HE WASN'T DREAMING-it was real, right?

He had just lain down. Therefore, he wasn't dreaming.

Some hint of sound at his window had disturbed him earlier, and he had found himself up again, securing the house, looking out to be certain that the carriage house sat in peace in the night darkness.

But his vision came to him that night.

Then again, it wasn't precisely his dream.

She wasn't naked.

Cole saw his door open and, in the dim sliver of light afforded by the one gaslight they kept burning in the hallway through the night, he saw her.

The pale light filtered through the light cotton of the nightdress she was wearing, making a perfect silhouette of her figure. She might not have appeared half so tempting if she had just slipped it off altogether.

Actually, maybe naked would have been just as arousing.

And she stood there, staring at him from the doorway. He didn't move. He watched her.

Had he been right to mistrust her all this time? Was she standing there, assuring herself that he was asleep, so that she could easily, silently, slip in and sever his jugular?

He waited, hoping that the darkness was deep enough that she wouldn't realize he was watching her as he lay there. She wouldn't. His eyes were barely open.

She tiptoed in.

And stood over him.

She had said that he smelled good once. Good enough to eat.

He could have returned the-compliment? He breathed in her scent, and it was lavender soap, clean sweet flesh and that hint of an individual that made them different, that called to him on every basic level. With his eyelids low and his vision down to tiny slits, he still saw her face and her eyes, and to his amazement, he saw something tormented within them.

She just stood there.

Was she debating a meal?

He knew he couldn't maintain his dead-still secret vigil forever. And he didn't intend to give her the first chance to move-that might be dangerous.

His eyes flew open and his arms stretched out in the blink of an eye. He bore her down beside him, leaning over to pin her on the mattress.

She didn't scream; a gasp of surprise and dismay escaped her, but nothing more.

She didn't fight him; she just stared up at him.

If she had fought, could he have won? Yes.

Or at least, he wanted to think so!

If she had screamed...

He could just see the explanation.

Yes, your newly discovered sister is in my bed, yes, beneath me-but honestly, it was all her fault.

"What in God's name are you doing? Or, should God's name be invoked?" he asked her, his whisper tense as he leaned over her.

She stared back at him with no alarm, and almost as if she didn't comprehend his words.

"I was afraid for you," she told him quietly.

"You were afraid for me?" he repeated her words as a doubtful question.

She nodded gravely at him.

"I-I had a dream that you were under attack."

Her eyes fascinated him. He wanted to forget that he had anything to say to her. He couldn't begin to understand what in life and death, and all the miracles in between, managed to make her half human and half vampire. He knew that she was flesh and blood and bone beneath him, and that all of it was put together in a package as feminine and enticing as the libido could bear, and that she looked at him with eyes of gold in a beautifully formed face that was angelic and yet seemed to promise every wicked pleasure to be had by man.

Looking at her, he forgot his questions.

Forgot mistrust...

All he wanted to do was cradle her cheek, stare into those eyes...

And touch her.

He forced himself to think. "I was under attack-it wasn't by you by any chance, was it?"

She shook her head. He frowned, torn between the tension in his torso and limbs that informed him that he was an able-bodied, hungry male next to the vital heat and pulse of an able-perfect-bodied female-torn between that and the words that were coming out of his mouth. Lie, or truth? Those eyes...

"I saw you...and I saw...a creature. And you weren't aware. You were vulnerable," she told him. Her words remained quiet. Softly spoken, for they were in the shadows and the stillness of the night.

He did touch her face. His hand brushed past her breast, and the simple touch seemed to radiate streaks of fire and heat throughout him. Her cheek was soft beneath the exquisitely designed bone structure of her face.

"Sure it wasn't you?" he queried.

"Am I hurting you?" she replied.

Was she hurting him? God, yes, he ached in every fiber of his being-thin cotton and long johns separated them-and he was very afraid that it wasn't much of a separation, and she would notice very shortly.

Define that word! he longed to cry.

