Cold and bitter, something dripped into my mouth. I would have spit it out but it was too much effort. Gentle fingers, chill as ice, touched my cheek and someone whispered words of love against my ears.

A snarl wove its way into my world as the freezing liquid turned to fire and slipped down my throat into my stomach, forcing me back into awareness. The wild anger in that wolf's tone called an adrenaline rush of fear that brought me fully awake.

I lay curled around Stefan's cage. The stake had rolled under me and lodged uncomfortably between my ribs and the floor. The light was off again and I could smell burning flesh, even over the scent of demon.

Part of me knew I shouldn't be able to see anything this clearly, but for some reason my night vision was even better than usual. I could see Adam staring over my head, his muzzle wrinkled and his eyes brilliant yellow lit with rage that promised death.

I rolled my head a little so I could see what Adam was looking at. All I saw was Stefan.

The vampire had threaded his fingers through the bars a few inches above my hand. He had a cut on his hand, a wide open slash that was pouring blood. Some of it caught on the bars, but most of it slid down his fingers to drip on the floor. My neck and cheek were wet with it.

I licked my lips and tasted something that might have been blood-or it might have been the finest elixir of some medieval alchemist. One moment it tasted like blood, iron and sweet, and the next it burned my tongue.

Sparks glittered in the dark blood on the bars and sizzled on his skin where it touched the cage.

His face was hidden against his upright knee. "It's done now," he murmured.

I pulled back from the cage and then pushed awkwardly with my single good hand at his smoking limb, which was very cool to the touch, shoving Stefan back inside, away from the bars.

Slowly, he pulled his hand in toward his body and then raised his head, shutting his eyes when the dim lightbulb, freed from the odd effect of the cage's sorcery, came back on.


"It'll only last for a little while," he told me. "You're still hurt, so be careful not to damage yourself more than you can help."

I started to ask him a question, but Samuel howled and Adam, turning his attention away from Stefan and I, joined in the chorus. As their cries died away, I heard someone coming down the stairs. It sounded like Littleton was dragging something.

I dropped back to the ground, my hair over my face to hide it-only then realizing that I felt better. A lot better. Amazingly better.

One of the hallway doors was pushed open with a crash. Through the curtain of my hair I watched Andre fly through the doorway and land in an ungraceful heap on the floor.

Littleton liked to throw things.

"You didn't do it right," the sorcerer complained as he dragged a limp red werewolf through the doorway by one hind leg. "You have to do what I tell you. I didn't tell you to kill the wolf, it's not even midnight yet. You are not going to ruin my fun with an early kill."

He looked over at us, or rather at Stefan. I closed my eyes most of the way, and hoped my hair hid them well enough that he didn't realize I was awake.

"I am sorry," he said contritely as he approached Stefan, still dragging Ben. "I haven't been much of a host. I didn't realize you were thirsty or I'd have provided a meal. But then I suppose I just did."

He dropped Ben in front of me, then nudged me with a toe. "I might have played a little with this one," he said with a sigh. "But humans don't last as long anyway. Maybe I'll bring in a few more for food for you though. It might be fun to turn them loose in here and make you call them to you."

Ben wasn't dead, I could see his ribs rising and falling. He wasn't healthy either. There was a flap of torn skin on his hip that oozed blood, and one front leg bent oddly about two inches below the joint. I couldn't see his head because the rest of his body was in the way.

Littleton went back to get Andre. He picked him up and carried him like a lover as he brought him to the light in the center of the cages.

With Andre still in his arms, he sat down next to the light. He arranged the other vampire on the ground like a doll, pulling Andre's head on his knee. Andre's face was covered with blood.

I licked my lower lip and tried not to enjoy the buzz of vampire blood on my tongue.

Littleton bit himself on the wrist, giving me a glimpse of his fangs and then he put the open wound over Andre's mouth.

"You understand," he murmured to Andre. "Only you. You understand that death is more powerful than life. More powerful than sex. If you can control death, you control the universe."

