When Riley woke, the clock on the nightstand indicated it was ten-thirty. She rolled over and fought down a groan. Her arm was aching, as was most her body; she had to be one massive bruise. Riley kicked off the covers, too warm from the toxins the demon wounds had set loose. At least this time she wasn’t as sick as when she’d tangled with a Grade Three demon and nearly died.
To get her mind off her pains, Riley checked out the room. The space was bigger than she’d expected, with a desk, a wardrobe, a couch and a couple of chairs.
I’m in Scotland. How cool is that?
Not as cool as she’d planned after the previous night’s disaster.
Stop being a grump.
Beck was on the couch, sitting in a pool of light cast by a reading lamp, his head bent over a book. Once his reading skills had improved, he was making up for lost time. He still read slowly, but now he wasn’t mouthing words or using his finger to follow along, either.
Her boyfriend was dressed in a long sleeved navy blue tee shirt and jeans, and though that wasn’t unusual, there was something different in the way he held himself. He seemed older, more confident, as if he’d come to terms with who he was and what role he had to play in this world.
Riley had begun to feel the same way, at least until this trip. To suddenly to find herself a pawn of people she didn’t even know had shaken her to the core.
Was this their future, a lifetime of looking over their shoulders, wondering when the next lunatic would try to kill her or steal her blood to conjure up a demon?
The answer was a resounding “Yes.”
The tiniest whimper fled Riley’s lips before she could stop it and the sound caught Beck’s attention. He looked over at her and then smiled, clearly pleased she was awake.
“Hey, sleepyhead,” he said, his tone light, as if she’d just awoken in his house back in Atlanta.
Beck was going for the “let’s move on with our lives” tone. Two could play that game.
“Hey, you. What’s the book about?”
“Four hundred and . . . ” he thumbed to the back, “forty-nine pages of how Hell goes about acquirin’ souls. They’ve got some mean-assed tricks up their sleeves. Like we don’t know that already.” He closed the book and dropped it inside his duffle bag. Then he joined her, sitting on the side of the bed. His hair was longer, touching his collar now. That was unheard of for Beck, but it made him even more handsome in her eyes, if that was possible.
“How are you feelin’?” he asked.
“Sore.” She began to scratch at the bandage on the left arm, which led him to carefully remove it. One of the claw marks was completely closed, an angry red line against her tanned skin. The other two were better, still healing.
“Best I treat those wounds again. I didn’t want to wake you. You were so tired.”
“Just jet lag,” she said.
They both knew it was more than that.
After she’d used the toilet he joined her in the bathroom where he gave the arm wounds another dose of Holy Water. He did the same with the shoulder wound, and then the knife slice, out of habit, though it would have no effect.
Once again the nausea and the muzziness hit Riley hard, and he helped steady her.
“You should go back to bed,” he said.
Riley shook her head.
“Okay, but we need to get you some food. You wanna eat in the room, or go out?” he asked as he capped the Holy Water and set it on the counter.
It was a simple question, but one that had no easy answer. If she refused to leave the hotel then those idiot necros would destroy her vacation. Still, to go out into the real world meant she’d have to accept that she was a target. That she would always be one.
“I won’t let anythin’ happen to you,” he said softly, touching her cheek with such gentleness it nearly made her cry.
“I know,” she said. “But I don’t have anything to wear.” At least nothing that wasn’t covered in dirt and blood.
“Yer suitcase and backpack were delivered a couple hours ago,” he replied. “The lady cop said she was the one who handled your clothes so no guys saw yer girlie stuff.”
Score! That brightened her up immensely.
Once she was bandaged, Riley retrieved a fresh pair of undies out of the top zippered section of her suitcase as well as a pair of jeans and shirt, then retreated to the bathroom again.
As the door closed behind her, Beck sighed. He knew her in all her moods: happy, grieving, angry, and defiant. He’d seen her hit the wall so hard he was sure she’d shatter. She’d been that way after her father had died and the time she’d been carried off to Hell by the Fallen angel. Every time Riley had risen stronger and more resilient.
