Disclaimer: The concepts of various Circles, the Night World, and characters were created by L.J Smith; here, borrowed for nonprofit-purely entertainment reasons.
Note: PG-15. Other note: I actually, physically wince at the memory of my other story. So, this is written so maybe I won't have to wince any more. Right, no more notes.
P.S. The quotes are just a sneaky way to get you from beginning to end…wait, not so sneaky since I told you, right? Doh!
"Being a woman is a terribly difficult trade, since
The first time she came into contact with her soul mate, she was completely unaware of it. Strange, considering he ruined her life, she would later learn. It happened in the darkest hour of night, when the truth was too obscure to see.
Verity Glisscielle had arrived from dance class two hours prior when her mother gingerly stepped into the pig sty of a room. "For goodness sake, Rita, clean this place up. And do you know where Melissa is?"
Ah Melissa. Rita was not exactly the black sheep, but didn't quite reach Melissa's white wool either; just a complacent gray. "Probably off winning another academic trophy and used her extra time to attend the celebration," she answered smartly.
"Oh, Rita," her mother said in a milder tone. Rita rolled her eyes and stopped the cd player. She hated the way her mother assumed she had the Jan Brady syndrome every time she spoke with sarcasm. And, even if she did feel that depressing pang of sibling rivalry, Rita would never admit it. There was too much of the Glisscielle pride in her to admit that.
"You know, you're every bit as smart as Melissa, you really are. I just don't think you try as hard…"
"Chill, mom. You can skip the pep talk, I think I'm gonna put off the noose until next week. Unless you come up with new material," she quipped and met her mother's concerned gaze. It was the only thing she inherited from her mother. The eldest may have received the intelligence, insect figure, and eloquent speech, but the youngest has gotten, boo yeah, the green eyes! What then, Melissa!
"Very funny, Rita," her mother sighed, and impulsively smoothed the girl's hair. Nothing, even the dry cold winter, could flatten Rita's untamed curls. She wore her hair loose partly to annoy her very "together" relations. The wildness didn't particularly bother Rita, only the color: dirt brown. Not as dramatic as mother and Melissa's jet black. "She told me Oscar'd be there."
Rita bit her lip, for she couldn't trust herself to lie. Rita met him once, and he made some lame comment about her name and crackers. He seemed so snobby. So Rita simply shrugged, and let out an, "Oh. Really?"
"Now, Verity Catalina Glisscielle..."
Darn it. She went straight for the full name. Before she could think, Rita heard herself spill everything she knew of the boy. "Blonde, short. He has lots of money, because some times I see foot ball players and some of the popular kids giving him some. I remember somebody said something about drugs, but I just think it was the cold medicine he said he had in his locker."
"Oh dear, this may be the only time I'm happy your friends are such gossips. Now, you said drugs…"
Rita was about to answer when the door bell rang. On her window blinds, they saw flashing red and blue lights. While Mrs. Glisscielle ran to answer the door bell, Rita cautiously peeked out her window, hoping to catch a glimpse of anybody in the cop's back seat. Unable to distinguish anything in the darkness, Rita tip toed down the hall way to over hear any conversation.
"It's your daughter, ma'am. There's been an accident."
Now, ideally, she should have been the sweet little sister and faint with worry. But, truthfully, Rita couldn't find any concern for her older sister, nor any compassion for the accident. Instead she was filled with spiteful happiness. Finally. Miss Perfect became imperfect.
Her mothers thoughts ran a more sensible course. "But she's all right? Right? Melissa always wears her seat belt and she's always the designated driver…" Mrs. Glisscielle's voice trailed off. Rita peeped around the corner to see Officer Washington shaking his head.
All at once, anger darkened Rita's face. She knew it was a shameful and despicable reaction to the news, but couldn't stop the evil thoughts. How dare she get hurt. How dare she play the beautiful fallen heroine. Now Melissa would return home, with a broken foot or something, and she would have to wait on her like a slave.
"I won't lie to you." Safe from their view, Rita rolled her eyes. This sounded like an after school special. Officer Washington continued, "And we can't even find this Oscar guy. But Melissa…well, she's in the hospital. There's a slim chance of her surviving the next few hours-"
Panic. She had often felt it before, when Melissa caught her doing something that she shouldn't have been doing. But this was different. This was desperate. The hall way—no the world was suddenly darker than before. And much more menacing.
Mother was crying. Mother never cried in front of anybody.
Run, Rita. Melissa should be here to take care of this.
Officer Washington caught Mrs. Glisscielle just above the elbows before she sank to her knees.
Melissa should be here. I can't take care of this. I don't know how to take care of this. God, where's Melissa?
"Rita, go back to bed," officer said. "I'll take care of this."
No. Melissa should. Melissa holds mother's hands on daddy's birthday. They hug each other on his death anniversary. They make each other tea when the bills pile up. She should take care of this.
Her mother's shoulders were shaking. If it wasn't for Officer Washington's arms, she would have laid on the ground, oblivious to anything except misery. Lifeless.
"Rita, go to bed. I said I'll take care of this," he repeated.
No, no, no, no, no… Melissa was supposed to say that. She always said that. Rita could just picture her beautiful older sister now, shaking her head over some problem. "Go to bed, Rita," she would say tiredly. "I'll take care of this."
God, where are you Melissa? Mother's crying!Through her angry tears, Rita saw a photograph of Melissa in her cheerleader's uniform. She would come home. Melissa had to. Until then, Rita would try her best to be substitute until she came from the hospital. Melissa would be disappointed in her if Rita let chaos reign while she was gone. Until Melissa came home.
"Officer Washington, go back to the station," Rita ordered calmly as she took her mother's weight off of his hands. "I'll take care of this."
Honestly, she had no idea why anybody would get so worked up over simple class work. It was hard to believe they were ever child hood friends. She and Bryan never spoke any more, although some said he was stunningly attractive. More and more stunningly attractive boys were joining the school these days. But now Bryan appeared ready to kill her…not that he would.
Mr. Vicar held up his hands, the signal to end the debate. He shrugged apologetically to Smith. "Sorry, Bryan. She had facts, and, again, you lost your temper. Team A wins again." Rita pretended not to notice Bryan's muttering and stared intently at the movie playing on the school's channel. Mr. Vicar harshly told Smith to shut his mouth and then moved to his desk to grade the finals.
Simultaneously, the creaky classroom door swung open. Such a disturbance did not tear most of her classmates from their dreams. All but one. Somebody directly next to her. Somebody who did not attend school very often, and whose visits were very much cherished by the female class mates.
Rik Pinesworth, the local stocky, admirably built Greek god, snapped from whatever soporific reverie he was in and gazed with unabashed suspicion at the newcomer. For all Rik knew, nobody else was awake, Rita observed wistfully. I might as well be a shadow.
Strangely enough, the minute she thought this, the arrival's head whipped to look at her. A very handsome head, she concluded silently, and looked down the second their eyes met. There was nothing extraordinarily handsome about him, at least to the naked eye. Maybe a bit too sharply angled or rounded in some places and a bit on the thin side. But he had a brooding, angry aura that some girls termed as a "bad boy" quality. He had wind blown tousled hair, as soft and shiny as gold foil. He was lean, but with compact tense muscles visible under his dark clothing. Broad shoulders, nice arms. The boy's arrogantly amused blue eyes contrasted her own nervous green ones. They seemed to say, "How dare you even think about me? Don't you know I'm above you?"
"What a donkey," she whispered to no one in particular. For some reason, this angle was familiar, him towering above her. Distantly she wondered if he'd ruffle her hair in condescension.
Mr. Vicar, for quite some time now, had been interrogating the donkey on his academic history and so forth. Finally, because no satisfactory answers could be drawn from him, he directed him to the last empty seat in the classroom. Coincidentally, the desk behind Rita.
"Just my luck," she mumbled.
" Ian…what the hell are you doing here?" The virulent whisper startled her and Rita quickly turned to its source. Surprisingly enough, it came from Rik, who was usually indifferently relaxed in all matters.
Although the living Greek idol did not notice her stare, the boy behind her had. She could almost picture him lifting his eyebrow in complete snobbery when he said, "Caution old friend. Perhaps we should converse in a more private manner, when nosy little ears cannot reach."
Rita frowned darkly and turned away; the phrase "nosy little ears" didn't even make sense, she noticed angrily.
All too happy to hear the three fifteen dismissal bell, Rita hurriedly gathered her notebook and left as soon as possible. Much to her dismay, her mother's car was not present in the school parking lot, meaning she was working overtime again. That meant a long trip home. Only after she delivered all her Christmas cards to the teachers began her walk home did Rita realize she was bereft of her winter coat. "Oh…curses," she swore to the empty country road. Her watch said 3:30. The school would be closed by now, seeing as it was the last day before winter vacation. The temperature was surprisingly mild for mid December in Massachusetts. But still mind numbingly cold for a thirty minute walk.
"I'd like to see you prove it," the male voice continued. It was dark as it was rich, rolling off the words like tumbling black silk. Distractedly, Rita wondered if the owner of that voice ever sang. The unknown male had a strange accent, as if in his life he had acquired bits and pieces of every language of the earth. Henry Higgins would have been dumbfounded.
She spun around, and found nobody in sight. A twig snapped. Rita surmised the comment was not directed at her and followed the dins into the woods beside the road. No more words were exchanged, but sounds of pain were heard. Soon after, she spied two young men tumbling about a small clearing. No, tumbling was the wrong word. They appeared as if they were fighting to the death.
Rik attempted a spin kick, but the calculation was terrible. Instead of impacting his opponent's chest, his ankle swung into the shoulder, succeeding in little more than giving him a shove. The adversary, who Rita recognized as the supercilious new student, shook his head in disappointment for a millisecond. Then he grabbed the foot and heaved it over his head.
Rik is so dead, she thought in astonishment.
Rik, on the contrary, did not die by a single flight over the young man's head and a harsh landing into the frozen ground. He waited until he heard barely perceptible footsteps behind him. Keeping his torso completely flat on the ground, Rik executed a strange combination of a scissors and jack knifed kick by somehow twisting his legs upward and backward. One Timberland clad foot swept his Ian's legs from under him on the right side while another foot pounded his head from the left. Rita watched with delight when the snob collapsed sideways to the ground.
What a wonderful fight, she thought with warm admiration. Such grace, such skill…
Ian grabbed a heavy rock and threw it at Rik's head. The rock hit the target and she distinctly heard a horrifying crack.
Such despicable tactics!
Rita was certain she hadn't spoken aloud. Although her head ached with heavy unspoken thoughts, she wouldn't dare attract attention to herself in this dramatic situation. Shock filled her as Ian blandly glanced at her as he dusted himself off. Just as if he had known all along.
"Damn. If I'd known I had an audience, I would have prolonged the end." Startled of being addressed, Rita slowly backed away, hands fluttering behind her to sense obstacles. Amused, Ian took the same amount of steps forward.
"Afraid of me? Why am I not surprised?" His rich voice took a light tone. Very artificial. There was an arctic current in his voice, warning her to step back or be swept away.
He gave a dazzling smile, one Rita had only seen on Rik's friends and on toothpaste commercials. But she had never seen teeth quite so sharp… Panicked, she looked farther up, to meet the indigo eyes.
They weren't stranger's eyes, or the eyes of a new student. The smile in them said that he knew her, and knew what she would do next. Ian Amaro, with one simple look, seemed to establish some sort of claim on her, with a silent laughing that was irritatingly triumphant. Familiar…but that didn't make sense, because he was a stranger. Angry for her irrational thoughts, she tore her gaze away, emerald eyes resting on the ground before her.
"Querida—." The endearment felt like dangerous icicles to her ears. Everything about him, even his breath, exuded malevolence and malicious intent. Both of which she'd only seen in prisoners who worked roadside, and in a certain drug dealer from long ago. Abruptly, he gave a blank look and fell to the ground, his hair falling over his cruel eyes. Rita looked up from his body to the one standing triumphantly over it. Rik.
Involuntarily, her mouth fell open at the sight of her classmate, shining with sweat and a large thick branch in his hand. His tan skin was surprisingly unblemished. Rita could have sworn he was covered in cuts and bruises two minutes ago. Chest heaving, they watched Ian with disgust. She sensed that their thoughts ran a similar course.
"The rock wasn't very noble."
At the moment, the idea of fleeing drained from her mind, now utterly blank concerning her next action. She would have been quite content simply standing in the woods, sharing this private moment with her hero. Rik, apparently, had appointments to keep.
"Thanks for distracting him," he said curtly and made his way past her. "C'mon, he'll be fine by himself. Hopefully he'll be eaten by the moose. You know, the dull teeth would make the wound hurt more," he explained at Rita's puzzled look. At a loss for words, Rita followed after him through the woods until they reached the road. She wondered where his car was.
As if reading her thoughts, Rik muttered, "That damn prick slashed my tires. Technically Jared's tires. It's at the shop right now."
"I suppose that would be a good reason for that…incident back there," she said absently. Although not meant to be a joke, she spotted a tiny grin on Rik handsome face. Amazed at the recent events, but still freezing, she resumed her brisk trot home without a goodbye. By the silence behind her, she supposed Rik went his own way home.
"Where's your jacket?" Or maybe not.
"At school," she said in slight embarrassment. "Only an idiot would forget her jacket in weather like this."
Rita nearly collapsed when something of considerable weight landed on her shoulders. She whirled to Rik, finding him in nothing but an AE T-shirt and jeans. Not a shiver ran over him. To hide the blush on her cheeks for his courtesy, she turned away and pushed her arms into the leather jacket sleeves.
"You shouldn't have done that. I like the cold, even it's harmful."
With surprising easiness for a guy who possibly had a concussion, he shrugged. "I think you should wear it any way. For a girl who has the highest GPA in our class, I say you've earned a moment of stupidity without criticism. But just this one time, ya hear me, Miss Glisscielle?"
"Thank you for your approval," she murmured dryly.
"Any time." Neither seemed inclined to spark a conversation from then on. For Rita it was simply too cold; for Rik, it was simply too dull. In twenty minutes, they reached the drive way to her house. Tall trees and shrubbery concealed where the drive way ended.
Despite the lack of interest, Rik seemed adamant to walk her to the door. "It's the least I could do. Ian would have finished me off. If it wasn't for you, I could be lying dead in the woods right now. Being eaten by chipmunks. Or raped by the crows." Rita's eyes widened at the last bit of exaggeration. "I've seen them checking me out," he confided with a smile, "You practically saved my life," he pleaded.
Rita made an expression of amused doubt. She knew why he wanted to walk her to her door. Nobody had ever set a foot beyond the drive way entrance nor seen the actual house for years. Even the mailman or the UPS employees. Rita suspected rumors surrounded her home, but merely scoffed at them.
"That interested in seeing the Boo Radley house?"
"Never mind, I'd rather go alone. My…dog is most likely outside, and he doesn't take kindly to strangers within his territory," she explained quickly and shrugged off the hefty leather jacket. She all but threw it to him and waved good bye as she swiftly jogged to her front door.
Rik could tell she did not have a killer dog in the yard. She was a terrible liar, by face and voice. He had hoped to get a few extra minutes to check her memory. Strange girl, Rik thought as he walked away.
Rita walked tiredly to her library. The fire place there would thaw her half frozen toes and fingers. And good music would thaw her mind. From appearances of the gray, one story house, one would not infer there would be a library. She was strangely proud of the literary sanctuary that was not supposed to thrive in a lower class home.
Three bangs echoed around the house. Rita winced and rose from her comfortable oversized chair to her mother's room. There her older sister awaited her attention. Melissa.
Rita opened the door and found the bed in a complete disarray. There was little else in the room to destroy. Lamps, mirrors, perfume bottles, frames, cosmetics…they would have all injured the twenty year old or her guardian in some form or another.
Silently, an indifferent, gray haired, overweight nurse walked coolly past her and out the door. Rita hated her ancient bloated guts, but it was better they had a nurse who did not form an emotional attachment. And who did not ask for much. Sighing, Rita coaxed her sister out from a corner and into the master bedroom's bathroom. Trying to avoid her blank, at times twitching eyes, Rita took a warm wet wash cloth to wipe the dried tears and saliva from her sister's face. One glance at the once fiery hazel eyes would send her into a sobbing fit that would last hours.
"Rita?" A tiny knot formed in her throat at the sound of the small voice's uncertainty. Twenty years old and had trouble forming words. Doctors said there'd be some dysphasia. Some speech therapy would improve it but…that cost money. Money they didn't have. The doctor had given her a stern look of disapproval when she said that. Of course she felt guilty. But if you had to a choice between eating or listening to some one talk, well, the right one was obvious.
Desperately, she tried to suppress the sorrow with common sense. She's been like this for years, she told herself, and it's time you got used to it. Not even tatters of the graceful Melissa Glisscielle had stayed behind; they were left with this empty beautiful shell. Rita refused to answer her sibling. It would only end in nonsensical babbles any way.
