That moment of second guessing myself—a moment that I suspect happens to many people who find themselves coming through dramatic, difficult to explain situations relatively unscathed—hit me right after I saw my brothers in arms pulling up to the 7-11.
What if I’d actually been half asleep? What if I only thought I’d sensed a vampire? What if it was all just some sort of horrible dream?
Mason arrived shortly after the first set of officers, while I was still filling them in. And I idly wondered how many red lights he’d had to run to get to my side of town so quickly.
I met his gaze, holding on to my last bit of control with the most tenuous of grips. Worry creased his brow and drew lines around his mouth. His body was tense, and his fists were clenched at his sides like he desperately wanted to hit something.
He spoke briskly with the officers who were talking to me, taking over immediately and surprisingly with no argument from the others on scene.
Without speaking, he tugged the slight blanket off of my shoulders. Then he took off his jacket and wrapped it around me, zipping it up. The material was thicker than the blanket, and soaked in his otherworldly warmth. Then he helped me get my arms up through the sleeves, luckily the coat was large enough we managed even with the front zipped. The thing must have looked ridiculously big on me, but his eyes showed no amusement.
His gaze took in my face and then traveled to my legs and feet. He grimaced and I glanced down. No wonder the 7-11 cashier had looked at me with such shock. Blood dried on my feet, my right ankle was swollen, and long, angry scratches covered my legs and arms. When had that happened? Jumping off the balcony? Going over the old wood fence? As if spurred by seeing the injuries, pain flared in my legs and most especially from my feet. My ankle throbbed.
“You okay?” His voice was low and carefully controlled, but violence flashed behind his eyes.
I nodded, not trusting myself to speak.
He looked over me again quickly, then glanced behind him. An ambulance approached, siren sounding and lights flashing. My stomach lurched. So much drama. So many people involved. What if I’d imagined the whole thing?
Mason picked me up, cradling me against his body. I squeaked at the unexpected motion, but didn’t protest. He was warm, and in his arms a feeling washed over me that I hadn’t felt in a very long time. And would never have expected to feel less than an hour after jumping from my balcony to escape a vampire breaking into my home.
I felt safe.
I relaxed against him and let my head rest against his strong shoulder. As my adrenaline faded, exhaustion washed over me. And I found my mind drifting as he carried me to the ambulance.
“I should go with the officers to check out your townhouse,” Mason said softly as we exited the 7-11 and the chill wind whipped over us.
I shivered against him and gripped his shoulder hard. I didn’t want him to go, but I couldn’t seem to come up with a reason for him to stay that I could speak aloud. Don’t go because I desperately need you by my side right now to feel safe? Don’t go because I am afraid that I imagined the whole thing, and you’ll go there and just think worse of me? Don’t go because I want, more than anything in the world, to stay in your arms?
But I couldn’t say any of those things, so I just clung to him.
“You’re right,” he said as if I’d spoken. “I’ll stay with you. We’ll go over after the EMT’s have a look at you.”
I took a deep breath, inhaling his comforting scent of soap and toothpaste and the primal smell of him beneath the other odors, and nodded against his shoulder. His grip tightened around me. Encouraging him to go would be the right thing to do, but I just couldn’t force myself to pretend I didn’t want him with me.
The paramedics looked over me quickly, declaring me in no danger of bleeding to death. They wanted to take me to the hospital to get my wounds treated and my ankle looked at, but I managed to convince them to do what they could and that I’d seek the hospital later. They muttered something about cops that sounded vaguely derogatory, but patched me up anyway.
Mason picked me up again after my ankle had been securely wrapped and my cuts treated and mostly bandaged. My feet were the worst off. But I was proud that I hadn’t cried yet, not over the injuries or the fear, and I hadn’t even cursed at the paramedics when they had disinfected the bottoms of my feet.
But oh, how I’d wanted to.
We drove the short distance to my townhouse in silence, but the tension in the air was palpable. I was worried, but Mason was something else. Something that felt to me like barely controlled rage.
We parked and Mason carried me to the front door. The officer guarding it nodded to us and let us in without us having to even flash our badges.
“Are you okay to walk?” Mason asked when we passed over my threshold.
“I’ll be fine.”
He set me down gingerly and watched me take a couple of steps. Satisfied I wasn’t going to fall and injure myself, he strode past me into the living room. I followed more slowly, just in time to see Vasquez turn to greet Mason.
