Chapter Three

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I slumped into the chair behind me, shock and horror pounding through my veins. The others were talking, but their jumbled questions just bounced off my ears.

Luke pulled the box over to him and looked inside. Disbelief darkened his eyes, turning them to thunderclouds. Without another word, he rushed to the front door. Ethan followed him; even though he didn't know what was in the box, he knew trouble when he saw it.

Riley reached for the box, but I pulled it away from her, trying to spare her the horror. She looked at me with wide, scared eyes, and her mouth formed questions that I couldn't hear.

This wasn't supposed to happen. This was my housewarming, the one night I wanted everything to go perfectly. Heads in boxes were not part of that perfect scenario.

Beneath the shock, I felt a dull pang of grief for Leon. We might not have been friends exactly, but we could have been one day. But more than the loss of a possible friendship, I grieved for the loss of the new life I had given him.

When we first met, Leon had been hell-bent on wiping out vampires, convinced that they were evil, bloodthirsty monsters. He posed a threat to my family, but I'd wanted to save him rather than kill him, to show him the light so to speak, and open his eyes to the fact that vampires – like humans – occupied both sides of the good/bad spectrum.

And it had worked.

Between us, Luke and I had turned him from a life of vampire hunting. It was something I wanted to do for other hunters, the first step towards putting an end to the ugly and pointless war that hunters and vampires waged in the shadows. Leon had been my first true success story, and now he'd been snuffed out. It felt like my hopes and dreams for a better, brighter future had died with him. He could have helped me convert other hunters, but I hardly expected any of them would even listen to me once they learned what had happened to Leon.

"There's no one there," Luke said, coming back into the kitchen with Ethan hot on his heels.

I hadn't expected there to be. Someone who delivers gift-wrapped severed heads doesn't hang around waiting for the recipients of said severed heads to come after them.

Luke dropped into a crouch in front of me, clasping my hands. "Kiara, are you okay?"

Finally, I found my voice. "I-I'm fine." I couldn't make that sound convincing.

Ethan paced the kitchen. "We should search the neighbourhood, see if anyone's skulking around."

"Good idea," said Luke, rising to his feet. He cupped my face with both hands and kissed my forehead. "Stay here. We won't be long."

He and Ethan ran from the kitchen and the front door slammed shut behind them. They wouldn't find anyone, but I understood why they were going. It was better for them to feel like they were doing something – I'd have gone with them if I didn't feel frozen in place.

Riley dragged her chair over to mine. "What's going on?" she whispered, shooting fearful looks at the box.

Samuel pulled open the flaps so he could look inside, and a grave look settled over his features. "It's Leon," he said. "What's left of him, anyway."

Elena gasped and put a hand to her mouth.

"Leon," Riley repeated, stiffening slightly. She had been even less his friend than I was, understandable since he once kidnapped her, but she knew what he represented to me. She knew what his loss represented. "I guess his past came back to haunt him."

Shock hardened to anger inside me, and my hands curled into fists. "I know who did this."

I looked up at them, at the graveness on Samuel's face and the frightened resignation on Elena's. They knew too, but they didn't want to be the ones who said it out loud.

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