- Night of the Wolves
FULL DARKNESS CAME.
Even the sunset had looked ominous, streaking the heavens with crimson and gold, before darkening quickly. Unnaturally quickly.
And now, coming from all around them, she could hear the wolves.
Alex paced in the entry hall, waiting for Cody to come back from the saloon.
He couldn't keep giving so much blood.
She sensed someone behind her and spun around. It was the young priest from the Episcopal church.
He studied her gravely.
"I believe your friend will be all right."
She flushed. "I'm praying that all of us will make it, Father. I'm amazed-and glad, of course-that you and the others were able to survive."
"We had the church, and the church gave us comfort."
"Of course," Alex replied.
"A church is not just a building. It's consecrated, and we filled it with belief. That's what we all need if we're to survive, Miss Gordon, belief."
Alex frowned. "Belief, yes, but...still, some of the dead must have come after you. How did you know-I mean, frankly, not many men would suspect vampires, much less know how to kill them."
"It was the gentleman who led the others to the church who warned me. I thought at first that he was a madman, but when Timmy told me how his own father tried to rip his throat out, I believed, and quickly. The man explained to me that we had to rely on belief, on faith. He spoke like a scholar, and he explained to me how the vampires had to be killed. I begged him to stay, but after he explained to us how to melt what silver we had and form it into bullets, then dip them in holy water, he left. I never saw him again. No doubt those monsters killed him. And yet none of us would have survived without his help."
She stared at him.
The man who had saved Father Joseph and his small flock spoke well, almost like a scholar.
A man just like her father.
Her heart began to hammer.
"Father Joseph, you said that you were new to Hollow Tree. When did you come?"
"Six months ago."
"But Alice-she lived in Hollow Tree a long time, right?"
Alex didn't answer. She burst through to the kitchen, where the women were making the final preparations to serve dinner. Alice was shucking peas.
"Alice?" Alex said, striding over to her.
The older woman straightened the pair of spectacles on her nose and looked up expectantly. "Yes, Miss Gordon?"
"The man who brought you to the church-"
"No, not me. I was already there, practicing my piano for the Sunday services. Would have been mighty nice to have an organ, but out here, we make do."
Alex drew out a chair and sat down next to the older woman. "Please, this is important. Did you know that man?"
Alice inhaled and stared back at her, then shook her head. "No, no, I didn't."
"Are you sure?" Alex pressed.
"Yes, I'm certain."
Beyond disappointed, Alex stood, thanked the woman and left the room, returning to the front hall, where she posted herself at the window and stared out into the dark.
She wanted Cody and Brendan to come back. And she wanted to know what had happened. Jigs, a sweet, harmless man if ever there was one...
How had one of the creatures gotten to him? There had been sentries on duty at the saloon every night. The only way someone could have gotten to him was from...
It felt as if her blood suddenly froze in her veins.
Linda. It had to be Linda. Her own stepmother.
Linda, who hadn't been there the night of the first attack.
Who came and went...
She had to get back over to the saloon.
But when she turned away from the window, she saw Adam Jefferies standing there.
"I know what you were trying to find out, Miss Gordon," he said.
"Oh?" she asked carefully.
"You don't remember me-you only met me once, when your father brought you with him to the bank where I work. Worked. Your father kept some extra funds with us, said that way he'd have something left if one bank got hit by robbers."
"I'm sorry," Alex apologized, wondering where all this was leading. "I-"
"Never mind," Jefferies said. "You want to know if the man who brought us to the church was your father."
She inhaled sharply, hope filling her. "And?"
"I'm not sure. He had a bandanna over his face, and he wore his hat low. And he was...so pale, almost ghostly, what I could see of him. But his voice...his voice reminded me of your father's. I didn't really think about it, though, because I thought your father was dead, but thinking back...well, I just don't know. It might have been your father."
Her father! And he had been saving people.
Poor Mr. Jefferies. She was pretty sure he almost fainted when she crossed the foyer toward him, grasped his head between her hands and planted a kiss right on his lips. At the very least, his blush was several shades deeper than sunset.
"I really can't say for sure," he told her.
