“Just don’t run up the stairs!” Anna calls from behind me as I gamble and pick a direction. “The secondary characters always end up dead first when they go up the stairs, and you’re simply not interesting enough to be the lead character in this story,” she adds, as a really scary, animalistic battle cry sounds from outside.
“I’m bringing salt with me next time,” I bite out as I round another corner, wondering just what sort of monsters I’ve stumbled across, and what the hell my mother left out of my gypsy lessons.
Emit drags himself up from the ground as I spit out some blood and pant a little, feeling oddly rejuvenated. Just how long has been since I had a good fight?
Since putting Arion under?
I bounce on my heels, take a few practice swings, and catch my second wind, as he heaves for air.
“Down for the count, mutt?” I ask him as he pushes to his feet, wiping blood away from his nose.
“Why the fuck were you on my land?”
“Saving a Portocale gypsy’s ass, because the girl is oblivious,” I state as I take another practice swing in the air.
He glares at me.
“She had on the red cloak, and they were—”
“She had on the red cloak because it was her mother’s, you fucking idiot. Her mother’s death is still fresh, and she’s a rather young, sensitive thing. She hasn’t lived long enough to forget how to feel anything yet. So go piss on your own trees, and leave me be.”
He growls as he advances a step. “You’re getting as reckless as Arion, second-guessing me, thinking there’s still a shred of me that doesn’t hate you all as much as you hate me. Trust me when I say you’ve pushed too far, Vance. Too fucking far. My land and my wolves are off limits.”
“Your land is where she was. Your wolves were going to rip her to shreds, simply because she wears a cloak that reminds her of her mother. It’s not like the damned girl was hunting your people’s spirits,” I state dismissively.
He lunges, but I duck out of the way, missing him by inches, as my eyes flick toward the inside of the house, seeing…her not under the sofa anymore.
It’ll take three weeks to search that motherfucking house—
My thoughts rattle the rest of the way around, because my ears ring when my head is jarred to the side. Fucking dick just sucker punched me.
Just a hint of wolf scent from my right guides my punch, and pain shoots up my arm as he groans on impact.
My vision clears when he charges me again, but he stops just before he hits me, because we both hear the incessant chattering of the stalker ghost right above our heads.
“That may be the largest penis I’ve ever seen. Do you think they’ll do it? They’ve stopped fighting now and they’re staring lovingly into each other’s eyes,” the infuriating little pest is saying from somewhere over our heads.
Emit and I both snarl at each other as we fight the urge to turn the infuriating lunatic into salt.
“Why the hell was she on my land in that damned cloak?” Emit growls, chest heaving for air as his claws slowly begin to retract.
“She thinks her mother was found dead on your land,” I answer, glancing up to see a streak of red through the third floor window as Violet runs up another set of stairs, her chattering ghost on her heels.
“She’s wearing the cloak because of me.” Damien’s voice has us both jerking our heads to the left, finding him leisurely propped against a tree as he dusts snow off his shoulders.
“Explain,” Emit demands.
“Fuck off, mongrel. I came to explain, so don’t think you can order me around,” Damien drawls. “I was snooping around her attic, and knocked it off. Accidentally, of course.”
“You led her to that cloak?” Emit asks incredulously.
“Why does it matter? The only thing it does is allow her to pass over boundaries she shouldn’t be able to. She’s been doing that, even without the cloak, every time she makes a delivery,” Damien answers.
Unlike Emit, I sit back, letting Damien slowly unravel whatever intent he had that started this downward spiral of a night.
“She knew her mother was a huntress. She didn’t know the true purpose of the cloak. Still doesn’t. She just likes it because it’s red, shiny, and belonged to her mother,” he continues, grinning wickedly at us. “Then your wolves attacked, and she used it like armor. Sort of cute.”
“You watched the whole thing?” I ask curiously, finally breaking my silence.
It’s unnerving I never sensed or smelled him. The wolves often stink up the air too much when they’re around.
“Of course I did,” he says with a shrug. “Then I came to watch the after party as well,” he adds with a grin, gesturing to the two of us. “You drive like a maniac, so it took a little bit to catch up, even with my speed.”
“Oh my damn. It’s the white-haired panty buster! He’s here with them now! And he’s sucking the big man’s dick!” the ghost shouts enthusiastically.
Damien scrubs a hand over his face, and I watch from my peripheral as Violet tries to stealthily shut the top floor window the ghost is screaming out of.
“I find that ghost to be quite a nuisance,” Damien confesses in a quiet tone.
