Balthazar Page 39

Hang on, she told herself. You’re not far now.

Soon the vampires would escape from her childhood house; not long after that, they would pursue her. But Skye thought she’d bought herself a few minutes, and that was all she needed.

It seemed to her that her childhood ghost remained with her—a helpful little shadow trailing behind. Skye could picture her more vividly than ever now: the small girl by the fireside, who wore a long nightgown and hugged her knees to her chest.

But, no. It wasn’t just a picture. The ghost truly was with her—communicating, perhaps, through Skye’s connection with death.

Skye thought, Why didn’t I feel your death, too?

The reply was an image rather than words: the little girl in an old-fashioned hospital, sick from something the doctors didn’t understand. Her tiny hands above the blanket, clutching and pulling at it in her pain, until finally she let go. That was where she had died, not at home. But the death remained unnatural and wrong.

You were poisoned, Skye realized. By who? And why?

The child had never known. Her parents? The strict nanny? Something horrible, though—all those images were immersed in a depthless kind of evil that felt like oil against Skye’s skin.

Skye grabbed at the branches of the trees around her as she took the steep slope down to the riverbank. The wind had never seemed more brutal, and the edges of the water were thickly overlaid with a crust of ice. Still, she knew what she had to do.

Quickly she stripped off her sweater, boots, and skirt, until she wore only her underwear and camisole. The cold was almost unbearable, but she knew that trying to swim in heavy clothes would drown her, and wearing wet things after she got out of the water would freeze her faster than anything else.

And she had to swim. To cross the river. It was the one way to hold the vampires off long enough for her to reach Balthazar. On the other side of the river was the high school, Café Keats, lots of places—and her running na**d and wet into Café Keats would be the gossip of the year, for sure, but that was fine by her.

No matter what the cost, Skye was going to win. She was going to live.

She took a deep breath and jumped into the river.

The freezing water felt like a thousand razor blades slicing into her at once. Skye surfaced and screamed in pain, but she also started kicking as hard as she could, fighting the current to take herself to the far shore.

The cold had its own will, it seemed, and within seconds her limbs seemed almost too heavy to move. Skye kept kicking, though, reaching out with each arm even as her teeth began to chatter. Water splashed her face, stung her eyes. She could feel the droplets beginning to freeze on her skin and hair within moments.

Her ghost seemed to surround her again, but it felt different this time—like she was being shown something. Another way.

A door.

Gasping, Skye’s hand broke through the ice on the far shore of the river. She managed to stumble out, and her wet body felt as if it were freezing to the ground. Shaking so hard she could barely move, she crawled up the riverbank toward the grove near her school.

The door opened near her, around her. It was as if she had no choice but to fall through. Skye collapsed onto the frozen snow, unable to move any longer. What was happening within her body had become a thousand times more important than what was happening around her.

Someone was reaching through the door to her. Someone who loved her.

Her lips formed the word she no longer had the strength to speak: “Dakota.”

And that was when she knew she must be about to die.

The Time Between: Interlude Four

June 12, 1978

Los Angeles, California

DONNA SUMMER CROONED OVER THE SPEAKERS as the dancers moved on the discotheque’s illuminated floor. Balthazar—decked out in the polyester slacks and open shirt the era’s fashion required—moved among them, grateful for the crowd and the thick wreaths of cigarette smoke that caught the whirling blue-and-white lights overhead.

All of these would help hide him.

Finally, amid the swirling figures around him, at the very center of the dance floor, Balthazar glimpsed the people he sought.

Redgrave, slick in a dark red suit and shiny pink shirt, dancing with Charity—she who had been so sweet, so innocent, so lost—now wearing a sheer white top and hot pants that barely covered her childish body. Sparkly shadow coated her eyelids all the way to the brows, and the thick, creamy blush so in vogue now made her look as artificially rosy as a porcelain doll.

They were having fun. Even Balthazar could recognize that.

The thought of it pricked through any semblance of sanity he’d restored to himself over the years. Rage swept through him—at Charity, at fate, but most of all at Redgrave, who had created them all in his own murderous, soulless image.

Well, Redgrave was the one he’d come to kill. Charity could break her heart crying for him if she wanted. Balthazar told himself he didn’t care. What happened to his faithless baby sister didn’t matter. Nothing mattered but finally ending Redgrave.

The others weren’t here tonight; he’d taken care to watch them for a long time, to track their movements for months, before making his move. Lorenzo wasn’t currently with the tribe—off on one of his solo jaunts, from which he inevitably returned blood-fat and overly satisfied with himself, a new, terrible poem in hand. Constantia and the others had set out in a black Trans-Am, to hunt or to party, assuming they saw any difference between the two.

And finally—after weeks of Balthazar’s waiting and watching, the moment he’d wanted had arrived. Redgrave and Charity were out in public, and therefore vulnerable, all on their own.

Balthazar grinned as he maneuvered his way through the dancers, more eager for this kill than he’d ever been for human blood. For the first time ever, he was going to murder someone and enjoy every second of it.

