Nightshade | Chapter 18 of 37

Author: Michelle Rowen | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 2590 Views | Add a Review

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9
 
SILVER RIDGE WASN’T ALL THAT SHINY FOR A TOWN named after a precious metal. It just looked like a small town. A really small town.
Declan pulled the truck up to a house in the middle of this small town and directed me inside. My legs ached from sitting for four hours without a break. We’d needed to stop for gas, an event that was, thankfully, without incident. I’d stayed in the truck. There were a couple of people who’d looked at him funny when he’d gotten out to pump the gas, but I wasn’t sure if it was because they recognized him or just that he looked scary.
He didn’t look quite as scary to me anymore, I had to admit. But he definitely wasn’t the type of guy you’d want approaching you in a dark alley.
Conversation between us had dropped off. I’d watched him carefully and he seemed to be concentrating very hard on not looking at me, possibly pretending I wasn’t even there.
I watched as the wound on his throat slowly closed up and scarred, a light and hard-to-see mark since it hadn’t been a deep wound.
So dhampyrs got the healing abilities, but they were still marked when all was said and done. A reminder of the pain that had been there instead of a nice clean slate. Kind of unfair, if you asked me.
I was nervous as we entered the house. I still had the knife tucked into my pocket, its blade wrapped in the cloth. I wouldn’t say it was incredibly comfortable, but it did ease my mind a little knowing I had a weapon to help protect myself.
Again, Declan had his hand at the base of my spine as if he half-expected me to run away at my first opportunity. He’d promised to protect me, after all. Proven it, even. I’d come to rely on that more than I probably should have.
There was a man waiting for us seated in a living room that looked very normal with a couch, a coffee table, and a television. He was reading the newspaper when we entered, which he put down as he stood up.
“What took you so long?” His hair was grayish, but he wasn’t as old as I’d expected. Mid-fifties, maybe. There was a deep crease between his eyebrows that looked as if it would be there even when he wasn’t frowning.
“I told you about the blood servants following us,” Declan said. “There were complications, but it was taken care of and now we’re here. This is ... Jillian Conrad. Jill, this is my father, Carson Reyes.”
He remembered my full name. I wasn’t sure if he’d been listening or not when I’d told him.
Carson’s gaze brushed over me. “Come. There’s no time to waste.”
He left the room.
A man of few words. Like father, like son.
I must have looked at Declan with worry because he shook his head. “It’s okay. He’s going to help you.”
I nodded. We followed Carson to a flight of stairs leading to the basement. Before I put my foot on the top step, I turned to face Declan.
“You’re staying with me?” I asked.
“Do you want me to?”
“Of course.”
“I would’ve thought you’d want to get away from me the moment you could.”
“I would’ve thought that, too. But I guess not.” I tried to smile.
He removed his hand from my back so he could stroke the hair off my forehead. Again, his touch sent that strange, jarring sensation through me. I must have inhaled sharply because he drew his hand back.
“Sorry.”
“No ... I ...” I took his hand in mine and brought it back to my face. He watched me warily. “It’s okay. Really.”
I touched his face, too, and he didn’t jerk away from me. I traced a scar on his cheek under his eye patch that led to his jawline. His day’s growth of beard felt rough against my fingers.
“How are you feeling?” I asked.
“I’m feeling ...” His throat shifted as he swallowed. “Too much.”
“Too much?”
“Jill ... I ...” he began, then pulled away, breaking contact with me completely. “We have to follow him.”
He thundered down the stairs as if trying to escape from me.
Downstairs consisted of a huge room and it didn’t look as if it belonged to the regular home upstairs. It was modern and bright with glass and stainless-steel tables, like a laboratory. I gazed around in wonder. There was another man with Carson. He was young, no more than mid-twenties.
“That’s her?” he asked eagerly. “Sorry, uh, I mean ... she’s the one you mentioned to Carson on the phone?”
“This is Jillian,” Declan said. “Jill. And yes, she was attacked by Anderson and injected with the formula.”
The guy approached curiously. “Hey, how are you feeling?”
My mouth felt dry. “I’m still breathing.”
