I awoke on my couch to steady strokes of a tongue-in-the-face wash and Medea's distinctive thrumming. Stefan's voice came as a relief because it meant that he was alive, just like me. But when Samuel replied, though his purring tones bore more than a passing resemblance to the noise my cat was making, there was no comfort to be had from the cold menace under the soft voice.

Adrenaline pumped through me at the sound. I pushed the memory of the night's terrors aside. What was important this minute was that tonight was the full moon and there was an enraged werewolf not two feet from me.

I tried to open my eyes and stand up, but I encountered several problems. First, one eye seemed to be stuck shut. Second, since I seldom sleep in coyote form, I'd tried to sit up like a human. My floundering was made worse because my body, stiff and sore, wasn't reacting very well to movement of any kind. Finally, as soon as I moved my head, I was rewarded with throbbing pain and accompanying nausea.

Medea scolded me in cat swear words and jumped off the couch in a huff.

" Shh, Mercy." All the menace left Samuel's voice as he crooned to me and knelt beside the couch. His gentle, competent hands glided over my sore body.

I opened my good eye and looked at him warily, not trusting the tone of his voice to indicate his mood. His eyes were in the shadow, but his wide mouth was soft under his long, aristocratic nose. I noted absently that he needed a haircut; his ash brown hair covered his eyebrows. There was tension in his wide shoulders, and now that I was fully awake, I could smell the aggression that had been building in the room. He turned his head to follow his hands as they played delicately over my hind legs and I caught sight of his eyes.

Pale blue, not white, like they would be if the wolf was too close to the surface.

I relaxed enough to be sincerely grateful to be lying, however battered and miserable, on my own couch and not dead-or worse, still in the company of Cory Littleton, vampire and sorcerer.

Samuel's hands touched my head and I whimpered.

As well as being a werewolf, my roommate was a doctor, a very good doctor. Of course, I suppose he ought to be. He'd been one for a very long time and had at least three medical degrees gained in two different centuries. Werewolves can be very long-lived creatures.

"Is she all right?" Stefan asked. There was something in his voice that bothered me.


Samuel's mouth tightened. "I'm not a vet, I'm a doctor. I can tell you that there are no broken bones, but until she can talk to me, that's all I know."

I tried to shift so I could help, but all I got was a burning pain across my chest and around my ribs. I let out a panicked little sound.

"What's wrong?" Samuel ran a finger gently along my jaw line.

It hurt, too. I flinched and he pulled his hands away.

"Wait," said Stefan from the far side of the couch.

His voice sounded wrong. After what the demon-possessed vampire had done to him, I had to make sure Stefan was all right. I twisted, whining with discomfort, until I could peer at the vampire with my good eye.

He'd been sitting on the floor at the foot of the couch, but, as I looked at him, he rose until he was on his knees-just as he'd been when the sorcerer had held him.

I caught Samuel's sudden lunge out of the corner of my eye. But Stefan melted away from Samuel's hand. He moved oddly. At first I thought he was hurt, that Samuel had already hit him, then I realized he was moving like Marsilia, the Mistress of the local seethe-like a puppet, or an old, old vampire who had forgotten how to be human.

"Peace, wolf," Stefan said, and I realized what had been wrong with his voice. It was dead, empty of any emotion. "Try taking the harness off of her. I think she was trying to shift, but she can't while she wears the harness."

I hadn't realized that I was still wearing it. Samuel hissed when he touched the buckles.

"They're silver," Stefan said without moving closer. "I can undo them, if you'll let me."

"You seem to have a lot to say for yourself, now, vampire," growled Samuel.

Samuel was the calmest, most even-tempered werewolf I knew-though that's not saying much-but I could hear the promise of violence in the undertones of his voice that made my ribcage vibrate.

"You asked me questions I cannot answer," said Stefan calmly, but his voice had warmed to more human cadences. "I have every hope that Mercedes will be able to satisfy your curiosity and mine. First, though, someone needs to remove the harness so she can return to her human form."

Samuel hesitated, then stepped back from me. "Do it." His voice was more growl than tone.

Stefan moved slowly, waiting for Samuel to move aside before he touched me. He smelled of my shampoo and his hair was damp. He must have taken a shower-and found clean clothes somewhere. Nothing in that motel room had escaped the murdered woman's blood. My own paws were still covered in it.

