Beast Ch. 02byacca_larentia©
*Wow, thank you all so much for the positive words and feedback! It's been very encouraging. Here is chapter two, I made it a little longer but I know it still might not be long enough for some of you. I'll try to make longer chapters in the future. Again, any comments would be appreciated.*
Chapter 2: The Past Comes Calling
A knock at the door jerked Roland out of his sleep. Springing from the couch, he shook his head slightly to quell the dizziness caused by standing up so quickly. In two steps he was at the front door, wrenching it open in order to keep the visitor from knocking again.
Roland was barely able to conceal his surprise. "Arden," he muttered by way of greeting. "What brings you here?"
Arden raised an auburn eyebrow. "I'm not here to make a social call, if that's what you're worried about," he said, his hazel eyes drifting over Roland's shoulder into the cabin. "Do you mind if we take this inside?" he asked.
Frowning, Roland stepped aside to let the other man in. He knew there had to be something wrong if the others were even bothering to contact him. Arden strode past him, ignoring the couch and instead choosing to lean against the kitchen counter. "Not staying long, I take it," Roland said, shutting the front door behind him.
"No," Arden replied. "I've just been sent here to brief you."
Sighing, Roland studied the man who was acting as a liaison. He'd known Arden since they were both very young; growing up, they had been nearly inseparable. That is, until the incident. And then no one could get close to Roland again. He wouldn't let them.
Arden Langley was very tall, almost taller than Roland. But where Roland was bulky and muscular, Arden was long and lean. A shock of dark red hair curled down to his ears, and his sharp green eyes sat above a nose made crooked from one too many fist fights. He had his sinewy arms crossed over his chest now, taking the stance of a man who was fulfilling a duty he wasn't necessarily comfortable doing.
"What do you have to tell me, Arden?" Roland said wearily, raking a large hand through his tangled dark hair. "It's too early in the day for any of their bullshit."
Arden smirked. "It ain't that early, sunshine," he said, nodding toward the window. "It's noon. You been sleeping all day?"
Roland snarled. He wasn't in the mood to deal with this. He had other things to tend to. Like Molly. "Don't make me repeat myself," he rumbled.
The grin slipped from Arden's face. "There's reason to believe we have an intruder."
Roland rolled his eyes. "So what, now," he said, brushing past Arden into the kitchen. "Wolfsbane Range is off limits? Can't have hikers, campers, or tourists?"
Arden reached out, gripping Roland by the forearm. "Don't be so hostile, Rolly, this is serious." Roland grimaced at the use of his childhood nickname. What was the saying? he wondered briefly. Familiarity breeds contempt? "Get to the point," he growled, yanking his arm from Arden's grasp.
Crossing his arms again, Arden set his mouth into a thin line. He waited a beat or two before he spoke again. "There have been bodies, Roland, found fairly recently," he said. "Bodies that have been mauled and torn apart. Only one or two so far, but...."
Roland snorted. "Sounds to me like you have a rogue on your hands," he interrupted, turning his back on his company and opening the refrigerator. His stomach ached with hunger. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had anything substantial to eat.
"Would you stop?" Arden snapped, smacking his hand down onto the marble countertop. The few dishes that rested atop it shook slightly from the vibrations. "This isn't anything perpetrated by one of us. This is the work of an outsider."
"How do you know, Sherlock?" Roland answered as he whirled around, his eyes narrowed. Who gave a shit if it was noon? It was still to early in the day to deal with this. "You have proof? You called in CSI? More importantly, why are you telling me?" His temper, which had been lying so close to the surface since he'd answered the door, was now at its boiling point. "What the fuck do I care if there's something going on? I don't run with any of you anymore!"
Arden flinched as though he'd been slapped. "Don't you get it?" he asked incredulously. "There are people being murdered, and someone's making it look like we've done it. This affects us all, whether you want to acknowledge it or not."
"I don't get what this has to do with me," Roland said, leaning on his knuckles as he braced himself across from Arden. His silvery eyes were flashing dangerously. "Haven't I told you time and again to leave me be?"
Arden straightened, his broad shoulders stretching the material of his blue sweater. "People will start to believe the myths about these mountains," he said. "They'll recirculate old stories, they'll retell those legends. Everyone will be spooked. And they'll come looking for us." He breathed in deeply, anger tinting his normally amiable mien. "We'll all be hunted. Including you."
The warning was not lost on Roland. The idea of someone coming after him, of running him out of his home... the thought alone made him want to rip out a throat. "So why are you really here, Arden?" he asked flatly. "Did they send you to recruit me?"
Arden sighed. Clearly this was the part of the conversation he'd been least looking forward to. "Any help you could give us would be appreciated, Roland..." he began.
"Fuck that," Roland said, gnashing his teeth. "Fuck. That. You are on your own."
Nodding, Arden turned to leave. "I expected that might be your response," he said over his shoulder. Opening the door, he had one foot on the front step when he turned and looked back toward Roland. "In that case, friend," he said, ignoring the scowl on Roland's face at the use of that word. "Please. Be careful." He shut the door quietly behind him.
