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Under my skin, p.12

Under My Skin, page 12


Under My Skin

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  I nodded.

  Flutie glanced up at the lights shining from my uncle’s windows.

  “Does Marcus know you’re out this late?” Flutie motioned toward Alec and Matt. “With them?”

  I shook my head.

  “Looks like he does now.” Flutie laughed.

  I turned. Marcus was striding down the back alley toward us in his slippers, stumbling over the length of his forest-green bathrobe.


  Smirking, Flutie folded his arms across his chest and rested them on the expanse of his belly, buttons straining on his standard issue blue shirt. I imagined that if he had a toothpick handy, he’d have been turning it over in his mouth. He seemed like that kind of cop, the rough around the edges, small town, vamp mind-controlled, wish I had a toothpick kind.

  I wished he had one, too, so I could stake him with it.

  “Officers, what’s going on over here?” Marcus began. “We heard the sirens and saw the lights. Then my daughter noticed that my niece wasn’t in her room.” He pulled his robe tighter around his waist, his face stricken. “We looked through the whole house, but she’s not inside. I thought maybe she came out to investigate the goings on here. She does rush into things. Have you seen her? She’s tall, with dark hair.” He glanced around at the faces watching him. “Looks rather like that girl…”

  I gave a halfhearted wave, and Marcus did a double take. “Eryn!” He started toward me. “Thank God you’re all right.”

  “Not so fast, McCain.” Flutie’s hand shot out. “We have a situation that needs clearing up, and it involves the girl.” His suspicious gaze sliced over to our silent group. “We got a call five minutes ago about a gunshot fired off further down this alley. We were scanning the area when we got another call from Mrs. Lurgen crying her head off about her dog, blood, and the Delacroix boys busting up her fence.” He glanced sideways at Marcus. “When Officer Hiels and I arrived at the scene,” he said, raising a brow, “your niece was with them.”

  Officer Hiels? Oh man, no wonder Brit pulled a Houdini. Her dad. Over Flutie’s head, Marcus leveled me with a you-have-lots-of-explaining-to-do-young-lady look. Yup, Brit had it right. I, however, had to face the country music. Marcus glanced at Alec’s clenched fists and Matt’s hounded expression.

  “Boys,” he said, giving them a nod. “How’s your mother doing? I haven’t seen her in town for ages.”

  Flutie dropped his arm and glared at Marcus. “This isn’t the time for polite conversation starters. Did you hear what I said? A gun has been fired, a dog has been—” He sliced his gaze to the other officer. “Hiels, get a statement from Mrs. Lurgen. Find out what she thinks happened to her dog.”

  By now a few curious neighbors had spilled into the alley and crowded around the police cars, trying to hear what we were discussing. They elbowed each other out of the way, jostling for the best view, staring at Alec and Matt with judging eyes. Only I could hear the slanderous words they were muttering to each other. They saw cop cars and the Delacroix boys, and that was all they needed to spark their fear of Marie Delacroix, her strange ways, and her equally strange boys.

  “I can tell you what happened to that poor dog,” I said loudly, ignoring Alec’s muffled curse as I shrugged off his restraining hand. “Everyone who lives around here knows Mrs. Lurgen has been neglecting that animal. She leaves it tethered to that tree 24/7, letting it bark its head off to get some attention.” I stared into the closed faces of the crowd, daring one of them to contradict me. “It was only a matter of time before a bear wandered by searching for an easy meal.”

  A small murmur of agreement rustled through the crowd. I waved a hand at the leaning fence. “Even a coyote could have knocked through that. It’s falling apart.”

  “That’s true,” a man called out in a grudging voice. “We had a bear in our yard last year. Jumped the fence to get to our crab apple tree.”

  I bit back a smile. “Wow. That’s interesting. Because the tree that poor neglected Cujo was tethered to?” I blinked innocently. “Overflowing with ripe crab apples.”

  Flutie sucked in a frustrated breath. “What about the gunfire? Explain that. Everyone knows the Delacroix are hepped up on some fantasy about tracking down creatures of the night.”

