Relentless, p.7
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       Relentless, p.7

         Part #1 of Relentless series by Karen Lynch
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  Chapter 5

  “SARA! SARA, CAN you hear me?”

  “Is she – ?”

  “She’s breathing.”

  “Christ! Did you see what he did?”

  “I-I couldn’t reach her, Pete.”

  “Forget that now. Let’s get her out of here.”

  Strong arms picked me up and cradled me against a warm chest. I opened my eyes to see a familiar face above me.

  “Roland?”

  “She’s awake,” Roland said hoarsely, and I heard Peter whisper, “Thank God.”

  Roland sat me on a bench at the bus stop near the building and knelt in front of me. Peter sat next to me, and I let myself lean against him. The world was coming back into focus and along with it, my memory. I pulled my knees up against my chest as my whole body shook, and I began to sob uncontrollably. I hadn’t cried in front of another person in years, but it now felt like a long-sealed dam had burst open.

  Roland rose and sat on my other side. He put an arm around my shoulders, pulling me against his warmth. “You’re safe now.”

  I let him comfort me for a minute before I pulled away from him. My dad used to hug me all the time, but since his death I shied away from most physical contact. It provided comfort, but it also gave you a false sense of security. I used to feel safe when my dad held me, like nothing could ever hurt either of us. Letting someone get that close to you only opens you up to more pain when they’re gone.

  “No one is safe,” I croaked between hiccups. I was such a fool. I knew what was out there. I knew there had been vampire sightings in Portland, and still I came and nearly got all of us killed. I shuddered and buried my face in my hands, wondering if I’d ever feel safe again.

  “Shit, Sara, I’m so sorry,” Roland moaned. “If I had any idea something like that would happen, I never would have brought you here.”

  “It’s my fault.” Peter’s voice was full of regret. “If I had stayed with her…”

  Roland glared at Peter. “I was gone for five minutes. What the hell happened, dude?”

  “It–it’s not his fault.” What could a teenage boy have done against a vampire? Then I remembered Nikolas fearlessly facing down two vampires, armed with nothing more than a sword and a bunch of knives.

  “Where is Nikolas?” At Roland’s confused look I said, “In–in the alley. He saved my life.”

  “I’d say. He ran over and fucking caught you!” Peter exclaimed. “You fell thirty feet, and the guy caught you.”

  “I remember falling, but that’s it.” How was it possible to catch a person falling from that height? How was I still alive after that?

  “Probably better if you don’t remember.” Roland’s eyes took on a haunted look. “Seeing you fall like that… I never want to feel like that again.”

  “So he caught me and left?” I could not keep the tremble from my voice. He’d saved me from a fate worse than death then just… disappeared?

  “Yeah, he went after the um…”

  “Vampire. You can say it, Peter.”

  Roland and Peter exchanged looks, and Roland’s tone gentled like he was speaking to a child. “You’ve been through a lot and you’re in shock right now. We should talk about this later.”

  “I know about vampires, Roland,” I said wearily. I heard Peter’s sharp intake of breath as Roland’s mouth fell open. Another time I might have found their reactions comical. “Of course, I know more about them now than I ever wanted to.”

  “How do you – ?” Roland broke off as a group of people left the club and came down the stairs. It felt surreal to see people laughing and carrying on after what I’d just experienced, and I had to force down another wave of tears.

  Roland jumped to his feet. “We should leave. We can talk in the car.”

  “Okay.” I stood with him, but I pulled back when I remembered vampires hadn’t been the only creatures in the alley. “Wait! What happened to the werewolves?”

  He paled and looked around nervously. “Werewolves?”

  “Don’t tell me you didn’t see them. Or hear them.” My mind was still a bit fuzzy, but I’d never forget those yellow eyes or that massive jaw. “I only saw one, but I think there were more. For a minute there I was sure they got you. How could you not have seen them?”

  “It was pretty crazy in there. I’m not sure what I saw,” Peter replied slowly, and right away I knew he was hiding something because his face grew flushed. He never could lie worth a damn.

