His grip on Angeline’s wrist was punishing, even though such show of force was unnecessary. His mere order for her to stop had been enough. He could feel the fear flowing off her. Whatever she’d done to momentarily gain the upper hand wasn’t going to come to her rescue again, and he could tell she knew it.
Before he could question her about the witch, a child walked in the back door. She was wearing a simple white dress that was far too big for her. The clothing was spattered with blood. There were fang marks on her throat, but they were disappearing before his eyes.
How was that possible? What human could self-heal like that?
“Angeline! What did you do?”
She cowered at the anger in his tone. “She begged me. She put her vein right in my face. What was I supposed to do?”
Hadrian rolled his eyes. If she expected him to believe that…
“It’s true,” the girl said, sighing. “I hoped it would work this time, but it just started the cycle over again. She’s not strong enough or old enough, either.”
“You thought what would work? What cycle?” Hadrian said, growing more confused with each nonsensical phrase that passed through the girl’s lips. Something was tickling at the back of his mind, something he didn’t want to admit could be possible. But he knew that golden hair and those features, though they’d been on a grown woman, not a child. Hadn’t they?
No. He’d been lucid enough when he’d risen. He hadn’t just imagined it was a fully grown woman.
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” she said.
“Hadrian,” he said dryly. “Father Hadrian to you.”
“You’re funny. I’m Tamara. I wasn’t able to introduce myself when we first met.” She turned serious. “You plan to kill her don’t you? Your sire?”
“I plan to set her free, yes,” Hadrian said, still trying to pretend it was just about doing something for Angeline’s greater benefit.
“And yet, you don’t want the same freedom for yourself? Interesting.”
Tamara was far too perceptive for her own good. At the moment, Hadrian sought a different type of freedom—one from responsibility and consequences. And the girl knew it.
She frowned. “It’s a curse, you know. Immortality isn’t a gift. It’s a curse. Everything changes around you, and you’re trapped. You never get to forget or start over. You lose people… things. It’s all fun and games now, but one night you’ll wake up and realize it isn’t anymore. Just be glad you have an easy way out when you need it. The sun or the pointed end of a stake. I want to be free, and it annoys me that you don’t. You should greet the sun with your sire. It will save you a lot of pain and grief.”
Tamara began to walk past them, not a trace of fear on her face. When she reached the door, she turned back. She looked down at her hand and a purple ball of light appeared. It crackled, sounding like electricity. It made Father Hadrian jump a little and take a step back.
The girl met his eyes. “Are we going to have a problem? Will you hunt me? We both know you can’t kill me, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get greedy. You wouldn’t be the first to find out my secret and try to use that to your benefit. Because if you are, I’ll have to kill you now.”
“I wouldn’t feed off a child,” Hadrian said, increasingly disgusted that Angeline had.
Tamara laughed. “Oh, you are new to this world. This is just a vessel, part of the loop I’m trapped in. I’m far older and wiser than you. I’m happy to just walk away if I can have your word that you won’t come after me, that you’ll keep this secret. You do still have enough priest in you to honor the sanctity of a secret, don’t you?”
“Are you doing evil with your powers?” Hadrian asked, unable to let the issue drop.
“No. But if I don’t find a way out, and he captures me, you’ll see what evil truly is.”
“If who captures you?”
“Another cycler, like me.”
“How do I know you’re telling the truth?” He didn’t bother asking what a cycler was or how such a creature had come to be. He already knew he didn’t want to get involved.
She shrugged. “We’re both at a disadvantage here, it seems. We’ll just have to trust each other.”
“Leave town,” Hadrian said, “and I won’t follow you or tell anyone about you.”
“Very well. There are too many lights and too much noise in this town, anyway. I thought I could get lost here for awhile.” The purple ball of energy shrunk and then sizzled out into nothing but a small string of smoke that dissipated into the church.
She opened the door and a raven flew in. The bird squawked angrily as he did a few swooping circles around the sanctuary.
“Henry! It’s fine. Stop it.” The bird flew to her and perched on the girl’s shoulder, ruffling his feathers and gurgling in his throat—only slightly mollified. “One more thing.” She pointed to Angeline. “You need to kill her. I do know she can’t be trusted. Her word is worthless. If you won’t do it, I will.”
“I’ll handle it.”
The girl nodded and left the church, pulling the door shut behind her. Hadrian was curious to know more about the stranger, but she wasn’t his concern. He had bigger business to deal with right now.
He pushed Angeline back out toward the porch. “Move.” When he’d tied her back up, he pulled a second rocker in front of her and sat, regarding her calmly.
“Why did you go back inside the church? Why didn’t you just leave through the courtyard when you had the chance?”
Angeline avoided his eyes. “I went back for my cloak and bag.”
“I hope it was worth your life.”
“Hadrian, please, you know me. You can let me go. I won’t bother you. And I won’t bother that girl, either. You’ve made your point. Would you really kill one of your own kind? Humans are food, but I’m like you.”
He arched a brow. “Father Hadrian. And I haven’t been your kind long enough to feel much loyalty. As for knowing you, you’ve never let me in enough. You’ve just come to Mass, watched me, and flirted. I’ve never known anything of substance about you. I still don’t.”
“What do you want to know? That I was turned two hundred and twenty years ago by a sadistic psycho named Linus? That I finally got strong enough to escape him after a couple of decades? That anytime I can barely feel his presence, I uproot and move myself? The things in that bag are all I’ve got that can travel with me. I just wanted someone like me. Is that so bad?”
It was unsettling to watch the vampire cry and mean it.
Her voice was barely above a whisper when she spoke again. “We could be great together.”
Hadrian pushed his chair away and stood. He needed to move. He couldn’t stand to sit still absorbing her past traumas like a sponge. He had to remember why he was doing this. “You were going to turn me into your puppet, just like your maker did to you. I don’t know if the power I have over you can be maintained. Either way, I don’t want a constant struggle, nor do I want to be your babysitter. You took my old life from me and gave me this one instead, but I want it to be my life. I’m not your plaything, and I have no need for you to be mine.”
“I wouldn’t have been just like him.”
But Father Hadrian heard the change in her voice and knew it was at least a partial lie. “We still have a little time before the sun comes up. I’ll hear your confession if you want to give it to me.”
“For nearly two-and-a-half centuries of destruction? I can’t even remember most of it.”
He took her hand in his. “Then I’ll just pray for your soul.”
Hadrian stayed with her until he could see the pink edges of light as dawn climbed out of the night.
“I must go inside now,” he said, knowing Tamara was right that he should greet the sun with his sire, but he found himself unable to resist the siren song of power and what this new life could mean for him.
Angeline gripped his hand harder. “Take me with you. Just think about what you’re doing. You can always kill me later if I can’t change.”
Hadrian shook his head. “I don’t think so. You’re too dangerous to me. Letting you live another day would be the stupidest thing I could ever do. Plus I promised the girl. This isn’t the end, it’s a new beginning for you. You and I have both seen that room with the doors—all those possibilities are waiting. You can start over in a new human life and not have all of this follow you. Aren’t you a little tired of the life you’ve led?”
She looked away, a tear sliding down her cheek. “I’m scared. I haven’t died in a really long time.”
He squeezed her hand. “I know.”
“You could have been a great vampire,” she said, “but you had to go and turn out to be good.” She injected extra disgust into the word good as if even the smallest measure of moral fortitude was no better than a rash.
“Who says I’m good? Goodbye Angeline. May God have mercy on your soul.”