I had an immediate, visceral memory of the way the carpet had squished, supersaturated with dark, viscous fluid. I would have thrown up, but the sudden sharp pain in my head cut through the nausea, a welcome distraction.

It didn't take Stefan long to unbuckle the harness, and as soon as it was off, I changed. Stefan stepped away and let Samuel resume his place at my side.

Anger tightened the sides of Samuel's mouth as he touched my shoulder. I looked down and realized that my skin was bruised and raw where the harness had rubbed, and everywhere were small rust-colored spots of dried blood. I looked like I'd been in a car wreck.

Thinking about cars reminded me about work. I looked out the window, but the sky was still dark.

"What time is it?" I asked. My voice came out in a hoarse croak.

It was the vampire who answered. "Five forty-five."

"I need to get dressed," I said standing up abruptly, which was a mistake. I clutched my head, swore, and sat down before I fell down.

Samuel pried my hands away from my forehead. "Open your eyes, Mercy."

I did my best, but my left eye didn't want very badly to open. As soon as I had both of them opened, he blinded me with a penlight.

"Damn it, Sam," I said, trying to squirm out of his hold.

"Just once more." He was relentless, this time prying my sore eye open himself. Then he set the light aside and ran his hands over my head. I hissed as his fingers found a sore spot. "No concussion, Mercy, though you have a sizeable goose egg on the back of your head, a hell of a shiner, and, if I'm not mistaken, the rest of the left side of your face will be purple before daylight. So why does the bloodsucker say you have been unconscious for the past forty-five minutes?"

"Closer to an hour now," said Stefan. He was sitting down on the floor again, farther from me than he had been, but he was watching me with predatory intenseness.

"I don't know," I said, and it came out shakier than I meant it to.

Samuel sat beside me on the couch, pulled off the small throw blanket that hid the damage Medea had done to the back of the couch, and wrapped me in it. He started to reach for me, and I pulled away. A dominant wolf's desire to protect was a strong instinct-and Samuel was very dominant. Give him an inch and he'd take over the world, or my life if I let him.

Still, he smelled of the river, desert, and fur-and of the familiar sweet scent that belonged only to him. I quit fighting him and let my aching head rest against his arm. The resilience and warmth of his flesh against my temple helped my headache. Maybe if I didn't move, my head wouldn't fall off. Samuel made a soft, soothing noise and ran his clever fingers through my hair, avoiding the sore spot.

I hadn't forgotten or forgiven him for the flashlight, but I'd get even with him when I felt better. It had been a long time since I'd leaned on anyone, and, even knowing it was stupid to let Samuel see me so weak, I couldn't force myself to move away.

I heard Stefan go to the kitchen, open my refrigerator, and mess around in the cupboards. Then the vampire's scent drifted nearer and he said, "Get her to drink this. It will help."

"Help with what?" Samuel's voice was a good deal deeper than usual. If my head had hurt a little less, I would have moved away.

"Dehydration. She's been bitten."

Stefan was lucky I was leaning against Samuel. The werewolf started to his feet, but stopped halfway up when I whimpered at his sudden movement.

Okay, I was playing dirty, but it kept Samuel from attacking. Stefan wasn't the villain. If he'd fed off of me, I was sure it had been necessary. I wasn't in any shape to step between them, so I chose to play helpless. I only wished I'd had to act a little harder to do it.

Samuel sat back down and moved my hair away from my neck. His fingertips brushed a sore spot on the side that had just blended in with my other aches and pains. Once he touched it, though, it burned and ached all the way down to my collarbone.

"It was not me," Stefan said, but there was something uncertain in his voice-as if he wasn't entirely sure of it. I un-buried my head so I could see him. But whatever had been in his voice hadn't touched the bland expression on his face.

"There is no danger to her beyond anemia," he told Samuel. "It takes more than a bite to change a human to a vampire-and I'm not certain Mercy could be turned anyway. If she were human, we'd have to worry that he could call her to him and command her obedience-but walkers are not so vulnerable to our magic. She just needs to rehydrate and rest."

Samuel gave the vampire a sharp look. "You're just full of information now, aren't you? If you didn't bite her, what did?"

Stefan smiled faintly, not like he meant it, and handed Samuel the glass of orange juice he'd tried to give him earlier. I knew why he handed it to Samuel and not me. Samuel was getting all territorial-I was impressed that a vampire could read him that well.

