Blood Price (Vicki Nelson #1)

Chapter 12

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"Do you know what a grimoire is?"

"Yes, master." It hunched down in the exact center of the pentagram, still leery after the pain that had flung it back from the last calling.

"Good. You will go here."

The master showed it a building marked on a map. It translated the information to its own image of the city, a much more complex and less limited view.

"You will go to this building by the most direct route. You will get the grimoire from unit 1407 and you will bring it immediately back to the pentagram using the same route. Do not allow people to see you."

"Must feed," it reminded the master sullenly.

"Yeah, okay, then feed on the way. I want that grimoire as soon as possible. Do you understand?"

"Yes, master." In time it would feed on this one who called it. It had been promised.

It could feel the Demon Lord it served waiting. Could feel the rage growing as it moved farther from the path of the name. Knew it would feel that rage more closely still when it returned from the world.

There were lives in plenty on its route and as it had so many from which to pick and choose, it fed at last where the life would end to mark the name of another Demon Lord. The name would take another four deaths to finish, but perhaps this second Lord would protect if from the first on the chance that it would control the gate.

It did not know hope, for hope was foreign to the demonkind, but it did know opportunity and so it did what it could.

It fed quickly, though, and traveled warily lest it attract the attention of the power that had broken the calling the night before. The demonkind had battled this power in the past and it had no desire to do so now, on its own.

It could feel the grimoire as it approached the building the master had indicated. Wings spread, it drifted lower, a shadow against the stars, and settled on the balcony. The call of the book grew stronger, the dark power reacting to one of the demonkind.

It sensed a life close by but did not recognize it; too slow to be mortal, too fast to be demon. It did not understand, but then, understanding was not necessary.

Sniffing the metal around the glass, it was not impressed. A soft metal, a mortal metal.

Do not be seen.

If it could not see the street, then the lives on the street could not see it. It sank its claws into the frame and pulled the glass from its setting.

Captain Roxborough stepped closer, his hands out from his sides, his gray eyes never leaving the blade. "Surely, you don't think … "he began. Only lightning reflexes saved him as the razor arced forward and he jumped back. A billowing fold of his shirt had been neatly sliced, but the skin beneath had not been touched. With an effort, he held his temper. "I am beginning to lose patience with you, Smith. "

Henry froze, fingers bent over the keyboard. He'd heard something on the balcony. Not a loud sound-more like the rustle of dead leaves in the wind-but a sound that didn't belong.

He reached the living room in less than seconds, the overpowering smell of rotting meat warning him of what he'd face. Two hundred years of habit dropped his hand to his hip although he had not carried a sword since the early 1800s. The only weapon he owned, his service revolver, was wrapped in oilcloth and packed away in the basement of the building. And I don't think I have time to go get it.

The creature stood, silhouetted against the night, holding the glass door between its claws. It almost filled the tiny solarium that linked the dining room to the balcony,

Woven like a red cord through the stench was the odor of fresh blood, telling Henry the demon had just fed and reminding him how long it had been since he had done the same. He drew in a long, shuddering breath. I was a fool not to have protected the apartment! An open pentagram like the trap he'd prepared by the Humber…. I should have known. Now, it all came down to this.

"Hold, demon, you have not been asked to enter!"

Huge, lidless, yellow eyes turned in his direction, features reshaping to accommodate the movement. "Ordered," it said, and threw the door.

Henry dove forward and the glass crashed harmlessly to the floor where he had been. He twisted past talons, leapt, and slammed both clenched fists into the demon's head. The surface collapsed upon itself like wet cork, absorbing the blow and reforming. The demon's back-swing caught him on the way down and flung him crashing through the coffee table. He rolled, narrowly avoiding a killing blow, and scrambled to his feet with a metal strut in his hand, the broken end bright and sharp.

The demon opened Henry's arm below the elbow.

Biting back a scream, Henry staggered, almost fell, and jabbed the strut into its hip.

