Relentless, p.32
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       Relentless, p.32
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         Part #1 of Relentless series by Karen Lynch

  Chapter 22

  I DABBED AT my eyes and reached for the doorknob, barely able to control my excitement. I couldn’t wait to see Nate again. Between my revelations, his kidnapping, and then me going missing, the last few days had to have been pretty awful for him. I had miraculously been given a second chance, and I was going to use that to make things right with him. Starting now.

  I tried the door, but it was locked of course and my keys were probably at the bottom of the ocean. So much for a grand entrance. Wearing a sheepish smile, I rang the doorbell.

  It took a minute for Nate to reach the door. I heard the deadbolt move, and my stomach fluttered nervously as the door opened.

  “You’re early. I wasn’t expecting you until – ”

  Nate’s mouth fell open and his hand flew to his chest as he stared up at me like I was an apparition. It occurred to me that dressed as I was, barefoot in this flimsy dress, I probably looked like one.

  “Sara?” he whispered hoarsely.

  The words I had planned to say could not get past the lump in my throat, and I threw myself at him, almost knocking him out of his chair. His body was stiff, and I wasn’t sure if it was because he was shocked to see me or because I was actually hugging him. But then his arms went around me and he held me so tightly I thought my ribs would crack.

  After the longest hug of my life, he held me away from him so he could look at me, and I saw that his face was haggard. Wonder shone in his eyes. “Jesus – it’s really you!”

  I nodded and gave him a teary smile.

  His hands dropped to his lap. “I-I can’t believe it.”

  “Nate, I’m so sorry,” I blurted before he could say anything else. “For the lies and keeping everything from you – and for what happened to you.” I knelt in front of his chair and searched his face for some sign he might be willing to forgive me. “I know I screwed up, but I promise no more secrets. And I have so much to tell you.”

  “Sara, where the hell have you been?” he demanded, and the anguish in his voice spoke of the hell I’d put him through.

  God, how did I tell him exactly where I’d been? I tried to start slowly. “I was hurt, and someone took me home with them to help me get better. I know you’ve probably been worried sick the last few days and I swear I would have let you know where I was, but I was pretty out of it.”

  “The last few days?” Nate echoed incredulously. “You’ve been gone three damn weeks.”

  “What?” I said dumbly.

  “We thought you were dead. They searched the water for days, and they couldn’t find your…” His voice broke, and I saw the pain and grief he had suffered. “We–we had a memorial service last week.”

  It was a good thing I was already on my knees because my legs wouldn’t have been able to support me at that moment. Three weeks – how was that possible? Was I unconscious that whole time, or was it true that time moved differently in Faerie?

  And all that time Nate thought I was dead.

  “Oh God, Nate, I didn’t know, I swear.” My eyes pleaded with him to believe me. “I’ve made a horrible mess of everything, but I would never hurt you that way.”

  He closed his eyes and let out a long, shaky breath. “I’m afraid that I’ll open my eyes and find out you’re not really here.”

  I took both his hands in mine. “I’m here, Nate.”

  His eyes brimmed with tears when he opened them again. “Jesus, I need a drink. And then you are going to tell me everything.”

  I got up to shut the door and followed him into the kitchen. It was strange how everything seemed so familiar yet so different at the same time. The kitchen looked exactly as it had the last time I stood in it. I glanced at the phone and remembered pleading with Haism to not hurt Nate. So much had happened since that call, but it was not our home that had changed, it was me. I was not the same person who walked out of here that day. That girl had spent her life afraid and haunted by her past, unable to move past it and pushing everyone away, afraid of being hurt again. The girl who had returned in her place was no longer chained to the pain in her past. She was uncertain about her future, but she was also braver, stronger, and she would never let anything come between her and those she loved again.

  Nate reached into a bottom cabinet and pulled out a bottle of Johnnie Walker. He laid the bottle in his lap then grabbed two small glasses from the rack on the counter and rolled to the table. “Sit,” he ordered, pouring scotch into both glasses.

  I took the chair across from him, and he slid one of the glasses toward me. “You’re giving me a drink?”

  He shrugged and took a long drink from his glass then refilled it. I’d never seen him consume more than one drink at a time.

  Never one to drink much myself, I picked up my glass and took a cautious sip. I sputtered as the liquor burned my tongue and seared a trail down my throat. It hit my stomach and a warm, pleasant feeling spread through me. I took another sip for courage then laid the glass on the table.

  “How much do you know about what happened that day?”

  Nate set his own glass down, and I saw the bleakness on his face again as he remembered. “I know that man Haism took you down to the cliffs to turn you over to the vampires and they killed him. Then your Mohiri friends and the werewolves showed up and there was a fight. They told me you killed a vampire. Then one of the other vampires threw a knife at you and you fell off the cliff. Nikolas went into the water after you, but you were nowhere to be found.”

  It was surreal to hear Nate talking so easily about vampires, werewolves, and Mohiri. The last time I saw him he was still in shock from the things I’d revealed to him. It looked like I wasn’t the only one who had changed.

