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The Chosen (Chapter 16)

A fighter knows instinctively when there's no chance. But Rashel planned to fight anyway.

And then she noticed something wrong.

The vampires should have caught it first. Then-senses were sharper. But their senses were turned

inward, focused on the victims in front of them. Rashel was the only one whose senses were turned

outward, alert to everything but focused on nothing.

There was a smell that was wrong and a sound. The smell was sharp, stinging, and close by. The sound

was soft, distant, but recognizable.

Gasoline. She could smell gasoline. And she could hear a faint dull roar that sounded like the fireplace in

the gathering room-but was coming from somewhere else in the house.

It didn't make sense. She didn't understand. But she believed it.

"Quinn, get ready to run," she said, a gasp on a soft breath. Something was about to happen.

No, we have to fight-

His thought to her broke off. Rashel turned to look at the doorway.

Hunter Redfern had moved into the gathering room-but there was someone in the hall. Then the

someone stepped forward and Rashel could see her face.

Nyala was smiling brilliantly. Her small queenly head was high and her dark eyes were flashing. She was

holding a red gasoline can in one hand and a liter of grapefruit juice in the other. The bottle was almost

full of liquid and had a burning rag stuffed in the top.

Gas. Gas from the pump on the wharf, Rashel thought. A Generation-X Molotov cocktail.

"It's all over the house," Nyala said, and her voice was lilting. "Gallons and gallons. All over the rooms

and the doors."

But she shouldn't be hanging on to it, Rashel thought. That bottle is going to explode.

"You see, I am a real vampire hunter, Rashel. I figure this way, we get rid of them all at once."

And the house is already burning….

Behind the carved screen on the right side of the room, ruddy light was flickering, growing. The faint roar

that had disturbed Rashel was louder now. Closer.

And everything's wood, Rashel thought. Wood paneling, wood floors. Frame house. A deathtrap for vampires.

"Get her," Hunter Redfern said. But none of the vampires charged toward Nyala with her

about-to-explode bottle of death and her can of fire accelerant. In fact, they were backing away, moving

to the perimeter of the room.

Hunter spun to face Nyala directly. You need to put that down, he began in telepathic tones of absolute

authority-at the same time Rashel shouted, "Nyala, no-"

The sound of telepathy seemed to set something off in Nyala. Flashing a dazzling savage smile, she

smashed the grapefruit juice bottle at his feet.

With almost the same motion, she threw the gasoline can, too. It was flying in a graceful arc toward the

fireplace, spinning, spilling liquid, and vampires were scattering to try to get out of the way.

And then everything was exploding-or maybe erupting was a better word. It was as if a dragon had

breathed suddenly into the room, sending a roaring gale of fire through it.

But Rashel didn't have time to watch-she and Quinn were both diving. Quinn was diving for the floor

past Nyala, trying to drag Rashel with him. Rashel was diving for Timmy.

She didn't know why. She didn't think about it consciously. She simply had to do it.

She hit Timmy with the entire force of her body and knocked him to the floor. She covered him as the

fire erupted behind her. Then she scrambled to her knees, her arm locked around his chest.

Everything was noise and heat and confusion. Vampires were yelling at each other, running, shoving each

other. The ones who'd been splattered with gas were on fire, trying to put it out, getting in one another's way.

"Come on!" Quinn said, pulling Rashel up. "I know a way outside."

Rashel looked for Nyala. She didn't see her. As Quinn dragged her into the hall, she saw dark smoke

come billowing from the dining-room area. The hall was bathed in reddish light.

"Come on!"

Quinn was pulling her across the hall, through the smoke. Into a room that was full of orange flames.

"Quinn-"

Timmy was kicking and struggling in Rashel's arms. Yelling at her. She kept her grip on him.

And she went with Quinn. She had to trust him. He knew the house.

She hadn't realized how frightening fire was, though. It was like a beast with hot shriveling breath. It

seemed alive and it seemed to want to get her, roaring out at her from unexpected places.

And it spread so fast. Rashel would never have believed it could move so quickly through a house, even

a house soaked with gasoline. In a matter of minutes the building had become an inferno. Everywhere

she looked, there was fire, smoke, and a horrifying reflection of flames.

They were on the other side of the room now, and Quinn was kicking at a door. His sleeve was on fire.

Rashel twisted her hand out of his and beat at it to put it out. She almost lost hold of Timmy.

Then the door was swinging outward and cool air was rushing in and the fire was roaring like a crazy

thing to meet it. She was simply running, in panic, her only thought to hold on to Timmy and to stay with Quinn.

They were out. But she smelled burning. And now Quinn was grabbing her, rolling her over and over on

the sandy unpaved road. Rashel realized, dimly, that her clothes were on fire in back.

Quinn stopped rolling her. Rashel sat up, tried to glance at her own back, then looked for Timmy.

He was crouched on the road, staring at the house. Rashel could see flames coming out of the windows.

Smoke was pouring upward and everything seemed as bright as daylight beneath it.

"Are you all right?" Quinn said urgently. He was looking her over.

Rashel's whole body was washed with adrenaline and her heart was pounding insanely. But she couldn't

take her eyes off the house.

