Ree felt her chest tighten as she listened to his words. He hadn’t meant to, but she knew from the spike of adrenaline that came from Sophie that the darkling had revealed something she hadn’t known. Something nagged at the back of her mind and Ree tried to grab the fleeting thought. She had turned on the TV over the weekend to try and escape the gloom in her household, but nothing had been on but the news. Not wanting to listen to anything else depressing, she had turned it off—but not before the anchor announced the disappearance of a local club owner.
Ree moved closer to Scott and Sophie, taking in the light pink button-up shirt and khaki pants the darkling was wearing. They were filthy: covered in dirt, grime, and blood, but if clean they would be the exact type of clothing a young, influential business owner might wear. Tons of clubs littered the downtown area, but she couldn’t remember the name of the one with the missing owner. Sophie tilted her head so she could look at Ree with a curious expression.
“I heard about him on the news. A local club owner had gone missing and his family was offering a reward for his return.”
“A reward? Finally, a side benefit!”
Ree turned around in shock to see Weylin stumble through the back door. His hair was a mess and the tie of his school uniform was loose and hanging crookedly around his neck.
“Are you drunk?” Eyebrows drawn together, Ree sniffed in her friend’s direction.
Flopping down onto a chair near the door, he looked at her with glazed eyes. “Maybe. Gonna tell my mommy?” Snorting, he trailed a finger along the window sill and grimaced. “Really, Sophie. Swiffer Dusters. Amazing invention.”
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Melanie walked over to where Weylin was sprawled. “God, you smell like a distillery!”
“Well, you would too, if you had drunk as much as I have! Do you know how much alcohol it took to get this drunk? Let me tell you. A lot. Apparently being immortal means you can’t be an alcoholic. Which I think is totally unfair. I mean, what else are we supposed to do when we need to drown our sorrows?”
“Why do you want to be drunk, Wey?” Since Tristan had died in an accident while drunk-driving, Ree couldn’t stand to see people intoxicated. Of course, I’m not really sure if that was the reason he died.
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe it was that hot girl, Sheila. I was sitting in first period, making progress with her and she noticed my ear.” He sighed and looked around wistfully. “She literally said, ‘Ew.’ So, yeah. I’m mourning my ear, if that’s okay with you.”
“Sheila? You let Sheila Morgan drive you to drinking? Are you kidding me?” Melanie marched over to his side and yanked him to his feet. “Get up, dork. We’re going to go get some coffee.”
“But I don’t wanna!” he whined as she tugged him to the door. “I had to work really hard to get this drunk!”
“Go, get him so coffee. If that doesn’t work shove him in a fountain.” Sophie’s eyebrows were drawn together, frustration rolling off her. “Don’t bring him back until he has stopped slurring and can stand up straight.”
“Who made you the boss?” Weylin leaned dangerously to the side and Melanie shoved him against the doorframe. “Ow! That hurt.” Sticking out his bottom lip he looked at Mel with puppy-dog eyes.
“Oh, geez.” Melanie rolled her eyes before yanking him out the door with her.
Ree let out a breath and looked at Sophie. Still staring at the door, she seemed to be lost in her thoughts, a crease between her eyebrows the only obvious sign of her worry. Shaking her head briefly, the older woman’s eyes met Ree’s before turning back to the darkling on the ground.
“Ree, why don’t you watch the front of the store for me?”
“Why?” Ree looked at the older woman suspiciously. Obviously Scott was thinking the same thing, because his eyes had grown narrow, his chest heaving.
“Someone needs to watch the storefront while I question the darkling. We can’t risk someone coming back here looking for the owner.”
“Then close the store.” Pressing her lips together, Ree met Sophie’s stare with her own.
“No. I’m not going to go hide while everyone else does the dirty work.” Clenching her fists, Ree stared at the Guardian. “I can help you with this.”
Sophie watched Ree with serious eyes. “Go lock the front door and hang the Closed sign.”
Ree hesitated; worried Sophie would do something once she walked away. One corner of Sophie’s mouth quirked, and if Ree didn’t know any better she would think the woman had rolled her eyes. “Go. We aren’t going anywhere.” She turned to look at the darkling. “Are we, Scott?” His eyes grew big and his Adam’s apple bobbed.
