Relentless, p.24
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       Relentless, p.24

         Part #1 of Relentless series by Karen Lynch
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  Chapter 16

  MY GUT CLENCHED. This was very, very bad.

  I scrambled away from the picnic table and stood like a cornered rabbit with my heart thumping in my chest before my mind began to quickly evaluate my options. The Escalade was on the far side of the parking lot. The diner was blocked from view by the semi, but I knew it was closer than the SUV. Even if the man was fast, I could make it to the diner and Peter and hope the man did not want to risk a public commotion.

  The man must have realized it, too, because he started walking briskly toward us. Any hope that he did not recognize me drained away.

  Scott stood. “What’s wrong?”

  Movement to my right brought me up short. A dark figure stepped into view around the rear of the semi. Tall and thin, he was dressed in a black robe covered in strange symbols that shimmered in the sun like white gold. A black hood covered his head and hid his face from me, but I could feel something, some kind of power emanating from him. He halted and reached up to push back the hood, and my mouth opened in a silent gasp. The man – if he was a man – was as black as ebony with a small black goatee and a bald head. His face and head were covered in a strange pattern of red and white markings that appeared to be gouged into his skin. But it was his eyes that sent fear racing along my spine. Two white orbs glowed in the black face, and when they turned on me I felt like a deer staring into two headlights coming out of the dark.

  “What the fuck is that?”

  Scott’s bewildered voice pulled me from my own paralysis. “Run!” I yelled and whirled away to bolt in the only direction available, toward the interstate.

  Hands grabbed my arms roughly from behind, and I cried out. I twisted and kicked at the person restraining me, but he held me in an iron grip. “It is no use to struggle,” he said in a clipped Middle Eastern voice. “You are coming with me.”

  “Help!” I screamed as I was spun toward the SUV. I saw Scott on the ground looking dazed, and I realized my attacker must have hit him. “Scott,” I yelled at him. “Please help me!”

  “What the hell?” he moaned, teetering to his feet. “Someone hit me.”

  The man began pulling me backward, effortlessly dragging me away from the picnic tables. “Do something!” I shouted at Scott.

  At first I thought he was going to stand there and watch me get hauled away. It took him a minute to comprehend what was happening, and then he started toward us. “Hey, what do you think you’re doing? L-Let her go…”

  He stammered to a stop, and his expression went blank. I watched in confusion while he stood swaying in a trancelike state. My eyes went to the tattooed man and found him watching Scott with a small smile on his face.

  “Leave him alone! He’s got nothing to do with this.”

  “Come with me and your boyfriend will be okay,” the man holding me barked.

  “No!” I struggled and screamed Peter’s name.

  Dragged backward, I stumbled and almost felt. The man jerked me up, and I used the momentum to bring my head up and slam him hard under the chin. I heard his jaw crack at the same time pain shot through my skull. He staggered, and his grip loosened enough for me to tear free. I spun to face him and kicked out, landing a hard blow to the side of his knee. Off balance, he fell to the ground swearing. I could tell he would not be down for long.

  I heard running feet as Peter tore around the front of the semi and took in the scene before him. “Sara!” he bellowed and tossed his milkshake aside, racing toward me. He reached me just as my attacker gained his footing again.

  “Watch out!” I yelled to Peter.

  Peter turned as a hard fist flew at his face. Moving faster than I’d ever seen him go, he leaned to one side and brought his own fist up, slamming it into the man’s stomach. The man parried with a shot aimed at Peter’s chest, but he only managed a hit to the shoulder. Peter recovered fast and delivered a second punch to his opponent’s gut. I had never seen Peter fight, and the force and speed of his blows surprised me. It also answered my question about whether or not werewolves were strong in their human form. It was clear that my friend was more than a match for the larger, more muscled man.

