Relentless, p.15
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       Relentless, p.15

         Part #1 of Relentless series by Karen Lynch
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  Chapter 11

  THE SMELL OF coffee and bacon woke me the next morning. At first I was disoriented when I saw where I was, but the events of the night before soon came crashing back. I pushed back the quilt and got gingerly to my feet, aching all over but surprisingly well-rested considering the night I’d had.

  I looked down at the large leather jacket I wore. It smelled like Nikolas, and warmth suffused me when I remembered him wrapping me in it. The scent also conjured a hazy memory of him here in the room with me last night. Was that real, or had I dreamed it?

  “Oh, you’re up.” Judith walked into the living room and gave me an appraising look. “Well, you don’t look too bad, considering. How do you feel?”

  I winced. “Like I was attacked by a pack of giant mutant hyenas.”

  She laughed softly. “I’m glad you can joke about it. What a goings-on. I’m just relieved you three are okay, though I hear you got the worst of it.”

  “Yeah, lucky me.”

  “Here, let me have a look.” She came over and reached for Nikolas’s jacket, sliding it off me and laying it across the back of the couch. Then she helped me out of my own ravaged coat and inspected my arm.

  “I can hardly believe it. These scratches look at least a few weeks old.” She straightened and smiled at me. “Roland told us about your mother. I guess you inherited the Mohiri ability to heal.”

  Her remarks were so casual I had to know. “It doesn’t bother you – what I am?”

  “Of course not. Just because we don’t associate with the Mohiri doesn’t mean we think they are bad people. Some of the younger hotheads like to hold on to the old grudges, but they’ll grow out of it. In any case, your parentage doesn’t change who you are, just like finding out what we are didn’t change how you feel about us.”

  “Never.” I reached for my coat when an object on the coffee table caught my attention. It was the knife Nikolas had given me – or one just like it. I picked it up and ran my hands over the finely made sheath before I drew the knife and marveled over the small blade that had helped save my life. In the light of day, it was hard to believe all that had happened last night.

  Judith stepped back when I flashed the silver blade. “Oh, I’m so sorry.” I rushed to sheathe the knife. “I forgot that you guys can’t touch silver.”

  She waved dismissively. “Don’t worry about it. It burns, but we heal fast.”

  I tucked the knife into the pocket of the leather jacket. “I thought silver was deadly to werewolves.”

  “Only if the silver gets inside and we can’t get it out, which is where the whole silver bullet legend came from. It poisons us, and we can’t heal as long as it’s there.” She smiled. “Luckily, you don’t see many pure silver bullets.”

  “There’s still so much I don’t know.”

  “I think you’re doing pretty good.” She waved a hand at my clothes. “Now let’s get you cleaned up. I can’t believe Roland let you sleep on that couch and in your wet clothes.”

  I grimaced at my badly wrinkled jeans and shirt. I didn’t want to imagine what my hair must look like. I’d been so worn out last night that I didn’t even realize I was wearing wet clothes when I’d lain down.

  “My clothes are a bit big for you, but they’ll do while I wash yours. I left some things on my bed for you. Breakfast will be ready by the time you’re done.”

  I was suddenly ravenous, so I showered and changed as fast as I could. When I entered the kitchen, Judith was putting scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast on a plate. I sat at the table, and she laid the plate in front of me with a glass of orange juice. She disappeared for a minute, and I heard the washer start up. Then she came back and sat across from me with a mug of coffee. I dug in and polished off half my breakfast before I realized she was watching me with an amused expression.

  “I forgot how good your appetite is. When you kids were younger, I used to make extra whenever you stayed for dinner. You and Roland were quite the pair.”

  I smiled at her sheepishly. “Where is he by the way?”

  “He and Peter went with Max to show him where you were attacked. We’re all shocked that something like this could happen so close to us.”

  “Shocked” was a polite way to say it. Werewolves are very territorial, and other predators rarely cross their boundaries. Even having the Mohiri here last night had raised a few hackles, despite the fact that Nikolas and Chris had helped to fend off our attackers. A pack of crocotta hunting in werewolf territory was probably unheard of.

  “Did you guys find anything in Portland?”

  Judith’s smiled faded a little, and it looked like she was trying to decide how much to tell me. “We found no vampires, but there were signs that they were there for a week, maybe longer.”

  “By signs you mean the missing girls?” I suppressed a shudder. I was the same age as those girls, exactly Eli’s type.

  “You know about them?”

  I nodded. “It’s not hard to guess what happened to them.”

  Judith ran a finger along the rim of her mug. “You’re handling all of this amazingly well.”

  “I’m coping.” If you didn’t count the nightmares. Strange that I didn’t remember having one last night. I would have expected to wake up screaming about giant hyenas.

  “I’m not sure many girls your age could cope as well.”

