Relentless, p.18
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       Relentless, p.18
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         Part #1 of Relentless series by Karen Lynch

  * * *

  The confrontation with Nikolas bothered me more than I wanted to admit. I hated how weak and vulnerable I felt when he had grabbed my bike, and I couldn’t stand being followed and watched out of some misplaced sense of obligation. It didn’t help that the stupid demon in me always knew when he was around, stirring restlessly every time his presence brushed against my mind. If this was how Mori demons connected, it must be absolute sensory overload living among Nikolas’s people. How did the Mohiri live with it?

  By the end of the week, I was ready to scream every time I spotted Nikolas or Chris. They were everywhere I went: outside the school, the grocery store, the library, the waterfront. They did not approach me, and I pretended to ignore them, but their constant presence meant I was no longer free to come and go as I pleased. I wracked my brain for days to come up with a way to meet with NightWatcher, but so far it looked impossible. The Mohiri were going to protect me into insanity.

  I started hiding out at home when I wasn’t at school, because it was the only place I could avoid them – or more specifically, avoid another run-in with Nikolas. The only problem with my self-imposed confinement was the fact that I was going stir crazy after a few days. The last time I hid at home it was because I was dealing with the trauma of the vampire attack and the discovery that I was not quite as mortal as I’d believed – valid reasons in anyone’s book. This time it was pure cowardice, and I hated myself for it.

  The only high point in my week was when Malloy sent me a message saying that he knew a guy who dealt mainly in exotic plants and he was working on getting the Ptellon blood for me as soon as possible. When I’d told Malloy how I would pay, he got almost as excited as he did about the troll bile. I immediately did an online search and discovered that red diamonds are one of the rarest gemstones in the world. I wished I’d known that before I took it from Remy and offered it up as payment. It could draw too much attention to me when I was trying to keep a low profile. I pushed my worries aside. I had to protect Nate first, then deal with the rest if anything came of it. Besides, it was unlikely that someone would make a connection between troll bile and diamonds, no matter how rare they were.

  When my cell phone rang on Saturday afternoon, I assumed that it was Roland because he always called me on Saturdays and he was one of the few people who had my number. The number on the screen was unfamiliar, and I answered the call gingerly. “Hello?”

  “Sara, hi. It’s Samson Long. We met at the party last weekend.”

  “Um, hi,” I replied, trying to hide my shock. How on earth did he get my number?

  “I hope you don’t mind. I got your number from Roland. He said it was cool.”

  Note to self: kill best friend. “No, it’s fine.”

  Samson cleared his throat. “I know it’s kind of short notice, but would you like to do something tonight?”

  “Do something?” I repeated dumbly.

  “Yes, like a movie or dinner… or whatever you like to do.”

  “I – ” I stammered, not sure how to respond. Samson Long was asking me out on a date. Heat flooded my face. A boy was calling to ask me out for the first time in my life, and all I could do was stand there like an idiot.

  “Or we could just go for coffee now if you want to do that,” he offered quickly.

  “Okay,” I heard myself saying. I liked Samson, and I’d enjoyed talking to him at the party before Nikolas had shown up to ruin my mood. “Coffee sounds nice.”

  I heard the smile in his voice. “Great. How about I pick you up in half an hour?”

  “Okay,” I said again. I gave him my address and hung up in a daze. Shaking myself out of it, I went to change and do something with my hair. With a few minutes to spare, I sent Roland a text: UR so dead.

  I expected Samson to be in the white van from the party, but he showed up in a yellow Jeep Wrangler that suited him somehow. He smiled broadly when I got in and said he was glad I’d said yes. I ducked my head so he couldn’t see the heat in my face and occupied myself with buckling my seat belt. I was around boys all the time, but this was my first time alone with one who was not shy about letting me know he liked me.

  As we drove away, I looked out my window and saw Chris sitting in his normal spot. He pulled out a cell phone and spoke to someone, and I had no doubt he was talking to Nikolas, probably passing me off like a baton in a relay race. I turned away, determined to have a good time today and not let them ruin this for me.

