Prologue

When the world as we know it was created, it wasn't quite actually as we know it.

That's because so much was lost in the mists of time, and the collective memory of the human race often chooses what it will hold and what it will discard.But once the world held no skyscrapers, rockets did not go to the moon--in fact, the wheel had barely been invented, and families lived together and depended upon one another. The denizens of the world knew better the beauty of waterfalls, of hills and vales, sun and sunset, shadows--and magic.

In a time when the earth was young, giants roamed, gnomes grumbled about in the forests and many a creature--malignant, sadly, as well as benign--was known to exist. Human beings might not have liked these creatures, they might have feared them--for a predator is a predator--but they knew of their existence, and as man has always learned to deal with predators, so he did then. Conversely, there were the creatures he loved, cherished as friends and often turned to when alliances needed to be formed. Humankind learned to exist by guidelines and rules, and thus the world went on, day after day, and man survived. Now, all men were not good, nor were all men bad, and so it was also with the giants, leprechauns, dwarfs, ghosts, pixies, pookas, vampires and other such beings.

Man was above them all, by his nature, and he prospered through centuries and then millennia, and learned to send rockets to the moon--and use rockets of another kind against his fellow man.

When the earth was young, and there were those creatures considered to be of light and goodness, and others who were considered to be, shall we say, more destructive, there was among them a certain form of being who was human and yet not human. Or perhaps human, but with special powers. They were the Keepers, and it was their lot in life not only to enjoy the world as other beings did, but they were also charged with the duty of maintaining balance. When certain creatures got out of hand, the Keepers were to bring them back under control. Some, in various centuries, thought of them as witches or wiccans. But in certain centuries that was not a healthy identity to maintain. Besides, they were not exactly the witches of a Papal Bull or evil in the way the devil in Dante's Inferno, nor were they the gentle women of pagan times who learned to heal with herbs and a gentle touch.

They were themselves and themselves alone. The Keepers.

As time went by, anything that was not purely logical was no longer accepted, was relegated to superstition, except in distant, fog-shrouded hills or the realm of Celtic imagination, which was filled with Celtic spirits other than those of which we speak. But some of the beliefs of the past were not accepted even there. Man himself is, of course, a predator, but man learned to live by rules and logic, or destroy all the creatures upon which he might prey. Too late for some, for man did hunt certain creatures to extinction, and he sought to drive others to the same fate. But those other creatures learned a survival technique that served them well: hide. Hide in plain sight, if you will, but hide.

As human populations grew, as people learned to read, as electricity reigned, and the telephone and computer put the world in touch, the earth became entrenched in a place where there were things that were accepted and others that were not. Oh, it's true that the older generations in Ireland knew that the banshees still wailed at night. In Hungary and the Baltic states, men and women knew that the tales of wolfmen in the forests were more than stories for a scary night. And there were other such pockets of belief around the globe. But few men living in the logical and technological world believed in myths and legends, which was good, because man was ever fond of destroying that which he feared.

All creatures, great and small, wish to survive. We all know what humans are like--far too quick to hunt down, kill or make war on those they didn't fully understand. Many people are trying, as they have tried for centuries, to see the light, to put away their prejudices. But that's a long journey, longer than the world has lasted so far.

Even so, those who were not quite human found various special places of strange tolerance to live their lives quietly and normally, without anyone paying them too much attention. Places where everyone was accustomed to the bizarre and, frankly, walked right by it most of the time.

Places like New Orleans, Louisiana.

Since there were plenty of people already living there who thought they were, or claimed to be, vampires, it seemed an eminently logical place for a well-behaved and politically correct vampire society to thrive, as well.

As a result, that is where several Keepers, charged with maintaining the balance between the otherworldly, under-the-radar societies of beings who flocked there, came as the twenty-first century rolled along.

And thus it was that the MacDonald sisters lived there, working, partying--this was New Orleans, after all--and, of course, keeping the balance of justice in a world that seldom collided with the world most people thought of as real, as the only world. Seldom.

But not never.

There were exceptions.

Such as the September morning when Detective Jagger DeFarge got the call to come to the cemetery.

And there, stretched out on top of a tomb in the long defunct Grigsby family mausoleum, was the woman in white. Porcelain and beautiful, if it hadn't been for the delicate silk and gauze fabric that spread around her, she might have been a piece of funerary art, a statue, frozen in marble.

Because she, too, was white, as white as her dress, as white as the marble, because every last drop of blood had been drained from her body.

