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Perfect: The Pierced Series, #4

Perfect: The Pierced Series, #4

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Perfect: The Pierced Series, #4

Length:
367 pages
5 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Mar 3, 2014
ISBN:
9781311786487
Format:
Book

Description

"Can't live with him, can't live without him."

Never has this expression seemed more true to Pierce as she deals with the aftermath of her trauma in Salt Lake City.

Pierce and Lucas can't seem to stay apart from each other for very long without the night panics happening again - but being together is almost as torturous. Will her past ever allow her to be intimate with him? Can she afford to let her guard down and allow herself to be happy? She's still suffering from the post-traumatic stress of what happened to her the last time she did that.

On the plus side, their little town of Nowhere is exceeding even the most conservative of expectations and seems to be becoming just the opposite. So much so, that it has appeared on the radar of the wolf community. Or at least Pierce's presence has.

Suddenly it seems like Nowhere is THE place to be these days...

Publisher:
Released:
Mar 3, 2014
ISBN:
9781311786487
Format:
Book

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Perfect - J. C. Mells

PROLOGUE

It’s eleven twenty-six p.m. by the time I pull up outside the former Nowhere Railway Station.  I changed seats with Pink about three hours ago so he could get some rest.

He’s taken the piercing idea a lot better than I thought he would.  I went with the springing it on him plan, rather than the asking him if he would mind doing it plan.  He took it all in his stride.   After a short stop at Orochi's Tattoos and Piercings on our way out of Salt Lake City, I’m now the proud owner of a stainless steel lip ring through the middle of my bottom lip.  Pink has a much smaller ring through the end of his right eyebrow.

I won't go back to hiding behind a false set of armor.  Just one little piercing will give me the sense of security I’m going to need if I want to get through these next hurdles life is tossing at me.

I know I’m strong and empowered and fierce, but why am I always having these undeniable aspects tested?  It’s like I’m being challenged for thinking I’m omnipotent with my new wolf powers.  Just when I feel like I’m going to be all right and able to take care of myself and my family, I’m cruelly reminded that any person, no matter how strong, can end up as a victim. 

I’m not omnipotent.  I get that message now ‒ deafeningly loud and immaculately-polished-glass clear.

The only thing I’m confident about is that, as surely as he’s now pierced, I’ve most definitely been Pinked.  For good or bad, as of right now, I’m only comfortable if he’s near.  I’m not so delusional as to think this is a good thing. 

I’m going to have to find my independence and strength again.  It won't be easy.

I park next to Pravin's Honda CRV and notice an unfamiliar but beautiful Audi A7 parked on the other side of it. 

Looks like they have company, I say to Pink as we both exit the Beemer.  Expensive company, too.

Before I can say any more, Virendra comes hurrying out of the front door to greet us.

My darling girl.  I am so very glad you are returned to us unhurt and looking so well.  He gives me a tight hug, which only makes me slightly uncomfortable, before letting go and doing the same to Pink.  I’d not gone into any intimate details of my ordeal at the hands of Ivan Gordeev, the former leader of the Salt Lake City Pack, but it’s written all over my great-grandfather's face that someone, maybe Louise, has filled him in on the whole story.  It might be a few weeks before I can stand being touched again – even by a family member.

And Lucas, my dear boy, I am forever in your debt for saving her.

Good to see you, too, Gramps. I wink at Pink and smile at his perpetual discomfort of being hugged over the top of Virendra's head.  So, everything good at base camp then?  Mia okay?  Vinnie not missing us too much?  I want to steer the conversation away from any prying questions I know are hovering on the edge of Virendra's lips.

It seems I’m developing a familiar pattern as well as a collection of experiences I never want to discuss with my great-grandfather.

Things are going swimmingly, my child.  The lovely Louise called to say they are all staying in a hotel tonight, as the journey is being very taxing on the poor Isabelle.  They will be joining us again sometime in the morning.

Yep, it was Louise who filled him in on what that perv did to you.

