Jamaica Blue Magic

Dylan, the monster-hunter-turned-revenant, goes to Jamaica in hope of forgetting past grief. But a European vampire, an ancient fae godslayer and the demon who destroyed Dylan’s family have plans of their own. For him.

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Revenants Never Let Go…

… yet Dylan, monster-hunter-turned-revenant, was finally accepting his wife Anna was gone, and a Jamaican vacation was supposed to help – getting him away from O’Reily’s coffeehouse and secret halfway house for monsters, giving him a chance to face his past and, just maybe, accept it.

But a murdered European vampire, an ancient fae godslayer, and the demon who destroyed Dylan’s mortal family turn his vacation into a race against time. Even with help from his friend Louis, the murdered man’s fae wife Aphrodite, and sword-wielding enigma Jared Engelshand, Dylan may ultimately have to battle a living weapon that killed the gods themselves — in a body become suddenly mortal under a demon’s highly ironic curse.

Kansas, 1980:

It was early evening when they arrived home from the hunt. Dylan tossed his blood-covered clothing in the garage trashcan and washed up quickly with the hose before entering the house. Fortunately, his parents were still at church, so he and Bridget were able to sneak baths. Dylan kept his gear in the chest on the back of the truck but helped Bridget carry hers into her closet.

Still troubled, the eighteen-year-old refused to discuss their encounter in the ghost town, Le Hunt, and set to studying, despite Bridget’s concerned prodding. It was just a hunt, and it was going to be their last. He didn’t want his sister to worry.

Their parents arrived shortly, and Bridget spun a yarn about camping with some of her schoolmates. Their mother looked convinced, but Dad didn’t. He commented on Dylan’s silence with a suspicious tone in his voice, but Dylan convinced Dad that he was concerned about the upcoming test and was too exhausted to study.

Dyl let his father lecture him on the sins of partying on the weekends and maintaining grades and how Dylan’s exhaustion was a consequence. Dylan reluctantly agreed with everything Dad said, and went, with a deliberately sulky face, off to study. Dylan’s lies turned out to have been true in one respect, though; he ended up nodding off at his desk.

The phone’s ring drew his mind out of dark dreams of Le Hunt’s cement underground tunnels and back to the safety of his room. Dylan cracked open an eye. His cheek lay on his math textbook, pencil in hand, with his notebook hanging precariously over the edge of his desk. The lamp blazed yellow light on his face and brightened the dim bedroom.

In the distance, he heard his mother talking to a voice he didn’t recognize. Strange; Mom wasn’t answering. She always answered the phone.

“Shit.”

He hadn’t even wiped the sand out of his eyes. Yawning, Dylan fumbled for the receiver next to his lamp, dragged it off the hook and got it to his ear.

“Yeah. Dyl here.”

That wasn’t the proper way to answer the phone, but that was all his tired mind could muster as he drew himself up into a sitting position and rubbed his aching neck.

“Dyl?” It was Jackson. The older boy’s voice sounded urgent. “Is everything ok?”

“Yeah, peachy. I just passed out at my desk studying algebra. Jack, what’s up? You know, you just woke me up from a beautiful dream with a gorgeous redhead.”

Holding the receiver between his shoulder and ear, Dylan stretched. The clock on his bed stand read 8:30 PM.

The voices outside were continuing their low-key discussion. Dylan recognized his father’s voice now; he didn’t sound happy. Dad was on edge, and there wasn’t much that did that. The young hunter tensed.

“Dyl, you need to get out of there! All of you! Remember my grandma’s photos? Meet me at the theater she was standing in front of.”

Puzzled, Dylan shook the sleep from his brain and held the phone closer.

“Whoa, what in hell are you talking about? We’re fine, dude.”

“Men in Black, Dylan! The MIBs came after Doctor Blavatsky. They have everything, and they’re after us. I’m not fucking around here, Dyl. I can’t reach my parents. Something is wrong. Get the fuck out of there.” Jackson’s normally calm voice was frightened. “You wanted attention, well, now we’ve got it.”

Oh, shit. The shock of realizing just how bad the situation was had Dylan standing before he knew it, the chair screeching backwards on the bare wood. His notebook flopped to the floor.

My grandma’s photos…  Jackson didn’t even feel safe telling him which photo of his grandmother Rosy. But there were so many pictures on her wall, memories of her long and sometimes checkered past… wait. Dylan snapped his fingers; he knew which one. It had to be the one with Rosy and Anna, Rosy dark as brown topaz, Anna white as snow. They were dancers at a ballroom with a big glittery mirror ball; he thought it was somewhere in Harlem. Since scant few clubs had hired both black and white dancers in the twenties it would be easy to research. “I’ll keep an eye on the papers and news. Are you going home?”

“Yeah, but I have a bad feeling,” Jackson said. “Okay, gotta run.”

“Wait, what about Paul?”

“They have him, dude. I couldn’t do anything about it but run like hell. Gotta go.”

Before he could say anything, there was a dial tone and Dylan was left staring at the phone. His gut tightened as he hung up the receiver. The MIBs had arrested Doctor Paul Blavatsky and were after Jackson, who couldn’t reach his family. It didn’t feel real. Yet he knew it had to be, even if he didn’t want to believe it. Jackson wouldn’t lie. Dylan let his fingers trace over the math book. What was that about a normal life?

How did the MIBs know what he was up to? The vampires couldn’t be that omniscient… could they? He knew his father believed they were watching, but Dylan found it difficult to believe they watched everything.

The young man walked to his door and opened it. Looking out, he saw his father standing in the hall. By the sound of her voice, his mother was in the living room with an older man who was just in Dylan’s field of view. He was dressed in an outdated black suit with a crossed white collar. On his lap was a flat-topped, wide brimmed hat. He didn’t recall Mother announcing company that day, but he recognized the man: Reverend… Becker? No, Beckmann, that was it. He was relatively new, associated with some kind of school. A school that Bridget might be sent to.

Dylan swiftly entered Bridget’s room and went into her closet. Her backpack was still in the car, but her duffle bag of emergency gear was hidden behind a box of Teenbeats. Without pause, he grabbed it and carried it down the hall. The young man padded down softly, stocking feet silently tiptoeing so not to alert his mother downstairs.

As he drew closer, he saw his mother in the living room beyond the stairwell. She sat on the couch with the oddly dressed, cadaverous man. The Reverend had a head of pale gray hair. His face was tight and thin with wrinkles around the eyes and mouth. A smile split his thin features as he listened, and his dark eyes reminded Dyl of a snake’s. Dylan stopped in mid-step, inches from his father. The Reverend made his gut tighten. Something about him was wrong. He wasn’t a vampire, or a ghoul, but Dylan was sure he was something. If he were to put money on it, he’d bet on a renfield. He wondered if the Reverend was one of the beings watching them.

Bridget sat across from his mother in an armchair. Her face was pale, as if she was nauseous.

“It’s a wonderful school, Bridget, and Reverend Beckmann will help you adjust,” Jenny reassured her daughter. There was something about her voice that sounded off, someone repeating something she had memorized, and her gaze was blank, as if under a spell. “It’s so much better than the public school!”

“But I like the school I’m in, Mom!”

Damn, he had never gotten around to doing the background check on the Reverend, and his mother was still trying to drag Bridget into some kind of Christian school program. Well, none of it mattered now. They had to leave Kansas and take out the good old reverend too.

“Dad, gotta talk to you.”

His father glanced over, the same uneasy feeling written all over his face. This was the first time he had met the Reverend. Damn again! They both should have kept a better eye on his mother. Dylan just assumed she was okay because she was involved in church activities. We never thought they could hide in a church like this!

“We gotta get out of here, Dad. Something bad is going down. I’ll explain later, but we gotta leave now.” Dylan’s fingers tightened around his father’s shoulder. “I should have listened when you said they were watching.”

He kept his voice low so his mother and the Reverend didn’t hear, yet the old man looked in his direction, and his thin smile grew.

“And this must be the boy. Dylan, is it?” The Reverend slowly stood up and waved to him. “Please, come in. Your mother was just telling me all about you and your lovely sister. You’ve both been accepted in my school; did she tell you?”

“Accepted? With my grades, sir? She didn’t tell you I was a dropout?”

He couldn’t help himself; no school with any worth would accept him. He wasn’t the brightest bulb in the box and had to work his ass off to get anywhere in his studies. If this school had accepted Dylan, the Reverend obviously wanted him for something other than academics.

Dylan felt his father’s fingers touch his arm, and the older man’s gaze narrowed. The teenager recognized animosity brewing there, the same kind of anger he saw when his dad made a kill during a particularly difficult hunt. Dad understood; he wasn’t pleased, but he understood the urgency of the situation. Dylan’s father gestured for them to go downstairs, gaze focusing on the couch and what Dylan knew was hidden under it.

“Go and speak to the Reverend, Dyl. I’ll go fetch us some drinks. What would you like, Reverend? Wife makes an excellent lemonade.”

As his father spoke, Dylan trotted down the stairs, quickly assessing the room. Bridget sat on the edge of the leather chair. The curtains to the picture window were shut. A lamp sat on the end table next to the couch, and the hassock lay near the leather chair. The only useful weapon in the room would be the wooden coat stand near the door; if he dug into Bridget’s bag it would take too much precious time. No, his father wanted them to run.

