“Riley,” Nyx said, as if she’d heard me thinking about her, lightly, barely audible, just a whisper, petrified.
I glanced at her; a fraction of a second. It was the distraction the vamp was waiting for.
He leapt and had me on my back in less time than it took to blink. The air whooshed from my lungs, and Nyx screamed again. With my arms pinned to my sides, I could do little more than stare up at my captor’s face. With distorted, gross, white skin with an exaggerated wide mouth and sharp fangs dropping from his gums, he was … horrifying, and barely recognizable as ever being human. His opaque gaze was fixed on the pulse at my throat. “Ready to die, bitch?” he said, his voice low, not human, determined.
“Grab the knife, Nyx,” I commanded gently, slowly, “from the other one. Now.”
So entranced was the bloodsucker straddling me that he didn’t even realize what I was trying to do. But Nyx was in shock and terrified. I knew before the words left my mouth that she wouldn’t be able to do it. I couldn’t blame her. She must be freaked out as hell.
“What?” she whispered, then sobbed.
I couldn’t wait. I inched my fingers to the pocket of my jeans, reaching for the sachet Preacher had given me earlier. Maybe the hoodoo powder would burn him enough that I could get him off me. The newling cocked his head, narrowed his milky eyes, and lunged at my throat.
My mouth opened; I sucked in a breath. I didn’t even have time to scream.
A silver blade whipped by my face and was just … suddenly there, buried in the vampire’s chest; a worn black Conversed foot shoved him backward off me. He landed with a thud against the wall and began to seize, gurgle, convulse. I turned away and stared up and into the troubled green eyes of my baby brother. He extended a hand. I grasped it, and he pulled me up.
“Why didn’t you call? From inside your head? Luc would’ve heard.” he said. Worry and anger sat etched into the lines on his forehead. “Why, Riley?” He pulled me into an embrace and squeezed me really hard. “They could have killed you and Nyx.”
I glanced over Seth’s shoulder and found her staring dead at me; blue eyes wide, horrified, her face drawn, even paler than usual. She’d backed against the wall, far from the dead/dying vampires, far from Seth, from the Duprés.
Far from me.
“Nyx,” I said, pushing out of Seth’s arms.
“No,” Nyx said, and held up a hand. “You … stay away,” she said, sobbing and trying to back up farther. “All of you stay away.” She glanced hesitantly around the room, her face revealing absolute horror, and she began to inch along the wall, looking for a way out. “I’ have to go,” she mumbled, her voice trembling, to no one in particular. She sounded in the early stages of good old-fashioned hysteria. I totally didn’t blame her, but it saddened me just the same. I so badly didn’t want her involved in this hell. I knew she’d come around, and that we’d have to tell what had happened, what was going on, etc. But I hated to. It was then I noticed Riggs and Zetty in the room. They both regarded me. Zetty gave a curt nod.
“You okay, Riley?” he asked.
“Yeah, Zetty. I’m fine.”
He nodded again.
“Come with me,” Luc said to Nyx, gently but firmly, grasping her arm when she resisted. Nyx stared up at him, and I’m not sure if he put the vampire whammy on her or what, but she nodded and allowed him to guide her to the door. Thankfully, Luc steered her way around what little was left of the corpses on my living room floor. At the door, he looked over his shoulder at me. “I’ve got this, Riley,” he said, and I nodded. He walked a trembling Nyx out of my apartment. Her trembling and fast-beating heart resonated inside my ears. Pushing my thumb and forefinger into my temples, I swore in Romanian. This freaking sucked. Suddenly, noises infiltrated my brain, and the murmurings and shouts and cries and horns blasting bounded within me. I concentrated, hard. Some of the sounds retracted, at least enough for me to think. That unusual, unnamed feeling began to grow inside me again. I wished to hell I knew what it was. It made me anxious. Edgy. Angry.
And as Nyx and Luc walked out, Preacher walked in. He stood in the doorway, glaring. He reminded me slightly of Eli.
“Ri, are you okay?” Seth said again, holding my arms in his firm grip. “You don’t look so good.”
I turned to him. His green eyes were rimmed with worry. “Yeah, Bro, I’m fine.” I hugged him tight. “Chaz—I think he’s hurt. Off my balcony—”
Seth ran out of the apartment, Josie fast on his heels.
“I can’t believe you took out the other two alone,” Phin said, squatting beside one of the now-shriveled bodies—barely more than a little pile of skeletal dust—and shaking his head. He rubbed his jaw and muttered his favorite slang. “Sack ray blue.” He looked at me. “Do you recognize them?”
