“Damn it!” I shouted and kicked a chair across Alyssa’s apartment. It crashed into the wall before crashing to the floor. Amaris, who was in the path of the flying chair, let out a squeak and leapt out of the way. She scowled at me as she walked into the kitchen and for the refrigerator. She opened it and began to rummage around for food.
“You vampires don’t ever have any food,” Amaris said, popping her head back out and holding a package of pepper jack cheese and a head of lettuce. She set both of these on the counter before sticking her head back into the refrigerator. “Blood,” she muttered under her breath. “Blood… more blood… more blood… yes!” she exclaimed and tossed a package of turkey onto the counter. I laughed and shook my head at her.
“Do you ever stop eating?” I asked.
“Nope,” the little shifter said, coming out with a bottle of mayo and slamming that, too, on the counter with the others. She slammed the refrigerator shut and looked at the two different loaves of bread on the kitchen table. One was wheat bread and the other was white. She grimaced at the wheat and grabbed the other one.
“Food stealer,” Alyssa muttered and flashed into the kitchen. She snatched the loaf of bread from the shifter.
“Hey!” the little girl yelled. “Give that back! I’m starving!” Alyssa shook her head and held it out of reach. Amaris growled and stomped her feet. “Give it back,” she whined. I went over to the chair I kicked and righted it before sitting. When Alyssa still held it out of reach, Amaris shifted into a wolf and jumped on her. Alyssa yelped in surprise and cursed as Amaris closed her jaw around her forearm that was holding the bread. With one paw on Alyssa’s shoulder for balance, she slammed her other paw into Alyssa’s wrist. Alyssa let out another curse, and I winced as I heard the sound of snapping bones. The bag of bread dropped to the floor, and Amaris went after it, snatching it with her teeth and dragging it behind the counter.
“Ow!” Alyssa yelled. “That fucking hurt!” she exclaimed and walked over to the sink. She turned on the water and washed away the blood. Amaris’s small hands came into view, grabbing the turkey, cheese, lettuce, and mayo off the counter.
“Stupid vampire,” the shifter muttered.
“I heard that,” Alyssa said, sounding highly offended.
“You only have one cutting board?” Amaris asked, and I winced at the loud banging and slamming.
“You do?” I asked and scowled at Alyssa. “Girl, has cooking class taught you nothing?” I asked and spluttered. “Alyssa!” I snapped and glared at her as she glanced at me. “Your family is human. For fuck sake, woman, have you heard of cross-contamination?” Exasperated, I got up and paced around the living room.
“I meant to buy another one,” Alyssa said defensively. “But I keep forgetting about it.” There was a satisfied sigh from behind the counter, and I smiled. Happy shifter was good, angry shifter… not so much. I stopped pacing and inhaled the scent of blood and Amaris’s turkey sandwich.
“Don’t ever talk to me again,” I said, annoyed. Alyssa snorted, rubbing her healing wrist and shutting off the tap. A cold chill suddenly washed over me, and I froze.
“Skyler?” Alyssa asked, her wrist no longer a concern. “What’s wrong?”
“Something’s wrong,” I said, icy fingers of dread slowly forming in my stomach. “Something’s very wrong.”
“Is it Ari?” she asked and flashed to my side. Amaris was suddenly on my other side in wolf form, her lips peeled back from her fangs and growling low in her throat.
“No,” I said, swallowing. “It’s something else.” Breathing deeply in and out to stave off the fear that was slowly building within me and so that my sire wouldn’t come running; I walked to the front door. I opened it and stepped outside. It was still daylight out, and the foreboding feeling that something was terribly wrong grew. I looked to Amaris and Alyssa, frowning. “Can either of you feel it?”
“I don’t feel anything,” Alyssa said as Amaris shook her head. “Can you follow it?” I shrugged. Picking up Amaris, I launched myself into the sky.
