MAN TROUBLES (part 6)
a short story by Alexis Morgan
Silas wasn't sure why he'd given into the temptation to spend more time in Lydia's company, especially when he'd only succeeded in making her more skittish. One glance at the fresh bacon maple bar had her looking at him with a degree of mistrust. What was up with that? It was just a doughnut.
When she continued to stare at it, he gave in and asked, "You don't like bacon on your maple bars?"
"On the contrary, they're my favorite. I was just wondering how you knew that or who told you."
He chuckled. "Paranoid much? Or has Caleb finally convinced you that I'm more trouble than I'm worth?"
He took a big bite of his own doughnut and waited until he'd swallowed before finally answering her question. "No one told me you liked them. They just happened to be putting out a fresh batch when I walked in at the doughnut shop, and I couldn't resist buying some. Who doesn't love bacon and maple-flavored icing?"
Lydia looked marginally happier. "Was there something you wanted besides bringing me a late night snack?"
"Yeah, I was wondering where the closest shopping center might be. Nothing fancy, but someplace I could pick up some jeans and T-shirts. I had to abandon most of my stuff at the last motel I stayed in because the pack had tracked me there."
"There's a discount mall a few miles north of here that should have whatever you need."
"Good. Second question--where's the closest bus stop?"
She sipped her hot chocolate. "Down the block, but I can drive you. I have a few errands to run myself in that area. I'll drop you off and then come back to pick you up."
"If you're sure. It's enough that you've given me a place to stay and a job while I'm here."
He meant that. It had been weeks since he'd felt safe enough to let down his guard and get a full night of sleep.
Lydia finally picked up her maple bar. "I'm sure. The timing is good, too, since tomorrow is my day off. Let's plan to leave around ten unless that's too early for you."
"Nope, that works for me. Besides, I don't want to take up too much of your time."
He finished off his hot chocolate and then his doughnut. It was time for him to head back down to the apartment. He had crowded Lydia enough for one night, and they were both tired. That didn't mean he was comfortable letting her wander around outside alone, especially with the constant specter of his pursuers lurking on the horizon.
Even knowing she'd probably refuse, he still had to make the offer. "Would you like me to walk out with you?"
Just as he expected, she shook her head. "I'm a big girl, Silas. I've been walking myself upstairs all by myself for years now."
He didn't doubt that for a minute, but the problem was she hadn't been doing that with a pack of wolves prowling the area. Rather than argue the point, he'd leave the way he'd come. That wouldn't keep him from watching over her from a distance.
After picking up both of their empty mugs, he tossed his wadded up napkin in her wastebasket. "I'll see you in the morning then. If your plans change, just let me know. I've gotten pretty good at figuring out bus routes."
She hit the release button on the bookcase for him. As he slipped through the opening, he smiled at her. "Get some rest, boss lady. You've had a long day."
"Don't worry. I just need to send one last e-mail and then I'm out of here, too."
Which meant he needed to haul ass if he wanted to be outside and in position before she made it out the front door of the restaurant. She might not appreciate him doing that, but the powerful need to protect those in his care was at the heart of what it meant to be an alpha wolf. Even in the best of times, he would've done the same thing even if there wasn't a clear and present danger to the woman for helping him.
He found a pool of deep shadows in the alley across the street. It offered a clear view of the restaurant as well as the steps that led up to where Lydia lived on the second floor. A few seconds after he settled into wait, the front door opened, and she stepped out onto the sidewalk. She was smart enough to look up and down the block before turning her back to the street while she locked the door.
It didn't take her long to walk up to her apartment door. But before going inside, she stopped to look around one more time, her gaze finally zeroing in on right where he stood. A quick smile brightened her expression. "I knew you'd be out there somewhere, Silas. I'm home. I'm safe. Go to bed, you crazy man."
She spoke in a normal tone of voice, clearly assuming he'd be able to hear her even from that distance. He could continue to hide, but maybe he should step out of the shadows. On more than one level, he was ready to do exactly that.
Lydia stayed right where she was until he stood at the bottom of her steps. Damn, he wished she'd invite him to join her. They both knew that wasn't going to happen, so he did the only thing he could.
"Good night, Lydia."
"Good night, Silas."
Then he stubbornly watched and waited until she disappeared into her apartment and locked the door, shutting him and the rest of the world outside.
