When he reached Maggie’s, she opened the door for him herself. She kissed him quickly, her eyes surveying his intently.
“You do believe?” she whispered.
He cupped her chin in his hands. “I’m going after a vampire by first light,” he told her.
She nodded, assured, and turned toward the kitchen. “One hell of a late dinner, isn’t it?” she inquired.
He followed her. Water boiled on the stove, sauce simmered, the unmistakable smell of garlic filled the kitchen. Something in a strange clear hue bubbled on a burner. Sean smelled it, stepped back, wrinkling his nose. “Whoa, Maggie, are we supposed to eat that?”
She managed to flash him a smile. “No, that’s my personal skin lotion. You and Jack have to rub it all over you tomorrow, especially the neck and breast area ... wrists ... anywhere Aaron could sink his teeth into you easily.”
“Oh,” he murmured.
“Stir the sauce?” she asked, reaching into the refrigerator for salad components.
“Sure. Maggie, where’s Peggy?”
“I sent her to see a sister in Atlanta.”
She hesitated. As she did, the doorbell rang. “Must be Jack,” she told him.
“All right.” He went and answered the door. Jack had arrived with two large khaki police-issue duffel bags.
“Got everything?” Sean asked.
“Everything. I had to promise to show up for Mass every Sunday for the next year, since I couldn’t quite manage to explain why I needed all the Holy water.”
“That will be good for your soul. Come on in the kitchen; dinner’s almost ready.” Jack followed him into the kitchen. “Hi, Maggie.”
“Maggie was just about to tell me why she sent Peggy to her sister’s house.” She hesitated again, then shrugged. “Well, I hope you really hurt Aaron tonight because he called and threatened me. He wants to kill you and torture me for the next century.” She was breaking pasta into the pot as if they were discussing a rational issue. “But he’s in the middle of copycat killings in imitation of what he sees as his greatest crimes. Discounting Anthony Beale—”
“He’s killed two whores,” Jack said.
“So, going by the accepted Ripper numbers—?” Sean said.
“Double-header next,” Jack finished.
Sean felt a tic in his cheek as his muscles constricted. His hands were clenched into fists. “Jesus, we should be after this sicko tonight.”
“Not at night!” Jack said. “He’s strongest at night.”
Sean stared at Jack. Was his partner believing all this?
“We go tomorrow to see if we can’t find him licking his wounds,” Maggie said firmly. She turned, her hands on her hips, staring at them. “You’re sure, though, really sure, that you pumped a major load of bullets into him?”
“Sure,” they said in unison, then glanced at one another.
“Yes, we’re sure,” Sean reiterated.
Maggie nodded. “Well, then, I’m not a bad cook at all, really. Sit down, dinner’s ready as soon as I drain the pasta.”
Moments later, linguini with a rich red sauce was served along with garlic bread.
Maggie, Sean noted, was having salad. Hers was plain, their salads were filled with fresh chopped garlic.
Maggie served red wine as well. As she opened the bottle, Jack whispered to Sean, “Think there’s garlic in the wine as well?”
“No, I think it’s a bottle of red wine.”
“No blood, right?” Jack was surely joking, but he sounded a little worried.
Maggie poured the wine and went to the refrigerator for some grated cheese.
Sean started to empty the sleeping pills into her glass, then hesitated. He’d wait. He couldn’t admit it, but he was afraid. Not so much of dying. He was a cop; he’d gotten used to that kind of fear.
He was just afraid of being without her again.
Jack cleared his throat. “Do we say grace?”
“Hell, yes!” Sean muttered. “God, bless this food, and allow us to kill a monster. Amen. Jack, eat.” After a few moments of strained silence, Maggie asked them to tell her exactly what had happened at the morgue. They both tried to explain. Jack asked at the end, “Did he just disappear into mist, Maggie?” She nodded. “He can shape-shift. It isn’t easy. It’s mind over matter. You’ve seen similar phenomena, even if you don’t want to admit it—telekinesis, second-sight, all that. I imagine, somewhere down the line, they’ll figure out the scientific reasons why all this can be. But shape-shifting takes a terrible amount of energy, so if he was riddled with bullets and disappeared, as you say, he must be trying to regain his strength now. And don’t forget, he might well be awake and waiting, even by daylight. He’s weaker by daylight. His vision is impaired, he’s far more vulnerable.”
“And so are you,” Jack commented.
