I hugged Uncle Harry goodbye, ignoring all the men staring at me. I didn't care if it was girly but I was sad to see him go and he really had my back. I didn't know any of the four new men waiting for me to chill, but then again I didn't give a damn. Riley wasn't so quiet; he simply said, "Now."
Arching an eyebrow over my shoulder at him I snipped back, "You aren't the boss of me."
Every single man cringed with the exception of Uncle Harry, who tugged my face up so I could meet his eyes.
"Esmeralda, if you need me call. And try not to give Riley an ulcer." His eyes were sparkling as he met my gaze. Most folks were more than a bit scared to meet vampires' glances, while I found everything that meant home in his eyes.
I shrugged and said, "Hey, it's not my fault Riley is tightly strung. He came wired like that, I'm pretty sure."
I could feel the werewolf in question glaring at me. Instead of scurrying over immediately like he wanted, I stayed in Uncle Harry's embrace a moment longer. I gave him a quick squeeze then reluctantly left him. Before Riley could move, I zoomed to the large truck and shouted, "Shot gun!"
"Harry, you owe me!" Riley growled while following. I graciously allowed him to get into the back of the truck's king cab while storing my backpack in the front seat, with the sword Sapphire had gifted me stowed next to the door. Yeah, one good bump in the road and I could be sliced open, but I wasn't ready to put the silver blade behind my back next to a skittish werewolf. He actually seemed fine with that but the driver was another story.
The huge creature had yet to be given a name and I didn't much care to ask. He obviously didn't want me or Riley in his fancy truck but owed Uncle Harry. He grumbled and got into the driver's seat without any ceremony or any words. Uncle Harry waved at us as quickly the icy road led us away from the remote luxurious cabin. The snow was still falling but not as thickly as it had been earlier. It was possible that we would be able to get out of the state before anyone could come looking for us.
Coming up from the mines had put us closer to Detroit than the spot where Star had tossed us down into the mines. We were deep inside the local werewolves' pack land, information I'd garnered from some rural signage once we cleared a gate.
The driver had yet to speak, and Riley was still pissed off at being crammed in the back of the cab. When the driver had to hop out to open the gate, I hissed at Riley, "Dumb ass, if anything happens you can protect me from there. If I was in the back it wouldn't be the same."
It took Riley a minute to clue in that I didn't exactly trust the creepy driver and that from the backseat he could easily gain the upper hand. He reluctantly met my eyes and nodded, still not speaking. The driver had climbed back in the truck, and pulled through; again we bumped and slipped down the poorly maintained roads. There wasn't even music playing to break the silence. But I was happy inside my own thoughts.
Riley was quiet for most of the ride through the rural areas of Michigan. We were coming towards a town that was nearly half closed given the late hour when he asked me, "So how the hell do you think you're getting your precious sword on the plane?"
My eyes widened as I clenched my fist to keep from slapping my own forehead at my short-sighted stupidity. I was not big on flying to begin with, and after the changes in the industry I had really avoided flying. Since I could easily pop here and there I rarely thought of what to do with my precious treasures. My eyes saw a big chain store in the distance and it was open.
"Excuse me, can we go there for a minute?" I asked the sullen driver pointing to the Wal-Mart. He shrugged and began to get off the road. The parking lot was a quarter full of cars, with a few mobile homes hunkered down for the storm. The doors were frosted from the condensation, not allowing me to see how many folks were actually inside. It didn't matter. I knew what I had to snag.
"Just drop me off at the entrance. I'll only be a minute," I again addressed the driver. It was too late to ask his name without appearing rude, so I just went with the polite words I could summon while trying to be somewhat nice. He still scared the snot out of me.
Grabbing up my backpack as the man stopped in front I hopped out saying to Riley, "Watch my sword. I'll be right back."
I slammed the door before he could join me and sprinted for the doors. The icy cement had been heavily crusted with salt, but still my feet slipped a bit as I hit the automatic doors. I blinked at the heat as I walked on the spongy mats they had out to catch the snow and debris before it was slimed throughout their store. The bright lights were harsh but the heater pumping down at the threshold was nauseating. I saw an elderly man half-leaning on a basket, wearing the blue vest and a name tag of a greeter dying by inches waiting for customers. I quickly noticed that there weren't as many folks inside as I'd expected given all the cars out front. Then it dawned on me that some of those cars had probably been left there by people in the neighborhood so they wouldn't get damaged by the snowplows or towed by the city for blocking the street.
"Walt" was the name on the tag of the greeter, which I wondered if it was a joke since he worked at Wal-Mart or just nicely humorous. Carefully he pushed a shopping cart towards me and said, "Here's your buggy, missy. We are closing in ten minutes, so you best hurry."
