Several small tables and chairs surrounded it. There were no people, though, and come to think of it, I hadn’t even seen a car anywhere on the property.
Did they use horses around here to travel?
The place was like a creepy ghost town. All it needed was a tumbleweed blowing across the paved square. I caught the scent of water and figured there was a lake somewhere nearby, but there were no sounds of engines, laughter, or anything.
Walking past the pavilion and all its empty chairs, I shivered in spite of the warmth and wrapped my arms around my waist.
Could Hunter and I be the only ones here? Really having no idea if that was the case, I turned around.
There was a lodge of sorts, a long, one-story, ranch-style building with a rustic, camplike feel to it.
Beside it was a huge, beautiful gazebo.
I’d always had a thing for architecture, especially anything that was handcrafted.
My appreciation came from the fact that I didn’t have an artistic bone in my body while my mom had a knack for it.
Drawn to it, I noticed that the detail put into the gazebo was magnificent.
The scrolling artwork was a series of twisted knots engraved into the wood, and the design covered each inch of panel and railing and continued inside. Never once was there a break in the knots as they twisted around the spokes and climbed the interior ceiling like vines.
The pattern reminded me of one large, entwined Celtic knot.
Running my fingers over the carved loops, I noticed that in the center of every loop was another design: a small circle with four knobs inside it and each knob connected by a thin line.
To capture such minuscule detail was amazing, and the ability to craft something so intricate was truly awe-inspiring. The amount of time invested in this was astonishing.
Moving to the center of the gazebo, I tried to find where the design started, but everything was so seamless. There was no beginning or end.
Out of the corner of my eyes, I caught sight of the door to the lodge open and a man stepped out. So there were people here.
The man was tall, probably around Hunter’s height. His hair was dark and cut close to the skull.
His face was all sharp angles, skin the same alabaster as Hunter’s.
Same as Hunter’s.
The realization that he could be like Hunter, as in alien, forced me to take a step back, hoping that the ever- increasing night would shield me.
Dressed casually in worn jeans and a shirt, he caught the door with one hand, holding it open.
Behind him, a tall, slender woman stepped out, grinning up at him. Her cheeks were flushed prettily and her light brown hair was pulled up in a high ponytail. The man said something to her, which earned a playful shove from her. Letting go of the door, he swiped an arm around her waist, lifted her clear off the ground, and kissed her in a way that made me blush.
Lord, I felt like a peeper watching them.
The woman was back on her feet again, laughing as she twisted out of his embrace.
They started toward the pavilion.
Halfway across, the man looked over his shoulder and his eyes narrowed exactly on where I stood.
I sucked in a sharp breath.
A heartbeat passed and then he looked away, placing his hand on the woman’s lower back in a possessive way.
I crept forward. The man had to be like Hunter, but the woman? Her skin was rosy and she looked human, way more human than Hunter and this man.
Then again, what did I really know?
I looked back to the lodge. There would have to be some kind of phone in there, but I was hesitant.
What if there were more like Hunter inside? Would they hurt me? Real smart of me to think of that now, and I couldn’t help but think that might have been why Hunter had told me not to leave the cabin.
Worrying my bottom lip, I stepped out of the gazebo, unsure of what I should do next.
My hasty, panic-fueled plan crumbled like falling rocks. Giving up and going back to the cabin could mean certain death. Going into that lodge could also mean death. And what had I been thinking, involving a friend in this mess? With Hunter, I probably had a shot at surviving this.
A shot—not a promise, not guarantee. A huge part of me wanted to scream this wasn’t fair, but I thought about the kid I had in my office last week—a boy who was about to flunk out his senior year. He’d ended up with me to see if there were any issues hindering him with his studies and I’d discovered that he’d made it all the way through high school with a severe learning disability. The only chance he had was to get with several tutors. It might not work—there was a good chance that it was too little too late, but what had I told the student?
“With a tutor you have a chance, a shot at passing,”
I had said.
And the student had taken that shot.
By running, I was lessening any real chance I had at surviving this.
If there was any real chance at all.
… The slab of wood was supposed to be a horse, because I’d always thought there was something majestic about those creatures, but the torso had taken on a shape that somehow resembled the curve of a woman’s sweetly rounded hips.
And then there were the breasts.
Last time I checked, horses didn’t have breasts that filled a man’s hand perfectly.
Glaring at the chunk of wood, I tossed it across my study, where it bounced off a chair harmlessly, joining a pile of crap I’d given up on carving—a pile of crap featuring a lot of breasts.
I slid down in my seat, toeing myself around in a large circle. Restlessness itched under my skin. I was getting tired of seeing the inside of my study— the books I’d read a million times, the Internet I was sure I’d reached the end of, and the fucking pile of carved breasts.