  I was so engrossed in the fight it took me several seconds to register the gentle pressure on my mind, touching, prodding like fingers testing a piece of fruit. My mental walls flew up, and I sensed a flare of surprise from the one trying to invade my head. In the next moment, it surged forward with a force that left me gasping. Horrified recognition filled me as the thing buzzed inside my head like a live wire. My walls faltered at the shock of encountering the same awful presence that had infected the rat at the marina, and my hesitation was all the alien force needed to shove its way around my defenses.

  I screamed and grabbed my head as the thing invaded me. It reached into the recesses of my mind, and wherever it touched, it left a path of filth like the slime trail of a slug. In the back of my mind I felt the Mori recoil as my whole being shuddered at the violation, the slow rape of my mind.

  “Sleeeep,” a chilling voice hissed in my head. “All is welll.”

  “No…” I protested weakly. A cool numbing fog began to steal over me until I no longer felt the ugliness in my head, or much else.

  “You will sleeeep now.”

  “Can’t…” I mumbled as my eyes grew heavy.

  My walls fell. I was vaguely aware of something cold and slimy burrowing inside me like a parasite. The Mori shrieked in agony. Choking, dying, the Mori was dying. I’d always hated the dark thing that had been a part of me my whole life. I should be happy now that the beast would be no more. Instead, sadness bloomed in my chest and tears of grief welled in my eyes.

  Coldness reached down, inching toward the center of my being. It came up against my last defense, the gate that held back the wellspring of my power. “Let meee innn,” it commanded as icy fingers pulled at the barrier in vain. I did as it asked, and I felt its triumph as it punched through and touched the essence of me.

  Someone began to scream.

  I was on fire. No, I was the fire. Roaring, raging, I was an angry volcano spewing molten rock up from deep within the earth. The lava scorched everything in its path with a cleansing fire that burned away the coldness and filth and bore down on the ugly thing pulsing in my mind. I felt a flash of terror that was not my own, and then the pressure in my head was gone.

  My eyes opened to see the witch – I knew what he was now – stagger and fall to his knees. His eyes no longer glowed white, and his face had paled to a dark gray. “What… are you?” he choked, his black eyes full of shock and fear.

  Instead of answering him, I stood and turned my attention to Peter who still fought my assailant. They traded blows like it was a heavyweight match, and I wondered how either of them was still standing. Across the parking lot, several men stood near their cars watching the fight, but no one moved to break it up. Anger rose in me. What was wrong with these people? They were going to just stand there while teenagers were attacked in broad daylight?

  Peter appeared to be gaining ground, and I watched breathlessly as he forced the older man backward with each blow. I glanced behind me nervously at the witch, expecting him to recover and try that mind magic on me again. But he was still on his knees with both hands on the ground like he was about to pass out. Good, serves you right.


  At Peter’s cry of pain, I whirled back to the fight to find him clutching his belly and blood running between his fingers. The dark-haired man advanced on him again, brandishing a bloody knife and wearing a sneer that left no doubt about his deadly intentions.

  A howl of rage escaped me as I threw myself at the man’s back, wrapping my legs around his waist and my arms around his throat in a stranglehold that might have broken the neck of a smaller person. My would-be kidnapper dropped his weapon and clawed at my arms as I clung to him, squeezing his windpipe with strength I did not know I had and screaming like a banshee. The fear, the pain, the endless attacks for the last mont
h had finally made me snap, and I poured all my pent up anger and fear into choking the life from the man who was trying to kill my friend.

  We tumbled to the ground as the man’s legs went out from underneath him, and the impact jolted me from my murderous rage. Beneath me, the man was no longer moving, but I felt his chest rise and fall so I knew he was still alive. I loosened my chokehold and looked around for Peter, emitting a squeak when I found him lying on the ground a few feet away.

  “Peter?” I disentangled my arms and legs from the prone man and crawled across the grass to my friend. Peter’s normally pale face was so white that even his freckles looked washed out. His eyes opened when I leaned over him, and I saw they were glazed with pain.

  “Oh, Peter!” Gut wounds were always the worst, and I had no idea if his accelerated werewolf healing worked in human form. I pressed my hand over his stomach to staunch the flow of blood.

