Fourteen hours of sleep. Then food. Then sleep some more. Harper thought this plan sounded great, but when she got home, changed her clothes, and laid down, her mind wouldn't shut off.
Her great-grandmother was a gypsy, that's what Alec said. Not the televised version either, but the type with supernatural powers. It sounded ludicrous, but Conner said she'd spoken Russian.
From the time she was a toddler, Harper knew she was adopted. She looked nothing like her Filipina mother or Native American father with her blonde hair and fair skin. It didn't bother her, but she had wandered about her genetics. In the ninth grade, she's submitted a DNA sample to an independent lab, and they'd told her she was almost entirely Eastern European. Slavic. Russian.
After a while, she got up, made some instant coffee in her favorite mug, and turned on her laptop. She stretched out on the couch, typing Ileana Perseca into the search engine. There were plenty of hits, but the only one worth following led to a wiki page detailing the life of a famous actress who died ten years after Harper was born. Not the right woman.
When she gave up finding any credible genealogy on the Russian woman Alec claimed to know, she switched to browsing through websites dedicated to visions, supernatural powers, and creatures from the great beyond.
After a while, Harper laughed. Most of the sites were so ridiculous that she couldn't imagine ever taking it seriously. A dark-haired, sallow-faced man who wrote with all the angst of a college dropout ran one of them. He warned about the dangers of twenty-first-century supernaturals and the need to bring back burnings to protect the common folk.
"Good lord, you need to get laid," Harper muttered at the man, then closed the laptop and leaned back. She thought about Alec again. She'd seen him in that village, and he claimed to be old. Almost one hundred and sixty years old, in fact.
"Right," she scoffed, but she knew what was bothering her. He said she needed answers, and he wasn't wrong. She couldn't stop thinking about the night, no matter how hard she tried. And she couldn't discredit it. Now that her anger was fading, she was curious enough that she almost wished she'd stayed. Even if they were watching her apartment—
Harper bolted upright. They were watching her apartment. Why? Because she was in danger. The whole time they'd spent together, she hadn't told them about him coming to look for her. They wouldn't know either. The camera was fixed on her place, not her neighbors.
She ran to her door, checking to see if she'd locked it. After confirming that her deadbolt was in place, she shoved a chair up under the handle, her fear growing. There was no real reason for it. Nothing had changed in the last ten minutes, but she was now thinking about how she'd refused to listen. Refused help.
The two windows in the place were high, but Harper still checked the locks. Then she drew the curtains closed, got a steak knife, and placed it beside the couch. Sure she wouldn't sleep at all now. Harper turned her laptop back on.
There was no way to research Scotch, Neat, not without more information. She didn't have his name, real or false. She only knew what the Afterlife people told her. He wasn't human, and he wanted her dead. She started looking into those who might want to hurt gypsies, and that was a rabbit hole that went on forever.
A rush of cold raced up her spine.
Harper realized she was back on the hill, and it was snowing again. The wind whipped at her colorful dress, and she wore bracelets and rings once again. The locket, too. She slipped it off, opened it, and stared at the woman. Ileana looked so much like her.
Harper had always hated how light her hair was. In the seventh grade, she'd bought black hair dye against her mother's wishes. She'd spent a semester with horrible splotches, gray streaks, and dead ends. Now though, looking at her great-grandmother, she thought platinum wasn't so terrible.
There was a certain kinship she felt toward Ileana. She didn't know if it came from the matching hair or just because she was dreaming of her. She put the locket back on and went into the village. She'd missed the plump man who'd asked her about the meeting. The twins had already passed too, though she saw them in the distance and heard their laughter.
She was thinking about them, how nice it must be to have a sibling around one's age when she heard a familiar voice. "I wondered when you'd come."
Harper turned to look at Alec, marveling at how easily he seemed to fit in here with his boots and shirt and hair.
"I don't know who you are," she murmured, stepping toward him. "I don't know why I'm here."