I hear ya, Veda.  Can't really be angry at her for it, though.  At least I don't have to tell him about it all now.

True that.

But, oh!  I almost forgot, Virendra adds, interrupting my inner conversation with one of my two imaginary voices as he ushers us in through the front door.  You have a couple of visitors waiting for you in the kitchen.

Visitors...?  As I say this, I suddenly home in on a strange and unfamiliar smell.  This is not unusual as a lot of smells, due to my recent anosmia, are often unfamiliar.  It's the strange part that is bothering me.  Pink too, by the looks of it.

The visitors are definitely not wolf.  Given our recent S.L.C. activities, a visit from other wolves would have been my first guess. 

But then again we only just met one of the head honchos of the Wolf Council this morning.  He, Fabian, had pointed out to us that we were going to play some sort of power role in wolf society in the future once my existence as the only female werewolf in the United States was made known.  Even though we hadn’t had a moment to discuss or even really think about what this could possibly mean, there was really no way wolf representatives could be in Nowhere so soon.

He seemed pretty shady to me, though, Pierce.  I would always expect the unexpected where Fabian is concerned.

I look at my inner Mildred Pierce who has just spoken and quoted her daughter Veda's words right back to her.

True that, Mildred.

Pink and I round the corner and head under the archway that leads from the great room to the kitchen. 

I can’t stop my loud gasp as I take in the two people sitting with Mia and Vinnie at the kitchen table. 

No, not people ‒ vampires.

One of them is Hendrick Segher, the vampire we helped and who, in return, had helped us escape the Residency and Dorian several years ago. 

The second vampire is Oscar.  Oscar Alvarez de Sevilla, my savior, my mentor, and my friend, who was supposed to have died from cancer a year ago.

No one says anything for a good, long thirty seconds. 

I expect you’ll be wanting your car back then?  It was all I could think of to say.

CHAPTER 1: There is a long awkward moment of silence.

There’s a long, awkward moment of silence.

"Veo que no has olvidado tu sentido del humor, míja.  Time has not made you any less of a smart ass I see.  Oscar stands up and away from the table as he speaks but makes no move toward me.  His movement, although slight, has a floating, sort of glidey" aspect to it.  All it does is confirm what I already know to be true. 

Oscar is definitely a vamp.

This fact obviously doesn't escape Pink either, and I can feel him tensing up at the fact there are two vampires in his kitchen.  I put what I hope is a calming hand on his arm.  It can be hard to tell with the gloves on though.

Apart from Pink, all eyes in the room are on me.

Well, there's a change.

Not now, Veda.

Thanks, Mildred.  At least one of my two inner voices has got my back.

Mia, sitting across from the vampires, looks like she’s holding her breath while Pravin sitting next to her has his usual unreadable face.  Virendra is behind me standing in the entryway to the kitchen, but I can feel his gaze burning a hole into the back of my head.

Hendrick Segher, the other vampire in the room, remains seated at the table across from Vinnie and my daughter.  He’s half-turned in his chair, his body facing Oscar and his head turned toward me ― one eyebrow raised.  I’m not completely sure, as I take in the whole scene in just seconds, but I get the feeling Hendrick is looking at me but watching Oscar.  It’s like he’s keeping an eye on something he doesn't fully trust yet.

Everyone waits with bated breath to see what I’m going to do next.  Well, those with breath that is. 

You're supposed to be dead, I finally say in a soft, slightly shaky voice.

"I am dead, técnicamente.  And you are supposed to be...human.  Oscar turns his gaze to Pink as he finishes his sentence.  He gives him an assessing look that would make Vinnie proud.  Starting at Pink's combat boots and faded jeans, pausing on the tattoos that are visible on his arms under the marriage equality T-shirt he’s wearing, and stopping to look him directly in the eye.  I am assuming you are responsable for that?"

I’m not sure Pink is even conscious of the fact he’s making a low growling noise at the back of his throat.  Even through my gloves I can feel the tendons in his arm tighten.  His hackles are definitely raised, and he’s still on edge from killing a man less than twenty-four hours ago.

