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Blood Red Dawn
the vampire legacy
By KAREN E. TAYLOR
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2004 Karen E. Taylor
All rights reserved.
Mitch Greer: Whitby
"Gone? What the hell do you mean she's gone?"
Maggie looked up at me from where she sat at the kitchen table, her normally pretty eyes reddened and puffy from crying. I hated to see women cry, especially knowing that my next questions would undoubtedly add to her sorrow, but that hatred did nothing to keep me from wanting to strangle her. I sympathized to a degree, knowing that she certainly had enough to weep about without my reaching out and throttling her, so I restrained my instincts and made an effort to lower and soften my voice a bit.
"Where did she go, Maggie?"
She sniffed and shrugged. "Out," she said, "but the dogs went with her. She seemed like she wanted to be alone and said she'd be back in a bit. It's safe now, right?"
"Safe?" I thought for a minute. "Yeah, I suppose it is, if one can trust that bastard Steven DeRouchard." As soon as I spoke, I realized it was the wrong thing to say. With the mention of her eldest son, tears began to stream from her eyes again. Damn it, I thought, Deirdre had better be back soon or I really will strangle this woman. "How did she seem to you? Was she acting normally?"
With a visible effort, Maggie pulled herself together. She wiped away her tears and combed back her black curly hair with her fingers, sitting up straighter in the kitchen chair. "She seemed as normal as she ever has." Her voice wavered a bit, but she had finished crying. Throwing me a small smile, she stood up and stretched, turning on her charm in a split second as easily and as measurably as throwing a switch. The temperature in the kitchen seemed to rise a degree or two. "I'm not exactly an expert on vampires, Mitch. Frankly, you all seem a bit queer to me." Her voice quivered again, but this time with repressed laughter. "All of you seem strange—you and Dot and all the rest." She reached over and laid her hand on my arm in what I'm sure she meant to be a comforting gesture. "I'm quite sure she'll be fine. Give her some time and she'll be back soon."
I relaxed in spite of myself, in spite of the feeling I had in my gut that there was something horribly wrong. Even though normally I would trust my gut more than I'd trust this woman standing before me, Maggie had this aura about her, making her irresistible to vampires. Her hand felt warm against my arm. Something in the scent of her, in her blood, in her flawless skin and the glow of her eyes made me want to hold her close to me, protect her from harm. The feeling made no sense. I knew she wasn't my friend. Not our friend. And I knew that she'd been instrumental in robbing Deirdre of her memories. Hadn't she admitted as much last night? It should have been an easy thing to reach out and hurt her, make her tell me what I wanted to know.
I pulled away from her; my hands, clenching and unclenching, hung useless at my sides. I feared to touch her, either in anger or in lust. She was a Breeder, she was poison, and I bloody well knew it.
Maggie flashed me one of her angelic smiles; she'd won this round. "We'd better open the pub tonight, don't you think, Mitch?" Her voice sounded sweet and reasonable. "People will begin to wonder what's going on if we don't."
I nodded. "Sure, we might as well open up." I started to move out of the kitchen as if on command. I clenched my teeth and forced myself to turn back to face her. "I'll give her an hour," I said glancing at the clock, "and then I'm going out after her."
"An hour." Maggie nodded. "I'm sure that will be all the time that's needed."
"Needed? For what?"
She laughed. "Why for Dot to get herself together. Really, Mitch," and she laid that hand on my arm again. I pulled away. "There's no need to worry." Again she smiled that angelic smile that made her seem the most desirable woman alive. Funny that I could feel that way, but still want to strangle her. "I'm quite sure she'll be home soon."
At that moment the door to the small bedroom off the kitchen opened and Chris walked out. And here, I thought, is another good reason for me not to kill this woman. By some bizarre chance or coincidence, my son was back, reborn through her sexual union with the DeRouchard bastard who started this whole damned business. Chris's soul had transferred from his dead body into the body of the newborn child through some strange and arcane rite. Even Victor had no idea how that was done.
When I first met Deirdre, I used to say I didn't believe in coincidences, but now I didn't know what to believe. Apparently, when I opened the window to the admission that creatures such as vampires exist, because, yeah, I was one, I also opened the door wide to all sorts of other strange beings, none of whom made any sense whatsoever.
Nevertheless I smiled at my son, for he was my son, there could be no doubt of that fact. And he was Maggie's son as well. It all made for a strange little incestuous-seeming relationship that didn't bear thinking on. My head ached, my heart ached, and the warning in my gut screamed out to be heeded.
"Dad?" Chris nodded in my direction, then in hers. "Mum? I hope everyone slept as well as I did."
Maggie jumped at the sound of his voice and started crying again.
Chris looked over at me. "What's wrong?"
I shook my head and brushed back my hair. "Nothing. And everything. Deirdre's out for a walk, Maggie's crying again, and I'm going out to open the goddamned pub."
