Authors: Audrey Claire
Tags: #Mystery: Paranormal - North Carolina
“It is unlikely,” Ian said. “For one, I would sense another vampire if one entered Summit’s Edge, and there are few other types of creatures who could so completely wipe a mind that I could not pull the memories from him.”
I shifted where I stood and studied the handsome man in front of me. Ian spoke such facts about himself with ease. Well, the things he
to share with me. Otherwise, if I asked a question about him, he clamed up as if I had never spoken. I tended to get the hint in those instances.
“You can sense other vampires?” My chest felt tight.
“There are none in Summit’s Edge. They sense my presence as much as I sense theirs.”
My eyes widened. “Are you saying you all don’t like living together?”
“Oh.” I set plates on the table and dished food onto them for each of us. After that I poured myself a cup of tea, the easiest for me to pretend to drink, milk for Jake, and wine for Ian, which he did consume. “What about a human?”
“Luis could have been hypnotized.”
Ian’s mouth quirked up on one side and then straightened as if he hid a smile. “He was not hypnotized.”
“How do you know? He could—”
No one called me Liberty except Ian, and I couldn’t break him of the habit for the life of me. Ian had his habits, and he did not take kindly to others disturbing them. So why did he accept me, and by extension Jake? I had asked him, but he only admitted to having drunk my blood before I lost my body, and he did not like to switch sources. I thought Ian hoped I would find myself soon so he could make me his juice box again. I had no intention of letting that happen.
“A human cannot keep me from the information I desire.”
We sat down to eat, and when we were done, I dumped a napkin full of food into the trash. Tonight, I hadn’t had to make much effort to hide my inability to eat because Jake woofed down his meal and excused himself from the table. While I cleaned the kitchen, Ian and Jake talked books in Ian’s library room. When I picked up the scorched pot, Ian appeared at my side as if he sensed what I was doing. He made short work of the scrubbing, and then the three of us spent an enjoyable evening playing games and reading.
All too soon, it was time to put Jake to bed. I took him home and did so. Monica sat before the TV in my living room, and I leaned over to give her a hug and kiss.
“Eek, that’s weird,” she exclaimed.
She twisted to face me. “Your kiss. It always feels like… I don’t know.”
“Am I creepy?”
“No, of course not!”
I didn’t believe her, but my mind was on other things. “Okay, well us creeps are going for an evening stroll.”
Monica smirked. “Mm-hmm.”
“It’s not like that, Monica.”
“I didn’t say anything.”
I waved and stepped into the hall of my home. As soon as I did, I winked out and passed through my front door. Ian timed his exit from his own house, and I floated along beside him as he headed down the street. This was another plus to being with him. Ian could either sense my location or see me even when I was invisible. The knowledge both encouraged and discouraged me. No matter what happened, if I lost Monica and Jake, and I stopped being able to communicate with them, there was always Ian. On the other hand, I could never escape him. Ian had the power to banish me into a terrible place I could not return from, and I couldn’t forget that fact.
“Aren’t you worried people will think you’re talking to yourself?” I asked him.
He held himself straight, almost regal. His eyes were hard to read, but I knew many thoughts passed through his mind. Ian was also aware of every sound and every person who came into our vicinity. I knew that from similar nights strolling with him and observing him at home. While he was still an enigma to me, I was slowly learning more about him. Then again, I had the feeling I might never fully understand him no matter how much time passed.
“I do not care what others think of me.”
“Have you ever?” I thought of the past, when he was alive. Everyone had doubts and insecurities, didn’t they? Was Ian like he is now back then, was his personality radically different? I started speculating on the possibilities when he stopped walking. I floated just past him before I realized and turned back.
“Liberty, show yourself,” he ordered.
I frowned, confused. “But we—”
“Do it now.”
I materialized ahead of him on the park trail, and the next instant we were not alone. Heels clicked on the cement pathway, and I spun around to see who it was. I had been so engrossed in thinking of Ian’s past, I hadn’t heard Isabelle’s approach. The chocolate gaze so like Clark’s, focused on me, the depths full of accusation. I bristled, resenting the implication that I was somehow doing something wrong walking with Ian.
