Relentless, p.23Part #1 of Relentless series by Karen Lynch
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“I haven’t seen you at Dylan’s parties before.”
I looked at the striking brunette standing a few feet from me on the dock. Her heart-shaped face was tilted to one side, and her blue eyes watched me with a mixture of curiosity and jealousy. Bethany Chase was gorgeous, popular, and rich, and I couldn’t think of a single reason for her to be jealous of me.
“Roland made it sound like too much fun to pass up.”
She moved closer. “Can I ask you something?”
“Sure,” I replied absently, toying with the zipper of my borrowed wetsuit while I watched Roland and Peter whipping across the lake toward us on jet skis. I couldn’t wait for my turn.
“Is that blond guy up by the boathouse a friend of yours?”
I didn’t need to turn around to know she was talking about Chris, who’d arrived an hour ago. How he’d finagled his way into Dylan’s private, invite-only party was beyond me since everyone else here appeared to know each other. I’d spent a good five minutes asking him to leave, but he only smiled and said to ignore him. Ignore him? He stuck out like a steak on a vegetarian buffet for Christ’s sake.
“Chris is like a cousin to me.” Hell, for all I knew he could be one of my cousins.
She giggled. “I thought he might be your boyfriend after I saw you with him. He keeps looking over here at you.”
I glanced over my shoulder at the Mohiri, and an evil plan began to brew. “Nope, Chris is a free man.” I gave her a meaningful look. “And I’m pretty sure he’s not looking at me.”
“Oh!” Bethany’s face lit up like the sun coming from behind a cloud, and she turned her head to watch Chris hungrily. Sorry, Chris, I thought, hiding my smile of satisfaction. But all’s fair in love and war, right?
“Maybe I’ll go say hi to him.”
The jet skis pulled up beside the dock, and Peter grinned up at me. “You ready to lose to me, too?”
“Ha! In your dreams buddy!” I hitched a thumb at Roland. “My turn.”
Roland grinned as he nudged his jet ski alongside the dock and climbed off, but his face grew serious as I switched places with him. “Be careful and call me if there’s any trouble,” he whispered.
“We’ll be back before you know it.” I sat on the seat and murmured, “I’m more worried about you having to deal with the fallout on this end.”
“I can handle them.”
“I know. That’s why you’re staying instead of Peter.” Well, that and the fact that Nikolas and Chris were more suspicious of Roland after our little escapade. I was pretty sure that my cease-fire with Nikolas was going to come to a fiery end after this. But it wasn’t like I had promised never to run off again. In fact, I assumed that was just a foregone conclusion by now.
I pushed away from the dock and followed Peter a short ways onto the lake. We lined up side by side and waited for Roland to play his part.
“Okay, guys, to the other side and back,” Roland shouted at us. “Kick his ass, Sara,” he added for good measure.
We shot forward like we were in a real race. Opening our throttles, we sailed across the wide expanse of water with water spraying up around us. I still remembered my icy dip in the harbor, making me doubly glad for the sun and the layer of neoprene protecting my body from the cold lake water.
According to my research, the lake was a mile across at this point and fourteen miles from Dylan’s to the opposite side of the lake if you followed the shoreline. I hoped that was enough distance to allow us to get away before Chris realized what we were up to. The Mohiri were super fast, so I’d had to come up with a plan to outsmart them since I couldn’t outrun them.
I slowed my jet ski as I neared the far shore and eased into a small shady cove with an old dock. Nudging the jet ski against the dock, I clipped it to one of the posts and leaped off, knowing that Peter was right behind me. Our feet pounded the boards as we ran up the short dock to the shed at the edge of the property and found Peter’s backpack right where he had stashed it last night. So far, so good, I thought as we peeled off our wetsuits and dressed in the clothes Peter pulled out of the backpack.
We had picked this particular spot for several reasons. First, it was a summer cottage, and like many of the houses on this side of the lake, it was closed up now for the fall. Second, it was strategically located directly across from Dylan’s. And third, it wasn’t far from the home of an old friend of mine – more like one of Greg’s old buddies, but I knew him well enough. I hadn’t seen Phil since Greg had gone away, but Greg told me before he left that if I ever needed anything, to call Phil. It turned out Phil was more than happy to help me out today.
“I feel like Ethan Hunt,” Peter said with a silly grin as we rolled up our wetsuits and hid them with the backpack.
“From Mission Impossible. We’re like spies on a covert mission.”
I rolled my eyes at him. “I hope not. Doesn’t he get shot at a lot?”
Less than five minutes after reaching the dock, we ran across the yard and emerged on the street. I wondered if Chris had figured out that something was up yet and decided I didn’t want to wait around to find out.
