"ARE YOU GETTING along any better? It appears so, at the least. But I have to admit that I don't like the situation we're in," Cody said, leaning forward. They were both sipping shots of the delicious, aged Scotch that Martha had offered them, and it was good to sit with Cody in the relative ease of the parlor and talk out some of the things that had recently happened.
Things that had happened. Not things that he was feeling!
"We're getting along fine. That's not going to be a problem," Cole said. "What I'm worried about is Megan's almost desperate insistence that your father is here, and that he's somewhere in the background, helping us fight the scourge that's upon us."
Cody leaned back, shrugging. "Odd. I was convinced that my father was a monster, and that I had to find him for that reason. Stop him-before he was the scourge. Or kept being the scourge, but then again, we know now that he didn't create all the tragedy and travesty out by Victory, Texas. We found that culprit."
"No, and we've seen that some people can hang on to their souls, I suppose you would say, their decency," Cole agreed. "We've seen it-we know it. But we also know just how damned rare it is."
"And so we're left to wonder-how many more like Megan and I might be out there?" Cody said.
"That an interesting question," Cole agreed. "And..."
"Well, if they all grew up to be as decent as you. And Megan," he added quickly.
Cody offered him a small, dry grin. "So, you do believe in her. In truth, and deep down. Because I was afraid you'd go to West Virginia on this hunt simply because you'd been asked-even if you didn't really trust Megan."
Cole laughed. "No. I'm not that decent a human being. If I still didn't trust her, I wouldn't be going."
Cody smiled, and then his face quickly turned grave. "You won't have much help. Well, from what I understand, the Union officers are aware that something far more dangerous than a Union spy or a sniper is about. Apparently, from the conversation I had yesterday with some officers, they've learned on their own to stay locked inside at night, to have their guards on duty in four-somes-and to wear their best Sunday, go-to-meeting crosses. But they're mainly working off superstition with that last bit. It will be you and Megan, really, who understand the heart of the matter."
"But I will have the cooperation of the military?"
"Yes, of course."
"And not to start hunting down poor locals who Northerners might think are Southern sympathizers or monsters themselves?" Cole asked.
"You'll find that the orders on this have come straight down from the top-from the supreme commander of all the forces. I doubt if you'll spend your time arguing over the finer points of States' Rights," Cody said. "Not in the midst of this. Once people face it, they realize they have a much greater enemy than the one they already know."
Cole nodded. He'd been through Harpers Ferry once, years ago. Oddly enough, he remembered it as one of the most beautiful spots he had ever seen. The mountains rose high above the rivers, the terrain was rich and filled with trees and foliage. The waters of both rivers converged with crystal beauty as they danced over rapids beneath the sun.
He knew, too, that the military firmly held the lower town with stations planted along the heights, as well. The lower town provided greater safety, being highly developed. A man named Harper had, definitively, started a ferry at the junction of rivers soon after he received his patent in 1750. The town had been a gateway for those moving into the Shenandoah Valley. Construction for the United States Armory and Arsenal had begun at the end of the last century, and the town became famous for its production of guns. In the mid-1830s, the Ohio and Chesapeake Canal had created a boon for transportation, and true industrialization had taken root. Early in the war, Southern forces had destroyed the arsenal and armory-before the Union forces could take it over.
Cole had the feeling he wasn't going to enjoy the changes in the town he remembered fondly. Once, it had been bustling, filled with life.
"We'll be fine," he said at last.
"It's been decided that you'll have a military escort," Cody said.
"The same fellows you worked with before. Apparently, when asked for volunteers among the unit, the four stepped right up. They admired you, said you were a damned good man, and they even thought you were so decent, there might be more decent folk back in Texas," Cody said lightly.
Cole nodded. Good. He could work with that crew. Which reminded him that he needed to acquire the necessary weaponry still.
"Arrows," he said to Cody. "Bows and arrows. And I think we'll make sure we're carrying plenty of vials of holy water. Each man needs to be wearing a cross-or Star of David, or some sign of his affiliation. They'll need their rifles, bayonets and sidearms, as well. Knives. A good bowie knife or something similar. But I'll start with them on bows and arrows."
"Good thinking. I should get some of the men here trained with those, too." His eyes were light. "There's a lot to be learned from the West, and I should have thought about that before now," Cody said. "Out in the West, we had the Apaches and John Snow and his mixed-up family, and they were open-minded-not so disbelieving of when the unusual happened. And their expertise with arrows was certainly a boon."
