The earth swallowed her, and for a moment it seemed like everything would be okay. The cool darkness was a relief for her burned skin, and she moaned softly.
“Red One? Stevie Rae?”
It wasn’t until he spoke that she realized she was still locked in Rephaim’s arms. She unwrapped herself from him and moved away, only to cry out in pain as her back touched the earthen wall of the pocket in the ground her element had opened to shield her, and then closed again.
“Are you well? I–I cannot see you,” Rephaim said.
“I’m okay. I think.” Her voice surprised her. It sounded so weak, so outside the norm that it was her first hint that even though she’d escaped the sun, she might not have escaped its effects.
“I cannot see anything,” he said.
“It’s because the earth sealed itself over us to shield me from the sun.”
“We’re trapped here?” His voice wasn’t panicky, but it wasn’t exactly calm either.
“No, I can get us out whenever I want,” she explained. Then, on second thought, she added, “And, well, the earth over us isn’t very deep. If I drop dead you could dig out pretty easily. How are you? That wing must really hurt.”
“Do you feel as if you might die?” he asked, ignoring her question about his wing.
“I don’t think so. Okay, actually, I don’t know. I feel kinda funny.”
“Funny? Explain that.”
“Like I’m not really attached to my body.”
“Does your body hurt?”
Stevie Rae thought about it, and was surprised by what she discovered. “No. Actually, I don’t hurt at all.” It was weird, though, that her voice kept getting weaker and weaker.
Suddenly his hand was touching her face, sliding down to her neck and arm and—
“Ouch! You’re hurting me.”
“You’re burned badly. I can feel it. You need help.”
“Can’t leave here or I’ll finish burning up,” she said, wondering why the earth seemed to be spinning around beneath her.
“What can I do to help you?”
“Well, you can get a big tarp or somethin’ and put it over me while you take me to the blood bank downtown. That sounds really good right now.” Stevie Rae lay there, thinking she’d never been so thirsty in her life. She wondered, with a detached sense of curiosity, if she was really going to die. It seemed a shame, after all that Rephaim had gone through to help her.
“Blood is what you need?”
“Blood is all I need. It’s what makes me tick, which is more than kinda gross, but still. It’s the truth. Cross my heart and hope to die.” She giggled a little hysterically, and then sobered. “Wait, that’s not really very funny.”
“If you don’t get blood, you’ll die?”
“I think I might,” she said, finding it hard to care too much.
“Then if blood will heal you, take mine. I owe you a life. That’s why I saved you on the roof, but if you die here, you die without my debt being repaid. So if you need blood, take mine,” he repeated.
“But you don’t smell right,” she blurted.
From the darkness he sounded irritated and offended. “That is what the red fledglings said, too. My blood does not smell right to you because I’m not meant to be one of your prey. I am the son of an immortal. I’m not your victim.”
“Hey, I don’t have victims; not anymore,” she protested weakly.
“The truth still holds. I smell different to you because I
“I never said you were.” She meant her words to come out sounding snappy and kinda defensive. Instead her voice was faint, and her head felt strangely huge, like it was going to pop off her neck at any second and float up through the ground and into the clouds like a giant birthday balloon.
“Right-smelling or not, it’s blood. I owe you a life. So you will drink, and you will live.”
Stevie Rae cried out as Rephaim’s hand found her again and he pulled her against his body. She felt the skin of her burned arms and shoulders rip off and mix with the earth. Then she was resting on the softness of his feathers. She sighed deeply. It wouldn’t be so bad to die here in the earth, in a nest of feathers. As long as she didn’t move, it didn’t even hurt much.
She felt Rephaim move, though. And realized he’d sliced his beak across the gash that Kurtis had made in his bicep. It had stopped bleeding, but this new laceration immediately began to weep, filling their little pocket in the earth with the thick scarlet scent of his immortal blood.
Then he shifted again and suddenly his bleeding arm was pressed against her lips.
“Drink,” he said harshly. “Help me rid myself of this debt.”
She drank, automatically at first. His blood had, after all, been stinky. It’d smelled wrong, wrong, wrong.
