“GABRIEL!” SHAY MCGUIRE YELLED. “Gabriel, help!”
He can still hear me. With his vampire senses, he could probably hear me from a mile away, she thought frantically. But the thick glass doors of the research center had closed between them.
“Why are you doing this?” Shay gasped. “Where are we going?”
The guy on her left didn’t answer, his mouth set in a grim line as he dragged her through the lobby. Shay’s mind whirled, unable to match the ultra-ordinary room—tall, long reception counter; waiting area with magazines just like every other waiting area in the world—with the horror of strong hands on her arms, cold eyes regarding her as if she were some kind of vermin. Two men, just to keep hold of her? She was small. She was human. She was weak. It didn’t take two vampire men to subdue one sick girl.
“Let go!” she shrieked. Shay dug the heels of her boots into the pale gray carpet and twisted her body, trying to pull away. She still had the strength that Gabriel’s vampire blood had given her, and maybe they wouldn’t expect her to fight. It worked with the guy on the right—he jumped in surprise at her loud cry, and his grip loosened. The one on the left just tightened his fingers around her wrist like a vise.
“Shut up,” he said, and then he jerked her so hard that she would’ve fallen if the other guy didn’t reach out to steady her.
“Where are we putting her?” the second guy asked. “Ernst said the cellar, but there’s only the storeroom, and that lock is wonky.”
“I’ll tie her hands, then.” The first guy, the worse one, kept pulling her forward while he spoke. As if he couldn’t wait to get rid of her. As if he couldn’t stand to be in her presence.
They’re afraid of humans, Shay reminded herself. She had a fast impression of a lab—stainless-steel tables, glass cabinets filled with vials and beakers, an industrial-size fridge, a centrifuge—then she was yanked through another door and down a long set of metal steps. The temperature dropped and the air took on a metallic tang.
Shay took a deep breath, trying desperately to get her thoughts under control. Gabriel had brought her here, to his family. He’d told her all about the place and about the people she would meet here. She hadn’t expected them to haul her around like a sack of trash, but maybe if she kept herself calm and just talked to them, they’d see she was no threat.
They were taking her down a long corridor now. Through a half-open door, she spotted a broom closet. It seemed so . . . normal. And normal was weird, in this case. Although she’d known that they didn’t live in some Gothic castle, somehow she hadn’t pictured it being so bland. Gabriel’s family ran this entire research center. They were scientists, all of them, including both of these men. Scientists and vampires.
“You’re Richard, right?” she said to the one dragging her. The mean one.
He didn’t answer, but his gray eyes narrowed.
“And you’re Luis.” She took in the darker skin of the other guy, his thick black hair, his Latino features. There were only two other men in the family besides Gabriel and Ernst, their leader. And Ernst had stayed outside with Gabriel. Shay knew that Richard was serious—that’s how Gabriel had described him. The guy with the death grip on her arm was definitely serious. Hence, Richard.
“Don’t talk to her,” he said.
But Luis was staring at Shay now, and he looked a little spooked. “Luis, I know all about you,” she said in a rush. “I know that you came from Texas and that Sam and Gabriel found you there when your parents were killed. I know you like Iron Chef even though you can’t eat—”
“Shut. The hell. Up.” Richard jerked her arm up behind her back, and Shay cried out in pain.
“Richard! What’s going on?” A pale, blond woman had come down the stairs behind them and stood staring at them openmouthed. “I thought I smelled Gabriel. I ran back from the caves as fast as I could.”
Tamara, Shay thought. The only one of the family she hadn’t met yet. If you could consider being taken captive “meeting.” Shay tried to remember what Gabriel had told her. Tamara was with Richard. She was the only one who hadn’t been brought into the family as a child.
“Gabriel showed up with this human,” Richard said, a sneer in his voice. “Ernst wants her locked away.”