  “You met Nikolas?”

  “He showed up here minutes after that man brought me home. I told him what I knew, and he took off looking for you. He’s come by a few times since you… disappeared. He was sure you were still alive, and he refused to go to the service. I asked how he knew, but he wouldn’t say. I’ll say one thing; he doesn’t give up easily.” Nate gave me a questioning look. “Were you and he…?”

  I choked as scotch went down the wrong way. “No. That’s just how he is. He’s pretty intense.”

  Nate did not look convinced, but he didn’t push it. “So what happened? Where were you?”

  I told him everything that went down from the moment we parted on the street in front of the empty building. I had intended to spare him some of the harsher details, but I found myself pouring it all out to him as if I’d opened a dam that couldn’t be closed. When I got to the part about my dad, I choked, but I forced myself to keep talking. Nate’s eyes reflected my own horror when he heard how Eli had revealed that he had killed my dad and meant to take me as well.

  “I killed him.” The fierceness in my voice startled Nate. He didn’t speak, but his hand crept across the table to cover one of mine. I went on to tell him about falling into the water and dreaming of my dad, then waking up in the room with Aine. His face registered his shock when I explained what Aine was and exactly where I’d been. Then I told him what Aine had revealed to me about my dad’s – and Nate’s – side of the family and what I had inherited from our undine ancestor. Aine had told me to be careful, but she didn’t say I couldn’t tell anyone what I was. Not that I would have kept it from Nate. I was done hiding things from him.

  Nate was on his third glass of scotch by the time I got to Aine bringing me home. I swirled the liquid in my own glass while I waited for him to speak.

  He inhaled deeply. “I honestly don’t know what to say.”

  “But you believe me?”

  “Yes.”

  My body sagged in relief. “You’re taking all of this a lot better than last time.”

  He set down his empty glass. “Well, a lot has happened since then, and I’ve had some time to come to grips with it all.” He eyed the glass in front of me. “Are you going to drink that?”

  I slid the glass across the table to him.
“Are you trying to get drunk?”

  He gave me a lopsided smile. “No, but this is a special occasion. It’s not every day your niece comes back from the dead.”

  “I guess not.” I watched the emotions play across his face – relief, joy, awe as color filled his pale cheeks again.

  “This is going to be quite the shock for everyone,” he mused out loud. “You’ve been gone so long, and we obviously can’t tell people you’ve spent the last three weeks in Faerie land.”

  “We can’t tell anyone. I mean, we have to tell Roland and Peter and the rest of the pack. And the Mohiri too, though I have no idea how to contact them since I lost my phone. But we can’t tell anyone else. Eli’s master is looking for Madeline’s daughter, and if he finds out I’m still alive, he’ll come after us again. I’m sure the Mohiri are looking for him, and if anyone can find him, they can. We can’t let anyone know I’m back until they take care of him.”

  Nate frowned unhappily, but he nodded. Neither of us wanted to risk another attack. I hated putting him in this spot, but what other choice did I have?

  I stared nervously at the phone. “I need to let Roland and Peter know I’m back, but I have no idea what to say to them.”

  “Do you want me to call them?” I nodded, and he wheeled to the counter and picked up the phone. “I’ll be in the living room. This is going to be one hell of a call.”

  Sitting alone in the kitchen, I listened to the murmurs from the other room and tried to imagine Roland’s reaction, the look on his face at that moment. I’d freak out if I thought he was dead and then he showed up out of the blue. Even for supes, coming back from the dead was a big deal.

  I laid my head down on my arms and wondered what the heck I was going to do now. I’d missed almost a month of school – though it wasn’t like I could go back while pretending to be dead. A teenager who falls off a cliff and supposedly drowns and then shows up alive and well weeks later would draw a lot of media attention. I couldn’t stay cooped up in the apartment either because I’d go insane in a few days. There weren’t a lot of options available. I could leave New Hastings and find some small, out-of-the-way place where no one would think to look for me, but a teenager on her own would raise eyebrows. Or I could try to contact the Mohiri. Before I’d disappeared, I’d already agreed to go stay with them for a while. I wondered where Nikolas was now. Probably off rescuing some other unfortunate orphan, I thought with a sad smile. Although after the trouble I’d put him through, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d washed his hands of that occupation for good. What would he say when he found out I was back? Would he come for me or send someone else to deal with me this time?

  I raised my head when I heard Nate by the kitchen door. “How did he take – ?”

  My eyes fell on the man standing frozen before me, his dark gaze burning into mine. “Nikolas,” I breathed, stunned by his sudden appearance. How had he known?

  My breath caught at the play of emotions across his face – despair, anger, joy, and something deeper that wrenched my heart and was gone before I could name it. His body was rigid as he filled the small doorway, looking like he couldn’t decide whether to yell at me or hug me. It shook me a little to discover how happy I was to see him. Ever since I woke up in Faerie, I had felt adrift between the two worlds. Seeing him was like finding an anchor to hold me in this one.