“That would be very kind of you, Brody, but unnecessary. Now that you’re all together, I think my friend should be arriving.”

“Friend?” Dylan glanced to his mother, who looked just as surprised as he was.

“Reverend, I wasn’t aware you invited someone to our home.” Jenny, his mother, frowned and rubbed her eyes, as if becoming aware of something very wrong.

“Oh, you didn’t, my dear; your beautiful children did, and your husband by default as the man of the house, since he didn’t discipline them properly.”

Faster than Dylan was able to follow, Brody O’Brian leapt from the stairs and bolted across the room in an instant, hand reaching down under the couch, stretching, finding what Dylan had expected. Brody whipped the shotgun up and aimed it at the Reverend.

“You son of a bitch, you serve them, don’t you?!”

Stunned, Jenny started to her feet with a gasp.

“Brody! What are you doing?”

“Saving our family! Get to the car! Now!!”

Dylan reached over to pull her toward the kitchen just as the door opened. The temperature in the room dropped as if an arctic storm hovered over the horizon, and something that made his flesh spring out in goose pimples walked in.

“Now, how un-neighborly, Captain O’Brian. Here I thought we were just going to have a pleasant chat about your children’s schooling.”

A man in a white and gray suit with a short-cropped gray beard entered the house, followed by four heavies in black suits, with pale skin and cold, hard gazes. By the lumps under their expensive suit jackets, each thug was packing, a pistol in a shoulder holster. “Now put that toy down, and let’s discuss this little matter like men.”

Dylan’s heart lurched as he pushed his mother behind him. Blackwell! What in God’s name had brought Blackwell to their home?

Brody swung the gun so it covered the Reverend and the newcomers. His gaze was now frantic. “Dyl, leave NOW!” He looked back towards Blackwell. “I will not discuss handing my children over to you, or any of your kind!”

At those words, Dylan pulled his mother and dashed across to the kitchen, with Bridget fast on his heels. He had no intention of abandoning his father, but he had to get to the car. Behind him there was a gun blast, followed by a scuffle. The vampires moved fast; they’d be lucky if Dad bought them enough time to get to the garage door. Skidding into the kitchen, Dylan raced to the door, but before he closed his fingers around the latch, a heavy body slammed into him.

The bag on his shoulder jerked down and the weight smacked him headfirst into the door. The force cracked the thin wood and drove him to the floor. A veil of black and neon spots assailed his vision as Dylan struggled to stay conscious. Distantly, he heard his sister scream his name and the impact of wood against muscle.

The young man struggled to roll over, blurry gaze barely focused on his sister as she backed up, hips pressing into the drawers next to the sink. In front of her was one of the vampires from the living room. The remains of a broken chair fell to the floor as he turned on the girl.

“Lively one, aren’t you? Well, someone needs to teach you some manners!”

It bared its pointed teeth and lunged.

Jenny O’Brian ripped a knife from the knife block and plunged the blade into the vampire’s back. “Bridget! Get your brother and get the hell out of here!”

The vampire turned its gaze to their mother, a cold laugh drumming dread into Dylan’s heart. It painfully ripped the knife from its own back and dropped it, useless, to the floor.

“You guys are a real laugh.”

The thug backhanded her, slamming the human woman against the wall effortlessly.

“Leave my mother alone!” Driven by adrenalin, Dylan sprang, fist connecting with the vampire’s cheek. But the monster didn’t budge at all under the impact; it felt like hitting a wall. With barely an effort, the vampire grabbed him by his arm and flung him into the stove. Dylan felt splintering pain rip through his side, the feel of ribs cracking as he slammed into the range.

Damn, these vampires were strong. Even as he fell, Dylan stretched out his arms, ignoring the pain and scrambling for the bag near the door. But he felt fingers grabbing his long hair, driving his head against the door again. The room swirled and blackened; he lost his senses for scant seconds. It was a battle to force himself back to consciousness through the throbbing of his skull.

But even as he forced his vision to clear, the familiar cha-CLACK! of a pump action shotgun froze him. For one crazy moment, Dylan thought it was his father, but the form stepping into sight was one of Blackwell’s toughs. He was broad, with dark hair and a square jaw, more a bruiser than a gunman. “All of you, into the living room. The little game is over.”

Shaking, Jenny went to help Dylan to stand, but the thug grabbed her arm and pushed her in front of him. “Go.”

Wiping the blood from his brow, Dylan steadied himself and stood. His vision dimmed again, and he staggered, only to be caught by Bridget. She let him lean on her shoulder. “You okay, Dyl?”

He rubbed the front of his head; it was already swelling, and he could feel more blood as it oozed from a wound in his brow. His head hurt so much that he barely noticed the ache from his ribs. “Woozy, that’s all; head’s clearing. Took a hell of a crack.”

“Hey, my brother is hurt, let me get the first aid kit!” Bridget grabbed the jacket of Mr. Bruiser.

Bruiser brushed her away and with the gun waved the two of them on after their mother passed into the living room.

“It’s okay, Bridge, need to see if Dad’s okay,” Dylan said, as they walked into the room. With every step he made, his head cleared a little. It still hurt like a son of a bitch, but at least he didn’t feel like he was going to pass out. His side, on the other hand, was starting to throb, and he knew it wouldn’t be long before the adrenalin wore off and every breath began to hurt like a knife.

Blackwell sat in the brown leather chair, legs crossed as he carefully watched Brody. One of the two thugs held the vet’s arms from behind. There was a swelling bruise over his eye, and blood oozing from a wound across his cheek.

The Reverend stood beside Blackwell, holding his hat in both hands as though he were far too polite to wear it in the house. The smug smile from earlier remained on his face as the three of them were ushered to the couch and seated.

“Well, well, it’s about time you boys corralled them. You’re slipping, Joe; two does and a young buck shouldn’t be much to handle, you know,” Blackwell said with disappointment, and Bruiser Joe winced. Blackwell returned his gaze to Dylan’s father. “No offense, Captain; I’m sure you raised them to be formidable. But the fact is that compared to our kind, you’re pathetically limited and fragile.” He gestured to Dylan’s brow. “You break easily.”

“Just gave him a little shove,” Joe said quickly. “He’ll live.”

“You were to be careful. How am I to instruct them if they’re damaged?” The Reverend looked hungrily at Bridget, then at Dylan. “Children need to be handled with care.”

“No one’s gonna touch my kids!” Brody twisted against his captor, who jerked him back.

“I… I don’t understand,” Jenny looked at Beckmann. “I thought I found you. I thought you were a minister.”

The thin lips smiled. “But I am, Mrs. O’Brian. You just never really listened to what I was saying. Most people don’t, really, they want someone to blame for their problems and a nice, clear-cut solution; they don’t care if that solution means condemning others. They just want simple rules to save their own souls. They want to make their own money and keep it. They want to believe they’re not breaking the rules of their own professed faith by seeing the poor and others as thieves,” the Reverend said quietly. “And I did say there was a way of fighting the evil, didn’t I? I just didn’t explain what I was calling evil.”

The woman leaned into Dylan and shivered, ashamed. “I’m so sorry, Dyl, Bridget, what have I done? I brought them to us.”

Dylan slipped an arm around her. She had no reason to blame herself; he was the one who had brought them down on his family. “It’s okay, Ma. If Dad was right, they were always there. If it wasn’t Beckmann, it would have been someone else. Am I right, Colonel Sanders? You guys were always watching because you’re the government, right?”

Blackwell’s smile flickered for a moment. “Kansas and Missouri are my… territories, Dylan. I make sure things are in order here. The government is its own entity, separate from us, but we’ve been known to work together frequently to better our financial status. In this case, I was asked to allow your family to hunt in my territory as … well, call it pest control. And I have done so. I’ve been nothing but supportive, including assisting your father’s carpentry business. And this is how you repay me?” He turned his attention to Brody. “You should have taken their offer, Captain; it would have been better for your family. This would have never happened.”

“Become a monster and let them make my children monsters?” Brody spat.

“You’re already a monster, Brody; you know what will happen to you when you die; Charlie infected you back in Vietnam with his special troops. Uncle Sam only let you go back because they hoped you and the missus would produce more beautiful children. Pity things fell out between you and Uncle Sam. Still, you did teach them rather well, even if the doe is troublesome.”

Blackwell stood and strolled over to Bridget. With undisguised contempt, he scrutinized her as if she were a bug under glass.

“The Reverend will shape you up in no time, though, just a little shove in the right direction. No more experimenting with high school girlfriends, no more delusions about college. You’ll have yourself a nice little family with whoever I choose.”

His glare slid to Dylan. “The same goes for the buck, of course.” He then looked with sanctimonious reassurance at Jenny. “Just like you want, a nice normal family.”

“Normal? You call slaves to monsters normal?” Jenny said with a mother’s barely contained fury. “Why in God’s name are you here now? They left you alone, my husband didn’t break any of the rules, he did exactly what he was supposed to! He even stopped hunting! We’ve done nothing!”

Brody lifted his head, and swallowed, defeat written across his face. He glanced at his son.

“What did you do, Dylan?” he finally asked.

Dylan’s gut clenched and he pressed his palm into the side of his aching head. “We went on a hunt.”