“Isabelle, hello,” I said. My voice came out too high and slightly squeaky, giving the impression of guilt despite my mental assertion to the contrary. “Good to see you. This is my friend, Ian McClain. Have you two met?”
Now I rambled, and the emphasis on the word
made me grind my teeth, both in frustration and to stem the flow of words.
“I hadn’t,” she said. The coolness in Clark’s sister’s tone said she didn’t care to meet either one of us. “Isabelle Givens.”
Neither Ian nor Isabelle reached for each other’s hand to shake, and Ian hadn’t spoken a word in greeting. He might have offered her a slight nod, but I wasn’t sure. After a few more awkward moments of silence, I considered the absurdity of the situation. Here I was trying to introduce Isabelle, the woman who had recently told her brother he should not bother with a woman like me as if I was beneath him. For Ian’s part, he lived life as a hermit, socializing only with me and Jake, and that only lately.
should have offered a nod and a polite smile and let Isabelle continue on her way.
As I thought of what to say, Ian shifted beside me, and Isabelle seemed to take it as her excuse to leave. She uttered good night and moved on down the path, disappearing into the darkness. At the back of my mind, I thought Isabelle hadn’t been heading toward the home she shared with Clark but toward the center of town. I knew where Clark’s house lay because I had driven past it many times, and because I had gone there the night I possessed Clark. Thoughts of Isabelle and her brother brought me back to considering Clark’s situation. Ian and I began walking again, and when he gave me the go ahead, I faded from view.
“Is he still dying, Ian? Could anything have changed?” I realized I hadn’t indicated whom I referred to, but Ian picked up on it anyway. After all, whom else had I cursed to death but Clark?
I sighed, my heart plummeting
“It is inevitable, but you can be encouraged that it is not for at least two years.”
“He’s thirty, Ian. That’s not encouraging. Can anything be done to stop it?”
Ian stopped walking and faced me. “I have no authority over death.”
“That’s interesting coming from you!”
Frustrated, I tried to think of some other topic for discussion, but nothing unrelated came to mind. I recalled how it always seemed that Ian could read my thoughts. He said he couldn’t, but I didn’t believe him. I suspected Ian would lie when it suited him. As he had said, his moral code did not match a human one, and he saw no reason for it to. I had never seen Ian drink blood, but I believed him when he said he was a vampire. To see and feel his power when he controlled Luis Riley and forced him to confess, as well as the time he wiped both Luis and Clark’s memories, I did not doubt Ian’s ability. I had seen him move beyond what the human eye could detect. I had even seen how he cast a spell that repelled me from his person and from his house. He was beyond anything or anyone I had ever dealt with, and for now, he was on my side.
Ian began walking again, and I rushed to stay close. “Luis Riley does not know where your body is. He did not know before coming to your house that it was missing.”
“Then that leaves us at a dead end.”
“Yes,” he agreed, “I am afraid it does.”
“Mom, are we going to be late? Where are you?”
I darted through several walls to reach the bathroom. Then I stepped into the hall fully visible. Sometimes I lost track of time. I had no need to sleep, but with hours to kill as Jake rested and Monica slept at her own house, I sometimes wandered mentally. Ian spent nights awake, but I didn’t want to leave Jake alone in my house to talk with Ian. Besides, Ian enjoyed reading when he wasn’t hunting his next meal. Maybe I needed a hobby.
“I’m here, Jake. Did you see the clothes I set out?” I walked into my room behind my son as he stood looking around it. He started and turned.
“You always do that, Mom. It’s not funny.”
I laughed and ruffled his hair. “Go brush your teeth. Breakfast will be on the table by the time you’re dressed.”
I felt proud of myself. No only could I make sure Jake was ready in the morning, I could cook him breakfast and take him to school. Okay, I couldn’t drive a car. Monica still needed to go with us for that, but I could walk Jake into the school if I was careful. We were almost normal.
Jake hesitated. I touched his hair again, but I made sure not to brush his skin too often. Like Monica had said, I gave off a different feel than I used to. Hugging Jake around a jacket or shirt seemed fine. The energy of a ghostly touch to bare skin was trickier, and so far Jake hadn’t commented, but I saw the speculation in his gaze. I had as naturally as possible moved my once a day kiss just before we left for school to the top of his head. That had helped.
