Blood Price (Vicki Nelson #1)

Chapter 7

chapter
Chapter

CLICK TO ENJOY THIS WEBSITE!

Because the streets in the inner city were far from dark, and as she'd managed so well out at Woodbine with much less light, Vicki decided to walk home. She turned her collar up against the wind, shoved her gloved hands deep in her pockets, more out of habit than for additional warmth, and started west along Bloor Street. It wasn't that far and she needed to think.

The cool air felt good against her jaw and seemed to be easing the pounding in her head. Although she had to be careful about how heavily her heels struck the pavement, walking remained infinitely preferable to the jostling she'd receive in the back of a cab.

And she needed to think.

Vampires and demons; or a vampire and a demon at least. In eight years on the police force, she'd seen a lot of strangeness and been forced to believe in the existence of things that most sane people-police officers and social workers excepted-preferred to ignore. Next to some of the cruelties the strong inflicted on the weak, vampires and demons weren't that hard to swallow. And the vampire seemed to be one of the good guys.

She saw him smile again and sternly stopped herself from responding to the memory.

At Yonge Street, she turned south, waiting for the green more out of habit than necessity. While not exactly ablaze with light, the intersection was far from dark and the traffic was still infrequent. She wasn't the only person around, Yonge Street never completely emptied, but the others whose business or lifestyle kept them out in the hours between midnight and dawn stayed carefully, unobtrusively, out of her way.

"It's 'cause you walk like a cop," Tony had explained once. "After a while, you guys all develop the same look. In uniform, out of uniform; it doesn't matter any more."

Vicki saw no reason to disbelieve him, she'd seen the effect for herself. Just as she saw no reason to disbelieve Henry Fitzroy; she'd seen the demon for herself as well.

Darkness swirled in darkness and was gone. She'd seen no more than the hint of a shape sinking into the earth, and for that she gave thanks. The vague outline she remembered held horror enough and her mind kept shying away from the memory. The smell of decay, however, she remembered perfectly.

It had been neither sight nor smell that had convinced her Henry spoke the truth. Both could be faked, although she had no idea of how or why. Her own reaction convinced her. Her own terror. Her mind's refusal to clearly recall what she had seen. The feeling of evil, cloying and cold, emanating out of the darkness.

Vicki pulled her jacket tighter, the chill that pebbled her flesh having nothing to do with the temperature of the night.

Demon. At least now they knew what they were looking for. They knew? No, she knew. She cracked a smile as she thought of explaining all this to Mike Celluci. He hadn't been there, he'd think she was out of her mind. Hell, if I hadn't been there, I'd think I was out of my mind. Besides, she couldn't tell Celluci without betraying Henry…

Henry. Vampire. If he wasn't what he claimed, why would he go to all the trouble of creating such a complicated story?

Never mind, she chided herself. Stupid question. She'd known pathological liars, had arrested a couple, had worked with one, and why was never a question they concerned themselves with.

Henry's story had been so complicated, it had to be the truth. Didn't it?

At College Street, she paused on the corner. Only a block to the west, she could see the lights of police headquarters. She could go in, grab a coffee, talk to someone who understood. About demons and vampires, right. Suddenly, the headquarters building seemed very far away.

She could walk past it, keep walking west to Huron Street and home, but, in spite of everything, she wasn't tired and didn't want to enclose herself with walls until she had banished all the dark on dark from the shadows. She watched a streetcar rattle by, the capsule of warmth and light empty save for the driver, and continued south to Dundas.

Approaching the glass and concrete bulk of the Eaton's Center, she heard the bells of St. Michael's Cathedral sound the hour. In the daytime, the ambient noise of the city masked their call but in the still, quiet time before dawn they reverberated throughout the downtown core. Lesser bells added their notes, but the bells of St. Michael's dominated.

Not really sure why, Vicki followed the sound. She'd chased a pusher up the steps of the cathedral once, years ago when she'd still been in uniform. He'd grabbed at the doors claiming sanctuary. The doors had been locked. Apparently, not even God trusted the night in the heart of a large city. The pusher had fought all the way back to the car and he hadn't thought it at all funny when Vicki and her partner insisted on referring to him as Quasimodo.

She expected the heavy wooden doors to be locked again, but to her surprise they swung silently open. Just as silently, she slipped inside and pulled them closed behind her.

Quiet please, warned a cardboard sign, mounted in a gleaming brass floor stand, Holy Week Vigil in progress.

