Book Three of "Laws of the Blood"
(From Ace - October 2001)
"I'm a cop," she muttered. "Not an enfo-" Selena closed her hand on the coin. Hidden away in her tight grasp, the gold was warm and heavy and all too real. She had a moment's panic thought that maybe even a mortal's holding the coin was a blasphemy that would bring a terrible retribution. Like maybe the owl image on the coin would burn into her hand the way the Eye of Ra thing had burned into the Nazi's palm when he grabbed the amulet in the Indiana Jones movie.
Far from frightening her, this image made her laugh at the ludicrous comparison. But then there was an echo of laughter inside her head, and she felt the brush of a presence inside her mind. She pushed at it. It pushed back. She stumbled, tumbled, grabbed hold, and they fell.
Selena's eyes flew open, and-
The golden wings fluttered, the talons reached out to grasp-
If anything in the world could have made Selena scream that would have done it. Instead she dropped it as though she had been burned.
Another hand snatched it out of the air, and she found herself looking into laughing blue eyes. "It's only a trick of the firelight,"
Those eyes she knew, though he looked so much different. Darker. Younger. "The mustache is not you," she said, referring to the drooping mustache that framed his wide mouth.
"It's a fashion statement."
He wasn't wearing black, either. He was dressed in a wide-sleeved brown shirt decorated with red and yellow embroidery and baggy pants tucked into worn, flat boots. She had to admit that the mustache did go with this Eastern European outfit. He looked like an Istvan for once. And the place - she looked around. They were standing near a campfire in a forest clearing. Primitive tents and carts, dogs and people populated the shadows. The stars were infinite overhead, and close. The air was full of the scents of pine, woodsmoke and horse droppings, but oh, so clean and delicious to breath.
She looked back at Istvan, utterly relaxed and smiling, tossing the coin in the air and catching it over and over in the flickering firelight. He didn't look any less dangerous in his peasant garb. There was a long knife sheathed on the belt that cinched his narrow waist. She'd doubted he'd ever be mistaken for a nice guy, no matter where he was.
And just where--
"Ah," she said, understanding with a swift clarity that burst on her like one of those stars above going nova. "This is where you live."
"You walked inside my head," he agreed.
"You started it."
Even as she spoke, the usual urge to argue left her. Inside his head he was human still. He hadn't invited her in, but here they were. He wasn't trying to push her out or close her off, not yet. Curiosity, and a wary pleasure in being with him like this kept her from complaining that he shouldn't have come dreamwalking into her thoughts in the first place.
She concentrated on the coin as it flashed up into the air then down into his palm. "Why owls?" she asked him. "Why coins?"
"Did you know that the enforcer of Los Angeles is a dealer in rare coins?" he asked. "No. Of course you don't. Do you?"
He didn't ask how. "Been over to his website, have you?"
"Even enforcers have to make a living."
"So they do."
She drew closer to him, and to the warmth and light of the fire. "What is it you do?"
He gestured. It took in the camp and all the world that encompassed it. "I kill vampires."
"Why?" It was an odd question to ask, she supposed. And how odd to find anything odd considering the situation.
"Family business," he answered.
She could feel a change - around them, in him. He drew back, she held on fiercely, refusing to be left behind as his mind shifted, back through time, deeper into the reality of some long ago time and place. Perhaps he could have tossed her out - if there hadn't been that cord of connection between them. For a moment everything went black around her, suspending her between her life, his, and the tangible world. Fear of the dark emptiness almost drove her away. Then she realized what it was, and deliberately spread herself out into the void, and through the loneliness he wore like a cloak - no, a black leather coat, she thought with a smile.
"We're going to have to work on this fifteenth century mindset of yours Steve."
She heard him sigh. Felt him give in.
And suddenly they were seated before the fire. His arm was around her shoulders, her body relaxed against his. He held the owl coin up to the light, tilting it to left and right. The bird of prey stamped into the pure metal did seem to move on the surface of the gold. "There's no magic in it," he said.
"I see. It is a trick of the light. Where do they come from?"
"The coins? Or the vampires?"
"The coins traveled from a land far to the east, where the Silk Roads run. So did my people, I'm told. The Roma. They say the Roma fought wars against the strigoi in ancient times and followed after when the strigoi fled, but I think that's a lie. We're not a warrior people. Our blood's entwined with theirs somehow, and we're the best at killing them. That much I know is true."
Silk Roads? She vaguely remembered a travel show she'd seen on television. "The Silk Road's a trade route that crossed central Asia from China, isn't it? Vampires are from Central Asia?"
"Where they came from I don't know. I only know that they built a great city there once. The city is gone now, in ruins for hundreds of years, that much my father learned and he passed on to me before he died."
He did not sound like he regretted his father's passing. She didn't offer condolences. "What happened to the city?" She was pretty sure she knew what happened to the father.
He shrugged, and she felt the movement all through her body. "Destroyed."
"How?" She held her breath. The answer was important, she knew it. She felt his sudden reluctance. He hadn't held back yet.
He didn't this time. "There are many stories, all of them whispered, none confirmed by the oldest ones. But there's a deep fear in the old ones - about what happened in the city. It's the reason, I think, that they treat the ones they take to change so harshly. The city was not destroyed from without. That much I've learned."
And who living within would want to destroy a vampire city? It was a question she wasn't going to ask, or even think about. Even though she was in his head right now, she knew how easily he could turn the tables and strip every bit of information he wanted from her. She would put up a fight, maybe prolong the agony, but how much of a match was she for a pissed off dhamphir, really?
