It pissed me off.
I watched Phin, Zetty, Riggs, and Seth sweep the piles of vamp remains into, no lie, ziplock freezer bags, take some cleaner to the spot beneath the dust, and then sprinkle something over the whole area. No doubt Preacher had given it to them, and I was glad for it. I couldn’t tell you what in hell Preacher was going to do with newling dust, and I wasn’t convinced I wanted to know myself. I was not positive I’d ever sit on my living room floor again and not think about the gruesome death the vamps had died. I shuddered. Yeah, so I guess in the end, it freaks me out a little. Go figure. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Phin rose, his blue gaze seeking mine. “Eli isn’t going to be happy.”
I shrugged, walked to the broom closet, retrieved my small broom and dustpan, and walked to the stained glass frame shattered on my floor. I knelt and picked it up, the picture bent inside. Running a thumb over the surface, I smoothed the aged photo paper, the smiling face of my mother with me leaning against her and baby Seth in her arms staring back at me. Emotion caught in my throat, and I shook my head to clear it away. “Eli’s not here, so I guess it doesn’t really matter, does it?”
“Why are you so angry at him?” Phin asked, crouching and ducking his head to hold my gaze.
I met it with fury. “I’m not angry, Phin. I’m pissed. He left, not because my life was in danger but because he is jealous of Victorian, which is really stupid since he isn’t anywhere near me. He comes into my dreams and that’s all he has. It’s fake. Phony. Not really happening. I didn’t ask Eli to leave, and I think it sucks that he did so on his own.” I picked up a broken shard of frame. I was freaking sick of people in my life just … leaving me. I felt like the only person I’d ever be able to fully count on was Preacher.
A small smile tipped the corner of Phin’s mouth. “Trust me, Riley,” he said gently. “You can’t imagine what you mean to Eli. Hell yeah, you can count on him. And hell yeah, all this does suck, but you know my brother. Noggin of steel. No one, save Papa, tells him what to do. Besides, you’ve no idea what Victorian Arcos is capable of. He may seem harmless, but trust me. He’s not. And Eli takes no chances on what’s his.” His gaze leveled. “None.”
On what’s his.
I nodded. “I understand. Still pisses me off, though. You can see now that I can take care of myself.”
“Mostly,” he added, and then he rose. I watched him walk the room with his plain black tee, jeans, boots … He moved intently through the apartment, the muscle in his jaw flexing. I knew he was ticked about the whole thing, too. But Phin handled things way differently than Eli did. They looked a lot alike but had totally different personalities.
I finished sweeping the broken frame, stood, and tossed it into the trash. “Are you in contact with him?” I glanced over at Chaz, who lay curled up by the window, dozing.
Phin nodded. “Of course. He’s on his way back.” He grinned. “And yeah, he found Victorian. Found out something interesting. I’ll catch you up in a few.”
Somehow, all of that surprised me. But my thoughts and surprise were interrupted by the Geek Patrol.
“Whoa, dudes, dudettes—gnarly business goin’ on,” Ned Gillespie said from the doorway. Chaz lifted his head and let out a bark.
“It’s okay, boy,” I soothed, and Chaz laid his head back down.
Dressed in skinny jeans, Converses, and a white T-shirt with SUGAR SHACK printed in red across the front, Ned held his hand to his forehead as he stepped into the living room and looked around. His crazy brown hair, tipped with blond stood every which way. His gaze lit on Josie, and his cheeks turned red. “Hey, Josephine. Lookin’ sweet.” I’d almost forgotten they used to be superclose.
She grinned. “Thanks, Ned. You, too.”
He nodded and glanced at Phin. “Thought the bloodsucker radar in my noggin was goin’ out or something, but it’s not that.”
“What is it?” Phin asked.
Ned’s expression turned serious. “Romanian hocuspocus, dude. Serious weirdicus.” He glanced at me. “Glad you made it out okay, Riley.”
I couldn’t help but smile. “Thanks, Ned. So what kind of magic? Like a spell?” Even knowing what I knew about hoodoo and vampires, the question sounded stupid when said aloud. I wondered if I’d ever get used to things.
“Not sure, babe. Definitely Romanian, though. After I made the vamp alert 911 to Phin here, I was like, blown away.” He gave a short laugh of uncertainty. “I mean, damn—how’d they shimmy under my radar? I should’ve picked them off long before their soulless selves hit the streets of Savannah.” He shook his head. “Could’ve been bad, man. Could’ve been really bad.”
“So what’d you find?” Phin asked, leaning against the counter.
