The next morning, the emergency room at St. John's was unusually quiet. Good thing because I was distracted by the horror of my father's new romantic interest. What did she want from him? Money? Probably not. She made her own. Attention? Maybe. I told myself for the fiftieth time that it wouldn't last. I wasn't going to worry about it. She'd realize he was all about his work and leave him the minute the novelty wore off.


Hours ticked by filled with average, run-of-the-mill illnesses and broken bones. I had a patient with an appendicitis around ten, and otherwise uneventful cases the rest of the day. Around six that night though, an ambulance phoned ahead, something paramedics do for the seriously ill and injured, and I was called in to respond.

"Dr. Anderson needs you in the trauma room, stat!" Julie, my charge nurse, pointed at the trauma room. "I'll take your beds."

My heart started racing from the adrenaline zing that flooded my system. It had been months since I helped in trauma. It wasn't my specialty. With my limited experience, I couldn't have been Julie or Dr. Anderson's first choice, but the day had been so slow she'd sent a few of my fellow nurses home, leaving us short staffed. To call me in, the situation had to be desperate.

I shoved the door open with my shoulder and eyed my friend Jay with a sigh of relief. A Certified Trauma Nurse Specialist, nothing shook this guy. I'd seen him reach into a gunshot wound half the size of New Hampshire to clamp down on a nicked artery. Jay was made of fortified steel.

"What's coming?" I asked. "Julie didn't give me any specifics."

He glanced up from his work readying a table of supplies. "Female. Near drowning."

"Drowning?" There wasn't a natural body of water inside Carlton City limits and the indoor pools were sticklers about safety. A drowning this time of year was highly unusual.

"Red Grove Lake."

"Red Grove Lake. My Red Grove? What the heck is anyone doing out there this time of year?" Aside from being frozen solid, Red Grove Lake was miles behind Rick's place at the heart of Monk's forest. The only access was by foot through unmarked footpaths. I wouldn't even know about the lake if not for Rick. He'd taken me back there a few weeks ago to show me where a rare form of holly grew.

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"Not sure."

"Well, who found her?"

"Not sure."

"Jay! What do you know about this patient?"

"She was crazy enough to almost drown in a frozen lake in the middle of nowhere on the Friday after Thanksgiving."

The automatic doors flew open and a familiar paramedic rolled a woman in on a stretcher. "Unidentified female, abandoned at a Fuel Up station on the edge of town. Attendant was told by the man who dropped her off she was found crawling out of Red Grove Lake. We tried to get her cooking for you, but she's still below temp and unconscious. Heart's pumping but her breathing is erratic."

I took over her ventilation bag while Jay checked her vitals. Pulse was thready, and she was still cold as ice. She looked to be around forty with wavy brown hair and a round but muscular build that gave her a sturdy appearance. She'd been wrapped in a blanket with heat packs tucked in her armpits and groin.

"Grateful, warmed IV," Dr. Anderson ordered. "Jay, forced air blanket. Hopefully we can get her breathing on her own again." Dr. Anderson took over the bag and began assessing her airway, talking to the patient in an attempt to elicit a response.

I went to work. In a flash, I'd found a suitable vein, high on her shoulder, near her core. I ran the tips of my gloved fingers over the raised blue swell, and pierced her skin with a large gauge needle. The warm fluids began to flow.

"Come on." Dr. Anderson said, removing the bag and shaking her shoulder. "Ma'am! Breathe."

The gasp the woman gave relieved us all.

Her lids flipped open, and she fixed me with a blood-tinged stare. "You!" the woman yelled. "Where is it?"

"Welcome back, miss," Dr. Anderson said, patting her shoulder. "You're in the emergency room at St. Johns. You've had an accident."

The woman refused to look at him, but her eyes drilled into me, through me. I had an impulse to reach for Nightshade but, of course, my blade wasn't on my back.

Overriding my panic impulse, I forced my voice to respond in a gentle, even tone. "Just relax. You're going to be fine." I patted her shoulder.

"Not fine," she rasped. A hand shot out from under the blanket and grabbed my wrist, pulling me toward her. Before I could register what she was doing, a pillar of water exploded from her mouth, drenching me in icy cold vomit.

I jolted backwards, the witchy part of me going all five-alarm tingly. Either this woman was possessed or someone had released a can of bees up my spine. Her voice echoed, a deep baritone hiss, and the smell of wet vermin filled my nostrils.

"You can't hide the book forever. We know you have it."

"What?" I whispered.

Dr. Anderson shot me a beware-the-crazy-patient look, and helped me pry her fingers from my arm. "What's your name?" he asked.

The woman laughed, low and cruel. "I have a message for you, Hecate. The book is as good as ours. You can either cooperate or be eliminated."

