DISCLAIMER: These characters belong to Kim Harrison. No copyright infringement is intended.
SPOILERS: The entire series through the Outlaw Demon Wails.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Let Sleeping Vamps Lie
It had taken me longer than it should have for me to come here. After Kisten had died getting through each day had been so hard. Only focusing on Ivy and trying to find Kisten's killer had gotten me through each day. And then Halloween had come around. That Halloween changed my life forever. It's not every day that a girl discovers that she can create the first little baby demons in thousands of years. If I'd ever thought in some distant way of having kids, and a husband one day, that knowledge had completely erased that possibility. It wasn't something that I even wanted to consider, and it had taken me more than a few days to come to terms with it.
Some days I still woke up panting and sweating from nightmares that I did my best to forget. And then there was Al. In some ways, Al was still one of my biggest nightmares. Getting to know him better hadn't made him any less scary. It just meant that I was slightly less likely to die immediately if I pissed him off enough. Some days that was a reassuring thought, other days it scared me even more. There were worst things than death. I knew that now.
Maybe that was why I had chosen now to come here and do this. Maybe it was because I'd gotten just the smallest dose of what Ivy had been through. Either way, it was time.
I flashed my runner's license at the guard. His eyes flicked over to it for a second, but he couldn't have looked less interested as he buzzed me through. The first guard had warned me that what I was doing was dangerous and he'd made me fill out a rainforest's worth of paperwork stating that I was aware of the dangers and that they would not held be responsible for anything that happened to me inside their walls. It was a real comfort.
I clenched my hand at my side to stop it from shaking and stuck it in my pocket. Stupid, stupid, stupid witch. What had I been thinking? I should just forget about this and go home. Never mention it to Ivy. That would be the best plan. And yet, I couldn't. After all, when had I ever followed the best plan? I just had to at least do this one thing. I owed it to her, because if I'd had half a chance I would have done the same thing. And then I would be the one in this cell.
"Skimmer." I would never admit it to Ivy or anyone else, but I had been glad when Skimmer locked in here. I was runner enough to admit that she scared me and a part of me that I didn't like to think about was glad that she was being kept far, far away from Ivy.
Skimmer had always bothered me, both in the way that she'd acted around Ivy, and her closeness to Piscary. Still, when I spoke, it was with respect. She had done what none of us had been able to when she killed Piscary. Whatever else I might feel towards Skimmer, I'd always be grateful to her for freeing Ivy from Piscary's influence. Even I wasn't petty enough to deny Skimmer that.
"Rachel, what are you doing here?" I'd always hated the way that her voice could seem so sweet, and yet be so full of utter derision. Apparently today was no exception.
I crossed my arms over my chest, and forced myself not to take a step back from her. There was something in her voice, the tilt of her head, maybe, that was giving me the creeps.
"I came to say thank you," I forced the words out. Actually the last thing I was feeling at this moment was thankful, but it needed to be said. It was the whole reason I'd come here, after all.
"Thank you?" Skimmer sounded amused now, and that ticked me off. "What are you thanking me for? For getting myself locked up in here so that you can have Ivy to yourself?"
"Ivy and I aren't like that and you know it." The words snapped out of my mouth before I could stop myself, even as I realized how childish they sounded. Well, Turn it, Skimmer always had been skilled at making me feel like an idiot. I took a deep breath, trying to calm myself down and remember the reason that I'd come here. "I wanted to thank you for setting Ivy free from Piscary," I said. "No one else could have done it. You did."
Skimmer scoffed and stepped forward until her fingers were splayed out, pressing against the bars. Her skin was white where it touched them, from the pressure behind her gesture. Only once before had I seen the physical side of her living vamp strengths and that was when she was hacking Piscary's neck open with a paper cutter. This was no less scary.
"Someone should set her free from you, Morgan. What you do to her is worse than anything he ever did to her." Her voice was filled with venom and undisguised loathing. It seemed that with Skimmer behind bars, we would no longer be playing nice for Ivy's benefit.
"What are you talking about? I don't do anything to Ivy." Even to me, my denial sounded feeble.
"Oh?" From a professional standpoint, I had to admire the amount of mocking sarcasm that Skimmer packed into that single syllable. Someday I would so have to use that same tone on Al. Someday when Skimmer didn't look ready to kill me.
"Yeah." I said, trying to back up my oh-so-witty retort with as much bravado as I could muster.
Skimmer didn't seem to even notice. "So you didn't spend all of that time telling Ivy that you didn't want to share blood with her, and then seduce her? You didn't tell Ivy that you wanted to find a blood balance with her, but only if she'd neuter herself to suit you? You continue to dangle the relationship that Ivy wants with you more than anything else in the world in front of her and then deny it?" Rage simmered in Skimmer's eyes. "She'll destroy herself trying to become the person you want her to be."
My hands began to tremble as adrenaline kicked out into my bloodstream.
"Like you were helping her? You were just using Ivy for her blood! You play the exact same games as Piscary."
"You don't know what you're talking about," Skimmer retorted, her voice low and cold. "I treat Ivy like what she is. You treat her as if she was a person, who just happens to have a blood habit. She's not. She's a living vampire - something that you can never imagine or understand. If you truly care about her, do what's best for Ivy: leave her alone."
It was the hint of pleading and frustration that hit me in the gut like a sucker punch from a werewolf. I took a step forward as I felt my skin flush with anger. Before my angry reply could leave my lips, Skimmer's pupils dilated into pools of the deepest black.
The pull she exerted on the vampire saliva in my scar nearly brought me to my knees. Only my experiences with Ivy gave me the strength to lock my knees and remain standing.
"Skimmer. Don't do this." I hated the breathlessness in my voice. Stupid, stupid, stupid, witch, taunting the living vampire who had been cut off from all potential blood donors for months and who hated my guts. What had I been thinking? I hadn't, of course, and I wasn't going to start now. The things she was doing to me...thinking was impossible.
"Come to me, Rachel," Skimmer's voice caressed my skin like silk. Involuntarily I took a step closer to her. Her hand reached out, stroking over the covered scar on my neck. I shivered under her touch, turning into it, as the warm, tingling feeling of vampire pheromones washing over me grew. I ached with the desire for her teeth to sink into my skin - the desire that Ivy had wakened in me.
Thoughts of Skimmer was suddenly replaced with the image of Ivy standing over me. "No." The word was weak, but my denial had been spoken. It wasn't Skimmer that I wanted. The thought seemed to free some portion of my mind. As Skimmer's fingers closed over my shoulder to pull me closer, a flash of being pinned up against a cold concrete wall hit me and I yanked back. The heel of my boot caught on a crack in the concrete and I fell, landing awkwardly and painfully on my ass and elbow. My elbow went numb and fear choked me as I scrambled away from the bars and the dangerous vamp just behind them.
"No!" I screamed the word this time, nausea rising in me as desire still warred with horror. I summoned up every ounce of ley line energy that I could, from the reserves spindled in my chi, and lashed out at Skimmer. The look of shock on Skimmer's face was the last thing I saw as she was flung back against the far wall of her cell and my vision faded to encompassing darkness.
"Rachel?" A familiar voice, full of worry, pulled me back to consciousness.
"Tink's knickers, Rache, what have I told you about napping in the middle of runs?" Jenks was trying to sound berating, but merely sounded concerned.
Their voices were the most wonderful thing that I'd ever heard.
"Hey, guys," I slurred tiredly, reaching out as I opened my eyes. The light made my head throb and I immediately wished that I could close them again. Ivy's hand closed over my forearm and she gently helped me ease into a sitting position.
"What the hell were you doing here, Rachel?" Ivy asked in a low hiss. Her fingers dug into my arm as her grip went from supportive to painfully tight.
"Nothing." I shook my head, and then bit back a groan as my it felt like it was trying to burst. "Can we go?"
"Absolutely." Jenks was flitting from his usual perch on my dangling hoop earring to Ivy's shoulder, leaving a trail of pixy dust sparkling in the air between us. "Let's go, Ivy."
Ivy shook her head, staring at me with an unreadable expression. "Not until Rachel tells me why she was here."
I shrugged and looked down. I couldn't face Ivy right now. Not with everything that Skimmer had said about Ivy and I so fresh in my mind.
I looked up, just a quick flick of my eyes. I hadn't counted on meeting Ivy's gaze so completely. It was amazing I hadn't let her bind me, after all of the close encounters that we'd had. Just looking into her eyes, I felt so much. My chest hitched painfully. With Ivy, I felt too much.