A flap of wing almost held him then, but panic lent him strength and he kicked his way free, feeling tissue give beneath his heels. His shoulder took the blow meant for his throat. He dropped with it, grabbed above a misshapen foot, and pulled with all he had left. The back of the demon's head proved more resilient than Henry's television, but only just.

"Down, Owen! Be quiet!" Mrs. Hughes leaned back against the leash, barely managing to snag her door and close it before Owen, barking hysterically, lunged forward and dragged her down the hall. "Owen, shut up!" She could hardly hear herself think, the dog was so loud. The sound echoed, louder even than it had been in the confines of her apartment, and no matter how extensive the soundproofing between units, noise always seemed to carry in from the hall. She had to get Owen out of the building before he got them thrown out by the residents' committee.

A door opened at the end of the corridor and a neighbor she knew slightly emerged. He was a retired military man and had two small dogs of his own, both of whom she could hear barking through the open door-no doubt in response to Owen's frenzy.

"What's wrong with him?" he yelled when he was close enough to make himself heard.

"I don't know." She stumbled and almost lost her footing when Owen suddenly threw his powerful body up against Henry Fitzroy's door, scrabbling with his claws around the edges and when that didn't work, trying to dig his way under. Mrs. Hughes attempted to pull him away without much success. She wished she knew what her Owen had against Mr. Fitzroy-of course, at the moment she'd settle for knowing they weren't going to be evicted for disturbing the peace. "Owen! Sit!" Owen ignored her.

"He's never acted like this before," she explained. "All of a sudden he just started barking, like he'd been possessed. I thought if I got him outside… "

"It'd be quieter, anyway," he agreed. "Can I give you a hand?"

"Please." Her voice had become a little desperate.

Between the two of them, they dragged the still barking mastiff into the elevator.

"I don't understand this," she panted. "He usually wouldn't hurt a fly."

"Well, he hasn't hurt anything but a few eardrums," he reassured her, moving his blocking knee out of the way as the doors closed. "Good luck!"

He could hear Owen's deep chested bark still sounding up the elevator shaft, could hear the frenzied barking of his own two. Then, as suddenly as it began, it stopped. He paused, frowning, heard one final whimper, and then complete and utter silence. Shaking his head, he went inside.

Dribbling viscous yellow fluid from a number of wounds, it snatched up the grimoire and limped out onto the balcony. The names and incantations made the book of demon lore an uncomfortable weight, by far the heaviest item it had yet retrieved. And it hurt. The not-mortal it had fought had hurt it. Much of its surface changed sluggishly back and forth from gray mottled black to black mottled gray and its right wing membrane had been torn.

It must return the grimoire to the master, but first it needed to feed. The injured membrane could carry it from this high dwelling to the ground and once there it must quickly find a life to heal it. There were many lives around. It did not think it would have difficulty finding one to take.

It dropped off into the night, yellow fluid glistening where it had been standing.

Mrs. Hughes smiled as she listened to Owen bounding around in the bushes. To her intense relief, he'd calmed down in the elevator and had been a perfect lamb ever since. As if aware of her thought, he backed out into a clearing, checked to see where she was, woffled happily, and bounded off again.

She knew she was supposed to keep him on the leash, even in the ravine, but when they came down at night with no one else around she always let him run-both for his enjoyment and for hers. Neither one of them was happy moving at the other's pace.

Tucking her hands into her pockets, she hunched her shoulders against a sudden chill wind. Spring. She was certain, had arrived before Easter when she was a girl and they'd never had to wear gloves sixteen days into April. The wind made a second pass and Mrs. Hughes wrinkled her nose in distaste. It smelled very much like something at least the size of a raccoon had died over to the east and was now in an advanced stage of decay.

What was worse, from the way the bushes were rustling, Owen had already found it and was no doubt preparing to roll.