“So am I,” Maggie admitted.
They had eaten all they could eat. The food had been delicious, though heavily laden with garlic.
“Maggie, may I have some more wine?” Sean asked.
She turned for the bottle. He slipped the pills into her glass.
“Sure,” he said, and when their glasses were filled again, he raised his. “And here’s to our fearless vampire hunting!”
Maggie lifted her glass. “But we must be afraid, and careful!”
“Very careful,” Sean agreed.
They drank. Then Sean stood, reaching a hand down to her. “I need some sleep.”
“I’ll be right up—”
“No, Maggie, you go on. I’ll pick up after dinner and turn the broom handles into stakes,” Jack told them. “I don’t believe I’m saying this. Doing this. Hey, Sean, have we just encountered one bad man too many?”
“Maybe. I don’t know.”
“No, Jack, you’re perfectly sane,” Maggie told him.
He nodded, grimacing. “And you’re a vampire. And I’m sleeping in your house. ‘Night Maggie, ’night Sean.”
Sean led Maggie up the stairs. Despite himself, he paused beneath the portrait, feeling again as if a strange sensation stole over him. “So, you’re a vampire,” he murmured softly. “And you think I’m the reincarnation of my own distant relative.”
She touched his cheek. Her hazel eyes seemed gold in the light. “I know I’m a vampire. I simply think that I’ve loved you for far more than a lifetime.”
She stumbled slightly, frowning. He swept her up into his arms.
“Must be the garlic,” she murmured.
“Am I unbearable?”
“You must be unbearable.”
He walked on up to her bedroom, laid her on the bed, drew the drapes. Propped on an elbow, he lay down beside her. He stroked her cheek. Her skin was so beautiful. Almost translucent. Her breath feathered his fingers. Vampire. Creature of the night. Monster. She should have been hideous. Her breath should have smelled of the rot and death and decay of the ages. She was simply beautiful.
She reached out, knuckles stroking his cheek. “Make love to me,” she said softly.
“Ah, my love, the garlic ...” he murmured.
“Just don’t breathe on me!” she teased, and she reached out, curling against him, hands upon his shirt, her lips teasing his flesh. The searing moisture of her kiss against his flesh was a liquid fire. He found himself desperate to lie with her, be with her, as if this might be the last time. Forever. His hands wound into her hair; he avoided her lips, kissed her everywhere else, strewing her clothing as he did so. Her touch feathered him, erotic, sweet; kisses explored until they were both in a frenzy and he blanketed her with his body, far too quickly coming to a climactic explosion. Her fingers curled into his hair and her eyes were on his, gold, cat-like. “I love you, Sean,” she said, and her eyes closed.
“I love you, too, Maggie. God, but I adore you!”
She didn’t hear him. The sleeping pills had done their work.
He cradled her body against his.
Her mouth was closed; he dared to bend and kiss her, and her lips tasted sweetly of the wine they had shared. What if she were staked, killed as such a “monster” should be? Would her flesh wither, would her breasts sag into leathered brown folds, would her face shrink into the pockets of her skull? Would she turn to ash, and blow away with the wind? He’d never know. He’d die a thousand times before he let harm come to her. If it was true, or if it wasn’t, he loved her.
If it was true, what could they do? Live and love during his short time on earth? Would she wait for him then, to come back as another man, in another century? Yet, what if he were bitten, tainted, and became one of their number? Did they stay here, disappear in a few years, return in a quarter of a century, and play out their lives again and again?
No, he didn’t believe it, couldn’t believe it.
He laid his head down beside hers and drew her tightly against him. Tomorrow, he was going vampire hunting with a bag full of Holy water and stakes.
He had to believe ...
Jack came to him at the crack of dawn.
Sean rose, kissing Maggie on the forehead, drawing the covers over her. Then he left her, glad to see that she remained in a deep, deep sleep.
Thinking that they were either ridiculously silly or smart as whips, he and Jack covered themselves with the garlic lotion Maggie had made for them.
Together, they packed Jack’s Pathfinder with the duffel bags of stakes, swords—Jack had found a cutlass for himself in the bedroom where he had slept—holy water, steak knives, matches, lighters, flashlights, and hair spray—to ignite a good blaze, should they need to do so.
Finding the property was not difficult; finding a trail that led through the overgrown foliage to the ruins of the old plantation was another matter. Once they reached the center of the property, they climbed from the Pathfinder, looking around.