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  1. 1. 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
  2. 2. 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
  3. 3. 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
  4. 4. 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
  5. 5. 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
  6. 6. 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
  7. 7. 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
  8. 8. 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
  9. 9. 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
  10. 10. 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
  11. 11. 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
  12. 12. 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
  13. 13. 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
  14. 14. 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
  15. 15. 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
  16. 16. 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.
  17. 17. 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
  18. 18. 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
  19. 19. 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
  20. 20. 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
  21. 21. 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
  22. 22. 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
  23. 23. 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
  24. 24. 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
  25. 25. 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
  26. 26. 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,
  27. 27. 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
  28. 28. 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
  29. 29. 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
  30. 30. 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
  31. 31. 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
  32. 32. 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
  33. 33. 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
  34. 34. 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
  35. 35. 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
  36. 36. 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
  37. 37. 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
  38. 38. 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.
  39. 39. "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
  40. 40. 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
  41. 41. 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
  42. 42. 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,
  43. 43. 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.----------------------------------------------------------------------
  44. 44. ----------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
  45. 45. 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
  46. 46. 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
  47. 47. 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
  48. 48. 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