“I’m Noah Palmer.” He peered at me. “You look pretty good, you know. Considering.”
That didn’t exactly make me feel better. “Thanks, I think.”
“We need to take a sample of your blood,” Carson said. He already had the syringe out and handed it to Noah. I looked at him warily.
“Don’t worry. I’ve done this a million times before. Well, maybe not a million, but a lot. Haven’t lost a patient yet.” Noah grimaced. “Probably not such a good thing to say, considering the circumstances.”
“Noah’s my father’s assistant,” Declan said.
“Assistant, general errand boy. Whatever. You make a mess, I’ll clean it up and analyze it. Doing what I can for the betterment of humanity. My mother would be proud if I could tell her anything about it.” He grinned. He was the only person in the room wearing that particular expression at the moment.
He patted the metal table and I took a seat on it. He indicated for me to roll my sleeve up higher and then tied plastic tubing around my bicep, as if I was having blood drawn during a regular physical at the doctor’s office.
“Tell me exactly what happened,” Carson said.
“Anderson grabbed her when I arrived, just as he was trying to make his escape,” Declan replied, arms crossed. His attention didn’t leave me for a moment. “Said if we wanted it we could have it and then injected it into her. He says it’s the only sample left. He destroyed the rest.”
“Did you double-check or simply take him at his word?”
Declan hesitated. “I didn’t have time to check.”
“I’ll send someone to investigate his lab tonight. You’re probably right, but it’s best not to leave any rock unturned.”
I jumped as the needle slid into my vein at the crook of my arm.
“Just an FYI, it hurts less if you don’t thrash around,” Noah said dryly.
“Sorry.”
I felt Carson’s gaze on me, assessing. I didn’t need to be a mind-reader to know he was thinking that I was an inconvenient obstacle to his plans. It’s not as if I’d asked Anderson to inject me, but what happened must have ruined a great deal of research in developing this poison.
Declan stood next to me, his eye focused on the syringe as Noah took a second vial of blood from me.
“It’s okay, Jill,” he told me softly. He reached forward as if to touch me, then withdrew his hand as if he’d had second thoughts. “Won’t take a minute.”
Carson frowned and looked at him. “Is there something wrong?”
Declan’s shoulders tensed. “Excuse me?”
“You don’t seem yourself. When was your last injection?”
His jaw clenched. “My vials were stolen by the servants. They thought it was the formula.”
“Holy shit, Dec.” Noah’s hand stilled on my arm. “Are you kidding? You’re off the juice?”
“How long has it been?” Carson asked.
“More than twelve hours.”
After what Declan had told me about his serum and how obsessive he’d been about taking it according to a super-strict schedule, I expected Carson to get upset and reprimand him. But he didn’t react that way. Instead, Carson’s previously harsh and businesslike expression softened with concern and he put a hand on Declan’s shoulder.
“Why didn’t you say something the moment you arrived?” he asked.
“I thought it could wait a while longer.”
“You know that it can’t. The risk is much too great.” He moved to a silver cupboard and pulled out a syringe and a vial that he handed to Declan. “Here.”
The hesitation before Declan took it from him was barely noticeable.
“Declan ...” It was on the tip of my tongue to tell him not to do it. Not to take the new dose of serum. But I shut my mouth. It was none of my business. His father was the expert on this. I’d just learned about vampires a few hours ago. How was I supposed to give any advice on the subject?
While Noah switched to a third vial for my blood, I watched Declan wordlessly load the syringe with the serum vial. He pulled up the bottom of his T-shirt and injected himself in his stomach without any further hesitation.
My heart sank.
“That’s better.” Carson patted his arm. “Twelve hours is a long time. Too long.”
Declan nodded. “I know.”
As Noah finished up with me, I watched Declan’s face. What had been filled with concern and distress the last few hours only took a couple of minutes to turn to stone. I had seen glimpses of warmth in his single gray eye, but it flattened out and cooled.
Whatever was in that serum helped remove a large part of Declan’s personality. The uncontrollable part. The unpredictable part. The part that had looked at me with desire only five minutes ago in the hallway upstairs.
