Chapter Twenty-Three

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My little kitchen had never been so full. Alice and Anna had brought about twenty vampires with them, and they were all crammed into the small room, an almost solid sea of bodies and unfamiliar faces. I'd been introduced to everyone, but there were so many names flying at me at once that I promptly forgot them all.

It had only been a matter of weeks since I last saw Anna and Alice, but already it felt like years, partly because of how different they looked. Physically, they were much the same, both sporting brown hair pulled back in ponytails, both with the same blue eyes and slightly too wide mouths. There was no mistaking the family resemblance – Alice was just a younger echo of her mother. But physical appearances aside, something about them had definitely changed. There was an edge to them that I'd never seen before, something tougher and harder carved into the planes and angles of their faces, something more defiant in the very way that they stood.

Back when she had been part of Samuel's clan, a distinct uneasiness had existed between me and Alice. Although a year younger than me, and therefore two years younger than Luke, she'd harboured strong feelings for him. Luke had told me once that he suspected the clan secretly hoped that he and Alice would one day get together, and it was no secret that Alice hoped the same thing – dating and marriage and little vampire babies.

Of course, all that was ruined the moment I came on the scene.

But looking at Alice now, I couldn't see any evidence of the tension that had once stretched between us, nor did I see any sign of her old feelings for Luke. She gave him a quick hug, but it was a hug between two people who used to be friends, nothing more. She didn't hug me and I didn't expect her to. We'd never got to know each other well enough for that.

"How did you find us?" I asked. "It's great to see you, but why here and not the clan's house?"

In retrospect, it was a stupid thing to say. The clan's house was still too fire-damaged for anyone to be living there, and that was clear to anyone who looked at it.

"We're not here for the clan," Anna said. "We're here for you, Kiara. And it didn't take us long to find out where you lived. Almost every vampire in Dalwick has heard of the young hunter who fell in love with a vampire."

Luke and I exchanged a look, unsure what to make of that. We should have known that the local vampires had heard of us as Samuel and Elena would have explained our situation when they went looking for information, but it was still odd to hear it from an outside source.

"Loads of vampires outside Dalwick have heard of you, too," Alice added.

That shouldn't have been news to me either, not really. The escaped rogue vampires who'd previously worked for Madeleine had told Rachel about us before transferring allegiance to her. It wasn't surprising that non-local vampires would have picked up our story along the way. But I didn't like the thought of being a story. This was my life, not something that people could share like a myth.

Though at the same time, it was exactly what I needed. Despite what had happened to Leon, I still believed in my cause – uniting vampires and hunters, and putting an end to the pointless war that had raged for time immemorial. And if I wanted to continue with that, then vampires and hunters alike would not only need to know who I was, they would need to know why I'd taken up this crusade. They would need to know about my relationship with Luke.

"I don't want to sound rude, but what are you doing here?" Luke asked.

Anna's face grew sombre. "We're here because of Rachel."

Tension gripped hold of my body, and without even realising it, my fingers curled around the handle of my knife. "What about her?"

"For the past few weeks, rumours have been flying around about a former vampire hunter and her vampire boyfriend who have plans to put a stop to the fighting between vampires and hunters." Anna gave a little smile. "As soon as we heard it, we knew it had to be you. Rumour has it you've already converted several hunters."

I decided to keep quiet about the fact that one hunter had already had his head torn off by a vengeful vampire, and another had had her throat slashed. It didn't exactly inspire confidence in my cause.

"But Rachel's already working to crush the word about you," Anna continued. "She's been spreading her own word – that real vampires should unite against you."

It was nothing I shouldn't have expected, but the news that Rachel was trying to destroy even the good word that had spread about us was more than a little disheartening. No matter what I did, she always seemed to be two steps ahead.

Anna briefly averted her eyes, looking uncomfortable. "There's more."

Of course there was. There was always more.

"Rachel's been recruiting vampires, building her ranks so she can fight back against what you want to do."

Weariness stole over me and I looked around for a chair to sink into, but they were all occupied by strange vampires. Rachel had been backed by a handful of followers the last time we went up against her, and even then we'd only just chased her off. I knew she'd managed to recruit fresh followers – the bearded vampire and his cronies – but if Rachel had yet more friends this time around, ones that we still hadn't encountered, we might not be so lucky.

"How do you know all this?" Luke asked.

Anna sighed, suddenly looking much older and much wearier. "Rachel herself approached me. She'd heard that I'd had hunter troubles and she assumed that I hated all humans as much as she does. She told me what she was planning on doing and asked me to join her."

"And?" I prompted when she fell silent.

"I had to lie and tell her I'd think about it." Anna's face sagged, making her look more like the timid woman I had known before. "If I hadn't, she'd probably have killed me on the spot."

Alice slipped her arm through her mother's, offering silent support. I didn't blame Anna for lying. In an ideal world, she would have told the insane vampire supremacist where she could stick her demented plan, but in the real world, that would have cost Anna her life.

"Anna, what is Rachel's plan?" I said.

She lifted her eyes to mine and the fear in them chilled me to the bone. "She wants to bring vampires into the light, for want of a better phrase."

I frowned, uncomprehending.

"She wants to reveal us to the world, to show humankind that vampires live in the shadows alongside them. She wants to show them the predators that stalk the night. Rachel longs to kill you, Kiara, but that is not her only plan. She wants to start a war between humans and vampires, all of them." Anna's eyes bored into me, her voice trembling. "And she's going to start it right here, in Dalwick."

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