A WOLF ON A MISSION Part 7
Declan shifted restlessly in the back seat of Logan's SUV. He wasn't particularly happy about his mate-in-name-only sitting up front with the vampire. He had no legitimate reason to be jealous; his claim on Vivian was tenuous at best. However, his wolf had a very different opinion on the subject. Every time she looked at or just spoke to Logan, Declan had to fight hard not to go on the attack.
If Vivian was aware of the battle going on between the two halves of his soul, she gave no sign of it. Logan, on the other hand, wisely used the rearview mirror to keep a wary eye on him. Declan didn't even blame him—much. While no one felt comfortable with an Alpha predator at his back, the occasional glint of amusement in the vampire's gaze set Declan's teeth on edge.
Being cooped up in such a small place for hours on end wasn't helping matters. They'd left Darby just before dusk, and it was now after midnight. As they drove past a sign listing the services available at the upcoming exit, Declan leaned forward to rest his arms on the back of the front seat. "I don't know about you two, but I'd love a chance to stretch my legs a bit. Maybe even grab a bite to eat."
Vivian glanced back at Declan but addressed her response to Logan. "If we stop, will we reach the motel where you made reservations before dawn?"
Logan flipped on the turn signal and moved into the exit lane. "Close enough. I'll drop the two of you at the door of the restaurant. I need to feed, but that won't take long. I'll catch up with you inside shortly. Order me whatever you're having."
He didn't indicate if he was going to suck down one of the bags of blood in the cooler or if he planned to snack on whatever person had the bad luck to be handy. If Declan had to guess, he would figure on it being the latter, not that he cared. Logan would make sure his chosen dinner entrée wouldn't remember offering up his or her vein to a vampire. It would also make his limited supply of bagged blood last a little longer.
Despite the late hour, the diner right off the exit was doing a brisk business. There was a scattering of cars in the parking lot, but there was also a long row of big rigs lined up across the back. It was the kind of place that offered various services to the truckers who made their living moving goods of all kinds from one side of the Coalition territory to the other. A lot of the drivers had probably already eaten a hot meal, taken a shower, maybe even done a load of laundry before retreating to the bed in the back of their truck cab to grab some sleep. At least Logan wouldn't have to go far to find a free meal.
As soon as the SUV rolled to a stop, Vivian was out and heading for the door of the diner before Declan even finished unfastening his seatbelt. Couldn't she have at least waited for him? There wasn't much chance that anyone in the diner would recognize her, but there was no way to know for sure.
He snagged her arm and pulled her back a couple of steps before she could walk inside. "Slow down, lady."
She gave his hand on her wrist a pointed look, but he held on until she finally lifted her gaze to meet his. "It's important that we act like a real couple when we reach your pack's territory. That means we both need to get comfortable with the idea of me being your mate, especially when we're in public. If you avoid touching me, there's no way Rolf or his followers will accept my one-on-one challenge. If he decides to unleash the entire pack on the three of us, it won't turn out well for anybody."
Her caramel-colored eyes studied him for several heartbeats, but at least she didn't pull free of his grasp. That didn't mean she sounded at all happy when she finally responded. "Fine…for now."
Then she stepped back to allow him to open the door to the diner for her. She even managed to almost hide the way she flinched when he settled his hand on her back as they walked inside. His motivations for wanting to touch her were a mixed bag with his wolf pretty much insisting that it was their right to signal to the world that she belonged to them. However, he hadn't been lying to her about the necessity that they present themselves as a couple whenever they were in public. He'd work on extending that to their time in private, but now wasn't the time to push it.
A harried looking waitress handed them a pair of menus and waved her hand in the direction of the dining area. "Pick a seat. Someone will be with you shortly."
Declan guided Vivian across the diner to a booth that had just come available, bypassing several others along the way. He rejected those because of the huge windows on that side of the room, which would leave them exposed to anyone out in the parking lot. Yeah, he was probably being paranoid, but he'd bet Logan would have done the same. Not only did the booth offer them more privacy, but it was also located close to the hall that led to both the restrooms and the rear exit of the diner, giving them another avenue of escape if needed.
