For most of the time that I'd lived in the Tri-Cities, Mrs. Hanna had pushed her grocery cart along the same path from dawn to dusk. I'd never actually followed her, but I'd seen her any number of places so I had a pretty good idea about most of her route. I didn't have any idea about how she'd changed it, so I had to look everywhere.

When I passed the first church, I pulled over to the side of the road and pulled out a notebook I kept in the car and wrote down the name of the church and its address. After an hour I had a list of eleven churches, reasonably near the KPD, none of which had flaming signs that said sorcerer sleeping here. The sun was noticeably low in the sky and my stomach was tight with dread.

If I was wrong that the reason Mrs. Hanna had to change her route was to avoid Littleton, then I'd wasted the last hour. If I was right, I was still running out of time.

I was also running out of places to look. I pulled over by Kennewick High and tried to think. If Mrs. Hanna hadn't changed her route it would be easier to find her. If she hadn't been dead it would have been easier yet. I was counting on being able to see her, but ghosts quite often manifest only to some senses: disembodied voices, cold spots, or just a whiff of perfume.

If I didn't find her soon it would be dark and I'd have to face Littleton during the height of his power-both as a demon and a vampire.

I stopped at the light on Garfield and Tenth. It was one of those lights that stayed red for a long time even when there was no oncoming traffic. "At least I wouldn't have to face Littleton alone after dark because I can call Andre." I pounded my hands on the steering wheel, impatient with the red light. "But if I don't find Mrs. Hanna before night, I won't find her at all." Mrs. Hanna went home at night.

I said it out loud because I couldn't believe how stupid I'd been. "Mrs. Hanna goes home at night."

There was still no traffic coming so I put my foot down, and for the first time in my adult life I ran a red light. Mrs. Hanna had lived in a little trailer park along the river, just east of the Blue Bridge and it took me five minutes and three red lights to get down to that area. I ran those lights, too.

I found her pushing her cart on the sidewalk next to the VW dealership. Parking my car on the wrong side of the street, I jumped out, biting back the urge to shout her name. Startled ghosts tend to disappear.

With that in mind I didn't say anything at all when I caught up to her. Instead I walked along beside her for a quarter of a block.

"What a nice evening," she said at last. "I do think we're due for a break in the weather."


"I hope so." I took two deep breaths. "Mrs. Hanna, pardon my rudeness, but I was wondering about that change in your usual walk."

"Of course, dear," she said absently. "How is that young man of yours?"

"That's the problem," I told her. "I think that he's run into some trouble. Could you tell me again why you came by my shop at a different time?"

"Oh, yes. Very sad. Joe told me the way I usually walk wasn't safe. Our poor Kennewick is getting to be such a big city, isn't it? Terrible when it's not safe for a woman to walk in the daytime anymore."

"Terrible," I agreed. "Who is Joe and where is it he doesn't want you walking."

She stopped her cart and smiled at me gently. "Oh, you know Joe, dear. He's been the janitor at the old Congregational church forever. He's very upset at what's happened to his building, but then who consults the janitor?"

"Where is it?" I asked.

She looked over at me with a puzzled look on her face. "Do I know you, dear? You look familiar." Before I could form a suitable reply she glanced up at the setting sun, "I'm afraid I must be going. It's not safe after dark you know."

She left me standing alone in front of the trailer court.

"Congregational church," I said sprinting for my car. I knew that none of the churches I'd written down had the word Congregational in it, but I also had a phone book I kept in the car.

There were no listings for a Congregational church in the yellow pages so I turned to the white pages and found a single listing in Paseo, which was not helpful. Mrs. Hanna's route didn't take her across the river.

I pulled out my cell phone and called Gabriel's phone number. One of his little sisters had a thing about ghosts. If her mother wasn't there, and you let her get started, she'd tell ghost stories the whole time she worked cleaning the office.

"Hi, Mercy," he answered. "What's up?"

"I need to talk to Rosalinda about some local ghost stories." I told him. "Is she there?"

There was a little pause.

"Are you having trouble with ghosts?"

"No, I need to find one."

He pulled his mouth away from the phone. "Rosalinda, come over here."

" I'm watching TV, can't Tia do it? She hasn't done anything today."

"It's not work. Mercy wants to pick your brains."

There were a few small noises as Gabriel handed over the phone.

"Hello?" Her voice was much more hesitant when she was talking to me than it had been when she was talking to her brother.

