Chapter Fourteen

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Clara returned less than ten minutes later with an unconscious Ava slung over her shoulder.

"Did you have to knock her out?" I said, annoyed. Clara's vampire hunting days might be behind her, but apparently violence was still her default problem-solver.

"It was the only way to get her to come back," she said, not looking in the least apologetic. "I suppose I could have dragged her back, kicking and screaming, but that would have attracted all kinds of attention. At least this way I could pretend she was drunk or something."

There was logic in that, I suppose.

Clara carried Ava through to the living room and dumped her on the sofa. Ava's face looked pale; the bruise from Clara's fist was a bright purple flower around her left eye. She looked more fragile than I was used to seeing her.

"She'll be fine," Clara reassured me. "I didn't hit her that hard."

I chewed my lip. "Do you think I did the right thing?"

The nod Clara had given me earlier implied that she thought so, but I wanted to hear her say it.

Clara scrutinised me, her eyes thoughtfully narrowed. "Absolutely. Rushing after Noah doesn't make any sense. We can't spare the time or the people –"

"That's not exactly what I mean," I interrupted. From a logistics point of view, Noah was a casualty of war, a loss to be cut and forgotten. But I wanted a more emotional perspective. "In some weird way, I almost feel like I should care about him. No matter how bad our relationship was, there's a part of me that feels like I should still care when my father's in this kind of danger. I should still feel something.

"You know what I think?" Clara said, putting her hand on her hip. The room was mostly in darkness, but I could see the tracery of old scars on her skin. As far as I knew, she didn't have anything as singularly dramatic or ugly as the thick knot on my shoulder, but she'd been hunting a lot longer than I had and she had many more scars to prove it. "I think this whole blood is thicker than water thing is bullshit. Yes, Noah provided the DNA for you to exist, but that's all he did. That's not enough to make him a father."

She sighed and leaned against the arm of the sofa. The sag of her shoulders made her look more vulnerable than I was used to. "Let me tell you something about my father, Kiara."

In a stupid, incredibly naive way, I couldn't imagine Clara having a father. I couldn't imagine her as a little girl growing into a young woman. I could only see the battle-scarred warrior in front of me.

"I loved him. I was an only child and he was my whole world. My mother had certain health problems so she wasn't around much, and for a lot of my early life it was just me and him." A small smile touched Clara's lips, a proper smile, not the cold twist of expression I'd seen on her face so often. "I was thirteen when I found out that he wasn't my biological father. The man who actually spawned me had left my mother when I was just a few weeks old. Eventually she moved on, fell in love again, and got remarried. The man she married went on to adopt me and raise me as his own."

Just a few minutes ago I'd thought about how much I considered Clara a friend, but I'd never predicted her opening up to me like this. Clara wasn't the sort of woman who talked about her past or her feelings.

As soon as I thought it, I felt a twinge of guilt. Maybe she'd only never talked about it because she'd had no one to talk about it with. Anywhere we'd lived with the team wasn't conducive to us all spilling our guts and sharing with one another. I'd often thought how lonely I was in that team, and how lonely Ethan was, but it had never crossed my mind that Clara might be lonely too.

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