In many sections, the old house was missing a roof. Vines covered it inside and out.

Even as they stared at the house, the sky darkened.

Jack looked at Sean. “Can you beat that? Daylight—and it just has to be stormy daylight!”

“Let’s go,” Jack said.

They entered the house, each with his gun at the ready, stakes and swords slipped into their belts, duffel bags over their shoulders.

“I was wondering what weapon I’d be using first. Never imagined it would be the flashlight,” Jack muttered.

Sean stepped through the door first. Ahead of him lay the remnants of an elegant curving stairway. Vines curled around it. Portraits covered the walls. Just as Maggie’s painting rested on the wall of the midlevel of the stairway, so did Aaron’s. It startled him, almost causing him to totter down the steps when he first flashed the ray of light upon it.

“Jesus!” Jack whispered, and Sean knew he was making the sign of the cross on his chest.

“It’s him!”

“It’s him. Look around downstairs. I’m going to try the bedrooms.” He heard Jack moving downstairs. He carefully moved up the stairs, avoiding the areas where they had rotted through.

His footsteps sounded louder than cannon fire. His movements created creaking sounds that seemed to echo through the ruins.

He reached the top landing. Moving slowly, not for silence but to avoid falling through the faulty flooring, he started to the left of the landing. There were three doors here, no roof above the hall or the rooms. He opened the first door. He was glad he didn’t step in. The door led to a gaping black hole. The second door offered the remnants of a woman’s room, bed with tattered coverings, filmy traces of drapes on the windows, rotted dressers. He closed the door. The third room offered no more.

He crossed the landing again, and found another series of doors. Odd that someone had closed the doors of a house so decayed. But here, the roof remained. The first room was pitch black. When he waved his light toward the ceiling, he nearly screamed aloud as a hundred bats suddenly came to life, flapping and squalling and diving all around him.

“Sean!” Jack called from below.

He walked back to the landing. “It’s all right. Just bats.”

“Just bats!” Jack muttered. “Yeah, yeah, we’re looking for a shape-shifting vampire who just might be awake by day, and it’s just bats! Yeah, right!”

“Keep looking!”

Sean started back down the hall. He paused, certain he heard movement in a room. Then a sniffling sound. He gritted his teeth and moved as silently as he could.

He threw open the door.

Despite the fact that he had his gun drawn and ready, he was startled by the impetus of the attack upon him. The moment the door opened, someone was flying at him. He could have, should have fired.

For some reason, he didn’t. Instinct?

It was a woman, terrified, who had come flying out at him. She was sobbing, striking him, as he braced himself, holstered his gun, and got a grip on her shoulders. Footsteps pounded on the stairway. Jack was with him; more light flooded the room.

The woman was trying to bite him, kick him, free herself.

“Hey, hey, it’s all right—” he began. Jack’s flashlight illuminated her face.

“Shit!” Sean swore. Jeanne! Jeanne Montaine, Bessie Girou’s friend, the one who had taken Bessie’s son to be her own. “Jeanne, it’s Sean Canady. It’s the cops, Jeanne—it’s all right—”

“No, no, it’s not all right!” Jeanne swore hysterically, still trying to strike. Her dark hair was in wild tangles, her pretty face was dirty and streak-stained with tears. “You may be the cops, but it doesn’t matter, don’t you understand? He’ll kill you. He’ll kill me, he told me he’d kill me if I didn’t protect him.

And the boy, the boy is here, he likes really young blood. He’ll kill him, then what he’ll do to me, oh, God, I have to kill you—”

“No, no, Jeanne, we’ll protect you—” Sean began.

“Oh, God, you don’t understand!”

“Who is she?” Jack asked, trying to set his hands soothingly on Jeanne’s shoulders.

“Bessie Girou’s friend, the one keeping her little boy,” Sean explained. “Jeanne—” he began again, about to swear that they would protect her. But could they really protect her? They had to.

He was a cop, he reminded himself. That was what he did. Serve—and protect.

“Jeanne, where is he?” Sean demanded, giving her a serious shake.

Jeanne didn’t answer. He heard the sniffing sound again. It was coming from the other side of the bed.

Even with both powerful flashlights shining, the room was filled with eerie shadows that seemed to waver and find solid form with each movement. Jack stared at Sean; Sean nodded. Jack moved carefully to the side of the bed.

He stood there very still for a long moment. “It’s the kid,” he said softly. He reached down. “Come on, Son. Come on, we’re here to help you.”