Turning my back on the both of them, I stalked into the bar area, flipped on the lights, unlocked the door, and began to clear the glassware from the previous night's celebration. It was hard for me to believe that gathering had taken place less than twelve hours ago. I broke the seal on a new bottle of scotch, put ice into a glass, and filled it to the top.
Calm down, I said to myself, sipping the scotch. She'll be back soon and everything will be fine. In spite of the tension from the scene in the kitchen, in spite of the whole situation, I smiled. Stubborn though she was, I loved that woman, more than she'd ever know. Especially now that most of her memories had been burned away by the poison running in her veins. My mouth tightened with that thought; I drained my glass and poured another.
The bell on the door clanged and I looked up and nodded at a few of our regulars. They came inside, sat at the bar, and I poured their drinks. One of them glanced around, drained his glass, and pushed it over to me with a nod. "Old Pete back yet?" he asked, "I'd been hopin' after a game of darts."
I smiled and refilled his glass. "I'll play you, Thomas."
The man gave a rough laugh. "Not on your life. Perhaps I should've said that I'd been hopin' after a game of darts I can win. You're too good, man. Dead-Eye Greer, they should call you." He took another long swallow of his stout. "So where's your fine Dot tonight, eh?"
"Out walking, I think. She should be back soon."
One of his friends nodded. "Yeah, I saw her up in t'ruins, I think, now that you mention it. Looking over t'ocean. She's a fearless one, I've always said. There've been some strange sights up there lately. Wolves, they say. To say nothing of the ghosts. I'd not like my woman walking there on her own, there's naught good will come of it. No tellin' who she might meet up there."
I wanted to hit him, but another of the men beat me to it, punching him not too gently on the arm. "Get off it, Jim, what would you know of women?"
"That's true, man."
The bell on the door jangled again and more people entered, tourists this time from the look of them. By the time I'd gotten them settled, more had arrived. It was going to be a busy evening by the look of it so far. As I started washing glasses in the bar sink, I hoped Deirdre would be back soon or that Maggie would get over her tears and come help me out.
As if my thought drew her, Maggie appeared and joined me behind the bar, all traces of sorrow wiped away. She gave me that bloody smile of hers. The tension in my stomach intensified. "Phoenix," she said with a small wink, "isn't feeling well so he won't be out tonight." She moved over next to me and took over the washing of the glasses. Over the sound of the water she whispered, "He thought it might be a good idea to stay hidden for a while, since people are bound to notice his change."
I nodded. The need to keep him hidden hadn't actually occurred to me. I was glad the two of them were thinking. But a thought crossed my mind and I stepped away from the bar and back into the kitchen area.
"Chris," I said, leaning in the door, "since you can't help out at the bar tonight, could you do me a favor?"
"Sure, Dad. What's up?"
"Walk up to the abbey ruins, find Deirdre, and bring her back. I'm still not convinced that it's safe for any of us to be out wandering alone, especially her. She's not in the best of shape these days and neither am I."
He nodded, gave me a small salute that made me smile in remembrance of the boy he was. As I was heading back into the bar, he opened the door to the outside and I heard his sharp intake of breath.
"Dad?" His voice cracked; he sounded frightened and young once again.
"One of the dogs. Curly. Or Larry. I never could tell the two of them apart. He's hurt, I think." Chris bent down and picked up the whimpering dog, carried it into the kitchen and laid it down on the floor. The room flooded with the scent of warm blood and triggered an involuntary hunger response. As I bent over the dog, my fangs grew and Chris drew back from me.
"It's Larry," I said, ignoring Chris's reaction. "Poor little guy. But"—and I gave the dog an encouraging pat—"he's not that bad. It looks worse than it really is. Get me some clean towels and a basin of warm water and we'll see if he'll let me clean him up a bit."
Fortunately the animal trusted me, so I could tend his wounds without fear of him biting me. I'd never asked and had no idea if an animal could become vampiric with a taste of our blood. I didn't think I wanted to find out. The injuries did prove to be minor, shallow gouges on his back and hindquarters. "Keep him quiet," I said to Chris when I'd finished, "and try to keep him from licking at the cuts. Chances are Sam and Viv will be stopping by a little bit later, we'll have him take a look."
"How did this happen?"
I shook my head. "No idea. He may have gotten caught in barbed wire somewhere or maybe another animal attacked him. Could even have been Curly, I guess. Any sign of him?"
"No." Chris knelt next to the dog. "Do you still want me to go out looking for Deirdre?"
"No, you stay here. I'll go. Just let me tell Maggie where I'm going."
I stopped as I got to the door and turned back to him. The love of animals he'd developed when growing up as Phoenix had carried over, readily apparent in the care and regard he gave to the dog. And yet even as my heart twisted with gratitude at the sight of my still-too-young son back with me again, the details of another dog's death nagged at my mind, feeding my natural wariness. Phoenix had been close to that animal too. In my years on the police force and the more recent years living as a vampire, all the brutal deaths I'd witnessed haunted me, but somehow the senseless cruelty of the beheading of an innocent and trusting creature had felt more obscene and depraved than most of them. Pointless and evil. And now, as had happened then, doubts entered my mind. How well did I know this boy? Was he his mother's child after all? Maybe he wasn't what he appeared to be on the surface, the innocent victim of the plots of an evil man. Did something more sinister and diabolical lurk under his skin, in his heart and mind?
