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The Chosen (Chapter 14)

The first person Rashel met in the mansion was Ivan.

It was sheer dumb luck, the same luck that had helped keep her alive so far tonight. She slipped in the

back door, the way she and the girls had gone out. Standing in the huge silent kitchen, she listened for an

instant to the music that was still blasting from the inner house.

Then she swiveled to check the cellar-and met Ivan the Terrible running up the stairs.

He had clearly just discovered that his twenty-four valuable slave girls were missing. His blond hair was

flying, his eyes were wide with alarm, his mouth was twisted. He had the taser in one hand and a bunch

of plastic handcuffs-the kind police use on rioters-in the other.

When Rashel suddenly appeared on the stairway, his eyes flew open even wider. His mouth opened in astonishment-and then Rashel's foot impacted with

his forehead. The snap kick knocked him backward, and he tumbled down the stairs to hit the wooden door below.

Rashel leaped after him, making it to the bottom only a second after he did. But he was already out.

"What are these? Were you supposed to take some girls up?" She kicked at the plastic handcuffs. Ivan

the Unconscious didn't answer.

She glanced at her watch. Only a quarter to nine. Maybe he'd been taking the girls to get washed or

something. It seemed too early to start the feast.

Running noiselessly back up the stairs, she quietly closed the door. Now she had to follow the music.

She needed to see where the vampires were, how they were situated, how she could best get at them.

She wondered where Lily was.

The kitchen opened into a grand dining room with an enormous built-in sideboard. It had undoubtedly

been made to accommodate whole suckling pigs or something, but Rashel had a dreadful vision of a girl

lying on that coffinlike mahogany shelf, hands tied behind her, while vampire after vampire stopped by to

have a snack.

She pushed the idea out of her mind and moved silently across the floorboards.

The dining room led to a hall, and it was from the end of the hallway that music was coming. Rashel

slipped into the dimly lit hall like a shadow,

moving closer and closer to the doors there. The last door was the only one that showed light. That one,

she thought.

Before she could get near it, a figure blocked the light. Instantly Rashel darted through the nearest

doorway.

She held her breath, standing in the darkened room, watching the hall. If only one or two vampires came

out, she could pick them off.

But nobody came out and she realized it must have just been someone passing in front of the light. At the

same moment she realized that the music was very loud.

This wasn't another room-it was the same room. She was in one gigantic double parlor, with a huge

wooden screen breaking it up into two separate spaces. The screen was solid, but carved into a lacy

pattern that let flickering light through.

Rashel thrust her knife in her waistband, then crept to the screen and applied her eye.

A spacious room, very masculine, paneled like the dining room in mahogany and floored in cherry

parquet. Glass brick windows-opaque. All Rashel's worry about somebody looking out had been for

nothing. A fire burned in a massive fireplace, the light bringing out the ruddy tones in the wood. The

whole room looked red and secret.

And there they were. The vampires for the bloodfeast. Seven of the most powerful made vampires in the

world, Fayth had said. Rashel counted heads swiftly. Yes, seven. No Lily.

"You boys don't look that scary," she murmured.

That was one thing about made vampires. Unlike the lamia, who could stop aging-or start againwhenever

they wanted, made vampires were stuck. And since the process of turning a human body into a

vampire body was incredibly difficult, only a young human could survive it.

Try to turn somebody over twenty into a vampire and they would burn out. Fry. Die.

The result was that all made vampires were stuck as teenagers.

What Rashel was looking at could have been the cast for some new TV soap about friends. Seven

teenage guys, different sizes, different colors, but all Hollywood handsome, and all dressed to kill. They

could have been talking and laughing about a fishing trip or a school dance… except for their eyes.

That was what gave them away, Rashel thought. The eyes showed a depth no high school guy could

ever have. An experience, an intelligence… and a coldness.

Some of these teenagers were undoubtedly hundreds of years old, maybe thousands. All of them were

absolutely deadly.

Or else they wouldn't be here. They each expected to kill three innocent girls starting at midnight.

