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from BLOODBOND

A Beauty and the Beast novel

by Rhonda Collins

Based on the series created by Ron Koslow


My life closed twice before its close
It yet remains to see
If Immortality unveil
A third event to me
So huge, so hopeless to conceive
As these that twice befell
Parting is all we know of Heaven
And all we need of Hell
      --Emily Dickenson


It was dark. So dark. A stygian blackness she'd never imagined in her worst nightmares. She couldn't breathe. What's wrong? she thought with growing anxiety.

Cathy tried to move and managed to twitch her hand. Something ran over it, making her shudder in revulsion. Trying again, she moved in jerky motions, crab-walking her hand up her stomach as stiff joints protested. She felt cautiously above her, but her range of motion was restricted: there was something heavy in the way. On top of her...to the sides. A box. I'm in a box, she thought, puzzled.

She tried to open her mouth and found she couldn't. Carefully, with shaking fingers, she patted, feeling her face, her lips. They seemed glued closed. Fear, barely kept in check before, rose suddenly--bringing with it memories of Gabriel, her baby...and Vincent. Her thoughts spun in circles. Where AM I? Where's Vincent?

Frantic now, she pushed hard on the surface above her. She realized she was ravenous. Starving. As though she'd been a week without food. Fear, desperation and need gave her immense strength as she shoved against the solid surface above her. She felt it give...heard an audible crack. Something struck her in the face, fell into her eyes, on her mouth. Dirt. She could smell it. Terrified realization struck. I died and they've buried me! Vincent left me! She ripped open her lips and screamed in horror...and with a growing anger that anything like this could possibly have happened to HER! Scrabbling furiously at the "ceiling" to her prison, knocking away the falling earth with fury, she snarled. Full of blinding hunger and searing rage, she began in earnest to tunnel through the seven feet of earth separating her from the surface.

------------

Vincent awoke, tearing at the neck of his nightshirt. He couldn't breathe, felt as if the walls of his chamber were closing in on him. The darkness around him cloaked him in a blanket of terror. A dream. It had to be a horrible dream. He couldn't possibly have heard Catherine scream. She was dead. He'd held her as she died. Her funeral had been six months ago, and their bond had been lost long before that time. But tonight he'd felt &something. He was sure of it.

Not the same as before, though, more like icy fingers around his heart. Perhaps it was all a dream, her disappearance and death. No, he told himself firmly. It's all too real. Catherine is dead. I'll never see her again. Never hear her voice again...never hold her again. Even now her face was fading from his memory.

He startled. There it was again--a chill passing over his body; and with a sudden premonitory parental fear, he felt a desperate need to check on his son--to make certain the child was well.

Jacob was awake and sucking on his thumb.

"Are you hungry, little one?" Vincent asked softly as the alert eyes blinked up at him. He took his son from the cradle. "Let's go get something to eat. Suddenly, I'm very hungry."

---------

A shadowed figure moved through the graveyard, silent as the mist surrounding it. As it came into the clearing away from the trees and stood before Catherine Chandler's grave, the moonlight reflected on hair so white it stood out like a beacon. Snow joined the other silent figure waiting beside the grave.

"It took you long enough," Gabriel told him acidly, his voice like cold stone in the silence.

Snow shrugged. "No rush," he said smoothly with a slight, mocking smile. "I knew when the change hit." He shook his head as he perched irreverently on the granite headstone. "You shouldn't have done it, Gabe. There'll be hell to pay."

Gabriel turned his cadaverous face up to the moonlight and closed his eyes as though basking in the rays. Snow wondered sometimes what his long-time enemy/comrade thought about...but perhaps it was better not knowing. Gabriel finally sighed and opened his eyes. His smile was ironic, his eyes glittered with hunger. "Perhaps."

Snow crossed his arms and listened. He could hear a faint scratching sound as Catherine Chandler dug her way to the surface. He could sense her hunger and licked his lips unconsciously--then startled as he realized Gabe was watching him. Then, the usual slow fury built. "Why did you, then?"