I cleared my throat. "Chris," I said, "do you remember how Moe died? More importantly, have you been able to remember who did it?"
His eyes glassed over a bit and his face seemed to grow blurred and vague. "No," he said dragging the word out slowly, making it into a drawl. "I've really tried hard to remember, but it's like there's this wall in my mind."
I nodded, feeling my mouth tighten. Sooner or later we would know the real story. I only hoped there would be no more deaths before that happened. It seemed to me that he was deliberately evading the questions I asked. But I'd already had his mother in tears tonight. One of them was enough.
Without another word, I went into the pub.
"Everything okay, Mitch?" Maggie smiled at me as she wiped the bar.
"One of the dogs is hurt. But he'll be fine with a little rest. I fixed him up and Phoenix is keeping an eye on him."
She nodded. Her total lack of interest or concern aroused my suspicions again, at least until I remembered that Maggie had never been much of a dog lover. She'd even driven Moe out of the bar her first night armed only with a broom. I chuckled in spite of myself; Moe had been the size of a bear with the personality of a lion and still our little Maggie had beaten him at the intimidation game. She wasn't our friend, that should have been apparent from the minute she walked into The Black Rose, but I couldn't help admiring her courage. She would have made one hell of a vampire.
As if sensing my thought she looked up at me and winked. "Thomas is hoping after a game of darts, Mitch. It would help all of us ever so much if you obliged him, then he can spend the rest of the night whining about how he lost, instead of how much he wants a game."
The men at the bar laughed and I glanced at the clock. Deirdre would be back soon. To be honest, I wasn't too thrilled with going to find her, not because I didn't want her here, safe and sound, but because she'd accuse me of being her jailor again, accuse me of being overprotective. We'd fought too much recently about my desire to keep her safe by my side. And after all she'd been through, maybe she needed some time to herself. The Others were no longer hunting us and she should be fine. I shrugged and ignored the feeling in my gut, reassuring myself that she was more than capable of taking care of herself. After all, she'd been doing exactly that for more than a century before I'd met her.
"One game then, Thomas?" I said through clenched teeth as Maggie handed me the darts and a fresh drink. "Friendly game or are we wagering?"
"Not on your life, Mitch, I know better than to waste my money betting you'll lose."
We moved over to the dart board, but once there Thomas did not seem so eager to play. Instead he looked over his shoulder at his friends still sitting at the bar. I followed his gaze and saw that they were deep in conversation with Maggie. "I wanted a bit of a private talk with you, Mitch," Thomas said in a low voice. "It ain't all that easy to get you alone since that Maggie girl showed up. I wonder that old Pete ever recommended her for the position here. She just don't seem right to me, not right at all."
"How so, Thomas?" I tossed my round of darts, two ended up dead center, the other fairly close to the first two.
"See," he said in a loud voice as he gathered the darts for his turn, "that's why none of us will play you for money." He dropped his voice again. "Jim told you he saw your Dot up at the abbey, but he didn't tell you the whole story. He seems to have saved that for Maggie and I don't like it, not one bit. She's after you, you know. Set her cap for you, as it were. I can see it in her eyes. And she'd be more than happy to get Dot out of the way."
"Dot's not going anywhere."
Thomas took his turn, making a half-whistling hiss through his teeth as he did so. Shaking his head slightly, he gave an exaggerated sigh. "Good enough to beat anyone else, but not you, Dead-Eye Greer." He clapped me on the shoulder and went back to his conspiratorial half-whisper, "That's not what Jim says. He says she was with someone up at the abbey, another man."
"And?" My voice sounded edgier than I'd intended. What Thomas said may have been true, but not for the reason that was implied. Deirdre probably met someone and fed from them. It didn't have to be anything more sinister than that. But if that were so, why did the sinking feeling in my gut continue?
"Well," Thomas looked over his shoulder again, "you know how Jim is. A great teller of tales, our Jim is. Anyway, he told Maggie that one second he saw Dot, in the arms of another man. And then the next second they weren't there."
"That's ridiculous, Thomas. People don't just disappear."
"And that's what we said. And Jim agreed that it was odd, but he said all of a sudden there was this shining light around the two of them, like an egg or a cocoon. He blinked and then they were gone." Thomas shrugged. "Some of the men here think Jim had too much to drink, some of the others think he's seen too many television shows. I think he's just trying to make trouble."
I didn't know what to say, instead I nodded to keep him talking. The knot in my stomach felt like it would never untie. I'd witnessed that sort of display before from Eduard DeRouchard. I didn't like it happening again. Not here, and not with Deirdre.
Excerpted from Blood Red Dawn by KAREN E. TAYLOR. Copyright © 2004 by Karen E. Taylor. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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