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It’s freaky as hell.

“The Bloodletter?” Uncle Finn repeats with the same skepticism I’m feeling. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“No,” Jaxon answers. “In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s a terrible fucking idea. But so is Grace turning back into a gargoyle for who knows how long.” He looks at me, and his face is full of worry and love and a touch of fear that he’s trying really hard not to let me see. “I don’t know if the Bloodletter can help figure out a way to quarantine Hudson in your head. But I do know that if anyone can, it’s her.”

“Who is she?” I ask, because I feel like I at least need to have some clue of what I’m walking into if I do this.

“She’s an Ancient,” Jaxon tells me. “A vampire who has been alive longer than almost anything on the planet. And she…lives…in an ice cave it doesn’t take that long to get to from here.”

I turn his words over in my head, trying to find a deeper meaning to them. I know there is one—it’s obvious from the way looks are flying between my uncle and Amka. Macy seems oblivious, but that’s obviously because she’s as in the dark about this subject as I am.

“She’s brutal,” Amka says after a second. “Completely terrifying. But if anyone knows how to help you, she will.”

I’ve got to admit, “brutal” is not exactly a word that evokes confidence in me. Then again, neither is “terrifying.” And considering I’m standing in a room with one of the most powerful vampires in existence and no one here is the least bit afraid of him, I shudder to think of what this Bloodletter person might be like.

Especially since even Jaxon seems nervous at the idea of taking me to her.

“Do you know her?” I ask as apprehension fills me. “I mean, will she try to kill us on sight or will she at least listen to what we have to say?”

“She’s brutal but not completely psychotic,” Jaxon tells me. “And I do know her, yes. She raised me.”

He doesn’t say anything else, just kind of drops it out there, like being raised by the most terrifying vampire in existence is a totally normal thing. He might as well have pulled out a full-on South Park impression and said, Move along, people. Nothing to see here.

Which only convinces me more that there’s a lot Jaxon’s leaving out. And more concerned that what he’s leaving out is really, really bad.

But if seeing this Bloodletter person will help get Hudson out of my head, and maybe even give me a glimpse into Jaxon’s childhood, then I’m all in.

“How long does it take to get there?” I ask. “And when do we leave?”

“A few hours,” Jaxon replies. “And we can leave now if you want.”

“Now?” Uncle Finn asks, sounding less than impressed. “Why don’t you at least wait until morning, when it’s light out?”

“And give Hudson another chance to try to body snatch me again?” I ask, and I don’t even have to pretend to be traumatized at the thought. “I’d rather not.”

Not to mention, I’m too freaked out to sleep tonight—and maybe ever again. The fact that Hudson is inside me is terrifying and gross and weird. Can he read my thoughts, too? Like, is he in my head right now, hearing everything I’m thinking? Or are his talents limited to just taking over my body? Just. Give me a break.

How did my life get to this? Five months ago, I was in San Diego, and my biggest decision was where I was going to go to college. Now, I still have to decide that—or at least I think I do (do gargoyles even go to college?)—plus deal with evil alpha werewolves trying to take me down and psychopathic vampires living in my head.

If it wasn’t for Jaxon, I’d be pretty positive that I’ve traded down…way, way down.

Deciding the best way to circumvent Uncle Finn’s objections is to simply act like this is a done deal, I turn to Jaxon. “Do we need to call first and let her know we’re coming? I mean, if she has a phone in her”—I can’t believe I’m saying this—“ice cave?”

“She doesn’t need a phone. And if she doesn’t already know we’re coming, she’ll figure it out long before we get there.”

Because that’s not creepy at all. “Awesome.” I smile at him. “I’ll go get changed and meet you at the front entrance in fifteen minutes?”

Jaxon nods. “Make sure to layer up. We’ll be out in the cold for a while.”

By “a while,” I assume he means the whole time, considering the Bloodletter lives in an ice cave. Which is another weird-as-hell thing that I want to hear more about—including whether or not Jaxon grew up in the ice cave we are going to visit or if he grew up somewhere else and moved there after. I mean, because nothing says “retirement” like carving out a home for yourself in the middle of a frozen Alaskan cave.

“Give her at least thirty minutes, Jaxon,” my uncle says with the air of a man who knows when he’s been beaten.

“I’d rather get started as soon as possible,” I object.

