Authors: Leia Stone,Jaymin Eve
So she was saying … English please.
Instead of acting like I was an idiot, Becca’s eyes lit up. I could tell she loved science and teaching. She crossed over to a white board and started to draw and write across it.
“Okay, so in blood you have a whole bunch of components. The red blood cells or platelets binds to oxygen and transports it around the body.” She drew a bunch of little concave looking discs and wrote 45% beside it. “This is where vampires and ash need some help. Our cells regenerate far quicker than humans, and our platelets require some help with the level of oxygen needed in our bodies. Therefore, we need to feed. The faster you regenerate, the more blood you require. Which is why vampires need more than us, and are stronger.”
Jayden and I exchanged a look, before crossing to take a seat close to her whiteboard. Something told me this was going to be a long lecture, and despite the fact that I wasn’t the best at school, this was one subject I wanted to know everything about.
Becca didn’t even seem to notice; she was in her element as she continued. “The other 55% of your blood is plasma, and it is here which your blood is unique. Plasma is generally made up of mostly water, proteins, hormones, and antibodies. There are other vitamins and minerals, but we don’t need to worry about that right now. The part which is the most fascinating in your blood are the antibodies.”
“Yours are unlike any I’ve ever seen before. I introduced some of the virus to them and they attacked in a way which I could only liken to sharks in a feeding frenzy. They obliterated the foreign vampire blood in seconds.”
Becca abandoned her marker and turned to face us fully. “I then introduced another vampire sample, this time from a blood type the same as yours, and again the same response. It seems to be programmed to attack the Anima Mortis virus no matter what form it enters as.”
I found myself leaning forward. “Why am I an ashpire then? Surely the cure would be attacking me, like an autoimmune response?”
Becca was almost giddy now. “That’s where it’s so incredible. You are literally a product of the Anima virus, and yet your antibodies are evolved enough to be able to tell self from non-self, even within the same virus set. There’s no evidence it has ever tried to attack your own cells. Which is something human antibodies would not be able to do. They attack foreign antigens, which is how they know something does not belong in the body. The virus is not foreign to you, it formed your very blood and organs and everything else, so there should be no antibodies to it. It should see the virus as self and not attack, and yet … somehow it knows.”
“Would it attack the virus in an ash?” Jayden asked, and I wondered for a second if he would choose to be cured if it were possible.
Becca blinked a few times, thinking before she answered. “I was just starting to experiment with that, introducing Charlie’s blood to vampires and ash to see what happens. I expect that in vampire blood her antibodies will destroy the virus, clean the blood, organs, and body from the effects. A full and total cure. Her antibodies hold the components which are missing from my blood. And I have my theories on what will happen with ash blood, but I need to experiment more before I confirm or deny the hypothesis.”
Footsteps echoed down the hall then, and I knew the rest of the enforcers were on their way. Becca must have heard them too, because she hurried on. “To answer you from before, Charlie, yes, I think if I have enough time, and some more of your blood, I can manufacture a synthetic version of your cure. Something we could use as a large-scale attack against the vampires.”
My body tensed as I jumped to my feet and strode over to her. I thrust my arm forward. “Take as much as you need and get me that cure. I have a plan, and I am going to need an ass-ton of the cure to make it happen.”
Becca smiled. “Vampire vaccine, here we come.” The determination in her eyes gave me hope.
The boys entered the room then and the look on Ryder’s face tore me open. He was trying to hide it but I could see he was in agony. I was one of those people who didn’t mind going through hell myself but it killed me to see those I loved in pain. I would rather save them from it all. I wanted to take him in my arms and tell him we would avenge them, every single one. But I wouldn’t do that in front of his boys. He needed to be strong for them. They all looked to their leader for guidance in situations like this.
Ryder was all business. “Becca, how safe are we out here? How far are the nearest neighbors? Who knows of you? Have you ever been seen? When do you grocery shop, get mail, water the garden?”