"I think Mercy would be a better narrator," Stefan said. There was a thread of uncharacteristic anxiety in his voice that distracted me from worrying about Samuel's possessiveness.

Why was Stefan so anxious to hear what I had to say? He'd been there, too.

I took the glass Samuel handed me and sat up until I wasn't leaning against him anymore. I hadn't realized how thirsty I'd been until I started drinking. I'm not usually fond of orange juice-Samuel's the one who drank it-but just then it tasted like ambrosia.

It wasn't magic, though. When I finished, my head still hurt, and I wanted nothing more than to crawl into my bed and pull the covers over my head, but I wasn't going to get any rest until Samuel knew everything-and Stefan apparently wasn't going to talk.

"Stefan called me a couple of hours ago," I began. "I owed him a favor for helping us when Jesse was kidnaped."

They both listened raptly, Stefan nodding in places. When I reached the part where we entered the hotel room, Stefan sat on the floor near my feet. He leaned his back against the couch, turned his head away from me and covered his eyes with a hand. He might just have been getting tired-the window shades were starting to lighten with the first hints of dawn as I finished up with my botched attempt at killing Littleton and my subsequent impact with the wall.

"You're sure that's what happened?" asked Stefan without uncovering his eyes.

I frowned at him, sitting up straighten "Of course I'm sure." He'd been there, so why did he sound as if he thought I might be making things up?

He rubbed his eyes and looked at me, and there was relief in his voice. "No offense meant, Mercy. Your memories of the woman's death are very different from mine."

I frowned at him. "Different how?"

"You say that all I did was kneel on the ground while Littleton murdered the hotel maid?"

"That's right."

"I don't remember that," he said, his voice a bare whisper. "I remember the sorcerer brought the woman out, her blood called to me, and I answered it." He licked his lips and the combination of horror and hunger in his eyes made me glance away from him. He continued in a whisper, almost to himself. "Bloodlust has not overcome me in a long, long time."

"Well," I said, not sure if what I had to tell him would help or hurt, "you weren't pretty. Your eyes glowed and you showed some fang. But you didn't do anything to her."

For a moment, a pale reflection of the ruby glow I'd seen in the hotel room gleamed in his irises. "I remember reveling in the woman's blood, painting it on my hands and face. It was still there when I brought you home and I had to wash it off." He closed his eyes. "There is an old ceremony... forbidden now for a long time but I remember ..." He shook his head and turned his attention to his hands which he held loosely looped around one knee. " I can taste her still."

Those words hung uncomfortably in the air for a moment before he continued.

"I was lost in the blood"-he said that phrase as if the words belonged together and might mean something more complex than their literal meaning-"when I came to myself, the other vampire was gone. The woman lay as I remember leaving her, and you were unconscious."

He swallowed and then stared at the lightening window, his voice dropped an octave, like the wolves' voices can sometimes. "I couldn't remember what had happened to you."

He reached out and touched my foot, which was the body part nearest him. When he spoke again, his voice was almost normal. "A memory lapse is not inconsistent with bloodlust." His hand moved until it closed carefully around my toes; his skin was cool against mine. "But bloodlust usually only dulls unimportant things. You are important to me, Mercedes. It occurred to me that you were not important to Cory Littleton. And that thought gave me hope while I drove us here."

I was important to Stefan? All I was to him was his mechanic. He'd done a favor for me, and last night I'd returned it in spades. We might possibly be friends-except that I didn't think vampires had friends. I thought about it a moment and realized that Stefan was important to me. If something had happened to him tonight, something permanent, it would have hurt me. Maybe he felt the same way.

"You think he tampered with your memory?" Samuel asked while I was still thinking. He'd scooted closer and slid an arm around my shoulders. It felt good. Too good. I slid forward on the couch, away from Samuel-and Stefan let his hand fall away from my foot as I moved.

Stefan nodded. "Either my memory or Mercy's is obviously wrong. I don't think he could affect Mercy's, even being a sorcerer. That kind of thing just doesn't work on walkers like her, not unless he made a real effort."

Samuel made a hmm sound. "I don't see why he'd want to make Mercy think you were innocent of murder-especially if he thought she was just a coyote." He looked at Stefan who shrugged.

