Katelina woke from a bad dream. She found Jorick beside her, still asleep. She brushed his hair back from his face and felt something tighten in her chest. Though last night was still on her mind, it was hidden behind the more recent, and vivid, nightmares. Sometimes she didn’t know which was worse; her dreams or her reality.
She slipped from the bed and shut herself in the bathroom with her last two cigarettes. Dressed in a sweatshirt and underwear, she perched on the edge of the bathtub and smoked one after the other. The smoke filled the room with an artificial fog. It did little to hide the bloody towel in the far corner of the bathtub, or her bloody memories.
The door opened as she stabbed the last cigarette out in the ashtray. Jorick leaned in and frowned. Though she expected a lecture, he only said, “You should get dressed. We’ll be leaving soon.” Then he disappeared.
When she joined him in the bedroom, he was in the middle of peeling off his bandages. As he’d predicted, the skin underneath was flawlessly smooth. She helped him with the ones on his back, then dressed. She was barely finished when the knock sounded.
Like Jorick, Oren and Kale were both healed. Kale’s blonde hair was combed behind his ears. Though he’d rolled up the sleeves on his borrowed shirt, the clothing was obviously too big. Oren looked as irritated as ever and carried a garbage bag. Before she could ask about it, he thrust the bag at Jorick. “Put the bullets and your ruined clothes in here. We’ll get rid of it later.”
Jorick cocked an amused eyebrow, though did as he was told. Finished, he tossed the bag to Oren. “What’s the plan?”
Kale answered, “I’d like to go back to my coven, assuming they’re alive.”
Jorick looked surprised. “You think otherwise?”
“I don’t remember anything that happened. For all I know, they could have been killed.” His lips tightened and Katelina recognized the fury in his eyes. It was the same look Jorick had when Verchiel practically kidnapped her and took her to The Guild.
Jorick nodded. “If I recall, your den is in Kentucky?”
Oren cut in, “Yes. We already discussed the driving directions. It should be a six hour trip, assuming we don’t have to stop frequently.” His disdainful gaze landed on Katelina.
She glared back, but Jorick let the comment slide with a simple, “All right, let’s go.”
Oren was right. The trip was just under six hours, even with two stops; one at a truck stop for Katelina and the other at a roadside park for the vampires. Katelina and Jorick sat in the back of the van, so she didn’t see the house until she climbed out into the snow. It was two stories of weathered Victorian farmhouse with broken gingerbread trim and peeling paint. It was exactly what she’d come to expect from vampire dens.
The only sign of life was a light in one of the downstairs windows. Katelina drew back apprehensively. Maybe Kale’s coven had been murdered.
“There’s someone here,” Jorick assured her softly, his stance cautious. “Several, actually.”
Oren moved to join them while Kale charged fearlessly forward, his expressions a mixture of apprehension and anger. He climbed the sagging porch and pounded on the back door.
As the echoes died away, the door jerked open. A red-haired woman leapt out and grabbed Kale in a suffocating hug. She kissed him passionately and Katelina looked away.
“Apparently someone is alive,” Oren remarked.
Jorick nodded and Katelina shifted uncomfortably. They watched as Kale released the woman and then caught her hands in his. Katelina could hear the low tones of a hurried conversation, but she couldn’t understand it. They broke apart and the woman headed back indoors. Kale motioned to them before he followed her inside.
Oren narrowed his eyes. “It looks as though everything is fine. I’d have almost rather they were dead. It would have seemed less like they’d betrayed him.”
“And less like they might betray us?” Jorick suggested.
Though Oren didn’t answer, Katelina could guess what he’d say: exactly.
“We don’t have to stay,” she said. “If we go now they can’t stop us.”
Jorick shook his head. “We have to find out what happened. If it’s one of Kateesha’s agents, we need to stop them before things get out of hand.”
“You’re not the vampire’s police chief, you know. You quit the Executioners a long time ago.”
Jorick cocked an irritated brow. “Yes, I know. Now, come, and keep your wits about you.”
“Good luck with that,” Oren muttered under his breath.
She shot back, “You’re one to talk.”
Jorick made a noise of impatience and tugged her towards the sagging porch. Oren followed silently. The steps creaked under their feet. Katelina was grateful to get indoors, if only because the floor was more solid.
A tall, broad shouldered vampire with ebony skin appeared in the doorway. Katelina’s heart caught in her chest. It was Saeed, one of Kateesha’s ex guards. When they’d run into him and Kale at the Citadel, Jorick told her that allegiances could change and she should let the past go. How could she? She remembered Saeed and his twin brother holding Jorick down while Kateesha tried to kill him.
Jorick squeezed her hand too tight. The look on his face said he’d read her thoughts. “Hello, Saeed.”
