IT CAME AGAIN. The dream in which she saw her father.
She was out riding, and then there he was, opening his arms to her, the essence of him still there, as strong and good as it had ever been.
There was a rumble in the sky, but it wasn't thunder, because there was no rain on the horizon.
Instead she saw a red cloud, billowing and rising, and blocking out the sun.
And even as the sun sank, the moon began to rise.
She could hear him, but distantly. He was calling her name, and he seemed to be warning her. Telling her to...
Suddenly he was by her side, and they ran together until they reached the caves, the same caves that had given Chief Tall Feather and his clan their name of Cave Warriors.
The caves where they interred their dead.
They ran through the caves, penetrating deeper and deeper into a maze, until suddenly her father stopped, his face twisted in horror.
A trick. It's a trap.
And then Cody was there.
Get away from her, Eugene. You might not want to, but you can hurt her.
No...she's my daughter.
Then he stopped, and Alex realized both men were listening to something past the limits of her hearing.
They're coming! Cody said.
Alex woke with a start. Cody was wrong about her father. She knew he was wrong. The dream might not happen just as she had seen it, but still, it was a foretelling.
Her father was out there. Her father, not Cody's, had saved the people who had survived in Hollow Tree.
She rolled over, anxious to tell him, anxious to make him understand that she knew-she knew-her father would never hurt her.
But Cody was gone, and daylight was streaming through the window.
She leaped up and hurried back to her own room, where she washed and dressed quickly, choosing breeches and a shirt again, thinking that this didn't seem likely to be a day requiring a ladylike ensemble. She industriously brushed her teeth with baking soda, then ran downstairs, but before she could get very far, she paused.
She could see out the front window.
And what she saw was Linda Gordon, in a shirt and breeches just as she was herself, standing out on the balcony of the saloon.
Linda took a look around, then slid town the drainpipe to the ground, kicking up a small clod of dirt as she landed. She hurried around back, to the small barn behind the saloon, and reappeared a moment later on horseback.
Alex started to shout for someone to come, but she hesitated. It was broad daylight, and she wanted to know where the hell Linda was going. She wouldn't accost her; she would just follow her at a distance.
It would be completely safe.
She hurried out the door and around the side of the building, pausing beside the window of the dining room, because she could hear Bert talking anxiously to Father Joseph. "How can we be certain? Cody Fox plans to bring John Snow and his family in here by tonight, but how can he be certain he's not bringing in-a family of vampires?"
"We just have to trust in Cody-and God, of course," Father Joseph replied.
"We'd better keep a lot of holy water around, that's all I can say," Bert said worriedly.
As she passed the back door, Alex slipped quietly inside. She found the priest's portmanteau against the wall, where the weapons would be in easy reach whenever they were needed, and she hunkered down, opening it in silence. She grabbed several of the vials of holy water and slid them into her shirt pocket. She paused, then collected a bow and a quiver of arrows, too, grateful that there were plenty of people to keep carving weapons. If they ran out of broom handles and fence pickets, well, the banister could always be taken apart.
She hurried to the stables and slipped a bridle over Cheyenne's head, then leaped Indian-style onto the mare's back.
When she reached the street, Linda was gone, but she remembered the direction Linda had taken and leaned low against Cheyenne's neck, saying, "Speed now, Cheyenne. We'll slow down once we pick up her trail."
The mare pranced nervously, which was good.
She was ready to race.
C ODY AND B RENDAN had started out at the crack of dawn, just as the first pale streaks of morning had cut across the darkness.
When they reached John Snow's, the man was excited to see them. His granddaughter had been doing very well. And though last night there had been vampires in the sky, there had only been a few, and they had simply been circling, watching. "I think they were like scouts, on a reconnaissance mission, or vultures, seeking out the dead. One or the other. But we brought down two of them."
"May we see them?" Cody asked tensely.
John nodded. "You're just in time. We have taken the precautions and were just about to bury the remains."
Outside, behind the house, John had the corpses under a tarp. He pulled it back.
He had indeed taken every precaution. The heads had been removed, and the hearts cut out.