"Walkers were only a threat for a couple of decades, and that centuries ago. Littleton is very new; I would be surprised if he's even heard of anything like Mercy. The demon might know, one never is quite sure what demons know. But the best evidence that Littleton thinks Mercy was nothing more than a coyote is that she is still alive."

Goody for me.

"All right." Samuel rubbed his face. "I'd better call Adam. He needs to get his clean-up crew to the hotel before someone sees the mess and starts shouting werewolf." He raised an eyebrow at Stefan. "Although I suppose we could just tell the police it was a vampire."

It had been less than six months since the werewolves had followed the fae in coming out into the public view. They hadn't told the human population everything, and only those werewolves who chose to do so came out in the open-most of those were in the military, people already separated from the general population. So far we were all holding our breath waiting to see what would come of it, but, so far, there had been none of the rioting that had marked the fae's exposure a few decades earlier.

Part of the quiet reaction was the Marrok's careful planning. Americans feel safe in our modern world. Bran did his best to protect that illusion, presenting his public wolves as victims who took their affliction and bravely used it to protect others. Werewolves, he wanted the public to believe, at least for a while yet, were just people who turned furry under the full moon. The wolves who had come out first were heroes who put their lives on the line to protect the weaker humans. The Marrok, like the fae before him, chose to keep as much of the werewolves' darker aspects as carefully hidden as he could.

But I think most of the credit for the peaceful acceptance of the revelation belongs to the fae. For more than two decades the fae had managed to present themselves as weak, kindly, and gentle-and anyone who has read their Brothers Grimm or Andrew Lang knows just what a feat that is.

No matter what Samuel threatened, his father, the Marrok, would never agree to expose the vampires. There was no way to soft-pedal the fact that vampires fed on humans.

And once people realized there really were monsters, they might just realize that werewolves were monsters, too.

Stefan knew what the Marrok would say as well as Samuel did. He smiled unpleasantly at the werewolf, exposing his fangs. "The mess has been taken care of. I called my mistress before I brought Mercy home. We don't need werewolves to clean up after us." Stefan was usually more polite than that, but he'd had a bad night, too.

"The other vampire gave you false memories," I said to distract the men from their antagonism. "Was that because he was a sorcerer?"

Stefan tilted his head, as if he were embarrassed. "We can do that with humans," he said, which was something I didn't want to know. He saw my reaction and explained, "That means we can leave those we casually feed from alive, Mercedes. Still, humans are one thing, and vampires another. We're not supposed to be able to do it to each other. You don't have to worry, though. No vampire can remake your memory-probably not even one who is a sorcerer."

Relief climbed through me. If I were going to pick things I didn't want a vampire to do to me, messing with my thoughts was very high on the list. I touched my neck.

"That's why you wanted me with you," I sat up straighten "You said he'd done it to another vampire. What did he make the other vampire think he'd done?"

Stefan looked wary... and guilty.

"You knew he'd kill someone, didn't you?" I accused him. "Is that what he did to the other vampire? Make him think he'd killed someone?" The memory of the slow death I hadn't been able to prevent made me clench my fists.

"I didn't know what he would do. But yes, I believed that he had killed before and made my friend think he had done it." He spoke as if the words left a bitter taste in his mouth. "But I could not act without proof. So more died who should not have."

"You're a vampire," said Samuel. "Don't try to make us believe you care when innocents die."

Stefan met Samuel's eyes. "I have swallowed enough death in years past that more sickens me, but believe as you wish. So many deaths threaten our secrets, werewolf. Even if I cared nothing for any human's death, I would not have wanted so many to die and endanger our secrets."

So many to die?

His sureness that noise wouldn't disturb anyone in the hotel when Littleton had invited us in became suddenly clear. The thing I'd seen kill the woman would not have hesitated to kill as many people as he could. "Who else died tonight?"

"Four." Stefan didn't look away from Samuel. "The night clerk and three guests. Luckily the hotel was nearly deserted."

Samuel swore.

I swallowed. "So the bodies are just going to disappear?"

Stefan sighed. "We try not to have disappearances of people who will be missed. The bodies will be accounted for in such a way as to cause as little fuss as possible. An attempted robbery, a lover's quarrel that got out of hand."

I opened my mouth to say something rash, but caught myself. The rules we all had to live by weren't Stefan's fault.

"You put Mercy at risk," Samuel growled. "If he had already made another vampire kill involuntarily, he might have been able to make you kill Mercy."

