BURIAL DETAIL WAS grim, but, although Cole had expected that someone-something-would leap from the small copse of trees by the cemetery's edge, nothing happened at all.

He and Brendan arrived in a military conveyance with four soldiers that had been trusted to understand that no matter how bizarre the orders given to them might seem, they must be followed to the letter.

Coming to the ground where the corpses lay, Cole saw that the soldiers with him wore bleak expressions; some of the bodies had decomposed unnaturally quickly. Sergeant Terry Newcomb was in charge of the detail, a crusty old Irishman who still bore traces of his native accent. He had seen action through the first battles of the war and been sent back to D.C. for guard duty after he'd somehow survived a shot to his leg just a fraction of an inch from a major artery. The doctor on duty had not amputated, and Terry Newcomb was damned lucky on that score. He hadn't gotten gangrene. He limped, but he was still feisty and fiercely loyal to the Union. Those under him were war-wounded, as well: Michael Hodges suffered hearing loss, Gerald Banter had lived through a bout with malaria but was still considered too weak for duty and Evan Briar had lost the tip of his trigger finger. He was learning to shoot left-handed, but it was going to take some time.

They stood with their shovels and picks, surveying the field of dead. "It's a disease that brings on madness?" Sergeant Newcomb asked, looking at Cole.

"Yes, you could say that it brings on madness. A bloodlust. The disease is quite serious-a man may look dead when he is not," Cole explained. "There is no cure, that's why-"

"You don't need to explain, laddie," Sergeant Newcomb said. "I was at the prison. I didn't think that I'd see the light of day again. All right, boys, let's get to digging."

Cole picked up a shovel. Newcomb stopped him. "Laddie, you don't need to do the grunt work with us. We know that your loyalties lie elsewhere."

"My loyalty is to stopping this infection that kills men and women regardless of their size, their sex, their color-the uniform they choose to wear," Cole said. "And I'm good with a shovel."

"As am I, sir!" Brendan Vincent said, taking up the task himself.

"You're really here just to stop this-trouble?" Evan Briar asked Cole after they had worked in silence for several long minutes. "You're a Texas sheriff. You gotta be a Reb."

"I suppose I am. But, we're so far out on the frontier, we struggle just to keep life going on a daily basis. We don't pay it much heed," Cole said.

"But, you're still a Reb. There ain't no neutral in this war," Briar told him.

"Look, sometimes, we're so far out, we're not even sure we're in either country," Cole said. The last thing he wanted to do was get into a political argument.

"Reb, yep. You're a Reb. So why don't you let this disease just tear up the Yankee capital?" Briar said, persistent. "Why, I'd think that your side would be sitting back in delight."

"No man delights in the deaths of others. And we're here because we've seen this plague before. We don't want it in the North or in the South."

"Oh, Lord Almighty!" Gerald Banter said suddenly. "You drag the body, and the head comes right off!" Gerald stood back from the hole he was digging, his mouth agape.

"It's one way of making sure that the diseased are dead," Cole said.

"We take their heads off?" Banter asked, his tone thick.

"Yes, we take their heads off." He might as well make it a lesson in vampire killing, since it seemed that the "plague" wasn't going to end anytime soon.

And he might as well end it all with the North and South, too.

He leaned on his shovel. "Look, fellows, this isn't an issue of the war. Let's clear that out right now. Think of it like you might think of the plague hitting Europe in the Middle Ages. It killed everyone. Commoner and nobleman alike. Frenchman, Englishman, Spaniard. Young and old. We have to stop this plague. Northerners would carry it to Southerners, and vice versa, and once a man is diseased, he doesn't care if he gives the disease to his own mother. When you're up against them, you've got two choices-you take off their heads, or you impale them through the heart. Remember that the heart is on the upper left side of the chest. When you can, you impale them through the heart, remove the heads and burn them, but that's not often going to be too easy, so make sure you've gotten the head or the heart. I'm no man's enemy in this thing, so get that straight, too. Trust me-no man in a secret room in the U.S. government is planning to harness this plague and set it loose in the South-and no man in the South is thinking he can harness and set it loose in the North. It's a killer, bold and simple, and that's that. Can we finish?"