“I’m Sam’s daughter,” Shay cried, her eyes pleading with the woman. Gabriel hadn’t told her many details about Tamara, but Shay wasn’t getting anywhere with the other two. “I’m your family. Gabriel said I’d be safe here.”
Tamara gasped, her eyes widening. “Sam’s daughter? The baby with the human woman?”
“Yes.” Richard’s voice was like a knife.
“She’s an abomination,” Tamara breathed, backing away as if Shay were contagious.
“I’m your family,” Shay repeated desperately. “Gabriel said I would be welcome here, he said—”
But Tamara was already gone, racing back up the metal steps.
“Get the duct tape,” Richard said, pushing open a door. He shoved Shay inside, his eyes searching the room. Searching for an escape route, Shay realized. Making sure there isn’t one.
Luis appeared in the doorway with a roll of tape. Richard pushed Shay down on a wooden chair—the only piece of furniture in the small room, which was mostly filled with shelves—and yanked Shay’s arms behind her back. Luis wrapped the tape around her wrists, binding them together.
“That hurts,” Shay said, her voice coming out barely louder than a whisper. Her pulse was pounding in her ears, and her breath came fast. Shock was robbing her body of the strength she’d gotten from drinking Gabriel’s blood. Five minutes ago she’d been sitting in a car with Gabriel, talking about these people—Richard and Luis and Ernst—as if they were friends. Family. Safety. She’d been looking forward to meeting them.
Luis reached over to loosen the tape, but Richard knocked his hand away. “Let’s get back to Ernst.”
“But I’m one of you,” Shay said, fighting down her fear. “I’m like you. I’m half vampire. I’m not a regular human.”
“You’re a thing that should never have been born,” Richard told her. “And that’s worse than a human.”
“Gabriel said you’d accept me,” Shay stammered. “He said . . . because I’m Sam’s daughter, and Sam was your brother . . .”
“Sam was a traitor,” Richard cut her off. “He betrayed us all.”
He turned and stalked out of the room. Luis followed, not looking at Shay. The door slammed shut, and the lock snapped into place, and Shay was left alone in the dark.
“Gabriel,” she whispered. “Help me.”
I’ve got to get to Shay. I’ve got to get to Shay. The thought spun through Gabriel’s mind in a frantic loop. Where was she? Had they hurt her, his brothers? He stared at the glass doors to the research center as if he could will them to open and return Shay to him.
She needed their protection. Didn’t they understand that? The human world would be no more accepting of a half vampire than a full one. Humans would be as much a danger to Shay as they were to his family.
“We should go inside,” Millie said softly. But she wasn’t talking to him, she was talking to Ernst.
“Whose car is that?” Ernst asked, his voice sharp and grating. It took Gabriel a moment to realize that the question was directed at him. His gaze strayed to the Escalade ten feet away, but he couldn’t really comprehend what Ernst had said. His mind was filled with a fog of fear.
“We . . . I stole it,” Gabriel said slowly. I’ve got to get to Shay. Got to. “We had her stepfather’s car at first, but he had it traced and came after us. When we ran from him, we had to steal another one. There was no choice.”
“How much more trouble have you brought to our door?” Ernst spat.
Gabriel just stared at him, the words making no more sense than the tone of voice. Ernst was his father, the one who had taught him everything about the life they led, everything about being a vampire and about the importance of family. But his voice was that of a stranger.
“Ernst.” Millie’s voice was sharp. “Gabriel’s home, that’s what matters.”
I’ve got to get to Shay. “I’m sorry,” Gabriel said out loud. “It’s been a difficult time. I . . . did what I thought I had to.” Was that what Ernst wanted to hear? Gabriel would say anything he had to if it would help him get to Shay.
Ernst ran a hand through his silvery hair—he was the only one of them old enough to have gone gray before he gave up the sun. “I ought to be the one apologizing. You’ve been through an ordeal,” he said. “It’s simply that you startled me with the human, my son. The vehicle isn’t a problem.”