  “Oh come on. You were – ”

  “I really think we should get out of here,” Roland cut in, and I heard the urgency in his voice. “Vampires normally travel in groups. There could be more of them around here.”

  I pulled back. “Wait, how do you know that? How do you know about vampires at all?”

  “We’ll explain later, but right now we have to get out of here in case there are more.” Roland tugged on my arm.

  The thought of encountering another Eli sent a tremor through me, and I almost ran to his mother’s blue Toyota Camry parked across the street. Roland waited until I had buckled myself into the front passenger seat before he went around to the driver’s side and got behind the wheel. Through the windshield, I saw Peter pull out his cell phone and make a call. Peter’s worried eyes met mine as he spoke into his phone, and I wondered who he was talking to at this hour.

  Peter hung up and climbed into the back seat. He looked troubled when he leaned forward and rested his elbows on the backs of our seats. “Dad said we need to bring Sara there before we take her home. He’s pretty pissed at us.”

  “Take me where?” I asked apprehensively. “Why does your father want to see me?”

  Peter and Roland shared a look before Peter answered. “To the farm. Dad will explain it all to you when we get there.”

  “Why don’t you guys explain it to me now?” I unbuckled my seat belt and turned in my seat to face them. Neither of them could look me in the eye, and that made me nervous. “Roland, what is going on?” I demanded.

  Roland gave me a pleading look. “Please, Sara, let’s just get out of here. I promise we’ll tell you everything.”

  “I don’t understand. What do you mean…?” The question died on my lips when something brushed softly against my mind just as my eyes fell on the dark figure striding down the empty street toward us, light glinting off the knives strapped to his chest. I remembered how he had walked out of the dark and faced down the vampire without a trace of fear, and a shiver went through me. I wasn’t sure if it was pleasure at seeing my savior or fear; maybe a bit of both.

  “Stay here,” Roland ordered before he and Peter jumped out of the car to intercept Nikolas.

  “Yeah, I don’t think so,” I muttered, already reaching for the door handle. After what I’d been through, I had no intention of staying put. And something told me that Nikolas had not come back to see my friends.

  “… hunter doing around here?” Roland was saying to Nikolas as I approached them. “This is not Mohiri territory.”

  Hunter? Mohiri? Eli had used the word Mohiri, too. There was obviously a whole lot more going on here than I knew about.

  Nikolas looked past my friends at me. “Hello again. You seem to have recovered quickly from your adventure.” He wore a wry smile, but I thought I heard admiration in his voice.

  He waved a hand at Roland and Peter. “So, these are the friends you spoke of earlier,” he said with less warmth. “It’s no wonder you were attacked, with nothing but a pair of pups to protect you.”

  Peter scowled. “Hey!”

  I pushed between my friends to face Nikolas. Saving my life did not give him the right to talk to my friends that way. “It’s not their fault. How could they have known something like this would happen?”

  Nikolas’s brows rose. “How indeed?”

  “What do you mean? What’s going on here?” I’d have to be blind and deaf not to notice the thinly veiled animosity between my friends and Nikolas. When no one answered, I turned
to Roland. “Roland? Do you know this guy?”

  Behind me Nikolas made a sound that told me he did not like being referred to as “this guy.” I ignored him and glared at Roland until he shook his head. “I’ve never seen him before.”

  “But you know something about him? What does Mohiri mean?”

  “I am Mohiri,” Nikolas said. All traces of mockery were gone from his expression.

  I faced him again. “And you hunt vampires.” That much was kind of obvious when you figured in his attire and the headless vampire in the alley, but I wanted to hear him say it.

  “Among other things.” He had the same expression he had worn on the deck, like he was trying to figure me out. God, was it really only an hour ago?

  “What about your friend from the club? Is he a hunter, too? Why didn’t he help you?”

  “Chris scouted the area for more hostiles while I handled the situation here.”

  The situation. That’s what he called battling two bloodthirsty vampires in a dark alley? I shook my head. “So what happened? Did you get the short straw or something?”

  “Or something,” he drawled as his gaze burned into mine. Warmth curled in my stomach, and I dropped my eyes in confusion.

