"MARYLAND HEIGHTS, ACROSS the Potomac River, Loudoun Heights, across the Shenandoah," General Bickford pointed out on the map he now had spread out across the dining room table.

It was bright and early in the morning, but they'd been summoned bright and early because the general hadn't had much sleep that night, so he had explained. Besides, he was a man with a great deal of energy.

The general had just informed them that the area was only temporarily under his command; he'd been brought in not long ago himself, being a Marylander who knew the area well and might have an understanding on how the strange attacks were happening, or just what kind of beast might be ripping men to shreds. When the situation was under control, he'd be back in the main action with Grant, a commander who knew how to hold his guns and move forward, without becoming cautious and failing to pursue the enemy after a victory, as so many of the other Union commanders had done.

Bickford himself was a man who intended to make things happen. He would get to the heart and truth of a situation.

They had been summoned to a "strategic meeting," but it included breakfast-and the women. Lisette Annalise had made it clear that she'd come as an agent of the Pinkertons, and that her office was under direct command of the president. She would be there. If she was there, Trudy was there. And Megan Fox had been sent specifically with Cole; he knew there was no way she was going to be absent from this meeting.

And so, with their meal cleared away, maps were strewn out on the dining-room table.

"Here we sit in Harpers Ferry, on this little triangular spit of peninsula. You might say at the confluence of the two rivers. Here's the armory-what's left of it. The railroad. Back over here, one of tunnels through the mountains, and here, the bridge-destroyed to smithereens after the siege, put back up by the corps of engineers. And right here, the engine house. Heading up the hill you've got Washington Street. You keep going and you're on some of the old battlefields, and then on out of the town. John Brown came in from the Kennedy Farm over here, in Maryland, and took the railroad bridge on over, utilizing a lot of the track you were on yesterday.

"Stonewall Jackson had a major victory here after the 1862 siege-but he and his troops came in from the west and from Maryland, creating a circle in that battle arena and putting a choke hold on the place. Then he moved on with the campaign and joined up with Lee at Antietam. The destruction you see now mostly comes from that siege-like I said, the bridge was blown to bits-and it's a miracle so many of the houses still stood at the end of it. Thing is, holding the place is a nightmare. The manpower needed is horrendous-probably one of the reasons President Lincoln, with all he has to deal with, took note when I said men were disappearing.

"We've held it now for nearly a year, but the place has changed hands six times, I think. Not as bad as Winchester, though. I saw action there, and it changed hands a few times in one day. But, that, my friends, was a situation we could contend with. Here, we thought at first that we'd awakened some beast, like an unknown, particularly cunning bear or a wolf pack, when the men started dying, when scouting missions failed to return. And that's what it was at first-men just disappearing. Then, we had the situation where they were being ripped up practically before our noses, with the worst being the night before you arrived-seven men dead. And now, last night, a quiet night, a peaceful night."

Cole looked at the maps with a sinking feeling. The Union had repaired so much of the damage that the little spit of land that wound down to river was easy to approach from just about every direction. Throw in things that can move with the wind, and it was especially vulnerable.

Still, it seemed that the attacks had been started with a strategy requiring but a few "troops" to create pure havoc. Chew up-infect-a few men, and they'd arise to do the next round of death and terror, and then it would all spread like wildfire. But before the deaths two nights ago, according to Bickford, the attacks had been confined to the small scouting groups out looking for guerilla bands and supplies.

Bickford was staring at Cole. "I'm not a man to sit around and wait for this kind of an attack, sir. I'm suggesting that you take the battle out there, to whatever it is that comes in here and tears into all these good people without mercy."

Cole studied the map again. He'd spent his time in the East, and he'd spent his time at the finest military school in the country. He knew something about the terrain, but not extensively. He thought about the ragtag troop he had with him; the sergeant who limped, the nearly deaf private, another minus a trigger finger, another weakened by malaria.

He looked up; he could feel Megan watching him. Her eyes met his, and he could see that she thought the general was right. As it was, they were all just sitting and waiting to be attacked. And, by doing so, they might just create the perfect environment for a different kind of siege.

Cole had to force himself to draw his eyes from Megan, to remember that they were fighting an extremely fierce battle here, possibly with the fate of the country more in their hands than either side in the official war.

