Thursday, April 27, 2017

Only With The Heart - Chapter 18 - A Paranormal Romance story by Kallysten

If you are new to this story, you can find chapter 1 here.
If you missed chapter 17, it's here.


ONLY WITH THE HEART
CHAPTER 18




Ellie hadn’t been hiding. At least, not really.

She’d known it was her brother standing there from the moment Taylor opened the door and said his name, and she’d even—very briefly—considered making her presence known. She’d decided otherwise. He’d come to see Taylor, and Ellie’s presence here had nothing to do with him.

Besides, she had little desire to explain to him why she was visiting a friend after having begged off patrolling with him because she wasn’t feeling well.

The decision was taken out of her hands when both of their phones started ringing at the same time, giving her away. Even as she fumbled to pull the phone from the back pocket of her jeans, she could see from the corner of her eye the door opening more widely until Lance appeared on the doorstep. She held his gaze even as she answered the call, while he didn’t even bother taking his phone out.




“Ellie Cornwell speaking,” she said as she picked up.

“Vampire dispatch here,” a bored man replied. “We’ve got a report for possible vampire activity. Sending you the address now. ETA?”

She looked at her phone, and at the map that had popped up. A blinking red dot indicated the same warehouse district where they’d found James a few nights earlier in a neighboring town. She made a quick mental calculation before answering the dispatcher’s question.

“ETA fifteen to twenty minutes.”

“Your partner didn’t answer the call, is he—”

“He’s right here, we’ll be going together. Thank you.”

She hung up the phone and looked up. Taylor hadn’t moved other than for crossing her arms. She was observing Ellie with something like worry coloring her eyes. Ellie gave her an apologetic half-smile and met Lance’s gaze again. She could guess more than a few questions in his dark look, but all he said was, “Where?”

She looked at the map again, zooming in as she replied.

“Springfield. The warehouse district. It looks like I might be the same building we cleaned the other night. Maybe some straggler looking for the rest of their clan?”

Lance made a noncommittal noise before saying, “Are you feeling well enough to come, then?”

The barest edge of reproach lined his words, and no doubt he believed she’d made up her claim of not feeling up to patrolling. Heat was rising in her cheeks but she resolutely ignored it. Pocketing her phone, she walked over to the door.

“I’ll be fine,” she said curtly. “But we’ll need to swing home to get my crossbow.”

“No need. I put it in the trunk before you said you weren’t coming. Let’s go.”

He started turning away, but Taylor stopped him by taking hold of the sheathed sword he clutched. She hadn’t said a word since the phone had rung, had barely even breathed, it seemed, becoming not so much invisible as unobtrusive, her presence almost forgettable. Not anymore

“I’m coming,” she announced, her tone calm yet strong.

Lance gave her a startled look. He was still holding on to the sword, and it stood out between them, a deadly weapon but also the symbol of the link they’d shared.

“Coming?” he repeated. “What do you mean?”

She glanced at Ellie long enough to meet her eyes, but soon returned her full attention to Lance.

“I mean,” she said patiently, “that Ellie wasn’t feeling well earlier. I’d rather come with you two than risk letting an accident happen to her.”

When she said ‘accident’, there was no doubt what she meant exactly: she didn’t want what had happened to her to happen to Ellie, too. Judging from the way Lance paled, he understood that as well.

“I’m fine,” Ellie said again. “I swear.”

For all answer, Taylor rolled her eyes at her before confronting Lance.

“I thought you brought this for me to have. Are you going to take it back?”

She gave another light tug on the sword, and this time Lance let go. He still wasn’t done, however. The way he stood stiffly, with his shoulders hunched, screamed his unhappiness.

“You can’t come with us. Vampires can’t be Special Enforcers. That’s just not—”

“I didn’t say I want to be a SE again,” Taylor cut in, and now she was stepping into the low boots lined up next to the door. “I just want to keep my friend safe. I don’t believe there’s anything you can do to stop me.” She met his eyes again with something of a dark smile stretching her lips. “Nothing legal, at least.”

Lance shook his head, though to agree with her last words or disagree with the whole idea of her coming along, it was hard to tell. He didn’t argue with her any further, and instead looked at Ellie, saying in a clipped tone, “We’re losing time. Let’s go.”

