Mortal Obligation (Dark Betrayal Trilogy #1)

Chapter 24



Ree's heart pounded when she realized the girl and two boys were Dark Ones. It was obvious the parents were aware that there was a group behind them; the father kept looking over his shoulder while the mother pushed the double stroller next to him at a faster speed than normal. Her stomach heaved when she realized the Dark Ones were going to kill the family, including the children sleeping in the stroller. Power flooded into her, but this time she pulled from the trees and the plants around her.

Looking over her shoulder, the blond girl said something to the two boys Ree couldn't hear. A deep growl ripped from Paden's chest. In unison the two males turned and rushed their group while the girl made a beeline for the family. They were fast – so fast she could barely see the colors of their clothes as they blurred forward. Instead of fear, though, Ree was filled with anger. Dropping to one knee, she thrust the power into the ground and it rippled ahead of her, throwing one of the guys on his side in surprise. There was a whoosh of air next to her as someone rushed forward to meet the other Dark One. Sophie stopped right in front of him and threw a kick that knocked him into the street. Snarling, he came back immediately, fangs flashing white in the moonlight while Sophie’s dagger glinted silver.

Ree didn't have time to watch their fight as the other male regained his feet and was met by Paden. Screaming drew Ree's attention toward the family and her stomach clenched. The father had shoved the mother and stroller behind him, but he was no match for the female Dark One. Picking him up over her head she threw him into a brick building, causing dust and gravel to rain down on the street. He wasn't moving, and Ree feared he was dead. She launched herself forward, throwing a ball of energy at the blonde, Weylin and Jules keeping pace with her as she ran forward. At the last moment the Dark One rolled out of the way and rose to her feet in the middle of the street. Lip curling in derision, the female Dark One spat on the ground before turning and running away.

“Go!” Weylin and Juliette responded to Sophie immediately and took off after the Dark One.

Ree's attention was turned back to the family when she heard the babies wailing and the mother sobbing. The woman was kneeling next to her husband, the stroller tucked as close to her as possible.

“Wake up, John. Please wake up. Don't do this, please don't do this.” She was brushing the hair away from his forehead and whimpering. Ree moved closer slowly and held out her hands to show she meant no harm. Tears ran down the woman’s heart-shaped face when she met Ree's eyes. “She wanted Caleb and Cole. He told her no. God, please help me. Don't let him be dead.”

Ree knelt next to her and felt Sophie and Paden join them. The man’s head was bleeding profusely and his breathing was shallow. Still holding the power Ree could tell he was barely holding on to life. There was no time to call for an ambulance. Looking at Paden she felt tears fill her eyes. He dropped to his knees next to the man and looked at his head wound.

John was fading fast, his breathing almost imperceptible, but Paden, on the other hand, was getting brighter and brighter in Ree's mind. Mumbling with frustration under his breath, Paden was checking John for more injuries. Sophie had taken one of the babies out of the stroller and handed him to his mother; she picked up the other child and whispered soothing words in his ear. The young woman was rocking back and forth, gently shushing the baby, but her eyes never left her husband.

Paden’s fingers stopped just above the gaping wound on the man’s forehead, and they began to tremble. A soft glow emanated from his palms, and as they all watched the gash began to close. Ree felt her mouth fall open, and the woman gasped and held the baby tighter to her chest. As the skin knitted closed the man mumbled and moaned.

The woman gasped in shock and relief, her tear-filled eyes wide in astonishment. She threw herself into confused man’s arms, the baby crying between them. Paden fell back into a sitting position and ran a hand across his forehead, then stopped and looked at it incredulously. Without warning, the woman launched herself at Paden and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. He fell back, his head hitting the ground with a loud thwack.

“Thank you, thank you!”

Paden shoved her dark brown hair out of his mouth and awkwardly patted her on the back. He looked at Ree helplessly, and she pressed her hand to her mouth to stifle a laugh.

John was looking at them in confusion, soothing the baby that was now in his arms. He touched his forehead gingerly and looked at the blood on his hand. “Hush, Caleb. Everything’s going to be just fine. I’ve got you.” He rubbed the infant’s back gently. “Anyone want to tell me what happened?” His eyebrows drew together in confusion.