“Can you not walk me into school?”
All thoughts of kisses left my mind. “Why?”
Jake shuffled his feet and stared at the floor. For a seven-year-old, he was small built and rather thin. I tried feeding him more, but it meant nothing. Maybe when he reached puberty, he would spring up and fill out some.
“I’m getting too big. My friends think I’m a baby because my mom walks me inside the building.” Jake’s face flamed, and I wanted to cry. Here was another change. He had already limited me to kisses and hugs in private. Then again to once just before school. Why did they have to grow up so fast?
“I see nothing wrong with—”
I cut off a groan. “How about we see how it goes today? I just want to know you’re safe, Jake.”
“I’m not going to get lost from the car to my class,” he reasoned. “Plus, nothing ever happens in Summit’s Edge. You always say it’s the best place to live.”
He had me there. “Fine, okay. We’ll test it out.”
“Yay, thanks, Mom.” He scampered off to finish getting ready for school, and I indulged in a small pity party before making breakfast. Soon I had Jake tucked into the car, and Monica in the driver’s seat.
“Morning, pipsqueak,” Monica said and stole a kiss from Jake.
“Morning, Aunt Monica. Mom, why don’t you drive anymore?”
“What are you trying to say?” Monica teased. “Am I navel lint?” She tried grabbing for Jake, but he laughed and twisted away in the back seat. Monica waggled a finger at him with a promise to kiss him in front of his friends. Jake looked horrified, and I laughed.
“You know my car broke down,” I said in answer to his question, “and I thought it made more sense to just sell it than to get it fixed. Besides, Aunt Monica has been a great help in looking out for us, hasn’t she?”
Jake agreed, and soon Monica pulled up to the school. Jake strode into the building while I watched anxiously.
“What, you’re not going in with him?” Monica’s eyes were wide. “You practiced not losing your concentration with the screaming children jostling about.”
“I know, but Jake says his friends think he’s a baby because I walk in with him. I can’t seem to win. Each day he’s more independent.”
Monica hugged me. “Aw, don’t worry. Soon he’ll be a grown man with babies of his own for you to spoil.”
I shrieked. “Don’t talk like that. I want Jake as my baby a little longer.”
Monica laughed. “So do I. We have a few more years. Let’s enjoy every moment before he becomes a know-it-all teenager who is embarrassed by your existence.”
“Way to cheer me up.” I did feel better for some reason. It helped knowing Jake still had some years of innocence left. I had Monica drop me off near the police station as she headed to her part-time position at the library. I couldn’t wait for Clark to call me. I wanted to know now what he had found out about Sadie.
When I strode up to the police station, I figured out things weren’t going Clark’s way. His bellow reached me before I crossed the threshold, and his officers scrambled to get out of his way. The new dispatcher, an older man named Hal, seemed ready to throw his headphones down and escape. I silently cheered for him when he braved another phone call instead.
“Maybe I should come back another time,” I said, my voice lowered so Clark couldn’t hear me from his office.
One of the officers rushed over. “No way. You’re the only one that can get him to stop yelling, Libby. Go in there, I beg you.”
I felt like he threw me to the wolves, but my curiosity didn’t allow me to leave without getting the latest update. I squared my shoulders, offered the harried officers a thumbs up, and knocked on Clark’s door.
“What?” came the roar, and I jumped.
“Clark? It’s me, Libby.”
He wrenched the door open, and I stepped back. No anger distorted his handsome face, but I did see annoyance. He moved aside to let me in, and I walked past him. Once I’d taken a seat, Clark dropped into his own behind his desk. He shoved hands through his hair, leaving it in disordered clumps.
“No murders in fifty years, and two in less than a month.”
My mouth fell open. “W-What?”
His gaze focused on me. “Sadie Barnett was murdered.”
“How do you know?”
He glared at me as if I were stupid. Clark knew his job. He had gone to college for criminal psychology. His position as chief of police hadn’t been handed to him just because no one else was qualified for the job. I had seen Clark in action, and I admired his astuteness.