To Tulsa? Yes, Caleb said, rousing himself from his anger and grief. We’ll go to Tulsa. We’ll investigate. We’ll savage Tucker if he did this.
The thought of vengeance was like a shot of adrenaline, Aden supposed.
All the color drained from Victoria’s cheeks. “N-no. I’ve been meaning to tell you…” Her gaze flicked to the shifters. “My, uh, brother…whatever he did to me must still be affecting my ability. I can’t. But maybe, I don’t know, you can.”
“Me?” He’d never tried, had no idea how to begin and didn’t want to waste time learning when he might not possess the ability anyway. “No, we’ll drive.”
There was a knock at the door, then hinges were squeaking as the beautiful Maddie entered. She wore the same expression she’d worn the day she’d told him about Sorin’s visit.
“I don’t know why I’ve been chosen to be the bearer of bad news again,” she began, licking her lips in agitation, “but your human friends have returned, majesty.”
“I don’t have time to deal with them. Tell them to go home and I’ll—”
You need to speak with them, Elijah cut in with an urgent tone. Now.
“Have to wait,” Aden said, cutting Caleb off with the same sense of urgency in his voice. “I’m sorry.” A muscle ticked below his eye as he motioned to Maddie to lead the way. “Take me to them.”
Down the stairs, around several corners and into the foyer they went. There stood Seth, Ryder and Shannon. All of whom were covered in soot, smoke practically rising from their shoulders.
“Alive, but injured, both of them,” Ryder said. “And they’re only alive because Sophia got them out.”
Sophia, Dan’s favorite dog. Don’t react. Not yet. One reaction would lead to another, and he couldn’t break down right now. He had to stay strong. But too much was going wrong all at once. Too many bad things piling up, weighing him down. Crushing him.
Looking so weary Aden wondered how he was even standing, Shannon massaged the back of his neck. Tears had dried on his cheeks, streaking through the soot. “S-Sophia didn’t make it, though. Neither did Brian.”
Brian, another boy who’d lived at the ranch. He’d never been a close friend, but still, Aden would not have wished such a death on him.
“Terry and RJ are moving out ahead of schedule. State’s gonna break the rest of us up,” Ryder said, and that’s when the fatigue hit him. He hunched over, breath emerging heavily. “They’re gonna send us to other homes. Maybe prison. Cops will think one of us set the fire.”
Seth erupted, getting in his face. “No, we sure as hell didn’t. That ranch was our home. Dan was the only person who ever cared about any of us. We would not have hurt him. Ever.”
So, who did that leave? Tucker? But even a demon couldn’t be in two places at once.
“My father,” Victoria whispered, horrified. “He’s begun to strike at you, I think. Which means he’s getting stronger.”
Yeah, Aden suddenly thought so, too. No longer were the boys safe. But if they ran, they’d look guilty of the crime. Plus, Vlad could clearly track them wherever they went.
There was only one place they’d be safe. Here.
Everyone was watching him, awaiting orders. Or answers. The burden of protecting them, all of them, was profound. He’d accepted the challenge, though, and won, so the burden was his to carry.
“Maddie,” he said, turning to the girl. “Bring Sorin to me.”
She nodded and was off, her black robe floating behind her.
As soon as Victoria’s brother rounded the far corner, headed in his direction, Aden started throwing out more orders. “You’re in charge, Sorin. Just don’t get used to the position. I’ve gotta take off for a bit. Spread the word,” he told Maddie. “Maxwell, Nathan, you’re coming with me and Victoria to Tulsa. The humans are staying here. They aren’t to be hurt.”
“I’m g-going with you,” Shannon said, the picture of stubbornness.
The vampires and shifters gasped at his daring. Seth and Ryder just looked confused by their reaction.
Wasn’t worth arguing over. Besides, it might be nice to have a human by his side.
Wait. Had he really just referred to his friend as a human? He was even thinking like a vampire now. “He’s coming with us,” Aden amended. “And I changed my mind. So are Seth and Ryder.” That way, he wouldn’t have to worry about leaving them here. “Sorin, let everyone know the Draven/Victoria fight is on hold until I return. I want to watch it, and I can’t do that if I’m gone. Anyone who says this is a ploy to save Victoria from a beating—”
“Will be punished,” the warrior said. “I know how this works.”
