Dark Hunger

Chapter Nine

Drina glanced over the dark schoolyard they were hovering above and then to Casey Co age on the corner across the street. She stared at the lit windows of the house, wishing with all her heart that the storm had con nued, and they hadn't had to return. It wasn't because she didn't want to see Stephanie, Mirabeau, and Tiny, or even Anders, but the closer they'd go en to Port Henry, the more grim Harper had become. She very much feared the passion and laughter of the last twenty-four hours would soon be nothing more than a memory as Harper sank back into his guilt.

"Idiot man," she mu ered under her breath as the helicopter touched down, and then she sighed and moved along the seat toward the door when Harper shi ed to open it. He got out first, and turned, raising his hands to help her out.

Drina hesitated, taking in his impersonal expression, then got out, her teeth grinding together when he took her elbow to usher her away from the helicopter.

Like she was an old crone rather than the life mate he'd made love to seven mes in the last twenty-four hours, she thought bi erly. It was a no ceable difference from the affec onate way he'd slid his arm around her waist and tucked her to his side as they'd made their way to the helicopter in Toronto. She could actually feel the ghost of Jenny Harper slipping between them, cold and clammy. Infuriated by that fact, Drina searched her mind for something to say or do to stop what was happening, but in the end she simply slid her booted foot to the side, tripping him. She then allowed herself to fall with him when he went crashing toward the ice. Harper did what she expected and caught her to his chest, turning as they fell, so that he took the brunt of the impact.

"Oh, I'm so sorry! My foot slipped on the ice," Drina lied, raising herself up on his chest and shi ing

"unintentionally" on his groin to peer into his stunned face. "Are you all right?"

Harper struggled briefly to regain the wind that had been knocked out of him, and then nodded. "I'll live."

"Oh, my poor Harper. Thank you for saving me from the worst of the fall," she said, and kissed him. It was no, "my hero" peck. It was an "I-ain't-wearing-these-bloody-painful-FM-boots-for-nothing-buddy,"

devouring of his mouth.

Much to Drina's sa sfac on, Harper only managed to hold out for a moment before his arms closed around her, and he took the lead. She knew she'd won this round when he rolled her in the snow and began to yank at the buttons of her coat to get at what was underneath as he ground his hips against her.

"All right, you two, cut it out, or I'll have to arrest the pair of you for lewd behavior. There are kids watching, you know."

Harper tore his mouth from Drina's and glanced around to stare blankly at the man crossing the schoolyard toward them. "Teddy."

"It looked like you took a hell of a spill, and I rushed over to see if you two were all right, but it's pre y obvious you recovered quickly enough," Teddy mu ered, pausing beside them and offering Harper a hand.

Sighing, Harper accepted the assistance. Once on his feet, he turned back to help Drina up. She glanced around as she rose, noting that, as had happened when they'd left, there were faces peering out of nearly every window of the surrounding houses, and several of them were children. So, her plan hadn't been the best, Drina thought with a shrug. At least it had worked. If nothing else, she was now pre y sure that she just had to keep hammering at Harper's walls with sex. As her life mate, he would find it hard to fight their a rac on. So, every me the ghost of Jenny Harper slipped between them, and he threw up a wall, she would use sex to tear it down, Drina decided. She could handle that.

"Good Lord, girl!"

Drina blinked her thoughts away at that exclama on and glanced to Teddy Brunswick to see him eyeing her boots with dismay.

"It's no wonder you can't stay on your feet. Those boots are for looking at, not walking," the chief of police mu ered. Shaking his head, he took her arm as if afraid she wouldn't be able to stay upright long on the heels, and then he urged her forward.

"They're fine," Harper said quietly, slipping his arm around her waist and drawing her against his side. It was a possessive act and one that sent a stream of warmth through her, as well as the hope that they would overcome his guilt and work things out after all.

Teddy chuckled. "Well hell, Stoyan, I'm not surprised you like them. If those aren't a pair of FMs most redblooded men would like to lick, I don't know what are."

"You know about FMs?" Harper asked with surprise over Drina's head.

"I may be old, but I'm not brainless," Teddy said dryly, and then paused to glance both ways as they reached the road.

Drina bit her lip to keep back a chuckle at Harper's disgruntled expression, and asked, "You were at the house, Teddy. Is everything all right?"

