e-novella written by Vanya D.
~ Chapter 1 ~
“Tonight is your night, Dawn,” Eric said as soon as I answered his call.
My soul lit up instantly. The lonely nights since that dreadful accident on Halloween, when Connor was obliterated to ashes right in front of my eyes, had almost driven me insane, and by this point I knew I'd do anything to get back in the game. Even if everyone thought me an insensitive bitch. “An assignment?” I asked, unable to keep the spark of hope from my voice.
Eric chuckled, but it sounded forced and full of something I couldn't quite place. “Yes, an assignment. Gather your stuff and go to Thirty-Fifth Avenue East. The number is Thirteen.”
The address didn't sound familiar, which usually meant that there wasn't anything special about it. Not good. I was in the mood for some serious monster ass-kicking, not for somebody else's leftovers. Or worse.
My suspicion indicator grew hot. “Why are you sending me? Nobody else available for the boring stuff?” I knew I sounded hurt, but I didn't care. Even if I was desperate to get an assignment, my dignity was much more important. I wasn't a charity case. I was a Hunter, and I was damn good at it.
He sighed heavily, and even though I couldn't see him, I could very well picture his expression – eyes shut, lips pressed in a tight line, jaw set in a way that wouldn't betray the mixture of concern and understanding that boiled inside his heart. “I'm sending you because no one else can see ghosts, let alone deal with them.”
I gasped. Ghosts. “You...you said you didn't believe me...” In fact, no one had. But after I lost Connor, I'd been seeing ghosts everywhere. On the streets, in the department store I usually went to. Even inside my own building! The Crew figured I'd gone mentally unstable, that the grief and internal agony had finally gotten the best of me. Because no one could see the spirits of the departed – it was simply unheard of.
That's partially the reason why Eric had insisted I stay home for a while – to clear my head he'd said. Was he now trying to win me with this nonsense? To convince me that he suddenly believed me? Sorry but I wasn't buying it.
“Well, I've got no choice now. Every single Hunter has been to that house, and they didn't find a thing. You're all we've got left.” Okay, I got it. He didn't believe me, but he had to try. How very convincing.
“Great – let the wacko chick take a tour, why don't you?” I retorted, bile dripping from my every syllable.
“I don't care what you think right now, sweetheart. You wanted an assignment – that's your chance to prove you're ready to come back. If you don't do it – you're out. Permanently.” Eric replied then, the hard, inert voice of the Chief. When he got like this, I knew it was decided. Whether I wanted to or not, I was game. Besides, the last thing I needed was to be kicked out of the Crew.
The Hunters' Crew was my life. My very existence revolved around those like me who controlled the monster population on a nightly basis. From the moment of twilight, to the shining rays of early dawn, we disposed of anything that wasn't supposed to roam the world of the living – vamps, weres, zombies. You name it – we take care of it.
Raised a Hunter from the age of two, I was a proud member of the Crew. The guys were the only family I've got. If Eric kicked me out, it would be the end of me.
Defeated, I could do nothing else but accept the assignment. “What's the verdict?”
“It's an old house, Dawn. It was renovated several months ago but the owner only recently decided to move in. The curious thing is that he couldn't. No door would open, no lock would accept a key.”
“So it's cursed. Get the witch – I'm not go – ” I said hurriedly, trying to find some sort of a loophole. Sure, I wanted an assignment, but being mocked for my newly acquired ghost sight wasn't part of the plan.
“Rebecca already tried. She says it's not a curse.”
I groaned inwardly. “And Xander? He's the best with locks and I – ”
He snorted loudly, cutting me off yet again. “You think I haven't tried everything I have before turning to you?”
Ouch, that hurt. Not only was he the one calling to beg for my help with a stinky ghost, when two months ago he'd almost called me senile, but now he was also being rude about it? My vision blurred with anger as I watched my finger press the red button disconnecting the call. Eric may be my Chief, but he did not have the right to treat me like a dirt bag.
