GOING HOME ISN'T EASY Part 9
Logan paced the length of the tunnel that led to the main house several times. Unfortunately, it didn't do a thing to improve his mood. In fact, if he could kick his own backside, he would. Although he hadn't meant to, he'd hurt Rylee by making it sound as if the last thing on earth he wanted was to marry her.
Because that wasn't true. No, what he'd been trying to tell her that was he wanted her to be free to pick what direction her life would take from this point on. He knew what it was like to feel cornered, to be treated as a pawn in a chess game he could never win. Not when the rules changed every time his father or his brother wanted to throw an obstacle in Logan's way.
He needed to apologize, to try to explain. Bracing himself, he turned back toward the bungalow. The door opened just before he reached it, and Rylee stepped into view. She paused and then started forward, brushing past Logan as if he were invisible. Her expression was … neutral was the best description he could come up with. It was the kind of dismissive look she might have given a total stranger passing by on a crowded street.
Maybe he should let her go hang out with Vivian for a while before trying to make amends. Meanwhile, he would seek out Declan and see about contracting with Ian's security company to find out what was going on between Rylee's clan and his. That would be the smart thing to do. It would be productive and maybe even provide them with a plan of action.
But as he watched her walk away, he knew none of that was going to happen. Not until he apologized and explained. Either she would forgive him or she wouldn't. In five long strides, he caught up with her, doing an end-run to block her way toward the door. Rather than trying to get past him, she simply stopped, crossed her arms over her chest and glared at him as she flashed her fangs. "What do you want now?"
His own fangs went on full display, but for a far different reason than anger. Damn, he loved the woman's determined strength. That she was also beautiful didn't hurt. With some effort he tamped down the urge to kiss her until she yielded to him. Somehow he thought that wasn't likely to happen. More likely she would deck him for even trying.
"I wanted to apologize for what I said back there or at least how I said it."
She rolled those stunning blue eyes, saying without a single word that he was being a babbling idiot. "And you think you're making sense right now?"
Getting frustrated with himself as well as the situation, he growled, "No, I'm pretty sure I'm not."
"Why don't you go sit down with a pen and paper and see if you can string together a coherent explanation? I'll read it later if I'm not busy."
He couldn't help but grin at the amount of snark she managed to infuse into her words. Her eyes narrowed and her mouth was a straight slash of anger. "You find me amusing?"
"No…well, yeah. I like that you don't take any crap from me. Which brings me back to the apology." He stepped closer. "I told you before that I don't want you to be forced into having to get married. Vampires live a long time. Being married for what could be centuries to someone you don't love would be a living hell. That's the kind of marriage my parents had, and you know what the men in my family can be like. I wouldn't wish living with one of us on anyone. You deserve better than that, which is what I was trying to tell you."
She studied him for the longest time before speaking. "My parents hated each other, too. I swear the temperature would drop twenty degrees whenever they were in the same room."
He wished he could say he was surprised, but he wasn't. "I'm sorry. That couldn't have been easy for you."
"From what I can see, you didn't have it any easier, Logan." She was the one who moved closer this time. "But if you think you've turned out anything like Rory or your father, there is something wrong with your mirror. You're better than either of them and always have been. Yeah, Rory is what your father turned him into, but he's a grown man now and capable of making his own decisions. He could have chosen to be a better person, but he didn't."
She offered him a tremulous smile. "I'm not my mother, content to be locked into a living hell for life. She could've left my father and built a better life for herself. Mother was well educated and came from money. She inherited a trust fund that would have set the two of us up in a comfortable life somewhere else even if the higher echelons of vampire society might not have accepted us among their ranks. Rather than give up her precious position, she damned us both to being miserable."
Logan couldn't resist reaching out to touch her face. "You didn't let her mistakes or your father's manipulations break you. You've managed to be your own person for this long. I can't stand the thought of you being trapped like your mother in a loveless marriage for the good of your clan. There has to be another way."
Rylee briefly covered his hand with hers, her pretty blue eyes glistening with tears. "There is, Logan. You had strong feelings for me once, the same kind I had for you. The real question is whether you could ever feel that way about me again."
Then she walked away, leaving him staring at her back.
Rylee's composure lasted only as long as it took her to step into Vivian's house and close the door. She leaned back against the wall, hoping like crazy that Logan didn't try to follow her right now. After practically laying her heart at his feet, she didn't want to see what he did with it.
"Is everything okay, Rylee?"
She'd been so lost in thought that she hadn't noticed Vivian's approach. Doing her best to look happier than she was, Rylee smiled at the other woman. "Yes, everything is okay. I slept really well, and I wanted to thank you again for having a blood supply on hand for us."
