I'm here. Darcy and I will start driving east toward the Ukraine border. Keep in touch. I'll be able to tell if we're getting closer.
An hour later, Austin was sure they were getting closer.
The bolt scraped, and the door swung open. Two men with hunting rifles marched in. Emma held up her hands. The woman she'd seen before came in with a bucket of water. She took it to the bathroom area and picked up the chamber pot.
"Thank God," Emma muttered. She couldn't tell if the woman noticed the cameras inside. Her face remained blank.
Emma tried her Russian on the two men. "The vampires are controlling you."
They stared at her, expressionless.
One of the guards smiled, his eyes glassy. "Katya."
"Galina," the other one whispered, smiling.
"Slave dogs," Emma muttered, eyeing the punctures on their necks.
A teenage girl came in with a tray of food that she deposited on the cot. Emma frowned at the wounds on her neck. Those damned vampires should leave the children alone. The woman returned with a fresh chamber pot. Then she and the girl hauled the tub of water toward the door.
"How would you all like a free vacation to the resort of your choice? I'm talking first-class hotels with real bathrooms. You know, indoor plumbing? Towels?" Emma was met with blank looks.
The females carried the tub up the stairs, then returned with it empty. They set it back in the bathroom.
"Do you realize those vampires are making you do all the work?" Emma asked. She glared at the men. "And you just stand there and let the ladies do the work?"
The teenage girl retrieved Emma's lunch tray, and they all filed from the room. They shut the door and shot the bolt.
"Nice talking to you!" Emma shouted. With a sigh, she sat on the cot and ate her dinner.
That's good, he answered. I can contact our Vamp buddies, and we'll have more people searching for you.
Angus told me not to talk to you after sunset. Our captors will hear me.
I understand. We're almost to the border. You sound much closer. We'll see you soon.
"I hope so," Emma whispered as the last of the sunlight disappeared. The lone lightbulb on the ceiling shone.
A sudden movement caught her attention. Angus's legs had twitched. She heard a deep breath from behind the screen.
She swallowed hard. Her vampire roommate was awake.
With his first breath, a powerful hunger seized Angus. He was always hungry upon first awakening, but this was worse than usual. He was used to having at least three bottles of synthetic blood during the course of each night. Last night, the contents of his flask and the small amount he'd taken from Emma added up to half his usual intake. He could have taken more from Emma, he'd been sorely tempted to, but he'd wanted her alert and strong during the day so she could try to escape.
She was still here; he could smell her. Her blood rushed through her veins, calling to him, offering him the gift of life. His senses remembered the sweet taste of her. Pain speared his gums when his fangs strained to release. Raw need slammed into his gut, and his brain screamed to take her. His body shook. With a moan, he rolled into a fetal position. No, no! He would not become a raging monster.
"Angus, are you all right?"
"Stay back." Luckily the screen she'd placed around the table kept him hidden. He didn't want her to see him so weak. And he didn't want to see her. One look at her and...
He cried out when his fangs shot forth. The devil take it. He was losing this battle. His stomach seized with a cramp. He had to bite. Something. Anything. He pushed up the sleeve of his knit jumper and sank his fangs into his arm. There was a jolt of pain, then instant relief. He drew blood into his mouth, and the hunger eased a little. Just enough for him to see and think clearly again.
He could see through the gap between the floor and the bottom edge of the screen. He could see Emma's feet as she paced about the room. Her scent wafted toward him, sweet and fresh. He pulled more blood from his arm. Cannibalizing himself would buy him some time, but it would also make him weak. He could survive tonight, but tomorrow? His primal instincts would take over, and he'd be as vicious as any Malcontent. He would tear into Emma with the ferocity of a monster. His hunger would be so great, he would most likely kill her.
With the edge off his hunger, he was able to retract his fangs. With a groan, he sat up. His head grazed the underside of the tabletop.
"Angus." Emma's footsteps stopped in front of the screen. "Are you all right?"
She smelled so good. "Stay back. Across the room."
"I can tell you're suffering. Maybe I should give you a little... like yesterday?"
"Nay. I wouldna be able to stop. And I doona want ye weak." Most likely she would be fighting for her life in the next few days. The best chance he could give her was to keep her strong.
Her footsteps moved back. "I have good news. I made contact with Austin. He and Darcy were in Hungary, and they're coming to the Ukraine. He could tell he was getting closer to us."
"That's good." And now that it was dark, there would be friendly Vamps searching for them, too. They could move much faster than mortals. Still, the Ukraine was a big country.
He pulled his jumper over his head, so his arms would be bare and easy to bite. Hunger still gnawed at his stomach and clouded his thinking. It would be a long night.
Last night, after Emma had fallen asleep, he'd ripped a wooden slat from a chair back and taken the spoon from the table. He'd spent the rest of the night scraping the spoon along the slat's edge. He'd hidden them under his kilt while he slept.
They were still on the floor under the table. He examined the piece of wood. He'd succeeded in narrowing one end, but it still wasn't pointed enough to make a good stake. He grabbed the spoon and went back to work, scraping and whittling.
"What are you doing?" Emma asked from across the room.
He didn't answer. It took all his energy to keep control of his hunger and keep whittling.
After a while, she spoke again. "I tried to pull the silver off the walls, but I couldn't find an opening big enough for you to teleport us out. I'm sorry."
He made a noise of acknowledgment. He wouldn't have the energy to teleport, anyway. His only hope rested in the Vamps finding them before sunrise.
It was Friday night, he realized. Shanna would be having her baby. And it was exactly one week since he'd met Emma. It seemed like a lifetime.
He kept whittling. The wood slowly took the shape of a stake. When hunger overcame him, he sank his fangs into his arm.
Sometime after midnight, he heard the creaking of the cot. "Ye should sleep. Ye need to be awake during the day to make contact with Austin."
