The Blood of the Everlasting

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Chapter 29

I shook my head wryly, sending my gaze out over my trays of herbs. They just seemed to grow wild of their own accord whenever I so much as thought about them. In the past month Grant and I had produced more fresh greenery than any one garden ought to be capable of. I was pleased and delighted. We were discussing the idea of expanding, even. I wanted to put in a rain forest arboretum coffee shop. He had tentatively agreed.

Frankincense and Myrrh had become frequent weekend visitors in the greenhouse. Grant had finally quit complaining about their presence, too, thankfully. They single-handedly battled off a minor mite infestation, and I felt more secure having them occasionally around. No human had spotted them, they were so good at just up and disappearing, and coming and going in their mysterious manner. I still hadn’t figured out their exit and entry routes, but I didn’t dwell on it. Fairies were rather secretive, for all of their exuberance, and I respected their privacy. I had begun keeping honey in stock. They were the cheapest part-time employees I had ever had, I realized with a grin.

“What a day!” Grant said, flashing me a smile after locking up the front doors.

I smiled back, brushing my brown hair out of my eyes. What a day, indeed. What a month! It seemed, finally, that my life had returned to some semblance of normalcy. At least I was able to live in my own house and work in my own greenhouse again, and for that I was grateful. “Why don’t you take off, I’ll finish cleaning up,” I suggested.

“You sure?” he asked. I nodded. He rushed into his office to get his coat while I swept the back area. “Don’t forget about our meeting in the morning with Clint,” he reminded me, as he headed out the back door.

“I’ll be there to talk to the weres, don’t you worry!” I assured him, and locked the door behind him. The supernatural community had been all abuzz over the return of the skin-walkers, and I had to admit I was feeling a bit like a minor celebrity because of it. I finished sweeping up, and tossed my apron into the laundry.

I let myself out back and walked towards my new car. I had finally settled things with my insurance company, and bought myself a green and white mini cooper. Yes, I knew, it wasn’t very practical, and wasn’t nearly as fuel efficient as my old hybrid, but it was just so cute and adorable, and I felt like spoiling myself a little bit. Besides, I found myself driving a lot less and teleporting a lot more, so I figured that made up for the gas mileage issue.

As I headed towards my car I felt him before I heard him. I stopped in my tracks and I turned towards the shadows at the edge of the parking lot. Lucas stepped out and smiled amiably at me, and strolled over. My heart sped up. I couldn’t help but smile back. I had talked to him on the phone since my last encounter with Marshall Lewis, but this was the first time I had seen him in person. He looked good in his tight jeans and leather blazer. Too good. My stomach flip flopped at the very sight of him.

“So all anyone wants to talk about lately is the mysterious half-therianthrope who single-handedly exposed the existence of skin-walkers and solved a few murders, including her own parents and a vampire, and who talked the Atlantean Council out of passing down a verdict for misuse of power,” he said conversationally. He took my hands in his and kissed my cheek. “No one has ever done that before,” he said with a wink.

I laughed. “How are you, Lucas?”

He shrugged. “Same as always. I’ve missed you.”

I shifted uncomfortably on my feet, nodding my head, not sure what to say, and not wanting to look him in the eyes. He tilted my head up, his hand on my chin. “We’ve had fun, have we not?” he asked softly. “I’ve kept my word, have I not?”

I nodded mutely. His eyes bore into mine, and I could feel vampiric energy intruding into me. I swallowed. “You can’t say you don’t want to see me again, can you?” he asked.

My pulse started to pound, and I felt the familiar ache of hunger in the pit of my abdomen. I sighed and stepped back, clenching my fists. “No, I can’t, Lucas,” I admitted. “But every time I’m around you, all I feel is vampire! I don’t feel me.” I frowned. “I don’t even know what’s me and what’s just you, and I don’t like that.”

He chuckled. “Wasn’t that the point? To learn to be yourself around my kind?” He smiled broadly, flashing his fangs.

I groaned. “God, I don’t know if I can do it, though.” I sat down on the hood of my car. He let out a peal of laughter. “What’s so funny?” I demanded, looking up at him.

“Listen to yourself,” he laughed. “This is Rhiannon Maddox, the same woman who single-handedly exposed the existence of skin-walkers and all that rot, and she doesn’t think she can control herself around a vampire,” he teased. He sat down on the hood next to me.

I punched him in the arm. “You made your point. But not tonight, alright? I have plans.”

He was silent for a moment, and we both just sat there side by side in the darkness of early evening. “I need your help, Rhiannon,” he finally said softly.

I turned and looked at him curiously. “My help? What could you possibly need my help for? You’re a big bad vampire, and I’m just a little – ”

“You can do things no one else can,” he said crisply, cutting me off, “And I have need of your services. I am willing to hire you, if necessary,” he added.

I laughed out loud, genuinely amused. “Hire me? What for? So this isn’t just a social call? And here I thought you genuinely cared, Lucas,” I teased.

