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After the battle, Duncan had shared his blood with Ramsey. She had still been a mortal then and he had just finished congratulating her because, when all was said and done, it had been Marisa who destroyed Khira. I'll dispose of all this carrion, trust me. But Grigori needs to feed, too. You have no idea what it cost him to hold Khira at bay until I could He had picked up a vial of holy water as he moved toward the couch. Ramsey had opened his eyes as Duncan approached. In spite of all they had shared, in spite of the years they had hunted together, it made Duncan a little sad to realize that there would always be that little part of himself that no longer trusted his best friend.

A few weeks after they had dispatched Khira, Edward and Kelly had approached him. Duncan had listened to their plan with wry amusement. Incredible as it seemed, Edward had decided to open a school to train vampire hunters and he wanted Duncan to be in charge.

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Duncan had given it some serious consideration but, in the end, he had turned the offer down. He had helped Edward find another hunter, one who had been thinking about retiring from the hunt. Randolph had told Duncan that when he tired of the hunt, he would be welcome at the school.

With a sigh, Duncan went back to the hotel and packed his gear, then checked out of the hotel. Opening the trunk, he took a quick inventory of his kit: hammer and stakes, a mirror, a few strings of garlic, a half a dozen bottles of holy water, a saw and a crow bar, a flashlight, and a snub-nosed. Closing the trunk, he unlocked the door of his beat up old Chevy Camaro and slid behind the wheel. The bad guy, or bad gal in this case, had been defeated and destroyed.

Good had once again triumphed over evil. It was time to move on. Chapter 2 Pear Blossom Creek was just a small mid-western town, hardly more than a wide spot in the road. No one famous had ever been born there, or even spent the night.

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They had one fire truck and four policemen, two for the day shift and two who worked nights. Most of the residents were farmers, and everybody in town knew everybody else. It was a place where nothing out of the ordinary ever happened. Nothing, that is, until the stranger came to town. He arrived on a dark and decidedly stormy Friday night in early October. The storm was a real gully washer, the old-times were quick to say, the likes of which hadn't been seen in more than a hundred years.

A bad omen, some predicted. Victoria Lynn Cavendish didn't put much stock in anything the over-seventy-five crowd had to say but she had to admit that in all her twenty-two years, she had never seen or heard a storm like the one pounding on the hammered tin roof of Ozzie's Diner. Nor had she ever seen a man quite like the one sitting at the booth in the far corner, she thought as she approached him. He was dark, he was, and it wasn't just his clothing or his coloring. It was like he was a part of the darkness itself, a feeling that was reinforced when she looked into his eyes.

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Deep blue eyes that seemed as fathomless as Hellfire Hollow, as endless as eternity. His hair was long and straight and black as a raven's wing, the perfect complement to his straight black brows and long, thick eye lashes that would have looked feminine on any other man. But not on this man. His countenance was darkly beautiful and without blemish, in the way that Satan might appear beautiful as he carefully seduced you down the paths of sin.

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Looking at the stranger, she thought it might be worth the journey, perilous though it would undoubtedly be to both body and soul. He remained unmoving under her perusal, a knowing smile curving his perfectly sculpted, sensuous lips. With an effort, Vicki drew her gaze from his.

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As if he alone possessed the power to grant her every wish, fulfill her every desire. She shook off her fanciful notions. Shall I call it a crime to have wished for the safety of that order? By its own decrees concerning myself it has established that this is a crime. Though want of foresight often deceives itself, it cannot alter t he merits of facts, and, in obedience to the Senate's command, I cannot think it right to hide the truth or to assent to falsehood.

I think it unnecessary to speak of the forged letters through which I am accused of " hoping for the freedom of Rome. No liberty is left to hope for. Wou ld there were any!

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Evil de sires are, it may be, due to our natural failings, but that the conceptions of any wicked mind should prevail against innocence while God watches over us, seems to me unnatural. Wherefore not without cause has one of your own followers asked, " If Go d is, whence come evil things? If He is not, whence come good? When King Theodoric, desiring the common ruin of the Senate, was for extending to the whole order the charge of treason laid against Albinus, you remember how I laboured to defend the innocence of the order without any care for my own danger?

You know that I declare this truthfully and with no boasting praise of self. Page 15 For the secret value of a conscience, that a pproves its own action, is lessened somewhat each time that it receives the reward of fame by displaying its deeds. But you see what end has fallen upon my innocency. In the place of the rewards of honest virtue, I am suffering the punishments of an ill deed that was not mine. And did ever any direct confession of a crime find its judges so well agreed upon exercising harshness, that neither the liability of the human heart to err, nor the changeableness of the fortune of all mankind, could yie ld one dissentient voice?

