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Delia growled deep in her throat as the front of her light pink blouse turned crimson.
He fired another round that knocked her witch's hat off her head and made her take a few stumbling steps back. She righted herself and headed toward him, leaning forward, head tilted. As she staggered closer, I shrank back at the image of her face, her teeth gnashing and drool frothing her lips and chin. She was hungry.
I felt movement behind me and fell sideways into the snow, trying to spin around to see who had come up on me.
I looked up to see Strummer grinning down at me, his spiked green hair covered in snow.
"You're welcome," he said, his voice soft in the winter wind.
I blinked, looking up at him.
He reached a hand out to me and pulled me out of the snow. "We need to stay put for a little bit."
I nodded, shivering, and hearing my sobs as echoes in the woods. I couldn't seem to stop. My tears were freezing on my cheeks, and I was beyond caring.
Strummer unzipped his long, black coat and opened it wide, inviting me in.
I moved toward him and closed my eyes as I lay my face against his warm chest, letting his darkness protect me as he wrapped his coat around me.
"Ssssh," he breathed, holding me close. "Ssssh."
And I felt warmth surround me, his heat radiating over me.
Moments later I heard Cole's shrieks as I imagined Delia sinking her teeth into him. Not long after that-breaking glass, and Miranda's shrill screams slicing through the darkening night.
"Where is Mick?" I asked, trembling as we trudged through the snow toward the driveway. I didn't know how much time had gone by since Delia had climbed through the broken window. She hadn't come out. I didn't have to ask Strummer whether she would ever come out of there alive. I already knew the answer.
A set of headlights made their way up the driveway. I squinted in the dark. Mick's father's Navigator.
Strummer picked me up as if I weighed nothing. I'd lost weight since the entire nightmare in Saints Hallow began. My clothes had been hanging off me, and my jeans were dangerously close to slipping over my narrow hips.
I wrapped my arms around Strummer's neck and rested my face against his shoulder, closing my eyes. The energy had drained out of me, and at the moment I really didn't care what happened to me. I was tired, tired way down deep in the bones.
I heard the truck door open and felt Strummer gently place me on the back seat, careful not to hurt me.
I hated him.
Strummer had taken Delia from me. He'd sent the spook that had invaded her body and killed her.
"You killed my aunt," I said to him when I felt him settle in next to me.
"I'm sorry," was all he said. I thought I heard the whisper of humanity in his voice, a glimmer of remorse. But I wasn't sure.
I opened my eyes and saw Mick's face, eyes huge as he stared at me, his mouth hanging open, speechless.
"I'm okay," I said. I wasn't sure of that either.
He looked at a girl in the passenger seat. I hadn't notice her before. Dark hair. She turned to me and I saw my own face looking back at me.
"What the hell?" Mick said, looking from her to me and back again.
I blinked. "Yeah. What the hell?"
The girl grinned. My crooked grin. Her hair began to lighten. Her face rounded out.
A pretty blonde girl smiled wickedly at me.
"Betty," I breathed.
"Hey girl," she said, and then giggled.
"That's a neat trick."
"I thought so. I don't do it very often. Shapeshifting makes me tired."
"It was the only way I could think of to keep your friend alive," Strummer said. "He'd have ended up with a bullet between his eyes if he'd shown up here." He nodded to Edward Tanner's dead body, now a mound covered in snow.
"Fiona made him promise to keep him safe," Betty said.
My heart leapt. "Fiona? She's okay?"
Betty dropped her gaze. "She's alive. Lucian found her. Had her picked up by a couple of his goons."
Lucian had abducted Fiona from the diner.
"She made a deal with Lucian. She'll work for him for as long as he wants her to, without escaping, if he let us help you," Betty said.
"You're kidding," I murmured. "Why would she do that?"
Betty shook her head slowly. "I'm not kidding. She considers you a sister."
I felt my brow furrow. "But I only just met her."
