How to Lure a Hunter
If I keep my eyes forward, I can pretend he’s not here. If I don’t look at him—
“Alexei!” Claude shouts, loud enough that everyone in the department turns to look at me.
I have two options right now: 1) pretend that he is speaking to someone else and pray he goes away or 2) murder.
While I know it might be hard to get away with murder in the middle of the Vampire Related Crimes unit, I feel like I could do it. I could at least try. I’ve analyzed enough crime scenes that I know a thing or two.
Claude, dressed in a silver jacket that shimmers every time the light hits him, stops right next to me and reveals a vase filled with huge red and black flowers. “I got you flowers. I got red ones to symbolize my feelings for you and black ones because you seem to… really like the color black,” he says as he eyes my clothes like they’re the problem between us.
“I hate flowers.”
“That’s alright,” he says, sounding cheery as ever as he immediately drops the huge vase in the trashcan. “What do you like?”
And now I feel bad because I thought he’d just be stubborn and go on about how he loves flowers and I should love them too and plop them on my desk where I’ll have to pretend I hate them.
He’s an attractive man—it must run in the family because Marcus Church, his twin brother, is just as handsome. Although they’re similar in height, Claude isn’t as muscular as Marcus. And where Marcus looks badass, Claude looks extremely well put together, all the time. I rarely see him wear something other than a suit or at least a button-up. He’s watching me with his strange silver-gray eyes that always seem to draw me in. From far away, they look blue and almost ordinary, but up close, it’s clear how unique they are.
He seems to have grown attached to me after Finn pulled him in to help on a previous case. While he is overly nice most of the time, he seems to lack a filter. He also has issues understanding that I just can’t date anyone now. I don’t want or need a relationship in my life. Nevertheless, he’s persistent and I can’t help but wonder if that’s why I still let him get away with giving me flowers and other nonsense. It also doesn’t help when I threaten him and he just flashes his ridiculously charming smile at me.
I must stare at him too long because he says, “Ah! Excuse me for one tiny moment, I need to speak with Finn!” then hurries off, and I’m left staring at the flowers in the trash. I glance up just in time to see Marcus divert Claude to the front door.
Why do I feel a tinge of disappointment? It must be because I’m bored and Claude was at least minorly entertaining, or maybe I’d hoped Marcus would have thrown him instead or something. Yes, I feel like it was that one. Something a bit more physically abusive, perhaps.
I pull the flowers out of the trash and stare at them, unsure of what to do with them now. A couple are a little bent from being dropped in the trash, so I try to straighten them and push the petals back up.
“What do you have?” Finn asks, voice instantly annoying me.
I feel like I’ve been caught with something I shouldn’t have. Like I’m over here fussing with a baggie of drugs instead of flowers. “Trash.”
“I feel like you pulled them out of the trash.”
I narrow my eyes at the annoyingly observant human. “They filled up my entire trash can, and I need room for other trash.”
The human grins at me as he sits down in his chair at the desk across from mine before sliding on over to my side. I really feel like there should be a huge partition up between us so he can’t annoy me. He’s almost as annoying as Claude.
“Where’d you get the flowers? From Claude?” he asks, tone teasing.
I have zero idea of what to do with the flowers. Do I toss them back in the trash? I can’t set them on my table… I can’t do anything with them but hold them, unsure of what to do. “Take them,” I say as I try to push them at Finn.
Finn reaches for them, making me relieved that I at least found someone willing to take them, until I see he’s actually reaching for a tag wrapped around the vase. He pulls it out just enough to open it.
I had a lot of fun the other day. I hope you did too.
“Is he talking about the date?” Finn asks, but the look on his face tells me that he knows Claude’s talking about the date. The date I got conned into going on with Claude all because he saved Finn from a vampire who was trying to kill him. Why saving Finn became a good reason to force me on a date, I’ll never know.
I stuff the flowers under my desk where my legs go. “I will personally take them out to the dumpster on break,” I announce.
Finn wraps an arm around me, hugging me to him. “You’re so cute.”
I grab his hair and try to pry him off me with it. “Will you stop!”
Suddenly the area around me becomes suppressing as I feel a dark shadow looming over me. When I look up, I see Marcus glaring down at me, tips of his fangs showing like he’s pissed at me because Finn’s hugging me!
“What are you doing with my man?” Marcus asks.
“I don’t want him!” I say as I continue to try and pry him off me. “Dammit, Finn, you’re going to make Marcus murder me!”