"Fine as far as I know," Teddy assured her, urging them to cross the street. "I was just stopping by to check on things on my way home. I wanted to ask about Tiny's turning too and had just pulled into the driveway when your helicopter showed up, so I waited to walk in with you."

"Tiny's turning tonight?" Harper asked tensely, and Drina didn't need to read his mind to know he was thinking of Jenny's turn. The ghost had returned, but with Teddy there, she couldn't trip Harper and throw herself on him again. She would have to be patient.

"Not tonight, no," Teddy said. "But I'm sure it will be soon. Anders brought the blood down for it, and Leonius isn't in the area, so there's no worry of his a acking while everyone is distracted . . ." He shrugged, and then added sensibly, "There's no use in wai ng. I'm sure it will be in the next day or two, and I want to be on hand when it happens in case they need extra help."

"Right," Harper muttered grimly.

"So how was your ou ng in Toronto?" Teddy asked, as they started up the driveway to the house. "Heard you got snowed in."

"Yes, but it was s ll nice," Drina said quietly when Harper remained silent. "In fact, I'm almost sorry we had to return."

"Uh-huh." Teddy nodded. "So you two are life mates?"

Drina turned on him sharply. "Did Stephanie and Mirabeau tell you - "

"They didn't tell me a thing. You two just have that new-life-mate glow about you. I've seen five new lifemate couples now, not counting you two, and recognize the look."

"Six," Harper said tightly.

"What's that?" Teddy asked.

"You've seen six new life-mate couples," Harper explained.

"No, I don't think so," Teddy said with a frown and began to count them off. "Now, let's see, there's Victor and Elvi, DJ and Mabel, Alessandro and Leonora, Edward and Dawn, Mirabeau and Tiny . . . That's five."

"You forgot - "

"Oh wait, you're right, I forgot Lucian and Leigh. They were s ll brand-spanking-new life mates when they came down here that first time," Teddy said with a nod. "So it is six. And you two are seven."

"I meant Jenny and I," Harper said firmly, unable to leave the woman out.

"Hmm." Teddy was silent as they traveled along the side of the garage toward the deck, but then said,

"Well, here's the thing. You two weren't like the others."

Harper looked startled by the words, and it was Drina who asked, "What do you mean?"

"Well, sure enough Harper seemed eager, but Jenny was another ke le of fish. She treated Harper like she did poor old Bobby Jarrod when they were in high school. The boy was crazy for her," he explained.

"Over the moon, and they even dated for a while, but she kept him at arm's length, treated him real cool." He shook his head with distaste. "Everyone knew she was just using him for free ckets to the movies. He was an usher at the Cineplex in London," he explained.

Drina glanced to Harper to see how he was taking this, but his head was bowed, and she couldn't see his expression.

"The biggest favor she did for Bobby was tossing him over for that idiot Randy Matheson when he showed her some interest." Teddy shook his head. "Now there was a troublemaker. She always went a er troublemakers. And Randy's name fit him to a T, let me tell you. Never seen a more randy teenager. I caught those two parking on back roads all around the county until she tossed him over for some London fellow with a rich daddy and an allowance big enough he could afford to rent himself a motel room rather than grope in cars. I wasn't sorry about that at all. Chasing off bare-arsed teenagers just gets old pre y quick."

They'd crossed the deck and reached the door of the house by then, and Teddy paused to turn back to Harper, saying, "I never would have told you all that had Jenny lived, and I didn't say it when she died because I knew you were hur ng, but now that you're happily se led with Drina here, and enjoying that new-life-mate glow like the others, I have to tell you I think you made a lucky escape there. I don't know all the ins and outs of this life-mate business, but while Jenny might have been a possible life mate for you and agreed to the turn, I don't think her heart was in it. I kind of got the feeling she just saw you as another Bobby Jarrod."

Turning away, Teddy opened the screen door and raised a hand to knock but paused as Mirabeau opened the door from inside.

"Beau," Teddy greeted, stepping inside.

Mirabeau smiled, then glanced past Teddy to Drina and Harper and waved them in. "Come on you two. It's cold out."

Forcing a smile, Drina stepped inside, wishing she could drag Harper somewhere to talk and find out what he was thinking. But there didn't appear to be much of a chance at the moment. She would have to figure out a way to get him alone and talk to him later.