He forced a certain harshness into his voice. "I was awake. You weren't expecting that."

"I heard-noise. Noise, from this room."

That was true; he had just looked out the window, closed and bolted it, and come to bed.

"I don't know what to do to convince you that I'm-good!" she said.

He knew exactly what she could do that might convince him she was very, very good, at least in one aspect....

He stood quickly, drawing the covers with him to wrap around his lower body. He was in a boardinghouse and this young woman, mystery though she still might be, was his best friend's half sister; the same best friend who was right down the hallway.

"I'm going to suggest that you refrain from sneaking up on a man when he's gone to bed for the night," he said. "Go. I'm fine. Please, get out of here."

She was up like a flash of lightning, speeding across the room and to the door.

"And don't come back unless you mean it!" he muttered sharply beneath his breath.

He had forgotten just how acute her hearing was. She stopped, frowning, looking back at him.

"What? I'm sorry, what does that mean?" she asked. But then, looking at him, somehow, she figured it out. "Oh...oh!" Her cheeks flamed a glorious shade of pink. Then she was gone, with the door falling slowly closed behind her.

To his astonishment, she was back, pushing it open but not coming in.

"I will remember that," she said softly.

Then, she was really gone, with the door clicking behind her as she closed it securely.

He stared after her, wondering then what she had meant by the last.

And thinking that he'd never sleep-her visit had assured him a long time awake and in torment before he could get any rest from the trying day that had passed, and the longer days that lay ahead.

MORNING CAME, a beautiful morning. Yesterday's rain had caused a dampness and chill, but the sun had risen and dispersed the dampness. The air was fresh, the breeze light and it was difficult to imagine that it was a day when men would fight and die somewhere in all the glory of spring.

Megan found everyone downstairs at the kitchen table. Apparently, Martha had already come and gone, the perfect hostess for a boardinghouse: preparing a feast for her guests with apparent effortlessness and then moving on to other tasks.

She was surprised when Cole was the first to notice her, and when he rose to pull back a chair for her. Brendan and Cody had risen, as well. No matter what the situation, the men were unfailingly polite.

She murmured, "Good morning," and took her seat.

A chorus of "good morning" came to her in reply as the three men took their seats again.

"Bacon?" Alex offered, passing her the serving dish.

"Thank you," she said, helping herself.

"Blood?" Cole offered her, passing her a pitcher that had been set in front of Cody. She hesitated, irritated by his bluntness.

But then she smiled with feigned courtesy, accepting the pitcher and pouring some of the contents into the stoneware mug in front of her. "Thank you so much."

Cody cleared his throat. He was staring at her, Megan realized.

"There's a carriage coming soon," he said.


"About thirty minutes from now. The president has asked to meet you," Alex said.

She could have fallen off her chair.

"President-the United States president?" she asked.

Alex nodded. "I received a note early this morning. I'm to accompany you. The carriage will be here in a few minutes."

Megan frowned, tempted to grab her mug and down the contents in one swallow. She felt a strange unease. An uncertainty about her new comrades all of a sudden.

She folded her hands in her lap. "Does he- I don't understand. Does he know-what Cody and I are?"

"He knows that the world isn't always what it seems," Alex explained. "I told you-he has dreams."

"Does he want to see me as if I were some kind of...exotic beast?"

"Oh, no, dear child!" Brendan Vincent protested, which was a surprise. She had been certain that he hadn't trusted her much, either. Not because of what she was, but because of who she was. A child not of a vampire, but of Virginia. "You don't understand the man at all. He has a heart filled with goodness. He would never treat you like some curiosity!"

She smiled, not sure whether to thank him or not. She was still confused.

"Did something more happen last night?" she asked.

"No," Cole said quickly, looking around at everyone smoothly and then back to Megan. "All was quiet. But while we were considering our next move, the message came. While you and Alex are out, we'll do some planning."

She looked around at them. Well, it was obvious that her opinion wasn't important in the planning.

