Still making good progress on Book 3, Dangerous Creatures. I hope to post some excerpts soon.
In the meantime, here is an excerpt from Book 2, Firebird:
It was Sunday morning, and I was
going to meet William.
I was nervous.
feeling of uneasiness had been growing on me steadily within the last month,
and just as steadily I had pushed it aside. But the feeling was stronger than
ever this morning, and this time I couldn't block it out.
so I hesitated before the door.
are normal now, I said to myself sternly. You no longer have visions. All
of that is over.
wasn't having a vision, but there was a feeling—a barrier—something
solid but invisible standing in my way. The way this strange feeling
overwhelmed me reminded me of how I had felt when I had had visions—it
overpowered my senses and threatened to blot out the reality in front of me.
particular feeling warned me not to leave the house.
I was determined to go—I wasn't going to let fear run my life—no matter what
had happened in the recent past.
the same, I couldn't help stepping quietly back to my grandmother's office at
the front of the house and peering in through the open door. GM was sitting
with her back to me, her head bent as she perused a letter, her long silver
braid flowing like liquid silk down her back. I had already said goodbye to
her, but I had a strong urge to say it again—as if it would be the last time I
would ever see her.
be ridiculous, I said to myself. What could happen in a sleepy small
town like Elspeth's Grove?
my own memories of a little more than a month ago rose up like an uneasy spirit
to answer me.
saw a livid face, burning eyes—I heard inhuman cries—
shut my mind against the memory and hurried out the front door before I lost my
morning was clear and cold—it was just past Thanksgiving—and a brisk wind
kicked up, whipping my hair across my eyes. I pulled the strands of hair away
from my face carefully.
I did so, I stopped, arrested by the sight of my own pale hair in the sunlight.
Without warning, a fleeting image from my childhood in Russia popped into my
mind. On a windy day, shortly before my mother's death, I had gotten my little
fingers tangled in her long hair. We had both laughed.
are so like your mother, GM was fond of saying whenever she was in one of
her rare contemplative moods.
I pulled my unruly hair back and secured it, I wondered what advice my mother
would have given me on a day like today—a day on which, if I admitted it to
myself, I could feel danger in the air.
tried to close my mind to it, but the strange feeling remained.
hurried on toward Hywel's Plaza, which was surrounded on all sides by trees,
and as I entered the wooded area, I was struck by the eerie calm of the place. There
were no sounds of birds or other animals—it was as if the woods were watching,
waiting for something. There were no people or houses nearby, and I broke into
a sudden, panicked run.
do you think is in these woods? I asked myself, and I found I couldn't
answer my own question. I just knew that I wanted to get away from the silence
and the trees as fast as I possibly could.
ran for what felt like an eternity before breaking out suddenly upon a
before me was a vast sheet of ice, surrounded by a low wall. A roof made of
pipes and angles, supported by thick metal poles, extended protectively over
the ice, and black matting had been laid down between the ice rink and the
skate house. The rink was brand-new and had only been open for about a week.
cheerful music suddenly filled the plaza, and I could see that skaters were
already out on the ice. All of the sound and motion was a pleasant contrast to
the watchful silence of the trees. As I stood looking out over the big white
sheet of ice, the sun dipped behind a thick bank of solid gray clouds, and its
harsh glare was blunted, suffusing the area with a muted, gentle glow.
area around the rink was fairly crowded, and the atmosphere was cheerful,
happy, relaxed. And in the midst of the crowd I spotted a familiar, well-loved
turned and smiled his crooked half-smile.
casual observer would describe William as tall, lean, dark-haired—maybe
eighteen or nineteen years old. The only thing that might be said to be unusual
about him were his eyes—blue was not an unusual color, but the intensity of the
color in his eyes was not quite human. There were other words, too, that had
been used to describe him—cursed, damned, outcast—words that had real,
if melodramatic meaning. There were still other words that described
him—fantastical but real nonetheless. On this particular morning my mind shied
away from that last group of words—as if thinking them could somehow bring
had me worried, Katie," William said as I reached him. His voice was colored
as always by an accent that I could never quite place. "I was beginning to
think you weren't coming."
tone was light, but there was an undercurrent of tension in it.
glanced at him sharply, and I could see faint lines of strain around his eyes. I
was late, and that was unusual for me—but it seemed to me that William was
anxious over more than just my lateness. Or was it my imagination? I shrugged
the feeling off—I figured I was just projecting my own recent paranoia onto
I said. "I just got started a little later than I meant to."
held out his hand, and I took it, marveling anew at the tingle that ran through
me whenever he touched me. His skin was warm, and his hand was pleasantly
calloused. I didn't want to think about anything but how wonderful it was to be
with him. As I had done for the past month, I decided not to tell him about
strange feeling of dread that had stolen over me.
started toward the skate house.
you worried about trying to skate today?" William asked.
I said, making an effort to be relaxed. "I wasn't worried about
strong gust of wind swirled around us then, causing me to stop and turn toward
William. William slipped his arms around me, and I leaned against him.
was laughter out on the ice, as skaters found themselves pushed around
involuntarily by the wind.
stood together until the wind died down, and then I went closer to the ice to
watch the skaters for a few minutes—I had never actually been ice-skating
little girl with braids and red mittens went flying by on miniature skates, her
cheeks flushed with happiness. An even smaller girl with equally pink cheeks
gave a tiny shriek and chased after the bigger girl. I wondered if the two of
them were sisters.
atmosphere at the rink seemed so happy and normal that it was hard for me to
credit my fears of only a few minutes ago. Surely there was nothing dangerous
in the woods that surrounded us.
you think you can do that, too?" William had come up to stand beside me,
and he was smiling at me now.
glanced back at the two little girls who were now on the other side of the
think so," I said, smiling back at him.
took my hand again, and we turned once more toward the skate house.
we reached the door, William stopped and looked around suddenly, as if he'd
heard something. His eyes narrowed warily.
is it?" I asked. "What's wrong?"
nothing," he said. He gave me a reassuring smile.
you sure?" I asked.
he said. "I'm positive—it's nothing."
knew William could hear things I couldn't, and I felt a flash of panic that I
quickly pushed aside. I told myself to relax—just because William had heard
something that had distracted him, didn't mean it was something dangerous. I
would have to make an effort to get my imagination under control.
continued on into the skate house and emerged a short time later with skates on
gate stood open in the rink, and I walked over to it and paused with one hand
resting on either side of the gate. The ice stretched out in front of me, white
that I was about to step onto it, the rink suddenly seemed much bigger than I
had realized, and the ice itself seemed to glow faintly, as if it were pulling
all available light into its depths. It almost didn't seem real.
was seized powerfully by nerves.
the same time, I felt something like relief. The fear I was currently feeling
was born of the moment—it had nothing to do with the fear that had very nearly
prevented me from leaving the house that morning. It was a perfectly normal
I stared at the ice, however, I suddenly saw a dark figure appear within its
depths—right by my feet. The figure was black and shifting and vaguely human in
form. It looked like a human shadow, but it was not mine—and it was definitely
something that should not have been there. At first there was only one—and then
there was another and another. The figures seemed to swim under the surface of
the ice itself—dark phantom shapes that twisted and turned, as if they were
trying to escape.
backed away from the ice.
was standing right behind me, and I bumped into him.
you all right?" he asked. He took my arm, and we stepped away from the
something out there—under the ice," I said. "I can see—things."
are just shadows," William said reassuringly. "It's nothing to worry
about. The ice can play tricks on your eyes if you're not used to it. You'll
looked back out over the ice again, and the strange shapes I'd seen had
disappeared, leaving only a plain white sheet. Maybe William was right—maybe I'd
just seen shadows.
on out, Katie," William said. "Don't worry. I'll be right here to
catch you if you fall."
I was feeling a little disoriented, and I moved further away from the ice.
just need a minute," I said. I tried to focus on what was right in front
of me—what was real and tangible. I looked up at William, who seemed calm and
relaxed by my side—all trace of his earlier tension was gone.
sure you're a good skater?" I asked.
I'm sure I'm a good skater," William replied.
do you know?" I asked.
came out here a few days ago and tried it out—it turns out I'm good at
didn't tell me you'd been out here already," I said.
thought it looked like fun, and I wanted to bring you here," William said,
smiling. "So, of course, I had to test it out for myself. I had no idea
that you'd suggest it on your own before I got a chance to ask you."
did you learn how to skate?" I asked.
flashed in William's eyes, and his smile faded.
immediately wished I hadn't asked the question. Silently, I berated myself for
sorry," I said. "I shouldn't have asked."
not your fault," William replied ruefully. "I just wish I could
felt a rush of feeling for him that was far more profound than sympathy—William
had been through something I couldn't begin to fathom. His memories of his past
life had been taken from him. He had little idea of who he truly was.
had been left with just enough to let him know what he had lost.
had his recent memories, of course—there was nothing wrong with his short-term
memory—but his memories of his life before he had been changed were gone. And
it wasn't amnesia or any kind of human ailment that he suffered from. William
was not, in fact, human.
wrapped my arms around him and leaned against him.
rested his chin on the top of my head and pulled me closer.
wanted very much for William to be happy. But I knew that peace of mind was
something he struggled to find. Such a thing was hard for him—he believed
himself to be permanently and irreparably damaged.
was more laughter from the ice rink, and I looked around. Out on the ice there
were parents helping their young children, older children racing each other,
smiling couples holding hands. Everyone and everything seemed so normal and
down-to-earth that I wanted to join them.
wanted to be one of the normal ones.
think I'm ready to go out on the ice now," I said, though I was reluctant
to leave the circle of William's arms.
too bad," William replied, brushing his fingers over my cheek. "I was
just thinking that I wouldn't mind standing here like this all day."
walked back to the gate, and I stood once again staring out over the ice. Two
skaters suddenly zipped past me at what seemed like alarming speed, and I felt
a little tingle of nerves again. I told myself I would be fine as long as I
didn't see any more dark shapes in the ice.
I said, I'll be right here to catch you," William murmured.
waited till the way was clear, and then I put first one foot, and then the
other out onto the ice. Almost immediately I began to slip, and I grabbed
frantically for the wall, catching it just in time to prevent myself from
clung to the wall, my heart pounding.
glided around to my side and leaned against the wall, his lips twitching
laughing at me," I said.
no, I'm not," William said, but his smile grew broader. "I'm not
laughing at you, really."
continued to cling to the wall, and William continued to smile at me.
what do I do?" I asked, after my panic had subsided a little. "I don't
actually know how to move away from here."
reached over and helped me to prize my hands away from the wall. Then he pulled
me to a standing position and helped me to get my feet underneath me. As he did
so, I noticed with some irritation that his shoulders were shaking with silent
the next hour—with William's help, and with much stumbling on my part—I managed
to make it all the way around the rink several times—and I even managed to move
away from the safety of the wall. We kept going, and eventually, I raised my
head and looked around. I realized I was moving along with everyone else on the
ice and having a good time.
gave me his crooked smile. "You're glad you did this now, aren't
could feel the cold air nipping at my cheeks, but the rest of me was
comfortably warm. And William was beside me.
I said quietly. "I'm happy I did this. And I don't just mean the
bowed his head, so I wouldn't see his expression, but I could tell he knew what
and I were together now, but it had not been easy to get to this point—and we
had not been together for very long. But even though we were officially a
couple, he kept limits on our time together. I still didn't know very much
about him, and that included the things he could tell me—I didn't even know
where he lived.
he was here now—and that was all that mattered at the moment.
William and I were done out on the ice, we went into the skate house and sat
down on the benches to unlace our skates.
could feel William's eyes on me, and I looked up at him. There was something
forlorn in his expression.
don't want me to go, do you?" I said.
His voice was quiet.
can spend more time together, you know."
we can't." William was suddenly stern. "We have to limit our time
together. No matter how much I wish things were different."
you think you're cursed," I said.
I am cursed," he replied. "All I can do is savor the time I
have with you before you find someone of your own kind."
own kind," I said, shaking my head. What was my kind exactly? William
insisted on seeing me as a normal girl—but I was far from normal.
two of us put our shoes on and walked out into the cold. I was warm from my
recent exertions, but a gust of wind kicked up, and I shivered. William put his
arm around me.
left the rink and entered the woods nearby. Another shudder ran through me as I
thought once again of the fact that I didn't know where William lived. What if
he had no home? What if he slept outside in the frozen night? Of course, I
didn't know if William ever actually had to sleep. And I didn't know if
he felt the cold—though somehow I doubted that he did. But I still didn't like
the idea of William's not having a proper home.
why won't you tell me where you live?" I asked.
you don't need to know."
felt frustration welling up within me—William always gave me that same answer
whenever I asked him anything about himself. I knew today would be no
different, but I suddenly felt very stubborn.
persisted. "Do you have a job? Where do you go while I'm at school?"
it's not important for you to know these things. You know we need distance. You're
too young to get deeply involved. Leave the heartache to me."