  “What about the other vampire? Did you get him?” Peter asked.

  “Chris is tracking him.”

  “He got away?” Roland’s voice echoed my alarm. Eli had vowed to have me. Was he going to come after me again?

  “He’s injured, so he won’t get too far. Don’t worry. He won’t stick around here now that he’s being hunted.”

  “We should put some distance between us and this place all the same,” Roland said, and I silently agreed with him.

  “You live in Portland?” Nikolas asked, and we shook our heads. “Good. The farther you get from the city the better. It’s not safe here right now.”

  “No shit.” Roland took my arm. “We need to get out of here.”

  We made it ten feet before it hit me. I haven’t even thanked him. I spun back to face Nikolas and found him watching me with that same impassive expression. “Thank you… for what you did. If you hadn’t come when you did…” My voice cracked. After the night I’d had, the last thing I needed was to start blubbering in front of a complete stranger.

  Nikolas’s expression softened for a moment, and I saw a flicker of something raw and turbulent in his eyes. It pulled at me like it was an invisible cord attached to my chest, and I almost started walking toward him. But in the next moment, it was gone and I was left wondering if I had imagined it.

  “Just doing my job.”

  “Oh…okay, well thanks anyway.” His clipped words stung after what we’d just been through. It was the second time tonight he had suddenly gone cold toward me for no apparent reason. It shouldn’t have bothered me because it wasn’t like I’d ever see him again. But for some reason it did.

  I didn’t look back this time as I walked to the car. I got into the front seat again and laid my head wearily against the headrest while I waited for Roland to get in and start the engine. When I felt the car move I looked up, but the street was empty.

  “Oh God, I need to call Nate.” Eli had shown up before I could call Nate. “What am I going to tell him?”

  “Well, I don’t think you want to tell him the truth,” Roland said, and I shook my head. He thought for a minute. “Just tell him we’re going to hang at my house for a while. It’s what we would have done anyway.”

  Nate, not surprisingly, was still up working on his book. I told him I was going to Roland’s, and he just said not to stay out too late. It weighed on me after I hung up how easily the lie had flowed from my lips. Nate was good to me, and all I ever did was deceive him. But I honestly could not see any way to tell him the truth.

  No one spoke as Roland drove us through downtown Portland. We passed a few bars with people lined up to get in as taxis of more people arrived for a night of partying. It was Friday night and the night life was in full swing. At one stoplight I watched a group of laughing young women crossing in front of us, and I couldn’t help but think how that had been me a few hours ago. Was there another Eli watching them right now, selecting one to meet the fate that could have been mine tonight?

  God, I’m nothing more than a statistic now. I read stories online all the time about vampire sightings and people disappearing. I’d always felt bad for the unsuspecting victims who had no idea what was out there. Until tonight, I believed I was smarter than them, more prepared because of what I knew. It was scary and humbling to know that I was just as vulnerable as everyone else.

  As soon as we hit the interstate I heard Roland let out a sigh of relief. None of us were sorry to put Portland behind us. Roland fiddled with the radio until he found a classic rock station, and an Eagles song filled the car. We all relaxed a little after that, but none of us seemed inclined to speak. I knew they were keeping something from me, but my brain was too tired to process anything else right now.

  A little more than an hour later, Roland took the exit ramp to New Hastings, but instead of heading into town, he drove toward the rolling farmland on the outskirts called the Knolls. He and Peter lived in the Knolls, and when we were kids I used to come out here all the time. I couldn’t count the hours I’d spent on their Uncle Brendan’s farm. As we passed the sign for the Knolls, it hit me that I hadn’t been out here in almost a year. Had it really been that long? Up until two years ago, not a weekend passed when I wasn’t with Roland and Peter. It was around that time that they began doing some “male bonding” thing with their cousins, going off on their outdoor excursions. I was hurt at first that they excluded me from their fun, until I started spending more time with Remy. Eventually, I stopped coming out here at all.

