"Remember to look for cars parked in the shadows of columns or trees," Eleisha said, glancing around the Lloyd Center parking lot.
"I know," Rose answeredrather shortly. "But I fed only a week ago. I don't see why we keep going back out so soon."
Eleisha looked away and didn't answer, as they should not be having a chat about feeding practices in the open.
They stood on the sidewalk near a theater complex with a warm night breeze blowing past, both of them appearing to be typical Portland citizens. Eleisha looked about seventeen, dressed in jeans and a tank top, her dark blond hair in a loose braid.
Rose de Spenser looked about thirty, an elegant lady, tall and slender in a linen dress. Though her face was smooth, she had several streaks of white running through her long brown hair.
Yes, the two of them appeared quite normal.
But Eleisha was beginning to wonder whether these training sessions would ever get any easier.
"I can't see Philip," Rose said, looking across the street toward the nearest light-rail stop. "Is he still watching us?"
"Yes, he's watching."
And that was another thing. Due to recent encroaching dangers, Eleisha couldn't go hunting alonenot without a guardianas if she were a child instead of a two-hundred-year-old telepathic member of the undead. She gritted her teeth.
Things would improve.
They had to.
However, right now she faced the daunting task of teaching Rose to feed without killing. Eleisha had learned that vampires were latent telepathsthey could replace the memories of their victims, and in centuries past had always fed without killing.
She was determined to reinstate this practice.
"Okay, the movie's getting out," she said, watching people pour from the main theater doors. "Just let the crowd thin and then look for someone alone."
Watching the flow of human traffic, she was tempted to point out a few good prospects, but she wanted Rose to learn on her own. This drastic change of hunting methods hadn't been easy on any of them, as they'd all fallen into deeply set patterns decades ago, relying on the power of their gifts to draw victims away…; and then drain them and hide the bodies.
Eleisha knew that Rose was still struggling with this new way of hunting.
"There," Rose said softly, her brown eyes following a young man moving toward the far edge of the parking lot.
She had a tendency to choose men.
But Eleisha didn't care as long the potential victim was alone and moving toward a car in the shadows.
Without a word, she and Rose fell into step about ten feet behind him. A row of willow trees lined the edge of the lot, and Eleisha was beginning to think Rose had chosen well, until the young man took out his keys and pressed a button to unlock a green Toyota pickup.
Trucks weren't the best option.
But Rose didn't stop.
"Excuse me," she said, letting the power of her gift flow outward. "Could you assist us?"
Within a few nights of becoming undead, a specific element of their previous personality developed into an overwhelming aura that could be turned on and off at will. Rose's gift was an aura of wisdom. When she used her gift and spoke, her victims fell under a spell of the absolute sense and truth of her words.
The young man stopped and turned around. He was clean shaven and wearing a Mariners baseball cap.
"My friend and I have been out walking, and we must have taken a wrong turn," Rose went on. "We hoped you could direct us to the DoubleTree Hotel on Multnomah Street."
He stared at her, listening. Eleisha found this to be a poor opening on Rose's part, as she was asking for something instead of making a suggestion.
"Yeah," he said, still moving his eyes up and down Rose's face. "It's not farjust a few blocks."
"It's so dark out now," Rose said. "We would not be safe. It would be best if you drove us."
Oh, well, that's better, Eleisha thought. She'd been half tempted to turn on her own gift but changed her mind. The young man's expression shifted to concern, and Eleisha could see his mind working under the influence of Rose's suggestion. Of course it was too dark now. Of course the only wise choice was for him to drive them back to their hotel.
As if letting two strangers into his truck was the most natural thing in the world, he hurried over to the passenger door and opened it. "Here, I'll take you."
"I am Rose," she said, smiling.
"Jason," he said, holding the door open.
Eleisha shook her head slightly to clear it. The problem with hunting in teams was that they were not immune to each other's gifts, so when Rose spoke and let her aura of wisdom flow, Eleisha could be seduced by an absolute belief in Rose's words as well. She needed to keep sharp and focused.
Rose climbed in first, so that she would be in the middle, and Eleisha climbed in afterward, pressed up against the passenger-side door.
As Jason ran around the back of the truck, Rose whispered, "This is difficult! I'm not hungry yet."