"Decided to come out of hiding now that Drina and Stephanie have gone to bed, did you?"

Harper s ffened at that gree ng from Anders as he stepped off the stairs and turned the corner into the dining room. The hunter sat at the table, a deck of cards spread out before him in what appeared to be a complicated version of solitaire. Harper frowned at the man, not apprecia ng that one of the few mes the Russian chose to speak more than a word or two was to call him out on his behavior.

"I wasn't hiding," he lied, turning to walk along the L-shaped counter separa ng the kitchen from the dining room. Moving to the refrigerator, he opened it, his eyes sliding from the bags of blood to the available food inside.

"Right," Anders said dryly. "You just like four-hour showers."

Harper scowled into the refrigerator, and then grabbed both a bag of blood and a bowl of some sort of le over. He wasn't sure what it was, but he was hungry. He'd heat it up and see what it tasted like. The dinner he'd had with Drina was the first me he'd eaten in a while. He hadn't a clue what he would like, so everything was an experiment just now.

"Your avoiding her hurt Drina," Anders growled.

Harper set the bowl on the counter with a sigh and lowered his head. He shouldn't be surprised that his fleeing the minute they'd got their coat and boots off, and then not returning downstairs would hurt her, he supposed, but he hadn't been thinking of her. He'd been thinking of -

"A dead woman," Anders said grimly, reminding him that his thoughts were easily read at the moment.

"She was my life mate," Harper said quietly.

"Was being the opera ve word. She died. Fate had other plans for you. Now you have Drina. It's a damned lucky turn of events for you. Some never find a second life mate, and those who do usually have to wait centuries. And Drina's already immortal, another bit of luck since you've already used your one allowed turn. It would be foolish to throw this good fortune away."

Harper stared out the back window of the house, frustra on coursing through him. Everything Anders said was true, but he couldn't seem to rid himself of the clawing guilt. He'd managed to forget it for a while in Toronto, but the closer they'd go en to Port Henry, the more he'd felt like a philandering husband returning from an elicit rendezvous with his secretary.

Harper closed his eyes. Jenny was dead and in the grave because she'd been willing to turn and be his life mate, and he was off laughing and playing with another woman. He felt like he was dancing on her grave.

But that wasn't even the worst of it. The thing that really ate at him was that he couldn't even remember what Jenny had looked like anymore. That wasn't because of Drina's arrival. He hadn't been able to recall her face for a while now. Her image had faded from his mind almost before she'd been in the ground. It was wrong. Shameful. She'd died to be with him and deserved better than that.

"And what does Drina deserve?" Anders asked, obviously still in his thoughts. Harper turned and scowled at the usually uncommunicative man. "What do you care?"

"I don't," Anders said with a shrug, moving cards around on the table. "If you want to throw away a good thing when fate is kind enough to give it to you, go for it."

"Thank you," Harper said dryly, turning back to the counter.

"But I'll tell you this," Anders said in a conversa onal tone. "If it had turned out that Drina could have been a life mate to either you or me . . . you'd be dead. I'd have killed to claim her. Most immortals would. So I'm thinking you're either a fool or seriously fucked up. Either way, she's be er off without you."

Harper whipped around to gape at him, but Anders didn't even glance up from his cards and con nued ma er-of-factly playing his game as he added, "I'm doub ng she'll see it that way, though. This'll eat at her, distract her from what she's supposed to be doing, and a distracted hunter usually ends up a dead hunter."

Anders paused to glance to Harper, and added, "That's all right, though. You'll have two life mates'

deaths on your hands and can completely submerge yourself in guilt and misery, right?"

"Gin," Stephanie said triumphantly, laying her cards on the table.

Drina tore her gaze from the ceiling and reached for a card from the deck.

"Hello. I said gin," Stephanie said dryly, making Drina pause and blink at her in confusion. Heaving a heavy sigh, the teenager shook her head. "You aren't even paying attention, Dree."

"Sorry," Drina mu ered, and then a small smile tugged at her lips, and she set her cards down, saying,

"Beth calls me that."

"Dree?" Stephanie asked, collec ng the cards and beginning to shuffle them again. "She's your partner, right?"

Drina nodded, suddenly wishing Beth were there. She could use some advice at the moment.