"You're welcome." Vivian looked at the door and then at Rylee. "Is Logan on his way? I made a pot of soup, and we'll be sitting down to dinner in about an hour. We'd love for the two of you to join us."
Then she frowned. "Although considering it's more like breakfast time for you two, maybe you'd like something else."
Rylee laughed. "Soup sounds great, and I'm sure Logan will be along in a few minutes. I think he wanted to talk to Declan and his brother about investigating both my father and his to see what's going on between them. Considering the two of them have always pretty much hated each other, their determined efforts to force a marriage between our two families is pretty strange."
"Families are complicated, aren't they?" Vivian sighed and shook her head. "I just put on a pot of tea to brew. Can I interest you in a cup?"
"I'd love one."
When they were both settled at the kitchen table, Rylee thought of all the questions she had about Logan and the life he'd built for himself outside of vampire clan politics. Finding out how long he'd known Vivian and how well was pretty much at the top of the list. From what she could gather, Vivian and Logan had been friends long before the other woman had met her husband. She wasn't sure how Logan would feel about her pressing his friend for information instead of asking him directly. Before she could decide, Vivian took the initiative.
"Logan was my boss first and gradually became a friend." Her smile was a bit sad. "I had some serious trust issues and wasn't about to let anyone get close. One of his other employees, a woman named Maggy, managed to sneak in under the walls I'd built around my emotions without me even noticing. It was because of her that I learned I could trust Logan as well."
After sipping her tea, she picked up the narrative. "Thanks to Logan, you already know that Declan and I are the alpha wolves of this pack. My family has been members of the pack for generations. Unfortunately, my father was never a strong alpha. He knew we needed fresh blood and invited a stronger wolf named Rolf to join us, thinking if he and I hit it off that we could take over ruling the pack. What Logan might not have told you is that I can't shift forms. Rolf thought he'd been cheated when he found out. He also used it as an excuse to challenge my father to fight for control of the pack. Dad would have submitted, but Rolf chose to kill him anyway. Then he locked me in a cell downstairs and planned to force me into becoming his mate even though I was 'defective.'"
She sniffed a bit as if fighting tears. "I escaped and went on the run. I kept changing locations and jobs because I knew Rolf would never stop hunting for me. Logan never asked questions, but I think he always knew something was going on."
"How did Declan get involved?"
"He was hired to track me down and drag me back to the pack. Rolf had filed charges against me—total lies, of course—but the Chancellors issued a warrant for my arrest. Logan offered to eliminate the threat Declan presented. He also offered me a chance to escape with his help, but I couldn't let him put himself at risk like that. Too many other people depended on him. Besides, the Chancellors would only send someone else."
A stab of what felt an awful lot like jealousy hurt Rylee's heart. Yes, he'd done the same for her, but she didn't like knowing he'd cared about another woman enough to risk everything to save her.
Vivian poured them each another cup of tea. "Luckily, Declan and Logan both believed me when I explained what had happened. I never expected they would or that Declan would then offer to claim me as his mate so he could challenge Rolf for the pack. He said I could refuse the mating afterward."
At least now she was smiling. "Neither of us expected to fall in love. Things got a bit dicey, but Logan stood with us to face down Rolf and his backers. When it was all over, Rolf was dead and the pack accepted us as the alpha pair. Logan is now considered a friend of not only our pack, but the pack the rest of Logan's family belongs to. That means if he needs help, he can call on us for anything he needs."
Rylee couldn't help but be a bit envious of the other woman. Yeah, she'd faced some of the same kind of challenges Rylee was currently facing. But Vivian had not only survived, she was thriving. It would take a miracle for Rylee to do that as well.
Vivian looked hesitant as if she wanted to ask Rylee something but wasn't sure she should. It had been a long time since Rylee had had a friend she trusted enough to confide in. Vivian had taken a leap of faith when she'd entrusted her secrets with both Declan and Logan. Maybe it was time for Rylee to do the same.
"Ask me whatever you want. I'll answer if I can."
Vivian's expression turned serious. "We care a lot about Logan and don't want to see him hurt. I know you two have had some kind of history, and I'm not asking for details. I just ask that you be careful with him. He's a good man, one who will risk everything to help someone he cares about. I don't want to see anyone take advantage of him and then leave him high and dry."
Before Rylee could formulate a response, another voice entered the conversation. "It's nice to know you and Declan care so much, Viv, but Rylee and I have a clear understanding about where we stand in our relationship."
Then he met Rylee's gaze from the doorway to the kitchen, his expression intense with his fangs on full display once again. "Don't we, babe?"