Laurell K Hamilton
To Jonathon, who never freaks about my choice of research. He took away my serial killerbooks, at my request. When I was ready he gave them back. He's helping me understand that justbecause someone else thinks you're a monster doesn't mean you are. Even if that person saysthey love you. Here's to finding love that builds you up, instead of breaking you down.
MALCOLM, THE HEAD of the Church of Eternal Life, the vampire church, sat across from me.Malcolm had never been in my office be fore. In fact, the last time I'd seen him, he'd accusedme of doing black magic and being a whore. I'd also killed one of his members on church
grounds, in front of him and the rest of his congregation. The dead vamp had been a serialkiller. I'd had a court order of execution, but still, it hadn't made Malcolm and me buddies.
I sat behind my desk, sipping coffee from my newest Christmas-themed mug: a little girl sat onSanta's lap saying, "Define good." I worked hard every year to find the most offensive mug Icould so that Bert, our business manager, could throw a fit. This year's mug was tame by myusual standards. It had become one of my holiday traditions. I'd at least dressed for theseason in a red skirt and jacket over a thin silk sweater—very festive, for me. I had a newgun in my shoulder holster. A friend of mine had finally persuaded me to give up my BrowningHi-Power for something that fit my hand a little better and had a smoother profile. The Hi-Power was at home in the gun safe, and the Browning Dual Modewas in the holster. I felt like Iwas cheating but at least I was still a Browning girl.
Once upon a time, I'd thought Malcolm handsome, but that had been when his vampire tricksworked on me. Without vampire wiles
to cloud my perception, I could see that his bone structure was too rough, almost as if ithadn't quite gotten smoothed out before they put that pale skin on it. His hair was cut shortand had a little curl to it, because to take the curl out of it he'd have had to shave it. Thehair was a bright, bright canary yellow. That's what blond hair does if you take it out of thesun for a few hundred years. He looked at me with his blue eyes and smiled, and the smilefilled his face with personality. That same personality that made his Sunday morning televisionpro gram such a hit. It wasn't magic, it was just him. Charisma, for lack of a better word.There was force to Malcolm that had nothing to do with vampire powers and everything to do withwho he was, not what he was. He'd have been a leader and a mover of men even if he'd beenalive.
The smile softened his features, filled his face with a zeal that was both compelling andfrightening. He was a true believer, head of a church of true believers. The whole idea of avampire church still creeped me out, but it was the fastest-growing denomination in the
"I was surprised to see your name in my appointment book, Malcolm," I said, finally. "Iunderstand that, Ms. Blake. I am almost equally surprised to be here."
"Fine, we're both surprised. Why are you here?"
"I suspect you have, or will soon have, a warrant of execution for a member of my church."
I managed to keep my face blank, but felt the stiffness in my shoulders. He'd see thereaction, and he'd know what it meant. Master vampires don't miss much. "You have a lot ofmembers, Malcolm; could you narrow it down a little? Who exactly are we talking about?"
"Don't be coy, Ms. Blake."
"I'm not being coy."
"You're trying to imply that you have a warrant for more than one of my vampires. I do notbelieve it, and neither do you."
I should have felt insulted, because I wasn't lying. Two of his up standing vamps had beenvery naughty. "If your vampires were fully blood-oathed to you, you'd know I was telling thetruth, because you'd be able to enforce your moral code in entirely new ways."
"A blood oath is not a guarantee of absolute control, Ms. Blake."
"No, but it's a start."
A blood oath was what a vamp took when he joined a new vampire group, a new kiss. He literallytook blood from the Master of the City. It meant the master had a lot more control over him,and the lesser vamps gained in power, too. If their master was powerful enough. A weak masterwasn't much help, but Jean-Claude, St. Louis's Master of the City and my sweetie, wasn't weak.Of course, the master gained power from the oath, as well. The more powerful a vamp they couldoath, the more they gained. Like so many vampire powers, it was a
"I do not want to enforce my moral code. I want my people to choose to be good people,"Malcolm said.
"Until your congregation is blood-oathed to some master vampire, they are loose cannons,Malcolm. You control them by force of personality and morality. Vampires only understand fear,and power."
"You are the lover of at least two vampires, Ms. Blake. How can you
I shrugged. "Maybe because I am dating two vampires."