It should have sounded melodramatic. But the fevered whisper lifted the hair on the back of my neck.

"Blood," he told the unconscious Andre. "Blood is the symbol of life and death."

Andre moved at last, grabbing Littleton 's wrist and holding it to him, curling around it. Much as a starving Daniel had curled around Andre's wrist during Stefan's trial. I wished the lingering touch of Stefan's blood didn't taste so good.

Andre opened his eyes and looked up.

I expected his eyes to be glowing, as Daniel's had been. Instead they were intent. Like Adam's had been, his eyes were focused on Stefan.

Littleton was muttering in Andre's hair, his eyes closed. So I took a chance and shifted my body just a little, drawing Andre's gaze. When he looked at me, I moved an inch more so he could see the stake.

He closed his eyes again, then, abruptly let Littleton 's arm fall away and he rolled to his hands and knees, somehow managing to shift so that Littleton was between us, his back toward me.

"Blood is life," said Andre in a voice I'd never heard him use. It drifted through the room like a mist and settled on my skin. "Blood is death."

"Yes." Littleton sounded dazed and I remembered how it had felt when Stefan fed from me. Until that moment I'd almost forgotten he had fed from me.

Littleton, unconcerned by my fears, said, "Blood is the life and the death."

"Who commands death?" Andre asked his voice calling for a response that my mouth wanted to form.

Littleton came up to his knees and I could see the imprint of his spine on the back of his shirt. " I do!" he shrieked. He reached over and grabbed Andre under the jaw and pulled the vampire where he wanted him. He bit down right over the top of the wounds he'd made in Andre's neck earlier.

It was the best chance I was going to get. I tried to surge to my feet and almost fell. One of my ankles wouldn't hold any weight, though it didn't hurt.

I didn't have far to go.

Bent over Andre, Littleton 's ribs were clearly outlined on his shirt. Someone should tell him that thin people shouldn't wear fabrics that cling. I picked a spot between the delicate, arching bones, just to the left of his spine, and struck with my whole body, just as Sensei had taught me to hit.

If my ankle had been working, I might have managed it. Training worked against me and I instinctively tried to use my weight to help push the sharpened wood through. My leg collapsed under me and the stake only went in an inch before it stuck between his ribs instead of breaking through them.

Littleton jerked to his feet with an outraged cry. He struck out blindly, just missing me because I was already rolling away as fast as I could. Luckily I was faster than the vampire. I rolled until I bumped against the car battery powering the light.

"Bitch," Littleton hissed.

I felt my neck, but my sheep necklace was gone, lost when he'd thrown me across the room. While I was fumbling, the sorcerer leapt at me.

Andre grabbed him around the middle and they both crashed to the ground just short of me. Littleton managed to put Andre on the bottom and I saw that the stake was still embedded in his back.

I grabbed the car battery by its plastic handle and hefted it in my right hand. Grunting with the effort, I raised it above the struggling vampires and brought it down on the end of the stake.

The light, still attached to the battery, crashed to the floor, leaving the room in darkness once more. This time I had trouble seeing clearly-the benefits of Stefan's blood were fading.

I twisted until I could free Zee's knife from its sheath. It took more effort than it should have.

Littleton had gone limp, his body flopped over faceup when Andre pushed him off. The stake had gone all the way through Littleton and protruded several inched through his chest. It had sliced into Andre, just above his collarbone, but he didn't seem to mind. He lay flat on his back and laughed, though he didn't sound happy.

The pain was back with interest, making me nauseous and light-headed. I swallowed bile and sat up using my good arm to push down and lever myself into a useful position. The knife in my hand clicked on the floor.

I'd killed mice, rabbits, and, once, a deer while running as a coyote. I'd killed two men-three, now. It didn't help me face the next task. Bryan, my foster father, used to hunt, both as a wolf and with a gun. He and Evelyn, his wife, had butchered the meat while I wrapped it in freezer paper. I'd never had to cut up the carcass myself.

