“What do you mean he’s been through this before?” I asked.
“That’s what his old ‘master,’ Willem, used to do and he was a bad, bad man.” He stared off into space. “But Willem was just one man, not a pack of sadists. I’ve been bit before, by something less than them, and it’s…”
“What?” I pressed when Peter trailed off into silence.
“My blood burned in my veins. My body tried to reject it, and I was so drained of blood already. And on top of the physical pain, which is excruciating, it gives you emotions. It makes you want things you don’t want. You feel disgusting and ….” He shook his head, unwilling to elaborate further. “It’s torture, absolutely.”
“Will he be okay?” I asked.
Ezra came out of the bathroom, changing our attention. He wore fresh clothes, and the marks on his neck and wrist had finally healed. His skin was still pale and his expression grave, but he moved around okay.
He barely said anything to either of us on the way to the airport. I saw how rigid he was, and he struggled to hold back what pain was left. On the plane, he mumbled several apologies to me, all of which I brushed off. I had barely done anything for him, and it was nothing that he wouldn’t do for me.
This made me gain even more respect for him. Whatever made him feel this bad would’ve killed anybody else.
On the rest of the flight back to America, he kept his eyes shut tightly and his lips pressed together. I couldn’t stop staring at him, terrified he would fall apart or die if I did.
- 11 -
By the time we landed in Minneapolis, Ezra returned to something that resembled his normal self. A very subdued version, but he could talk and walk without grimacing. Thanks to my preoccupation with him, I hadn’t texted anyone to let them know that we were here. We took a cab home, deciding a surprise return was better at this point.
As soon as the plane had touched down, I felt a pull in my heart. After days and days of a dull ache at being away from Jack, it screamed with pleasure, knowing how close he was. The cab had barely stopped at the house when I jumped out .
I dashed through the front door, and Jack rounded the corner to the entryway, his blue eyes wide. He broke out in a gigantic smile, and I dove into his arms and wrapped my arms around his neck.
I could feel his heart beating through my chest, and that was the connection I had been so sorely missing. For the first time in what felt like an eternity, I felt complete and contended again. Squeezing my eyes shut on happy tears, I wanted to stay that way forever.
Jack’s muscles tensed around me, and I realized Peter walked in the house. I could hear Mae and Ezra talking, but Peter didn’t say a word.
As close as Jack was, I didn’t feel close enough. I wanted to cover him in kisses and… and well, a lot more than that. Instead, I would have to untangle myself with Jack and act in a civil manner around people. I opened my eyes and looked over Jack’s shoulder to a different problem. Standing behind Jack were my brother Milo and some kid I had never seen before, looking curiously at us.
I use the term “kid” loosely. He looked older than me, with black hair falling across his forehead and almost an olive skin tone. Shorter than even Milo had been as a human, he had tattoos visible on his chest below the low v-neck of his shirt and all down his arms. If I hadn’t been so distracted in my excitement over Jack I would’ve noticed him sooner.
His veins were pulsing with hot blood, human blood. I realized belatedly how long it had been since I ate. Spending all that time with people lately had left me with more self-control than before, but I wasn’t accustomed to it in my own home.
“Who is that?” I asked, finally releasing Jack so he would lower me to the ground. Milo moved protectively in front of the kid, which made something flare inside me.
“That’s Bobby.” Jack put me down but he kept an arm looped around my waist, and I doubt it was just because he missed me. Tension from Peter along with my confused reaction to this Bobby person made the room feel unstable. “I told you about him on the phone. Remember?”
“You didn’t tell me he was human,” I sniffed, crossing my arms over my chest.
“You were human like ten seconds ago,” Milo rolled his eyes.
Bobby peered around Milo at me, and it wasn’t his species difference that offended me so much. This was the first time Milo had ever brought a guy home. On top of that, I had been away when it happened, and this kid was older than Milo and had tattoos.
“I couldn’t tell you very much about anything since you wouldn’t answer my calls or return my texts,” Jack pointed out icily, and he glanced back at Peter.
Peter held our luggage and stood awkwardly by the front door. Matilda sniffed him, wagging her tail, but nobody else acknowledged him at all.
Ezra looked much better, but he was still clearly unwell. Mae had to smell the other vampires on him. Even I could still smell it - dank and musty and unpleasant. Touching his face gingerly, she had tears in her eyes, oblivious to the growing unease in the room.
“Come on.” Milo gestured to the other room. “You’ve all had a long trip. I’m sure you guys wanna relax for a bit, and fill us in with all the juicy details.”
Milo led the way to the living room, deliberately putting himself between Bobby and me. It was weird thinking of myself as a threat.
Jack’s arm was still around me, and I remembered with some delight that I was with him. I smiled up at him, but he was slow to return it. His heart beat too loud, meaning something distressed him.
“I would love to catch up with you. I missed you all so much,” Mae said when we reached the leaving room. She smiled and squeezed my arm lovingly. Ezra stood behind her, his expression drawn. “But Ezra and I are going to have to excuse ourselves. He needs some rest.”
“I understand,” I said.
As I watched them walk away, I felt Jack’s eyes settle on me. Ezra’s anguish made Jack wary about what had gone on in Finland. I avoided his gaze, because I wasn’t ready to explain it to him, especially not in front of Milo and his new friend.
Milo flopped back in an overstuffed chair. Bobby remained glued to his side and sat on the arm of the chair next to him, so he was half on Milo’s lap. Something about that sent a ripple of agitation through me. When Bobby put his hand on his thigh, I wanted to slap it away.
“So…” Milo asked me. “How was your trip?”
“It was okay,” I shrugged, unwilling to give up anymore right now.