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  • ERue paused to gather herself before she pushed open thedoor marked both Blue MoonEntertainment and Black MoonProductions. Shed made sure shed be right on timefor herappointment. Desperation clamped down on her like a vise: shehad to getthis job, even if the conditions were distasteful. Notonly would the money makecontinuing her university coursespossible, the job hours dovetailed with herclasses. Okay, headup, chest out, shoulders square, big smile, pretty hands,Ruetold herself, as her mother had told her a thousand times.There were two men—twovampires, she corrected herself—one dark, one red-haired, and a woman, a regularhumanwoman, waiting for her. In the corner, at a bar, a girl with shortblond hairwas stretching. The girl might be eighteen, threeyears younger than Rue. The olderwoman was hard-faced,expensively dressed, perhaps forty. Her pantsuit had costmorethan three of Rues outfits, at least the ones that she wore toclasses everyday. She thought of those outfits as costumes: oldjeans and loose shirts bought at 2. the thrift store, sneakers or hiking boots and big glasseswith a very weakprescription. She was concealed in such anensemble at this moment, and Ruerealized from the womansface that her appearance was an unpleasant surprise."You mustbe Rue?" the older woman asked.Rue nodded, extended herhand. "Rue May. Pleased to meet you." Two lies in a row.Itwas getting to be second nature—or even (and this was whatscared her most)first nature."Im Sylvia Dayton. I own BlueMoon Entertainment and Black Moon Productions." SheshookRues hand in a firm, brisk way."Thank you for agreeing to seeme dance." Roe crammed her apprehension into acorner of hermind and smiled confidently. Shed endured the judgments ofstrangerscountless times. "Where do I change?" She let hergaze skip right over the vampires—her potential partners, sheguessed. At least they were both taller than her ownfive foot
  • eight. In the hasty bit of research shed done, shed read thatvampiresdidnt like to shake hands, so she didnt offer. Surelyshe was being rude in noteven acknowledging their presence?But Sylvia hadnt introduced them."In there." There were somelouver-doored enclosures on one side of the room, muchlikechanging rooms in a department store. Rue entered a cubicle. Itwas easy toslide out of the oversize clothes and the batteredlace-up boots, a real pleasureto pull on black tights, a deepplum leotard and fluttering wrap skirt to give theillusion of adress while she danced. She sat on a stool to put on T-strapheels,called character shoes, then stood to smile experimentallyat her reflection in themirror. Head up, chest out, shoulderssquare, big smile, pretty hands, she repeatedsilently. Rue tookthe clip out of her hair and brushed it until it fell in aheavycurtain past her shoulder blades. Her hair was one of herbest features. It was adeep, rich brown with an undertone ofauburn. The color almost matched that of herdeep-set, dramaticeyes.Rue only needed her glasses to clarify writing on theblackboard, so she poppedthem into their case and slipped itinto her backpack. She leaned close to themirror to inspect hermakeup. After years of staring into her mirror withtheconfidence of a beautiful girl, she now examined her facewith the uncertainty of abattered woman. There were picturesin a file at her lawyers office, pictures ofher face bruised andpuffy. Her nose-well, it looked fine now.The plastic surgeonhad done a great job.So had the dentist.Her smile faltered,dimmed. She straightened her back again. She couldnt affordtothink about that now. It was showtime. She folded back thedoor and stepped out. 3. There was a moment of silence as the four in the roomtook in Rues transformation.The darker vampire lookedgratified; the red-haired ones expression didnt change.Thatpleased Rue."You were fooling us," Sylvia said. She had a
  • deep, raspy voice. "You were indisguise." Id better rememberthat Sylvia Dayton is perceptive, Rue told herself."Well, letstry you on the dance floor, since you definitely pass in thelooksdepartment. By the way, its Blue Moon you want to tryout for, right? Not BlackMoon? You could do very well in ashort time with Black Moon, with your face andbody."It wasBlue Moons ad shed answered. "Dancer wanted, must workwith vamps, haveexperience, social skills," the ad had read."Salary plus tips.""Whats the difference?" Rue asked."BlackMoon, well, you have to be willing to have sex in public."Ruecouldnt remember the last time shed been shocked, but she wasshocked now."No!" she said, trying not to sound as horrified asshe felt. "And if this try-outhas anything to do with removingmy clothes… ""No, Blue Moon Entertainment is strictly fordancing," Sylvia said. She was calmabout it. "As the ad said,you team with a vampire. Thats what the people wantthesedays. Whatever kind of dancing the party calls for—waltzing,hip-hop. Thetango is very popular. People just want a danceteam to form the centerpiece fortheir evening, get the partystarted. They like the vamp to bite the girl at theend of theexhibition dance."Shed known that; it had been in the ad, too.All the material shed read had toldher it didnt hurt badly, andthe loss of a sip of blood wouldnt affect her. Shedbeen hurtworse."After you dance as a team, often youre required to stayfor an hour, dancing withthe guests," Sylvia was saying. "Thenyou go home. They pay me a fee. I pay you.Sometimes you gettips. If you agree to anything on the side and I hear aboutit,youre fired." It took Rue a minute to understand what Sylviameant, and her mouthcompressed. Sylvia continued. "Prettymuch the same arrangement applies for BlackMoon, but theentertainment is different, and the pay is higher. Were thinkingofadding vampire jugglers and a vampire magician—hell needa Beautiful Assistant."It steadied Rue somehow when she
  • realized that Sylvia was simply being matter-of-fact. Sexperformer, magicians assistant or dancer, Sylvia didntcare."Blue Moon," Rue said firmly. 4. "Blue Moon it is," Sylvia said.The blond girl drifted overto stand by Sylvia. She had small hazel eyes and a fullmouththat was meant to smile. She wasnt smiling now.While Sylviasearched through a stack of CD cases, the blonde stepped up toRuesside. She whispered, "Dont look directly in their eyes.They can snag you thatway, if they want to, turn your will totheir wishes. Dont worry unless theirfangs run all the way out.Theyre excited then."Startled, Rue used her lowest voice tosay, "Thanks!" But now she was even morenervous, and shehad to wonder if perhaps that hadnt been the girlsintention.Having picked a CD, Sylvia tapped the arm of one ofthe vampires. "Thompson, youfirst."The dark-haired tallervampire, who was wearing biking shorts and aragged,sleeveless T-shirt, came to stand in front of Rue. Hewas very handsome, veryexotic, with golden skin and smoothshort hair. Rue guessed he was of Eurasianheritage; there was ahint of a slant to his dark eyes. He smiled down at her. Buttherewas something in his look she didnt trust, and she always paidattention tothat feeling… at least, now she did. After a quickscan of his face, she kept hereyes focused on hiscollarbone.Rue had never touched a vampire. Where she camefrom, a smallish town in Tennessee,you never saw anything soexotic. If you wanted to see a vampire (just like if youwantedto go to the zoo), you had to visit the city. The idea of touchinga deadperson made Rue queasy. She would have been happy toturn on her heel and walkright out of the room, but that optionwasnt open. Her savings had run out. Herrent was due. Herphone bill was imminent. She had no insurance.She heard hermothers voice in her head, reminding her, "Put some steel inthatspine, honey." Good advice. Too bad her mother hadnt
  • followed it herself.Sylvia popped the disk in the CD player,and Rue put one hand on Thompsonsshoulder, extended theother in his grasp. His hands were cool and dry. Thispartnerwould never have sweaty palms. She tried to suppress hershiver. You donthave to like a guy to dance with him, sheadvised herself. The music was an almostgeneric dance tune.They began with a simple two-step, then a box step. Themusicaccelerated into swing, progressed to jitterbug.Rue foundshe could almost forget her partner was a vampire. Thompsoncould reallydance. And he was so strong! He could lift her withease, swing her, toss her overhis head, roll her across his back.She felt light as a feather. But she hadntmistaken the gleam inhis eyes. Even while they were dancing, his hands traveled 5. over more of her body than they should. Shed had enoughexperience with men—morethan enough experience—topredict the way their partnership would go, if it beganlikethis.The music came to an end. He watched her chest move upand down from the exercise.He wasnt even winded. Of course,she reminded herself, Thompson didnt need tobreathe. Thevampire bowed to Rue, his eyes dancing over her body. "Apleasure," hesaid. To her surprise, his voice purelyAmerican.She nodded back."Excellent," Sylvia said. "You twolook good together. Thompson, Julie, you can gonow, if youwant." The blonde and Thompson didnt seem to want. Theyboth sat downon the floor, backs to one of the huge mirrorsthat lined the room. "Now dance withSean ORourke, our Irisharistocrat," Sylvia told her. "He needs a new partner,too." Ruemust have looked anxious, because the older woman laughedand said,"Seans partner got engaged and left the city.Thompsons finished med school andstarted her residency.Sean?" .The second vampire stepped forward, and Rue realizedhe hadnt moved the whole timeshed been dancing withThompson. Now he gave Sylvia a frigid nod and examined
  • Rueas closely as she was examining him.Dust could havesettled on Sean, he stood so still. He was shorter thanThompson,but still perhaps two inches taller than Rue, and hislong straight hair, tied backat the nape of his neck, was brightred. Of course, Sean was white, white as paper,Thompsonsracial heritage, his naturally golden skin, had made him look alittlemore alive.The Irish vampires mouth was like a capital M.The graven downturns made him looka little spoiled, a littlepetulant, but it was just the way his mouth was made.Shewondered what he would look like if he ever smiled. Seanseyes were blue andclear, and he had a dusting of frecklesacross his sharp nose. A vampire withfreck-les—that made Ruewant to laugh. She ducked her head to hide her smile as hetookhis stance in front of her."I am amusing?" he asked, so softlyshe was sure the other three couldnt hear."Not at all," she said,but she couldnt suppress her smile."Have you ever talked to avampire?""No. Oh, wait, yes, I have. A beauty contest I was in,I think maybe Miss RocklandValley? He was one of thejudges."Of all the ways Sean the vampire could haveresponded, he said, "Did you win?" 6. She raised her eyes and looked directly into his. He couldnot have looked morebored and indifferent. It was strangelyreassuring. "I did," she said.She remembered the vampirejudges sardonic smile when shed told him her"platform" wasgovernmental tolerance toward supernatural creatures. And yetshednever met a supernatural creature until that moment! Whata naive twit shed been.But her mother had thought such a topicvery current and sure to attract thejudges attention. Nationaland state governments had been struggling to regulatehuman-vampire relationships since vampires had announced theirexistence amonghumans five years before.The Japanesedevelopment of a synthetic blood that could satisfy thenutritionalneeds of the undead had made such a revelation
  • possible, and in the past fiveyears, vampires had worked theirway into the mainstream of society in a fewcountries. But Rue,despite her platform, had steered clear of contact withtheundead. Her life was troublesome enough without adding anelement as volatile asthe undead to the mix."I just dont knowmuch about vampires," she said apologetically.Seanscrystalline blue eyes looked at her quite impersonally. "Thenyou willlearn," he said calmly. He had a slight Irish accent;"learn" came out suspiciouslylike "lairrn."She focused safelyon his pointed chin. She felt more at ease—even if he wassomekind of royalty, according to Sylvia. He seemed totallyindifferent to her looks.That, in itself, was enough to relax hermuscles."Will you dance?" he asked formally."Yes, thank you,"she said automatically. Sylvia started the CD player again.Shedpicked a different disk this time.They waltzed first,moving so smoothly that Rue felt she was gliding acrosthefloor without her feet touching the wood. "Swing next," hemurmured, and her feetdid truly leave the floor, her black skirtfluttering out in an arc, and then shewas down again anddancing.Rue enjoyed herself more than she had in years.Whenit was over, when she saw that his eyes were still cool andimpersonal, it waseasy to turn to Sylvia and say, "If you decideyou want me to work for you, Idlike to dance with Sean."Theflash of petulance on Thompsons face startled Rue. 7. Sylvia looked a bit surprised, but not displeased. "Great,"she said. "Its notalways easy… " Then she stopped, realizingany way she finished the sentence mightbe tactless.Julie wasbeaming. "Then Ill dance with Thompson," she said. "I need apartner,too."At least I made Julie happy Rue thought. Ruesown partner-to-be didnt comment.Sean looked neither happynor sad. He took her hand, bowed over it and let it go.Shethought she had felt cold lips touch her fingers, and sheshivered."Heres the drill," Sylvia said briskly. "Heres a
  • contract for you to sign. Takeit home with you and read it. Itsreally simple." She handed Rue a one-pagedocument. "You canhave your lawyer check it over, if you want."Rue couldntafford that, but she nodded, hoping her face didnt reflectherthoughts."We have personnel meetings once a month, BlueMoon and Black Moon together,"Sylvia said briskly. "Youhave to come to those. If you dont show up for anengagement,and youre not in the hospital with a broken leg, youre fired. Ifyoufight with Sean, it better not show in public.""What are themeetings for?" Rue asked."We need to know one another by-sight," Sylvia said. "And we need to share problemswe havewith clients. You can avoid a lot of situations if you knowwhos going tobe trouble."It was news to Rue that there couldbe "trouble." She crossed her arms over herchest, suddenlyfeeling cold in the plum leotard. Then she looked down atthecontract and saw what she would be paid per appearance.She knew that shed sign;shed have the contract in Sylviashands the next day, so she could start work assoon aspossible.But after shed gotten back to her cheap apartment,which lay in a decidedly unsafepart of Rhodes, Rue did studythe contract. Nothing in the simple language was asurprise;everything was as Sylvia had told her. There were a few morerules,covering items like giving notice and maintaining anycostumes she borrowed fromthe company stock, but thecontract was basic. It was renewable, if both partieswanted,after a year.The next morning, Rue bundled up in the briskmidwest spring morning and set outearly to the campus so shewould have time to detour. There was a mail slot in thedoor ofthe old building that housed Blue Moon/Black Moon. Ruepoked the folded 8. paper through the slit, feeling profound relief. That nightSylvia called Rue toschedule her first practice session withSean
  • ORourke.--------------------------------------------------------------------------------CHAPTER TWOWearing cutoff sweatpants and asleeveless T-shirt, Sean waited in the studio. Thenew womanwasnt late yet. She would be on time. She needed the job. Hedfollowedher home the night shed auditioned. Hed beencautious all the years hed been avampire, and that had kept himalive for more than 275 years. One of his safetymeasures wasmaking sure to know the people he dealt with, so Sean wasdeterminedto learn more about this Rue.He didnt know what tothink of her. She was poor, obviously. But shed had yearsofdance lessons; shed had good makeup, a good haircut, the goodEnglish ofprivilege. Could she be an undercover operative ofsome kind? If she were, wouldntshe have taken the opportunityto work for Black Moon, the only remotelyinteresting thingabout Sylvias enterprises? Perhaps she was a rich girl onaperverse adventure.His first fifty years as a vampire, SeanORourke had done his best to concealhimself in the world ofhumans. Hed stayed away from others of his kind; when hewaswith them, the temptation to explore his true nature had growntoo strong. Seanhad been abandoned by the man whod madehim what he was. Hed had no chance tolearn the basic rules ofhis condition; in his ignorance, hed killed unfortunatesin theslums of Dublin. Gradually, Sean had learned that killing hisvictims wasntnecessary. A mouthful of blood could sustainhim, if he had it every night. Hedlearned to use his vampiricinfluence to blot out his victims memories, and hedlearned toblot out his own emotions almost as successfully.After fiftyyears, stronger and colder, hed begun to risk the company ofothervampires. Hed fallen in love a time or two, and it hadalways ended badly, whetherthe woman he loved was anothervampire or a human.His new partner this Rue, was beautiful,one of the most beautiful women hed seenin centuries. Seancould admire that beauty without being swayed by it. He
  • knewsomething was wrong with the girl, something hiddeninside her. He hadnt watchedpeople, observed people, all theseyears without learning to tell when a human wasconcealingsomething. Maybe she was an agent for one of the fanaticalorganizations 9. that had formed to force vampires back into the darknessof the shadows. Maybe shesuffered from a drug addiction, orsome physical condition she was hoping to hidefor as long aspossible.Sean shrugged to himself. Hed speculated far toomuch about Rues possibilities.Whatever her secret was, in timehe would learn it. He wasnt looking forward tothe revelation.He wanted to dance with her for a long time; she was lightandsupple in his arms, and she smelled good, and the swing ofher thick mahogany hairmade something in his chestache.Though he tried to deny it to himself, Sean lookedforward to tasting her more thanhed looked forward toanything in decades.The practice room was a larger studiobehind the room in which shed met Sylvia andthe others."Sean/Rue" was scrawled on the sign-up sheet for the six-thirtytoeight oclock time slot. Julie and Thompson would bepracticing after them, Ruenoticed.She was nervous about beingalone with the vampire. He was waiting for her, just asstill andsilent as hed been two nights before. As a precaution, shedworn across around her neck, tucked under the old grayleotard. The black shorts shedpulled on over the leotard weremade out of a shiny synthetic, and shed broughtballet shoes,tap shoes and the T-strap character shoes she wore forballroomdancing. She nodded to Sean by way of greeting, andshe dumped the shoes out on thefloor. "I didnt know what youdwant," she explained, all too aware that her voicewasuneven."Why are the initials different?" he asked. Even hisvoice sounded dusty, as thoughit hadnt been used in years. Toher dismay, Rue discovered that she found theslight Irish
  • accent charming."What do you mean? Oh, on the shoe bag?"She sounded like an idiot, she thought,and bit her lip. Shed hadthe shoe bag for so many years, she simply didntnoticeanymore that it was monogrammed."What is your realname?"She risked a glance upward. The brilliant blue eyeswere just blue eyes; they werefixed on her at the moment, buthe wasnt trying to rope her in, or whatever it wasthey did. "Itsa secret," she said, like a child. She smacked herself ontheforehead."What is-your true name?" He still sounded calm,but it was clear he was going toinsist. Actually, Rue didntblame him. She met his eyes. She was his partner. Heshouldknow. 10. "I go by Rue L. May. My name is Layla LaRue LeMay.My parents liked the song? Youknow it?" she askeddoubtfully."Which version? The original one by Cream, or theslower Eric Clapton solo?"She smiled, though it was anuncertain smile. "Original," she said. "In theirwilder years,they thought it was cool to name their daughter after a song." Itwashard to believe, now, that her parents had ever had years ofnot being afraid whatpeople would think, that once theyd beenwhimsical. She looked down. "Please donttell anyone myname.""I wont." She believed him. "Where do your parentslive now?" he asked."Theyre dead," she said, and he knew shewas lying.And though he would need to sample her blood to besure, Sean also suspected thathis new partner was living infear.After they warmed up, that first practice session wentfairly well. As long as theyboth concentrated on the dancing,the conversation was easy. When they touched onanythingmore personal, it wasnt.Sean explained that they were almostnever called on to tap dance. "People who hireus wantsomething flashy, or something romantic," he said. "They wanta couple whocan tango, or a couple who can do big lifts, forthe charity balls. If itssomething like an engagement party or
