4: Like A Bat Out of Hell
Jane’s first few days had gone smoothly. Lukan had been very relieved but he still believed it was only a matter of time before something happened.
Lilith had been going to stay home from work to show her around the first day but Lukan had volunteered on the excuse that he really needed a day off from dealing with the “mindless, soulless corpses that walk the halls of St. Defendens High,” to which Jane had replied with a sarcastic remark that made everyone but him laugh.
Surprisingly, Lilith hadn’t protested, and, though she seemed a little surprised, she also seemed pleased at his willingness to help Jane. Sofiya had wanted to stay home as well but Lilith had said that Lukan should be the one to show Jane around, looking at Sofiya with meaning that the younger woman seemed to understand immediately. Sofiya and Lilith smiled conspiratorially at one another, and then looked at Lukan and Jane. Jane seemed creeped out, while Lukan was just irritated that they’d seen through him so easily.
The guests had been informed of Jane’s future presence in The Haven, and as Lukan had predicted, the guests were furious. Even after Lilith had explained Jane’s difficult position, nearly half a dozen guests had decided to leave, but what had really surprised Lukan and the others was how Lilith had stuck up for Jane when the guests had resorted to name-calling and threats.
As it was, there were more than a few guests that could be potentially harmful to Jane should they take it into their heads to do something… foolish. However, he and his coven had made it clear that things would get… ugly should something happen to Jane.
Lukan had introduced Jane to nearly all of the remaining guests, many of whom treated her with veiled hostility. Lukan was determined to protect Jane at all costs, though why the life of someone like her was suddenly so important to him, he couldn’t understand. Her kind had never mattered to him before and mostly still didn’t. Why was it only Jane that could make him a walking contradiction?
Lukan had followed her around all day as she dusted, vacuumed, mopped, and cleaned over half The Haven, occasionally moving the heavier furniture so that she could reach hard-to-reach spots.
He’d never seen someone work so hard before. Jane had thrown herself into her work with everything that was in her and by the end of the day she had finished cleaning from top to bottom over half the hotel. She worked quickly and efficiently, never taking her eyes off the prize.
A few of the guests had tried to make her work harder by leaving extra messes lying around to show their resentment but Lukan had soon set them straight, and Jane never knew the difference. Her efforts hadn’t lessened as the week went on either. If anything changed in them, they grew more fervent and inexhaustible.
As Jane went back to school the next day, Lukan only had to worry about watching and following her on nights and weekends. The whole Haven was abuzz with gossip about Jane and him, and Lukan had absolutely no doubt that Lilith and Sofiya were both praying that most of it would come true.
In the time Lukan had spent with Jane, he had begun to notice things about her. Nothing life-altering but still, the things he learned intrigued him. The way Jane would luxuriate in the feel of the books by running her finger over their spines when she was cleaning the Library. The way Jane would scribble away furiously in a notebook she kept in her backpack on her breaks. The way she had gasped at the grandeur of each room as it was first being shown to her. The way she would offer to help cook dinner, even though she was exhausted from a long day’s work, just to spend a little more time with all of them and to postpone having to go back to her parents, though she never said as much. How she would stop whatever she was doing to help anyone she saw in need of it. The way Jane had asked Lilith if she would hold onto a third of her paycheck.
She hadn’t said so, but she was obviously afraid that her parents would take it away.
It was all the little things coming together that gave Lukan an understanding of the trusting, generous, hard-working, lonely soul that she was. It made her criticism of his leisurely behavior – “pure laziness,” as she referred to it – his care in appearance – “vanity,” she’d said – and his natural wit – “smart-ass attitude” she’d called it – a little more bearable.
It was Saturday afternoon and Jane was in the “Lunch Room,” as everyone had referred to it – breakfast and dinner were taken in the Dining Room – thinking about her first few days as she waited tables. Things had been difficult at first. Jane had no idea that the work would be so grueling, but as she had never been afraid of hard work it didn’t bother her much. It was the difficulty she had with the guests that bothered her so much. Lukan was right about them, something that grated on Jane a good deal. She could instinctually feel that they resented her, though they didn’t dare openly show it due to Lukan’s constant presence by her side. What she couldn’t understand was why they resented her being there. What was the big deal anyway? Shouldn’t they be happier now that their rooms and other living areas were clean?
