FOR ALL THE clouds, it might as well have been night, and Cole rued the fact that, despite the fine mounts they had waited for, they hadn't started earlier.
There seemed nothing so desolate as a cemetery when the sky darkened by day and the chill wind whistled and moaned through the trees.
Apparently, Megan Fox could ride even in a dress; she moved effortlessly. Cole was curious about her background, how it had felt all the years to know she was different-to have the choice to give in to the side of death and devastation, or to take up the fight against the creatures of evil, of which her father had been one.
Sure, she spoke earnestly and passionately enough, but he could tell she was the ultimate actress when she chose to be. He'd seen her in action at the hospital. And still, there had been something in her voice when she had spoken about General Robert E. Lee that had rung agonizingly true. She admired the man, and more. She loved him.
Oak Hill was a beautiful place, with a chapel built in 1849, natural garden pathways and monuments that lent it an air of bittersweet melancholy. It was large and sweeping, and, like other cemeteries these days, many graves were dug in anticipation of occupants that might never find such a peaceful, final resting plot. There were plots for families, vaults for families and individual graves. In the mist and darkness, the Gothic chapel stood like a testament to the finality of death, both welcoming and sobering.
The ride had been long through city streets filled with troops on the move, citizens trying to carry on with their lives and, always, the dust of construction. Heading out to Georgetown lessened neither the constant flow of humanity nor the grind of wagons supplying for the massive war machine.
But the cemetery, when they reached it, was quiet. Peaceful beneath a heavy, storm-laden sky from which the gray clouds seemed to cast a fog, rather than rain, down upon the ground. Oak Hill was comparatively new, impressively designed and, therefore, lonely and barren and seeming like a monument to death that stretched forever.
"I don't see anything," Megan said quietly.
Cole was tempted to whisper himself. The very air around them seemed to demand it.
"What were you expecting? A vampire picnic, tables of the undead, fellows playing cards?"
She cast him a glance that assured him she did not appreciate his sarcasm.
"Same as yesterday?" she suggested.
"Yes, but stay in sight this time."
They left the horses by the gatehouse, an impressive edifice, and moved along the pathways and small hills and valleys of the cemetery. Cole motioned to Megan that they would move toward the far left first, then, finding nothing, moved in a westerly direction, always at the same pace as one another.
They spent an hour walking, seeing nothing out of the ordinary. There were stunning new monuments of pristine marble rising high in memory of those now gone. At each mausoleum they stopped, waving at one another before circling the houses of the dead, each keeping watch over the other.
She was good at what she did, Cole thought.
She knew how to be a partner, how to trust him and how to watch his back, as well.
So why didn't he trust her?
She was just like Cody, an anomaly, the blood of a very different creature running through her veins, yet so very human in every other aspect. She was fascinating; she was compelling. She was an extraordinarily beautiful young woman in shape and form and presence, and yet he knew, too, that it was her eyes that kept him most fascinated. When she looked at him, when she spoke earnestly with passion, and even with anger, there was something about her eyes, an emotion so clearly visible in her face that it arrested his heart.
"Anything? No freshly dug ground-nothing?" He called across the space between them.
"Some newly dug graves, but no occupants! And no young ones hiding there, either," she called back.
"Keep going. The chapel is ahead. We'll rest for a few minutes!"
Cole feared, with the cemetery so empty, that the chapel might be locked. But it was not. They had no sooner reached the doors than the rain burst down at last, and they hurried in, just ahead of the first heavy drops.
The wind whipped up to an even faster tempo. Cole pressed hard on the door to close it.
It was dark and shadowy within, but it was dry.
"It's a bit chilly," Megan said.
"It's spring, and it's Washington. Cold one minute, hotter than hell the next." He hesitated. "You do feel the cold, huh?"
She glared at him. "We feel everything. I thought you and Cody were tighter than thieves."
"You never will trust me, will you?"
"I haven't known you that long," he told her. "And trust needs to be earned."
"I actually think that I earned it, saving your life," she informed him. "I saved your life, young lady," he said with an indignant sneer.
She sniffed. "You wouldn't have gotten through the first night without me."
"We managed fine in many a worse situation," Cole said. "And we've really just been introduced."
