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(Twilight #3.5) The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner

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发表于 2016-8-18 11:46 | 显示全部楼层 |阅读模式

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The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner is a companion novella to the Twilight series by author Stephenie Meyer.

It tells the story of a newborn vampire, Bree Tanner, who is featured in the third book of the series, Eclipse.

The book is written from the viewpoint of Bree, as opposed to the rest of the series which is predominantly narrated by character Bella Swan.

Meyer let director David Slade, screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, and a few of the actors read a draft of the story during production of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.


转载请保留当前帖子的链接:https://www.beimeilife.com/thread-27509-1-1.html 谢谢
发表于 2016-8-18 11:57 | 显示全部楼层
INTRODUCTION

No two writers go about things in exactly the same way. We al are inspired and motivated in different ways; we have our own reasons why some characters stay with us while others disappear into a backlog of neglected files. Personal y, I've never figured out why some of my characters take on strong lives of their own, but I'm always happy when they do. Those characters are the most effortless to write, and so their stories are usual y the ones that get finished.

Bree is one of those characters, and she's the chief reason why this story is now in your hands, rather than lost in the maze of forgotten folders inside my computer. (The two other reasons are named Diego and Fred.) I started thinking about Bree while I was editing Eclipse. Editing, not writing - when I was writing the first draft of Eclipse, I had first-person-perspective blinders on; anything that Bel a couldn't see or hear or feel or taste or touch was irrelevant. That story was her experience only. The next step in the editing process was to step away from Bel a and see how the story flowed. My editor, Rebecca Davis, was a huge part of that process, and she had a lot of questions for me about the things Bel a didn't know and how we could make the right parts of that story clearer. Because Bree is the only newborn Bel a sees, Bree's was the perspective that I first gravitated toward as I considered what was going on behind the scenes. I started thinking about living in the basement with the newborns and hunting traditional vampire-style. I imagined the world as Bree understood it. And it was easy to do that. From the start Bree was very clear as a character, and some of her friends also sprang to life effortlessly. This is the way it usual y works for me: I try to write a short synopsis of what is happening in some other part of the story, and I end up jotting down dialogue. In this case, instead of a synopsis, I found myself writing a day in Bree's life.

Writing Bree was the first time I'd stepped into the shoes of a narrator who was a "real" vampire - a hunter, a monster. I got to look through her red eyes at us humans; suddenly we were pathetic and weak, easy prey, of no importance whatsoever except as a tasty snack. I felt what it was like to be alone while surrounded by enemies, always on guard, never sure of anything except that her life was always in danger. I got to submerge myself in a total y different breed of vampires: newborns. The newborn life was something I hadn't ever gotten to explore - even when Bel a final y became a vampire. Bel a was never a newborn like Bree was a newborn. It was exciting and dark and, ultimately, tragic. The closer I got to the inevitable end, the more I wished I'd concluded Eclipse just slightly differently.

I wonder how you will feel about Bree. She's such a small, seemingly trivial character in Eclipse. She lives for only five minutes of Bel a's perspective. And yet her story is so important to an understanding of the novel. When you read the Eclipse scene in which Bel a stares at Bree, assessing her as a possible future, did you ever think about what has brought Bree to that point in time? As Bree glares back, did you wonder what Bel a and the Culens look like to her? Probably not. But even if you did, I'll bet you never guessed her secrets. I hope you end up caring about Bree as much as I do, though that's kind of a cruel wish. You know this: it doesn't end well for her. But at least you will know the whole story. And that no perspective is ever real y trivial.

Enjoy,

Stephenie
发表于 2016-8-18 12:10 | 显示全部楼层
Chapters 1

THE NEWSPAPER HEADLINE GLARED AT ME FROM a little metal vending machine: SEATTLE UNDER SIEGE - DEATH TOLL RISES

AGAIN. I hadn't seen this one yet. Some paperboy must have just restocked the machine. Lucky for him, he was nowhere around now.

Great. Riley was going to blow a gasket. I would make sure I wasn't within reach when he saw this paper. Let him rip somebody else's arm off.

I stood in the shadow behind the corner of a shabby threestory building, trying to be inconspicuous while I waited for someone to make a decision. Not wanting to meet anyone's eyes, I stared at the wall beside me instead. The ground floor of the building housed a record shop that had long since closed; the windows, lost to weather or street violence, were filled in with plywood. Over the top were apartments - empty, I guessed, since the normal sounds of sleeping humans were absent. I wasn't surprised - the place looked like it would col apse in a stiff wind. The buildings on the other side of the dark, narrow street were just as wrecked.

The normal scene for a night out on the town.

I didn't want to speak up and draw attention, but I wished somebody would decide something. I was real y thirsty, and I didn't care much whether we went right or left or over the roof. I just wanted to find some unlucky people who wouldn't even have enough time to think wrong place, wrong time. Unfortunately tonight Riley'd sent me out with two of the most useless vampires in existence. Riley never seemed to care who he sent out in hunting groups. Or particularly bugged when sending out the wrong people together meant fewer people coming home. Tonight I was stuck with Kevin and some blond kid whose name I didn't know. They both belonged to Raoul's gang, so it went without saying that they were stupid. And dangerous. But right now, mostly stupid.

Instead of picking a direction for our hunt, suddenly they were in the middle of an argument over whose favorite superhero would be a better hunter. The nameless blond was demonstrating his case for Spider-Man now, skittering up the brick wall of the alley while humming the cartoon theme song. I sighed in frustration. Were we ever going to hunt?

A little flicker of movement to my left caught my eye. It was the other one Riley had sent out in this hunting group, Diego. I didn't know much about him, just that he was older than most of the others. Riley's right-hand man was the word. That didn't make me like him any more than the other morons. Diego was looking at me. He must have heard the sigh. I looked away.

Keep your head down and your mouth shut - that was the way to stay alive in Riley's crowd.

"Spider-Man is such a whiny loser," Kevin called up to the blond kid. "I'll show you how a real superhero hunts." He grinned wide. His teeth flashed in the glare of a streetlight. Kevin jumped into the middle of the street just as the lights from a car swung around to ill uminate the cracked pavement with a blue-white gleam. He flexed his arms back, then pulled them slowly together like a pro wrestler showing off. The car came on, probably expecting him to get the hell out of the way like a normal person would. Like he should.

"Hulk mad!" Kevin bel owed. "Hulk... SMASH!"

He leaped forward to meet the car before it could brake, grabbed its front bumper, and flipped it over his head so that it struck the pavement upside down with a squeal of bending metal and shattering glass. Inside, a woman started screaming.

"Oh man," Diego said, shaking his head. He was pretty, with dark, dense, curly hair, big, wide eyes, and really full lips, but then, who wasn't pretty? Even Kevin and the rest of Raoul's morons were pretty. "Kevin, we're supposed to be laying low. Riley said - "

"Riley said!" Kevin mimicked in a harsh soprano. "Get a spine, Diego. Riley's not here."

Kevin sprang over the upside-down Honda and punched out the driver's side window, which had somehow stayed intact up to that point. He fished through the shattered glass and the deflating air bag for the driver.

I turned my back and held my breath, trying my hardest to hold on to the ability to think.

I couldn't watch Kevin feed. I was too thirsty for that, and I really didn't want to pick a fight with him. I so did not need to be on Raoul's hit list.

The blond kid didn't have the same issues. He pushed off from the bricks overhead and landed lightly behind me. I heard him and Kevin snarling at each other, and then a wet tearing sound as the woman's screams cut off. Probably them ripping her in half.

I tried not to think about it. But I could feel the heat and hear the dripping behind me, and it made my throat burn so bad even though I wasn't breathing.

"I'm outta here," I heard Diego mutter.

He ducked into a crevice between the dark buildings, and I followed right on his heels. If I didn't get away from here fast, I'd be squabbling with Raoul's goons over a body that couldn't have had much blood left in it by now anyway. And then maybe I'd be the one who didn't come home.

Ugh, but my throat burned! I clamped my teeth together to keep from screaming in pain.

Diego darted through a trash-filled side alley, and then - when he hit the dead end - up the wall . I dug my fingers into the crevices between the bricks and hauled myself up after him. On the rooftop, Diego took off, leaping lightly across the other roofs toward the lights shimmering off the sound. I stayed close. I was younger than he was, and therefore stronger - it was a good thing we younger ones were strongest, or we wouldn't have lived through our first week in Riley's house. I could have passed him easy, but I wanted to see where he was going, and I didn't want to have him behind me. Diego didn't stop for miles; we were almost to the industrial docks. I could hear him muttering under his breath.

"Idiots! Like Riley wouldn't give us instructions for a good reason. Self-preservation, for example. Is an ounce of common sense so much to ask for?"

"Hey," I called. "Are we going to hunt anytime soon? My throat's on fire here."

Diego landed on the edge of a wide factory roof and spun around. I jumped back a few yards, on my guard, but he didn't make an aggressive move toward me.

"Yeah," he said. "I just wanted some distance between me and the lunatics."

He smiled, al friendly, and I stared at him.

This Diego guy wasn't like the others. He was kind of...

calm, I guess was the word. Normal. Not normal now, but normal before. His eyes were a darker red than mine. He must have been around for a while, like I'd heard.

From the street below came the sounds of nighttime in a slummier part of Seattle. A few cars, music with heavy bass, a couple of people walking with nervous, fast steps, some drunk bum singing off-key in the distance.

"You're Bree, right?" Diego asked. "One of the newbies."

I didn't like that. Newbie. Whatever. "Yeah, I'm Bree. But I didn't come in with the last group. I'm almost three months old."

"Pretty slick for a three-monther," he said. "Not many would have been able to leave the scene of the accident like that." He said it like a compliment, like he was real y impressed.

"Didn't want to mix it up with Raoul's freaks."

He nodded. "Amen, sister. Their kind ain't nothing but bad news."

Weird. Diego was weird. How he sounded like a person having a regular old conversation. No hostility, no suspicion. Like he wasn't thinking about how easy or hard it might be to kill me right now. He was just talking to me.

"How long have you been with Riley?" I asked curiously.

