I watched from the trees at the edge of the Texas graveyard, too cowardly to face the people who grieved for the woman I'd murdered. They thought she'd been killed in a car accident. They thought her life had been cut short by the whim of fate. They were wrong.
But I didn't plan on telling them anything different. They didn't really know her, didn't really know what she'd become. Let them keep their illusions.
I shivered as a soft breeze with a hint of chill ruffled my hair. Someone sobbed, and it seemed totally weird that the night should feel so serene, the San Antonio cemetery still so lush and green even in November, when the people around the grave were so sad and depressed.
Once darkness fell, the mourners finally left. Still, I hesitated in the shadow of the trees, rooted in place. It's not like Detective Dan Sullivan and I had a solid romance thing going on, but we had been more than friends and vampire-hunting partners. Now he was giving me the cold shoulder ... just because I'd separated his girlfriend's head from her body?
His ex-girlfriend, I reminded myself. She and Dan had broken up even before she started dining on people. And he'd said I was right to decapitate her in order to rescue the rest of us, including my step-dad and baby sister. But still.
With just Fang and me in the cemetery, everything felt ... more normal. We were used to working outside the rules of society. Of being alone, and at ease, in the darkness.
Fang--part hellhound, part scruffy terrier, and all snark--nudged me with his nose. Val Shapiro, heap big vampire slayer, afraid of a dead body? he mocked. C'mon, do what ya have to, so we can get out of here.
Did I mention the hellhound part allowed him to read my thoughts and speak in my mind? I was okay with the snarky comments most of the time, but sometimes, it was annoying. Like now.
I nudged him back, but refused to rise to his bait. I hadn't hesitated because I was afraid. I hesitated because I wasn't sure why I was here. What could I possibly accomplish?
Sighing and hoping to get a clue, I walked over to her grave. As I approached, the cloying fragrance of the lilies overpowered the scent of freshly turned soil and choked the air out of my lungs. "Lily Ann Armstrong," one trailing floral ribbon read. "Beloved daughter."
I felt like gagging. Partially because of the nauseating flowers, but mostly because of the sentiment. Beloved daughter? Depraved fiend was more like it. Or evil bloodsucker.
Yet someone had loved her, had mourned her passing. But why was I here? Was I here to acknowledge the fact of her existence, to admit that I'd lopped her head off with one stroke of my blade?
Tell me, what could you say to the grave of a woman you'd decapitated? Hey, sorry I murdered you, but you deserved it?
Fang snorted. That wasn't murder. You can't kill the undead--you just complete the process.
He had a point. They thought Lily had died a few days ago at the age of twenty-five, but in reality, she'd died months before, when she'd made the decision to become a vampire. I hadn't killed Lily--she'd done that to herself, done the unthinkable to stay forever young, forever powerful, forever evil. Yes, she'd deserved it, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. After all, her hunger for power had put all of San Antonio in jeopardy, cost many lives, and almost cost me my family.
So why had I come? I'd never visited the graves of my other vampire kills. Why was this one different? Because my partner, Dan Sullivan, had once cared for her?
I didn't even know how I felt. Happy she was gone, sorry I hadn't caught her sooner ... what?
Fang leaned against me, compassion in his big brown eyes. It's okay to grieve. But are you grieving for her ... or yourself?
Good question. Because of Lily, I'd come into my power and unleashed Lola--the succubus lust demon inside me. I still felt mildly connected to the men I'd enthralled three nights ago, still fizzing with the energy I'd absorbed from them. The past three days, I'd felt more vibrantly alive than in my entire eighteen years of existence.
It was exhilarating ... yet scary, too. I'd fought against letting my demon free my whole life, but because of Lily, I'd been forced to let the succubus loose to save the people I loved. Thanks to Lily, I now knew what I'd been fighting against, knew how tempting ultimate power was, how powerful it made me. It made me understand her in a way I hadn't before. She'd felt this seductive power, too, and had given in.
But I never wanted to be like her, never wanted to give in to the demon inside me. It meant a lifetime of battle between the two sides of my nature, but I was determined to come out on top.
So, yes, I grieved. For both of us.
That's okay, Fang said, rubbing up against my leg. It makes you human.
Whoa. For some reason, that really got me, and I felt a huge wave of relief wash through my body. Yes, I was human. Only one-eighth of me was demon. Not enough to make me a monster, no matter how my mother looked at me.
"Thanks," I said simply.
