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House of the Dark Forest

Chapter Text

~916 AD, North Highland region of the country now known as Scotland~

Lord Broderic Rìgh tried to peer through the darkness as he led his men further into the forest. Three days into this hunt for the band of thieves that were attacking travelers and merchants to and from his town had yielded nothing so far. But then, others had gone out looking for the band and had had as much luck as Bog’s group was having now. Granted, the attacks had only started about two or three weeks ago, but given the amount of complaints, Bog had decided the entire matter had needed his personal attention.

Not to mention the fact that Bog could really do with a distraction right now. Approximately three weeks ago Adaira, his betrothed, had suddenly broken off their engagement and left for another clan lord. Or that was what the rumors suggested, anyway. Coincidentally—or maybe it wasn’t; Bog wasn’t a believer in coincidence—the raids had begun.

Another coincidence that was probably not a coincidence were the reports of men from some of the search parties disappearing. For the most part, they would either wander back in or be found in the town delirious from blood loss and illness and with strange puncture marks on their necks. There were an unfortunate few who were never seen again, and in those cases, so far only two bodies had been found. In those, however, it had appeared that something had ravaged their throats. Speculation was on either an animal in the area or the thieves themselves.

The survivors vehemently disagreed, however. They insisted that this was no animal. Bog, along with every healer he had spoken with in the town, agreed with them. This was not typical animal behavior.

Bog turned all of the information over in his mind as he walked. He had a band of thieves to look for, as well as some strange not-animal to keep an eye out for. And somehow, his ex-fiancée fit into all of this, but Bog wasn’t quite sure how. All he knew was that his people were getting scared. Even his normally unshakeable mother had argued with him for half a day about him leading this search. The entire basis of Griselda’s argument wasn’t so much fear as it was she insisted that she had a bad feeling about the whole thing. Bog had learned a very long time ago to trust his mother’s instincts. But for the sake of his people, he had decided he needed to ignore them this time. He had insisted that he would be fine, and Griselda could do nothing else except watch him buckle on his broadsword, grab his cloak and a bag of provisions, and go.

Now here they were, three nights into their search, and still they had found nothing. Not so much as the slightest sign of a camp. Bog considered it odd that they hadn’t found anything by now. His father had taught him this forest, and Bog knew it like it was the back of his hand. There wasn’t so much as a single sign of a camp.

Maybe he was just annoyed. Patience had never been one of Bog’s strengths. But his men were getting more irritable by the hour as well, not to mention exhausted. They were only stopping for one- to two-hour intervals at a time. Bog was never one for simply giving up and going home, but he might have to do just that.

Bog had been giving some thought to returning to the town and his castle for a rest and to plan a return trip when something suddenly cut rapidly through the forest to their left, just out of reach of their torch light from the sound of it. Then there was the sound of a sword clearing its sheath a few feet behind him.  

“What was that?” hissed Conall. Bog turned to see Conall holding his sword at the ready in front of him. Several more men had a hand on the pommels of their swords, and all of them looked slightly alarmed. Bog glanced back in the direction of the noise.

After a few moments, however, nothing else emanated from the blackness. The men relaxed a bit.

“It was probably a wolf,” Kester said.  

“Let’s keep moving,” Bog told them. “And keep your eyes open.” Conall re-sheathed his sword as a chorus of “Yes, my lord”s sounded from the men.

Bog and his men had not been on the move again for a few minutes when the first scream tore out of the forest just ahead of them. It was followed by another, and then another. As one, Bog and his men drew their swords and rushed towards them.

As luck, or perhaps fate, would have it, it was the band of thieves they had been searching for. But three of them were already lying on the ground, clearly dead. And there was a fourth one lying not far from them, a human-like figure pinning him to the ground with their mouth sealed over his throat. The rest of the band was trying to scatter into the forest, but three more of the human-like figures were in their path.

Bog wasted no more time. He shouted a battle cry and led the attack by going after the figure pinning the unfortunate bandit to the ground. When Bog planted a hard kick into the figure’s side knocking it off of the thief, he noted that the figure was male.

The next thing Bog noted was when the male figure glared up at him and released an animalistic snarl, blood-smeared lips pulled back from his teeth. A pair of long fangs was prominently displayed where shorter canines belonged. And the being’s eyes were glowing like two stars in the night sky.

Well, that explained what had happened to his people. Bog had thought vampires were nothing more than stories told to frighten children into behaving themselves.

Bog narrowed his eyes and raised his sword to attack, but the creature was much faster. He easily dodged the first swing and long reach of Bog’s sword. Bog, however, was not exactly slow. When the vampire tried to attack him from behind, Bog swiveled around and ran him through. He kicked the vampire off of his blade and into the nearby campfire.

Bog could hear his men fighting the other vampires nearby, so he returned to the vampire’s victim. The punctures on the side of the man’s neck were still seeping blood. Bog clamped a hand over the wound. But before he could say anything to comfort the man, their eyes met, and the thief’s slid shut. Then he let out a shallow breath and didn’t draw another.

Bog muttered out a curse and turned to join the rest of the fight. His men were all still occupied with two of the other vampires. The surviving thieves were nowhere in sight; they had likely taken advantage of Bog’s men engaging the vampires and run away. He didn’t see the fourth vampire anywhere, but he also didn’t have time to worry about that right now. He could figure out where the vampire had gone later. Bog rushed in to help his men, and a second one was destroyed in short order.

The third one, small enough that Bog might have taken her for a child if he didn’t know better, decided to run. She leapt straight up, hopped off of a tree branch, and took off into the darkness. Bog and his men immediately gave chase.

Bog would realize later that this had been his first mistake. As he and his men chased the female vampire further into the forest, the group began to separate as his men began to tire out and slow down.

Before he realized it, Bog was running alone. He would make his second mistake by skidding to a stop and trying to peer into the night that now surrounded him on all sides in an attempt to get his bearings.

Out of nowhere, a heavy weight fell onto his back, nearly knocking Bog to the ground. All in the same instant, another hand is gripping his right hand and pulling it away, his broadsword still clutched in it. Bog couldn’t shake his arm loose; the vampire’s grip was like iron. Then the vampire’s other hand came up under Bog’s chin, forcing his head back, and something sharp pierced the side of his neck.

Bog made an effort to fight the vampire off with his free hand, but it did no good. He began to weaken with the blood loss, and he could feel his sword being shaken out of his grip as his vision started to waver.

For some reason, it took a bit of an effort for Bog to remember that the vampire had a hand in close proximity to his mouth. He summoned his remaining energy to grab the vampire’s hand and pull it away from his chin long enough to clamp his jaws around the vampire’s wrist. Bog could feel his teeth tearing through the vampire’s skin and estimated that he came close to striking bone.

Through some miracle, it worked. The vampire growled in pain and shook Bog off, retreating a few yards away from him. Bog had weakened enough that he couldn’t remain standing on his own and fell to his hands and knees. He refused to allow himself to lose consciousness, though. He scrambled for his sword and pushed himself to his feet. He was not going to die lying on the ground.

“Good,” came a low growl from behind him. “I like it when my prey fights back.”

Bog turned to the vampire. “Prepare yourself for one hell of a fight, then,” he retorted.

The vampire didn’t need any further invitation. He lunged for Bog again, and it was all Bog could do to defend himself. He was much slower thanks to the blood loss and exhaustion.

For a few minutes, the vampire had made a concerted effort to break through Bog’s defenses. It was another miracle that Bog managed to stay on his feet and hold out. But the miracle didn’t last long when Bog finally stumbled from dizziness. The vampire moved in for the kill.

Bog summoned energy he didn’t realize he had left and swung his sword upwards. The tip of the blade caught the vampire across his chest. Bog didn’t give the vampire long to snarl in pain before he brought the sword back down and separated the vampire’s head from his body.

Right at that moment, Bog’s men arrived. Kester immediately moved in with a torch and set the vampire’s body on fire. Several more of the men ran to Bog’s aid.

“Our deepest apologies, my lord!” one of them cried out.

“Are you okay?” another asked.

“Aye, I’m fine,” Bog told them as Tomas, their group’s healer, moved in to examine the bite on the side of Bog’s neck. Bog was reasonably certain that blood was still dripping from it. Some was already soaking the front of his tunic. Tomas pressed a clean cloth to Bog’s neck to staunch the bleeding while Bog was struck with another wave of dizziness.

“The fourth one got away, my lord,” one of the men reported as Bog fought it off. “Shall we search for her?”

“Not tonight. We’ll go—“ Bog’s words cut off with a surprised and pain-filled yelp as the center of his chest suddenly gave a hard twist. He dropped his sword as his knees almost gave out.

“My lord, are you sure you’re alright?” Tomas asked him.

Bog never got the chance to answer Tomas’s question. Another pain, this one much stronger than the first, erupted through his entire body. He was aware of falling to the ground, and then a searing agony was all he knew.

Bog would never know he had started screaming until his men told him about it later.  

Chapter Text

~Early March, village of Primrose, Scotland, modern day~

To say that Detective Marianne Springwood was pissed off would have been an understatement. She had always wanted to visit Scotland, although she would have much rather been there as a tourist than on a business trip for her father. But even that wouldn’t have been so bad if she were traveling with anyone else. Having to go with her ex-fiancé Roland Knight just spoiled the entire trip.

Marianne didn’t want to be anywhere within a five-mile radius of Roland. If this had been up to her, she’d still be at home and at her actual job. Mardi Gras was coming up, and the New Orleans Police Department needed all hands on deck. But her father hadn’t been able to get away, and had practically begged her to go in his place. She stood to inherit his estate and all of his businesses one day, and he had reasoned that it would be good practice for her. Her commanding officer, Captain Aura Plum, who had also known Dagda Springwood for years, had let Marianne have the time off on the condition that she work double shifts the Monday and Tuesday of Mardi Gras. Since Marianne had been the one to insist on no special treatment with the police department just because of who her father was, she had agreed to it.

But then she found out who she was going with and why. Roland worked as a real estate agent for one of the many companies Dagda owned, and had found himself with a client from a remote village in the Highlands of Scotland. All anyone really knew of the client was that he was extremely rich, but a recluse. He also lived in an ancient castle a few hours’ driving outside of the village and rarely left it. Marianne had thought it was a bit weird that someone like that would just want to up and leave their home, especially one that sounded as intriguing as an old castle. But she wasn’t here to judge the guy. She was here to supervise Roland as he sold someone a house. Nothing more, nothing less.

Except that apparently their client wasn’t interested in just any house. Roland, in an uncharacteristic display of wisdom (which likely meant her father had instructed him to do so), had waited until well after their plane had taken off and it was far too late to turn around to tell her that his client was showing a serious interest in the Maison de la Forêt Noire, the old plantation house Marianne had wanted since childhood. Sure the place hadn’t been inhabited in a little over a hundred years and the swamp was moving in on the property, but it had a history that went back to the founding of New Orleans by the French in 1699. The historian in Marianne had hoped to buy the house one day and restore it to its former glory. Now it was looking like she wasn’t going to get her chance to have it at all.

As if it weren’t bad enough, Roland seemed to be taking a sadistic glee in watching her be upset about it. Even when they had been together, he had never approved of her wanting that house. According to him, it was too old and rundown and too out of the way and no one in their right mind would want to go there, much less live in it. At the time, she had thought he’d just had no sense of adventure or simply didn’t have a proper appreciation for history. But after he’d broken her heart in the worst way, she realized that it was because it was something she liked and wanted was the reason he didn’t approve of her wanting the mansion.

Marianne was more than eager to have this trip over with as soon as possible. If she had to watch Roland destroy another dream of hers, she might as well go ahead and rip off the proverbial band-aid. And it seemed like their host was in the mood to accommodate Marianne, at least. Part of his rather strange directions to his castle included a request that they arrive by nightfall. The only conclusion Marianne could draw from that was that their host wanted this done as soon as possible as well.

So here they stood outside a pub in the village of Primrose, the last village before the two-or-so-hour drive to the castle, their things being unloaded from a cab. Their plan was to stop in for a bite to eat before hiring another cab to take them the rest of the way. Roland’s luggage was taking longer to unpack than Marianne’s had been. Their host had also advised against over packing for some reason, but Roland, as usual, thought he knew better and had over packed anyway. All Marianne had was her messenger bag and a backpack with some extra clothes in it. Roland had a carry-on bag, a duffle bag, and a large suitcase.

Once Roland’s things were (finally) unloaded, he and Marianne walked into the pub and left their things by the door so they could take a seat at the bar. Everyone in the pub gave them welcoming smiles and greeted them as they sat down. Their server, Grace, had taken their orders and returned with their drinks after a few minutes.

“So, what brings you two all the way out here?” Grace asked conversationally.

“Business, actually,” Roland answered before Marianne could, and judging by the glint in his eye, he either hadn’t noticed the wedding band around the ring finger of Grace’s left hand, or he was blatantly ignoring it. “Up at that castle outside of town.”

The words were no sooner out of Roland’s mouth than everyone in the pub fell silent. Marianne’s brow furrowed in confusion. She thought sudden dead silences like this one were a thing that only happened in TV or movies. But as she looked around at everyone, she realized that they seemed to have a good reason. Their expressions all ranged from shocked and wary to outright frightened.

“What?” Roland said in his much more characteristic confused way.

“Are you out of your minds?” the elderly pub owner, who had been in the middle of serving a drink further down the bar, said. “You can’t go up there, not to that castle!”

“Why not?” Marianne asked. “Is it too dangerous or something?” She tried to quell the irritation she could feel rising. If this was going to all turn out to be some kind of elaborate practical joke because the castle was actually nothing but a pile of ruins, she was going to find out whoever masterminded it and make their lives extremely miserable.

“Strange goings-on have been known to happen at that castle. No one from the village will go up there, especially not after dark,” the pub owner explained. Marianne glanced around the room to find several people nodding in agreement with the man.

Grace, however, snorted and rolled her eyes. “Da, what have I told you about spreading that superstitious nonsense to visitors?” The pub owner only glared at Grace and finished pouring his customer’s drink. “But are you two sure you want to go up there now? That castle is in a right state of disrepair, and it’s quite a long way, at that. There are rooms at the bed and breakfast across the street if you’d rather wait for morning.”

Marianne smiled her thanks. “No, but thank you for your concern. We’re kind of in a hurry, and besides that, the owner insisted we come at night.”

Before Grace could answer that, her father cut back in. “You shouldn’t go up there at all, lass. When I was a boy, I knew of a man who’d gone up there. When he came back, he had gone stark-raving mad. Poor bastard spent the rest of his days in a mental hospital.” Grace rolled her eyes again and fixed her father with a droll stare.

“Don’t look at me like that, Gracie!” the pub owner snapped. Grace’s expression didn’t waver, though. “Then there are all the other stories of people disappearing around that castle or being found dead not far from it for over the last thousand years!”

Marianne arched an eyebrow at the man’s ranting. His story suggested that he was convinced the place was haunted, which Marianne was far too familiar with.

“On second thought, Marianne, that bed and breakfast is sounding better and better,” Roland said suddenly.  “Maybe we should wait for morning.” Marianne shot him a disbelieving look.

“Well, Da, it looks like you’ve got one of them, at least,” Grace told her father. “But since you two are so insistent on going tonight, I’d better make sure you’re fed first.” With that, Grace left for the kitchen to check on their orders.

“Don’t tell me you’re chickening out,” Marianne asked Roland. Roland went from slightly terrified to highly offended like that. Like Marianne cared.

“You’re mad, lass,” the pub owner insisted.

Marianne gave him the same droll stare his daughter had been giving him a few minutes before, a smile tugging at the corners of her lips. “I’m from New Orleans. If you want to scare me with a ghost story, you have to do much better than that.”

“I—I’m from New Orleans, too!” Roland exclaimed. “A-and I’m not scared of some crappy castle in the middle of nowhere!” Marianne rolled her eyes.

Just then, an elderly woman appeared behind them, holding up a rosary.

“Please, take it. For your protection,” she said.

“Ma’am, thank you, but that’s really not—“ Marianne started, but was cut off by Roland snatching the rosary out of the woman’s hands.

“I’ll take it!” he said. Marianne rubbed at her temples. She could feel a tension headache coming on. She would have to ask Grace if she happened to have some aspirin.

 

An hour later, they had finished eating and were loading up into another cab. When Marianne told the cab driver where they were going though, his face paled and he actually looked for a second like he was going to refuse to take them. Everyone in the pub had turned to watch them go, and a few actually looked like they were going to step in and keep them from going. But they all remained inside, and the driver decided not to argue with them. Roland and Marianne climbed into the backseat and they were underway.

As they rode deeper into the mountains outside the village and closer to the castle, the driver’s nervousness became more and more plain. After about an hour, there was no more sign of human habitation. The forest surrounding the road grew more and more dense the further they went.

Another hour and a half later, the driver stopped. Marianne looked up from her tablet computer to see what was going on. The trees were so thick they’d made the waning afternoon that much dimmer and there was only a few feet of actual paved road left. A dirt road that didn’t look all that heavily-traveled took over where the paved road ended.

“What’s wrong? Why did you stop?” Marianne asked him. Roland, who had dozed off in the seat next to her, jolted awake at the sound of her voice.

“This is as far as I go,” the driver answered. He had his hands folded neatly on top of the steering wheel as he looked over his shoulder at Marianne. Looked like she had another believer of the stories surrounding the castle.

“But we’ll be there in about another ten minutes, won’t we?” she argued.

“Look, lady, I’ll take you back to the village free of charge if you like, but there is no way I’m going to that castle,” he said. His face suggested that the matter was not open for further discussion.

“Marianne, maybe these people are on to something,” Roland said, and Marianne didn’t miss the high edge his voice had taken.

Marianne narrowed her eyes and could feel her fists tightening around her tablet. She’d about had it with this superstitious fear-mongering. Rather than start screaming at the two of them and giving the driver a chance to turn the car around, she got out of the cab and walked around to the trunk.

“You’re daft, lady,” the driver muttered as he got out of the car and unlocked the trunk. He looked like he wanted to bodily pick her up and throw her back in the cab. Just let him try it, she mentally dared him. Marianne unloaded her backpack and messenger bag, walked past the car, and stepped onto the dirt road. She’d go by herself and walk there if she had to.

Roland only watched her as she got out of the car and grabbed her things. He made no move to get out himself, and Marianne was actually convinced that he was going to go back to the village without her. She wouldn’t put it past him to do just that.

But after a few more seconds, Roland decided that he’d rather not risk losing his sale and got out of the car as well. Which also didn’t surprise Marianne. He was going to make a pretty sizeable commission from this sale if their host decided to buy a house from Roland. Roland’s things were unloaded, the driver was paid, and he couldn’t seem to turn his cab around fast enough.

“Don’t think for a single second I’m helping you carry any of that,” Marianne said to Roland once the driver was gone. “You’re on your own.” Then she turned and started down the road. She could hear Roland behind her scrambling to pick his luggage up and catch up to her.

“Damned scared hicks,” he muttered under his breath. “Can’t even finish a simple drive...”

Marianne gritted her teeth. Of course Roland would start complaining. Well, he could whine all he liked. It wasn’t like she made him get out of the cab and come with her. And it wasn’t her fault that he wasn’t properly dressed for traveling in his green Ralph Lauren polo shirt and slacks and dress shoes, as opposed to her more simplistic jeans, Wonder Woman screen-tee, and favorite purple Converse Chuck Taylors.

She had planned on ignoring him, she really had. But his complaints were non-stop. Marianne estimated they were a few hundred yards down the road (she couldn’t even see it anymore, as a matter of fact) when she had decided between his cursing out their host for living so far away from civilization and her father for assigning this weirdo to him that she had had enough. And there was no sign of anyone else coming from either direction.

Marianne stopped cold, which caused Roland to stop as well. Very carefully, she slid her things to the ground. Roland, who was still muttering out complaints, didn’t take this as the warning it clearly was before Marianne drove her forearm across his throat and slammed him into a nearby boulder, his bags dropping unceremoniously to the ground. This had the intended effect of both shutting him up and giving her his undivided attention.

“I will not,” she snarled in his face, golden-brown eyes snapping fire as she glared into his almost-as-angry and slightly-fear-filled icy green ones, “for any reason, listen to any more of your bitching the entire way up to this castle. So you had better shut. Up. Now.” 

“This is some kind of police brutality, isn’t it?” Roland choked out. Marianne’s arm was cutting off his breathing.

Marianne’s glare remained steady. “This is the only time I’m going to remind you that we are in the middle of nowhere and an extremely long way away from home. And there are no witnesses around.”

Roland’s eyes widened slightly as fear over-took anger. He gulped and nodded. They both knew that she could beat him to within an inch of his life if she wanted to, and she would do it. Marianne released Roland, retrieved her things, and kept moving. Roland was left to scramble after her once again.

 

Roland thankfully remained silent for the rest of the walk, even if he did spend it glaring at everything around him. After about an hour, the forest had begun to thin out, and eventually gave way to gently rolling hills covered in wildflowers and bathed in the orange glow of a gorgeous sunset. Marianne was giving some thought to stopping to take a few pictures. Dawn would love the view here, she thought. But then again, Dawn would want to stop to pick some of the flowers, which would keep her occupied for far too long. She’d have to settle for pictures of it instead. Marianne did wish she had a better camera than the one equipped on her cell phone, though.

When she looked back to the road though, she could see the castle in the distance. It was still a couple of miles away, and even from there, Marianne could tell it was in need of some serious renovation. But the historian in her had still perked her head up at the sight. Marianne actually felt herself getting excited to see the place. Even Roland, who was obviously exhausted from hauling his things the entire way by himself, looked relieved to see the castle despite his earlier fears.

The sun was nearly completely gone by the time they reached the archway where the castle’s gate had once been. Something about their new proximity to the castle seemed to give Roland the idea that he could speak again.

“Who’d want to live in this dump?” he said snidely. Marianne immediately shot him a hot glare, which had him snapping his mouth closed again. They reached the door to the castle proper, and Marianne knocked on it.

The door swung open, seemingly of its own accord. There wasn’t another person in sight as far as Marianne could tell. She arched an eyebrow. Some kind of sensor on the door, then? Most likely, if this guy really did have that much money to play around with. Marianne dismissed it as just that and stepped inside, with Roland immediately behind her.

They found themselves in a large vestibule. A wide staircase that led to the next floor took up one side of the room. Doors that led off to different parts of the castle took up the other walls. The only furniture in the room was an end table by the foot of the stairs that had a single lamp sitting on it. Despite the fact that the lamp was on, the room had a bit of a chill to it. 

The door swung shut behind them as they walked further into the room, but there was still no sign of another person. Marianne, having already passed it off as something electronic on the door, wasn’t concerned with it. Roland, however, edged closer to her. His face was nearly bloodless.

“What the hell is wrong with you?!” Marianne hissed, her patience rapidly waning again.

“This place is fucking creepy!” Roland hissed back.

Marianne glared at him again. “Will you grow the fuck up?” she snapped.

Just as Marianne was turning her attention back to the other doors in the room, a movement at the top of the stairs caught her eye. She looked up to find their mysterious host had finally put in an appearance. She could have sworn he wasn’t there a second ago; she’d never heard him walk in. But then again, she was just fussing at Roland.

Her thoughts about his sudden appearance dissipated as Marianne took a really good look at him, or as good of a look as she could get through the dimness of the room, and found herself momentarily struck speechless. He was ridiculously tall, broad-shouldered, with a sharply angular face and thick black hair. He was dressed in a deep gray suit that had to be custom-made. He had the top two buttons of the black shirt under his jacket unbuttoned, and Marianne could see a glint of gold at the collar. His hands were in his pockets as he studied them.

But then Marianne’s attention was arrested on his eyes. It wasn’t that he’d suddenly blinked rapidly as their eyes met that had her attention, though she had noticed that was the only thing he allowed his face to give away about what he was thinking. It wasn’t the fact that she was pretty sure they were a deeply, stupidly shade of blue she had never seen before, which became more obvious as he began descending the staircase towards them.

No, it was the fact that she could have sworn that for a split second, they were glowing.

That had to be her imagination, though. Eyes don’t glow like that, at least not naturally. Maybe he was wearing contact lenses then, and the light was just bouncing off of them in a funny way. Could contact lenses even do that?

It took Marianne a second too long to shake it off. She wasn’t here to ogle him. In fact, she was supposed to be angry that he was probably going to buy her mansion. He was her arch nemesis right now. So she tried to school her own face into one of careful passivity. She and Roland were here on business, after all. She had to be professional.

“Broderic Rìgh, but you may call me Bog,” he said as he arrived at the foot of the stairs and held out a hand to Marianne, who had to work to keep her face neutral. His voice was a smooth baritone, and combined with his accent, it was causing rushes of warmth to places.

Now that he was standing in the pool of light offered by the lamp, Marianne could see a few more details about him. She was able to confirm that his eyes were in fact blue, and he had scars on his chin and left cheek. The glint of gold she saw under his shirt was from a stylized Celtic-cross necklace that had a piece of amber woven into the center of it.

“I’m Marianne Springwood, and this is Roland Knight,” she said, taking his hand. Rather than shaking her hand, though, Bog bowed over it, just like a gentleman from some kind of period-drama might have, and Marianne couldn’t keep the flash of surprise off of her face. Although that might have also had something to do with his rather large hands and long fingers. Or the fact that his skin was slightly cooler than it probably should have been. But that could have also been because of the chill in the room.

Bog then released her hand to grasp Roland’s, who only edged around Marianne slightly to take it and looked a lot like he was fighting back the urge to shudder.

“I took the liberty of having dinner prepared for you. I thought you might be hungry after your travels,” Bog said. “My housekeeper, Adaira, will bring your things to your rooms.”

“Dinner sounds great, thank you!” Marianne answered. When she glanced over at Roland for his answer, though, he looked like he had another nasty comment waiting on the tip of his tongue. She silenced it with a Look.

“Sure, whatever,” Roland muttered reluctantly.

Just then, a woman about Marianne’s height and with strawberry-blonde hair and light blue eyes (and were her eyes just now glowing too? Jesus, did they both shop for their contact lenses at the same place?) appeared and began picking up their luggage. Unlike Bog, she smiled in greeting at them both. When her eyes met Roland’s, though, her expression immediately turned heated. Roland seemed to forget all about his fears of the place and not only returned her look, but winked at her too. Marianne rolled her eyes as Adaira left with their luggage.

When she turned back to Bog, it was to find him narrowing his eyes and frowning at Adaira’s back. Marianne was slightly curious as to what that was about. But then again, it was none of her business.

“This way, please,” Bog told them, motioning for Marianne and Roland to follow him up the stairs.

Chapter Text

If the outside of the castle looked like a strong gust of wind might knock the entire structure over, the inside was the polar opposite. The hallway they’d stepped into when they reached the top of the stairs had a rather cozy feel to it. It was decorated in deep greens and browns that reminded Marianne of the forest the castle was surrounded by and was in surprisingly great condition. There were tapestries and wall hangings everywhere that had an ancient feel to them, but looked well-cared for. Even Roland couldn’t seem to find anything mean to say about it. When Marianne had complemented Bog on the décor and praised his household staff for doing a good job of the upkeep, Bog had thanked her and then admitted that the castle didn’t actually have a full staff.

Neither Marianne nor Roland had the chance to ask Bog to elaborate before they reached the dining room, where their dinner was already laid out and waiting for them. The three of them sat down and ate. The food was delicious, and again, Roland was lost for a snide comment. Marianne had complemented Bog’s chef, but Bog had reminded her that he didn’t keep a full staff. It was just himself and Adaira, he really had no need for one. And he didn’t entertain guests that often. It turned out that Bog himself had made dinner, and Marianne found herself wondering why it was that someone like this wanted to move halfway around the world and to a densely-populated and busy city like New Orleans in the first place. She didn’t bother asking, though. Truthfully, she didn’t care why. She was just here to oversee Roland’s sale.

“Well, then,” Marianne announced, setting her fork down on her empty plate. “How about we get started on getting you a house?”

Bog blinked at her, only the slightest hint of confusion touching his face. “Would you rather not wait and do this in the morning after you’ve had some rest?” he asked.  

“We don’t want to impose on your hospitality any longer than necessary,” Marianne said. She would never tell him her real reason was because she was eager to get this over with and go home. She also knew the only reason Roland wasn’t arguing with her was because even with the Mr. Suave-and-Sophisticated act he was putting on, he was still one good jump-scare away from wetting his pants and passing out from terror. He wanted to be out of this castle as soon as he could get out.

Bog studied her for a moment, but she only stared resolutely back at him. “Very well, then,” he said, pushing his chair back and standing up. “We’ll go to my study.”

Marianne and Roland stood up to follow him. “We’re going to need our bags, by the way. Our tablets were in them,” Marianne said as Bog led them into the hallway.

“I’ll have Adaira bring them,” Bog said. Almost on cue, Adaira appeared. Bog gave her instructions in Scottish Gaelic. But then it got a bit weird. When Adaira answered him, she sounded almost snide. Bog’s response to whatever she had said was colored with irritation. Adaira disappeared seemingly as fast as she appeared, and Bog continued down the hall.

The study turned out to be more comfortable than the dining room had been. Bookshelves filled with books lined all four walls, interrupted only by the fireplace on one wall with a steadily-burning fire in it and the windows on another that promised a spectacular view of the surrounding forest if not for the night blackening the windows. A large oak desk was set across from the fire place, and the chairs on the other side of it were upholstered with something that looked like velvet. A matching sofa and two more chairs were arranged in front of the fireplace. Off-setting the medieval look and feel of the room were the large flat-screen TV mounted above the fireplace with its connected Blu-Ray player resting on the mantle and the computer arranged on one side of the desk. If Marianne had to guess, she would have said Bog spent a lot of his time in this room.  

Adaira returned with Marianne’s messenger bag and Roland’s carry-on as Bog settled behind his desk. Roland and Adaira exchanged another heated look (to which Marianne had to bite back a moan of disgust) before she left again.

“So tell me about the Maison de la Forêt Noire,” Bog said as they dug out their tablets and booted them up. Marianne had to work at not immediately reacting to what he said.

“You sure you want that one?” Roland asked him, and Marianne knew it wasn’t because he was interested in helping her. “The place hasn’t been lived in in over a hundred years, and it’s not even habitable anymore. It’ll need a lot of work done first. And besides that, the swamp is taking over the land and there are animals everywhere.”

“He’s right,” Marianne chimed in. “Wildlife and Fisheries will need to go in there before you can do anything, and even then, it’s not going to be easy to get them all out. There’s a pretty big female alligator that lives in what used to be the back yard, and she nests there every year. And alligators are highly territorial. A female with a nest is dangerously territorial.”

“I’ve already seen some photographs of it, and I like the potential it has,” Bog said. “I can handle renovating the building. But I do agree that if the local wildlife have taken up residence, that they will need to be removed first.”

Marianne could feel her mansion slipping through her fingers. If Bog was willing and able to make the place livable again, then she had nothing to fight with. She didn’t even have the money for a down payment, much less to fix it up.

As hard as Marianne worked to keep her distress from showing, Roland had either still picked up on it, or the dollar signs from the large commission the sale of this property promised him had become tangible to him, or both.  He had definitely picked up on the fact that Bog was leaning towards a yes.

“You are right, though, it does have a lot of potential,” Roland said. “You could turn it into a business investment. It would make a great museum, or a bed and breakfast, just like the Myrtles Plantation. Tourists would love it!”

Marianne could feel her fingers digging so hard into the armrest of her chair that it was a wonder the wood hadn’t started to splinter in her hand. Both of those were things she had been giving thought to doing with the mansion. She remembered telling Roland her plans once, and she was positive he was stealing her ideas. It was an effort to keep her growing anger in check.

Bog, for his part, didn’t appear to notice that Marianne had gone quiet and was now glaring daggers at the wall of books behind him.

“I’ll take the house,” was the last thing Marianne heard Bog say before both his and Roland’s voices were drowned out by the buzzing in her ears. As the two of them started discussing the transaction and Roland tapped on his tablet, Marianne barely paid attention to them. She only gave short, clipped answers when one of them asked her something. But otherwise, she stayed out of the conversation.

Eventually, she became so lost in her thoughts that it took her a full minute before she realized that Bog was trying to get her attention.

“….ss Springwood?” he asked. Marianne only glanced in his general direction. “Is everything okay?”

“I’m fine,” she said shortly. Bog gave an acknowledging nod, indicating that he was prepared to leave it at that. Then he turned back to Roland.

“Oh, don’t worry about her,” Roland said in a loud whisper before Bog could get back to their business. “It’s probably her time of the month, if you get what I mean.”

It was all Marianne could do to not give in to the urge to smash her tablet over Roland’s head. She did, however, jump out of her chair and storm out of the room.

She was a few feet down the hall when she saw Adaira coming towards her.

“Can you take me to my room, please?” Marianne asked her.

“Of course. Is everything okay? You seem upset,” Adaira said as she led Marianne through the halls towards the bedrooms.

Marianne drew in a steadying breath and let it out before she answered. “I’m fine,” she said. “I’m just tired and want to go to bed.” Adaira nodded her understanding.

A few more hallways and a flight of stairs later, and Adaira had left Marianne in a bedroom that looked just as inviting and luxurious as Bog’s study did downstairs. But Marianne was too busy fighting back tears to properly appreciate the room.

She did, however, notice the double doors leading out to a wrap-around balcony that were shut against the night. Marianne knew that the nights in this part of the world were chilly, but air would be a good idea right now. Plus, she needed to talk to someone reasonably sane for a little while.

A stack of extra blankets were waiting in a chair, and Marianne grabbed one on her way to the balcony, wrapping it around her shoulders as she pulled one of the doors open and slipped through it.

Then she pulled out her cell phone and sent off a quick text message to her father, letting her know that Roland was getting his sale. Then she video-called Dawn.

“Hey, Marianne! How’s Scotl—wait, what’s wrong?” Dawn greeted. Sunny was in the shot with her, and by the looks of things, they were settling in for their weekly movie night. It was in the middle of the week, but both Dawn and her boyfriend Sunny were in college and they both had jobs, and this was usually the only night they had available. And bless her sister for knowing her so well.

Marianne drew in a breath. “Roland just sold my mansion.”

“What!?” Dawn nearly shrieked.

“That asswipe!” Sunny spat out.

“I’m so sorry, Marianne. I know how much you wanted it,” Dawn said.

“Thanks,” Marianne murmured.

“You know, he probably only did it because he’s still mad at you for breaking up with him,” Dawn pointed out.

“Yeah, you know how much Roland hates being told ‘no’ or having things taken away,” Sunny added.

“I’m positive that’s the reason he did it. I can’t really blame this on Mr. Rìgh, it’s not like he knew how badly I wanted that house,” Marianne said.

“What’s he like, by the way?” Sunny asked.

“Yeah! We knew barely anything about him before you left for Scotland,” Dawn said.

“Is that castle really as creepy as it sounds?” Sunny added.

“Actually, it’s really beautiful here. You’d both love it. And Mr. Rìgh has been nothing but kind since we arrived,” Marianne said before they could shoot more questions at her. “Actually, I’m starting to feel bad that I’m not enjoying myself more. I should be running around this castle wanting to explore every square inch of it right now.”

“Oh, Marianne, everything will be okay. You’ll see,” Dawn said sympathetically.

“Yeah,” Sunny agreed. “In fact, I bet once he gets here and sees how overrun the place is with snakes and bugs and how it’s falling apart, he’ll give up on it and get right back on the plane.”

Marianne barked out a laugh, and her mood instantly lifted a bit. Sunny always had a talent for cheering people up. “Thanks, Sunny. Well, I’ll let you two get back to your movies,” she said.

“Okay, Marianne. You hang in there, everything will be okay,” Dawn said.

Marianne smiled. “Will do,” she said as she ended the call. Then she turned around and braced her arms against the stone banister and looked out over the night-darkened forest, lit only by the nearly-full moon. The tree line began not far from where she was standing on the balcony. Directly below were the remnants of what had once been one of the castle’s fortified walls.

It really was beautiful here. She was right in what she had said to Dawn earlier, she should have been running around this castle like a crazy woman trying to explore everything, night time and crumbling walls be damned. But thanks to Roland finding yet another way to hurt her, she just couldn’t bring herself to enjoy it the way she felt it deserved.

Marianne wanted to fling her phone into the trees in frustration. She resisted the urge, if only because she needed that phone and with as thick as that forest looked, finding it again would probably be impossible. And she didn’t have the money to replace it, either. Sure, her father would offer to buy her a new one, but Marianne could never take advantage of him like that. She might have come from money, but she prided herself on not being a spoiled brat.

So she settled for pocketing her phone and planting a hard punch to the stone banister. Her knuckles might be bruised now, but she did actually feel better.

“You know, if you need a way to work your aggressions out, I do know some martial arts,” came Bog’s voice from a few feet down the balcony. Marianne jumped slightly. She had never heard him come outside. She looked up at him. Sure enough, there he was, studying her with his hands in his pants pockets again. Further down the balcony, another door stood slightly ajar. It seemed Marianne hadn’t been the only one in need of fresh air.

Marianne returned her gaze to the forest. “I suppose you completed your sale?” she asked somberly.

“Aye, I did,” Bog answered.

 Marianne leaned back against the banister. She could feel her shoulders slumping and tears stinging her eyes. But she refused to cry in front of Bog.

“That’s great!” Marianne said in a voice that even to her ears wasn’t fooling anyone. “We just need to take care of a couple more things with the bank in the morning, and we can be out of your hair right after that.”

After a few seconds of silence, Marianne was about to turn and retreat to her room when Bog spoke again.

“Miss Springwood, allow me to extend my apologies for whatever it was I did that offended you while we were in my study,” he said. “It’s obvious you’re still upset about it, and I’d like to try and make it right.”

Marianne glanced up at him in confusion at first before she remembered. She had stormed out of there without even excusing herself.

“No no no! You don’t need to apologize, it wasn’t you, exactly…” Marianne’s voice trailed off and she slumped over the railing again. Then she let out a breath and decided to tell him the truth.

“It’s just… ever since I was a kid, I wanted to buy that house and fix it up myself. I’ve always loved old mansions like that, and I wanted to do some of the things with it that Roland suggested to you. And Roland knew all of that, but he never did approve of it. And he’s been mad at me ever since I ended my engagement to him a few years ago. He knew how much I wanted that mansion, and he sold it at the first chance he got.”

“Why didn’t you try to buy it before now?” Bog asked, and his tone wasn’t condescending or gloating, it was genuinely curious. Marianne felt a swell of appreciation for that and a smile pulled slightly at her lips.

“Basically, because I’m a detective. That’s not exactly a lucrative career. I mean, yeah, my dad’s offered to either give me the money for it or just buy it for me, but I wanted to save up the money so I could pay for it myself.” Marianne let out a humorless chuckle. “But I guess my pride cost me my chance. And gave Roland some new ammunition to hurt me with.”

“I’m so sorry about that,” Bog murmured sympathetically. “However, I wouldn’t say you’ve lost your opportunity at the mansion.”

Marianne looked up at him at that, silently prompting him to go on.

“While I’m looking forward to moving to New Orleans, I do have to admit I am not familiar with the city, nor do I know anyone in it. And if what you and Mr. Knight are telling me is true, the mansion will need a lot of work before it’s fit for habitation again. I will need someone to assist me in getting started. And since you’ve had a long-standing passion for restoring the mansion, I can think of no one better for the task,” Bog explained. “That is, assuming you want to do it.”

Marianne was astonished. Whatever she had been expecting him to say, it hadn’t been that. A grin split across her face, and she ignored the fact that it had Bog doing that rapid-blinking thing he had done earlier that evening. She wanted to throw her arms around him and hug him.

“I—I—“Marianne cleared her throat and forced her mouth to make coherent words. “Yes! Th-that is, I’d love to! Thank you so much!”

Marianne was marveling over this development that she almost missed Bog’s next question.

“Would you mind telling me more about it, then?” he asked. “I’ve hardly found anything on the mansion’s history, and good photographs are almost non-existent.”  

“Oh, photographs I can help you out with,” Marianne said, pulling her phone back out and opening the picture gallery. “I go by there as much as I can, so I have plenty of pictures of it.”

Marianne began to lose track of time as she scrolled through all of her pictures and explained to Bog what he was looking at. She had arrived at one of her pictures of the resident alligator she had mentioned earlier that Sunny had named Lizzie on one of his visits out there with Marianne when a wolf began howling in the distance.

And Marianne simply couldn’t resist this opportunity.

“Children of the night,” she said in the best Hungarian accent she could muster up. “What music they make…”

Bog’s sudden bark of laughter nearly made Marianne drop her phone. When she looked up at him, he’d jammed his fist against his mouth and coughed, but his shoulders were still shaking with amusement.

Marianne realized that she should have joined him. But all she could do was stare in shock. The sight of that stoic expression having finally broken was doing things to her.

“What’s wrong?” Bog asked, sobering up.

“What? Oh, no, nothing’s wrong! It—it’s just…” Marianne stammered. Why was she stammering? She didn’t stammer. “It’s just, this is the first time since we’ve arrived that, well, I’ve seen you smile…”

If Bog blushed just then, Marianne couldn’t tell because of the low lighting. But he definitely looked embarrassed. “It—it looks nice… on you…” she trailed off. She could feel her face warming up. Bog raked a hand through his hair and suddenly found the nearby doors extremely interesting. Great, now she’d messed this all up.

“Th—thank you, I guess,” he murmured nervously.

Marianne allowed a few more seconds of silence. “Well, I think I’m gonna go to bed now,” she announced. “It’s… it’s been a long day, and there’s still work to do tomorrow.”

Bog looked up at her then. “Okay!” He cleared his throat. “Okay,” he repeated. “Good night, detective.”

Marianne smiled at his use of her title. “Good night, Bog,” she said. Then she retreated to her room.

Once she was back in the room with the door shut behind her, she smacked herself on the forehead. Jesus, what the hell was wrong with her? She was not going to fall apart because some guy smiled and was nice to her!