The look of hurt on his parents’ faces etched in his mind. Both of them were disappointed. He had lied to them. Dylan clutched his hands into fists. “It was the last one, I swear, I was going to stop after today. I did it to help all of us.”

“Which I am eternally grateful for.” Blackwell opened his hands as if making an offer. “In return, I’ve decided to go lenient on you.” He placed his hands behind his back and stepped back, smug. “Your resourceful little boy set up a hunt with that n—-r militia friend of his. They went to Le Hunt and cleared out a nest. Now, granted, the vampires there only preyed on a few vagrants and occasional fools who entered their woods, but they would have eventually become a problem. The child was an unfortunate error of my overzealous nephew who has a liking for young blood. Couldn’t have her getting out, could I? Family doesn’t need that kind of scandal, especially in the vampire community.”

“You sick son of a bitch!” Dylan bolted to his feet, but pain in his head made the room tilt. Bridget pulled him gently back.

“It wasn’t me who made her, boy, but it was necessary. We couldn’t have the cement factory have a comeback. That little experiment failed with the depression. It was the best way to discourage people: killing their children. Maria was an immigrant, not fit for a proper burial. They buried her outside of the graveyard,” Blackwell explained cheerfully. “Nonetheless, Dylan did a fine job cleaning out the nest. My only objection was that he sent his friend and a TV psychic away with a film and a corpse, with instructions to expose us on national television. It was an unpleasant inconvenience for all parties involved.”

“If you hurt my friends, I’m gonna personally shove my fist up your tight ass!” Dylan growled. If it wasn’t for Bridget’s hand on his shoulder, he would have decked Blackwell … or tried to, and likely fallen on his face.

“Someone has to take the fall, Dylan. How else are you going to learn consequences?” the Reverend said with another thin smile. “Think of being under my care as a blessing.”

Jackson and his family were taking the fall. He had dragged his friend into this and now it was going to be his friend paying the price for all of them. Dylan leaned his head into the couch and closed his eyes against tears. “Doctor Blavatsky?”

“A true psychic of his caliber won’t be wasted. On the other hand, if I don’t get full cooperation, we might have to cull your numbers.”

“I’m not good with this ‘do as Colonel Sanders says’.” Bridget glared at Blackwell. “I’m gonna pluck and fry your ass.”

The Reverend’s head snapped up, and his cold, serpent-like gaze held Bridget’s. “On the contrary, young lady, you will do exactly as I tell you. Or your mother will die and burn in eternal damnation!”

The big vampire holding the pump action gun turned it on Jenny.

Blackwell spoke of them as if they were cattle, and he wasn’t giving Bridget or him any choice in what happened.

“What will happen to us?”

“Dylan, don’t even consider what he has to say.”

Brody’s voice rose as he fixed Blackwell with a stare. Dylan saw a glint. Had his father come up with a plan? If only he could get to the bag in the back or take the shotgun back.

“No, I wanna hear it. I wanna know what they want us for? Making babies? You want people with the Sight. That’s why you let my daddy live, even though he’s been a hunter.”

“Bright boy. The gifted make exceptionally powerful vampires. It’s in your blood. We just breed it into our family lines to keep them pure and in the family, so to speak,” Blackwell explained. “As for your daddy, we were curious. He’s a ma cà rồng. Blood fillers saved him, but he’ll undoubtedly raise as one, even if it now lies dormant in his blood. The question was whether it showed in his new children. Pity, he never seemed able to have any more, and certainly no more now that the cow is too old.”

“Brody?” Jenny looked at him, gaze filled with understanding and grief. “Is that why? I thought it was me. Why didn’t you say?”

The older man drew in a breath, loss filling his cornflower-blue eyes.

“I’m sorry, Jen.”

“My mom’s not a cow, freak!” Bridget stood, and Dylan caught a hint of the butt of a gun tucked in her waist, just below her baggy Indiana Jones T-shirt. “You’ll take that back! It’s Dyl and me you want, and we’re not going to do anything if you hurt our parents!”

“Girl’s right.” Dylan unsteadily joined her. “They’re left alone, or nothing doing.”

“And in exchange, you’ll take my blood? Both of you?” Blackwell leaned on the cane he carried. It was a carved ivory head of a cougar, with a shiny black shaft. “Bind yourselves, and I’ll consider their release.”

The two youngsters exchanged glances. By the haunted horror in Bridget’s hazel eyes, Dylan knew it wasn’t the response she had planned. He stole a quick peek at his father, who was now motionless, and breathing deeply, as if concentrating.

“I’m giving you one warning, Blackwell. Leave this house peacefully. If not, I’ll kill you and all your men.”

Dylan had never heard his father use that tone before, not with anyone. It was cold, filled with venom.

Dylan knew why. Blackwell planned on killing their parents regardless of their decision. Dylan felt it in his gut. The vampire wouldn’t keep his end of the bargain, and his father sensed it.

Blackwell chuckled. “Threats? In your position?”

Before Dylan could say anything—before anyone else could react—his father suddenly twisted, knocking the vampire holding him into the lamp near the couch. The light sparked and the vampire let go with a curse.

Adrenalin was a beautiful thing; Dylan grappled for the shotgun, pulled it up, away from his mother, giving her space to run. The monster held it like a vise and Dylan’s still-aching body was not helping him wrench the weapon away.

Bridget whipped out the pistol and fired at the thug Brody had just knocked aside. Two shots rang out so closely together they were almost one, and the creature fell, head a red ruin. Their father sprinted at Blackwell. There was a flash of movement, and Blackwell’s bodyguards were holding automatic pistols.

The vampire grappling with him jerked the gun to the side, and Dylan found himself nearly slammed into the TV set.

His mother and Bridget were hoofing it to the kitchen, when Blackwell himself appeared out of nowhere.

“Mom! Look out!” Dylan screamed out, just as Blackwell grabbed Jennifer and gave her head one swift jerk, breaking her neck in an instant. Jenny O’Brian fell to the floor like a broken doll.

Fast, too damn fast. Dylan’s heart wrenched painfully; it was as if he could feel her life fading away into nothing. He closed his eyes against tears. He had thought he was saving his mother, but the vampires were stronger than he had imagined. They were awake: awake and organized. How could Dylan and his family expect to win?

Bridget screamed in fury, and turned her gun on Blackwell, who grabbed her hand and snatched the weapon away before she could pull the trigger.

Driven by his sister’s cry, Dylan slammed his vampire in the crotch with one knee. The thing’s grip faltered; the Texan yanked the gun away and fired on Blackwell.

Blackwell was forced to dodge, giving Bridget the breath to sprint into the kitchen, but Dylan was frozen between his mother’s body, glassy eyes staring at nothing, and his father, fighting alone, against two monsters, using nothing but his fists and brute force to give him a chance.

Gunshots swiveled his attention to his father, just in time to see the vet, bloody holes exploding from his side and shoulder collide into one of the vampires. The blow knocked the creature off his feet. The other thug swung his weapon on the man, only to have it round kicked out of his hands.

“Dylan! Get your sister out of here!”

Dylan hesitated; he couldn’t leave his family. So he did the next best thing, he pumped two shots at one of the vampires fighting his father, sending it to the ground convulsing in anguish. He spun towards the reverend, but Beckmann was gone.

Then he heard the furious curses from the kitchen.

Dylan charged, aware that Blackwell had now turned to his father.

“Bridget!”

The Reverend held her up against the wall, his bony fingers digging into the girl’s neck. She gasped and writhed, kicking at the unmovable monster.

“Shame about your dear mother; if you had just listened, girl, there was no need for her to die. There is no one that can protect you now.”

“I beg to differ, Chuckles.”

The blast of his shotgun tore a hole straight through the renfield’s head, splattering his brains on the wall next to the door. The creature fell, taking Bridget with it. Dylan quickly yanked her to her feet. “Get to the truck, start it up. Go, go, go, now!”

Wide eyed, the girl nodded, tears streaming down her face. “Yeah; but no, we’ve gotta get Dad outta here, Dyl.” Her voice shook. “They killed Mama.”

Removing a capped grenade, Dylan refused to meet her gaze. “Take the bag and MOVE!”

Swiftly he shoved the bag into her hand and forced himself to keep going, ignoring the spreading weakness. Dots of color and black danced at the edges of his vision, and every movement ached. He guessed he had a moderate concussion on top of broken ribs. He was moving on sheer determination.

Bridget wrenched the door open and dashed into the garage. He hoped and prayed Blackwell hadn’t brought anyone else with him, or they’d never escape. The boy raced to the edge of the kitchen.

What he saw made his heart sink. Three of the vampires they had taken down were already standing, and two new thugs, likely drawn in from the outside, cornered his father, who was battered and bleeding from multiple bullet wounds, and smeared with blood. He sank to his knees, attention on the body of his wife. Slowly Blackwell approached Brody, his smile growing.

“The place is surrounded; they’ll never escape, Brody, even if they’ve made it past my renfield. I’m impressed. You are strong; pity you never allowed us to teach you how to use the blood in your veins.” He knelt down and pulled Brody’s head up. “Time to die, my friend, but I just thought you should know: your family line will continue. You should be proud.”

“Dad!” He tossed the grenade. With it, his father could use it to bargain his way out—or take a better way to heaven. To Blackwell’s shock, Brody caught it and slipped his finger around the ring.

