“Yes,” I said.
Eli grabbed me and yanked me out of the chair. “No, Riley, you don’t understand!” he said, infuriated. “Have you ever witnessed a pack of dogs penned up without food or water for two weeks? Do you know what they do to anything remotely edible?” He pulled his face close to mine. “That’s what the Arcoses would do to you, as well as Seth and the other newlings.” He shook me. “Get it?”
“Son, let her go,” Gilles said. “He is right, though, my dear. It is risky. We”—he motioned with his hands to his family—“would certainly have to be extra-dosed by Preacher.”
“Papa, you’re not seriously considering it?” Eli said.
“It’s her decision, not yours.”
I didn’t even have to think about it. “Yes. It’s what I want to do.” I looked at Eli. “I’ll be okay. I want this over with, Eli. I want my brother back safely.”
Eli stared at me in disbelief, then gave a cynical laugh. “Oh my God, Riley.” He walked off, hands around the back of his neck. “Fuck.”
“Don’t let his temper worry you, chère,” Elise said. “He’s very protective over you, as you can see.”
“Besides,” said Gilles. “With the herbs out of your system for just one day, your blood won’t reveal full potency. Maybe, though, just enough.”
“That’s a relief,” I said, and gave him a sincere look. “Thank you.”
My internal clock had returned to my teenage schedule: out all night, sleep all day. Only, Eli was pissed, and he wasn’t about to let me sleep all day. By noon he woke me up, angry, desperate to change my mind. He tried everything—including sex. No, as potent as that was, my mind wouldn’t be changed. He stormed off even more pissed than he had been before. We worked out in the donjon. He kicked my ass.
Preacher came by with a supply for the Duprés—the third one that day. Talk about getting tanked. Phin held his washboard stomach as he downed another glass. “I’m too full.”
I found that weird and hilarious at the same time. “Wow. Getting sloshed with unknown herbs just to keep from sucking my blood out. Nice.”
He grinned. Luc grinned. Josie grinned.
Eli remained unapproachable.
By nightfall, we were ready.
“Only one thing to do, ma chère,” Gilles said. “You must wait to do it. Too early and you’ll cause a frenzy that even my children, I and Elise, and your dark brethren may not be able to control.”
“Okay,” I said. “What’s that?”
He pulled a blade from my belt. “You must cut yourself and expose your blood. In its watered-down state it may not have the potency it usually does.”
“Great,” I said, and nodded. “Okay.”
“Wait for Eli’s word,” he warned. “Understand?”
I nodded. “Don’t worry.” Loaded with silver and a body full of tempting O positive, I headed out with Eli. He was tense; anger boiled just below the surface, and it showed.
“You do exactly as I say to do, Riley,” he said, turning and glaring at me on the bike. “Swear to God, you’d better.”
“Don’t worry,” I reassured him. “I promise I’ll wait for you.”
We hit the Morgue and Asylum and came up empty before finding a place called Decay 11—a punk joint in an abandoned garage off of East Broad. It was new to me—not around in my teen years—and I had to make a few calls to get directions. We found it in a plain metal building that had once housed an automotive oil and repair shop; the smell of stale motor oil still filled the air. Once inside, we noticed nothing unusual—not at first. I’d sidled up to the bar and overheard a guy on a cell phone talking about a party at Bonaventure—a party not for chickenshits, according to him.
“Sounds like a bitchin’ party,” he said, glancing at me and grinning. “Yeah, they’ve already headed out there. I’m right behind you, dude. This place blows tonight.” He closed his cell, pocketed it, and eased closer to me. “Hey, babe. Wanna go to a party with?”
Not a bad-looking guy, with short-clipped brown hair and his eyes a nice shade of blue. I shook my head. “Thanks for the offer, but I’m with someone.”
He grazed a thumb over my jaw. “Too bad. Bonaventure if you change your mind.” He grinned and left. I watched him move through the crowd until he drew close to the door. I figured it was worth checking out, especially since we were running out of time. There was only one way into Bonaventure Cemetery after hours, and that was to sneak in. Over the black wrought-iron fence. I was glad this time I had on pants. No moonshine tonight.
Just as I was about to call Eli, he appeared. He moved his hand to my back and leaned close. “I heard. Let’s go.” He looked at me. “For the record, that guy almost lost a finger.”