  • anniversary, they want a sexy, slow dance,always ending withthe bite."Rue admired how impersonally he said it, as if theywere both professionals in thistogether, like actors rehearsing ascene. In fact, that was exactly appropriate,she decided."Ivenever done.this," she said. "The biting thing. Ah, do youalways bite theneck?" As if she didnt care, as if she was quitematter-of-fact about the finale.She was proud of how calm shesounded."Thats what the audience likes. They can see it best,and its traditional. Inreal life, of course—if I can use the phrasereal life—we can bite anywhere. Theneck and the groin havethe big arteries, so theyre preferred. It isnt fatal.Ill only take adrop or two. We dont need much as we get older."Rue couldfeel her face flood with color. This matched what shed learnedfrom theuniversitys computers, though shed felt obliged tohave Sean confirm what shedread. She needed to know all this,but she was embarrassed, just the same. It waslike discussingsexual positions, rather than the more comparable eatingcustoms:missionary vs. doggy-style, rather than forks vs.chopsticks. 11. "Lets try a tango," Sean said. Rue put on her charactershoes. "Can you wear ahigher heel?" her partner askedimpersonally."Yes, I can dance in something higher, but thatwould put me too close to yourheight, dont you think?""Im notproud," he said simply. "Its all in how it looks."Aristocrat ornot, he was a practical man. To Rues pleasure, Sean continuedto bea great partner. He was very professional. He was patient,and since she was rusty,she appreciated his forbearance. As thesession continued, Rue grew more confident.Her body beganto recover its skills, and she began to enjoy herselfimmensely.She hadnt had fun in forever.They ended up with a"cool-down" dance, a dreamy forties romantic song performedbya big band. As the music came to a close, Sean said, "NowIll dip you." Then helowered her, until her back was almost
  • parallel with the floor. And he held theposition. A humancouldnt have sustained it for long, but his arm underhershoulders was like iron. All she had to do was keep hergraceful alignment with hisbody. "Then, I bite," he said, andmimed a nip at her neck. He felt her shiver andwilled her torelax. But she didnt, and after a moment, he assisted herinstanding up again."We could have a booking this weekend, ifyou feel youre up to it," he said. "Wedhave to practice everynight, and youd have to have your costumes ready."She wasrelieved to have a safe topic to latch on to. Julie-and Thompsonwerestanding by the door, waiting for their turn in the practiceroom. They werelistening with interest."Sylvia said there was awardrobe of costumes?""Ill show you," Sean said. He soundedas calm and indifferent as he had at thebeginning of thesession.After shed glanced in the room off Sylvias office,where costumes were hanging inrows on rolling racks, shewent to the ladies room. As she was washing her hands,Juliecame in. The young blonde looked especially happy, withflushed cheeks and abig smile."I gotta tell you," Julie said. "Imreally glad you picked Sean. I always thoughtThompson waspretty hot, and Sean is as cold as they come.""How long haveyou been dancing for Sylvia?" Rue asked. She wanted to steerclear 12. of discussing her partner."Oh, a year. I have a day job,too, clerking at an insurance agency, but you knowhow hard itis to get along. I settled in Rhodes because I thought a city inthemiddle of the country would be cheaper than either coast,but its hard for a girlto make it on her own."Rue was able toagree with that wholeheartedly."Hard to understand why thevampires do this," she said."They gotta live, too. I mean, mostof them, they want a nice place to live, cleanclothes and soon.""I guess I always thought all vampires were rich.""Not tohear them tell it. Besides, Thompsons only been a vamp for
  • twenty years,""Wow," Rue said. She had no idea whatdifference that would make, but Julie clearlythought she wasrevealing a significant fact."Hes pretty low down on the totempole," Julie explained. "Whats unusual isfinding a vamp as oldas Sean performing. Most of the vamps that old thinkitsbeneath their dignity to work for a human." She looked awee bit contemptuous ofSean.Rue said, "You all have a goodpractice, Julie. Ill see you soon.""Sure," Julie said. "Have agood week."Rue hadnt meant to be abrupt. But she had somesympathy for Sean. Just like her,he was making a living doingwhat he did best, and he didnt have false pride aboutit. Shecould draw a lesson from that herself.That sympathy vanishedthe next night, when Rue discovered that Sean wasfollowingher home. After getting off the bus, she caught thebarest glimpse of him as shewalked the last block to herapartment. She ran up the steps as quickly as shecould, andtried to act normally as she unlocked the common door andclimbed up toher tiny apartment. Slamming the door behindher, her heart hammering, she wonderedwhat shed let herself infor. With the greatest caution, she left the lights offand creptover to the window. She would see him outside, looking up?She knew it.She knew all about it.He wasnt there. She fed hercat in the dark able to see the cans and the dish bythe light ofthe city coming in the windows. She looked again. 13. Sean wasnt there.Rue sat down in the one chair she had,to think that over. Her heart quithammering; her breathingslowed down. Could she have been mistaken? If shed beenaless-experienced woman she might have persuaded herselfthat was the case, but Ruehad long since made up her mind notto second-guess her instincts. Shed seen Sean.Maybe hewanted to know more about his partner. But he hadnt watchedher once shewas inside.Maybe hed followed her to make sureshe was safe, not to spy on her.It was hard for Rue to pay
  • attention in her History of the British Isles class thenextmorning. She was still fretting. Should she confront him?Should she staysilent? Shed let her hair go all straggly forclass, as she usually did, and shetucked it behind her ear whileshe bent over her notebook. She was so jangled byherindecision that she let her mind ramble. Her professor caughther by surprisewhen he asked her what she thought of thepolicy of the British during the Irishpotato famine, and she hada hard time gathering up an answer to give him. To maketheday even more unpleasant, while Rue was working on a termpaper in the collegelibrary, she realized that the brunette acrossthe table was staring at her. Ruerecognized that look."Yourethat girl, arent you?" the girl whispered, after gathering hernervetogether."What girl?" Rue asked, with a stony face."Thegirl who was a beauty queen? The one who—""Do I look like abeauty queen?" Rue asked, her voice sharp and cutting. "Do Ilooklike any kind of queen?""Ah, sorry," stammered the girl,her round face flushing red with embarrassment."Then shutup," Rue snarled. Rudeness was the most effective defense,shed found.Shed had to force herself, at first, but as time wenton, rudeness had become alltoo easy. She outstayed theflustered student, too; the girl gathered up her booksandpencils and fled the library. Rue had discovered that if sheherself leftfirst, it constituted an admission.After dark, Rue setout to dance rehearsal with anger riding her shoulders.Shedebated all the way to Blue Moon. Should she confront hernew partner? Sheneeded the job so badly; she liked dancing somuch. And though it embarrassed herto admit it to herself, itwas a real treat to sometimes look as good as she could,insteadof obscuring herself. 14. Rue reached an internal compromise. If Sean behavedhimself during this practice aswell as he had during the first, ifhe didnt start asking personal questions, shewould let it go. She
  • could dance this Friday and make some money, if she couldjustget through the week.She couldnt prevent the anger rollingaround her like a cloud when he came in, buthe greeted herquite calmly, and she crammed her rage down to a bearablelevel.The dancing went even better that night. She was onedge, and somehow thatsharpened her performance. Seancorrected a couple of arm positions, and shecarefully compliedwith his suggestions. She made a few of her own.If hefollowed her home, she didnt catch a glimpse of him. Shebegan to relaxabout the situation.The next night, he bither."You dont want the first time to be in front of a crowd," hesaid. "You mightscream. You might faint" He seemed quitematter-of-fact about it. "Lets do thatthing we were working on,that duet to Bolero.""Which is maybe the most hackneyed sexydance music in the world," she said,willing to pick a fight tocover her anxiety."But for a reason," Sean insisted. "Reason"came out "rayson." His Irish accentbecame more pronouncedwhen he was upset, and Rue enjoyed hearing it. Maybeshewould irritate him more often.The duet theyd been workingon was definitely a modern ballet. They started outwith Seanapproaching Rue, gradually winning her, their hands and thealignment oftheir bodies showing how much they longed totouch. Finally they entwined in awonderful complicatedmeshing of arms and legs, and then Sean lowered her tofinishup in the position theyd practiced the night before,leaning Rue back over hisarm."Well go very low this time," hesaid. "My right knee will touch the ground, andyour legsshould be extended parallel to my left leg. Put your left armaround myneck. Extend your right.""Can you sustain that? Idont want to end up in a heap on the floor.""If I brace my righthand on the floor, I can hold us both up." Hesoundedcompletely confident."Youre the vampire," she said,shrugging.
  • 15. "Whats my offense?" He sounded stung."I didnt realizeyou were going to be the boss of us," she said, pleased tohavejolted him out of his calm remove. "Aristocrat," Sylviahad called him. Rue knewall about people who thought theirmoney provided them with immunity. She also knewshe wasntbeing reasonable, but she just couldnt seem to stop beingangry."Youd like to be the one in charge?" he askedcoldly."No," she said hastily, "Its just that I—""Thenwhat?""Nothing! Nothing! Lets do the damn finale!" Everynerve in her body twanged withanxiety.She got into positionwith a precision that almost snapped. Her right legextendedslightly in front of her, touching his left leg, which heswept slightly behindhim. He took both her hands and claspedthem to his chest. His eyes burned intohers. For the first time,his face showed something besides indifference.It wasnt smartof me to have a fight with him right before he bites me, Ruetoldherself. But the music began. With a feeling ofinevitability, Rue moved throughthe dance with the vampire.Once she moved too far to the right, and once she losttrack ofher place in the routine, but she recovered quickly both times.And thenshe was leaning back gracefully, her left arm aroundSeans neck, her right armreaching back, back, her hand in anappealing line. Sean was leaning over her, andshe saw hisfangs, and she jumped. She couldnt help it.Then he bit her.Allher problems were over, her every muscle relaxed, and she waswhole again. Herbody was smooth and even, and everythinginside her was perfect and intact.The next thing Rue knew, shewas weeping, sitting on the floor with her legscrossed. Seanwas sitting by her side, leaning over with his arm aroundhershoulders."It wont be like this again," he said quietly, whenhe was sure she wouldunderstand him."Why did that happen?Is it that way for everyone?" She rubbed her face withthehandkerchief Sean had handed her. Where hed kept it, she
  • couldnt imagine."No. The first time, you can see what makesyou happiest." 16. Can, she noted. She was sure it could also hurt like hell.Sean had been generous."It will feel pleasant next time," Seansaid. He didnt add, "As long as I want itto," but she could readbetween the lines. "But it wont be so overwhelming."She wasglad hed had enough kindness to introduce her to this inprivate. Ofcourse, she told herself, he hadnt wanted her tocollapse on the dance floor,either. She would look stupid men,and so would he. "Can you tell what Imfeeling?" she asked,and she deliberately turned to look him in the eyes.He met herdark eyes squarely. "Yes, in a muffled way," he said. "I can tellif youare happy, if you are sad—when I bite."He didnt tell herthat now he would always be able to tell how she felt. Hedidnttell her that she had tasted sweeter than his memory ofhoney, sweeter than anyhuman hed everbitten.--------------------------------------------------------------------------------CHAPTER THREEThey danced together for twomonths before Sean discovered something else aboutRue. Hewanted to call her "Layla," her real name, but she told him hewould forgetand call her that in front of someone who… andthen shed shut down her train ofthought and asked him to callher Rue like everyone else.He followed her home every nightSean wasnt sure if shed seen him that secondnight, but hemade sure she never saw him again. He was careful. Hisintention, hetold himself, was simply to make sure she arrivedat her apartment safely, but heinevitably analyzed what he sawand drew conclusions.In all those nights, Sean saw her speak tosomeone only once. Late one Wednesdaynight, a young manwas sitting on the steps of her building. Sean could tellwhenRue spotted him. She slowed down perceptibly. By thenSean had bitten her fivetimes, and he could read her so closelythat he registered a tiny flinch that wouldhave gone unnoticed
  • by anyone else.Sean slid through the shadows silently. Hemaneuvered close enough to be able tohelp Rue if she neededit. 17. "Hello, Brandon." Rue didnt sound pleased."Hey, Rue. Ijust thought I might… if you werent busy… Would you like togo outfor a cup of coffee?" He stood up, and now thestreetlight showed Sean that theyoung man was a little olderthan the common run of students, maybe in his latetwenties.He was very thin, but attractive in a solemn way.Rue stood fora second, her head bowed, as if she were thinking what to donext.The parts of her that Sean had begun to know were brittleand fragile, forged byfear. But now he felt her kindness. Shedidnt want to hurt this man. But shedidnt want to be in hiscompany, either, and Sean was dismayed by how happythismade him."Brandon, youre so nice to think of taking meout for coffee," she said gently."But I thought I made myselfreal clear last week. Im not dating right now. Imjust not in thatmode.""A cup of coffee isnt a date."Her back straightened.Sean considered stepping out of the shadows to stand byherside."Brandon, Im not interested in spending time withyou." Her voice was clear andmerciless.The man stared at herin shock. "Thats so harsh," he said. He sounded as thoughhewas on the verge of crying. Seans lip curled."Ive turneddown your invitations three times, Brandon. Ive run out ofcourtesy."The man pushed past her and walked down the streetin such a hurry that he almostknocked over a trash can. Rueswung around to watch him go, her stance belligerent.Shemight look ruthless to the human eye, but Sean could tell shewas full of shameat being so stern with a man as guileless as apersistent puppy. When she went upthe steps, Sean drifteddown the street, wondering all the while about abeautifulwoman who didnt date, a woman who camouflagedwhat she was under layers ofunattractive clothing, a woman
  • who was deliberately rude when her first inclinationwas to bekind. Rue May—Layla LaRue LeMay—was hiding. But fromwhat? Or who? Hedbeen dancing with her for two months now,and he didnt know anything about her."We got a call fromConnie Jaslow," Sylvia said two weeks later. "She wants tohirethree couples to dance at a party shes putting on. Since itswarm, shesdetermined to have a tropical theme."Rue and Sean,Julie and Thompson, and the third pair of dancers, Megan andKarl, 18. were sitting in the padded folding chairs that Sylviausually pushed against thewalls. For this meeting, theyd pulledthe chairs in front of Sylvias desk."Shed like the gals to wearsort of Dorothy Lamour-style outfits, and the guys towearloincloths and ankle bracelets. She wants some kind of native-lookingdance.""Oh, for Gods sake!" said Karl, disgustemphasizing his German accent."Connie Jaslow is one of ourbig repeat customers," Sylvia said. Her eyes went fromone tothe other of them. "I agree the idea is silly, but Connie paysgood money.""Lets see the costumes," Julie said. Rue haddecided Julie was a good-heartedgirl, and almost as practical asSylvia."This was what she suggested," Sylvia said. She held upa drawing. The womenscostume showed belly button; it was ashort flowered skirt, wrapped to look vaguelysaronglike, with amatching bra. The long black wig was decorated withartificialflowers.Rue tried to imagine what she would look likein it, and she thought shed lookpretty good. But then she re-evaluated the low-rider skirt. "It would be that low?"sheasked."Yes," Sylvia said. "Showing your navel is in right now,and Connie wanted a sortof update to the island look.""Cant doit," Rue said."Something wrong with your button?" teasedThompson."My stomach," Rue said, and hoped she could leaveit at that."I cant believe that. Youre as lean as you can be,"Sylvia said sharply. Shewasnt used to being thwarted.Rue had
  • a healthy respect for her employer. She knew Sylvia woulddemand proof.Better to get it over with. Dancers learned to bepractical about their bodies. Ruestood abruptly enough tostartle Sean, who was leaning against the wall by herchair. Ruepulled up her T-shirt, unzipped her jeans and found shed wornbikinipanties, so she hardly had to push them down. "Thiswould show," Rue said, keepingher voice as level as shecould.The room was silent as the dancers gazed at the thick,jagged scar that ran just tothe left of Rues navel. It descendedbelow the line of the white bikinis. 19. "Good God, woman!" Karl said. "Was someone trying togut you?""Give me a hysterectomy." Rue pulled her clothesback together."We couldnt cover that with makeup," Sylviasaid. "Or could we?" The other two couples and Sylviadiscussed Rues scarred stomach quite matter-of-factly, as aproblem to solve.The debate continued while Rue sat silently,her arms crossed over her chest tohold her agitation in. Shebecame aware that she wasnt hearing a word fromSean.Slowly, she turned to look up at her partners face. Hisblue eyes were full oflight. He was very angry, livid withrage.The dispassionate attitudes of the others had made her feela bit more relaxed, butseeing his rage, Rue began to feel thefamiliar shame. She wanted to hide from him.And she couldntunderstand that, either. Why Sean, whom she knew better thananyof the other dancers?"Rue," Sylvia said, "are youlistening?""No, sorry, what?""Megan and Julie think they cancover it up," Sylvia said. "Youre willing to takethe job if wecan get your belly camouflaged?""Sure," she told Sylvia,hardly knowing what she was saying."All right, then, twoFridays from now. You all start working on a longdancenumber right away, faux Polynesian. Youll go on afterthe jugglers. Julie andThompson are booked for a party thisSaturday night, and Karl and Megan, youredoing a dinner
  • dance at the Cottons estate on Sunday. Sean, you and Ruearescheduled to open a big band evening at the burn unitbenefit."Rue tried to feel pleased, because she loved dancing tobig band music, and she hada wonderful forties dress to wear,but she was still too upset about revealing herscar. What hadgotten into her? Shed tried her best to conceal it for years,andall of a sudden, in front of a roomful of relative strangers,shed pulled down herjeans and shown it to them.And theydreacted quite calmly. They hadnt screamed, or thrown up, orasked herwhat shed done to deserve that. They hadnt evenasked whod done it to her. ToRues astonishment, she realizedthat she was more comfortable with this group ofdancers thanshe was with the other college students. Yet most of thosestudentscame from backgrounds that were much more similarto hers than, say, Julies. Juliehad graduated from high schoolpregnant, had the baby and given it up to the 20. parents of the father. Now she was working nonstop,hoping to gather enough moneyto buy a small house. If shecould do that, shed told Rue, the older couple wouldlet herhave the baby over for the weekends. Megan, a small, intensebrunette, wasdancing to earn money to get through vet school.Shed seen Rues stomach andimmediately begun thinking howto fix it. No horror, no questions.The only one whod reactedwith deep emotion had been Sean. Why was he so angry?Herpartner felt contempt for her, she decided. Scarred and marred,damaged. If Ruehadnt felt some measure of blame, she couldhave blown off Seans reaction, butpart of her had always feltguilty that she hadnt recognized trouble, hadntrecognizeddanger, when it had knocked on her door and asked her out fora date.That night, when they both left the studio, Sean simplybegan walking by her side."What are you doing?" Rue asked,after giving him a couple of blocks to explainhimself. Shestopped in her tracks."I am going in the same direction you