Fang grinned. No problem. Now, can we go kill another one?
I laughed, just as he'd intended. It was what the Special Crimes Unit hired us to do, what I was good at, my reason for existence. "Sure, let's--"
I broke off as Fang stared beyond me, wagging his tail. I turned around and smiled at the man who approached. Even in the dark I could sense his good looks. With dark wavy hair that curled around his ears, full lips, and a dancer's body, Micah Blackburn was the type of guy that girls drooled over. Everyone but me, that was. My succubus demon cancelled out his incubus, and he was the only guy I could be physically close to without having to worry about Lola getting all touchy-feely. He was kinda like the older brother I never had. We were probably related somewhere along the line, so I considered him my cousin.
Too bad I didn't look like him, though. He was a total hottie while I was ... so not. Blah brown hair, blah brown eyes, average height. Ordinary--that's me. On the outside, anyway. Inside, I was totally extraordinary. If I could figure out how to swap the inside for the outside, I'd do it in a nanosecond.
Micah smiled. "I thought you might be here."
"Why?" I hadn't known I was coming myself.
"Lieutenant Ramirez mentioned the funeral. I figured you'd feel the need for closure."
Closure. Muscles I hadn't realized were tense relaxed as I realized Micah had nailed it. I'd come for closure. And now, with the finality of her burial, I had it. I could let go of it all. "Yeah, I guess. Why did you track me down? Why didn't you just call?"
"Oh, I forgot. I turned the phone off so it wouldn't ring in the middle of the funeral. "I pulled it out and checked it. Sure enough--two calls from Micah, none from Dan or Lt. Ramirez. Damn.
"What's the matter?" Micah asked.
I shrugged and plopped down on the grass and sat there cross-legged, staring at the ground to avoid his knowing eyes.
Micah joined me, sinking down and looking all loose-limbed and graceful. Wistfully, I wished that was one of the traits of being our kind of demon. But no, it was just Micah.
"Want to talk about it?" he asked.
"Not really." But I knew he'd bug me until I spilled my guts. As the leader of San Antonio's Demon Underground, Micah had an over-developed sense of responsibility for anyone in his organization. And that included me ... and Fang.
Fang snuggled against me. Yep. Might as well spill it now and get it over with. If you don't, I will.
The hellhound could read the mind of anyone who was part-demon or part-vampire, and project his thoughts into theirs if he chose. Usually, I was the only one he chose to share with. Lucky me.
Hey, Fang protested, Do you know what it's like reading the mind of most vampires and demons? Like wading in a cesspool. No thanks.
Gee, I guess I should be flattered.
Micah stared into my face. "Val?"
I sighed. "It's nothing."
It's something, Fang corrected, making it clear he was communicating to both of us. Tell him.
"Okay, okay. Ramirez told me to take a few days off after I ... stopped ... Lily."
"Because you killed Dan's former fiancée?"
"No, because I let Lola fully free for the first time."
Micah nodded. "Oh, of course."
"Yeah. He wasn't sure I could handle it." Heck, I wasn't sure I could handle it. And though Lola had been fully satisfied for the first time in my life, it didn't mean she was content to lie back and bask in the feeling. Far from it. Instead, she seemed to want more and more all the time. "You were right," I admitted. "I should have been feeding her a little bit of lust all along. It would've been a lot easier to handle now." For years, I hadn't let her feed at all. I'd starved her, then suddenly let her gorge to her heart's content. In hindsight, neither was a good decision.
Micah shook his head, looking exasperated. "I told you before, there is no Lola, no separate demon inside you. It's part of you."
"I know, I know. It's just easier to think of my demon nature as a separate person inside me." Someone to blame my urges on, someone else to take the fall for the lust I had a problem controlling. Too weird that I had men lusting after me all the time and I was still a virgin. "Leave me some illusions, will ya?"
"All right, but tell me what's wrong."
"No biggie. I got bored, tired of having nothing to do." When Micah continued waiting patiently, I admitted softly, "Okay, I've been waiting for Dan to call, just to reassure me he hasn't had second thoughts about me. That he doesn't think I'm a monster, and he doesn't blame me for enthralling him and everyone else." And to check out that spark, that closeness we'd felt immediately afterward. "He hasn't called."
Yeah, Fang said. All she does is mope.
"Do not." I paced a lot, too.
So, I'd gotten on my Valkyrie motorcycle, plopped Fang in his seat on the back and driven off to blow the cobwebs out of my brain. Somehow, I'd ended up here, at the gravesite of the woman who still complicated my life even in her death.