As much as he detested it, Dylan hadn’t much choice. His job was to get Bridget out. Clenching his teeth and swallowing his grief, the boy turned and bolted for the garage door. He was diving out of the kitchen when he heard Blackwell shout, and he tossed himself into the back of the humming truck as the world around him blasted red fire. “GO!”

The truck’s wheels squealed, and the vehicle hurtled forward, into and through the garage door. The wood buckled and shattered from the impact and the solid steel Toyota Hilux streaked down the driveway. Behind them the house erupted in flames as the heat ignited Brody O’Brian’s explosive collection.

Clinging to the floor in the back, his adrenalin spent, Dylan’s world faded into one of a throbbing blackness and aching flesh. Before consciousness completely faded, one thought occurred to him. With the Walker family hunted, and his parents dead, Bridget and Dylan had only one place to go: New York, and hopefully their friend Jackson.

If they havent got him too…

Jamaica, 2010:

It had been years since he thought of how his parents died. Was it a memory or a vision? Memories and visions were often difficult to tell apart, especially now. Did it matter? Anna’s death had dredged up a whole dark load of baggage. It was hard to sort it all out. Why couldn’t everything stay buried where it belonged? Then again, he hadn’t stayed dead, so why should bitter memories?

Dylan floated face-down in the crystal-clear water of Jamaica and stared at the sandy bottom below him. It was quiet and still, save for the occasional fish that darted into his vision, then fled when they got a sense of the revenant energy animating his body. He could float in the water for hours, staring at the flickering moonlight reflecting off the sandy bottom. Dylan didn’t need to breathe, and being undead, nothing in the ocean would dare eat him, not even the bull sharks skulking about the shallows; they could sense that here was a far worse predator than any of them.

The memories, as always, dredged up more memories. One of the most essential facets of being a revenant was that you dwelt in the past. You existed because you refused to let go.

And here he was, trying to let go.

He chuckled at that, releasing a few bubbles. So much had happened after that terrible day; some of it even worse, like Bridget being turned and him having to stake his own sister in a combination of terrified self-defense and monster-hunter delusions of saving the damned; some of it far better, like the first time he’d seen Anna, an avenging angel with a belt-whip.

Most of it… most of it had just been growing up, he realized. Coming to understand that nothing about the world was simple, and almost none of it was what he’d believed. Realizing that the LeHunt job—the attempt to rip the lid off of the hidden world of monsters—hadn’t just been a terrible failure, it had also been another in a long series of murders.

For an instant he saw the child-vampire in her hidden grave-bed, and it was as vivid as the moment he first saw her. His body shuddered in the warm water as he managed to wrench himself back to the present rather than let that memory take him on a flashback tour of the past again.

But even that didn’t banish all the memories, or the lessons he’d learned. Like the fact that most of the so-called “monsters” were just people with unusual problems. They weren’t the accursed of God; they weren’t possessed by fallen angels or created by satanic magic. Or if they were, it wasn’t the way he thought. Vampires, ghouls, revenants, zombies, fae, demons—all of them were people. Even demons weren’t necessarily evil, even though they did have to feed on negative or selfish emotions and drives. They could find harmless sources for those, just as vampires could find ways to feed on blood without ripping out throats. Hell, one of the absolutely nicest people he knew was a succubus who managed to feed through explicit games on the Internet.

It was Anna who’d taught him all that, and more. She’d saved him from that younger punk of the Blackwell family and his little gang. She’d convinced Liam, the most ancient of the immortals of New York, to give Dylan a chance, despite having been a hunter. She’d made him … better. And when Dylan fell in love with her, she held him off without hurting him, until she was sure of what both of them felt.

He felt the pure electricity of their first real kiss in the New York underground, where he was about to duel a vampire to the death, and fought free of that memory, tears leaking into the crystal sea: the same tears he’d been trying to escape for a long time.

Dylan hadn’t wanted to go on vacation. But there he was, under the clear, star-filled, velvet night sky of the Caribbean on an isolated Jamaican beach.

Qui had arranged for them to stay in a private cabin on the west side of the island in Negril. The cabin was private, on a white sand beach, surrounded by palm trees, hook-rooted mangroves, and exotic yellow and orange flowers. It was warm and beautiful, and the night was clear and dark, but Dylan was too caught up in losing Anna to care.

Letting go of the past was almost impossible for a revenant, but nevertheless, that was what he was here for. What he had to do, because he had to accept that Anna was dead, that she’d been dead for a long time. He had to accept that, not just for his sake but for hers, and for everything they’d been to each other—and everything they’d built together.

Had it been three weeks since Liam had showed up in his apartment to tell him? Close to it. He’d spent most of the time working, after. If Qui and Filipe hadn’t insisted, he wouldn’t have come, but they said Louis wouldn’t go unless he did. So he went.

And that was really it, wasn’t it? Liam may not need his protection, but Qui? Filipe? Vic and Yu and Angelus and Raven, the Twins, poor Sam, Alice? Even Louis, sometimes. He had to take care of himself so he could take care of them.

It was twenty-four carat irony, really. He’d gone from monster-hunter to renfield to, eventually, revenant, and somewhere along the way he’d become someone running a halfway house for all the outcasts: zombies, ghouls, demons who didn’t fit highblood society, shapechangers, accidental vampire spawn… anyone that would be culled in other cities, so-called monsters who just wanted to live their lives like anyone else.

So there he was, barely in Jamaica, floating in the Caribbean, looking at the sandy bottom, wondering how Louis would surf on calm seas, or if he’d decide the vacation was a bust and drag them both back to New York, where Dylan could go back to work.

“You are lucky no one can see you. They would think you drowned,” Louis said. “I thought revenants sank.”

“We should; dunno why I don’t.” Dylan rolled over in the water and stiffened his back so he floated and looked up at the cloudless sky. Everything was calm.

Louis lay on his surfboard, arms folded under his head, legs dangling in the water. “It’s Anna’s blood, my friend. You’re not all revenant. She is still with you.”

His face twitched. He wanted to smile, but how could Anna be with him if he hadn’t even felt her death?

“I just go back to the same thing, Lou. Both of us knew when I raised as a revenant that her blood was either going to play a part or do very little, because she made me, effectively, after I became half-revenant. Then I died, and she wasn’t even sure if I was going to come back. It was all a crapshoot.”

He almost never talked about what had happened after his duel with Keith. He floated in silence a moment, attempting to gather his thoughts. It had been years since he’d thought about it.

“I was dead for about a week. Didn’t rot, just didn’t move. Anna was going to give me a week before she put me in the ground.”

“Vamps raise in 24 hours.”

“Yeah, vamps do; revenants, on the other hand, raise whenever the soul feels like it.”

“You didn’t decay, though. That’s a sign of vampirism,” Louis added, a thoughtful expression on his face. “I think you think about these things too much. We reflect our natures differently. Just because you don’t drink blood and sleep in a coffin doesn’t mean you don’t have her pumping in your veins. Magic is magic. It affects everyone differently.”

“Lou, I’m more revenant than anything, and whether there’s enough vampire in me to keep me from sinking isn’t going to change the fact she left because she was worried about me. She’s gone, I didn’t feel it happen, and I miss her.”

He felt a pit of grief open in his gut and Dylan closed his eyes. Wasn’t that why she’d told him she wanted to find Reggie? She wanted to ask him about Dylan. She wanted to find a cure for his revenant curse. He realized that the depression was starting to lift. He was thinking sense now. He remembered Anna’s concern about him when she left. She saved me, she taught me, she loved me, and I need to remember that. Not live in that.

“You don’t need to hang out here, Lou. I mean, the waves suck, but I’ll bet there’s some nightlife you’d be interested in.”

“I could use the quiet tonight.” The man smiled lazily. “Maybe we can both go out after a few laps?”

“Laps?”

“Why not? A little exercise helps to ease a troubled mind!” The Cajun slipped off his surfboard and started to guide it into the shallows. “I will drop my board off on the beach and we will make our way to the pier.”

The pier? Straightening up, he treaded water, squinted ahead in the dark. The pier was a good mile off. “Are you sure you’re up for that, Lou? I mean, you’re still breathing.”

“Of course I’m up to it, I surf the fucking Atlantic in January. The sea is my mother,” Lou called back.

The revenant shrugged. There was so much he didn’t know about his friend. Louis was resourceful, and a very shrewd businessman. Between Lou and Filipe, O’Reily’s stayed open for business despite the drain of the halfway house and Dylan’s weekend activities. And it wasn’t just the life of his business; Lou walked the daylight when Dylan slept, so Dylan’s life was literally in Lou’s hands every day. But he trusted Lou implicitly.

As Louis dove back into the water, the swirling currents seemed to part around him as though they were alive and he were a respected Elder.

Dylan leaned forward and began swimming smoothly towards the distant pier. Water parted before him and trailed behind in swirls of faintly luminous foam, the ghost-light of bioluminescence. Even for a revenant, pushing through water for yard after yard took effort, keeping on course demanded focus, and he had to admit Louis was, once more, right. This swim was just what he needed. It kept him moving, his mind from focusing on Anna and how depressed he was, replacing brooding with a sense of purpose and motion.

