GOING HOME ISN'T EASY Part 6
Logan spent the last few hours of the night with his grandmother and her companion. He couldn't remember the last time the three of them had hung out together. He wanted to soak up every possible minute with them. There was no telling when—or even if—he would ever be back on the family estate again.
Never, if it were up to his brother. He also knew their father probably wouldn't mind if his younger son disappeared off the face of the planet never to be heard from again. That was okay; the feeling was mutual. It wasn't clear, though, if Logan could let that happen. Neither his father nor his brother had yet to explain what was going on that joining forces with Rylee's clan was the only solution. It wasn't as if her father and his had ever been friends.
Even as he entertained Colleen and Sinead with entertaining stories about his life running a bar at the edge of civilization, his thoughts kept drifting to the third woman in residence on his grandmother's estate—Rylee.
Was she upstairs packing or was she having second thoughts about their planned escape? He tried to tell himself that he would be leaving regardless of her decision, but that wasn't going to happen. That would mean abandoning her to face the triple threat of her father, Harry, and worst of all, Rory.
Logan could be a coldhearted bastard when the occasion called for it, but not when it came to Rylee. It had been ten years since he'd last seen her. Despite the passage of time, seeing her again and hearing her slightly husky voice had still knocked him a bit sideways. He'd managed to walk away from her once; he'd never be that much of a fool again.
She'd been cute back then, tall, slender, with long legs that were still featured in his steamiest dreams. Her huge eyes had always gleamed with intelligence laced with a healthy dose of shyness. Back in the day, she'd always hovered around the edges of any social gatherings. He could remember how much fun he'd had coaxing her into relaxing enough to enjoy herself. One thing had led to another, and they'd each been the other's first lover. He'd planned to marry Rylee as soon as she finished college.
Shortly after she left for her senior year, the always rocky relationship between Logan and his father had turned violently toxic, forcing him to make the hard decision to leave just to survive. After telling his grandmother goodbye, he'd driven straight to Rylee's college to ask her to come with him. Unfortunately, her father had already ordered her to stay away from Logan, the disgraced younger son. She'd been too young to stand up to the man, and she also wanted to finish her degree first. Losing her had been the final blow, nearly destroying Logan as he drove away with little money and no plan.
It hadn't taken him long to realize that Rylee had been right to refuse him. He'd barely been able to keep himself fed without taking on the responsibility of providing for a wife. But that was then. Now he had so much more to offer as a potential mate, and he was counting down the minutes until he'd find out if she was going to watch him drive away again.
"You look tired, Logan. When was the last time you had a decent amount of sleep?"
His grandmother's question startled him. How long had he been sitting there lost in the past? Quite a while considering the concerned looks on his companions' faces.
His answering laugh sounded forced to his own ears. "Honestly, I can't remember. I'd been away from my bar on business and had only just gotten back when Cormac showed up on my doorstep. I had a lot of work to catch up on and arrangements to make before I could leave again. After that, I drove straight to the estate, fought with Harry, and then came over here."
He yawned and stretched his arms over his head. "So, best guess is at least a couple of days."
"Why don't you turn in early. We'll make sure no one disturbs you before you're ready to be up and about. While you're at it, help yourself to a few packs of blood. You'll feel better."
"Thanks, Grandmother. I think I'll do that."
He stopped long enough to kiss each of the women on the cheek. "Thank you for everything. I love you both."
That was true. They'd been the anchor in his life on the estate. They deserved to know that even if right now it also felt as if he was saying goodbye—this time maybe for forever.
Rylee had spent less than half an hour packing up the few clothes she'd brought that would qualify as casual. Her father had always insisted on her dressing as befitting her station in life. That meant designer clothes no matter what the occasion or the time of day. He would have probably died of shock if she'd ever shown up for breakfast in pajamas. That she would jettison all of her approved clothing in favor of jeans, T-shirts, and sweatshirts was unthinkable.