“His name is Isaac,” Sean said.

“Come on, Isaac,” Jack coaxed gently.

The little boy’s head and huge, trusting eyes appeared. “Come on,” Jack encouraged.

Suddenly, the child sprang. Like a Doberman on alert, like a great cat suddenly uncaged, he sprang at Jack, growling, hissing, scratching, clawing.

Sean pressed Jeanne from him, striding across the room. He caught hold of the child, wrenched him from Jack. The boy turned with the wiry strength of a boa, mouth now open wide, lips tautly pulled back, teeth dripping, aiming for Sean’s neck.

But then the boy went limp in his arms. He started to sob and groan. “My tummy!” he said pathetically, a little boy again.

“What the hell?” Jack asked.

Jeanne had fallen to the ground. She clutched her own stomach. Her hair hung over her face. “He said that he’d given him a good-night kiss. Just a little kiss. A touch. He said he took a little blood. He’d take it all next time. That we’d both live just so long as we served him and pleased him.” Tainted. Wasn’t that what both Lucian and Maggie had said happened when just a little blood was taken. Could the child be saved? If Aaron was killed ...

And if not, could he really thrust a stake through the heart of a child? Cut off his head, burn him to ash?

As he pondered the question, they all started at the sound of the front door banging shut.

“Oh, my God!” Jeanne started to whimper.

“Shush!” Sean said firmly. He caught Jack’s eye. Jack reached for the now softly sobbing little Isaac Girou. Sean dragged Jeanne to her feet. In silent accord, they moved into the hallway.

Far down the stairs they saw a man. In the darkness created by storm clouds and shadows, they could see nothing of his face. Sean heard his heart begin to beat far too quickly. Or was it Jeanne’s heart?

He turned his flashlight downward in a sudden determined motion. The light caught on something metal and reflected so brilliantly that Sean had to shield his eyes. He moved the flashlight.

“Mother Mary and Joseph!” Jack swore.

Sean exhaled. Far down the steps stood Pierre LePont, medical examiner. Out of the hospital, ready to go. He carried a huge silver crucifix, which was what had caught the flashlight’s reflection so brilliantly.

“Damn, Pierre, you’re going to blind us with that thing!” Sean told him.

“Well, we are hunting vampires, right?”

“Maybe,” Jack said defensively.

Pierre stared at him. “Don’t you think I know a really dead man from a half-dead man when I see one?” he demanded.

Sean didn’t have an argument for him. “Get up here, help me finish with these rooms. And give you some quick information. He may be awake. He won’t turn to dust in the sunlight. You can hurt him with Holy water. The cross may or may not work. Have you any garlic on you?” Pierre reached under his shirt. He was wearing a necklace of garlic cloves.

“Good, get up here.”

As Pierre ascended the stairs, the ruins were illuminated by a flash of lightning.

It was immediately followed by an earth-shattering clap of thunder.

“We’ve got to hurry,” Jack said, following along as Pierre reached the landing. Together they looked into the remaining bedrooms. Two were almost completely floorless. The last was empty except for the torn gauze curtains that fluttered in the wind of the coming storm.

“What happens if this kid gets hungry again?” Jack asked. Isaac was now clinging to him like a drowning man.

“The garlic kept him from you; we’ll hope it keeps working,” Sean said.

“I’ll take him; let me take the boy,” Jeanne said.

“Miss Montaine, you’re not doing so well yourself—”

“I love him; I’ll be stronger now. Honestly,” Jeanne said, smoothing back her hair.

Jeanne held the boy then; Sean and Jack led while Pierre sandwiched the woman and the child between them.

On the ground landing, Sean turned on Jeanne. “Do you know where he is?” She shook her head vehemently. “No.”

“Where now?” Jack asked.

“We find a back door to the family crypt.”

Once, the house had been beautiful. A plantation with a dazzling foyer, regal stairway, huge ballrooms, kitchen, dining room, library. Now empty, broken, falling away, it was a haunting memoir to the past.

Ghosts surely milled here. Rotted draperies drifted everywhere; chairs awaited dancers who would never return, books lay water-stained upon love seats and day beds.

Going around the rotting stairs, they came through the dining room and kitchen and, at last, to the double doors leading to a rear porch and the rest of the grounds.

Sean threw open the doors.

The storm was coming fast. It was noon; the day should have been bright. Angry gray-black clouds covered the sky, and the day was the color of dusk. It was a perfect backdrop for the family graveyard that lay before them.