“Victoria, are you listening to me?”
“What? Oh, yes. Sorry.” She was still so easily distracted. “But Aden hates his medication.” And if he wanted back inside that ranch, Victoria would make it happen. A few spoken commands, and the humans there would do and think whatever she wanted them to do and think.
If she still possessed the Voice, she thought with a swirl of dread. She’d lost her ultratough skin and could have lost her ultrapowerful voice, too. Since returning, she had tried to compel a few of the human slaves to do her bidding. They had smiled at her and gone on their way, without doing what she’d told them.
You’re out of practice, that’s all, and still haven’t completely regained your strength.
The pep talk failed to comfort her.
“You’re worse than Aden,” Riley muttered. “And I don’t care if he hates his meds or not. We’ve seen him like this before, minus the need for blood, and the medication was the only thing that helped him. If the souls are responsible, like they were before, we have to knock them out for a little while.”
“But what if the medication hurts him, now that he’s a blood drinker?”
“Doubtful, since human meds don’t really hurt you. But there’s only one way to find out, isn’t there?”
Good point. One that bothered her. Most everyone in Aden’s life considered him a schizophrenic. Not only had his parents given him up when he was little, but he’d been shuffled from one mental institution to another. Different “cures” had been shoved down his throat for years, and he’d hated them all.
And, really, he liked the souls, loud and obnoxious as they were, and his newest medicinal regimen shut them down entirely. But Riley was right. Aden wouldn’t last much longer in his current state. They had to try something, anything. Everything.
“All right.” She hated that she hadn’t thought of this. If it worked, she could have saved Aden three days of…distress? Pain? Mental torment? Probably a mix of all three. “We’ll try.”
“Good. I’ll be back.” Riley turned on his booted heels and headed for the door.
He stopped, but didn’t face her.
“Be careful. Thomas’s ghost is still there.” Thomas, the fairy prince Riley and Aden had killed to save her. Now his very nasty ghost haunted the ranch, and he craved vengeance.
“And thank you.” Being here was probably difficult for him. Mary Ann was his love, and knowing him, he was frothing over her disappearance. Was probably frantic to be out there, searching for her. Yet, he stayed because Victoria needed him.
When Aden improved, she would help Riley hunt for Mary Ann, she decided. A danger to her loved ones or not.
A stiff nod, and then Riley was gone, the door closing behind him. Sighing, Victoria turned back to Aden. Her beautiful Aden. What was going on in that head of his? Was he aware of his surroundings? Hurting, as she suspected?
Did he know what she had done to him, those last few minutes in their cave?
She ran her fingers through his hair, lifting the strands and revealing the blond roots. There was a slight curl at the ends, the locks winding around her knuckles. He didn’t lean into her touch as she was used to, and that saddened her.
How much turmoil could one boy endure before he crumbled? Since the moment she’d entered his life, he’d known only war and pain. Because of her, goblin poison had ravaged him. Because of her, the witches had cursed his friends to die. Because of her, the fairies had tried to take over the D and M ranch.
Fine. Maybe all those things weren’t exactly because of her, but she still felt responsible. A humorless laugh escaped her. How human of her. To carry the weight of blame, despite everything. Aden would be so proud.
“You woke up from this kind of thing before,” she whispered. “You will wake up this time, too.” Please.
Unable to bear the thought of separation, she remained where she was until Riley returned a half hour later. He was without his shirt and wearing new pants that weren’t yet fastened. He’d dressed hastily, his other clothes ruined during his shift to wolf, she was sure.
Wolves tended to wear clothing that ripped easily. Because, when they shifted, they were stuck wearing whatever didn’t fall off. And wearing human underwear while in wolf form was something they preferred to avoid.
He carried a small wicker basket filled with medicine, the pill bottles rattling together. Victoria hopped to her feet, and he placed the basket where she’d sat.
“Nope. I didn’t even catch a glimpse of him. But then, unlike Aden, I’ve never been able to see or hear the dead. The delay had to do with the pills. I didn’t know which ones to give our boy and didn’t want him to have a reaction to the wrong combination, so I just grabbed the bottles with his name on them, stopped in my room, and Googled.”