If it had been said that I had wished to burn down temples, to murder with sacrilegious sword their priests, that I had planned the massacre of all good citizens, even so I should have been present to plead guilty or to be convicted, before the sentence was executed. But here am I, nearly five hundred-miles away, without the opportunity of defending myself, condemned to death and the confiscation of my property because of my tao great zeal for the Senate. Even those who laid information have seen the honour of this accusation, for, that they might blacken it with some criminal ingredient, they had need to lie, saying tha t I had violated my conscience by using unholy means to obtain offices corruptly.

But you, by being planted within me, dispelled from the chamber of my soul all craving for that which perishes, and Page 16 where your eye s were looking there could be no place for any such sacrilege. For you instilled into my ears, and thus into my daily thoughts, that saying of Pythagoras, " Follow after God.

Yet, further, the innocent life within my home, my gathering of most honourable friends, my father-in-law Symmachus, l a man esteemed no less in his publ ic life than for his private conscientiousness, these all put far from me all suspicion of this crime.

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  8. But -- O the shame of it! Thus it is not enough that my deep respect for you has profited me nothing, but you yourself have received wanton contumely from the ha tred that had rather fallen on me. Yet besides this, is another load added to my heap of woes: the judgment of the world looks not to the deserts of the case, but to the evolution of chance, and holds that only this has been intended which good fortu ne may chance to foster: whence it comes that the good opinion of the world is the first to desert the unfortunate.

    It is wearisome to recall what were the tales by people told, or how little -- Symmachus was execu ted by Theodoric at the same time as Boethius. Page 17 their many various opinions agreed. This alone I would fain say: it is the last burden laid upon us by unkind fortune, that when any charge is invented to be f astened upon unhappy men, they are believed to have deserved all they have to bear. For kindness I have received persecutions; I have been driven from all my possessions, stripped of my honours, and stained for ever in my reputation.

    I think I see t he intoxication of joy in the sin-steeped dens of criminals: I see the most abandoned of men intent upon new and evil schemes of spying: I see honest men lying crushed with the fear which smites them after the result of my perilous case: wicked men o ne and all encouraged to dare every crime without fear of punishment, nay, with hope of rewards for the accomplishment thereof: the innocent I see robbed not merely of their peace and safety, but even of all chance of defending themselves.

    So then I may cry aloud: Cool rises the evening star at night's first drawing nigh: the same is the morn ing star who casts off the harness that she bore Page 18 before, and paling meets the rising sun. When winter's cold doth strip the trees, Thou settest a shorter span to day. And Thou, when summer comes to warm, dost ch ange the short divisions of the night. Thy power doth order the seasons of the year, so that the western breeze of spring brings back the leaves which winter's north wind tore away; so that the dog-star's heat makes ripe the ears of corn whose seed Arcturus watched.

    Naught breaks that ancient law: naught leaves undone the work appointed to its place. Thus all things Thou dost rule with limits fixed: the lives of men alone dost Thou scorn to restrain, as a guardian, within bounds. F or why does Fortune with her fickle hand deal out such changing lots?

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    The hurtful penalty is due to crime, but falls upon the sinless head: depraved men rest at ease on thrones aloft, and by their unjust lot can spurn beneath their hurtful heel the necks of vir tuous men. Beneath obscuring shadows lies bright virtue hid: the just man bears the unjust's infamy. They suffer not for forsworn oaths, they suffer not for crimes glozed over with their lies.

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    But when their will is to put forth their strength, with triumph they subdue the mightiest kings whom peoples in their thousands fear. O Thou who dost weave the bonds of Nature's self, look down upon this pitiable earth! Mankind is no base part of this great work, and we are tossed on Fortune's wave. Rest rain, our Guardian, the engulfing surge, and as Thou dost the unbounded Page 19 heaven rule, with a like bond make true and firm these lands.

    While I grieved thus in long-drawn pratings, Phi losophy looked on with a calm countenance, not one whit moved by my complaints Then said she,' When I saw you in grief and in tears I knew thereby that you were unhappy and in exile, but I knew not how distant was your exile until your speech declare d it. But you have not been driven so far from your home; you have wandered thence yourself: or if you would rather hold that you have been driven, you have been driven by yourself rather than by any other.

    No other could have done so to you.