Neither had been more than thirty at the time he'd been turned, and they couldn't have been turned long ago, since they hadn't immediately decayed into ash or a puddle of putrefaction. Cody didn't recognize either man. His father wasn't there, and neither was Eugene Gordon, or John would have said something.
And certainly not Milo Roundtree.
Milo was biding his time, letting others go in.
He was letting his soldiers perish while he tested his prey.
"Go ahead and bury them, John," Cody said, replacing the tarp. "But quickly. We need you to bring your family into Victory by tonight," he said.
John frowned, and Cody wasn't surprised. He had expected the other man to balk.
"We can fight here. We have proved it, Cody."
"John," Brendan said, stepping in, "we know that you and your sons-and your entire family-know how to fight. But there may be a mass attack tonight. It's the night of the full moon. And quite frankly, we need your help to save Victory."
Cody lowered his head, smiling slowly. Leave it to Brendan.
John Snow nodded sagely. "A united front...Yes, my sons and I will help. April owes her life to you. Perhaps the entire family, since we know how the infection spreads. We will come into town. It will take no more than an hour to finish with this refuse-" he nodded toward the corpses "-and ride in. We will be well ahead of the sunset," he promised.
Satisfied, Cody thanked him. "The boardinghouse is full right now. The sheriff has taken up residence in the saloon, and there's still room there."
"That will be fine, Cody Fox," John Snow assured him. "We will go wherever is necessary. We will come to fight."
SHE SHOULD HAVE KNOWN.
Linda was heading for the caves.
Alex had thought that she'd escaped the other woman's notice, but as she trotted past the entrance to the first arroyo, she was startled to see Linda waiting for her.
She had dismounted and was leaning against the rock wall.
"Alexandra. To what do I owe this honor?"
"I've caught you. Red-handed," Alex said flatly.
Linda smiled. "You've caught me doing what? Riding?"
"I saw you slide down a drainage pipe so no one would see you and ride out of town. That seems like proof of guilt to me."
Linda was standing, while Alex was still mounted. She felt it gave her an advantage.
But Linda was apparently not impressed. "I'm not a vampire," she said flatly.
"Then you're infected-and you tried to kill Jigs."
"I'm not infected," Linda said, sounding weary. "And I would never hurt Jigs."
"Oh?" Alex said.
She reached into her pocket for one of the vials of holy water, uncorked it swiftly with her teeth and poured the entire contents onto Linda's head.
"What did you do that for!" the other woman demanded, sputtering.
She was wet.
Other than that, the water seemed to have had no effect on her.
"Oh, my God! You brat," Linda said. "You dumped holy water on me, didn't you? I told you-I'm not a vampire!"
"Then what are you doing out here?" Alex demanded.
Linda sighed. "I'm here to see your father," she said.
C ODY AND B RENDAN returned to the boardinghouse in midafternoon.
Cody was uneasy and had watched the sky the entire ride. Already it seemed that the usual blue of the Texas sky was turning to a bloodred shade. The sun had begun its descent. Even though there were still hours of daylight, he could see the pale orb of the moon, ghostlike, just beginning to rise.
He walked over to the saloon to tell Cole and Dave that John Snow's family would be coming.
The men had already prepared their weapons for that night. There were an abundance of stakes set in strategic places, and the men had been melting silver and casting silver bullets. Bows and quivers filled with arrows were lined up on the bar.
"Jigs?" he asked Cole.
"Weak as a kitten. I don't think he'll do us much good tonight, if the attack you suspect does come," Cole said. "But I don't think he'll turn on us, either."
"Someone in this house will," Cody said. "Be prepared." He looked around. Everyone was present and accounted for-except Linda.
"Where is Linda Gordon?" he asked.
"I don't know," Cole said. "I don't think she's come down yet."
He looked at Cody, then swore softly and ran up the stairs. Cody heard him bang on her door, then throw it open. A moment later he ran back down. "Gone," he said.
"Watch out for her return," Cody told him.
He strode across the street to the boardinghouse. He had to make sure, but his gut was certain Alex would be gone, as well.
