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Huntress (Chapter 9)

No. This can't be happening.

Jez had never felt anything like this before, but she knew instinctively that it was dangerous. She was

being pulled into Morgead's mind. She could feel it surrounding her, enfolding her, a touch that was light

but almost irresistible, that was trying to draw out the most secret part of herself.

And the most frightening thing was that Morgead wasn't doing it

It was something outside both of them, something that was trying to mix them together like two pools of

water being stirred. Jez could feel that Morgead was as startled and astonished as she was. The only

difference was that he didn't seem to be resisting the force. He didn't seem terrified and unhappy about it,

as Jez was. He seemed… exhilarated and wondering, like somebody skydiving for the first time.

That's because he's crazy, Jez thought dizzily. He loves danger and he enjoys courting death-

I enjoy you, a voice said in her mind.

Morgead's voice. Soft as a whisper, a feather-touch that shook Jez to her soul.

It had been so long since she'd heard that voice.

And he had heard her. Sharing blood made even humans telepathic. Jez hadn't been able to talk mentally

since-

She managed to cut the thought off as panic surged through her. While one part of her mind gabbled

desperately, "He's here, he's here, he's inside, what are we going to do now?" another part threw up a

smokescreen, flooding her thoughts with visions of mist and clouds.

There was something like a swift gasp from Morgead.

Jez. don't. Don't hide from me-

You're not allowed here, she snapped back, this time directing the thought straight at him. Go away!

I can't. For just a moment his mental voice sounded confused and scared. She hadn't realized Morgead

could be confused and scared. I'm not doing this. It's just-happening.

But it shouldn't be happening, Jez thought, and she didn't know whether she was talking to him or just to

herself. She was beginning to shake. She couldn't resist the pull that was trying to bring her soul to the

surface and intermingle it with Morgead's-she couldn't. It was stronger than anything she'd ever

experienced. But she knew that if she gave in, she was dead.

Don't be afraid. Don't, Morgead said in a voice she had never heard from him before. A voice of

desperate gentleness. His mind was trying to wrap around hers protectively, like dark wings shielding her,

touching her softly.

Jez felt her insides turn to water.

No. No…

Yes, Morgead's voice whispered.

She had to stop this-now. She had to break the contact. But although Jez could still feel her physical

body, she seemed powerless to control it. She could sense Morgead's arms supporting her and his lips

on her throat and she knew that he was still drinking. But she couldn't so much as move a finger to push

him away. The muscles that she'd trained so ruthlessly to obey her under any circumstances were

betraying her now.

She had to try another way.

This shouldn't be happening, she told Morgead, putting all the energy of her terror behind the thought.

I know. But that's because you're fighting it. We should be somewhere else by now.

Jez was exasperated. Where else?

I don't know, he said, and she could feel a tinge of sadness in his thought. Some place-deeper. Where

we'd really be together. But you won't open your mind….

Morgead, what are you talking about? What do you think is going on?

He seemed genuinely surprised. Don't you know? It's the soulmate principle.

Jez felt the floor drop away beneath her.

No. That's not possible. That can't be. She wasn't talking to Morgead anymore; she was desperately

trying to convince herself. I'm not soulmates with Morgead. I can't be. We hate each other … he hates

me … all we ever do is fight. . .

He's impossible and dangerous and hotheaded and stubborn… he's crazy… he's angry and hostile . .

. he's frustrating and infuriating and he loves to make me miserable . ..

And I don't even believe in soulmates. And even if I did, I wouldn't believe it could happen like this, just

bang, out of the blue, like getting hit by a train when you're not looking, without any warning or even any

attraction to the person beforehand….

But the very hysteria of her own thoughts was a bad sign. Anything that could tear away her self-control

like this was powerful almost beyond imagination. And she could still feel it pulling at her, trying to strip

off the layers of cloud she was hiding behind. It wanted Morgead to see her as she truly was.

And it was trying to show her Morgead. Flashes of his Me, of himself. Glimpses that hit her and seemed

to cut cleanly through her, leaving her gasping with their intensity.

A little boy with a mop of tousled dark hair and eyes like emerald, watching his mother walk out the

door with some man-again. Going to play alone in the darkness, amusing himself. And then meeting a

little redheaded girl, a girl with silvery-blue eyes and a flashing smile. And not being alone anymore. And

walking on fences with her in the cool night air, chasing small animals, falling and giggling….

A slightly older boy with longer hair that fell around his face, uncared-for. Watching his mother walk out

one last time, never to come back. Hunting for food, sleeping in an empty house that got messier and

messier. Learning to care for himself. Training himself. Getting harder, in mind and body, seeing a sullen

expression when he looked in the mirror…

A boy even older watching humans, who were weak and silly and short-lived, but who had all the things

he didn't have. Family, security, food every night. Watching the Night People, the elders, who felt no

responsibility to help an abandoned vampire child….