Then it touched her tongue. Its taste was like nothing Stevie Rae could have imagined. It wasn’t like the scent of him; it wasn’t anything remotely like the scent of him. Instead it was an incredible surprise, filling her mouth and her soul with its rich complexity, its absolute difference from anything she’d ever experienced.
She heard him hiss, and the hand that had been on the back of her neck guiding her to his arm, tightened its grip on her. Stevie Rae moaned. Drinking from the Raven Mocker couldn’t be a sexual experience, but it wasn’t exactly
She liked it, though. And there, for that heartbeat of a moment, Stevie Rae forgot that Rephaim was a mixture of immortal and beast, created from violence and lust. For that instant, she only knew the pleasure of his touch and the strength of his blood.
That was when her Imprint with Aphrodite shattered, and Stevie Rae, the first red vampyre High Priestess of Nyx, Imprinted with Rephaim, the favorite son of a fallen immortal.
That was also when she broke his grip on her head and pulled away from him. Neither of them said anything. The silence of their small, earthen room was filled only by the sounds of both of them gasping for breath.
“Earth, I need you again,” Stevie Rae spoke into the darkness. Her voice sounded normal again. Her body hurt. She could feel her burns and the rawness of her skin, but Rephaim’s blood had allowed her to begin to heal, and she understood all too well that she had been on the verge of dying.
Earth came to her, filling their space with the scents of a springtime meadow. Stevie Rae pointed up, to a spot as far from herself as she could get. “Open just a crack over there—enough to let in light, but not enough to burn me.”
Her element complied. The ground above them shivered, dirt raining down as it split, letting in a tiny crack of daylight.
Stevie Rae’s eyes adapted almost instantly, so she watched Rephaim blink in surprise as he tried to accustom himself to the sudden light. He was sitting close to her. He looked terrible—bloody and bruised. His broken wing had come completely loose from the towel bandage she’d fashioned for him and it lay helplessly down his back. She knew the instant his vision had cleared. Those human eyes, tinged with scarlet, found hers.
“Your wing’s messed up again,” she said.
He grunted, and she figured that was his guy word for agreeing with her.
“I better fix it again.” She started to get up and his lifted hand stopped her.
“You shouldn’t move. You should just rest against your earth and regain your strength.”
“No, it’s okay. I’m not one hundred percent, but I’m lots better.” She hesitated and then added, “Can’t you tell that?”
“Why would I—” The Raven Mocker’s words ended abruptly. Stevie Rae watched his eyes widen with understanding. “How is it possible?” he said.
“I dunno,” she said, getting up and beginning to unwind the messed-up strips of towels from around him. “I wouldn’t think it’d be possible. But, well, here we are, and here
“An Imprint,” he said.
“Between us,” she said.
Then neither of them said anything.
When she had the tangled mess of bandages straightened out, she told him, “Okay, I’m gonna set your wing back like I had it and re-wrap it. It’s gonna hurt again. Sorry. Of course this time it’ll hurt me, too.”
“Truly?” he said.
“Yeah, well, I kinda know how these Imprint things work, being as I used to have a human Imprinted to me. She knew all sorts of stuff about me. Now I’m Imprinted to you, so it stands to reason that I’ll be knowing stuff about you, which includes when you’re in excruciating pain.”
“Are you still Imprinted to her?”
Stevie Rae shook her head. “Nope, it’s gone, which, I’m sure, will tickle her pink.”
“Just an expression my mama used to use. It means she’ll be happy we’re not Imprinted anymore.”
“And you? What are you?”
Stevie Rae looked into his eyes and answered honestly. “I’m totally confused about us, but not sorry at all that I’m not Imprinted with Aphrodite anymore. Now, hold still and let me get this over with.” Rephaim stayed perfectly still while Stevie Rae reset his wing. It was she who did the gasping and made the painful exclamations. She who was white and shaky after it was all over. “Dang, wings hurt. Bad.”
Rephaim stared at her, shaking his head. “You did feel it, didn’t you?”
“Sadly, yep, I did. It was almost worse than almost dying.” She met his eyes. “Is it going to get well?”
“It will heal.”
“But?” She felt the word there at the end of his sentence.
“But I do not believe I will ever fly again.”