Her rubber soled shoes squeaking faintly against the floor, Vicki moved into the sanctum. Only about half of the lights were on, creating an unreal, almost mythical twilight in the church. Vicki could see, but only just and only because she didn't attempt to focus on anything outside the specific. A priest knelt at the altar and the first few rows of pews held a scattering of stocky women dressed in black, looking as though they'd been punched out of the same mold. The faint murmur of voices, lifted in what Vicki assumed was prayer, and the fainter click of beads, did nothing to disturb the heavy hush that hung over the building. Waiting; it felt like they were waiting. For what, Vicki had no idea.

The flickering of open flame caught her eye and she slipped down a side aisle until she could see into an alcove off the south wall. Three or four tiers of candles in red glass jars rose up to a mural that gleamed under a single spotlight. The Madonna, draped in blue and white, held her arms wide as though to embrace a weary world. Her smile offered comfort and the artist had captured a certain sadness around the eyes.

Like many .of her generation, Vicki had been raised vaguely Christian. She could recognize the symbols of the church, and she knew the historical story, but that was about it. Not for the first time, she wondered if maybe she hadn't missed out on something important. Peeling off her gloves, she slid into a pew.          

                

I don't even know if I believe in God, she admitted apologetically to the mural. But then, I didn't believe in vampires before tonight.

It was warm in the cathedral and the nap she'd had that afternoon seemed very far away. Slowly she slid down against the polished wood and slowly the Madonna's face began to blur…

In the distance something shattered with the hard, definite crash that suggested to an experienced ear it had been thrown violently to the floor. Vicki stirred, opened her eyes, but couldn't seem to gather enough energy to move. She sat slumped in the pew, caught in a curious lassitude while the sounds of destruction grew closer. She could hear men's voices shouting, more self-satisfied than angry, but she couldn't catch the words.

In the alcove the spotlight appeared to have burned out. Wrapped in shadow, illuminated only by the tiers of flickering candles, the Madonna continued to smile sadly, holding her arms out to the world. Vicki frowned. The candles were squat and white, the wax dribbling down irregular sides to pool and harden in the metal holders and on the stone floor.

But the candles were enclosed… and the floor, the floor was carpeted…

A crash, louder and closer than the others, actually caused her to jerk but didn't break the inertia holding her in the pew.

She saw the ax head first, then the shaft, then the man holding it. He charged up the side aisle from the front of the church, from the altar. His dark clothes were marked with plaster dust and through the gaping front of his bulging leather vest Vicki thought she saw the glint of gold. Candlelight glittered off colored bits of broken glass caught in the folded tops of his wide boots. Sweat had darkened his short hair, blunt cut to follow the curve of his head, and his lips were drawn back to reveal the yellow slabs of his teeth.

He rocked to a halt at the entrance to the alcove, caught his breath, and raised the ax.

It stopped short of the Madonna's smile, the haft slapping into the upraised hand of the young man who had suddenly appeared in its path. The axman swore and tried to yank the weapon free. The ax stayed exactly where it was.

From Vicki's point of view it appeared that the young man twisted his wrist a gentle half turn and then lowered his arm, but he must have done more for the axman swore again, lost his grip, and almost lost his footing. He stumbled back and Vicki got her first good look at the young man now holding the ax across his body.

Henry. The tiers of flickering candle flame behind him brought out the red-gold highlights in his hair and created almost a halo around his head. He wore the colors of the Madonna; wide bands of snowy white lace at collar and cuff, a white shirt billowing through the slashed sleeves of his pale blue jacket. His eyes, deep in shadow, narrowed and his hands jerked up.

The ax haft snapped. The sound of its shattering reverberated through the alcove, closely followed by the rattle of both pieces striking the floor. Vicki didn't see Henry move, but the next thing she knew he had the axman hanging from his fist by the front of his vest, feet dangling a foot off the marble floor.

"The Blessed Virgin is under my protection," he said, and the quiet words held more menace than any weapon.

The axman's mouth opened and closed, but no sound emerged. He hung limp and terrified. When dropped, he collapsed to his knees, apparently unable to take his eyes from Henry's face.

To Vicki, the vampire looked like an avenging angel, ready to draw a flaming sword at any moment and strike down the enemies of God. The axman apparently agreed, for he moaned softly and raised trembling hands in entreaty.

Henry stepped back and allowed his captive to look away. "Go," he commanded.

Still on his knees, the axman went, scrambling backward until he moved from Vicki's line of sight. Henry watched him go a moment longer, than turned, made the sign of the cross, and knelt. Above his bowed head, Vicki met the painted eyes of the Madonna. Her own grew heavy and, of their own volition, slid slowly closed.