William did appear to be roughly my age, he was actually far older. And William
was not just older—he was older by the span of more than a few lifetimes. Our
age difference was one of his main arguments against our love lasting. He said
that I didn't truly know what love was yet—that someday I would leave him and that
he was doomed to heartbreak.
knew he was wrong.
answer my questions," I said. "Answer just one. Tell me what neighborhood
you live in."
dropped his arm from my shoulder. "Katie, we've been over this territory
before. Why are you bringing all of this up again?"
worry about you, William," I said. "I want you to live somewhere safe
and comfortable. I want to know you're okay."
gave me a searching look. "It's your grandmother, isn't it? She's
uncertain about me. You must have told her by now that I don't go to school,
and she wonders what I do with my life. She must wonder if I'm good for
felt a brief stab of guilt when he mentioned my grandmother.
not GM," I said.
she must have questions about me after all this time," William protested. "She
must wonder what my intentions are."
smiled. "That's a very old fashioned phrase, William."
did not seem to share my amusement. "Are you telling me that your
grandmother has never had any questions about me?"
wouldn't say she's never had any questions about you," I replied. I
was feeling worse and worse about the turn the conversation had taken. "But
she hasn't had any questions about you since we returned from Russia."
mind slipped back briefly to a dark crypt—a crypt that William had rescued me
from—and I pushed the memory away quickly. Both of us were very lucky to have
survived that night.
hasn't she had any questions about me since we returned from Russia?"
took a deep breath—I had a feeling William wasn't going to like the answer. "Because
GM doesn't know you're in Elspeth's Grove. She thinks you stayed in
William stopped walking and stared at me, incredulous.
continued to stare at me, and I began to feel distinctly uncomfortable.
grandmother doesn't know I'm in Elspeth's Grove," he said slowly. "So
she doesn't know that we've been meeting?"
was afraid she would forbid me to see you."
I insist upon meeting your grandmother." William's anger seemed to swell
up and surround both of us. "We cannot go on like this."
already met her," I said. "Twice."
was technically true, though my bringing it up was really more of an excuse
than anything else.
you know what I mean," William said sternly. "I want to see your
grandmother. I want her to know I'm here. I don't want to see you without her
felt a flash of panic. "You know how she feels about you. What if she says
I can't see you?"
deal with that if it happens," William replied firmly. "But it's best
for her to know. She loves you—she wants to protect you."
GM into things is a mistake," I said. "It's too risky."
sighed. "All right. I'll see if I can set something up."
flashed in William's eyes again. "Set something up? Katie, you're not
taking this seriously—"
stopped suddenly. He turned to look behind us.
turned too, trying to see what had attracted his attention, but we appeared to
be completely alone. William held up a hand.
I stood looking around me, I noticed that the surrounding woods were quiet and
somehow watchful—just as they had been when I had walked through them earlier.
thought once again of the fact that there were no houses nearby.
continued to stare at a fixed point somewhere off in the trees.
get out of here," William whispered. He didn't turn to look at me.
turned to do as he asked, panicked by the tone in his voice.
had not gone very far when someone stepped out of the trees and blocked my way.
looked up and found myself staring into the calm, pale eyes of a vampire.
name was Innokenti, and I had last seen him in the Pure Woods in Krov, Russia.
was friendly. Sort of.
little one." His voice, as I remembered only too well, was silky and just
a little superior. His brown hair fell in a straight line to his chin, and his
clothes were as picturesquely antique as they had been the last time I had seen
him—he appeared to have stepped out of the Middle Ages.
presence here in these woods was deeply disturbing. I had believed that I would
never see him again after I left Russia—and I certainly hadn't expected him to
show up in my own small town. Seeing him again was like being revisited by a
I said, taking a step back. "What are you doing here?"
bared his teeth in a smile that was far from reassuring—especially since it
allowed me to see the unusually sharp outline of his teeth.
friend and I," he said, "have traveled thousands of miles to pay you
and William a visit. How fortunate we are to find the two of you
sent a significant nod over my shoulder, and I turned.
next to William now was a man I didn't recognize—young, tall, dark of hair and
eye, dressed all in black. William was staring at the young man with dislike,
his body tense, his expression set into harsh lines. For his part, the newcomer
was smiling malevolently at William.
gestured to the young man. "Shall we go over so I may make introductions?"
Innokenti and I walked over to them, I had to remind myself that Innokenti had
never actually done me any harm—but no matter how hard I tried to calm myself,
I remained uneasy.
we reached William and the stranger, I could see a muscle working in William's
jaw, and the stranger's smile deepened as he looked me over with unpleasant
scrutiny. His eyes met mine, and I was startled by just how dark they were—they
were eyes with the depth of night in them.
get out of here," William said angrily. "And take him with
now, William," Innokenti replied mildly. "This is a friendly
visit." He gestured to the stranger. "The two of you know each other,
of course. But introductions are in order for the young lady."
gave me another one of his unnerving smiles. "Katie Wickliff, may I
present my associate, Anton. You'll have to forgive us—we don't go in for
surnames much in our community. Many of us do not like to dwell on the
looked to Innokenti. "Is Anton a—"
vampire?" Innokenti said. "Yes."
to make your acquaintance, Katie," Anton said. His voice was dark and
smoky, and I had the feeling that he was laughing at me. He lifted my hand with
his ice cold fingers and kissed it, and then he stared at me steadily as he let
my hand drop. He seemed to be waiting for a reply.
found myself momentarily at a loss for words.
amusement deepened. "Too stunned to speak? I have that effect on a lot of
grabbed Anton's coat and shook him. "Leave her alone."
lit up Anton's dark eyes. "I'm simply saying hello."
please," Innokenti said. "I believe you're upsetting young Katie. Our
mission here is a benevolent one. We should all be pleasant to one
pushed Anton away and rounded on Innokenti. "Why did you bring him? If you
wanted things to be pleasant, you should have left him at home."
your attitude isn't very charming," Innokenti admonished gently. "You
should put your antagonism aside as Anton has done. This mission we are on is
one of the gravest importance. Anton knows that, and that's why he very
graciously volunteered to come with me."
did he have to come at all?" William said angrily. "If you
truly need to speak with me, you should have come alone."
you weren't listening," Innokenti replied patiently. "We have come
here to see you and the little one, and this is no routine visit we are
on. I am a messenger here. Anton has accompanied me in order to look out for my
your bodyguard?" William said derisively. "What do you need
protection from? Me?"
are strong, but we are not completely invulnerable, William—you know that. And
the situation is a dangerous one—for both of you."
face grew grim, and he moved swiftly to stand in front of me.
what you need to say. But leave Katie out of this."
looked around William's shoulder. Anton gave me an unpleasant smile, and
Innokenti spread out his hands apologetically.
afraid I can't leave Katie out of anything," Innokenti said. "Katie
is involved no matter how much we all might wish otherwise."
folded his arms. "Make this quick. Then get out of here."
well." Innokenti's pale eyes grew hard. "You both have your duties,
and you are both avoiding them. This is unacceptable."
to whom?" William asked. "To you?"
you know I do not speak for myself," Innokenti replied. "I speak on
behalf of others. You, William, belong in Krov. You belong with us in the vampire
colony there. You are valuable to us. You have special abilities—you alone
amongst our number can fight the kost."
you being troubled by a kost at the moment?" William asked.
gave William a mirthless smile. "No—not at the moment. But our kind grows
thirstier. You know what that means."
pale eyes shifted to me. "And you, little one, you too, have a purpose. You
are the Little Sun, and you are also destined to fight the kost. You owe us no
particular allegiance, but your heritage confers certain obligations and
responsibilities—ones that cannot lightly be ignored."
Sun?" Anton said with a mocking lilt. "So you're the one. How about I
call you 'Sunshine'?"
say we have duties," William said, ignoring Anton. "What do you want
propose that you and Katie return with me now," Innokenti replied. "You
can return to the colony, William, and Katie can live in the house that was
vacated by her cousin, Odette. You can live near one another, and possibly even
work with one another whenever a kost rears its ugly head. But I would
recommend that you put an end to all romantic involvement. Such a relationship
will not meet with much approval."
what if we refuse to go with you?" William asked.
flashed in Innokenti's eyes. "I would advise against it. But in the event
that the two of you refuse, I would return to the colony and explain to them,
with a heart full of regret, that I was unable to make you see reason."
would not attempt to force us to return with you?" William asked.
eyebrows rose. "William, we are vampires. We are not savages."
stared at Innokenti for a long moment and then shook his head. "I don't
understand what's going on here. You've admitted that the kost is not an
immediate threat. And I can return to Russia any time I wish—you know that. There's
no need for me to be in Russia on constant patrol. And you've also admitted
that Katie owes you no allegiance. So what does it matter to you where she
lives? This must be about something else. There's something you're not telling
looked off into the trees and then fixed William with a piercing stare.
you may not believe this, but you mean something to us—to the whole
colony—something that has nothing to do with your unique talents. You are one
of us—and we know that this human girl here matters to you. Anton and I are
here to ensure your safety and hers. Forces we don't entirely understand yet
are gathering. And the two of you would make convenient pawns."
was unmoved. "Then tell me what you do know. Give me all the information
you have, and maybe I'll consider coming with you. Katie isn't to be involved
in this—at all."
flashed once again in Innokenti's cool eyes. "Katie will be involved in
this no matter what you want. There's a price on the girl's head, and there are
two separate groups after her. I am telling you that she is not safe."
cannot tell you that, William. I am merely a humble servant of a greater
power—and I have told you too much already. I have only been authorized to tell
you that it's in your best interests to return with us."
the answer is 'no,'" William said. "I'm not going with you and
neither is Katie."
eyes flicked to me. "Perhaps you should let the little one decide for
herself. After all, she is the one in the greatest danger."
took a step toward Innokenti. "I won't allow Katie to be tricked into
anything by you. That cousin of hers that you mentioned so cavalierly a few
moments ago tried to kill her. If Katie goes back, her cousin may return, too,
and try to finish what she started. Krov is far too dangerous for Katie. She's
safer here with me."
do you say, little one?"
was a strong hint of warning in Innokenti's voice, but I met his pale gaze
want to stay here with William."
suddenly seemed to radiate rage. He turned toward William.
give you one last chance. The girl doesn't really know enough of the world to
make a reasonable decision, but you know something of the true darkness that
exists out there. If you don't care about your own safety, then you should at
least consider hers."
not going with you," William said curtly.
spread out his hands in a gesture of surrender. "As you wish, William. But
remember this: I tried to help you."
backed up a few paces, and his eyes flicked to me once more. "You cannot
remain with him, little one. They will not allow it."
melted into the woods. Anton gave me a wink and a smile, and then he too vanished
into the trees.
looked up at William. He was staring at the spot where Anton and Innokenti had
just stood, and his face seemed set in stone.
a moment, he looked around at me.
need to go to your house now. I need to be able to protect you."
William and I walked through the
trees in silence.
was rattled, and I could tell he was worried.
were words that William had used to describe himself on more than one occasion,
and words that had floated through my mind back at the skating rink.
a way, those same words could be used to describe me.
let my mind stray to the words it had shied away from before.
were words that did not properly belong to this world. And yet I knew they were
part of this world all the same.
had been one of the Sìdh once—a race of bright, immortal creatures of great
power. And then he had been attacked by a vampire and turned—though how long
ago this had occurred exactly, I did not know. The Sìdh had cast him out, taken
his memories, left him to wander. He had found an unexpected home with the
vampires of Krov, Russia—the village in which I had been born.
I myself was a descendent of the Sìdh. My grandfather had been sent to Krov to
found a line of humans with Sìdh blood—something the Sìdh did every so many
generations in fulfillment of an ancient treaty. The children of such unions
were gifted with a unique ability, and an obligation, to combat evil spirits of
great strength and age—particularly one known as the kost.
kost was an evil spirit inhabiting—and animating—a human corpse.
mother was the only child of this particular Sìdh union, and like all those
before her, she was known as the Little Sun. She was ordained by her birth to
be the protector of Krov, and in this capacity she had fought and imprisoned a
kost named Gleb Mstislav in his family's crypt. And he had worked in secret to
poison and kill her.
father had died shortly before her in an ordinary accident—he had died while
hiking. And I had been left an orphan in the care of my grandmother, GM, who
knew nothing of my grandfather's true nature or my mother's purpose in life.
then this past October Gleb had escaped from his crypt, aided by his son
Timofei and my own cousin Odette. Gleb had come after me in Elspeth's Grove,
hoping to kill me. My struggle with him took me to Russia, where William and I
had worked together to destroy him.
my mother's death, I had become the new Little Sun, though I didn't even know
any such thing existed. And shortly after my sixteenth birthday I had begun to
have visions, which I had learned were meant to help me in my battle against
creatures like Gleb. But after Gleb had been defeated, and I had returned to
Elspeth's Grove, the visions had stopped.
had thought that it was over—that the darkness in Krov was something I had left
behind forever. I had thought that I was free to live in Elspeth's Grove in
peace with William.
there were vampires from Krov in Elspeth's Grove now, and if they were telling
me the truth, there was a price on my head now.
shivered as I thought of Anton and Innokenti. How long had they been following
William and me? How long had they been watching us? Had they seen me at the
house with GM?
didn't want her to be in danger because of me.
did they find us?" I asked William.
blinked as if I had startled him out of his train of thought. "What was that?"
and Anton," I said. "How did they find us? I'm sure I never told
Innokenti that I lived in Elspeth's Grove."
laughed—a strangely humorless sound. "You need not have told Innokenti
anything. He has ways of finding things out."
lapsed back into silence.
and Anton appear to know each other," I said after a moment.
