Seth, Shannon and Ryder dove over the backseat, into the trunk space, and pressed themselves against the window.
“You met the vampires,” Aden said, “now meet the shape-shifters.”
There was more floundering, and Aden could practically taste their fear and shock. Could definitely hear the increase of their heartbeats. Junior noticed, too, and offered up one of his patented roars.
“What else is out there?” Ryder asked, peering at the wolf as if he was toxic.
His grin as grim as before, Maxwell exited the car and Nathan bounded into the driver’s seat, then to the concrete outside. Maxwell loaded him down with a harness, service vest and leash.
Victoria, who sat behind Aden, giggled behind her hand. Half humor, half apprehension. “A Seeing Eye dog?”
Maxwell wiggled his brows over the rim of the shades. “No one asks a blind man what he’s doing or why he’s doing it.”
“We’ll be back as soon as we can.” With that, the pair was off, Nathan leading the way, trotting slowly, and Maxwell stepping tentatively behind him.
For a moment, as Aden watched them, he caught a glimpse of Edina the Dancing Mama winding through the cars. Not now, he thought, cutting off the moan trying to break free of his throat.
Maybe his unwillingness to deal with the woman shot this newest memory down before it could form, because he blinked and she was gone.
“That was close,” he muttered. He wondered why she kept appearing, if he saw her during times Victoria would think of her, when she would most want her mother’s support.
What was close? Caleb asked. Never mind, doesn’t matter. I don’t like waiting.
It’s been, like, two minutes, Julian replied. Shut it for a bit, and we’ll all get through this.
Victoria climbed into the driver’s seat, her shoulder brushing his. Even with their clothes between them, the sensation was electric. “How are you doing?”
“Good.” Truth. The aches and pains had faded, as she’d promised. “You?”
“Good,” she said, but she didn’t sound convinced—or convincing.
“I’m glad.” He reached out and traced a fingertip along her cheek.
Her eyes closed as she leaned into the touch. “Once the wolves find Riley and Mary Ann, you might have to risk going inside long enough to use your new vampire voice on the police, hospital staff, whoever happens to be around them.”
That’s right. He could do that now. He recalled telling Seth to leave the stronghold, watching the boy’s eyes glaze over and receiving instant obedience. Recalled Victoria trying to use her voice and failing.
So he could, and she couldn’t? “Why can’t you use yours?”
Her gaze moved briefly to the boys in back, none of whom had left their perch against the window. “We’ll discuss it later. Right now, you need to practice.”
On the boys? No need to ask out loud. He knew. Who else?
He sighed and turned to them. “Bark like a dog.” Simple, easy.
Seth flipped him off. Shannon and Ryder leaned toward each other and locked in a whispered conversation. “Okay, that was productive,” Aden said dryly.
“Want them to obey,” Victoria instructed. “Then force that want into your voice.” Propping one elbow on the console between them and resting her weight, she leaned into him and patted his chest, just over his heartbeat. “Push the words out from right here.”
Her hand was still chilled, he noted. He latched onto her arm and turned her wrist up. The cuts still hadn’t healed. Her ability to use Voice Voodoo was gone. She had been unable to teleport them. Something was going on with her, and he would find out what that something was the next time they were alone.
Now he closed his eyes and thought, I want my friends to bark like dogs. I really want them to bark like dogs, it’ll be funny as crap. “Bark like a dog.” His throat tingled, and his tongue felt thicker as the words tumbled out of his head—and his heart?
Victoria smiled at Aden with a blend of triumph and sadness. “See?”
Captain, fire the shock at warp speed, because wow. He’d done it. He’d freaking done it. That quickly and that effortlessly. He looked back, and sure enough, all three boys sported glazed expressions. They were his to control. His to manipulate.
He cut those thoughts off at the root. He shouldn’t want to control, and he shouldn’t want to manipulate. And he absolutely did not want to listen to any more barking.
