“I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty. I’m not afraid to delve deep into those dark places. And neither are either of you two for that matter.”
“True,” Nathanial agreed with a shrug, “but that’s because we’re Haywards. It runs in the blood.”
“Just keep your head up and ears open, okay? I don’t care who, what, or why, the RP is not making a comeback on my watch.” Shoving Joseph’s arm, I looked at him. “You too, little brother.”
“Got it,” he said, righting himself. “Head up. Ears open.”
I blew out a breath, willing myself to let this go. For now. I wasn’t here to get in a fight with my brothers. I was just here to fight them.
“Head up and ears open, huh?” I said, winking at Nathanial before turning to Joseph.
He grinned, tapping his temple. “I’ve so got that covered—you can sleep easy at night.” I popped my neck from side to side. “Yeah. Well, there’s a first for everything,” I said before sliding a devious grin into position.
Joseph’s face had just enough time to fall before I leapt in the air towards him, the butt of my left heel crashing into his chest.
Joseph hit a solid three seconds hang time in the air, flying backwards into the growth of timbers. I held the look on his face dear to my heart.
Nathanial’s chuckles mixed with my full bellied laughter and Joseph’s humph as he punched a meteor shaped hole into the earth.
“You’ve gone all soft on me while I’ve been behind bars,” I hollered across the arena at Joseph as the aftershock from him smashing into the earth rippled away.
“And this is what you call behind bars?” Nathanial, who was now reclining over a heap of broken timbers, called out. “It must be rough.” He smirked at me, where I stood flushed from the adrenaline of a good bout of fight training, sporting my standard issue designer suit, stomach stuffed with pork carnitas and dulce de leche.
“As a matter of fact,” I said, ready to challenge him to the next brotherly duel, “it is rough. Sure I get to wrestle with my weakling, ugly, stinky brothers, but I haven’t been able to see Emma.”
“You’ve seen plenty of her,” Nathanial said, jacking his brows to the sky, “you sick peeping Tom.” Something that sounded too animal to be coming from a man growled deep in my throat.
“And who are you calling ugly?” Joseph said, wiping the dirt from his face with the back of his sleeve. He looked like he was just tumble washed with a detergent of mud and gravel.
“You,” I said, giving him a half-hearted shove.
“I’m next,” Nathanial said, leaping down from the tower of timbers.
Just then, a needle of panic pricked at me. It spread quickly, tearing through every vein, muscle, and nerve of my body until I was nothing but a ball of fear-induced panic. It had nothing to do with the taller, heavier, and older brother marching at me with fists at the ready either.
One word—one name—ran on a loop through my mind. One name that the panic clung too.
Without one word of explanation, I was in her dorm room. It was empty.
The panic beat inside me like a set of drums, bringing to life a dose of adrenaline that demanded to be put to use before I exploded into a ball of energy.
Before I made a conscious decision, I was inside Stanford’s library. It was Thursday night and that meant she was just finishing up with a study group. I ran down the aisles of books, glancing down each one in passing, hoping with everything I had I’d find her perusing the rows of books. I wove through bodies, earning a curious stare from everyone that I passed, the rapping of my shoes echoing through the silence.
I didn’t care.
I didn’t care that someone might recognize me—of course everyone and their stiff-lipped parents knew of the former Stanford student who’d gone to jail for nearly murdering the golden boy. How a guy like Ty Steele could earn the reputation as a golden boy was more proof in the overflowing file that mankind was screwed.
I certainly didn’t care that the beyond senior citizen librarian was squishing her face up at me as I screeched to a stop outside the room Emma’s study group met. I didn’t care about anything but finding Emma.
A few lingering bodies were shuffling books and laptops into book bags, but she wasn’t amongst them.
“Damn it,” I cursed, slapping the wall beside me, which earned me a sharp shushing noise from Mrs.
Spinning on my heel, I shoved through the library doors. It was dark and late, but several bodies were still gliding through the blackness. Emma had to be one of them. As I stood there, scanning the area for a familiar shape, the panic had a chance to catch up with me. It was more raw than anything I’d ever felt before, more titanic than I’d felt when my own life was threatened. It was a hair from being debilitating.
Finding no Emma shadows ghosting into the night, I made a logical guess and broke into a run in the direction of her dorm. A college student could head dozens of places late at night, after a long day of classes and studying, but Emma was nothing if not predictable when it came to her routine. I wouldn’t use the word predictable to describe her in any other way though.
I was about halfway to her dorm when the hair-on-the-back-of-my-neck-rising feeling skittered up my spine. I lurched to a stop, letting my senses be my guide.
It was a sound—a grass muffled footstep—so slight it would be imperceptible to the Mortal ear, that caught my attention first. Anyone who wasn’t worried about being detected didn’t walk that carefully.
