The person next to her, a college-aged girl, shushed her. “Trying to work here.”
“Trying to converse here,” Tucker said, flashing a scowl at her. “You don’t like it, you can move.”
She moved, her ponytail angrily swishing back and forth.
Mary Ann fought a small wave of jealousy. She’d always wanted to be strong and assertive, and while she was working on it, she wasn’t there yet. For Tucker, it came so effortlessly.
Tucker studied her, one brow arched. “Liked that, did you?”
Took a Herculean effort, but she maintained a neutral expression. “No.”
“Liar.” He rolled his eyes, then rested his elbows on his knees. “Back to what we were discussing.” He threw the last word at the girl, now four desks away, before refocusing on Mary Ann. “Let’s say I like to live on the edge, and the fact that you could one day hurt me revs my engine. But guess what, baby doll? You need me. Riley wasn’t the only one chasing you, you know.”
“What?” That was news to her.
“Yep. Two girls. Both blondes. You kinda fought them before.” He gave a low, raspy wolf-whistle. “And BTW, they’re hot.”
The bile gave her throat another good singeing. “Were they wearing robes? Red robes?” If so…
“Yes. You saw them this go-round?”
“No.” But hot blondes she’d “fought” before were rare. So, she knew exactly whom he spoke of and suddenly wanted to vomit.
“Too bad. You could have put in a good word for me. Because, yeah, I’d do ’em.”
“A good word?” she scoffed, though inside she trembled. “When you’d do anyone? Please.” The blondes were witches, no question. Witches who had escaped her wrath. Witches who now hated her for destroying their brethren. Witches with power beyond imagining.
The fear momentarily left her, and her mouth watered. Witches tasted so good…
When she realized what thoughts were pouring through her mind, she slapped herself on the cheek. Bad Mary Ann! Bad!
“Okay, what was that about?”
She ignored Tucker to concentrate on her new top priority. More wards. If witches were on her tail, she needed to be ready for their attack. And they would attack. New wards would protect her from specific spells they might cast. Spells of death, destruction and even mind control.
Yeah, the Red Robed Wretches could go there.
“Hey, you’re getting paler by the second. There’s no reason for you to worry. I sent them away just like I sent the wolf away. Oh, and I sent the other group chasing you away, too. A mix of males and females with sparkly skin.”
“Fairies,” Tucker said. “They were definitely fairies.”
Confirmation. Wonderful. As many as she had drained, they had to want revenge just as badly as the witches. Tucker might have sent them away, but they’d be back. All of them.
“So what do you come here every day to read about, huh?” Tucker asked, changing the subject. To give her time to calm down? To distract her? “Tell me, and maybe I can help. More, that is. Help more.”
Subtle. “It involves Aden, and secrets he’s shared with me. And I am not sharing those secrets with you.”
A moment passed in silence. Then, “Secrets, secrets, let’s see. There are so many to choose from, I don’t know where to start.”
“Vlad had me research Aden before I stabbed him, and guess what? You’re not the only one who’s good at researching.”
Heart thundering with a storm of dread, she whipped upright. “What did you learn?” Aden did not like anyone knowing about him. He was embarrassed, but also cautious. If the wrong person found out about him—and actually believed the truth—he could be used, tested, locked away, killed. Take your pick.
Tucker held up one hand and began ticking off items like he was reading from a list. “He has three souls trapped inside his head. He used to have four, and one of them was your mother—your real mother, not the aunt who raised you as if you were hers—but Eve’s gone now. What else? Oh, yeah. He’s now king of the vampires. Until Vlad decides to step in and take the crown back.”
Right on all counts. Her mouth went dry, and she croaked out, “How did you learn all that?”
“Honey, I can listen to any conversation, anytime, and no one ever knows I’m there. And I listened to a lot of yours.”
“Isn’t that what I just said?”
How many times? What all had he seen? She popped her jaw. Perhaps, if she was never able to drain him, she’d just stab him the same way he’d stabbed Aden. “What makes you think Vlad will succeed?”
