Chapter Nineteen

"You may as well stop pretending. I know you can see where you're going," Lily said as Jackie stumbled and fell to her knees for the second time on the uneven path.

Jackie ground her teeth together and pushed herself back to her feet. She'd been feigning night blindness since they'd left the car in an effort to slow down their progress and give her a chance to come up with an idea for escape. Unfortunately, Lily was inside her head and knew exactly what she was doing. It was incredibly frustrating. Even if she did come up with an idea, Lily would know it the moment she thought it.

Jackie glanced back in the direction they'd come as she started forward again. They'd left the delivery car and driver at the edge of the woods, just out of sight of the road. Lily had done something to make the young man pass out, and he'd been slumped in his seat when they got out. Jackie had no doubt Lily would undo whatever it was she'd done when she returned to the car. She only hoped she'd let him go after finishing with him. He was just a kid, too young to die.

"It's not much farther now," Lily announced and Jackie became aware of the sound of the ocean. It grew louder with each step they took. It all reminded her of the night she'd turned and was giving her a definite aversion to the beach.

"Why the beach?" Jackie asked to distract herself from what was coming.

"Your death here will be symbolic," Lily announced.

"Symbolic how? Why are you even doing all this? What did Vincent ever do to you?" Jackie asked with frustration.


The answer made Jackie pause and turn to face the woman. "What?"

Lily laughed at her expression. "Turn and walk under your own power, or I will take full control again."

Jackie hesitated, then turned abruptly and kept walking. It hadn't occurred to her that Lily must have let up on some of her control for her to have been able to stumble and fall a time or two. But then, her thoughts had been a bit distracted, she supposed. The fact that she apparently had control of her body again, made her wonder what Lily would do if she suddenly lunged for the woods.

"I'd take full control of you and that would be the end of your questions," Lily answered as if she'd asked the question aloud, reminding her that she was in her thoughts. "I'm sure you'd like to know why this is happening, wouldn't you? You do want to know why you're going to die?"

"Yes," Jackie muttered with disgust.

The ground underneath their feet began to shift with each step, telling her they'd reached sand. They should be out of the trees soon. Not eager to think about what would happen then, she prompted Lily, "So, what are you going to do to me and why?"

"I'm going to stake you out in the sand and leave you there through the day," Lily announced. "Then I'll come back and behead you at sunset."

Jackie glanced skyward at this announcement. The trees had thinned out the closer they got to the beach and she could now see the sky through the branches. It was no longer full dark, daylight wasn't far away. She'd place the time at somewhere between four and five in the morning. Sunlight would be creeping up the sky in less than an hour or so.

Staked out in the sand for the day, then beheaded, Jackie thought unhappily. It was how the council punished immortals who broke one of their serious laws. From what she'd heard it was a most unpleasant way to go. Her body would dehydrate, the nanos would begin to eat her organs in their desperation for blood... she'd suffer horribly before the sun set.

"Why?" she asked, pausing abruptly as they suddenly reached the end of the trees and the beach spread out before them.

"For my William." Lily didn't bother to tell her to move, she simply took back control of her. Jackie found herself moving a good ten feet out of the trees before her body stopped and turned to face Lily.

"William?" Jackie asked, still retaining her ability to speak.

Lily turned her gaze to the ocean, her voice sounding far away as she said, "They killed him, you know. They staked him out in the sun and then beheaded him at sundown."

"Who did?" Jackie asked with a frown.

"Lucian Argeneau, Michael Moreau, and Vincent's father, Victor."

"Okay," Jackie said slowly. "So, Vincent's father and two other men killed your William. Why are you going after Vincent for it? He had nothing to do with it."

"I know." Lily sighed unhappily. "When I decided to seek revenge for William, I went after Michael Moreau first. I stalked him, caught him, then staked him out in the sun and left him there all day long, enjoying his screams from a nice little cave nearby. Then I beheaded him at sunset."