He'd always known that she was beautiful and filled with fire, but he hadn't known just what kind of a heart might beat within the perfect body of such a creature, or what depths could exist within her soul. Or, for that matter, and in all honesty, what sensuality could come alive within her, and how she could steal his senses and his mind and make him long for the world to go away, just so that they could be alone together.

The world wasn't going to go away. Every moment of every day had to be treated with the utmost importance during these troubles. He had to give his mind over to the task at hand.

"Dickens knows this area like the back of his hand," Bickford relayed. "He'll go with you. He'll be your guide."

"I've seen enough to work with the men here," Lisette said gravely.

Cole nodded. "First thing, though, is to gather the men and set up some targets. General, you've arranged for the archery setup I mentioned last night?"

"Down by the river, past the guardhouse. I'll give the orders for assembly and we'll rally there at ten hundred. Dickens will get some men to gather the supplies you want out on the field. Then you can instruct them how to fight these things and how to defend themselves."

"Then, sir, I'm happy to follow your orders and let Dickens guide us on a hunt, but, today, I'd train the troops who will remain here. And we'll see that we pass another night quietly," Cole said.

"A sound plan," the general agreed.

Cole rose, ready to leave. Megan joined him. But she paused before the general. "Sir, what news have you heard this morning?"

"News? War news?" the general asked, and his voice then made a sound that seemed older than the hills that surrounded them.

"From Washington, specifically, sir."

The general seemed to soften. "A quiet night in the capital, my dear. A quiet night."

She nodded. "Thank you."

Out on the sidewalk, they saw that the town, with its few civilians and heavy troop population, was awake and moving. Troops drilled on the spit of land near the engine house. A baker delivered boxes to the house where they lodged. A woman in a white apron was moving up Church Street, possibly headed to the Catholic church.

Dickens met them on the street. "Sir! What are your orders, sir?" he asked Cole.

Cole decided that Dickens was going to call him sir no matter how he tried to protest, so he told him, "Go to Sergeant Newcomb and tell him we're going to have archery practice. He'll tell you what supply boxes need to be delivered to the field. We meet there at ten hundred."

"Aye, sir!" Dickens said, and, turning on his heel, made haste to find Newcomb.

"We could have done that ourselves," Megan pointed out.

"Yes, but I think we need to take a walk up Church Street. I want to meet Father Costello."

She nodded. "I believe they're using the church as a hospital."

"Yes, and I think we should definitely see the injured."

Cole slipped an arm around Megan as they walked uphill to the church. For a moment, they both paused, noting the beauty that not even the bombardments on the city could destroy. The rivers moved below in crystalline fantasy, and the majestic mounts surrounding them were rich with greenery. The church sat high upon a rock formation and seemed to be a beacon to the weary. They approached, and the door was open. Entering, they noted that crosses adorned both sides of the doorway.

The air inside was cool and carried the scent of incense. For a moment, they stood, adjusting to the light.

If the church was a hospital, there were no injured here now.

There was, however, a man in a priest's robes, kneeling at the altar. He remained there for a moment, and then rose, smiling as he came to meet them. He appeared to be in his late twenties, and he had a countenance of serenity unlike any Cole had witnessed in a very long time.

"Welcome. I'm Father Michael Costello, and you are a guest in St. Peter's," he said. His accent was Irish and melodic.

Megan murmured a shy greeting. She seemed awed, unusual for her. Cole shook the priest's hands, introducing the two of them in return.

"It's a remarkably beautiful church," Megan commented.

"Yes, I think so, thank you," Father Costello said. "God's hand drew the palette upon which we sit, and he created a place of majesty here."

"And we understand that you have maintained the building by raising the Union Jack," Cole said.

Father Costello smiled and shrugged. "The Confederacy hopes to be recognized and perhaps assisted by the British. The Union officers don't want to create any problems with the British while they fight the war-and when an election is at stake. The bombardment here in '62 was so severe that many thought not a tree or bush would remain, but this church did stand while some of the others were badly shelled. Some believe that God was watching out for us, which is true, but I also believe that God leads us to do things that might be clever when necessary," he said, his humor evident.

"Father, you're aware of the disease striking the area," Cole said.

"Indeed," Father Costello said gravely. "There have been times when I have gathered what remains of my flock here so that they might seek sanctuary from the night."

"But you have also utilized the church as a hospital."

"After the battles. And sometimes, when we have injured men, they are brought here."

"Have you ever had injured men here who-who left in the night?" Megan asked him.

