Staking him would require a distraction, Valentin had argued, and she was the only distraction that might throw him off balance enough for his plan to succeed. Hayden smoothed her blue silk dress—Sarah’s dress, or at least one that resembled the dress in her vision—and wondered if she’d be able to fool Henry long enough for Valentin to complete his task. She’d left her gun at the mansion. Too difficult to secure to the voluminous folds of her skirts.
Or so Valentin had told her.
The dark winter landscape slipped past so fast it was little more than a blur. The holiday decorations that brightened the streets had been turned off, so there was no relief from the bare trees and overcast sky. Up above, clouds had massed, blotting out the moon and the stars. The wind had picked up as well and its howl promised nothing good.
In a few minutes they would arrive at the town’s oldest graveyard. There would be no turning back then, no chance to cut and run.
She told herself she was beyond fear. Okay, so maybe I’m full of shit, she amended. But she had to be beyond it. Much as she hated to admit it, she had to “risk eternity” if it meant there was a chance of stopping the murders. The second corpse and its bloody message had convinced her the killings were only going to get worse. Could she pass up a chance to do something about that?
Yeah, she could. She definitely could.
Only she wasn’t going to.
At the scene of Henry’s final murder in Whitechapel, the heart of the dead prostitute had been ripped out and left on a table. Maybe there was already a third corpse back in Boston, its heart ripped out as well. Valentin was right. If she didn’t act quickly one killing would follow another until all of Boston was living in fear. She had to be willing to risk death—or worse—to stop that massacre from happening.
Still, there was Valentin’s secrecy. The thought he wasn’t telling all troubled her slightly, though her zeal to solve the crime and catch the killer made it hard to stop and think about what it could be. Hayden knew she hadn’t asked the right question, the question that would cause everything to fall into place.
Even so, Valentin’s presence had a peculiar effect on her—the more time she spent with him the more she found herself drawn to him. If she did live . . .
She stopped the thought before it could fully form. There could be no relationship between them. Perhaps he wasn’t a vampire by choice. But he was still a killer. To allow herself to remain with him—even to sleep with him—would make a mockery of everything she stood for.
“Tired?” From the driver’s side of the car, Valentin gave her a sidelong glance. A faint stubble ran along his jawbone, making him look even less tamed than he was. And even more handsome. “Once we get there, things should move fairly quickly.”
Was that concern she thought she heard—or simply fear that she had changed her mind?
“It’s been a long day—a long couple of days,” she said, leaning back against the passenger seat and closing her eyes. She wanted to compose herself, to find a space in which she could think analytically about all she’d learned. But the moment she did so, the dream of making love with Valentin rose up before her with such intensity that she had to force herself to stop thinking of it. Somehow he had seared himself into her consciousness, so much so that she saw him even when he wasn’t there. Even with her eyes closed, his eyes met hers, his dark hair flowed out around him. What she felt for
Valentin she had never felt for any man.
But he was lying to her. She kept returning to that. True, he hadn’t tried to minimize the danger. He was the one who told her she needed to “risk eternity,” though he hadn’t been exactly clear on what that meant. Before they left the mansion he told her there was a chance—a very slight chance—that he might not be able to reach her before Henry realized she wasn’t Sarah.
Turning toward him slightly, she said doubtfully, “Tell me again how you know Henry will be at the graveyard.”
“I’ve followed him for months—years, if you count the decades I’ve searched for him. It was only by chance that I happened to learn he was in Massachusetts. Last summer I came across an article on the internet about a Boston girl who’d been stabbed 39 times. That was actually the first murder here. Of course, it might have been anyone who killed her. But the fact that the number of stab wounds matched Jack’s first crime exactly and the police’s inability to determine the weapon made me believe there was a possibility it was Henry. Not long afterward, I came up here to investigate and found out my hunch had been correct. So I bought the mansion and made the necessary arrangements. Eventually I learned where he was spending his nights.”
“Is that how you knew about the killings?” she asked, not bothering to hide her disapproval. “You followed him and watched?”
He slowed the Jaguar and pulled up alongside the cemetery, which was surrounded by pointed iron fencing and an oversized sign that warned sightseers against entering after dark. “The first I saw shortly after it happened. Had I realized what he had in mind I would have stopped him. The second I discovered . . . later.”
At the hitch in his voice, she fought down her rising sense of panic. “Why did he carve Annika’s name across her abdomen?” she asked uneasily.
“It was a message,” he said. “He wanted to tell me he knows I’m here.”