After a few minutes in the air, I realized that I was heading in the direction of my parents’ house. Fuck, I thought and flew faster. Amaris was a stiff bundle of warm fur in my arms as I flew. Within a few minutes, I was in sight of the house. I was flying low enough that I saw everything. It happened so fast that for a moment, it didn’t register. My mom exited her car and went around to the front. She wasn’t even two steps toward the front door when I heard a soft pop, saw a bright flash, and my mother’s head exploding into the air. Her body swayed for a couple of seconds before slowly falling backward onto the hood of the car. Behind me, Alyssa let out a horrified gasp as blood and brain matter splattered onto the car and the driveway. I was so shocked that I released my hold on Amaris and tumbled from the air. Alyssa caught Amaris as I continued to fall. A few seconds later, I hit the snow hard. I blinked and blinked, unable to believe what I just saw. I didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t want to believe the fact that I saw my mother dying right before my very eyes. It all had to be a dream… it had to be. This was just a dream, and I was going to wake up at any second now. “Mom,” I whispered as tears blurred my vision, because this wasn’t a dream. It was reality, and the harsh truth of it hit me. I let out a disbelieving cry and got to my feet. Feeling numb, I walked to the car and just stared, unable to look away. Skyler? Ari yelled into my mind. What is wrong? When I didn’t answer, I could feel her concerns for me increase. Tell me what’s wrong, she mentally demanded. Or I am coming to you. I remained silent, unable to speak, mentally or otherwise. The air stirred around me, but I didn’t turn to my sire… I couldn’t. Ari appeared beside me, and when she saw what I was looking at, she stumbled back a step in shock.
“Oh,” she said breathlessly, and then her arms were around me, slowly pulling me back. I let her, not fighting her as she led me to the steps that led up to the front door. She sat on the bottom step, turning me to face her. “I am so sorry,” she said softly, and I let her hold me, because I couldn’t do anything else but stare into space. “Alyssa, Amaris, tell me what happened.” They both came over and sat, but I didn’t listen as Alyssa recounted the story for her. Seeing it was bad enough, I didn’t have to hear it.
“Bridget is on the way,” Tristan said softly from behind me. Ari nodded and held me closer. Tristan’s hand came down on my back as I heard the distant sound of a siren. The sound cut off as it got closer. A few seconds later, I could hear Bridget’s car turning into the driveway and the sound of her getting out. Amaris let out a whine and nudged my arm with her cold wet nose. Tristan’s hand left my back, and I felt him moving away from me. I stirred in Ari’s arms as I caught the scent of my father.
“Jt Henlie?” Bridget asked as I heard the slamming of a car door.
“Yes,” Jt replied. “What is going on, officer?”
“I’m sorry… your wife has just been murdered.” I pushed away from Ari, and she reluctantly released me. I walked to my dad and hugged him tightly.
“Skyler,” he said, putting his arms around me and grunting. “A little too tight, sweetheart, you’re hurting me.” He let out another grunt as I briefly tightened my hold before loosening it.
“I’m sorry, dad,” I said, holding back tears. “I wasn’t fast enough. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know it was mom.”
“It’s not your fault,” he said, and I could feel anger rolling off of him.
“Alyssa,” Bridget called. “Amaris, I need to get a statement from you both.” I rested my forehead on my dad’s chest as Ari and Tristan walked over to us. Before I could lose it completely, I straightened and stepped back.
“Dad,” I said and gestured to Ari who stopped beside me. “This is er…” I scowled. “Ariella Stanton. She’s my uh…”
“I’m her sire,” Ari said, holding out her hand. “I’m the one who turned her.”
“Oh,” Jt said and shook her hand.
She nodded to Tristan. “And this is Tristan Tronis. He’s my mate, and he’s also the head of the Vampiric Council.”
“Yes, they are the ones who lay down the laws, and we vampires have to follow said laws.”
“It is nice to meet you, sir,” Tristan said, a hint of a growl in his voice. “Wish it was under better circumstances but.” They briefly shook hands. “The world hates us all, doesn’t it?” My dad nodded. “I am sorry for your loss.”
“Was it a vampire who shot her?” my dad asked and stiffened. I put my hand on his arm, partly to remind him that his own daughter was a vampire, and if he was going to magically pull out a stake… I would like a warning.
“No,” Tristan said slowly.
“But it wasn’t a human either,” my dad said and frowned.
“No,” Tristan repeated. “But whoever shot Tabitha won’t have much longer to live, that I can assure you.” He put up a hand, stopping my dad before he could speak.
“Jt,” Ari said gently, softly. “Your wife wasn’t killed by a human. Your justice system won’t be able to hold him or her for long. The world your daughter is now a part of is very, very dangerous. In our world, it’s kill or be killed. Do you understand?” she asked quietly.