  It was funny, now that I remembered it, that Roland had agreed to spend so much time with his cousins, especially Francis who was four years older than us. Roland and Francis had never gotten along, and as far as I knew, they still didn’t. Francis didn’t like me, and he never hid his feelings, which angered Roland. In fact, they’d had a huge fight – and I mean a bloody brawl – right before they started to hang out. We were at the farm when Francis came by and asked if I had a home to go to instead of always being underfoot. I would have told him where to go if Roland hadn’t punched him first. Next thing I knew, the two of them were tearing through Brendan’s cornfield, making a God-awful racket like two wild dogs trying to kill each other. Then Peter’s father, Maxwell, showed up and roared at them until they’d slunk out of the damaged corn like scolded puppies.

  My mouth fell open. No!

  Do you smell that, my friends?

  It’s no wonder you were attacked with nothing but a pair of pups to protect you.

  A large furry body jumping to catch me…

  “It can’t be.” My hand clutched the seat belt that suddenly threatened to choke me.

  Roland glanced at me. “Sara?”

  I would know, right? All the days, the hundreds – no thousands – of hours together, I would have seen some sign. It wasn’t like I was ignorant of the real world. Sure I’d never seen a werewolf in person until tonight, but a person would never be able to hide the obvious drawbacks of lycanthropy from people close to them. That was why most werewolves were reclusive. Like vampires, they couldn’t touch silver, and it would be pretty hard to explain how you got second-degree burns from a silver fork. And werewolves were predators, they had to hunt. They couldn’t live among humans unless they transformed and hunted live animals at least once a month…

  My hand flew up to cover my mouth. “Stop the car.”

  “What’s wrong?” Roland asked in alarm.

  “Stop the car!”

  Peter leaned forward. “Dude, I think she’s going to hurl. Pull over.”

  Roland let off the gas and eased the car over onto the shoulder in front of a dark field. As soon as the car stopped moving, I opened the door and ran to the fence where I bent over, trying to suck air into my lungs. Behind me,
car doors opened and leaves crunched as my friends came after me.

  My best friends, the werewolves.

  Roland spoke hesitantly. “Are you okay?”

  The worry in his voice penetrated the ache in my chest. I took a deep breath, but I couldn’t face them. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

  “Tell you what?”

  “I was in shock back there, but my head is clear now.” I gripped the top fence rail, and the rough wood dug into my palms. It was solid, more real than anything else tonight, and I clung to it. The desperate words I had heard as I woke up came back to me. I couldn’t reach her. “It was you on the fire escape, wasn’t it, Roland?”

  Silence.

  “Sara, I—” Roland began weakly.

  “Shit,” Peter muttered.

  A breeze soughed through the trees and ruffled my hair. Close by, a small animal rooted through the underbrush. It was so dark and quiet here, and so calm compared to the city. I took a deep, tremulous breath of the country air as I tried to think of what to say.

  “Please don’t be afraid,” Roland said in a rush. “We would never hurt you.”

  I turned to face them. “I know that. I’m not afraid of you. I’m upset because I had to wait for a vampire to attack me to find out the truth. And even then you tried to cover it up.”

  I felt like a hypocrite as soon as the accusation spilled from my lips. I was yelling at my friends for keeping a secret from me when that’s exactly what I had been doing as long as I’d known them. My not-so-righteous indignation drained out of me, and I sagged against the fence, cold and tired.

  Roland slowly walked toward me. “I’m sorry,” he said softly, his voice heavy with regret. “We had to hide it from you. We were bound by our laws.”

  “And when my dad lays down a law, no one disobeys,” Peter added earnestly. “We wanted to tell you, but humans are not allowed to know about us.”

  “Your father?”

  Peter grimaced. “He’s the pack leader.”

  Of course. Who else but Peter’s imposing father, Maxwell, would be alpha? “So both of your families, all your cousins, you’re all werewolves?”

  “Yes,” Peter replied.

  My breath came out in a whoosh.

  “I know you’re upset, but please hear us out before you hate us,” Roland implored.

