Less than a dozen, she realized. Not many to form an opinion about the entire species from, if she was being fair. But still, that New Year's Eve, she'd seen how ugly the undead world could get.


Spade said her name like it hadn't been the first time. "Sorry," she said, giving her head a small shake. "What do you need me to do again?"

"Sit on the floor and put your arm on the table, sleeves up," Chad said.

Denise sat, trying to roll up the sleeve of her right arm while being careful that the towels didn't fall off. Trying to get a grip on anything with her clawed hands bundled up was difficult, to say the least. After a second, Spade just tugged her sleeve up for her. Chad and Francine exchanged a glance, but didn't say anything.

Chad looked over the exposed brand, whistling low. "It's deep," he said at last, tracing the star-shaped markings on her skin. "We'll need to shave you and sterilize the area," Chad went on, soaping and then shaving her inner forearm with a few quick, thorough swipes. After a spritz from the bottle next to him, he picked up one of those metal chopsticks with sharpened ends. Next Chad dipped the end of it in the panel that looked like a child's watercolor set, but was actually the place to hold ink, it appeared. Then Chad poked her in the middle of her branded forearm hard enough to break her skin.

It pinched, but not bad. More like one of those finger-prick blood tests. Francine and Chad were staring very intently at her, though, as a drop of her blood mixed with the dark ink...and then the blackness faded to crimson.

"We have a problem," Chad muttered.

Chapter Fifteen

"What problem?" Denise and Spade asked at the same time.

Chad swiped at the drop of her blood, bringing it toward his mouth - and then his arm was gripped in Spade's hand.

"If you taste her blood," Spade said, very quietly, "I'll kill you."

Francine stood up at that. "You have a very good reputation, but I won't tolerate threats - "

"There will be no threats, as long as he doesn't try to taste her blood again," Spade cut her off, his tone pleasant and lethal at the same time.

"Just like the other vampire," Chad said, shaking his head.

Denise leaned forward. "What other vampire?"

Spade wiped her blood off Chad's finger, then with an arched brow, squirted it with the solution from the bottle and wiped it again.

"The vampire that was with that human, the one who had the brands like yours," Chad replied, sounding a little annoyed. "He freaked over us not tasting the human's blood. I'd forgotten about it until just now."

Spade met her gaze, but Denise already knew not to say anything. Still, inside, she hummed with excitement. It verified that the vampire who brought Nathanial to Chad and Francine all those years ago obviously knew Nathanial's blood had been turned into a drug from the brands. Just like hers. Tracking Nathanial through the Red Dragon trade would work. It had to.

"Remember the bloke's name?" Spade asked.

Both Chad and Francine shook their heads. "He was a young vampire at the time. That's all I remember," Chad said.

"Must have been his property," Spade said, dismissing it as if it were nothing. "Not polite to try and feed from someone's property, even a drop."

He didn't trust them knowing. Denise felt a shiver of fear. She'd been so focused on the brands turning her into a monster, she hadn't dwelled on how their other side effect might be dangerous. Spade might not want anything to do with the drugging effects of her blood, but others would. Red Dragon was the substance vampires bought to get high, and here Denise had it running all through her veins.

"As I said, we have a problem," Chad continued. "Her blood overpowered the mixture in the ink, which means anything we'd tattoo over her brands would be worthless. We need to increase the dosage in the ink. A lot."

"Okay, so do it," Denise said. "Do whatever you did with my...with that other human who had brands like this."

"It will burn," Francine said in a sympathetic tone.

If it would keep Raum from tracking her and possibly stop her from warping into a monster, it could burn like hell and she'd still do it.

"That's okay. Let's just get it over with," Denise replied steadily.

Francine patted her. "Chad, use the Jerusalem salt," she said, her tone becoming brisk and businesslike.

Chad picked a small bottle out of his suitcase and gave Spade a meaningful look. "This changes the price."

Denise cringed in guilt even as Spade snapped, "Let that be the last mention you make of price in front of her."

"Chad," Francine said in a lightly chastising way. Then she smiled at Spade. "My apologies. We'll settle such matters once everything is complete. The important thing is to get our lovely girl here taken care of."

"Quite," Spade said, still with an edge in his voice.

Denise wanted the ground to swallow her, but she refused to let her embarrassment show. I don't care what Spade says, I'm going to find a way to repay him, she promised herself.

"What's Jerusalem salt?" she asked, to change the subject.

"Salt is a natural weapon against demons. Jerusalem salt is even more powerful, because it's drawn from the place where all the major religions of the world converge. Then it's specially milled there and mixed with, well, with things I can't tell you," Francine finished with a smile. "But it should work to cover the power in your brands."

"Ready," Chad said a minute later. He dipped another metal stick into his new ink creation, then jabbed the tip into Denise's forearm.

Fire sizzled up her arm, so unexpected and intense, Denise couldn't stop from crying out and jerking her arm back. They'd said it would hurt, but she hadn't been prepared for this kind of agony. It was just as bad as when Raum had branded her.

"Turning black," Chad said in satisfaction, staring at the drop of blood that pearled on her arm. Then his gaze flicked to Spade. "You'll need to hold her down while we do the tattooing."

Denise tried to push her attention past the flaming pain in her arm. It didn't even seem possible that it had come from a wound so small, it was little more than a needle prick.

"How much tattooing? A few outlines?" she asked.

Her hope was dashed by Chad's reply. "I'll be filling in a pattern over both your arms. It will take a few hours."

She shuddered as Chad got out that odd-looking power drill that she now knew was the tattoo machine. Hours, being held down while she experienced the same sort of pain that had almost driven her mad when Raum inflicted it on her for a mere few minutes. Denise thought she'd throw up, but there was no other choice.

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