Once inside Alec's apartment, with the door locked and the others gone, Brittney rounded on Harper. "Well? Why didn't you tell me about this?"
Harper went to the kitchen and poured a glass of orange juice. She drank half of it down, relishing the cold, tart flavor.
"You're so obnoxious," Brittney told her. Then she poured a glass too. "Stop ignoring me. Why didn't you say something? What's going on with you and Alec?"
"I didn't know," Harper said. "I only found out a couple of nights ago, the night Patrick's burned down. As for Alec, there's nothing. He's just a jerk like you said."
Brittney gave her a long look. "Uh-huh. There's more to this story. You'll tell me eventually. You're horrible at secrets."
She thought about her vision, where she'd been Ileana. But despite what Brittney said, she knew she wouldn't share the truth about his languid smile and effortless charisma. That was Ileana's past, and she wouldn't betray the woman's love.
"Anyway, you should have texted or called or something. Or maybe shown up to my house with a giant sign that said 'I'm a gypsy and now BFFs with a bunch of vampires.'"
Harper laughed. "Alec's the only vampire. Chloe's a fairy. Sarah — you haven't met her — she shape-shifts into animals, like wolves and panthers. Conner… the one you thought was so cute? He's an incubus. That's a demon who—"
"I know what an incubus is," Brittney interrupted. "I watch television, Harper. I just can't believe this is happening. I mean, I always thought it could happen, you know? But not that it would. It's pretty… exciting. Other than the kidnapping part, I mean. Well, it is exciting, but not the good kind of exciting."
"You have an interesting sense of fun," Harper said, her tone dry. "Come on, let's clean up."
They went into Harper's bathroom. Brittney climbed into the shower first. It was difficult for Harper to clean her scrapes and cuts with all the steam, but none of her injuries were more than surface anyway — she didn't even need to put on a bandaid.
Once Brittney was done, she turned off the water, wrapped herself in a towel, and got out. As she looked over her hands, nose wrinkling at the scrapes, she said, "You know, we could look under Alec's bed. Find out what his fantasies and kinks are."
"I have no interest in finding that out," Harper said. "Please."
"Uh-huh. You like him," Brittney said. "Jerkface or not, you like him."
Harper shook her head.
"Please. Well, whatever. You know what sucks?"
"You lost your heels?" Harper raised a brow.
"Yup. Favorite pair, too." Brittney let out a low sigh, then perked back up. "That does mean I'll get the chance to snoop in Alec's room after all. His feet will be much bigger, but I can handle it until we hit the nearest store for a pair of slip-ons."
Harper stared. "What? We're not leaving."
"You're kidding, right?" Brittney asked. "Harper, we can't just sit here. We've got to be prepared for if things go wrong. They might be… what they are… but we're not, and we're going to need guns."
For a moment, she thought about arguing. Then she went into her room, grabbed some fresh clothes, and tossed them at Brittney. "I've got some extra sneakers. Let's go."
It didn't take long to get ready; then they left the apartment. Harper found her purse sitting in the conference room.
"What is this place?" Brittney asked, looking up at the monitors.
Harper smiled. She couldn't help it. "The bat cave."
They took Brittney's car back to her place. While her friend rushed through yellow lights and crawled past stop signs, she checked her phone. There were missed calls and texts from Afterlife, all from the time they were gone. Nothing new.
"Ugh, my phone's going to die," she muttered as the low percentage warning flashed. She turned off the screen and dropped it back in her purse. "You know, you're fifteen over the limit?"
"There're no cops around here," Brittney said. Despite this, she slowed down. "If I get one more ticket, my mom's taking back my SUV, and you know that? I tried to tell her they weren't my fault. Look at this road! Why is it only 35? Ridiculous!"
"It's a school zone," Harper said, bemused.
Brittney glanced at her, then slowed down more without commenting. When they reached her place, she went straight to change, leaving Harper in the living room.
She'd been in Brittney's place a thousand times, but it felt like she was really seeing it for the first time. Everything from the couch to the stereo system was expensive and high-quality, paid for by the elder Goodwins.
Brittney came out a few minutes later in her own clothes. Even her well-worn jeans cost a lot, Harper realized. And was she that much better? She'd paid for her place and furnishings, but her car was in her mother's name. Her father had given her the down payment for her phone. Kitchen set, a gift from her aunt.
"We're spoiled, aren't we?" Harper asked.