  “I could never hate you guys.” My voice cracked. “It’s just a lot to take in after…”

  Roland reached for me, but I put up a hand to keep him from trying to hug me again. Instead, I took his warm hand in mine to let him know my feelings for him hadn’t changed. He was still the same Roland I’d always know. Nothing would change that.

  “Guys, my dad is waiting for us, and I bet he’s not alone. We should probably go.”

  “Pete’s right.” Roland squeezed my hand. “You up for this?”

  I nodded, and we walked back to the car. The mood during the rest of the drive was subdued. Roland and Peter kept shifting restlessly like they wanted to talk but couldn’t. I had a ton of questions for them, but it looked like I wasn’t going to get any answers until we saw Maxwell.

  For the first time in my life, I was nervous about visiting the farm, and I felt a stab of apprehension as we turned onto a narrow lane and I saw the large white farmhouse looming ahead. Every window was lit up, and I saw Maxwell’s Jeep parked next to Brendan’s big Chevy pickup.

  I rubbed my forehead as Roland pulled up behind the pickup and shut off the engine. He reached across the console to lay a hand on my arm. “You okay?”

  “Yeah, it’s just been a long night. Guess we should get this over with.”

  Peter leaned forward. “It’s not that bad… depending on how you look at it. I mean, you just faced a couple of vampires. Can’t be as bad as that, right?”

  “Pete, you’re not helping,” Roland said sharply.

  A shadow appeared in one of the windows, and I knew they were waiting for us to come in. I took a deep breath and reached for the door handle. Peter was right. I’d just survived a vampire attack. A pack of werewolves should be a piece of cake.

  I followed Peter as he opened the front door and entered the house. The first person I saw in the archway to the living room was Maxwell. Tall and sinewy with a hardened face, graying reddish brown hair and beard, he watched us with a shuttered expression as we filed inside. As many years as I’d known Maxwell, I had never gotten used to his austere ways. Not that he had ever been mean to me. But he was the only person I’d ever met who could intimidate the heck out of me. Of course, knowing that he was the alpha of a werewolf pack put things in a bit more perspective. It took a tough person to fill that role.

  Standing next to Maxwell was his younger brother, Brendan. The two men were matched in height and had similar features, but Brendan was stockier with receding hair and a rounder face that gave him a less severe appearance than his brother. The serious, contemplative look he gave us made me nervous, and I almost turned and ran back out the door. I didn’t know if I could cope with another confrontation tonight.

  Maxwell opened his mouth to speak, but a woman’s voice cut him off. Roland’s mother, Judith, was tall and slender but still inches shorter than her son. They had the same dark brown hair and blue eyes, though at forty-five Judith’s hair was speckled with gray. I’d never met Roland’s father because he died when Roland was a baby, but I always figured my friend had inherited his father’s size. He sure as hell didn’t get it from his mother.

  “Not now, Max,” Judith said in a voice that brooked no argument. “Give the girl a few minutes.” She took my arm and led me to the stairs, calling over her shoulder, “Roland, go put the kettle on.”

  I wasn’t used to having someone coddle and fuss over me, but it felt kind of nice to let Judith take charge. She bustled me up the stairs to the bathroom and told me to shower while she went to get me some fresh clothes.

  After Judith closed the door behind her, I looked at myself in the mirror and gasped at the disheveled girl staring back with tangled hair, tearstained cheeks, and a dirty ripped shirt that was spotted with dried blood. It was like looking at a stranger.

  I tilted my head to the side to see the four small claw marks on the left side of my throat. My fingers went to touch the marks, and a shudder passed through me as I remembered Eli’s hands on me. My stomach turned over suddenly, and I retched violently in the toilet as hot tears streamed down my face.

  I would have curled up in a ball right there on the floor if Judith hadn’t knocked softly on the door and roused me. “Are you alright, sweetheart?”

  “Yes,” I called weakly. I flushed the toilet and grabbed some tissue to blow my nose. “I’m just getting in the shower.” I tore off my dirty clothes and left them in a pile on the floor, then slipped under a blissfully hot stream of water. I stood there for a good five minutes letting the water cascade over me, soothing my aches and pains. It did little for the hurt inside me, but that would need some time. The water washed away a few more tears before I finally turned it off and stepped out.

