I nodded, then glanced at the man I had thought was a Pet, still watching us from where he stood before the cell.

He met my gaze, solemn and unsmiling, but his expression wasn’t fearful or filled with hate. Perhaps I’d judged him a bit harshly, too.

“Thanks,” I said softly, and he nodded.

We followed the soldiers up the stairs, out of the building, and into a large jeep humming at the edge of the road.

No one spoke. Zeke and I sat pressed between two soldiers, guns held across their chests, gazing straight ahead. Outside the windows, I viewed the tent-and-rubble city, sprawled in messy rows past the pavement and reaching all the way to the distant wall. Ragged, shivering humans wandered the streets or huddled around metal drums, looking scared and miserable. Whatever was happening in Eden, it had to be horrible, to have driven the entire population here.

That did sound like Sarren.

“Do you know what’s going on?” I whispered to Zeke.

He nodded grimly.

“Mayor Hendricks will tell you everything,” he murmured back. “Better that you hear it all at once. But it’s awful, Allie.

I didn’t think it would be like this when I came back.” His voice turned steely. “Sarren has to die. I don’t care what happens to me, but we have to find Sarren and end this, once and for all.”

The vehicle pulled to a stop at another long cement building, one I recognized from my last stay. It was here that I’d watched the rest of the group being shuffled off to different parts of the building, never to see them again. It was here that I’d whispered my goodbyes to a sleeping, post-surgery Zeke, turned, and walked out of his life without looking back.

“The hospital?”

“Yes,” Zeke answered as we piled out of the car. “The mayor was badly injured in the flight from Eden and has been recuperating here ever since.”

The hospital was filled to capacity, rooms bulging with wounded humans, and the scent of blood and chemicals nearly knocked me down when I stepped through the doors.

People in stained white coats shuffled through the aisles of cots, checking patients, administering aid, trying to make them comfortable because that was all they could do anymore. Groans and soft cries of pain followed us as we walked through the rooms, and, surrounded by the wounded and vulnerable, my demon stirred restlessly. Injured people were everywhere. They had even spilled into the halls, huddled in blankets or curled up in corners, looking miserable. The monster, of course, watched them intently, urging me to take advantage of the sick and weak, easy prey. I pushed it down, but the scent of blood and fear made it hard to think of anything else. Halfway through the walk, Zeke reached down and took my hand, squeezing tightly as we ventured deeper into the hospital. He did not look at the beds or the rows of moaning, thrashing humans, keeping his gaze rigidly in front of us. But his eyes were glazed, and his jaw was clenched to keep his fangs from sliding out. I kept a firm grip on his hand as we continued down the halls.

Finally, the soldiers led us to a door at the end of the hall.

The two men guarding it eyed us warily as we approached but didn’t say anything as the lead soldier pushed open the door and motioned us in. Beyond the frame was a room that had probably been an office once. But the desk was gone, replaced with a single bed, and a man in a white coat hovered over it with his back to us. A pair of soldiers in combat fatigues stood by the door, giving us the evil eye as we came in. Glancing around the room, I spotted Kanin in a corner, nearly blending into the wall, and Jackal slouched against the back window with his arms crossed. He met my gaze across the room and grinned.

“Oh, hey, there’s the little stool pigeon herself. Make any new friends while in the slammer, sister?”

“Shut up, James. ”

The doctor turned at that, eyes widening behind his glasses when he saw me. He was a small, thin man with a balding head and long, elegant fingers. “You,” he blurted, blinking rapidly in the florescent lights. “It is you. The vampire girl.

I recognize you.”

I recognized him, as well. He was the doctor who’d taken care of Zeke’s injuries when we’d arrived several months ago.

He was also the person who had discovered I was a vampire, when he’d tried to listen for a heartbeat I didn’t have.

“Dr. Thomas,” rasped the person in the bed, and a man struggled to sit up. The doctor turned as if to help him but was waved away by a thick, bandaged arm. “Doctor, please.

I’m fine. Let me see the bloodsucker for myself.”

The doctor stepped aside, and I stared in astonishment.

The man in the bed was huge. Not tall or muscular, just…big. His stomach bulged against his hospital gown, his cheeks were pale but round, and his neck was thicker than anyone’s I’d ever seen. I’d heard the term fat before, but had never encountered such a thing before this. Hunger and starvation were so common in my world; I couldn’t imagine having so much food that your body would store it away for later.

His large torso was wrapped in bandages, his skin white and pasty beneath the cloth. His dark hair was short and damp with sweat, and the hand lying on his ample stomach was bandaged tightly, thick fingers twice the size of a normal person’s.

But his eyes, tiny and black, regarded me with a sharp, piercing gaze, one pencil-thin brow raised in surprise. “This is the vampire?” he asked no one in particular. His voice was surprising, too. High and clear. “A girl? I wasn’t expecting her to be so…small.”

We can’t all be walrus men, was the retort that sprang to mind, though I didn’t voice it out loud. Dealing with volatile vampire Princes had taught me the value of diplomacy, especially when talking to the people in charge. Jackal, of course, snorted a laugh, and I glared at him.

“She’s stronger than she looks,” Zeke said in a quiet voice, making the mayor blink at him. “Trust me on that.”

“Yes, but…” The mayor peered at me intently. “When they told me a vampire was being kept in the barracks, I was picturing something…older. Not a girl. She looks young enough to be my niece.”

I held my tongue again. You wouldn’t know a vampire if it walked up and bit you, I thought ungraciously. You have four vamps standing in this room right now, one of whom is a Master, and you’re making comments about my age? How did you get to be mayor of Eden, anyway?

“It doesn’t matter.” Kanin’s deep, calm voice echoed from the corner. “She is still a vampire, and you cannot afford to be choosy at this time, Mayor Hendricks. You need her.”

Tags: Julie Kagawa Blood of Eden Book Series
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