Usually she would say something to let him know where her head was, but not this time. She was too withdrawn, and that troubled him. Some of it was shock and that was understandable; you did not step off an airplane expecting to walk into your boyfriend’s arms and instead become demon bait without experiencing a lot of conflicting emotions. Still, Beck felt it was more than that. Was she mad at him for not being there for her? Did she think he didn’t care?
He ran a hand through his hair, his worry escalating. Something was wrong between them, he could feel it, and he wasn’t sure what it was.
The door opened and Riley walked to the couch, though at half speed. His question as to what she wanted to do was answered when she put on her shoes and then a heavy sweater. Despite the horrors she’d experienced, Riley was willing to go out onto the streets, put herself in danger again.
This time you won’t be on yer own.
This time he would protect her with his life.
# # #
Beck had roamed around Edinburgh every other weekend, unless he’d been buried in research, as MacTavish called it. Beck didn’t complain; he was learning more about the war between Heaven and Hell, who had been on which side, and how many people had found their lives ripped to pieces by the eternal conflict. He’d found himself increasingly concerned that he and Riley’s relationship might suffer the same fate.
They were walking along High Street now, letting her gain a sense of the town. “Cool, isn’t it?” he said, pulling himself back to the present.
Riley nodded, her eyes taking in the scenery. “The buildings are so . . . old. Not like Atlanta.”
He’d thought the same each time he’d come to Edinburgh. Usually it was on Saturdays or Sundays, a chance to get away from the manor house and his small room. Sometimes he’d bunk in a hostel overnight, sometimes he’d make the round trip the same day.
But it was more than getting out of his room — he was living in a country so full of history it almost bubbled out of the ground. Deep in his heart he knew that Paul would have been proud of him taking this risk, seizing this chance to better himself.
“How are you doin’?” Beck asked, noticing that Riley was quiet again.
No, you’re not.
He caught her uninjured arm and steered her down one of the small closes, an alley that cut off the Royal Mile.
“If yer not good with bein’ out we can—” he began.
“No!” she said, cutting him off. “I want to see stuff. I didn’t fly all the way over here to hide in some hotel room.”
Despite the defiance, he heard the naked fear as well.
“Okay. So what do you want to see first — the castle, the gardens or a museum?”
She blinked at him in surprise. “You go to museums now?”
“Sure,” he said, trying not to be offended. “There’s lots of cool stuff to see. Just tell me what you want to do.”
The frown formed instantly. “What I wanted was something perfect. That’s why I had my hair fixed and got a manicure and bought new jeans and . . . .” Her lower lip began to quiver.
Then some bastards ruined it for you.
“But people died, Den,” she said, her voice quieter now. “So me whining about all that is . . . silly.”
“No, it’s righteous. You were hurt. You were really lookin’ forward to seein’ me.”
Riley nodded and walked into his arms. “I missed you so much.”
They hugged for a time as people flowed by them on the nearby street.
“I like what you did with your hair,” he said, touching one of the lighter strands. “It’s really pretty.”
When Riley beamed up at him, he knew it’d been the right thing to say. Not that she needed to do anything to her hair — she was beautiful to him no matter what.
“Thanks. Simi talked me into the highlights. I was hoping you’d like them.”
“As long as they’re not one of those weird colors she wears, I’m good.”
When Riley leaned back, her hands on his chest, he could see her chipped fingernail polish. Maybe that was the best place to start.
“I can’t change a thing about what happened to you, but we can begin over, Riley. We can make sure they don’t screw up the time we have left.”
He saw a tiny spark of life flash in her eyes. “We can?”
“Yup. So let’s act like I just picked you up at the airport and I brought you to town. Can you do that?”
She thought about it, then nodded.
“Good,” He grabbed onto her before she could protest, being careful not to hurt her. The kiss went on for some time. When it ended they were both out of breath.
“Welcome to Scotland, Riley.”
A shy smile came his way. “I love you, Den.”
“Right back at you,” he said, taking her hand.
He strolled her along the Royal Mile and then turned north, toward New Town. When they found themselves in a street market, Riley began to loosen up, slowly shaking off the last twenty-four hours.
