“Ruhn…? Dear God, please don’t be dead…”

With hands that shook and arms that were weak, he carefully rolled the male over onto his back. What he saw was the stuff of nightmare: Ruhn’s throat was slashed, his eyes fixed and unblinking. He did not appear to be breathing.


Saxton screamed into the empty house. And then he cried out in further pain as he realized what Ruhn had been lying on.

The dying male had pulled Saxton’s cashmere coat off the back of the chair it had been on…and had held it to him as he had bled as if taking comfort in the love they had shared.

“Please don’t be dead…wake up…wake up…”

Somehow, Saxton managed to get his phone out and call…someone. He didn’t know who it was. But all of a sudden, he was not alone. He was surrounded by people…and somebody was easing him back so that someone else could look at Ruhn—

Blay. It was Blay’s arms around his chest.

They were both kneeling in Ruhn’s blood.

“I can’t hear anything,” Saxton blurted. “Is anybody saying anything?”

“Shh,” came Blay’s soothing voice. “It’s okay. They’re just looking at him…”

“I can’t…what’s wrong with my ears.” He hit himself in the side of the head a couple of times. “I can’t…they’re not working—”

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Blay captured his hand and stilled him. “We need to find out if there’s…”

“Is he dead?”

At that point, the floodgates threatened to open, but he had no time for the blindness that came with tears or any further lack of hearing. He simply sobbed without crying and tried to focus through his wretched sorrow.

When he had to turn to the side to try to throw up, Blay held his head while he dry-heaved, and he could vaguely recognize the male’s voice speaking to him again. But God, he couldn’t think.

And then Qhuinn was crouching down to him. The Brother’s lips were moving and his mismatched stare was earnest, concerned, compassionate.

“I can’t…” Saxton tapped his ear again. “I can’t hear what you’re saying…”

Qhuinn nodded and squeezed Saxton’s shoulder. Then the male looked at Manny and Doc Jane, who were bending over Ruhn.

Chosen—a Chosen was here, Saxton realized.

Wait, they wouldn’t have brought her if he was dead? Right?

“Someone talk to me!” Saxton shouted.

Everybody froze and looked over at him. And then Rhage was blocking the way and pointing to another room.

“No.” Saxton shook his head. “No, I’m not—don’t take me away from him—I’m not—”

Rhage’s face got right in front of his own. “He has a pulse. They’re going to feed him and they’re going to close the knife wound. I’m taking you to the parlor and we’re going to let them do their job—”

“No! No, don’t make me leave him—”

“Do you want them distracted by you or working on Ruhn.”

Saxton blinked. Put like that, the logic was enough to quiet him for the time being.

When he tried to stand up, his legs gave out and he caught himself by throwing out a hand. Blay and Qhuinn ended up pulling him to his feet and leading him out to the parlor. And as he fell down onto the sofa, he looked at his palms. His knees. His shirt.

There was blood all over him.

He glanced toward the door. And heard himself say, “There’s a camera. Mounted in the corner of the eaves.”

The Brother Vishous stepped forward from God only knew where. “Do you know what it feeds into?”

Saxton cleared his throat and spoke in a hoarse voice. “There’s…downstairs, there’s a laptop. The password is Minnie. It’s there.”

“I’m on it.”

As the Brother stomped out of the room, like he was on a personal mission, Saxton put his head down…and wept.

How could his love have been taken away from him so soon?

Across town, Novo was pacing in her apartment. Which wasn’t saying much: It took her about four strides to cover the distance to the bathroom. Four strides back to the futon.

Rinse and repeat, so to speak.

There was an intense restlessness in her, as if the universe were shattering somewhere in Caldwell, some kind of cosmic realignment happening that resonated in her world. Then again, maybe she was simply hallucinating from not having eaten in almost twenty-four hours.

She had been doing much better before Peyton had showed up just now.

Not really a newsflash.

It had been a shock to sense the echo of his blood up above her basement shithole, but all things considered, she couldn’t really be surprised he had come. And she had been tempted to ignore his presence, except sooner or later, he would have figured out a way down to her level—and really, who needed to wait around for the other shoe to drop.

Seizing the bull by the horns, she had marched up there and given him what for.

So it was done. And he was the asshole and she was the victim who refused to be a victim.

Yada, yada, yada.

The trouble was, something wasn’t sitting right. I refuse to keep paying for the sins of another.

“Just words, just fucking words,” she muttered as she made another trip.

A quick check of the digital clock by her pillows and she added up how many hours before dawn: two. She had about one hundred and twenty minutes before she was stuck here all day.

There was only one place she could think of to go. And unfortunately, it was the last place in the world she wanted to be.

Something wouldn’t keep her inside, though.

Like a bird seeking flight, she made a sudden rush to leave, sure as if she were afraid destiny’s hand would close the door of her freedom of choice and lock it for good.

Out on the street, she walked fast, following in the footsteps of countless humans, and a few vampires, who had trod over the snowpack on the sidewalk. She went way farther than she had to to find a place to dematerialize, but she wanted to give herself as much of an opportunity to change her mind as she could.

The calling would not be denied, however.

Eventually, she ducked into a doorway that had no light above it…and after more than a few attempts, she traveled out and away from downtown, past the very outer ring of the suburbs, to a forest of trees and marshes.

When she re-materialized, she found herself in an unfamiliar familiar landscape.

The house she had once rented was abandoned now, its windows broken, a hole in its roof, the yard a tangle of vines, out-of-control bushes, and saplings that would soon be trees. In fact, the entire property seemed to have been returned to the wild, the six or seven acres overgrown such that the other houses in the area could not be seen at all.

The snow cover, undisturbed except for some deer prints, seemed to be the crowning glory on the home’s death. Or more like the dirt on its coffin lid.

She must have been the last person to inhabit the place.

Maybe her tragedy had cursed the land and the little house.

Or…maybe its owner had simply forfeited the mortgage and the bank had repossessed the property and not been able to move it on to someone else…and then a season had passed and a winter had come and pipes had broken…and after more of the same, there you had it.

The real estate equivalent of cancer that metastasized.

Walking forward, she was in no rush to get around to the back…but as with all journeys, large and small, the end came when it did.

And then she was staring out at the marshes that seemed to go on forever. In reality, there was a good mile of them, and off in the distance, there were foothills that turned into the mountains that ultimately cupped Schroon Lake on the other side.

Even with everything so unkempt, she knew exactly the spot where she had buried the young. It was over there. Under that little bush she had planted that was now so much bigger and the pile of rocks she had made that had stayed the same height.

There was still a small mound, beneath the blanket of snow.

With each step she took, the heaviness in her heart grew…until she could not take a full breath anymore. And then she was crouching down and she was putting her bare hand out to the snow.

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