Tyburn was already slamming on his brakes. I was thrown forward before I could figure out what to hold on to. Olaf did a perfectly natural thing, grabbing me around the waist and upper body, tucking me in tighter to his body, because with his knees wedged into the back of the seat, he wasn't moving. He shared that stability with me, but I was suddenly in his arms, held tight against the front of his body. I felt the muscles in his arms flex as he held me safe, and the car slid sideways as Tyburn stopped trying for the brake and just tried to move our car out of the way of the other one like something out of an action movie. I'd thrown my arms around Olaf's neck, tucking my head into the bend of his neck like a cuddly version of a crash position.
He held me as the car began to spin, and I knew that he would do everything he could to keep me safe. I knew he would shield me with his own body, and the strength that would have scared me under other circumstances now became the ultimate comfort. I knew that all that energy and strength was now aimed at keeping me safe. The difference between prince and beast is often just a matter of how a man uses his strength and rage. Aimed well, it is a shelter that you can hide behind no matter how great the storm. Turned against you, it makes shelter into a trap. I prayed that Tyburn could control the car, and I held on to Olaf, my face pressed into the warmth of his neck so that I was blind to what was actually happening.
The car stopped moving and there was that frozen moment as if reality took a breath, and then sound came back and I raised my face from the bend of Olaf's neck to see the tall bushes that were pressing against the car window, which meant we weren't on the road anymore, but we weren't in the water, so it was good.
"That was some serious defensive driving, Tyburn," Edward said. I glanced his way and had to turn my body enough to see that he had his arm straight out behind Olaf's arm, like an extra iron bar keeping me safe.
I blinked past Olaf's head and realized that we were on the opposite side of the road, pointed back the way we'd come. Jesus. The adrenaline spiked through my body like fine champagne.
"Sorry about that, everyone, but especially you, Blake. Are you okay?" Tyburn asked.
"Yeah, I'm fine." I realized weirdly that it was true. I was still curled in Olaf's lap with his arms around me, but I didn't push away, because I knew that his arms had held me in place, kept me safe. I couldn't be angry about that. I looked at Olaf, our faces so close, kissing close. "Thanks to Ol . . . Otto holding me tight."
"You are not as afraid as you were earlier, why?" Olaf asked.
"One, I'm good when the emergency finally happens. Two, I knew you would keep me safe, even if it meant shielding me with your own body. I knew you would do it."
"You trusted me to keep you safe," he said.
"Yes," I said, still staring into the swimming blackness of his glasses, so that it was like talking to the tiny reflection of myself that I saw in them.
His beast flared in a flash of heat that chased down my skin in goose bumps. It stole my breath away and made my heartbeat jump. I tightened my arms around his neck, my body wriggling closer to his before I could stop myself. I didn't understand it for a second, and then I saw, felt, the amber eyes of my lion in my head. My lioness raised her head and took a big breath of all that power--the power that had just finished keeping us safe. I couldn't argue that he was strong enough to do whatever we needed, but after powerful and strong, my lioness and I had different things on our lists for potential mates. Very different things.
I smelled heat, ground baked under a sun so hot I could feel it beating against my skin. His lion didn't smell of animal, but of grass burned crisp in the sunlight like the world was a giant oven baking everything to death. I drank in the scent of him with my face pressed to the side of his neck, as his skin ran fever hot with the lion inside him. It steadied me to smell his beast, helped my lioness climb into control and chase back my human fears. We were safe, the danger was over. Why hold on to it, when we had much better things to do? My lioness was very clear on what, or rather who, she wanted to do next. That helped me climb back into my head before Edward said, "Anita, are you all right?"
"I am now," I said, and I drew back from basically snuffing the side of Olaf's neck, and unwrapped the rest of me from him. I half expected him to fight to keep me close, but he didn't. In fact he said, "I think my control is not as perfect as I had hoped. I think you cannot sit on my lap and me hold human form."
"So I can sit on Bernardo's lap without you threatening him?" I asked.
"Yes." Olaf lowered his dark glasses just enough for me to see that his eyes were a bright, inhuman orange. I stared into the eyes of his beast from inches away, and my lioness liked it. I just started crawling off of his lap, nearly falling, except that Edward caught me, or rather his legs were in the way of me falling.
"The edges of your auras merged for a second," Dalton said from the front seat.
I clambered over Edward's lap to Bernardo's, because we needed as much room between my beast and Olaf's as the car would allow. I moved fast enough and awkwardly enough that Bernardo had to catch me or I'd have fallen into the door.
"Just to be clear between us, Otto. You're okay with Anita finishing the drive with me?" Bernardo asked.
Olaf nodded, his sunglasses safely back in place so that no one else in the car got the glimpse of those burning-bright eyes that he'd shared with me. I hoped they had faded back to his normal human darkness, but my skin was still running with goose bumps, so I doubted it.
"Okay," Bernardo said, and suddenly the arms that had been holding me almost gingerly since they saved me from taking a header into the door curled around me. He actually picked me up a little bit and moved me to a more comfortable position on his lap. I didn't fight it like I had before. In fact, I put my arms around his neck and shoulders without being prompted or having to hold on for dear life as the car spun out of control. I held on and let him hold me close, and it wasn't romantic for me. It was just safer.