Stevie Rae’s gaze stayed steady on his. “That’s bad, isn’t it?”
“Maybe it’ll heal better than you think. If you came back to the House of Night with me, I could—”
“I cannot go there.” He hadn’t raised his voice, but the words had a sense of finality to them.
Stevie Rae tried again. “That’s what I used to think, but I’m back there and they accept me. Well, some of them do.”
“It wouldn’t be like that for me, and you know it.”
Stevie Rae looked down. Her shoulders slumped. “You killed Professor Anastasia. She was really nice. Her mate, Dragon, is lost without her.”
“I did what I had to do for my father.”
“And he deserted you,” she said.
“I disappointed him.”
“You almost died!”
“He is still my father,” he said quietly.
“Rephaim, this Imprint. Does it feel like anything to you? Or is it just me who’s had a change?”
“Well, yeah. I couldn’t feel your pain before, and now I can. I can’t tell what you’re thinking, but I can sense things about you, like I think I’d know where you were and what was going on with you even if you were a long way away from me. It’s weird. It’s different than what I had with Aphrodite, but it’s definitely there. Is there anything at all different with you?”
He hesitated a long time before answering her, and when he did speak he sounded confused. “I feel protective of you.”
“Well.” Stevie Rae smiled. “You did protect me from dyin’ up there.”
“That was payment of a debt. This is more.”
“Like it makes me sick to think about how close you came to dying,” he admitted, his voice defensive and annoyed.
“Is that all?”
“No. Yes. I do not know! I’m not used to this.” He thumped his chest with his fist.
“Maybe we could call it friendship?”
Stevie Rae grinned. “Well, I was just tellin’ Zoey that stuff we once thought was impossible might not be so black-and-white.”
“Not black-and-white, but good and evil. You and I are on two opposing sides in the balance of good versus evil.”
“I don’t think that’s set in stone,” she said.
“I am still my father’s son,” he said.
“Well, I wonder where that leaves us?”
Before he could answer her, the sounds of frantic shouting drifted down through the small crack in the earth.
“Stevie Rae! Are you here?”
“That’s Lenobia,” Stevie Rae said.
“Stevie Rae!” Another voice joined the Horse Mistress’s.
“Oh, crap! That’s Erik. He knows his way to the tunnels. If they get down there, all hell’s gonna break loose.”
“Will they shield you from the sunlight?”
“Well, yeah, I’d imagine so. They don’t want me to burn up.”
“Then call them to you. You should go with them,” he said.
Stevie Rae concentrated, waved her hand, and the small crack in the far end of the ceiling of their hiding place trembled and then got bigger. Stevie Rae pressed herself back against the raw ground. Then she cupped her hands around her mouth and called: “Lenobia! Erik! I’m down here!”
Quickly she leaned over, laying her palms against the earth on either side of Rephaim. “Hide him for me, earth. Don’t let him be discovered.” Then she pushed, and like the swirling of water down a drain, the dirt behind him rippled backward, leaving a Raven Mocker— sized cubbyhole, into which he reluctantly crawled.
“Stevie Rae?” Lenobia’s voice came from above them near the crack.
“Yeah, I’m here, but I can’t come out unless you can cover this part of the ground with a tent or somethin’.”
“We’ll take care of that. You just stay down there where you’re safe.”
“Are you okay? Do we need to get something for you?” Erik’s voice asked.
Stevie Rae figured the “something” Erik was asking about was really a bag or ten of blood from the fridge in the tunnels, and no way did she want him going down there.
“No! I’m fine. Just get somethin’ to cover me from the sun.”
“No problem. We’ll be back in a sec,” Erik said.
“I’m not goin’ anywhere,” she called back to them. Then she turned to Rephaim. “What about you?”
“I stay here, hidden in this corner. If you don’t tell them I’m here, they will not know.”
She shook her head. “I don’t mean now. Of course I’m not tellin’ ’em you’re down here. But where are you gonna go?”
“Not back into those tunnels,” he said.