As they shopped, Riley bought a book on Scottish history and tucked it into his backpack. He talked her into a pair of pretty earrings at an estate sale booth and she seemed very pleased he’d bought them for her.
Then her jaw dropped.
“What is it?”
“Look!” she said, pointing at a jewelry case. It took him a bit to notice exactly which item she was pointing at, but when he did he blinked in surprise. A quick look at his grandmother’s ring on her right hand confirmed his first impression. His gran’s ring was a solid silver band with ivy engraved into the metal. This one had the same design, but also a single small red gem nestled flush in the band. A ruby, perhaps?
“Wow, can you believe it?” she said. “They’ve both got that ivy pattern.”
“It’s really pretty. You want to try it on?” he asked.
“What? No. It’s really nice, but I have this one,” she said, raising her hand. “I don’t need another.”
“Yeah. Besides, it’d be too much money.”
As she walked on, Beck leaned over asked the vendor how much the ring cost. He was pleased to learn it wasn’t as bad as he’d figured.
When he caught up with Riley, she was digging through a stack of old books, but he caught her looking over her shoulder at the ring one last time.
# # #
As the day progressed, Riley kept feeling that someone was following them. Even Beck noticed her skittishness.
“No one’s taggin’ along after us. I can tell.”
She wasn’t sure if he was fibbing or not. What if whoever was following them was one of his people, someone who answered to the grand masters? Who else would have known her schedule? Maybe they were going to make another run at her . . .
Quit, will you? It wasn’t like her to be so paranoid. Cautious, yes. Totally crazy? No way.
As they wandered down a long street filled with shops, all kinds of merchandise beckoned to her, but when she tried to calculate how much something would cost in American money, her brain seized up. That wasn’t normal — she could always do math in her head.
Jetlag strikes again.
Beck paused in front of a nail salon, then pulled out some Scottish bills and handed it over. “Get those nails fixed up, okay? Take yer time. We’re in no hurry. We’re on vacation, right?”
In his own way he was helping her get on with her life.
“I won’t take too long,” she promised, touched by his kindness.
“Just text me when yer done.” She hesitated. “You’ll be safe here. Don’t worry.”
With a rushed kiss on his cheek Riley entered the shop, wondering if they had the same colors of nail polish as they did back home.
# # #
It took about thirty minutes before she was back on the street, looking for Beck. She’d texted him that she was done and he’d said he be waiting for her. When he wasn’t, the fear began to rise again. What if something had happened to him? Or what if he had left her alone on purpose?
Then she saw him hurrying toward her and when he spied her, he broke out in a wide smile.
Where were you? What were you doing?
Riley shook aside those thoughts as Beck admired her nails. He said he loved the color — something called Coldstream Blue — and then suggested they head toward Princes Street Gardens. There, in the late afternoon sun, they picnicked with hot meat pies and an orange and almost bubble gum flavored drink called Irn Bru. For Riley there was even a piece of fudge.
“You eat like this every time you come to Edinburgh?” she asked, licking the chocolate off her fingers.
“No, usually I pack my lunch. Sometimes I climb to the top of Arthur’s Seat and stay until dark. Watch the lights come on.”
“Like you do at home, then.”
“Yeah, except it’s even prettier here.”
Suddenly she wanted to be up there with him, and when she mentioned it, he shook his head. “Tomorrow night.”
“Why not tonight?”
“We’re both tired and you’re sore from . . . the flight.”
He was trying too hard now and she called him on it.
“Just want you happy,” he said, looking away.
Her suspicions rose again. “Someone knew I was going to be at the airport. Who did you tell?”
When he raised his eyes she saw worry. “Only the people at the manor house. No one else.”
She’d told a few people in Atlanta, but those were friends. No one who would want to hurt her. Whoever had set her kidnapping in motion was close to the grand masters. Close to Beck.
“I’m tired. I need to go back to the hotel,” Riley said, rising abruptly.
“You okay?” he asked, worried.
I just need time to figure out who I can trust.
(c) 2013 Jana Oliver
All Rights Reserved.