She'd taken great pleasure in tossing her gowns and heels and all the other stuff that went with them in a pile in the corner. After putting the pitiful few remaining articles of clothing in a single suitcase, she'd paced the floor trying to work off enough energy to sleep.
When that didn't work, she gave up and stretched out on the bed anyway. Staring up at the ceiling only served to make her more restless. Giving up on sleep altogether, she moved to the chair by the window to watch the remaining hours of the night pass as she questioned her sanity.
What was she doing? She might not like how her father was trying to force her into marriage with Rory, but she understood what was driving him to do so. The clan needed an influx of money to keep pace with changing technologies. Without it, the entire clan would suffer. The trouble was that she knew her father would use the majority of the increased income to line his own pockets instead of spreading the money out across all of the members of the extended family. Like Logan's father, her parents believed the clan existed to support them.
How could they not see that everyone prospered when the wealth was shared? That seemed to be so blatantly obvious to her, but they'd always said she was being naïve. Funny, it was during conversations with a much younger Logan when she first learned about the inequities in the way some vampire clans were run. He'd run the numbers and could show that the clans that chose a different way of doing things actually did better financially than either his clan or hers. Sadly, he'd gotten about as far with his father as she had with hers with that information. Rumor had it that he and Harry had almost come to blows over the discussion.
Two nights after their argument, Logan had showed up at her college to ask her to leave with him. He'd wanted the two of them to build a life together away from the stifling confines of their respective clans. She'd been too young and too scared. She hadn't been wrong to refuse him, but she still regretted that decision. How different would her life have been if she'd had the courage to take that leap of faith with him?
And now it felt as if the gods were giving her a much needed second chance to make the right choice. Yes, she was doing this in part to escape the clutches of her father and Rory McCaig. It could also go horribly wrong. But scary as it was to turn her back on everything she always known, that fear was far outweighed by the belief that this was the right path for her.
The first rays of sunlight crested the horizon just as there was a soft knock on her door. Bracing herself for whatever the future would bring, she picked up her suitcase, looked around one last time to see if there was anything important that she was forgetting. Then she drew one deep breath, opened the door, and took that first step into her new future.
For the first time in hours, the tight band of tension in Logan's chest eased. Rylee hadn't changed her mind. Her face was pale, but her expression was determined. He held out his hand to take her suitcase and then led the way back down the steps toward the front door. Neither of them spoke, hoping to make their escape without alerting anyone to their plans until they were already in his SUV and heading out of the front gate.
"Drive carefully, Logan."
He spun back around to see his grandmother standing on the staircase behind them. She was wearing the same clothes she'd had on earlier, meaning she hadn't yet been to bed. The crafty woman had clearly suspected he was going to make a run for it.
"What gave us away?"
She smiled and came down the last few steps. "I know you, Logan. There's no way you'd let Rylee get forced into a marriage to your brother."
He set down Rylee's suitcase to give his grandmother one last hug. "We'll get this figured out."
She smiled up at him. "I know. You were always the smart one in the family. Too bad my son's ego gets in the way of realizing that."
She stepped around him to hug Rylee, too. "Take care of my grandson for me."
When Logan started to open the door, his grandmother held out an envelope. "Take this, no strings attached."
He opened the envelope and blinked at the thick wad of cash. When he tried to hand it back, she stopped him. "Logan, I know you have plenty of assets, but you didn't come here thinking you might have to go on the run. Both her father and yours will have a harder time tracking you if you don't leave an electronic trail."
When he still hesitated, she shook her head, her eyes glistening with tears. "Please, Logan, let me do this for you. It's little enough."
"Thank you, Grandmother."
He gave her one more kiss and then left before he shed a few tears himself.
Rylee waited as Logan quickly stowed their luggage in back. He didn't speak as he joined her in the big SUV. A few seconds later, he started the engine and circled around to drive down the driveway back to the main road that circled the estate. At the intersection, he hesitated before making the turn.
"Having second thoughts?"
