When Friday night rolled around, Scout didn’t want to stay at home. Mom had the day off, which meant another round of twenty questions about Tom. Scout opted to pass. There was Luca’s house, but Luca was up to her ears in apocalyptic lore, so she wouldn't be much fun. Plus, Tom would probably be loitering around and Scout didn’t want to have to deal with Tom longer than she had to. She was holding a bit of a grudge since he showed up at her house and made friends with her mom.
That left just one person she could talk to.
Nope. Scout wasn’t going to go there either. His half-assed apology didn’t exactly have Scout wanting to be his friend again. Especially, since now he thought he was entitled to tell her what she could and couldn’t do. Scout was not a huge fan of that.
The girl decided to go for a walk and see where her feet took her. That seemed harmless enough. She wouldn’t go far and be back before it got too dark.
Scout was about to draw level with Rhys’s house and was steeling herself for an encounter, but the ginger never appeared on the porch.
The girl probably would have carried on and celebrated her good luck at the end of the block, but her attention was caught by a metallic sound around the side of the house. Cautiously, she crept towards the sound of tinkering. She knew the layout of the first floor well enough to know that there was a door that led from the kitchen to a place that she had not yet been. Given her extensive knowledge of houses, she assumed it was a garage. But what would a vampire need with a garage? It's not like they drove.
Or did they?
As Scout rounded the building she decided the sound was coming from a shed. The outbuilding was much too small to be considered a garage, despite the garage-like door that was open. Inside was a BMW motorcycle and Rhys, who was kneeling beside it, a set of crescent wrenches at his disposal.
He looked pretty good covered in oil, his rugged features focused on something other than her for a change.
"Going somewhere?" She quipped, leaning up against the open door's frame.
"Yep," he replied, preoccupied.
Vague. Scout tried to pretend that didn't pique her interest. "What for?"
His cool reception settled her nerves. His attitude indicated that there was nothing unresolved between them and she had no reason to be uneasy.
"Remember that time I tried to keep you out of trouble?" His dark eyes met hers briefly, "That's why."
"What?" Scout hadn’t killed anything since they’d last spoken.
"I told you about the mess you stirred up."
"Yeah, well, I haven't killed anyone in the past twenty-four hours," she informed him haughtily.
"It would seem as though it’s too late for you to make amends."
“You running out for being a turncoat? They probably won’t look kindly on you for sticking up for me.” There weren’t any rules for hooking up with mortals, so far as she knew, but there were those who didn’t view mixed-race dalliances with a kind eye.
"I’m not running away. I was backing the winning horse.”
Scout’s head cocked at his choice of words, “Was?”
“Not many people are foolish enough to cross me. Those who do have not survived the encounter.”
Scout was no stranger to his reputation, “So they’re bringing in someone big. Anybody I know?"
"You've never heard of him."
"Try me. I've been a lot of places." Scout wondered if Val was rethinking his position on letting her escape.
"His name's Merrick," Rhys revealed. "He's supposed to be dead. Or at least I thought he was. That's why I'm leaving. To find out what the hell is going on."
Merrick. Scout decided she liked the sound of him. She wouldn't mind meeting him.
Rhys didn't sound happy about the whole ordeal. She had a suspicion that the reason Rhys was sore was because he and this Merrick character had a history.
"Who is he?" She asked.
"No one's heard from him in about 300 years."
"That doesn't answer who he is," she replied.
"Remember Macha?" He asked.
How could she not?
"He was her old...partner. About 300 hundred years ago when he realized that she wasn't coming back to him, he turned her over to some Hunters. I was under the impression Hunters had taken care of him. Apparently, I was wrong."
"So I should be scared?" No one knew how old Macha was. Rhys was considerably younger by comparison. Scout knew nothing about Merrick except that he’d been with Macha before Rhys. That meant he was at least four-fifty. Taking on Rhys wasn’t a challenge she’d been looking forward to. Knowing Merrick was older made everything a hundred times worse. She might actually lose this one.