He frowned. "What are you talking about, Ileana?"
"It's a dream," she told him. "I'm Harper. But it's… not, and I'm not. I'm her, too. Ileana."
Alec lifted a hand and set against her face. She realized he was checking her for a fever. He started to speak, but a rapping sound interrupted him.
She sat up, knocking her laptop onto the floor. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and then heard the rapping again. Her eyes widened, and she came fully awake.
She reached for her cell phone, checked the time. It was just after 5:30. Who would be here this early? Not Brittney; she never got up before noon. Her parents were out of town. There was nobody else to make house calls. She dropped the phone and grabbed the steak knife.
When the rapping on her door continued, she cursed beneath her breath and got up. She tiptoed over and peered out the peephole. On the other side, she saw Alec. He was in the same jeans and t-shirt from the club, but he'd added a motorcycle jacket to the mix. After a moment, he lifted a hand as if to knock again. Then he let his hand fall, shaking his head.
She watched him shove his hands into his pockets and turn away from the door. When he began walking away, she pushed the chair from beneath the handle, unlocked the deadbolt, and cracked her door. "What are you doing here?"
Alec turned to look at her. He glanced at the knife in her hand, a small smile forming. "Gonna use that?"
"Can I come in?" he asked.
"Fine," she said, stepping back out of the way. Alec walked past her, and she shut the door. She put the deadbolt back in but left the chair alone — no need for him to know how frightened she'd been.
Alec went to the couch, and Harper followed. She snatched her laptop off the floor, aware of how she must look. She put the knife on her counter and ran her fingers through her hair. It was a tangled mess. Whatever.
She sat down on the couch, and Alec did too. He laced his hands behind his head, kicking back into a comfortable position.
"Sorry about before," he shot at her. "Could have handled it better."
"Yeah, you could have," Harper agreed.
"If you'd stayed, we could have tried," he said.
She crossed her arms. "Uh-huh."
He shrugged. "So, I guess you've got questions."
Harper nodded. "Yeah, I do. Alec, what are you?"
He frowned. "Right off the bat, huh? I'm a vampire."
"No, you're not." Harper felt her eyes move to her wall, where a full-sized poster of Dracula hung. She was an eclectic decorator with everything from the cold, white vampire to a collection of vanity license plates organized in a star-shape.
Alec looked too, then smiled. "Guess it's hard to believe since I'm so tan."
She rolled her eyes. He was anything but. He wasn't pale white, but it was a toss-up which one of them was fairer skinned.
"Come on, Harper," Alec said. "You saw me in that vision, remember? With Ileana. I was twenty-seven then, and that was over a century ago. Tell me I look different."
"You're a vampire," Harper repeated. She took a calming breath. Panicking first thing into the conversation wouldn't do any good. "But you don't have sharp teeth."
This time, Alec laughed. "I do. Just not like this."
Alec stood. She then pushed off the chair to stand, but she lost all feeling in her legs and stayed sitting when he looked at her. He was shimmering. When he solidified again, his eyes were black. That bright black she'd seen from the woman at the club. He opened his mouth, and his canines were pointed. Around him, a black aura pulsated, like the green one from the club.
She opened her mouth, but no words came out. Alec shimmered again, then returned to normal. Normal. What was that?
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"A little warning next time would be nice," she breathed out.
"Well, now you know it's real," he said.
"Unless I'm dreaming still," she muttered, though it wasn't a serious consideration. She'd never felt so awake. "So what do you eat? People?"
"God, Harper," Alec said, sitting back down. "No. I mean, not for years anyway. I was young once, you know."
She considered that comment, decided it wasn't worth pursuing, and changed direction. "You knew Ileana."
He smiled. "A long time ago. She was a wonderful woman. Social, intellectual, dazzling. She was gifted with the Sight, she could tell what someone was, but that was the least important part of her."
Harper frowned. "You loved her."
Alec shrugged. "She knew what I was, and she cared about me anyway."
