Almost, Tara, almost . . . oh, Tara, Tara, I’m close, so close, you can almost feel my breath against your flesh, your long lovely throat. . .

She stepped back into the hall. The thing was quickly, quickly, melding together. She turned to back down the hallway, return to the great room with the hearth, find the door and escape, but there was something there. Something enormous and dark, winged, clawed, taloned, and more evil than anything she had thus far witnessed. She knew that she could flee into that shadow, and it was the shadow, not the light, that had beckoned her.

Called her, to trap her. The huge winged shadow began to whisper. Oh, yes, my dea r, you’ve been trapped. That ancient mind

has fallen prey to self-confidence, and you have come. You have come, when you should not have done so. You have left that place where you should have been, a guardian, a sentinel. And so now, you, too, will lose, don’t you see? I will have those you love, no, actually, I have them now, and in the end, you will come as well. . .

She started to scream, as loud as she could, hysterically, somehow aware that she had to be loud, louder than the fire and the wind, louder than all the cackling, and the whispers like drumbeats. She had to close her eyes tight against the darkness, force herself to know that it was a dream, only a dream, and that she could awaken. She had to awaken, had to awaken ...


She was jerked up, suddenly aware of pain, very real pain, in her upper arms. Her eyes flew open.

There was no house. She was in her own room.

She blinked. She had thought she was in her own house, but she was staring into Brent Malone’s golden hazel eyes, eyes that burned with an intensity like the flame in the house of evil. His fingers were wrapped so tightly around her flesh that she’d be bruised in the morning. And she was screaming, had been screaming, was still screaming, and wildly trying to fight against him, to free herself from his hold, lash out again and strike him, flail against him, anything.

“Tara, stop!”

It wasn’t the command in his tone, but the very softness of it that brought her to a trembling rationality.

The sound faded.

She had ceased to scream.

A nightmare. It had all been a nightmare, because all they talked about was vampires, and the Alliance.

“Tara ...” He moved a hand tenderly against her hair to soothe her.

She stiffened, mistrustful, even as she felt the urge again to throw herself against him. “It was a dream,” she said. “Only a dream.” But she was still trembling fiercely. And he was there. She closed her eyes, and leaned against him, and felt the comfort and warmth of his arms around her.

Then she stiffened again, drawing back. “How are you here? How are you in my bedroom?”

“I came back,” he said simply.

“And how did you get in.”

“That’s not important. You have to tell me about the dream.”

“No!” she insisted angrily. “How did you get in?”

He let out an impatient sigh. “I knocked on the door. Katia let me in.”

“I don’t believe you!” she charged, but then, looking past him, she saw that Roland, Katia, and her grandfather were standing in her doorway, ashen, looking in on her.

“Oh ...” she breathed. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’ve awakened you all ... and it was just a dream.” Jacques, looking frail in his pajamas, his feet bare, pressed past the other two and came to her bedside.

“Tell us about the dream, Tara.”

She shook her head. It was fading, but it was still too vivid. “I was at a house. In the woods, I think. I didn’t want to go in, but I felt that I had to. There was a huge fire, there were gargoyles that came alive.

And there was a hallway, and I knew that I had to go down the hallway. Then there was a door, and there were body parts in the room, but they weren’t parts, because they started to come together, and the lips in a head were moving. The thing was talking to me, and I was afraid of what would happen when it all came together. So I backed into the hall, but the shadow was there, and it started laughing and telling me that I was trapped, and the shadow was saying that...” She broke off, staring from Brent Malone to her grandfather, and then to the door where Katia and Roland were standing.

“Where’s Ann?” she breathed.

Brent stared back at her.

Then he jumped up, racing for the hallway.

Tara, as well, leaped to her feet. She flew after Brent.

He had already reached Ann’s door.

Crashing into his back, Tara looked beyond him.

Ann was not in her bed. The balcony doors were open.

The breeze was blowing in ...

As chill as that which had colored her dream with fear.


Henri Javet ruefully looked in the mirror.

The five o’clock shadow could be easily solved. He kept a razor at work. He had stayed at the station many times before on the cot in one of the holding cells.

But the dark shadows and bags beneath his eyes ... la, la. They were not so easily concealed. Years of hard work had brought him to his position here, but in such a short period of time, he had come up against something that seemed to eclipse all but the most heinous crimes he had encountered before.