Jane just couldn’t understand why they all seemed to hate her – with the exception of Lukan’s group, who, to Lukan’s obvious chagrin, had taken to her without hesitation. She knew she wasn’t exactly the most lovable person on the planet, but it’s not like she had stolen their kidneys from them or something. The guests’ level of hostility was off the charts, with no apparent reason for it. What is it that these people are hiding? Jane wondered for the millionth time.
Jane hadn’t dared mention the wolf incident to anyone. She half-believed that her dreams were beginning to invade her waking hours due to all the current stress she had been under. She avoided the woods at all times, never getting within ten yards of it, and despite the constant arguing, Jane was grateful that Lukan took her home every night in his black Porsche. Regardless of how little sense it made, Jane had a nagging feeling that the wolf had been anything but a hallucination, and the connection it had to her dreams made things even more unnerving for her.
Jane was walking back from the Second Kitchen – The Haven had two – with a tray full of lunch orders. She swept her way across the pinewood flooring, serving the guests their lunches with a warm smile.
The Lunch Room was smaller than the enormous Dining Room as most guests usually took their lunches in town, and was decorated in a tasteful classic Victorian style, everything having gold trim on it. It wasn’t Jane’s style, but she had always preferred the open airiness of Cape Cod to the elegant grandeur of Victorian era, despite her love of Victorian literature.
Jane had only one last guest to serve and she dreaded it. Of all the guests to give her trouble the last few days, Argus McDuffie had been the absolute worst. Everywhere he went, he left a massive mess behind him, shooting her a satisfied, malicious look as he walked away. If she had just mopped the floor, he would deliberately walk all over it after just going outside, trailing mud and dirt all over her nice, clean floor. Fortunately, none of the rooms were carpeted, so she didn’t have to deal with the hassle of carpet cleaners. Jane was grateful that Lukan had put a stop to the more obvious and grotesque messes, such as moldy food dishes left in his room, sheets stained with heaven only knows what substances, and a bathroom that was just too horrible and traumatizing an experience to describe.
She’d vomited the day she cleaned that bathroom once she got home, but she’d never given up. If McDuffie wanted her gone, he’d better come up with something better than the bathroom, because Jane wasn’t leaving that easily. She’d earned this job. She’d spent years bearing her parents’ coldness, tolerating her sister’s bossiness and tyranny, and her beloved brother’s neglect, all for the small amount of freedom she had now. This job wasn’t much in the way of having a real life of her own but Jane would take what she could get, and she’d be damned if she didn’t make the best of it.
Jane had come to the conclusion that she was grateful for Lukan’s constant shadowing. It had saved her many times over, not only in having someone to help her move furniture, but also in his presence being a barrier to anyone intent on causing her difficulty – like Argus McDuffie.
Jane sighed and sent up a prayer for patience as she walked over to McDuffie’s table. He had changed his order three times in the last fifteen minutes because Lukan was busy elsewhere and he could get away with it. Lukan’s vigil at her side had been constant over the last few days but he had been called away by Lilith to discuss something with him. He had looked peeved and would’ve outright refused if Jane hadn’t told him to go, that she needed a break from him anyway. He was still hesitant, but Jane was resolute. They needed a break from one another, even if only for fifteen minutes.
“Here’s your sandwich, Mr. McDuffie,” Jane said with false sweetness, setting the steak sandwich down in front of the gruff-looking, bearded man. “Exactly as you ordered it. Can I get you anything else?”
McDuffie scowled at her and then pushed the sandwich away.
“I ain’t eating that garbage,” he said, his beady blue eyes shining maliciously as he looked up at her from his seat.
He was determined to get a rise out of her, she could tell.
Jane closed her eyes and fisted her hands, trying to remain calm and not beat the crap out of the man in front of her.
“And why, may I ask, is that?” Jane asked through gritted teeth.
Opening her eyes, she saw him smirk.
“It ain’t grilled, lass. That’s why.”
“You ordered it not grilled. As a matter of fact, I specifically remember you saying that you didn’t want it grilled. I remember because you called me, ‘a worthless little chit,’ when you said it.”
Jane folded her arms, trying very hard not to lose her temper.