Marianne dropped the blanket on the chair she’d picked it up from. This really was a nice room. Despite the fact that she’d left the door cracked open while she was outside, the room still had most of its warmth. There was a fireplace in here too, and a fire was burning merrily in it. Everything was decorated in the same deep greens and browns that the other rooms she had seen so far were, including the covers on the bed. Which were already turned down for her, by the way. Marianne doubted she would have gotten anything so nice in a five-star hotel.

Her backpack and messenger bag, which Adaira must have retrieved from Bog’s study and brought back here, were waiting on a bench at the foot of the bed. Marianne dug out her tank shirt and pajama pants and changed. When she finally crawled under the blankets, she nearly melted. The mattress and pillows were both made of memory foam. She was asleep within seconds.

 

Bog watched Marianne’s window from a tree branch, both hands in his pockets. His intention on leaving by the balcony to vomit up the food he’d eaten earlier and to hunt had been interrupted when he saw Marianne further down, engaged in her phone call. He had wanted to speak with her before he went, and besides that, he couldn’t very well make the jump into the forest with her right there watching.

Detective Marianne Springwood had done something no human had done for him since he himself had been human: she intrigued him.

He might have known something had happened between Marianne and Roland Knight when he first saw them approaching his castle. (And he should have known none of the humans from the village would bring them all the way to the castle. He should have just come to the village in his own car to bring them up there. He was still mentally berating himself for that.) Something about Knight thoroughly irritated Bog. He still didn’t completely understand why, but now he at least had a partial answer. The human male wasn’t just a misogynistic horse’s arse. He had wronged Marianne very deeply at some point and seemed to take a lot of pride in upsetting her. And even though she had assured him that she wasn’t angry with him over the mansion, Bog couldn’t seem to stop himself from regretting the fact that he hadn’t picked up on her distress sooner.  

His branch shook slightly with another weight joining his.

“Waiting on her to fall asleep?” Adaira asked, following his gaze.

Bog immediately picked up on her implication. “No,” he said.

“So you plan to have the pretty blond one instead then?”

Bog narrowed his eyes. “No,” he said again, this time with an edge of irritation.

Adaira ignored is annoyance as she often did. She’d been on the receiving end of it often enough.

“You know you can’t live off of animal blood forever,” she said. “When was the last time you even had human blood?”

Bog didn’t bother to dignify her inquiry with an answer. He had last had human blood a few months ago, he was doing just fine. Not that it was any of her business.

After a few more moments of Bog remaining silent, Adaira decided to ask him a different question.

“How about sharing a bed with one of them, then, if you won’t feed from them? When was the last time you had that?”

Bog remained resolutely silent. That was most certainly none of her business.

“Or,” she continued after another lengthy silence from him, “is it that you don’t actually want it with a human?” She began stroking a hand down his chest. “Could it be that you simply want it with another vampire?” At this, the tips of her fingers ghosted over Bog’s groin.

Bog’s hand shot out and grabbed Adaira’s, twisting it back and squeezing so hard he could feel her bones breaking under his fingers. She winced in pain, but more than anything, she was annoyed with him.

“I have no intention of touching either one of them while they are here,” Bog growled. “And you will keep your hands to yourself as well.” With that, he flung her hand away.

An angry snarl rose from her throat. “You can’t tell me what to do,” she snapped as she pulled the bones in her wrist back in alignment. “And I do intend to ‘put my hands on’ the blond one, even if just to share his bed. He certainly looks ready for it.” Bog began snarling at her, but before he could argue, Adaira turned and raced off into the forest.

Bog didn’t bother following after her. Instead, he returned to watching Marianne’s window. No, he was not watching her. Nor did he intend her or Knight any harm, no matter how much the blond human made Bog want to break his bones.

For some odd reason, Bog found himself reflecting on his relationship with Adaira. Their betrothal had been arranged, and while he had fallen for her not long after meeting her, she had never returned his feelings. She was only doing what she was told at the time. But eventually, the arrangement proved to be too much for her, and she had run away, leaving behind nothing but a note saying she would not be forced into a marriage with him or anyone else. Bog had not taken it well. He supposed that was why he had ignored his mother and gone after that band of thieves.

But then, as fate would have it, she had found herself turned into a vampire not a few days after he had been. It turned out to be another vampire Adaira had run to for help escaping her life, though she herself had not known what he was at the time. And that vampire had happened to be planning an invasion of Bog’s lands, one that was supposed to commence while Bog was searching for the band of thieves. Bog himself had interrupted the vampire’s plans when he and his men had returned earlier than expected, with Bog in the middle of the transformation. The vampire, in a rage over his plans falling through, had attacked Adaira. He might have killed her had she not bitten him back and begun turning.

When the vampire tried to invade again a few months later, he had had ample warning at the time and was ready. Bog had personally destroyed the vampire. Adaira had begged him to destroy her too. She had never intended to live like this and wanted no part of it.

But for some reason, Bog had not been able to bring himself to destroy her. He supposed that at the time, he still harbored feelings for her. He wound up forcing her to stay with him on the point that there was really nowhere else for her to go. She had hated him for it ever since.

Over time, whatever feelings he had for her had died. But he couldn’t simply release her to her own devices, either. Despite the experience of his first encounter with them, he had since learned that vampires were generally discreet when they fed from a human. And they never needed more than a few mouthfuls from one human to be sufficiently fed for a while. Adaira, on the other hand, never liked practicing discretion.

The only favor Bog had ever been able to say that keeping Adaira with him against her will had given him was the constant reminder of what happened when one allowed themselves to be blinded by love. She served as a reminder to him to never do that again.

And he had been careful all these centuries to never develop feelings for anyone else. While he had on the rare occasion given in to the urge for sex, that was all it had been for him. Satisfying an urge. His most recent encounter had been twenty or so years ago. Or perhaps it was longer. It simply wasn’t something Bog missed or had a great need for.

His eyes were still trained on the door leading into Marianne’s room. The only light within it was from the fire in the fireplace. She had to be sound asleep by now, and Bog couldn’t stop the thought of how easy it would be to slip into the room. She would never know until it was too late to do anything about it.

No. He would never force her.

The baying of the wolves sounded in the distance again. Perhaps some fresh blood would silence these thoughts for a while.

He turned away from Marianne’s door. He could not have her at all or in any way, he knew that for a certainty. She was certainly tough, but she had never encountered anything like him before. She’d never have any hope of fighting him off.

Bog leapt off of his branch and went in search of the wolves.

 

Roland popped open the bottle of wine Broderic Rìgh had been kind enough to supply him with for his own personal celebration. Roland had actually asked for something stronger, but Rìgh didn’t have anything stronger than wine. Something about not being much of a drinker. Whatever, like Roland gave a rat’s ass. After digging up this bottle, Rìgh had personally shown Roland to his room.

Roland still couldn’t believe he had sold that dump that Marianne had wanted so badly, and for so much money. It wasn’t his fault she had gotten so pissed about it. She should have jumped on it sooner. Besides, if she hadn’t broken up with him, he might not have sold the mansion.

But Roland wasn’t worried about Marianne anymore. He had a decent commission to look forward to once this all went through. He should make sure to mention Marianne’s little temper tantrum to Dagda. Surely if she couldn’t keep her cool in front of a client, she didn’t have any place trying to run Dagda’s companies or manage his money. She should just stick to being a cop. She wouldn’t quit when he had wanted her to, so she should just stick with that.

Roland had downed about half of the bottle when he decided it was time for bed. They still had to deal with the bank tomorrow. He did have to admit, Rìgh had been an adequate host so far. Despite the fact that this damn castle felt more like a haunted house, Rìgh seemed to know how to treat a guest. And as much as Roland hated to admit it, it was starting to look like Marianne had been right and those people in the town had been wrong. Despite the doors that seemed to open themselves and the castle’s only two residents continuously popping up out of nowhere, the castle itself wasn’t all that bad. And Rìgh’s housekeeper was kind of hot.

Roland had stripped off his clothes and climbed into the bed. He had just been dozing off when the door to his room creaked open. When he looked up at it, Adaira was shutting the door behind her.

He was a bit confused, but only because of the late hour. Roland turned on his best grin, the one that made all the ladies fall at his feet. He certainly never would turn down a willing woman.

“What brings you here at this time of night, darlin’?” he asked as she began sauntering to his bed, stripping off her clothes on the way.

“I couldn’t stop thinking about you,” she murmured in a husky voice. “And I’m just so cold…”

Roland could feel his grin getting wider and he flipped back a section of the blankets. “Well, come on, I’ll warm you up.”

A smile pulled at Adaira’s own pretty lips as she shed the last of her clothing and joined him in his bed.

“Now, not that I’m complaining,” Roland said, “but what if your boss finds out? Won’t you get fired or something?”

“Oh, it’s fine, truly. I’ve been with Broderic for a long time,” Adaira said. “He won’t fire me over having a bit of fun. So long as you can stay quiet. He does have pretty good hearing.”

Roland smiled at that and gave Adaira a proper welcome into his bed.

Chapter Text

Sunlight streamed through the windows the next morning. Marianne did her best to ignore it. She knew there’d be a chill in the air when she left the bed, and seriously, this bed was so comfortable! She never wanted to leave it. Maybe she could talk Bog into selling it to her before she left. Then again, it might not fit into her apartment back home. Oh, well. She’d probably never be able to afford one, anyway.

Marianne crept a tentative hand out of the blankets, searching for her phone on the bedside table. She managed to find it without knocking it to the floor. When she turned it on, however, she sat up with a curse. It was already 10:15, how could she have slept in so late!? Maybe the jet-lag had caught up to her. Or maybe it was the bed. Either way, making herself get out of it still took some effort.

While in the bathroom (and it was updated and modern, but seriously, why was this surprising her at this point?) taking a shower, Marianne caught herself wondering if Bog was making breakfast and began fussing at herself. Really? Of course he was making breakfast! He said himself the night before that he did all of his own cooking. But that was beside the point. The point was why was she so focused on it at all? Why was she so intrigued by him?

She supposed it was because he had helped her to salvage one of her dreams in a way by letting her help renovate the mansion. But that was all it was, she was grateful to him for that. She did not have a crush on him. No, Roland had helped to permanently insure that romance was off the table for her. That settled, Marianne finished her shower, dried off, and got dressed.

 

Marianne had only made it a few steps down the hall when another door further down opened and Bog emerged from it. Today he was dressed in black slacks and a gray button-down shirt. He had decided to forego a blazer in favor of partially rolling up his sleeves, and Marianne had to work to not stare at him.

She was almost convinced the shirt was painted on to his body. It was emphasizing lean musculature that his outfit the night before hadn’t done a much better job of hiding. The cuffs of his sleeves were rolled halfway up to his elbows, showing the start of tattoo sleeves on each arm that were occasionally marred by scars. Honestly, the whole thing was hot as hell and okay where did that come from?!  She did not think Bog was hot! Fortunately, Marianne managed to shake off the thought right as Bog noticed her.

“Good morning, detective,” he greeted. “I must apologize, I don’t normally sleep so late.”

Marianne waved it off. “It’s fine. I slept in too.”

Bog’s mouth crooked up in a smile. “In that case, might I interest you in breakfast?”

“Oh, you don’t need to go to any trouble,” Marianne said, and she had meant it. Her breakfasts usually consisted of a cup or two of coffee on her way to work.

“Please, I insist.” And for some reason, there was something about the look in his eyes that Marianne just couldn’t say no to.  

“Well, if you insist…” Marianne said with a touch of amusement. Bog’s lips quirked up in that smile she was quickly deciding was his trademark and he motioned in the direction of the kitchen.

The two of them walked in companionable silence, and Marianne estimated that they must be about halfway there when a flash of light bouncing off of metal through a partially-open doorway caught her eye. She decided that a free breakfast could wait for a few minutes while she went to see what that was.

She pushed the door open the rest of the way and as she tried to peer into the dimness of the room, Bog appeared behind her and reached over, flipping on a light switch. A reverent gasp left her lips as her hands flew to her mouth and she practically floated a few more steps into the room.

“Oh. My. God,” she murmured in awe. The room was exactly what she was hoping it would turn out to be: a veritable armory full of swords, knives, bows and arrows, and suits of armor, all displayed on racks and stands around the spacious room.

Now she knew exactly what Belle must have felt when the Beast first showed her his library. Historian-and-medieval-weaponry-enthusiast-Marianne was suddenly champing at the bit to start looking around.

“I think I’ve just died and gone to Heaven,” she said as soon as she remembered to breathe.

Bog chuckled softly behind her. “Feel free to look around,” he said. “Some of these I purchased myself and some of them were gifts.”

“Your friends have excellent taste,” Marianne said as she wandered further into the room. This earned her another chuckle from Bog. Everything in the room ranged from European to Asian designs, and most of it appeared to be authentic.

“Adaira must have a lot of fun helping you to keep all of these clean,” Marianne commented when she noticed that there seemed to be not a single speck of dust or strand of a cobweb on anything.

“No, actually, she thinks my fascination with these things is ridiculous. She won’t come in here,” Bog answered.

Marianne’s eyebrows went up. “You mean you clean all of these yourself?”

“Aye. My father always taught me to take care of your weapons if you’re going to keep them around,” Bog said. Well, Bog was certainly taking care of them. Every set of armor was spotless, even if there were nicks in them in some places that confirmed their authenticity. Every single bladed weapon was polished to a high shine. And speaking of the bladed weapons...

“They’re all sharpened,” Marianne murmured the second she looked closer on several of the swords and noticed the honed edges.

“My father was also a believer in not keeping a weapon around unless you could use it. What is the point otherwise?”

“Your father was a smart man,” Marianne said absently as she came to a stop in front of the fireplace. Her attention had been drawn by a single broadsword displayed on the mantle. It seemed to have purposely been set apart from all the others in the room. The design on the pommel was rather simple. There was gold and amber inlaid into it and the leather-wrap grip actually had some signs of wear. The blade, like with all the others in the room, was sharpened and polished, although the metal didn’t gleam quite as brightly due to some scratches along the length. There was no doubt that this sword had once been used.

Marianne couldn’t believe she was looking at an honest-to-God, battle-ready broadsword. One that looked older than nearly everything else in this room.

“Ah, that one’s, ah… been in my family for centuries,” Bog said. Though she was careful to keep any reaction off of her face, Marianne found it odd that he should trip over his words like that. But she managed to silence detective-Marianne whispering to her that something didn’t sound right about his explanation in favor of historian-Marianne getting excited over the confirmation of the sword’s history.

As she continued to admire the sword, Bog reached from behind her again and easily lifted the sword off of its display rack with one hand. He then took a few steps back from her and performed some expert (and in Marianne’s opinion, rather show-off-y) twirling with that same hand before he held the sword out to her hilt first in an offer to hold it.

Marianne wanted to swoon again. How was it her luck had turned so incredible in the space of a few minutes? Now she was actually going to be allowed to hold this beautiful sword? She had to be dreaming!

“Please don’t make me have to insist again,” Bog said at her look of nervous hesitation. Bemusement had lit up his sapphire eyes. Marianne giggled and wrapped her hand around the hilt.

And then quickly realized she was going to need two hands to hold it with. Fortunately, Bog made sure she had a steady grip on the sword before he let her take it. Damn, but Bog had to work out if he was able to hold this sword with one hand!

Marianne didn’t bother to quell her elated giggling as she gave the sword a few experimental swings. Her swings were not nearly as graceful as Bog’s had been (this sword was really heavy…) but he still looked impressed by her skill.

Right then, a haughty snort emanated from the doorway. “Jesus, Marianne, you and your damn sword obsession. It’s so unladylike for a woman to handle any kind of weapon.” Marianne barely suppressed a groan as Bog’s face morphed into that unreadable mask from last night. Leave it to Roland to ruin a moment. “By the way, is there any coffee made?” he asked before either she or Bog could call him out on his acidic comment.

“We were just on our way to the kitchen to make breakfast,” Bog said as Marianne turned to the mantle to place the sword back on its rack.

When she lifted the sword, however, the combination of the sword’s weight and gravity caused her grip to overbalance. Her involuntary reaction to avoid dropping the sword was to throw one hand out to widen her hold. But the only place for her hand to go was the blade, and it happened to be the sharp edge of the blade at that. Marianne gasped in pain as the sword cut into the palm of her left hand.

All of a sudden, Bog was grabbing her hand in both of his. That was when Marianne noticed his face. He was completely fixated on the cut. His nostrils had flared and his lips had parted slightly. At the same time, he looked like he was fighting a really big internal battle.

Now just what in the hell was all this about?

“It doesn’t hurt that much. It’ll be fine once I bandage it, I promise,” Marianne said.

Her voice seemed to snap him out of his trance. “Right, of course,” he said as he took the sword from her and put it back on the rack himself. “I have something you can use in the kitchen.” With that, he turned from her and left the room. He didn’t make eye contact with her or Roland. Marianne had to hurry to follow him.

“Well, that was weird,” she heard Roland mutter on their way out. Marianne narrowed her eyes at him. “You know, this is why women shouldn’t play with swords. Something like this was bound to happen.”

Marianne decided to not dignify his comment by arguing with him. She did, however, take a better look at him. He didn’t look like he had gotten any rest. If anything, he looked a bit pale.

She decided not to comment on that, either. She didn’t give a rat’s ass if Roland had slept well or not.

“By the way, Mr. Knight, are you alright? You don’t look well,” Bog said.

“It was probably that half-bottle of wine I had last night,” Roland answered. “Stuff knocked me right out.”

Marianne snorted. “Are you getting soft, Roland?” she asked. “Because I know for a fact that you can hold your liquor at least a little better than that.”

Roland answered her with a glare while Bog tried to not start laughing.

 

They made it down to the kitchen, and Marianne managed to not drip blood all the way there, which suggested the cut was not that deep. Which was good, because she didn’t want to have to make the trek away from this castle just to find a doctor to stitch the cut. Bog handed her a first aid kit, then he started his coffee maker and began making breakfast.

Marianne wondered where Adaira was as she cleaned up and bandaged her hand. Shouldn’t she be in here helping Bog or something? Then again, this was a big castle. She could be just working in another part of it and didn’t know any of them were awake yet. Marianne dismissed it as exactly that. She’d probably turn up later.

When she finished with her hand, she absently watched Bog cooking breakfast while Roland scrolled on his cell phone next to her. Marianne couldn’t help but notice that Roland looked like he was about to fall asleep again. He had never been much of a morning person, but it was nearly noon. This was unusual, even for him.

She didn’t get the chance to point it out, though. Her cell phone started ringing. A check of the ID showed it was her father calling.

“Hi, dad!” she answered. “Is everything okay?”

“Yes, sweetheart, everything is fine. But I just spoke to Aura, and she needs you to come back right away,” Dagda said.

“Why? What happened?”

“She tells me a patrolman sprained his ankle while on a call last night, and he’s going to be out for the next two weeks at least. And if you don’t come back as soon as possible, they’re going to be very short-handed.”

“Aw, fuck,” Marianne said, massaging her temple with her fingertips. Of course someone would hurt themselves right before Mardi Gras weekend. It wasn’t like they were about to be stupidly busy or anything…

“Language, Marianne,” Dagda chided.

Marianne ignored him. He was always lecturing her about her cursing. “Well, we’re nearly done here. We just need to take care of a couple of things with the bank.”

“Unfortunately, Aura said she can’t wait that long. And I want Roland to go ahead and come back as well. Whatever you have left to take care of can be done over Skype.”

Marianne groaned. Not only was the trip she was finally starting to enjoy being cut short, but she wasn’t going to get any time off before she had to go back to work like she had been looking forward to.

“Alright,” she conceded. “We’ll be on our way to the airport as soon as we eat and gather our things.”

“Okay, dear. See you when you get back. Love you!”

“Love you too, dad.” Marianne ended the call and turned to find Bog and Roland both watching her.

“Well, I’m under orders to return home as soon as possible, and so are you now,” she told Roland.

“What?! Why do I have to go back?” Roland whined as Bog set plates full of food down in front of them.

“Because dad said so, that’s why,” Marianne said by way of explanation. She really hoped she wouldn’t have to listen to this the whole way home.

“I’ll find Adaira and have her bring your things to my car. I’ll drive you to the airport myself,” Bog said. Marianne smiled her thanks at him as she started eating. Roland only rolled his eyes as Bog left to find Adaira.

 

After they had eaten, Bog brought them down to his garage (which Marianne had to admit she was slightly surprised he had one at all, and was only slightly more surprised that it wasn’t filled with cars that he had probably only driven once like a lot of rich guys liked to buy. There were only two cars, one of which she presumed was Adaira’s, and a motorcycle. So it seemed his collecting obsession ended at his arsenal upstairs) and Marianne was doing her best to help Bog load the trunk while Roland suddenly found himself busy with a series of text messages when Adaira appeared.

“A gift for you both,” Adaira said, holding a bottle of an expensive-looking Scotch out to them both.

“Thank you,” Marianne said graciously. “Roland, you can have it.” She decided to not add that she wasn’t much of a drinker.

Roland looked up from his phone right then. “Well, I never turn down free booze,” he said as he took the bottle and shot Adaira the same lewd look he’d been giving her since last night. Marianne found it somewhat odd at first when Bog’s housekeeper didn’t return it this time. But it only took her about two seconds to figure out why that might have been. It looked like Adaira had found out the hard way that Roland wasn’t nearly as impressive as he made himself out to be. Marianne had to fight back the urge to roll her eyes. It was none of her business. Roland would forget all about her once they were home and he had gotten into that bottle.

While Roland stuffed the bottle into his suitcase, Bog turned to give Adaira some instructions. Or at least that’s what it sounded like he was giving her. It was in Scottish Gaelic, so Marianne couldn’t be sure. All she could really tell was that his tone sounded like a warning and that Adaira didn’t look too happy with whatever he was telling her. Then he, Marianne, and Roland got into the car, and they were headed for the airport.

 

“I’ll be at least a few more days before I’m ready to leave,” Bog said to Marianne once they were on the main road. “So would you mind contacting a contractor on my behalf?”

“Well, that normally wouldn’t be a problem, but it is Mardi Gras weekend,” Marianne explained. “Even if I start making phone calls now, it’ll be at least next Wednesday before I hear back from anyone. No one will be available to even talk before then. So I wouldn’t get in a rush to leave.”

“What’s all that mean?” Roland said from the back seat.

“I’m having Detective Springwood begin work on the renovations to the mansion for me,” Bog said. Roland narrowed his eyes at this news. Marianne had to restrain the urge to add a “so there” or something equally childish.

“So everything in Louisiana really is closed for the holiday?” Bog asked Marianne, deciding to take her general course of action regarding Roland and ignoring him further. “I had thought that was just an internet rumor.”

Marianne giggled, but before she could explain to him just how seriously the citizens of Louisiana took their Mardi Gras celebration, Roland decided he wasn’t going to be ignored.

“So, you’re a Mardi Gras virgin, huh?” Roland said, a sarcastic smirk pulling at his mouth.

“What?” Bog said, his face twisting in confusion.

Marianne wanted to reach back and smack Roland, or at least start yelling at him. “It only means someone who’s never experienced Mardi Gras before,” she settled for explaining while glaring at Roland.

“Ah,” Bog said. “That’s a rather interesting term.” If Roland had succeeded in embarrassing him, he was doing a very good job of not showing it.

Roland, however, looked disappointed that he hadn’t gotten to Bog with that. He rolled his eyes and put his earbuds in. Marianne was happy that he wasn’t going to bother them the rest of the drive.   

Chapter Text

~Morning of Ash Wednesday, A.K.A. the end of Mardi Gras~

It was approaching noon on a beautiful, warm, clear Spring day in the city of New Orleans. Being the day after Mardi Gras, much of the city’s population was busy recovering from the recent festivities. Some were returning to work, others that had traveled from out of town were returning home.

Detective Marianne Springwood was blissfully unaware of any of it. She was busy sleeping off a twenty-two hour shift in her second-floor French Quarter apartment.

So when she was awakened by her ringing cell phone after what she had guessed had been four or five hours of sleep, she began cursing herself for not turning it off first. Then she was tempted to just ignore it and go back to sleep. But then the ringing stopped and started up again, indicating the call was too important to leave a voicemail for. Damn. She’d have to answer it, then.

Marianne cracked one eye open long enough to see the screen to answer the call. Then she mumbled something that sounded vaguely like “hello.” It was the best they were getting out of her until they said why they were calling.  

“Marianne! Good, you’re awake!” said the ever-bright voice of Captain Aura Plum on the other end.

“Captain? Wha’s goin’ on?” Marianne slurred sleepily.

“I need you out to the Royal Crescent motel immediately. There’s been a murder. I’ve already got Stuff and Thang on their way,” Aura said.

Marianne’s eyes slid open and she could feel her hand tightening around her phone. Some part of her mind was hoping this was actually a dream. But even her subconscious mind wasn’t cruel enough to make up something like this. “OhGodmotherfuckingdamnit…” Marianne muttered.

“I get it. Believe me, I get it,” Aura said sympathetically. “But you know this can’t wait.”

And Marianne knew this couldn’t wait. A murder had its best chance of being solved and a murderer being brought to justice when it was moved on immediately.

But that didn’t mean she didn’t still get to be irritated by it.

“Ugh, fine, I’m getting up. I’ll be there as soon as I can,” Marianne said.

“See you then!” Aura chirped right before she ended the call.

“Shitshitshitshitshit,” Marianne spat as she laid her phone back down on her bedside table. Then she kicked off her blankets and stumbled out of her bed and into the bathroom before she could give in to the temptation to roll over and go back to sleep.

As she hurriedly scrubbed down in the shower, Marianne estimated that since her return from Scotland, if she didn’t count the few hours of sleep she was just dragged out of, she had gotten maybe a grand total of three hours of sleep. If it was that much.

Since her return from Scotland, the last thing Marianne could remember happening that hadn’t melded into the blur that her long weekend of working had turned into was herself and Bog exchanging phone numbers when he dropped her and Roland off at the airport. Speaking of, the plane ride home had been the last sufficient sleep she had had.

After that, she had no time for contact with anyone. She barely managed to get a text message out to Sunny to contact his cousin Pare at the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to see if they could get started on removing the animals from the mansion. He had texted her back that he’d call Pare, but he couldn’t promise them getting started until Wednesday or Thursday at the earliest. He’d contact her again when he had it set up. And that had been the last time she had heard from him.

Roland had come by her precinct at one point. Marianne guessed that it had been her first day back at work, and he had needed her signature on some of the paperwork involved with the sale of the mansion. He, of course, wasn’t at all concerned that she was extremely busy, and more than anything, she wanted him gone. She signed his paperwork and barely said three words to him, if she spoke to him at all. She hadn’t heard from him since, but she wasn’t worried about him, either. They weren’t overseas anymore and he had his sale. Roland was her dad’s problem now.

At another point, she had received a text from Bog that he had arrived in New Orleans. But she hadn’t been able to give anything more than an acknowledgement to the message. She had been in the middle of helping a family find a lost child, which had been interrupted by some other officers needing her help to arrest the participants of a drunken brawl that had spilled out of a bar and into the street. This had been either two or three days ago, Marianne couldn’t remember which one. She still felt a bit bad that she couldn’t pick Bog and Adaira up from the airport herself. All she’d been able to do was hope that they had found their way to a hotel without a problem. And, for that matter, that they’d been able to find a hotel room.

Time to herself had become a finite resource for those few days. She hadn’t even unpacked from her trip, and Aura had had to order her to stop and take care of the cut on her hand every now and then. For that matter, Aura had had to order her to go and take the few naps Marianne had been able to manage to squeeze in.  

 

Forty-five minutes later saw Marianne pulling up to the aforementioned motel on her motorcycle. Her partner, Stephanie “Stuff” Norwood and her husband and their medical examiner, Theodore, also known as Thang, had arrived seconds before she had. Thang was unloading his medical bag from the backseat of their car as Marianne parked her motorcycle in the space next to theirs and pulled off her helmet.

Judging by the dark circles under Stuff’s green-gold eyes and the large Starbucks cup in her hand, Marianne guessed that her partner would be in just as amicable of a mood as she was feeling. It didn’t help that between the motel’s guests that were trying to leave and the gathering crowd of onlookers on the sidewalk and the other police officers that were everywhere, neither of their moods were going to improve at any point today. 

“Good morning, Marianne!” Thang greeted, shouldering his bag and adjusting his glasses as Marianne dismounted her motorcycle and hung the helmet from the handlebars.

“It’s morning, anyway,” Stuff growled as she took a sip of her coffee.

“So I don’t guess either of you knows any details yet?” Marianne asked them.

“Not yet,” Thang said as Stuff shook her head. “Captain Plum just said she needed us both out here.”

“In that case…” Marianne said, and the three of them followed the trail of police into the building and up to the room. They were greeted by several of them on their way up.

Aura was waiting for them right outside the room/crime scene next to a team of paramedics who were waiting for the all clear to remove the victim. The forensics team was already in the room taking pictures and looking for evidence.

“Oh, good! You’re all here,” Aura said by way of greeting as she motioned for them to go into the room, ignoring Stuff’s irritated grunt and Marianne’s eye-roll.

“Stacey Walker, age 24, worked as a prostitute. She was found by Housekeeping a little over an hour ago when they came to clean the room,” Aura explained while Marianne took in both the room and the dead woman sprawled across the bed. She was still naked, her eyes still open. Her face was turned towards the wall, exposing a vicious-looking gash on her neck.  Thang set down his bag, pulled out a pair of rubber gloves, and went to the bed to begin examining the body. Marianne followed to get a better look at the victim’s wound and immediately noticed something off about the whole thing. “The fact that she’s still in bed would suggest her killer was her client, and he or she killed her either during or after their, well, business with one another happened. The problem is, the only wound anyone can see on her is that rather spectacular tear on the side of her neck.”

“Her cause of death was exsanguination, I’m almost positive,” Thang announced.  

“Well, if that’s the case, then where is all the blood?” Stuff pointed out.

“And there you see the problem,” Aura said.

“Weird,” Marianne murmured, arching an eyebrow. Hopefully there was a logical explanation for this. Thang was the one who would be able to determine that, though. “Did the killer leave anything, then?”

“So far, no,” Aura said. “And there’s something else unusual. The only personal effects in this room all belong to the victim, and nothing of hers is missing. Even her money and debit card are all still in her purse.”

“So the murder was personal, then,” Marianne said. Then she glanced behind her at the room’s window, which was wide open. One of the CSIs was dusting it for fingerprints. “What’s going on with this, by the way?”  

“The responding officers reported it already being open when they arrived,” Aura said. “It could have some relevance to all of this.”

As Marianne was looking around the room, hoping it would yield something else, her cell phone rang. She stepped out into the hall to answer it as Thang called the paramedics in to get the body.

“Sunny! What’s going on?” she answered.

“Hey, Marianne! Look, I got Pare and everyone out here at your haunted house—sorry, your mansion—“ Marianne snorted at that; Sunny had gone out to that mansion dozens of times with her and Dawn, she knew the place made him a little uncomfortable—“to start catching the animals, and we’ve run into a bit of a problem. They want to talk to you about it in person.”

“Yeah, I can come out there. I just don’t know how long I’ll be yet,” Marianne said.

“Ah, okay,” Sunny answered in understanding. He had long ago learned the cues in her tone that said without needing to be said that she was at a crime scene right now. “I’ll let them know.”

“Okay. See you soon,” Marianne said, ending the call and returning to the room.

“…so hopefully once I’ve done an autopsy on her, I’ll have something more definite for you,” Thang was telling Aura and Stuff.

“Well, you know how to find us as soon as you’re done,” Aura said as the paramedics zipped up the body bag and transferred it to the stretcher. Thang left with them.

Once they were out of the room, Aura turned to Marianne and Stuff. “So far, I agree with Marianne. This looks like it might have been personal. I want you two to go to the motel’s manager and get any surveillance footage they might have from last night. And track down everyone who knew the victim and start talking to them.”

Stuff groaned in irritation again as Marianne muttered out a few choice curse words. Neither one of them had had enough sleep to have the patience for this, but they also both knew it couldn’t be helped. They needed to get moving if they were going to catch the killer.

“When we find this asshole, I say we give them a sound ass-kicking,” Marianne grumbled as she and Stuff headed for the motel’s front office.

“Agreed,” Stuff said, taking a long swig of her coffee.

 

Hours later found Marianne on her way out to the Maison de la Forêt Noire, and she kept needing to remind herself to slow down. The aggravation of the last few hours made her want to drive faster to relieve the tension.

She and Stuff had watched the surveillance footage at the motel. While it had given them a nice clean shot of Stacey Walker and her client going into the room, that was all Marianne had been able to say for how helpful it had been. The only thing they could tell about their suspect was that he was likely a tall male. He had been wearing an oversize dark-colored hoodie with the hood pulled up, and his face had been concealed in every possible shot. There had been no footage of him leaving the room at all. In fact, no one else had come or gone from the room until the time Housekeeping had arrived.

That in itself was a possible lead, though. The room was on the second floor of the building, and the window had been open when the responding officers had arrived. The only other way for the suspect to leave was to jump out the window. They could have very well injured a leg or their back in the jump. The moment she and Stuff had realized this, they had set about calling every hospital in New Orleans to give them a BOLO for leg or back injuries from a fall suffered by anyone fitting the suspect’s description. No one had a patient like that yet, but there were promises from all the hospitals that they would contact them if anyone did come in complaining of one of those injuries.

After that, it was on to contacting Miss Walker’s family and friends. Out of her colleagues and friends that had been willing to speak with Marianne and Stuff, they all had similar things to say. None of them knew why anyone would want her dead. She was actually a sweetheart who got along with everyone she met, even her clients. Her family had been a somewhat different story. Miss Walker’s parents were the super-conservative Christian type who had all but disowned her over her chosen profession. They hadn’t spoken to her in a while because of it. But they certainly hadn’t wanted her dead, and they didn’t know anyone who did.

When Marianne arrived at the mansion, her aggravation hadn’t abated much. She had a murder victim and very few leads. It already wasn’t looking good for a quick resolution.

Sunny had been waiting for her in front of the mansion when she parked her motorcycle alongside the trucks and vans belonging to Wildlife and Fisheries and dismounted it.

“Uh oh,” he said when she pulled off her helmet and set it down just a little bit too hard on the handlebars. “That bad, huh?”

“Yeah. That and a lack of sleep,” Marianne said as Sunny led her into the mansion. Sunny already knew what she was referring to. He also knew he was going to have to drop the subject there, because Marianne wasn’t allowed to discuss her cases with anyone. But judging by the look on his face, she had the feeling she was going to be getting a call from Dawn that night.

“So the reason we needed you out here,” Sunny said as they made their way through the inside of the mansion, and Marianne realized he was bringing her to the back yard, “is because they want to know what you want to do about Lizzie.”

“Why? What’s going on with Lizzie?” Marianne asked.

Sunny drew in a breath before he answered. By then, they had reached what remained of the back porch. Nearly all of the Wildlife and Fisheries agents were out here. Several of them were congregated in what had once been a French-style garden area that was a short distance from the swamp the property abutted, doing their best to keep clear of the angrily-hissing alligator with the strange bluish markings around her left eye that kept lunging at those who tried to creep in too close. Crowded on her other side was a sizable pod of juvenile alligators.  

“They’re having a hard time getting a top-jaw rope on her,” he finally answered.  “She won’t let anyone close enough to do it safely. And she moves too fast for anyone to tag-team on her. Then there’s the juveniles themselves. The agents hadn’t counted on there being so many, so they’re not equipped right now to move so many of them safely right now.”

“You’re right, that is a problem. Mr. Rìgh wanted to start work on the mansion as soon as he could,” Marianne said.

“They’ve already cleared out the other animals,” Sunny said. “They just can’t get a hold of Lizzie.”

Marianne nodded. She didn’t need to see or hear any more. Even though it looked like Bog was going to have a house mate in the form of an eight-and-a-half-foot reptile, she decided that she should let him decide what to do about it. She pulled out her phone and dialed Bog’s number.

He answered on the second ring. “Good evening, detective. To what do I owe the pleasure?” he greeted. Marianne decided not to comment on the fact that it sounded like she had just woke him up.

“Well, there’s a bit of an issue out at the mansion,” she began, and then told him what was going on with Lizzie.

“You’re right, that is cause for concern,” he agreed when she was finished. “However, I believe I can handle having a mother alligator and her pod in residence for a while longer.”

“I’ll let them know they can stop, but are you sure about that?” Marianne asked. “They might cause problems later with the construction crews come in to start work on the mansion. They’ll only be able to avoid so much of the area.”

“If it’s necessary to avoid that part of the house altogether for the time being, then that’s what we’ll have to do,” Bog answered.

“Wow, you are really adamant about getting into this house, aren’t you?” Marianne said with a touch of amusement.   

Bog huffed out a laugh. “Yes, I am,” he said. “I drove out the day after my arrival to see it for myself, and I must admit that you were correct when you said the mansion has a lot of potential.”

A grin split across Marianne’s face. “Finally, someone who agrees with me!” she laughed.  

After she ended the call with Bog, she relayed his message to the agents, who were only too happy to leave Lizzie and her babies alone. They were all well-trained in capturing and moving alligators, but a mother protecting her children always proved to be a challenge for them. Sometimes even they preferred to come back another time. They all gathered up their equipment and made their way to their vehicles. Sunny and Marianne trailed behind them all.

“You’re both crazy, you know that, right?” Sunny said as they followed the agents into the front yard and watched them leave.

“How’s that?” Marianne said. She had the feeling she knew what he was about to say, because everyone she knew had said it to her already.

“For wanting to rebuild this house,” he said. “Seriously, this thing is either a fire hazard or a collapsing hazard waiting to happen. Not to mention how close it is to the swamp. I mean, what if it floods or something?”

Exactly as she had thought. She heaved a sigh. “Sunny, this house is three hundred and fourteen years old. It stood through the great fire, it stood through the Civil War, hell, even Hurricane Katrina couldn’t take it down! I seriously don’t think it’s going anywhere,” she argued. “I, for one, am looking forward to seeing it restored to its former glory. And so is Mr. Rìgh.”

“Like I said, you’re both crazy,” Sunny said as the last of the Wildlife and Fisheries agents left.  

Marianne shook her head. She really didn’t feel like getting into this right now. “And by the way, I have some phone calls to start making. Plus, I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night, so I really need to get going.”

“You’re right, I’d better get going too. I have class in the morning and I still gotta drive back to Baton Rouge,” Sunny agreed. “See you later, Marianne.”

“Later, Sunny,” Marianne waved as he got into his car and drove off.

As Marianne picked up her helmet and mounted her motorcycle, she took another look back at the house. The sun was almost completely set. But night time seemed to suit this mansion, which was why she supposed the original owners gave it the name they did.

Marianne let out a sigh and could feel her shoulders slumping. With a murder case in her lap, she wasn’t going to be able to spend as much time helping with the renovations as she wanted to. She couldn’t do much about that, though. Murders happened all the time, and solving them was her job. And her job came before anything else.

She had the feeling Bog would understand. Besides, with him here in America now, it wasn’t like he couldn’t help with the renovations himself. And she had the feeling he would help with the renovations. He definitely didn’t seem the type to sit around while other people did all the work. Letting out another sigh, she put on her helmet, started her motorcycle, and headed back to her apartment.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Marianne was sitting in her precinct’s conference room with Stuff, Aura, and several other officers who were just returning from their post Mardi Gras rest and didn’t have assignments yet. Everyone had a cup of coffee in their hands, and some looked like they still hadn’t quite recovered from the holiday. But they had all heard about the murder case that had been handed to Stuff and Marianne, and as the two of them went over everything they had learned so far with Aura, who was sitting at the head of the table, Marianne noticed that their gazes grew increasingly sympathetic. All of them knew the likelihood of solving a murder that had almost no evidence attached to it.

“…So to sum up, no one that knew the victim had a motive to kill her, the surveillance footage was a complete bust, and the hospitals don’t have anyone matching the potential suspect. Did I miss anything?” Aura said with a note of exasperation coloring her tone.

“No, Captain, that’s about it,” Marianne sighed.

“Which means it’s all on Thang now,” Stuff added. “He was still at his lab as of an hour ago performing the autopsy, so with any luck he found something.”

“Oh, he found something alright,” Thang said from the doorway. Everyone looked up to see him standing there in his scrubs, dark circles under his eyes and a file folder under his arm. “But I don’t think you’re gonna like it.” He came into the room and passed the folder to Aura before he slid into the chair next to Stuff and pulled his glasses off to rub the bridge of his nose with a thumb and forefinger.

“So give us a run-down,” Aura said as she flipped the folder open and started skimming through the reports and photographs.

“Well, I can tell you that you’re definitely searching for a male. Ms. Walker’s ‘customer’ didn’t wear a condom,” Thang said, sliding his glasses back on.

“How kind of him,” Marianne said sarcastically.

“Unfortunately, that’s the end of my good news,” Thang said.

“What the hell does that mean?” Stuff said.

In answer, Thang only nodded to the case file, where Aura had pulled out one of the reports and was reading it. “DNA analysis; inconclusive, no DNA present’?!” she read.

“What?!” Marianne barked. Everyone present was equally shocked and confused.

“Wait, don’t you mean there was no sperm in the semen?” Stuff asked.

“No, I mean there was no DNA in either the semen or the sperm cells. The fluid I recovered from Ms. Walker had all the other properties of semen, complete with a healthy sperm count. But there was no DNA to be found in it,” Thang clarified. “I’ve never seen anything like this. I even called some colleagues and a few friends from medical school, but no one has ever heard of this happening.”

“How is something like that possible?” Marianne wondered out loud. Right then, Aura’s cell phone rang, and she excused herself to the hallway to take it.

“What else do you have?” Stuff prompted.

