Blood Red Chapter 16


Heidi was asleep, and yet...

She felt as if she were awake.

Awake and...

Being seduced. By someone-some thing -deliciously wicked. Something unknown, that couldn't- shouldn't -be. Something tainted with an irresistible touch of sin. It was as if the covers had been drawn back and a stranger had joined her. A known...stranger. She felt the air, warm and arousing, against her flesh as the covers were stripped away. She fire against her flesh as his hands teased along her thighs, fingers dancing delicately across her flesh. He spread her legs, and she couldn't believe the things he did to her then, the intimacies that were being taken. But, oh, God, the excitement that was growing in her, the heat rising in her center, hot, wet...

All while she was sleeping.

’’Let me,’’ came a voice.

And she knew she couldn't bear it if she didn't.

It was a dream, she told herself, only an erotic dream.

More and more intimate as that husky whisper repeated the words. ’’Let me...Let me...in. Let me into you.’’

She burned. Ached. Writhed.

’’Let me,’’ came the whisper against her flesh.

’’Yes,’’ she whispered. ’’Yes.’’

Although Maggie accompanied her, Lauren could tell that the other woman wasn't pleased about going to the library. She didn't seem easy with Lauren's research, either. But she sat there at a neighboring computer and uncomplainingly looked up various dates or pieces of information at Lauren's request.

Lauren found the process frustratingly slow. It seemed that every reference led her to another reference, and another, then finally to a dead end.

’’Hey...I think I found one of Mark's ancestors,’’ she said at last, skimming a newspaper article that had been written before the Civil War. ’’'Randolph Davidson and son supply regular cavalry.'’’ She looked at Maggie with excitement, then went on. ’’Davidson was the owner of Innisfarm, and he financed a militia group. He was apparently quite wealthy...look! His son's name was Mark!’’

’’You know families, they're always reusing names,’’ Maggie said.

Lauren kept scrolling through the now-defunct local paper. So much of what she read was so sad. Lists of the dead and pleas for information on missing sons. Then the man called ’’Beast’’ Butler came to New Orleans in 1862, and the city remained under Northern control from that point on.

She was about to give up on finding any more information on Mark's ancestors when she was startled to come upon a social page dating from 1870. The city was still struggling;the war had ended, but not the loss and the bitterness. Even so, engagements and weddings were still being listed. She read aloud. ’’'Mark Davidson arrives in town with future bride.'His bride-to-be was named Katya Bresniskaya, from Russia. The wedding was planned for the bride's homeland.’’

She turned and stared at Maggie. ’’How ridiculous! This is more or less the story Mark told me about his past,’’ she said, infutiated.

Maggie stared back at her, then sighed. ’’There's more.’’

She reached over and scrolled down the screen.

’’'Tragedy strikes again. Noble house falls to madness,'’’ Lauren read aloud. She looked over at Maggie, who wasn't even looking at the screen as she began to tell the story.

’’Father and son, and all the family who were still alive after the war, traveled to Kiev. On the day of the wedding, Randolph Davidson shot his daughter-in-law in the back with a silver-tipped wooden arrow. Katya's family's revenge was instantaneous. The wedding turned into a boodbath. Davidson was killed first. It was assumed his son was killed, as well, although his body wasn't returned for burial, as the father's was. It was a terrible day when Davidson was buried. He was put to rest on family land, and while the service was going on, the house burned to the ground. The land still lies vacant.’’

Lauren shook her head, staring wide-eyed at Maggie. ’’I don't understand. Is Mark suffering from some kind of delusion? Does he think he's this Mark Davidson? And if the father killed Katya why does he claim Stephan did it?’’

’’I think you should talk to Mark,’’ Maggie said. ’’But he doesn't just think he's that Mark Davidson, he is that Mark Davidson.’’

’’I'm not so sure I should be talking to anyone here,’’ Lauren said and glanced quickly away, then back at Maggie. ’’I'm sorry.’’

’’I can tell you one more thing, because I've known creatures like Stephan before. If you don't end this now, you will live in fear all your life. Either that, or you can just accept the life he wants for you.’’ Maggie shook her head. ’’I wish the others were here. Lucian would be especially helpful.’’

’’Lucian,’’ Lauren said, frowning. ’’Jonas talked about Lucian. About coming to see Lucian so he could work here...find a home here.’’

Maggie went on as if she hadn't heard Lauren, as if her thoughts were elsewhere.’’ It would be great to have Brent here, too.’’ She turned to Lauren then and said, sounding quite sane, ’’Brent is a werewolf.’’