“In one of my old tomes I read that some bloodsuckers can slip past detectors”—he glanced at me, pressing his fingertips to his chest—“that’d be me”—he turned back to Phin—“and attack without warning. Depending on their point of vampiric origin, it could be a spell, or maybe a wicked ingestion, or something they spread on their skin.” He shrugged. “Impossible to tell.”
“What makes you think Romanian?” Phin asked.
Ned nodded and rubbed his jaw thoughtfully. “It’s nothing concrete. It was more my … uncanny sense of knowing,” he replied. “As soon as I picked up their scent, I thought, Damn. Romanian. I guess I smelled them.”
“Why? Do Romanian vamps smell worse than other vamps?” asked Riggs.
Ned narrowed his eyes. “No, dude. Just different.” He tapped Riggs’ nose. “One of my special powers, capiche?”
I glanced at Phin. He smiled. “That’s good enough for me, Ned. Romanian it is, although it makes little sense.” I knew what he meant; Victorian was the only one alive. I guessed he was still alive, anyway.
Ned grinned. “Yeah, and I’m a hundred and twelve years old. Talk about making sense, huh dude? There could be dozens of Romanian bloodsuckers in the States—not just the Arcoses.”
Phin chuckled. “Guess you’re right.”
“Wait. There’s more,” Ned said, holding up a hand. “There’s a lot of bloodsucking activity going on in Charleston. Been picking it up in doses, but the dose just grew. Now it’s like … a large blip on the sonar, if you know what I mean.”
Phin nodded. “Thanks, Ned.”
“No prob. Well, I gotta dip on out. I’m headed to a big gamer convention in Portland tomorrow. Should be sweet,” he said, and turned to look at me. “You take care, babe. Watch your back.”
I grinned. “I always do.”
Ned smiled. “Righteous.” He nodded to Phin, then glanced at Riggs, Seth, and Zetty. “Later, dudes.” His gaze turned softer when he looked at Josie. “Later, Josephine.”
Collectively, they all said, “Later”; Ned saluted and left.
As I always felt after any amount of time spent with Ned Gillespie, I thought I’d just left one of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures. Smart guy, though, and he knew his shit to the nth degree. And the Duprés trusted him indefinitely. And, I confess, he was cute in a goofy, nerdy sort of way.
“Okay,” Phin said, running a hand over his close-cut hair. He glanced down at the ziplocks filled with undead dead-dust on the floor. “Let’s get this stuff to Preacher. And Riley?”
“Yeah?” I said, regarding Phin.
“You know what this means, right?” A small smile tipped his mouth.
I rolled my eyes. “Hell yes, I know. It means you’re staying here to babysit me until Eli gets back. Again.”
“Or you could stay at the house, if you want,” he offered, meaning the Dupré mansion.
I shook my head. “No, thanks. I have a business to run and all my stuff’s here.”
Phin shrugged. “Suit yourself. But if you change your mind …”
I smiled. “Thanks. I’ll keep it in mind.” I looked at Phin. “Did Eli kill Victorian? Luc didn’t say.” I felt like I’d know, and even though Victorian hadn’t contacted me further, I didn’t feel he was gone. I briefly wondered why I cared.
“No,” Phin said. “Victorian got away. Details later, though.”
Well, that answered that.
By the time we’d gathered at Preacher’s, it was nearly midnight. My head had begun a slow throb, nearly as slow as my heartbeat, and when we stepped inside Da Plat Eye, my noggin was splitting into halves. Estelle gave me four ibuprofen (yeah, go figure—regular FDA-approved medicine) and a glass of water, and I downed them. Phin said it was kickback adrenaline from killing vamps. I believed it.
What I didn’t believe was Nyx’s reaction to me.
The moment I stepped into Preacher’ and Estelle’s small, tidy living room, Nyx leapt from the sofa and hurled herself at me, full speed. She wrapped me in the largest, tightest bear hug she’d ever given, I was sure of it. I hugged her back, and she sobbed.
“Oh, Riley,” she said against my shoulder. “I’m sorry! I—” She pulled back and looked at me. “Oh my God, I had no idea. Luc”—she glanced at him, then set her gaze on mine—“took me to his house. I … met his parents.” Large blue eyes stared at me and blinked. She dropped her voice to almost a whisper. “You know, I saw them.”
“She hugged them, too,” Luc said jokingly.
I stared at my best friend, at her pigtails poking through the sides of her white and black striped skully, at her dark red lipstick, her pale skin. She blinked. “I know, Riley.” She leaned close to me. “Preacher told me. Creatures of the afterlight,” she whispered. “Vampires.”
I could do little more than stare at my friend.
“Gilles explained some things, and Preacher, he took care of the rest—including yours and Seth’s tendencies,” Nyx continued. “He wanted to wait for you, but I … I insisted. After I’d met Luc’s parents, I had to know.”