Finn beams at Marcus and I can’t help but be amazed that Marcus lets this little human rule his life. The Marcus I met when I joined the VRC was callous, short-tempered, and annoying. Even so, I didn’t mind working with him because he didn’t insist on idle chat and gossip. He really didn’t like any chatting, so we could silently work with each other and communicate by glares and snips. It was my favorite type of communication. But then this human came along filled with joy and happiness and suddenly everyone around me started to fall head over heels for him one by one. Even though we should have been disgusted by him, seeing as he was a human joining a vampire unit, he used his annoyingness to sucker everyone into liking him.
And for some reason… he’s now my closest friend.
“Marcus is just jealous,” Finn explains. “And when Marcus is jealous he—”
“Slams people against walls, breaks bones, and tears out eyes,” I cut in. “I would like none of that to happen to me so please, if you care about my wellbeing, fuck off.”
Finn laughs as he pulls back but doesn’t wheel away yet. “Marcus, why’d you scare Claude off? He was in the process of wooing Alexei.”
“Because Claude does not work here. Let’s just be happy that he’s getting his own house and we’ll finally be free of him,” Marcus says.
“Claude’s moving?” I ask before remembering that I couldn’t give a shit if Claude was moving to the moon. I’d actually be relieved. That’s definitely it.
“He is. I don’t know where to yet, but he’s coming over tonight to take us to his new house,” Finn explains. “Why don’t you come with us? You were wanting to grab that book from my house anyway.”
So it must be in the area, which means he can still annoy me, which isn’t good.
DeGray swings by before pointing at the door. “We just got a call about a dead vampire. Can you guys head out?”
DeGray is a fellow detective who was one of the nicest ones to me when I started here. I think he’s nice to everyone, though, since that seems to be where he excels. Things have been a bit… strained between us lately since our last one-on-one talk. But he still gives me a small smile before turning to the others.
I wonder what they’d do if they knew.
But DeGray shouldn’t worry, I’m the master of keeping secrets. My whole life is built on lies and secrets.
“Ready?” Finn asks.
I glance up at him since he’s now standing. It’d be the only time I’d have to glance up at the human, even if I’m not as tall as the other vampires in our unit, besides Briar. “Yeah.”
“Good because you got this far-off look in your eyes like you couldn’t remember if you left the stove on or not.”
“What would I need a stove for?” I ask as I stand to gather my things and slide in my chair, careful not to smash the vase and flowers.
“Blood things. Maybe it’s where you boil your victims.”
“Maybe you’re not funny?” I say.
He beams at me like he knows it’s a lie. I glance back at Marcus who has his eyes narrowed. “If Finn makes a joke, you laugh.”
“Ha. Fucking. Ha,” I say dryly, which makes Finn laugh as we walk out the door to the cars. When I head for my own car to save myself from being near Finn and Marcus, I’m steered toward their vehicle by Finn.
And while Marcus bickers about how much nicer it would’ve been to leave me behind, I get into the back seat with DeGray.
“DeGray, you’ve been so quiet lately, is something wrong?” Finn asks as he turns around in his seat to face him.
DeGray glances over at me, clearly the worst liar around. “No, just thinking. A bit tired too.”
I pull out my phone, hopefully proving to DeGray that I’m not going to just start spouting shit he doesn’t want spouted. When I glance down at it, I see I have a message from Claude. After the only date I got conned into going on with him, I told him he could text me once a day. Which means he decides to write a book every time he sends one text to fit it all in.
The Annoying One: Sorry I didn’t get to say bye. I know, I know, I’m only allowed one text a day, so I’ll just make it a really long one. Ha ha! That’s what he said. Anyway, today I started moving into my new house, but I haven’t owned a house in years so it feels kind of strange. Because I love learning about new cultures, I just traveled all over the world, but it’s been nice here with my brother, so I think I’m going to hang around for a while. Will you come see the new house? I’m forcing Marcus and Finn to come see it tonight, and if you’d like, you could come with them, and I can give you a tour. What about you? How is your day going?
I stare at the text for a while before sighing loudly. I don’t want to get involved with anyone. I currently have a few acquaintances and a small handful of closer friends, which is more than I want. I can’t let myself have more, and if I did, it wouldn’t be someone like Claude. We clash far too much when he’s so outgoing and easy to be around and I’m… not. I’d need someone…
I glance down at the text.
Me: Depends. Will you be there?