It had been shockingly easy to slip in. The girl should have known not to leave the door open any longer than necessary. He had searched and studied the premises, for future purposes. Then he simply wandered about, in search of entertainment. The damaged girl had made him smirk; it was interesting enough.
Her mother arrived hours later. She was a taller version of her daughter, with the exception of her graying raven hair. And, like her daughter, she wore an expression of burden and emptiness.
When his specimen kneeled beside her bed to pray, he nearly vomited. Then he heard her move on to apologies and his eyes glowed with approval. With harsh bitterness, he agreed that the little harlot had plenty to apologize for.
Who knew a human could cause so much pain? Pushing away memories, he focused on the present. The young lady was incurable. Even with his incredulity and aversion to her lifestyle, he still had a good bitter laugh over it.
Fayth's announcement caused her roommate's brown haired head to rise from his pillow.
"Another agent? Here?" Jared asked with surprise. The news actually made him leave the couch. There was not much that could do that, Rik remembered.
"Why the hell not?" Fayth asked with narrow eyes. "Something wrong with our agents?" Jared was lucky Fayth was washing dishes and not cooking. There would have been a careless knife being thrown about. Rik decided to stay at his spot in front of the telly, safely away from any thrown objects and close enough to hear the conversation. But he still made his comments.
"Of course not," he called. "You've done a wonderful job protecting the people of Anomina from stray dogs, rabid turtles, and poisonous mushrooms and such. How did we go on without you?" A moldy, soaking sponge splattered on his face. Good arm, he thought distractedly.
Emboldened by his friend's teasing, Jared added, "Yes, Fayth, you're an essential part of…the Nature Center." He dodged a soapy spoon. "Seriously, though, why the hell would Thierry send another agent? We have you. Nothing happens here. Even the 'rebels' are tame. Anything supernatural never extends farther than harmless mind control on teachers. Frankly, I say one is enough."
"This is Boston. It's full of evil doers you moron."
"It's outside Boston," he corrected. "The worst evil doer we've had was that human drug dealer four years ago. Besides, the only reason they're sending people over is because they got nothing better to do now that the Final Battle is over. I'm right, aren't I?"
"Are you forgetting the fact that your bosom buddy over there just came home from a fatal brawl? With Ian, no less. It's strange to see such a worldly character here, of all places."
"And Ian is?"
"I'm guessing either shifter or vampire, and an old friend of some Daybreakers," Rik said loudly. It hadn't been the cunning of a witch boy that swindled him when they first met. Four hundred thousand dollars was a lot to lose in one night, even if it was a small game of poker.
Jared scoffed. "So there's a pest running around. It's nothing. I'll just squash him tomorrow." Rik sauntered over, making sure his footsteps were not heard below them. The towering boarding house they lived in was cheap, beautiful, and complete with cranky land lords with sensitive ears. The hag had just told him the other day that a new tenant had just moved in.
"It is tomorrow," he stated. "You missed the finals." Jared laughed, thinking it a joke, and then saw Fayth nodding in confirmation. He swore and plopped back onto the couch.
"Where's she staying?" Fayth gave him a look that said, You know where she's staying. Rik sighed in resignation.
"And it's not a she. It's a he. Kyros Snow. Fox shifter." The name meant nothing to him. As long as he stayed out of his way, Kyros Snow could have been the Lochness Monster for all he cared. The topic no longer interested him.
"Do you know a girl named Rita Glisscielle?" At first, Fayth did not answer and quietly placed the dishes in the cupboards.
"No. She's your Student Council President, haven't you noticed?" Rik shrugged his shoulders, indicating a no.
"I didn't vote for her," he muttered. "I don't remember her name on the ballot."
"That's because she wasn't on it. Remember that huge scandal concerning Tracy Cox, the original Student Council President?" Rik stared at her blankly. "Tracy, Robert, Girl's Bathrooms, and ecstasy? Even I heard about that and I don't go to your school." A light of remembering sparked in his blue eyes.
"Well, after that, the principal just appointed Rita prez because she was 'responsible.' I don't think she wanted it. She doesn't seem to have that leadership quality."
"Oh," he said with realization, "that's why we have a junior for prez. I've sorta wondered about that. What group does she belong to?"
Fayth paused for a moment, deep in thought. "None," she said, in quiet realization. "I don't think she's belongs to any clique. That's strange, I've never noticed that before…oh, for Goddess' sake Rik, don't go feeling sorry for her. I said that she's not in any group, not that she doesn't have any friends. Rita is somehow connected to every circle of friends in most of the classes. Just friendly acquaintances, no friends, however. I think it's her own fault. They invite her to parties you know. She just doesn't attend."
Rik said nothing, his eyebrows furrowed as he thought of the girl from yesterday.
"Why, do you want to…take her out for a drink?" Fayth asked in menacing tones. Being a former victim, the girl did not take too kindly to tales of vampire meals. Rik wished the reason for her suspicion sprouted from jealousy.
"No," he said. "She just sorta helped me with Ian is all. Plus I think she saw some things she wasn't supposed to see."
"Oh." Fayth sounded unbelieving. "Any way, go to the Black Dahlia today. I need you to pick up any info for me…" Rik snorted.
"Hell no. You're the Daybreaker, not me. The last thing I want to do on my first day of vacation is hang around the know it all bastards. Any time I go around them, all I hear is shit like 'you're a traitor to your blood.' Well, to hell with that. You go." Fayth noticed with a small smile that his vocabulary increased for the worse with the mention of Night World.
"But I'm human," she objected.
"Then I'm sure they'll want you even more," he replied smartly.
"Please," she said softly, and reached for his hand. Rik narrowed his eyes. She was trying to take advantage of his tiny crush on her. And she succeeded. He nodded, and turned away from her smug grin. It was pitiful; one touch and he was a whipped man.
Returning to her business like tones, she continued. "Night Worlders 'round here have been itchy lately…"
Rik shook his head in mock disappointment. "Well, that's what the little sluts and man-whores get when they have unprotected sex." Fayth merely rolled her eyes at his joke.
"You know what I mean. And being in small numbers, they'll want to take their revenge with one small shot. Meaning,"
"Everybody in one place. A party," he finished for her. "So, are we going to socialize this winter, Fayth?"
"Not if you find something out at the Black Dahlia so we can cancel any plans," she answered sweetly. Rik sighed. He had been hoping for a date with her. This intelligent Aphrodite had been taking advantage of him ever since she arrived six months prior, and not in the fun way. It's terrible that Circle Daybreak does not install stronger morals in their femme fatales, he thought wistfully.
"What kind of ass hole would drive at thirty five miles per hour on the most abandoned road in all of Massachusetts? Can't she see I have a Mustang here? It's wrong to be driving this slow in a Stang!" Kyros practically ranted as his car followed the Altima, glued to its bumper. He launched into another colorful speech when the driver lowered to a slower speed. It appeared to be a spiteful action in response to his tailgating.
Rashel and Quinn followed closely behind. Kyros observed them in the rear view mirror with jealousy. Why did Quinn get a Thunderbird for his birthday? Thierry just gave the fox a new motorcycle.
Winnie gave a tinkly laugh beside him. "Calm down. There's no need to be in a hurry. After all, we still have to pick up some necessities before we reach Fayth's."
"Nail polish and cookies don't count as necessities," he mumbled. The shifter then swore when Winnie grabbed his cigarette and threw it out her window.
"Kill me," he finished violently. He had been extremely agitated by the long ride from the airport. "Yes, yes, I know. I don't give a damn."
Winnie tossed her golden locks in a superior manner. "I was going to say that they will ruin the new car smell. I could care less if they harm you." Kyros sighed. At first, when he heard who his future partners were, Kyros hoped for a possible tryst with the beautiful witch. Now he wished Keller assigned the ever-optimistic human Hugh as his partner. Anything but the high maintenance shrew.
He guessed it would have been strange any way, to be dating a close friend of Nissa. What would they talk about, what did they have in common? Nissa, and that subject was still a bit too painful to discuss for Kyros. It was time for a change of thoughts. "I want the full truth. Why are we going to Anomina? Are the local livestock turning into leeches?"
"For the past six months or so, the number of Night Worlders has been growing in Anomina. Even with the events on the Damned Clan Island, their population slowly continues to rise. We are visiting to investigate, question and…"
"Kill in a town where everybody knows your name. And you're always glad you came…Nothing like potential murdering spree to whip you into shape, huh Winnie?"
"I don't need anything to whip me into shape. But you're right about one thing," she continued. "This is a small town. Everybody knows each other. Our actions probably wouldn't be secret for long.
"Turn here," she exclaimed quickly. At the sudden order, his tires screeched as he turned into the parking lot of a Super Mart, taking a turn that was far too sharp for his speed. The car spun a full circle. Beside him, Winnie shrieked with humorous terror. With hair raising speed, he swerved again to stop the car at the perfect angle into the nearest available spot to the entrance. Satisfaction rested on his lips when he saw his passenger scowl at him.
"Look, it's that law abiding driver you hate," Winnie noticed as she grabbed her purse. Kyros looked in the direction she indicated. It was the same Altima, and the driver who left looked exactly like the type who would stay five below the designated speed limit. Modest, plain clothes, and unflattering glasses. Very…together. She was the sort of girl who would go ballistic if one strand of hair was not in the right spot, or some piece of furniture did not sit in its designated coordinates. He supposed her to be physically sixteen years old, but mentally sixty seven. After all, only little old ladies drove that slow. He wondered if Winnie would say anything as she followed the girl into the Super Mart.
A shorter vampire emerged from the car next to him, and motioned him to lower the window. Quinn broke into his thoughts when he asked, "You did remember to tell Fayth that you have extra three visitors, right?"
"Dammit." He opened the glove compartment in search of his cell phone.
Rita had gathered all the essential food items in twenty minutes. She had done so every Saturday for the past three years, with mother in the car waiting, usually sleeping. So far, driving had only given her the liberty of food shopping alone. As she pushed her cart out of an aisle, another collided with it.
"Oh, I'm so sorry," she heard a female voice say. A girl of her age came into view. The stranger appeared mousy and dull, even more so than herself. Her flat blonde hair curtained beady squinting eyes. She appeared slightly overweight, with a round childish face. "I didn't see you, I'm terribly sorry." Her nervousness made Rita give a slight smile.
"It's okay," she assured her. The girl looked at her, waiting for her to continue. Instead of speaking, Rita pulled her cart away from the collision.
"I'm new here, by the way." Her voice stopped her, and, putting a polite expression on her face, Rita turned again to the girl.
"I'm Ophelia Brown, nice to meet you." Rita shook Ophelia's hand, disliking the eagerness in her voice. The last thing she needed was a clingy follower when school recommenced. Rita always opted not to have a best friend. They took up too much time.
"Nice to meet you too. I hope you find Anomina to your liking," she commented as she moved to the cash registers. Ophelia followed her.
"Thanks. You're the only one who's given me a kind reception since I got here." At once, Rita felt a pang of guilt when she heard it. She did not want to act as her peers.
"Well," Rita replied in a softer tone, "the younger generations around here usually reject the unfamiliar. It's their snobby way." There was something oddly familiar in the girl that made her open more than usual. Ophelia laughed. They reached the cash registers, and Rita allowed her to go first.
Once she left, Rita began placing her purchases on the counter.
"Hey Rita," the cashier greeted her. Walter Washington, one of many acquaintances smiled at her, his blindingly white teeth contrasting his dark skin. Rita smiled back, then frowned when he turned to drool as a strawberry blonde haired beauty breezed by. A tune popped into her head, demanding to be hummed. "I learned the truth at seventeen; that love is meant for beauty queens…"
"So how goes everything today?" he asked, halting her little melody.
"Fine, Walter. How are you?" Her heart wasn't in the conversation. She had a tiny feeling that the only reason he spoke to her was pity. By all the store brand names in her cart, plus the piles of coupons, anybody could guess her family's economic situation. Once, he had even hinted he could get her a job; she declined, no time. Inside, she sighed wistfully. She wished that he would look at her the way he had looked at the gorgeous blonde. With beautiful cheekbones, friendly almond shaped eyes, and smooth chocolate skin, Walter Washington was everybody's pal and absolutely scrumptious to the eyes. Even the stiff waves in his obsidian hair were admirable.
"Here's your receipt. Have a nice day, Rita." He kept a grip on the receipt when she reached for it.
"Listen, are you coming to Scott's party tomorrow night? Everybody's invited you know, especially the student council." Rita thought of Scott, the vice president of Student Council, and the rest of the members. They were all cheerleaders, trendsetters, and jocks. Her invitation was a polite afterthought. She shook her head.
"Come on, Rita! His basement is huge, and the sound system is…"
"Coated with drug residue. I'm sorry, I just can't. Good bye," she called with an apologetic smile.
The freezing wind easily infiltrated her light jacket the minute she stepped outside. She didn't mind. As she moved to the car, she saw a familiar Mustang parked a few feet from her. It was the same that had practically shoved itself into her Altima's trunk earlier. Keeping her eyes to the ground, Rita swiftly avoided any gazes from those inside. But she forgot the speed demons in the Mustang when she saw who leaned against her car.
"Well if it isn't the treasonous mosquito to grace us pitiful Night Worlders with his presence. And Tonto too."
Rik clenched his fist as he sat down at a bar stool. Jared glared at the source of the comment. He tried his best to ignore Morice. It was strange that the platinum haired vampire should use that degrading term. Not very flattering to himself.
"What's the matter? The vermin at home snubbing you?" He seated himself beside the tense vampire. Morice tsked, tsked. "That's when you know you've hit rock bottom. When a mere human screws with your head."
"From what I've heard," Jared commented calmly, "the cheerleader captain did a devastating number on you last Valentines Day."
"Yes, sixty ni-"
"Morning boys," a vampire greeted them salaciously. A redhead, with large amounts of porcelain cleavage showing, smiled at them, particularly Rik. Jared remembered her as one of the many Night World drop outs. Leaning onto the bar, artfully propping her bosom on the counter. Only Morice appreciated it.
"Morning," Morice said brightly, slick as oil. She rolled her eyes. "Interested in a little prop—"
"I'm busy," she snapped and disappeared into a dark room. Morice's eyes lingered on the door, still gleaming with repugnant lust as if the voluptuous girl remained there. Then he looked at his present company and declared proudly that the redhead wanted him.
"She doesn't seem to interested in giving charity," Rik commented smoothly.
"Wanna bet?" The expression, although common, was to be taken quite literally by those who knew Morice Orin. He was the all time gambler at school, running pools on sports events, elections, and even the birth of his class mates' illegitimate children. By the unusually eager shine in his swarthy eyes, Jared and Rik guessed he had won something valuable recently. Like any true gambler, he foolishly thought his luck would prevail. Both shook their heads.
"Well, boys," Morice carried on easily, "what does your appearance mean? Are you going to forfeit that irritating neutrality and actually join a side?"
"What's the point? The Battle's done, your side lost, end of story," Rik stated shortly.
"Yes, but that doesn't mean we can't have fun," Morice whispered mischievously. Rik turned to him with false interest. The devilish vampire was pleased to see Pinesworth possibly swayed. If Rik ever returned to his old ways, then there would be truly hellish events in town. "We've got what we've been waiting for. He brings with him the means for a party."
"What sort of fun?" Jared asked, but with too much curiosity. Rik silently rued his decision to bring Jared with him.
Morice drew back and studied them. "It's pitiful that you two are reduced to doing a vermin's dirty work. Tell that damn Daybreaker that we'll be watching her." Without another word, he stood up and left the Black Dahlia. By his leave, others in the club looked at the two "neutral" men at the bar. Rik stayed another twenty minutes simply to show he had no fear of their judgments. Then he eagerly took his exit, with Jared not far behind.
"Call Fayth, will you? Tell her what we found out. And that Ian was nowhere in sight." Jared, blaming himself for their lack of information, silently complied. They talked for some time, Jared pulling the phone away occasionally and wincing. Rik knew she would not be pleased with their non existent help. That was exactly why he had Jared call. Who, of course, told the entire conversation.
With a sigh, Jared said goodbye and hung up. "Head for the Super Mart. We got to get some extra bed sheets and crap. That shifter forgot to tell her he had extra company. What a tool." Rik wasn't troubled by the errand. It gave his crush some time to cool down. He had never seen her lose her temper, and he hoped that he never would.
The battered Corolla pulled into the virtually empty lot. Finding a good parking space proved not too difficult. There were only six cars present. It was the occupants of two that shocked Rik. Jared noticed his friend tense up immediately.
"There's Ian, on Rita's car. Son of a bitch," he swore vehemently. Jared had no inkling who Rita was, nor what the deal was with Ian. But he did notice two familiar persons climb out of an impressive red Mustang and Thunderbird across the lot. It was his turn to swear. He had a fifty year financial debt with that Redfern, or was it simply Quinn now, or…well, whoever the hell he was nowadays. Hopefully his years at Circle Daybreak had made him more forgiving.