My father hesitated before nodding. “I understand.” Bridget came over to us and whispered in Tristan’s ear. Tristan nodded, and Bridget turned to my dad.
“Sir,” she said. “The coroner and the crime scene unit will be here in a few minutes. Before they get here, I would like to ask you a few questions. If that is okay with you?”
He nodded and looked at me. “Did you see anything?” he asked. “Or heard anything?”
“No,” I lied. “I was the one who found her,” I finished softly, and my stomach clenched in pain, both from hunger and the grief I could feel slowly settling over me. He nodded and pulled me into a hug before stepping back and gesturing for Bridget to follow him into the house. Ari’s arm came around me, and she pulled me close.
“Show me,” she said softly into my ear. I didn’t want to, but I did it anyways. Letting myself relive the incident, I projected what I saw and heard to my sire. When it was over, I was crying like a baby, and my face was buried in Ari’s chest. Rage swirled around me, but her hand was gentle as she patted my back and said something in a language I couldn’t for the life of me, understand. “I am so sorry,” she said, and I nodded, fruitlessly wiping away tears.
“Take me home,” I said as I tried to hold back another sob.
“I can do that,” she said softly and everything went dark.
She didn’t take me to my apartment. Instead, we appeared on the residential floor of the HQ. To be honest, this was home, my home away from home. Hell, every vampire practically lived here.”What is wrong?” The only vampire on this floor apart from me, Ari, and Tristan asked. She came up behind me and stopped. I blinked and straightened, turning in Ari’s arms. The tall female vampire—most likely a hunter—looked at me curiously, waiting. She had shoulder-length white-blond hair, and she pushed a few strands behind her left ear. “What is wrong, Skyler?” I took in a deep shuddering breath and let it out slowly.
“My mother is dead,” I said and took in another deep shuddering breath. “And I saw the bullet whizzing through the air to blow her brains out.”
“I am so sorry,” she whispered. “I am so very sorry.” Her cold hand touched my arm, and a second later, I knew why. The ground was trembling under our feet, and she was staring intently at me. “Let’s sit her down,” she said, and they led me to a couch. Ari turned me around and gently sat me down. The stranger crouched in front of me and took both my shaking hands into her own icy cold ones. “Breathe, Skyler,” she said gently, softly. “Breathe and focus for me.” I shook my head, trying to breathe through the sudden rage that came over me. “We do not want you to bring down the building,” she continued. “Breathe for me, dear. Take in a deep breath and let it out slowly,” she gently commanded. I did as she said, and it was hard. It was like breathing in acid. “Keep that up,” she said and rose, releasing my hands. She disappeared into the kitchen as I tried to calm myself down. Whoever shot my mother dead was going to pay and fucking pay big time. “Breathe,” she said from the kitchen, a note of a warning in her voice. “Just… breathe.”
“Freya,” Ari said, shaking her head.
“I am going to punch you.”
“Why is that?”
“I have that god damn country song in my head… by what’s her face?”
“Yes, I know the song you speak of,” she said, coming out of the kitchen with a cup of blood in her hand. Ari eyed it suspiciously. Freya stopped in front of me and wrapped my trembling fingers around the hot glass. “Drink,” she said softly to me. “It will make you feel better.” When I didn’t raise the glass to my mouth, she closed her hand around mine and forced it there. The building stopped trembling a few seconds ago, but the rage was still there, along with the grief. “Trust me. It will make you feel better.” I opened my mouth and gulped down a couple of mouthfuls. The moment the hot blood settled in my stomach, a strange calmness came over me. I scowled at Freya. “Drink it all,” she said and tilted the cup, forcing me to gulp down the rest of the blood. “That is a good girl,” she said and smiled. She took the empty glass from my now numb fingers, and I fell back against the pillows, blinking stupidly at her as she set it on the table that was beside the couch.
“I… I am…” I said, slurring my words. “I am never… never going to… trust… you ever again.”
She chuckled, stroking my cheek with a cold finger. “Sleep, little one. Let your mind be at ease for this night.”
“You spiked my blood with something,” I mumbled as my eyes began to slowly close. Freya only smiled, as darkness pulled me into its blissful embrace… where nothing mattered.