"WHAT?" SHE GASPED. He...must be crazy, driven mad by his continual search for monsters. "Cody, that's impossible. I've seen-"
"Alex, why do you think I can only use my blood for the transfusions?" He released her, stepping back, and his voice turned almost cold. "I'm an anomaly, as far as I can tell. The story I got as a child was pretty confused, but my mother didn't believe my father had been dead for very long. But he came home to her-when all the evidence says he was lying dead on the plain. The way I figure it, my father was attacked and...turned, but somehow he made it back to her, and that was the night I was conceived. He loved her deeply, and-I know she loved him. The idea of finding a new husband never once occurred to her. And, like you, she never believed that a man she loved so much could be evil. But as I grew up, it became apparent that I wasn't quite your usual kid. If I was injured, I healed. I was riddled with bullets during the war, and everyone was sure I was dead. When it turned out I was alive, I was discharged and sent home to heal. Except I already was healed. That's why I went to medical school, though. I wanted to help others heal." He paused. "I have some other unusual abilities, too. I can move like lightning, and if I concentrate, I can cloak myself, like a shadow. I have a superhuman strength. And my hearing and eyesight are acute. I really am-a vampire, Alex. Half vampire, anyway, which I guess is why I don't need an invitation to enter a house."
His story was insane.
"Cody, I know you believe what you're saying, but it's just because you've been doing this so long that you're...You're just strong, that's all, and you've got...you've got good blood," she said weakly.
"No, Alex, I am half monster," he said firmly.
"You don't drink blood!"
"Yes, I do."
Despite herself, she felt her hand slip to her throat. "But-"
He shook his head, turning away from her again and striding across the room. "I don't take human blood, Alex. Like anyone, I get most of my nutrition from food, and I learned as a child to subsist on any kind of blood when food just wasn't enough. And to go a very long time between...drinks."
"So what kind of blood do you...?" she whispered.
"Cow's blood, Alex. I've been known to hang around a slaughterhouse or two," he said dryly.
"Cow's blood," she repeated.
"Wild pigs did well enough when I went to war," he said.
Alex blinked. "Wild pigs."
"Right. Once, as a child, I bit the family dog. I really loved that dog, and because of me, he almost died. When he made it, I knew that I'd never touch a dog, or any pet, again. Or a coyote or a wolf, for that matter. They're too much like dogs."
"Chickens?" she suggested.
He turned around and met her eyes again. "Chickens-if I have no choice. They don't provide much blood, not like a cow or a horse."
"It's true. Every word I've spoken is true. I never wanted to come to Victory. I wanted to heal the injured-boys from the North as well as the South-as they straggled back into New Orleans. I wanted to deliver babies. But I'd gotten a reputation, I guess you'd say, and I worked for the government on a few cases before the war. And now I'm here because Brendan had heard about me, and he asked me to come out and help him with what was going on here. So you see, Alex, my father is out here somewhere, too. And I need to find him."
All Alex could do was stare at him. After a long moment he turned, went back over to her dressing table and picked up his plate.
"I'll take this to my room and leave you to your thoughts."
He walked away, closing the door behind him, and she couldn't even manage to move.
She couldn't-wouldn't-accept what he'd said. He was crazy. He'd been doing this too long.
That first night...
He had moved like a shadow himself, slipped up behind Milo in a way that had seemed almost inhumanly effective. He knew exactly what he was doing. He...
It's true. Every word I've spoken is true.
He believed it. And after what she had seen...
She believed it, too.
She sprang into action, hurrying to the door, throwing it open-and then she froze, staring.
He'd set his plate down on the dresser and was at the washstand. His shirt was gone, and he was lathering himself up almost frenziedly. He scrubbed his face and chest, then drenched himself in cold water, letting it sluice over him. His back was to her, but when he looked up, she could see his face in the mirror.
And he could see her.
"What?" he demanded. His tone was sharp, as if he was trying to create a wall between them.
"I don't understand," she said.
"I think I laid it out simply enough. My father became a vampire. Then he went back to my mother-and I was conceived. Therefore, I am half vampire. Half monster. And I've figured out that I'll never get to go home and go back to simply being a city doctor-delivering babies and setting broken legs."
