He looked puzzled. “How do you … Okay, fine, it was an old friend.” His brow didn’t shift; neither did his eyes. He told the truth.
“Why the secrecy?” she asked.
“He’s not registered.” Nothing wiggled on his face this time either.
She believed him.
“And now it’s your turn,” he said. “Why are you meeting someone at this time of night?” He looked concerned. Why?
“Let’s just say I’m trying to fix your mess. I’m following another lead on the murder.”
She saw him tilt his head to the side to listen to her heart rate. “True, but vague,” he said.
“You only deserve vague. You lied to Burnett about Billy.”
“I believe the kid is guilty, and I’m almost positive it was his trace I got, so that’s not really a lie.”
“And I believe he’s innocent,” Della countered.
He didn’t say a word.
“I’m leaving.” She only got a few feet.
“Wait,” he said.
She paused, but didn’t look back. And in spite of not wanting to go there, her mind took her back to the kiss. To the way it felt to be held close by him.
“Why?” she asked.
“You have nothing to say I’m interested in hearing.” She got almost to the line of trees when she heard him.
“How about I tell you where I know you from?”
Of all the things he could say, that was the one that would stop her. She slowed down and heard him walking up beside her.
When he got to her side and didn’t say anything, she spoke. “I’m waiting.”
“One run, and then I’ll tell you.” He studied her face, as if looking for something. What? What could her expression give him? He could read her heartbeat and know if she told the truth.
“No,” she said, and went back to walking. “I’m not playing games with you.”
“It’s not a game. One run. You want to know, admit it.” This time she studied his face and there wasn’t a twitch or a blink. Giving in felt wrong. But curiosity bit.
He flashed in front of her. Stood close. This close, she could smell him.… Again she remembered his scent when he’d held her and flown like the wind. When his arms had held her so tight.
“One run, one lap around the property … and if you answer one question I’ll tell you.”
She took a step back. “First it was just a run, now it’s a run and a question.”
“It’s an easy question.” He moved in an inch. “I want to know if you enjoyed the kiss. I mean, I think you did. I know I did.”
She tilted her chin up and wished like hell she could tell him no. “So you can kiss, it doesn’t mean shit.”
He smiled. “It could mean I might get lucky and sneak another one.”
“Not on your life.”
The smile vanished from his eyes. “So you’re really into the shape-shifter, huh?”
“You said one question,” she growled.
“And one run.” He took off.
She actually debated not going, but she wanted to know where she’d met him. She took off, pushing herself until she almost caught up with him. He sped up. She pushed harder, but not to the point of puking. She’d done that twice too many times.
When he realized she wasn’t going to push herself faster, he slowed down. And amazingly true to his word, when they had made one lap, he started down.
She landed beside him, a little winded, but not embarrassingly so.
He studied her. “You could have gone faster.”
“It’s late,” she said.
He nodded. “It is.”
Della’s phone dinged with an incoming text. She ignored it, thinking it was from Steve. And she didn’t want to text him back in front of Chase.
“Okay spill it,” she said. “Where did we meet?”
Chase moved over to the fallen tree where Della had been sitting earlier and dropped down, motioning for her to join him.
“Just tell me,” she said.
“I am, but it’s going to require some explanation. So sit down.”
She did, but she made sure there was plenty of space between them. “I’m sitting!” she said, losing her patience. “Start talking!”
“I belonged to the Blades.”
The Blades? Della’s gut tightened and the spot where she carried a scar from being knifed started to ache. Chase had belonged to the the Blades. A different gang than the Crimson Blood, but outlaws just the same. She and Steve had gone on a mission to see if this gang were the ones killing humans as initiation. They had been. And she’d gotten knifed during the investigation and could have died if Steve hadn’t gotten her blood.
“You’re rogue,” she said with accusation and scooted a little farther away on the downed tree.
“No, I … joined the group for a reason.”
“What do you mean?”
He exhaled. “If I tell you, do you give me your word that you won’t repeat it? To anyone? That includes Burnett.”
Della decided to be honest. “If it endangers anyone, I can’t keep silent.”
“It doesn’t endanger anyone.” He paused. “I was sent on a mission, looking for someone. I was working undercover for the Vampire Council.”
Now she knew he was up to no good. “The Vampire Council are rogues who oppose the FRU.”
“The council isn’t rogue. They don’t agree with all the FRU rules, but they aren’t the bad guys.”
Then something else dawned on her. Something personal.
“You were going to let the Blades kill me. And they would have—”
“No!” he insisted. “I stopped them from following you and Steve out that night. The fire Steve started just slowed them down.”
Was he telling the truth? It appeared so, but … “Why are you here? Is the Vampire Council trying to bring down the school?”
“No. They see this place as a good thing.”
“Then why are you here?”
He hesitated again. “I’m still looking for someone.”
“That I can’t tell you.”
“If you find this person are you going to cause them harm?” She studied his light green eyes.
“No, I’m trying to help them.”
Honesty rang deep in his voice. “Are they here?”
“I can’t answer that either.” He leaned back.
Suddenly another question hit. “Why are you telling me this?”
His expression changed and something told her he was going to lie.
“The truth. Tell me the truth.”
His hand, resting on his thigh, tightened. “Because chances are, you are going to find out.”
He shook his head. “I can’t say any more.” A strand of dark hair swept across his brow and she had a strange urge to brush it away. She folded her hand to resist.
She sighed in frustration. Had she actually given her word she wouldn’t tell Burnett any of this?