These thoughts flashed through Rashel's mind in a matter of seconds. She had already decided on the

best way to plunge into the room and start the attack. But one thing kept her from doing it.

There were only seven vampires. And the eighth was the one she wanted. The client. The one who'd

hired Quinn and set up the feast.

Maybe it was one of these. Maybe that tall one with the dark skin and the look of authority. Or the

silvery blond with the odd smile….

No. Nobody really looks like a host. I think it's the one who's still missing.

But maybe she couldn't afford to wait. They might hear the powerboats leaving over the steady pounding

of the music. Maybe she should just…

Something grabbed her from behind.

This time she had no warning. And she wasn't surprised anymore. Her opinion of herself as a warrior

had plummeted.

She intended to fight, though. She went limp to loosen the grip, then reached between her own legs to

grab her attacker's ankle. A jerk up would throw him off balance….

Don't do it. I don't want to have to stun you, but I will.

Quinn.

She recognized the mental voice, and the hand clamped across her mouth. And both the telepathy and

the skin contact were having an effect on her.

It wasn't like before; no lightning bolts, no explosions. But she was overwhelmed with a sense of Quinn.

She seemed to feel his mind-and the feeling was one of drowning in dark chaos. A storm that seemed

just as likely to kill Quinn as anyone else.

He lifted her cleanly and backed out of the room with her, into the hall, then up a flight of stairs. Rashel

didn't fight. She tried to clear her head and wait for an opportunity.

By the time he'd pulled her into an upstairs room and shut the door, she realized that there wasn't going

to be an opportunity.

He was just too strong, and he could stun her telepathically the instant she moved to get away. The

tables had turned. There was nothing to do now but hope that she could face death as calmly as he had.

At least, she thought, it would put a stop to her confusion.

He let go of her and she slowly turned to look at him.

What she saw sent chills between her shoulder blades. His eyes were as dark and chaotic as the clouds

she'd sensed in his mind. It was scarier than the cold hunger she'd seen in the eyes of the seven guys

downstairs.

Then he smiled.

A smile that shed rainbows. Rashel pressed her back against the wall and tried to brace herself.

"Give me the knife."

She simply looked at him. He pulled it out of her waistband and tossed it on the bed.

"I don't like being knocked out," he said. "I don't know why, but something about it really bothers me."

"Quinn, just get it over with."

"And it took me a while to get myself untied.

Every time I meet you, I seem to end up hog-tied and unconscious. It's getting monotonous."

"Quinn… you're a vampire. I'm a vampire hunter. Do what you have to."

"We're also always threatening each other. Have you noticed that? Of course, everything we keep

saying is true. It is kill or be killed. And you've killed a lot of my people, Rashel the Cat."

"And you've killed a lot of mine, John Quinn."

He glanced away, looking into a middle distance. His pupils were enormous. "Less than you might think,

actually. I don't usually kill to feed. But, yes, I've done enough. I said before, I know what you think of

me."

Rashel said nothing. She was frightened and confused and had been under strain for quite a long time.

She felt that at any moment she could snap.

"We belong to two different races, races that hate each other. There's no way to get around that." He

turned his dark eyes back on her and gave her a brilliant smile. "Unless, of course, we change it."

"What are you talking about?"

"I'm going to make you a vampire."

Something inside Rashel seemed to give way and fall. She felt as if her legs might collapse.

He couldn't mean it, he couldn't be serious. But he was. She could tell. There was a kind of surface

serenity pasted over the dark roiling clouds in his eyes.

So this was how he'd solved an unsolvable problem. He had snapped.

Rashel whispered, "You know you can't do that."

"I know I can do that. It's very simple, actually- all we have to do is exchange blood. And it's the only

way." He took hold of her arms just above the elbow. "Don't you understand? As long as you're human,

Night World law says you have to die if I love you."

Rashel stood stricken.

Quinn had stopped short, as if he were startled himself by what he'd said. Then he gave an odd laugh

and shook his head. "If I love you," he repeated. "And that's the problem, of course. I do love you."