"Harper's avoiding you," Stephanie murmured sadly as she began to deal cards.

"It would seem so," Drina said on a sigh, her eyes sliding to the ceiling again. He'd been avoiding her ever since their return the night before. He'd escaped to his room to shower and change the moment they'd go en their coats and boots off and hadn't le it un l she and Stephanie had re red for the night. She'd heard him come down from the third floor and descend the creaky stairs. Now it was midmorning, and he was apparently s ll sleeping. Or hiding in his room. She didn't know which but suspected it was the latter.

"What are you going to do about it?" Stephanie asked quietly, finishing dealing and se ng the remaining cards on the table.

Drina shook her head. She'd lain awake most of the night trying to figure that one out, and she'd been fre ng over it since rising with Stephanie this morning and s ll didn't have a clue. It was hard to know what to do to drag him out of his gloom and preoccupa on if he was going to just hide in his damned room.

Oh, she knew what she wanted to do. Drina wanted to go to his room, climb into his bed, and wipe the memories of Jenny from his mind with hot, live-life-mate sex. Unfortunately, she had responsibili es here. She had to spend the nights with Stephanie to be sure the girl didn't take it into her head to run off to her mortal family, and she had to spend the days watching out for her un l Anders took over. That le only the evening hours for her to do anything, and Drina suspected Harper was going to use the presence of the others to keep her at arm's length, or -

Her thoughts sca ered to the four winds, and Drina s ffened as she heard footsteps moving along the landing above them and then start down the stairs.

"It's him," Stephanie whispered, sounding excited, and Drina glanced at her with surprise. Before she could ask how the girl knew it wasn't someone else, Harper came around the corner and into the kitchen.

"Good morning, ladies," he greeted, crossing straight to Drina and bending to press a kiss to her forehead.

"Morning," Drina whispered huskily, surprise and relief leaving her wide-eyed as he straightened. Harper paused halfway upright, his gaze caught by hers, then bent to kiss her again, this time on the lips.

"Oh geez, gag," Stephanie said with disgust, as the kiss turned carnal. "Really, Harper? At least Dree is imagining dragging you upstairs to the privacy and comfort of a bedroom and not throwing you on the table to have her way with you."

"The table?" Drina asked breathlessly when Harper immediately broke their kiss.

"Sorry. A stray thought," Harper muttered, straightening.

Stephanie snorted. "More like a full-blown fantasy. I mean, it was pre y detailed." Standing, she moved around the table, heading for the stairs. "I'm going to brush my hair and change my clothes if we're going out. That gives you two about ten minutes to get it out of your system, so I'm not stuck with a couple of frustrated horndogs all day. But no pressure," she added on a laugh as she swung out of the room and started upstairs.

"We're going out?" Drina murmured, turning her gaze back to Harper.

"I thought I'd take you girls to the city for lunch and some shopping," Harper admi ed, catching her hand and dragging her from her chair.

"Oh," she breathed, stumbling after him through the kitchen and into the pantry. "What are we doing?"

Harper came to a halt in the small pantry, turned to catch her by the waist, and lifted her onto the counter in front of the window overlooking the backyard.

"What - ?"

"You heard her. We have ten minutes," Harper mu ered, catching the hem of her T-shirt and tugging it upward to reveal another of her new bras, this one a pale pink that stood out against her olive skin. Pausing, he breathed, "Damn, I think I have a new favorite."

"Harper," Drina protested on a laugh, grabbing for his hands as he tugged one cup aside to free a breast.

"Stop, we can't."

"Ten minutes," he reminded her, bending forward to latch onto the nipple he'd just bared.

"But we'll pass out, and she'll find us naked on the pantry floor," Drina groaned, releasing his hands to grab his head instead. Unfortunately, while her mind was being sensible - at least a ny part of it was -

her body wasn't like-minded, and instead of forcing his head away, she laced her fingers through his hair, silently urging him on.

"Damn," Harper breathed, le ng her nipple slip from his mouth. He remained s ll for a moment, and then straightened and slipped her breast back into her bra.

Drina nearly groaned aloud when he then tugged her shirt back down, but she knew it was for the best.

"We'll just have to manage it with our clothes on."

She blinked with confusion. "What?"

"We'll stay dressed," Harper announced, and then stepped between her open, jeans-clad thighs and kissed her.