There was silence. They all stared at him.

Then Newcomb came over and slapped him on the shoulder. "Damn, laddie, why someone didn't just give us this information from the beginning, I don't know. Take heed to what the Reb says, my boys. We're going to stay alive in this thing, and we're going to protect our city. Let's get this done. Heads off these poor men if they're not severed already. It takes some strength to sever a man's head, so see to it that your knives are honed!"

When Cole and Brendan returned to the house, tired, weary and dirty, they headed toward the door, hoping to clean up some of the mud in the rear kitchen. As they walked around, Alex came flying toward them. She nearly collided with Cole.

"Alex!" Cole said, catching her.

"There's something wrong!" she told him.

"What?" he asked sharply.

She turned and pointed toward the outbuilding kitchen. "I brought some more hot water for Megan-thought she might want a little more, and I didn't have a fire going in the hearth back there, so I brought it from here. But I heard things flying back there-and she's got the door bolted-and there's shattered glass-the ground by the back-and there's sounds of fighting going on in there.... I was on my way to find Cody when you came around."

"Go on then, get Cody," he said.

Cole grimly set Alex aside and he and Brendan headed for the freestanding kitchen building. He didn't go around the back to crawl through a shattered window; he put all his size and muscle into kicking in the front door. It burst off the hinges, and he was met by two people who had been locked in battle suddenly freezing and staring at him.

The man was dressed in the tattered remnants of a Southern regiment, one that appeared to be from a Virginia outfit. He had his fingers tangled in Megan's hair, and it appeared that he was trying to rip out her throat. She was clad in a white towel that she was losing-he was gratified to see that she was more concerned with remaining alive than she was with modesty.

The reborn Rebel soldier looked at him and laughed and made another move for Megan's throat, but Megan let go of the towel and caught him with a right hook that seemed to knock his head out of alignment.

"No more!" the creature cried. "No more. I am alive, and I will take you with me into the depths of the realm, Megan Fox." He jerked, gnashing his fangs, trying again for her throat.

Cole strode in, reaching into his coat pocket for one of his remaining vials. He tossed the vial of holy water at the being, and a burst of steam sent the man into a whirling, burning frenzy.

"No!" Megan cried in distress.

Cole ignored her; his movement was practically automated, and the protest didn't register. He lurched on forward, drawing out his stake and mallet, and pinning the creature to the wall. The body began to jerk and spasm even as it burned from the holy water meeting the evil within.

"Oh, Lord! Oh, no! Why did you do that?" she demanded.

Brendan had been behind him, waiting at the broken doorway with a vial of holy water in one hand, a stake in the other.

"Oh, my," he said. He flushed brilliantly and backed away.

Cole let the body go. It was safe to do so. The being had gone limp after the tremors of its death throes.

For a moment, Megan stood there, sleek and damp and entirely naked, hands on her hips as she accosted him.

Then she quickly ducked for her towel, wrapping it around herself, her cheeks flaring red as she stared at him again.

"What the hell are you talking about? I just saved your life," he told her.

"I was holding my own!"

"You were about to become dinner!" he told her.

She shook her head. "That-that was an old friend."

"That was a vampire trying to rip you apart." Cole yanked the stake from the creature and let it fall to the floor. He'd become adept at decapitation with a bowie knife, despite the impossible strength it seemed to take when he first began doing it. But he'd known Cody long enough to become excellent at the task.

There was no blood; the creature had not dined in a long time, so it seemed. He must have been ravenous.

Brendan noted that the man must have been long seasoned in battle. He had pinned a note with his name and unit on the bottom left leg of his trousers.

He stared at Megan suspiciously. "Samuel Reeves?"

Holding her towel tight, she nodded.

"Did you ask him here?" Cole demanded, incredulous.

"No! No, of course not," she protested.

"Was that entire story some kind of a trumped-up and sardonic lie? That's a coincidence that's too hard to believe!" he accused her. He didn't want it to be, but he was finding it hard to believe that they had brought up the man's name earlier-and here he was.

She gasped. "I haven't seen him in years."

"You're certain?"

"Of course! Oh, how dare you. If I'd invited him here, would he have been attacking me? What's the matter with you?" Megan cried.