“I find you both to be fucking worse. My wolves and my land are off limits to everyone. Don’t make this hard on me. Not so soon after what Arion did,” Emit growls seriously, pushing his hair out of his face as his eyes narrow. “Things with my people are still tense, even all these decades later.”
“So let her die on your land next time?” I drawl. “You’d rather suffer through our curse that accompanies a Portocale death?”
He glares at me.
“I’ll speak with Ian, inform him about the novelty of this particular Portocale. He was just defending my land,” Emit growls.
“From what? A girl bumbling her way through the snow and talking to her dying ghost friend, while searching for the place where her mother died? Good wolf senses he has,” I decide to point out, smirking over at the furious wolf.
“She struck first,” he adds on a snarl.
“No, the ghost struck first. Ian just doesn’t have the blessed gypsy blood in him and didn’t see her,” Damien inserts.
“You were just going to watch her die?” I ask him as my brow furrows.
“His land. His wolves. I know my place, Vance. Unlike you and Arion,” he says stoically, comparing me to that deranged, homicidal lunatic.
“Arion would have ripped their spines out and mailed them to their alpha,” I say as I take a step toward the man full of menace he hides too well. “What are you trying to stir?”
Damien’s grin merely grows. “You always want to play the hero, Vance. Constantly denying you’re a monster like the rest of us. However, that little Portocale will be certainly terrified of you both now. Who else is left?”
After pointing to himself, he winks and vanishes from sight. I can only assume he’s still lurking, since Emit sniffs the air and wrinkles his nose. The longer Damien is around, the stronger his scent becomes.
I can’t smell anything over wet wolf, so Emit has fucked up my senses at the moment.
“We’re not finished discussing this,” Emit says as he turns and jogs off into the shadows.
I hear the moment he shifts, and assume he did it that far away to keep from traumatizing the Portocale girl, in case she’s watching.
We’ve remained far too quiet for even her ghost to overhear during our impromptu meeting.
I glance up, wondering why that ghost has been quiet for this long, and decide they must have come back down to escape after realizing the house is large, but it’s not quite friendly to those who want to hide.
“Please get rid of the salt around the bathroom,” the ghost says as if she’s been summoned.
I work hard not to react to the fact she’s directly beside me. Alone. While Violet is apparently somewhere else.
My eyes dart around, searching for any sign of that red cloak.
“She done dug-to-China kind of gone,” the ghost adds like she’s trying to talk to me. “It’s just you and me, Handsome. Now go take a shower and make a crack in the salt line so I can join you.”
Continuing to pretend the ghost doesn’t exist, I sigh and search for the tracks I can find before the snow covers them all up. Damn girl is going to freeze to death out here.
Teeth chattering, I sip my cocoa, pulling the blanket tighter around me, as I scoot in closer to the fireplace.
Anna pops in and takes a seat beside me, sighing wistfully.
“The werewolf is a wild one you can’t trust, but Vance Van Helsing—”
“Anna, not now,” I groan.
“What?” she asks seriously.
“Just…not now,” I say quieter, eyes still on the fire.
She disappears from sight, causing my lips to tense. Her attention is getting divided too easily, which means she’s getting even closer to the dementia stage.
Just as it grows quiet again, my brow furrows, her random words sifting through my mind as I stand abruptly and go to my desk, lifting my book.
Maybe it’s a coincidence that the really bad anagram and Van Helsing have the same letters? Maybe Anna’s delusional mind is snapping those pieces together and now making my saner mind follow her down her rabbit hole because of this tiring, insane day?
That would explain the attack in the woods that started this domino-effect of a night. It’d also explain why Emit showed up naked and how they were both so strong and resilient.
It’s also completely, utterly, and unquestionably insane. Or maybe it’s not.
I mean, Mom hunted ghosts as a hobby. Most people don’t believe in ghosts. Who’s to say there’s not an entire world of monsters that’s been kept from me?
After all, I believe monsters exist. I have no choice but to believe that, because I know at least one monster lives.
Things stir in my head that have no business stirring, and I try to put together pieces that don’t fit.
Something bumps and knocks against the window, startling me, and I curse the wind when I accidentally knock off my mother’s potion book.
My gaze lands on the book, and a buried memory from the day I turned thirteen climbs to the surface just as I kneel down.
Blood coats my hands as I rock back and forth, crying so hard I can’t catch my breath. “I’m sorry, Mommy. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.”
“Shhh,” she says as she pulls me against her, not bothered by the blood all over me, dripping from my hair, staining my clothes, and invading my mouth with its disgusting taste…
She patiently consoles me as I sob.
“It’s not your fault. It’s theirs,” she says so quietly. “They shouldn’t have been here.”