Daughters of Darkness (Chapter 12)

What happened then was interesting. Mary-Lynnette got to see the sisters do all the things she'dmissed

earlier in the clearing. All the hissing and the clawed fingers. Just like the movies.

Except that when a vampire hissed, it sounded real. Like a cat, not like a person imitating a cat. All three

girls jumped up and stood ready to fight.

There wasn't any weird grimacing. But Jade and Kestrel were showing teeth that were long and

beautifully curved, coming to delicate feline points that indented the lower lip.

And something else. Their eyes changed. Jade's silvery-green eyes went even more silvery. Kestrel's

golden eyes looked jewel-yellow, like a hawk's. Even Rowan's eyes had a dark light in them.

"Oh, boy," Mark whispered. He was standing beside Jade, staring from her to Ash.

Ash said, "Hi."

Don't look at him, Mary-Lynnette told herself. Herheart was pounding wildly and her knees were

trembling. The attraction of particle to antiparticle,she thought, remembering a line from last year'sphysics

lass. But there was another, shorter namefor it, and no matter what she said to herself, she couldn't keep

it out of her mind.


Oh, God, I really don't want this. Please, please, Ididn't ask for this. I want to discover a supernova and

study mini-quasars at the Gamma Ray Observatory. I want to be the one who solves the mystery of

where all the dark matter in the universe is.

I don't want this.

It should have happened to someone like BunnyMarten, someone who spent timelonging for romance.

The only thing Mary-Lynnette longed for wassomebody to understand …

… to understand the night with you,a distant part ofher mind whispered.

And instead here she was, stuck with a guy whose own sisters were terrified of him.

It was true. That was why they were standingpoised to fight, making threatening noises. Even Kestrel

was afraid of him.

The moment Mary-Lynnette realized that, anger washed out the trembling dismay inside her. Whatever

she felt about Ash, she wasn't afraid of him.

"Don't you ever knock?" she said and walked toward him. Strode toward him.

She had to hand it to her new family. Both Jadeand Kestrel tried to grab her and keep her from getting

close to their brother. Protecting her. MaryLynnette shook them off.

Ash eyed her warily.

"Oh. You," he said. Unenthusiastically.

"What are you doing here?"

"It's my uncle's house."

"It's your aunt's house and you weren't invited."

Ash looked at his sisters. Mary-Lynnette could justsee little wheels turning in his head. Had they already

told about the Night World or not? Of course, if they hadn't, their behavior should be giving somebody a

due. Most human girls didn't hiss.

Ash held one finger up. "Okay. Now, listen"

Mary-Lynnette kicked him in the shins. She knew it was inappropriate, she knew it was uncalled-for,

but she couldn't stop herself. She just had to.

"Oh, for God's sake," Ash said, hopping backward.

"Are you crazy?"

"Yes, she is," Mark said, abandoning Jade and hurrying forward to take Mary-Lynnette's arm.

"Everybody knows she's crazy. She can't help it." He backedup, pulling. He was looking at

Mary-Lynnette as if she'd taken all her clothes off and started to dance the mambo.

So were Kestrel and Jade. Their eyes had gone ordinary, their teeth retracted. They'd never seen

anyone treat their brother quite this way. And to have a human doing it …

If the girls had superhuman strength, Ash was undoubtedly even stronger. He could probably flatten

Mary-Lynnette with one blow.

She still couldn't help it. She wasn't afraid of him, only of herself and the stupid floating feeling in her

stomach. The way her legs wanted to fold under her.

"Will somebody just tell her not to do that anymore?" Ash was saying.

Kestrel and Jade looked sideways at Mary-Lynnette. Mary-Lynnette shrugged at them, her breath

coming quickly.

She saw that Rowan was looking at her, too, butnot in the same dumbfounded way. Rowan looked

worried and surprised and sorry.

"You've met," she said.

"I should have told you," Mary-Lynnette said. "Hecame to our house. He was asking my

stepmotherabout you and your friends-saying that he needed to approve them because he was head of

the family."

All three girls looked at Ash with narrowed eyes.

"So you have been around," Kestrel said. "Forhow long?"

Rowan said quietly, "What are -you really doinghere?"

Ash let go of his shin. "Can we all sit down and talk about this like reasonable people?"

Everyone looked at Mary-Lynnette. She took a deep, calming breath. She still felt as if her entire skin

was electrified, but her heart was slowing down. "Yes," she said and worked at looking normal so they'd

know her temporary insanity was over.

As he helped her to the couch, Mark whispered, "I have to tell you, I've never seen you act so immature

before. I'm proud of you."

Even big sisters have to have some off time, Mary-Lynnette thought. She patted him vaguely and sat,

feeling tired.