Micah gave me a one-armed hug. "I thought Dan was fine with ... Lola."
I leaned into the hug, and slipped my arms around his waist., laying my head on his shoulder, feeling warmth suffuse me at the rare contact with a person of the male persuasion. "I thought so, too. But maybe it was just a side-effect of the spell Lola cast over him."
"Maybe," Micah murmured. "But don't worry, he'll come around."
I wasn't so sure, but a demon girl could hope ... "Thanks, I--"
Fang suddenly spun around, his eyes flashing purple. Vampires, he snarled, and leapt toward the three onrushing forms.
Lola surged to the fore. I scrambled to my feet and whipped out one of the stakes I kept tucked in my jeans' back waistband. As the first vamp jumped at me, his hands outstretched and fangs gleaming, I stabbed him right in the heart. He dropped like a rock.
Fang had the female vamp engaged so I turned to check on Micah. He wasn't doing so well. He'd never made it off the ground and was pinned by a vamp who was sinking fangs into his neck. Terrified, I grabbed another stake. "Go fang yourself, buster." I plunged the stake into the fangbanger's back as hard as I could.
It was enough to pierce his heart and he dropped on top of Micah.
A little help here, Fang yelled.
He'd harried the female vamp and kept her occupied, but though he was part hellhound, she still outweighed him six to one. As she lifted her foot to kick him, I tackled her and punched her in the face as hard as I could. Her neck snapped back and she hit the ground. She looked surprised.
It felt good, so I dropped down on top of her, straddled her waist and hit her again. And again and again.
Enough, Fang yelled in my mind. You whupped her good. Stop already.
His sarcasm got to me. I stopped, fist upraised, and stared down at the vamp whose face was beaten, battered, and bloody. Repulsed, I let my arm drop. Had I done that?
Fang dropped a fallen branch by my hand. Just kill her already.
Yes, that was my job--taking out the bloodsuckers who preyed on humans. Not beating the crap out of them like the monster some thought me. Before the vamp could recover, I snatched up the branch and, using both hands, stabbed it down so hard I pinned her to the ground. She stiffened, then lay still, well and truly dead.
Feel better now?
Actually, I did. "Shut up," I muttered and felt the sizzle in my blood cool a bit. Lola had gotten her jollies with one kind of lust anyway, so she was happy. Glad someone is, I thought, annoyed at myself. I got to my feet to check on Micah.
He had rolled the vamp off of him and was sitting up, wide-eyed, holding a hand to his neck.
"You okay?" I asked.
Micah nodded. "Yes, thanks to the two of you." He removed his hand from his neck. The bite mark was very shallow, so the vamp hadn't gotten started, thank goodness. I wondered idly why they were here, then realized they had probably come to pay their respects to Lily, former leader of San Antonio's bad-ass vamps. San Antonio, land of the Alamo, cowboys, barbecue, and the undead. Well, they could pay their respects in person now--in hell.
Speaking of which ... I pulled a GPS locator out of my pocket and activated it so one of the city's secret Special Crimes Unit pick-up units would come to dispose of the dead vamps. After I'd done my duty, I studied Micah more closely. Though it was rather dark, my enhanced senses allowed me to see him clearly. He looked really shocked.
"Never fought a vamp before?" I guessed.
He glanced up at me. "No. They're so much faster and stronger, I try to avoid it."
I glanced down at the dead undead who'd almost fanged Micah and was surprised to see how slight he was. Micah must outweigh the vamp by a good thirty pounds. Why hadn't he been able to fight the bloodsucker off?
As I helped Micah to his feet, he added, "I don't know how you do it--you're as good as they are. Rick must have been one great trainer. You're not even breathing hard."
True, my stepfather had been an excellent martial arts trainer, but speed and strength came naturally to me. There'd been no need to teach me that. "You mean, you're not as good as they are?"
He laughed without mirth. "Of course not. I'm only one-eighth incubus, like you. The only thing I could do is enthrall them ... and only if they're female." He glanced at me curiously. "Why didn't you do that to the two males?"
Because I'd tried my whole life to avoid using my succubus powers to control men. I'd grown up with a mother who never forgave my part-demon father for enthralling her. "I didn't think about it, I just reacted." But ... why hadn't Micah been able to fight off a baby vamp?
Fang frowned up at me. Good question.
My expression must have looked as odd as I felt, because Micah asked, "What is it? What's wrong?"