"Ah, yes, but we've quickly had to get to know one another," she said drily.
The rain pounded the chapel. The wind outside made a sound akin to crying, as if the elements themselves mourned all who lay interred in the cemetery. He smiled. She seemed exceptionally human as they waited in the confines of the chapel-so warm, vibrant and vital. He supposed he should actually put some distance between them.
He didn't. Instead, he took her hands and rubbed them between his own. She didn't pull away. She looked up at him with her huge golden eyes.
"Let me give you my coat," he said.
She shook her head. "No, no, I'm fine, really. Your coat is your defense."
"Yes, well, you know how to use its tools as well as I."
"I don't need them, though. My blood is my defense."
"And you can be killed, just as any vampire, just as any human."
She smiled. "It would take a lot."
"All it would take is a determined enemy with a stake or a good sharp sword," he reminded her practically.
"We're in a chapel."
"And you believe that a vampire-a full-blooded vampire-can't enter a chapel? There are many religions around the world, you know," he said.
"Religion doesn't matter. What matters is the soul, or the heart. Evil can't dwell in a house of holiness," she told him.
It was so similar to something that Cody had once said to him.
"Tell me more about your life," he suggested, indicating a seat in one of wooden benches before the small altar.
She arched a brow. After she sat down, she noted, "You know my life. When I was young, my mother told me what I was."
"And a bastard," she said drily. "But she used the name Fox, and my birth is registered under the name Fox. My mother was an amazing woman. She grew up in a system where love didn't really exist much, marriages were planned and expected, and she knew that her stepfather intended her for a rich planter who would make her the main household 'slave' if you will. She knew that my father was different, but she went with him anyway. Even knowing that he wouldn't-or couldn't-stay. She made her own life." Megan sighed and explained, "She met my father at a barbecue. She hated her life, and she didn't want marriage to a man when there was no love, when it just a matter of the proper way to live her life, with a man seen as advantageous for her in society. She fell in love at first sight, and ran away with my father instead, knowing that he was running away with the world. They had their time together, I was conceived, and then I believe my father thought that he had to run again. My mother lived on her own and met my stepfather, who was a wonderful man. He accepted me, another man's child. For all that I was."
She smiled at him. "She taught. She taught young ladies, but she did much more than teach them the proper way to sit and stand and hold a teacup. She loved history and the world and old legends. She was always searching for the true roots of vampirism, and studied stories from all over the world. She did believe that it was a disease, and she was always certain that one day-maybe far in the future-medicine and science would catch up with the 'disease.'"
"Ah, a true scholar," Cole murmured.
"And I had a wonderful stepfather," she said.
"He was a scholar, too, a teacher. They had a good marriage, and he was kind to me. He died just before the war, of natural causes. If I had known..."
"Known that he was dying?" Cole asked her.
She nodded, smoothing a fold in her skirt. "I would have been tempted to save him. His heart gave out. Suddenly. If I had been there...I might have saved him."
"Turned him?" Cole asked. She looked so distressed, looking intently at her skirt still. She was about the fiercest creature he had ever met, and yet he wanted to touch her and console her. Hold her.
It seemed bizarrely comfortable in the chapel then, the two of them sitting close together, taking warmth from one another. He set an arm around her, rubbing her shoulders, to give her more warmth.
"And it might have been a mistake. Your 'friend' from last night was a mistake, no matter what you might wish to believe."
"Killing him?" she asked.
He shook his head. "Him being a vampire. He needed to be-put down."
"It sounds like we're talking about horses."
"We're talking about something akin to rabid dogs."
"But all vampires aren't rabid dogs. In the eyes of most men, I'm a vampire. My stepfather never suggested that I should have been put down."
"Where's your mother?" he asked.
She winced. "Dead, too. The first year of the war. She was young, she was healthy...but she caught a cold and it worsened and...and I was gone. So I have lost them both."
"I'm sorry," Cole said gently, and he meant it.
She nodded, and he could feel her squaring her shoulders; she didn't want to talk about the past.
"What about you-cowboy?" she asked teasingly. "You're a sheriff on the frontier, you have apparently dealt with Indians, outlaws-vampires-and more. And yet you loathe war."