"I know." She yawned. "I just kept hoping the good guys would appear. Do you think Katya's found Casimir yet?"
"I doona know. I'm certain she's trying, but I canna hear them through the silver."
Soon after, he heard her soft, even breathing and knew she was asleep. Her pulse slowed to a steady, hypnotic beat. He crawled out from under the table and looked at her. She was beautiful. So brave and pure of heart. He returned her pillow, gently lifting her head to slide it underneath. His hand lingered on her neck. Her pulse called to him, and he backed away.
He stripped and stepped into the wooden tub. He used half the water from the bucket to wash. The mixture of cold water and cool night air was uncomfortable enough to take his mind off the hunger and pain. For a little while.
He put his kilt and T-shirt back on. He returned the screen to the bathroom area. The glaring light from the ceiling lightbulb bothered him, seemed to make his head ache more, so he set a chair under the lightbulb, climbed up, and gave it a quick twist. The light went out, and the room became soothingly dark. He returned the chair to the table, then sat and waited. The stake lay finished on the table in front of him. Emma lay on the cot like a gourmet feast, his for the taking. There were only a few hours before sunrise. He could only hope his friends would come soon.
Emma had fallen asleep to the soft, rhythmic sound of metal scraping wood. When another similar sound interrupted her sleep, she ignored it and snuggled deeper under the blanket. She turned her head and realized vaguely that her pillow was back. Angus was looking out for her while she slept.
The scraping sound repeated. Poor guy. Still making stakes. It had to be almost dawn. She could hear the birds outside chirping and feel that calm stillness before the day began. She should wish Angus good night before he slipped into his death-sleep. She opened her eyes and noted the lighter gray light around the window. Angus would be settling down underneath the table. She glanced toward the table.
It wasn't there. Neither was the screen. It had been put back in the corner bathroom.
Where was Angus? She sat up and heard a creak behind her. She turned and gasped.
Angus had pushed the table against the western wall and was climbing up. She glanced back at the window and jumped to her feet. When the sun rose, it would pour through the window directly onto him.
"What are you doing?" She ran toward him. Was the fool trying to kill himself? She halted when the truth slammed into her. He was.
He looked at her sadly. "I dinna want ye to see this."
"I can't believe you're doing this. Come down before you get burned."
"I swore to protect you, Emma. And yer worst threat right now comes from me."
"Bullshit." She yanked at his kilt. "Shame on you. I can't believe you would give up this easily."
"Ye think I do this lightly?" His eyes blazed with anger. "Look at me!" He showed her his arms.
She gasped at the sight of so many wounds.
He leaned over to make closer eye contact. "That could have been you."
Tears blurred her eyes. How much had he suffered to keep from biting her? "I'm sorry."
"You doona understand the terrible power of this hunger." He straightened. "Even now, I can barely keep myself from tearing into yer throat."
She winced. "I know it's bad, but we can't give up. You'll fall asleep soon, then it won't bother you anymore."
He glanced at the window and set his jaw. "This is the best way."
Stubborn man! He was pissing her off. "Stop being a damned hero and come down." She grabbed his leg and pulled.
He stumbled and caught himself by placing a hand on the wall behind him. A terrible hissing sound came from the silver burning his flesh. He pulled his hand away, grimacing.
"Oh God, I'm sorry." Emma tried to help steady him. "Please come down."
"'Tis better this way. Let me go."
"No! I refuse to lose you." Her tears threatened to overflow. "I've lost everyone. I'm not losing you."
His eyes glimmered with moisture. "If I wake at sunset, I will attack you. I'd rather die than cause yer death."
"It won't happen!" She grabbed his kilt in her fist. "When the sun rises, I'll make contact with Austin. I'll lead him here. We'll be rescued. We'll be okay, Angus. Please."
He closed his eyes. She could see the struggle he was enduring in his furrowed brow and clenched teeth. He swayed on his feet. She glanced back at the window and saw the rosy tint of the sky. The sun was on the horizon. Soon it would shine through the window and land on Angus.
"Don't leave me," she whispered. A tear rolled down her cheek.
He opened his eyes. "I pray ye're no' mistaken."
"I'm not. Austin will find us today. I swear he will."
Angus bent down and eased off the table. His legs gave out, and he collapsed onto the floor. "Death-sleep," he whispered.
She leaned over him. "It's all right. I'll move you to a safer place."
"Not much time." He motioned to the table. "Stake."
She found the stake. It was crude, but it would work. Even in pain, Angus had managed to give her a way to protect herself. "I'll be honored to use this on the Malcontents. Thank you."
"If Austin doesna... make it in time, use it... on me."
The stake fell from her hand. Her heart froze. "No."
"If I wake, the hunger will take me. Ye must stop me."
Tears glimmered in his green eyes. "I swore never to hurt you."
"You are hurting me! I can't do it. I care too much about you."
A tear slipped down his cheek, tinted red with blood. "If ye care, doona allow me to hurt you. I couldna live with myself."
"Angus." She moved closer and wiped the tear from his cheek.
He smiled slightly. "Ye were wanting to kill me for days."
She sniffed and wiped a tear from her face. "Not anymore."
"I'll be in my death-sleep," he whispered. "I willna feel... a thing." His eyes closed.
"Angus." She leaned over him, her hands on his cheeks. He wasn't breathing. He was gone. Her heart constricted with pain. She couldn't bear to lose him. "I love you."
She laid her head on his chest and let the tears flow. How could she ever harm Angus? In just a week, he'd taught her so much. That good, honorable men like him stayed the same after death. That she'd existed for too long with only hatred and revenge in her heart. Love was a much nobler cause to live for. Love didn't follow its own selfish agenda; it was willing to make sacrifices for others. How strange that it took an undead man to show her how to live.