"Didn't you tell me you did a report on local ghosts for school last year."

"Yes," she said with a little more enthusiasm. "I got an A."

"I need to know if you've heard anything about the ghost of a janitor named Joe who used to work at a church." He didn't have to be a ghost, I thought. After all, I talked to Mrs. Hanna, and I wasn't a ghost. And even if he was a ghost, that didn't mean there were stories about him.

"Oh, yes. Yes." Gabriel didn't have an accent at all, but his sister's clear Spanish vowels added color to her voice as it brightened with enthusiasm. "Joe is very famous. He worked his whole life cleaning his church, until he was sixty-four, I think. One Sunday, when the priest... no they called him something else. Pastor, I think, or minister. Anyway when he came to open the church he found Joe dead in the kitchen. But he stayed there anyway. I talked to people who used to go to church there. They said that sometimes there were lights on at night when there was no one there. And doors would lock themselves. One person said they saw him on the stairway, but I'm not sure I believe that. That person just liked to tell stories."

"Where is it?" I asked her.

"Oh. Not too far from our apartment," she said. "Down on Second or Third, just a couple of blocks from Washington." Not far from the police department either. "I went over to take pictures of it. It isn't a church anymore. The church people built a new building and sold the old one to another church about twenty years ago. Then it sold to some other people who tried to run a private school. They went bankrupt, there was a divorce, and one of them, I can't remember if it was the husband or the wife, killed themselves. The church was empty the last time I went by there."

"Thank you, Rosalinda," I said. "That's exactly what I needed to know."

"Do you believe in ghosts?" she asked. "My mother says they are nonsense."

"Perhaps they are," I said, not wanting to contradict her mother. "But there are a lot of people who believe all sorts of nonsense. Take care."

She laughed. "You too. Goodbye, Mercy."

I hit the end button and looked at the darkening sky. There was one way to tell if the vampires were up. I pulled Andre's card out of my back pocket and called him.

"Hello, Mercy," he answered. "What are we doing tonight?"

As soon as Andre answered the phone, I knew that my chance at finding the sorcerer in a daytime stupor was gone. I could wait until the next morning. Then we could go after him with Bran. Bran was, in my mind, exempt from the effects of the demon. I just couldn't imagine the thing that could break his icy calmness.

But if we waited for help, waited for the morning, I was almost certain that both Adam and Samuel would be dead.

"I know where he is," I told Andre. "Meet me at my shop."

"Marvelous. I will be there as soon as I can," he said. "I have some preparations to do first, but I won't be long."

I drove there to wait for him. I called Bran's cell phone and got a voice mail request. I took it as a sign that he would be too late to help. I told him to look in the safe in my shop and gave him the combination. Then I sat down at the computer and typed out everything pertinent about what I was doing and where I was going. I wasn't going to leave everyone wondering what happened to me the way everyone else who had gone after Littleton had.

When I finished, Andre still wasn't there, so I checked my home e-mail. My mother had sent me two e-mails, but the third was from an unfamiliar address with attached files. I was about to delete it when I saw that the subject line read


Beckworth, true to his word, had gotten information about Littleton for me. His e-mail was short and to the point.

Ms. Thompson,

Here is all the information I could find. It comes from a friend of mine who is with the Chicago police and owes me some favors. Littleton disappeared from Chicago about a year ago where he was being investigated as a murder suspect. My friend told me that if I knew where this guy was, he'd appreciate hearing about it-and the FBI are looking for him as well.

Thanks again,


There were four pdf files and a couple of jpgs. I opened the jpgs. The first picture was a full color shot of Littleton standing on the corner of a city street. On the bottom right-hand corner the photo was date-stamped April of last year.

He was a good forty pounds heavier than when I'd last seen him. There was no way to be certain, but something about the way he was standing made me believe that he'd been human then.

I opened up the second picture. Littleton in a nightclub talking to another man. Littleton 's face was animated, as I'd never seen it in real life. The man he was talking to was turned so all I could see was his profile. But that was enough: it was Andre.

Andre pulled up just as I finished printing out a second letter to Bran. I tossed it into the safe, grabbed Zee's vampire-slaying backpack and went out to meet my fate.

Andre drove us out of my parking lot in his black BMW Z8. It suited him in the same way that Stefan's version of the Mystery Machine had suited him. It surprised me a little because Andre had never impressed me as elegant and powerful. I gave him a quick look under my lashes and realized that tonight he was both, reminding me that he was one of the six most powerful vampires in the seethe.