Killing a man for me.

I need to diffuse the situation before he loses control.

"Lucas, I would like you to meet Oscar Alvarez de Sevilla, my former mentor and protector.  Oscar, te presento a Lucas Balak, my...alpha.  The Nowhere Pack Leader.  I pause here as Oscar looks back at Pink, and they continue to stare warily at one another.  The other gentleman, I continue, is Hendrick Segher.  I think I’ve mentioned him and the part he played in helping us escape the Residency.  Hendrick, Lucas.  Lucas, Hendrick."

Pleased to meet you, Lucas, Hendrick says to Pink with a hint of a Scandinavian accent, but his eyes are moving back and forth between Oscar and me.  This is all right since not only does Pink not reply; he also doesn't look at Hendrick either. 

Right now Pink only has eyes for Oscar.  And it appears the feeling is mutual.

I’m wondering if this might be a good time to put the kettle on.  Vinnie ― master extraordinaire of suggesting tea in a moment of crisis.

An unnatural stillness descends on the group.

I am thinking, Vinnie adds after a moment with no response to his tea suggestion, That now might be a good time for me and Mia to get a spot of fresh air then.

It's almost midnight.  Why would I want to go for a walk?  Mia's voice has a whiny edge to it.

I think that’s a great idea, Miababe.  Maybe...  I never get to finish my sentence.

Just because you made the big announcement that you are my...that we are related...the other night, still doesn't excuse the fact you’ve been lying to me all these years.  Don't call me that anymore, and I don't have to do what you say.  Mia stands up as she speaks.

Looks like someone is still a little pissy, eh?

I said not now, Veeds.

Just saying.

What happened next happened so fast that even just thinking about it takes more time.

Oscar and Hendrick move at almost exactly the same time - their movements a blur.

Both Pink and I can't help but jump a little at the unexpectedness of the sheer rapidity of it.  We werewolves are pretty fast, but the vamps have us beat by a long shot.  In the half-second it takes for the two vampires to move, become a haze for a millisecond, and then back into focus in their new positions, Oscar is standing in front of Mia with his hand on her arm.  Hendrick is standing next to him, his arm extended across Oscar's chest as if barring his access to Mia.  It's as if Hendrick is protecting Mia from Oscar.

It's then that I do the math in my head.  If Oscar was turned the day he was supposed to have died, he would technically be just over a month, nearer to two, short of the year or so needed to gain control of his bloodlust.

I’m suddenly very nervous.

Oscar speaks to Mia as if he doesn't notice Hendrick's arm there at all.

Is this the way you speak to your mother?

If she wanted to be my mother, she could've told me years ago instead of just telling me now.  Mia looks at him defiantly.  She’s not aware he’s on the edge of losing his control and seems oblivious to the fact Hendrick is standing with them.  Or maybe it just hasn't registered with her yet.

It has with me, and apparently it has with Pink, too.  He takes a step toward them while I appear to be rooted to the ground.  Without turning away from Oscar, Hendrick raises his other hand in our direction motioning for us to stay where we are and not move.  Pink looks uncomfortable with this but does it, albeit begrudgingly.

"Think about what you're saying, míja.  Oscar's voice is soft as he looks down at the ten-year old.  She is not even twenty-two years old, and she is your mother.  Do you realize what she suffered all those years at the hand of your father? Do you understand what she has protected you from?  What she has sacrificed to keep you safe?"

Mia's eyes glisten with unshed tears, and her lower lip trembles as she makes a valiant effort to keep her emotions in check.  She’s worked it out for herself, probably a minute after I had made the announcement several weeks ago ‒ she’s an exceptionally bright kid after all ‒ but she needs to direct her anger at someone, her anger at the whole situation.  It’s not hard to guess who her anger is currently, and irrationally, directed at.

