Font Size:  

Micah whispered, "Rankin's coming."

"We'll park and then do what we can to help find the second missing woman," Edward said.

The officer nodded and stepped back, pointing us through the mess. We tried to get moving, but Rankin literally slapped both his hands on the hood of our rental car. Unless we wanted to run him over, we had to stay put. He was so angry, he was damn near vibrating with it as he stalked up to the uniformed officer.

"Why are you talking to them? What did you tell them?" Rankin yelled, getting as up in the officer's face as a six-inch height difference could manage. It should have looked ridiculous, but it didn't, and the bigger man backed up. Maybe he was backing up from the anger of a superior officer, or maybe it was a case of the size of the fight in the dog, not the size of the dog in the fight.

"They're marshals with the preternatural branch," the officer said.

"Only two of them are marshals; the rest are suspects in the murder of one woman and the disappearance of another!" Rankin was still yelling, and damn near climbing up the front of the bigger man while he did it.

Micah said, softly, to me, "He's attracting attention."

Edward opened the door of the car, which made Rankin have to move and turn away from the other officer toward the door, the car, and people he knew weren't his friends. We'd have been his friends as fellow lawmen--law people--but he'd made that impossible. He turned toward the opening door with his body language letting us know he was ready for a fight. No, more than that, he seemed to be wanting a fight. What the hell was wrong with him? You didn't make detective by being a hysteric.

Rankin started shouting at Edward and tried the same backup technique that had worked with the other officer. Edward stayed where he was and let the detective have his hissy fit. I'd never seen another cop lose it like this in front of the whole world, at least not this early in an investigation. Sometimes the pressure got to everyone, but he hadn't been digging at this case long enough for this kind of angry hysterics.

Bram leaned over the seat toward me and said, "There's press here."

"And smartphones," Nathaniel said.

"And they're hearing the lead detective accuse all of us of being suspects in the murder and disappearances," Micah said.

Edward figured it out, too, because he moved minutely forward, smiling and being calm, trying to talk the crazy person down in his down-home voice. He made sure some of his words carried, too, though.

"Calm down there, pardner. No need to get hysterical and start throwing false accusations around."

"I am not hysterical." Rankin started lowering his voice.

"Then step back off of me, pardner," Edward said, lowering his voice, too.

Rankin actually stepped closer, crowding him more, but his body language didn't promise violence from where I was sitting, though it probably looked it from the crowd. Rankin stuck his head in the open door, forcing himself past a surprised Edward. How had he even gotten past him? I mean, it was Edward; short of deadly force, you didn't just push past him. Rankin's voice was low and soothing suddenly. "Nathaniel, you want to confess. You want to tell everyone here that you hurt that girl, don't you?"

"What the hell, Rankin?" I said, unbuckling my seat belt and starting to move toward him.

"Yes," Nathaniel said in a voice that didn't sound like him at all, "yes, I want to tell them I hurt her." He was staring at Rankin as if there was no one else in the car, no one else to look at, no other eyes to meet.

Micah touched Nathaniel, but he never reacted to it. Nicky moved in the backseat so that his shoulders blocked the line of sight between Nathaniel and the detective. I couldn't see if it changed anything because my view was blocked, too; besides, I was moving forward on the front seat toward Rankin.

Edward spoke low next to the detective's face. "Move, or I will move you."

"Come with me, Nathaniel. Tell them you hurt her. Tell them you turned into a leopard and killed her." He was speaking very low now. No one outside the car would hear him. Not even the uniformed officer who had been friendly earlier would be able to hear him.

Nathaniel said, "I hurt her . . ."

"Breaking eye contact isn't helping," Nicky said.

I crawled across the seat and put my hand against Rankin's shoulder to push him out of the car. He grabbed my hand, pressed it tighter against him, and looked at me. The world seemed to slow down, or narrow down to just his eyes, like black pools spreading across my vision, or maybe a night sky that stretched untouched except for a million stars, and just like that he mind-fucked me with just his gaze and his hand on mine.


I HAD A MOMENT of panic, of wanting to struggle uselessly, helplessly, but I'd seen darker nights and vampires' eyes filled with stars and everlasting night before. It helped me to calm the fear and to stop the panic before it grew too large, and helped me to be patient. It was like a physical fight in some ways; you protected as much of yourself as you could and tried to find a weak spot, or a chance to twist in their grip, break their hold on you, and then hit them back harder, or run away. I'd fought this kind of fight before, with vampires mostly, but one kind of fight is very like another.