  • are," he said, his voice calm."And how long are you gonna bewalking in that direction?""Probably as far as your steps willtake you.""Why?"There it was again, in his eyes, the rage. Sheshrank back."Because I choose to," he said, like a truearistocrat."Let me tell you something, buddy," she began,poking him in the chest with herforefinger. "Youll walk mehome if I ask you to, or if I let you, not just becauseyou chooseto. What will you do if I choose not to let you?""What will youdo," he asked, "if I choose to walk with you, anyway?""I couldcall the police," she said. Being rude wasnt going to work onSean,apparently."Ah, and could the police stop me?""Nothuman cops, maybe, but there are vamps on the force.""Andthen you wouldnt have a partner, would you?"That was astumper. No, she wouldnt. And since vampires who wanted todance for aliving were scarce, she wouldnt be able to findanother partner for a good long 21. while. And that meant she wouldnt be working. And ifshe wasnt working…"So youre blackmailing me," shesaid."Call it what you choose," he said. "I am walking youhome." His sharp nose rose inthe air as he nodded in the rightdirection.Frustrated and defeated, Rue shouldered her bagagain. He caught the bus with her,and got off with her, andarrived at her building with her, without them exchangingaword the whole way. When Rue went up the steps to the door,he waited until shedunlocked it and gone inside. He could seeher start up the inner stairs, and heretreated to the shadowsuntil he saw a light come on in the second-floorfrontapartment.After that, he openly walked her home everynight, in silence. On the fourth night,he asked her how herclasses were going. She told him about the test shed hadthatday in geology. The next night, when he told her to havesweet dreams, he smiled.The M of his mouth turned up at thecorners, and his smile made him look like aboy.On the sixth
  • night, a woman hailed Sean just as he and Rue got off the bus.As thewoman crossed the street, Rue recognized Hallie, aBlack Moon employee. Rue had metall the Black Moonpeople, but she did her best to steer clear of them all,bothvampire and human. Rue could accept the other BlueMoon dancers as comrades. Butthe Black Moon performersmade her shrink inside herself."Hey, what are you two up to?"Hallie said. She was in her late twenties, withcurly brown hairand a sweet oval face. It was impossible not to respond tohergood cheer; even Sean gave her one of his rare smiles."Wejust left practice," Sean said when Rue stayed silent."I justvisited my mother," Hallie said. "She seems to be a littlebetter."Rue knew she had to speak, or she would seem like themost insufferable snob. MaybeI am a snob, she thoughtunhappily. "Is your mom in the hospital?""No, shes in VanDiver Home, two blocks down."Rue had walked past there aCouple of times, and thought what a grim place itwas,especially for an old folks home. "Im sorry," shesaid."Shes in the Alzheimers wing." Hallies hand was alreadywaving off Ruesexpression of sympathy. "If I didnt work forSylvia, I dont know how I could paythe bills." 22. "You have another day job, too?""Oh, yes. Every day,and nights I dont work for Sylvia, Im a cocktail waitress.Infact, Im due back at work. I ran down to see Mom on mybreak. Good to see bothof you."And off Hallie hurried, herhigh heels clicking on the pavement. She turned into abar onthe next block, Bissonets.Rue and Sean resumed the short walkto Rues building."Shes no saint, but its not as simple as youthought," Sean said when theydreached her building."No, I seethat." On an impulse, she gave him a quick hug, then quicklymounted thesteps without looking back.Two weeks later, BlueMoons three male vampires and three human womenweredressing in a remote and barren room in the Jaslow
  • mansion. Connie Jaslow had noconsideration for dancersmodesty, since shed provided one room for both sexes.To anextent, Mrs. Jaslow was correct. Dancers know bodies; bodieswere theirbusiness, their tools. At least there was an adjacentbathroom, and the women tookturns going in to put on theircostumes and straighten the black wigs, but the menmanagedwithout leaving.Rick and Phil, the two vampires whoordinarily worked together at "specialty"parties for BlackMoon, had polished a juggling act. They would go on first.Theywere laughing together (Phil only laughed when he waswith Rick) as they stood cladonly in floral loincloths. "At leastwe dont have to wear the wigs," the tallerRick said, grinning ashe looked over the dancers."We look like a bunch of idiots,"Julie said bluntly. She tossed her head, and theshoulder-lengthblack wig fell back into place flawlessly."At least were gettingpaid to look like idiots," Karl said. The driver of the vanthathad brought them all out to the Jaslow estate, Denny James,came in to tellKarl that the sound system was all set up andready to go. Denny, a huge burly ex-boxer, worked for Sylviapart-time. Megan and Julie had told Rue that Denny hadacloser relationship with Sylvia than employer/employee,much to Rues astonishment.The. ex-boxer hardly seemed thetype to appeal to the sophisticated Sylvia, butmaybe that wasthe attraction.Anxious about the coming performance, Ruebegan to stretch. She was already wearingthe jungle-print skirt,which draped around to look like a sarong, and matchingbikinipanties. The bra top matched, too, a wild jungle print overgreen. Theshoulder-length wig swung here and there as shewarmed up, and the pink artificial 23. flower wobbled. Rues stomach was a uniform color,thanks to Julie and Megan.Karl had brought the CD with theirmusic and given it to the event planner whoddesigned thewhole party, a weirdly serene little woman named Jen. On the
  • way intothe estate, Rue had noticed that the driveway had beenlined with flaming torcheson tall poles. The waiters andwaitresses were also in costume. Jeri knew how tocarrythrough a theme.Rue went over the whole routine mentally.Sean came to stand right beside her. Onhis way out the doorwith Phil, Rick gave her a kiss on the cheek for luck, andRuemanaged to give him a happy smile."Nervous?" Seanasked. It came out, "Nervous?""Yes." She didnt mind tellinghim. Head up, shoulders square, chest forward, bigsmile, prettyhands. "There. Im okay now.""Why do you do that? Thatlittle… rearrangement?""Thats what my mother told me to doevery time I went on stage, from the time Iwas five to the timeI was twenty.""You were on stage a lot?""Beauty pageants,"Rue said slowly, feeling as though she were relating thedetailsof someone elses life. "Talent contests. You name it, Iwas in it. It cost myparents thousands of dollars a year. Id winsomething fairly often, enough to makethe effort worth it, atleast for my father." She began to sink down in a split."Pressdown on my shoulders." His long, thin fingers gripped her andpressed. Healways seemed to know how much pressure toapply, though she knew Sean was farstronger than anyhuman."Did you have brothers or sisters?" he asked, his voicequiet."I have a brother," she said, her eyes closed as she felt herthighs stretch totheir limit. She hadnt talked about her family inover a year."Is your brother a handsome man?""No," Rue saidsadly. "No, he isnt. Hes a sweet guy, but hes not strong.""Soyou didnt win every pageant you entered?" Sean teased,changing the subject.She opened her eyes and smiled, whilerising to her feet very carefully. "I won afew," she said,remembering the glass-fronted case her mother had bought toholdall the trophies and crowns. 24. "But not all?" Sean widened his eyes to showamazement."I came in second sometimes," she conceded,
  • mocking herself, and shot him asideways look. "Andsometimes I was Miss Congeniality.""You mean the othercontestants thought you were the sweetest woman amongthem?""Fooled them, huh?"Sean smiled at her. "You have yourmoments." The sweetness of that downtumed mouth,when itcrooked up in a smile, was incredible."You knock my socksoff, Sean," she said honestly. She was unable to stopherselffrom smiling back. He looked very strange in hiscostume the flowered loincloth,ankle bracelets made of shellsand the short black wig. Thompson was the only onewholooked remotely natural in the get-up, and he was gloatingabout it."What does that mean?"She shook her head, stillsmiling, and was a little relieved when Denny knocked onthedoor to indicate that Jen, the party planner, had signaled that itwas time fortheir appearance. Karl lined the dancers up andlooked them over, making a last-minute adjustment here andthere. "Stomach looks good," he said briefly, and Rueglanceddown. "Julie and Megan did a good job," she admitted. Sheknew the scar wasthere, but if she hadnt been looking for it,she would have thought her ownstomach was smooth andunmarred.After Karls last minute adjustment of the brightcostumes and the black wigs, thesix barefoot dancers paddeddown the carpeted hall to the patio door, and outacross themarble terrace into the torch-lit backyard of the Jaslow estate.Rickand Phil loped past them on their way inside, burdenedwith the things theyd usedin their act. "Went great," Rick said."That backyards huge.""Its probably called the garden, not thebackyard," Thompson muttered.Karl said, "Sean, is this thesort of place you grew up in?"Sean snorted, and Rue couldnttell if he was deriding his former affluence, orindicating whathed had had been much better.Since Rue was shorter thanJulie, she was in the middle when the three womenstepped outacross the marble terrace and onto the grass to begin their
  • routine.Smiling, they posed for the opening bars of the drummusic. Julie looked like adifferent person with the black wigon. Rue had a second to wonder if Julies ownmother wouldrecognize her before the drums began. The routine began witha lot of 25. hulalike hip twitching, the three women graduallyrotating in circles. The intensepelvic motion actually felt good.The hand movements were simple, and theydpracticed andpracticed doing them in unison. Rue caught a glimpse ofMegan turningtoo fast and hoped the torchlight wasobscuringMegans haste. In her sideways glance, Rue caught aglimpse of a face shed hopedshed never see again.All the yearsof training shed had in composure paid off. She kept hersmilepasted on her face, she kept up with the dance, and she-blanked her mind out. Theonly thought she permitted herselfwas a reminder—shed thought even Julies familywouldntrecognize her, in the costume and the wig. Neither would herown.Maybe Carver Hutton IV wouldnt,either.--------------------------------------------------------------------------------CHAPTER FOURThe music was mostly drums, andthe beat was fast and demanding. While Megan, Julieand Rueheld their positions, the men leaped out, and the crowd gavethe expected"Oooooh" at how high the vampires could jump.Sean, Karl and Thompson began theirwild dance around thewomen. It was a good opportunity for her to catch herbreath.Without moving her head from its position, she lookedover at the spot where shedseen him standing. Now there wasno one there who reminded her of Carver. Maybe ithad justbeen an illusion. Relief swept through her like sweet, coolwater througha thirsty throat.When Sean came to lift her abovehis head, she gave him a brilliant smile. As hecircled, stompinghis feet to the beat, she held her pose perfectly, and when helether fall into his waiting arms, she arched her neck back
  • willingly for thebite. She was ready to feel better, to have thatlingering fear erased.He seemed to sense her eagerness. Beforehis fangs sank in, she felt his tonguetrace a line on her skin,and her arm involuntarily tightened around his neck. Astheoverwhelming peace flooded her anxious heart, Rue wonderedif she was becomingaddicted to Sean. "Hi,Im Rue, and Im avampire junkie." She didnt want to becomeone of those pitifulfangbangers, people who would do almost anything to bebitten.The audience gave them a round of applause as thewomen stood up, the men sweeping 26. their arms outward to mark the end of the performance.The crowd goggled curiouslyat the two dots on the womensnecks. Rue stepped forward with Julie and Megan totake herbow, and as she went down she thought she saw Carver Huttonagain, out ofthe corner of her eye. When she straightened, hewasnt there. Was she delusional?She pasted her smile backonto her face.The six of them ran into the house, waving to theguests as they trotted along,like a happy Polynesian dancetroupe that just happened to (almost) all haveCaucasianfeatures. They were expected back out on the terrace in partyclothes infifteen minutes. Meanwhile, Denny James would bedismantling their sound system andloading it into, the van,because an orchestra was set up to play live music.When theywere scrambling out of the costumes, Rue made her request."Julie, Megan…do you think you could leave your wigson?"The other dancers stopped in the middle of changing andlooked at her. Julie hadpulled on some thigh-high hose and wasbuckling the straps of her heels, and Meganhad pulled on asheath dress and gotten her "native" skirt half off underneathit.The male dancers had simply turned their backs and pulledeverything off, and nowall three were in the process of donningthe silk shirts and dress pants theydagreed on ahead of time.Rick and Phil were helping Denny gather up the costumesand
  • all the other paraphernalia, to store in the van.But they were allstartled by Rues request. There was a moment of silence.Julieand Megan consulted with each other in an exchanged glance."Sure, why not?"Julie said. "Wont look strange. Were allwearing the same outfit. Same wig, whynot?""But we wont bewearing ours," Karl said, not exactly as if he were objecting,butjust pointing out a problem."Yeah," Megan said, "but welook cute in ours, and you guys look like dorks inyours."Karland Thompson laughed at the justice of that, but Sean wasstaring at Rue as ifhe could see her thoughts if he looked hardenough. Phil, who never seemed to talk,was looking at Rue,with worry creasing his face. For the first time, Rueunderstoodthat Phil knew who she was. Like the girl in the library, hedmatchedher face to the newspaper photos.The black wigactually looked better with the shining burgundy sheath thanRuesown mahogany hair would have. She would never havepicked this color for herself.Megan was wearing a deep green,and Julie, bronze. The men were wearing shirts thatmatchedtheir partners dress. Burgundy was not Seans color, either.They lookedat each other and shrugged simultaneously. 27. Out on the terrace, minutes later, the three couples begandancing to musicprovided by the live band. After watching fora few minutes, other people began tojoin them on the smoothmarble of the terrace, and the professional couples splitup todance with the guests. This was the part of the job that Ruefound moststressful. It was also the most difficult for herpartner, shed noticed.Sean didnt enjoy small talk withcompanions he hadnt chosen, and he seemed stiff.Thompsonwas a great favorite with the female guests, always, and Karlwas muchadmired for his sturdy blond good looks and hiscourtesy, but Sean seemed to bothrepel and attract a certainclass of women, women who were subtly or not sosubtlydissatisfied with their lives. They wanted an exotic
  • experience with a mysteriousman, and no one did mysteriousbetter than Sean.John Jaslow, the host, smiled at Rue, and shetook his hand and led him to thedance floor. He was a pleasant,balding man, who didnt seem to want anything but adance.Menwere much easier to please, Rue thought cynically. Most menwere happy if yousmiled, appeared to enjoy dancing withthem, flirted very mildly. Every now andthen, she danced withone who was under the impression she was for sale. Butshedmet hundreds of men like that while she was goingthrough the pageant circuit, andshe was experienced inhandling them, though her distaste never ebbed. With asmileand a soothing phrase, she was usually able to divert themand send them awaypacified.Rue and John Jaslow weredancing next to Megan and her partner, whodintroducedhimself as Charles Brody. Brody was a big man inhis fifties. From the moment hedtaken Megans hand, hed beeninsinuating loudly that he would be delighted if shewent to ahotel with him after the party."After all, you work for SylviaDayton, right?" Brody asked. His hand was strokingMegansribs, not resting on them. Rue looked up at her partneranxiously. JohnJaslow looked concerned, but he wasnt ready tointervene."I work for Blue Moon, not Black Moon," Megansaid, quietly but emphatically."And youre saying you just gohome after one of these affairs, put on your jammiesand go tobed by yourself?""Mr. Brody, thats exactly what Im saying,"Megan said.He was quiet for a moment, and Rue and Mr.Jaslow gave each other relieved smiles."Then Ill find anotherwoman to dance with, one wholl give a little," Brodysaid.Abruptly, he let go of Megan, but before he turned to stalkoff the terrace, he 28. gave the small dancer a hard shove.The push was sounexpected, so vicious, that Megan didnt have time tocatchherself. She was staggering backward and couldnt catch
  • her balance. Moving fasterthan shed thought she was able tomove, Rue got behind Megan in time to keep herfrom hittingthe ground.In a second, Megan was back on her feet, and Mr.Jaslow and Sean were there.The gasp that had arisen from thefew people whod watched the little episode withBrody gaveway to a smattering of applause as Megan and bald Mr. Jaslowglidedacross the terrace in a graceful swoop."Smile," Rue said.Sean had gotten everything right but that. As he two-steppedaway with her, his lips were stiff with fury."If this werea hundred years ago, Id kill him," Sean said.He smiled then,and it wasnt a nice smile. She saw his fangs.She should havebeen horrified.She should have been scandalized.She shouldhave been mortified."Youre so sweet," she murmured, as shehad to a thousand people during her life.This time, she meantit. Though Sean had defused the situation, she had no doubthewould rather have punched Brody, and she liked bothreactions.In five more minutes, their hour was up, and the sixdancers eased themselves outof the throng of party guests.Wearily, they folded and bagged the costumes forcleaning andpulled on their street clothes. They were just too tired to bemodest.Rue saw a pretty butterfly tattoo on Megans bottom,and learned that Thompson hadan appendectomy scar. Butthere was nothing salacious about knowing one anotherlikethis; they were comrades. Something about this evening hadbonded them as noother event ever had.It had been years sinceRue had had friends.Denny was waiting at the side entrance.The van doors were open, and when Ruescrambled into theback seat, Sean climbed in after her. There was a momentwhenall the others stared at Sean in surprise, since he alwayssat in front with Denny,then Megan climbed in after Sean. Themiddle row was filled with Karl, Julie andThompson; Rick andPhil clambered in the front with Denny. 29. It was so pleasant to be sitting down in circumstances
  • that didnt require politechatter. Rue closed her eyes as the carsped down the long driveway. As they droveback to the city, itseemed a good idea to keep her eyes closed. Now, if shecouldjust prop her head against something…She woke upwhen the car came to a stop and the dome light came on.Shestraightened and yawned. She turned her head to examineher pillow, and found thatshed been sleeping with her head onSeans shoulder. Megan was smiling at her."You were out like alight," she said cheerfully."Hope I didnt snore," Rue said,trying hard to be nonchalant about the fact thatshed physicallyintruded on her partner."You didnt, but Karl did," Thompsonsaid, easing his way out of the van andstretching once he wason the sidewalk."I only breathe loudly," Karl said, and Julielaughed."You gotta be the only vampire in the world who takesnaps and snores," she said,but to take any sting out of herwords, she gave him a hug.Rues eyes met Seans. His werequite unreadable. Though shed had such a good timewith himbefore they had danced at the Jaslows, he was wearing hisusual shutteredlook."Im sorry if you were uncomfortable thewhole way back," she said. "I didntrealize I was so tired.""Itwas fine," he said, and got out, holding out a hand to help heremerge. Heunlocked the studio door; Karl and Thompsonbegan unloading the sound system andthe dancers set thecostumes on a bench outside Sylvias office. Denny drove offinthe empty van.The small group split up, Megan and Juliegetting in the cab theyd called, Karland Thompson deciding togo to Bissonets, the bar where Hallie worked. "Why dontyoucome, Sean?" Karl asked. "You could use some type O.""No,thanks," Sean said."Showing your usual wordy, flowery turn ofphrase." Karl was smiling."Ill see Rue home," Seansaid."Always the gentleman," Thompson said, not too fondly."Sean, sometimes you actlike youve got a poker up your ass." 30. Sean shrugged. He was clearly indifferent to Thompsons
  • opinion.Thompsons fangs ran halfway out.Rue and Karlexchanged glances. In that moment, Rue could tell that Karlwasworried about a quarrel between the other two vampires,and she took Seans arm."Im ready," she said, and actually gavehim a little tug as she started walkingnorth. Seans goodmanners required that he set off with her. They took thefirsttwo blocks at a good pace, and then turned to stand at thebus stop."What frightened you?" he said, so suddenly that shestarted.She knew instantly what he was talking about: theseconds at the party when shedthought shed seen an all-too-familiar face. But she couldnt believe hed noticedher fear. Shehadnt missed a beat or a step. "Howd you know?" shewhispered."I know you," he said, with a quiet intensity thatcentered her attention on him."I can feel what you feel."Shelooked up at him. They were under a streetlight, and she couldsee him with astark clarity. Rue struggled inside herself withwhat she could safely tell him. Hewas waiting for her to speak,to share her burden with him. Still, she hesitated.She was outof the habit of confiding; but she had to be honest about howsafe shefelt when she was with Sean, and she could not ignorehow much shed begun to lookforward to spending time withhim. The relief from fear, from worry, from her senseof beingdamaged, was like warm sun shining on her face.He could feelher growing trust; she could see it in his rare smile. Thecorners ofhis thin mouth turned up; his eyes warmed."Tell me,"he said, in a voice less imperative and more coaxing.Whatdecided her against speaking out was fear for his safety. Seanwas strong, andshe was beginning to realize he was ruthlesswhere she was concerned, but he wasalso vulnerable during thedaylight hours. Rue followed another impulse; she puther armsaround him. She spoke into his chest. "I cant," she said, andshe couldhear the sadness in her own voice.His body stiffenedunder her hands. He was too proud to beg her, she knew, and