Lily frowned. "I didn't feel any satisfaction at all. I expected to gain some peace from it, but I didn't. Then I realized that he hadn't really suffered as I have. Sure, he went through the same pain as my William, but it was only a day's agony. I've suffered for a hundred years over what happened. I realized then, that to gain true satisfaction, I have to make them suffer as I have. I can't just kill them, I have to torment them by torturing and killing someone they love."

"So, Vincent is to suffer and eventually die so that his father, Victor, suffers for what he did to your William," Jackie said slowly, trying to follow her reasoning. Then she shook her head. "If it's Victor you're trying to make suffer, why are you tormenting Vincent? Why didn't you just stake Vincent out in the sun and behead him?"

"Because his father isn't here," Lily said with irritation. "I thought if I began to sabotage Vincent's work and so on, he'd call Victor in. He's on the council and should have been called in to take care of things, especially when I began to harm humans. Instead, the idiot called you in to handle it. The fool has ruined everything."

Jackie raised her eyebrows at her frustration, then said quietly, "From what I understand, Victor has been withdrawn and reclusive since his life mate was burnt at the stake in England. Vincent rarely sees him. I don't think he'll ever call him about this if that's what you're hoping."

Lily's mouth was a firm line of fury as she said, "I'd come to that conclusion myself. So, instead of dying, he'll just have to suffer the loss I did in his father's place. You will die like William did, and he will agonize over it for centuries."

Jackie considered that and wondered if it meant she'd leave Vincent alone and move on after this? Would he and Tiny be safe once she was dead?

"Tiny is a mortal, no more than a friend to Vincent. I won't trouble myself to bother with him," Lily said, obviously reading her thoughts. "But I've been thinking I will try Marguerite next. Lucian Argeneau is said to be very fond of his sister-in-law. Her death this way should be upsetting to him and Vincent both. Of course, I'd prefer a life mate or child in Lucian's case, as well, but he has neither. I will have to settle for Marguerite now and a life mate or child later, if he ever has either. In the meantime, I have you."

"Right," Jackie sighed.

"Obviously, if you were mortal, staking you out would be a waste of time, but it's perfect now that Vincent has turned you."

"He didn't," Jackie said.

"He didn't what?" Lily asked with amusement. "Are you going to try to convince me you aren't immortal now? I have seen your eyes and unlike me, you don't wear contacts. Besides, I can read your mind, Jackie. You are an immortal."

"I am immortal, but Vincent didn't turn me. You did," Jackie said solemnly.

"You can't think I would believe that nonsense?" Lily asked, but there was uncertainty on her face as she concentrated on Jackie. Apparently disturbed by something she was reading there, she muttered, "I would know if I'd turned you."

"Yes, well, perhaps I should say I turned myself then," Jackie said quietly. "When I bit you, I swallowed a couple of mouthfuls of your blood, enough to start the turn. It's why I didn't bleed out and die before they got me back to the house."

Lily peered down at her own wrist and Jackie saw that it was perfect now. There wasn't a mark on it from the other night, it had completely healed.

"It hurt like the devil at the time," Lily muttered, then laughed. "This is perfect. You turned yourself. I'll have to watch that in the future." She shook her head, then said, "It doesn't matter who turned you. He claimed you as his true life mate."

"Only to piss off Cassius," Jackie assured her. "Cassius and I have a history. Vincent, and the others, knew about it. It's why they were all so cold to him when he came up to us at the service tonight. It's also why Vincent claimed me as life mate. He wanted to put a scare into Cassius."

Lily's eyes narrowed and Jackie let her feelings for Vincent show, along with her fears that he didn't really think of her as a life mate. It was the best she could do with Lily able to read her thoughts, but the woman shook her head. "Nice try, but I have seen him with you. He's been eating since you arrived. He's smiling all the time, laughing?

"According to the agency files, Vincent is happy-go-lucky and always smiling," Jackie interrupted with surprise. "That's hardly proof of his thinking I'm his true life mate."

Lily snorted. "Only around his family. Around them, he's Mr. Smiley, but the rest of the time..." She shrugged. "I don't think he's a very happy vampire. In fact, before you came along, I thought he might be heading toward that terrible self-destructive state that some vampires go through. But then you arrived and he started smiling and laughing. It was like he'd found a new lease on life.