"That's what I'm going to find out," Rhys’s voice jerked Scout out of her thoughts. He straddled and kick-started the bike, rolling it to where she stood at the entrance. "I'll let you know what I find out when I get back. I do know that he's not going to like you. Try to avoid staying out after hours, and if you have to, have some friends with you." Just before he shifted into gear, he pulled Scout in for a goodbye kiss. "Be safe," he told her as he roared out of the drive.
Scout stood in the doorway, confused. His tone made it pretty clear that he was as over her as she was of him. He seemed worked up, so either he was genuinely concerned for her well-being and the gesture was meant to calm, or he knew Scout didn’t stand a chance in hell and that was her “goodbye, it was nice knowing you” kiss. Both? Scout didn’t want to think about it. She had bigger problems. Someone was coming, not with the benign intention of sucking her blood like all the others she’d faced, this one was out to kill her dead once and for all.
It was only a matter of time, Scout supposed, as her feet remembered how to walk. Her name was whispered of in back alleys frequented by those who coveted immortality. She was known up and down the East Coast. She moved from town to town, relatively quietly, only fighting those who were foolish enough to think she was an easy mark. She’d made a big splash in Crimson, offing ten vampires in a single night, seeking out vampires to vanquish like a rookie. Maybe she’d only gotten on their public enemy number one list because she’d abandoned her lonely existence and made friends with vampire hunters. Whatever the reason, it was clear they’d decided they were no longer willing to indulge her troublesome existence. She wasn’t a kid with a mean streak anymore. She was an adult and had to take responsibility for her actions. She needed to be ready to face whatever was coming for her.
Scout trudged home, determined to make her first order of business tomorrow finding out who the hell Merrick was.
She never made it.
Scout was ambling toward Luca’s house on foot the following morning when her cell phone rang. She’d finally dug it out of her belongings so that the Hunters could contact her now that she was playing with them at night.
The girl flipped the phone open and put it to her ear without preamble. Few people ever called her. Normally it was her mom. The Hunters tended to leave cryptic texts.
The girl waited for her mother to start the conversation.
"Scout?" That wasn’t Mom’s voice.
"Who is this?" She demanded. There was no mistaking that accent, but she didn't quite believe it was him.
Scout had to swallow twice to successfully remove her heart from her throat. "I thought we weren't supposed to being doing this," she stated, not realizing she had stopped dead in the middle of the street. She didn't intend for it to sound as mean as it did. She immediately wanted to apologize. He didn't give her time.
"I know--just--where are you?" He sounded...worried?
"Because I heard a Hunter needed to be shut down. In Crimson. Just because you aren't here doesn't mean I don't worry. Is it you?"
"And if it is?"
"Damn it Mal, you're supposed to be keeping a low profile!"
"You know that I what I plan on and what actually happens don't coincide too often."
"Yeah," he paused, and Scout knew he was grinning, because what she said was true. "What the hell are you doing in Crimson?" He demanded suddenly. "Don't you know--?"
"I do now," she replied. "And do you think I actually choose the places I move to? No one was supposed to have heard of me out here."
"In Crimson?" He scoffed, "Yeah right." Then he sighed into the phone, "Jesus, Mal. This is awful. You need to get out of there."
"I can't. This is the first time in four years that I haven't encountered trouble on school grounds. Unless you want to call up my mom as the Ghost of Christmas Past and tell her we should move again."
"I just might," he threatened. "You have no idea what you're getting yourself into."
"Are you referring to Merrick or the end of the world?" She wanted to know.
"So you know about the apocalypse?" He asked, completely surprised.
"You actually believe in it?" She countered with equal disbelief. "It won't be anything I can't handle," she informed him. Given her impending brawl with Merrick, Scout felt like this was bold lie.
"Can't handle?" He echoed. "This is going to be like nothing you’ve ever come across. You’re their only true predator and they know it. When the end comes, you’ll be on their turf--playing by their rules. They’re going to make a game out of hunting you down. When they catch you they’re going to do something tasteful like crucifixion or burn you at the stake.”
“I’m not a heretic.”
“You've pissed a lot of people off."
"And killed a lot more," she countered.
"Scout, this isn't funny. You could die!" He exclaimed.