The nerve, Roland thought angrily as he turned the deadbolt. What the fuck business did they have asking for his help? He'd see them all burn in hell before he lifted a hand in their aid. It's not like they hadn't turned the other cheek when it had been his hour of need...
Refusing to think about it, Roland busied himself preparing lunch for Molly. Opening the pantry, he looked for something light for her to eat. He didn't know yet if her stomach could handle anything too complicated, so he opted for a simple can of chicken noodle soup. Setting it to warm on the stove, his thoughts returned to the previous night.
He couldn't help but be intrigued by her. His curiosity was piqued in spite of himself. Roland couldn't understand why he felt so compelled to help the girl; usually he wanted less than nothing to do with humans. But there was something about her that called out to him, that drew him ever closer to her. The fact disturbed him a little -- he didn't know the first thing about her, and yet he felt the urgent need to protect her.
"Maybe she's a witch," he mused under his breath, the idea making him grin. Ladling the soup into a small bowl, he placed it and a glass of orange juice on a tray and walked to the bedroom. He knocked, but heard no noise from within.
"Molly?" Roland asked softly, opening the door slowly. He peeked inside. Molly was buried under the covers, still fast asleep. Setting the tray down on the side table, Roland placed the back of his hand against her cheek. It was warm, but no longer burning. It was a good sign. "Molly," he said again, this time a little more loudly. "Time to wake up. We need to get some food in you."
Mumbling incoherently, Molly frowned in her sleep and snuggled her head more deeply into the pillows. Chuckling at the cute gesture, Roland quickly regained composure. Stop it, he chided himself. Determined to deliberately ignore any other cute gestures, he cleared his throat. "Molly. Wake up now, it's time to eat," he said sternly.
Molly finally opened her eyes, and Roland was again taken aback at how very blue they were. They were like sapphires, every facet reflecting the light and making them look bigger than they were. Roland was pleased to note that she no longer seemed to be afraid of him. Instead she looked resigned.
"I made you some soup," he said awkwardly when he noticed he'd been staring. "You should try to eat as much as you can, to get your strength up."
Molly glanced toward the tray and nodded. "Thank you," she said, her voice sounding much less weak than the night before. She gazed up at Roland, taking in his ragged appearance. His jaw was covered with dark stubble, and the bags under his eyes indicated he hadn't gotten much rest, if any. "I'm sorry if I've kept you up all night," she apologized, her cheeks burning with embarrassment.
Roland smiled. "Don't worry about me," he said, sitting at the edge of the bed as he placed the tray in Molly's lap. "I've survived worse with much less sleep."
Molly gave a small smile, pushing her blonde hair behind her ears. "Did you have a visitor earlier?" she asked, bringing a spoonful of the hot soup to her mouth.
Roland raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Yeah, briefly," he hedged. How much had she overheard? "Just... a neighbor. Stopped by to check in on me," he said, rubbing the back of his neck nervously. He hoped she would just let it lie. He didn't want to have to explain things.
"Oh," Molly replied, the color slowly coming back to her as she ate the warm food. "I thought you two were arguing, but I couldn't be sure. I just went back to sleep." She paused, looking contrite. "I'm sorry if I was eavesdropping, it's just that you were speaking rather loudly."
"No, don't apologize," Roland said, shaking his head. "We were having a small argument, but it's settled now. Sorry that we woke you." He scratched his stubbly chin, searching his mind for a change of subject. "So, um, how are you feeling?" he asked.
Molly smiled again. "Much better, thank you," she answered. "I can't thank you enough for your extreme generosity. I don't know where I'd be..." She froze, fear flashing across her face. But then, just as quickly, it was gone, replaced by another, smaller smile. "Anyway, just.... well, thank you."
"You're welcome," Roland said. He watched Molly as she finished her soup. She stared into the bowl as she ate, avoiding eye contact. Roland was again amazed at how thin she was; the sweatshirt he had given her to wear hung off her like a cloth sack. She wasn't as deathly white as when he'd found her, but she still looked the worse for wear. She had what appeared to be a fresh bruise that covered the left side of her face, from her delicate eyebrow to just under her ear. Gritting his teeth, Roland couldn't help the question he asked.
"What the hell happened to you?"
Molly went rigid. She knew she would have to answer his questions eventually -- she did, at the very least, owe him that -- but she hadn't expected him to be so forthright. "Do we have to discuss this right now?" she said lowly, glancing up at Roland through her eyelashes.
"I'm afraid that we do," Roland replied, taking the tray and setting it aside. Molly clutched the sheets with her hands, her knuckles white. Roland yanked the blankets away, the end of his patience reached. Throwing them back, he revealed bruised, scraped legs. "You need to be straight with me about what's going on," Roland continued. "Look at you! Who did this?"
Molly couldn't help the tears that escaped her eyes. She ignored them; they fell unhindered down her face. Ashamed at the sight of her battered legs, she curled them underneath her. "I don't know how you grew up, Roland," she began, her voice so close to a whisper her patron had to lean closer just to hear her. "But I've never had a happy life."
Roland's forehead crinkled in confusion. "I'm going to need more information than that, Molly," he prompted. Reaching for her hand, he was relieved when she let him hold it. "You can trust me," he intoned gently.