  He tried to smile and failed miserably. “A knife is nothing compared to a crocotta claw.”

  I fumbled for my cell phone with my free hand. “I’ll call nine-one-one. Don’t worry; you’ll be okay.”

  “More are coming.”

  The deep African voice drew my eyes from Peter to the witch, who was sitting back on his heels watching me.


  “Tarek.” He pointed to the unconscious man behind me. “He called for backup as soon as we found you. They will be here very soon.”

  His meaning was clear. If I waited for the police or an ambulance, Tarek’s reinforcements would get to us first. “Why are you telling me this?”

  The witch shrugged. I had no reason to trust the person who had just tried to violate my mind, but then he could have kept his mouth shut and let me be ambushed.

  “How did you find us? Were you following me?”

  He let out a deep laugh. “You are not such easy prey. I merely sensed your mind as we passed by. But the others know you’re here now.”

  I looked at Peter. “We can’t stay here. We have to go.”

  He grimaced. “I know.”

  “Can you stand?” My hands slipped behind his shoulders and helped him into a sitting position. Between the both of us, we managed to get him to his feet.

  “Come on.” I wrapped an arm around him, and together we walked slowly toward the diner. I wanted to urge him to go faster, but his haggard breaths told me how much pain he was in. I felt him weakening with every step.

  As we neared the diner, it looked less and less like the refuge I thought it would be. These men had no qualms about attacking me in the middle of the afternoon alongside a busy interstate. People like that would think nothing of barging inside the restaurant and taking us. I looked around frantically. We couldn’t stay here, and we couldn’t call Phil and wait for him to show up. We needed to get out of here now.

  At that moment I saw Scott shuffling like a zombie toward his shiny red Mustang parked in front of the diner. Jesus, I had forgotten about him.

  “Scott,” I called as we hurried after him as fast as Peter could move. We caught up to Scott as he stopped beside the driver’s-side door, swaying slightly, and one look at his slack-jawed face told me he was in no shape to drive out of here. The way Peter hung heavily on me, I knew he was about to pass out. “Damn it! Why does this shit keep happening?”

  I leaned Peter against the car and searched Scott’s pockets until I found his keys. Gently nudging Scott aside, I unlocked the driver’s-side door and levered the seat forward so I could get Peter into the back. He stretched out across the seat with a moan, then promptly went out cold. My breath caught painfully in my chest, and I scrambled to check his breathing and pulse to make sure he was still alive. “I’m so sorry, Peter,” I whispered hoarsely. “I’ll get us out of this, I promise.”

  I got out and propelled Scott around to the passenger side and into the seat, fear causing me to slam the door with more force than was necessary. Then I ran back to the driver side and climbed in. Only then did it hit me what I was about to do, and I stared around me in confusion. The Mustang was so different from Judith’s car, and I’d only had one lesson so far. How was I ever going to figure this out?

  Okay, first things first. I reached down until my fingers found the seat adjuster mechanism and moved the seat forward until my feet could touch the pedals. Gas on the right, brake in the middle, and clutch thingy on the left. No problem.

  I pressed down on the brake. Grabbing the gear stick, I jiggled it into neutral and turned the key in the ignition. Nothing. Don’t panic. Think about what Roland told you.

  I lost precious seconds recalling my lesson before I remembered. The clutch! I pressed the pedal to the floor and tried the key again. The Mustang rumbled to life.

  Scott made a moaning sound, and but there was no time to check on him. The one time I needed him and he was completely out of it. Figures. I looked around me again. Scott loved his Mustang. I wondered how he’d feel if he knew who was about to drive his precious car.

  Movement in the side mirror caught my eye, and I saw Tarek stirring on the ground. I must have really done a job on him because he was having trouble lifting himself to his hands and knees. He scanned the parking lot, and his eyes zeroed in on the Mustang. Even from here I felt the rage radiating off him. He was not happy to be taken down by a pair of teenagers, and his expression told me payback was coming if he caught up with us.