"I wanted to see her," I muttered. Maybe it would be enough of an answer to appease Ivy.
"Why?" She demanded.
I looked away. I couldn't have this conversation while looking into Ivy's eyes.
"To say thank you."
"For what? You don't owe that-" Jenks coughed as I Ivy shot him a dark look. "You don't owe her anything."
"She could have killed you, Rachel. Don't you understand that?" Ivy's words bit coldly into my barely raised defenses. "She would have drained you dry without a thought, just because you were there. What were you thinking?" She breathed the final words almost to herself.
"I told you, I wanted to thank her!" I almost shouted the words back at her as loud as I could, not caring for a moment that Ivy would want more of an explanation than that.
"So, what? You decided to thank her, by offering her your blood?" The disgust in Ivy's voice was almost enough to hide what sounded like pain.
"What? No! You're the only one I want to share blood with."
Silence reigned for a long moment after my outburst. It wasn't anything that the three of us didn't already know, but we didn't usually discuss it so freely.
I glanced over at Jenks, who had settled himself on Ivy's shoulder. She was so preoccupied that she hadn't even moved to brush him off yet.
"Jenks, can you call me a cab?"
Jenks flew into motion, his wings becoming a sparkly blur behind him. "Sure, Rache." He glanced between me and Ivy, and raised one tiny eyebrow at me.
I gave a small nod, both assuring him that Ivy and I would be fine without his chaperoning presence and that I really wanted him to call me a cab. I sniffled a little at his concern. Jenks really was the best partner and back up a girl could have.
"You're not taking a cab." Ivy had been so silent and perfectly still that I'd almost forgotten she was there. Her words made me jump, and then I started flush with the beginnings of righteous indignation. "I'm going to give you a ride home."
"Ivy-" I began to protest. I was tired of fighting with her about this. We'd had this argument too many times already. I didn't want to go yet another round about it tonight.
"God, Rachel, will you just let me take you home? You almost get killed and you won't even let me take care of you. Letting me give you a ride doesn't mean that you have to sleep with me, or even that I'm asking you to. It's just a ride home."
I blinked at Ivy, shocked for the second time tonight at her outburst. It was very unlike Ivy to be so direct. She was usually the one doing all the running. Then again, maybe I had that covered for both of us right now.
"Skimmer thinks I'm bad for you," I blurted out.
Ivy raised an elegant eyebrow. "She's jealous. Why does it matter to you what she thinks?"
"Because she's known you longer than I have, and I don't want to hurt you. I lo- care about you."
Ivy folded her arms over her chest. "The only thing that hurts me is when you refuse to let me help you."
"But would you say anything if it wasn't the only thing that I did to hurt you? Kisten's right. You're better at talking when you don't have to face the other person."
Ivy's fists clenched momentarily at her sides before she looked back at me. "Forget Skimmer. Forget Kisten. What do you want, Rachel?"
If I thought about my answer, I would over-think it. Ivy was asking me to take a leap of faith, and jump, go with what my instincts told me. My muscles tightened and for a moment I felt paralyzed and rooted to the spot. Since Kisten's death, I'd been trying to improve my decision making skills. I was relying less on my instincts, because they usually led me into danger.
I was silent for a moment too long. Ivy shook her head, dropped her eyes, and took a step back from me. Folding her arms across her chest, she looked back up.
"You know you're the one who's always making this a big deal, and it's not your issue. I'm-" She shrugged. "I could be happier with our relationship, Rachel, but I'm content with what you'll give me. I'm not pushing to change the nature of our relationship. You're the one who freaks out every time you breath the wrong way, or do something that you think will set off my instinct. I'm getting better," she added softly. "This is your problem. Don't hold it against me."
"Ivy-" Her words tore at my heart. I didn't know what to say to that. Our relationship was complicated. There wasn't any way around that and I had no idea what to say to make it better. I settled for something far simpler. "Will you give me a ride home?"
The cement was cold against my back. Grit scraped against my hands, and I could feel them sting and grow sticky with blood they pressed against the wall palm-first. I looked wildly around the room, feeling like a rabbit trapped under the gaze of a wolf, unsure which way to run.
Kisten lay motionless and colorless on the floor less than two feet away. Tears stained my cheeks and yet I didn't move couldn't move. I already knew all too well that he was dead. Twice dead.
It wasn't what had pinned me in place. That was the gaze of the undead vampire staring across the room at me with a mocking smile, like a cat toying with its prey.
"Rachel Morgan," he drawled. "I've heard so much about you. Surprising, about a mere witch. You do seem to have a knack for getting yourself into difficult situations."
He caressed the word with a lilt that jerked sensation from the scar on my neck and rand down my spine with a shiver. My knees began to buckle and only his gaze held me upright.
It intensified, until I could think of nothing but the sensations he was pulling from me. I couldn't speak, or even form a coherent protest in my own mind. There was nothing but him. Then he was suddenly pressing me against the wall, his body covering mine. His hand tightened painfully in my hair, and I could do nothing but fall into his grip. He pulled me to him. I hissed as he bent down and bit into my lip, but still my body sagged against his at the feel of his bite. It was ecstasy and bliss and unending torment. It would kill me.
Color, light, sensation - everything exploded behind my eyes.
I woke up gasping for air, tears pouring down my cheeks. I scrambled out of bed and dove towards the floor, skittering towards the corner as sobs racked my body. I couldn't forget his hands on me, the way it had felt to be so totally powerless, even willing to let him bind me.
There hadn't been enough of myself left to protest, much less fight back. I would have been killed without another word if he had been a moment or two quicker. Or worse, been bound to him forever with no will of my own.
The sharp yell and the pounding on my door suddenly broke through the waking nightmare that I was trapped in. Since we had discovered Kisten's dead body, Ivy and I had been struggling to recall the details of his death and his killer. Now I wished with every fragment of my soul that I hadn't succeeded.
I tried to push myself to my feet to open the door, but I was shivering so badly that my arm gave out and I crumpled even closer to the floor. A familiar sense of desperation flooded through me. I had spent so long as a child being this weak; thinking I would never get better. Nausea welled up in me. I couldn't go through that again. I hated that feeling.
I braced my arm again and pushed. This time I rose almost effortlessly. Too effortlessly. I looked up to find Ivy's hands at my sides, holding me close to her and supporting me without a word.
Even in the thin glint of the moonlight I could see her pupils had dilated with instinct that she couldn't completely control even now, especially now in the face of my fear.
"Rachel?" Ivy asked worriedly. "What's wrong? Is it Al or Newt?"
"I remembered." I didn't sound like myself. My voice was flat and hollow to my own ears.
"Remem--" she cut off in mid-word, as the realization of what I was referring to sank in. Her arms tightened around me, not as a predator tightened their grip on prey, but with anticipation. "Who was it, Rachel? Who killed Kisten?"
I shivered again in her arms, remembering those dark soulless eyes that had stared down at me mercilessly, and completely controlled me. Tears streaked down my face. I was too scared to focus on what she wanted to know. As I tried to control it - to get myself under control - my shaking only grew, until it felt like I'd rattle apart in Ivy's arms.
"Rachel!" Her concerned voice broke into my terror once again. "Look at me," she said softly, but with an unspoken command.
I looked, and noticed for the first time that my hands were wrapped around her upper arms so tightly that my knuckles had gone white. She didn't seem to notice the pain. The thin, silky pajama bottoms that she wore were cool and smooth against my bare legs. The tank top that she wore showed the pale skin of her arms. The light shown on a thin scar on the inside of her elbow that I'd never noticed before.
Fear flooded through me again as I recognized the scar for what it was. Vamp bite. I looked up to meet her eyes. The thin line of brown around her pupils caught my gaze, but I couldn't hold it. I let my head drop until my forehead rested on her shoulder.
"It's going to be okay, Rachel." There was utter conviction in her voice. "I told you before I'd keep you safe and I will. I won't let anything hurt you. I promise."
One of her hands gently rose and fell on my back in a circular motion. Her skin smelled clean and faintly spicy, with a hint of her soap underneath. This was what the smell of incense and leather usually hid. I breathed in more deeply, sinking into the sensation of Ivy, and let her words wash over me. She made believing her all too easy. She would do her best to protect me; I had no doubt about that. And anything she couldn't handle by herself, we could handle together. We had always made a kick-ass team.