When she opened them again a second later, the spotlight had returned, the candles were back in their red glass containers, and a red-gold head remained bowed beneath the mural.

The inability to move seemed gone, so she pulled herself to her feet and slid out of the pew heading toward the alcove. "Henry… "

At the sound of his name, he crossed himself, stood, and turned to face her, pulling closed his black leather trenchcoat as he moved.

"Wha … "

He shook his head, put his finger to his lips, and taking her arm gently in one hand, led her out of the sanctum.

"Did you have a pleasant nap?" he asked, releasing her arm as the heavy wooden door closed behind them.

"Nap?" Vicki repeated, running a hand up through her hair. "I, I guess I did."

Henry peered up into her face with a worried frown. "Are you all right? Your head took a nasty blow earlier."

"No, I'm fine." Obviously, it had been a dream. "You don't have an accent." He'd had one in the dream.

"I lost it years ago. I came to Canada just after World War I. Are you sure you're all right?"

"I told you, I'm fine." She started down the cathedral steps.

Henry sighed and followed. He seemed to remember reading that sleeping after a concussion was not necessarily a good thing, but he'd entered the church right behind her and she hadn't been asleep very long.

It was just a dream, Vicki told herself firmly as the two of them headed north. Vampires and demons I can handle, but holy visions are out. Although why she should dream about Henry Fitzroy defending a painting of the Virgin Mary from what looked like one of Cromwell's roundheads she had no idea. Maybe it was a sign. Maybe it was the blow she'd taken on the head. Either way, her few remaining doubts about his ex-royal bastard highness seemed to have vanished and while she was more willing to bet on her subconscious working it out than on God intervening, she decided to keep an open mind. Just in case. Wait a minute…

"You followed me!"

Henry smiled guardedly. "I'd just told you a secret that could get me killed. I had to see how you were dealing with it."

In spite of her pique, Vicki had to admit he made sense. "And?"

He shrugged. "You tell me."

Vicki pushed the strap of her bag back up on her shoulder. "I think," she said slowly, "that you're right. We could accomplish more working together. So, for now, you've got yourself a partner." She stumbled over a dark crack in the pavement, righted herself before Henry could help, and added dryly, "But I think you should know that generally, I only work days." It wasn't the time to tell him Why. Not yet.

Henry nodded. "Days are fine. I myself, being a little sensitive to sunlight, prefer to work nights. Between us, we have the entire twenty-four hours covered. And speaking of days," he shot a quick glance to the east where he could feel dawn approaching, "I have to go. Can we discuss this tomorrow evening?"

"When?"

"About two hours after sunset? It'll give me time to grab a bite."

He was gone before she had time to react. Or agree.

"We'll see who plays straight man to whom tomorrow night," she snorted and turned west toward home.

The sun had cracked the horizon by the time she reached her apartment, and with yawns threatening to rip her jaw from her face, she fell straight into bed.

Only to be rudely awakened about forty-five minutes later…

"Where! Have! You! Been!" Celluci punctuated each word with a vigorous shake.

Vicki, whose reactions had never been particularly fast when first roused from sleep, actually let him finish the sentence before bringing her arms up between his and breaking his grip on her shoulders.

"What the hell are you talking about, Celluci?" she demanded, shielding her eyes against the glare from the overhead light with one hand and grabbing her glasses off the bedside table with the other.

"One of the uniforms saw a women who looked like you being bundled into a late model BMW, just after midnight, and not more than five blocks from the latest body. You want to tell me you weren't in the Woodbine area tonight?"

Vicki leaned back and sighed, pushing her glasses up her nose. "What makes that any business of yours?" There was no point in trying to reason with Celluci until he calmed down.

"I'll tell you what makes it my business." He threw himself off the bed and began to pace the length of the bedroom; three steps and turn, three steps and turn. "You were in the middle of a police investigation, that's what makes it my business. You were… " Suddenly, he stopped. His eyes narrowed and he jabbed an accusing finger in Vicki's direction. "What hit you?"

"Nothing."

"Nothing does not put a black and blue lump the size of a grapefruit on your jaw," Celluci growled. "It was him, wasn't it? The guy loading you into his car." He sat back down on the bed and reached out to turn Vicki's face into the light.

"You are out of your mind!" She knocked his hand away. "Since you obviously aren't going to let me get back to sleep until you satisfy your completely irrational curiosity; I was in the area. And, as you keep telling me, I don't see so well in the dark." She smiled with scorpion sweetness. "You were right about something. Make you feel better?"

He responded with an identical smile and growled, "Get on with it."