"I guess," Brittney said, unperturbed by the comment. She went to her hall closet and took down a box from the top. From it, she took a handgun. She checked the bullet count, double-checked the safety, and then put it in the inside pocket of the jacket she grabbed.
Back in Brittney's car, she looked at Harper. "I wonder where they're at. I doubt they'll be at the Old Mall. That looked like a staging place, just for us."
"Uh, well, cross your fingers…" Harper said. She took her phone back out, winced at the battery life, then loaded her finding app. As names loaded in, she breathed out relief. "Thank god. When Chloe put in their numbers, she didn't decline the share-location feature… I've got GPS on them!"
"Text them first," Brittney said.
Harper did, but she didn't get a reply. Not from any of them. They sat in the car, quiet for a bit, then she said, "We have to go after them. They're probably fine, but what if they're not?"
"Put your seatbelt on," Brittney said.
She did so, and then Brittney was off, breaking every traffic law once again. A few people honked at her, but it was early enough in the morning that the traffic wasn't terrible, and most people hadn't drunk enough coffee to care about her speed.
The GPS took them past the Old Mall district, but not through it. Instead, they went fifteen minutes north and ended up in a commercial storage facility.
"Where at?" Brittney asked.
"I can't pinpoint any closer than this," Harper admitted. "Chloe's showing on the northern side, but that's it. Stop here, all right?"
Brittney did so but looked confused. "Why?"
"We don't want them to hear us coming," Harper said.
They got out of the car and walked toward the back, glancing around furtively as they did. Brittney drew her gun, keeping it down against her leg. Harper didn't have one, so when she saw a crowbar lying between two units, she grabbed it.
Harper heard nothing until they were almost at the back row of units. "Someone's up there," she shot at Brittney.
Brittney nodded, pressing a finger to her lips. She gripped her gun with both hands now, her face pale despite the sun. They moved toward the voices and saw a half-open storage door. It was the type that rolled upward.
Harper motioned to the side, and Brittney joined her. They stood still for a moment, then Harper leaned forward, trying to see inside.
There were demonic men in here, several near the left wall. In the back, there was a cage that held Afterlife. She saw Sarah, Conner, and Chloe. They looked battered, but they were alive. Conner was sporting a cut, and Chloe's leg was at an odd angle. Sarah was bleeding from her upper shoulder. All of them were gagged, and their wrists were behind their backs.
"Where's Alec?" Brittney whispered in her ear.
Harper shook her head.
But her question was answered almost immediately. An unfamiliar voice, languid and amused sounding, came from a part of the unit they couldn't see. "All right. He doesn't want to play. Too bad. We'll have to give him motivation."
Harper heard something that sounded like stone hitting stone, then a low murmur of pain. Not quite a cry. She looked at Brittney, eyes wide.
The voice again, "Just tell us where the gypsy is. It's a simple enough question, and god knows I'd rather be hunting her than bothering you. I don't like spilling the blood of the men who share my proclivities."
"We don't share anything," Alec's voice gave away nothing, not a single clue of how he was.
"Fine. Kill one of the girls," the voice said. "Make it the fairy. That'll get him going."
Harper drew in a sharp breath of horror. She raised the crowbar, knowing it wasn't much of a weapon. Brittney had the gun, though, and that was better.
They stepped forward together, Brittney raising the gun and speaking. Her voice was loud enough, but not shrill. "I want to see everyone's hands. Now. Get this door up."
"Oh?" the voice sounded curious. "A new player? Open it, Maxx."
A moment later, the door rolled the rest of the way up, revealing the entirety of the unit. The man who'd been speaking was sitting near the back. He looked human to Harper, though she knew it might be intentional. He had long fingers, which he steeped together while smiling gently at them. "Hello."
"Hands," Brittney said again, her gun still raised.
Harper looked around and saw Alec. He was standing against the opposite wall, his hands cuffed to metal bars. His nose was bloodied. His eyes were a dark black pool, but when he fixed them on Harper, she thought she could see the human side of him too.
"Put that down," a demon sneered at Brittney. Her voice was high and piercing. "You're a lamb in a wolves' den, don't make it worse."
Brittney pivoted slightly, lowered the muzzle of her gun, and fired. The sound was ear-shattering in the unit, and Harper had time to wonder how crazy her best friend was, risking ricochet.
But her father had taken her target shooting since she was five, and Brittney's aim was better than any at the range. The bullet struck the demon in the shoulder, and her howl of pain was almost as bad as the gunfire.