He ran into Father Joseph-definitely the Lord's warrior-in the hall, inventorying their weapons.
"Have you seen Alex?" he asked.
Father Joseph frowned. "No, but I haven't seen her leave, either."
Cody swore and raced up to their rooms, bursting into one and then the other.
He had known he would be wasting time.
He hurried down the stairs, taking them two at a time.
Brendan called out to him when he reached the front hall. "Cody, wait. I'll go with you."
"No, you have to stay here. These people need your experience. I'll be back with Alex."
He hurried out with long strides, resaddled Taylor and followed the two sets of hoofprints leading out of town.
A LEX HAD DISMOUNTED and was sitting on a rock with Linda, sharing the canteen of water Linda had brought.
"He never wanted you to see him like this," Linda explained. "He didn't even come to me right away, only when he had no choice and it was time to warn me, and that's when he told me what had happened. Milo took him by surprise when he was riding back from Calico Jack's. He doesn't remember what happened to him, only waking up in his coffin with a terrible hunger-and an amazing strength. He dug his way out...and ran, trying to figure out what Milo had done to him. He took refuge in these caves, where he lived off bats."
"Oh, God," Alex said.
"He came to me, not long before you returned. I started bringing him raw meat and blood from the butcher's. He's not evil, Alex." She sighed. "A while back, he took to hiding out in Hollow Tree. He knew the town, and he felt safe there, less likely to be recognized. But then Milo and his men came, and he came back here again."
"I never believed he could be evil," Alex said. "But I'm sorry. I did think you were a bitch and a whore."
"I was a whore-until I met Eugene," Linda said quietly. "After his...death, I went back to the saloon because it was an easy place for him to come see me."
"I'm truly sorry," Alex said. "I shouldn't have judged you."
"I understand," Linda told her. "Your father...he's been afraid that you've been seeing him in your dreams. He told me that you have visions."
"Sometimes," Alex admitted.
"That's how Milo teaches his gang to get to people-in their dreams. That's how Milo tried to get to you. He knows that Eugene is out here somewhere, and once he's taken over Victory, he'll come for him. But he has a lot of power. He was able to tap into your father's mind, because your father was one of his kills, and could reach you. He tried to lure you out, and you were open to him."
Alex shivered, thankful for Cody-Cody, who had saved her.
She frowned suddenly, stood and looked out across the plain. "Linda?"
"Over there. Is that him? Coming to meet you?"
Without waiting for an answer, Alex leaped up on her horse. "Forgive me, but I have to see him."
She slapped the reins against Cheyenne's neck, and the mare took flight across the plain.
She was vaguely aware that Linda was shouting something at her, but she was already too far away and couldn't hear the other woman's words, and she didn't care, anyway.
She reached the spot where he stood, reined in and dismounted.
He was wearing a long railroad frock coat and hat, standing with his back to her.
"Father!" she cried, but then the word froze on her lips when he turned, a smile on his face and a sizzle of laughter in his unholy red eyes.
Milo Roundtree's smile widened as he strode toward her.
C ODY WASN'T FAR OUT of town when he realized that the red darkness was descending, and descending quickly. He looked up.
The sun was sinking far too rapidly.
He was suddenly aware of the shadows descending toward him, and he wrapped the reins around the saddle horn and reached for his bow and an arrow. He nocked the arrow, then let the arrow fly. A shrieking sound told him that he'd made a hit, though he had no idea whether it had been deadly or not.
A second shadow swept in with startling speed. He drew his sword from his saddle sheath in the nick of time, and the vampire's own speed became his downfall, as he flew directly onto the blade, then burst into a spray of ash and bone shards.
Cody kept riding, swinging the sword as the next vampire attacked. He didn't know if he killed it or only maimed it, and he couldn't stop to find out. A fourth creature shot down at him, and he drew his pistol and fired directly at the thing again and again. Finally the body fell with a heavy thud ahead of him, causing Taylor to rear. He was almost thrown, but he tightened his thighs around the animal just in time to keep his balance.
