Ten minutes later as we reached the Tyler city limits, pain suddenly exploded in the back of my neck.
"Ow!" I cried, reaching up to rub it. What the heck? I glanced at Emily in the backseat. "Did you just hit me?"
Her eyebrows shot up. "What are you talking about?"
And then the strangest sensation of emptiness formed inside me, robbing me of breath.
Something was wrong.
Mom hissed out a curse, distracting me.
"What is it?" I asked.
Then I noticed the red-and-blue lights f lashing behind us. Oh, no. We were being pulled over by a state highway patrol.
Emily twisted around to look behind us and muttered her own curse.
My heartbeat revved into overdrive as I remembered the time when one of the Jacksonville cops had pulled me over for a ticket. That police officer had been a descendant, and I'd spent the entire fifteen-minute ordeal hearing his every thought as he'd debated whether to follow the law or handcuff me and take me out to the woods somewhere to get rid of the town's half-breed menace. Thankfully he'd opted to only give me a ticket, but it had been a close call I never wanted to repeat.
If this state trooper was Clann, too, I doubted any of us would be seeing the inside of a jail cell unless it was one specially built by the Clann.
But wait. He couldn't be Clann. If he had been, he wouldn't have seen us in the first place, right?
The air hissed out of my lungs as I remembered.
"What?" Emily said.
"The invisibility spell. I forgot to maintain it. It was only supposed to last a short while. If we needed it to last longer, I was supposed to give it another boost of energy."
Which meant this cop could be Clann after all.
"What should we do?" I said.
"Pull over," Emily told Mom.
"Are you crazy? He could be a descendant!" Mom said, her knuckles turning white on the steering wheel.
"She's right. We'll never outrun him," I said, thinking fast. "And if he is Clann, we can't risk leading him to the guys. We have to pull over."
Mom hesitated then slowed the truck and eased it over to the side of the road. She parked then looked at me, her eyes wild, her thoughts panicked. I won't let them take my daughter!
"Easy, Mom," I said. "He might not be a descendant. Maybe we were just going too fast or something."
But then the cop's door opened and I felt that low-level prickle of needles racing over the back of my neck and down my arms.
Since Emily and Joan couldn't use their abilities, they both looked at me, eyebrows raised in question.
I shook my head in silent answer. It wasn't me using power.
"He's Clann!" Mom hissed, her hand darting out as if to grab the gearshift.
"No!" I put my hand over hers to stop her. "We're too heavy and slow in this thing. We'll have to try something else."
But what? I was the only one who could use power right now. And the only spells I knew were defensive ones.
I could throw energy orbs at the guy, maybe enough to knock him out. But I had no idea how long the effect would keep him unconscious while we tried to get away. And once he woke up and alerted the Clann, we wouldn't get far.
Unless he'd already called someone in the Clann as soon as he pulled us over...
Outside, the patrolman's door thumped shut before he slowly walked toward us, his khaki uniform pressed and starched to within an inch of the fabric's life.
"Roll down your window, Mom," I muttered. "I can't hear his thoughts."
She did, slowly, as the officer approached the truck. The closer he got, the better I could pick up his thoughts.
The plates are wrong, he thought while studying Mom's license plate. I'd better not call this in yet till I'm sure, though.
"He hasn't called the Clann yet," I whispered. "There's still time."
The cop stopped at Mom's door, only inches away from my mother.
"License and registration, please," he said to Mom, his tone almost bored as he looked at her then me. No blip of recognition on his face or in his thoughts.
Then he looked at Emily in the backseat. He froze, and I knew we were busted. He must have recognized her from a Clann meeting or something.
"Ah, one moment, please," he muttered. "I forgot to grab a pen."
He headed back to his car, trying to act as if nothing was wrong and he had all the time in the world.
"He recognized you, Em," I said without looking away from the cop as he opened his car door, sat in the driver's seat, and reached for something.
His cell phone gleamed silver and black as he dialed a number then held the phone to his ear and stared at us.
Emily cursed loudly. "He's calling the Clann!"
My mind went absolutely blank with panic. The next thing I knew, I was twisting over the front seat back, pushing Emily to the side out of the way, and raising both my hands.
A burst of energy exploded out of me, passed through the back glass of Mom's truck, and slammed into the officer, knocking his head backward. His head rebounded forward, then his whole upper body slumped over toward the passenger seat.
Mom shrieked.
"Oh, my God," Emily whispered. "Savannah, what did you do?"
Breathing hard, I stared at the man in shock, waiting for him to sit up and retaliate with an energy orb of his own. But he didn't move.