"I went with a friend. When I walked my face into a post, he took me back to his place to make sure I was all right. All right?" She waved a hand at the door and threw herself back on the pillows. "Now get out!"

"The hell it's all right." He slammed his palm against the bed. "Next to my partner, you are the world's worst liar and you are throwing some grade A bullshit in my direction. Who's this friend?"

"None of your business."

"Where did he take you?"

"Also none of your business." She sat back up and shoved her face close to his. "You jealous, Celluci?"

"Jealous? Damn it, Vicki!" He raised his hands as if to shake her again but let them fall as her eyes narrowed and her own hands came up. "I've got six dead bodies out there. I don't want you to be the seventh!"

Her voice dropped dangerously low. "But you should be able to throw yourself in the line of fire?"

"What does that have to do with anything? I had half the fucking force out there with me. You were alone!"

"Oh." She grabbed the front of his jacket and dragged him suddenly forward until their noses touched. "So you were worried?" she ground the words out through clenched teeth. It hurt her jaw, but at least it kept her from ripping his throat out.

"Of course, I was worried."

"THEN WHY DIDN'T YOU SAY SO INSTEAD OF ALTERNATELY ASSAULTING AND ACCUSING ME!" She pushed him backward so hard she flung him off the bed and he had to scramble to get his feet under him.

"Well?" she prodded when he'd regained his balance again.

He pushed the heavy curl of hair off his forehead and shrugged, actually looking a little sheepish. "It… I… I don't know."

Folding her arms over her breasts, Vicki settled carefully back against the pillows. Given that she'd have done exactly the same thing under similar circumstances she supposed she'd have to let it pass. Besides, her jaw hurt, her whole head hurt, and now she had enough adrenaline in her system to keep her awake for a week.

"You been home yet?" she asked.

Celluci rubbed a weary hand across his eyes. "No. Not yet."

Settling her glasses back on the bedside table, she patted the sheet beside her.

A little later, something occurred to her.

"Wait a minute-watch my jaw-you gave me back your key to my apartment months ago." He'd thrown it at her as a matter of fact.

"I had a copy made."

"You told me there were no copies!"

"Vicki, you are a lousy liar. I am a very good one. Ow, that hurt!"

"It was supposed to."

"No, Mom, I'm not sick. I was just up late last night working on a case." Vicki wedged the phone between her shoulder and her ear and poured herself a mug of coffee.

On the other end of the line she heard her mother sigh deeply. "You know, Vicki, I had hoped that when you left the force I'd be able to stop worrying about you. And here it is, three in the afternoon and you're not out of bed yet."

What the second observation had to do with the first, escaped Vicki entirely. "Mom, I'm up. I'm drinking coffee." She took a noisy swallow. "I'm talking to you. What more do you want?"

"I want you to get a normal job."

As Vicki was well aware how proud her mother had been of her two police citations, she let this pass. She knew that in time, if it hadn't happened already, the phrase "my daughter the private investigator" would begin peppering her mother's conversations much the way "my daughter the homicide investigator" had.

"And what's more, Vicki, your voice sounds funny."

"I walked my face into a post. I got a bit of a bump on my chin. It hurts a little when I talk."

"Did this happen last night?"

"Yes, Mom."

"You know you can't see in the dark… "

It was Vicki's turn to sigh. "Mom, you're beginning to sound like Celluci." On cue, Celluci came out of the bedroom, tucking his shirt into his pants. Vicki waved him at the coffeepot, but he shook his head and stuffed his arms into his overcoat. "Hold on for a minute, Mom." She covered the receiver with one hand and looked him over critically. "If we're going to keep this up, you'd better bring a razor back over. You look like a terrorist."

He scratched at his chin and shrugged. "I have a razor at the office."

"And a change of clothes?"

"They can live with yesterday's shirt for a few hours." He bent down and kissed her gently, careful not to put too much pressure on the spreading green and purple bruise. "I don't suppose you'll listen if I ask you to be careful?"

She returned the kiss as enthusiastically as she was able to and said, "I don't suppose you'll listen if I ask you to stop being a patronizing son of a bitch?"

He scowled. "Because I ask you to be careful?"

"Because you assume I won't be. Because you assume I'm going to do something stupid."

"All right." He spread his arms in surrender. "How about, don't do anything I wouldn't do?"

She considered saying, "I'm paying a call on a vampire tonight, how do you feel about that?" but decided against it and said instead, "I thought you didn't want me to do anything stupid?"

He smiled. "I'll call you," he told her, and left.

"You still there, Mom?"