  I took a deep breath and moved the stick into what I hoped was Reverse. God, don’t let me kill us all, I prayed as I took my foot from the brake and pressed gently on the gas while letting up on the clutch.

  The car shuddered to a stop.

  “No, no, no, please don’t do this to me.” I pressed the clutch and brake, put the car in neutral, and started it again. This time after I put it in reverse, I eased up on the clutch more slowly as I pressed the gas. The car shot backward a few feet before my right foot found the brake again and brought it to a screeching stop. My heart pounded. Damn, this was a lot harder than people made it look!

  I gripped the wheel and pressed the gas gingerly as I let off the clutch. The car rolled backward until I tapped the brake. Now to turn this thing around.

  Something banged on the back of the car, and I jerked my head around to find Tarek leaning over the trunk. The tendons stood out on his neck, and his eyes burned into me through the rear window. Christ! How did he get to us so fast? I gulped and reached frantically for the gear shift.

  I got it into first gear, but my feet got all tangled up trying to find the right pedals. I turned the wheel as I released the clutch and pressed the gas, and the car moved forward in short jerky movements. I was too afraid to look to see where Tarak was, so I kept my eyes straight ahead.

  The car narrowly missed hitting two parked pickups, but the Escalade wasn’t so lucky. I winced as metal grinded against metal, but I didn’t dare stop. A few scratches on the Mustang’s paint job were the least of our worries, and I couldn’t care less about the SUV.

  I straightened out the wheel, and the car lurched forward. Shouting reached my ears, and I glanced furtively over my shoulder at the furious man limping after us. Just keep going. Don’t let him catch you.

  The exit loomed before me, and I hit the brake suddenly, making Scott fall forward. My arm shot out just in time to keep him from hitting the dashboard. I can’t do this. I’m going to get us all killed. I glanced back at Peter to make sure he was okay. He was still laid out across the seat, totally oblivious to what was going on around him.

  Scott mumbled incoherently, and I prayed the witch had not screwed up his mind. Another injury he could lay at my door. At this rate Scott would be lucky to get through senior year intact.

  I stole a look in the side mirror and sucked in a sharp breath when I spotted Tarek going for the Escalade. I gritted my teeth and pulled out into the merge lane. The car shook every time a vehicle sped past and my heart pounded in my ears, but there was no going back now. Risking a glance in the rearview mirror, I spotted a bl
ack SUV pulling out of the truck stop, and my foot stomped on the gas, making the car shoot forward. I saw a gap in traffic and swung sharply into the next lane, just barely correcting the Mustang before it careened into the middle lane. I hit the gas again, and the engine started to whine. Terrified to take my eyes off the road, I fumbled with the pedals and gear stick until the car stopped sounding like it was about to strain something.

  My heart felt ready to burst through my ribs, and I swallowed dryly, suddenly very thirsty. I gripped the wheel and focused on my bigger problem. We couldn’t stay on the highway. I could barely keep the Mustang in my lane; there was no way I could outrun them. Our only hope was to take the next exit and try to lose them in town.

  The closest exit was four miles away, and those were the four longest miles of my life. Every second I expected the Escalade to catch us and run us right off the road. I checked my mirror whenever I dared take my eyes off the road. There was no sign of the SUV, but I knew it was behind us somewhere. I wasn’t foolish enough to think a man like that would give up easily.

  I hit the off ramp going a little too fast and almost stalled the car at the bottom, which did nothing to help my confidence. The road I merged onto did not look familiar at all, and I let out a nervous groan. I had no idea where I was, and I had no business being behind the wheel of a car. Not to mention Scott was blubbering like an idiot next to me, I had no clue where my attackers were, and Peter was probably bleeding to death behind me.

  Don’t think about that!

  I got off the road as soon as I could, taking a series of turns until I was hopelessly lost. A few times I thought I spied a black SUV on a parallel road, so I just kept driving, afraid to stop for even a minute. My phone rang several times, but my hands clenched the steering wheel too tightly to answer it. It was probably Roland, wondering why we weren’t back yet.

