Della stopped, her gaze zipping around to locate the screamer. Steve jerked her into the dark shadows. A woman suddenly appeared at the other side of the alley running like the devil was chasing her. And he might've been, because someone slapped the pavement right on her heels.
A male someone.
"What are they?" Steve whispered, standing so close she could feel his words against her cheek.
They were too far away to note the pattern in their foreheads which marked a person's species-something all supernaturals could see-but Steve obviously trusted her sense of smell. She inhaled and tried to find the scents in the air besides the spicy male soap that filled her nose. "Humans."
"Good." He took off down the alley.
The girl screamed again as the attacker tackled her. Della, plastic bag in tow, beat Steve to the scuffle. The man on top of the female shifted back and forth, using the woman as a punching bag. Della snagged the creep off the obvious victim and tossed him a good five feet in the air. Not enough to kill him, but hopefully enough to hurt when he came down.
Blood oozed from the woman's nose and mouth. "You okay?" Della asked and crouched beside her. When the scent of blood filled her nose, Della had to work at not letting her eyes start to glow from hunger.
"Yeah." The woman sobbed out the word. "He's my husband, but he's drunk." She wiped blood from her lip. "He gets mean when he drinks."
But he wasn't the only one drinking. Della could smell booze on the woman's breath.
"This wasn't your problem," a deep voice seethed from behind Della. If she hadn't been so intent on the woman, she'd have heard him coming.
Della glanced up. Looming over them stood the drunk husband, who she obviously hadn't thrown nearly hard enough. Of course, that could be fixed.
He reached for Della, fury in his eyes and alcohol on his breath. "But you made it your problem now, bitch!"
Before she could shoot up, Steve caught the man by the arm and swung him around.
Fists started flying. Della heard what sounded like a few punches hitting bone. She could swear the jerk got a punch in on Steve. Bolting to her feet with plans to end the fight, Steve ended it first. He threw a hard right. The woman's dear old husband took that right directly to the face and fell over cold.
It would have been nice to savor the moment of success, but a pair of flashing blue police lights appeared at the end of the alley. Steve turned to Della. "We need to get the hell out of here."
Della grabbed her bag and they took off at a sprint. In the distance she heard the cops yelling for everyone to stop. They didn't. They couldn't.
Burnett hadn't been specific about them not getting arrested, but she had a feeling he'd frown upon it.
"Police! I said stop," the policeman yelled again. Footsteps echoed behind them, making their way down the alley.
They cut the corner into a side alley, and Della didn't know if they had time to get the hell out without the officers seeing their escape.
* * *
The refrigerator at the cabin didn't have an ice machine. She supposed she should be glad it had one ice tray with five pieces of ice in it. She emptied the five tiny cubes into a new pillowcase and handed it to Steve. His eye was almost swollen shut. "Hold it against your eye," she said.
They'd gotten away from the police, but barely. She stared at Steve's injury.
"Why didn't you change into something and maul his ass?" she bit out.
"You don't transform in front of humans," Steve said. "That's the number one shape-shifting rule."
"I'd think the number one rule would be to protect yourself."
"You'd think wrong," Steve said.
She shook her head. "They were both drunk, who would've believed them?"
He cut his eyes up to her. "What about when the cops showed up?"
She frowned, seeing his point, but still not liking it. "Put the ice on your eye." After a second she said, "So you're supposed to let them use you as a punching bag?"
Steve dropped the ice from his face. "He got one punch in, and who was the one on the ground when we left?"
Della groaned. "You should have let me handle him."
Steve ignored her and reached up to touch his eye. "Hey ... this will look good for tomorrow. I'm a badass shape-shifter, not afraid to fight."
Della rolled her eyes at him the way Miranda rolled hers at everyone. "But you just broke one of Burnett's rules. You're gonna come back bruised."
Steve grinned. "I'll tell him you did it."
Della plopped down on the old pine chest that served as a coffee table. "He'd know that wasn't true, even if he couldn't hear your heart lie. If you pissed me off, I wouldn't have stopped at a black eye. You'd be black-and-blue all over."
"Now that's just an outright lie. I don't think you'd hurt me." His Southern accent came out again.
"And you'd be wrong." She paused. "Where are you from?"
"Where do you think I'm from?" He smiled as if her question pleased him.
And she knew why. She'd shown some personal interest in him. She shouldn't have done that because he might think she actually liked him or something.
"I think you're from somewhere where they talk funny," she smarted off, and shot up to get her blood from the refrigerator. She found a cup, rinsed it out-twice-poured her dinner into it, and sat down at the kitchen table.
He dropped into the second chair at the table. "I'm from Alabama. My parents dragged me to Dallas two years ago."
"You don't like Texas?" she asked and frowned when she realized she'd done it again, shown a personal interest. Then again, maybe she should give herself a break, they were on a mission together, and she was pretending to be his girlfriend. If someone asked something, she should be able to answer it.
"Since I went to camp this last summer, I do. Before that ... not really. The school in Dallas was some fancy prep school-not even for supernaturals. That school fit my parents' way of thinking and life, but I don't do fancy schools very well."