By the time they were done, both hands slapping the rock of the pier at the same time, Dylan felt energized, ready to explore the island. Negril was known for its clubs and nightlife. They quickly made their way up the beach to the bright red beach house.

The house was set back into the palm trees on a sandy hill surrounded by mangroves and brush. Its deck was painted white, with delicate molding along the edge of the roof and red clay shingles. It was homey and private, with no other cabins for about a mile around. There were two bedrooms, a small kitchen just off the living space with a TV, wicker shelves, and a red leather couch with two matching easy chairs. There was no cable, but there was an air conditioner, although Dylan didn’t figure they’d need it much. Lamps sat on tables near the chairs and gave the room decent light, plus there were track lights on the ceiling in the kitchen.

The kitchen itself was equipped with a microwave and a gas stove, but that wasn’t all; it also boasted a food processor, a variety of measuring tools, an espresso machine, and many different kinds of pans. Dylan was impressed. Granted, he was dead and unable to eat, but Lou was still very much alive, so he planned on cooking in for his friend some night, and the small kitchen had everything he needed. The kitchen table was small, just right for two people, and there wasn’t much counter space. But they had a decent amount of room to move around, and there was a butcher’s block in the center of the marble kitchen floor. Really, a nice little house.

Luckily, his room had only one window, and the black shade was solid and tight around the edges, making it easy for him to sleep without having to go into the closet or under the bed. Dylan liked his room; it was simple, with a bed, dresser, adjoining bathroom with a shower, and nice homey closet. He liked the hardwood floors, and the bold green and red bed-spreads, and the palm tree paintings. It even had a big round wicker chair like in the old movies. It was… different, and what he’d imagine from a place like Jamaica.

It didn’t take Dylan long to shower and dress. He didn’t need to worry about hunting. He’d promised Louis he’d relax and try to enjoy himself. Still, he had brought his hunting bag, and hidden it in the closet. He never left unarmed. Even tonight, he strapped on his magnum out of habit.

Then he gave a mild curse and took the gun off, packing it away. We paid a hell of a bribe … well, Louis paid a hell of a bribe, I wouldnt know who to pay… to even get this gun into the country. Yeah, Ive got a permit, but Jamaican gun laws are vicious. Dylan had no intention of being caught with a firearm and trying to argue with the police; ending up in Jamaican prison was not an entertaining idea at all. Instead, he took one of his cold-iron knives which he could mostly conceal, even wearing shorts and a T-shirt.

Now he was ready to go, except for the fact that he kept thinking about the coffee shop and the halfway house. This time of night, he’d be playing games with Raven, Vic, and Nickie because they needed someone to keep them company when they were done with the center. Raven’s probably knocking down the twins door by now. Hope they dont bite her head off. That was a potentially literal concern when dealing with twins who could shapeshift into full-size Kodiak bears.

Then there were Angelus and Jaivin. How in hell was Angie going to keep up with everyone and his classes? Qui would have to pull his time, and Qui did not work well with the kids. The thought made him pick up his cell phone.

The cellphone’s wireless signal blinked one very short bar. Damn, reception sucks out here. He forced himself to pocket the cell. He finished dressing and stepped out into the living space. Louis was already dressed and standing in the kitchen.

“Hey Lou, lookin’ sharp!”

Of course, Lou didn’t need to try to look sharp; he looked good in anything he wore. The Cajun had decided to dress casual in tan cargo shorts and a red “surfing evolution” T-shirt. His long dreadlocks were tied back.

“I wonder how Raven and the other kids are doing?” Dylan said aloud. He quickly pulled his blond hair back and tied it. He glanced in the mirror, seeing the blue jeans and the dark-blue T-shirt he’d chosen. He added his hat for flavor. “I should give Angelus a call once we get better reception. I know Vic and Sam were still having problems. Raven was still acting up. She might be mad we’re away now, and Angie’s got Jaivin to take care of. Qui and the Twins… they’re still being trained.”

“Raven will be fine. Angie is there, and Sacco and Martin are helping out.” Lou took his wallet from the cabin table and put it in his pocket. “You need to relax, Dylan. Your problem is that you insist on micromanaging. You gotta trust your friends and focus on what’s important now: you.”

Focus on what’s important? Dylan grabbed the cabin key from a small tray on the kitchen table. He didn’t think that taking a vacation was what was important, and he didn’t agree that he took on more than he could handle. But he knew better than to argue with Lou.

“Where to?”

“Alfred’s Ocean Palace. Good music, nice pace, great shows. I was there the last time I was here. And I’ll drive.”

Together the two men stepped out of the cabin.

“The last time you were here? When was that?”

“I have no idea, sometime in the nineties,” he said. “I think.” Lou’s voice dropped as they climbed into the rental blue white canvas topped jeep.

“What do you mean, ‘I think’?” Dylan looked at his friend curiously. “I was under the impression you were sharp as a tack, Lou, not suffering from Vampire senility like Liam and Doc Smith.”

“I think you need to add the word selective when it comes to them.” Lou gunned the engine. “As for me… There are times where my life is crystal clear, and then I have dreams or flashbacks of other things that I can’t recall, and everything just stops making sense.” He backed the jeep out of the parking lot as he spoke. “Vampires have a way of messing with your memories and changing thoughts.”

Was he talking about his maker? The one who’d made Louis a renfield in New Orleans?

“Do you want to talk about it?” Dylan reached up and pulled down the seat belt and snapped it. “So you remember more than three hundred years?”

“Might. I remember the island pretty clearly. I’ve come here a few times. I do remember a colonial marketplace and old sailing ships. Other memories say I was a slave in New Orleans at the same time. Those are the ones I told you about when I first came. There are times, though, that they don’t seem real to me.” He shrugged.

“Trauma does that.” Like being a renfield, Louis had PTSD. “When my sister tried to kill me as a vampire, that doesn’t seem real either.” Neither did the death of his father and mother. “Heck, the Blackwell business never felt real either. Especially the night my parents died. It felt like a bad horror flick.” Maybe there was a reason he had finally recalled what had happened. He rubbed his brow.

Lou steered the Jeep on to A1, and headed south.

“It is different than that. It is layered, like two different events happening at the same time. But eh… Time will work it out.”

“Layered?” Dylan leaned his arm over the door of the jeep. A warm breeze whipped into his face as he looked out the window. “Like marketplaces in Jamaica, and working at a plantation in New Orleans?”

“Exactly.”

“Is there anything that feels right and real to you?”

Lou smiled broadly, looking out at the shore. “The ocean. It seems to be the only consistent memory I have. I am connected to it. Every memory I have is of somewhere on the ocean.”

“Well, that’s something, at least.” Dylan thought about how the sea appeared to part around Louis.

Plains of grass and brush rolled by as they drove, and Dylan thought about the day Louis had showed up on his doorstep. It was two months after Anna left. Dylan was just getting his feet back on the ground and used to life after withdrawal from blood addiction. A revenant who was also a renfield, living with and off a vampire like Anna, came to rely on their blood for a lot of things. Going cold turkey off it was not fun. Louis came in looking for a job. A week later he had told Dylan he was a renfield and in need of blood to survive.

Unlike revenants and other undead, the living just died when broken of blood addiction, and Lou had no interest in dying. Dylan had hooked him up with the center, and he became one of Dylan’s charges.

In return, he had started to work the day shift. As his counselor, Dylan didn’t push the man. Dylan knew most renfields had it rough with vampire patrons. If Louis wanted to discuss his past, he would. Instead, their relationship became one of professionals rather than counselor and patient. Louis appeared to prefer it that way. In fact he thrived, and was more independent than any renfield blood addict Dylan had met. The man was more together than Dylan himself.

It was after Dylan’s second mental breakdown that he made Louis a full time partner of O’Reily’s (Filipe ran his own business and Angelus wasn’t interested in being a baker or a barista). He had found that they thought alike and shared the same laid-back approach to business, and both of them enjoyed cooking. Louis also had an uncanny habit of speaking like Anna. He was carefree, very intelligent, loved the arts, and didn’t like dwelling on unpleasant things. He also liked playing jazz. Working with him just felt right.

Over the years they had developed a strong friendship, though Louis kept as independent and aloof as possible. Dylan never pushed it, fearing he’d step too far. Over six years, the man had remained an enigma and appeared happy that way.

“I don’t know, dude. Surfing the Atlantic in November is fucking crazy.” Dylan said. “Then again, guess hunting in Central Park isn’t the brightest thing either.”

Louis laughed. “That is why we are in the Caribbean, is it not?”

“Point. Guess Qui got sick of our batshit crazy stunts, overworking, and antisocial behavior.” He leaned back into his seat and closed his eyes. “So, Alfred’s Ocean Palace? Sure it’s still there?” Centuries-old people often found themselves thinking something sixty years ago had happened practically yesterday.

Lou grinned. “It was on Anthony Bourdain and YouTube, so yes. Seafood, performers, music, drinks, beach; you shouldn’t get too bored there.”

“At least there’s more than just food and women, since I can’t do the one and I’m not ready for the second,” he said, then closed his eyes. “Anything to take my mind off the last six years sounds good. What about you?”

“I’m there for the food, music and women. Gotta live in the moment. Who the hell knows how long the good times will last?”