  Amusement flickered in Flutie’s eyes. He was enjoying the irony of this moment. The vamp-corrupted police officer pretending there was no such thing as a paranorm. Then Alec’s truck, which had been idling unsteadily for some time, let out a belch of backfire—sharp as a gunshot—and died.

  The crowd jumped. Then uneasy laughter started.

  “There’s your gunfire, Officer,” Alec spoke for the first time since the cops had arrived. He jabbed his brother with an elbow. “Matt’s been tinkering with her, but she still gives us trouble now and then. I do apologize if the noise startled anyone.”

  Marcus shouldered past Flutie, but he slipped on the frosty concrete. His arms shot out as he regained his balance, catching Flutie in his bowl-full-of-jelly gut.

  The cop let out a whoosh of air.

  “Come on, Eryn.” Marcus gestured toward home. “Let’s get inside. It’s freezing out here.” He glared at Flutie who rubbed his large belly, practically pouting. “Unless you’re going to waste these taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars and take these kids in for questioning?”

  Flutie glanced at the crowd. Officer Hiels looked like he wanted to do more than question Alec and Matt—like he wanted to string them up in the crab apple tree. But the residents of Cowley Heights were an influential bunch, full of money, and Flutie wouldn’t want to upset the town’s cash cow.

  He waved Hiels back to his cruiser. “Go on back to bed, folks. Nothing to see here. A bear mauling.” He saluted the crowd. “You keep your pets inside until we trap that beast, you hear?”

  Marcus grabbed my elbow and guided me toward the “safety” of his house, but as I went, the heat of Alec’s gaze warmed my back and the evil stench of vampire emanated from Flutie’s skin.


  After a restless night fighting off dreams where I became the beast and ran wild with a pack of wolves through Redgrave Mall, I woke to twanging vocals.

  “I gave her my horse and she gave me a divorce…”

  Country music sobbed from Paige’s clock radio in the room next to mine. We shared a wall, and Paige had her radio turned up so loud it sounded like it was under my pillow. I couldn’t escape it. The region’s only radio station was “Utterly Country,” whose mascot was a grotesque play on words, a heifer with a distended pink udder. The stickers were everywhere.

  I covered my ears and writhed on the bed until Paige finally gave the offensive machine a solid whack. Ah, silence. I kicked off the bed sheets, yawned, stretched, and fell back to sleep, only to waken again a few minutes later to the whizzing of Paige’s hair dryer. She was diffuser-attachment crazy, determined to bring forth a perfect spiral from each strand of her naturally curly hair. It would be at least an hour before I could take my turn. I was long past expecting Paige to have consideration for the other members of the household.

  An eternity later, Paige stomped down the stairs, and I rushed off to shower. Back in my room I applied a smattering of makeup and pulled my hair into a messy bun. In jeans and a wooly sweater, I made for the kitchen in less than fifteen minutes. Girly-girls like Paige wasted so much time.

  Marcus sat at the table, his face zombie blank, his gaze fixated on the small flatscreen TV on the maplewood island. His graying brown hair stuck out in all directions. Bedhead—not out of a jar, but the real thing—and he had on yesterday’s clothes. His once properly ironed white dress shirt had fanlike wrinkles, and grease stains blotched the fabric from our garage mishap.

  “Hey, you alive?” I frowned at him. He really looked weirded out. “I thought only anxiety-riddled high school kids had that haggard look down to a science.” I opened the fridge and grabbed a glass pitcher of orange juice.

  “Mr. Dacopha, one of the ranchers, called me last night af
ter all the excitement settled down,” Marcus said in a toneless voice, not even looking in my direction. “His son has been missing for days. The chief of police called a press conference this morning and made a plea to the public, asking for anyone with information to contact the station.”

  “Mr. Dacopha is one of your rancher clients? The ones Harbinger is trying to scare off their land?”

  Marcus nodded. Had Brit mentioned the name Dacopha when she’d showed me the picture of the hockey team at school? What if Logan and Wade were branching out? Recruiting their werewolf army corps from outside Wade’s hockey team? Or even worse—turning the ranchers’ own kids into beasts to scare their parents off their land?

  I took a long swig of juice and then clunked the pitcher back down on the rack. The fridge door drifted shut. Plopping down onto one of the island stools, I stared at the TV along with Marcus, but my racing thoughts made it difficult to hear what was said.