  Despair of ever finding my way home was settling over me when a large building I recognized came into view. My heart quickened. I had never been so happy to see the mall. Following this street I would reach the high school in ten minutes. I couldn’t go home. There was a strong possibility those men knew where I lived. They might not be able to get past my wards, but I couldn’t take that chance with Peter and Scott incapacitated as they were.

  “Thank you, God!” I sobbed when I spotted the steeple of St. Patrick’s church. I pulled into the church parking lot and drove around to the back. My hands shook as I turned off the car and immediately checked on Peter, afraid of what I’d find. “Peter?”

  “Hmmm?” he murmured without moving.

  “How are you doing?” I probed anxiously.

  “Better than I expected. You know, your driving really sucks.”

  I laughed and cried at the same time. Falling back into my seat, I pulled out my phone. My strength almost failed me when I heard Roland’s voice. “Roland… we need your help.”

  “What happened? Where are you guys?” he demanded with a desperate edge to his voice.

  “We’re behind St. Patrick’s. Just hurry. Peter’s hurt.”

  There was a short pause. “Sit tight. I’m on the way.”

  I laid my head back against the headrest, but my body was too tense to relax. Scott moved, turning his face toward me, and his eyes tried to focus on my face. “Why do you hate me?” His voice was small and vulnerable like a little boy’s, and I was too shocked to respond. It took me a long moment to remember that his mind was messed up, and he probably had no idea who he was talking to. “I wish you didn’t hate me,” he mumbled sadly.

  “I don’t hate you, Scott.” It was the truth. I didn’t like him, but I didn’t hate him either.

  “I’m glad.” His head lolled to the other side, and he pointed at the empty parking lot. “What a funny looking camel,” he said before his eyes closed again. Definitely messed up. I bit my lip. Scott and I might not get along, but I didn’t want to see him hurt.

  I was still puzzled by Scott’s strange behavior earlier and why he had hung around the rest stop in the first place. It was almost like he had been waiting for me to come out of the diner. But that couldn’t be right. The last person Scott Foley would willingly spend time with was me.

  A few minutes later, Judith’s car raced into view. I sagged in relief. “It’s Roland,” I told Peter, who lifted a hand in acknowledgement then let it fall back to his side.

  Roland ran over and tried to open the door. I hit the unlock button, and he yanked the door open. He stared open-mouthed at Scott before his eyes moved to me sitting behind the wheel and then to Peter on the back seat. “What the hell happened to you guys?”

  I let out a shaky laugh. “It’s a long story. Can you look at Peter first? He’s been stabbed.”

  Roland helped me out of the car because my arms and legs felt a little like wet noodles. Then he pushed the seat forward and leaned in to look at Peter. He withdrew, gave me an encouraging nod, and spoke low so Scott couldn’t hear him. “He’s okay. It takes us a bit longer to heal when we’re not in wolf form. As soon as we get him somewhere private, he can shift and heal that in a few minutes.”

  “Oh, thank God!” I sat on the driver’s seat again and rested my forehead against the wheel. At least I hadn’t gotten one of my best friends killed. I wasn’t a total screwup.

  “We heard the police were called for a commotion out on the highway an hour ago. They said a crazy girl choked a guy at the rest stop and tore out of there in a red Mustang, banging up cars and being chased by a black SUV. I guess I don’t need to ask if you know anything about that.”

  “I only hit one car, and that man deserved to be choked for stabbing Peter.”

  Before he could reply, a motorcycle roared around the corner of the church.

  “You called him,” I said accusingly.

  “I didn’t have to. He’s been all over my ass since you disappeared from Dylan’s. He probably put one of those damn trackers on the car before I took off to look for you.”

  The motorcycle stopped a few feet from us. Nikolas leapt off and strode straight for the Mustang. His hand closed around my arm, and he unceremoniously hauled me from the car. “Do you have a death wish?” he shouted.

  “Hey!” I protested, but my mouth clamped shut at the thunderous look on his face. He pulled me closer until I could feel the heat radiating from him. Oh crap, was he in one of those rages Chris had mentioned?

