"'Nuisance'?" asked Cody incredulously. "Even after Duane? Aren't you the least bit worried about this person coming after you? After us?"


"No," said Peter. "I am not."

I shared Cody's confusion. "Why not?"

"Because this person, whoever he or she is, is a total amateur." Peter glanced over at Hugh and me. "What did Jerome say about Duane's death?"

Deciding I needed a drink myself, I raided my kitchen liquor cabinet and made a vodka gimlet. "He wanted to know if I did it."

Peter made a dismissive gesture. "No, about how he died."

Hugh frowned, apparently trying to piece together the logic afoot. "He said that Duane had been found dead - with a stake through his heart."

"There. You see?"

Peter looked at us expectantly. We all looked back, baffled.

"I don't get it," I finally said.

Peter sighed, again looking utterly put out. "If you are a mortal who has the semidivine ability to kill a vampire, it doesn't f**king matter how you do it. You can use a gun, a knife, a candlestick, or whatever. The stake through the heart thing is hearsay. If a normal mortal does it to a vampire, it won't do a damned thing except really piss the vampire off. We only hear about it when a vampire hunter does it, so it carries some special superstitious lure, when really, it's only like that egg thing on the equinoxes."

"What?" Hugh looked totally lost.

I rubbed my eyes. "I actually know what he's talking about, as scary as that is to admit. There's this urban myth that eggs balance on their ends during the equinoxes. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but the truth is, you'd get the same results any time of the year. People only try it on the equinoxes, however, so that's all anyone notices." I glanced over at Peter. "Your point is that a vampire hunter could kill a vampire in any number of ways, but because the stake gets all the attention, that's what has become the accepted method of... 'revocation of immortality.' "

"In people's minds," he corrected. "In reality, it's a pain in the ass to drive a stake through someone's heart. A lot easier to shoot them."

"And so you think this hunter is an amateur because..." Cody trailed off, obviously unconvinced by the compelling egg analogy.

"Because any vampire hunter worth his or her snuff knows that and wouldn't use a stake. This person's a total newbie."

"First," I advised Peter, "don't say 'worth his snuff.' That expression's out-of-style and makes you sound dated. Second, maybe this hunter was just trying to be old-school or something. And even if this person is a 'newbie,' does it really matter since they managed to take out Duane?"

Peter shrugged. "He was an arrogant ass**le. Vampires can sense vampire hunters at close range. Combined with this one's inexperience, Duane should have never been taken. He was stupid."

I opened my mouth to counter this. I would be among the first to agree that Duane had indeed been both arrogant and an ass**le, but stupid he was not. Immortals could not live as long as we did and see as many things as we did without gleaning substantial know-how and street smarts. We grew up quickly, so to speak.

Another question moved to the forefront of my reasoning. "Can these hunters hurt other immortals? Or just vampires?"

"Only vampires, as far as I know."

Something didn't add up here between Peter's comments and Jerome's. I couldn't quite put my finger on what was bothering me exactly, so I kept my misgivings to myself as the others chatted on. The vampire hunter topic soon became passe, once they'd decided - with some disappointment - I hadn't contracted anybody. Cody and Hugh also seemed content to buy Peter's theory that an amateur hunter posed no real threat.

"Be careful, you two," I warned the vampires when they were getting ready to leave. "Newbie or no, Duane is still dead."

"Yes, Mom," answered Peter disinterestedly, putting on his coat.

I gave Cody a sharp look, and he squirmed a bit. He was easier to manipulate than his mentor. "I'll be careful, Georgina."

"Call me if anything weird happens."

He nodded, earning an eye roll from Peter. "Come on," said the older vampire. "Let's get some dinner."

I had to smile at that. While vampires getting dinner might have frightened most people, I knew better. Peter and Cody both hated hunting human victims. They did it on occasion but rarely killed when they did. Most of their sustenance came from extra-rare butcher shop purchases. Like me, they were half- assingtheir infernal jobs.

"Hugh," I said sharply as he was about to follow the vampires out. "A word, please."

The vampires gave Hugh sympathetic looks before leaving. The imp grimaced, closing the door and facing me.

"Hugh, I gave you that key for emergencies - "

"Vampire murder doesn't constitute an emergency?"

"I'm serious! It's bad enough Jerome and Carter can teleport in here without you deciding to open up my home to God and the world."

"I don't think God was invited tonight."

"And then, you went and told them about the demon-girl outfit..."

"Oh come on," he protested. "That was too good to keep to myself. Besides, they're our friends. What's it matter?"

"It matters because you said you weren't going to tell," I growled. "What kind of friend are you? Especially after I helped you out last night?"

"Christ, Georgina. I'm sorry. I didn't know you'd take it so personally."

I ran a hand through my hair. "It's not just that. It's... I don't know. It's this whole business with Duane. I was thinking about what Jerome told me..."

Hugh waited, giving me time to gather my thoughts, sensing I was about to unleash something. My mind pondered the night's unfolding as I studied the imp's large shape beside me. He could be as silly as the vampires sometimes; I didn't know if I could speak seriously to him.

"Hugh... how do you know if a demon is lying?"

There was a pause, then he emitted a soft laugh, recognizing the old joke. "His lips are moving." We leaned against my counter, and he studied me from his greater height. "Why? Do you think Jerome's lying to us?"

"Yes, I do." Another pause followed.

"Tell me then."

"Jerome told me to be careful, said I could be mistaken for a vampire."

"He told me the same thing."

"But Peter said vampire hunters can't kill us."

"You ever had a stake driven through your heart? It might not kill you, but I bet you wouldn't like it."

"Fair enough. But Jerome claimed vampire hunters find other vampires by following their prey. That's bullshit. Cody and Peter are the exception. You know how most vampires are - they don't hang out with other vampires. Following one generally won't lead to another."

"Yeah, but he said this one was a newbie."

"Jerome didn't say that. That was Peter's theory based on the stake."

Hugh gave a conciliatory grunt. "Okay. So what do you think is going on?"

"I don't know. I just know these stories are contradicting each other. And Carter seemed awfully involved, like he was in on some secret with Jerome. Why should Carter even care? His side should technically approve of someone picking off our people."

"He's an angel. Isn't he supposed to love everyone, even the damned? Especially when said damned are his drinking buddies."

"I don't know. There's more here than we're being told... and Jerome seemed so adamant about me being careful. You too, apparently."

He stayed quiet a few moments before finally saying, "You're a pretty girl, Georgina."

I started. So much for serious talk. "Did you drink more than that beer?"

"I forget, though," he continued, ignoring my question, "that you're also a smart one. I work around shallow women so much - suburban housewives wanting smoother skin and bigger br**sts - who have no other concerns but their appearances. It's easy to get caught up in the stereotypes and forget that you have a brain in there too, behind your beautiful face. You see things differently than the rest of us - more clearly, I guess. Sort of a bigger picture kind of thinking. Maybe it's your age - no offense."

"You did drink too much. Besides, I'm not smart enough to figure out what Jerome isn't telling us unless... there aren't really succubus or imp hunters out there, are there?"

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