. . . As she hurried by, quick hands snatched her into the darkness with a suddenness and violence that left her gasping. Someone pinned her against his chest, his arm clamped tight across her throat. Another man came toward her, breathing hard, hissing breaths as he fended off her frantic kicks. Something flashed from his upraised fist: a blade, keen and pale.
She twisted in her captor's grip with the convulsive strength of panic. The knife whipped harmlessly past her face, but hard fingers dragged her head back by the hair, immobilizing her.
The man behind her snarled at the one with the knife, "Take it easy, you want to cut my damn ear off?"
"Hurry up, somebody's coming!" With incredulous horror Jess saw the glint of silver eyebrow rings as the lookout at the mouth of the alley turned toward them. It was the girlfriend of the two leather boys, who held Jess trapped between the blind walls where no one could see or hear what was happening.
Jess kicked out with all her might, snapping her knee up into the body of the boy with the knife. He swiveled, blocking the blow with his hip, and his knife swept up again at her face. Flooded with fear too strong for thought, she writhed and strained to turn away despite the agony of her hair in the other man's fist.
Then impossible things happened, one right after the other. Close in front of her staring eyes, the hand that held the weapon seemed to explode open, fingers splayed wide. She heard a guttural cry of pain, and the blade flew away and hit cement with a faint ringing sound.
Her captor grunted and shoved her forward to stumble away from him. She fell against the opposite wall and turned, breathless and stupid with shock.
A figure dense as ink stood holding someone overhead at the full stretch of his arms, gripping him at belt and collar. The suspended punk, frantically threshing his arms and legs, uttered a gargling wail as he was swung through the air and released as if from a catapult. Out of sight in the darkness, he landed with a crashing impact.
Jess gasped, excited and terrified, her body tingling and her mind wide and uncritical like a child's. She knew Ivo von Craggen by the sweep of his thick hair and the swaggering swirl of his coat skirts as he backed a step and swung one foot forward. There was a terrible, ripe sound of impact and a shriek from the figure sprawled on the floor of the alley. Von Craggen stooped over him, destructive energy evident in every line of his body.
Jess found her voice. "The lookout's gone. She'll bring people."
He glanced at her, a flash of tigerish teeth and eyes, and then bent low over the writhing punk. All doubt of his true nature vanished. Was he going to feed right in front of her? She clutched at the bricks behind her for support.
But he only slapped the face of the leather boy with wide, hard swing of his hand: "Who sent you against this lady? Tell me now, or I rip the face off your skull."
Jess heard a whimpering reply, a plea, sobs.
"The name," Craggen snarled. "Quick!"
Faint, quavering sibilants came, words Jess could not make out. She felt dizzy and sick and ready to fall: No, not now -- yes, going to faint, she thought distantly, feeling disappointed in herself.
Someone must have caught her, someone held her up. Shock, she thought, not sure where she was. But she knew this block. She was walking, half carried by a companion, toward her own building. The vampire — what else but a supernatural
monster could have taken on and beaten three assailants, at least one amed with a knife? — the vampire von Craggen knew where she lived.
Sensations washed over her in rapid succession: headlights passing, a dog barking somewhere, hands seizing her purse and rummaging impatiently through it, the stale warm smell of the foyer, the steep, steep stairs. She thought the stairs would never end.
He bent beside her, fumbling at the apartment door.
"Let me." She took the keys from his hand that was smeared, she saw, with dark blood.
She unlocked and opened the door, but could do nothing further — her legs would not obey her. Not pausing to turn on the light, he picked her up and carried her, held tightly to his chest, over to the big chair by the living room windows. He groaned a little, lowering her onto the seat, and moved away.
"Ivo? What happened?"
"One of your colleague hired those savages to drive you away because his little tricks at the theater didn't work."
She shivered violently. "Jesus! They came at me with a knife!"
"It was a straight razor."
She gasped involuntarily and cried, "They tried to cut my face!"
"Who would do that?" She punched the arm of the chair in impotent rage. "I don't know people who would do a thing like that, I don't work with people like that!"
A creaking sound came as he moved, shifting his weight on the couch across from her.
"What time is it?" she said.
"Late," he murmured. "The bitch-thug has of course not gone to the police. She is too busy saving herself, no doubt, so I think we are secure here for now. Jessamyn, she hurt me. I must lie down awhile."
"Hurt you?" She squinted woozily, seeing more than she had before now that her eyes were used to the scant illumination from the street outside. "How could she hurt you?"
A beat of silence, two beats. "She had an ice pick."