Six years without Anna. Six years of disappointment, or had it been 6 years of denial? That was when she’d left to look for her sire. When had she died? Four years ago? Daniel had been with them almost four years now. Now Daniel’s son was with them, without Anna. Life, no, unlife was unfair. Had he made the right choice staying behind and tending to the café, or had that very choice burdened his friends? Sometimes it seemed to. “I guess.”

He glanced at Lou, and thought of Angelus, Qui and the twins. It had started out all right. He did stabilize after the first year. He had thrown himself into his work. But they were right. Over the years he had started to stress, slowly sank deeper in denial. WHY? Was it just the way revenants were? It was more than just Anna. Had to be. He had sought out hunts, and started to relish the violence again. It had helped him to escape, but that wasn’t a good thing.

“I guess I’m going back to two sessions a week with Sacco before I end up getting my ass locked up again,” he said absently.

Lou glanced at him, brow cocked. “That bad? I’ve been slacking off myself. My jazz eases my soul better than talking about it.”

He shrugged. “Hard to say for sure. But it could be. I wish my baking was like your jazz. Right now, I don’t wanna risk it? Would you in my shoes?”

Louis turned his attention back to the road. “Nope. No, I don’t think any of us want to risk that. Revenants are bad news. Jason will have to put you down.”

Dylan knew why, too. He was the revenant who had terrified the Blackwell family by taking out most of their enforcers and several family members in NYC, on his own, with nothing but a baseball bat and a shotgun. He hadn’t even been a full revenant at the time, just a slightly boosted human, a renfield. If he lost control over himself now, with the full powers of a revenant? Dylan shook his head, shuddering at the thought. He knew what kind of a monster he could be, and if that happened, putting him down would be a nightmare.

Jamaica, 2010:

Alfred’s Ocean Palace was a beachfront motel, painted brilliant blue, a two-story building with a peaked roof and a partial third floor. The windows were heavily shaded, and the siding of the building was weathered and over-painted. It was surrounded by palms and cotton trees and brush-like vitae trees.

The restaurant itself was open-air and covered by a wooden awning that was supported by two adjacent yellow and orange walls and wooden beams. Inside, the floor was green concrete and sandy, with a bar set in the center with benches around it. Round and rectangular wooden tables with old schoolhouse style chairs were spread out around the interior.

Across from the restaurant was a raised stage with a painting of palm trees and blue skies, and the Alfred’s logo written across the face. Lights hung from the white ceiling, and the walls were cut at an angle so they met at a point in the back. Christmas tree lights dangled from the walls and ceiling, and speakers were positioned around the front of the stage. A band of young musicians with keyboards, drums, guitars and bass played to a lively crowd of dancing, drinking patrons on the beach.

Dylan sat at the bar and waited for Lou, who promised refreshments before they went outside to look for space at one of the many brightly painted picnic tables. The room was filled with sweating, living forms that assailed his senses in every direction. Hearts beat, veins pumped, lungs drew in air, mouths chattered or chewed. He was surrounded by life.

The salty ocean breeze barely kept the scent of sea-touched flesh from his nostrils, and Dylan found himself wondering how many people packed the restaurant club. Inside and outside there was a sea of pale, sun burned, deep golden, ebony, and chestnut skinned people, flowing in and out of the building and the ocean, and up the beach.

The revenant closed his eyes. He was used to the rhythm of the living, but he rarely clubbed, hadn’t since Anna left. It wasn’t about control; the coffee house often filled with customers, and he rode the subway frequently. He’d never attack a mortal. It was more about living. Dylan wasn’t alive, and living like the living had no point unless there was purpose behind it. Cooking for others had a purpose, it made people feel good. Fighting monsters helped people and was one of the few things that gave him a rush, but going to clubs? Drinking and socializing with strangers? That just didn’t do anything for him, not now.

Instinct drove him to scan the moving bodies and focus. His Sight helped him to see them clearly through their concealment spells. Most of the people were human, but some of the auras were dim, others were dark or gray. There was a woman with pale blond hair, next to a handsome Mediterranean man. She was not vampire, but her aura was a pale blue.

Fae, like Danny’s kid. Except she didn’t have vampire blood in her. He hadn’t seen a fae without vampire influence before. He had thought they were all like Liam.

This woman practically sparkled to him. Dylan saw her laugh, and place a hand to her mouth as the man touched her shoulder, and she leaned into him. They were definitely together.

The man was vampire. They both were well dressed, he in shorts and a casual shirt, she in a short, tight, blue ruffled lace dress.

There were others: revenants, ghouls, vampires, shape-shifters, and half-bloods. The undead and their relations were out tonight. One in particular caught his attention: a slender man with thin features. He was tall, with snow-white hair, and dressed in an expensive white suit with a matching waistcoat. His aura was black, like a demon-blooded vampire, but it was stronger, a more pure black than any vampire. The man was no undead; he was a demon.

The Texan tensed, and watched the man weave his way around the crowd. There was something familiar about him, though the face was not one Dylan had seen before.

A tall glass of red liquid, similar to a bloody Mary, slid in front of him. Startled, Dylan peered up to see Lou grinning.

“They have a special menu, Dylan.” He pointed to a tall waiter with a red shirt and apron behind the bar. “Ask Frank; he’ll set you up with another.”

“Frank’s one of us?” Dylan watched the large, dark-skinned man glide over to three lovely women in sundresses and chat with them. He had been so focused on the other man he had failed to notice that the barkeep didn’t have a heartbeat. Great work, hunter. That kind of thing could get you killed.

“He’s a vampire.” Lou confirmed softly. “They don’t discriminate here, either. Even against your kind. Tourism.”

That was welcome news; most places catering to the undead didn’t like revenants, zombies, or ghouls. Though some tolerated them, almost none served zombies. He looked down at the drink and sniffed. A very high-quality blood vodka and Tabasco, mixed with tomato juice, made his mouth water. Stirring it, he saw an eyeball pop up. He quickly poked it down with his straw. Eyeballs and human blood were easy enough to get. They were removed at most funeral homes and tossed, but no reason to call attention to his drink.

“Jeez, man, this stuff legal?”

“Do not worry, they’re legit.” Lou added and slapped him on the back, and held up his own drink. It was a piña colada with a red umbrella. “They’re going to bring dinner out to one of the tables on the beach.”

He gestured to one of the tables outside. There were a few people sitting there already, but the beach was crowded, and Dylan was unable to discern who they were. He shrugged, hoping his friend hadn’t any social plans for him.

“They do what they can here to make a living, Dylan. This isn’t a League controlled country. No League restrictions, though they do have community oversight and federal restrictions. You can relax. Try to enjoy tonight!”

Relax? How could he relax? His life was in New York.

Warily, Dylan sipped at the drink. When it came to paranormals, one never knew, regulated or not, where food came from. “I’m trying. Been a hunter too long.” He was more concerned about the demon than the food, but he didn’t want to mention it to Lou in public.

“Remember, you’re not a hunter tonight.” Lou straightened, and looked over the crowd toward the stage. “Hear that angel’s voice? There is a diva on the stage! It would be a shame to miss her set!” He gestured for the revenant to follow him. “This way!”

Dylan picked out the woman’s deep sultry alto over the speakers. It was warm and inviting as it floated over the low rumble of casual conversation. Maybe Lou was right; even demons took a day off sometimes. He was thinking too much. He needed to feel peace. Not every demon was a problem. Sure, the USA was teeming with them, and he had had a bad run-in with a few, but it didn’t mean there would be a problem tonight.

Besides, Anna would have wanted him to have downtime. Music always made him feel better, and it had been years since he had just listened and enjoyed someone sing, or watched someone dance. They didn’t have to be Anna. Letting go was difficult, though. He was so used to looking for trouble. Lifting his glass, Dylan climbed to his feet. Lou was well into the crowd, on his way to the table outside.

“I didn’t realize they served your kind here,” remarked a smug Midwestern voice. “But I should have expected it. These kind of tourist traps only care about money.”

Dylan swiveled, nearly spilling his drink.

Looking down at him, drinking a large clear martini with a green olive and matching umbrella, was the gray-haired, pale-skinned demon. He smiled thinly, revealing sharp canines.

Strangely, the mortals seemed not to notice them, people still chattered and laughed, as if their conversation wasn’t happening.

Narrowing his gaze, he let his hand slide towards the knife. It wasn’t his preferred weapon, but it was a lot better than nothing.

“I wouldn’t do that here, Mr. O’Brian. You’d draw attention. Many of these people are well armed, but you must know that. Your father did teach you how to recognize concealed weapons, did he not? If not, that fae cop friend of yours must have.” The demon pressed his glass to his lips.

“You have me at a disadvantage.” Dylan said evenly. Asshat knows my real name and about Jason. He has shit manners, too. But those manners were probably on purpose; he wanted to provoke Dylan. With an effort, he let his hand move away from the weapon. Asshat or not, the demon was right. There were at least ten other people in the establishment who were armed, two of whom were undead, not to mention security staff with weapons. If he drew a knife, hed be in for a world of hurt.

“And I thought that sight of yours was keen, boy. Then again, you always were dim.” The man studied him, that faint, thin smile playing about his lips.