Gray eyes went flat. “Please. As if there can be any other outcome. I researched Vlad, too, and he is a warrior who has won countless battles and survived for thousands of years. He’s flat-out mean, underhanded and has no concept of honor. What is Aden? Nothing but a bag of meat to a guy like Vlad. Why? Because Aden will want to fight fair and will actually care about collateral damage, both of which will handicap him.”
Phrased like that, there was no denying the truth. She needed all the help she could get for her original mission. Even from someone like Tucker.
Mary Ann fell back into her chair, closed her eyes for a moment and breathed. Just breathed. In and out, trying to relax, to come to grips with what she was about to do. If Tucker betrayed her, she would have done more harm than good to her friend. If he didn’t, well, he could actually help keep Aden alive.
So. No contest. She had to do this.
“Okay,” she said, meeting his gaze dead-on. “Here it is, the whole story, the unvarnished truth.”
He rubbed his hands together with glee.
That didn’t comfort her and, in fact, intensified her tension. But she said, “A few weeks ago, Riley and Victoria gave Aden and me a list. Because, on December twelfth, seventeen years ago—”
She blinked in surprise. He remembered. How had he remembered? “Yes. Anyway, fifty-three people died in the same hospital where Aden and I were born. St. Mary’s.” At his look of confusion, she added, “Did I forget to mention Aden and I share a birthday?”
“Anyway. A lot of those people died because of a bus accident. My mom died giving birth to me.” Her mom had been like Aden, a force of nature, able to do things “normal” people couldn’t, and infant Mary Ann had drained her dry. Don’t think about that, either, or you’ll, what? Cry. “Somewhere on that list are the three other souls that Aden inadvertently sucked inside his head.” Maybe, they thought, hoped.
“You’re sure? Maybe they died nearby, and their names aren’t there.”
“A possibility, I guess.” One she wouldn’t entertain at the moment. “Through my research, I’ve managed to cross off more than half the names already.”
Not really. “The remaining souls are male, so that automatically eliminated the females.”
Tucker arched a brow. “Unless they’re transgender souls. I mean, really. Aden seems like the type to host a pink panty party inside his—”
“What? He does. And his friend Shannon is as gay as—”
“Shut. Up. The males possess the same special abilities now that they possessed when they were alive. I know this because my mother did, too. So I’ve been going through the names, looking for stories about raising the dead, body possession and predicting death. Even the minutest hint.”
He thought for a moment. “Backtrack a little. Why exactly do you want to identify the souls?”
“Because they need to remember what their last wish was, and do it. Then, they’ll leave Aden and he’ll be stronger, able to concentrate and defend himself from Vlad.”
“You really think that will help?”
“What is this? Twenty questions? Hell, yes, I do.” She had to. Otherwise her friend’s chances were nil.
Once again Tucker was blinking down at her. “Mary Ann, you just cussed.”
He looked so sad, she actually felt bad for her waspishness. “Maybe, by the time this is over, I’ll have earned myself a spot right next to you. We can keep each other company while roasting.”
He barked out a laugh, as she’d hoped, but that earned them another glare from Hush Girl. He flipped HG off and said to Mary Ann, “You wish I’d spend eternity with you. So, you got any leads?”
“Before you interrupted me—” she paused, waiting for an apology, but of course he didn’t offer one “—I was reading a story about a mortician at the hospital. Dr. Daniel Smart. Apparently he was murdered there. Defense wounds on his arms and legs, as if he’d rolled into a ball to protect himself while someone—” or something “—bit and punched him.”
“Great story. But what does that have to do with Aden’s souls?”
“One of them can raise the dead. What if Dr. Smart raised a dead body in the morgue, and it killed him?”
“But wouldn’t he have raised a dead body before? And if he had, why would he have continued to work there? He would have been in constant danger, and his secret would have gotten out. But it didn’t, which means he didn’t.”
“Maybe he could control the ability.”
“I don’t care what you say,” she grumbled, hating that he was right. Again. “This is the best lead I’ve got.”
“Our definition for the word best differs. Still,” Tucker went on blithely, “it’s worth checking out.”