“Gabriel!” Tamara pushed through the front doors of the research center and stopped, gazing at Gabriel suspiciously. “I could smell you even from the caves.”
“Sister,” Gabriel murmured, forcing a smile. “How are the bats?”
“Surviving. The white nose syndrome appeared in one colony since you left,” she told him. “Where were you? What happened?”
“There will be time for explaining later,” Ernst cut in. “Tamara, take this SUV to the cliff and drive it off. It can’t be found.”
Her eyes flicked over to the Escalade. “I won’t have time to dump it and get back before dawn.”
“You’ll have to take to the caves,” Ernst told her. “Find one of the entrances back by the cliffs and hide there for the death sleep. We cannot risk someone tracking a stolen car here while we’re all vulnerable.”
“Of course.” Tamara went straight to the SUV and backed out of the tiny parking lot—there weren’t many visitors to the remote research center, so they didn’t need more than a few spaces. Gabriel felt a stab of worry as she drove off. He’d never felt close to Tamara—she’d joined their family as a vampire, rather than being raised with them from childhood the way Millie had, and Richard and Luis. It didn’t seem fair to ask Tamara to take a risk to cover for him, but Gabriel couldn’t offer to do it instead. I’ve got to get to Shay.
“Come.” Millie took his arm and gently steered him toward the building. “Ernst, come.”
She led the way inside, through the seldom-used lobby, Gabriel beside her and Ernst behind them. Gabriel’s gaze went straight to the stairwell door. His brothers had taken Shay through there and downstairs, to lock her up at Ernst’s command. He could smell her panic.
I promised her she’d be safe here, he thought, his stomach twisting with worry. He wanted to shove through that door and run down to Shay, to let her out, to get her away from his family. How could he have been so wrong about them? Didn’t matter. He’d find a way to make them understand that this was the place Shay belonged. They were shocked, frightened, the way they were of all humans. They needed time. Gabriel had needed time too. At first he’d only been able to see Shay as a human like all other humans, like the humans who had slaughtered almost his entire family so long ago.
Gabriel forced his eyes away from the stairwell and followed Millie around the reception counter. She led the way past a small conference room and a bathroom. When they reached the thick steel door at the end of the hall, she punched in the code that unlocked it, and she, Ernst, and Gabriel headed down the windowless corridor that led to the lodge where the family lived. The labs and reception area were in the main building, on the outside of the mountain. The lodge where their true lives were lived—the common room and sleeping quarters—was behind it, in a structure carved out of the rock, as if it were a part of the Tennessee mountain itself. There was no possibility of sunlight leaking inside.
Only when they reached the common room in the lodge did Millie stop and turn to Gabriel. “Sit down,” she said. “You must be exhausted.”
“Yes.” He sank onto the leather couch, so familiar. When he’d been chained to an exam table in the office of Dr. Martin Kuffner—Shay’s stepfather—he had pictured this room a thousand times, trying to remind himself of home. He’d imagined every detail again and again to escape from his prison, at least in his mind. The plasma TV, the racks of DVDs and CDs, the pool table, and the foosball table—Richard, strangely, loved foosball, even though he was so serious most of the time. He’d tried to re-create Tamara’s huge abstract paintings in detail and to remember every title in Millie’s collection of travel guides crammed on the bookshelves. She read and reread them as if they were novels.
He’d wanted to bring Shay here and give her the comfort he always found in this room.
But it offered no comfort now. I’ve got to get to Shay.
“Tell me,” Ernst said, sitting next to him. “What happened to you?”
“It was my own fault,” Gabriel said. “I went online, to one of those vampire sites.”
Millie snorted. “Wannabe vampire sites.”
“Usually, that’s all it is,” Gabriel agreed. “But this was different. Well, this one message, anyway. It was about Sam.”
Millie sucked in a sharp breath, pain and guilt clouding her green eyes. But Ernst didn’t react at all.