"We can't wait until you're starving again," Eleisha whispered back, and then fell silent as Jason opened the driver's-side door.
This was an issue Rose had not been able to overcome. Since being turned in the early nineteenth century, she'd regretted killing so much that she always pushed herself to the very edge of starvation before leaving her house to go out and feed. So, while a part of her seemed to welcome Eleisha's training, another part found using her powers to hunt nearly impossible unless she was hungry to the point of weakness. But…; when she was that starved, she also had a tendency to lose control and drain blood too quickly.
Put him to sleep, Eleisha flashed telepathically. You know what to do.
Though she was skilled with her gift of wisdom, Rose's telepathic abilities were coming along more slowly. She was just beginning to master putting a victim into a deep sleep and holding him there.
The truck was covered by shadows and the parking lot was nearly empty. Jason reached over to put his key in the ignition, but Rose touched his hand.
"Wait," she said softly. "You're tired. You need to rest first."
He blinked slowly, looking at her face, and then he closed his eyes, his head lolling back against the seat.
The action was faster and smoother than Rose had managed in the past, so at least she was gaining better control.
She had the rest of the routine down fairly well. She simply lacked drive and motivation unless she was starving.
Lifting Jason's wrist to her mouth, she punctured his skin carefully with her teeth and began sucking in mouthfuls of his blood. Eleisha slipped inside Rose's mind, tasting the blood, seeing images of Jason's recent memories as Rose consumed some of his life force…; His father had cancer, his mother was a doctor; they lived in a sky blue house on the outskirts of the city; he'd come to the movies alone because of a stupid fight with his girlfriend, Patricia…;
Rose stopped feeding.
She connected the puncture holes on his wrist with her teeth and then slipped further inside Jason's unconscious mind, taking him back to the moment he'd left the theater and altering his memories. He'd walked to his truck alone, but just before reaching it, he'd slipped and fallen hard, cutting his wrist on a broken beer bottle. He'd climbed into the truck before realizing how badly he'd cut himself, and then he'd passed out.
Eleisha monitored all of this in Rose's mind.
"Good," she said quietly, opening the door to slip out. "Be sure to lock his door."
They would leave him asleep, locked inside his truck, but he would wake up soon, almost as soon as they left him. He had given up some of his life energy, and yet he would still live.
This was how Eleisha's predecessors had hunted for centuries, and this was how anyone she found, anyone she helped, was going to hunt.
Rose followed her back toward the light-rail stop.
"That was good," Eleisha said again. "I didn't have to help you at all."
"It's getting easier."
Philip? Eleisha flashed.
Philip Branté stepped from the dark trees behind the light-rail stop. He was so tall, Eleisha had to tilt back her head.
"Is baseball-cap boy still breathing?" he joked, his French accent blending the words together.
His skin was ivory, and his eyes were a shade of light amber. He wore his red-brown hair in long layers down to the top of his collarand he spent a small fortune on products. But even in the warm night, he wore a long Armani coat to cover the machete fastened to his belt.
"Still breathing," Eleisha answered. "We should move to a different part of the city so you can feed, too."
He'd taken her downtown a few nights before, so she didn't need to hunt again yet.
"No," he answered. "I'll see you and Rose back to the church and then go out by myself."
She frowned. They'd all made a pact not to go out at night alone.
Philip was the only one who ignored this agreement. He believed he could take care of himself.
She didn't argue with him, as she was well aware that he'd become very adept at putting victims to sleep and altering their memories on his own. He didn't need her training anymore.
Besides, her relationship to him was growing…; complicated, so she picked her battles carefully.
"Okay, but don't come back here," she said.
They varied their locations every week.
"I'll go to the riverfront."
She nodded and followed him down the street, with Rose walking beside her.
Wade Sheffield sat in the office he'd set up on the main floor of the church, scanning his computer screen for any news stories of people being checked into hospitals with unexplained blood loss.
Summer was passing quicklynearly over.
Both windows were open, allowing the night breeze to carry in a scent of roses, lilacs, and hydrangeas from the garden. He lifted his eyes from the screen, gazing outside at the wrought-iron fence.
He'd been living here for several months with three vampires and a ghost. He was probably the only mortal in the world more comfortable with the undead than he was with normal people, but he'd been able to read minds all his life, and "normal people" did not enjoy his company.