Two seconds later the phone rang again. But I only watched it buzz on top of the table until the voice mail picked up the call and silence returned to the room. Knowing that Eric wouldn't stop bothering me all night, I switched the damn thing off.
But instead of crawling into bed and giving into dreams where Connor's arms would surely circle around me and his mouth would kiss me breathless, I walked in my closet and shrugged out of my pajamas. My curiosity and the desire to get back to work won over the insult that still flared inside me. It was time to put on my hunting gear again.
Black sleeveless t-shirt went over my bra, and a tight black leather jacket on top of that. Then I shrugged into my favorite pair of pants – crimson leather that hugged every curve of my lower body, as if it was my own skin. My high heeled boots went over them, reaching just under my knees.
After I was fully dressed, I grabbed by backpack, jammed open my secret weapon compartment, and pulled out some gas cans, my Browning 9mm with five cartridges of silver and golden bullets, the poison arrow crossbow that I clasped around my wrist, the iron dagger that I had from my father, and my night vision glasses. Not that if I were indeed dealing with a ghost any of that would help, but when there was one nightly monster, there usually were more. They were attracted to each other, and mostly moved in groups.
To be honest, I'd never dealt with a ghost before. Up till this Halloween and Connor's death, I'd never even believed in their existence – no Hunter had. But now that I could actually see them, my whole belief system had changed. 'Cause they were everywhere. And they knew no sleep.
I hadn't got the slightest idea how to 'take care' of a ghost either. How could you behead, stab, bleed to death or shoot something that's neither alive nor physical? Which ultimately led to another question - if I couldn't kill it, what was the use of seeing it? Besides, if the witch hadn't been successful with her chants and potions, what help would I be?
I shook my head. No point pondering those thoughts when they wouldn't lead to a solution. I had to see the monster before planning anything to eliminate it. With any luck, it would turn out to be something I'd encountered before.
Outside of my apartment, I looked around the corridor, hoping that at least this one time it would be free of ghosts. It wasn't. A pearly white shape was walking away from me, then turned around the corner and disappeared from view behind the solid concrete wall. A shudder passed through my entire body, reminding me once again why I'd made Rebecca charm my place to be invisible to anything that didn't belong to this world. I couldn't imagine how I'd cope with my daily life if I had ghosts poking in and out of my walls at all times.
As I ran down the several flights of stairs, I met no one – neither dead nor alive, and thanked my luck for it. That was until I stepped out in the underground garage and spotted the tall, bulky figure that leaned against my shiny red Ducati with arms crossed in front of his chest.
“Took you long enough.” Eric said, his gaze traveling all over my body, drinking in every curve that bulged from under my clothes. If I hadn't been caught off guard, I might've found a way to wipe the smirk off his face.
As it happened, I'd frozen in mid-step at the sheer sight of him, and now under the hot scrutiny of his dazzling black eyes I felt exposed and weak. While Connor was alive it had been different. Connor's claim over me had kept everyone at a safe distance. But now that the old Chief and strongest Hunter was out of the game, Eric seemed to believe that I belonged to him.
I, on the other hand, didn't think so. Not that he wasn't handsome, smart and delicious – he was all of those and then some – but he wasn't Connor, and I simply wasn't ready. Hell, I owed Connor the appropriate mourning period. I wasn't gonna screw all that we'd had together and jump to the first open arms I stumbled upon.
“What are you doing here?” I finally asked, my voice tight, my tongue feeling chalky in my mouth.
One corner of his mouth lifted up in a one-sided grin. It might've been disarming if I weren't pissed at him already. “Making sure you followed my orders, sweetheart. That's all.”
Oh no, that was not all and we both knew it. “Well, I have all intentions of proving you a fool for not believing me about the ghosts. So yeah, I'm gonna go see that house, but that doesn't mean I'm following your orders.” I said, glaring at him with a mixture of accusation and warning. When he didn't reply, I felt bold. “Besides, I'm sick to death of your holding me back from any and all assignments, Eric. I'm not a porcelain doll you know – I won't break easily. I need air to breathe, monsters to kill. I need to get on with my life.”