"Owen!" She advanced a couple of steps, readying the leash. "Owen!" The fetid smell of rotting meat grew stronger and she sighed. First the hysteria and now this- she'd be spending the rest of the night bathing the dog. "Ow… "

The demon ripped the second half of the word from her throat, caught the falling body in its other hand, and pulled the wound up to the gaping circle of its mouth. Sucking noisily, it began to ingest the blood it needed to heal. It staggered and almost dropped its meal as a heavy weight slammed into it from the back and claws dragged lines of pain from shoulders to hip. Snarling, drooling red, it turned.

Owen's lips were drawn back, his ears were flat against his skull, and his own snarl was more a howl as he threw himself forward again. He twisted in midair, spun around by a glancing blow, and landed heavily on three legs, blood staining his tan shoulder almost black. Maddened by the demon's proximity, he snarled again and struck at the dangling bit of wing, crushing it in his powerful jaws.

Before the dog could bring his massive neck and shoulder muscles into play, the demon kicked out. One long talon drove through a rib and dragged six inches deep through the length of the mastiff's body, spilling a glistening pile of intestines into the dirt.

With one last, feeble toss of his head, Owen managed to tear the already injured wing membrane further, then the light blazing in his eyes slowly dimmed and with a final hate-filled growl, he died.

Even in death, his jaws kept their hold and the demon had to rip them apart before it could be free.

Ten minutes later, a pair of teenagers, searching for a secluded corner, came down into the ravine. The path had a number of steep and rocky spots and with eyes not yet adjusted to the darkness it was doubly treacherous. The young man walked a little out in front, trailing her behind him at the end of their linked hands-not from any chivalrous need to test the path, he was just the more anxious to get where they were going.

When he began to fall, other arm windmilling, she cast the hand she held away lest she be dragged down, too. He hit the ground with a peculiar, damp sound and lay there for a moment, staring into shadows she couldn't penetrate.

"Pat?"

His answer was almost a whimper and he scrambled backward and onto his feet. Both his hands and knees were dark as though he'd fallen into mud. She wrinkled her nose at a smell she could almost but not quite identify.

"Pat?"

His eyes were wide, whites gleaming all around, and although his mouth worked, no sound emerged.                  

She frowned and, after taking two very careful steps forward, squatted. The ground under her fingertips was damp and slightly sticky. The smell had grown stronger. Gradually her eyes adjusted and, not bound by any social expectations of machismo, she screamed. And continued to scream for some time.

Vicki squinted, trying desperately to bring the distant blur of lights into focus. She knew the bright white beam pouring down into the ravine had to be the searchlight of a police car, although she couldn't actually see the car. She could hear an excited babble of voices but not make out the crowd they had to be coming from. It was late. She should be at Henry's. But there might be something she could do to help…. Keeping one hand on the concrete wall surrounding the ManuLife head office, she turned onto St. Paul's Square and aimed herself at the light.

It never failed to amaze her how quickly an accident of any kind could draw a crowd-even at past midnight on a Monday. Didn't any of these people have to be at work in the morning? Two more police cars screamed past and a couple of young men running up the street to watch nearly knocked her down. She barely noticed either of them. Past midnight…

Fingers skimming along the concrete, she began to move faster until one of the voices rising out of the babble stopped her in her tracks.

"… her throat gone just like the others."

Henry had been wrong. The demon had killed again tonight. Although why here, practically at the heart of the city, miles from any of the possible names? Henry, and the feeling that kept him at his apartment tonight…

"Damn!" Trusting her feet to find their own path, Vicki turned and started to run, thrusting her way through the steadily arriving stream of the curious. She stumbled over a curb she couldn't see, clipped her shoulder against an ill-defined blur that might have been a pole, and careened off at least three people too slow to move out of her way. She had to get to Henry.

As she reached his building, an ambulance raced by and a group of people surged up the circular drive and after it, trailing along behind like a group of ghoulish goslings as it squealed around the corner onto St. Paul's Square. The security guard must've been among them for when Vicki pushed through the doors and into the lobby, his desk was empty.

"God double damn!"