I took one last deep breath, not unaware that some of my steady calm was coming from vampire pheromones, and stepped back. Ivy let me go, but didn't seem to want to lose contact with me completely. Her hands still lingered gently on my arms. I smiled at her tiredly, knowing it wasn't my best effort, but that Ivy wouldn't care.
"Sorry." I looked down. "I freaked-the-Turn-out when I woke up."
Ivy nodded. I caught the motion out of the corner of my eye and looked back up. There was a hint of moisture in her eyes.
"Can you remember anything?"
"Yeah," I nodded sharply. "I remember everything." I squeezed her hand tightly. "I'll go talk to one of Glenn's sketch artists in the morning."
"Okay," Ivy agreed simply.
If I was Ivy, I would be itching, desperate to know who killed Kisten, to start working immediately on finding him and killing him. I did want that, but right now, I couldn't face that memory again. I needed time and space to remember that it wasn't happening now.
"Can we not talk about it?"
Ivy shifted her weight from side to side and bit her lip, as I waited for her response. I knew I was asking a lot, but Ivy had never let me down.
"You want some coffee?" She asked a moment later.
"Sure," I answer easily, grateful for the easy out she was giving me. There was no way that I was going back to sleep just yet. "Ivy?"
She stopped and turned back to me, raising an eyebrow in question.
I bit my lip, and for a second I tried to put everything I wanted to say into words, and then dismissed the thought. There was nothing I could say that would convey everything I meant. Instead, I leaned up and pressed my lips quickly, and gently to hers, before I rocked back on my heels.
Ivy stared at me, frozen like a deer in headlights. I caught a glimpse of her expression before she whirled and ran out of the room. Biting my lip, I thought about following, as I heard the distant sounds of her rummaging around the kitchen with vampiric strength. The loud activity was either an invitation to follow her or an indication that I should stay away while she was in her current mood.
Turn it, if I knew which it really was.
For a moment I considered following Ivy anyway. My heart was pounding in my chest and my stomach sank as if it was filled with lead. The nerves made me want to leap into action; any action.
In truth, there was only one thing that kept me inside my room. I had no idea what to say to Ivy. No idea at all. Turn it, but I was good at screwing up my personal relationships, especially after I'd told Ivy that we could never share blood and that I wasn't leading her on either.
It had felt so safe and comfortable in her arms, that it had only seemed like the perfect and completely natural culmination of that moment to kiss her. I hadn't thought past the moment or thought about the consequences of it, just that I wanted to kiss Ivy. For just that moment, I'd given in to the impulse. Now I would have to deal with it.
A flash of the last time Ivy and I had kissed went through me, followed by her sudden absence from the church and my life. I couldn't handle that again. That much, I could admit.
Pulling on a robe over my pajamas, I yanked open the door and headed towards the kitchen.
"Ivy?" I called into the room, looking around the kitchen and slowly realizing that the room was empty. Coffee still dripped into the coffee maker, but I knew with a sinking feeling that I was alone in the church. A quick trip down the hall to look at the key hanger where Ivy always kept her keys confirmed my suspicions. She was gone.
Panic filled me and I fumbled for my cell phone. My call went straight to voice mail.
"Damn it, Ivy. Answer your phone." I breathed heavily for a moment, struggling to decide what to say. "Just don't leave. Promise me that you won't leave, Ivy, please. I can't live without you in my life."
I snapped the phone shut before I could think about what I'd just said. There was nothing I could do now; following Ivy wasn't really an option. With Kisten gone, I had no idea of where she would go or who her other friends were. Ivy had always tried so hard to keep that part of her life separate from me. I could only wait until she chose to come back or call me.
Cradling a cup of coffee, I headed into the living room and sank into Ivy's favorite armchair. Her scent wrapped around me comfortingly as I sipped the coffee. I would just wait here for her to come in. It would be a lot harder for her to sneak past me this way. I would deal with what I was going to say to her when we were finally face to face.
Because that had worked so well for me the last time. I rolled my eyes and let my head loll back against the headrest. Worry gnawed at me like a pack of hungry Weres with a particularly choice bone as I considered what Ivy could be doing at the moment. Nothing good had ever come from Ivy running out of the Church, driven away by a situation that we couldn't handle.
The first time she had come home devastated from falling off the blood wagon and hysterical from the things that Piscary had done to her. The second time had almost left her in Piscary's control forever. I could only hope that this time wouldn't be worse. I wasn't sure that we could survive worse.
The thought of losing Ivy one way or another was terrifying and I was witch enough to admit it. I thought about calling her phone again, but I knew she wouldn't answer and progressively more upset voice mails wouldn't make her come home any sooner. I knew that much at least.
I thought about going to find Jenks. It was far enough past midnight that he should be awake, but something stopped me. If I couldn't be with Ivy right now, I wanted to be alone. I pressed further back into the chair and tried to relax. I closed my eyes and breathed in slowly and steadily, promising myself that if Ivy wasn't back in an hour or two I would make a locator spell and go find her.
I jerked forward, staring around the room wildly. My attention snapped from one corner of the room to another as I tried to figure out what had startled me. I gulped back a yelp as I realized that Ivy was standing in the shadows only a few feet away from me, unmoving and looking like a statue carved out of ivory.
"God, Ivy," I hissed through my teeth as I sagged back into the chair. "Could you be a little louder?"
The familiar complaint was out of my mouth before I could think about it or how tense the situation was. The realization that she'd caught me sitting - or more truthfully, sleeping - in her armchair was mortifying. I shot up out of the chair as if I'd been burned, wrapping my arms around my waist as I stood up awkwardly. I tipped my head down towards the chair.
"Sorry," I murmured so quietly that only Ivy, with her superior vampire hearing would have been able to hear it.
For her part, Ivy was still staring with an intensity that was almost frightening. Having her attention completely focused on me could be downright unnerving. It made me want to squirm and fidget like a rookie on my very first day of I.S. training. Of course, Ivy had seen me then too. Heat rushed to my cheeks as I blushed at the thought. It seemed like I could never do anything right. It was a wonder that Ivy still put up with me and my many screw-ups.
"I already told you that I wouldn't leave."
Ivy's stare intensified, as if telling me that I should know what she was thinking without her having to spell it out for me. After a moment, some of the intensity of her glare faded away to be replaced with a tinge of irritation.
"When I kissed you. I told you I wouldn't leave, and I meant it."
"Oh." When she had kissed me. That kiss had faded from memory in the face of this most recent. It was dwarfed by the admittedly much tamer kiss that I had given her. I had kissed Ivy. That made it a completely different situation. "I'm glad," I blurted out abruptly. "That you're not leaving, I mean. I don't want you to leave, Ivy. Please." I couldn't seem to stop the words now as they spilled out of my mouth, but none of them were a lie. I couldn't imagine life without Ivy now. It would leave a gaping hole where she should be.
Ivy shifted her weight from one side to another and then steadied herself, focusing her attention completely on me again.
"Rachel..." She sounded tired. When I looked closer, I could see the tension in her shoulders even as she slumped slightly in on herself. "I need to know what this means. You kissed me. You said-" She hesitated, licked her lips and started again. "You said you couldn't live without me. I don't know what that means."
The pain and uncertainty in her voice tore at me. I hated seeing Ivy in pain. Even worse, I hated being the one to cause that pain. I was supposed to be her friend. I was supposed to help her and protect her, not make it worse. Still, I couldn't seem to make myself say the three little words that I was thinking.
Instead, I tried to put it into words in another way.
"When you hold me," I said, forcing the words around the lump in my throat, "I feel safe." I swallowed and tried to steady myself. Turn it, but it would not be good if I passed out trying to have this conversation. I had come so far from the days when I passed out at any little thing. I was so much stronger now, even when all I wanted to do was go run and hide. "I believe you when you tell me that I'm safe." And it had been years since I'd believed that. The monsters were big, bad and scary. They had teeth, fangs and power beyond what I could imagine. Anyone could be dead just like that.
Saying that seemed to make me steadier on my feet and I breathed a sigh of relief. Ivy was looking at me with so much vulnerability in her eyes that it made my heart ache. She took a step closer to me and then visibly reined herself in.
"Is that all?" Her grey, silk voice, usually so full of confidence, was barely a whisper. Her usually direct gaze didn't quite meet my eyes. "I know how much that means to you, Rachel. The thought that you feel safe with me - the trust that you place in me - I don't understand it. But it's the most unimaginable gift you could ever give me." She took a deep breath and tilted her head just enough to meet my eyes now. "But you kissed me."
