I woke up strapped to a table in a different room. Halogen lights dotted the ceiling with sunlike brightness, and I was so tightly restrained that my movements were limited to wiggling my toes, but to my relief, the horrific pain was gone.
“Ah, you’re awake,” a pleasant voice stated. “No doubt feeling better, too. We pulled the silver out of you by dissolving it with nitric acid, then flushing it out. It’s the only sure method when it penetrates that deeply.”
I tried to crane my head, but it was strapped down tight, too. Then I reached out with my mind. Most thoughts came through with the randomness of listening to the radio while scrolling through channels, but one person’s rang out clearly, and she was in this room.
Then a forty-something woman appeared in my limited line of sight, all but a few wisps of her ash blonde hair concealed by a medical cap. Her features were schooled into a polite mask, and her pale green gaze held the clinical detachment physicians everywhere had perfected.
Don’t bother trying mind control, she thought at me. I’m inoculated.
I tried it anyway. What did I have to lose? “Release me,” I said, putting all of my lagging power into my voice and gaze.
She didn’t even blink. “You only learn the hard way, don’t you?” she said out loud.
“Always,” I replied tightly. “Where’s my husband?”
A diffident shrug that landed her right after Madigan on my hit list. “The dead vampire? In the freezer.” With the rest of them, her thoughts finished.
I closed my eyes, a wave of grief crushing me beneath its weight. When I opened them, the female doctor had disappeared. I tested my restraints by applying pressure one limb at a time. Nothing. Then I tried heaving against them with everything I had, all at once.
Not even a budge. Madigan had spared no expense setting up a vampire-proof examination table.
“Now that you’ve gotten that out of your system,” the doctor’s voice said dryly, “how about some food?”
She returned to my line of sight, dangling a plasma bag with a long tube above me. I gave her fingers a brief, calculated look. Too far away to bite off. Clearly, I wasn’t her first captive.
Since I felt weaker than a baby vampire at sunrise, I caught the end of the tube between my lips and took a long sip. Then I grimaced.
“Wrong brand,” I said, spitting the tube out.
For the first time, the blonde showed a flicker of genuine emotion. Surprise. “You were drained almost dry to extract the silver in you. How can you refuse to eat based on mere blood type preference?”
She was right; I was so hungry that I ached, but for me, this wasn’t food.
“It’s not the type, it’s the source. I don’t drink human blood.”
Her forehead creased, deepening the fine lines already visible. “But you’re a vampire.”
“I’ll just call you Dr. Obvious,” I muttered.
At that, her expression cleared back into its serene clinical mask. “You’re not my first problem child. If you refuse the blood orally, it will be injected into you. Director Madigan has ordered extensive lab work once you’re rehydrated.”
I bet he had. “I’m sure Madigan told you I was a special case, but he doesn’t know as much as he thinks. Like the fact that I drink vampire blood, not human.”
I’d cracked that icily pleasant exterior again. Her eyes widened, and she parted her lips as though she were about to argue. Then she pursed them closed, nodding.
“I’ll inform the director. If he approves it, we’ll have some vampire blood brought to you.”
“Bagged like that won’t work,” I said, thinking fast. “It has to be straight from the vein of a vampire in my undead family tree, or I’ll starve, and Madigan won’t get his precious samples. Luckily for him, he has two vampires that my husband sired right here.”
I didn’t know when Denise would make her move, but if Tate or Juan were out of their cells when she did, so much the better. Now, to hope that Madigan believed my unusual diet requirements.
Dr. Obvious stared at me long enough to make the average person either squirm or blurt out a confession. I did neither. The worst thing in my life had already happened, so aside from grief and murderous rage, the rest of me was numb.
“I’ll let you know what the director says,” she finally replied. Then she disappeared from sight.
I closed my eyes against the glare of the overhead lights. I had nothing to do but wait, but soon, I’d be able to kill.
And once I was done with that, I’d be able to die.