She reached over and found the switch that opened the inner door but, as she'd feared, he'd locked it down and taken the key with him. Too furious and too worried even to swear, she gave the door a vicious yank. To her surprise it swung open, the lock protesting as a metal tongue that hadn't quite caught pulled free. She dashed through, took a second to shut it carefully behind her-old habits die hard-raced across the inner lobby and jabbed at the elevator buttons.

She knew full well that continued jabbing would do no good, but she did it anyway.

The ride up to the fourteenth floor seemed to take days, months even, and adrenaline had her bouncing off the walls. Henry's door was locked. So certain was she that Henry was in trouble, it never even occurred to her to knock. Scrambling in her bag, she pulled out her lock picks and took a few deep breaths to steady her hands. Although fear still screamed Hurry! she forced herself to slowly insert the proper probe and more slowly still work on the delicate manipulations that would replace the key.

After an agonizingly stretched few moments during which she thought the expensive lock was beyond her skill, just about when she was wishing Dirty Harry would show up and blow the door off its hinges, the last of the tumblers dropped. Breathing again, thanking God the builders hadn't gone with electronics, she threw the picks into her bag and yanked open the door.

The wind whistling in from the balcony had blown away much of the stench, but a miasma of rot lingered. Again she thought of the old woman they had found six weeks dead in high summer, but this time her imagination gave the body Henry's face. She knew the odor came from the demon, but her gut kept insisting otherwise.

"Henry?"

Reaching behind her, she tugged the door closed and groped for a light switch. She couldn't see a damned thing. Henry could be dead at her feet and she'd never…

He wasn't quite at her feet. He lay sprawled over the tipped couch, half covered in torn upholstery. And he wasn't dead. The dead have a posture the living are unable to imitate.

Impossible to avoid, glass glittered in the carpet like an indoor ice field. The balcony door, the coffee table, the television-the part of Vicki trained to observe in the midst of disaster inventoried the different colored shards as she moved. Henry appeared to be in little better shape than his apartment.

She wrestled the solarium door closed, forcing it through drying, sticky puddles of yellow fluid, then dropped to one knee by the couch and pressed her fingers against the damp skin of Henry's throat. His pulse was so slow that each continuing beat came almost as an afterthought.

"Is that normal? How the hell am I supposed to tell what's normal for you?"

As gently as possible, she untangled him from the upholstery and discovered that, miraculously, no bones seemed broken. His bones were very heavy, she noticed, as she carefully straightened arms and legs and she wondered wildly if he'd gotten them from the vampirism or from a more mortal heredity-not that it mattered much now. He'd been cut and gouged in a number of places, both by the shards of glass and by what she had to assume were the demon's talons.

The wounds, even the deepest, bled sluggishly if at all.

His skin was cool and damp, his eyes had rolled back, and he was completely unresponsive. He was in shock. And whatever the validity of the vampire legends, Vicki knew they were wrong about one thing. Henry Fitzroy was no more undead than she was; he was dying now.

"Damn. Damn! DAMN!"

With one hand guiding Henry's body so that it slid down onto the torn cushions, she heaved the couch back upright, knelt again beside it and reached for her bag. The small blade of her Swiss Army knife was sharpest- she used it less frequently-so she set its edge against the skin of her wrist. The skin dimpled and she paused, sending up a silent prayer that this would work, that whatever the legends were wrong about, they'd be right about this.

It didn't hurt as much as she expected. She pressed the cut to his lips and waited. A crimson drop rolled out the corner of his mouth, drawing a line in red across his cheek.

Then his throat moved, a small convulsive swallow. She felt his lips mold themselves to her wrist and his tongue lap once, twice at the flowing blood. The hair on the back of her neck rose and, almost involuntarily, she pressed the wound harder against his mouth.

He began to feed, sucking frantically at first, then more calmly when something in him realized he wasn't going to be denied.

Will he know when to stop ? Her breathing grew ragged as the sensations traveling up her arm caused answering sensations in other parts of her body. Will 1 be able to stop him if he doesn't?

