Dark Survivor: Echoes of Love
Chapter 1: Grud
Hunched low, Grud kept listening for signs of pursuit as he crept from one shaded spot to the next. He hadn’t heard the car door opening, nor had he heard it drive away. It seemed that the driver was just sitting there.
The guy could’ve been talking on the phone or doing something else that had nothing to do with Grud, but he had a strong feeling that the driver was waiting for reinforcements, either human police or Guardians.
At his age, Grud had learned not to ignore his gut’s warning signs. Besides, it was always better to err on the side of caution.
His general direction was north, toward the hill with the residential homes. He could get there on foot, but it would be much better to get his hands on an escape vehicle.
The faster he got out of the area, the better.
The opportunity presented itself as he rounded the corner of the next warehouse over, and a gardener’s truck pulled into a parking spot in front of it.
Still crouching low, Grud sprinted toward the truck, opened the door, yanked the driver out, and before the guy had a chance to open his mouth, brought the iron rod down on the back of his skull.
There was no time to hide the body, so he dragged it to a shady spot under the bushes. Quickly going through the guy’s pockets, he found a phone and a wallet, but there were only a few dollars inside and no credit cards.
No problem. Grud was going to dump the truck together with the phone and the wallet as soon as he got to the residential neighborhood.
He was going to get something better up there.
Casting one last look at the human lying crumpled under the bushes, Grud got inside the cabin, turned on the ignition, pulled the truck out of the driveway, and turned north toward the hill.
Except, a mile or so up the road he had a change of heart and turned around.
He would do a quick drive by the facility and check what was going on. If the car were still there, he would keep on driving and then come back later. But if it were gone, Grud could continue with his original plan, albeit with some necessary modifications of course.
He could get back in and listen to what the two were doing from a safe distance. As long as the woman had her Taser on, he couldn't get close enough to incapacitate her or kill Dur. But if he were lucky, Wonder and Dur were done talking and had gotten busy fucking.
It was certainly worth a quick investigation, and the risk factor was low.
Unless they’d already found out he’d escaped. Then the risk factor was too high.
Unfortunately, though, the car was still there, and Grud kept on driving. Making a U-turn and the nearest intersection, he headed north once again.
The sense of loss was overwhelming. Up until then, he’d harbored hope, however slim, that the woman could still be his. But it seemed like this opportunity was forever lost.
Or maybe not.
Should he turn around and make another pass through?
Maybe it had been a realtor taking a look at the property and they had gone already?
With the churning in his gut getting worse the further away he got, Grud eventually pulled the truck to the side of the road and killed the engine.
He needed to think.
It was hard to decide how long to wait before going back. Too soon and the realtor, if that’s what he was, might still be there. Too long and Wonder would be done with Dur, return him to his cage, and discover that Grud was gone.
After forcing himself to wait for fifteen long minutes, he turned on the ignition and turned around.
What he saw when he got there made him nearly shit his pants.
Five more cars were parked in front of the building, and Shaveh and Mordan were being led out in handcuffs.
Whether they were being taken away by the police or by Guardians, Grud would probably never know. He didn’t even slow down.
If those were Guardians, Wonder was lost to him forever, and his best bet was to get out of there as fast as he could. But what if those were human policemen?
Shaveh and Mordan might be too overwhelmed to thrall the humans, but they would be allowed to make a phone call, and they would call their commander. A rescue team would arrive at the police station and free them. If Wonder got arrested too, they would take her as well. No one was stupid enough to leave an immortal female behind.
But if the Brotherhood took her, she would no doubt become the property of Lord Navuh. Simple soldiers didn’t get to fuck immortal or Dormant females.
Grud’s only hope was that she’d managed to escape. If she had, he could find her in the club she worked at. The name was printed on the T-shirts she always wore. And even if she quit that job, he could follow her trail.
The problem was that Shaveh and Mordan had seen that T-shirt too.
They would probably try to hide the humiliating fact that they’d been taken by a female, so there was a chance they wouldn’t tell anyone about her. But they might go after her themselves.
And then there was Dur.
If he were captured with them, the son of a bitch would sing like a canary, making up a story of how he’d gotten captured on purpose to investigate her. And if he escaped with Wonder, he would claim her for himself.
Still, Dur could be taken out.
First things first, though. Grud needed to get away and lay low until he figured out his next step.
Chapter 2: Anandur
“Welcome to my home away from home.” Anandur punched the numbers into the keypad and pushed the door open, peeking inside before pulling it all the way to let Wonder in.
Thank the Fates, the place was presentable. He was never again going to complain about the human cleaning service coming once a week and keeping the Guardians’ apartments from going to hell.
Walking inside, Wonder took a look around. “You have more than one place?”
“This used to be the clan’s keep, but after everyone moved into the new village, most of it got rented out. We keep a few apartments for the Guardians who are on rotation here and are training in the basement.”
Wonder didn’t move from the entry. “Should I take my shoes off? Everything looks spotless.”