The Annoying One: LOL You always make me laugh. Yes, I will, but that’s the best part! I can show you my library. It’s the only thing I currently have moved in. I can’t wait for you to come over!
Oh lord. What did I just agree to?
“It’s called a penis sling,” Finn says.
What the hell kind of conversation did I just come back to? Thankfully, we arrive before I have to find out.
The crime scene is at a suburban house just on the outskirts of town. There’s tape up to keep people from loitering around on the sidewalk. The human police must have been the first to respond, but as soon as they figured out it was a case involving a vampire, it must have been pushed over to the VRC, since all vampire-related cases are. It doesn’t matter whether the vampire is the victim or the killer, any case related to vampires gets sent to the VRC. The issue with that is the VRC is so understaffed that we end up having to do the jobs of multiple people and get pushed from job title to job title depending on what works and fits for the individual case.
Marcus, being the eldest and strongest of us, generally takes charge. This means that as soon as we get out of the vehicle, he glares at the neighbors loitering around—sending them quickly on their way—ducks under the tape, and hurries on toward the house without stopping for anyone.
And in his wake is Finn, smiling and thanking the officers and nicely telling the terrified people to move along.
They’re so different and weird together. Or maybe they’re just weird.
That’s probably what it is.
I follow after them as they head into the house. I can instantly smell blood, but it doesn’t seem to be coming from one area. A human officer walks up and gives us a nod.
“Where’s the body of the vampire?” Marcus asks, always right to the point.
“We haven’t found one yet, but the blood is thickest in the living room.”
“I thought you guys called in a body.”
“How do you know it’s a body if there’s just blood?” Marcus asks, cutting the man off.
The officer is clearly one who is used to dealing with Marcus because he doesn’t easily get intimidated; instead, he starts walking toward the kitchen to where I see why they’re sure there’s a body.
Sitting on the table is a head, no body in sight.
“Interesting,” Marcus says. “Let’s see where this body might be. DeGray and Karsyn, stay together. It smells like they went out the back door.”
Marcus starts walking as I follow after him while Finn surveys the area before hurrying after us.
“So we have a targeted kill,” Finn says.
“Not too many people have the stomach to sever a head then carry it back to the house,” I say as we walk into the backyard. DeGray is to my left as we fan out so we’re not all walking the exact same path. I can smell blood in the air and see areas where the killer had paused long enough for blood to accumulate on the ground. We follow it out back to a field that leads to the woods.
Marcus stops and turns to DeGray and me. “Stay within sight of me. The death might have happened hours ago, but it doesn’t mean the attacker is gone.”
He’s been much stricter after losing one of the detectives who’d gone off into the woods looking for evidence and was killed by his partner. I doubt any of my partners would be interested in my death… besides maybe Marcus, but he’d still rather be safe. While it is a requirement that we stay in pairs, vampires seem to always have their own ideas of rules. They think they’re strong enough to wander off alone, but that could also be caused by the lack of surplus people.
The wind is whipping around us, but instead of helping, it’s pushing the smells away from us, so we have to move slower than usual in case we miss something.
“You guys are so weird,” Finn says. “You’re all just walking around sniff-snorting the air like a pack of rabid dogs.”
“We’re not dogs,” Marcus says as Finn starts loudly sniffing as he walks.
“We could just leave him out here,” I suggest.
“You just want to keep me for yourself, don’t you, Alexei?” Finn asks. “You want to ravish my body!”
I snort because that’s not something I want to do. What I do want to do is focus on work.
“Karsyn, if you even look at my…” Marcus hesitates, which is rare when he gets onto this threatening thing. “I have something.” Of course it’s not surprising he caught the scent first since he’s over twice my age. We follow him as he speeds up and moves into the trees. And there, right under the undergrowth, is the body with no head.
The area around it seems to have been trodden down, like there was enough of a fight to flatten the brush.
“Do you have any other scents?” Finn asks.
“No, we’ll search the area, but the fight seems to be pretty one-sided,” Marcus says.
“But there was enough of a fight to mess up the area,” I note as I look around. A sapling has been snapped in half, telling me a body had been thrown against it at some point. There’s blood and dirt on the vampire’s jeans that don’t follow the same pattern as the blood from his throat.
So now we have a dead vampire who was attacked in his home and chased out into the woods where they must have caught him and beheaded him. That’s not an easy feat.
I take out my work phone and pull up the database that will get me the information I need as Marcus, Finn, and DeGray scan and assess the area.
