Dark Hunger

Page 40

I really love Italy, and Donnie is the best fiancé a girl could have. But honestly, Mom, I hate climbing mountains. It’s cold, it’s wet, and there’s nothing but rocks and trees and more rocks and trees. When we get back from this trip, and you ever hear me or Donnie say the words “mountain climbing” again, I want you to slap some sense into both of us.

Saturday Donnie and I drove to the Alps and stopped at that inn I told you about, the really pretty one at the base of the mountain in that pretty town. We were just planning to stay there for the night and make a one-day trip to Berlin to get some chocolate and that cuckoo clock Grandma wanted. Well, you know how Donnie gets the minute he’s near anything taller than a hill, and then he met this group of German rock climbers. They got to talking and next thing I know this chick Gerta is lending me some of her gear so we can go climbing with them.

I didn’t want to go. Seriously! Our tour guide back in Rome told us it was the wrong time of year to climb. But you know Donnie. Show him a rock hammer and he’s strapping on his boots. Anyway, the Germans were pretty nice for climbers, and that girl Gerta helped me keep up. Still, it took five hours to climb up from the inn to this stupid pass, and by the time we got to the top I was ready to ralph up my breakfast in Donnie’s lap. Everything was all slushy and dripping, and then this huge slab of snow and ice just collapsed and rolled down the mountain. I swear, if we hadn’t stopped under this big boulder overhang thing, your little girl wouldn’t be writing this letter. Seriously.

I wanted to go down right then, but one of the Germans spotted another climber in the snow and yelled, and of course we had to slog through all this crap that came off the top of the mountain to dig the poor guy out. At first I thought he was dead for sure, and then he opened his eyes and sat up and—oh, God, this is, like, the most embarrassing thing—he was totally naked. The only thing on his bod was this wicked tat of a snake.

Fritz, one of the German guys, said people do that sometimes when they get hypothermia—they get a little weird in the head, think it’s hot instead of cold and then start stripping. Seriously! Thank heavens Donnie had a change of clothes in his pack or the poor guy would have finished freezing to death.

The amazing thing was that even though he was buck naked and got hit by an avalanche and everything, he wasn’t hurt, not really. I mean, he had a bad cut on his head, and he was kind of out of it, but no broken bones or anything like that. Gerta thought he might have some kind of, like, brain injury, because he couldn’t talk or tell us his name or anything. He didn’t seem to understand us, either, no matter what language we used. I said some stuff I remembered from high school French class, and Donnie tried Italian and Spanish, but no luck. Did you know Germans speak, like, twenty different languages? They tried everything they knew, until Gerta said he was probably, like, really traumatized from getting caught in the avalanche and we should take him down to the inn and get a doctor to take a look at him.

I thought it would take forever to climb back down with this guy being hurt and all, but he kept up with us and even showed Fritz this faster way down, so he must have been a really experienced climber. He didn’t seem upset until we got to the inn, and then he got a little freaked out. He kept looking around like he didn’t know where he was. Donnie said it was a delayed reaction or something. First the guy looked like he was going to pass out right there in the parking lot, and the Germans had to grab him to keep him from running out into the middle of the street.

The people at the inn didn’t know who he was, but since he was hurt and kind of starved-looking they were really nice and gave him a room and a huge free meal and stuff. They also called this doctor from the village who checked him out. Later he came by to talk to me and Donnie, and said the man had some sort of amnesia that usually happens to people after they go through wars and stuff. The name of it had letters, like PMS, but I can’t remember exactly what they are now.

I almost freaked out the next morning when we went to check on him, and the innkeeper said he borrowed some gear from the Germans and went back up the mountain. Seriously! You’d think after what he’d been through he’d be scared to climb, but no, the guy jumped right back on the horse. He didn’t come back until just before we were going to leave, and he looked better, but I think he was really upset. He still couldn’t talk to us, but he used his hands to, like, say thank-you, and gave Donnie and Fritz each an old, nasty-looking coin.

I wanted Donnie to throw that thing away, it was so covered with crud, but he said he thought it was really old and we should have it appraised. So while we were in Berlin Donnie took it to this coin dealer, and the dealer washed off the crud and got all quiet and then he told Donnie that it was pure gold and in mint condition and stuff. Get this, Mom: It’s, like, two thousand years old and worth a huge pile of money. Seriously!

