My mind was jerked awake, but my body refused to stir. All I wanted to do was sleep for the next, like, forever.
The hard mattress under my back made me realize something was wrong. My bed back at the house felt like clouds, not a rock. I slowly peeled my eyes open, squinting at the bright light that burned my iris.
An old, dusty quilt was laid heavily across my body. It looked like I was in some cheap hotel, but nothing around me gave me confirmation of where I was. Not even the windows, which were covered by heavy curtains.
Another frightful thought raced through my head. How did I get here? I thought back to the woods. The last thing I remembered was being hunted in the woods by some unknown creature.
I started to panic at the thought. I bolted up and touched my body, assessing my damage. I still wore the green dress. I guess that was a good sign. Now that my drowsiness has worn off, though, I noticed the ache in my cheek and ankle. I hung my feet over the edge of the bed and tried to stand, but then I realized it wasn’t just my ankle that hurt. My feet were stuck with pins and needles the second I placed weight on them.
Palpable fear lodged itself in my throat. How am I going to get out of here? I took deep breaths, trying not to let panic overcrowd my thoughts.
The door creaked and I nearly jumped out of my skin. I jerked my head up, hurting my neck in the process as Nathan walked in the door. He slammed the door and rushed to my side as soon as he saw me, and the next thing I know, he’s pushing down on my shoulders.
I swatted at his hands as relief flooded through me. “Lay back down, Elana.” He commanded in a loud voice.
I tried to hide my fear by glaring at him, but I could tell he saw right through me. He gave me a worried look as I scooted up the bed, resting my back on the headboard. “I can’t walk,” I choked out, not knowing what else to say. My voice sounded hoarse and scratchy as it crawled up my throat.
“Shh, don’t speak,” Nathan whispered and moved to the foot of the bed.
I shook my head. I wished more than anything that what I witnessed was not real. The visions of the night came back. The fight with the vampires, my brothers, Dimitri, the dead wolves, Sampson. I remembered the fear that traveled through my body as I was chased into the woods. I remembered seeing my brother through the smoke of a fire my best friend had set. And I remembered nearly mauling my brother to death.
I let myself feel the guilt of all the past events and tears spurted to my eyes. I covered my face with my hands, not wanting to have Nathan looking at me while I cried. My cheek stung as soon as I put pressure on it, so I eased my left hand up a little. Silent tears poured from my eyes.
I removed my hands from my face and scrubbed at the moisture under them.
Nathan cast his eyes down. He got up from his spot and headed to the door. My heart lodged itself in my throat and I panicked as Nathan started to head to the door. Afraid to be alone again, I was about to run after him when he turned to the bathroom sink and filled a cup with water. He returned to my feet and handed me the cup.
“Where are we? Are the others safe?” My voice was a little more strained from the crying I just did, but I really didn’t care at the moment.
I greedily accepted the water and swallowed most of it in one gulp. The lukewarm water rushed down my throat and settled comfortably in my stomach. It didn’t matter if it was gross hotel water, I was so content with the liquid as I downed the rest of the glass.
“They’re not here,” Nathan said finally. He waited so long I almost forgot what he was talking about. “I don’t know where the rest of the pack is. I just got you and left. You’re safe and that’s all I know.”
“How did you know where I was?”
Nathan thought about his answer before sighing. “I can feel your emotions, and sometimes, your thoughts.”
I set the empty cup on the nightstand next to my bed and rubbed one more time under my eyes. Nathan shifted uncomfortably at my feet and I felt bad that he had to sit here and watch me cry.
I tried to clamp down on my emotions. “You don’t even know what happened to my brother?”
Nathan gently started to massage my cut feet. He left a trail of soft lightning everywhere he gently brushed his fingers across. He didn’t answer for a long time, and I realized then he wasn’t going to.
I leaned myself from the headboard and slipped my feet from Nathan’s intoxicating touch. He even enchanted my feet. “Nathan, please answer me.”
He let out a heavy sigh. “The Keepers were the ones that attacked us during our talk with Sampson. They lost your track, but not your brother’s. They took him as leverage to get you until they realized he’s just as unique as you are. I just got word that they are doing experiments on him and are refusing any kind of trade.”
I felt like someone stabbed me through the heart. My breathing became labored as I thought about Liam. All that they must be putting him through right now. Guilt laid even heavier on my chest as I realized it was all my fault anyway. If I hadn’t allowed him to stay, none of this would have happened.
Nathan rested his hand on mine and my body was instantly grateful for his contact. Sparks flew from between our hands. “Don’t worry. I’ll get him back somehow.”
Then I realized what he said. “Who told you this?”
He shifted uncomfortably again, down-casting his eyes.
“Nathan, answer me.” I meant for it to sound strong, but it came out more pitiful.
Nathan didn’t make any indication of answering my question still.
I huffed. I need space right now. I glanced back at my skin and noticed again how dirty I was. I smelled awful, like a flea-induced cat was thrown into a garbage can. I could only imagine what I smelled like to Nathan, who has advanced smelling. I’ll go take a shower. Do us both a favor.
Nathan read my thoughts and moved to my side, picking me up as if I weighed nothing. As frustrated with him as I was at the moment for not answering my questions, I still rested my lead-filled head on his wide chest for the short walk to the restroom. He set me gingerly down on the toilet-seat and frustratingly started to play with the knobs.
“I got it,” I snapped at him. “I’m not completely helpless.”
I slammed the door behind him as he retreated from the room. Sucking in air, I struggled to keep more tears from coming out. I slowly peeled off my ruined dress and threw it on the floor, silently vowing to never even think of wearing it again. Even if that meant I had to walk around naked.