She stumbled to her feet. "Nyala's in there! I have to get her."

Quinn looked at her as if she were raving. Rashel just shook her head and started helplessly toward the

house. She didn't want to go anywhere near it.

She knew the fire wanted her dead. But she couldn't leave Nyala in there to burn.

Then Quinn was shoving her roughly back. "You stay here. I'll get her."

"No! I have to-"

"You have to watch Timmy! Look, he's getting away!"

Rashel whirled. She didn't have any clear idea of where Timmy might be getting away to-but he was on

his feet and moving. Toward the house, then away from it. She grabbed for him again. When she turned

back toward Quinn, Quinn was gone.

No-there he was, darting into the house. Timmy was screaming again, kicking in her arms.

"I hate you!" he shouted. "Let go of me! Why did you take me out?"

Rashel stared at the house. Quinn was inside now. In that holocaust of flame. And he'd gone because of

her, to save her from going herself.

Please, she thought suddenly and distinctly. Please don't let him die.

The flames were roaring higher. The night was brilliant with them. Fire was raining in little burning bits

from the sky, and Rashel's nose and eyes stung. She knew she should get farther back, but she couldn't.

She had to watch for Quinn.

"Why? I hate you! Why did you take me out?"

Rashel looked at the strange little creature in her arms, the one that was biting and kicking as if it wanted

to go back into the burning house. She

didn't know what Timmy had become-some weird combination of child, adult, and animal, apparently.

And she didn't know what kind of future he could possibly have. But she did know, now, why she'd

brought him out.

She looked at the childish face, the angry eyes full of hate. "Because my mom told me to take care of

you," she whispered.

And then she was crying. She was holding him and sobbing. Timmy didn't try to hold her back, but he

didn't bite her anymore either.

Still sobbing, Rashel looked over his head toward the house. Everything was burning. And Quinn was

still inside….

Then she saw a figure silhouetted against the flames. Two figures. One holding the other, half carrying it.

"Quinn!"

He was running toward her, supporting Nyala. They were both covered with soot. Nyala was swaying,

laughing, her eyes huge and distant.

Rashel threw her arms around both of them. The relief that washed over her was almost more painful

than the fear. Her legs literally felt as if they had no bones-she was going to collapse at any second. She

was tottering.

"You're alive," she whispered into Quinn's charred collar. "And you got her." She could feel Quinn's arm

around her, holding hard. Nothing else seemed to matter.

But now Quinn was taking his arm away, pushing her along the road. "Come on! We've got to get to the

wharf before they do."

In a flash, Rashel understood. She got a new grip on Timmy and turned to run toward the hiking path.

Her knees were shaking, but she found she could make them move.

They lurched down the path in the wild grass, Quinn supporting Nyala, she carrying Timmy. Rashel

didn't know how many vampires had made it out of the burning house-she hadn't seen any- but she knew

that any who did would head for the dock.

Where she and Annelise had disabled the boats.

But as the wharf came into view, Rashel saw something that hadn't been there when she left it. There

was a yacht in the harbor, swinging at anchor.

"It's Hunter's," Quinn said. "Hurry!"

They were flying down the hill, staggering onto the wharf. Rashel saw no sign of the werewolf she'd tied

up earlier, but she saw something else new. An inflatable red dinghy was tied to the pier.

"Quick! You get in first."

Rashel put Timmy down and got in. Quinn lifted Timmy into her arms, then put Nyala in. Nyala was

staring around her now, laughing in spurts, then stopping to breathe hard. Rashel put her free arm around

her as Quinn climbed in the dinghy.

Every second, Rashel was expecting to see Hunter Redfern appear, blackened and smoldering, with his

arms outstretched like some vengeful demon.

And then the tiny motor was purring and they were moving away from the wharf. They were leaving it

behind. They were on the ocean, the cool dark ocean, freeing themselves from land and danger.

Rashel watched as the yacht got bigger and bigger. They were close to it now. They were there.

"Come on. We can climb up the swimming ladder. Come on, fast," Quinn said. He was reaching for her,

his face unfamiliar in a mask of soot, his eyes intense. Absolutely focused, absolutely determined.

Thank God he knows what to do on a boat. I wouldn't. She let Quinn help her up the ladder, then

helped Timmy and Nyala. Nyala had stopped laughing entirely now. She was simply gasping, looking

bewildered.

"What happened? What-?" She stared toward the cliffs where orange flame was shooting into the sky. "I

did that. Did I do that?"

Quinn had pulled up the anchor. He was heading for the cockpit. Timmy was crying.

Kneeling on the deck, Rashel held Nyala. Nyala's eyelashes were burned to crisp curls. There was white

ash on the ends. Her mouth was trembling and her body shook as if she were having convulsions.

"I had to do it," she got out in a thick voice. "You know I had to, Rashel."

Timmy sobbed on. A motor roared to life. All at once they were moving swiftly and the island with its

burning torch was falling behind.

"I had to," Nyala said in a choked voice. "I had to. I had to."

Rashel leaned to rest her head on Nyala's hair. Wind was whipping around her as they raced away. She

held the tiny vampire in one arm and the trembling human girl in the other. And she watched the fire get

smaller and smaller until it looked like a star on the ocean.

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