Betty shrugged. "She has no family. They were slaughtered in a home invasion when she was three. She'd left the house through a door left open, found wandering the streets two weeks later. Her ghosts had hidden her from the men who killed her family. They never saw her." Betty gestured with an open hand to the gray matter still moving around me. "She sent her ghosts to help protect you."
My eyes filled. "But Lucian..."
"Lucian has a soft spot for Fiona. He won't hurt her." Strummer put earbuds in his ears and sat back. "Let's go."
"Where are we going?" I asked.
"Lucian's," Betty said. "Do you have anywhere else to go?"
I shook my head. "No."
"We'll drop your friend off first," she said.
"No." Mick shook his head. "She's staying with me."
"No," I said. "I'm not like you. You'll end up hurt, or worse."
"She's right," Betty said. "There are things out there that will steal her for her energy. Things worse than anything you've ever seen. They will kill you for her."
So those were the things my father had hidden me from. The things Delia had tried to keep me safe from.
"I thought it was Lucian. He's like...the Devil."
"No. Lucian is a businessman. That's all. He can keep you safe from the others."
"Nobody can keep me safe."
"I'll try," Strummer murmured.
"No," Mick said. "I'm not leaving you."
"You have no choice, dude." Strummer sat up and glared at Mick. "Just walk away."
Mick jammed on the brakes. The truck lurched forward before stopping. He turned toward us and moved his body between the seats, his face an inch from Strummer's. "Make me."
Strummer grinned, tilted his head and narrowed his eyes.
Mick's eyelids fluttered and he fell forward.
"No!" I reached for him. "What did you do?"
"He's fine," Strummer said. "Just asleep. Who wants to drive?"
This was my town. I'd drive myself out of it.
I got out of the truck and Strummer helped me move Mick to the passenger seat. Betty moved to the back.
We dropped Mick off, got him into his house, and left the Navigator parked in the driveway.
Then we got into a black sedan that slid to a stop on the curb in front of us.
The tinted window moved down and Lucian's dark eyes regarded me coldly. "Get in."
Without a word, the three of us got into the car.
Why not? I had nowhere else to go.
I sat back, my head resting against the back of the seat, and let Fiona's ghosts move over me as we headed down the road, leading to places I wasn't sure I wanted to see, but I no longer had a choice.
As we drove along the road, a familiar figure moving along the side of the road made me sit up and shout, "Stop the car!"
Lucian stopped the car just ahead of the figure.
As the man came up next to the passenger window, I reached out and he grabbed my hand.
"Wentworth," I began, but my words dissolved into tears. I opened the door and stepped out of the car, stepping into his open arms. I couldn't find words for what I had to tell him. I didn't even know where to begin.
"I know, Lorelei." He broke the hug and looked into my face, his eyes filled with sorrowful understanding. "I know what happened."
"How did you know?" I said, my voice thick with tears.
He shrugged slightly. "I know many things. I tried to help her, but the shadow spooks almost got to me, too." He tilted his head back toward Mick's house. "Your friend will need somebody to watch over him."
I nodded. "Yes. Would you?"
"I'd be honored. Don't worry about a thing. It'll all work out as it should." With that he gave me a last, long squeeze and let me go. "Go on now. You'll be fine."
I stared at him before climbing back into the car.
"It's time to fight now, Lorelei." He leaned into the window slightly. "Kick some serious ass."
I couldn't help smiling. "I will."
With that, he nodded once and turned back toward Mick's house.
And I knew that Mick would be okay.
I moved a hand over Strummer's, and sent a thought to him. I never knew I could do that, but it worked just fine.
Leo, I said. We need to end him.
His head turned to me and he gave a barely noticeable nod. Whatever you want, Lorelei. I'd do anything for you. You must know that now.
I looked away from him. I couldn't feel anything. Relief, maybe, that I wasn't alone at Lucian's. Strummer was a good ally to have. Maybe together we could make a difference. Maybe together all the kids a Lucian's could.
There was a lot of bad in the world. We'd start with Leo and deal with the wrath of Lucian later.
Strummer squeezed my hand and I closed my eyes.
I would see Mick again. But for now, I had some training to do.
And a lot of serious ass-kicking.