She couldn't see him in one, either. Not that he didn't seem smart, he did. But he was just easier going than someone who wanted to put on airs.
A few more questions popped into her mind, but she hesitated to ask. She turned her cup in her hands.
The silence must have felt awkward to him as well, because he continued. "My dad's a CEO for an oil company, Mom's a doctor. And I'm an only child who's not supposed to care what I want but to just grow up, become what they want me to be, and make them look good in the human world."
"They're shifters, too, right?" she asked.
"Yeah, but you'd hardly know it. I don't think my mom has shifted in a couple of years. Dad does it just to relieve stress, but they like living in the human world."
"And you don't?" Della asked, thinking about how often she wished she could go back to the human world and be one of them. Sure, she appreciated the powers, loved knowing she could kick ass. But she wished that gaining these powers hadn't meant losing so much of her life. Or rather the people who were in her life.
"I don't want to run off and join a damn compound or anything, but I'm proud of what I am. I can abide by the rules, not exposing myself in front of humans. I don't have a problem with rules, but I don't want to hide from this part of myself."
"I don't blame you." She didn't think she could hide, either. Not now.
"I'm not really complaining about them," he said. "I mean, as long as we don't have to see each other very often we forget that we're all disappointed in each other."
She knew all about the feeling of disappointing your parents. Exhaling, she looked at the pillowcase, which was bunched up at the end and held the five pieces of ice. He'd brought it with him to the table, but wasn't using it. "You should use that. That's all the ice we have."
He put it against his eye and stared at her with the other. "What's your story?"
"No story here," she lied.
He leaned his chair back on two legs. With half his face hidden behind the hanging pillowcase, he looked accusingly at her with his uninjured eye. "Liar."
She swallowed and stood, picking up her cup.
It didn't stop him from talking though. "You think I don't see you on parents' day? You look completely miserable when you see them come in." He dropped the ice from his eye. "The only time you look more miserable is when you watch them leave."
She frowned, not liking that her feelings about her parents had been so visible. "You're not fae, you can't read my emotions. So stop trying." She took two steps and then looked back. "I'm calling it a night."
He dropped his chair down. "It's still early." Their gazes met. "I'm sorry I said what I did. I just thought ... I told you about my parents and ... We don't have to talk about that. Choose a subject and we'll talk about whatever."
Ignoring the soft pleading in his voice, she went to the Walmart bag she'd dropped on the sofa. She pulled out one sheet, one blanket, and snagged the other pillowcase. "We have to be up at three thirty. Don't bother me."
* * *
She sprayed the bed three times with disinfectant, made it, and then used the old bedding to make it look like she was under the blanket. If he peeked in, he'd hopefully assume she was out cold-pun intended.
It was, Della thought, the thing she hated most about being a vamp. Drinking blood she could handle, but when someone accidentally brushed up against her and flinched at her body temperature, she felt ... like a monster.
She knew why, too. It had been the thing that kept Lee from touching her after she'd been turned. You just don't feel right, he told her. You're cold. I think you're still sick.
A crazy thought came. Would Steve not like how she felt? She pushed the thought away, because seriously, it didn't belong in her mind. Tilting her head to the side, she listened for the shape-shifter. When she'd been making her bed, she'd heard him doing the same to the sofa. He must be sleeping now, because she could only hear the very subtle sound of someone breathing.
The conversation they'd had earlier about his parents floated through her head and whispered across her heart with a tug of emotion. He almost sounded resigned to the bad relationship with his parents. Or was he just pretending-like she so often did?
Realizing she'd let Steve consume her thoughts, she blew out a deep whoosh of air. Then moving to the window, she quietly raised it. She stood there just a second, listening to the night's song, before she climbed out. She perched on the ledge a long second before she took off.
The dark, September air felt cool, cooler than her skin. Her hair whipped around her head and scattered across her face, occasionally obscuring her vision. A sound, a slight wisp of air came from her left. Was something following her? She raised her head to catch any scents. She didn't sense any other creature, but with so much wind coming at her, she wasn't sure if her sense of smell was accurate.
Without slowing down, she glanced back. Nothing but the night chased her.
She considered how close she was to the vampire compound and the rogue gang. Fear danced on her skin, but she pushed it aside. If it was them, she already had a cover for being there. Surely they would ask questions before they attacked. She hoped.
In a few minutes, she spotted the lake that ran by her parents' house and started descending. Her heart shifted from fear to something even more uncomfortable. Grief.
She came down a block from her house at the neighborhood park. Her black jeans and black tank top helped her blend into the darkness.
Moving in the shadows so no one would spot her, she saw lights on in her parents' dining room. Either her family was eating late, or they were playing board games. Her mom loved board games.
Easing between the bushes and the house, the neighbor's dog, the crotch-smelling canine, Champ, barked from the neighbor's backyard. Then Della heard laughter.
Her father's laugh.
Her heart gripped and her throat tightened. She hadn't even seen him smile since she'd left for Shadow Falls. Easing in ever so carefully, she looked into the window.