"No. He couldn't have made me harm Mercy." Stefan's voice held as much anger as Samuel's, giving a little doubt to the firmness of his answer. He must have heard it, too, because he turned his attention back to me. "I swore to you, on my honor, that you would take no harm from this night. I underestimated the enemy, and you suffered for it. I am foresworn."

" 'All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing'," I murmured. I'd had to read Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France three times in college; some of his points had seemed especially relevant to me, who had been brought up with the understanding of just how much evil there really was in the world.

"What do you mean?" Stefan asked.

"Will my presence in that hotel room help you destroy that monster?" I asked.

"I hope so."

"Then it was worth what little hurt I took," I said firmly. "Quit beating yourself up about it."

"Honor is not so easily satisfied," said Samuel meeting Stefan's gaze.

Stefan looked like he agreed, but there was nothing more I could do for him about that.

"How did you know that there was something wrong with Littleton?" I asked.

Stefan broke off his staring contest with Samuel, dropping his eyes to Medea who'd crawled onto his lap and crouched there, purring. If he'd been human, I'd have said he looked tired. If he'd dropped his eyes like that in front of a less civilized werewolf, he might have had problems, but Samuel knew that a vampire dropping his gaze was not admitting submissiveness.

"I have a friend named Daniel," Stefan said after a moment. "He is very young, as our kind go-and you might call him a nice boy. A month ago, when a vampire checked into a local hotel, Daniel was sent to see why he had not contacted us for the usual permissions."

Stefan shrugged. "It is something that we do a lot; it should not have been dangerous or unusual. It was an appropriate assignment for a new vampire." Except there was a hint of disapproval in Stefan's voice that told me that he would not have sent Daniel off to confront an unknown vampire.

"Somehow Daniel was sidetracked-he doesn't remember how. Something aroused his bloodlust. He never made it to the hotel. There was a small group of migrant workers who were camping in the cherry orchard, waiting to begin the harvest." He exchanged a glace with Samuel over my head. "Like tonight, the mess wasn't pretty, but it was containable. We took their trailers and vehicles and got rid of them. The owner of the orchard just thought they'd gotten tired of waiting and moved on. Daniel was... punished. Not too harshly, because he is young and the lust is so very strong. But now, of his own will, he won't eat at all. He is dying from guilt. As I told you, he is a nice boy."

Stefan inhaled, a deep, cleansing breath. Stefan once told me that most vampires breathed because not breathing attracted human attention. I think, though, that some of them do it because their not breathing is as troubling to them as it is to the rest of us. Of course, if they are going to talk, they have to breathe a little bit anyway.

"In the furor," Stefan continued, "no one investigated the visiting vampire who had, after all, spent only one night in town. I didn't even think to question what had happened until I tried to help Daniel a few days ago. He talked to me about what had happened-and something just seemed wrong with his story. I know bloodlust. He could not remember why he'd decided to travel all the way out to Benton City, twenty miles from the hotel where he was supposed to be. Daniel is very obedient, like one of your submissive wolves. He would not have deviated from his orders without provocation. He is not able to travel as I can, he would have had to drive all the way-and driving is not something a vampire in the throes of bloodlust does well.

"I decided to do some investigating of the vampire he was suppose to meet. It wasn't difficult to get his name from the clerk at the hotel where he had stayed. I could find nothing on a vampire named Cory Littleton-but there was a man of that name offering his services in matters magical on the Internet."

Stefan gave the floor a slight smile. "It is forbidden us to turn anyone who is not wholly human. Mostly it wouldn't work anyway, but there are stories..." He shrugged unhappily. "I've seen enough to know that this is a good rule. When I went hunting, I expected to find a witch who'd been turned. It never occurred to me he might be a sorcerer-I haven't seen a sorcerer for centuries. Most people today don't have the belief in evil and the knowledge necessary to make a pact with a demon. So I thought Littleton was a witch. A powerful witch, though, to be able to affect the memory of a vampire-even a fledgling like Daniel."

"Why did you go after him with just Mercy?" asked Samuel. "Couldn't you have gotten another vampire to go with you?'

"Daniel had been punished, the matter was deemed over."

Stefan tapped his knee, impatient with that judgement. "The Mistress wanted to hear no more of it."

I had met Marsilia, the Mistress of Stefan's seethe. She hadn't struck me as the type to be overly concerned about the deaths of a few humans or even a few hundred humans.