Drina didn't have a clue what he was up to, but his tongue was now in her mouth, his hands finding and caressing her breasts through her T-shirt and bra, and she found it hard to think about anything but the sensations now flooding through her.

When he moved closer and ground his hardness against her through her jeans, Drina groaned and dug her nails into his T-shirt, dragging it upward. Harper immediately broke their kiss, and mu ered, "Clothes on," as he trailed kisses across her cheek to her ear.

"Clothes," she echoed without comprehension, and released his T-shirt, only to move her hands around to reach for his belt buckle.

Harper immediately released her breasts and stepped back to li her off the counter. That snapped Drina out of it a bit, and she opened her mouth to protest, but then bit her lip in surprise when he suddenly turned her so her back was to him, and growled, "Hands on the counter."

"What?" she asked with surprise.

"Hands on the countertop," Harper ordered, his own hands moving around her waist and up to cup her breasts again through her clothes. It immediately reminded her of his apartment and his doing this in front of the mirrored closet doors. The ero c memory of their reflec on filled her head and ratcheted her mounting excitement by several degrees.

Drina ground her teeth and leaned on the counter, her head bowing as one of his hands slid down between her legs, both caressing her through her jeans and pressing her bo om back against his hips and the hardness growing there.

When Harper suddenly used his hand at her breast to pull her upright and back against his chest, Drina leaned her head back on his shoulder. Closing her eyes, she covered his hands with hers and moaned as he nearly li ed her off the floor with the hand between her legs in his effort to affect her through her thick jeans.

"Eight minutes," he breathed, nipping at her ear.

A breathless laugh slipping from her lips, Drina opened her eyes, and then blinked as she spo ed movement in the backyard. She squinted against the bright sunlight pouring through the window, trying to make out what she'd seen, then gasped and s ffened as Harper stopped cupping her between the legs and shi ed his hand to slide it down her pants. Slipping under the waistline of both jeans and pan es, his fingers dove unerringly between her legs, intensifying everything for them both.

"Oh God," Harper mu ered against her neck, his caress becoming fran c as their mingled pleasure and excitement bounced between them in growing waves.

"Yes," Drina gasped, eyes closing and hips rota ng to his touch, so that she ground back against him with each movement. She was clawing at his hands now with excitement, her only thought reaching that peak they were racing toward, and then he slid two fingers inside her and sank his fangs into her neck at the same time, and Drina screamed as pleasure exploded over them.

"So tell me again about that mouse Drina saw that made her scream and faint?"

Drina turned in the front passenger seat of Harper's BMW to make a face at Stephanie in the backseat.

"All right, smarty-pants. You can read our minds and know there was no mouse. Get over it."

"Well, even if I couldn't read your minds, you don't really think I would have bought that whole mouse story, do you?" Stephanie asked with amusement. "I mean, seriously, a hunter who faints at the sight of a tiny mouse?"

Drina shook her head and turned to face forward again. As usual, Harper had woken from their postcoital faint before her. He'd been trying to rouse her when Stephanie had found them on the pantry floor. She had no idea why he'd even bothered to make up the mouse story when the girl could read them so easily, but he had. As one would expect, it hadn't gone over.

"It wasn't exactly a postcoital faint, was it," Stephanie said dryly. "I mean coitus is - "

"Stephanie!" she barked, swinging on her with horror.

"Well, it wasn't," Stephanie said defensively. "Harper didn't actually insert part A into part B. Well, I suppose there was some insertion, but of part F not - "

"How do you know that?" Drina interrupted her teasing sharply.

Stephanie rolled her eyes. "We've been through this. I can read your mind, remember?"

"Yes, but I wasn't thinking of it," Drina said at once, aware that Harper was glancing from the road, to her, to Stephanie in the rearview mirror with a troubled frown.

Stephanie shrugged. "You must be. Otherwise, how would I know what you two did?"

Drina stared at her silently, more than troubled. She hadn't been thinking of what she and Harper had done. She'd been thinking of the a er, the waking up on the floor. Yet Stephanie apparently knew what had happened between her and Harper and obviously in detail. It should embarrass her, but she was too concerned by what the girl's apparently pulling - not just thoughts, but - actual memories from her mind could mean to worry about embarrassment.