Costello looked at Megan and seemed to study her eyes. He smiled. "I have a deep belief in God giving us the gifts and the strengths we need to get through times of heavy travail. You must understand that, to me, death is not the end, and there are many fates worse than death. I have had injured who have passed into God's hands here, but this is His sanctuary, and none pass these doors who are not in His grace, no matter how they may choose to worship. I have not had the kind of trouble you describe, nor do I expect that it will seek to come here."

Cole nodded and hesitated for a minute. "Father, we may be needing a great deal of holy water in the days to come."

Father Costello's handsome smile deepened. "Mr. Granger, I must say that I'm delighted that you have come to see me. Men of great faith may be fighting in this war. They may even be leaders in it. They may all pray to God that their cause wins. But, I must say, you are the first to come to me, relying on what services a priest may give. I will see to it that my reserves are plentiful and strong."

"Thank you," Megan said.

"Come," Father Costello said to her. "Come to the altar, if you will, whatever your faith, and allow me to bless you both."

Cole felt a little awkward. He had attended chapel years ago as a cadet, and he hadn't been averse to attending services when preachers out in the West had what they referred to as "go-to meetings." But he wasn't Catholic and wasn't at all sure of what he was supposed to do.

But he followed Megan and Father Costello and knelt down as indicated. The priest's prayers were in Latin at first, and he didn't understand a word. But he had learned the power of holy water, even if he wasn't sure how it worked. So when the priest formed crosses on their foreheads with the water, he couldn't help but feel that it gave him a greater sense of his own abilities and determination.

He knew as well that the creatures turned away from crosses and other symbols of deep faith. And when they were leaving, Father Costello pulled the large silver cross he had been wearing over his head, and put it around Cole's neck.

"I see that Megan wears a large gold cross. This is one you may need, my friend," Costello told him.

Cole thanked him. "We have to be on the field in a matter of minutes, Father. Thank you. We deeply appreciate your help."

The man seemed to be watching them, and weighing them as individuals once again.

"Is there something more, Father, that you think you should tell us?" Megan asked quietly.

Father Costello was thoughtful. "Yes," he said, making his decision. "I do have one soldier who is convalescing here."


"A Confederate lieutenant of cavalry. You will not see him in uniform-I am tending to him as if he were a civilian. He was among my flock when the war began, and he found his way back to me after some of the recent bloodshed at the Wilderness."

Megan cast Cole a quick, worried look.

"May we see him?" she asked.

"Yes, you may. I have told you the truth, and I haven't lied to others. The Union officers know that he is here, but don't know that he should be a prisoner of war," Father Costello explained.

"We're not here to fight for either side, Father Costello," Cole assured the man.

"I believe you, and that's why I've spoken freely. Come with me. He resides in the rectory."

They followed him toward rear of the church, through what had been a schoolroom in better times, and on back to the priest's dwelling. Father Costello lived modestly, with worn furniture kept neat and clean. He brought the pair out back, to an enclosed porch area, where a man sat in a chair and stared out at the mountains and rivers.

The man turned when he heard them coming. He was pale, nearly white, but beside that fact, he seemed to be whole. His hair was long and blond and his beard was roughly cut. His eyes were a dull brown, conveying a world of confusion and loss.

"Father?" he said quietly, surprised that visitors had been brought to him.

"These people are here to help, Daniel," Father Costello said. "Cole Granger, Megan Fox, please meet Daniel Whitehall."

"Hello," Daniel said, trying to rise.

"No, please!" Megan said, dropping down beside him. "Please, don't stand up. I'd just like to ask you some questions."

Daniel looked doubtful, and stared at Father Costello again.

"It's all right," Cole said quickly. "We're not with the army."

"Really," Megan said gently. Whitehall seemed to be taken with her. He stared at Megan and waited. "You were hurt during the Wilderness campaign?" she asked.

He didn't look away. He nodded.

"I was there," she said softly.

He didn't reply. His bony fingers tightened on the arms of his chair.

"What happened then, can you tell me?"

The man winced, closing his eyes. "I remember the fires, and the stinking smell of burning flesh, and the men screaming when they were caught in the woods and knew they were going to burn to death. I was disoriented, I couldn't see. I couldn't breathe.... You can't imagine the smoke. I think I fell, passed out, and then..."

"And then?" Megan prodded gently.