  Samson said he was taking me to his favorite coffee place, and on the way we talked about the party and how it was too bad it had gotten rained out. “Next time, we’ll have to hold it inside so rain doesn’t drive everyone away,” he said with quiet meaning.

  The coffee shop was called The Hub. I had seen it in passing plenty of times, but today was my first time inside. It was more of a hangout for the college crowd, and I could see the appeal in the cozy ambience created by a large fireplace and comfortable couches. Samson bought us two mochas, and we weaved through the couches to a pair of big chairs near one of the windows. It was obvious how often he came here by the number of people who waved or said hello to him as we passed. It took me a few minutes to realize why it seemed so different than the places I normally went to. If I walked into one of those other places with Samson, all the kids there would have watched us and started whispering right away. Here, people looked up and went back to whatever they were doing. There was nothing out of the ordinary about the two of us, and I found it a refreshing change.

  “I have a confession to make,” he announced after we had settled into the comfy chairs. “I asked around about you this week.”

  “Oh.” I took a sip of coffee to hide the blush creeping up my neck again. “What did you find out?”

  His laugh was nice and easy, and I noticed that his eyes were a beautiful leaf green. “Not much. Everyone knows who you are, but no one seems to really know you except Roland and he said I’d have to ask you. You are a woman of mystery.”

  It was my turn to laugh. “Maybe they had nothing to say because there is nothing to say.”

  “I don’t believe that. I think there’s a lot more to you than you show people.” He took a drink from his cup. “You said you live with your uncle. How did that happen, if you don’t mind me asking?”

  I had never talked to anyone except Roland and Peter about my dad and how I’d come to live with Nate. It felt strange telling another person now. I gave him a very abbreviated version of the story. “My dad died when I was eight. It was just the two of us, and his younger brother took guardianship of me. Nate’s a writer, so it made it easy for him to stay home and take care of me.”

  “You and your father were very close, weren’t you? I can hear it in your voice.”

  I nodded, expecting the tears to come, but to my surprise they stayed away. “My mother left when I was two, and my dad raised me alone.” In my mind I saw Dad’s face, and for a moment I was with him again. “He was… the kindest, funniest person I’ve ever known. And smart. He loved books and music, and he found pleasure in the simplest things – like having pancakes for dinner or listening to a thunderstorm. He always said you could learn a lot about a person by the things they valued. I didn’t know what he meant then. I do now.”

  Samson smiled wistfully. “I think I would have liked your father. I grew up with both parents, but we aren’t what you’d call close. My father owns an engineering company and works overseas a lot. My mother is a math teacher.”

  “Wow, an engineer and a teacher. I bet you weren’t allowed to get less than an A in school.”

  He toyed with the plastic lid on his cup. “You could say that.”

  “Any brothers or sisters?”

  “I have a younger brother in junior high and an older sister who lives in New York.”

  I swirled my coffee slowly. “Must be nice to have siblings. Roland’s the closest I have to a brother.”

  “I gathered that you two were pretty close. When I talked to
him he dropped a not too subtle hint that he takes your welfare and happiness to heart. I take it as a good sign that he gave me your number at all.”

  I couldn’t suppress my grin. “He’s been like that since we were little kids. I used to have to beat him up to get him to stop treating me like I was breakable.” In hindsight, I must have looked so fragile to my werewolf friends back then.

  Samson’s eyes sparkled. “I bet you were a real tomboy.”

  “Totally. I could climb trees with the best of them.”

  “You said you like to draw, too. What do you draw?”

  “Whatever comes to mind. It’s just a hobby, not something I show people.”

  “Will you draw something for me?” he asked earnestly.

  I shook my head. “I’m really not that good, and I have nothing to draw on anyway.”

  He was already standing. “One minute.” He went to the counter and came back with a plain notepad and a wooden pencil, which he laid on the small table beside me. “No pressure. Draw anything you want.”

