Chapter 33: The Family Way

Ephraim kept his silence the entire drive back to the safe house, only breaking it long enough to tell me to stay there until he returned. When I asked where he was going, he simply said, "To do what needs to be done."

I sat on the steps of the porch for a long time after he drove off, staring up at the starry night sky and thinking. Things had gotten away from Keel and I again, sent us skittering in brand new uncharted directions.

Though I'd always known it was coming, I'd refused to imagine a future without him. Hope was a hard thing to kill, especially when he'd played such a huge role in its rebirth, so I'd clung to the desperate belief that things would work themselves out – since they had, more or less, thus far. But this latest turn of events felt both surreal and world-shattering. And final.

Yet, if Keel had to transition, this was the best possible way.

He'd get his life back, his destiny, his purpose. Everything he wanted.

But he'll be Nosferatu, the voice in my head chimed in, uninvited.

Still, if this blood contract thing worked, maybe I'd get mine back too. Unless the sorcerers were next in line for a go at me.

At some point my life had become a wild water raft ride down a raging river, careening from moment to moment completely out of control. All I could do was hang on as hard as I could and pray I didn't drown.

When the mosquitos became too persistent, buzzing tunelessly at my ears and leaving a half dozen tiny welts on my legs and arms, I fled indoors. The lobby floors were spotless once more, but the walls still bore evidence of Bruce's brutally efficient takedown of the hunter-tracker. Soon they'd be whitewashed too, then all traces of what had happened here would be gone. Just like Keel.

Keel who'd stood here and protected me. Keel who'd been willing to lose everything to get me home.

It didn't matter where I looked, all I saw were endings. And last times where there should have only been firsts.

My heart was breaking in slow motion – one memory at a time.

I'd been dumped before, but it was nothing like this.

I reached out and grabbed the banister; it was all I could do to stay upright. My body ached and quivered and felt as if it was going to implode, or shake itself into a hundred thousand gory little pieces. Nothing felt like it would be right ever again.

I wasn't ready for us to be over. Not at all.

"Are you okay?" said a voice from the hall.

I turned and caught sight of Bruce sticking his head out of the basement doorway.

"I don't know," I said, feeling absolutely defeated.

Bruce studied me for a moment, then waved me over. "Come on. You look like you could use some company."

"But Ephraim said –"

"Don't worry about it. Mr. Sayre says a lot of things."

I couldn't help cracking a tiny smile at that, and when Bruce disappeared back into the basement, I followed him. The well-worn wood staircase opened up into an open-concept, one-bedroom apartment crammed with a ton of gear and an arsenal rivalling the king's – both of them.

Screens broadcasting black-and-white images from security cameras all over the house and property – including the front porch, and entryway – were mounted in a bank on the wall; beneath them, a long table held five desktop computers and three laptops. I tried to remember exactly what Ephraim had said Bruce did for him, as this was too much tech for just security.

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