Thang drew in a breath and let it out slowly. “Well, there was no sign of sexual assault, so he was definitely her client. But there was bruising on her arms and knuckles where she tried to fight off her attacker, meaning she died after they were done. But then this brings us back to her missing blood. She definitely died of major blood loss, and it definitely left through her carotid artery. Which, by the way, was severed in two places.” Here, Thang stopped and visibly shuttered. Then he stood up and rounded the table to the file, pulled a couple of pictures out of it, and slid them over to Stuff and Marianne. The pictures were of the savage looking wound on their victim’s neck. Thang had to draw in another steadying breath before he could continue with his findings. “That wound on her neck, by the way? It’s a bite mark. Made by human teeth.”

Everyone in the room was stunned into total silence for a few seconds. Marianne was the one to break it. “Some kind of fetishist, then?” she suggested.

“I don’t know,” Thang said, bracing himself on his arms and sagging against the table. “I do know that wound on her neck is what killed her, but I don’t know what could have torn open the artery like that.”

“What about saliva around the wound, then? Did you look for that?” Marianne asked.

“I did, and it was the same as the semen. There was no DNA present. It might as well have been water for all the good it was,” Thang said.

Right then, Aura came back into the room, her phone in her hand. “That was from forensics,” she announced as she sat back down. “They couldn’t recover any viable fingerprints from the room, which, given that it was a motel room, is not really surprising. So since it looks like our suspect did leave through the window, he covered his hands while he was opening it. And, by the way, there was no sign of anyone else being in the room. It was just the victim and her client.”

“So the client is definitely the suspect,” Stuff confirmed.

“Yep,” Aura said.

“And the only reports we’ve had from any of the hospitals that admitted anyone with a back or leg injury were a forty-five year old woman who had been involved in a car accident and an eight-year-old boy who tripped and fell while playing in his yard and needed stitches,” Marianne added. “No one has fit the suspect’s description so far, and I’m starting to think there won’t be. By now he could have gone to a hospital in Baton Rouge or on the North Shore if he did injure himself, and he could have been discharged at this point. Or he could have been a tourist from out of state and is long gone by now.”

“Damn,” Stuff muttered. Everyone else in the room looked just as much at a loss as Marianne felt. She had had cold cases before, but never one to this extreme. There were no suspects, no leads, and an almost negligible amount of evidence.

“We’ve got to have something,” Aura insisted. “Call the hospitals in those areas. Call into Mississippi if you have to. Find out if they had a patient matching our suspect. I know it’s extreme, but right now, it’s all we have. You’re all dismissed.”

Marianne let out an exasperated breath as they gathered up their reports and people started filing out of the room. She had the feeling this was going to wind up being a waste of time.

 

It was technically after the lunch rush when Marianne and Stuff finally finished calling hospitals and decided to go eat. And just as Marianne had predicted, they came up empty-handed. No one even remotely fitting their suspect’s description had been admitted with a back or leg injury.  It was all Marianne could do to not take her frustration out on her cheeseburger.

Stuff, either sensing her distress or having a need to take her mind off of things as well, decided that they weren’t discussing work for the time being.

“So, how go things with the mansion?” she asked.

“Well, except for Lizzie and her babies, all of the animals are gone. Now I need to get in touch with a contractor that can get started right away and work as fast as possible,” Marianne said.

Stuff put down her fork, pulled out her pen and notepad, and scribbled down a phone number. “This is my brother Brutus’s number. He’s a carpenter, and he’s got a really good team of people. They actually specialize in restoring houses damaged by floods and fires and whatever other natural disaster, but he just might be interested in helping to renovate that mansion.”

“Thanks!” Marianne said as she slid the scrap of paper into her pocket.

“So what’s this Broderic Rìgh like, by the way?” Stuff asked.

“He seems nice enough,” Marianne answered somewhat absently as she dug back into her food. “But you wouldn’t be able to tell just by looking at him. He puts off this dangerous bad-boy edge that tells you to stay far away from him. But then you start talking to him, and it’s the polar opposite. He’s very intelligent and friendly, and seems to have the same weird sense of humor I have.”

As soon as Marianne started talking, she noticed the gleam sparkling in Stuff’s eyes and the strange smile curving her lips.

“What? What’s with that look?”

Stuff’s grin widened. “Somebody has a crush,” she said in a sing-song voice.

Marianne nearly choked on the French fry she’d been trying to swallow. “I do not have a crush on him! Where the hell would you get an idea like that, anyway? This isn’t junior high!” she sputtered out. “And besides, if you’ll recall, I’ve sworn off of all that lovey-dovey crap.”

“Oh, believe me, I haven’t forgotten,” Stuff said. “But you have to remember that not all men are like that douche-canoe ex-fiancé of yours. Some of them are actually decent human beings.” Marianne snorted in disbelief at this. “And by the way,” Stuff continued, ignoring her, “have you ever told your family about what happened with him?”

“No, I haven’t,” Marianne admitted. “And at this point, I don’t see any reason to.”

Stuff huffed out a sigh and shook her head. “Well, it’s not my place to tell anyone what happened between the two of you, but you should at least tell your father and sister. If for no other reason than to get your dad off of your back about him. And maybe with the added bonus of him seeing Roland for who and what he really is.”

She had a point. Roland had rubbed Stuff the wrong way from the moment the two of them met, and Stuff had never liked him. The feeling had been mutual, and he had even tried to talk Marianne into asking for a new partner or requesting to work alone at one point. Marianne had refused to do it, because she and Stuff actually worked well together. And of course, it turned out that Stuff had been right about him. But even so…

“It’s still too painful and embarrassing, though,” Marianne murmured. “Even after all this time, I still can’t do it.”

Stuff gave her a sympathetic look. “But you know you won’t be able to move on by ignoring the problem,” she pointed out.

“You’re right,” Marianne conceded. “But at the very least, Dawn has let it go. She knows something happened and that it was bad, she just doesn’t know what. And my dad’s well on his way there. At least he isn’t nagging me about taking Roland back anymore. So as far as I’m concerned, that’s progress.”

“Well, it’s up to you, in the end,” Stuff said in a tone that suggested they were just going to have to agree to disagree on this. “And we need to get going, we have to report to Captain Plum soon.”

“If only we had anything to report to her,” Marianne said as they both pulled their debit cards out to pay for their food. “You know she isn’t going to like it.”

 

Marianne seemed to be on a roll with predicting things that day. Aura was annoyed by their lack of anything to report. But there was nothing they could do about it. Aura then offered them the rest of the day off if they wanted. Stuff still had reports from her arrests during Mardi Gras weekend to finish, so she opted to stay. Marianne, however, had a phone call to make. Plus, she needed the time to clear her head. So she took Aura up on her offer and headed for her motorcycle in the parking lot.

She arrived at the mansion to find a car parked in front of it. The vehicle was one of those sleek and super-expensive models and looked brand new. It wasn’t hard to guess who was there. And by the sounds she could hear coming from inside the mansion, it wasn’t hard to figure out what he was doing. She left her helmet on the handlebars and stepped inside the mansion. Sure enough, Bog Rìgh was there among a pile of brand new cleaning supplies, clearing out debris.

And Marianne found herself swallowing hard. Today he was wearing an athletic-cut black t-shirt that might as well have not actually been there, a pair of blue jeans, black biker boots, and a pair of wrap-around tactical sunglasses were perched in his hair. The Celtic cross necklace she had seen on him back in Scotland was hanging from his neck.

He had heard her come in apparently, because as soon as she appeared in the doorway, he looked up at her and the corner of his mouth lifted in a greeting.

“So are you that eager to move in, or do you just not like having nothing to do?” she asked half-jokingly and in what she thought was a lame attempt to cover up her momentary hesitation.

His smile widened slightly. “Both, actually,” he answered. Marianne found herself returning his grin as she picked up another broom and started sweeping glass and cobwebs out of a corner.

“By the way, my partner put me in touch with her brother,” Marianne said. “His name is Brutus Holland, and he’s a contractor. He said he can come by first thing in the morning to look at the house.”

“I’ll be sure I’m here to meet him, then,” Bog answered.

They worked in silence for a few minutes after that, until Marianne was reaching for a dust pan and realized that Bog had stopped and was watching her concernedly.

“What?” she asked.

“Is everything okay? You look exhausted,” he said.

Marianne was a second away from brushing it off with an “I’m fine!” The source of her stress concerned her job, and she couldn’t discuss it with anyone who wasn’t involved. But then she let out a breath and her shoulders slumped slightly. She realized then that there was a dull pain at the base of her skull where a tension headache was forming.  

“I am, actually,” she explained. “And annoyed. I never had a chance to get any actual rest since Mardi Gras ended, and to top it off, I was saddled with this really strange murder case.”

“Are you speaking of the prostitute in the motel room? Because it was on the news.”

“That’s the one.” Marianne rubbed at her temple with her fingertips. Her headache was starting to spread. She let out a frustrated growl. “To start with, the cause of death was just weird, and then there are no witnesses and no suspects. And the worst part is, there is no evidence at all.” Marianne heaved out a sigh. “It’s looking like this one is headed for the cold case archives. Which sucks ass, but it does happen.”

Bog’s expression was nothing but sincere sympathy. “That isn’t your fault, especially if you’ve done everything you can. Sometimes that just isn’t enough.”

Marianne smiled gratefully at his words. “Thank you,” she said. “I guess I need to be reminded of that sometimes.”

Bog’s lips turned up in that close-lipped smile that she was coming to think of as his signature smile and his face softened. Right then, a charged something passed between them. Marianne could feel her face heating up, and Bog must have felt it too, because he suddenly cleared his throat and became extremely interested in sweeping away more dirt from the floor.

“By the way,” she said, deciding that a subject change was in order, “what’s Adaira doing with herself right now?”

Bog hesitated for a fraction of a second longer than necessary before he answered. “She—she, er, elected to remain in Scotland.” Marianne’s brow furrowed at his stumble. “It was a last minute decision,” he finished.

“Ah,” Marianne said with a grin. “Decided she didn’t want to put up with the eternal party that is New Orleans?”

Bog snorted a laugh. “No, actually, she really wouldn’t say why. She just decided she didn’t want to come. Besides, she’s a grown woman, I couldn’t make her come with me.”

“No, I guess not,” Marianne laughed. She decided not to comment on the fact that while he looked a bit sad about Adaira not being there, over all he didn’t seem all that concerned. Oh, well. Adaira had been his employee, and their relationship had seemed strained at best. It was none of Marianne’s business what had happened between them.

Before Marianne could say anything else, the sound of a large splash of water erupted from the back yard.

“What the hell--?” Bog said, swiveling towards it. Another splash sounded.

“Sounds like your roommate found her dinner,” Marianne said. “Come and see.” She laid her broom aside, and Bog did the same with his. Then she led him towards the back of the house.

When they arrived, Marianne stopped just inside the doorway and pointed towards the swamp. There on the shore lay the carcass of a white-tailed deer. Lizzie had her jaws clamped around one of its legs and was death-rolling it off. Her pod of juveniles were scattered nearby, some of them snapping at bugs skipping over the water and the grass.

Marianne looked up at Bog to find him standing a hairsbreadth from her, but his eyes were on Lizzie, watching in fascination. She couldn’t fault him for his curiosity. Most people only ever got to see an alligator in the wild eating if they were watching a nature documentary. She decided to not dwell on the fact that he was standing so close to her, and completely ignored the voice whispering in the back of her head that he wasn’t close enough.

“Well, I suppose it won’t matter if you have Adaira here or not,” she went with, “because as long as Lizzie stays around, you won’t be lacking for company.”

Bog looked down at her, looking very much like he was about to say something, but then he closed his mouth. Right then, that heated something passed between them again. Marianne could have sworn the blue of Bog’s eyes darkened slightly. Marianne shifted uncomfortably and shook it off.

“Um, w-well, I should—I should be getting home,” she stuttered. “It’s getting dark, and I need some sleep.”

“Ah, um, right, er--,” Bog said before he settled for simply stepping aside and motioning in front of him for her to lead the way.

“Aren’t you going to head back to your hotel?” Marianne asked Bog as he walked her out to her motorcycle and he made no move to pull his keys out. “It can get pretty dark out here.”

“I prefer the night time,” Bog said. “I get my best work done. And besides, I’m not afraid of the dark.”

“In that case, I’ll try to come back tomorrow. Good night, Bog.”

“Good night, detective,” Bog said as she slid her helmet on and started the motorcycle. For some reason, she smiled all the way back to the city.

 

When Marianne arrived home and pulled out her cell phone to recharge it, she saw a missed call from her father.

“Hi, sweetheart!” he greeted when she called him back.

“Hi, dad. You called?”

“Yeah, I was just wondering if you knew how Mr. Rìgh was getting along in his first week here.”

Marianne had been getting a bottle of water out of her refrigerator, but she stopped to glance down at her phone with narrowed eyes. Why couldn’t Dagda call Bog himself? She supposed she should give her father credit for at least being concerned about Bog, though.

“He seems to be doing just fine. He’s eager to get started on restoring the mansion,” she told him instead. “He was out there tonight working on cleaning out the dirt and broken glass.”

“Huh, I’m surprised he didn’t just hire someone else to do that,” Dagda said. “He has the money, why get his own hands dirty with that?”

Marianne had to clench her teeth before she voiced her opinion on why that was a load of bullshit. She really wasn’t in the mood to argue with her dad on who should be doing physical labor and who shouldn’t.

“Didn’t Roland give you an update on how Mr. Rìgh was doing?” Marianne asked, changing the subject.

“I’ve only spoken to Roland once, and that was when the sale cleared. He had seemed a bit distracted at the time. When I asked him about Mr. Rìgh, he said he hadn’t talked to him. I haven’t heard from him since,” Dagda said.

Marianne rolled her eyes and took a swig of her water. “Well, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. You know Roland isn’t known for keeping in touch with his clients after he makes a sale,” she pointed out. She opted to not say that he was probably distracted by one of his “girlfriends” and didn’t want to be kept on the phone too long, so that was why he wasn’t really forthcoming with information. “And it was a big sale, too. He probably found his way to Harrah’s or something and is pissing it all away at a blackjack table. Which, by the way, he’s also known for.”

Dagda sighed. “You’re right, Roland isn’t exactly responsible with his money,” he agreed. “Anyway, that was the last time I talked to him, and honestly, he didn’t seem to care that much about anything else.

“Which is also not out of character for him,” Marianne finished. “Look, Roland’ll turn back up as soon as he runs out of money.”

“You do have a point there,” Dagda mused out loud. “If he can’t straighten up and show a little more interest and motivation to work, I may have to consider letting him go.”

It was something of a minor miracle that Marianne didn’t shriek with happiness over this news. But she did smile and pump her fist.

“Well, dad, I’ve had a long day, and I’d like to get to bed,” Marianne said before she could act on her excitement anyway.

“Okay, sweetie, good night,” Dagda said.

“Good night, dad.” Marianne ended the call and made her way to her bedroom to crash.

Chapter Text

~Two weeks later~

There were times when Marianne got tired of being right. She and Stuff had poured over every scrap of evidence they had and spoken to Stacey Walker’s friends and family again. A return trip to the motel for more surveillance footage only yielded a new shot of the back of the building, where it turned out there was only one camera that faced the window they needed. And they did see the suspect leave through the window, but he was fully dressed, with his hoodie back in place. The camera shot was too far away to make out anything useful.

There had been something strange about their suspect, though. He jumped out of the window with the practice of someone who jumped out of multi-story windows on a daily basis. And once he hit the ground, rather than tucking and rolling to avoid breaking a bone (and thank God Sunny practiced acrobatics and parkour as a hobby or Marianne would have never known that fact) he simply sprang up like a cat and ran.  If he had hurt himself, he didn’t show any outward sign of it.

The new shot had occurred about an hour and a half after Stacey Walker and the suspect entered the room, which fit the timeframe someone would need if they had bought a prostitute’s services for the evening.

After that, Marianne and Stuff had no choice but to shelve the case. The only other thing they could do was hope that someone would come forward with some new information for them, which was looking less and less likely. It took Marianne a few days to stop grinding her teeth over the whole thing.

And if the irritation from her murder investigation going cold wasn’t bad enough, it looked like she had another mystery on her hands. Almost a week after her conversation about Roland with her father, Dagda had called her again. No one had seen or heard from Roland in several days. Marianne still didn’t think it was cause for concern, although even she had to admit it was unusual for Roland to vanish for so long. However, Roland wasn’t her problem. Someone related to him would have to file a missing persons report on him, and even then, it still wouldn’t fall to her to investigate it. She was a homicide detective. Missing persons wasn’t her jurisdiction. It would only be her problem if someone found his body in the city somewhere.

Marianne’s only solace in all of this was the work on the mansion. Stuff’s brother had been able to start work right away, and as far as Marianne could tell, he seemed delighted at the opportunity to work on it. She thought the fact that Bog had promised them a nice sized bonus if they could finish by the beginning of summer probably factored into it.

So every afternoon, Marianne went out to the mansion to help gut walls and pull up old floorboards. Somewhat to her surprise, Bog was there too. She was glad to know she was correct about her feeling that he didn’t mind getting his hands dirty, rather than sitting around waiting at his hotel room for the construction crew to finish or going over there just to be in the way. He had been right there beside them all with a sledgehammer and safety glasses, knocking out old walls and dragging the broken wood away. And because he always stayed behind well after everyone else called it a night, the work was getting done a lot faster. Before long, she had even stopped worrying about him being out there alone at night. He could clearly take care of himself.

It was now mid-morning around two weeks after Marianne’s case went cold, and she was at her desk amid a pile of both finished and unfinished paperwork that she had laid aside for a bit to take a call from Dawn, who was between her classes and wanted an update on the mansion.

“…So we’ve pretty much got the first floor completely gutted, and they should be getting the foamboard and plywood deliveries in today or tomorrow. They were supposed to have people out there to check the wiring and the pipes today, and I’m pretty sure a lot of it’s gonna have to be replaced first,” she was telling Dawn.  

“And is Bog gonna help with that too?” Dawn asked.

“I don’t know. Why?”

“Oh, it’s just that you’ve spent an awful lot of time with him lately. I figured you probably knew if he had any experience running electrical wires or laying pipes or whatever…”

Marianne furrowed a brow, despite the fact that Dawn couldn’t see it. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Just that you’ve talked to him a lot, and you talk a lot about him, and I’m surprised that there’s anything you don’t know about him at this point.” Marianne could almost hear Dawn’s grin. A giggle that was quickly disguised as a cough sounded from the desk across from hers, and Marianne looked up to see Stuff trying to hide a smile of her own while she worked on her own paperwork. Marianne frowned at her.

“I still don’t get what you mean,” Marianne said to Dawn, and Stuff stifled another laugh.

“Oh, well,” Dawn said. “I suppose since you don’t know exactly how much he’s going to help with, I’m going to have to come over there myself and find out.”

“You are not!” Marianne argued, and then wondered why she even said that. Why was she suddenly so concerned with Dawn wanting to meet Bog? At the other desk, Stuff was going red in the face and her shoulders were shaking from trying to contain her laughter.

Marianne drew in a calming breath. “Look, Dawn, even if you came over to meet him, he’s busy rebuilding that mansion, and you hate that kind of—“ The rest of her sentence was cut off when Aura came bursting out of her office.

“Load up, ladies, we’ve got a body across town,” she announced.

 

Marianne, Aura, and Stuff arrived in a neighborhood just outside of the Lower Ninth Ward. Marianne was thankful that there were fewer onlookers in this part of the city. The people that had ventured out to find out why the swarm of police officers were there wisely chose to watch from their front porches. Forensics was already at the crime scene, located in a small alley between two vacant houses, looking for evidence. Thang was already there as well, examining the body.

“Erik Nolton, age 34, injury attorney,” Aura explained as they entered the alley. “He was out here meeting with a client in her home last night.” Here, she indicated a woman talking to a uniformed officer. The woman’s arm was in a sling and a seven-year-old boy was holding her good hand.

Thang looked up at them as they walked up to him, and judging by the look on his face, Marianne had the feeling she wasn’t going to like what Thang had to say. He motioned to the paramedics to come and load up Mr. Nolton before he joined Marianne, Stuff, and Aura.

“It looks like Mr. Nolton died of exsanguination caused by a torn carotid artery,” he said without needing to be asked.

“The same way as Stacey Walker. That can’t be a coincidence,” Stuff said.

“I’m pretty sure it’s not. I need to do a further examination, but I’m almost certain I’m right,” Thang said.

Marianne opened her mouth to voice her thoughts, but then closed it again. By the way everyone else looked, she could tell they were all thinking the same thing. Yet she couldn’t help praying that she was wrong. She could only reassure herself that it was still too early to tell. And right now she needed to focus on what was going on in front of her. She had a new murder to investigate.

Glancing back at the victim’s client, Marianne was on the move towards her before she realized she had started walking.

“Hi there,” she said to the woman when she arrived and held a hand out to her. “I’m Detective Springwood. I understand you were Mr. Nolton’s client?”

The woman shook her hand. “Yes ma’am,” she answered. “Veronica Wright.”

“Can you tell me what you know, Ms. Wright?” Marianne asked.

Ms. Wright took a breath. She looked disturbed by this whole thing, and Marianne didn’t blame her one bit. “Well, Mr. Nolton came out to my house last night to tell me what was going on with my case,” she explained. “My shoulder got busted up in a car accident a few weeks ago, and I’m on pain pills and can’t work until I’m better. Anyway, after he got done telling me about my case, he left. Or at least, I thought he left. So I made my son Marcus here his dinner, and then I watched TV while he did his homework. Then we both went to bed. But then, this morning, I was taking Marcus out to catch his school bus, and Mr. Nolton’s car was still in my driveway. I called his office to ask why he left his car at my house, but they told me he never came to work. After I got off the phone with them, the cops showed up down the street. I knew something was wrong, so I came out to see what was going on.”

“And everyone else we’ve talked to said they didn’t see or hear anything last night,” the uniformed officer added. “And, of course, no one lives in either of those houses.”

“I know what you’re thinking,” Aura said in a low voice next to her as the uniformed officer led Ms. Wright back towards her house. Marianne hadn’t realized until right then that Stuff and Aura had joined her and Thang had already left to start his autopsy.  “But it’s still too early to tell if this is a serial killer or not. The victim was an injury attorney, so someone could have still had it out for him.”

“We’re likely to get the same thing as before,” Stuff said, “but we’ll still go talk to everyone who knew Mr. Nolton.” Aura nodded in agreement, and Stuff and Marianne were off.

 

An hour later, Marianne and Stuff were talking to Erik Nolton’s parents, who lived in the neighboring city of Metarie. Mrs. Nolton was so beside herself with grief over her son that she couldn’t even stand up or speak. They’d had to speak to Mr. Nolton senior to get any information at all. And just like with Stacey Walker, they didn’t know of anyone who wanted their son dead.

Marianne’s phone rang in the middle of the interview. She left Stuff to talk with the parents while she took the call.

“While I hate to interrupt your investigation,” Aura said on the other end, “I need the two of you out to Bayou Noire. We’ve got another victim.”

Marianne bit back a curse. “We’re on our way,” she said, ending the call.

“Detective Norwood?” Marianne said, returning to their interview. “Something’s just come up, we’ve gotta go.”

Years of practice showed when Stuff kept her face from showing any reaction as she nodded her acknowledgement. Stuff turned back to the Noltons and handed them one of her business cards. “If you think of anything else that might help us, please call me,” she told them. Mr. Nolton nodded and thanked her.

“Head to Bayou Noire,” Marianne explained once they were in the car and pulling into traffic. “The captain reported that another body’s been found.”

“God damn it,” Stuff swore.

 

“Isn’t that your mansion?” Stuff asked when they arrived. Their crime scene hadn’t been hard to find. All they’d had to do was look for the police units parked all over the side of the road. Then it was a short hike through the forest that stood between the road and the waterway itself. They had arrived at the top of the bayou’s natural levee, where they could see the body of an elderly male partially washed up on the shore. Marianne didn’t need to look up to see the Maison de la Forêt Noire a short distance away, close enough in fact that the construction crews could be seen moving around the outside of it and on the roof.

“White male, late sixties to early seventies, no ID on him that we can find,” Aura said when Marianne and Stuff joined her.

“I think I might know who he is,” a nearby uniformed officer said. “There was a missing persons report filed about a week ago, and this gentleman fits the description.”

“And I doubt we’re gonna get much in the way of evidence out here,” one of the CSIs announced. “He might have been dumped here, or his body washed up from downstream.”

Before anyone could answer either the officer or the forensics agent, Thang walked up, dressed in his scrubs, which indicated that he had been in the middle of the autopsy on Mr. Nolton when he had been called. He walked through without a word to anyone and went straight to the body. It took him less than a minute to find the bite wound on the victim’s neck.

“Bite mark on his neck and a torn carotid artery,” he announced. Then he motioned the paramedics in.

“Serial killer,” Marianne murmured.

“I need to get him back to the lab to be sure, but that’s what I’m thinking,” Thang said.

“Will you please remember that we can’t just assume things right off the bat?” Aura fussed. “As ready as even I am to call it that, we need evidence be—“

Aura was cut off when one of the paramedics let out a startled yell. Marianne turned to see what was going on.

 Swimming nearby were Lizzie, as well as about half of her pod of juveniles. Four of them had broken away from the group to come and investigate what was going on on the shore.

“Hang on, I got it,” Marianne said, picking up a section of a fallen tree branch that was lying on the ground. She was almost to the victim and the paramedics when the juvenile alligators suddenly stopped a few inches away. Their sudden pause caused Marianne to pause. Before she could make a move to shoo them off, one of the juveniles let out an alarmed croak while another one hissed angrily. All four alligators then turned around and made a beeline back towards their mother.

All the humans looked around at one another, completely mystified.

“I’ve never seen an alligator act like that before,” one of the paramedics said.

“Well, let’s not give them a chance to change their minds,” Marianne said, and the paramedics returned to work pulling the victim out of the water. Marianne stayed near them just in case, but Lizzie only watched Marianne watching her.

Satisfied that neither Lizzie nor her children were going to get bold again, she looked up and saw that activity at the mansion had stopped. The entire construction crew had seen what was happening downstream and had stopped to watch. Marianne blinked when she realized Bog was among them. She thought he might have had that unreadable look on his face, but given the distance and the fact that his sunglasses were in place over his eyes, she couldn’t be sure.

“So, which one is your Bog Rìgh?” Stuff asked from right next to her, and Marianne nearly jumped out of her skin. She hadn’t heard Stuff walk up. She recovered quickly, though.

“He isn’t my anything!” Marianne retorted.

“Sure he isn’t,” Stuff said in a tone that suggested she believed the complete opposite. “So which one is he?”

Marianne growled under her breath. “The tall one with the black hair and sunglasses,” she answered in resignation.

She knew when Stuff had picked him out, because her eyebrow arched. “Jesus Christ is he tall,” Stuff commented. “And pale as a sheet, too.”

“Uh, he did just come in from Scotland,” Marianne reminded her.

“I guess you’re right. He spends about another month or two here, and that paleness will be taken care of,” Stuff said. Marianne only shook her head.

“If you two are done ogling Marianne’s boyfriend, would you please get back to the office and get to work on identifying our victim?” Aura said, joining the two detectives at the shore.

He is NOT—“ Marianne started, and then realized she was nearly screaming and that everyone at the mansion could probably hear her, so she stopped and drew in a calming breath. But before she could finish what she was saying, she noticed Aura’s eyes were locked on Bog. And her expression had gone flat and unreadable.

Marianne glanced back at Bog to see him pulling off his sunglasses to return Aura’s stare. Bog’s face looked just as unreadable as Aura’s.

“Do you two know each other?” Marianne asked.

“We’ve met,” Aura said absently. Then, like shaking rain drops off of a rain coat, Aura broke her staring contest and turned back to Stuff and Marianne. “We need to find out who our newest victim is as soon as possible. If you and Thang are right, then we need to find this guy’s family and see if this killer has some kind of pattern. While you’re doing that, I’m going to call the Chief of Police and update him on what’s going on.” With that, Aura turned around and headed back to her car without another word.

“Well that was weird, even for her,” Stuff pointed out as Aura drove off.

Marianne turned back around for one more look at the mansion. The paramedics had long since left with the victim, and the construction crew at the mansion was starting to trickle back to the building to return to work.

Bog was the last one of them to leave. Marianne met his eyes again for a moment, and his expression was definitely unreadable. Then he slid his sunglasses back into place and returned to the mansion. Marianne also turned, and she and Stuff returned to Stuff’s car.

 

It was after dark by the time Marianne left work. She and Stuff had identified the victim as Charles Arceneaux, age 68. Thang had called them to report that it was definitely the same cause of death as Stacey Walker and Erik Nolton. But before he could tell them anymore, he wanted to run a couple more tests.  Marianne and Stuff reported this to Aura and then went to speak to Mr. Arcenaux’s family.

Just like with the other two victims, no one who knew Charles Arceneaux knew of anyone who wanted him dead. He was a retiree and one of the sweetest men anyone had ever known. Mr. Arcenaux’s daughter, Michelle, had told them that when he didn’t return from a fishing trip the evening before, she had reported him missing. Like many of the people who lived in close proximity to the bayou, he liked to go fishing for his dinner most evenings. He usually caught something within an hour, but sometimes it would take longer. So when she didn’t hear from him that night, she wasn’t terribly worried.

But then he hadn’t called her the next morning. Michelle had gone out looking for him. When she found out that no one had seen him, she made the report. He was in good health, and it wasn’t like him to just disappear like that.

Marianne had arrived home both frustrated and emotionally drained. She stayed at home for all of five minutes before she decided that a walk around the French Quarter was in order.

In a testament to how late it was, most of the stores were closing for the night. The bars, however, were still open. But she also wasn’t in the mood for a crowded bar scene, so she headed to the Café du Monde outside of Jackson Square. After grabbing a bag of beignets and coffee to go, she resumed her walk to Jackson Square, where she sat down on a bench to eat and admire the azalea bushes that were currently exploding with flowers.

“Care for some company?” she was asked a few minutes later, about halfway through her first beignet. She looked up for the voice’s owner to find Bog standing there, taking off his sunglasses. Marianne thought it was unusual for him to be wearing sunglasses. It was after dark. It was also unusual that he was wearing a leather jacket, since it was a warm night. Despite it all, she couldn’t help lighting up.

“Sure!” she said, motioning to the bench for him to sit down. “Have you ever had a beignet before?”

“Ah, no,” he answered.

Marianne made a face. “Seriously? You’ve been in New Orleans this long now and you haven’t eaten a beignet?”

“I haven’t had an excuse to try one,” he said.

Marianne snorted in disbelief. “Here,” she said, pulling another one of the square doughnuts covered in powdered sugar out of the bag and holding it up to him.

“Just one thing before you eat it, though,” she said as he took the pastry from her and brought it to his mouth for a bite. “Make sure you don’t inhale—“

Her warning came a second too late, because the second Bog bit into the beignet, he started sneezing out powdered sugar.

Marianne couldn’t stop the giggle that erupted from her lips while Bog worked on catching his breath and trying to swallow at the same time. It was also the first time all day she had laughed, and it worked like nothing else had. It actually felt good.

“Are you okay?” she asked Bog when she finally sobered up.

“I’m fine, but these things are dangerous!” he answered.

Marianne giggled again. “Actually, once you learn how to eat them, they’re addictive.”

“As I said, dangerous,” he said. Then he looked down at himself, and then over at her. “And does one ever learn how to not make a mess while eating them?”

Marianne looked from herself to Bog to see what he was talking about. The fronts of their shirts were both coated in powdered sugar.

“Nope, I’m pretty sure it comes with the territory,” she answered. Bog huffed out a laugh and chanced another bite of his beignet. He had better luck this time.

“I saw you in the swamp today,” Bog mentioned conversationally as Marianne finished her first beignet. “Would you mind if I asked what was happening?”

Marianne let out a breath as she finished her beignet. “There was a body in the swamp,” she said.

Bog watched her for a moment. “Would you like to talk about it?” he asked.

Marianne smiled at the concern she saw in his eyes. “As much as I want to, I’m not allowed,” she explained. “Suffice it to say, you picked one hell of a time to move here.”

“Why is that?”

“You remember that murder I had a couple of weeks ago with no evidence and no leads? Well, today we discovered two more, and it looks like they died the same way. And right now, we have the same amount of evidence for these as the first one. And to top it off, I’ve been trying to question grieving family members all day.” She reached for the last beignet in the bag and tore a bite off.

“Is it not possible they were all murdered by the same person?” Marianne noticed the concern on his face.

“It’s too early to tell right now, but we’re not ruling it out,” she answered.

“If there is a possible serial murderer on the loose, why is it you’re walking around the city alone at night?”

Marianne had to clamp down on her irritation. She could take care of herself. But she had to remember that Bog was obviously raised to act like a gentleman, and he was only concerned about her safety.

So rather than getting mad, she smiled at him and patted the gun on her hip. “I’m a cop, remember? And even if I wasn’t, Louisiana is an open-carry state.”

Bog huffed out a laugh and swallowed the rest of his beignet.

That was when Marianne caught herself staring at his eyes. Damn, but they were so blue! And they were doing that luminescing thing they were doing back in Scotland. He must have been wearing those contacts again.  

“What’s wrong?” Bog asked when he noticed her staring.

“Nothing, it’s just, your contacts are really cool,” she admitted.

Bog’s face twisted in confusion. “You know, that weird glow-in-the-dark thing they do?” she clarified.

For a split second, something passed over his face that Marianne might have called alarm before his expression morphed into amusement.

“Yes, that’s it,” he explained. “I like to wear costume contact lenses sometimes.”

“I just hope the color of your eyes aren’t part of the contacts.” The words were out of Marianne’s mouth before she could stop them.

“Why?” Bog asked as Marianne flushed bright red.

“I-it’s just that….um….well, your eyes a-are beautiful,” she stuttered out.  This caused Bog to start blushing, and she turned away from him to drain a long swig of coffee from her cup.

“Ah, it’s—it’s getting late,” Bog commented after a long few seconds where neither of them had spoken. Marianne pulled out her phone to check the time.

“You’re right; we need to get out of here. They’re going to close Jackson Square for the night in a few minutes,” she said. The both of them stood up, and Marianne tossed the empty bag into a nearby trash can. “Also, I have work in the morning, and it’s shaping up to be busy for the foreseeable future. Which means I probably won’t be able to help with the mansion as much as I want to. At least, not until we catch whoever is doing this.”

“If there is anything I can do to help…” Bog said as they walked through the gate.

Marianne smiled. “I appreciate the offer, but I’ll find whoever is doing this. They’ll slip up at some point.”

“Then shall I walk you home?” he asked.

Marianne’s smile broadened into a grin. “I appreciate the offer, but I’ll be fine. I can take care of myself.”

“In that case, good night, detective,” Bog said.

“Good night, Bog.” Marianne turned and headed back to her apartment with a smile on her face.

Chapter Text

Please tell me you have something new,” Aura begged Thang the following morning as he walked in with the file folders containing his autopsy reports under his arm. “Because we still have nothing.”

Marianne didn’t fault Aura for her desperation. They still had no witnesses, none of the people that knew either of the victims had a motive to kill them, and the respective crime scenes had yielded no additional evidence.

Thang winced. “I’ve got something, alright. But you might not like it,” he said, laying three folders down on the conference table that Aura, Marianne, Stuff, and several uniformed officers were gathered around. Marianne noticed that the third folder had Stacey Walker’s name on it.

Wordlessly, Thang opened all three folders and pulled a photograph out of each one. The pictures were all of the bite marks on each of the victim’s necks.

“See these bruise patterns around the puncture wounds?” he said, pointing to one of the pictures. Everyone leaned in closer to see what he was talking about.

“Yeah, the ones you said were made by teeth?” Marianne confirmed.

“Yep. I tested each one of them several times just to be sure, but all three of them are identical,” he said.

“They’re from the same person,” Stuff murmured.

“I also swabbed for saliva on all of their wounds. Of course, I couldn’t get any off of Mr. Arcenaux, but what I got from Mr. Nolton was the same as what I got off of Ms. Walker. There was no viable DNA in it.”

“Damn,” Aura muttered.

“And speaking of Mr. Arcenaux,” Thang continued, “I’m estimating that he died maybe a few hours before he was reported missing. With the state his body was in, it was hard to get a read. But then, that was something else strange about his body. If he had spent that much time in the water, he should have either been eaten by animals or his body should have begun to decay a lot sooner. Neither of those has happened.”

“The alligators,” Marianne recalled. “Alligators aren’t known for running from anything. But these did.”

“Exactly,” Thang agreed. “Charles Arcenaux’s body should not have been as intact as it was. But basically, the cause of death was the same on all three victims. And that bite wound on their necks was where the blood was evacuated from their bodies. And that’s still not the most disturbing thing about this.”

“Aw, Jesus, how much creepier can this get?” one of the patrolmen asked.

“Those punctures in their necks where their carotid arteries are torn?” Thang answered. “They match up to where the assailant’s incisors should be.”

Everyone in the room was stunned into silence for a full ten seconds. Then another officer spoke up.

“You mean, like a vampire?” he said. “Or maybe someone with some kind of psychosis who thinks they’re a vampire?”

Aura rolled her eyes. “It’s gotta be someone with a psychosis. I shouldn’t need to remind any of you that vampires don’t exist.”

The room descended into silence again as everyone processed what they were just told. Marianne was the one to finally break it.

“At the risk of stating the obvious,” she said, “if the victims all bled to death, then where did the blood go? I mean, even if it wasn’t in the swamp, there were still two other crime scenes. And there wasn’t a stray drop of blood to be had at either of them. So what happened to it?”

“Marianne’s right,” Thang said. “The amount of blood we’re talking about being removed from a human body is in the gallons. Some of it should have gotten on something. And if the killer wanted to make it look like a vampire, then needles would have been the way to do it. But then that raises the question of what he collected the blood in. And more importantly, why he needed so much of it.”

“There’s one problem with that theory, though,” Stuff pointed out. “If we assume they didn’t have their blood taken willingly, which I think is likely, they’d have fought with their attacker.”

“There were signs of defensive wounds on all three victims,” Thang told her. “All three of them had bruises on their knuckles consistent with striking something, and in Mr. Nolton’s case, a large bruise and a hairline fracture of his right tibia where he tried to kick his attacker. So we can safely assume that none of them consented to have their blood taken from them.”

“How would they have been able to get that much blood by themselves, though?” one of the officers pointed out. “Wouldn’t they have needed help to hold the victims down?”

“But with no one seeing or hearing anything?” another officer said.

“The attacks did all occur at night,” Stuff said. “It would make no sense for there to be no witnesses. Most people were asleep or just not around.”

“Wait a minute,” Marianne said suddenly, sitting up and reaching for the victims’ case files. She flipped through each one until she found what she was looking for.

“They all died at night, and all about a week apart,” she mused. “Ladies and gentlemen, I think we have a pattern.”

“Thank God, something else definite,” Aura said. “That was exactly what we needed. Not all of this roundabout speculation. Anyway, if the killer sticks to this pattern, then we have about five or six more days before he tries to kill again. That’s about five or six more days to come up with something else that can help catch him. You, you, you, and you—“ Aura pointed to four uniformed officers, “—go start talking to friends and family members again. Find out anything and everything you can. Talk to friends of friends and passing acquaintances if you have to. Someone has to know something.” The four indicated officers got up and left to do as Aura instructed.

When the officers finished filing out of the room, Aura turned back to Stuff and Marianne. “I want you two to go back over these files and pick them apart. Find out if the victims had anything in common. I’d like something else to add to the killer’s pattern.”

“That might not do any good,” Marianne argued. “We were pretty thorough the first few hundred times around.”

“I realize that, but there’s still a chance you overlooked something,” Aura pointed out. Marianne sighed in resignation. They couldn’t afford to discount anything right now. “While you’re at it, I want you to try running those dental patterns through the system, see if you get a match to anyone.”

“That could take days,” Stuff warned. “And that all depends on whether or not this guy has even been to jail.”

“I could help you out with that after I return the victims’ bodies to their families,” Thang said.

“Go ahead,” Aura said. “I know this is probably going to take a while, but right now, we have nothing else to go on.” Marianne knew she was right. So far, this was all they had. They had to see if it led anywhere. Marianne and Stuff gathered up the files to take to their desks as Thang left to return to his lab.

 

Marianne spent another day at work until late into the afternoon. Combing back over the case and autopsy files had given Marianne and Stuff exactly what she thought it would, which was nothing. At least she could say that the speculation about a third party being present could be tossed out. When they looked back over the photos of the crime scenes, the only evidence of people at either one were the victim and the killer. They were still waiting to hear back from the uniformed officers, but Marianne was certain at this point that they wouldn’t learn anything new.

And then the victims had nothing in common, either. Stacey Walker, a white woman in her mid-twenties, worked as a prostitute. Erik Nolton, a black man in his thirties, was an attorney. Charles Arcenaux, a white man in his late sixties, had been a retiree. None of them lived in the same part of the city, and the only thing the three of them had in common was how they had died. The attacks had been completely random.

Marianne had to pull her motorcycle over to calm down when she realized she was going almost twenty miles over the speed limit. She had headed out to the mansion to help work on it in the hopes that focusing on something else for a while would ease her stress somewhat. She absolutely would not admit that she was hoping that Bog would be out there, too. What was it about him that she couldn’t let go of, anyway? She took a deep breath and pulled her bike back on to the road.

When she arrived at the mansion a few minutes later, Bog’s car was out front, just like she thought it’d be. Marianne could see lights emanating from some of the glassless windows where someone had strung up some shop lights. The hum of a generator sounded from somewhere in the front yard. Marianne couldn’t see where it was in the growing darkness.

As she entered the house, she could hear hammering going on and a radio playing. “Bog?” she called out.

“In here,” he called back. Marianne followed his voice to the room he was working in down the hall. When she arrived, she froze in place and actually stopped breathing for a few seconds.

Bog had decided to work shirtless while he nailed sheets of plywood in place to create new walls. Marianne couldn’t help staring at the ripple of muscle in his well-toned back and arms as he worked. Arms that had a smattering of scars and were covered in Celtic-style tattoos that extended over part of said well-toned back.  Her fingers itched to trace over each one of them.

