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“Her friend, the one who found her, and I washed her for the Fade Ceremony. The other friend hung back and watched. At nightfall, the three of us took her out to a state park that has a lot of very hidden places in the woods. It was early June, so the ground was soft. The friend who found her and I had shovels. We dug down ten feet. It took us hours. We put her there. I don’t know who cried more.” Helania held up her palms. “I tore my hands apart.”

Boone leaned in. “You have scars.”

“I wanted to remember Isobel.” Helania drew in a long and slow breath, and stared at her right palm. “When I got home, I put my hand in salt water. As a tribute.”

She traced the network of ridges that crossed where her lifeline was, running her fingertip over the remnants of all those blisters. As a vampire, any wounded skin on her body didn’t merely repair itself but regenerated, so that ordinarily, she could never find any traces of any injury.

If you were to bring a wound or broken area of flesh into contact with salt, however? You had those scars for life.

“I just wanted to honor her in some way.”

“Of course you did. How could you not?”

Helania looked him. “That’s the reason I’ve been going to that club. Why I watched that female the night before yesterday. Why I checked on her. I need to find out who did this to Isobel, and I don’t want them doing it to anyone else—and I’ve already failed once, or you and I wouldn’t be talking.”

Boone frowned. “Listen, Helania. I’m not saying you can’t handle yourself—I stared down the barrel of your gun, remember? Just please don’t be a hero at the expense of your own safety.”

“I’m not going to stop going to Pyre,” she said sharply.

“I’m not asking you to. Just call me. Anytime. If you see something, if you think you’re in danger, don’t hesitate to call me. I’ll be there in a heartbeat.”

A strange feeling came over her, and it took a moment to figure out what it was. With Isobel there to look after her, even after Helania had gone through her transition, she had always had a protector. Now, Boone seemed to want to step into that tragically vacated role, and the idea that she might have someone to turn to again eased her on deep levels.

“Promise me,” he said. “That you’ll call.”

“I promise,” she heard herself reply. “Is that all? For this interview?”

Rubbing his eyes as if he were tired, Boone seemed to have to refo-cus. “Actually, about the boyfriend. Did you ever hear from him after the death? Did he try to contact her phone, her social media, you or any of her friends?”

“I don’t know about her friends. And I’m assuming he tried her on her phone, but I don’t know where it is.”

“You don’t have her phone?”

“It was lost that night.” When Boone frowned and sat back, she knew exactly where he went in his head. “It was not the boyfriend, I’m telling you. She was thrilled whenever she spoke about him. I’d never seen her so happy, those last couple of months.”

“I believe you. It’s just . . . you don’t know his name, you never met him, and he didn’t show up looking for her after she was gone. Doesn’t that strike you as odd?”

Helania wanted to argue the point, but the truth was, she had sometimes wondered about the very same things. Yet calling into question Isobel’s true love had seemed disloyal.

“I was not part of her scene.” Helania took a deep breath. “And if he was trying to find her by calling that phone, I would never know, would I.”

“What about the clothes she was wearing? Did any of those get saved?”

“Her friend told me they threw them out because they were ruined.”

“We really need to speak with those two females. What are their names?”

“I don’t know what their given names are. But I can find them on social media. I cannot forget either of their faces.”

“That would be really helpful.”

Helania let herself fall back into the armchair. Closing her eyes was a bad idea. The world got to spinning.

“Are you all right?” Boone asked.

“Just a little woozy.”

“When was the last time you ate?”

Helania forced her lids to open as she started to do that math. When the hours added up—and kept adding—she frowned.

“You need to eat.” Boone reached out and turned off the phone. “And so do I. Let’s take a break and have First Meal together.”

Her knee-jerk reaction was to say no, conclude the meeting, and go back home to change. She could still make it over to Pyre and have plenty of time there before dawn. Except . . . just as all that stick-to-theplan, find-the-killer, keep-your-distance occurred to her, from out of nowhere, she pictured her sister.

Isobel had always worn her hair short and spiky, the red color even louder and brighter that way, untempered with the blond that marked Helania’s far longer waves. And she had had bright blue eyes. Brilliantly blue, like a robin’s egg. And a super-white, ultrawide smile.