  I struggled futilely. “Let me go.”

  “Forget it. You’re coming with me since it’s obvious you can’t be trusted to take care of yourself.”

  “Now wait a minute,” Roland protested, coming around the car as I tried to pull away from Nikolas.

  If Nikolas had hackles I swear they would have been raised at that moment. “I’ll do whatever is necessary to protect her, even if it’s from herself.”

  My own outrage boiled over. “The hell you will! You don’t own me.”

  Surprisingly it was Peter who stepped in – figuratively from the back seat – to play referee. “Hey, this is not helping anyone. Before you all go off half-cocked, why don’t you let us tell you what happened?”

  Nikolas nodded stiffly and released my arm, but did not move away from me. Ignoring his towering form, I explained to Roland how I had met with David as planned and I was about to call Phil to pick us up when the man named Tarek showed up. I heard Nikolas’s sharp intake of breath beside me, but I refused to look at him. When I got to the part about the witch, I saw comprehension dawn in Roland’s eyes and I knew his thoughts mirrored mine. Why were the men from the marina after me? I had been in such a panic to get away from the rest stop that I didn’t think to ask the witch that question.

  Nikolas cut in. “You’re sure about him, what he looked like?”

  “I don’t think I’ll ever forget that face after what he did,” I said, unable to keep the quiver out of my voice. Thinking about the way he had touched my mind made me feel violated all over again.

  “What did he do?” Nikolas’s voice took on a
dangerous note I’d never heard before. I paused, afraid to tell him what had happened next.

  “Sara, did he hurt you?”

  “No, not really. He tried to do something to my mind. It felt like something… awful got inside my head and took control of me. I couldn’t move or say anything.” I shuddered at the memory. “It was the most horrible feeling, like I’d never be clean again.”

  Roland blanched. “Fuck! How did you get away?”

  “I don’t know. One second there was a creepy voice in my head telling me to go to sleep, and the next thing I knew the tattooed guy was screaming.” I wrapped my arms around myself and stared past them at the hulking shape of the high school next door, allowing my mind to dwell on what I had refused to think about since the witch’s attack. My mind probed at the silent part of me where the demon was, like a tongue touching the gap where a tooth used to be. “I think… I think my Mori is dead. I felt it dying,” I said hoarsely, filled with an inexplicable sadness. Evil or not, its voice had lived inside my head my whole life, and it felt like a part of me had been extinguished.

  A warm hand touched my back, sending a small flare of heat through me. “It’s been hurt, but it’s still alive,” Nikolas said in a gentler voice.

  “How do you know?” I asked without looking at him.

  “Trust me. I would know if it was gone.” My breath caught at the rough edge in his voice, and I wondered if his demon felt pain or anguish if another Mori died.

  “What kind of witch can hurt a demon like that?” Roland asked, awed.

  “A Hale witch.” Nikolas spat out the words as if they were poison. “A desert witch from Africa. They get their power from the spirit world.”

  “Like a shaman or witch doctor?” I asked. I’d thought shamans were all about healing and helping people.

  “Hale witches only deal in dark magic, and their power is much greater than a shaman’s. A Hale witch can cripple a person with a single thought, and their compulsion is even stronger than a vampire’s, almost unbreakable.” Nikolas paused, and I looked up to meet his searching gaze. “Not even the Mohiri are immune to their power. I’ve seen warriors brought to madness after a single encounter with a Hale witch.”

  I had no answer for the question in his eyes.

  “Hale witches abhor demons, and they do not work with vampires,” Nikolas informed us. “And they usually stick close to their tribal region of the desert. It would take something big to get one of them to come all the way to America.” He fixed me with a hard stare. “You aren’t telling us everything. Who else is after you?”

  “No one,” I declared and saw the doubt on both of their faces. “I swear, I have no idea why they attacked me.” It was true. As far as I knew, they were after Malloy, not me.

  “What happened after you got away from the witch?” Roland asked.