I type in the address and see that a man by the name of Ronald Diver is the only current resident. The picture provided matches with the victim. Going off the appearance of his file, he was a pretty clean-cut citizen. It looks like he filed everything correctly, which is required for vampires who want access to blood. He worked a normal job with nothing that stands out or causes any red flags.
But of course that doesn’t mean there’s nothing there, it just means that on the surface, he seems like the ideal citizen. I trace his lineage down to when he moved here about fifty years ago; before then, he’d lived in England which is where he’d been turned.
I face the others. “His name’s Ronald Diver, nothing stands out on him. He works as a chef at a local restaurant. Nothing against him. No warnings, nothing. Ideal citizen as far as his records here go. We’ll have to look into his records from when he lived in Europe.”
“Probably a vampire attack with the precision of the wound,” Marcus says.
I stoop down to look at the cut. The original wound appears to have been in the heart, which made him flee, but was nearly healed by the time they removed the head.
“I wouldn’t write off the possibility of a human attacker,” I say.
Marcus raises an eyebrow. “How old is he?”
I glance down at my phone. “He’s… seventy-three. Nineteen at date of turning.”
“You think a vampire that age wouldn’t be able to fight off a human?” Marcus asks, clearly in disbelief. Marcus is an amazing detective, but his only downfall is the fact that he clearly believes vampires are superior. It’s shocking that he can handle being with a human who won’t put up with his shit.
“Marcus, don’t get your panties in a bunch. He’s just saying that we shouldn’t immediately write off humans just because you think a human couldn’t cut a head off,” Finn says.
Marcus grumbles something, but we both know he’ll listen to Finn. Finn could say the clouds are made of marshmallows, and while Marcus would probably complain, we all know he’d eventually agree with Finn. Love does stupid things to stupid people.
As the analyst team moves in and begins marking the site, I start working with them to document everything from the path he took to where his body fell when he died. The killer or killers hadn’t moved the body far, but it’d been turned over some time after death.
By the end, we’re left with more questions than answers on why a random vampire met such a gruesome fate.
As soon as I pull into Marcus’s driveway, I question why I’m here. There’s no reason for me to be here. I’ll just run in, grab the book Finn promised to lend me and go. I’ll be gone before Claude arrives, and then he’ll be none the wiser. He can’t really expect me to be meeting him.
I glance over at the stupid flower vase I have wedged against the seat so it doesn’t tip over.
I quickly get out of the car and rush up to the door before hammering on it. I need to be quick. There’s no telling what’ll happen if I’m not.
The door is flung open so hard I’m in shock the door isn’t damaged. Marcus stares down at me with eyes narrowed, scowl on his face.
“What the fuck do you want?” he grumbles as his herd of dogs bark at me. The tiny one rears up with her paws on the big one’s leg for a chance to be taller.
“Clearly, I’m here to abduct Finn… what the fuck do you think I’m here for?” I ask.
“The way you were hammering on the door I thought for sure you were in the process of being maimed,” Marcus says.
“No, I’m in the process of grabbing a book as quickly as I can.” Finn had gotten me hooked on this action series that he wouldn’t stop talking about. I didn’t realize he’d talk even more about it after I finished. But I suppose that’s not all bad.
That’s when a wicked grin blooms across his face. “Ah. Trying to escape Claude, are you? See, he’s less annoying to me when you’re around, so you’re not going anywhere.”
He grabs my wrist in a viselike grip and drags me inside like I’m suddenly his prisoner.
“Dammit, let go of me!” I growl as I pull against him but he’s refusing to budge, and it’s clear I’m going to have to break something on him to get free.
“No. You’re going with us.”
“Let me go or I’ll make you.”
“How funny that you think you can make me do something,” Marcus says as he looms over me.
I draw my arm down and around, forcing him to let go before stepping into him. He can move faster than me and he’s stronger than me, but what many vampires don’t realize is that there’s more to winning a fight than strength and speed and it shows on his face when I slip past him.
“What are you guys doing?” Finn asks as he comes out of the back room while his little rat dog jumps at my feet, wanting to be petted as the big one stares at me. I would kind of like to pet them but then that might give away that I’m not as heartless as I try to seem.
“You were going to give me the third book?” I ask.
“Ah, right. I’ll get it after we’re back from Claude’s,” Finn says then gives me this innocent smile like he doesn’t know what he’s doing to me.
I snatch up Hela, the small dog. “Give me the book or the dog gets it.”