It was gone, leaving behind the assassin who’d been ready to kill me in the alley this morning.
Declan now stood like a sentry at the stairway as Noah finished with me, four vials filled with my blood laying on the table between us. Declan explained to his father the rest of what happened with us and the servants in a detached tone until Carson was fully briefed on the events of the day, including my reactions to the poison in my system.
I swallowed past the lump in my throat. “Can you fix me?”
“I’m going to try,” Carson said. “The best thing for you to do right now is to settle in and get some sleep.”
“I can’t sleep.” I wrung my hands as Noah covered the cotton ball on the crook of my arm with a Band-Aid. “Listen, what happened today ... it’s on the news. My friends and sister are going to be worried to death about me. I need to use a phone and tell them I’m all right.”
“I told her she couldn’t,” Declan said. “But she’s very persistent.”
I glared at him. He had no idea how persistent I could be.
“Of course she can,” Carson said and my eyebrows went up in surprise. “But not tonight. I know it’s difficult, but it’s important that no more alarms are raised. There’s a great deal at risk right now if one more thing goes wrong. Can you understand that enough to give me two days? Then I assure you, not only will you be able to make a phone call, but you will be reunited with your friends in person.”
“Two days?”
“That’s what I’m asking for. I know this is all very strange to you, Jillian. It’s a rare occurrence for an outsider, a civilian, to be brought into our midst. What you’ve already seen here in Silver Ridge is classified. Declan’s already made an exception for you due to the events of the day by telling you what he has. But no one else knows of this location and I’d prefer it stays that way.”
I ran my hand through my tangled hair as I thought it through.
“Fine. Two days.” My throat felt thick, and guilt coursed through me again. “But I can’t sleep. Not right now.”
“You might be surprised. Besides, it’s late. Nearly one thirty now. You’ve had a long day. The formula ... Declan said it made you ill, but how exactly has it affected you?”
“When it was first injected, it felt as if my veins were on fire. I can still feel them more than I should. Also I’ve had crippling stomach cramps. And I’ve thrown up a couple of times. The last time it was black, like ink. I ... I felt like I was going to die.”
“Black ink?” Noah asked. He was writing down everything I said on a clipboard. “Even though the formula was injected into you? It wasn’t taken orally, right?”
“It was injected right here.” I touched my neck.
Noah raised his eyebrows. “Kind of ironic.”
“What is?”
“Looks kind of like a vamp bite. If the vamp only had one fang. Like a vampire unicorn.” His smile faded when he noticed no one else was joining in.
A glance at Declan’s stiff shoulders and downcast gaze confirmed that he’d regressed to his previous emotion-free persona. Why did that feel like such a big loss to me? I barely knew him.
He had to take the serum. It wasn’t as if he had a choice in the matter.
“I’m sure it’s been horrible for you,” Carson said. “Anderson ... we trusted him with a very important project, one that could save countless people, one he’s been working on for more than a year. I offered him space here to work, but he refused to leave the city. I gave him a chance to make a difference to the world ...” He touched my neck, and then poured some liquid from a bottle on a cloth and rubbed it against where Anderson had injected me to cleanse it. It stung for a moment and I flinched. “And look what he did.”
“Why would he do this?”
“Because he wanted to destroy it in a showy manner so it would send a message to me.”
“Is the formula destroyed?”
“I don’t know. As I said, I’ll send someone to check his lab to see if there is any more there. If not, I’ll need to try to extract it from your blood and find a way to duplicate it. Anderson was wrong in what he did to you. But he shouldn’t have been shot dead for it.” Carson’s gaze moved to Declan and narrowed. “We needed him. You should have brought him back here even if it was against his will.”
“He tried to kill me,” Declan said evenly. “I reacted.”
“It’s done. Now we must make do with what we have. It’s been over twelve hours since the incident.” Carson next applied the cloth to my head where the servant had pistol-whipped me. “The formula has been in your system all that time—”
Poison, you mean,” I said.
“The formula was developed under the code name Nightshade to be a poison used against vampires. However, I assume you’re not a vampire.”