The dealer said we could get a lot more money for it from a collector in the States. Donnie’s worried we could get in trouble for taking it out of Italy, but I’m just going to stick it in my bra. Like customs is going to look there, right? So when we get home we’re going to sell it and use the money to pay for a really nice wedding. Donnie said if we sell it to the right person there might even be enough left over for us to put a down payment on a town house. Tell Daddy, since I know that will make him happy, ha ha ha.

Oh, I almost forgot—I don’t know what happened to the man with amnesia, but he was gone when we stopped at the inn on our way back to Rome. The innkeeper said he just walked down the road the day we left and disappeared. Donnie thought about calling the newspapers, you know? But I told him that they would for sure want to know where that guy found the coin and if there were more, etc. So we’re not going to tell anyone. I know—you and Daddy would say we should go to the police, but we really did save that man’s life. So we’re looking at this like a little reward for being Good Samaritans, that’s all.

We’re going on to Venice like we planned, and I’ll call you from there to make sure you have the right flight number and gate and stuff and when we’ll be arriving at LAX. Give Daddy and Jimmy and Sarah a hug for me, and see you next week!



Chapter 16

The many wars Matthias had fought had not all taken place on blood-soaked battlefields. Some, like the one Jessa was fighting, happened in the endless expanse of the soul, where the combatants could not be seen or heard, only felt.

In that golden place within, where the truth of her shone bright and hot as the summer sun, she fought herself.

Her body trembled and her fingers dug into his arms, and she was so rigid that she felt like a bundle of dry twigs ready to snap. But her soft, lush mouth welcomed his, and she tasted as sweet and hot as her hidden self, the woman he met every night in his dreams, all woman, all eager desire now.

The dampness of her skin and the change in her scent told him that she would soon lose this battle, and if she did so in his arms she would never forgive herself. That alone gave him enough will to fight back his own need and ease away from her.

“There is no reason to fear this,” he said, keeping their hands linked. “It has been between us since the first moment.”

“When you kidnapped me,” she snapped.

“When I looked into your eyes.” He ran his hand over her hair, moving it back from her brow. “I knew then that you were made for me. That you were meant for me.”

“I’m not afraid of you,” she said again, with less conviction. “And I’m certainly not meant for you.”

He wanted to pick her up, carry her into her room, and show her with his mouth and hands and body what he could say only with words now. But that was what she was expecting: to be overpowered, to be taken. That would allow her to continue the battle inside her soul, for she could then hold both sides of herself blameless.

As much as he wanted her, he would not force her. “I will wait for you to come to me.”

“I don’t know what is more insulting,” she said, her face becoming a mask of calm. “You thinking that I’m afraid, or that I’d want you.”

“I do not think. I know.” He pressed his mouth to her brow before she could move away. “You cannot command fate, Jezebel.”

“That’s not my name,” she said through clenched teeth.

“Neither is Jessa.” He released her and left her there.

Matthias spent the rest of the evening working the stones until his muscles ached and he dripped with sweat. After he bathed, he went to his room and slept for an hour before rising and going to the communications room. There he read through his e-mails, and found one sent from a mobile phone with an unfamiliar number.

From: D.

To: Rainman

Subject: Moving

Hey, everything looking peachy? Not so much here. I’m okay but my apartment caught fire so I’m out looking for a new place. I have what’s left of the furniture, but I could use some help with moving it or I’ll have to borrow a truck. I’ll be hanging at Tag’s place until noon. Give my regards to the ladies.

Later, D

“D” identified the sender as Drew Riordan, as did the beginning words, the first letters of each spelling “help.” Rowan was the only one who could interpret the meaning of the rest of the message, but Matthias could guess the gravity of his situation. The only reason Drew would have sent a coded message was if somehow his presence at GenHance had been discovered, and he had been forced to leave to avoid being taken.

Matthias went to wake Rowan, who blinked sleepily until he told her about Drew’s message. She sat up and read the copy he had printed.

“They didn’t catch him in the act, but they found out what he’s been doing,” she said as she decoded the message. “He had time to dupe his files and then fry all the computers in his department before he took off.”

“His absence will confirm that he was the one passing information to us.”

“So will all the crap they find when they search his office.” She threw off her covers and bounced out of the bed. “He needs transportation. He says he’s going to wait for a pickup in Price Park until noon. If we don’t show by then, he’ll steal something and go to ground.”

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