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"You dreamed about him this morning, Carrie."
At the sound of Nathan's voice, my hands froze on my keyboard. "You're watching me sleep again?"
This worried me. Besides being phenomenally creepy, my sire's habit of spying on my nightmares usually flares up when there's trouble on the horizon. Before our big fight with him two months ago, I'd often wake to find Nathan in bed beside me, staring at me as though I'd disappear if he looked away. Just three weeks after that, when our new blood donor had broken in with the intent to stake us in our beds, Nathan had been sitting in my desk chair, watching over me, waiting for something, anything to happen.
Rather than looming in my doorway, he'd come in and sat down on my bedthere really was no place else to go, the room was so smalland settled in as though he'd been invited. Not that I'd been offended. It was his apartment, and Ziggy's old room didn't feel quite like home to me.
I studied Nathan as he watched me. I assumed he tried to gauge my mood. He detests arguing with me, and he'd obviously had other hopes for how the conversation would go.
Tough."So, I'm worried." At my arched brow, he acceded, "Fine, I'm irrationally angry with you."
Damn him for looking good. Time stops bothering with you when you become a vampire, and Nathan was frozen at thirtytwo. Despite the pallor that comes with seventy years of avoiding sunlight, he remained just as young and handsome as he'd appeared in the photographs he'd saved from his prevampire life. More so, actually, because this Nathan was in my bedroom, in living color. Dark hair, gorgeous gray eyes, a body so toned and hard he looked like he'd been a statue of a Greek god in a past life. But it was his eyes that had made me fall for him. Even though he'd been acting tough, and threatening my life the first time we'd met, I'd seen the kindness and sorrow in them. His eyes weren't just windows to his soul. They were doors that let out things he wouldn't have been able to hide from me even without a blood tie between us.
I'd turned back to my computer, where my latest dissertation on vampire physiology had waited with an impatiently flashing cursor. You can take the human out of the doctor, but you can't take the doctor out of the vampire. Or something like that. I'd been working on A Case Study of Blood Type Compatibility for Metabolic Efficiency to kill time and distract me from the craziness of the past two months. But it had inevitably caught up with me, so when Nathan had burst in I'd been typing "Crazy Yellow Tube Socks" over and over again. "You said irrationally, not me."
"I can't help it." His embarrassment was evident through the blood tie, but it didn't quell my annoyance. "What's going on?"
"Well, for one, I'm tired of this stupid research project"
"You're tired of it? I was the one drinking AB negative all damn week." Though he chuckled, there was a wearing note to the sound."And you've been watching me sleep, which usually means something major is about to happen. Plus, I've been having these nightmares." I covered my face with my hands, massaging my tired skin. "I'm sure it's nothing."
"It didn't sound like "nothing."" The bedsprings squeaked as he stood.
I dropped my hands and gave him a withering look. "Oh, he listens as well as watches."
The ghost of a sarcastic smile crossed his face as he knelt beside my chair. "You make it sound so dirty."
I knew he couldn't help the surge of playful lust that reached me through the blood tie, because our brains were on a weird, telepathic party line. Unless he blocked me or vice versa, we heard each other's thoughts and felt each other's emotions. If one of us had even the slightest inclination toward getting physical, the other one knewand usually acted onit.
Unfortunately, the blood tie doesn't filter negative emotions out, so I always got a heaping helping of after-sex guilt. Thoughts of Marianne, his dead wife, were never far from his mind, so the punishment game usually kicked in within minutes of la petit mort. Once I felt his guilt, I added some of my own over the fact I'd helped cause it, and the resultant snowball effect was a good enough reason to avoid sex with him altogether.
At least, not beyond a few just-to-get-it-out-of-our-system flings. Giving those up would be like kicking heroin cold turkey.
The thought depressed me, so I put it aside. I swiveled my desk chair around and leaned back. "Seriously, why are you watching me?"
I shrugged, hoping to pass off my terrifying dreams as a regular occurrence. "I have a lot of nightmares.""You said his name."