As soon as the words left my mouth, his brows shot up questioningly and – much too late – I realized he might get a slightly different meaning from the one I'd intended. Eric's gaze traveled up and down my body as he pushed up and away from my bike and walked toward me. The dangerous flame playing in his eyes frightened me a little, but it also meant a challenge was posed. Perhaps I should've stepped back, or run away – it was the safer, the more reasonable thing to do – but I was stubborn, I hated submission and besides, Challenge was my middle name. Literally.
He stopped when the distance between us all but disappeared. I could feel his breath on my face, warm and tingling; I could smell the freshness of his clothes, the musky scent of his skin that beckoned me to lean into him and take his scent as my own.
“Yes, you need to get on with your life, Dawn.” Eric whispered in a husky voice, then reached a hand toward a strand of my hair that had gone astray.
“That's not what I meant, Eric.” I told him and pulled away from his reach. Then I stepped to the side and walked past him toward my bike.
I didn't see him move toward me until his hand closed around my arm and spun me to face him again. Before I could form any sort of protest however, his mouth descended over mine, demanding, exploring, claiming me as his.
My lips parted of their own volition even as I kicked his legs and punched his shoulders. He groaned and tightened his grip on me almost crushing me against his solid chest. With his arms around me like a steel rope, my struggle was futile.
When his tongue finally slipped into my mouth, warm, begging, teasing, all my defenses crumpled. I couldn't remember why I was resisting him. Why? Why was I fighting against the natural order of things? Was he not the one I would want to be with once I got over Connor's death? Wasn't Eric the one who'd protected me and taken care of me when I was nothing more than a ruin? Sure he had doubted me and had almost proclaimed me crazy, but he had also been sick with worry over me.
He deserved his chance. I just didn't think I was completely ready to give it to him. He didn't deserve the broken thing I was at the moment. He deserved a living person who could return his passion and even love him.
I didn't struggle anymore and his grip loosened enough to let me snake my arms around his neck and pull him closer. He moaned against my mouth, his hands studying the lengths of my back, but never going lower. I knew then that he respected me and my wish to wait.
When we finally pulled apart, we were both panting heavily. My heart was hammering hard against my ribs, and I could feel his doing the same from underneath his clothes. He rested his forehead on mine, as his hands clasped against my lower back.
“That was worth the wait I think.” He chuckled and I joined him. This was happy Eric, and I couldn't believe I hadn't known that side of him until now. He had always seemed confident and serious, but now that I thought of it, I'd never seen him happy.
I smiled up at him. “It was.” I agreed. “But Eric, I'm not ready yet. I'm still a mess. And we both know you don't deserve anybody's leftovers. I'm not gonna give them to you anyway. When I'm me again though, I will be yours. I promise.” Then I stepped on my tiptoes and pecked him on the cheek. “Now I gotta go hunt those ghosts.”
“I'll follow you in the truck.” He declared in a tone that took no objection and I rolled my eyes even though all he could see was my back.
“Overprotective bastard.” I muttered, but a smile of satisfaction was playing on my mouth.
I didn't wait for Eric to get in his black Tundra as I sped out of the garage. With my night vision glasses on and my Hunter agility, I didn't need a helmet or lights. Besides, I loved feeling the wind in my hair and the darkness around me. Together they were like a gentle caress urging me to drive even faster, to plunge into the unknown full force.
I revved the bike when I got on the street and merged into the slow traffic without a problem. Like a shadow I passed the vehicles, changing lanes like an invisible phantom. Nobody took notice of the lone biker girl – they never did, because as a Hunter, I could make myself unseen at night. It never worked during the daytime, but I wasn't a day person anyway.
A couple of minutes later, Eric was already tailing me, a monstrous shadow behind me, moving like the wind. Unlike me however, he kept himself visible to the ordinary human eye, because the energy needed to cover up a Tundra was at least a dozen times greater than what I had to spend for my bike. Unless he wanted to be depleted of his life force and be of no help at all, he had to remain conspicuous.