Whoa. My man was channeling his angers into OCD right now. Sam was giving Ryder a bit of a glare, but Becca didn’t seem worried. “We’re very secluded and safe, in my scientific opinion. The nearest neighbors are two miles south. They’re a small impoverished family that own a failing potato farm. They know of me, they think I’m a vampire. They would never turn me in. I saved their daughter’s life three years ago. I wear blue contacts when I go into town, and since female ash don’t exist and female vampires can’t go out in the day, everyone in town thinks I’m a human scientist. Still, I limit town visits to once a month.”
Ryder looked skeptical. “You let this farm family know about you? How are you sure they can be trusted?”
Becca squared her shoulders and stared my man down like an alpha. “I trust them with all of our lives.”
Holy shit, homegirl went from awkward nerd to possessive mom in two seconds. Jayden and I shared an impressed look. Ryder nodded, letting that line of questioning go.
“Okay, but I still want twenty-four-hour watch. We’ll trade days, sleep in shifts, and do four hour watches. It’s clear that the vampires will stop at nothing to find and punish us.”
The rest of the sexy six nodded.
Jayden raised a hand. “Yeah, that’s a problem for me. I need my beauty sleep.”
Ryder gave a tense grin, or more like bared teeth as he shook his head. “I didn’t include you, Becca, or Charlie in my calculations.”
I crossed my arms and glared at him. “Are you saying I need beauty sleep? I’m not sitting on my ass the whole time we’re here. I’m still training. I will take a watch too.”
Ryder stepped closer to me, lowering his voice, and the boys and Becca busied themselves with inspecting the floor or ceiling as Ryder and I got into it.
“I just lost a lot of people I cared about. I won’t lose you too. The answer is no.” His jaw was clenched as if he was daring me to fight him on it. And dammit, normally I would, but he was right. He’d just lost a lot of his friends and I didn’t want to stress him out now. Instead I stood on my tiptoes and kissed his rough stubbly cheek. “I’m conceding to you right now because of special circumstances. But don’t get used to bossing me around. We’re a team. Got it?”
He was no doubt feeling out of control and I would give him this one thing. Let him think he could govern my safety.
“Always a team, Charlie. I just need you to be safe,” he said, before turning to the boys. “By now the Quorum will know the truth about Charlie. They won’t stop at just the Portland Hive.”
Kyle frowned. “You think they would take out other ash? Other enforcers? All across the world?”
Ryder shrugged. “I think they see the scales tipping in our favor. We need to start thinking about the bigger picture.”
Silence descended on our small group and Becca and I shared a look. This right here, these eight people were my family now. If I couldn’t trust them I was fucked. So I cleared my throat and dropped the bomb.
“Becca is going to design a mass-produced-cure with my blood and I’m going to cure every single vampire. Every. Single. One.”
“No.” Ryder interrupted me, but I stopped him with a hand to the face.
“I believe in destiny, and I think this is why I’m here. My greater purpose. I’m going to cure the world of the Anima Mortem virus and return all these assholes back to their families.”
Jayden’s eyes were brimming with tears as he looked at me with pride. Holy shit, did I just grow up? Adulting sucked.
Becca nudged her glasses onto the bridge of her nose. “Technically, they can’t help being A-holes,” she said, her cheeks going slightly red as she stumbled over the last word. OMG, did she not swear? I was pretty sure I couldn’t trust someone who didn’t swear. This girl needed a lesson in how to speak Charlie.
“What do you mean?” Out with it, woman!
“Well, it’s fascinating really, and a little sad. Oxytocin, which is the neuropeptide that has been dubbed ‘the love hormone,’ is in charge of social bonding, maternal behavior, and trust. And it is completely missing in ninety-nine percent of the vampires. The Anima Mortem virus seems to just gobble it up in the first few months after the change.”
Her words flushed fear right into my gut and only one thing came to mind. “Tessa.”
Ryder took my hand and looked at Becca. “Her friend was changed recently, but she didn’t seem like the other vampires.”
Becca gave me the same look I expect doctors give patients right before dropping news of their impending death. Clearly she wanted to say more, I could tell, but she was hiding it.
“Just tell me.”
Becca sighed. “Well, they all seem normal in the beginning. It takes a few months. It happens faster in children. That’s why not many children mentally survive the change.”
Oh fuck. She was saying that Tessa might turn into a creepy asshole like Fugly! No!