  I told them how Peter fought Tarek and then the man had pulled a knife on him and slashed him. “I kinda lost it when I saw him cut Peter. I just jumped him and squeezed his throat until he went down. Then we took off.”

  Roland pointed at Scott, who still sat quietly in the car. “Where does he come into this?”

  “He was there at the rest stop when those guys showed up. He got blasted by the witch when he tried to stop Tarak from taking me.”

  Nikolas’s anger was still evident when he spoke again. “What were you thinking going off to meet a total stranger in the first place with everything else that’s going on?”

  “I had to go,” I said defensively. “You don’t know how long I’ve waited to find answers about my dad. I’ve been trying to meet with David for weeks.”

  “How do you know he didn’t lead those men right to you?” he demanded.

  I remembered the anguish and the pain in David’s eyes, and I knew his story was real and his motives had been good. “He’s an Emote, and I believe he was telling the truth. He knew things… things about Madeline.” I felt Nikolas stiffen beside me. “Ten years ago Madeline went to see David’s father to tell him she was in trouble. They were friends or something, and David’s father gave her a lot of money to leave the country. She said vampires were after her and before she left she had to warn – ” My voice broke, and it was a moment before I could continue. “She had to warn my dad. A few days later, my dad was killed.”

  “Jesus, Sara,” Roland breathed.

  “David wanted to meet with me because he lost someone, too. The vampires killed his father the same day they killed mine. David’s afraid the vampires will come after him because of what he knows. He was hiding upstairs while Madeline was there, and he heard something he wasn’t supposed to. He thinks it’s why his father was killed.”

  “Did he tell you what it was?” Nikolas asked tightly.

  “Madeline told David’s father that she knew the identity of a Master.”

  Before I could blink, I found myself beside the Ducati with a helmet shoved down over my head. “Stop,” I sputtered, pushing the helmet away. “What are you doing?”

  “I’m getting you out of here,” Nikolas ground out. “I can’t protect you from a Master by myself. The only place you’ll be safe now is at a Mohiri stronghold.”

  “That happened ten years ago. There is no Master after me.”

  He barked a laugh and tightened his hold on my arm. “To you ten years is a long time, but to a vampire who has lived hundreds of years, it’s nothing. And what of this witch and the man who grabbed you? Either way, someone is looking for you and we need to get you out of this town.”

  I shoved against him, but he was like a marble pillar. “I’m not going anywhere with you.”

  “I’m not asking.”

  “So, that’s it? You’re going to force me to go against my will?” I cried in helpless anger. “You’re no different than them.”

  “Sara, maybe he’s right,” Roland cut in. “I don’t want you to go, but I don’t want you to get hurt either.” He spoke to Nikolas. “But maybe we should talk to Uncle Max first to see what he thinks.”

  I blasted them both with an icy stare. “I see. So everyone gets a say about my life but me?”

  Nikolas grabbed my shoulders and forced me to face him. “If you stay here, you or someone you care about is going to end up hurt or killed,” he said mercilessly. “Someone is trying very hard to get to you, and they obviously won’t think twice about going through your friends to do it.” I thought about Peter’s stab wound and winced. “Next time it could be worse. They could go after your uncle. Is that what you want?”

  “Of course not!” I wouldn’t let anyone hurt Nate. If I had to leave New Hastings to draw the people pursuing me away from him, I would, but it would be on my own terms. My mind immediately began to formulate a plan. Remy would hide me somewhere in troll territory where no one, especially vampires, would dare to look for me. I just needed to find a way to get to him.

  Nate would be home tomorrow. I had to talk to him, try to explain things to him before I up and disappeared. He was not going to understand and he would struggle with the things I was going to tell him, but he deserved to know the truth. After everything he’d done for me, I owed him that much at least. I felt a pang of regret that we had never been as close as my dad would have wanted. I always thought there would be time to fix it somehow.

  “Talk to Maxwell all you want,” I conceded. “But I am not going anywhere until Nate gets home tomorrow. And if you make me go, I’ll run away the first chance I get.”