  “To be fair, it’s not like I didn’t already know this world existed. I just never realized how sheltered I was here.” I made a face. “And most girls don’t have their own bodyguards following them around.”

  She watched me pensively over the top of her mug. “And how do you feel about your new relations?”

  I had to think about it before I answered. How did I feel? I was still coming to terms with the things I’d learned about myself. All my life I’d known that the dark thing in my head was bad and had to be repressed, but the idea that it was a demon still repulsed me. I had to keep telling myself that it did not change who I was. I didn’t know why that was so hard for me. When I looked at Nikolas and Chris I saw men, not demons. Good men, if I was honest. If I wasn’t so annoyed with them for following me everywhere, and if Nikolas would stop being so damn high-handed, I might actually like them. It didn’t help that Nikolas’s suspicions last night had been right on the mark and I would have been toast if he hadn’t shown up to save my life… again. Was it possible to resent someone and feel grateful to them at the same time?

  “Honestly, I have no idea what to think of them. If Nikolas had his way, I’d be having Thanksgiving with them… if they even celebrate Thanksgiving. They just seem so focused on hunting, like that’s all they do. I don’t think I could live like that.”

  Judith nodded in understanding. The werewolves were hunters too, but I’d spent enough time with them to know that they lived a normal life otherwise. Their families were close, and they had regular jobs like anyone else – a far cry from the warrior lifestyle of the Mohiri.

  “Judith, why do you think the vampires came to Portland in the first place with it being so close to you guys? Why would they risk it?”

  “Our best guess is they were searching for someone or something. Not you,” she added quickly. “I think you were just unlucky enough get their attention.”

  I pushed my eggs around with my fork. “Do you think… is it possible that my dad’s murder had anything to do with my mother being a Mohiri? I mean, vampires hate the Mohiri, right? Maybe one of them came looking for her and found my dad instead.”

  Judith’s hand went to her throat, and her expression told me I’d hit on something. “If you know anything, you have to tell me,” I begged her.

  “Sara, you need to leave this to Maxwell. I can see how you would want answers about your father’s death, but he wouldn’t want you getting hurt over this.”

  “I just want to know what you found. Please. I have a right to know.”

  She got up and poured herself another cup of coffee, then sat across from me again. “We
ve been in touch with some of our contacts around the country since Roland told us about your mother. The Mohiri are too closed off to tell us anything about her, but our network is very large and we did find some details. Not a whole lot but it’s only been a few days.”

  “We know that your mother spent a lot of time in California, Texas, and New Mexico after she left you and your father. Then a week before your father was killed, we believe she was in Portland for a very short time. We have no idea why she went back or if she even saw your father while she was there.”

  Judith didn’t say what both of us were thinking. It was too much of a coincidence that Madeline went back to Portland the same week that vampires showed up and killed her husband of all people. Madeline had led them to us – maybe not intentionally – but it was her fault they found us. First she abandoned us, and then she led those monsters right to our door.

  “Is she still alive?” I asked, almost spitting out the words.

  Judith hesitated then said, “Yes. We believe she is somewhere in South America now.”

  “My dad was murdered, and I might as well have been killed too for all she cared,” I said with so much bitterness that I didn’t recognize my own voice. “How could he have loved someone like her?”

  “I’m sure she must have had some good qualities. And as for your father, people will overlook a lot when they are in love.”

  “What kind of person does something like that?” I said almost to myself. “Are all the Mohiri that unfeeling?”

  Judith set down her cup. “I don’t know much about the Mohiri so I can’t speak for them, but don’t judge them all by the actions of one. I will tell you that the man who gave you his coat and stood guard over you all night can’t be all that bad. Maybe he’s not as friendly or easygoing as the people you’re used to, but he’s certainly not unfeeling either.”

  So I hadn’t dreamed it. Her revelation confused me even more. Nikolas was like two different people in one body: the cold, hard warrior and the kind protector. It was hard to know which one would appear when he showed up.

  “He feels responsible for me since he was the one who found me. I don’t think he even likes me because I don’t fall in line like a good little orphan.”

  “I see.”

  I got up and carried my dishes to the sink. “The Mohiri have this thing about orphans,” I explained as I rinsed my plate. “They find their orphans and raise them and train them to be warriors. Only I’m not like most orphans because I’m older. I can’t be persuaded to join the Mohiri like little kids can, and now Nikolas feels like he has to watch over me until he can get me off his hands. I don’t think he knows what to do with me.”

  Judith chuckled softly and came to rinse her cup. “I think you may be right about that.” She nudged me away from the sink. “I’ll clean up here. Go throw your clothes in the dryer.”

  I spent the rest of the morning helping Judith with housework, although she wouldn’t let me do anything too heavy because I was still recovering from the attack. There was something comforting about doing mundane chores after such a crazy night. Laundry and vacuuming have a way of grounding you when your life seems like it’s about to spin out of control.