"Well, I'm not particularly fond of outlaws, either," he told her lightly.
"How did you escape the war?" she asked him. "I mean, at the beginning, young men were fighting to get into units. And you went to a military academy, didn't you say? Wouldn't you have been in the military then, an officer of some sort?"
"I was in West Point briefly ten years ago. Many-most-of our Mexican-American war heroes became teachers at one time or another, still were leaders after the war." he told her.
She drew away from him, astonished. "Then, you are familiar with most of the leaders-on both sides!"
"How did you secure an appointment-and how did you leave without going into the military?" she demanded.
He laughed. "I didn't desert or any such thing. My grandfather was a Revolutionary War brigadier general, and so my appointment at the Academy. I went through school, but resigned my commission when my father died. I went home to Victory. They needed a sheriff."
"Your father had been the sheriff?"
"Exactly. And it's my point as regards the war, as well. I knew many of the fine officers leading both sides of the war effort now. They're mostly good men. They believe that they're right. They all believe that God is on their side. Most of those men fought together in various skirmishes, and though on the field they may be enemies, in their hearts, they're still friends."
"It was after Joseph Johnston was injured at the Battle of Seven Pines that Lee took control and called his forces the Army of Northern Virginia," Megan said. "He's simply an excellent tactician."
Cole nodded. It was impossible to know what the horrible conflagration would come to before it ended. Mothers in the North often thought it would be good riddance if they all just said goodbye to the South. The newspapers thrived on printing the horrendous photos taken on the battlefields. Political pressure could end it all. Abe Lincoln was coming up for reelection, and though the North had started winning some of the major battles, there were many antiwar politicians who just might win election. If they did so, the tide could be turned and Congress might vote to stop the war and give the South the freedom to become an independent country. Lincoln, with his passion and determination, was the heart of the Union.
Even with its brilliant military men, the South was slowly strangling. The coastal blockades were keeping supplies from arriving from Europe. Food grew scarcer daily. The industrial North was producing guns and bullets on an unholy schedule. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation had turned into a war with a cause for the North, and that would influence voters, as well.
Cole wondered what would have happened if the South had taken the battle onto Northern soil immediately, while its troops were young and fresh and still in decent boots, with food to give them strength.
They'd never know. Amazing, though, how much he thought about a war he purportedly didn't give a thought about at all....
"Cole," Megan said, so softly he barely heard her.
But something in her voice alerted him.
What? he mouthed.
"There...in the back. I saw something. Something moved."
He looked. He saw nothing. He pulled away from her though and rose, stretching as if he were just about to check on the rain.
He did so, opening the door just a bit. The rain had ceased. The day remained wet, gray and cold. He turned back toward Megan, who had risen, as well. He nodded to her. She saw his eyes, and she knew that they needed to take the same care they had outside and head to the front of the little chapel together.
And as they moved into the darkness, something burst out from the altar area. A shadow, so fleeting that Cole had to ask himself if he'd really seen it. It was there, and then it wasn't. The door to the chapel swung open, from a massive gust of wind-or an unseen hand.
Cole reached into his pocket coldly for a stake and started for the door. Megan raced after him, grabbing his arm. "Cole, no!"
"It's out there-whatever, exactly, it is-it's out there," he told her, trying to shake her off as he neared the outside.
"Cole! Wait, think! I told you-yesterday, there was something in the trees that fought alongside me. Whatever-whoever-this is, exactly, he, she, it, isn't out to hurt us. Cole! It was taking refuge inside a chapel!" she pleaded.
"If it's good, why doesn't it just join forces with us openly?" Cole demanded, yelling the words both at her and into the dark graveyard.
"I don't know," she admitted. "But...don't. Please! It's not trying to harm us in any way, and it might be there to help us when we need help. I'm begging you, think about it!" Megan insisted.
He felt her hand on his arm, felt the tension in his muscles, and something he wasn't accustomed to-uncertainty.
Her hand fell away. She studied him with her mesmerizing golden eyes.
"You don't trust me, and you can't allow yourself to trust in anything that I say," she told him flatly.
He shook his head. "Megan, maybe it's watching us. Maybe it's waiting for us to be in a position of vulnerability. The old ones do that."
