Glancing back at the tall, Victorian house that Thalia called home, Colt sighed. Ruth had banished him from remaining indoors after her interrogation. She claimed they had "girl talk" to discuss. He couldn't imagine why he needed to leave. All the chatter he'd heard from women over the years, even the gossip they'd share only among themselves, fell into one of a handful of categories: lovers, children, clothing, other women, or their hobbies. But, Colt had to admit, he hadn't really paid as much attention to their conversation as he maybe should have. He was beginning to wonder if he'd looked more closely, he might have found a woman like Thalia earlier. He couldn't believe that women could have changes so much in only a century and a half.
Colt shook his head and turned away from the house. The street was quiet, only the distant sound of a police car breaking through the combined music of birdsong, insect calls, and the breeze that ruffled the leaves around him. The sun was high and strong, the sky a brilliant blue, both awakening a desire to enjoy the weather in Colt.
Rather than wait outside Thalia's house like a dog on a line, Colt decided to take a walk. He let the cul-de-sac, heading down one tree-shaded sidewalk. Here he saw other people taking advantage of the sunny day. Two girls skipped together in a rope while farther ahead, three boys were chasing each other around with water guns, squealing when one of them successfully splashed another.
He left their shouts behind, taking care to remain in the shade as much as possible to avoid casting a shadow. Sometimes this forced him to dance around people, causing his heart to race. Or it would have, had he still had a heart. With Ruth's discovery of him still fresh, he was taking extra car.
Switching to one of the bike paths that crisscrossed the town, and led deeper into the trees, Colt heard raised voices. Curiosity aroused, he tracked them to one of the lesser path branches. Half-hidden by the trees and underbrush that crowded the creek's edge, Colt saw three men's backs while a fourth faced him. Moving closer made him snort silently.
If he'd had to guess, Colt would have said that William was on his way to Thalia's house when these men had ambushed him. He couldn't think that the three strangers were anything other than Builders. He drifted closer, ears tuned into their words.
"I don't know," William snapped.
The roundest of the strangers shook his bald head. "We know you're connected to the family. You don't need to go through such roundabout channels. We're happy to tell you anything you want to know about us. And, of course, we'd love to discuss anything that affects you and/or the spirit."
Colt took an involuntary step backwards, for once glad he was invisible.
"You're insane. All of you. There are no such things as ghosts, spirits, vampires, or whatever else you freaks believe in. So just keep your psycho fantasies to yourselves and leave me the hell alone!"
"Now, now. I understand you're nervous, confused and probably a bit afraid. But you don't need to be. We're here to help you?"
"Do you people actually listen to yourselves? You sound like some cartoon's bargain bin villains. Some kind of horrible cross between the Ghostbusters, psychiatrists, and door-to-door salesmen."
Colt chuckled once, then remembering where he was and who was in front of him, smothered the rest. The shortest of the strangers, a man dressed in a beat-up leather jackets and highly polished boots, turned around. He scanned the area briefly, eyes probing into every shadow before turning back around. Colt saw the other silent man glance at him, but the short one only shook his head.
"I'm sorry you feel that way. I assure you, we really do only want to help," their leader said, his weight shifting to his other foot.
Colt eased himself around, taking care not to step on anything except grass. Eventually he found a position that gave him a clear view of both William and the round man's faces. As he'd expected, William's face was tense, his eyes contracted into a glare. The leader's expression was far more mild, at odds with the brightness of his eyes and the one twitching jaw muscle. While he was no fan of William's, Colt hoped that the boy was quick enough to note the warning signs.
"Like I've told you guys already, thank, but I'm not interested," William replied, crossing his arms over his chest. "So can you get out of my way?"
The round man's sigh was almost lost in the rustle of the leaves overhead as the breeze made the trees around them sway. Colt had difficulty seeing for a moment when a sunbeam broke through the trees and stabbed itself into his eyes. He shook his head in an effort to clear them, then looked back up.
All three men had stepped away, leaving a clear path for William to pass by them. "If you change your mind, you know how to contact us," the leader said, smiling. "And do say hello to your cousin Thalia for us."
Both Colt and William froze at the same moment before turning to face the sound, still smiling man. Face pale as he met the blue eyes of the other man, William's voice was almost inaudible to Colt when he whispered "Stay away from her."
"I haven't had the pleasure of meeting her. I heard from another of our members that she's a lovely girl. We're very near her house, so I guessed that you're planning on paying her a visit. It's heartwarming how close your family is to each other."
Torn between running back to the house and making sure Thalia was safe and listening to what exactly this man had to say about her, Colt bit his lip. Remembering how Ruth had locked every door in the house behind him was what decided him. Any information he could gather about the Builders and their plans was more ammunition he could use to protect Thalia.
"If you hurt her, if you so much as touch her, I will use your head as a goddamn bowling ball," William hissed, eyes all but shooting sparks as he looked at the round man.
"Hurt her? I wouldn't dream of it! After all, we want to help you. To be friends, really. And we'd never hurt one of our friend's family members. That would be…awful."
Mouth opening and closing a few times, William finally spun and stalked off, away from Thalia's. Colt waited until the Builders started walking away in another direction before turning around and running back towards Thalia's house.