A muscle ticked below his eye. A sign of his upset, and something that had happened quite frequently lately. “I’m practically human. I can’t protect you anymore.”
If that was his only argument, he’d never get rid of her. “You did just fine back at the motel.”
“And what about when a pack of wolves decide to make you their lunch?”
“So, if you could still shift, you would stay with me every second of every day?”
“Then how would you have protected me from that before, huh? I could become someone’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, whether you shift or not. Stop making excuses and say what we both know you want to say.” Don’t listen to me.
He was breathing heavily, his nostrils flaring with the force of his inhalations. “We’re…we…”
A hard hand settled on her shoulder, and Mary Ann whipped around with a startled yelp. A frowning Aden stood beside her. Riley snarled at him, realized what he’d done to his king and cleared his expression.
“Let’s head to Tonya’s. I’ll get Victoria there. Riley, you get Mary Ann there.”
Warmth flooded Mary Ann’s cheeks. Okay, so now she cared about her audience. “Why do you want to go back to Tonya’s?”
“She has answers about Julian that I can’t find in the papers and photos. So, meet us there in…” He glanced at a wristwatch he didn’t have and had never worn. “Half an hour?”
Enough time to work through their current problem, he was saying.
“Good.” Aden and Victoria sauntered off, hand in hand.
Way to rub it in.
“Come on,” Riley grumbled, taking off in the other direction. He rounded the far corner, Mary Ann close to his heels. Rather than picking up where they’d left off, he picked out a car to steal.
She didn’t protest as he popped the door lock, removed a chunk of plastic around the ignition, then cut and twisted the exposed wires. She just acted as lookout and slid into the passenger side when the engine roared to life.
Soon they were winding down the roads a little too swiftly for her peace of mind, winding in and out of traffic. Which still wasn’t heavy, but come on. Only took one vehicle to get in your way, and hello, wreck.
He’d never driven this erratically before. Not with her. “If I say what you wouldn’t, will you slow down?”
His fingers curled around the wheel, his knuckles quickly losing color. “I don’t need you to say it. I can.”
She wouldn’t react, she wouldn’t react, she wouldn’t freaking react. “Then do it.” Good. There’d been no hint of turmoil in her voice.
“I can’t,” he said, contradicting himself. “I try, part of me wants to, but I can’t.”
There was no comfort to be had in his claim. “Can you ever forgive me for what I did? For what you asked me to do?”
He reached up, adjusted the rearview mirror. “That’s not the issue, Mary Ann. If I hadn’t done what I did, if you hadn’t done what you did, you wouldn’t be alive. And I’d rather you were alive and my animal dead than the other way around.”
That, she could take comfort from—but it cost her. Suddenly she was bathed in shame, her skin tingling with it. “I wish I could give him back to you.” But she’d absorbed him and must have chewed him up bite by tasty bite, because she couldn’t sense him inside her. Not on any level.
“You can’t,” he said, confirming what she’d already known.
“If that’s not the issue, then why are you so angry with me?”
“I told you. I can’t protect you like this.”
“Riley, I never liked you because of how well you protected me. I liked you because of how hot you look in your jeans!”
“Funny.” The word was laced with sarcasm, but his lips were quirking at the corners, delighting her, uplifting her.
All too quickly, he sobered up. “My pack, the vampires, they all hate you, fear you and will be out for your blood.”
“Yes. A drainer has never been rehabilitated before. They won’t believe you’re no longer a danger to them.”
And he didn’t either, apparently. “A few weeks ago you would have said they’d never follow a human king, but look at them now.”
He flicked her a glance, and the car at last slowed down. He was still breaking the sound barrier, but she took heart. “Do you want to be with me? Because I seem to remember you pushing me away again and again.”
Now or never. She may as well lay it all on the line, since she was asking him to do the very same. “Yes. I want to be with you.”
“And if you start draining again, will you run from me again?”