What should have been a case of greed and murder was becoming much more. The body found in the water was not going to be the last.

Javet shaved, washed his face well, noting again that the shadows and bags could not be washed away, and walked back to his office. He glanced at his watch, frowning. The inspector from Paris had gone out to bring in Dubois. He and the men sent had not returned.

He looked at the notes he had taken during the task force meeting, calling out to the desk sergeant to let him know the minute the inspector returned. As he did so, the outer door opened. A young man, slender, his clothing rumpled and his hair wild, came barging in.

“I must see the inspector!” he insisted.

“You must explain your business first,” the sergeant said sternly, but not unkindly.

“She is gone, she is missing. I waited all night by her house, I had to let her know that I would be her friend, no matter what. But she never came home. She is missing.”

“Now, now, monsieur, slow down,” the sergeant said.

But Javet stepped forward. “It’s all right, Clavet,” he assured the sergeant, and turned to the young man.

“I am Inspector Henri Javet, in command here. And I am glad to hear your story. But in order. Your name, young fellow?”

“I am Paul Beauvois. From this village, the far outskirts, the farmland. And I... I have, for years, been a very good friend to Yvette Miret.”

“The girl at the cafe?” Javet said, knowing the name. A feeling of dread slipped to the bottom of his stomach. He had seen the girl many times, as had most people in the area. Unfortunately, he had often feared that she would come to a bad end. She had used her position at the cafe far too often as a stepping-stone for another sort of business.

She had never been arrested, because she did have a paying job, and because, anytime she had been asked about her business with visitors and tourists, she had enthusiastically talked about the “friendship” she had formed. What she did could not be labeled illegal, especially since no one had ever lodged a complaint against her.

“So,” Javet said. It might be the most natural thing in the world that the girl had slept elsewhere. Though she had a look of purity, she was anything but innocent. That nagging feeling at the pit of his stomach remained. “She did not come home last night, and you watched and waited for her, and so you are very worried.”

Paul nodded. “We had a fight, a terrible row. I was angry, so I went into Paris without her, but then ... I had an uneasy feeling. I was worried, so I left the concert we had planned to attend together, and went to her house. Her parents are gone; she lives with an old crone of an aunt who cares little about her, but the woman is not a liar. She was impatient, telling me that Yvette had not come, and that—” He hesitated, looking at Javet, then continued, “She said that Yvette could find men, real men, and that she did not need to rely on a boy like me who offered nothing when there was so much more in the world.”

“And then?” Javet said.

“I sat outside her house all night. She did not return.”

“Perhaps it is a bit early to consider the young lady as missing,” Javet said. And it was. The likelihood was that the girl had found someone more intriguing with whom to spend her time. But under the circumstances, with so many missing ...

And a headless body to be identified . . .

“But, monsieur,” the young man protested, close to tears. “I am afraid—” As he spoke, the door to the station burst open. Big, gruff, curly haired Francois Vaille came in like a whirlwind. He stared at Paul, and Javet thought with a frown that the man had followed him here.

“My girl has not shown up for work. She was to take the early shift, and she has never promised to open the cafe, and then not appeared. And that—fellow!” he spat out contemptuously. “That fellow came in yesterday, swearing, ranting, and raving—and promising that she would be sorry.”

“Now, Francois!” Javet said. “Calm down, and we’ll take things one by one. The girl has not shown up for work, but young Paul here says that she did not return to her home last night. He has come in to report her missing.”

The cafe owner, gone to fat over the years but still a formidable man, lunged at Paul. Javet quickly interceded, stepping past the lad.

“Francois!” Javet warned.

Francois wagged a finger around him at Paul. “He has come in to report her missing, because he knows that she has met with foul play. He should be arrested on the spot.”

“Francois, we all know that Yvette has many friends.”

“Yvette likes her job with me as well. She has always had her many friends, but she never makes the mistake of missing work.”

“We will begin a search for her right away,” Javet said. “Though it isn’t customary, under the circumstances, we will look for her right away.” He hesitated. “We have discovered a body by the stream,” he admitted. “I shall have some officers take you both by the morgue, and see if you can identify the girl.”