Two minutes, three, she watched him feed and during that time it was all he was-hunger, nothing more. It reminded her of an infant at the breast and under jacket, sweater, and bra, she felt her nipples harden at the thought. She could see why so many stories of vampires tied the blood to sex-this was one of the most intimate actions she'd ever been a part of.

First there was pain and then there was blood. There was nothing but blood. The world was the blood.

She watched as consciousness began returning and his hand came up to grasp hers, applying a pressure against that of his mouth.

He could feel the life that supplied the blood now. Smell it, hear it, recognize it, and he fought the red haze that said that life should be his. So easy to give in to the hunger.

She could see the struggle as he swallowed one last time and then pushed her wrist away. She didn't understand. She could feel his need, feel herself drawn to it. She raised her wrist back toward his mouth, crimson drops welling out from the cut.

He threw it away from him with a strength that surprised her, the marks of his fingers printed white on her arm. Unfortunately, it was all the strength he had, his body going limp again, head lolling against her shoulder.

The pain of his grip helped chase the fog away, although it was still desperately difficult to think. She shifted position. The room slid in and out of focus and she realized as she swam up out of the darkness why he'd forced himself to stop. She couldn't give him all the blood he needed, not without giving herself in the process.

"Shit, shit, shit!" It wasn't very creative, but it made her feel better.

Settling him back onto the couch, she patted him down and pulled his keys from his pants' pocket-if she was to save Henry's life she had no more time to waste on picking locks. He needs more blood. I have to find Tony.

The sudden rise to her feet turned out to be a bad idea, the world slipped sideways and her run for the door became more of a stumble. How could he have taken so much in such a short time? Breathing heavily, she moved out into the hall and jogged for the elevator.

"Good lord, that's Owen!"

Owen? Greg pushed his way through to the front of the crowd. If Owen had been hurt, Mrs. Hughes might need his help.

Owen had been more than hurt. Owen's jaws had been forced so far apart his head had split.

And Mrs. Hughes was beyond any help he could give.

She had to get to Yonge and Bloor but her body was not cooperating. The dizziness grew worse instead of better and she careened from one solid object to another, stubbornly refusing to surrender to it. By Church Street, surrender became a moot point.

"Yo, Victory."

Strong hands grabbed her as she fell and she clutched at Tony's jean jacket until the sidewalk stopped threatening to rise up and smack her in the face.

"You okay, Victory? You look like shit."

She pushed away from him, changing her grip from his jacket to his arm. How the hell am I supposed to put this? "Tony, I need your help."

Tony studied her face for a moment, pale eyes narrowed. "Someone been beating on you?"

Vicki shook her head and wished she hadn't. "No, that's not it. I… "

"You been doing drugs?"

"Of course not!" The involuntary indignation drew her up straighten

"Then what the fuck happened to you? Twenty minutes ago you were fine."

She squinted down at him, the glare from the street light adding to her difficulty in focusing. He looked more angry than concerned. "I'll explain on the way."

"Who says I'm going anywhere?"

"Tony, please… "

The moment he took to make up his mind was the longest she'd known for a long time.

"Well, I guess I don't got anything better to do." He let her drag him forward. "But the explanation better be good."

Wide-eyed, Greg stared over the shoulder of the burly police constable. All he could see of Mrs. Hughes was running shoe, the upturned sole stained red, and a bit of sweatpant-covered leg-the coroner blocked his view of the actual body. Poor Mrs. Hughes. Poor Owen.

"No doubt about it." The coroner stood and motioned for the ambulance attendants to take care of the body. "The same as the others."

An awed murmur rippled through the crowd. The same as the others. Vampire!

At the sound, one of the police investigators turned and glared up the hill. "What the hell are these people doing down here? Get them back behind the cars! Now!"

Greg moved with the others, but he paid no attention to the speculations that buzzed around him, caught up in his own thoughts. In spite of the hour, he recognized a number of tenants from his building in the crowd. Henry Fitzroy wasn't among them. Neither were a great many others, he acknowledged, but Mr. Fitzroy's absence had suddenly become important.