When I turned on 35th Avenue and passed the golf course, I slowed down to find number thirteen. The houses here weren't anything out of the ordinary, mostly made of wood, with a nice green lawns and a couple of cars parked in the driveways. But number thirteen wasn't.
For starters, the area of the property was perhaps as large as that of the golf course I'd passed on my way here.
The concrete wall that surrounded the property, together with the heavy hinges that hung in a lonesome manner from opposite sides of the driveway, were a clear indication that there had once been a wrought iron gate. But even without it, chances that any human would ever dare go near the place, let alone cross its threshold, were infinitesimal. It gave off an aura of distress and repulsion that kept any unwanted visitors at bay.
I wasn't human however, nor was I scared by the haunted feel of the place.
When I pulled into the property and my eyes fell on the grand three story mansion situated right at the center of it, I stopped in place to study it from a distance. It was made of cut black marble stone that reflected the moonlight and gave the entire building an unnatural shining light. Several turrets and arches crowned the roof, and I could make out a couple of gargoyle statues standing on the pillars on either side of the massive wooden door.
The eight windows I counted in the front facade were all boarded up, with the exception of a small circular one near the roof that, I thought, probably looked in the attic.
There was a huge yard all around, claimed by weeds and thorns, and several creepy shapeless trees with branches that reached down to the ground. There was no driveway, or at least I couldn't see it, but there were tire tracks that led towards the front of the house and I followed them in.
Eric was right behind me as I killed the engine of my bike and walked toward the house. It definitely looked like a horror movie house, but if indeed it was haunted, the paranormal energy was well concealed because I couldn't feel any monster vibe.
“Are you sure this is the place?” I asked, running my gloved fingers over the smooth surface of the black marble. It felt cold and unnatural somehow.
“Absolutely.” Eric replied, his breath brushing my cheek gently.
I gasped, realizing just how close his body was to mine. My stomach seemed to flip in somersaults, while I tried to calm my racing heart and gather my thoughts. I tried not to think of him and what had happened between us in the garage, but the soft feel of his lips over mine kept pushing itself on me.
I shook my head vigorously and turned around to face him. “You've got to give me some space, Eric. I can't work with you breathing on my neck.” I could do other things however...
My nails dug into the palms of my clenched hands so deep that I had to bite my tongue to keep myself from screaming.
One corner of his mouth lifted mischievously, but he stepped back. “That far enough?”
Not even close. “Go back to the truck, Eric.” I said with a smile and waved my hand in a shooing motion. “Go.”
For the first time tonight, he didn't argue. He just nodded and headed back to the Tundra, taking large strides over the already crumpled weeds. When he reached the truck, he turned around and leaned on the hood with arms and legs crossed before him. He was all serious now without a trace of the sweet lover boy he'd been just half an hour ago.
Now that there was safe distance between us, I could feel my heart slow down and the tension slip away. Now I could work.
Usually, when an entire team of Hunters worked at a location, they would separate the tasks among themselves and thus do just a fifth of the work. It was easier that way, but it wasn't one hundred percent reliable. People made mistakes and sometimes neglected the smallest details, which usually proved to be of the utmost importance.
Not me though. I was known for being prone to concentrate on the tiniest details of everything. That's just one more reason why nobody ever argued with me.
I turned back toward the house and sniffed the air that surrounded it. It smelled like ashes, decaying grass and fuel exhaust. Nothing out of the ordinary, so I had to exclude zombies and vamps from the picture. They always reeked of rotting flesh and left a traceable amount of stink wherever they went. While that brought some sort of consolidation, I was far from relaxed.
As I took a step closer, I peeled my gloves preparing to trace the wall with my bare fingers and read the energy field of the house. If anyone had come in or gone out of it, or just touched a part of it, I'd know.
When my skin came in contact with the marble stone, I closed my eyes and tuned into the humming energy that now pulsed under my fingers. Most of the vibes were faint, perhaps centuries old, but there were a few fresh ones that I could easily identify. One was Eric's, one was Rebecca's, one was Xander's. Their tries to get in the house had left a bright and shiny trace on its energy field.