About an hour later, several people came into the room, from the noise and sudden spate of thoughts. Again I tried to crane my neck and only succeeded in cutting the metal strap into my head deeply enough to draw blood. I didn’t have long to wait to find out who my visitors were, though. Two voices cut through the other sounds, both familiar, but only one welcome.
An anguished gasp from Tate, following by Madigan’s “If this is a trick, you’ll regret it, Crawfield.”
“For the last time, it’s Russell,” I ground out.
Madigan made sure to lean over me so I could see every nuance of his smug expression before he spoke.
“Not anymore, but that’s your fault. You swore on Bones’s life that you’d come alone, and you didn’t.”
I’d heard the saying “to see red” pertaining to a sudden surge of rage, but had never experienced it before. Now I did, because it took several seconds before I looked at Madigan and saw anything except a vision of him covered in blood and dying in extreme pain. Then that faded, and I drew in a deep breath to calm myself, blowing it out slowly.
You’ll get free, and you’ll kill him, I swore. Until then, it would only help if Madigan felt smugly superior. Then he’d be more likely to make a mistake.
“Am I getting fed, or are you fine with not discovering all the new treasures in my blood?” I asked in an even tone.
Madigan moved back, snapping, “Put his wrist against her mouth,” to whichever guards had Tate.
“Can’t I get tilted upright first? Come on, I know you sprang for that feature with this extra fancy exam table.”
A self-satisfied grunt. “Certainly. No need for me to be a sore winner.”
The table I was strapped to slowly shifted into an upright position, giving me my first full view of the room. I glanced around, noting the location of the doors (two), number of guards (six), and weapons they carried (fully automatic M-4 carbines in their hands, backup semi-automatic pistols in their belts), all in less time than it took the average person to blink. Then my gaze settled on Tate.
He had the same neck-shoulder-arms manacles Madigan had restrained me with last night, with an additional set around his ankles that limited his pace to mere inches at a time. They probably had the liquid silver needles in them, too, which I had to admit, was a damn fine deterrent. Not only did it burn like having flamethrowers go off inside your body, it was one of the only things aside from death that could incapacitate a vampire. But the most upsetting thing about Tate was his gaze. If I hadn’t already resolved to free him and the others no matter what, seeing the tormented look there would have swayed me.
“Hey,” I said softly.
His mouth was set in a hard, straight line, but those dark blue eyes began to fill with colored tears.
“Oh, Cat, I’d rather never see you again than to see you here.”
I forced a smile because I couldn’t start to cry, too. Then I’d lose the spiderweb-thin control I had on my grief.
“I’m sure it’s not that bad. Madigan’s probably just misunderstood.”
Tate snorted in weary derision. “You don’t know the half of what he’s done.”
“You’re supposed to be feeding, not catching up,” Madigan said curtly. “Get to it, or he leaves.”
I tilted my head as much as I could, indicating my willingness to get started. Tate’s guards pushed him, and only his undead reflexes kept him from pitching forward with those ankle restraints. Then, with a flinty expression, he turned and wagged his hands at them.
“Unless you unstrap her or I suddenly grow three feet taller, she’ll have to feed from my neck, not my wrists.”
Madigan’s smile could’ve turned water into ice. “She stays restrained and so do you, so neck it is.”
Tate leaned in and his familiar scent overcame the odor of bleach, germicide, blood, and fear that this room stank of. When his neck brushed my mouth, hunger took over; powerful, demanding, and uncaring of how grief had shattered my will to live. Of their own accord, my fangs dug into his throat, releasing that luscious crimson liquid into my mouth.
As I swallowed, Tate’s lips grazed my ear. Then he spoke so low that none of the humans should have been able to hear him.
“If you get the chance, leave. Don’t come back for us.”
I didn’t respond. For one, my mouth was full, and for another, I couldn’t risk telling him about Denise. His neck restraint might have a microphone in addition to its other gadgets.