The tears came more readily now. Memories assaulted Molly in brief, painful flashes: a backhand across the face for being too slow. Hands around her neck, squeezing until death would have been welcome. Tied to the bed, her legs forced open...
"My parents died when I was very young," Molly continued, using the sleeve of her sweatshirt to wipe her face. "I hardly knew them. Sometimes I remember my mother." The corner of her mouth lifted a little. "She smelled like lavender."
"I'm sorry to hear you were an orphan," Roland said, his thumb stroking the back of Molly's hand. Her skin felt cool and smooth. "What happened to you after your parents passed away?"
Molly closed her eyes. "I went to live with my uncle Jonathan and his wife," she said, swallowing revulsion when his face was conjured in her mind. "She up and left not too long afterward, though. Then it was just me and... him."
Roland clenched his jaw as it all began to make sense. "Are you telling me that your uncle is responsible for all this?" he asked, barely able to contain his anger.
"You could say that," Molly said, biting her lower lip.
"No fucking wonder, then, that you ran away," Roland said, standing up and striding to the window. Rage pulsed through him; he wanted to eviscerate this Jonathan. Fighting to keep a rein on his temper, he leaned his head against the cool windowpane. "What kinds of things did he -" He paused, unsure of how to finish the question.
Molly shook her head. "I don't want to talk about it," she said firmly. "I bet you could guess, though, from what you've seen."
"Yeah," Roland replied, his nostrils flaring. "Does he live around here?"
"Why?" Molly asked, panicking. The last thing she wanted was for Roland to get involved. Who knew what Jonathan was capable of doing to him? "You're not thinking of... of contacting him, are you?" Her voice was shrill and plaintive.
"Why shouldn't I?" Roland returned, cracking his knuckles threateningly. "Sounds like he could use a little sense smacked into him."
Molly leaped from the bed and ran to Roland, clutching at his arms with a strength that took him by surprise. "Please, please stay out of it!" she begged, her eyes wide and filled with terror. "I don't want him to hurt you!"
Roland bit back a chuckle. Oh, if she only knew. "I highly doubt that he could hurt me," he said, taking Molly by the shoulders and guiding her back to bed. "Trust me, I'd be able to hold my own."
"It doesn't matter, anyway," Molly said, sinking back against the pillows. She was tired, so tired. "He lives at least twenty miles away. When you found me, I'd escaped from his car."
Roland's ears perked at this revelation. "What do you mean, escaped from his car?" he asked. A sense of foreboding formed a knot in his stomach. "Molly, why did he bring you out here?"
She locked eyes with him, terror replaced by certainty. "To kill me."
Roland washed up the few dishes in the sink, then poured himself a small glass of bourbon. His mind was turning over everything that Molly had disclosed to him.
He let out a deep breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding as he sank into a tweed armchair. Swishing the bourbon, he gazed out the window, his unfocused eyes settling on the pine trees that bordered his property. Molly had likely fallen back to sleep. Despite much urging on his part, Roland had been unable to get any more information out of her.
"I'm too tired," she'd said, turning away from him and pulling the white comforter back over her tiny body. "I just want to sleep."
It had taken every ounce of his energy to force himself to leave Molly alone. He'd wanted to pry Jonathan's address from her, so he could pay a visit and return a taste of the sick man's medicine. He'd wanted to wring out every lurid, gristly detail of her life story. He'd wanted to crush her to him, grateful and amazed that she'd even survived this long. Roland gulped the bourbon down in one swig, the amber liquid burning his throat.
Anger consumed him, battled for dominance within. The itch began to creep from his fingers, finally culminating as a tingle in his spine. Roland gripped the arms of the chair, fighting against it. After so many years spent denying it, he refused to succumb to the change now. It wouldn't help anything.
Absentmindedly running a finger down the scar on his face, his thoughts drifted back to his earlier meeting with Arden. When it rains, it fucking pours, he thought bitterly, a scowl pulling at his full lips. He'd lived fifteen years in isolation, not a thing in the world to give a damn about, and in one fell swoop he had the weight of the world deposited on his shoulders. He supposed he only had himself to blame; no one had forced him to take the girl in. He'd simply physically been unable to just let her die.
The hairs on Roland's arms prickled as he thought about the bodies Arden had talked about. Mauled and torn apart, he'd said. "What the hell's going on?" Roland wondered aloud, a deep frown marring his face. Murders on the mountain. Molly convinced her uncle had meant to kill her.
Could it be...?
Roland sat up, a hypothesis taking shape in his mind. Was Molly the integral piece of the puzzle?
Growling, Roland slammed his fist on the oak coffee table. If his suspicions were correct, helping Molly would, in turn, help Arden. He'd be helping the others. That was the last thing he wanted to do.
But he couldn't just give up on Molly. For some inexplicable reason he was drawn to her. She brought out instincts in him that had lain dormant for quite some time. He'd be damned if he saved her life only to abandon her when she needed him the most.
Sighing heavily, Roland picked up the cordless phone and dialed a number he still knew by heart.
"Arden," he said when the other line picked up. "We need to talk."