“I know.” How irritating! As if she needed his permission. “That’s next on my To Do list.”
“What about them?” Their current address was burning a hole in her pocket. Finding them had been first on that To Do list she’d mentioned, in fact, and she’d already crossed it off with shocking ease. A search engine, a (stolen) credit card Tucker had given her, and boom. Results.
They were still local; the shame of abandoning their son, when they might have been the only people in the world who could truly help him, hadn’t driven them away. Were they happy with their decision? Regretful?
She’d debated: call Aden and tell him, or not call Aden? In the end, she’d opted for not. For the moment. He had a lot to deal with right now and if she met with the couple first—fine, spied on them—she could make a more informed decision.
“Close up for today,” Tucker said, drawing her back into the conversation, “and let’s find a place to sleep. We’ll head out for…” He paused, waiting.
“Smart’s wife is still here in Tulsa, close to St. Mary’s, the hospital where her husband used to work.” Tulsa, Oklahoma. Which was two hours away from Crossroads, Oklahoma. Two hours away from Riley.
Not that she’d imagined him driving that stretch of highway a thousand times.
“As best as I could.” He’d left the wife behind, but no one else had been mentioned.
“And you have an exact address?”
“No. I thought I’d drive around until a golden ray of sunlight shined down from the heavens and spotlighted the house.”
“Sarcasm again. Not your best look.”
He sighed, the last sane guy in existence. “We’ll drive there in the morning. Does that work for your timetable?” He didn’t give her a chance to respond. He stretched out his hand and waved at her. “Come on.”
With a sigh of her own, she placed her hand in his. As he stood, he pulled her to her feet. He helped her into her jacket and tugged her out of the microfiche area. Just before they walked into the main library, someone screamed. A girl. Hush Girl, maybe. Fearing the worst, Mary Ann tried to turn around and see what was going on. Tucker threw his arm around her shoulders and forced her attention straight ahead.
“Believe me. You don’t want to see.”
No attacking witches or fairies, then. “What did you do?” she whispered fiercely. And she knew he’d done something, the turd.
“Let’s just say the snake under her desk is trying to converse with her,” he replied with another wicked grin.
They stepped outside, into the moonlight and cold. She tugged the lapels of her jacket closer and glared up at him. “I thought you couldn’t cast illusions when you were so close to me.”
His grin widened, and all she could see was straight white teeth flashing down at her in the darkness. She looked away before she gave into the urge to slap him. Repeatedly. Cars whizzed along the street in a zoom, zoom rhythm. No one stood on the sidewalk, and there were no insidious shadows lurking nearby. Searching had become a habit.
He leaned down, as if sharing a naughty secret. “Let’s just say my skills are going nuclear.”
Or her ability to mute was fading, she thought suddenly, and her eyes widened. Oh, please, please, please, let her ability be fading. If she stopped muting powers, she might stop draining energy, too. And if she stopped, she could see Riley again. Could kiss him again. Could finally—please, finally—do more. Without worry.
“Okay, why did that make you so happy?” Tucker asked, suspicious.
What did he have to be suspicious about? “Nothing.”
He cleared his throat as if fighting a laugh. “That’s not really an insult for me, you know.”
“I know.” She practically skipped along the concrete. Even the thought of safely seeing Riley lightened her mood. “Let’s just enjoy the moment, okay?”
Tucker had to quicken his step to remain beside her. “What moment?”
“There could be if you shut your mouth.”
This time, he laughed outright. “Remind me why I dated you.”
“No. I’d only throw up in my mouth.”
“Nice, Mary Ann,” he said, but he was still grinning.
THE SCREAMS THAT HAD RAZED Aden’s mind for such a torturous eternity ceased abruptly, and he knew only silence. Yet, the silence was worse because, without the distraction, he became aware of a thick, gloomy fog surrounding him, writhing with malicious glee.