I shakily got to my feet, putting most of my weight on my arms as I lowered myself into the bathtub. As soon as I was sure the rushing waters muted the sound of my crying, I sobbed until my throat went raw. Then I cried some more.
The dark room felt suffocating. I felt the cool rush of winter air slice through the opened window. Shape Shifters and their heat issues. I swear I have to shut this window every hour, only to find it open again an hour later.
This silent argument has gone on since I got out of the bathroom. To be honest, that’s all that’s really happened, though. Ever since I woke up, Nathan has made sure my knowledge has been limited. Keeps answers short, gives me small updates, and manages to speak to me very little.
I felt like a prisoner. I wasn’t allowed to leave. Heck, I wasn’t even allowed to walk to the bathroom without his sudden need to take care of me.
I looked back over at Nathan. I wish he wasn’t so handsome. His straight nose was perfectly set of the center of his flawless face. His dark lashed fanned out against his cheeks and his mouth was slightly ajar, showing his perfect teeth. I listened to his deep breaths as he slept.
I was just lucky he wasn’t in his snoring stages yet.
I grudgingly got out of bed and marched over to the gaping hole in the wall. If Nathan was so protective, why did he leave the window open? I locked it and slid back into bed, hiding under the covers to get warm again.
My mind was awake now. Darnit. I mulled over what happened that night again. I had the longest list of questions, but what I really needed to know was how to get my brother out of the Watchers’ hands and find my best friend.
The trees outside shifted, moving shadows on the wall caused by the moonlight. I heard what sounded like a howl and shot up in bed. Was it someone I know? I strained my ears as I tried to listen to the call again. I sat breathlessly and listened to the night, desperate to pull out the howl again.
A deep howl softly echoed through the night. I scooted to the edge of my bed, ready to jump up and run out there. I slid silently over to the old dresser and pulled out a couple pairs of socks. My feet were still hurt, but with the extra cushioning, I was sure I would be able to walk. I grabbed Nathan’s tennis shoes and slipped them on over the layered socks. I really didn’t have any shoes here that I knew of. The shoes were still a little big, but it really didn’t matter.
I circled around the bed and headed for the door. I don’t know why Nathan got the bed closer to the door, but I guess it was because he wasn’t the one on lockdown. I held my breath as I neared the door, lightly pressed down on the handle, and shoved the door open just large enough for me to slip out.
I cringed at a large ′click’ that sounded from the handle when I closed the door. Not risking it, I walked on the ball of my foot to sneak around the building.
I don’t really know where I was going. I don’t even really know why I left. But, even if there was a small chance Claire may be out there, however unlikely, I was willing to risk it.
My feet didn’t feel great, but they felt better than they were before. The double-layered sock was definitely a good idea. I rounded the end of the stream of motels and walked to the forest line, peering inside. I was more than hesitant to go into the forest, looking back at what happened last time.
I squinted, trying to see better when a gust of wind sliced through the trees and into my very core. It was only then that I realized I was out in the middle of the night, freezing in the pajamas Nathan picked for me.
This was a bad idea. I concluded, not seeing any movement. My shoulders slumped as I turned around and started back towards the room. Or at least what I hoped was our room.
“Before you go any further, I have a proposition to make,” someone said from around me. I spun around frantically, trying to see who was speaking to me, but couldn’t see anyone.
Calm invaded my mind and I knew I could trust him. “What kind of proposition?”
I shook my head, abolishing the sheet I had over my sanity. I can’t trust him. I felt some pressure in the back of my mind as I tried to push out the bizarre thoughts and it finally occurred to me. Someone is in my head.
I fought the presence, trying to shove it out of my head as fast as I could. It pushed me back, trying not to vacate the corners of my mind and I pushed harder.
“You come with me and I will let your brother and friends go.”
The pressure left my head after he said the words and I finally located him. He stood on the back wall of the motel buildings, nothing but a silhouette. “Keepers have my brother. They won’t let him go,” I thought out-loud.
“Are you sure about that?” He folded his arms across his chest. “You know what they are doing to him right now. You must have seen or at least heard about what goes on with the Keepers by now. Do you really want to leave your innocent brother in that situation?”
None of those were questions. “How do I know you will let him go?” I inched forward slowly, more curious than anything.
“You don’t.” He unfolded his arms and started coming closer to me as well. “I bet you have a lot of questions that need answering.” He came into view, but was still hidden by the shadow of the building. “What do you say, Elana? Are you ready to face your nightmares?”
I stared at his outstretched hand and nearly bolted. It took a lot for me not to slap his hand away.
Sensing my hesitation, he continued. “Nathan Night is not who you think he is. He’s a liar and murderer. He slaughtered innocent children. Do you really want to get protection from someone like that?
My heart started to beat faster. “What are you talking about?”
“Come with me and all your questions will be answered.
You’ve always taken the back way out, Elana. Make your brother take the fall for everything. And now you’re going to let him get tortured for your own mistakes? Be the hero for once. A nagging voice in the back of my mind whispered to me. I couldn’t tell if it was the shadow man breaking through my walls again or my own thoughts. Either way, I wanted nothing more than to let them win.
“Save your brother, Elana,” the shadow whispered through the dark. I felt my hand start to raise from my side and moved closer to the stranger’s outstretched fingers.
“No! Elana, stop! It’s a trick!” Nathan called from the side of the building.
It was too late. The shadow snatched my hand and we disappeared into a hole of darkness.