  As if in a similar state, Marcus lifted the remote and upped the volume. The news camera had focused on the chief. Wade’s father—no, his sire. It weirded me out to see Logan in a twenty-first-century cop uniform, rather than the fedora, long black coat, and shimmering gold badge from my dust bowl dream. But there was no mistaking the vamp who’d turned Wade and forced him to feed off his own mother.

  “Our citizens deserve to live their lives in peace,” Logan told Mina Clark, the station’s cute, perky investigative reporter. Only she didn’t look like she was doing much investigating, more like a lot of drooling over Logan. “To settle in Redgrave and raise their children, knowing our town is free of violence. When I get calls from parents concerned for their missing children, I get angry. And that’s a good thing, because with the help of my entire police force, I’ll bring this town under control.” His piercing grey eyes seemed to zero in on me. I squirmed at the impact, the menace in that freaky gaze.

  Wasn’t it obvious he wasn’t human? Couldn’t viewers see his plastic-y looking skin, the way his lips twisted in an evil-oozing smile for the flashing cameras at the press conference? He’d bring the town under control all right—his control.

  Wade’s mother’s face flashed into my mind, along with her plea, You’re the only one who can help him… How did Redgrave’s simple townsfolk stand a chance against Logan, when a witch who could pull me across time thought I was her only hope?

  Speaking of witches, Paige swept into the kitchen, a sour expression on her face as if she’d bitten into her own brand of poisoned apple.

  “Your wife is smoking crack if she thinks I’m going to call you guys every two seconds to let you know I’m alive,” she spat at her dad.

  I grimaced. Too bad Paige’s observational skills were only fit for clothing brand names and runway lipstick shades. Otherwise she’d have taken one look at Marcus’s rumpled appearance and shell-shocked expression and realized he wasn’t in the mood for a bit of diva-child rebellion.

  “Excuse me?” Marcus shoved back his chair and stood in wrinkled glory. “If I ever hear you speaking about your mother in that tone again, you’ll be grounded until the day you graduate.” He sniffled, then rubbed at his reddened eyes. “Do I make myself clear?”

  Paige’s mouth goldfished open and closed for a few seconds, then she sputtered, “Well, what do you expect? Mother tells me I have to check in before I head home from school, when I get home, and every hour, on the hour, when I’m out with friends.” She threw her hands up, her lavish curls bouncing in angry protest. “And you call that living?”

  “I call that survival.” Marcus held up his hand, let out a powerful sneeze, and then gestured to the TV. “Watch this, and you’ll see why your mother’s so concerned.” He sat back down with a thunk.

  “Hey, that’s Wade’s dad.” Paige stared at the screen. She, too, plopped down at the table. “What’s going on?”

  Marcus shushed her with a sharp hiss and grabbed a tissue from the box he’d started carrying around the house. He spared my hair a dark glance as he blew his nose.

  Feeling even more like an outsider, I retreated a few steps to give him some non-doggy-Eryn breathing room and leaned back against the sink.

  “As for the ranchers on the outskirts of town,” Logan said, his fake smile taking up half his face, “I aim to help with their plight. Someone’s been tampering with their crops, their livestock.” He shook his head sadly. “We’re doing everything we can to find the perpetrators.”

  For a second the camera focused on Mina Clark’s flushed face. Her glazed eyes fixed on Logan like she was hanging on his every word. And she probably was. The vamp thrall practically emanated from Logan in waves as he charmed the gathered press.

  “But the ranchers have made themselves easy pickings for the money grabbers in this town,” he said. “They're grasping at straws, victims of fear. Hiring lawyers, protesting on private property, or taking vigilante stances won’t help the situation.” Logan gave the reporter a rapier grin. “Let’s leave the law enforcement to the police, where it belongs, and let my men do their job. We know how to keep you safe. Count on it.”

  The blonde reporter spun to face the camera, her forehead beaded with sweat. “And there you have it, folks,” she said, breathless. “The latest from Redgrave’s only hope of solving the rash of disappearing children and heinous pet slayings, Police Chief Logan Gervais.”