He was angry, but she was furious. She was wearing a towel.

It was an incredibly uncomfortable circumstance. He kept fighting himself to stare into her eyes-eyes that usually seemed as mesmerizing as the sun.

"You didn't want me to kill him," Cole said harshly. "Because, in truth, he was a friend?"

"Because he-he might have given us information. Please! Stop it! It's not a shock, really. Think about it! He would be fighting with a Virginia regiment, he would be an officer, and it's not at all surprising that he'd be held in prison in the capital. But, damn you, Cole. I can take care of myself. And I didn't want him dead."

"He was dead already," Cole reminded her.

"There are good vampires," she protested.

He held very still, not wanting her to see the nature of his thoughts. There could be good vampires. That was true; he had seen it. It was unusual, and, sadly, many of those who might have proved able to retain their decency in their death or life after life couldn't be given the chance to prove it. Vampirism was a plague that spread too easily.

"He didn't look like a good vampire."

"Maybe not, but we'll never know," she told him irritably.

"And he didn't manage to rip out your throat, so you might say thank you!"

She started to speak, then closed her mouth.

"If you're telling the truth, then you really are being foolish. You were more vulnerable than you want to admit."

"I'm telling you the truth!" she insisted indignantly.

They stared at one another for a long moment.

"Damn it!" she said. "You've got to start trusting me or we'll all wind up in serious danger."

"Trust has to be earned," he said.

She swore softly.

He fought to control his temper, and he knew that fighting then was no good for either of them. He shook his head. "Another body we've got to bury."

"I could have reasoned with him," Megan said.

"What? You're crazy. And why would you reason with him? Are you feeling some ill-conceived guilt over what happened when you were child? Dear girl, that's insane," Cole said, irritated.

"No, it has nothing to do with guilt." Her voice had become raw and edgy. "He would know where all this started. What's happened is insane. These and there. Someone is starting them, and-and there's someone besides us trying to fight what's happening. If you hadn't been so knife-happy, we might have gotten some information out of him. Look at his uniform! He was a lieutenant in the cavalry. He might have known where it started."

Cody appeared at the doorway then, tense, ready for action. He stared from Megan to Cole-and to the corpse on the floor.

"Thank God you were here in time," he said to Cole.

"Yeah, that was my thought. But apparently, Megan didn't want help. She was going to reason with the man. Before or after he ripped open her jugular, I'm not sure. But I'm done for the night. You two figure this out. Oh, and Megan, if you're such an excellent fighter that you can reason with a starving vampire, I'm sure you're also adept at the disposal of bodies."

He turned and strode past Cody, who stared at him with surprise but didn't say a word. Alex was just outside, standing with Brendan. He shook his head and walked past them.

As he did so, Martha Graybow opened her door so that it was just ajar, saw him and stepped out. "Cole?" she asked softly.

He inhaled on a deep breath. "Martha, everything is all right now." He saw that Cody had set up alarms, and that he'd made her house safe by erecting wooden crosses-that might pass for structural supports-at the corner joints at the roofline. He was sure Cody had taken a few other precautions, as well.

He took her hands and looked into her eyes.

"I'm all right," she said. "I was worried about Megan."

"Megan is fine. And I'll fix the door to the kitchen tomorrow...and we'll put in a new window. Look, Martha, these are really bad times. We'll be here for a while, and you'll be paid while we are. But don't bring anyone else in. Don't ask anyone in, for the love of God. I can't really explain, but-"

"There are vampires loose in the city," she said flatly.

He hesitated. He'd always suspected that she knew more than they had realized. But his protective instincts wanted to guard her against even knowing this level of evil existed. "There's something like a plague. It-it makes people crazy and murderous."

"Right. A plague of vampires," she said.

"That's not something you say out loud, you know. People will lock you up." He looked at her very seriously.

She smiled. "I know that, Cole. I'm glad you're here."

"How do you know about the vampires?"

"I've known Megan a long time," she said. Then she added worriedly, "She's a good soul, Cole. She'll never hurt you. She'll never hurt anyone. You-you wouldn't ever hurt her, would you?"

Hurt Megan. Could he ever hurt Megan? he wondered.

