blast of electricity could fry her circuits forever. She'd meltlike
the Wicked Witch of the West.
"I fell in thishole, "he said. "What do you think?"
That's right, Mary-Lynnette thought; the footsteps hadended with more of a crash than a thud. Not like
the footsteps of last night.
And that meant something ...if only she couldfollow the thought to the end... .
"Having problems, Ash?"Kestrel's voice saidsweetly, and then Kestrel herself appeared out of
the shadows, looking like an angel with her golden hair and her lovely clean features. Jade was behind
her, holding Tiggy in her arms.
"He was up in a tree," Jade said, kissing the kitten's head. "I had to talk him down." Her eyes
were emerald in the porch light, and she seemed to float rather than walk.
Ash was getting up, shaking himself. Like his sisters, he looked uncannily beautiful after a feeding,with a
sort of weird moonlight glow in his eyes. Mary-Lynnette's thought was long gone.
"Come on in," she said resignedly. "And help figure out who killed your aunt."
Now that Ash was indisputably all right,she wanted to forget what she'd been feeling a minuteago. Or at
least not to think about what it meant.
What it means, the little voice inside her head said sweetly, is that you're in big trouble, girl. Ha ha.
"So what's the story?" Kestrel said briskly as they all sat around the kitchen table.
"The story is that there is no story,"MaryLynnette said. She stared at her paper in frustration.
"Look-what if we start at the beginning? We don't know who did it, but we do know some things about
Rowan nodded encouragingly. "Right."
"First: the goat. Whoever killed the goat had to bestrong, because poking those toothpicks
through hidewouldn't have been easy. And whoever killed the goat had to know how your uncle Hodge
was killed, because the goat was killed in the same way. And they had to have some reason for putting a
black irisin the goat's mouth-either because they knew Ashbelonged to the Black Iris Club, or because
they be longed to the Black Iris Club themself."
"Or because they thought a black iris would represent all lamia, or all Night People," Ash said.
Hisvoice was muffled-he was bent over, rubbing hisankle. "That's a common mistake Outsiders make."
Very good, Mary-Lynnette thought in spite of herself. She said, "Okay. And they had access to two
different kinds of small stakes-which isn't sayingmuch, because you can buy both kinds in town."
"And they must have had some reason to hate Mrs. B., or to hate vampires," Mark said.
"Otherwise, why kill her?"
Mary-Lynnette gave him a patient look. "I hadn't gotten to Mrs. B. yet. But we can do her now. First,
whoever killed Mrs. B. obviously knew she was a vampire, because they staked her. And, second ...
um...second . . ." Her voice trailed off. She couldn't think of anything to go second.
-240 "Second, they probably killed her on impulse," Ash said, in a surprisingly calm and analytical
voice."You said she was stabbed with a picket from the fence, and if they'd been planning on doing it,
they'd probably have brought their own stake."
"Verygood." This time Mary-Lynnette said it out loud. She couldn't help it. She met Ash's eyes
and saw something that startled her. He looked as if itmattered to him that she thought he was smart.
Well, she thought. Well, well. Here we are, probably for the first time, justtalking to each other. Not
arguing, not being sarcastic, just talking. It's nice.
It was surprisingly nice. And the strange thing was, she knew Ash thought so, too. They understood
each other. Over the table, Ash gave her a barely perceptible nod.
They kept talking. Mary-Lynnette lost track of timeas they sat and argued and brainstormed. Finally she
looked up at the clock and realized with a shock that it was near midnight.
"Do wehave to keep thinking?" Mark said pathetically. "I'm tired." He was almost lying on the
table. So was Jade.
I know how you feel, Mary-Lynnette thought. Mybrain is stalled. I feel ... extremely stupid.
"Somehow, I don't think we're going to solve the murder tonight," Kestrel said. Her eyes were
She was right. The problem was that MaryLynnette didn't feel like going to bed, either. Shedidn't want
to lie down and relax-there was a rest lessness inside her.
I want ... what do I want? she thought. I want ...
"If there weren't a psychopathic goat killer lurkingaround here, I'd go out and look at the stars,"
Ash said, as if it were the most natural thing inthe world, "I'll go with you."
Kestrel and Jade looked at their brother in disbelief. Rowan bent her head, not quite hiding a smile.
Mary-Lynnette said, "Um ..."
"Look," Ash said. "I don't think the goat killeris lurking out there everyminutelooking for people
to skewer. And if anything does happen, I can handle it." He stopped, looked guilty, then bland. "I mean
we can handle it, because there'll be two of us."
Close but no cigar, buddy, Mary-Lynnette thought. Still, there was a certain basic truth to what he was
saying. He was strong and fast, and she had the feeling he knew how to fight dirty.