I felt sick with nerves. "I did kiss you." Was I a runner or just another Cookie with delusions of grandeur? It was time to show some of the courage and bravado that had made me one of the best at my job. "I wanted to kiss you, Ivy. To taste your lips under mine. I wanted to thank you for making me feel so safe." And loved. I still wasn't brave enough to say that yet.
Another step forward by Ivy. I'd never been so aware of the way she was encroaching on my personal space before.
"Will you let me?" She whispered. "Can I kiss you?"
The refrain, so familiar from each time she had oh-so-carefully asked to share my blood, made my breath hitch in a very familiar way. The butterflies in my stomach increased and the lightheadedness that I'd been feeling earlier returned in full force.
"Yes." I had expected - if I'd had any expectations - that Ivy would rush in for the kiss that I'd been denying her for so long now. Instead she moved slowly, as if she were afraid that any sudden movement might send me running like a rabbit from a predator.
With one final step, she closed the remaining distance between us. Her hand fell to my hip. Even through the thin fabric of my shirt, the contact burned. I shivered involuntarily. A hint of a knowing smile crossed Ivy's lips, as she ducked her head. Her forehead was barely touching mine, and I was incredibly conscious of her lips mere inches away from mine.
I tilted my head towards hers in an attempt to capture her lips, trying to make her move faster. She moved her head just so that my lips brushed her smooth cheek. I couldn't help but smile at the unexpected hint of stubbornness in Ivy. It seemed that neither of us would give in so easily, even once we'd agreed on what we wanted.
Her hand ran lightly up my side, up over my shoulder, and then ghosted with barely-there pressure over the vamp scar on my neck. Even that light touch was enough to almost drive me out of my mind. A sensation like liquid lightning shot straight to my gut. I hardly even noticed her hand follow the line of my neck up until it was tangled in my hair.
I didn't resist at all, as she cupped my head and gently brought me towards her. I leaned eagerly into her, almost groaning as her lips touched mine again. They were thin, but incredibly soft as they pressed against mine. Gentle, almost tentative pressure gave way to a more lingering kiss as Ivy grew more sure of me. The brush of her tongue against my lips jerked my attention completely back to the moment at hand, pulling me back from losing myself in the sensation as I was wont to do when Ivy was involved.
I opened my mouth to her kiss, and slipped my hand underneath the thin cotton of her t-shirt. Her skin felt impossibly good. Ivy hissed and pulled back from me, abruptly breaking our kiss.
"Rachel, wait." She caught my wrist, as my hand started to glide further upwards, stopping me suddenly. "We have to stop."
The black that was almost obscuring the brown in her eyes contradicted her statement completely. As did the way her thumb caressed the pulse point at my wrist in a slow, infinite motion.
"Why?" I asked stupidly. Now that I'd finally begun kissing Ivy, I didn't want to stop.
Ivy sighed, and took a step away from me. "I don't want you to regret this in the morning."
"I won't," I countered immediately, and I wouldn't. I'd made my decision and I'd faced my fears. It had turned out to be nothing like what I'd expected and a hundred times more wonderful. The arousal coursing through my body was enough indication of that.
It was my turn to step towards her. I cupped her cheek in my hand and ran a thumb along the planes of her face, still wondering that I was allowed to do this now. "Ivy," I whispered, leaning in towards her, brushing my lip against hers, "I don't regret this."
The pressure on my wrist tensed and then eased until she was only holding it gently.
"No." Her word was firm, but I could still see the desire in her eyes as she leaned away from me for a third time.
For a moment, I considered kissing her again, convincing her with my actions that I truly meant what I said. Then I remembered the way that no one had ever respected what Ivy wanted. She had said no to Piscary and he had taken her blood anyway, and forced her to take his. In the end, she'd had no choice but to give in to him and she'd hated herself and him for it. I didn't want Ivy to hate me that way. If I was any different from the anonymous vamps that had used her; than Piscary, then I would respect what she wanted.
And what Ivy wanted was to wait. It stung. The knowledge that she couldn't quite trust me made my heart ache, but if this was what she wanted I would give it to her. She had given me so much - first the protection of her name and then later the depths of her friendship. As much as I wanted to keep kissing her at this moment, I could do this for her.
"Okay." I stepped back, taking some of the pressure off Ivy. I twisted my arm in her grip until I could entangle my fingers in hers. Tilting my head up until I could meet her eyes, I smiled shyly. "Walk me to my room?"
Ivy seemed surprised that I'd given in so easily, but she nodded. "Yeah."
Together we walked slowly down the hallway until we'd reached the door to my room. Instead of going inside immediately, I leaned back against it and looked at her.
"I'm going inside now," I said slowly, "But I want you to know, Ivy, that I'm not going to change my mind in the morning. I'm not." I repeated more firmly. "I want this." I rubbed my thumb slowly back and forth over her hand. "I want for there to be an us. So you'd better be here when I wake up."
The faint, familiar smell of coffee woke me up as it drifted lazily through the halls of the church and into my room. I smiled and stretched slowly, easing muscles aching from staying in one position for too long as I'd slept. The smell of coffee meant that Ivy was up and about. I hopped out of bed with more enthusiasm than I usually showed when I was woken up before noon, and pulled on a pair of jeans and my favorite Takata t-shirt.
The thought of Takata, however, brought me up short. Just thinking of him with my mom...well, I tried not to think about it most of the time. She was young for a witch, young enough that she should be out enjoying her life. I was grateful that Takata, or Donald as he insisted that I call him, seemed to make her happy and make her actually live. She had shut down and gone crazy after Dad died. But it was still strange to think of him with my mom. I wondered how Robbie was handling it. Probably not any better than I was. Probably worse. He hadn't been home to see how bad it had gotten. It would have been nice to commiserate with him, but no such luck. He had stopped answering my phone calls a long time ago.
I wrinkled my nose and pulled the t-shirt back off. Now that I knew who Donald was, it just seemed way too weird to be wearing that shirt. I replaced it with another clean one and, taking in my limited choices, made a mental note to do laundry later. Still, I couldn't seem to stop smiling as I opened the door and stepped out into the hall.
When I entered the kitchen, Ivy was seated at her usual spot at the table in front of her computer. She cradled a bowl of cereal in one hand and guided the mouse around with her other as she checked her email. As she heard me come in, Ivy glanced up. Her expressions were usually guarded, carefully concealing what she was really feeling from those who didn't know her well. This morning, even I couldn't tell what she was thinking.
"Hey," I said my earlier good mood fading under nervousness at seeing her. Suddenly I was at a loss for how to act. Falling back on the comfort of routine, I headed towards the coffeemaker. Steam curled up from the obviously fresh pot. My hand was shaking as I reached for my familiar mug, but it steadied when I saw Ivy's favorite mug still sitting in the cabinet beside my own. I smiled tentatively and snagged her mug too. Fixing us both coffee was a comforting morning routine. It made me feel good to do something, even something that small, for Ivy. To my surprise, it didn't feel different from any other morning when I'd done the same thing.
Carrying the coffee over to where she was sitting, I straddled the chair next to her carefully, hoping that I could manage it without burning myself on the coffee. For a kick-ass runner, I tripped over my own feet all too often. That was the last thing I needed right now. Okay, scratch that, Newt showing up would probably be worse.
Mentally crossing my fingers, I hoped that didn't count as tempting fate. I'd done enough of that lately.
Holding out Ivy's mug of coffee, I waited for her to reach out and take it. She'd been watching me the whole time, first out of the corner of her eye and then more directly as I'd come toward her. Her fingers brushed against mine as she took the mug from me. It was the lightest of touches, but as Ivy's eyes burned into mine, I knew the contact had been deliberate - her small way of testing me, to see if I'd flinch away from her touch. I hadn't forgotten the doubts that she'd had the night before, and it seemed that she hadn't either. At least she'd trusted me enough not to leave.
Setting my coffee down on the table next to us, I held Ivy's gaze. "I haven't changed my mind, Ivy," I said softly, but firmly, willing her to believe me. Of course, actions always spoke louder than words, and I'd always been one for action.
With both of her hands full and with her awkwardly stuck in place between her chair and the table she was effectively trapped. Which gave me an advantage as I leaned forward and kissed her.