"They won't let me go home until five, dear. Where else would I be? What was that all about?"

"Mike Celluci was just leaving." She tucked the phone under her arm and with the extra long cord trailing behind her, got up to make toast.

"So you're seeing him again?"

The last piece of bread was a little moldy around the edges. She tossed it in the garbage and settled for a bag of no-name chocolate chip cookies. "I seem to be."

"Well, you know what they say about spring and a young man's fancy."

She sounded doubtful, so Vicki changed the subject. Her mother had liked Celluci well enough the few times they'd met, she just thought that temperamentally they'd both be better off with someone calmer. "It's spring?" Gusts of wind slapped what could've been rain but looked more like sleet against the windows.

"It's April, dear. That makes it spring."

"Yeah, what's your weather like?"

Her mother laughed. "It's snowing."

Vicki brushed cookie crumbs off her sweatshirt and got herself more coffee. "Look, Mom, this is going to be costing the department a fortune." Her mother had worked for eighteen years as the private secretary of the head of Life Sciences at Queen's University, Kingston and she abused the privileges that had accumulated as often as possible. "Although you know I enjoy talking to you, did you have an actual reason for calling?"

"Well, I was wondering if you might be coming down for Easter."

"Easter?"

"It's this weekend. I won't be working tomorrow or Monday, we could have four whole days together."

Darkness, demons, vampires, and six bodies, the life violently ripped from them.

"I don't think so, Mom. The case I'm on could break at any time… "

After listening to a few more platitudes and promising to stay in touch, Vicki hung up and went to her weight bench to work off equal parts of cookies and guilt.

"Henry, it's Caroline. I've got tickets to the Phantom for May fourth. You said you wanted to see it and now's your chance. Give me a call in the next couple of days if you're free."

It was the only message on the machine. Henry shook his head at his vague sense of disappointment. There was no reason for Vicki Nelson to call. No reason he should want her to.

"All right," he glared at his reflection in the antique mirror over the telephone table, "you tell me why I trusted her. Circumstance?" He shook his head. "No. Circumstance said I should have disposed of her. A much neater solution with much less risk. Try again. She reminded you of someone? If you live long enough, and you will, everyone will remind you of someone."

Turning away from the mirror, he sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. He could deny it all he wanted but she did remind him of someone, not in form perhaps but in manner.

Ginevra Treschi had been the first mortal he had trusted after the change. There had been others with whom he had played at trust but in her arms he was himself, not needing to be anything more. Or less.

When he found he could not live in Elizabeth's England-it was both too like and too unlike the England he had known-he had moved south, to Italy and finally to Venice. Venice had much to offer one of his kind for the ancient city came alive at night and in its shadows he could feed as he chose.

It had been carnival, he remembered, and Ginevra had been standing by San Marco, at the edge of the square, watching the crowd surging back and forth before her like a living kaleidoscope. She'd seemed so very real amidst all the posturing that he'd moved closer. When she left, he followed her back to her father's house then spent the rest of the night discovering her name and situation.

"Ginevra Treschi." Even three hundred years and many mortals later it still sounded in his mouth like a benediction.

The next night, while the servants slept and the house was quiet and dark, he'd slipped into her room. Her heartbeat had drawn him to the bed and he'd gently pulled the covers back. Almost thirty and three years a widow, she wasn't beautiful, but she was so alive-even asleep- that he'd found himself staring. Only to find, a few moments later, that she was staring back at him.

"I don't wish to hurry your decision," she'd said dryly. "But I'm getting chilled and I'd like to know if I should scream."

He'd intended to convince her he was only a dream but he found he couldn't.

They had almost a year of nights together.

"A convent?" Henry raised himself up on one elbow, disentangling a long strand of ebony hair from around the back of his neck. "If you'll forgive me saying so, bella, I don't think you'd enjoy convent life."

"I'm not making a joke, Enrico. I go with the Benedictine Sisters tomorrow after early Mass."

For a moment, Henry couldn't speak. The thought of his Ginevra locked away from the world struck him as close to a physical blow. "Why?" he managed at last.

She sat up, wrapping her arms around her knees. "I had a choice, the Sisters or Giuseppe Lemmo." Her lips pursed as though she tasted something sour. "The convent seemed the better course."

"But why choose at all?"

She smiled and shook her head. "In your years out of the world you have forgotten a few things, my love. My father wishes me for Signore Lemmo, but he will graciously allow me to go to God if only to get his overly educated daughter out of his house." Her voice grew serious and she stroked a finger down the length of Henry's bare chest. "He fears the Inquisition, Enrico. Fears that I will bring the Papal Hounds down upon the family." Her lips twisted. "Or that he will be forced to denounce me."

