“Enough,” I whispered against his back. “Enough with the blame, Ezekiel. We all have things we regret, things we wish we could change, but we can’t dwell on them. That’s part of being a vampire now—learning to move on.

“You did everything you could for them,” I continued, as his hands came up to grip my arms, squeezing tightly. “You brought them to Eden, you gave them a real home. It is not your fault that a psychopathic lunatic wants to wipe out everything.”

“I should have been there with them,” Zeke whispered.

“If I’d never left the island—”

“I would be dead,” I told him softly. “And Kanin would be dead. And Sarren would still be trying to destroy the world, with no one to stop him.” I paused, then added, very gent ly, “I’m not discounting their deaths. And maybe they’re still alive somehow. We don’t know for certain that they’re gone. But…you once told me everything happens for a reason. Maybe this is why.”

Zeke gave a short, humorless laugh. “Why I became a vampire?” he asked. I’d never heard him sound so bitter. “Why an entire city is lost, and everyone I love is probably dead?”

He shivered, gazing out over the lake. “My family is gone,”

he said in a flat, empty voice. “I’ve lost everything. Seems an awfully high price to pay.”

My voice was almost a whisper. “I’m here, Zeke.”

A tremor went through him. He didn’t say anything more, and I didn’t feel any tears drip onto my hands. I didn’t know what he was thinking, but we stayed like that, silent and motionless, the waves lapping at the pier and the wind blowing flurries around us. I didn’t move, feeling his skin grow cold under my cheek, until I felt another presence at my back, a dark set of eyes gazing down on us.

I turned. Kanin stood at the end of the dock, impassive and imposing against the night, his arms folded before him.

Zeke hadn’t turned, didn’t see the Master vampire, but those depthless black eyes were on me, waiting. He didn’t move, didn’t beckon me forward, but I turned back to Zeke, lowering my voice.

“I have to go,” I told him, and his head bobbed very slightly. “Will you be all right?”

“Yes.” His voice was soft, but almost normal. I reluctantly let him go, and he hesitated before adding, “Allie…thank you.”

I wanted to say more, but I felt the weight of Kanin’s gaze on us both. So I lightly touched Zeke’s shoulder and went, leaving him alone at the edge of the water, worry and sorrow still heavy on my mind.

The Master vampire waited for me at the end of the dock, watching as I approached. As usual, he gave no hints to his thoughts or feelings, though I was surprised he’d sought me out. Usually, my sire was the silent, neutral observer, leaving me and Jackal to our own devices—until our bickering got too annoying, anyway. I wondered why he’d chosen tonight to come after me.

“Come,” he said simply, when I finally joined him at the edge of the wooden planks. “There is work to be done. Follow me.”

“Work?” I frowned and hurried after my sire, jogging to keep up with his long strides. “What work? What are you talking about?”

“The people here have lost a great deal,” Kanin said without looking at me, heading toward the main street and the huge tent city clustered beyond. “There are too many in need and very few with the resources to help. There are things that we can do to alleviate that.”

“Why me?” We passed the hospital, where a pair of soldiers nodded to Kanin but eyed me with wary suspicion. Kanin smiled humorlessly.

“I would not ask James,” he replied, making me snort.

“And Ezekiel needs some time alone. There is only so much you can do for him, Allison. He must come to terms with this loss himself.” His voice turned slightly grave. “Also, I fear with four vampires here, Eden might not come away completely unscathed. We might have to feed soon, so let this be part of that compensation. I only hope it does not come down to that.”

Kanin and I worked through the night. The most pressing concern was the wall that kept out the rabids; there were places that had weakened with the relentless attacks and were in danger of crumbling entirely. The humans watched us come and go without suspicion, unaware of the monsters in their midst. After a few hours of fortifying the defenses, Kanin volunteered me for guard duty, watching the road for strag-glers and making sure the rabids couldn’t claw their way in.

As I sat atop one of the towers, gazing down at the hissing, writhing mass outside the gates, I wondered if the real reason Kanin was doing this was to keep me away from Zeke. Maybe not with the intention to separate us, but to keep me occupied and to give Zeke a chance to deal with this loss alone.

Maybe that was the best thing for him now.

Or maybe not. Maybe Kanin’s reasons were as he said— payment for the harm four vampires might bring to the community. Or perhaps it was something else. I didn’t know. My sire had always been inscrutable, and I’d given up trying to figure him out.

About an hour before dawn, I was relieved of sentry duty, and I returned to the hospital. In the quiet stillness before sun-rise, most of the tent city was asleep, huddled between blankets and family members, their misery forgotten for a while.

As I headed toward the front door, a hint of fresh blood came to me over the breeze. Frowning, I followed it around a corner, where Jackal leaned casually against the outside wall, cloaked in shadow, his yellow eyes glowing in the darkness.

He smelled of blood, but clean and untainted with chemicals, unlike the bandaged, wounded patrons in the hospital.

I desperately hoped he hadn’t eaten one of them. My Hunger perked up with a growl, and I shoved it back.

“Oh, hey, sister.” Jackal grinned at me, then took something out of his duster: a plastic bag full of dark liquid. “Did they finally release you from manual labor? A vampire working for the sheep—how positively nauseating. If I were you, I would’ve told the old man to go sit on a campfire. But, hey, better you than me.” He gave me a mocking salute, then bit into the plastic. I frowned.

“Where did you get that? No one here knows you’re a vampire.”

He pulled his fangs from the bag and smirked at me with bloody lips. “It’s amazing what you can find if you go poking around back rooms when no one’s looking,” he answered.

“Found this hanging in a fridge, and I got Hungry. Want one, sister?” He lifted the bag, and a few red drops fell to the ground, making my stomach churn with Hunger. “There’s still a couple left, last I checked.” He peered at me again, then arched a brow. “What’s that look for?”


Tags: Julie Kagawa Blood of Eden Book Series
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