He'd turned a sorcerer into a vampire so that he could be the most powerful. And I was betting my life that he had lost control of the sorcerer the night Stefan and I met Littleton.

Andre was something of an enigma to me, so I was trusting Stefan's judgement, and the judgement of Stefan's menagerie that he was loyal to Marsilia and jealous of Stefan.

Daniel had been a trial, to see what Littleton could do against a new-made vampire. If matters had not worked out well, Andre could have dealt with it-Daniel was his, after all. But Littleton had proven himself, so Andre had set him up against Stefan. But if Andre were still Marsilia's man, then he would not have condoned the bloodbath at the hotel. It was too likely to have drawn attention to the vampire. But the one thing that made me believe that Littleton was not following orders that night was that Stefan survived. Andre, I thought, would have killed Stefan. Not because of Marsilia's affection-but because Stefan was always, so clearly, the better man.

So I got in a car with the vampire who'd created Littleton because I believed he wanted the sorcerer as much as I did-he couldn't afford for Littleton to continue to run free, making more and more trouble for him. And I got in that car because I knew that Andre was my only chance to keep Adam and Samuel alive.

"A church is holy ground," Andre informed me when I told him where we were going. "He can't be in a church: he's a vampire."

I rubbed my face, ignored the little voice that kept repeating "we have to find them," and tried to think. I was so tired. I'd been up, I realized, for over forty hours without sleep.

"Okay," I said. "I remember hearing vampires can't stand on holy ground." Slipped in among a dozen things that weren't true-say, for instance, the one about vampires crossing water. "But if Littleton was staying in a church, how could you explain it?"

He turned onto Third and slowed way down so we could look for likely buildings. Gabriel's sister hadn't told me which side of Washington the church was on. Since my shop was east of there, that's where we started. I pressed several buttons and finally got my window to roll down so I could sniff the air.

"All right," he said. "Maybe the demon changes the rules, but they're not supposed to be able to abide holy ground either. Or, the church could have been desecrated."

"It was a school for a while," I said hopefully.

He shook his head. "Not unless it was a whorehouse. It takes one of the great sins to desecrate a church-adultery, murder-something of that nature."

"How about a suicide?" I asked. Gabriel's sister hadn't said the suicide had taken place in the church-but she hadn't said it hadn't happened there either.

He glanced at me. "Then I think a demon would take great delight in living in a desecrated church."

The traffic on Washington was light tonight and he goosed the little sports car across all four lanes without stopping for the stop sign.

"When this is over," I muttered darkly, "I am never getting in a car with a vampire driving again."

Rosalinda was right. The church was two blocks off of Washington. There were no signs around it, but it was unmistakably a church.

It was bigger than I expected, almost three times the size of the church I attended on Sundays. The old church had once had a fair sized yard, but there was little left of it but sunburnt weeds chopped almost level with the ground. The parking lot had faired little better, the blacktop had worn down until it was more rock than tar and bleached weeds poked out through branching cracks in the surface. I looked, but I couldn't see any sign of the BMW Littleton had been driving.

Andre pulled over as soon as we saw the church, parking his car across the street, in front of a two-story Victorian home that looked as though it might once have been a farm house.

"I don't see his car," I said.

"Maybe he's already out hunting," said Andre. "But I think you're right, he was here. This is someplace he would stay." He closed his eyes and inhaled. It made me realize that he hadn't been breathing tonight except a couple of shallow breaths before he talked. I must be getting used to being around vampires. Ugh.

I took a deep breath myself, but there were too many scents around. Dogs, cats, cars, blacktop that had baked all day in the hot sun, and plants. I knew without looking that there was a rose garden behind the house we were standing in front of-and that someone nearby was composting. I couldn't smell werewolf, demon, or vampire-except for Andre. I hadn't realized how much I'd been counting on some sign that Adam or Samuel had been here.

"I don't smell anything."

Andre lifted an eyebrow and I realized that under the right circumstances he was very good looking-and that I'd been right, there was something different about him, something more tonight.

"He's not stupid," he said. "Only a stupid vampire leaves a trail to his doorstep." There was a little bit of pride in his voice.

He looked at the church a moment, then starting walking across the street, leaving me to trot after him.

