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There was no way the woman could have known he was waiting in her apartment when she walked in that night. She couldn't hear him, because he made no sound. She couldn't detect his body heat, because he didn't emit any. He had all the advantages. He could see her just as well in the dark as he could have in full light. Maybe better. He could hear every sound she made, right down to the steady beat of her heart and the rush of blood through her veins. He could smell her. Strawberry shampoo, baby powder scented deodorant, aging nail polish, a hint of perfume, even the fabric softener scent that lingered on her clothes.
She stepped into the dark apartment, closed the door behind her and turned the locks, all without reaching for a light switch. She leaned back against the door and heeled off her shoes, shrugged the heavy looking handbag from her shoulder, along with her coat, and draped them both over a hook on the tree near the door. Still no light switch.
She sighed and padded across the carpet, sank onto the sofa, let her head fall backward. She worked as a nurse at an elementary school in rural Pennsylvania, spent her days wiping bloody noses and checking heads for nits. A far cry from her former career.
He waited until she'd closed her hand unerringly on the remote control and aimed it at the television before he spoke. "Don't turn that on."
The remote dropped to the floor, and she shot to her feet with a broken cry, her hands pressing to her chest as she searched the darkness with wide, frightened eyes.
"No need to be afraid," he said, stepping from the darker shadows near the door into the slightly lighter ones that surrounded her. She could see him now, just barely. A black silhouette in the darkness. To help her out, he shook a cigarette from his pack, put it to his lips, fired it up. He watched her fear deepen as the flame briefly lit his face. He took a long pull and released the smoke while she stood there with her heart pounding like a rabbit's. "I didn't come here to hurt you. I will, of course, if you make me. I'd probably enjoy it. But ultimately, it's up to you."
"Wh-who are you? What do you want?"
He rolled his eyes at the utter predictability of the questions. "Sit down. Relax. I only want to talk to you." He held out the pack. "You want a smoke?"
"N-no." She sat down, just barely perching on the very edge of the sofa, shaking from head to toe. "B-but "
"But what? Go on, ask. The worst I can do is say no. What do you want?"
"Could you t-t-turn on a light?"
"No." He smiled, amused by his own little joke. "See? That wasn't so bad, was it?"
She let her head fall forward, catching her face in her palms. Crying now. God, he hated crying women. He reached out for a handful of the blond hair on the very top of her head, tugged her head upward. It didn't cause her any pain, but she whimpered anyway. "Come on, now. I'm going to need your full attention for this."
She sniffled, wiped her eyes, squinted through the darkness at him. If she could see him at all, he supposed she could probably see his hair. He didn't really care. He'd only refused to turn on the lights because she wanted them on. He needed her uncomfortable, afraid and off balance.
"So here's the thing," he said. "I've been hunting for this man for oh, more than forty years now. And during the course of my search, I found that he had a connection to you. A recent one, in the scheme of things. So here I am."
"What man?" Her voice was only a whisper now.
"Frank Stiles." He saw the way she jerked in reaction, then tried to hide it.
"Why is it you're looking for this Stiles?"
He didn't have to answer. But he answered anyway. "He's a vampire hunter. I'm a vampire, you see. Thought it might be fun. Turn the tables, hunter becomes the hunted and all that."
"Oh God, oh God "
"I understand you worked for Stiles five years ago or thereabouts." He took another drag, blew a few smoke rings. "That true?"
"No. I.I never heard of him."
He moved his hand too fast for her to follow it, gripped her throat and squeezed. He kept the pressure light, just enough to cut off the air supply and reduce the blood flowing to her brain, enough to make her panic. Not enough to crush her larynx. She would be no good to him dead. He lifted her right off the sofa by her throat, while taking another drag from his smoke with the other hand. Then he let her go. She fell sideways onto the sofa, and her hands shot to her throat as she gasped for breath.
"You're going to tell me what I want to know before this night ends. It really doesn't matter to me how much pain you want to withstand before you talk. As I said, I'll probably enjoy it more if you make me hurt you. It's all the same to me." He sat down on the easy chair near the sofa, smoking and giving her time to catch her breath.
