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The Chosen (Chapter 15)

The sound of her own voice sent Rashel spinning out of the light.

It was as if she were emerging from deep water- from one world into another. Or as if she were

re-entering her own body. For a moment everything was confusion, and Rashel wasn't sure of where she

was or how she was positioned… and then she felt her arms and legs and saw yellow light. Lamplight.

She was in an upstairs room in a mansion on a private island, and Quinn was holding her.

They had somehow ended up on the floor, half kneeling, half supported by the wall, their arms around

each other, Rashel's head on his shoulder. She had no idea when he'd stopped biting her. She also had

no idea how much time had passed.

She coughed a little, shaken by what had just happened. That other place, with the light-it still seemed

more real than the hard shiny boards of the floor underneath her and the white walls of the room. But it

also seemed encased in its own reality. Like a dream. She didn't know if they would ever be able to get

back there again.

"Quinn?" He was Quinn again. Not John.

"Yes."

"Do you know what happened? I mean, do you understand it?"

"I think," he said, and his voice was gentle and precise, "that sharing blood can strengthen a telepathic

bond. I've always been able to block it out when I fed before, but…" He didn't finish.

"But it happened that other time. Or something like it happened. When I first met you."

"Yes. Well. Well, I think it's… there's something called…" He gave up and resorted to nonverbal

communication. There's something called the soulmate principle. I've never believed in it. I've laughed at

people who talked about it. I would have bet my life that-

"What is it, Quinn?" Rashel had heard of it, too, especially recently. But it wasn't something from her

world, and she wanted a Night Person to explain.

It's the idea that everyone has one and just one soul-mate in the world, and that if you find them, you

recognize them immediately. And… well, that's that.

"But it's not supposed to happen between humans and Night People. Right?"

There are some people who think that it is happening-now-for some reason-especially between humans

and Night People. The Redferns seem to be getting it in particular. There was a pause, then Quinn said

aloud, "I should probably apologize to some of them, actually." He sounded bemused.

Rashel sat up, which was difficult. She didn't want to let go of Quinn. He kept hold of her fingers, which

helped a little.

He looked more mussed than he had down near the wharf, his neat hair disordered, his eyes large and

dark and dazed. She met his gaze directly. "You think we're soulmates?"

"Well." He blinked. "Do you have a better explanation?"

"No." She took a breath. "Do you still want to make me a vampire?"

He stared at her, and something flamed and then fell in pain in his eyes. For an instant he looked as if

she'd hit him-then all she could see was regret. "Oh, Rashel" In one motion he caught her and held her.

His face was pressed to her hair. She could feel him breathing like some stricken creature-and then she

felt him regain control, grabbing discipline from somewhere, wrapping himself in it. He rested his chin on

her head. "I'm sorry you have to ask that, but I understand. I don't want to make you a vampire. I want-"

I want you to be what you were two minutes ago. That happy, that idealistic….

He sounded as if it were something that had been lost forever.

But Rashel felt a new happiness, and a new confidence. He had changed. She could sense how much he

had changed already. They were in the real world, and he wasn't raving about needing to kill her, or her

needing to kill him.

"I just wanted to be sure," she said. She tightened her own arms around him. "I don't know what's going

to happen-but as long as we're right together, I think I can face it."

I think we live or die together from now on, Quinn said simply.

Yes, Rashel thought. She could still feel lingering sadness in Quinn, and confusion in herself, but they

were right together. She didn't need to doubt him anymore.

They trusted each other.

"We have to do something about the people downstairs," she said.

"Yes."

"But we can't kill them."

"No. There's been enough killing. It has to stop." Quinn sounded like a swimmer who'd been tumbling in

a riptide, and whose feet had finally found solid ground.

Rashel sat up to look at him. "But we can't just let them walk out of here. What if they try it again? I

mean, whoever set this bloodfeast up…" She suddenly realized that she had asked everybody else, but

not him. "Quinn, who did set this up?"

He smiled, a faint echo of his old savage smile. Now it was grim and self-mocking. "I don't know."

"You don't know?"

"Some vampire who wanted to get the made

vampires together. But I've never met him. Lily was the go-between, but I'm not sure she knows either.