So now the five of them were trying to make this abandoned old brick church into a home, and to his surprise, they were succeeding.
They dubbed the church "the underground."
The main floor comprised a large sanctuary, complete with stained-glass windows and two offices. Wade now occupied one office, and Rose had turned the other into her bedroom.
The upstairs was not currently in use, but it sported six rooms that had once been engaged for Sunday school classes, and later, these would be used to house any lost vampires they found.
The basement comprised a three-bedroom apartment where Wade, Eleisha, and Philip lived, as well as an industrial-sized kitchen the old congregation had once used for potluck dinners.
Rose and Wade had overseen much of the recent remodel.
They'd replaced shabby carpets and refinished several hardwood floors. Fresh paint covered the walls, and thick shades covered the downstairs windows. Philip had wanted to board those windows up, as they were close to the ground and too accessible, but Eleisha talked him out of it, so he'd opted for bulletproof glass and stronger locks.
While working on the church, they'd all at least felt busy, felt that they were making progress. But for the past week, Wade had sensed a restlessness vibrating from his companions, and he couldn't help viewing himself as a failure in their true goal: to find other vampires in hiding and bring them here…; before Julian Ashton could intercept them on the journey back.
From what Wade understood, nearly two hundred years ago, Julian had realized that even as a vampire, he would never develop telepathywould never be like his peersand out of fear, he'd gone on a killing spree, beheading telepathic vampires but leaving the younger ones, who had not yet been trained, alone.
Almost two centuries passed.
But when Wade had first met Eleisha, connected with her, and awakened her latent telepathy, they'd set a chain of events into motion, and they were now in a position to try to repair small, dangling, leftover remnants of the damage Julian had done, to find others still in hiding and create something akin to the way Eleisha's predecessors had once existed.
Their strategy was for Wade to search out any online news stories of homicide victims drained of blood or of living people checked into hospitals with cuts or gashes that did not warrant an unexplained amount of blood loss. He'd once worked as a police psychologist, and he knew a good deal about where to search for such stories.
Then they would attempt to make contact, travel to meet the vampire, and try to bring him or her safely home to the church before Julian came out of the shadows swinging a swordas he had done before.
However, two months had passed and, as yet, Wade had not uncovered a single story that panned out. He knew Eleisha was becoming afraid that maybe they'd been wrongmaybe there was no one else left.
But Wade was doing his level best to find a lead and start a new journey. He'd also been attempting to drag his companions, kicking and screaming, into the twenty-first century. In addition to having a computer and Internet access installed in the church, he'd purchased and set up cell phones for Rose, Eleisha, and Philip. Only Eleisha had shown interest. Rose was daunted by the prospect of learning to check her voice mailand she'd simply put the phone in her top dresser drawer. Philip seemed to view his as some kind of "leash" and didn't care for the prospect at all.
Wade was determined to keep trying.
"Anything?" a masculine voice with a Scottish accent asked.
Wade half turned. "Not yet, but I've only just started tonight."
Seamus de Spenser, the final member of the group, was standing behind him, looking over his shoulder. Seamus' body was transparent, as always. Though long dead, he looked like a young man, his brown hair hanging to his shoulders. He wore a blue and yellow Scottish plaid draped across his shoulder and held by a belt over the black breeches he had died in. The knife sheath at his hip was empty.
He was Rose's nephew, and he'd died the same night she was turnedbut had come back as a spirit, forever tied to her.
Wade and Seamus got along well.
Although all four of Wade's companions possessed some exotic element to their appearance, he viewed himself as rather commonin his early thirties, with a tall, possibly too-slender build. His only outstanding feature was a shock of white-blond hair. He hadn't bothered to get it cut for almost five months, and it was now long enough to tuck behind his ears.
"I've just finished the New York papers, and I'm moving to Europe again," he said.
"I hope you find something soon, even if it comes to nothing again. I'd like to go out looking."
Seamus comprised a key component of their strategy. Once Wade located a possible location, he would send Seamus to investigate. As a ghost, Seamus could zero in on a vampireor anything undeadonce he was in the being's general vicinity. Unfortunately, he couldn't stay too long, as his spirit was tied to Rose, and the longer he stayed away from her, the weaker he became.
She was the anchor that grounded him.