With a confused glance in my direction, Dr. Anderson piped up. "Your name, ma'am? We need to know who you are. Can we call someone for you?"

She rolled her head on the table, finally training her eyes on the doctor. A wicked cackle turned into a rattling cough. I watched a dark mist escape her lips, waft to the ceiling, and disappear into the nearest vent. Shit! Instantly, the woman seized on the table and the steady tone of a flat-lined heart monitor filled the room. I started CPR. Jay grabbed the paddles and we defibrillated the woman. But she never regained consciousness.

I didn't have to ask if Jay or Dr. Anderson had seen the mist; they couldn't see the supernatural and that wasn't indigestion oozing out from between her lips. The buzz of my power pressed against my skin. I itched to have Nightshade in my hand.

As soon as the woman's body was processed, I took a moment in the break room and consulted my Book of Light app. Yep. I'd seen this baddy before in a past life. The vaporous demon was called a Nightmare or Cauchemar. Usually, the black mist was relatively harmless. At night, the demons only became corporeal in the presence of a sleeping human. Named for their habit of weighing down people's chests while they slept, they fed on the resulting fear. As terrorizing as they could be, in their natural form they couldn't actually hurt anyone. The person affected would simply wake up and the nightmare would disappear. Obviously, this one had graduated to more sinister pursuits. Possession was a serious metaphysical felony and something the creature couldn't accomplish on its own. It would take a witch or other magical creature to facilitate the possession. I owed this thing judgment and prison time, along with whatever entity had enabled it. Worse, the grim vapor was asking about the book, which meant it was probably working with Julius and targeting me.

I needed to talk to Rick. As angry and confused as I was about his involvement in Gary's turning, he was the only one who could help me figure out a plan for dealing with this. Why did Julius think I had the Book of Flesh and Bone? I had no idea where the book was. But maybe Rick did. I needed answers.

One other question, was the nightmare that had emerged from my patient's body out for good or could it infect someone else in the hospital? If the answer was in the Book of Light, I hadn't made it that far with populating my phone app. Until I knew for sure, I had to be careful to keep my witchy senses tuned in. The nightmare could be anywhere and look like anyone.

I slipped my phone back into my pocket and returned to the nurse's station. The paramedic who had brought the woman in was still hanging around, filling out paperwork at the desk.

I eyed his nametag. "Hey, Eric."

"Hey. Grateful, nice to see you again."

"Just wondering if the attendant at Fuel Up said anything about the guy who'd dropped that patient off? She died. Can't help but wonder why he waited so long to call for help."

He tore the first page off the form he was filling out and slipped it in the appropriate slot on the desk. "Yeah, he was still there when me and my partner arrived but we must've scared him. He took off when he saw the lights."

"What did he look like?"

"Couldn't say. He was wearing a parka with the hood up."

"And you didn't think that was suspicious?"

"Actually, no. It's fifteen below out there today. Everyone should be wearing a hood."

"Red Grove Lake is in the middle of the woods; he didn't just trip over her in the street. I wonder if he had something to do with it." I narrowed my eyes.

"He told the attendant he went out for a walk and found her on the bank of the lake."

My breath caught in my throat. As far as I knew, there was only one house occupied in the area, only one owner who could have gone for a walk behind it. Rick. He had to be the one who found her. An icy ripple climbed my backbone and made my scalp tingle. He must have sensed the nightmare inside the woman. Rick didn't own a phone. Maybe he used the attendant to call 911 thinking I was her best bet for survival? But if so, why not drive her to the hospital? I didn't usually work trauma. I could have easily missed her.

Then again, maybe I wasn't meant to find her. What if Rick had been the one to drown her? An overzealous battle with the nightmare might have resulted in the woman's fate, and this was the way he covered it up. He'd covered up Gary. It was possible. My head spun with unanswered questions.

Eric said goodbye and headed for the exit to resume his shift. Mine was over. It was time for me to clock out and pay a visit to the caretaker.

Some things you just come to take for granted: the sun rising in the morning, taxes due on April fifteenth, dandelions in the lawn in summer. I had come to expect Rick's door to open for me any time that I should walk up to it, day or night. But tonight I waited in front of his stone cottage, even resorted to knocking on the door, to no avail. Furthermore, our connection had gone dead. Either he was far away, or he was blocking me.

"Why don't you try the door?" Poe said, landing with an inordinate amount of flapping above me. The cross beams of the porch roof housed dozens of wind chimes, and the disruption of the air by his large black wings sent the closest ones into a fit of musical clinking.

"How did you get out?" I asked. Christ I was moody, but the strange woman's death weighed heavily on my mind.

"Attic window. I performed the most fabulous rendition of Bruce Willis in Die Hard. Even rolled through the air as the glass shattered around me." With a snap of his hooked beak, he slurped a wolf spider from the side of the house.