In a nervous voice, he sputtered, "I- um…I think we should leave. I haven't eaten breakfast yet, and…" Rik had already pulled his key out of ignition and unlocked the doors.
"A showdown at the Super Mart," Jared murmured as he reluctantly opened his door. "There's something you don't hear every day."
Rita stopped a few feet away from her car, clearly wary of the stranger. True, she knew his name, but that was all that she knew of him. The man could be a psycho, a killer, a rapist, or a pedophile… Then again, she wouldn't really have to worry for her safety if he was a pedophile…
"Not even a hello to an old friend?" He had a deep rich, slightly accented voice. For an unknown reason, Rita shivered at the sound of it. It frightened her to the core.
Attempting indifference, she steadily replied, "Our meeting lasted two seconds. It does not qualify friendship."
"Querida, how can you be so cold?" His handsome face wore mock injury. Already, Rita hated his arrogance and egoism. She then realized her fingers were numb on the shopping cart handle. Refusing to be intimidated, she brushed past him to the trunk of the car to unload the food items.
"You always were a little standoffish."
"Go away," she ordered irritably. His presence completely disconcerted her, moreso than anybody she had ever met. The most annoying fact was that he seemed to enjoy it. All she knew was that he looked very desirable in black, he was a proven prick, and that Rik did not like him. And if Rik doesn't like him, then I don't like him.
"We have unfinished business, Tana. We shall take care of it right now. Without any of your friends' presence," he declared in an authorative manner. Rita's eyebrows rose in gentle surprise. Nobody, other than her mother, gave her, Verity Catalina Glisscielle, a demand without fear of her reaction. She did not like being ordered about like a slave by strangers. And who on earth was Tana?
"No," she answered simply, and put the last paper bags in the car. The Altima shook when she slammed the door shut. Because of that awful obstacle called Ian, she went around to the passenger side to reach the driver's seat. The living malediction put his large bronzed hand on the door.
" When I speak, people obey," he asserted through clenched teeth. Rita met his blue eyes with some confusion. The large hand then moved to her arm.
She opened her mouth to say, "Yes, maybe in your world," when the window shattered beside her. Rita shrieked and hit the ground, and heard the back windows of her car explode into tiny shards. With disbelief, she watched as Ian's shoulders jerked, first right and then the left, and blood began spurting from the bullet wounds. But he did not fall.
"Did you miss?! How the hell can you miss?" She heard an incredulous familiar voice shout a few feet away from them. From her position, she saw four feet heading towards them. Two in very old and muddy sneakers, the others in hiking boots. Timberlands, she noticed with narrowed eyes. No longer afraid of possible gunshot wounds, she stood up.
"No, I didn't, I swear to Goddess, I didn't!" Rik and one of the many failed seniors ran quickly to them. Startling quick.
"Aim for the god damn heart!" That would be…Jared Luna. She recognized his cursing before she recognized his face. Faintly, she wondered now if all the strange rumors that shrouded him were true.
Suddenly, from the right, she heard faintly, "Get the human out of there." Before she could turn, strong arms snaked around her waist, lifted her up and Ian's form suddenly became smaller and smaller as the surroundings past by in seconds. Rita felt as if she were on a roller coaster, and held fast to the arms.
Just when she thought she was being sucked into another dimension, the motion abruptly halted and she found herself next to a Mustang. More than a hundred feet away, across the weathered lot, she saw three men and one Altima with no windows. Next to her was a tall red haired young man, one girl who looked as if she belonged in a Charlie's Angel movie, and a shorter teenager who seemed to exude danger and slight insanity. Although she was slightly taller than the girl and her companion, Rita felt a pang of fear. She wondered whose company would be safer.
They, however, did not notice her. All eyes were focused on the scene before them.
Rik had fired more shots, but if they hit nobody could tell. One second Ian was there, the next he was gone. Rita's eyes widened until she thought her eyeballs would fall out. She didn't dare breathe a single word, although her head was full of a thousand thoughts.
Rik and Jared were equally astounded. They checked in the car, around it and under it. The man was nowhere in sight. After a few minutes, they quickly moved towards Rita with the same baffling speed as before. Within seconds, the two were standing before her, not even breathing very hard.
"Jared Luna. So this is where you've been hiding," the less tall young man commented with dry amusement. Jared pretended to be very interested in the sports car.
"Are you all right?" Rik asked Rita. Again, she raised her eyebrows. She hadn't been asked that for years. Trying to regain composure, she shrugged.
"He was bothering me, but that was no reason to shoot him." Nobody responded to her little joke.
"I'm guessin' you're Rik, right?" The red head shook his hand briskly. "This is Rashel Jordan and Quinn. They're soul mates, ya know, but that doesn't mean they're like all the others. Let me tell ya, being at the mansion is like being like some freaking honey moon hotel. Thank god these two aren't always all over each other, only sometimes, but seeing how tolerant I am , I don't mind very much. Now Winnie, that girl hates seeing these two cuddle up, but then again it's probably because she's always alone and-"
Rashel hit the back of his head. Quinn looked at him with half annoyance and half wonder.
"Do you ever shut up?" Kyros threw him a dark look and rubbed the injured spot.
"Okay," Rik said, cutting through the awkward pause, "I am Rik Pinesworth, and that shy guy is Jared Luna. We live with Fayth."
"We guessed as much," Rashel told him . Her eyes moved pointedly to Rita.
"This is Rita Glisscielle, she's uh…Rita's the, um…" Rita felt her face burn in embarrassment; evidently, he couldn't even bring himself to say 'friend.' In the middle of his um's and uh's, she spoke up.
"I'm his classmate," she interrupted brusquely and shook the girl's hand. Rita did not like having all these strangely attractive people staring at her like an interesting insect. "Well," she continued in falsely bright tones, "I have to be going now." She walked away, only to feel a tug on her jacket. Rita turned to see Jared's hand holding her back.
"I think it would be best if you stayed with us for a while," he explained with a sort of pleading look. With his untidy appearance and wide hazel eyes, he reminded Rita of a messy, sticky child.
Before she could refuse, the doors of Super Mart burst open. The gorgeous blonde sprinted out, with Walter following behind her.
"Rita," he called out and made his way towards her, impressively passing Winnie, who had a good head start. "Are you all right?" She nodded, but her concerned acquaintance regarded the strangers with hostility anyway.
"Do you have anything to do with the gunshots earlier?" He asked suspiciously, sounding very much like his father, a well known police officer of Anomina. Rik tried to wipe away his grin. Rita suspected Walter's attempt at intimidation was comical to the people who surrounded her. She, on the other hand, would have taken him very seriously.
Walter looked towards her car. All windows, save the one on the back door, were broken. "Do you need a ride home?" Aversion to the favor was obvious by her expression. The last thing she needed was more pity from Walter when he saw her pathetic house.
"It's okay, Walter, we'll drive her home. Just call a tow truck for her car and ask them to take it to Stephanie McCullen's dad's auto shop. Tell him to put it on my bill. Okay?" Walter agreed to Jared's suggestion and unwillingly left.
"I leave for one minute and," the blonde began.
"Save it, Winnie," Quinn cut in. "It's wasn't us. It was Fayth's roommates." Winnie looked at the two Quinn indicated and then looked away, unimpressed. She decided to give up on men for a while. They were simply too childish. By the looks of the werewolf, she was probably right.
"Well, what are our actions, Rashel?" She was surprisingly business-like. Rita had assumed one who looked like her would giggle and toss her hair at the sight of "Fayth's roommates."
"We'll drive to Fayth's as originally planned. Rik and Jared will too. Then we can have a nice long chat." Nobody contradicted her.
Although she heard Rashel's orders, Rita assumed Rik would drop her off first. After all, they had loaded her groceries into the Toyota Corolla, or the "Yota," as Jared affectionately called it. She had to admit it was short, mostly green, and undoubtedly ancient.
But Rik did not turn right at Main Street. He turned left, onto Anomina Road. Rita knew the boarding houses were there. Unbuckling her seat belt, she scooted to the middle so she could see Rik in the rear view mirror.
"I need to go home."
"We just have to talk with you for a little bit, Rita."
"But I have things to do," she insisted.
"You can lay off the studying for at least one hour," Jared retorted.
"I'm surprised you even know the meaning of the word," she shot back angrily. "Don't assume that you know who I am or what I do."
It was the most emotion Rik had seen in the girl. If this argument progressed, it appeared she would have a conniption. For her sake, he mentally sent Jared a warning. Leave her alone, she's been through a lot in the past twenty minutes. Jared snorted, but stopped conversing with her. Rita leaned back in her seat, automatically ashamed of herself. It was the same wave of guilt she felt when she snapped at her sister, or the other student council members. It wasn't their fault they didn't understand. She should have had more patience.
When they reached the blue stately boarding house, the Mustang had already taken his spot. Rik parked across the street and placed a hand on Rita's shoulder. It appeared to be a reassuring, friendly gesture, but both knew it was to keep her from walking to a pay phone and calling a cab. Although calm, she obviously still felt the urgency to return home.
Rita had never been on Anomina Road; there was no need to take a drive down the road and feel the burning envy when she looked at the majestic abodes. Even of the inhabitants lived on only one floor of the palaces, it was bound to be much fairer than the house she lived in. Once in the stairwell, with Jared in front and Rik behind, Rita instantly knew the apartment would be to die for.
She was not disappointed. Shiny hardwood floors; clean white walls closed in a spacious living room and kitchen. Contemporary furniture, from leather to black wire, occupied each room. Distractedly, Rita tried to picture their bedrooms. Not like I'll ever be invited into one, she thought.
"Looked what the cat dragged in," Fayth greeted them pleasantly. She was not at all surprised by the sight of Rita. In fact, she motioned where she should sit within the little circle formed in the living room. "Let me guess, you didn't get the bed stuff."
Jared slapped his forehead. "I knew we forgot something."
"I'll get us some coffee." Rik made his way to the kitchen without an apology to Fayth. Although she could see him from her seat by the window, Rita felt suddenly very lost without her class mate. She did not know these people, who currently looked at her with business-like interest. Once again, she felt out of place. Here she was, in work out pants and a sweat shirt, surrounded by extremely attractive people in designer clothing. Even Jared, with his fair share of cowlicks, looked like he would fit in a Gap Kid's commercial. Strange how a mere twenty four hours could alter one's hum drum life.
"So how do you know Ian Amaro?" The black haired male…Rita searched for his name…Quinn asked bluntly.
"I don't. I just met him yesterday."
Taking a softer tone after he sensed her discomfort, Kyros spoke up. "But he called you querida. He must be familiar with you some how."
"I don't care; he called me Tana, too. But I've never met him before, I swear. Ask Rik. I just met the man yesterday." Conveniently, her class mate walked in the class room, with one coffee mug in his hand.
"If you remember correctly, Rita, I was technically unconscious. I don't know what happened between you two." Ungratefully, she accepted the mug from his hand. This is the thanks I get for "practically saving his life."
Rashel could read her face like a bill board. She was evidently displeased by Rik's lack of help. Saying what the others were beginning to suspect, she proposed, "Perhaps you're an old soul."
"As a matter of fact, I turned sixteen several months ago."
Winnie bit her lip to keep from smirking. "No, honey, we meant that you knew each other in another life."
"Should we be telling her these things?" Quinn told Jared not to worry about it, but not aloud.
"I don't believe in reincarnation," Rita declared primly. She took a sip of the coffee and made a face at its bitterness. Out of politeness, she took another sip and set it on the coffee table.
"What did he say to you?" The question came from Fayth. Distantly, Rita remembered her dropping out last year. She wondered what kept her in Anomina.
"He said…I was cold, standoffish, and an old friend. Plus he said silly things like we had unfinished business and people should obey him. Personally, I believe he has a Napoleon complex. Although, he doesn't have the shortness to qualify…"
"And what do you remember of our fight?" Rik asked in earnest. Rita looked at him dubiously before answering.
"He hit you with a rock, not very honorable. I thought I heard a crack when it landed, but it must have been my imagination…"
"Of course it was," Jared interrupted. "How the hell would he be here if he had a fractured skull?" Rita frowned at his choice of words.
"I don't know," she said heatedly. " I did say I thought I heard a crack didn't I? Any ways, after you became…indisposed, he turned to me, as if he had known I was there the whole time. It was very surprising."
"And?" Winnie asked rather impatiently.
Distracted by her rude tone, Rita took another sip of her coffee. Only Rik's attentive eyes restrained her from spitting the horrible liquid back into the mug. Sighing, Rita shrugged her shoulders, praying her interviewers would not be irked by her lack of information; not a chance.
"What do you mean?" Rashel imitated her shrug. "How can you not know? The man recognizes you on the supposedly first encounter, calls you dear, seeks your private attention, and you have no idea who or what he is? That's crazy." Her tone held no room for argument.
A bit intimidated, Rita squeaked, "I don't remember anything else."
"You're lying," Winnie pointed out flatly.
"Well, yes" the girl admitted, hoping to pacify the women, "I remember he had rather pointy teeth. But then again so do a lot of people." Peculiar looks were exchanged. "I don't suppose that's of any importance…is it?"
"Of course not, he just uses them to open mail," Jared responded with raw sarcasm. Rita gave a hurt expression, and then quickly oppressed it. What a moody little failure he was.
"She's got to be an old soul," Winnie announced in a matter of fact timbre. "There is no other explanation."
"She could have had amnesia," Kyros interjected, hating the Winnie's absolute certainty. "Have you had amnesia?"
Rita shook her head. "Not that I know of," she added regretfully.
"Well, that would make sense, having amnesia and all…" Kyros trailed off, presumably continuing the insight in his mind. Rita would have smiled had she not yawned. She began to think all the excitement had fatigued her a bit.
Without thinking Rita leaned back into her chair, making herself more comfortable.
Fayth faced Rashel. "From what Rik has learned, the Night World has something planned, apparently because somebody with the means and permission has arrived. For a social gathering."
"Permission from who?" Rashel wondered out loud. "I thought the Night World Council was obliterated at the beginning of this year."
"Maybe they're trying to regroup?" Jared offered. Nobody could confirm nor deny the idea. It was, after all, a very persistent organization.
"And Ian is the only new arrival in the past few days?" Quinn always delved into possibilities.
Winnie shook her pretty little head. "I overheard a girl tell Rita here she had just moved in."
It was Kyros' turn to shake his head. "Doesn't look like it. I saw her enter the Super Mart. She looked as if she was scared of her own shadow. Bookish, ya know?"
"Sounds like she and Glisscielle could be the best of pals," Jared remarked jokingly. Fayth hit the back of his head with a rolled up newspaper.
"Lay off of her," she ordered testily. Fayth had to admit she didn't know the girl, but there was no reason for her to be mistreated.
To both their surprise, it was Rik that spoke up for him. "It doesn't matter any way. She's asleep." All eyes turned to the interviewee. There in the leather recliner was a slumbering Rita, coffee mug still in hand.
Winnie walked over and examined its contents. Taking a whiff, she pulled back immediately. "What did you put in this?" she questioned the blonde vampire. "Night shade, St. John's wort, or a bit of mistletoe and willow bark…?"
Rik grinned and held up a bottle of dark green, syrupy liquid. "Nyquil. She's never sick, therefore low tolerance to the nighttime, sniffling, sneezing…I forget the rest. Look, if she's sleeping, she won't argue." At Winnie's disapproving look, he shrugged. "It beats searching through the woods. All I got to do is drive to the nearest drugstore."
"Whatever, just go ahead and do it," she commanded, unreasonably irritated by him. Rashel's voice stopped him from proceeding.
"Quinn should. He's a more powerful psychic." Rik easily complied. It didn't bother him in the least. And he had heard of Quinn's supposedly unequaled psychic abilities.
"Check if she has amnesia," Kyros ordered before Rashel's soul mate began.
It was easy enough. Like her facial expressions, he read her thoughts like a book. It just took some time to figure out where exactly he needed to go. Quinn ascertained that her account of the fisticuffs was entirely correct. She had also told the truth about concerning her second encounter with Ian Amaro.
Breezing by the unimportant details of her life, such as home and family, Quinn reached farther into the subconscious. Ignoring the usual teenage girl anxieties, the vampire was surprised by some sort of mental wall. How bizarre to find a human girl with such a strong, impenetrable shield. Not only did it manage to keep him out, but herself as well. Perhaps Kyros' absurd notion of amnesia was correct.
After some concentration and unwavering attempts at infiltration, Quinn managed to slip into the secluded vault. Even when he entered, questions were not immediately answered. She was an old soul, that was for sure. Fuzzy memories of Ian, her, and Western Europe surrounded him. Any time he spied Amaro in her thoughts, a sliver of fear appeared. As he delved deeper, he learned a third party was involved. Hay and horses flashed vaguely. With the recollection, Quinn sensed fresh shame. Ian's visage appeared again, and with him came the emotion of sorrow. He would never have thought being in Rita Glisscielle's mind would end in a discovery of a soap opera plot. In the thick of his search, Quinn felt her thoughts sharpen. Rita was waking up.