  By the time Roland showed up for lunch, the house was spic and span and I was learning how to make chicken rice casserole, which Judith guaranteed Nate would love. It was the kind of thing I should have learned from my own mother, if she’d cared enough to stick around. I hoped Judith saw how much it meant to me, because as usual I couldn’t find the words to say it out loud.

  After lunch, Roland borrowed his mother’s car to make good on a promise he’d made to me. We drove down to the small Presbyterian Church in the Knolls, and he spent two hours teaching me to drive. Judith’s car was a stick, and it took me most of the lesson to get the hang of the gear stick and all the pedals. By the end of the lesson, I’d managed to drive once around the parking lot without stalling or popping the clutch.

  “Can’t I learn on an automatic?” I whined after the car jerked forward for the hundredth time.

  “Not if you want to learn anytime soon. Looks like the truck will be out of commission for a while – a long while.”

  I quit complaining after that. He had worked and saved for two years to buy that old thing, and now it was ruined because of me. When I tried to apologize, he dismissed it. Apparently, he and Peter were some kind of local heroes after last night, since few werewolves get the chance to tangle with a crocotta, especially a pack of them. I wasn’t sure if that honor was worth losing his wheels, but Roland seemed to think so.

  At three o’clock I decided I’d hidden out at Roland’s long enough. Judith put my casserole in a carrier, and I rolled up Nikolas’s jacket and stuck it in a plastic bag with my ruined coat so Nate would not see them. Roland drove me home in his mother’s car, and I couldn’t help but wonder more than once where Nikolas and Chris were today, if they were following us right now. After last night, I was torn about them hanging around. I definitely felt safer knowing they were nearby, but I couldn’t spend my life being followed and watched all the time. There were things in my life, secrets that I couldn’t share, and they would be hard to conceal if I was forever under surveillance. Hopefully, the vampires would give up soon and the Mohiri could leave and let things go back to normal. Judith told me that Maxwell had beefed up patrols in New Hastings today. The crocotta had struck too close to home, and the werewolves were worried about their own families. With the increased werewolf presence and the Mohiri warriors, New Hastings was probably safer right now than it had ever been.

  Nate was at his computer when I got home. I stopped in front of his office door and held up the carrier. “Judith taught me how to make a casserole,” I gushed like a kid who’d just learned to tie her shoelaces. “Chicken and rice.”

  “Really?” He eyed the carrier with anticipation. He didn’t say it, but I could tell he was happy – not because of Judith’s cooking, but because I was spending a lot more time with Roland and Peter. For once I agreed with him. Despite all the bad things that had happened in the last few weeks, I was happier than I’d felt in a long time.

  Dinner was nice. Nate had two helpings of casserole, and we were both more relaxed than we’d been in a while. That didn’t stop him from noticing that something was off with me. “Are you feeling okay? You look a bit pale.”

  “Just tired. We stayed up late last night, and I helped Judith around the house today.”

  “Cooking and housework?”

  “Hey, I do housework,” I protested, even though we both knew how much I disliked it. I’d rather gut fish down on the wharf than clean the bathroom.

  Nate smiled like I’d said something funny, and I scowled at him.

  “Why don’t you ask Judith if you can stay with them while I’m at the conference next week?” he said. “That way you won’t have to be here alone? Imagine what you could learn to cook in five days.”

  Nate had started going to an annual writer’s conference in Boston two years ago, once he finally realized I was old enough to get along without him for a few days. Five whole days of total freedom. I loved Roland and Judith, but no way was I giving that up.

  “Are you kidding? I’m going to order from Gino’s every day and dust off the Buffy DVDs.”

  He grimaced. “Pizza and vampire slayers. What more could you want?”

  “Hey, you should be glad I’ll just be lounging around in pajamas,” I said with a sly grin. “Although I could call up the cute drummer I met at the party last night and see if he wants to hang out.”

  His eyes widened in dismay. “A drummer?”

  “Yeah, but don’t worry. He’s also taking college classes in case the band thing doesn’t work out.”

  The look on Nate’s face was priceless. “College? How old is this boy?”

  “Um, twenty, I think.” I had no idea how old Samson was, but I was having too much fun to stop. “So really he’s more of a man than a boy when you think about

  Nate’s expression of horror was so funny I couldn’t hold back my laughter any longer. “Breathe, Nate. I’m just messing with you. I mean, I did meet a very nice guy, but nothing happened. Of course, that might not be the case if I was a normal girl who was going out and dating and all.”

  He glowered at me. “How long have you been waiting to use that one?”

  “A loooong time.” My heart felt light as I wrapped up the leftover casserole and put it in the fridge. I couldn’t remember the last time Nate and I had bantered this way. “When are you leaving?”

