I dreamed of Andreas, and of blood; of his blood, and my mouth. I bit him, and I drank, and I liked it. It was a horribly disturbing dream, that woke me up and left me drenched in an ice-cold sweat, shivering. It was still dark outside. I rolled over on my pillow, and he was lying next to me, awake, watching me, a disturbed expression on his face. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” I whispered.
He shook his head. “Go back to sleep,” he sighed.
And I did.
The next time I woke up, it was daylight, but still early. Andreas was gone, but the impression on the pillow next to mine was still warm.
I remembered last night. I rolled over, chagrined and dismayed, thinking about what had transpired, and what I had done. Vampires were dangerous. I had actually begged for him to bite me a second time. I cringed, recalling that, and vowed never to hang out with vampires again. I just didn’t feel like myself around Lucas, it wasn’t worth the risk. Not to mention I was his cheesecake, and I shouldn’t have tempted him. Doing that was definitely playing with fire. I didn’t have a death wish, I wasn’t a daredevil, and I didn’t even break the speed limit when I drove. Where was this recklessness coming from? Not to mention, I didn’t kiss on the second date, or even the first, honestly. Why was I so free and loose with him last night? I flashed back to his comment about blood being even better with sex, and I felt even worse. I knew for a certainty that if he had pushed me at all, or if he had given in to me begging him, I probably would have ended up naked in his bed, shaking the sheets. Oh lord. I was so grateful at that moment that he had been such a gentleman, even though I had behaved so poorly. And then I had been so rude to Andreas, as well, both on the phone, and when I had gotten home.
If I could have, I would have kicked myself.
After mentally berating myself for a few minutes, I finally got out of bed, showered, dressed, and went downstairs. Andreas was sitting at the kitchen table, sipping a cup of coffee, and reading the paper. It was a horribly domestic scene.
“Enjoying your guilt?” he said tightly, flipping pages of the paper, not even looking up at me.
I flinched, and tip toed over to the coffee pot, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. “I think I made a huge mistake last night,” I said flatly after I had a chance to take a sip of coffee. “I should have listened to you.”
He nodded his head absently. “As much as it pains me to admit it, I disagree, Rhiannon.” He looked up at me. “The bloodsucker had a legitimate point.” He folded up his paper.
I just stared at him, shocked, disbelieving my own ears.
“Plus I did some checking on him last night after you left,” he continued. “He is pretty high up in the vampire hierarchy here. He wasn’t exaggerating. If the vampire responsible for your parent’s murder is still around, he could find him.”
I was stunned to have his unpredicted support on this matter. I shook my head. “No, don’t start agreeing with me on this now.” I wagged a finger at him. “You’re supposed to get mad, yell at me for hanging up on you, for being an ass, for disappearing, for getting bit. You don’t just get to sit there all smug and calm and agree with me,” I fumed.
He looked at me, and let out an exasperated sigh and tossed his hands up. “I give up. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t,” he muttered. “Yes, I am mad about the bite, does that make you feel better? Yes, I am mad that you up and disappeared. You were too far away, I didn’t like it, don’t do it again. I didn’t like not feeling you,” he said as calm as could be. “Is that better? Are you happy now? I think you’re giving yourself enough grief all on your own, you don’t need my help.”
I just stared at him, and blinked, completely taken aback. “He thought it would be kinder if there was some distance between us,” I muttered.
“It didn’t stop me from bleeding,” he said pointedly.
I shifted uncomfortably on my feet. “I wasn’t thinking about that at the time,” I said lamely.
“Exactly my point, you weren’t thinking.” He sighed, and ran a hand through his hair. “Rhiannon, don’t be stupid. You can’t not think when you are around vampires. Don’t toy with them, that’s playing with fire, and when you play with fire you are dragging me right along the coals.”
I sat down, resting my head in my hands. “I’m sorry Andreas, really. Being a vampire is really distracting.”
That actually elicited a good laugh from him. “I just hope you were thinking enough not to do anything you’d regret the next day.”
I shuddered at the thought. “Oh, I didn’t. Lucas made sure of that. He was… surprising,” I finished.
Andreas visibly relaxed. “He kept his word.” He seemed almost surprised. “Vampires don’t generally lie, but they aren’t known for their self-control.”