"You broke my window?" I fisted my hands on my hips and peered at him through narrowed eyes. "I just got that window fixed like a month ago!"

"You left a predatory bird in the attic for fourteen hours?" he sing-songed back at me in a mimicked version of my voice. "Relax. I only broke one small pane. You can seal it with magic tonight and fix it tomorrow."

"Yeah, right. With all of my advanced window fixing skills! Damn it, Poe. I really didn't need this tonight."

He cawed in my face. "Really? Well, you know what I need? To eat every four-to-six hours. You'd know that if you'd taken the time to learn anything about ravens. And it's not like you left me a lot of options. Your pantry is a joke."

I huffed, feeling like my head might explode. When it was clear Poe didn't feel the slightest bit of remorse for his crime against my house, I rolled my eyes and reached for the doorknob. Not surprisingly, it swung open. Rick never locked his door; he didn't need to. I strode into the sparsely decorated living room. "Rick?" I called, but there was no way he was home. If he had been, I'd be naked and draped over the couch by now. I was at a loss.

Poe circled the small living room, then disappeared through the bedroom door, returning almost immediately. "He's not here."

"I'd surmised that much. Did you see anything strange tonight, Poe?"

"Strange how? One of the field mice I ate gave me heartburn but otherwise, no."

I gave him a quick rundown of what happened in the ER. He raised the muscle over his left eye that might count as an eyebrow. "You know, it had to be Rick. Who else would find her out here? Plus, there's this." He pointed his beak toward the linoleum kitchen floor.

A few steps closer and I could clearly make out a puddle. The door to the garage was slightly ajar. With two fingers, I nudged it the rest of the way open. Rick's car, a Tesla roadster I quite admired, was missing. Wet floor, near drowning victim in Red Grove Lake, missing Rick. Hmm. How was he involved? Where had he gone? Why hadn't he contacted me for back up? I didn't like this. Not at all.

"You can't possibly blame him. After you went all cray-cray about the Gary incident, it's no wonder he wanted to give you some space."

Blink. Blink. "Cray-Cray?" I wiped a hand over my face to try to calm my burgeoning temper. "Rick knew I was in love with Gary and watched his heart stop beating under the fangs of Anna the Vampire."

"Anna the Vampire." Poe ruffled his feathers. "You wouldn't be talking about Anna Bathory would you?"

"Yeah. I guess she owns the Mill Wheel. According to Gary, she runs a tight ship."

Poe bobbed his head. "Anna Bathory was daughter to Erzsebet Bathory, countess of Hungary in the late 1500's, also called the Blood Countess."

I knew I'd heard that name before! "That's right, Erzsebet killed hundreds of young girls before she was put to death. She was the most notable female serial killer in history." I'd seen her story on the History channel as a possible origination of Vampire lore, along with Vlad the Conqueror.

"Anna was her daughter. Interesting thing about Anna, no one is sure when she was turned, or by whom, but many believed her mother was feeding her early appetite."

I hugged my stomach, suddenly feeling cold even though Rick's house was a comfortable temperature. "So, you are telling me that a five hundred year old vamp is running a bar in Carlton City and is responsible for turning my ex-boyfriend."

Poe bobbed his head again.

"Look, I get what you're saying. Anna is like this ancient, uber-evil vamp and Rick was at his weakest. Even if I could understand why Rick wouldn't be in a position to confront her at that point, that doesn't explain why he didn't do more to help me. Why not find a way to tell me? I was in misery, Poe. I cried for days. I lost my apartment." Tears formed in my eyes just thinking about that time in my life. "I couldn't even get out of bed. I felt abandoned, worthless. Those first weeks, after I realized he wasn't coming back and the money was gone, were the only time in my entire life I considered suicide. Rick may not have caused that low, but he allowed it to fester by not revealing himself to me sooner."

"Some things have to happen in their own time," Poe said softly, sounding eerily human...until he rotated his neck and started preening his feathers.

I searched the counter for a pad of paper, finding a promotional stack of sticky notes from Winshire Bank and Loan next to the fridge. Finding a pen next to it, I scratched Rick a note that I needed to talk to him pronto. Then, on a whim, I tore off a blank sheet from the bottom.

"What do you need that for?" Poe asked, hopping to my shoulder.

"Hey, watch the talons. New scrubs," I said. He loosened his grip. "As it so happens, I have some banking needs, like, for instance, a big leather satchel full of money, and if Rick uses Winshire then I feel very safe placing my wad into their hands."

"Ah. Can we go home now?" he asked.

"Sure. We have a window to fix. And I haven't had dinner yet. Of course, depending on the mess you left, maybe I'll be having raven."

I was joking, of course, but when I opened the door, Poe disappeared into the night.

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