"In fact, I should really thank you. Before you, attacking his business, then the people around him upset him, but not as much as I wanted it to. Then you came and reawakened him and now everything matters to him, but especially you."

Jackie stayed silent, but hoped what Lily said was true. She hoped she'd made Vincent happy, and made him smile and find his pleasure in life again. He'd certainly shown her how to enjoy life, something she seemed to have lost at nineteen. The years since then had seemed somewhat colorless until coming to California and meeting Vincent. But there was still so much she wanted to do with him. Jackie wished she'd told him she loved him last night while she'd had the chance. She wished she could make love to him one more time, that she could take a night swim with him, laugh, cuddle, and kiss him.

Jackie supposed she should be grateful she'd had a chance to know him at all and taste the happiness she could have had with him. But it wasn't enough, she wanted more, and this woman who looked like a child planned to make sure that didn't happen.

Jackie frowned. "Why do you look so young?"

"What?" Lily seemed startled by the question.

"Nanos make you your peak health, strength, speed, etc," she pointed out. "Yet you look like a child, and you're incredibly thin. Being that thin can't be your peak health."

A sudden rage covered Lily's face as she said, "I had no one to look after me once they'd killed my William. No one to teach me. I didn't know what I could and couldn't do. I thought being a vampire meant I couldn't eat anymore, so I stopped eating food. But, with no one to bring me donors to feed from, I nearly starved to death.

"I suffered the debilitating cramps of dehydration every minute of every day for the first twenty years. I never got enough blood then. I didn't know how to hunt. I lived on the streets, gnawing on rats and sometimes children when I got the chance, scurrying from darkness to darkness and cowering out of the sun during the day. I had no idea what I could or couldn't do."

Jackie's eyebrows flew up. It was obvious Lily had been turned before blood banks, but that didn't explain why William hadn't told her she could eat. Had he died right after turning her? None of what she was saying made sense.

"Lily was only twelve at the time of her turning."

Lily and Jackie both turned sharply at those words to find Marguerite standing at the mouth of the path through the trees. She was alone, her expression pitying as she looked on Lily.

Growling, Lily immediately grabbed Jackie, holding her between them as she glared at Marguerite.

"What do you mean?" Jackie asked. "I thought you weren't allowed to turn anyone that young?"

"William was a pedophile," Marguerite said quietly. "He cared little for anyone's laws. He liked his women young. Children really. He turned them as young as ten, kept them as his pet, feeding them only blood, and scantily at that, to ensure they didn't develop properly. You can always tell those not properly fed, it confuses the nanos and they are stunted, thin and young-looking like Lily."

Jackie glanced back at the girl, horrified that someone had deliberately done this to her. Lily looked like a young teenager... and apparently, always would.

"He kept them till he tired of them, and then usually killed them and turned another," Marguerite added with disgust.

"Why did no one stop him?" Jackie asked with amazement.

"No one could prove he was doing it," Marguerite said with a shrug. "As I said, he kept them as pets. Until Lily, not one of them saw the light of day after he turned them. He kept them on his family estate in England. They slept in a crypt with him during the day, and remained hidden inside during the night. Then he made a mistake and turned Lily. She was the granddaughter of his housekeeper. The woman had worked for him for fifty years and had seen two children he'd done this to. When he turned Lily, she was enraged enough to approach someone on the European council. They went to look into it, but he got wind they were coming, killed her family, and fled on a boat for America."

"You lie," Lily growled and Jackie could feel the fine tremor of rage in the woman's hand. "He did not kill my family. And I was the first he'd turned so young. He only did it because he loved me so much."

Marguerite peered at her with pity. "He killed your grandmother, your mother, your father and your two younger sisters. He wiped out your whole family before he took you to the boat, Lily. Though I'm not surprised he didn't tell you."

"How would you know?" Lily snapped.

"Lucian," Marguerite said with a shrug. "I overheard him and my husband, Jean Claude, talking about it at the time."

"Well then they lied," Lily said furiously. "They all lied. He wouldn't have done that, and I was the only one he ever turned so young. He loved me."