"Shouldn't we be practicing a little stealth?" I asked.

"If he's at home, he'll know we're here anyway," he told me helpfully. "If he's not, then it doesn't matter."

I stretched my senses as far as I could, and wished that the roses didn't have quite so strong a scent. I couldn't smell anything. I wished I was certain that Andre would fight on my side tonight.

"So if we're not trying to take him by surprise," I asked, "why did you park across the street?"

"I paid over a hundred grand for that car," Andre told me mildly. "And I'm moderately fond of it. I'd hate to see it destroyed in a fit of temper."

"Why aren't you more afraid of Littleton?" I asked. I was afraid. I could smell my own fear over and above the roses, which had, oddly enough, grown stronger after we crossed the street.

Andre stepped off the road and onto the sidewalk, then came to a full stop and looked at me. "I fed deeply this evening," he said with an odd smile. "The Mistress herself did me that honor. With the ties that already bind us, and her blood fresh within me, I can call upon her gifts and her power at my need. It will take more than a new-made vampire, even one aided by a demon, to defeat us."

I remembered how easily Littleton had subdued Stefan and had my doubts. "Then why didn't Marsilia just come herself?" I asked.

His jaw dropped in genuine shock. " Marsilia is a lady. Women do not belong in combat."

"So you brought me instead?"

He opened his mouth then closed it again, looking a little embarrassed by what he'd been about to say to me.

"What?" I asked, beginning to be a little amused-which was better than terrified. "Isn't it polite to tell someone she's expendable because she's not a vampire?"

At a loss, he started up the cement steps that led to the worn double doors that hadn't been painted in too many years. I followed, but stayed a step behind.

"No," he said finally, his hand on the doorknob. "And I prefer to be polite." He turned to look down at me. "My mistress was certain that you were the only person who would be able to find this vampire. She gets glimpses of the future sometimes. Not often, but what she does see is seldom wrong."

"So do we all survive?" I asked.

He shook his head. "I do not know. I do understand, though, that you have taken great risk for the honor of the seethe. You are so fragile-" He reached out and rested his fingertips against my cheek. "Almost human. On my honor, I promise to do everything in my power to see that you are safe."

His eyes caught me for a moment before I took two quick steps back, all but falling over the steps. Stefan's honor I trusted-Andre's was questionable.

Both of the front doors were locked, but neither had been designed to keep out a vampire. He put a shoulder against one of the doors and broke the frame so the door swung open freely. Apparently we weren't being subtle tonight.

I slid Zee's backpack down my arms and retrieved the stake and knife. Zee'd included the belt and sheath for the knife so at least I didn't have to run around with the knife in one hand and the stake in the other. I waited for Andre to ask me what I was doing with a knife, but he ignored me. All of his attention was on the church.

Andre stood poised outside the threshold.

"What happens if it is still holy ground?" I asked, hurriedly tying the belt.

"Then I burst into flames," he said. "But if it was holy ground I should have felt it before this." As he spoke, he stepped through the doorway and stood fully inside the church. "This isn't hallowed ground," he told me, rather redundantly.

I followed him into a large foyer and then looked around. The foyer was large enough for ten or twenty people to have milled around comfortably. The flooring was linoleum tile, cracked and pitted with age. There was a wide stairway leading upward that had a rather nicely carved handrail. Beside the stairway was a pair of double doors, propped open so I could see the large, empty room beyond them that must have been the sanctuary.

The whole church was dark, but there were windows high up that let in a little illumination from the streetlights outside. A real human might have had trouble navigating, but it was light enough for Andre and me.

He stalked over to the sanctuary doors and sniffed. "Come here, walker," he said, his voice dark and rough. "Tell me what you smell."

I could have told him from where I stood, but I stuck my head into the sanctuary.

The ceiling soared two stories above our heads with frosted windows on both walls that glimmered silver with the dim light of the city night. The floor was hardwood, scarred where pews had once been bolted in.

The walls and some of the windows of the sanctuary had been covered with graffiti-probably done by the neighborhood kids. I just didn't see either a vampire or demon writing things like For a Good Time Call  -  or Juan loves Penny. There were a few gang tags, too.

At the far end from us was a raised platform. Like the rest of the room, it was stripped as well, the podium and organ or piano long gone. But someone had cobbled together a table out of cinder blocks. I didn't have to go closer to know what that table had been used for.