He didn't even comment on my backpack, and I said thanks while quickly racing to the back of the store. Sure enough, they had what I needed. I snagged a piece of luggage, and some various bits and pieces of clothes to cushion the sword inside the case. It wasn't a hard plastic-sided bag, but the thick canvas kind that seemed to last a few trips before completely falling apart. I hated the idea of sending the blade through the baggage check-in routine, but couldn't think of any other way to transport it on the plane with us. I grabbed a half dozen more power bars and some junk food to fuel Riley. Less than ten minutes later, I was at the only open checkout lane. The cashier was busy texting and the bagger was busy drooling over the her. She was oblivious to the kid's crush, but when I caught his eyes, he blushed bright red.
"Kelly, you have a customer." The kid's voice broke mid-sentence and I think if he could pop out of phase like I could, he'd have been gone. She probably wouldn't have even noticed she was so focused on her phone. Sadly, it was a typical activity for a lot of cashiers and counter workers at most places, so it wasn't like I could object.
She waved a hand dismissively at him and began to text with one hand while running the clothes over the scanner with her other. The bagger quickly assisted her. I found it funny that they even had a bagger, since the store was designed around minimal assistance from everything I'd ever seen, but considering the girl's lack of attention, it probably was to keep folks from walking out with half their merchandise unpaid. She never even met my eyes when she'd finished, but she did have to put her phone in her pocket when she got to the luggage piece. She groaned like it was punishment to actually do her job then said the total. I pulled my credit card through the slot and punched through the various questions while she pulled her cell phone back out and began to text quickly.
She never said good bye to me but the kid did and offered to help me out.
"No, I'm fine. Thanks for asking. I hope you get home safely." I smiled and tried to escape from the puppy dog eyes the kid was flashing the girl.
"She's my ride home. I'll be fine." He smiled widely, happy with the notion, while I pondered how safely she drove with her lack of awareness of anything short of her phone.
I went out the door to find that the truck had moved from the doorway. The snow had begun to blow icy flakes around, and I shivered and contemplated what I was going to do. Then Riley shouted my name off to the right and I saw that they had moved into the parking lot a few aisles from the entrance. I wanted to scream but resisted and began to wrestle the shopping cart through the slushy salt and snow mix on the icy walks. Neither man got out, but at least the truck was turned back on. I got to the passenger side and tugged on the door handle. The truck was locked. At that point, I did scream. Admittedly not a polite phrase, but it was that or my head would probably explode.
An electronic click let me know that the driver had unlocked the door. Instead of yanking on the handle again, I instead opened up the bags and tore off the price tags. Taking my time, I stuffed them all inside the luggage and then tossed the trash bags into the nearly frozen can next to the shopping cart corral. The driver gave a slight honk and I pushed the cart into the pen and made my way carefully to the truck.
I manhandled the luggage onto the front seat and pushed the sword into the mix before zipping it shut and jamming it into the back of the cab next to Riley. Riley's eyes met mine, and I saw a simmering fury barely caged. Something had happened in the scant ten minutes I'd left them alone, and it didn't look like Riley was going to talk about it. I blinked slowly and thought softly, "Later."
Riley rocked back slightly, so I guess my message was received. He didn't try to shove any stray thoughts or excuses into my mind; I figured from his reluctance that the driver wasn't purely human. The whole trip was leaving me with more questions than I'd started with, and it was starting to get me angry.
I was not even seat-belted in place and the driver punched the gas catching me further off guard. I didn't bother to reach out for Uncle Harry because I knew we all needed to get out of Michigan sooner rather than later. Instead I said very sweetly, "Thanks ever so much for stopping."
The driver didn't bother to reply, but stepped on the gas as we hit the main street again, causing the tires to spin up a rooster tail of slush to fan out behind us. He almost hit another car on the nearly empty street. Instead of swerving, he stepped on the gas again, and the driver ahead of us swerved off the road and into a snow bank. I could hear the smashing of metal on metal and I figured there'd been a fire hydrant or park bench beneath the mound of snow. An evil grin crossed the man's face and he pulled out a cheap cigar. Without a word, he lit the cigar and puffed happily. I knew better than asking anything without Riley's light tap into my thoughts.
"Later" was hissed into my mind in return, and I nodded slightly while resuming my staring out the window watching the miles fly by on a main highway heading for the Detroit airport. The cigar smoke was starting to fog the inside of the cab so I rolled down my window an inch and allowed it to stream outside.
It was going to be a long ride.