"Don't you ... have super strength, reflexes, senses, and healing ability?"
He paused in brushing off his pants, looking surprised. "No. Do you?"
"Yeah, I thought you knew that. You mean that's not part of being a lust demon?"
"Not so far as I know."
Fang stared at me. Holy crap, Batman. What does that mean?
"I have no idea." My mind raced as I struggled to understand what Micah had revealed. Why was I so much stronger and faster than him?
"It's possible..." Micah hesitated.
"What? Tell me."
He looked apologetic. "I personally don't know of any, but it's possible that you are descended from more than one type of demon."
"What?" Stunned, I asked, "What other kind of demon?"
"I have no idea. We lost a lot of knowledge when we lost the Encyclopedia Magicka."
It's not lost, Fang said. Val has it.
It was Micah's turn to say, "What?"
"I have it," I confirmed. "I didn't know anyone was looking for it."
"All three books?"
I nodded. "My father gave them to me for my fifth birthday." Right before he killed himself in despair over being a demon, I didn't say out loud..
Micah goggled at me. "So that's where they went. We've been looking for those books for years, struggling in the dark, trying to find clues to our demon nature whenever we could. And you've had them all along?"
He looked indignant, but I held up my hands in surrender. "Hey, I didn't know he stole them. You can have them back, no problem." It was the least I could do after Micah had made me feel so welcome. Besides, they really belonged to him, since my father had probably stolen them from Micah's father.
He relaxed and ran a hand over his face. "I'm sorry, but you have no idea how much having those books would have helped us over the past thirteen years. It's the only known copy of the encyclopedia in existence."
Fang rolled his eyes. Ever hear of a scanner? Or a copy machine?
Micah grinned ruefully. "Good point. But my father probably didn't want to make it too easy for others to steal--the information can be dangerous in the wrong hands."
"Dangerous how? You mean because it reveals our weaknesses?"
"Yes, but that's just the first volume. The other two..." He gave me a quizzical look. "Did you read the other two?"
"No--I didn't read much at all." I shrugged. "I figured they were just more books on magick, maybe a little more accurate than most." After all, I'd been around lots of them at Mom and Rick's New Age bookstore. And I wasn't much of a reader--action was more my thing.
"And you didn't feel any ... pull from the books?"
"No. Should I?"
"I guess not. My father didn't explain that real well, but I definitely got the impression there was something dangerous about possessing volumes two and three. They're about the old magicks, ones no one uses anymore. I'll be glad to get them back, so I can keep them safe."
"I'll bring them over to you right away, I promise."
It dawned on me we were chatting there in the dark, in a cemetery, with Lily buried nearby in two pieces--her head and the rest of her--and the gape-eyed corpses of three vamps sprawled around us. I shrugged. No biggie. All in a day's work.
"I appreciate it." Micah snapped his fingers. "That reminds me. The reason I've been trying to find you is because I want to make sure you come to the social. You can bring the books to me then."
I grimaced. "I'm not feeling very social right now." And I didn't know many people in the Demon Underground.
"You should come. Eat, drink, get to know other part-demons like yourself."
"Why don't you guys just start a chat room? Or friend each other on Facebook?"
It's okay, Fang assured me. I've been and it's fun. You can be yourself with no blood, mayhem, or vampires beaten to a bloody pulp.
I glared at him, but he ignored me.
Micah added, "Oh, and the New Blood Movement wants to discuss something with us, too, so some of them are coming as well."
I grimaced. I hadn't seen Alejandro or his vampire followers since I'd lopped Lily's head off and stained his pristine rug. He'd said he was cool with that, but...
Oh, well, might as well get it over with. "Uh, okay. When is it again?"
He checked his watch. "In about an hour, at the club. I've closed it to the public tonight."
"Okay, I'll come and bring the books. Maybe you can help me look through them to find out why I have these abilities and you don't."
Micah shook my hand. "It's a deal."
The SCU pick-up unit, disguised as an ambulance, drove up then. Micah left, and I helped the staff load the undead remains. Then I headed home to the townhouse I shared with Dan's sister, wondering what freaky thing would happen next. It had been a hell of a week, and the revelation that I might have two demons inside me made me tired and confused.
Fang nudged me. Don't worry about it, Kiddo. You're still Val.
Yes, but until an hour ago, I'd thought I knew myself pretty well. Now I had no idea who ... or what ... or how many of me ... I really was.