"Easy, Taylor," Cody said soothingly, urging the horse into a gallop again. Because in the distance he could see-
And Milo Roundtree, descending on her.
Alex backed toward Cheyenne, hoping to make a run for it, but Milo laughed, raising his hands and calling down the sound of thunder. Cheyenne screamed in fear and bolted away at the speed of lightning.
"Why do I want you so much?" Milo asked himself, more than her, as he drew nearer. "I suppose it's just that there aren't many beautiful young women in these parts. Whores, yes, but you're a rarity, an educated beauty with spunk and style. I know you think you don't want me, but you will, I promise you that. When I finish with you, you'll be delighted to be with me. You'll be craving my company."
He was almost on her when she remembered the remaining vials of holy water in her pocket and reached for one.
What if it was worthless? What if Linda had fooled her and was really a vampire, after all?
She was wavering. Belief might well be everything.
Just as he was about to touch her, she pulled out a vial and, as she had earlier, opened it with her teeth.
"Only when snow falls in hell could I ever so much as endure your company!" she cried, splashing the water directly into his eyes.
She prayed...and then he let out a cry of agonized pain, staggering back.
She turned to run and saw another man approaching, and this time it was her father.
"We have to get to the caves," he told her as she raced up to him.
Linda, looking distressed, was right behind him.
"Hurry up," Linda urged. "Do you have more of that holy water? You're going to need it, because Milo's gang can't be far behind him."
"He'll come after her again-that splash wasn't enough to kill him," her father said, hurrying her toward the caves with his hand on her back. "I think the gang has been using the caves on the other side of the mountain."
Her father, she thought. Her father had a hand on her back. She stared at him, dizzy for a moment, unable to believe what she was seeing.
She had been right; he was a good vampire. There was such a thing. He had fought the evil inside him and won. He didn't need to kill.
"Eugene!" Linda cried. "Look!"
Alex spun around to look, too, and saw that Milo Roundtree had recovered, but instead of striding across the plain, he looked as if he were flying, floating.
Right in front of her eyes, he was turning into a winged shadow.
But even as he started to rise into the preternaturally early darkness, something massive raced across it toward him. The sound of huge wings flapping thundered in her ears, and suddenly the second shadow was descending on Milo.
The shadows met with a scream, writhing together and falling to the ground, and suddenly there were only two men, standing and staring at each other.
Milo Roundtree-and Cody Fox.
"Cody," Alex breathed. "We've got to go back. We've got to help him."
Linda caught her arm. "No, Alex. We can't help him, we can only distract him."
"Alex!" her father said sharply. "We've got to go. Now."
She heard another noise now. It was the sound of a hundred wings, rising on the far side of the cliffs. If the three of them didn't move, there was no doubt that the creatures would see them.
Eugene lifted his arms, as if to protect the women, and he urged them toward the nearest entrance to the caves. "Quickly!" he urged.
Still Alex turned back. Cody was racing toward Milo. He caught him in the midriff, and together they rolled across the ground, engaged in a vicious struggle. In the moonlight she caught the gleam of fangs, and what looked like talons.
What sounded suspiciously like a Rebel yell split the night.
KNOWING IT WAS LITERALLY a matter of life and death, Cody focused on Milo, but despite his efforts to close out everything else, he kept thinking of Alex.
He was grateful that she had thought to bring holy water, the only explanation for the burns on Milo's face.
Furious that she had come out here at all.
Scared to death...
He was sure that had been Eugene Gordon with her, but he still had a hard time believing there was such a thing as a good vampire-one who had been turned, anyway. He had never really trusted that it was possible, not even for his own father.
Milo rushed him so hard they both flew through the air, then fell.
Milo had drawn a sword and was already swinging the blade toward Cody's neck.
Cody rolled just in the nick of time, then jump-kicked Milo as he leaped to his feet. Milo swung the sword again, but once again Cody was able to elude him.
"Fool," Milo taunted. "You could join me. You could rule the West."
"I don't want to rule the West," Cody said.
"No? Well, you could always join up with your old man. He's out there somewhere. But you know that, don't you?"
