Christine’s smile seemed genuine as the pair headed to our table, while Shy’s smirk had a definite predatory edge to it.

The delegate was wearing comfy athletics, a loose red racerback tank top and  black bike shorts with gray running shoes. Her wheat blonde hair was piled in a messy bun with a light sheen of sweat drying on her brow. She’d clearly been taking advantage of the on-site gym.

“Freckles,” Shiloh said, pitching her voice a little high as if that was the same as being friendly. She claimed the seat beside the kid, leaning forward to blatantly examine her. “Introduce me to your little friend!”

Before I could react, a plastic knife appeared at her neck, the hilt held in the eerily steady hand of the ten year old. The stark white serrated edge pressed a little harder against the skin of Shiloh’s throat and the pale flesh slowly bloomed red. They stared into each other's eyes, both frozen under Frankie’s unexpected aggression.

“Oh my,” Shiloh whispered, her eyes lighting up.

Frankie blinked rapidly, dropping the utensil to clatter on the table. She scrambled away, her legs tangling as she tried to escape the chair. Her face went sallow, her eyes wide and terrified all over again. I reached out to her, but she backed away quickly, shaking her head.

“I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry --”

Her ass hit the ground, and she curled in on herself, wrapping her arms around her legs and burying her face in her knees. Her curls shook as she sucked in panicked breaths.

I dropped down to the floor beside her.

“Hey, you’re okay, kid. I promise. You didn’t hurt anyone and you’re not in trouble,” I said, keeping my voice soft and low. I ignored the attention we had gained as people began to notice Frankie’s distress.

Imsorryimsorryimsorryimsorry,” she cried into her knees, her shoulders trembling as she rocked slowly back and forth. “I didn’t mean to. I didn’t mean to.”

“I know, honey,” I murmured, reaching out and rubbing circles on her back. She leaned into my side, her breath evening out as the adrenaline faded.

I would have words with Shiloh about this later.

Christine squatted beside us, offering Frankie a fresh water bottle and a wad of tissues, before stepping back to begin shooing away the crowd we’d gathered.

“You managed to pull a knife on me, and you’re sorry for it? Oh, sweetie pie honey bunch, you should be proud,” Shiloh drawled. When I turned to glare at her, she shot me wide, innocent eyes, a little shrug, like what?, and smiled coyly. “Freckles here has tried to kill me multiple times and hasn’t gotten that close to my throat in well over in a century.”

My fingers curled into fists, my nails digging into the flesh of my palms, as I resisted the urge to tear out my sister’s throat. Again. Granted, she was right -- I hadn’t tried to kill her since the early days of my afterdeath, when I’d been little more than a starving animal, but it had happened more than once. I was more than a bit miffed that I hadn’t managed to do more damage to her.

But Frankie’s litany of apologies had faded into soft, anxious panting. Rather than bitching my sister out, I settled for silently snarling at Shiloh, fangs bared, before I scooted closer to Frankie until my shoulder bumped hers. Being functionally dead, I had no body heat to share with her, but I knew from experience how much it helped just knowing someone was near.

Her racing heartbeat began to even out, and the rocking slowed.

“I can’t let it happen again, of course,” Shiloh continued, an undertone of apology to her voice. A familiar tone. I looked up, and made the mistake of meeting her eyes.

“Don’t you dare --”

“Bunny, stay.”

In an ideal world, I would have been capable of disobeying, of resisting the power echoing from her voice, a distorted melody casting a heavy, thick fog through my head. In that world, I would have waved her Charm away as a mere irritant.

Later, I would imagine myself breaking free, tackling Shiloh, and punching her hard enough to remove the stick from her ass once and for all.

But if wishes made vampires, we’d all starve.

So, obediently, I froze.

I stared, vision blurred and my muscles straining to move, as she stood up, fading into the fringes of my vision, reaching out to take Frankie’s trembling hands in hers. The kid’s fear tasted stale, like an old hurt reopened. Sharp pain bloomed in my bottom lip as my fangs descended. I was still recovering -- my hunger had been a quiet thud in the back of my stomach, an issue I’d planned to sort out. Later.

Nononono, not now, I thought, my skin tightening, thirsty for the magic that kept me … fresh. Shiloh’s Charm was strong -- her advanced age made certain of that -- but the hunger would always win out eventually. Christine had emptied the room of other people -- that only left two potential meals in sight. But Frankie was the one that smelled like prey.

My hands tightened into fists, my short nails turning to sharp claws. I felt the skin split. Air hissed through my clenched teeth.

“Ms. Adler, what do you think you are doing?" The authoritative snap of Christine’s voice broke through the raging in my head, an abrupt reprieve I hadn’t expected.

A memory of sunlight breaking through clouds. Crisp green grass under bare feet. The thick, sundrenched scent of magnolias in the air. Mama’s laugh --

Hush,” Shiloh ordered, and I heard the delegate’s mouth clamp shut, teeth clicking together.

If I managed to not kill my sister, my consolation prize to myself was going to be taking a runny shit in every one of this bitch’s expensive-ass silk pillowcases.

“Shhh, be still,” my sister crooned as she sank into a graceful squat in front of Frankie. I strained to break free, ultimately unmoving and staring blankly at her empty seat, achingly aware of Frankie’s shoulder trembling against mine.

