“What will you do if you manage to kill him, huh? Then you’ll still be a monster? What will you do then?”
He looked her straight in the eye, his face solemn and sad. “Then I’ll set myself free, too.”
Her eyes went wide. Her stomach pancaked on the floor of her abdomen.
He’d used her. To find his fiancée, a vampire, so he could kill her.
And then he was going to kill himself.
Her beautiful Daniel.
Her mouth rounding in a silent, “No”, she ran around him into the barn and nearly mowed down a sleepy-looking elderly man in a bathrobe and rubber boots. The farmer held a double-barreled shotgun, and her momentum sent him stumbling back. The stock of the gun connected with a support beam. His hand jerked on the trigger. There was a tremendous explosion, then a flash of flame from the end of the gun.
And two loads of double-ought shot tore through Déadre’s chest.
DANIEL felt the concussion of the shotgun blast all the way outside the barn. He charged through the back door in time to see Déadre sway once, her spine straight and arms at her side, then topple backward like a domino. A red stain the size of a dinner plate bloomed between her breasts.
The farmer dropped the rifle and backed up until his shoulders hit the wall. His eyes were huge and round, set deep in his face, his complexion waxy. “Whaa—? No. Oh, no. I thought it was those wild dogs in the barn again, botherin’ my stock. I didn’t know. I didn’t mean to do it. It was an accident.”
Daniel stood immobile for a long moment, then dropped to his knees beside Déadre. He was pretty sure a gunshot couldn’t kill her, but it was still quite a shock seeing her fall, seeing her lying on the ground, still and pale.
He checked her vitals quickly. She wasn’t breathing, had no pulse. By all outward appearances, she was dead.
The farmer shuffled toward the door, mumbling. “Nine-one-one. I gotta wake the wife and call nine-one-one.”
“No.” Daniel touched Déadre’s lips once before he rose, both a plea and a promise. He hoped she heard both in that deep sleep vampires went into when they needed to heal. Just because she couldn’t die from a gunshot wound didn’t mean she couldn’t suffer from one. Feel the agony of torn flesh and splintered bone.
He needed to get her out of here, take her somewhere where he could help her. Where he could hold her, if nothing else. But first he had to deal with the farmer.
“You can’t call anyone,” he said, moving slowly and kicking the gun away as he approached the farmer.
The man shook like a child who’d played too long in the snow without his mittens. “B—but she’s…”
“She’s going to be fine.”
He could see how hard the farmer tried to believe that. But the man shook his head sadly. His voice broke about the same time tears sprung to his eyes. “She’s dead.”
“She’s not.” He advanced on the man slowly, trying not to spook him.
Daniel felt his confusion. He was sorry for the old guy, but a call to the cops could cause him and Déadre a lot of trouble. The last thing he needed was the police on his tail when he took her out of here. If they found her, they’d take her to the morgue, do an autopsy.
He suppressed a shudder. What if they cremated her afterward? Then she really would be dead.
No, he couldn’t let the old man call the cops.
“You didn’t shoot anyone,” Daniel said firmly, holding the man’s gaze. He wasn’t quite sure what he was doing, but there had to be a way to convince the man it was in his best interests to forget what had happened tonight.
If that didn’t work, he just tie the geezer up and leave him for his wife to find in the morning, after Daniel was long gone.
“I didn’t shoot anyone,” the farmer repeated. His voice was going flat and his eyes took on a faraway sheen.
“There was no one in the barn.”
“No one in the barn.”
Daniel raised his eyebrows. That was easy.
“It was just a couple of wild dogs bothering your stock. You scared them off.”
“I scared off some wild dogs.”
Daniel waved his hand in front of the guy’s face, but he didn’t blink. He’d suspected from his research that vampires had some way of mesmerizing their victims, making them forget. Now he knew for sure.
He just didn’t know how he’d done it.
As long as he had, though, he might as well take full advantage. “I need to borrow your truck,” he said.
The farmer stared off into space with unfocused eyes. “Keys are under the floor mat.”
Excellent. “Go back to the house and go to bed. If your wife is awake, you’ll tell her that you scared off the dogs.”
“I’ll tell her I scared off the dogs.”
The old man turned to shuffle back to the house, but Daniel called out to him before he reached the door. “Wait!”
Daniel looked from the old man’s slack face, to Déadre’s pale one, and back. He figured he had less than two hours of darkness left. Enough time to get Déadre to Atlanta, where he could help her, before sunrise, but he was going to need all his strength to do it.
Daniel couldn’t feed off Déadre. In her condition, he risked draining her dry and killing her. But she’d said he couldn’t go more than a few hours without blood, either, newly made as he was. Already he was feeling light-headed and clammy.
The solution to his problem stood at the barn door in a natty bathrobe and rubber boots. Could he do it? Could he drink the blood of a mortal? A living, breathing man?
The thought repulsed him at first, but he was also curious. Was he mortal or was he a vampire?
He couldn’t straddle the fence forever.
He couldn’t straddle the fence and build the strength he needed to fight Garth. Not quickly.
His stomach flipped and he realized his heart was beating, fluttering really, in his chest. He looked back at Déadre, her pale, elfin ears and the way her long lashes lay so still over her cheeks.
He forced himself to relax by thinking of her. Doing what he needed to help her.
He began to hear his own pulse in his ears. The blood lust beat a rhythm that couldn’t be ignored. With his breath coming in short strokes, his thumbnails lengthening, he turned back to the farmer. He saw fear deep in the man’s eyes, behind the veil of the thrall in which he held him, and smiled to ease his dread as he punctured the farmer’s jugular and lowered his mouth over the wounds.
Daniel moaned, lost in the pleasure as the essence of life poured down his throat, sweet as honey with a coppery tang, and he drank long and deep.
Much to his surprise, he liked it.
DRIVING south down I-95 toward Atlanta in the farmer’s rattling old pickup truck, Daniel suppressed the urge to wipe his mouth with the back of his hand for the thousandth time. He could still taste blood on his tongue, feel the man’s pulse beating beneath his lips. He still reeled from the heady rush of heat suffusing his dead heart, his veins.
He was dead, and yet he felt more wonderfully alive than ever. Taking blood made him strong, invulnerable. Immortal.
It was a high far beyond anything he imagined cocaine or PCP could induce. If it was like that for all vampires, and he assumed it was, it was a wonder there were any mortals at all left in the world. How easily that kind of trip, that surge of power, could become an addiction.
He had to respect, if grudgingly, the control it must take for the undead to walk the streets night after night, surrounded by ready sources of that magic elixir, and not go on a rampage, drain the city dry.
More control than he had, he feared. If Déadre hadn’t stirred as he’d been gulping down the farmer’s life force, Daniel didn’t know if he could’ve stopped, or if he would have kept drinking until the man had no more blood to give.
Until he’d killed him.
But she’d moaned, and her hand had twitched. Her eyes had scrunched in pain, and her pain had called him back from the dark edge he’d been teetering on.
He really had to stop doing that.
One of Déadre’s hands clenched his pant leg and he glanced down at where she lay curled up on the seat of the truck, her head resting on his thigh. Her fragile shoulders looked narrower than ever as she hunched them and moaned again. Her eyelids fluttered again.