Sensing all he needed to know, Quinn quickly withdrew from the mind. As he seceded, he thought he heard the faint rhythmic claps. Until he opened his eyes, he was unaware he had closed them. He found his team looking at him expectantly.
"An old soul, all right," he confirmed. Rita sat up rather groggily and instinctively tidied herself up. Her doubtful face told them she had heard Quinn's news.
"Are to," he responded, but decided this sort of intellectual argument could last quite a while if he didn't stop it. "I saw it, Rita, there's not doubt you've known him in another life time." Although she nodded, the girl still kept a tiny bit of skepticism on her features.
Rolling his eyes, he informed his team, "I'm not going to erase her memory. We're going to use her to gain some information of Ian's past life, and it's impossible to follow her around without her becoming suspicious of our motives all over again. It would probably prove helpful if she remembers whatever happened between them any way."
"What did happen between them?" Fayth asked with interest Rita suspected was not for business. With a spontaneous indignity, Rita's expression became dark. Who gave him permission to tell her past? After all, it was her past, and none of their business. But he was already speaking.
"From what I could guess, Ian and Rita were somewhat related. Until something happened with Rita and a stable boy in the stables. Ian didn't approve." Jared was the first to laugh shamelessly. Rita remained still, taken aback by the facts.
"I'm a used sweater?" she gasped finally, with an expression of complete shame and surprise, mouth open.
"Pardon? When did the conversation turn to fashion?"
Rik explained since Rita did not seem inclined to answer. "It was a metaphor the ninth grade teachers taught the girls in sex education, trying to convince them to stay a virgin. They told them that when guys see a sweater they like, they may try it on, but they buy one that was not tried on. I didn't think it worked on anybody until…"
"I'm a used sweater," Rita repeated, comical disbelief underlying the words. Jared found it hilarious that she was the only girl in her class that took that metaphor seriously. Again, he found himself injured by a rolled up newspaper. Nobody would have ever believed a newspaper could be that painful.
"Why do we need her as an informant? If they are going to crash a party, Ian's going to be there anyway. There's no need to endanger her," Fayth reasoned.
Kyros shook his head. "Just because he plans something, doesn't mean he's going to be there when it happens. It might be too dangerous, he might get caught, and he might just be doing it as a favor to his buddies. Either way, Amaro was never too fond of the show, just the scheming."
"That's right," Rashel corroborated, a bit surprised to hear it from the shifter, "if he's interested in finishing whatever business he and Rita have, it's best if somebody keeps an eye on her. If she's that important, perhaps he wouldn't kill anybody at a party if she's there, at least collectively."
"I thought you came here to spoil a party, not play baby sitter to the…" Winnie threw a paper ball at Jared before he could insult again. "Girl," he finished sulkily.
"Did you not hear anything at all?" Jared was beginning to get under Quinn's skin. "She's instrumental to ensuring there will be no need to spoil a party. If we kill him, then the others will just give up, if they're as idiotic as you say they are," he added, turning to Fayth.
"Oh, believe me they are," Rik assured him, thinking of Morice Orin. "They're so busy with their heads stuck up their own asses they probably won't even notice your presence. Sorry," he apologized when he saw Rita's face at the word "asses." What a little prude.
"You don't mind if we kill him?" Winnie asked Rita thoughtfully. She shrugged, startled that Winnie had thought of her feelings. She hadn't had a word in edgewise so far.
"Just because he was involved in her previous life, doesn't mean he's her soul mate," Quinn cut her off, knowing very well where the witch was headed. Strangely enough, for a girl who killed many at least every other week, Winnie had a mind full of romantic notions.
"Well, what else is worth coming back for?"
"Maybe the stable boy was her soul mate."
"And where is this guy to save the day? Isn't how the story's supposed to go?" Kyros asked.
"Knowing Ian, if the stable boy was around here, he's already killed him."
For a time there was a pause, and then, like a well oiled machine, everybody took the present necessary actions. Rik and Fayth moved to the kitchen, Kyros left to retrieve some items left in the car, and Winnie, Rashel, and Quinn conversed amongst themselves. As quietly as possible, Rita tip toed to the door.
"Don't bother," Rik hollered from the kitchen. "Fayth's calling your mother to ask if you can sleep over." Stunned at the news, Rita rushed towards its source. True to his word, Fayth was busy conversing on phone, "ma'am" slipping in every so often.
She walked in just in time to see Rik mouth a name to Fayth. She nodded.
"Yes, some of Walter's little brothers had a gun, they thought it was a toy. Don't worry, you won't have to pay for it," she assured her. After a few moments, Fayth handed Rita the cordless phone. Half afraid, she turned away and hesitantly put the phone to her ear.
"Rita." She winced, hearing the disappointment in Mrs. Glisscielle's tired voice. If at all possible, Rita avoided hearing or seeing disappointment from her mother. "Rita how can you even think of a sleepover?"
She moved farther down the hall, hoping these so called Daybreakers did not have good hearing.
"I know, I'm sorry," she whispered, hating the desperation in her voice. She fiddled with her glasses, her hands starting to tingle. Mrs. Glisscielle continued as if she hadn't spoken.
"You know I need your help, you know that we need each other. That's why I don't go to dinner with my coworkers. You know that, Rita." There was no anger in her voice. Rita sensed for the past few years that her mother was simply too exhausted to work up any anger.
"You're sixteen years old, you're old enough to know-"
"That's right, mom, I'm sixteen," she whispered in biting tones. Rita had to admit a night with Jared and company did not throw her into a frenzy of joy. But the idea of a night away from the house enticed her more than anything on earth.
"I'm sixteen and I've never had a night off in years. I've never gone to the movies with my friends. I've never been to a party without a piñata and a water balloon fight. I've never been to a school dance. What did you do when you were sixteen?" She was quite unaware her voice had risen to a normal speaking tone.
"Things are different now, Verity, and you know it. I can't change everything just because you feel like playing truth and dare with some little girls," Mrs. Glisscielle half pleaded and half rebuked. "No one wanted this, but it's here, she's here and all we can do is deal with it. It's all we can do."
She had plodded to the end of the hall way now. In a deceptively defeated manner, she leaned her head on a door. Closing her eyes as if trying to close off the guilt.
"Do you think I don't know that?" Rita hissed, returning to nearly silent tones. "I know, and I deal every single day. But mother," her timbre turned into one of despair, "I'm tired. I'm just so… tired. So tired I wish I didn't have to deal any more. With my sister, with school, with…"
Nothing but a sigh was heard in response. A flash of light caught her eye. She faced the wall to her right, examining her reflection in the mirror. Rita knew she bore strong resemblance of her mother. Presently, she looked at her face and envisioned her mother with more haggard worry lines.
How selfish you are, she thought suddenly. Do you think your mother wouldn't want a night off too? She has a job too. How dare you complain, now, just because these strangers must complete their insignificant mission. She has a sick daughter on her hands and now you are rebelling.
"Listen," she began unsteadily, "you're right." Her voice dripped with shame. "I'm a self centered little demon. I'm sorry.. We could do something tonight, you know, after Melissa goes to sleep." Rita knew that was impossible; all her mother wanted on the weekends was repose. "I'll just go rent some movies and we'll-"
"Don't bother." Rita stood stunned, jaw dropping. "I'll have your things packed up and waiting in the drive way."
The young girl quickly recovered from the shock. "But, mother, you've never taken care of her all by yourself. She's used to me during the day time."
"I'm sure I can handle her."
"I don't want you feeling guilty. You've done a good job with everything so far…you shouldn't feel guilty about anything."
There was a strained laugh on the other end of the conversation. "Don't go trying to make me feel better, Verity. I can handle it."
"Mother," Rita replied, somewhat impatiently, "You don't know the routine for the weekends. I do. If you change the routine it might throw her off."
"Verity." Mrs. Glisscielle made no pretense of her irritation. "Let me handle this. I know what to do. She's my daughter."
"But you don't know-"
"You're sixteen," her mother informed her, as if that was an argument. "Only sixteen." A second later, Rita heard the dial tone.
Again Rita looked at her reflection, wondering if she had unknowingly manipulated her mother into relenting. The possibility was disturbing. Like her daughter, Mrs. Glisscielle could not hide her emotions in her voice, expression, or manner. Rita felt as if her mother said, "Go ahead, take one night off. We both have the rest of our lives to deal with our problems." One night off for good behavior she supposed.
Warily, she made her way back to the living room and handed the phone to Rik. Hopefully, no one had heard her conversation. It was too personal for virtual strangers to know; after all, even her acquaintances of many years did not know about her family life. And she intended to keep it that way.
"I have to pick up something at my house. She's letting me stay though." Rita's composure was noticeably shaken. "Can one of you drive me?" Minutes later, she found herself in the front passenger seat of the Mustang, with the red headed speed demon next to her. Faintly, she hoped they would not crash into a light pole after her mother had so generously gave her a free night. It would have been such a waste.
Now that they were alone, Kyros Snow bided the time by studying the new character in his life. Daybreak skill. As she sat fidgeting, peculiarly pinching her fingers, Kyros scrutinized every inch of the girl. In a purely scientific perspective, of course.
Plain on the first glance, and then less than plain on the second. The bookish girl had admirable tawny skin, although faint worry lines appeared around her eyes. Dark brown hair was tragically imprisoned in a strict bun. She was slender and seemingly evanescent, as if she went where the wind carried her. Her own face contradicted her personality. With her wide beguiling dark eyes, that murmured knowledge they were not supposed to have. Mischievously clever, or was it the Old Soul wisdom? She had a cupid's bow mouth, one that should have smiled alluringly instead of fretting tiredly. Everything, except her drab garments, confined hair and expressions, and sadly mature eyes, deemed Rita Glisscielle a whimsical rover. Pity something made her grow up so fast.
"Some day, isn't it?" The sound of his voice was the only thing that blemished his knightly appearance. Strikingly handsome, she thought. He had a strong accent; New York Rita guessed. He asked, "So you have a sister, huh?"
"Go straight at the traffic light. Yes, I have one sister."
"Why do you have to take care of her?" The conversation was heading down the wrong road.
"It's rude to pry. Turn left at the stop sign."
Kyros gave her a baffled look and made a bruising turn. "Why? What's so rude about asking about a baby sister? I was just gonna ask why did you put her in a daycare to save some work."
"I'm sorry," Rita instantly apologized. "I'm sorry for snapping at you. I just get a little grumpy sometimes. Just go straight until Providence Circle. It'll take a while because this is a long road." Kyros shrugged.
"It's all right, considerin' what you've been through. So what's the deal with you and your mom? Is she a workaholic or somethin'? Sooner or later we'll find out," Kyros prodded her when she didn't answer.
Sighing, she shook her head. "No, my mother doesn't work too much…and in a way she does. My sister…she isn't a baby," she confessed softly.
"What, twelve, or a preteen? She's old enough to stay at home all by herself then. You'll spoil her if you do everything for her," he advised her knowingly. "I got an eleven year old sister and you couldn't tell by the way she dresses, like a freakin' whore, ya know what I'm talkin bout? Any way, I tell my parents that if they don't stop this now, it'll get worse when-"
"No, older than that," she quickly cut him off, sensing his continuation would lead to a head ache or coma.
"Fifteen?" She shook her head.
"Sixteen?" He asked in disbelief. Again, she answered negatively. "She can't be older than you; it doesn't make sense if you have to take care of her."
"Twenty," she informed him, wondering why she had told a perfect stranger. Her classmates didn't even know she had a sister. "Twenty and…disabled."
"Oh…sorry," he murmured. Swallowing, he attempted again. "Like in a wheel chair? A friend of mine is in a wheelchair, because of the Battle. He gets around pretty good, though."
"Sometimes she walks, sometimes she doesn't. But…she isn't quite the same, you know mentally."
Once again, she drew an "oh" out of him. "Car accident?"
"How did you know?"
"Car accidents are the leading cause of death in teenagers in America today. Betchya didn't know that did ya?" Rita vaguely remembered the fact from driver's ed, but nodded anyway. She found Kyros' childish display of knowledge endearing.
"Drunk driver? The other car, I mean, not your sister."
"No. Turn left here until the sixth house on the right. High driver, driving my high sister. This neighborhood used to have a big brick sign you know. Right out front."
"What happened to it?" Kyros asked, curious about this sudden change of subject.
"They happened to it. My sister and her friend." Anger automatically washed over her. Not at her sister. Towards the drug dealer who had given Melissa her first cut. Rita willed herself to placidity. "I don't know how they couldn't have seen the huge wall, but they didn't and slammed right into it. Nothing but rubble left. Here we are." Much to her surprise, Kyros left the car and retrieved the duffel bag for her. Seeing her raised eyebrows, he shrugged, a mannerism Rita guessed he did often.
"Winnie's been givin' me tips on gallantry. I try not to listen, but sometimes I end up remembering. Go on with your little story."
"Well…that's it. My mother and I take care of her, and a nurse does when we're out. To tell you the truth, I don't know why I'm telling you this. Naturally, you'll keep this between us?" He nodded. "Are you sure you're not pulling some supernatural trick to make me more talkative?"
"Nah, Winnie's the witch not me. I'm just a regular old fox shifter."
"A what? Shifter?"
"Yeah, you know, shape shifter. We shift our shapes, hence the name, shape shifter. C'mon Rita it ain't that hard."
"So you, Rashel, and Quinn are shape shifters?"
"No," he answered in surprise. "I guess we didn't really explain this whole thing, did we?"
"Thoughtfulness is not one of your strong points," she confirmed. "Sorta left me out in the dark about everything."
"My bad. Here, I'll explain it on our way to McDonald's; I could tell you're starving. Any who, there is, well, was two main organizations. Night World and Circle Daybreak." Then Kyros spent an inordinate amount of time explaining the two, with his own opinions, ending with, "So, Night World sucks."
"Well then, I don't like them very much either." Kyros smiled. She reminded him of Nissa. She's pretty, he realized then, after the comparison, digressing a bit. Not as ravishing as Winnie, nor as exotic or majestic like Maria. Of course, all three didn't compare to Nissa. But, still, glasses and all, maybe less plain than previous thought. Her eyes weren't just tilted, nor almond shaped. Eyes that held all the knowledge of time, the lily pad colored orbs trying to hide it. He realized he'd been staring when she cleared her throat.
"Around the late nineties, humans and Night Worlders began to have a soul mate link; whether they wanted it or not. The principle says there's only one person for one person in this world and that they're meant to be together."
"Sounds perfect to me." Rita fantasized briefly of meeting her soul mate. He would not have to be handsome. Just trustworthy, sweet, and smart enough to rescue her from the fate of her mother. Single, poor, and entirely responsible for an invalid. And, naturally, he'd love her entirely. "Rashel and Quinn are soul mates?"
"Yup." Then, without a much needed warning, he launched into the recent battle between the two organizations. Prophecies, people with their own "private lightning shooters," an island, turncoats, his own glorious role…until, finally, victory.
"And it's your job to exterminate?" By this time, they had reached the boarding house.
"Yeah, Thierry thinks it's safer that way. Thierry's our boss. Get it?"
She nodded, stepping out of the car. "So you're a fox shifter?"
"Show me," she demanded. Kyros looked quizzical.
"Show you what?"
"The money," she answered dryly and shook her head at his confused smile. "Show me how shape shifters shift. As proof." Kyros saw the impish curiosity on her face. After a cautious look around for any audience, he complied.
In astonishment, Rita watched as Kyros' tall body gradually shrink. His thin arms shorted, his hands grew black and the fingers became little nubs. It seemed that his flaming red-orange hair shortened but also spread over his body. His brown eyes grew, and in place of his nose a muzzle grew. In the end, a sleek and rather large fox fidgeted mischievously in front of her.
Before she could react verbally to the adorable little creature, Kyros immediately returned to his former appearance.
"Rather impressed," she corrected with a smile, which was warmly returned, and briskly trotted to the door and up the stairs. He followed her form, admiring her easy grace as she climbed the steps. Vaguely, she reminded him of a ballerina. Tall for a ballerina, a few inches shorter than himself, but she still had the fluid movements of one.
"So I guess these Wild Powers are celebrities in your organization, huh?" She turned to him once she reached the top. Jared opened the door, but neither noticed as they swept past him. They heard bustling in the bedrooms. Someone had left the television on.
"Yeah, regular modern day heroes. Besides, us, of course," he added smugly. Since those in the living room had vacated, they took seats there, finishing their meal.
"Have you met them?"
"Never formally introduced to Iliana, or Jez. Delos hates me, but yeah I met the fourth one. We dated for a while."
"You dated one of the four people who saved the world?" Clearly, she didn't believe him. Why on earth would a girl date Kyros when she had the world to save? She hid her smile by biting into her chicken sandwich.
"Hell yeah I dated her. You don't believe me?" Rita shrugged nonchalantly. "I gave Maria her first hickey." Rita rolled her emerald eyes.
"God, you got him started on the 'first hickey' thing?" Rita jumped; she hadn't even heard Quinn walk in. "He thinks he ought to get a monument for it."