Ash settled in a plush-covered chair. Rowan andKestrel sat beside Mary-Lynnette. Mark and Jade

shared an ottoman.

"All right," Ash said. "Now can we fast introduce ourselves? I presume that's your brother."

"Mark," Mary-Lynnette said. "Mark, that's Ash."

Mark nodded. He and Jade were holding hands. Mary-Lynnette saw Ash's eyes drop to their

intertwined fingers. She couldn't tell anything from his expression.

"Okay. Now." Ash looked at Rowan. "I'm here to take you back home, where everyone misses

you violently."

Jade breathed, "Give me a break."

Kestrel said, "What if we don't want to be taken?" and showed her teeth briefly. Mary-Lynnette didn't

find that strange. What she found strange was that Ash didn't return the smile. He didn't look lazy or

sardonic or smug right then. He looked like somebody who wants to get a job over with.

Rowan said, "We can't go home, Ash." Her breathing was slightly irregular, but her chin was high.

"Well, you have to come home. Because otherwisethere are going to be some fairly drastic


"We knew that when we left," Jade said, with aslittle emotion as Rowan. Her chin was high, too.

"Well, I don't think you've really thought itthrough." Ash's voice had an edge.

"We'd rather die than go back," Jade said.

Kestrel glanced at her quickly, one eyebrow raised.

"Oh, well, fine, I'll just make a note of that," Ash said tightly. Then his expression darkened. He

lookedmore determined than Mary-Lynnette would have thought he could look. Not in the least like a

big blond cat. Like a lanky, elegant pale tiger.

"Now, listen," he said. "There are a few smallthings that you don't understand, and I don't have

any time to play games. So how about we send yourlittle friends home and then we can all have a fam ily


Mary-Lynnette's hands clenched into fists.

Mark clutched at Jade, who pushed him awayslightly with her elbow. She was frowning. "I think maybe

you'd better," she said.

"I'm not going to leave you."

Rowan bit her lip. "Mark …"

"I'm not going. Don't try to protect me. He's not stupid, sooner or later he's going to find out that

we know about the Night World."

Rowan drew in her breath involuntarily. Kestrel's expression never changed, but her muscles. tensed as

if for a fight. Jade's eyes went silver. Mary-Lynnette sat very still.

They all looked at Ash. Ash looked heavenward.

"I know you know," he said with deadly patience."I'm trying to get you out, you poor sap, before

I find out how much you know."

The sisters stared. Mary-Lynnette opened hermouth and then shut it again.

"I thought you didn't like humans," Mark said. "I don't; I hate them," Ash said with brittle cheer.

"Then why would you want to cut me a break?""Because if I kill you, I have to kill your sister,"

Ash informed him, with a smile that would have fit in perfectly at the Mad Hatter's tea party.

"So what; she kicked you."

Ash stopped tossing answers back like footballs.

"Yeah, well, I may change my mind any minute." "No, wait, " Jade said. She was sitting with legs

folded under her, staring at her brother fiercely.

"This is just too weird. Why would you care whathappens to a human?"

Ash didn't say anything. He looked at the fire place bitterly.

It was Rowan who said softly, "Because they're soulmates."

An instant of silence, then everybody started talking explosively.

"They're what? You mean, like what Jade and Iare?"

"Oh, Ash, this is rich. I just wish our father were here to see this."

"It is not my fault, "Mary-Lynnette said. She found everyone turning toward her, and realized that

her eyes were full.

Rowan leaned across Kestrel to put her hand on Mary-Lynnette's arm.

"You mean it's really true?Mark said, looking from Mary-Lynnette to Ash.

"It's true. I guess. I don't know what it's supposed to be like," Mary-Lynnette said, concentrating

on making the tears go away.

"It's true," Ash said moodily. "It doesn't meanwe're going todo anything about it."

"Oh, you've got that right," Mary-Lynnette said. She was glad to be angry again.

"So let's all just pick up our toys and go home,"Ash said in the general direction of his sisters.

"We'llforget all about this; we'll just agree that it neverhappened."

Rowan was watching him, shaking her head slightly.There were tears in her eyes, but she was smiling.

"I never thought I'd hear you say something likethat," she said. "You've changed so much-I can't

believe it."

"I can't believe it, either," Ash said bleakly. "Maybe it's a dream."

"But you have to admit now that humans aren'tvermin. You couldn't be soulmates with vermin."

"Yes. Fine. Humans are terrific. We all agree; nowlet's go home."

"When we were kids, you were like this," Rowan said. "Before you started acting like you were

better than everyone. I always knew a lot of that was just show. To hide how scared you were. And I

always knew you didn't really believe a lot of the horriblestuff you said. Somewhere inside, you're still

that nice little kid, Ash."

