I woke with a start, the car was sliding diagonally. Nash cursed and the sound of the tires locking up made my heart skip a beat. We came to a slow halt on the side of the abandoned road. His relieved sigh mirrored my own. Still delayed with sleep and fear I didn’t recognize what was outside the car at first. I’m a girl of mild to hot climate so the moment we reached Nebraska and saw real snow drifts up to my knees, well I may have overreacted. My eyes were wide and never left the snow piles on the side of the road. When Nash unlocked the doors I leapt from the older than dirt Ford and face first into the snow. I suddenly had a bucket list of fun things I’ve always wanted to do but couldn’t since South Carolina never got more than a dusting that lasted a few hours. I rolled in the drifts, laughing and enjoying every second. My hands, arms, and legs pricked with numbness but my grin was cemented in place. I rushed back into the truck to warm up before going back out and attempting a snow angle.
He held up the burner phone, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. “Never seen snow before, hm?”
My teeth chattered as I shook my head. I reached up to get the phone, but he was quicker than lightning.
“I’m sending this to your mom.” His left hand typed out a message while the right blasted the heater to max. Before I could protest he hit send. Nash shrugged out of his jacket and draped it over my shoulders.
“Th-thanks.” An alert from his phone notified a text message. We never went back for my phone but I had Nicki, my roommate, and mom’s phone numbers memorized. I texted Nicki that my mom picked me up from college for a surprise road trip and I’d see her next semester. Nash however insisted he text my mom. He charmed her within an hour, answered every outlandish question, and had her believe I had a secret boyfriend. She wasn’t thrilled with me but once she warmed up to him I was once again her favorite only child. I leaned over to see what she said, noticing the picture he sent was when my whole body was covered in snow and my face was peeking out lit up in pure joy.
‘Looks fun. Be safe with my baby in the car.’
The compartment under the dash opened with a hard pull. “Hey blueberry granola bars! There’s two, want one?” He shook his head and pulled back onto the road. I shrugged and savored every bite. The insurance card was pinned between my thumb and forefinger. We made a game after questions and the radio weren’t enough. “Richard Bohman.”
“Definitely a mechanic.” Nash chimed in.
“What? No way, I’m thinking farmer.” He gave me a disbelieving look so I started my case. “There’s a freaking wrench in the back.”
“Making my point for me.” Nash sing-songed cheerfully.
“No.” I drug the word out. “That’s to fix farm stuff. Like barns, tractors, and fences.” My arms crossed as if to finalize it.
“Oh sweet summer child, wrenches fix trucks too. Besides this baby runs so smoothly I’m actually thinking of keeping it.”
“You can’t keep what’s not yours. We’re borrowing it only in an emergency. Besides, aren’t trucks called gas guzzlers?” We passed through another small town. After the first stolen car I was wired and terrified of being caught by the police. Nash explained old highways and small towns rarely had traffic cameras and police. About every new state or toll booth he stole another trashed car from out in the country. The rougher vehicles were less likely to get noticed, as long as it ran and had state plates we were safer.
Nash took more care on the icy road. “We might have to get on the interstate. The snow plows are probably working their magic there.” Through the heavy clouds I could faintly see the sun drifting west. Nash noticed where my attention was and answered the question I didn’t know I had. “At least three more hours until sunset. With good roads we should make it to Lincoln in two.”
“How do you know Michael is in Lincoln?”
“He has a house there.”
My mouth made an O shape. “But what if he’s not there?”
“Then we ask where he went and when he left.” At my silence he continued with a sigh. “When Michael is gone he has at least one live in donor take care of the house.” Being a vampire Michael needed blood. Nash assured me before, that Michael only took what was necessary and paid for his donors to live freely on his estate.
“Nebraska seems like a weird place for a vampire to live.”
“That’s not his only home.” His smirk was sly and tone teasing. “Where should vampires live?”
I shrugged. “I honestly don’t know. It’s just wild to think of I guess. Plenty of people take night classes any one of them could be vampires or werewolves. I’m still trying to process it all.”
“Well more than likely you’ve only ever met humans. Werewolves stick to their packs and vampires don’t usually waste their time with college.”
The roads were cleared off and heavily salted on the interstate. We made it to Lincoln in just over two and a half hours. The sun was setting just as we pulled up to a gate. I whistled my approval.
“One of many homes.” Nash sounded amused.
The box at the gate clicked just before a woman’s voice called through. “State your name and purpose.” Rude.
“Nash and Jessica. We’re looking for Michael.”
A long pause made Nash push the button three more times before the gates slowly opened, split down the middle. Belatedly, I noticed a scrolled M on the gate. Did Michael only go by his first name or did his last name start with a M. Nash rolled up the window and started up the winding driveway. A large two story house topped the hill, complete with pillars and balconies. Two men scooped the driveway while a third walked behind a snow blower.
“It’s beautiful. How can a vampire afford all this?”
“Any humans who work for him were once on the street and desperate. Michael usually offers a warm home and food in exchange for their blood and service. He built this house back in the late eighteen hundreds when the town was still growing. He mainly profits off of his land investments.”
The truck stopped and one of the men put his snow shovel down to open my door. He was middle aged with thick dark hair and gray peppering his short beard. I took his hand and dug in my nails when my feet slid out from under me. Nash gripped my other arm and dismissed the man with a nod and smile.
“Ready for a hot shower and a bed?” Nash whispered in my ear.
The front door opened and a plump woman in an apron smiled at us kindly. I’m not sure if it was her warm smile, the smell of fresh bread, or what Nash mentioned. But I felt desperate to get inside. “Yes.” I answered him with my own smile.
“The master was just ’bout to leave.” Even her voice was welcoming and kind. I held out my hand to shake hers as we came in from the cold.
The icy voice from the intercom traveled down the staircase adjacent to the front door. A wiry woman in her twenties with thick dark rimmed glasses and a permanent scowl descended. “He’s waiting for you in the library. You have until the drive way is cleared.”
Nash tucked my arm in his, mid-sentence, and led the way to the library. Statues and gold decor lined the hallway. Third door on the right was slightly ajar. Nash gently pushed it open without a sound. The carpet was a lush burgundy. Before we could announce ourselves the rude lady from before beat us to it.
“Master, the car is waiting and the driveway will be clear in ten minutes. Nash and his guest are here also.” She mentioned us as if we were an afterthought.
The man silhouetted facing the window twisted at his waist to face us. “This is one fine mess you’ve gotten involved in Nash.” To my side the werewolf shrugged indifferently. Michael pulled the cord of a standing lamp and sat in the chair opposite a large fireplace. Nash stepped into the room, I followed his lead.
Bookcases lined the walls, filled with books of every color and width. A large stone fireplace faced the door. It wasn’t lit and I had a sudden urge to just stand inside it to see if I even needed to duck to get inside.
Nash sat in the only other chair. I was standing so close to the fireplace I couldn’t resist trying to walk inside it. I walked within and turned full circle. Nash was amused by my curiosity. Michael, however, tilted his head concentrating on my face.
“And the girl? How’d she get involved?” Michael had a deep and commanding voice.
“Funny story.” Nash laughed wearily.