  I thought about it for a minute before I picked up the pencil and pad and began to draw. As I worked, Samson went to get us two more mochas, and we kept up a steady stream of conversation about school, hobbies, friends, and his band. He lived in Portland, and I asked him how he met up with Dylan and his friends here in New Hastings. He told me he grew up in New Hastings, and he still knew a lot of people here. A mutual friend, who knew that both Samson and Dylan wanted to start a band, got them together.

  I finished my drawing and signed it with a flourish before turning the pad so he could see what I’d drawn. His eyes widened as he studied the sketch I’d drawn from memory of him playing his drums at the Attic. Without my good pencils it wasn’t my best work, but I thought I’d captured him pretty well.

  “This is incredible! How can you say you aren’t any good?”

  I flushed with pleasure from his praise. “Thanks. Maybe I should keep this one. One day when you’re a famous rock star I can sell it on eBay for a lot of money.”

  “You should keep it.” His eyes darkened to a moss green, and his voice warmed. “So you don’t forget about me.”

  The meaning in his gaze was unmistakable, and I looked down at my hands nervously. I was in foreign waters, and I had no idea what to say or do next. I’d faced vampires and a pack of crocotta, but put me in front of a cute boy and I had no idea what to do.

  Samson laughed softly. “You have no idea how adorable you look right now.”

  I turned my heated face away from him to look out the window. “That’s not exactly the look I was going for – ”

  The words stuck in my throat when I felt the all-too familiar fluttering in my mind. It wasn’t like I hadn’t known one of them would be following us, but for a little while I’d put it out of my mind and I was just a normal girl out having coffee with a nice boy.

  I scanned the street, looking for my tail. There was no sign of them, but my senses told me that either Nikolas or Chris was here. Seriously, what did they think was going to happen to me in a coffee shop in the middle of the day? Caffeine overdose? Hot coffee burn?

  Well, they were nowhere in sight unless… I turned my searching gaze on the room behind me. They wouldn’t. Please tell me they did not follow me in here. The thought of being chaperoned by Nikolas or Chris as I fumbled through my date was beyond mortifying. Chris, I could almost stand. He was more amiable than judgmental. Nikolas was another story with his moody temperament and his overbearing attitude. If it had to be one of them, please let it be Chris.

  My stomach dropped when I found him sitting alone at the far side of the shop, his eyes so dark they were almost black as they glowered at my date. His gaze shifted, and I met it defiantly, lifting my chin to let him know how I felt about this invasion of my personal space. His eyes softened, and he arched an eyebrow at me.

  “That’s the guy from the party,” Samson said, reminding me that I was ignoring him. I cast another look at Nikolas and then looked at Samson, who stared at Nikolas with narrowed eyes. “Is he following you?”

  I let out a sigh and made a note to thank Nikolas once again for complicating my life. “I told you my mother left when I was very young. Nikolas is from her side of the family, and he found me recently.” True. “My mother’s family wants me to come live with them and get to know them, and Nikolas has appointed himself as a kind of chaperone.” Also true.

  “A chaperone? He’s what – twenty?”

  I lifted my shoulders then picked up my mocha. It had cooled off, but I needed the fortification. “Try to ignore him. I do.”

  Samson glanced over at Nikolas again. “He doesn’t look at you like a relative. If anything, he looks jealous.”

  I sputtered and coughed as coffee went down the wrong pipe. “Trust me,” I wheezed when I could speak. “You don’t know Nikolas. I’m a family obligation to him, nothing more.”

  “Seeing his expression right now, I find that hard to believe,” Samson replied. Before I could refute it, he smiled and said, “But if you can ignore him, I can too.”

  “Good.” Samson was handling Nikolas’s presence a lot better than most guys would in the same situation.

  We stayed at the Hub for another thirty minutes, and then Samson drove me home. When he put the Jeep in park, neither of us spoke for a long moment and I was suddenly nervous he was going to try to kiss me. Was that normal after a coffee date? How would I know if he did want to kiss? Did I want him to try? For the first time in my life I regretted not having girlfriends I could talk to about this stuff.

  He looked over at me. “I had a great time today.”

  “Me, too.”