Escape, he needed to escape. He would die if he stayed here. Surely the fog would suffocate him. Was even now trying to do so. Determined, he clawed his way through, climbing…climbing…his body broken, throbbing…climbing…climbing…higher and higher until—
First thing he noticed, the fog had dissipated. Still, the world around him was hazy, as though smeared with Vaseline. He sucked in a deep breath to center himself, then growled. There was something sweet in the air, and his mouth watered. His blood heated.
Someone called his name. A girl, her voice layered with concern and relief. He blinked, gradually clearing away the film, and sat up, ignoring the aches and pains shooting through him. His gaze panned the…bedroom. Yes, he was inside a bedroom. Or a snowstorm. All that white—white walls, white carpet, white furnishings—was as overwhelming as it was familiar.
A girl approached him, her hands wringing together and twisting the fabric of her black robe. Finally, a shade other than white. Long dark hair cascaded over one delicate shoulder. She had pale skin, smooth and flawless, and the loveliest blue eyes he’d ever seen.
She reached out, slowly, so slow, to feel his brow. The sweetness in the air thickened, and the urge to taste increased. Though he wanted to bite her, he leaned away from her touch.
Within seconds, she masked the emotion and squared her shoulders. “I’m glad you’re awake,” she said, voice devoid of any emotion as well.
Fangs peeked from between her lips, he noted. Vampire. She was a vampire. A vampire princess. Her name was Victoria, and she was his girlfriend. The details came at him like they were baseballs being shot from a pitching machine. Yet no reaction accompanied them.
“How do you feel?” she asked.
He just looked at her. Feel? His nerve endings had calmed, and he didn’t feel anything.
She gulped. “You were asleep for nearly four days. We gave you medication to quiet the souls, just in case they were the ones keeping you under.” Chewing on her bottom lip, she glanced over her shoulder. “We didn’t feel we had any other choice.”
We, she kept saying. Implying someone had helped her.
“Can we get you anything?”
We again. Aden panned the room a second time and noticed a guy standing in the far corner. Tall, strong, dark hair, green eyes. Riley. A wolf shape-shifter and an all-around pain in the ass, but he was a good guy nonetheless.
A human girl stood beside him. How Aden knew she was human, he wasn’t sure. He’d never met her before. She was nervous, moving her weight from one sandaled foot to the other, her short crop of blond hair dancing over her shoulders, her brown eyes looking anywhere but at him, and her freckled skin chalk white.
Again the sweetness in the air intensified. Except now it was layered with something spicy, and his entire body vibrated with anticipation.
Anticipation. His first emotion since waking up, and it consumed him.
Victoria reached out, not to touch him but to offer her wrist. Distantly he recalled drinking from that wrist. His gaze lifted. And from that elegant neck. And that gorgeous mouth. He’d been besieged with need, utterly intoxicated. And he’d hated himself. He recalled that, too.
Also, he’d hated her. Or at least, a part of him had.
That part of him must have grown, taken over. Because, looking at her now, so lovely and serene, he wanted to grab her arms and shake her. To hurt her as she’d hurt him. To punish her for what she’d done to him.
The urges surprised him. What had she done to him? Besides try to turn him into a vampire. Besides feed him and feed from him. Besides fight him to survive. All of which he understood and accepted.
The moisture in his mouth heated and burned, demanding relief, demanding…blood. He recognized the sensation and was leaning toward her before he registered the fact that he was moving at all. Just before he sank his teeth into her skin, he stopped. What was he doing? He needed blood, yes, but not hers. Hers was dangerous. Addictive.
Shaking, he pushed her arm away—the part of him that still craved her screamed in protest. Her skin was warm, and though not as hot as before, he tingled where they’d touched all the same. He wanted to be touched again and again and again.
Focus on the human. “You,” he said, nodding to her. He refused to fall under another girl’s spell. If he did, he might not recover. There was no way anyone would affect him the way Victoria did. Surely. “Do you want to feed me?”
That dark gaze at last zoomed in on him. “Y-yes.”
“Of you?” She shook her head with conviction, but her subsequent stuttering contradicted the motion. “N-no.”
She wasn’t scared of him, but she was scared of something. That wouldn’t stop him. “Good. Come here.”