“No,” I answered, and gave the piles a furtive glance. “Please tell me you’re going to help me get that junk out of my apartment.”
Phin gave me a smile. “Absolutely. Riggs, Zetty, you guys come with me,” he said, and turned to Preacher. “I’ll be right back.”
Seth and Josie walked in. Seth had Chaz in his arms. My heart stopped, and I moved to him. He lifted his head and whined the moment my hand touched him.
“He’s okay,” Seth said, looking at me. “He was walking in the grass by the river when I found him. Wasn’t limping or anything. Probably just shaken up. I’ll feed him,” he said, and he set Chaz down. His backside wagged and he licked my hand. I squatted down and ran my hand over his body, and he licked my face. Relief washed over me. He didn’t flinch with pain or anything.
“You gonna be okay, boy?” I asked in doggy talk. Chaz licked me again and looked hard at me with his allknowing doggy eyes. Such a stoic guy—even if he was hurt, he probably wouldn’t show it. I’d get him checked out in the morning, just in case.
“Come on, boy, let’s eat,” Seth said, and more slowly than usual, Chaz walked to the kitchen, wagging.
“You got sick moves for a mostly mortal,” Josie said, suddenly at my side. Her expressions never swayed severely one way or the other; but you always knew she spoke the truth. With wide cerulean eyes and long light brown waves naturally streaked with blond, she studied me, weighed and evaluated me, all in the span of about three seconds. She looked like an average teen, but the wisdom in the depths of her gaze said otherwise. The very corner of her mouth lifted into what most wouldn’t recognize as a grin. I did. It was a complimentary grin. “I’m wicked glad you made it.”
“Thanks,” I replied, and slid a glance to Preacher. “So am I.” Crossing my arms over my chest, I moved toward my grandfather. He stared down at me, emotions evident only in his dark eyes.
“How come you didn’t sense dem?” Preacher said quietly.
I shook my head and shoved my hands through my hair. “I don’t know. I wonder how Ned didn’t sense them.”
“He did,” Josie offered. “That’s why we came.”
“Almost too late,” said my brother, who’d moved to stand close to me again. “I don’t like it, Ri. Something’s up.”
“Ned’s on his way,” Josie said, pushing her cell into the back pocket of her skinny jeans. I hadn’t even noticed her calling him. “He thinks something’s up, too. Says he didn’t sense them until they were already here. Totally unlike Ned.”
My heart jumped. “That doesn’t sound good,” I said, then looked at Preacher. “What am I going to do about Nyx?”
“She saw everyting den?” he asked.
“Yes, sir, and it wasn’t pretty,” I answered, and shoved my hands into my pockets. Inside one I felt the sachet Preacher had given me earlier, and I wrapped my fingers around it. “She was in total shock. One of them had her by the throat and lifted her off the floor.” I shook my head. “Her eyes, Preacher—I’ve never seen someone so totally freaked out and scared. She looked at me as if I were a monster.” I looked at him. “Don’t you have some sort of … something you can give her? Make her forget?” Certainly my Gullah-hoodoo-root doctor-conjuring grandfather could concoct some sort of hocuspocus to brainwash my best friend.
One of Preacher’s brows lifted as he looked at me.
“Guess not,” I muttered, then looked up as Phin, Riggs, and Zetty came through the door. Zetty, wearing long baggy black shorts, a black T-shirt, and a gold and red braided traditional Nepal vest, stared hard at me. His long black braid hung to his waist.
“I didn’t have time to call for help,” I said, addressing his silent scolding. “I was just as surprised by them as Ned. Plus I had my hearing turned way down. Won’t happen again. So chill.” I gave the big Tibetan a slight smile. “And thanks.”
“That’s some good ass-kickin’, though,” Riggs said as he passed by. “Pretty decent for a babe.”
I could do little more than roll my eyes.
“Once dese boys git rid of dat stuff,” Preacher said, inclining his head to the piles of vamp dust on my floor, “bring it to me. Den you and dat long-haired Dupré boy bring Nyx over to da house. Togedder we will talk to her. Make tings right.”
I nodded. “What are you going to do until?”
“Fix my house right so my woman is safe. Den I’ll do yours and your brodder’s.”
I hugged my grandfather. “I’ll see you in a little while.”
Preacher patted my back. “Dat’s right, child. In a while.” Without another word, he left. I knew that “fix my house right” meant Preacher was about to do some major conjuring and hoodooing to safeguard his house and mine against sneaky vampires. Preacher held his emotions well; I could tell how it had worried him to know three newlings had waltzed right into my apartment and attacked without warning. It scared him.