“Yeah, that’s definitely not a good idea. Okay, let me think. Once Lenobia and Erik are out of here, you can get away real easy right now. The red fledglings can’t come out after you in the daytime, and it’s super-early, so most people will still be asleep.” She considered his options. She wanted to keep him close, and not just because she figured she’d have to help him get food, and those bandages were nasty dirty, so his wounds would definitely need doctoring. Stevie Rae was also aware that she needed to keep a check on him. He would get better, and become stronger, like he used to be. Then what would he do?
And there was the little fact that she’d Imprinted with him, which meant it was uncomfortable to think about him being very far from her. Strange that she hadn’t felt that with Aphrodite…
“Stevie Rae, I can hear them returning,” Rephaim said. “Where should I go?”
“Ah, crap… um… well, you need someplace close but hidable for you. And it wouldn’t hurt if it had a creepy reputation so people would stay out, or at least wouldn’t think it wasn’t unusual if you went bump in the night.” Then her eyes widened and she grinned at him. “I got it! After Halloween, Z and the gang and I went on a ghost tour of Tulsa. It was in one of those cool old-time trolleys.”
“Stevie Rae! You still okay down there?” Erik’s voice called from above.
“Yeah, fine,” she yelled back.
“We’re putting up something like a tent over this crack and around the tree. Will that be good enough to get you out?”
“You just get a space covered for me. I can take care of the getting-out part.”
“Okay, I’ll let you know when we’re ready,” he said.
Stevie Rae turned back to Rephaim. “So here’s my point. The last trolley stop was at the Gilcrease Museum. It’s in north Tulsa. There’s a big ol’ house smack in the middle of it that’s totally unoccupied. They keep talking about renovating it, but they haven’t got the money together. You can hide there.”
“Won’t people see me?”
“Heck no! Not if you stay in the house during the day. It’s a mess—all boarded up and locked so tourists don’t stumble into it. And here’s the best part—it’s super-haunted! That’s why it was on the ghost tour. Apparently Mr. Gilcrease, his second wife, and even ghost kids hang out there regularly, so if someone sees or hears something weird—meaning you—they’ll freak and think it’s just more ghost stuff.”
“Spirits of the dead.”
Stevie Rae raised her brows. “You’re not scared of them, are you?”
“No. I understand them too well. I existed as a spirit for centuries.”
“Dang, I’m sorry. I forgot about—”
“Okay, Stevie Rae! We’re ready for you up here,” Lenobia called.
“’Kay, I’ll be right up. Stand back, though, so you don’t fall down here when I make the crack bigger.” She stood up and moved closer to the crack in the ground above them, which was no longer letting in much light. “I’ll get them out of here right away. Then you get yourself over the railroad tracks. You’ll see highway 244 east—follow it. It turns into OK 51. Go north until you see the Gilcrease Museum exit sign—it’s on your right. Then just follow that road and you’ll run smack into the museum. The hardest part will be over then, ’cause there’re lots of trees and stuff to hide in on that road. It’s the highway you’re gonna have trouble with. Just move as fast as you can and stay off to the side and in the ditch. If you hunker down anyone who gets a glimpse of you might think you’re just a giant bird.”
Rephaim made a disgusted sound, which Stevie Rae ignored. “The house is in the middle of the museum grounds. Hide there and I’ll bring food and stuff to you tomorrow night.”
He hesitated and then said, “It isn’t wise for you to see me again.”
“None of this has been very smart, if you get right down to it,” she said.
“Then I will probably see you tomorrow, as neither of us seems able to be smart where the other is concerned.”
“Well, then, bye until tomorrow.”
“Stay safe,” he said. “If you don’t, I–I believe I would, perhaps, feel your loss.” He hesitated over the words, like he didn’t quite know how to say them.
“Yeah, same right back at ya,” she said. Before she raised her arms to open the earth, she added, “Thank you for saving my life. Your debt is totally paid in full.”
“Odd how it doesn’t feel like I’m free of it,” he said softly.
“Yeah,” said Stevie Rae. “I know what you mean.”
And then, while Rephaim crouched within the earth, Stevie Rae called on her element, opened the ceiling of their chamber, and let Lenobia and Erik pull her free.
No one thought to look behind her. No one suspected. And no one saw a creature, half raven, half man, limping to the Gilcrease Museum to hide himself among the spirits of the past.