Zee's knife cut into Littleton 's neck with a wet slurping sound. I'd thought Littleton to be dead... deader than he'd been before, I mean. But as the knife slid in, his body began to spasm.

The motion attracted Andre's attention and he sat up, "What? No, wait!"

His hand closed on mine hard enough to leave bruises, and he jerked my hand back. Littleton 's head flopped to the side. The effect was somehow more grisly than if the head had been completely severed.

"Let go," I said, almost not recognizing the hoarse croak as my own voice. I jerked my hand, but he wouldn't release his grip.

" Marsilia needs him. She can control him."

Metal fell with a loud crash: the sorcerer's power was failing, allowing his prisoners to escape. Adam crouched beside me just a hair sooner than Samuel appeared on my other side. Both werewolves were snarling almost soundlessly and I knew, almost without looking at them that the human parts of them were gone, leaving only the predator behind.

That the knowledge didn't frighten me to death is a measure of how traumatized I was.

"Let go of me," I said again, this time softly so as not to alarm the werewolves who were quivering with eagerness and the smell of fresh blood. I wasn't really sure why they hadn't just attacked.

Andre stared first at Adam, then at Samuel. I don't know that he was trying to control them, but if he was, it didn't work. Adam growled and Samuel whined eagerly and took a half step closer.

Andre released my wrist. I didn't wait any longer, pressing the knife through meat, gristle, and bone until Littleton 's head rolled free and the knife cut into the linoleum.

I'd been wrong: it was worse when the head was all the way severed.

Throw up later, I thought. Destroy the body now.

The backpack wasn't more than a body length from me, but I couldn't find the energy to get to it.

"What do you need?" asked Stefan who was crouched on the other side of the body, next to Andre. I hadn't noticed that he'd left his cage, too-or that he'd moved at all. He was just suddenly in front of me.

"The backpack," I said.

He got up like it hurt, and moved with none of his usual energy, returning with the backpack in hand. Both of the wolves stiffened when he held the pack out toward me, over Littleton 's body. Stefan was moving slowly because he was in bad shape-but it was probably a good thing. Making sudden moves around the werewolves would have been a bad idea, even if they had relaxed, just a bit, when I'd removed the sorcerer's head.

As I reached out to take the pack, Andre spoke again. " Marsilia needs him, Stefan. If she has a sorcerer at her beck and call, the others will have to cower in her presence."

" Marsilia can cow them on her own, " Stefan responded tiredly. "A sorcerer is not a comfortable pet. Marsilia has allowed greed to overcome her common sense."

The medallion wasn't a very big item and it hid from my fingers. It was heavy though, so I finally managed to locate it in the bottom. I took it out and put it on Littleton 's chest.

"What is that?" asked Stefan.

Rather than answering him, I leaned over Littleton 's chest and whispered, " Drachen." Burn you bastard, burn.

The metal disk started to glow cherry red. For a moment I thought that was all it would do. But after a moment the body burst into flame, the almost-invisible blue flame of a Bunsen burner with the gas adjusted perfectly. I had a moment to wonder at the suddenness of it, then Stefan leapt over the body, grabbed me under the arms and pulled me back before I was caught up in the hungry flames.

His grip reminded me I had an injured shoulder in the worst way. The sudden pain was so intense I screamed.

" Shh," said Stefan ignoring the werewolves who were eyeing him with hungry eyes. "It'll settle down in a minute."

He sat me down and put my head between my knees. His hands were still cold, like those of a corpse. Which he was.

"Breathe," he said.

I couldn't help a hiccoughing laugh at having a dead man tell me to breathe.

"Mercy?" he asked.

I was saved from trying to explain why I was laughing because the outside doors were pulled open with a screech of bending metal.

Stefan turned to face this new threat, a werewolf on either side. Andre stood up as well. All of them kept me from seeing the doorway, but I could smell them.