  With a sound of disgust, Marcus turned off the TV. “Redgrave’s only hope,” he repeated. “Now, there’s a scary thought.”

  Logan’s Jedi mind tricks deflected off Marcus, which meant his soul was pure, not easily swayed by the vampire’s darkness.

  Unsurprisingly, his daughter was a different story.

  Paige stared at the blackening TV screen and looked forlorn as Logan’s face disappeared. At her father’s words, she jumped up from the table. “Why do you always do that? Every time someone says anything good about Wade or his father, you try to bring them down.” She flipped open a cupboard and slapped a bag of bagels on the counter. “Can’t you see he’s changing things for us, making Redgrave the best place to live in the whole world?”

  I rolled my eyes at her dreamy expression. She sounded like she was talking about a beloved cult leader. Creepy. “I get the lawyer comments, thanks to your protest and the very friendly Officer Flutie,” I said, before Paige could continue, “but what did Logan mean by vigilantes?”

  Marcus shifted in his chair. “Oh, one of the town’s founding families hated the Gervaises on sight. As soon as he took over as chief of police, Marie Delacroix started showing up at town meetings to warn people about him. Said she’d had a vision.”

  Her face in the fridge, Paige snorted.

  “A vision?” I prompted, hoping to find out more about the woman who’d raised her sons to be hunters like their father, despite knowing the dangers they’d face.

  “You have to know Marie,” Marcus said, clearly at a loss. “She’s different. She graduated a few years before we hit high school, but even then there were rumors. Some said she could see ghosts; others said she could tell the future. Then she married an out-of-towner and they pretty much stayed on their ranch.” He quirked a brow. “You were with her sons last night after you went out to investigate the alleged shotgun sound. Have you met them before?”

  I swallowed hard. What should I tell Marcus about Alec and Matt? I shot Paige a quick look. She leaned her elbows on the island countertop, her chin propped in her hands, a smirk on her face and waited for my response as well. What had she seen between me and Alec last night?

  I answered with a casual shrug, “Yeah, I’ve seen them around.”

  Marcus held my gaze for a moment before continuing. “Well, the town’s blamed the Delacroix family for years. For everything from droughts in the summer to rainy springs drowning their crops. Now the police are in on it, saying the Delacroix are responsible for the attacks, acting as vigilantes against Harbinger.” He caught the bagel Paige tossed to him and began to slice it. “It’s common knowledge the Delacroix don
t want the town to expand, that they’re resistant to increasing the town’s population. But who could accuse that family of attacking house pets or kidnapping children to make their point? It’s ludicrous.”

  It certainly was.

  Alec’s family had been taking the blame for all the freaky stuff going on in Redgrave. Sure the Delacroix were hunters and had thick I’m-in-the-paranormal-know skin, but were they ready for an old-fashioned witch hunt? With the police force pointing its corrupt, black-nailed vamp fingers in their direction?

  “Morning.” Breezing into the kitchen, Sammi gave everyone a brilliant smile. She poured herself some coffee while killing looks from Paige glanced off her as if she was wearing steel armor instead of a pastel yellow sweater with dancing white lambs. She eyed the bag of bagels and the large serrated bread knife resting beside it. It sat closer to me, but she shot me a quick glance and snatched the knife before I could hand it to her.

  “I’ll get breakfast started.” She deftly halved a bagel and tossed it into the toaster. “You want one, Eryn?”

  Every time I got within reach of a knife—Sammi pulled this stuff, with the frantic look, then the tearing it away from my immediate range. “Yeah, thanks, but I can handle sharp instruments without the urge to slice and dice, Sammi.”

  The McCains were well informed on my previous cutting obsession, thanks to the shrink reports they’d asked for when I’d moved to Redgrave. But Sammi was the worst at dealing with it, always hiding cutlery in case I had a setback. Her übervigilance made my nerves fizzle like a mouthful of Pop Rocks.

  She didn’t respond to the sarcasm in my voice, which didn’t surprise me. Sammi tended to ignore outbursts. She did work with five-year-olds all day. I watched her wipe down the blade and carefully return it to the wooden knife rack.

  “You know, I shave my legs with a razor every morning. Plenty of opportunity there.” I forced a laugh when she cringed at my sharp tone.

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