"So what happened? Why'd you break up?" Rita spied a smirk on Quinn's normally expressionless features.
"The girl got a soul mate," he explained, evidently annoyed with the fact. Kyros said "soul mate" like one would say "a bad dog." He threw his hands in the air, not enjoying reminiscing that part of the relationship.
"How dare he get in the way," she murmured, amused at his tone.
"I know it," he agreed righteously. "I thought we had a good thing going, too."
"Pity she had to go with her one true love," she went on, mocking the shifter's mood.
"Yeah, and I had her first."
"She betrayed the man who gave the girl her first hickey. It's practically adultery," Rita laughed. Kyros discovered she did not, in actuality, concur with his attitude towards the ordeal and, after some pouting, smiled as well. Quinn's face faded into one of boredom when he saw there would be no more teasing his partner. Later he left the building altogether. Rita guessed it was vampire business.
"What are you?" Kyros wondered aloud after studying her profile focused on the television. Her dark brown hair would have made him guess French or English, but her copper toned skin drew a blank.
"Human," she answered readily. "Didn't you know?" Rita didn't turn to face him; MTV was on and she hadn't watched it in a long time.
"That's not what I meant-"
"A girl. You didn't notice that either?"
"No. Your ethnicity, what's in you? You got some strange coloring." Although it was not exactly a compliment, Rita smiled. At this time, Rik silently entered the room and settled on the leather recliner.
"Why? Do you feel like having French liver tonight?" He queried pleasantly. "I think hers is too small for you. A bit thin, you know."
"Do not speak of me as if I were not here," she chastised primly. Turning to Kyros, she answered, "The boy is correct. My last name is French. But he did not tell you my full ethnic background."
"Do not speak of me as if I were not here," she heard Rik mimic her, still not turning to face them.
"Any ways, Spanish. My mother's parents emigrated from Spain. I can trace both my families back six hundred years," she added, with a bit of pride. "What can you do?" she asked him curiously. The commercial break had ended, but Rita dismissed the program. A whole new species was much more interesting.
"We're strong, and we change, as you saw before. Dragons, the earliest form of shape shifters, can change into anything they want."
"Now that's something I'd want to be." Briefly, she imagined herself turning into a dove and flying millions of miles away from Anomina.
"Only their descendants, like this guy named Galen, got the washed out ability. They could choose what they want to be and then they're stuck with it. Other wise, the rest of us are what we're born as. Unless you're bitten, of course. Once bitten, a human becomes whatever bit him."
Rita turned fully towards him, sitting Indian style. She sat for a moment, digesting the information. "So what can witches do?" Rita noticed she no longer heard screaming fans and saw Rik had turned the tv off and swung his chair to face them.
"Nothing. Absolutely nothing."
"Everything," Winnie corrected in a sing song voice as she sailed in, cell phone in hand. She had changed into silk red pajamas. "Look," the witch demanded to Kyros and Rita, "It's a new sorta trick."
For five seconds, Rita stared at the witch, who did nothing but concentrate. It wasn't until Kyros let out an impressed whistle that she realized the trick was over. "What is it? I didn't see anything."
"That's exactly it," Winnie replied excited. "Kyros saw my hair turn brown. But you didn't."
"Does this mean I'm special?" Winnie gave a silvery laugh; Verity took it as a no.
"That means I was being selective. Projectional sort of illusions. I send the image to Kyros' mind, but since I didn't send one to you, you didn't see it. After some practice, I'll be able to send Kyros an image of me, but a different image to you."
"Hey, babe, send images to me all you want." Winnie paused in her explanation to slap the back of his head. She continued, explaining that they could conjure spells for anything.
Rita thought for a minute before asking, "So why not come up with a cure for herpes and get filthy rich?"
Winnie rolled her pretty eyes at the boys' laughter. "It's just not what we do," she explained, condescendingly.
"In other words, they don't have cure for herpes," Rik told Rita.
"No, but a spell should give you two a terrible rash where one should not get rashes," she threatened, piqued at the truth of his statement. "But at least we're smarter than vampires."
"I, naturally, disagree." Only Winnie and Rita gasped at Quinn's voice. The other two had heard his entrance only minutes earlier.
"God, can't you wear a cowbell or something?" Rita sighed, hand at her heart in fear of cardiac arrest.
"I don't have anything that would match a cowbell." Before he moved farther into the room, his eyes scanned the kitchen, hall way, and farther into the living room. "Where's Rashel?"
"Talking to Keller," Rik replied.
"That's Galen's soul mate," Kyros whispered to Rita while the two conversed. Being so close to Winnie, in such heathen bed clothes, obviously made the shifter nervous. He moved to the floor next to Rita only seconds after the witch settled next to him on the couch.
"As I was saying…how do I put this in your terms, Winnie…plants. If compared to plants, vampires have all the intelligence and prowess of a venus fly trap."
Winnie glared. "And witches are what? A daisy?"
Quinn all but stalked into the room, reminding Rita of a feral animal on the prowl. He snorted. "Hell no. You're the fertilizer…ah, ah, ah. We spoke of this; no killing the bosses."
"Not until after the mission," Winnie chirped lethally.
"State your powers," Rita commanded Quinn, feeling as if she was interviewing for a super hero position. He answered in a falsely modest voice.
"Everything. We're stronger, faster, smarter." Rik calmly nodded in concord.
"And more full of shit than a cow field," Winnie remarked. The vampires' wounded pride was obvious on their handsome faces.
"Not true, but we can control minds. Basically order people not to skewer us."
"How does that work, exactly?"
Quinn shrugged. "Sort of like arranging them, or just plain deleting them. Like files on a computer. We can create thoughts too, in order to cover whatever we've interfered with."
"So you can make people think things. Like, if you fell and I saw, you can make me think you never ate it up." Quinn nodded, although he doubted he would ever trip.
"So if somebody…let's call him Bob. If Bob got hurt, I mean hurt real bad, and it has lasting effects… Could you put coherent thoughts into her head? Like 'you're twenty years old, you can feed yourself, you're supposed to be in college.' Could you do that?"
Everybody noticed the "her," an apparent change in Bob's gender. Quinn shook his head. "That's more of a physical condition than a moveable thought."
"Oh," she murmured, trying to hide her disappointment. Naturally, she failed, but nobody pressured her to explain.
"And what are we so chatty about?" Rashel entered the silent room, her lovely black hair caught in a bun much like Rita's. "What are we doing now?" Jared followed soon after.
"Teaching me about the secret species. Witches are smart, Shifters…well, shift, and vampires are very…arrogant. And fast, I was going to mention fast," she added quickly, seeing Rik take offense.
"Did they mention werewolves?" Jared asked, offended. Seeing Rita slowly shake her head, he sighed.
"Just like these snobs. Of course, just forget the noblest species in the Night World. You're in my spot." Winnie rolled her eyes and grumpily left her seat. Jared plopped down comfortably on his couch, his body fitting perfectly in the pre made dents in the leather.
"So what do you do? Tuck your tail between your legs and howl at the moon?" Ever since her drive with Kyros, Rita decided she could speak freely with the boy, even if it was for just one night.
Jared glared at her the same time Kyros confirmed her question. "Sometimes they howl at the sun, god help the stupid mongrels. Werewolves, gotta love 'em. No, no wait that's wrong… It's gotta bathe 'em. That sounds right."
"No," Jared growled. "Werewolves are strong. Stronger than a hundred wrestlers put together."
"And dumber then a hundred rocks put together," Rashel finished for him.
Rashel was surprised to see Rita shake her head in disagreement. "Now, Rashel," she admonished, "that would be offensive to rocks." Smiling, Rik glanced at Jared's reaction, then his watch.
"Five thirty. Gotta go talk to Mr. McCullen about your car," he sighed and left as he was, t shirt and shorts.
"So what do we do?" Winnie asked nobody in particular.
Sensible Fayth suggested dinner. The other three girls readily agreed and opted for pizza. Rashel left to retrieve a lap top from Fayth's room and allowed Winnie to maneuver to Thierry's Night World Profiles. Research, Winnie had told them.
"So what do we do now?" Kyros asked Rita, as if they were the only two left in the room. Jared seemed as animated as…well, to be truthful, rocks. Kyros looked at her, reminding Rita of a tall Dennis the Menace in search of trouble.
"You go ahead and do whatever you want," she yawned, stretching. Rita left her position on the floor and laid back in the recliner. "I'm going to sleep all by myself."
"But then I can't do what I want to do," Kyros teased, just for the fun of seeing Rita blush. He was not disappointed. The girl's workaholic, sensible nature made him want to disconcert her as much as possible.
"Oh…do hush up. Some people have resting to do."
"Yeah," Jared seconded the motion, "so screw off."
"Only if Rita holds me afterwards," he answered cheerfully.
Rita, unable to relax, scowled at the two of them. One would have never of guessed Jared had insulted Kyros; the werewolf appeared to be angelically dozing.
"Is this some sort of territorial thing? Because if it is, please, go outside and pee on a street light if that's what it takes to assert your dominance. Just be quiet."
"Jared can't. He doesn't have the equipment to mark his territory standing up." With complete tranquillity, Jared grabbed a pillow and threw it at his head. Rita sighed and retreated to the kitchen. Fayth, again disliking the girl to be in the way, directed her to the guest room. When the pizza came, Fayth said she would be summoned.
Under her persisting, Rita relented. Not at all hurt by the demand, she trotted to the room and plopped onto the bed in a manner similar to Jared's. The day was not yet over and she could still see the setting sun outside the window and past the trees. But the correct bed time was of little consequence. It was the fact that she could go to sleep at a quarter till five that tickled her. No interruptions, no bangs on the wall, and no dinner to make. I, Rita reveled with childish joy, can take a nap.
What a sad loser I must be if I'm excited in taking a nap, she thought later. But there was no time to analyze that thought. Dreams were already encasing her mind.
"Oh mi Dios," she gasped, and whirled to face her husband. Trembling fingers made the sign of the Cross as she breathed the words.
"God would not help a sinner," he responded vehemently. She did not hear his virulent words. Her eyes were focused on his hand.
"What is that?"
"I thought I saw an intruder in the stables. This would have taken care of him. It's called a cross bow, stupid," he added impatiently when he saw confusion still rested on her heart shaped face. He began to circle them. She made sure to stay between her husband and the man who always protected her. The horses neighed softly, prancing nervously in the other stalls. From atop a short stall wall, a candle he had brought with him valiantly fought the blackness. Flicking shadows danced across the faces of all three. The incensed one even moreso. She was afraid, and they both knew it. She was afraid, but angry.
"I won't let you take him away from me."
"Tana-" she heard from the man she shielded. A hiss startled him to silence. Her husband's hand tensed on the weapon. Her hand, which had once stroked his face lovingly, swung out to slap him. The fear inside her grew when he simply turned his head, eyes moving to her friend.
"No," she snarled. Both males were surprised by the seething violence in her voice, her jerky movements. "No. You leave him alone. You may hurt me, but you don't touch him," she ordered, a warning laced with her words. It went unheeded.
"If this is how you are influenced, then I am happy I brought this," he stated coldly. His eyes were void of any emotion other than retaliation. Once, she had naively thought them passionate. She knew better now; she knew him better now.
Unexpectedly, her protector, her friend, the man she almost loved… leapt at him.
"No!" she shrieked and lunged between them. Desperate was the only word for it. The man, uselessly battling against her husband, who refused to lose anything. Herself, forcing her hands between them before his neck was broken.
She could not keep hold on any part of them. She managed to catch her husband's attention for a split second.
"No lo lastime, por favor. Leave him alone. I'm sorry, please, forgive me. Perdonme, estoy apesadumbrado," she begged. He merely glanced apathetically at her before brutally pushing her away. She scrambled to get on her feet, and ran again to the men. Her fingers landed on something sharp, blood dripped from the cut. Suddenly, a sweet and disturbing smile appeared on her face.
She wrenched the weapon away, learning the mechanics of it before her husband could advance an arm's length. Unsteadily, she raised the cross bow, leveled at his heart. The smaller, but nobler young man laid on the hay behind him. His eyes were closed, and blood ran from his nose and mouth. Red stinging anger blurred her vision. Horses reared now, their hooves thundering against the walls. Warily, she moved backwards to the candle, finding comfort in the light.
"Bruja. Is this how you honor your vows?"
Her jaw dropped involuntarily. "I'm sorry. You broke yours. I hate you for it. Yo lo odio."
She wounded him. A tiny gleam of pain passed in his eyes before it vanished. But it was enough. She wanted to dance with joy. She injured him, with three little words. And he called me weak, she scoffed.
But now was not the time to rejoice. Only a time to take care of the bad man. The man who hurt her, manipulated her, took away her friends. The man who hated her.
Eyes hardening for the first time in her life, she aimed the arrow point and pulled the trigger.
"I'm sorry," she whispered one last time.
"What's the matter with her?"
Dreams quickly eluded her. Rita rolled over, searching for the peaceful slumber. Those discourteous voices were not helping, however.
"C'mon, rise and shine. Wait…does the moon shine?" Winnie asked somebody.
"No, it really just glows, like a pearl." Kyros the poet, she thought caustically. Acknowledging that she would not return to sleep until they went away or somebody knocked her unconscious, Rita reluctantly opened her eyes.
"Ah, sleeping beauty awakens," Kyros announced and literally dragged her out of the bed. Rita stumbled before falling in step with the fox shifter. She blinked several times, letting Kyros drag her to the kitchen. A semi circle of pizza lay in an open box. The others were in the living room, but their faces were slightly blurred.
"Where are my glasses?" A bedroom door slammed shut. Winnie walked in with seemingly empty cupped hands.
"These glasses?" Rita peered over the fingers.
"Oh no," she moaned miserably as Winnie dumped the bent frames and tiny shards into the wastebasket. "I must have rolled onto them while I slept. Darn it."
Kyros shoved a pizza slice into her hands. "Here, eat. It'll make you feel better. You can see the pizza, right?" Nodding, she sat down and began to bury her new financial problem with food.
"C'mon, let's eat in the living room. They have another riveting meeting on what we're gonna do."
She shook her head, but let out a "Hey!" Kyros had no trouble with the unwieldy chair and occupant as he carried it to the living room with one hand and the pizza in the other.
"Enter the informant, stage left," Rik murmured. "But nobody cued the bumbling idiot." Kyros ignored him.
"Told ya I was strong," he grinned at her indignant face and winked. Instead of warming to a pleasing shade of scarlet, Rita rolled her yes.
"Were you crying over the glasses?" Jared asked in disbelief. Rita frowned and touched her eyes. Her eyelashes and cheeks were wet.
"No," she answered, confused. "That's weird…oh, I had a dream," Rita remembered aloud.
"A flashback?" Rashel asked interestedly. With the proper information from the girl, perhaps Ian Amaro could be weakened.
"Oh no, I don't think so," Rita replied quickly.
Quinn made a noise of frustration. "But what happened?" He demanded. His tone prompted Rita to answer truthfully and immediately.
"He found the girl and another man in the stables. The men fought, the girl got his cross bow and shot him. And then I woke up."
Rita shook her head, eye brows drawn together. "I don't think so. She hates him though. He hurts her, I think. The two are married. And she's very pretty."
"Then she can't be you," Jared declared. Quinn punched the werewolf himself. To Rita, it looked casual and playful, but by Jared's wide eyes and wheezing, it packed more power than it appeared.
"It's a sin to murder," Rita began conversationally. "Plus she already committed adultery. Frankly, I hope she's burning in hell as we speak." Winnie looked as if she were ready to strangle the girl. Jared pointed out that that was impossible because Verity received the recycled soul.
"The flashback doesn't say much about him," Fayth concluded, disappointed. She quickly moved on to other matters. "We've gotta know when and where all the next parties are going to take place. Jared and Rik, fill us in."
"Hey, don't look at me," Jared muttered, still clutching his stomach. "I'm not even sure if I qualify as a high school student any more."
"He doesn't really attend that much," Rik explained. "Then again, neither do I. Plus I have that I have that habit of tuning out when humans speak to me…" He shrugged apologetically. Rashel sighed.
"Then we have to find out tomorrow morning. Moving on-" Rashel stopped, puzzled by Rita's raised hand.
"Didn't want to interrupt," she explained, lowering her arm. "But, um, there's a Christmas party tomorrow night at Scott Buffington's house at nine o'clock."
"How do you know?" Jared questioned with skepticism.
"An acquaintance told me. Everybody will be there, even if it is Sunday. Supposedly, only friends invited."
Rik snorted. "Whatever. I heard of Scott's parties. Half of the people who end up there don't even go to our school." Rita nodded.
"Yes, but only after midnight. At the beginning, though, he's usually pretty sober. Sober enough to check who's coming in the house. You guys want to be there before strangers come to make sure nothing happens right?" All looked to Rashel, who nodded after some thought.
