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"That's him—had me kidnapped and flown to New Orleans, where he sweet-talked me into giving him back a face. I did; he went nuts, bit me, gave me his blood, and passed out; his minions hauled me back to Chicago and left me to die." She took a breath. "Only I didn't."
Marcella sighed. "I have trouble believing this. If it is true, you and this other woman in Chicago are the only humans to survive the change—"
"In half a millennium, yeah, it was kind of like winning the fang lotto," Alex agreed. "Anyway, four million dollars later, I fell for the Prince of Night's bullshit again, came back here, operated on some of his tortured friends, and fell in love with him, dumb bitch that I am, then made him change me the rest of the way to keep from becoming the King of Pain's lab rat."
"That would be Richard," Marcella guessed. "Why did you go back to Chicago with the seigneur?"
"That trip was to chase down Thierry Durand. I had been able to reconstruct his legs, but his mind was another matter completely. He was insane after surviving the Brethren's torture, and we were trying to keep him safe while he recovered. But he escaped. That's when we found Jema Shaw, the other was-human like me and got into her shit." Alex still wished she could have done a thousand things in Chicago differently. "From what I can tell, she was infected with Darkyn blood when she was a baby. For some reason it didn't kill her, and then another crazy man used drugs and lies to keep her from changing for thirty years."
The other woman rested her hand on her chin as she stared at Alex. "Incredible."
"Disgusting. Anyway, Jema fell in love with Thierry—who recovered his sanity better when he was free than when he was locked up at Michael's—there was a party, a shoot-out, a sword fight, arms and heads being hacked off, people dying—the usual Darkyn idea of a good time. Thierry got sane, killed the crazy man who had been drugging Jema, Jema finished changing, I made repairs on the survivors, and then we all came home." Alex sighed. "Somewhere in there I got shot in the chest with a copper bolt, but that's basically it." She spread out her hands. "Ta-da."
"So." Marcella stared at her for a moment. "This would be why I live alone."
Alex laughed, and as she did, the scent of lavender mixed with wisteria. Before she could take advantage of the female vampire's improved mood, a large, heavily muscled man with light brown hair and a scarred face slipped into the room.
"Hey, Phillipe." Alex hailed Michael Cyprien's seneschal with a slight frown. "I thought you and Mike were going into the city to look for the new torture chamber the Brethren are setting up."
Marcella's eyebrows lifted. "Mike?"
"She means the seigneur, madam," Phillipe said to Marcella in French, which Alex was still learning from Michael. To her, he said in careful English, "We have just returned, and met Beauregard Paviere downstairs. He would speak to you."
"He would? A vampire—excuse me—a vrykolakas who wants to talk to me? That's a first." Alex eyed Marcella as she packed up her case and sample rack. "You owe me one life story when I come back to tap your veins again."
Marcella's lips twitched. "Assuming I will be a willing donor."
Arnaud's sister accompanied them downstairs, where a tall man with a long, pensive face framed by tousled brown hair paced the entry hall. He stopped as soon as he saw them descending the curved staircase and hurried up to the bottom step.
"You are le docteur, oui? You are needed at my home right away." He was in so much distress that he seemed to vibrate with tension. "Faryl, my younger brother, he is in serious trouble."
Michael Cyprien, Alex's lover, stepped into the hall. The most powerful vrykolakas in America, he had recently been elevated to the status of seigneur, to rule over all the Darkyn jardins within the United States, which was why all the vampires looked at him the moment he spoke. Alex looked because he was usually the hottest man in the room, and because he was hers. "Faryl is alive? Where has he been, Gard?"
Paviere looked ashamed. "I cannot say, seigneur."
Alex saw Michael's tall frame tense, and glanced at Phillipe, who looked startled. "What sort of trouble is your brother having, Mr. Paviere?"
"His flesh is rotting and falling off his body."
"Rotting and falling off." Not another insane vampire. Alex had just finished dealing with all the insanity she could handle for one immortal lifetime. "That would make your brother a corpse, and contrary to popular fiction, no one can raise the dead."
Beauregard looked up at Marcella and rattled off something in a dialect of French so ancient and obscure that Alex felt certain it had never been spoken by the human citizens of the continental United States.
The female vampire shook her head. "Faryl is not dead. Gard means that he has the fleshrot. Ah…" She groped for the next word, and then snapped her fingers. "The leprosy."