There were a couple of other vibes as well, but I didn't know who they belonged to. One of them was made of pure, brilliant light and twirled in circles like a spiral. It was so beautiful I caught myself grinning to the ears in bliss, though I had no idea why.
When I reached deeper into the energy field, something dark grasped my vibe, and pulled on it. I panicked for less than a second, but that was more than enough for the darkness to take a firm hold on me. I tried to writhe away but it was pointless. The more I struggled, the deeper my own energy was sucked into the dark mass that now pulsated all around me. One more second and I'd be completely swallowed, leaving behind an empty shell of a body.
At the last moment, when I thought that I was done for, something took hold of me from behind and pulled me out of the black hole. I gasped for air as my oxygen burned lungs heaved. Deep, ragged, painful breaths traveled up and down my throat, as I tried to figure out what had just happened. Never in my life had I encountered an energy vibe so strong – but I'd heard of it. And I now knew who else had tried to get inside the house.
“What...” I panted heavily, raking my brain in dismay at the revelation. The mere thought of it was incredible, unbelievable even – but that didn't make it any less true. “What was Prince Valiant seeking in this place?”
“What?” Eric said stiffly from behind me. He'd been rubbing my back until then, but at the mention of the Seelie prince's name, his hand froze on my back.
“I asked you what was a fey prince doing in our realm at the same house you want me to open?” As I turned around to look at him, Eric tried to appear surprised. But his eyes betrayed him. I could see that he knew something that he wasn't willing to tell me.
If I hadn't been suspicious before, I sure was now. Something fishy was going on here, and from the looks of it, it couldn't be good. But I was a Hunter, and it was in my nature to investigate the matter.
“Valiant? Here?” He said at last, finally regaining control over his eyes. Too late for that. “Are you sure?”
I scrambled to my feet and glared down at him. “Oh, I'm positive and we both know it. But if you don't spill what you know, I'm out of here and you can deal with His bloody Highness by yourself.”
He shook his head and sighed. “You don't understand.”
“Well, perhaps if you told me, I would.”
A corner of his mouth quirked up in a sad smile. “Would if I could, sweetheart. But I myself have no idea what's going on.”
I felt a pang of anger and frustration boil inside of me. “Right. You make me come out here to a house that's obviously desired by a Seelie Prince for whatever reason, and you want me to believe you're in the dark? Come on, Eric. You don't honestly expect me to believe that, do you?”
He stood up gracefully, towering a whole head over me. “I don't care what you believe.” He said his eyes flashing dangerously. “I need you to open this house. And that's an order.”
“What? Are you crazy? If Valiant wants this house open, then the smartest thing to do is seal it up even more.” I spat out and turned to walk away, making it obvious that this was my final word.
But apparently he had something else in mind. His hand clasped mine in a strong grip, almost stopping my blood supply, and whirled me to face him again. “Listen up very carefully, Dawn. I understand your concerns, but neither you nor I have any choice in this. The house belongs to Valiant and unfortunately he's commissioned us to have it open for him until the day after tomorrow.” At that he paused, letting the info sink in my head. With a deep sigh, he went on, looking in my eyes with such intent, I felt like fires blazed inside my soul. “I know he's evil's incarnate and that his presence in our world can't be good, but right now I can't care about any of that. Sometimes other things are more important.”
Fighting his intent gaze, I looked at him in disbelief. From the sound of it, he had obviously made a black market deal – that is, a deal with the monsters. Not many of the Hunters were known for going into such dealings not only because they were illegal, but also because it went against our nature to help the monsters instead of just kill them. And yet, here we were.
My head spun. What on earth had Eric gotten himself into? What did he get me into?
I squared my shoulders and jerked my hand free. “I'm not gonna do anything until you tell me exactly what's going on here.” I demanded, not even trying to keep the anger from spilling out of me.
“I told you, I don't know.”
“The hell you don't!” I yelled in his face. “You can't make deals with the fey and then insist that you don't know what you got yourself into. That's bull's crap, Eric.”