So not the response she’d craved. “I—” Crap. She had no answer for him. Would she? Wouldn’t she? She didn’t know, and then it didn’t matter. Blue and red lights flashed behind them. A siren blared. “I think we’re being pulled over.”
Riley slowed the rest of the way, easing over to the side of the road.
Panic beat through her. “Does he know it’s stolen? Is that why he stopped us?”
“No, or he’d have his gun out and aimed. Just stay calm, and say nothing.”
A few horribly agonizing minutes later, the cop was standing beside their car, his elbow resting against the open window, and Mary Ann was battling a panic attack.
“Do you know how fast you were going, son?”
“Nope.” And Riley didn’t sound as if he cared.
“You mean the sign wasn’t just a suggestion?”
She wanted to curse. Why was he being so antagonistic?
Gaze narrowing, the cop focused on her, his lips turning down in a scowl. “License and registration. Now.”
She really wanted to curse. What was he doing? Did he want to be arrested?
“What are you saying, son?”
“That I don’t know who it belongs to.” Riley flashed a wicked grin. “I—” he air quoted the next word “—borrowed it.”
Aaannd…that’s when the cop pulled his gun.
WHERE WERE THEY? Victoria wondered for the thousandth time. The allotted half hour had come and gone, yet Riley and Mary Ann never made an appearance, never texted, and never answered her texts or calls.
“Maybe we should go look for them,” she suggested to Aden. “Then, you can teleport us where we need to go.”
She’d had to work for years to move even a yard, and even then, she’d always winded herself. Yet he had jetted them miles across the city, without having to stop and rest or check his surroundings to ensure he’d hit the right spot. She was baffled, impressed and, yes, jealous.
The jealousy made her feel guilty. He’d given up a lot to be with her. She could deal with the loss of her vampire abilities.
“They’re probably arguing and lost track of time,” Aden replied. “Come on. We don’t need them for this.”
“You’re probably right.” Riley had never had to work for a girl, so a resisting Mary Ann was good for him. Seeing them together, seeing the need Riley tossed her way when he thought no one was watching, Victoria had stopped blaming Mary Ann for what had happened to her friend. Clearly, they needed each other.
Aden gave her a quick kiss and dragged her up the porch steps. Hard and sharp, he knocked on the front door.
Several seconds ticked by. Victoria didn’t see or hear anything, but Aden must have because he said, “You will open the door, Tonya, and welcome us inside.” The polished cherrywood swung open, Tonya’s eyes already glazed as she stepped aside.
Aden led Victoria into the living room. The furnishings were clean, yet clearly aged, the floral fabric on the couch faded in spots, the coffee table scuffed. In fact… Victoria studied the few magazines resting on top of that table. They were yellowed, a little brittle and dated seventeen years ago.
Grimacing as he made himself comfortable on the couch, Aden muttered, “Julian is going crazy. He recognizes the furnishings. He clearly spent more time inside than out.”
“Well, there’s a possibility the inside looks the exact same as it did before he died.” She motioned to the magazines.
Tonya sat across from them. “What do you want?” The words lashed, as if she were fighting the forced desire to welcome them. And those shadows…they were in her eyes and undulating madly.
“First, I want you to know that I will not hurt you,” Aden said. “Do you understand?”
“What do you want?” she asked again, and wonder of wonders, she was less hostile.
“Answers. The truth about your husband and his brother. Tell me what I want to know, and I’ll leave you alone.”
“I don’t like to talk about my darling Daniel and that rat Robert.” Adoration mixed with revulsion. Her frown returned, and the shadows picked up speed. “I always call them by those names. And I feel that way, I do. I loved my husband and hated his brother, but…”
“But I didn’t always feel that way. I mean, I never loved Robert, but I liked him. And I remember wanting to divorce Daniel.” Her brow furrowed with confusion. “Or maybe I only dreamed that, because I love him so much. I will always love him.”
Aden massaged his temple. Was Julian shouting? “Tell me about them.”