"She's Cody's sister," he said. "But you must have known that."

"I knew that she was looking for a brother," Martha said. "And I knew Alexandra because she lived in D.C. and we were friends. I didn't meet Cody until you all came here. But I do know Megan. And I care about her."

"Why didn't she tell us that she knew you?"

Martha's smile deepened. "She was protecting me, I believe. She wouldn't want anyone thinking that I was a Southern spy. I told you-she would never take a chance on hurting anyone. And the vampires are just a bit of something more hideous in the midst of a hideous war. But, it means that we all have to be careful on many levels."

He nodded. "I guess I'm glad you know. It will help make you truly vigilant. Make sure everything is locked up, Martha. And get some sleep. You have little ones to attend to."

"Thank you, Cole. Thank you for being here."

"We'll do our best, ma'am," he told her, tipped his hat and bade her good-night.

As he watched Martha leave, Cole was suddenly aware of just how tired he was. He was bone weary. He thought that surely he'd go to his room, clean up the best he could for the night and fall sound asleep.

But, of course, he knew that Megan was sleeping down the hall.

He was highly irritated with her-good God, she couldn't seem to think rationally. What kind of information had she thought she'd get from the man?

He lay down to sleep with that thought in his mind.

And with a vision that crept in, as well.

Megan, alabaster pure and perfectly sculpted from head to toe. Naked head to naked toe.

He was, after all, human.

And the day hadn't been half-bad. She could be charming. She could be sweet. And no matter what she was beneath, when he touched her, she was warm and vital.

She was dangerous. She was eager to insist that someone else was out there, and ridiculously certain that a dead man turned vampire could tell them where this disease of the East had originated.

He punched his pillow, adapted his position and fell asleep at last.

That night, he dreamed.

He and Megan were in a misty place, and he could hear water running, dancing as it rode over boulders and pebbles in a clear, clean brook. There was a hazy moon somewhere above the mist, casting an opaque light upon the world.

She came forth from the light: ever beautiful, sleek, porcelain. She walked through the mist, and he waited, thinking that he had lived his entire life just to reach out to her and hold her. Her smile held the charm she so easily offered. Her hair seemed spun gold in the moonlight. Her eyes were light, gold and red and green, a promise of fire.

She came to him. And he reached out.

And she turned, her smile broadening....

Fangs longer than those of a cobra or an Arctic wolf.

The dream ended in a burst of red-bloodred.

He sat up with a jerk. He was alone in his room at Martha Graybow's boardinghouse.

And he had dreamed, nothing more.

And yet...

He wondered.

MEGAN WOKE SLOWLY in the morning. She did so with a bizarre sense of serenity. The sun had risen, birds were chirping, and the air in her bedroom seemed light and beautiful, with dust motes dancing within it.

Then, memory of the day and night gone by returned to her, and she jumped up with a jolt. She dressed quickly and hurried downstairs, making it in time to hear the wheels of a carriage clip-clop down the street. She walked to the front door and opened it. The carriage was gone.

Frowning, she went into the kitchen. There were still biscuits and bacon on the table, but the kitchen was empty.

Had they all gone and left her?

Cole was completely mistrustful of her.

But did Cody doubt her, as well?

The sound of hammering attracted her attention and she hurried out to the backyard. Cole was near the doorway to the outer kitchen, attaching new hinges to the wood that used to be a door.

He looked at her without warmth, and with a fair amount of suspicion in his eyes.

"Good morning," she said carefully.

"Grab me a handful of those nails over there. Please," he added at the last.

She did so.

"Where is everyone?" she asked.

"Out," he said simply.

"Out where?"

"They've gone off on business."

She sighed with exasperation. "What kind of business?"

He didn't answer. His attention was reserved for the door he was repairing.

"What kind of business?" she repeated.

He looked up and stared at her, arching a brow.

"Oh, all right," she told him. "Fine. I've got it. It has something to do with the Union government. And I'm not trusted. But I guess you're not trusted, either. Well, you are from Texas."

He leaned back, staring at her. "Brendan Vincent came from Texas. He was with the U.S. military most of his adult life. He chose to stay with the Union. Every man has to make a decision, and every decision hasn't been dictated solely by where a man was born."