She needed more information before deciding if this was something Burnett needed to know. “Why are you trying to get into the FRU?”
“I wasn’t. Burnett actually came to me. He was impressed with my strength and speed, and I thought I might help catch the killer.”
“You thought wrong,” she said. “It’s your fault we’re holding Billy. Billy didn’t do it.”
“It’s not all on me, Della. Think about it. Burnett doesn’t trust me anymore—which means he wouldn’t have held the kid solely on my word if he didn’t believe it himself.”
“So you both are wrong.”
Chase leaned over, and his shoulder almost touched hers. “Okay, if I’m wrong, give me a chance to make it right. Tell me who you think did it. I’ll help look into it.”
She shifted away. His closeness made her edgy. “Why would I tell you anything now?””
He frowned as if offended. “So I tell you the truth and now you don’t trust me?”
“Yeah, you’re just now telling me the truth. You’ve been keeping things from me all along.”
He shook his head. “You’re harsh.”
“I’m honest,” she said. “Something you should have tried in the very beginning.” She stood up from the tree, dusted the flaking tree bark off her butt, and started walking.
“Hey.” Something in his voice had her turning around.
He stood right behind her. So close their breath mingled in the night air. It brought back memories of the kiss.
“Keep running, okay? Once or twice a day.”
What was it with this guy and running? Then again, maybe if she could run/fly as fast as he could, she might be all about it, too. She tilted her head back, realizing his tone and words sounded like parting advice.
“You’re leaving?” she asked.
“I don’t have a choice.” He half smiled. It sparkled in his eyes, but didn’t touch his lips. “I guess I don’t trust you either. You’re going to tell Burnett.”
She hadn’t made that decision yet. “I’m debating. But yes, my loyalty lies with the school.”
He chuckled. “You are honest, aren’t you?”
“You should try it sometime.” Sarcasm sounded in her voice.
“I did try. Just now, and it didn’t work out so well.” He stared at her as a few slow seconds passed. “Don’t worry, I don’t blame you.” He brushed a strand of hair from her cheek. She almost swatted his hand, but didn’t.
“Steve’s a lucky guy.” His fingers lingered on her cheek, and something that looked like regret filled his green gaze.
Before she knew what he intended to do, he kissed her. Not like before. Not a sexy, let’s-get-it-on kind of kiss.
This one was short, sweet. His soft lips on hers ever so briefly.
This one was good-bye.
He turned and left. She watched his wide shoulders disappear between the trees.
She didn’t like him, she told herself. So why was her heart hurting? Why did she want to call him back?
Okay, she liked him. A crazy kind of like. Part admiration, part … she couldn’t define it. But it wasn’t like what she felt for Steve. Maybe she felt sorry for Chase losing his family so young. Or maybe it was how protective he’d been of her at the bar.
Or maybe … Oh, hell, why was she trying to analyze this? He was leaving. He’d barely left a footprint in her life’s path.
Then she realized his recent footprints hadn’t headed toward the fence, but back to the camp. Was he leaving for good, or had he lied hoping to score a kiss?
She wouldn’t put it past him. Damn panty perv!
She checked her phone to see who’d texted her. It was Kevin.
She called him. It rang twice. “Hello,” he answered.
“It’s me, Della.”
“How do you…” His line started going in and out. He must‘ve had poor cell service.
“Call me back.” The line went dead.
Confused about Chase, she turned to leave. Something brushed against her face. She reached up thinking some bird had just crapped on her, but nope. When she pulled her hand back, she saw it was a feather.
She stopped in the middle of the dark woods, feeling the night air grow colder. Looking into the thick line of trees, she searched for a skinny Asian ghost. Turning in a full circle, she studied all the shadows.
Maybe it wasn’t a sign from Chan. She glanced up to the black sky with stars blinking back at her. The moon, two nights away from being full, hung heavy in the sky. Another feather spiraled down in front of her face. It spun in circles—round and round—and landed at her feet.
Chan was still here. Why? Could Chan being here be about Lorraine’s killer? Since they were part of the same gang, it would make sense. “Is that what you want?” she blurted out in the cold wind. “Stop sending dad-blasted feathers and just tell me!”
It was past three in the morning when Della got to her cabin. Even exhausted, she barely slept that night, thinking about Chan, worrying about Billy, and wondering how to go about investigating Phillip Lance. And even though she wished it weren’t true, she thought about Chase. Had he really left? And why the hell did she care?
When the sun finally crept into her bedroom, she longed to pull the covers up and sleep in. Putting her hand over her eyes, she realized her headache was back. Yet having missed the vampire morning ritual too many times, she forced herself out of bed. Forced herself to get dressed. But too tired to even brush her hair, she put it up in a clip. It hung down in a semi-Medusa type of style. What the hell. No one would dare say anything.
She walked up to the clearing where they always met. The blood sat on the tables and all the vamps stood around chattering. The noise had her head hurting more. Chris came toward her—even his footsteps sounded loud. He stopped at her side. “You look like shit.”
Okay, some would dare say something, yet she was too busy glancing around to see if Chase was among the crowd to give Chris crap. She did manage to offer him a halfhearted growl.
The blond vamp laughed. She cut him a pissed-off glare, and he laughed harder, but the humor left his eyes when Burnett landed beside him. No doubt, the camp leader’s expression was more pissed off than hers.
“Let’s take a walk.” Burnett’s tone came with an abundance of grump.