  • therest of the way to Rues apartment, he wassilent.--------------------------------------------------------------------------------CHAPTER FIVE 31. She thought he would stalk off, offended, when theyreached her place, but, to hersurprise, he stuck with her. Heheld her bag while she unlocked the front door, andhe mountedthe stairs behind her. While she sure couldnt remember askinghim up,Rue didnt tell him to leave, either. She found herselfhoping he enjoyed the viewall the way up both flights. Shetried to remember if shed made her bed and putaway hernightgown that morning."Please, come in," Rue said. She knewthe new etiquette as well as anyone. Vampireshad to be invitedinto your personal dwelling the first time they visited.Her catcame running to meet Rue, complaining that her dinner wasoverdue. Thelittle black-and-white face turned up to Sean insurprise. Then the cat stroppedhis legs. Rue cast a surreptitiouseye over the place. Yes, the bed was neat. Sheretrieved hergreen nightgown from the footboard and rolled it into alittlebundle, depositing it in a drawer in an unobtrusiveway."This is Martha," Rue said brightly. "You like cats, Ihope?""My mother had seven cats, and she named them all, tomy fathers disgust. She toldhim they ate the rats in the barn,and so they did, but shed slip them some milkor some scrapswhen we had them to spare." He bent to pick up Martha, andthe catsniffed him. The smell of vampire didnt seem to distressthe animal. Seanscratched her head, and she began to purr.Thebarn? Scraps to spare? That didnt sound too aristocratic. ButRue had noright, she thought unhappily, to question herpartner."Would you like a drink?" she asked.Sean wassurprised. "Rue, you know I drink… ""Here," she said, andhanded him a bottle of synthetic blood.She had prepared for hisvisit, counting on it happening sometime. She had spentsomeof the little money she had to make him feel welcome."Thank
  • you," he said briefly."Its room temperature, is that all right? Ican heat it in a jiffy.""Its fine, thanks." He took the bottle fromher and opened it, took a sip."Where are my manners? Pleasetake off your jacket and sit down." She gestured at 32. the only comfortable chair in the room, an orange velourarmchair obviously rescuedfrom a dump. When Sean had takenit (to refuse the chair would have offended her),she sat on abattered folding chair that had come from the same source.Ruewas trying to pick a conversational topic when Sean said, "Youhave some of thelipstick left on your lower lip."Theyd put on alot of makeup for the dance, and she thought shed removed itallbefore theyd left the Jas-low estate. Rue thought of how sillyshe must look witha big crimson smudge on her mouth."Excuse me for a second," she said, and steppedinto the tinybathroom. While she was gone, Sean, moving, like lightning,picked upher address book, which hed spotted lying by thetelephone.He justified this bit of prying quite easily. Shewouldnt tell him anything, andhe had to know more about her.He wasnt behaving like any aristocrat, that was forsure, but heeasily suppressed his guilt over his base behavior.Flippingthrough the pages, Sean copied as many numbers as he couldon a smallpiece of notebook paper from Rues pile of schoolmaterials. Several were in onetown, Pineville, which had aTennessee area code. Hed had a vampire friend inMemphis afew years before, and he recognized the number. Hed justreplaced theaddress book when he heard the bathroom dooropen."Youre taking the history of my country," Sean said,reading the spines of thetextbooks piled on the tiny table thatserved as Rues desk."Its the history of all the British Isles," shesaid, trying not to grin. "Butyes, I am. Its an interestingcourse.""What year have you reached in your course ofstudy?""Were talking about Michael Collins.""I knewhim.""What?" Her mouth fell open, and she knew she must
  • look like an idiot. For thefirst time, she realized the weight ofthe years on Seans shoulders, the knowledgeof history andpeople that filled his head. "You knew him?"Sean nodded. "Afiery man, but not to my taste.""Could—would—you talk tomy class about your recollections?"Sean looked dismayed."Oh, Rue, it was so long ago. And Im not much of acrowdpleaser." 33. "Thats not true," she said, adding silently, You pleaseme. "Think about it? Myprofessor would be thrilled. Shes a nutabout everything Irish.""Oh, and wheres shefrom?""Oklahoma.""A far way from Ireland.""You wantanother drink?""No." He looked down at the bottle, seemedsurprised hed drained it. "I must begoing, so you can get a littlesleep. Do you have classes tomorrow?""No, its Saturday. I getto sleep in.""Me, too."Sean had actually made a little joke, aadRue laughed."So do you sleep in a regular bed?" she asked."Or a coffin, or what?"" In my own apartment I have a regularbed, since the rooms light-tight. I have acouple of places in thecity where I can stay, if my apartments too far away whenitgets close to dawn. Like hostels for vampires. There are coffinsto sleep in, atthose places. More convenient."Rue and Seanstood. She took the empty bottle from him and leanedbackward to putit by her sink. Suddenly the silence becamesignificant, and her pulse speeded up."Now Ill kiss you good-night," Sean said deliberately. In one step he was directlyinfront of her, his hand behind her head, his spread fingersholding her inexactly the right position. Then his mouth was onRues, and after a moment, duringwhich Rue held very still, histongue touched the seam of her lips. She partedthem.There wasthe oddity of Seans mouth being cool; and the oddity of kissingSean,period. She was finally sure that Seans interest in her wasthat of a man for awoman. For a cool man, he gave apassionate kiss."Sean," she whispered, pulling back a
  • little."What?" His voice was equally as quiet."We shouldnt… " 34. "Layla."His use of her real name intoxicated her, andwhen he kissed her again, she feltonly excitement. She feltmore comfortable with the vampire than shed felt withanyman. But the jolt she felt, low down, when his tongue touchedhers, was notwhat shed call comfortable. She slid her armsaround his neck and abandonedherself to the kiss. When Ruefelt his body pressing against her, she knew he foundtheircontact equally exciting.His mouth traveled down her neck. Helicked the spot where he usually bit her. Herbody flexedagainst his, involuntarily."Layla," he said, against her ear,"who did you see that frightened you so much?"It was like abucket of cold water tossed in her face. Everything in her shutdown.She shoved him away from her violently. "You did thisto satisfy your curiosity?You thought if you softened me up, Idanswer all your questions?""Oh, of course," he said, and hisvoice was cold with anger. "This is myinterrogationtechnique."She lowered her face into her hands just to gain asecond of privacy.She was half inclined to take him literally.He was acting as if she was theunreasonable one, as if all thedetails of her short life should belong to him.There was aknock on the door.Their eyes met, hers wide with surprise, hisquestioning. She shook her head. Shewasnt expectinganyone.Rue went to the door slowly and looked through thepeephole. Sean was right behindher, moving as silently as onlyvampires could move, when she unlocked the door andswungit open.Thompson stood there, and Hallie. Between the two,awkwardly, they supportedHallies partner, David. David wasbleeding profusely from his left thigh. Hiskhakis were soakedwith blood. The vampires large dark eyes were open,butfluttering.Thompsons gaze was fixed on Rue; when herealized that Sean was standing behindher, he was visiblystartled."Oh, come in, bring him in!" Rue exclaimed, shocked.
  • "What happened?" She spared asecond to be glad none of herneighbors seemed to be up. She shut the door beforeany ofthem roused. 35. Hallie was sobbing. Her tears had smeared her heavy eyemakeup. "It was because ofme," she sobbed. "Thompson andKarl came in the bar. David was already there, hedbeen havingwords with this jerk… " While she was trying to tell Rue, shewashelping David over to Rues bed. Thompson was not beingquite as much assistance ashe should have been.Sean whippeda towel from the rack in the bathroom and spread it on Ruesbedbefore the two eased the wounded David down. Hallieknelt and swung Davids legsup, and David moaned."It was theFellowship," Thompson said as Hallie unbuckled Davids beltand beganto pull his sodden slacks down.The Fellowship of theSun was to vampires as the Klanwas to African Americans.TheFellowship purported to be a civic organization, but itfunctioned more like achurch, a church that taught itsadherents the religion of violence."The other night I turneddown this guy in the bar," Hallie said. "He just gave methecreeps. Then he found out I worked for Black Moon, and that Iperformed withDavid, you know, for the show, and he waswaiting for me tonight… ""Take it easy," Rue said soothingly."Youre gonna hyperventilate, Hallie. Listen,you go wash yourface, and you get a bottle of TrueBlood for David, becauseheneeds some blood. Hes gonna heal."Snuffling, Hallie duckedinto the bathroom."He decided to get Hallie tonight, and Davidintervened?" Sean asked Thompsonquietly. Rue listened withone ear while she stanched the bleeding by applyingpressurewith a clean kitchen towel. It rapidly reddened. She was not ascalm asshed sounded. In fact, her hands were shaking."Davidlikes her, and shes his partner," Thompson said, as if Davidsinterventionrequired an excuse. "Karl had left earlier, andDavid and I came out just in timeto catch the show. The
  • bastard had his arm wrapped around Hallies neck. Buthedropped her and went for David real fast, with a knife.""Outon the street, or in the bar?""Behind the bar, in thealley.""Wheres the body?"Rue stiffened. Her hands slipped fora moment, and the bleeding began again. Shepressed harder. 36. "I took him over the rooftops and deposited him in analley three blocks away.David didnt bite him. He just hit him—once."Rue knew no one was thinking of calling the police. Andshe was all too aware thatjustice wasnt likely to beattainable."Hell heal faste rif he has real blood, right?" she saidover her shoulder. Shehesitated. "Shall I give him some?" Shetried to keep her voice even. She hadhardly exchanged tenwords with David, who was very brawny and very tall. Hehadlong, rippling black hair and a gold hoop in one ear. Sheknew, through Megan andJulie, that David was often booked tostrip at bridal showers, as well asperforming with Hallie inprivate clubs. In her other life, Rue would have walked ablockto avoid David. Now she was pulling up the sleeve of hersweater to bare herwrist."No," said Sean very definitely. Hepulled the sleeve right back down, and shestared at him, hermouth compressed with irritation. She might have felt asmidgenof relief, but Sean had no right to dictate to her.Halliehad emerged from the bathroom, looking much fresher. "LetSean give blood,Rue," she said, reading Rues face correctly. "Itwont make him weak, like itwould you. If Sean wont, Iwill."David, whod been following the conversation at least alittle, said, "No, Hallie.I have bitten you already three timesthis week." David had a heavy accent, perhapsIsraeli.Withoutfurther ado, Sean knelt by the bed and held his wrist in front ofDavid.David took Seans arm in both his hands and bit. A slightflexing of Seans lipswas the only sign that hed felt the fangs.They all watched as Davids mouth movedagainst Seanswrist."Sean, what a dark horse you are, me boyo, visiting the
  • lady here after hours."Thompsons attempt at an Irish accentwas regrettable. His eyes lit on the emptyTrueBlood bottle bythe sink. "And her all ready for your arrival.""Oh, shut up,Thompson." Rue was too tired to think of being polite. "Assoon asSean finishes his, ah, donation, all of you can leave,except David. He can resthere for a while until he feels wellenough to go."After a few minutes, David put Seans arm awayfrom him, and Sean rolled his ownsleeve over his wrist.Moving rather carefully, Sean picked up his jacket,carefullydraped it over his arm."Good night, darlin," he said, giving hera quick kiss on the cheek. "Kick David 37. out after a couple of hours. Hell be well enough bythen.""Ill stay," Hallie said. "He got hurt on account of me,after all."Sean looked relieved. Thompson looked disgruntled."Ill be shoving off, then," hesaid. Hallie thanked him verynicely for helping her with David, and he wasunexpectedlygracious about waving her gratitude away."Well practiceSunday night," Sean said to Rue, his hand on the doorknob."Can yoube there at eight?" Hed been making plans forSaturday night while David had beentaking blood from hiswrist."I forgot to tell you," Thompson said. "Sylvia left amessage on my cell. We have acompany meeting Sundaynight, at seven." It would just be dark at seven, so thevampirescould attend."Ill see you there, Rue," Sean said. "And we canpractice, after.""All right," Rue said, after a markedpause.Thompson said, "Good night, Rue, Hallie. Feel better,David.""Good night, all," she said, and shut the door on bothof them. She had one morebottle of synthetic blood, which shegave to David. She sat down in the chair whileHallie perchedon the bed with David as he drank it. She tried valiantly tostayawake, but when she opened her eyes, she found two hourshad passed, and her bedwas empty. The bloody towels hadbeen put to soak in the bathtub in cold water, andthe empty
  • bottles were in the trash.Rue was relieved. "You and me,Martha," she said to the cat, whod come out ofhiding now thatthe strangers were gone. Rues bed looked better than anythinginthe world, narrow and lumpy as it was. In short order, shedcleaned her face andteeth and pulled on her pajamas. Marthaleaped onto the bed and claimed herterritory, and Ruenegotiated with her so shed have room for her own legs.Ruewas really tired, but she was also shaken. After all, there was ahuman dead onthe street. She waited to feel a wave of guilt thatnever hit shore. Rue knew thatif Hallie had been by herself, itwould be Hallie lying bleeding on the street.Been there, donethat, Rue told herself coldly. And all I got were the lousyscarsto prove it.As for the shock shed gotten at the Jaslows, aglimpse of the face she fearedabove all others, she was nowinclined to think shed imagined it. He would havemade sureshe noticed him, if hed known she was there. He would havecome afterher again. 38. Hed sworn he would.But it was funny that tonight, of allnights, shed thought shed seen him. Atfirst, shed imagined himeverywhere, no matter how many times shed called thepolicestation to make sure he was still in the hospital. Maybe, onceagain, it wastime to give Will Kryder a call again.She imaginedSean lying in a coffin and smiled, just a curve of the lips beforeshedrifted off to sleep.Actually, Sean was on the road.Sean hada feeling he was doing something wrong, going behind Rues—Laylas—backlike this, but he was determined to do it anyway.If hed asked Thompson to help,he had no doubt the youngervampire could have tracked down any information Seanneededon the damned computer. But Sean had never gotten used tothe machines; itmight take him twenty more years to acceptthem.Like cars. Cars had been tough, too. Sean hadnt learnedto drive until thesixties. He had loved phonographs from theirinception, though, because theydprovided music for dancing,
  • and he had bought a CD player as soon as he could.Wordswere hard for Sean, so dancing had always been his means ofexpression, fromthe time hed become free to dance.So here hewas, off to collect information the old-fashioned way. Hewould get toPineville tonight, find a place to hole up until hewoke the next night, and thenget his investigation underway.Sean knew Rue had a fear that ran so deep she couldntspeak of it. And once heddecided Rue was his business, it hadbecome his job to discover what she feared. Hehad done somechanging through the centuries, but the way hed grown uphadingrained in him the conviction that if a man claimed awoman as his family—or hismate—he had to protect her.Andhow could he protect her if he didnt understand the threat?While Rue rose late to have a leisurely breakfast, clean herapartment and wash herclothes, Sean, who had consulted hishousing directory, was sleeping in the vampireroom of the onlymotel large enough to boast one, right off the interstate attheexit before Pineville. He had a feeling it was the first timethe clerk had rentedthe room to an actual vampire. Hed heardthat human couples sometimes took theroom for some kinkyplayacting. He found that distasteful. The room—windowless,with two aligned doors, both with heavy locks,and a black velour curtain inbetween—had two coffins sittingside by side on the floor. There was a smallrefrigerator in thecorner, with several bottles of synthetic blood inside. There 39. was a minimalist bathroom. At least the coffins werenew, and the padding insidewas soft. Sean had paid anexorbitant amount for this Spartan accommodation, andhesighed as he undressed and climbed into the larger of the twocoffins. Before helay down, he looked over at the inner door tomake sure all its locks wereemployed. He pulled the lid down,seconds before he could feel the sun come up.Then hedied.----------------------------------------------------------------------
  • ----------CHAPTER SIXWhen Sean felt life flowing back intohis body that night, he was very hungry. Hewoke with hisfangs out, ready to sink into some soft neck. But it was rarethatSean indulged himself in fresh human blood; these days,the sips he took from Ruewere all he wanted. He pulled thesynthetic blood from the refrigerator, and sincehe didnt like itcold, he ran hot water in the bathroom and set the bottle inthesink while he showered. He hated to wash the scent of Ruefrom his skin, but hewanted to seem as normal as possible tothe people he talked to tonight. The morehumanlike a vampirecould look and act, the more likely humans were to be opentoconversation. Sean had noticed that interactions were easierfor Thompson, whostill had clear memories of what it was liketo breathe and eat.Hed written down the numbers and namesfrom Rues book, just in case his memoryplayed tricks withhim. One of the numbers was self-explanatory—"Mom andDad,"shed written by it. "Les," shed written by another, andthat was surely one hewould have to explore; a single manmight be a rival. The most interesting numberswere by thenotation "Sergeant Kryder." Shed labeled one number "policestation"and the second number "home."Pineville looked likealmost any small town. It seemed to be dominated by onebigbusiness—Hutton Furniture Manufacturing, a huge plantthat ran around the clock,Sean noted. The sign in front of thelibrary read Camille Hutton Library, and thelargest churchcomplex boasted a whole building labeled Carver Hutton IIFamilyLife Center.The tire company was owned by a Hutton,and one of the car dealerships, too.There was no sign creditingthe Huttons with owning the police force, but Seansuspectedthat might be close to the truth.He found the station easily; itwas 40. right off the town square, a low redbrick building. Thesidewalk from the parkingarea to the front door was lined with
  • azaleas just about to bloom. Sean opened theswinging glassdoor to see a young policeman with his feet up on the counterthatdivided the public and private parts of the front room. Ayoung woman in civilianclothes—short and tight civilianclothes—was using a copier placed against the wallto the left,and the two were chatting as Sean came in."Yes, sir?" said theofficer, swinging his feet to the floor.The young womanglanced at Sean, then did a double take. "Vampire," she said inachoked voice.The man glanced from her to Sean in a puzzledway. Then he seemed to take in Seanswhite face for the firsttime, and he visibly braced his shoulders."What can I do tohelp you, sir?" he asked."I want to speak with SergeantKryder," Sean said, smiling with closed lips."Oh, he retired,"called the girl before the young man could answer. The mansnametag read "Farrington." He wasnt pleased at the girlshorning in on hisconversation with the vampire."Where mightI find him?" Sean asked.Officer Farrington shot a quellingglance at the girl and pulled a pencil out ofhis drawer to drawSean a map. "You take a left at the next stop sign," hetoldSean. "Then go right two blocks, and its the white house onthe corner with thedark green shutters.""Might be gone," saidthe girl sulkily."Barbara, you know they aint left yet.""Packingup, I heard.""Aint left yet." Farrington turned to Sean. "TheKryders are moving to their placein Florida.""I guess it wastime for him to retire," Sean said gently, willing to learn whathecould."He took it early," the girl said. "He got all upset aboutthe Layla LeMay thing.""Barbara, shut up," Officer Farringtonsaid, his voice very sharp and very clear. 41. Sean tried hard to look indifferent. He said, "Thank youvery much," and left withthe instructions, wondering if theydcall ahead to the ex-sergeant, warn him ofSeans impendingvisit.Sergeant Kryder had indeed gotten a call from the policestation. His front lightwas on when Sean parked in front of his