Somehow, though, she made herself peel her eyes off of him and joined him at the wall to help hold the board in place. “Heat finally getting to you?” she asked with a smirk.

The corner of his mouth quirked up in his trademark smile. “Something like that,” he answered.

As Bog finished nailing the board down, Marianne’s eyes kept straying to his body. His front was just as well-toned as his back, but that wasn’t the only thing she couldn’t stop staring at. There were more scars on his chest. Some of them marred the tattoos that also extended from his shoulders and down his sides. His Celtic cross was in place around his neck.

Marianne knew she had been caught staring when he started fidgeting slightly. “I like your tattoos and your necklace, by the way,” she said when she managed to make her mouth work.

Bog blinked in surprise and cleared his throat, his cheeks reddening slightly. “Ah, er, th-thank you,” he said. “They’re tribal tattoos. They represent my clan. And my father gave me the necklace before he died.”

“I really hope all of those scars weren’t a family heirloom as well,” she said, and immediately wanted to smack herself. Did her mom drop her on her head as a baby? You didn’t just ask someone something like that!

But Bog only smiled. “Let’s just say I had a very active childhood. And I was very accident-prone,” he said.

“What about that one on your neck?” she asked when she noticed a particularly nasty-looking one at the juncture of his neck and shoulder. “There must be quite the story behind that one.”

“I—I, er, got that one during a fight in a pub,” he explained while he laid his hammer down and went to grab another board. “I’m sure you’re well acquainted with that sort of story? Out drinking with friends when you are all so shit-faced drunk that one of you decides starting a brawl is a good idea?”

Marianne managed to keep her face impassive. There was something about his story that she didn’t quite believe. She decided to drop it, though. He looked uncomfortable talking about it.

“Was that how you got that eight-pack? Through bar fights?” she asked jokingly.

He snorted in amusement while he lined the new sheet of plywood up next to the previous one. “I work out, remember?” Marianne giggled as she picked up the hammer, pulled the box of nails closer, and began hammering the board down.

“By the way, how was work?” Bog asked as she drove in a nail. Marianne hesitated as the day came flooding back to her. Then she let out a breath she didn’t seem to realize she was holding and continued hammering.

“It’s a serial killer, just like we suspected,” she said. She finished driving in another nail and set up a new one. “And just like before, we have nothing to tell us how to catch him.”

Suddenly, Bog reached over and grabbed her wrist before she could strike the hammer against nail again.  Marianne blinked up at him in surprise and confusion and a touch of aggravation. He only inclined his head towards the board she was nailing, and she followed his line of sight to see that the wood was beginning to crack around the nails. She had begun hammering so hard in her frustration that the wood had begun to split.

“It’s going to be okay,” Bog said, and Marianne’s eyes returned to his. His eyes were full of nothing but concern and sympathy. “You’ll figure this out.”

Marianne nodded and drew in steadying breath. “I am just so tired of having nothing to go on,” she said. “I have such a big case with so little evidence. I don’t even want to think about what’s going to happen if this keeps going for much longer.”

Bog gently pried the hammer from her fist and laid it down. “Let’s go for a walk,” he suggested.

“But don’t we need to—“ she started, but Bog cut her off.

“If you keep going with the state you’re in, you’re going to break the mansion,” he said firmly.

Marianne giggled and could feel some of her tension evaporating. “Alright, then.”

Bog grabbed his t-shirt on their way outside and pulled it over his head. Marianne had to admit that she was disappointed by this. Once outside, Marianne inhaled a deeply of the warm spring night and took a look around. What had once been part of the front yard was overgrown with trees and other plant life from the surrounding swamp.

“I can go ahead and get in touch with a landscaping company to come out here and see what they can do about all this,” Marianne commented as the strolled idly around the front of the mansion.

“There’s no rush on that. I’m more concerned with making the mansion itself fit for habitation at the moment,” Bog said. They had rounded the side of the mansion and had had to make a detour under the branches of a sprawling live-oak tree that had grown all the way to the mansion’s wall. Bog had had to duck under some of them to avoid hitting his head.

“I also wanted to ask you if you perhaps knew anything about the history of this mansion,” Bog asked. “I’ve tried looking for the information on the internet, but there was not a lot available.”

“Well, that might be because a lot of the mansion’s history isn’t really all that impressive unless you’re a historian,” Marianne said. “And in that case, your best bet is a library at one of the universities here.”

“But would I be correct in assuming you know some of it?” Bog asked.

“You would, actually,” she said, unable to keep the smug touch out of her voice. Bog glanced at her, silently asking her to continue. “Basically, the mansion was build in the early 1700’s when Louisiana was still a French colony. It was a tobacco plantation until about twenty years before the American Civil War. The owner had died without naming an heir to the estate, and several of his family members fought over the land for a few years until they finally agreed to just sell it to the neighboring plantations and split the profit. There are rumors that the mansion herself served as a stop on the Underground Railroad during the Civil War, but there was never any actual proof of that. The official record is that the mansion stood empty through the Civil War and the restoration period. In the meantime, Bayou Noire started shifting her path to the Mississippi River and the swamp moved in on the land.

“Then, in 1879, a wealthy businessman bought the mansion and he and his family lived in it until about 1886. Apparently, his wife was convinced it was haunted and had started begging him to sell the place not long after they had moved in. I don’t think he quite believed her, but he did notice that living so close to the swamp was too dangerous for their children. He finally gave in and moved his family to a townhouse in the city. But he wasn’t ready to give up on the mansion just yet. So he went to the Catholic Diocese in New Orleans and arranged to have the mansion exorcised to make his wife feel better.”

“Did it work?” Bog asked. They had finally picked their way out from under the tree and rounded the corner into the back yard.

“Who knows?” Marianne shrugged. “The businessman’s wife was dead-set against moving back into it, no matter how many times he convinced the church to send priests over. He finally sold it back to the bank about five years later, and it’s been empty until you bought it a few weeks ago. No one wanted to buy a house that was allegedly haunted, despite assurances from the Catholic Church that it was ghost-free.”

Bog arched an eyebrow in disbelief. “Scotland has its own share of haunted places and ghost stories,” he said. “But I have yet to encounter one myself.”

Marianne waved a hand dismissively. “This is Louisiana,” she reminded him. “Everywhere you go is haunted, and people are quick to believe those stories.”

Bog’s lips quirked up in a smile. “If it’s true that there really are ghosts, then they’ve been awfully rude to me. None of them has introduced themselves to me yet.”

Marianne burst out laughing. When she sobered up a minute later, it was to find Bog watching her with a look she couldn’t identify. It disappeared quickly, though.

“So how did you come about finding this place?” Bog asked. They had reached what remained of the back porch and leaned against the old, weathered boards.

“Well, one day, I was maybe about ten years old, my dad was on his way out to some work-related thing out of town, and he brought me, my mom, and my sister with him. On the way there, the car blew a tire. So while we were waiting on the side of the road for my dad’s mechanic, Dawn and I wandered off to explore the area. That was when we found the mansion. We had stopped not far away from it. My parents wouldn’t let us go in at first. There were animals living in it, and it was practically falling apart. But almost as soon as we got home, I started looking for whatever I could find on the mansion. It took me forever before I finally found out anything, but as soon as I did, I started coming out here more and more. When I started high school, I decided that I wanted to buy the house one day and fix it back up. Everyone thought I was crazy, but I wasn’t gonna let anyone stop me. At least Dawn and her now-boyfriend Sunny had my back on it. Damn, speaking of Dawn,” Marianne remembered when she finished her story, “she wanted to come over for the weekend.”

“Why?” Bog asked as Marianne fished her cell phone out of her pocket and started scrolling for Dawn’s number.

“Okay, this is stupid, but she wants to meet you,” Marianne said. “Normally, I wouldn’t mind her coming back to New Orleans for a weekend. But right now, I’d prefer if she stayed in Baton Rouge until it’s safe again.”

She found Dawn’s number and dialed it, only to get Dawn’s voicemail.  She was probably at work. “Hey, it’s me. Call me back,” Marianne said, then ended the call. “For all the good it’ll do, anyway. She’s pretty hard-headed, but hopefully she’ll listen to me this once.”

“She sounds a lot like my mother,” Bog said in amusement. “Stubborn to a fault, and you never could keep her from doing what she wanted to do in the end. No matter how terrible of an idea it was.”

Marianne smiled. “So what did your mom think about you moving to America?”

“Actually, she died a long time ago,” he said. “So I don’t know what she would have thought. But I’m reasonably certain she would not have allowed me to move here without her. We may have spent quite a bit of time driving one another mad, but she was a good woman and she cared a lot about everyone. And I have a feeling that she would have liked you.”

Marianne grinned at that, and that look that she couldn’t identify crossed over Bog’s face again. If she were a hopeless romantic like Dawn, she might have called it heated.

Right then, a squeaking croak from the ground near their feet broke through whatever was going on between the two of them. Marianne and Bog both looked down to find one of the juvenile alligators looking up at the two of them curiously. They both stared back for a moment before Marianne giggled.

“I should get going,” she said. “I have work tomorrow and a murderer to catch.”

“Would you like me to walk you out?” Bog asked.

“Thank you, but I’ll be fine,” she answered, stepping up onto the porch and picking her way to the door.

“Will you come by tomorrow night as well?” His question seemed to come from nowhere, and had Marianne stopping in surprise.

She gave Bog a disappointed smile. “With a serial killer running around, I have no guarantee of my free time. Assuming I’ll even get any. I’m probably only gonna be sleeping and working until we catch this guy. And by the way, please be careful. Whoever this guy is is attacking random people, and I don’t want yours to be the next body I find.”

“Please don’t worry about me, detective,” Bog said.

“Marianne,” she suddenly said.

“I’m sorry?”

“You… you can call me Marianne…you know, if you want…” She ran a nervous hand through her hair and could feel her face heating up. Now just where in the hell had that come from?

And was it her imagination, or was Bog’s smile just a touch wider? “In that case, good night, Marianne.”

“Good night, Bog.” And why in the hell was she about ready to melt at the sound of her name from his lips? She shook her head as she made her way through the mansion towards her motorcycle.

Chapter Text

The next couple of days did not go in Marianne’s favor. Dawn had called her back the next day, and of course, Marianne couldn’t talk her out of coming to New Orleans. Dawn was adamant about meeting Bog. When Marianne warned her that if she was going to insist on going over there and getting in the way then she’d better be prepared to help, Dawn had scoffed, but ultimately agreed. She’d be as helpful as she could be, according to herself. Marianne didn’t hold out much hope of that; Dawn wasn’t a fan of manual labor.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Aura had overheard Marianne giving Stuff a rundown of what had happened the night before at the mansion. She suddenly became very interested in what had happened and had wanted every single detail.  Marianne had tried to insist that there wasn’t much to tell, but Aura wouldn’t leave her alone until she had heard what happened. So when she told Aura what they had talked about (which honestly didn’t seem like all that big a deal to Marianne), Aura had grinned at Marianne and told her that she definitely had a crush on Bog. A huge one, at that. And from what it sounded like, the feeling was mutual. Marianne could feel her nails digging into the wooden surface of her desk, but decided she was tired of this argument and opted to not get into it again.

Fortunately, she had been saved from having to deal with it further when the officers started reporting back in. Just like Marianne had thought, they had nothing new to report. No one who knew any of the victims had a motive to kill them, especially in such a brutal way.

But two of the officers had come up with the idea to return to the crime scene outside the Lower Ninth Ward. They had wanted to follow up on evidence of other people possibly being at the crime scene. And then one of them had thought of getaway vehicles that the suspect might have used.

“Unfortunately, that worked out just as well as looking for other people,” the officer had said. “We couldn’t find any evidence of a car, and no one from the neighborhood remembered seeing any kind of vehicle that might have looked suspicious.”

“Which is weird in and of itself,” said the other officer.

“I agree,” Stuff had said. “While it isn’t unusual for people to not drive in this city with parts of it being so tightly packed, and people preferring to walk or use a bicycle or public transportation or something to get around, they’d be an idiot to not have a car in an area like the Ninth Ward, especially after dark.”

Marianne had considered that to be something, at least. They now knew their killer was most likely getting around on foot. However, it still brought them no closer to finding him.

Thang had also gotten back to them with his analysis of the teeth patterns. Unfortunately, he had had no more luck than they had. He told them he had a couple more databases he wanted to check, but he wasn’t very optimistic. Whoever they were searching for didn’t appear to have had a serious run-in with law enforcement before.

Ultimately, though, their only actual lead was rapidly getting cold. Marianne, Stuff, Aura, and Thang were all gathered in the conference room, going back over everything they had. However, all they were doing was banging their heads against it some more. Nothing else new had presented itself. Bog had sent her a text message at one point in the day asking her how she was doing, and Marianne didn’t even have the capacity to pretend like everything was okay. She’d told him the truth, which was that things were not going well at all. He hadn’t answered her after that. Now it was getting so late that officers had already changed shifts, and they had still gotten nowhere. And Marianne hadn’t had anything to eat in hours.

So all of those factors, coupled with general frustration and being so deeply engrossed in what they were doing, was probably to blame when they all jumped at the sound of the phone on the table ringing.

Aura reached over and punched the speaker button while Marianne slumped back in her chair and Thang pulled off his glasses to rub his eyes. “Yes?”

“Detective Springwood has a visitor,” announced the front-desk receptionist.

“Thank you,” Aura said, shutting off the call.

“It’s probably Dawn. I’ll be right back,” Marianne said.

“No rush,” Stuff called after her as Marianne stood up, stretched, and left the room.

When Marianne was within sight of the front desk, however, she stopped short when she saw that it wasn’t Dawn waiting for her. Instead it was Bog, leather jacket in place, traces of sawdust on his jeans, and pulling his sunglasses off.

“U—um, hi,” she stuttered out as she approached him.

“Good evening,” he answered. “My apologies if I’ve interrupted your work.”

“Oh, trust me, you haven’t interrupted anything. Actually, you’ve probably saved me from giving myself a concussion,” Marianne said.

“In that case, you must be hungry. May I escort you to dinner?”

A dinner invite was the last thing Marianne had expected. Truthfully, she had thought he was there about the mansion. But it was not unwelcome. And she would later attribute it to the fact that she was starving to death that she wanted to throw her arms around him and hug him for suggesting it.

She managed to restrain herself. However, making her mouth work to answer him was another matter.

“I—I—um…y—yeah! Sure! Let me just—“ The rest of Marianne’s half-garbled sentence would have been that she just needed to get her things and tell Aura she was leaving, had she not caught sight of Aura herself coming towards them with Stuff and Thang in tow. Aura had her purse hanging from one shoulder, and Stuff had Marianne’s messenger bag and helmet with her as well as her own backpack.

Aura herself looked like she was about to say something to Marianne when she spotted Bog. “Broderic Rìgh,” she said. So that was you I saw at the Maison de la Forêt Noire.”

“So you two know each other?” Marianne asked them both. When she glanced to Aura, though, she noticed Stuff right behind her, watching Bog with the same look she got when she sensed something off about someone. Marianne had worked with Stuff long enough to know that when she got that look on her face, it meant something significant. And it had never failed either one of them before. 

When Stuff glanced pointedly back at Marianne, Marianne acknowledged the silent message with a flick of her eyes. Satisfied that Marianne had gotten her message, Stuff’s gaze returned to Bog.

“This is my partner Stephanie Norwood and her husband Theodore,” Marianne said to Bog while Thang gave him a bright grin and a wave, “and it seems you already know my commanding officer,” she prompted.

“We’ve met,” Bog said. Neither he nor Aura had taken their eyes off of one another.

"Dè ur rùintean a dh'ionnsaigh oirre?" Aura said.

Stuff’s jaw dropped and her gaze shot from Bog to Aura. “I didn’t know you knew another language!”

Aura waved it off. “It wasn’t relevant until now.”

"Gus a dhèanamh cinnteach gu bheil i a 'gabhail cùram de fhèin. Carson eile bha thu a' smaoineachadh a bha mi an seo?" Bog answered with a note of annoyance in his voice.

A wide grin spread over Aura’s face. "Ah, thogras tu dhi!" she sang out.

The expression on Bog’s face was equal parts horrified and irritated, and it began to border on dangerous. Aura didn’t seem to be bothered by it, though.

But then she glanced briefly at Marianne and back to Bog. "Beachdaich air a h-aon de 'mhèinn. Ma nì thu rud sam bith a ghortachadh aice ..." Aura warned, her eyes narrowing. For some reason, Marianne had a flashback to that day in Scotland when Bog was warning Adaira about something. She didn’t know why it suddenly mattered.

"Cha bhith agaibh ri draghail mu dheidhinn sin," Bog answered in a near snarl.

Like flipping a light switch, Aura’s defensive demeanor evaporated and a satisfied, knowing grin spread over her face. She turned to Marianne, who, along with Stuff and Thang, had been watching the exchange in confusion. “Well, we’re calling it a night. Enjoy your date!”

“It’s Not A Date!” Marianne and Bog snapped in unison. Aura’s grin only grew wider if it were possible and she breezed through the door and into the parking lot without another word. Stuff and Thang followed her, with Stuff stopping long enough to hand Marianne her things and offer her an apologetic smile. Then they too were gone.

Marianne and Bog stared after them. Then Marianne shook her head. “I guess we’d better get going before everything closes, then,” she said, leading Bog to the doors.

 

Bog let Marianne decide on the restaurant, and she chose a Greek place that was less than a block away from the precinct, partially because she was in the mood for chicken shawarma and partially because she didn’t feel like going far for food. And partially because Bog had told her he had never tried Greek food at all before. While they ate, Bog gave Marianne an update on the mansion.

“Two of the rooms are nearly finished,” he said. “They just need to be painted and have the baseboards installed, and they’ll be ready. I intend to move into one of them once this is done.”

“Really? You sure you don’t want to wait until the water and electricity are running first?” she asked.

“I’m certain,” he answered. “Besides, I’ll be able to work on the rest of the mansion at my leisure if I don’t have to spend time driving to and from the hotel.”

“Good point,” Marianne conceded, taking a sip of her wine.

“Have you heard from your sister?” Bog asked.

“Oh, yeah, and just like I thought, I couldn’t talk her out of coming, so the best thing I can tell you to do is brace yourself,” Marianne warned.

Bog huffed a laugh and the corner of his mouth crooked up. “I’ll be prepared for her, then.”

“No, you won’t be, but you get points for trying,” she said, smiling back at him and taking another bite of her food.

 Bog huffed another laugh, and then sobered up.  “Also, I felt I should bring this to your attention. I had a rather, shall we say, interesting visit from your father today at the mansion.”

Marianne paused in the act of bringing another forkful of chicken to her mouth to arch an eyebrow and look up at Bog. “Wow, I didn’t think you were in touch with my father. It shouldn’t surprise me, though. You’re a wealthy client, and my dad likes to befriend other rich people as fast as he can.”

“I’m not certain about that, and his visit wasn’t entirely social. He brought a police detective with him.”

This had Marianne laying her fork down. “Why?” What could Bog possibly be under investigation for?

“It seems your ex-fiancé is missing, and your father seemed to be of the opinion that I’ve spoken to him. Unfortunately, I had to disappoint him. I have neither seen nor spoken to Mr. Knight since I arrived in New Orleans and signed the final paperwork on the mansion.”

“Roland is still missing?” Marianne wondered out loud, and this had Bog laying down his fork.

“’Still’?” Bog repeated. “I was not aware he was already missing.”

“Yeah,” Marianne explained. “Dad called a couple of weeks ago and told me. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, because Roland is known for running off like that. But not for so long, and not without anyone else hearing about it.” Marianne rubbed the bridge of her nose with a thumb and index finger and took another sip of her wine. “And I have to admit that even I’m starting to worry, which aggravates the hell out of me.” She let out a sigh. “But, I’m a cop first and foremost. My personal feelings have to take the backseat. That being said, this is really not a good time for him to go missing right now.”  Marianne’s thoughts had returned to Charles Arcenaux, who had been missing for a week before his body was discovered. Would they wind up finding Roland’s body somewhere, too? As much as she hated him, she still wouldn’t wish that on him. Marianne decided that she would have to follow up with the Missing Persons division herself and find out what they knew.

Across the table, Bog drew in a breath and opened his mouth, preparing to say something, but quickly changed his mind and took another bite of his food.

Marianne didn’t miss it. “What?” she prompted.

Bog swallowed. “I shouldn’t. I’d be prying into your personal affairs,” he said.

“It’s fine, really. I won’t be offended,” she said.

Bog drew in a breath. “From what you told me in Scotland, I gathered that he mistreated you and it was what caused you to terminate your engagement to him. I was merely curious as to what happened between you.”

For some reason, Marianne realized that she wanted to tell Bog what had happened. Which was unusual for her, because if there was one question she had become good at dodging over the years, it was the story about what happened to break her and Roland up.

“He cheated on me,” she said quietly. Bog had heard her anyway, because he looked angry and horrified on her behalf. “I caught him literally with his pants down the day before our wedding, having sex with another woman on his sofa. What made the whole thing worse was that he was never actually sorry he did it.” Marianne studied her wine glass, forcing back the sting of tears she could feel behind her eyes.

“That filthy bastard,” Bog muttered. “I’m so sorry he did that to you. But if it makes you feel any better, I know how you feel.” When Marianne looked up askance at him, he went on. “I was engaged once. Two weeks before our wedding, she left. I was devastated.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Marianne said. “For what it’s worth, though, it was her loss.”

Bog’s cheeks colored slightly, but he gave her a small smile. “Thank you,” he said.

 

The next day, after being relentlessly grilled by Stuff about her Not Date with Bog and making their trillionth attempt to coax some kind of new evidence out of their case, Marianne had gotten permission from Aura to go to the Missing Persons division to follow up on Roland’s case. After Marianne had relayed what Bog had said to her, Aura was only too happy to let Marianne go. Roland’s disappearance might have some connection to their case, and if that was so, then they needed to see what they could find out.

As Marianne parked her motorcycle in a space in the parking lot, she caught sight of Dagda getting out of his car a few spaces over.

“Dad!” Marianne said to him as soon as he spotted her. “What brings you here?”

“I wanted an update on Roland’s case, so I decided to come over in person rather than call,” he explained as they walked into the building. “How did you find out a report had been made?”

“I talked to Bog last night, and he told me you came to see him,” Marianne said. The two of them gave their names to the man at the front desk, who called the detective to announce them. Dagda opened his mouth to say something to Marianne, but she spoke before he could. “Why didn’t you call me before you went to see Bog?”

Before Dagda could answer, the Missing Persons detective came out. “Detective James Goldhill,” he introduced himself, shaking hands with Marianne. “You must be Detective Springwood. I heard about that clusterfuck of a case you were saddled with.”

“Clusterfuck is actually a good term for it,” Marianne said thoughtfully. Detective Goldhill laughed as he motioned Marianne and Dagda back towards an interview room.

“I tried calling over to your station to speak with you, but your CO told me you were already on your way over,” Goldhill explained as they entered the room and sat down. Marianne glanced briefly at Dagda. So it seemed he wasn’t going to call her at all. She’d have to yell at him over it later, though. “Captain Plum also told me that there was a possibility that Mr. Knight’s disappearance might be connected to your case,” Goldhill continued as he handed Roland’s case file over to Marianne and sat down.

“What do you know so far?” Marianne asked as she flipped through the file. It was full of witness statements that pretty much said the same thing. No one had seen or heard from Roland since Mardi Gras.

“We’ve contacted everyone that knows Mr. Knight. The results of that are in your hand there,” Goldhill said. “We’ve also had everyone we’ve spoken to attempt to contact him. Obviously, no one has had any luck. We’ve been by his condo in the Garden District, but no one answered the door. His neighbors have all said that none of them have seen anyone come or go for at least a couple of weeks. We paid a visit to his office, but his secretary says she hasn’t seen him since his return from Scotland. We’ve even run his credit cards to find out if there were any hits on them that might indicate where he is, but his last purchase was his plane ticket to Scotland. He hasn’t used one since.

“So right now there’s a BOLO making the rounds on the news and social media, and his parents are offering a very nice reward for any information that leads to either his whereabouts or his safe return. The only person we had left to talk to was you, and given that you’re in the middle of a high-priority investigation, I didn’t want to bother you unless I had no choice,” Goldhill finished.

Marianne nodded. “Unfortunately, the last time I saw or talked to Roland was right before Mardi Gras,” she said. “He came by my office to get my signature on some paperwork. Of course, I was on duty and ridiculously busy at the time. Then I had this case, and that combined with my past history with him, well, to be quite honest, I just wasn’t all that worried about him.”

Goldhill nodded in understanding. “Would you be willing to try to call him?” he asked.

Marianne didn’t bother trying to conceal the look of disgust on her face, nor did she try to keep down the equally disgusted noise she made. “I haven’t tried to call him since the day I broke up with him,” she explained. “I didn’t want him getting the idea that I might be so much as entertaining the notion that I wanted to get back together with him. And that’s exactly how he’s gonna interpret a phone call from me.” Marianne let out an exasperated breath and pulled out her cell phone. “The only reason I’ll do it is because he’s officially a missing person, and I’d like for at least one of us to solve a case today.”

Goldhill laughed good-naturedly as Marianne scrolled to Roland’s number and called it. She put the call on speaker and just for good measure, Goldhill pulled out a voice recorder and glanced askance at Marianne before he turned it on. Marianne nodded her assent and he clicked the device on.

To everyone’s surprise, the call connected. “Marianne, darlin’, so nice to hear from you!” Roland said. Marianne noted that his voice had the slightly muffled quality of someone who had just woken up. “Does this mean you’re thinking about forgiving me and taking me back now?”

Marianne rolled her eyes so hard she was pretty sure she strained a muscle in her head. Just like she thought.

Before she could start screaming at Roland, a gentle hand landed on her arm. Marianne looked up to find Dagda shaking his head at her in a silent reminder that she could yell later. Marianne forced herself to draw in a calming breath. Or at least as calming a breath as she could manage.

“Where in the hell are you?!” she demanded. “Don’t you know everyone’s looking for you?”

“Oh, Jesus, will you calm down?” Roland snapped. “I’m in Cozumel. I needed a vacation.”

Even Detective Goldhill made a disbelieving face at Marianne phone at that.

Marianne was the first one of them to recover her voice. “Just what in the ever loving fuck are you doing in Mexico?! We literally just came back from Scotland! Why the fuck did you need a vacation?”  

“Mr. Knight, this is Detective Goldhill,” the other detective said before Marianne could continue on her diatribe. “Would you mind explaining to us how you got to the airport? When we went by your condo, your car was still in your garage.”

“I had an Uber driver bring me to the airport so I wouldn’t have to leave my car,” Roland said. Marianne and Detective Goldhill exchanged a look at the defensive tone of Roland’s voice.

“So when do you plan to come back to work?” Dagda, who had remained quiet up until now, cut in.

“Hi there, Dagda! Don’t worry, I’ll be back as soon as I get bored with the Mayan Riviera,” Roland answered casually.

Dagda narrowed his eyes at the phone. “Expect a call from me later to discuss the future of your job,” Dagda said.

Roland brushed off Dagda’s words with a heavy yawn that was a mix of exhausted and disinterested. “Look, I had a busy night last night, if y’all get what I’m talking about, and I’d really like to go back to sleep now.”

Dagda let out an annoyed huff, and Detective Goldhill nodded at Marianne. Marianne ended the call without bothering to say anything else to Roland. She put her phone away while Detective Goldhill turned off the voice recorder. “A real charmer there,” he muttered sarcastically. Marianne laughed despite herself.

“Well, since we’ve located him and he seems fine, I’m closing his case,” Goldhill announced.

“I’m sorry for taking up so much of your time, considering what’s been going on,” Dagda told him.

Goldhill waved it off. “It’s my job no matter what is happening,” he said. “You two have a nice day.” With that, Marianne and Dagda got up and left the interview room.

On the way out, Marianne sent a group text to Stuff and Aura. :The idiot’s been located.: she wrote.

:Seriously!? Where is he????: Stuff responded as Marianne and Dagda walked out of the building and into the parking lot.

“I’m going to fire Roland when he gets back,” Dagda announced before Marianne could answer Stuff. She blinked at him in astonishment. “I still don’t know what happened between the two of you,” he continued, “but I’m starting to think you were right about him. To just up and leave the country without a word to anyone is highly irresponsible and I think it’s obvious now that he isn’t trustworthy.”

It felt like a humongous weight was lifting from Marianne’s shoulders to hear Dagda finally say that. She beamed a grateful smile at him, but before she could say anything, Dagda lifted her face slightly with the tips of his fingers and narrowed his eyes as if he were seeing something for the first time. “Sweetheart, you look exhausted!” he commented.

“It’s just the stress of this case with no evidence to go on,” she answered. “And trying to help Bog with the renovations to the mansion like I promised him I would.”

Dagda fixed Marianne with a Look. “Well, I can’t stop you from helping Mr. Rìgh, and I certainly can’t stop you from your job, but I can tell you to at least try to pace yourself. Your sister is coming in for the weekend in a little while. Why don’t you two go out tonight and do something girly for a while?”

Marianne arched an eyebrow at the word “girly.” “I guess you’re right,” she said. “But I’m gonna be running damage control with her anyway, so ‘something girly’ is likely to happen.”

“That’s my girl!” Dagda said, smiling and pulling Marianne into a hug. The hug only lasted a couple of seconds before Marianne’s phone began ringing. It was Dawn video calling her.

“Marianne! Oooh, hi, daddy!” Dawn chirped when Marianne accepted the call. “I was able to leave early, so guess where I am?!” In the background behind Dawn, Marianne could see unfinished walls and a construction crew moving around in the background, as well as the sounds of sawing and hammering going on.

“Dawn--!” Marianne snapped.

“By the way,” Dawn said over Marianne, “I met Boggy, and he’s just so cute!” Sure enough, Dawn pulled Bog into her camera shot by his arm. He was wearing a pair of safety glasses and was doing his best to hold a running circular saw as far away from Dawn as he could hold it without putting it down and destroying something. He also looked like he would rather be anywhere else. His obvious discomfort only grew at Dawn’s declaration.

“You wanna turn loose of him before he accidentally saws off one of your arms with that?” Marianne fussed while Bog tried to gently extract his arm from Dawn’s grip. Dawn, unfortunately, wasn’t letting go that easily.

“Dawn, sweetheart,” Dagda intervened before Marianne’s blood pressure could go up any more. “How about joining your old dad for a late lunch, huh? You drove a long way, you must be hungry.”

Dawn made a face. “Oh, alright,” she said reluctantly. If there was one person in the world Dawn wouldn’t say no to, it was their father. “I’ll meet you at your house in fifteen minutes.” She ended the call.

Marianne sighed in relief. “Thanks,” she said to Dagda. “That’s one crisis averted, at least for the time being.”

“Keep her occupied while she’s here, and you won’t have to worry about her bothering Mr. Rìgh,” Dagda said.

“Easier said than done,” Marianne said. “I’m on call because of this case. And I really wish she had just listened to me and stayed in Baton Rouge. At least she won’t be a potential target there. Anyway, I gotta get back to work.”

“Alright, dear,” Dagda said, pulling her into another hug. “Just remember what I said about pacing yourself.” The both of them then returned to their respective vehicles.

As Marianne was starting her motorcycle and pulling her helmet into place, her phone chimed with a new text message.

:Thank you for calling off your sister.: Bog wrote.

:Not a problem. I’ll just try to make sure I’m there the next time she wants to visit.: Marianne answered. Then she put her phone away and returned to work.

 

Later that evening, Marianne and Dawn were camped out on Marianne’s couch with a pizza between them. Some romantic comedy that was airing on the Hallmark Channel was running in the background. The two sisters were doing more chit chatting than actually watching the movie (which Marianne had no objection to. These weren’t her kind of movies, and Dawn had probably watched this one a dozen times already.)

“So what is Roland’s deal, anyway?” Dawn was saying when the subject of Roland and his vanishing act came up. Marianne groaned inwardly. She would rather just not discuss Roland at all. “He never just runs off like that! He usually brags about it all over his Facebook and Twitter accounts first.”

“Yeah, but he’s also a grown man. He can do what he wants,” Marianne said, trying to keep the aggravation out of her tone.

“Hhmpf, I guess,” Dawn huffed. She ate a bite of her slice of pizza before she spoke again. “By the way, daddy says he’s gonna fire him as soon as he comes back.”

“That’s what he said to me,” Marianne confirmed. “He also said he was going to try to call Roland later to talk about it, but I seriously doubt Roland’s gonna answer his phone. It was something of a miracle that he picked up when I called.”

“Yeah,” Dawn said. “Look, I still don’t know what happened to make you dump him, but honestly, you really are better off without him.”

Marianne was glad that Dawn agreed with her on the subject. Thinking the conversation was over, she bit into her slice of pizza and turned back to the movie.

But Dawn wasn’t done. “You know,” she said, “Roland might have turned out to be a spoiled man-child in the end, so maybe what you need in your life is someone like Boggy.”

Marianne nearly choked on a mouthful of pizza. “Why the hell would you say something like that?!” she demanded.

“Well, you have a crush on him,” Dawn said matter-of-factly, completely unfazed by Marianne’s ranting. “And from what I could gather about Boggy so far, he seems to like you back.”

“I—I DO NOT—“ Marianne sputtered, a furious blush warming her face.

Dawn snorted. “You totally do. Anyone with two eyes and half a brain can see it. And besides, you two would be really good together. You have a lot in common.”

“Really?” Marianne challenged. “Like what?”

Dawn only needed less than two seconds. “For one thing, I saw some of those swords he brought with him. I swear, some of them look ancient! And then there’s the fact that you both like ancient houses, and neither of you like people that much.”

“Th—that doesn’t mean anything!” Marianne argued. “A lot of people have stuff like that in common!”

“Oh, and I wasn’t going to say anything about this, but there’s something about Boggy that reminds me of you,” Dawn said. This had Marianne going quiet. “It’s like...like there’s this vulnerability there that he’s trying as hard as he can to hide from the world. Like he’s been hurt before and he’s terrified to let it happen again. Just like you.”

Whatever argument Marianne was going to make died in her throat. She only spoke again after a lengthy silence.

“That doesn’t mean we should be in a relationship with one another. And if he really is just like me, then he’s probably not looking for a relationship, either.”

Dawn only smiled and fixed Marianne with a knowing look. “Every time I mentioned your name, I’m almost positive Boggy blushed slightly,” she said. She punctuated her argument by taking a big bite of her pizza slice.

Marianne had no idea how to argue with that. All she could do was reach for her Coke and turn back to the movie.

Chapter Text

Aura had ordered Marianne and Stuff to take the day off the next day in order to de-stress and rest up. Marianne had tried to argue, because what if something happened? Aura had only told her they were still on-call in the event something did happen. In the meantime, Aura was hoping the time off and the chance to take their minds off of the case for a little while would help Stuff and Marianne to think of something else they may have missed.

She also wanted them to have the opportunity to rest up as much as they could, because she was moving the two detectives, as well as all the officers she could get, to the night shift the following night. Aura’s reasoning was that since their killer has been attacking at night, their best and only real bet to stopping him was to try and catch him in the act. Assuming he would keep to his pattern, then he was due to kill again soon. They needed to be where he would most likely be. No one had argued with Aura on that point.

Marianne slept for as long as she could make her body stay in bed before she went to meet Dawn at their father’s house. Dawn was hell-bent on going to the mansion again at some point during her visit, and since Marianne couldn’t talk her out of going to do anything else, she figured that she might as well do as much damage control as she could. Fortunately, Dawn had to return to Baton Rouge later that day. She had work the next day as well as a test to study for. Marianne was also banking on Dawn getting bored within thirty minutes and wanting to leave anyway.

When they arrived, Dawn only paused long enough to put her car in park and shut off the ignition before she leaped out and rocketed into the mansion. Marianne had barely gotten her seatbelt off and the door open.

Marianne walked inside and followed the sounds of Dawn’s excited squeals accompanied by the non-noise of hammering and sawing stopping to find Dawn clinging to Bog, and Bog busily trying to regain control of a sledgehammer before it hit her sister. The tense look on everyone else’s faces told Marianne that he had already narrowly avoided hitting her with it once.

“Dawn, let him go!” Marianne chided.

Dawn ignored her. “You look tired, Boggy! You should take a break and let everyone else handle this for a while,” she said.

“I’m fine,” Bog insisted. “I was merely up late painting one of the rooms.”

“With all the work he’s been doing by himself, it’s a wonder he’s getting any sleep at all,” one of the contractors piped up, and Marianne was pretty sure she recognized him as Stuff’s brother Brutus.

“My money’s on the fact that he’s actually Superman in disguise,” another one of the contractors said. This got a round of laughter from everyone in the room and an eye-roll from Bog.

The crew returned to work, and Bog turned to Marianne and Dawn. “I didn’t think I’d be seeing you today,” he said.

“Captain gave me the day off,” Marianne said. “I get to go on night shift tomorrow night thanks to the case.”

“Hey, are you talking about the ‘Vampire Murders’ case?” one of the workmen said. He and all the other workers in the room stopped what they were doing to wait on Marianne’s answer.

“The what?” Marianne said, confused. She hadn’t heard it referred to that before.

Dawn snorted impatiently. “Haven’t you been watching the news?”

“I’ve been busy,” Marianne retorted.

“Well that’s what they’re calling it. And yes,” she said, turning to the rest of the room. “She’s one of the lead detectives on the case!”

Marianne could feel her teeth clenching and her nails digging into her palms. She really wished Dawn hadn’t said that. But she’d have to lecture Dawn later on just why it was police officers didn’t reveal everything they knew to the public right away.

“Why aren’t you out there trying to catch the killer?”

“Has he killed anyone since the other day?”

“Is it true their throats were ripped out and all the blood drained?”

Marianne held up her hands to halt the barrage of questions the workers were beginning to fire at her. “I am not allowed to discuss anything with anyone who is not directly involved with this case,” she announced to the workers’ collective disappointment. “Suffice it to say, if any of you need to be out after dark, please be very careful. Try not to go anywhere alone if you can help it.”

Some of the workers looked worried, and still others were only disappointed that Marianne wouldn’t share information with them. But the overall good humor had evaporated from the room.

“That’s one hell of a way to die, though,” one of the workers said.

“Would you shut up?” another demanded to the first one. “This whole thing is creepy enough as it is.”

A third worker shot Marianne a suspicious glare. “What if it really is a vampire, though? What if vampires really exist and y’all are just covering it up?”

Marianne gritted her teeth and her hands balled up into tight fists. Suddenly, a larger hand laid over one of her fists. She looked up to find that Bog had picked up on her mood and moved to stop her from slugging the guy in the face. He caught her eyes with his and gave a slight shake of his head. Marianne forced down a calming breath, but she was still irritated. Damn Dawn for opening her mouth! She didn’t want to have to deal with this!

As soon as she was visibly calmer, Bog stepped in. “That’s a foolish theory. Vampires don’t exist,” he told the worker.

The worker bowed up. “Oh yeah?” he challenged. “Prove that they don’t.”

Bog only arched an eyebrow and kept his gaze steady on the other man’s eyes. The beginnings of a smirk pulled at his lips. “Prove that they do,” he challenged back.

The worker’s mouth opened, but then closed again when he realized he had no argument for that. All he could do was glare at Bog and angrily return to what he had been doing.

Marianne smiled gratefully at Bog, and he gave her his trademark close-lipped smile in return. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Dawn watching the two of them with an amused, knowing smile on her face. Fortunately for her, she opted to not say anything. She likely already knew she was in trouble with Marianne.

“Yeah, the whole thing is creepy,” Dawn decided to say instead. “Boggy, what do you think?”

“I believe this is nothing more than an individual with a disturbing fetish,” Bog answered. “I have full confidence that your sister and her colleagues will find him. He won’t be able to avoid notice forever.”

Marianne couldn’t really explain why it was that Bog’s words made her happier than she had felt in days. Her case suddenly didn’t feel quite so daunting.

“Well, we’ll let y’all get back to work,” Marianne said to everyone.

“But wait, I--!” Dawn started to protest before Marianne grabbed her by the shoulders and steered her out of the room. “Alright, fine. I’ll be back in about a week, though! Spring Break is coming up!” she called back as Marianne shuffled her down the hall and out of the mansion.

Marianne was horrified to hear that Dawn was thinking about returning to New Orleans for Spring Break, but she waited until they were in the car before she said anything.

“You’re not seriously thinking about coming back here for Spring Break?!” Marianne was nearly yelling as Dawn drove them away from the mansion. “Are you crazy?! With some lunatic running around killing people?!”

“Marianne, I swear, you make such a big deal out of everything!” Dawn argued. “What are the chances that either Sunny or I will become a target? And besides, as long as we don’t go out at night, it should be fine, right?”

“That’s not the point! And why don’t you want to go and spend it at the beach or something like all the other college students?”

“Oh, we have all summer to go to the beach. Besides, we haven’t been home for a proper visit since Christmas. I’d like to spend some time with you and daddy.”

“Dawn, while I’m touched, I would really rather you didn’t come back here,” Marianne said.

“I think it’s like Boggy said, though. You’ll catch this jerk,” Dawn said. “And who knows? Maybe you’ll catch him before Spring Break starts, and then you won’t have anything to worry about.”

Marianne couldn’t argue with that. But she would still feel better if she knew Dawn wasn’t going to return to New Orleans.

 

That evening, Marianne was trying to stay as busy as possible. Dawn had made back to her apartment in Baton Rouge safely. After she had left, Marianne returned to her own apartment and taken a walk around the French Quarter to both clear her mind and to keep herself awake, returning to her apartment when the sun started to set. She might not be afraid of their killer, but even she wasn’t going to tempt fate.

But she hadn’t wanted to sit down right away either, because sitting down would have meant falling asleep. So she had busied herself with cleaning her apartment. Before long, the place was as clean as she could possibly make it. By the time she had finished, the only places open were the bars. She could go out to the mansion and help Bog work, but he could have also decided to go to bed. And since he was staying there now, she didn’t want to take the risk of disturbing him.