The dark vampire nodded and led them deeper into the house. The electric lamps cheered Katelina a bit; electricity wasn’t guaranteed in vampire dens. But, the modern convenience couldn’t chase away her thoughts of bloody vengeance.
Kale was seated at a large dining table. The red-haired woman fussed over him, touching his face, his shirt, his hair. Her head snapped up as Saeed led the guests into the room, and she stepped back to stand by Kale’s chair, her hand lying protectively on his shoulder. She was of medium height and build, and her copper colored hair hung in a long braid. Freckles were scattered over her pale face, and her features were uninteresting at best and at worst, plain. If it hadn’t been for the immortal attraction that vampirism gave its children, Katelina doubted she’d have noticed her.
At Kale’s gesture, Jorick and Katelina each took a chair. Oren hesitated, then unhappily took the one next to her.
Kale sent Saeed to find the others and Katelina sought reassurance in Jorick’s eyes. He offered her a smile that didn’t seem genuine.
The members of Kale’s coven filtered in and soon the six of them were in the dining room, their voices a babble of thankfulness.
If they’re so happy to see him, why didn’t they rescue him?
Kale interrupted the reunion. “Introductions are in order.” He pointed to each in turn, starting with the redheaded woman. “This is Rachel.” He next gestured to a dark haired male with a scar across his right cheek, who looked like he might be part Native American. “This is Joseff. This is Jorick and his human and Oren.” He indicated a pair of twenty-something brunette twins that looked identical except that one wore glasses. “Alex and Yaul.” Alex, the one with glasses, nodded. “And Saeed.”
Joseff studied their visitors with dark, narrowed eyes. “What are they doing here?”
Though Jorick leaned back casually in his chair, his eyes met the challenge. “We brought your coven master back to you, since you were too busy to go yourself.”
“We turned it over to The Guild,” Joseff bit back.
Yaul stepped forward, though his twin tried to stop him. “And they didn’t do anything, just like I said they wouldn’t.” His eyes went to Rachel, who looked away, her cheeks pink.
Jorick met Joseff’s angry stare. “When did you go to them?”
Rachel answered for him. Her voice was nasal, but softened by a southern accent. “The night Kale disappeared. The decision was mine, not Joseff’s. I know it’s best not to involve them, but none of us are Hunters.” Her eyes dropped to Kale. “We didn’t know where you’d gone or what had happened!”
Kale patted her hand. “You did what you thought was best.”
Jorick’s eyes smoldered with interest. “How many days was Kale missing?”
Rachel answered without hesitation, “Ten.”
Jorick seemed to count the days in his head. “We found out that he was missing a week after the fact - in a tabloid, no less - yet the Executioners arrived after us.”
Without thinking, Katelina said, “Verchiel was busy with the murder. He probably had to do that before he could go get Kale.”
At her words the hostility in the room increased, especially from Jorick.
“Verchiel?” Yaul demanded.
“The Wind Walker,” Kale explained. “He’s one of the Executioners.”
Joseff snarled. “The Wind Walker has never helped anyone. He breezes in, jokes and leaves again. Trust Jorick to have a friend among them still, especially one like him.”
Jorick all but roared, “He’s no friend of mine! And murder or no murder, he might have done something sooner!”
Alex cleared his throat loudly. “Not to interrupt, but we’re getting sidetracked. Where have you been Kale, what tabloid are you talking about and what murder?”
Jorick took the last question. “The murder has nothing to do with this.”
“Let me be the judge of that,” Joseff snapped.
Jorick rolled his eyes. “It was a few days ago, roughly an hour and a half from my den. Three vampires were killed during the day. Their two coven mates woke, found them and panicked. Luckily, I suppose, they ran into a member of the lesser guard, who reported it to The Guild. The redheaded idiot was sent to investigate.”
“And where are the survivors?” Joseff asked suspiciously.
With exaggerated patience Jorick answered, “They joined Traven’s coven.”
Yaul interrupted, “Who’s Traven?”
“He has an alliance with Oren,” Kale said.
Jorick brushed their interruptions aside impatiently. “As I said, it has nothing to do with this. And as for the tabloid-” he pulled the wrinkled article from his pocket and tossed it on the table, “- you can read it for yourself.”
They took turns handing the article around, then Kale launched into his story. He’d gone out to feed alone, then everything had gone black. He woke up in the detainment cell, where he’d been informed that he was going to be tested.
From that point on, he said, things were a blur. At first they fed him and drew blood, rendering him helpless with a gas. Then they starved him for the last four days, only feeding him his own blood, which didn’t nourish him.
As he spoke, Rachel’s hand tightened on his shoulder and her jaw clenched. The others made appropriate noises of outrage, except Jorick who looked even more interested.
“What gas?” he asked.
Joseff glared. “Does it matter?”