"How did it work for her? The Sight?"
Alec shook his head. "I don't know. From what I understand, it can present differently. How does it work for you?"
"Me?" Harper shook her head. "I don't have it."
"You do," Alec said, a small smile appearing on his face.
Harper wanted to argue but then remembered the club. She'd seen the auras: the green one, the red one. But even before that…
"I never knew what it was, not before I touched the locket," Harper told him. "Until then, until I saw the auras, it was just a feeling. Knowing when someone was having a bad day. Knowing what they were sad or scared about, or knowing when they were on a lucky streak."
Alec nodded. "The locket may have helped with the more dormant parts of your abilities."
Harper studied him. "I don't see it around you, though. The aura, I mean."
"I'm blocking it," Alec said. "No, not intentionally, it's just something I do — that anyone would do if they were like me. If you were stronger, you'd see through me in a second. You'll get there."
"I'm not sure I want to," Harper admitted. "The others, are they vampires, too? Chloe and Conner? And… Sarah? Was that her name?"
"Sarah, yes," Alec said. "No, they're not vampires."
"Do they know about you?"
Harper blinked. "They're okay with it?"
He shrugged. "They've learned to accept what I am."
She shook her head, fascinated. "I see. Ileana, back to her. You knew her. Loved her."
"From the first time we spoke," Alec said.
"It was a long time ago."
Harper imagined the woman in the locket. "What happened to her?"
"She got old," Alec said. "She died eventually. But while she was alive, god, she lived."
"Tell me more about her," Harper said.
Alec shook his head. "Maybe someday. Those memories are genuine, Harper. I lived them with her, and they still sting. She wasn't just my lover. She was my best friend."
"And she knew you were a vampire, too."
"Yeah, she did. I thought you might be using the Sight. I thought that's why the demons were stalking you. But after a day or so, I realized you did not know your talents. You were fully unaware, at least until you picked up that locket."
"I didn't just see her," Harper said. "I think I told you that, but Alec, I was her. Some man called me by her name. And I was in her clothing, and I had her voice. It wasn't the first time, either. I had that dream when I was a kid."
"A fever dream," Alec mused.
Harper nodded. She paused, trying to decide what to ask next. A million things were running through her mind. "You said you need my help to find something."
"Her nexus," Alec said.
"What is that?"
Alec pulled out a pack of smokes, glanced at Harper, then put them away again. "It's an energy source. It's not an orb, but imagine it as one. And inside the orb, there's… power."
Harper nodded, conjuring up an image of a glass ball filled with swirling lights. "Sure."
"Every lineage with gypsy blood has a nexus," Alec said. "Because whenever someone in the family dies, some of their power goes into that orb. It's a fail-safe, I guess. Because the power of Sight is hereditary, so if the bloodline dies, all of that family's magic dies with it. Unless someone has that nexus — because then they can access all the latent power."
"But that could be a lot of power," Harper said. "I mean, you're talking about generations, Alec. Some people can go back fifteen steps. Further."
"Yeah, I know," Alec said. "But life protects it, Harper. Nobody can touch that power as long as someone with the Perseca blood lives."
Harper frowned. "But that means—"
Alec nodded. "They thought Alana was the last descendant of Ileana's, and she died last year. Hundreds of demons want her nexus now, who want that power for themselves. Thing is, they can't get it. Because of you."
"I'm not stopping them," Harper said.
"You are," Alec said, impatient. "I just said that — you've got Perseca blood, adopted or not, and that means they can't use that power."
Alec's expression darkened. "The closed adoption helped some. Nobody knew who you were. For the last year, they've been trying to find you, and it's sheer dumb luck that Afterlife did first."
"So that's why you were watching me?"
Alec nodded. "The man from the bar, he was the first to find you. He burned it down to kill you, but he'll know soon enough that he wasn't successful."
"He already does," Harper admitted. "My neighbor let me know he was around the complex, asking about me."