“No, but—”
“Since it was untested, we have no idea how Nightshade will react in a human’s bloodstream. It has made you violently ill, but you are still alive, still conscious, still coherent.”
“So you’re saying it’s not going to kill me?”
“What I’m saying is we don’t know. That it was injected into you specifically is an experiment that obviously wasn’t planned. But here we are.”
“And where exactly is that? How many other people are here?”
“There’s two dozen of us stationed in this town. More than half are hunters or investigators and don’t stay here all the time. This location is remote. Rogue vampires tend to navigate toward large cities, where they can disappear and have their pick of victims.”
“So why is this home base? Wouldn’t it make more sense to stay in the city?”
“We’re here because this is close to the heart,” Carson said.
I frowned. “The heart of what?”
Carson flicked a glance at Declan. “Show her upstairs. I had the guest room prepared for her. She can rest there.” He looked at me again. “We’ll talk more tomorrow, once I’ve analyzed your blood to find out what I can do for you. Try to sleep. It will do you good.”
I opened my mouth to ask more questions, but closed it. “Fine.”
The rest of my questions could wait till tomorrow. But no longer than that.
It was on the tip of my tongue to say thank you, but I didn’t. I wasn’t ready to be grateful quite yet. I hadn’t asked to be here. I hadn’t asked for any of this. They were the ones who’d done me wrong when it came right down to it. I’d hold off any thanks until life got back to what I considered normal.
Declan soundlessly turned and walked out of the silver-and-white room and headed up the stairs. I followed him. Once on the main floor, he took another flight to the second floor and down a hallway. This house was larger than it appeared from the outside. Generic paintings hung on the walls, wallpapered with a stripe design. No photos. Nothing very personal.
“Is this where you grew up?” I asked.
I didn’t get a reply.
“Declan,” I said louder.
“What?” He turned the handle on a door near the end of the hall.
“Did you grow up in this house?”
“No. We moved here six years ago.”
“Where did you live before that?”
“This is your room,” he said.
Okay, so he wasn’t in the mood for a walk down memory lane. I looked inside the room. Fairly utilitarian, but livable. And there was an ensuite bathroom.
“Noah will bring you breakfast in the morning.”
“He really does do everything, doesn’t he?”
“He does a lot.”
I struggled to find something to say. “How do you feel now?”
His gaze moved to me. “Better.”
“So how you were feeling before, when the serum had worn off ...”
“I don’t feel that way any longer.”
“Back to normal.”
“Yes.”
“Completely.”
“Yes.”
“Well ... good.”
“If you need anything—”
“I’ll just scream. Seems to be the best way of communicating if phones are off limits.”
“Fine.”
It was as if there was a wall between us now. Like I was talking to a machine that didn’t give any elaboration on his answers. Who gave me nothing at all. He’d been asked to take me to my room and he’d done just that. End of story.
What else did I want? To commiserate over some herbal tea? To breathe a collective sigh of relief that we’d both lived to fight another day? For him to tell me more secrets about his life?
“Declan—”
“Good night, Jillian.” He closed the door between us.
I pressed my hand against it.
He had to take his serum because without it he’d lose control and become more like a vampire—an out-of-control creature with a thirst for blood and sex and death. Not necessarily in that order.
I remembered what he said to me in the car, about what he wanted from me. A shiver went through me and I realized it wasn’t from revulsion at the thought of his hands on me. Quite the opposite, actually.
I touched my stomach, remembering the pain I’d felt—hands down, it had been worse than anything I’d ever experienced in my life. I’d gone from being terrified of Declan to, well ... I wasn’t sure what I felt at the moment other than weariness.
Maybe I was tired after all.
But I had to talk to him. There were things I wanted to say, questions I wanted answered, and I’d given up much too quickly on the phone issue. Also, what had Carson meant about this place being close to the heart? The heart of what?
I nodded to myself, firm in my resolve to march out of this room and demand what I wanted in full.
However, there was a problem. The door handle didn’t budge no matter how hard I tried. It only took a second before I realized that I wasn’t going anywhere.
Declan had locked me in.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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