“Someone tried to mug you, but when they saw us rounding the corner they gave it up.” Her voice was kind as Sophie helped the woman to her feet and handed her the other little boy.

“Shh, Cole. Everything is all right,” The young mother swayed in a gentle pattern as she settled the small infant in her arms.

Her husband, John, was looking at them curiously and that was when Ree felt the simmer just underneath the surface of his skin. Ree looked at Sophie in curiosity, because she suspected this stranger had an immortal ancestor somewhere down his family tree. The older Guardian didn't notice though; she was looking at Weylin and Juliette who had just made it back.

Weylin shook his head in answer to the question in Sophie’s eyes. Apparently the female Dark One had escaped. Three people rounded the corner, and Ree was relieved to see it was the rest of their group. When they got a little closer, Ree could see that there was blood on Melanie’s shirt, and Bryce had a rip in the knee of his jeans.

“Everyone okay?” Sophie asked.

Roland nodded and looked at the little family that was huddled against the wall. “We ran into a little trouble, but we're all fine.”

“Is there some kind of gang initiation going on tonight? How did that girl pick me up? I remember that, and I must weigh a good sixty pounds more than her.” John handed the baby back to his wife and stepped forward.

“Probably drugs,” Weylin offered. “They showed a video of a guy on PCP in our health class. He was crazy and did all sorts of things that shouldn't have been possible.”

John looked at each of them, obviously not completely convinced. “Well, whatever it was I’m grateful for your timing. Thank you.”

Loud cracks of thunder and explosions of color split the night sky, signaling the beginning of the new year. The young couple ducked their heads in shock and the babies began to wail again. Car horns honked while people sang in the distance. For the first time that week, Ree actually felt light-hearted. They had managed to save this family from suffering and death. It felt good to know she had helped keep some things right for the new year.

Chapter 33

They continued walking the streets for another hour, but they didn't encounter any more Dark Ones. Roland had still not caught up with them by the time they had reached the City Market. Sophie checked her cell phone and stopped their little group near the pub owned by Paden’s family.

“Why don't you guys head in there for a bit while and I try to reach Roland?”

Ree's stomach dropped as she looked around the Market. Goose bumps erupted along her arms and sent a shiver down her spine. Someone or something was watching them. She looked at Sophie to see if she had felt it as well, but the Immortal wouldn't meet her eyes. “If Roland and I don't show up then you keep yourself in that pub until daybreak. Is that understood?”

“But – ” Ree started, but Sophie interrupted her.

“I doubt anything is wrong. It's just a precaution, okay?” She watched them file in to the pub and was gone by the time Ree turned to look out the stained-glass window.

An ear-splitting squeal made Ree wince, and she turned around just in time to see a small girl launch herself at Paden. He laughed loudly and spun her around.

“I thought you said you wouldn't be at the pub tonight!” Claire punched him in the arm before turning to Ree and giving her a really big smile. She was an adorable freshman with soft, wavy brown hair that almost reached her waist. The O'Rielly green eyes filled her delicate face, making her look almost like a fairy.

“Oh my gosh, did you guys see him?” Claire grabbed Ree's arm, practically jumping up and down with excitement.

“See who?” Ree laughed.

“If you had seen him, you wouldn't ask that,” Claire said, disappointed. “Of course, that just means that he’s all mine! Total hottie with blond hair, blue eyes to die for and lips that make me want to scream.” She squealed again, and Melanie and Ree died laughing.

“Lips that make you want to scream?” Paden frowned and looked around the pub as if he could spot the guy that was tormenting his younger cousin.

Weylin shoved past him and headed for the bar. “I'm starving.” Throwing himself onto a bar stool, he grabbed a menu which was promptly snatched back out of his grasp by the bartender.

“Underage kids sit at the tables.” Sue pointed at an empty table. It was almost two in the morning and the pub was getting ready to close, but there were a few stragglers huddled in the corner playing darts and talking loudly over the Irish music that always played in O'Rielly's.

“But Sue! I'm family,” Weylin pleaded, throwing in puppy dog eyes for good measure.

Sue had passed her genes straight to her daughter, Claire; same hair, dark green eyes and lithe build. They also shared a sense of humor and temper. “Not my family, and you might as well give it up on the moon eyes. They haven't worked on me in years.” She jerked her chin toward the table, and Weylin dejectedly walked to it, his head hanging as if he had been beaten.

