“Can you make sure they aren’t spotted on the drive home?” Aden asked Tucker.
“Will you?” Wouldn’t be smart to leave things open to interpretation. “Yes.”
Aden had no choice but to believe him. “Then do it.”
“How are you gonna get home?” Maxwell asked.
Good question. “I’ll steal a car.” And it wouldn’t be the first time.
“All right, then. I’ll see you when I see you.” A few seconds later, the SUV was motoring away, leaving Aden, Victoria, Tucker and Nathan—in wolf form—to take care of business here.
“I still can’t risking going inside the hospital,” Aden told them. “As you can see, I’m still in the body-raising business.”
“Nathan and I can go with Tucker,” Victoria said. “We’ll meet you out here.”
He’d known she would step up. That didn’t lessen his nervousness. She was strong, he told himself. She couldn’t teleport, but she could move quickly. “If anything happens to her…” Everyone knew the words were for Tucker, and Tucker alone.
“I bet that’s your excuse every time you hurt someone.”
A muscle ticked below the demon’s eye. “Your friend needed to be eliminated. I let her eliminate him. No excuses necessary. What’s wrong with that?”
They weren’t going to debate this now. Wasn’t like they’d change their minds about each other. “Riley made the mistake of trusting you, and look where it got him. Believe me, I’ll give you enough rope to hang yourself, but that’s it.”
“Meaning, she comes back to me in the condition she’s in now, or I hunt you down and make it hurt when I finish you.”
Tucker snorted, not the least intimidated. “Riley plans to make it hurt anyway. And guess what? I warned him. He didn’t listen to me. This is his fault. So let’s stop yakking and do this. I’ll get your friends, and you’ll get my brother. That’s the deal.”
Before Aden could respond, Victoria said, “I’ll be fine,” as she stepped between them. She offered Aden a small smile. “Besides, Nathan is with me. He won’t let Tucker do anything.”
Aden didn’t point out that Nathan wouldn’t be able to stop Tucker if the guy started throwing those illusions around.
He kissed her, hard and fast. “Do what you gotta do, but you come out of there.”
Her pupils expanded, black consuming blue, and he knew she understood. If she had to rip out a few throats to get out safely, she would just have to rip out a few throats.
“We doing this or what?” Tucker snapped.
“We’re doing this,” Victoria said without looking away from Aden. Then she turned, and the threesome walked away from him, disappearing through the hospital doors.
Aden was left in the parking lot, on his own with his worries and regrets. They wouldn’t help him steal a car, so he shoved them aside and cased the parking lot.
The darkness offered solace, the light anguish. Therefore, it wasn’t hard to pick which one Mary Ann preferred. Sweet, sweet darkness. But that stupid, stupid light kept forcing its way into her mind.
Like now. Bump, bump. Bump, bump. Her poor, battered body was being jostled, each movement a new lesson in agony. An advanced class of you-think-you-know-what-it’s-like-to-hurt-well-try-this she would have been very happy to fail.
“You should carry her, Vic,” a raspy male voice said above her.
Familiar. Maybe…unwelcome? Or too welcome? Her heartbeat kicked up a notch in the speed department.
“Don’t call me that. And why would I want to carry her?” Wait. That had sounded like her sorta friend and Aden’s girlfriend, Victoria.
“Maxwell took off with my clothes, so I’m tripping on the toga I stole from little bro’s bed,” the male replied. Yes, he was familiar…somehow. She should know him, but couldn’t quite place him. He just wasn’t who she’d hoped he’d be, that much she puzzled out. “If I drop her, Riley will flip his lid.”
Riley. Yes! That was the voice she craved but had yet to hear.
“You complain, yet I’m carrying the big guy.” Hey, that had sounded like Tucker. “He needs to diet. Seriously.”
“Just do your jobs,” Victoria said with a weariness Mary Ann had never before heard from her. Usually, the princess was tireless. “We’re almost outside. Tucker, are you sure no one can see us?”
Tucker grumbled under his breath. Something along the lines of how many times can you ask me this already? “Yes, I’m sure.”
“What about the guards and nurses—”
“They can still see the bodies in their beds. In fact, they’re trying to revive them and failing right now. The kids are dying. So sad. Boo-hoo.”