I felt much better knowing Andreas didn’t hate me, and much of my guilt melted away. I realized I was really hungry, and proceeded to cook up breakfast for both of us: frozen waffles. Yes, I was a gourmet.
“Well,” I said after we ate, “I am alive and well, in one piece, and I feel pretty darn good, all in all, and if I ever run into vampires again I don’t think I’ll lose control like I did when I turned wolf. Lucas was right about that, I needed to do this.”
Andreas dropped the subject, suggesting instead that I go pack an overnight bag. Grant would be picking us up shortly to take us to the airport.
Grant arrived while I was still upstairs gathering my toiletries. He was full of questions and concerns, making sure I was all right and that I wasn’t turning into a vampire or anything of the sort. I just rolled my eyes.
I squinted as we went outside. “Man, it’s bright!” I exclaimed, slamming a dark pair of sunglasses over my eyes. A little residual vampire effect? Possibly.
The conversation took a more serious turn once we loaded our bags into the truck and pulled out of my driveway. “A couple of people came by the greenhouse asking about you this morning,” Grant said softly.
“What?” I exclaimed. “Who? What did they want?”
“I have no idea. A man and a woman. No one I had ever seen before. They claimed to be old friends of yours, and were trying to track you down.” Grant pulled his truck onto the 509 freeway, heading south to the airport.
Andreas swore. “I warned you about being a target, Rhiannon.”
“Yeah, Rhi,” Grant agreed, “And I gotta say, I know all your friends, old and new, and these two aren’t among them.”
My heart started to race, and I felt panic rising in my stomach, and my palms started to sweat. “What did you tell them?”
“Nothing, of course.” He exited onto the 518 freeway. The airport was in view, and our trip would end shortly. “They didn’t know who I was, and what friend of yours wouldn’t? It was a dead give-away. I told them you took a few days off. They bought an African violet, and left.”
I snorted. “At least we got a few bucks for their trouble.” I figured, if strange people were going to come around asking about me, the least they could do is pay up.
Grant flipped his turn signal, preparing to get off the freeway. “No, don’t!” boomed Andreas. He was staring out the rear window. “I think we’re being followed.”
“What?” I shrieked, twisting around in my seat. My heart was pounding so loud I was certain they could both hear it. He pointed to a dark sedan, two lengths behind us.
“They have been with us since we left your neighborhood,” he said.
“Dammit,” Grant swore. He switched lanes and accelerated. The black sedan did, as well. With tinted windows, I couldn’t make out who was in it, but there was only one figure. I tried focusing on the numen, to see if I could glean any insight, but the freeway was so busy, there was too much going on, and things were moving too fast. I got glimpses of chaotic bursts of energy that were making me a little dizzy, and combined with the bright sunlight, I was starting to develop a headache, which was only serving to piss me off.
“God dammit!” I roared, punching the dashboard. “I did not sign on for a highway chase!” My fist hurt. The plastic dashboard had a dent. Grant was a bundle of wolfy tension, and Andreas wasn’t much better.
“Don’t destroy my truck, Rhi!” Grant shouted.
We tore through Riverton Heights going almost 90 miles an hour on the freeway. I’m amazed no cops tried to stop us. Our pursuer was directly behind us now, all pretence of staying hidden gone. I thought fast, mapping out the geography in my head. “Go south onto I-5,” I ordered. We had to get away from people.
“Rhi, we aren’t going to lose him on the freeway,” Grant advised.
“Just do it!” I yelled.
Muttering under his breath, Grant swerved across lanes, taking the south-bound exit. We zipped down the busy freeway, the dark sedan right behind us. Grant maneuvered his big truck in and out of traffic. I would never have thought a truck as big and bulky as his could be so nimble, but he proved me wrong. Ten cylinders proved to be plenty of horse power.
“Pull off here,” I ordered just before we reached Angle Lake.
“Where the hell are you taking us?” Grant shouted, exiting onto South 188th.
“Away from people,” I muttered, tension tight in my head. I directed him onto Orilla Road, which tore through a rare stretch of rural landscape in the midst of suburbia.
The sedan was right on our tail, practically riding our bumper. I still couldn’t make out who the driver was. I glanced over at Andreas. He looked at me helplessly. “Don’t ask me, I’m fresh out of ideas.”