Lydia parked her car and made a few purchases at the discount mall before heading for the food court. She and Silas had agreed to meet there at one o'clock. She was a little early, but that was all right. She'd buy a latte and then start reading the new book she'd picked up, killing time until he joined her. They'd decided to eat lunch together before heading back home.
She'd only read a few pages when she sensed she was being watched. The sensation sent a chill straight through her. She might be imagining things, but maybe not. Silas had been dead serious when he'd warned her about the people hunting him.
Moving slowly so as not to draw unwanted attention to herself, she tucked the book back in her purse and took a careful look around her surroundings and immediately spotted Silas headed her way. She relaxed as he cut straight through the crowded plaza with no effort. Did people somehow sense the predator in their midst and automatically edge out of his way? Maybe it had to do with how he moved with such power and strength, his eyes constantly sweeping his surroundings for any sign of danger.
It didn't take him long to reach her table. When he dropped a large shopping bag on an empty chair, she asked "Did you find everything you needed? I'd be perfectly content to sit here in the sun and read if you need more time to browse."
He snorted. "Shopping isn't exactly my thing. I managed to find everything I needed in the first couple of stores I went into. I'm ready for some lunch, though. How about you?"
"I could eat. If you'll keep an eye on my things, I'll go buy my lunch. Then I'll do the same for you. It's pretty crowded, and I don't want to lose this table."
When she started to stand up, he motioned her to sit back down. "Just tell me what you want, and I'll get it. Lunch is my treat since you've given up your morning off to help me out."
She started to point out that she'd had her own errands to run in the area, but she recognized stubborn pride when she saw it. "I'm not picky. I like the teriyaki chicken and rice that they serve over there."
When he grimaced, she laughed. She should have known better. "So, I take it you're more into red meat."
His sheepish grin was all the answer she needed. "In that case, the sandwich shop back in that direction makes a mean French dip. I'll take sweet potato fries with mine if you decide to go that route."
"Back in a few."
Instead of retrieving her book to read while he was gone, she was unable to resist the temptation of watching Silas walk away. While she wasn't in the habit of ogling men, she also didn't often cross paths with someone as compelling as Silas Varg. He was handsome enough, certainly, but she'd never been one for the pretty boys. No, there was something different about Silas, and not just the fact he was as much a wolf as he was a man.
Although that alone should have put him firmly off limits. She had no problem being friends with Joseph even though he was a vampire. He'd been adamant from the beginning that he'd never do anything that would draw her into the secret world in which he lived. She'd believed him then, and he'd never done anything to make her doubt his word.
Until now. After the childhood she'd had, he knew that all she wanted was the nice, normal life she'd built for herself. Why would he have sent Silas in her direction? Maybe she'd call him to tonight and ask.
Speaking of Silas, she spotted him walking out of the sandwich shop with a tray piled high with sandwiches and drinks. He started back in her direction, but then he slowed down and looked as if he were drawing a deep breath. A second later, he veered off in the other direction to sit down at a recently vacated table by himself.
It was her turn to scan the area, looking for any obvious source of trouble that would account for his unexpected behavior. No one seemed to be paying any attention to either of them, but then she didn't know who she was looking for.
Her phone chimed, indicating she'd received a new text message. She dug it out of her purse and glanced at the screen. No surprise that it was from Silas and consisted of two words written in all caps.
She kept her answer equally short.
OK. WHERE WILL YOU MEET ME?
While she waited for him to respond, she gathered up her shopping bags and his, as well. The phone chimed again.
AT THE BOOKCASE. DON'T WORRY.
Yeah, right, but she wasn't going to argue. Her gut instinct was that her continued presence in the immediate vicinity would only make it harder for Silas to evade whatever danger he'd sensed. Rather than distract him any longer, she'd do as he ordered—this time.
She forced herself to take a leisurely stroll through a couple of the stores before heading for the parking lot to make sure she wasn't being followed. Back when she'd lived on the streets, she'd developed an acute sixth sense for when someone was taking a little too much interest in her actions. As far as she could tell, she was in the clear.
At the same time, she had hoped that Silas would text her again to say it had all been a false alarm. Her phone remained ominously silent during the entire drive back. The whole episode left her so badly shaken that she circled through the area for an extra half an hour before finally pulling into the restaurant parking lot.
Still trying to act as if everything was normal, she carried her packages up to her apartment. After one more look around the surrounding area, she stepped inside and locked the door.
After making herself a soothing cup of chamomile tea, she sat and stared at the bag full of jeans and T-shirts and wondered if she'd ever see Silas again.