Henry stared at her in astonishment. "The Inquisition? But you've done nothing… "

Both her eyebrows rose. "I am lying with you and for some, even not knowing what you are, that would be enough. If they knew that I willingly give myself to an Angel of Darkness …" She turned her wrist so that the small puncture wound became visible. "… burning would be too good for me." A finger laid against his lips stopped him when he tried to speak. "Yes, yes, no one knows but I am also a woman who dares to use her mind and that is enough for these times. If my husband had died and left me rich or if I had borne a son to carry on his name… " Her shoulder's lifted and fell. "Unfortunately …"

He caught up her hand. "You have another choice."

"No." She sighed. The breath quavered as she released it. "I have thought long and hard on this, Enrico, and I cannot take your path. It is my need to live as I am that places me in danger now, I simply could not exist behind the masks you must wear to survive."

It was the truth and he knew it, but that made it no easier to bear. "When I was changed …"

"When you were changed," she interrupted, "from what you have told me, the passion was so great it left no room for rational thought, no room to consider what would happen after. Although I am fond of passion," her hand slid down between his legs, "I cannot lose myself ink."

He pushed her back onto the pillow, trapping her beneath him. "This doesn't have to end."

She laughed. "I know you, Enrico." Her eyes half closed and she thrust her hips up against him. "Could you do this with a nun?"

After a moment of shock, he laughed as well and bent his mouth to hers. "If you are sure," he murmured against her lips.

"I am. If I must give up my freedom, better to God than to man."

All he could do was respect her decision.

It hurt to lose her, but in the months that followed the hurt eased and it was enough to know that the Sisters kept her safe. Although he thought of leaving, Henry lingered in Venice, not wanting to cut the final tie.

Chance alone brought him news that the Sisters had not been able to keep her safe enough. Hushed whispers overheard in a dark cafe said the Hounds had come for Ginevra Treschi, taken her right from the "convent, said she had been consorting with the devil, said they were going to make an example of her. She had been with them three weeks.

Three weeks with fire and iron and pain.

He wanted to storm their citadel like Christ at the gates of hell, but he forced himself to contain his rage. He could not save her if he threw himself into the Inquisitor's embrace.

If anything remained of her to be saved.

They had taken over a wing of the Doge's palace-the Doge being more than willing to cooperate with Rome. The smell of death rolled through the halls like fog and the blood scent left a trail so thick a mortal could have followed it.

He found her hanging as they'd left her. Her wrists had been tightly bound behind her back, a coarse rope threaded through the lashing and used to hoist her into the air. Heavy iron weights hung from her burned ankles. They had obviously begun with flogging and had added greater and more painful persuasions over time. She had been dead only a few hours.

"… confessed to having relations with the devil, was forgiven, and gave her soul up to God." He rubbed his fingers in his beard. "Very satisfactory all around. Shall we return the body to the Sisters or to her family?"

The older Dominican shrugged. "I cannot see that it makes any difference, she…. Who are you?"

Henry smiled. "I am vengeance," he said, closing the door behind him and bolting it.

"Vengeance." Henry sighed and wiped damp palms on his jeans. The Papal Hounds had died in terror, begging for their lives, but it hadn't brought Ginevra back. Nothing had, until Vicki had prodded at the memories. She was as real in her own world as Ginevra had been and unless he was very careful, she was about to become as real in his.

He'd wanted this, hadn't he? Someone to trust. Someone who could see beneath the masks.

He turned again to face his reflection in the mirror. The others, men and women whose lives he'd entered over the years since Ginevra, had never touched him like this.

"Keep her at a distance," he warned himself. "At least until the demon is defeated." His reflection looked dubious and he sighed. "I only hope I'm up to it."

The girl darted behind the heavy table, sapphire eyes flashing. "I thought you were a gentleman, sir!"

"You are exactly right, Smith, " The captain bowed with a feline grace, never taking his mocking gaze from his quarry. "Or should that be Miss Smith? Never mind. As you pointed out, I was a gentleman. You'll find I surrendered the title some time ago, " He lunged, but she twisted lithely out of his way.

"If you make one more move toward me, I shall scream. "

"Scream away. " Roxborough settled one slim hip against the table.' I shan't stop you. Although it would pain me to have to share such a lovely prize with my crew. "

"Fitzroy, what is this shit?"

"Henry, please, not Fitzroy." He saved the file and shut off the computer. "And this shit," he told her, straightening, "is my new book."