With that, he released the door he was holding open. Before it could swing fully shut, Ellie could see him walk away in the hallway. Taylor caught it with the same hand that still held her sword by the scabbard. In the other, she’d picked up her jacket from a hook attached to the wall.

“You heard the man,” she said. “Let’s go.”

“I’m really fine,” Ellie told her. “You don’t have to—”

“But I want to,” Taylor cut in. “You weren’t fine at all when you came here. You’re still distracted. Do you think I could live with myself if something happened to you tonight? Do you think he could?”

With no way to argue the point, Ellie merely nodded once.

“I don’t think he’ll let you come with us, but it’s the same place as the other night.”

Another grim smile touched Taylor’s lips.

“I heard. I’ll see you there.”



*



When the documentary about demons came to an end, Evan yawned pointedly, hoping that James would take the hint and excuse himself to go to bed. No such luck. Then again, he hadn’t taken the hint earlier either that Evan would have preferred being alone after sharing more than he had been ready to.

Evan’s internship in child psychiatry had not been his favorite rotation, far from it, but he was fairly certain that this difficulty with picking up social cues could be laid at the feet of years spent in an abnormal social environment. A vampire clan, if Evan had understood the situation correctly, couldn’t possibly have helped a pre-adolescent child develop socially. It’d need to be addressed at some point, just like they’d addressed James’ physical health, but it would probably take a lot more time and effort than a basic medical check up.

But that would be for Lance to deal with, not Evan, he reminded himself. He was just a bystander here.

A bystander who barely even felt qualified to send the child to bed.

“It’s getting late,” he said with another forced yawn. “Lance told you not to wait up for him, right? Those patrols aren’t anything serious but they do take a long time.”

“But the next program looks interesting too,” James protested. “Don’t you want to know how Special Enforcers train?”

And indeed, on the television screen the preview for the next program promised to tell all about Special Enforcers and the Academies where they earned their badge.

“I live with two of them,” Evan replied dryly. “Believe me, I’ve heard more about SE Academies than I ever wanted to know.”

Which wasn’t entirely true. He used to enjoy listening to Ellie, Lance and Taylor reminisce about their training days. Inevitably, one of them would remember things differently from the other two, and a battle of words would ensue as they each claimed to have the best recollection. Those discussions didn’t happen anymore however, not since one member of the trio had left them.

As the new documentary started, his hand closed on the remote control but he didn’t press any button. Just a few minutes, he promised himself, and he’d tell James to go get some sleep.

Except… what would stop James from turning on the television in Lance’s living room? The question had brushed Evan’s mind earlier and it now returned, even stronger: was it the documentary James was interested in, or the company that came with it?

More interested in that question than in the television, he didn’t immediately notice that James was looking at him rather than at the set, and when he did he almost jumped out of his skin, startled.

“Aren’t you worried that your wife is a SE?” James asked out of the blue. “It’s a dangerous job.”

“A dangerous career,” Evan corrected him. “It’s more than a job for her. It’s the only thing she ever wanted to be. Who am I to try to convince her to do something else?”

“Her husband?”

For a second or two, Evan thought James was mocking him with that almost flippant reply, but his expression was too earnest for that.

“Being her husband doesn’t give me a right to choose for her,” he said, trying to keep his tone patient. “If someone told you anything different, they were wrong, plain and simple.”

“I didn’t say you should choose for her,” James replied, returning his gaze to the television. “I just thought…” He shrugged and finished in a mutter. “It doesn’t matter.”

Somehow, the way he held himself so rigidly suddenly hinted that, on the contrary, it mattered a lot, whatever it was. Before Evan could figure out what was going on, or whether to prod the issue and get an answer from James, the teen was sliding off the armchair he’d claimed as his own and already starting for the doorway.

“Good night,” he said without looking at Evan.

“Good night,” Evan echoed, but James was already gone, leaving him with the strange, unsettling feeling that he’d missed something.



*



Every time Lance’s hands tightened, the polyester-covered stirring wheel creaked as though threatening to split, causing him to release his tension—but it wasn’t long before he clenched up again. He couldn’t help himself. With his mind roiling, it was all he could do to remain silent. He didn’t trust himself to speak now and keep a civil tongue toward Ellie.