Jayden threw his hands up. “Okay, ya’ll, this has been an epic shit day! We need to mellow out. Becca, girl, tell me you got some blood wine here.”
Becca looked nervously at Sam, who gave her a little wink. Okay, hold up a second. Did silent dude just WINK at her? He never did shit like that. Until this moment I didn’t even know he knew how to wink.
“Sam brought some last time, but I was too nervous to try it,” she admitted.
We all looked at Sam and he cleared his throat, his eyes fastened to some periodic table poster on the wall.
Jayden saved him from our scrutiny. “Okay, party people, freshen up and meet me in the common room in one hour.” He snapped his fingers and took off.
Marcus and Jared shook their heads at my BAFF, but I could see some happiness had seeped back into their faces. Jayden was this beautiful infectious person that you just couldn’t stay depressed around. The world needed more Jaydens.
Everyone split up then to go shower and get ready. Becca smiled awkwardly and went back to looking under her microscope.
I lightly pulled her ponytail and she leaned back from the microscope to meet my eyes. “Nope, no more science-geeking out tonight. You’re one of us now. If Jayden says meet him in an hour, that means you too.”
She broke into a grin and I could see that she desperately wanted friends, but she just wasn’t sure how to make it happen.
She pushed at her glasses again, in her very obvious nervous mannerism. “I’m not sure I’ll be much fun. I don’t know how to … relax very well.”
I felt a real grin rip across my face; she was in trouble now. We were totally making her over. I grabbed her hand and pulled her up. “Do you have clothes, makeup and stuff here?” Jayden had none of his usual supplies, and while he was probably the best ash I knew when it came to transformation, he wasn’t a genie. We would still need some stuff to work with.
Becca shrugged. “Uh, maybe. Sam ships me supplies all the time. I only ever deal with the lab stuff. The rest gets stored. There might be something in there.”
I felt an unnatural thrill of excitement. God knows why, I wasn’t someone who got giddy over makeup and fancy clothes, but something about having everything stripped from me had me wanting to see something familiar. Even if it was only a mascara wand.
I grasped her hand again. “Show me, like now, girlfriend!”
Becca’s eyes flicked up and over my shoulder and I swiveled to find Ryder standing there, waiting for me. I turned back to the scientist. “Actually, would it be okay if you go and find Jayden and take him to your storages? He’ll figure out what we need. I’ll find you soon.”
Her beautiful eyes were wide and glassy; the tension in the room had her uneasy, but she also seemed to be liking it. Ryder and I were her very own personal soap opera right now. She managed to nod once at me, before licking her lips and stumbling out of the lab. Which left Ryder and I alone, and let’s just say I was facing down one angry mountain of enforcer.
“We didn’t finish our conversation from before,” he cut in straight away, and I was surprised that he was so forthcoming. Generally, when he got upset, he was a bit like Sam, deadly and brooding. “Your plan to cure vampires … it’s … what the hell, Charlie? You’re only one person, a person I’d like to keep around for a very long time. Yet you keep coming up with these plans that are most likely going to get you dead.”
I stepped into him, for many reasons, but mostly because I needed to be closer. The distance between us felt unnatural, like when we first met. I never wanted to go back there. Not with Ryder. “Can you live in a world where vampires are free to kill our friends? Where they can turn innocent children, destroying their minds? Where they control media and politics and the humans?”
As I posed each question, his already grim expression deepened. He knew I was right, but that didn’t mean he had to like it. I stepped right into him then; our chests touched, and his arms wrapped tightly around me, like he couldn’t help himself. Which had my heart aflutter. But it didn’t stop me from finishing my speech.
“I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t at least attempt to bring them down. The perfect weapon fell into my lap when I turned ash … or ashpire … whatever. I am the weapon. And now we have Becca, who from what I can tell is an uber-stratospheric-genius that’s going to be able to figure out how to give us everything we need for my plan—”
Ryder cut me off in the most delicious way possible, his lips gently skimming against mine. Normally I hated when men used their hotness to halt me mid-conversation, but I could tell Ryder hadn’t done it for that reason. His blazing silver eyes were looking all proud of me and stuff; he hadn’t been able to stop himself from kissing me. Which just like his arms around me, was the best feeling in the world.