That's enough, Oscar.  Hendrick's voice is steady and calming.  The girl just needs some more time.  He steps back and away, apparently confident Oscar has control over his bloodlust and Mia is in no danger from him.

Vinnie slowly stands up and steps away from the table.

So, about that walk?

Mia looks back at him and gives a small nod.  She doesn't look at me, though, as she allows Vinnie to lead her through and out the large patio concertina doors that lead from the kitchen onto the verandah.

It’s not until a minute or two has passed and it’s a sure thing that Vinnie and Mia are well out of earshot before someone breaks the silence.

"I know what you are thinking, beti, but I can assure you the child was never in any danger with myself and Mr. Segher in the room."  My great-grandfather comes up from behind to stand next to me.

Someone had better tell me what the fuck is going on, and they’d better do it right fucking now.  Pink looks like he’s about to explode.  Not the I will rip you to shreds angry, but it’s pretty close.

I see you have managed to find someone whose vocabulary is just as charming as yours always was, Pierce.  Oscar turns towards Pink and me again.

As Pink and Oscar resume their scowl exchange, Virendra gently lays his hand on my arm.

Why don't we all make ourselves a bit more comfortable in the living room?  There is a lot of discussion that will need to occur, and I am thinking a nice comfortable place to sit is an absolute necessity.  This is delivered in my great-grandfather's sing-song lilt, adding extra syllables as only a true Indian accent can get away with doing.

I nod at him and allow him to lead me into the next room.  The other three follow us.  Virendra and I sit on one couch, and the vampires position themselves across the large coffee table on the other.  Pink stands behind the one I’m on.  I didn't expect him to be able to actually sit down.

So who wants to go first?  Hendrick gives me a small smile as he looks in my direction.

"As we have already heard a few details of what you have been up to from la niña before you got here, I think I should start, no?"  Oscar looks at Hendrick before turning back to face his audience of three.

Yes, I answer him, I must admit I’m eager to understand why you felt the need to keep your...non-dead status a secret from us for the last ten months.  You do understand what your 'death' did to Mia and me, right?  I couldn't stop the slight catch in my throat as I speak.  Pink stops pacing, and I can feel him standing still directly behind me.  The effect is calming. 

You can blame that one on me ‒and Reyes‒ I suppose. Hendrick looks a little sheepish.  Oscar was a breath away from death when we got to him, and he had no idea of our intentions.  We didn't actually give him a say in the matter ‒ a fact I believe he still has not quite forgiven us for.  Hendrick gives another small smile.  We also were not sure the Turn would actually take, considering how far gone he was.  We didn't want you to know until we were absolutely sure.

It took you ten months, eleven days and roughly twenty-one hours to find out if the Turn was successful?  I can't stop a caustic tone from coating my words.

"I’m afraid I’m still not completely sure he won't try and take his own life, Hendrick answers.  So yes, it has taken that long to make you aware of the situation. He shouldn’t be out in public for at least another two to three months, as you no doubt have worked out for yourself.  But when we heard of the 'accident' and that you had 'settled down' with an unknown relative, well, there was no stopping him until he came to see you for himself."

And imagine our surprise when Mia explained that 'accident' more fully, Oscar adds, his tone accusatory.

Hey, wait a minute here.  Now it’s my turn to develop a little accusatory tone of my own.  As far as we knew, you were dead.  Pin...Lucas here saved my life.  There was no other option.  I haven’t told Reyes yet, but I was going to eventually.  It's a hard thing to bring up over the phone.

"Exactamente."  Oscar makes his point with one word.

Everybody take a deep breath.  Hendrick places a calming hand on Oscar's shoulder.  I think it best we start from the very beginning:  the night of the escape and the night you and Oscar and your daughter drove off in that RV two years ago, leaving Reyes to drive me back to New York.  You may remember that you were unconscious for the entire ride to Atlantic City, and as Reyes is so fond of reminding me, you and he have never met in person.

Why is he not with you now?  Although Reyes and I have never met he’s still my longest relationship besides Mia since we’ve been out on our own.  He’s the brother I never had.

