Never Be the Same: Chapter Three

Shattered

Oh, dios. No, no, no.  Sierra tried to push herself up but the weight on her back pressed down, keeping her on the floor. Her bass case dug into her shoulder blades and she fought against the urge to cry. The cat. He wants Pequeño. Where…? She turned her head in a wild scan of the apartment, trying to see where the cat was. No sign of him. Maybe he heard the glass breaking and ran into the bedroom to hide again? The living room looked like it had been ransacked, but the door to the bedroom stood only half open, and the office door was still shut. The thug standing on her must not have been here very long. “Where is the cat?” he insisted. “Tell me so I do not have to hurt you, signora.”

Anger washed through her. All she’d wanted was to take in a stray who seemed to be trying to escape a bad situation. How did this guy even find her? Mierda! The black sports car! A picture flashed in her mind of the street across from Moonshine the night she’d taken in the cat. The car had been there, and it started turning up at the apartment not long after. He must have followed her home. Oh,dios, what was she going to do? Even if she gave him the cat, which she wasn’t feeling inclined to do, there was no guarantee he’d just go. She needed help. If she could get to her phone, she could call the police. It was in her back pocket, but not the one covered by her bass. If she kept him talking, maybe he wouldn’t notice. It was worth a try, and the only play she had. She tried to grab onto her anger, pushing the fear down as far as she could. “This is not how you ask for your pet back,” she snapped.

“Is not my pet,” he laughed. “The creature is Orsino’s, and il re wants him back.”

“Maybe if he took better care of the cat in the first place, he wouldn’t have run away.” She slid her hand into her pocket with agonizing slowness, letting out a breath when her fingers closed around the phone. Just as slowly, she started drawing it out.

“No, no, signora. None of that.”

His foot moved to kick the phone out of her hand. Instinct kicked in, and as soon as the weight lifted off her back, Sierra rolled over and scrambled out of his reach. She dropped her phone, but at least she was free of him. For the moment. Her attacker growled and lunged after her. Sierra’s hand flailed about, hitting the end table. She grabbed the basket of remotes and threw it at him. It wasn’t heavy enough to do him any harm, but he paused to deflect it from his face, giving her a few precious seconds to get to her feet. Without thinking much about what she was doing, she unslung the case from her back. “Get out of my home!” she screamed, swinging the bass at him.

He just laughed, a brutal, ugly sound, and caught the end of the case before it could make contact, yanking it out of her hands. With a casual ease, he tossed it away with enough force to smash into the brick fireplace. There was a jangle of strings and the sound of wood breaking as the bass shattered inside its padded case. “No!” Sierra screamed, taking a step toward the fireplace, hand outstretched, forgetting about everything else. My bass! She’d worked so hard to save up for that, and now–reality returned with rude swiftness as she was slammed into the wall behind her. The impact knocked the breath out of her, and she had no chance to regain it as large hands closed over her throat. She clawed at the hands and tried to kick at the man, but she might as well have been standing still for all of the notice he took of her efforts. Her vision began to blur.

“I am truly sorry, signora, but you should not have involved yourself in il re’s affairs.”

“No!” a new voice cried out. “Lasciala andare!

Her attacker’s grip loosened and her eyes cleared enough for her to see a young man standing behind him, brandishing her coat rack like a weapon. He looked terrified and determined and, she couldn’t help but notice, was completely naked. ¿Qué diablos? The newcomer swung the coat rack at her attacker, and Sierra found herself thrown to the ground as he turned to meet this new challenge.

Eccoti, Sapienti,” the intruder said with a malicious grin, disarming the young man the same as he’d done to Sierra. “Abbastanza gioco. E ‘tempo di tornare al tuo re.

Mai!” he cried out, backing away. “Non voglio essere l’uomo di Orsino!

Non hai scelta,” the thug replied, advancing on him.

The young man backed up a few more steps, his bare feet landing on the broken glass under the window. He winced and looked down, then shot a glance at Sierra. His wide brown eyes were full of…apology. His face hardened, determination returning, and he said, “C’è sempre una scelta.” Then he turned for the window and jumped out of it, his body shimmering as he did so, changing into–

“Pequeño?” Sierra rasped in shock.

The intruder let out a savage growl and ran to follow. His body did the same shimmering thing as the young man’s, although it was accompanied by the sounds of ripping clothing, and by the time he reached the window he was no longer a man but a large wolf, wearing the tatters of the thug’s clothes. Then he was gone, and Sierra was alone in the apartment.