"Blood and death," I said. I closed my eyes. It helped me catch the fainter scents and kept me from crying. "Ben," I said. " Warren. Daniel. And Littleton."

We'd found the sorcerer's lair.

"But not Stefan." Andre stood behind me, and his voice echoed in the rafters of the room.

I couldn't read anything from his voice, but I was not comfortable with him at my back. I remembered Naomi telling me that all of the vampires lost control sometimes-and the room smelled of blood and death.

I walked past him back out to the foyer. "Not Stefan," I agreed. "At least not in there."

There was a hallway on the other side of the foyer with doors opening off either side. I opened the doors and found three rooms and a closet with a hot water heater and a large fuse box.

"He won't be up here," Andre said. "There are too many windows." He hadn't followed me, just waited in the foyer until I finished my search.

His eyes weren't glowing, which I took to be a good sign.

"There's a basement," I told him. "I saw the windows outside."

We found the stairs to the basement tucked neatly behind the stairway to the choir loft. He didn't seem to mind me being behind him, even with my stake, so I followed him down.

Our footsteps, quiet as they were, sounded hollow in the stairwell. The air was dry and dusty. Andre opened the door at the bottom and the scents in the air changed abruptly.

Now I smelled Stefan, Adam, and Samuel as well as Littleton  -  but the strongest scent of all of them was the demon. As it had at the hotel, after only a few breaths, the reek of demon drowned out everything else. The door at the bottom of the stairway had kept the scents contained.

We walked even more quietly now, though, as Andre had said, if Littleton was here, he'd have heard us come in.

The basement was darker than upstairs, and someone without preternatural sight might have had trouble seeing at all. We were in an entryway, similar to the foyer upstairs.

There were a pair of bathrooms next to the stairway; and the men sign fell off when I pushed open the first door. Streetlights filtered through glass block windows allowing me to see that the room was empty except for a broken urinal leaning crookedly against one wall.

I let the door close. Andre had checked the other restroom and was already walking past a cloakroom and into a short hallway, the duplicate of the one upstairs complete with doors.

I left him to it and started on the other side of the stairs. The first room I walked into was a generous-sized kitchen, though there were only empty spaces where a refrigerator and stove had been. The cabinets were hanging open and bare. Along the inside wall there was a folding half-door covering the top of the counter. With it open, the church members could have served food from the kitchen to the room on the other side without walking back out to the foyer.

Something scuttled behind me and I spun around, but it was only a mouse. We stared at each other for a moment before it went on its way. My heart was beating like a drum in my ears-stupid mouse.

I came out to find Andre standing in front of the double doors next to the kitchen. The door was chained shut and locked with a shiny new padlock.

He put his hand on the door and something beyond the door growled softly-a werewolf.

"He won't have left them free," Andre said, though he made no effort to break the chain. "That door would never hold a werewolf who wanted out."

" Andre?" Stefan called out. "Is that you? Who's with you?"

"Stefan?" Andre whispered, frozen in place.

"Open the door." I pushed on his shoulder urgently. Stefan was alive. If I could have ripped the doors off the hinges myself, I would have. Stefan and at least one of the wolves were still alive.

Andre took hold of the chain gingerly and pulled until one of the links broke.

I reached past him and jerked on the chain, letting it fall to the floor as I pushed one of the heavy doors open. I slipped past Andre and found myself in a gymnasium the size of the sanctuary upstairs. The small windows on one side had been covered with black paper and taped with duct tape, but there was a torchiere lamp with a dim bulb hooked up to a car battery that provided enough light to see by.

In the very center of the room, Stefan sat cross-legged inside a large dog crate, the kind you can buy at a pet store. About ten feet away there were more crates lined up next to each other. Something tight and angry eased as my eyes found a leggy red wolf, a muscular silver and black wolf, and a huge white wolf with crystalline eyes: Ben, Adam and Samuel.

Andre rushed past me and knelt in front of Stefan's cage. He touched the latch and the dim bulb flickered. Magic sometimes has an odd effect on electricity-I heard a humming noise and Andre jerked his hand back, shaking it briskly.

"The cages are spelled," said Stefan dryly. "Otherwise don't you think my companions over there would have torn them to pieces?"

I noticed then that he was being very careful not to touch the bars on the side of the cage. He looked drawn and as pale as I'd ever seen him. His usual T-shirt was splattered with old blood, but other than that he looked like himself.

