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“Don’t mind if I sleep here, do you?” she slurred.

“What are you doing? Where’s Jeramiah?”

She scowled. “He said I drank too much tonight. Didn’t want me in his apartment. Said I snore too much,” she replied, before taking another swig from her bottle.

I snatched the bottle from her and shoved it out of reach.

Her frown deepened.

“You can’t sleep here,” I hissed. “Find a spare room in someone else’s apartment.”

Her lips formed a coy smile. “I’m not used to sleeping alone.” I looked away as she sat up abruptly in bed, the sheet slipping to reveal her bare form.

Jesus Christ.

Keeping my eyes fixed on the door, I said through gritted teeth, “Get out. Now.”

“If you’re worried about Jeramiah, he doesn’t mind really. He shares me all the time…”

He shares you, or you share yourself?

To my discomfort, she leapt out of bed and flung herself at me. I brushed her away, grabbing another sheet from the bed and wrapping it around her tightly so that her arms were trapped within it. I looked toward the door before turning back to face her. Her eyes were glassy and bloodshot.

“If you want to stay here, you’re going to answer some of my questions,” I said, my voice low.

“Sounds fair enough, I s’pose.”

I sat her down on the bed, before leaning back against the wall, watching her intently.

I showed her the mark on my right biceps.

“Who did this?” I asked.

She eyed the tattoo. “I dunno. We all get them once we arrive here. I’ve got one too, see.” She struggled to show me her tattoo, but failed miserably due to the tightness of the sheet around her.

“So one of you did this to me?”

She shrugged. “Who else would have done it?”

It was clear that she wasn’t going to contribute much on this topic, so I changed the subject.

“Why is there a memorial stone by the lily pond for Lucas Novak?”

She frowned, as though struggling to understand what I’d said.

I asked the question again, slower this time.

“Stone,” she slurred. “Oh, yeah. That old thing. I wondered the same thing when I saw Jeramiah clearing away the weeds from it one day.”

“Jeramiah?” I leaned in closer.

“Yeah, my supposed boyfriend who kicks me out of his bed whenever he feels like it…”

“Tell me more,” I urged, careful to keep my voice low.

“He also lies and says I talk too much when I’ve had too much to—”

“No! More about the memorial stone. You saw Jeramiah cleaning it. Was he the one who installed it by the pond?”

“Yeah… For his dad.”

My voice caught in my throat.

“Dad?” I breathed.

“If you could call him that,” she replied. “Jeramiah told me that he never even met his father. He doesn’t even think that his father knew of his existence.”

“H-How could that be?”

“Jeramiah said his father was…” She paused, smirking. “Let’s just say that in his youth he wasn’t great at keeping his pants on. Something I wish you weren’t great at right now…” She cast me another longing glance before licking her lips and continuing. “Jeramiah’s mother was the daughter of a poor mill owner. She was just sixteen when Lucas knocked her up. According to Jeramiah, she didn’t realize that she was pregnant until two months later… but by then, Lucas was nowhere to be found. Moved on, I guess. Left town. Who the hell knows. Perhaps the Elder had even gotten him by then… Poor ol’ Jera. His mother died when he was still young. And he’s always had a chip on his shoulder for growing up as a bastard child. He never used Novak as his surname. Titled himself Jeramiah Stone.”

My mind was one blur of confusion. A hundred conflicting questions and doubts crowded my head at once.

“How…How is this possible?” was all I managed to voice.

“How is what possible?” Her mood changed to irritation. “I don’t get what’s so surprising. The Elders are famous for tracking down members of the same bloodline. Once they found a lineage that worked for them, they’d try to snatch up as many blood relations as they possibly could. And the Novaks, apparently, were one of their favorite families. They targeted everyone who was even remotely related to a Novak. Apparently, that family always had a leaning towards darkness…” The obvious finally dawned on her. “Why are you so interested anyway? Did you know Lucas Novak?”

I shook my head. “No,” I said truthfully. “I was just curious.”

That seemed to be enough of an answer to direct her attention away from me in her drunken state.

“I have to leave,” was the one thought circling my mind now.

This was just one bad omen too many.

I couldn’t be sure whether Jeramiah knew that I was a Novak or not. But something had obviously drawn him to me. Whatever it was, I wasn’t about to hang around to find out.

The son of Lucas Novak was someone I had to get as far away from as possible.

I looked around the room, forming a plan. I headed first for the closet by the bed and began emptying it of all the clothes I could find. Grabbing one shirt after the other, I pulled them over me until I had a thick layer of shirts covering my skin. Then I did the same with pants, though I was only able to pile on two pairs. I headed straight to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. I was relieved to see containers of blood there. I emptied the fridge of the blood and tied the supply up in a bed sheet. Next, I searched the apartment for something that I could use to shield myself from the sun. I found an umbrella sitting on a shelf in a cupboard in one of the spare rooms. It looked flimsy, but it would have to do.

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