Wade had sent him out twice in the past few weeks, once to Alaska and once to Barcelona, but any hints in the news stories had been thin at best, and Seamus had found nothing unnatural on the other end.
"What's this one coming up?" Seamus asked, leaning closer.
"The Evening Standard," Wade answered. "From London."
"Maybe looking in such big cities won't help ustoo many other stories to cover. Can you seek out smaller papers, for smaller towns?" Seamus floated backward, drifting toward the door.
Wade tightened his mouth for a moment and then said, "I have. This is more complicated than just…; oh, wait, listen to this." He squinted, leaning closer to the screen, reading a headline. "POLICE CHASING MADMAN ATTACKED BY OWN DOGS NEAR KING'S CROSS STATION."
"I don't see how that"
"Hang on. Just let me skim this."
Saturday night, a disruption occurred near Euston Road outside of King's Cross Station when the sound of a woman screaming sent two policemen racing through pedestrians. Both policemen had dogs in tow, and according to several witnesses, a grizzly scene awaited them in the alley between Crestfield and Belgrove.
They came upon what one witness described as a "wild man biting a woman." The attacker had blood smeared upon his face and hands, and as the police arrived, he is said to have "snarled like an animal and then run out the other end of the alley."
Police gave chase, only to have their own dogs suddenly break away and turn upon them, stopping any possible pursuit. Within moments, the dogs ceased their attack and are being held for observation, pending destruction. The names of the policemen have not been released, but one is in Whittington Hospital with multiple bite wounds.
The female victim, identified as Gloria Melika, is expected to recover. Her attacker has not been apprehended.
Wade stopped scanning. Then he read the article aloud to Seamus. They both fell quiet for a few moments.
"What do you think?" Wade finally asked, but he really wasn't speaking to Seamus…; more to himself. A wild man biting a woman? Two police dogs turning on their own handlers? And near a busy station in London?
"I think you should open up our maps," Seamus answered.
In addition to the desk and the computer, the small office was dominated by several large bookshelves that Wade had been filling with travel literature and maps. Seamus had found that by studying a detailed map and then "wishing" himself someplace, he could travel quickly from one point to the next if he could keep the line of travel clear in his mind.
"Here," Wade said, hurrying to the nearest shelf. "Start with the atlas."
Since Seamus couldn't physically touch anything, Wade began pulling materials off the shelves. Moving among several maps, they began with a large image of America and England, then worked their way down to London, and finally to a street schematic around King's Cross Station.
"You got it?" Wade asked.
Seamus nodded his transparent head.
Voices drifted in from outside: the light tones of Rose and Eleisha talking as they came through the wrought-iron gate.
"They're back early," Wade said. "Do you want to wait and tell them where you're going?"
"No, you tell them…; but try not to get their hopes up."
Although he'd been dead many years, Seamus retained a good deal of his humanity, and he still worried over the feeling of others.
"I'll be careful," Wade promised.
The air around Seamus wavered, and he vanished. Wade watched the empty spot a little longer, and then he left the office, heading to meet Eleisha and Rose.
As he passed through the door into the sanctuary, he wondered, Where's Philip?
Philip walked along Naito Parkway above the Willamette River. He'd never been one to become fond of places, but he liked hunting down hereall the dark shadows and the rushing water made it easy to dump a body.
On the parkway's west side, a row of towering hotels cast more darkness over the river.
Most of the time, he hunted exactly as Eleisha wanted him to. He'd even become good at it.
But sometimes, like tonight, he grew overwhelmed by the need to drain an entire life, fill himself with blood, and feel a heart stop while he was still drinking.
Eleisha could not find out about these nights. If she did, she would not forgive him, and he could no longer exist without her. She fed him something he'd never even known he was starving for, and he had no intention of ever being without her again.
Everyone had secrets. As long as he kept his, all would be well.
He walked along, looking down at the river, reveling in being alone. Although he'd come to need company, being alone once in a while was good, too. It meant he could do anything he wanted.
As long as he wasn't alone too long.
Eleisha and Wade had shown him that there were other things to do with his nights besides just hunting, such as playing poker with plastic chips or watching movies together using the DVD player. Since settling in the church, Eleisha had also started a bizarre practice of reading books to them aloud. At first, Philip expected this to be boring beyond belief…; but it wasn't. She chose detective novels by Robert Crais or humorous books about an inept woman bounty hunter by a writer named Janet Evanovich. She even read older books by P. G. Wodehouse, which made Wade laugh out loud. Philip didn't always understand what was so funny, but he liked watching Eleisha make Wade laugh.