Eric's eyes flared for a moment anger surfacing in them. Then the calm blackness returned in them. “You're the most stubborn person I've ever met, you know that? But you're wrong. I've made no deals and I don't know what Valiant wants with this house. I've been trying to figure it out with no success. When Rebecca said that whatever was guarding this place wasn't anything we've seen before, I knew that you were who we needed. Because there's no monster that we aren't familiar with, except one – the spirits of the departed. So I came for you, hoping that you'd figure out what's so special about this house if you managed to get inside.”
I huffed loudly. Was he crazy? “If you think I'm going anywhere near that house after what just happened, you don't know me at all. I prefer to keep all of me about, thank you very much.” Then I revolved on my heels and reached for my bike. This time he didn't try to take hold of me.
“If you don't get in, I'm done for.” He whispered behind me. I stopped dead in my tracks. Seeing that he had my full attention, Eric went on. “And killing me is the least he's gonna do, Dawn.”
A hysterical laugh left my throat, stumbling out of my lips. It sounded like a cartoon witch's cackle, but given the absurdity of the situation, it felt deathly appropriate.
I spun around and strode back to him. “And you'd deserve it.” I said malignantly, as my fist collided with his jaw. My whole hand hurt after the impact, but I clenched my teeth and swallowed the pain. I couldn't believe I'd thought him overprotective. Hell, he wanted to throw me to the sharks! “What's wrong with you, Eric? Huh? You're supposed to be my Chief, remember? And the Chief protects the Crew with his life if must be – not the other way around! And you're throwing me in Prince-freaking-Valiant's claws. Conner would've never allowed any of this to happen! He wou – ”
“Don't talk to me about bloody Connor!” He said, voice raising with each syllable as he glared down at me. I had to tilt my head up in order to look into his angry black eyes. “He's the one who pulled me in this shit! He and his stupid ideas and risky plans!”
“Are you mad? Connor's been dead for two months! How is this his fault, huh?” I reminded him, fighting both anger and pain, as they washed over me.
He glared daggers at me, making a chill run down my spine. I'd never seen him this angry in my life and that scared me. “Of course! Saintly Connor couldn't get himself in a mess, so I have to be the mad one!”
“What the hell's that supposed to mean?”
“It means...” He began angrily, then seemed to think better of it. Then he sighed and looked away. His hand raked through his hair in a jerky motion, then fell back to his side.
Slowly, his eyes returned to mine, open to the very bottom of his soul. I staggered backwards, blown by the intensity of his emotions. There was violent anger mixed up with desire, frustration, hatred and pain. How could one person feel all these things at the same time was a complete mystery to me, but there he was, showing me everything.
“It means that your precious, beloved Connor left a Chief's debt upon his death, Dawn.” He said then, slightly more in control of his voice, though his soul was still split open in front of me. “A stinking Chief's debt! You know what that is, don't you?”
Thunderstruck, I could only manage a nod. A Chief's debt was an oath to fulfill a promise as the price for a high favor. Failure to do so meant painful death. And the worst of it was that it was inherited. If a leader who had made such an oath died, whoever stepped into the Chief's position took on the debt along with all its obligations.
“Good. You should also know that it's irrevocable. I've looked for loopholes, but there are none. The bastard who sealed the debt knew damn well what he was doing. Now I'm bound to a bloody fairy prince until I repay a favor I don't even know about.”
I shook my head, my whole being screaming to me that what I was hearing was impossible. None of that could be. “I don't believe it. Connor would ne – ”
“Right.” Eric smirked with hatred, his mighty fury replacing all the feelings I'd seen just a moment ago. “Your Connor was a saint with a shiny halo and I'm the devil himself. Open your eyes, Dawn. Naivety and blind belief are the greatest enemies of any Hunter.”
I opened my mouth to argue, but it was obvious that we'd never share the same opinion. Not when he was throwing accusations at our dead Chief, who had also happened to be my boyfriend, whose memory I was ready to protect to the end of my own life.