Even if she'd never seen him do it, she thoughtsuddenly. All those times she'd gone after him, shining light
in his eyes, kicking him in the shins-and he'd never once tried to retaliate. She didn't think it had even
occurred to him.
She looked at him and said, "Okay."
"Now," Mark said. "Look ..."
"We'll be fine," Mary-Lynnette told him. "We won't go far."
Mary-Lynnette drove. She didn't know exactly where she was going, only that she didn't want to go to
her hill. Too many weird memories. Despite what she'd told Mark, she found herself taking the car
farther and farther. Out to where Hazel Green Creek and Beavercreek almost came together and the
land between them was a good imitation of a rain forest.
"Is this the best place to look at - stars?" Ash saiddoubtfully when they got out of the station
"Well-if you're looking straight up," MaryLynnette said. She faced eastward and tilted her head
"See the brightest star up there? That's Vega, the queen star of summer."
"Yeah. She's been higher in the sky every nightthis summer," Ash said without emphasis.
Mary-Lynnette glanced at him.
He shrugged. "When you're out so much at night,you get to recognize the stars," he said. "Even if you
don't know their names."
Mary-Lynnette looked back up at Vega. She swallowed. "Can you--can you see something small and
bright below her-something ring-shaped?"
"The thing that looks like a ghost doughnut?"
Mary-Lynnette smiled, but only with her lips."That's the Ring Nebula. I can see that with my telescope."
She could feel him looking at her, and she heardhim take a breath as if he were going to say something.
But then he let the breath out again and looked back up at the stars.
It was the perfect moment for him to mention something about how Vampires See It Better. And if he
had, Mary-Lynnette would have turned on him and rejected him with righteous anger.
But since hedidn't,she felt a different kind of anger welling up. A spring of contrariness, as if shewere the
Mary in the nursery rhyme. What, so you've decided I'm not good enough to be a vampire or something?
And what did I really bring you out here for, to the most isolated place I could find? Only for
starwatching? I don'tthink so.
I don't even know who I am anymore, she remembered with a sort of fatalistic gloom. I have the feeling
I'm about to surprise myself.
"Aren't you getting a crick in your neck?" Ashsaid.
Mary-Lynnette rolled her head from side to side slightly to limber the muscles. "Maybe."
"I could rub it for you?" He made the offer from several feet away.
Mary-Lynnette snorted and gave him a look.
The moon, a waning crescent, was rising above thecedars to the east. Mary-Lynnette said, "You want to
take a walk?"
They walked and Mary-Lynnette thought. About how it would be to see the Ring Nebula with herown
eyes, or the Veil Nebula without a filter. She could feel a longing for them so strong it was like a cable
attached to her chest, pulling her upward.
Of course,that was nothing new. She'd felt it lots of times before, and usually she'd ended up buying
another book on astronomy, another lens for her telescope. Anything to bring her closer to what she
But now I have a whole new temptation. Something bigger and scarier than I ever imagined.
What if I could be-more than I am now? Thesame . person, but with sharper senses? A Mary-Lynnette
who couldreally belong to the night?
She'd already discovered she wasn't exactly whoshe'd always thought. She was more violent-she'd
kicked Ash, hadn't she? Repeatedly. And she'd admired the purity of Kestrel's fierceness. She'd seenthe
logic in the kill-or-be-killed philosophy. She'd dreamed about the joy of hunting.
What else did it take to be a Night Person?
"There's something I've been wanting to say toyou," Ash said.
"Hm."Do I want to encourage him or not?
But what Ash said was "Can we stop fightingnow?"
Mary-Lynnette thought and then said seriously, "Idon't know."
They kept walking. The cedars towered around them like pillars in a giant ruined temple. A dark temple.
And underneath, the stillness was so enormous that Mary-Lynnette felt as if she were walkingon the
She bent and picked a ghostly wildflower that wasgrowing out of the moss. Death camas. Ash bent and
picked up a broken-off yew branch lying at the footof a twisted tree. They didn't look at each other.
They walked, with a few feet of space between them.
"You know, somebody told me this would happen," Ash said, as if carrying on some entirely
different conversation they'd been having.
"That you'd come to a hick town and chase agoat killer?"
"That someday I'd care for someone - and itwould hurt."
Mary-Lynnette kept onwalking. She didn't slow or speed up. It was only her heart that was suddenly
beating hard-in a mixture of dismay and exhilara tion.
Oh, God-whatever was going to happen washappening
"You're not like anybody I've ever met," Ash said.
"Well, that feeling is mutual."
Ash stripped some of the papery purple bark offhis yew stick. "And, you see, it's difficult becausewhat
I've always thought about humans-what I wasalways raised to think ..."
"I know what you've always thought," MaryLynnette said sharply. Thinking,vermin.