“No. First, my evil deeds increase my power. As you can guess, I’m pretty powerful. Second, the human brain accepts what it sees and fills in the rest. And if it doesn’t, I do. So by the time the people here realize their suspects are dead and missing, it’ll be too late. Now shut up. They can hear us.”
“Do you doubt Aden’s skills this much? You do, don’t you? FYI, he probably wants to cut off his ears and mail them somewhere else. Geez-us!”
Now Victoria was the one to grumble. “I thought you couldn’t work with Mary Ann nearby.”
“Yes,” she said on a sigh, “they do.”
Were they…rescuing her? Surely. But from where? Last thing Mary Ann remembered was kissing Riley, loving it, wanting more, thinking they were finally going to go all the way, wishing their surroundings were different, then a shooting pain through her shoulder, the flow of warm blood, Riley telling her to feed from him—wait, wait, wait, back up that train.
She had fed from Riley.
Was he okay? Was he nearby?
Reckless in her need to find out, she struggled for freedom.
Bands tightened around her. “Mary Ann. Stop, you have to stop.” The familiar yet unfamiliar male again.
“Riley,” she managed to squeeze out of her raw throat.
Good. Okay. Yes. She relaxed, the intensity of her relief forcing the light to go bye-bye, and just like that, the darkness returned.
Mary Ann heard squealing tires. Then loud, pounding rock music. Then soft, quiet rock and a muttered argument. She was no longer being jostled but resting against something soft. Although, there was a small, hard object pushing into her side.
Her mind immediately went somewhere it shouldn’t.
She pried her heavy eyelids apart. Someone must have smeared Vaseline over them because everything was hazy. Well, the joke was not funny, and she’d be lodging a complaint just as soon as she could pry open her mouth.
“—telling you, I’m good,” Tucker was saying.
“Sorry, but you’ll understand if I still take precautions,” Aden replied.
“Letting your girlfriend drive while you hold a knife to my throat is not a precaution. It’s a death wish. Besides, you still need me, you know. Without me, you could be pulled over.”
“And you still need me. Don’t forget.”
Silence followed, allowing her thoughts to align. Rescued. With Riley. Where was Riley? Her heart drummed in her chest, reminding her of something, but she didn’t know what. She raised shaky hands to wipe at her eyes. Though nothing coated her fingers, her line of vision cleared slightly, and she was able to look around. She was in some sort of van, sprawled across the backseat.
Okay, so a seat belt was the thing poking her in the back, not some guy’s… Well, that was a relief.
More relief: she spotted Riley propped up in the seat in front of hers. Even in sleep, he must have heard her moving around because he turned his head in her direction. His eyes were closed, his expression pinched.
Pinched was better than lifeless any day.
She reached up, her shaking getting worse by the second, and wound her fingers around his arm. He gave no reaction, but that was okay. Whatever had happened to them, they were going to survive.
A sigh escaped her, the darkness closing back in around her. This time, she was smiling as she drifted away.
Frowning, she blinked open her eyes, stretched the soreness from her body as best she could—which equated to not at all—and gingerly sat up. After a moment of dizziness, she was able to make out her new surroundings. The car had been replaced by a small, tidy room, and the backseat with an unfamiliar bed. Whoever had done the decorating really liked the color brown. Brown carpet, brown drapes, brown comforter.
“—have to feed,” Victoria was saying.
“Yes, well, I’m okay for now.”
“How is that possible? I haven’t seen you eat.”
“Just because you haven’t seen something doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened, right?”
Feed. Food. Eat. Mary Ann’s stomach threw another growl into the mix, and both Aden and Victoria—who sat in a brown chair across from the bed, Victoria on Aden’s lap—leveled their gazes her way. Talk about embarrassing.
Unlike the other times she and Aden first encountered each other, Mary Ann was not filled with the urge to hug him and run. She just wanted to hug him. He was one of her best friends, she loved him like a brother, but their abilities—his to draw, strengthen, and hers to repulse, weaken—made them complete opposites. They were like two magnets forcibly pressed together, wrong ends up, and they just weren’t meant to coexist. Until now.