And then a shape came into view. A book bag slung over her shoulder, her body moved in a way I’d memorized long ago. Seeing her, awake and not behind a wall of glass with a prison phone pressed to her ear, smiling at something, froze me in place. Just long enough to get a taste of sweetness before another muffled footstep caught my attention. The panic overtook my moment of sweetness like a typhoon.
Even if she looked my way, Emma couldn’t see me. A mist blurred me into nonexistence, and enough space separated us to make me hard to make out even without the fog cover.
However, if she took a vacation from the thoughts bringing that euphoric smile to the surface and glanced over her shoulder like any woman walking on her own at night should every other stride, she would see the figures closing in behind her.
Emma was being followed.
No, she was being stalked.
I reacted an instant before the shadow a stride behind her did.
I charged ahead, with as much silence as speed, knowing I’d get to him before he got to her. I tackled him, sending the two of us cartwheeling one over the other in the opposite direction of Emma. I didn’t let out so much as a sharp breath, nor did the behemoth sized man I was mowing the Stanford lawn with, although there wasn’t enough rationality left for me to be grateful for our quiet so Emma could continue on her oblivious way.
Rational was the last thing I felt when I pinned Gigantor to the ground and introduced his beefy face to the business end of my fist. I didn’t stop to ask questions, I didn’t pause to wonder if he and his pal’s intentions had been anything but dishonorable, I just took out a boyfriend’s right on creeper-in-the-night’s cheek bone.
I was about to land my third hit when Gigantor numero deux rammed into me from the side. I flew across the lawn, my ass punching a crater into the ground when I landed.
I didn’t need to survey the eyes; the fact I was just tossed like a Frisbee across the courtyard was all the evidence I needed to conclude I wasn’t dealing with a couple of anything-but-savvy intentioned Mortals.
So why, in all the world’s insanity, was Emma being stalked at night by two mutant sized Immortals?
I needed the answers as much as I didn’t want to arrive at them, but this was all beside the point anyways because the behemoth twins were marching my way with slanted smiles and gleaming eyes.
My eyes trailed Emma’s direction, and relief flooded me for the shortest moment when I found her continuing on her way, totally unaware of the Immortal mono-e-duo taking place a few hundred yards behind her.
Emma was safe and oblivious. Number one priority accounted for.
And now, it was time to kick some ass.
Popping up, I wagged my eyebrows at the advancing duo, tempting them forward. Sure, they might have me outnumbered, outweighed, and taken by surprise, but what I lacked in sheer size, I more than made up for in skill and experience.
And ego—that couldn’t hurt my chances, either.
They sized me up with their gazes before looking at each other and smiling. Their lack of even trying to pretend they weren’t certain they could bend me over their knees and spank me was insulting and only added fuel to the fire that wasn’t lacking for any.
Their smiles vanished right before they charged me, the heft of their footsteps vibrating the soft ground beneath me. It was like experiencing an Immortal version of the running of the bulls, although this guy wasn’t going to run in the opposite direction of a pair of horns and flaring nostrils. This was the guy that turned bulls into dinner steaks.
It was over quicker than even I thought it would be. I usually liked to drag out a fight because I found myself in them so infrequently these days, but whether it was the built up adrenaline in my veins or whether these guys had a rock for a strength instructor was a question that would have to remain unanswered. A sweep of my leg to the right, a drive of a flat palm to my left, and two giants tumbled to the ground.
I spun around, everything at the ready for their retaliation, but none came. The two giants were still sprawled on the ground, looking from me to one another like they’d just encountered the Budda of kick ass.
And they weren’t far off.
These two were newbies, evident from their inexperience fighting, their sensitivity to the single moves I’d landed on each of them, and from the fear in their eyes. I remembered the first time I’d experienced real fear in my Immortality, just as these two were now.
It was when Hector had knocked me to the ground and held me there with his thumb, glaring at me the way I was at these two now. A newbie Immortal doesn’t realize just how fragile we are until moments like these. The moment something knocks us down from our eternal pillars.
Someone who’s been around the Immortal block a decade or two doesn’t let fear manifest in their eyes. It’s there, running through the very core of us, but we learn Immortality is a state of mind, not a guarantee.
I kneeled between the two, slapping both their cheeks to get their attention as if I wasn’t sure I had it already. Grinning manically between them, I pulled on their neckties, lifting their heads from the ground.
“Why are you here?” I hissed, grinding my jaw.
I waited, although neither looked anywhere close to answering me.
“Who sent you?”
I didn’t wait as long for their reply to this one. I knew these two would take some impressive interrogation to pull answers from. Impressive interrogation was old hat for me, but required time and focus.
I had neither right now. My thoughts were first and foremost on Emma. I had brothers who could carry out interrogation after these punks spent a little time behind bars. Hopefully not in the same prison as me or else I’d murder them if I saw them again. And then four months would become a life sentence, which would really suck for someone with my “life sentence.”