Damien sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. “Max.”

Sam shook her head. “I don’t believe that.”

“Good, because neither do we,” stated Salem. “Max is a convenient person to blame it on, since he isn’t in any state to defend himself.”

“Do you think Collins might be blaming someone who can’t object because he believes it’s his way of protecting the person who supposedly made the complaints?” asked David.

“I don’t know.” I turned to Reuben. “I agree that Collins truly believes he’s helping here. He honestly thinks these complaints are genuine.”

Chico looked at Sam cautiously. “You know that none of us would ever do that, Coach, don’t you?”

“We respect you, and we look up to you,” began Damien. “Hell, we owe what we’ve become to you.” I wasn’t offended that I wasn’t being given equal credit. Sam had helped them dramatically in the sense that they’d had no idea of the things they could do with their gifts until she came along. Without her, they may never have learned to use their gifts to their full potential, may never have attained such control over them.

“You don’t need to try to convince me of that,” Sam assured them, rolling her eyes. “I have never – not even for one second – believed any of you would do this. If I wasn’t confident in your loyalty to me, Jared, and each other, I wouldn’t have you with me on assignments, watching my back, would I?” That clearly settled them.

“We just wanted to be sure.” David gave her a half-smile. “No one could blame you for wondering.”

“Well I don’t ‘wonder’. We’ll find out who’s behind all this and we’ll deal with it. Until then, we need to keep handling Collins and Eloise the same as we have been doing since they arrived: give them nothing to whine about or use against any of us.”

“It occurred to me,” began Harvey, “that if someone came up with a plan like this, it might not be to make you lose your job or to discredit you. That might not be the true goal.”

Sam’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”

“Coach, this is eating up your time and attention. It’s restricting, too; you need to constantly be on your best behaviour, and you can’t afford to push us hard during training. In short, this whole ‘case’ that’s been made against you is distracting you from researching a way to fight The Call. Maybe that’s the goal.”

I cocked my head. “I never thought of it like that.” At Sam’s sceptical look, I added, “Don’t get me wrong, I think Collins does truly think this is a real complaint and he would like to see you lose your position purely because he’s an ass**le. But it’s still possible that the motivation behind the complaint isn’t what we thought it was.”

Sam twisted her lips. “Okay, so let’s say that’s true and someone wants to keep me distracted…Why? Why would they want me to find it even more difficult to fight The Call than it already is? Why would they hamper our attempts to find a counteragent?”

Harvey shrugged. “I didn’t say I had all the answers. My brain is good with strategies, but that’s pretty much it.” Yes, by his own admission, he lacked common sense.

“It could be that someone is hoping that The Call spreads around The Hollow, killing many of its inhabitants.” Chico waved his hand. “This place will always have people trying to take over it. It’s happened too many times to count.”

“Yeah,” said Damien. “And if Evan, Max, and Stuart were to die – which won’t f**king happen – it would mentally weaken us all, wouldn’t it? Weaken us enough to put us all in a shit state of mind.”

And look what had happened to Evan when he’d been in a bad state of mind.

Sam slowly paced up and down. “To sum up, it’s possible that someone wants me distracted, wants us all mentally weak and off-balance, and wants to stop us from battling The Call – and possibly because they fully intend to leap on that in order to invade The Hollow. But surely if there was going to be an attack, Luther would have foreseen it.”

“Luther doesn’t foresee everything, though.” David shrugged. “If he did, Evan, Max, and Stuart wouldn’t be in a cell right now.”

Luther did say that a lot of people would turn up for Paige West, I reminded her.

Yeah, for Paige. Not for control of The Hollow.

It’s neither here nor there anyway because there’s absolutely no way that she will come here.

Sam rolled her eyes at me but didn’t push me on the subject this time, thank God. It caused disputes between us every time, and I was sick of having the same argument over and over. Nothing in the world would make me risk her. I just f**king couldn’t. But she didn’t seem to get just how much she meant to me. To her, I was being stubborn and unreasonable. To me, I was putting Sam before anything else and determined to keep her safe.

Sure, a part of me felt bad for refusing to bring Paige West here when she could potentially save Evan, Max, and Stuart. But how the hell could I do that, knowing something bad could happen to Sam, to the thing that mattered to me more than anything?

When I’d gone to see the guys earlier, I’d spoken to Evan telepathically even though he didn’t appear to be in a rational enough state of mind to understand me. All three of them had badly deteriorated and looked f**king awful – almost as bad as their attackers had. It was a reminder that time was running out. I’d told Evan a little about Paige West, told him about Luther’s vision, and begged him to understand why I couldn’t bring Paige here. Begged him to understand that I just couldn’t be without Sam. I’d told him that if the situation was reversed, I wouldn’t have wanted him to sacrifice Alora and his life with her just for me. It was true. If he had understood my words, he hadn’t let on.

Once Sam and I were finished talking to the squad, I teleported us both home. Sam took three steps toward the kitchen area and abruptly halted. So attuned to her that I sensed her outrage, I stiffened. “What’s wrong?” Then she was strangely zooming through the entire apartment at vampire velocity before returning to me.

Clenching and unclenching her fists, she ordered through her teeth, “Teleport me to the bat pool.”

“Baby, what’s?”

“Now, Jared.”

Not liking her tone whatsoever, I shot her a reprimanding look. Right now, I’d humour her, but…“I’ll spank your ass for that later.” Taking her hand, I teleported us out of there.

Tags: Suzanne Wright Deep In Your Veins Vampires
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