He gave me a very somber look. I was a little taken aback. I had never seen him be more serious, not truly. “Lucas,” I stammered. “What the hell’s going on?”

He frowned. “I’m not entirely sure. I have my suspicions.” He stood up and stepped away, scratching his head. “A few weeks ago one of my lieutenants disappeared,” he started. He had lieutenants. That was news to me. I knew precious little of the structure of vampire society, and frankly it hadn’t occurred to me to consider that they even had a structure. “Ordinarily I wouldn’t have thought much of it. Especially considering that she was only gone for a night.” He spun around to face me. His face was troubled. “But since she has returned, she has been… off.” He shook his head. “I have spoken of this to no one, but I received a call last night from Ophelia. You remember her, no?” I nodded my head yes. “She tells a similar tale, of a trusted underling who disappeared for a night and returned acting slightly different.”

“Different how?” I asked curiously, leaning forward.

He shrugged. “Laughing too loudly, walking with an odd gait, and suddenly dropping one human for another. Nothing big, but it was enough to draw my attention.”

I suddenly caught on to what he was trying to say. “Oh god, you think it’s a skin-walker?” I gasped.

He looked at me darkly. “It had occurred to me, yes. Hence why I come to you.” He nodded his head toward me.

I shook my head. “Lucas, I – I understand your concern, really I do, but I don’t see how I can possibly help you out with this.”

He cocked his head and looked at me oddly. “Because I know, young woman, that you can tell the difference between one of them and one of us.”

I dropped my jaw. “Who the hell told you that?” I demanded. That certainly was never part of the story I had let out.

He grinned. “Your angel. I stopped by your house before coming here, and he was there waiting. I told him of my suspicions. He is the one who said you could help me.” He folded his arms across his chest.

“Damn that man,” I cursed. “He had no right!” I pounded my fist on the hood of my car in emphasis. I glared at Lucas. “I am not his to loan out at his convenience, and I have no wish to become some sort of supernatural divining rod! I just want to live a normal life.”

He looked at my sympathetically. “Darlin’, I’m afraid your normal life ended the day you were saved by an angel.”

I sighed and buried my face in my hands. He was right, I knew it. I might have had one peaceful month, but I should have known it wouldn’t last. Besides, if there were skin-walkers infiltrating the vampires, they couldn’t be doing it for some benign altruistic reason, and I knew with a certainty that I was probably the only person who could tell the difference between a vampire and a skin-walker. It was great to be a sponge, I thought sarcastically.

Lucas perched himself on the edge of my car and stared off into the darkness. “I was there, you know,” he said softly. “During the great war. I was young and foolish.” He shook his head. “We were tired of hiding, tired of living forever in the shadows, tired of having our food think we were monsters from hell. So the skin-walkers… their plan held appeal to us. At first,” he added sharply. “Then we found out their true motives. Rather than control humans, they wanted to destroy humans. Some of us still had some humanity left, and we were horrified. The black death ravaged humanity, Rhiannon. It was horrible, and awful, and brutal. I walked amongst the dying every night, unable to feed off of them.” He shook his head. “The skin-walkers succeeded in wiping out half of the humans in Europe before the plague finally lost its grip, and we were starving to death. When we betrayed the skin-walkers, they betrayed us right back.” He trailed off, lost in his memories. “They infiltrated our ranks, and turned us against each other, and we nearly destroyed ourselves by the time the war ended.” He turned and looked at me gravely. “Rhiannon, I cannot let something like that happen again to my people, or to yours. They have to be stopped. Please help me. I helped you, now it is time to return the favor,” he said firmly.

“I can’t believe I’m agreeing to this,” I muttered, crossing my arms across my chest. I looked up at Lucas, and he appeared genuinely relieved. “What’s the plan?”

He grinned and jumped up, back to his usual self. “I’ll pick you up tomorrow night, and I promise to behave myself, my little cheesecake.” He kissed me on my cheek, and I laughed despite myself. He sauntered away towards the shadows again. “Out of the frying pan and into the fire,” he called out over his shoulder before disappearing.

I shook my head and climbed into my car, starting it, musing over my life. Tonight I had a date with an angel who couldn’t straighten out his feelings from mine, but whom I trusted with my very soul. Tomorrow night I had a date with a vampire who wanted to eat me but promised to behave and expected me to ferret out any spies in his midst, and I definitely didn’t trust his motives, or trust myself around him. I had fairies frequenting my greenhouse, and my business partner was a werewolf. My father had murdered my mother, and I had condemned him to whatever hell rakshasa demons called home because of it, paying off a favor I owed to a rakshasa that scared the tar out of me in the process. My best friend was the only normal person in my life, but she knew a secret she could never tell. I was the only one of my kind, and everybody seemed to want a piece of me.

I had no idea what tomorrow night with the vampires would bring, but tonight Andreas had promised to teach me how to catch lightning, and I could hardly wait.

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