This last thought stirred up images of the church, of home, of Eleisha waiting there for him, and he walked faster.
He passed a few maple trees when a familiar sound tickled his ears.
Someone nearby was weeping softly.
He stepped off the sidewalk, into the small park beside the river, and looked around, stopping for a moment to listen with his eyes closed. Then he walked behind the line of trees.
A woman sat on the ground, her arms wrapped around her legs, her face pressed into her knees as she tried to cover her sobs.
"You are sad," Philip said, letting his gift begin to flow.
She jerked her head up in surprise.
She was not young, perhaps mid-thirties, with dark red hair and blond highlights. But even tear streaked, her face was pleasing. She seemed overdressed to be sitting on the ground, but then he noticed that her black velvet gown looked like something from a Nordstrom rack, and yet she wore a slender Rolex and Prada pumps.
She was interesting.
"What's wrong?" he asked, using both his gift and his heavy French accent to make her study him in turn.
Philip had never given much thought or appreciation to his gift. He couldn't remember anything about his life as a mortalas if his existence began the night he was turnedso his gift had always seemed a part of him.
He exuded an overwhelming aura of attraction. The moment he spoke, his victims were fascinated by him, longing to touch him, to please him.
She stared at his face as he moved closer and crouched down. He reached out and wiped away her tears with his fingers. She let him.
"Tell me," he whispered.
"I was going to get married," she whispered back. "Finally. To a stockbroker here in the city. We were happy."
He waited, cocking his head to one side.
"He ran a credit check and found out…; I don't come from money," she went on as if she knew Philip, as if he was a friend. "I owe fifty thousand dollars on all my cards to…; to look like this. He broke it off over dinner." She let out another sob. "I couldn't go home alone to my apartment."
She was in pain, and to his great surprise, she moved him.
He didn't like the feeling. He'd come out alone so he could hunt to please himself.
Leaning closer, he let the full power of his gift engulf her, and she gasped, reaching out to touch his hair, her eyes shifting back and forth across his face.
"It's all right," he said.
He kissed her, like a mortal would. He did this often while hunting alone.
But always before, when he killed to feed, he liked to take the experience to a certain point and then turn off his gift so he could feel attraction shift suddenly to terror. He liked to feel his victim struggle and fight and scream. He fed on fear as much as blood.
Tonight was different.
He didn't turn off his gift. He didn't want to terrify her. Instead, he moved his mouth down to her throat and gripped the back of her neck. In a flash, he bit down hard, but he didn't rip her throat, just drove his teeth in to feed. He let himself drink as quickly as he pleased, swallowing without care or concern. She bucked once, but he held on to her easily, letting his gift calm her while he consumed her life, her memories, everything that she had been.
He saw a childhood of poverty in a filthy mobile home. A mother smoking cigarettes and watching television. He felt a longing to escape. He saw a series of cubicles and computers as she typed in data at various jobs. He saw a chain of boyfriends that stopped at a square-jawed man in a gray wool coat. The stockbroker. Matthew. She loved him. He represented everything she'd ever wanted. Then Philip saw a posh restaurant, and Matthew was speaking coldly, telling her to leave, as if she mattered little more than the empty wineglass in front of him.
The woman's heart stopped beating, and Philip raised his head, looking into her dead face.
He'd never fed like this beforekilling a victim without reveling in pain or fear.
Even though the choice had been his, he suddenly felt…; unsatisfied. He didn't allow himself the luxury of killing very often for fear of Eleisha finding out, and now he'd just wasted a chance. What was wrong with him?
A flash of hot anger surprised him as much as his earlier moment of pity had.
Eleisha was doing something to him, and he knew it. But he needed her more than he needed his freedom.
The anger passed.
Still looking down at the dead woman, he picked her up and carried her toward the river. Several of her memories stayed with him for the entire walk to the water.
He leaned over and dropped her, watching her slip beneath the dark current, still thinking of Matthew's cold face when he'd sent her away.
Then he straightened and forgot about Matthew and forgot about the woman.
Eleisha was waiting for him to come home.