I raised the shields higher inside my head, inside my heart, the walls that protected my soul from all the things that tried to grab hold of it. It should have helped, but instead the darkness in front of my eyes ate an edge of light that I hadn't even realized was still there. Shielding harder had made it worse, not better--fuck! The first spike of fear stabbed through me, and it was like stumbling in the dark. I didn't hear words, but I felt something. It was like he couldn't put words in my head, but he could put feelings in it, or longings in it. He tried to offer me desire, but I had enough of that in my life. He tried to fill me with loneliness, but I was nearly suffocating with all the people in my life. He tried to find things connected to passion, sex, seduction, that I was missing in my life, but I wasn't missing anything. In fact, I'd been pushed so far outside my comfort zones for so long that a little less adventure in the bedroom and dungeon might be nice for a change. The only thing I was missing was space and time to myself, but that didn't help him gain a hold on me. Then the sound of the sea grew louder in my head, and I felt this almost irresistible longing for it. I wanted to step into the water, feel its coolness over my body, but fear washed over me and drowned the sound of the water and the longing for it. The last time I'd been in the ocean I'd had a diving accident that almost killed me. I hadn't been in the ocean since it happened more than ten years ago.

A voice whispered through my head: Ma petite, what are you doing?

I thought, Jean-Claude.

Oui, ma petite, what is in your head, in our head?

Help me fight him.

Let me inside, ma petite, as you did when we made love.

I wanted to argue with him that I didn't dare lower my shields with Rankin right there, but I either trusted Jean-Claude or I didn't, and I did. I whispered, "I do," and I let him inside my shields, my mind, my heart, all of me. It was like another kind of drowning, except that this water was midnight blue and glowed with power. I had a moment when I felt like I was suffocating again, and then I was being torn between black ocean and the blue night sky, but the sky burned with its own fire and the whispering depths of the ocean turned to smoke, as if the entire ocean could evaporate all at once.

I felt a kiss, and for a moment I thought it was Jean-Claude somehow magically there in the car with me, but then I realized it wasn't his lips, and for a panicked moment I thought it was Rankin, but Jean-Claude's power breathed over me, and I knew it wasn't Rankin's kiss, but Jean-Claude's. I opened my eyes to find Wyatt, Ru, kissing me, but as he drew back enough for me to see his face, his eyes were full of dark blue fire. I didn't know how Jean-Claude had managed it, but he'd possessed Ru. His hands touched my face and I felt the echo of Jean-Claude's hands, as if his power were wearing Ru like a glove. I felt an almost audible click as my shields rearranged themselves to let all my peopl

e inside and keep only the bad guys out. I'd shielded too hard against Rankin and cut off my support network. It was chilling to know that alone I couldn't fight completely free of him.

I felt Rankin let go of my hand and move out of the car, and I could hear raised voices outside the car. I was still kneeling on the car seat, as if nothing strange had happened, but now Ru was stretched over the back of the seats, his face filling my view as he leaned back from kissing me. The dark blue light in his eyes faded back to the perfect blackness of his natural eye color.

He blinked hard, as if clearing his mind, or settling himself more solidly into himself. His hand was still resting on my cheek, but it was just his hand now. "Your metaphysical shields are amazing, my queen, to be able to lock out all your allies with but a thought."

My voice was a little shaky as I said, "I didn't mean to cut myself off from all of you."

"You left us vulnerable to Rankin," Nathaniel said. He was sitting hunched, arms hugging himself, while Micah tried to hold him, but he didn't relax into the hug like he normally did. There was a stiffness, almost an anger in him, that seemed to be directed toward Micah, or at least he wouldn't let the other man comfort him out of it. I'd never seen Nathaniel react to Micah like that before. Me, yes, but never Micah.

There were people moving around the car on the side nearest to me. Someone was snapping a picture with a real camera, but more were using their smartphones. The police were pushing them back, but they'd gotten pictures of Ru kissing me, and Rankin in the car. God knew what the press, or even the Internet, would make of it. Normally it would have bothered me more, but after what Rankin had just done with some eye contact and a hand on mine, I had bigger things to worry about than my reputation in the press.

"Jean-Claude was able to use my ties to you to fill me with his power. Only the Mother of All Darkness was able to do that," Ru said, as he slid gracefully into the driver's seat, which Edward had vacated.

"Sorry," I whispered.

"I told you I would serve you in any way you desired. There is no need of sorry between us." He was smiling; he seemed happy. Nice one of us was enjoying himself.

I could hear raised voices again, as if the sound from outside was only coming back to me in pieces. I realized that one of the voices was Edward's, still playing to his Ted persona, but he was genuinely angry. I started to reach for my door handle so I could go see what all the shouting was about.

"What did Rankin offer you, Anita?" Nathaniel asked.

I glanced back at him. He still looked hunched and as if something hurt. Micah was still there trying to soothe him, so I let it go for the moment and answered his question. "Nothing."

"Nothing. You just don't remember."

"He tried, but he didn't have anything I wanted."

"I don't mean to interrupt, but you should probably get out there and help Ted with the local police," Rodina said.

"He seems outnumbered," Ru said.

I looked past Ru, through the still-open driver's-side door, and saw Edward arguing with a woman and a cluster of maybe ten other locals. "That's not even close to outnumbered for him," I said, but I got out of the car anyway. One, I needed to back my partner up, and two, I needed to help him spin a story for the locals as to what the hell had just happened in the car. I realized as I got out, making sure my badge was in clear view, that I honestly wasn't sure what had just happened between me and Rankin. It was going to make explaining it to the other cops a little tricky.