Detective Rankin stepped into sight behind them. Evans asked him something and Rankin shook his head. Wyatt and I started walking toward Micah and Nathaniel. They saw us and moved in our direction. Nathaniel did a long blink and then took Micah's hand, rather than having to be dragged along. I was already holding my hand out to them as if that would help close the distance between us. Micah took my hand, and that helped, but it wasn't enough. I kept his hand in mine and threw my other arm around Nathaniel's neck. He wrapped his free arm around my waist and we held on. I buried my face against the side of his neck and the scent of his skin, like warm vanilla. Micah wrapped his arms around us both, and I turned so that I could bury my face against both of them together. Micah smelled spicier than Nathaniel, like the difference between cinnamon and vanilla, both sweet, but in different ways.
It was Nathaniel who reached out and drew Ru in at my back. It was totally unexpected, because Ru wasn't part of our poly group. Power thrilled over my skin and the comfort of holding the other men changed to something more urgent: less romance and more lust. It was like that was the last ingredient we were missing. We were all about the completion of the act; it was our legacy through Jean-Claude's bloodline. There might be teasing in there, but it was only as foreplay. We delivered on what was promised. The four of us looked up as one, across the lobby at Rankin.
He looked more attractive than I'd remembered him, and I knew nothing had changed. Well, one thing had changed: He'd used magic to keep Nathaniel and Micah in the room with him. He'd used a spell or a natural ability, or something, to make them want to stay with him, to make them want to answer his questions when they both knew better. The edges of that power were still clinging to him, so that I noticed the lean muscles under his clothes and saw the black depths of his eyes shine for a second. I wasn't sure if the last part was real or part of the illusion, because that's what he was: He wasn't the reality of Jean-Claude and the rest of us. He was the tease, the lure, the promise of things, but he had no intention of coming across. He could make you want to talk to him, want to be with him, want to stay with him, when logic told you to run away. Rankin had figured out how to make what could have been just a great way to pick up people at a bar into something that compelled suspects to keep talking. It was impressive and completely illegal.
He stared across the lobby at us. We stared back. He knew we knew. He also knew we couldn't prove it. I couldn't go to his superiors and say I felt him working a spell, because it wasn't a spell. I was almost sure of that. Was it magic? Psychic ability? Both? I didn't know, and if I didn't know I couldn't explain it enough to get him in the trouble he deserved. We all stared at one another until Officer Evans asked Rankin if anything was wrong. He shook his head.
What are you? I thought, as if I expected him to answer me. He shook his head again and walked down the hallway with Evans following him. I didn't know what Rankin was, but I knew what he wasn't: human.
WE DECIDED TO go back to our hotel room to regroup. Ru stayed with us and Bram found us. He'd complained his way up the food chain that he needed to see his boss, and had been told the same thing: "Your boss is free to go, but his fiance is being questioned." We'd gotten as far as the hallway outside the door when my phone rang. It was Edward's ringtone. Nathaniel said, "What is it about this hallway and all the interruptions?" as I answered the phone.
I opened my mouth to tell Edward about Rankin, but he said, "Peter's doctor didn't seem certain about much except that he's healing faster than he should be."
"Can we see him? Or does he need to rest?" He sounded distracted and uncertain. It was so unlike him, but then this wasn't the job; this was his kid.
So I stuck to kid topics. "Becca is with Rufous's wife. Do you want us to bring her with us?"
"I don't really want her here, but if Dixie tells her, then Peter got hurt for nothing." He sounded just a little bit angry. I couldn't blame him.
I took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and that was enough for him to say, "What happened? Did you let the bitch get to our daughter?" Definitely angry and looking for a target.
"No, Becca heard enough at the pool before Peter carried Dixie away."
"So it was all for nothing," he said.
"No, Becca doesn't believe that you would cheat on her mother. She just flat doesn't believe it. I told her the truth, and she thinks that Dixie is crazy."
I heard his breath go out on the other end of the line. I think it was a relieved sound. "Good, one less thing to worry about." He tried to crawl his voice back up into his normal empty range, but he couldn't do it. I'd never heard so much uncontrolled emotion in his voice. I don't think I'd realized how well he controlled even the tone of his voice until that moment. Edward was all about control.
I heard voices on the other end of the phone. "Doctor's here again. Gotta go."
The phone call was over. I didn't question it, but as we headed for the parking lot, I realized I needed to talk to Marisol or Rufous about keeping Becca with them, and I needed to tell Becca that she was with them until we got back from the hospital. I shared all that with the men.
"I have the numbers for everyone in the wedding," Nathaniel said, "so I have Rufous's number, but not Marisol's."
"Better than I have," I said. "Can you let him know we're headed to the hospital? I'll call Becca."
Nathaniel stopped in the middle of calling Rufous. "I can stay here with Becca."
I shook my head at the same time Micah said, "No."
"I agree with Micah. The three of us are staying together, and away from Rankin." No one argued with me except Becca.
"Why can't I go to the hospital with you?"
"Because Ted needs to take care of Peter and your mom and know you're safely out of it."
"But why does he need you and the others? Is Nathaniel all right?"
"He's with me. I'm taking him with me to the hospital."
"To keep him away from the police?" she asked, and again her insight was a little too good for her age, but she'd been Ted's daughter since before she was six. I guess it was hard not to pick up a few things about the business.
"Something like that," I said.
"Maybe I can find Ellie and hang out with her?"
"You do that," I said. I got off the phone, rolling my eyes and feeling stressed.
