“What price?” Connor’s face darkened. “What have you promised on Sarah’s behalf?”

“Nothing. She doesn’t need to do anything. The Shields will offer her the opportunity to be educated by them.”

“Aah…” I threw up my hands. “What do you want from me, Connor? You want Selene dead? Well, it doesn’t come easy and it certainly doesn’t come cheap. We’ve lost Nina already. She couldn’t handle this life because we are such disgusting creatures. How long before someone else succumbs and decides they can’t handle that life? If we kill Selene, there won’t be another vampire suicide, at least not on our hands.”

“You promised Sarah to the Shields? Holy hell.” Connor got up as well and headed towards the door, leaving me alone in the theater.

It had been quite a while since I got smashed in the middle of the day. But today, I didn’t really care.

What I didn’t expect was Amy to be waiting in my office.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, slamming through the door and jiggling open my desk drawer.

I knew she didn’t like it when I drank, especially in the middle of the day, so I made sure to take a long swallow before meeting her eyes again. She didn’t even blink and I sat, letting the warmth of the booze flow through me.

“I came to tell you that I’m withdrawing from school after the show,” she replied. “My contract with Ranger has been extended.”

“Fine. You don’t know where the forms are or something?” I took another swallow.

“I just thought you’d like to know,” she replied.

“And I suppose you’d like to know if you can extend your benefits,” I snapped at her.

“Amy, after a year, do you think I’m stupid or something?”

She looked taken aback and I knew I had hit a nerve. Amy never used to keep secrets from me.

“Tell me what’s going on,” I urged, and she bit her lip, clearly struggling with it. Finally, I saw her face soften.

My heart plummeted to the ground. Of course, I knew what it meant. And it confirmed my suspicions.

“You mean, how long if I managed to survive without a vampire trying to kill me at every turn? I don’t know, a few years. It doesn’t matter, Liam.”

My jaw dropped. “What do you mean it doesn’t matter? Of course it matters!”

“Liam.” She glared at me. “I don’t know where the forms are. Show me so I can get out.”

“You aren’t thinking about giving up, are you?” I asked sharply. The look on her face caught me off guard and I almost leapt over the desk to grab her. “Amy! Answer me!”

“Because… are you serious? You can’t be considering this!”

“Liam!” Now it was her turn to snap at me. “I found out less than 24 hours ago what was happening. And until then, I lived in some deluded fantasy that it would never happen and everything was going to be alright. Now my whole life has changed. Can you give me some time to think without smothering me for once?”

“You think I smothered you?” This was news to me.

Amy and I always talked about how we didn’t get to spend enough time together. But now, here she was talking about wanting more time apart.

“Forget about it.” She moved fast and was out of my office before I could catch up to her.

I sank into my chair, burying my head in my hands. If I had thought things were desperate before, I clearly had no idea what I was talking about.

My phone rang and I glanced at it, not intending to answer it. But when I saw it was Thomas’s ID, I picked up with a sigh.

“The vampire Isabelle is dead,” he stated, as if we had been talking all this time.

I sat up straighter, closing my eyes. I had known that this was likely, but hearing the words was a huge blow.

“You knew we would, Liam. Our truce only has to do with Selene.”

“I know.” I leaned back in my chair. “It’s just that Isabelle was 5 centuries old and now I have to explain this to her ex-husband.”

“Who nearly compromised another Shield in this situation,” Thomas reminded me. “This is already drawing dangerously close to the line. The others are restless. If Selene is not killed, I’m not sure I can stop an out-and-out war.’’

I seemed to be able to come up with nothing but those two words. I knew that disaster was weighing heavily on us, and yet there was nothing I could do it about. I had an ex-girlfriend who was about to drop dead, a ghost in my theater, and I was apparently the ringleader of a supernatural war and the headmaster to hundreds of kids. Five years ago, I couldn’t even keep track of my own car keys, and now all of this was on my shoulders.

“You should know that you are not the only one disapproving,” I said. “The elders visited me and told me off for telling humans about my existence.”

“At least someone keeps order within the vampires,” Thomas replied. “I understand you lost one of your own.”

“We did.” I was surprised by his sympathy.

“My condolences, we’ve been through it,” he said softly. “And we wish to never go through it again.”

“Thomas…” My voice caught in my throat. “Porsche was…”

“Don’t,” he cut me off. “Just don’t, Liam. We have tried every way we can to not soil her memory. But there’s nothing I can do to fix who her friends were.”

I swallowed hard and tried to change the subject.

“Can you Shields do anything about ghosts?”

“Ghosts. I think I have a ghost in my theater. Any chance you can help me out?”

“It depends. If the ghost is a residual energy from the other side, then we cannot do anything. But if it’s a soul, trapped there, then we have the same effect on it as we do on other supernatural creatures. Ghosts are powerful creatures with a lot of knowledge, because they see and hear things others do not. If you have a ghost, it might be able to assist you.”

I nearly dropped the phone in surprise. “You can make it human?”

“If it’s a soul trapped in this world, then we can make it more solid, yes. We can’t make it human, Liam, because we can’t raise the dead. If we could…”

“Can Sarah do it?” I asked quickly, my heart pounding. “Would she be strong enough to do it?”

“Doubtful. Those Shields were always weak, while De Ritter Shields leave residual energy after they die, they are so powerful,” Thomas almost boaster. “Who’s the ghost?”

“Amy’s mother,” I blurted out. “At least… we think it is.”

“Ah.” There was silence and then I heard Thomas sigh. “Your O’Malley Shield wouldn’t be strong enough, no. But if I have your word of honor, I’ll send you the Cameron’s active Shield, Larissa. But if anything happens to her, Liam, so much as a scratch…”

“It’ll be to your disadvantage as much as ours, for your allies will be weakened. She’ll be by your office in the morning.”

“Thank you,” I said hurriedly, and we said our goodbyes.

I hung up the phone and left my office door open as I bolted down the hallway, phone to my ear, with Amy’s number ringing.

Hi, you’ve reached Amy. I’m unable to come to the phone right now…

Of course you are, I thought bitterly. She probably saw my caller ID and threw her phone against the wall. Annoyed, I rounded the corner to the cafeteria and found Sarah, who had recently rejoined the world of the living, first by piling her plate high with cafeteria food.

She raised an eyebrow, giving me a look of annoyance. “After I eat.”

“Can’t wait.” I was practically hopping from one foot to the other.

Annoyed, Sarah left her full plate and followed me to the theater.

“Everyone out!” I called to the dance rehearsal that was happening in there.

They gave me a startled look, but I was in no mood for games as I waved them out and promised them extra rehearsal time later. Once they were gone, I dimmed the lights.

“What the hell is happening?” Sarah asked, her arms crossed. “Because Amy’s not talking to you right now, so I’m not supposed to either.”

“If Amy jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” I asked, pulling her to the spot where Porsche had died.

I remembered Thomas’s boast echoing in my head. De Ritter Shields are so powerful they leave residual energy, even after they die. If residual energy worked the way I hoped it did, then Sarah could combine whatever power she had with whatever Porsche had left me. And knowing my ballerina, if she had any control over it, she would make it work.

I turned off the last bank of lights, making sure Sarah was standing in the right spot.

“On… whatever it is Shields do to make themselves more powerful. I don’t know, Porsche never did anything.”

“And I don’t know how to do anything!” she protested.

I hushed her and looked around, checking out every corner of the rafters, every fold in the curtain.

For a while, nothing happened. And then, slowly, I felt the theater go colder.

It started around my feet, a white mist swirling, almost as if someone had turned on our fog machine. It crawled up my ankles, and then disappeared. I glanced at Sarah.