"Going on eleven months now."

"Wow! That's older than Raoul."

Diego rolled his eyes and spit venom over the edge of the building. "Yeah, I remember when Riley brought that trash in. Things just kept getting worse after that."

I was quiet for a moment, wondering if he thought everyone younger than himself was trash. Not that I cared. I didn't care what anybody thought anymore. Didn't have to. Like Riley said, I was a god now. Stronger, faster, better. Nobody else counted. Then Diego whistled low under his breath.

"There we go. Just takes a little brains and patience." He pointed down and across the street.

Half-hidden around the edge of a purple-black alley, a man was cussing at a woman and slapping her while another woman watched silently. From their clothes, I guessed that it was a pimp and two of his employees.

This was what Riley had told us to do. Hunt the dregs. Take the humans that no one was going to miss, the ones who weren't headed home to a waiting family, the ones who wouldn't be reported missing.

It was the same way he chose us. Meals and gods, both coming from the dregs.

Unlike some of the others, I still did what Riley told me to do. Not because I liked him. That feeling was long gone. It was because what he told us sounded right. How did it make sense to call attention to the fact that a bunch of new vampires were claiming Seattle as their hunting ground? How was that going to help us?

I didn't even believe in vampires before I was one. So if the rest of the world didn't believe in vampires, then the rest of the vampires must be hunting smart, the way Riley said to do it. They probably had a good reason.

And like Diego'd said, hunting smart just took a little brains and patience.

Of course, we al slipped up a lot, and Riley would read the papers and groan and yell at us and break stuff - like Raoul's favorite video-game system. Then Raoul would get mad and take somebody else apart and burn him up. Then Riley would be pissed off and he'd do another search to confiscate al the lighters and matches. A few rounds of this, and then Riley would bring home another handful of vampirized dregs kids to replace the ones he'd lost. It was an endless cycle.

Diego inhaled through his nose - a big, long pull - and I watched his body change. He crouched on the roof, one hand gripping the edge. Al that strange friendliness disappeared, and he was a hunter.

That was something I recognized, something I was comfortable with because I understood it.

I turned off my brain. It was time to hunt. I took a deep breath, drawing in the scent of the blood inside the humans below. They weren't the only humans around, but they were the closest. Who you were going to hunt was the kind of decision you had to make before you scented your prey. It was too late now to choose anything.

Diego dropped from the roof edge, out of sight. The sound of his landing was too low to catch the attention of the crying prostitute, the zoned-out prostitute, or the angry pimp. A low growl ripped from between my teeth. Mine. The blood was mine. The fire in my throat flared and I couldn't think of anything else.

I flipped myself off the roof, spinning across the street so that I landed right next to the crying blonde. I could feel Diego close behind me, so I growled a warning at him while I caught the surprised girl by the hair. I yanked her to the alley wall, putting my back against it. Defensive, just in case. Then I forgot al about Diego, because I could feel the heat under her skin, hear the sound of her pulse thudding close to the surface.

She opened her mouth to scream, but my teeth crushed her windpipe before a sound could come out. There was just the gurgle of air and blood in her lungs, and the low moans I could not control.

The blood was warm and sweet. It quenched the fire in my throat, calmed the nagging, itching emptiness in my stomach. I sucked and gulped, only vaguely aware of anything else. I heard the same noise from Diego - he had the man. The other woman was unconscious on the ground. Neither had made any noise. Diego was good.

The problem with humans was that they just never had enough blood in them. It seemed like only seconds later the girl ran dry. I rattled her limp body in frustration. Already my throat was beginning to burn again.

I threw the spent body to the ground and crouched against the wall, wondering if I could grab the unconscious girl and make off with her before Diego could catch up to me. Diego was already finished with the man. He looked at me with an expression that I could only describe as... sympathetic. But I could have been dead wrong. I couldn't remember anyone ever giving me sympathy before, so I wasn't positive what it looked like.

"Go for it," he told me, nodding to the limp girl on the ground.

"Are you kidding me?"

"Naw, I'm good for now. We've got time to hunt some more tonight."

Watching him careful y for some sign of a trick, I darted forward and snagged the girl. Diego made no move to stop me. He turned away slightly and looked up at the black sky. I sank my teeth into her neck, keeping my eyes on him. This one was even better than the last. Her blood was entirely clean. The blonde girl's blood had the bitter aftertaste that came with drugs - I was so used to that, I'd barely noticed. It was rare for me to get real y clean blood, because I followed the dregs rule. Diego seemed to follow the rules, too. He must have smelled what he was giving up.

Why had he done it?
发表于 2016-8-18 12:11 | 显示全部楼层
Chapters 1

THE NEWSPAPER HEADLINE GLARED AT ME FROM a little metal vending machine: SEATTLE UNDER SIEGE - DEATH TOLL RISES

AGAIN. I hadn't seen this one yet. Some paperboy must have just restocked the machine. Lucky for him, he was nowhere around now.

Great. Riley was going to blow a gasket. I would make sure I wasn't within reach when he saw this paper. Let him rip somebody else's arm off.

I stood in the shadow behind the corner of a shabby threestory building, trying to be inconspicuous while I waited for someone to make a decision. Not wanting to meet anyone's eyes, I stared at the wall beside me instead. The ground floor of the building housed a record shop that had long since closed; the windows, lost to weather or street violence, were filled in with plywood. Over the top were apartments - empty, I guessed, since the normal sounds of sleeping humans were absent. I wasn't surprised - the place looked like it would col apse in a stiff wind. The buildings on the other side of the dark, narrow street were just as wrecked.

The normal scene for a night out on the town.

I didn't want to speak up and draw attention, but I wished somebody would decide something. I was real y thirsty, and I didn't care much whether we went right or left or over the roof. I just wanted to find some unlucky people who wouldn't even have enough time to think wrong place, wrong time. Unfortunately tonight Riley'd sent me out with two of the most useless vampires in existence. Riley never seemed to care who he sent out in hunting groups. Or particularly bugged when sending out the wrong people together meant fewer people coming home. Tonight I was stuck with Kevin and some blond kid whose name I didn't know. They both belonged to Raoul's gang, so it went without saying that they were stupid. And dangerous. But right now, mostly stupid.

Instead of picking a direction for our hunt, suddenly they were in the middle of an argument over whose favorite superhero would be a better hunter. The nameless blond was demonstrating his case for Spider-Man now, skittering up the brick wall of the alley while humming the cartoon theme song. I sighed in frustration. Were we ever going to hunt?

A little flicker of movement to my left caught my eye. It was the other one Riley had sent out in this hunting group, Diego. I didn't know much about him, just that he was older than most of the others. Riley's right-hand man was the word. That didn't make me like him any more than the other morons. Diego was looking at me. He must have heard the sigh. I looked away.

Keep your head down and your mouth shut - that was the way to stay alive in Riley's crowd.

"Spider-Man is such a whiny loser," Kevin called up to the blond kid. "I'll show you how a real superhero hunts." He grinned wide. His teeth flashed in the glare of a streetlight. Kevin jumped into the middle of the street just as the lights from a car swung around to ill uminate the cracked pavement with a blue-white gleam. He flexed his arms back, then pulled them slowly together like a pro wrestler showing off. The car came on, probably expecting him to get the hell out of the way like a normal person would. Like he should.

"Hulk mad!" Kevin bel owed. "Hulk... SMASH!"

He leaped forward to meet the car before it could brake, grabbed its front bumper, and flipped it over his head so that it struck the pavement upside down with a squeal of bending metal and shattering glass. Inside, a woman started screaming.

"Oh man," Diego said, shaking his head. He was pretty, with dark, dense, curly hair, big, wide eyes, and really full lips, but then, who wasn't pretty? Even Kevin and the rest of Raoul's morons were pretty. "Kevin, we're supposed to be laying low. Riley said - "

"Riley said!" Kevin mimicked in a harsh soprano. "Get a spine, Diego. Riley's not here."

Kevin sprang over the upside-down Honda and punched out the driver's side window, which had somehow stayed intact up to that point. He fished through the shattered glass and the deflating air bag for the driver.

I turned my back and held my breath, trying my hardest to hold on to the ability to think.

I couldn't watch Kevin feed. I was too thirsty for that, and I really didn't want to pick a fight with him. I so did not need to be on Raoul's hit list.

The blond kid didn't have the same issues. He pushed off from the bricks overhead and landed lightly behind me. I heard him and Kevin snarling at each other, and then a wet tearing sound as the woman's screams cut off. Probably them ripping her in half.

I tried not to think about it. But I could feel the heat and hear the dripping behind me, and it made my throat burn so bad even though I wasn't breathing.

"I'm outta here," I heard Diego mutter.

He ducked into a crevice between the dark buildings, and I followed right on his heels. If I didn't get away from here fast, I'd be squabbling with Raoul's goons over a body that couldn't have had much blood left in it by now anyway. And then maybe I'd be the one who didn't come home.

Ugh, but my throat burned! I clamped my teeth together to keep from screaming in pain.

Diego darted through a trash-filled side alley, and then - when he hit the dead end - up the wall . I dug my fingers into the crevices between the bricks and hauled myself up after him. On the rooftop, Diego took off, leaping lightly across the other roofs toward the lights shimmering off the sound. I stayed close. I was younger than he was, and therefore stronger - it was a good thing we younger ones were strongest, or we wouldn't have lived through our first week in Riley's house. I could have passed him easy, but I wanted to see where he was going, and I didn't want to have him behind me. Diego didn't stop for miles; we were almost to the industrial docks. I could hear him muttering under his breath.

"Idiots! Like Riley wouldn't give us instructions for a good reason. Self-preservation, for example. Is an ounce of common sense so much to ask for?"

"Hey," I called. "Are we going to hunt anytime soon? My throat's on fire here."

Diego landed on the edge of a wide factory roof and spun around. I jumped back a few yards, on my guard, but he didn't make an aggressive move toward me.

"Yeah," he said. "I just wanted some distance between me and the lunatics."

He smiled, al friendly, and I stared at him.

