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"It'll be here soon, Peter," Nathaniel said.

"Good," Peter said, his voice a little thick.

His leg got very heavy all of a sudden. Nathaniel said, "It's okay, Peter, we got you."

"Hold on, son," Edward said, "just hold on."

I could hear the ambulance now. Ru knelt beside Bernardo so he could put steadying hands on Peter's chest. Nathaniel and I held his injured leg still and straight as he passed out. Edward kept both his hands on the wound and the blood-soaked napkins. We all held Peter and waited for the ambulance.

Donna wiped her eyes and got a handle on herself. She stopped crying and started helping us do first aid on her son. It was like she'd fallen back into the old Donna, the pre-Edward Donna, and suddenly, when she realized the shit was hitting the fan for real, she found that strength I'd seen in the bridal shop when she put Dixie on the ground. I liked the new, strong Donna, but I couldn't have dealt with the weak version. Good thing I wasn't the one marrying her. Though looking at Edward's face at that second, I wasn't sure he was going to be marrying her either.


EDWARD RODE IN the ambulance with Peter. He'd grabbed my arm as he moved beside the gurney and made me run with him. "Take care of Becca; keep Dixie away from her."

"I will."

They loaded a still-unconscious Peter into the ambulance, and Edward squeezed in with the EMT in the back, still shirtless. His bloody shirt had been discarded on the floor somewhere. Doors closed, and they were off, sirens screaming, lights swirling. Donna was left staring after the ambulance, as if looking at it hard enough would make it travel faster, or some other magical thinking. Edward had told Bernardo to keep an eye on Donna, so he was standing near her, waiting for her to react. I thought that Donna should have been looking after Becca, rather than needing anyone to look after her, but that was just me.

Becca was with Nathaniel. She was tall for her age, but she'd still wrapped herself around him like she was half her height and years younger than almost twelve. She'd buried her face against the side of his neck, his hair just long enough to spill across her face.

Micah and Bram were standing by Nathaniel and Becca. Micah was trying to help comfort her. Bram was watching the crowd that had gathered to watch the show. If he was uncomfortable, it didn't show. Carol had insisted on her husband coming with her to take their daughter, Ellie, the other flower girl, away from the sight of blood and the potential trauma of watching someone she knew being loaded into an ambulance. Lieutenant Colonel Franklin hadn't wanted to go, but he gave in to his wife. The rest of the wedding party had found us, attracted by the lights and sirens. Becca had tried to go with Peter, but when she realized she couldn't go but Edward was going, she'd let Uncle Nathaniel pick her up and carry her out of the way.

Ru and Rodina were standing a little apart, between where Nathaniel and Micah were standing with Bram and where I was standing with Nicky. Nicky showed nothing about the drama. He was his usual calm self.

Lucy and Dixie were talking to the two uniformed policemen who had shown up just after the ambulance. I realized that one of them was Officer Dunley from earlier. He caught my eye and motioned me over toward them. I glanced back at Becca and the men. They seemed to have things as under control as they were going to be for a while, so I went to join the uniforms and the hysterical woman, because Dixie was hysterical. She seemed to be upset that Peter was so badly hurt and was hiccuping between sobs, "I didn't mean to hurt him." Lucy was patting her shoulder and trying to help explain what had happened to the stoic policemen. Nice that there was one other woman involved who wasn't having a hissy fit.

Officer Dunley raised an eyebrow at me and let me see an expression that matched it for a second before he went back to blank face. He was a good cop; he'd do his best to add no emotion to the situation.

He couldn't quite keep the irony out of his voice as he said, "Marshal Blake, I take it you're involved in all this."

"If you mean I know everyone involved, then yes."

His mouth quirked just a bit at the corner, as if he found my wording amusing but was fighting not to show it. He took me off to one side and left the other uniform to continue to try to talk to Dixie, with Lucy helping as best she could.

There was a slight settling of his broad shoulders when he got us to a quieter part of the parking area near the ever-present palm trees. "Did you witness the assault?"

"No, just helped give first aid until the ambulance arrived."

"Witnesses say the man involved abducted the woman from the pool area."

I realized in that moment that this could go entirely badly for Peter. He had taken Dixie against her will and carried her fighting and screaming through the hotel. Witnesses would be able to testify to that. I didn't know how Florida law was written. Did his just carrying her away like that constitute assault?