"Then you're our ticket in," Quinn stated flatly, before Rita could argue. "Now we have a list of the 'neutral' people here, do you socialize with them?" Rik took the list and eyed it briefly.
"Some. In case you're wondering, it takes bribery and black mail to get these people to help with whatever you're doing." Again Rita raised her hand.
"I can't go the party tomorrow night."
"For Goddess' sake, why?" Winnie let out, irritation reaching boiling point.
"I have things to do," Rita responded defensively. "You can't just expect me to drop everything for your stupid mission."
"Even if it means the lives of your class mates?" the witch asked bitingly.
"They never did much for me," she snapped. Rita bit her lip, not at all meaning the callous words. Of course she would care if her class mates died; it would have been wrong not to care.
Winnie glared at her; Rita scowled back. Kyros cleared his throat. "Oops, Rita, we left your bag in the car. Let's go get it," he suggested brightly. He tugged at her elbow until Rita was out the door, her eyes never leaving Winnie's.
Kyros laughed once the stood in the chilly night air. "Brave, Rita, really brave. A cat fight would have been entertaining, but not too bright. Like she said before, she can give rashes," he warned as they walked to the car.
"I don't care, Kyros. I can't stay away from home one more night. Melissa needs me, and so does mother."
"Didn't you say you had a nurse?" He unlocked the trunk and pulled out the bag.
"Yes, but she doesn't work weekends. We don't have enough money for that."
"Well…" Kyros leaned against the wall, contemplating the problem. Rita wished he would think faster. In Kyros' haste, he had pulled her out without a jacket. He only noticed when her teeth began chattering. "We better solve this inside." Rita moved towards the door, until she saw what he meant; Kyros opened a car door for her.
"That petulant gallantry again?"
Sagely nodding, Kyros tapped his head. "It just gets stuck." They sat in the car, Kyros starting the engine to turn on the heat. Rita warmed her hands on the vent as the windows fogged up.
"We could convince her to work out of the goodness of her heart." Rita was about to spill all her unkind thoughts of the woman when she saw Kyros' roguish gleam in his brown eyes.
"But I thought you said shape shifters can't control minds."
"We can't. But vampires can. Don't start whining, Rita it's the only way. Just give me her address later. Which one, Quinn or Rik?"
"I guess Quinn, since he'll be here for only a couple more weeks. You sure he doesn't already know?"
Kyros made a negative hmm. "He was too busy arguing with Jared about something during your phone call." Rita smiled.
"I don't see how Rik puts up with him. He's rude, coarse, swears like a sailor…"
"Yeah, I don't see why the hell the damn dog has to fucking swear all the time," Kyros agreed in mock earnest. Rita hit his arm.
"Go ahead and make fun. But vulgar language just reflects bad upbringing. According to…well, I don't know who, but people say that."
"Oh, I completely agree. Jared acts as if he was raised by a pack of wolves."
A knock on the window made Rita jump, bumping her head on the ceiling. Kyros rolled the window down to find Rik staring at them with suspicious eyes. Rita rubbed her head, not at all bothered by his thorough gaze.
"Yes, we'd like some fries, two large cokes, do you have the happy meal…" Rita clamped her hand on Kyros' mouth, seeing that Rik was not in the joking mood. She drew it away when he bit her.
"What are you two doing?"
"What does it look like we're doing? Now, please, take a step back and give us some privacy."
"Talking," Rita corrected swiftly. She knew that Rik would take her word over Kyros'. After all, she supposedly could not lie.
"Go back up. We still got some planning to do." The vampire turned on his heel and disappeared into the door. After a few more jokes, Kyros helped her out and they walked towards the door. Before she could grab the knob, Kyros rushed in front of her and opened it.
"Ladies first," he gestured.
"I'll have to thank Winnie on her tips of gallantry," Rita commented. Kyros bowed dramatically as she swept past him.
"It's not her that's making me act this way," he hinted slyly. Rita said nothing, but her pace up the stairs quickened. The shape shifter smiled. His blood, he guessed, carried something that always made him want to toy with humans.
Rita had fallen asleep on the leather couch, much to Jared's dismay. It was three thirty in the morning and the planning had moved to the kitchen when Winnie complained of starvation. Nobody noticed the girl slipping away for some rest. The others would injure him some way or another if he harassed the human.
Disgruntled, Jared moved to a recliner. He only opened his eyes once when he heard Rita toss and turn. Probably ruining all my pre made depressions, he suspected.
Her face turned safely away, Rita smiled. She loved defeating Jared by simply lying down in his spot. She shivered and pulled Rik's jacket off an arm and wrapped it around her. He wouldn't mind, she reasoned, he doesn't even get cold.
She relaxed, looking forward to the rest of the day. Another day away from her mother and sister. Kyros assured her he would take care of it.
"It's noon. What will you wear to the party?" Winnie all but shrilled into her ear. Rita sat up instantly, narrowly giving the witch a broken nose.
"I said what are you going to wear to the party?" Rita shrugged. Inside, she was still uneasy with this witch with super model looks. She suspected Winnie felt the same way with her. But, for the sake of the team and mission, they'd cooperate.
"I don't know. Pants and a sweater I guess." Much to her surprise, Winnie grabbed her hand and pulled her off the couch. Rik's leather jacket slipped off and fell onto a cold slice of pizza with too much sauce. Rita winced when she saw it, but then decided to blame Jared should anybody ask.
"I said party, Rita, not Bible study group. Let's go to Fayth's room, my suit case is there. We can dress you up."
"I bet you had Barbie dolls as a child, didn't you?"
Winnie opened the door and revealed a neat, clean room. One comparably messy corner was presumably Winnie's place of changing.
"Barbies? No, but I did have dolls. Esmerelda would go off to work running her own Circle while her warlock husband stayed home and took care of the kids. Good times." Rita thought the girl strange; growing up, her Barbie stayed at home while Ken went to run the hospital.
"I don't want to borrow your clothes. I'm sure they're very nice, but should they get damaged…"
"Shut up. How on earth did you become such a worry wart at sixteen?" she asked irritably, rummaging through a mountain of clothes. Occasionally, she'd throw a top or skirt onto the bed.
"I don't know," Rita softly. "School, I guess." And they say I can't lie.
"Well, it's vacation now. Time to party, right?" Winnie laughed at Rita's clear apprehension. "Calm down, I'm not going to deform you. There's no need to put on makeup. We just gotta fix your hair and slap on pretty clothes." Winnie sighed when she saw Rita's constant reluctance. "There's no point in arguing."
Rita knew the last part was true. But she did not know her hair needed fixing. In fact, she had no idea it was broken. With slumped shoulders, she was shoved into a bathroom.
"Winnie?" Rita called, waiting for an answer. The witch made a faint noise. "Where are the others?"
"Jared and Rik went to the auto shop and they're going to return the car to your mother. Fayth and Rashel are out buying bed stuff and Kyros and Quinn taking care of some mysterious business. They left me to baby sit."
Rita made a face while undressing. Winnie was most likely five years older than her, but definitely younger in maturity. Rita thought if anybody needed baby sitting, it wasn't her.
Winnie heard steps coming up the stairs. "Hello?" she called softly. No answer. Before she left the room, she summoned a soft sphere of witch power and held it behind her back. Silently, she peered into the kitchen. A vampire leaned against the wall, staring back at her.
"Go head and throw it," Quinn dared coldly. Seeing there was no danger, Winnie let it fizzle out.
"For Christmas, I'm buying you the much needed cow bell," she stated, annoyed. "The least you could have done was say hi or something. I could have blinded you."
"I highly doubt that you'd even hit me. Perhaps the shifter, but not me."
"Speak of the devil," Winnie said under her breath when a redhead appeared in the door way.
Instead of quizzing the subject of their conversation, Kyros earnestly asked "Where's Rita?"
"Taking a shower," Winnie said as she walked back into her room. Kyros followed her.
"How long has she been awake?" Elbow deep in garments, Winnie was too preoccupied to answer. Either that or much too annoyed.
Rita stood in the scalding waterfall, letting the drops run down her face. The washing had ended five minutes ago. Now she simply let the strong current relax her tense body, not caring if the water changed from freezing to boiling every ten seconds. The silence, the water, and the room full of clouds and stars gradually persuaded Rita to forget herself.
Three bangs on the door.
Rita gasped, eyes flying open. Three bangs, Melissa needed her. Stupid, stupid girl, she rebuked herself as she hastily grabbed a towel to cover herself. You're not allowed to relax.
"Rita, it's Kyros. Open the door." Rita released a long breath and sat on the covered toilet. Relief came in dizzying waves. She wasn't home, she was at Rik's apartment. Rita had almost forgotten.
"I'm naked," she said loudly, hoping he would hear clearly. Kyros laughed.
"Was that supposed to deter me from breaking down the door?"
"Did you and Quinn…take care of things?" she asked eagerly, looking at his feet's shadows near the bottom of the door.
"Yeah. He convinced her that it would be the right thing to do to work the weeknights cheaper and next couple of weekends for free. Your mom said it was okay if you slept over tonight."
Kyros nearly fell as the door opened. He quickly balanced himself before Rita could notice.
"Really? Kyros, that's wonderful!"
"Among other things," he declared, scanning her dripping body, barely covered by a green towel. "Nice legs." The door slammed in his face. A minute later, Rita opened it again, wrapped in a longer towel.
"That's wonderful," she repeated enthusiastically. "That means mother can have some free time, too. Wait…are you sure she agreed? I know from experience that hag…I mean nurse can twist words. I better just call her to check-"
"Chill, Rita. I took care of it. Can't you at least trust me with this little thing?"
"But you don't know her like I do-"
Both turned to the sound of nearing footsteps.
"Stop sexually harassing the girl, Kyros. I heard about the fogged windows last night. Here are your clothes. Don't you dare refuse, I'm hiding your duffel bag." Winnie tossed her hair as she turned to leave, the lovely golden locks whipping Kyros' eyes.
"Do you happen to know where my bag is?" Rita whispered as Kyros rubbed his eyes. She did not look at the clothes; already she knew and Winnie had different ideas of fashion.
"No, and I wouldn't get it for you any way. I like Winnie's clothes. I'd like them even better on you," he added deviously, and walked away whistling. Rita scowled at his back, then disappeared into the bathroom to change.
"This is suicide."
Rita sat cramped between Kyros and Winnie in the back seat of the Mustang. Usually clinging for dear life at every turn, hurting somebody's arm. She had hoped Rashel would be a better driver than Kyros. But where Kyros drove at a mad speed for fun, Rashel did so for efficiency. Rik and Jared, she assumed, were to arrive later. At this moment, she was regretting she ever let the witch lay a finger on her.
"What?" Quinn asked.
"This jacket and this outfit." True to her word, Winnie did not put a smidgen of make up on her. But she did manage to squeeze her in the tightest ruby dress Rita had ever seen. She pulled her hair and burned her scalp with a torture device some referred to as a curling iron. It left a soft mass dusky, wavy curls, controlled curls. And, on her feet, Winnie forced two strappy, completely insensible high heels. Their flaming color matched perfectly with the sausage wrap Winnie called clothing. Momentarily, Rita hated the price of being a chic woman.
"What's the matter with the jacket? Maria gave it to me. I can see how that outfit will get you raped, but otherwise the jacket…"
"Is a Yankee's jacket. I might as well have a sign that says, 'Abuse me, Red Sox fans. I'm with New York."
"Well, you shouldn't have left your jacket at school then. This is the thanks I get for letting you borrow it. After all, you did stain Rik's leather one," Kyros pointed out.
"That was Jared," she argued feebly
"That dress would certainly not get her raped," Winnie argued, infuriated. After all, it did belong to the witch.
"No, just have strange men asking 'How much?'"
"What do you take me for, a prostitute?" Winnie demanded, voice rising, the same time Rita said, "I thought you said you liked Winnie's clothes." A bruising turn to the right slammed them into each other; Kyros was swung against the window.
"Quiet," Rashel ordered. "I'm driving here. It's already ten o'clock."
"Yes, she drives bad enough without distractions," Quinn commented smoothly.
"It's a great dress. It compliments her eyes." Rita noted Winnie sounded like the women on the Home Shopping Network.
Rita didn't accept "the eyes" comment. She suspected Winnie chose the spaghetti strap glittery scarlet dress for Rita to compliment her glittery green one.
"It's very…Christmas-y," she had told her, examining herself in the full length mirror. Winnie appeared beside her. They looked like they belonged in some sort of winter holiday porno cover.
"Listen, I'm all I'm sayin' is it compliments her ass. That's all I said, there's no need to get mad and your dress-"
"Shut the hell up about my dresses. Only an idiot would think saying that was okay, you moronic shifter-"
"Did I curse? Did I curse at her?" Kyros called for a witness in the small car. Nobody answered. "No, so you better damn not curse at me again."
"You son of a bitch," Winnie cooed sweetly.
"Why the hell are you so mad? I just think it's a provocative dress,"
"You implied they belonged to a hooker!"
"No, no, no I did not! I implied that a hooker would wear 'em. That's a distinct difference, Winnie," Kyros argued.
"Distinct difference my ass."
"Which is so nicely complimented by that dress."
"I thought that was my ass," Rita cut in, attempting to calm both passengers.
"Gasp," Kyros exclaimed, successfully distracted. "You said ass! Not bottom, not bum, not butt, and not rump. You said ass."
"I know what I said," Rita continued calmly. "But I was quoting. It doesn't count."
No more words were said in the car. No words could have been said. The car came to a startling halt, leaving dark skid marks on the street behind them. Quinn, with a surprising outburst of emotion, poured forth a colorful stream of words describing Rashel's driving. Rita smiled when his soul mate simply displayed her third finger and exited the car. Rashel appeared at the door she was grasping for and roughly pulled all three from their seats.
"You ripped her dress," Quinn remarked to Rashel after briefly glancing at Rita. Both women became irritated. It was Rita who spoke, hands on her hips.
"She did not rip my dress. That's just how far the slits go. And stop being so irate at her driving; we're all alive, aren't we?"
"Just barely," he answered flatly.
"We're wasting our time." It was the first time Rita had ever seen Kyros unhappy. "Let's go in."
"In" was the massive, traditional mansion sitting loftily atop a tree covered hill. Christmas lights lined every window, shrub, and architectural edge. Snow clung stubbornly to the rooftops. The window curtains were drawn, but failed to hide the party inside. Already, litter was strewn about the perfectly trimmed lawn. Scott's lucky the neighbors aren't too close, Rita thought as they trudged up the drive way. Music blared from the house, even from the seven car garage. She wondered how wild the party would progress after midnight.
The party was not so unruly that there was no bouncer at the door. And that bouncer was Scott Buffington.
Ah, Scott Buffington, Rita thought. The name, the mere sound of it, suggested idiocy. He manipulated people surprisingly well, for a man who once thought the New York Stock Exchange was a place where "damn Yanks trade cattle." Looking at him now, six feet or taller, with muscles more impressive than Rik's, she wondered why she ever liked the native of Alabama in junior high.
"Who's this fag?" Kyros asked aloud, unafraid that the student would hear him.
"The term is homosexual," Rita corrected in hushed tones. "And Scott is far from gay. He just wears tight shirts to show off his six pack."
"And he's not gay because…"
Rita hushed him urgently. They were now a few feet away from him. There was no guarantee of entrance if the jock overheard them questioning his sexuality.
"I don't know y'all," she heard Scott say suspciously. She could not see with Rashel and Quinn in the way. With disgust, Rita pictured Scott giving Rashel a filthy once over. After all, the velvet jump suit she wore left little to the imagination.
"But, you know me." Rita squeezed between the soul mates, nearly stumbling. "Hi Scott," she greeted him, collecting herself. But it was very hard to stay composed with Buffington staring at her like a piece of meat. "You did say student council was invited, right?"
"Yeah," her vice president said after visibly shaking himself. "I just didn't know you had a partying personality." With the same thoughtful treatment he gave Rashel, his eyes studied every part of her body. Well, not every part. They never went farther than her chest.
"That's not my personality you looking at," Rita said, affronted. She opened her mouth to inform him of the faults in his etiquette when a hand touched her arm. It was Quinn.
Rita was never very good at reading expressions. When somebody motioned her to stop whatever she was doing, she continued. Should anybody express wordlessly she should continue, Rita stopped. Which was why she and Quinn simply stood there in silence, one attempting to construe the other's mannerisms.
For God's sake, butter him up and let us in.
Quinn, being more perceptive on people's faces and their meanings, knew Rita had no clue how to exactly "butter him up."
Use your partying personality.
Again, I'm drawing a blank on whatthat would be…
Sighing, Rita took a step closer to the conceited socialite. She looked up into his face, smirking so hungrily, and…called for Winnie.
"Yes?" The witch glided to the front of the group, her blue eyes wide, and her voice innocent. It was obvious who was more qualified in persuading the man.
After a few minutes of giggling, hair tossing, and several shy touches, the group was in. In the ante chamber, a butler took their coats. Rita felt naked without Kyros' jacket.