I could really get used to this. The thought startled me, but not enough to stop kissing her. The night before had only whetted my appetite for Ivy and now I wanted more. The kiss began to grow more heated and Ivy growled in frustration at not being able to touch me. The sound vibrated against my lips and I smiled almost wide enough to break the kiss.
Ivy blindly reached out to set down her mug of coffee and knocked it roughly against the table. Predictably the scalding liquid spilled over the edge. She hissed as hot coffee splashed onto her hand and jerked back from me.
Her lips pursed together until they went white with the pressure and I could practically see her biting back four-letter words. It wasn't like Ivy to curse, though, unless she was truly pissed off.
"Ouch," I said in commiseration. I took her hand gently, and rolled it over until I could look at the burn. Her normally porcelain skin was already bright red. "That doesn't look so good," I added. "Let me get you some ice."
"Rachel." She caught my wrist with her other hand. "Wait."
Slowly I dropped back down on my seat, dread suddenly coiling into a knot of tension low in my stomach, and waited. Patience wasn't my strong suit, but for Ivy I would try.
She looked down and I followed her gaze to where our hands met. I had unconsciously threaded my fingers through hers after she'd loosened her grip on my wrist.
"Why now, Rachel?" she asked, with disbelief. "I don't understand. After everything, why do you suddenly want me now?"
It was a fair question. I'd spent so long running away from Ivy and what I felt for her, I couldn't really blame her for being cautious.
"Does it matter?" I asked, fighting the urge to bite my nails nervously. It was a bad habit that I'd spent years trying to break, apparently without much success.
A flash of hurt crossed Ivy's face before her expression became guarded again. She straightened abruptly, pulling her hand away from me.
"Yes, it does, Rachel. It matters to me. I won't be your experiment." She shook her head, the golden tips of her hair falling forward into her eyes. "I told you once before, if you came to me, it was all or nothing. I still mean it. I can't do this if you're not sure."
I shot to my feet, anger suddenly burning through me to replace the cold fear that had been welling up within me. "That's not fair, Ivy."
"Nothing's fair, Rachel," she snapped back. She stepped closer to me, and I refused to back up even as she towered over me. She might be trying to intimidate me, but her pupils were only dilated slightly more than normal. Ivy would never hurt me and I wouldn't let her see me back down. "You should know that by now." Frustration bled into her voice.
It felt like I was standing on the edge of a cliff and Ivy was asking me to jump. Everything in me screamed no, but this was Ivy doing the asking. I remembered how safe, how cared for I'd felt with Ivy's arms wrapped around me like a shield protecting me from the rest of the world. Ivy was home when I had no where else to turn.
But there were reasons I was scared of Ivy. I was terrified of losing myself in her, of what I might become if I let myself go with her completely. Ivy made me feel things that I'd never felt with anyone before and that scared me. If I gave her more control over me than she had already
Into the middle of this internal debate, the phone rang and I jumped at the sudden intrusion of noise. It made me wonder at Jenks' absence. I hadn't seen him since the three of us had gotten home the night before. I wondered if Ivy had said anything to him or if he was just trying to give us some space. I was so caught up in my thoughts and in the tense moment stretching between Ivy and I that I didn't move to answer the phone.
Ivy slipped past me in a blur of motion, using vamp speed to catch the phone before it went to the answering machine. All I noticed was the barely-there warmth as her skin brushed against mine.
"Rachel, it's for you." She held out the phone. I took it slowly, noticing that her eyes were still hard and glittering. That look hurt more than anything else.
"Morgan," I said harshly, into the phone, turning away as I willed the tears to stop burning behind my closed eyes.
"Rachel, honey, I'm so glad I caught you at home."
"Hi, Mom." It felt like I was choking as I struggled to sound okay for her. If I sounded upset it would only worry her needlessly. Still, I suddenly wanted to be home at the home I'd grown up in and have her tell me that everything was going to be okay. I wanted to believe that again. Of course, back then nothing had been okay either.
"Donald and I got back last night. I wanted to see if you could come over for brunch this afternoon?" she asked breezily. Mom sounded like her old self, but better. It was the best thing I'd heard all day.
"Yeah, Mom, that would be nice," I said, with as much enthusiasm as I could muster. Even the prospect facing Donald didn't seem so unpleasant at the moment, if he was truly making her happy. "I have to go finish a few things first. I'll see you then, okay, Mom?"
After saying her goodbyes, Mom hung up. I tried not to obviously rush her off of the phone, but Ivy and I still had to settle this. Things had been left hanging between us too many times before. I didn't want to make that mistake again. I couldn't risk Ivy running away and not coming back.
Ivy stood there, leaning against the stainless steel refrigerator, her arms crossed over her chest. She looked like a wounded predator, hurt but ready to strike out at the slightest provocation.
I remembered the promise I'd made to her the night before. Already, I'd broken it. It was no wonder that Ivy couldn't trust me. I'd proven her right. Maybe it was too late; maybe I'd finally pushed Ivy too far this time, but I still had to try to convince her to stay.
"I'm sorry, Ivy." I hoped she could tell how much I meant those words, even though I knew they wouldn't be enough by themselves. "You asked why," I said, finding the words slowly. "Why now? I don't know why."
Unshed tears filled my eyes, as I struggled to find the words. "I wanted to kiss you."
For an instant, the tense lines of Ivy's face softened. It eased the aching tightness in my chest and I took a step closer to her.
"I want to kiss you."
A smile slipped across her usual solemn features. It was the smile I loved the most. Shy, slightly vulnerable and pure, unguarded Ivy. It made my heart ache in the best way.
My lips brushed against hers, getting a lingering hint of bitter coffee. Her smile grew. Leaning closer, my breasts brushed against hers. Shivers prickled down my spine. Ivy gasped, and I claimed her lips for a longer, deeper kiss.
We stayed that way until both of us were breathing hard and Ivy's hands were wrapped around my waist holding me tightly to her. Her pupils were wells of darkness. She saw me meeting her eyes and looked away quickly toward the light, trying to shrink her natural response to arousal.
Instead of frightening me, it made me feel powerful and desirable. I snuggled closer to her, and boldly dropped a kiss on the hollow of her throat before I looked up at her again.
"My mom wants me to come over for brunch this afternoon," I said in that low voice reserved for lovers and libraries. "Come with me?"
Ivy glanced back at me quickly, obviously surprised by my request.
"As my date," I added, wrapping my hands together behind her neck.
"Are you sure, Rachel?" Ivy asked, looking away again. She shrugged. "If you take me to your Mom's, it means something."
My breath caught. Heart-stopping panic clenched in my chest. Her arms tightened around me. It was the same embrace that had calmed me when the memory of Kisten's killer had panicked me, the same arms that had helped me up from where Skimmer had dropped me, the same hands that had cradled me when I'd woken from the nightmare of Kist's death.
"Rache? Why in Fairy farts didn't you tell me we had a run?" Jenks' voice echoed shrilly through the church. Pixie dust rained down from the rafters where Jenks was zipping around agitatedly. "I already said I'd held Jhi and her husband in their garden today." He hovered for a moment, grinning like the proud Papa that he was. "A wedding present, you know."
"It's no problem, Jenks. This isn't a run," I reassured him quickly. "I'm just going to my mom's, and besides, Ivy's going with me." That would make him happy. He always worried less when Ivy was with me. Well, except for whenever we were trying to find a blood balance. Then Jenks was decidedly unhappy about Ivy being with me. We'd already settled that issue though, so it wouldn't be a problem.
"Oh, good." Jenks dropped slightly in the air, seeming to lose some of his proud demeanor. "I should, uh, get on over there then." He sounded a little less excited now.
"Uh, Jenks, is everything okay with Jhi?" I had a sudden horrible thought. "Because if her husband isn't treating her right, we will go over there and kick his ass."
"What? No! Nothing's wrong." The pixie dust sparkling down from around him turned a sickly yellow shade.
Lying little pixie! Something was wrong, even if Jenks wouldn't tell me what it was. I could push and get the answer out of him, but Jenks obviously didn't want to tell me right now. It hurt a little. Okay, it bother me more than I wanted to admit that Jenks didn't want to confide in me. He knew everything about my screwed up life.
"Rachel, we're going to be late." Ivy's calm voice cut through our discussion as she appeared in the doorway to the living room.
I smiled appreciatively as I took her in. Ivy always looked impossibly good in leather and today was no exception. It made me forget all about Jenks for the moment.