"Your name is Kelsey Quinlan," he said at length. "You are a Registered Nurse. You work at Remsen Elementary. Is all of this correct?"
Dragging herself upright again, still pressing a hand to her throat, she nodded.
"And five years ago, you worked for Frank W. Stiles as a research assistant. Is that correct?"
"Yes. I did. B-but"
"Shhh. Just answer my questions. I'm not here to punish you for your crimes, whatever they may be."
She lifted her head, swallowed hard. It hurt when she did. He felt it. "He's the one you want to punish, isn't he? What are you going to do with him when you find him? Kill him?"
"Oh, I've already killed him. A couple of times, actually. Oddly, the man keeps recovering."
The hand that had been rubbing at her throat went still, and the woman's face paled in the darkness. "That's not possible."
"That's what I thought. But I killed him really well the second time. Honestly. He was very, very dead. And then.well, then he just wasn't." He shrugged. "So what I need to know from you is just what kind of research he was doing when you worked for him?"
Her eyes shot wider. He smelled her fear.
"I'm not going to punish you, Kelsey. I already told you that." Again he shrugged. "Unless you're into that kind of thing, in which case" As he said it, he reached for her.
"I didn't do anything to the girl! It wasn't me. It was all Stiles. I swear it."
He didn't touch her, lowering his hands slowly now that he had her talking. The taps were turned, the pump primed. The information would flow now. "What girl would that be?"
She blinked slowly. "The captive he held five years ago. The half-breed vampire."
He nodded slowly. This was in keeping with what the soldier-for-hire who'd worked on Stiles's security force had told himafter a lot of persuasion.
"Did this half-breed have a name? Or did you just assign her a number?"
"She called herself Amber Lily Bryant. In the files she was Subject X-1."
Amber Lily. The Child of Promise. Then she did exist. He'd heard stories, of course. What vampire hadn't? But he'd pretty much dismissed them as legends. And the soldier he'd questioned had been ill-informed about what went on inside the old house in Connecticut where Stiles had conducted his "research." Still, he needed to test his witness, to make sure.
"This girlshe was a half-breed vampire, you say?"
The woman nodded.
"I think you're lying. There's no such thing. You're making up tales to distract me from my purpose here. Everyone knows vampires are infertile."
"Only the males. The females seem to ovulate for the first few months after being transformed. I thoughtI thought you already knew. I thought all of you knew about all this."
Her eyes were adjusting to the darkness now, he thought. She was staring at him as if she could see his face. "Why don't you pretend I don't and fill me in?"
Nodding rapidly, she seemed to search her mind. "There was a mortal, one of the Chosen. You know about themthe only humans who can become vampires. They all have the same rare Belladonna antigen in their blood."
"And they all tend to die young if they aren't transformed. I know all that, go on."
She nodded. "Well this mortal, a male, was mated with a newly transformed vampiress, and X-1 was the resulting offspring."
He pursed his lips. "This was a DPI experiment, I take it?"
She nodded. "Yes. It all took place before the Division of Paranormal Investigations was dismantled. Stiles worked for them then. I believe he was directly involved with the experiment. But a group of vampires attacked the research facility"
"Research facility." He snorted. "Extermination camp, you mean."
"The parents escaped with the child." She lowered her head. "That's all the background I was given on her."
He nodded slowly. "So even though DPI was never restored as a functioning government agency, Frank Stiles continued the work on his own. And part of that work included hunting and capturing this half-breed child who'd escaped them years before?"
"Apparently so. But she was hardly a child by then."
She shook her head. "Eighteen when he held her in Connecticut." Her eyes shifted, downward and then left. "I did my best to protect her while he kept her. And she was still alive when the vampires came and broke her out." She met his gaze again and maybe saw the doubt in it. "They didn't kill me when they came for her, surely that should tell you something."
"As a rule, my kind tend to get squeamish about coldblooded murdereven when it's deserved. That they left you alive tells me nothing other than that they had weak stomachs." He shrugged. "I'm something of an exception to that rule, myself."
She sat very still, holding her breath.
