He bared his teeth. "The bitch was barren - can you believe that?" He twisted my hair around his fingers and looked through it at the moon. I pulled away and he let the strands slip from his hand with a chuckle. "But then I stumbled onto you. And you're not barren, Kate."

"Why me?"

He leaned close, his breath hot on my cheek. "I know what you are. I've climbed the hill and sniffed the grave of that rotting sack of bones you called Father. I smelled his stink and I know his blood isn't in your veins. And I know whose is. All of that power crammed into a tight, sweet little package. Did you know your real father hunted my kind thousands of years ago? Your puny little mind can't comprehend the extent of my hate for him. You will give me a son, Kate. And all of the magic of your bloodline will belong to me."

He laughed softly and I had to swallow a scream. "Why did you kill Greg?"

"He was getting too close to me. Olathe's little subterfuge failed to fool him. I knew I would have to kill him sooner or later. The trick was to do it so you'd leave your precious warded house and come after the killer."

"You wanted me to confront Olathe. You wanted to know if my blood was stronger than hers."

"Yes. It took you so long to figure it out. I practically drew a map for you. I hand-fed you every crumb. All you had to do was to follow the trail but you meandered and backtracked. An ape could've gotten it faster. But then, you and an ape are only a small step apart."

He licked my cheek. "The magic is thick tonight and I grow hungry. There is a fresh corpse waiting for me at my place. And more will be coming. There are many necromancers among the People who would rather serve me than that fool on his gilded throne. Let's end this, what do you say?"

I said nothing.

"No clever remark? Are you scared, Kate?" His voice dropped to a whisper, but the words he said thundered with power. "Estene aleera hesaad de viren aneda." And now, you are forever mine.

Oh Dear God. For him power words were a language. The strength of the ancient magic gripped me, crushing my mind with its enormity. The whirlwind of light swirled about me, carrying me away into unknown depths. I bit my tongue and tasted my blood. Something furious and defiant rose inside me and screamed. Blinded by the light, I heard myself speak a single word.

"Dair."

Release.

The light dimmed and I saw Bono's eyes staring into mine. Unfamiliar words came, surfacing from someplace long forgotten, their meaning somehow clear. "At ner tervan estene." I'll kill you first.

I smashed the bottle against the stairs. The glass shattered, spilling across concrete. I rammed the razor-sharp edge into his throat. Blood sprayed over me.

"Ud." Die.

The ground shook with the power I sank into the word. The upir fell, blood gushing from his throat. I lunged to the door and dove through. The ward flowed closed behind me.

An odd gurgling noise came from the upir. It struggled from his ruined throat, bubbling forth with the gushes of dark blood. Bono reached for the bottle. His fingers closed about the blood-slicked glass, slid, fastened around the edge, the glass slicing into the flesh of his fingers. He pulled and ripped the bottle from his neck, dropping it gently onto the boards.

The gurgling noise strengthened, expelling blood with each tortured cough. Glass shards slid from the wound, carried down by the crimson flow. A hideous creature crept onto the porch to sniff the bloody bottle. Bono grabbed it with one hand and flung the forty-pound thing over the rails like a kitten.

His fingers grazed the awful cut, wiping away the blood. The wound was closing. As it sealed shut, the gurgling noise mutated, growing louder, and I realized that Bono was laughing.

"Nice try," he said, displaying his unscarred neck. "My turn."

He leaped at the open door. An explosion of crimson rolled through the doorway and he howled, thrown back.

He flipped and spun about, his eyes blazing. Silver from his eyes leaked onto his cheeks, staining the skin. There was nothing at all human about him now.

He lunged again and saw the sharp, angular vampire bones guarding the doorway from the inside.

"Bitch!"

"Rock, wood, and bone, Bono," I said dully. "Your ward is reinforcing mine."

He screamed. The windows vibrated. I threw my hands against my ears. Bono pounded his fists against the porch floor and the boards exploded.

"Won't work," I told him. "You can demolish the whole house. The ward will still stand."

He stared at me, silvery streaks wetting his face as if he cried metal instead of tears. His offspring shivered and hugged the ground. "This isn't over," he howled. "I will murder all that give you protection. I'll kill the cat and I'll devour his flesh. His magic will be mine and then I'll come back. No ward will guard you then!"

He leaped from the porch, racing into the night, and his brood followed him.

I leaned my head against the wall. The booze made it hard to think. He didn't die. I hadn't expected him to. One who can weave the power words into sentences wouldn't die from a single word.

The cat? He said he'd kill the cat. Was he talking about Jim? No, Curran, it had to be Curran. Jim wasn't strong enough to threaten my ward. Curran was. All shapechangers had a natural resistance to warding spells. It had to do with the animal part of their nature. Curran's resistance was the strongest. I could call Jim and warn him.

Who would believe me?

"'And men my prophet wail deride!'" I mumbled and dragged myself to my feet.

I called Jim anyway. He didn't answer the call and the answering machine did not pick up.

THE JOLT OF A WARD BREAKING RIPPED THROUGH my skull. My headache exploded and sleep fled.

Someone was in my house.

I slipped my hand under the pillow, found the handle of a throwing dagger, and pulled the blade free.

I lay awake, breathing quietly. Silence and dark filled the rooms. There was no need to go hunting. Whoever it was would come to me.

A man-sized shadow loomed in the hallway, a deeper darkness against the wall. It hesitated for a breath and approached. I closed my eyes, watching it through my eyelashes.

Six yards. Breathe in and breathe out.

Five.

Four. Close enough.

I hurled the dagger. The black blade spun through the air and bit into the shadow's shoulder. Crap. Missed.

The shadow lunged for me. I went for Slayer, but the bastard was too fast. I kicked, both feet hard. The shadow swatted my kick aside and grabbed my right wrist. Steel fingers squeezed, and my hand went numb. I hit the shadow in the throat with my left hand. It growled and I found myself staring into yellow eyes.

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