Blood and Chocolate

Chapter 21


"What's wrong?" Esmé asked, coming down the hall.

"They want to ask me some questions, Mom," Vivian said. Her voice was high-pitched like a child's.

"About what?"

"Perhaps we could sit down," said the male officer.

Esmé led them into the living room.

Did Aden tell them about me? Vivian tried to swallow. Or did I leave a trail? But if they had followed a trail, how would they know her name?

The police officers took the chairs on either side of the fireplace. Vivian sat on the edge of the couch next to Esmé. She had to force her foot down firmly into the carpet to make her left leg stop trembling.

"Do you know a girl called Kelly Desmond?" the female officer asked.

Vivian's mouth dropped open in surprise.

"Do you, hon?" Esmé prompted when Vivian didn't respond.

"Uh, yes?" Vivian answered, trying to look innocent and puzzled, sure she was failing miserably.

"Were you aware there was a break-in at her house last night?" the woman continued.

"How would I be?" Vivian asked, gaining confidence. This was crazy; there were cops in her living room quizzing her about a break-in she'd committed, but she felt like laughing with relief.

"You're not close then?" the male cop said.

"Hell, no."

"We think that whoever broke into the house had a grudge against Ms. Desmond," said the man.

Then I just gave the wrong answer, Vivian thought. "Why do you say that?" she asked.

"Because her room was vandalized and the rest of the house left untouched," the female officer said.

"Vandalized? How?"

"We're not free to say right now," the woman answered.

Vivian remembered what Tomas had said earlier about the police not revealing details that only the criminal would know. She had to be careful.

"Why do you want to talk to my daughter about this?" demanded Esmé.

"We understand that you might have a reason to be angry at Ms. Desmond," the male officer said to Vivian. "According to Ms. Desmond, you might be jealous because she's going out with your ex-boyfriend."

Sweet Moon, Vivian thought. I'm not out of trouble yet. She drew herself up to make a show of indignation. "And she thinks I'd break into her house and trash her room over that?"

"It seems likely to her, yes," answered the man.

"And what about the other girls she's pissed off?" Vivian asked. She could feel the sweat soaking her armpits. "Kelly's not exactly known for her pleasant disposition. Ask anyone."

"Nevertheless," said the policewoman, "we have to ask where you were last night between the hours of midnight and six A.M."

"She was with me."

Vivian's gaze jerked in surprise to the living room door. Gabriel stood there, his hands in his jeans pockets.

Esmé started to speak, but Gabriel cut her off. "I'm sorry, Esmé. We meant to tell you about us at a more convenient time. We spent the night at my apartment."

Esmé rose to the occasion. "Gabriel! I trusted you."

Vivian grabbed at the alibi; what else could she do? "As you can see," she pointed out boldly. "I'm not pining for my ex-boyfriend."

"Can anyone confirm your story?" asked the male officer. Vivian couldn't miss the disapproval in his eyes.

"Ask Bucky Dideron," Gabriel suggested. "He's my downstairs neighbor. He saw us leave early this morning. He complained we'd kept him up half the night."

Vivian blushed furiously. She could imagine how she and Gabriel were supposed to have accomplished that. Apparently the cops could too, because they didn't ask further questions. They took Gabriel's and Bucky's names and addresses, then left after promising they would get back in touch if they had any more questions.

"What the hell is going on?" Esmé asked Vivian when the door closed behind the police.

"Look, I had a few drinks. I made a mistake, okay?" Vivian headed for the kitchen and poured a cup of coffee she didn't want.

Esmé followed her. "That's a helluva mistake."

Vivian turned away, but Esmé walked around her to stay in Vivian's face. "I take it you really were in that girl's house."

Vivian didn't answer.

"Are you crazy?" Esmé screamed. "Don't we have enough problems?"

"Let me speak with Vivian," Gabriel said. Vivian hadn't even noticed him entering the kitchen.

"I'll speak to my own daughter, thank you," Esmé answered. "This is family business."

"When the police are involved, it's pack business," Gabriel said. "Go call Bucky." His eyes glittered as he stared Esmé down without blinking. Vivian wondered how he could stand there so nonchalantly and still look as if he was ready to spring.

"Have it your way," Esmé finally spat, and stormed off.

"You got here fast," Vivian said.

"I was already on my way to see Rudy, as it happens. Tomas almost knocked me off my feet." Vivian noticed that the glitter in his eyes seemed more like humor now. "I didn't know an alibi was needed, but I'm glad to help out."

"Well, you needn't have come up with such a disgusting one." She sat down and tried to ignore him.

"I don't find the idea disgusting," he said. He didn't pretend to hide his smile now, but it was fleeting. "The cops were right, weren't they? You were jealous."

Vivian took a sip of coffee and grimaced. She'd forgotten sugar.

"Homo sapiens can be very attractive," he said, sitting at the table with her.

Vivian had expected him to chastise her. She raised her eyebrows in surprise but didn't say a word.

"The need to dominate is bred into us," Gabriel continued, "and they are easy to dominate. It's seductive, this power over them. And they're so fragile, there are those you almost want to protect."

He laughed softly,  and Vivian wished she could laugh too, except she remembered Aiden's shocked white face.

"But they're dangerous," Gabriel said. "They're desperately afraid of things they can't understand, and there's more of them than us. They can't fight us fairly so they gang up on us with fire and blades, or betray us from the shadows with silver bullets.

"Vivian, you can't force him to love you if he's chosen elsewhere. You have to let go. You can't confuse the desire to dominate and protect with love. If you continue this way you'll end up hurting this girl, and the police already have you connected with her. Or worse, you'll give yourself away to the boy – then you'll have to kill him because, I swear to the Moon, he'll try to kill you."