"What's wrong?" Micah asked.
"I wasn't sold on this whole kid thing before, but dealing with Becca makes me think I'll never be ready for it."
Micah and Nathaniel hugged me at the same time, timing it so that their arms went around me just right so that it was cuddly and not awkward. There had been a learning curve on group hugs, but we'd aced the curve a while ago. "They don't pop out as almost twelve-year-olds, Anita," Micah said.
"I don't think anyone is ever ready for kids," Nathaniel said.
I pulled away from the group hug enough to look at him. "Other people seem sure."
"Nathaniel's right," Micah said. "I'm not rushing us, but I don't think there's ever a perfect time to have children."
I closed my eyes, sighed, and said, "Fine, I won't hold any of this against us."
Nathaniel kissed me, which made me open my eyes and look into his happy face. He was the one who wanted the baby the most. Micah had had a vasectomy years before I met him, so it wasn't going to be him who was the bio-dad. If it was just the two of us--well, three counting Jean-Claude--we'd have gone on to our happily ever after childless and content, but we were a foursome, or a three and one, or two couples, or . . . You do the poly math. And the part of our poly group smiling at me with his big lavender eyes wanted a child, badly. He wasn't twenty-five yet, but I was over thirty. The combination was pushing us to rush, in my opinion. I'd already voiced all my doubts to everyone out loud when we first started talking about babies. Today I'd keep my opinions to myself, because I wasn't up to another discussion about when we should take me off birth control and start trying, especially not today. With anyone but people in the core of
our poly group I added condoms to the birth control, just to be extra safe.
But baby issues could wait; we had more pressing issues: hospital and talking to Peter's doctor. And I hoped to have an opportunity to tell Edward and Bernardo about Detective Rankin's secret. How did I know it was a secret? Because there were no non-human police in America, not officially. That was one of the reasons that letting officers who contracted lycanthropy on the job keep their badges was such a big deal. If it worked, then maybe someday having lycanthropy first wouldn't keep you out of becoming a cop, or maybe even some of the vampires who had been forced off the force after becoming the undead could rejoin. I knew my friend Dead Dave, who owned and ran a bar of the same name, would have still loved to go back on the job. Witches and other practitioners of the mystical arts, like me, had only been allowed on the job in the last few years, and even that was on a person-by-person basis. No, whatever Rankin was, the majority of the officers he worked with didn't know he was anything but straight-up vanilla human. If he kept fucking with us, I'd find a way to prove otherwise. If he left us alone from this point on, I'd think about doing the same.
WE FOUND NICKY and Rodina before we went to the hospital, because no way was I leaving them and Rufous off talking to Olaf without knowing how the "talk" had gone. Nicky told me it had gone as well as could be expected. Rufous said, "That arrogant son of a bitch."
"I take it Otto wasn't impressed with the talk," I said.
"He isn't afraid of me; that's for damn sure. He respects Murdock more, even Morgan more, than he does me."
"I'm a shapeshifter--that's all that impressed him," Rodina said.
"Maybe, but Ted's threat is something Jeffries believes, and the rest of us . . . It's like he was laughing at us, as if he thinks he's untouchable." I sent Rufous back to his wife and Becca. He wanted to come with us, but Edward had called and asked Rufous to help take care of Becca, and that gave Rufous a way to save face. The rest of us headed for the hospital. It turned out that there wasn't going to be a beach wedding, at least not one with Peter standing at Edward's side. His mix of lycanthropy, like my own, seemed to be giving him superhuman healing abilities, but if the artery tore open again, he might bleed out before he could be gotten to an ER, so either the wedding was canceled, or Peter couldn't be there. None of us were looking forward to telling the bride, but Donna surprised me again. Her face might have been red and puffy from crying, and the makeup she'd been wearing wiped away hours ago, but a determined look came over her face. It reminded me of Peter and Becca's stubborn look. "Of course we can't go ahead with the wedding tomorrow as planned," she said in a very matter-of-fact tone.
They went into Peter's room together to tell him they'd just have a civil ceremony back home in New Mexico when he was well enough. The rest of us were leaving to get coffee and tea when the yelling started. Peter's voice: "I got stabbed so you could get married tomorrow! Don't you dare cancel it."
We heard a murmur of Donna's voice but couldn't make out what she said. "No, you aren't bringing everyone to my room. You are going to have a wedding on the beach like you planned, damn it!" Then his voice went lower, and then the rhythm of Edward's voice came through the door.
"If he finds us eavesdropping, will he be mad?" Ru asked.
We all looked at one another, and that included Bernardo. All of us looked guilty, like kids caught outside a teacher's door, or maybe kids overhearing their parents fight. Micah said, "Let's give them some time and space." He started walking toward the elevator.
"No," Nathaniel said, "I've spent too much time and energy on this wedding. If we're going to change things by tomorrow, I need to know as soon as possible. Donna isn't in any shape to make all the phone calls and face down the wedding coordinator, and neither is Dixie, if she's still in the wedding after what happened between her and Peter." Nathaniel's voice was rising as he talked. He wasn't yelling, but he was angry. He started pacing the hallway, waving his hands around as if he'd grab something from the air. It wasn't like him to display this kind of temper in public, or at all, really. The rest of us just watched. I, at least, wasn't sure what to do, except watch and let him get it out of his system. I realized for the first time that the wedding--this wedding and all he'd done to help pull it together--mattered to him far more than I'd realized, and a hell of a lot more than it did to me.