I must have dozed off in JD Rafferty's truck, as when I woke we were in the courtyard of one of the fanciest ranch houses I had ever seen. It was long and low, with floor to ceiling glass doors allowing panoramic views of the astounding scenery. It was obviously abandoned, as weeds were growing up through the gravel of the drive, and the windows were dirty.
"It used to belong to some Hollywood producer, but he's doing time for illegal hunting and no-one wants this place. I'm hoping it will stay empty until I get enough vampire money to buy it myself." Now I understood why Rafferty was willing to do a deal with the devil.
"The water and electricity are turned off but you should be safe enough here. There are some outhouses as well which should be just about light tight. Mary-Lee will drive up tomorrow and leave you a car to get to the airfield."
I went to thank him but he turned on his heel and walked purposefully back to his truck.
"Nice guy," said Eric, sarcastically.
"Nice or not, he's helped save our lives. Now let's get inside and find somewhere safe for you to spend the day."
I bitterly regretted the lack of water. There was nothing I would have liked more than a shower.
"The horse troughs are full after the storm," Eric pointed out, unhelpfully. At least he had his sense of humour back. However inappropriate his comments that made me feel a lot better.
"I don't care how bad you smell, just come here." He pulled me down onto a huge leather couch. Dust flew into the air as our bodies crashed onto it. He held me gently, and my arms slipped around his waist. I trusted him to sense that what I really wanted then was to be held, and to be comforted.
"You are courageous, my lover, and creative."
"I just did what I had to do to get us out of there."
"Please do not down-play what you achieved. Our peril was truly great."
Somehow being reminded of that didn't make me feel better. I shivered with the thought of what would be happening to me right now, if we were still in that cellar.
"I can't believe the Magister would betray me like that. I thought he was my…." My voice trailed off. What did I think he was? Certainly not my friend. But I had thought that he liked me, as much as he could like any human.
"He had no choice. If it makes you feel any better, I think he was conflicted about what he had to do. That would explain his behaviour in recent weeks."
"What about Andre?"
"I have never known him be disloyal to Sophie-Anne. There is a very strong love between them, unusually for a vampire and his maker. I believe he thought he was acting in her best interests."
We had run out of things to say, so Eric just held me. He kissed my forehead, trailing down to my cheek, then to my neck, his kisses soft and gentle. They offered comfort and love, and right now that was what I really needed. I stroked his hair, and felt him relax under my touch.
"You know what I want to do, when everything is settled?" he asked. I smiled, but said nothing. "I will take you to my homeland. I want to show you where I had my human life."
Wow, I thought, that must be the vampire equivalent of being taken home to meet Mom and Dad.
"There are no vampire politics there. It is impossible for vampire to live there permanently, the summer days are too long. Even the king has to spend every summer further south."
"That will be wonderful, Eric, just you and I."
He smiled and brought his hand up to cradle the back of my head, twining his fingers into my hair and pulling my mouth towards his. As I opened to his kiss, all the painful memories of the last few days seemed to be erased from my mind. Somehow Eric's kiss could do that.
"You need to sleep, my darling. I will find myself a light tight resting place."
I guess he must have found somewhere as when I woke it was daylight and I was alone. I realised I has been woken by the sound of car tyres on the gravel.
"Mary-Lee, how are you. I'm so sorry about the ranch."
"Don't worry, the damage wasn't too bad. We've got enough insurance, thank goodness. The horses were okay as well."
"What about the guests?"
"One of the bikers was killed, it looked as if he was trying a rescue bid. The Fire Service thought they found the remains of a couple of Vampire in one of the bedrooms, but apparently it's hard to tell."
She was right, there's generally not much left of a vampire once they've met their final death. There had been at least fifteen Vampire there when we left though. Had they all perished, or had any managed to escape the fire?
"Anyway, I thought you might need some coffee and food."
Truly the woman was a life-saver. She had even brought some bottled water to make coffee with.
"I'm really sorry we didn't get to see the place properly. I was looking forward to some moonlight rides."
"You'd be very welcome to come back any time. It's going to take us a couple of months to rebuild, but after that it should be business as usual."
She gave me a hug before driving off.
Fortified by coffee I found some out of date magazines to read. They'd been published before the Great Revelation. I found it strange to read about a world which did not know of the existence of Vampire amongst us, but then most people still didn't know they were surrounded by Were and shifters, not to mention Fairies. Things were certainly simpler back then. Would I go back if it were possible? There was an easy answer to that question: it was six foot four, and blond.
As soon as Eric rose we set off for the airfield. For every mile we put between us and the ranch I felt myself getting more relaxed. I hadn't realised how much I had been living on my nerves, worried that someone would be sent to track us down.