“This person was looking for Sam. Knew his name and his description. All kinds of details about him. I e-mailed back and forth for three hours, trying to figure it out. I thought it must be some kind of hoax.”
“By who? Nobody knows about Sam but us,” Millie whispered.
“The human woman,” Ernst said coldly. “The one he betrayed us for.”
“Yes.” Cold fear seeped into Gabriel’s belly. They were getting too close to Shay’s mother, and he had promised Shay that he wouldn’t let them hurt her mother. Shay had trusted him, but all his promises seemed empty right now. “The woman had known the details.” He wouldn’t say her name. He wouldn’t tell Ernst anything about Emma McGuire. He’d find a way around that truth.
“We should have taken care of this years ago.” Ernst shook his head. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I don’t know.” He didn’t know. Usually, he told Ernst everything, but when he’d seen Sam’s name in print, read descriptions of Sam’s wiry dark hair, his olive skin, his donkeylike laugh . . . it had felt private. Like getting a glimpse of his friend—his brother—again. And he missed Sam. It was a constant ache in his soul. Ernst wouldn’t have understood that.
“What happened then?” Ernst went on, all business. “You didn’t tell this woman anything about us, did you?”
“Of course not,” Gabriel said. “It wasn’t the woman, anyway. It was a man, a doctor. They were married, but . . . something happened to her. I’m not sure.”
Can he tell I’m lying? Gabriel wondered. It wasn’t possible to lie to his family, not when things were normal. Not when their communion was in place. Family members felt one another’s emotions like their own. But his own communion with his family had been severed when he was captured by Shay’s mother and stepfather.
Ernst was frowning, as if he didn’t quite buy the story. Gabriel rushed on before his father could think through it any further.
“Dr. Martin Kuffner, he’s the one who took me. He’s famous. He studies leukemia, or he did. Then he met Shay.” Gabriel’s voice wavered when he said her name, he couldn’t help it. Shay, who he’d held in his arms only yesterday. Shay, who had changed every opinion he held about humans. Shay, who he loved.
“The girl?” Millie asked.
Ernst made a sound in his throat. Disgust. Revulsion.
“Yes. She was sick and no one knew why. Martin married her mother, and he began researching a cure for her blood disease, but of course it wasn’t really a disease. She’s Sam’s daughter. She’s half vampire, half human. It made her weak. Actually, it almost killed her.”
“It should have died at birth,” Ernst spat. “If I’d had any idea that thing could live, I would’ve hunted down the woman myself.”
“Modern medicine,” Gabriel replied. It was what Sam had said to him, back when he first found out about Emma’s pregnancy. Modern medicine would keep the baby from dying the way half bloods always died. And it had—it had kept her alive, but always on the brink of death. “Anyway, Martin knew the truth about Shay’s father.”
“Because the woman couldn’t keep her mouth shut,” Ernst said. “No surprise there.”
“She only told him—a doctor she thought could save her daughter. She never even told Shay,” Gabriel protested. “The mother was gone by the time I met Shay, and Shay still didn’t know who her dad was. Think about it. This girl just found out what she truly is a few days ago. She needs a place . . .”
Ernst’s expression had clouded over, and Millie’s eyebrows drew together in confusion. Gabriel let his words trail off. He shouldn’t be defending Shay. They weren’t ready to hear it yet. He couldn’t let them see how attached he was to her, not any more than he already had. He had to stay calm, act rational . . . and keep them from suspecting that he planned to rescue her if he couldn’t find a way to convince them to let her stay.
I’ve got to get to Shay. He planned to take her out of here if his family wouldn’t accept her. He was willing to leave his home, to anger and betray his father. Just like Sam had done when he’d fallen in love with a human. The realization stunned Gabriel. The thought made him sick. But if that’s what it took to keep Shay safe, that’s what he would do.