  • modest house. Sean didnt have a plan forinterrogating theretired policeman. He would play it by ear. If Rue hadwrittenthe mans phone number in her book, then the man hadbefriended her.Sean knocked at the door very gently, and aslim,clean-shaven man of medium heightwith thinning fair hairand a guarded smile opened the door. "Can I help you?"theman asked."Sergeant Kryder?""Yes, Im Will Kryder.""Iwould like to speak with you "about a mutual friend.""I have amutual friend with a vampire?" Kryder seemed to catchhimself. "Excuseme, I didnt mean to offend. Please come in."The older man didnt seem sure aboutthe wisdom of invitingSean in, but he stood aside, and Sean stepped into thesmallliving room. Cartons were stacked everywhere, and thehouse looked bare. Thefurniture was still there, but the wallswere blank, and none of the normal oddsand ends were on thetables.A dark-haired woman was standing in the doorway tothe kitchen, a dish towel in herhand. Two cats rubbed herankles, and a little Pekingese leaped from the couch,barkingferociously. He stopped when he got close to Sean. He backedup, whining.The woman actually looked embarrassed."Dontworry," Sean said. "You can never tell with dogs. Catsgenerally like us."He knelt and held out a hand, and the catsboth sniffed it without fear. ThePekingese retreated into thekitchen.Sean stood, and the woman extended her hand. Shehad an air of health andintelligence about her that was veryappealing. She looked Sean in the eyes,apparently not knowingthat he could do all kinds of things with such a directlook. "ImJudith," she said. "I apologize for the appearance of the house,butwere leaving in two days. When Will retired, we decided tomove down to ourFlorida house. Its been in Wills family foryears."Will had been watching Sean intently. "Please have aseat," he said.Sean sank into the armchair, and Will Kryder saton the couch. Judith said, "Illjust go dry the dishes," and
  • vanished into the kitchen, but Sean was aware that she 42. could hear them if she chose."Our mutual friend?" Willprompted."Layla."Wills face hardened. "Who are you? Whosent you here?""I came here because I want to find out whathappened to her.""Why?""Because shes scared of something.Because I cant make it go away unless I knowwhat itis.""Seems to me. if she wanted you to know, she would tellyou herself.""She is too frightened.""Are you here to ask mewhere she is?"Sean was surprised. "No. I know where she is. Isee her every night.""I dont believe you. I think youre somekind of private detective. We knewsomeone would be comingsooner or later, someone like you. Thats why wereleavingtown. If you think you can get rid of us easy, let me tellyou, you cant." Willspleasant face was set in firm lines. Hesuddenly had a gun in his lap, and it waspointed at Sean."Itseasy to see you havent met a vampire before," Sean said."Whyis that?"Before Will could pull the trigger, Sean had the gun.He bent the barrel and tossedit behind him."Judith!" Willyelled. "Run!" He dove for Sean, apparently intending tograpplewith Sean until Judith could get clear.Sean held theman still by clamping Kryders hands to his sides. He said,"Calmyourself, Mr. Kryder." Judith was in the room now, abutcher knife in her hands.She danced back and forth, reluctantto stab Sean but determined to help herhusband.Sean liked theKryders. 43. "Please be calm, both of you," he said, and the quiet ofhis voice, the stillnessof his posture, seemed to strike both ofthe Kryders at the same time. Will stoppedstruggling andlooked at Seans white face intently. Judith lowered the knife,andSean could tell she was relieved to be able to."She callsherself Rue May now," he told them. "Shes going to theuniversity, andshe has a cat named Martha."Judiths eyeswidened. "He does know her," she said."He could have found
  • that out from surveillance." Will was hot so sure."How did youmeet her?" Judith asked."I dance with her. We dance formoney."The couple exchanged a glance."What does she dobefore she goes on stage?" Judith asked suddenly."Head up,chest out, shoulders square, big smile, pretty hands." Seansmiled hisrare smile.Will Kryder nodded at Judith. "I reckonyou can let go of me now," he told Sean."How is she?""Sheslonely. And she saw something the other night that scaredher.""What do you know about her?""I know she was a beautyqueen. I know she danced in a lot of contests. I know sheneverseems to hear from her family. I know she has a brother. Iknow shes hidingunder another name.""Have you seen herstomach?""The scars, yes.""You know how she got that way?"Kryder didnt seem to be concerned with how Seanhad come tosee the scars.Sean shook his head."Judith, you tell him."Judithsat on the couch beside her husband. Her hands clasped tightlyin her lap, 44. she appeared to be organizing her thoughts."I taught herwhen she was in tenth grade," Judith said. "Shed won a lot oftitleseven then. Layla is just… beautiful. And her motherpushed and pushed. Her motheris an ex-beauty queen, and shemarried Tex LeMay after shed had two years ofcollege, I think.Tex was a handsome man, still is, but hes not tough, not atall.He let LeeAnne push him around at home, and at work helet his boss stomp on whatwas left of his… manhood."Seandidnt have to feign his interest. "His boss?""Carver Hutton III."Wills face was rigid with dislike as he spoke the name."Thefamily that owns this town.""Yes," Judith said. "The familythat owns this town. Thats who Tex works for. TheotherLeMay kid, Les,was always a dim bulb compared to Layla. Lesis a good boy,and I think hes kept in touch with Layla—didyou say she calls herself Rue thesedays? Les is off at collegenow, and he doesnt come home much.""Carver IV came back
  • from his last year of college one Christmas, two yearsago,"Will said. "Laylad been elected Christmas Parade Queen,and she was riding in thebig sleigh—course, its really a horse-drawn wagon, we dont get snow every year—and she waswearing white, and a sparkly crown. She looked like she wasborn to dothat.""Shes a sweet girl, too," Judith saidunexpectedly. "Im not saying shes an angelor a saint, butLaylas a kind young woman. And shes got a backbone likehermother. No, I take that back. Her mothers got a strong will,but her backbonedoesnt even belong to her. It belongs to theSocial God."Will laughed, a small, choked laugh, as if thefamiliar reference sparked afamiliar response. "Thats the godthat rules some small towns," he said to Sean."The one thatsays you have to do everything exactly correct, follow all therules,and youll go to heaven. Social heaven.""Where you getinvited to all the right places and hang around with all therightpeople," Judith elaborated.Sean was beginning to have abuzzing feeling in his head. He recognized it asintenseanger."What happened?" he asked. He was pretty sure heknew."Carver asked Layla out. She was only seventeen. Shewas flattered, excited. Hetreated her real well the first twotimes, she told me. The third time, he raped 45. her.""She came over here," Judith said. "Her momwouldnt listen, and her dad said shemust be mistaken. Heasked her didnt she wear a lot of perfume and makeup, orasexy dress." Judith shook her head. "Shed—it was her firsttime. She was a mess.Will called the chief of police at the time.He wasnt a monster," Judith saidsoftly. "But he wasnt willingto lose his job over arresting Carver.""She shut herself in thehouse and wouldnt come out for two weeks," Will said."Hermother called us, told us to quit telling lies about the Huttons.She saidLayla had just misunderstood the situation. Her exactwords.""Then," said Judith heavily, "Layla found out she was
  • pregnant"The buzzing in Seans head grew louder, moreinsistent. He had never felt like thisbefore, in his hundreds ofyears."She called Carver and told him. I guess she thoughtsomething so serious wouldbring him to his senses. Maybe sheimagined that his parents had brought on all hisviolence.Maybe she thought he would do right by her somehow. Shewas justseventeen. I dont know what she thought. Maybe shewanted him to take her to adoctor, I dont know. She didnt wantto tell her parents.""He decided to take care of it himself," Seansaid."Yeah," Will said. "He lost his mind. Usually, he can actlike a real person whenother people are around." Will Krydersounded as detached as if he were discussingthe habits of anexotic animal, but his hands were clasped in front of himsotightly that they were white. "Carver couldnt maintain thefacade that night. Hepulled up in front of the LeMays house,and Layla came out, without sayinganything to Tex orLeeAnne about where she was going. But Les was watchingout thewindow, and he saw… he saw… ""After he socked herin the face a few times, he broke his soda bottle and usedthat,"Judith said simply. There was a long moment of silence. "Lesgot him off intime to save Laylas life, by hitting Carver withhis baseball bat… he was on thehigh school team, then.""Goon," Sean managed to say. Theyd been lost in these tragicmemories, but whenthey heard his voice, they looked up, to beabsolutely terrified by Seans face."Im not angry with you,Seansaid, very quietly. "Go on.""The scene at the hospital was—you can imagine," Will said, his voice weary. "Shelost thebaby, of coarse, and there was considerable damage.Permanent damage. Shewas in the hospital for a while." 46. "No one could ignore that," Judith said bitterly. "But theHuttons got a goodlawyer, of course, and he made a case forinsanity. Here in Rneville, of course, aHutton wont getconvicted of jaywalking. He was declared temporarily insane,
  • andthe judge sentenced him to time in a mental institution andordered his family topay all Laylas medical expenses. He didgrant Layla a restraining order againstCarver ever contactingher again, or even coming within a hundred feet of her. Iguessthats worth the paper its printed on. When the mental doctorsdecidedCarver was stabilized, he could be released, and he hadto go through so manycourses of outpatient anger managementand other therapy. That took four years."She shook her head."Of course, that doesnt mean jack.""He mutilates Layla, hecauses the death of his own child in her womb, and afteratoken sentence, he walks free." Sean shook his head, hisexpression remote. "SinceIve lived in America, Ive admired itsjustice system. So much better than when Iwas a boy inIreland, when children could be hung for stealing bread whenthey werehungry. But this isnt any better."The Kryders bothlooked embarrassed, as if they were personally responsible fortheinjustice. "Thats another reason were moving," Will said."Sooner or later, whenwe least expect it, Carver III will makeus pay for backing Layla up. She stayedwith us some, whenshe was convalescing. She didnt want to see her parents.Lesused to come over, visit her. Not LeeAnne. Not Tex."Seandidnt express incredulity, and he didnt comment on Laylasfamilysbehavior. Hed seen worse in his long life, but he hadntseen worse done tosomeone he cared about as much as hecared about Layla LaRue LeMay."Does she call you?" Seanasked."Yes, she does, from time to time. Shell call here, orshell call the station totalk to Will, to find out if Carvers outyet.""And is he?""Yes. After four years, hes off all supervisionnow. Hes footloose and fancy-free.""And is he livinghere?""No. He left town right away.""She saw him," Sean saidout loud."Oh, no. Where?""At a party, where we weredancing." 47. "Did he approach her?""No.""Did he see her?" Judith
  • had hit the nail on the head.Sean said slowly, "I dont know."Then he said, "But I have to get back. Now."Will said, "I hopeyoure planning on being good to her. If I hear different,Illcome back and track you down with a stake in my hand.Shes had enough trouble."Sean stood and bowed, in a very old-fashioned way. "Well see you in Florida," hesaid.He leftPineville, pushing the rental car to its limit, so he could makethe lastplane that would get him into the city in time to find adaytime resting place.There was a safe apartment very close tothe airport, maintained by the vampirehierarchy. He calledahead to reserve a coffin, and got on the plane aftermakingsure there was an emergency space in the tail where hecould wait if sunlightcaught them. But all went well, and hewas in a room with three other occupiedcoffins by the time thesun cameup.--------------------------------------------------------------------------------CHAPTER SEVENThe personnel of Blue MoonEntertainment and Black Moon Productions weredrapedaround the big practice room in various positions ofweariness. It was a scant hourafter darkness had fallen, andsome of the vampires looked sluggish. Every one ofthemclutched a bottle of synthetic blood. Most of the humans hadcoffee mugs.Rue had come in full disguise. The more shedthought about the glimpse shed hadof the man whod looked somuch like Carver Hutton IV, the more spooked shedgotten.Between that fear and her upsetting spat with Sean, and therememberedtingle shed felt when they kissed, she hadnt beenworth anything during theweekend so far. Shed performed herregular weekend chores, but in a slapdashfashion. She hadntbeen able to study at all.When Sean came in, wearingsweatpants and a Grateful Dead T-shirt, her pulse 48. speeded up in a significant way. He folded to the floorby her, his back againstthe glass of the mirror as hers was, and
  • scooted closer until their shoulders andhips touched.Sean wassilent, and she was too self-conscious to look up at his eyes.Shedexpected to hear from him the night before, and when thephone hadnt rung andthered been no knock at her door, shedfelt quite disconcerted. Men had seldomwalked away from her,no matter how rocky their relationship had grown. I amnotgoing to ask him where hes been, she swore toherself.Sylvia was talking on the phone and smoking, which allthe human dancers detested.She was doing it to prove she wasthe boss. Rue made a face and tried to arrangeherself so herback was comfortable. The wall wasnt friendly to her spine,whichhad been jolted when she caught Megan after CharlesBrody had shoved her. Megan wasmoving a little stiffly. Hallielooked subdued and David seemed healed, as far asRue couldtell. She hoped this week would be a better one for theentertainmenttroupe as a whole.Rue sighed and tried to shifther weight slightly to her right hip. To herastonishment, in thenext moment she felt herself being lifted. Sean had spreadhislegs, and he put her down between them, so her back restedagainst his stomach andchest He scooted his butt out from thewall to give her a little incline. She wasinstantly morecomfortable.Rue figured if she didnt make any big deal out ofit, no one else would either, soshe didnt say a word or betraythe surprise she felt. But she relaxed againstSean, knowing hewould interpret that signal correctly as a thank-you.Sylviahung up at last. A black-haired female vampire with beautifulclear skin anddead eyes said, "Sylvia, we all know youre topdog. Put out the damn cigarette."The vampire waved herelegant hand at Sylvia imperiously."Abilene, tell me how youand Mustafa are doing," Sylvia said, blowing out smoke,butthen she stubbed out the cigarette.A tall human with a fullmustache, Mustafa had more muscles than any man needed,inRues opinion. He was very dark complexioned, and a slow
  • thinker. Rue wonderedabout the dynamics of this team, sincethe vampire half was a woman. How did thatwork? Did she dothe lifts? Belatedly, Rue realized that in Black Moons formofentertainment, lifting was probably irrelevant."Were doingfine," Abilene said. "You got any comments, Moose?" Thatwas her petname for her giant partner, but no one else dareduse it."The pale woman," he said, his voice heavily accentedand deep as a foghorn. Mooseseemed to be a man of fewwords. 49. "Oh, yeah, the last gig we did, the party for the senator,"Abilene said. "The wifeof one of the, ah, legislators… I dontknow how she got there, why her husbandbrought her, but sheturned out to be Fellowship.""Were you hurt?" Sylviaasked."She had a knife," Abilene said. "Moose was on top ofme, so it was an awkwardmoment. You sure I cant kill thecustomers?" Abilene smiled, and it wasnt a nicesmile."No,indeed," Sylvia said briskly. "Haskell take care of it?"For thefirst time, Rue noticed the sleek man leaning against the wallby the door.She seldom had dealings with Haskell, since theBlack Moon people needed moreprotection than the BlueMoon dancers. Haskell was a vampire, with smooth,shortblond hair and glacier-blue eyes. He had the musculatureof a gymnast, and thewary, alert attitude of a bodyguard."I heldher until her husband and his flunky could get her out ofthere," Haskellsaid quietly."Her name?""Iris Lowry."Sylviamade a note of the name. "Okay, well watch for her. I mayhave my lawyerwrite Senator Lowry a letter. Hallie?David?""Were fine," David said briskly. Rue looked down ather hands. No reason to relatethe incident, even though it hadended with a death… a death that hadnt even madethepapers."Rick? Phil?" The two men glanced at each other beforeanswering."The last group we entertained, at the HappyHorseman—it was an S&M group, and wegave them a good
  • show."They werent talking about juggling. Rue tried to keepher face blank. She didntwant her distaste to show. Thesepeople had shown her nothing but courtesyandcomradeship."They wanted me to leave Phil there when ourtime was up," Rick said. "It wastouch-and-go for a fewminutes." The two vampires were always together, buttheywere very different. Rick was tall and handsome in abland, brown-on-brown kind ofway. Phil was small and slim,delicate. In fact, Rue decided, she might have 50. mistaken him for a fourteen-year-old. Maybe when hedied he was that young, shethought, and felt a pang of pity.Then Phil happened to look at Rue, and aftermeeting his pale,bottomless eyes, she shivered."Oh, no," said Sylvia, and Philturned to his employer. "Phil?" Her voice becamegentle. "Youknow were not going to let anyone else touch you, unless youwantthat to happen. But remember, you cant attack someonejust because they want you.Youre so gorgeous, people arealways going to want you."Sylvia braced herself in the face ofthat continued, terrifying gaze. "You know thedeal, Phil,"Sylvia said more firmly. "You have to leave the customersalone."After a long, tense pause, Phil nodded, almostimperceptibly."So, you think we need another minder, likeHaskell? For nights when were double-booked on Black Moonshows?" Sylvia asked the group. "Dennys a great guy, buthesreally just a lifting-and-setup kind of fellow. Hes notaggressive enough to be aminder, and hes human.""Wouldnthurt to have someone else," Rick said. "It wouldve taken someof thestrain off if thered been a third party there. It looked likeit was going to beme against all of them for a little while. I hateto injure the client base, but Ithought I might have to. Peoplewho like that kind of show are ready for a littleviolence,anyway."Sylvia nodded, made another note. "What about youBlue Moon people?" she asked,obviously not expecting any
  • response. "Oh, Rue. Only a couple of the Black Moonershaveseen you in your dancing clothes. Take off the other stuff, sothey can seewhat you really look like. Im not sure they couldrecognize you in a crowd."Rue hadnt planned on becoming thecenter of attention, but there was no point ofmaking aproduction of this request. She stood and unbuttoned theflannel shirt,pulled off the glasses and stepped out of the oldcorduroy pants shed pulled on tocover her practice clothes. Sheheld out her arms, inviting them to study her inher T-shirt andshorts, and then she sank down to the floor again. Seansarmscrossed over her and pulled her tightly against him. Thiswas body language anyonecould understand—"Mine!" TheBlack Moon people almost all smiled—Phil and Mustafabeingthe exceptions—and nodded, both to acknowledge Rue and tosay theyd notedSeans possessiveness.Rue wanted to whackSean across his narrow aristocratic face.She also wanted to kisshim again.But there was One thing she had to say. "We hadsome trouble," she said hesitantly.She could understand Davidand Hallies silence. They hadnt been on aprofessionalengagement—and a man had died. But she couldntunderstand why Megan wasnt 51. speaking out.Sylvia said, "With whom?" Her eyebrowswere raised in astonishment."Guy named Charles Brody. Hegot mad when Megan wouldnt take money to meethimafterward. He mentioned your name, Sylvia, but hewouldnt… he didnt accept it toowell when we told him wedidnt work for Black Moon. He acted like it was going tobeokay, that he accepted Megans refusal, but when he turned toleave, he shovedher down.""I dont recognize the name, but hecouldve hired us before," Sylvia said."Thanks, Ill put him inthe watch-for file. Were you hurt?" She waited impatientlyforMegans reply."No," Megan said. "Rue caught me. I wouldvesaid something, but Id pretty muchforgotten it." She shrugged.