He waited for Vivian to pick a side so that he could slide in next to her. The stubborn woman remained on the outside edge, either to force Declan and Logan to share or to let Logan sit next to her. That was so not happening. Had she forgotten their discussion outside the diner door? Well, he'd show her stubborn. Using his best Alpha voice with a hint of his wolf thrown in for kicks, he growled, "Vivian, move over."
She hesitated just long enough to make it clear that she was moving of her own accord, not because she was jumping to follow his orders. He settled in next to her and silently studied the menu. Neither of them spoke again until a waitress appeared with glasses of water for the two of them and a pot of coffee. Declan turned over three of the four mugs on the table. "A friend will be joining us in a few minutes, but he gave me the okay to order for him."
Turning to Vivian, he asked, "Are you ready or do you need a minute."
She closed the menu and slid it across the table toward the waitress. "I'll have the spinach and cheese omelet, whole wheat toast, and a glass of orange juice."
Declan dropped his menu on top of hers. "Our friend and I will have the meat-lover's special, the eggs scrambled, and a couple of those muffins I saw on the counter instead of the toast."
The waitress nodded as she jotted down their order. "Shouldn't take long."
When she was out of hearing, Declan stretched his arm out across the back of the seat as he studied Vivian's profile. There were dark circles under her eyes, and the tension lines bracketing her mouth were more pronounced than he remembered. Then there was the fact she'd just totally shredded one paper napkin and was starting on a second. Clearly, all of this was clearly taking its toll on her. "How are you holding up?"
Her answer was quick in coming. "Seriously, you have to ask that? My whole life has been turned upside down and inside out again. I'm dragging my friend into a possible lethal situation, and I'm mated to a man I barely know. How do you think I'm doing?"
Knowing nothing he said would change the situation, he settled for offering her the comfort of his touch, one wolf to another. He dropped his arm down off the back of the seat to gently rest on her shoulders and tugged her a little closer to his side. That she didn't fight him off said a lot about her current state. The silence between them dragged on for a minute, maybe two.
Vivian both hated and appreciated that having Declan hold her felt so good. She'd lived so long without the comfort of another wolf's touch. She might not be able to shift, but that didn't mean she lacked all of the other instinctual needs of a member of a pack. Finally, she sighed and pushed the scraps of paper to the side. "Mostly I'm really tired. I haven't been able to sleep since you showed up. I can't shut off the nonstop thoughts of what all can go wrong with our plan."
Turning to face Declan more directly, she stared up into his blue eyes. "I am worried about Logan getting hurt…or worse. I also don't want anything bad to happen to you. Like you said, if it wasn't you who showed up looking for me, it would have been someone else. It's unlikely someone would have bothered to listen to my side of the story before hauling me back to New Eire. That said, I'm really angry about being backed into a corner, with no real choice about what happens next in my life."
She wasn't surprised to see that it was now Declan's wolf looking down at her, his eyes glittering gold with determination and maybe a touch of anger. "I promised you'll have a choice, Vivian. That hasn't changed. But before that can happen, we have to deal with the threat Rolf presents not just to you, but to the others in your pack. You have to know that not everyone is faring well under his rule."
At that point, Logan caught up with them. He frowned at the sight of her tucked in so close to Declan, but didn't say anything about it. "Sorry if I interrupted the conversation. Is there anything I should know?"
She shook her head. "No, we're just rehashing the same old territory. How about you? Were you able to take care of things outside?"
He grinned at her, letting just a hint of his fangs show. "Yep. I had a pleasant chat with one of the truckers out back. I probably enjoyed our conversation a little more than he did, but that's okay. He won't remember it. He'll also probably sleep a little longer than he planned to, but otherwise he'll be fine. My favorite vintage, too—O negative."
Vivian laughed, just as he meant for her, too. Declan must have decided the crisis had passed, because he gave her shoulders one last gentle squeeze before moving away from her just enough to give her room to breathe. She expressed her gratitude with a small smile and then nodded in the direction of the counter where their waitress was picking up three plates heaped high with food. "Looks like our order is up. I don't know about you two, but I'm starving."
