“Are you warm enough?” Jason questioned, glancing over his shoulder at Nix to catch her nod.
I put on my seatbelt as we cruised down the narrow country road, snug in the front seat while Jason drove. He’d put on the heat full blast for Nix, considerate even of people he didn’t like. That was just Jason though, nicer than most humans, which was rare for a vampire.
Jason turned the car off the dirt road and onto a paved one, leading toward the nearest highway. Nix had requested we take her to the shopping district of Shelby, a good thirty minutes away. Thirty minutes in the car with Jason . . . but at least we weren’t alone.
Of course, not being alone also meant we couldn’t discuss everything Devin had told me. Jason didn’t keep in touch with any vampires that I knew of, but he was a bounty hunter by trade, and tended to be just as good at tracking information as he was people.
He caught my eye as he drove, clearly wanting to speak, but not going through with it.
I waited a few more minutes in discomfort, then blurted, “So, where are you living these days?”
“I’m staying at Devin’s until I find a place,” he explained, seeming relieved I’d spoken first. “Though he’s made it clear I’m welcome to stay there long term.”
“Living with Devin,” I mused. “I think it would take me about three days until I snapped and and threw a fireball at him.”
Jason chuckled. “You love Devin far too much for that.”
I rolled my eyes, but couldn’t argue. Devin was a pain in the ass, but when my dad had died, he’d been the friend who truly understood how I’d felt. He’d given me the advice I’d needed to move on.
He glanced at me again, while Nix remained silent in the back seat. “How are you liking living full time in the underground?” he questioned. “Lucy told me about the new Demon Code. That must be difficult.”
I nodded. “It is, and it isn’t. Only being able to come up once a week helps me ignore the fact that I don’t really belong up here anymore.”
I whipped my head around to glare at her. “Do you have something to say?”
She smirked. “It’s just funny to hear you imply you actually belong down there. You’re still half human. You won’t ever really belong anywhere, just like me.”
I turned forward in my seat, hating that she was right.
“None of us really belong,” Jason consoled. “The human parts of us will never quite be human enough.”
“Ain’t it the truth,” I muttered, my mood souring further.
I wasn’t quite human enough for my mom either. She had tried for a while, but we’d simply grown apart. It was hard to maintain a relationship when discussing any aspect of your life gave the other person panic attacks. I couldn’t really blame her. She’d wanted me to go to college, get married, have babies, and everything else normal girls were expected to do. Instead I’d been so overwhelmed by the demon half of my life that I’d dropped out of high school, and eventually fled to the underground.
Jason took another turn, and we exited onto the highway.
No longer in the mood for conversation, I turned up the radio. Jason caught my eye a few more times as we drove, but that was it. We rode all the way to the city in silence.
Once we arrived, Jason parked in one of the smaller lots, leaving the car idling while Nix and I stepped out. I closed the door behind me, then met Nix’s waiting gaze. “Well, I suppose this is goodbye.”
She scoffed, suddenly angry. “So you’re not even going to warn me?”
“The war that’s about to happen?” she asked sarcastically.
“How did you . . . ” I began, then shook my head. Nix was a pretty girl, and too clever for her own good. She’d probably made herself seem harmless to manipulate an answer out of Max.
“Never mind,” I continued. “You’re going into hiding. You’ll probably be safer than any of us.”
She rolled her eyes. “True, but still, I’ll keep my ear to the ground. If I learn anything, I might even find you and let you know.”
“Thanks for the warning,” I muttered.
Either not catching the insult, or not caring, she turned and walked away. Ever a mystery, was our Nix.
I turned back to the car and opened the door to peek in at Jason. “Thanks for the ride. I guess I’ll just take off for the underground from here.”
“Coffee first?” he asked.
I stared at him for several seconds, not having expected the offer. “Um, sure,” I answered. “I would like to hear your whole take on the werewolf/vampire war.”
He smiled, then shut off the ignition and exited the car, locking it with the clicker on his keychain. He met me on the other side, then we walked together toward the sidewalk as I debated all of the things I wanted to say to him, but there were just too many subjects to choose from. There was no way to fit them all into the time it took to drink a single cup of coffee. At the rate my mind was going, we’d need five or six cups at least.
It wouldn’t be the first time I’d had that many cups while pulling an all-nighter, many of which I’d pulled with Jason . . . and with Chase. Even after all these years, it somehow felt like nothing had changed. I was still the confused, headstrong girl who had absolutely no idea what was good for her . . . or for anyone else.
It didn’t take long to find an open coffee shop. The shopping district is full of them. Just about every block had at least one bookstore, two coffee shops, and three bars. I wasn’t sure how they all stayed open despite the competition, but they somehow managed.
Jason held open the clear glass door for me to walk inside, and instantly my nerves eased with the scent of fresh brewed coffee. A few other patrons sat at the high top tables, but were spread out enough that we’d have ample privacy.
We went up to the counter and ordered, coconut milk latte for me, and straight black coffee for Jason. We waited for our drinks, then wordlessly carried them to the far corner table near the dramatic black gauze curtains obscuring the view of the street.
We both sat, then proceeded to sip our coffees in awkward silence. It wasn’t necessarily awkward because of how we’d left things, but because we’d just gone such a long period of time without speaking. It felt strange. I’d known him since I was sixteen. He’d been there when I’d first found out I was a demon, and when I’d taken over the werewolf pack. He’d even been there for me after my dad died, even though we were no longer together. We’d been through so much together, and now he felt like a stranger, yet also not. He was still just . . . Jason.