This Diego guy wasn't like the others. He was kind of...

calm, I guess was the word. Normal. Not normal now, but normal before. His eyes were a darker red than mine. He must have been around for a while, like I'd heard.

From the street below came the sounds of nighttime in a slummier part of Seattle. A few cars, music with heavy bass, a couple of people walking with nervous, fast steps, some drunk bum singing off-key in the distance.

"You're Bree, right?" Diego asked. "One of the newbies."

I didn't like that. Newbie. Whatever. "Yeah, I'm Bree. But I didn't come in with the last group. I'm almost three months old."

"Pretty slick for a three-monther," he said. "Not many would have been able to leave the scene of the accident like that." He said it like a compliment, like he was real y impressed.

"Didn't want to mix it up with Raoul's freaks."

He nodded. "Amen, sister. Their kind ain't nothing but bad news."

Weird. Diego was weird. How he sounded like a person having a regular old conversation. No hostility, no suspicion. Like he wasn't thinking about how easy or hard it might be to kill me right now. He was just talking to me.

"How long have you been with Riley?" I asked curiously.

"Going on eleven months now."

"Wow! That's older than Raoul."

Diego rolled his eyes and spit venom over the edge of the building. "Yeah, I remember when Riley brought that trash in. Things just kept getting worse after that."

I was quiet for a moment, wondering if he thought everyone younger than himself was trash. Not that I cared. I didn't care what anybody thought anymore. Didn't have to. Like Riley said, I was a god now. Stronger, faster, better. Nobody else counted. Then Diego whistled low under his breath.

"There we go. Just takes a little brains and patience." He pointed down and across the street.

Half-hidden around the edge of a purple-black alley, a man was cussing at a woman and slapping her while another woman watched silently. From their clothes, I guessed that it was a pimp and two of his employees.

This was what Riley had told us to do. Hunt the dregs. Take the humans that no one was going to miss, the ones who weren't headed home to a waiting family, the ones who wouldn't be reported missing.

It was the same way he chose us. Meals and gods, both coming from the dregs.

Unlike some of the others, I still did what Riley told me to do. Not because I liked him. That feeling was long gone. It was because what he told us sounded right. How did it make sense to call attention to the fact that a bunch of new vampires were claiming Seattle as their hunting ground? How was that going to help us?

I didn't even believe in vampires before I was one. So if the rest of the world didn't believe in vampires, then the rest of the vampires must be hunting smart, the way Riley said to do it. They probably had a good reason.

And like Diego'd said, hunting smart just took a little brains and patience.

Of course, we al slipped up a lot, and Riley would read the papers and groan and yell at us and break stuff - like Raoul's favorite video-game system. Then Raoul would get mad and take somebody else apart and burn him up. Then Riley would be pissed off and he'd do another search to confiscate al the lighters and matches. A few rounds of this, and then Riley would bring home another handful of vampirized dregs kids to replace the ones he'd lost. It was an endless cycle.

Diego inhaled through his nose - a big, long pull - and I watched his body change. He crouched on the roof, one hand gripping the edge. Al that strange friendliness disappeared, and he was a hunter.

That was something I recognized, something I was comfortable with because I understood it.

I turned off my brain. It was time to hunt. I took a deep breath, drawing in the scent of the blood inside the humans below. They weren't the only humans around, but they were the closest. Who you were going to hunt was the kind of decision you had to make before you scented your prey. It was too late now to choose anything.

Diego dropped from the roof edge, out of sight. The sound of his landing was too low to catch the attention of the crying prostitute, the zoned-out prostitute, or the angry pimp. A low growl ripped from between my teeth. Mine. The blood was mine. The fire in my throat flared and I couldn't think of anything else.

I flipped myself off the roof, spinning across the street so that I landed right next to the crying blonde. I could feel Diego close behind me, so I growled a warning at him while I caught the surprised girl by the hair. I yanked her to the alley wall, putting my back against it. Defensive, just in case. Then I forgot al about Diego, because I could feel the heat under her skin, hear the sound of her pulse thudding close to the surface.

She opened her mouth to scream, but my teeth crushed her windpipe before a sound could come out. There was just the gurgle of air and blood in her lungs, and the low moans I could not control.

The blood was warm and sweet. It quenched the fire in my throat, calmed the nagging, itching emptiness in my stomach. I sucked and gulped, only vaguely aware of anything else. I heard the same noise from Diego - he had the man. The other woman was unconscious on the ground. Neither had made any noise. Diego was good.

The problem with humans was that they just never had enough blood in them. It seemed like only seconds later the girl ran dry. I rattled her limp body in frustration. Already my throat was beginning to burn again.

I threw the spent body to the ground and crouched against the wall, wondering if I could grab the unconscious girl and make off with her before Diego could catch up to me. Diego was already finished with the man. He looked at me with an expression that I could only describe as... sympathetic. But I could have been dead wrong. I couldn't remember anyone ever giving me sympathy before, so I wasn't positive what it looked like.

"Go for it," he told me, nodding to the limp girl on the ground.

"Are you kidding me?"

"Naw, I'm good for now. We've got time to hunt some more tonight."

Watching him careful y for some sign of a trick, I darted forward and snagged the girl. Diego made no move to stop me. He turned away slightly and looked up at the black sky. I sank my teeth into her neck, keeping my eyes on him. This one was even better than the last. Her blood was entirely clean. The blonde girl's blood had the bitter aftertaste that came with drugs - I was so used to that, I'd barely noticed. It was rare for me to get real y clean blood, because I followed the dregs rule. Diego seemed to follow the rules, too. He must have smelled what he was giving up.

Why had he done it?
发表于 2016-8-18 12:19 | 显示全部楼层
Chapters 2

When the second body was empty, my throat felt better. There was a lot of blood in my system. I probably wouldn't real y burn for a few days.

Diego was stil waiting, whistling quietly through his teeth. When I let the body fal to the ground with a thud, he turned back to me and smiled.

"Um, thanks," I said.

He nodded. "You looked like you needed it more than me. I remember how hard it is in the beginning."

"Does it get easier?"

He shrugged. "In some ways."

We looked at each other for a second.

"Why don't we dump these bodies in the sound?" he suggested.

I bent down, grabbed the dead blonde, and slung her limp body over my shoulder. I was about to get the other one, but Diego was there before me, the pimp already on his back.

"I got it," he said.

I fol owed him up the al ey wal, and then we swung across the girders under the freeway. The lights from the cars below didn't touch us. I thought how stupid people were, how oblivious, and I was glad I wasn't one of the clueless.

Hidden in the darkness, we made our way to an empty dock, closed for the night. Diego didn't hesitate at the end of the concrete, he just jumped right over the edge with his bulky burden and disappeared into the water. I slid in after him. He swam as sleek and quick as a shark, shooting deeper and farther out into the black sound. He stopped suddenly when he found what he was looking for - a huge, slime-covered boulder on the ocean floor, sea stars and garbage clinging to its sides. We had to be more than a hundred feet deep - to a human, it would have seemed pitch-black here. Diego let go of his bodies. They swayed slowly in the current beside him while he shoved his hand into the mucky sand at the base of the rock. After a second he found a hold and ripped the boulder up from its resting spot. The weight of it drove him waist-deep into the dark seafloor.

He looked up and nodded to me.

I swam down to him, hooking his bodies with one hand on my way. I shoved the blonde into the black hole under the rock, then pushed the second girl and the pimp in after her. I kicked them lightly to make sure they were in, and then got out of the way. Diego let the boulder fal . It wobbled a little, adjusting to the newly uneven foundation. He kicked his way out of the muck, swam to the top of the boulder, and then pushed it down, grinding the obstructions flat underneath.

He swam back a few yards to view his work.

Perfect, I mouthed. These three bodies would never resurface. Riley would never hear a story about them on the news.

He grinned and held up his hand.

It took me a minute to understand that he was looking for a high five. Hesitantly, I swam forward, tapped my palm to his, then kicked away, putting some distance between us. Diego got a weird expression on his face, and then he shot to the surface like a bul et.

I darted up after him, confused. When I broke through to the air, he was almost choking on his laughter.

"What?"

He couldn't answer me for a minute. Final y he blurted out,

"Worst high five ever."

I sniffed, irritated. "Couldn't be sure you weren't just going to rip my arm off or something."

Diego snorted. "I wouldn't do that."

"Anyone else would," I countered.

"True, that," he agreed, suddenly not as amused. "You up for a little more hunting?"

"Do you have to ask?"

We came out of the water under a bridge and lucked right into two homeless guys sleeping in ancient, filthy sleeping bags on top of a shared mattress of old newspapers. Neither one of them woke up. Their blood was soured by alcohol, but stil better than nothing. We buried them in the sound, too, under a different rock.

"Wel, I'm good for a few weeks," Diego said when we were out of the water again, dripping on the end of another empty dock.

I sighed. "I guess that's the easier part, right? I'l be burning again in a couple of days. And then Riley wil probably send me out with more of Raoul's mutants again."

"I can come with you, if you want. Riley pretty much lets me do what I want."

I thought about the offer, suspicious for a second. But Diego real y didn't seem like any of the others. I felt different with him. Like I didn't need to watch my back so much.

"I'd like that," I admitted. It felt off to say this. Too vulnerable or something.

But Diego just said "cool" and smiled at me.

"So how come Riley gives you such a long leash?" I asked, wondering about the relationship there. The more time I spent with Diego, the less I could picture him being in tight with Riley. Diego was so... friendly. Nothing like Riley. But maybe it was an opposites-attract thing.

"Riley knows he can trust me to clean up my messes. Speaking of which, do you mind running a quick errand?"

I was starting to be entertained by this strange boy. Curious about him. I wanted to see what he would do.

"Sure," I said.

He bounded across the dock toward the road that ran along the waterfront. I fol owed after. I caught the scent of a few humans, but I knew it was too dark and we were too fast for them to see us.

He chose to travel across rooftops again. After a few jumps, I recognized both our scents. He was retracing our earlier path. And then we were back to that first al ey, where Kevin and the other guy had gotten stupid with the car.

"Unbe liev able," Diego growled.