But she was going to meet Abraham Lincoln.

"Well, then, I guess all is decided. Sir," she said to Brendan, "would you be so kind as to pass the eggs and biscuits, as well?"

Breakfast was relatively silent, the carriage arriving at the front before she had finished. She was too unnerved to really eat much, anyway. She did pick up her mug, though, and down the contents. She didn't want to meet a man like Abraham Lincoln and be distracted by a pulse against a vein in his throat.

The men escorted them out to the carriage that awaited them. After Cody got Alex situated, he helped Megan up the step to the coach seating and whispered softly, "Behave now."

She stared at him, but he was grinning. She found that she had to smile in return.

Megan had assumed that it might take them to a secret place where they'd meet the President in a dark basement somewhere, or in some clandestine spot.

But she was stunned to hear a deep, slow, throaty voice welcome her even as she was seated. "So, good day, Miss Fox. A pleasure to meet you. Though I thoroughly comprehend that your loyalties might lie elsewhere, I'm grateful for all that you're doing for the sake of humanity-all humanity."

Even seated, the man appeared tall. He was gaunt, with huge sad eyes clinging to a face that was tired, lined and long. She had never seen a man who appeared to be so stoic, weary, resolved...and kind.

In the lull that should have been filled with Megan's own greeting, Alex leaned forward and said, "Megan Fox, please let me introduce you to President Lincoln," in her most genteel manner.

Megan stared at him in surprise for a moment longer, and then faltered nervously. "How do you do...sir! It's a pleasure to meet you. Seriously. Yes, I'm a Virginian. But it's a pleasure. Well, certainly, some in the South think you're a monster, but the fighting men, especially the generals and higher officers, all know that you're a man with what you truly consider to be a mission of righteousness." She winced. He didn't think of her as any kind of a beast, but she had just called him a monster.

"I'm sorry, I didn't-"

"Miss Fox, please, I'm well aware of how I'm viewed in many a place by many a person. But that is neither here nor there compared with the great assault we have faced as the tragedy of this strange blood disease seeks to hunt down and kill all mankind."

He tapped at the roof of the carriage and spoke to his driver. "A loop at the Mall, my good sir, if you will be so kind," he said.

Again, Megan's jaw nearly fell. Alex was seated next to her, and she had to prevent herself from clutching her sister-in-law's hand. She was aware that the White House tended to be an open area. Lincoln had never been a stupid man, and he was surely aware of the inherent dangers in being the President of the United States amid such national strife. And she had always heard that he considered himself a man of the people, and that, as such, he should be available-to the people.

Still, she had never imagined a carriage ride around the Mall with Abraham Lincoln.

It hadn't been that long ago that she had been hunting monsters in a D.C. prison.

He eased more comfortably back into his seat and stared at her.

"Are you a Rebel spy, Miss Fox?"

Her mouth seemed dry, filled with cotton. She shook her head. She didn't want to sit there stupidly staring at the man. "I have tried to be truthful since I met up with Cody, Alex-and their group. I was tending to the wounded on the battlefields, and, sir, I am gratified to say that I have not personally seen a doctor, nurse or medic in any form intentionally inflict more pain or suffering on a soldier on either side of this war. I have, yes, upon occasion, carried documents from one camp to another.... But did I come to Washington, D.C., to spy on anyone or to bring information of any kind to the South that would harm any man or cause of the North-is that what you're asking?"

He nodded gravely, those great sad eyes of his upon her. She felt that they were knowing eyes, the kind that saw into the soul.

"It's my understanding," he began, "that-though we have never openly mentioned such a thing in any correspondence-that many of the generals and politicians involved with the war and government in the South are aware of the serious threat we face. We. As one group, united. We-humanity."

She nodded.

"Alex said you were sent here."

"I was."

"By one of the highest commanders?"