William replied reluctantly. "He lived in the vampire colony in Krov at
the same time as I did."
two of you don't get along?" I asked.
doesn't matter now," he said quietly. "And I'd rather not discuss it.
Please don't ask me to tell you."
was a note of finality in William's voice, and I knew he would say no more
do you think they really want from us?" I asked. "Did you believe
Innokenti when he said that someone is after us, and that he wants to protect
William said. "It's a scare tactic. Innokenti's trying to trick us into
doing what he wants. There's no one after us."
you sure about that?" I asked. "One hundred percent sure?"
paused for a moment before answering.
felt a sense of dread settle over me. "So it's possible that Innokenti was
telling the truth?"
is possible—but it's a remote possibility. You asked me if I was one hundred
percent sure it's a trick. I can't be one hundred percent sure. But I know
Innokenti and the rest of them. They don't act in the interests of others—no
matter what he says. They only act to help themselves."
do you think they want us then?"
shook his head. "I think it's best if we don't find out."
walked in silence again for a time before I asked the question that was
weighing the heaviest on my mind.
you really think they'll just take no for an answer?"
looked at me, and a muscle worked in his jaw.
did not reply.
the trees we walked through began to thin, and we were in sight of my
neighborhood. The thought of vampires lurking near my house left me feeling
clutched at William's sleeve, and he stopped walking.
you think Innokenti and Anton will leave Elspeth's Grove? Do you think they're
watching us right now?"
took my face in his hands. "They aren't nearby right now—I would hear them
if they were. And I don't know what they are planning to do, but you and your
grandmother will be safe. I'll see to that."
if there really is a price on my head—if there really are two groups after
interrupted. "Have I let you down yet?"
you've never let me down," I said.
me—I'll take care of it." William smiled. "Now, let's go see your
took my hand and started in the direction of my house.
wait." I said. "I don't think we can spring your presence on GM like this.
I don't have any idea how she's going to react."
don't be ridiculous," William said, exasperated. "Our situation is
serious—manageable—but serious. And I need to be around more. I need to have
your grandmother accept and approve of my being here."
know," I replied. "That's why we can't just surprise her today. It
won't do us any good if she throws you out of the house as soon as she sees
you. Let me talk to her alone first. Come see me tomorrow at school, and I'll
let you know when you can see her."
started to protest, but I interrupted him.
will be soon—I promise. Who knows? Maybe she'll even invite you to
gave me a tolerant look. "All right, but make sure it is soon. The
sooner everything is out in the open, the better."
bring GM around," I said. "I promise."
started walking again, and we paused at the corner of my street, like we
least I know now why you never let me walk you up to your door," William
said. "I realize that I should have been more suspicious."
did you think before?" I asked.
shrugged. "Humans are often uncomfortable around vampires—even incomplete
ones like me. I thought maybe she didn't like to look at me, and you were
tactfully not telling me."
I said. "I can't imagine anyone not wanting to look at you."
shook his head. But I thought I could see the ghost of a smile on his lips.
see you tomorrow at school then, Katie," he said, turning to leave. "I'll
be watching to see that you and your grandmother are safe tonight."
have one more question."
about that last thing that Innokenti said?" I asked. "What did he
mean when he said that 'they' will not allow me to remain with you? Who are 'they'?"
looked away from me. "As I said, I think this is all a trick. You don't
have to worry about what Innokenti said."
you do have some idea of what he was implying?"
have an idea—but I can't be sure. In any event, you don't need to know. I'll
see you tomorrow, Katie."
gave me a small smile and walked off.
stood looking after him with a familiar sense of disappointment. I wished he
had trusted me with his suspicions.
William had disappeared from view, I walked up to my house and went inside.
paused in the hall just by the door and tried to figure out how I was going to
tell GM that William was in Elspeth's Grove and that I had been seeing him.
knew it wasn't going to be easy.
be fair to GM, I didn't know for certain that she disliked William. But the two
times she had spoken to him had been difficult times, and William's entrance
into our lives had coincided with the return of the past for GM. My mother, in
her short life, had become deeply involved in the supernatural—she'd really had
no choice. And the supernatural was something my grandmother had not believed
in until it had burst into her house in October in a way that she couldn't
the reanimated corpse of a man she knew to be dead break into her house was
something even GM couldn't ignore.
GM was stubborn, and her rational mind had reasserted itself after the initial
shock had worn off. She'd been able to convince herself that all of the bizarre
things she'd seen had a perfectly normal explanation.
feared that I would fall under the spell of the supernatural and be consumed by
it as my mother had been, and I had a feeling that GM saw William as part of
that supernatural threat. She didn't know who and what he was, of course—to her
he was just an ordinary young man. But he'd been involved in events that she'd
I was afraid that she would prefer that William were forgotten, too.
continued to stand by the door in an agony of indecision, trying to force my
mind to work. I tried to come up with just the right words to convince GM that
she had nothing to worry about—that William was beneficial and not a danger. After
a few moments, I began to wonder if GM would come out to see me before I'd come
up with a plan—I knew she must have heard me come in.
time passed, and GM did not appear.
took a tentative step forward. It was a little unusual for GM not to come see
what I was up to as soon as I came home. But she had been distracted lately,
and it was pretty obvious to me that something was on her mind. When I had
asked her about it, however, GM had brushed me off rather expertly—she was very
good at side-stepping questions.
had a way of talking around a topic and avoiding it without ever directly
refusing to talk about it.
a way, it was a gift.
another few moments had passed, I decided to take GM on without a plan. I would
just go in determined not to lose. After all, there was no good reason for me
not to see William—he had already saved my life twice. Surely, I could make her
see that we were better off with him than without him.
walked through the house, but I didn't find GM in any of the usual places. Eventually,
I found GM in her office where I had left her earlier, which was odd—she didn't
usually spend much time there on the weekends. She said she wanted to keep her
home life and her work life separate—even if they co-existed in the same place.
I entered the office, GM's head was bent, and I could see that she was pouring
over a letter. GM had been receiving a lot of letters lately—letters that she
wouldn't talk about, but would hastily tuck away. I could see an envelope on
the desk beside her. It had a number of colorful stamps on it—as if it had been
mailed from overseas. I wondered—could GM be receiving letters from Russia?
I said quietly.
turned in her chair, clearly startled. With admirable economy of movement, she
swept her letter back into its envelope, and deposited the envelope into a
Katie! I didn't hear you come in. How was your first time ice skating?"
was good," I said. "I didn't break anything, and I actually made it
all the way around the rink several times." I paused. "Did you
receive a letter from Galina?"
stood up. "Letter?"
I said. "You had a letter in your hand when I came in, and the stamps
seemed to be foreign. I was wondering if maybe you'd heard from Galina. I know
you've been in contact with her."
Golovnin had been a friend of my mother's. Although she was the same age as my
mother, she had been a teacher of sorts to her—helping my mother to develop and
hone her powers as the Little Sun. When I had encountered her in Russia, she
had helped me too. Galina's life was deeply steeped in the supernatural,
something GM had resented bitterly. But since our recent trip to Russia, GM's
attitude toward Galina had relaxed a bit. She was no longer determined to
banish Galina to the past and pretend that she had never existed.
GM said. "Oh, no. No. I have not heard from her lately."
who was always so confident and self-possessed, suddenly seemed very unsure of
herself. She wrapped her fingers around the silver cross she always wore and
began to move the charm up and down on its chain in an agitated fashion. She
looked around the room. Then she looked back at me.
about the letter. Forget about the letter. Solnyshko, I have something to tell
you—to ask you, rather."
was a Russian term of endearment that GM often used for me—one that lots of
people used. Oddly enough the word literally meant 'little sun.' GM had been
using it for me for as long as I could remember. She had no idea how apt it
took a deep breath. "I have something to tell you, too."
Then we have news to share with one another. Let's go in the kitchen,
Solnyshko. Are you hungry?"
I'm not hungry," I said, as GM shepherded me out of her office.
tea, then," GM said. "It is always good to have tea when one
wasn't really keen on the idea of having tea. I'd lost my taste for tea and for
hot drinks in general after I'd discovered that my mother had been poisoned by
tea laced with vampire blood. I had been tricked into drinking some of the
stuff myself, and the memory of it was an unpleasant one. But if drinking some
tea would make GM happy, then I would go along with it.
the kitchen, GM waved me to a seat, and she put the kettle on. Then she sat
down across from me and gave me a level gaze. We sat like that for several moments,
and I began to shift uncomfortably under her steady stare.
just yet, Solnyshko. Wait for the tea."
you mind looking in another direction for a few moments, then?" I asked. "You're
making me nervous."
gave me a wry smile. "My apologies, Solnyshko." She rose. "I
need to get the tea things out anyway."
got out her blue-and-white china teacups—the same ones she had used on the
night that Galina Golovnin and her son, Aleksandr, had shown up on our doorstep
to warn us that Gleb Mstislav would soon be after me. GM had not believed them
and had thrown them out.
they had been right.
the kettle was whistling, and GM poured out for us. I gazed into the golden
depths of the tea reluctantly. I knew it was chamomile, and I knew it was
untainted, but I couldn't help thinking again of the poisoned tea my cousin
Odette had given me.
glanced up at me. "Are you cold, Solnyshko?"
gave her a reassuring smile. "No. I was just thinking. You know how
sometimes a memory steals over you and catches you in a funny way?"
do indeed," GM replied.
sipped at her tea and gave me a look over the rim of her cup. Then she set it
down with decision.
I know we both have things to say, and I hope you don't mind if I go
ahead," I said.
you." GM paused for a moment. "Do you remember what I said to you in Tbilisi?
I promised you that when that whole terrible business was over, that we would
do some proper traveling?"
remember," I said.
took a deep breath, as if she were gathering courage. "What do you think
about spending Christmas in Russia?"
didn't know what I had been expecting, but that was not it.
memories flashed through my mind—all of them terrifying.
in Russia?" I said.
GM nodded her head in an encouraging fashion.
Krov?" I asked.
head began to spin a little. I loved Russia—I really did. It was the country of
my birth, and I thought it was beautiful. But going back to Krov seemed
dangerous at this point—especially since I had just met two vampires who wanted
me to do exactly that.
do you want to go to Krov for Christmas?" I asked. "Does it have
something to do with all the letters?"
GM asked innocently.
GM," I said. "Letters like the one you were reading in your office
just now. I've seen you with them before—and the envelopes always have a lot of
foreign stamps on them."
yes. It appears you have sharp eyes, Solnyshko. You don't have anything to be
concerned about. The letters are not from anyone you know."
are they from?"
shook her head. "Sometimes a grandmother needs to keep some things to
herself. Do not distress yourself over the letters, Katie."
decided to give up. Once GM decided she wasn't going to talk about something,
she very seldom changed her mind. I stared back down at my tea.
forgive me," GM said, "but you do not seem very excited about going
to Krov. I thought you would be happy. I thought we might go to Moscow, too. You
would love all of the beautiful buildings in the great square. St. Basil's
Basilica is a wonder in person."
tried to think of how to put my thoughts into words, but what I wanted to say
seemed to need more diplomacy than I was able to summon at the moment. I wanted
to tell GM that I wished she would tell me what was going on and who had
written the letters. I wanted to tell her that I had nearly died in Krov, and
it was full of bad memories. I wanted to tell her that we couldn't go back to
Krov because the village was crawling with vampires—and some of those vampires
were eager for my return. But the right words just wouldn't come—especially for
the last part. How could I hint at a danger that I wasn't allowed to name?
leaned forward. "What is it that is troubling you, Solnyshko? Are you
worried about not having a visa? If that is the case, then you need worry no
longer. I have already obtained visas for both of us. We can fly directly into
was startled. When we had gone to Russia in October, we had actually had to fly
into Georgia and sneak across the border because Russia required a visa for
U.S. visitors while Georgia did not. If GM had visas for us already, then she
had been planning the trip for some time now and had never mentioned it to me.
I said, "why won't you tell me what's going on?"
Christmas, Katie. I haven't spent a Christmas in Russia in many years. I miss
felt a twinge of frustration. I knew GM was sincere when she said that, and to
be fair, the reason she gave was a perfectly good one. But I couldn't shrug off
a suspicion that that wasn't all there was to it. Then again, I wondered—what
exactly was it that I suspected GM of? I really didn't know.
are you thinking of staying in Krov?" I asked. "Odette's house?"
gave me a sharp look. "So is that what is troubling you? Your poor cousin?
I can understand that it must be hard for you. It is hard for me, too,
Solnyshko. You loved Odette and so did I. And hope is not lost entirely. People
have been restored to their families after going missing for years, and Odette
has only been gone a few months. We may yet see her again."
Odette again was one of the things I was worried about—as William had told
Innokenti, it was entirely possible that Odette would return. She had
gone missing. But she was not lost in the way that GM thought she was—in the
way that an ordinary human girl would be lost. Odette had become a vampire, and
in October she had tried to kill me. She had disappeared after that, and her
house in Krov had been left vacant. If we settled ourselves into her house at
Christmas, who was to say that she wouldn't return and resent our presence? I
had seen Odette when she was angry—it was a truly terrifying sight.
