“Yes, I do mind, thanks for asking,” he said, staying put.
She glared up at him. A mix of blond and brown hair shagged around the boyish face of an angel. Which was one hundred percent false advertising, considering he’d been spawned from a demon. Or would that be spawned from the devil?
“When are you going to tell me what you’re looking for?” he asked.
“When I stop wanting to rip out your trachea. In other words, never.”
He shook his head in mock despondency. A hard thing to pull off while he was freaking grinning. “Harsh, Mary Ann. Harsh.” He was so annoying. She’d dated him for months, then dropped him like the used condom he was when she found out he’d cheated on her with her best friend Penny. Penny, who was now pregnant with his kid.
Penny, whom she’d forgiven and still called. As of this morning, her friend was suffering from all-day sickness. Despite that, she’d managed to crawl her way out of bed to check on Mary Ann’s dad.
Her friend’s words played through her head.
“Sweet Jesus, Mary Contrary,” Penny had crackled over the line. “He’s, like, the walking dead. He doesn’t even go to work anymore. He just stays in the house. I peeked in the window last night, and he was just staring at your picture. You know I’m as hard core as a girl can be, but that almost broke me.”
Me, too, she thought now. Nothing I can do about that, however. I’m saving his life. She’d had him freed from a vengeful fairy’s compulsion to never leave his room and to ignore everything around him. That would have to be enough. Better he was despondent than murdered to get to her.
And, now it was time to change the subject inside her head. What had she been thinking about before? Oh, yeah. Tucker.
Why, why, why had she convinced Aden, Riley and Victoria to save Tucker’s life after a group of vampires used his body as an appetizer? If she hadn’t, he wouldn’t have been alive to stab Aden in the heart.
Weirdly enough, Tucker had confessed to the crime without any prompting from her. He’d even cried while telling her. Not that she had forgiven him. Maybe when the shock wore off. Then again, maybe not.
“What you did to Aden was harsh,” she said softly.
He blanched, but still he didn’t move away. “I told you. Vlad made me do it.”
“And how do I know you’re not here under Vlad’s orders, watching me and reporting what I do?”
“And you’re known for your honesty and integrity?”
“Sarcasm is an ugly thing, Mary Ann. Look, I did what he wanted and then I ran. I haven’t seen him or heard from him since.”
The “heard from him” part gave her pause. She knew Vlad had spoken to Tucker inside his head, as if standing next to him and whispering when he hadn’t actually been standing next to him and whispering. Maybe Tucker was telling the truth right now, but again, maybe he wasn’t.
Bottom line: at any moment Vlad could whisper, command him to drag her home, hurt her, bury her, and Tucker would obey without hesitation. She wasn’t willing to risk it.
So she said, “I don’t care about your reasons or that you’re desperate to escape the head vamp. The facts are, you hurt Penny, hurt Aden, and you’re a liability. I’d be stupid to trust you.”
“You don’t have to trust me. You just have to use me. And in my defense, again, Aden is still alive. I can feel the pull of him.”
So could she, and that was the only reason she hadn’t followed through with her threat to get up close and personal with his windpipe. Okay, that wasn’t the only reason. She wasn’t violent by nature. Usually.
Neither was Aden, but life had shaped him differently than it had shaped her. While she’d grown up in the comfort of her parents’ love, he’d grown up in the cold, uncaring walls of mental institutions, his doctors constantly shoving pills at him. Pills he hadn’t wanted and hadn’t liked.
The docs had assumed he was crazy, never digging deeper to get to the truth. And the truth was, Aden was a paranormal magnet. Anyone or anything with supernatural abilities was drawn to him, and their powers—whatever they were—were magnified.
Mary Ann, on the other hand, was the exact opposite. She tended to repel the supernatural and suppress powers.
The suppression thing was the reason Tucker had glued himself to her side. Around her, the darkest urges of his demonic nature were eased, even forgotten. He liked that. In fact, that was the reason he’d dated her. Not because he’d been attracted to her, but because he liked feeling normal.
“Look,” he said. “I’ve helped you, haven’t I?”
She refused to admit that, yes, in the past few days he’d helped her. She still wanted him to suck it.
“Riley was closing in on you, and I cast an illusion, hiding you inside it. He passed you.”
