“Arm? Leg? Neck? You name it, I’ll break it.”
He chuckled. And she so hadn’t meant it to be funny. But damn this guy was like a squeaky-voiced mosquito buzzing in her ear. All she wanted to do was smash him between her palms and wipe his remains on her jeans.
She moved around him and continued down the path.
“Can’t we talk?” he asked, sounding as if he was right behind her.
About what? What the hell did they have to talk about?
“No,” she snapped, and continued moving. She wanted to flash away, to put as much distance as she could between him and her as soon as possible, but that would tell him how much he aggravated her.
“Come on. I was even going to give up my stash of blood for you so you wouldn’t have to go off for an hour with that crazy blond vamp.”
She stopped and twisted around so fast he ran right into her. He caught her by her forearms and held her there. Their bodies came together. Her br**sts pressed against his chest. And since her br**sts weren’t that big, that meant they were really close. She pulled away.
“I thought you did that to help the blood drive? Or just to annoy me.”
He shrugged. “Maybe it was a little of all three.”
“Why?” she asked, now more curious and even more leery. She was almost positive she’d run across him before. His scent, his trace, was in her memory bank. And it stirred up vague feelings of danger.
“Why would you give up blood for me?”
“To talk.” He shrugged. “I think we got off on the wrong foot.”
She listened again to his heart, steady and honest.
“I’m new here,” he continued. “And let me tell you, this place isn’t exactly friendly. You’re the only one I’ve clicked with.”
What? When had they … “We have not clicked,” she snapped. “If you’ll recall, I was going to kick your butt.”
He grinned. “But you didn’t.”
“I would have if Burnett hadn’t showed up.”
“You would have tried. But I’m going to overlook that.”
She barely managed to stop a frustrated groan. “You know, if you weren’t so damn arrogant, you might make a few friends around here.”
“I’m not arrogant. I’m confident. I know they sometimes appear the same, but they aren’t.”
Della had a vague memory of saying almost the same thing to Miranda. But she didn’t have to tell him she agreed. Frankly, having anything in common with this jerk pissed her off.
“Yeah, you just keep believing that.” She swung around and started back down the path.
“What is it? You afraid your shifter friend wouldn’t approve of us hanging out?”
She stopped and swung around again, but this time she put her hands out, prepared to stop him from touching her. Her plan backfired. Now he wasn’t touching her, but she touched him. Her palms pressed solidly against his chest. His heart pumped against his breastbone and the vibration melted in her palms. She could feel his solid mass of muscle, feel the coolness of his vampire skin. She yanked her hands away.
“I’m not afraid of anything.” It was a lie. She had fears, a lot of them—death angels, ghosts, losing people she loved, even an occasional spider—but she hoped he wasn’t listening to the telltale rhythm of her lying heart.
“So you two aren’t an item?” he asked, quirking one of his dark brows upward.
The phone in her back pocket buzzed. Using it as a reason not to respond to his question, and maybe not to even think about it, she snatched her pink cell out. Her mind immediately went to her unregistered vampire cousin Chan, who still hadn’t returned her call. What was up with that? Sure she hadn’t returned his call from the week before, but in his message, he’d said it wasn’t important. Probably calling to try to talk her into leaving Shadow Falls again. He didn’t seem to understand why she’d want to be here instead of living on the streets. And she couldn’t understand how he saw it the other way.
Her gaze caught the number on the tiny screen. Shit!
It wasn’t Chan.
It was Holiday. No doubt she was at Della’s cabin and probably pissed Della wasn’t following her instructions and resting. But dang it, she didn’t need rest. Nor did she need Holiday or Burnett pissed.
“Gotta go!” she moaned, and took off.
“Let’s do this again,” he called out.
“Yeah, when Hell starts serving soft-serve ice cream with sprinkles,” she yelled, and kept going, knowing she was probably going to catch hell when she caught up with Holiday. And then Holiday would tell Burnett and she’d catch double hell.
Della spotted Holiday before she dropped down. The red-haired, pregnant fae sat on Della’s front porch, her feet swinging off the edge, her hand placed on her belly, her expression one of tenderness as she whispered sweet words of affection to the unborn child. Della had almost texted Holiday back, but it would have taken the same amount of time to get there.
She came to an abrupt stop on the steps. Holiday looked up. Her mouth tightened into a disapproving bow. Whatever sweet affection she offered the child wasn’t going to be passed to Della.
“You were supposed to be resting,” Holiday scolded.
Della stepped up on the porch. “Sorry, I … I was coming here and suddenly felt the need to go back to the falls and see if I could find a trace or a clue of who did this.”
“Felt the need to disobey?” she reprimanded.
“No, I felt the need to catch the jerk who knocked me in the head.”
Holiday sighed. “You were unconscious, Della. The doctor said for you to take it easy. I didn’t want you running around.”
Della knew Holiday argued because she cared, but … “It was important to me. I don’t like…” Her throat tightened with frustration and she felt the sting of her sinuses as tears threatened. Ignoring the feeling, she tried to explain again. “I want to work for the FRU. I thought if I could figure this out, Burnett would see I’m not a weakling.”
Holiday looked surprised. “Burnett doesn’t think you’re a weakling.”
“Yes, he does. He told me he didn’t think I have what it takes to work with the FRU.”
She made a face. “I don’t think … He has a lot of respect for you, Della.”
“Not enough that he thinks I’d be a good agent. He even said there were easier ways for me to make a living. And he knows how badly I want this.”
Holiday’s gaze filled with empathy. “If he was trying to discourage you, and I’m not saying he was, it’s probably because he’s a male chauvinist pig.”