“No need. We have a cleaning service.” He took her by the elbow and led her to Magnus’s bathroom. “This one is my roomie’s, but since the service was here after we left for San Francisco, it’s all nice and tidy. You can take a shower, and I’ll bring you a T-shirt and sweatpants of mine.” Having a good excuse for it, he allowed himself a thorough look-over. “It’s good that you’re so tall. My stuff is still going to be way too big, but at least you’re not going to drown in it.”
Wonder blushed. “Yeah. I guess.”
“What’s the matter?” He bent his knees a little so he could look into her green eyes. “What’s bothering you, lass?”
She shrugged. “I don’t like reminders about my size. I know I’m big for a woman.”
“What? Who told you such nonsense? You’re perfect.” He waved a hand over her body. “You’re tall, not huge. And I happen to like women who don’t need to crank their necks way up to look into my eyes. I know that my pecs are awesome.” He flexed each one separately, which made them waggle. “But still, I have nice eyes too.” He pretended to pout.
Wonder couldn’t help but chuckle. “And you’re not very shy either.”
“Nope. I know I’m gorgeous, and I own it,” Anandur said in his best valley-girl impression, and batted his eyelashes. “Now off with you, girlfriend.” He put one hand on his hip and waved the other. “Get in there and get cleaned up. I’m going to use the other bathroom, and when I’m done scrubbing the yuk off, I’m going to heat us up some food.” He didn’t drop the act until he was done, wresting a few more smiles out of Wonder.
If felt good to slip into his old self again.
Making people smile was what Anandur like doing best. So yeah, he was a good fighter, but other Guardians were nearly as good, or better at one skill or another. However, there was no one better at spreading the cheer.
Whistling a happy tune, Anandur walked into his bathroom, dropped the clothes he had on into the trash, and stepped into the shower. Cranking the water temperature up, he soaped and scrubbed, shampooed and conditioned.
At first, he thought that his good mood was about finally getting rid of the filth, but then he had an ‘aha’ moment. It had nothing to do with getting clean and everything to do with getting into his old role and following a familiar pattern, one that had been dearly missed.
Anandur had associated the unease he’d been feeling lately with all the recent changes the clan had undergone. But it wasn’t about the move to the village, or about renting out Amanda and Kian’s penthouses to humans, or even about all the new Guardians that had been added to the force.
None of that had been the real issue.
At the source of it was just one monumental change that had eclipsed all others. Brundar didn’t need him anymore.
Up until now, Anandur had refused to acknowledge the big chunk missing from his life because it felt as if he wasn’t happy about his brother’s good fortune, which was absurd. But the truth was that without having to take care of Brundar, Anandur felt lost.
Except, what did it mean?
Was he taking Wonder on as his new project?
Was she an honorary little sister to take Brundar’s place?
The girl was so alone, and she needed a protector, maybe not in the physical sense, but in every other.
It was the same as it had been with Brundar, and it felt damn good to be needed again.
After what had happened to Brundar as a boy, his brother had grown into a formidable warrior and didn’t require Anandur’s muscle for protection. But even though he would never admit it, Brundar had needed Anandur to keep him among the living.
The dark abyss that constantly threatened to swallow Brundar up had never been far away. It had lurked in lonely moments of isolation and in the cold space that Brundar called the zone.
The only one standing between its destructive allure and Brundar’s sanity had been Anandur, with his jokes and his smiles and the company of people who gravitated toward him because he was the clown who was cheering everyone up.
Anandur had made sure that Brundar was never alone with his demons for long enough to succumb to them,
But then Callie had taken Anandur’s place and put him out of a job.
Except, as much as Anandur would have liked to believe that he was taking Wonder under his wing as a little sister, he knew it was a big fat lie.
As much as he tried, he couldn’t stop thinking of her as a woman, albeit one who was much too young for someone like him.
The attraction between them was undeniable.
He might have been able to squash it down if it were only him lusting after her, but her wanting him back made it mission impossible.
Damn, he needed to talk to someone about this. Someone who wouldn’t think he was a dumb ass for believing that the girl was way too young to get involved with an immortal who was nearly a thousand years old.
To get a laugh out of people, Anandur was willing to put himself on the line and act the fool, but not about this.
Maybe he should talk to Vanessa.
The therapist should be able to give him advice. Unless the movies had it right, and all she would do was ask him how he felt about that. If that were all therapists did, then what was the point of going to one?
He could stand in front of the mirror and ask himself how he felt about things.
“Anandur?” Wonder asked from behind the bathroom’s closed door. “Are you about done? I need the clothes you said you’re going to let me borrow.”
Crap, he’d been standing under the water and philosophizing instead of taking care of his girl.
“Look inside my closet,” he called out. “Take whatever you want.”
Chapter 3: Wonder
“That was good.” Wonder leaned back in her chair and rubbed her tummy. “I didn’t realize how hungry I was.”
“Our bodies need a lot of fuel to repair massive damage like the injury you’ve sustained.”
“It was only a knife wound. It’s not like I needed to regrow a limb.” She furrowed her brows. “Can we regrow a limb?”
“We can. But it takes a long time and hurts like hell.” Anandur massaged his forearm as if reminded of an old injury.
“Did it ever happen to you?”
“Yeah. I had my hand cut off at the wrist. It was hell re-growing it.”
