Raven put her empty water bottle aside. “Who would be crazy enough to hunt you?”
“Two groups. This is the weaker one. Some of the weaker ones hunt for sport, but most do so in order to harvest blood.”
“Wealthy humans use it for healing purposes but also to combat aging. We’re difficult to kill, which makes our blood rare and very valuable. So valuable the hunters sometimes target ferals.”
“Is their blood similar?”
“Feral blood induces madness.”
Raven swallowed hard. “If someone thought she was taking vampyre blood but got feral blood instead, she’d go mad?”
“Whatever animates a feral is transmitted by the blood. The darkness migrates to whoever ingests it.” He looked over her shoulder briefly, as if he were considering something. “It’s similar to possession.”
Raven rubbed her temple as the ghost of a headache emerged. Clearly her body was having trouble processing these successive revelations.
If that feral had bitten me the other night, would I go mad?”
“If there’d been a transfer of blood in a suitable amount, yes.”
Raven closed her eyes, trying with all her might to keep a close rein on her emotions. Her heart thumped in her chest and she felt a cold clamminess pass over her skin.
William took her hand in his.
“Are you going to be sick?”
“I don’t know.”
“Luka, stop the car.”
Obediently, Luka slowed the car and pulled into an alley.
William turned, giving Raven his full attention.
“If you took a catechism class in your parish, then you know all about angels and demons and supernatural events.”
“I stopped believing that shit when I was twelve.”
Raven answered by leaning back against the headrest and breathing deeply, eyes still closed.
“If you believed in it once, you can believe in it again. Just add vampyres and ferals to the angels and demons.”
“Are you saying there are angels and demons?”
William moved closer to her. “Ferals kill; they don’t maim. If one attacked you, you’d be dead in seconds. After that, it would feed from you. Vampyres prefer their food alive.”
“Strangely, I don’t find that comforting.”
He pulled her into his side and lowered his voice.
“Take comfort in the knowledge that you are under the protection of the most powerful vampyre in the kingdom of Italy, with the exception of the Roman.”
Raven opened her eyes. “Who’s the Roman?”
“The Roman is the ruler of the principality of Rome. Since ancient times, the Roman was also considered to be the king of the principalities that now make up Italy.”
“He’s more powerful than you?”
Raven blew out a loud breath. “Where does your power come from?”
He tugged at a lock of her hair.
“Not so fast, Delilah. I’m not about to reveal all my secrets.”
“I didn’t know vampyres went to Sunday school.”
William’s smile faded.
“The less said on that subject the better. Not that my training protected me.”
Raven felt his anger. It seemed to seep out of his skin, filling the car. But it wasn’t directed at her.
“Lucia packed up your belongings at the villa and Ambrogio has transferred them to your flat. If anything was missed, tell him and he will deliver it to you.”
“The things at the villa aren’t mine. I arrived only with this.” She pointed to the knapsack that sat on the floor.
“The clothes were bought for you.”
“You didn’t need to do that.” Her cheeks pinked in embarrassment. “Some of them won’t fit.”
“Weight loss is an unfortunate side effect of ingesting vampyre blood. You’ll be back to your healthy weight soon enough.”
Raven’s mouth dropped open.
She was going to protest, or at least ask him to clarify what he’d said, but he’d already continued speaking.
“Ambrogio had to remove the relic from your flat before you returned.”
Raven’s attention shifted immediately.
“You took it back, remember? It was in my knapsack when Bruno was attacked.”
“I placed another in your flat the night I returned you.”
“I didn’t see it.”
“It was hidden under your bed. I had no intention of seeing you again. I left a relic to protect you.”
Raven gave him a searching look.
“That was very . . . good of you. Why are you taking it back?”
“The others will be curious about you. They’ll find your apartment. The relic must be gone by then. And I won’t be returning the one I gave you before.”
“You’re supposed to be my pet. Relics deter my kind.” He spoke abruptly.
“They don’t deter you.”
William gave her a look that was dangerous, if not cold, and she found herself inching away from him.
“You don’t need to worry about me telling tales.”
He glared his warning. “I hope for your sake that’s true.”
“A vampyre’s pet wouldn’t have relics because they would deter her vampyre.”
“What about Maximilian? He knew I had a relic in my knapsack. I’m sure of it.”
“Don’t worry about Max.” William’s voice was clipped.
“So your brethren don’t know that relics have no effect on you.” She looked at William with new eyes. “Why do you keep it secret? Don’t you want them to know how powerful you are?”
“Power is at its most powerful when it is concealed.” His face, like his tone, grew dark.
“Okay,” she whispered.
“Are you going to be sick?”
William turned his attention to the driver. “Luka, we can proceed.”
Silence filled the car as they crossed the Arno. William placed his palms on his knees, tapping his fingers against the wool.
Raven was seized with the impression he was anxious or impatient about something.
As they approached Piazza Santo Spirito and Raven’s apartment, he spoke.
“I promised to help the boy and I will do so until he recovers. I will also endeavor to ease the suffering of your neighbor.”