"You were far from the first he turned so young," a deep voice growled.

Jackie winced as Lily's fingers dug into her arm as she turned them both so that they could keep Marguerite and the second speaker in view.

Christian was standing about ten feet to Marguerite's left, Jackie saw with surprise. He and the rest of the men had still been at Stephano's when Lily had taken her. Or she'd assumed they were, though it had been late enough they may have been back and in their rooms. Were the others here? she wondered.

"I was one of the council members sent to look into the matter," Christian said, drawing Jackie's attention back to the conversation.

"So was I," Marcus announced, appearing suddenly ten feet to Christian's left. He fell silent as Lily scrabbled backward, drawing Jackie with her in an effort to be able to keep an eye on all three people at once. The trio were forming a crescent before them. Lily was getting anxious and panicky.

"We were both there when the bodies were discovered in the crypt," Marcus explained. "There was one large empty coffin that we suspected William shared with you during the day, then four smaller coffins, each holding two or three bodies apiece. All told, there were ten beheaded young girls between the ages of ten and twelve judging by the size of them. If your grandmother had not told on him, you would have been the eleventh body there once he'd tired of you."

"Liar!" Lily yelled.

"Instead, he killed your family and fled to America with you," Christian took up the explanation again. "That was out of our area. We didn't follow, but we did send word to America via another ship, warning the council here of what he'd done and they began to hunt him."

"Hunting him down and killing him probably saved your life," Dante suddenly spoke, making his presence known.

"Lies, all lies!" Lily cried, turning again to include him in her view.

"The tale of what William did is well known in Europe."

Jackie wasn't the least bit surprised when Tommaso spoke up. She'd never seen one twin anywhere without the other. They were now forming almost a complete circle around them. It was impossible for Lily to watch them all at once.

"The two of you were able to hide out here for almost a year before they tracked you down. Isn't that true?" Tommaso asked.

Lily didn't speak, either to deny it, or affirm it. Jackie took that as a yes.

"And yet in that year he never bothered to teach you to feed yourself," Tommaso pointed out. "He kept you dependent on him, fed you himself, kept you away from food when eating it would have allowed you to mature normally, and didn't teach you any of the skills you needed to know to survive."

"He loved me! He took care of me!" Lily protested.

"He kept you completely dependent on him, Lily," Vincent said quietly behind them and Lily turned sharply, dragging Jackie with her. He met Jackie's gaze briefly, sending her a message of reassurance, then returned his gaze to Lily and said, "And he made sure you stayed that way. Look at you. Have you seen another like yourself in the hundred years since you were turned?"

"Shut up," Lily snapped. "You don't know anything about me."

"I do," Vincent countered. "I've known who you were from the day I hired you. I just figured you didn't want to talk about it and it was your business."

When Jackie's gaze turned sharply to him, asking why he hadn't mentioned this bit of history to her when she'd asked who might have something against him, he added, "I never imagined you were walking around hating me and anyone else related to the men who saved you from him."

"Saved me!" Lily snarled with fury. "They killed my sire and left me to fend for myself."

"I was told you fled," Vincent said quietly and Lily snorted.

"Of course I fled," she snarled. "They'd just brutally killed my lover. I had no idea what they would do to me."

"They would have taught you how to fend for yourself," Marguerite said softly, and Jackie glanced over to see that she'd moved closer.

"Sure they would have," Lily said bitterly. "Right after they staked me out in the sun for a day and let me bake too. William told me they would."

Vincent took a step forward and this time Lily seemed to notice. She suddenly whipped a half-sword out from under the back of the thick sweater she wore and held it to Jackie's throat.

Everyone went absolutely still.

"Let her go," Vincent said quietly. "Jackie has done nothing to you."

"No," Lily agreed. "But you love her and it would hurt you if I kill her."

"Kill me instead," Vincent suggested and Jackie scowled at him for the suggestion.

"I don't want to kill you," Lily said. "I want you to suffer like I have, for centuries, your true life mate gone and you left alone to carry on the best you can."

Jackie rolled her eyes at the repeated refrain and snapped, "You're getting boring."