"But it's something," she whispered. "Though...you might not want to mention this to anyone else...."
"As you wish," he said.
"Tell the others I'm going over to the saloon."
"Oh? Is that wise?"
"The others are still there, and they'll look out for me. But if you wouldn't mind..."
"Would you watch me, see that I make it safely? Don't take any chances yourself, but-"
"Miss Gordon, I'll be happy to stand guard for you, and you don't have to be afraid. Father Joseph may be a gentle man, but he's proved to be an amazing warrior for Christ, and he's trained his small army quite well." With that, Jefferies walked her to the door, opened it and said again, "I'll be watching."
She smiled, then turned and raced across the street. He watched her all the way.
And they both watched the darkening sky.
C ODY STAYED WITH J IGS for a long time after he had transfused him.
Brendan had gone down to join Dave, Cole, Roscoe and the girls.
Cody just sat and watched Jigs, and he didn't rise until he heard someone enter the saloon downstairs. He listened, frowning as he realized that it was Alex. He listened to her climb the stairs, opened the door to greet her, then paused. She wasn't on her way to see him.
She stopped at a door down the hall and pounded on it. "Linda!"
The door opened. Linda stood there, looking worn and disheveled. "What?"
"Where were you the night the town was attacked?" Alex demanded.
"You heard me just fine," Alex snapped. "Where were you?"
"I wasn't out turning people into vampires, and I never touched Jigs, if that's what you're asking me," Linda told her heatedly.
Alex's hands were on her hips. "You married my father. And right after that, he died."
For a moment it looked as if Linda was going to take a swing at Alex, who looked as if she was barely hang ing on to her self-control and no doubt would have swung back.
"Hey!" Dave called from below. "This isn't the time for a fight."
Linda managed to control herself. "I loved your father, Alex. But you go right ahead and think whatever you want about me." She started to close her door.
Alex slammed a hand against it. "If anyone else is hurt, if Jigs dies, you'll pay. I'll make sure you pay myself."
"Alex!" Cody strode down the hall and caught her by the arms.
Linda glared at them both, then closed her door.
"Alex," Cody said again, spinning her around to face him.
"What? It's Linda-it has to be Linda who tried to turn Jigs!"
"You don't know that," he told her.
"She married my father, and my father is dead!" Alex said angrily. "Or-or a thing. And you're going to try to kill him."
"Alex, we have to find Milo Roundtree and kill him," Cody told her.
She nodded. "Right. And after you've killed him, you'll have to go after the others. All the others."
"Alex..." He couldn't find the words to explain, not there. He called downstairs. "Brendan? Can you watch Jigs for a while?" he asked.
"Sure thing," Brendan said, already on his way up the stairs. He tipped his hat to Alex.
"Brendan," she said, and smiled at him as he kept going down the hall to Jigs's room.
At least the tension seemed to be easing from her, Cody thought.
"Let's go," Cody said. "Let's get some time alone, and something to eat." For a moment he thought she was going to fight him. That she was going to protest and carry on trying to prove that Linda was a vampire.
But she only stared back at him, still tense, but reasonable. "All right. For now," she said. "But you've got to warn the sheriff, Cody. You've got to."
"Brendan's already warned him that...that someone here isn't exactly what they seem," Cody said.
They went down the stairs together. Cole looked up and nodded at Cody as they passed, the movement barely perceptible.
As they left the saloon, Cody stopped and gazed up at the sky. Night had fallen, but there was a red haze over the moon, which was almost full.
"Tomorrow someone needs to get out to John Snow. He and his family need to come into town for the next few days," Cody said, thinking out loud.
"Why?" Alex asked him sharply. "Because the moon is nearly full?"
He looked at her and nodded. "Yes."
"And Milo will be at his most powerful then?"
"Yes," he said simply.
They made it across the street without incident. The boardinghouse door opened as they neared it.
It was Bert, just keeping guard.
"There you are," he said, relieved. "Beulah was getting worried. Everyone else is in the dining room, eating, but Tess just took trays up to your rooms. Beulah figured you two might be needing some rest. She made up a sack of food for everyone over at the saloon, too."