"So, you're a Unionist?"

He set his hammer down, impatient. "I don't rightly see myself as either. I think that it's all just a damned sad thing. I dream of a day when it will be over, and that's that. And the next person who asks me my opinion of the war...oh, God, never mind. I am a Texan. I love Texas. I love the frontier. I've spent endless days keeping the law with Indians, Comancheros and plain old horse thieves. I don't feel like fighting the fellows with whom I went to the academy. I'm here to fight vampires. Then I'm going home, and I'm going to hope that the human war doesn't ever reach Victory, and that my quiet little town's still there when I get back."

"I'm sorry. I'm just curious why you're not with them."

His head was down and he didn't answer her.

"Oh. I see. You were left behind to watch over me."

He finished hammering a nail and looked up. "You did tell us that you had arrived when you did because of the Southern government. You might want to explain that."

"I told you. A certain general-"

"A certain general?"

"Yes, a general."

"Which general?" Cole demanded.

"Does it matter which?"

"It could."

She stood stubbornly for a minute. Then she sighed. "Look, Cole, I already tried to explain. It was a long time ago-after the battle at Sharpsburg-that men in the military realized that something more was going on than simply the slaughter of war," she said drily. "After the last battle, at the Wilderness, when so many Southern troops were taken captive, we were on the battlefield trying to sort the wounded from the dead. Some of the dead-weren't dead. Or they were dead, but when we tried to bury a few, they came back to life. I was there. And there are those who still believe that men suddenly rose from mortal wounds to fight one another."

"Um. So there you were. Conveniently. Fighting in the war, are you?" he asked casually.

"No. I was on the field helping the injured. I explained everything to you, told you the truth at the beginning. You know who and what I am exactly!"

"Yes, you've given an explanation."

"Oh, please! What do you think I'm doing up here? You've been with me. You know that I'm Cody's sister, and you've seen that I'm very good at what I do-and that I'm no more lethal than Cody."

"I've certainly never suggested that Cody can't be lethal."

"Oh!" she said, exasperated. She turned to head back into the house.

"Hey! Where are you going?"

"Back in. Obviously, we have nothing to talk about."

"We'd have a lot to talk about-if you actually talked," he said. "But that's beside the point. You don't have to talk. Just give me a hand with the door. It's your fault that it's broken."

"What? That is ridiculous. You broke the door down."

"To save your life."

"I'm very good at saving my own life."

"I saved it anyway," he said briefly. "Get over by the doorframe. I need to align the hinges."

She was tempted to leave him to fix the door himself, but since there were a number of people-including Martha and her children-who used the outer kitchen, she gritted her teeth and walked stiffly to where he'd indicated. He hiked up the heavy wooden door and grunted as he shoved it in place, spare nails in his mouth, the hammer balanced in the crook of his arm. She stood to support the door as he grabbed the hammer, but the door was well behaved, and stayed in place easily as he secured the new hinges.

When all the nails were out of his mouth and hammered in, he stepped back, then swung it open and closed.

"Is that it?" she asked.

"Go in and try the new bolt."

She did so, sliding the new wooden bolt. It worked well, sliding easily in and out of place. It was larger than the previous one.

She opened the door and came out. "I thought we were supposed to be heading out to more of the cemeteries and burial grounds today."



"When the horses get here. You ride, I assume."

"Of course I ride," she said. "I'm from Virginia."

He smiled. The point he had been making all morning, apparently.

"Well, you may come and knock on my door when you need me. I'll remove my untrustworthy presence until then," she told him.

"Suit yourself."

She started walking toward the house, angry and not sure why. She hadn't imagined that anyone Cody was with wouldn't just welcome her with open arms. Stupid, on her part. She hadn't known her brother. He hadn't known he had a sister. Maybe she had just known about Cody and wanted family so badly that she'd expected a miracle. But Cody did seem to care about her now. He knew they were related. Easy enough to see. Cole seemed to accept the fact that she was Cody's sister easily enough. And she had even thought that he was beginning to trust her.

Until last night.

Maybe guilt had inspired her determination to try and capture Samuel Reeves, rather than immediately dispatch him. And maybe he couldn't have been saved. So few could withstand the agonizing hunger that true vampirism caused.