She nodded again and frowned. "I didn't speak with General Lee myself before my departure north, but rather Lieutenant Colonel Wilkenson of the Jackson Brigade, sir. He had his orders through General Jackson, who had them from Lee. Lieutenant Colonel Wilkenson is a surgeon himself, and the...the incidents that occurred on the battlefields when both sides tried to collect their dead and wounded were horrendous and horrifying to all who witnessed them. After the Wilderness, I wasn't ordered to come-I was asked to do what could be done. Not many truly understand the...disease. But, like you, sir, they do understand the gravity of it, and that the disease is an enemy to all men. So I am here to spy? No. No I am not. I am here to help."

The president looked out the carriage window. They were passing the Smithsonian "castle," an edifice that spoke of science and industry, and man's thirst for knowledge and understanding.

"Somehow, it seems fitting," he murmured.

Next to Megan, Alex sat silent. They both waited for the president to speak again. When he did, he seemed to be speaking to himself more so than to them.

"How it breaks my heart! I think of the beauty and grace of the mansion at Arlington, and how dead men now fill the acreage. I think of Lee and I think of Mrs. Lee, who had to leave the beautiful home bequeathed to her by her father. Arlington was built by George Washington Parke Custis, the step-grandson of this nation's most elite founding father and the first president, a man who would not allow himself to be crowned king." He turned from the window to look at the two women again. "Mary Lee left notes, you know. When Robert warned her that the house would be taken because of its military position, she left notes for the Union troops who were sure to come. She didn't want the house harmed-the house, or the objects that had belonged to George Washington that were of great historical importance to all of us. What heartbreak she must have suffered! And, yet, a good wife, she stands by the loyalty her husband chose. My own dear Mary has many family members fighting against us in this war. She... I digress!" he said. "My apologies!"

"Please, you mustn't apologize," Alex said, setting a hand on his knee with the affection of a daughter. "How is Mary? I'd hoped to see her soon."

"Troubled," he said. He stared at Megan again. "The war draws upon us, all of us, to face such tragedy. I think of Jefferson-Jeff Davis-who I must admit, I pray will be the only President of the Confederate States. No malice intended, but God has willed my journey, I do so sincerely believe. I lost my dear Willie, you know, my precious son, while in the White House. I know that the Davis family lost a precious child in the White House of Confederacy, and I grieve with them, as I have grieved for my own. We serve, and we do our best to be husbands and fathers. We cannot ever really ease this pain. We received condolences from my 'enemies' in the South, just as we received them from friends here, and we send out condolences to those in the South for such tragedies, as well."

"Sir, all men rue the death of a child."

He set his mouth grimly. "Not all men. This wife cries about it at night. She believes that our Willie comes back to her at night, that he comes with his friends who have died at the hands of the deranged afflicted-and they cry out to her. She speaks to me sometimes, as if she has engaged in conversation with our dead son. It breaks my heart. And I..."

"Yes?" Megan whispered.

His gaze was directly on her. "I dream of a place that is Harpers Ferry. I see the mist, and I see soldiers-they are playing a game with a terrified little drummer boy. They like the boy, and they want to be friends, but they are soldiers, and they tease him. In their play, he falls out a window. He is crushed, and they believe him to be dead. But when he is hastily buried, there is something there, something that is hungry and watching is a shadow that digs in the darkness, raising the boy and tearing into his broken body. For blood."

"Perhaps it is a nightmare, sir, and nothing more," Megan said.

He shook his head. "I dreamed of the battlefield where we first heard of the disease," he said. "I saw it, I saw the shadow, and I saw the men rise, and begin to tear at one another like rabid dogs." He looked over at a group of boys teasing one another in the friendly manner of young children. "I am afraid, not of war, not of struggle, not of hardship or privation. I fear the unholy that comes to torment us all indiscriminately."

His rich, deep, husky voice had seemed to fill the carriage air with something tangible. A sadness so deep that it took on life.

They were all still, and Megan was aware of a shout from the street, of a child's laughter, of the clip-clop of the horses' hooves.