  • She clearly wasnt too pleased with Rue for bringingup theincident."I want to speak," Sean said, and that caughteveryones attention."Sean, I dont think youve spoken at one ofthese meetings in three years," Sylviasaid. "Whats on yourmind?""Rue, show them your stomach," Sean said.She rose upon her knees and turned to look at him. "Why?" She wasstunned andoutraged."Just do it. Please. Show the Black Moonpeople.""Youd better have a good reason for this," she said in afurious undertone.He nodded at her, his blue eyes intent on herface.With a visible effort, Rue faced the group and pulleddown the front of herelastic-waist shorts. The Black Moonpeople looked, and Abilene gave a sharp nodofacknowledgment Phils dark eyes went from the ugly scar toRues face, and therewas a sad kinship in them that she couldhardly bear. Mustafa scowled, while Rick,David and Hallielooked absolutely matter-of-fact. Haskell, the enforcer,avertedhis eyes."The man who did this is out of the mentalhospital, and hes probably here in thecity," Sean said, his Irishaccent heavier than usual. Rue covered her scars, sankto herknees on the floor and looked down at the linoleum with utterconcentration.She didnt know if she wanted to swear andthrow something at Sean or… she justdidnt know. He hadmassively minded her business. Hed gone behind her back. 52. But it felt good to have someone on her side."I got ahuman to find a picture of this man in the newspaper and copyit." Seanbegan to pass around the picture. "This is CarverHutton IV. Hes looking for Rueunder her real name, LaylaLeMay. He knows she dances. His familys got a lot ofmoney.He can get into almost any party anywhere. Even with his past,mosthostesses would be glad to have him.""What are youdoing?" Rue gasped, almost unable to get enough breathtogether tospeak. "Ive kept all this secret for years! And in thespace of five minutes,youve told people everything about me.
  • Everything!" For the first time in herlife, Rue found herself onthe verge of hitting someone. Her hands fisted."And keepingsecret worked out well for you?" Sean asked coolly."Ive seenhim," a husky voice said. Hallie.And just like that, Rues angerdied, consumed by an overwhelming fear.If any of the dancershad doubted Rues story, they saw the truth of it when theysawher face. They all knew what fear looked like."Where?" Seanasked.Hallie crooked her finger at her partner. "We saw him,"she said to David. He puthis white arm around her shoulders,and his dark, wavy hair swept over her neck ashe bentforward."Where?" David asked Hallie."Two weeks ago. Thebachelor party at that big house in Wolf Chase.""Oh." Davidstudied the picture a little longer. "Yes. He was the one whokeptgrabbing at you when you were on top. He said you were abitch who needed to learna lesson."Hallie nodded.Tiny shiversshook Rues body. She made an awful noise."Jeez," Hallie said."Thats what he said to you, huh, when he cut you? Wejustthought he wanted us to do a little, you know, playspanking. We did, and hechilled. The host looked like he wasupset with the guys outburst, so we toned itdown. Please theman whos paying the bill, right?" 53. David nodded. "I kept an eye on him the rest of theevening."Sylvia said, "You watch out for this guy. Thats all.Just let Rue know if youveseen him. Nothing else.""Youre theboss," Mustafa said. His voice was low and nimbly, like a truckpassingin the distance. "But he will not hurt Abilene.""Thanks,Moose," said the vampire. She stroked his dark cheek with herwhite hand."I love ya, babe.""Getting back on track," Sylviasaid briskly. "Rick, you and Phil didnt turn inyour costumes fora week after that Greek party. Hallie, you cant have yourmailsent here. If you keep that up, Ill start opening it. Julie,you left the lightson in the practice room last night. Ive talkedto you about that before."Sylvia read down a list of minor
  • offenses, scolding and correcting, and Rue had achance to calmherself while the other employees responded. She was all tooawareof Sean standing behind her. She could not have put alabel on what she wasfeeling. She went to sit on the high pileof mats that they sometimes spread on thelinoleum floor whenthey were practicing a new lift.When the others began leaving,Rue started to pull her outer layer of clothes backon."Not sofast," Sean said. "We have practice tonight.""Im mad at you,"she said."Turn out the lights behind you, whichever one of youwins," Sylvia called.Sean went out into the hall and locked thefront door, or at least that was thedirection his footfalls took.She heard him come back, heard him over at the big CDplayerin the corner, by the table of white towels Sylvia kept there forsweatydancers.Rue began to warm up, but she still wasnt aboutto look at Sean. She was aware hebegan stretching, too, on theother side of the room.After fifteen minutes or so, she stood, tosignal she was ready to practice. Butshe kept her eyes forward.Rue wasnt sure if she was being childish, or if she wasjusttrying to avoid attacking Sean. He started the CD player, andRue was startledto recognize Tina Turners sultry voice. "ProudMary" was not a thinking song,though, but a dancing song, andwhen Seans hands reached out for hers, she had noidea what hewas going to do. The next twenty minutes were a challengethat lefther no time for brooding. Avril Lavigne, the DixieChicks, Macy Gray and the 54. Supremes kept her busy.And she never once looked up athim.The next song was her favorite. It was a warhorse, and thesecret reason sheddecided to become a dancer, shed told him ina moment of confidence: the RighteousBrothers "Time of MyLife." Shed worn out a tape of the movie Dirty Dancing,andthat song had been the climax of the movie. The heroinehad finally gained enoughconfidence in herself and trust in herpartner to attempt a leap, at the apex ofwhich he caught her and
  • lifted her above his head as if she were flying."Shame on you,"she said in a shaky voice."Were going to do this," hesaid."How could you take over my life like this?""Im yours,"he said.It was so simple, so direct. She met his eyes. Henodded, once. His declaration hither like a fist to the heart. Shewas so stunned by his statement that she compliedwhen he puthis hand on her back, when he took her left hand and pressed itto hissilent heart. Her right hand was spread on his back, as hiswas on hers. Their hipsbegan to move. The syncopation brokeapart in a minute as he began to sweep heralong with him, andthey danced. Nothing mattered to Rue but matching her stepstoher partners. She wanted to dance with him forever. At everyturn of her body,every movement of her head, she sawsomething new in his pale face—a glint of blueeye, the arch ofhis brow, the haughty line of his nose, which contrastedsostartlingly with the grace of his body. When the song beganto reach its climax,Sean raced to one end of the long room andheld out his hands to her. Rue took adeep breath and began torun toward him, thinking all the way, and when she wasjust theright distance from Sean, she launched herself. She felt hishands on herhipbones, and then she was high in the air abovehis head, her arms outstretched,her legs extended in a beautifulline, flying.As Sean let her down the line of his body veryslowly, Rue couldnt stop smiling.Then the music stopped, butSean didnt let her feet touch the floor. She waslooking rightinto his eyes, and the smile faded from her face.His arms werearound her, and his mouth was right by hers. Then it was onhers, andonce again he asked admission.Rue whispered, "Weshouldnt. Youre going to get hurt. Hell find me. Hell try tokillme again. Youll try to stop him, and youll get hurt. You knowthat.""I know this," Sean said, and he kissed her again, withmore force. She parted her 55. lips for him, and he was in her mouth, his arms
  • surrounding her, and she wasaltogether overwhelmed. Itappeared that she was his, as much as he was hers.For thesecond time in her life, Rue gave herself up to someoneelse."This is different," she whispered. "This is different.""Itought to be." Sean said. "It will be." He picked her up in onesmooth move.Their eyes were locked."Why are you gettinginto my life?" She shook her head, dazed. "Theres so muchbadin it.""You fought back," he said. "You made a new life, onyour own.""Not much of one.""A life with courage andpurpose. Now, let me love you this way." His bodymovedagainst hers."Im not scared." She was."I know it." Hesmiled at her, and her heart wrenched in her chest."You wonthurt me," she said with absolute faith."I would rather die." Hewas so serious."You know I cant have children," she said. Shemeant only to let him know hedidnt need to use birth control."Icant, either," he murmured. "We cant reproduce."If shed everknown that, shed forgotten it. She felt oddly jolted. Shedalwayssupposed that her barrenness would be a terribleobstacle to forming anotherrelationship, but instead it was anon-issue.His tongue flicked in her ear. "Tell me what youlike," he suggested, his breathtickling her cheek. He walkedover to the pile of exercise mats, carrying her as ifher weightwas nothing."I dont know," she said, partly embarrassed at herown ignorance, partly excitedbecause she was sure he wouldfind out what she liked."Light out, light on?" 56. "Out, please."In the space of a second, he was backbeside her. He had a few towels with him. Hespread them onthe mats, and she was glad, because the vinyl surface wasunpleasantto the touch."My clothes?" he asked. He waited forher answer."Oh… off." Ambient light came through the frostedglass in the door of the studio,and she could see the gleam ofhis skin in the darkness. He was built smooth andsleek, asdancers usually are, and he was purely white except for the
  • trail of redhair starting below his navel and going down. Shefollowed that trail with her eyesand found herselfgasping."Oh… oh. Wow.""I want you very much.""Yeah, I getthat." Her voice was tiny."Can I see you?" For the first time,his voice was tentative.She sat up on the pile of mats and roseto her knees. She pulled off her white T-shirt very slowly, andher bra was gone in an instant."Oh," he said. He reached out totouch her, hesitated."Yes," Rue said.His white hands with theirlong fingers cupped her breasts with infinitegentleness. Thenhis mouth followed.She gasped, and it was an urgent sound.His hands began tugging her shorts,gathering up her pantieswith them, and she lay down so he could coax them overherfeet. He stayed down there for a minute or two, sucking hertoes, which made hershiver all over, and then he beganworking his way up her legs.She was afraid her courage wouldrun out. She wanted him so badly she shook allover, but heronly previous experience with sex had been short and brutal,itsconsequences painful and disastrous.Sean seemed tounderstand her misgivings, and he eased his body up her lengthuntilhis arms wrapped around her and his mouth found hersagain."I can stop now," he told her. "After this, Im not sure. Idont want to hurt youor frighten you." 57. Rue said, "Now or never."He gave a choked laugh."Thatdidnt sound very romantic," she apologized. His hips flexedinvoluntarily,pressing his hard length against her stomach, andhe began to lick her neck."Oh," she said, reaching down totouch him. "Oh, please." His fingers touched herintimately,making sure she was ready. The delicate movement of hisfingers madeRue shudder.Then he was at her entrance, theblunt head pushing, and then he was inside her."Layla," he saidraggedly."Its good," she said anxiously. After a few seconds,she said again, in anentirely different tone, "Its so good.""Iwant it to be better than good." His hips began to move.Then
  • she couldntspeak.--------------------------------------------------------------------------------CHAPTER EIGHTShe had never imagined shecould be so relaxed, so content.His hair had come loose fromits ribbon and trailed across her breasts as he lay onhis stomachlooking down at her. He had never seen anything so beautifulas herface in the faint glow of the city night that lit the roomthrough the frostedglass.She wondered how he could havebecome so important to her in such a short time. Shelovedevery line of his face, the power of his sleek white body, thepassion of hislove-making; but most of all she loved the factthat he was on her side. It hadbeen years since anyone hadbeen on her side, unconditionally, unilaterally. Shethought, Ishould still be angry that he went to Pineville. But she searchedforthe anger shed initially felt and found it was gone. 58. "Im a wimp," she concluded, out loud."I know what thatmeans," Sean said, his voice dreamy. "Why do you saythat?""Im glad you found out. Im glad I dont have to tell youall about it. Im gladyou care enough to want to find…Carver."The hesitation before she was able to say his name toldSean a lot."What did your parents do?" he asked. He hadnt hadtime to ask Will Kryder all thequestions that had occurred tohim."They didnt believe me," she murmured. "Oh, my brotherLes stood by me. He savedme that night. But hes not a strong-willed, forceful kind of guy. See, my dadworks for Carversdad, and my dad probably couldnt get hired anywhere elsenow.He drinks a lot. Im not sure hed still have the job hes gotif he wasnt myfather. Dad knows Huttons got to keep him on,or else he might talk. My mother…well, she decided to think itwas a clever ploy on my part to get Carver to marryme. Whenshe found out otherwise, she was… livid.""She wanted you tomarry him.""Yes, she actually believed that Id want to be tiedto the man who raped me.""In my time, we would have made
  • him wed you," Sean said."Really?""If you were my sister, Iwould have made sure of it.""Because no one else would havemarried me otherwise, right? Damaged goods."Sean perceivedhe had made a massive error."And for the rest of my life Iwould have had to put up with Carvers little ways,like beatingon me, because hed raped me," Rue said coldly."All right, inmy time, we would have been wrong," he conceded. "But wewould havebeen on your side.""I have you on my side," shesaid. "I have you on my side now. If this has meantanything toyou.""I dont get this close to anyone unless it means somethingto me.""That come from being an aristocrat? In your time,were you like Carver?" There was 59. an edge to her voice that hadnt been there before."Thenight we first make love, you can compare me to the man whoraped you?"She hadnt thought before she spoke. "After yearsof weighing every word I said toanother person, all of a suddenIve gotten to be the worst—Im so sorry, Sean.Please forgiveme for the offense."There was a long silence in the dark room.He didnt speak. Her heart sank. Shedruined it.Her bitternessand mistrust had twisted her more than she knew. Butshedcome by it naturally, and she didnt see how she could haveexisted otherwise.After another unnerving two minutes ofsilence, Rue began to fumble around for herclothes. She wasdetermined not to cry."Where are you going?" Sean asked."Imgoing home. Ive screwed up everything. You wont talk to me,and Im goinghome.""You offended me," he said, and his voicewasnt level or calm at all. He wassaying, You hurt me. But Ruewasnt absorbing that. Before Sean could scramble intohis ownclothes, she was gone, wearing her flannel shirt tossed over herdanceoutfit. Shed thrust her feet into her boots without lacingthem. She was out thedoor of the studio, then out the door tothe building, before Sean could catch her.He cursed out loud.He had to check the studio and lock everything up; that was
  • theduty of the last person out, and it was something he couldntshirk. He couldalways catch up with Rue, he was sure; afterall, he was a vampire, and she washuman.Carver was waitingfor her in the third alley to the north.Rue was walking veryswiftly. She was trying not to cry; and not having muchluck.She wanted to reach the next corner in time for the bus,which would be the lastone running on a Sunday night As shepassed the alley entrance, Carver burst outwith suchastonishing suddenness that he was holding her arm before shecouldreact."Hello, Layla," he said, smiling.The nightmaresshed had for four years had come to life.Carver had alwaysbeen handsome, but his present look was far from his preppynorm.Hed spiked his dark hair and he was wearing raggedjeans and a leather jacket.Hed disguised himself. 60. "I have a score to settle with you," he said, stillsmiling.Rue hadnt been able to make a sound when hedgrabbed her arm, but now she beganto scream."Shut up!" heyelled, and backhanded her across the mouth.But Rue had nointention of shutting up. "Help!" she screamed. "Help!" Shegropedin her bag for her pepper spray with her free left hand,but this one night shehadnt been prepared, mentally orphysically, and she couldnt find the cylindershe usually carriedready to use.Pinning her with his grip on her right arm, Carverbegan pummeling Rue with hisfist to make her shut up. Shetried to dodge the blows, tried to find the spray,tried to praythat help would come. Where was the pepper spray?Abandoning herfutile one-handed rummaging through her bigbag, Rue yanked it off hershoulder,since it was only animpediment. Then she fought back. She wasnt nearlyas big asCarver, so she went for his genitals. She wanted to grip andsqueeze thewhole package, but he pulled back. All shemanaged was a vicious pinch, but thatwas enough to doublehim over. When he heard a woman shouting from across
  • thestreet, he staggered away from Rue."Leave that girl alone!"a female voice yelled. "Im calling the police!"Rue sank to herknees, too battered to stand any longer, but she stayed facinghim,her hands ready to defend herself. She would not give upwhat shed worked so hardto maintain. Carver began to hurrydown the alley as swiftly as his injury wouldpermit—she wasproud to see he was walking funny—and though Rue remainedupright,but still on her knees, he vanished from her sight as hepassed out of the alleyand onto the next street."I wont fall," shesaid."Are you okay?"Rue wouldnt even take her eyes from thealley entrance to examine the woman besideher. This womanhad saved her life, but Rue wasnt going to be taken bysurpriseagain, if Carver decided to return."Rue! Rue!" To herimmense relief, she heard Seans voice. Now Carver couldnthurther anymore; no matter how angry Sean was at her, hewouldnt let Carver strikeher. She knew that. With profoundrelief, she understood she didnt need to stayvigilant any longer,and she sat back on the pavement. Then she was lying onthesidewalk. And then she didnt know anything else.When shebegan to relate to her surroundings again, Rue knew she was ina strange 61. place. Hospital? Nope, didnt smell like a hospital, asmell with which she was alltoo familiar. It was a quiet place, acomfortable place. She was lying on cleanwhite sheets, andthere was someone next to her. She tried to move, to sit up,andshe found out she was sore in several places. Before shecould gain control ofherself, she groaned."You okay? You needa drink of water?" The voice was familiar and came from afewfeet away. Rue pried her swollen eyes open. She could see—a little. "Is thatMegan?" she asked, her voice a drythread."Yep, its me. Julie and I been taking turns.""Who else ishere? Where is here?""Oh, were at Seans place, in his saferoom. Thats him in the bed with you, babe.Its daytime, so he
  • had to sack out. He wasnt going to leave you withoutsomeoneto help you, though. He made us swear on a stack ofBibles that we wouldnt leave.So you wont think were thesewonderful people, I gotta tell you that he promisedto help usout with the money were getting docked for missing work. Imean, I wantto help you, and I wouldve come, anyway. But Ijust couldnt, ah, skip tellingyou. Okay?"Rue nodded. It was aneffort, but somehow Megan caught the motion. "Water wouldbegood," Rue managed to say.In just a moment, Megan wassliding her arm under Rues back and helping her sit upa little.There was a glass of cool water at her lips, and Rue sippedgratefully."You need to get up and go to the bathroom?""Yes,please."Megan helped Rue rise. To her relief, Rue discoveredshe was in the T-shirt andshorts shed worn the night before.She shuffled to the bathroom. When she wasthrough, shewashed her face in the sink and brushed her teeth with atoothbrushshe found still encased in a cellophane wrapper.That made her feel a great dealbetter, and she made her wayback to the bed with a little more confidence."Megan, Ill beokay now, if you need to get to work.""You sure, girlfriend? Ican stay. I dont want Sean to be mad at me.""Im good.Really.""Okay then. Its" four oclock. Sean ought to be up inabout two hours. Maybe youcan get some more sleep." 62. "Ill try. Thank you so much.""Dont mention it. See youlater."Rue had left the light in the bathroom on, and whenMegan had gone through theheavy curtain at one end of theroom, Rue turned to her silent companion. Sean layon his backwith his hair spread out on the pillow. His lips were slightlyparted,his eyes closed, his chest still. The absence of that risingand falling, the tinymotion of life, was very unnerving. Did heknow she was there? Did he dream? Was hetruly asleep, or washe just held motionless, like a paralysis victim? Shedalmostforgotten what theyd fought about. She stroked his hair,