Owen, who had liked everyone, had never liked Henry Fitzroy.

Unable to forget the expression that had surfaced in the young man's eyes or the terror it had evoked, Greg had no doubt Mr. Fitzroy could kill. The question became, had he?

Weaving his way through to the edge of the crowd, Greg hurried back to Bloor Street. It was time for some answers.

Vampires. Demons. Tony flicked his thumbnail against his teeth and studied Vicki's face, his expression warily neutral. "Why tell me this kind of a secret?"

Vicki sagged against the elevator wall and rubbed at her temples. Why, indeed? "Because you were closest. Because you owe me. Because I trust you not to betray it."

He looked startled, then pleased. It had been a long time since someone had trusted him. Really trusted him. He smiled and suddenly appeared years younger. "This is for real, isn't it? No shit?"

"No shit," Vicki agreed wearily.

Picking his way carefully through the glass, Tony walked over to the couch and stared down at Henry, his eyes wide. "He doesn't look much like a vampire."

"What were you expecting? A tuxedo and a coffin?" There'd been no change while she'd been gone and if he looked no better, at least he looked no worse.

"Hey, chill out, Victory. This is all kind of weird, you know."

She sighed and brushed a lock of red-gold hair back off Henry's forehead. "I know. I'm sorry. I'm worried."

"S'okay." Tony patted her arm as he came around the couch. "I understand worried." He took a deep breath and rubbed his palms against his jeans. "What do I have to do?"

She showed him where to kneel, then put the point of her knife against his wrist.

"Maybe I'd better do it myself," he suggested when she hesitated.

"Maybe you had."

His blood looked very red against the pale skin and Vicki felt his hand tremble as she guided the cut to Henry's mouth.

What the hell am I doing? she wondered as he began to suck and Tony's expression became almost beatific. I'm pimping for a vampire.

Blood again but this time the need was not as great and it took much less to become aware of the world beyond it.

"He's really doing it. He's really… "

"A vampire. Yeah."

"It's, uh, interesting." He shifted a little, tugging at the leg of his jeans.

Remembering the feeling, and thankful Tony couldn't see her blush, she shrugged out of her jacket and headed for the bathroom, wondering if the modern vampire kept anything useful in his medicine cabinet. The extent of Henry's wounds were beyond the tiny first aid kit she carried in her bag although she'd improvise if she had to.

To her surprise, the modern vampire owned both gauze and adhesive tape. Gathering it up, along with two damp washcloths, a towel, and the terry cloth dressing gown she'd found hanging on the door, she hurried back to the living room, leaning on walls and furniture whenever possible.

She'd take care of the one deep cut on Henry's arm, and then she'd rest. Maybe for a couple of days.

Fumbling a little with his keys, Greg opened the locker in the recreation room and pulled the croquet stake out of its box.

"It's just a precaution," he told himself, studying the point. "Just a sensible precaution."

Trying not to think of the depth or the damage, she washed out the wound and, pressing the edges of torn skin and muscle as close together as they'd go, bound them in place with the gauze. Henry's arm trembled, but he made no attempt to pull away.

Tony carefully kept his eyes averted.

With awareness of self came confusion. Who was he feeding from? Vicki's scent was unmistakable, but he didn't know the young male.

He could feel his strength returning, could feel his body begin to heal as the blood he took was no longer necessary for the mere sustaining of life. Now all he needed was time.

"I think he's finished."

"Has he stopped, then?"

Tony held up his wrist. "That's usually what finished means." The cut gaped a little, but only one tiny drop of blood rolled down under the grimy sleeve of the jean jacket.

Vicki leaned forward. "Henry?"

"Half a mo, Victory." Tony rocked back on his heels and stood. "If you're going to wake him, I'm out of here."

"What?"

"He doesn't know me and I don't think I oughta be here while you convince him I ain't going to tell."