Cole started to answer him but he broke off, staring as he heard the kitchen door slam open and Megan screaming for help. He and Cody jumped to their feet, racing back to where the others were.
Megan hadn't come into the parlor. Apparently she had just opened the back door to the house long enough to scream that horrible sound. By the time Cole reached the back door, Brendan, Alex and Martha were already out of the house, having followed Megan. He and Cody followed in their wake, bursting into Martha's carriage house.
He heard Martha scream as they rushed down the hall to the woman's bedroom.
And then he saw why.
Her son and daughter were laid out on the bed.
As if they had been prepared for a death viewing by an undertaker.
Martha had thrown herself upon her daughter and was trying to gather her son into her arms. Cole saw that Cody looked instantly at Megan, who was staring back at him, her eyes betraying the fact that she was praying for help-hoping against hope that he knew something that she didn't, something that would help make this better.
"Marks?" Cody asked Megan.
"Is there any life left?" Cody asked, walking forward to take her arm. Brendan and Alex were trying to gently wrest Martha from atop her children, lest she smother them herself.
Megan nodded. "The heartbeats are faint, but I found them, and they're both breathing. But...their throats...yes, the marks are there."
"How? Oh, they knew not to ask anyone in!" Martha wailed. Then she grew desperate, panicking and looking at them all with wild eyes. "No, no, no! I know what you all do-as vampire killers-and I will not let you. You will not kill my children. You will not impale them, and...oh, God! You will not decapitate my children. You will not, you cannot, I will not let you, I will fight and scream and I will..." She couldn't speak; her rash of desperate fury ended as she burst into a wail of tears again.
Brendan pulled her into his arms. "Please, please, Martha. All is not lost if there is still a ghost of life. Please, please...Cody?" He looked back to his friend.
Cody nodded. Megan was still staring at her brother, confused. "I need my medical bag," he said.
Alex nodded and hurried past them. Megan still stood there, looking lost.
"He's going to give them a blood transfusion, Megan," Cole explained to her.
Cody was already rolling up his sleeves. "Actually, several doctors have been experimenting with blood transfusions in this war," he said. "In this situation, there's no other choice. It's all right. I know what I'm doing. But there are two children, so we'll both need to be donators."
She continued to stare at him blankly.
"It's all right, Megan," Cole said. "Cody has done this before."
That seemed to surprise her more than the fact that Cody was going to attempt to transfuse blood from someone into someone else.
"But-is our blood tainted?" she asked.
He shook his head. "No-it will actually give them the strength and power to better resist another bite. All right. Lie down next to Marni."
"Oh!" Martha gasped, sagging against Brendan. "But you had rigged the house with alarms. There were...there were crosses around the house, there was holy water around the house... Cody, how...?"
"Someone powerful did this, Martha. But, I can save the children. They were left yet alive to torture us, as a warning, but we won't let them die. We'll save them. You have to have faith in me."
Martha looked around at everyone. Tears continued to stream down her face. "But-Cody, I've only vaguely heard about this...this operation."
"Several physicians have worked transfusions in different way, but it's all the same thing, really. I have needles that basically attach to tubes, and the tubes will carry the plentiful blood from Megan and me into the children. It takes some time, but it's effective. Brendan, take Martha into the parlor, where she can gain some calm while she waits."
As he spoke, Alex returned.
"I can't leave the children," Martha said weakly.
"You must," Cody told her gently. He nodded to Brendan, who nodded in return, and with firm tenderness steered Martha out of the bedroom. "Alex, Cole, you'll have to listen to me, and help when I need it. Megan, lie down next to Marni. Cole, can you please tie one of the tourniquets around her arm? I'll set the tubing and the needle."
Megan looked at Cole with wide eyes. She did as Cody instructed, lying next to the little girl. "We need some leverage, so get Megan up-gravity will be at work here, too," Cody explained.
In a matter of minutes, they had her on a stack of pillows and clothing. Cole smiled at her gently and warned that the tourniquet would pinch. She looked up at him with wide eyes, enigmatic, but apparently she trusted him. He wound the tourniquet around her arm, and Cody tested her arm for a vein before setting the needle and instructing Cole on how to watch the flow in her tubing while he set the instruments up for the child. When he was finished, he lifted Artie; they were going to have to take the boy, larger than the girl, into his own room to set up a similar circumstance. Cole started to follow Cody, but he stopped him.