"I was considering going over her head, when the vampire returned. I had no proof of my suspicions, you understand. As far as everyone else was concerned, Daniel had fallen victim to his bloodlust. So I volunteered to speak with this stranger myself. I thought I might see if he was someone who could make Daniel remember doing things he had not. I brought Mercy with me as a safety precaution. I really did not expect that he could affect me as he had Daniel."

"So you don't think Daniel killed the people he thought he did?" I asked.

"A witch who was also a vampire might be able to implant memories, but he couldn't have made Daniel kill. A sorcerer..." Stefan spread his hands. "A sorcerer could do many things. I consider myself lucky that he was so eager to make the kill himself that he did not use the bloodlust he'd summoned in me to make me kill the maid-as I was half-convinced he had. I have become arrogant over the years, Mercedes. I hadn't really believed he could do anything to me. Daniel, after all, is very new. You were supposed to be a safeguard, but I didn't expect to need you."

" Littleton was a sorcerer," I said. "And some idiot vampire chose to turn him. Who did it? Was it someone from around here? And if not, why is he here?"

Stefan smiled again. "Those are questions I shall pose to my mistress. The turning might have been a mistake-like our fair Lilly."

I'd met Lilly. She'd been crazy when she'd been human, and being a vampire hadn't changed that. She was also an incredible pianist. Her maker had been so caught up by her music he hadn't taken the time to notice anything else about her. Like the werewolves, vampires tend to rid themselves of someone who might draw unwanted attention to them. Lilly's extraordinary gift had protected her, though her maker had been killed for being so careless.

"How could it have been a mistake?" I asked. "I saw your reaction. You smelled the demon before we went into the hotel."

He shook his head. "Demons are hardly commonplace these days. The demon-possessed are caged quickly in mental institutions where they are subdued by drugs. Most younger vampires have never run into a sorcerer-you said yourself that you didn't know what you had scented until I told you."

"Why didn't the demon stop this sorcerer from falling victim to the vampire?" asked Samuel. "They usually protect their symbionts until they're finished with them."

"Why would it?" I said, mentally dusting off all I'd ever heard about sorcery, which wasn't much. "The demons' only desire is to create as much destruction as they can. All vampirism would do is increase Littleton 's ability to create mayhem."

"Do you know something of demons, Samuel Cornick?" asked Stefan.

Samuel shook his head. "Not enough to be of help. But I'll call my father. If he doesn't, he'll know someone who does."

"It is vampire business."

Samuel's eyebrows shot up. "Not if this sorcerer is leaving bloody messes behind."

"We'll see to him- and to his messes." Stefan turned to me. "I have two more favors to ask you-though you owe me nothing more."

"What do you need?" I hoped it wasn't anything immediate. I was tired and more than ready to clean the blood off my hands, both figuratively and literally, though I was afraid the former was going to be difficult.

"Would you come before my mistress and tell her what you have told me about the happenings of this night? She will not want to believe that a new-made vampire could do what he has done. No more will any of the seethe welcome the news of a sorcerer among us."

I had no particular desire to meet Marsilia again. He must have seen that on my face, because he continued, "He needs to be stopped, Mercy." He took another deep breath, deeper than he needed if all he were using the air for was to talk. "I will be asked about this night in full court. I will tell them what I have seen and heard-and they will know if what I tell them is true or false. I can tell them the events you say happened, but they cannot know they are true unless you, yourself, will speak for me. Without you there, they will take my memory of the maid's death as fact and your words to me as hearsay."

"What will they do to you if they don't believe you?" I asked.

"I am not a new vampire, Mercedes. If they decide that I have risked our kind by killing this woman, they will destroy me-just as your pack leader would have to destroy one wolf to protect the rest."

"All right," I agreed slowly.

"Only if I can come with her," Samuel amended.

"An escort of her choice," Stefan agreed. "Perhaps Adam Hauptman or one of his wolves. Dr. Cornick, please don't take offense, but I don't think you should come. My mistress was taken with you last time, and self-control in such matters is not her strong suit."

"Tell me when you need me," I said before Samuel could begin arguing. "I'll find an escort."

"Thank you," Stefan said, then hesitated. "It is dangerous for you to keep reminding the seethe what you are."