Usually, for an immortal to access someone's memories, they had to get the person they were reading to recall them. Stephanie apparently could access them whether the person was thinking of them or not.

"You think I'm a freak now," Stephanie said unhappily.

"Not a freak," Drina said quietly. "Apparently very gifted."

The girl relaxed and smiled a little at that. "Gifted?"

"Very," Drina murmured, and turned in her seat to face front, doing her best to keep her thoughts as blank as possible. Stephanie's abili es weren't normal, but she didn't even want to get near that thought in the girl's presence. She needed to think, but away from Stephanie.

She also needed to find a chance to talk to Harper, Drina thought on a sigh. While she was glad he wasn't avoiding her this morning, he had last night, and his blowing hot and then cold was leaving her uncertain and worried about the future. She had started out her journey to Port Henry determined to be pa ent, but that was before she'd met and spent me with him. The more Drina got to know Harper, the more emo onally invested she became, and she'd started out pre y invested to begin with for the simple reason that he was her life mate.

The moment Drina had walked into Casey Co age, tried to read him, failed, and acknowledged that Marguerite was right, and he was her life mate, she'd thrown in half her emo onal chips. But with every conversa on they had, and every experience they shared, she was throwing in more chips, and Drina was afraid of getting hurt here if his guilt proved too strong for him to put aside.

"Are you feeling all right, Stephanie? You look pale."

Harper glanced to the girl at Drina's words and frowned as he noted her pallor.

"I'm fine, hungry is all," Stephanie mumbled. "Can we stop and get a sundae or something on the way out? That'll settle my stomach."

"I don't think it's food you're hungry for," Drina said solemnly. "We've been at the mall for hours now, and you're a growing girl. You need to feed."

"I'll get the cooler out of the trunk and put it into the backseat before we leave. She can feed on the way back," Harper murmured, ushering them toward the exit nearest to where he'd parked.

"I don't want to feed," Stephanie complained, sounding as cranky as a five-year-old.

"I said you need to feed. Want doesn't come into it," Drina said firmly.

Harper couldn't help but no ce this made Stephanie's lower lip protrude rebelliously. He suspected they would have a fight on their hands ge ng the girl to feed at this rate, and then noted the way she was rubbing her stomach, and said, "It will make your cramps go away."

"Whatever," Stephanie snapped, leading the way outside in a stomp.

"She just needs to feed," Drina murmured, excusing her behavior as if worried Harper might think badly of the girl.

"I know," he assured her, and then, finding it adorable that she would defend the girl like a mother bear with a cub, Harper slipped his arm around Drina's waist and drew her to his side to kiss her forehead.

"You're going to be a good mother."

She turned a stunned face to him, then quickly looked forward again, and Harper smiled wryly. He supposed she hadn't yet considered the possibility of children. Not that he had, either. He hadn't really considered much at all yet.

Anders's words the night before had shaken Harper sufficiently to send him back to his room and into bed, where he'd lain contempla ng the possibility of losing Drina to death. He'd been so wrapped up in his own emo onal struggles, he hadn't even considered how it might affect her. Oh, certainly, she'd made him consider that if he didn't claim her, he might lose her to some possible alternate life mate, but that had seemed a far-off thing. Harper supposed, in his arrogance, he'd also imagined that he would have a chance to win her back in that distant future if his actions drove her away now. But Anders's words had made him worry about her actually dying, killed as a direct result of her emo onal upheaval and distrac on. The possibility had scared the crap out of him and made him face what was important here. Jenny was dead, and while he felt responsible, there was nothing he could do to bring her back or rewrite what had happened. He had grieved and been wracked by guilt for a year and a half now. How much longer would his conscience demand he suffer for a death he never imagined, let alone intended? Did he really feel he needed to lose Drina, even temporarily, to make up for the loss of Jenny? And did he really want to risk losing her permanently to death just to satisfy that conscience?

The answer had been no, and Harper had finally gone to sleep around dawn having decided he wasn't going to avoid her anymore. It was me to put his guilt aside and embrace his good fortune, because he was definitely one lucky son of a bitch to be given a second chance at the brass ring of happiness with a life mate, especially so soon after receiving it the last time.