"And then there was something, someone on me. And I came to in the darkness, and felt something at my neck...." He touched his throat. "I looked up and it seemed there was a beast on me. Some strength came to me and I screamed, and I hurled it from me...and then I heard it scream because I had thrown it into the fire...."

"And then?"

"I passed out again. When I came to, I was alone, with the remnants of the burned and smoking forest around me. And I was..."

Megan didn't speak. They all waited.

"Hungry," he whispered.

His eyes focused on Megan again, and tears stung his eyes. "I was hungry-for blood."

She nodded, watching him with caring eyes.

"I am not a monster!" he said. "There were injured, and I wanted to tear into them, and I couldn't and...I ran." He paused for a minute. "I couldn't try to find my regiment. I couldn't surrender. I...oh, God. I found a pathetic old horse and I-I bit its neck. And it screamed-and I stopped-and the horse died anyway, there on the spot-blood streaming from its neck and I...God, help me! I lapped it up, and then I ran and I ran and I...I didn't let myself kill the next horse I found. I traveled by day and night and it seemed to take forever, and I...came back to Father Costello."

"How did you survive, back here?" Megan asked him.

"Rats are always plentiful," Daniel Whitehall said. "Squirrels, possums and one time a cow that was loose near Front Royal."

"We manage to keep the rat population down around here now," Father Costello said drily. "And I take what raw meat supplies I can get from the soldiers' mess."

"I can help you," Megan told him.

The sickly man looked at her with disbelieving eyes.

Cole clamped a hand on her shoulder. "Megan can help you, but it will have to be tomorrow."

"He needs help now, Cole," Megan insisted.

"You can't," he said firmly. "You have helped two people in the last two days. You'll weaken yourself, and that could be very dangerous."

"You know how quickly I heal."

"Give it a day."

"How are you going to help him?" Father Costello asked.

"A blood transfusion," Megan said.

Father Costello wasn't surprised, but he was somber. "I've heard of doctors performing such operations. I've also heard that men often die after the treatment. There is one learned doctor up in Massachusetts who suggests that some men have blood that is compatible with others, and some do not."

"He won't die from my blood," Megan said.

Father Costello was silent for a minute.

Daniel Whitehall spoke up. "Father, I can't bear this existence. I'd have died long ago-if I weren't willing myself to stay alive, despite the terror of what I might become. Please, I am more than willing to try anything!"

"Then we'll do it. Early tomorrow morning," Cole said firmly.

She looked at him, ready to argue.

"I have to be on that field for archery practice," Cole reminded her. "And you must give yourself some time. There are bigger issues at hand than just one individual, if you may accept my apologies, Mr. Whitehall."

"Tomorrow morning," Father Costello said. "I will be ready to assist."

Megan started to rise. Daniel Whitehall grabbed her arm. "I am so afraid. Can you save me from the nightmares?"

"Yes." She looked at Cole.

"Tomorrow. Early," she said. "We're due to head out now, and I wouldn't want the general to think that we're not doing all in our power to find the beasts now lurking around Harpers Ferry."

She stood, resigned, it seemed, to his logic.

"At daybreak, we'll come back up," Cole said.

"Thank you," Daniel said.

Father Costello led them back through the church and then out. It appeared he didn't want anyone knowing that they'd been through the church, should someone be near. The ill man was the priest's secret.

When they came down the church aisle to the door, they bade the priest goodbye.

Father Costello nodded. "I am glad to meet you, and glad that you have come here."

"We'll be back, Father," Cole said.

"I admit, I still fear for Daniel's life," Costello said. "But not as much as I fear for his soul. He is a good man."

"And he will be again," Megan assured him.

They started out. Father Costello stopped them. "One more thing. A young man did come to see me this morning. A Private Dickens. Please tell him that he has done his duty as a friend. I read burial services over the graves you dug last night just an hour ago."

"We'll tell him, Father," Megan said.

When they were far enough from the church and could just spy the drill field, Megan turned to Cole. "He knows what I am, Cole. He knows!"

He set his arm around her and pulled her close to him. "He knows, and he gave you a blessing, Megan. He's a priest. He has an amazing faith-and an amazing mind. He knows what we're up against. He's a wonderful ally." He paused. "Megan, you must remember how valuable you are, yourself, and you can't risk that many transfusions."

"That man must be saved."

"That's fine, and I understand. But you do understand that you're not invulnerable yourself," he said.