“This Martin, he’s a monster,” Gabriel went on, the words coming quickly. That part was true, and it was easy to let his fury and hatred show. “He’s almost pathologically ambitious. He never cared about Shay’s sick blood, he only wanted to find out what characteristics were vampiric, so he could use them in his science. Create medicines with the blood, isolate what makes us strong, what makes us immortal. It’s the fountain of youth, and he wanted to discover it.”
Ernst leaned forward, his long fingers steepled in front of him as he listened. “I shouldn’t be surprised,” he said. “They know everything about blood now, about DNA, about life itself. I should have seen this threat coming.”
“It’s very recent science,” Millie pointed out. “Barely the blink of an eye to you. You spent centuries in a world where people believed in dragons and demons.”
“All the more reason to keep them from believing in vampires,” Ernst shot back. “I shouldn’t have let Sam’s woman live.”
“It’s Martin you have to worry about,” Gabriel said. “He’s obsessed. When Shay’s blood proved useless, he went looking for her father.”
“And he found you online. What then?” Ernst asked.
“I agreed to a meeting. I know I shouldn’t have,” Gabriel said before the others could. “I wasn’t thinking. I wanted to find out how he could know about Sam. I didn’t think there was any danger.”
“And?” Millie asked.
“And he had hawthorn,” Gabriel said. “He injected it before I even knew he was there.” It wasn’t true, or at least not the whole truth. A human could never have snuck up on him unless he was distracted . . . and he had been, by Shay’s mother. She was talking to him, proving to him that she knew about Sam. And Martin had come from behind while he was focused on Emma.
“He knew how hawthorn would affect you?” Ernst asked.
“I guess maybe Sam had told . . . the woman,” Gabriel admitted. “Maybe he didn’t really believe it, who knows? None of us had ever actually experienced hawthorn before. I always thought the danger was a myth myself.”
“It didn’t kill you,” Millie said.
“It paralyzed me. I could see everything, hear everything . . . but I couldn’t move.” Gabriel wrapped his arms around himself, a feeling of nausea overtaking him at the memory. “It didn’t dull my senses at all, or my thoughts. I was entirely awake, in the prison of my own body. I had to watch while they dragged me into a van, while they chained me to a lab table. I was a rat to be experimented on. I had to listen to Martin describing his plans for glory while he drained my blood day after day, and I couldn’t so much as spit at him.”
“The hawthorn must have severed our communion,” Ernst said. “If I’d felt you in such distress, I could have followed your emotions to you. I would have rescued you.”
“The link was cut immediately,” Gabriel agreed. “As soon as the paralysis set in, I reached for the comfort of my family. But you were gone, all of you.” It had been the worst part, in fact. Since the day he gave up the sun, centuries ago, Gabriel had been able to feel his family’s emotions, to know where they were and that they were with him. The communion was a gift that the blood ritual gave to them . . . and that the hawthorn had taken away.
“Gabriel, you were gone for almost a month,” Millie said. “Were you—How long did the paralysis from the hawthorn last?”
“I’m not sure. I tried to count the death sleeps, but at the beginning I was panicked and then I was weak from hunger. I think it was only a matter of days. But he had me chained fast, and he took huge amounts of blood. Even after the paralysis wore off, I couldn’t escape. And I couldn’t feel any of you.”
“Do you think the communion will ever come back?” Millie asked, turning her eyes to Ernst. He was the oldest of them and the one who’d raised almost all of them. Any question a family member had always went to Ernst.
“No,” he said.
It felt like a slap. Even though his family was holding Shay now, Gabriel missed the connection to them. Its absence was a nagging pain.
“But we can restore it,” Ernst added quickly. “Once broken, it won’t come back on its own. We’ll do a blood ritual, like we did when Tamara joined the family.”
Gabriel nodded. Tamara had been a vampire already when Richard brought her to them. He loved her, so they all agreed she would join them. And Ernst had devised a ritual to let Tamara join their communion. That’s how easy it is when you fall in love with another vampire, Gabriel thought. If only Sam’s love for Emma had been so simple. Or mine for Shay.
“I’ll gather the others.” Millie stood up.