"You have to keep watch here. Watch Megan, and Marni, and most importantly watch the flow of blood. Shift the tubing around if it slips, and make sure it stays in her arm. Alex can help me. If the flow stops, Megan, pump your arm. You should be fine. You're my sister, which means we have the same systems."
Alex followed Cody out. Cole was left to kneel on the side of the bed, hovering over Megan and trying to keep an unblinking eye on the apparatus. He saw the blood flow from Megan and into the tube, and then onward through into the little girl. He felt numb. He knew that Cody had done this before-he had faith. But the little girl had been so pale....
So close to death.
"Are you all right?" he asked Megan.
"Of course. I would do anything to save Martha's children."
"I didn't ask that," Cole said, trying to smile. "I asked if you were all right."
She nodded to him thoughtfully. "It's strange. I can feel it. I can feel the blood flowing from me." She hesitated. "Will they really live?"
"I believe so," Cole said. "But the situation disturbs me."
"We were here-and that put the children in danger."
Cole nodded. "I'm afraid so."
"We have to get out of here," she said flatly. "All of us. We have to get away from Martha and her children."
He shook his head and she frowned. "No. The creature that did this will only come back now that he knows. You and I have to leave as planned-and Martha has to move into the house with Cody, Alex and Brendan."
"But what if whoever did this gets into the house?" she demanded.
"Cody will be there. It won't happen."
She shook her head in distress. "We can't leave anymore."
"We have to leave. It's imperative that we get to Harpers Ferry before it-before it doesn't exist anymore. When an outbreak that severe happens... Well, there's a ghost town near Victory now. We have to go, and we have to have faith that we're all going to be able to do what needs to be done."
He looked at the tube and watched the way that the blood was flowing, then looked back to her. Megan trained her eyes on his. She was oddly afraid, he thought. And he found himself evermore attracted to her. There were so many aspects of the woman to...like. The way that she...was put together. Built. She was a stunning creature of sensuality in her frame, in her carriage, in the way she stood, in her...physical being. But it was her eyes that seemed to entrap him every time. The hazel-the green and brown, turning gold when combined-that seemed to sweep his soul away, every time. The way she looked at him now...so trusting.
She stared at him. "Do you think that they'll really be all right?" she whispered.
He gripped her hand and answered in honesty. "Yes. I do. Cody-your brother-would give his life a thousand times over to save that of an innocent child."
She kept staring at him. The blood drained from her into Marni Graybow.
"You're doing all right?" he asked her.
"I feel...light-headed. I believe that would be natural, the life force leaving me," she whispered.
He had her hand in his. He squeezed it. "I believe so myself," he assured her.
"Martha is my friend. And a wonderful person. Honestly, I swear, she was never a spy for anyone," Megan said.
"I believe you."
"Her children must be saved," she told him.
"I believe they will be," he said softly.
She closed her eyes. He knew that what she was giving cost her. She would survive it, but he was more worried about what she was thinking than what was happening. Cody was half vampire, with half-vampire blood. He had seen Cody work magic in this fashion before.
Cole reached over and set his fingers against Marni Graybow's throat. The pulse was growing stronger. When he looked at the girl, she was beginning to show color in her cheeks.
"How are you doing?" he asked Megan.
She flashed him a smile. "I'm...I'm fine. What about Marni?"
"She's looking wonderfully healthy," Cole assured her.
For a moment, he just sat there. He studied Megan's eyes. He found himself praying not for the child, because he believed in Cody.
He prayed for Megan instead. Or himself. He prayed that Megan really was everything that she had asked them to believe she was.
Because he was mesmerized. Taken by the way she looked at him. Taken by the color of her eyes. By the way that she touched him, by the sound of her voice...
He was staring into her eyes, just staring and trying to give the utmost encouragement, when Alex came back into the room.
"We need to stop the flow of blood now. Tighten the tourniquet, please, Cole. Megan can't give anymore."
"Wait! Is it good-is it enough to save Marni yet?" Megan asked with concerned vigor.
Alex assured Megan, "Yes, absolutely. Cody has the timing down on this."
