He opened a bottle of synthetic blood type O. "Cheers."
She didn't respond, just sipped her Chocolood and gazed out the window.
What the hell was wrong? Pierce guzzled down half his bottle, then plunked it into the cupholder. "Maggie, are you disappointed that I turned out to be a rodeo cowboy from Texas?"
"No. II'm very happy for you."
"You don't sound happy. I thought you'd like an Irish boy. I'm the sort of guy you could take home to meet your parents."
"Except that my parents died over a hundred years ago. And they would never approve of anyone who's undead. Even me."
"I'm sorry they rejected you. Youyou never told me how you were transformed."
She sipped from her drink, refusing to look at him. "Here's the turn." She pointed at a narrow road up ahead.
"I hope you can tell me sometime." He hoped her transformation hadn't been a violent one. He wanted her to be able to trust and love. But he could wait till she was ready. That was one good thing about being a Vamp. He could wait a hundred years if he needed to.
He turned the SUV onto the County Road. Ian had been right. Once he sat behind the wheel, his driving skills had come back. He looked around the countryside, and a surge of pride swept through him. They were now on O'Callahan land.
"I was a volunteer with the Salvation Army," Maggie whispered. "We went into a bad area by the docks, and I got separated from the others. Night fell, and I was lost."
Pierce turned toward her. "You were attacked?"
"It was more like" She gasped.
He looked forward and flinched. Something had dashed into the road. He stomped on the brake.
Maggie screamed. They screeched to a halt just as a large animal leaped into the thick brush on the right.
Pierce sat still for a while, waiting for his heart to stop pounding. "What the hell was that?"
Maggie took a deep breath. "I thought you were going to hit it."
He eased the SUV forward and spotted movement by a large oak tree. "Look! There it is!"
He'd seen the wolflike animal run on four legs, but now, it reared up on its hind legs and howled at the moon.
"It's huge," Maggie whispered.
The shaggy animal dropped to all fours and loped away.
Pierce shook his head. He could have sworn there were no wolves in this part of Texas. He drove forward, keeping an eye out for wild animals. A fence began on the left side of the road, the planks in sore need of a fresh coat of paint. Two brick columns flanked a narrow road. A rusty wrought-iron arch connected the two columns. Across the arch were two wordsO'CALLAHAN RANCH.
This was it. Home. He turned onto the driveway and spotted a house at the end of the long drive.
It was a large, white Victorian with dark shutters and a three-story turreted tower on the left. The rest of the second floor was topped with a gabled roof. Lights from a Christmas tree twinkled in the wide bay window on the right. Steps led up to the front door and a wraparound porch. The whole house sat on top of a partially visible basement. Even in the moonlight, Pierce could tell the house needed a coat of paint, and one of the shutters was hanging crooked.
A sudden, dreadful feeling came over him that the ranch had suffered because of his disappearance. Would his family be angry when he reappeared after five years?
"It's beautiful," Maggie whispered.
She liked it? That was a relief. "You're okay with how this is turning out? I mean, me being a rodeo cowboy from Texas?"
"With a secret baby?" She glanced at him with a smile. "You know, it sounds like something from a DVN soap opera. And Pierce is a perfect name for a vampire. Very fangish."
"Yeah." He stopped in front of the house and studied the rundown building. "Maybe I get to save the ranch."
"Or maybe you're a long-lost prince from Europe."
He snorted as he removed the keys from the ignition. "Or maybe my father is actually an Arabian sheikh in hiding."
Maggie laughed. "And I bet you have an evil twin."
Right at that moment, the front door slammed open and a tall man strode onto the porch.
Maggie gasped. "Sweet Mary! He looks just like you."
A twin? Pierce's mouth fell open.
The man whisked a shotgun up to his shoulder and shouted, "Get the hell out of here!"
An evil twin? Pierce exchanged a shocked look with Maggie. "Duck down and stay low." He reached for the door handle.
"What are you doing?" Maggie scrunched down in her seat. "He'll shoot you."
"I don't think he can kill me." Pierce eased open the door. Though it would hurt like hell.
"I told you to go away!" The man cocked the shotgun.
"Wait!" Pierce edged around the front of the SUV. The headlights had yet to go off, so he stood in the pool of light. "Don't you know me?"
The man stumbled back with a gasp. The shotgun fell from his hands and discharged with a loud ka-boom.
Pierce ducked behind the SUV. Maggie screamed.
"Sweet Jesus!" The man ran down the steps, then halted abruptly before reaching the ground. "Pierce, are you okay?"
An older, thin woman dashed onto the porch. "Patrick, what the hell are you doing? So help me, if you shoot Bob, I'll"
"No!" Patrick pointed at the SUV. "It's Pierce! He's back!"
"What?" The woman stared at the SUV, her mouth agape.
Pierce straightened and gave a small wave. "Hi."
"Pierce!" the woman screeched. She turned back to Patrick and shoved him. "You shot at your own brother?"
"I didn't mean to. It was an accident."
"I'm okay. Really." Pierce headed toward the porch.
The woman charged down the steps and threw her arms around him. "Pierce! You're alive!"
Sorta. This didn't seem like the best time to dwell on undead details. He returned the woman's hug. "Mother?"
She pushed back with a confused look. "I ain't your Ma."
"Oh, sorry." He stepped back.
"Don't you remember me? I'm your Aunt Betty."
"Ah, it's nice to meet you. You see, I have"
"Well, I never." Aunt Betty planted her fists on her hips and glared at him. "First, you run off without a word to anyone, leaving us here in the lurch for five long years, and now, you act like you don't even know us. Of all the high-falutin'"
"I have amnesia!"
His brother gasped.
His aunt scrunched up her long thin nose. "Is that like milk of Magnesia?"
"No, Aunt Betty," Patrick muttered. "Amnesia. It means he can't remember anything."
Maggie exited the SUV. "It's true. Pierce has suffered from amnesia for almost five years."
Aunt Betty narrowed her eyes. "And who the devil are you?"
Pierce wrapped an arm around Maggie's shoulders. "This is my good friend, Maggie O'Brian."
"Humph." Aunt Betty sniffed. "You remember her name."
Patrick opened the front door and yelled, "Ma! Pierce is back!" He let the door slam shut and waited on the porch.
Pierce wondered if there was bad blood between him and his brother. Patrick hadn't even bothered to shake his hand. "Are we twins?"
Aunt Betty snorted. "Don't you know you're the oldest?"
"He has amnesia," Patrick reminded her. "You're three years older than me, Pierce, though you sure don't look like it."
Of course. When he'd become undead, he'd stopped aging.
A short, dark-haired woman ran onto the porch and gasped when she saw Pierce. "Santa Maria!" She dashed down the stairs. "Pierce Alejandro! I thought I'd never see you again." She pulled him into an embrace and burst into tears.
Pierce Alejandro? He gave Maggie a shocked look over his mother's head. He was part Hispanic, after all. Maggie grinned.
He patted his mother's back. "You are my mother, right?"
"Clam." She stepped back. "You don't remember?"
"He has amnesia," Patrick yelled from the porch.
His mother looked confused. "You don't remember us at all?"
"No, that's why I was gone for so long. I only found out yesterday that my name's Pierce O'Callahan."
His mother looked even more confused. "Then who were you before?"
"He doesn't remember!" Patrick shouted. "He has amnesia!"