"Wow, aren't you a ball of sunshine. I don't hear from you in ages and all you can preach is doom and gloom. Not so much as a ‘hey, how are ya’. I‘d almost forgotten about your charms."
"I could die every day for any number of reasons. Half of which I probably can't even be held accountable for," she stopped to breathe. "Now what do you know about Merrick?"
"Not much," he replied. He was sulking. "The way I hear it, you made nice with some old guy, which is another thing I have to yell at you for."
"You're not here to help me pick my friends," Scout stated. "Plus, you had no qualms about us."
"You forced your friendship upon me," he retorted.
"No, I saved your life--sort of? The only way to repay me for that was to be my minion for the rest of your life. Which reminds me--unless somebody, more specifically: me, offs you, makes you my bitch for eternity. Speaking of, when I die, I expect flowers on my grave. Every day. No exceptions." She paused, realizing the digression and the possibility that such a future might be closer than she’d originally anticipated.
They’d gotten off track.
Only Remy could make her feel guilty about her own mortality. "Stop distracting me. You were mid-story."
"They figure since your--friend--" he spat out the word, "and this Merrick character have a history of some kind--I hope a long and unpleasant one--they’re banking on it distracting your bodyguard so the other guys can attack you without worrying about retribution."
"What?" Remy demanded, indignant.
"When have I ever needed a bodyguard?" She asked.
“Scout--” Remy’s voice was a warning, "I want you to go home and keep to yourself for a couple days."
"You can't make me," she muttered.
"I'll make you regret not doing it when I get up there," he told her.
"You've got to be kidding me," she groaned.
"Someone needs to look after you, since you obviously can't."
"I can too," she said, affronted.
"I've also got to check up on this boy who's replaced me."
"Trust me, it's taken six boys to replace you," she smiled.
"Six?" Remy's voice cracked.
"Only one of them is a vampire. Though, that is the most crucial component. The ability to kick my ass is a must to even attempt to keep me in line," Scout lied.
This statement got a chuckle out of Remy, "What did you say the name of your vamp friend was?"
Scout didn't want to. She knew enough of Rhys's history to know that Remy would know who he was. She also knew enough about Remy to know he would severely overreact.
"Mallory?" His tone was condescending.
Scout didn't know why she responded. Maybe because a part of her wasn’t pleased unless Remy was unhappy. "Rhys," she whispered, cringing.
"Go home. Don't do anything. Don't talk to anyone. Especially not Rhys. I don't want you exiting your house until I get there." His voice was as cold as stone. Scout tried for a rebuttal but he hung up before she had even processed the words.
Scout slid the phone back into her pocket and clenched her teeth, holding back a scream. Why did boys always overreact? First Rhys. Now Remy. She couldn't even imagine how Tom would act. She didn't want to. He couldn't be allowed to know.
Remy. She sighed, kicking a pebble as she resumed walking. She hadn't heard from him in ages. He wasn't even supposed to know where she was. That was part of the deal. He had obviously been keeping tabs on her. The little sneak. He wouldn't have called if he hadn't been absolutely sure she was the reason behind this upstart. But, in all honesty, who else would it be? He should expect no less. He'd known her for long enough.
Also, why was everyone freaking out? If anyone knew anything about her, it was that she was resilient. She had gotten out of more close calls than should be legally allowed. Luck didn’t have anything to do with it. She didn't believe in luck. It was all skill, and well, not to toot her own horn, but she was kind of good at what she did. She could hold her own and had done it numerous times. She was absolutely certain that they were blowing this whole thing out of proportion. No one even knew who Merrick was! His only history was with Rhys. Scout had killed vampires older than Rhys. Not that she had told him that. He probably knew. If he knew what was good for him.
After a bout of pacing, Scout decided to go home. The last thing she needed was someone else worrying over her. She wanted to tell Luca everything she had learned, but she didn’t want to deal with the freakout that would result.
Scout was over it. People wanting to kill her was her everyday. The only thing that made this different was that she knew this guy was coming a long way to get the job done. And she knew about it ahead of time. When she got jumped in an alley or a cemetery it typically wasn’t premeditated, but that wasn’t always true.