Lauren blinked. They were all crazy, including this woman.

’’Mechanically enhanced,’’ Maggie added. ’’The war, you know.’’

’’The Civil War?’’

’’No, no. World War II.’’

Lauren stared at Maggie. ’’If I'm following what you're telling me...No, it's just insane. That would mean that Mark was a Confederate soldier in the Civil War. And that he survived the battles and Reconstruction, and in eighteen-seventy he married a girl named Katya who he'd met in New Orleans, a girl from Russia. But...his father, not Stephan, went mad and killed her, and somehow Mark is over a century old.’’

Maggie looked uncomfortable. ’’You really need to talk to him.’’

’’Were you alive during the Civil War?’’ Lauren demanded.

Maggie lowered her head, wincing.

’’You're telling me that you were.’’

’’Please, Lauren, talk to Mark.’’

Lauren suddenly felt as if she had to escape. Sitting in the library, surrounded students and retirees busy at the computers, patronssearching for books, and mothers with their children, she felt as if she alone had entered a world of insanity. Vampires were bad enough, but all this...

The dream that had haunted her now seemed far too real. Had Stephan somehow entered her mind? She wouldn't have come here, to the library, if it hadn't been for the dream.

Could it be possible? Had Mark been chasing Stephan for over a hundred years? Since just after the Civil War?

No, it was impossible.

But what if it were real? Then she could understand the build-up of hatred, of his desperate longing to find justice. But that still didn't explain why he blamed Stephan, not his father, for Katya's death.

She shook her head, as if to clear her mind. She really couldn't take any more of any of this right now.

Maggie was blithely talking about a friend who was a werewolf and had apparently been ’’ernhanced’’ in some way during during World War II, but she couldn't bring herself to listen. She was too busy obsessing over the possibility that Mark had been around for over a hundred years.

She stood up, feeling ill. Had Mark been lying to her all along? Evading the truth all along? Had he mistrusted Jonas when he was really no better than the other man?

At least Jonas admitted what he was....

She stood up, angry, confused, and thinking there was really only one person she could trust.

Herself.

’’Let's go,’’ she said, hoping her agitation wasn't evident in her voice.

’’Lauren, please, I wish I knew how to convince you that Stephan has to be stopped.’’

’’I do believe he has to be stopped.’’ I just don't know what else I believe, she thought.

Maggie's turned her phone on as they left the library, and seconds later it rang. She answered, and Lauren watched her face grow pale.

’’What is it?’’

’’We have to get back to the house.’’

’’What's happened?’’

’’Heidi is gone.’’

From the moment he and Jonas entered the house, Mark knew that something wasn't right.

There were vampires here, that was for certain. As the door closed behind them, Mark felt the flutter of wings. He turned his flashlight toward the sound. The creature veered slightly, shrieking with pure fury. He swung the heavy hammer he carried, stunning the creature. It fell to the floor, stunned. His stakes were honed to razor sharpness, and his aim was excellent;he speared it instantly. A smell rose as it let out a dying gasp and disappeared in a puff of dust and grime, a flash of fire. It didn't totally disintegrate;it's skull rolled and crashed into an arm bone. As he watched, there came another fluttering;this time one of the hideous beings was heading for Jonas.

Jonas cried out and ducked, but he swung as well, replicating Mark's earlier move. They had to catch the things in air, knock them down, then impale them instantly. That seemed to be the method.

Mark aimed his light across the room. The flooring was gone in places, an d he could see down into the basement below them.

’’Most of them will be down there,’’ he told Jonas. ’’Hopefully asleep.’’

Jonas swallowed hard. ’’Let's go.’’

They found the stairs. Jonas almost crashed through a rotten step on the way down, but Mark caught him. The basement turned out to be filled with coffins, some relatively modern, some ancient and decaying. ’’Go for the old ones first,’’ Mark told Jonas.

’’Shouldn't we do them together?’’ Jonas asked thickly.

’’Do you see how many there are?’’ Mark asked him.

’’Um...yeah.’’

’’No time to partner up.’’ Mark went for what looked to be the oldest coffin and opened it quickly. The woman sleeping inside was young and beautiful, dressed in an elegant gown that spoke of a long-ago time in a distant place. She had become as she was in the late seventeen hundreds, he guessed.

’’My God,’’ Jonas breathed from just behind Mark. ’’That...angel can't be a creature of evil.’’

Mark stared at him.

The woman's eyes suddenly popped open, and she stared at them in shock and fury. Her lips curled back as she hissed out a terrible sound of hatred.

’’Shit!’’ Jonas said.