Odette might come for me, and so might Innokenti and Anton—in fact, I had a
pretty definite feeling that the last two would. If I went to Krov for
Christmas, would I ever be allowed to leave again? Would I even survive
whatever Innokenti and his fellow vampires had planned?
do we have to go to Russia for Christmas?" I asked uncomfortably.
face fell. "I am forgetting how hard that trip was for you, aren't I? Not
only did you lose your cousin, but you were kidnapped by that madman who used to
be your teacher. And then you were in the hospital. I am sorry, Solnyshko. We
do not have to go to Russia for Christmas."
was sorry to see how disappointed GM looked. I could tell that she'd really had
her heart set on going to Russia—but such a trip would be dangerous, and there
was no way I could explain that to her.
sorry, GM," I said. "I just don't think I can do it."
reached across the table and patted my hand. "It is all right, Solnyshko. I
hadn't quite realized how difficult this would be for you. We will not
GM said briskly, as if she'd completely banished the topic from her mind,
"I believe you said you had something to tell me, too?"
I felt even worse. First, I'd ruined GM's Christmas plans. Now I was about to
give her more bad news.
had developed no clever plan of attack, so I decided just to plunge ahead.
please get too worked up over what I'm going to say."
raised one silver eyebrow. "Your tone does not inspire confidence,
you remember William Sursur?" I asked. "He got us out of the house
that night when we were forced to flee to the airport. And he got me out of the
Mstislav crypt in Krov. He also came to see us at the house in Krov right
before we left."
expression grew carefully blank. I knew that look—it was one she wore whenever
I brought up a topic she didn't want to discuss. It was as I had feared—GM did
not approve of William.
remember that he was very handsome," GM said.
meant a lot to me, GM."
also remember that he said the two of you could not be together. After all, he
lives in Russia, and you live here."
just it," I said. "William doesn't live in Russia anymore. He lives
was clearly startled. "He lives here in the United States?"
lives here in Elspeth's Grove."
eyebrows rose. "What is this that you are telling me?"
are you angry?"
boy lives here now? He has followed you?"
don't you like him?" I asked.
voice rose. "You cannot see him. I don't want him in this house!"
please!" I cried. "He saved both our lives!"
don't you like him?" I asked again. "What has he done?"
looked away. "I don't know anything about him. And he appears to be mixed
up in some pretty dangerous things."
he was trying to stop," I said.
looked at me. "What exactly is it that you want me to say?"
don't be like that, GM. William is here in Elspeth's Grove. I like him. And
he's really helped me. I want to see him. And if it's okay with you, I would
like William to come over here, so you can talk to him and see that he's a good
looked down at her teacup, and she didn't say anything for a long time. I began
to hope that she was wavering.
is something in what you say," she said at last. "You are a good
girl. I suppose I can trust your judgment."
looked up at me again. "I confess that I don't entirely know my own mind
in this case. Perhaps the problem is that I just don't want you getting any
I looked at GM, I felt tears stinging my eyes. "GM, you don't have to
worry that you're going to lose me. You have to know that I will always love
you. Nothing will ever change that."
stood and walked around the table to me.
know, Solnyshko. I will always love you, too. I have been both your grandmother
and your mother. And it is sometimes hard for a mother to see her child grow
hugged her back tightly.
straightened up and brushed a hand over my hair.
would you like your William to come over?"
didn't want to rush things, but I knew the appearance of Innokenti and Anton
had made it necessary for me to get William on good terms with GM as soon as
know it's sudden—"
waved a hand. "It is all right, Solnyshko. Invite him over for dinner. I
will make pasta. Everyone likes pasta."
you, GM. Thanks for William and thanks about Russia."
pressed a kiss to my forehead. "Anything for you, Solnyshko."
cleared away her cup and left the room.
was left with my full cup of tea and a sense of relief. I was very happy that
William would be able to come over tomorrow—though I realized that I didn't
know if he actually ever ate anything or not. I supposed we would think of
something if he didn't. And now that GM would allow William to be in the house,
it made me feel a bit better about the fact that Innokenti and Anton were
lurking out there somewhere. I wished William had told me how he knew Anton. Anton
seemed much more dangerous than Innokenti—and Innokenti didn't seem safe.
stood up and poured my tea into the sink. I had homework to do, but I wandered
into the living room where I knew I would find a picture of GM and my
picture I was looking for stood on a table with other pictures of family and
friends—a number of them featuring me. Some of the people were unknown to me,
but the pictures of my parents and my grandparents sat side by side next to one
another right in the center. The picture of my parents was from their
wedding—my mother, pale and blond like me, my father just a little darker with
light brown curly hair. Both of them were beaming, and my mother was holding a
single flower. It was curious that no one else seemed to be in attendance.
then there was the picture of my grandparents.
picked their photo up. My grandmother had been blond when she was younger, as
had my grandfather. They looked like a perfectly normal couple—it was hard to
believe that my grandfather had truly been one of the Sìdh.
I looked at my grandfather, I wondered what he was like. GM believed that he
had died, but Galina told me that he still lived and that he had gone back to
his people. I wondered if he knew that GM lived in another country now, and if
he ever saw her—even if she didn't see him. GM didn't speak about him very
much, but I knew that she had loved him. And she'd told me that I would have
loved him too.
set the picture down and walked up the stairs to my room.
did have homework to do—if I could keep my mind on it. I told myself firmly to
forget about GM's letters. And I told myself not to think too much about Anton
and Innokenti. They hadn't actually threatened me directly, and I knew William
would watch over the house. Maybe he was right—maybe the presence of the two
vampires in town was just a scare tactic.
was still just a little too wound up to get to work, so I wandered around the
room, straightening things up. As I walked past my dresser and the large mirror
over it, I thought I saw something moving in the mirror—something that wasn't
my own image.
stopped, startled, and peered into the mirror. I saw only my own face and the
room behind me.
told myself I hadn't actually seen anything out of the ordinary.
shrugged off my nerves and went to my desk, determined to finally get to work.
I opened my books, however, I couldn't help thinking of the mirror, and an
image flashed in my mind of what I had seen.
had been a second image in the mirror.
had seen a shadow walking behind me.
I had seen shadows in the mirror
I got ready for school the next morning, I stood looking into the mirror,
thinking back to what I had glimpsed last night.
shadows I had seen before had turned out to be miniature visions of William—I'd
seen his face in the mirror before I'd met him. After I'd met him, the visions
in the mirror had stopped. They had been replaced by full-fledged
visions—images that appeared before my eyes with the sharpness and clarity of
reality, blotting out what was actually in front of me while they lasted. But
those visions had stopped now too—and I had no idea why.
I thought back to it, the shadow from last night was not like any of the
visions I had had before.
course, it was possible that my eyes had just been playing tricks on me. I had
been a little wound up at the time, so I could have just imagined the shadow.
resolved not to worry about it.
looked down at the charm William had given me—I very seldom took it off. It was
an iron cross, roughly hewn, but strangely pleasing to the eye and cool to the
touch. William had given it to me for protection—but despite the shape of the
charm, it wasn't any defense against vampires. The charm was actually a defense
against the kost—it scrambled the creature's senses and made the person who
wore it difficult to track.
didn't actually fear being attacked by a kost on my way to school—I just liked
wearing the charm. Something about it always gave me a sense of peace and calm.
And it also reminded me of William.
went down to the kitchen where I ate a quick breakfast with GM. Then I went out
to begin my walk to school.
morning was chilly and windy, and there was a light dusting of snow on the
ground. I walked down the driveway past GM's red sports car, which nestled
comfortably under a black cover and a thin layer of snow. I had to smile—GM was
a speed demon, and I had a feeling that she was the only grandmother in town
with such a high performance vehicle.
made my way to school, and as I reached the schoolyard, I could see that it was
all but deserted. On days when the weather was warmer, the schoolyard was
packed with students, many of whom had favorite spots that they had staked
out—my friends Charisse Graebel and Branden McKenna had a picnic table that
they had been able to claim. But today only the hardiest students were out
braving the wind and the cold.
I entered the yard, I spotted a familiar blond head—two of them, in fact. Simon
Krstic and his brother, James, stood with their shoulders hunched against the
turned and saw me first. He nudged Simon with his elbow and then nodded in my
direction. Simon turned expectantly.
had clearly been waiting for me.
was the taller and older of the two, and his typically sullen expression had
grown softer lately. James had been something of a troublemaker once, but this
year he had begun to turn things around. And then he had been kidnapped by
Timofei and Gleb Mstislav and dragged to Russia where they had intended him to
be a sacrifice to Gleb. James only seemed to have the vaguest memory of what
had happened. Luckily, what he had been through didn't seem to have been
knocked him off the good path he had been on. The ordeal with Gleb actually
seemed to have mellowed James even further.
by contrast, had always been good-natured and responsible. The two of us had
been friends ever since I had moved to Elspeth's Grove when I was five years
old. Except for Charisse, Simon was probably the best friend I had ever had. But
back in October, just before the trouble with Gleb had begun, Simon had
revealed to me that his feelings for me had deepened into something more
serious. Despite my affection for him, I had found myself unable to return
my feelings of friendship for him still remained and were strong.
saw me and waved, and James turned and walked off toward the school.
was clear that Simon wanted to talk to me alone.
I reached him, Simon gave me a smile and a tolerant look. I began to feel a
sinking sensation. Something about his expression made me feel defensive.
Simon," I said.
Katie," he replied. He almost looked like a parent preparing to have a
conversation with an unruly child. "Can I talk to you for a minute?"
I replied. "Do you mind if we go inside? It's a little cold out
yeah. Of course," Simon said. "Let's go in."
went into the school, and I started toward the cafeteria, where most people
went to hang out when it was cold outside.
stopped and looked back. Simon was not following me.
let's not go to the cafeteria. I want to talk to you alone."
I said. The feeling was growing on me steadily that the conversation we were
about to have was going to be a chore.
go to the hallway by the library." Simon indicated the direction with a
nod of his head. "It's usually pretty empty there."
led the way, and we were soon standing in the library hallway. The library took
up one full side of the hall, and its outer wall was glass, giving the two
librarians an unobstructed view of everything that happened outside it. That
last fact was why the hallway was usually deserted in the morning.
other side of the hallway was taken up by display cases full of trophies and
photographs. Simon drew me over to the display cases.
stood for a moment, looking at me, and I could see uncertainty creep into his
eyes—I could tell he was nervous now. His nervousness reminded me of my own
anxiety when I had had something to tell him back in October. Back then, I had
told Simon that a dead man named Gleb was after me, and that I needed his help
to investigate what was going on.
also told him about William for the first time then—William was part of the
evidence of my claim. Of course, I hadn't told Simon anything about William's
true nature. I'd just told Simon the information I had learned from William.
Simon knew now that I was in love with William. That hadn't sat too well with
had been extremely skeptical of my story, but to his credit, he had agreed to
help me. But shortly after that, GM and I had been forced to flee to Russia. Despite
what had happened to his brother, Simon knew very little about what had taken
place in Russia, and the two of us had never spoken about Gleb again. I
wondered if he'd believed anything I'd said then—or if he'd thought I'd gone
continued to look at me nervously. Eventually, he looked down and scuffed a
shoe on the linoleum floor, producing a sharp sound that echoed noisily in the
took a deep breath and gave me a resolute look.
are saying that you were out with that guy again this weekend."
guy?" I didn't want to be offended—Simon was my friend—but I couldn't help
resenting the tone of his voice.
know—the one you were dancing with at Irina's Halloween party."
name is William—I told you that."
You were seen with him at the skating rink yesterday."
was 'seen'?" I said. "You make it sound like some kind of horrible
I winced a little on the inside as I said the
words. My meetings with William had been a secret from GM. I hadn't kept
them a secret from anyone else, though.
ran a hand over his hair. "Katie, please just listen. I didn't come here
to offend you. I'm talking to you about this because I'm worried about you—I
care about you. It's just that this guy William has been seen all over town,
and nobody knows much about him. He's even been seen here at school a couple of
times, and I'm pretty sure he isn't actually a student."
stopped and gave me a level stare. "How much do you actually know about
know enough," I said.
couldn't admit to Simon that I knew very little about William. William's stolen
memories were partially to blame for my lack of knowledge, of course. But there
was no reason why William couldn't tell me about his life since he'd moved to
Elspeth's Grove. There was no reason, for example, why he couldn't tell me
where he lived. But as he had done yesterday, William always claimed that he
was keeping me in the dark for my own protection. I found his silence very
know enough?" Simon was incredulous. "Katie, this guy—"
I said firmly.
he said, speaking the name very deliberately, "sounds like trouble."
bristled. "William is not trouble. He's the best thing that ever
happened to me."
look of pain came into Simon's eyes, and I regretted having spoken so quickly. I
didn't regret the words themselves—I meant them very sincerely. But I could
have spoken to Simon more carefully—it hadn't been that long since he had had
his crush on me.
looked at Simon closely then. He had seemed to accept that the two of us were
better off as friends, but was it possible that he still saw me in a romantic
don't think that he's good for you, Katie," Simon said. "He's been
filling your head with crazy stories—telling you that there's a dead guy after
you. It's like he's got some kind of hold on you."
sighed inwardly. So Simon did remember what I'd told him back in October. There
was a lot more I could tell him now. But I knew he wouldn't believe me, and
none of it would make him like William any better.
continued. "That—William has also been seen wandering around in the Old
Grove. And you do know a girl was attacked there last night, don't you?"