Kevin and Co. had just left, it appeared. Two other cars were stacked on top of the first, and a handful of bystanders had been added to the body count. The cops weren't here yet - because anyone who might have reported the mayhem was already dead.

"Help me sort this out?" Diego asked.

"Okay."

We dropped down, and Diego quickly threw the cars into a new arrangement, so that it sort of looked like they'd hit each other rather than been piled up by a giant tantrum-throwing baby. I grabbed the two dry, lifeless bodies abandoned on the pavement and stuffed them under the apparent site of impact.

"Bad accident," I commented.

Diego grinned. He took a lighter out of a ziplock from his pocket and started igniting the clothes of the victims. I grabbed my own lighter - Riley reissued these when we went hunting; Kevin should have used his - and got to work on the upholstery. The bodies, dried out and laced with flammable venom, blazed up quickly.

"Get back," Diego warned, and I saw that he had the first car's gas hatch open and the lid screwed off the tank. I jumped up the closest wal, perching a story above to watch. He took a few steps back and lit a match. With perfect aim, he tossed it into the smal hole. In the same second, he leaped up beside me.

The boom of the explosion shook the whole street. Lights started going on around the corner.

"Wel done," I said.

"Thanks for your help. Back to Riley's?"

I frowned. Riley's house was the last place I wanted to spend the rest of my night. I didn't want to see Raoul's stupid face or listen to the constant shrieking and fighting. I didn't want to have to grit my teeth and hide out behind Freaky Fred so that people would leave me alone. And I was out of books.

"We've got some time," Diego said, reading my expression.

"We don't have to go right away."

"I could use some reading material."

"And I could use some new music." He grinned. "Let's go shopping."

We moved quickly through town - over rooftops again and then darting through shadowy streets when the buildings got farther apart - to a friendlier neighborhood. It didn't take long to find a strip mal with one of the big chain bookstores. I snapped the lock on the roof access hatch and let us in. The store was empty, the only alarms on the windows and doors. I went straight to the H's, while Diego headed to the music section in the back. I'd just finished with Hale. I took the next dozen books in line; that would keep me a couple of days.

I looked around for Diego and found him sitting at one of the cafe tables, studying the backs of his new CDs. I paused, then joined him.

This felt strange because it was familiar in a haunting, uncomfortable way. I had sat like this before - across a table from someone. I'd chatted casually with that person, thinking about things that were not life and death or thirst and blood. But that had been in a different, blurry lifetime.

The last time I'd sat at a table with someone, that someone had been Riley. It was hard to remember that night for a lot of reasons.

"So how come I never notice you around the house?" Diego asked abruptly. "Where do you hide?"

I laughed and grimaced at the same time. "I usually kick it behind wherever Freaky Fred is hanging out."

His nose wrinkled. "Seriously? How do you stand that?"

"You get used to it. It's not so bad behind him as it is in front. Anyway, it's the best hiding place I've found. Nobody gets close to Fred."

Diego nodded, stil looking kind of grossed out. "That's true. It's a way to stay alive."

I shrugged.

"Did you know that Fred is one of Riley's favorites?" Diego asked.

"Really? How? " No one could stand Freaky Fred. I was the only one who tried, and that was solely out of self-preservation. Diego leaned toward me conspiratorially. I was already so used to his strange way that I didn't even flinch.

"I heard him on the phone with her. "

I shuddered.

"I know," he said, sounding sympathetic again. Of course, it wasn't weird that we could sympathize with each other when it came to her. "This was a few months back. Anyway, Riley was talking about Fred, al excited. From what they were saying, I guess that some vampires can do things. More than what normal vampires can do, I mean. And that's good - something she's looking for. Vampires with skill zzz."

He pulled the Z sound out, so I could hear how he was spelling it in his head.

"What kinds of skil s?"

"Al kinds of stuff, it sounds like. Mind reading and tracking and even seeing the future."

"Get out."

"I'm not kidding. I guess Fred can sort of repel people on purpose. It's all in our heads, though. He makes us repulsed at the thought of being near him."
发表于 2016-8-18 12:41 | 显示全部楼层
Chapters 3

I frowned. "How is that a good thing?"

"Keeps him alive, doesn't it? Guess it keeps you alive, too."

I nodded. "Guess so. Did he say anything about anyone else?" I tried to think of anything strange I'd seen or felt, but Fred was one of a kind. The clowns in the alley tonight pretending to be superheroes hadn't been doing anything the rest of us couldn't do.

"He talked about Raoul," Diego said, the corner of his mouth twisting down.

"What skill does Raoul have? Super-stupidity?"

Diego snorted. "Definitely that. But Riley thinks he's got some kind of magnetism - people are drawn to him, they follow him."

"Only the mentally challenged."

"Yeah, Riley mentioned that. Didn't seem to be effective on the" - he broke out a decent impression of Riley's voice - "

"'tamer kids.'"

"Tame?"

"I inferred that he meant people like us, who are able to think occasionally."

I didn't like being called tame. It didn't sound like a good thing when you put it that way. Diego's way sounded better.

"It was like there was a reason Riley needed Raoul to lead - something's coming, I think."

A weird tingle spasmed along my spine when he said that, and I sat up straighter. "Like what?"

"Do you ever think about why Riley is always after us to keep a low profile?"

I hesitated for half a second before answering. This wasn't the line of inquiry I would have expected from Riley's right-hand man. Almost like he was questioning what Riley had told us. Unless Diego was asking this for Riley, like a spy. Finding out what the "kids" thought of him. But it didn't feel like that. Diego's dark red eyes were open and confiding. And why would Riley care? Maybe the way the others talked about Diego wasn't based on anything real. Just gossip.

I answered him truthful y. "Yeah, actually I was just thinking about that."

"We aren't the only vampires in the world," Diego said solemnly.

"I know. Riley says stuff sometimes. But there can't be too many. I mean, wouldn't we have noticed, before?"

Diego nodded. "That's what I think, too. Which is why it's pretty weird that she keeps making more of us, don't you think? "

I frowned. "Huh. Because it's not like Riley actual y likes us or anything...." I paused again, waiting to see if he would contradict me. He didn't. He just waited, nodding slightly in agreement, so I continued. "And she hasn't even introduced herself. You're right. I hadn't looked at it that way. Well, I hadn't really thought about it at all. But then, what do they want us for?"

Diego raised one eyebrow. "Wanna hear what I think?"

I nodded warily. But my anxiety had nothing to do with him now.

"Like I said, something is coming. I think she wants protection, and she put Riley in charge of creating the front line."

I thought this through, my spine prickling again. "Why wouldn't they tell us? Shouldn't we be, like, on the lookout or something?"

"That would make sense," he agreed.

We looked at each other in silence for a few long-seeming seconds. I had nothing more, and it didn't look like he did, either.

Finally I grimaced and said, "I don't know if I buy it - the part about Raoul being good for anything, that is."

Diego laughed. "Hard to argue that one." Then he glanced out the windows at the dark early morning. "Out of time. Better head back before we turn into crispies."

"Ashes, ashes, we all fall down," I sang under my breath as I got to my feet and collected my pile.

Diego chuckled.

We made one more quick stop on our way - hit the empty Target next door for big zip locks and two backpacks. I double bagged all my books. Water-damaged pages annoyed me. Then we mostly roof-topped it back to the water. The sky was just faintly starting to gray up in the east. We slipped into the sound right under the noses of two oblivious night watchmen by the big ferry - good thing for them I was full or they would have been too close for my self-control - and then raced through the murky water back toward Riley's place. At first I didn't know it was a race. I was just swimming fast because the sky was getting lighter. I didn't usual y push the time like this. If I were being honest with myself, I'd pretty much turned into a huge vampire nerd. I foll owed the rules, I didn't cause trouble, I hung out with the most unpopular kid in the group, and I always got home early.

But then Diego real y kicked it into gear. He got a few lengths ahead of me, turned back with a smile that said, what, can't you keep up? and then started booking it again. Well, I wasn't taking that. I couldn't real y remember if I'd been the competitive type before - it all seemed so far away and unimportant - but maybe I was, because I responded right away to the challenge. Diego was a good swimmer, but I was way stronger, especially after just feeding.

See ya, I mouthed as I passed him, but I wasn't sure he saw.

I lost him back in the dark water, and I didn't waste time looking to see by how much I was winning. I just jetted through the sound till I hit the edge of the island where the most recent of our homes was located. The last one had been a big cabin in the middle of Snow ville-Nowhere on the side of some mountain in the Cascades. Like the last one, this house was remote, had a big basement, and had recently deceased owners. I raced up onto the shall ow stony beach and then dug my fingers into the sandstone bluff and flew up. I heard Diego come out of the water just as I gripped the trunk of an overhanging pine and flipped myself over the cliff edge.

Two things caught my attention as I landed gently on the balls of my feet. One: it was real y light out. Two: the house was gone.

Well, not entirely gone. Some of it was still visible, but the space the house had once occupied was empty. The roof had collapsed into ragged, angular wooden lace, charred black, sagging lower than the front door had been.

The sun was rising fast. The black pine trees were showing hints of evergreen. Soon the paler tips would stand out against the dark, and at about that point I would be dead. Or really dead, or whatever. This second thirsty, superhero life would go up in a sudden burst of flames. And I could only imagine that the burst would be very, very painful. This wasn't the first time I'd seen our house destroyed - with al the fights and fires in the basements, most of them lasted only a few weeks - but it was the first time I'd come across the scene of destruction with the first faint rays of sunlight threatening.

I sucked in a gasp of shock as Diego landed beside me.

"Maybe burrow under the roof?" I whispered. "Would that be safe enough or - ?"

"Don't freak out, Bree," Diego said, sounding too calm. "I know a place. C'mon."

He did a very graceful backflip off the bluff edge. I didn't think the water would be enough of a filter to block the sun. But maybe we couldn't burn if we were submerged? It seemed like a real y poor plan to me.

However, instead of tunneling under the burned-out hull of the wrecked house, I dove off the cliff behind him. I wasn't sure of my reasoning, which was a strange feeling. Usual y I did what I always did - followed the routine, did what made sense. I caught up to Diego in the water. He was racing again, but with no nonsense this time. Racing the sun.