Oh, have no fear, Hendrick adds, I suspect you’ll have the pleasure of a face-to-face very soon.  He is, after all, my...our...Retinue, the person who takes care of our...affairs...during daylight hours.

Is that the same as a Blood Apprentice?  I have to ask as Dorian, the man who had held me captive for a decade and Mia's father, had been a Blood Apprentice.  Associatively, I’ve come to dislike the term intensely.

Hmmm, yes...and no.  Hendrick shifts in his seat and makes himself more comfortable.  There’s no doubt in my mind he’s inwardly still ready to spring into action should Oscar make any sudden movements.  "The Blood Apprentice is a term used by the old Families and their Residencies, as you no doubt are very familiar with.  With my cousin Anders dead, killed by Dorian, and his wife Ava's whereabouts still unknown, I’m the current head of the Segher House.  Since your daring escape two years ago also ensured mine, I found myself at the mercy of a neighboring House for a short time.  I was shocked by the response, or lack thereof, from the vampire community over Dorian's actions. To cut a long story short, I’ve set out to create a new Segher House, one that’s moving with the times we live in and away from the archaic values and non‒action so adhered to by the older Families.  Dorian will pay for what he has done and is still doing.  I’m also absolutely certain his experiments involve your kind as well as mine.  He looks behind me to Pink who has resumed his pacing.  It’s no secret our two kinds have always been sworn enemies, even though no one seems to have a valid reason as to why this is so. Actually, ‘sworn enemies’ might be too strong.  I believe it more of a class thing going back centuries, and it’s long since time a change was made.  I’ve been looking for a way to make contact with the lycanthropes for several months now.  So you can understand why I’m currently overjoyed at this huge, but welcome, coincidence."

"So making contact with wolves was not your reason for coming to see us then?"  Again, I have to ask another obvious question.

"No, absolutely not.  Just a happy coincidence.  But to continue my story, Reyes stopped at a parking garage after you had all driven away, and before putting me in the trunk of the car for the three hour drive back to the city in the daylight, we sat for quite a while and had a very long talk.  The result of this discussion was his becoming my Ret - a term Reyes came up with over Blood Apprentice or Squire.  The main difference between this position in my House as opposed to other Houses is that if Reyes decides he wants to make the Turn, I will grant his request any time after his thirtieth birthday.  He doesn’t drink my blood as Dorian did daily for many years and doesn’t need to make the Turn at all if he doesn't want to.  Where the Segher House under Anders failed ‒ as so many other older Houses seem to as well ‒ was the impersonal, indifferent, and ambivalent relationships between House leaders and their 'managers' for want of a better term."

Maybe 'slaves' is better or 'servants'?  Pink's tone is still surly and untrusting, but this is to be expected.

No, those really don't work at all, and if you met Reyes, you would understand neither one of those terms adequately describe what he is to both me and Oscar.  He was a brother to Oscar for many years before I met him, and now I’d be completely at a loss without him.  If he decides to make the Turn in a few years, he will become my...our... brother, just as Oscar has become mine through an exchange of blood.

I interject again.  So Rey asked you to turn Oscar on his deathbed?  Even though Oscar had made it quite clear to both Rey and me that he didn’t want anything to do with vampires anymore?  Hendrick and I are talking about Oscar as if he isn't sitting across from me at the moment.  It’s still hard to accept or believe he’s really here.  It seems momentarily easier to not acknowledge his presence ‒ as if I’m just playing out an imaginary scene in my head.

I feel a sense of panic begin to well up inside me.  I can't look directly at Oscar.  Maybe he’s not really there at all.  Maybe none of this is really happening.  Maybe any second now I’m going to come to, still naked and tied to the bed in Ivan's basement, with him still...

Snap out of it, girlie!  Get a grip before I bitch-slap you into next week

At the same time Veda says this, Pink places a hand on my shoulder.