Ash produced his first really flashingsmile of theevening. "Don't bet on it."

Mary-Lynnette had listened to all this feeling shakier and shakier. To conceal it, she said to Rowan, "I

don't think your aunt thought so."

Ash sat up. "Hey, where is the old hag, anyway?I need to have a talk with her before we leave."

This silence seemed endless.

"Ash … don't you know?" Rowan said.

"Of course he knows. Ten to one, he did it," Kestrel said.

"What is it that I'm supposed to know?" Ash said, with every sign of being about to lose his


"Your aunt's dead," Mark told him.

"Somebody staked her," Jade added.

Ash looked around the room. His expression said he suspected it was a practical joke. Oh, God, Mary

Lynnette thought numbly, when he's startled and bewildered like that he looks so young. Vulnerable.

Almost human.

"Somebody … murdered … Aunt Opal. That's what you're telling me?"

"Are you telling us that you don't know?" Kestrel asked. "What have you beendoing all night,


"Banging my head against a rock," Ash said. "Thenlooking for you. When I walked in you were

talking about me."

"And you didn't run across any livestock tonight?Any-let's say-goats?"

Ash gave her a long, incredulous look. "I fed, if that's what you're asking. Not on a goat.Whatdoes this

have to do with Aunt Opal?"

"I think we'd better show him," Rowan said.

She was the one who got up and lifted the fold ofrug away from the goat. Ash walked around thecouch

to see what she was doing. Mary-Lynnette turned to watch his face.

He winced. But he controlled it quickly.

Rowan said quietly, "Look at what was in the goat's mouth."

Ash picked up the black flower gingerly. "An Iris. So?"

'Been to your club recently?" Kestrel asked.

Ash gave her a weary look. "If I had done this, why would I sign it with an iris?"

"Maybe to tell us who did it."

"I don't have to kill goats to say things, you know. I can talk."

Kestrel looked unimpressed. "Maybe this way the message has a little more impact."

"Do I looklike the kind of person who wastes time turning goats into pincushions?"

"No. No, I don't think you did this," Rowan said inher quiet way. "But somebodydid-probably

whoever killed Aunt Opal. We've been trying to figure outwho."

"Well, who have we got for suspects?"

Everyone looked at Mary-Lynnette. She looked away.

"There's one who's pretty prime," Mark said. "Hisname's Jeremy Lovett. He's a real-"

"Quiet guy," Mary-Lynnette interrupted. If anyonewas going to describe Jeremy, it was going to be her.

"I've known him since elementary school, and I would never,ever have believed he could hurt any

body-especially an old lady and ananimal."

"But his uncle was crazy," Mark said. "And I'veheard things about hisfamily-"

"Nobodyknows anything about his family," Mary-Lynnette said. She felt as if she were struggling to keep

her head above water, with barbells tied to herwrists and ankles. What was dragging her downwasn't

Mark's suspicion – It was her own. The littlevoice in her head that was saying, "But he seemed like such

a nice guy"–and which meant, of course, that he wasn't.

Ash was watching her with a brooding, intent expression. "What does this Jeremy look like?"

Something about the way he said it irritated MaryLynnette beyond belief. "What do you care?"

Ash blinked and shifted his gaze. He shrugged minimallyand said with forced blandness, "Just curious."

"He'svery handsome," Mary-Lynnette said.Gooda way to let out her anger and frustration.

"And the thing is that he looks very intelligent andsensitive-it's not empty good looks. He's got hair that's

sort of the color of Ponderosa pinecones andthe most wonderful brown eyes…. He's thin andtan and a

little bit taller than me, because I'm normally looking at his mouth…."

Ash didn't look pleased. "I saw somebody vaguelylike that at the gas station -in town." He turned to

Rowan. "You think he's some kind of outlawvampire?"

"Obviously not a made vampire because MaryLynnette has watched him grow up," Rowan said.

"I was thinking more that he might be renegade lamia.But there's not much use in trying to figure it out

from here. Tomorrow we can go and see him, and then we'll know more. Right?"

Mark nodded. Jade nodded. Mary-Lynnette took adeep breath and nodded.

Ash nodded and said, "All right, I see why you can't go home until this is solved. So, we'll figureout who

killed Aunt Opal, and then we'll take the appropriate action, and then we'll go home. Got it?"

His sisters exchanged glances. They didn't answer.

As she and mark walked back to their house,Mary-Lynnette noticed that Sirius had lifted abovethe

eastern horizon. It hung like a jewel, brighterthan she had ever seen it before-much brighter. Itseemed

almost like a miniature sun, flashing with blue and gold and violet rays.

She thought the effect must be psychological,,until she remembered that she'd exchanged blood with

three vampires.