Finn doesn’t seem concerned in the slightest. “You might look tough but you’re a teddy bear on the inside. Come on, you know you want to see Claude’s place. And maybe Claude’s bedroom. And maybe Claude with no clothes on.”
I set the dog down and turn around. “I’m leaving.”
“No! Marcus, don’t let him go!”
Marcus snatches me into some type of bear hug as I fight against him. “Damn you to hell!” I growl as I struggle against him. “Come on, Marcus, we could escape together.”
“I didn’t think about that,” Marcus realizes.
And that is how Claude finds us, tangled in each other’s arms, contemplating the idea of murdering each other and/or running. Claude doesn’t care. His neon pink shirt is as blinding as his smile and I question why he thought that, out of all things, would look appealing. “I love that you two are already getting along so well. Are you guys ready? Alexei, I’m so excited you decided to come!”
Finn’s beaming as he hurries after Claude while Marcus and I slowly and dejectedly walk out to the driveway. I glance at my car, wondering if I can escape. But when I see that Claude has parked his car in a way that pins my car in, I know there’s going to be no running.
Finn hops into the passenger seat as I grudgingly get in the back with Marcus who looks absolutely dreadful.
“I can’t wait for you guys to see my new house. Ready? Seat belts on?” Claude turns to assess Marcus and me since we are refusing to wear our seat belts. But Finn, who is in front of me, quickly snaps his in place.
“The car won’t move until the seat belts are on,” Claude says as he demonstrates by giving his a tug.
“Fine,” Marcus says as he reaches forward and grabs Claude’s seat belt which he then proceeds to run across Claude’s neck and pull. “Huh. How strange. It’s not working.”
“Dammit, you’re choking me!” Claude growls as he fights the seat belt that Marcus has now pulled to its max length.
“Huh, it won’t click back here, how odd,” Marcus says as he lets it go, probably in hopes that it’ll spring back on Claude.
Claude snatches it before it whacks him in the face. Then he reaches back, and while I was hoping he was going to choke Marcus or something equally entertaining, he instead puts Marcus’s seat belt on for him. “Marcus, even though I hope you fly through the window, I don’t want your blood all over my car. Alexei?”
I feel like fighting it, but I also know life will be much, much easier if I just oblige, so I snap the seat belt in place. “There. Now the only thing that can kill me is my dread of going for a car ride with all of you,” I say.
Claude beams at me and I have to force myself to look away. It’s really not my fault he’s stupidly handsome.
“Here we go!” Claude backs down the driveway and out onto the road before making an immediate left turn into the next driveway that isn’t but a stone’s throw from the one we just left. “And we’re here!”
“No! NO!” Marcus cries, and I’ve never heard such devastation coming out of him.
I can’t help but laugh as I see the pure despair on Marcus’s face as Claude beams at us.
“Wait… you’re our neighbor?” Finn asks hesitantly.
Claude’s joy shows on his face as he turns to him. “I’ll be the best neighbor you’ve ever had! The moment I saw the house next door was for sale, I snatched it right up!”
Marcus isn’t listening. He’s too frantic. “We’ll need to build a fence… no… it won’t be enough! We have to move. Finn, start packing,” Marcus says as he throws open the door and tries getting out before realizing he has the seat belt on. All three of us proceed to watch as he has a tantrum trying to get it off.
“Anyway, house tour!” Claude says as I realize that we had to put our seat belts on to go ten feet. Claude is actually quite evil if I think about it and I realize that maybe we’ll get along after all.
I get out of the car as Finn and Marcus stay in the car having a private discussion while Claude stops beside me to look at what I’m staring at.
“I don’t think they’re as excited as I thought they’d be,” Claude says thoughtfully. “Oh well. Come on inside.”
Even though Marcus’s tantrum was entertaining, I decide to follow Claude through the front door and into the empty two-story house.
“I haven’t had time to move much inside, so it’s really bare but it has a magnificent closet,” he says. “Over here is the living room.”
He leads me into a large empty room before telling me what he’s planning on doing with it and I can’t help but wonder if his house is about to look as gaudy as his clothes. Once he finishes the tour downstairs, he heads up the stairs just in time for Finn and Marcus to grudgingly join us.
“It looks very nice, Claude,” Finn says.
Marcus pouts with his arms folded over his chest. “It’d be really sad if something flamey happened to it. You know… with lots of flames,” Marcus says as he looks around. “Finn, that looks like a good wall to burn. A lot of wood.”
