Authors: Amber Riley
“You’re crushing my heart,” Stu said with a fang-baring grin.
“You have no heart,” she spat. She spun around, shot me a nasty look, and stormed up the stairs.
Stu laughed. “She loves me.”
An ankle-high boot flew over the banister, heading straight for his head. He reached out and grabbed it before it could leave an indent in his forehead. He examined the shoe carefully and started twirling it by the heel as he sat down.
Flo stomped her foot and ran down to the living room, snatching the shoe from his hand. Her hair hit him in the face as she turned to leave the room again, and he twirled a piece with his finger. She turned around, hit his arm with the shoe, and stormed away.
Stu smiled and shrugged at me. “So what’s up, my peeps?”
I blinked slowly, trying to process what he had just said. Stu may have always been great at adapting to the changing centuries, but he was being a little extreme. “I have never seen you looking this ridiculous,” I told him.
He plucked at his shirt and laughed. “I like to switch it up sometimes, or I get bored.” He started to button the shirt, and the smile fell from his face. “I got your voice mail about Francesca, so I found Flo and followed her back here.”
“I left that voice mail a week ago.”
“Yeah.” He rubbed his eye and accidentally scratched himself with one of his rings. “This is the age of text messages. I don’t check my voice mail much, but I’m here now.”
“Comforting,” I said sarcastically.
Sid’s phone started playing a rock song and vibrating across the coffee table. He grabbed it and pushed the talk button. Reece was talking so loud on the other end that I could hear him. Apparently there was something wrong with his car and he didn’t think he could make it.
“Put it on speaker,” I told Sid.
He did. The wind was making a crackly noise into the phone, and it sounded like he was banging around on metal. His voice kept getting louder and softer as he moved closer to and away from the receiver.
“Reece,” I interrupted. I was too impatient to wait. “It’s fine; just listen.”
There was a loud clang, and he swore into the phone. After another few noises, the wind stopped and there was silence on the phone for a second. “All right, I’m in the car. Tell me what’s going on.”
“Sid has a girlfriend,” I said, watching him carefully for a reaction.
There was a long pause. “So?” Reece said.
Sid blushed and ruffled his curls. “I just started seeing her a few weeks ago. It’s not anything serious.”
“Good.” I looked him straight in the eye. “Because she’s sending Alex to date a human so he can watch the girl’s roommate.”
“I’m totally lost here,” Stu said, jumping into the conversation. “You’re worried about Alex dating a human because Sid’s girlfriend said so, in order to protect the roommate of said human? Now? Don’t you have better things to deal with?”
“The roommate is my antique dealer’s niece,” I said, throwing him a nasty look. “Francesca threatened her, and now Alex is supposed to be watching her.”
“I don’t understand,” Reece said.
Flo appeared and leaned over the back of the couch. She was wearing her white robe again and had her hair up in a bun. “You morons,” she started. “He never told anyone about this,” she glanced at me, “niece. How does Sid’s little girlfriend know enough to have someone look after her? And why didn’t she tell you about it?”
There was another long pause before Sid got up and put his jeans on. He pulled his sneakers out from under the table and grabbed his jacket off the back of the couch.
“Reece,” he said into the phone, “fix the car.”
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“To deal with this,” he said, slamming the door on his way out.
When I woke up, Francesca was already waiting for me outside. I knew because Flo was outside my door having a hemorrhage of green paint. I hadn’t heard that many curse words strung together in a long time. I took my time getting dressed. I still wasn’t ready to face the music, but I doubted that I ever would be.
By the time I made it to the front door, twenty minutes had passed. I was nervous, and Flo was getting me agitated. She hovered behind me in a state of near panic. Even Stu was keeping his distance from her.
I got to the door and spun around to face her. “Flo, seriously, calm down.”
“Calm down?” she hissed. “How can anyone be calm at a time like this?”
“Meds?” Stu suggested quietly from across the room.
She shot him a look, and I held up my hands. “Not right now. Don’t do this now. You can either get it together and come with me, or stay inside and not kill each other.”
I flung the front door open, not sure if they would be behind me, and went out to see what Francesca wanted. She was standing on the stone walkway leading to the porch. The wind was whipping her polka-dot skirt around her legs, and her hair was pulled back into a ponytail so tight that it would have given a normal person a headache.
Davis was beside her, and another vampire was wandering around my lawn, looking down at the grass. My heart dropped into my stomach. The Marquis was here, complete with the same ivory cane he had been carrying around since I first met him. The devil himself had arrived at my doorstep.
His face was just as delicate and kind as I remembered. His black hair trailed down his back, just hitting his elbows, and his smile alone would leave girls weak at the knees. The Marquis was the picture of innocent youth, changed into what he was at the age of sixteen while visiting the court of King Henry VII.
But lurking behind those green eyes was a mind as sadistic as they came. As Phoenix’s torturer, he had free reign to abuse any vampire sent to him as he saw fit, as long as his or her face wasn’t permanently marked. He would keep some vampires for days, some for weeks, others for months. Locked within the walls of his chamber, there was no escape, and nothing too vile.
“It took you long enough,” Francesca said with a forced smile. Her heels clicked onto the bottom porch step. “Why don’t you invite us in so we can talk things over?”
I spared a second to be thankful that the invitation rule applied to vampire, as well as human, homes. “I don’t think so,” I growled. “What do you want?”
“You know what we want,” she said flatly.
“You can’t have him,” Flo spat from behind me. “Go back where you belong and leave us alone.” Stu tried to pull her back inside, but she hit his hands away. “Don’t make me say it again.”
Francesca started to laugh. Even the Marquis looked up and smiled. “Still the same as always,” he called from the middle of the lawn. “I always liked your spirit. It would be fun to break.”
