“Bye, Daddy!” Crystal threw a kiss in the general direction of the car which had pulled into the driveway and barely waited for her to get out before taking off again. Some things never changed.
Surprisingly, Kenny and Johnny had both come home without Crystal a few days ago, after receiving assurances from her father that he would have her home by dinnertime on Sunday. Lisa would have loved to know how that conversation went. All Kenny would say was that everything had been taken care of, and her ex wouldn’t pull a stunt like that again. Apparently, he was still in one piece, so the problem must have been resolved without bloodshed. Hard to believe.
Lisa glanced over at Johnny, who sat with them at the supper table. When Sam’s car had driven up, Johnny had quickly moved to the living room, leaving Lisa to wonder what that was all about. As soon as the car left, Johnny reappeared, taking his customary seat next to Crystal.
“You like that lake, don’t you?” Johnny asked, reaching over to pick at the carrots on her plate. He pulled them apart, more fascinated with the color and the texture than with the shape. He tentatively touched a piece to his tongue, grimaced, and quickly put it down again.
“Stop playing with your food,” Lisa scolded, and was rewarded with a brilliant grin from Johnny, who would like nothing better than to play with his food, if he had his choice.
Crystal smiled and ate a mouthful of carrots. She swallowed, and replied, “I knew you would like it too.”
“Are you suggesting he should go up there for a vacation? I don’t think Lake George is ready for a vampire tourist,” Kenny said dryly.
Lisa realized Crystal was talking about the actual lake, not the town. “The lake was—peaceful?” she asked. “Like ours?”
Johnny scowled at her, and Lisa paled. Had she said too much? “I mean, it’s so beautiful. I used to love going there almost as much as I loved coming to the lake in Lockwood.”
“I think we should go back for vacation,” Crystal said. “All of us—you, me, Kenny, and Johnny.”
“You just got back!” Kenny pointed out. “And we have a wedding to plan. Maybe we could go next summer.”
“He’s a big boy. He can go where he wants,” Kenny answered, and Crystal took it as a yes and smiled in contentment. “Speaking of going, Johnny, you and I have an errand to run.”
“I’m ready. Let’s go,” Johnny replied, pausing to briefly touch Crystal’s hair. “I’ll see you later,” he promised.
When the boys were gone, Lisa sighed, half in amazement. “I do believe they’ve bonded,” she remarked. “What happened at Lake George?”
Crystal finished her supper and washed it down with a gulp of milk, and for a minute Lisa didn’t think she was going to answer. “My dad has the blood,” she replied when she was done.
Trust Crystal to tell her what neither Kenny nor Johnny would. “Are you sure?” Lisa asked weakly.
Crystal nodded. “Johnny tasted. He wasn’t very happy.”
And Sam was still alive? “Does Sam—does your dad know?”
“Not anymore. Johnny made him forget, but now he needs to stay away so Daddy won’t remember.”
That explained Johnny’s disappearing act when Sam had driven up earlier. It didn’t explain why Sam had the family blood. Lisa knew Sam’s parents, his sister. Johnny had tasted Sam’s sister and her kids. He would have noticed if they had traces of the family blood. From what Crystal had said, it sounded like Johnny was surprised to find out about Sam’s blood.
“Mom, do you think if I tasted the family blood, I could taste the difference?”
Lisa stared at her daughter. “You don’t feel any cravings for blood, do you?”
Crystal quickly shook her head. “No, not really. I was just wondering.”
Lisa would have to have a talk with Johnny. Was their blood exchange influencing Crystal already? Johnny had promised her that Crystal would be allowed to choose when the time came. If Crystal already craved blood, she really wouldn’t have a choice. “You haven’t tasted anyone else’s blood besides Johnny’s, have you?”
“No,” Crystal said. “He says I’m still too young.”
“Well, you are. You’re also human. Enjoy the food you can have now, before you make a decision to try blood.”
“Johnny’s human,” Crystal replied softly, although she took the ice-cream out of the freezer and dished them both a few scoops.
Uncle Robert had the family records spread out all over the dining room table when Kenny and Johnny got there. “I’ve been through these three times already,” he said as they joined him. “If Sam Porter has the family blood, it didn’t come from our group.”
“What about the families we lost touch with? Could he have belonged to one of those?”
“Doubtful,” Uncle Robert replied. “There are only a few, like Philip and Amelia’s child, and we really didn’t lose track of him—we just didn’t know Amelia was the mother.”
“Where did he come from, then?”
Uncle Robert glanced quickly at Johnny. “Could you have made a mistake?”
“No.” There was no mistake. The blood was the blood. As much as he disliked Crystal’s father, now he understood why he was so drawn to the girl. She didn’t only have Lisa’s potent bloodline. She had it on both sides, as would any of Lisa and Kenny’s offspring, which is why it was forbidden. She was more like him than he had realized.
“Then our next step is to contact the Porter family and trace back their line. It’s not impossible that their ancestors had come from Scotland at a different time.”
“No,” Johnny said again. “It’s not the Porter family. His sister has no trace of the blood; neither do her children.”
Kenny gave him a strange look.
Johnny sighed. “It was a long time ago,” he admitted. “I wanted them to go home and leave Lisa and Crystal alone. Don’t worry—they’re all fine. But none of them have our blood.”
“Maybe he’s adopted. Or she is.” Kenny wondered if Johnny had deliberately made the slip and said ‘our blood’ rather than ‘the blood.’ It linked them together, in more ways than one. “Lisa might know. I’ll ask her about it tonight.”
“I can check with my other sources,” Robert Brown said, earning himself a suspicious glare from the vampire. “Or not.”
“What other sources?”