“If he knows—“
“He won’t expect this,” he said, cutting her off. “He won’t expect you. At this point he knows nothing of your involvement in the case—had he seen you—”
She didn’t need him to finish the sentence. If he had seen her he would know their little ruse was a trap. And she would be a dead woman.
“And what about afterward?” she asked, changing the subject. “If you do stake him after all these years, then what?”
Valentin never looked at her. “That’s my concern,” he said. “But I assure you, you’ll never see me again. I give you my word.”
“Well, that’s a relief,” she said lightly.
“Otherwise I’d have to investigate you, too.”
A muscle worked in his jaw but his voice remained maddeningly calm. “Your zeal is impressive,” he said. “If not wise.”
Neither of them spoke as Valentin pulled the keys out of the ignition and walked around to her side of the car to open the door. Was he being polite or was he just eager to use her as bait? As she fumbled with her skirts and climbed out of the car, Hayden wondered why the thought of never seeing him again made her stomach clench with apprehension.
The wind roared around them as they walked toward the entrance, cutting through her dress and whipping strands of hair into her face. She wondered how long it would be before the elaborate updo Valentin had insisted she wear came completely undone, ruining the effect he was so intent on making.
She made an attempt to push a few strands of hair back into place, with no success. Turning toward him, she tried to ask him if he could help her with it, but conversation was next to impossible. Dead leaves skittered across the yellowed grass on the other side of the fence.
At the barred entrance Valentin whirled around toward her, lifting her into his arms before she could protest. He leapt over the metal gate in a single bound and stood a moment on the other side, holding her against him as if she weighed less than nothing. Her cheek pressed against his shirt, so close she could feel his heart beating steadily. It made him seem almost human, almost safe. After what seemed like a few moments longer than necessary, he set her gently down.
“Thanks,” she shouted, hoping she sounded a lot less nervous than she felt.
“Come.” He held out his hand to her and she took it, startled afresh by the sensations running up her arm. Every time he touched her, she felt as if she were about to catch fire. Damn him.
As they made their way between the thin, oversized gravestones, she began to shake. She wasn’t sure whether she was shivering because it was breathtakingly cold or because bits of history were coming back to her. The judges of the Salem witch trials were buried at the old cemetery, she remembered. Their victims, mostly innocent people, were buried across the street in unmarked graves near the place where they had been hung. If ever there were a place where ghosts would walk, it was here. It was a place of darkness. A place where evil had been laid to rest.
The only problem, she thought, was that evil wouldn’t go on sleeping forever. Like ghosts who haunted the people who’d wronged them, evil would never relinquish its hold on the living.
Valentin was walking ahead of her, practically dragging her across the cemetery, and she had to struggle to keep up. “We must hurry,” he shouted over his shoulder, his coat flapping wildly behind him. “Otherwise it will be too late.”
She lifted the hem of her dress in an attempt to walk faster, but she still had to contend with the shoes, old-fashioned pumps that pinched her feet. She wanted to cry out to Valentin to slow down, but the roar of the wind kept her from speaking. The air smelled like it did before it snowed. Glancing up at the sky, Hayden saw the dark clouds and wondered how long it would be before the storm broke.
When they reached the far side of the graveyard Valentin stopped before a small stone building set toward the back of the cemetery. Pulling her behind the crypt so that they were concealed from view, he turned toward her. “This is where he sleeps.”
“What do we do now?” she asked, shivering at the idea of even a vampire laying down among skeletons.
“Now we wait,” he said. “He’ll likely return just before dawn. There won’t be much time in which to accomplish the killing. Of course, if the sun rises that suits my purpose just as well. Though from the looks of it, we might not get enough light to kill him.”
She studied his face but could detect no sign that the possibility of his own death bothered him. “But why here?” she whispered doubtfully. “He could sleep anywhere.”
Valentin’s response was perfunctory. “He hates the living.”
The wind moaned through the bare trees, sounding eerily similar to the shrieks of dying women. They waited without speaking and she tried to merge her thoughts with his, as she had done at the mansion, but he had closed himself off from her. She knew he had done it intentionally—that the natural state between them was one in which their minds flowed together without barriers. But
Valentin’s mind was moving away from her with increasing speed. It was as if he didn’t want to touch her, didn’t want to register her presence at all. Without understanding why, she sensed he was trying to forget her completely. In his left hand, he held the wooden stake he would drive through Henry’s heart.
Surprisingly, it was Hayden who heard him first. She pressed Valentin’s arm as a warning but her gesture was unnecessary. Henry had already emerged from shadow and was walking toward them. She felt Valentin’s pulse quicken, felt him willing her to move.