  • kissed his cool lips. Sheremembered what theyd done together,and a flush suffused her face.What Carver had done to her,when hed attacked her years before, didnt qualify assex. It hadbeen an assault, using his sex organ as the weapon. What sheddonewith Sean had been real sex, making-love sex. It had beenintimate and primal andwonderful. Carver had made her into ashell of a human being overnight. Over thecourse of a fewweeks, Sean had helped her become a full person oncemore.She wasnt going to chicken out just because he was deadpart of the time.So, when darkness fell, Rue made sure her armwas across his chest, her leg lyingover his. Suddenly she knewhe was awake. The next second, his body reacted."Goodevening to you, too," she said, startled and intrigued by hisinstantreadiness."Where is Megan?" he asked, his voice still alittle fuzzy from sleep."I told her to go. Im better."His eyeswidened as he remembered. "Show me," he demanded."Youseem to be ready for anything," she said, greatly daring, herhand wanderingdown his abdomen in a tentative way."I have tosee your injuries first," he said. "I shouldnt even be… itsyoursmell.""Oh?" she tried to sound insulted, failed. "Just thesmell of you. Your skin, your hair. You make me hard."Not acompliment shed ever gotten before, but she could see theevidence of thesincerity of it. 63. "Okay, check me out," she said mildly, and lay down.Sean raised himself on oneelbow, and his left hand began toturn her face this way and that."Its my fault," he said, his voicesteady but not exactly calm. "I shouldnt havestopped to lock upthe studio.""The only fault is Carvers," she said. "Ive playedthat blame game too manyyears. We dont need to start it allover again. For the first year after heattacked me, I thought,What if I hadnt worn that green dress? What if I hadntlet himhold my hand? Kiss me? Slow dance with me? Was it my faultfor lookingpretty? Was it my fault for treating him as I would
  • any date I liked? No. It washis fault, for taking a typicalteenage evening and turning it into the date fromhell."Seansfingers gripped her chin gently and turned her face to the otherside so hecould examine her bruises. He kissed the one on hercheek, and then he pulled thecover down to look over her body.She had to stop herself from pulling it rightback up. This levelof intimacy was great and very exciting, but she surewasntused to it."This is the closest anyones been to me inyears," she said. "I havent even seena doctor who looked at thismuch of me." Then she told herself to shut up. Shewasbabbling."No one should ever see this much of you," hesaid absently. "No one but me." Hisfingers, whiter even thanher own magnolia skin, brushed a dark bruise on her ribs."Howmuch are you hurting?""Im pretty stiff and sore," she admitted."I guess my muscles were all tensed up,and then, when I gotknocked around… "He touched her side gently, his hand veryclose to her breast. "Will you be able todance tonight? We needto call Sylvia and cancel if you will not be able. She cangetThompson and Julie to do it."He was still hard, ready for her.She was having a difficult time remembering hersoremuscles."I dont know," she said, trying not to sound asbreathless as she felt."Turn over," he said, and she obedientlyrotated. "Hows your back?"She moved her shouldersexperimentally. "Feels okay," she said. His fingers tracedherspine, and she gasped. His hand rubbed her hip. 64. "Dont think I got bruised there," she said, smiling intothe pillow."What about here?" His hand traveled."There,either.""Here?""Oh, no! Definitely not there!"He entered herfrom behind, holding himself up so his weight wouldnt presson hertender ribs. "There?" he asked, the mischief in his voicemaking something in herheart go all soft and mushy."Youdbetter… massage… that," she said, ending on a gasp."Likethis?""Oh, yes."After theyd basked in the afterglow for a happy
  • thirty minutes, Rue said, "I hateto bring this up, but Imhungry."Sean, stung by his own negligence, leaped from thebed in one graceful movementBefore Rue knew what washappening, hed lifted her from the bed, ensconced her inachair, and clean sheets were on the bed and the old ones stuffedin a hamper.Hed started the shower for her and asked her whatkind of food she liked to eat"Whatevers in the neighborhood,"she said. "Thats what I love about the city.Theres always foodin walking distance.""When you come out of the shower, Ill beback with food for you," he promised."You havent bought foodin years, have you?" she said, and the fact of his agestruck herin a way it hadnt before.He shook his head."Will it botheryou?""You need it, Ill provide it," he said.She stared at him,her lips pressed together thoughtfully. He didnt say this likeawimp who was desperate for a woman. He didnt say it like acontrol freak whowanted to dole out the very air his sweetheartbreathed. And he didnt say it likean aristocrat who was used tohaving others do his bidding. 65. "Okay, then," she said slowly, still thinking him over. "Illjust shower."The heat of the water and the minutes of privacywere wonderful. She hadnt beenaround people on a one-on-onebasis so much for some time, and to be precipitatedinto such anintimate relationship was quite a shock. An enjoyable one, butstill ashock.Having clean hair and a clean body did wondersfor her spirits, and in the light ofSeans determination toprovide for her, she found a pair of his jeans she couldwriggleinto. She rolled up the cuffs and found a faded pumpkin-colored T-shirt towear. It was pretty obvious she wasnt wearinga bra, but she didnt know where herbra was. Rue had a terribleconviction that it was still in the studio, which wouldbe a deadgiveaway to the other dancers. She left the bedroom and wentout into theliving room/kitchen/office to wait for Sean. It wassmall and neat, too, and had acouple of narrow windows
  • through which she could see peoples feet go by. For thefirsttime, she realized Sean had a basement apartment.Shortly after,he came in with two bags full of food. "How much of this canyoueat?" he asked. "I find I have forgotten." Hed gottenChinese, which she loved,and hed bought enough for four.Luckily, there were forks and napkins in the bags,too, sinceSean didnt have such things."Sean," she said, because sheenjoyed saying his name. "Sit down while I eat,please, and tellme about your life." She knew how his face looked when hecame,but she didnt know anything about his childhood. In hermind, this was way offbalance."While I was in Pineville," hesaid, "I looked in the windows of your parentshome. I wascurious, thats all. In the living room, your father was staringinto ahuge glass case that takes up a whole wall.""All mystuff," she said softly."The crowns, the trophies, theribbons.""Oh, my gosh, they still have all that out? Thatsjust… sad. Did he have a drinkin his hand?"Sean nodded."Whydid you tell me this when I asked to know more aboutyou?""Youre American royalty," he said, supplying thelink.She laughed out loud, but not as if he were really amusing. 66. "You are," he said steadily. "And I know youve heardSylvia say I was anaristocrat. Well, thats her joke. My originsare far more humble.""I noticed you could make a bed like awhiz," she said."I can do anything in the way of taking care ofa human being," he said. He lookedcalm, but she could tell hewasnt—something about the way his hands werepositioned onthe edge of the table. "I was a valet for most of my humanlife."--------------------------------------------------------------------------------CHAPTER NINE"You were A gentlemansgentleman?" Her face lit up with interest.He seemed takenaback by her reaction. "Yes, my family was poor. My fatherdiedwhen I was eleven, so I couldnt take over his smithy. Mymother was at her witsend. There were five of us, and she had
  • to sell the business, move to a smallercottage, and my oldestsister—she was fifteen—had to marry. I had to findwork.""You poor thing," she said. "To have to leave school soearly."He smiled briefly. "There wasnt a school for the likes ofus," he said. "I couldread and write, because our priest taughtme. My sisters couldnt, because no oneimagined theyd needto." He frowned at her. "You should be eating now. I didntgetyou food so you could let it grow cold."She turned her facedown to hide her smile and picked up her fork."I got a job witha gentleman who was passing through our village. His boy diedofa fever while he was staying at the inn, and he hired me rightaway. I helped outhis valet, Strothers. I went with them whenthey returned to England. The mansname was Sir TobiasLovell, and he was a strange gentleman. Very strange,Ithought.""He turned out to be a vampire, I guess.""Yes. Yes,he was. His habits seemed very peculiar, but then, you didntquestionpeople above you in social station, especially sinceanyone could see he was agenerous man who treated peoplewell. He traveled a great deal, too, so no one 67. could wonder about him for too long. Every now andthen, hed go to his countryhouse for a while. That waswonderful, because travel was so difficult then,souncomfortable.""But how did you become to be his valet?What happened to Strothers?""Strothers had already grown oldin his service, and by the time I was eighteen,Strothers hadarthritis so badly that walking was painful. Out of mercy, SirTobiasgave him a cottage to live in, and a pension. Hepromoted me. I took care of hisclothes, his wigs, his wants andneeds. I shaved him. I changed his linen, orderedhis bath whenhe wanted, cleaned his shoes. Thats why I know how to takecare ofyou." He reached over the table to stroke her hair. "OnceI was in closer contactwith Sir Tobias, it became obvious to methere was something more than eccentricityabout the man. But
  • I loved him for his goodness, and I knew I must keephissecrets, as much for my own sake as for his. We went on,master and man, for manyyears… maybe twelve or fifteen. Ilost track, you see of how old I was."That seemed the saddestthing shed ever heard. Rue lowered her gaze to hide hertears."Irealized later that hed take a little from the women he bedded,"Sean said. "Hepleased them very much, but most of them wereweak the day after. In our smallcountry neighborhood, he hadthe name of being a great womanizer. He had to go fromone toanother, of course, so no one woman would bear the brunt ofhis need. Heseemed much healthier when we went to the cities,where he could visit houses ofill repute as much as he liked, orhe could hunt in the alleys.""What happened?""The villagepeople grew more and more suspicious. He didnt age at all,you see,and people grew old very quickly then. But he lostmoney and couldnt afford totravel all the time, so he had tostay at the manor more often. He never went toSunday church.He couldnt be up in the daytime, of course. And he didnt wearacross. The priest began to be leery of him, though he donatedheavily to thechurch."People began to avoid me, too, because Iwas Sir Tobiass man. It was a darktime." Sean sighed. "Thenthey came one night to get him, a few of the local gentryandthe priest. I told him who was at the door, and he said, Sean,Im sorry, Imust eat before I run. And then he was on me."Ruehad lost the taste for her food. She wiped her mouth and laidher hand overSeans."He gave me a few swallows of his bloodafter hed drained me," Sean said quietly."He said, Live, if youhave the guts for it, boy, and then he was gone. The 68. people at the front door broke in to begin searching thehouse for him, and theyfound me. They were sure I was dead. Iwas white; Id been bitten, and theycouldnt hear my heart. Icouldnt speak, of course. So they buried me.""Oh, Sean," shesaid, horror and pity in her voice."Lucky for me, they buried
  • me right away," he said briskly. "In a rotten coffin, atthat. Keptme out of the sunlight, and the lid was easy to break throughwhen Iwoke." He shrugged. "They wanted to be through withthe job, so they hadnt put mein too deep. And they didnt keepwatch at the churchyard, to see if Id rise.Another stroke ofluck. People didnt know as much about vampires then as theydida hundred years later.""What did you do after that?""I wentto see my sweetheart, the girl Id been seeing in the village.Daughter ofthe dry-goods dealer, she was." He smiled slightly."She was wearing black for me.I saw her when she came out toget a bucket of water. And I realized Id ruin therest of her life ifI showed myself to her. The shock might kill her, and if itdidnt,I might. I was very hungry. Two or three days in the grave willdo that.And I had no one to tell me what to do, how to do whatI knew I must. Sir Tobiaswas long gone.""How did youmanage?""I tried to hold out too long the first time," he said."The first man I tookdidnt survive. Nor did the second, or thethird, or the fourth. It took me time tolearn how much I couldtake, how long I could hold off the hunger before itwouldmake me do something Id regret."Rue pushed her foodaway."Did you ever see him again?" she asked, because shecouldnt think of anythingelse to say."Yes, I saw him in Paristen years later.""What was that like?""He was in a tavern, onceagain the best-dressed man in the place, the lord of allhe saw,"Sean said, his voice quite expressionless. "He always did enjoythat.""Did you speak?""I sat down opposite him and lookedhim in the eye." 69. "What did he say?""Not a word. We looked at each otherfor a couple of minutes. There was reallynothing to say, in theend. I got up and left. That night, I decided I would learntodance. Id done village dances as a boy, of course. I enjoyed itmore thananything, and since I had centuries to fill and nopride to be challenged, Idecided to learn all about dancing.
  • Men danced then, almost all men. It was anecessary socialgrace if you were at all upper-class, and I could go fromonegroup to another, acting like Sir Tobias when I wanted tolearn the ballroom dancesof the wealthy, and like my own classwhen I wanted to pick up some folk steps."They both unwoundas Sean talked about dancing. Rue even picked up her forkagainand ate a few more bites. Gradually Sean relaxed in hischair and became silent.When she was sure hed recoveredfrom his story, she said, "I have to feed the cat.I need to go tomy apartment.""But you cant stay there," Sean saidstiffly."Then where?""Here, of course. With me."She did herbest not to glance around the tiny apartment. She couldprobably fither books and clothes in somewhere, but she wouldhave to discard everything elseshed acquired with so mucheffort. How could they coordinate their very differentlives?How much of his feeling for her was pity?He could read hermood accurately. "Come on, lets get your things. If Imright,youve missed one day of classes. Youll need to gotomorrow if youre able. How iswalking?"She was movingslowly and stiffly. Sean put socks on her feet and laced herbootsin a matter-of-fact way. There was something so practicaland yet so careful aboutthe way he did such a lowly task thatshe felt moved in an unexpected way."At least I dont have awig you have to powder," she said, and smiled."That was agreat improvement of the twentieth century over theeighteenth," hesaid. "Hair care and shoes—theyre much betternow.""Hair and shoes, she said, amusement in her voice. Shethought that over while Seangot ready to go, and by the timethey were outside in the night, she felt quitecheerful. Shelooked forward to lots of conversations with Sean, when hewould tellher about clothes and speech patterns and socialmores of the decades hed livedthrough. She could write someinteresting term papers, for sure.
  • 70. She loved to listen to Sean talk. She loved it when hekissed her. She loved theway he made her feel like a—well,like a woman who was good in bed. And she lovedthe way hehandled her when they were dancing, the respect in which heseemed tohold her. How had this happened over the past fewmonths? When had he become soimportant to her?Now,walking beside him, she was content. Though her life had justbeen shaken topieces and her body was sore from a beating,she was calm and steady, because shehad Sean. She lovedevery freckle on his race, his white strong body, hisquirkymouth, and his dancing talent.Hed done wonderfulthings for her. But he hadnt said he loved her. His blueeyesfixed on her face as if she were the most beautiful womanin the world, and thatshould be enough. The way he made loveto her told her that he thought she waswonderful. That shouldbe enough. She had a strong suspicion any man would laughather for wondering, but she wasnt a man, and she needed tohear the words—withouthaving asked for them.The nextsecond she was yanked from her brooding by an unexpectedsight. Shedglanced up at her apartment windows automatically,from half a block away, andshed gotten a nasty shock."Thelight in my apartment is on," she said, stopping in her tracks."The overheadlight.""You didnt leave it on last night?""No.The ceilings are high, and its hard for me to change the bulbsin thatfixture. I leave on the little lamp by my bed.""Ill see,"Sean said, pulling away from her grasp gently. She hadntrealizedshed been gripping his arm."Oh, please, dont go to thedoor," she said. "He might be waiting for you.""Im strongerthan he is," Sean said, a little impatiently."Please, at least go upthe fire escape, the one on the side of the building."Seanshrugged. "If itll make you happy."She crept closer to thebuilding and watched Sean approach the fire escape.Hedecided to show off at the last minute and scaled the brick
  • wall, using the tinyspaces between bricks as hand- andtoeholds. Rue was impressed, sure enough, butshe was alsodisconcerted. It was unpleasantly like watching a giant insectclimb.In a very short time, Sean had reached the level of thewindow and swung onto the 71. fire escape. He peered inside. Rue could tell nothingfrom his stance, and shecouldnt manage to see his face."Hey,Rue." Startled, she turned to see that her next-door neighbor, apart-timeperformance artist who called herself Kinshasa, hadcome up beside her. "Whatsthat guy up to?""Looking into myapartment," she said simply."What were you doing last night?Sounded like you decided to rearrange thewholeplace.""Kinshasa, I wasnt at home last night."Kinshasawas tall and dreadlocked, and she wore big red-rimmedglasses. She wasntsomeone you overlooked, and she wasntsomeone who shrank from unpleasant truths."Then someoneelse was in your place," she said. "And your friends checkingto seewhat happened?"Rue nodded."I guess I shouldve calledthe cops last night when I heard all that noise," thetall womansaid unhappily. "I thought I was doing you a favor by notcalling thepolice or the super, but instead I was just being atypical big-city neighbor. Imsorry.""Its good for you that youdidnt go knock on my door," Rue said."Oh. Like that,huh?"The two stood watching as Sean came back down the fireescape in a very mundaneway. He looked unhappy, so far asRue could tell.Sean, though not chatty or outgoing, was alwayspolite, so Rue knew he had bad newswhen he ignoredKinshasa."You dont want to go back up there," he said. "Tellme what you need and Ill getit for you."Suddenly Rue knewwhat had happened. "He got Martha," she said, the wordscomingout in a little spurt of horror. "He got her?""Yes.""But Ihave to—" She started for the door of the building, thinking ofall thethings she needed, the fact that she had to find a box for
  • the furry body, the 72. grief washing over her in a wave."No," Sean said. "Youwill not go back in there.""I have to bury her," Rue said, tryingto pull away from his hand on her arm."No."Rue stared up athim uncomprehendingly. "But, Sean, I have to."Kinshasa said,"Baby, theres not enough left to bury, your friend issaying."Rue could hardly accept that, but her mind skipped onto other worries. "My books?My notes?" she asked, trying toabsorb the magnitude of the damage."Not usable.""But its fourweeks into the semester! Theres no way—Ill have to drop out!"Thebooks alone had cost almost six hundred dollars. Shedgotten as many as she couldsecondhand, of course, but this latein the term, could she find more?At least she had her dancingshoes. Some of them were in a corner at BlueMoonEntertainment, and the rest were in the bag shed taken toSeans. Rues mindscurried from thought to thought like amouse trapped in a cage."Clothes?" she mumbled, before herknees collapsed."Some of them may be salvageable," Seanmurmured, but without great conviction. Hecrouched besideher."I know some people who can clean the apartment,"Kinshasa said. "They just cameover from Africa. They need themoney."This was an unexpected help. "But its so awful inthere, Sean says." Tears beganto stream down Ruesface."Honey, compared to the mass graves and the slaughtertheyve had to clean up intheir own country, this will be a pieceof cafes to them.""Youre right to give me some perspective,"Rue said, her spine stiffening.Kinshasa looked as if shedintended no such thing, but she bit her lip and keptsilent. "Imbeing ridiculous. I didnt get caught in that apartment, or Iwouldveended up like poor Martha." Rue managed to standand look proud for all of tenseconds, before the thought of herbeloved cat made her collapse."Ill kill him for you, honey,"Sean said, holding her close.