She only spoke to him on the phone. Neither of us asked a lot of questions. We were doing it for the

money." He said it flatly, not sparing himself.

And to be rebellious, Rashel thought. To be as bad and as damned as possible, because you figured you

might as well. She said, "Whoever it is might just go somewhere else and find somebody else to get his

slaves for him. Those seven guys could be having a new bloodfeast next month."

"That has to be stopped, too," Quinn said. "How to stop it without violence, that's the question." His

fingers were still tight on Rashel's, but he was staring into the distance, lost in grim and competent

thought.

It was a new side of Quinn. Rashel had seen him in almost every mood from despairing to manic, but she

had never worked with him before. Now she realized that he was going to make a strong and resourceful

ally.

Suddenly Quinn seemed to focus.

"I've got it," he said. He smiled suddenly, mocking but without the bitterness. "When violence won't

work, there's no other choice but to try persuasion."

"That's not funny."

"It's not meant to be."

"You're going to say, 'Please don't kill any more young girls'?"

"I'm going to say, 'Please don't kill any more

young girls or I'll report you to the Joint Council.' Listen, Rashel." He took her by the arms, his eyes

flashing with excitement. "I have some authority in the Night World-I'm the Redfern heir. And Hunter

Redfern has more. Between us, we can make all kinds of trouble for these made vampires." "But Fayth-a

friend of mine-said they were all so powerful." In the intensity of the moment, Rashel almost missed the

fact that she'd just called Fayth her friend.

Quinn was shaking his head. "No, you have to understand. These aren't rogues, they're Night World

citizens. And what they're doing is completely illegal. You can't just kill a bunch of girls from one area

without permission. Slavery's illegal, bloodfeasts are illegal. And no matter how powerful they are, they

can't stand up against the Night World Council." "But-"

"We threaten them with exposure to the Council. With exposure to Hunter Redfern-and to the lamia.

The lamia will go crazy at the thought of made vampires getting together in some kind of alliance. They'll

take it as a threat of civil war."

It might work, Rashel was thinking. The made vampires were just individuals-they'd be up against whole

lamia families. Especially against the Redfern family, the oldest and most respected clan

of vampires. "Everybody's scared of Hunter Redfern," she said slowly.

"He's got tremendous influence. He practically owns the Council. He could run them out of the Night

World if he wanted. I think they'll listen."

"You really do think of him as a father, don't you?" Rashel said, her voice soft. She searched Quinn's

eyes. "Whatever you say about hating him-you respect him."

"He's not as bad as most. He has… honor, I guess. Usually."

And he's a New Englander, Rashel thought. That means he's against vice. She considered another

moment, then she nodded. Her heart was beating fast, but she could feel a smile breaking on her face.

"Let's try persuasion."

They stood-and then they paused a moment, looking at each other. We're strong, Rashel thought. We've

got unity. If anyone can do this, we can.

She picked up her knife almost absent-mindedly. It was a piece of art, a valued possession, and she

didn't want to lose it.

They walked down the stairs side by side. Music was still blasting from the gathering room at the end of

the hall. It hadn't been that long, Rashel realized. The whole world had changed since she'd been in this

hallway-but somehow it had all happened in minutes.

Now, Quinn said silently before they went in. There shouldn't be any danger-/ don't think they'll be

stupid enough to attack me-but be alert anyway.

Rashel nodded. She felt cool and businesslike, and she thought she was perfectly rational. It was only

later that she realized they had walked into the room like little lambs into the tiger's lair, still dizzy and

reeling from the discovery of love.

Quinn went in first and she could hear voices stop as he did. Then she was walking through the door,

into that ruddy flickering room with shadows dancing on the walls.

And there they were again, those handsome young guys who looked like a TV-series ensemble. They

were looking at Quinn with various expressions of interest and surprise. When they saw her, the

expressions sharpened to pleasure and inquiry. "Hey, Quinn!" "Hi there, Quinn."

"So you've arrived at last. You've kept us waiting long enough." That from the dark one who was

looking at his watch. Quinn said, "Turn off the music." Someone went to a built-in mahogany cabinet and

turned off an expensive stereo.

Quinn was looking around the room, as if to appraise each of them. "Campbell," he said, nodding

slightly. "Radhu. Azarius. Max."