“Whatever, Eric. I'm outta here.” I finally said and stepped away from him, this time sure that I'd ignite my bike and ride away even if that meant I'd be kicked out of the Crew for good.
“Yeah, go ahead.” He muttered just as I turned my back to him. “I hope that the fate of our Crew never weighs on your consciousness.”
God, I hated it when he did that. Why did people do that? Saying something provocative just to get your attention? It always worked and annoyed the hell out of me every time.
I spun around to face him yet again. I inhaled, then exhaled slowly. “Please, we both know that you only want to save yourself. Besides, you don't honestly think that I'd risk my life for a selfish bastard like you, do you?”
He rolled his eyes dramatically. “Sure, let me be the selfish bastard because I want to save my Crew.” Eric said, stressing on the last few words.
I couldn't help it, I laughed. “Save your Crew? How? By making me – a part of said Crew – go into a house that has an energy field capable of turning me into nothing more than a living corpse? Forgive me if I can't see your self-renunciation.”
“I don't see it that way.” He replied in a tight voice.
“Oh, yeah? And how do you see it exactly?” I demanded from where I stood right next to my bike.
“I see it the right way. If I don't fulfill the debt, I die.” Eric said with a finality that made me shudder involuntarily. Some treacherous part of my heart whimpered at the thought that there would be no more Eric, but I was far from changing my mind because of his impending fate. “But if I die, someone else will take the leadership and with it the debt. It could be Xander, or Moore, or even you – we don't know who the wheel will choose. What then, huh? Would you let them – yourself – die too? What would you do, Dawn?”
Well, shit. I hadn't thought about that, and I hated to admit it, but he was right. He was doing the only thing he could. I cursed myself silently for not seeing this earlier, for not understanding his dilemma.
Tears of anger and frustration brimmed my vision for the first time in years. Not only because of the absurdity of the situation, but also because of my own stupidity. I'd known Eric forever – I shouldn't have made any assumptions before hearing his side of the story. And I hated to admit it, but there was nothing else he could've done – not if he cared about the Crew. Which meant that I owed him a huge apology.
“I.. I can't believe this is really happening.” I said, head and shoulders slumped as I tried to work up my pride, so I could muster to say a vague 'I'm sorry'.
“That's alright.” He said then, his voice calm and breathy as he moved closer to me. When he hugged me, it was all I could do to not break down. I'd been so stupid, stupid, stupid. I wanted to kick myself unconscious, but all I did was hug him back. “I couldn't believe it either. But when Valiant showed up at headquarters and demanded a favor from me... there was nothing I could do.” Eric's words portrayed his frustration exactly as it was – raw, suffocating and mind-crushing. If my reaction to this situation was so strong, I couldn't imagine what his had been. “I'm freaking bound to him, Dawn, and the only thing I can do is put my trust in you.” When he pulled away and looked at me with that amazing hope in his eyes, I squirmed and looked away. I didn't deserve a single drop of what he felt for me. Neither the burning affection, nor the hope or admiration. “Could you... would you help me? I can't do this alone.”
I wanted to say yes, but I was afraid that I'd give him false hope. “I'm not even sure that I can do it, Eric.” I whispered with emotion. “I'm a Hunter – not a witch.”
“Yes, I know. But if Rebecca is right and the spirits of the departed are guarding this place, then you're the only person who can get in. With a little luck, once you get inside, you'd be able to figure out what all this is about and how we can stop Valiant from getting his hands on whatever this house is guarding.” When I didn't answer, nor returned his gaze, he turned my face so that I didn't have any other choice. Our eyes met, and his emotions flooded into me, raw and bare. What shook me the most though was that for once he wasn't ordering, he was begging. Begging, because this was the only way.
Under the weight of those two pools of brilliant blackness, I could only nod.
“That's my girl.” He said then, and lifting my chin up, sealed our deal with a kiss that melted my heart until it was nothing more than a puddle in my feet. Then he picked it up and placed it back in my chest, warm, strong and beating.
When I looked at the marble house again, I was ready to explore it.
To be continued....