He whipped around a point on the little island and then dove deep. I was surprised he didn't hit the rocky floor of the sound, and more surprised when I could feel the blast of warmer current flowing from what I had thought was no more than an outcropping of rock.

Smart of Diego to have a place like this. Sure, it wasn't going to be fun to sit in an underwater cavern al day - not breathing started to irritate after a few hours - but it was better than exploding into ashes. I should have been thinking like Diego was. Thinking about something other than blood, that is. I should have been prepared for the unexpected.

Diego kept going through a narrow crevice in the rocks. It was black as ink in here. Safe. I couldn't swim anymore - the space was too tight - so I scrambled through like Diego, climbing through the twisting space. I kept waiting for him to stop, but he didn't. Suddenly I realized that we really were going up. And then I heard Diego hit the surface.

I was out a half second after he was.

The cave was no more than a small hole, a burrow about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, though not as tall as that. A second crawl space led out the back, and I could taste the fresh air coming from that direction. I could see the shape of Diego's fingers repeated again and again in the texture of the limestone walls.

"Nice place," I said.

Diego smiled. "Better than Freaky Fred's backside."

"I can't argue with that. Um. Thanks."

"You're welcome."

We looked at each other in the dark for a minute. His face was smooth and calm. With anyone else, Kevin or Kristie or any of the others, this would have been terrifying - the constricted space, the forced closeness. The way I could smell his scent on every side of me. That could have meant a quick and painful death at any second. But Diego was so composed. Not like anyone else.

"How old are you?" he asked abruptly.

"Three months. I told you that."

"That's not what I meant. Um, how old were you? I guess that's the right way to ask."

I leaned away, uncomfortable, when I realized he was talking about human stuff. Nobody talked about that. Nobody wanted to think about it. But I didn't want to end the conversation, either. Just having a conversation at al was something new and different. I hesitated, and he waited with a curious expression.

"I was, um, I guess fifteen. Almost sixteen. I can't remember the day... was I past my birthday?" I tried to think about it, but those last hungry weeks were a big blur, and it hurt my head in a weird way to try to clear them up. I shook my head, let it go.

"How about you?"

"I was just past my eighteenth," Diego said. "So close."

"Close to what?"

"Getting out," he said, but he didn't continue. There was an awkward silence for a minute, and then he changed the subject.

"You've done really well since you got here," he said, his eyes sweeping across my crossed arms, my folded legs.

"You've survived - avoided the wrong kind of attention, kept intact."

I shrugged and then yanked my left t-shirt sleeve up to my shoulder so he could see the thin, ragged line that circled my arm.

"Got this ripped off once," I admitted. "Got it back before Jen could toast it. Riley showed me how to put it back on."

Diego smiled wryly and touched his right knee with one finger. His dark jeans covered the scar that must have been there. "It happens to everybody."

"Ouch," I said.

He nodded. "Seriously. But like I was saying before, you're a pretty decent vampire."

"Am I supposed to say thanks?"

"I'm just thinking out loud, trying to make sense of things."

"What things?"
发表于 2016-8-18 12:48 | 显示全部楼层
Chapters 4

He frowned a little. "What's really going on. What Riley's up to. Why he keeps bringing the most random kids to her. Why it doesn't seem to matter to Riley if it's someone like you or if it's someone like that idiot Kevin."

It sounded like he didn't know Riley any better than I did.

"What do you mean, someone like me?" I asked.

"You're the kind that Riley should be looking for - the smart ones - not just these stupid gang-bangers that Raoul keeps bringing in. I bet you weren't some junkie ho when you were human."

I shifted uneasily at the last word. Diego kept waiting for my answer, like he hadn't said anything weird. I took a deep breath and thought back.

"I was close enough," I admitted after a few seconds of his patient watching. "Not there yet, but in a few more weeks..." I shrugged. "You know, I don't remember much, but I do remember thinking there was nothing more powerful on this planet than just plain old hunger. Turns out, thirst is worst."

He laughed. "Sing it, sister."

"What about you? You weren't a troubled teen runaway like the rest of us?"

"Oh, I was troubled, all right." He stopped talking. But I could sit around and wait for the answers to inappropriate questions, too. I just stared at him. He sighed. The scent of his breath was nice. Everybody smelled sweet, but Diego had a little something extra - some spice like cinnamon or cloves.

"I tried to stay away from al that junk. Studied hard. I was gonna get out of the ghetto, you know. Go to college. Make something of myself. But there was a guy - not much different than Raoul. Join or die, that was his motto. I wasn't having any, so I stayed away from his group. I was careful. Stayed alive." He stopped, closing his eyes.

I wasn't done being pushy. "And?"

"My kid brother wasn't as careful."

I was about to ask if his brother had joined or died, but the expression on his face made asking unnecessary. I looked away, not sure how to respond. I couldn't real y understand his loss, the pain it still clearly caused him to feel. I hadn't left anything behind that I still missed. Was that the difference? Was that why he dwelled on memories that the rest of us shunned?

I still didn't see how Riley came into this. Riley and the cheeseburger of pain. I wanted that part of the story, but now I felt bad for pushing him to answer.

Lucky for my curiosity, Diego kept going after a minute.

"I kind of lost it. Stole a gun from a friend and went hunting."

He chuckled darkly. "Wasn't as good at it then. But I got the guy that got my brother before they got me. The rest of his crew had me cornered in an alley. Then, suddenly, Riley was there, between me and them. I remember thinking he was the whitest guy I'd ever seen. He didn't even look at the others when they shot him. Like the bullets were flies. You know what he said to me? He said, ��Want a new life, kid?'"

"Hah!" I laughed. "That's way better than mine. All I got was,

"'Want a burger, kid?'"

I still remembered how Riley'd looked that night, though the image was al blurry because my eyes'd sucked back then. He was the hottest boy I'd ever seen, tall and blond and perfect, every feature. I knew his eyes must be just as beautiful behind the dark sunglasses he never took off. And his voice was so gentle, so kind. I figured I knew what he would want in exchange for the meal, and I would have given it to him, too. Not because he was so pretty to look at, but because I hadn't eaten anything but trash for two weeks. It turned out he wanted something else, though.

Diego laughed at the burger line. "You must have been pretty hungry."

"Damn straight."

"So why were you so hungry?"

"Because I was stupid and ran away before I had a driver's license. I couldn't get a real job, and I was a bad thief."

"What were you running from?"

I hesitated. The memories were a little more clear as I focused on them, and I wasn't sure I wanted that.

"Oh, c'mon," he coaxed. "I told you mine."

"Yeah, you did. Okay. I was running from my dad. He used to knock me around a lot. Probably did the same to my mom before she took off. I was pretty little then - I didn't know much. It got worse. I figured if I waited too long I'd end up dead. He told me if I ever ran away I'd starve. He was right about that - only thing he was ever right about as far as I'm concerned. I don't think about it much."

Diego nodded in agreement. "Hard to remember that stuff, isn't it? Everything's so fuzzy and dark."

"Like trying to see with mud in your eyes."

"Good way to put it," he complimented me. He squinted at me like he was trying to see, and rubbed his eyes. We laughed together again. Weird.

"I don't think I've laughed with anybody since I met Riley," he said, echoing my thoughts. "This is nice. You're nice. Not like the others. You ever try to have a conversation with one of them?"

"Nope, I haven't."

"You're not missing anything. Which is my point. Wouldn't Riley's standard of living be a little higher if he surrounded himself with decent vampires? If we're supposed to protect her, shouldn't he be looking for the smart ones?"

"So Riley doesn't need brains," I reasoned. "He needs numbers."

Diego pursed his lips, considering. "Like chess. He's not making knights and bishops."

"We're just pawns," I realized.

We stared at each other again for a long minute.

"I don't want to think that," Diego said.

"So what do we do?" I asked, using the plural automatically. Like we were already a team.

He thought about my question for a second, seeming uneasy, and I regretted the "we." But then he said, "What can we do when we don't know what's happening?"

So he didn't mind the team thing, which made me feel real y good in a way I didn't remember ever feeling before. "I guess we keep our eyes open, pay attention, try to figure it out."

He nodded. "We need to think about everything Riley's told us, everything he's done." He paused thoughtfully. "You know, I tried to hash some of this out with Riley once, but he couldn't have cared less. Told me to keep my mind on more important things - like thirst. Which was all I could think about then, of course. He sent me out hunting, and I stopped worrying...."

I watched him thinking about Riley, his eyes unfocused as he relived the memory, and I wondered. Diego was my first friend in this life, but I wasn't his.

Suddenly his focus snapped back to me. "So what have we learned from Riley?"

I concentrated, running through the last three months in my head. "He really doesn't tell us much, you know. Just the vampire basics."

"We'll have to listen more carefully."

We sat in silence, pondering this. I mostly thought about how much I didn't know. And why hadn't I worried about everything I didn't know before now? It was like talking to Diego had cleared my head. For the first time in three months, blood was not the main thing in there.

The silence lasted for a while. The black hole I'd felt funneling fresh air into the cave wasn't black anymore. It was dark gray now and getting infinitesimal y lighter with each second. Diego noticed me eyeing it nervously.

"Don't worry," he said. "Some dim light gets in here on sunny days. It doesn't hurt." He shrugged.

I scooted closer to the hole in the floor, where the water was disappearing as the tide went out.

"Seriously, Bree. I've been down here before during the day. I told Riley about this cave - and how it was mostly filled with water, and he said it was cool when I needed to get out of the madhouse. Anyway, do I look like I got singed?"

I hesitated, thinking about how different his relationship with Riley was than mine. His eyebrows rose, waiting for an answer.

"No," I final y said. "But..."

"Look," he said impatiently. He crawled swiftly to the tunnel and stuck his arm in up to the shoulder. "Nothing."

I nodded once.

"Relax! Do you want me to see how high I can go?" As he spoke, he stuck his head into the hole and started climbing.

"Don't, Diego." He was already out of sight. "I'm relaxed, I swear."