Chapter 1

"Sweet Jesus!" Detective Tony Miro said, crossing himself as he stared at the corpse.

The cemetery itself had already been closed off, yellow crime tape surrounding the area around the mausoleum. Jagger DeFarge had been assigned as lead detective on the case, and he knew he should have been complimented, but in reality he just felt weary--and deeply concerned.Beyond the concern one felt over any victim of murder or violent crime.

This was far worse. This threatened a rising body count to come.

Gus Parissi, a young uniformed cop, stuck his head inside the mausoleum. The light was muted, streaks of sunlight that filtered in through the ironwork filigree at the top end of the little house within the "city of the dead."

Gus stared at the dead woman.

"Sweet Jesus," he echoed, and also crossed himself.Jagger winced, looking away for a moment, waiting. He wanted to be alone with the victim, but he had a partner. Being alone wasn't going to be easy."Thank you, Parissi," Jagger said. "The crime-scene crew can have the place in ten minutes. Hey, Miro, go on out and see who's on the job today, will you?"Miro was still just staring."And get another interview with Tom Cooley, too. He's the guide who saw her and called it in, right?" Jagger asked."Uh--yeah, yeah," Tony said, closing his mouth at last, turning and following Gus out.Alone at last, my poor, poor dear, Jagger thought.The dust of the ages seemed to have settled within the burial chamber, on the floor, on the stone and concrete walls, on the plaques that identified the dead within the vault. In contrast, the young woman on the tomb was somehow especially beautiful and pristine, a vision in white, like an angel. Sighing, Jagger walked over to the body. To all appearances, she was sleeping like a heavenly being in her pure perfection.He pulled out his pocket flashlight to look for the bite marks that had to exist. He gently and carefully moved her hair, but there were no marks on her neck. He searched her thighs, then her arms, his eyes quick but thorough.At last he found what he sought. He doubted that the medical examiner--even with the most up-to-date technology available--would ever find the tiny pinpricks located in the crease at her elbow.He swore out loud just as Tony returned.His partner was a young cop. A good cop, and not a squeamish one. Most of the crimes taking place these days had to do with a sudden flare of temper and, as always, drugs. Tony had worked a homicide with him just outside the Quarter in which a kid the size of a pro linebacker had taken a shotgun blast in the face. Tony had been calm and professional throughout the grisly first inspection, then handled the player's mother with gentle care.Today, however, he seemed freaked."What?" Tony asked.Jagger shook his head. "No blood here at all, no signs of violence. No lividity, but she's still in rigor.... Is the M.E. here?"Tony nodded."Send him in," Jagger said. "Have you interviewed the guide yet?"Tony, staring at the body, shook his head. "One of the uniforms went to find him.""He can't have gone far. Stay out there until they find him and interview him. And anyone who was with him. Then meet me back at the station, and we'll get her picture out in the media. I want uniforms raking the neighborhood, the dumpsters, you name it, looking for a purse, clothing, anything they can find."Tony nodded and left.The M.E. the Coroner's Office had sent out that morning was Craig Dewey. Dewey looked like anything but the general conception of what a medical examiner should: he was tall, blond, about thirty-five. Basically, until they found out what he did for a living, most women considered him a heartthrob.Like the others, he paused in the door. But Dewey didn't stand there stunned and frozen as Tony and Gus had done. He did stare, but Jagger could see that his keen blue eyes were taking in the scene, top to bottom, before he approached the corpse. Finally that stare focused on the victim. He looked at her for a long while, then turned to Jagger."Well, here's one for the books," he said, his tone matter-of-fact. "On initial inspection, without even touching her, I'd say she's been entirely drained of blood." He looked around. "And it wasn't done here.""No. I'd say not," Jagger agreed with what appeared to be obvious."Such a pity, and so strange. Murder is never beautiful, and yet...she is beautiful," Dewey commented."Dewey, give me something that isn't in plain sight," Jagger said.Dewey went to work. He was efficient and methodical. He had his camera out, the flash going as he shot the body from every conceivable angle. Then he approached the woman, checked for liver temperature and shook his head. "She's still in rigor. Other than the fact that she's about bloodless, I have no idea what's going on here. I'll need to get her into the morgue to figure out how and why she died. I can't find anything to show how it might have happened. Odd, really odd. A body without blood wouldn't shock me--we seem to attract wackos to this city all the time--but I can't find so much as a pinprick to explain what happened. Hell, like I said, I've got to get her out of here to check further. Lord knows, enough people around here think they're vampires."