"Hey." I flushed at the slightly dreamy tone I'd said that in. Damn Vamp pheromones! Yep, that was it. It was just pheromones making me act like an idiot, I decided, as I walked over to her. My hand slipped into hers and I leaned up to kiss the corner of her mouth in greeting, even though it had been less than half an hour ago when Ivy had finally slipped away to her bathroom to get ready to go.
There was a soft thud from behind me, and I glanced around in surprise. Maybe Rex had knocked something over in the kitchen.
Ivy's fingers tightened around mine. "Jenks," she growled. "You'd better stop that, Pixie. It's not funny." There was no reply; I glanced around in confusion.
"Jenks?" This time Ivy's voice held a hint of worry.
"Tink's contractual hell!" The curse was said with much less volume and enthusiasm than usual, but it was definitely Jenks. He was pulling himself out of the upward curving light fixture that he'd apparently dropped down into.
"Jenks?" I echoed Ivy's concern. "Are you okay? What happened?" I'd never seen Jenks run into anything or drop out of the air, not unless he'd been hurt somehow.
He was flying again now though, his wings a headache-inducing blur as he pointed back and forth between Ivy and I ferociously. "You! You kissed her!"
Jenks zoomed up in front of my face, staring into my eyes with hands planted firmly on his hips. "Tell me you didn't bind her, Ivy! Tell me that, Vampire!"
"Jenks!" I took a swipe at him that I knew would miss just to get him out of my face. My eyes were starting to cross trying to follow him. "She didn't bind me. I kissed her because I wanted too." Just those words made my face heat up. Great, now I was blushing. "We will talk about this later," I hissed under my breath at him, well aware that Ivy could still hear us and was most likely grinning in amusement beside me. "I'm fine."
It seemed to convince him at least a little. His wings calmed slightly and the pixie dust dropping down around him changed to a cooler color from the angry red that it had been.
"If you're sure, Rache." He eyed me another second and then flitted over to Ivy. Perching on her shoulder, he said something I couldn't hear into her ear.
She jerked around, sending him back into the air. Her eyes were flashing as she looked at him. Whatever he'd said, it hadn't made her particularly happy.
"It's okay, Rachel," she stopped me. "This is between Jenks and I. I care about her, Pixie. You know that and this is none of your business. I'm not hurting her."
A look passed between them that I couldn't decipher and then just as quickly as it had all started the tension between them was gone.
Ivy turned back to me. "Are you ready?"
"Yeah, just let me get my bag." I hesitated. "My car or yours?"
Ivy's smile was mischievous, something I didn't see often. "I was thinking we could take my bike. It's a gorgeous day out."
"Sure," I said with an answering smile. "Sounds great."
I regretted my answer the moment Ivy whipped the bike out of the driveway and gunned it down the residential street. My arms were wrapped tightly around her waist, holding on before we even hit the interstate.
She wove through traffic with a speed and intensity that made me gasp. Ivy seemed to find it amusing. The more I hissed as she came this close to another car, the faster she went until the lanes of traffic were practically blurring around us. Snatches of her laughter drifted back to me on the wind.
We were never, ever taking her bike again and I was going to tell her that just as soon as we got to Mom's.
"You're crazy!" I yelped, yanking off my borrowed helmet as I stepped away from the bike.
Ivy's smile was barely-there, but smug and, I had to admit, sexy as hell.
"Tell me you didn't have fun, Rachel."
"I didn't. You're crazy," I repeated. "You almost hit that old lady in the station wagon!"
"Oh please, I had plenty of time to get around her."
"Not with the oncoming semi!"
"You loved it."
"You're crazy." Each time I said it, it sounded like a much weaker defense.
"I can hear your heart racing, you know." Ivy said it so matter of fact-ly that it took me a minute to realize what she'd said. She went on before I could say anything else. "Sending the blood racing through your veins." She shifted so that I was leaning against the bike, her weight against me just slightly. One finger traced my collar bone, just below the scar she'd left on my neck. "Admit it: you loved it." The words were low, and her voice was almost hypnotic.
Shallow breaths hissed across my suddenly dry lips. "Ivy..." Her pupils were widening slowly. I swallowed, unsure of how to deal with this side of Ivy now. I rested my hands on her biceps and leaned up until I could kiss her, slowly, deeply and thoroughly.
We were both gasping when I finally pulled away.
"It was fun," I admitted. "Sorta. But you're still insane!"
"And you're still an adrenaline junkie." The low, slightly hypnotic and very dangerous tone of voice was gone, replaced by the teasing note that I loved. That particular thought made me flinch. I wasn't ready for the L-word just yet.
A flash of red caught my attention out of the corner of my eye and I jerked around. The swish of the curtain in my mom's living room window was the only thing moving.
"Oh, Turn it. Mom..."
"What?" Ivy asked sharply.
"My mom just saw that."
I was really starting to get annoyed with the amused look that Donald had in his eyes every time he looked at me. It was even more annoying because I could feel my face start to heat up every time he did.
The more I blushed, the more I glared. It was a reflex.
"Sorry," Donald muttered. "But your mom was expecting you to bring a guest. She just wasn't expecting it to be Ivy."
I crossed my arms over my chest. "Why wouldn't I bring Ivy? She's my best friend." Girlfriend. But girlfriend had always sounded weird and non-specific. So open to confusion.
Donald's smile said it all for him as he moved around the table to help mom bring in the last heaping platter of waffles from the kitchen.
Mom was still talking to Ivy as they swept toward the table.
"...Really should have known, dear. Especially after last Halloween. I should have been a hint when Rachel wanted the two of you to go as the lovers from that latest vamp flick." She looked at me reproachfully. "I don't see why she didn't think she could just tell me. And then leading that poor Marshall fellow on. He was a very nice young man."
"Mom!" I yelped, cutting her off before she could say anything else. "It wasn't like that," I said, more quietly this time, making an effort to calm down. It wasn't Mom's fault I'd thrown all of this at her this morning without warning. She was just being herself. "Ivy and I weren't together then."
I couldn't keep my eyes off her as I spoke. She had followed Mom in from the kitchen and was moving around the table to sit down beside me. Unable to keep my smile from growing, I grabbed the platter of waffles and passed it in her direction.
Ivy gave me a soft smile as she took it from me, her fingers brushing against mine as we made the exchange. Every time she touched me now, it sent a rush of excitement throughout my body. I'd spent a long time not paying attention to what it felt like when Ivy touched me casually, ignoring my own reactions to her. Now I was free to revel in it, to own each and every sensation that even a touch from her could bring. I liked it. Especially being able to touch Ivy whenever I wanted to.
"Well, if you're sure, dear." Mom still sounded doubtful.
"These waffles are delicious, Al- Mrs. Morgan." Ivy stumbled over my mom's name and I almost choked on a piece of fruit as I tried to turn a laugh into a cough. It was so rare to see the shy, self-conscious side of Ivy. "Is that a hint of cinnamon?"
"Yes, it is." Mom sounded pleased by Ivy's attention to detail. I wondered why I hadn't noticed. Maybe because I was just a little too preoccupied by the woman to my left. "And you can still call me Alice. Nothing's changed just because you're having sex with my daughter."
The grape that I'd just bitten into turned into a rock in my throat, suddenly making it impossible to breathe or do anything but cough.
"Mom!" My protest this time was more than a yelp.
"I'm sorry, dear. I just assumed. Are you not having sex with her? It certainly looked as if you two were close before you came in."
My face; my neck; even my ears were burning. I could probably have kept the Hollows lit up for a year with the heat coming off my face. There was nothing I wanted more than to be swallowed by the floor. Unfortunately no such rescue was coming.
Ivy, however, was still there, and she had known my mom for quite some time. Long enough not to be scared off or perturbed by my Mom's occasionally horrifying tendency to say whatever happened to cross her mind at any given moment.
"Thank you, Alice. I appreciate it. I didn't want to presume."
"Of course." Mom reached across the table and patted her wrist. Ivy glanced at her sharply, but didn't flinch away from the contact. I squeezed her knee, carefully concealed under the table, in thanks. "I'm just happy that Rachel's found someone." She smiled in my direction. "Whenever she found you. I was starting to worry about her. She's been alone for so long."
"That's not fair. I was with people. There was Nick." I swallowed. "Kisten. And then Marshall," I hurried to add. "Sorta." Wrinkling my nose, I went on quickly, not quite daring to look over at Ivy. "But can we stop re-hashing all of my dating disasters? I'm here with Ivy."