Walkers are not popular among the vampires. I'd gathered that when the vampires first came to this part of the New World, the walkers here had made themselves enough of a pest that the vampires had killed most of them off. Stefan wouldn't tell me anything more detailed. Some things I'd figured out-like most vampire magic didn't work on me. But I couldn't see how I was any danger to them-unlike, say, a werewolf would be.

Stefan had known what I was for years, but had kept it from his seethe until I'd gone to them for help. He'd gotten into trouble for it.

"They already know what I am," I told him. "I'll come. What's the second favor?"

"It's already too light out for me to travel," he said, waving a vague hand toward my window. "Do you have somewhere dark I might spend the day?"

The only place for Stefan to sleep was my closet. The closets in Samuel's room and the third bedroom had slatted doors that allowed too much light to go through. All of my windows had blinds, but nothing dark enough to keep a vampire safe.

My bedroom took up one end of the trailer-Samuel's room was on the opposite end. I opened my door to wave Stefan inside, but Samuel came, too. I sighed and didn't fuss. Samuel wouldn't leave me alone with Stefan without a fight I was too battered to enjoy.

My bedroom was littered with clothing, some dirty, some clean. The clean clothes were folded in stacks I hadn't gotten around to putting in my drawers. Scattered among the clothes were books, magazines, and mail I hadn't sorted yet. If I'd known I was going to have a man in my room, I'd have cleaned it.

I pulled open the closet and pulled out a couple of boxes and two pairs of shoes. That left it empty-except for the four dresses hanging on one side. It was a big closet, long enough for Stefan to lie down comfortably in.

"Samuel can get you a spare pillow and blanket," I said, gathering clothes as I spoke. My need to be clean had been growing since I woke up, and now it was desperate. I needed to get the smell of the woman's death off of my skin because I couldn't get it out of my head.

"Mercedes," said Stefan in a gentle tone. "I don't need a blanket. I'm not going to be sleeping, I'm going to be dead."

I don't know why that was the final straw. Maybe it was the implication that I didn't understand what he was-when I'd just had a graphic example of what vampires could do. I'd been halfway to the bathroom, but I turned back and stared at both men.

"Samuel is going to get you a blanket," I told him firmly. "And a pillow. You are going to sleep for the day in my closet. Dead people don't get to stay in my bedroom."

I shut the bathroom door behind me and dropped the afghan I wore on the floor. I heard Samuel say, "I'll get some bedding," before I turned on the shower to let it warm up.

There's a full length mirror on the door of my bathroom. One of those cheap ones with the imitation wood frame. When I turned to put my clothes on top of the sink where they wouldn't get wet, I got a good look at myself.

At first, all I could see was the dried blood. In my hair, on my face, down my shoulder, arm and hip. On my hands and feet.

I threw up in the toilet. Twice. Then I washed my hands and face and rinsed my mouth out with water.

I was not unacquainted with blood. I am sometimes a coyote, after all. I've killed my share of rabbits and mice. Last winter I killed two men-werewolves. But this death was different. Evil. He hadn't killed her for food, revenge, or self-defense. He'd killed her, and four other people, because he liked it. And I hadn't been able to stop him.

I looked back at the mirror.

Bruises bloomed on my ribs and shoulder. Dark purple marks traced the path the harness had run around my chest and ribs. I must have done that while I was struggling against Stefan's hold on my leash. The bruise on the outside edge of my right shoulder was more black than purple. The left side of my face was swollen cheekbone to jaw and red with the promise of a truly spectacular bruise.

I leaned forward and touched my puffy eyelid. I looked like a rape victim-except for the two dark marks on my neck.

They looked sort of like a rattlesnake bite, two dark half-formed scabs surrounded by swollen and reddened skin. I covered them with my hand and wondered how much I trusted Stefan's assessment that I would neither be turned into a vampire nor be subject to Littleton 's control.

I took out my hydrogen peroxide and dabbed it over the wounds, hissing at the sting. It didn't make me feel any cleaner. I took the bottle into the shower with me and poured the contents on my neck until the bottle was empty. Then I scrubbed.

The blood was soon gone, though it had turned the water at my feet rusty for a few seconds. But no matter how much soap and shampoo I used, I still felt dirty. The more I scrubbed the more frantic I felt. Littleton hadn't raped me, but he'd violated my body just the same. The thought of his mouth on me made my stomach churn again.

I stood under the hot spray until the water was cold.

Most Popular