Rashel leaned against the wall for support. She couldn't think anymore. She couldn't even breathe

properly. And somewhere deep inside her there was a trembling that wouldn't stop.

"I've loved you from that first night, Rashel the Cat. I didn't want to admit it, but it was true." He was still

gripping her tightly by the arms, leaning close to her, but his eyes were distant, lost in the past.

"I'd never met a human like you," he said softly, as if remembering. "You were strong, you weren't weak

and pathetic. You weren't looking for your own destruction. But you were going to let me go. Strength

and compassion. And… honor. Of course I loved you." His dark eyes focused again. He looked at her

sharply. "I'd have been crazy not to."

Falling into darkness… Rashel had a terrifying desire to simply collapse in his arms. Give in. He was so

strangely beautiful, and the power of his personality was overwhelming.

And of course she loved him, too.

That was suddenly excruciatingly clear. Undeniable. From the beginning he had struck a chord in her that

no one else had ever touched. He was so much like her-a hunter, a fighter. But he had honor, too.

However he might try to deny it or get around it, deep inside him there was still honor.

And like her, he knew the dark side of life, the pain, the violence. They had both seen-and done-things

that normal people wouldn't understand.

She was supposed to hate him… but from the beginning she'd seen herself in him. She had felt the

bond, the connection between them….

Rashel shook her head. "No!" She had to stop thinking these things. She would not surrender to the

darkness.

"You can't stop me, you know," Quinn said softly. "That ought to make things easier for you. You don't

even have to make a decision. It's all my fault. I'm very, very bad, and I'm going to make you a vampire."

Somehow that gave Rashel her voice back. "How can you do that-to someone you love?" she spat.

"Because I don't want you dead! Because as long as you're human, you're going to get yourself killed!"

He put his face close to hers, their foreheads almost touching. "I will not let you kill yourself," he said

through his teeth.

"If you make me a vampire, I will kill myself," Rashel said.

Her mind had cleared. However much she wanted to give in, however enticing the darkness might be, it

all disappeared when she thought of how it would end. She would be a vampire. She'd be driven by

bloodlust to do things that would horrify her right now. And she'd undoubtedly find excuses for doing

them. She would become a monster.

Quinn was looking shaken. She'd scared him, she could see it in his eyes.

"You'll feel differently once it's done," he said.

"No. Listen to me, Quinn." She kept her eyes on his, looking deep, trying to let him see the truth of what

she was saying. "If you make me a vampire, the moment I wake up I'll stab myself with my own knife.

Do you think I'm not brave enough?"

"You're too brave; that's your problem." He was faltering. The surface serenity was breaking up. But

that wasn't really helpful, Rashel realized, because underneath it was an agony of desperate confusion.

Quinn really couldn't see any other solution. Rashel couldn't see any herself-except that she didn't really

expect to survive tonight.

Quinn's face hardened, and she could see him pushing away doubts. "You'll get used to it," he said

harshly, his voice grating. "You'll see. Let's start now," he added.

And then he bit her.

He was so fast. Unbelievably fast. He caught her jaw and tilted her head back and to the side-not

roughly but with an irresistible control and precision. Then before Rashel had time to scream, she felt a

hot sting. She felt teeth, vampire teeth, extended to an impossible delicacy and sharpness, pierce her

flesh.

This is it. This is death.

Panic flooded her. But it wasn't death, of course-not yet. She wouldn't even be changed into a vampire

by a single exchange of blood. No, instead it would be slow torture… days of agony… pain….

She kept waiting for the pain.

Instead she felt a strange warmth and languor. Was he actually drinking her blood? All she could sense

was Quinn's mouth nuzzling at her neck, his arms around her tightly. And…

His mind.

It happened all at once. In a sudden silent explosion, white light engulfed her. It burst around her. She

was floating in it. Quinn was floating in it. It was shining around them and through them, and she could

feel a connection with Quinn that made their last connection seem like a faulty telephone line.