"That's kind of her. Let me have the sack and I'll run it over right now," Cody said.
Alex frowned. "We just got back, Cody."
"Go on upstairs, Alex. This will only take me a minute," he said.
Her jaw tightened, but she didn't argue. Wearily, she started up the stairs.
"THIS IS GREAT-THANKS," Dave said enthusiastically when Cody showed up with the food.
"I'll run a couple of plates up to Brendan-and Linda," Cody said.
"We can handle it," Cole said.
Cody nodded. "I know you can, but I'd like to look in on Jigs, anyway."
Cody made up two plates and headed up the stairs. Linda's door was closed, so he passed it and went to Jigs's room first.
"How's he doing?" he asked Brendan as he handed over dinner.
"Hasn't moved since you left. But his pulse is strong, and his color is better."
"If he makes it through the night, he'll be fine. I think. When you get tired of sitting here-"
"I'll have Cole or Dave spell me," Brendan said.
Cody nodded and headed down the hall to tap on Linda's door. She answered it looking tired.
"I brought you some dinner," he said.
She flashed him a smile of gratitude, with nothing of her usual seductive air. "Thanks."
"Get some rest after you eat," he told her.
"I'm trying, trust me," she said, then closed the door in his face.
Cody stared at the closed door for a moment, then turned and headed back downstairs.
Linda took the plate of food and set it on her bedside table. It smelled delicious, and she was certainly hungry.
But she was also worried.
She looked at the man who stepped away from his hiding place behind the door.
"This isn't safe," she said.
"But it's necessary," he replied.
A LEX MEANT TO WAIT FOR C ODY to start eating, but the aroma coming from her plate was too tempting. She hadn't realized she was starving until then, but now the only thing she could think of was eating. She sat down on the edge of the mattress and dug in.
She hadn't taken more than a few bites, though, before he arrived bearing his own plate, and a bottle of elderberry wine. He lifted it, and she shrugged.
"Looks good," she said.
He took the chair at her dressing table and started eating as if he, too, had suddenly discovered that he was ravenous.
"Cody, I think Linda is...infected." Before he could answer, she added, "Think about it. She's in and out of town, and no one really knows where she goes when she's not here. I get the sense she's conniving and manipulative. I think she killed my father. And you're wrong about him, too. I heard what happened in Hollow Tree. Someone saved those people in the middle of the massacre. Someone who knew. Someone who taught them how to deal with vampires. Cody, I think that man was a vampire himself, but he was strong and didn't turn evil. I talked to Mr. Jefferies, and he knew my father and thinks it could have been him. Don't you see? It had to be my father, and there has to be a way to reach him."
Cody stood, setting his plate down, and paced over to the window, where he stared at the drapes as if he could see through them.
She got up and hurried to join him. "Cody, it has to be my father. It has to be."
He set his hands on her shoulders, staring into her eyes. "No, Alex," he said sadly, "it doesn't."
"Don't you think I understand how you feel? No," he said, shaking his head, "no, of course you don't, because..." He met her eyes, his own dark with the intensity of his gaze. "Alex, I keep thinking, praying, that it was my father."
She gasped, stunned, and backed away from him. "What?"
He let out a sigh, turned and strode toward the bed, where he stopped with his back to her. Finally he turned to face her. "You don't know," he said softly, "because I haven't told you. God knows I keep the truth from the world as much as I can."
"I don't know what you're talking about, Cody. What truth?" she demanded.
"I was born in New Orleans, Alex, but I was conceived out here, on a ranch near Victory. It still exists, and I still own it-the land, and what's left of a bunch of fallen-down, rotting buildings."
"But what does that mean?" Alex asked. She felt an overwhelming sense of dread, but at the same time, she wanted to know the truth, everything, no matter what he had to say.
He sighed. "This...war didn't just start. And this isn't the only place vampires have tried to take hold. It's just easier out here, where one of them can slip into a town and make a meal of the population."
"You've hunted vampires before. Obviously," she said.
He walked back to her and set his hands on her shoulders. He looked into her eyes, and when he spoke, it was sadly, his voice filled with pain.
"Alex, I am a vampire."