Lily jerked a little with apparent shock, the blade cutting a thin line along Jackie's throat.

"What?" she asked with disbelief.

"You heard me. You're boring," Jackie repeated, uncaring at that point that she had a half-sword to her throat. "All this nonsense over nothing."

"Nothing?" Lily echoed. "They killed my William! I had no one! No one to feed me, no one to?

"Lily, a hundred years ago they didn't have blood banks. No one fed anyone," Jackie said dryly. "They all had to hunt."

"William used to feed me. He brought men to me and controlled their minds while I fed, he?

"Then he's the one you should be angry with," Jackie snapped impatiently. "He had a year to teach you how to survive before the council caught up to the two of you. A year! Vincent and the others taught me to take care of myself in days. Your William deliberately left you dependent and helpless. He wanted a child, a helpless dependent child he could control and abuse because he was a sick, twisted pedophile?

"Shut up! William loved me!"

Lily was in a rage now and Jackie realized she'd gone too far. On the other hand, since she already had, there was little sense in back-pedaling and she was too damned angry to care. She snorted with open derision at her claim, then said, "Grow up. William didn't love you. If he'd loved you he'd have taught you what you needed to know like Vincent taught me. He'd have wanted to be sure you could take care of yourself... Vincent doesn't try to control me or make me dependent on him. That is love," she repeated and the moment the words were out of her mouth, she knew they were true. Vincent did love her. And she loved him. And dammit, she wasn't going to die here today. She was done being the victim.

Lily was still in her thoughts and caught wind of her intentions at once, but it was already too late. Following instinct more than anything else, Jackie grabbed the blade with her hand, ignoring the way it sliced into her skin as she drew it away from her throat. Her fingers would heal, everything would heal, but decapitation. Aware of that, she held on to the blade firmly and rammed her elbow into Lily's chest.

The little woman stumbled back, but held onto her half-sword. Jackie winced as it cut deeper into her hand before she let it go and leapt back out of the way herself.

The moment she was free, Vincent was at her side, dragging her a safe distance away as Christian and the others converged on Lily. Within seconds they had her disarmed and held firmly between Dante and Tommaso. Lily screamed and struggled furiously, but to no avail.

"What will they do with her?" Jackie asked as she watched the twins drag her toward the path that led through the trees to the street.

"She'll go before the council. They'll decide her fate," Christian answered.

Jackie frowned, knowing that didn't bode well for Lily. On the other hand, the girl was like a rabid dog. She'd killed innocent people and would have killed more. Her time with William had obviously twisted her mind. Besides, she reminded herself, while Lily looked like a girl, she was actually over a hundred years old and had said herself that she'd gnawed on children every chance she'd got.

"Give me your hand."

Jackie glanced to the side with surprise as Tiny appeared with a first-aid kit.

"They made me wait in the woods," he told her with obvious disgust as he began to bind her bleeding hand. "They said I'd be safer there."

Jackie smiled faintly at his disgruntlement and patted his arm soothingly, then glanced at Vincent. He was watching with concern as Tiny worked. Jackie stared at him for a minute, then blurted, "I love you."

Vincent blinked, then breathed, "Thank God." Bending his head, he pressed a kiss gently to her lips, and whispered, "I love you too."

"That should do," Tiny announced, finished with her hand. He lifted his head and eyed her solemnly. "I'm glad you're all right."

"As am I," Marguerite said joining them. She smiled and said, "Welcome to the family, dear."

"Thank you," Jackie murmured shyly.

"Well..." Marguerite raised an eyebrow at Vincent. "I guess now you can start up your plays again."

He shrugged. "Stephano and Neil can make that decision, I couldn't care less. I'm not really interested in the theatre anymore. Four hundred years is long enough in one career. I think it's time for a career change."

Jackie raised her eyebrows. "What will you do?"

"Actually," he said slowly, "I find myself rather interested in what you do. Being a private eye seems interesting."

Jackie glanced at him with surprise, but before she could comment, Marguerite agreed, "Me too. I found it challenging, like a puzzle. With Jean Claude gone and the kids all married and starting families, I've been trying to decide on something to do as a career and now I know what it can be." She smiled at Jackie. "I could help Tiny."