Before anyone could move, Brittney turned the gun onto the man in the back. "You're next."
"Now, now," he said. He didn't bother standing. "You have five bullets in there, now four. Yes? There's more of us than there are of you."
"I'm sure your ability to count will help in the afterlife," Brittney said, her voice cold. "Do demons have an afterlife, Harper? What do you think? Hell?"
"If there is one, that's where he'll go," Harper agreed. "I bet it's hot, too. Hotter than Vegas."
"You kill me, my people will eat you alive," the man said, sounding unperturbed. "And I mean that. They'll eat your hearts with their teeth. Hallax, stop screeching. You're giving us all a headache."
The woman who'd been shot sniveled but then went silent, her hitching breaths hardly audible. Harper saw that her blood was a thick green too, dripping out between the fingers she held clamped over the bullet wound.
"Sounds like we have room to negotiate," Harper said, hoping her voice sounded as steady as Brittney's had.
"Is that right?"
Harper nodded. "One chance, take it or leave it. You line up against the wall. I let my friends out, we leave. That's the deal."
"Back to square one," the man said, still with that thick amusement lacing his voice. He looked at Alec. "What do you think, vampire? You want your little friends to go free?"
Alec spat on the floor and said nothing.
"Shoot one of them," Harper told Brittney. "They're not moving fast enough for my liking."
Brittney turned the gun on the demon nearest them, and he fled toward the back wall. She aimed at another, and he did the same.
"Well?" Harper asked.
"Fine," the man said. He waved a hand. "Against the wall, all of you. We fight another day."
Once they were all there, all but the seated man, Brittney turned her gun on him. "Any of them move, you're dead."
He said nothing, but his small smile made Harper's flesh crawl.
"Get them out," Brittney said.
Harper went to the cage, pushing the crowbar into the locked latch. She leaned into it, but it held. Adrenaline and fear flooded her when she realized she might not be strong enough to break the lock. She threw all of her weight into it, and with a creaking sound, it popped open.
Sarah didn't hesitate. She transformed as she leaped out of the cage, and Harper knew the ropes wouldn't have held. She went to the others as Sarah stalked forward as a panther, her eyes and canines gleaming.
Harper undid Conner's binding first, and he ran to Alec, transforming into an incubus as he went. With raw strength that she'd never imagined, he broke the metal cuffs holding the vampire in place. Harper was almost awestruck watching, then remembered Chloe. She untied her wrists and pulled her gag off.
"I can't walk," Chloe told her.
"I got her," Conner said, sweeping back up. He picked up the fairy as though she weighed nothing. "Go, get out of here."
Alec stalked forward, his face cold. "Brittney, Harper, go. Conner, put Chloe outside, then we—"
Conner shook his head.
Sarah transformed back into herself to say, "Not now, Alec."
He glared at her, but something in her face must have dissuaded him, and he motioned the others out with a jerk of his head. Harper went with Conner and Sarah. Brittney backed out with them, holding her gun steady still.
Once they were all out, Alec hit the button to close the door, then shot out himself while it was still on the way down. Almost immediately, Harper heard the demons inside moving. She knew they'd be coming now that there weren't the close quarters.
"Our car is out front," Brittney said in a low voice.
Alec reached out and snatched the gun from her hands like it was a toy. "Then get to it."
Brittney started to argue, but when the others all took off, she ran too. Harper was left with Alec.
"Go," he snarled.
"You too," she said.
She glared at him, then turned and fled after the others, hoping he would come too. He did.
Back at the car, Sarah opened the back door for Conner, and he sat Chloe inside. Then he got behind the wheel and held out a hand for the keys.
"Don't argue," Conner said to Brittney. She got in beside Chloe.
Sarah took the front, leaving Harper and Alec to squeeze in the back.
It was crowded, but Conner didn't seem to care as he sped out of the area. He slammed to a stop not far away. "Alec, there's your car."
Alec nodded. He got out, stalking toward where his vehicle was parked. Without thinking, Harper slid out and ran after him.
He looked at her, then nodded his consent as she got in. Once the car was started, he asked, "What were you thinking, coming after us?"
"That you needed help," Harper said. She put her seatbelt on. "And I was right. Your nose is bleeding, and it's sunny outside. You should let me drive."
"I'm fine," Alec told her, already pulling out to follow Conner. He said nothing for some time, and neither did she. It was only after the second red light they'd passed through that he looked at her. When he spoke, his voice was tense but sincere. "Harper?"