What he didn’t say: Mary Ann was the Google queen, and she was the one who’d taught him how to use the search engine. Although, calling it an engine always confused Victoria. There were no workable parts that she could see.
“So, what happened at the ranch?” she asked.
“Here. See for yourself.” He extended his free hand, and she twined their fingers. They’d been together so long, they’d developed a very strong mental connection and were able to “share” their experiences.
As if a television screen were switched on inside her mind with a view straight from Riley’s eyes, she saw Dan, an ex-football star, tall, blond and rugged, standing in the kitchen of the ranch. His wife, petite, pretty Meg, bustled around him, tossing ingredients into a pot.
“Me, too. But Aden’s not the first to run away. He won’t be the last.” While the words were accepting, the tone was not.
“He’s the first to surprise you with his actions, though.”
“Yeah. He’s just such a great kid. All heart.”
Meg’s smile was soft. “And not knowing why he left kills you. I know, baby.”
“I hope he’s okay. Maybe if I’d given him more one-on-one time, he wouldn’t have—”
“No. Don’t you dare do that to yourself. We can’t control the actions of others. All we can do is support them, and pray we make a difference.”
The conversation faded as Riley stealthily maneuvered from the main house and into the bunkhouse behind it. Aden’s friends were there. Seth, Ryder and Shannon lounged on the couch, watching TV. Terry, RJ and Brian were in front of the computer, playing games. Relaxing activities, but there was an undeniable tension radiating from each boy.
They must feel the loss of Aden, too.
I have to fix this, Victoria thought.
Shannon stood, a chalky cast to his mocha skin, his gaze sweeping the room—and clashing with Riley’s.
In the present, Riley released her hand, the images flickering, disappearing, and she was once again inside her bedroom.
“Shannon saw you,” she said.
“Yeah, but he didn’t do anything and I was able to get what we needed without incident.” Riley dug inside the basket, setting aside what he wanted and discarding what he didn’t. “There wasn’t a whole lot of information, just enough to tell me he needs the antipsychotics. This, this, and this.” As he spoke, he placed the desired pills in her palm.
She studied them. One was yellow and round, one blue and oblong, and one white and scored in the center. These tiny things were supposed to help him when she could not?
“Fetch a glass of water from my bathroom,” she said.
Commands were not something Riley usually responded to, but he didn’t hesitate to obey, soon thrusting the desired glass in her hand. His concern for Aden was as great as hers.
“Lift his head and tilt it back,” she said, and again, Riley jumped to obey.
She pried Aden’s mouth open and set the pills on his tongue. Then she placed the rim of the glass at his mouth and poured. Just a little, but enough. Without looking away, she reached out and set the remaining water on her nightstand. Or tried to. Her aim was off, and the glass thudded and splashed to the floor. She didn’t care. She closed Aden’s mouth with one hand and worked his throat with the other, until all the pills made their way into his stomach.
That done, she straightened and peered down at her patient. “Now what?” she whispered, watching for any kind of response…and not seeing one.
MARY ANN GRAY SAT AT THE corner desk in the back of the library, reading countless microfiches—the same thing she’d done every night for a week. Days were beginning to blend together, her temples were throbbing, the muscles in her back were knotted, and there were (probably permanent) marks along her butt and thighs that were a perfect match to the scuffs in the freakishly uncomfortable chair she’d commandeered.
According to all the “How To” info she’d read for people on the run, she knew developing a routine was bad. Like flashing a neon arrow just above your head. Problem was, this routine was necessary.
She flicked an irritated glance at her companion. AKA the boy she couldn’t ditch no matter what she tried. And she’d tried a lot. Dine and dash. The old “wait here, I’ll be right back.” The classic “what’s that over there?” And even brutal honesty—“just leave me alone, I hate you.”
“So I’ll finish in thirty,” she said. “Now get lost.”
“Let’s not start that argument again.” Tucker Harbor perched at the edge of her desk, pushing books and newspapers on top of each other and crinkling their precious pages. Just to irritate her, she was sure. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“Do you mind? This stuff is important.”