I never knew, Jez thought. She still felt dizzy, as if she couldn't get enough air. The images were dazzling

in their clarity and they tore at her heart.

A boy who started a gang to create a family, and who went first to the little girl with red hair. The two of

them grinning wickedly, running wild in the streets, finding others. Collecting kids the adults couldn't

control or wouldn't miss. Walking around the worst parts of town, unafraid-because they had one

another now.

The images were coming faster, and Jez could hardly keep up with them.

Dashing through the metal scrap yard… with Jez … Hiding under a fish-smelling wharf… from Jez…

His first big kill, a stag in the hills of San Rafael.. . and Jez there to share the hot blood that warmed and

intoxicated and brought life all at once. Fear and happiness and anger and arguments, hurt and sadness

and exasperation-but always with Jez interwoven into the fabric. She was always there in his memories,

fire-colored hair streaming behind her, heavy-lashed eyes snapping with challenge and excitement. She

was everything bright and eager and brave and honest. She was haloed with flame.

I didn't know… how could I know? How could I realize I meant so much to him… ?

And who would have thought it would mean so much to her when she found out? She was stunned,

overcome-but something inside her was singing, too.

She was happy about it. She could feel something bubbling up that she hadn't even realized was there; a

wild and heady delight that seemed to shoot out to the palms of her hands and the soles of her feet.

Morgead, she whispered with her mind.

She could sense him, but for once he didn't answer. She felt his sudden fear, his own desire to run and

hide. He hadn't meant to show her these things. They were being forced out of him by the same power

that was dragging at Jez.

I'm sorry. I didn't mean to look, she thought to him. I'll go away….

No. Suddenly he wasn't hiding anymore. No, I don't want you to go. I want you to stay.

Jez felt herself flow toward him, helplessly. The truth was that she didn't know if she could turn away

even if he'd wanted her to. She could feel his mind touching hers-she could taste the very essence of his

soul. And it made her tremble.

This was like nothing she'd ever felt before. It was so strange… but so wonderful. A pleasure that she

couldn't have dreamed of. To be this close, and to be getting closer, like fire and bright darkness merging

… To feel her mind opening to him…

And then the distant echo of fear, like an animal screaming a warning.

Are you insane? This is Morgead. Let him see your soul… pry open your innermost secrets… and

you won't live long enough to regret it. He'll tear your throat out the instant he finds out…

Jez flinched wildly from the voice. She didn't want to resist the pull to Morgead any longer. But fear was

shivering through her, poisoning the warmth and closeness, freezing the edges of her mind. And she knew

that the voice was the only rationality left in her.

Do you want to die? it asked her point-blank.

Jez, Morgead was saying quietly. What's wrong? Why won't you let it happen?

Not just you dying, the voice said. All those others. Claire and Aunt Nan and Uncle Jim and Ricky.

Hugh…

Something white-hot flickered through her. Hugh. Whom she loved. Who couldn't fight for himself. She

hadn't even thought of him since she'd entered Morgead's mind-and that terrified her.

How could she have forgotten him? For the last year Hugh had represented everything good to her.

He'd awakened feelings in her that she'd never had before. And he was the one person she would never

betray.

Jez, Morgead said.

Jez did the only thing she could think of. She threw an image at him, a picture to stir his memories. A

picture of her walking out, leaving the gang, leaving him.

It wasn't a real picture, of course. It was a symbol.

It was bait.

And she felt it hit Morgead's mind and clash there, and strike memories that flew like sparks.

The first meeting of the gang with her not there. Questions. Puzzlement. All of them searching for her,

trying to find a hint of her unique Power signature on the streets. At first laughing as they called for her,

making it a game, then the laughter turning into annoyance as she stayed missing. Then annoyance turning

into worry.

Her uncle Bracken's house. The gang crowded on the doorstep with Morgead in front. Uncle Bracken

looking lost and sad. "I don't know where she is. She just-disappeared." And worry turning into

gut-wrenching fear. Fear and anger and sorrow and betrayal.

If she wasn't dead, then she'd abandoned him. Just like everyone else. Just like his mother.

And that grief and fury building, both perfectly balanced because Morgead didn't know which was the

truth. But always with the knowledge, either way, that the world was cold because she was gone.

And then… her appearing in his room today. Obviously alive. Insultingly healthy. And unforgivably

casual as she told him he would never know why she'd left.

Jez felt Morgead's outrage swelling up, a dark wave inside him, a coldness that felt no mercy for anyone

and only wanted to hurt and kill. It was filling him, sweeping everything else away. Just being in contact

with it started her heart pounding and shortened her breath. Its raw violence was terrifying.