"Your what?" Vicki asked, pushing her glasses up her nose. She'd followed him from the door of the condo into the tiny office even though he'd requested that she wait a minute in the living room. If he was going back to close his coffin, she had to see it. "You actually read this stuff?"

Henry sighed, pulled a paperback off the shelf above the desk, and handed it to her. "No. I actually write the stuff."

"Oh." Across the cover of the book, a partially unclothed young woman was being passionately yet discreetly embraced by an entirely unclothed young man. The cover copy announced the date of the romance as "the late 1800s" but both characters had distinctly out of period hair and makeup. Cursive lavender script delineated both the title and the author's name; Destiny's Master by Elizabeth Fitzroy.

"Elizabeth Fitzroy?" Vicki asked, returning the book.

Henry slid it back on the shelf, rolled the chair out from the desk, and stood, smiling sardonically. "Why not Elizabeth Fitzroy? She certainly had as much right to the name as I do."

The prefix "Fitz" was a bastard's name and was given to acknowledged accidental children. The "roy" identified the father as the king. "You didn't agree with the divorce?"

The smile twisted further. "I was always a loyal subject of the king, my father." He paused and frowned as though trying to remember. He sounded less mocking when he started speaking again. "I liked her Gracious Majesty Queen Catherine. She was kind to a very confused little boy who'd been dumped into a situation he didn't understand and he didn't ever much care for. Mary, the Princess Royal, who could have ignored me or done worse, accepted me as her brother." His voice picked up an edge. "I did not like Elizabeth's mother and the feeling was most definitely mutual. Given that all parties concerned have now passed to their eternal reward; no, I did not agree with the divorce."

Vicki glanced back at the shelf of paperbacks as Henry politely but inexorably ushered her out of his office. "I suppose you've got a lot of material to use for plots," she muttered dubiously.

"I do," Henry agreed, wondering why some people had less trouble handling the idea of a vampire than they did a romance writer.

"I suppose you can get even with any number of people in your past this way." Of all the strange scenarios Vicki had imagined occurring during this evening's conference with the over four century old, vampiric, bastard son of Henry VIII, none had included discovering that he was a writer of- What was the term?-bodice rippers.

He grinned and shook his head. "If you're thinking of my relatives, I got even with most of them. I'm still alive. But that's not why I write. I'm good at it, I make a very good living doing it, and most of the time I enjoy it." He waved her to the couch and sat down at the opposite end. "I could exist from feeding to feeding-and I have- but I infinitely prefer living in comfort than in some rat-infested mausoleum."

"But if you've been around for so long," Vicki wondered, settling down into the same corner she'd vacated early that morning, "why aren't you rich?"

"Rich?"

Vicki found his throaty chuckle very attractive and also found herself speculating about…. A mental smack brought her wandering mind back to the business at hand.

"Oh, sure," he continued, "I could've bought IBM for pennies in nineteen-oh-whenever, but who knew? I'm a vampire, I'm not clairvoyant. Now," he picked a piece of lint off his jeans, "may I ask you a question?"

"Be my guest."

"Why did you believe what I told you?"

"Because I saw the demon and you had no logical reason to lie to me." There was no need to tell him about the dream-or vision-in the church. It hadn't had much to do with her decision anyway.

"That's it?"

"I'm an uncomplicated sort of a person. Now," she mimicked his tone, "enough about us. How do we catch a demon?"

Very well, Henry agreed silently. If that's how you want it, enough about us.

"We don't. I do." He inclined his head toward her end of the couch. "You catch the man or woman calling it up."

"Fine." Tackling the source made perfect sense to Vicki and the farther she could stay from that repulsive bit of darkness the happier she'd be. She perched her right foot on her left knee and clasped both hands around the ankle. "How come you're so sure we're dealing with a single person, not a coven or a cult?"

"Focused desire is a large part of what pulls the demon through and most groups just can't achieve the necessary single-mindedness." He shrugged. "Given the success rate, the odds are good it's just one person."

She mirrored his shrug. "Then we go with the odds. Any distinguishing characteristics I should look for?"

Henry stretched his arm out and drummed his fingers against the upholstery. "If you're asking does a certain type of person call up demons, no. Well," he frowned as he reconsidered, "in a way, yes. Without exception, they're people looking for an easy answer, a way to get what they want without working for it."

"You just described a way of life for millions of people," Vicki told him dryly. "Could you be a little more specific?"