I didn’t doubt it a bit. Outside, Phin and Luc met up with us—Gilles, Elise, and Josie would meet us at Bonaventure—and we headed down the sidewalk, climbed on the bikes, and headed toward the Wilmington River. We parked the bikes along Thirty-sixth Street, just before it turned into Bonaventure Road, and walked the rest of the way to the cemetery. The full moon, a large white lunar sphere, cast a hazy glow over the cemetery. At least it wouldn’t be dead pitch-dark. Before we even reached the front gates, laughter rose from the river. “They’re in the back near the river,” I whispered, leaning against Eli. “Da hell stone is back there.” I looked up at him. “Why would they do that?”
“No reason,” Eli said, grasping my arm. “Maybe it’s victory to them. Some weird little coup. Who knows?” He glanced at me, his face stern. “I don’t like how this feels, and I damn sure don’t want you here.”
“There’s over a dozen of them,” I reminded him, “and only six of you, plus me.”
“We only need to kill two—the Arcoses,” Phin said. “Besides, Preacher’s boys are pulling in right now.”
I looked, and sure enough, Preacher’s van parked directly behind the bikes. Eight big guys ducked out of the vehicle and started moving our way. “Well. Great,” I said. “My Gullah grandfather is bringing a bag of dust to a vampire war. I feel better.”
“He’s stronger than you think,” Eli said. “Trust me. He can handle himself better than you think.”
“I hope you’re right,” I answered. It still worried me. Preacher was too old to be here.
Eli grabbed me and turned me to him. “This could get . . . ugly, Riley. Really bad,” Eli said. “Don’t forget your promise to me.”
“I know,” I answered. “I won’t forget. I’m ready.”
Eli’s stare bored into mine. “I can smell your nervousness.”
“But can you smell my special blood?” I asked, and hell yeah, I was nervous. I was like a cartoon steak with legs running around a pack of mouthwateringly hungry dogs.
“No,” he said quietly. “I can’t.”
The Duprés’ Mercedes parked, and Gilles, Elise, and Josie got out and walked to meet us. “’Tis time,” Gilles said, as though he’d heard the entire conversation. He and Elise slipped away into the darkness. I’d almost have to see it to believe it—Gilles and Elise in a vamp brawl. Josie must have read my thoughts because she gave me a wicked grin.
I guess the partiers had jumped the fence to Bonaventure, just as I had that night not too long ago. But I was in the company of young, free-running vampires, and they leapt and scaled the gates so fast it made my head spin. I followed—just a bit slower, with Eli right behind me. I was actually proud of my new skills—even though they were much slower than the Duprés’. Once inside, we crept along the iron fence toward the back, following the laughter coming from the river.
“It’s going to be a bloodbath,” Luc said, glancing around. “I can feel it.”
“We’re experienced, not like those newlings,” Josie said. “We’re ready for them.”
As we walked among the graves, a half-moon filtered through the canopy of live oaks and dogwoods and caused long shadows to fall from the ancient headstones and marble statues of Bonaventure. A slight breeze grazed my cheek, and I noticed the moss swaying, could hear the sawgrass rustling at the river’s edge, the water lapping the shore. Still no cicadas, or crickets, not even frogs. My skin felt icy, my insides cold. Like Luc, I had a bad, bad feeling. Eli must have read my thoughts, as his fingers found the small of my back.
We moved silently, and as I passed a white marble statue of a young girl, her arms outstretched, and the saddest expression on her face, I shivered. The way the shadows fell across her and added a menacing expression to her sadness? It seemed dark, terrifying, and . . . just not right. I’d never been afraid of the cemetery, but tonight, I was leery. On edge. Cautious. Adrenaline ripped through me, penned up, anxious to be released.
You belong with me.
I twisted my head left and right, looking for the speaker of the words until I realized it had come from inside my head. It was him. Victorian. I’d now recognize his voice anywhere.
Yes, it’s me. A bloodbath can be prevented if you come to me.
I looked at Eli; he had no clue what was happening. Neither did Luc, Phin, or Josie.
Only you can hear my voice. Not the Duprés, nor your Gullah magic men. Just you, love. Your brother will die tonight unless you end it now. Come with me. I crave you, Riley. I crave your body. I know by your reactions you crave me as well. I have to have you. I vow you will never regret it.
I searched all around me; I saw nothing but the faint flicker of firelight near the river, menacing headstones, shadowy trees. My heart pounded fiercely, and Eli turned to stare at me.
“I can hear your heart racing,” he said, grazing my cheek. “You don’t have to do this.”