As a phantom pain gripped her, Wonder cringed and cradled her own wrist. “How long ago was it?”
“Very. I’m an old immortal.”
“How old is old?”
Anandur got up and started collecting the empty boxes and plastic utensils from the frozen dinners they’d eaten. “Almost a millennium. I’m an old fart.” He chuckled as he tossed everything into the trash.
“I never understood that phrase.” Wonder pushed her feet into her sneakers and reached for a paper towel. “Farts can’t be old. They dissipate as soon as they are released.” She wiped the table clean.
“That’s true.” Anandur nodded sagely as if it was an important issue requiring further contemplation. “I need to check on this, but not now. People are waiting for us in the village.”
Right. Wonder looked at her borrowed rolled-up sweatpants and oversized T-shirt. This was not how she wanted to meet Anandur’s boss, the leader of the American branch of the clan, and his wife. Regrettably, though, the only female Guardian whom she could’ve borrowed clothes from was currently on rotation in the village and not in the keep.
“I wish I was more presentable than this.” She waved a hand over herself.
“Sorry, but that’s the best I could do. I would’ve stopped at Walmart for you to buy new clothes, but I don’t want to keep Kian waiting for too long. He didn’t like it when I told him we needed to shower and eat first.”
“No, of course not.” She followed him out the door.
It was better to show up in ill-fitting clothes than late.
Besides, she was comfortable, and not just because everything was loose and soft, but because Anandur’s scent still lingered on the clothes even though they’d been laundered.
He’d been different with her ever since they’d arrived at his apartment, no longer flirting with her or making suggestive remarks to make her blush. Instead, he was treating her as if she were just one of the guys.
Wonder was used to that. People assumed that since she was a big woman she wasn’t feminine, or that she wouldn’t appreciate being treated like a girl.
Maybe things would’ve been different if she wore more makeup and nice dresses or skirts. Except, she didn’t own any. It would’ve been frivolous to buy stuff that she had nowhere to wear. A bouncer with a side gig as a warehouse cleaner didn’t need to dress up.
Stepping inside the elevator, she leaned against the mirrored wall. “What about Tony? I need to call him and let him know that I need to take a few days off.”
“Already taken care of. Magnus called your boss and explained that you will be gone for a while.”
“What did he tell him? I don’t want to lose that job.”
Anandur patted her arm. “Don’t you worry about a thing. Magnus told Tony you’re in the witness protection program and that it’s not clear when you’ll be coming back.”
Damn. She was going to lose the job. Even though she had a feeling that this part of her life was over, having the option would’ve made her a bit less stressed.
“What about Shaveh and Mordan? Are they here yet?” Anandur had told her they were being flown in by a different aircraft, but they should’ve arrived by now.
“I don’t know. They are no longer your problem. You can forget about them.”
Wonder crossed her arms over her chest. “I want to know what is going to happen to them.”
“I’ll tell you as soon as I know anything.”
“You must have an idea of what is awaiting them.”
“I do, and so do you. Interrogation and then stasis.”
Yeah, he’d told her as much.
“Are they going to be tortured?”
“Not likely. They don’t know much, so why bother, right?”
“That’s good to hear.”
When the elevator stopped, Anandur held the door open for her. “After you, my lady.”
“Thank you.” She liked that he was treating her like a girl again. On second thoughts, though, it could’ve been a reflex and not something he did deliberately.
Anandur also opened his car’s passenger door for her and waited until she was seated before closing it.
It seemed that her guy was a gentleman.
He isn’t mine. Wonder sighed. Way to get carried away.
“Don’t get scared when the windows turn opaque,” he said as he fastened his seatbelt. “It will happen a few miles before we reach the village. The location needs to remain secret for security reasons. The car is going to drive itself for the last few miles.”
“Technology rocks, right?” He backed out from his parking spot.
“Yeah, it is.”
For the next few minutes, they sat in silence, with Anandur searching for a station with the kind of music he wanted to listen to, and Wonder sneaking glances at his strong profile. He was such a handsome man, and charming, and funny.
She missed his flirting.
Had he done it only as a persuasion tactic and had never been interested in her for real?
He seemed attracted to her. Some things a guy couldn’t fake. But that didn’t mean he wanted a relationship with her.
Why not, though?
He obviously found her physically appealing. Was it her personality he didn’t like?
Yeah, that was probably the reason.
He was funny, and she wasn’t.
He was charming, and she was boring.
Add to that being a killer, and it was no big surprise that Anandur wasn’t interested in her romantically. He might have approved of her killing in self-defense, but that didn’t mean he wanted someone like her as a girlfriend.
And if that wasn’t enough, she’d sent him flying through the air with one strong pull on his arm, landing him on his butt, and then Tasered his brother.
She had singlehandedly felled two trained Guardians.
That and the kill from before guaranteed her status as one of the dudes. Anandur thought of her as excellent Guardian material, and not a potential girlfriend.
Men needed to feel strong. The nice ones were protective, the not so nice ones controlling, but no guy wanted a woman who could kick his ass.
DARK SURVIVOR ECHOES OF LOVE
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