She shook her head. "Sometimes, you know, you have to believe in what you can't see."
He stared back at her, and slowly, the tension eased from his arms, and then the length of him. He wasn't sure he was giving in to her certainty that the shadow thing was good, a force of salvation.
But he was certain that they'd never catch it now. It knew that they would be looking for it.
"All right. The rain has stopped. Let's finish what we started," Cole said.
She nodded. They headed out. Cole closed the chapel door behind them.
"West angle," she said.
"All right. I'm on the east," he agreed. She started to walk away.
"Hey!" he called to her.
She stopped and looked back at him.
"Make sure I can see you at all times," he said.
She nodded slowly and then offered him a dry smile. "Is that because you're afraid for me? Or afraid of what I might do?"
"Yes. Both," he told her huskily. He knew it was a lie. He knew that he was already entranced by the woman, even as he mistrusted her.
Was that her plan? Seduction and then...what?
He didn't think so.
Or he didn't want to think so.
He gave himself a mental shake and started on his route across the slick grass, mud patches-among the fresh-washed flowers, blooming in spring despite the pervasive atmosphere of death. He walked down a vacant patch of land where future decades of dead might one day lie, and he came upon a section where many graves had been dug.
He stopped. There was an area where the dirt had recently been dug up and then hastily replaced.
Cole hunkered down over the damp earth. He began to dig at it.
Quickly, he came to a corpse.
The corpse of a Union private, Irish Brigade.
A corpse with a fine-honed stake in its heart, one much like Cody had taught him to make.
Someone, determined to hold the "infection" at bay, had been there before them.
And yet, even then, he held on to doubt. A callous killer might not care how many of his or her own were dispatched-if there were a greater game afoot.
He rose. He kept walking the cemetery, but he knew there would be nothing further for him to do, nothing to fear.
Any fresh, newly made vampire who might have taken refuge in the cemetery was dead now in truth.
For good or evil, the shadow-being from the chapel had seen to it already.
MARTHA CLUCKED around Megan like a mother hen when she and Cole returned to the boardinghouse. She had to admit that it was rather nice. She was accustomed to taking care of herself, having spent the past years doing her best in horrible conditions. It was nice to have someone worried about her state of exhaustion, determined that she have a long bath and some good hot tea with whiskey and settle down before a nice fire.
She needed more than tea at that moment, but she was pretty sure her brother traveled with a sizable stash of the sustenance they needed to maintain their customary lives. And she could wait. It had been a long day, the break they had taken in the chapel the only rest they had, and nothing to eat at all.
She was feeling quite loved and appreciated, but Martha was just as concerned about Cole. The minute she was out of the tub, Martha arrived to get her dressed quickly, and requiring her assistance to empty the contents of the tub so that fresh water could be heated to fill the tub for Cole.
She knew he'd see it as a bit of a luxury. During her time with the army, she and the men had gone days-weeks-without a chance to find a spring, a creek, a river, or anywhere with water available for bathing. She had been luckier than the men, since she had ridden often enough with messages from one position to another, and she'd had the luxury of sometimes being in Richmond, in an officer's home, and even in the White House of the Confederacy. On those occasions, she had felt a little bit of guilt bathing, thinking on her comrades in the camps and the dirt that seemed to cling to them all permanently.
Megan eased back into the overstuffed wing chair Martha had placed her in, closing her eyes.
She couldn't really tell anyone the truth about her suspicions.
She was pretty sure that Cody thought their father might have been the one to breed the vampire clan that had ripped apart the towns surrounding Victory, Texas. The clan of "outlaws" that Cody, Cole and friends had put down.
But she didn't believe it. Their father had left his mother; he had supposedly been dead. But he had returned to the East to meet her mother, and he had never hurt her. Her mother had always insisted he was an honorable man, even if he had to live by different rules than society would accept.
But he was out there, still. She knew it. And she didn't believe that he was evil. He had to have been a decent man to have been with her mother. And her mother wasn't stupid; she would trust her opinion.
He stayed hidden, of course. Most likely, he would reside in one place, and then another, careful to keep moving so no one would ever really know him.