  There was another moment of silence before he laughed and ran his hand through his blond hair. “Sorry, I’m not usually like this. I don’t know what it is about you, but I feel like an eighth grader on his first date.”

  “Is that a good or a bad thing?” I asked, and he laughed again.

  “Bad for a guy who’s trying to look cool and ask a girl out again.”

  “Oh,” I breathed, blushing to the roots of my hair. I looked away from him, across the waterfront, to see Chris walking toward his favorite bench again. My smile fell away as I was hit with an unpleasant realization. As much as I enjoyed Samson’s company, I couldn’t date him. I couldn’t date anyone. My life was so messed up right now; how could I start a relationship with anyone, knowing I would eventually have to leave them? I was immortal; I could never have a life with a human. Hell, maybe that was why Madeline had taken off and deserted my dad. I could never do that to someone I cared about, and I had a feeling Samson was someone I could come to care about a lot.

  “I really like you, Samson, but I’m not ready to date anyone right now. I have some stuff going on in my life and I need to figure it out before I do anything else.”

  “Your mother’s family?” he asked without pushing.

  “That’s part of it.” I made myself look at him. “I’m sorry.”

  He smiled sweetly, but he couldn’t quite hide the disappointment in his voice. “So it’s a ‘not right now’ instead of a ‘not ever’ thing.”

  “Kind of.” I hated lying to him, hated my life fervently in that moment. I got out of the Jeep and walked around to his side. “I did have a nice time.”

  “Same here,” he replied. I started to turn away, and he said, “Oh wait, don’t forget this.” He held up the sketch I’d done of him. “So you don’t forget me.”

  I smiled sadly at the sketch as I took it from him. “I won’t.”

  Nate was in the kitchen making muffins when I got home. “Out with Roland?” he asked as I hung up my coat in the hall closet.

  “No, I had a coffee date.”

  There was a loud clatter as the muffin pan bounced off the tile floor. “A date? With a boy?” Nate gaped at me as I retrieved the pan for him.

  “No, with Father Glenn.” I wasn’t sure whether to be insulted or amused by his look of disbelief. “Of course i
t was with a boy. I do know some, you know.”

  “So, was it someone from school?” He tried to sound nonchalant, but I could tell he was very curious.

  “No, he’s a friend of Roland’s.” That’s all I was going to say since nothing would come of it anyway. “I’m going upstairs to work on an English paper. You need any help here?”

  “No, go on,” Nate replied absently, and I wondered if he was finally realizing what it meant to have a teenage girl under his roof.

  Roland texted me as I was pulling my books out of my backpack, but I didn’t want to talk to anyone. Part of me reveled in the afterglow of my first date, and the rest of me mourned the fact that it was likely my last date with Samson – or anyone else. I’d never thought much about dating and relationships until the possibility of having them was gone. I wasn’t the type of person who could casually date someone while knowing there was absolutely no chance of more between us. I guess deep down I’d always believed that someday I’d meet “the one” and we’d live happily ever after. Ever after held a whole new meaning for me now, and it wasn’t a happy one.

  I reached across the desk and picked up my sketch pad to tuck Samson’s drawing inside. I flipped open the pad to the picture I’d done of Nikolas the night we met. Laying both sketches side by side, I realized I’d drawn the two of them as I’d seen them on the very same night. Samson was laidback and smiling in his picture, enjoying himself as he played to the crowd. Nikolas was fierce, almost predatory as he brandished the sword. They were as different as two men could be – one golden and warm, and the other dark and furious. One wanted to be part of my life, and the other wanted to run my life. One was sweet and easy to be with, and the other caused a maelstrom of conflicting emotions to twist my stomach in knots.

  I slammed the sketchbook shut and threw it on the desk. “Ugh! Why do guys have to be so complicated?”

  Oscar rubbed against my legs, and I bent down to pick him up. “I wasn’t talking about you,” I crooned, stroking his fur. He purred and butted his head against my chin, then curled up in my lap and went to sleep without a care in the world. It was the first time I was ever jealous of a cat.

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