"The demon is being asked for material goods; it wouldn't need to kill if it remained trapped in the pentagram answering questions. Look for someone who's suddenly acquired great wealth, money, cars. And demons can't create so all that has to come from somewhere. "

"We could catch him for possession of stolen goods?" They couldn't mark every bit of cash in existence, but luxury cars, jewels, and stocks all were traceable. Vicki's pulse began to quicken as she ran over the possibilities now open to investigation. Yes! Her hands curled into fists and punched the air triumphantly. It was only a matter of time. They had him. Or her.

"One more thing," Henry warned, trying not to smile at her-What did they call it? Shadow boxing? "The more contact this person has with demonkind, the more unstable he or she is going to get."

"Yeah? Well, it's another trait to look for, but you've got to be pretty damned unstable to stand out these days. What about the demon?"

"The demon isn't very powerful."

Vicki snorted. "You might be able to rip a person's throat out with a single blow …" She paused and Henry nodded, answering the not-quite-asked question. "… but no one else I know could. This demon is plenty powerful enough."

Henry shook his head. "Not as demons go. It has to feed every time it's called in order to have an effect on things in this world."

"So the deaths were it feeding? Completely random?"

"They didn't mean anything to the person controlling the demon if that's what you're asking. If the demon had been killing business or personal rivals of a single person, the police would have found him or her by now. No, the demon chose where and whom to feed on."

Vicki frowned. "But there was a definite external pattern."

"My guess is that the demon being called is under the control of another, more powerful demon and has been attempting to form that demon's name on the city."

"Oh."

Henry waited patiently while Vicki absorbed this new bit of information.

"Why?" Actually, she wasn't sure she wanted to know. Or that she needed to ask.

"Access; uncontrolled access for the more powerful demon and however many more of its kind it might want to bring through."

"And how many more deaths until the name is completed?"

"No way of knowing."

"One? Two? You must have some idea," she snapped. With one hand he gave her hope, with the other he took it away. The son of a bitch. "How many deaths in a demon's name?"

"It depends on the demon." As Vicki scowled, he rose, walked to the bookcase, and slid open one of the glass doors. The book he removed was about the size of a dictionary, bound in leather that might have once be red before years of handling had darkened it to a worn and greasy black. He sat back down, closer this time, twisted the darkly patinaed clasp, and opened the book to a double page spread.

"It's hand-written," Vicki marveled, touching the corner of a page. She withdrew her finger quickly. The parchment had felt warm, like she'd just touched something obscenely alive.

"It's very old." Henry ignored her reaction; his had been much the same the first time he'd touched the book. "These are the demonic names. There're twenty-seven of them and no way of knowing if the author discovered them all."

The names, written in thick black ink in an unpleasantly angular script, were for the most part seven or eight letters long. "The demon can't be anywhere near finished," she said thankfully. She still had time to find the bastard behind this.

Henry shook his head, hating to dampen her enthusiasm. "It wouldn't be laying out the entire name, just the symbol for it." He flipped ahead a few pages. The list of names was repeated and beside each was a corresponding geometrical sign. Some were very simple. "Literacy is a fairly recent phenomenon," Henry murmured. "The signs are all that are really needed."

Vicki swallowed. Her mouth had gone suddenly dry. Some of the signs were very simple.

Silently, Henry closed the book and replaced it on the shelf. When he turned to face her again, he spread his arms in a helpless gesture. "Unfortunately," he said, "I can't stop the demon until after it kills again."

"Why not?"

"Because I have to be there ready for it. And last night it completed the second part of the pattern."

"Then it could have completed …"

"No. We'd know if it had."

"But the next death, the death that starts the pattern again, it could complete …"

"No, not yet. Not even the least complicated of the names could be finished so quickly."

"You were ready for it last night." He'd been there, just as she had. "Why didn't you stop it, then?" But then, why didn't she?

"Stop it?" The laugh had little humor in it. "It moved so fast I barely saw it. But the time after next, now that I know what I'm facing, I'll be waiting for it. I can trap it and destroy it."

That sounded encouraging, if there was a time after next. "You've done this before?"

She needed reassurance but Henry, who knew he could make her believe anything he chose to tell her, found he couldn't lie. "Well, no." He'd never been able to lie to Ginevra either, another similarity between the two women he'd just as soon not have found.

Vicki took a deep breath and picked at the edge of her sweater. "Henry, how bad will it get if the named demon gets free?"

"How bad?" He sighed and sagged back against the bookcase. "At the risk of being considered facetious, all hell will break loose."

READ MORE >>

You can use arrow keyboard to go to pervious/next chapter. The WASD keys also have the same function as arrow keys.