She was screaming, screaming so loudly, as if no one would ever hear her. It was the nightmare again – someone taking hold of her squeezing the breath out of her – and nothing she could do to stop it – she was gagging she was drowning and then – fighting against the force that was holding her down, she struggled, trying to wake up, forcing herself to push herself out of bed – she had to open her eyes – she had to see – she saw.
She saw the two of them looking at her. Her parents. Her father was wearing his flannel robe over his pajamas, and her stepmother had a peignoir over a nightgown.
“Bliss, darling, are you all right?” her father asked. He was home from D.C. for the week.
“I had a nightmare,” Bliss said, sitting upright and tossing the covers to the side. She put a hand up to her forehead, feeling the heat emanate from her skin. She was burning and feverish.
“Another one?” her stepmother asked.
“A bad one.”
“It’s all part of it, Bliss. Nothing to worry about,” her father said cheerfully. “I remember when I was your age, I used to have awful ones. Comes with the territory. Blackouts too – when I was fifteen, a lot of times I’d wake up somewhere and have no idea how I got there, and no idea what happened.” He shrugged. “Part of the transformation.”
Bliss nodded, accepting the cold glass of water her stepmother proffered. She gulped greedily. Her father had mentioned that before, when she’d first told him about the time slips, her blackouts.
“I’m okay,” she told them, although she felt so tired, like every muscle in her body was sore, as if she’d been pummeled and beaten up all over. She groaned.
They hovered over her anxiously.
“I’m all right. Really.” Bliss managed a smile and took another huge gulp of water. “You guys go back to bed. I’m fine.”
Her father kissed her on her forehead, and her mother patted her arm, and the two of them left the room.
She put the glass down on her bedside table. Then she remembered – Dylan.
After saying good-bye to Oliver and Schuyler at the Carlyle, she had met her family for a quick dinner at DB Bistro. Upon returning home, she had opened the door to her room, and Dylan was sitting on her bed, as if it was the most normal thing in the world. He’d used the key she’d lent him to get inside.
He was feverish and pale. He’d taken off his jacket and she saw that his T-shirt and jeans were torn. His dark hair was matted against his forehead. He looked spooked. Terrified. His eyes were haunted. He told her what happened – being questioned, and held, but not formally charged, how Charles Force had taken him to the hotel suite, and the whole time he was just thinking about how he missed her.
“But the thing is, I think I did do something,” he said. His hands were shaking. “I think they were right. I think I killed Aggie. I’m not sure, but I think there’s something wrong with me.”
“Dylan no. No way. You couldn’t have,” Bliss said.
“You don’t understand,” Dylan cried. “I’m a vampire. Like you, a Blue Blood.”
Bliss just stared at him. It suddenly made sense. Of course he was one of them, she’d known it somehow, that was why she’d been drawn to him all along. Because he was just like her.
“But something’s happening to me… I’m not sure, but I think I just tried to kill Schuyler… I saw her leave the hotel, and I followed her. I don’t know why, it just came over me. I saw her on the street and I… I don’t think it’s the first time either.”
“No,” Bliss said, refusing to hear what he had to say. “Stop. You’re not making sense.” Why would he attack Schuyler? Unless he was… unless he’d become… unless he’d turned into a… She remembered that night after the photo shoot. Schuyler, staggering on the sidewalk, clutching the side of her neck…
“Listen,” he said, standing up from the bed and putting his jacket back on. “You need to get out of here. They got me, and they’re going to get you too. They want all of us. I only came back to warn you, but I can’t stay. I don’t think it’s safe for you to be around me. But I wanted to tell you to be careful. I don’t want them to get you. You have to protect yourself. You’ve got to believe me. They’re coming…”
Then everything went blank. That was all she remembered.
She had blacked out. She was in her skin and not in her skin. She slipped through time and went somewhere else. When she woke up, she was screaming, and her parents were standing above her bed.
Dylan had come to warn her – and now he was gone.
She felt a dull emptiness, an ache, deep in her bones, as if she had survived a beating. She walked to the bathroom and turned on the light. She gasped when she looked at herself in the mirror. There was a mark underneath the collar of her T-shirt. Had her parents not noticed? She pulled on the fabric to see it better. It was an ugly bruise. A dark purple swelling, as if someone had tried to strangle her. The skin was tender to her touch. What had happened? Where was Dylan?