“Slam on the breaks, Grant!” I exclaimed, as inspiration struck. We’d run them off the road.
“And tear up my bumper?” he said crossly.
“You’ll tear up his, too,” I pointed out. “There’s no one on the road, and no time like the present to get the upper hand,” I said frantically.
Grant knew I was right. He flashed me a grimace. “I hate you sometimes. Everybody hold on!”
I grinned fiercely, and tightened up my seat belt. Grant slammed on his breaks, hard, and the tires screeched as we decelerated. Our pursuer wasn’t as fast, and his car slammed into the back of ours. There was a high pitch screech of metal tearing into metal, and the truck lurched forward.
The sedan spun sideways, its forward momentum forcing it into the only route left. I smelled rubber burning, and watched triumphantly as the sedan shot off the road like a crooked arrow, and slammed right into a tree.
Grant pulled over. I jumped over Andreas, and crawled out of the truck with a whoop of glee, feeling utterly victorious. The driver of the sedan had pulled himself out of the wreck, and was running away through the woods, dressed all in black, with a black hat, just like those who had followed Andreas and I the day before.
Without even thinking, I jumped into pursuit, the hunted becoming the hunter. He was no match for my accelerated reflexes. The trees were a blur as I sped up. I slammed into him and tackled him before he even knew I was coming. We rolled on the ground. I was furious. I pinned him, and he struggled underneath my small frame, but I was strong, incredibly strong, and incredibly mad.
I ripped his hat off, and saw the face of David Walker sneering up at me with such hatred and venom I barely recognized him. “You!” I snarled. I punched him, right in the jaw. His head snapped back, and he groaned and went limp beneath me. How dare he go limp and pass out! I had only begun to fight! “You fucking coward!” I yelled, punching him again.
Andreas gripped my arms, and forcefully dragged me off of him. “Let me go!” I shouted, struggling, but he held me fast.
“Oh god, she’s blood drunk,” panted Andreas. “I should have known. No drinking from humans, but I should have known!”
Grant ran over to where David lay, knocked senseless, moaning and thrashing weakly in the dirt. He ran back to his truck to fetch a roll of duct tape before David could recover his senses.
I forced myself to relax in Andreas’ arms. “I’m all right,” I said between clenched teeth. “You can let me go.”
He did, reluctantly. “Don’t do anything stupid,” he warned me pointedly.
I just flashed him a dirty look. Grant taped up David’s wrists and ankles. “He’s not going anywhere now,” he said, standing up finally. “What the hell is your ex doing chasing you around?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know. But I plan on finding out.” I strode over to where he lay and crouched down.
“Search his pockets,” Andreas suggested. “I’ll go search his car.” He strode off towards the sedan. Grant rifled through his pockets, and found nothing, not even a wallet.
I slapped his face. “Hey, David,” I shouted at him. “Wake up, asshole.” I slapped him again. Slapping him felt good, I thought grimly. He still wasn’t responding, so I gave him one more for good measure.
David moaned and rolled his head, but he opened his eyes and looked up at Grant and me. “Can’t take ‘go away and never come back’ for an answer, can you?” I sneered at him.
David rolled his eyes and spat at me. I punched him in the stomach. He moaned in pain and rolled onto his side. “Careful, Rhi,” Grant cautioned me. I shot him a scowl.
I was being careful, I thought. I wanted to kick the living tar out of this piece of crap, but I was forcing myself to exercise restraint, due to the fact that I didn’t want to kill or incapacitate him, although knowing he would probably have a black eye and a few bruises because of me was immensely satisfying. “What the hell are you chasing me for?” I shouted at him. “Did you have anything to do with the three stooges yesterday? Or the muggers from last week?”
He didn’t answer, he just lay there silently. I stood up, fuming, gave him a solid kick in the ribs, heard them crack, and then paced back and forth for a moment, venting my rage into pacing instead of beating; it seemed a better option than venting it on David’s face.
Grant stood up and pulled out his cell phone. “I’m calling my pack leader,” he told me. “We’ll make the bastard sing like a canary.”
Andreas came back, done searching the sedan. “What did you find?” I asked him. He wore a gravely serious expression on his face, and held out a taser and a slip of paper. I flipped over the piece of paper, and it bore the same Chicago address that we found yesterday.