The smile that creased Gabriel's face revealed sharp tips of long canines...fangs...and he turned glittering eyes in Snow's direction. "Because I wanted to. She was the perfect specimen." The two creatures glared at one another for a long moment before Gabriel asked, "Why did you give the ring to Vincent?"

Crouching down to watch the surface of the grave, Snow glanced up at him and mocked: "Because I knew it would make you furious." Gabriel started to say something, but Snow made an impatient gesture and quieted him. "Watch."

The surface of the grave with its soft covering of grass trembled, then buckled. A pale, dirty hand came through first, the nails torn, the skin scratched, but there was no blood. Of course not, Snow thought. She's a vampire, and she hadn't even fed yet. He chuckled. He felt sorry for the woman, but he couldn't help anticipating the beast--Vincent's--reaction. I wonder how many ways he'll bisect ol' Gabe?

Yes, Gabriel was going to be in deep shit this time, and Snow was more than willing to play the game. It was a real bitch being bored.

The earth crumbled and Catherine's head and shoulders broke through into the pale moonlight that washed the area. She was hardly beautiful, this newborn vampire, with the tangled, filthy hair, streaks of dirt and scratches, but her eyes glittered with hunger and Snow couldn't help the surge of almost sexual delight he felt. It disgusted him. It disgusted him even to be here--especially at Gabriel's bidding. But he could no more have ignored the call than Gabe could've. Damn it! Snow thought furiously. He shouldn't have used my damned blood!

The woman crawled out of the ground, her lovely white gown torn and filthy, hair hanging in her face. She didn't even seem surprised to see them--not even Gabriel, who Snow knew she just had to hate.

She turned automatically to Snow as he used a nail to rip a gash in his chest above his heart. Eyes glazed, the woman came to him and closed her mouth hungrily over the wound and began drinking. Snow clutched her to him, shuddering as he felt the blood passing through to her, coming about as close to orgasm as he could ever get. Eventually, Snow pulled her away, knowing he had to leave something for himself. She wiped the blood on her face away with the back of her hand and turned, glaring at Gabriel. "You BASTARD!" she said levelly.

"That's me," Gabe said with an evil smile.

---------

"What the hell...?" Diana leaned back from the monitor and knuckled her eyes, figuring too much work and too little sleep had loosed the fantasy fairies in her head. She couldn't possibly have seen what she thought she had. She looked again and sure enough, there it was, crystal clear on the computer screen: a report of a vandalism at St. Cleo's cemetery, called in less than an hour ago. That the incident had made it into the city-wide police database so quickly was surprise enough. But that wasn't what had made Diana sit up and take notice.

What shocked her into stunned disbelief were the specifics of the report. Not a simple case of buzzed-up kids knocking over headstones (something that happened with more regularity than you might want to think), but an honest-to-God grave robbing. That was weird enough, all by itself. But what made her fly out of her chair, grabbing jacket, tote and keys in one hand as the other slapped at the button to bring up the elevator, was the name of the missing corpse: Catherine Chandler.

It wasn't until she'd hit the street and was waving down a cab that she wondered just where to go first, the Tunnels or the cemetery. Diana knew that Vincent continued to make frequent trips to Catherine's grave, his pain still as raw now as it'd been when he'd first lost her. The thought of Vincent stumbling onto her empty grave without warning--not to mention the possibility of his running into whatever cops might still be on the scene--made up her mind: the cemetery first, to see what she could find out, then the Tunnels. Diana gave the location to the cabbie and pounded softly on the seat the whole way there, mumbling, "C'mon, c'mon," under her breath.

The scene was just about wrapped up by the time she got to St. Cleo's. She flashed her shield at the patrolman stationed just outside the yellow crime scene tape that'd been strung up around the plot and ducked under it, staying at the edge of the scene and watching the forensics team as they finished gathering the evidence they'd found. She spotted the two suits on the other side of the grave and registered the name of one of them as the forensics team left the scene and headed for their van. It was only then that Diana approached the grave, trying not to stare too hard at the ragged hole in front of Catherine's headstone.

