Relentless, p.10
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       Relentless, p.10
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         Part #1 of Relentless series by Karen Lynch

  Chapter 8

  GINO’S WAS A small family-owned pizza place two blocks from school that used to be popular with the kids before they rebuilt the food court and added a cinema at the mall. Now most of its customers were young couples and small families. Papa Gino, as everyone called him, made the sauce and crust himself, and this place was practically an institution in town. You couldn’t pay me to give up Gino’s for any of the large pizza chains.

  I ate my slice of pepperoni pizza and watched the door from my booth. After five more minutes, I glanced at my watch. Is that man ever on time?

  A minute later, the door opened and Malloy slunk in. He went to the counter and bought a slice of pizza and a beer before dropping into the seat across from me.

  “Hello, kid.”

  “Malloy.”

  He took a swig of beer. “Ah, that’s good after a busy day.” Then he picked up his slice of pizza and bit into it.

  I tapped a finger on the table. “Busy getting to the bottom of certain things I hope.”

  He sighed and laid down his pizza. “You won’t even let a man have a bite, will you?” he complained, wiping his mouth with a paper napkin. “For your information, I’ve been on this ever since I got your email. You’re not the only one with something to lose here.”

  It was good to know he was taking this seriously. “So do we have anything to worry about?”

  Malloy shook his head. “Don’t think so. I got an acquaintance – a computer guy – who did some tracking or tracing or whatever he called it on that account that posted the message. He says it came from a high school in New Jersey, and he thinks it’s just a kid messing around.”

  I let out the breath I was holding. “You’re sure?”

  “I am. Listen, kid, I take my business very serious. Even if someone was nosing around for real, they couldn’t trace it back to me. I hardly ever do business from this podunk little town for one, and I got some protections in place. That’s all you need to know.”

  I took a sip of soda, ignoring his insult to my town. “You deal with me here.”

  “I make exceptions,” he replied with his mousy little smile. “I can’t have my top suppliers showing up at my place in the city where the competition can see them.”

  Was that what I was – a top supplier? I guessed it made sense considering what I’d sold him a few weeks ago. That explained why Malloy had agreed to meet me in person today. He’d said he could let me know what he found out by phone, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I’d wanted to see his face to make sure he was being honest with me.

  “That’s good to hear,” I said in a calm voice that belied the storm of emotions inside me. I had been a bundle of nerves ever since I saw that posting last night.

  Malloy took another bite of pizza and washed it down with a gulp of beer. He leaned across the table toward me. “Since I’m here, I wanted to ask if you think you’ll be needing my services again anytime soon. With your currency, I can get you anything you want.”

  I crumpled my napkin and threw it on top of my leftover pizza. “Probably not for a while. I’m kinda broke right now.”

  “Ah.” He winked at me. “Well, if you come into more money, let me know.”

  “You’ll be the first to know.” The truth was this whole thing had scared the crap out of me and made me remember that this was not a game. It was a false alarm this time, but next time we might not be so lucky. I had to tell Remy we couldn’t use bile again. It was just too dangerous.

  Malloy finished his pizza. “You know this place ain’t so bad. I’ll have to remember it next time I’m in town.” He guzzled the last of his beer and stood. “See ya around, kid.”

  “Sara?”

  I almost jumped out of my seat at Roland’s voice behind me. Cringing inwardly, I turned to look at him and noticed how his eyes swept suspiciously over Malloy. The last thing I needed was for my friends to find out about my illicit dealings. That would open up a whole other can of worms that I was not ready to deal with yet.

  “Hey,” I said, scrambling for an explanation about why I was eating with a strange man almost old enough to be my father.

  Roland stepped closer. “Is this guy bothering you?”

  I laughed, hoping I didn’t sound as guilty as I felt. “Roland, this is Tom Malloy. He’s… Greg’s uncle.”

  “Greg’s uncle? The biker uncle?” Roland’s expression was dubious with good reason. I looked like more of a biker than Malloy.

  Malloy laughed and waved his hands up and down his short frame. “Only bike I can fit on is one of them scooters, and that don’t seem too manly, if you know what I mean.” He adjusted his coat and tucked his hands in his front pockets. “Better be off. The missus is probably wondering where I am.”

  Roland frowned as I stood up. “I don’t like the looks of him. He looks like a drug dealer or something. What did he want?”

  “He didn’t want anything. He just stopped to chat.”

  “What are you doing here by yourself anyway?”

  I shrugged. “Craving some Gino’s.” That part was true anyway. “You, too?”

  Roland grinned and held up a large pizza box. “Dinner. Mom’s on night shift.” Judith was a nurse over at St. Anne’s nursing home, and her shifts rotated every two days. Not that Roland needed an excuse to eat pizza.

  “Come on. I’ll give you a ride home.”

  Walking to his truck, my eyes fell on a blond man sitting alone at a table outside the coffee shop across the street. Our eyes met briefly before he looked away, and I had the strangest feeling I knew him from somewhere. Doubtful. Even from here I could tell he was hot, and I would not forget someone that gorgeous…

  “No way!”

  “What’s wrong?” Roland asked, but I was already crossing the street, striding toward the blond man who watched with mild interest as I approached.

  “I thought I made it clear that I didn’t want anything to do with you people.”

  He peered up at me with the most striking bottle-green eyes I’d ever seen. “Excuse me?”

  “Please don’t insult my intelligence,” I scoffed at his innocent smile. “Chris, right?” His face barely betrayed his surprise. I’d only seen him for less than a minute that night at the Attic, but I have a good memory. And who would forget a face like his?