  “Fine. You’ll stay with me and Chris until then,” Nikolas stated firmly.

  “I don’t think so.” There was no way I’d be able to contact Remy from some Mohiri safe house or wherever they were holding up. “I’m going home, and you are free to follow me if you want.”

  Nikolas shook his head. “That location is not secure.”

  It was my turn to laugh. “Trust me. The devil himself couldn’t get into that building.”

  “Um, guys, can we just figure out where we’re going?” Peter called from the c
ar. “Bleeding here.”

  Nikolas raised an eyebrow at me as he pulled out his phone and called Chris to tell him to meet us at my apartment. I turned toward Judith’s car and saw the Mustang. “What are we going to do about Scott? We can’t leave him here like this.”

  “Don’t worry about him,” Nikolas said, following close behind me. “Once we get you safely to your fortress of an apartment, we will take care of your friend.”

  “Those guys are looking for a red Mustang. We can’t take a chance of them finding Scott before you come back. Besides I think he needs a doctor.”

  Nikolas went to the Mustang and looked at Scott, peering into his eyes and checking his vitals. He pulled out some of the same nasty green stuff Chris had given me after the crocotta attack and forced Scott to eat some.

  “I think he’ll be okay in a few hours,” he told us. “If he’d been permanently damaged, he’d be catatonic. I gave him something to speed healing. By tomorrow he won’t remember any of it and he’ll feel like he has a bad hangover.”

  And banged up his car, I thought guiltily looking at the dented right fender and smashed headlight.

  “How will he get home?” I had to make sure Scott was okay before I left. I was leaving no casualties from this mess.

  Nikolas called Chris again then held out the phone. “Chris is on his way here. If one of you can tell him where your friend lives, Chris will drive him home.”

  Roland took the phone and gave the other Mohiri directions. I walked to the Honda to wait for him without a backward glance at Nikolas. I didn’t need to look behind us to know he was right on our tail for the short drive to my place.

  Roland parked in Nate’s spot, and the two of us helped Peter up the stairs and into the apartment. I refused Nikolas’s offer of help, and he followed us with a stony expression, bolting the door behind us. Instead of putting Peter on the couch, we carried him up to my room where he would have enough space and privacy to shift and heal. I wanted to stay with him until Roland reminded me that Peter would have to disrobe to change. That sent me down the stairs pretty fast.

  I found Nikolas going around the apartment, checking the windows and doors as if a vampire was going to burst through them any minute.

  “I told you this place is safe. I warded it myself.” I grabbed the orange juice from the fridge. “Anyone thirsty?”

  Nikolas stood by Nate’s office doorway. “You warded it?”

  “Don’t look so shocked.” I poured juice into a tall glass and took a long gulp. “I told you before I’m not helpless. And I got away from those guys, didn’t I?”

  Roland came into the kitchen, and I handed him the juice carton. “I’d believe her if I was you,” he said to Nikolas. “Sara knows things, and if she says we’re safe here, then we – ”

  “Argh!” he yelped a second before the carton hit the kitchen floor and orange juice sprayed up my legs. He jumped in front of me and pushed me back against the refrigerator. I heard Nikolas shout something and fear rose in my throat.

  “Sara, stay behind me,” Roland shouted as I struggled to push his weight away so I could see what was happening. Had something gotten past the ward? No. It was just not possible.

  “Keep her there,” Nikolas barked. “I’ll take care of it. Damn it, I knew this place wasn’t safe.”

  “Take care of what?” I cried, afraid for my friends. With a mighty shove I squeezed out from behind Roland to face the new threat.

  It stood in the hallway outside the kitchen, teeth bared menacingly and glaring between Nikolas and Roland, ready to pounce at the slightest provocation. A more frightening snarl I had never seen.

  Nikolas reached inside his jacket and pulled out a long gleaming blade.

  “No!” I screamed and ran to throw myself in front of the creature that could rip everyone in the room to shreds.


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