The scene looked like something from a movie on the Family Channel, a family spending time together. A family she really didn't belong to anymore.
Tears prickled her eyes when she saw them. Her mom, her sister, and her dad playing Scrabble. They looked so happy, so ... complete. Didn't they miss her, even a little bit?
A twig snapped behind her, and her heart rose to her throat. Della swung around. Champ, the mix of Lab and German shepherd, stared at her, or was he staring in the window? His tail slowly started thumping.
"How did you get out?" she whispered to the dog as she felt a tear slip down her cheek. He lowered his head, whimpered, and rubbed his snout against her knee. "What? No crotch smelling tonight? I'm hurt."
The canine looked up at her as if he actually missed her. How could that be, a neighbor's dog missed her when her own family didn't?
Moving out from behind the bushes, Della gave the dog another scratching behind his ears. She brushed a lingering tear from her eye and took off.
In less than five minutes, she landed at Lee's house. When the garage door opened, she flashed to the side of the house. As the car pulled out, she saw Lee in the driver's seat.
Where was he going? On a date? Her heart knew it. Her heart also said that she should just go back to the cabin. She didn't need to see it.
But she did.
Kylie had told Della a thousand times that she needed to move past Lee. Maybe this was the answer. Maybe if she saw Lee with someone else, she could let go. She could stop hoping that he'd come to his senses and would run back to her, begging for a second chance.
She followed him to a house on the other side of the subdivision. She waited for a few minutes in the shadows, still hoping maybe she'd been wrong. Maybe this was just one of his friends.
When he walked out with a girl, an Asian girl, at his side, the knot in Della's chest came back. This was the fiancee. The one he'd told Della his parents had pushed him into marrying. Seeing this should have been enough. Seeing how she clung to his arm. She should have left right then, but no. When they got in the car, she followed them to the restaurant.
The Red Dragon. It was a restaurant owned by some friends of Lee's parents. His mother had tried to get Della and Lee to go there several times. But Lee always said he didn't want to eat Chinese food. He had enough of that at home.
Why did he want Chinese food now?
She landed in front of the restaurant while Lee parked the car. She hid behind the tall dragon statue waiting to see them walk past. A hungry-looking kitten came slinking around the building. "Don't have anything. But there's a Dumpster in the back, I can smell it from here," she whispered and then she heard footsteps.
They were holding hands and the girl, Lee's fiancee, wore a big smile, her eyes bright with laughter. As they walked in the door, Della caught a whiff of Lee's cologne.
Anger surged in her chest. She'd bought that cologne for him last Christmas. Didn't he remember? Did he even care? How could he wear it for this new girl when Della had given it to him?
She waited a good ten minutes, telling herself to leave. Telling herself it was over. But when she tried to fly away, instead she swung around and headed inside.
She told the hostess she was looking for someone and walked past her into the spicy, sesame-scented air. She walked past a large fish tank with colorful fish swimming in circles as if looking for a way out. She continued past a couple and noticed the sound of plastic crinkling as they opened their fortune cookies. Perhaps she should snag one to see her own future.
Because God only knew what she planned to do when she found Lee. Part of her wanted to rip his heart out for using the cologne she'd given him to impress another girl. The other part wanted to drop to her knees and beg him to at least tell her he missed her.
All this time she'd believed Lee was engaged because his parents forced him into it. Now she didn't know what to believe. This didn't look forced. He actually looked ... happy.
Leave. Leave. Leave. The voice of reason screamed in her head. But then she saw them at the back table. Candlelit table. Romantic table. She heard them talking. Not in English, but in Mandarin.
Della spoke Mandarin. Her father had made sure of it. But Lee had never spoken to her in that language. Right then Della knew for certain, she wasn't tossed aside because she'd turned into a vampire. She'd been tossed aside because she was half white.
She heard the girl talking about names. Names they would give their first child. Lee leaned in and kissed her. A romantic kiss that kicked Della right in the gut. From the happiness she heard in Lee's voice, and the way he kissed the girl, Della suspected this choice had been as much his own preference as his parents'.
A waiter must have dropped a tray of food because a loud clatter sounded right behind Della. She knew she should turn and flash away at the sound of the crash, but it was too late. She watched in horror as Lee pulled his hand away from his fiancee's and looked up. She saw his eyes widen at the sight of her. Was it a good widen or an "oh shit" widen? She didn't know.
Leave! Don't stand here and look pathetic. But her feet felt concreted to the restaurant floor and pathetic was all she could feel. Her gaze locked on his as he stood up and started moving toward her. Right toward her. And she knew she looked even worse than pathetic.
She looked pitiful.
She looked alone and heartbroken.
Embarrassment and shame washed over her. But she didn't have time to let it engulf her. Someone grabbed her around the waist and pulled her close. Shocked, she looked up at ... at Steve. He smiled down at her.
"I missed you already," he said and then he kissed her. Not a simple sweet first kiss, but one that involved tongue and ... lots of desire.