I seethed. I raged. I screamed out loud, long and hard, roaring all my rage into the sky, until finally I had no rage left to roar, and I felt drained at last, and oddly calm and collected. I walked back over to David and knelt by his head. He looked like he was in pain. I hoped he was. I thrust the slip of paper in front of his face. “What is this place, David?”
He didn’t respond.
“This is more than just a jilted lover’s quarrel, is it not?” Andreas said thoughtfully. “For whom are you truly working for, and what is your agenda? What do you want with Rhiannon?”
More questions sprung to mind. I pulled Andreas aside, out of David’s hearing range. “How is it possible that the same man who dated me for two months and broke up with me just hours before you saved me, called me the very next day and has been stalking me ever since, and bears the same address as those men from yesterday?”
He shook his head. “There is more than just coincidence going on, but I don’t know what.”
I clenched my fists and went to talk to David again. “Who are you? Was that whole two months a lie? Did it mean anything to you?” My voice cracked. “What do you want from me?” I shouted.
I sunk to the ground, resting my head in my hands. I was just a gardener. I liked the simple things in life. I was a good person. I was civically responsible, and kind to strangers. I paid my taxes, I smiled, I laughed, I tried to be good and nice. I was nobody special. Why did they want me? Who were they? Why couldn’t my life just be simple again the way I liked it? I wanted nothing more right then than to be shoe shopping with Kat without a care in the world. Here I sat, my life turned upside down, my stalker ex-boyfriend trussed up next to me, staring at me with venom in his eyes. I felt like my whole life was one big lie.
Andreas reached down and drew me up to my feet again. He stared down into my eyes with sympathy. “We are going to figure this out, Rhiannon, I promise you.”
I sighed, and nodded my head. We walked over to Grant, who had hung up the phone. “The cavalry is on its way,” he said. He looked at David. “You hear that?” he spat. “We are going to take you away to someplace very dark and unpleasant. We are not going to be nice to you, and I promise you, we will make you talk. You tried to hurt my friend. You used her, you lied to her for two months, and we will find out why. That I promise you,” he glowered.
David just sneered at him. “You can try, wolf, but I’ve got nothing to say,” he said, spitting blood.
Grant pulled out his keys and handed them to me. “Go catch your plane. Leave the truck in short term parking, I’ll come by to pick it up later.” He glanced at our prisoner. “He’s not going anywhere, and my pack leader will be here any minute.”
I shook my head. “We should stay, Chicago can wait.”
“He’s right, Rhi,” Andreas interjected. “The only lead we have right now points to that city, and that’s where we should be, checking it out.” He turned to Grant. “Will you be alright on your own?”
Grant shrugged. “What’s he going to do all tied up?”
I didn’t like it, but I reluctantly let Andreas lead me back to Grant’s truck. The rear bumper was dented, but intact. Just as we got to the door, a tan van with dark tinted windows pulled up. Two people jumped out, an older male and a young woman. I got a distinct wolf sensation from both of them. They made a beeline straight toward Grant and David. I turned and headed back, too.
The silver-haired gentleman shook Grant’s hand. He gestured to the woman, who picked up David, tossing him over her shoulder like a sack of potatoes, and took him to the van. She chucked him unceremoniously in the back as I reached Grant’s side.
The older man looked at me curiously, his dark eyes peering into mine. His face was tanned and weather-worn.
“Rhiannon, this is Clint Vonnegut, my Alpha,” Grant introduced him. Clint smiled and shook my hand vigorously.
“So you’re the girl Grant told me about,” he said. This is my daughter Marla,” he said, introducing the woman, who had walked back down to join us. She was tall and built like an Amazon, with short brown hair and eyes to match. She grinned at me fiercely.
I shook her hand, as well. I was feeling an overwhelming sense of wolf invade me. Being around three was a powerful sensation, and I knew I was risking losing control. I took a deep breath, relaxing and focusing like Grant had taught.
Andreas was instantly at my side. “We have to leave,” he said tersely and grabbed my hand. “You three are tasking her self-control.”
Clint nodded curtly. “You and I,” he said pointedly, “We need to talk after you get back.”
I nodded, as Andreas began dragging me off. “Grant knows how to reach me,” I called out over my shoulder.