“Your uncle has kept in contact with family in Scotland,” Johnny replied, having come to some decision regarding the trustworthiness of Kenny. “I instructed him not to mention me or any of us for the time being.”
“There’s family—blood family—in Scotland?” Kenny asked excitedly. “Then maybe we should contact them! We could—“
“No,” said Johnny for the third time. “Not yet.”
“Then I’ll see what I can find out about the Porter family,” Uncle Robert said. “We’ll go from there.”
“It doesn’t matter anyway,” Johnny said abruptly. “He may have the blood but he doesn’t know anything.”
“We really should add him to the list,” Robert said. “Crystal’s bloodline has obviously changed.” He looked up, his eyes widening slightly. “Crystal’s bloodline,” he whispered, finally making the connection.
Johnny’s smile was brief and vicious. “Leave his name off the list. This is between us only. Nobody else needs to know about Crystal’s bloodline, not even your relatives in Scotland.” He ignored Kenny’s puzzled frown.
Kenny drove around the lake on the ride back to give them some time to talk. “Ever gone fishing?” he asked, keeping his eyes on the road.
“Fishing. This is the best time for it. We should go out on the boat some time. It’s relaxing.”
“You’re inviting me to the lake?” Johnny sounded skeptical.
“Why not? You look like you could use a little relaxation.” Kenny’s eyes shifted to Johnny. “Do you need to—eat, drink, whatever you call it?”
Johnny’s eyes gleamed back in the dark car. “Why do you ask?”
“Look, it’s not like I’m condoning your lifestyle. But I’m willing to donate as long as you don’t accidentally kill me.”
Johnny smiled. “That’s not necessary,” he replied. “But thank you.”
They had both come a long way from trying to kill each other. Johnny remembered his father’s long-ago warning. Don’t get too close. But it was already too late for that, wasn’t it? Kenny was no longer the hunter. Somewhere along the line he had started to turn into the keeper. He wasn’t that completely; Johnny would have to trust him with his resting place before that would happen. And Johnny wasn’t ready to trust him with that.
“Maybe we should visit your father,” Johnny said. Kenny’s father was still a hunter, and would kill him without question because that’s how he had been taught. But Kenny’s father also had access to all the hunters’ accumulated knowledge and might know something that neither Kenny, a relatively new hunter, nor his uncle, who had left the family rather than become a hunter, did.
“Maybe I should,” Kenny corrected him, quickly masking his trepidation. “You should stay away from my father. And my mother,” he added.
“All right,” Johnny said mildly, surprising Kenny. “You talk to him.”
Kenny felt like he had just dodged a bullet. His biggest fear was that Johnny would kill his parents if things went wrong. He had no blood promise to them as he had with the rest of them. But maybe Kenny was being too harsh. Johnny had proven over and over that he wasn’t the monster Kenny had been taught to believe he was.
“Would you have killed Sam?”
Johnny shrugged. “We’ll never know.”
That meant he might have, despite the fact that the man was Crystal’s biological father. “What changed your mind?” he pressed. “Crystal—or the fact that he has family blood?”
“I don’t know.”
It was disconcerting to hear the doubt in Johnny’s voice. Kenny thought of what Uncle Robert had told him of the vampires’ history. They had been created as instruments of vengeance for their people, and were fed on blood and promises. What happened when there were no more battles, no more blood? Maybe that’s why his ancestors had tried to kill off all the remaining vampires and any who carried that potential in their blood. What happened to a vampire who ran out of enemies?
“Are you sure you don’t need some blood?” Kenny offered again.
“If I need blood, you’ll know about it,” Johnny replied almost angrily. “Leave it alone.”
Kenny pulled onto the big beach. He wasn’t ready to go home just yet and, so far, Johnny hadn’t tried to take off like he usually did. They both got out of the car and walked to the water’s edge. Moonlight sparkled off the lake.
“Nice night for a swim,” Kenny commented.
Johnny looked sharply at him but didn’t reply.
“What does it mean if Crystal has the blood on both sides?” Kenny asked softly.
“You all have the blood on both sides,” Johnny corrected just as quietly. It was a night for muted conversation. Anything more would have echoed across the lake. “That’s what makes you strong—makes your blood attractive. You know how it works. You hunters made sure certain bloodlines never combined, to prevent making someone powerful, like Lisa. Your strain was always the exception, because hunters,” he frowned, “or keepers, needed to be powerful to watch us. That’s why your father forbade you and Lisa from having children together. He couldn’t have known, none of us did, about Sam. His blood is just as powerful, forbidden, as Lisa’s or yours. I always knew Crystal was special. I just didn’t realize how special.”
“You mean Crystal could become a vampire.”
Johnny laughed. It echoed across the lake. “She could always become a vampire,” he explained. “Even with just Lisa’s blood. No, you don’t understand. She already is a vampire.”
It was the truth Johnny had realized as soon as he took the first taste of Sam Porter’s blood. Crystal was almost—almost the same as him. Neither of her biological parents were vampires, but each carried a potent enough strain of the family blood to give Crystal the lion’s share. It would be the same with any of Lisa and Kenny’s children. It gave Johnny more confidence that the change would work in Crystal. She had more than just the potential that Young Jack had, that, although he would never tell him, Kenny had, too. Crystal was a vampire, in blood. She could still choose to walk away from it, but somehow Johnny knew she wouldn’t. He smiled, triumphant. “Mine,” he whispered in their ancient, shared language.
Kenny wasn’t that surprised. He was trained as a hunter, so he understood. Lisa, though, would be terrified. She clung to the hope that Crystal would eventually choose a normal human life. Kenny would have to make sure he was there to support Lisa when her world came crashing down.
“Come on,” he said to the vampire. “Let’s go home.”