"So you're the one who brought us here," Campbell said. He had rusty hair and a sleepy smile. "We've

all been dying to find out."

"Who's that?" someone else added, peering at Rashel. "The first course?"

Quinn smiled fractionally, with a look that made the guy who'd asked step backward. "No, she's not

the first course," he said softly. "In fact, unfortunately, all the courses have disappeared."

There was a silence. Everyone stared at him. Then the guy with the silver-blond hair said, "What?"

"They've all-just-disappeared." Quinn made an expressive gesture. "Escaped. Vanished."

Another silence. Rashel didn't like this one. She was beginning to get an odd impression from the group,

as if she were in a room, not with people, but with animals that had been kept past their feeding time.

"What the hell are you talking about?" the dark one, the one Quinn had called Azarius, said tightly.

"What kind of joke is this?" Campbell added.

"It's not a joke. The girls who were brought for the bloodfeast are gone," Quinn said slowly and

distinctly, just in case anybody hadn't gotten it yet. Then he said, "And as a matter of fact, it's a good

thing."

"A good thing? Quinn, we're starving."

"They can't have gone too far," the silver blond said. "After all, it's an island. Let's go and-" "Nobody's

going anywhere," Quinn said. Rashel

moved closer to him. She was still nervous. These guys were on the edge of getting out of control. But

she trusted Quinn, and she could tell they

were afraid of him. And, she told herself, they'll be

even more afraid in a minute. "Look, Quinn, if you brought us here to-" "I didn't bring you here. In fact, I

don't know who brought you here, but it doesn't matter. I've got the same thing to say to all of you. There

isn't going to be any bloodfeast, now or ever. And anybody who objects to that can take their problem

to the Council."

That shut everyone up. They simply stared at Quinn. It was clearly the last thing they expected.

"In fact, if you don't want the Council to hear about this, I'd advise everybody to go home quietly and

pretend it never happened. And to have a headache the next time anybody asks you to a bloodfeast."

This silence was broken by somebody muttering, "You dirty…"

Meanwhile, Rashel's mind had begun to tick. Just how were these guys going to go home quietly? There

weren't any boats. Unless the host brought one when he came-if he came. And where was he, anyway?

And where was Lily?

"Quinn," she said softly.

But somebody else was speaking. "You'd tell the Council?" a lean tough-looking guy with brown hair

asked.

"No, I'd let Hunter Redfern tell the Council," Quinn said. "And I don't really think you want that. He

might put it in a bad light. Raise your hands everybody who thinks Hunter Redfern would approve of this

little party."

"Do I get a vote?"

The voice came from the doorway. It was deeper than the voices of the young guys in the room. Rashel

recognized the sound of danger instinctively and turned. And later it seemed to her that even before she

turned, she knew what she would see.

A tall man standing easily, with a girl and a child behind him in the shadows. He was colored by the

flickering ruby light of the fire, but Rashel could still see that his hair was red as blood. And his eyes were

golden.

Golden like hawk's eyes, like amber. Like Lily Redfern's eyes. Why hadn't she realized that before?

The face was a face she would never forget. It came to her every night in her dreams. It was the man

who'd killed her mother. The man who'd chased her through the climbing structure, promising her ice

cream.

All at once, Rashel was five years old again, weak and helpless and terrified.

"Hello, Quinn," Hunter Redfern said.

Quinn was absolutely still beside Rashel. She had the feeling that he couldn't even think. And she

understood why. She'd seen into his mind; she knew what Hunter represented to him. Stern necessity,

even ruthlessness, but honor, too. And he was just now finding out that that was all a lie.

"Don't look so upset," Hunter said. He stepped forward with an amiable smile. His golden eyes were

fixed on Quinn; he hadn't even glanced at Rashel yet. "There's a reason for all this." He gestured to the

vampires in the room, and his voice was gentle, rational. "We need allies in the Council;

the lamia are getting too lax. Once I've explained it all to you, you'll understand."

The way he'd made Quinn understand that Quinn had to be a vampire, Rashel thought. The way he'd

made Quinn understand that humans were the enemy.

She was shaking all over, but there was a white-hot fire inside her that burned through the fear.

"Was there a reason for killing my mother?" she said.