But Megan believed, with her whole heart, that he spent his days searching out and destroying those who came back with the hunger to kill.
She dreamed of meeting her father.
A noise at the door alerted her that someone had come to the house. She instantly tensed, but the door opened and Alex was there with Cody and Brendan.
"Hello," Alex said. Her brow furrowed. "How was your day?"
"Fairly uneventful. We searched through Oak Hill, got caught in the rain, searched some more and came on back," Megan said. "How was your day?"
Alex hesitated a moment. "Worrisome," she said.
"I think a good supper would be in order round about now," Brendan said, walking to the fire to warm his hands. The rain had made the spring day chilling to the bone.
"Yes, of course. You look exhausted," Alex said to Megan.
"I am tired."
"Where is Cole?" Cody asked.
"Enjoying a bath," Megan said.
"We mustn't forget, Lisette Annalise needs to see him tomorrow," Brendan reminded Cody.
"We certainly won't forget that," Cody said.
"Well," Alex murmured. "I'll go see about a meal."
Alex went out. Megan looked at Cody, who seemed perplexed.
"What's wrong?" she asked him. She was disturbed not only that they had apparently been out on a secret mission all day, but that their mission seemed to concern Lisette Annalise.
It was ridiculous, but she didn't like the woman.
Was it jealousy? she wondered. She eschewed the idea. She and Cole made good partners, that was all. Even if the man still didn't trust her. She couldn't care in the least about his outside activities.
Cody glanced over at her. He looked at her for a moment and then said, "It's spreading. The outbreak is spreading."
"What happened? Where?"
Again, Cody hesitated. "We're-we're really not sure.... But we suspect that there are-creatures-in Harpers Ferry."
Megan stood up, aggravated and done with the way they all looked at her. "Look, I don't know what you're hiding, and I don't know why you mistrust me so much. You're all able to say that you do this-and you're not a part of the war. Well, at this point, I'm not a part of the war, either. So, as much as I have wanted all my life to meet you, to get to know you, Cody, I'm done. I'll go back to handling the situation in my way, as I see fit."
Alex had come back into the room. She looked around at all of them. "Look, we're playing on a tightrope of belief and disbelief-and war-all the time. But, Cody, I think that this is getting ridiculous. What? Do you think that Megan is really trying to spread the disease, and she's just with us to find out what we know? Or do you think she's here to ask the vampires she's about to slay if they know any Federal secrets? Please. We're sleeping with her in the house-we're trusting her with our lives as it is. And she's done nothing to betray that trust. I'll tell her the truth, if you won't."
"Alex-" Brendan began to protest.
Alex cut him off with the wave of a hand. "It's my-it's actually my relationship to begin with. It's my right to tell Megan what I choose." She turned to Megan. "I think I mentioned that I was actually taken in once-with a canvas bag over my head, at that-on suspicion of spying. Because I have dreams, and the dreams sometimes foretell the future. Well, when I was in prison, I was visited by someone else who has dreams."
"Who?" Megan asked.
"Didn't I tell you? President Lincoln. He has seen terrible things happening in Harpers Ferry. Things that go beyond the scope of the town changing hands every other month in this war."
Megan stared at Alex, frowning. In 1859, John Brown had attempted a seizure of the arsenal there, taken the armory, lost most of his men and been captured at the town's firehouse-the "fort" he had been using. Now the raid was famous-or infamous, depending on whose side one was on. She didn't feel a tremendous amount of sympathy for John Brown, though he was a hero in the Union. She didn't dislike him because of his determination that slavery be abolished, but because he had thought that any means justified the end he wanted-he had committed cold-blooded murder in his quest. It now seemed an odd piece of history: Robert E. Lee and Jeb Stuart, two of the South's most brilliant generals, had been charged by the Union government with putting down the raid and the violence. John Brown had been hanged at Charles Town, south of the border region at the junction of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, a town the Union only took recently.
Megan shook her head. "I thought that now the Union army was firmly entrenched at Harpers Ferry."