A second's reflection convinced Vicki that might not be such a bad idea. She had no concept of how Henry was going to take the betrayal of his secret to a complete stranger. In his place, she'd be furious.

She followed Tony to the door. "How do you feel?"

"Horny. And a little dizzy," he added before she could say anything. "I don't think he took as much from me as he did from you. Course, I'm younger."

"And mouthier." She reached out and grasped his shoulder, shaking it gently. "Thanks."

"Hey, I wouldn't have missed it." For a second his face was open, vulnerable, then the cocky grin returned. "I wanna hear how this all comes out."

"You'll hear." She pulled a handful of crumpled bills out of her pocket and pressed it into his hand. "Drink lots of liquids over the next little while. And Tony, try not to let the guard see you on the way out."

Teach granny to suck eggs, Victory."

In the elevator, Greg slapped the two and a half foot length against his leg. He didn't really believe Henry Fitzroy was a vampire, not really, but then, he didn't really believe Mrs. Hughes was dead and she undeniably was. Belief, he had come to realize over the course of a long life, had little to do with reality.

At the fourteenth floor, he squared his shoulders and stepped out into the corridor, determined to do his duty. He didn't consider himself to be a particularly brave man but he did have a responsibility to the tenants in his building. He hadn't faltered against the Nazis, he hadn't faltered in Korea, he wouldn't falter now.

At Henry Fitzroy's door, he checked to be sure his pant leg covered the stake-he wouldn't use it if he didn't have to-and knocked.

"Damn!" Vicki glanced from Henry to the door. It didn't sound like the police-a police knock was unmistakable-but ignoring it might still be the worst thing to do. If someone on the street had seen the demon on Henry's balcony…

The fisheye showed her a distorted view of the old security guard from the front desk. As she watched, he raised his hand and knocked again. She didn't know what he wanted, she didn't really care. He couldn't talk to Henry and she had to get rid of him without allowing him to see the battlefield in the living room. If the guard had suspicions-and from his expression he certainly wasn't happy about something-she had to leave him no doubt as to what Henry'd spent the last couple of hours doing. And if the guard had no suspicions, it was important he not acquire any.

This is crazy, Greg realized suddenly. I should be here after sunrise, when he's sleeping. His fingers moved nervously up and down the ridges on the croquet mallet. I can get the passkey, and be sure, one way or another and…

The door opened and his mouth with it as he stared at the tousle-haired woman who gazed sleepily out at him, a man's bathrobe more or less clutched around her.

Vicki had turned off all the lights except the one directly behind her in the front hall, hoping its dazzle would block anything her body didn't. She filled the space between the door and the molding, leaning on both, and just to be on the safe side, let the upper edge of the bathrobe slide a little lower. She wasn't intending to blind the guard with her beauty, but if she read the elderly man correctly this was exactly the kind of situation that would embarrass him most.

So maybe it was a stupid idea. It was also the only thing she could come up with.

"Can I help you?" she asked, covering a not entirely faked yawn.

"Um, no, I, that is, Is Mr. Fitzroy home?"

"He is." Vicki smiled and pushed her glasses up her nose. The robe shifted a little further of its own volition. "But he's sleeping. He's kind of … " She paused just long enough for the guard's ears to finish turning scarlet. "… exhausted."

"Oh." Greg cleared his throat and wondered how he could gracefully get out of this. It was obvious that Henry Fitzroy hadn't been out of his apartment in the last few hours. It was equally obvious he hadn't been driving fangs into this young woman's neck, or most other parts of her anatomy. Which Greg wasn't looking at. "I just, uh, that is, there was an incident in the ravine and I just thought he might have seen something, or heard something as he's usually up at night. I mean, I know his windows don't face that way… "

"I don't think he noticed anything. He was …" Again the pause. Again the blush rose on the guard's face. "… busy."

"Look, I'm real sorry I bothered you. I'll talk to Mr. Fitzroy another time."

He looked so depressed, Vicki impulsively put out a hand. "This incident, did it happen to someone you knew?"