“I said…” McDuffie slapped the plate off the table. “That I ain’t eating it!”
Jane caught the plate in her hand to the surprise of everyone in the room, all of whose attention was drawn by McDuffie’s shouting.
Jane catching the plate had caught McDuffie by surprise, and now he no longer cared how loud he got.
“Now go and get me another sandwich, you worthless little chit!” he shouted, rising in his seat a little to get in her face as much as he could.
Jane stared down at him calmly and coldly. The tension in the room rose as everyone waited to see what she would do, most of the guests hoping that she would just get him his sandwich rather than face him off. A great many of the guests had been won over by Jane’s easy smile and hard-work, honest ethics, and nearly everyone in the room knew what McDuffie was capable of. Even the ones that didn’t like her didn’t want to see her blood spilled.
No one noticed when one of the guests left the room.
Someone called into the silence for her to just get him the sandwich, but she didn’t seem to hear. All she did was stand… and stare, right at McDuffie. The silence loomed over the room ominously and soon McDuffie was shifting in his seat and averting his eyes from her stony gaze.
“Didn’t ya hear what I said, lass-“ McDuffie was cut off by Jane slamming the plate over his head sharply, the pieces scattering all over the floor.
Everyone in the room gasped when McDuffie rose up out of his chair and quickly grabbed Jane around the throat.
Jane went deathly pale when two black, leathery wings tore through McDuffie’s plaid jacket and spread out over her.
McDuffie’s hand tightened around Jane’s throat as his canine teeth grew long and sharp, coming down over his bottom lip as he smiled cruelly. His eyes became a red so dark and blood-like that Jane thought that that’s what the irises were made of – blood.
McDuffie, now fully transformed into… whatever he was, yanked Jane closer to him until she could feel his fangs brushing against her ear as he spoke.
“Never mind the sandwich, lass,” he hissed, his foul, rank breath making Jane want to vomit. “I think I’ll have you instead.”
Lukan had been away from Jane for far too long and he began to feel as though something was wrong. He had spent more than fifteen minutes talking to Lilith about the Barrier having been breached, and not just by Jane. It had taken them a few days to figure it out, Ray and the rest of their group had been playing football and the ball had gotten away into the surrounding woods. When Ray had gone to get the ball, he had scented someone – someone familiar. An old enemy. The reason it had taken them so long was because of how thorough the creature had been at disguising his scent, but Lukan was sick of talking about this, sick of talking about strengthening the Barrier. But most of all he was sick of being away from Jane, which made him snappish and hostile.
“Damn it, Lilith! It has been over a decade and a half! He did not just show up to see if we retained our good health and you know it! And what is more is that you know why he’s here and you are not confiding it in us!” Lukan shouted, slamming his hand on the desk, breaking it in half.
He couldn’t have cared less at the moment. He wanted – no, needed – to get back to Jane, and Lilith’s beating around the bush just wasn’t cutting it at the moment.
Lukan stopped a moment, a thought suddenly occurring to him.
“Do you still… retain feelings for that thing?” he asked, the hint of disgust in his voice being overwhelmed by the sympathy there as well.
“Lukan…”Lilith said tiredly, walking around the desk to put a hand on his shoulder. “I would never do anything to put my loved ones – my family – in danger, especially not for him, and you know that. He could be back for any reason. We just don’t know-“
They were interrupted by the sound of someone Flitting in their direction, catching the sound of it nearly half a minute before the doors burst open and one of their longtime guests, Nathaniel White, rushed into the room, breathing a little heavily from the prolonged Flitting.
Lukan’s stomach dropped and his face paled. His heart beat so fast that he could no longer feel the steady rhythm of it thumping in his chest.
“Jane…?” Lukan asked hoarsely, barely able to control his voice out of sheer terror.
I knew it. I should’ve listened to my instincts…
No one breathed. It seemed like a life time before Nathaniel nodded his head. Without waiting for anyone or anything, Lukan began Flitting down the stairs, rushing to get to Jane. He didn’t care if she saw him – if she discovered their secret. All he cared about was that she was safe and out of harm’s way.
