Stealing a car was easy. The hard part was putting up with the whining.
“I can’t believe we’re doing this,” Graves muttered for the fiftieth time. I kept the speed steady, an even fifty-five. It was an older red Subaru sedan, and I’d checked for insurance papers before we’d taken it. Someone would be inconvenienced, but not completely out of luck.
When you’re running from the king of the vampires, you can’t afford to be too choosy. But I was glad I’d been able to avoid being a complete douche.
“Well, if you’d like to hike out there on foot, be my guest.” I didn’t reach for the volume knob to drown him out, but it was close. Little Richard wailed softly from the speakers, robbed of all his sass. The all-wheel drive would be nice when we started to hit the hills. “Or if you want to be caught without wheels when the vampires find us.”
When. Not if. Because they’re going to. After all, I’d stabbed the closest thing they had to a king through the heart and escaped. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that will piss a monster off.
It was a partly sunny late-spring midafternoon and we were on the freeway. I actually missed the food back at the Schola Prima. At least it had been pretty fresh, and there’d been plenty of it, brought up on a tray each evening as the Schola woke and the djamphir started getting ready for another night of fun and games learning to hunt suckers.
I would groan at having to get up, blue-eyed Nathalie would laugh, and the night would start with breakfast and a hot shower while she set my mother’s room to rights. And I would secretly feel glad not to be alone.
Now I just felt empty and nauseated. Plus my head hurt, and even though I was exhausted, I hadn’t been able to sleep for more than a few broken hours. I’d been too busy jerking into wakefulness every time the cheap hotel room creaked, or a car backfired, or the boys’ breathing changed. It didn’t help that the motel’d had paperthin walls, either.
But options are sometimes limited when you’re running for your life.
Ash lay curled up in the backseat. He’d been asleep since we hit the city limits, snuggled up like he didn’t have a care in the world. I’d managed to get him mostly cleaned up, but he was still barefoot and greasy-haired. He’d put away even more food than Graves this morning, and that was saying something. We’d spent seventy bucks at a Denny’s off the freeway for breakfast, then stopped at a McDonald’s and loaded up. Cheap food, but both of them needed the calories. A werwulf and a loup-garou would heal up in a matter of hours, but only if they had enough food to fuel the metabolic burn. So both of them chowed down, and they were looking pretty pink by now.
The greasy paper and wrappings went in an already-full rest-stop trash bin four hours ago, and I hoped we couldn’t be tracked from them.
Neither Graves nor Ash knew how to drive, so it was all on me. Driving wears on a body, Dad always said. It was why he taught me to spell him as soon as my feet could reach the pedals.
Silence, broken only by Little Richard going to town like he wanted to reach through the speakers and shake me for keeping him turned down. My hands ached, white-knuckled, on the steering wheel.
“I didn’t mean that.” Graves hunched in the passenger seat, as far away from me as he could possibly get. He was pale under his half-Asian coloring. The dark brown roots of his hair showed as he ran a hand back through it, wincing as he hit tangles. “I just meant, shit. I can’t believe I’m out.”
I can’t believe you got kidnapped in the first place. I sighed, easing off the gas to drift behind a red semi creeping in the right-hand lane. Big fluffy white clouds sailed across the sky, but the spring sunshine was enough to make it hot under the dome of the car. My window was half-open, and the roar of the slipstream sent me bullets of concentrated scent. Fresh-cut grass, car exhaust, blossoming things, tree pollen—you name it, I smelled it.
It was distracting. Especially with the car full of the reek of wulf and loup-garou, neither of them too fresh and one of them, at least, nervous as hell. Next hotel we used would have to have a decent shower. I reeked of nosferat, fear, and cinnamon buns, not to mention old dried rusty blood.
The fear and the blood, well, I could deal with that. But the spice scent was just a reminder of how much things had changed. I’d changed. I’d finally “bloomed” and become toxic to suckers.
Not that anyone was noticing.
I rolled my window down a little more. Suddenly remembered something. “You need smokes?”
“Nah. Not yet.” Graves stared out his window, running his coppery fingers over the armrest like he was searching for a way out. “Come on, Dru. We can talk about it, right?”
Talk about what? Where would I even begin? Hey, dude, sorry I didn’t come rescue you sooner. Sorry you got bit by the boy in the backseat when he was still a slavering wulfen broken to Sergej’s will and trying to kill me, back in the Dakotas when you were living in a mall and I had to shoot my dad because he was a zombie. Sorry I dragged you into this. Sorry I didn’t tell you what had happened in the gym with the Queen Bitch of the Schola; maybe if I had you might not have run off and got kidnapped. Oh, and while you were being tortured, I was kissing the guy who hates you most.
Yeah. Where to begin?
And I totally felt like an idiot for hoping he’d notice that I’d bloomed. I looked different now. Wider in the hips and a little bigger in the chest, and my face was heart–shaped like my mother’s instead of long like my father’s. My hair had streaked itself with blonde like I’d gotten a salon highlighting job, sleek curls instead of frizz—and the shape of my mouth had changed too.