Darryl and two others. The frightened child inside my heart, unappeased by Littleton 's immolation, relaxed at last.

"You're late, Bran." I told him as the light from the burning vampire flickered and died.

It wasn't the Marrok who answered me, but his second son, Charles. "I told Darryl he shouldn't speed. If the police hadn't pulled us over, we'd have been here ten minutes ago."

Bran walked by the vampires as if they didn't exist. He touched Samuel and then Adam. "Charles has clothing for you," he told them and they melted away into the darkness, presumably to change and get dressed. Bran's presence did as much to allow them to regain enough control to change back to human as Littleton 's death had. His permanent death, I mean.

The dim light from outside backlit Bran, so it was difficult to see his face.

"You've been busy," he said, his tone neutral.

"No choice," I told him. "Did you read the papers I left for you?" Do you know that all the villains aren't ashes?

"Yes," Bran said, and something inside of me relaxed. He couldn't know which of the vampires was Andre-but he'd manage, I knew.

Uncaring of vampire dust-or whatever else of Littleton might be scattered about on the floor-Bran knelt in front of me so he could bend down and kiss my forehead.

"It was a damned stupid thing to do," he said in a voice so soft as to be almost inaudible.

"I thought you couldn't make it here until morning," I said.

"I hurried." He put his hand on my shoulder.

"Ouch," I said, sinking farther down on the floor.

"Samuel," he called. "If you could manage to hurry a bit, I think you have a patient."

My shoulder was only out of joint and Samuel put it back as gently as he could. It still hurt like the blazes. I shuddered and shook, and managed not to throw up on anyone, while Adam, his voice harsh with barely controlled rage, told everyone what had happened after Andre and I showed up.

Andre seemed stunned by Littleton 's death. Stefan knelt beside him with a hand on his shoulder and a wary eye on all the wolves stalking around.

I waited until I was sure I could talk without sounding too shaky-and until Adam was finished speaking. Then I looked at Stefan and said, "Andre is the one who made Littleton."

Andre looked at me in shock, then threw his weight forward-I don't know if he'd have attacked me, or just tried to run, but Stefan caught him. Before it turned into a real struggle, Charles and Darryl helped to hold him.

"I was going to ask if you were certain," Stefan said, releasing Andre to the werewolves who were obviously in better shape to hold the other vampire. "But Andre has answered that question himself."

"I have proof," I told him.

"I would like to see it," Stefan said. "If only to present to the Mistress. Right now, though, is there a cell phone I might use to call my seethe? As much as I appreciate your help, Adam, I think that it would be a bad thing to bring your wolves into the seethe right now while tempers are still uncertain."

The vampires came and spirited Andre away. I had expected that Stefan would go with them, but he didn't. Samuel insisted on bringing me to the hospital, though Charles and Darryl took Ben, who was in worse shape than I was, to Adam's house in Darryl's car.

"How come I can't just go home?" I whined. My shoulder ached and I just wanted to go to my bedroom and pull my blankets over my head.

"Because you aren't a werewolf," Stefan said. "If your ankle is broken, you need a cast."

The werewolves who weren't driving (Adam and Samuel) gave him cold looks. Bran had brought Adam's SUV and being stuffed inside it with the three werewolves and the vampire was a new experience in testosterone. When Samuel and Adam had gotten into the back seat with me, Stefan had slipped into the front. Bran was continuing to ignore the vampire, so Stefan stayed.

The five of us staggered into the emergency room. The only one remotely respectable was Bran, and he was carrying me. It wasn't until we were under the intense lights of the hospital that I realized just how bad we looked. I was covered with blood, Stefan was covered in blood. His face was drawn and tired, though the expression on it was peaceful. I didn't want to know what I looked like.

Samuel, even in clean, fresh clothing, looked as though he'd spent a week on a wild binge and Adam... The nurse at the triage station took one look at Adam and hit the innocent-looking black button underneath her desk.

It wasn't the wear and tear that panicked her, but the look in his eyes. I know I was really glad that Bran was with us.