Hanging pictures, vases, side tables, doors – all were blurs of formless nothing as they broke and shattered, the floor being ripped up by his feet and the soles of his five hundred dollar shoes melting from the heat of his inhuman speed. Lukan forced himself to speeds he’d never endured before, his senses searching for anything to tell him that the young woman that he’d come to know and – if he was honest with himself – fall for over the last few days was alive and well.
The moment he saw the Lunch Room’s double doors was a relief, the sixteenth of a second it took him to get from Lilith’s third floor private office to the Lunch Room seeming like hours to Lukan’s distraught mind.
Lukan burst through the doors, and upon seeing a fully Transformed guest’s hand around Jane’s throat, her face pale and ghostly in terror, a primal roar tore through him as he launched himself, Transforming while he flew at the man known as McDuffie.
McDuffie’s hand loosened from around his intended victim’s throat as he was smashed into a wall face first, effectively breaking most of his face bones. Lukan hoped with every fiber of his being that it hurt like hellfire.
But that wasn’t near enough for Lukan. This man was going to suffer.
Lukan yanked McDuffie up by his plaid jacket, and, not even waiting for McDuffie’s wounds to Heal, Lukan beat brutal, merciless hit after brutal, merciless hit into McDuffie’s face, not caring what damage he caused the older man. Lukan lifted McDuffie over his head by his clothes, and, with every ounce of might in him, he turned and threw McDuffie.
McDuffie flew over the heads of the other guests, who were too shocked to do much of anything, and he crashed through the Lunch Room windows, landing nearly fifty yards away from the Lunch Room. The other guests cleared a path as Lukan stalked after his prey.
He wasn’t done yet.
McDuffie was in a pitiful state. His wings were torn and bleeding, glass shards sticking out from them. His fangs were chipped, and his nose was crooked and still trying to Heal from being smashed into a wall.
Lukan couldn’t have cared less. There would be no mercy that cold autumn day.
McDuffie’s pleas and whimpers fell on deaf ears as Lukan grabbed his victim by the throat and pulled him up to meet each other’s eyes.
“No one touches her. Ever,” Lukan whispered harshly, his grip tightening painfully as he spoke the last word.
Lukan knew as his nails tore through McDuffie’s jacket, shirt, and eventually skin, that he was breaking promises, doing something he swore he would never do again. Lukan almost stopped when he saw the look of terror in McDuffie’s eyes as he realized what Lukan was about to do, but as Lukan thought about the look of terror on Jane’s face, the way her eyes had seemed hollow, like her world had just caved in around her, he allowed his fingers to curl around McDuffie’s heart.
There could be no mercy for someone who had taken what McDuffie had from Jane, for someone who had ripped away that young woman’s innocent belief that the worst things she had to fear was the conformity to a society that would never appreciate who she was and a life lived by her parents’ rules. McDuffie had stolen away something that Lukan would’ve died to give back to her – to get back himself if he could – and now he was going to take something irreplaceable from McDuffie.
With one smooth jerk, Lukan removed his hand from McDuffie’s chest, taking the man’s heart with him. McDuffie stared at him in shock and horror for a moment, reaching out to try and swipe his heart back, but before his sharp-nailed fingers could even make it halfway, Lukan crushed the still-beating heart in his hand, blood exploding everywhere it seemed, and the moment he did so, McDuffie’s form became transparent and ghostly for a moment before fading into the earth to take his rightful place in Hell.
Lukan tiredly looked at what now remained of the heart in his hand. Lukan allowed the ashes to fall between his fingers and float to the ground. He suddenly felt very heavy and drained. When he’d fought McDuffie, he had been full of nothing but adrenaline.
Lukan’s head snapped up sharply.
Jane! he thought wildly.
He spun around, instinctively Flitting. A crowd had gathered around the broken window, but to Lukan’s horror, Jane was in front. Oh, dear God, no! She saw everything!
By the pale, fearful look on her face and the way she was shaking and quivering, cold sweat pouring down her forehead, there was no doubt of it.
“Jane…” he said, reaching out to comfort her.
The sound of that single word got a choked sob, and as Lukan walked toward Jane she seemed to just break down, the pure shock of it all finally setting in. Lukan caught her in his arms but she just fought him, crying out in a wild fit of hysteria that tore at Lukan’s heart.
The screams and cries of terror were painful to witness.
She was like that for the next six hours, before sleep and exhaustion finally claimed her.