“Thanks, Chris,” Alana said, rubbing the back of her neck. “That’s just what every woman wants to hear.”
“Sorry, but I call it like I see it and you’re exhausted.” He shut the door behind him and followed her into the kitchen; taking note of the three energy drinks on the table and shook his head. “How many are you up to a day?”
“Enough,” she shrugged. She opened another can and sat down, motioning Chris to the chair directly across from her. “You know you can’t be here when Nicholas wakes up. He doesn’t know I’ve been in contact with you and I’d like to keep it that way.”
“You really believe that?”
“Why shouldn’t I? I haven’t told him a thing.”
“Good grief. Are you really that dense? Do you really not see what’s going on here?” She stared back at him, but said nothing. “He’s breaking you down. He knows everything. From me helping to Carly threatening to stop helping the Weres unless they help Matt.”
“Did they?” she asked, her eyes suddenly coming to life. “Did they get him?”
“He’s safe. Carly’s taking care of him now. As long as she does her job, they’ll stay safe.”
“Thank God,” she whispered, clutching her hand to her chest. “I thought for sure-”
“Ben would kill him?” Chris asked, cutting her off. She nodded. “He damn near did from what I understand. He’s been beating Matt every night since they took Carly off.”
Tears streamed down Alana’s face. She didn’t even want to think about what his nights had been like since he’d been taken. Forgiving this would be next to impossible. Matt has always been an easy-going man, but even he has his limits. She wasn’t even sure she could forgive herself.
Chris saw the grief in her eyes and winched. He hadn’t meant to sound so calloused. “I’m sorry, Lana. This is the last thing you need.” He went to her and put her hand in his. Before he knew it, he was holding her. “Go ahead and cry. Get it all out.”
To his utter surprise, she did. She laid her head against his chest and cried so hard her body shook. He stroked her hair, rubbed her back, anything he could think of to help make her feel better. Then he felt something. Scabs.
Taking advantage of the breakdown, he brushed her hair over her shoulder to get a better look. In a way he didn’t want to see them. It would just confirm what he’d already come to suspect. As he looked down, his suspicions were indeed confirmed.
“No wonder you’re so tired,” he whispered, squeezing her tighter.
“Do share,” a deep irritated voice said. They turned around, shocked to see Nicholas standing in the doorway. Alana’s glance shot towards the window. “Yes, it is night.”
She hurried away from Chris and back into her chair. Nicholas walked to her and put his hand on her shoulder. Chris watched as her eyes went dim. He looked up at Nicholas, not really expecting an explanation.
“So this is what it comes down to?” Nicholas asked. “You or me?”
“No, what it comes down to is you or her,” Chris shot back. “You’re killing her! I saw the marks. Does she even know you’re feeding off her?”
Nicholas looked down at his exhausted companion and smiled. Once she made her decision she’d be healthy again. “This is a temporary condition,” he answered. “And no, she doesn’t know.”
“Maybe it’s time she did.” Chris stood up and started towards her. Nicholas held up his hand, mentally stopping any advance.
“So that’s it. You just keep draining her till she’s too weak to even hold her head up and turn her?”
“No, I’m simply living off the love we share. Her blood feeds me. I give her all the love and protection she needs in return.”
“Look at her! She’s not living! She’s just surviving.”
Nicholas looked at her again. Of course he saw the same things Chris did. Her exhaustion, her failing health, her lack of enjoyment regarding anything. “What am I to do? I cannot lose her. I’ve waited too long to find her.”
“Then let her go,” Chris said. “Give her the choice. If she wants your lifestyle, fine. If she doesn’t, that’s just something you’re gonna have to accept. We don’t fall for somebody because of what they can be. We fall for them because of what they already are.”