Then he spoke briskly. "I fear that there may be danger yet in the capital, and though Mr. Vincent, Mr. Fox and especially the sheriff, Mr. Granger, have worked with some of our troops and men that they may go into battle rightly armed, I dare not leave the capital here at risk. But as your great general might suggest, my dear, I'm asking that you go to Harpers Ferry, and seek out the truth of my vision, and my wife's tears."

"So-I'm to go for you?" she asked. She knew that she wouldn't say no. She knew that whatever loyalties she might have once felt, she knew this man now. If he asked her to do something, she would do it.

But it had nothing to do with loyalties, or with the fact that Virginia was her home. It had nothing to do with the war whatsoever, the fact that the North was most probably far more than right when it proclaimed that slavery was simply wrong no matter how practiced, even if, as some of the politicians in the South argued, it had existed back in Biblical times. They had been wrong then, too, which Ramses II had learned the hard way through the seven plagues of Egypt.

It had nothing to do with men who based their lives on the economy of cotton, with Southern boys who couldn't buy a horse, much less a slave. The war itself and all the politics that went with it meant nothing to her.

She had known that. In her heart, she had always known it.

She was sad, and she wished that she could say no, because she was convinced that the shadow that had been in the chapel, the shadow that had fought at Prospect Hill, had been her father. And she wanted to find him, so desperately.

What if she was wrong?

Abraham Lincoln looked at her and nodded gravely. "I need someone here, you understand that I still need someone here."

She swallowed. "You want me to go to Harpers Ferry alone?" she asked.

"No. I'm aware that you arrived in Washington alone, my dear. Many of the Pinkerton agents are really very good." He waved a hand in the air. "In the private sector, is such secretive spying a detriment to our freedoms? Possibly, but we are at war. No. The Texas sheriff, Mr. Granger, will escort you. He is well aware of all the elements that are involved. Cody Fox will have his knowledgeable wife-" he smiled at Alex, for whom he seemed to have a true fatherly affection "-and you will be escorted by Mr. Granger. I will have Cody Fox remain here because he is better acquainted with this area, while I'm certain that you're familiar with Harpers Ferry."

She nodded, feeling as if her heart was sinking.

But I believe our father is here, she longed to cry out.

She did not. She uttered no protest.

"I'm sure you are aware, as well, since you've nursed men on the battlefields, that enemies may still remain friends," he said to her.

She frowned and then nodded. "Yes, they manage to trade tobacco for coffee, and to send notes back and forth by way of creeks and streams. And, of course, messengers under flags of truce bring news."

"I have papers that will take you safely to Harpers Ferry no matter whose battle lines you cross. They have already been delivered to Mr. Granger at your boardinghouse. If you'd be so kind, I'd deeply appreciate it if you would plan on leaving by morning."

"Of course, sir." The words came from her lips. She wished she hadn't uttered them. But she had. And she knew that she would go. She knew that she would never be the same again, and it was in a way that seemed to cut into her like a knife. She worshipped General Robert E. Lee. The South's President, Jefferson Davis, was a staunch, well-educated and articulate man. He didn't have quite the same...sadness in his eyes. Varina Davis, however, the first lady, was gracious and warm and truly admirable.

Now she was entranced by this man, as well.

And she thought of all the men fighting one another who were fine, good, giving men, brothers, husbands, fathers, sons and friends, and she truly understood the depth of sadness in the great man's eyes.

The carriage had stopped.

Lincoln leaned across to her, taking her hand. "I am forever in your debt, my dear," he said quietly.

The door opened. He smiled at Alex. "Alexandra, I thank you."

"Good day, sir," Alex said.

Megan managed to murmur something similar.

The coachman helped her down, and she was standing in front of the boardinghouse again. The carriage pulled out onto the street and was away, and all of it might have been some kind of a wild and distressed daydream.

"Well?" Alex asked, the one word soft.

She looked at Alex. The young woman had accepted her completely, she knew, more than the others had. More than Cody even.

"Thank you," Megan said.

