I scrubbed long after the water ran clear down the drain. I scrubbed until my blood hummed under my skin and turned me rosy pink, then I scrubbed some more.
I’d never killed a vampire before, but I knew what happened to one if you did it right. I’m pretty sure a beam of energy does a sufficient job of atomizing one. I shivered in the scalding water. I wondered if my pores would ever really be clean.
I washed my hair twice, wincing every time my fingers brushed the bump on my skull.
“You okay in there, love?” Tag sounded genuinely concerned.
“Uhm, yeah, sorry. Uhm… be out in a sec?”
“Right. Okay, then.”
I turned off the water, toweled off, yanked clothes on over damp skin. I twisted my hair up in my towel and looked at my form in the foggy mirror.
My favorite shirt and jeans, I realized.
I’d left these clothes at Laish’s apartment.
My stomach gave a little flutter.
I put the duffel on the sink and felt around inside. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting to find. I felt every inch with my fingers, until– finally– something turned up in a little zipper pocket. I slipped out a tightly- folded piece of lined stationery. The flutter in my stomach turned into a cloud of panicked butterflies as I slowly unfolded the page to reveal Laish’s compact handwriting.
The page had been torn from the journal I’d given him for his birthday.
It was beach-themed. All his best dreams were about the beach, he’d said.
I’m betting they already told you you’re going to see the Irish pack. Be polite, and don’t panic. Gary’s awesome, so you’ll be fine. Just put off a good, confident vibe. I know that’ll be the hardest part.
I know something’s happened. I didn’t tell Tag, but I saw you there.
I sat down on the bathroom floor. It was true, then. Somehow, I’d really seen him sitting in the front row…
I never told you about the last dream I had before we met.
I found you on my beach.
That’s why I kissed you when you opened the door. I’d never kissed anyone before you. You need to know that now, and I’m sorry I never told you before. It’s not fair that you didn’t know that about me when I knew that about you.
Please forgive me. I was scared, I guess.
Right now I don’t know if I’ll ever see you in person again, but we need each other.
I’ll try to help you how I can, but it’s hard, and I’m still human, mostly.
Remember Who watches over us both.
Instead of signing his name, he’d drawn a small sketch of a lion’s silhouette.
My throat ached. The handwriting blurred. I wiped at my face. I would not let myself blubber. Not now. I did, however, sniffle rather loudly.
I stared at the paper and tried to figure out what to do with it.
There was a quiet knock at the door.
I folded the note as small as I could and, after a moment’s hesitation, tucked it in my bra.
I stood, shook out my hair, and checked in the mirror that I didn’t look too splotchy. I took a deep breath.
Like I’d expected, when I stepped out the guys were going about their business, pretending they hadn’t heard anything emotional.
“When is the pack expecting us?” I asked.
“Whenever,” Gary said.
“By five-thirty,” Tag said, giving Gary a look. “Otherwise we’ll get locked out of the house ‘til morning. Which we may not want to happen in the desert.” He’d changed into something a bit more casual, I noticed. Fitted t-shirt and jeans. Gary had added a leather jacket to his getup and pulled back his hair.
“What time is it now?” I asked.
“The sun will be up in an hour,” Gary said. “We should have the sub loaded by then.”
I’d hoped that for once a long loading process wouldn’t be “the girl’s fault”, but I had way more luggage than I expected. They’d basically cleaned out what I’d kept at Laish’s apartment, crammed it all into Tag’s little four-door coupe, and brought it back to add to the rest of the supplies gathered in the back of Gary’s four-wheel-drive suburban. I found this exceptionally awkward, even though most of it was probably training gear.
It must’ve shown, because after I climbed in the back seat and buckled up, Tag turned around in the front passenger seat and said, “He’s leaving town, and he knows you’ll need all of it. He even packed the rest of your weapons himself. We know you weren’t sleeping with him. Stop looking guilty.”
Heat rushed into my face. I cleared my throat and nodded, looking out the window.
It was going to be a long ride.