"So?" Alex said.
He turned around, mopping his face with a towel, frowning as he looked at her. "So...what?" he asked, scowling.
She strode into the room, facing him. Close. Almost backing him into the washstand. "I never took you for a coward."
"What the hell are you talking about?" His eyes narrowed.
"So you have a little quirk in your pedigree," she said, then smiled. "This is America. I'm some kind of Northern European mix. Between them, Tess and Jewell have Chinese, African, Mexican and Indian blood. God knows what Jigs is."
He allowed himself a small, grim smile. "Nice try, Alex, but that's not quite the same as being half vampire."
"It is for you, Cody. You use your birth, the abilities you inherited, for good," she said softly.
He pulled her against him for a long moment, and she could smell the clean scent of soap on his chest.
"Even if you're going to hunt vampires all your life, there's no reason not to allow yourself to care-not have a home to go back to after you go hunting."
He cupped her face, lifting her chin. "You still don't believe me, do you? I'm a monster."
"And you still don't believe me, do you?" she whispered. "I don't see you as a monster. I see you as the man who saved my life. I see you as the man I want...for however much time I can have, whenever that time may be."
"No, Alex, I have no right. I never had the right...."
"Cody, for the love of God, will you please let me have the last word, just this once?"
He fell silent, staring at her.
She lifted herself on her toes, finding his lips, kissing them softly at first, then passionately.
"Cody, I need you tonight," she whispered against his mouth.
He wrapped his arms around her again, his chin resting atop her head, and he said, "I don't know what the future will bring, Alex. I honestly don't know."
"None of us do," she assured him.
And then he kissed her. Maybe, in his own mind, he felt he had to prove his humanity, because he was gentle, his kiss feather light. He lifted her as if she were precious and laid her down so tenderly that she was aware only of the softness of the mattress beneath her.
He stretched out beside her, stroking her cheek, staring into her eyes....
She sighed softly, somehow knowing what was in his mind.
I'll stay here. I'll protect you. I'll be your strength against the night.
Overwhelmed by need and desire, she suddenly took command and straddled him, working at the buttons on her tailored shirt as she leaned down over him, her hair feathering against his chest, eliciting a soft groan that only fed her own hunger.
She threw the shirt aside and kissed him, her lips wild and hungry, her tongue passionate and demanding.
He rose to the challenge, returning her fever with his own, cupping her head, rolling with her, seeking to free her from her remaining garments. She helped, sliding her riding breeches down over her hips before shifting her hands to the buckle of his belt, then dipping her fingers beneath his waistband. His eyes met hers, and she bit back the words she couldn't say.
I don't care who or what you are. I don't care that we've only known each other a few days, the strangest days of my life. I know there will never be anyone else like you. I'm falling in love with you. No, I am in love with you....
No. She couldn't say those words.
So she made love to him instead, and she gasped in sweet pleasure as he returned each brush and gesture, as they turned into a tangle of stroking, touching, kissing and teasing, awakening an ever greater arousal. Finally they rocked into climax together, the moment seizing them with a sweet violence that swept them up into the wonder of the flesh, then allowed them to drift down still filled with the wonder of what could never be truly touched, truly understood, the power of the heart and the soul.
Afterward they lay together quietly for a while, just breathing.
"Alex," he said softly.
"Neither of us can take the chance of being fooled."
He was staring up at the ceiling, but his arm tightened around her.
"We both want our fathers to be...good. Not monsters. Not killers. But if they should come to us, we can't allow ourselves to be fooled. We can't let hope cost us our lives."
"Of course not," she whispered. "I can be strong. But we'll learn the truth. We'll bring down Milo, and then we'll discover that there can be such a thing as a good vampire. That shouldn't be so hard for you to believe. You say you're a vampire, and you're good."
"I am a vampire," he said. "And yes, I'm good, or at least I try to be."
"See? I told you that was the truth," she said.
He pulled her against him. "We'll find out soon enough, I'm afraid," he said softly.
And then she knew.
Tomorrow night the full moon would be here.