Despite his recent feeding, Logan rubbed his hands in anticipation of devouring the enormous amount of food on the plate the waitress set in front of him. He grinned at Declan. "You did good."
She picked up her fork and started eating, hoping she was being more civilized than the two males who were shoveling in their food as fast as they could. That was okay. They would all need to stay strong if they planned to survive the next few days.
About the time they'd cleaned their plates, the waitress returned. "Can I get you anything else?"
Declan actually looked as if he was considering ordering seconds. Finally, he pointed toward the counter. "How about three pieces of that apple pie to go?"
When he looked first at Logan and then her, he grinned. "Did you to want some, too?"
Then he winked at her. "Just kidding. Not about the pie, but that all three pieces were for me."
Evidently the waitress was too tired or too busy to enjoy his sense of humor, because she just wrote down his request without cracking even a hint of a smile. "I'll be right back with your pie and the bill."
Both men reached for their wallets. Rather than waiting for them to decide who would foot the bill, she nudged Declan. "Let me out. I want to use the restroom before we leave."
He tossed several bills down on the table as he got up. "Me, too. Wait for me if you get out before me."
Logan gathered up the money without complaint. "I'll take care of the bill when she brings it. Looks like we pay over by the front door."
Even as both men spoke, they scanned their surroundings looking for threats that didn't exist as far as she could see. Rather than call them on it, she simply headed toward the restrooms. Declan fell into step beside her, once again placing his hand on the small of her back. She bit back the urge to complain about it even though it made her angry. The problem was she wasn't mad at him for the public way he staked his claim on her, but the fact that she actually liked it.
The effect on her mood didn't improve one bit when she left the restroom when a familiar voice ring out over the diner. "Vivian Channing, is that you?"
Rather than respond, she did an about-face and headed for the rear exit. Luckily, Declan stepped out of the restroom before she made it all the way outside. "Viv?"
"I've been spotted by a member of the pack, who called out my name. I don't know if she's alone or if there are others with her. Regardless, if she hasn't already called Rolf, she will."
Declan's phone rang before they reached the door—Logan checking in. No doubt he'd heard the woman, too.
"We're heading out the back. We'll wait for you inside the edge of the trees."
They made it out the door before the woman or anyone else could catch up with them. Her heart was pounding as if they'd been running, but Declan kept the two of them moving at a steady pace rather than letting her break into a panicky run. "The faster we move, the more likely we'll draw more unwanted attention in our direction."
She jerked her head in a quick nod, still struggling to draw a full breath until they made it to the shelter of the trees. As soon as they did, Declan wrapped her in his arms, his big hand rubbing her back in an effort to help her remain calm while they waited for Logan.
"What's taking that damn vampire so long?"
She didn't know and hoped he hadn't run into problems back inside. That didn't seem likely since no one connected to Rolf or the pack knew anything about him. It felt like forever before his SUV pulled into sight. When he stopped near where they were waiting, Declan stepped out of the shadows and opened the rear passenger door and urged Vivian to get inside. He quickly joined her, and Logan drove away before Declan had time to close the door and lock it.
"What took so long?"
Logan glanced at them in the rearview mirror. "I 'accidently' bumped into some loud-mouthed woman and 'accidently' knocked her phone out of her hand. Sadly, I stepped on it when I tried to help her regain her balance. I made my apologies, gave her cash to replace it and left."
That would only delay Rolf finding out Vivian was back in the area. "Was she alone?"
"No idea and I didn't stick around to ask. Either way, we need to get the hell out of here before she can call in the troops or get my license plate number. We should be at the motel in twenty minutes." Once again, Declan wrapped Vivian in his arms, sharing his warmth. "Don't worry, babe. All we've lost is the element of surprise. We'll keep you safe from him or die trying."
She hated that he meant that. Both he and Logan would fight to death to keep Rolf from getting his hands on her again. That left her with only one question she didn't know how to answer.
How was she supposed to live with that?