“Let’s just make sure you don’t try that again, shall we?” Shiloh said, kneeling in front of the kid beside me. “Don’t worry, kitling, this won’t hurt, and it’ll be over quickly. Hell, I’m doing you a favor. You don’t want to talk, and now you don’t have to.”

I really didn’t appreciate the hint of amusement in her tone. I wondered which smile she had pasted on for Frankie’s benefit -- the sharp one intended to be a threat, or the sweet one she saved for her manipulations. For the kids’ benefit, I hoped it was the latter. I hoped that Frankie believed my sister’s lie, that this would help her.

Frankie’s breath shuddered, and then …


Like lightning striking glass, Shiloh’s Charm shattered, pitching me forward to land on my face, my palms stinging from slapping against the tile. I shot to my feet, intent on tackling Shiloh away from the kid, but when I turned, she had already bolted.

With her back plastered to the cafeteria wall, she stared at Frankie with unseeing eyes, her pupils blown wide. She clawed at the wall with her bare hands, her perfect manicure chipping as she tore into the drywall. I looked to Frankie, relieved -- confused, so very confused -- to find her standing and staring back at Shiloh.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to,” Frankie whispered. “I didn’t want her to see it but I couldn’t stop her and I panicked.”

“Christine, take Frankie to Sam, please,” I said, without looking. Her heart was racing, the scent of her adrenaline spiking. The 10 year old had a handle on herself, but the adult in charge of the place was about to lose her shit. “And tell Mateo what happened, if you don’t mind.”

I took Frankie, who didn’t resist, by the arm and gently guided her towards the delegate. Frankie’s eyes had drifted to her feet as she shuffled across the floor, her too-big and too-old shoes dragging on the tile.

As the pair of them left the cafeteria, I heard Christine mutter to herself, “I don’t even know what just happened, let alone how to explain it, but sure, hot vampire person, I’ll just hop to, whatever you say! I’ll just have to … figure it out, I guess. Like I’m still a trainee, for gods’ sake.”

Later, I might remember that and laugh, but for now, I stared at my sister and wondered what hell that kid had sent her into.

Shiloh whimpered, her knees abruptly giving out and sending her crumbling to the floor, a quiet, empty-eyed doll. Approaching slowly, I kept my attention on her hands and teeth, just in case she snapped out of it and decided I was fair game. I crouched next to her, tensed and ready to dart away if I needed to.

“Shy?” I waved a hand in front of her face, slowly, watching for any sign of awareness.

She continued staring vacantly, her lips quivering. Blood welled in her eyes and dripped down her face, red tears for a nightmare she couldn’t escape.

Frustrated, but fairly sure she wasn’t going to attack me, I rubbed my hands over my face, sliding them back over my head to grip my short hair with a tight fist and restrained strength. The pull on my scalp, the distant bite of pain, relieved some of the pressure in my chest. How the hell did you break a vampire from their own Charm? I had no fucking idea, and I wasn’t terribly confident that Mateo would know either.

“Mi hija …”

My head shot up, my eyes quickly finding our sire as he knelt beside me on one knee, his hands gently cupping Shiloh’s face.

“What happened?” he asked, turning her face one way then the other, examining her. Her eyes remained open, and her whimpers had devolved into silent whispers, her lips barely moving. He gently brushed the bloody tears from her cheeks with his thumb, smearing it all over her face and his hands.

Keeping it brief, I gave him the rundown. The frown on his face grew into a scowl, pinching his brows with a deep wrinkle. Shiloh kept crying, kept staring. Despite our strained relationship, I hated this. I didn’t know how to help her and I wasn’t sure anyone else would know either.

She was one of the more powerful vampires I knew -- seeing her brought to this was, frankly, terrifying.

“I’ve never even heard of a vampire getting caught in their own Charm,” he murmured. “And I don’t mean this as an insult to anyone else, but Shiloh is one of the best -- she certainly worked hard enough for it.”

Considering the situation, I refrained from rolling my eyes. Shiloh worked hard and was good at everything she did. She had 327 years on me, and she had spent every one of them being better than me, and gloating about it when the opportunity presented itself.

So, tell me something I didn’t already know, viejo.

“Would a medmage be able to help?” I asked.

He shook his head. “I honestly don’t know. I can’t Charm her when she’s already stuck and not even aware of us, but maybe they can do something we can’t. But we have to be able to move her first -- she can’t stay here.”

I smiled. “Oh, I can handle that.”

Before he could ask what I meant, I reared back and slammed my fist into Shiloh’s temple, sending her flying, unconscious, sideways to the floor.

“¿Qué mierda haces?” he screeched, ramming his shoulder into me and pushing me away from Shiloh’s limp form. His forearm pressed firmly into my collarbone, his hand gripping my wrist tight enough to keep me immobile.

“It worked!” I snapped, jerking my chin up to gesture behind him. “Did you have a better idea?”

It was also incredibly satisfying. But I wasn't going to say that out loud. That was my little secret nugget to warm the cockles of my cold dead heart. 

He growled but let me go, immediately appearing at Shy’s side to check her. I was right; her eyes were closed now and the crimson tear stains began to dry, cracking and flaking from her skin. The tears had stopped.

“Mijé, you’re going to be the death of me,” Mateo muttered, lifting Shiloh into his arms as he stood.

“Pretty sure Viktor beat me to it.”

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