“This way,” I said, setting off down the road with Peter beside me.
“Are you sure this guy is okay?” he asked cautiously. “He’s not like that guy Malloy, is he?”
I let out a laugh. “Phil is a teddy bear. I told you he’s one of Greg’s friends.”
“Yeah, because those guys were all angels,” Peter said with a snort.
It took us five minutes to reach Phil’s little white bungalow. A few years older than Greg, Phil worked at a dockyard in Portland and lived alone in the house inherited from his grandmother.
He threw open the door as soon as I rang the bell. “Little Grey!” boomed the hefty redhead before he grabbed me in a beefy hug. He smelled of sweat and beer, and his arms were covered in tattoos. “You’ve grown up since the last time I saw you.”
I grinned as I stepped back. “It’s only been four months.”
“Really? Seems longer than that,” he said, leading us inside. “Not the same here since the boys went away. I remember when you were younger and you used to have the biggest crush on Greg.” He let out a whoop. “Ha! I bet the tables will be turned next time he comes home and gets a load of the beauty you grew into. Not that I’m surprised, mind you.”
I couldn’t help the blush that crept up my cheeks when I thought of the crush I’d had on Greg in eighth grade. “Ugh, don’t remind me about that.”
Phil laughed again. “I gotta say I was surprised to hear from you last night, but I’m glad you called me. I promised Greg I’d check in on you, and to be honest, I’ve done a piss poor job of that. So you two need a ride somewhere?”
“Phil, this is my friend Peter. And yes, we need to get to the rest stop up by exit 75. You know where that is?”
They shook hands, and Phil frowned. “You guys aren’t running away, are you?”
“No, we’re meeting someone there. It’s kind of hard to explain, but I promise we’re not running away.” I pulled out my cell phone, which I’d snuck inside my wetsuit and looked at the time. If Chris was looking for us, it probably wouldn’t take him long to start searching this area. “And we need to go now if that’s possible.”
“Okay, no problem.” He grabbed a set of keys off the kitchen counter. “Let’s go.”
Phil drove a black Pontiac Trans-Am just like the one Burt Reynolds drove in Smoky and the Bandit, except Phil’s was rusted in places and in desperate need of a paint job. But it ran well, which was all we needed. We left the lake area and headed toward the nearest on ramp to the interstate. Once we were safely away, I sent Roland a smiley face text to let him know things were going as planned. He replied with a thumbs down to let me know Chris was onto us. I bit the inside of my cheek. That meant Nikolas knew and they were both looking for us right now. I hoped I had enough time be
“This is a strange place to meet a friend,” Phil said, pulling up to the rest stop diner.
I laid my hand on the door handle. “He’s passing through and doesn’t have time to go into town.”
“Alright then. You call me when you’re done, and I’ll come get you.”
“I will thanks.” I got out then lifted the seat forward for Peter to climb out. We waited for Phil to pull away before we turned to look at each other. I glanced at my watch and saw that I had ten minutes before I was supposed to meet NightWatcher. I told Peter we should split up now.
Peter’s eyes were anxious. “You sure you don’t want me to come in with you?”
“I promised to meet him alone. It’s a busy place in the middle of the day, so I’m sure it’s safe.” He didn’t look convinced, so I squeezed his hand. “There’s not a cloud in the sky, so you know we won’t run into anyone with UV allergies. Besides, you’ll be right outside. I’ll try to get a table by the window so you can see me.”
He nodded reluctantly, and I turned and went into the diner. The waitress told me to grab any table I wanted, so I took a booth near the window in the back where Peter could see me and I could see anyone entering the diner. After a few minutes, the waitress brought me a menu and I ordered a milkshake, then settled back to wait. My phone rang and Roland’s name came up. Hope u get back here before he finds u. I didn’t need to ask who he was.
I was sipping my milkshake when the door opened and in walked the last person I’d expect to run into here. I shook my head in annoyance. Lots of locals stopped here driving to and from Portland, but what were the chances of seeing Scott Foley here today of all days?
Scott spotted me around the same time I saw him. He stared at me in surprise, and I think he started to come over but changed his mind. I let out a small sigh of relief when I saw him pay for a milkshake and leave. It was one thing having Peter outside. I didn’t think NightWatcher would approach me if I was arguing with Scott when he showed up. I’d worked too hard to set up this meeting to have someone screw it up now.
At two o’clock on the dot, the door opened and a young Japanese man with short, spiked hair came in. He stopped and looked around until his eyes landed on me, then he walked purposefully toward my booth.