Tucking a stray lock of hair back into place, she braced herself and emerged from hiding. “Henry,” she said, crossing toward him and holding out her arms.
Henry stopped and stared. “Sarah?”
She hated the mix of hope and desperation in his voice. He sounded exactly as if he were still young and very much in love. Which he was in a way, she supposed. But he was also a killer.
From where she stood, she managed a smile. “Yes,” she lied. “It’s me, Sarah.” The words came out in a whisper, barely audible, but he still heard her and began to run.
Henry stumbled to an abrupt stop when he reached her and studied her face. His features were as beautiful as Valentin’s but in an entirely different way. Henry possessed the sort of classic beauty that was almost feminine—high cheekbones, blue deep set eyes, fine blond hair that curled around his face.
She saw the disbelief flicker across his face. There was madness there, but he perhaps wasn’t so far gone that he had lost all sense of reason.
Was the sound of her voice somehow wrong? She hadn’t thought about that, hadn’t thought things through to this point at all. Where was Valentin? Surely she had bought him enough time.
Henry took another step toward her, then flung himself forward and embraced her so tightly she couldn’t breathe. She tried to step back, to push him away from her, but he wouldn’t release her.
“Darling,” he repeated over and over. “I’m so sorry.”
Where was Valentin? she thought frantically as she smoothed Henry’s hair in what she hoped wasn’t a mechanical gesture. Too much time was passing. Already the outlines of the trees were becoming visible.
Henry seemed oblivious to the change in the light, as if he were focused solely on the woman he believed was Sarah Whitcomb. Then without warning he released her and held her at arm’s length.
Hayden wondered if he could hear her heart pounding. Was the resemblance close enough that he wouldn’t guess, even with her features becoming more clear with each passing second? Knowing it was a mistake, she glanced over her shoulder in an attempt to see if Valentin was behind the old storage building.
“What is it, love?” Henry asked, following her gaze. “Is someone there?”
She shook her head no. If she didn’t speak to him, would she survive? She felt herself blinking back tears for the second time in her life.
Valentin had betrayed her.
Too late, she understood what he really wanted. Hayden felt the anger surging through her, felt it giving her strength. With a sudden burst of energy she thrust Henry from her so that he stumbled back several feet. She turned to run but stumbled over the hem of her dress. Before she had gotten more than a few yards away, Henry caught her from behind and lifted her roughly by the shoulders.
“There’s nothing to fear,” Henry hissed into her ear, pinning her arms so she couldn’t move. “It’s so simple, really. I should have done it long ago—then we would never have been parted.” He ran his lips over her shoulder and let them come to rest on the side of her neck.
She wanted to cry out to Valentin but stopped herself. What good would it do? He had betrayed her.
“I’m not Sarah—“ she pleaded. “Sarah’s dead.”
If Henry heard her, he gave no indication of it. “Don’t be frightened, darling,” he murmured as he sank his fangs deep into her skin.
Hayden fought not to lose consciousness, aware that if she let herself close her eyes she would never wake up. For surely Henry meant to kill her. He drank greedily without stopping, seemingly oblivious to the fact that she was rapidly growing weaker. Her heartbeat slowed, then weakened to a ragged knocking.
Her entire body was telling her to let go, to stop fighting. At least then she would be free of him. The rational part of her struggled to find some way to survive, but that part was rapidly losing ground. If only she could sleep she would be at peace. Her eyelids fluttered shut.
Apparently death wasn’t what Henry had in mind, however.
“Not yet,” he said gently, setting her down onto the cold ground so that her back was propped up against an ancient elm. “Drink first. Then sleep.”
Before she understood what he wanted, he had shaken her awake and removed a knife from his coat.
She watched the blood trickling down his arm in crimson rivulets. He knelt before her and lifted her chin with his hand, offering his wound to her, willing her to accept his gift of blood. She understood vaguely that he meant her to drink his blood now in exchange for what he had taken from his beloved a century earlier. He was offering her eternity.
She didn’t want it.
Henry pressed his arm to her lips, doing all he could to force her to drink. She tried to shake her head no, to speak, but she was too weak. All she could do was to close her lips against the blood so that it dribbled down her chin and pooled in his cupped palm. She fought for the strength to lift her arms and push him away but even the thought of using force was too difficult.
Summoning what strength remained, she tried to turn her head away from the blood but Henry refused to give in, holding her jaw so tightly she thought he would crush it. “Drink, my love,” he coaxed. “Then we can live as one forever.”