The golden eyes turned toward her. Hunter looked mildly startled. Beside her, Quinn's head jerked

around.

"I was only five, but I remember it all," Rashel said. She took a step closer to Hunter. "You killed her

just like that-snapped her neck. Was there a reason for killing Timmy? He was four years old and you

drank his blood. Was there a reason for killing my great-aunt? You set a fire to get me, but it got her."

She stopped, staring into those predatory golden eyes. She'd searched for this man for twelve years, and

now he didn't seem to recognize her. "What's wrong, did you hunt too many little kids to keep track of?"

she said. "Or are you so crazy you believe your own public image?"

Quinn whispered, "Rashel…"

She turned. "I'm sure. He was the one."

In that instant, she saw Quinn's face harden implacably against the man who'd made him a Red-fern. His

eyes went dark as black holes-no light

escaped. Rashel suddenly had the feeling of glacial cold. Look into eyes like that and what you saw

alone might kill you, she thought.

But she had her own fire inside her, her own vengeance. The knife was in her waistband. If she could

just get close enough…. She moved toward Hunter Redfern again. "You destroyed my life. And you

don't even remember, do you?" "I remember," the little shadow beside him said. And then the world

flipped and Rashel felt the floor slipping away from her. The child behind Hunter was walking into the

light-and suddenly she could smell plastic and old socks, and she could feel vinyl under her hands.

Memories were flooding up so quickly that she was drowning in them.

All she could say was "Oh, Timmy. Oh, God, Timmy."

He was standing there, just as she'd seen him last, twelve years ago. Shiny dark hair and wide tilted blue

eyes. Except that the eyes weren't exactly a child's eyes. They were some strange and terrible

combination of child and adult. There was too much knowledge in them.

"You left me," Timmy said. "You didn't care about me."

Rashel sank her teeth into her lip, but tears spilled anyway. "I'm sorry…"

"Nobody cared about me," Timmy said. He reached up to take Hunter's sleeve. "No humans, anyway.

Humans are vermin." He smiled his old sweet smile.

Hunter looked down at Timmy, then up at Quinn. "It's amazing how quickly they learn. You haven't met

Timmy, have you? He's been living in Vegas, but I think he can be useful here." He turned to Rashel and

his eyes were pure evil. "Of course I remember you. It's just that you've changed a little; you've gotten

older. You're different from us, you see."

"You're weak," Lily put in. She had stepped forward, too, to stand beside her father. Now she linked

her arm in his. "You're short-lived. You're not very bright, and not very important. In a word, you're…

dinner."

Hunter smiled. "Well put." Then he dropped the smile and said to Quinn, "Step away from her, son."

Quinn moved slightly, closer to Rashel. "This is my soulmate," he said, in his softest and most disturbing

voice. "And we're leaving together."

Hunter Redfern stared at him for several long moments. Something like disbelief flickered in his eyes.

Then he recovered and said quietly, "What a shame."

Behind Rashel there were noises of stirring. It was as if a hot wind from the savanna had blown in, and

the lions had caught its scent.

"You know, I was already worried about you, Quinn," Hunter said. "Last summer you let Ash and his

sisters get away with running out on the enclave. Don't think I didn't notice that. You're getting lax, getting

soft. There's too much of that going around lately."

Stand back to back, Quinn told Rashel. She was already moving into position. The vampires were

forming a ring, encircling them. She could see smiles on every face.

"And Lily says you've been strange these last few days-moody. She said you seemed preoccupied with

a human girl."

Rashel drew her knife. The vampires were watching her with the fixed attention of big felines watching

their prey. Absolute focus.

"But the soulmate idea-that's really the last straw. It's like a disease infecting our people. You understand

why I have to stamp it out." Hunter paused. "For old time's sake, let's finish this quickly."

A voice that wasn't Quinn's added in Rashel's mind, / told you I'd see you later.

Rashel stood on the balls of her feet, letting Hunter's words slide off her and drip away. She couldn't

think about him right now. She had to concentrate on awareness, open her energy, and free her mind.

This was going to be the biggest fight of her fife, and she needed zanshin.

But even as she found it, a small voice inside her was whispering the truth. There were simply too many

vampires. She and Quinn couldn't hold them all off at once.

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