“Send a few of the shifters to Crossroads High. I want the building guarded day and night.” Just in case Vlad tried to strike at him that way, too. “And I want someone protecting Mary Ann’s dad at all times, too.” No chances.
Sorin nodded, clearly happy with the turn of events. “It will be done.”
Aden still wasn’t sure he could trust the warrior, but he didn’t know what else to do. Either Sorin was actually working for his father, here to spy on Aden, or would fight his father more fervently than anyone else and help Aden’s cause.
“All right,” he said, turning to his friends. “Let’s go save Riley and Mary Ann.”
If it isn’t too late, Elijah said now.
“Unless you have something productive and positive to add,” Aden told him, “don’t speak again.” Another cryptic warning would only grind him further into the dirt.
ST. MARY’S. A SPRAWLING SET of buildings both long and high, with orange sandstone and countless windows. A large white cross stretched from the center of the tallest structure, which was situated in the center. Cars littered the parking lot, people coming and going in every direction.
Aden sat in the passenger seat of the black SUV Maxwell had produced back at the mansion, studying the entrances and exits, every face that passed him, all while searching for any landmark that didn’t quite fit the scene. If Tucker were casting an illusion, he wanted to know.
Nothing seemed out of place. No one watched him.
He supposed, after the Red Robe Massacre, two injured teenagers weren’t news. Unless the police suspected they were somehow connected. Either way, Mary Ann and Riley were going to be questioned. If they hadn’t been already. Guards were going to be stationed outside their doors.
Come on. Let’s do what we came to do, Caleb said, impatient, so that we can do what I need to do. He wasn’t crying about the witches anymore, but he was pissed. The cold kind of pissed where the need for vengeance seethed.
Aden preferred the tears. At least the soul hadn’t tried to take over his body again.
“Not yet,” he muttered, and everyone in the car leaned forward, expecting an order. “Souls,” he explained.
A chorus of disappointed “ohs” filled the car. They were ready to act, too, but he wasn’t going into this thing blind. They would have a plan and take every precaution.
You know, this place looks familiar, Julian said.
It should. Aden had been born here, and the souls had died here.
A wave of…something swept through him. Sadness, maybe. Fear. If Julian remembered how he’d died, who’d he’d been, he could leave. Forever. Aden had always thought that’s what he wanted—time alone, the ability to concentrate—until he’d lost Eve.
Well, it doesn’t look familiar to me, Caleb snapped. But maybe that means I need a closer look. Hint. HINT.
“What do you think you’ll find inside, Caleb? The witch bodies?”
Yes. No. I don’t know, okay. But it wouldn’t hurt to check out the morgue, or, if the police suspect Riley and Mary Ann of being involved, getting a peek at their notes.
Morgue, Julian echoed, a hollow edge to his tone. I don’t want a closer look at it. I don’t want to fight anyone in there. I’m creeped out. I want to leave.
Yeah. The moment Aden stepped foot inside the morgue, crossing the living-people-reside-here/dead-people-belong-here threshold, every body in the room would reanimate and rise. Attack. He’d have to remove their heads to kill them—again—and just how would he explain that? No, thanks.
Elijah must not have had anything productive or positive to offer, because he didn’t chime in.
Aden scrubbed a hand down his face, wishing he’d kept his own lips shut back at the mansion and not lashed out at the psychic. Elijah had only wanted to help him.
“With my abilities, I can’t risk going in there,” Aden admitted to the others. “Maxwell, Nathan, how good are you at tracking?”
“The best.” Maxwell, the driver, twisted and eyed his brother, who sat directly behind him. “You bring the stuff?”
“Hell, yeah,” Nathan said, lifting a nylon bag he’d stuffed under his seat. “Always.”
“We’ll find them, no problem,” Maxwell said to Aden. “And no one will suspect us of anything, even if we smack into a cop.”
“Why don’t I take it to the next level and show?” Nathan unzipped the bag, reached inside and tossed Maxwell a pair of sunglasses. As Maxwell pushed them over his nose, Nathan pulled out a few others things and then, right there in the car, he shimmied out of his clothes and morphed into his wolf form.