She could see the shadows of the ancient graves clearly now. How long until it was fully light? She couldn’t think, couldn’t do anything but go on weakly resisting him. She could feel his increasing frustration, the urgency with which he was trying to bend her to his will.
Without warning, the pressure stopped.
Valentin lifted Henry off her and held him in an iron grip. So he had come to save her at last. Relief flooded her. Everything would be all right. He hadn’t betrayed her after all.
Hayden managed to lift her gaze to his face. Until she knew he was really there, she hadn’t realized how much she needed to see him. Valentin stood above her with Henry’s struggling form pressed against him, his dark eyes fixed on hers.
When her eyes met his, there was a moment of absolute connection between them. She felt his intensity penetrate to the core of her being. Its heat radiated outward, flowing over her and she experienced a feeling of complete peace, unlike anything she had ever known. She couldn’t help wanting to allow herself to submerge herself in the heat of that connection, even though she knew now that the source of the intensity was not love but hatred.
Belatedly, she understood why Valentin had wanted her help so badly: with her death he would gain what he had wanted all along—the only thing he ever wanted from her.
The hatred she had sensed at the mansion wasn’t self-hatred at all, she thought dazedly. It was his hatred toward Henry—it had nothing to do with her. The only reason Valentin had bothered to think of her at all was in connection with Henry. Because his goal all along had been to make his enemy suffer in the most excruciating way possible. How better to accomplish that than to rob Henry of his soulmate a second time? Only this time he would force Henry to watch as his beloved died before him.
Quid pro quo.
Not five feet from where she lay, Henry watched her in apparent horror. His beloved was dying. And Valentin was going hold him there until she was gone forever.
“Sarah—“ At the sound of his cry, Hayden found it hard to keep hold of the idea that she was staring into the face of a madman. And a monster.
She closed her eyes.
Valentin held Henry as he continued struggling to free himself. He watched as Hayden lay motionless on the ground a few feet away, pale as death. Her long dress was tangled around her feet and her lips were stained crimson from Henry’s failed attempt to force her to drink. She had lost a lot of blood, exactly how much he couldn’t be sure.
He’d waited as long as he could before separating Hayden from Henry. It had been difficult to watch as Henry drained the life out of her, far more difficult than he had imagined it would be.
But, he told himself, his attack of last-minute conscience was due to the fact that he couldn’t be certain his plan would succeed. Nothing more than that.
So why didn’t he feel more triumphant?
After all, Hayden might die too quickly, thus robbing him of the opportunity to savor Henry’s pain. Henry might be mad but he wasn’t so far gone he couldn’t experience pain.
Afterward, he would stake him and put an end to a century of brutal killings. Hayden’s death was inevitable, but at least some good had come of it.
So why didn’t he feel more triumphant?
The question refused to fade. Perhaps she might not die at all, though from the looks of it her death seemed fairly certain. And if Henry’s fangs didn’t kill her he could take matters into his own hands.
No one should have to suffer the fate he had endured. Hayden would be better off dead than doomed to survive as a vampire.
But there was another reason he wanted her dead. If he were honest with himself, he’d have to admit she was the only woman he’d ever felt a connection with.
Soon he would die, too, putting an end to a life as meaningless as any of his kind. Almost as cruel as
Henry’s, he thought darkly as he watched the life ebbing out of Hayden. He closed his eyes but even in darkness he could feel the pull of the connection between them. Even in darkness, her pain was no different from his. He fought the urge to release Henry and go to her.
Henry went on calling out to Hayden, but she remained motionless. When she didn’t respond, he intensified his efforts to break away from Valentin, without success. At one time they had been equals when it came to physical strength. Fortunately, he’d prepared for this day like a general readying his troops for battle. He had replayed the fantasy of this scene over and over again, anticipating every contingency. He’d lived this night for so long that Henry’s next question sounded like a line from a play he’d seen many times.
“Why are you doing this?” he asked, shouting to make himself heard above the sound of the wind.
“You killed her once, why must you kill her again?”
Despite his cries, Valentin didn’t sense any pain—at least not from Henry.
Something was wrong.
Valentin drew back from the possibility that suggested itself. It was almost as if Henry were acting, he thought, then pushed the idea away. Unthinkingly, he released his grip and watched as Henry whirled around to face him.
A small smile played around the corners of Henry’s mouth. “Hmm….can it be you’ve begun to see the truth at last?”
“As of tonight you’ve killed your last victim,” Valentin said, fighting a growing sense of foreboding.