’’You should know,’’ Mark told him harshly.

He lifted his stake over her heart just as she started to move. Not fast enough. He hammered the point into her. Her mouth opened again, but this time no sound came. Instead, blood spilled out. She had feasted quite recently. She began to change, her beautiful face turning skeletal, and then she was soot.

Mark heard a rustling in the next coffin and turned on Jonas. ’’Damn you, move!’’

Jonas swallowed and came to life.

’’The old ones. Go for the older ones first,’’ Mark reminded him, then headed for the coffin where he'd heard the rustling. When he swung it open, the dignified and elderly Edwardian vampire was ready.

But so was he.

The creature never growled, never let out so much as a shriek. He simply exploded in silence, with nothing but a puff of black.

Mark began to move more quickly. After a moment he heard Jonas let out a moan. He turned instantly, worried. But Jonas was all right. He was stranding over an open coffin, his features twisted into a grimace of disgust.

’’Ugh,’’ he murmured. ’’I hit a juicy one.’’

Mark grated his teeth with impatience. ’’Move, and quickly. They're waking up.’’

While he was speaking, he was hastilyflipping open lids, mindless of the noise he was making. By the time they reached the last two coffins, the vampires were out and ready for battle. Jonas let out a cry of surprise when one caught hold of his shoulders and prepared to cannibalize him.

Mark drew out his water pistol of holy water.

The creature, struck, let out a cry like the Wicked Witch of the East. Mark shot again, but by then Jonas had gathered both his wits and his strength. He turned, his stake dripping blood from previous kills, and slammed it into the writhing creature.

Mark dealt with the last vampire the same way;a stream of water, followed by a fierce impaling.

’’All right,’’ he told Jonas. ’’Go back now. Wherever the head is still attached, well, you know what to do.’’

As they continued to work, Jonas asked, ’’How the hell is anyone ever going to explain this?’’

’’That's Sean Canady's department,’’ Mark said. ’’Apparently, he's handled situations like this before.’’

’’Oh, God,’’ Jonas moaned again. ’’This is just gross.’’

Mark stepped back, playing his light around the room. They had taken care of every coffin in the place and destroyed at least forty of the deadly creatures, but something was still wrong.

’’I don't know how he does it,’’ he said.

’’What?’’ Jonas asked absently, working on the last corpse, ’’a juicy one,’’ as he called the younger vampires.

’’This place...it's a decoy,’’ Mark said. ’’These were Stephan's sacrifices.’’ He stared at Jonas. ’’He wanted us to find this place-wanted me to find it.’’

’’Why?’’ Jonas asked.

Innocently? Mark wondered.

’’So he could be busy elsewhere,’’ Mark said angrily, and turned toward the stairs. He had to get back to Montresse House as quickly as possible.

No sooner had Maggie hung up than Lauren's cell. She didn't recognize the voice at first.

’’Don't speak to anyone. I don't know where you are or who you 're with, but you have to come to me now. Do you understand?’’

It was Susan, the fortune-teller, she realized

’’No,’’ she said harshly.

She could hear a note of misery in the woman's voice. Like a sob. But was it real?

’’I'm the messenger, just the messenger,’’ the woman said. ’’He has Heidi. And he says he'll kill her, and that her death will be on your head.’’

Maggie was staring at her questioningly.

’’It's nothing,’’ Lauren lied.

’’Come to the Square,’’ Susan said, then made a strange sound. A sound of pain, Lauren thought.

Don't do anything stupid, don't act insanely, she warned herself.

It was as if Stephan knew what she was thinking and was using Susan to make sure she knew it. ’’You can get help, maybe even eventually bring him down. But Stephan wants to know if that will really matter, because, if you don't come now, Heidi will definitely be dead.’’

How the hell had he gotten to Heidi?

She remembered her own dream. He had that power. He could enter the mind.

’’What is it?’’ Maggie persisted.

’’Nothing, just a call from back home,’’ Lauren lied.

She heard Susan's voice again, a whisper this time. ’’Don't come. He wants you, but you can't give him what he wants. You-’’

Susan's voice suddenly broke off in a chilling, gasping sound. Lauren realized that Maggie was still staring at her and knew she couldn't let her face betray her fear.

’’You sure nothing's wrong?’’ Maggie asked.

Lauren covered the phone. ’’A client's are not happy with a project, that's all,’’ she said, then returned her attention to the call.

But the phone had gone dead.

They were nearing Maggie's Volvo, and Lauren realized she had to act fast, so she said, ’’Damn. I can't find my wallet. It must have fallen out of my bag. I'll be right back.’’