At the rear door to the main house, she paused.

"Yes?" he said.

She spun around. He'd been watching her go.

Maybe he had even known that she was going to stop.

She strode back to him.



"You asked which general. Lee. He's an amazing man. He's a brilliant general and the finest humanitarian you'll ever met-all in one. He keeps it private, though. His face is a mask of stoicism and courage when he's on the field. But I've heard him weep at night. You say you love Texas. Well, Robert Lee loved Virginia, and Virginia seceded. The death appalls him." She stopped speaking, knowing that she was passionate about the man who was leading troops to certain death on a daily basis. That's what a general did.

His head cast warily to the side. "You're telling me that Robert E. Lee sent you to Washington, D.C.-but you're not spying in any way?"

She waved a hand in the air. "It's a long explanation. My mother is loosely related to his mother, or some such thing. I volunteered my services as a nurse on the battlefield. No one wanted to allow me to follow the army at first, but I kept coming back from the field unscathed, so...I was useful."

"And sometimes you were a courier-who happened to be in the right place to overhear things at certain times?" he asked.

"Yes, I've admitted that. But I'm telling you that I'm here now because I heard that Cody had gone West-and then I heard that he was traveling to Washington, D.C. And it was right after the horrible, horrible battle at the Wilderness when something came and attacked after darkness fell, and the corpses came back to life. We'd dealt with it before, but we had thought that we'd managed to stop things-where they were. Many of the wounded and captured from the Wilderness had been taken to the prison. I swear to you, it's as simple as that. Lee never forgets the battle dead for a minute. But not even he had ever seen anything like the men with their throats ripped open, or the strength and horror of some of the undead who dismantled their prey by ripping off their limbs."

"So, he sent you North," Cole said.

She hesitated. "He allowed me to come North."

"Why did you hesitate?" he asked immediately.

"I just- I think that a number of people know... I think that they can't admit that there are really monsters out there. They are afraid to believe in monsters, because if they did, they couldn't hate their fellow men so much."

He was silent for a minute. Then he seemed to be listening. She heard what he heard; the arrival of horses out front.

"Someone is coming?" she asked. "And you know about it?"

"Transportation. Come on."

To her surprise, rather than heading out front, he went back in through the house. She noted, approaching the rear door, that there was a cross on the pane-as if it were structural for the window. Above it, as if in design, were a Star of David and a crescent moon.

She looked at Cole.

He shrugged. "Yeah... We're covering all the bases," he said and smiled. "You can come in, can't you?" It was a challenge.

She smiled sweetly. "Oh, yes, Sheriff. Watch me."

She entered the house ahead of him. He followed her, locking the door behind him, grinning.

"Why are we in the house when riders came to the front?"

"Because I want the front door kept locked at all times, as much as possible," he told her. "Can you ride like that?"

She was wearing one of Martha's dresses.

"Never mind. They probably brought a sidesaddle."

"I can ride any way you want me to," she assured him.

Cole stared at her, a brow slightly hiked, a small smile curling into his features. She flushed. "Any horse out there!" she said quickly, turning away from him.

He stopped by the hook near the door to get his coat-the coat with all the pockets and vampire-killing paraphernalia-and led the way out the front door, closing it and locking it once she was out.

A rider had come, a man in a Union uniform with sergeant's stripes, leading two handsome bay horses.

Well-fed horses, looking much better than most of those she was accustomed to seeing in Virginia.

"Where are we going? And who is that?" she whispered.

"Sergeant Newcomb. And he's brought us two of the North's finest military horses. It's time. We're on cemetery detail again. Let's go," he said.

As he spoke, a bolt of lightning flashed across the sky, followed by a deafening clap of thunder.

"Let's get moving. Quickly," Cole said. "The rain...well, God knows just how hard it will be out there once the rain starts."

He was right. The sky, so beautiful by morning, was darkening. She looked up at it, disheartened.

"If you're afraid of a little rain..." he suggested.

She lifted her chin and smiled. "I'm not afraid of the day, the night, the lightning or a little rain. However, if you're feeling uneasy..."

"If we were smart, we'd both be afraid," he said. "Miss Fox, after you."