"If that is what being Jean-Claude's human servant has taught you, Ms. Blake, then it is sadthings he is teaching you." "He is the Master of the City of St. Louis, Malcolm, not you. You,and your church, go unmolested by his tolerance."
"I go unmolested because the Church grew powerful under the previous Master of the City, andby the time Jean-Claude rose to power,
we were hundreds. He did not have the power to bring me and my
people to heel."
I sipped coffee and thought about my next answer, because I
couldn't argue with him. He was probably right. "Regardless of how
we got where we are, Malcolm, you have several hundred vampires in
this city. Jean-Claude let you have them because he thought you were
blood-oathing them. We learned in October that you aren't. Which
means that the vamps with you are cut off from an awful lot of their
potential power. I'm okay with that, I guess. Their choice, if they understand that it is achoice, but no blood oath means that they are not
mystically tied to anyone but the vamp that made them. You, I'm told,
do the deed, most of the time. Though the church deacons do recruit
"How our church is organized is not your concern."
"Yes," I said, "it is."
"Do you serve Jean-Claude now, when you say that, or is it as a federal marshal that youcriticize me?" He narrowed those blue eyes. "I
do not think the federal government knows or understands enough of
vampires to care whether I blood-oath my people."
"Blood-oathing lowers the chance of vamps doing things behind
the back of the master."
"Blood-oathing takes away their free will, Ms. Blake."
"Maybe, but I've seen the damage they can do with their free will.
A good Master of the City can guarantee that there is almost no crime among his people." "Theyare his slaves," Malcolm said. I shrugged and sat back in my chair. "Are you here to talk aboutthe warrant, or to talk about the deadline Jean-Claude gave your church?" "Both."
"Jean-Claude has given you and your church members their
choices, Malcolm. Either you blood-oath them, or Jean-Claude does.
Or they can move to another city to be blood-oathed there, but it has
to be done."
"It is a choice of who they would be slaves to, Ms. Blake. It is no choice at all." "Jean-Claude was generous, Malcolm. By vampire law he could have just killed you and your entirecongregation." "And how would the law, how would you, as a federal marshal, have felt aboutsuch slaughter?" "Are you saying that my being a federal marshal limits Jean-Claude's options?""He values your love, Anita, and you would not love a man that could slaughter my followers."
"You don't add yourself to that list—why?"
"You are a legal vampire executioner, Anita. If I broke human law, you would kill me yourself.You would not fault Jean-Claude for doing the same if I broke vampiric law."
"You think I'd just let him kill you?"
"I think you would kill me for him, if you felt justified."
A small part of me wanted to argue, but he was right. I'd been grandfathered in like most ofthe vamp executioners who had two or more years on the job and could pass the firearms test.The idea was,
making us federal marshals was the quickest way to grant us the ability to cross state linesand to control us more. Crossing state lines and having a badge was great; I wasn't sure howcontrolled we were. Of course, I was the only vampire hunter who was also dating her Master ofthe City. Most saw it as a conflict of interest. Frankly, so did I, but there wasn't much Icould do about it.
"You do not argue with me," Malcolm said. "I can't decide if you think I'm a civilizinginfluence on Jean-Claude, or a bad one." "I saw you once as his victim, Anita. Now I am nolonger certain who is the victim, and who the victimizer."
"Should I be offended?"
He just looked at me.
"The last time I was in your church you called me evil, and accused me of black magic. Youcalled Jean-Claude immoral, and me his whore, or something like that." "You were trying to takeaway one of my people to be killed with no trial. You shot him to death on the church grounds.""He was a serial killer. I had an order of execution for everyone involved in those crimes."
"All the vampires, you mean."
"Are you implying that humans or shapeshifters were involved?"
"No, but if they had been, you would never have been allowed to shoot them to death with thepolice helping you do it." "I've had warrants for shapeshifters before." "But those are rare,Anita, and there are no orders of execution for humans."
"The death penalty still exists, Malcolm."
"After a trial, and years of appeals, if you are human."
"What do you want from me, Malcolm?"
"I want justice."
"The law isn't about justice, Malcolm. It's about the law."