"Didn't I tell you to convince him?" Quinn did not look pleased.
"I'm not one of your Daybreakers," Rita responded curtly as they moved towards the doors that vibrated to the beat. "You can't order me around."
"As long as you're apart of our team, you take the orders."
"I never wanted to be apart of your team. Besides, you can't expect me to be some undercover prostitute."
"Where else would a whore be?" Kyros quipped before an invisible wall of heat slammed into them. A second later, the music popped all their ears. The chaotic festivity engulfed them. Rita saw, with burning disapproval, a plethora of drugs and alcohol. They tried to stay together, but, after ten minutes, Rita found herself pressed against the wall with only Kyros by her side.
"This is a nice little tea party. Looks like your whole school is here."
Rita shrugged, watching the teenagers dangling from the chandeliers with curiosity. "That's entirely possible. Anomina isn't exactly booming with clubs."
"You'd think they'd turn down the heat. I'm just dying here," Kyros complained, unbuttoning the first few buttons of his white collared shirt. "With all this pandemonium going on, there's got to be enough body warmth to thaw Siberia."
"You call this pandemonium? From what I've heard, the basement is usually twice as intense."
"Let's go visit. I just got orders to check the grounds for suspicious peoples."
They left the wall, weaving through the hordes of people. The males eyed her like candy. The females preened themselves the second they saw Kyros. Rita rolled her eyes.
"Rita!" She turned to the voice, expecting some shocked acquaintance. To her surprise, she found Ophelia Brown. The chubby girl giggled, half drunk. Kyros stood where he was, waiting for the meeting to end. Rita refused to let go of his hand; the last thing she wanted was to be alone in the crowd.
"Ophelia! What are you doing here?"
"I got an invite. I'm going to do Scott's homework." Rita's eyebrows shot up at the girl's bluntness.
"At least Scott made no pretense of requited affection this time. I don't think you should drink," Rita chided and took the cup away from her hand. No trash can in sight, Rita emptied the contents on the beautiful crystal white carpet.
"All right," the girl giggled again and nearly fell over. Ophelia found it hysterical; Rita worried over her condition.
"Listen, do you have a ride home?" Rita felt Kyros squeeze her hand tightly. She didn't care if her friend's condition spoiled the little mission. It was possibly Ophelia's life at hand. To Kyros' relief, the girl nodded her cabbage patch doll like face.
"Okay," Rita said, still worried. "Just don't drink any more, understand me? Promise me."
"I promise," the girl sighed and slumped against the desk. Her face showed sleepy contentment.
Impatient, Kyros pulled the girl away. When she resisted, he threw her over his shoulder, making sure nobody got a view of anything through the high slits.
"Kyros, you're acting like my moronic class mates. Please put me down."
"You're too slow," he explained, loving her warm honey suckle scent. "Plus I gotta make sure everybody sees you." That and he wanted to see if her long legs were as smooth as they looked; of course, all in sub-rosa.
"Why?" Rita attempted twisting out of his grasp, but then realized she would only fall five feet and then some if she succeeded.
"Because if Ian sees you're here, maybe he won't blow the place up or do whatever he's planning."
Rita surveyed the huge hall. Some party goers met her face with amusement, surprise, or no recognition at all. Then her eyes met a pair of dark brown ones.
"Jared and Rik are here," she announced and guided Kyros in their direction. She hadn't seen the pair all day.
"Drunk already?" Rik asked, amused, as Kyros dropped his burden like a sack of potatoes. Rita gasped as she broke a heel on her landing.
"These," she exclaimed, bending down to remove the injured shoe, "are Winnie's!" The men grinned upon seeing the heel clinging to the rest of the shoe by a thread.
"Here." Jared held out a hand. "Give me the other shoe." Inquisitive for the solution, Rita removed the wounded shoe's partner and handed it to the werewolf. Major mistake.
"Small foot," he commented before neatly snapping off the stiletto heel. Within one second, he swiped the other shoe and cleanly ripped the heel off as well. Rita stared aghast, unable to speak. "There. Now you can walk properly. Not like a retarded candy cane."
"The term," she spat out ferociously as she slipped her feet into the, now, flats, "is mentally disabled. You mangy, flea biting, insensitive…mutt."
"Book worm," he threw back, a bit nonplused at her vehemence.
"Want to make something of it?" She moved forward, as if ready to fight. Before Kyros could calm her, masculine hands reached from behind and gently held her back.
"Walter," she greeted the newcomer before turning. "How do you do?"
"Fine, now, Miss Glisscielle. I knew you'd come to the party." Kyros watched his eyes during the exchange. They never once strayed lower than her lips. Walter was then deemed trustworthy in the view of the surrounding males.
"…any way, we were just heading towards the basement. This is-"
"Bob," Kyros interrupted quickly, shaking the young man's hand. "Bob Steve."
"All right, Bob Steve. Nice to meet you. How you doin' Rik? Ever gonna come back to cross country?" Rik and Walter did their friendly half shake and half hug greeting before he answered.
"Nah, I got tired of the lack of competition." To Rik's friend, Walter gave an uneasy nod. Rita suspected he, too, had heard the strange stories about the werewolf. Jared did not return it.
"Since when did you know Washington?" he asked Rita tersely. Rita saw Walter's muscle tense at Jared's belligerent tone. Undisturbed by it, she shrugged indifferently.
"For a while now. Let's go to the basement, Ky… Bob Steve. I'm tired of staying here." Kyros shook his head.
"You go ahead. Here," Kyros patted Jared's shoulder. "Jared will go with you." He nearly laughed when he saw both of their eyes bulged.
"Fine," the wolf conceded and followed Walter and the angry Rita into the crowd. Kyros turned to Rik, who smiled as well. Kyros took his hand and slapped a list into it.
"These are the people you gotta talk to. Take the first ten. I'll take the rest." Rik nodded and the two went separate ways.
"Why'd you come? To spoil my precious pleasure?" At some point during the quest of the elusive basement door, Jared latched onto her hand in order to stay with the two. Her other hand held Walter's. It reminded her of kindergarten field trips to the museum, when all held hands to stay together.
"To baby sit. I gotta make sure you don't do anything stupid."
"Why would I do anything stupid? You are talking to one of the fifteen juniors who could graduate by the end of the semester. I'm ten times smarter than you."
"Yeah, like dropping Rik's leather jacket on the pizza was really intelligent. And then blaming me."
It amazed Rita how two floors, merely inches apart, contrasted so greatly. It was a great deal warmer, and light was nonexistent except in the form of sparkles from the disco ball. Beer names spelled in neon lights lined the walls. People stood on tables, couches, anything elevated above the sea of dancers. The smell of alcohol and smoke (from what she hoped to be just cigarettes) nearly suffocated her. They made their way down a stair case and Rita let go of Walter's hand. There was no need for it. Jared, however, kept his grip on her.
"Oops. Sorry about that. And sorry for snapping at you in the car yesterday," she added truthfully. Carefully, she picked a spot to place her foot as they descended into the lower level. Sticky, smelly objects made the path difficult.
"Look, it's our president!" Rita rolled her eyes, not meeting the source of the drunken announcement. She could not avoid the notorious John Otis, former child hood friend, when he grabbed her arm the second she set her foot on the actual floor. Several dancers looked their way.
"Do you even remember my name?" she snapped, stepping back and bumping into her escort.
"Miss President," John answered, laughing. "Here." He grabbed a plastic cup from a freshman who walked by. "Have a drink."
In order to be free of her classmate, Rita ungratefully accepted and then squeezed past him, Jared in tow.
"Was that your hand that just took leave on my bottom?" She shouted to him over the roaring bass. The low beats seemed to engulf everything, even the melody and words. Jared shouted a no back, but Rita could only read his lips. She sat on the remains of a trashed classic juke box. Jared stood before, safely blocking her any hyper dancer who came too close.
"I think that was Otis," he yelled.
"Oh." She said no more when a couple, too busy exploring with their tongues who had the most fillings, violently collided with her seat. Had not Jared steadied her, Rita would have fallen. The lip locked pair paid no heed to them and continued their heated session.
"It's sex ed all over again," she murmured, eyes avoiding them. Jared's impatience matched their indifference and brusquely shoved them away. The male began to yell until he saw who gave them the wake up call. Then he moved away quickly. The female gave Rita a quick wave before following.
"Who was that?"
"Jasmine Evelyn. Sorta a friend of mine," she explained, scanning the room of the Amaro villain. Her acquaintances, many dancing, waved at her, and gestured for her to join them. She smiled and shook her head.
"You're one of them." Her eyes left the dance floor and bar when she heard his accusing tone.
"One of who?" she asked blandly, swirling the ginger ale John had handed to her.
"Them," he repeated in contempt. Rita saw he struggled to turn on a mental light bulb. "The popular pricks."
Rita had to laugh. And just minutes ago he had called her a book worm. "Am not." She was distantly surprised the boy would even pay attention to silly matters as that. Even she, president of student council, knew only a few notably prominent students; the rest of the acquaintances merely blurred into one social class. She took a sip of her ginger ale.
Jared waited for her to compose herself after she spat out her beverage. "Is ginger ale supposed to burn all the way down your throat?" Jared shook his head. "I thought so. Do you want this?"
Jared accepted the cup, and smelled the contents. "Cristal. Buffington's got good taste in champagne. One bottle costs three hundred dollars."
"Then it's probably his parents that bought it. Scott's taste never extends pass a Michelobe. Now what were you saying? Me, popular? If that's true, I don't think the planets are aligned correctly."
"You know everybody…"
"But, Jared, not personally." Her voice had taken the sound of a teacher explaining math to a child.
"Then you're smarter than I thought. Personal attachments get in the way of a troubled life, don't they?" Rita glanced at him sharply.
"Yes," she agreed cautiously. "They do. How would you know? Your life is far from troubled, Jared Luna. You live with two friends, you've got a car. You can do anything you want when you want to do it."
"You want a car? I'm sure the Daybreakers' boss could arrange something. That guy's loaded."
"Are you changing the subject?"
"Yes." Without warning, he moved away. Before long, Rita wordlessly lost his form in the crowd. So much for the baby sitter. Luckily, Walter appeared, asking for a dance. And he did so in a gentleman's manner, one hand extended. With such good looks and better decorum, Rita couldn't refuse. His reassuring smile made her forget she had never danced with a boy.
Rik followed Fayth's scent. She had refused a ride from anybody, saying she would walk. The human always had a habit of displaying her independence. But he had caught a whiff of her body wash and began to hunt her down, having already negotiated with his fellow neutral friends. The trail guided him to a wall, then to the center of hall, and then back to the entrance. Finally, he found himself plunging into a darker, hotter world. There was one wriggling mass before him, shouts and laughter attacked his sensitive ears.
I thought hell was supposed to have brimstone, he thought wryly.
Although his eyes were equal to those of a night owl's, Rik didn't bother search through the crowd until he singled out her beautiful face. Hours would pass by before he succeeded. The flowery scent still hung in the thick air, enticing him to follow. Faintly, he sensed his best friend's perpetual anger and new confusion. He left Jared alone; he refused to play shrink at a holiday celebration.
Much to his disappointment, the authorative Daybreaker did not await him at the end of his hunt. He stood, displeased, no less than ten feet away from his prey. In her place, Rita Glisscielle danced with Walter Washington. The fact of her dancing didn't bother him as much as the way she was moving. Like a dancer, and certainly not the type that performed on stage. At least a stage without a pole in the middle.
Despite the developing debauchery before him, he observed that her face illustrated neither intoxication nor herbal influence. She merely smiled, completely guileless, and pressed her thin and languid body closer to Walter's. After a vampire's version of CAT scan, the possibilities of external alterations left his mind. Now he could fetch and chastise her without fear of mistake.
Rita was enjoying herself. Such intimate contact would have normally incapacitated her ability to talk, much less react to her friend's purely platonic touches. Because that's what they were. As handsome as he was, both knew they had known each other too long to get involved. Just friends. She guessed anybody who managed to get this close to her should be called a friend.
Her face glowed, the soft curve of her cheeks turning rosy. Rik supposed it was the heat and the music's raunchy lyrics. Either way, he did not like the way Walter smiled at her. His friend's gaze rested on her legs, which were more and more revealed as her skirt rode up. By accident of course, but Rita was either to distracted or innocent to notice. In his opinion, the knee length dress was much too small in the first place. Somebody was going to have to fix that.
She laughed when the people beside her finally noticed who she was. Now she knew why the loose girls of her school constantly wore their daring clothes. Shocking people was plain fun. For the most part, she ignored Raymond, the boy behind her. When a slower song came on, Walter shooed him away, and drew Rita's head to his shoulder.
"Didn't know you could dance that well."
"The affects of child hood dance lessons, I suppose," she laughed. It was surprisingly easy to laugh when there was nothing to laugh about. In the last seventy two hours, she had stumbled over a supernatural brawl, discovered four new species, learned about two major organizations, one of whom saved the fate of humanity, and had been transformed from book worm to the apple of Walter Washington's eye. Yes, after all those unbelievable events, it was very easy to laugh.
"Why'd you stop?" Rita didn't want the truthful answer to ruin the light hearted atmosphere. On the other hand, she couldn't lie. A rescue came in the form of a none too happy Rik.
"I'm cutting in." There was no question about it, and his blue eyes challenged Walter to protest. But, being the easy going man he was, Walter complied. He managed to wrangle a promise for the next dance before he left. From Rita, of course.
"That wasn't very nice," she scolded.
"That re-enactment of Dirty Dancing wasn't very nice," he returned.
"I don't remember asking for your approval," she snapped, but a guilty look spread on her face as she did so. "Perhaps we were a bit too close," she admitted shyly, "but I love dancing."
"It's always the quiet ones," he sighed. "Have you seen Fayth any where?"
"You look for her," she ordered tiredly, resting her head on his shoulder. "You're taller, now that somebody broke the heels off my shoes. Did you know champagne doesn't taste very good?"
"You drank champagne," Rik repeated severely. He recalled the quiet, collected girl who helped him defeat Ian Amaro mere days ago. And he liked the girl just as she was, without the corruption the Daybreakers had thrust upon her.
"And spit it back out," she quickly clarified. The vampire suddenly gave her the impression of a disapproving father. "I gave the rest to Jared."
One second the two were dancing to a slow, almost magical rhythm, the next, violent threats and expletives screamed from the speakers. Somebody had decided rap was the best solution to the lack of energy on the dance floor.
"I'm going to find Walter," Rita told him brightly. Rik caught hold of a strap and maneuvered her to a wall.
"Oh no you're not. I don't like the way he looks at you."
"Since when were you my big brother?"
"Since I saw my student council president dry humping among these low lives. Now go talk to Jared," he ordered before she could verbally react to his blunt choice of words, "I think it's your champagne that's making him act so weird. I sensed he went outside."
"I have to go upstairs?" Rita looked pensive; she preferred the dark lower level to the harshly bright main floor.
"No, he used the back door over there. Now go, and I don't want to see you within the twenty feet radius of Washington."
"What if he comes to me?"
"Then you move," he said succinctly before steering her in the direction of the werewolf.
Rita immediately regretted her compliance the moment she stepped out the door. A conversation with Jared no longer frightened the girl. It was the darkness of the backyard she did not like.
Goose bumps rose in her flesh as she stepped farther away from the refuge of the door. She didn't mind. Thick stucco walls held fast to the fracas and heat inside. The festivity seemed miles away. The waning moon lent little light, and even the stars appeared thrifty, refusing to twinkle brightly for the timid youth. She could barely make out the barbecue grill and patio furniture covered in sleet when she caught movement to her right, somewhere in the woods.
It was hard to tell whether the werewolf ensconced himself among the evergreen and oak trees. Elm trees, of course, were in abundance. Scott's frost covered back yard, like his home, was mind boggling massive. The land could have held a private amusement park; instead, it hosted pool parties and barbecues that would have done well in a third of the size. His own miniature forest would have proven an obstacle if any one planned some major construction. Rita remembered Scott hunted a few times. Southerners, she thought with mild disgust.
Again, she heard a noise among the trees. Then low chuckling. Rita sensed whoever caused the sound did so on purpose. For the fun of scaring her. In an instant, Rita made up her mind. She refused to play paranoid victim for some pervert in the woods. It would have most likely added to his sick fantasies.
"You can come out now," she called defiantly. Carefully, she left the porch and ventured to the edge of the woods. If this is Jared playing a stupid joke…"Or are you scared?" There. That oughtta get the flea bag out.
"A one legged octopus strikes more fear in my heart than Little Red Riding Hood." Rita made an admirable effort to quench the gasp and shriek rising in her throat. Then, with glacial elegance, she turned to Ian Amaro. One perfectly shaped eye brow raised.
Her green eyes flicked over him like he had done to her the first time they met. Except this time, the observer found the specimen pleasing to the eyes. Again he dressed in black, giving him the aura of darkness and mystery. She suspected he would possess that aura dressed in a fish net and leotard. The wind playfully ruffled his hair, but caused her own strands to whip her face. The boy looked no older than nineteen, but silently screamed centuries of knowledge.