“God, let it out already,” she muttered with a heavy sigh. Without needing to look at her, he knew she had to be rolling her eyes. “Yes, I played hooky because I didn’t feel like working tonight. Yes I went to see Taylor. She’s still my friend, nothing will change that. Will you get over yourself already?”

Lance gritted his teeth and said nothing. Ahead of them, the light was about to change to red. Rather than slowing down, he floored the accelerator and the car jumped forward, crossing the empty intersection before the change. In his rearview mirror, he could see the car that had been following him—his car—stopping at the light. Taylor had always been a stickler for traffic laws.

“The hell?” Ellie said harshly. “Are you trying to get us killed before we even get to that vampire?”

Wasn’t it enough that you got Taylor killed?

He knew it was only his imagination adding in those last words. Ellie had never blamed him for what had happened. If anything, she blamed herself because she hadn’t been there. But just because she didn’t blame him, it didn’t mean she didn’t have cause. More than she even knew.

“Sorry,” he mumbled without taking his eyes off the road, and brought the car back to the speed limit.

“We’re going in to find what could potentially be a dangerous vampire,” Ellie added, her words calmer but still edged with razor-sharp steel. “Go in like this, and you might just as well paint a target on yourself. Do you want to tell me why you’re so upset? If it’s because I ditched you tonight, I apologize, but it’s not like you haven’t done the same in the past.”

Lance couldn’t deny that. And it hadn’t been only him that skipped patrol now and then when the night promised to be boring as hell. He and Taylor had sometimes skipped work together, not even bothering to give Ellie an excuse when they wanted to have a quiet evening together. And Ellie had done it too when she wanted to spend time with her family. There’d never been any explanation or apology to give. And there was no need for one now either.

“If you need a night off, I have no problem with that,” he said a little gruffly. “And you don’t need to make an excuse about feeling ill either.”

“OK. What else, then? Was it because I went to see Taylor? I told you she’s still the same person. Still my friend. I’m not going to apologize about visiting her.”

“I’m not asking you to,” he said even as he parked the car along the sidewalk in a deserted street.

He pulled out his phone and checked the map the dispatcher had forwarded to both Ellie and him. Now in close-up, it confirmed that they were indeed headed for the same building where they’d fought a few nights earlier. He was about to pocket the phone when Ellie covered his hand with hers and squeezed gently.

“Talk to me,” she demanded. “Or I swear to God I’m not letting you out of this car to get hurt because you’re too upset to think straight.”

Was he? He tried to consider his own mind while keeping his eyes on her hand, but his thoughts were slippery and refused to focus on what he already knew was bothering him.

She was wearing her wedding ring, e noticed, but not her engagement one. Instead, above the slim gold band, she wore a simple ring with a single red stone. Garnet, he knew, because it was the same birthstone as Taylor’s.

A sudden beam of light illuminated them from behind, accompanied by the rumbling of an engine before a car parked right behind them. The headlights stayed on for a moment longer, then flicked off. A door opened and Lance automatically looked up in the rearview mirror, but there was nothing to see. Of course not. Vampires didn’t cast reflections.

“She shouldn’t be here,” he murmured.

“Because vampires can’t be SEs?” Ellie challenged. “She’s not asking for a badge. She’s offering her help. There’s nothing in the law against that.”

“No.” Lance dropped his voice to a murmur. “Because the last time I took her on a job, I got her killed. If she gets hurt tonight—”

Three knocks on the passenger side window interrupted him. He and Ellie both looked to find a Taylor behind the glass.

“If you’re not coming,” she said with a thin, almost forced smile, “I’m going to take care of whatever it is by myself and send you a bill as independent contractor.”

Ellie squeezed Lance’s hand again before letting go to undo her seatbelt.

“Let’s go,” she said decisively. “No one’s getting hurt tonight other than some vampire if he’s idiotic enough to attack us.”

Lance’s hand was shaking when he put his cell phone away. He closed it in a fist and followed her out of the car. No one was getting hurt tonight, no. Not even if he had to die to make sure of that.

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