Nathan wasn't my first sire. Cyrus, whom I only knew as
"John Doe" when he'd attacked me in the hospital morgue, had made me a vampire. He'd also nearly made me dead when I hadn't been willing to satisfy his twisted desires. When I'd turned to Nathan and the Voluntary Vampire Extinction Movement for help, Cyrus had removed one of my two hearts a strange physiological trait unique to vampiresand left me bleeding to death in the alley behind Nathan's building. When Nathan found me, I'd already died. He'd revived me by giving me his blood, and it'd had the desired effectI was alive, after all. He just hadn't realized he would "re-sire" me.
He'd already had a deep-seated hatred of Cyrus. Now, as my new sire, he felt it ten times stronger. He hated if I even mentioned my first sire in passing. The evil, antagonistic side of me couldn't help but do it now. "Maybe my dreams about Cyrus are a subconscious thing to rile you."
He raised an eyebrow. "That's the same excuse you use for leaving the cap off the toothpaste."
He was right. He's usually right. Damned sire's intuition. I shut off my computer monitor and leaned back in my chair. "I'm guessing you have some sort of theory here."
"Not yet. I was hoping to form it while you tell mein detailabout these dreams. Then I was going to cut you off with a big, dramatic exclamation, something along the lines of "aha!"at which point you'd find yourself impressed and slightly aroused by my genius." He shrugged. "But now, I guess I'll just settle for the detail part."
I rolled my eyes and folded my arms across my chest. "I never see his face, but I know it's him."
Nathan nodded, indicating I should continue. "There aren't any colors except blue." I bit my lip. "The watercolor kind of blue I remember from when I wasdead."
A deep frown creased Nathan's brow, a sure sign I'd piqued his interest with my story. "Are you sure it's not your superconscious working through that night?"
When I had those dreams, I always saw the same things. The bright orange cat that had passed my splayed body. The thick shapes of the shadow people coming to claim me. I didn't bother Nathan with these memories. My brief deaththe second onehad traumatized him enough. "Cut the psych bullshit. You think I'm having these dreams for a reason, don't you?"
He let out a long breath as his mind searched for nonanswers. "I suppose it could be some residue of your former blood tie to him."
"But why now?" I shook my head. "It's been two months. What could have happened to reactivate the tie now?"
Nathan stood, tryingand failingto look unconcerned. "It could be anything. I'll have Max do some digging in the Movement files."
The Voluntary Vampire Extinction Movement was a harsh, totalitarian organization demanding the death of vampires who didn't live by their strict code. Nathan had been on probation for seventy years for killing his wife, though it hadn't been entirely his fault, and by siring me he'd broken one of the cardinal rules: preventing the inevitable death of a wounded vampire. Rather than wait until they found out and killed him, Nathan had chosen to go outlaw. But he maintained ties to Max Harrison, the only other vampire who knew the circumstances surrounding Nathan and me.
I smiled. "I'm sure he'll be thrilled with the assignment." "He doesn't have a choice," Nathan said cheerfully. He no longer hid the fact he lived to make Max's life hell. "Well, the sun's long down. I'd better get downstairs and earn my keep. Are you going to work tonight? I've got some inventory that needs cataloging.""As tempting as it sounds, no." I'd clocked enough unpaid hours in Nathan's occult bookshop to last several lifetimes. If I never saw another Book of Shadows or packet of herbs, it would be too soon. I gestured to the computer. "I need to finish this before it drives me insane."
"Likewise." He made a face. "Next time you want to do some crazy experiment, use someone else as your lab rat."
I heard the door shut behind him as he left. Usually, he locked it, but I heard no telltale jingle of keys.
Vampires take the bond between sire and fledgling as seriously as humans do the bond between parent and child. Normally, Nathan was frighteningly overprotective of me. I tried to push aside the feeling that something might be wrong. Those thoughts were like poison ivy. Once you scratch it, the infection spreads and grows. I didn't need to spend the night on pins and needles, jumping at the slightest sound.
