Chapter Thirty-One

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Clara was waiting at the foot of the stairs, her would-be rescue party gathered around her. I noted with relief that she wasn't injured.

"She was already on her way back when we found her," Ava said.

Shame still clung to me, allayed only marginally by the fact that tonight hadn't been a complete disaster. No one had got seriously hurt, Leon had finally come over to our side, and we'd dealt Rachel a blow she wouldn't forget in a hurry.

"Leon?" Clara asked.

I told her what had happened.

"Wait, what?" Ethan jumped in. "You let that psycho go? After what he did to Riley?"

Luke and I exchanged glances. I would never forget what Leon had done to Riley, but I had to look at the bigger picture. Leon had been on a one-way trip down a road of murder and hatred, but we had turned him from that. He, more than anyone else, proved that all my hopes and efforts hadn't been in vain. He proved that hunters could be reached. He proved that my dream could be a reality. Still, I chose my words carefully. "I think he's seen the error of his ways –"

Ethan scoffed.

"Okay, I think he understands that he's been an absolute monster, but his delusions are over and he's ready to start again. I'm not going to deny him that, and nor is anyone else."

Ethan looked like he was about to argue, but I didn't give him a chance.

"He's not so different from us, Ethan. We've both killed vampires and I bet plenty of them were innocent too, so let's not pretend that our hands are clean." I gestured at the house around us. "We both got given a second chance. You can't tell me Leon doesn't deserve the same."

The anger bled out of Ethan and he looked at the floor. "I still don't want him anywhere near her."

"He won't be," I promised.

"I'm guessing you didn't find Rachel," Luke said to Clara.

She shook her head, her jaw tightening. "She's quick; I'll give the bitch that."

I was so relieved that Clara had made it back uninjured that I felt only a twinge of disappointment that Rachel had got away. She'd be back and we all knew it, but for the rest of tonight I wanted to just enjoy the fact that everyone was here and safe.

But I couldn't even have that.

Clara fixed me with a serious look. "There's something you need to see." She opened the front door and stood to one side.

All my relief at seeing Clara safe and sound, the euphoria that I'd managed to save Leon, and the lingering fuzzy feelings from being upstairs with Luke hardened into anger when I saw the skinned rat lying on the doorstep.

Rachel had been here.

That rat wasn't there when Luke and I got home which meant that, sometime in those few minutes between us getting home and going upstairs, she'd been here and left another sick gift.

Ethan swore, and the muscles flexed in Luke's arms as he clenched his fists.

The rat was a clear message. We'd held Rachel off tonight and we'd even managed to injure her, but she was far from beaten. Even after having been stabbed in the shoulder and put through a window, she could sneak up and do this without us knowing.

Clara kicked the rat off the doorstep. "I still don't really get the rat thing."

"It's meant to represent us," I said, staring at the bloody smear the dead rat had left on the doorstep. "She sees humans as vermin – rats. And she's the cat that likes to play with us."

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