“Jared, please just?”
“Put yourself in my position, Sam.”
Oh the bastard just had to say that, didn’t he?
“If Luther had been talking about me just then, would you have been so eager to go track down Paige West?” When I didn’t answer, he gave a soft, humourless laugh. “Didn’t think so.”
But there was another way to look at it. “If Luther had been talking about you, would you have wanted to sit back and let Evan, Max, and Stuart die just because I was worried and scared of losing you?” He wouldn’t even meet my eyes, let alone respond. “Didn’t think so.”
A muscle in his jaw ticked. “You won’t talk me in circles, Sam. You won’t get your own way this time.”
“You think I want to risk myself? Now that we’re Bound, we’re interconnected so tightly that if I die, you die. Even the thought of you dying makes me feel ill.”
“Then you know exactly how I’m feeling. To risk ourselves is to risk each other – neither of us wants to do that. This conversation is pointless.”
I counted to five in my head, seeking patience. It didn’t work. “You’re twisting what I’m saying. My point is that you can count on me being on high alert and having a distinct sense of self-preservation simply in order to keep you alive.”
His smile was rueful. “Touching, but I will not risk you.”
“And I will not risk them.”
There was still no hint of compromise in his expression at all. “Stalemate, baby.”
“What if we get other people to track Paige down for us?” Maybe if I agreed to sit in the background a little, it would settle his nerves.
He snorted. “Nice try, but it won’t make any difference, and you know it. Luther said that Paige West coming here would be the catalyst. It’s not going to matter who brings her.”
“So we’re just going to sit back and watch Evan, Max, and Stuart die?”
“Hell, no. I’m not giving up on them. But I’m not bringing Paige West to The Hollow, and that’s final.”
We couldn’t even take Evan, Max, and Stuart to see her instead. They needed to remain contained. “How about a compromise?” I held up a hand to halt any attempts he might make to object. “Just hear me out. We spend the next few weeks trying to find some way of helping them. We’ll track Quentin Foy down as well; ask him how The Call suddenly struck his nest. During that time, we’ll have Sebastian locate Paige West. If we don’t find a counteragent or some other solution in those few weeks, we approach Paige then. That’s a reasonable deal, Jared.”
He sighed tiredly, shaking his head. “You never give up, do you?”
“You like that I never give up.”
“In other circumstances, yes, I do.”
I closed the distance that he’d created between us and fisted a hand in his t-shirt. I kept my tone gentle, sensitive, cajoling. “At least agree to Sebastian tracking her down. What harm could that do?”
It was a long moment before he answered. “Fine. But I won’t agree to her coming here.”
So bloody stubborn. I wanted to argue that further, but I knew he wasn’t going to budge on this. Not now. Maybe if in a few weeks’ time we hadn’t found another possible way of helping Evan, Max, and Stuart, then maybe Jared would relent. I just had to hope that we did find an alternative to involving Paige West. If not, it was quite possible that we were all f**ked.
When I set off with Sam to see the guys in the containment cell, I hadn’t expected to find them playing poker – acting like nothing was wrong. But maybe that was how they were coping with the situation. Spotting Sam and I standing on the other side of the glass, they all paused in their game and approached us. They looked completely normal, healthy. I might have wondered if they had been immune to The Call if it wasn’t for the fact that their bite marks were oozing rather than healing. Soon enough, their symptoms would begin and I’d be looking at three skeleton-like vampires if I didn’t find some answers fast.
“I don’t suppose you have anything good to tell us.” Max didn’t appear optimistic. Neither did Evan or Stuart.
I told them about the teleconference with Harry Covington, but neatly avoided the subject of Paige West. When I sensed Sam’s discomfort, I quickly spoke in her mind. Don’t mention Luther’s vision. Antonio was right – it would only give them false hope, and they won’t support your case to bring her here anyway.
Her almost imperceptible nod was begrudging.
Satisfied, I continued. “We’re going to search for Quentin Foy, ask how his nest became tainted. Maybe he has answers as to when The Call first struck. If it didn’t surface inside those tunnels, it means others outside the nest might be tainted. If that’s the situation, we need to know before it has any chance of spreading.”
Evan nodded. “But we’re kidding ourselves if we think we can fight The Call, Jared.”
My expression hardened. “You don’t know that for sure.”
“Yes, I do.”
“Evan’s right,” said Stuart. “This thing has been around for centuries. No one was able to get rid of it, and – as far as I know – no one was ever immune to it.”
Sam scowled at them. “If you expect us to just sit back on our arses and let this drop, you can think again.”
Evan smiled sadly. “I just don’t want you both exhausting yourselves, searching for something that doesn’t exist. I know how you are, Jared. You’ll start feeling guilty that your efforts are fruitless. I’ll bet you’re already blaming yourself for what happened down there.”
He’d always been able to see right through me. “I shouldn’t have let you come with us. I knew your head wasn’t in a good place, I knew you’d be reckless, but I let you go anyway.”
“You couldn’t possibly have known what lay in wait for us down there. If it’s anyone’s fault that I’m tainted, it’s mine. I didn’t listen to you in those tunnels. I threw myself into a dangerous situation, and I even put myself in the lead. You told me to back away from that vampire, you warned me that he’d attack, but I ignored you.”
“You’re not responsible for what happened to Stuart and me either,” Max adamantly stated to Jared. Stuart nodded his agreement. “You trained us well, and you kept us behind you in those tunnels because you thought we’d be safer that way. Even when you heard the first horde of vampires coming, you tried to get us to leave instead of asking us to face them with you.”