I have never been as glad to see Pam as when we arrived at Corona Airfield to find her waiting for us. She was lounging in a pose of exaggerated boredom by the steps leading up to a small private jet. It was part of a luxury VIP fleet operated by Anubis. I wondered how she had managed to swing that, they were generally only used by the Kings and Queens.
"Good to see you," she said as calmly as if we were meeting up for a dinner date.
"You too," Eric replied in kind. "Any sign of Sophie-Anne yet?"
"She's not a happy bunny, that's for sure. She spent a week in a cellar with Russell Edgington and Felipe de Castro."
Eric snickered unkindly. "How did they eventually get out?" he asked.
"Bill Compton tracked them down. That boy is getting some powerful connections. I think you're going to have to be nicer to him in future, Eric."
"When am I ever not nice to him?" Eric pouted.
That got Pam and I both laughing, knowing how Eric loved to parade our relationship to try to annoy Bill. It didn't seem to work much anymore, I was pleased to say. Whatever differences Bill and I had, I hadn't enjoyed seeing him humiliated.
One of the flight attendants appeared at the top of the stairs. She already had tell-tale bite marks on her neck. Pam had obviously been enjoying herself on the flight up here.
"Hey, you all," she drawled, "we need to get going if you want to get back before you fry."
Eric glared at her, not appreciating her familiarity. Pam just smiled and led the way up the steps.
When we were finally settled and the flight attendants had finished fussing over Eric, Pam reopened the topic we had already been over several times.
"What the fuck do you think is going on?" She clearly wasn't in the mood to beat around the bush.
"I wish I knew. I can make some guesses though. All of us older Vampire have heard of the one called the Master. He has the status of legend in our world. It is said that he is the oldest Vampire still in existence, and some even claim that he was turned in the days of the Pharaohs in Egypt."
"No way!" I couldn't hide my shock. Knowing Godric, who had existed for two thousand years, was amazing enough in my book, but for there to be a Vampire twice or three times as old as Godric was unbelievable.
"If we assume that he has been behind everything that is going on, then I would surmise that his actions were designed to drive a rift between humans and vampires."
"Or to widen it." Pam interjected.
"Yes, quite." Eric agreed sharply. "He targeted the most prominent Vampire king and queendoms, those which had most to lose from a breakdown in the current arrangements. The kidnappings and murders were blatantly obvious in their attempts to create bad feelings. I can only think that things were not going fast enough for his plans, which was why he attempted to change the constitution."
"Surely that was crazy though. The way he did it was so clumsy, it was bound to fail."
"Yes, that is hard to explain."
The three of us sat in silence for several minutes, trying to make sense of what had happened. Finally Pam voiced the question we all wanted answered.
"So do you think the Master has met his final death?"
"Truthfully, no. I understand that two or three Vampire did perish in the fire but they were probably expendable. Do you think the Magister is dead," Eric said turning his attention to me. "You have a link to him after all?"
I pondered that for a few moments. Ever since I had been sentenced for the staking of Lorena, there had been a bond between the Magister and I. It was nowhere near as strong as a blood bond, more like the Vampire equivalent of an electronic tag. It meant he could track me down at all times, but it also worked the other way. I realised that I could no longer feel it. I probed for a while longer… definitely nothing.
"I think he probably is. I guess we'll never know if he was trying to protect us or trying to betray us."
"A little of both I suspect," Eric replied. "As the Master's child he had to do his bidding, you know how that bond works."
I shuddered, having seen it at work between Lorena and Bill.
Eric continued: "I don't think it was what he wanted though. I am sure that he cared for you, and I believe that he knew that things could never go back to the time before the Revelation. It is quite possible that the Master killed his own child, the most terrible crime a Vampire can commit."
"So the chances are we will see the Master again."
Eric looked more serious that I had ever seen him. "I think it is almost certain, my lover. However I think he will be shocked by the powers that we possess. He will underestimate us at his peril. He measures time in centuries, not days or months. We may have years to wait before we encounter him again."
"I hope you're right," I said, snuggling up against his muscular chest for comfort. "I hope you're right." I repeated quietly, almost to myself. That was probably because I didn't believe it.
A/N Thank you to everyone who has read the story – I hope you enjoyed it. Even more thanks if you were kind enough to send me feedback or a review. It's never too late to let me know what you think of it!
I am considering either a sequel or some extra chapters, they won't be up for a while though.
Charlaine Harris and Alan Ball own the characters (apart from Marilee and JD Rafferty who appear in 'Dark Paradise' by Tami Hoag).