“Not dim, just needed to work a little harder than others,” Dylan corrected him. “I’m a genius at what I do,” his words were low, and he fixed the demon with a steely gaze, “and there’s a whole territory in New York City that knows it. Now, begging your pardon, sir, I’d think a well-bred gentleman like yourself would have been taught manners. If my mama heard me talk to a stranger like you have me, she would have whipped me within an inch of my life.”

“There are those who deserve respect, Mr. O’Brian, and those who are no more than puppets to be used. Your kind, living or dead, have always been puppets.” He stressed the word kind, which didn’t make sense right away; living wasn’t anything like the same kind as revenant, that was for damn sure.

Was he with the Blackwells? He’s downright dickish enough to be with them. As he recalled, Elias and his brother Wilfred were neck deep in every prejudice he could imagine, they were a vampires-only club; to them, revenants were nothing but mindless beasts, and they hated fae-bloods.

Dylan felt his revenant rage stir. It took all his will to drive the rage back. Can’t lose it, not here, not because he wants me to.

“Lucky for you I’m on vacation, and I’m not planning on letting you bait me into causing trouble tonight. So, are you going to be a gentleman and get to the point? Who the hell are you? Or are you going to keep being an asshat and taunt me for the rest of the evening? Because I got better things to do with my time, like listen to some good music and hang with a friend.”

It occurred to him how much like Angelus he sounded. Thirty years in New York meant that part of the city was in him now. He was no longer the boy the man claimed he knew.

The smile twitched. For a moment, the world appeared to stop around them, and the demon leaned close. “Your mother sold her soul to me to save yours and your sister’; such a desperate creature. She thought my school would fix both of you, a murderer and a whore.”

Wilfred Blackwell had murdered his mother. But he hadn’t had a school; that meant that the demon before him could only be one man.

The room darkened and spun out of focus, leaving only the cold-smiling face clear before him, the center of the sudden boiling fury within him. Dylan began a lethal lunge, but before he completed it, before his mind completely lost itself, a large, sunburned, strawberry-blond woman with bright tropical flowers in her hair boldly pushed between the two of them, planted a hand on Dylan’s chest, and shoved him back.

“Well, some things just never change, do they?” she remonstrated gently, speaking with a thick southern accent. “I’m so sorry, Dylan, you’re still an asshole magnet.”

Stunned, Dylan stared straight at the freckled face of his old friend, Paula Swan. The anger ebbed away into shock. Of all people, he hadn’t expected to see the fiery Creole were-puma in Jamaica, but there she was, all five-foot-six, two hundred and fifty pounds of her. She hadn’t aged in thirty years. She was still lovely, with a round, bright, perfectly made-up face and plump lips. Her curvy hourglass figure was adorned in a loose, short, flower-covered red skirt with a slit up to the thigh. She wore a matching tight top and gold jewelry and her hair was styled, with curls on top of her head.

The rage was forgotten.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

From behind, Louis plucked the drink from his hand, “Do we have a problem here, Dyl?” he asked, directing his attention to the demon.

Disappointment crossed the former Reverend Beckmann’s face. Apparently the additional numbers did not appeal to him. “No, no problem. I was just leaving.”

“Very kind of you, sir. It would have been rude to make the nice people of this establishment have to clean your guts up off the floor,” Paula said sweetly. “Which is exactly what would have happened if I hadn’t happened along to keep Dylan off you.”

“Come on Dylan, let him go,” said another voice, and a dark sienna arm slipped around his elbow and eased him from the bar. “I had no idea you were this pathetic.”

He was that pathetic? Looking over, Dylan found himself being led away by another old friend. Tina Marty, a Harlem University Law student, and like Paula, one of Anna’s old charges from SoHo. Tina wore a pair of jean shorts, and a pretty peasant blouse with a wide beaded neckline. Her dark, springy hair was pulled back, and her face was focused with a confidence she had never shown in her youth.

Glancing behind him, he noticed one other figure joining Lou and Paula, a taller, very fit man in his early forties, with blond hair and broad shoulders. Henry, Paula’s husband. Jesus, is the whole Muffin House Gang here?

“What the hell are you guys doing here?” he repeated.

“Anna is dead, Dyl. Do you think we’d let you deal with this alone?” Tina asked. “She was a part of all of our lives! If anyone understands what you’re going through, it would be us.”

A tall, skinny kid with tan skin, short messy black hair, and coke-bottle glasses bulled his way out of the crowd. “He’s not alone,” the young man said, shoving his glasses up his narrow nose with a knuckle. “He’s got two goons sitting at the table, at three o’clock from the bar. They are armed. One’s got a medicine bag on him, as well. He’s a magician, but like nothing I’ve seen. You know how to pick them, Dylan.”

The young man wore an Iron Man T-shirt, and a pair of jeans. He looked about sixteen, but Dylan knew better. His fellow revenant was two years younger than he was.

“John? You too? Qui called you guys?”

“Angelus,” John corrected him, folding his arms. “He said you were having a mental break of epic proportions, and they were sending you to Jamaica. Good thing we came, too, Wonder-Bread boy, because you would have splattered douchebag’s brains all over the floor and gotten yourself hexed into a grave.”

Tina’s eyes narrowed as she placed her hand on Dylan’s arm and glared at the seemingly young man.

“John, so help me God! You could be a little politer about it!” Gently, she led Dylan by the arm. “It’s all right, Dylan. We’re all upset about Anna. We all wanted her to come back.”

The crowed started to thin as they stepped out onto the sand. The music was louder, and most of the people were dancing near the stage. Tina led Dylan to the table Lou had picked out for them.

“Aw, c’mon, it’s Dylan, he can take the truth, T,” John protested as he plopped down at the table and folded his arms. “He appreciates bluntness.”

“I would have splattered his brains, Tina,” Dylan admitted. He looked at his empty hand, missing his drink. “But thanks.” He noticed his two revenant friends had plates of fried food. He licked his lips and peered down. “Guess they have a full menu?”

“Yeah.” John popped something in his mouth. “Make the best blood eyeball poppers on the island. As good as Sardies in New York; not better than mine though.”

“So what happened? Who was that guy?” Tina asked, worried. “Was he a Blackwell? We put a restraining order on them! They’re forbidden to bother you!”

And vice-versa.

“We’re in a non-League country,” Dylan pointed out. “All those rules don’t apply here. And he’s not a Blackwell. He worked with them. He’s a demon.” Dylan felt the anger trying to rise again, pushed it down. “Says he has my mom’s soul.”

“That’s bullshit. How much do you wanna bet he’s one of their pals? He was just trying to piss you off.” John replied. “Revenants have a short fuse. He wanted you to make a scene. He thought he could make you go batshit and nearly succeeded. You’re predictable, Dyl.”

“Not that predictable. I can control my temper now.” Dylan stretched his legs. “Paula had no problem stopping me, and I didn’t try to go through her.”

“And if Paula wasn’t here? Anna’s gone, Dylan,” Tina pointed out. She fished around her plate and jabbed a fried crinkly thing and placed it in her mouth. It sort of looked like a clam. “That’s gotta affect you, Dylan.”

“Ok, I can sort of control my temper.”

Lou placed a glass in front of Dylan and sat down next to John; they were joined by Paula and Henry. The Renfield looked over his plate of baked seafood.

“Your demon friend left. He is powerful, Dylan. He is not an ordinary demon. Something about him is different. Very different.”

“John says he’s a magician.” Dylan cupped his glass between his fingers.

“What in hell is he doing here?” Paula asked as she picked up her fork and studied the plate in front of her. On it was a lobster tail, cut in half, and several braised shrimp. “He didn’t come out here to give you a hard time, did he Dyl?”

“No one knew we were coming,” Lou told her. “Filipe bought the tickets in secret, and that man knows secret.” He stirred his drink. Beside him, Henry drank from a tall glass of red liquid. He had no food.

Dylan frowned, distracted, just for a moment.

“Wait a minute, Hen; you’re dead? When did that happen?”

The vampire shrugged. “’Bout five years ago, no biggie. Fell off the roof trying to fix it and broke my neck. My mom was a little freaked, she was worried about the kids, Paula, the Sports Center, and our charges; but well, you know, I rose, so everything was cool.”

“Wed just lost his dad the year before, so it’s been hard on her,” Paula said.

“Yeah, I know how it is.”

Sometimes it took time for mortals really to understand the implications of the vampiric infection. Death was just as complex and filled with contradictions as life. Humans needed to rethink it. Henry, unlike Angelus, was lucky enough to have stayed alive until his mid-forties, married, and had a family before he became a full vampire.

“Now, about this gentleman?” Lou said pointedly.

“Beckmann? I don’t know what he calls himself now,” Dylan told him. “Honest to God, Lou, I was about to let it go. I knew he was a demon. Then the bastard comes over and said my mom sold her soul to him. But that should be old news. Hell, it was thirty fucking years ago.”

Placing her fork down, Tina pressed her fingers to her lips, troubled.

“Exactly how did your mother sell her soul?”

Dylan shook his head. “He tricked her. It’s how demons usually work. They convince you they’re something they’re not, trick you into believing in them. And my mom, she believed he was going to save us from the vampires and undead, enough to give Brig and me to him.”

Yet it had been Blackwell who had killed his mother, not Beckmann. His mother had also betrayed him. Was it possible she had freed herself before she could be taken completely? After all, John was right, demons lied, and his mother wasn’t weak, she was stubborn.