I said, startled. "What happened?"
Old Grove was south and east of my house—in the opposite direction of Hywel's
Plaza. It was the place where our town's founder, Elspeth Quick, had supposedly
hidden from pursuers who had wanted to burn her for witchcraft. It was a place
that was reputed to be the site of hauntings and other supernatural activity.
weird guy grabbed her, tore her neck up," Simon said. "Travis
Ballenski told me. His dad's a cop. The police haven't released the girl's name
yet, but Travis did tell me that she's going to be okay. She's still in the
hospital right now. You know, you have to be really sick in the head to do
something like that. They don't know who it was who attacked her, but, Katie, I
wouldn't be surprised to find out it was this William guy."
suddenly felt chilled. I knew that William wasn't guilty. But what Simon
described did sound like a vampire attack, and I had a pretty good idea who was
behind it—either Anton or Innokenti—or possibly even both of them. I was glad
the girl was okay, but I was alarmed by the attack—very alarmed. It meant that
the vampires had not left—they were still hanging around town.
continued. "Katie, you should take a warning from this. Like I said, how
much do you actually know about this William guy? He kind of seems like a
drifter. And drifters aren't usually good news."
is not a drifter," I said angrily.
ran a hand through his hair in frustration. "I don't seem to be getting
through to you. I don't know what I have to say to you to get you to be
concerned about your own safety."
perfectly safe with William," I said.
hung his head for a moment and then looked up at me. "What does your
grandmother think of him?"
knew GM well, and I knew he liked and respected her.
has invited William over to dinner tonight," I said.
threw up his hands. "Then I give up. Just promise me that you'll be very,
will," I said.
warning bell rang, and Simon looked around.
guess we'd better get going," he said.
really didn't look too pleased about the idea—he looked as if he would prefer
to stay with me and argue about William.
began to file into the hallway, and we joined the crowd.
two of us walked together in silence until we arrived at my classroom.
see you at lunch, Katie," Simon said, and he looked so worried that I felt
very genuinely sorry for him.
wished I could reassure him, but I had a feeling that nothing I could say would
make him trust William.
went in to homeroom.
sat through the announcements and then went on to first-period Social Studies. I
tried to pay attention to the lecture, but I couldn't help thinking about the
girl who had been attacked. I had a terrible feeling that she wouldn't be the
only one. I was glad I'd asked William to come see me at school today.
needed to tell him about the attack.
the bell rang, and I moved on to second-period English. My friends Charisse and
Branden were both in the class, and I spotted them as I walked in. Charisse had
dark brown skin and black hair was arranged today in a cluster of curls on top
of her head. Branden was pale, tall, and long-limbed, and his brown hair was,
as usual, falling in his eyes.
was unusual for the two of them to have arrived in the classroom ahead of
me—they had a tendency to linger in the halls. Right now they were standing
together and talking in low, serious tones. The two of them were dating and
were really happy together—though they didn't look terribly happy at the
said hi as I walked past them—they looked like they didn't want to be disturbed
at the moment—and Charisse reached out to grab my sleeve.
need to talk after class," she said.
I replied, a little surprised.
smiled her thanks, and I moved on to my desk.
Swinburne, our substitute teacher for the rest of the year, was seated at her
desk, calmly sorting papers into neat piles. After our original English
teacher, Mr. Del Gatto, had disappeared, a sub named Mr. Hightower had been
felt a wave of revulsion wash over me as I thought of him.
Hightower had been sleek and superficially handsome. He had also been Gleb
Mstislav's son Timofei, in disguise. Timofei had been responsible for Mr. Del
Gatto's disappearance and eventual death. After Timofei—as Mr. Hightower—had
gone missing himself, Mrs. Swinburne had taken over as the sub. And then, after
Timofei had followed me to Russia and had met with his own death there, Mrs.
Swinburne had been asked to remain until the year was out—and it was hard to
think of someone who was more of a contrast to Timofei. Mrs. Swinburne with her
permanently prim expression and cloud of fluffy brown hair was eminently
respectable. Timofei had been all flashy disingenuousness.
heard fierce whispering nearby, and I looked around. Irina Neverov, her glossy
dark hair pulled into a smooth ponytail, was giving her friend Bryony Carson a
sibilant harangue. I thought for a moment that Irina might be talking about
me—she often was—but this time she didn't appear to be paying any attention to
watched them for a moment. I wasn't surprised to see that Irina was doing all
of the talking—Irina was clearly the leader and Bryony and her other friend
Annamaria were her faithful followers. I seldom saw the three of them apart. But
I was surprised to see that Annamaria was not in her usual spot at Irina's
side, and both she and Bryony looked tense.
had a feeling something was wrong.
I watched the two of them, Irina glanced up and glared at me. I looked away
and I had been friends a long time ago when we both were small. But as we'd
entered high school we had most definitely grown apart—until we'd reached a
point at which Irina wouldn't speak to me unless she absolutely had to. Things
had thawed between us after Irina had been kidnapped and both of us had been
trapped down in the tunnels that stretched under the Mstislav mansion. Irina's
memories of the event were hazy, but her ordeal had changed her for a time. She
had even gone so far as to invite me to her father's Halloween party—the same
party where I was reunited with William. But things had gone sour again between
Irina and me shortly after that, and I wasn't entirely sure why. It seemed that
we were once again not on speaking terms.
the bell rang to signal the start of class, Mrs. Swinburne rose and closed the
door. I happened to glance back at Charisse, and she gave me a significant
look. I could tell something was going on with her—this wasn't a typical talk
she wanted to have later.
class, Charisse appeared at my desk and waved to Branden as he left the room.
picked up my things quickly, and I stood up. "What's up?"
smiled and shot a glance around the room. "Not in here. Let's talk out in
the hall where we'll be a little more anonymous."
nodded, and we moved out into the hall.
students chattering all around us, Charisse dropped her smile.
lowered her voice. "It's my mom."
mom?" I asked. "Is she sick?"
seemed hesitant to go on, but she had said that she wanted to talk—so I waited
patiently for her to speak as we walked.
mom is dating again," Charisse said after a few moments, and her voice
shook just a little bit.
was startled. "She's dating? Already?"
Charisse hissed. "Not so loud. And yes."
what about the divorce?" I asked. "It can't be final yet."
isn't," Charisse replied. "But she said that the marriage is as good
as over, and that the official end is really just a technicality."
suppose that's true," I said.
was trying to tread very carefully here. Even though we were best friends,
Charisse was not big on opening up to people, including me. Charisse's parents
had separated in October just before all the trouble with Gleb had started. At
the time, Charisse had claimed not to be bothered by the impending divorce—however,
she'd also suddenly decided to run away to New York to become an actress.
had since called off her New York plans, but she'd continued to say very little
about her parents and the divorce. I had a feeling that it troubled her a lot
more than she would say, but I never said anything about it unless she brought
it up. I hoped she knew that I would support her and not judge her.
lapsed into silence once again, and I could see signs of strain around her
eyes. I wasn't entirely sure how to help her.
your dad know?" I asked after a moment.
don't know," Charisse replied. "I don't know if it would make any
difference if he did."
stopped suddenly and closed her eyes tightly. Then she shook her head.
stopped beside her, concerned.
opened her eyes and the look she gave me was full of fear.
guy my mom is seeing is strange—really strange. And someone needs to talk to
her about him. She won't listen to me about him at all. She gets really
stubborn. Once upon a time, my dad was the only person who could talk to her
when she got that way. But now, of course, he's out of the picture. And even if
they were on speaking terms, which they aren't, she would hardly take his
advice on romance."
suddenly felt chilled, though I didn't know why. Surely, it wasn't unusual for
a child, even an older one to feel uneasy when a newly single parent started
dating—so Charisse's anxiety was probably perfectly normal. But all the same,
there was something very convincing about her fear.
was genuinely worried.
do you mean this guy your mom is dating is strange?" I asked. "Strange
in what way?"
don't know exactly." She gave me a glimmer of her usual smile. "Maybe
I began carefully, "you shouldn't force your feelings underground. If
something feels off to you, you should talk about it."
frowned and then gave me an oddly desperate look. "I don't know what it
is, Katie. I really don't. He certainly hasn't done anything wrong. And it's
not anything he's said, either—in fact, he's very charming and polite. I can't
actually pin anything on him, and yet—"
paused, and when she went on her voice was small and frightened. "Katie, I
think this concerns you too. Would you—that is, I need you to—"
stopped suddenly and drew back as if she'd been caught at something. She looked
around and gave me a small smile. "This is my hallway. I'd better go. You
should forget what I've said. I really shouldn't have brought this up at
turned to go.
wait," I said.
turned back and waved, but she kept going.
had no choice but to hurry on to class.
was growing increasingly anxious to see William. I never knew when or where he
would show up when he came to see me at school. I just hoped he would appear
soon. I needed to see him—I needed to hear him. I clutched my charm—it made him
feel nearer somehow.
period and fourth period passed, and I didn't see William. I went to lunch, and
I sat with Charisse, Branden, and Simon like I usually did. All traces of
Charisse's earlier uneasiness seemed to have vanished—she and Branden were
teasing each other back and forth. Simon seemed to be working harder than usual
to make me laugh, but I wasn't in a terribly humorous mood. I was beginning to
worry that maybe William wouldn't show up today. GM would be really unhappy if
she agreed to have him over for dinner and then he didn't show.
how about it, Katie?"
glanced up. Simon was looking at me expectantly.
realized that I hadn't heard anything he'd said in the last few minutes.
blinked. "Sorry, Simon. What did you say?"
said, how would you like to go ice skating with me this weekend? I thought it
would be fun for you—especially since it seems to be something you're into
familiar feeling of guilt settled over me—it always seemed to come up with
Simon. It was beginning to be clear that what I'd suspected earlier was
true—that Simon's romantic feelings for me were returning. Perhaps they had
never really left. I really liked Simon—I really cared about him. But what I
felt for Simon was nothing like what I felt for William.
about Irina?" I asked.
the beginning of the year, Irina had made no secret of the fact that she liked
Simon. And as the weeks had gone by, she had only seemed to like him more—and
she had been even more unpleasant to me than she usually was. After Irina and I
had returned from Russia and our relationship had thawed, there had also been a
warming up of the relationship between Irina and Simon. The two of them had
seemed to be getting along well for a few weeks—they even seemed to be well on
their way to becoming a couple. But lately, it seemed that they had begun to
drew in my breath sharply—I should have seen it before. Irina had realized that
Simon was interested in me again long before I had. That's why she was angry
his part, Simon ran his hand over his hair. "Irina, yeah."
looked away. I could see that he was trying to work out what he wanted to say. I
wanted to tell him that he didn't have to explain anything about Irina to
me—that I would actually be really happy if he liked Irina. But I had a feeling
that telling him all that wouldn't make any difference. So I waited.
gave me a serious look. I was reminded suddenly of the one time we had
kissed—here at school in a deserted hallway. I should have realized that his
affection for me wouldn't fade so easily.
is a great girl," Simon said at last, "but she's not you. And I know you
think you like this William guy, but Katie, I'm telling you he's not good for
realized then that Charisse and Branden had stopped talking and were watching
us closely. I suddenly felt very uncomfortable. Charisse and Branden didn't
know much about William, but I had an unpleasant feeling that they disapproved
of him too.
continued. "I'm sorry I've spent so much time with Irina lately. As I
said—she's a great girl. I like her a lot, and I wanted to like her more—mostly
because it seemed to be what you wanted."
felt a little pang of guilt when Simon said that. I certainly hadn't meant to
push Simon into a relationship that he didn't really want.
Katie, I soon realized that I could never feel anything more for Irina than
friendship. And I also realized that it wouldn't be fair to her to pretend that
it was possible for me to feel otherwise."
sighed. I was certainly familiar with that sentiment.
I have to tell you," Simon said, "that it's almost like you're under
some kind of spell lately. Things were going great between us until this
William guy showed up. And you know, I blame myself for some of this."
that's crazy," I said. "You have absolutely nothing to be sorry
interrupted. "But, I do. I really do. I was hanging out with Irina, but
the whole time I was worried about you. I knew that you were in trouble with
this—this William, and I did nothing. You needed me, and I wasn't there. And
now you're in over your head with some shady guy from who knows where. I've
failed you, Katie. And I'm sorry about that."
you've got this all wrong," I said. "I don't want to hurt you, but
I'm really happy with William—no one could make me happier."
gave me a skeptical look. Then he shook his head and smiled.
Katie. I'll humor you. For now."
looked around at Charisse and Branden. Both of them were staring at me, clearly
what about you guys?" I asked, though I feared I knew the answer. "What
do you think about William and me?"
pursed her lips. She started to say something, then stopped. She was silent for
a moment, and then her words started to tumble out.
as much as I hate to say it, your situation is reminding me of my mom's. I
wanted to say something before, but I couldn't. Some guy breezes into town out
of nowhere and suddenly the two of you can't be separated. You don't spend time
with your friends like you used to, and you seem to be in a dreamy fog all the
time. And Katie, to be honest the few times I've been around William, I've
gotten a really funny feeling around him. It's a lot like the feeling I have
around my mom's new boyfriend. I think William is trouble too."
can I do to reassure you guys that everything is okay?" I asked.
to your friends," Charisse said quickly. "Listen to the people who
care the most about you."
felt frustration welling up within me. That was not the kind of answer I
looked around at the three sets of worried eyes that were turned toward me. "Can
we change the topic, please?"
three sets of eyes wavered—I saw disappointment and fear flash across the faces
that were turned toward me. Charisse, Branden, and Simon all became carefully
polite, even conciliatory.
sure, of course," Branden said.
that's what you want, Katie," Simon said.
get angry, Katie. We're just trying to look out for you," Charisse said.