"I'll find him one day," Cody said, dodging the sword. "Without your help."
"So...it's the woman, is it?" Milo teased as he spun, his sword scything down, but Cody had anticipated the move and was already on Milo's other side. He slammed his fists hard against the other vampire's back, and Milo fell to his knees, but only for a moment.
"What? You think she'll accept you?" Milo laughed, back on his feet again. "You're a monster-an abomination. She'll never love you."
Cody got in a blow to Milo's jaw and grunted in satisfaction as he saw blood trickling from the outlaw's lip.
Milo paused, tasted it, then stared at Cody furiously.
"You could have had the world, but now you'll die like a dog in the dirt."
Cody smiled. Not all his tricks had come naturally. Some he'd been taught in the military.
Anger your opponent, because anger makes a man careless. He himself had been careless, enraged, when he'd rushed to attack Milo barehanded. He wouldn't be careless again.
"You'll never have her, Milo," he said.
"Of course I will. I'll take her, and that will be that."
"I'd say 'over my dead body,' but actually, mine is a living body. Ever miss that? The pleasures of the flesh?"
"Sneer all you want, Fox, but while you're fighting me here, my children are sweeping into your precious town."
"Then your children will die."
Milo started to rush him, and Cody braced himself for the impact.
But Milo never hit him. He turned to shadow, then rose into the sky.
And headed for the caves.
S TONES MARKED THE CRYPTS of warriors, those long dead and those newly lost. Her father led the way past them, deeper into the caves. "There's a place up ahead that must have been prepared for a warrior...who ended up interred elsewhere. It has a stone I can slide across the opening, and we can stay hidden there until morning," he said. "I have...stakes there. Protection."
But they didn't reach his safe haven. He drew back, forcing the women behind him, as the air before them swirled and coalesced into a menacing black form.
Alex's heart sank. If Milo was here, then...
Milo let out a furious, gnashing sound, half growl, half howl, as he reached for her father and threw him across the cave to slump against the rock wall.
"Linda, get behind me!" Alex commanded.
Alex didn't waste time arguing. She thrust the woman behind her and prepared for what she knew might be the last fight of her life. The Milo she faced now was hideous. His face was contorted in a mask of fury. His lips were drawn back so far that they were almost nonexistent, revealing fangs bared and dripping with a viscous liquid.
Suddenly he was right on top of her. His arms were like a vise as he grabbed her, and she barely managed to reach into her pocket, grasp a vial of holy water and spill it on him.
His flesh sizzled, but he didn't let her go, only threw his head back and roared, preparing to thrust his fangs into her neck.
Just as she closed her eyes and said a silent prayer, Milo screamed and dropped her. She looked up from the floor of the cave and thought she was looking at a miracle. Cody was there-and alive.
He sent Milo crashing against the rocks on the far side of the cave, near her father's unconscious body. Loose stones rained down on him, but he shook them off and rose, growling.
Cody was prepared.
Before Milo could react, he half ran, half leaped across the distance between them and drove a stake into Milo Roundtree's heart.
Milo shuddered and writhed against the pain, teeth gnashing, a horrible animal sound emanating from his throat.
Then, in a sudden flash, he burst into flames.
The stake fell to the floor in a spray of ash.
Cody turned around, tension and rage contorting his face as he drew another stake and started toward her father.
"No!" Alex cried, running to protect her father, who was just regaining consciousness and trying to stagger to his feet. "Cody, no. Please, you have to believe me."
Cody stopped, and the tension in his features eased, leaving him the Cody she knew-and loved.
He reached out for her, and she rushed into his arms.
He held her for only a second, though, then dropped his arms and focused his attention over her shoulder at her father and Linda, who had rushed to her husband's side.
"We have to get back," he said. "Milo is dead, but the attack on Victory is under way."
"We've still got two horses," Linda said.
"Eugene, take the horses and bring the women. I can get there faster on my own. But if you-"
"Alex is my daughter, and Linda is my wife. I love them, and I'll guard them with my life-to my destruction," Eugene said firmly.