"But," Ash continued doggedly, "the thing is andI know this is going to sound strange-that I seem
to love you sort of desperately." He pulled more bark off his stick.
Mary-Lynnette didn't look at him. She couldn't speak.
"I've done everything I could to get rid of the feeling, but it just won't go. At first I thought if I left
Briar Creek, I'd forget it. But now I know that wasinsane. Wherever I go, it's going with me. I can't kill it
off. So I have to think of something else."
Mary-Lynnette suddenly felt extremely contrary. "Sorry," she said coldly. "But I'm afraid it's not very
flattering to have somebody tell you that they love you against their will, against their reason, and even-"
"Against their character," Ash finished for her, bleakly. "Yeah, I know."
Mary-Lynnette stopped walking. She stared at him."You havenot readPrideand Prejudice, " she said
"Because Jane Austen was a human."
He looked at her inscrutably and said, "How do you know?"
Good point.Scary point. How could she really knowwho in human history had been human? Whatabout
Galileo? Newton? T ycho Brahe?
"Well, Jane Austen was a woman,"shesaid, retreating to safer ground. "And you're a chauvinist pig-,'
"Yes, well, that I can't argue."
Mary-Lynnette started walking again. He followed."So now can I tell you how, um, ardently I loveand
Another quote. "I thought your sisters said youpartiedall the time."
Ash understood. "I do," he said defensively. "Butthe morning after partying you have to stay in bed. And
if you're in bed you might as well read something
"After all, weare soulmates," Ash said. "I can't becompletely stupid or I'd be completely wrong
Mary-Lynnette thought about that. And about thefact that Ash sounded almost-humble. Which he had
certainly never sounded before.
She said, "Ash ...I don't know. I mean-weare wrong for each other. We're just basically incompatible.
Even if I were avampire, we'd be basically incompatible."
"Well." Ash whacked at something with his yew branch. He spoke as if he half expected to be
"Well, about that ... I think I couldpossibly change your mind."
"Being incompatible. I think we could be sort offairly compatible if . . ."
"If?" Mary-Lynnette said as the silence dragged on."Well, if you could bring yourself to kiss me."
"Yeah, I know it's a radical concept. I was pretty sure you wouldn't go for it." He whacked at
another tree. "Of course humanshave been doing it for thousands of years."
Watching him sideways, Mary-Lynnette said, "Would you kiss a three-hundred-pound gorilla?" He
blinked twice. "Oh, thank you.""I didn't mean you looked like one.""Don't tell me, let me guess. I smell
like one?"Mary-Lynnette bit her lip on a grim smile. "I mean you're that much stronger than I am. Would
you kissa female gorilla that could crush you with one squeeze`? When you couldn't do anything about
it?"He glanced at her sideways. "Well, you're notexactly in that position, are you?"
Mary-Lynnette said, "Aren't I? It looks to me as ifI'd have to become a vampire just to deal with youon
an equal level." Ash said, "Here."
Hewasofferingher theyew branch.Mary Lynnette stared at him.
"You want to give me your stick."
"It's not a stick, it's the way to deal withme onan equal level." He put one end of the branch
againstthe base of his throat, and Mary-Lynnette saw that it was sharp.She reached out to take the other
end and found the stick was surprisingly hard and heavy.
Ash was looking straight at her. It was too dark to see what color his eyes were, but his expression was
"One good push would do it," he said. "First here and then in the heart. You could eliminate the
problem of me from your life."
Mary-Lynnette pushed, but gently. He took a step back. And another. She backed him up against a
tree, holding the stick to his neck like a sword.
"I actually meant only if you were really serious,"Ash said as he came up short against the cedar's
bare trunk. But he didn't make a move to defend himself."And the truth is that you don't even need a
spear like that. A pencil in the right place would do it."
Mary-Lynnette narrowed her eyes at him, swirlingthe yew stick over his body like a fencer getting the
Then she removed it. She dropped it to the ground. "You really have changed," she said.
Ash said simply, "I've changed so much in the lastfew days that I don't even recognize myself in the
"And you didn't kill your aunt.""You're just now figuring that out?"
"No. But I always wondered just a bit. All right, I'll kiss you."
It was a little awkward, lining up to get the position right. Mary-Lynnette had never kissed a boy before.
But once she started she found it was simple.
And... now she saw what the electric feeling ofbeing soulmates was for. All the sensations she'd felt
when touching his hand, only intensified. And not unpleasant. It was only unpleasant if you were afraidof
Afterward, Ash pulled away. "There. Yousee,"he said shakily.
Mary-Lynnette took a few deep breaths. "I supposethat's what it feels like to fall into a black hole."
"No, I mean-it was interesting." Singular, shethought. Different from anything she'd ever felt
before. And she had the feeling thatshe would be different from now on, that she could never go back
andbe the same person she had been.