I flipped on the monitor, hoping to lose myself in medical jargon, but I couldn't concentrate. My unease grew, my palms began to sweat and my stomach tingled. I ticked off the symptoms in my mind and only then recognized my body's reaction.
Fight or flight.
The primitive response to fear had slowly built in me, but I was in no immediate danger. My heart did a panicky flip-flop in my chest as I stared at my reflection behind the words on the screen. My pupils had dilated. My face began to morph into monster mode. I stood, willing myself to calm down. There was no reason to feel this way.
Unless it was the blood tie.
I ran from my room, knocking over my desk chair as I took off. Our apartment was on the top floor of Nathan's building. The bookstore was in the basement. I tore down the stairs asfast as I could, gripping the rails as my feet tripped gracelessly over themselves. The door at the bottom seemed light-years away. I burst through it and onto the street. The chill air of the early spring night took my breath away.
Then pain took it, and I gave up hope of getting it back. The blood tie was gone. Not in the way it felt when Nathan simply hid his thoughts from me. That was like a brick wall. This wasvoid. If the tie were a length of cord stretched between us, one end had simply gone slack.
Nathan was dead.
I clutched the wrought-iron rail as I edged toward the top of the stairs descending below the sidewalk. Moonlight illuminated shattered glass at the bottom. Whatever had gotten to Nathan had broken the window to get in.
Get a weapon. Get help. My heart overrode my rational mind. I needed to get to my sire.
I took the stairs down two at a time. Inside, the light at the back of the store flickered in its death throes. Broken, powdery fluorescent tubes littered the floor. Occasional sparks sputtered like snowflakes from broken wiring overhead.
The tables that usually displayed tasteful arrangements of crystals and tarot cards and other New Age bric-a-brac were utterly destroyed. They lay in splinters on the ground, crushing the merchandise they'd once held. To my right, the glass case in the sales counter had been smashed. I knew Nathan kept an ax in the cupboard behind it. I moved in that direction as quietly as I could with glass crunching beneath my shoes.
Something shuffled in the labyrinth of bookshelves behind me. The noise froze me for an instant as I weighed the distance to the door against the odds I'd be able to effectively defend myself with the ax. I dismissed the notion of running. I couldn'tleave Nathan behind, not if there was even the barest chance he might be saved.
I sprinted the last few steps to the cupboard and retrieved the ax. I tried to force some courage into my stiff fingers as I gripped the handle. Whatever had broken in was still in the shop.
The hair on the back of my neck stood up. The thing hiding in the shadows growled.
The clock behind the counter chimed. I jumped. The creature sprang out at me.
My head bounced off the hard floor as the thing brought me down, and nasty fireworks of pain exploded in my vision. The smell of Nathan's blood, usually a welcome, familiar perfume, filled my nostrils with a sour tang, and I gagged. I squeezed my eyes shut tight and my muscles tensed as I tried not to vomit.
The weight of the thing pressing down on me lifted. I opened my eyes in time to see it leap behind the counter, its noisy respirations nearly drowning out the repeated chimes of the clock.
"Nathan?" I shrieked, barely recognizing my own voice for the panic in it. I screamed his name again. There was no answer.
It became starkly, startlingly clear to me: Nathan couldn't come to my aid. I was alone with this creature, and woefully unequipped to defend myself.
A loud snarl sounded behind the counter. In a split second of sheer terror, I threw the ax that way. It hit the cash register and bounced to the floor, out of my reach.
Alone. Woefully unequipped. And blindingly stupid.
I didn't have long to worry about it. The creature leaped over the countertop and tackled me. My breath escaped in a loud whoosh, and I looked up through a haze of pain at the thing holding me down.
A man. A naked, bleeding man.
The creature hadn't killed Nathan. The creature was Nathan.
His face twisted in a feral snarl. His eyes were cold and devoid of recognition. He gripped a shard of blood-drenched glass in his fist. Bloody symbols marred his arms and chest, and I realized with a fresh wave of nausea that he'd carved them into his own flesh.