“She is mine. My catch. My bounty. My prize.” She rolled the R in ‘prize’ like an opera singer, and the sound sent a chill down my spine.

“She is not part of this world, and your bringing her into it will not help.” He inched closer, as did the vampires behind him.

“When it’s time,” I whispered, “I’ll grab Veronica. You two jump to the right, and then we make a run for it.”

Detroit nodded, but Scout looked worried.

“Firespell,” I reminded her. “If they get me, I take them out.”

She blew out a breath and nodded, then turned her attention back to the vampires and the turf war we’d gotten stuck in . . . again.

Marlena put her hands on her hips. “You choose children over your own kind?”

“They have offered their help. They have come to us with information and have treated us as equals. In this, yes. We choose children over those who would forsake us.”

In the silence, Nicu and his vampires took another step forward, then another, until they were directly behind us. I wasn’t thrilled about the proximity, but I trusted him a lot more right now than I did Marlena.

“Then let us decide this once and for all.”

“Not liking the sound of this,” Scout said.

“Detroit,” I whispered, hoping the myths about vampires were true, “when I give the word, point the locket at the vamps holding Veronica.”

“Got it,” she said with a nod.

“On one,” I said, leaning forward just a bit to prepare myself for the steal. “Three . . . two . . . one!”

Detroit popped open her locket, light flashing into the corridor as she aimed it toward Marlena’s vampires. They raised their hands to their faces, hissing at the light, releasing Veronica. I jumped forward and grabbed her, then pulled her back behind the half wall, Detroit and Scout behind me.

I dumped Veronica onto the floor, looking her over for wounds. She was quiet now, shock obviously setting in. In the vacuum behind us, the covens of vampires rushed together, Nicu’s vampires scratching and clawing as they fought for the right to exist, Marlena fighting back the vampires who’d tried to escape her.

Nicu ran through the fray to reach us, stopping as he stared down at Veronica. She looked up at him with wide eyes, and his own widened in surprise.

I glanced over at Scout, who shrugged.

A second later, Nicu blinked, then looked at me. “Run,” he said. “As fast as you can. Get her to safety and then find the monsters. Dispatch them.”

We ran.

Detroit led the way back to the Enclave. Scout and I each had an arm around Veronica, half walking and half carrying her through the dark tunnels, the light of Detroit’s locket guiding the way. Detroit used Scout’s phone to send a message to Daniel. By the time we arrived at the Enclave, we found Katie, Smith, Daniel, Michael, Jason, and Paul waiting. The twins must have still been off on their own mission.

The mood wasn’t exactly light, and seeing Veronica didn’t help. But Daniel stayed calm. He directed Katie and Smith to help Veronica, then clustered the rest of us together.

“The vampires are missing one of their coven,” he said. “The Reapers have, perhaps, used the sanctuary to build these monsters. They have put Adepts and vampires, the Pedway and St. Sophia’s—the whole city—at risk. This ends tonight.”

Scout and I looked at each other, but nodded. We knew what needed to be done. We had to find them, and we had to take them out.

“We’ll deal with the girl,” he said. “You start at the sanctuary. God willing, it will still be empty of Reapers. Either way, destroy the monsters.”

“We’ll do it,” Jason said.

“You’ve got to,” Daniel advised. “If you can’t, we’re all in trouble.”

Jason took the lead, and Paul was at our back. The rest of us—Michael, Scout, Detroit, and me—were clustered into groups in the middle.

This time, we needed speed, so we decided to try the shortcut, hoping the vampire squabble had played itself out. We didn’t see anything out of the ordinary until we made it to the Pedway. But when we emerged from the janitor’s closet—one careful Adept at a time—things got more interesting.

The hallway was empty but for five scratched and bleeding vampires—Nicu and four others.

“Is she okay?” Nicu asked.

If he’d developed a thing for Veronica, I was going to be totally freaked-out.

“She’s fine,” I told him. “She’s being cared for.”

“Will you erase her memory of these events?”

I looked over at Scout, who nodded. “She’s not the type we’d trust in the community. She might use the information against us. One of the other Adepts will work their magic, and she’ll have no memory of what transpired. It won’t hurt her,” she added, at the obvious heartbreak in Nicu’s eyes.

Did love at first sight really operate that quickly?

“Then that’s the way it must be,” he said, resigned.

“And your coven?” I asked him. “Are you okay?”

“We have survived the night,” Nicu said, “so we are now a coven in our own right.”

Oh, awesome, I thought. We’d actually helped the vampires establish themselves. I really hoped that didn’t bite us in the butt later.

“Good night, Adepts.” Nicu placed his hand over his heart, and then the entire group of them—all at once—bowed to us.

Detroit worked her magic on the stairwell doors, and we popped back into the tunnels again. If the rats were back, there wasn’t any sign of them.

“You think that means they’re gone?” Scout asked.

“I think that means they don’t shed slime all the time,” Jason said. “At least, that’s my guess.”

“And even if they were here,” Scout said, “the Reapers could have cleaned up after them. Who knows?”

When we reached the sanctuary, we peeked around the alcove and into the final corridor. The doors were closed, the lights off.

But there was a trail of slime that led from the corridor into the sanctuary.

“And they’re back,” Michael muttered.

“Honestly,” Detroit said, “I’m a little glad to see the slime. I was beginning to worry that I’d imagined it all.”

“No such luck,” Scout and I simultaneously said. Scout glanced over at Detroit. “The trip wires,” she said. “Got anything for that?”

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