Vivian was amazed to see pain in his eyes and wondered why it was there. Suddenly she wished she could tell him everything because maybe he'd understand. But she couldn't. She'd be crazy to. According to Gabriel's philosophy, she'd already brought doom upon herself by revealing her secret.

But Aiden's sweet and gentle, she thought. He wouldn't try to kill me. His way of coping is to run away from me.

"I thought he loved me," was all she could say to Gabriel. "Then he went off with her."

There was tenderness in the curve of Gabriel's lips. "Then let him go, Vivian. He's a fool if he didn't recognize what a fine creature you are." He stoked her cheek and for once Vivian didn't pull away. She needed those words desperately.

Vivian heard the front door rattle open and Rudy's excited voice. Gabriel's hand dropped to his side, and Vivian felt as if she'd reached for a handhold and clutched at air.

Rudy and Esmé came into the kitchen.

"You've heard the news, right?" said Rudy. "Another one found dead."

"Yeah." Gabriel looked grim again. "If it's all right with you, I'd like to call a meeting here tonight. We have to discuss what to do."

Rudy was quick to agree.

"I'm going back to bed," Vivian said to no one in particular. "I don't feel too good."

"Don't drink if you can't hack it," Esmé said.

Gabriel was kinder. "You'll feel better after some sleep. We'll see you tonight, won't we?"

Vivian nodded mutely. It was in her best interests to know what the pack had planned.

At the meeting, Gabriel paired most of the pack with partners; then he set up patrol routes. "This way we catch the killer in the act," he said, "or maybe stop him from acting at all if he knows about the patrols."

Astrid claimed she was still recovering from her wounds. "I mustn't tax myself," she purred at Gabriel, and touched the black patch she wore over one eye, which made her look like a cartoon villainess; so he assigned her to help Jenny Garnier with the children. Astrid curled her lip, but didn't object.

"That'll scare the little bastards into behaving," Esmé muttered.

"I'll stay at my place and coordinate communications," Gabriel said. He pointed at Gregory and Finn. "You'll be my runners for the first shift and you'll only be out of my sight if something goes down. You'll be second shift," he continued, pointing at Rafe and Ulf. "And I strongly suggest you wait at Aunt Persia's if you don't nap at my place, 'cus if anyone's killed while you're on the loose, you'll get a close-up of my teeth." Vivian was surprised when they didn't argue. Maybe they were enjoying the excitement.

"Willem, you're with Vivian," Gabriel said. "Get to know her again. I think I can trust you to take good care of her."

Vivian noted the look of pride that Willem tried to cover when he saw Finn making kissing noises at him. "I don't need looking after," she protested.

Gabriel's frown turned into a smile just for her. "I'll be the judge of that."

She glared at him.

"Why can't I team with my wife?" complained Rolf Wagner. He's still not ready for Gabriel as leader, Vivian thought.

Gabriel explained. "I want the teams made up of people who don't generally hang together. That cuts down on the chances of someone covering for another person. It's not perfect, but it'll give people alibis if something happens."

"It's so wonderful to be trusted," sneered Lucian Dafoe. A few grumbles around the room proved there were some who agreed with him. Aunt Persia banged her cane on the ground for silence. Vivian saw Astrid whisper to Rafe.

"I think you have some other business," reminded Orlando Griffin.

Gabriel raised a hand in acknowledgment. "Yes. It's more important than ever for us to get out of this area now. We've put it off long enough. I don't know how much this police informant knows about us  –  maybe it was only a lucky guess  –  but if the police don't do anything, and this person knows who we are, he or she may be crazy enough to come after us alone. Rudy's agent has provided a list of rural properties that fit our needs. I plan to visit them and make a decision soon."

"If we don't find the killer before we move, we might be taking the problem with us," said Bucky in a voice raspier than it used to be. Vivian hadn't seen him since the Ordeal. His throat was knotted with scars where the blond outsider had savaged him. She shivered slightly, remembering the way Bucky had gone crazy at the taste of blood. If she hadn't been so confused about her own involvement with the killings, her money would have been on him. She noted a few others inspecting him warily.

"At least, then, we'd know it was one of us," said Magda. Her mouth looked tight, her face pinched. Her sister-in-law, Renata, nodded in support.

Raul put his arm around Renata protectively. "How could this informant know about us? Who would give us away to them?"

"Who would hang out with meat-people?" said Astrid, looking at Vivian pointedly.

Vivian's heart skipped a beat.

Esmé leaped to her feet, but Tomas tugged at her arm and she sat down again.

"It's terms like 'meat-people' that foster the attitude that's gotten us into this mess, someone yelled. Vivian missed who.

Gabriel raised his hands to quiet the swell of voices. "We all have dealings with Homo sapiens in our everyday lives," he said. "It would look strange if we didn't mix. Any one of us could have talked. Even you," he said to Astrid.

Astrid snarled at him. The others in the room looked at each other uneasily, suspicion in their eyes.

Having a leader was supposed to bring them together, Vivian thought, but here they were, still in fragments, kept apart by mistrust. It's my fault, if I'm the killer, she told herself. And it's my fault, anyway, because I told Aiden about me, and now he can use that as a weapon against us all. One way or another she was bringing danger to her people.

The meeting split up, and the first patrols went on their way. Esmé, paired with one of the girls who used to clean at the inn, was on the first shift. So was Tomas; his partner was Bucky. Vivian and Willem weren't to go out until one. Willem said he'd come back later.

Vivian stood outside and exchanged small talk as the pack dispersed.

"Don't see you much lately, Vivian. Come for dinner some night."

"Hey, why don't you run with us sometime?"

"Givin' your mother competition in the looks department nowadays, babe."

"Are you eating all right, darling? You look pale."

She gave meaningless, noncommittal answers, suppressing the urge to embrace each person and beg forgiveness. What if they died because of her?

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