“You’re a lot younger than I expected,” he said in a low voice as he slid onto the vinyl seat across from me.
I didn’t bother to hide my surprise. “How did you know it was me?”
He smiled, showing off perfect white teeth. “Aside from the fact that you’re obviously not a trucker and you had your boyfriend wait outside for you? Let’s just say I have a way of knowing things about people just by looking at them.”
I looked more closely at his face and spotted a faint gold ring inside his brown irises. “You’re an Emote!” I breathed, and he nodded. Emotes were people who could read auras – and not like those fake psychics you saw at carnivals. Their perception was so good that an experienced Emote could tell what you were feeling, if you were lying, or if you were hiding something just by seeing your aura. A vampire couldn’t get within twenty feet of an Emote without being detected, which explained why NightWatcher hadn’t entered the Attic that night. It also explained why he’d insisted we meet in person. He wanted to read me.
I knew something else about Emotes. They could tell small lies but big deceptions were very difficult for them, which meant I could probably trust what this man had to say.
“What does my aura tell you about me?”
His dark brown eyes studied me. “I can see that you mean me no harm and you desperately hope I have the answers you’ve been looking for. I also see that you are running from someone – but you are not afraid of them. Curious.”
“Impressive.” I’d met one other Emote a few years ago, and she could only tell if someone was lying. Being able to read beyond that takes a lot of skill. “I guess we should introduce ourselves. I’m Sara, but you know me as PixieGirl.”
“David, aka NightWatcher.” He gave me a small smile as he extended a slender hand. “I have to tell you that I was very curious about you as soon as I heard you were asking questions about Daniel Grey. It’s been a long time since I heard that name. Before I say anything else, I want to know why someone as young as you is interested in a man who has been dead for ten years.”
I met his gaze without blinking. “Daniel Grey was my father.”
David’s eyes widened, and his mouth made an O. “So you’re Madeline’s daughter.”
“Yes,” I said bitterly. “You knew her?”
“My father knew her.” He quieted because the waitress came over to take his order. He ordered a coffee and waited until she walked away before he spoke again. “Ten years ago, Madeline Croix called my father to tell him she was in a lot of trouble and needed his help. I was fourteen, and I remember he was not happy to hear from her. I could see his fear, though he tried to hide it from me. A few days later, Madeline came to our house. They talked for about an hour, and he gave her a leather pouch that he’d apparently been keeping for her. It was full of cash and some papers. She said she had to disappear.”
“Did she say why?”
He glanced around nervously, and his voice dropped so low that I had to lean forward to hear him. “Madeline told my father that she had discovered the identity of a Master.”
Goose flesh spread across my arms, and an unpleasant tingle ran down my spine. Everything I knew about vampire masters I’d learned from Remy, and that was just enough to scare the bejesus out of me. Masters were old and powerful with powers far beyond any normal vampire. You couldn’t just stake a Master. Beheading was the only way to kill one. The most frightening thing about them wasn’t their physical strength but their mental prowess. Only a Master could command other vampires, and they literally created a small army of vampires to serve them and make them nearly invincible. Because of that, Masters used to live as openly as other vampires, but fear of them drove hunters to start killing them off one by one a few hundred years ago. The Masters who survived went into hiding, and now it was rare to even hear of one. A Master’s identity was their most closely guarded secret.
The waitress returned with David’s coffee. As soon as she left he said, “I see you know what that means. If Madeline somehow found out the identity or location of a Master, he would stop at nothing to find her, especially considering what she is.”
“You know what she is?”
He nodded gravely. “I wasn’t supposed to hear any of this, but I knew something big was going down because my father did not scare easily. I hid upstairs while Madeline was there. Before she left, she said she was going to see Daniel – your father – to warn him. I saw in her aura that Daniel had no idea what she was.”
I felt a stab of pain in my chest at the mention of my dad. “What happened next?”
“After Madeline left, my father panicked and sent me to my grandparents’ house for a week. I never saw Madeline again, and two days later your father was killed.”
My throat tightened, and I swallowed dryly. “What about your father?” I asked hoarsely. “Did you ever ask him about what you overheard?”
Pain darkened his eyes. “My father was murdered on the same day as yours.”
A heavy silence fell over the table as we shared each other’s sorrow and pain. All these years I’d carried my grief alone because I knew no one could understand what I had been through. Now I sat across from someone who had suffered as much as I had.
“We used to own a laundromat. One of the employees found him, and it was… pretty bad. They wouldn’t let me see him, and my grandparents had him cremated.” He took a shaky breath. “My mom died when I was little, so I lived with my grandparents after my father died. I never told anyone about Madeline. I was afraid they would find out and come after me, too.”
