The Desolate Ch. 7

Marous heard the fear and he leaned over his mate. She looked up at him with wide green eyes. The fear was so clear to him, did she realize that? M.J. What did it stand for? “You are very much alive. You are just Dardaptoan now. You lost too much blood, and the healers had to give you mine.” He had held her in his arms while Iahanna and the healer Barlaam had pumped his blood through a tube into her body. It had been more terrifying than any battle he had ever faced in his five hundred plus years as a Dardaptoan warrior. Seeing her lying so still and pale and…lifeless…had shaken him to his core.

He could not lose this small female. He could not.

“Tell us, little M.J., how did you get here?”

“I don’t know. I was walking home from classes on the IUPUI campus. It was late. Then I opened my eyes and I was here. Not exactly sure of the logistics. Couldn’t ask the nearest vampire without becoming food. By the time I figured things out a bit, I was already here. Tell me, big guy, you know where to find a taxi back to Indiana?”

“You’ll never be able to go back to that world.” Harsh, but he would never lie to her. And it was time she was prepared for the world they now faced. “Tell me, your true name?”

“Tell me, your true name.” She mocked. “Why should I? Thanks for exterminating the big green bat back there, but…I didn’t ask you to. And I prefer to be on my way now.”

“M.J., you can’t move around too much. You were just changed into Dardaptoan, but you are still weak. It’s going to take you a while to heal.” Iahanna straightened the blankets. “Marous only wants to protect you. I can promise you this. You can trust him.”

“Easy for you to say.”

“No. Not so easy. I found my own mate recently. It is very hard when you are not used to trusting. Especially when you are not used to trusting any longer.”

There was a world of hurt in his little sister-in-law’s tone. He knew his brother Havrich and Iahanna were still learning of each other. Yet the pain in the female’s words was deep. Spoke of the hurt she had experienced since her own brother had betrayed the Dardaptoan people, and the elder brother then abandoned the family of Woald. Leaving nearly three hundred Dardaptoans, many young unmated females, dependent on Iahanna. And leaving the entire house of Woald as potential targets for those Dardaptoans who had little honor.

He had heard the tales that Iahanna and her cousin Cayri and his sister-in-law Miranda had experienced.

The anger continued to fill him when he thought of how his own father and grandfather had perpetuated most of the trouble against Iahanna and her House.

But that anger paled when he thought of how his own mate had been left so vulnerable for the last six months. What had the Wolf god been thinking? Did he have so little care for the beings he had yanked into this demon world?

 

The Desolate Ch. 6

Iahanna understood the fear in the younger female’s eyes when she looked up at Marous. He was certainly one of the most imposing of her mate’s brothers. He stood near seven feet and was thicker than most of his brothers. And it was all muscle.

For a human girl like M.J. he had to be a little bit terrifying.

She didn’t know the full story of how the human had ended up in the demon world, but she suspected there were more out there. For some reason, when the wolf god had brought a bunch of Dardaptoans to the demon world, he hadn’t been able to discern between them and humans with extra gifts.

It was going to take someone a while to find all of those poor humans and ensure they were completely safe.

Somehow.

She easily sensed M.J. was tiring, but the other female wasn’t about to let that show. M.J. was not very trusting, and it had taken her a while to warm up to Iahanna. If they hadn’t had such terrible things happen out in the streets of Thrun—they ran into each other at least weekly over the last five months—then they possibly wouldn’t have been as friendly as they were.

The demon world wasn’t exactly welcoming to those who did not fit in well with the Dardaptoans.

She knew that from bitter experience.

Iahanna was the head of the House of Woald, the most despised House in the Dardaptoan Kind. More weeks than not she had people making that fact known to her.

She had barely healed from her own bruises.

“M.J., I know you will have a difficult time believing me, but you are safe here. In the Great Hall. No one will ever hurt you again.”

“Wait a minute, Iah…did he say I died? I sure as hell don’t feel dead. Am I…undead?”