"She did not do the crime she is accused of, as our wandering
brother Avery Seabrook was innocent of the crime you sought him
for." He called any of his church group who joined Jean-Claude "wanderers." The fact thatAvery, the vampire, had a last name meant he
was very recently dead, and that he was an American vampire. Vampires normally only had onename, like Madonna or Cher, and only
one vamp per country could have that name. Duels were fought over
the right to use names. Until now, until America. We had vampires
with last names, unheard of.
"I cleared Avery. Legally, I didn't have to."
"No, you could have shot him dead, found out your mistake later,
and suffered nothing under the law."
"I did not write this law, Malcolm, I just carry it out."
"Vampires did not write this law either, Anita."
"That's true, but no human can mesmerize other humans so that
they help in their own kidnappings. Humans can't fly off with their
victims in their arms."
"And that justifies slaughtering us?"
I shrugged again. I was going to leave this argument alone because I'd
begun to not like that part of my job. I didn't think vampires were monsters anymore; it madekilling them harder. It made executing them
when they couldn't fight back monstrous, with me as the monster.
"What do you want me to do, Malcolm? I have a warrant with Sally Hunter's name on it.Witnesses saw her leave Bev Leveto's apartment. Ms. Leveto died by vampire attack. I know itwasn't any of Jean-Claude's vampires. That leaves yours." Hell, I had her driver's licensepicture in the file with the warrant. I have to admit that having a picture to go with it mademe feel more like an assassin. A picture so I'd get the right one.
"Are you so certain of that?"
I blinked at him, the slow blink that gave me time to think but didn't look like I wasthinking furiously. "What are you trying to say, Malcolm? I'm not good at subtle; just tell mewhat you came to say."
"Something powerful, someone powerful, came to my church last week. They hid themselves. Icould not find them in the new faces of my congregation, but I know that someone immenselypowerful was there." He leaned forward, his calm exterior cracking around the edges. "Do youunderstand how powerful they would have to be for me to sense them, use all my powers to searchthe room for them, yet not be able to find them?"
I thought about it. Malcolm was no Master of the City, but he was probably one of the top fivemost powerful vampires in town. He'd be higher, if he weren't so terribly moral. It limited himin some ways.
I licked my lips, careful of the lipstick, and nodded. "Did they want you to know they werethere, or was that part an accident?"
He actually showed surprise for a moment before he got control of his face. He played humantoo much for the media; he was beginning to lose that stillness of features that the old oneshave. "I don't know." Even his voice was no longer smooth.
"Did the vamp do it to taunt you, or was it arrogance?"
He shook his head. "I do not know."
I had a moment of revelation. "You came here because you think Jean-Claude should know, butyou can't let your congregation see you
going to the Master of the City. It would undermine your whole free
He settled back into his chair, fighting to keep the anger off his face,
and failing. He was even more scared than I thought, to be losing it
this badly in front of someone he disliked. Hell, he'd come to me for
help. He was desperate.
"But you can come to me, a federal marshal, and tell me. Because
you know I’ll tell Jean-Claude."
"Think what you like, Ms. Blake."
We weren’t on a first-name basis anymore. I'd hit it on the head.
"A big, bad vamp checks your church out. You aren't vampire
enough to smoke him out, and you come to me, to Jean-Claude and
all his immoral power structure. You come to the very people you say
He stood up. "The crime that Sally is accused of happened less than
twenty-four hours after he, it, they came to my church. I do not think
that is a coincidence."
"I'm not lying about the second order of execution, Malcolm. It's in
my desk drawer, right now, with a driver's license picture of the vampire in question."
He sat back down. "What name is on it?"
"Why, so you can warn . . . them?" I'd almost said her, because it
was another female vamp.
"My people are not perfect, Ms. Blake, but I believe that another
vampire has come to town and is framing them."
"Why? Why would someone do that?"
"I don't know."
"No one has bothered Jean-Claude or his people."
"I know," Malcolm said.
"Without a true master, a true blood-oathed, mystically connected master, your congregation
are just sheep waiting for the wolves to
come get them."
"Jean-Claude said as much a month ago."
"Yeah, he did."
"I thought at first that it was one of the new vampires who has
joined Jean-Claude. One of the ones from Europe, but it is not. It is
something more powerful than that. Orit is a group of vampires combining their powers through
their master's marks. I have felt such
power only once before."