As he approached, Charity whirled around in a circle beneath the glittering ball that hung overhead. The lights painted her blue, white, blue again. Redgrave laughed as he danced closer to her, his movements half obscene. For the first time, Balthazar didn’t care; anything that distracted his prey was welcome.

He slipped one hand into his back pocket, where the switchblade’s handle found his fingers. It wouldn’t be easy beheading someone with this, but good luck getting an ax into a nightclub.

Besides, if he had to saw harder to get the job done, that was just more fun for him.

The music shifted to something even louder and faster as Balthazar finally made his way to their side. Before Redgrave could even turn his head to look at him, Balthazar brought his free hand to the man’s neck, gripping him with all his strength.

“Say good night, Charity,” Balthazar said, swinging the blade up to slice through Redgrave’s neck.

Charity screamed and jumped onto them, and they sprawled on the dance floor in a tangle of limbs.

He’d expected a fight. Balthazar smashed his fist into Charity’s jaw—the first time he’d ever really struck her, and it hurt as much as he’d always expected. All around them, people began screaming, skittering away from the fight on their platform boots and wedge heels. As she went down, the blinking lights beneath the floor outlining her prostrate body, Balthazar turned back to Redgrave, and this time he managed to get the blade in.

“What are you—” Redgrave’s voice cut off in a gurgle of blood. God, it felt good to shut that bastard up.

“The hell is going on?” A bouncer made his belated appearance, but Balthazar easily threw the guy across the room before turning back to his messy work. The bouncer could pick himself up later. If the cops came, he could hurl them back easily enough, too. Balthazar had a job to do.

He sawed deeper. Deeper again. Redgrave kicked and struck at him, but already his strength was beginning to fail. Balthazar finally had enough centuries, enough power, to stand against him. The golden eyes darkened with panic, and Balthazar rejoiced to see it.

And then he smelled the smoke.

Balthazar turned and realized that the loudening screams within the room had nothing to do with the fact that he was murdering Redgrave in front of nearly a hundred witnesses. They were mostly about the fact that the disco was now on fire.

There was never one moment’s question about who was responsible, but all the same, he had to stare at the sight of Charity standing atop the bar, right behind the wall of fire. “They’re all going to die!” she shouted, pointing at the people desperately cramming the few exits they could reach. “And it’s your fault like always!”

Instantly Balthazar knew he had a choice: He could finish Redgrave now and let the innocent humans around him pay the price, or he could save them and let Redgrave go free.

Swearing violently, Balthazar rose to his feet, kicked Redgrave once in the face to make himself feel better, and ran toward the nearest exit. Some people were trying to get out, but they were crammed into the door so tightly that they were crushing one another; others, dazed and frightened, simply stood on the edges of the dance floor as if numb. He’d seen this in humans before—an almost animal response to danger, freezing still as if to keep a predator from seeing them. That same instinct could kill them now.

Balthazar vaulted over the crowd, seizing one of the light arrays suspended over the dance floor to hang slightly above eye level. From there he could reach down and rip the door away from its hinges; although he banged it against several people and heard them cry out, the most important thing was that the exit was now clear. People began rushing out in earnest, and even the stupefied ones reacted once they saw clearly what they needed to do.

He looked up through the smoky air—still striped with the colors of the rotating lights upon the ceiling—and searched for Redgrave and Charity. They were nowhere to be seen.

“Redgrave!” he shouted, furious at the lost chance. But already he could hear fire engine sirens wailing—probably the police, too, if anybody had reported his attack before Charity turned to arson—and it was time to get the hell out.

The scene in the parking lot was chaos. By now the discotheque was ablaze, tongues of orange fire leaping into the sky. Balthazar ducked through the crowd, hoping the soot that now coated his skin and hair would mask his appearance somewhat. Although he’d been willing to suffer the consequences of killing Redgrave in public—up to and including years in prison, execution in the electric chair, and the long, messy process of digging himself out of whatever pauper’s grave they’d have buried him in after—he didn’t want to go through all that while Redgrave still lived.

He’d done his best. Taken every risk. And he’d failed.

Wearily he walked to his red Mustang GT Fastback to find a note on the windshield, tucked beneath one of the wipers. He knew who it was from and was only mildly surprised to realize that they’d been able to determine which was his car. Probably he shouldn’t have left a pack of cigarettes on the dash. Or at least he should’ve switched brands.

The handwriting was in Redgrave’s elegant script, each letter flourished the way it would have been in a note penned centuries ago:


As long as you wish to be human, you will never be able to defeat me.

When you finally accept that you are a monster, you’ll no longer wish to defeat me. You will again become mine.

Charity sends her love.


Balthazar crumpled the note and let it fall to the asphalt. Behind him, the nightclub burned, and somehow the music played on and on.

Chapter Twenty-seven

BALTHAZAR HAD RUN AS HARD AS HE COULD TO the church Constantia had described … only to find it empty. There were signs Redgrave’s tribe had been here not long ago (empty vodka bottles, cigarette butts, a tattered bit of lace he knew could only have come from a dress of Charity’s), but they were gone now.

Constantia had lied. Even when she was trying to take him in as a partner, she’d lied. In retrospect, he didn’t know why he hadn’t understood that to begin with.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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