 

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MM17: Worried…

Ari, Jilly, and Lacy showed up tonight. Something was bothering them but none of them would tell me what it was. They ended up hanging out in Houghton’s music room. I’m not entirely certain why the man has a music room, considering he’s completely tone deaf, but…

It makes a good hang out place with the three of them. The three are remarkably talented, especially when they sing together. Jillian didn’t show a lot of her talents as a kid. She’s always been the quietest of us, and I understand why.

Brynna required a lot of energy when she was a kid. And I was the oldest (at the time) and always doing things first. I was athletic and outgoing. Jillian was usually in the shadow, I guess. If not mine, then Brynna’s.

But with Lacy and Ari, she’s got people who don’t see her as Brynna’s sister, or Mel’s baby sister, etc. I think Jilly needs that.

She’s really been missing our mother lately. I can tell by the way she talks about her. Mom and Jilly had a special relationship. I was always with Dad, you know? And Brynna spent a lot of time in her room, lost in her own little Brynna world.

But Jillian…she and Mom were close.

We lost her when Jilly and Bryn were seniors in high school and Syd was in middle school. We were all so worried about Brynna and Syd we kind of overlooked the fact that Jilly had lost her center, too.

I wish I could be that center for Jilly, but I just can’t.

I wish I knew what was going on with the three of them.

Lacy was quiet. Something weighed heavily on her mind.

Jillian is more short-tempered than she’s ever been. I know something’s bothering her.

Ari…Ari is hard to pin down. She’s our resident space cadet—Jilly’s words, not mine—but there’s something else going on. I’m pretty certain it has something to do with the benefit Margo has talked her into organizing, but there’s more than that…I think.

I wish I knew Lacy and Ari well enough to figure it out.

As for Jillian…I keep reminding myself that she’ll come to me when she’s ready, and if she thinks I can help.

Jilly goes back to work tomorrow and I think she’s dreading it. It hasn’t been easy for her to be around large groups of people since everything happened.

I’m really starting to worry about her…

MM 16: Value Today

There really isn’t much to say tonight. We’re all exhausted after everything that has happened in Value. I haven’t told you much about Value, but it’s just a little town that was once a thriving mining community that started to die off about fifty years ago when the mining boom was over.

I guess Kyra Dillon, a woman who works with Paige and Carrie—well, rather, Paige’s husband Mick—got herself into some seriously nasty trouble. It took far too long for her to be found, and she’s still not doing too well.

I couldn’t do much to actually get out there and help, but I could help those who did. I helped coordinate rescue efforts, with the TSP. Daniel, Jarrod, as well as both Callum and Evers worked around the clock.

Houghton was out there, and Chance and Elliot. I have never been prouder of our guys; they did what they could to help.

We were all exhausted when it was over.

But it was even harder on Lacy. She’d been out with the search groups and then went in to the hospital to cover a shift for someone else.

She was there for Dr. Dillon when the time came.

Jillian had Dad go back in to pick Lacy up at the hospital after her shift was over. Jillian was worried about her and didn’t want her driving out to her ranch so late. Lacy’s ranch is thirty miles past the Barratt Ranch, down an isolated road. And not that far from Value. If anything ever happened…

Dad ended up asking Mick and Paige to drive Lacy back to his house. Someone he knew from the TSP asked him to sit with a young woman who had been injured. She was a deputy for the TSP, I think. I’m not too clear on the details, just heard that she is TSP and has no one close to her. Just her boss.

I just know my father was very angry when he finally made it home. At least, he was according to Syd and Brynna, who’d both seen him.

I’m just not all that sure what had happened out there in Value. I just know that people, women, had been hurt.

It makes me wonder…

I talked about it with Ari. She surprises me sometimes. Most of the time she seems like her head is off on Pluto, but then when I really talk to her I see the truth. She’s just very complex. And she’s almost driven in her quest to help those who have been victims of extreme violence. Especially women who have been vulnerable at the hands of men.

I understand it, too. How can I not? The same week I was shot, the man responsible was going to kidnap and kill Ari. Someone else stopped him by taking Ari first and keeping her for days. He had managed to stab Cam Lake, the agent involved with Dr. Dillon, a dozen times. Cam was lucky to survive that man. Just like I was. Like Ari was.