"A lot of people think you're dead," said Andre.

"Ah," said Stefan, turning his brooding gaze toward me. "They are mistaken."

Stefan was alive and well, but I wasn't so certain about the rest.

I took a step toward the wolves, and the red wolf in the Ben hadn't wanted out. He'd wanted to eat me. Uncle Mike had been right. Demons had a bad effect on werewolves.

"The demon's magic makes it quite impossible to escape these cages," said Stefan behind me. His voice was mild, but somehow I knew he was angrier than I'd ever seen him.

"Sam?" I said approaching the white wolf. He was too big for the cage and had to bend oddly in order to avoid touching it. As I came closer, he began to shake. He whined at me, then snarled.

In the farthest cage, Adam growled but he was looking at Samuel, not at me.

"Adam?" I asked and he looked back at me. He was angry all right, the scent of the werewolves' frustrated rage rose over the scent of demon. But his brown eyes were clear and cold. It was Adam in control. Samuel, I wasn't sure of.

I reached out and touched Adam's cage. Nothing happened. No flash of power, no blinking lights. The magic didn't bother me though the bars felt warm under my fingers. I set the stake down on the floor and tried Zee's knife, but I couldn't get it to touch the bars-all it did was make the light go out again.

The door was locked with a stout padlock, but there were lynch pins in all the corners, holding the cage together. I tried to pull one out, but I couldn't budge it.

Adam whined. I reached my fingers through the bars and touched his soft fur.

"When Littleton is here, Adam loses it, too," warned Stefan. "If I'd known the effect the demon would have on the werewolves, I'd have left them out of this. Warren and Daniel are dead."

" Warren 's not dead. He's badly hurt, but he's recovering at Adam's house," I said. "And I knew about Daniel."

Andre gave me a strange look, and I realized I hadn't told him that Daniel was dead.

"I am glad to be wrong about Warren. I was expecting Andre sooner or later"-Stefan leaned toward me and his voice took on a chiding note-"but Mercedes Thompson, what in the name of Hell are you doing here?"

Suddenly, as if they were all puppets on the same strings, the werewolves jerked their heads toward a door I hadn't noticed on the outside wall. Adam growled and Samuel hit the side of his cage. Slowly, carefully I pulled my fingers out of Adam's cage, but he paid me no attention. I picked up the stake again, but it seemed a flimsy weapon to use against a vampire.

The door opened to the night outside, and a dark figure hesitated a moment, then strolled in. The door slammed shut behind him.

"Andre, how lovely to see you," crooned Littleton. As his face came into the light I saw that Zee had been right-sooner or later, all sorcerers stop being demon riders and become demon ridden. Littleton was still in control, because his prisoners were still alive, but he wouldn't be for much longer.

"I'm sorry that you came while I was out getting a snack." The T-shirt he wore had a dark stain on it. He stopped before he was halfway across the floor and smiled at Andre. "But I am here now so all is well. Come here."

I'd let Andre convince me that he was right, that Marsilia had managed to give him enough power to handle Littleton. I was so certain of it, that I thought he had some plan in mind when he walked around Stefan's cage.

I took a better grip on the stake, hiding it from Littleton with my body as I dropped the backpack quietly to the floor, ready for Andre to do something.

Andre was shorter than Littleton so I could see Littleton 's face even though Andre stood between us. I was still waiting for Andre to make his move, when Littleton tipped Andre's head to the side and struck while Andre just stood there.

He didn't feed, just bit into the side of Andre's neck and then licked the blood. He laughed. "Thank you. How unexpected. Who'd have thought the selfish bitch would have shared her power with you? Did she think that would allow you to overcome us when we have the lovely and powerful Stefan to feed upon?" He kissed Andre's cheek and whispered, "He tastes better than you do."

He held Andre against him for a moment. "You know, if it were only me, I'd let you serve us. But my friend, the one who shares my head, the nameless one, he's been getting very bored. Yesterday we had the wolf and Daniel to entertain us. Today I thought to use the Master of the wolves, but then you came to play."

Andre didn't fight, didn't pull away. He just stood there like Stefan had done while Littleton killed the maid.

My fear caught Littleton 's attention.

He left Andre standing where he was and walked over to where I was crouched in front of Adam's cage.

"The little girl Marsilia sent hunting me," he said. "Yes, I knew about you. A master vampire can listen in on his children, did you know? I am master now, and he the child. I know all of his plans." He could only be speaking of Andre.