“You know, I'm hungry too.” Ree pulled out a chair waved at one of the waitresses. Shirley maneuvered through the mess of chairs and tables.

“Sorry, guys, Liam closed the kitchen just before you came in.” She flopped down in a chair next to Ree. “But I can see if he has any leftovers and bring you some drinks. Paden, when are your parents due back?”

“Thanks, Shirley. I think they should be back in a couple of days. Tomorrow, maybe? The days this week have run together.”

She heaved herself out of the chair and smiled at them. “That’s what happens when you don't have to go to school. A big blur of pointless time.” She winked and headed for the kitchen.

The others sat down and made themselves comfortable.

“Hey, Melanie, is that blood on your shirt? Are you okay?” Claire pulled one of the bar stools over and hopped onto it.

“Oh, yeah. Some drunk fell off the curb and I helped him up.” Mel pulled at her shirt and made a face. She looked at her friends and grimaced. They might have to find a way to bring extra clothes with them for when they went hunting.

“Ew, we've had a ton of drunk people in tonight. Mom wasn't going to let me come in and help, but Callie called in again. I think Mom’s going to fire her if she shows back up. That’s the second holiday she’s skipped out on.” Sue was a tough but fair boss and if one employee didn’t cover their share of holidays she didn’t put up with it.

Shirley showed up with a tray full of cokes, sweet tea, and a big basket of assorted leftovers. Primarily there were chicken fingers and fries, but there were a few hush puppies, too. Ree grabbed one before anyone else could. They were a specialty of the house and everyone loved them. The guys dived in, shoving food into their mouths and slurping down sodas. Ree half-listened to Claire talk about the people that had been in tonight while she filled her stomach with fried foods. As the time passed she became more and more worried about Roland and Sophie. She was surprised the Immortal had left her with just her friends as protection.

“So, what have you guys done tonight? Was there a party or something?” Claire stuck a french fry into a puddle of ketchup and then popped it into her mouth.

“I wanted to see the fireworks.” Juliette chimed in, her head lying on Bryce’s' shoulder.

Ree was starting to feel irritated with all of the chatter Claire was supplying. It wasn’t really the younger girl’s fault; Ree just couldn’t process all of the gossip after everything they had gone through. The happiness she had felt after saving the young family was evaporating quickly. Goose bumps still littered her arms and back, while worry had her twisting her straw wrapper into odd shapes. She excused herself to go to the bathroom and take a few minutes to regroup.

Splashing a handful of water on her face did nothing to ease the tension cramping her shoulders. Her reflection in the mirror over the sink was haggard and tired. Spiraling silver worked through her pupils as she stared at her face. Reaching out with the power around her she realized why Sophie had felt comfortable leaving her at the pub. Threads of glowing green and silver lined the entire bathroom with the intent of protection.

She traced her hands over the lines along the sink and lost herself for a moment as she tried to learn just how Sophie had managed to put so much intent behind her work. There were layers upon layers that suggested she had been in the pub several times. A small voice in the back of her head nagged at her as she played with the power wrapped through the bathroom. Reaching further through the pub she was awed by the amount of work the Guardian had put into the building. That was when she felt the cold spots surrounding the pub. There were a group of Dark Ones behind the pub in the alley that led to the trash and there were several spread through the streets of the Market.

Her fingernails scraped along the Formica of the bathroom counter as she steadied herself from the shock. How could she have been so lax as to not keep searching for Dark Ones while they were out in the city? Her eyes closed in frustration. No wonder the glow had returned to her pupils while she hadn't been holding the power. Her body had been reacting to its natural enemy. Taking a calming breath she left the bathroom and tried to not draw any attention to her emotions as she took her seat back at the table.

The closed sign was hanging on the door and all of the chairs except for the ones they were using were turned upside down on the tables while Shirley mopped the floor.

“What's going on, Ree?” Paden’s eyes were trained on her as she took another breath, hoping her eyes were under control.

“There are Dark Ones surrounding the building.”

Paden cursed under his breath while the hand resting on the table clenched into a fist.

“How many?” Mel asked. Her head twitched to the side as her eyes scanned the windows.

“There are at least four out front and in the streets through the market. And maybe two or three right outside the back door.”


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