He cleared his throat. “So I assume Devin informed you of the possibility of war, and of the demons’ role in it?”
I nodded. “You know I’ll always stand with you guys, not the demons.”
He frowned. “That might not be wise. You’re part of their community now. You should play by their rules.”
I smirked. “You know I’m not any good at playing by the rules.”
He chuckled, then took a sip of his coffee, seeming to relax. “Yes, I’m well aware of that fact.”
I smiled, suddenly glad we’d decided to have coffee. I had few friends these days besides the wolves, Dory, and my human friend Allison. It was nice to know that perhaps I still had Jason too.
“So I have something to tell you,” I admitted, “and I maybe need to ask for your help.”
He nodded for me to go on. “Anything.”
I took a deep breath. At one time, Chase was a sore subject, considering I’d fallen in love with him while I was still dating Jason, but he and Chase had still been friends, if only because of me.
“Sam was murdered,” I explained for what felt like the millionth time, “and Chase is being framed for the murder. I’m looking into it, but it would be nice if you could keep an ear out for any information up here. Sam had many dealings with other supernaturals.”
He blinked at me in shock for a moment, then nodded. “Of course I’ll do anything I can. Chase and I have had our differences, but he’s no murderer.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. “My thoughts exactly.”
Jason watched me for a moment with a thoughtful expression, then asked. “So you have no idea who it is? You’d think since you’re living with Chase, you’d have a few leads.”
Now it was my turn to blink in shock. I knew he’d only come back to town recently, but I was still surprised. “Seriously? No one told you?”
He tilted his head, absentmindedly running his finger around the rim of his mug. “Told me what?”
Oh boy. I’d just assumed Lucy would have let the news slip, or Max, but of course they would leave it to me. “Chase and I broke up,” I admitted. “He was getting into trouble with Sam. I tried to convince him to stop. He moved out ten months ago.”
An unreadable mixture of emotions crossed Jason’s face before he shook his head. “Well, I feel like a fool.”
I laughed. “It’s okay, I feel that way most every day.”
He chuckled, and suddenly we slipped right back into the way things used to be. “I guess I really did miss a lot while I was in Utah. So tell me more about what’s going on with Chase. I assume him being found guilty by the Demon Council is something we’d definitely like to avoid.”
I nodded. “His trial is in two weeks. If we don’t find the real murderer, Chase will be put to death. Not that I’m going to let that happen regardless. If it comes to it, he’ll just have to go on the run.”
“I can help with that,” Jason offered. “And I’m sure Abel will help too. Maybe he can set him up with one of the more remote packs.”
I sipped my coffee, then set my mug down, feeling queasy at the thought of Chase having to stay on the run forever. He was from a weaker bloodline than me, so we didn’t know if he’d end up immortal, but most of the Council were. They would hunt him for at least his entire lifetime.
I let out a slow exhale. “Let’s just focus on getting him off the hook for now. Nix gave me a tip to start with, so I’m going to check it out first thing tomorrow morning.”
He raised an eyebrow at me. “And you trust Nix’s tip?”
I nodded. “Oddly, yes. She and I have had our conflicts, but I think she’s finally getting over it. She came to me for help today. She was working with Sam on getting her a new identity so she can stay away from the Council.”
“Are we sure she didn’t kill Sam?”
I laughed. “I think so. She seemed genuinely surprised when she heard he was dead. She thought he’d just taken off with her money.”
“If you say so,” he replied. “I’ll make some calls and see if I can get any information that might be helpful. Where is this tip that Nix mentioned?”
“In the underground,” I explained. “Apparently Sam had a secret hideout that Chase didn’t know about.”
He reached across the table and took my hand. “I know you’ve never listened to me when I say this, but please, be careful. I’m sure Sam wasn’t an easy demon to kill. You might be up against something extremely powerful.”
I froze. I hadn’t thought about that. Sam’s power had been communication with the dead. He could summon ghosts to do his bidding, and they usually warned him if danger was approaching, and could transport him to different places. It made him difficult to find, and even harder to capture.
“I’ll be careful,” I assured.
His hand lingered atop mine for a moment before he pulled away.
Suddenly feeling uncomfortable again, I withdrew my phone from my pants’ pocket to check the time. “Eesh, I better get back to Dory.” I looked up to meet Jason’s waiting gaze.
“Call me tomorrow after you check out the location?” he asked.
“Sure,” I agreed with a smile. “Same number?”
He nodded. “And you?”
With both stared at each other, then I stood to leave.
He stood with me. “I’m not sure how our goodbyes are supposed to go now.” He stuck out his hand. “Hand shake?”
I took his hand and gave it a hearty shake, though I had been thinking a hug. Still, I shrugged it off. Didn’t want to make things any more awkward than they needed to be.
“I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” I assured. “I want more info on the war stuff too.”
He nodded, then turned as I walked around him toward the door.
I gave him a final wave, then exited. The icy air outside hit my hot cheeks, making me feel clammy. I resisted the urge to look back through the windows at him. I had a war and a murder case to focus on. I needed to keep my wits about me.
Just as I was nearly past the coffee shop I glanced at the final window to see Jason still watching me. I quickly averted my gaze and hurried toward the nearest alleyway where I could travel without any humans seeing me.
I really hadn’t thought my life could get any more complicated than it already was, but as usual, I was wrong.
Sorry I was a little late this week! Stay tuned for Chapter Five next Sunday!