Then he whispered something else that made my throat close off despite the conscienceless demand of my hunger.
“Is Bones really dead?”
I couldn’t speak now because if I did, it would come out in a wail of anguish. Instead, I nodded and forced myself to swallow. His blood felt like it was choking me the whole way down.
Tate’s sigh seemed to come from deep inside him. “I’m so sorry.”
I still didn’t respond. I couldn’t swallow anymore, either, and the few mouthfuls I’d consumed felt like they would come back up. Then, as if Bones’s spirit were whispering from beyond, I could almost hear him speak, and he sounded annoyed.
You want to kill the bastards, Kitten? You’ll need your strength, so quit whining and drink.
He was right. He’d almost always been right, and I’d so rarely listened. I would now, though. Mustering my resolve, I bit into Tate’s neck again, but I stared at Madigan as I swallowed.
You haven’t won. You just don’t know it yet.
They took Tate away after I’d drunk about a quart from him, but then brought him back after Madigan drained close to that out of me for his first rounds of tests. From Dr. Obvious’s thoughts, they were very excited over the preliminary results because my blood appeared to be compatible with ghoul DNA.
I’d wondered about that. When I was a half-breed, everyone knew I could’ve been turned into a ghoul and thus retained abilities from both species. That’s why the two races had almost gone to war because of me. Even as a full vampire, my heart still beat when I was under extreme duress, and my diet was anything but ordinary—two facts we’d kept secret so the ghoul nation would no longer consider me a cross-species threat.
If these tests were right, maybe I still was.
Speaking of war, where was Denise? It had been almost a day since she’d scurried under that doorway. She needed to hurry her furry ass up before Madigan started transmitting my blood results to other interested parties. What was she waiting for?
Another, darker thought slid into my consciousness. She might not be waiting for anything. Maybe the rat I’d seen had been just that—a rat that had huddled inside Bones’s clothes to escape a barrage of gunfire, then run the first chance it got. Not my shapeshifting best friend in disguise.
If so, I wasn’t merely on my own. I was strapped na**d to a table unable to free myself, let alone free Tate, Juan, Dave, and Cooper. Or make Madigan pay for what he’d done. Hell, I couldn’t even prevent Dr. Obvious from plunging another needle into my jugular so she could extract more blood.
“Screwed” didn’t begin to cover my situation.
Despair crept into my emotions, sinking them deeper into a pit of darkness. If only that was the worst that happened to me, but Bones was gone. Even if Denise magically appeared, and we managed to kill everyone here except for my friends, he would still be gone. Tears began to trickle from my eyes. All I had left of him was that body in the freezer and a tiny bit of his blood in me that hadn’t been drained out yet . . .
Amidst the black mire of hopelessness came a crack of light. I still had some of Bones’s blood in me, which meant I had absorbed his abilities as I did with every vampire or ghoul I drank from. Drawing from his incredible strength hadn’t been able to budge the multiple titanium straps restraining me to this table, but that wasn’t Bones’s most impressive trick. His newest one was.
I waited until Dr. Obvious finished with her latest extraction and had disappeared to the other side of the room before I started on the smallest strap. The one that restrained my head. I didn’t move a single muscle in my attempt to budge it, but instead, focused all my concentration on imagining the strap snapping open.
All right, so I didn’t get it on the first try. When had anything important been that easy? I closed my eyes and concentrated again, trying to force the strap open with the strength of my thoughts. A little more, little more, okay, one more should do it . . .
I let out a frustrated sigh. The ability had to be in me. My mind-reading skills came from Bones’s blood, though granted, Bones had mastered that fully, and he was still exploring his fledgling telekinesis. That’s why we’d assumed I hadn’t manifested it before, but it still had to be there even if it hadn’t spontaneously shown up yet—
Did the metal strap vibrate a little? I couldn’t be sure, but I told myself that yes, it did. Then I concentrated harder, willing those vibrations to increase until it snapped off.