Don’t take the bait. And don’t you dare think about Riley! Riley, who was probably—argh! She pressed her lips together, once again remaining silent.
Though she tried to stop them, thoughts of Riley continued to flood her. Riley, chasing after her the night she discovered the truth about her mother. Riley, catching her, carrying her to his car. Riley, kissing her. Comforting her. He would comfort her now, if she let him. But as much as she wanted to see him, she couldn’t. She would definitely hurt him and quite possibly kill him.
And really, seeing him that last time, when he’d by passed her, unaware she was right there hidden in Tucker’s illusion, had nearly killed her. She loved that boy. So much so she’d come close to giving him her virginity. Twice. Both times he had been the one to stop them, wanting to make sure she was ready. That she wouldn’t regret what happened. That she was with him because she wanted him, and for no other reason.
Now she regretted that they hadn’t.
Walking away from him—fine, running as fast as her feet would carry her—had been hard. Was still hard. Harder by the second. How easy would it be to call him and ask him to pick her up? Beyond easy. He’d do it, too. Meet her wherever she asked, sweep her up and cart her to safety. That’s just how he was.
So, she had to be the same way for him. Anything to keep him safe. Even if that meant being apart. Forever.
“I had to stand far away from you,” Tucker went on, either oblivious to her inner turmoil or simply not caring, “so you wouldn’t mess with my mojo. You know, stifle it.”
“No. I don’t know what mojo is because I’m a moron.”
“Sarcasm again. Seriously, rethink it. Anyway. I had to be close enough to you to still be able to force Riley to see only what I wanted him to see. That wasn’t easy.”
She made a big production of leaning forward and “studying” the screen. When, in actuality, the words were kinda blurred together and had been for a while. Fatigue rode her hard. Nowadays, fatigue always rode her hard. She felt like she hadn’t slept in years.
Every night, when she laid her head on whatever motel pillow she could afford—or when she couldn’t, whatever building she stumbled upon—she tossed and turned, her mind lost to the things she’d witnessed and done what seemed an eternity ago.
Wow. An eternity that was really only about two craptastic weeks ago. Bodies had been writhing in pain all around her. Because of her. People had begged for mercy. Because of her. Because she had placed her hands on their chests and absorbed their powers, warmth and energy, leaving them with nothing, turning them into empty husks. “Did you want to see the wolf?” Tucker asked, head tilting to the side as he measured her expression.
“Yes.” The truth left her before she could stop it. How big and strong and capable Riley had looked. How frustrated and angry. How…frightened. For her.
Exasperated, Tucker threw up his arms. “Then why are you running from him?”
Because she was dangerous. She wouldn’t mean to, but one day she would drain the energy out of him, too. Without touching him. Truly, she didn’t need to touch people to kill them. Touching helped, yes, but she could simply stand in front of them and inadvertently start tugging their life force into her own body.
Those life forces had become her food, after all.
Though she’d tried, she hadn’t drained Tucker yet. For some reason, she couldn’t. He possessed some kind of block. Either that, or her previous overindulgence prevented her from feeding. Yet.
She should feel guilty that she’d tried, because, if she had succeeded, he would never have recovered. The witches hadn’t. The fairies hadn’t. Only the ones who’d left the fray before she’d reached them had survived the carnage.
She sighed. Despite her failure with Tucker, she thought it was just a matter of time before her hunger returned in full. Every few hours, she experienced slight pangs. She feared those pangs would only grow. That they would develop invisible arms and reach out, grabbing onto whatever creature happened to be in her vicinity.
She found herself wondering what demons tasted like and had to shake away the thought. See? She couldn’t control this newest aspect of her nature. Bile burned a path up her throat. She needed a distraction. Big-time.
Mary Ann swiveled in her chair, leaned back and rested her hands on her middle. Peering up at her ex through the thick shield of her lashes, she said, “Tucker, I’m no good for you. You should leave while you can.” He’d get one warning. Only one.
He frowned. “What does that mean?”
“You saw what I did that night.” A statement not a question. And she didn’t have to specify what night she meant.
“Yeah.” His frown disappeared, a high-wattage grin taking its place. “And it was impressive as hell.”
Impressive? Hardly. Her cheeks suffused with heat. “If you stay, I’ll do that to you. I won’t mean to—at least, that’s what I’ll tell anyone who questions me—but I will.”