Littleton bent down too close to me. My hands were trembling and I could smell the stink of my fear even above the smell of demon. I should have used the stake, but my own fear paralyzed me where I was.

"Why did Marsilia think that you could hunt me down? What is a walker?" he asked.

Quoting scripture doesn't work well on vampires, Zee had once told me, though it is sometimes effective on demons and the like.

" For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son," I said, so frightened that I could only whisper. He cried out, covering his ears. I grabbed my sheep necklace and pulled it out of the neck of my shirt. I held it out, a blazing shield. When I said the next bit, my voice was stronger. " That whosoever believeth in  -  " Covering his ears must not have worked because he dropped them and grabbed me by my shoulder with one hand and hit me with the other.

I opened my eyes and it felt as if no time had passed at all-except that I was lying on the floor about fifteen feet behind Stefan's cage, my face pressed against the cool, dark linoleum tile. I tasted my own blood when I licked my lips and my face was wet.

Someone was fighting.

I moved my head until I could see better.

It was Andre and Ben. Ben's fur looked black as he danced in the shadows, looking for an opening against the vampire. He lunged forward, but Andre was faster, clipping him in the muzzle with his open hand. Ben slid away, mostly unhurt.

I think if they'd been fighting on dirt or something that gave Ben's claws a proper grip, Ben would have had the upper hand. But in the dark, on the slick linoleum, it was almost even.

Littleton stood with his back to the light, watching.

"Wait," he said, sounding like nothing so much as a disappointed film director. "Stop."

Ben snarled angrily and whirled to face his tormentor. Andre just stopped where he was, like a windup toy that had been suddenly turned off.

"I can't get a good view from here," Littleton said. "Come upstairs. You can play in the chapel while I watch from the loft."

He turned and strode off toward the doors that we'd left hanging open. He didn't turn to make sure that the others followed him-though they did. Andre walked a few feet behind the sorcerer, Ben's blood dripping from his fingertips. Ben was less obedient.

He stopped to snarl at Adam and Samuel who growled and snarled in return. Samuel hit his cage with a full force blow that turned out the light for a count of three.

When the light turned back on, Ben was standing in front of me.

"Wolf," said Littleton impatiently from outside the room.

Ben took one step closer to me and licked his lips.

"Come, Wolf." There was power in that voice, I could feel it myself.

Ben's lips lifted off his fangs, then he turned and ran out of the room. I heard the sound of his claws on the steps.

"Mercy, can you come to me?" asked Stefan in an urgent whisper.

Good question. I tried to move, but there was something wrong with my shoulder joint. My left arm didn't move at all. I tried moving my legs and saw stars. Hastily I dropped my head back to the floor and concentrated on breathing in and out. Cold sweat dampened my back.

After a count of twenty I tried again. This time I think I actually did pass out, but not for more than an instant.

"Nope," I said. "Not moving anytime soon. Something's wrong with my shoulder and neither of my legs is very excited about moving either."

"I see," said Stefan after a moment. "Can you look at me then?"

I tilted my chin and left my head on the floor where it wanted to stay. He was facing me, his eyes shimmering like a river of fire.

"Yes," I said-and that was all the invitation he needed.

"Mercy," he said, and his voice filtered through the cells of my body, filling me with purpose. "Come to me."

It didn't matter that my arm didn't work or that I couldn't get to my feet. Stefan wanted me and I needed to go to him.

Someone was snarling and the light was flickering crazily. Vaguely I noticed that Adam was throwing himself against his cage over and over again.

My breath came out in pained grunts as I pulled my uncooperative body over the cool floor using the elbow of my good arm, because I still had the stake in my hand.

"Shut up, wolf," Stefan's voice was soft. "Do you want him down here? I have a plan, but if he comes down here too soon, we'll all be dead-including Mercy."

When his voice stopped calling me, I rested, keeping my gaze on Stefan's. When he asked me to, I started moving again.

It took a long time, and it hurt a lot, but at last my cheek pressed against Stefan's cage.

"Good girl," he said. "Now put your fingers through the bars. No. You'll have to set the stake down for now. Good. Good. That's it. Rest now."

While Adam growled quietly, something sharp cut into my index finger. The pain was over too fast to worry about-just one small pain among many. But when Stefan's mouth closed around it I felt a sudden euphoria and all the pain went away.

Most Popular