She’d never spoken to me about what it was like, what had happened. Until today.

She’d gone from dreaming of being a concert violinist to wanting to help those who had been hurt. She shared a lot with me, until we were both crying.

That’s what she does for Luc. She works with his assistant and one of his bodyguards to help those women and girls who have been victims of extreme violence. She helps survivors.

I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe that’s because she hasn’t quite dealt with what she has been through.

How could she? First she was kidnapped because of a sister she hadn’t even met, then she was shot because of her association with my sister.

Just thinking about it makes me angry. Ari hadn’t deserved any of it. It’s hard for me not to want to protect her. I spent five months living with her brother, being a part of his and Payton and Paige’s family. To see her hurting…

I’m sore today and my physical therapist will be here in about an hour. The thought of going through ninety minutes of torture after the night I’ve had makes me want to cry. But I’m not about to tell Houghton that.

He looks exhausted and some of the optimism I’m used to seeing in his dark eyes is missing today. I think what happened has made the evil part of the world all that more real for him.

I hate that. I like the dreamer in my husband. I don’t like it when the realities of the world hit him. I…

Damn it. I’m feeling a bit emotional this afternoon. You’ll have to forgive me.

MM15: I Have My Pride

I was fine and Houghton knew it. He just didn’t want to admit it. Sometimes I think the man likes to worry. Sigh. But I do love him. So much.

Paige and Mick had to leave early. There’s been some trouble over in Value. It’s just south of where we live. Of course, Dad lives on the edge of Finley Creek. We are just over the Finley Creek/Barratt county lines in Barratt county. (Houghton’s ranches cover almost a good half of the county line, though). Value is fifty-five miles south of our Barrattville home.

Apparently Kyra Dillon, a woman who works for Mick, is from Value. She’s had a bit more trouble than what just happened at the hotel.

Mick and Paige are really worried. And I can’t say I blame them. Whatever is going on is bad.

I just hope they find the answers they need.

As for what’s going on around here…

Lacy’s having some troubles with a neighbor of hers. Apparently he wants her ranch. I know what that ranch means to her.

The guy is just not going to get it.

I’m done with therapy at this point. I don’t think it’s going to do a darned good for me. I’m angry, but I’m working through. Time is going to help and I’m good with that. Gabby still goes, but Gabby has always benefited from therapy. Since she was a kid and everything had first happened.

Ari has been asked to help the charity our therapist works with. It’s for women who have been victims of extreme violence.

Getting nearly killed by a crazy murderer would do that. It seems like a better use of our time then sitting around talking about what happened.

I’m going to speak with Margo tomorrow about seeing what I can do to help.

Houghton tossed me a checkbook and said do whatever I wanted.

I wanted to clobber him. I am so not used to having unlimited resources that I didn’t work for. But he doesn’t see it that way, apparently. To him, it’s only money. He has plenty. And he wants me happy.

Sigh. How can I not love that man? He doesn’t understand that this woman has her own sense of pride though.

I need a job. Something to do that means I am contributing.

I’m going to talk to Gretchen Reynolds again. I really liked the older woman when I met her. She’s spent almost twenty years looking for lost loved ones. Her brother’s children were taken years ago and have just been found in the last few years.

Kind of like how my family was with our Carrie.

If the position is still open, I’m going to take it. If she will allow me to work remotely. If I can keep a family from hurting the way mine has, why shouldn’t I?

MM14: I Scared Him…

I scared him. Houghton found me curled up in my office at almost six tonight. I could tell by the look in his brown eyes that I had worried him. “I’m ok, Houghton. Just took a nap after last night.”

“I’ve been texting you for fifteen minutes.”

“Don’t you think it’s a bit ridiculous that we text each other in the house?”

“But at least we’re still the same zip code.” He grinned at me, and he stretched out on the chaise right next to me. His arms went around me. “Our guests will be arriving within the hour. I figured you’d want to be there when they get here.”

“I do.” Paige and Payton—Luc’s wife—are close friends of mine, and have been since I was shot. I am anxious to see the two of them. I like the rest of their group, as well. “I need to take a shower and change.” I always feel so grubby after a nap.