Hands balled into fists, Aden closed his eyes, forced his mind on the necessary task. I want them to stop barking, he thought and then said the words. Once again his throat tingled, and his tongue thickened.
The barking instantly stopped, the boys glaring at him.
“How did you do that?” Seth spat.
“D-don’t do that a-again, you ass,” Shannon stuttered.
Leaping over the backseat, Ryder cranked his elbow backward, clearly intending to fly the rest of the way over and strike. Which he did. Aden caught the boy’s hand just before contact, seeing and sensing his intent at the same time.
“Use your words like a big boy,” he said. “I was just testing something out, making sure I’ll be able to help Riley and Mary Ann.”
Though Ryder was obviously shocked by Aden’s speed, he jerked away and dropped his arm to his side. “Whatever, dude. You do that again, and I’m gonna… I’ll…you don’t want to know!”
Shannon climbed beside him and tried to put his arm around him, but Ryder threw him off, cheeks brightening. Shannon’s cheeks brightened, too, and he turned away from his…boyfriend? Were they a couple? Or just getting there?
You know, I believe there’s an entrance at the east side of the emergency building, Julian said, distracted, as if he’d been studying blueprints of the building during the entire exchange. It’s locked…maybe…and no one ever uses it. Maybe. Or rather, they didn’t use to. Papers and photos were stored there. Records. Pause. I think.
How’s that supposed to help us? Caleb lashed out.
Aden, Julian said, ignoring him. Check out that entrance, my man. Please. I want a peek at those papers. If they’re there. Just, I don’t know, stay out of the hospital, okay?
He pointed to his head with an apologetic half smile, and she nodded in understanding. True understanding.
Maybe they’ll remind me of who I was.
“No, I mean, why stay out? If we avoid the morgue—”
Don’t want to risk it. Besides, I’m creeped out, remember?
“But not by the secret room, or whatever it is.” A room that, if it really did exist, could very well be a lab for testing bodily fluids by now. His luck, he’d walk in, someone in a lab coat would be holding a vial of something black and smelly, and he’d have to beat feet, cries of “You ruined everything” ringing in his ears.
I…don’t know. Just seems really important.
Important like stuff about the night the souls died? A long shot, but worth a peek. If there was a chance—and there was—he had to risk his neck to take it.
“Victoria, stay here with Shannon and Ryder. Seth, come with me. There’s something I want to check out.” The boy would make a good—and probably the only one who’d be eager—lookout.
“Sweet.” Seth was standing outside the car and rubbing his hands together in less than point-six seconds.
To his knowledge, she’d never shivered before.
“I need you to guard the humans.” Just in case Tucker was out there. And he probably was.
Even though Tucker was Vlad’s ambassador, Vlad would not order anyone to slay his daughter. Beat her, yes, Aden thought with a tide of anger. Kill her? No.
“But I…I…oh, very well.” She nodded reluctantly, shadows in her eyes. “I’ll stay behind like a good little girl.”
One day, he would find a way to wipe those shadows clean. She was meant for happiness. “Hey, are you okay?” he asked her. “Seriously.” He cupped her cheeks and thrilled at her softness. “You can tell me.”
“Yes, you will be.” Right, Elijah?
Aden sighed. He’d have to apologize to the psychic, but not here. Groveling might be involved, so private time was a definite necessity. He kissed Victoria, soft and lingering, uncaring about their audience. “I’ll be back. Do you have your phone?”
“Text me when the wolves return. Or if you need anything. Or if you get scared. Or if you—”
“I will.” She laughed now, and the sweet sound lessened the tension between them. “Go.”
After another kiss—he couldn’t stop himself, had to have it—he led Seth toward the east side of the building.
They reached a padlocked door, and dread overtook him. “I guess we’ll find out together.”
TO A VAMPIRE OR A SHIFTER, a human guarding two other humans was kind of like having a toddler guard other toddlers. Useless. But Victoria had never been more certain of her status. She was absolutely, utterly human.