Marianne was settling into a chair on her balcony with her Kindle Fire when her phone chimed with a new text message.

:Need something to do to help stay awake?: Bog wrote. :If so, you’re welcome to come to the mansion and help me paint.:

Marianne smiled. It was like he was reading her mind! :Be there in a few,: she wrote back.

 

Marianne arrived to find Bog’s car the only one there. She parked her motorcycle and followed the sounds of the radio he had playing to the room he was working in. He was busy painting a wall just like he had said. He turned and smiled a greeting at her, and she returned it as she picked up a roller and joined him.

“I apologize for my sister, by the way,” Marianne said as they worked. “She means well, but she gets overexcited, which leads to her going overboard.”

“It’s fine,” Bog said. “She really does remind me of my mother. It’s nothing I don’t already have experience handling.”

“I don’t know, you did look a tad uncomfortable when she was hanging all over you,” Marianne said.

“I’m simply not fond of being touched by people I don’t know,” Bog said.

“Oh, I get you there,” Marianne agreed. “I don’t like it, either.”

They painted in companionable silence for a few minutes before Bog broke it. “I’m loath to bring this up,” he said, “but have you learned anything new about Mr. Knight’s disappearance?”   

Marianne told him the story about what had happened with her phone call to Roland the day before and how he had told them he was in Mexico, all without telling anyone.

“Something like that might have been out of character for Roland, but really, it wasn’t unexpected, either,” Marianne said. “At least dad is planning on firing him when he sees him again. So that’s something, at least.” Marianne glanced out of the corner of her eye while she kept painting to see that unreadable mask on Bog’s face again. “What do you think?” she asked.

“I think your father is making a sound decision,” Bog said. “It’s highly irresponsible and reckless of him to simply leave without informing anyone as to where he’s going or when to expect him to return. Hopefully, he’ll learn a lesson from all of this.”

Marianne snorted in amusement. “That’s not very likely,” she said. “He’s just that arrogant and self-centered, he’ll find a way to turn the blame right back onto my father for losing his job. And then he’ll turn to all of his girlfriends and start swindling money out of them to fund his lifestyle rather than look for another job. It really isn’t fair to them, but he doesn’t deserve to keep working for dad, either.”

Bog’s face went unreadable again, but this time, he looked like he wanted to say something.

“What’s on your mind?” Marianne prompted after she studied his face for a few seconds.

“Do you not think he might renew his efforts to restart a relationship with you?” Bog asked.

Marianne barked a laugh at that. “He can try all he wants, but it’ll be a cold day in Hell before that happens! Not after what he did to me.”

Bog smiled. “Knight really was a damn fool to have ever treated you the way he did,” he said. Marianne stopped painting to shoot Bog a grateful smile.

“What’s wrong?” Bog asked, fidgeting in discomfort.

“Nothing, it’s just… I’m glad someone else sees Roland for what he really is,” Marianne said. “And that you don’t blame me for breaking up with him. So, thank you.” Marianne had had every reason to be grateful to Bog. Stuff, and quite possibly Aura, had known what had happened between Roland and Marianne, but the only reason Stuff found out was because she and Marianne had been partners for a year at that point and Marianne was obviously distraught over the whole thing when she returned to work, and Stuff had forced her to explain why on the threat that if she didn’t, Stuff would go tell Aura that Marianne was emotionally compromised and unable to do her job. This would have forced Aura to make Marianne take a leave of absence until Marianne could get her head back on straight, which would have gone in her jacket and compromised the integrity of every case she worked on after that. If Stuff had ever told Aura what had happened, Aura had never said anything.

“Y-you’re welcome,” Bog stuttered, blushing slightly.

“By the way, how do you and Aura know one another?” she asked, her thoughts reminding her that she had wanted to ask him.

The question had naturally caught him off guard, and he looked for a second like he was going to evade it.

“We, erm, met years ago in Scotland,” he answered. “She came to stay with my family for a time.”

“Wow,” Marianne said. “I’ve known Aura Plum for a good chunk of my life, and she never once mentioned living in Scotland. But I suppose it explains why she knows Scottish Gaelic.”

They sank back into a companionable silence while they worked. Marianne had even lost track of time and before she realized it, they were finished with the room. She set down her roller and stretched, pulling out her phone to check the time. It was nearly one AM.

“Should I leave so you can get some sleep, or do you want to work some more?” she asked.

“I actually have a better idea,” he said, motioning for her to follow. He led her to another one of the finished rooms. It was crammed full of moving boxes. Bog dug around in one of the boxes.

“How much sword fighting do you know?” he asked, pulling a case out of one of the boxes.

Marianne was confused. What did this have to do with anything? But then he opened the case, revealing a set of wooden practice swords. Bog pulled one out and held it up to her.

A smile tugged at her lips, comprehension dawning. “I took fencing and martial arts between junior high and college,” she said. “I’m pretty sure I can figure it out.” Bog smiled back and led her back down the hall towards another room.

The room might have been a ballroom once, or a large gathering room. Either way, the construction crew hadn’t made it to this room yet. But it had been cleared of debris. The room was lit only by the light of the full moon filtering in through the pane-less windows.

“You sure you don’t want to go outside?” Marianne asked. “We’d be able to see better.”

“We wouldn’t have as much maneuvering room, though,” Bog said. “The front garden has not been cleared of the overgrowth yet and it appeared that Lizzie was building a new nest in the back. Besides, the moonlight is perfect in here.”

Marianne grinned as another charged something passed in the air between the two of them, and she couldn’t stop the rush of warmth to her groin at the way his accent rolled over the word “perfect.” She stalked across the room, taking up a position that put her back to the windows.

There was a snarky edge to Bog’s smile as he assumed his own stance. Then he motioned for her to make her move.

Marianne did not disappoint him. A flash of surprise had his eyes widening slightly at first when she moved in nearly blindingly fast. But he wasn’t surprised enough that her downward swing was able to land a hit on him. He brought his sword up to block her strike. He blocked her every thrust and swing after that. Marianne was on the defensive before she even realized it. He was faster than she was. Then it was all she could do to defend herself.

Soon enough, she got her opening. The moonlight hit Bog’s eyes in just the right way, and they did that luminescent thing again. He was wearing those contacts again.

“Beautiful,” she breathed out, staring straight into his sky-colored eyes. That was the only word that described them. Bog faltered when it occurred to him that she couldn’t be talking about anything else. Marianne was back on the offensive.

That was when Marianne realized she was grinning. “Impressive,” Bog said. “It’s been a while since I last sparred with someone so skilled.”

Marianne’s grin widened, but she wasn’t letting up. “High praise, considering I barely have any idea what I’m doing,” she said. Bog looked like he wanted to laugh at this, but restrained himself.

Then Marianne realized that Bog was about to gain the upper hand on her again. He didn’t look nearly as winded as she felt. Suddenly, she stumbled on a piece of broken floorboard. At the same time, Bog’s sword twisted around hers, and her sword went flying out of her hands and across the room. It had landed too far out of reach.

He leveled the tip of his sword to her throat. Before he could declare himself the winner, she dove under his sword arm and knocked his sword out of his hand with an upward strike. Her other hand came up in a fist, aiming for his cheek. Bog caught her fist just before it could land on his face and he threw her arm away from him, which had the added effect of putting some distance between the two of them.

But the motion also sent Marianne in the direction of where Bog’s sword had landed. She dove for it, and was armed again. This sent Bog scrambling for her sword. He dove into a handspring, and the next thing Marianne knew, Bog was executing an expert twirl with the sword right before he lunged for her again.

The fight went on for a few more minutes. Then, a move that locked both of their weapons together over their heads had their faces a hairsbreadth from one another. Bog actually seemed to be a bit out of breath now. Marianne’s own chest was heaving from exertion.

Then sky blue eyes met golden brown ones, and that something passed in the air again. This time they answered it.

Neither of them knew who moved first. All Marianne could remember was their lips brushing against one another’s, and her sword slipping out of her grip to clatter to the floor next to them. His joined hers less than a second later, and her arms were falling around his shoulders while his started to slide around her waist.

Just before the kiss could deepen, Bog suddenly tore his mouth away from hers and put some distance between the two of them.

Marianne was dazed, which was something that a kiss had never done to her before. She was also confused. When her mind had caught up with what had just happened, she found Bog standing half-way across the room with his back to her.

“I can’t,” he murmured into the otherwise silent room. “Believe me, I want to, but I can’t.” He sounded like he was actually in pain.

This did nothing to help Marianne’s confusion. But it was obvious that he was upset, and the last thing she wanted to do was make it worse.

“I—I’ll just, um…. I’ll just go, then,” she stammered. He only nodded an acknowledgement in her general direction without turning to look at her.

When Marianne made it out to her motorcycle, she was shocked to realize that she wasn’t wondering why the kiss happened like she probably should be, but rather why Bog had ended it so abruptly. Why was she even thinking that? Why had she wanted it to happen at all? Could it be possible that everyone was right, and she actually had feelings for Bog?

Mostly, what she couldn’t let go of was the fact that there was something weird about Bog’s behavior that she just couldn’t identify.

 

The memory of that kiss kept Marianne up for the rest of the night. When she finally fell asleep sometime that morning, it was more out of exhaustion than anything. Her confusion over what had happened never left her, not even after she walked into her precinct building that evening.

“You okay?” Stuff asked the moment she saw Marianne.

“I’m fine,” Marianne answered automatically.

Stuff studied her face for a moment. “No, you’re not. What happened?”

“It’s nothing. Really, I’m—“

“Did something happen between you and Rìgh?”

Marianne’s face burned red and her voice climbed a couple of octaves. “N-no! N-nothing happened!”

Stuff arched an eyebrow and a grin tugged at her lips. “Uh-huh,” she said disbelievingly. “Alright, out with it. What happened?”

Marianne was saved from having to recount the story when Aura entered the conference room and immediately called the meeting to order.

“Alright, based on the perp’s pattern to date, it’s about time for him to kill again, assuming he’s going to,” she said without preamble. “So I want everyone to pair up and take different parts of the city. You’re all to stay in constant communication with one another, and if you spot him, none of you are to apprehend him alone. Call it in and wait for backup before you move. Now remember, we have nothing else, so with any luck, we’ll catch him in the act of looking for his next victim. Hopefully the civilian population has been watching the news lately and are planning on staying home. So unless anyone has anything to add, good luck and be safe.”

With that, everyone shuffled out of the room and towards the parking lot where their units were parked.

Fortunately, as they patrolled the French Quarter on foot, Stuff didn’t try to bring up the subject of Bog to Marianne again. Marianne figured it was most likely because most of her attention had been on the streets that night. The night had proved to be an effective distraction for Marianne as well, but she had to admit it was because she kept getting drawn to the fact that the city was strangely quieter than what she was used to. Even in the late hours of the night, it was still busier this. The first night passed without so much as a stray cat knocking over a trash can.

The second night found them in the French Quarter again. This time, there were several more groups of officers and even some detectives that had volunteered their time from other towns and cities in the area. So far, though, none of them had seen or heard anything.

Unfortunately for Marianne, thoughts of that kiss started creeping back into her thoughts, which left her only halfway focused.

Stuff finally managed to pull her wandering attention back by snapping her fingers in front of Marianne’s face. Marianne jumped at the sudden noise.

“Come on, Marianne, get your head back in the game here,” Stuff chided. “Our lives might depend on it.”

“Sorry,” Marianne said, giving herself a mental shake. Stuff was right, she needed to pay attention.

“Clear at Chartres and Canal,” Stuff’s police radio announced.

Marianne happened to look around her right then and realized they were less than a block away from her apartment. Maybe some coffee would help.

“Suspicious figure at Dauphine and St. Phil—GET BACK!!!!” came a hurried scream over the radio that ended in an animalistic growl before the call abruptly cut off. The scream itself, however, emanated from a street over and was quickly followed by a series of gunshots.

“Kendal, come in! Kendal, report!!” another officer called across the radio, but Marianne and Stuff wasted no time before they took off at a hard run towards the noise.

Marianne and Stuff both skidded to a stop at the entrance to a darkened alleyway. They were joined by a uniformed patrolman, but Marianne hardly noticed him. She was rooted to the spot, trying to wrap her mind around what her eyes were taking in.

A tall male figure had Officer Kendal clamped tightly in his arms, his mouth sealed over her throat. She had already gone limp, her gun on the ground at her feet where it had fallen out of her hand. The figure was turned so no one could make out his face, and he was dressed in loose-fitting blue jeans and a black hoodie.

Marianne’s mind kicked back into action and she drew her gun at the same time Stuff and the male officer did. “Unhand the officer and stand down!” she ordered.

The figure only pulled his mouth off of Kendal’s throat to gaze casually in their direction. The darkness of the alleyway still kept them from being able to make out his face, but Marianne was certain there was a bright glow emanating from where his eyes should have been.

Marianne was still trying to process what she was looking at when the figure dropped Kendal’s body unceremoniously to the ground and leapt straight up into the air, jumped off of a fire escape, and over the roof of the closest building, where he disappeared from sight.

Stuff, Marianne, and the other officer ran straight to the downed officer. Stuff re-holstered her gun and crouched down to try to help Kendal as Marianne and the other officer kept theirs trained on the rooftops of the surrounding buildings. Stuff was on her radio, calling for an ambulance while she tried to staunch the still-flowing blood with one hand.

“This was my fault,” the officer said. “We got separated in the alleys and I lost sight of her…”

“We’ll worry about that later,” Marianne said. “Keep us covered.” She knelt down next to Officer Kendal and took her hand.

“Kendal, sweetheart, we’ve got an ambulance on the way,” Marianne murmured to her, hoping it would help her to hang on. Officer Kendal’s eyes slid open to gaze into Marianne’s for a moment. Then her eyes slid shut again, and she exhaled one last time before going completely still.

“No no no no no,” Marianne said as Stuff cursed and ripped open Kendal’s uniform shirt and unbuckled her Kevlar vest. Marianne sealed her mouth over Kendal’s and started giving her mouth-to-mouth while Stuff started CPR. Kendal didn’t respond to their ministrations.

It was probably only about another thirty seconds or so, but it felt like an eternity had passed before the ambulance had finally arrived. More officers had flooded into the alley, and one of them had found some caution tape and begun cordoning off the area.

Marianne didn’t stop trying to revive Officer Kendal until a pair of hands gently pulled her away.

“What the fuck happened?!” Aura demanded from right behind Marianne, and it was only then that she had realized it was Aura herself who had pried her off of the fallen officer. She didn’t even remember Aura arriving at the scene. The paramedics moved in as soon as Marianne was clear and loaded Kendal’s body onto a stretcher.

“It was our suspect,” Stuff finally answered, and her voice sounded about a million miles away.

“This was my fault, if we hadn’t gotten separated, this never would have happened!” The officer that had been with them was on the verge of hysterics.

“She fired on him,” Marianne was vaguely aware that she had spoken. “But she couldn’t have hit him if he still attacked her…”

Another officer retrieved Kendal’s gun from the ground and ejected the magazine. “Six rounds missing,” he announced.

“Get forensics out here to recover the slugs,” Aura told him. The officer nodded and left to do what he was told. “You three are going to a hospital,” she said to Stuff, Marianne, and the officer.

Marianne opened her mouth to argue, but Aura silenced her with a look. “You’re all in shock, you need to have a doctor check you out. Consider that an order.” Another ambulance was standing by to take them all.

 

Two hours later, they were all cleared and discharged with instructions that they were not to be left alone for the rest of the day. They were all also given a dose of sleeping pills. Officer Rodriguez, the third officer that had been with them, was sent home with his wife. Thang came to pick up Stuff, and Dagda arrived for Marianne. Aura had told them all that they could wait for that evening to be debriefed on what happened that night. For now, they needed to rest.

“My house or your apartment,” Dagda firmly told Marianne as they got into his car. “Even if Aura hadn’t said anything, there is no way I would leave you by yourself right now.”

“Your house,” Marianne said robotically. She didn’t have the energy or the ability to argue with him. Her mind wouldn’t stop buzzing.

As Dagda drove them to his house in the Garden District, Marianne’s phone chimed with a text from Bog. :I just heard the news. Are you okay?:

:No. No I am not: she answered. Bog didn’t answer her again. But her mind started buzzing even harder, if it were possible, until she couldn’t think anymore.

Chapter Text

Marianne took her sleeping pills and spent the majority of that day asleep. She normally hated taking anything, but this time she was grateful for it. She wouldn’t have been able to sleep otherwise. It felt like her mind had gone into overdrive. She was thinking about nothing and everything all at once, and nothing seemed to make sense.

The only thing that broke through the tangled mess that was her thoughts was the fact that she still had a killer on the loose. A killer that was something that shouldn’t have been possible. A killer that her mind refused to acknowledge was even real.

The only thing she knew was that she had to get back out there. Marianne had no idea how she was going to go about it, but she knew she needed to destroy that thing no matter what. No one was safe from it.

First things first. Aura still needed to debrief her on what happened the night before, and if Thang got around to his lab to examine Officer Kendal’s wounds (which Marianne thought there was a good possibility of; Stuff would have said to hell with their orders if it meant confirming the identity of their suspect) then he’d have his findings ready.

“I still don’t see why you can’t just take another night off,” Dagda called from where he was waiting in Marianne’s living room while she changed for work. “You went through a lot last night, I’m sure Aura will understand!”

Marianne could understand his worry. The murderer had shown that he wasn’t afraid to target a police officer, and Marianne was pretty sure he had taken a good look at her face before he ran. He might very well come after her next, especially if he found out she was one of the lead detectives on his case. But Marianne supposed it might have also had something to do with Dagda being a parent and watching his child go off into a dangerous situation and not being able to do anything to stop it. He wasn’t even going to bring her to her apartment at first. He only agreed to at all because she threatened to walk she needed to.

“One of my own is dead because of that thing,” Marianne said, walking out of her room fully dressed and threading her gun holster next to where her badge was clipped onto her belt. She crossed the room to her kitchen area, where she had left her gun on the bar. “I can’t sit on the sidelines and wait for someone else to turn up dead.” She ejected the magazine and checked the bullets. All accounted for. “I’ve got to get back out there and find him.” She punctuated her statement by re-inserting the magazine, cocking the chamber, clicking the safety back into place, and holstering the gun.

Then she looked up at Dagda, and the look on his face almost had her doing exactly what he wanted her to do. He was equal parts terrified for her and resigned to the situation. Without a word he pulled her into a tight hug.

“Just promise me you’ll be careful,” he said.

Marianne sank into the hug. “I promise, dad.”

 

Dagda dropped Marianne off at the precinct. She arrived in the conference room to find Stuff and a few other officers that had decided to wait on Aura before hitting the streets in a somber mood. Stuff gave her a half-hearted smile of greeting as Marianne slid into the chair next to her.

“Anything?” Marianne asked her.

“Thang was at his lab when I got up,” Stuff answered, already knowing what Marianne was after. “I haven’t heard from him yet.”

Before anything else could be said, Aura walked in. “Forensics only recovered one bullet from the scene,” she said by way of starting the meeting as she sat down.

“Kendal only missed once,” one of the other officers confirmed, and Aura nodded.

“She hit it five times, and it still didn’t stop,” Stuff muttered next to Marianne.

Everyone in the room sat in stunned silence for a full two minutes before they were joined by Thang, who had a haunted look on his face.

“That was our suspect, alright,” he said without needing to be prompted. “Same bruising pattern at the throat and everything.” He sat down in the chair on Stuff’s other side and she slid her hand into his.

Marianne leaned her head onto her hand, rubbing at her forehead and temple with her fingertips while her eyes slid shut. She could feel a serious tension headache coming on. “Vampire,” she murmured. “Vampires don’t exist. But it was a vampire.”

“She was drained of more than forty percent of her blood. It wasn’t as much as the other three victims lost, but that was probably because you stopped the attack this time. But it was still enough to kill her,” Thang said. “There was a small chance that an immediate transfusion would have saved her life.”

Marianne had only been half-listening to Thang. Her mind had started firing at a million miles an hour again. However, when Thang had mentioned the transfusion, Marianne’s eyes cracked open.

And fell on the still-angry-pink scar across the palm of her left hand.

Everything screeched to a halt as she stared at her hand.

A heavy broadsword over-balancing... The bite of metal into her skin as she tried to catch it…

“Marianne?” She wasn’t sure who spoke. It sounded like it had come from a distance.  

The strange, almost feral look that came over its owner’s face…

“Marianne!” Aura called again, grabbing her arm this time to get her attention. But her eyes wouldn’t leave her hand.

“I think I’m losing my mind,” Marianne said in a near-whisper.

“This is no time to keep things to yourself, Detective,” Aura both demanded and prompted.

“He kissed me,” Marianne said, her voice still low and still lost in her thoughts.

“Okay, now I’m lost. Who kissed you?” Aura asked.

In a nearly mechanical voice, Marianne told everyone what had happened at the mansion a few nights before, including her kiss with Bog that ended before it could go too far.

“But what does that have to do with your hand?” Stuff asked.

“Back in Scotland, Bog showed me some of his sword collection,” Marianne started, lowering her hand for everyone else to see. “He let me hold a broadsword. It was too heavy for me to hold with one hand, though. When I went to put it back on its display rack, I nearly dropped it. I cut my hand when I tried to catch it.” At that, Marianne’s eyes finally left her hand and she was staring through everything as she recounted that strange moment. “Bog was standing next to me when it happened. When I cut my hand, he got this…look…on his face…I didn’t know what it meant at the time, but now…” she paused as she searched for a word, “now, I’d say it was…animalistic. Like he was hungry…” She blinked and shook her head hard. “Like I said, I think I’m losing my mind. Bog can’t be our vampire. Or even if he is, it’s not like I can get a warrant for his arrest or anything. I still don’t have any evidence to base an accusation on.”

“You are right about that,” Aura said. “We can’t jump to conclusions, but we can’t rule anything out at this point, either. Our problem is that since we have no evidence, we have to catch him in the act. And we have to remember, he is innocent until proven guilty.”

“Okay, wait,” Stuff cut in. “If we pretend for a minute that vampires are real and that Bog Rìgh is one, then how do we even arrest him? For that matter, where would we keep him imprisoned? And after last night, wouldn’t that make trying to catch him that much harder?”

Everyone else sat in a contemplative silence while Marianne drew in a calming breath. They were both right. But she still couldn’t make the thought go away.

“You two get started on your reports,” Aura said to Marianne and Stuff. “And if you’re feeling up to it, I need you on the streets. Everyone else, get going. And keep your eyes open.”

 

Marianne crashed on her bed that morning without bothering to undress. After she and Stuff finished their reports, they went out on patrol again. Whoever their vampire was didn’t bother to make an appearance. Marianne wondered if he had gone into hiding. Then she wondered if Bog was their vampire. Would he go into hiding, though? He didn’t seem like the type. But what did it matter, anyway? If Bog really was a vampire, then he had to know that there was nothing they’d be able to do to stop him.

Then she pulled a pillow over her head and moaned in frustration. She couldn’t believe she was actually considering that Bog was a vampire. She was still having a difficult time with the whole “vampires are real” thing. Much less that she watched one kill one of her colleagues.

Was Bog a vampire, though? Taking Stuff’s earlier advice, she pretended for a minute like it was true. If she went by the general lore, then vampires only drank blood and nothing else. But she had seen Bog eat food. But then what had that look been about back at his castle? It wasn’t him showing a weakness or aversion to her wound, because Marianne had seen more than once what that looked like. It was usually accompanied by someone either passing out or throwing up.

Marianne pulled the pillow off of her face and looked at her hand again. No, he had been fixated on it, she was certain of that.

But then that thought brought her to his eyes and that strange glowing thing they did. The vampire’s eyes sure as hell were glowing. Bog had said contact lenses, but was it possible he was lying?

Marianne fell asleep while trying to resolve the image of Bog’s eyes into those of the vampire’s.

 

There was a new text message waiting for her when she woke up a few hours later.

:Are you feeling better?: Bog asked.

:Not really, but I’ll get through it.: she answered.

:Would you like to come out to the mansion? Help take your mind off of things for a while?: was his immediate reply.

Marianne actually found herself considering that. She wanted more than anything to go out to the mansion (to him, if she was being honest with herself), but she also knew that going out there alone wouldn’t be the best idea. If he was their vampire, then he could be trying to get her out there so he could kill her with no witnesses around. But she needed to know, especially before anyone else died.

But then she noticed what time it was. She didn’t have time to go anywhere; she was on duty again in a couple of hours.

:Sorry, can’t. Patrolling again tonight: she answered.

:Okay,: was his reply. Marianne got up to change for work.

 

Four more nights passed, but the only thing of any note was Aura joining Stuff and Marianne on patrol. She said it was because she was tired of sitting in the office and felt like she would be more useful out in the field. Marianne had the feeling it was something else, though. For that matter, she was starting to get the feeling that there was something Aura wasn’t telling her. All it was was a gut instinct, though. It wasn’t like she could call Aura out on it.

Bog never tried to call or text Marianne again. Marianne showed the messages to Stuff and Aura, and they agreed that it was a good thing she didn’t go out there. If Bog really was their vampire, they reasoned, then going by herself would have been dangerous. Marianne decided not to tell them how tempted she was to go anyway.

The only other thing that happened over the four-day stretch was Marianne’s building irritation with their vampire. He hadn’t put in another appearance, and they hadn’t received another call about a body somewhere in the city. But if he kept to his pattern, then he was due to try to kill again in the next couple of days, which meant that they needed to be on high alert. Then again, if he kept to his pattern, Marianne had another uneventful night to look forward to.

She was seriously considering telling Aura that they should just go and try to question Bog anyway when her cell phone rang.

“Hey Marianne!” Dawn chirped when she answered it. “Are you still gonna be on duty when I come home next week? Because I was thinking—“

“Whoa whoa, wait,” Marianne cut her off. “You’re not serious about coming here?!”

Dawn snorted in irritation. “Well, of course, Marianne! I said I was!”

Just what Marianne needed, to add worry for her sister to her frustration. “No, no, Dawn, listen to me. You can not come down here. Do you understand me? Look, take Sunny and go anywhere else, but don’t come here.”

“Look, Marianne, I saw the news the other night, and I know there’s a maniac on the loose there. But I think you’re overreacting. I for one am not going to let some crazy guy ruin my trip home.”

Marianne heaved a sigh. “Dawn, I have to get ready for work, so we’ll talk about it later. But coming back to New Orleans right now is a terrible idea.”

“Alright, fine, we’ll talk about it later.” Dawn ended the call. Marianne stared at her phone for a full minute in disbelief before she scrolled down to her dad’s number as she walked to her bathroom.

“I’ll try to talk to her, sweetheart, for all the good it’ll do. But I don’t think I’ll be able to get through to her any better than you could,” Dagda said after Marianne told him about their conversation.

Marianne had the idea to enlist Sunny’s help as she rode to the precinct building. “I already tried to talk her out of it,” Sunny said as Marianne walked through the doors. “The best I could get her to do was to swear she wasn’t going anywhere without me.” And Marianne wanted to bang her head against a wall. Now she’d have to be worried about Sunny, too.

Stuff came out to meet her in the lobby as she was contemplating doing just that.

“Everything okay?” Stuff asked when she saw Marianne’s frustrated glare.

Marianne told Stuff about Dawn’s plans to come to New Orleans and her own failed attempts to talk Dawn out of it.

“I feel you there,” Stuff said when Marianne was finished. “But why not have your dad take them both out of state? Get all three of them out of the line of fire?”

“That is the first good thing I’ve heard in way too long,” Marianne said. “Remind me to call my dad in the morning.”

“Y’all ready?” Aura said as she walked up from the direction of her office. The three of them headed out into the French Quarter for their rounds.

 

“Thang didn’t want me to come in this evening,” Stuff was telling Marianne and Aura later that night. “We got into a pretty big argument about it. I mean, I get that he’s worried, since it was a cop that died the other night, but I have a job to do, you know? I can’t let fear of being the next victim keep me from doing that job.”

“You can’t fault him for being worried, though,” Aura pointed out. “He’s involved with this case, too. And besides, all of our nerves are frayed right now.”

As Aura spoke, Marianne couldn’t help but notice that Aura seemed a little distracted. This in and of itself was unusual, because Aura paid attention to everything.

Marianne didn’t say anything about it until Aura fell behind at one point, which was something else unusual. She usually had no problem keeping up with them.

Marianne and Stuff glanced at one another, and by the look in Stuff’s eyes, Marianne could tell that she had noticed Aura’s odd behavior as well.

 “Captain?” Stuff called to her.

Aura’s attention was riveted to the roof of a building across the street, and her eyes were narrowed.

“Is everything okay, captain?” Marianne asked her.

“Everything’s fine!” Aura said. Marianne followed her gaze to the roof she was staring at. She could see nothing but night time shadows.

“Then what are you staring at?” Marianne asked her, and this seemed to get Aura’s attention.

“Oh, it’s just someone’s cat. You know how fond I am of them,” she answered airily as she continued ahead of them.

Marianne and Stuff glanced at one another in confusion, and then Marianne glanced back at the roof. She still couldn’t see anything, not even a cat. She glanced back at Aura’s retreating back and narrowed her eyes.

In all the years Marianne had known her, Captain Aura Plum had never outright lied to her before.

Before she could ask about it, Aura pulled up the subject of Stuff’s argument with Thang again, and Marianne was forced to drop it.

 

The rest of the night, as Marianne had predicted, went by without anything happening. She had never gotten another opportunity to ask Aura about her lie, and as soon as the sun started to come up, Aura had sent them both home on the pretext that Stuff had to go home and soothe Thang’s ruffled feathers. Aura herself had left without another word after that.

Marianne was now standing on her balcony, watching the sun rise, and trying to figure out just why Aura would lie to her like that when she saw a familiar figure on the sidewalk below. It seemed Bog had decided to take an early morning stroll around the French Quarter. His sunglasses and leather jacket were in place and he had his hands shoved into his pockets.

She opened her mouth to call out to him, but then closed it again. Aura had said that she shouldn’t try to confront him alone. But would this even be a confrontation? It wasn’t like she had gone looking for him or anything. He had all but come to her.

Her debate resolved itself when Bog happened to look up and found her watching him. He looked just as surprised as she felt. Great, now it was too late to try and make an escape. And she was already in her pajama pants and tank shirt, and her gun was inside on her kitchen counter. Assuming it would even do any good to protect her.

And how did she even greet him, anyway? Unbidden, that scene from Twilight where Bella first encountered Edward after she figured out he was a vampire started playing in her head. Damn Dawn and her love of that movie. Marianne wasn’t used to having feelings for a murder suspect. She had no idea why she was now ready to admit that she had feelings for Bog, and strong ones at that, but he was a murder suspect as far as she was concerned. She needed to do her job, her heart be damned.

Marianne was saved from the second debate of how to greet Bog when he resolved it for her by rapidly facing the street again and continuing down it like he had never seen her. Had he been blushing? Or had that been a look of alarm? The sunglasses made it hard to tell. Wait, did vampires even have the ability to blush?

Right then, his cell phone rang, and he answered it in Scottish Gaelic. Then he was walking as if he had never stopped. Marianne watched him as he crossed the street, and then rounded a corner at the end of the next block and she lost sight of him.

That was weird, Marianne thought as she went back into her apartment and climbed into her bed. Now she not only had Aura lying to her, but she had Bog running from her. Like she needed anymore mysteries to unravel.

Speaking of Bog, there was still something about him that was bugging the hell out of her that she just couldn’t figure out. He may or may not be a vampire and he may or may not be their murderer. But he definitely had a connection to all of this somehow.

Marianne’s last thought before she drifted off to sleep was that the Maison de la Forêt Noire was too far away from the French Quarter. So just what in the hell was Bog doing outside her apartment?

 

When Marianne woke up that afternoon, it was to find a text message from Dawn on her phone.

:In NOLA at dad’s,: she wrote. :He actually wanted to pack us back up and take us to FL, can you believe it?!?! And SUNNY AGREED!! I told them they could go if they wanted, but I’m staying here.:

:Maybe you should take them up on the trip,: Marianne texted back as she climbed out of her bed. She left her phone in her bedroom while she went to make coffee.

:I can’t believe you’re agreeing with them: was the response that was waiting for her when she returned with a steaming cup of coffee.

:It was my idea in the first place,: Marianne answered before she left her phone on her nightstand again to go take a shower. When she got out, there was a long stream of messages waiting that were all Dawn being angry about the fact that Marianne wanted her to leave New Orleans and how she wasn’t going anywhere.

Marianne decided to use the time she was getting dressed to cool down before she called Dawn and started a screaming match with her. Dawn’s stubborn refusal to stay out of New Orleans was doing nothing to help her mood.

And then there was Bog that morning, Marianne remembered. What the hell was up with that? She supposed she could try calling and asking him about it, but what would she say? She couldn’t prove his behavior was suspicious. Maybe he did want to take a walk around the city that morning and it just happened to bring him by her apartment.

Except that Marianne didn’t have the energy to believe in coincidence right now. Bog being in the French Quarter that morning and not at the mansion was definitely unusual. Then there was Aura deliberately lying to her, and now Dawn not listening to her.

Nope, better to not call Dawn back at all. Starting a fight wouldn’t help anything right now. All it would do would add to her stress, which Marianne was starting to think was nearing its limit. She gathered her things and headed to work.

 

Two more nights went by without anything happening. Marianne and all of her colleagues were on edge now. Their vampire was overdue.

She never got an explanation for Aura’s lie the other night, nor did she get one for Bog’s presence in the French Quarter. And Dawn absolutely would not be talked out of staying in New Orleans.

The last time Marianne had this sensation, a hurricane had swept through and caused levee breaches that flooded half of New Orleans a mere hours later. She didn’t like it one bit.

 

Dawn had been back in New Orleans for two nights now, and so far, they had been nothing but boring. She was pretty sure Marianne was making a big deal out of nothing. Whatever. She wasn’t going to let Marianne’s mood keep her from going out and enjoying herself.

She had been itching to get out and do something, so she managed to talk Sunny into taking her to a movie (and she had had to talk him into doing it! She never had to talk Sunny into doing anything!). Naturally, it was well after dark by the time the movie ended. But Dawn hadn’t been ready to head home yet. It was such a nice night! She wanted to grab a coffee and enjoy it for a little while.

That had led to her having to talk (again, talk!) Sunny into stopping at a nearby Starbucks, where he was currently inside placing their orders. Dawn had been glad she had insisted on walking, rather than letting daddy talk them into taking a car. And Sunny had been in agreement with that too! Really, what was wrong with the two of them? They almost never agreed on anything! In fact, Dawn was pretty sure Dagda didn’t like Sunny for some reason. So the fact that they were agreeing on anything was scary.

And then when they had left the movie theater, Sunny had kept looking back over his shoulder. He had gotten jumpy to the point where he suggested calling her dad to come pick them up. Dawn had fussed at him to calm down and told him everything would be fine. When they reached the Starbucks, Dawn was pretty sure Sunny was about to start an argument when she insisted on waiting for him outside. He knew how she liked her coffee. Besides, she wanted to admire the night.

She had noticed that there were barely any people out and about tonight. Weird for New Orleans, especially at this time of the night. It wasn’t that late, people should still be everywhere. Several times, she saw cops walking around in groups of two and three, but all they had done was nodded at her and moved on.

Dawn glanced inside the building to check on Sunny, who was watching the barista make their drinks, and then turned back to gaze at the streets. Right then, a noise that sounded like a pained moan emanated from the alley next to the café. A voice in her head that sounded a lot like Marianne told her to leave it alone, but Dawn ignored it. Who or whatever it was sounded like they were in pain. Dawn couldn’t ignore that.

“Hello?” she called as she walked up to the alley.

She got no answer, but when she reached the alley, she squinted into the darkness until she could make out a male figure deep in the shadows. His head was covered by the hood of his oversized black hoodie. He was also still on his feet, but he was leaning heavily against a wall. By the hunched set of his shoulders and the way it looked like his arms were folded over his abdomen, he looked like he might be ill.

Dawn took a few more steps into the alley. “Hello? Sir? Are you okay?” His head turned slightly towards her. And that was the last thing she was truly aware of.

The next thing Dawn knew, a heavy weight slammed her into the nearby wall, his hand covering her mouth before she could make a sound, and his mouth at her throat. Then something pierced her neck.

Dawn began to fight back, but it did no good. It was like she was hitting a slab of concrete. Rapidly, she began to weaken and blackness began to pull at the edges of her vision.

Suddenly, the man’s mouth pulled away from his assault on her throat and his lips were next to her ear.

“You taste delicious,” he said, “but your sister will taste much better.” He returned to his assault on her neck.

Dawn could barely think at that point. But it managed to register in her mind that she knew that voice. Just before the heavy blackness claimed her, she could have sworn she heard Sunny shouting her name. But why did he sound so far away?

But it didn’t matter.  Her last thought before she knew nothing else was that Marianne was in serious danger.

 

Marianne, Stuff, and Aura were making their rounds while their radios crackled with reports from other officers around the city. Marianne was getting bored again when a sudden shouting arose from a few blocks away. The three of them looked at each other.

“Report!” Aura barked into her radio.

“There’s been another attack!” an officer responded, and he quickly rattled off the location. It was only four blocks from where they were.

Marianne was running before she thought about it, Stuff and Aura right on her heels.

“Hey, get an ambulance out here! The victim is still alive!” another voice demanded on the radio. Marianne started running harder. Hopefully the victim was still conscious and could tell them something.

However, Marianne slid to a stop at the entrance to the alley. It was the last sight she would have ever wanted to see.

DAWN!!!” Marianne screamed as she ran to her sister, who was lying unconscious on the ground while an officer kept his hand clamped over her neck.

She only barely registered Sunny off to the side, who was being held back by two other officers and frantically trying to fight them off. She barely heard the officer who was trying to help Dawn say that she had lost a lot of blood already as Marianne fell to her knees beside her sister. All Marianne could see was Dawn lying on the ground, deathly pale and barely breathing. She was barely even aware of the first set of hands that were trying to pull her away before three more joined them in successfully prying her away.

“The paramedics are here, they’ll help her,” someone placated in her ear, and it might have been Stuff. Marianne didn’t know or care. Her sister needed her.

When it finally registered with Marianne’s grief-stricken mind that the paramedics were in fact there, everything else finally hit her. Sunny had nearly collapsed into the arms of one of the officers that was holding him, he was so beside himself.

What happened?!?!” Marianne demanded.

“I’m sorry! This was all my fault! I’m so sorry!” Sunny sobbed, dissolving into tears.

Then a paramedic was at her arm. “Detective? We might need to bring him as well, I’m pretty sure he’s in heavy shock,” the medic said. “But I’ve got to get your sister out of here now. She needs an immediate transfusion.”

Marianne nodded. “Sunny, go with them,” she told him. Sunny was obviously in no condition to argue, and was helped into the back of the ambulance. The ambulance left with lights and sirens blaring.

“Come on,” Aura said before Marianne could lose it again. They weren’t far from the precinct building, where they loaded into Aura’s car and headed to the hospital Dawn was being taken to.

 

Dagda met them at the hospital, and he looked like he had aged twenty years in the space of ten minutes.

“They’ve taken her for a blood transfusion and to treat her wound,” he told them in a shaky voice when they walked up to him. “They’ll come and get us when they have her set up in her own room. They’re also examining Sunny, but they don’t think there’s anything physically wrong with him.”

“Has he said anything to you?” Aura asked.

“He hasn’t spoken a word since he got here. He can’t seem to talk,” Dagda answered.

After a ten minute stretch that seemed like an eternity, a nurse finally appeared.

“Your daughter is stable, Mr. Springwood,” the nurse said. “But she’s still unconscious. Mr. Elfman is physically fine, but he is in a heavy state of shock. We had to give him a mild sedative.”

“Can we see him?” Aura asked. “We need to ask him what he knows about the attack. Right now, he’s our only witness.”

“I can’t promise that he’s up for talking, but follow me,” the nurse said. She led them to a private room several floors up where Dawn had been placed. Dawn was connected to an EKG as well as an IV and a blood bag. The bite at her throat had been bandaged, but deep bruising was already starting to form where blood had been pulled out. Her breathing was rather shallow, but she was breathing. But she was still too pale for Marianne’s liking.

The whole sight was almost too much for Marianne. Stuff placed a steadying hand at her shoulder as Dagda rushed in to sit beside Dawn’s bed and hold her hand.

Sunny was in a chair in the other corner of the room, a blanket over his shoulders and his knees drawn up with his arms wrapped around his legs. Tears leaked silently down his face as he stared at Dawn. Dawn’s doctor was standing at the foot of Dawn’s bed, making a few final notes on her chart.

“Whatever did this took a lot of her blood,” the doctor said to them. “If she makes it through the next few hours, she should be okay.”

Aura crossed the room to stand in front of Sunny. “Hey,” she said, placing a hand on his shoulder. When Sunny met her eyes, he began crying again.

“It’s all my fault! I’m s-sorry, it’s all my f-fault!” he sobbed. “If I had just said n-no to going out, or pretended to be s-sick or something, this n-never would have h-happened!”

“This isn’t your fault,” Dagda said. “It’s mine. I should have been more firm about leaving the city.”

Marianne would have been pacing the room and pulling at her hair or biting her nails if it weren’t for Stuff’s hand still on her shoulder.

“No, this is my fault,” she said. “I should have worked harder and caught this monster sooner.”

“Enough!” Aura snapped. “None of you are to blame for what happened here tonight, but we also don’t have time to discuss it.”

Right then, Thang walked into the room, dressed in medical scrubs. “I was called for a consult,” he announced. Marianne guessed that Aura had Stuff call him on the way over. The entire ride had been a blur, she had never been aware of any calls being made.

Dawn’s doctor arched an eyebrow. “I have to admit I’ve never done a consult with a medical examiner before.”