Flo stormed forward, brushed Stu off a second time, and headed straight for the Marquis. I grabbed her wrist as she passed me and yanked her back. I wasn’t ready to fight anyone tonight.
Davis nodded to Flo and Stu, acknowledging his former family members. “This is turning into a regular reunion. We’re just missing Sullivan now.”
“Sorry,” I grumbled under my breath. Sullivan was the only one I could completely trust to have my back in any situation. It stung a little that he hadn’t come to help. “You’ll have to make do with us.”
“Those two are easy enough to dispose of,” Francesca hissed. “We just need you.”
The trees were creaking in the wind. All around me I felt the chaos. It surrounded me like a suffocating cloud. Flo’s anger behind me, Francesca’s in front, the Marquis’s eagerness to make something bleed. I needed to center myself. I needed to focus.
“Phoenix said he changed me to save my life. He had me believing that my neighbors, my friends and family, had burned my house to the ground with my wife and daughter inside. He made me hate humans. I spent centuries getting what I thought was revenge.” I stepped off the porch so I was at eye level with Francesca. “Lies. It was all a lie. He sucked them dry and set the fire to hide what he had done. And, for what?”
The Marquis popped up next to me and stroked my cheek. “He did save your life. You would have died a long time ago. He needed a strong second, and you were the most qualified.”
“Don’t touch me.” I grabbed his finger as it made its way down to my chin. I bent it backward until I heard the bone snap in half. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“Kaden, you are being absolutely ridiculous.” Francesca pushed the Marquis aside and placed her hand on my chest. “Don’t you miss it? The blood, the power?” she whispered.
I could feel the lure in her words. The sweet taste of it all danced on the end of my tongue. I missed parts of it. I missed the ability not to feel guilty for my sins. I missed living that blissfully ignorant life, thinking I had taken the right path. But I wouldn’t trade any of it for what I had gained when I learned the truth.
I twisted her wrist and held it in front of her face. “I left all those things years ago and have never regretted it. Not for one second.” I tossed her wrist, and she nearly fell over.
“We can’t stay here forever, waiting for you to change your mind. We’ll have to go back soon, and you’ll be with us.” She spun around. “I promise you that.”
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” Stu yelled as the three of them disappeared into the trees. “What?” he asked when I looked over my shoulder at him.
I stormed back into the house and grabbed my zippered sweater off the back of the chair. There wasn’t much I could do. No one had seen them in the city, and I had no idea where to start looking. I didn’t have the resources I had when I was working for Phoenix. I could find out anything at the drop of a hat back then. I wasn’t used to being this blind.
With one sweep of my hand, I pushed everything off of the table just inside the door. Glass shattered against the tile, and unopened mail went flying. My fingers dug into the ends of the wood, and I carried it out to the front porch. In one fluid movement, I smashed it against a stone pillar, sending splinters of wood in every direction.
Flo ducked behind Stu. “What the hell are you doing? Are you trying to kill us?” she shrieked.
“I’m a sitting duck. Forgive me if I am a little irritated,” I screamed, throwing the chunks of wood left in my hands. Everyone was silent. “I’m leaving.”
“What?” she demanded. “Where are you going?”
“Out,” I screamed at the top of my lungs.
The anger was flooding my body. It was slowly picking away at my brain. I was losing myself. My control was slipping away, and it was being replaced with fear. Once it took over, I didn’t know what I would do. I knew what I was capable of. I knew that I would do whatever it took to stay out of Spain. I just didn’t know what that “whatever” was, and it scared me. I didn’t want to go back down the road to violence. I didn’t want to be a monster.
I hesitated on Lyn’s front porch. There weren’t any lights on inside, but I could hear the television and see the faint blue glow from behind the curtain. There was only one heartbeat in the house, leaving me to wonder which of the roommates was at home. If I wanted to find that same calm feeling I had the night before, then I was going to have to risk finding out.
I still didn’t know what it was about Lyn that could make me forget about everything, but it didn’t make much difference to me at that point. I was stressed and worried and had no direction to go in. This was the first place that came to mind to go to. Lyn calmed me. Being around her made me feel like I was better and that everything was going to be all right. It was relaxing, and what I needed the most was a clear head.
So I rang the doorbell. It took a minute for the TV to go silent and slippered feet to shuffle across the floor. I fidgeted nervously with the zipper on my sweater. I didn’t know what I was going to say if it wasn’t Lyn; I just hoped that it was.
The door opened a crack and then slammed shut in my face. My jaw hung open as I tried to process what had happened, but it opened again, slowly. Lyn stood there in gray sweatpants and an oversized NYU T-shirt. Her hair was pulled back into a messy knot, and her cheeks were blushing a deep red.
More importantly, her eyes were red and puffy. She had been crying. It hadn’t been a few tears. She had probably been sobbing for at least an hour before I got there. It was my cue to turn and run, so why was I still standing there?
She sniffled and forced a smile. “We should really exchange numbers.”
“I’m sorry.” I backed up. “I’ll come back some other time.”
“No, it’s fine. Come on in.” She stepped aside. “It’s just that I almost went out tonight. I hate to think of your coming over and finding no one here.”
I followed her into the dark house and pulled off my sweater. There was a movie on pause in the living room. It was frozen on a scene with a man and a woman staring at something off-screen. A gallon of ice cream sat on the coffee table with a spoon stuck in it.
She hurried to pick up a pile of used tissues and took them into the kitchen to throw away. After she washed her hands at the sink, she shuffled back to where I was standing. “So, what brings you to this neck of the woods?” she asked.
“I was just in the neighborhood.”