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It hit me then, and I grasped Nyx’s forearms. “I’m sorry I lied to you before about Seth,” I said. “It … was the only way. At least, I thought.” I looked hard at her. “I didn’t think you’d understand, and I didn’t want to drag you into all of this.”
Luc was suddenly at Nyx’s side. “She handled it all pretty good,” he said, and I noticed a protective hand move to Nyx’s back. “Even when Papa changed.”
“I fainted, but Luc stayed right beside me,” Nyx confessed, then narrowed her eyes at me. “No more secrets, huh Riley?” Seth walked over and put his arm around Nyx.
I held my hand up. “No more, I swear it.”
Nyx glanced up at Seth. “I always felt it was something more,” she said, and I knew she meant Seth hadn’t been on drugs. “Never thought it was something like this, though.”
Seth pulled Nyx against him and kissed the top of her head through the skully. “Love ya, other sis.”
Nyx’s closed-eyed smile spoke way more than her words. “Love you, too, little bro.”
“Dere’s more to be done, dat’s right,” said Preacher, rising from his recliner and glancing at all gathered. It was late, and the lamp in the corner cast a very dim amber glow over the room, the haint blue ceiling mixing and casting a unique, surreal metallic color against the newsprint on the walls (to keep the wudus busy). I knew he and Estelle had to be exhausted. “You, Nyxinnia, will stay wit Riley and Seth—for a few nights, right? Until we know what’s out dere, we want you safe. You don’t have tendencies like she and her brodder do. Deys have powers now, and dem Duprés taught ’em to fight. You don’t know dat stuff, and I don’t want you gittin’ hurt, girl. Luc will go wit you to your house and git your stuff, dat’s right. Den you come back here.”
Nyx nodded without question. “Yes, sir.”
“After a few days, when we know what’s out dere, we’ll git your house right and den you can go back,” Preacher said.
Nyx again nodded.
“Séraphin,” Preacher said.
“Yes, sir,” Phin responded.
“You and dose boys dere help me with dis stuff, right.” He crossed the room and lifted an aged, handcarved wooden box from the mantel. I knew it well. It usually contained conjuring herbs, crushed bones, body parts of various creatures—sort of a tackle box full of hoodoo stuff. He reached in and lifted three balls of burlap, larger than what he’d given me earlier. It was more like the size of a baseball. “I want you boys to shake dis around da building’s foundation, inside each doorway, window, and da balcony.” He handed the sachets to Phin.
“Come on,” Phin said to the others. “Josie, you stay with Riley until we finish.”
Josie, seated on the floor in front of Estelle’s feet, looked up at me. “Sure.”
Phin and the guys left.
Luc’s cell rang then, and when he answered it, he looked directly at me. “Yeah, Bro, everything’s cool,” he said, then quietly slipped out into the foyer.
It was Eli. And somehow, as childish and immature as it sounded, it pissed me off that he’d call Luc and not me. Inwardly, I fumed. I’m talking frickin’ frackin’ fumed.
I immediately turned on my acute-hearing ability and eavesdropped.
“You should tell her, dude,” Luc said.
“I don’t need you telling me what to do, Jean-Luc,” Eli replied, his French thick. “And I damn-fuck sure don’t need her knowing anything. If I wanted to talk to her about it, I would. I don’t. End of story. It would just freak her out more. I was just checking in. Papa wouldn’t answer his cell. I’ll be home later.”
“Wait,” Luc said. “She had visitors today.”
“Who?” Eli’s voice grew eerily controlled.
“Three newlings. Somehow they got under Ned’s radar. Riley and Nyx were alone; Riley killed two of them. Seth came in with us and took out the last one,” Luc said. “She’s okay. They’re both okay. I took Nyx to Papa. She knows.”
The line was deadly silent for several seconds, then a burst of French expletives filled the air—so loud I almost covered my ears. “What the fuck did I leave you there for, huh? She’s not capable of taking care of herself. Tendencies or not—goddamn, Luc—she’s still a fucking mortal. She could have been ripped apart!”
I jumped at Phin’s voice, and quickly turned my attention to him. “Yeah?”
He grinned. “Shame on you.” He inclined his head. “Finished. Let’s go.” It cracked me up, every once in a while, to catch the silver ball pierced through his tongue. He’d kept it, even after the disturbances in Savannah. But now I had another distraction. What was it Eli didn’t want me to know? I guessed I’d find out soon enough. Poor Luc had really caught hell from his older brother. It was my fault totally. I shouldn’t have turned my hearing so far down. Lesson learned.
I quickly hugged Preacher and Estelle, then wrapped my arms around Nyx’s neck. “Everything will be okay,” I assured her, trying to assure myself as well. I pulled back and looked at her. “I’ll wait up for you.”