Thang smiled half-heartedly. “I need to see her injury to make sure it was our guy.” Thang, Aura, and Dawn’s doctor all looked askance at Dagda, who nodded numbly.

His permission received, Thang grabbed a pair of rubber gloves out of the box attached to the wall and put them on as he made his way around Dawn’s bed. He gently pulled back the gauze taped to Dawn’s neck. He only blinked twice before he looked back up at them and nodded his head.

Marianne couldn’t breathe anymore. “I need air,” she said, immediately leaving the room. Thankfully, no one followed her.

She didn’t know how long she paced the hall outside Dawn’s room. It was probably only a couple of minutes. But she needed to get herself back under control.

When she finally felt like she could breathe again, she stopped right outside the door to Dawn’s room and leaned against the wall next to it.

“Sunny, we need to know what happened,” Aura said gently.

Sunny drew in a ragged breath. “We went out to see a movie, and after that, we stopped for coffee,” he began. “Dawn insisted on staying outside while I went in and ordered.  Oh, God, I should have made her come inside with me…”

“Hey, never mind that,” Aura said firmly. “Go on.”

“Anyway, I never saw her leave for the alley. But when I left with our coffees, she was gone. So I started looking around for her, and that was when I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye in that alley. And when I looked—Oh God…” Sunny broke down crying again. “That—that thing was attacking her…”

When Sunny broke down that time, he sounded like he was moving into a panic attack.

“Would you like a stronger sedative?” Dawn’s doctor asked.

“No,” Sunny said on a shaky breath. He forced down a breath. “So I screamed Dawn’s name, and it got that monster’s attention. It looked up at me, and—and—“ Sunny stopped for another deep breath, “it had fangs,” he finished. “Dawn’s blood, dripping from fucking fangs!”

Marianne could feel the world screeching to a halt at that and almost missed Stuff’s question.

“Are you certain it was fangs you saw?” she asked.

“I know what I saw!” Sunny insisted. “I didn’t even think then, I just threw the coffees at it. I could never see the rest of it’s face, but I’m pretty sure it was about to attack me. But then a few cops showed up, and it couldn’t do anything. So it dropped Dawn and ran away. I didn’t even see which way it went.”

Marianne slumped against the wall. Just like the attack on Officer Kendal. But then Sunny’s next words had Marianne’s blood running cold and her mind going into overdrive.

“That things eyes were glowing. I’ll swear on my grandmother’s grave, that thing’s eyes were glowing when it looked at me.”

There was a buzzing in Marianne’s ears, and suddenly she couldn’t hear anything else going on around her. The puzzle pieces had started clicking into place.

His eyes glowed. They weren’t contact lenses. Which was why he wore sunglasses.

His much more refined speech patterns.

His hesitancy every time she asked about his past.

The ancient looking design of his tattoos.

His large collection of medieval weaponry.

The fact that he had lived in a fucking castle so far away from people. And wanted an old house that was also far away from people.

That when he smiled, he never showed his teeth.

The reason he wouldn’t kiss her.

His reaction to her cutting her hand.

The murders had started right after he had arrived in New Orleans.

Marianne was running down the hallway and down the emergency stairwell at the end of the hall before she realized she had even begun moving.

He tried to kill her sister. She intended to make sure Dawn was his last victim.

Chapter Text

Marianne never turned around to find out if anyone was following her. Not that it mattered, though. No one was going to stop her.

Once she made it to the street, she hailed a taxi and had it bring her back to the precinct, where her motorcycle was parked. Right as she finished clipping the chin strap on her helmet in place and started up the bike, her cell phone began buzzing in her pocket. She ignored it and tore off for the mansion.

That left her with the problem of how to kill a vampire. Her gun certainly wasn’t going to work, if the five shots Officer Kendal had fired at him had been any indication. He had still been able to attack her, and then he had been able to come back and attack Dawn like nothing had happened. And forcing him out into sunlight probably wouldn’t do any good. She had seen Bog walking around in daylight first hand, so it obviously didn’t affect him.

She wondered if the stake-to-the-heart method would work. If he could be hit with a bullet, then he could be stabbed with a piece of wood. And with the construction going on at the mansion, there would be no shortage of scrap wood.

But what if that wasn’t enough? Some of the stories about vampires said that that wouldn’t do anything to them. That thought brought her around to Bog’s sword collection. A steel sword would certainly be better than a splinter of wood, and it could do more damage. Marianne had seen the room he had begun storing his weapons in. Most of them were still boxed up, and though it had been about a week since she had last seen or heard about the mansion, she didn’t think they’d be far enough along with enough of the rooms for him to begin unpacking any of them yet. Plus, if he put up a fight, which she could almost certainly count on, well, she had already shown him she could hold her own with one. A sword it was, then. There was a good chance she could get in and get one before he realized she was even there.

Marianne stopped her motorcycle about half a mile away from the mansion and parked it just inside the tree line on the side of the road. She shut off the engine and propped the bike against a tree. She left her helmet and for good measure, her cell phone, which had finally stopped ringing just before she arrived. She made for the mansion on foot and began hoping he didn’t have that really good hearing vampires were supposed to have. She wanted to be properly armed before she confronted him, and she was pretty sure her only real weapon was the element of surprise.

 

Bog was busily painting a room on the mansion’s second floor while a radio played quietly in the background. However, the station’s repertoire of rock and roll music from the 1970’s and 80’s was doing nothing to help his agitated state.

Aura had caught sight of him following them a few nights ago. After the attack on the police officer, Bog had become concerned for Marianne’s safety and wanted to be nearby in case the rogue tried to attack her. But then Aura had seen him and called him that morning as he had been walking around the block where Marianne’s apartment was located. He hadn’t expected Marianne to still be awake, so seeing her on her balcony had been a surprise.

But he hadn’t known what to say to her. They hadn’t really spoken since that kiss that he had had to end before it had really begun. He was still burning to tell her exactly why. But he couldn’t.

He had been saved from his dilemma by the ringing of his mobile phone. However, it had been Aura on the other end. She saw him following them, and had warned him not to do that again. When he had demanded to know why, she had told him it wouldn’t be a good idea. Her team of officers were now convinced they were looking for a vampire, and Marianne was starting to suspect that Bog was exactly that. And to make matters worse, she was beginning to suspect him of being their murderer. Aura had said she was doing her best to minimize the damage from all of this, but it wasn’t going to help anything if he didn’t keep his distance.

Bog had argued with her. The rogue had killed a police officer, a police officer that had fought back no less, and that meant that Marianne wasn’t safe, either. But then Aura, God damn her, had challenged him as to why he was so concerned over Marianne’s welfare. Bog hadn’t been able to answer her. As much as he tried to deny it, Aura already seemed to know what was going on as she always did. She had told him she was elated for him, but they needed to find and destroy the rogue first before he could try pursuing a relationship with Marianne.

Even when Bog had denied wanting to pursue anything with Marianne, even he knew his arguments sounded weak. When he had ended the call with Aura, he had headed back to the mansion to get some sleep. The workers were already there, and fortunately, they were beginning work on the rooms furthest away from his temporary bedroom, as well as the second floor.

Then he had tried to trail Marianne on her patrols again, but at a more discreet distance, only to be caught by Aura again. She had called him again and insisted that she was serious, he needed to stay home. Besides, she was with Marianne, and Hell would freeze over before she let anything happen to her. That left Bog with no other choice but to stay at the mansion.

He kept busy by throwing himself into the work on the mansion. Bog was quite happy with the work the construction crew was doing. The ground floor had electricity and running water already, and they were making good progress on completing the work on the second floor. For a second, Bog had one of his increasingly-frequent thoughts where he wondered if Marianne would like it.

When those thoughts had started, he had dismissed them by remembering that this was his mansion, not hers. What she thought didn’t matter. But as time had passed and he had gotten to know her better, he had stopped using that excuse. He had realized that what she thought did indeed matter. It had been her dream to restore this mansion.

Then came the day he began to consider asking her to help him decorate it. He couldn’t fathom why he enjoyed the thought of having her touch and influence on the place, but then he realized that it was because he looked forward to seeing her there more and more. He had actually caught himself considering asking her to move in with him just two days before. It had also been her dream to live here, and besides, it was a big house. There would be plenty of room for two people.

But then he’d have to tell her that he was a vampire. If she were to live with him, then he didn’t want to keep a secret like that from her. He discarded that idea on the assumption that she wouldn’t want to live with a vampire.

His realization of how sad that thought made him was when he realized that he was attracted to her. And that realization had caused him no small amount of alarm. When they had kissed that night, he had had to resist the urge to allow it to go further. No, he could never let her find out what he was.

But then he heard the news report of the police officer’s death, and that Marianne herself had been on the scene when it had happened. And then he had realized that he could never, would never, be able to stay away from her completely.

Bog had to consciously force himself to stop grinding his teeth. He could hear his mother lecturing him about it, even after a thousand years. He had already snapped the handles on a paint roller and two brushes in his irritation. He wasn’t afraid to admit that he was worried about Marianne. He stopped painting to draw in a calming breath, and it was then that he realized that the music on the radio had stopped.

“…WWL Radio, live in the French Quarter on the scene of another attack in what has been termed—“ Before the report could finish, Bog’s mobile phone began ringing.

“Aura, what’s happening? There’s a report—“

“I know, I know! The rogue made another attack!” Her voice was equal parts angry and frantic.

“They’re reporting it on the radio right now. Should I go to the French Quarter and start looking for him?”

“No, Bog, you don’t understand! The victim this time was Dawn Springwood!”

Bog froze. Marianne’s sister. He himself had found Dawn slightly overbearing, but it wasn’t enough for anyone to want to cause her harm.

“Fortunately, Dawn’s still alive,” Aura said. “Her boyfriend Sunny managed to stop the attack and she was taken to a hospital in time. The problem now is that Marianne has disappeared.”

What?” Bog snarled.

“She stepped out of the room when Sunny was telling us what happened, and I have good reason to believe she overheard everything. She named you as a prime suspect in these murders, and I’m pretty sure she’s headed for you right now.”

Before Bog could even react to that, he could hear a slight rustling from the forest surrounding the mansion. It might have been one of the local wildlife, but Bog had been a vampire for too long and a warrior before that. Factoring in what Aura had just said to him, he had no reason to believe he had just heard an animal. But then his heightened hearing picked up nothing else. Of course, that didn’t mean anything.

“I’ll call you back,” he told Aura, and ended the call without waiting for a reply. Aura would accept that as a sign to either come to retrieve Marianne or to back him up. He didn’t know or care which.

He was pocketing his mobile phone when he could hear light footsteps on the ground floor. They were coming from the room where he had his weapons stored. Bog had to give her credit, she knew how to be light on her feet. But she would never be able to move quietly enough for him.

Time to consider his very limited options, then. All of his weapons were downstairs where she was, and he hadn’t been in the habit of wearing one for at least fifty years. And he didn’t own a gun. But he wasn’t defenseless. He did have all of the construction equipment on this floor, and he was a vampire.

But the thought of using one on Marianne made him physically ill. He could never bring himself to harm her, not even to defend himself. He would have to figure out why that was later. He would have no choice but to defend himself if she was in the frame of mind he was certain she was in.

He could hear her moving around downstairs, checking every room in her search for him. He could keep working as if he didn’t know anything. Marianne wouldn’t be the type to attack someone who had their back turned. But then again, he couldn’t count on that. She wasn’t thinking rationally right now.

There was always ducking into the adjoining room and escaping the mansion. But Bog had never run from a threat, and he wasn’t going to start now.  Hiding wasn’t an option either, as the door to this room had barely been hanging on one hinge and had been removed pending a replacement. But that wouldn’t have been an option for Bog either way. He would never cower in a corner.

But he couldn’t stay backed into a proverbial corner like this, either. He needed to be where he could stay out of range of her and yet close enough to try and talk her down.

On the other side of the room, he spied a metal extension handle among some of the other painting supplies. It wasn’t much, but it would have to do. He quickly crossed the room to it, unscrewed the roller attached to the end of it, and ducked into the adjoining room. He’d take that room out into the hall and try to draw the confrontation out there. All he could truly hope to do was to subdue her and attempt to talk her down.

 

Dawn felt like she was fighting her way out of a crushing blackness. She could hear people talking, but they sounded like they were a million miles away. And her entire body felt like it weighed a ton.

But she needed to wake up.

Why did she need to wake up?

She couldn’t remember why, just that she needed to. It was important.

But she didn’t want to.

Dawn kept sinking in and out of the blackness. Disjointed images she couldn’t make any sense of kept flashing in her mind.

Darkness…

Someone’s hands on her…

Sunny walking into…somewhere…

Someone whispering something to her…

Someone whispering something to her…it was important, she needed to wake up…

 

Marianne stealthily made her way through the mansion, one of the swords she found at the ready. It wasn’t anything like that impressive and beautiful broadsword Bog had shown her. It was a little more simplistic, with a steel pommel and a black leather grip. The only decoration was a design engraved on the hilt and the blade. And it was fairly light.

Bog hadn’t been in any of the rooms on the first floor. With the exception of one room that led out to the back of the property, all of the rooms on the first floor had been finished. So if he was working, he would be on the second floor.

Would cornering him on the second floor even work? Assuming wanted to make an escape, he could easily jump out of a window or off of a balcony if he could get to one.

She would just have to make sure he didn’t get to one, then. He was too dangerous, she couldn’t allow him to get away.

Marianne climbed the stairs as fast and as quietly as she could and arrived at the second floor to find light pouring out of one of the rooms, as well as music emanating from a radio.

She slowly made her way to the lit room, gripping the sword a bit tighter, to find the door had been removed. However, no one was in the room. A cursory glance showed her a doorway leading to another room that was dark.

Marianne narrowed her eyes at it and it only took her all of half a second. She had gotten to know Bog pretty well. There was no way he’d hide in a dark room.

So with a hard battle cry, she swung around and brought her sword down right as Bog brought up his makeshift weapon to deflect her swing. The sound of metal striking metal rang throughout the otherwise empty mansion as Marianne glared into Bog’s face.

“You tried to kill my sister,” she snarled.

Bog forced her sword away and leapt back a few feet. “Marianne, you don’t understand! I didn’t attack your sister!”

“Liar!” she growled, moving in for another swing. He easily dodged it as he retreated down the hall. She knew he was making her chase him, but she didn’t care. “These attacks all started right after you arrived!” She took another swing that he dodged. “One of the victims was found not far from here!” A thrust, which was also dodged. “Your stuttering when talking about your past!” Another swing, which was blocked and thrown aside. “Your glowing Goddamn eyes!” Another swing, which was dodged. “Why you stopped kissing me!” The last was said in a near shriek, and their weapons were locked together, and they were looking into one another’s eyes.

The only thing Marianne could read on Bog’s face was resignation. He opened his mouth to say something, but before he could, she pulled a burst of strength from somewhere and managed to flip Bog’s makeshift staff out of his hands and down the hall. And before she could think much harder about what she was doing, she swung the sword around. The tip of the blade caught Bog across one of his thighs, causing him to lose his footing and stumble into the wall behind him. As he tried to correct and before he could dodge again, she brought the sword up level with his chest and ran him through so hard the blade embedded itself into the wall behind him.

Bog cried out in pain, his eyes clenching shut and his teeth gritting, his lips pulling back from them and allowing Marianne her first proper look at his teeth. And it was all the confirmation she needed about what he was.

A set of fangs were prominent where his incisors should have been.

Bog gasped in a pained breath. “Marianne, stop! I can explain everything!”

Marianne was beyond listening. She had her vampire, and she needed to destroy him before anyone else got hurt. But she couldn’t risk letting him out of her sight to go for another sword.

So she drew her gun and clicked off the safety.

“Marianne, listen! I did not kill those people!” Bog implored.

Marianne ignored the fleeting thought that there was no fear of death anywhere in his eyes as she leveled her gun at him and positioned her finger over the trigger.

 

The blackness clawed at Dawn again. She couldn’t let it take her though, not yet. She needed…she needed to tell someone…something…she needed to tell someone about…what?

An image of Marianne flashed in her mind. Marianne begged her not to come to New Orleans…no, that wasn’t it….

The blackness pulled at her again…

Chapter Text

Before Marianne could fire, her hand was wrenched back and the gun torn from it and thrown down the dark hallway. Then her arms were forced back as another pair wrapped around them. She began to fight back against whoever it was with all she had.

“Detective Springwood, stand down!” Aura shouted in her ear.

It took a couple of seconds for Marianne to realize who it was that had her restrained. When she did, however, she only started struggling again. “Captain, we have the vampire! Let me go so I can kill him!”

“You aren’t going to be able to kill him no matter what you do, so calm down and listen!

Marianne glared over her shoulder at Aura, but that was when she realized that Aura didn’t seem at all exhausted from struggling with Marianne.

“How do you know something like that?”

Aura’s lips quirked up in a slight smile. “Let’s just say this is a case of ‘it takes one to know one,’” she said casually.

This finally stunned Marianne into silence. She could only stare at Aura as her jaw dropped.

Aura’s smile broadened. “You remember that evening a couple of weeks ago when Bog picked you up from work? You asked if we knew each other,” she said. “We’ve known each other for a very long time.”

A grunt of pain drew Marianne’s attention away from Aura. Bog had both hands wrapped around the sword’s pommel and was trying unsuccessfully to pull it out. “While this is a lovely conversation,” he snapped, “it would be far more enjoyable without the blade in my heart!”

Aura looked calmly at Marianne. “If I let you go, will you stay here and not try to attack either of us?” she asked.

 Marianne could only stand there in mute shock. “I’ll take that as a yes, then,” Aura said as she let Marianne go.

Marianne remained rooted to the spot, and could only watch as Aura walked up to Bog and pulled the sword out of his chest as if it was something she did every day. Bog slumped to the floor in relief as Aura tossed the blood-streaked sword aside. More blood gushed from the wounds in Bog’s chest and back, and Marianne suddenly found herself wishing she had seen where her gun had landed.

The sword was still within reach, though. Could she get to it before either Bog or Aura could stop her?

“If you still want to kill me,” Bog said to her, “then use that sword to behead me. It will immobilize me long enough for you to set my body on fire. I only ask that you hear what I have to say, first. Then you may do whatever you wish with me.”

“Bog!” Aura exclaimed while Marianne felt another wave of shock wash over her.

But something about Bog’s voice seemed to crack through her rage. “Then start talking,” she snarled.

 

Marianne…

Dawn forced her mind to hold an image of Marianne. She needed to tell Marianne something. Something important.

The voice whispered in her mind again. She couldn’t make out what it had said, but it caused another image of Marianne to flash through her mind. Marianne was in serious danger.

But from what? 

Then an image of a vampire crossed her thoughts, and she started fighting against the blackness even harder. She needed to warn Marianne…

 

It was Aura who had spoken first. “Bog did not attack your sister.”

Marianne snorted in disbelief. “Really? Because these attacks started at the same time he arrived here. And the only evidence we have points to him. So if it wasn’t him, then who was it?”

“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” Aura said.

Marianne only stared at her. “Why didn’t you say anything before?”

“Simple,” Aura answered with a wave of her hand. “I would have had to out myself, Bog, and the hundreds of other vampires who live here in the city. Not to mention the thousands around the world. We are supposed to remain a secret from humans.”

Marianne could do nothing but blink in shock. She felt slightly lightheaded. Thousands?

“Yes, we might not be terribly high in number, but surprise! We exist!” Aura finished with a grin.

Bog rolled his eyes. “But every once in a while, a rogue appears. One that refuses to follow the secrecy rule and kills indiscriminately. That’s what we have here,” he said.

“And you’re saying you’re not it,” Marianne said. She still couldn’t bring herself to believe him.

Aura opened her mouth to argue, but Bog cut her off. “I realize how this looks for me,” he said. “And I have no way to prove my innocence.  All I can give you is my word that I have not so much as bitten a human since I’ve been in America, much less killed one.”

There was something about the look in Bog’s eyes that was having a cooling effect on Marianne’s anger. A voice in the back of her head suggested that he was probably telling the truth.

But then she glanced down at his mouth. They only had one piece of evidence, and it was the only thing that would prove his guilt or innocence in all of this.

“Actually, you can prove it,” she said, walking over to where he still sat. “Four people are dead and my baby sister is in the hospital.” She dropped to her knees in front of him and unbuttoned her shirt at the collar. Understanding about what she was getting at dawned across Bog’s face. “So if you weren’t the one responsible for these attacks, then prove it. Right now.” Marianne pulled the collar of her shirt aside, exposing her neck to him.

Bog looked horrified. “No!” he said, shaking his head. “I know what you’re implying, but I can’t do it! I won’t do it!”

“It’s either this or you’re under arrest for murder,” Marianne argued.

“Marianne, may I remind you that he’s injured right now?” Aura said. “There’s no guarantee that he’ll be able to stop himself from drinking too much of your blood.”

 

Sounds were beginning to clear up around Dawn. She could hear people talking quietly nearby. One of them was definitely her father. She thought she recognized another, but the rest, she didn’t. But it meant someone was there, which was good. She could tell them to tell Marianne.

But then her brain registered the steady beeping sound of a nearby machine, as well as a painful pressure in her left arm. Pain also radiated from the side of her neck. Her entire body also felt strangely heavy, but she couldn’t make herself worry about that right now.

Dawn tried calling Marianne’s name. Why wouldn’t her voice work right?

“Marr…anne…” she tried again. This started a flurry of activity around her.

Now she needed to get her eyes to open.

 

“The only piece of concrete evidence we have are the bite marks on all of the victims,” Marianne argued. “Since I’m willing to bet that a DNA test on him will prove inconclusive, this is all we have.”

Aura studied her for a second before she sighed and rolled her eyes. “Bog, do it,” she said. Bog gave Aura an astonished and slightly betrayed look.  “Marianne has a point, and I do have to admit that you do have pretty good self-control. Besides, she isn’t going to be satisfied until you do.”

Marianne could tell that Bog saw their point, but he still didn’t look happy about it. His jaw tightened where he had begun grinding his teeth. Marianne actually found herself confused. Shouldn’t he have wanted to kill her in retaliation for hurting him? She was careful to not let it show on her face, though. He would see it and use it to argue against biting her.

And she realized that she wanted him to prove to her that he didn’t attack any of those people or try to kill Dawn.

 

Dawn cracked her eyes open to find her dad and Sunny anxiously waiting at the side of the hospital bed she was lying in for her to do something else.

“Mari…anne…” she called again. “Where’s…Mari…anne?”

Dawn’s eyelids slid open further in time for a woman that it took Dawn a few seconds longer than it should have to remember that she was Marianne’s partner, Stuff. Stuff shooed Dagda and Sunny away from the bed. There were other people in the room that looked like doctors and nurses, but Dawn didn’t care about any of them right now.

Marianne wasn’t in the room.

“Where’s…Marianne?” Dawn repeated more urgently.

“Dawn, sweetheart, why do we need to find Marianne?” Stuff asked her patiently.

Dawn tried to swallow. It felt like her mouth and part of her throat were stuffed with cotton, they were so dry.

“Marianne’s….in trouble…..he’s….going to kill her…” she rasped out. That had everyone in the room looking at one another.

Who is going to kill her?” Stuff asked.

 

Bog let out a resigned breath, took both of Marianne’s hands, and laid them on each of his shoulders. “Hold as still as you can,” he instructed her. “This will hurt, but if you don’t move the damage will be minimal.”

Marianne nodded her understanding, and Bog drew her in as close as he could. She was nearly flush with his chest and was all but sitting in his lap.

Bog pulled her shirt collar aside, and his mouth was at the juncture of her neck and shoulder. Her nails dug into his shoulders in nervous anticipation, but if it bothered him, he didn’t say anything.

The tips of his fangs scraped over her skin a second before he bit down. Marianne’s hands involuntarily fisted in his t-shirt and her eyes clenched shut. He wasn’t kidding about it hurting. She cried out with the pain, and had to battle the urge to start fighting him off.

Almost as fast as they punctured her skin, Bog’s fangs withdrew, and his mouth worked over the bite as he drew her blood into his mouth.

But then a sensation that had no place or business happening here began to wash over Marianne. Her eyelids fluttered and her jaw dropped open as her breathing became heavier. One of Bog’s hands was suddenly at the back of her head to keep it still, and that was when it occurred to Marianne that it had begun to fall back. One of her hands had also drifted up into his hair, where her fingers were now stroking through thick, silky black hair.

The strangest part, though, was the rush of heat that flooded the space between her thighs. And the fact that she should be horrified at herself for getting turned on by this. Truthfully, she wasn’t. She suddenly found herself wishing that Aura wasn’t there and she and Bog were alone.

Right as Marianne started to have a mental argument with her hands to stay above Bog’s shoulders and not drift lower like they were itching to do, Bog’s tongue laved one more time over bite he had put on the base of her neck before leaving completely.

Marianne’s eyes drifted open and down to gaze into Bog’s. The blue of them had darkened, and at the same time, an unnatural luminescence glittered within them. Whatever had happened to her had happened to him as well.

She wasn’t given the chance to dwell on it, though. A wave of dizziness suddenly overtook her, and a pair of hands was there, pulling her away from Bog. She didn’t have the energy to fight them off. A piece of cloth was being pressed to her wound to staunch the blood.

Marianne looked up to find Aura doing most of the work of holding her up, and it took another minute for the dizziness to pass.

“I hope you’re satisfied now,” Aura told her. “I have no idea what I was going to say to your father if that had gone sideways. And I told you, Bog is not our vampire.”

“I’ll feel better when Thang tells me that,” Marianne muttered. But she couldn’t help but believe Aura.

 

Dawn was starting to get frustrated with herself. She knew who attacked her! But why couldn’t she remember who he was?

Her breathing grew more rapid and shallow and the beeping from the machine at her side started to pick up. “He…he tried to kill me! He tried to….and now…he’s… he’s going to kill Marianne! We have to find Marianne!” Dawn didn’t care that she was nearly screaming at Stuff.

Stuff waved off a doctor who was moving towards Dawn’s IV with a full syringe and then cupped her face in both hands, forcing Dawn to meet her eyes.

“Hey hey hey hey, look at me,” Stuff instructed her. “I understand that Marianne is in danger, and I promise I will find her. But I need to know who I’m protecting Marianne from, first. Now, take a deep breath, and take your time.”

Dawn forced down a deep breath, but she didn’t feel much like relaxing. She drew in another breath.

Then she could hear a voice in her mind. The attacker’s voice.

“You taste delicious. But your sister will taste much better.”

 

Aura pulled out her cell phone and lifted the cloth at Marianne’s neck away to snap a couple of pictures. Then she called Thang and put him on speakerphone.

“Captain! Did you find Marianne?” he asked by way of answering his phone.

“Yes, I found her. But before I get into that, there’s something I need you to take a look at.” She forwarded the pictures to him.

“Got ‘em. Just give me a second here…” Thang said. He only needed a few seconds.

“This one isn’t the same as the others. It’s too clean—wait, is that Marianne’s neck?! Captain, tell me she’s okay!”

“Marianne is fine, Thang,” Marianne said into the phone.

“Oh, thank God,” Thang heaved in relief. “And also, thank God you found her. Dawn’s awake.”

“What!” Aura squawked.

“With that much blood loss, she should still be unconscious,” Bog mused.

“Has she said anything yet? Let me talk to her!” Marianne said.

“Stuff is talking to her now. But she’s so weak from the loss of blood that she can barely think. It might take some time to get any information,” Thang said. “I’ll have Stuff call you back when she knows more.”

“Thank you, Thang,” Aura said, ending the call.

Marianne couldn’t decide if she wanted to laugh, cry, or punch something. Despite everything that had just happened, they were back at square one. “If he isn’t the vampire we’re looking for, then who is?” she mused out loud.

Bog and Aura glanced at one another. “We think we have a pretty good idea,” Aura said.

Marianne stared at both of them. “And you never said anything because…?” she prompted.

“Outing ourselves, remember?” Aura reminded her. Marianne rolled her eyes.

“In any case,” Bog interrupted before Marianne could answer Aura, “do you remember when you asked why Adaira didn’t come to America as well?” Marianne nodded. “Well, I wasn’t entirely honest about that.”

“Well, no shit,” Marianne said sarcastically. A contrite look flashed across Bog’s face at that. “Are you telling me our rogue vampire is Adaira?”

“Not possible,” Aura said. “We’re looking for a male, remember?”

“Well, then what does Adaira have to do with anything?” Marianne was only getting confused, which was making her angry again. They didn’t have time for games.

“Because I think Adaira may have created the vampire you’re looking for,” Bog said.

“I still don’t follow,” Marianne said.

Bog drew in a breath. “Do you remember asking me about why Adaira didn’t come to America as well?”

“Yeah, you said she decided to stay in Scotland.”

“The truth of the matter is that it was not entirely her choice. I left her behind.”

At Marianne’s deepening confusion, Aura cut in. “She was Bog’s prisoner for the last thousand or so years.” Bog winced in response to the fact.

“She was your prisoner,” Marianne repeated.

Bog winced again. “Basically, yes,” he confirmed.

A million questions began to buzz in Marianne’s mind, chief among them being “Why?”, but she had to force herself to stick with the most important at hand.

“So, what you’re saying is,” Marianne said, “she was your prisoner,” Bog and Aura both nodded, “and she still managed to turn someone else into a vampire,” Aura arched an eyebrow, which suggested to Marianne that she had already figured that much out, and Bog’s eyes turned downcast in guilt, “and that vampire managed to get all the way to New Orleans to start terrorizing the city?”

“Pretty much,” Aura said.

“In that case,” Marianne said, fixing Bog with the stare she reserved for when she interrogated someone who had information she needed and didn’t want to give it up, “start talking.”

“I told you once I was to be married,” Bog started.

Marianne nodded. She remembered. “Go on,” she prompted.

Bog drew in a breath. “Adaira was the woman I was betrothed to. Ours was an arranged marriage, as they were at the time.” Marianne was momentarily struck by surprise at this, but she waited wordlessly for Bog to continue. “Our betrothal ended and the marriage was called off when Adaira made it clear she did not want to be forced into marriage.”

“She went so far as to unknowingly run straight to a vampire for help to get out of the arrangement,” Aura added, and Marianne began to wonder just how intimately familiar Aura was with Bog’s past. But now was not the time to ask that.

“To shorten an otherwise long story,” Bog said, “Adaira had never wanted to become a vampire, either. Much like mine, her turning was accidental.”

“So what does this have to do with her turning someone into a vampire now?” Marianne asked impatiently.

“Suffice it to say, she begged me to destroy her not long after I found her again. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’ve made her live with me ever since. At least, until a few weeks ago. When you and Roland Knight traveled to my castle to sell me this mansion.”

Marianne narrowed her eyes. She was starting to put the pieces together. “Are you telling me she turned Roland while we were in Scotland?”

“She couldn’t have,” Aura said. “You would have noticed. The transformation into a vampire is an extremely painful one, and it takes around two days. Not only would you have heard him screaming, he wouldn’t have been able to leave when you did.”

“No, she did not turn him while you were in Scotland,” Bog said. “She did go to him, yes, and as she told me after I delivered the two of you to the airport, she had both is body and his blood.”

Marianne cringed. “I could have gone the rest of my life without knowing that she had sex with him, but keep going.”

“I had warned her to stay away from the two of you, but she had been determined. Keeping her under control was always a chore, especially around humans. After I returned from seeing you to the airport, she told me what she had done. She also told me that by the time the two of us arrived in New Orleans, it would be too late. She had smuggled some of her blood out to him. Knight’s transformation would have been well underway.”

“Wait, you said a vampire transformation requires a transference of blood, so how did—holy shit,” Marianne said. “That bottle of scotch she gave to Roland… But that can’t be right, the alcohol would have broken up the blood, wouldn’t it?”

“It’s vampire blood,” Aura said. “It’s pretty resilient.”

“And Roland would have drank it all without a second thought. He never could turn down free booze,” Marianne said. “But that doesn’t explain why she wanted to turn Roland.”

“As I said, she wanted me to destroy her. She was still determined to end her own existence, even a thousand years later.”

“And she somehow thought Roland would do that for her,” Marianne finished. “But I take it she didn’t anticipate you leaving her in Scotland?”

“No,” Bog answered. “Her freedom was what she wanted, so I gave it to her. After she told me what she had done, I told her she was free to leave if that was what she wanted. Then I found the earliest flight out of Scotland I could get and came straight here. My hopes were that Knight had not opened that bottle yet. In which case, I intended to ask for it back so I could destroy it. And if he had, I intended to stop him myself before he killed someone.

Fortunately, when I arrived, he had not drunk the scotch yet. I attempted to ask for it back when I met with him to sign the final paperwork on the mansion, but he refused to return it. I went so far as to try and locate his residence so I could break in and steal it back. But with all of the people in this city and all of the different scents overlapping one another, that proved futile. Then I heard about the first murder on the news, and I knew I was too late. He had made the transformation and begun feeding.”

“I spoke to Roland myself,” Marianne said numbly. Reality was beginning to set in. “He claimed he was in Mexico.”

“Roland Knight is a known liar, remember?” Aura gently reminded her. “I followed up with Roland’s case after Missing Persons closed it. He never purchased a plane ticket or boarded a plane.”

 

Dawn stopped breathing as she recognized who the voice belonged to. The EKG machine at her side began to pick up speed again as tears welled up in her eyes.

“Dawn, honey, breathe,” Stuff ordered.

“It was Roland…” she murmured so low she could barely hear herself.

Stuff watched her. “Who?” she asked.

 

Marianne reeled in shock. That asshole had gotten one over on her again.

Her rage flooding back full force, she shot to her feet and started down the hall.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Aura demanded. Marianne didn’t bother answering her. She thought it should have been obvious at that point.

However, she didn’t make it more than a few feet before she was struck with another wave of dizziness and stumbled into the wall. Before she could fall to the floor, Bog was suddenly there, steadying her on her feet.

Marianne tried to shove him off and keep walking, but even she could tell how weak of an effort it was. And the dizziness just wouldn’t go away this time.

“Marianne, you need to sit down before you pass out,” Bog said.

“No!” Marianne insisted. “This whole thing was my fault! If I had figured all of this out sooner, if I hadn’t ignored Roland like I did, I’d have been able to stop him sooner!”

Bog grabbed her by the shoulders and forced her to look at him. “And if you had known,” he pointed out, “there is a minimal chance at best that you would have been able to stop him. Trust me, I have first-hand experience battling vampires as both a human and a vampire, and it is not simple either way. Especially when they’re newly turned and have gone rogue.”

As Marianne looked into his eyes, something told her that he was not lying to her. She began to wonder if he had ever truly lied to her when it mattered.

But then she shook it off. She couldn’t think about that right now.

She shook off Bog’s hands and started down the hall again. “But I have to do something!” she said. “Dawn probably saw his face. He could come back and try to kill her again!”

Bog only grabbed her again. “Marianne, try to think! He can’t get close enough to her to try to kill her right now. And if he is our vampire, then he’s probably certain that Dawn will die before she can identify him.”

“Besides,” Aura pointed out. “you know good and damn well if you go running after Roland right now, he’ll know we suspect him and he’ll leave the city before we can catch him. Then he’ll just be dangerous somewhere else.”

Marianne’s anger surged again, but before she could argue, her dizziness was forced into overdrive. The last thing she was aware of was blackness closing around her vision and the sensation of a pair of arms wrapping around her as she fell.

Chapter Text

Bog caught Marianne as she slipped into unconsciousness and swept her up into his arms. Aura was immediately there, checking her pulse and breathing.

“Before you start torturing yourself over her passing out,” Aura commented, “trust me when I say this is the only thing that would have stopped her. Once she’s slept it off, she’ll be fine.”

Despite Aura’s words, Bog couldn’t help but berate himself. He’d taken too much blood from Marianne and it had made her ill, just as he had thought it would. He couldn’t blame her for her anger, though. Had he been in Marianne’s position, he’d have also given in to rage to the point where nothing short of fainting would have stopped him.

“We do need to get her downstairs, though, so we can dress that bite,” Aura continued, breaking Bog out of his musings.

“Ah, right,” Bog said. He started towards the stairs, Aura right behind him.

They reached the bottom of the stairs when Aura’s mobile phone rang.

“Stuff, did Dawn say anything?” she said by way of answering as they arrived in Bog’s temporary bedroom and he laid Marianne down on the bed.

“Oh, yeah, and you’re not gonna like it, Captain,” Bog could hear the woman named Stuff saying. Stuff’s voice was on the edge of panic. “She was attacked by Roland Knight, Marianne’s ex-fiancée. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Dawn swears he’s coming after Marianne now.”

“What!?” Bog snarled, his head snapping towards Aura, where she had gone still and her eyes had narrowed into slits. He could tell she was making a concerted effort to not crush her mobile in her fist.

“Okay,” Aura said, “Marianne is here at the mansion with me and Bog, so she’s safe for the moment. But I need you to send a protective detail out immediately.” She then caught Bog’s eyes as she gave her next order. “As of this moment, Marianne is in protective custody.  I want you to stay with Dawn and her family until I call you again.”

“Do you think Roland’ll try to come after Dawn again?” Stuff asked. Bog returned to settling Marianne on his bed.

“Not likely, but I don’t want to take chances, either. I still want a protective detail on all three of them as well. And tell Dagda to get ready to leave the city as soon as Dawn is stable enough to travel.” With that, she ended the call.

Bog had just finished checking the bite wound he had left on Marianne’s neck and was satisfied that the bleeding had stopped when Aura spoke to him again. “We should get you cleaned up as well,” she said. Bog looked down at himself. Blood had soaked both the front and the back of his t-shirt as well as one of his trouser legs where Marianne had cut him. Some of his blood had even soaked into Marianne’s clothing from him carrying her. Aura was right, he should go get cleaned up.

But with Marianne in danger, he didn’t want to leave her side, either.

“She’ll be fine for ten minutes,” Aura pointed out, sensing his dilemma.

“Yes, well, a lot can happen in ten minutes as well,” Bog retorted, but he still went to his chest of drawers and dug out a fresh t-shirt and pair of blue jeans. After one last glance at Marianne, who hadn’t stirred, he headed across the hall for the almost-completed lavatory.

As Aura filled up the sink with water and located some clean wash cloths, Bog had to tear his shirt down the middle to remove it. The drying blood was causing it to cling to his skin. Then he pulled off his boots and worked his ruined jeans off. With the infusion of fresh human blood in his system, the wounds had of course closed up and healed long before he had even left the second floor.

“Are you planning on firing her for all of this?” Bog asked as he soaked a wash cloth and began cleaning up his leg.

“No,” Aura answered as she soaked another cloth and made Bog sit on the edge of the bathtub so she could clean his back. “I can understand what her frame of mind was. She’d been overstressed and overworked because of this case, and then having her sister become one of the victims on top of everything…well, that would have made anyone snap. And besides, even if I wanted to, I couldn’t. What would I say to Internal Affairs if I told them that she went so far as to run you through with a sword, and yet you’re miraculously injury-free? And ever since that jack ass Marianne nearly married started his rampage, I’ve had a hard enough time keeping vampires under wraps as it is.”

Bog nodded his understanding as he finished with his leg and re-wet the cloth to start on his chest and abdomen.

Aura suddenly stopped mid-scrub. “Why are you so concerned about her job? As destined as it was to fail, she still wanted to kill you. “

Bog opened his mouth, a defensive answer ready on his tongue, but immediately decided he wasn’t in the mood to begin an argument. “I don’t know,” he answered. “I just know that she really seems to enjoy what she does for a living, and I don’t want to be the reason she loses that. And I’m not holding her attack on me against her, anyway. She had no way of knowing what any of us were. And as she said earlier, if she had, then she might have solved this much sooner.” He stopped and let out a breath, tossing the wash cloth back into the sink and raking a hand through his hair. “The truth is, though, that all of this was my fault. For not destroying Adaira centuries ago when she first begged me to, for not destroying her when you advised me to, for not doing a better job of protecting Knight and Marianne from her, or even being able to find Knight at all.” Bog stopped his diatribe and looked up at Aura, who had folded her arms over her chest and was looking down at him with an eyebrow arched. “You could bloody well stop me at any point,” he snapped.

“Oh, no, by all means, keep going!” she said, the brutal honesty Aura had always been known for coming out in full force. “Yes, you should have done what I said all those years ago and destroyed Adaira.” She stopped and let out an exasperated breath. “Look, Bog, I’m pretty sure I know why you didn’t want to destroy her, even after we learned what happened with that other vampire. But it was never going to work. If Adaira didn’t have any sort of romantic feelings for you the first time, then she was never going to change her mind. All you did by making yourself her jailor for so long was to make her resent you, exactly as I told you it would. Then, at some point, she was going to try something just like this.” Aura turned to re-wet her cloth. “Besides, if this was anyone’s fault, it was mine. I could have easily destroyed Adaira myself. Or I could have saved you all of the trouble you’re going through right now and not allowed you to chase me into the forest that night. Then you wouldn’t have been turned at all.”

The corner of Bog’s lips quirked up in a smile at the memory. “Have we not discussed this?” he reminded her. “My men and I saw monsters attacking people that night, criminals though they were. So we did what we were trained to do and eliminated the threat before they decided to descend on the innocents in the nearby villages. I doubt I would have listened to you at the time.”

Aura returned his smile. “Yes, you always were a stubborn one,” she agreed.

“There was one thing you had incorrect, however,” he pointed out. “I didn’t keep Adaira alive with the hopes that she would come around to the idea of returning my feelings.”

“Really?” Aura asked curiously.

“I kept her alive to remind me of what happens when you allow your heart to become involved. Which was not fair to her, I realize that now,” he added quickly.

Aura snorted in amusement. “And yet you still managed to fail spectacularly at that, if the way you feel about Marianne is any indication,” she said. Before Bog could argue with her, she cut him off. “Ah! Former High Priestess to Aphrodite here, remember? You can’t fool me on this. And if you ask me, it’s high time both you and Marianne let go of your past mistakes and move on. Besides, you two are perfect for one another!”