Harper wasn't foolish enough to think it would be easy. Deciding not to feel guilty was a first step, but he knew he would have to fight on occasion to keep to that decision. However, he was determined and felt sure he could do it . . . for Drina.

"Hurry up you two. Gawd, you're as slow as snails," Stephanie complained, shi ing restlessly beside the car.

Harper heard Drina sigh with exaspera on at the teen's moodiness and briefly ghtened his arm around her waist in sympathy. He then dug his keys out of his pocket.

"You two get in. I'll get the cooler," Harper said, moving toward the back of the vehicle. It was Drina who'd thought to bring blood along. Which was another reason he felt sure she'd be a good mother. It hadn't even occurred to him that Stephanie needed to feed more o en than they did. As he li ed the cooler out of the trunk, he smiled at the thought of Drina with a li le Drina in her arms. Or a li le Harper, he thought as he closed the trunk and moved around to open the back passenger door and set it on the seat behind his own. Or both even. He grinned as he closed the back door and moved to open the driver's door.

"How am I supposed to feed? I don't have any straws," Stephanie snapped, as he slid behind the steering wheel.

"We'll stop at a drive-thru and buy a couple of drinks. You can use the straws," Harper said calmly, starting the engine.

Stephanie mu ered under her breath, but didn't comment otherwise and Harper shi ed the car into gear, then reached out to place his hand on Drina's leg as he steered them out of the parking lot. Her thigh was as hard as steel at first, telling him Stephanie's behavior had put her on edge as he'd suspected, but some of that tension le under his massaging fingers, and by the me he steered the car into the line at a fast-food drive-thru, she had relaxed considerably.

"What do you want?" Harper asked as he nosed up to the speaker. "Coke?"

"Whatever," Stephanie muttered.

"Coke it is," he said cheerfully, and quickly ordered three.

The moment Harper received and passed over the drinks, Drina passed Stephanie hers along with the straw from a second one. She then set the third drink in the holder for him, and took the lid off her glass to drink from the cup itself.

They were silent for a bit, Harper glancing in the rearview mirror occasionally to see that Stephanie actually was feeding. The fact that she went through three bags one a er the other, stabbing the straws viciously into them and then grimly and steadily sucking back the thick red liquid, told him how badly she'd needed the blood.

They were nearly to Port Henry by the me she'd finished the third one, and Stephanie heaved an audible sigh as she scrunched up the empty bag and tossed it back into the still nearly full cooler.

"Feel better?" Drina asked, turning in her seat to smile tentatively at the girl.

"Yeah," Stephanie admi ed, sinking back in her seat with a sigh, and then, sounding embarrassed, she muttered, "Sorry if I was cranky."

Drina shook her head. "I should have kept better track of the time and thought to feed you sooner."

Stephanie smiled wryly. "Well, it's not like you're used to having kids around. Everyone in your family is old."

Harper glanced to Drina to see a cloud of worry cross her face and guessed this wasn't something she'd told the girl but another sign of Stephanie's skill at pulling informa on from their minds. It was growing increasingly obvious that Stephanie had some mad skills, beyond anything he'd encountered before. Turning back to the road, he saw that they were approaching the first set of stoplights on the way into Port Henry. He eased his foot down on the brakes . . . and then applied more force when nothing happened.

"What's wrong with the brakes?" Stephanie popped into view in the rearview mirror as she abruptly sat up. He had no idea how she knew, probably a stray thought from his mind, he supposed, but didn't have time to work it out.

"The brakes?" Drina asked with confusion.

"Hold on," Harper ground out, reaching for the emergency brakes and cursing when that had no effect. He tried to shut off the engine then, but knew it was too late; they were already flying into the intersec on on a red light . . . and a semi was roaring toward them from their right, unaware of their problem and rushing to make his green.

The next moment seemed to pass both with the speed of a heartbeat, and crawl by like a slow-mo on hour for Harper. He was vaguely aware of the girls' shou ng, of roaring Drina's name himself and reaching desperately for her, and then the truck barreled into the passenger side and the scream of tearing metal joined the chaos. Blood, pop, and glass exploded through the interior of the car, and they were slammed about, and then moving sideways, screeching up the road on burning rubber and then rims, propelled by the semi. That seemed to last forever, though it was probably only a minute or two before the semi driver managed to stop his vehicle, and consequently the car as well, and then everything went silent and still.

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