  “Where were you?” he asked harshly, and in those three words I heard pent-up frustration, relief, and a strong dose of anger.

  “Don’t look at me like that.” I wrapped my arms around me, thinking that at least some things hadn’t changed. “It’s not like I stabbed myself and jumped off the damn cliff!”

  His eyes widened at my outburst, and to my mortification, my own filled with tears. Before I could move, he was in front of me, and I sniffed as he knelt and lifted my chin so I was forced to look at him. The tenderness and regret in his eyes were my undoing. I began to cry in earnest, and I was unable to protest when he pulled me against his chest and held me while my body shook and my tears soaked his shirt. I wanted to tell him he could let me go, that I was okay, but I found myself reluctant to leave the warm comfort of his arms even after the tears subsided.

  “Pozhaluysta, prosti menya. I promised to keep you safe, and I didn’t,” he said thickly against my hair. “I’m sorry.”

  “No.” I made myself pull away from him. “If you hadn’t shown up when you did, Eli would have…”

  He flinched. “Don’t think about that.” He stared at me like he still could not believe I was there. “We’ve been searching that area ever since you disappeared. Where were you?”

  “Seelie.”

  “Come again.”

  “Turns out I have friends there.” I gave a watery smile at his puzzled expression. “It’s kind of complicated.”

  Nikolas ran a hand through his dark hair. “Why does that not surprise me?” He pulled out the chair behind him and sat in front of me, almost close enough for our knees to touch. Warmth spread through my belly, and I tried to shake it off. My emotions were pretty high right now and the last thing I needed was to add to them.

  Crossing his arms, he watched me expectantly. “Well, let’s have it. I’m dying to know how a Mori demon ends up in a world where no demon would dare to tread.”

  “Well, it all started the day I met a sylph… Actually no, it started before that with my great, great, great, great grandmother.”

  He quirked an eyebrow impatiently, and I scowled at him. “Look, I told you it was complicated.”

  His sigh was barely audible. “I’m sorry. Please continue.”

  The apology was so surprising, so out of character for Nikolas, that I forgot what I was talking about and it took me a moment to remember. I told him everything I’d told Nate about Aine and what I had learned about my undine ancestor. To give him credit, his face betrayed no reaction as I revealed my unique heritage. I ended by repeating Aine’s warning to be careful because there were some who would not be happy about my existence.

  “You didn’t tell me that part,” admonished Nate, who had come in halfway through my story. “Does this mean you’re in more danger?”

  “No,” Nikolas told him decisively. “Because we will keep her safe this time.”

  Nate visibly relaxed. “So she’s safe here?”

  Nikolas faced Nate. “I have not lied to you since we met, and I won’t start now. Until we track down Eli’s master, Sara is not safe anywhere except with the Mohiri.” Nate started to speak, and Nicolas said, “I know you don’t know much about us, but Sara has family among the Mohiri and they would never harm her. And you would be welcome there as well.”

  “Really?” I asked. If Nate could come with me, going to live with the Mohiri might not be so bad.

  Nate shook his head. “Thank you, that is very generous, but I can’t just pick up and leave. I have a new book coming out and a book tour to plan. And truthfully, I don’t think I would be comfortable living among people who all look like twenty-year-olds.”

  My heart sank. “But you could be in danger if the vampires come back.”

  “Everyone – including the vampires – thinks you are dead,” Nate pointed out. “If they were coming back, they would have done it by now.”

  “He’s right,” Nikolas said. “As long as we get you out of here before anyone discovers the truth, Nate should be safe.”

  I looked at Nate. “But I just got back. I don’t want to leave you.”

  Nate gave me a reassuring smile. “I don’t want you to go, but I would feel better knowing you’re safe. And it’s not like we can’t talk on the phone whenever you want. I’ll even come for Christmas if the Mohiri celebrate it.”

  “We do, and Thanksgiving too,” Nikolas informed us. He shook his head at my look of surprise. “We are not as different as you think we are.”

  I stared at my clenched hands, but they held no answers for me. After everything we’d been through, I didn’t want to leave Nate, but if I stayed here,
I risked putting his life in danger again. He had already been kidnapped and almost killed by someone trying to get to me. My decision had to be about his safety as much as it was about mine, and the weight of it rested heavily on my shoulders.

  I’d gotten what I wanted: the truth behind my dad’s murder, and the vampire who had killed him was dead. But looking back at all the terrible things that had happened directly or indirectly because of my selfish crusade made my skin prickle with self-loathing. I pushed my chair back and stood, avoiding their eyes. Neither of them spoke as I went to the sink and stared out the window at the bay. I loved this view as much as I loved our apartment. I always knew one day I’d have to leave here to go to college, but that had seemed so far away. Now my chest ached at the thought of leaving it all behind, of the prospect of never seeing it again. But I would do anything to never again put Nate through the hell he had suffered.

  My hands gripped the edge of the countertop as I made the only choice I could.

 
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