Bog rolled his eyes and reached for his clean trousers. “I still believe you don’t quite understand,” he said, pulling the blue jeans up over his legs and fastening them in place. “But I’m not in the mood to argue the matter with you.” To punctuate his statement, he pulled the clean shirt on, grabbed his boots, and left the room.

He arrived back at his temporary bedroom and stopped in the doorway to find the only movement Marianne had made was to roll over onto her side. She was still sound asleep.

Aura stopped beside him and glanced from Marianne and back to him, a knowing smile spreading over her lips. “I’m going to go patrol the grounds and get her motorcycle,” Aura announced before Bog could say anything. “Remember that someone is out to kill her, so I wouldn’t go too far.” With that, she disappeared down the hall, and Bog was alone in the mansion with Marianne.

“Damn it, Aura,” Bog muttered under his breath as he went back upstairs to find Marianne’s gun and the sword she had used on him. He retrieved both weapons, and returned downstairs, where he located the sword’s sheath still in the room Marianne had found the sword in. Then he grabbed a bottle of water, a clean wash cloth, and the construction crew’s first aid kit and returned to his bedroom.

Once he was back in the bedroom, he set the bottled water and her gun down on the bedside table where she could easily reach them, then opened the first aid kit and set to work bandaging Marianne’s neck.

Bog had to restrain himself from the urge to growl while he worked. Aura still didn’t understand. Or maybe she did, and Bog simply didn’t want to acknowledge it. He would certainly never admit it out loud that she might have been on to him regarding his feelings for Marianne. But then again, they were no mere feelings, either. Whatever he felt in regards to Marianne went beyond the colloquially-termed “crush.”

He sighed as he finished taping a piece of gauze over the wound and closed the first aid kit. His feeding from Marianne had done nothing but prove exactly what he hadn’t wanted to admit. A snarl escaped his lips as he picked up the wash cloth and the sword and settled himself into a chair beside the bed. As he set to work cleaning the sword, only one question rang out through his mind:

How in the hell had this managed to happen?

 

Marianne was slow to wake up. Truthfully, she didn’t really want to. The bed she was sleeping on smelled really nice and was comfortable as hell. The last time she slept on a bed like this was…

…Was at Bog’s castle in Scotland.

With that revelation, Marianne jerked awake. For one wild second, she thought the last few weeks had been a weird nightmare and she was still in Scotland.

But no, they hadn’t been a bad dream. A glance around the room she woke up in was proof enough.

She was lying on what had to be Bog’s California-king –sized bed. On her other side lay Aura, who was facing away from her and fast asleep. Bog was in a chair on her other side, and he too was asleep. Sunlight was filtering in through the cracks in the room-darkening curtains that hung over the windows. On the night stand next to the bed sat a bottle of water, her gun (in its holster, sitting next to her badge; so someone had taken them off of her the night before), and her cell phone (which told her that someone had gone into the woods to get her motorcycle). The time on her phone’s screen read 2:15 PM. Propped up against the nightstand was the sword she had stabbed Bog with the night before, in a sheath and with a leather frog and belt attached.

Marianne sat up, grabbed the water, opened it, and gulped down about a quarter of the bottle as the night before came flooding back to her. Dawn being attacked, and Marianne suspecting Bog of the attack and going to confront him. The confirmation of him being a vampire when she stabbed him. Aura stopping her from shooting him, only to find out she was a vampire as well. Bog biting her and drinking her blood. Discovering that they actually suspected Roland of the attacks, and Marianne’s attempt to go after Roland only to black out before she even made the stairs.

Marianne took a better look around the room as she drank more of her water. Bog had a sword of his own propped up next to his chair, less than an inch from his hand. Marianne recognized it as the broadsword he showed her in Scotland, the very same one she had cut her hand on. It was now in a scabbard and attached to a baldric. There was also a sword for Aura that resembled the one left for Marianne leaning against the nightstand on the other side of the bed. It too was sheathed and ready to be worn at a moment’s notice. Aura’s gun and cell phone also sat on the other nightstand.

In a distant part of the mansion, Marianne could hear the crackle of a police radio. A voice immediately answered it. Something had definitely changed since last night. And it looked like she wasn’t under arrest for trying to kill Bog, given the fact that they had armed her and she wasn’t waking up in a holding cell.

As Marianne finished her water, she wondered if she should wake up Bog or Aura or just go get a report from the officer that was in the other room. Was it safe to wake up a vampire, though? If contemporary literature was to be believed, vampires didn’t react very well to someone waking them up. Or waking them up was nearly impossible. But then again, they weren’t exactly sleeping in coffins. Really, they looked exactly like they were sleeping. Not like corpses or anything. So if they slept like humans, then waking them up would just be rude.

That settled, Marianne slowly got out of bed (but they had left her shoes on, and another glance showed her that Bog and Aura were both wearing their shoes as well, and now her curiosity was deepening. This meant ready to leave at a split second’s notice) and tip-toed towards the door.

She didn’t make it more than a few steps before a hand closed around her wrist. She started violently, but managed to stifle the urge to scream and take a swing at the hand’s owner.

“If you’re going to leave the room, you should bring your weapons with you,” Bog murmured to her. He released her hand, and Marianne turned around to face him. He hadn’t opened his eyes yet, but he did roll his neck and shoulders.

Marianne released a relieved breath and got annoyed. “ And why not?” she hissed at him. “And since when was that sword mine?”  

Bog’s eyes opened to meet hers. “Consider it an apology for not telling you what I was or coming forward with what I knew of the murders. The sword is yours if you want it. But even if you don’t, you must keep it with you for the time being.”

“Why?” Marianne demanded.

“Your partner called Aura back while you were asleep. She learned who attacked your sister.”

Marianne blinked once, and then made for the door again. That was right, Dawn had woken up.

But then Bog was immediately blocking her path. “You don’t understand, you can’t leave!”

“The hell I can’t!” Marianne argued. “I need to go see Dawn, she knows who attacked her! And I have to make sure she’s okay!”

“You’re right, she does know who attacked her. Your partner called and told Aura everything your sister told her. And she confirmed that Roland Knight is our rogue vampire,” Bog said.

“She also told us that Roland is coming after you, now,” Aura said as she sat up, alerting them to the fact that she was awake. “Which means you’re in protective custody right now.”

Marianne was stunned into silence, and she could barely hear Aura telling her about the protective detail on Dawn as well as her dad and Sunny at the hospital and that they would remain with them until Roland was caught or otherwise dealt with. There was only one thought buzzing in her brain.

“Why are the two of you still here, then?” she asked. “Why aren’t you out looking for Roland? For that matter, why are you stopping me from leaving?”

“Do you remember what I said last night about battling vampires?” Bog asked.

It took Marianne a second, but she did remember. He had told her he had fought them as both a human and a vampire. “You said it wasn’t easy,” she said.

Bog nodded, and his hand drifted up to his shoulder where that strange scar was. “And do you remember asking me about this scar?” he asked, his fingers grazing over the spot.

“Yeah, you avoided the question,” Marianne said, and Bog winced at the fact.

“The truth is, it was given to me by the vampire who turned me while I was battling him,” Bog said, and Marianne’s curiosity was piqued.

Before she could ask about it, Aura interrupted. “Basically,” she said impatiently, “if you go running off after Roland the way you went after Bog, you’re only going to get yourself killed. Which would defeat the purpose of having you in protective custody. And as to why we aren’t out looking for Roland, that’s because we’re part of your protective detail. Since a vampire is after you, you stand a much better chance if a vampire is protecting you.”

“What about my dad and Dawn and Sunny?” Marianne asked.

“Oh, don’t worry about them. There will be at least two officers who happen to be vampires with them at all times,” Aura said. “So if Roland happens to come back for Dawn, which is unlikely, he won’t get far.”

“So you’re sure he’s coming after me, then.” It was a statement, not a question. Aura still nodded her head in answer, and Bog looked both contrite and angry.

For the first time in her life, Marianne needed to sit down. Roland wanted to kill her? But something about that didn’t make any sense.

“What doesn’t make sense?” Aura asked, and that was when Marianne realized she said that out loud.

“It doesn’t make sense that Roland wants me dead,” Marianne said. “Yeah, I called off my wedding to him, and it was for a good reason, and yeah, he was pissed off about it, but he was more desperate to get back together with me than anything. He wanted me for my dad’s money, and since I’m going to inherit it, he’d have to marry me to get it. And trust me, he wants that money way more than he wants me dead.”

“You have a point,” Aura said. “But until we know that for sure, we have to treat this like he wants you dead. Which means you need to stay where we can guard you.”

“But I need to go see Dawn first!” Marianne argued. “Before they hide her somewhere!”

“You know I can’t let you do that,” Aura said. “If you go back to the hospital, you could be putting them in danger again. You know this. Come to think of it, we can’t take you back to your apartment, either. Roland will start looking for you there.”

“Well, we can’t stay here, either,” Marianne pointed out. “It’s too far from the city and too isolated. And besides, what’s to keep Roland from coming here to look for me? He knows I was helping to renovate this mansion. He could come here, too.”

“Good point,” Aura said thoughtfully.

“Actually, we can return to Marianne’s apartment,” Bog pointed out. “It’s in the middle of one of the busiest parts of New Orleans, so if Knight does trace you there, then he won’t be as likely to attack you with so many others watching. And strategically, we’ll be able to see him coming. He won’t exactly be able to sneak up on us.”

“You’re right. I can also station undercover officers around the building,” Aura added.

Marianne didn’t like it, but she was forced to agree. Even if it meant she was going to be a prisoner in her own home. She decided not to give voice to this, though. “What are we waiting for, then? We should get going,” she said instead.

Aura smiled and reached for her phone and gun. “Arm yourself, then,” she said, motioning to Marianne’s weapons. Bog shrugged into his leather jacket, picked up his sword, and pulled out his sunglasses. Once Marianne had her gun back in place on her hip and the sword in her hand, the three of them headed out to Bog’s car.

Chapter Text

A police escort followed Bog’s car as he drove them into the city.

“As soon as we get to your apartment, I’m going to head back to the precinct so I can head up the search for Roland,” Aura said to Marianne. “I assume I don’t need to go into the rules of protective custody with you.”

“No visitors, no leaving the apartment, and no phone calls unless they’re from you,” Marianne said as if by rote.

“And Bog is going to stay in the apartment with you at all times,” Aura added.

“Why?” Bog and Marianne said at the same time. Bog was asking out of curiosity; Marianne out of outrage. Bog knew it was because she was capable of taking care of herself.

“Need I remind y’all that we’re up against a vampire here?” Aura said. “Marianne, if Roland somehow gets around your guards, you’ll have a better chance if Bog is a lot closer at hand.”

“Then what was the point of giving me an extra weapon?” Marianne retorted.

“Think of it as a ‘safety in numbers’ type of arrangement,” Bog interrupted before Aura could begin lecturing Marianne. “The night I was turned into a vampire, the only reason I survived was because I was not fighting alone. Some of my men were with me.”

Aura snorted. “As hard as you were fighting that night? I doubt you needed them,” she said.

“Were you some sort of military general or something?” Marianne asked.

“Clan lord, actually,” Bog answered. He could feel his cheeks growing warmer at the admission.

Marianne’s jaw dropped and her eyes widened slightly. “Seriously?” she asked, incredulous.

“He’s not making that up,” Aura said. “I was there when he was turned.” Marianne’s incredulous look shifted to Aura. So Bog told her the story of the night he was turned.

“After my men brought me back, Aura came to the castle,” Bog said. “In between waves of torturing agony, she told me what was happening to me.”

“So if you weren’t the one that turned him,” Marianne said to Aura, “then how did you find out what happened to him?”

“Because I was there when it happened,” Aura answered. “I was there with a group of vampires looking for the one that was plotting to invade Bog’s clan, as it happened. We found the band of thieves, and the rest of my group decided they wanted a snack. We actually hadn’t counted on Bog and his men being in the forest that night. He took us by surprise, but when I tried to order my group to retreat into the forest, none of them would listen to me. So I ran, and another one of my group managed to escape, but then Bog and his men chased us. And here we are.”

Marianne looked slightly stunned at the story. Bog couldn’t blame her for that. With all of the stress she had been under, the details of his story had to be a lot to process. “Just how old are you?” she asked Aura.

“Oh, thirty-five…hundred, give or take,” Aura said casually. “Really, there’s almost no point in keeping up anymore.”

Marianne looked as if she were having a difficult time processing that. Bog wondered if he shouldn’t have waited for a later time to tell her about how he became a vampire. Before he could apologize, however, they were pulling into the parking area under her building.

 

Marianne’s apartment was swept through by the officers that had escorted them in. When it was confirmed that no one was there, Bog and Marianne were allowed inside. Aura departed for the precinct as soon as they stepped over the threshold. The other officers assumed their posts around the building.

Marianne didn’t appear to have noticed that she and Bog were now alone. In fact, she appeared deep in thought, if the set of her shoulders were any indication. Bog watched her absently lay her sword down on a counter in her kitchen, and then do the same with her gun.

“Marianne?” he asked, finally laying a hand on her shoulder. Her head only turned slightly in his direction. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine. Go ahead and make yourself at home,” she said in a slightly deadened voice. Bog could only stare at her. She wasn’t fooling him. It was obvious that she was distressed. Bog chose to not point it out.

She only stared back at him. “Hey,” she said after a few more seconds of silence, “you haven’t been sneaking in here to watch me sleep, have you?”

What!?” Bog’s brows furrowed in confusion until he noticed the smile she was trying to fight back.

“I mean, Edward did it to Bella. I thought it was supposed to be some grand romantic gesture that vampires did.” She was losing the battle with her resistance to begin giggling.

Bog rolled his eyes and spat out a few curses in Scottish Gaelic. He knew exactly what she was referring to. “That is fucking creepy,” he stated. “I would never come into your home without your permission.”

The unspoken implications of his statement served to sober her up from her laughter. Anxiety took its place for a split second. However, she managed to maintain her calm as she reached down to unclip her badge from her belt.

That was when she noticed, seemingly for the first time, that her clothing was streaked with blood.

“I didn’t think you were the type to like the Twilight series,” Bog commented while she examined her clothes.

“I read the books and I actually kind of liked them,” she said. “But I wasn’t obsessive about it. Dawn was the fangirl between the two of us. And that reminds me, you might want to prepare yourself for an interrogation as soon as this is all over.”

“Why?”

“Because Dawn isn’t stupid. She’ll figure out just what it was that attacked her, and I won’t have to say a word.” Bog knew when Marianne’s joking mood had passed. Her shoulders slumped and her dissociation returned. “I wish I could call her and find out how she’s doing,” she murmured.

Bog stopped in the act of pulling off his leather jacket and reached up to give her shoulder another sympathetic squeeze. “Your sister will be okay,” he said consolingly.

Marianne nodded and let out a breath. “I’m going to go take a shower,” she said.

Bog nodded his acknowledgement, and she turned and walked into her lavatory, shutting the door behind her. He finished sliding his jacket off of his shoulders and laid it on the back of her sofa. He set his sword within easy reach, then located the remote control to her television and turned it on.

And tried his damnedest to not think about Marianne in her shower.

 

Marianne had no idea how long she stayed in the shower. It had to be a while, though, because the water started getting colder. Bog had turned the TV on at one point, and the news had come on. Aura must have released something to the press, because they made an announcement for information leading to Roland’s whereabouts. That same report had also said that Roland was to be considered armed and extremely dangerous and that no one was to approach him if they saw him.

She had tuned out after that. She didn’t see what good it would do to warn people that it was dangerous, and she wondered if it was even a wise move. But Marianne couldn’t bring herself to care beyond that.

Despite her earlier attempt at humor, she was Tired. The only kind of Tired one got when they were stressed out both physically and emotionally and just wanted to curl up in bed and not leave for a year. She was quickly finding herself in the one position no police officer ever wanted to find themselves in; this whole thing was getting to her.

And what was worse was that she couldn’t call Stuff and talk it out with her. And she had never not been able to do that before. Then again, she had never been the one in protective custody before.

If she had to put a name to it, Marianne supposed she could call herself numb. She just didn’t want to feel anything anymore.

Eventually, the water began to feel like ice, and Marianne reluctantly got out and dried off. That was when it occurred to her that she didn’t grab a change of clothes. Her face warmed up as she realized she’d have to go to her bedroom in a towel. In front of Bog.

Then she had to wonder why she was even concerned about it. He was over a thousand years old. She couldn’t possibly be the first naked woman he ever saw. That settled, she headed for the door.

Before she could open it, she caught sight of herself in the mirror and stopped short. Her eyes were drawn to the bite on her neck. Deep bruising surrounded the site of the punctures where blood had been pulled out. Otherwise, it looked like it was healing cleanly. Even though it was a moot point now, Marianne took a closer look. From what she could tell, there were no additional bruising impressions of additional teeth on her skin. She could see an image in her mind of the pictures of the bite wounds on all of the murder victims and the impressions that had been left behind by teeth that had dug in a bit too deeply. Bog hadn’t left any such mark on her. Marianne found herself exhaling in relief at this.

In the few steps it took her to get to her bedroom, she took a quick glance at Bog. He had to have heard the bathroom door open. Yet he kept his eyes fixed on the TV. Marianne didn’t bother denying the fact that this sent an immense thrill of something through her at the fact that he was respecting her modesty. When she made it to her room, she pulled on a tank shirt and a pair of gym shorts. She figured she might as well be comfortable if she wasn’t going anywhere. She grabbed a blanket on her way out of her room. For some reason, she felt cold.

“So tell me something,” she said to Bog by way of announcing her presence as she wrapped the blanket around her shoulders. Bog looked up at her, and she could have sworn he was blushing slightly. Marianne ignored it. “If Captain Plum is a vampire too, then why doesn’t she have fangs?”

Bog huffed out a laugh. “She has them filed down,” he answered as she sat down next to him. “Many vampires do it to maintain appearances.”

“But you don’t,” Marianne pointed out.

“No,” he confirmed. “I tried once. I found it to be more trouble than it was worth. Besides, I have sufficient practice at concealing my fangs when around humans.”

“Was that why you stopped kissing me that night?” Marianne asked.

“Yes. I couldn’t risk giving myself away like that. Vampires are supposed to live in secrecy and—“ He cut himself off mid-sentence when the two of them glanced at one another and that something passed between them again. It was that seeming magnetic pull that had caused them to kiss the last time.

They both ignored it this time. Bog cleared his throat and changed the subject. “I doubt it would have mattered, though. I would have still been a murder suspect.”

“It might have helped to clear your name sooner and avoided all of this trouble,” Marianne suggested.

“True, and yet Knight would have still attacked your sister and you would be where you were before with no suspects.”

“You’re probably right,” Marianne agreed. But his mentioning Roland reminded her of something.

“Another question, then,” she said. “You didn’t need to take that much blood from me, which tells me that you don’t have to kill someone to, well, eat. So why is Roland killing people?”

“Most likely a lack of impulse control,” Bog said. “When he made the transformation, I’m certain there was no other vampire on hand to instruct him, and therefore he never learned to restrain himself. By now he must think it doesn’t matter. He must believe himself invincible.”

“So do you like, lose your minds or something when you’re drinking blood?”

The corner of Bog’s mouth turned up in an amused smile at this. “Not precisely. A vampire feeding is supposed to generate a pleasurable sensation for both the vampire and the human he or she is feeding from. So the ‘donor’, for lack of a better term, will keep allowing it to happen.”

Marianne could feel her face flushing. “So…then…was that what happened last night?”

Bog’s eyes widened slightly and his own face colored as if he had just realized what he had said. He quickly averted his eyes away from her. “Basically, yes,” he answered.

Rather than getting flustered, Marianne had a horrifying thought. “Oh my God, was that what all of Roland’s victims felt?”

“It wouldn’t have been,” Bog said. “It would have been painful for each one of them if they had not willingly allowed him to feed.”

“I don’t know if that’s worse or not,” Marianne said. It still would have been a horrible way for anyone to die.

But then Marianne had another realization. The full impact of what would happen if Roland got to her hit her right then. Her anger began to come back. Strangely, however, it had nothing to do with a painful death.

“Damn it all,” she spat out as she raked her fingers through her hair. “Why couldn’t I have figured all of this out sooner? It could have saved more lives. And now I’m stuck here in my apartment because of him! Why the fuck can’t he just get out of my life and stay out? God damn it, I even let him manipulate me again! And I let it happen!” Marianne had never wished to be able to go outside more in that moment so she could find some way to work out her aggressions.

But then it really fueled her anger when tears began leaking down her face. Great, now she was crying. She never cried. And to make it worse, she was crying in front of Bog.

But then her anger seemed to evaporate when to her surprise and seemingly to his, Bog gently pulled her into his arms and just held her. Even more to her surprise, she melted into his embrace.

“If anyone is to blame here, it’s me,” Bog said. “I should have destroyed Adaira centuries ago when she asked me to. And if you had any sense, you’d blame me as well.”

Marianne actually giggled. “I don’t know why exactly you kept her prisoner for so long,” she said, “but in the end, Adaira’s actions were her own. And seriously, if she cared at all about what was going on here, she’d have come with you to New Orleans to help you look for Roland and do something about him before he could kill so many people.

Bog chuckled. “I suppose when you put it that way, you make an excellent point,” he said. “You realize, however, that this means you’ll have to heed your own words. It is not your fault that Knight attacked and killed those people. Nor is it your fault he is after you now.”

Marianne blinked, and her tears stopped at Bog’s words. She could feel that something again. She didn’t have the energy to ignore it anymore. When she looked up to meet Bog’s eyes, something in his face told her that he was feeling it too. His eyes had begun to softly luminesce.

He reached up to brush a stray tear from her face. “Are you feeling better?” he asked.

She answered by placing a hand to his jaw and guiding his mouth down to hers.

It was more of a brush of the lips that lasted longer than a brush of the lips should, but it said more at that moment than Marianne was able to put into words. And Bog didn’t break it this time. It only broke when the two of them needed to take a breath.

The two of them gazed at one another for a moment, and when Marianne would have moved back in to resume kissing him, Bog held up a hand to stop her.

“What’s wrong?” Marianne asked.

“I cannot in good conscience allow this to go where I am reasonably certain it is going. At least not right now,” he said. “You’re upset, and I’d just be taking advantage of you.”

Marianne opened her mouth to argue, but Bog cut her off. “Until we are both sure your mind is clear, nothing will be happening between us,” he said firmly.

Marianne could only stare at him in astonishment. Tears stung her eyes again, but this time it was for a completely different reason. “You’re right,” she said, nodding in agreement. It really wouldn’t be fair to him, either. She had been through a lot in the last twenty-four hours. She pulled her blanket a bit more tightly around her and settled into his embrace to watch TV.

Chapter Text

Marianne never knew when she fell asleep. She just knew she didn’t want to wake up. Bog’s arms were a warm weight around her and the gentle rise and fall of his chest and the fluttering of what was most likely his heart under her ear almost lulled her right back to sleep. Bog had left his cell phone on the coffee table across from them, and its screensaver flashed the time as being ten minutes to midnight. So she’d only slept for about three or four hours. But it had been the best sleep she had had in a while.

She glanced up at Bog and smiled. His face was relaxed in sleep and his hair was falling over his face. Marianne couldn’t help but think about how beautiful he was.

She realized that she didn’t have it in her to berate herself for the thought anymore. And that was when she realized that everyone who had teased her about having a crush on Bog had been wrong. Marianne had never had anything as simple as a crush on Bog.

She only wished she could figure out when she had fallen in love with him.

Marianne would have been content to lie there and try to sort that out, but her stomach started protesting. And that reminded her that she hadn’t eaten in nearly two days now. She decided she really needed to do something about that. So she carefully extracted herself from Bog’s arms and went to the kitchen.

She was on her second bowl of cereal when Bog joined her, leaning on the counter across from where she stood. “There’s coffee if you want any,” she said.

“Thank you, but there’s only one thing I drink, and it isn’t coffee, remember?” he said.

“But I’ve watched you eat and drink bef—oh, wait, right. Appearances,” she said. Bog smirked in amusement (and it was a true smile this time, one that showed some of his teeth) when she made the realization. “So what were you doing with all of that food, sliding it under your napkin or something?”

“No, I was actually chewing and swallowing it,” he said.

“But if you don’t need food, then—you were vomiting it all back up later.” Marianne’s face twisted in disgust at Bog’s nod of confirmation. “That is so gross!”

“No more or less than the alternative,” Bog pointed out.

“You’re not wrong,” Marianne agreed, shoveling another spoonful of cereal into her mouth.

Marianne was pouring herself a third bowl of cereal when there was a knock at the door. Bog answered it to find Aura on the other side.

Aura walked into the apartment and glanced between Bog and Marianne quizzically. Then her nose gave a slight twitch as she sniffed the air. “Damn,” she said.

“What’s wrong?” Bog asked.

“You two didn’t have sex yet,” she commented.

Marianne clapped a hand over her nose and mouth before the mouthful of cereal and milk she had just put in it could come flying back out.

“Aura!” Bog snapped as Marianne slammed down her bowl and started pounding on the counter, trying to swallow without choking. “Not that it’s any of your damn business, but no, we haven’t!”

“Like I said, damn,” Aura said as Marianne finally caught her breath.

“How is Dawn doing?” Marianne gasped, interrupting Bog’s irritated snarling and aiming for a change of subject.

“They’re about to discharge her from the hospital. We’re going to go ahead and escort her, Sunny, and your father out of the city as soon as she’s released. The protective detail will remain with them until Roland is dealt with,” Aura said.

“Why do we not do this with Marianne as well?” Bog asked.

“Because Roland’ll figure out that I’ve left, and if he does, then he’ll either try to follow or he’ll just start killing at random again,” Marianne answered. “As long as I’m still right here, there’s a chance of catching him without anyone else getting hurt.”

“And as long as the two of you smell like one another, it’ll make him think you’re going at it, and it’ll probably make him do something stupid,” Aura added.

Bog rolled his eyes. “Is there not a chance he’ll follow Marianne’s family?”

“Not likely,” Aura said. “I assume one of you watched the news last night—“

“I did,” Bog growled.

 “I was in the shower,” Marianne said around a mouthful of cereal.

“—which means there is a pretty good chance that Roland knows everyone is looking for him now, which he’ll figure means Dawn told everyone who attacked her, which means there is no point in going after her. And if he sticks to his pattern to date, then he won’t attack her again out of hunger. So no, he’ll stay focused on Marianne. This is as much to keep one of her family from the temptation of coming to find Marianne as it is a precaution in case he changes his mind.”

“Speaking of his feeding pattern,” Marianne said, “if he keeps to it, then it’ll be sometime next week before he gets hungry again. We could be waiting at least that long before he makes a move.”

“Or maybe not,” Aura said. “At first, it was a simple matter of fulfilling his hunger. But now that it’s safe to say that he’s figured out what he is, this is probably a new and improved version of the power trip he’s practically lived on.”

“So it’s not a simple matter of wanting her blood anymore,” Bog clarified.

“Exactly,” Aura said. “With Roland, it’s probably more convoluted than that. He’s probably decided he wants Marianne dead as revenge for breaking up with him.”

“I still don’t think that’s it,” Marianne said. “If it was, then he knows where I live and work and what I’ve been doing with my free time. He would have had no trouble finding me.”

“Good point,” Aura agreed. “It could be that he wants to turn you.”

Marianne froze in mid-bite of another spoonful of cereal. “Into a vampire, you mean? Why?”

“This is pretty much a guess, but I’m thinking that he’s still after your father’s money and thinks that by turning you, it’ll make you more agreeable to taking him back so that he has a chance at it once again.”

Marianne snorted. Of-fucking-course he would still be after her dad’s money.

“Fortunately for you, the only thing turning into a vampire will do to you is change the nature of what you are,” Bog explained. “It won’t make you do anything you never wanted to do as a human.”

“He’s right,” Aura said. “I’ve never known the transformation to vampirism to change who someone was as a person.”

Marianne huffed out an unamused laugh. “So the joke is going to be on him, basically,” she clarified. “Even if he manages to turn me, it won’t help him. I’ll still hate him, and it’ll level the playing field so I can kick his ass again.”

“Do you remember what I said earlier about Roland’s lack of impulse control?” Bog said. “He won’t care about that. He’s probably convinced that turning you will work in his favor. So unless you want to be turned into a vampire, you’re still in danger.”

“I’m rather attached to being a human, but thanks anyway,” Marianne said.

“I suppose that’s settled, then,” Aura said. “The two of you are staying right here until Roland comes out from whatever rock he’s hiding under. And since the two of you have something else to occupy your time with—“ Bog started snarling again, and Marianne was tempted to join him, “—staying put shouldn’t be a problem. And once Stuff is done escorting your family out of New Orleans, I’m going to have her come back and join the search for Roland. And that’s all I have for now. I’ll be back later to check on you.” With that, Aura turned and left.

“Maybe I should just violate my communication black-out and call Stuff anyway,” Marianne wondered out loud as soon as the door shut behind Aura. “Just tell her to take Thang with her and stay out of the city themselves.”

“Would it work?” Bog asked.

“No,” Marianne snorted. “Stuff’s been a detective longer than I’ve been, and she’s just as stubborn as me, if not more so. She won’t sit by while anyone else is in trouble.”

Bog studied her as she finished her cereal. “I realize I’ve been asking this of you a lot, but are you okay?” he asked as Marianne turned to the sink to rinse her bowl out.

“Believe it or not, I’m actually fine,” she said. “It’s a relief to know that my family is being taken out of the city. You heard the captain, there’s not much chance that Roland will go after them, anyway.”

“There is another option,” Bog mused. “I could keep Knight from what he wants by turning you now.”

Marianne blinked in surprise. “You mean you’re giving me a choice in the matter? You could just go ahead and turn me no matter what I actually want.”

“You deserve to have a say in the matter,” Bog said. He seemed to be confused at her confusion. “It’s your life that would be affected by it.”

Marianne considered what he said for a moment. “If you could go back and do it again,” she found herself saying, “would you chose to be turned into a vampire?”

It was Bog’s turn to blink in surprise. His jaw even worked silently for a second before he spoke again. “I—N—No one’s ever asked me that before,” he finally said. “My turning was entirely accidental, as I’ve explained,” Bog said after a few seconds of thinking it over. “The vampire that turned me was not trying to do so, he was trying to kill me.” He needed a few more seconds to gather his thoughts. Then he drew in a breath. “There was once a time when I would have said no. It was not until recently that I began to reconsider my position.” Bog looked her directly in the eyes as he said that last part.

He didn’t need to say anything else. Marianne knew exactly what he was talking about. She could feel herself smiling. “So why don’t you just go ahead and turn me, then?” she asked.

Rather than answer her immediately, Bog’s entire stance turned predatory. His eyes remained locked with hers as he slowly moved into her personal space. Then he braced an arm on either side of her against the counter, caging her in.

Marianne didn’t feel the slightest hint of fear. She was actually getting a bit turned on.

His face moved in closer, but it was not to kiss her. He stopped over her throat, his lips a hairsbreadth from the place where he had bitten her the night before. Subconsciously, she tilted her head back to allow him access. There was a draw of air against her skin, as if he were breathing her in.

Then his face lifted slightly until his lips were next to her ear. “Do you honestly trust me this much?” he murmured into her ear, and both his voice and his accent had deepened in a very erotic way. “I could do it right now,” he continued as heat rushed to her groin. “There is nothing to stop me.” To drive his point home, Marianne could feel the gentle scraping of his fangs against her skin.

“Just do it, then,” Marianne said breathlessly. “I know you won’t hurt me.”

“It will hurt, actually,” Bog countered. “The transformation is an extremely painful one. But I would never do anything to you that you did not wish me to do.”

In response, one of Marianne’s legs came up around Bog’s hip, drawing him in even closer. Her hands came up to cup his jaw, and she drew his mouth up to hers.

The kiss this time was deeper, their tongues pushing into one another’s mouths. Marianne moaned as her tongue slid alongside the edge of a fang.

When it broke, Marianne was pleased to see Bog was actually slightly dazed. “Don’t worry about me. I can take care of myself,” she said to him. He smiled, and they fell into another kiss as her other leg came up to join the first one. Her arms wound around his shoulders as his hands moved under her thighs to lift her up and sit her on the edge of the counter. As soon as she was settled, his hands migrated higher, over her hips and waist and ribs and didn’t stop until the tips of his fingers were tracing up her spine. She gasped as her back arched under his touch and her arms tightened around his shoulders.

One of Bog’s hands continued a trek until his fingers were stroking through her hair. His other hand migrated down to her hip where it rested, lightly massaging as Marianne broke her mouth away from his to kiss a trail down the scars on his chin and across his jaw to his throat. He tilted his head back to let her lick at the fluttering pulse point at his throat. She could feel his shoulders rise as he drew in a sharp breath the second her tongue made contact with his skin. When she nipped at the same spot with her teeth, he drew in another sharp breath that ended on a moan and him murmuring in Scottish Gaelic.

Marianne giggled against his skin as her mouth made its way lower on his throat. Bog’s arms tightened around her the lower she moved. Before long, she was pulling aside the collar of his t-shirt to mouth at more skin until she had reached the scar where he’d been bitten so long ago.

“Marianne…” he moaned when she pressed a kiss to it, his accent rolling over her name like an ocean wave. Her legs tightened around his waist and her hips canted against his in response. His skin vibrated under her lips as he reacted with a low growl and his grip on her tightened. This elicited a moan from her and another thrust of her hips.

Suddenly Bog broke his grip on her and pushed her back. Before she could protest, her eyes met his, and she had to work to bite back another pleasure-filled moan. The blue of his eyes were nearly glowing a deep sapphire.

One of her hands rose to his face to trace around the outside of one of his eyes with a feather-light touch. So beautiful, she thought.

Bog suddenly started blinking rapidly and his cheeks colored in a way that had nothing to do with pleasure. “I—I, erm…” he stuttered.

Marianne blinked in confusion, until she realized, and her own face grew hot. Shit, she actually said that out loud, didn’t she?

“I—I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to embarrass you—“ Marianne started.

“No, no, i-it’s fine, it’s just—“ Bog said, and stopped to clear his throat, “—i-it’s just that, well…the eyes tend to, well… put others off…” Marianne couldn’t decide if it was involuntary on his part or not that said eyes suddenly averted away from hers.

“No one’s ever told you they were beautiful before?” Marianne asked.

Bog ran a hand through his hair nervously. “N-not exactly, no,” he said. Marianne nodded her understanding. Her fingers were now tracing over the scar on his cheek. His eyes fluttered shut at the contact.

Before she could make another move, her left hand was in his right one and he was turning it until her palm was facing him. His eyes slid open and he studied the still angry pink scar crossing her flesh. Marianne’s breath caught in her throat when he brought her hand to his mouth and his tongue laved over the length of the damaged skin. When his eyes met hers again, the glow seemed to have brightened by a degree.

Wordlessly, Marianne unwrapped her legs from his waist and hopped off the counter. At his questioning look, she grabbed both of his hands and interlaced their fingers together. Then she bit her bottom lip as she pulled him with her out of her kitchen and towards her bedroom. When he saw where she was taking them, an almost inaudible growl erupted from him and he swept her up into his arms to carry her the rest of the way.

Once they were in her bedroom, Bog laid her down on her bed. Marianne wrapped her fingers in his t-shirt at his shoulder to tug him down on top of her. She pulled him into another deep kiss as he settled in and her legs resumed their position around his waist. This time her hands traveled down his torso, pulling more growl-laced moans from him as her fingers found the ridges of lean muscle. Then her hands reached his waist, where they began tugging up his shirt.

Bog broke away from her again, but this time to pull his shirt off and toss it to the floor. Marianne pulled him back down to her by his gold-and-amber cross necklace. He met her lips briefly, then began kissing a trail of pure fire down her jaw and throat. And it was her turn to moan in pleasure as her hips began rocking against the hardness she could feel forming in his jeans.

He was just shy of the juncture at her neck and shoulder where he had bitten her when his mouth tore away from her with a strangled cry at her thrusting. He clenched his eyes shut and began murmuring in Scottish Gaelic again, and Marianne took the opportunity to reach between them and pull her tank shirt off. Bog’s eyes opened at the motion and he watched her, breaking into another stream of murmuring as soon as the fabric was gone. If his awestruck look was anything to go by, she figured that whatever he was saying had to be good.

O mo chreach, Marianne,” he moaned, one of his hands drifting up to hover over her chest. Marianne’s lips parted slightly in astonishment when she noticed his hand was shaking. She laid her hand over the top of his and pulled it up to her lips long enough to press a kiss to his fingertips before she brought it the rest of the way to her chest.

He let out an exhale, and that was all the warning she was given before he lowered his head back down to mouth at her throat again. At the same time, his hand shifted down until it was gently massaging one of her breasts.

Marianne inhaled sharply and her back arched into his touch. Her eyelids fluttered shut and she let out a keening moan as his mouth worked its way down to her chest. Both of her hands came up to cradle his head to her, her fingers running through his hair. Her grip tightened when his lips found her nipple and drew it into his mouth. She cried out at the sensation of his lips and tongue working on the sensitive flesh. Her hands tightened in his hair when his fangs ghosted over the area and she was close, so very close, if he would just

Bog suddenly released her breasts from both his mouth and hand to yelp in pain. “Ow! Ow, Marianne, let go!” Marianne opened her eyes to find his teeth bared in a grimace and his head turned at an awkward angle with his other hand hovering over where hers were, and that was when she realized how tightly her hands were fisted in his hair.

“Oh! Sorry,” she said, releasing him. He brought a hand up to rub at his sore scalp.

“It’s fine, I’m okay,” he assured her with a smile. Before she could say anything else, he returned to her and swept her lips up in another kiss, which she rapidly melted into. Then his hand returned to her breast while his other hand began exploring her stomach and waist.

Before long, his mouth was at her breasts again, but he didn’t spend long there this time. He began kissing a trail down her stomach to the waistband of her shorts. Her hands came up to rest on his shoulders this time, her fingers tracing over scars as his mouth and tongue seared a path across her skin just shy of the fabric of her shorts.

Eventually, Marianne couldn’t stand it anymore. Right as she could feel herself getting close, she grabbed his arms to pull him back over her. He complied only to have her push him over onto his back, and then she was straddling his hips and their tongues were in one another’s mouths again as it was her turn to let her hands explore him, her fingers tracing over scars and tattoos and muscle. Bog shivered with pleasure at her every touch and his hands began to fist in the blankets under him.

Then her mouth joined her hands, her lips, tongue and teeth drawing more moans, growls, and broken-off bits of Scottish Gaelic from him. When her hand finally drifted below his waist to cup the bulge in the front of his pants, he cried out and she could hear the tearing of fabric as his fists tore at her bedspread. His hips thrust up towards her hand, and she decided she was done teasing him. So she reached down and unbuckled his belt and undid his fly.

She wasn’t given the chance to do anything before Bog was letting out an animalistic growl and tugging her back up to him to flip them both back over. Then he stood up and kicked off his boots and shoved off his jeans.

The first thing Marianne noticed as she took all of him in while he crawled back across the bed towards her was that his tattoos went all the way down to his thighs. The second thing she noticed was that he was extremely well-endowed.  She couldn’t resist wrapping a hand around his length as he settled back over her, causing another stream of Scottish Gaelic to explode from his mouth. Marianne couldn’t resist giggling when he gave another thrust into her hand.

That was as far as he allowed her hands to torment him, however. He grabbed both of her wrists and pinned them over her head as he kissed her senseless. As soon as Bog was sure her hands weren’t going anywhere, he pulled away from her and his hands were at her waist, pulling her shorts down and then off. Then he parted her legs with his hands again and settled between them, but he didn’t take her like she expected him to right then. Instead, she watched him lower his head between her thighs as one of his hands moved to her hip to hold her in place while his other hand went to her core.

Marianne threw her head back and cried out when his fingers made contact with her wet heat, her own hands fisting into the bedspread. Then his lips and tongue replaced his fingers and his hand migrated to her thigh to hold her legs open as his tongue lashed at her clitoris.

She didn’t last long. The combination of his lips and tongue on her, coupled with the scrape of his fangs against her skin, had her screaming out her orgasm within minutes.

Bog sat up and wiped her fluids off of his mouth, chin, and cheeks with the back of a hand as she came down. When Marianne looked up at him, he had settled back over her and was watching her. She swore his eyes were glowing brighter.

“Air duine sam bith a-riamh innse dhuibh cho bòidheach 'sa tha thu?” he asked, the fingers of one hand coming up to brush a lock of her hair out of her face.

“Huh?” Her brow furrowed in confusion.

He cleared his throat. “Ah, sorry,” he said. Marianne had to admit that making him revert to Scottish Gaelic was giving her a bit of an ego. “I—you know what? Don’t worry about it,” he said.

“No, seriously, what did you s—oh God,” she ended on a gasp as he lowered his head to nibble at her ear, cutting her off. Okay, fine, she’d grill him later for a translation. She was getting lost again.

Bog’s mouth left her ear to return to her mouth. When his tongue began to languidly stroke against hers, Marianne brought a hand down to his still-throbbing erection and guided him to her entrance. He slowly pushed into her as her legs came back up around his waist. Bog broke the kiss to gaze into her eyes as he filled her, and her hands found his, their fingers interlacing again as he buried himself in her.

Then he stopped, his eyes squeezing shut and his head bowing as his jaw clenched. Then he began violently shivering.

“Bog? Hey, talk to me, what’s wrong?” Marianne called to him. She began trying to extract herself from him.

Don’t move,” he forced out through his gritted teeth, his accent having thickened so much Marianne almost couldn’t understand him. “For the love of all that is holy, don’t move.

“O-okay,” Marianne said, ceasing her movements and lying still under him.

“Tha mi glè mhath, a h-uile càil ceart gu leòr, tha mi a ‘mionnachadh…” he murmured reassuringly after a moment, forcing his eyes open again. Marianne didn’t bother asking for a translation this time. She just watched him in confusion.

“My vampire nature is demanding that I bite you,” he explained as soon as he took a few more breaths and seemed to get himself under control.