“Not now,” Ernst told her. “Gabriel, you said this Martin would come for the girl. Why?”
“She’s his test subject,” Gabriel replied. Shay was also his stepdaughter, but he knew Martin didn’t care about that. The way Martin had backhanded her across the face when she’d tried to keep him away from Gabriel had proved it. “He’d been giving her transfusions of my blood, and it made her stronger. He thought it was a breakthrough.”
“That’s why he drained your blood? But she isn’t a full human. He had no real breakthrough,” Ernst said.
“He was trying to figure out how the two could work together, vampire and human,” Gabriel replied. “He told me that even for long life, no one would buy a drug that made them need to drink blood. No one would want to actually become a vampire. People would only want the strength and longevity, not the ‘undesirable’ aspects.”
“He talked to you?” Millie wrinkled her nose.
“More like talked at me. He was thrilled with his own brilliance, he couldn’t keep it to himself,” Gabriel said. “I never said a single word back.”
“That thing is in the supply room,” Richard announced, coming into the common room with Luis on his heels. “The door’s locked and we bound its hands.”
“She’s not a thing,” Gabriel protested before he could stop himself.
They all looked at him, and he felt a rush of fear. He had to act reasonably if he wanted them to trust him. He had to pretend he wasn’t horrified by everything his brother had just said. Shay, with her hands bound?
As if you didn’t tie her hands yourself, a voice inside his head whispered. He’d kept Shay prisoner and bound her during the day while he fell into the death sleep. He’d treated her like a thing too. How could he blame his family for doing the same?
“What are we supposed to do with her?” Luis asked. “It’s dangerous just to have a human here.”
“She’s here as bait,” Ernst said. “Gabriel planned to use her as a lure for the people who took him. Dr. Martin Kuffner. And that human woman Sam left us for. They’ll come for her, and then we’ll kill them all.”
“I told you Shay’s mother wasn’t involved,” Gabriel protested.
“You told us more than one person abducted you,” Ernst countered. “You said they put you in a van, they chained you to a table. Maybe the woman didn’t interact with you, but she was there, my son.”
Gabriel’s mind was spinning. I’ve got to get to Shay. He had tried to keep her mother out of it, but had he slipped up? He was still so enraged every time he thought about Martin and those weeks held captive in his office that it was hard to think straight. And his own feelings for Shay were overwhelming—the gratitude for saving his life, the love, and now the fear. Was she all right?
“. . . too risky drawing them here,” Richard was saying. “Gabriel knows where Martin lives. We should go and kill him there instead.”
“He’s right. What if they bring other humans with them?” Millie asked.
“No. I’m not going back there,” Gabriel snapped. “Don’t you think Martin would expect that?” Besides, Shay’s mother lived at Martin’s house. He wasn’t going to let his family attack her.
“We’re safer here anyway,” Ernst said. “We don’t want to give Martin the advantage of fighting on his home turf.”
“He doesn’t want publicity. He wants to study vampires, and he wants a monopoly on it,” Gabriel said. “He won’t bring anyone else—he doesn’t want anyone else to know.”
“Well, how long is it going to take?” Luis asked. “We don’t have any human food for the girl.”
Ernst waved his hand dismissively. “There’s no need to feed her.”
Millie made a small sound of protest, but she didn’t contradict him. Gabriel swallowed down his anger and tried to make his voice sound reasonable. “You want to starve her and keep her tied up? You’re treating her as badly as Martin treated me.”
“That seems only fair,” Ernst said.
“She needs blood at least,” Gabriel insisted. “She’s sick, like I told you. She can’t live without vampire blood.”
“There’s no sickness, there is only abomination,” Ernst spat. “We’re not going to waste our blood on that creature. We only need her alive long enough to be bait for the trap.”
© 2011 Laura J. Burns
- Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers |
- 272 pages |
- ISBN 9781442408180 |
- September 2011 |
- Grades 9 and up