"I wasn't there."

"You said that you didn't witness the assault."

"When you said assault, I thought you meant her attacking Peter."

"Ms. Carlitos says that she didn't mean to hurt him as badly as she did, but she was afraid for her safety."

I narrowed my eyes at him. "I'm betting that's not what she said."

"Then you tell me in your own words."

"Look, Peter is only nineteen."

"And over six feet tall, big guy, a lot of women would be scared if he picked them up and manhandled them like that," Dunley said.

"Maybe, but that's not my point."

"And just what is your point, Marshal?"

I resisted the urge to call him Officer. "He's nineteen and he's never had to try to deal with a woman that he didn't want to hurt, but who didn't give a damn if she hurt him."

"You make it sound like Ms. Carlitos started the fight."

"I'd call it a disagreement, not a fight."

"Disagreement, huh? Parnell just got rushed off to the hospital with a stab wound. That's one hell of a disagreement. In fact, I'd call it a fight when a woman is so afraid of a man that she stabs him."

I didn't like the wording again, but I couldn't really argue with it at face value, so I ignored it. "Dixie did start things off."

"In what way?"

And here we were back to the fucking lie again. I cursed Edward for dragging me into it, and cursed myself harder for letting myself get dragged into it. I was debating how much to tell him when a man in a polo shirt and slacks walked up to us. I thought at first it was someone from the hotel, but Dunley stood a little straighter and sighed. It made me look at the new guy, and the moment I really looked at him I knew we were in trouble, or Peter was, because it was a detective. How did I know? Maybe it was the gold shield. I hadn't known that the Kirke Police Department was big enough to have detectives, but there it was, slipped into the pocket of his polo shirt. The way that Dunley gave ground to him, not only was he a detective, but either his rank was high enough or he was respected or scary enough that Dunley wasn't going to fight for it.

The detective was maybe five foot nine at best, built slender, so that he looked almost fragile beside Dunley. His hair was a rich chestnut brown, a little long for most cops--I mean, you couldn't even see his ears--and just long enough that it was beginning to wave, or maybe settle into loose natural curls. It didn't seem to be a fashion statement, more like he hadn't seen a barber in a while. I wondered what could have made a police detective ignore the boys' club haircut for that long. He was also tanned, as if he spent a lot of his off days doing something outdoorsy. Then I looked into his eyes and all pleasant speculation stopped. It wasn't the color of them, which was a brown so dark they looked black. I'd seen more exotic and more ominous eye color. No, it was the cold, nearly unfriendly calculation in them. His intelligence and intensity were all there trapped in his eyes, while he tried to play to the fact that he wasn't physically imposing, that he didn't look like a cop. Maybe the hair was on purpose. It certainly helped him look a little disheveled, and it distracted from the neatness of his clothes and the prec

ision of the mind staring back at me.

"Detective Terry Rankin, this is Marshal Anita Blake," Officer Dunley said.

"Dunley tells me you're in town for a wedding."

I nodded. "That's right."

"So you're a bridesmaid."

"No, I'm the best man," I said, staring into his dark eyes. If he thought I'd flinch because of really good eye contact, he was wrong. I loved eye contact.

He blinked then, and it was nice to know that I could make him blink. "Best man. So you're standing up with the groom, not the bride?"

It was my turn to blink. I'd hoped for at least a few comments about whether I was the best man for the job or something, anything to break the tension that seemed to roll off of the detective.

"Yes," I said.

"What's your relationship to Peter Parnell?"

I fought to keep my face blank and pleasant as I said, "He's the biological son of the bride and the stepson of the groom, and he's also a groomsman in the wedding."

"Stepfather--are the bride and groom already legally married and this is just a renewal of vows?"

"No, but the family has been living together for years. Call the wedding a legal formality."

"So you just know him as their son?"

"I've known Peter since he was a kid."

Rankin nodded as if that was somehow significant. "So you're close to him and his family?"

"Close enough that I'd like to see about getting more of us to the hospital to check on Peter." I was really wanting away from the detective, because something was up, something more than just the mess between Peter and Dixie. You didn't get a detective on something that could be put down to high jinks gone wrong.