I opened my door and slid out, never looking away from the cop. As I walked toward his car, I heard two of the truck doors open as Mom and Emily got out to follow me. I could hear their steps crunching out of sync with mine on the shoulder of the highway beneath the low roar of the cars whipping by us.
What had I done?
I risked a glance at the traffic. Had anyone noticed the unconscious trooper in his car? No one seemed to be slowing down.
At the open door of the trooper's car, I edged closer to the man, visually searching his body for some signs of life.
Then I saw the rise and fall of his breathing and my knees turned wobbly with relief. Good. He was still alive.
"He's still breathing," I said. "But I don't know how long he'll stay out. When he wakes up..."
As if on cue, the man groaned and twitched.
"Do a memory confusion spell on him," Emily hissed.
"What?" I asked.
"You know, tell him to forget he ever saw us and push your willpower out with the thought at the same time. Hurry up! He's going to wake up any second."
"I can't-"
"Yes, you can. They're easy."
Gritting my teeth, I raised both my hands palms-out toward the cop. "You will forget you ever saw us."
Emily snorted. "Puh-lease. That didn't even raise a single hair for me. You forgot the willpower part. It's everything. Without it, you're just saying words."
Taking a deep breath in through my nose, I held it and tried again. "You will forget you ever saw us." This time, I imagined the cop doing just that...waking up in his car on the side of the road with no memory of how he got there or why he'd fallen asleep.
I thought about how much we needed this to happen, and what would happen if it didn't work.
"Now, Savannah!" she shouted as the man slowly eased himself upright in the seat. "Do it before it's too late!"
The man turned to look at us, reached for his phone with one hand, and threw his other palm out toward us.
Time was up.
Taking a deep breath, I bent down, grabbed the man's chin and forced him to look at me. Then I stared into his eyes. They were brown with a thick fringe of eyelashes. He was younger than he'd first appeared, maybe his middle or late twenties.
Fear f lashed within those eyes for a second.
Freeze! I thought, panicking.
Energy burst down my arms and hands, f lowing like invisible hot water along my skin and off my fingertips.
And incredibly he did just that, his entire upper body freezing yet still pliant.
"Thatta girl." Mom sighed and rubbed her forearms. "You've got the willpower f lowing. Now just tell him not to remember anything."
"No, just this one stop," Emily said. "You don't want him to have total amnesia, do you?"
They started to argue. But their voices were fading away now, just background noise.
Another sound rose up to drown them out, a low throbbing like a drumbeat that filled my ears at first and then my mind, calling to me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my free hand reach down to touch the man's shoulder. Then it glided up to caress the side of his neck above his starched collar.
There. The drumbeat was in his throat, pulsing beneath my fingertips, his skin so soft and fragile that it was like holding tissue paper.
I felt a strange sensation in my mouth, one I hadn't felt in many months, a sort of aching in my upper gums. And then two pricks against my lower lip as my fangs descended.
My mouth and throat were so dry that it actually hurt to try to swallow. I leaned closer to the state trooper, or maybe I pulled him to me. At that moment, I wasn't sure and didn't care. All I knew was that only inches separated us now.
A curse from behind me, then hands grabbed at my shoulders and tried to pull me back. But the hands were like the weight of a jacket draped over my shoulders, so slight I could easily ignore them.
Just a taste. That was all I wanted. Just a little taste of this descendant before me. Dad had said to only go after evildoers, right? And this descendant definitely qualified as an evildoer. He was going to use his power as a police officer for bad, to turn us over to the Clann. He was abusing his power as an officer of the law. And for that, he deserved to die.
Just a little taste...
"Savannah, no!" a familiar voice shouted in my ear.
I wanted to ignore that voice. Every vampire instinct within me said to, or better yet, to simply swat its owner away from me.
But a tiny part of me deep inside said not to, that I knew that person and would never want to hurt her. Because...
I frowned and tried to remember, though the drumbeat inside my head made it so hard.
I didn't want to hurt her because...she was my mother. Not my vampire mother, Lillith, the mother of all the race of vampires who slept beneath the desert. But my birth mother, my human mother.
My Clann mother.
I turned to her, and now it was a faster heartbeat that pounded in my ears. It was still Clann blood that called to me. But as I slowly drew closer to her, the scent of her perfume was like a smack to my face, forcing me to back up and wrinkle my nose.
That perfume was not at all what I was craving.
And yet something about that perfume was also familiar, reminding me of warm hugs and soft hair tickling my face, of gentle hands rocking me to sleep or handing me a mug of hot soup when I was sick.
That perfume reminded me of being loved and protected.
Slowly the drumbeat in my ears faded into the background. I blinked once, twice and again then looked around me and frowned. I felt like I was slowly waking up from a vivid dream, one that kept trying to claw me back under.