Della was shocked by Holiday’s confession. She’d thought the fae would defend her husband. “That’s what I thought,” she said. “It’s because I’m a girl, isn’t it?”
“Don’t get me wrong, I love that man more than life, and he is the way he is because he cares so deeply, but it’s true, he’s more protective over a female than a male. And if this baby is a girl, I have a feeling she and her father will be having a battle of wills from day one.”
“It’s not fair,” Della said.
“I know it’s not. But…” She pointed her finger at Della. “… if there’s one thing Burnett looks for in an agent, it’s obedience. If you can’t follow orders, he’ll never trust you on a mission. And that, young lady, is your issue. Lucky for you, I decided not to call him when I didn’t find you here.”
Della wanted to argue that her going to the falls hadn’t been so much disobedience as a necessary slip of the rules. She had the words on the tip of her tongue, but swallowed them.
“I’ll work on that,” she finally said. Della even wondered if this hadn’t been Holiday’s plan all along to get her to see her own flaws. Yes, Holiday was that good at manipulation … well, maybe not manipulation, but with encouraging someone to see the error of their ways.
Holiday smiled. “Good, and I’ll work on making sure he doesn’t let his chauvinistic ways interfere with your goals.”
“Thank you,” Della said.
Holiday rested her palms behind her and leaned back. Her round belly was even more apparent with her back slightly arched. “Now that we got that out of the way, can we talk about what happened this weekend at your parents’, and then about last night?”
Della pulled her legs to her chest and wrapped her arms around them tightly. “Do we have to?”
“Have to? No. But I would like it if you confided in me.” She looked at Della. “I know you don’t like talking about personal issues. I can respect that you’re vampire and that makes you a little less open. I’m married to Burnett, who thinks he can solve his and the world’s issues with no help from anyone. But even my big bad husband is learning that it’s not a weakness to confide in someone.” She glanced up to the sky and then back to Della. “I can feel your pain, and I wouldn’t be doing my job as counselor if I didn’t try to help.”
For one second Della considered telling Holiday about her uncle, but the fear that if he was alive and not registered with the FRU, had her reconsidering. Holiday would probably tell Burnett, and he might feel obligated to report it. “Nothing is going to help with my parents,” Della said, deciding that, while she couldn’t tell Holiday everything, maybe some things were safe.
“Same ol’ story. They see all the changes that being vampire has brought on as some kind of rebellion on my part. I’d tell them the truth if I didn’t know it would be harder for them to accept than anything they suspect is wrong.” Her chest grew heavy. “I hate disappointing them. I hate…” She swallowed. “I hate knowing that I’m hurting them.” Tears filled her eyes and she glanced away. “I don’t feel like I belong in my own family anymore.”
She swiped the tears crawling down her cheeks.
Holiday placed a hand on Della’s shoulder. The warmth of the fae’s touch eased the pain in Della’s chest. As much as she hated needing a reprieve, she savored the comfort. No wonder Burnett fell for Holiday. The woman’s touch was magical.
“I know it’s hard to live with a secret between you,” Holiday said. “And it’s so unfair. I also know it would be easier to do what most vampires do, to let them think you’re dead. It takes courage to do it this way. I admire you for doing it. And as hard as it is, I’ve seen this work.”
“How can it work when they … think I’m a lying drug addict.”
Holiday sighed. “As soon as you’re an adult, and they recognize that you are a functioning member of society, they’ll assume that you just went through some tough teen years and outgrew it. This way, you can and will maintain a relationship with them. If you go the other route, you’ll lose them forever.”
“I’m not sure I won’t lose them anyway,” Della said. “I think they’re already giving up on me.” Her dad didn’t even talk about her.
“No, they haven’t,” Holiday said. “They love you. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t care. Your mom calls me at least once a week just to check in.”
“But not my dad,” Della said, and in spite of knowing it wasn’t so, she held her breath that Holiday would say differently.
“He’s a man. Men deal with things differently.”
Yeah, some men just stop loving you. For some reason, she remembered Steve and the doctor’s daughter. Was Steve on his way to giving up on her?
Della hugged her legs and let the silence settle in. The fact that her mom was calling sent a wave of fresh emotion inside her … or was it relief knowing at least one of her parents still loved her?
“About last night and what you saw…” Holiday said.
“I’m okay,” Della insisted. “If I want to work for the FRU, I’m going to have to learn to deal with it. And I can.” At least the flashbacks had lessened.
“Yes, you will have to learn, but you don’t have to deal with it alone. Della, don’t tell Burnett I said this, but even he needs someone to lean on. If you really want to work for the FRU, you’ve got to accept that you’re going to need other people. You have to counter the bad with the good. If not, you’ll get lost in the evilness of it all. It can darken your soul and you’ll lose all joy in life.”
“The joy will be catching the mofo who did that,” Della said, and right then the flashback hit again. Her heart filled with the need for justice. “I don’t even know the couple, but they didn’t deserve that.”
“I know.” Holiday grasped Della’s hand. “But before you lose yourself in making things right for others, you need to work on making them right for yourself. I get this feeling you are searching for something. Something you long for. But I also get the feeling you’re procrastinating.”
The truth of the fae’s words hit with a thud on her conscience. Her uncle. Finding something to replace the feeling of the family she felt she’d lost. And what was she was procrastinating about? Reading the obituary. Della glanced away, not liking that Holiday could read her so clearly.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to force you to tell me anything. But I will tell you this: Whatever it is you’re looking for, make it your quest, but make sure you don’t take too many risks. I know you, Della, and sometimes you act before you think.”