"When?" I asked.
He shook his head. "We are forbidden to speak of it, on penalty of
death. Only if they contact us directly can we break this silence."
"It sounds like you've already been contacted," I said.
He shook his head again. "They are tampering with me, and my
people, because technically I am outside normal vampire law. Did Jean-Claude report to the
council that my church had not blood-oathed any of its followers?"
I nodded. "Yes, he did."
He put his big hands over his face and leaned over his knees, almost
as if he felt faint. He whispered, "I feared as much."
"Okay, Malcolm, you're moving too fast for me here. What does Jean-Claude's reporting to the
council have to do with some group of powerful vamps messing with your church?"
He looked at me, but his eyes had gone gray with worry. "Tell him what I have told you. Hewill understand." "But I don't."
"I have until New Year’s Day to give Jean-Claude my answer about the blood-oathing. He hasbeen generous and patient, but there are those among the council that are neither of thosethings. I had hoped they would be proud of what I had accomplished. I thought it would pleasethem, but I fear now that the council is not ready to see my brave new world of free will."
"Free will is for humans, Malcolm. The preternatural community is about control."
He stood again. "You have almost complete discretion on how the warrant is executed, Anita.Will you use some of that discretion to find the truth before you kill my followers?"
I stood up. "I can't guarantee anything."
"I would not ask that. I ask only that you look for the truth before it is too late for Sally,and my other follower, whose name you will not even give me." He sighed. "I have not sent Sallyrunning out of town; why would I warn the other?"
"You came through the door knowing Sally was in trouble. I'm not helping you figure the otherbad guy out."
"It is a man, then?"
I just looked at him, glad that I could give fall eye contact. It had al ways been so hard todo the tough stare back when I couldn't look a vamp in the eyes.
He straightened his shoulders as if only now aware that he was slumping. "You won't even giveme that, will you? Please tell Jean-Claude what I have told you. I should have come to youimmediately. I thought morals kept me from running to the very power structure I despise, butit wasn't morals, it was sin; the sin of pride. I hope that my pride has not cost more of myfollowers their lives." He went for the door.
I called after him. "Malcolm."
"How big an emergency is this?"
"Will a couple of hours make a difference?"
He thought about it. "Perhaps; why do you ask?"
"I won't be seeing Jean-Claude tonight. I just wanted to know if I should call him, give him aheads-up."
"Yes, by all means, give him his heads-up." He frowned at me. "Why would you not see yourmaster tonight, Anita? Aren't you living with him?"
"Actually, no. I stay over at his place about half the week, but I've
got my own place still."
"Will you be killing more of my kindred tonight?"
I shook my head.
"Then you will raise my other colder brethren. Whose blissful
death will you disturb tonight, Anita? Whose zombie will you raise so some human can get theirinheritance, or a wife can be consoled?"
"No zombies tonight," I said. I was too puzzled by his attitude on
the zombies to be insulted. I'd never heard a vampire claim any kin
ship with zombies, or ghouls, or anything but other vamps.
"Then what will keep you from your master's arms?"
"I've got a date, not that it's any of your business."
"But not a date with Jean-Claude, or Asher?"
I shook my head.
"Your wolfking then, Richard?"
I shook my head, again.
"For whom would you abandon those three, Anita? Ah, your leopard king, Micah."
"I am amazed that you are answering my questions."
"So am I, actually. I think it's because you keep calling me a whore, and I think I want torub your face in it." "What, the fact that you are a whore?" His face showed nothing when hesaid it.
"I knew you couldn't do it," I said.
"Do what, Ms. Blake?"
"I knew you couldn't play nice long enough to get my help. I knew if I kept at you, you'd getsnotty and mean." He gave a small bow, just from the neck. "I told you, Ms. Blake, my
sin is pride."
"And what's my sin, Malcolm?"
"Do you want me to insult you, Ms. Blake?"
"I just want to hear you say it."
"Why not?" I said.
"Very well; your sin is lust, Ms. Blake, as it is the sin of your master and all hisvampires."
I shook my head and felt that unpleasant smile curl my lips. The smile that left my eyes cold,and usually meant I was well and truly pissed. "That's not my sin, Malcolm, not the one nearestand dearest to my heart."
"And what would your sin be, Ms. Blake?"