“And I’d rather you had something to eat before you go.” He gives me a hard look that lets me know in no uncertain terms that this is one thing he is not budging on. “It’s not like you can just drop into a restaurant out there in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness, and the Bloodletter definitely isn’t going to have anything you might want to eat. So stop by the cafeteria before you go. You can grab a sandwich to eat now, and I’ll make sure they also pack you some food to take with you—since I assume you’ll be staying overnight.”

I hadn’t thought that far ahead—hadn’t thought about anything other than getting Hudson out of me—and I’m grateful that Uncle Finn has. Especially considering I skipped lunch today, and my stomach is currently reminding me of that in no uncertain terms.

“Thanks, Uncle Finn.” I go up on tiptoes to kiss his cheek.

He responds by patting my back a little awkwardly, even as he says, “Be careful out there. And let Jaxon take the lead with the Bloodletter. He knows her better than anyone.”

I nod, even as I wonder what he means—and what it means for Jaxon that the person who raised him, the person he knows best in the world, is also a woman known for her viciousness.

“Come on, Grace. I’ll help you pick out what you need to wear,” Macy says as she starts bustling me toward the exit.

I go along with her, glancing back only to give Jaxon a wave and to mouth, Thirty minutes, at him.

He nods back, but I can see the upset in his eyes. And I get it. I do. I’m trying my best not to freak out about Hudson, too, but the truth is, I’m hanging on by a small freaking thread. Jaxon has to be feeling the same way, with an added dose of feeling responsible for the situation, because he’s Jaxon and that’s how he deals with every situation—especially ones that involve me.

“You ready?” Macy asks, watching as I turn from Jaxon to head up to our room.

“No,” I answer. But I keep walking forward. Because some days, what a girl wants to do and what she needs to do are two very different things.


I’m Too Sexy for

My Coat…and So

Is Everyone Else

“Nice coat,” Jaxon says when he sees me thirty minutes later, and the painfully tight line of his mouth curves upward.

I’m dressed in about six layers to protect me from the wilderness—including a hot-pink puffer coat that predators can probably see from fifty miles away—but when Macy proudly laid it on my bed, I didn’t have the heart, or the energy, to say no.

“Don’t start,” I say, then look him over for something to make fun of as well. Of course, there’s nothing. He’s dressed head to toe in all-black winter wear and he looks good, really good. Nothing at all like an escapee from a cotton-candy factory.

As we walk down the front steps of the school, I expect to see a snowmobile parked at the bottom of them. But there’s nothing, and I look at Jaxon in confusion, even as I duck my face a little deeper into the wool scarf that covers me from cheekbone to chest.

“The temperature is going to drop at least twenty degrees in the next couple of hours,” he tells me as he pulls me close. “I don’t want you out here any longer than you have to be.”

“Yeah, but won’t a snowmobile help with that?” I ask. I mean, it’s got to be better than hiking, right?

But Jaxon just laughs. “A snowmobile will only slow us down.”

“What exactly does that mean?”

“It means we’re going to fade.”

“Fade?” I have no idea what that means, but it doesn’t sound particularly appealing. Then again, what about this situation is appealing? Visiting an ancient vampire and hoping she doesn’t kill us? Living with a psychopath inside my head? Having no memory of the last four months?

Screw it. Whatever fading is, whatever Jaxon has in mind, has got to be better than anything else we’re dealing with right now.

Which is why I just nod when Jaxon explains that fading is a vampire thing and it involves moving very, very fast from one place to another.

I start to ask how fast is fast, but does it matter? As long as we get to the Bloodletter and figure out what to do about Hudson before he decides to turn my life into a fictional TV show called Bodysnatched, we could swim to the Bloodletter’s cave and I wouldn’t care.

“So what exactly do I need to do?” I ask as Jaxon moves in front of me.

“I pick you up in my arms,” he answers, “and then you hang on tight.”

That doesn’t sound too bad. Almost romantic, even.

Jaxon leans forward and sweeps me off my feet, one arm under my shoulders and the other under my knees. Once I’m safely balanced in his arms, he looks down at me and winks. “Ready?”

Not even close. I give him a thumbs-up. “Yeah, absolutely.”

“Hang on!” he warns, then waits until I wrap both my arms around his neck as tightly as I can.