She turned and raced back into the library.

Then out the back door.

The call came the minute they stepped out onto the broken-down porch. It was Stacey, and she was frantic. ’’I don't understand. The house was completely protected. There was no way he could have forced his way in.’’

’’But Heidi is gone? Mark asked.

’’Yes,’’ Susan told him miserably.

His heart thundered. ’’Lauren?’’

’’She should be back any minute,’’ Stacey told him.

’’Back? From where?’’ he demanded.

’’She went to the library with Maggie, but they're on their way back here.’’

’’We're on our way, too,’’ he told Stacey.

’’Wait!’’ Jonas cried. ’’Deanna?’’

’’Deanna?’’ Mark said into the cell.

’’She's fine.’’

He nodded to Jonas, who was actually shaking. And, still, Mark couldn't help but wonder whether this supposedly good vampire was for real. After all, he was the one who had spotted the house where the creatures were resting. A house that had been a decoy.

He hung up. ’’Let's go,’’ he told Jonas and sprinted for the car.

Lauren found a taxi that took her down to the Square.

It was still light, but twilight was coming soon. It had been a beautiful, brilliant, sunny day, but now glorious streaks of pink and crimson were making their way in waves across a sky still lit by the glittering orb of the sinking sun.

But what did daylight matter in the end? Stephan could move freely by day when he chose. Darkness simply gave him even greater power.

There were people everywhere and no shadows yet, but even so, Lauren felt a rising sense of fear as she looked around the Square, then headed to the spot where she had first met Susan.

Where she had first seen Stephan in the crystal ball.

She stood in the square, facing the Cathedral, and felt a breeze that blew across her skin like a chilling caress.

She turned and looked around-and wondered how she had missed it.

A small tent had been pitched near what she thought of as Susan's spot.

The same tent she had entered that first night, which now seemed ridiculously long ago.

A lifetime ago.

Her hand shaking, she drew back the flap.

And found Susan.

Deanna didn't know what was wrong with her. She certainly didn't feel sick. She did feel...vindicated. She also felt as if she were truly falling in love for the first time.

With Jonas...

Talk about a mixed marriage.

Even so, as she stood in the living room of Montresse House, knowing Jonas was on his way, she felt compelled to leave. Something was telling her that she had to get out. And that she couldn';t tell anyone where she was going.

She heard Bobby and Big Jim talking on the other side of the room. ’’Maybe we shouldn't have trusted that bastard Jonas,’’ Bobby said. ’’Maybe Mark would have been back by now if it weren't for him.’’

’’I'll kill him,’’ Big Jim said angrily.

Get out, get out now, a voice in Deanna's head commanded. Get out. Come to me.

She could see him in her mind's eye, a tall dark man, and he was beckoning to her.

’’Looks like we'd better get ready for a major fight,’’ Bobby said. ’’I'll call Sean. It looks like this is going to be the showdown.’’

Bit Jim asked, ’’How do you know?’’

’’I don't know,’’ Bobby admitted. ’’I just feel it, I guess. I've learned to go on intuition sometimes.’’

Big Jim stared at him, then nodded knowingly. ’’Yeah,’’ he said simply, then headed for the back of the house, followed by Bobby.

Deanna looked toward the front door.

Come to me. Help me. I need your help. Please...

She glanced around quickly. No one in sight.

She opened the door and walked out.

Susan was lying on the floor, bleeding from a gash on her head....

Bleeding profusely from her throat.

Lauren let out a soft cry and knelt down beside her, desperate to find a pulse. She fumbled with her phone while she sought the woman's wrist and hit 911 instinctively. ’’Susan, oh, Susan...I'm so sorry,’’ she murmured. An operator came on, and Lauren quickly gave her location. There had to be officers on the street. There had to be help nearby.

’’Oh, Susan...’’ she said miserably.

The woman's lips moved.

Lauren bent close to her, her heart in her throat. She was torn. The woman was badly hurt, maybe even near death. But she had to try to get her to speak. Had to find Stephan and save Heidi.

’’He was here, wasn't he? Stephan was here. He hurt you. And now I have to find him. I have to help Heidi. Susan, where is she? Please, you have to help me.’’

She could hear a siren. Thank God. Help was coming.

’’Please, Susan!’’

Again the woman's lips moved.

Lauren bent lower and finally realized what Susan was saying, the words she was repeating over and over again.

An address.

Judy Lockwood, aware that idle hands and idle minds were never good, kept up with her knitting, hour after hour. But as she looked down at her stitches, she suddenly had an uncanny feeling and looked up.