“In a minute. I’ll wash your back…first, come cuddle me. I’ve been lonely downstairs all day.”

“Uh huh, with Pippa and your lackeys all around you? Somehow I don’t think so.”

“None of them are you, Mrs. Barratt.”

“You’re full of it, Mr. Barratt.” I slipped out of his arms. If I don’t get away from him now it’ll be a while before I do. I don’t want to look rumpled when our guests get here. Luc will tease me mercilessly if I do. “I—“

Before I even realized what was happening, everything around me went dark and my head swam.

Houghton caught me as I fell.

**

 

Well. Houghton was staring down at me the moment my head cleared. “I’m ok.”

“Sure you are. I’ve called for a car. We’re taking you to see Lacy right now.” He lifted me off the chaise and walked from my office.

“Houghton, I’m ok. I just didn’t eat much today.” Come to think of it, I didn’t eat anything more than a vending machine muffin at the hospital this morning. “It’s probably the meds and a lack of food. I’m ok, I promise.”

“Melody Beck Barratt doesn’t faint. Even if she hasn’t eaten.”

Houghton, I’m just fine. Put me down. If I feel sick, I’ll talk to Lacy tonight, ok? Or Jilly.”

“Don’t, Melody. Just don’t.”

I knew what he was thinking—Houghton’s biggest fear is something happening to me. I knew that; he’d told me so himself. Multiple times. I put my hands on his cheeks and forced him to look at me. “I’m ok. I promise. I think I just stood up too quickly. Sometimes…the pain pills can cause dizziness. Loss of equilibrium. You know that.” I’m not on a lot of pills now—nowhere near what I used to be—but I still took some for pain management. I will always hurt—or so I have been told.

Sometimes the side effects were worse than the original condition, though.

“I’ll talk to Lacy tonight about the pain pills. See what other options are out there. I promise, I will. Ok?”

He stopped walking. I know what he was thinking. He was thinking he could just carry me out to the car and to the hospital and get every answer he demanded.

Houghton tried to control everything, didn’t he? “Put me down, Houghton. I need a shower.”

“I’m sticking by your side until Lacy gets here. Just deal with it, babe. I’m not taking my hands off of you until she’s here.”

The Desolate Ch. 5.

She had green eyes. Not gold, like a Dardaptoan, but green. Her hair was dark brown and long. She was small, barely bigger than Iahanna—the smallest Dardaptoan female he had ever seen—and skinny. She had almost no curves to speak of.

She was the most beautiful female he had ever seen.

He wasn’t too thrilled with the idea that she was here in the demon world, though. She had been human. She should have been safe back in America. Or wherever she came from.

Not here in the demon world where the three hells were about to erupt and possibly wipe every realm out completely.

And he would be at the front of the fight.

He was Adrastos, and that was his way.

Which meant this poor girl would face the war every single day. It wasn’t exactly what he would have wanted for his mate, was it?

**

Vampire guy must have taken a real knock to the head. M.J. was pretty well stunned into silence—for once—and she just stared at him as Iahanna lectured him on the proper way to treat a female. Especially one who’d been through what M.J. had. She appreciated the other woman’s defense, but, well…

Iahanna looked small enough for the vampire guy to eat if she made him mad enough. “Iah, I’ll deal with him. I don’t want to make trouble for you.”

Iahanna had enough troubles of her own. The second time M.J. had met the other woman a big dude with a black scarf had cornered Iahanna and was trying to force her to…well, he didn’t succeed. M.J. made sure of that with a big stick upside the asshole’s head.

She and Iahanna had kept an eye out for each other when they were both on the streets together, but still respected each other’s space.

Although Iahanna had offered to let M.J. live with her and her cousin, Cayri once.

But M.J. hadn’t wanted to be a burden on the small group of mostly women and children who were dependent on Iahanna to lead them. She wasn’t raised to be a burden.

She was actually raised to keep her head down and always moving.

Well, the demon attack had stopped that, hadn’t it?

Iahanna patted her hand once. “Do not worry about me, M.J. This is one of my Rajni’s brothers. He will not hurt me. Nor will I let him hurt you.”

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