Definitely a job done in a hurry, dirt and grass flung all around the site as if Catherine's casket had somehow exploded underground. She peeked down into the hole and drew in a sharp breath. The hole that exposed the casket was small, way too small. Whoever had done this obviously hadn't taken the time to uncover the entire thing, choosing instead to make a hole just large enough to break through to the casket and pull the body out. A shiver ran down Diana's spine. Something very strange was going on here and she didn't like the images that were starting to flash through her head.

"Who the hell are you?" The gruff voice startled her and she looked up to find the detective she'd recognized moving toward her. When he saw her face he stopped short. "Oh, okay. Bennett, right? 210 Unit?"

"Yeah. How you doin,' Charlie?"

"I was doin' great till I got pulled outta bed for this crap. What are you doing here?"

"Caught the report on the database. Thought I'd come down and check it out."

Diana shuffled from one foot to the other, trying not to act too obvious as she scanned the cemetery for a certain dark, cloaked figure she was terrified would show up at any second. Charlie gave her a puzzled look. "What, you got a sudden interest in grave robbers?" Then his eyes went kind of funny and he pointed a finger at her. "Wait a minute. &Chandler. Weren't you on that case when she turned up dead?"

"Yeah."

"Well, looks like it might not be over yet. I gotta tell you, Bennett, I seen some strange stuff, but this is fuckin' weird."

Diana responded absently, "Yeah. The whole case was that way."

She thought she'd seen movement in a line of trees about a hundred feet from where she stood, but the light wasn't that great. Could just be her eyes playing tricks on her. Or it could be Vincent. Not about to take any chances, she turned around to Charlie and asked, "Do me a favor, will ya? Fax me the full report when you get it. Forensics and all."

"Sure, no problem. Hey! What's your big hurry?" he asked as she headed off in the direction of the treeline.

Diana swung back and flashed him a smile. "Hot date. Catch you around." She slowed her feet until Charlie's attention was caught by the patrolman, then sprinted the rest of the way. Her huncher had been right: she'd no more than reached the trees when a huge furred hand snaked out and pulled her into the darkness created by the heavy boughs of evergreens.

Vincent wasted no time. Still latched tightly onto her arm, he asked roughly, "What is it, Diana? What's happened?"

She looked up at Vincent and pulled her arm free. His hood was pulled up and the only visible part of his face were his eyes, wide and haunted. She shook her head, dazed and out of breath. "I don't know. Damned if I can figure it out." She shot a look back over her shoulder and grabbed his hand, trying to tug him in the opposite direction. "C'mon, we gotta get you outta here." But Vincent dug in his heels, rooted to the spot, and it was like trying to tow a tree. "Tell me," he demanded stubbornly.

"Okay, look. Something's happened here, and I don't know what's going on." Knowing there was no gentle way to tell him, she didn't try to soften the blow. He'd either handle it or he wouldn't. All she could do was say the words and try to convince him that this was absolutely not where he should be. "Somebody dug her up, Vincent; she's gone and I don't know why or how or where. All I know is that we've got to get the hell outta here. If anybody spots you, we'll have a bigger problem than we got now."

Vincent rocked back on his feet as though he'd been whacked upside the head with a baseball bat. "What....?"

"I said...she's gone. The body's gone." Diana repeated, and this time when she tugged, he came. She almost pulled him clear over onto his face, he was so limp with shock. "There's nothing we can do here, either of us. Come on back to the loft with me. I'll make some phone calls and try to figure out where to start. Let's go!"

Her fear must have finally ooched past his shock because Vincent nodded his head and followed her after one more quick glance over his shoulder at the place where Catherine had once rested.

"Who would have done such a thing?" he asked quietly. "And why?"