Greg nodded, responding to the sympathy in her voice. "Mrs. Hughes and Owen. Owen was her dog. They lived just down at the end of the hall." He pointed and Vicki's breath caught in her throat when she saw what was in his hand.

He followed her gaze and grew even redder. The brightly painted stripes on the top of the croquet stake seemed to mock him. He'd forgotten he was carrying it. "Kids," he hurriedly explained. "They leave stuff lying around all over. I'm just taking this back where it goes."

"Oh." With an effort she forced her gaze away from the stake. Showing too much interest in it would ruin everything and ripping it out of his hand and throwing it down the elevator shaft-which is what she wanted to do-could probably be considered showing too much interest. "I'm sorry about the woman and her dog," she managed.

He nodded again. "So am I." Then he straightened and Vicki could practically see duty and responsibility settling back onto his shoulders. "I've got to get back to my post. I'm sorry I bothered you. Good night, ma'am."

"Goodnight."

He waited until he heard her turn the lock and then he headed back to the elevator. As the doors slid closed behind him, he looked down at the stake and shook his head. The last time he'd been so embarrassed he'd been nineteen, it was World War II, and he'd wandered into the WRENS' bathroom by mistake. "Vampires, ha! I must be getting senile."

Vicki sagged against the inside of the door, reaction weakening her knees. That had been too close. Flipping the living room light back on, she picked her way carefully back to Henry.

His eyes were open and he had flung one arm up to shield them from the glare.

"Feeling better?" she asked.

"That depends… better than what?" He swung his legs off the couch and dragged himself up into a sitting position. He hadn't felt this bad in a very long time.

Vicki reached out and steadied him when he almost toppled. "Apparently Mr. Stoker didn't exaggerate when he mentioned the recuperative powers of vampires."

Henry tried a smile. It wasn't particularly successful. "Mr. Stoker was a hack." He rotated his shoulders and stretched out both legs. Everything seemed to work, although not well and not without pain. "Who was the boy?"

"His name's Tony. He's been on the street since he was a kid. He's very good at accepting people for what they are."

"Even vampires?"

She studied his face. He didn't look angry. "Even vampires. And he knows what it's like to want to be left alone."

"You trust him?"

"Implicitly. Or I'd have thought of something else. Someone else." Although what or who she had no idea. She hadn't even thought of Celluci. Not once. Which only goes to prove that even half-conscious, I'm smarter than I look. Celluci's reaction would not have been supportive. I suppose I could've robbed the Red Cross. "You needed more, but you wouldn't …"

"Couldn't," he interrupted quietly. "If I'd taken more, I'd have taken it all." His eyes below the purple and green bruise that marked his forehead were somber. "Too much blood from one person, and we risk losing control. I could feel your life, and I could feel the desire rising to take it."

She smiled then, she couldn't help it.

"What?" Henry saw nothing to smile about. They'd both come very close to death this night.

"A line from a children's book just popped into my head, it's not like he's a tame lion. You're not at all tame, are you? For all you look so civilized."

He thought about it for a moment., "No, I guess by your standards I'm not. Does that frighten you?"

Both brows went up and fell again almost immediately. She was just too tired to maintain the expression. "Oh, please."

He smiled then and lifted her hand, turning the wrist to the light. "Thank you," he said, one finger softly tracing the line of the vein.

Every hair on Vicki's body stood on end and she had to swallow before she could speak. "You're welcome. I'd have done the same for anyone."

Still holding her hand, his smile grew slightly puzzled. "You're wearing my dressing gown."

Pushing her glasses up her nose, Vicki tried not to glance at the pile of clothing dumped on the dining room table. "It's a long story." She let him pull her down beside him and nervously wet her lips. Her skin throbbed under his hand. And he's not even touching anything interesting.

Then his expression changed and she twisted to see what had caused such a look of horrified disbelief. One door of the wall unit, glass still surprisingly intact, swung open.

"The demon," Henry told her, his voice echoing his expression, "has the grimoire."

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