Riley sat quietly on his bed, amidst the Spartan furnishing of the Vanguard quarters. This was where he would be staying now since the previous accommodations were just temporary covers.
There was no ‘home’ for a Vanguard. He literally slept where he was needed and right now, he needed to be within five mile from his latest target. She might appear eccentric; sleeping amidst the abandoned wolves in the open, marking herself as easy prey but Riley was convinced that looks could be deceiving.
He had never tracked and hunted down a hybrid before so he was going into this next mission with calculated blindness. He would have to watch her before making his move. Her files showed that Keona MacFarlane was a copycat –at least that’s what the scientists think –but Riley had a hunch that she had more tricks up her sleeves. Women that cold and controlled never display more than necessary; not just her emotions, but her thoughts, her sexuality and most definitely her abilities.
There was no way he could successfully seduce her. He needed a plan B.
Whatever plan B was, it’d have to wait for his phone was ringing like crazy. Riley saw the number and knew that he should not pick it up but a part of him wanted to still be connected to Marine’s life –no matter how sadistic it was.
He expected shouts and angered curses but instead a feminine voice on the other line said, “Riley is my daughter safely with you?”
He knew he should not answer and should have disconnected the call but instead he lied, “Yes Ma’am. She’s sleeping at the moment…”
He heard the gasp on the other line and then it sounded like someone was trying to snatch the phone away from Erika Culzean’s hand.
“Ah,” he heard her say in a slightly embarrassed tone. “It does seem too late for me to say no to that right now. Well then… will you keep her safe for me? I know she’s all grown up now and you’re both adults… but she’s my only baby.”
Riley felt choked. He wanted to apologize, to beg this woman for forgiveness but instead he kept his voice level. “I love your daughter Mrs Culzean and I will bring her home soon. I promise.”
A long pause on the other line then, “Thank you. We’ll see each other again then.”
Riley crushed the mobile phone in his hand until it was a mesh of plastic and metal and threw it violently to one side of the room. There was only one way to uphold that promise of course. He’d have to negotiate with Connor.
But he already knew what the verdict was –Keona in exchange for either Marine or his brother. He’d have to choose.
Meanwhile, Marine was slowly regaining consciousness; her head throbbing violently as though she had been knocked about carelessly. Rubbing her eyes, Marine pried them open to find herself in a strange white-washed room.
She may have been wrapped in a blanket but Marine recognized while there were no chains on her feet, she was in some sort of prison. The room had an electronic door and bore no windows. The only ventilation was a square vent big enough for a rat. In other words, there is no escape.
Instead of feeling fear, Marine tried to recall what had led her to this situation. Had she been kidnapped on the way home? Frowning, she closed her eyes and tried to remember.
She was lying on the mat looking up to the sky… and Riley was there wasn’t he? They had a drink and then…
“Riley!” she screamed, getting to her feet to pound on the door. Someone must have drugged them both and placed him in another room or something! She continued pounding on the door until a voice made her jump in alarm.
“Miss Culzean, I would suggest for you to remain calm and sit down,” said a female voice from a hidden speaker. Marine’s eyes flicked to every corner of the room, hoping to find a camera or a speaker that she could rip out. There was no way someone was going to watch her 24/7!
“Where’s Riley?” she demanded. “What have you done to him?”
The woman kept quiet for awhile then answered, “He’s fine. Don’t worry about him.”
Marine bit her lips; the adrenaline rush was wearing off and fear was creeping up her neck. “Please don’t hurt him… I’ll do anything you want,” she begged.
Hedva who was watching Marine from the screen didn’t know what to reply to the girl. How could it be that the first questions she asked were not to enquire about her own safety but for that of another? Hedva was a scientist, not a kidnapper and her sense of sympathy for the girl was ruling over her immediate order to keep her under lockdown.
Marine Culzean was of no scientific significance to her. She was just the bait –not even a lab rat. Hedva felt sorry for the girl.
“Miss Culzean… is there anything that you need? Food, water… more blankets perhaps? I need you to trust me that you and Riley will be safe,” she said over the speaker.
Hedva watched as Marine frantically looked around for the camera before giving up to huddle herself in a corner of the room.
“I want to go home…” she sobbed and Hedva knew that if Connor wouldn’t release this girl soon, she will. Marine was just a baby…
Turning off the microphone, Hedva picked up her desk receiver and connected her call to Riley’s room.
“Eos,” he answered at the first ring.
“Come by my office at 0700. I want you to start looking for your target at the first opportunity.”
Hedva had given him a screen shot of Marine huddled up in a corner of her holding cell. She said it would come in useful in case Keona refused to believe that Marine was truly kept hostage.
However, from what Riley had seen of Keona; she had a kind heart especially for the weak and helpless. Despite her intense outer shell, she could be manipulated if one knows the right buttons to push. And right now, that button is Marine.
Keona was raised in a pack and from his files; it was a known fact that pack fostered the kind of loyalty and love for kin. Marine may have been born as a Vampire but she spent her younger years playing in the compound; protected and loved as a child of a pack that consisted of the MacFarlane Weres and the Culzean Vampires.