She lost track of time, sitting on the floor, shaking and staring out the window. “¿Que diablos?” she repeated aloud to the emptiness. It was the only thing she could think to say. She pushed herself up and walked on unsteady feet across the room, stooping to pick up her phone. On autopilot, she pulled up the dialing screen and typed in three numbers. Her finger hovered over the “send” button and then she let out a bitter laugh and dismissed the app. What was she going to tell the police, exactly? “I took in a stray cat and he turned out to actually be a person hiding from, what, the mob?” She hadn’t followed much of their argument but it had definitely been in Italian. “Oh, and the guy who attacked me also happens to be a werewolf. Yeah, that would play well.” A breeze blew in through the broken window and she looked at it with a frown. She was going to have to tell someone something though. She couldn’t afford to have the window fixed out of pocket, and Kensington would want an explanation. To be honest, she was amazed that Mrs. Davis wasn’t banging on the door already, demanding to know what was going on. Then she remembered that it was Thursday, which was Mrs. Davis’ bingo night. Her neighbor probably wasn’t even home yet. Gracias a Dios por los pequeños favores.

She moved over to the love seat and dropped into it with a weary sigh. Her throat hurt and she wondered if there was going to be bruising. Think, Sierra, think. Okay. She had to call this in to the police. But she could probably leave out the part about the guy stalking her, and people changing into animals. Mind made up, she pulled out her phone again and completed the call. “Hi,” she said, wincing at the rasp in her voice, “I need to report a break-in.”

~**~

“You should really consider staying somewhere else tonight,” the officer said as Sierra escorted her to the door.

“I’ve already called a friend,” Sierra promised. “She’s coming to get me.”

“Do you want one of us to stick around until she gets here?”

“No, no. Gracias, but I will be fine.”

“All right. If you’re sure. But you have my card. Call me if you see any sign of that guy again, and take it easy for the next few days. You heard the EMT. If you start to notice any belated symptoms–.”

“I will get myself to the hospital immediately,” Sierra promised.

The officer nodded. “Good. I know it probably doesn’t seem like it at the moment, but you got lucky, Miss Espina. If your attacker hadn’t spooked and run when he did, you would probably be a lot worse off right now.” She patted Sierra on the shoulder and adjusted her cap before leaving. Sierra watched her until she reached the elevator, and then she stepped back into her apartment, catching sight of Mrs. Davis peeking out of her own door as she did so. Her neighbor had come home in the middle of the officers’ questioning and the EMT examining her.

“Do you want me to stay with you until your friend gets here, dear?”

“I’ll be all right, Mrs. Davis, really. Gracias.” She exchanged nods with the older woman and closed her door, leaning back against it with a weary sigh. All of the talking made her throat hurt more. She glanced at her phone to check the time. Cammy wouldn’t be here for another twenty minutes, so Sierra retrieved her broom and began sweeping up the glass under the window. Kensington had come by himself to board it up, and promised to have a new one installed before Monday. It was the fastest she’d ever seen him take action on a resident complaint. But then, Mrs. Davis had been hovering in the background by that time, muttering loudly about lax security measures. Maybe they’d finally get those surveillance cameras that he’d been promising. “Yeah, right,” she snorted, then winced at the pain. She tipped the dustpan into the trash and made a second sweep before putting the broom away. That done, she went into her room and threw some clothes and toiletries into a bag. She didn’t need much, and could borrow anything she’d forgotten from Cammy. Sierra had already decided to call in to work tomorrow. There was no way she could deal with the office after everything that happened tonight.

She went back into the living room and set her bag by the door, then started putting the rest of the room to rights. When she reached the fireplace, she stopped short, staring down at her bass bag. She dropped down to her knees and reached a tentative hand to the zipper. Inhaling, she opened the bag. “Oh, no,” she breathed. It was worse than she’d feared. The pretty sunburst body was split clean down the middle. Bad, though not impossible to repair. But the neck…the neck was in pieces. It was just a beat up old Mexi P she’d found in a pawn shop, years ago. The model had a spotty performance record, but this had been one of the good ones, and she’d taken care of it, perfecting its sound. She’d bought it with her very first paycheck, and it had been with her ever since. Now, it was gone. There was no repairing this, not without spending enough to just buy another bass altogether. Suddenly it was all too much. Everything that had happened slammed into her and she slumped over the broken bass, sobbing.

“I am so sorry,” came a soft voice from behind her. Sierra’s head snapped up and she turned to find the young man standing behind the love seat. “I never meant for any hurt to come to you,” he said.

Sierra stared at him. Dios, he’s just a boy. He was barely twenty, the terrified look in his eyes lending him an even younger air. His black hair was cut like something she might expect from a member of a boy band, though at the moment it was in utter disarray. His brown skin was a shade darker than her own, and still bare. At least the love seat between them gave him some modicum of decency. He squirmed under her scrutiny, and she flicked her eyes to the boarded over window with a frown. “How did you get back in?”