I found my voice at last. “I’m sorry. I know how hard it must have been for you.”
“You do know, don’t
“An uncle took me in.” I was still reluctant to give up my personal information, but it was no use lying to an Emote as good as David.
“I bet that was rough. My grandparents are good people, but it was hard after…”
I nodded. “I was pretty messed up after my dad died, and it took me a long time to learn to deal with it. I don’t think it would have mattered where I went because nothing could have changed what I went through.”
“True.” David sipped his coffee and made a face. “I see you didn’t pick this place for the coffee.”
“The milkshakes are good.” I toyed with my cup lid. “Thanks for telling me all this. I see why you were so spooked at the Attic. You have even more reason than I do to be scared of vampires.”
“I doubt that.” He added more sugar to his cup and stirred it thoughtfully. “I heard the police found you with the… with your father’s body. Is that true?”
“I found him.”
“Jesus,” he rasped.
I made sure no one was close enough to hear us. “I’ve always known what killed my dad, but I never understood why they went after him. I guess I know why now.”
David nodded and stared out the window for a minute before his eyes returned to me. “Are you like Madeline?”
“I’m nothing like her.”
He held up his hands. “No, that’s not what I meant. I meant, are you Mohiri? I heard my father call her that. I tried to find out what I could about them, but they are very secretive. All I’ve been able to learn is they are some kind of warrior race and very deadly.”
“I know about them,” I admitted. “But I am no warrior, trust me.” He nodded in acceptance, and I remembered that my aura would tell him if I lied.
“Madeline left us when I was two, so I wouldn’t even know her if she walked up to me.” A vague memory surfaced of a beautiful blond woman in a worn picture in my dad’s wallet.
“You don’t look like her. I never would have guessed you were her daughter. Her hair was so blond it almost looked white, and she was tall with blue eyes.”
“That’s something, I guess,” I muttered.
The corner of his mouth lifted. “Back then I was terrified that they’d realize my father had a kid and track me down. I used to wonder what happened to Daniel Grey’s daughter, and I hoped they didn’t come back for you.”
“What would vampires want with a kid?” A shiver ran through me at the thought of facing something like Eli when I was eight.
“They’re monsters,” was his reply. I rubbed my arms to ward off the chill.
“You have nothing to worry about now, though. No one who saw you would ever think you’re related to Madeline. If they ever did come back, they’d look for someone blond and – ”
He stared at me so hard that I grew alarmed. “What? What’s wrong?”
“How old are you? Sixteen? Seventeen?”
“The missing girls in Portland – they were all your age.”
“I know. It was in the news.”
“They were all blond.”
The meaning in his words hit me, and I recoiled as if I’d been slapped. “No. You’re wrong.” The idea that four innocent girls were hurt or killed because of me was too much to bear. “There has to be hundreds of blond teenage girls in Portland. Do you honestly think vampires are going to randomly pick girls on the chance they’d find Madeline’s daughter? And why now after all this time?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “But I don’t think those missing girls were random either. As soon as the third girl disappeared, I started looking for a connection between them.”
“Looking for a connection how?”
“I’m really good with computers.”
For some reason, that did not surprise me. “What did you find?”
“Nothing at first. Not until the last two girls went missing. I had a bunch of searches running, cross-referencing school records, social websites, and some other not-so-public records when I came up with something all four girls had in common. They were all adopted.”
He nodded slowly. “What are the odds of vampires taking four blond, adopted girls of the same age in Portland? It’s no coincidence.”
“My God.” I felt the color drain from my face.
“I don’t know how you stayed under their radar, but keep doing it. My guess is that they want to use Madeline’s daughter as bait to draw her out.”
“I don’t understand. Vampires must have a lot of resources. It should have taken them no time to track down my uncle and find me.”
David shook his head. “I can find anyone if there’s a paper trail, and I couldn’t find you. It looked like you went into the foster care system and then just disappeared. Someone obviously went through a lot of trouble to hide you. I didn’t even know there was an uncle until you mentioned him.”
Someone hid me – and Nate? They must be really good to hide the fact that my dad had a brother. But who would do that and why? The werewolves had a large network, but Maxwell had said he only suspected vampires had killed my father. Surely if he or someone he knew had covered my trail, he would have told me after everything that had happened in the last month. And it wasn’t the Mohiri because they didn’t even know I existed before a month ago.
“Whoever did it was very thorough, and you owe them a big thank you if you ever find them, because they probably saved your life. Just keep your head down and don’t do anything to draw the vampires’ attention to you, and you should be okay.”
I gulped soundlessly. Too late.
