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But she couldn't lie to herself. She wouldn't have come back here for Pete and stayed. It was a wonderful sentiment on his part, even if he had asked her, she would have said no. Spooner, Texas was not the world where she wanted to live. The terrible thing was she had never known what world she had wanted to live in. She had just known she didn't belong.

Desperate to get out of the room, she shoved the table and chairs back to their spots. She moved to open the door.

“Amaliya,” Pete's voice rasped.

She turned toward him and saw his hand was reaching toward her. His expression was full of desire and fear.

“I'm sorry,” he said. “For what. . . you are. ”

“Me, too. Me, too. ” She yanked the door open before she burst into tears and stepped out slowly. Looking both ways, she saw the parking lot was empty of people. Turning, she saw Pete's gaze was still fastened to her. “Forget me, then call 911. ”

He nodded slowly, mesmerized.

She slammed the door shut.

Chapter Six

Skirting the edge of the motel parking lot, she managed to make it to the road without anyone noticing her. Though she could feel the heaviness of the bag on her back, it didn't cause her any discomfort as she maneuvered through the darkness with greater ease than she ever had before. Her money tucked safely in her boot, she strode on toward the main highway and away from the hotel. The tiny town of Spooner lay ten miles down the road and she was glad to have it behind her. She hadn't even seen it this trip, but she had no desire to see its dying downtown or the old Sonic where she had worked diligently for years.

In the tall trees edging the road, she could hear the nocturnal animals making their rounds, hunting or scavenging for food. A few times, the forest fell silent when she drew too close to it. It was only one more confirmation that she was now a predator.

The low rumble of trucks sounded nearby and she picked up her pace. A few cars passed her, but no one seemed to take notice of her striding along the edge of the trees. The intersection with the highway was brightly lit and a truck roared by on its way to Louisiana. Shreveport wasn't that far over the Texas border and for a moment she pondered trying to make it to New Orleans. Wasn't that where the vampires were supposed to live? Rubbing her long nose, she took this into careful consideration as she tried to remember the vampire novels she had read during her teens. New Orleans and France, maybe.

But she wanted to see her Grandmama. That was one thing she was sure of now that she was away from the motel. She wanted to see the only part of her family that seemed to give a damn about her. She wanted to see her grandmother and her cousin, Sergio. She wanted to say goodbye to them. And that meant heading to West Texas.

Adjusting her skirt just a little to make it shorter, she began to walk along the shoulder of the highway. She hadn't hitchhiked in ages. She had gotten into so much trouble with her Dad when he had found out she had run away as far as Nacogdoches. The lecture she had received her thirteenth summer of life still rang in her ears. But times were different now. Yes, the world was more dangerous, but she was too.

A few cars passed her without even slowing down. She could clearly see the passengers glance at her, then quickly away. They pretended she wasn't there so they wouldn't have to worry about a young woman stranded in the darkness. Nice.

Her boots scraped along the gravel shoulder as she hoisted her bag higher. Trying to look as non-threatening as possible, she raised her hand and put out her thumb as another car rolled by. This time the car slowed slightly, but the man in the expensive vehicle, which reeked of human power, kept going. She could still feel his eyes on her when the car passed. She turned to flip him off, hoping he'd catch her in the review mirror.

Another twenty minutes went by and she trudged along the highway wondering if anyone gave a damn anymore about young women stranded in the middle of nowhere. Well, not actually the middle of nowhere, since a town lay ten miles in both directions, but still it kind of made her wonder.

It was a beat up truck spray-painted turquoise that finally pulled over. Its broken taillight still worked and the bright bulb inside the plastic beckoned to her as the tires spit off gravel as it stopped. Hurrying to the passenger door, she took in the garbage-strewn back of the truck and the smell of cat piss. The truck was so old the warped door was a bitch to open. It seemed to want to stay shut and it groaned as she yanked it hard.

Inside a woman stared out at her through the gloom occasionally illuminated by the headlights of a passing car. She had tangled red hair tied back from a haggard face that looked both cruel and desperate. A cigarette dangled from between the nicotine-stained fingers that gripped the steering wheel as she beckoned to Amaliya with her other hand.


t in. ”

Sliding in, Amaliya said, “Thanks. ”

The woman nodded slightly. “No prob. ” She fished a pack of cigarettes out of the pocket of her plaid shirt and offered her one.

“Thanks,” Amaliya said with relief, and snagged one. She had tried to quit, but that seemed a moot point now. Lighting up, she took a deep drag and sank back into the seat with its gnarled springs and torn vinyl.

“Where you headed?”

“Dallas/Fort Worth, and then west from there,” Amaliya answered.

“Yeah?” The woman pulled back onto the highway. “I'm headed to Greenville. ”

“That's some ways away,” Amaliya answered.

“Yeah, but its where my kids are. ” The woman shrugged. “I'm going up there to get my kids back from my idiot husband. ”

“Ah,” Amaliya answered, and took another drag.