My heart dropped into my stomach at the sight of my boss. And worry made my body tense even further. But when I approached him, some of my tension faded.
“Front door lock was picked by a pro. Only very small scratches around the lock. The place doesn’t look tossed, but someone tracked snow through the house. And your bedroom was a little trashed. Some pictures tossed around. Your lamp was tossed at your wall. Guess whoever broke in wasn’t happy to find you weren’t home.”
Mason headed upstairs, no doubt to check the damage for himself.
A thought hit me, and I knelt to look under the furniture, ignoring the pain shooting up my ankle.
“Have you seen my cat?” I asked, feeling more than a little desperate.
Vasquez grunted. “Got her locked in a bathroom upstairs. She’s fine. One of the officers grabbed her. Didn’t think you’d want her getting out.”
I opened my mouth to tell the lieutenant that Charlie was, in fact, a boy, but thought better of it. The sex of my cat was probably the last thing on Vasquez’s mind.
A door slammed loudly upstairs. Vasquez put his hand on his gun. “Stay here,” he said, then he took the stairs two at a time.
Ignoring the order, I followed at his heels. This was my house. No one could boss me around in my own home. And Mason was up there.
We got to the second story just in time to see Mason push away from my spare bathroom door. He glared at me, as if I’d somehow done him wrong.
“Found your cat,” he said.
Now that things were slowing down, the implications and questions started running through my mind, and I tuned out Vasquez and Mason for a few seconds. Someone broke into my house—a vampire. And the likelihood that they were there to talk was pretty damn nonexistent. But why me? Why were they in my house?
Vasquez, echoing my own mental questions, brought my attention back to their conversation. “What I don’t understand is what a vamp was doing here?”
I opened my mouth to confess that I’d been working the case with Mason, and that could be why they’d come, but Mason spoke first.
“She touched that coin,” Mason said. “And she’s a known sensitive. Might be that the killer thinks she can identify him or her from it.”
His twisting of my own lie made me grimace, even though what he said made entirely too much sense for my comfort, but Vasquez nodded thoughtfully.
“We’ll put her in a safe house with protective custody until this case is solved.”
“I don’t think so—” I said at the exact same time Mason said, “No, she’s safer with me.”
I blinked at Mason, and the shock running through me was mirrored in Lieutenant Vasquez’s expression.
“What do you mean, safer with you?”
“Chances are she might be able to help identify the killer. Keep a car on my house to help in case we need it, and I’ll watch her.”
“That’s highly irregular,” Vasquez said. He shook his head. “No, it’s not worth the risk.”
“She’s staying with me. She’s a witness in an OWEA investigation and that puts her under my jurisdiction.” Mason’s voice remained low, but he bit off his words.
“Now you wait a damn minute—”
“I’m going to Mason’s,” I said, and both of them blinked at me. I wasn’t entirely sure where the words came from, but the idea of going into protective custody, where I couldn’t even help clear my name, made my stomach twist. But the thought of staying in my own house, which had until such a short time before felt so safe, pushed panic up into my throat.
“I don’t think that’s—” Vasquez began.
“She’s said what she wants,” Mason cut in.
“Stop arguing, both of you,” I said as Vasquez opened his mouth. “I’m not going under protective custody. I’m under administrative leave, right? At least until my badge is taken from me permanently.” I turned slightly to stare down Mason. “I’m under no one’s jurisdiction, and I’ll thank you to remember that. I’ll stay with you because it’s what I want to do, not because I fall under your command.” I stood straighter. “And if you two care to argue about it anymore you can do it outside.” I pointed to the door.
I watched Mason bravely go into the bathroom to retrieve my cat, while I held the carrier. Mason carried Charlie like a bomb, as far from his body as possible, while Charlie glared daggers and struggled to get free. Charlie wasn’t terribly excited to be carted around in his carrier by a lycan, and Mason looked positively disgusted when I placed the cat’s litter box in a spare bathroom adjacent to my room at Mason’s. After getting Charlie settled, I walked back down to Mason’s living room.
My feet were still sore, even with the mountain of aspirin I’d consumed. Driving my own car hadn’t helped, but I didn’t want to be without it. No transportation would make me feel just a little trapped. I’d elected to go straight to Mason’s instead of hitting the hospital first. My ankle was only twisted, and I reassured Mason that if the swelling didn’t go down I would go to the doctor’s office later.