“From what I’ve heard, the vampires are keeping a very low profile in Portland now. That scares me even more. I’m a freelance programmer, and I can do that from anywhere. I’m leaving for a while, heading south to stay with some friends.” He gave me a small smile. “That’s why I agreed to come here today. Something told me I had to meet you before I left.”
“David, you don’t know what this meant to me, to learn anything about what happened to my dad. I still have questions, but I feel like I’m closer to understanding it all now.” The aching hole in my heart felt a tiny bit smaller after meeting the one person who shared my painful history. I’d never find real closure as long as my dad’s murderer was alive and free to kill again. But I always knew this was as close as I would get. It had to be enough.
David pulled out his wallet and laid some bills on the table. “Listen, I have to go. Keep your head down, kid, until this mess blows over. You know where to reach me online if you want to talk.” He fixed me with a hard stare. “I understand how badly you want answers, because I’ve spent years trying to find my own, but it’s not worth risking your life. Be careful who you talk to online and especially who you meet.” He smiled. “I know that’s weird advice from a guy you met online, but the next one might not be as nice as me.”
I stayed in the booth and watched David walk out to a white Ford Focus and drive away. When I had planned this meeting, I never really knew what to expect or what I hoped to get out of it. Meeting David and learning how he had suffered because of his father’s association with Madeline made me despise my mother even more. My dad, David’s dad, and those girls – how many more people would be hurt because of her?
One thing was clear; this was way bigger than me and David and our fathers’ murders. If Madeline was still out there, and she knew the identity of a Master. The Mohiri needed to know about it. With their resources, they could track her down and find out what she knew, and if anyone had the firepower to go up against a Master, it was Nikolas’s people.
I glanced at my watch. It was two-thirty, which meant we’d been gone from Dylan’s for over an hour. I grimaced as I slid out of the booth. Maybe my news about the Master would deflect some of Nikolas’s anger. Not likely, but a girl could hope.
I left the diner and joined Peter
“He knew a lot more than I expected. His father and Madeline knew each other.”
“Seriously? Tell me what he said.”
I rubbed at the beginning of a headache. “Can we talk about this later with Roland? I just want to call Phil and go back to Dylan’s before Nikolas finds us.”
His face fell, but he didn’t push it. “Okay. You call Phil, and I’m going to run in and get a milkshake. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
I pointed to the picnic tables partially hidden by a semi on the other side of the parking lot. “I’ll be over there.” The tables had a good view of the interstate so we could see Phil’s car when he arrived. I sat on the hard wooden seat and pulled out my phone.
“Date ran off and left you, did he?” a male voice jeered from behind me before I could make my call.
Am I being punished for some horrible crime in a former life? I groaned inwardly, turning on the seat to face Scott. “Go away, Scott. I’m so not in the mood.”
“Free country. If you don’t like me here, you can always leave.”
I started to make a retort then decided it wasn’t worth it. Fighting with Scott seemed so petty after the things I’d learned today. “Suit yourself,” I muttered, turning my back to him again.
His footsteps moved away, and I couldn’t help but think I needed to try this tactic the next time I wanted to get rid of unwanted company. I had just finished congratulating myself when he walked in front of me to sit on the next picnic table.
“Are you broken down here or something?” he asked, scanning the vehicles in the parking lot. His voice held curiosity instead of scorn, and I wondered why he even bothered to ask.
“Why? You offering a lift?”
It was meant as a joke, and I was surprised when it seemed to take him off guard. He looked off to the side and back at me. “I… no.”
“So what do you want?”
“What makes you think I want anything from you?” he asked defensively.
I waved a hand at him. “Oh, I don’t know. You’re hanging around a highway rest stop on a Saturday, talking to me of all people. You couldn’t find anyone else to fight with?”
His brow furrowed in a scowl, but whatever he said to me went unheard. My full attention was drawn to a man standing beside a black Escalade on the other side of the rest stop. His profile seemed familiar, and I strained to make out his face. At this distance, I could only tell he had dark hair and a dark, olive complexion, but something made me think I knew him from somewhere.
The man shifted position, and I saw thick eyebrows, a square jaw, and an unsmiling mouth. A jolt of recognition went through me, and I ducked my head. He was one of the men from the marina.
He didn’t get a good look at me that night, I thought frantically, trying to slow my racing heart. I had to calm down and act normal. The man was alone, and he had no idea who I was. It was nothing more than a coincidence that he was here now. Still, I really wished Peter would hurry up. Ignoring Scott’s puzzled look, I raised my head enough to peek at the man again. My breath caught.
The man looked right at me and smiled.
Relentless by Karen Lynch / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on20 votes