“He … he didn’t have an easy childhood,” her mom said, but Della could hear in her mom’s voice that she felt she was betraying her father by even saying that much.
“What made it so hard?” Della asked. Voices sounded in the background of her mom’s line. Her dad’s voice. “Gotta go.” The line died.
The lonely sound echoed in Della’s chest.
Well, that little conversation didn’t get her anywhere. Except more depressed. How sad was it that her mom didn’t want her dad to know she was talking to her.
Not wanting to just wallow in self-pity, she decided it was time to face Burnett about going to Kylie’s. Hopefully that would go smooth.
Why did Della ever expect anything to go smooth?
“Why can’t I go?” she insisted. “Even my mom said I could.” Della looked first to Holiday and then Burnett.
Holiday took a step back as if wanting to stay out of the discussion. But how could she when Burnett was being completely unreasonable? He hadn’t let her finish asking when he’d given the idea a thumbs-down. “Have you forgotten that there’s a chance you could still be the target of a murderer?”
“How can you say that? If the guy had wanted to kill me he could have done it. I was unconscious for God’s sake. How hard would it have been to finish me off?” She ran a finger across her neck.
Burnett’s eyes grew a tad brighter with aggravation. “It’s just like Holiday said, the death angels could have scared him off.”
“Scared him off, my ass. I still suspect the death angels are the ones who hit me. And frankly, I don’t think you even believe it was the murderer or you’d be all up in arms about it.”
Burnett’s expression told Della she’d hit the nail on the head with that remark. “I didn’t say I believed it, I said there was a chance.”
“And there’s a chance an asteroid is going to hit the earth and kill us all tomorrow!”
“I’m responsible for your safety,” he seethed. “And I can’t look out for you when you’re not on camp grounds.”
“But I’m not going alone. Miranda and Kylie will be there, and I don’t know if you forgot but Kylie just happens to be a protector and could probably kick an asteroid’s ass if it tried to land on me.”
When the expression of stern disapproval didn’t waver on Burnett’s expression, she took off the kid gloves and told him what she really thought. It was an old argument, but the best one she had. “I know what this is about. It’s because we’re girls, right? If it was Lucas and Derek and Perry wanting to go somewhere, you wouldn’t have questioned it. You are nothing but a male chauvinist pig. Oh, and that’s why you don’t want me working with this case, isn’t it? I’m a girl.”
“That’s not it!” Burnett snapped back and looked at Holiday as if pleading for her to intervene, but once again, his wife didn’t say a word.
Which meant she still agreed with Della. And that upped the fire in Della’s belly.
“So you are going to let me work on the case?” she asked, deciding she’d already pissed him off, she might as well go for gold.
“We haven’t moved forward on the case yet.”
“You didn’t answer my question,” she pointed out.
Apparently, the big bad vampire didn’t like being put on the spot. He growled. “You are an unreasonable stubborn little vamp and you need to learn to respect authority.”
“I will respect the authority, when the authority respects me! And that includes my breasts!”
Burnett looked again at Holiday. “Can’t you do something with her?”
Holiday shrugged. “I think you both have good points.”
Now Burnett looked mad at Holiday. “She’s not being reasonable.”
“I think she just accused you of the same thing,” Holiday said.
Yup, the warm and cozy, almost hug-worthy emotional place Della and Burnett had found the other night was nothing more than a memory. They were back to butting heads.
Della continued, because Burnett wasn’t the only one with hard head. “If you can tell me without your heart jumping beats that if it was Lucas, or Chase, asking for a weekend away you’d tell them no, I’ll shut up.”
He couldn’t tell her that. He didn’t even try lying. So she didn’t shut up. And after several more minutes of ranting and a few touches of Holiday’s hand, the obstinate vampire agreed to let her go to Kylie’s.
She was walking back to her cabin when she realized he’d never agreed to let her work the case. The temptation to go back bit, but her gut said she should fight that battle another day.
What mattered was that come Saturday, Della would be making a trip to the funeral home that had helped fake both her uncle’s and Chan’s deaths. And while she was out and about, she hoped to possibly get a lead on the Crimson Blood. If the funeral-home director worked with vampires to plan fake deaths, he might know something about the local gangs. Hell, maybe the old man had kept in touch with Chan.
But if she found out where the Crimson Bloods were located, she didn’t know if she could find a way to get there. She recalled Holiday’s “no risks” rule.
Della exhaled. She’d just wait and see what she got from the funeral home, and then she’d make the decision if it was too risky.
But feeling rather productive after winning the argument with Burnett, she decided not to stop just yet. Instead she went to find Derek and see if he’d found anything else out about her aunt and uncle. She’d given him the school name, earlier, and he’d said he was back online.
Answers, Della thought. It would really feel good to at least learn something. Something that at least told her that her uncle and aunt were really alive.
Zilch. Nothing. That’s what she got from Derek. Well, almost nothing. He’d found an old classmate from Klein High who was considering selling his yearbook. Della had gladly agreed to hand over her fifty dollars of allowance to pay for the damn thing. Derek went online right then to tell the guy they had the money, but then the guy started wavering. Maybe he wanted to sell it, or maybe he didn’t.
Frankly, Della wasn’t certain why the damn book was so important. She already had a picture of her uncle, but Derek explained that a yearbook could give them names of who he’d hung out with, his interests outside of the school, and that might offer them more leads. Della didn’t want more leads, she wanted answers.
Chan would have answers. Now back in her cabin, and in bed, she looked at her phone resting on her bedside table and willed it to ring.
When it rang, she nearly jumped out of her skin.
Heart thumping, she grabbed the phone, thinking it could be Chan, and looked at the number.