He was laughing - it sounded like he was already several yards up the tunnel. I wanted to go after him, to grab his foot and yank him back, but I was frozen with stress. It would be stupid to risk my life to save some total stranger. But I hadn't had anything close to a friend in forever. Already it would be hard to go back to having no one to talk to, after only one night.

"No estoy quemando," he called down, his tone teasing.

"Wait... is that...? Ow! "

"Diego?"

I leaped across the cave and stuck my head into the tunnel. His face was right there, inches from mine.

"Boo!"

I flinched back from his proximity - just a reflex, old habit.

"Funny," I said dryly, moving away as he slid back into the cave.

"You need to unwind, girl. I've looked into this, okay? Indirect sunlight doesn't hurt."

"So you're saying that I could just stand under a nice shady tree and be fine?"

He hesitated for a minute, as if debating whether or not to tel me something, and then said quietly, "I did once."

I stared at him, waiting for the grin. Because this was a joke. It didn't come.

"Riley said...," I started, and then my voice trailed off.

"Yeah, I know what Riley said," he agreed. "Maybe Riley doesn't know as much as he says he does."

"But Shelly and Steve. Doug and Adam. That kid with the bright red hair. All of them. They're gone because they didn't get back in time. Riley saw the ashes."

Diego's brows pulled together unhappily.
发表于 2016-8-18 12:54 | 显示全部楼层
Chapters 5

"Everyone knows that old-timey vampires had to stay in coffins during the day," I went on. "To keep out of the sun. That's common knowledge, Diego."

"You're right. All the stories do say that."

"And what would Riley gain by locking us up in a lightproof basement - one big group coffin - all day, anyway? We just demolish the place, and he has to deal with all the fighting, and it's constant turmoil. You can't tell me he enjoys it."

Something I'd said surprised him. He sat with his mouth open for a second, then closed it.

"What?"

"Common knowledge," he repeated. "What do vampires do in coffins al day?"

"Er - oh yeah, they're supposed to sleep, right? But I guess they're probably just lying there bored, 'cause we don't... Okay, so that part's wrong."

"Yeah. In the stories they're not just asleep, though. They're total y unconscious. They can't wake up. A human can walk right up and stake them, no problem. And that's another thing - stakes. You real y think someone could shove a piece of wood through you?"

I shrugged. "I haven't real y thought about it. I mean, not a normal piece of wood, obviously. Maybe sharpened wood has some kind of... I don't know. Magical properties or something."

Diego snorted. "Please."

"Well, I don't know. I wouldn't just hold still while some human ran at me with a filed broom handle, anyway."

Diego - still with a sort of disgusted look on his face, as if magic were real y such a reach when you're a vampire - rolled to his knees and started clawing into the limestone above his head. Tiny stone shards filled his hair, but he ignored them.

"What are you doing?"

"Experimenting."

He dug with both hands until he could stand upright, and then kept going.

"Diego, you get to the surface, you explode. Stop it."

"I'm not trying to - ah, here we go."

There was a loud crack, and then another crack, but no light. He ducked back down to where I could see his face, with a piece of tree root in his hand, white, dead, and dry under the clumps of dirt. The edge where he'd broken it was a sharp, uneven point. He tossed it to me.

"Stake me."

I tossed it back. "Whatever."

"Seriously. You know it can't hurt me." He lobbed the wood to me; instead of catching it, I batted it back. He snagged it out of the air and groaned. "You are so...superstitious!"

"I am a vampire. If that doesn't prove that superstitious people are right, I don't know what does."

"Fine, I'll do it."

He held the branch away from himself dramatically, arm extended, like it was a sword and he was about to impale himself.

"C'mon," I said uneasily. "This is silly."

"That's my point. Here goes nothing."

He crushed the wood into his chest, right where his heart used to beat, with enough force to punch through a granite slab. I was totally frozen with panic until he laughed.

"You should see your face, Bree."

He sifted the splinters of broken wood through his fingers; the shattered root fel to the floor in mangled pieces. Diego brushed at his shirt, though it was too trashed from al the swimming and digging for the attempt to do any good. We'd both have to steal more clothes the next time we got a chance.

"Maybe it's different when a human does it."

"Because you felt so magical when you were human?"

"I don't know, Diego," I said, exasperated. "I didn't make up all those stories."

He nodded, suddenly more serious. "What if the stories are exactly that? Made up."

I sighed. "What difference does it make?"

"Not sure. But if we're going to be smart about why we're here - why Riley brought us to her, why she's making more of us - then we have to understand as much as we possibly can."

He frowned, every trace of laughter total y gone from his face now.

I just stared back at him. I didn't have any answers. His face softened just a little. "This helps a lot, you know. Talking about it. Helps me focus."

"Me, too," I said. "I don't know why I never thought about any of this before. It seems so obvious. But working on it together...

I don't know. I can stay on track better."

"Exactly." Diego smiled at me. "I'm really glad you came out tonight."

"Don't get al gooey on me now."

"What? You don't want to be" - he widened his eyes and his voice went up an octave - "BFFs?" He laughed at the goofy expression.

I rolled my eyes, not total y sure if he was making fun of the expression or of me.

"C'mon, Bree. Be my bestest bud forever. Please?" Still teasing, but his wide smile was natural and... hopeful. He held out his hand.

This time I went for a real high five, not realizing until he caught my hand and held it that he'd intended anything else. It was shockingly weird to touch another person after a whole life - because the last three months were my whole life - of avoiding any kind of contact. Like touching a sparking downed power line, only to find out that it felt nice. The smile on my face felt a little lopsided. "Count me in."

"Excellent. Our own private club."

"Very exclusive," I agreed.

He still had my hand. Not shaking it, but not exactly holding it, either. "We need a secret handshake."

"You can be in charge of that one."

"So the super-secret best friends club is called to order, all present, secret handshake to be devised at a later date," he said. "First order of business: Riley. Clueless? Misinformed? Or lying?"

His eyes were on mine as he spoke, wide and sincere. There was no change as he said Riley's name. In that instant, I was sure there was nothing to the stories about Diego and Riley. Diego had just been around more than the others, nothing more. I could trust him.

"Add this to the list," I said. "Agenda. As in, what is his?"

"Bull's-eye. That's exactly what we've got to find out. But first, another experiment."

"That word makes me nervous."

"Trust is an essential part of the whole secret club gig."

He stood up into the extra ceiling space he'd just carved out and started digging again. In a second, his feet were dangling while he held himself up with one hand and excavated with the other.

"You better be digging for garlic," I warned him, and backed up toward the tunnel that led to the sea.

"The stories aren't real, Bree," he called to me. He pulled himself higher into the hole he was making, and the dirt continued to rain down. He was going to fil in his hidey-hole at this rate. Or flood it with light, which would make it even more useless.

I slid most of the way into the escape channel, just my fingertips and eyes above the edge. The water only came up to my hips. It would take me just the smallest fraction of a second to disappear into the darkness below. I could spend a day not breathing.

I'd never been a fan of fire. This might have been because of some buried childhood memory, or maybe it was more recent. Becoming a vampire was enough fire to last me. Diego had to be close to the surface. Once again, I struggled with the idea of losing my new and only friend.

"Please stop, Diego," I whispered, knowing he would probably laugh, knowing he wouldn't listen.

"Trust, Bree."

I waited, unmoving.

"Almost...," he muttered. "Okay."

I tensed for the light, or the spark, or the explosion, but Diego dropped back down while it was still dark. In his hand he had a longer root, a thick snaky thing that was almost as tall as me. He gave me an I-told-you-so kind of look.

"I'm not a completely reckless person," he said. He gestured to the root with his free hand. "See - precautions."

With that, he stabbed the root upward into his new hole. There was a final avalanche of pebbles and sand as Diego dropped back onto his knees, getting out of the way. And then a beam of brilliant light - a ray about the thickness of one of Diego's arms - pierced the darkness of the cave. The light made a pillar from the ceiling to the floor, shimmering as the drifting dirt sifted through it. I was icy-still, gripping the ledge, ready to drop.

Diego didn't jerk away or cry out in pain. There was no smell of smoke. The cave was a hundred times lighter than it had been, but it didn't seem to affect him. So maybe his story about shade trees was true. I watched him careful y as he knelt beside the pillar of sunlight, motionless, staring. He seemed fine, but there was a slight change to his skin. A kind of movement, maybe from the settling dust, that reflected the gleam. It looked almost like he was glowing a little. Maybe it wasn't the dust, maybe it was the burning. Maybe it didn't hurt, and he'd realize it too late....

Seconds passed as we stared at the daylight, motionless. Then, in a move that seemed both absolutely expected and also completely unthinkable, he held out his hand, palm up, and stretched his arm toward the beam.

I moved faster than I could think, which was pretty dang fast. Faster than I'd ever moved before.

I tackled Diego into the back wall of the dirt-filled little cave before he could reach that one last inch to put his skin in the light.
发表于 2016-8-18 13:00 | 显示全部楼层
Chapters 6

The room was filled with a sudden blaze, and I felt the warmth on my leg in the same instant that I realized there wasn't enough room for me to pin Diego to the wall without some part of myself touching the sunlight.

"Bree!" he gasped.

I twisted away from him automatically, rolling myself tight against the wall . It took less than a second, and the whole time I was waiting for the pain to get me. For the flames to hit and then spread like the night I'd met her, only faster. The dazzling flash of light was gone. It was just the pillar of sun again. I looked at Diego's face - his eyes were wide, his mouth hanging open. He was total y still, a sure sign of alarm. I wanted to look down at my leg, but I was afraid to see what was left. This wasn't like Jen ripping my arm off, though that had hurt more. I wasn't going to be able to fix this.

Still no pain yet.

"Bree, did you see that?"

I shook my head once quickly. "How bad is it?"

"Bad?"

"My leg," I said through my teeth. "Just tell me what's left."

"Your leg looks fine to me."

I glanced down quickly, and sure enough, there was my foot and my calf, just like before. I wiggled my toes. Fine.

"Does it hurt?" he asked.

I pulled myself off the ground, onto my knees. "Not yet."