Scout didn't want to deal with Tom at this point in her life either. It was just another complication. She didn’t have time for boys when old vampires put her on their hit list.
With a wistful sigh, she twirled the katana in her hand, deciding her fitting with Caleb would have to wait yet another day.
Scout turned and collided head on with a solid object. A person, she realized, as the pair of them tumbled to the ground. He had come barreling out of nowhere. He was young, and remarkably good looking, with well defined cheekbones and the most beautiful blue eyes. She decided she could forego the unkempt black-brown hair if she got to look into eyes like that all day. Their eyes met, and his, once focused, widened in surprise. He mumbled something that sounded like, "Macha--" followed by gibberish and what could only be described as a nervous exhalation of breath, that resulted in Scout gagging.
Their close proximity had them exchanging the same air and his recycled air seemed like liquor in vapor form. She worried that breathing it would lead to second-hand intoxication.
She was just beginning to come to terms with his stench, as well as his proximity, when he leaned closer and his lips brushed hers.
This gave cause for Scout to struggle. Immediately his eyes snapped open, (they had closed when he had gone in for the kiss) he muttered, "You're alive." And then he was gone.
The teen climbed unsteadily to her feet. Shock was not something she was familiar with. She wasn't sure she liked it. She set a pace for home, every sense on high alert.
She was reflecting on the surreal events that had happened in her day thus far. Remy calling--out of the blue. That boy--Scout paused as she recalled his styled hair, ripped jeans, and black tee and biker jacket--was a vampire. She had been kissed by a vampire? Twice in the same town? What were the chances? And he had definitely been intoxicated. She had seen enough of night life to know that much. Why her? Why here? Who was he? Part of her wondered if she would see him again.
No. She had too much trouble as it was. There was Tom--the only human boy on her radar jockeying for her affection. Rhys--who, it would appear, everyone hated. Scout was beginning to succumb to their bias. If Remy said he was no good...
Remy. Scout sighed. If she was being honest, she wasn’t over him. He was the reason she’d had her fling with Rhys in the first place. To try to get him off her mind. Looks like it hadn’t worked.
And now this new vampire. It was probably too soon to say that he was in the running. They’d only just met and he’d been drunk and had the element of surprise. What was it about this town?
Tom was easy to forget about. He was only human after all. Remy--she had to forget about him. She hadn’t seen him since she was fourteen and not only did they live in very different worlds, a lot had changed since they’d last been together. Scout knew she wasn’t the same girl at all. It stood to reason Remy had changed too.
And Rhys, well, no one liked him. He’d done things in this town, to the Hunters, that they would never forgive. It was part of the reason Scout hadn’t told the Hunters about him. Scout had mixed feelings to start. She’d given in to the part of her teenage conscious that just wanted attention. And then he’d crossed a line and gotten demanding. Remy had put in his two cents on the matter. Remy wasn’t a fan and his judgment could be trusted.
Or could it? Part of Scout wanted to believe he was jealous, but she knew better. The Hunters were biased, they thought anything that didn’t have a heartbeat needed putting down. Remy was one of the rare vampires that fed not on the young and virile, but on the leeches of society. It was his way of being okay with how he survived. That was the kind of vampire Rhys claimed to be. That was why Scout wanted to justify liking him. Because he was like Remy. If Remy said he was no good, she trusted his judgment. He’d saved her life more times than she could count. Still...
Scout had to shut that part of her brain off. It wasn’t going to help. She had to worry about this new guy. Scout's brain settled on trying to decipher his parting words. He had muttered something like: "You smell like him--still." Him who? Still? What did it mean? Why was he drunk? She didn’t even know vampires could get drunk. She tried to tell herself the encounter would have made more sense if he was sober. She didn't believe it, but she knew if she told herself enough times she might convince herself otherwise.
Despite the fact that Scout remained indoors for the remainder of the weekend, in her own house no less, she couldn't shake the feeling of being watched. She had half a mind to seek out the creeper and squash him. But she wasn't dumb. And even though she hated taking orders from boys, she knew it would do no good to run into the dark half-cocked. She didn't know what she was up against. The only thing that made it worse was that no one would tell her.