  A clean pair of jeans and a soft red sweater had been left on the vanity along with a steaming cup of tea that smelled like chamomile and peppermint. I sipped the tea gratefully while I dried myself and got dressed. Brendan’s daughter Lydia was away at college, and I knew these must be some of her things because I had to roll up the legs and sleeves.

  I towel dried my hair and combed out the tangles before I headed downstairs with the empty cup in my hand. At the bottom of the stairs, I heard Maxwell’s raised voice coming from the kitchen. “… can’t believe you took her to a club in Portland with everything going on,” he said harshly. “And how could you be so careless? Where was your training?”

  “But you said yourself this week that they had moved on,” Roland protested.

  “And we’ve been to the Attic loads of times. No one’s ever messed with us,” Peter chimed in. “We figured – ”

  “Of course no one messed with you!” Maxwell sounded even
angrier if that was possible. “So you two idiots not only endangered Sara, you exposed us to a human.”

  “But Dad she – ”

  “I won’t tell anyone about you.”

  All conversation stopped when I walked into the kitchen. Judith sat at the table with Maxwell and Brendan, and Roland leaned against the refrigerator. Peter stood by the back door looking liked he wanted a quick escape from his father’s wrath. I walked over to the sink, rinsed out the cup, and laid it in the dish rack. Then I steeled myself and turned to face the room, aware that every pair of eyes was watching me.

  Judith pushed out the chair next to her. “Sara, why don’t you sit and we’ll talk. You must be pretty confused right now.”

  “I’d rather stand if that’s okay.” I was amazed at how steady my voice sounded.

  Maxwell cleared his throat, but Judith laid a hand on his arm. She nodded at me and gave me an understanding smile. “We know you’ve been through a lot tonight, so take all the time you need.”

  I didn’t need time. I needed answers. Surprisingly, the first question on my lips was not the one I’d intended to ask. “Why did you let us become friends? Weren’t you afraid that I’d find out what you were, spending so much time here?”

  It was Maxwell who answered. “There were some in the pack who thought it a bad idea, but if we are to live among humans, we can’t shut ourselves off from people. And we have ways of concealing what we are.”

  Apparently. Until tonight, I hadn’t the slightest clue that my friends were anything but human. I wondered about the people who’d been against my friendship with Roland and Peter, and I could name at least one of them. Francis had never hidden his dislike for me. Now I knew why.

  “I know you guys go hunting once a month, but Roland and Peter have only been doing that for a few years. Why didn’t they go when they were younger?”

  Maxwell’s eyebrows shot up, and he sent a scorching look at Roland and Peter. Peter raised his hands in defense. “We didn’t tell her anything, I swear.”

  “It wasn’t them. I know werewolves have to hunt or… bad things can happen.” I glanced around at the faces showing various degrees of surprise.

  “See, I told you. She knows things,” Peter piped in.

  “How do you know this?” Maxwell asked.

  “I – ” How much could I tell them without giving away secrets I was not ready to share? I thought about what I was going to say before I continued. “I’ve seen things, and I talk to people online.” At Maxwell’s look of disapproval, I said, “It’s mostly message boards, but I do chat with some people. I’ve been doing it for a long time. I’m not sure if you guys know this, but there are a lot of people – humans – who know about the real world. We just don’t go around telling everyone about it. Who would believe us, right?”

  Maxwell’s scowl softened. “You said you’ve seen things. What kind of things?”

  Oh, you know, vampires, trolls, elementals. “Um… imps.”

  “Imps?” Judith repeated.

  Her startled expression was so funny that I almost laughed for the first time since the attack. “Our building is infested with them.”

  Roland wrinkled his nose. “Ugh! You know there’s a remedy for that. Pete and me can take care of them for you.”

  I shook my head. “I know they’re a bit of a nuisance and no one likes them, but they’re not so bad once you get used to them. They love blueberry muffins, so I leave them a few treats every now and then and they leave my stuff alone. They’re great at catching rats, too.”