I was angry with all of them. William was different, and he couldn't
settle into the normal patterns of the community for very good reasons—reasons
I could never explain to them. I supposed that if the situation were reversed
and one of them was seeing someone who seemed mysterious—and possibly
dangerous—that I would be concerned, too. They were only being so pushy because
they cared about me.
told myself to be calm.
appreciate your concern, I really do," I said. "You'll all just have
to trust me on this one."
return I received three nods and three polite smiles. But I had a feeling this
argument was far from over.
rest of lunch was rather strained as we all made small talk, and I was relieved
when the bell rang.
all got up, and Branden and Charisse headed off together, like they usually
did. I turned to say good-bye to Simon, but instead of turning toward his
hallway, he moved to follow me.
walk you to class," he said.
stopped and stood still, even though doing so meant that I was blocking other
people who were trying to exit the cafeteria.
stopped then, too, making the problem worse.
I began. I was suddenly nervous. I didn't want Simon following me. I was still
waiting for William to show up, and I didn't want him to step out of the
shadows when I was with Simon. Simon, though he pretended otherwise, still seemed
pretty worked up. I feared what would happen if he saw William. I didn't want a
confrontation—especially not at school.
of the way!" someone shouted.
and I drew apart from the stream of traffic and stood by the wall.
I began again.
interrupted. "Katie, we're not done talking yet."
please," I said. "I don't want to go over all that again—"
you never answered my question."
blinked. "What question?"
you go ice skating with me this weekend?"
looked up into Simon's face. Despite everything I had said, he looked really
hopeful. A terrible feeling of guilt settled over me once again.
I like you. I really do. And we've been friends forever—"
is that a 'yes'?"
closed my eyes. "Simon, please just listen."
remained silent, and I looked up at him again. "I want to stay friends
with you, and I don't mind doing things with you as a friend, but somehow going
ice skating feels more like a date. And as much as I like you, I can't go out
on a date with you."
of him," Simon said.
of William," I replied.
nodded, then he looked up at me. "I'm not going to give up, you know. You
think that he's right for you. But I know that I am. I'm in this for the
long haul. You take all the time you need to moon over the wrong guy. But when
he's gone—moved on to the next town or whatever it is guys like him do—I'll
still be standing here. I'm the one you can depend on."
backed up a few paces. "I'm not giving up, Katie. I promise you
he turned and was gone, disappearing into the crowd of students.
After Simon had disappeared, I
stood for a moment, feeling more than a little overwhelmed. Then I turned to go
to class. As I did so, I found that someone was standing in my way.
looked up and saw with relief that it was William.
that guy bothering you?" William nodded his head in the direction of the
now-vanished Simon. His tone was light, even joking, but I thought I detected
an undercurrent of anger.
hearing is pretty good, isn't it?" I said ruefully.
William said, giving me his little half smile.
much did you overhear?" I asked.
of it," William replied.
you know that Simon is unhappy about you and me."
and William had met on a few occasions—neither one had seemed to take to the
William said, "and I think your friend has a lot of nerve. But because
he's your friend, I decided not to make an issue of it."
I said. "Simon—"
realized I didn't know quite how to finish the sentence. I wanted to say
means well," I said at last.
didn't seem to like the topic very much.
have to get to class, don't you?" he said. "Lead the way."
walked through the crowded hallway together, and I couldn't help wishing that
William could actually go to school with me—then we could spend time together
you talk to your grandmother?" William asked.
I did. She said you can come over for dinner tonight."
William said. "Are you serious?"
I'm serious. I wouldn't joke about something like this. Besides, it's not like
she knows you're a—"
stopped abruptly. The hallway was not the place for unguarded talk.
gave me a wry smile.
can you come over tonight?" I asked.
course. It's what I wanted—or don't you remember?"
said that she's going to make pasta or something like that. Do you—you actually
can," William said. "It won't be a problem."
realized that I'd never really asked William about his diet. I did know that he
didn't drink human blood—he'd reassured me on that score—but I didn't know what
he actually did consume—if anything.
what do you eat—drink—whatever it is you do?"
glanced around. "I don't think this is quite the place for that
I said. "GM is going to ask you questions, too. She'll want to know a lot
answer her questions," William said.
was stunned. "But you almost never answer questions when I ask them."
shot me an amused glance. "You're exaggerating."
I'm not. You never tell me anything. Why will you answer questions for GM and
not for me?"
you want me to answer questions for your grandmother?"
course I do."
you'll find out some of the things you want to know tonight."
that wasn't exactly an answer to my question.
irritation seemed to amuse William further.
time is dinner?" William asked.
be there then."
smiled and turned as if he were about to leave.
reached out and grabbed him by the sleeve. "William, wait. There's
something else I have to tell you."
turned back, and we started walking again.
glanced over my shoulder and then lowered my voice. "This may not be the
best place to discuss this, but we won't be able to talk about it at dinner,
either. I heard this morning that a girl was attacked last night in the Old
Grove. From the description of the wounds, it sounds like a vampire
looked at me sharply. "You don't need to be worried, Katie. I'm keeping an
eye on the situation."
already know about the attack?"
Anton and Innokenti responsible for it?" I asked.
fairly sure it was one of them—but I don't know for sure which one it
they're going to hang around town?"
was grim. "It looks likely."
are we going to do?" I asked. "If they stay here there will be more
aren't going to do anything," William said firmly. "I'll take care of
happened exactly?" I asked.
incident occurred around midnight. The victim was a girl from this school—her
first name is Annamaria."
drew in my breath sharply. I realized now why Bryony and Irina had looked so
you know her?" William asked.
I said. I felt light-headed.
what I hear, she's going to be okay."
know—I heard that too. It's just—"
had to stop. A terrible thought had just occurred to me.
I'm going to look out for you and everybody in this town."
tone was reassuring, but I was too rattled to be soothed.
stopped walking. "If I'm not mistaken, this is your classroom. You should
go in. The bell is about to ring."
clutched at William's sleeve again.
about Annamaria?" I asked softly. "Is she safe from—"
glanced around and lowered my voice further still. "Is Annamaria going to
become a vampire?"
William replied, "she isn't."
you sure?" I asked. "Do you really know that, or are you just trying
to make me feel better?"
went over to visit Annamaria this morning," William said. "That's why
I was a little later meeting up with you than I intended to be. I asked her a
few questions. She isn't in any danger."
how does it happen? How does someone become a vampire?"
clutched his arm more tightly. "William, don't put me off. I need to know.
I won't go to class unless you tell me."
did not look happy, but after a quick glance around, he answered me.
have to be bitten by a vampire. Then you have to drink his blood in return. Then
you have to die. Typically, death occurs because the vampire continues to
return and drain his victim night after night. The human body can only handle
so much blood loss. Annamaria hasn't consumed any blood, so she should be safe.
The vampire who attacked her is unlikely to be able to get her in the
hospital—and I doubt he wants to anyway."
I've answered your question. Now go to class. I'll see you tonight. It really
will be okay."
that, he was gone.
walked into class and sat down. I was really shaken up by the fact that it was
Annamaria who had been attacked by a vampire. I tried to pay attention in
class, but my thoughts kept wandering back to her.
if she was only the beginning?
rest of the day passed in a blur, and I felt a sense of relief when I heard the
final bell ring. I hurried to my locker, and when I shut my locker door,
Charisse was standing on the other side.
couldn't help jumping a little. "You startled me, Charisse."
was grim. "I want you to do something for me. This has gone far
I want you to come home with me right now."
I'd be glad to," I said. "But I have to get home. William is coming
over for dinner tonight. GM and I have to get everything ready."
grandmother won't mind if you're just a little late," Charisse said
firmly. "I just need you to see something. Then I'll drive you right home.
It'll only take a few minutes—I promise."
was puzzled. "You want me to see something? What is it? Can't you just
bring it in tomorrow and show me then?"
flickered in Charisse's eyes. "I can't bring it in tomorrow. And I can't
tell you what it is—you have to see it to understand. This is really important
to me. And it's important to you, too."
felt a flash of irritation. "Charisse, tonight is important to me. I
want this dinner to go well. I want GM and William to like each other."
just stared at me steadily. She continued to look angry, but there was
something else there too—was it fear?
sure it will only take a few minutes?" I asked.
positive," Charisse said.
day had grown even colder since the morning, and as I followed Charisse out to
the student parking lot, our breath rose up into the air as frosty white vapor.
We got into her car, and I shivered in the car's frigid interior.
started the car and pulled out onto the road in silence.
glanced over at her as we drove. There was tension in her hands as she gripped
the steering wheel, and her lips were pressed into a grim line. I felt myself
growing concerned for her. What could be at her house that had her so upset?
pulled into her housing development, and she parked the car in a cul-de-sac. I
glanced around—we were several streets over from her house.
are we parking here?" I asked. "Is there any reason we can't park at
your stuff here," Charisse said. "It'll be safe. I'm just taking my
got out of the car, and I followed her.
going to have to sneak up to my house" Charisse said grimly. "Just
follow me and try to be quiet."
are you okay?" I asked. "You're acting really odd."
acting odd?" Charisse's lips curled into a mocking semblance of her usual
smile. "You should see what's going on at my house."
led me across several streets and then into someone's backyard. She crouched
down against the side of the house and motioned for me to do the same. We could
see into Charisse's yard from our vantage point.
what are we doing?" I whispered. "Why don't we just drive up to your
house like normal people?"
don't want my mom to know I'm home yet."
was puzzled. "What's your mom doing home this early?"
mother was an attorney, and I knew she usually worked long hours.
my mother is home all the time," Charisse whispered. "It's really not
normal. Just watch for a moment and don't say anything."
waited silently, just watching as Charisse had instructed, but nothing
happened. Just as my legs were starting to cramp, Charisse rose a little.
looks like the way is clear," she whispered. "Come on."
hurried over to her own backyard, still crouching down.
hurried after her.
stopped just underneath a large window. I had been to her house many times, and
I knew that that window looked in on her kitchen.
crouched under the window beside her.
going to look in," Charisse said, and she lowered her voice so much that
it was barely audible. "I'll let you know when it's okay for you to look
reached up to grab the ledge, and inch by inch she raised herself up till her
eyes were just high enough to look in.
okay to look in right now," she said in the same almost-inaudible whisper.
"But be ready to duck down if I give the word."
reached for the ledge and pulled myself up slowly just as Charisse had done.
scene that met my eyes was not out of the ordinary. Mrs. Graebel was seated at
a table that I had sat at many times myself. Her black hair was pulled back
into a ponytail, and she was wearing a pink turtleneck sweater. She held a mug
in her hands, and I could see that she no longer wore her wedding ring. But
there was nothing unusual about that—she was in the process of getting a
I watched, Mrs. Graebel lifted her mug and took a drink.
dipped back below the ledge.
frowned and slipped down beside me.
are you doing?" she hissed.
am I doing? What are you doing?" I whispered back. "I feel
really weird spying on your mom like this. Was it really necessary to drag me
over here so that I could watch her have a drink at her own kitchen
flashed in Charisse's eyes.
at her," Charisse whispered. "Really look at her. Think about
what you know about my mother, and then tell me what you see."
started to raise myself up again, but Charisse pulled me back.
she whispered. "I'll have to look to make sure the way is clear
suppressed my irritation as Charisse slowly pulled herself up and looked into
the kitchen once again. After a moment, she waved me up.
was really anxious to be done with the whole thing, but Charisse was my friend,
so I pulled myself up beside her.