"Not about getting the hell out of here." He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. "I was going to head for the main gate since it's the closest, but now I'm thinking that the smaller gate on the west side of the estate might be smarter. I wouldn't put it past Harry or my brother to have revoked my credentials to keep me inside the estate. Now that they have me"—he glanced at her-"or actually both of us right where they want us, they won't want us to leave."
She didn't doubt Logan's analysis of the situation. "If the main gate won't open, why would the smaller one? Don't they run off the same system?"
"They do, but the smaller one will be easier for me to bust through."
"Good plan as long as it doesn't damage the car too badly. It won't help if we get through the gate if it renders this SUV undriveable."
"True that, but it was built for off-roading, so the front end is reinforced. It should do the job."
They rode in silence, both keeping an eye on their surroundings. She wasn't all that familiar with the actual makeup of the security team here on the McCaig estate, so there was no telling what kind of forces Harry would have in place to control his younger son. At this time of day, it was unlikely to be the vampires. If things worked like they did on her father's estate, most of the pureblooded vampires in the clan would have retired for the day to avoid sunlight even though the older ones could tolerate it for a short amount of time. More likely there would be a number of human guards whose job was to protect the estate when the vampires couldn't. As strong as Logan was, he could take on a fair number of them without raising much of a sweat, especially since his father would likely have ordered them to take him alive and relatively unharmed.
No, the real problem would be any chancellors who made the estate their home. They were product of human-vampire matings and got the best of both worlds. That meant they had inherited nearly the same strength of their vampire forebears along with the ability to live in daylight from their human side. They were the real threat. Logan drove faster as they entered into a straight stretch of road. "So far, so good. The gate is just past that turn up ahead."
When she shivered in apprehension and braced herself for what was to come, he reached across to take her hand. "I promise I will keep you safe, Rylee."
She squeezed his hand. "I know. I just hate this so much. If our fathers needed to combine forces to help both clans, why couldn't they simply work out a mutually beneficial business deal?"
He huffed a small laugh. "It's a matter of trust—on a problem of this magnitude, whatever it is, neither of them will rely on a contract to make sure they don't get screwed over by the other. They want a blood tie to cement the deal. That means you having to marry one of us." He glanced at her again. "I won't let you be forced into that, Rylee, not even with me."
She didn't like the idea of being forced into a marriage even if it was necessary for the survival of her clan. She didn't want to think about the hell her life would be married to Rory McCaig. He'd been a big enough jerk when he thought engagement was a done deal. But he'd never forgive her for making it clear that she preferred his younger brother.
On the other hand, the thought of being permanently mated to the man sitting next to her was a whole different matter. As much as it had hurt at the time, she still believed she'd made the right decision when she'd refused to run off with him ten years ago. She wasn't sure she'd be able to find the willpower to do so again. But then why would she want to? He'd grown in strength over the time they'd been apart. But he wasn't the kind of man who would use it against those weaker than he was. No, he was a vampire who would protect those in his care.
Just then, Logan muttered a string of curse words and then said, "I knew getting this far free and clear was too good to be true."
She had been so lost in thought, she'd totally missed seeing the two vehicles that had just pulled out of a driveway to fall in behind them. No doubt there were more waiting up ahead, most likely between them and the gate.
"We keep going." His smile turned predatory. "But not before I leave a small surprise for our unwanted escorts."
Without further explanation, he pressed a button on the console's computer screen. Rylee twisted around to look out the back window. Almost immediately, the first vehicle swerved back and forth before finally coming to a dead stop. When the second one hit it broadside. The guards began pouring out of both vehicles, weapons in hand. But as humans, they lacked the speed to catch Logan's vehicle on foot.
"What did you do?"
His smile was nothing short of wicked. "Spikes. Big ones."
Before she could ask for clarification, they'd reached the final turn before the gate. Sure enough, two more vehicles were waiting for them, blocking the entrance to the gate. Rather than slow down, Logan gunned the engine. As the SUV picked up speed, he yelled, "Brace yourself, babe. This is going to be interesting."