Leticia was awake.

She wasn't just awake. She was straining against her restraints and staring at Judy. ’’The hour has come.’’

Judy frowned, then hurried to her niece's side. ’’Leticia, thank the Lord, you're awake.’’

Leticia didn't seem to see her, though. She only repeated, ’’The hour has come.’’

’’What hour, Leticia? What hour?’’ Judy asked, frowning.

Leticia stared straight at her then, as if noticing her for the first time. ’’I saw him. He was killing a woman in the Square.’’

Judy thought that maybe she should call for a doctor.

But she didn't.

She made a different call, instead.

Mark practically flew into the house. Jonas was right behind him.

’’Where's Lauren?’’ Mark demanded of Maggie, who only stared at him, stricken. The others were there, as well, Big Jim, Bobby and Stacey. But there was no sign of Lauren, or of Heidi and Deanna.

’’She got away from me at the library,’’ Maggie said.

’’Deanna?’’ Jonas cried.

No one moved. They only looked guiltily away. He finally paid attention to his surroundings and realized that the grand entry hall of the mansion looked like a strange arsenal, with all kinds of bizarre weapons arranged in rows. There were a slew of water pistols. Bows and arrows. Stakes and hammers. Everyone was wearing a large cross. They were prepared.

But they were alone.

He turned, ready to accuse Jonas, but the man looked so stricken that Mark could only conclude that he really was good, or else he was such an accomplished actor that he should have been a stand-in for Benedict Arnold.

’’Exactly what happened?’’ Mark demanded, looking from face to face.

’’Heidi was sleeping. I checked on her every few minutes,’’ Stacey said.

’’Deanna was downstairs with us,’’ Bobby said.

Heidi and Deanna had walked out on their own, Mark knew. Stephan hadn't gotten in-except into their minds.

He swung around to stare accusingly at Maggie.

Where had Lauren gone when she left the library? The nightmare that had plagued him forever was alive and vivid in his mind's eye.

A bride in white, walking down the aisle, her eyes aglow with love.

And then the blood, the rivers of blood...

’’Has anyone gotten hold of Sean?’’ he asked.

’’Yes,’’ Maggie said.

Just then Mark's phone rang. He answered and heard Sean Canady's voice. ’’The Square,’’ he said simply. ’’A fortune-teller was attacked in her tent.’’

Mark turned around, heading for the door. ’’The Square!’’ he shouted.

’’Wait!’’ Bobby yelled.

But Mark wasn't waiting.

’’Catch up with me!’’ he commanded.

Lauren was torn. The ambulance would be there any second. She couldn't leave Susan.

But she had to leave Susan. Because she had to save Heidi.

What if Susan died-as she probably would-because she had tried to warn her away when Stephan had been with her?

Stephan was a vicious bastard. He killed for his own pleasure and amusement. He only let his victims ’’live’’ sometimes so he could enjoy their even greater torment.

Or to create his army.

And Heidi would never have been one of Stephan's victims if not for her.

There was no help for it. She had to find her friend.

As she left through the back flap, she heard the paramedics approaching the tent and prayed they weren't too late.

Mark reached the Square to find a scene of utter chaos. An ambulance and two police cars were parked in the middle of the pedestrian area. Artists, singers, musicians and tourists were standing around in awkward groups, some being questioned by the police, others just curious to see what all the fuss was about.

Mark forced his way through the crowd to where an officer was holding everyone back and fielding questions.

’’She was attacked,’’ one bystander said. ’’I saw them bring her out. She was covered in blood.’’

’’Was it him? Was it the man who threw those women into the river?’’ someone else asked.

He had to get into the ambulance, Mark decided. And it didn't matter how.

Just then Sean Canady pulled up in his car. He saw Mark and beckoned him over.

’’I have to speak to Susan,’’ Mark said.

’’I have to get to her. I have to,’’ Mark told Sean.

They strode over to the rescue vehicle. The back door was still open;Susan was inside, lying on a stretcher.

’’You'll have to question her later, lieutenant,’’ the med-tech said. ’’She's in bad shape, lost a lot of blood. The wound on her head...it's amazing her entire skull wasn't caved in. We're getting ready to take off.’’

’’This man needs a minute with her,’’ Canady said.

’’All right. Come in. But she's probably dying. She's hanging on by a thread.’’

Mark leapt up and took Susan's hands in his own. He willed strength into her, prayed that she would open her eyes.

She didn't.

But her lips began to move.

He leaned close to her.

She could barely form words.

But he managed to understand.

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