"Did you see what happened? The light?"

I shook my head.

"Watch this," he said, kneeling in front of the beam of sunshine again. "And don't shove me out of the way this time. You already proved I'm right." He put his hand out. It was almost as hard to watch this time, even if my leg felt normal. The second his fingers entered the beam, the cave was filled with a million brilliant rainbow reflections. It was bright as noon in a glass room - light everywhere. I flinched and then shuddered. There was sunlight all over me.

"Unreal," Diego whispered. He put the rest of his hand into the beam, and the cave somehow got even brighter. He rolled his hand over to look at the back, then turned it palm up again. The reflections danced like he was spinning a prism. There was no smell of burning, and he clearly wasn't in pain. I looked closely at his hand, and it seemed like there were a zillion tiny mirrors in the surface, too small to distinguish separately, al shining back the light with double the intensity of a regular mirror.

"Come here, Bree - you have to try this."

I couldn't think of a reason to refuse, and I was curious, but I was also still reluctant as I slid to his side.

"No burn?"

"None. Light doesn't burn us, it just... reflects off of us. I guess that's kind of an understatement."

Slow as a human, I reluctantly stretched my fingers into the light. Immediately, reflections blazed away from my skin, making the room so bright that the day outside would look dark in comparison. They weren't exactly reflections, though, because the light was bent and colored, more like crystal. I stuck my whole hand in, and the room got brighter.

"Do you think Riley knows?" I whispered.

"Maybe. Maybe not."

"Why wouldn't he tell us if he did? What would be the point?

So we're walking disco balls." I shrugged.

Diego laughed. "I can see where the stories come from. Imagine if you saw this when you were human. Wouldn't you think that the guy over there just burst into flames?"

"If he didn't hang around to chat. Maybe."

"This is incredible," Diego said. With one finger he traced a line across my glowing palm.

Then he jumped to his feet right under the sunbeam, and the room went crazy with light.

"C'mon, let's get out of here." He reached up and pulled himself toward the hole he'd cut to the surface. You'd think I would have been over it, but I was still nervous to follow. Not wanting to seem like a total chicken, I stayed close on his heels, but I was cringing inside the whole way. Riley had real y made his point about burning in the sun; in my mind it was linked to that horrific time of burning as I became a vampire, and I couldn't escape the instinctive panic that filled me every time I thought of it.

Then Diego was out of the hole, and I was next to him half a second later. We stood on a small patch of wild grass, only a few feet from the trees that covered the island. Behind us, it was just a couple of yards to a low bluff, and then the water. Everything around us blazed in the color and light shining off of us.

"Wow," I muttered.

Diego grinned at me, his face beautiful with light, and suddenly, with a deep lurch in my stomach, I realized that the whole BFF thing was way off the mark. For me, anyway. It was just that fast.

His grin softened a little bit into just the hint of a smile. His eyes were wide like mine. Al awe and lights. He touched my face, the way he'd touched my hand, as if he was trying to understand the shine.

"So pretty," he said. He left his hand against my cheek. I'm not sure how long we stood there, smiling like total idiots, blazing away like glass torches. The inlet was empty of boats, which was probably good. No way even a mud-eyed human would have missed us. Not that they could have done anything to us, but I wasn't thirsty, and al the screaming would have ruined the mood.

Eventual y a thick cloud drifted in front of the sun. Suddenly we were just us again, though still slightly luminous. Not enough that anyone with eyes duller than a vampire's would notice. As soon as the shine was gone, my thoughts cleared up and I could think about what was coming next. But even though Diego looked like his normal self again - not made of blazing light, anyway - I knew he would never look the same to me. That tingly sensation in the pit of my stomach was still there. I had the feeling it might be there permanently.

"Do we tell Riley? Do we think he doesn't know?" I asked. Diego sighed and dropped his hand. "I don't know. Let's think about this while we track them."

"We're going to have to be careful, tracking them in the day. We're kind of noticeable in the sunlight, you know."

He grinned. "Let's be ninjas."

I nodded. "Super-secret ninja club sounds way cooler than the whole BFF thing."

"Definitely better."

It didn't take us more than a few seconds to find the point from which the whole gang had left the island. That was the easy part. Finding where they'd touched ground on the mainland was a whole other problem. We briefly discussed splitting up, then vetoed that idea unanimously. Our logic was real y sound - after al, if one of us found something, how would we tell the other? - but mostly I just didn't want to leave him, and I could see he felt the same. Both of us had been without any kind of good companionship our whole lives, and it was just too sweet to waste a minute of it.

There were so many options as to where they could have gone. To the mainland of the peninsula, or to another island, or back to the outskirts of Seattle, or north to Canada. Whenever we pulled down or burned down one of our houses, Riley was always prepared - he always seemed to know exactly where to go next. He must have planned ahead for that stuff, but he didn't let any of us in on the plan.

They could have been anywhere.

Ducking in and out of the water to avoid boats and people real y slowed us down. We spent al day with no luck, but neither of us minded. We were having the most fun we'd ever had. It was such a strange day. Instead of sitting miserably in the darkness trying to tune out the mayhem and swallow my disgust at my hiding place, I was playing ninja with my new best friend, or maybe something more. We laughed a lot while we moved through the patches of shade, throwing rocks at each other like they were Chinese stars.

Then the sun set, and suddenly I was stressed. Would Riley look for us? Would he assume we were fried? Did he know better?

We started moving faster. A lot faster. We'd already circled al the nearby islands, so now we concentrated on the mainland. About an hour after sundown, I caught a familiar scent, and within seconds we were on their trail. Once we found the path of the smell, it was as easy as following a herd of elephants through fresh snow.

We talked about what to do, more serious now as we ran.

"I don't think we should tell Riley," I said. "Let's say we spent all day in your cave before we went looking for them." As I spoke, my paranoia started to grow. "Better yet, let's tell them your cave was filled with water. We couldn't even talk."

"You think Riley's a bad dude, don't you?" he asked quietly after a minute. As he spoke, he took my hand.

"I don't know. But I'd rather act like he was, just in case." I hesitated, then said, "You don't want to think he's bad."

"No," Diego admitted. "He's kind of my friend. I mean, not like you're my friend." He squeezed my fingers. "But more than anyone else. I don't want to think..." Diego didn't finish his sentence.

I squeezed his fingers back. "Maybe he's total y decent. Our being careful doesn't change who he is."

"True. Okay, the underwater cave story it is. At least at first...

I could talk to him about the sun later. I'd rather do it during the day, anyway, when I can prove what I'm claiming right away. And just in case he already knows, but there's some good reason why he told us something else, I should tell him when we're alone. Grab him at dawn, when he's coming back from wherever it is he goes...."

I noticed a ton of I's rather than we’s going on in Diego's little speech, and it bothered me. But at the same time, I didn't want much to do with educating Riley. I didn't have the same faith in him Diego did.

"Ninja attack at dawn!" I said to make him laugh. It worked. We started joking again as we tracked our herd of vampires, but I could tell he was thinking serious stuff under the teasing, just like I was.

And I only got more anxious as we ran. Because we were running fast, and there was no way we had the wrong trail, but it was taking too long. We were real y getting away from the coast, up and over the closest mountains, off into new territory. This wasn't the normal pattern.

Every house we'd borrowed, whether it was up a mountain or on an island or hidden on a big farm, had a few things in common. The dead owners, the remote locale, and one other thing. They al were sort of focused on Seattle. Oriented around the big city like orbiting moons. Seattle was always the hub, always the target.

We were out of orbit now, and it felt wrong. Maybe it meant nothing, maybe it was just that so many things were changing today. Al the truths I'd accepted had been turned upside down and I wasn't in the mood for any other upheavals. Why couldn't Riley have just picked someplace normal?

"Funny they're this far out," Diego murmured, and I could hear the edge in his voice.

"Or scary," I muttered.

He squeezed my hand. "It's cool. The ninja club can handle anything."

"You got a secret handshake yet?"

"Working on it," he promised.

Something started to bug me. It was like I could feel this strange blind spot - I knew there was something I wasn't seeing, but I couldn't put my finger on it. Something obvious...

And then, about sixty miles farther west than our usual perimeter, we found the house. It was impossible to mistake the noise. The boom boom boom of the bass, the video-game soundtrack, the snarling. Total y our crowd.

I pulled my hand free, and Diego looked at me.

"Hey, I don't even know you," I said in a joking tone. "I haven't had one conversation with you, what with all that water we sat in all day. You could be a ninja or a vampire for all I know."

He grinned. "Same goes for you, stranger." Then low and fast, "Just do the same things you did yesterday. Tomorrow night we'll get out together. Maybe do some reconnaissance, figure out more of what's going on."

"Sounds like a plan. Mum's the word."

He ducked close and kissed me - just a peck, but right on the lips. The shock of it zinged through my whole body. Then he said, "Let's do this," and headed down the side of the mountain toward the source of the raucous noise without looking back. Already playing the part.

A little stunned, I followed from a few yards behind, remembering to put the distance between us that I would put between myself and anyone else.
发表于 2016-8-18 13:07 | 显示全部楼层
Chapters 7
  
The house was a big, log cabin style affair, tucked into a hollow in the pines with no sign of any neighbors for miles around. Al the windows were black, as if the place were empty, but the whole frame was trembling from the heavy bass in the basement.

Diego went in first, and I tried to move behind him like he was Kevin or Raoul. Hesitant, protecting my space. He found the stairs and charged down with a confident tread.

"Trying to lose me, losers?" he asked.

"Oh, hey, Diego's alive," I heard Kevin answer with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.

"No thanks to you," Diego said as I slipped into the dark basement. The only light came from the various TV screens, but it was way more than any of us needed. I hurried back to where Fred had a whole couch to himself, glad that it was right for me to look anxious because there was no way to hide it. I swallowed hard as the revulsion hit, and curled up in my usual spot on the floor behind the couch. Once I was down, Fred's repellent power seemed to ease up. Or maybe I was just getting used to it.

The basement was more than half empty since it was the middle of the night. All the kids in here had eyes the same as mine - bright, recently fed red.