She helped Cole tighten the tourniquet around Megan's arm, preventing the further flow of blood. She withdrew the needle from both their arms, and she pressed hard on the spots where each had punctured. "Cole, please, hold tightly here until we're sure the flow of blood has stopped."
"I'm all right," Megan said.
Cole nodded, but did what Alex had said anyway. He grinned. "You'd say that if you were in the midst of a volcanic twister."
"Yes!" he teased.
"But...Marni," she whispered.
"Marni looks so much better than when we came in, it's almost unbelievable. Her color is flushed. She's breathing easily on her own, and, her pulse is very strong."
"Really?" she whispered.
"Really." He wasn't going to lie to her. Whether she had been born half vampire or not, there was just something about Megan. He would never lie to her.
She gripped her arm, rolling from the pile of clothing and looking at the child herself.
Marni was better. She was breathing audibly, and her color was rosy again. She opened her eyes, blinking rapidly. She looked at Megan and her lips trembled. "Mama?" she gasped.
"We'll get her right away, Marni. Right away," Megan promised, and she leaped up.
Cole saw that she and Martha nearly collided with one another-Martha had heard her daughter's voice-despite its faintness-and was hurrying in. She paused in the doorway, as if afraid that her ears had tricked her. Then she saw Marni with her open eyes, struggling to get up on her elbows. Martha burst into tears, racing for her daughter and enveloping her gently in her arms.
Cole reached out for Megan's hand. "Let's give them a few moments."
She took his hand, and then balked, pulling at it.
"Artie?" she asked.
"We'll stop and see." They paused at the boy's room, looking in. Alex was sitting by the boy's side, checking his pulse. He, too, had fresh new color and a flush of rose in his cheeks. He was breathing easily-obviously alive and in far better condition than just moments ago.
"It works, the transfusion works," she said.
"Cody is a medical doctor," Cole reminded her.
She nodded. Alex looked up at them, smiling. "We were in time. Thank God. Cole, will you bring Artie into the house? There's still an empty bedroom, across from the one Cody and I are sleeping in. We'll bring the children there, and we'll try to get Martha to rest in your room, if you don't mind-and tonight, we'll have you and Brendan keep watch over the children, sharing the time. That way you can both get some rest, and I think we should keep an eye on them through the night. Cody should sleep."
"Certainly," Cole replied. He walked over to the bed and lifted the twelve-year-old into his arms. Megan hurried ahead, opening the door to the carriage house, then moving quickly across the distance of yard to the back door of the main house. Cole walked on upstairs, taking Artie to the extra bedroom. Artie stirred in his arms as he carried him. When Cole set him down, Artie stared at him with wide blue eyes.
"You're all right," Cole assured him quickly.
Artie nodded, as if he knew and accepted Cole's words. He shook his head, though, distressed. "I...heard something at the door. But there was nothing. I went back to my room. Marni was studying her reader, just like Mama said. I heard-her cry out. I rushed in...I felt it...at my back. And then..."
"Artie, it's all right," Cole said.
"Marni!" Artie cried.
"She's here, darling, and she's going to be just fine!" Martha said, following Brendan, who was carrying the precious bundle into the room. Artie scooted up on his elbows, touching his little sister's face as she was laid beside him. He looked at his mother, and he said, "Mama, I'm so sorry. I should have been a smarter big brother, a stronger big brother...."
"Hush, son, hush!" Martha said, reaching out to pat her son's leg. "You did just fine, and I know it, Artie. And we're all going to take some lessons in the next few days on what to do when monsters slip in."
Artie nodded. His eyes closed again.
"I'll take the first watch," Brendan said. "Martha, you need to get some rest."
"Why-we have a cold supper down on the dining table," she reminded them. "And it's not going to help anyone if we don't get some food into our bodies. Cody, Megan, you two especially."
"Why, Martha, you are quite the amazing woman," Cole told her. He was somewhat surprised that the woman didn't seem to hate them all-it was unlikely that her family would have been targeted if they hadn't been there. She had almost lost her children, and she had nearly fallen apart, but she had rallied, and strongly.
"No, I'm not amazing at all. We're blessed-it might have been another time, it might have been all of us...and we might not have been found until it was too late. Now, Cole, you take Megan down to get some supper, and Cody and Alex need to go on down, too. Brendan and I will stay with the children, and after, we'll go eat, and maybe the children will even be able to have a bite or two to eat. I can fix them up some plates on trays-it'll be a bit of a lark for them to have supper in bed."