“Who was the Dark One that first approached you?”
“My name is Scott Chaney. My rank is, well, I don’t have one. So, just refer to me as Captain Awesome.”
Ree rolled her eyes at his lame attempt at humor. They hadn’t gotten very far in the last thirty minutes and Ree was pretty sure that was because she had stayed. Sophie was starting to lose patience, and Ree figured it was only a matter of time before she broke down and started trying to force him to talk. While Ree didn’t blame her for being frustrated, it still seemed wrong to torture someone. Knowing they had to get some information soon, she decided to take matters into her own hands.
“Scott, was the Dark One a blonde?”
“If I remember correctly, he was purple with rainbow hair.” Scott smirked at Ree, amused with his own joke.
Taking a deep breath, Ree used the power and flung the blinds on the back windows open. The darkling made a high-pitched squeal of pain. The veins in his neck darkened and black crept in along the edges of his eyes. Smoke curled up from the exposed skin the light touched. The sound and smell combined to cause the acid in Ree’s stomach to churn.
“Name,” Sophie demanded clearly.
“I don’t know his name. They told me not to ask.” Fingers clenched tightly, the knuckles on each hand turned white.
“What did he look like?” Ree asked.
Instead of answering, the darkling clenched his mouth shut and squirmed on the floor, unable to get out of the light. Sophie went to the wall and carefully moved furniture away from some of the windows so nothing was damaged. She threw those blinds open, too, allowing more light to filter into the room. Scott’s screams became louder; the smell of his burning skin made it hard to breathe.
“Tell us, Scott. Tell us and I’ll close the windows.” Ree kneeled next to him and looked him in the eyes. The black didn’t reach the brown of his irises; instead it swirled just along the edges, making it hard to look at.
“Blond. He was tall and blond.”
“More. Tell us more.” Sophie moved closer to where the darkling lay on the floor.
“He looked like her! Like the Alastriana! Blue eyes, blue. Without the weird silver crap. Okay? Okay? Close the windows. Close the damn windows!” The lengths of his forearms were raw and bleeding; a fine black ash littered the floor.
Ree ran to the windows and yanked the strings of the blinds so they would fall back into place. Sophie had let Scott move back into the shadows and threw him a water bottle. Quickly unscrewing the lid, he poured it along his arms before gulping down the rest.
“We have to have more information, Scott. We can keep doing it the hard way, or we can keep it simple.” Sophie sat down in her desk chair and looked at the man cowering behind an old armoire. Slipping one leg over the other, the Guardian leaned back into the chair, for all the world looking as if she was asking about his day at work. “Who were the Dark Ones interested in and how did you know them?”
“Random people. I don’t know. They weren’t the people I expected they would want to talk to. There was a bar maid the first night. Then repeat customers, but nobody that I really knew.”
“What was your employee’s name? Did they hurt her?” Voice rising, Ree stepped closer to Scott.
“God, I don’t know. Emily? Emma?” Scott looked at Sophie and asked, “Can I have more water?”
“No.” Sophie’s eyes tightened.
“What happened to her?” Ree demanded again.
“I don’t know, okay? I sent for her to come up to the V.I.P. lounge, but she never showed. I never saw her again, actually. They weren’t happy, but there were patrons they wanted to see as well.” Unrolling his filthy sleeves, he pulled them down so they covered his wrists.
“What did they want with the patrons?” Ree had an idea, but needed to hear it spoken out loud.
“They had tea and crumpets.” Scott’s face contorted into a sneer, black creeping into the corners of his eyes.
Without thought, Ree let the power wash out of her, much as she had in the bathroom of the school. Scott pressed himself against the wall and threw his hands in front of his face. Ree moved closer to him, barely registering she was floating, not walking.
“Tell me what they did to those people, darkling. What did you trade so that they would offer you immortality?”
“They killed them. The blond one drank from certain ones and let his friends have the rest. He was very particular, but I don’t know why or what made him choose those people.”
“You traded those people’s lives for what? To be some monster’s slave?” Books along shelves rattled with Ree’s anger. Suddenly she felt as if she had been too kind when looking for her answers.