  • 73. "No, Sean," she said. "Let the law do it.""You want tocall the police?""Dont we have to? Hell have leftfingerprints.""What if he wore gloves the whole time?""I lethim get away with hitting me last night, and what does he do?He comes hereand kills my cat and ruins, all my stuff. Ishouldve called the police lastnight.""Youre right," Kinshasasaid. "Ill call from my place right now."Sean said nothing, buthe looked skeptical.The police were better, kinder, than Rueexpected. She knew what that meant. Herapartment must beutterly gory. Sean told the detective, Wallingford, that hedbeable to tell what was missing. "You dont need to go upthere," Wallingford toldRue, "if this guy can do it for you."Sean and Wallingford went up to theapartment, and Rue dranka cup of hot chocolate that Kinshasa brought her. Ruefoundherself thinking, Ive had friends around me all the time, if Idjustlooked.When Sean reappeared with a garbage bag full ofsalvaged clothes, he told Rue theonly thing he knew for surewas missing was her address book. "Was my address init?" heasked her quietly."No," she said. "Maybe your phone number.But I didnt even know where you liveduntil last night""Thepolice say you can go now. Lets go back to my place." After anuneasy pause,he continued. "Do you think you can dancetonight? Its almost too late to callSylvia to get a replacementteam.""Dance tonight?" She looked at him as they walked, herface blank. "Oh! Weresupposed to be at the museumtonight!""Ballroom dancing. Can you do that?""If theres adress I can wear at the studio." Though she had to wrenchherthoughts away from her destroyed apartment, it would be arelief to think aboutsomething else. They would waltz a little,do a dance number to "Puttin on theRitz." Theyd done thesame thing several times before. It was a routine thatpleased anolder crowd, which the museum benefactors were likely to be. 74. "They asked for us specifically," Sean said. But then he
  • scowled, as if there weresomething about the idea he didntlike."Then we have to do it," Rue said. She was so numb, shecouldnt have put intowords what she was feeling. When Seanunlocked the studio, he insisted she standoutside while hechecked it out first, and she did so without a word. He ledherinside, looking at her eyes in a worried kind of way, tryingto gauge her fitness."Besides," Rue said, as if she wascontinuing a conversation, "I need the money. Ihave nothing."The enormity of the idea hit her. "I have nothing.""You haveme""Why?" she asked. "Why are you doing this?""Because Icare for you.""But," she said, disgusted, "Im so weak. Look atme, falling apart—like I couldnthave predicted this wouldhappen. Why did I even get a cat? I should haveknown.""Should have known you shouldnt love somethingbecause it might be taken away fromyou?""No, should haveknown hed kill anything I loved.""Come on," Sean said, hisvoice hard. "Youre going to put on the pretty dresshere, and Imgoing to make some phone calls."The dress was the palest ofpinks. It was strapless, with a full skirt. In thetrash bag shefound some matching panties to wear under it, and a paler pinkfrothyhalf slip. There were panty hose in the costume room,and Rue pulled on a pair. Hershoe bag was there, thank God,since shed walked out in such a huff the nightbefore, and itcontained the neutral T-strap character shoes that would suittheprogram.Sean, whod finished his phone calls, pulled onsome black dancers pants and awhite shirt with full sleeves. Hebuttoned a black vest over that and added hisdancing shoes toRues bag. While he was buttoning the vest, he felt abrushrunning through his hair."Shall I braid it?" she asked, hervoice so small it was barely audible."Please."With theefficiency born of years of changing hairstyles quickly, Ruehad his hairlooking smooth and sleek in a minute. 75. "Will you leave yours loose?" Sean asked. "It looks
  • beautiful as it is." Rue seldomleft her long hair unbound for aperformance, but he thought its color was broughtoutbeautifully by the pale pink of the dress. "You look like aflower," he said,his voice low with admiration. "You would bewonderful no-matter what you lookedlike, but your beauty is abonus."She tried to smile, but it faltered on her lips. She wastoo sad to appreciate hiscompliment, "Its nice to hear you sayso," she said. "We need to go. We dont wantto belate."--------------------------------------------------------------------------------CHAPTER TENThey took a cab, which Sylvia wouldpay for; after all they had to keep theirclothes clean and freshfor the dancing. TK&Museum of Ancient Life had justopeneda new wing, and the party was being held in themuseum itself. All the attendeeswere patrons whod donatedvery large sums toward the construction of the new wing.All ofthem were very well dressed, most of then were middle-agedor older, andthey were all basking in the glow of being publiclyacknowledged for having done agood thing.The vampire andthe dancer stood for a minute or two, watching limousines andtowncars dropping off the well-heeled crowd. Then they madetheir way back to theentrance Sylvia had instructed them touse. The museum staffer at the door checkedtheir names off alist. "Wait a minute," the heavy man said. "Youre alreadyhere.""Impossible," Sean said imperiously. "Here is my driverslicense. Here is mypartners.""Hmm," the man said nervously,his fingers drumming on the doorjamb. "I dont knowhow thishappened. I shouldnt let you in.""Then the Jaslows and theRichtenbergs will have to go without their dancing," Seansaid."Come, Rue."Rue didnt have a clue what was happening, butshe could tell Sean was quiteindifferent that someone else hadused his name, almost seemed to have beenexpecting it. If hewas relaxed about it, so was she. "Ill call our employer on my 76. cell," she said to the man. "You can explain to Sylvia
  • Dayton that were not beingallowed entrance, so she wontblame us, okay?"The man flushed even more, his eyes runningup and down the printed list over andover, as if somethingdifferent would pop up. When he glanced up at Sean andthevampires eyes caught the guards gaze, the mans face lost itsbelligerenceinstantly."I guess your names were checked off bymistake earlier. Come on in," he said.Rue looked at Sean inawe. Vampire talents could come in handy.It was lucky theyddressed at the studio, because there wasnt a corner forthemhere. The back recesses of the museum werent designedwith parties in mind, as theJaslows home had been. The smallrooms and narrow corridors were full of scurryingfigures, andRue realized that things were being handled by Extremely(Elegant)Events, Jens company, which had catered the Jaslowsparty. The servers wore thetraditional white jacketdistinguished with the E(E)E logo on the shoulder. Thehallswere crowded with trays and trays of hors doeuvres, and casesand cases ofchampagne. Jeri was directing the staff, wearingthe same serene smile.And the man whose white jacket wasstraining across his shoulders was surelyMustafa, aka Moose,who worked for Black Moon. As soon as shed identified him,Ruerealized that the short-haired woman opening a champagnebottle was Hallie, and herpartner, David, was busy filling a trayof empty glasses. David looked quitedifferent with his thick,wavy black hair pulled back and clubbed."Sean," she said,tugging on his hand to make him stop, "did you seeMoose?"He nodded, without looking around at her. Theycontinued to make their way throughthe narrow maze ofcorridors to the door indicated on the little map Sylvia hadleftfor them."Okay, this is it" he said, and they paused.There wasno place special to leave their bags, so they dropped them rightinsidethe door, then changed into their dancing shoes on thespot."Theyre all here," he told her, when she was ready. "I
  • called them. All of themwho arent working tonight, that is.Thompson and Julie have an early gig inBasing, and Rick andPhil have a very private engagement right after this for afewselect museum patrons. But all the rest are here, evenHaskell.""Sylvia knows about this?""No. But thats so she candeny it." 77. "Its wonderful that theyd do this for you.""Theyre doingit for you. Moose and Abilene gave our names to get in. Theotherscame with the triple E people. When I heard the boardhad asked for us,specifically, I figured Hutton was behind it.Well stop him tonight," Sean said,and then looked sorry hedsounded so grim. "Dont worry, Rue." He kissed her onthecheck lightly, mindful of her lipstick.Rue was too numb tograsp what Sean meant. Automatically, they checked eachotherover, Sean looked at his watch, and they swung open thedoor.Since they were "on" the minute they stepped out of thedoor, they walked hand inhand with a light, almost prancingwalk, until theyd reached the center of a hugeopen area. Thedome stretched upward for three stories, Rue estimated. Shedbeento the museum before—when the new wing had beenunder construction, in fact—and sheloved the wide expanse ofmarble floor. Wouldnt their music get lost in the hugespace?Sean and Rue reached the center of the floor, Rue trying not tostare at the glasscases of masks that lined the wall. The dancersstood there, smiling, armsextended, waiting for all the millingpatrons to become aware of their presence andto clear the areafor their performance."Arent they lovely!" exclaimed a white-haired woman with sapphire earrings whowasnt standing quitefar enough away. A scowling face seemed to disagree.Ruedimly recognized the obnoxious man from the Jaslowsparty, Charles Brody.Their music began over the publicaddress system, and Rue had to fight to keep herface pleasant.Sean had another surprise for her. Hed switched routines. The
  • musicwas "Bolero." This was their sexy number, the one theydonly performed once ortwice at anniversary parties. Why hadhe picked that music for this night?But as they began to twinetogether in the opening moves, Rue seemed to be able tofeelthe sensuousness in her bones. She felt the passion, theyearning, conveyed bythe music.Suddenly Sean lifted herstraight up, his hands gripping her thighs, until theyformed acolumn. She looked down at him with longing, and he lookedup at her withdesire. She extended her arms gracefully upwardas he turned in a smooth circle. Ashe continued to hold her,changing his grip so she was soaring above him like abird, herfull skirt falling over his shoulders, the crowd began to applaudattheir display of strength and grace. Sean let her down sogradually that her feetdidnt jolt when they touched the floor.She was able to pick up her steps againsmoothly. Then Seanleaned her back, back, over his arm, and put his lips toherneck. She felt her whole body come alive when she felt histouch, and she waited 78. for the bitftwhh the faintest of smiles on her face.But inthat second, she was aware of a difference. Her partner was fartenser thanhed ever been at the finale; in fact, he was like ananimal expecting attack. Hisbody covered hers morecompletely than it should, as if he were protecting her.Thecrowd was closer than it should be, and she distinctly sawHaskells face turnsharply to the right, his mouth opening toshout, allowing a glimpse of his shiningfangs. A womanscreamed.Carver, in a tux, stepped out of the polite circle thathad formed around thetemporary dance floor, then he reachedin his pocket and pulled out a knife. Hepressed a button in thehilt and a wicked blade leaped out. In the space of asecond,hed slashed Haskell, who faltered and fell. Megan grabbed forCarvers armnext, and she might have slowed him down ifCharles Brody hadnt shoved her as hardas he could, just as hed
  • done that night at the party. Again Megan landed on thefloor,and then Carver was in the center of the circle with them.Sheknew what he would do. She was sure that Sean thoughtCarver would try to killher, and he might—if there wasntanything else he could do to her—but first, sheknew, he wouldtry to kill Sean. Their just-finished dance had shown clearlythatshe loved the vampire, and Carver would relish killingsomething else she loved.Because Sean wasnt expecting it, shewas able to shove him off her just as theknifedescended.Black-haired Abilene tackled Carver from the rear.Carver couldnt make a killingblow that way, but he managed tosink the knife into Rues abdomen and pull itdirectly back outto strike again. Then a wounded Haskell, bloody andenraged,piled on top of Carver. With a bellow of enthusiasm,as if he were on the footballfield, Moose threw himself on topof them all.The pain wasnt immediate. Unfortunately, Rueremembered all too clearly when heddone the same thing yearsbefore, and she knew in a very short time she would hurtlikehell. She made a bewildered sound as she felt the suddenwetness. Amid thescreams and shouts of the crowd, Sean wastrying to get Rue to her feet so he coulddrag her out of themelee. "He may have hired someone to help him. You have togetout of here," Sean said urgently.But Rue watched Karl takea second to deck Charles Brody before he joined theothervampires in pinning Carver to the marble floor. Thetrapped man was fighting like a—well, like a madman, Ruethought, in a little detached portion of her brain. Notall themuseum patrons had seen the knife, and they were bewilderedand shouting.There could have been twenty assassins in theconfusion of staff, patrons andservers."Come on, darling,"Sean urged her, holding her as he helped her clear theoutskirtsof the gathering crowd. 79. "Lets get out of here." He could feel her desperation and
  • assumed he knew thecause. His eyes were busy checking thepeople moving around them, trying to be surethey wereunarmed. "I thought if we did Bolero we might provoke him toattackwhen we were ready for him, but this wasnt what I hadplanned." He laughed, ashort bark with little humor.Ruereached her free hand under her skirt and felt the wetnesssoaking herpetticoats. It had begun trickling down her legs.She staggered after Sean for afew feet. She put her handagainst a pillar to brace herself. When she lowered itto try towalk, she saw her perfect handprint, in blood, on the marble ofthepillar. "Sean," she said, because he was still turned awayfrom her, still lookingfor any other assault that might becoming their way.He turned back impatiently, and his eye wascaught at once by the handprint. Hestared at it, his browpuckered as if he were trying to figure it out. Hefinallyunderstood the tang of blood that hed barely registeredin his zeal to get Rue tosafety."No," he said, and looked downat her skirt If his face could become any whiter, itdid.His eyeslooked like the ladys sapphire earrings, Rue thought, awarethat shewasnt thinking like a rational person. But she figuredthat was probably a goodthing. Because in just a minute thepain would start up."Youre losing too much blood," hesaid."Shes going to die," Karl said sadly. Hed materializedsuddenly, pulling off hiswhite jacket as he evaluated Ruescondition. "Even if you call an ambulance thisminute, they willbe too late.""What… " For once, Sean seemed to be at a loss asto what to do."You have to hide her," Haskell said withouthesitation, coming up to join them.The ordinarily tidy blondvampire, now disheveled and smeared with blood, wasstillcool-headed enough to be decisive. "If you want to saveher, this is the lastchance," he said."Find a place," Sean said.He sounded… afraid, Rue thought. Shed never heardSeansound afraid.Karl said, "The Egyptian room."Sean picked
  • Rue up like a child. Haskell and Karl followed, ready to wardoff anyattack from behind. But only a museum guard ran up tothem, making some incoherent 80. comment on Rues wound. Haskell, clearly not in anymood for questions and maybe alittle maddened by the scent ofblood, pinched the mans neck until he slumped tothe floor.TheEgyptian room had always been Rues favorite. She loved thesarcophagi and themummiform cases, even the mummiesthemselves. Shed often wondered about the ethicsof exposingbodies—surely once people were buried, they deserved to staythat way—but she enjoyed looking on the long-dead featuresand imagining what the individualhad been like in life—whatshed worn, eaten… who shed loved.Now Sean carried her tothe huge sarcophagus in the middle of the floor. Madetocontain the inner coffin of a pharaoh, the highly carved anddecorated limestonesarcophagus was penned in by hard sheetsof clear plastic, preventing people fromtouching the sides.Fortunately, this pen was open at the top. A vampire couldclearthe barrier easily.Sean leaped over lightly, followed by Karl,while Haskell held Rue. Though the lidmust have weighedhundreds of pounds, Karl and Sean easily shifted it to oneside,leaving a narrow opening. Then Haskell carefully handedRue to Karl, while Seanclimbed in the deep stone box, whichcame to his lower chest. Karl handed Rue in,and Sean laid heron the bottom. She was able to lie flat on her back, withherlegs fully extended. She felt as if she was looking up atSean floating hundreds offeet above her. He lay down besideher, and she felt the numbness wearing away.Oh, God, no.Please. She knew the onset of the pain. As she began toscream, Karlmoved the lid back in place, and then there wasalmost perfect darkness."Rue," said Sean urgently.She heardhis voice, but the pain rendered it meaningless."Rue, do youwant me to end the pain?"She could only make a small sound,
  • a kind of whine. Her fingers dug into him. Therewas hardlyenough room side by side for them, and she had the feelingSean couldntstraighten out, but that was the least of herconcerns at the moment."You can be like me," he said, and shefinally understood."Dying?" she said through clenchedteeth."Yes. I wasnt quick enough. I didnt plan enough. Andthen you made sure he gotyou instead of me. Why, Rue? Why?Rue could not explain that she operated on instinct. She couldnot have borne tosee the knife enter him,even though amoments thought would have told her that he 81. could survive what she could not. She hadnt had thatmoment. Her understanding wasa tiny flicker in the bottom ofa well that was full of agony."If I make you like me, you willlive," he said.This was hardly the best time to be making ahuge decision, but she remembered thestory Sean had told herabout his masters sudden attack on him, the callous waytheman had left Sean to cope with the sudden change. If Seancould survive such ametamorphosis, she could, because Seanwas here to help her."Wont leave?" she asked. Her voicetrembled and was almost inaudible, but heunderstood."Never."His voice was very firm. "If you love me as I love you, wellweather thechange.""Okay." Love, she thoughts lovedher."Now?""Now. Love you," she said, with great effort.Withno more hesitation, Sean bit her. She was already hurting sobadly that it wasjust one more pain, and then she felt his mouthdrawing on her, sucking her dry.She was frightened, but shedidnt have the strength to struggle. Then, after aminute, theheavy grayness in her head rose up and took her with it."Here,"said a voice, a commanding voice. "You have to drink, Rue.Layla. You haveto drink, now." A hand was pressing her face tobare skin, and she felt somethingrun over her lips. Water? Shewas very thirsty. She licked her lips, and found itwasnt water,wasnt cold. It was tepid, and salty. But she was very dry, so
  • sheput her mouth to the skin and began to swallow.She wokeagain sometime later.She felt… funny. She felt weak, yes, butshe wasnt sore. She remembered vividlywaking up in thehospital after the last time shed been attacked, feeling theIVlines, the smell of the sheets, the little sounds of the hospitalwing. But it wasmuch darker here.She tried to move her handand found that she could. She patted herself, andrealized shewas a terrible mess. And there was someone in this dark placewithher. Someone else who wasnt breathing.Someone else whowasnt breathing. 82. She opened her mouth to scream."Dont,darling."Sean."Were… Im… ""It was the only way to saveyour life.""I remember now." She began shivering all over, andSeans arms surrounded her. Hekissed her on the forehead, thenon the mouth. She could feel his touch as shednever feltanyones touch before. She could feel the texture of his skin,hear theminute sound of the cloth moving over his body. Thesmell of him was a sharparousal. When his mouth fell on hers,she was ready."Turn on your side, angel," Sean said raggedly,and she maneuvered to face him.Together, they worked downher panty hose, and then he was in her, and she made anoise ofsheer pleasure. Nothing had ever felt so good. He was rougherwith her,and she knew it was because she was as he was, now,and his strength would not hurther. Her climax was shatteringin its intensity.When it was over, she felt curiously exhausted.She was, she discovered, veryhungry.She said, "When can weget out?""Theyll come lift the lid soon," he said. "I could do itmyself, but Im afraidId push it off too hard and break it. Wedont want anyone to know we were here."In a few minutes, sheheard the scrape of the heavy lid being moved to one side,and adim light showed her Rick and Phil standing above them,holding the heavystone lid at each end.Other hands reacheddown, and Julie and Thompson helped them out of
  • thesarcophagus."How is it?" Julie asked shyly, when she andRue were alone in the womensbathroom. The men werecleaning up all traces of their occupancy of thesarcophagus,and Rue had decided she just had to wash her face and rinseout hermouth. She might as well have spared the effort, shedecided, evaluating her imagein the mirror—delighted shecould see herself, despite the old myth. Her clotheswere torn,bloody and crumpled. At least Julie had kindly loaned her abrush."Being this way?" 83. Julie nodded. "Is it really that different?""Oh, yes," Ruesaid. In fact, it was a little hard to concentrate, with Juliesheartbeating so near her. This was going to take some coping; sheneeded a bottleof True-Blood, and she needed it badly."Thepolice want to talk to you," Julie said. "A detective namedWallingford.""Lead me to him," Rue said. "But Id better have adrink first,"It wasnt often a murder victim got to accuse herattacker in person. Rues arrivalat the police station in herbloodstained dress was a sensation. Despite his brokenarm,Carver Hutton IV was paraded in the next room in a lineup,with stand-insbandaged to match him, and she enjoyed pickinghim from the group.Then Sean did the same.ThenMustafa.Then Abilene.Three vampires and a human sexperformer were not the kind of witnesses the policerelished,but several museum patrons had seen the attack clearly, amongthem Ruesold dance partner, John Jaslow."Therell be a trial, ofcourse," Detective Wallingford told her. He was a dour maninhis forties, who looked as though hed never laughed. "But withhis past historywith you, and his fingerprints on the knife, andall the eyewitness testimony, weshouldnt have too muchtrouble getting a conviction. Were not in his daddysbackyardthis time.""I had to die to get justice," she said. There was amoment of silence in the room.Julie said. "Well go over to myplace so you two can shower, and then we can godancing. Its a
  • new life, Rue!"She took Seans hand. "Layla," she said gently."My name is Layla." Connect on LinkedIn Follow us on Twitter Find us on Facebook Find us on Google+ Learn About Us About Careers Our Blog Press Contact us Help & Support Using SlideShare SlideShare 101 Terms of Use Privacy Policy Copyright & DMCA Community Guidelines Pro & more Go PRO New Business Solutions Advertise on SlideShare SlideShare on mobile Developers & API Developers Section Developers Group Engineering Blog
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