"New students do not often get invitations," she commented haughtily. Rita had often seen the popular girls snub the lower, uglier, or poorer class mates. Her voice mimicked theirs. You do not belong here. You're not of this class.
"I have my ways, Gitana."
Rita rolled her eyes, failing to notice how he stepped closer. "Please. 'I have my ways'? How cliché. And why did you call me Gitana? Before you said Tana."
"Very observant, Gitana. It's your name, you little fool." Rita blinked, and for a few moments was stunned. She had never met anybody who could say "you little fool" without sounding similar to an irate French knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The manner with which Ian Amaro spoke was utterly…baleful.
"My name is Verity. How many powdered doughnuts have you had? All my other elevated class mates have never made up names before."
"Verity," he repeated, tasting the sound of it. "Hmm… truth? Now, now we both know the impropriety of that name. No, I do not like it. Your name is Gitana Amaro, my little gypsy."
Rita bristled at the term. "I am nobody's gypsy," she informed, offended. "What I meant to say is I am not a gypsy period. You want to play make believe? Fine, I get to name you. Last name Jass, first name Hugh. Say it aloud." Her voice had become childishly spiteful.
Mr. Amaro refused to play along, however. With speed Rita couldn't quite register, he was abruptly inches away from her.
"You do not remember? I assumed with Night People and Daybreakers smothering this inane town, somebody would awaken your memory. Shall I help?" he offered, a devilish look smoldering in his near black eyes. Amaro stepped closer, forcing her to evade his touch. He smiled, as if he knew she would shrink away from him.
"No, no, definitely no. I've already learned enough about you, Amaro. You were mean to your wife…" She faltered, realizing "mean" was an understatement. "And you killed the only man nice to her. You took away the things she loved. You were…cruel."
"Why do you say 'your wife' and 'her'? You are my wife. You are 'her.' A little taller now, and lighter hair, but the face is the same. It's sufficient." He laughed, the sound reminding her of rolling waves of dark chocolate. Very dark.
Sufficient? Well, isn't that flattering…Again, the stranger advanced upon her.
An eerie growl interrupted their conversation. Others added to it. Rita's frightened eyes stared past Amaro and into the woods. Three big bad wolves had just found Little Red Riding Hood. Really, really, really big, she thought dumbly. She wished the Amaro character had a tree ax.
"Oh good gosh," she whispered, backing slowly away. The wolves, aberrantly large as they were stunning, prowled closer. Their eyes glowed with a perturbing lick at their lips. Silver shone beautifully off the backs of two. The other, the largest, had a reddish brown sheen, breathtaking to look at. It snapped when he saw Rita's receding form. She stood still in her tracks. Because she could not move, she thought out her panic.
Since when did we even have wolves in Massachusetts? Lord, please, I know I'm one of your worst children, but please, please, please help me. Send a Mounty, or the Coast Guard, anybody. Please, just let them eat him but not me Lord, please…
The leader remained in his tense pouncing position before Amaro. By wordless understanding, the other two circled him, until they formed a deadly animal triangle. And the man stood in the center of eager, chopping teeth, almost drooling with hunger. Ian Amaro did not care.
"Just like a stupid wolf, to give a warning before you attack. Does the thought of a surprise attack ever cross your innocuous mind?" The mahogany creature growled, his lip curling with visible abhorrence. "I thought not," Amaro snorted, calmly smoothing his sleeve.
One silver wolf lunged, her teeth audibly snapping as she attacked from behind. Amaro fell face down into the frozen mud. Rita nearly vomited when she heard a tearing sound, knowing very well it wasn't his shirt. But she couldn't look away as the wild creature ripped loudly at his neck. She hadn't known the man very well, but nobody deserved to be nibbled by wolves to death.
One hand neatly reached up and snapped the wolf's right hind leg like a toothpick with a stomach turning crunch. He flippantly smiled, twisting one broken leg. Her ear ringing yelps brought tears to Rita's eyes. The man was at ease carrying on a conversation while he tortured an innocent victim; Rita, on the other hand, had trouble standing.
"I bet you always find yourself apologizing. Especially to your God. Do you think he listens?" It was a pitiful sight, the awe inspiring creature cringing in pain as Amaro smoothly broke another leg. Rita spied a truculent smile on his inhuman face.
"Stop it." She thought she had screamed it, but she heard herself in a hoarse whisper. Desperate, she glanced around. Nobody was in sight. Nobody could help her.
"She started it," Amaro replied calmly, not looking at his supposed wife. The second silver wolf let out a chilling howl and executed a frontal attack. Like his sister, he lunged, and snapped his jaws at his head. Rita stared with gruesome pleasure as blood ran like tiny waterfalls down the man's face. Sharp fangs dug deep into his cheek, his nose, and his head. The animal's nuzzle became pink with the blood bath. Again, she felt sick when she realized Amaro's mouth was now much larger due to the tearing.
She wasn't sure whether she should rejoice or cry when she saw his arms moving frantically, trying to grasp some part of the wolf. He fell to the ground with a thud on his back. The animal danced around and on him, easily avoiding the hands. The mouth never strayed too far from his face. Perhaps it found facial reconstruction enjoyable.
Amaro ceased his feeble movements. Rita could not catch his expression, but his body told her he had given up. Then his hand reached up and tore off one ear. Ian pushed the whimpering wolf off and threw away the dismembered body part like a piece of lint. Pink welts decorated his visage. He smiled at her, the way a matador would smile at his lady after slaying a bull.
"I know you, Gitana. I know you think that if you behave well enough, God will save you. The truth is he won't."
The largest obstacle still awaited him. With a calculating look, the brown wolf circled him, seemingly awaiting his opponent's movement. Can wolves plan? She thought faintly, holding her breath. Amaro made no inclination he would initiate the first move. The wolf, giving signs of impatience, did not lunge like his partners. He ran straight to the legs, ferociously tearing through the tailored black pants and nearly removing a muscled calf. Before Ian could grab hold of the animal, he quickly evaded his touch. Again he circled his prey, before moving in to damage the other leg.
He has a different tactic, she realized. The wolf acted like a cat, crippling his prey every so often before coming in for the kill. Amaro clutched tightly at his calf, which was nearly falling off. The entire scene, with one horribly damaged man and two equally damaged wolves, was worse than the Alcohol and Drug Awareness Program video they showed freshman year. Her legs had a mind of their own and she found herself quickly backing away from the mutilation.
The next time the wolf moved in, however, Amaro refused to gain another scar. Furious, he took the wolf by the neck and throttled him. The animal's head snapped back and forth like a rag doll. Ian carried it so that he could see his tormentor in the eyes. As large as it was, the wolf did not match Amaro's height standing on two legs. Pitifully, his legs kicked helplessly in the air. Then it's body rippled. The dazzling fur seemed to absorb into the skin, and the thin legs became thicker. The muzzle pushed back into his face, and the yellow eyes became less round.
Jared kneed Ian Amaro in the stomach and then punched his smirking face. Rita wanted to look away, because Jared was stark naked, but the progress of the fight was more important. While he doubled over, Luna slammed his elbow into his back, and caused the taller man to collapse on the ground. Rita knew he learned that one from some stupid wrestler show.
"Kick them while they're down", people say. And that's exactly what Jared did. On his fifth kick, however, Amaro grabbed his bare foot and threw it, and him, in the air. Very much the same way he did to Rik on the last day of school. Jared landed on all fours and whirled to growl at him. He did not morph. Instead, he positioned himself like an Olympic runner, eyes still on Amaro. Rita realized what he was doing.
Oh no,she thought. That stupid boy is going to ram into him.
Jared even dug his foot in the ground like a bull. Then, like a bat out of hell, he ran straight for Amaro, his upper torso bent. His hard head aimed for the man's stomach.
The matador stepped aside the last second. Jared ran straight into an elm tree. Victorious, he stepped over his nude inert body.
Ian Amaro turned to her with a blazing smile.
"You believe your apologies will get you out of here; save you from your own life. But for that God won't save you, Gitana. I will."
Fear set in once again, and her eyes frantically searched for a weapon. A large rock protruded from the ground and she struggled to pry it from the frozen ground. The man stood in front of her, an eye brow arched, wondering what she would do with hit. Hating the wait, Amaro grabbed the rock with one hand and gave it to her.
"There. Now what are you going to do with it?"
Oh, she was seething. Rita was furious with the man who deformed two wolves and had the other lying in la-la land. She hated the arrogant smile on his face. She had never been so incensed in her life, save the night of her sister's accident. That night she had put a hole in the wall with her rage. Right now she felt she could, no, should do much more damage.
With all her strength, she heaved the rock at him, straight at his heart. She was not totally ignorant of aim and speed, her weapon had both. But she did not consider was his speed. And the fact that Jared stood directly behind him.
It was, strangely, like the sound of hitting cardboard. Thankfully, no crunches or cracks. But Jared looked like he had been kicked in the groin. Apparently, a werewolf's ribcage could hurt just as much as a human's. Especially when hit with a rock with the weight of a marble bust. He stumbled against the tree that had sent him reeling minutes before, eyes wide with shock.
Rita stared at him and then at her hand. Then at Ian Amaro, softly chuckling at her mistake. Rita remembered.
…she aimed the arrow and pulled the trigger.
"I'm sorry," she whispered one last time. The golden arrow sliced through the air, speeding to her husband's heart.
He just stood there and smiled. A smile that had won her heart, a smile that told her to back away, a smile that made her cry…
For both of them, the instrument of hate soared far too slow. Perhaps he has accepted his fate, she realized. He made no effort to dodge it. She knew he was as fast as a cobra. Perhaps he knows this is what he deserves this.
He stepped on inch to the right. Just one inch. The arrow was undeterred by his movement. It wanted a heart, any heart. Her lover's heart.
"Oh mi Dios," she breathed. There was no need to make the sign of the Cross, for she did not call Him in vain. "Oh mi Dios, please come. Please, no, no, no…" She didn't know how, nor at what speed, but she reached him and gathered him in her arms. His heavy body made it difficult, and the spurting blood caused her dainty hands to lose her grip.
"No," she sobbed softly. "No, please don't." Her heart ached, more than ever. He was leaving her, leaving her with the monster. He promised to protect her and now he was leaving.
"Stay with me," she pleaded in a whisper. It did not matter if her husband stood there, making any plans with the man in her arms impossible. She could hope, she could always hope, that he survived and he would stay with her. He still gazed at her, after all. If his eyes were open, he could still live.
"Stay with me, quiero. I'll do anything you say, just stay alive…" Tears mingled with his blood as they streamed down her face. He closed his eyes. That did not matter. As long as his chest rose and fell, she would beg. "Don't leave me, I need you." She believed he was not dying. No, no, it was impossible for an angel to die, she reasoned desperately. "Please don't leave. I'm nothing without you." With fragile hope, she pressed her lips against his, hoping for the pleasant thrill. He did not respond and she could no longer taste any sweetness. Just bitter blood.
"Quiero, please don't do that," she protested as frantic hands caressed his arm, his chest, his face. No response. "Don't, stop that," she sobbed, her voice breaking. "Please," she pleaded. But, his chest still rose and fell. She ignored the blood dripping from his mouth. She paid no heed to the blankness in his eyes. If he still breathed, he still lived. And he was still hers.
"I need you. I am nothing without you," she whispered into his ear. Her small shoulders racked with the sobs, and shuddered in between them. Red stained hands traced his mouth, and smoothed his dark hair. "I need you. You are still mine." His chest fell. He did not take another breath.
Her face crumpled, tears flowed like a flood. She backed away from the body, afraid to touch it. His blood was still warm on her hands, and covered her white night gown. His blood was warm on her hands.
It was her fault.
And the other man was laughing. His blue eyes danced with frigid victory. He assessed her wet eyes, bloody hands and clothes, and the broken blank expression. Her husband's grin widened. She wanted to run away, but she couldn't leave the body with him. The head would certainly hang in her bed room the next morning if she did so.
She walked over to the candle and pushed it over. Its tiny orange light consumed the wooden floor and then the bedding. The horse inside the neighboring kicked down the door. The flames licked at the bales of hay. The holocaust vouchsafed its attention to the rest of the stables, engulfing her husband's most prized horses. She would have cringed at their terrible neighs, had not her heart died.
"You little fool," he hissed and punched at the wall. The fire crept softly upon the hole, greedily eating at the wind it allowed. With an animal's grace he stepped out of stables and into the cool black night. He turned to her, demanding her to follow.
She grabbed a two bales burning hay and placidly placed them it at the opening. Sparks reached for him, but he stepped back. His handsome face was confused. She blew a kiss at him, an deceptively sweet twinkle in her eyes.
Within seconds, the fire enveloped the entire wall. It singed her lover's hands, his feet. The corpse did not look so gruesome now, with the orange glow cast around him. His arms were spread out, like a welcoming fallen angel. She went to him, and took his head into her lap. She stroked his face, now warm. How odd to touch a warm dead body. Acrid smoke filled her lungs, smarting her eyes. With a tired sigh, she shifted and laid her head onto his chest. Faintly she heard her husband ranting. She looked up at her lover's face, that sweet trusting face.
"I am nothing without you," she whispered, brushing some locks away from his face. Even in death, he appeared an angelic savior. She laid her head on his chest again, closing her eyes. With him, she was everything.
She opened her eyes. The memories washed over her in scant seconds, and the present had not changed. Jared leaned against the tree, recovering from her well aimed stone. Amaro stood to the side of him, icy eyes laughing at the werewolf. A harsh wind swirled around them. But Rita could not shiver. Her goose bumps had disappeared; in their place sweat glistened on her tawny skin. She could still hear the crackling fire.
"Yo lo odio," she spat violently, steeling herself against her husband. Although the darkness had not relented, she could see him clearly now. Yes, Rita knew his features all too well. His eyebrows rose in surprise. She marched to him, ignoring the fact he was nearly a foot taller. Rita was prepared to kill him with her bare hands.
"I've heard that one before. You look like you're gonna kill me."
She inhaled deeply, the freezing air burning her lungs. He had always done this. Because she was a slave to her emotions, he plucked her heartstrings for a few laughs. Rita calmed herself to the point where she would not commit homicide.
"Just slow and painful torture."
"As opposed to fast and peaceful torture? Good to have the nonsensical Gitana back." God, the man was so full of himself. He sounded as if he had just resurrected Jesus, by having 'nonsensical Gitana back.'
"Adrian Amaro. You unbearable bastard. You evil, conniving, snake. I hate you, I hate your-"
"Charming smile?" Unbelievably, he held out his hands to her, as if he offered sanctuary from all her strife. Rita eyed him uneasily, but did not draw back as he came closer. She refused to have fear of him any more. After all, it was her fear that killed her almost love.
"We both know you can't stay mad at me. You never could."
As a matter of fact, she didn't know. All she remembered was that painful isolated incident, and the rest of her past life remained blurred and jumbled. But his words sounded as if they were true.
"You're thinking of your sniveling coward of a wife," she hissed, looking into his eyes. Eyes that could melt or make icebergs out of any thing. He was so close now she could smell his cologne. "I, on the other hand, will never forget your…inhumanity."
He had the audacity to laugh again. Could he not see she would hate him for the rest of both their lives? And he laughs? "Interesting choice of words." There was casualty on his face, but subtle gravity in his voice. She had angered him.
All at once, she saw him through the eyes of herself, her old self. He is a big man, she thought worriedly, backing away. Much too big for me. I cannot defeat him all by myself. What if he should strike me? What then? Adrian always hit so hard…
"Good," he drawled. "You know your tongue's been far too sharp. Come here," he commanded, eyes never leaving her face. Rita could not meet his penetrating gaze. All it took was three steps to reach him, but to Rita they looked like miles.
"Will you hurt me?" Some part of her mind was startled at the comment. Not the undisguised fear in it, not the familiarity of it, but the language. She had timidly asked him in almost archaic Spanish.
"No. I promise. Come here, Gitana."
He did, after all, promise. Tana took a deep shaky breath and put one foot forward.
The back door broke open with a startling crash. Verity Glisscielle, not Gitana Amaro, stared at the sweaty and happy exodus leaving the basement. Class mates sat on the patio furniture, and others knocked over the barbecue equipment. A few moved to the empty pool, making use of the large ramps with their skate boards. Nobody noticed their president until John Otis drunkenly pointed her out at the edge of the forest. And when they turned to her direction, all they saw was Rita Glisscielle in her delicious red dress, and the naked Jared Luna a few feet away, leaning on a tree. The implications were simply too much. There was no one else in sight.
To be continued.
it consists principally of dealing with men."
Unless s/he is a complete ass, any author should be able to take negative comments. Meaning, constructive criticism/ flames welcome, as long as you write it error free (think of that whole thing about the ones who haven't sinned to throw the first stone). I don't care if you don't write a whole sentence. I just feel that this could be better, if I got everybody's opinion and suggestions. Especially other authors. Please?