“Shit like this happens,” said Stuart, shrugging. “I knew when I joined the legion that my immortality would be fragile. Every time I left for an assignment, I was conscious that it could be my last. It’s no one’s fault that we got hurt. If you can find a way to help us fight The Call, great. But if you can’t, it doesn’t make you responsible for what will happen to us.” He smiled widely. “Just know that my replacement in the squad will have big shoes to fill.”
I couldn’t imagine replacing any of them. Sensing Sam’s anguish, I took her hand in mine and squeezed it lightly. “We’ll do what we can.” Evan’s expression was begging me to let it go. “If it was me in there, if the situation was reversed, what would you do?”
Evan answered without missing a beat. “Search high and low for a way to fix this f**king mess.”
“Then don’t expect me to do anything different.”
“Do you want us to contact Alora about what’s happening?” Sam asked carefully.
Grinding his jaw, Evan replied, “No.”
“She cares about you, Evan.” Sensing Evan’s scepticism, she quickly added, “It was written all over her face at the Binding ceremony. I don’t know why she resisted staying here with you, and I’m not asking – that’s your business. But if it was Alora who was tainted, wouldn’t you want to know about it?”
“Yes, I would. But I don’t want her to see me like this.”
“It’s possible that she’ll find out from Bran,” I pointed out.
“If she turns up at The Hollow, you don’t let her down here.” Evan’s voice was harsh. “Not for any reason.”
I understood why he was so set on this: if he was going to slowly wither until he eventually died, Evan wanted Alora to remember him as he was before. In his position, I would have wanted the same thing. But…“You’re not going to die.”
Evan ignored that. “Promise me you won’t let her down here.”
I nodded. “I promise.”
Evan looked at Sam then, brow arched expectantly.
After a brief hesitation, she spoke. “I promise.”
Satisfied, Evan gave a slight smile. “Now get out of here. We’ve got a poker game to play, and I was winning until you both showed up.”
Max snorted at Evan. “You think you’re winning – there’s a difference.”
Bantering, the guys returned to the table at the centre of the room and went back to their game. And I hated the thought that that could have been the last rational conversation I’d ever again have with my twin brother.
Frustrated, I slammed the thick book on my office desk. From his seat at his own desk, Jared arched a quizzical brow, smiling in amusement. I just shook my head. His smile widened, but he said nothing and returned to…well, whatever the hell he was reading.
Five days had gone by of researching The Call by reading books, surfing the V-Net, and consulting various knowledgeable vampires by teleconference. But none of the information had proven to be any more informative than what Antonio and Luther had been. We had explored every possible idea and examined every possible theory in our search for a counteragent, but our efforts had so far come to nothing.
Furthermore, there was no trace of Quentin Foy anywhere, so we were no closer to finding out if there were more tainted vampires on the loose or not. Another squad within the legion had searched the borders of Quentin’s tunnels and also the nearest towns, but no tainted vampires had been found.
According to Sebastian, who regularly kept in contact by cell phone, Robert Langley hadn’t been much help with the Paige West situation. Sebastian sadly didn’t believe he was close to finding her yet. Jared was still refusing to even consider bringing her to The Hollow, but I was just thankful that he had at least conceded that there was no harm in Sebastian attempting to locate her.
Conscious that we had been badly neglecting our usual duties, Jared and I had given the squad the rest of the night off and then retreated to our office. Although the squad were in top shape and had amazing control of their gifts, we still worked with them each week Monday through to Friday in order to ensure that things stayed that way. Unfortunately, recent events had messed with that schedule – not to mention the morale of the squad. Still, to their credit, they hadn’t slacked off.
Unable to concentrate on the work matters in front of me, I’d again read through many of the huge, old, musty-smelling books that contained information on The Call on the off-chance that I’d missed something. But it quickly became apparent that I hadn’t. So I’d inhaled another whirlwind’s worth of dust for nothing.
And now I was utterly pissed.
A knock was quickly followed by the entrance of Fletcher. He hardly ever waited for a ‘come in’. Humming to himself, he placed an NST and some crisps on first Jared’s desk and then mine. Busy reading, Jared merely gave Fletcher a nod of thanks. It still made Fletcher melt on the spot. Yes, my PA had a thing for my mate. Who didn’t?
Being an Empath, Fletcher instantly picked up on my mood and shot me an ‘Are you all right?’ look over the rim of his glasses. I forced a smile and nodded, but he didn’t seem convinced. No doubt he’d quiz me later, I thought as I watched him leave the office.
I glanced at Jared to see that he was still reading. You would think he would be just as pissed as me, given his brother’s condition. But no. For the past five days, Jared had been nothing but positive and optimistic. Maybe refusing to accept the possibility that Evan might die was his way of facing it, of dealing with it, and avoid falling apart.
My way of dealing with it? I didn’t have one.
With a groan, I let my head flop down onto the desk. My forehead met the oak with a thud. Ow.
There was a sigh that – annoyingly – had a trace of amusement in it. “Come here, baby.”
“No.” I was quite comfortable where I was.
“Why?” I could hear the smile in his voice.
“I don’t need a reason.”
“Come on, come to me.”
“You’re going to end up with a red mark on your head.”
“So will you if you don’t shut the f**k up.”
He chuckled. “That’s my girl. Now come over here.”
I finally lifted my head. “What do you want?”
“To hold you. I’ve missed you.” He gave me a meaningful look that I easily interpreted. It was fair to say that I had been snappy and impatient with everyone, even him, for the past few days. Rather than taking the let’s-face-this-together approach and allowing us to be each other’s strength, I had emotionally pulled away. It was in my nature to deal with things alone, to disappear into my own head while I worked it out. I was a ‘thinker’, my dad had always said. I’d silently ponder over things, explore the matter in my mind, rather than confide in anyone. It was a good thing, really, since my parents hadn’t exactly been interested in anything I was thinking or feeling. My conception had been an accident, a bad accident, and they had never let me forget it.