  Brendan coughed into his hand.

  Peter’s brows drew together. “I’ve never heard of imps infesting a human home. Is that normal, Uncle Brendan?”

  Brendan shook his head. “No, but then how many human homes have you checked for imps? Guess it had to happen eventually with towns and cities growing and all.”

  Maxwell looked pensive. “You say you’ve known about our world for a long time. How long, exactly?”

  My fingers gripped the edge of the counter behind my back. The only person I’d ever told this to was Remy, but there was something about my fierce friend that made it easy to tell him my troubles. Telling people who were like family to me was a different matter.

  “I’ve known ever since my dad was killed and I saw… what they did to him.” I swallowed hard. “No human could have done that, no matter what the police said. It took me a few years to figure it out.”

  “Vampire,” Peter said, and the word hung in the air between us.

  Roland straightened. “Jesus, Sara. I had no idea.”

  “No one did.” I toyed with the hem of my borrowed sweater. “It’s not like I could tell Nate or the police. Who would believe it?”

  Maxwell rubbed his fingers through his beard. “We suspected. We have friends on the Portland PD, so we knew there were several suspicious deaths around that time. You were so young. I had no idea you saw it or that you knew the truth.”

  A chair scraped the floor, and I found myself in Judith’s warm embrace. “You brave girl. I can’t believe you had to deal with this alone all these years.”

  I hadn’t been hugged so much since before my father died. I wanted to pull away, but that seemed rude somehow so I let her hold me.

  She stepped back and cleared her throat. “I think I need some tea. Anyone else?”

  I moved aside so she could fill the kettle. “Is it true that werewolves hunt vampires?” I asked Maxwell, who nodded.

  “I can’t believe I never caught on to what you are.” All the days I’d spent out here, all the sleepovers with Peter and Roland and dinners with the family, and I had never seen a single clue that they were different in any way. I certainly never would have pegged them as vampire hunters.

  Maxwell smiled for the first time. “We’re very good at keeping our secrets. I’d be very put out if we couldn’t hide them from one little girl.”

  Roland snorted, and his uncle shot him a dark look. “You won’t find it as funny when you’re running drills for the next month.”

  Roland’s face fell, and I almost laughed at his pitiful expression. To save him from Maxwell’s glare, I said, “So, is that how you know that guy, Nikolas? What’s his story anyway?”

  “The Mohiri are a warrior race of vampire hunters who have been around probably as long as there have been vampires. They are very secretive, and they hardly ever communicate with other hunters, though our people cross paths with them sometimes. We don’t care for them and they don’t like us, but we’re on the same side so they leave us alone.”

  “Why don’t you like each other?”

  Brendan had been quiet since I came downstairs, but he spoke up now. “The Mohiri don’t only hunt vampires. They hunt anything that is a threat to humans. A long time ago, our kind was not as… civilized as we are now, so they were hunted, too. We changed over time, but every now and then there is an incident. The Mohiri don’t trust us, and there are still some hard feelings among werewolves for them.”

  The kettle began to whistle, and Judith lifted it from the burner and poured hot water over teabags in two mugs. The scent of jasmine wafted toward me as she slid one of the mugs across the counter to me then carried her own cup to the table. I let mine steep for a minute before taking a sip. I loved Judith’s teas; she grew and dried the plants herself and stuffed the dried leaves in little mesh bags she bought at an Asian market in Portland. She always seemed to know the best tea for a situation.

  “You didn’t answer my question about why Roland and Peter didn’t start hunting until a few years ago,” I reminded Maxwell.

  “We don’t get the urge to hunt until sometime after puberty starts,” he explained. “It’s different for everyone.”

  “Yeah, and we also have to train… a lot,” Peter added.

  I looked at my friends, still finding it hard to believe they could become the terrifying creatures I saw tonight. “Have you ever hunted vampires?”

  Roland shook his head. “Not
until we’re eighteen.” A satisfied gleam entered his eyes. “Not many of us get to tangle with one before our first vampire hunt.”