"It's all right, Elena." Samuel managed a rough growl that only barely sounded human. "I'll take them in."

She looked at him again and shock spread over her face. "Dr. Cornick?" She hadn't recognized him when we'd come in.

"Call the Kennewick police," I told her. "Ask for Tony Montenegro. Tell him Mercy has some news for him if he can get his butt down here."

Samuel would be questioned by the hospital administrators, I thought. I didn't know if he'd missed a shift or not, but they wouldn't overlook him coming in with this crew. Police business would cover his rump-and I thought that Tony might benefit from seeing that the werewolves had taken his concerns seriously. It would also let the wolves know they had allies among the police here. People who could be trusted. That was important if they were ever to integrate into the citizenry.

There were a few people in the waiting room and all of them stopped whatever they were doing to look at Adam. The smell of fear overpowered the scent of illness and blood. Even Bran stiffened a little under the flood of triggered scents.

Samuel strolled right through the room, ignoring the woman who bravely came up to us to get insurance information.

Bran paused before he followed Samuel through a pair of swinging doors. "Not to worry, my dear," he told the woman gently. "Dr. Cornick will see to it that all the proper forms are filled out."

Tony walked into the emergency room as if he'd been there a time or two before. He was wearing civilian clothes, jeans and T-shirt, but the cheery-faced young man with him was in uniform.

He strolled into my curtained cubicle and looked around. Samuel was off doing doctor stuff, but the others were all there. Stefan and I had scrubbed up. I was in one of those stupid hospital gowns, but Stefan's clothes were still covered with blood. Bran sat on the doctor's chair, slowly spinning it around, looking like a bored teenager. Like the people in the waiting room, Tony and his companion ignored Bran and watched Adam, who was leaning against a wall. Stefan was slumped in a corner and got a swift, assessing glance before the police both looked back at Adam.

"Tony, this is Adam Hauptman, we were talking about him just the other day. Adam, this is my friend Tony." I didn't bother to introduce the others.

Tony's face froze and he stopped where he was. I guess he hadn't recognized Adam from his newspaper pictures until I'd used his name. Adam's publicity shot showed a conservative businessman. There was nothing conservative or businesslike about him tonight. Anger radiated off of him in waves even humans should be able to sense.

"Hey, John," Tony said casually, after quickly looking away from the Alpha. I guess the information sheet that had gone out on werewolves had explained that it was not a good idea to have a staring contest with one. "Why don't you get both of us a cup of coffee."

The other cop gave Tony a narrow-eyed look, but he only asked, "How long should I take?"

Tony glanced at me. I shrugged and instantly regretted it. "This won't take more than ten minutes."

When the other cop had gone, Tony pulled the curtains closed. It didn't give us much privacy, but the cacophonous chatter of dozens of mysterious machines would mask whatever we had to say from human ears.

"You look like death warmed over," he told me.

"It wasn't at the police station," I told him, too tired for our usual teasing. "But it wasn't more than a half mile away."

"You found it."

"I killed it," I said. "I think that you'll find the nightlife will calm down a little from here on out."

Tony frowned. "It?"

"Yes." Stefan's voice was weary. "Something that should never have been allowed to roam the streets. It was not murder, sir. It was self-defense."

"Don't worry," offered Bran meekly. "There isn't a body." Only because he'd noticed Littleton 's head lying around and we'd used Zee's medallion to get rid of it, too. I'd forgotten all about it. Presumably it wouldn't have done anything except scare the begeebers out of whoever found it-since the body was gone-but I was just as glad to have that last bit taken care of as well.

Tony looked at Bran more closely. "Do I want to ask who you all are?"

"No," I told him.

"So why did you call me in?" Tony asked.

I opened my mouth to answer and Samuel pulled the curtains aside and stepped in, an X-ray in his hands.

"Dr. Cornick," Tony greeted him like an old friend-I supposed that cops might see a lot of emergency room doctors. Then something about the wariness of everyone in the room clued him in.