"If I turn the car around, is everyone ready to keep going?" Tyburn asked.
Everyone said yes. I said, "If you promise that the rest of the drive will be boring as hell, yes."
He chuckled. "I will do my best to bore the hell out of you, Marshal."
"Then, sure, let's go," I said in a voice full of false cheer.
Tyburn wisely just accepted it and pulled carefully back out onto the road. He turned into the road by a high school that proudly proclaimed Home of the Sugarloaf Sharks on a big sign by the road.
"Why did your auras merge like that?" Dalton asked.
"I'll just assume you're aware that I carry lycanthropy," I said.
"But you don't shift," she said.
"No, I don't, but one of the strains of lycanthropy I carry is lion."
"And I am a werelion now," Olaf said.
"I still don't understand why that should make your auras merge."
"My lioness reacted to his lion," I said.
"Does your lioness react to every werelion you meet?" she asked.
"No," I said. I looked across the car at Olaf. He looked back at me. I'd admitted to myself that the new facial hair looked good on him, but now I noticed the black shadows on his head, as if he could have a five-o'clock shadow somewhere besides his face. I wondered if he'd started shaving his head after he started going bald, or before.
A hand appeared in my line of vision so that it was all I could see. I blinked and looked down the arm to realize it was Edward's hand. I looked into his face. "Tell me again that you're fine," he said.
"Why would your lioness react to Marshal Jeffries's lion more than to other werelions?" Dalton asked. She was fucking relentless.
"I'm not sure," I said, and I was half lying. I didn't know exactly why, but I had an idea. It just wasn't one I was willing to share with everyone. I had a leopard to call in Nathaniel, and a wolf to call, more tigers to call than you could shake a stick at, but I had three inner beasts without a corresponding moitie bete: hyena, rat, and lion
As I fought the urge to look across the car at Olaf, I was pretty sure that my lioness had found something she liked, a lot. But this she couldn't have. No, nope, just no.
WHEN WE GOT up to speed, admittedly it felt like a lower speed than earlier. I think the near wreck had made Tyburn rethink his driving. I know it had made me determined to speak up if I felt he was driving too fast. Sometimes you need to embrace the suck and just go along for the ride, but sometimes you need to tell whoever is making your life suck to stop being a dick and do better. Tyburn was now on my you-almost-killed-me-so-do-better-or-let-me-drive list.
"Why would you both having lions make your auras merge? It's mostly something I see in couples, but with them it's more consistent. It doesn't come and go."
Edward saved us from the awkward psychic moment. "Before all the excitement, hadn't you just asked Anita how she kept Rankin from getting ahold of her mind and heart?"
"We should stick to asking the things we got in the car to ask, Dalton," Tyburn said.
"Yes, sir," she said. She had to twist more in her seat to see me now, because I was almost directly behind her. She finally turned around to peer at me on the window side. "So how did you keep Rankin from getting his hooks in you?"
"You said that a broken heart may have opened you to him. I didn't have anything like that for him to use. He couldn't offer me anything that I didn't already have in my life. I think if you have no needs that Rankin can tap into, then you're safe."
"Everyone has needs or wants, Marshal," Tyburn said.
"I think my biggest need right now is more alone time. I've got so many amazing people in my life right now that Rankin offering himself to me as a lover was a turnoff, not a turn-on."
Dalton laughed. "Oh, that must have hurt his ego. He thinks he is God's gift to womankind."
"Not just womankind," Edward said.
I glanced at him. "Something you haven't told us?" I smiled when I said it, because he was one of the most solidly heterosexual people I'd ever met.
"He rolled Nathaniel's mind, Anita. That means he offered him something he wanted, or needed."
"Oh," I said, and frowned. He was right. I hadn't had time to ask Nathaniel what Rankin had offered him, but it had to be more than just another male lover, because he had those. What else could Rankin have offered him? He'd tried to offer me a type of sex I wasn't getting, but I was completely happy with the variety in my life, which might mean that Nathaniel wasn't. Crap. If I got a breather from crime-busting and monster-hunting, we needed to have a serious talk.
"Sorry I mentioned it," Edward said, and that made me look at him. "We don't have time for you to think that hard about your love life."
"You brought it up."
"I said I was sorry."
"Ladies and gents," Tyburn said, "back to the problem at hand. Which is that I have a senior detective with a career of over twenty years who has probably been using undisclosed psychic abilities to interrogate suspects."
"If you out him as psychic, then every case he's worked on comes into question," Edward said.
"I know that Nathaniel is innocent of this abduction and what we saw just now, but Rankin was doing his best to make him confess to it. Nathaniel is not a lightweight psychically, not like a straight human or even a normal shapeshifter, so if Rankin aimed his mojo at regular people, then they'd confess to anything."
"I don't think it's that bad," Dalton said. "I think the suspect would have to be romantically attracted to men, and like you said, Marshal, Rankin would have to be able to offer something they wanted or needed. I think for a lot of criminals, romance, or even sex, wouldn't be enough."