A hand touched her shoulder and Ree whirled to find herself eye-to-eye with the tall Greek woman. Understanding filled Sophie’s eyes. Slowly the anger fled Ree and her feet drifted down to touch the old wooden floors. Taking a deep breath, she turned to look at the darkling cowering in the corner.
“Tell us anything you can remember. If I think you’re holding anything back, I won’t be as nice this time. Understand?”
“Let me finish up, Ree. Why don’t you go wait outside?” Sophie looked at her with compassionate eyes. “I will get the information we need.”
“No, I’ll tell her.” Scott scuttled forward so that he could see them clearly. “They said something about those people being untapped. I think their blood gave them more power or something. I can tell you more, but I want to make a deal. I tell you what I know and you let me go. I leave Savannah and you go back to doing whatever it is you do.”
Sophie and Ree stood silently, looking at the filthy man on the floor. The sleeves of his pink shirt were sticking to the sores on his arms and mixing with the grime he had collected while scuttling through alleyways. Narrowing her eyes, Sophie silently measured the darkling.
“How can we know you’ll actually leave?” Ree asked.
“If you want to make this deal, Ree, I can make sure he is escorted out of town.” Sophie let her gaze linger on Ree’s for a moment. “I think we are going to have to call in reinforcements, anyway.”
Not wanting to expose the darkling to what might be sensitive information; Ree only nodded her head at Sophie.
“Tell us what you know,” Sophie said. “And know that if it isn’t worth it, we will not be giving you an escort out of town. Understand?”
“Yeah, I get it.” Scott tilted his head to the side and looked at Ree again with his shifting eyes. “The blond guy was important, but there was someone even more important.”
“More important how?” Sophie’s voice was quiet, yet held a tense note that caused goose bumps to rise along Ree’s neck.
“She was the leader, but never said anything. The blond guy did all of the talking, but you could tell by how everyone else moved around her that she was pulling the strings. They were scared of her. She never smiled, except when the blond was eating.” Scott shivered, for the first time showing a sign that he had a seen a real monster. “She completely ignored me, except for the last night that I was at Barlow, my club. I asked when they were coming back, but no one answered. I think I was jonesing or something. I got desperate and I threw myself at the boy. I just wanted a little more blood. I mean, I’d given them some every time.”
“What happened?” Swallowing, Ree looked at the man on the ground in apprehension.
“She motioned for me to come to her and I crawled to her like a damn dog. I couldn’t get off of my hands and knees while she was looking at me. The closer I got, though, the more beautiful she was. Large, dark eyes that seemed to take up her face. I swear I could see things flickering in them.” He stopped and looked at the water bottle longingly. “She picked me up. With one hand. I knew they were strong, but this was more than the others had shown. I don’t remember anything else, just waking up in the alley. I was covered in blood, but I couldn’t go in the sun. I couldn’t go home until that night, but when the sun went down I couldn’t think straight. All I wanted was to find the woman. I’d have done anything to be close to her again.”
Sophie rocked back on her heels, her eyes wide with fear. Ree looked at the older Guardian and felt dread settle in her stomach. If Sophie was worried then it was time to start panicking. Faster than Ree could process, the older woman had Scott pinned to the wall. Her fangs were descended as she moved her face near his, urgency causing her to lose control over the more basic things. The furniture near her rocked as she stared into the darkling’s eyes.
“What color was her hair?”
“Bl- bl- black.”
“And she didn’t speak? Did anyone speak to her?” She shook him lightly as if trying to force him to remember. “What was said to her? Tell me everything. If she picked her teeth with a toothpick, I want to know what color it was.”
“Uh, she never said anything. Not once. Though the others watched her as if she was giving orders. The blond guy seemed to be her spokesperson. He would give orders and the others would jump. Sometimes he would look to her to see if she was happy with what he had done. She never spoke, but he seemed to know, anyway.”
“You need to remember more than that, darkling. Give me a reason to let you live.”
Ree sucked in a breath and moved toward them. “Sophie, we told him we would let him leave.”
“Ree, go out front. You don’t understand what is going on.” Sophie almost hissed the words out as she moved closer to Scott.
“I know that I don’t go back on my word. I know he’s still mostly human, even if he is evil. And I know I’m not here to kill humans. There are enough people out there doing that already.” Ree touched Sophie’s shoulder and was shocked to find her shaking.READ MORE >>