Or maybe it had been a nightmare.
"Savannah, snap out of it!" a different female voice shouted.
Then a hand slapped my cheek. It didn't move me, but the faint sting was enough to push that sleepy feeling away a little more.
I blinked again. "What... Where am-"
"She's coming back to us," Mom said.
"Oh, no she doesn't," the other one said. Emily, I remembered now. "She's not finished making him forget. Savannah, look him in the eyes. But this time, ignore the blood." She said the last words slowly, as if I were a child, making me frown.
"No, it's too dangerous!" Mom said. "Can't you see what being so close to him is doing to-"
Emily ignored her. "The cop, Savannah. You've got to make him forget he ever saw us."
And now I remembered. The state trooper. He was a descendant. And he was going to tell the Clann where we were.
"Hurry up, he's coming out of it!" Emily said.
I leaned back into the car, this time touching only the man's chin with a single fingertip to direct his focus back to me again. He looked up, and again I could feel his heartbeat trying to reach out to me.
I swallowed. "I can hear it. His's calling to me."
"You have to fight it," Emily insisted. "Don't listen to it. Only think about the magic and using it to make him forget."
But that drumbeat, slow and steady, was pulsating in my ears, its hypnotic music trying to rob me of all thought. So much power. He could be an endless supply of Clann blood for Tristan and me to feed on....
The thought of Tristan was like another slap, this one deep within my mind. I blinked hard a few times, then refocused.
I looked into the man's eyes one last time. "You've never seen me or anyone with me. Is that clear?"
Slowly he nodded.
"You will forget us," I ordered, the command rolling up from somewhere deep within me, and more of that liquid rush of energy poured along my skin and out my fingertips. "Go to sleep now. And when you wake up, you will have forgotten all about this stop."
His eyes drifted closed and he sat back against the seat, his head slowly rolling forward until his chin rested against his chest.
"Whoa," Emily whispered. "He's like her puppet. Are you sure Clann can't be gaze dazed?"
"Don't be ridiculous," Mom snapped. "Of course they can't. It's like the mental shields the two species developed over time. It's a protective mechanism. Besides, you felt her use of the power, too. She just threw in a ton of compulsion spell along with the memory confusion part."
Once more, I could hear the man's heartbeat, even slower now as he slept deeply. It begged me to lean in closer. Just a taste... it whispered.
I stumbled back and slammed the door shut, muff ling the sound. It wasn't much, but it was enough.
"Let's go," I said, forcing my feet to turn and take me back to the truck. Then I sat there, waiting, staring out the window at the sunlight glinting off row after row of trucks and cars and SUVs at a nearby dealership. Seeing again the sunlight glaring on the hood of that state patrol car...
I had almost bitten that cop. I could have drained him dry, and nobody would have been able to stop me.
Mom and Emily followed a few seconds later, still discussing the mixture of spells I'd probably just used on my victim, both of them trying but failing not to feel afraid.
But this time their fear didn't come from being pulled over by a cop who was in the Clann. This time they were afraid of me, and not because of the magic I'd just used.
Tristan. Dad. They would understand what I had almost done, how hard it had been to resist. Especially Tristan. He'd lost control to both the anger and the bloodlust before.
But could he forgive me for almost losing control after I had spent so long telling him not to do the same thing? After I had spent the past two months preaching at him over and over that we weren't monsters just because we were vampires?
I was such a hypocrite.
I grabbed my phone from my pocket, too fast apparently because both Mom and Emily gasped and f linched. I froze, staring at the phone's screen, willing myself not to show any emotion. Human-slow this time, I tried to call Dad's phone again.
It went straight into voice mail.
I pulled up the app menu and tapped the one that had two green circles on it.
"What are you doing?" Emily asked from the backseat.
"It's a locator app. If Dad's phone is on, it'll find him. He set it up for emergencies so we can find each other."
The screen said: Phone cannot be located.
Emily read the message over my shoulder, though I noticed she did so from a distance. "What does that mean? Are they out of range?"
"No. It means his phone's turned off."
Or had been destroyed.
Now I understood why Dad never told me the location of the meeting. He didn't want us to try to save them if the Clann was waiting for them. He might have even turned off his phone on purpose after they attacked just so I couldn't try to track him down with the locator app....
No. I couldn't think like that.
It might not be a Clann ambush, I told myself. It could be plain old car trouble and no cell tower coverage wherever they were at.
"Let's stick with the plan," I said, trying to keep my voice from shaking. "We'll wait for them at the car rental place."
None of us said it out loud, though we were all thinking it...
What will we do next if Dad and Tristan don't come back?