A subtle touch trailed up my leg. The warmth of Ivy's fingers bled through my jeans. I sat up painfully straight, hoping my reaction to her touch wasn't painfully obvious to everyone at the table, as her fingers trailed to a stop high on my thigh and found my hand. She curled her hand around mine and squeezed. I held on tightly.
Suddenly brunch with Mom and Donald seemed like a bad idea. After all, there were so many more things that Ivy and I could be doing back at the church. Ivy's grip tightened on my hand as if she could read my mind. Of course, she probably only needed one whiff of the air to tell what I was thinking. And knowing that she knew what I wanted only made it worse.
It was going to be a very long brunch.
"Are you in a hurry to get back?"
Ivy's question caught me by surprise. I didn't realize that she'd had anything else planned for the day after we'd left Mom's.
"No, I don't have anything definite." I frowned. "I need to talk to Jenks. I think something's wrong with Jhi and her husband, but it can wait until later, I think."
Ivy's immediate smile warmed me like nothing else could have.
"Good. There's somewhere I want to take you."
"Mmm." Ivy's murmured agreement was distinctly lacking in details as far as I was concerned, and from the slightly mischievous smile on her face, she knew exactly what she was doing to me. She was also loving every minute of it. I just couldn't let her get away with that.
"I bet I can get you to tell me," I challenged her.
The gleam in her eyes said I was outclassed playing this game with her.
"You think so?" she purred. "Always so impatient, Rachel. You can't wait just a little bit longer. You have to push - to know right now."
"Well..." She had a point...damnit. "Yes!" I cleared my throat. "So are you going to tell me?"
Her smile contained a predatory knowledge of victory. She leaned down to breathe her answer into my ear.
I was so startled, so lost in the sensation of her breath burning against my skin, that her words registered a moment late. Ivy laughed at my disgruntled expression.
"Put your helmet on and get on the bike. Then I'll do better than tell you: I'll show you."
I took the helmet, then stuck my tongue out before jamming the helmet down on my head. Juvenile, but it made Ivy snort. Whether in amusement or despair, I wasn't sure. Either way...so worth it.
The minute we were on, Ivy gunned the bike. I squeaked, and clinched my arms tighter around her waist. I felt, more than heard her laughter, from where I was pressed against her back. The bike was definitely growing on me, I decided, pressing closer to her.
This was a chance to be this close to Ivy, the scenery rushing by us, feeling the speed and sheer power of the bike underneath me. As scary as Ivy's driving could be, as nerve-wracking and heartstopping, there was no doubt that I trusted Ivy with my life. I wouldn't have been here with her, much less on her bike, if I didn't trusted her implicitly.
Maybe if I just closed my eyes...nope. It was worse when I couldn't see what vehicle we were currently passing at breakneck speeds. I really needed to look into some more of those inertia dampening charms. Then again...there was no way that Ivy would let me put them on her precious bike. No way at all. At least I had Silver Cross health insurance.
The deafening whine of the bike faded to a low rumble that vibrated in my bones as we began to slow. Apparently we were here, wherever here was. There were no houses or buildings visible for as far as the eye could see, and I'd long since lost track of where we were. I'd never even known this part of the Hollows was here.
Small cramped neighborhoods had given way to larger fenced-in yards and then sprawling estates, not unlike the one where Ivy had grown up. Eventually even those estates had fallen away, leaving only rolling hills and thick vegetation.
Ivy carefully guided the bike up into the shade of a giant oak tree. It had to be at least a hundred years old. The sunlight filtered down through its leaves throwing dapples of light across the ground.
"What is this place?" It was amazing and it felt so completely right. I hadn't felt anything like it since I'd first walked out into the backyard of the church.
"So you like it then?" The slight smile on Ivy's face couldn't hide the nervousness in her eyes.
"I do. I didn't think places like this still existed this close to Cincy. Not unless they're public places like Eden Park."
And there was no doubt in my mind that this place wasn't open to the public. It was too untouched, and wild; not regulated and controlled; landscaped and formed into someone's idea of what nature should be. This was untamed beauty at its best.
"No, this place isn't open to the public. It's been in my family for the past hundred years."
"Wow." Sometimes I forgot just how rich Ivy's family was. "Show me around?" There were so many things to see, I wasn't sure where to look first.
"Okay." Ivy agreed and held a hand out to me. "I'll show you my favorite spot."
I took her hand with a smile and let her lead me out of the clearing and deeper into the woods. There was no obvious path, but Ivy seemed to know exactly where she was going.
"How big is this place?" I asked, five minutes later. We were still walking and there seemed to be no end in sight.
"Oh, not very big." Ivy's voice drifted back to me, as she waited for me to slip under a low-hanging branch. "Just about twenty-five acres."
I stopped walking and stared at her. "Ivy, this place is huge. How did I never know about this before?"
The look she gave me wasn't quite reproachful. "There are a lot of things you don't know about me, Rachel."
It hurt, but it was true. And also one of the first thing's that Rynn Cormel's book had ever taught me. If you asked a vampire about their family, it meant you were interested in them; seducing them. There had been a lot of things that I'd wanted to ask Ivy, but never been able to. Looked like now was my chance.
"So tell me something then."
"Okay." Ivy paused and looked around. "My parents gave me this place for my nineteenth birthday. I had just come back from out west and I needed a place where I could go to think, to be away from Piscary's influence."
"Do you still come here a lot?"
She shrugged. "Just when I need to get away." Something in her voice told me she wasn't quite being honest, but I was enjoying this day too much to push her. "Come here," Ivy added, changing the subject as she often did when she didn't want to discuss something anymore.
Stepping closer to her, my breath caught in my throat at the view that unfolded in front of us. The mossy rocks that we were standing on dropped away sharply a few feet in front of us, falling almost straight down to a small pool of water. The soft murmur of running water came from my left, and it was easy to see the small waterfall once I knew where to look.
It was obvious what Ivy had seen in this place. The beauty it exerted was at once powerful and serene. I could see why Ivy had kept it as a haven for so many years, and it meant even more that she would share it with me now. Together the two feelings were almost heady and overwhelming.
"Thank you for bringing me here, Ivy. It's beautiful."
"Mmm." Her soft murmur of agreement pulled my attention back to her.
She was watching me from under half-lidded eyes. The look on her face was full of a familiar hunger, that today was just a little bit different.
"Rachel." Her voice made my name into a caress. I could almost feel it sliding over my skin. Her hand cupped my face, and her thumb brushed across my cheek reverently. "You have no idea what you do to me."
I leaned into her touch. "I could say the same thing."
Ivy kissed me then, before I could say anything else. Dropping her hands to my waist, she pushed me back until I could feel bark digging into my shoulder blades. I didn't protest, and kept kissing her. Tentatively Ivy's hand slipped under my shirt. An embarrassingly loud moan slipped through my lips and Ivy froze.
My eyes jerked open at the sudden change. The rich brown of her irises had been lost against the expanding darkness of her pupils, and Ivy was holding herself painfully stiff.
"Ivy?" I heard the quaver in my voice and hated it. "What's wrong?"
She blinked, then broke eye contact with me and took a shuddering breath. I squeezed her shoulders, wanting her to look back up at me. When she did, her pupils had begun to shrink.
"I thought this was too much." A hint of pink stained her cheeks. "I thought you wanted me to stop, Rachel." She said it so softly I could barely make out what she was saying.
"Ivy...No. Trust me, if I want you to stop, I'll let you know." I looked away. There was no way I could meet her eyes and say what I was about to. This was still too new between us. "I want you, Ivy. So badly. Nothing you could do can drive me away."
The low, dark chuckle that she let out was filled with self-loathing. "You have no idea what I'm capable of, Rachel."
"I'm not going to break, Ivy," I exclaimed in exasperation.
"No, but you might break my heart."
It felt like someone had driven a fist into my gut. For a moment, I couldn't breathe, shocked at the depth of her emotions and the pain in her words. Ivy was just as scared of screwing this up as I was.
Without a word, I wrapped my arms around her and held her to me tightly. I wanted to promise that I wouldn't hurt her, but I couldn't make a promise that I might not be able to keep. If I'd learned anything, it was that the future always held surprises.
"I'm not going anywhere," I murmured lightly, pressing a kiss to the side of her neck right above her throbbing pulse point. "I haven't yet, have I? And we've been through a lot of stuff."
