"I've seen pictures. They don't look like that."

"It's very old. My guess is, at least a couple of centuries. Undeath brings certain anatomical changes. Some are immediate and some are slow. The older the undead, the more apparent those changes become. A vamp's never finished. It's an abomination in progress." The fact that vampires weren't suppose to have existed two hundred years ago when the tech was in full swing bothered me a great deal. My experience and education offered no explanation for this monster's existence, and so I put it aside, filing it for future reference.

I brought out a shallow glass pan, the kind used for baking lasagna, put it in front of the platter and slightly under, and dumped two quarts of glycerin into it. The clear viscous liquid filled the pan and settled.

I took one of my throwing daggers from my sheath. Crest grinned at the black blade.

"Fancy."

"Yeah."

This wasn't going to be pleasant and it wasn't the kind of magic I did often. Something in me rebelled at it, something born of my father's instruction and my own view of the world and where I stood in it.

The head rested on the herbs. In half an hour it would be useless.

I pricked my finger with the point of the dagger. A drop of bright blood swelled on the skin. Power pulsed in it and I touched the blood to the herbs. The bloodmagic inundated them, acting like a catalyst, fusing, shaping, molding the natural force of the dried plants. It surged upward, through the stump of the neck, spreading through the capillaries in the face, engulfing the brain, saturating the dead flesh. I guided it, helped it along, until the entire head sat suffused with magic. My finger touched the thick skin of the vamp's forehead, leaving a bloody smudge and sending a shock of power through the undead flesh.

"Wake!"

The dead eyes snapped open. The horrid mouth opened and closed soundlessly, contorting with impossible elasticity.

Crest fell off his chair.

The vamp's eyes stared wide at me, unblinking.

"Where is your master? Show me your master."

Dark magic boiled from the head, drowning the room. It swelled, vicious and furious, like an enraged animal ready to strike. In the corner Crest drew a sharp, loud breath.

A tremor rippled through the head. The eyeballs bulged from their sockets. The black tongue, long and flat, hung from between the reptilian lips and the sickle teeth bit into it, drawing no blood. Impaled on the teeth, the tongue jerked obscenely. I pushed harder, bringing the weight of my power upon the resilient necromagic.

"Show me your master!"

Red drowned the whites of the vampire's eyes. Two thick streaks of dark blood poured from what had once been tear ducts. The streams carved their path down the face and into the herbs, mixing with a torrent of blood from the stump of the neck. The foul flood swept the dried herbs, falling into the glycerin and spreading in uneven angry stain upon its surface. The blood darkened until it was almost black, and in it I saw a distorted but unmistakable image of a gutted skyscraper with a round Coca-Cola logo half-buried in rubble.

Unicorn Lane. Always Unicorn Lane.

The head jerked. The bones of the skull cracked like a broken nutshell. The flesh peeled off the vamp's face, curving in long slabs to the herbs. The exposed jellied mass of the brain glared through the fractured skull. The stench of putrescence filled the kitchen. I threw a plastic trash bag over the head and inverted the tray, sending the head and the herbs into the bag. I tied the bag and set it into the corner. The blood in the glycerin had clotted into an ugly rotting mass. I dumped it down the drain.

Crest rubbed his face.

"I did warn you."

He nodded.

I washed my hands and my arms up to the elbow with fresh-smelling soap and went into the living room, pausing on the way to check on Derek. He was sleeping like a baby. I sat on the couch, leaned back, and closed my eyes. This was the point when most men ran for cover.

I sat and rested. The desire for intimacy had passed and my longing now appeared unreal, ethereal like a half-forgotten dream.

I heard Crest walk into the room. He sat next to me.

"So that's what you do?" he said.

"Yeah."

We sat silent for a few breaths.

"I can live with it," he said.

I opened my eyes and looked at him. He shrugged. "I'm not going to watch again, but I can live with it." He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "Have you ever met someone and felt... I don't know how to describe it, felt a chance at having something that eluded you? I don't know... Forget I said anything."

I knew what he meant. He was describing that moment when you realize that you are lonely. For a time you can be alone and doing fine and never give a thought to living any other way and then you meet someone and suddenly you become lonely. It stabs at you, almost like a physical pain, and you feel both deprived and angry, deprived because you wish to be with that person and angry, because their absence brings you misery. It's a strange feeling, akin to desperation, a feeling that makes you wait by the phone even though you know that the call is an hour away. I was not going to lose my balance. Not yet.

I moved closer to him and leaned against his shoulder. We both knew that sex was out of the question.

"Do you mind if I stay anyway?" he asked.

"No."

I fell asleep leaning on him.

Chapter 6

I AWOKE BECAUSE SOMEONE WAS WATCHING ME.

"Don't you know it's not polite to stare, boy wonder?"

Derek gave Crest a derisive glance. The boy wonder was wearing sweats I didn't recognize. They didn't come from Greg's wardrobe. He must've gone out. Where exactly did he go?

During the night we had moved into a somewhat reclining position and I was lying on Crest's chest. I sat straight. "You disapprove?"

He shook his head. "It isn't my place."

"You don't like him all the same, though."

"He and you..." he made a put-together motion with his hands, fingers spread coming together but not quite touching. "You don't look right together."

"Why not?"

"You're harder than he is."

"What's wrong with that?"

"The man's supposed to be harder. So he can protect."

"Do you think I'm in need of protection?" The threatening overtone crept into my voice without intention.

"He will never tell you no," Derek said.

I stared at him until he lowered his gaze. "Very few people tell me no," I said.

"Yeah."

"How's your leg?"

"Fine."

"Did you go out while I slept?"


Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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