She knew him. She could see him, his soul, whatever you wanted to call it, whatever it was that made

him John Quinn. They seemed to be floating together in some other space, in a naked white light that

revealed everything and mercilessly lit up all the most secret places.

And if anyone had asked her, Rashel would have said that would be horrible, and she would have run

for her life to get away from it.

But it wasn't horrible. She could see dreadful dark bits in Quinn's mind, and dreadful dark bits in hers.

Tangled, thorny, scary parts, full of anger and hate. But there were so many other parts-some of them

almost unused-that were beautiful and strong and whole. There was so much potential. Rainbow places

that were aching to grow. Other parts that seemed to quiver with light, desperate to be awakened.

We ask so little of ourselves, Rashel thought in wonder. If everybody's like this-we stunt ourselves so

badly. We could be so much more….

I don't want you to be more. You 're amazing enough the way you are.

It was Quinn. Not even his voice, just-Quinn. His thoughts. And Rashel knew her thoughts flowed to

him without her even making an effort.

You know what I mean. Isn't this strange? Does this always happen with vampires?

Nothing like this has ever happened to me in my life, Quinn said.

What he felt was even more, and Rashel could sense it directly, in a dizzying sweet wave. There was an

understanding between them that ran deeper than any words could convey.

Whatever was happening to them, however they had gotten to this place, one thing was obvious. Under

the white light that revealed their inner selves, it was clear that small differences like being

vampire or human didn't matter. They were both just people. John Quinn and Rashel Jordan. People

who were stumbling through life trying to deal with the hurt.

Because there was hurt. There was pain in the landscape of Quinn's mind. Rashel sensed it without

words or even images; she could feel the feelings that had scarred Quinn.

Your father did something-he killed Dove? Oh, John. Oh, John, I'm so sorry. I didn't know.

Rainbow lights shimmered when she called him John. It was the part of him that he had repressed the

most ruthlessly. The part that she could almost feel growing in her presence.

No wonder you hated humans. After everything you'd ken through, to have your own father want you

dead…

And no wonder you hated vampires. They killed someone dose to you-your mother? And you were so

young. I'm… sorry. He wasn't as easy with words as she was, but here they didn't need words. She

could sense his sorrow, his shame, and his fierce protectiveness. And she could sense the emotion behind

his next question. Who did it?

I don't know. I'll probably never know. Rashel didn't want to pursue it. She didn't want to feed the dark

side of Quinn; she wanted to see more of the shimmering light. She wanted to make the light grow until

the dark disappeared.

Rashel, that may not be possible. Quinn's thought wasn't bitter; it was serious and gentle. Tinged with

infinite regret. I may not be able to become anything better-

Of course you can. We all can. Rashel cut him off with absolute determination. She could feel the

bone-deep cold that had set into him years ago, that he'd allowed to set in. I won't let you be cold, she

told him, and she went for a romp in his mind, kissing things and blowing warmth into them, thinking

sunlight and comfort everywhere.

Please stop; I think you're killing me. Quinn's thought was shaky-half serious and half hysterical, like the

helpless gasp of somebody being tickled to death.

Rashel's whole being was singing with elation. She was young-how strange that she had never really felt

young until now-and she was in love and stronger than she had ever been before. She had John Quinn

the vampire squirming and semi-hysterical. She was unstoppable. Anything was possible.

I'll make everything be right, she told Quinn, and she was happy to see that she'd driven his doubt and

his sadness away, at least for the moment. Do you really want me to stop?

No. Quinn sounded dazed now-and bemused. I've decided I'll enjoy dying this way. But…

Rashel couldn't follow the rest of his thought, but she felt a new coldness, something like a wind from outside.

Outside.

She'd forgotten there was an outside. In here, in the private cocoon of their minds, there was nothing but

her and Quinn. It was almost as if nothing else existed.

But…

There was a whole world out there. Other people. Things happening. Things Rashel had to stop….

"Oh, God, Quinn-the vampires."

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