Of course, he can probably sense some of my emotional turmoil due to both our nerves being so frayed at the moment.  My breath evens out again, and I can't help but glance over at Oscar.  He’s watching Pink and me closely.  He hasn't missed a beat of our silent exchange.

Hendrick pauses until he sees I’ve focused back on him.  He finally answers my question.

Yes.  He gives me a weak smile.  It was not my proudest moment, I’ll admit.  I’m hoping that one day Oscar will forgive me ‒ and it’s only then that I’ll forgive myself.  It’s the first and only time I’ve ever turned someone without their full consent.  In my defense, Rey is very convincing.  He’s made himself such an integral part of what I’m trying to accomplish that I find it almost impossible to refuse him anything.  Don't ever tell him that though.  Hendrick chuckles softly.  Even Oscar allows a smile to flutter quickly across his lips for a second.

I am very intrigued about the process you have undergone, Mr. Alvarez de Sevilla, Virendra speaks up for the first time since we’ve relocated to the living room.  I am wondering if I might persuade you and Mr. Segher to tell us a little about that, if it is not breaking any vampiric codes of course.

The new Segher House does not adhere to vampiric codes - at least not the antiquated ones.  What further encourages me about the impending relationship I’m now hoping for between your Nowhere Pack and the Segher House is that, as I understand it, your pack is new to wolf culture and politics as well.  There is the hope that together we can create a working relationship between the races that has not been contemplated for centuries, if at all.  Neither one of us are impeded by the shackles of the 'old ways'.  Hendrick can't hide the excitement he’s feeling as he utters these words, and his Scandinavian accent becomes thicker because of this.  As to the process Oscar is still undergoing right now to complete his change, he is free to discuss it with you whenever he likes.

How do I know you’re not here just to get some sort of information out of my people that will later prove to be detrimental to their currently peaceful existence?  I’m amazed at how Pink has slipped so effortlessly into his new role as Pack Leader after so many years of resistance to the idea. 

Of course, he didn't have you pressuring him into the position before, did he?

True, Mildred, true.

I can assure you, Hendrick responds to Pink, his tone becoming more serious, my intentions are pure.  As I’ve already stated, we had no idea we were coming into pack territory, much less that Pierce had undergone the change.

Never mind all that now, Oscar interrupts the other vampire, his Spanish accent heavy with impatience.  "You and the alpha cabrón here can discuss politics and potential alliances at another time.  For right now there are things I need to know.  He turns immediately to me.  Reyes says you are off the pills.  ¿Es verdad?"

"Tread lightly, Oscar.  Insultarlo a el, es como si me insultaran a mi."  I’ve just told Oscar that insulting Pink is insulting me.  I’m not sure how good Pink's Spanish is, but even at a beginner's level there’s no mistaking the word cabrón as derogatory. 

Especially when delivered with a hint of venom in the tone.  Veda looks smug as she speaks.

That was more than a hint.  Mildred's voice comes from the mind-kitchen.

I ignore them both and continue on to answer Oscar's question.  Yes, I’m off them completely now.  From what Reyes told me, my dose was decreased gradually ever since we left the compound ‒ without my knowledge.

"Ah, this will explain several things, beti," Virendra chimes in.

What do you mean? I ask, turning slightly to face my great-grandfather.

You took the pills to numb yourself from certain...atrocities.  If you were taking enough, it would serve to explain why you were able to keep your talents so well hidden for so long.  Here he glances nervously at Hendrick.  Or maybe I should not be mentioning such things in present company.

I was a witness to some of Pierce's abilities on the night we all escaped the Residency.  If you go back into my lineage - way back - you’ll find some of my ancestors through marriage, long since deceased, were sorcerers.  My childhood was filled with tales of their exploits.  Any information of a sensitive nature is safe with me.  I know everything that Oscar does, although we both suspect there are things that Pierce kept secret and hidden even from him.

I look back towards the two vampires again.  "So if I have this right, there’s probably a direct relationship between the decrease in my medication

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