So who am I now? Somebody fierce, I think.Somebody who'd enjoy running through the dark ness,
underneath stars bright as miniature suns, and maybe even hunt deer. Somebody who can laugh atdeath
the way the sisters do.
I'll discover a supernova and I'll hiss when somebody threatens me. I'll be beautiful and scary and
dangerous and of course I'll kiss Ash a lot.
She was giddy, almost soaring with exhilaration.
I've always loved the night, she thought. And I'll finally belong to it completely.
"Mary-Lynnette?" Ash said hesitantly. "Did you likeit?"
She blinked and looked at him. Focused.
"I want you to turn me into a vampire," she said.
It didn't feel like a jellyfish sting this time. It wasquick and almost pleasant like pressure being released.
And then Ash's lips were on her neck, and that wasdefinitely pleasant. Warmth radiated from his mouth.
Mary-Lynnette found herself stroking the back of his neck and realized that his hair was soft,as nice to
touch as cat's fur.
And his mind...was every color of the spectrum. Crimson and gold, jade and emerald and deep
violetblue. A tangled thorn-forest of iridescent colors that changed from second to second.
And half frightened. There was darkness in among those gemlike colors. Things Ash had done in the
past ... things she could sense he was ashamed of now. But shame didn't change the acts themselves.
I know it doesn't-but I'll make up for them, somehow.You'll see; I'll find away....
So that's telepathy, Mary-Lynnette thought. She couldfeel Ash as he said the words, feel that hemeant
them with desperate earnestness-and feel that there was a lot to make up for.
I don't care. I'm going to be a creature of darkness,too. I'll do what's in my nature, with no regrets.
When Ash started to lift his head, she tightened her grip, trying to keep him there.
"Please don't tempt me," Ash said out loud, hisvoice husky, his breath warm on her neck. "If I
take too much, it will make you seriously weak.I mean it, sweetheart."
She let him go. He picked up the yew stick and made a small cut at the base of his throat, tilting his head
back like a guy shaving his chin.
Mary-Lynnette realized he'd never done this before. With a feeling that was. almost awe, she put her lips
to his neck.
I'm drinking blood. I'm a hunter already--sort of.
Anyway, I'm drinking blood and liking it-maybe because it doesn'ttastelike blood Not like copper and
fear. It tastes weird and magic and old as the stars. When Ash gently detached her, she swayed on her
"We'd better go home," he said.
"Why? I'm okay."
"You're going to get dizzier-and weaker. And ifwe're going to finish changingyou into a
"All right,when. But before we do, we need to talk. I need to explain it all to you; we have to figure out
the details. Andyouneed to rest."
Mary-Lynnette knew he was right. She wanted to stay here, alone with Ash in the dark cathedral of the
forest-but shedidfeel weak. Languid. Apparently it was hard work becoming a creature of darkness.
They headed back the way they had come. Mary-Lynnette could feel the change inside herself-it was
stronger than when she'd exchanged blood with the three girls. She felt simultaneously weak and
hypersensitive. As if every pore were open.
The moonlight seemed much brighter. She couldsee colors dearly-the pale green of drooping cedar
boughs, the eerie purple of parrot-beak wildflowersgrowing out of the moss.
And the forest wasn't silent anymore. She could hear faint uncanny sounds like the soft seething of
needles in the wind, and her own footsteps on moist and fungus-ridden twigs.
I can even smell better, she thought. This place smells like incense cedar, and decomposing plants,and
something really wild-feral, like something from the zoo. And something hot ...burny ...
Mechanical. It stung her nostrils. She stopped and looked at Ash in alarm.
0He'd stopped, too. "Smells like rubber and oil...." "Oh, God, thecar, " Mary-Lynnette said. They
looked at each other for a moment, then simultane ously turned, breaking into a run.
It was the car. White smoke billowed from under the closed hood. Mary-Lynnette started to go closer,
but Ash pulled her back to the side of the road."I just want to open the hood-" "No. Look. There."
Mary-Lynnette looked-and gasped. Tiny tongues of flame were darting underneath the smoke. licking
out of the engine.
"Claudine always said this would happen," shesaid grimly as Ash pulled her back farther, "Only I
think she meant it would happen with me in it."
"We're going to have to walk home," Ash said."Unless maybe somebody sees the fire...."
"Not a chance," Mary-Lynnette said. And that'swhat you get for taking a boy out to the most
isolated place in Oregon, her inner voice said triumphantly.
"I don't suppose you could turn into a bat or something and fly back," she suggested.
"Sorry, I flunked shapeshifting. And I wouldn't leave you here alone anyway."
Mary-Lynnette still felt reckless and dangerous and it made her impatient.
"I can take care of myself," she said.
Andthat was when the club came down and Ash pitched forward unconscious.