"Of course," she said.

"All will be well."

She laughed. "I don't know about all, for Daniel, we have a chance!"

They walked on down the hill, and all the while, Cole thought it was sadly wrong that while others did not, Megan saw herself as a monster. And he wondered if she was so desperate to find her father and prove that he was not evil because that might clear her own name, too. And maybe she could forgive herself...for merely existing.

He didn't know how to voice his words, to assure her that he'd seen many an outlaw who had killed ruthlessly yet left behind children that grew and became nothing but an asset to humanity.

He just pulled her closer.

As they neared the street, Megan pulled away from him. "There's your friend, Lisette. All ready for archery practice."

Lisette was on the street with the general. She had changed into a man's shirt and breeches and seemed focused and ready to work. Her hair was tied into a knot at her back, and she wore a wide-brimmed hat to protect herself from the heat of the sun.

As he watched, shy little Trudy stepped out from behind her. She, too, was dressed in a man's clothing, though she appeared to be horribly uncomfortable and not sure how to stand.

"Maybe you could help Trudy," Cole said.

"And you'll help Lisette?" Megan asked, smiling though her voice was sharp.

Cole laughed. "You really dislike Lisette."

"I'm sorry. I know the two of you are-friends."

He turned her around to face him, smiling. She was jealous. He rather liked that. Not if it seriously harmed their relationship, but it was nice to know that she had been noting the woman, and was wary of her-in many ways.

"I met her as a starstruck young man, watching a play. There were half a dozen of us, admiring her, enjoying a little after-the-show party. Back then, she was just an actress, charming and intent on storming the world-becoming more famous than Jenny Lind. When it came to war, she focused all that energy on the Union. I don't know when she actually went to work for Pinkerton, or how she knew exactly what had happened in Victory, Texas. But she was involved in bringing Cody, Brendan and I to Washington. But that's really about it. She's an actress, Megan. And when she's not spouting fire, she's the kind of woman who needs to believe that every man fantasizes that she's in love with him. There was never anything between us."

Megan flushed and winced, meeting his eyes openly. "You wouldn't lie to me, would you?"

He shook his head. "When I met you, Megan, I thought you were dangerous, conniving and that we should have put you down or thrown out on the street."

"Well, that's honest."

"I'm sorry. You asked."

"It's all right. I thought you were an arrogant, pigheaded bastard. So I guess we're even."

"I don't know," he said softly. "Because now I think you're the most beautiful creature to ever draw breath, and that you've got a soul that glitters more sweetly than the sun on a bubbling brook."

She inhaled sharply, studying his eyes.

"Well?" he asked.

"Well? I think that was amazingly romantic and poetic for a longhorn cowboy!"


"You're still pigheaded," she told him.

He laughed. "At times. But only when I know that I'm right."

"And I guess I've waited my life to meet someone like you," she said softly.

He wanted the world to drop away. He wanted to drag her into his arms again, ravage her with kisses and feel the remarkable sexual thrill when she did the things to him she had learned to do throughout last night.

But the earth was not going to slip from beneath their feet. A general was waiting for them, and he could hear the shouts of men as they set up the targets and gathered armaments. "So, are you going to teach Lisette what to do?" he asked.

"Not on your life. You're far better with a bow and arrow, I'm certain. But, believe me, I do know the art of archery. No, this is your class, cowboy. Go to it."

"Wait," he said, eyeing her suspiciously. "What are you going to do-you're not training Trudy?"

"I'm going to rest. Trudy's a particularly smart girl-she'll learn faster than Lisette, no matter how much attention you give her. Besides, I had a particularly invigorating night, and I wouldn't mind a bit of sleep," she said, smiling. "One of us should have some energy left for tonight," she told him, the golden color in her eyes sparkling mischievously.

"My reserves can be endless, you know, when properly motivated," he told her.

She grinned and walked away in the direction of their lodgings. He frowned, wondering what she might really be planning, but it was nearly ten hundred and he knew that the military moved like clockwork when it came to drilling.

"Mr. Granger!" General Bickford bellowed. "The men are assembling. If you would be so kind as to accompany me?"

He strode to General Bickford, who was briskly heading down the street toward their hastily prepared archery field.

Cole looked back, though.

He wanted to make sure that Megan went into the house where they were lodging. She did.

Still uneasy, he went on to take command of the men.