“It might. If they already have a gas that can stop a vampire…”
“You think they’ve studied vampires before?” Oren asked.
Katelina shifted in her squeaky chair. She’d read crazy things before that said people had captured everything from aliens to Bigfoot. What if they really had experimented on a vampire before?
Alex looked thoughtful. “If they have a knock-out gas, for lack of a better word, that explains how they were able to subdue Kale and abduct him. But, how did they find him?”
“That’s the question,” Oren agreed. “Who else knows the location of your den?”
“The Guild must, if they summoned Kale to the Citadel,” Jorick said. “If they know, it wouldn’t be too hard for someone who wanted the information to get it.”
Kale looked concerned. “There was that messenger, while I was at The Guild.” He caught Joseff’s eyes. “The one who left an address in Florida and wanted to know where Kateesha’s possessions were.”
“A ruse, maybe? Sent to make sure of your whereabouts?” Jorick suggested.
Kale shrugged. “But who? If it was someone with a personal vendetta, why didn’t they just kill me? Why hand me over to humans?”
Rachel interrupted, “Whoever is responsible didn’t want you dead. They wanted you to suffer, and we both know who that is!”
“No,” Kale said softly. “It wouldn’t be.”
When no more information seemed forthcoming, Jorick asked patiently, “I don’t suppose you’d like to tell the rest of us who you have in mind?”
Without meeting Kale’s eyes, Rachel answered, “Thomas.”
The name was familiar and Katelina whispered to Jorick, “She doesn’t mean Anya’s brother, the one who spied on us for Kateesha’s coven and then tried to blame you for it?”
“Yes,” Rachel cut in. “The one who betrayed you and the one who made me.”
Kale growled low in his throat and the air palpably thickened with unease. “It wasn’t him.”
“How do you know?” she asked. “You remember the things he used to do, Kale. You know what he’s like!”
Katelina thought suddenly of the makeshift trial, when she’d been exonerated of willful sabotage by murdering Kateesha. Afterwards, Thomas had said something about Kale… Something like, “You might be surprised what I have the balls to do. Why don’t you ask Kale about that sometime?” With that memory came a new curiosity.
Jorick cocked an inquisitive eyebrow. “Why does Thomas have a grudge against Kale?”
“Yeah, I’d like to know that,” Yaul said, looking from one to the other.
Kale sighed and Rachel visibly steeled herself. “Thomas and his sister had a lot of money once. They lived in a large plantation house. My family was poor, so when they took me on as a servant my parents was elated. I worked there for a short time before I discovered what they were,” she glanced to Saeed, but he didn’t meet her eyes. “That happened a lot back then,” she explained, looking at Katelina. “Vampires weren’t as careful because no one listened to what slaves or servants said. Anyhow, Thomas took a liking to me and he turned me.” She faltered. “He wasn’t the kindest of masters. I met Kale at a ball. He was in attendance with Claudius, and we…” Though she trailed off, the pink tint to her cheeks told the rest of the story.
“After that he tried to convince Thomas to free me, but he refused and turned even crueler. When Kale had had enough of it, he came for me.”
Yaul poked Joseff in the ribs, “Did you know that?”
“Yes,” he answered testily. “I helped rescue her.”
Rachel met Jorick’s eyes. “That night, Thomas swore he’d get revenge, that he’d make them suffer. He joined your fight against Claudius readily enough, and now he’s looking to make Kale suffer.”
“Except he didn’t,” Oren said. “Neither he nor his sister were interested in the war with Claudius. They didn’t join me until afterwards. It was Kateesha and The Guild they wanted to fight.”
“Or so they said,” Rachel insisted. “It had to be him. There’s no one else.”
Joseff nodded, his angry eyes burning. “Thomas is the only one who’d do such a cowardly thing.”
“Works for me!” Yaul slapped the table. “So when do we wipe them out?”
Kale sighed heavily. “I’m not sure it was Thomas.”
“There’s no one else.” Rachel took Kale’s hands. “I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t think it was true, you know that. I don’t believe in vengeance for vengeance’s sake. But Kale, if he’s trying to hurt you...” her voice cracked. “If he’s hurting you, then I want him hurt.”
“I know.” Kale’s hand strayed up to her cheek, and he wiped away an errant tear. “All right, Thomas it is.” He turned to Oren. “The deal we discussed earlier?”
“Deal?” Katelina whispered, and Jorick just shrugged.
Oren nodded. “I keep my word.”
“Very well.” Kale stood. He leaned on the table and let his blue eyes sweep over the assembled vampires. “Last night, Oren promised the help of his coven to fight whoever was responsible for my imprisonment, if we assist in his battle with The Guild. I accept his offer.” He straightened up and looked to Oren and Jorick. “When can they be here?”
Katelina groaned silently.