"It is. And there are Confederate soldiers being held there, as well. It's a political hotbed at the moment. The area, you know, is no longer part of the Confederacy-or the Commonwealth of Virginia-it was admitted to the Union as the thirty-fifth state on June twentieth, 1863. It's now part of the state of West Virginia," Brendan said, still staring at the fire. "I don't know if you're aware of this, but when the vote was taken for secession in the Virginia legislature, most of the northwestern counties voted against seceding. The Southern forces still keep attacking. You never know who might be who down there-who might be in control, who might be a prisoner."
"But right now, it's West Virginia, and the Union is in control, right? And so-we're going to Harpers Ferry?" Megan asked. "But what about the capital? This capital-Washington, D.C.? What about here? Isn't the president worried about what may be happening here?"
"Yes," Cody said.
"I'm lost," Megan admitted.
"We'll detail the strategy tomorrow. It may mean splitting up," Cody said. He added a hasty, "Tomorrow!" in a whisper.
Megan quickly realized why. Martha had come in. "I've had a ham shank basting throughout the day. I'll bring it on in, if I may, and if I may rely upon you all for a bit of help?"
"Of course! And get the kids-we'll all eat!" Megan said quickly. She stood up and, with the others, followed Martha.
When they were settled in, it looked like quite a feast to Megan, again having to push images of past Southern comrades, most likely hungry and tired at this hour, out of her mind. Artie and Marni were charming children; Artie, determined to be a man of the house at age twelve, and Marni, a little lady at seven. They had helped bring in the food, Artie peppering Cole with questions about being sheriff in the frontier.
"I would like to grow up to be a sheriff-and see the West!" Artie said as he excitedly ate.
"It's a vast place," Cole told him.
"Yes, but I would like to live there. I would like to ride horses every day, and I would very much like to bring bad men to jail and justice," Artie said.
"You should stay right here and perhaps study medicine, like Cody," Martha said.
Artie had solemn eyes. "I don't want to be in a world where we're all fighting all the time. I want to go West, where I'd be looking for men who committed crimes, and not soldiers who do what they're told."
The table went silent at the child's grave wisdom.
"Well, then, Master Artie, some time you must bring your mother and your sister and come out and visit us in Victory," Cole said.
"Yes, that would be most pleasant!" Brendan Vincent said energetically.
Megan lowered her head, hiding a smile. She hadn't realized the older Brendan was quite smitten by their hostess.
Supper was cleared away and when it was done, nobody made the usual suggestion that the gentlemen retire to one room for brandy and cigars, the ladies to another for a sip of sherry. They had all grown quiet while clearing after the meal, and Megan excused herself to go to bed.
She was exhausted, and worried. She wasn't at all sure that she wanted to leave Washington-not since she had seen the shadow again. Something about it made her think it might have something to do with her father. Maybe she was just being the hopeful daughter...but she longed to meet him.
And she was afraid for him.
She tossed and turned, but exhaustion overwhelmed her.
She slept, and she woke, and slept again. Visions tormented, and she wasn't sure if they were patches of nightmares or thoughts that came unbidden to her mind.
Alex had dreams that sometimes foretold the future.
The President of the Union, Abraham Lincoln, had dreams-visions-of what might come to pass.
She saw something in her own mind's eye, so vivid it was that she didn't know if she was awake or asleep. She saw Cole, and he was lying on a poor cot, someone moving toward him. Megan tried to see who it was, but all she saw was a shadow.
She needed to warn him, but she was afraid that he was expecting the visitor.
The visitor was a woman.
Embarrassed, flushed, Megan wanted to move away. But something held her in place.
It was dark. It was night. The woman had come for a clandestine appointment. And still Megan couldn't move. She watched, and a sliver of moonlight cast a soft glow over the scene.
It was in that glow of moonlight that she saw...
Something shining, something glittering.
It was saliva, dripping off fangs....
Megan jerked upright. She was trembling.
She groaned softly. The vision had been terrifyingly real. It was a dream.
But, still...if the man was idiot enough to fall for a rabid fanatic like Lisette Annalise, that was his mistake.
Lisette Annalise was not a vampire. She was an actress turned Pinkerton agent.
Megan realized that she was never going to go to sleep unless she checked on Cole. She silently crawled out of bed and to her door. She listened for a moment, then opened it and went out into the hallway.
She tiptoed down to the door to Cole's room.
She listened again.