"Samuel needs to have the shield of police business to hide behind," I said before he could ask if Samuel was a werewolf, too.

Tony frowned, taking a careful look at the people in the room-avoiding eye contact. "All right," he said slowly. "You're sure everything will get back to normal?"

I started to shrug, but nodded my head instead. "As normal as it gets."

"Fine." He looked at Samuel. "Tell me that you're not a danger to your patients."

I waited anxiously for a smart-ass comment, but Samuel was tired, too. He only said, "I'm not a danger to my patients."

"All right," Tony said. "All right. Dr. Cornick, if anyone asks about this, just tell them it was a police matter you were helping in." He took out his wallet and pulled out a card. "Give them my number if you need to."

Samuel took the card. "Thank you."

Then Tony turned back to Adam. "Mr. Hauptman," he said. "Mercy tells me that I ought to speak with you first on matters concerning werewolves."

Adam rubbed his face tiredly. It took him so long to speak that I worried. Finally he said, in an almost civil tone. "Yes. Did Mercy give you my number?"

"We didn't get that far."

Adam collected himself and managed a small smile that made him look like a hungry tiger. Tony took a discreet step back. "I'm not carrying my cards tonight, but if you call my office, I'll instruct them to give you my cell phone number-or Mercy usually knows how to get in touch with me."

My ankle was just sprained. Stefan left while Tony was talking with Adam. No one but me seemed to notice. I don't know if he did some vampire thing, or that no one else cared.

Adam wanted me to stay at his house. But he had half the local pack, part of the Montana pack, and Kyle staying at his house. I had no intention of joining the crowd.

After the others left for Adam's house, Samuel carried me into my battered trailer and started toward my bedroom, but I didn't want to sleep. Not ever.

"Can you take me to the office, instead?" I asked.

He still wasn't speaking much, but he obediently switched directions and took me into the tiny third bedroom that hummed with various bits of electronics.

He set me in the chair, then dropped to his knees in front of me. His hands were shaking when he closed them on my knees and pulled them apart so he could fill up the space between. His body was hot as he pressed himself against me and buried his face in my neck.

"I knew you'd come," he whispered and the power of his wolf ruffled my hair as it rushed over me. "I was so worried. And then... and then the wolf came. Adam kept control-he tried to help me, but I was in a worse state than Ben, who had been there far longer. I am losing control of my wolf, I'm a danger to you. I told my father that as soon as you are well, I will return to Montana."

I held him with my good arm. "Demons aren't good for a werewolf's control."

"Of the three of us there," he told my neck, "I had the least control."

That wasn't true. I'd been there and seen him still fighting when Ben had given up entirely to the wolf. But before I took up that argument, I realized something.

"That church is less than half a mile from the hospital," I told him. "Uncle Mike told me the demon's presence causes violence anywhere near him-and the police records confirm that. When Tony worked it up for me, we found that the area of effect was over three miles in diameter. You've been fighting the demon since the night I first ran into Littleton. It had Ben for a few days-you, it's been working on for weeks."

He stilled, thinking about it.

"The night you lost control after that accident with the baby," I said. "It wasn't you, it was the demon."

The arms of my chair creaked a protest under his hands. He took a deep breath of my scent and then pulled back a little so he could look me in the face. Very slowly, giving me plenty of time to pull away, he kissed me.

I thought I might love Adam. Samuel had hurt me once before-very badly. I knew that he might only want me now for the same reason he had wanted me then. Even so, I couldn't pull away.

I had come so close to losing him.

I returned his kiss with interest, leaning into his body and threading my fingers through his fine hair. It was Samuel who ended the kiss.

"I'll get you some cocoa," he said, leaving me in my chair.

"Sam?" I said.

He stopped at the door, his back to me and his head lowered. "I'll be all right, Mercy. For tonight, just let me get us both some cocoa."

"Don't forget the marshmallows," I told him.

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