Ivy relaxed minutely in my arms. Her face was tucked into the side of my neck, and I felt more than heard her breathe in my scent. She shivered.
"I showed you this place because I thought you might need it too. If you ever needed to get away and think."
My heart skipped a beat. Ivy was giving me her sanctuary, just as she'd invited me into the church. She was right. It would be so easy for me to break her heart; I'd done it so many times before.
"Do you remember, when Piscary put Kist in the hospital and I had to buy a trip through the lines from Newt?" I didn't wait for Ivy to respond. There was no way she could have forgotten that incident. "Newt told me that I needed to think of home, so I thought about the church. How much I loved it and missed and wanted to be back there: to be home safe so badly." I swallowed nervously. "Newt said it wasn't enough. She told me to think of you."
I brushed a strand of dark hair back from Ivy's face, letting my hand slip through her hair. "You were what brought me home."
The sadness in her eyes melted away. "Thank you for telling me that."
I could only nod, lost for words in the face of her relief.
The long, slow drive back into the city seemed to take forever, and at the same time, rush by all too quickly. When we were at Mom's I'd given Ford a call and scheduled a time to go see him. Thoughts of Kisten's killer had been lingering in the back of my mind all day. Brunch with Mom and spending time with Ivy had been the perfect distraction to keep me from going crazy until then. Now I finally had a chance to go in and identify Kisten's killer once and for all.
"Are you sure you don't want me to come in with you?" Ivy's desire to linger was obvious, as she sat in the parking lot, still straddling her bike.
It was getting on my nerves. Probably didn't help that I was already anxious about going to see Ford. The way he could read everything I felt was beyond unnerving and it didn't make it any easier that everything depended on this. For all the work that Ivy had done, all we'd been able to do was narrow Kisten's killer to male undead vampires. There were at least a hundred in this county alone. If I could recapture the details of his face long enough for Ford to get them down clearly for us, we would finally be able to finish this.
"No, it'll be fine. I'll see you back at the church when I'm done."
"Okay." Ivy tried a small smile, but it didn't quite make it to her eyes. "We'll get him, Rachel. I promise."
I ducked my head, hoping she couldn't see the tear that had slipped down my cheek. "Yeah, I know." Clearing my throat, I straightened. "I'd better go. I don't want to keep Ford waiting."
Ivy nodded stiffly, but relaxed a little when I wrapped my arms around her for a parting hug. Strength seemed to flow through her to me before I pulled away and walked inside.
The session with Ford went much more quickly that I'd expected. He was able to draw details out of my mind that I hadn't even known I remembered. There was no doubt: Ford was scary good. If I hadn't known better, I would have suspected some telepathy on his part.
His drawing skills were equal to his people skills. The image that was slowly being formed on the page in front of me was jarring in its accuracy. Just seeing the face taking shape was enough to make me uncomfortable and before I'd been there half an hour I was wishing wholeheartedly that I'd let Ivy come in with me. I missed her supportive presence and the silent comfort and promise of safety that she brought with her.
"What about the chin, Rachel?"
Ford's voice yanked my attention back to the features that he was trying to refine.
"I think it was a little bit more square," I said quietly. Closing my eyes, the killer's face was instantly in front of me once again. I didn't have to try hard to summon it. My fears did that for me easily enough. Cold sweat was already prickling against my skin. "Yeah, a little bit more square, and his eyes...they're blue."
A really familiar shade of blue. Who did those eyes belong to?
"Okay, got that." Ford was smiling calmly when I opened my eyes. "I think we have a good enough image to run this now, Rachel. I'm sure Detective Glenn will let you know if we get any hits on the photo." He sighed, folding his arms as he sank back into the chair. "I'm sure I don't have to tell you though, that one of the difficulties of tracking down some of the very old vampires is that they were grandfathered into society, so they don't necessarily have a photo I.D. of any kind in the system."
My heart sank in my chest. Ford shouldn't have had to remind me. I'd worked with the I.S. long enough to know that; I'd told enough grieving widows and furious victims that in my time. But I'd been distracted, by Ford and how he made me nervous, and also by Ivy.
No matter how hard I tried to focus, she kept slipping into my thoughts.
A hint of redness seeped into Ford's cheeks, and I choked. Turn it, I did not need this today.
"Can I get a copy of that picture?" I asked, pretending that we both didn't know what I'd just been thinking.
"Sure," he said quickly, standing up so fast that his chair scooted back sharply. "I'll just go make you a copy."
"Great. Thank you." I fiddled with the pens on his desk, and wondered if Glenn really would contact me, if they even did get a hit off the photo.
Ford was back before I'd had much of a chance to brood on the nagging ache that was the need to identity Kisten's killer. I wanted him dead so badly. Not just for killing Kisten, but because he scared me all the way to the tips of my witchy little toes. He had almost bound me and I had done nothing to stop him. Only luck had stood between me and a lifetime of enslavement.
I wanted to make sure he never had a chance to do that again.
"Here you go, Rachel." Ford was back and handing me what I'd asked for.
There was still something about those eyes...
The thin strains of music reached my ears as I opened the front door to the church. I stopped just inside when I realized that it was Ivy, playing her piano. Ivy rarely played, and it was rarer still for her to allow anyone to listen in.
I'd savored the few chances I'd had to hear her play, and it was worth lingering very quietly for a few more minutes. The music was complex and fast moving, but not lacking in depth or emotion. I'd always thought that the very private Ivy didn't want anyone to hear her music because she put so much of her own emotion and soul into it.
My feet started to ache from standing in one place for too long, and the loose roll of paper in my bag demanded my attention. I finally had something concrete I could give to Ivy and the FIB that would help us bring Kisten's killer to justice.
Pulling the paper out of it, I dropped my bag on the table, and headed for the living room. I paused in the doorway, more than a little bit surprised as Ivy played on. There was no way she hadn't heard me come in. Even a human could have heard me, much less a living vamp.
Her eyes were closed and emotions slipped across her face, not controlled and sublimated as they usually were. I wanted to kiss her so badly. As the final notes faded into silence, her eyes remained closed.
"That was beautiful, Ivy." My voice was quiet, hushed and reverent. I didn't want to break the spell she'd cast over the room.
"It was his favorite." Her eyes opened, and she met my gaze directly. "Kisten's. He always asked me to play it for him when he was feeling sad. It cheered him up."
I choked back tears. Ivy mentioned him directly so rarely. Now any time she did, it brought back emotions that I thought I'd already dealt with. Walking around the piano, I ran my fingers along the glistening ebony edge, unsurprised when not a hint of dust came away with them. This was Ivy's pride and joy. I hesitated for a minute, unsure of whether or not I should sit down beside Ivy now that I was here.
She solved my problem by gently patting the seat beside her. I sank down next to her quickly.
"You know, I take requests."
"What?" Focus was not my strong suit today.
Ivy shrugged, as if what she was about to say wasn't of importance. The set of her shoulders and the look in her eyes indicated otherwise. "I'll play something for you, if you want me to. Any time. Just ask."
"Ivy..." I bit my lip. What she offered me, what she continued to offer, even after all the times I'd rejected her, was amazing. My left hand clenched around the piece of paper I still held, while I reached up with my other hand to push a strand of golden-tipped hair off her forehead and back behind her ear. Her skin felt like silk under my touch.
I couldn't resist any longer; I leaned in and kissed her. She sank into the kiss, her body leaning into mine. Her hand slipped up my side and around my waist, pulling me closer. Ivy moaned as my tongue brushed across her lips and slipped into the damp heat of her mouth.
It was Ivy who broke the kiss this time, drawing back to rest her forehead against mine. My heart beat wildly in my chest; I could hear her struggling to catch her breath.
"I'd love to hear you play some time," I whispered. "It doesn't matter what. I just love listening to you."
Ivy sighed softly and pecked lightly at my lips, her kisses too fleeting to recapture what we'd ignited a moment before.
"I'd like that too." Her eyes were changing as we spoke. Not all at once, but slowly the black of her pupil was expanding, shrinking the brown until it was only a thin sliver of color.
"Ivy?" I held very still, unsure what was causing this change. My heart raced, and I took a deep breath and held it in an attempt to slow everything back down again.
"Do you have it?" Ivy breathed the words so softly that I almost couldn't hear them.
She didn't have to clarify what it was. There was nothing else it could be. I held out the photocopied image and waited, studying Ivy, not the image.
"I know who this is," Ivy stated tonelessly. "This man is Kisten's father."
To Be Continued
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