Why wasn’t Henry rushing over toward Hayden?
Henry scoffed. “Don’t pretend you have the slightest concern with justice. Annika’s the only one you ever gave a damn about. How about your latest victim?” he shot back, gesturing toward Hayden’s lifeless body.
A few snowflakes began to fall, rendering the site strangely beautiful. Stretched out before a row of tilted gravestones, Hayden looked as if she were a princess from one of the fairy tales Annika liked so much as a child. As if she would wake from her enchantment at any moment.
“I didn’t butcher innocent women,” Valentin said. “I didn’t torture anyone or carve their bodies up as if I were some kind of animal.” With every word, he had to fight to suppress his growing fear. “I didn’t entice an innocent girl into trusting me and leave her dying on the street.”
Yet even as he said it couldn’t deny the truth of Henry’s statement. Didn’t he kill, too? Yes, a part of him answered, but the killings are a necessary evil. You have no choice. And you kill in the least evil way possible.
Henry responded as if Valentin had spoken aloud. “You’re lying to yourself, just like you always have.”
“I never meant to kill Sarah.”
“Perhaps not, but you did,” Henry said coolly. “And you’re as good as killing her now.”
As good as. Henry might as well have punched Valentin in the stomach. He knew.
“Of course I know,” Henry hissed at him, “I’ve always known.”
He tried to form the question, “Then why—”
Henry’s eyes were terrible. If this was madness, then it was the kind of madness that excused nothing. “Why do you think I moved here?” he asked, almost slyly. “For the sunny climate? It took me years to find someone who looked as much like Sarah as her own sister. As much like Sarah as Sarah herself. At first I had no intention of involving you—I wanted her for myself. At my age I’ll settle for illusion. And who knows, with Sarah’s double as my mate I might have even stopped killing.”
The idea of anyone settling for Hayden irritated him more than it should have. “The killings would never stop,” he said. “You love blood too much.”
“As do you,” Henry retorted. “Don’t fool yourself.”
“Unlike you, I didn’t have a choice.”
“You had a choice,” Henry said. “You could have chosen death.”
“I didn’t want to die.” Valentin hated himself for saying it, hated his own weakness.
“Nor did Sarah. But you didn’t give her the chance to choose. Not to mention the woman lying dead not five feet away from you. Because I’ve no doubt you didn’t mention to Hayden Farrell that for you to accomplish what you wanted, she needed to die.”
Valentin started at the sound of Hayden’s name. With a growing sense of horror, he began to understand. “Why didn’t you change her if you wanted her for yourself—or simply kill her, like the others?”
“Oh, I would have, I assure you.” The snow was falling thickly now and Henry stopped to brush a few flakes from his impeccably cut hair. “But the irony of ironies is this—it’s you, not I, who will suffer as a result of Hayden’s death. For me, she would have been a replacement for the real thing —but for you—” he stopped in mid-sentence, then burst into laughter that lost itself in the roar of the wind. “Imagine my surprise when I realized I’d found the incarnation not of my soulmate, but yours. What a wonderful way to exact my revenge—to trick you into using her as bait to catch me. Far better than killing your sister.”
His soulmate. How had he not seen it immediately? Valentin remembered watching from the hotel room the night of the second murder. He’d been surprised by his ability to read her thoughts but it never occurred to him to question why. But hadn’t a part of him known he’d been lying to himself all along? Hadn’t he always known Hayden was his true mate?
Yet he’d been willing to sacrifice her to gain revenge over a being that had no soul. Or had that been the reason? Hadn’t a part of him wanted to punish himself for his failures—and what better way to accomplish that than by destroying his soulmate?
The thought of her death was suddenly unbearable. He sensed that she was weak but he could feel her heart beating as if it were in his own chest. She lay in the same position as she had before, the only difference being the outline of her body was dusted with snow. No, he thought, sensing the feeble thread of her pulse, she’s not dead. The knowledge surged through his veins like a shot of adrenaline. He realized with something like shock that he was relieved, giddily relieved, that she wasn’t lost to him.
He launched himself at Henry with lightning speed. In a single fluid motion he pulled the wooden stake from his coat pocket and drove it through Henry’s heart. In the moment before he fell, Henry regarded him with a look of utter satisfaction.
I’ll see you in hell.
Had Henry said the words as he died, or was it his own heart giving voice to what he knew to be true? Rushing toward Hayden, he knelt down and gathered her lifeless body into his arms. Snow swirled out of the blackness and settled onto the crimson droplets trickling down her neck.