“This could be a coincidence,” Henry said cheerfully. “He didn’t want to press the issue after Paula and Lou showed up. Maybe he just saw Dylan and tried to get rid of him by pissing him off because Dyl just made him nervous? Now that we’re here, he’ll just go someplace else to hunt.”

Henry always was a glass-half-full kind of guy, and infinitely more down-to-earth with his theories. A demon hunting for an easy meal at a swinging Jamaican vacation resort? That made sense. Dylan bowed his head and ran a hand over his face. Beckmann had been a demon! How had he missed that?

“Still, that’ the problem,” Dylan said reluctantly. “They don’t just hunt, Henry; they’re not like Vampires. They settle into a place, make themselves a nice big congregation, or school, or fancy club, and get people to believe in them, and then feed off their rancor. Like the Westboro Baptist Church that pickets all those military funerals? Run by demons.”

Henry looked worried.

“Doesn’t mean he’s not scouting a territory.” John proposed. “Though you’d think he’d pick a place inland. People are poorer, easier to manipulate, lots to feed on.”

“Poorer actually arent easier. Oh, a politician can feed them good lines, but when it comes to survival, a lot of them tend to be harder sells. The working poor and middle classes are a lot easier to lead, especially by someone promising prosperity and hope. They have lots of anger, and wealthy demons make them feel good about it. Influencing the rich and powerful helps a demon get a wider reach, but feeding off the working poor and middle classes is how he gets his power.”

Lou stirred his drink, thoughtful. “Tomorrow, while most of you sleep, I will see if there are new churches with white ministers in the area. Dylan… this Beckmann, he is part of the American League, is he not? They have an influence on this island, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he had an estate here. I could look into that as well, after we find out his name.”

Which was a problem, because the man no longer looked like the one Dylan had known, and the only connection Dylan assumed the man still had was with the Blackwell family. “I hate to say it, but the only clue’s the Blackwells. He worked with them, but I have no clue what he’s calling himself now.”

John waved his fork in irritation.

“I did not plan a demon hunt and am not prepared for one.”

He jabbed another fried thing with his fork, exasperated.

“And, I left my laptop at the hotel.” He dropped his fork, and fished into his pocket. “But I did bring my iPhone. I can do a search from the beach near the hotel.”

“John, not now! This is a healing and mental health day for all of us!” Tina reminded them. “We’re not here for trouble. This is a vacation. If we wanted trouble, we could have stayed in New Orleans! No offense, Dylan, but when it comes to your family, you can’t think rationally. He might have been saying it to get a reaction out of you. After the Blackwell situation, demons don’t like you.”

Tina hadn’t changed a bit. She was cautious, and still concerned about their welfare, even now, when they could hold their own.

“Tina, John, Dyl, Paula and I have been pounding the tar out of troublemaking paranormals for thirty years now,” Henry said, his voice slightly muffled by the glass he was sipping from. “This is no different than what happens at home when some vampire is trying to bully one of our charges or someone hexes one of our neighbors.”

“No offense, T, but we can’t let some unholy bad thing gobble up tourists and feed off the locals.” Paula stirred her frozen margarita. “Besides, I’m sure there are places on this island to find supplies for hunting. Since sorcery is illegal, it might be hard to find the right magic supplies, but I have connections.”

“Excuse me, I’m the one who talked with Angelus, here. Dyl’s been obsessing and breaking his back over this hunting shit. He needs to step back and focus on dealing with the loss that’s been driving him!” Tina snapped bluntly. She glanced back to Dylan and fixed him with a stern glare that reminded him of Sacco when he was certain Dylan wasn’t facing something important. “No more running from losing Anna. And we all know he does that by hunting.”

“Not anymore, T. And this is important and dangerous.” He held her gaze and leaned his arms on the table. “It’s about my mom. The man didn’t kill her, but he says he has her soul. Can I honestly let that go?”

He watched John as the gangly nerd noodled around on his phone.

“I can get on Safari, but the connection is SLOW!” He wiggled the phone, frustrated. “Oh, and T, soul hoodoo is serious business, if it’s not bunk.”

“John’s right. And this is my mother we’re talking about. Can I take the risk?” Dylan asked.

Not all demons were capable of taking souls, but some understood necromantic arts, and those who did were very formidable. He had a medicine bag, and that meant magic. Maybe it was someone else doing the magic, but maybe not.

Tina sighed. “Not alone, Dylan. We’ve always been a team,” she said, finally conceding the necessity. “This fight can’t be about your revenant. It’s gotta be about saving people, and Anna would agree. You’ll lose yourself someday, Dylan, and we’ll be the ones hunting you.”

Dylan shrugged. He wasn’t going to argue. Tina had used the Anna trump card, and he knew she was right. They had to work together, and Anna wouldn’t want him hiding from his hurt by letting the revenant take over. They had been a team in the past, and they should be again. John and Tina were the thinkers; Dylan and Paula were the heavies; and Henry was the heart of their group.

He studied Louis as the tall man seemed to focus on the stage and the woman singing there, and wondered where he’d fit in.

This was also a different kind of fight. He wasn’t sure how to say it to Tina. It was a hunt, not a political statement like in the past. The Muffin House Gang had been big into politics, and theyd been making a political statement, getting people like revenants and ghouls their first chance for recognition. But this wasn’t politics; this was dealing with a monster.

Dylan watched Tina turn to John, pull out her own phone, and waited while the two of them tag-teamed web surfing for information.

“We’ll search for Blackwell and his associates, start from the eighties and go from there. Maybe there’s a new Headmaster for this school your mother was so fond of. What’s the name of it, Dylan?”

Dylan recalled pamphlets lying around the house. “Liberty Cross,” he answered. He smiled. Tina and John had always been the brains of the group. He had forgotten how much he’d relied on them. They had been the ones who came up with the plan to challenge the League of Vampiric Peoples by using the territory battles to convince the League to give revenants, zombies and ghouls a chance to join, to become citizens. Back in the eighties, the League generally just culled other races, but Tina had confronted the League with a legal argument that forced them to accept all undead, even zombies, as members, so long as they could control themselves sufficiently to fit into society in some way.

Not, Dylan thought, that it had completely changed. The less-respected supernatural races were still really only safe in the few Free Cities, of which New York was the largest. The American League viewed them as something between experiments and nuisances. Change took time. At that, they were better overall than the European League.

“Be sure to check to see if there have been any recent Blackwell graduates from the school. That would confirm a connection with the school still exists.” Paula leaned over so she could get a better look.

“If any of them were in sports, you might be able to find articles on them,” Henry added.

John rolled his eyes. “One thing at a time, Hen!”

“Thank you, Hen,” Tina said, countering John’s oblivious rudeness.

Dylan leaned his chin on his palm and watched his friends as they argued back and forth. It seemed like just yesterday they had all been in group therapy, a bunch of frightened victims of paranormal violence struggling to get control over their lives.

“You’ve all graduated from the Muffin House with honors.” Lou said quietly from beside him. “What do you think?”

“Sometimes you talk like you knew her.” That was possible. Lou had been around a long time. He could easily have met Anna. Dylan drained his glass. He looked at the eyeball on the bottom and quickly passed it over to John, who popped it in his mouth like a maraschino cherry.

“Might have,” Lou said, shrugging. “Sometimes when I look at her picture, the one you have in the café? I think I remember her, but then it doesn’t mesh with what I recall.”

He looked across the beach, beyond the crowd of swaying, dancing club patrons.

“Did you ever feel like you belonged to something, even though you know you don’t?”

“Once.”

A breeze cooled his face, and Dylan’s attention was drawn to the ocean as the waves lapped at the sand, just beyond the tables.

“When I first saw Anna. I knew I belonged with her. I belonged in New York City, and they were my family.”

He gestured toward his friends. John was waving his hands in aggravation, trying to silence the chaotic flow of helpful and less-helpful ideas, while Tina jotted them down, organized as ever.

“How about you?”

There was no hesitation.

“I knew I belonged in New York, too. The café, it felt like home, my calling. Everything felt familiar, the office, even the damn spinny chair, even the smell of the place. I knew Id come home.”

“Funny how things work out, isn’t it? If it’s worth anything, you do belong. You’ve got that special kind of crazy need to work at O’Reily’.”

The desk and the spinny chair had been Anna’s and were with her before Dylan had entered her life. They had belonged to Reggie, according to Anna.

Lou gave a full, rich laugh. “Crazy, eh? I suppose you can call it that.”

Looking back to the others, Dylan nodded. His life was all kinds of crazy, but then again, it seemed right, especially the people in it. People he trusted, which was the important part.

“Wouldn’t change it, Lou. Not for all the porn on the Internet. Hell, I think I’ve lived the best years of my life in New York, so I see it as a blessing.”

The tall man nodded and turned his attention to the stage and the band. They were playing a slow piece. It was soft and pleasant, and floated up like a breeze in the clear night, blended with the cool hush of the ocean waves.

“Count those blessings every day, Dyl. Because you never know when things will change.”

Like Anna, he thought. Life moved so fast, it was easy to lose track. Dylan had already lost the most important person in his life. He needed to learn how to slow down and enjoy the people around him.

Anna had taught him that.

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