"Yes, ma'am," Cole told her. "As you say."
"Martha," Megan protested. "You need to take care of yourself. You know I adore the children. I'll keep watch over them while you-"
"Why, Megan, thank you, but I'm right, and that's the way it is. I have all this energy just because I know they're going to be okay. You gave my baby your blood. Now get down to that dining room. Shoo!" Martha ordered.
"She is right. We'll get something to eat first," Cody said from the doorway. "Come on now, Megan. The children are all right."
Megan nodded. Her eyes still seemed huge. She was pale, and Cole knew that the evening had unnerved her as little else could.
She turned and followed Alex and Cody down the stairs. Cole followed behind the three and they went to the dining room almost as a troop of sleepwalkers. They took their seats at the table, empty chairs interspaced between them. Conversation was awkwardly mundane.
"Could you pass the roast, please?" Cole asked.
"Peas?" Alex offered.
"The potatoes are delicious, even cold," Megan offered.
"Well, sadly, the gravy has congealed. But if you whirl it around enough..."
Cole stood up and walked into the kitchen and opened the icebox, drawing out a pitcher of Cody's "special drink." He brought the pitcher out to the table and poured both Cody and Megan a glass.
"This might be what you need," he said.
Both looked at each other as if they must have lost their minds-obviously, this was the nourishment they needed most at this time.
"Thank you," Megan said. She swallowed the contents quickly, set her glass down and looked around the table. "How in God's name did this happen? Now Martha and the children will be in serious danger."
"How did the creature get in?" Alex mused.
"Who was it?" Cody mused.
Cole said, "I don't think we're going to get anything out of the children. They just don't know what happened. Marni is so young, and she was traumatized. Artie was taken so quickly, as well...they don't know anything."
Megan stared at the table, and then drew a circle in the gravy on her plate. "I saw him," she said quietly.
"What?" Cody demanded sharply.
"I don't know who it was, though. Someone in a long coat, a railway duster something like Cole's. And a big hat that covered his head. I only saw his back, and then he was gone. So, I don't know...I don't know anything more."
"Height, weight?" Cole asked, leaning toward her, and forcing himself not to grab her.
"It was fast, so fast. All I saw was its back-and it knew I was there," Megan said.
There was silence.
Megan looked around at all of them. "It was not our father!" she said passionately, suddenly focusing on her brother.
"Megan, I don't want it to be, either," he said.
"Honestly, and you all must believe me. Someone has helped me-twice. I swear that it's the truth. And I believe that... I really believe that it could be him. I don't believe-I'll never believe-that the man my mother admired so much could be doing anything evil. I just don't. And I think that... I think that I'm afraid to leave here tomorrow because I'm worried about the children, and Martha and that...and that Cody, if you do find him, you won't bother to find out the truth!"
Cody stared back at her incredulously. "Megan-"
Oddly, he seemed to be at a loss for words.
"Megan," Cole said, "Every minute of every day, the situation is growing worse at Harpers Ferry, and that could cause a ricochet effect that no one will ever be able to stop. Frankly, your father was Cody's father first, and he's been managing this kind of situation, these feelings you each must have, for a very long time-and he knows how to show restraint at the right time. The children and Martha will be in the house with Cody, Brendan and Alex from now on. They'll be fine. Actually, they'll be better-because of today. Because Cody did study medicine and because he learned that under some circumstances some chances have to be taken and new techniques utilized. Megan, you have to learn to have faith in others, and give them your trust!"
Cody leaned forward then. "Megan, I know how to show restraint."
"My father is a vampire," Alex blurted out.
Megan sat back in stunned surprise, staring at Alex.
"A good vampire," she said softly. "He was attacked in Victory, Texas, and I received word that he was dead. But he wasn't. Well, he was, but he wasn't. He's not a half-breed of any kind. He's a vampire. But he's never killed-except in our defense, and only vampires who were monsters." And then she stared at Megan with an unmistakable resolve. "And Cody didn't kill my father. He'll be careful of his own, I assure you."
Megan picked up her fork. "We-we should eat."
"What? The food will get cold?" Cole asked lightly.
She turned to stare at him, as if she would burst into another tirade.
But when she looked at him, she opened her mouth, shut it and smiled.