You left me! he snarled at her, three syllables with a world of bitterness behind them.

I had to. And I'll never tell you why. Jez could feel her own eyes stinging; she supposed he could sense

how it hurt her to say that. But it was the only thing that would work. The pull between them was

weakening, being smashed away by his anger.

You're a traitor, he said. And the image behind it was that of everyone who'd ever betrayed a friend or a

lover or a cause for the most selfish of reasons. Every betrayer from the history of the human world or

the Night World. That was what Morgead thought of her.

I don't care what you think, she said. You never cared, he shot back. I know that now. I don't know

why I ever thought differently.

The force that had been trying to drag them together had thinned to a silver thread of connection. And

that was good-it was necessary, Jez told herself. She made an effort and felt herself slide away from

Morgead's mind, and then further, and then further.

You'd better not forget it again, she said. It was easier to be nasty when she couldn't feel his reactions. It

might be bad for your health.

Don't worry, he told her briefly. I can take care of myself. And you'd better believe I'll never forget.

The thread was so fine and taut that Jez could hardly sense it now. She felt an odd lurch inside her, a

pleading, but she knew what needed to be done.

I do what I want to, for my own reasons, she said. And nobody questions me. I'm leader, remember?

Snap!

It was a physical sensation, the feeling of breaking away, as Morgead was carried off on a wave of his

own black anger. He was retreating from her so fast that it made her dizzy….

And then her eyes were open and she was in her own body.

Jez blinked, trying to focus on the room. She was looking up at the ceiling, and everything was too bright

and too large and too fuzzy. Morgead's arms were around her and her throat was arched back, still

exposed. Every nerve was quivering.

Then suddenly the arms around her let go and she fell. She landed on her back, still blinking, trying to

gather herself and figure out which muscles moved what. Her throat stung, and she could feel dampness

there. She was giddy.

"What's wrong with you? Get up and get out," Morgead snarled. Jez focused on him. He looked very

tall from her upside-down vantage point. His green eyes were as cold as chips of gemstone.

Then she realized what was wrong.

"You took too much blood, you jerk." She tried to put her usual acidity into the words, to cover up her

weakness. "It was just supposed to be a ritual thing, but you lost control. I should've known you would."

Something flickered in Morgead's eyes, but then his mouth hardened. "Tough," he said shortly. "You

shouldn't have given me the chance."

"I won't make the same mistake again!" She struggled to a sitting position, trying not to show the effort it

cost her. The problem-again-was that she wasn't a vampire. She couldn't recover as quickly from loss of

blood… but Morgead didn't know that.

Not that he'd care, anyway.

Part of her winced at that, tried to argue, but Jez brushed it aside. She needed all her strength and every

wall she could build if she was going to get past what had happened.

It shouldn't have happened, whatever it had been. It had been some horrible mistake, and she was lucky

to have gotten away with her life. And from now on, the only thing to do was try to forget it.

"I probably should tell you why I'm here," she said, and got to her feet without a discernable wobble. 'I

forgot to mention it before."

"Why you came back? I don't even want to know." He only wanted her to leave; she could tell that from

his posture, from the tense way he was pacing.

"You will when I tell you." She didn't have the energy to yell at him the way she wanted. She couldn't

afford the luxury of going with her emotions.

"Why do you always think you know what I want?" he snapped, his back to her.

"Okay. Be like that. You probably wouldn't appreciate the chance anyway."

Morgead whirled. He glared at her in a way that meant he could think of too many nasty things to say to

settle on one. Finally he just said almost inaudibly, "What chance?"

"I didn't come back just to take over the gang. I want to do things with it. I want to make us more

powerful."

In the old days the idea would have made him grin, put a wicked sparkle in his eyes. They'd always

agreed on power, if nothing else.

Now he just stood there. He stared at her. His expression changed slowly from cold fury to suspicion to

dawning insight. His green eyes narrowed, then widened. He let out his breath.

And then he threw back his head and laughed and laughed and laughed.

Jez said nothing, just watched him, inconspicuously testing her balance and feeling relieved that she could

stand without fainting. At last, though, she couldn't stand the sound of that laughing anymore. There was

very little humor in it.

"Want to share the joke?"

'It's just … of course. I should have known. Maybe I did know, underneath." He was still chuckling, but

it was a vicious noise, and his eyes were distant and full of something like hatred. Maybe self-hatred.

Certainly bitterness.

Jez felt a chill.

"There's only one thing that could have brought you back. And I should have realized that from the

instant you turned up. It wasn't concern for anybody here; it's got nothing to do with the gang." He

looked her straight in the face, his lips curved in a perfect, malevolent smile. He had never been more

handsome, or more cold.

"I know what it is, Jez Redfern. I know exactly why you're here today."

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