“I, ah, when Orsino’s thug broke in I ran to the bedroom. I had opened the window and was about to run, hoping he’d just go away when he didn’t find me, but then you came home, and I couldn’t just–” He sighed and looked down, running a hand through his hair, mussing it further. “It was still open.”

“Oh.” She hadn’t even noticed the open window. A shudder rippled through her. She probably would have left with it still open, if he hadn’t come back. She frowned again. If he had come back, was his pursuer far behind? “What happened to the other guy?”

The boy’s shoulders twitched, but he only said, “I took care of him.”

It was then that she noticed just what a mess he was. Covered in scratches and mud, and, oh dios, that was blood. A lot of blood. He was holding his arm at an awkward angle, and she could make out a few deep scratches that probably needed stitches. “You took care of him?” A wave of panic started to rise in her throat. “What does that mean? What did you do?”

“Does it matter?” He glanced up then, meeting her eyes at last, and she caught a flare of the determination she’d seen earlier. “He’s not coming back. You don’t have to worry about him.”

“What. Happened.” She demanded, rising to her feet.

“I let him chase me into the woods and I,” he shuddered and drew a deep breath, “and I killed him, all right? So he’s not a problem anymore.”

“Not a problem?” She took a step forward, struggling to keep her voice low. It wasn’t that difficult, as much as her throat hurt. But the last thing she needed was Mrs. Davis hearing an argument and coming to investigate. A million questions swam through her head but she pushed them all down, trying to focus on the most pertinent. “What about his friends? This Orsino guy? What is he going to do when your friend doesn’t check in?”

“He’ll probably send someone else to look for me,” the boy grimaced. “But not you. You’re safe. Wolves hunt alone. He wouldn’t have wanted to tell anyone he found me until he actually had me.”

“I thought wolves hunted in packs,” she muttered.

“They aren’t allowed to,” he said, tone serious, “not any more.” Curiosity stirred at that but before she could ask him to elaborate, he glanced at the boarded up window and said, “You called the police.”

“I had to,” she snapped. “How else was I supposed to explain the broken window and this?” She waved at her throat. The EMT said she might escape any bruising, but her voice was still raspy. Now he was the one who looked panicked and she rolled her eyes. “Don’t worry, I didn’t tell them what really happened. Or not all of it, anyway. It isn’t as if they would have believed me. I told them I interrupted a burglar and he attacked me then got spooked and ran off.”

His shoulders sagged in relief. “Grazie,” he said, then, “thank you.”

“I didn’t do it for you,” she snapped.

He winced and then nodded. “I am so so sorry,” he said. “For all of this. Sierra, I can explain everything.”

His use of her name set something off inside of her. She didn’t know anything about this boy and he was talking to her like they were friends. All of her anger rose back up, accompanied with the undeniable sensation of betrayal, and even more, hurt. She had taken him in and everything had gone to hell. “Don’t!” she snapped. “Don’t bother. I don’t want to know. Whatever you’re involved in, whatever you are, I am out. Done. This is just too much.”

He reared back as if slapped. “But–“

“No! You used me! You let me think you were a cat. I took you in. I fed you. I cleaned your litter box,” she seethed. “Dios, I brought you into my home, and all the time you were putting my life at risk, and you didn’t even bother to let me know!

“Of course,” he whispered, looking down at the ground again, knuckles clenched into fists. “You’re right. I never meant to–“

“But you did,” she interrupted. She looked away, rubbing her face, feeling so very tired. “Leave.”

“What?”

“I said, go. I can’t deal with this. You can leave the way you came in. Just. Leave.”

“I–yes. All right. I’m sorry,” he said again.

She closed her eyes and took several deep breaths, ignoring the burning in her throat and her eyes. When she opened them again, he was gone. “Good luck, Pequeño,” she whispered. Then she went into the bedroom to shut and lock the window. After that she did a walkthrough to make sure there were no other unsecured entrances, just to be safe. When she was done, she dropped down on the love seat and stared into space. A few minutes later, there was a knock at the door.

“It’s Cammy,” she heard from the other side. She got up and walked over to open it, scooping up her bag as she did so. Cammy took one look at her and held out her arms. “Oh, Sierra love, are you all right?”

“No,” Sierra whispered. “I’m really not.” Then she let herself be folded up in a hug and before she realized it, the tears were back. Cammy held her and rubbed her back while she cried herself out.

“Shh, love, it’s going to be all right, I promise. I’ve got you.” Once Sierra regained a little control, Cammy offered her a handkerchief before pulling her into the hall. She shut and locked the door behind them and then led her to the elevator. “Come on, let’s get out of here. Let me take care of you now.”

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