Graebel was sitting as before, sipping from her mug. I felt ridiculous, peering
in at her without her knowledge, but I tried to evaluate the scene before me. Charisse
seemed very sure that something was wrong. Had I missed something?
examined Mrs. Graebel's expression as best I could. She certainly didn't look
unhappy—in fact, she looked calm and peaceful—almost dreamy.
was true that Mrs. Graebel wasn't the dreamy type—she was very energetic and
no-nonsense. But perhaps the end of her marriage had taken some pressure off of
I continued to look at Mrs. Graebel, I realized that there was something a
little careless about her ponytail—and I had never seen her less than perfectly
groomed. I had also never seen her wearing anything like the slouchy turtleneck
she was wearing. I almost invariably saw her in suits, even on the weekends,
and on the rare days when she took off and wasn't in suits, her taste was
fashionable and somewhat severe.
frowned. The turtleneck looked like it was too big for her. Had Mrs. Graebel
see it now, don't you?" Charisse whispered. "You can see that she's
mother doesn't like pink does she?" I whispered back.
she doesn't," Charisse hissed. "Her favorite color is black—followed
closely by gray."
don't know, Charisse," I whispered. "One pink turtleneck doesn't
really seem like the end of the world to me."
of the corner of my eye I could see something move in the kitchen, and Charisse
tugged fiercely on my coat sleeve.
both dropped down below the ledge, and Charisse continued to stare upward as if
she wished she could see through the wall.
is it?" I whispered.
gave me another sharp tug on my sleeve and pressed a finger to her lips.
a moment, Charisse motioned firmly for me to stay put. Then she crept slowly up
toward the window, till she could see in once again.
watched as her eyes narrowed.
knew it," she hissed.
looked at her questioningly.
knew he was coming over to the house while I was gone," she whispered.
ducked down beside me, her eyes blazing. "It's Joshua—the guy my mom is
seeing. He's never around when I get home, but I always have the feeling that
he's only just left. I see now that I was right. This is what you really need
moved up to the window and watched again. Then she motioned for me to join her.
peered into the kitchen, and this time I could see a man sitting at the table
across from Mrs. Graebel. He was blond and good-looking, and he rested his chin
on his hand as he gazed at Mrs. Graebel. For her part, Mrs. Graebel's
expression had grown even dreamier. She had set her mug down, and she was
leaning on her elbows, gazing back at the blond man.
ducked down below the window ledge again. I didn't feel like watching any
glared at me. "What are you doing?"
is weird," I whispered back. "I don't want to do this anymore."
dropped down beside me.
this is exactly what I brought you to see," Charisse whispered fiercely. "You
have to see the way the two of them interact. It's just not normal. It's like
my mom's under a spell."
not going to spy on your mom and her boyfriend," I whispered back.
you have to see them."
seen enough," I said.
what?" I asked. It was cold, and I was getting tired of crouching down
below the window like some kind of criminal.
do you think about the two of them? Don't you think there's an unhealthy
think maybe it's—"
hesitated. I'd almost said 'love,' but that seemed a little too strong, and
such a term would surely upset Charisse.
tried again. "Maybe they're—happy."
flashed in Charisse's eyes. "Happy? You call that happy?"
tried to choose my words carefully. "I know it's hard to see your mom
cut me off. "'Dating' is not the issue. My mom is home when she should be
working. She's not acting like herself. And that man is with her when I'm not
around. Something's not right."
don't know why your mom is home when she's usually at work, but—"
you know, there's more than one reason why I wanted you to see my mom today,
and I'm glad you got to see her with Joshua—that's the way you look when you're
really not helping your case with that," I said.
true," Charisse hissed furiously. "That's the same dreamy, lost look
you get when you're with William. William and Joshua are both the same. They're
both trouble. And I heard William was seen with you at school today. He's got
no right to be in our school."
very nearly jumped to my feet, but I stopped myself in time—Mrs. Graebel and
her boyfriend would surely see me.
I'm going back to the car. I'm not doing this anymore."
you dare leave!" Charisse hissed.
I was already moving along the back of the house, still crouching down. I didn't
care particularly if Charisse was following or not. I would wait by the car,
and if she didn't show up, I would just walk home.
as I reached the end of the wall, someone stepped into my path, and I was
forced to stop short.
looked up. In front of me was the blond man from the kitchen.
ran up beside me and grabbed me by the arm, pulling me back.
leave her alone!" Charisse shouted.
turned to look at her. There was a look of genuine fear on her face.
ladies," the man said pleasantly.
turned back to look at the man before me. He smiled, and it gave him a
youthful, boyish look.
was wearing a coat, and he held out a gloved hand to me. "Charisse I know
already, but I don't believe we've met. I'm Joshua Martin."
reached my hand out automatically to take his, but Charisse grabbed my arm and
pulled it back down.
gave Charisse a rueful look and pulled his hand back, brushing it over his
are you doing out here?" Charisse asked. She continued to grip my arm and
her eyes were wary.
might ask you two the same thing," Joshua said lightly.
words were clearly intended as a joke, but I felt Charisse stiffen.
looked down and then gave Charisse another rueful look.
he said. "I can see this isn't going too well. Let's start over
turned to me and put a hand to his chest. "I'm Joshua Martin. I'm a friend
of Charisse's mother."
Katie Wickliff," I replied. "I'm a friend of Charisse's."
nice to meet you, Katie," Joshua said. He pointed a thumb over his
shoulder. "It's pretty cold out here. Would you girls like to come inside
and have something hot to drink?"
we wouldn't," Charisse said sharply.
nodded his head and looked around.
out of curiosity—what are you two doing out here?"
do you want to know?" Charisse snapped.
spread out his hands. "Well, you know, it's just a little weird, Charisse.
You and your friend here are hanging out beneath the window instead of coming
into the house like normal people—"
did you know we were under the window?" Charisse interjected sharply.
vapor, Charisse. We saw your breath rising up past the window. Your mom asked
me to come outside and see what was going on. And then, I see the two of you
sneaking along the back of the house here."
bristled. "You have no right to ask me what I'm doing at my own house. You
don't belong here. Come on, Katie. We're going back to the car."
tugged on my arm and pulled me around Joshua, giving him a wide berth. She
dragged me into the neighbor's yard.
saw Joshua throw up his hands in frustration.
wouldn't do anything to hurt your mother, Charisse," he called after us. "I
wouldn't do anything to hurt you, either."
continued to pull me along by my arm.
shouted after us again. "You know, it's not so terrible if your mother
drew in her breath sharply. She broke into a run, dragging me with her.
ran until we reached Charisse's car. She scrambled to pull the door open and
hurried into the car. Charisse quickly locked the doors.
twisted around and searched the street behind us. Then she fell back against
didn't follow us," she breathed. She closed her eyes.
glanced back. The street behind us was indeed empty.
turned back to Charisse. "What is going on with you?"
eyes flew open. "Are you serious?"
I'm serious. You're acting crazy."
really didn't hear that?" Charisse demanded.
Joshua said it wasn't so bad if my mom relaxes sometimes."
eyes blazed. "So? Katie, he could hear us."
we were whispering beneath the window?"
He heard me complaining about the fact that my mom wasn't at work like she
don't see how that's possible," I said.
how did he know?" Charisse demanded. "I never talk to him. I
certainly never spoke to him about my mom's work."
of course you never talk to him," I said. "You told me he's not
usually there when you get home. You can't talk to him if you don't see
he comes back later in the evening to pick my mom up so they can go out. He
tries to talk to me then. But I have absolutely nothing to say to him."
you said something to your mom, and she mentioned it to him."
shook her head. "I don't talk to her these days, either. It's like she
barely even knows I'm around."
let's say he's weird and your mom's distant. I still don't see what your point
is. What do you think is going to happen?"
is not normal. He could hear us talking—I know it. And I think that's why he's
gone when I get home—he can hear my car coming, so he leaves. He's trying to
pretend like everything's normal, but it isn't."
didn't reply, and Charisse lapsed into silence.
guess I don't know what my point is, either," she said after a moment.
started the car.
probably want to get home."
Charisse left me at my front door
and then sped off.
knew she was angry—she had maintained a stony silence during the drive to my
house. But I didn't see that there was anything either one of us could do if
her mother liked Joshua Martin. Maybe Charisse had noticed something strange about
him—but I hadn't.
it seemed to me that if anyone could recognize trouble, I could.
as I was getting out of the car I had asked Charisse to tell me if anything new
developed—anything truly out of the ordinary.
had not replied to that.
supposed I couldn't really blame her.
feeling out of sorts, I watched Charisse's tail lights disappear. Then I went
into the house and on into the kitchen.
pot of water was boiling vigorously on the stove, and GM was sitting at the
kitchen table reading a letter. The letter seemed to absorb her completely—so
much so that I could tell she didn't know that I had come into the room.
stood for a moment watching her.
eyes dropped from her rapt face to the piece of paper in her hand. I squinted
at it, and I realized that I could just make out the dark outline of the words
she was reading. I wondered if I could read the words backwards.
looked up suddenly and jumped when she saw me.
Katie! I didn't know you were home!"
folded the letter up swiftly and swept it into an envelope that had been lying
face down on the table. Then she hurried out of the room.
was pretty clear to me that she was going to her office to hide her letter.
enough, when GM returned a moment later, her hands were empty.
I'm later than usual," I said, as GM moved to the stove. "I stopped
by Charisse's house."
was measuring orecchiette pasta into the boiling water and looked around at me.
is of no consequence, Solnyshko."
turned back to the boiling water and threw in a pinch of salt.
was unusual for GM not to require me to account for all of my time.
who was the letter from?" I asked.
waved a hand airily. "No one."
smiled at me and moved to the refrigerator.
felt a flash of frustration, but I tried to keep my voice even. "A letter
can't come from no one. Someone has to write it and send it."
shut the refrigerator door and turned back to me. "It's not from anyone
persisted. "Is it from the same person who sent you all the other
please. You know I've seen you with the other letters."
face went carefully blank.
is my private correspondence, Katie. It has nothing to do with you."
decided to drop the topic. GM was clearly getting ruffled, and I didn't want
her to be in a bad mood when William arrived.
there anything I can do to help with dinner?" I asked, changing the
sauce is made already," GM replied. "You can chop up this basil."
handed me a bunch of the herb. "When you're done with that, you can cut
some slices of bread."
and I worked on dinner after that, and before long, I was running up the stairs
to get ready myself.
changed my clothes quickly and pulled a brush through my hair. Then I stood
before the mirror surveying my reflection.
was starting to get nervous now, and I ordered myself to be calm.
really wanted this evening to go well.
I turned away from the mirror, I thought I saw a flutter of movement out of the
corner of my eye.
turned back quickly and searched the mirror, but there was nothing in it that
shouldn't have been there.
turned away again, but as I did so, I got the strangest feeling that someone in
the mirror had turned away also.
resisted the urge to look at the mirror again and shrugged off the
feeling—surely it was just my nerves getting the better of me. Or was it just
nerves? A horrible thought occurred to me, and I resolved to ask William about
found GM in our seldom-used dining room, lighting candles. The table was set
and all the food was out—GM had made a few extra dishes that she hadn't told me
looks beautiful, GM," I said.
used to do a lot of entertaining once," GM murmured, almost more to
herself than to me. "I gave a lot of big parties. I know how to turn out a
was caught by the tone of her voice—it was faraway, even wistful. I was on the
verge of asking her a question when there was a knock at the front door.
glanced at GM nervously.
will give William a chance, won't you?"
course I will give him a chance. I've done all this, haven't I?" She waved
a hand at me. "Now, go. Say hello to your young man."
hurried to the door and opened it.
gave me his crooked smile.
stood for a moment just looking at him—I had a strong desire to throw my arms
around him, but I figured that really wouldn't help my case with GM.
walked up behind me.
I felt strangely shy.
aren't you going to invite your friend in?" GM said.
you come in?" I said to William.
He stepped in, and there was a bottle in his hand.
glanced disapprovingly at the bottle—I imagined she thought he was sixteen as I
was. I supposed I should have warned him not to bring something like a bottle
you remember William Sursur from Russia," I said.
I remember him," GM replied shortly.
good to see you again, Mrs. Rost," William said. He held the bottle out. "This
is for you."
accepted the bottle and glanced at the label. The corner of her mouth quirked
apple juice. Thank you."
three of us went into the dining room. William held GM's chair out for her. Then
he did the same for me. GM seemed amused.
sat down, too, and we started on dinner.
William," GM said, "do you attend school with my granddaughter?"
seemed surprised. "Where do you go to school, then?"
don't go to school," William replied simply.
shot me a disapproving glance. "I see. What do your parents think about
parents are no longer with us."
glanced at William sharply. GM, no doubt, would assume from that that William's
parents were dead—I wondered, though, if he actually knew anything about them. It
seemed to me that William might not know where, or even who, they were.
I could hardly question him about that in front of GM.
herself seemed momentarily stunned by William's reply and something like
sympathy flickered in her eyes.
soon shook off the emotion and returned to her questioning.
you work?" GM asked.
do you do?"
work freelance. I'm a software engineer."
are quite young to have a job like that."
lot of computer geniuses started young."
eyebrows rose. "So, you are a genius, then?"
face was suffused with color. "No, that's not what I meant at all."
are you here in Elspeth's Grove," GM asked. "Is it for work?"
came here to see my granddaughter?"
was holding a fork in her hand. In that moment I wouldn't have been surprised
to see her snap it in half.
sound to me like a reckless, irresponsible young man," she said in a voice
Katie," GM snapped. "You stay out of this."
turned her attention back to William, and her eyes blazed. "You admit
that you came here to stalk my granddaughter?"
can appreciate your concern, Mrs. Rost." William replied mildly. "And
I'm very grateful that you invited me over here tonight. I wanted you to see
me. I wanted to talk to you, and I wanted you to know more about me. I did move
here to be near Katie—I admit that. But I can assure you that I have not come
here to stalk her. I only want to see Katie as long as she wants to see
seemed incredulous. "So, if Katie were to ask you to go—to leave Elspeth's
Grove entirely, what would you do?"
would leave," William said.
like that?" GM demanded.
stared hard at William for a long moment, and he calmly returned her gaze.
was the one who eventually broke the silence.
hope you'll forgive me for saying this, Mrs. Rost, but I am much happier here. Things
are difficult for me in the town of Krov. I believe that is something you can
seemed to consider William's words. After a moment, she sighed.
is true, what you say. I love Krov, but I could never live there again. I, too,
am happier here. Krov is hard on her children."
didn't seem entirely sold yet, but the tense lines in her face had relaxed.
do you live, William?" GM said.
have a house in the Old Grove."
gave him another sharp glance. He had already told me that he would answer GM's
questions—even though he wouldn't answer mine—but somehow the fact that he had
answered this particular question so easily rankled.
felt for just a moment as if the two of them were united against me.
you rent or do you own?" GM asked.
own the house."
your freelance work—is it full time?"
is strange," GM said. "You are almost like a full grown man, dating a
high school student."
didn't have an answer for that.
was suddenly fierce. "I want it to be clear that I will allow nothing and
no one to harm my granddaughter. Neither you, nor anyone else, will jeopardize
her future. Katie will finish high school and go on to college. She will have a
flourishing career in whatever field she chooses. She will not run away with
you and elope. The two of you will not decide that you can 'live on love.' And
if you were to attempt to abscond with my granddaughter, I would hunt you down
and murder you myself. Do you understand that?"
blinked and sat back in his chair. I had never seen him look intimidated before.
was intimidated now.
ma'am. I understand that," he said.
in William's answer must have satisfied GM, because her sudden anger seemed to
subside. After she had regained her composure, her attitude became less confrontational.