She turned on the faucet to wash her face, when she noticed shards of pulverized glass on the bathroom floor. The room was cold. She turned toward the window The curtains billowed from a draft. The top of the windowpane was shattered – and it was bulletproof glass – her father had had it installed when they moved in, even if they were on the highest floor of the building thirty stories high.
Bliss picked her way carefully through the broken glass, when she noticed something strange. Next to the heater, a dark crumpled thing. She reached for it and pulled out Dylan’s motorcycle jacket. Dylan never went anywhere without his jacket. It was like his second skin. It smelled like him – a little sour, like cigarettes and aftershave.
There was something different about it, though. She turned the jacket toward the light, and that’s when she saw it. The lining was soaked with blood. Thick and wet. Heavy. There was so much blood. Oh God…
She was still holding the jacket when she noticed Jordan standing in front of the bathroom door. A small, silent form in cotton pajamas.
“You scared me. Ever think of knocking? You know you’re not allowed in my room!” Bliss said.
Her younger sister looked at her as if she’d seen a ghost. “You’re okay.”
“Of course I am,” Bliss snapped.
“I heard something – I heard – a deep voice…”
“Dylan. My boyfriend. He was here with me earlier.”
“No, not the boy – another,” Jordan said. She was shaking violently, and Bliss was surprised to find her sister near tears. She’d never seen Jordan act that way before.
Bliss, still holding the jacket, walked to her side and held her close. “What did you hear?” she asked, trying to soothe her trembling sister.
“There was a thump – like – something heavy dropping – then footsteps, out of your room – dragging something away – then you were screaming – I, I didn’t know what to do – so I called Mom and Dad…”
It all made sense now.
The broken window.
Someone had been there.
Or more likely, something.
And it had… oh God, Dylan… all the blood – there was so much blood on the jacket – how could anyone survive after losing so much blood? She felt a deep sense of grief. He was as good as dead. The creature had taken him.
It had returned, to finish the job – to get her – the swelling in her neck – she’d tried to fight it off – if Jordan hadn’t heard, if her parents hadn’t come… She felt chills. The fine hair on her arms stood on end.
It was no nightmare – she’d been fighting it, it had been there, it was real. It had tried to kill her. What Dylan had tried to warn her about, what she and Oliver and Schuyler had discovered in the Repository. Croatan. A creature that preyed on vampires.
A Silver Blood.
The Forces dropped her off in front of her door.
Schuyler was painfully embarrassed to think that she had accused Jack’s father of being a Silver Blood. Even though she was still troubled by his cavalier attitude toward their return – almost as if it didn’t bother him – almost as if he had expected it. But that couldn’t be true. He was the Regis, their leader, a vampire by choice instead of sin. She had to trust him to know the right thing to do.
“Take it easy,” Jack said, bidding her good-bye.
She nodded her thanks and exited from the car. Then she realized she had completely forgotten to ask why Charles was visiting her mother in the first place. Maybe her grandmother would know.
When Schuyler entered the house, she felt a strangeness in the air. The sitting room was as dark and shrouded as ever, but there was a feeling of menace. The umbrella stand had been knocked over, as if someone had run down the stairs in a hurry. The silence seemed ominous. Hattie was away on her week off, and her grandmother would be alone in the house. Schuyler quickened her pace up the stairs. She noticed one of the paintings hanging in the stairway was askew. Someone had definitely been in the house. Someone who did not belong there.
Dylan! What if Dylan had been here? Looking for her? To finish what he’d started? She felt a wild panic. Her grandmother’s room was on the far end of the second landing. She threw the doors open and walked briskly inside, calling her name.
There was a moan from the other side of the bed.
Schuyler ran toward the sound, frightened of what she would find. But she didn’t scream when she saw Cordelia lying on the floor in a pool of her own blood – thick blue liquid surrounding her – it was almost as if she had known it would happen.
“Fought it off… but so powerful…” Cordelia whispered, opening her eyes to see Schuyler leaning over her.
“Who? Who did this to you?” Schuyler asked, helping Cordelia to a sitting position. “We need to get you to a hospital.”
“No, no time.” Cordelia argued, her voice barely louder than a croak. “Came for me. Croatan.” She spit up blood. “Who? Was it Dylan? Did you see?”