"Wrath, Malcolm, it's wrath."
"Are you saying I've made you angry?"
"I'm always angry, Malcolm; you just gave me a target to focus it on."
"Do you envy anyone, Ms. Blake?"
I thought about it, then shook my head. "Not really, no."
"I will not ask about sloth; you work entirely too hard for that to be an issue. You are notgreedy, nor a glutton. Are you prideful?"
"Sometimes," I said.
"Wrath, lust, and pride, then?"
I nodded. "I guess, if we're keeping score."
"Oh, someone is keeping score, Ms. Blake, never doubt that."
"I'm Christian, too, Malcolm."
"Do you worry about getting into heaven, Ms. Blake?"
It was such an odd question that I answered it. "I did, for a while, but my faith still makesmy cross glow. My prayers still have the power to chase the evil things away. God hasn'tforsaken me; it's just that all the right-wing fundamentalist Christians want to believe hehas. I've seen evil, Malcolm, real evil, and you aren't that."
He smiled, and it was gentle, and almost embarrassed. "Have I come to you for absolution, Ms.Blake?"
"I don't think I'm the one to give you absolution."
"I would like a priest to hear my sins before I die, Ms. Blake, but none will come near me.They are holy, and the very trappings of their calling will burst into flames in my presence.""Not true. The holy items only go off if the true believer panics, or if you try vampire powerson them." He blinked at me, and I realized his eyes held unshed tears, shimmering in theoverhead lights. "Is this true, Ms. Blake?"
"I promise it is." His attitude was beginning to make me afraid for him. I didn't want to beafraid for Malcolm. I had enough people in my life that I cared for enough to worry about; Idid not need to add the undead Billy Graham to my list.
"Do you know any priests that might be willing to hear a very long confession?"
"I might, though I don't know if they're allowed to give you absolution, since technically inthe eyes of the Church you're already dead. You have ties to a lot of the religious community,Malcolm; surely one of the other leaders would be willing."
"I do not want to ask them, Anita. I do not want them to know my sins. I would rather..." Hehesitated, then spoke, but I was pretty sure it wasn't the sentence he started to use."Quietly, I would rather it be done quietly."
"Why the sudden need for confession and absolution?"
"I am still a believer, Ms. Blake; being a vampire has not changed that. I wish to dieabsolved of my sins." "Why are you expecting to die?" "Tell Jean-Claude what I have told youabout the stranger or
strangers in my church. Tell him about my desire for a priest to hear my confession. He willunderstand."
"Malcolm . . ."
He kept walking, but stopped with his hand on the door. "I take back what I said, Ms. Blake, Iam not sorry I came. I am only sorry I did not come days ago." With that he walked out andclosed the door softly behind him.
I sat down at my desk and called Jean-Claude. I had no idea what was going on, but somethingwas up, something big. Something bad.
I CALLED JEAN-CLAUDE'S strip club, Guilty Pleasures, first. He'd gone back to being managerthere since he had enough vampires to help run the other businesses. Of course, I didn't getJean-Claude on the phone first thing. One of the employees answered and informed me that he wason stage. I told them I'd call back, and yes, it was important, so have him call me ASAP.
I hung up and stared at the phone. What was my sweetie doing while I sat in my office a fewmiles away? I pictured all that long dark hair, the pale perfection of his face, and I wasthinking too hard. I could feel him. Feel the woman in his arms as she clung to him. He heldher face between his hands to keep the kiss from getting out of hand, to keep her fromshredding her own lips against the sharp points of his fangs. I felt her eagerness. Saw insideher mind, that she wanted him to take her here and now on the stage in front of everyone. Shedidn't care; she just wanted him.
Jean-Claude fed on that desire, that need. He fed on it, as other vampires fed on blood. Half-naked waiters came onto the stage to help pry her, gently, from him. They helped her back toher seat, while she cried, cried for what she could not have. She had paid for a kiss, andshe'd gotten that, but Jean-Claude always left you wanting more. I should know.
He spoke like some seductive wind through my mind, "Ma petite,
what are you doing here?"
"Thinking too hard," I whispered to the empty office, but he heard me.
He smiled with at least two different types of lipstick smeared
around his mouth. "You entered my mind while I fed the ardeur and it