Claude glares at them. “Finn, you may stay. Marcus, you’re not invited.”
Marcus doesn’t seem to mind as he continues following us and pointing out all the easily burnable areas while Claude loudly tries to talk over him.
“And this is my closet,” Claude says as he pulls open a door to a guest bedroom.
“This is a bedroom,” I say, in case he was confused.
“Yeah, but I’m going to punch a hole through the wall here that goes into the closet of the master bedroom.”
“Can I punch the hole?” Marcus asks eagerly.
Claude shrugs. “I suppose, if that’ll make you happy.”
Marcus grabs Claude, clearly planning on making a Claude-sized hole through the wall until he realizes that Finn’s in the way.
I decide that maybe we’re all being a bit mean and I should help out. “Finn, move out of the way,” I say as I give his arm a tug.
“Thank you, Karsyn,” Marcus says, but before he can do anything, Claude escapes.
“Finn, why are you the only one who loves me?” Claude asks as he wraps Finn up in his arms. “Do you like my new house?”
“I do,” Finn says. “It’s really nice, and I think Marcus kind of likes it too.”
“Good. Alexei, come see my library,” he says as he ditches Finn to grab my wrist and tugs me after him. We head down the hallway before he pulls open a door and we step into the only room that has anything in it. The walls are filled with bookshelves, each packed completely full of books. I’m honestly impressed by the amount of books as well as variety. I enjoy reading a good book now and then but my measly collection is nothing compared to this.
I’d assumed that the first thing Claude would have worried about is getting his clothes set up, but instead, it looks like he’s poured all of his time into creating his very own library. It’s easy to forget that Claude is actually quite studious and intelligent when you look at his appearance.
“This is amazing,” I say before I can catch myself.
“Thank you! I’ve collected books from all over the world, and since I move so much, I had to fill storage compartments full of them. This is the first time I could really display them all. Ooh, I have some poetry books from Russia that maybe you could read to me some time!”
“That sounds dreadful,” I say as he drags me over to the shelf and points to a small collection. They’re all older books that he pulls out and hands to me.
The first is a religious-based one, and the second appears to revolve around science.
“You kept all of these?” Marcus asks as he stares at a bookshelf near the door.
“Of course,” Claude says. “They were from our family’s library. I got the small portraits of us as well. Remember when we had to sit for hours as they drew those grand pieces of art they’d hang on the walls?”
Marcus groans. “Yes! That was horrid, but it was the longest I’d ever sat on my mother’s lap. She was irritated at you the entire time because you didn’t feel good and wanted to lie down.”
“I felt like I could never make her happy, and don’t get me started on Father. At least I had you, even if you grew up to be a dick.”
“You’re the one who left me to travel the world,” Marcus says.
Claude draws quiet as I watch the two of them and wonder what happened to make them grow apart. Claude plucks the books out of my hands before I can see what the others are and sets them on a chair. “Let’s continue the tour. How about we have a party here tomorrow where you guys help me move furniture?”
“Aren’t you a vampire? Can’t you just lift it with your index finger?” Finn asks.
“I could, but it’d be faster if everyone helped.”
“I think we’re busy, but I bet Alexei would help,” Finn says, savagely tossing me to the wolves and severing our friendship forever. There will be no recovering after this.
I stare at him, and he mimes shooting an arrow at me. When he thinks he became Cupid, I’ll never know, but I’m pretty sure I need to make sure that doesn’t progress. Especially now that we are no longer friends.
“That would be really helpful if you could but if you can’t, I understand,” Claude says, the most hopeful of all looks on his face. I feel like if I told him no, it’d be like kicking a puppy.
“I’ll consider it,” I say, which seems to please him greatly.
Once we’re done with the tour, Finn and Marcus start walking back to their house, but before I follow them, I turn to Claude.
He smiles at me.
I stare at him.
He looks confused.
I continue staring at him while wondering why that smile does things to me.
“You… don’t have to help, if that’s what this is?” he asks.
“I… just… thank you for the flowers,” I say as I look away and rub at my neck. “But this still doesn’t mean anything. We’re acquaintances.”
“I know! See ya tomorrow, acquaintance.”
I snort as I give him a wave and walk across his yard and into Marcus and Finn’s.
After getting the book, I get into the car and back out of the driveway. The thing is… it doesn’t matter who it is, I’m not opening my heart again. After losing everyone I’ve loved, I’m not doing it again. This is the end of that road. I just have to make Claude understand that.