"Then let's go," Cody said, beginning to transform before her eyes.
She and Linda rode the bay, while her father rode Cody's stallion, Taylor. They rode hard, continually on the lookout.
But they didn't see any of the monsters until they reached the edge of town.
The townspeople, along with John Snow and his family, were more than holding their own. As they raced down Main Street, Alex saw that Sheriff Cole and Dave were leading the men as if they were a trained battalion.
Which, in a way, they were.
Target practice had worked wonders.
Arrows were finding their targets, and the screaming of the dying vampires filled the air.
They rode over a dozen of the downed creatures, the horses' hooves thudding into the flesh of the truly dead and dying, and those who were trying to rejoin the battle alongside their foul brethren.
Alex saw Father Joseph on the boardinghouse porch, splashing the creatures with holy water. Her father dismounted and headed for the porch, and the action slowed as she saw disaster descending.
She leaped to the ground and tried to throw herself between her father and the priest, but she was too late. Father Joseph had already flung holy water in her father's face.
She watched in horror as her father stood dead still and Father Joseph froze on the steps above him. "It's you," the priest said. "You're the man who..." His words trailed off as his eyes filled with remorse for what he had done.
Eugene nodded, then blinked in surprise. "I'm not burning," he whispered.
"Because somehow you've salvaged your soul," Father Joseph said in awe.
A wounded vampire suddenly fell at their feet, flapping and squirming.
Bert strode out from behind Father Joseph and slammed a stake into it.
"Have you seen Cody?" Alex asked anxiously.
"He's in the saloon," Father Joseph said.
Alex spun and raced across the street to the saloon, fearful of what she might find there. She threw open the doors and burst inside.
And there was Cody.
He was facing Sherry Lyn, whose pretty face was twisted into a vicious expression and whose fangs were gleaming in the light, and a host of seven vampires. He seemed calm, despite the fact that Jigs and Dolly were lying on the floor nearby, dead or at least unconscious, and God alone knew where the others might be.
"Sherry Lyn?" Alex gasped.
"Oh, please, you were all such fools!" the whore told them. "Of course it was me. You were all so easy to fool-especially with a few false tears. Milo gave me this incredible gift, and now he and I have succeeded. All your friends are out in the street, fighting, and here...well, we just have Miss Goody Two-shoes and one little man.
"Oh, sorry, Cody," she said, her voice dripping with false sweetness. "I'm sure you're not a little man, but you are on your own except for your useless little girlfriend here, and...you have no idea what I'm capable of, not to mention what my friends can do. And of course Jigs could wake up at any minute, a ravenous monster again."
She flew at Cody, but he was ready, catching her and throwing her back into her clustered friends.
She snarled, transforming into something big and ugly, and came at him again, and this time the others joined the fight by her side.
Alex drew the last two vials of holy water from her pocket, uncorked them and splashed the contents at the attacking horde.
She managed to strike three of the creatures, who screamed and flapped in agony, their skin sizzling and sparking.
Cody threw off Sherry Lyn, but she and the remaining creatures kept coming.
Suddenly Sherry Lyn stopped dead-literally-an arrow protruding from her chest.
More arrows flew, and more creatures fell.
Alex spun around. Her father and Linda were standing there, bows and arrows at the ready, but there were no vampires left to kill. Linda walked over to the body of Sherry Lyn, who looked like herself again in death. Her eyes were wide open. Blood trickled from her mouth.
"See if Dolly is all right," Linda said.
Dolly was only unconscious, and Jigs roused when Alex touched him. He immediately asked for a stake, and Alex smiled at this proof that he was all right.
"You sit tight," she told him. Then, taking one of the stakes, she rushed out to the street.
It was quiet and still. Everyone was looking around, wary, waiting for another attack.
But none came.
Cody, who must have rushed out while she was checking on Dolly and Jigs, was standing there scanning the sky.
The red haze was fading as she watched, revealing the full moon in all its brilliance.
In the distance, wolves began to howl, but it was a customary and oddly pleasant sound.
Alex stepped into Cody's arms and felt as if she'd come home.