"Help Tiny?" Jackie blinked. "Why would Tiny need help?"

"Well, you have a lot to learn in the next little while, dear, survival skills like how to control minds and so on. The faster you learn them, the better. You should concentrate on that," Marguerite pointed out gently. "Besides, if the two of you are going to marry, you'll want to take a honeymoon. It will leave Tiny without a partner. I'd be happy to be his partner and help him run your company. It will give me a purpose."

"Do you do jobs in Europe?" Christian asked suddenly while Jackie was still gaping at Marguerite.

Blinking, she closed her mouth and glanced at him with confusion. "Europe?"

"Yes. If you do, I have a job for you there."

"What sort of job is it?" Marguerite asked curiously.

Christian hesitated and then said, "Finding out who my mother is."

"Your mother?" Jackie echoed blankly. The immortal was over five hundred years old.

Christian nodded.

"Oh, I could do that!" Marguerite looked excited as she glanced to Tiny. She added, "We could, couldn't we, Tiny?"

She didn't wait for him to answer, but slid her arm through Christian's and began to lead him toward the path through the trees.

"You must tell me everything you know," she murmured. She glanced back to say, "Come along, Tiny, you have more experience in this than I. You know better the kinds of questions we should ask."

Tiny hesitated briefly and glanced toward Jackie. When she just shrugged her shoulders helplessly, he sighed and hurried after the pair.

Jackie watched them go and shook her head. "How could anyone solve that mystery? It isn't like they kept good records five hundred years ago. Surely his father could tell him who she was?"

"Julius has refused to speak about it for five hundred years," Marcus announced, then added, "Marguerite is the best person for the job."

"Why?" she asked curiously.

Marcus merely smiled, then turned to follow the others.

Jackie glanced to Vincent in question, but he didn't seem to understand it any more than she.

"I love you," Vincent whispered, distracting her.

Jackie smiled as she leaned into his embrace. "I love you, too."

"So, my true life mate," Vincent slipped his arms around her.

"Are you really sure about this?" Jackie peered up at him uncertainly. She knew how she felt, but was so afraid of making a mistake.

"Aren't you?" he asked quietly.

"Yes," she said solemnly. "I love you more than I ever thought it possible to love another. But," she hesitated, then blurted, "I know Marguerite's story and how horrible it can turn out when you choose the wrong life mate and I would never want you unhappy because of me."

Vincent smiled and brushed a finger lightly across her brow, rubbing away the worry on her forehead. "Jackie, I've been alive for more than four hundred years. I've met millions of women and slept with thousands. I had a long time to discover what kind of woman can make me happy and whom I could spend eternity with." He cupped her face in his hands and peered solemnly into her face as he added, "You're that woman."

Jackie felt tears well in her eyes as her heart gave a pang in her chest. She now understood the phrase to love someone so much it hurt. Leaning up, she pressed her lips to his and kissed him with all the love she felt. Vincent kissed her back, but all too soon pulled away.

"So, the wedding," he said, turning her to follow the others. "I was thinking Vegas."

"Vegas?" she asked with surprise.

"Yeah." He smiled. "An Elvis look-alike minister, me in a rhinestone suit and blue suede shoes. You in? he paused, eyebrows rising as Jackie began to laugh. "What? You don't have any family and this cuts out the long delay of a big wedding."

"True," she acknowledged with a smile as he urged her to walk again.

"And we can have a big reception afterward up in Canada at Aunt Marguerite's. She already offered her house. We'll fly Tiny and your other friends up," he promised, then smiled and said, "Then we can honeymoon in..."

Jackie raised her eyebrows when he hesitated. "Yes?"

"Well, I was thinking maybe Disneyland?" he said hopefully and Jackie could have just kissed him he looked so adorable.

"I've never been to Disney," she said with a grin, then shook her head. "Life is going to be interesting with you, isn't it, my love?"

"Eternity is going to be interesting for both of us," Vincent assured her, and paused to kiss her again.

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