"What the hell is a dhamphir anyway?" she asked. She knew what her aunt had told her. She'd heard whispered rumors. Might as well ask the source. "And why are they all so freaking oblique whenever your name comes up? It's like they've got this Beetlejuice superstition going that if they say your name three times you'll appear."
"Don't you dare."
"It was only a movie."
"And I don't believe in vampires, either. Let's not push our luck." He chuckled. She said. "What are you?"
"You are too inquisitive. It will always get you into trouble."
"Or a promotion to detective lieutenant. We're talking about you right now."
"What I don't understand is why."
"You kill vampires. I nag them."
"My parents were married for ten years before the vampire took him. The strigoi was a great lady, a boyar with a castle and many soldiers to protect her. Even if she had not been a vampire, she could have had anyone she wanted brought to her bed. My father was a musician. When he played at her castle, she kept him, a new companion to do whatever she wanted with." He spoke in a bitter rush, getting it over with before she badgered him anymore, she guessed. "It's not the hunting I hate," he went on, staring grimly into the fire, his muscles tight with tension. "It's the stealing of lives."
How well she agreed with that, she who'd had her life stolen by him.
After a while he went on. "My parents had three children that lived already. My mother was left to raise them without a man, though there were brothers and uncles to help. She was the best fortune teller in our familia, valuable to the tribe, but she couldn't even remarry as her man wasn't dead - and wasn't going to be since he was being turned into a vampire. After a few years the boyar drained him and turned him, and had no more use for him. So the fledgling vampire wandered back to his familia, back to his wife, and she took him back to her bed. There are some who can slake the craving for mating blood without it ever changing them. My mother was such a one, but she wasn't immune from making a child with the vampire. Me."
"That's what I'd heard, that your father was a vampire. But it sounded like an insult to me, like calling someone a son of a bitch."
"My mother was a good woman, but I am a son of a bitch."
"No argument there."
"I was born able to sense them, think like them, to hunt vampires with their own abilities," he said. "That's what a dhamphir is, a vampire hunter fathered by a vampire. We protect the Roma and our people are proud of us."
After a moment of considering a couple of recent encounters, she began, "Could we-could you father a-"
"It only happens between Roma and strigoi. Very rarely."
He probably thought he was being reassuring. She didn't pursue the point. "You were born a vampire?"
"No. That came later." He put his fingers under her chin and tilted her face up to look at her.
"When one of them stole your life from you." No question.
"Yes." A simple answer.
"But they got more than they bargained for, didn't they?"
He made no attempt at modesty. "Much more. They've made a law since, that no dhamphir is ever to be turned. But the horse was already out of the barn, as you would say."
"I wouldn't say that. I'm a city girl."
"I - dislike cities."
"You live in a Suburban." He still thought of himself as a traveling gypsy peasant, didn't he? Always restless, always on the move, wanted nowhere. "You should try settling down. You might like it."
"On the other hand, the gypsy life probably suits you better."
"One of the things I like about you is how much you dislike me."
"At least we have that in common."
"But enough about me."
He moved his hand, no more than a gentle flick of a finger. The campfire rose up on a great gust of wind, swirled around her, and Selena was suddenly trapped inside a threatening circle of flame. Selena looked past the ring of fire, and saw only a pair of penetrating ice blue eyes. "A little melodramatic, but nice work," she acknowledged.
"Couldn't you, just once, be terrified of me?"
"It would only spoil you. Besides, I make it a point to be terrified of you at least once a year. On our anniversary."
"Remind me to be there for it some time."
"Only if you promise to bring flowers."
The fire surrounding her turned into a ring of lilies, orchids and lilacs. Her favorite flowers, damn his hide. She wondered if he thought this was endearing enough to get her to tell him everything he wanted to know. "What do you want to know?" She put her hands on her hips. "What do you mean, sneaking into a woman's head in the middle of a workday?"
"You weren't supposed to notice. Besides, my motives were pure."
She knew then what he wanted, and breathed a sigh of relief. She did not know when her hands had come to rest on his shoulders, or his on her waist. This closeness was no less disturbing and distracting for all that it was an illusion. This was all a dream, or possibly a dream on his part, and hallucination on hers. She was technically awake, sitting at her desk, doing her job. "I can't do it all."
This reaction brought a cocked eyebrow from him, and a mildly sarcastic, "You mean you don't think you can do everything on your own?"
"I can't do your job. I'm not psychic enough to wipe all the evidence from every mind involved." She hated everything she'd already done to cover up the vampire's death by destroying physical evidence. "I'm a clean cop."
When had his arms come around her? When did her head sink onto his shoulder? This was all too comforting and cozy. "You're laying it on a little thick," she told him, but she rubbed her forehead against his shoulder as she spoke. "You don't need to seduce me into helping with this."
"When have I ever seduced you?"
She didn't answer him. She conjured up the memories and information she'd caught him looking for when he entered her mind. She gave him faces, names, facts and impressions that would help him make psychic connections with the people who all needed to forget an encounter with a dead vampire. When it was done she felt a last brush of energy from him, something that was almost sweet, almost gentle.
When Selena came back into her physical surroundings the first
thing she did was touch the spot in the center of her forehead
that felt as though lips had brushed across it in a lingering
Copyright © 2001 by Susan Sizemore