"You're guess is as good as mine. But I promise we'll find out. You've got my word, Vincent."

As the logical side of her brain was putting together what little she had in the way of facts, the other side of her brain, the one that had seen and imagined unexplainable things, was screaming out a warning she couldn't yet understand. All Diana knew was that she was frightened in a way she hadn't ever been before.

----------

Catherine stalked angrily away from the ruined grave, brushing with disgust at the filth that dropped in clumps and clods off her dress, from her hair. Behind her, she could hear Gabriel's manic laughter. "This can't be real. Can't be happening," she thought with confused rage and fear. "Things like this don't happen in real life. I'm certain of it." She stopped and closed her eyes, counted to ten and willed herself to wake. Maybe it was &all a dream, the months in Gabriel's care, her pregnancy, the loss of the bond....yes...that was it. It was all a dream. She opened her eyes to darkness, to shadowed trees, mist and the night...and the company of cold gravestones. Suddenly, a vise of pain clamped around her, bending her body double and throwing her to her knees. "Nooo!" she screamed, clawing at the damp grass, writhing in agony. Worse than the labor she remembered, she knew she couldn't bear it. "VINCENT!!!" she screamed. "Where ARE you?"

She felt strong arms around her, lifting her from the ground and thought with a momentary flash of gratitude, peace and immense love that Vincent had finally come. The nightmare would be over. But the pain struck again and she had no breath to cry out. A masculine voice she didn't recognize told her, "Hold on. It won't last long." A hand brushed at her hair, caressed her face, and Catherine felt a tug...an intense pull--like someone had stretched a rubber band and suddenly released it--pulling her toward this man. In agony, she tilted her head up to look up through her matted hair, knowing somehow before she saw him who it was: the white-haired monster who'd fed her on his own blood, relieving that immense, ravening hunger. The pain came again and she retched, blood pouring from her mouth, and the monster gently wiped it away with his shirt-tail.

"Damn Gabe," he whispered in a rough voice.

"You're entirely too sentimental, Snow." Recognition of the hated voice drifted through the haze of Catherine's pain.

"Get out of here, Gabe. You're pushin' your luck," the man holding her snarled. She could hear suppressed rage in his voice and allowed her bruised, battered and abused body to rest in his care, knowing instinctively that he'd protect her from Gabriel. The pain eased as she quit fighting it.

Gabriel laughed again and Catherine's fury returned at the sound, remembering her months of misery...and the theft of her child...but strong arms tightened, holding her in an immovable band of steel. "Threatening me, Snow?" the mocking, cynical voice asked. "You should know better than that by now."

A growl rumbled through the man holding her...Catherine thought it was a growl, anyway, until she realized the man was laughing. "Someday you'll slip, Gabe. You've let other people kill FOR you for too long. You've lost the knack of REAL blood-thirst. You're too old to recognize fear anymore, and fear is what keeps you alive in the end."

There was a long, pregnant silence and Catherine's attention drifted as her pains came and went. Then, distantly, she heard Gabriel answer. "We'll see, my young friend. We'll see." Then he was gone. How Catherine knew, she wasn't sure, but there was an...emptiness...where he'd been.

The man holding Catherine lifted her to her feet and braced her as she regained her balance. The pains were gone, now, as though they'd never been and she felt...good. Strong. The man released her, turned and walked away from her. The moonlight glittered in his hair like diamond. "Come on, then," he told her, his voice tolerant...resigned.

Catherine paused for a long, indecisive moment as she felt the rubber-band effect of force drawing her to him. She stared around the graveyard and realized she could see with an unearthly clarity, hear the distant sounds of the city as if she were in the midst of a party. Panicked, not knowing what to do, how to handle all the changes she sensed in herself, she lurched forward after him, slowly at first, then faster until she paced beside him. "What the hell's the matter with me?" she asked him. "What happened?"

"You're a vampire. Shut up and let me think."


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