“So why don’t you?” she asked.  If it was something he needed to do, then why wasn’t he doing it?

“You’ll lose consciousness if I take anymore blood from you right now. You still haven’t had enough time to sufficiently recover from my last bite,” he said.

Marianne raised a hand to cup one of his cheeks, and a warmth spread through her chest that had nothing to do with lust. “In that case, take your time,” she said. He responded to that with the corner of his mouth turning up in a grin as he drew his hips back and thrust back into her, drawing a surprised and pleasure-filled moan from her. A smile spread over her own lips and she purposely clenched her floor muscles around him.

A growl burst from him, and he thrust again, and that set the both of them into a rhythm of thrusting and counter-thrusting and soon Marianne was crying out in her rapture at the sensation of him inside her. Bog had launched into another string of Scottish Gaelic between his own cries and growls.

Then he changed the angle of his thrusting slightly, and Marianne’s ankles locked together at the small of Bog’s back and she could feel another orgasm rapidly approaching. By the way his growls had turned into pleading whines and the way his chest was heaving as he thrust into her faster and harder and how his eyes were almost lighting up the room on their own with a deep, burning blue because they were glowing so brightly, he was also approaching his end.

Then all at once it crashed over them both at the same time. Marianne clenched and tightened around Bog as she screamed in her ecstasy while Bog roared as he emptied himself into her.

Bog collapsed breathlessly on top of her and her arms came up around his shoulders. Tha gaol agam ort. Dia, Tha gaol agam ort,” he murmured into her ear as he worked to catch his breath.

“You’re gonna have to teach me to speak Gaelic at this rate,” Marianne murmured back, stroking her fingers through his hair. Bog stiffened for a second, as if he had just realized something life-altering, but then relaxed back into her hold just as quickly.

Wow,” he breathed out rather than offer her a translation.

Marianne arched an eyebrow and blinked at him in astonishment. “I’m the one who just had sex with a vampire, and you’re the one in awe?”

Bog lifted his head from her shoulder to meet her eyes. There was still a faint luminescence to his irises. “I can’t help it. You were amazing,” he said matter-of-factly. With that, he slid an arm under her and rolled them both over. Marianne shifted to his side, laying her head down on his chest as his arms came up around her. “Also, it’s been a while since my last sexual encounter,” he confessed. “It’s been so long since I’ve wanted to.”

“How long is ‘a while’?” Marianne asked curiously.

“Erm,” he hesitated. “Twenty years, I think…”

Marianne lifted her head to look at him. “Seriously? I thought vampires were insatiable sex addicts.”

Bog snorted in amusement. “That depends on the individual,” he said. “For me, it was never anything more than satisfying the occasional urge. When that would occur, I would simply find someone to help me satisfy it. My last, well, partner, was approximately twenty years ago. And until now, I had no more interest in him than in any of the others—“ Bog suddenly cut off and clamped his mouth shut, his cheeks coloring when he realized what he had just said.

Marianne, on the other hand, was struck speechless by his words. That warmth that had nothing to do with lust was back in her chest. “I—I don’t know what to say to that…” she said. Words like flattered and touched came to mind, but they seemed too small. She settled for laying her head back down on his chest.

A minute later, a thought occurred to her. “Question,” she said, lifting her head again.

“I’ll tell you anything you want to know,” he said.

Marianne smiled, but pressed on with her question. “Tell me about vampire DNA,” she said.

Bog’s brow narrowed in confusion. “You won’t become pregnant, if that’s what you’re worried about,” he said.

“Well, that’s good to know, but that wasn’t what I was getting at,” she explained. “We recovered evidence from all of Roland’s other victims. Evidence that should have had his DNA in it. But Thang’s tests revealed that there wasn’t any at all, and he couldn’t explain why. So how was that possible?”

“There is DNA in your evidence,” Bog said. “The problem is the transformation to vampirism fundamentally alters it and makes it unrecognizable to modern machinery. Your medical examiner’s tests would have revealed nothing at all, since they wouldn’t have been able to recognize it for what it was.”

“So that’s why we had no evidence for so long,” Marianne said. “Science can’t explain vampires.”

Bog laughed. “No, I suppose it can’t.”

Marianne giggled and laid her head back down on his chest. Bog pressed a kiss to her hair, and the last thing she remembered before she sank into sleep was the fluttering of his heart under her ear.

 

Bog lost track of time as he laid there with Marianne in his arms, listening to her quiet breathing as she slept, all of the tension she had been carrying for weeks now having seemingly dissipated. He was still having trouble resolving the fact that she trusted him so much, but there was no other explanation for why she would willingly invite him to her bed and place herself in such a vulnerable position even after knowing what he was, much less laughing and joking with him about it afterwards. In his past, he had done his best to keep his sexual encounters to either other vampires or to humans who worked for them and had been trusted to keep their silence about their existence. Even then, he’d never felt such a loss of control before. Especially not to someone whose life was in danger at that very moment.

Bog had to force back an angry snarl at that. He wanted to go out there and find that arrogant bastard and tear him to pieces. But he couldn’t leave Marianne vulnerable, either.

A smile pulled at his lips. He hadn’t thought it possible, but he had fallen in love with her. Had his mother still been alive, she’d be overjoyed to hear it.

His grip on her tightened on her fractionally, and she responded by burrowing a bit deeper into his side. Bog drifted off to sleep with the scent of her in his nostrils and the feel of her all over his flesh.

Chapter Text

Marianne woke up about midday. It took her a few seconds to register that she was in the bed alone, and a few more to register Bog’s low voice coming from the other room. She didn’t hear another, so she guessed he was on his phone. She was also pleasantly sore all over. It hadn’t exactly been twenty years for her, but it had been a while.

She could hear Bog ending the call as she sat up and stretched. He came back into the room before she could push the blankets off and get out of bed. He had put his blue jeans back on, but that was all he was wearing.

“Good morning,” she greeted with a soft smile as he sat down next to her.

“It’s afternoon now, actually,” he said, returning her smile. “And Aura sends her regards. And she’s asked me to inform you that they have a possible lead on Knight. She will contact us again when she knows more.”

“Seriously? That’s all she said?” Marianne said.

Bog studied her for a second. “Yes, it was,” he said. “You are not honestly considering going after Knight yourself?”

Marianne blinked in slight astonishment. Bog had her there. “So what if I was?” she said. “It was only a thought. That doesn’t mean I’m going to actually do it.”

Bog arched an eyebrow and fixed her with a disbelieving look. Of course he knew her better than that, but fortunately he decided to not push the issue. “However, Aura did ask me to make sure you were prepared to leave at a moment’s notice, just in case Knight appears to be coming towards us, ” he said instead.

“Damn,” Marianne said, suddenly feeling disappointed.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, really,” she said. “I was just hoping you’d be in the mood again, is all.”

In answer, a crooked smirk spread slowly over Bog’s face. It didn’t leave his face as he crawled over her with a low growl. Marianne giggled as he forced her back on the bed.

And then Bog swept her lips up in his own in a kiss that would have weakened her knees had she been standing. “Later,” he growled against her lips when the kiss broke. “When this pans out.”

“I’ll hold you to it,” Marianne said as Bog backed off of her so she could get up and get dressed.

 

When Marianne emerged from the bathroom freshly showered and fully dressed a little while later, she found Bog on her couch in the living room, watching the local news again. He’d also located all of his clothes and gotten dressed. She was in the middle of strapping her gun onto her belt when Aura walked in.

“It turns out it was a cold lead, but I do have other—“ She cut off, her nose twitching slightly as she smelled the air. Then she looked between Bog and Marianne. “Well, it’s about damn time,” she said.

Bog snarled in annoyance. “That hardly matters right now,” he said through gritted teeth. “What else do you have?”

“Oh, right,” Aura said. “Just to warn you, you might not like it. We got a warrant to arrest him. However, when we went to his condo, he wasn’t there.”

“Not surprising,” Marianne pointed out. “Even Roland knows his residence is going to be the first place anyone looks for him.”

“It does, however, mean that we now have no idea where to find him,” Bog said.

“But I am confident that he hasn’t left the city,” Aura said. “But that’s also why you two need to be ready to move a moment’s notice. He could be watching the apartment.”

Before Marianne could point out that that was why she was putting on her gun, her cell phone rang.

All three of them swiveled towards the sound. No one should have been calling her. Anyone that would have had a reason were either involved with this case or should have known not to. She picked her phone up off of the coffee table where she had left it the night before and looked at the ID.

“Oh, I’ll be Goddamned,” she muttered. Roland’s name was flashing across the screen. She wordlessly turned the phone’s screen towards Aura and Bog.

Bog’s eyes narrowed in a dangerous glare, and Aura’s narrowed in consideration. Then she motioned for Marianne to answer it and mouthed the word “speaker.”

“What do you want, Roland?” Marianne answered.

“I just wanted to see you, darlin’,” he said in that smooth tone that made Marianne want to punch things. “I was hoping we could settle this matter of why you’ve got this manhunt on for me.”

“Uh, I didn’t put the BOLO out on you,” Marianne said. “And lifting it is not my call to make. But you could make this easier on all of us and turn yourself in.”

“Why? Over a simple misunderstanding?” he countered. “All I was doing was having something to eat. Can I help it if it killed them?”

Marianne could feel her blood starting to boil, but suddenly there was a hand on each of her shoulders. It was a silent reminder from both Bog and Aura to stay calm. Aura then nodded back to the phone, and Marianne realized she needed to say something before Roland figured out what was going on on her end.

Marianne forced down a calming breath. “Is that a confession to murder, then?”

“Oh, it can be whatever you want,” he said casually. “It’s not like anyone can do anything to me, anyway. By the way, how’s your sister?”

Marianne’s grip on her phone tightened. “She’s fine,” she bit out. “She’s going to make a full recovery.”

“Oh. In that case, I’ll have to pay her another visit when this is all over, then,” Roland said. Marianne could feel her blood pressure rising again at the obvious threat. “You know, I have an idea. Why don’t you ditch your colleagues and come see me face-to-face? I’ll be at City Park when the sun goes down.” Before Marianne could say anything, Roland ended the call.

“He’s taunting us,” Aura said immediately.

“Yep,” Marianne agreed. “But this could work in our favor. He still thinks we can’t touch him, and that gives us an advantage.”

“I know what you’re saying,” Bog said. “And it’s not a good idea.”

“Yes, but it’s also all we have,” Aura argued. “Weren’t you listening to him? He knows Marianne is being protected. The only way we’ll have a decent shot at him is to lure him out. You had an army once, you should know all of this.”

“I do, but I still don’t like it,” he said.

Marianne could feel that warmth spreading in her chest again at his words, but still. “I can take care of myself, remember?” she reminded him. The corners of his lips turned up in a soft smile. “Besides, it goes without saying that Roland is planning something, but this might still be our one and only shot at him. We have to take it while we can. Besides, he only said I should come alone. He never demanded that I do.” Bog didn’t seem to have an argument for that.

 

Marianne, Bog, and Aura spent the rest of the afternoon in Marianne’s apartment planning out what they were going to do once they had Roland out in the open. Aura had even contacted Stuff and put her in charge of securing City Park. The hope was that with it being the middle of the week, there wouldn’t be too many civilians in the area. But they were still going to keep police presence to a minimum to avoid Roland changing his mind about making their meeting.

Early evening found the three of them in the middle of City Park, headed for one of the most isolated areas they could find to avoid any prying eyes. A team of officers (that Aura assured Marianne were all vampires) were on standby in case anything went wrong. Their hope was that Roland could be subdued before he could get to Marianne. Just in case, however, all three of them had worn their swords into the park.

Marianne had had to admit to a certain amount of apprehension that she had never had to deal with before when it came to Roland. She had always been able to deal with him before this. But then again, he had been human before. He’d always been arrogant, but he’d never been dangerous before.

Some part of her nervousness must have been showing on her face, because Bog seemed to have picked up on it. Bog gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze. “There is still time to turn around and leave, if you wish.”

“I know, but leaving isn’t an option anymore. We have to end this now, and those people deserve justice,” she said. “Besides, I’m not afraid of Roland. I never have been.” Her own words gave her a confidence boost that made her apprehension all but disappear. She marched resolutely forward, Bog and Aura on either side of her.

It was almost dark and they were somewhere deep in the park when Bog and Aura both suddenly stopped. Given that the two of them were staring in to a thick and darker patch of trees, Marianne figured that they were there.

She couldn’t see anything, but she could hear the clear sounds of a person in distress coming from the area. Aura muttered out a curse and Bog’s lips pulled back from his teeth and he began snarling, and that was all the confirmation Marianne needed that Roland hadn’t come alone, either. Marianne mentally smacked herself. She should have known Roland would pull something like this. Carefully keeping her face impassive, she stepped forward.

“I thought you just wanted to talk,” she called into the shadows.

“Well, I wasn’t the only one that wanted insurance,” Roland answered. Then he stepped forward out of the trees. Clutched in front of him under one arm was a teenage girl, who was crying quietly and very obviously terrified.

Tasukete…” the girl begged the moment she laid eyes on Marianne, Bog, and Aura. “Onegai… tasukete…”

“Everything’s going to be okay,” Marianne said to the girl, hoping she understood English. “He’s going to let you go now.” She shot a pointed look at Roland.

“Now why should I do that? What if I feel like having a snack?” Roland said casually, stroking the girl’s face. She only began crying harder.

“What sense would it make to kill her?” Marianne asked. “We know it’s you, and we aren’t going to stop until you’ve been destroyed.”

Roland laughed. “How do you think you’re going to kill me? You can’t do it!”

Bog stepped forward. “I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint you. We’re not indestructible,” he said.

“Really? And how is that?” Roland challenged.

“That particular piece of information is going to remain our secret for the moment,” Aura said. “Suffice it to say you’re going to find out what it takes to kill a vampire soon enough.”

Roland blinked in clear surprise. “So you’re a vampire, too,” he mused. “This makes everything a bit more interesting. But y’all aren’t giving me much incentive to let her go.”

“What do you want?” Marianne demanded, a bit of irritation leaking into her voice.

“Oh, I think you already know, darlin’” Roland said. “You for her.”

Marianne narrowed her eyes. She had a feeling it would come to this. But before she could answer Roland, Bog was suddenly at her side, close enough for his arm to brush hers. She felt him slide something into her back pocket before his hand smoothly came up to her shoulder. He opened his mouth to say something, but then closed it again. Marianne gave him a slight smile, both to whatever he was going to say and to reassure him. Then she glanced to Aura, who gave her a nod. With that, Marianne went to Roland. His grin broadened as she drew closer.

As soon as she was within arm’s reach of him, Roland shoved the girl towards Aura and Bog. In the blink of an eye, one of his arms locked around Marianne and he leapt up into the nearest tree and away from Bog and Aura.

 

Bog caught the girl right as Roland made his escape with Marianne. He began to follow after them, but only made it one step when Aura grabbed his arm.

“If you try to go after them now, Marianne could get hurt,” Aura pointed out. Bog decided it would be wiser to heed her advice. Besides, the girl was still clinging steadfastly to his jacket and sobbing. Police officers were also swarming in around them. He would have to wait before he could follow, anyway.

Aura gently pried the girl off of Bog and began murmuring to her in Japanese, talking her down from the panic attack she was beginning to have. Bog started snarling impatiently in the direction Roland had taken Marianne. He barely noticed Aura turning the girl over to some of the other officers with instructions for her care.

Will you be patient?” Aura snapped at him, and he came extremely close to ignoring her. “You won’t be able to help her if you don’t focus!”

“We should have anticipated this,” Bog snarled back. “For that matter, we should have never come here at all.” He wasn’t aware that he had begun pacing until Aura grabbed his arm again. She looked equal parts ready to slap him and astonished.

“I never thought I’d see the day,” she said in wonder. “You’re having an honest-to-Gods panic attack.”

This more than anything had Bog freezing in place. Was that what he was doing? He forced down a calming breath.

“I have to admit that I thought Roland would pull something like this,” Aura said once Bog was more visibly calm. “But I was hoping he wouldn’t.” Bog began growling again, but Aura talked over him. “But still, Marianne is a fighter. She’s probably already started fighting with Roland, which will slow even him down. And that will buy us some time.”

Bog nodded in agreement and forced his mind back onto the task at hand. “Where would he take her, then?” he asked.

“He was determined to get her alone,” Aura said. “Whether to turn her or kill her, I’m still not completely sure, but he would want to do it where no one could see him do it. So where would he take her where no one would be able to find them right away?”

“The swamp,” Bog answered. “It’s more secluded, and it would be more difficult to follow him.”

“He’d never go into the wilderness willingly,” Aura said. “He’s more likely to take Marianne somewhere he’s familiar with.”

“The mansion,” Bog said. “No one will be there at this time of the evening, and he’ll be familiar with it because of Marianne. And he likely believes no one will think to find him there.”

Aura smiled in answer. She looked both impressed and proud of him. Then she took a look around them, and he followed her gaze. The girl had been removed from the area, and most of the other officers were no longer present. Bog had guessed they were doing whatever Aura had instructed them to do. The few officers left were all vampires, who were waiting for the two of them. Aura nodded at them, and they nodded back in acknowledgement. Then they all left in different directions.

Aura turned back to him. “Let’s go,” she said. Bog turned to the direction Roland had left in and picked up his scent. He and Aura left the park two seconds later.

 

Marianne started struggling in Roland’s grip, despite the fact that he was now running across rooftops away from the park.

“I thought you just wanted to talk,” Marianne yelled over the wind.

“I just don’t want an audience,” Roland yelled back.

Marianne snorted in disbelief. “You? Not want an audience?”

“Don’t worry, it’s not going to matter soon enough,” he said. “Once I make you like me and gain control of your dad’s money, then people will both fear and respect me. And that’s what I want more. I’ll be able to have anything I want, then.”

Marianne glared up at him, disgusted. “At the risk of sounding cliché, it won’t work,” she said. They were almost to the swamp now.

“I guess your new boyfriend is gonna stop me?” Roland asked mockingly.

Marianne actually wanted to laugh. “Hell no,” she answered. “I am.”

Roland did laugh at that. “What do you think you’re going to do? I’m indestructible now! Besides, you won’t have time to do anything. You’re gonna be incapacitated.”

They finally arrived at wherever Roland had been taking her, and Marianne had to clamp down on her surprise when she saw where they had stopped. They were in Maison de la Forêt Noire’s back yard.

Marianne realized that she needed to put a few feet of distance between herself and Roland so she could draw her sword. Until she could think of a way to do that, she needed to keep him talking.

“What good do you think turning me will do? I won’t help you no matter what,” she snapped.

“You have a point,” he said. “But unfortunately, you’re the fastest route to your dad’s money, so I need you alive. And while you’re turning, I’m gonna find out where they’ve taken your dad and kill him. Then I’m gonna take your sister and hostage. I get the feeling that you’ll do whatever it takes to keep your sister alive, even as a vampire. Including whatever I say.” Then, before Marianne could do or say anything else, Roland ripped the collar of her shirt aside and his fangs were impaling the side of her neck.

Marianne screamed in pain and started struggling against his grip again. But with as hard as he was biting and as fast as he was swallowing down her blood, she was starting to weaken all too rapidly.

Black was starting to creep around the edges of her vision when a low bellow erupted from somewhere near the ground. Out of the corner of her eye, Marianne could make out a large, dark shape lunging towards them seconds before Roland’s mouth tore away from her and he was howling in pain. Marianne fell to the ground as his grip loosened.

She was barely able to catch herself, and her entire body felt too heavy. It took a considerable effort to make herself move. Even turning her head to take in what had just happened was difficult.

When she managed to turn her head, she wanted to laugh. Lizzie had pulled Roland off balance by one leg and to the ground and was now death-rolling him and trying to drag him towards the water. Marianne could hear the muffled, but still audible pop of bone breaking.

It took Marianne a second too long to remember that Lizzie had a nest nearby and was probably only attacking Roland because they had gotten too close. It took her another second too long to remember that she should probably either get up and run or draw a weapon. But she didn’t think she had the energy to do either one now.

While Marianne was trying to decide what to do, Roland kicked Lizzie in her muzzle, forcing her to let go. But he still scrambled back when she lunged at him again with an angry hiss, snapping at his other leg.

Good idea, Lizzie, Marianne thought. She should stand and fight. First things first, she needed to get to her feet.

She began to work on standing up right as Roland hopped up on to his good leg and leapt back a few yards until he was clear of Lizzie. He stopped long enough to reset his broken leg, and was walking on it again a few seconds later.

Marianne had staggered onto her feet and put a hand to her sword. But she only got the sword drawn about an inch or two when Roland appeared in front of her again. Then he had her by one arm and was forcing her head up with the other hand. Before he could bite her again, he suddenly jerked and let out a pained yelp. Then he let go of her and his body slid to the ground, his legs suddenly no longer able to hold him up.

When Marianne looked down, she could see an arrow sticking out of Roland’s back. It had pierced him right in the spine.

She started looking around for who fired the arrow even as she started to sway dangerously on her feet. Bog had quite a few bows and quivers full of arrows in his collection. Could he have stopped to grab one? It took her a few seconds to pick out the shape in the darkness that was moving towards them. When she did, she saw that it wasn’t Bog at all.

It was Adaira.

Marianne stood rooted to the spot, she was so shocked at seeing her. Before Marianne could say anything to her, though, Adaira was scooping her up and running the both of them into the trees away from Roland.

Adaira didn’t stop until she had Marianne on the far side of the mansion, seated on the ground under a live oak tree.

“Didn’t think I’d be seeing you again,” Marianne commented weakly as Adaira tore off a piece of her shirt and pressed it against the bite wound on Marianne’s neck to staunch the bleeding.

“Yes, well,” Adaira answered, and Marianne was certain she looked contrite as hell, “you very nearly didn’t. I can’t forgive Broderic for holding me against my will for so long, and to be honest, I was going to simply let him deal with Roland Knight. Given his temper, I had been hopeful that he would destroy me after he found out what I’d done. I never thought he’d release me instead. Then I heard about the murders occurring here, and realized that now was not the time to be petty.

“However, when I arrived, I found things were much worse than I had originally thought. It took me a while before I was finally able to locate Roland, and by the time I had, you were all confronting him in City Park. I couldn’t make a move due to his hostage. I followed as soon as he had you. Which was a foolish move, by the way. So I fired on him the moment I had a clear shot. But that arrow will not keep him incapacitated for long. The moment he pulls it out, it will only take seconds for his spine to heal. Then he’ll come for you again.”

“In that case,” Marianne said, bracing one hand on the tree and trying to push herself to her feet as her other hand went to her sword, “I’ll fight. I can take him.”

“I don’t advise that,” Adaira said. “You’ve lost too much blood. You are in no shape to fight anything right now. You may either stay here and allow me to destroy him, or allow me to turn you right now.”

“Those can’t be my only two options,” Marianne said.

“Unfortunately, they are,” Adaira argued. “That pretty jack ass may believe he knows what he’s doing, but he will only wind up killing you no matter what he does.”

Marianne blinked. “Why are you helping me?” she asked. “You can’t possibly have had a change of heart and decided to help Bog.”

“No, you’re correct, I am not doing this to help Broderic,” Adaira confirmed. “I owe him nothing after what he did to me. But I had never meant for you to become entangled in all of this, so I feel I must at least set that much right.” Then Adaira snorted in amusement. “However, I should have guessed that you would be, after Broderic fell in love with you back in Scotland.”

Marianne blinked in confusion. Bog was in love with her?

“Trust me, I know what that idiot looks like when he’s in love, and he is most certainly in love with you,” Adaira said at Marianne’s look of bewilderment.

Marianne was actually speechless. Was it actually possible that someone like Bog actually had such strong feelings for someone like her?

Before Marianne could say anything, Adaira sniffed the air, and then her head snapped to the direction they had come from. “He’s getting up,” Adaira announced. “You need to decide immediately.”

“Leave me here, then,” Marianne said. Adaira nodded in acknowledgement and was gone in the blink of an eye.

Marianne shifted against the tree trunk and felt the makeshift bandage at her neck. It seemed like the bleeding had stopped. But her shifting made her aware of something else. A hand went to her back pocket, to the thing Bog had slipped to her before Roland took her and that she had forgotten was there until now.

What she pulled out was an ordinary BIC lighter. Looked like she wouldn’t be sitting still, either. She needed to get this out to Adaira. Marianne shoved the lighter back into her pocket and began working on standing up.

 

Bog and Aura arrived at the mansion. However, they could neither see nor hear anything. They silently decided to split up. Aura went into the mansion while Bog began searching the grounds. He finally located Marianne on the side of the mansion under a tree, struggling to stand. When he stopped next to her, he could smell fresh blood on the air, emanating from a wound on the side of her neck.

“I’m fine,” Marianne reassured him when she realized he was there. “I’m just more pissed that I didn’t get to pull a weapon on him first.”

Bog let out a breath of relief when he realized that she was not in the midst of the transformation. “You should really sit still,” he advised, placing a staying hand on her shoulder. “I’ll go take care of Roland and then I’ll take you to a hospital.”

Marianne laid a hand over his before he could leave. “Adaira is here,” she said. That was the last thing Bog had expected to hear. He stared at her in astonishment. “She came to take care of Roland herself,” she explained.

Bog was still searching for a proper reaction when two gunshots rang out from the back of the mansion. He’d have to wonder about it later. “Where is that lighter I gave to you?” he asked her.

“Still in my pocket, why?”

He dug the lighter out of her pocket. “Wait here,” he said. “I’ll be right back.” He didn’t give Marianne time to argue with him before he drew his sword and sprinted for the back of the mansion.

He arrived to find Knight engaged with both Aura and Adaira. Aura had her gun in one hand and her sword in the other. Knight himself had gunshot wounds, but they were not in places where they would incapacitate him. There were also two arrows impaling his torso, and Adaira had a third drawn on him. Knight was leaping around, not presenting them with a solid target. Bog let out an audible snarl that morphed into a war cry as he leapt into the battle.

 

Marianne hit her knees yet again. She had only made it a few feet away from the tree. The sounds of the fight floated around from the back yard. A couple more gunshots sounded, followed by a lot of growling. The growling was interspersed with a low hiss coming from Lizzie and voices at random intervals, but she couldn’t tell what was being said. Just breathing was beginning to become an effort.

Suddenly, the crack of a lot of wood rang out into the night, and it sounded like it was coming from the mansion.

She couldn’t stop, though. She had to get out there. She struggled to her feet once more and staggered towards the fighting.

 

Adaira fired another arrow at Knight, hitting him in the abdomen. While he was occupied with pulling it out, Bog and Aura both leapt at him with swords raised while Lizzie made another lunge for him. But he was just a little too fast for them all. Bog knew it was due to the fact that he had just fed from Marianne.  

Knight ripped the arrow out and sidestepped Bog, which also took him out of Lizzie’s path. In the same instant, he aimed a punch straight at Aura’s chest that sent her flying into the mansion, her gun and sword falling from her hands. A section of wall was torn away as she crashed through it. Knight made a dive for the sword, and was now armed.

Bog was careful to not show his irritation at Knight now having a weapon. “Do you know how to use that?” he asked instead.

“I’ll figure it out,” Knight snapped. “And I assume since Marianne had one that vampires can be hurt by them.” Knight smiled in sadistic glee, and Bog carefully kept his face impassive.

Before Knight could do anything, he gave a jerk as an arrow hit him in the back. He leapt back out of Bog’s reach.

“[We need to end this quickly,]” Adaira shouted in Scottish Gaelic. “[I’m nearly out of arrows.]”

“[I plan on doing precisely that,]” Bog shouted back.

“So we can be killed,” Knight mused out loud. “That’s interesting to hear. You know, I’m really gonna enjoy finding out how exactly.”

“You’ll find out much sooner than you believe you will,” Bog snarled right before he lunged at Knight with a series of attacks.

Knight, unfortunately, managed to block or dodge every one of them. He did manage to cut Bog a couple of times, however, they were both on the arm and not terribly deep.

“So do we slow down in our old age?” Knight taunted. “How old are you, anyway? Or is it just that you need to eat?”

Bog didn’t bother to dignify Knight’s taunting with an answer. Right at that moment, another arrow hit Roland in the back of the leg. Unfortunately, it was Adaira’s last one. She dropped her bow and empty quiver and lunged at him with a dagger.

Knight dodged another swing from Bog as well as the swing from Adaira. Then he brought his sword up to run Adaira through her abdomen. She yelped in pain, and Knight shoved her off of his sword and sent her flying back into the mansion.

Bog was becoming concerned now. Aura had yet to re-emerge from the mansion, and now Adaira was down. But he could not afford to worry about them now. Lizzie made another lunge for Knight right as Bog did. Knight planted a hard kick into Lizzie’s side, sending her flying across the yard. Bog was certain he could hear bones breaking.

But he would have to check on the alligator later as well. He was now the only thing standing between Knight and Marianne. He doubled his attack on Knight.

 

Marianne managed to make it a few more feet before she fell again. She groaned in frustration. At this rate, she wasn’t going to be able to walk without help.

She reached down and unbuckled the sword belt, pulling the still-sheathed sword off. It would make an adequate cane. She struggled back to her feet in time to hear a pained shriek followed by another explosion of wood, this one accompanied by shattering glass.

Marianne began moving as fast as she could.

 

Bog was beginning to mentally curse at himself. Perhaps it was his increasing desperation, but he was certain he should have had Knight incapacitated and on fire by now.

But he had to bear in mind that Knight had just fed while it had been a few days for Bog himself. For some reason, he felt as if it shouldn’t matter.

Knight interrupted Bog’s inner musings by getting through his defenses and landing a cut across his chest. Bog leapt back, regrouped, and came back with a downward swing, which Knight dodged. Knight threw a punch at Bog that missed. Bog, unfortunately, didn’t dodge it quickly enough and his sword was knocked from his hand and sent flying across the grounds. Knight brought the sword up again and ran Bog through the abdomen.

As Bog reeled from the shock of being stabbed, Knight pulled the sword out and kicked Bog in the chest, sending him flying. Bog landed across the broken beams of the deck, a couple of them impaling him.

 

Marianne rounded the corner in time to see Bog’s broadsword land in front of her. There was another shattering of wood, and she looked up to see Bog had landed on the remains of the back porch. Roland was advancing on him with a blood-streaked sword in one hand.

Marianne glanced down at Bog’s sword again, and didn’t even stop to think about what she was doing. She shoved the sheath off of her sword. For some reason, it felt heavier than she remembered it being. But that was probably the blood loss.

She got the best grip she could on her sword and ran into the fight.

 

Fortunately, neither of the beams severed Bog’s spine. It took some effort, but he managed to use his body’s weight to break the beams. However, he was not in time to free himself before Knight stomped down hard enough on one of his legs to break the bones.

Knight grinned in triumph. “Now it’s time to find out how you kill a vampire,” he said. He lifted the sword in preparation to begin stabbing Bog.

But he was not given the chance to use it. Aura, with several long shards of wood protruding from her body, burst out of the mansion and ran Knight through his side with a long splinter of wood. Knight was naturally surprised, but was not given the time to react.

Out of nowhere, a battle cry the likes of which Bog had not heard in over a thousand years sounded seconds before Marianne appeared behind Knight with a sword raised above her head. She brought the sword down with every ounce of strength she had left and cleaved Knight through his shoulder and ribs in a spray of blood. Knight’s sword clattered to the ground, his body following suit a moment later.

Bog blinked in astonishment at Marianne, who didn’t seem to notice anything around her anymore. The sword slipped from her grip as her eyelids fluttered shut. Aura caught her before she could fall to the ground.

Bog had to clamp down on the urge to go to Marianne. Instead, he pulled the lighter out and lit Knight’s body up before he could pull himself back together and get back up. Once the fire was blazing, a pair of arms wrapped around his body. Bog looked up to find Adaira pulling him away before he caught fire as well.

Once they were a safe enough distance from the fire, Bog could make out Lizzie on the other side of it. She watched the flames and the vampires for a moment before turning around and limping back towards her nest, satisfied that the threat was gone.

Suddenly Adaira was in front of him. There was glass embedded in one of her arms and a piece of wood through her waist. She reset his broken leg and then reached up to pull the wood out of his torso.

As she worked, Bog looked over to where Aura was laying Marianne down next to him. She stirred awake just as Aura had her settled. Adaira finished pulling the wood out of Bog at the same time, and he crawled over to her.

She forced her eyes open and lifted her head. “Is he dead?” she slurred out. She would likely need a blood transfusion.

Bog stroked his fingers through her hair. “Yes, he’s dead,” he answered.

“Thank God,” she murmured with a weak smile. Then she slumped back down to the ground and passed out again.

Bog turned to Adaira, who was pulling the wood out of Aura now. “You didn’t have to come here,” he said to her.

“Yes, I did,” she said. “I should never have turned him in the first place. The four dead humans and the one injured one are all my fault.”

Bog stood up. “No, this was my fault. I should never have gone against your wishes and kept you alive.”

Adaira smiled, truly smiled, for the first time in hundreds of years. “There was once a time when you had difficulty seeing anything past your own feelings,” she said. She cast Marianne a pointed look. “But it seems you’ve finally learned.”

She finished with Aura, and Bog reached over to begin pulling the wood out of her. But she grabbed his hand to stop him. “You can make this right, now,” she said. “You can give me what I really want.”

Bog began to argue with her, but stopped himself. He couldn’t deny her request, not this time. “Are you certain you do not simply want to be free?”

“I’m certain,” Adaira said. “I wanted my freedom as a human. I never wanted to live like this.”

“You should get moving, then,” Aura said. “That fire won’t burn forever.”

Adaira smiled her appreciation at her, then looked back to Bog.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I know it isn’t good enough, nor will it change what happened, but—“

Adaira cut him off by pulling him down and pressing a kiss to his cheek. “I know. I forgive you,” she said. Before Bog could answer, she turned and walked straight into the fire without looking back.

Bog watched her burn. He didn’t deserve her forgiveness, he knew.

Aura broke him out of his thoughts by sliding his sword back into its scabbard at his hip. She had already re-sheathed her own. Strange, he had never noticed her going to get them. “We need to get Marianne to a hospital,” she said. “I’m pretty sure her wound has opened back up.”

Bog looked down to see blood soaking into the collar and shoulder of Marianne’s shirt. “Right,” he agreed, bending over and picking up Marianne. He and Aura took off in the direction of the city without looking back.

Chapter Text

~One month later~

Marianne stepped into the entry hall of the newly renovated Maison de la Forêt Noire. The exterior of the mansion still needed some work, but the interior had been declared finished earlier that day. She had been in the middle of her shift when Bog had sent her the text, and she hadn’t even gone home before coming out here. She also hadn’t called Bog to tell him she was on her way. But he would have heard her pull in, so she wasn’t worried.

The entry hall was freshly painted a deep green and the door had been left open to allow the room to air out and the paint to dry. Marianne crossed through the room and into the hallway leading to the other rooms. She only made it as far as the first room before something caught her eye and she detoured into it.

Bog had decorated the room with some of the furniture he’d had shipped over from Scotland. But what had caught her eye was what he had mounted over the fireplace. As she gazed at Bog’s broadsword, memories of the last month began replaying in her mind.

 

Marianne had woken up in the hospital nearly a full day after their confrontation with Roland. Bog had been sitting in a chair next to her bed. Her memories of the night before had been somewhat foggy, but she could have sworn that when she had last seen him, there had been wood protruding from several places on his body and he’d had a broken leg. But there he was, sitting there as if nothing had happened.

He had been looking at his phone when she had woken up, and only looked up when she had started laughing. “I don’t think I’m ever gonna be over that,” she had said.

“Over what?” he’d asked.

“I could have sworn you were in worse shape than I was last night,” she’d said in answer. Bog had laughed at that. After he had asked how she was feeling and she had given a smart ass remark in return, he had told her what had happened after she passed out. She had been a bit surprised to learn that Adaira had decided to die rather than to live freely. But Bog had assured her that that had been what Adaira had wanted.

“There were no traces of either Adaira’s or Roland Knight’s ashes left,” he’d continued. “The official accounting of what occurred is that you, Aura, and I went to confront Knight at the mansion. You and Aura attempted to arrest him, but he turned violent and attacked you. Aura had no choice but to use deadly force to stop him. However, when she shot him, his body fell into the swamp and a current carried it away before either of us could retrieve it.”

“Clever,” Marianne had said. “There’s no telling where or even if it will wash up, and with all the wildlife in the area, it may never be found.” Then she thought of something else. “So we can’t tell anyone the truth, then?”

“No,” Bog had confirmed. “Vampires must remain a secret from humans. Which I must admit is a part of the reason I am here. I am to either swear you to silence, remove you from the hospital and turn you, or kill you. And before you decide, please know that your sister and her boyfriend will be presented with the same options, as will your partner and her husband.”

“What about my father?” Marianne asked.

“Aura tells me that everyone who was guarding your family are certain your father doesn’t believe the vampire aspect of these events. He is safe from all of this. For the moment, in any case.”

Marianne had watched him for all of a moment before a smile pulled at her lips. “Did you honestly think there was any debate here? You can count on me to stay quiet for as long as you want me to.”

“Well, thank God,” a new voice crowed gratefully from the doorway to Marianne’s room. Thang came in and moved to the machinery at Marianne’s other side to check the readings on them. “Stuff and I already agreed to not say anything. We didn’t find the other two options all that appealing. And I’m sure your sister and Sunny will agree to the same thing. Oh, and by the way, Aura’s given the order to have them brought back to New Orleans.”

“Awesome,” Marianne said as she tried to sit up. But a wave of dizziness crashed over her as soon as she tried to move and she flopped right back down to the bed.

“You need to lie still,” Thang told her. “We had to give you a blood transfusion as soon as you were brought in.”

“Wait, you’re not my attending physician, are you?” Marianne asked him the second her head stopped swimming.

“Oh, no,” Thang said. “Since it seems I’ve become something of an expert in, well, the types of wounds you presented at the hospital with, I was called to consult. Your real doctor got stuck in a meeting and asked me to come and check on you.”

 

Marianne smiled at the memory. Right after that, she had tried to get out of bed again. Bog had been the one to stop her that time. Bog hadn’t left her side while she was in the hospital, not even after her dad, Dawn, and Sunny returned. He even stayed at her apartment with her for a couple of days after she was discharged from the hospital, which she was grateful for. She’d been ordered to take medical leave for at least a week, and she would have gone stir-crazy with not being able to go to work.

She had been concerned with the reconstruction of the mansion while he stayed with her, but Bog had argued that right at that moment, taking care of her was more important. Besides, someone had to make sure she stayed home. Otherwise, she would have been out at the mansion trying to help them. Of course, he would have been right.

All she had been allowed to do until the doctor cleared her to go back to work was to contact Sunny’s cousin Pare to go out to the mansion to get Lizzie. Bog had been sure that she was suffering some broken bones from the fight, and they needed to be treated. Pare’s team had gotten out to the mansion as soon as they could and removed Lizzie and her nest to a rehabilitation facility, much to Lizzie’s adamant objections. As soon as she was healed, they would release her back into the wild. Bog had told them they were welcome to return her to the mansion. He had reasoned that it was her home as well.  

Marianne had gone straight back to work after her week off. Then she was so busy catching her paperwork up for the next two days after that that she had time for nothing else. When she had finally been able to get back out to the mansion, the construction crew was still equally angry and mystified at all the new damage done to the mansion. Bog had offered up no explanation for it. He’d only increased the amount of their bonus if they could repair the damage and still finish by the start of summer.

Since Bog wasn’t forthcoming with information about that night, they seemed to collectively think that Marianne would be. As soon as they saw her, the entire crew stopped what they were doing and started trying to shoot questions at her. She had had to halt them after a minute with the excuse that she wasn’t at liberty to discuss the case with anyone. They were all disappointed, of course, and a few of them even begun sending her weird stares.

When she had found Bog on the second floor, he had insisted on taking her for a walk (she suspected he still didn’t want her exerting herself and had decided on distracting her from helping with the mansion). She had asked him if he had known anything about the looks the crew were giving her. He had explained that there were a number of theories floating around about what had happened, and because of Marianne’s involvement, the most popular one was that she was some kind of all-powerful witch. Marianne had nearly hurt herself laughing at that one.

Her smile widened when a pair of arms slipped around her waist from behind and a pair of lips pressed a gentle kiss to the side of her neck where she was positive she would have scars. The bruising and lacerations were nearly completely healed over, and it almost didn’t hurt to turn her head anymore.

The kiss was followed by a long draw of air where Bog inhaled against her hair. He had told her in the days following her stay at the hospital, her scent had changed slightly because of the blood transfusion. He had said it had been a bit disconcerting.

Marianne turned in his arms and pulled him down into a deep kiss. She knew she’d never get enough of the way her tongue slid against his fangs or the way he’d start growling low in his throat at the contact.

“How was work?” Bog murmured against her lips when the kiss finally broke.

“Boring,” Marianne answered. “Stuff and I don’t have anything to do. And we probably won’t until tourism picks up in the next few days. That text from you was the highlight of my whole day. I couldn’t get here fast enough.”

“Are you that eager for a tour?” he asked.

Before Marianne answered, her eyes darted to something behind him and a wicked smile tugged at her lips. It was all the warning Bog was given before Marianne suddenly shoved him backwards. The backs of his knees hit the arm of the sofa behind him and he landed across it on his back.

Bog stared up at her in complete surprise that morphed into an excited grin when she straddled his hips. “Oh, we’ll eventually see every room of this house,” she said.

Bog opened his mouth to respond, but then the meaning of her words sank in. Marianne knew when it did, because his grin grew slightly more seductive and his eyes began glowing. “Then is this to be considered a re-christening of the mansion, or a house-warming gift?”

“Whatever. As long as we start right here.”

Bog’s growl was laced with lust. “In that case, I hope you have no plans of going to work tomorrow. This mansion has a lot of rooms.” Marianne smiled in anticipation and pulled him into another deep kiss. They had more than enough time to visit all of the mansion’s rooms.