My gaze slid to the door.
But the walls in here, the books, the Internet, and even the disturbing pile of wood were better than what waited for me out there.
I pushed myself into another circle.
While Serena and I had been talking in the kitchen, when I’d touched her face, I’d seen the slivers of arousal around her, and even now, my cock immediately came to life in response. So did another kind of hunger. It clawed at my gut, burned my throat, because I knew how so very fucking sweet she had tasted.
It was why I’d holed myself up in here, because self-control was a relatively new thing I was practicing in life.
A year or so ago, if I wanted something or someone, I went after it, balls to the wall, or so they say. I never forced a woman. I didn’t need to.
They flocked to me, sometimes more than one at a time. It had been a long, long time since I actually wanted a woman in particular. Usually they were nameless faces and bodies, a long steady stream of getting off and getting fed.
I didn’t need to feed— not after the recent Luxen kill, and the opal-encased anklet helped conserve energy and killed part of that need, but it wasn’t a complete fix. More like a nicotine patch for the chain smoker. It did nothing for my oral fixation.
My cock swelled and my eyes rolled back as I toed another circle behind the desk. I was craving— craving a taste of a human, both sexually and for feeding. Fuck. The sex I could get behind, but the feeding? Humans did very little for us.
I needed to go into town, find the first woman with all her teeth and a half decent body. Well, a woman really didn’t need all her teeth for what I had in mind.
Letting my head fall against the back of the chair, I groaned. While Serena had slept the past two days, I’d kept a watchful vigil over her.
Either sitting by her bed like a goddamn nurse or loitering out on the deck.
That’s what I’d been doing when she woke up. It was also why I was so damn pissed.
God, my cock was still hard as a motherfucker… My cell phone went off, ringing and clattering around the drawer in the desk. Sitting up, I grabbed it, frowning when I saw Dex’s number.
“What’s up?” I said, kicking my feet onto the desk.
“Nothing much,” came the reply. “Eliza and I were down at the main house a few minutes ago.”
“Thanks for sharing.”
“And I’m wondering if you’re missing anything.
Like, maybe, something that’s barely five and half feet, a head full of pretty, blond hair. Nah, honey, your hair is beautiful and not just pretty,” Dex said, his voice a bit farther away from the phone. “Anyway, just sort of wondering…”
I dropped my feet onto the floor. “Aw, shit.”
There was a deep, highly amused chuckle on the other end. “She’s up in the gazebo. Funny that she’s there. You better head up before anyone else sees her. P.S. You suck at the whole babysitting thing.”
“Fuck off.” I was already at the door, throwing it open. I added, “Thanks, man.”
Son of a bitch.
I was going to strangle her. Better yet, I was going to strangle her and then lock her in her room. On second thought, I was going to skip the strangle part, go straight to the locking her in the bedroom and then tie her to the bed.
Hmm…that was a really good idea.
Damn it, Dex was right. I did suck at this babysitting shit. I should’ve expected that Serena wouldn’t listen or would try to make a run for it. Humans had this remarkable ability of making incredibly horrid, emotion-based decisions.
Not even bothering to maintain any normal sort of speed, I shot down the driveway and came to the main road. A strange sort of feeling descended.
There was definitely anger balling inside, but there was another thing—a thing I couldn’t quite name. But I was definitely back to adding the strangling part into my evening plans.
I reached the pavilion within a frail, sluggish human heartbeat, and immediately felt the presence of others. They were close—close to Serena. And that little idiot was just sitting in the gazebo, with her head in her hands.
My chest clenched as I slowed my step, my eyes settling on the thick trees crowding the back of the lodge. I recognized the others; they were new to the commune and young, eager to prove themselves to the others. Their leader, a punk named Raz, drifted forward, more shadow than mass.
TAKE ONE MORE SSSTEP and it will be your lassst.
For a moment, I thought Raz was going to challenge me and I welcomed the idea of kicking some ass, but he drifted back.
Seconds later, the little group was gone, but I knew that wouldn’t be the last I saw of them.
They’d been stalking Serena, and by the looks of it, she had no clue.
Strolling toward her, I watched her lift her head and wince when she spotted me. Other than being a shade paler than when I last saw her, she appeared fine.
The smattering of freckles across her nose—six to be exact—stood out.
Serena folded her arms around her. “I was going to come back.”
“What did I tell you?”
“Not to leave the cabin, but—”
“There are no buts, Serena. I told you not leave. This place is full of others like me.”
“I only saw one, maybe two.”
Struggling with my patience, I placed my hands on her shoulders, unable to not notice how they dwarfed her shoulders. “That doesn’t matter. I told you not to.”
“You shouldn’t just expect people to obey your demands,” she said, trying and failing to shrug off my hands.