"Great," Alec muttered. "Well, it was bound to happen, eventually. Look, we've still got one thing on our side. They haven't launched a direct assault, which means they think you've got powers."
"I thought I did."
Alec snorted. "Harper, you've got the Sight but no idea how to use it. You're like a babe in the woods."
Harper bristled. "That's—"
"The truth," Alec said. "But they don't know that. And we plan to keep it that way until we find the nexus first."
"The demons can't have it," Alec said. "You're the last Perseca, so you've got to destroy it yourself. They'll have no reason to keep hunting you then, and the power will be gone."
"I see." Harper got up, wandering into the kitchen. She prepared to make coffee, then paused. "You want a cup?"
"No," Alec said.
Harper shrugged and finished hers. She went back to the couch but didn't sit. "So are they vampires, these… demons?"
"Some of them, sure," Alec said. "But I'd be surprised if there weren't a dozen other types all working together on this. The thing is, they'll know about us now. Afterlife. Which means they'll be hiding. We'll need your Sight to find them."
Harper shook her head. "If you can't see them, I sure can't. I can't even tell what you are."
Alec shrugged. "Not yet. We'll help you with that. You just need a bit of practice, and you'll be able to see right through them."
She looked down at her coffee, then back at Alec. Her voice sounded small when she spoke. "I'm just a bartender, though."
"Hardly," Alec said, snorting again. When Harper still looked skeptical, he smiled. "You're the great-granddaughter of the most powerful visionary I ever knew. Besides, can't really say you're a bartender now. You got fired."
Harper rolled her eyes but couldn't help but smile too. "It sounds dangerous."
"Oh, it is," Alec agreed. "You'll be risking your life, but hell, you're risking it by not doing anything either."
"Reassuring," she said.
"I know. But you'll have Afterlife to protect you," Alec said. "Can't promise we'll do a good job of it, but we'll be better than nothing."
"Better than nothing," Harper repeated. "You sure know how to sell a girl."
"I don't have to sell you," Alec said. "I remember the look in Ileana's eyes when we first worked together, and you've got the same one. You want to do this. Probably dreamed of something like it your entire life."
Harper opened her mouth to disagree but found she couldn't.
"Come with me," Alec invited. "I'll introduce you to the others."
"I met them," Harper said.
Alec shook his head. "You saw them. You didn't meet them. There's more to a person than their name and face, Harper."
"Yeah, like the ability to get someone fired," Harper said.
"Chloe's never had the softest touch," Alec said, amused. "But she did what she could to keep you safe. Forget the job. We've got money."
"I don't want your money," Harper snapped, offended by the insinuation.
"Yeah, well, you'll be earning it," he countered.
Harper gave him a look. "Uh-huh. Okay, fine, you win. I'll go with you and hear you all out. This doesn't mean I believe you, but I can humor you for a bit. Nothing better to do with my day."
"Go get dressed then," Alec said.
Harper looked down at her pajamas and felt her face flush. She went into her room and changed clothing. Afterward, she went to the bathroom, splashed water on her face, and then brushed the tangles from her hair. She washed the cut on her arm and gurgled some mouth wash for good measure.
When she came back out, Alec offered a paper plate with a slice of pizza. "You have no food."
Harper laughed and took the plate. "You want one too?"
"No, I ate before I came over," Alec said.
"Food, Harper," Alec said. "I ate food."
"Yeah, but what—"
"Just checking," she said, smiling.
He shook his head and walked over to her purse. He picked it up, grabbed her cell, and handed both to her. "Let's go. I want to get there before the sun is too high."
"Do you burn in sunlight?" Harper asked, putting the purse over her shoulder and dropping her phone in it.
"No. But I'm weaker and more vulnerable. It makes me feel sick too. I can fight if I have to, but if they overwhelm us…" Alec shrugged.
"Got it," Harper said, setting the paper plate on the counter. "Well then, let's go."