I know I said this was going to pop up on the 25th, but family took priority and I wasn’t able to get to updating the web page. (It’s both a boon and a burden to be your own webmistress) But it’s there now for your holiday reading. Enjoy!
Quen’s car was warm, the seats heated and my vents aimed at me to make the escaping strands of my braid tickle my neck as we slowly wove through the twisty hospital campus. Feeling ill, Ileaned to the dash and peered through the curved glass, both anxious to get there and uncertain as to what I was going to tell Trent. It was starting to mist, and everything had a surreal glow. The tall main building looked foreboding in the rain, lights gleaming on its slick walls. That was not our destination. People got better—mostly—at the hospital. Where we were headed, the only healing was emotional.
The tires hissed on the wet pavement as we took a tight corner into a cul-de-sac. Three modest structures, identical apart from their color, were before us, I.S. cruisers and black Crown Vics parked in the drives and at the curbs. My lips curled in disgust at the news van, bright lights spilling out along with heavy wires like grotesque umbilical cords running into one of the houses. It must have made their night to have their local story picked up nationwide.
The three two-story homes looked out of place in the otherwise institutional hospital setting. They were relatively new, the landscaping bushes still small and inadequate. It was Cincinnati’s Rosewood wing where Rosewood babies were moved to, sometimes born here, but always dying here, never surviving. A lot of parents elected to take their baby home for his or her last days, but not all, and the homey atmosphere was a boon. Counselors were more prevalent than nursing staff. They hadn’t had such a place when I’d been born, and as Quen parked his two-seater into a space too small for the official cars, I felt odd and melancholy.
Quen put the car in park, making no move to get out. I, too, leaned back into the plush seat, afraid almost. Blowing his breath out noisily, Quen turned to me. “I’m going to tell him we had dinner and talked about his security,” he finally said, his eyes holding a hint of pleading. “I’m also going to tell him that I was asking your opinion if he was secure on his own merits, and that you said he was, but that if the situation changed that you would . . .”
My heart thumped as he let his words trail off into expectation, waiting for me to finish his sentence and tell him I’d watch Trent when he couldn’t. That wasn’t even mentioning the little white lie. I didn’t know how I felt about that, and I searched Quen’s expression. The shadow-light coming from the lit-up building made him look older, his worry clear. Damn it all to hell. “That if the situation changed that I’d be able to assist in keeping the girls safe,” I said firmly, and Quen’s expression became stoic.
“Very well, Tal Sa’han,” he grumbled, and my eyebrows rose. Tal Sa’han? That was a new one. I would have asked him what it meant, but his voice had been mocking.
“Then let’s go,” I said, reaching for my bag. The little clutch bag felt too small as I got out, and my clothes were totally inappropriate for a crime scene. The cool mist touched my face, and the thump of Quen’s door surprised me. Dropping my eyes to the damp pavement, I shut my door as well.
I took a deep breath and lifted my chin, starting for the door, already propped open for the sporadic flow of people in and out. I couldn’t help but notice the opening was almost twice as wide as usual. I hated oversize doors—or rather, I hated the wheelchairs they alluded to. A sudden wish to be anywhere but here struck me. I had escaped dying from Rosewood syndrome. It had taken almost all my early life to do it and it shaped me in ways I was only now figuring out, but the reminder was bittersweet.
Quen met me stride for stride. “Are you okay?”
We had gained the paved walk, which artistically meandered to give the appearance of distance and interest. It just looked fake to me. “Fine,” I said, my mood growing worse. I didn’t want to be here—didn’t like the memories being stirred up. Someone was stealing Rosewood babies, and what followed from there was enough to make my nights sleepless.
Head down, I stepped over the news van’s cords, walking sideways to get through the door and flashing my ID to the I.S. guy. I think it was more Quen’s and my fancy dress that got us in than my ID. The officer clearly didn’t recognize me, but only someone who needed to be here would come dressed in formalwear. I’d have to remember that.
The cool night mist vanished, and I hesitated just inside the wide entryway, feeling Quen’s silent, solid presence behind me. A set of stairs led up, probably to nurses’ quarters; the kitchen was behind the stairway, down a short hallway. There were two living rooms, one to either side of the door. Both of them were full of people standing around, talking, but only one had the lights of the news crews. It was warm, even for me, and I didn’t like the excited tone of the newswoman asking the distraught mother how she felt now that her baby—thriving against all odds—had been stolen.
“What a slime,” I whispered with a surge of anger, and Quen cleared his throat in warning. Someone had pieced together that the Rosewood syndrome was actually an expression of too much demon enzyme and was “harvesting” demon blood while the babies still lived. I’d be dead, too, if Trent’s father hadn’t modified my mitochondria to supply the enzyme that blocked the lethal action of the first enzyme that actually invoked demon magic. It was a mouthful that basically meant he’d enabled me to survive being born a demon.
Quen’s hand cupped my elbow, and he gently pulled me out of some- one’s way. Numb, I looked for a familiar face—somewhere to start. My evening dress was garnering odd looks, but it also kept people away. That stupid newscaster was still interviewing the parents, and I.S. agents stood at the outskirts hoping to get some airtime. No one recognized me, thank God, and I felt guilty for being surrounded by so much grief—grief that my parents had endured and triumphed over. Damn it, I would not feel guilty for having survived.
“There he is,” Quen breathed in relief, and I followed his gaze to the back of the living room to the hallway running from the nurseries to the kitchen.
“And Felix,” I said, surprised to find Trent talking to the undead vampire. Or rather, he was talking to Nina, the young vampire that Felix currently liked doing his aboveground talking through. The young woman was looking thinner than the last time I’d seen her, better dressed and confident, but decidedly peaked, as if she’d been on too many amphetamines for the last four months. It was hard to see her behind the suave, collected undead vamp controlling her body, living through her for a few hours at a time.
It was about what I had expected. Serving as an undead master’s mouthpiece wasn’t safe for either party—the old vampire was reminded too strongly of what it was like to be alive and began to pine for it, and the young was given more power running through his or her mind and body to handle alone. It was a knife’s edge that only the most experienced attempted at this level, and I was starting to think that the relationship had passed the point where it could be ended safely.
Concerned, I bit my lip, wondering if the I.S. was questioning Trent about the abductions. But as I watched, I decided that though Trent had proved he could be calm even while being arrested for murder at his own wedding, he didn’t have the guarded air of someone being grilled for kidnapping. He was probably getting the real story, not the canned tripe they were feeding the reporters.