So in other words, she will not hesitate a second to help release Marine. That had been the flaw that the research facility was hoping to act upon. However, Riley had been studying Keona’s files for the last twelve hours and her behavior patterns showed that she struggled between the individualistic trait of her Vampire and the communitarian need of her Were. As such, she saw sharing as something forced but was reasonable enough to understand its necessity for the functioning of the pack. That didn’t mean she had to like it.
Initially, Riley thought of sending her a package containing the screenshot and specific directional clues to the facility but decided against it. The struggle between her two halves would force her to tell Alex and Marine’s parents out of courtesy and that would jeopardize the whole mission. So, Riley was going to deliver the package himself and convince her to act on her own accord.
But first, he needed to look like he had been beaten up pretty badly.
It didn’t take him long to get another Vanguard to punch him at specific, non-fatal areas just so he’d look roughened up. It was necessary for the story that he was planning to act out. After making sure his clothes were soiled and muddied, he drove up to the shelter and put on his game face. Keona was going to read his mind and he had to be prepared for it.
As he drove, Riley made sure that he kept thinking of Marine all the time; playing images of her and his feelings for her on rewind inside his mind. The intensity of the memories should convince Keona that he wasn’t lying –at least not about that.
About half an hour later, Riley reached the shelter and shielded his scent. If the reports were correct, Keona would have mimicked his ability –even subconsciously –and that would mean he’d have to be really careful to maintain his shield around her.
Limping towards the shelter, Riley banged on the wooden door and made a concerted effort to slump against the side panel to exaggerate his injuries. As expected –it worked.
“Oh my god! You’re hurt!” exclaimed Keona the moment she opened the door. “Rina! Clear a table for me!”
“No… no…” Riley croaked. “Need to… hurry…” His chest heaved as though he was about to have an asthma attack.
“I have to see to your wounds first,” she insisted. “Who did this to you?” Her voice was firm but gentle; her fingers examining the swelling on his cheekbones.
“Have to… find…” he choked a little before continuing, “Marine…”
That did it.
“Marine? How? Where’s Alex? Did you call him? Is she alright?” Keona was starting to panic. “No… wait, I can find her. Did someone hurt her? Where is she?!”
Keona leaned Riley carefully against the door frame and cupped his cheek in desperation. Riley knew that if he didn’t stop her, she was going to read his mind so he reached into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled photograph.
“Help her…” he whispered, passing the screenshot of Marine to Keona. He knew the moment that he saw anger and fear flash in her eyes; Keona MacFarlane was his.
“I’m going to call her parents and Alex,” said Keona as she started to stand up.
“No!” he burst out. “No… time…”
“What? I don’t understand…”
“One hour to find… her… or she dies…” Riley pulled out a bloodstained note from his breast pocket; hands trembling as he passed it to her.
Keona looked at it and the gold flecks in her green eyes seemed to burn to reflect her state of mind.
“I’m going to get you some water and bandage that hand while you tell me exactly what happened. Is that clear?”
When she returned with the glass of water, he took a sip and began recounting what happened.
“The next thing I knew, I was left alone on the picnic mat and she was gone…” he started to sob. “And I could drive much further because my head hurts… and I remembered your shelter. You have to help me…”
“You were dating my cousin?” asked Keona, sounding slightly surprised. “For how long?”
“Maybe a few weeks…” he groaned as she applied a stinging cream on his arm. “Alex was very possessive of her… took me so long to get him to let her go out with me.”
Something in her expression made Riley put his guard up. There was a look of utter destruction and fury that he could only describe as jealousy –except that she looked like she was about to kill someone.
Bingo! This was another button to push.
“Oww…” he winced as Keona tightened his bandage a little less gently than she did before. It was obvious that she was annoyed.
“Can you get up? I’ll drive,” she said before peeking inside the shelter for Rina. “Hey Rina, I’ll be out a while. If anyone… comes looking for me, tell him to go to hell.”
Riley heard Rina chuckle. He would have done the same too except that he didn’t want to die in the hands of a jealous-stricken woman. As they say, hell has no fury like a woman scorned.
Although… a furious woman behind the wheel was perhaps a ticket to hell too. Keona was driving beyond the speed limit; muttering curse words that sounded foreign –probably gaelic –and swerving the car like a she was a formula-one driver.
“Uh… I think we should slow down…”
“Just give me the damn coordinates,” she snapped. Then turning to look at him, she peered at his eyes. “Do you love her? Do you love Marine?”
Riley didn’t blink and held her gaze as he answered, “Yes… and I will do anything to get her out safely.”
The car came to an abrupt stop.
Riley was thankful that he had his seatbelt on. Looking around him nervously, he asked,“Is… is this it?”
In lieu of an answer, Keona shifted the gear to neutral and pulled up the hand brake. “I can smell her,” she muttered under her breath but Riley heard her. If she could scent Marine who was locked deep underground, it only meant that her abilities were much stronger than his for he could smell nothing. It made him glad that his shields were up and in excellent working condition.
“I want you to stay here.”
“No! I want to follow you,” he said stubbornly.
“No! You’ll only slow me down!”
“I have to…”
Keona stared at him –he was sure that she was reading his mind now – and she finally relented.
“I suppose she’ll feel safer with you. But stay close behind me at all times do you understand? If you get in my way I will kick you.”
“Yes…” he stammered and followed her out.