"Stiles held the girl for how long?"
"I don't remember exactly. A few days. No more."
"And he performed experiments on her?"
She lowered her head. "Yes."
"Details, Kelsey. I need details." He reached for her chin, tipped her head up so she faced him. "And I'll know if you're lying. I know you were lying about trying to protect her. You were as cruel to her as any of them. Fortunately for you, I don't give a damn about that. My interest is in Stiles. So tell meand tell me everything."
The woman licked her lips, and he knew she believed him. She should.
"He wanted to know what kinds of powers she had. Whether she was immortal or not. What could kill her. That kind of thing. He kept her drugged, though, so she wasn't aware of most of the experiments. She probably didn't feel a thing."
"Really." His belly knotted just a little. "And what kinds of things didn't she feel, Kelsey?"
She drew a breath, had the decency to look ashamed. Her voice a bare whisper, she said, "Electric shock, enough to stop her heart, just to see if it would start again.
Drowning, to see if that would kill her. Various toxins introduced into her bloodstream at fatal doses. Blood letting. Blows to the head." "Jesus," Edge muttered.
"She revived every time, and she was long gone before he could try things like bullets to the brain or wooden stakes to the heart."
Edge rolled his eyes. Stakes indeed.
"She seems to age like a human. At least, she had the appearance of a normally aging eighteen-year-old, but she revivifies like an immortal."
"And what else?"
She shrugged. "He took the usual samples. Blood, lots and lots of blood. Tissue, hair, bone marrow."
"What did he do with them?"
She looked at him hard. "I don't know. I thought he was trying to map her DNA, but he kept a lot of his work secret. Used to lock himself in a private lab for hours on end. One of the others who worked for him thought he had two sets of notes, one we could see and the other for his eyes only." She shrugged. "I caught him once, injecting himself with something. But I never knew what it was."
He pursed his lips. He suspected that Stiles had been trying to imbue himself with whatever it was that made the girl immortaltrying to steal her immortality, and whatever other powers she possessed, for himself. And it looked as if his suspicions were true. The bastard wanted to find a way to live forever without becoming a vampire, without being one of the Chosen, possessing the antigen. And maybe, Edge thought, he'd succeeded.
"In all the experiments, did Stiles ever find the girl's weakness? Did he ever find out what would kill her?"
She closed her eyes. "Not to my knowledge, no. If he had, she wouldn't have been alive to escape."
It didn't matter, Edge thought. He would. He would find Amber Lily Bryant, and when he did, he would find her vulnerability. Her poison. Her kryptonite. Because whatever it was, it would be the weapon he needed to kill Frank Stiles.
And for more than four decades, his one goal in life had been to kill Frank Stiles.
No half-breed vampiress was going to stand in his way. Not even the so-called Child of Promise.
He dropped the burned out butt of his cigarette onto the carpet, ground it under his heel as he got to his feet. "You've been very helpful, Kelsey."
She closed her eyes, sitting very still. "And now you're going to kill me, aren't you?"
"Thanks, but I've already eaten." He smiled at his own joke, but she didn't seem to pick up on the humor. "You're no threat to me, Kelsey Quinlan. You've told me what I need to know, and I doubt you're stupid enough to try to warn Stiles, even if you knew where to find him, which you do not. I've been reading your thoughts all evening. So given all that, why do you think I would kill you now?"
"For my crimes against.your kind."
He shook his head as he strode toward the door. "I don't give a damn about my kind."
Amber pulled her low-slung black Ferarri into the driveway of her parents' palatial homeno matter where they lived, it was always palatialat midnight. This one was a Georgian red-brick mansion in an isolated little inlet of Lake Ontario's Irondoquoit Bay. It had come complete with secret passages and hidden escape routes and was one of their more recent acquisitions. The house on Lake Michigan had had to be sold five years ago. Secretly, Amber loved it here far more. Maybe because, for the first time, she'd begun declaring her independence.
"So what do you suppose this 'family meeting' is about?" Amber asked, glancing across the seat at Alicia. "Another reasoned attempt to get us to move back in with them?"