  “Not until next Tuesday morning, and I’ll be back on Sunday. You have my cell number, and I’ll leave the hotel information on the fridge before I go.” He sipped the strong black tea he liked to have after dinner. “That way you can get hold of me anytime.”

  “I’ll be fine,” I assured him. “Oh by the way, I need to get a new cell phone. I lost mine last night. It’s probably water logged now after all the rain.”

  “How did you lose your phone?”

  “Dropped it somewhere in the woods out in the Knolls,” I replied vaguely.

  He looked at me over his cup. “Do I want to know what you were doing in the woods in the middle of a storm?” He shook his head. “Never mind, forget I asked. I’ll get you one tomorrow. I don’t want you here alone without a cell phone.”

  Nate went back to his book, and I cleaned the dishes before I headed to my own computer. Judith had found information about Madeline so easily that I was hopeful I could learn more about her movements on my own. But I soon realized that Judith’s network knew a lot more than anything I could find online.

  I was in the second hour of my fruitless search when I got the email from NightWatcher. It showed up in the email box I’d set up for message board correspondence to keep my real identity safe. I stared at the unopened message for a good five minutes before I clicked on it. It was the first time I’d heard from him since we made the arrangement to meet at the Attic, and I wondered what he wanted and why he’d waited this long to finally contact me. For a second, I contemplated deleting it, but my curiosity won out. I wanted to know why he hadn’t shown up that night. More than that, I wanted to know if he really knew anything about my father’s murder.

  I’m sorry I didn’t go to meet you at the Attic. I did intend to go in, but when I got there it didn’t feel safe. I heard later that someone was attacked by a vampire that night. Portland is not a safe place these days. I left town that night, and I’ve been keeping a low profile ever since.

  If you still want to talk, I want to meet you. Just not in Portland. Let’s pick a place away from there, where the vampires aren’t likely to go. I’d prefer to meet during the day if we can. I think that would be safer for both of us.

  I sat back in my chair, staring at the screen. I had expected to never hear from NightWatcher again, and his email stirred the same need that had sent me to the Attic in the first place. No matter what had happened, I still had to find out why my dad was killed. The sane part of me protested that I didn’t know this guy from Adam and for all I knew, he could be luring me into some kind of trap. But a bigger part of me argued that I was never going to find the answers I sought, sitting in my bedroom searching Google.

  I sent a quick email back, telling him I might have trouble getting away and asking if he could share what he knew online. His reply was almost immediate.

  The things I know could mean my death if the wrong person learned of them. I need to meet you in person to be certain I can trust you. You will understand once we meet.

  Hmmm, cryptic. I was more determined than ever to meet him now, but slipping away to meet him was going to be damn near impossible with my self-appointed bodyguards following me around, especially after the crocotta attack. There had to be a way to do this.

  I still want to meet you. I just need to figure out some things. I’ll think of a place we can meet that will work for both of us. Let me see what I can work out and I’ll get back to you.

  I clicked send and let out a long breath, wondering if I had done the right thing or made a huge mistake. The way things were going for me lately, I never knew what to expect when I set foot outside my door. But I couldn’t let that keep me hiding out at home and afraid to ever take chances again. I loved my freedom. If fear stole that from me, what kind of life would I have?

  Bad things could happen whether you left your house or not – a painful truth I’d learned with my father’s death. And it wasn’t just me I had to think of now, but Nate as well. What if the crocotta had followed my trail back here instead of finding me on the road last night? Nate would have been helpless against such creatures.

  Remy would know how to keep Nate safe. I needed to go see him as soon as possible, because the least I could do was try to protect Nate.

  My injured back and arm ached as I undressed for bed. The scratches were healing at an incredible rate, and Chris said they would be completely gone in a few days. I’d have to make sure I wore long sleeves until they faded, because there was no way I could explain away those scars.

  I turned off the light and pulled back my comforter, but instead of getting into bed I was drawn to the window. Parting the curtains, I looked down at the dark waterfront and wondered if Nikolas or Chris was out there right now, standing guard over my place. Roland told me that Nikolas had refused to leave the house even after Maxwell and the others arrived, though some of the younger wolves were very unhappy to have a couple of Mohiri hanging around. I had to say one thing about him; he was pretty serious about this whole protection thing. I just wished I knew how long it was going to last. Didn’t he have warrior business to take care of?

  A movement in the shadows caught my eye, and I realized someone actually was out there, standing just outside the glow of the nearest streetlight. As if they heard my thoughts, the shadows moved again and a tall figure stepped into the light. I couldn’t see Nikolas’s face, but I knew it was him. A feeling like contentment settled in my chest, and I stepped back from the window. It’s nothing. I just feel better knowing he’s there... for Nate’s sake.

  For the second night in a row, the nightmares stayed away.

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