"You're thanking me?"

"I believe I will always cherish the fact that I met that man."

Alex smiled. "Perhaps some men are born into destiny, truly. Or, perhaps, sometimes, fate simply finds the most honorable men. He mourns the loss of his child. And his wife... Mary is so sad. And frightening-she can be so emotional. Disturbed, really... But...I was asking about the journey you're to undertake. Are you really ready and honestly willing?"

"I'm going with Cole," Megan said, shaking her head.

"It will be all right. He is always a complete gentleman. Honestly," Alex said. "But that's not why you're really disturbed. You can hold your own with any man...."

"There's something still here," Megan said.

"Yes. That's why Cody and Brendan must remain."

Megan shook her head. "No, no, that's not it. There's something here that-that I'm convinced is good, as well."

"Your father?" Alex said, reading into her heart and mind.

She nodded. "It could be, Alex. It really could be."

"All things are possible, so I've learned," Alex told her. "But you don't need to worry. Cody is always wary, but..." Her voice trailed, and then she stopped speaking. "Cody isn't a fool, Megan. And he-and Cole and Brendan-know that sometimes the afflicted can be saved. Cody is a doctor, and he can work with those who might just be...tainted. What's happened here, though, doesn't seem to constitute a series of slow seductions, in which a vampire seeks to bring more into a clan or organized family. This is a feeding frenzy." She paused for a minute and then said, "Have faith in Cody, Megan. Have some faith in him."

"I have faith in him. But do you think that Cody really has faith in me?" Megan asked.

"If he didn't, do you think he would have let that carriage ride happen?"

"All right. I'll be ready to go tomorrow," Megan said. She looked back toward the house. "I don't think I'll go in though, right now. I'm not needed this afternoon, am I?"

Alex shook her head. "No one knew exactly when we would be back."

"I think I'll take a ride then," Megan said. "And, please, don't let anyone worry. I'm not planning a ride down to Richmond with Union secrets."

Alex smiled a reassuring smile. "I wasn't worried."

Megan started around to the back, where the handsome horses they had been given by the U.S. government were tethered beneath the eaves of the house. The saddles and bridles were laid over a wooden sawhorse and she made quick work of saddling the mare that she had ridden the day before.

She detested a sidesaddle, but opted to use it anyway. She didn't want to listen to Cole complain that she'd jeopardized all their lives by making someone ride out on the sidesaddle if some mission presented itself that afternoon.

She was quickly on the road, determined on reaching her destination with as much speed as possible. The day had a tendency to disappear far too rapidly.

She had been to Washington many times when she was younger, before the war had descended.

But in a few years' time, the city had changed completely.

She stopped several times for directions, and was again surprised by the simple humanity of the courtesy she found from those who were happy to stop and help her.

War went on.

But away from those fields, life went on. Children walked the streets with their books belted and carried at their sides.

They kicked cans along the way, old bean cans with rusting, twisted tops.

Women shopped and walked along with their baskets, and businessmen checked their watches as they hurried to banks or law offices or other places of day-to-day employment.

Eventually, she left the crowds of the city behind, reached Georgetown, and the gatehouse to the cemetery.

She left the horse tethered there and nearly ran across the lawns and graves toward the chapel.

She was certain that no corpses that might return remained. The shadow in the chapel would have seen to it.

The sun was still in the sky, though the intense oranges and reds that should be of a lowering sun dominated. A gentle breeze moved through the cemetery, touching upon monuments, stirring the brilliant display of spring flowers that grew along the many paths.

Trees dipped their branches and gently listed in the air.

She came to the chapel, opened the door and slipped in. For a moment she stood there, trying to sense her surroundings.

She walked to a bench and sat down, staring at the altar.

"I know you're here!" she whispered aloud. "Please...I know that you're a being of decency and goodness. Please..."

There was no response.


She thought that she heard the creaking of the door.

She started to turn.

And that's when it seemed that a brick building fell on her head, and the world began to spin.