Even her coloring had been vivid.

Add to all that her laugh? Isobel had been captivating to people. The few times Helania had gone out and watched on the sidelines as her sister had charmed friends and strangers alike, she had been astounded by the presence of the female. Just like everyone else.

There had been so many times over the last eight months that Helania had regretted the fact that she had been the survivor. Isobel had always been better at living. Why had the recluse been the one to stay on the planet? And to that point, if her sister had been offered a nice meal with a nice male when she was starving? She wouldn’t have said yes. She would have hell-yeah’d that idea—and then made sure that the conversation was even better than the food.

Helania looked into Boone’s eyes. They were . . . beautiful eyes. Thickly lashed. Deeply set.

She thought of the dead body she had found the night before last. If that female had known that she was going to die that evening, if she had had the date of her demise given to her, what would she have done differently?

I am alive, Helania thought to herself. Right now, I am not dead.

So it was about time she started living, wasn’t it.

“Yes,” she heard herself say. “I would like to eat with you. Where, though? Here?”

Boone’s eyebrows popped, as if her acceptance of the invite had surprised him. Except then he rushed on. “The doggen are busy in the kitchen serving the folks here. But I know a great place to take you. You’re going to love it.”

The Remington Hotel was a Caldwell fixture, a throwback to the Roaring Twenties that had somehow survived the modernization of downtown. Surrounded by skyscrapers, the thirty-floor, bi-winged building was a gracious grande dame in the company of robots, its courtyard the kind of thing that was in every tourism ad for the city. It was the sort of place where people had Sunday tea in their dress clothes, and couples got engaged in the formal dining room, and there were suites with plaques on the doors pointing out that President Taft had stayed there in 1911 and Hemingway in 1956 and President Clinton in 1994.

Boone rematerialized in the alley beside the hotel, and for a split second, as he stood in the cold alone, he wondered whether Helania was going to change her mind and reroute in her molecular form to somewhere else.

But then she was beside him. In the flesh.

“I’m dressed casually,” she said as she indicated her parka and jeans.

He nodded down at his set of leathers. “As I am. That’s why we’re going to Remi’s.”

As he motioned to the head of the alley, they walked together toward the cars that were passing by on East Main Street.

Say something, he thought. Say . . . anything—

“You mean the movie?”

Boone shook his head. “What?”

“Say Anything. You know, with John Cusack?” When he gave Helania a blank look, she said, “It has that classic scene with him holding the boom box over his head and Peter Gabriel playing. What made you think of it?”

Okaaaaaaaaaaaay, he must have spoken that out loud. “Ah, sure . . . it’s one of my favorites.”

“Mine, too.” She laughed a little. “Cameron Crowe’s best, in my opinion. I also like all the John Hughes movies from the eighties. I had a crush on Jake Ryan forever—you’re really limping, by the way.”

Was he? He couldn’t feel his face, much less his legs—and talk about pop culture refs. Thank you, the Weeknd.

“How were you hurt?” she asked. “Were you fighting?”

“Yes.” With a down pillow that had had a helluva ground game, as it turned out. “The enemy nearly got the best of me.”

Helania stopped dead. “Oh, my God. Are you serious? Did you see a doctor—”

“I’m sorry, no.” He held up a hand. “Look, I want to impress you. And if I tell you how it actually happened, you’re going to think I’m the biggest planker on the planet.”

“I don’t even know what a planker is.”

As she stared up him, with those big yellow eyes filling her heartshaped face and the wisps of her red and blond hair teased on the wind and that bright flush on her cheeks from the cold . . . she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.

All of the aristocratic females in all of the ball gowns in the world couldn’t hold a candle to her.

“Do you mean ‘dweeb’?” she prompted.

“I haven’t heard that word in a million years.”

“Well, to be fair, you brought the eighties into this first.” That slight smile, the one he loved so much, tilted her mouth again. “Tell me how you got hurt. I promise I won’t judge. I mean, come on, I am the most socially inept person you will ever meet. I have lived a whole life through movies that I watched at home. I can quote you a hundred thousand lines from a thousand rom-coms, but you ask me to talk to someone I don’t know? I freeze solid. So I am in no position to judge.”