Steve. She’d spoken with him last night and barely managed to get off the phone without pummeling him with questions about big-smile-big-boobs Jessie. The last thing she wanted to do was come off like a jealous girlfriend.
She stared at the ringing phone. And gave in.
“Hey,” she said.
“Hi, I thought you weren’t going to answer.”
“Sorry, I was caught up in … something.” The decision to take or not to take your call.
“Is everything okay?” he asked.
“Yeah, fine. How are things with you?” You having fun with Jessie?
“Missing you,” he said. “I wake up at night and you’re all I can think about.”
But not during the day when you have Jessie around, huh? She bit her lip to keep from saying her thoughts out loud. “I’m sorry,” she said instead.
“Why? I like thinking about you.”
She closed her eyes. “It’s unhealthy. Not sleeping like that.” She hadn’t been sleeping too well herself.
He paused. “You don’t think about me sometimes? About how it feels when we kiss. How it feels when we almost—”
“Sometimes,” she admitted abruptly, not wanting to be reminded of things.
“What exactly do you think about?”
“Stop it,” she said.
“Stop what?” he asked.
“Stop sounding like you want to have phone sex.”
He burst out laughing. “I never said anything about phone sex.”
She smiled. Della liked his laugh—liked knowing she made him laugh. Did Jessie make him laugh? “Well, you sounded like it. Using that deep Southern sexy voice.”
“Do you think my voice is sexy?”
“Stop talking about sex,” she snipped.
“You’re the one who started it.”
“Well, I’m finishing it, then!”
“Just one more question,” he pleaded. “And then I’ll shut up.”
“Okay,” she said, knowing Steve wasn’t easy to persuade. Sometimes the guy came off more vampire than shape-shifter. Not that he really had any vampire in him. He was just stubborn sometimes. As crazy as it sounded, she admired that streak in him.
“Have you ever had phone sex?”
“No, I just saw it in a movie.”
“What kind of movie?” he asked, sounding intrigued.
“Not the kind you think. It was a romantic comedy. A chick flick.”
“Hmm,” he said. “How did they do it?”
“Nope. You said one question,” she reminded him.
“Okay.” He paused. “Oh, I remembered something you said that you never explained. You said you had something you wanted to talk to Derek about. What’s up with that?”
She hadn’t told Steve about her weekend discoveries, and part of her didn’t know if she should, but suddenly she wanted to tell him.
“I … I think I might have an uncle who is a vampire. And maybe even an aunt.”
“What? How … what makes you think that?”
She told him about what her sister had said and then taking the picture. And about Derek finding the obituary. And reading about an aunt she didn’t know she had.
“Damn,” Steve said. “So now what? Are you going to ask Burnett to help you?”
“No, I don’t want to get them in trouble if they aren’t registered.”
“But if they aren’t registered, then they could be rogue.”
“Or they could just be part of the group of vampires who don’t trust the FRU. Just because someone isn’t registered doesn’t mean they’re bad. My cousin Chan isn’t bad. He’s just a nonconformist.”
“I know, it’s just … I worry.”
Me, too. About you and Jessie. “You shouldn’t worry. I can take care of myself.” The residuals of anger left over from Burnett popped up. “Is it because I’m a girl and you think I can’t take care of myself?”
“No. It’s … because when a guy likes a girl as much as I do, he sort of wants to protect her.”
“Then stop liking me so much!” she said, and rubbed her aching temple.
“It’s a little late for that.” Silence filled the line. “Do you need me to do anything?” he asked.
“No, I think I’ve got it under control.” She’d already accepted Miranda’s and Kylie’s help. That was already two people she could get into trouble if things didn’t go smoothly. She didn’t want to add a third person to the equation.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
“Sure,” she said, hoping by Saturday she’d at least have some answers.
A knock sounded on Steve’s side of the line.
“Hang on a second,” Steve said. “Jessie’s at the door.”
Jessie was at his bedroom door? For what?
Della could guess what she wanted. Clenching her hands, she listened.
“I’ll put her in room two,” the feminine voice said. Della could almost hear the adoration in the girl’s soft flirty voice.
“I’ll be right there,” Steve answered.
“You might want to put a shirt on first,” Jessie said with a tease in her voice. “You might give her a heart attack looking like that.”
Della growled, remembering distinctly how good Steve looked without a shirt. Right then her dislike for the doctor’s daughter inched up a few degrees. Okay, more than a few.
“Then again, she’d probably die happy,” Jessie added.
Steve laughed. “Don’t worry, I’ll get dressed.”
So Jessie did make him laugh. And she knew how to flirt. Jessie was flirting with her boyfri—with Steve, who didn’t even see it. Or did he?
“Hey, Della, I gotta run. We’ve got a patient. But I can’t wait to see you tomorrow. We need to talk.”
“Talk about what?” she asked.
“About us,” he said.
“What about us?” she asked.
“I’m sorry, but I have to go,” he said. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay? Maybe you’ll tell me about the phone-sex movie.”
Della growled again.
She frowned. And it wasn’t until he hung up that she realized she hadn’t told him she was leaving this weekend. Chances were he wasn’t going to be happy. But he could join her in the unhappy wagon. The thought of him off playing doctor with Jessie didn’t exactly fill her with joy.
Was it better to ask for permission, or to ask for forgiveness? The question hung in Della’s thoughts, bumping against her conscience.
She sat at her computer Thursday morning, dressed in black, missing her first class and staring at the face on the screen. Lorraine Baker’s brown hair hung in loose curls around her shoulders. Her smile was … magnetic. Her green eyes bright with … life. That light wasn’t there anymore.