  “Where is he?” I scanned the street. “Obviously, I wasn’t clear enough, and we need to get a few things straight.”

  “Sara, who is this?” Roland asked from behind me.

  “Probably one of my long lost cousins or something,” I said hotly, my eyes never leaving the blond Mohiri. I saw the blond’s lip curl slightly and heard Roland’s sharp intake of breath, but I had bigger things to deal with than some ancient feud between werewolves and Mohiri.

  “Miss Grey, there is no need to – ”

  “Don’t ‘Miss Grey’ me. Is he even here, or did he send you to spy on me?” I crossed my arms and glared down at him. He probably didn’t deserve my ire, but the person I was really mad at wasn’t here to yell at. I’d just made it through one of the worst weeks of my life, and things were finally starting to look up again. No way was I letting these people come back and ruin things for me.

  Chris smiled at me, showing two ridiculously cute dimples, and a few feet away a waitress dropped an empty cup she had cleared from a table. Blushing, she muttered an apology and hurried inside.

  I scowled at him, refusing to be swayed by his charm.

  “I see,” he murmured, nodding slightly as if he had just solved a puzzle.

  “See what?”

  Ignoring my question, he pulled out a cell phone, hit a number, and held the phone out to me. I hesitated for a few seconds, then took the phone and put it to my ear.

  “What’s up, Chris?” said a familiar deep voice on the other end.

  “Good question,” I responded tersely.

  “I told Chris you’d recognize him if he got too close.” Was that amusement in his tone?

  “
Great. You won the bet. Buy him a beer or whatever.” I glanced at Chris, saw that he looked amused now, too, and grew even more agitated. “I thought we had an understanding when you left here last week.”

  “And what understanding would that be?”

  I gritted my teeth. “The one where you go your way and I go mine and we all live happily ever after.”

  “I don’t recall that particular arrangement,” he replied in his infuriatingly easy manner. “I believe I told you I’d be seeing you again.”

  I opened my mouth, but words would not come out. People say “I’ll be seeing you” all the time when they say good-bye. It doesn’t mean anything. It certainly doesn’t mean they will send their friends to stalk you.

  “Sara?”

  “What do you want from me, Nikolas? I told you I just want to be left alone.”

  There was a brief silence then a quiet sigh on the other end. “We got word of increased activity in Portland, and we have reason to believe the vampire might be searching for you.”

  It felt like an icy breath touched the back of my neck. Eli’s face flashed through my mind, and my knees wobbled.

  Roland stepped closer to me. “What’s wrong, Sara? What is he saying to you?”

  I smiled weakly at Roland and put up a hand to let him know I’d fill him in when I got off the phone. “I don’t know anyone in Portland, so there’s no way he can trace me here, right?”

  “There’s more than one way to track someone.” Nikolas’s voice hardened. “Don’t worry. We’ll keep you safe. Chris will stay close by until we handle this situation.”

  Great, I was the “situation” again. “I don’t need a babysitter. I’m not a child.”

  “No you’re not,” he replied gruffly, and warmth unfurled in my stomach. “But you are not a warrior either. It is our duty to protect you even if you don’t want our protection.”

  I felt like stomping my feet like a two-year-old. Didn’t I get any choice in this? My eyes fell on Chris as I spoke. “How close is he planning to stay? He’s kind of conspicuous, and I can’t have my uncle or anyone else asking questions.”

  Chris peered in confusion at his form-fitting blue jeans and black sweater as Nikolas said, “Conspicuous?”

  I looked heavenward. “If you guys wanted to blend in, you shouldn’t have sent Dimples here. The way some of the women are staring at him, I might end up having to protect him instead.”

  There was a cough on the other end, and Nikolas sounded like he was grinning when he said, “Ah, I’m sure Chris can take care of himself. He’ll be in town in case we suspect any trouble is coming that way.”

  “Fine,” I relented unhappily. “But as soon as this is cleared up you guys have to go so I can try to have a somewhat normal life again.”

  I didn’t wait for his response before I shoved the phone at Chris. I turned to Roland. “Let’s go. I’ll explain it to you on the way.”

  Once we were in the truck, I told him what Nikolas had said. Roland’s face grew grim when I said that Nikolas was afraid Eli was trying to track me.

  “He would have to be the stupidest vamp alive to come into this area,” Roland stated confidently. “This is werewolf territory, and vamps don’t mess with us if they can avoid it, especially on our home turf. I’m surprised they’re still in Portland with all the patrols we have out there now.”

  “So you think Nikolas is overreacting?”

  “According to Maxwell, the Mohiri are very thorough and they like to take care of things themselves. They won’t sit back and take our word that this area is safe.”

  “Well, I don’t want them hanging around.” I groaned in a bout of self-pity. “I’m trying to move past all this.”

  Roland pulled the truck in behind Nate’s car. “Just ignore them,” he said as I opened my door. “Besides what harm can it do to let them poke around for a few days?”

  “Easy for you to say. You’re not the one on a leash.”

  “Yeah, that’s no fun, believe me.” He made a howling sound, and we both burst out laughing. I was still wiping my eyes when I got out and walked around to his side of the truck.

  “Hey, let’s do something on Saturday,” he said. “Let’s go out and have some fun and forget about all of this.”

  “Okay, but no vampires this time.”

  “We won’t even leave town.” He put the truck in reverse. “I’ll see what’s happening on Saturday and let you know. Smile. It’ll be a blast.”

 
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