Cordelia shook her head. “I saw nothing. I was blinded momentarily. But it was young, powerful. I did not see its face. I held it off. It tried, but it wasn’t able to take me or my memories. But this is the end of my cycle. You need to take me to Dr. Pat’s. So they can take my blood. For the next Expression. Very important.”
Schuyler nodded, tears in her eyes. “But what about you?”
“This cycle is ended for me. This is the last chance we will have to speak for a long time.”
Schuyler told her quickly about what happened at the Carlyle, and what she’d learned from Charles Force about Dylan, how he’d been bitten, and turned, by a Silver Blood. How he had killed Aggie. “But he’s missing. He escaped from the hotel room. Nobody knows where he is.”
“He is most likely dead by now. They will kill him before he can reveal their secrets. Before the Blue Bloods can hold him again. It is as I always feared,” Cordelia whispered. “The Silver Bloods are back… Only you can defeat them… Your mother was the strongest of us and you are her daughter…”
“Your mother was Gabrielle. Gabriel. One of the seven Archangels. Only two of them went voluntarily with the cursed, down to earth. To save us. She was the strongest. She was Michael’s – that is – Charles Force’s twin. His only love. It was her original sacrifice. He only followed out of his love for her. He gave up Paradise to be with her.”
So that was why Charles visited her mother. Allegra was his sister. Which meant, he was her… uncle? The tangled Blue Blood family history was too complicated for Schuyler to make sense of it at the moment. Cordelia continued speaking. “They ruled together for thousands of years. In Egypt, pharaohs routinely married their sisters, as the emperors did in Rome. But in the modern world, the practice became increasingly proscribed, and so it became a hidden secret. Twins were still born in the same families, blood-bound to each other like I was to your grandfather; but through a change, one twin would assume the role of spouse, and the Red Bloods never noticed the transition. This way, fortunes were preserved in the same family for generations.”
Schuyler thought of Mimi and Jack, of the strange and intimate bond between them.
“Charles and Allegra were blood-bound to each other for eternity. Until she met your father, that is. Your mother fell in love with Stephen. It was her doom. She renounced Charles. In his anger, Charles left the family. He took a new name and forsook the Van Alen legacy. When your father died, Allegra swore never to take another human familiar, to preserve their love. It is why she does not wake up. She exists between life and death. She refuses to take the Red Blood to keep her alive. Charles could help her, but chooses not to.”
“My father was human?”
“Yes. You are the only one. You are a Half Blood. Dimidium Cognatus. You must take care. I have protected you as long as I could. There are those who will seek to destroy you.”
“It is said that the daughter of Gabrielle will bring us to the salvation we seek.”
Cordelia coughed. She gripped Schuyler’s arm tightly. “You must find your grandfather… my husband… Teddy… an Enmortal, a vampire who has kept the same physical shell for centuries… He and I separated a long time ago. After we were banished from the Conclave, we agreed it was safer to separate… We did not trust the Wardens… We believed one of them harbored the Croatan… Teddy has been missing for centuries… You must search the Repository for his last known whereabouts… He can help you. Try Venice, I think. He was fond of Italy. He might have gone there. Only he knows how to defeat the Silver Bloods. You must find him and tell him what’s happened.”
“How will I know him?”
Cordelia smiled wanly. “He’s written a lot of books. Most of the ones in the library are from his collection, or were written by him.”
“Who was he? What was his name?”
“He has many names. You need them, you know, if you’re going to live for so long. But when we were together last he was going by Lawrence Winslow Van Alen. Comb the Piazza San Marco. And the Academy. Wait – Cipriani’s is most likely. He did love his Bellinis. Tell him, tell him Cordelia sent you.”
Schuyler nodded. She wept openly now. There were so many things yet to fathom – Charles/Michael, Allegra/ Gabriel, her human father, her immortal grandfather. She certainly had a strange and varied family tree. Her status as a Half Blood. Who else knew? Did Oliver? Jack? And what did it mean? What did it mean that Gabrielle’s daughter would bring the Blue Bloods to salvation? It was too much. It was too big a burden to shoulder. She wanted nothing more than for Cordelia to stop bleeding. How would she go on without her?
Even though she knew her grandmother would never really die – she was still leaving this world for the time being. “Grandmother,” she pleaded. “Stay.”
“Take care of yourself, granddaughter,” she said, reaching for Schuyler’s hand. “Facio Valiturus Fortis.” Be strong and brave. With that final blessing, Cordelia Van Alen’s spirit reverted to a passive state.