“Okay,” she said, smiling. “Luc—he’s really nice.”
I knew it. They liked each other. “Yeah, he is,” I agreed. “He’ll take good care of you.”
“You be careful over dere, girl,” said Estelle, who’d been uncharacteristically quiet the whole time. “I don’t like all dis stuff goin’ on and will feel better once dat Eli Dupré gets his carcass home and watches my baby good, dat’s right.”
“Yes, ma’am. Me, too.” I kissed my surrogate grandparents.
With all that said and done, we left.
Riggs and Zetty headed home; Luc took Nyx to get her stuff to stay at my place for a few nights; the rest of us stayed at my apartment. While Phin, Seth, and Josie flipped through the channels, got hooked, and fell into watching The Breakfast Club, I decided to take a long, hot shower. Too many thoughts and feelings ran through me at top speed; I was sure I’d need a beer afterward. I craved a friggin’ cigarette, but I’d promised Seth I’d lay off and stay off, so I excused myself, grabbed some comfy jammies, and headed to my bathroom. Having turned on the hot water, stripped, and climbed into the tiled stall, I let the steaming water soak through my hair and run over my body. My thoughts ran likewise.
I’d agreed, at the insistence of Elise Duprés, to allow her to homeschool Seth. I’d been hesitant at first; I wanted him to have as normal an upbringing as possible, and that meant a normal school, with normal interaction with other kids. Soccer. Baseball. Prom. Graduation. I’d finally realized none of that was possible. Not only had our mother been murdered, but our father was a loser deadbeat criminal who had abandoned us and was then imprisoned. Seth had nearly succumbed to vampirism in the worst possible way. Homeschooling under Elise’s supervision and instruction could only be a positive. She’d schooled all of her children, and, I’d eventually discovered, all but Josie had attended college. She’d looked and been too young to attend, but had obtained degrees just the same. Before computers, she was homeschooled by Elise and was fluent in English, Latin, and Spanish, as well as her native French tongue. Eli had a law degree from the University of Glasgow in Scotland (the prick never even told me). Phin had a master’s degree in biology from the University of Georgia, and Luc had earned his degree in astrology from Edinburgh. Astrology! Jean-Luc and Séraphin were frickin’ scientists. Talk about kick-ass undead Myth Busters. All in all, I felt confident in Elise’s teachings, and Seth was all for it. Of course, I think it may have had something to do with spending more time with Josie, but that was just my astute sisterly observation. Anyway, I was okay with the decision, and Elise would start classes with Seth tomorrow—as long as no other vampires showed up to attack us. Gilles had pulled me to the side to say how absolutely thrilled his wife was to have another pupil to instruct. He’d said his Elise had spent hours gathering teaching supplies and information from the Internet, so it was a fantastic dual-purpose decision, in my book.
The steaming water carried the scent of pomegranate as it mixed with the soap I’d just picked up, and as I lathered my body, my thoughts returned to Eli, and what I’d heard him say. I won’t lie—it’d stung. Try as I might to be a tough-ass through and through, I was still a woman. I did have feelings and I could be hurt. I hated that Eli had that power over me. I’d sworn nobody—no man—would ever have it over me again. Not after what that insane fuck did to my mother. I could still see her sopping wet hair clinging to her pale face. I could still feel her body in my arms, limp; her eyes wide and fixed, a pair of lifeless orbs that used to look upon me with such love but that could no longer look at all. Those last few years of her life I’d been nothing but heartache to her; I regretted so much. Tears built behind my lids, and I allowed myself to cry. God, I missed my mom. Every day, I saw her face, and I wished like hell she hadn’t died.
I plopped a glob of shampoo in my palm and scrubbed my head and my hair; then I rinsed and did the same with conditioner. Finally, and only when I felt the water start to run lukewarm, did I turn the knobs to Off and step out of the shower. I wrapped one towel around my hair, another around my body, and in the next second I collapsed, exhausted on my bed. My eyes grew heavy; for some reason, I fought sleep. Finally, I lost the battle.
I have no idea how long I lay there. I could hear Emilio Estevez’s laughter spilling from the TV in the living room. It was the last thing I heard before falling into darkness.
When next my eyes fluttered open, I was walking through a park; live oaks, moss; a large pineapple fountain with water spraying sparkled beneath the tall black iron lamps posted along the walkway. It was dark and too late to be out alone. The air was damp, humid, heavy with brine. Palms mixed with live oaks. Leaning against the fountain was a woman: late twenties, maybe, average height, very curvy, with black hair pulled into a high ponytail, tight jeans, T-shirt, sneakers. She had a cell phone cradled between her chin and shoulder as she talked to … someone. Angry. Upset. Crying. She did not know I was behind her.