"Unlikely," Alex said, "seeing as the Darkyn spontaneously heal." She noted the sudden shuttered look on the three other vampires' faces. "Oh, come on, don't tell me there's another thing I don't know." Michael had already neglected to tell her that the inviolate Darkyn in a weakened state could be cut and hurt by metals other than copper.
"I will explain later," Michael promised.
"She must come to my estate," Beauregard pleaded with the seigneur. "Before today I had not seen my brother in two hundred years, but I think he is dying."
"Rotting flesh will do that to you." Alex looked into her lover's gold-rimmed turquoise eyes. "Looks like I've got to make another house call."
Michael nodded and turned to the agitated man. "How did this come about, Gard? Why has Faryl been hiding from us all this time?"
Paviere's head drooped. "I had thought he would end it when he left us, but it seems he has kept the faith. He has been feeding in the swamps."
Michael swore under his breath. "Alexandra, we must attend to Faryl immediately."
Phillipe drove them from Marcella Evareaux's lakeside manor into the bayou country, passing through the small towns and fisheries until the asphalt disappeared and the dirt roads turned narrow and muddy. Gard and Michael exchanged a few polite words, the way men who hadn't seen each other in years would, but it was the tension radiating from her lover that convinced Alex to keep her mouth shut.
Later, though, Cyprien owed her some answers.
The Pavieres lived on an old Southern plantation, in an antebellum mansion that looked a little worse for the wear. Weather-stained marble columns crawling with kudzu marched along a decrepit wraparound porch, surrounded by lawns of knee-high grass punctuated with bunches of flowering weeds.
Inside, Alex knew from experience, it would be spotless. A little outward decay discouraged tourists and neighbors from becoming too friendly, or figuring out that the Darkyn had moved in long before Sherman had burned Atlanta.
A tiny black woman dressed in a gorgeous flowered dress rushed out to meet the car. "Welcome to La Moisson, Seigneur Cyprien. Madam, I am Ruby, tresora to the Paviere family." She bobbed her head at Alex and turned instantly to Paviere. "Master Gard, Master Faryl is gone."
Gard's gaze shifted to one of the upper windows. "How did he get out?"
"He smashed the locks on the door." The black woman wrapped her arms around her waist. "I could not stop him."
Gard's expression turned hopeless. "It is done, then. He goes to south, to le tueur." He put an arm around Ruby and walked slowly into the mansion with her.
"Le what?" Alex glanced at the two men beside her. Phillipe only shook his head.
"Le tueur means 'the assassin.'" Michael's face emptied of all emotion. "It means that Faryl has gone to Lucan."
"The guy who attacked my nurse?" Alex didn't have to fake the shudder. "Why would he go to him?" Her eyes went wide as Michael stalked into the house after Gard and Ruby. "Phillipe, what did I say this time?"
"Faryl goes to Lucan for help rather than to the seigneur." The seneschal grimaced. "It is a grave insult."
"The guy's rotting; maybe we should see it as a favor." Alex still couldn't make sense of the situation. "And why go to Lucan anyway? He's not a doctor, is he?"
"No. Faryl goes to him because of his faith," Phillipe said softly. "To Catholics suicide is a sin."
"Yeah, like they need more hang-ups." She rubbed the back of her neck. "So Faryl went to Lucan for what? Sympathy? Confession? To hide from his family?"
"No. Faryl wishes Lucan to kill him."
Living in a third-floor apartment at Palm Royal Place allowed Samantha Brown three things: privacy, peace, and a room with a view of a canal instead of another apartment building. Walking up and down three flights of stairs wasn't much fun, especially on the days she went grocery shopping, but she liked the exercise.
The peace and privacy had come with more of a price tag.
Sam had moved into her latest apartment a few weeks after she and Wesley Dwyer became partners. She'd been forced to give up her old apartment and obtain an unlisted phone number as soon as Dwyer had started harassing her, mainly because he scared her, and she didn't want him knowing where she lived.
There were three other apartments on her floor. Two were expensive three-bedroom rentals that were leased by elderly couples who used them only for vacations and holiday visits. The other apartment, a twin of her own, was occupied by Kerianne Lewis, an attractive single blonde who had a computer sales business and, like Sam, was hardly ever home.
Sam hadn't been too friendly with her neighbor at first. The job killed most potential friendships, and she was convinced she had about as much in common with the pretty, polished Ken Lewis as she did with Laura Bush. Then one weekend she found Ken struggling to get an old, heavy armchair down the stairs, and gave her a hand with it. Keri had invited her back to her apartment for a drink. Sam admired her place, which she had decorated with a modern, funky style in red, black, and white.