  Maxwell shot him a withering look. “It’s nothing for you to crow over. If that Mohiri hadn’t been there, we might be having a different conversation right now.”

  The kitchen grew quiet as the weight of Maxwell’s words hit us. If Nikolas had not shown up when he did, Eli would have taken me away before Roland and Peter knew I was in any danger. No one would ever have known what had happened to me, just like those other missing girls. And Eli had left no doubt about the horrors he planned for me in the last hours of my life.

  Pain and guilt crossed my friends’ faces. I couldn’t tell them the things Eli had promised to do to me or how close I had come to never seeing them again. They already blamed themselves; I would not add to it. And if there was one thing I was good at, it was keeping secrets.

  “Sara, you seem to be handling this well, all things considered,” Judith observed.

  I blew on my tea. “You didn’t see me two hours ago.”

  Maxwell turned to Brendan. “We’ll have to call a meeting in the morning. It looks like we’re not done in Portland after all.”

  Brendan nodded grimly. “Wish we knew what’s keeping the suckers there. They’re brazen bastards to go after a girl with two pack members and a couple of hunters nearby.”

  I thought about Eli’s determination to have me. Could he really have become obsessed just because I rejected his advances and I could not be compelled? That raised another question – why couldn’t he compel me? Did it have something to do with my power? Maybe there wasn’t enough room in my head for the vampire with the beast already lurking there.

  “Whatever their reason, I won’t tolerate them in my territory any longer. We’ll add more patrols here around town and send a team to go over every inch of the city. They’ll leave or die.” Maxwell’s voice rumbled with authority unlike anything I’d ever heard from him, and I shivered in spite of the cup of hot tea in my hands. I stole a glance at him, expecting to see glowing amber eyes, but his face was unchanged.

  “I think this discussion can wait until tomorrow,” Judith said firmly, obviously not in the least intimidated by her alpha brother. “Sara, why don’t you stay at our place tonight? You still look too shaken up to face Nate.”

  I almost said no to her offer because all I wanted was my own room and my own bed. But she was right about me not being ready to see Nate. One look at him and I’d probably dissolve in tears, and there would be no hiding it from him then.

  I looked over at Roland, who nodded, his eyes hopeful. I could tell he was afraid tonight had changed how I felt about them and I wanted to reassure him that nothing would ever come between us.

  “I’d like that, thanks,” I told Judith. Roland smiled.

  Judith stood and went to rinse her cup. She took mine and washed it, too. “Alright, I think it’s time we head home and let you get some sleep. You must be exhausted.”

  “I don’t know if I’ll be able to sleep tonight.” I knew that as soon as I closed my eyes I’d see Eli’s face.

  “Then we’ll keep each other company,” Roland said, following us.

  Peter caught up to us. “Me, too.”

  Judith turned around to confront them. “This is not a slumber party. Sara’s been through a lot, and she doesn’t need you two keeping her up all night, no matter what she says.”

  “You boys can stay here tonight if you want,” Brendan offered, and Roland’s smile faltered. It wasn’t hard to read his emotions because I was sure the three of us felt the same thing. After going through such an ordeal together, none of us wanted to be separated from each other right now.

  “I’d feel better if they came with us,” I said, unable to keep the slight quiver out of my voice. Judith gave me a concerned look, and I hoped she wasn’t going to hug me again because I was afraid I might get weepy this time. I’d cried enough tonight.

  Judith smiled in understanding, and I thought for the thousandth time how lucky Roland was to have her for a mom. “Okay. Roland, you can drive.”

  Roland reached out and squeezed my hand as we headed for the door. “Later,” he mouthed to me, tilting his head toward his mother. I gave him a small nod back. When we used to have sleepovers, he’d wait until his mother went to bed then come get me. All we did was hang out in his room and watch movies or talk until one of us started to fall asleep, but it was always the best part of my stay.

  I suddenly longed for those days when the monsters were still faceless things I’d only heard about. Thanks to Eli, I’d probably never feel safe again, and I fervently hoped that Nikolas and his friend had tracked the vampire down and sent him straight to hell where he belonged.

 

 
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