She began to ask William about the company he was currently freelancing for. When
GM discovered that she had done projects for the same company, the two of them
began to talk pleasantly.
was relieved that the grilling was over.
rest of the evening seemed to go well, and GM was almost friendly when she said
goodnight to William.
William left, I followed him outside and closed the front door behind us. I'd
been turning something over in the back of my mind, and I had to ask him about
glanced back at the window in the front of the house uneasily. I knew I
wouldn't have much time, and I knew GM would be watching. I just hoped she
couldn't overhear us.
think this went well, don't you?" William said.
does seem like this was a good idea," I replied.
kiss you good night, but I have a feeling that your grandmother would storm out
here and forbid me ever to return."
I said quickly. "I have some questions that I need to ask you."
questions?" William was amused. "I would have thought we'd both had
enough of those at dinner."
need to ask you about Anton and Innokenti," I said.
don't need to know about those two," William said.
know you've said that before," I replied, "but there's a lot I don't
stumbled over my words, afraid that GM was listening.
need to know about them," I said at last.
they aren't nice—'people.' I'll call them that for lack of a better word."
William glanced up at the window as if he too, feared that GM could hear him. "You
really don't want to know about them."
don't mean that I need to know about those two as individuals." I dropped
my voice nearly to a whisper. "I mean I need to know about vampires."
winced and shot another glance at the window.
expected another protest from him, so I went on quickly.
have a specific reason for wanting to know," I said. "I've—I've been
seeing strange things, and there are two of them in town. I don't know
what I can believe about them and what I can't. For example, in popular
folklore, crosses can ward off vampires, but in actual fact, crosses have no
effect on them, right?"
true," William said.
are the kinds of questions I have."
do you want to know?" William asked quietly.
they hurt by garlic or holy water?"
about sunlight?" I remembered that Odette had disappeared during the day. "Will
sunlight kill them?"
Like many night creatures they are sluggish during the day—it's when they are
most vulnerable. They do tend to hide from sunlight. But it won't kill
they enter a house without being invited?" I was getting closer to the
question I wanted to ask the most.
was a little startled by his answer. "Yes?"
I invited you into my house."
didn't need to. And if you'll recall, I entered your house when Gleb broke in. You
didn't invite me in that time."
Anton and Innokenti can walk into anyone's house any time they want to?"
can. But I'm watching your house. They won't get past me."
an image flashed in my mind of Anton walking around in my living room, his eyes
alight with malice. He picked up one of my family photos and examined it. Then
he turned expectantly, as if someone had come into the room.
image faded quickly, and I staggered.
reached out a hand to steady me.
are you alright?"
wasn't sure if what I had just experienced was a vision or not, but the image
that I'd seen had been unnervingly clear. Somehow, however, it didn't feel like
a vision. Maybe it had just been my subconscious fears bubbling up to the
knew one thing for certain—no matter what I had seen, Anton was not in my house
right now. William would have known if he were, and he would have rushed in to
stop Anton. So I took a few deep breaths and decided to ignore the image and
focus on what was bothering me the most—the topic I hadn't brought up yet—my
okay," I said to William. "They—people like Anton and
Innokenti—they're fast, aren't they?"
they are." William searched my face as if he still feared that something
might be wrong with me.
they be seen in a mirror?" I asked.
course," William replied.
felt a chill spread through me.
been seeing things in my mirror again," I said.
knew all about my history with mirrors and visions. He also knew that my
visions had stopped.
what I'm seeing now is different from what I've seen before," I said. "Now
I see something fluttering—just a little motion out of the corner of my eye. Could
I be catching glimpses of a vampire? Could they be hiding in my room, but
moving so quickly that all I see is a little flash in my mirror?"
don't know what you've seen in your mirror," William said firmly,
"but neither Anton nor Innokenti has been in your house. I know that for
fast," I murmured. "They have keen senses, too, don't they? And they
have the power to control people's minds—to persuade their victims to do what
they want. Odette used that last one on me."
shouldn't think about things like that," William admonished gently. "You're
going to upset yourself, and you'll have trouble sleeping tonight."
can I not think about things like that when Annamaria was attacked, and I've
been seeing strange things in my mirror?" I asked.
will be okay. She's safe in the hospital. And like I said, neither Anton nor
Innokenti has been in your house. I promise you that you haven't been seeing
them in your mirror."
paused. "You do believe me, don't you?"
believe you," I said. "I just wish there was something I could do to
get the two of them out of town. I won't feel really safe until they're
ran a soothing hand over my hair. "I'll worry about them. You don't need
do you kill them?" I asked suddenly. "Will a wooden stake work?"
I'm not sure a discussion like that will do you any good."
a wooden stake work?" I repeated.
has some effect, especially if the vamp—"
stopped and glanced over at the window. "Especially if one of them is
already weak. But it won't work on all of them. Typically, the older they are,
the stronger they are. Sometimes all that will work is beheading and fire. And
it wouldn't hurt to scatter the ashes too."
doesn't sound very easy."
they're so hard to kill, why aren't we overrun by them?"
aren't completely invulnerable," William said. "And fire is
effective—especially, as I said, when combined with a beheading. Also, there
aren't very many of them—humans outnumber them by a wide margin. And most
humans have a natural aversion to them and do tend to attack them—you know,
crowds with pitchforks and torches and all that. And they fight amongst
themselves a great deal."
please," William said. "This conversation is getting a little dark. You
won't need to destroy any of them tonight. This house is safe, and I mean that.
You should go inside now. Before your grandmother gets too anxious and runs me
still felt uneasy. "Will you come to see me at school tomorrow? I still
have some questions to ask you."
will come to see you tomorrow if you will go inside now and stop
go inside now," I said.
gave me his little half smile. "Then I will see you tomorrow."
always, I was reluctant to see William go.
sighed unhappily. "Good night."
night, Katie. And no more thoughts of dark creatures. You can always call me
you know." He disappeared into the night.
wasn't talking about an ordinary call on a cell phone or a landline—I didn't
actually know if he had either one of those, though presumably he did since he
ran a business. The type of call he was talking about was something
different—it was an incantation—something he had granted to me that would
summon him to me from wherever he was. He could be at my side instantaneously
from anywhere in the world.
I had to do was say the right words, and he would appear.
I supposed I was safe enough.
turned and went into the house.
met me at the door.
were out there with him for quite a long time." GM wasn't angry, but there
was something very stiff about her posture. Her face was carefully blank.
was a little confused by her manner—she had seemed to warm up to William during
you like William, GM?"
folded her arms. "He seems pleasant enough—it is not a question of liking
something about him bothers you?"
am allowing you to see him, aren't I?"
something does bother you?"
shrugged, her arms still crossed. "It's just that he seems to have
appeared out of nowhere. Despite his readiness to answer questions, he remains
mysterious. I don't like that."
pointed comments from earlier in the evening suddenly came back to me. She had
mentioned eloping. She had mentioned living on love and giving up a promising
future. I thought of the photo in the living room of a young couple in a bare
room with a single flower.
you like my father?" I asked suddenly.
blinked at me in surprise. "Your father?"
wearing that expression," I said. "The expression you wear when you
don't want to discuss the past. Does William remind you of my father?"
threw up her hands. "I suppose that's possible. Your father seemed to come
out of nowhere, too. He just appeared in our little town."
you like him?" I asked again.
pressed her lips together.
should not ask me a question like that."
felt panic rising within me. "Why not?"
Katie, don't look at me like that. I'm sorry, child. I don't want you to think
I didn't like your father. I did like him. But I'm not sure I trusted
I said. "What reason did you have not to trust him?"
do not panic, Solnyshko. Your father was a good man. He meant well. But his
head was full of superstition. Your mother seemed to attract people like that. I
think sometimes he might have influenced her the wrong way."
reached out and touched a lock of my hair. "Such a pale gold," she
murmured. Her eyes roamed over my face, and they tightened at the corners. "You
are so like your mother."
I'm not my mother," I said quietly. "And William is not my father. He
knows all about the superstitions of Krov, and he wants me to stay away from
insistence on my staying out of everything was typically something that
bothered me, but in this case I knew GM would find it reassuring.
GM said, looking mollified. "That is certainly a point in his favor."
felt again for a moment like they were united against me.
turned as if she were going to go into the kitchen, and I knew I had to stop
her. She was in an unusually talkative mood—perhaps because the evening had
been a little unsettling for her. It seemed to have shaken her usual control
and left her vulnerable.
I said quickly, "you said it seemed like my father appeared out of
nowhere, but he came from the U.K., didn't he?"
turned back. "Yes, he did."
why did you say he came out of nowhere?"
shrugged. "It was never clear to me exactly why he had come to Russia, or
how he had found our little town of Krov—it's an isolated place in many ways. We
certainly never received many visitors. He didn't seem to be there for work or
family, and he seemed to have come there specifically to find your mother. It
was an unusual situation to say the least."
can see now why William reminded you of him," I said. "What
explanation did my father give of himself when you first met him?"
didn't give any account of himself when I first met him. He was presented to me
as a fait accompli," GM said curtly. "My daughter introduced him to
me as her husband."
was startled. "They were already married when you met him for the first
GM said. "They married without telling a single soul beforehand. I never
did find out how long they'd known each other before they came to that
knew now why their wedding photo was so Spartan—apparently my mother, like her
mother, was fond of her secrets.
felt myself growing concerned about the mother I'd barely known. "Did my
father have job?" I asked.
GM replied. "But he did seem to have a lot of money. He said he'd
inherited it. He never said from whom."
my mother didn't have a job, either?" I said.
GM replied shortly.
my father had a lot of money, why did you all live together?" I asked.
lived in my house. I insisted on it. To my surprise, they agreed. I don't know
that I could have prevailed upon them if they hadn't—they were both so willful.
But they weren't interested in a home of their own—or in material goods in
general. Their minds were all full of their spiritual quest. They believed they
were both put on this earth to fight the powers of darkness."
note of despair had crept into GM's voice.
was all nonsense, of course," she said. "And they both paid for it in
looked at GM sharply. "What do you mean?"
shrugged—not so much as if she didn't care, but as if she were pushing away
difficult emotions. "Your mother, you know, exacerbated her fever chasing
after phantoms. And she didn't survive."
nodded. That was the version of the story that GM knew. I knew the reality—that
she had been systematically poisoned. But the truth was something that she
would never believe.
continued and some acidity crept into her tone. "Your father supposedly
died in a hiking accident. But your father never had any interest in hiking or
any other kind of outdoor sports. I think he was doing something else—chasing
after some foolish fantasy. And whenever one of your parents when chasing after
a fantasy, they seemed to run afoul of criminals like Gleb Mstislav and others
of his ilk. I think your father upset someone he shouldn't have upset. And then
that someone had him killed."
felt a chill run through my body—a chill that ran so deep it seemed to freeze
accident was a terrible thing.
a murder was even worse.
caught sight of my face. "I see I have upset you, Solnyshko. This is
exactly why I do not like to talk of the past. Perhaps it is best if we end
felt suddenly as if an important opportunity were about to slip away—that as
painful as the topic was, I had to keep GM talking or I would lose the chance
to find out something very important.
felt frozen, though. I couldn't think of anything to say that would keep GM
I continued to struggle, GM ran a hand over my hair.
am sorry about what I said, Solnyshko. I should not have said those things
about your father's death. It was tragic, but I'm sure it was nothing it
shouldn't have been."
pushed myself to speak. "No—no—you should say what you think. I don't want
you to keep things from me—even if they're painful."
shook her head. "I spoke out of turn. And speculation about your father's
death will change nothing—he is gone regardless. All this discussion will do is
hurt you. I will say nothing more about it."
tried to think of a way to counter that—to come up with the argument that would
change GM's mind and keep her talking, but I could tell from her expression
that the topic was closed.
parents were good people," GM said softly. "Dreamy, yes, but good. I
did not mean to say anything that would tarnish their memory."
smiled sadly. "It must be hard for you—very hard. You barely knew your
parents. I am sorry about that, Solnyshko."
brushed a hand over my hair once more and then she left the room.