"Took me a while to clean up your stupid mess," Diego told Kevin. "It was almost dawn by the time I got to what was left of the house. Had to sit in a cave filled with water all day."

"Go tattle to Riley. Whatever."

"I see the little girl made it, too," said a new voice, and I shuddered because it was Raoul. I felt a little bit of relief that he didn't know my name, but mostly I just felt horrified that he'd noticed me at all .

"Yeah, she followed me." I couldn't see Diego, but I knew he was shrugging.

"Aren't you the savior of the hour?" Raoul said snidely.

"We don't get extra points for being morons."

I wished Diego wouldn't taunt Raoul. I hoped Riley would come back soon. Only Riley could curb Raoul even the littlest bit.

But Riley was probably out hunting dregs kids to bring to her. Or doing whatever else he did while he was away.

"Interesting attitude you got, Diego. You think that Riley likes you so much he's gonna care if I kill you. I think you're wrong. But either way, for tonight, he already thinks you're dead."

I could hear the others moving. Some probably to back Raoul up, others just getting out of the way. I hesitated in my hiding spot, knowing I wasn't going to let Diego fight them alone, but worried about blowing our cover if it didn't come to that. I hoped Diego had survived this long because he had some crazy combat skills. I wasn't going to have much to offer in that department. There were three members of Raoul's gang here, and some others that might help out just to get on his good side. Would Riley get home before they had time to burn us?

Diego's voice was calm when he answered. "You're really that afraid to take me on alone? Typical."

Raoul snorted. "Does that ever work? I mean, besides in movies. Why should I take you on alone? I don't care about beating you. I just want to end you."

I rolled into a crouch, tensed to spring.

Raoul kept talking. He liked the sound of his own voice a lot.

"But it's not gonna take all of us to deal with you. These two will take care of the other evidence of your unfortunate survival. Little what's-her-name."

My body felt icy, frozen solid. I tried to shake it off so I could fight my best. Not that it would have made a difference. And then I felt something else, something total y unexpected - a wave of revulsion so overpowering that I couldn't hold my crouch. I crumpled to the floor, gasping with horror. I was not the only one to react. I heard disgusted snarls and retching sounds from every corner of the basement. A few people retreated to the edges of the room, where I could see them. They strained against the wall, stretching their necks away as if they could escape the horrible feeling. At least one of these was a member of Raoul's gang.

I heard Raoul's distinctive growl, and then heard it fade as he took off up the stairs. He wasn't the only one to make a break for it. About half of the vampires in the basement cleared out.

I didn't have that choice. I could barely move. And then I realized this had to be because I was so close to Freaky Fred. He was responsible for what was happening. And as horrible as I felt, I was still able to realize that he'd probably just saved my life.

Why?

The sensation of disgust faded slowly. As soon as I could, I crept to the edge of the couch and took in the aftermath. Al of Raoul's gang was gone, but Diego was still there, on the far end of the big room by the TVs. The vampires who remained were slowly relaxing, though everybody looked a little shaken. Most of them were shooting cautious glances in Fred's direction. I peeked at the back of his head, too, though I couldn't see anything. I looked away quickly. Looking at Fred brought back some of the nausea.

"Keep it down."

The deep voice came from Fred. I'd never heard him speak before. Everyone stared and then looked away immediately as the revulsion returned.

So Fred just wanted his peace and quiet. Well, whatever. I was alive because of it. Most likely Raoul would get distracted by some other irritant before dawn and take out his anger on somebody close by. And Riley always came back at the end of the night. He would hear that Diego had been in his cave rather than outside and destroyed by the sun, and Raoul wouldn't have an excuse to attack him or me.

At least, that was the best-case scenario. In the meantime, maybe Diego and I could come up with some plan to steer clear of Raoul.

Again, I had a fleeting sense that I was missing an obvious solution. Before I could figure it out, my thoughts were interrupted.

"Sorry."

The deep, almost silent mutter could only have come from Fred. It looked like I was the only one close enough to real y hear. Was he talking to me?

I looked at him again and felt nothing. I couldn't see his face - he had his back to me still . He had thick, wavy blond hair. I'd never noticed that before, not with al the days I'd sat hiding in his shadow. Riley wasn't kidding when he'd said that Fred was special. Gross, but real y special. Did Riley have any idea that Fred was so... so powerful? He was able to overwhelm a whole room of us in a second.

Though I couldn't see his expression, I had the sense that Fred was waiting for an answer.

"Um, don't apologize," I breathed almost silently. "Thank you."

Fred shrugged.

And then I found I couldn't look at him anymore. The hours passed slower than usual as I waited for Raoul to come back. From time to time I tried to look at Fred again - to see past the protection he'd created for himself - but I always found myself repel ed. If I tried too hard, I ended up gagging. Thinking about Fred was a good distraction from thinking about Diego. I tried to pretend I didn't care where he was in the room. I didn't look at him but focused on the sound of his breathing - his distinct rhythm - to keep tabs. He sat on the other side of the room from me, listening to his CDs on a laptop. Or maybe pretending to listen, the way I was pretending to read the books from the damp backpack on my shoulders. I flipped pages at my usual rate, but I didn't take anything in. I was waiting for Raoul.

Luckily, Riley came first. Raoul and his cohorts were right behind him, but not as loud and obnoxious as usual. Maybe Fred had taught them a little respect.

Probably not, though. More likely Fred had just angered them. I real y hoped Fred never let his guard slip. Riley went to Diego right away; I listened with my back to them, eyes on my book. In my peripheral vision, I saw some of Raoul's idiots wandering, looking for their favorite games or whatever they'd been doing before Fred had driven them out. Kevin was one of them, but he seemed to be looking for something more specific than entertainment. Several times his eyes tried to focus on where I was sitting, but Fred's aura kept him at bay. He gave up after a few minutes, looking a little sick.

"I heard you made it back," Riley said, sounding genuinely pleased. "I can always count on you, Diego."

"No problem," Diego said in a relaxed voice. "Unless you count holding my breath al day as a negative."

Riley laughed. "Don't cut it so close next time. Set a better example for the babies."

Diego just laughed with him. From the corner of my eye, it seemed like Kevin relaxed some. Was he real y that worried about Diego getting him in trouble? Maybe Riley listened to Diego more than I realized. I wondered whether that was why Raoul had gotten crazy before.

Was it a good thing if Diego was that in with Riley after all?

Maybe Riley was okay. That relationship didn't compromise what we had, did it?

Time didn't pass any faster after the sun was up. It was crowded and unstable in the basement, like every day. If vampires could get hoarse, Riley would have lost his voice entirely from the yelling. A couple of kids temporarily lost limbs, but nobody got torched. The music warred with the game tracks, and I was glad I didn't get headaches. I tried reading my books, but I ended up just flipping through one after the other, not caring enough to make my eyes focus on the words. I left them in a neat stack by the end of the couch for Fred. I always left my books for him, though I never could tell whether he read them. Couldn't look at him closely enough to see what, exactly, he did with his time.

At least Raoul never looked my way. Neither did Kevin or any of the others. My hiding place was as effective as ever. I couldn't see if Diego was smart enough to ignore me, because I was ignoring him so thoroughly. No one could suspect that we were a team, except maybe Fred. Had Fred been paying attention as I prepared to fight alongside Diego? Even if he had, I didn't worry too much about it. If Fred felt any particular ill will toward me, he could have let me die last night. Would have been easy.

It got louder as the sun started to go down. We couldn't see the light fading here underground, with al of the windows upstairs covered just in case. But waiting through so many long days gave you a good sense for when one was almost over. Kids started getting antsy, bugging Riley about whether they could go out.

"Kristie, you were out last night," Riley said, and you could hear the patience wearing thin in his voice. "Heather, Jim, Logan - go ahead. Warren, your eyes are dark, go along with them. Hey, Sara, I'm not blind - get back here."

The kids he shut down sulked in the corners, some of them waiting for Riley to leave so they could sneak out in spite of his rules.

"Um, Fred, must be about your turn," Riley said, not looking in our direction. I heard Fred sigh as he got to his feet. Everyone cringed as he moved through the center of the room, even Riley. But unlike the others, Riley smiled a little to himself. He liked his vampire with skills.

I felt naked with Fred gone. Anyone could focus on me now. I held perfectly still, head down, doing everything in my power not to call attention to myself.

Lucky for me, Riley was in a hurry tonight. He barely paused to glare at the people who were clearly edging for the door, let alone threaten them, as he headed out himself. Normal y he'd give us some variant on the usual speech about keeping a low profile, but not tonight. He seemed preoccupied, anxious. I'd have bet he was going to see her. That made me less excited about catching up with him at dawn.

I waited for Kristie and three of her usual companions to head out, and I slipped out in their wake, trying to look like part of the entourage without irritating them. I didn't look at Raoul, I didn't look at Diego. I concentrated on seeming inconsequential - no one to notice. Just some random vampire chick. Once we were out of the house, I split off from Kristie immediately and beat it into the woods. I hoped only Diego would care enough to follow my scent. Halfway up the side of the nearest mountain, I made my perch in the top branches of a big spruce that cleared its neighbors by several meters. I had a pretty good view of anyone who might try to track me. Turns out I was being overcautious. Maybe I'd been too cautious al day. Diego was the only one to come looking. I saw him from a distance and backtracked to meet him.

"Long day," he said, giving me a hug. "Your plan is hard."

I hugged him back, marveling at how comfortable this was.

"Maybe I'm just being paranoid."

"Sorry about Raoul. That was close."

I nodded. "Good thing Fred is so disgusting."

"I wonder if Riley knows how potent that kid is."

"Doubt it. I've never seen him do that before, and I spend a lot of time around him."

"Well, that's Freaky Fred's business. We have our own secret to tell Riley."

I shuddered. "Still not sure that's a good idea."

"We won't know until we see how Riley reacts."

"I don't really like not knowing, as a general rule."

Diego's eyes narrowed speculatively. "How do you feel about adventure?"

"Depends."

"Well, I was thinking about club priorities. You know, about finding out as much as we can."

"And...?"

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