"She was born with a snake lock. Someone in the hospital snapped a picture of the baby. It's already on the Internet: 'Medusa Baby Born in Florida Hospital.'"
"Micah told me about the baby. I'm sorry that everyone is so upset about it. How are Christy and Andy doing?" I asked.
"You don't really care about them, about my family."
"Micah Callahan, my fiance, has spent a lot of time here, trying to help your family. He cares," I said.
"Perhaps Callahan does care."
He glanced down at the sleeping woman, rubbing his hand against her shoulder. "I didn't hurt Bettina Gonzales, and I sure as hell didn't decide to dump her where other police would find her like that. I did help destroy evidence after the fact, though."
"But you never touched the first victim?" Tyburn asked.
"I swear to you that I didn't know what had happened until she was already dead. Then they called me in to help clean up the mess."
"Who's 'they'?" Tyburn asked.
Rankin shook his head, still leaning against the back of the couch so that it looked like he was rubbing his head against the worn upholstery. "Some of the family arrived early for the ceremony, but he got out and he sort of ate all the other cursed ones in the family but me. He still thinks he can cure us, but what he's become, there's no cure for that and there's no saving what he did to the others. You'll see soon enough."
"We can't let you kill these women, Terry."
"I don't think you're going to let me do anything. I think we're just going to do it."
"I know you're a siren, and a powerful psychic, Terry," I said.
"Not psychic, Anita, magic. I don't know where the snakes came from, but we used to be sirens and sometimes one of us will get thrown back and have the voice again, but that's not my only gift. I know what people want, their deepest desire. Take Stephanie here and her friend." He stroked her hair again. "She wants to feel safe the way her father made her feel before he divorced her mother. Valerie wants to sow some wild oats before she settles down with her boring boyfriend. She let us tie her up with a smile on her face, because bondage and sex with multiple men are on her bucket list. She'll have a great time until he starts to cut her up, and then even my magic can't keep her from screaming."
"Tell us where she is, Terry," Tyburn said.
"Anita's partners will find her."
"Is Stephanie drugged?"
"You're not a vampire, and that's the only other thing I know that can wipe memories and make people do things they wouldn't normally do," I said.
"My family is cursed, goes all the way back to ancient Greece. One of my ancestors pissed off a god--at least that's the story--and they were forced to turn into monsters. We were lucky, because we could be human part of the time, but the monster part craved killing and eating fresh meat."
"Doesn't sound that different from being a shapeshifter," I said.
"You think that now; wait until you see it."
"Like you said, Terry, I've already seen your cousin."
"Oh, it gets much more interesting than that."
"Let's go get Valerie and make sure she's safe," Tyburn said.
"Sorry, Captain, but I'm going to finally tell the whole truth, and then you'll have to rescue her from him."
"What is the truth, Terry?" he asked.
"My mother wanted to make sure her children wouldn't be cursed, so she went to Europe to find a supernatural father that she thought would help end the curse. Do you know what a love-talker is, Anita?"
"It's a solitary type of Fey that seduces women and children with music and charm and then drowns them."
"I love that you know that."
"It's my job to know."
"I suppose it is, but it's a rare Fey."
"It's also considered Unseelie court, which means they can't immigrate to the United States, and even with your mother being a U.S. citizen, if they'd known what your father was, they'd have made her leave the country."
"And that's why I could never tell anyone what I was, or what dear old Dad was."
"I've felt your power inside my own head, and I'm seeing what you're doing to Stephanie now; that's not right, and sure as hell not legal."
"No, it isn't; it goes under the magical malfeasance laws. I'd be lucky to be deported; I'd probably just be executed under the supernatural endangerment acts."
"Maybe," I said. "Honestly, Fey are harder to fit into our laws here, which is one of the reasons that we don't let them in the country much."
He petted the brunette's long hair where it lay across his lap. "It is evil, what I can do. Tell Angela I'm sorry for everything I did to her. I couldn't risk her using her abilities to figure out what I was, what we all are. I didn't want to kill her, so this was the compromise with my relatives."
"Using mind control on her is rape by magical means," Tyburn said.
"I know, I know. I don't have any excuse for it. I was saving her life, but there had to be other ways I could have done that. But I have the ability to see into the deepest desires of people. It's so easy to manipulate them if you can offer them their secret wants. And, God, I am so sorry about what happened with Forrester's son and the other bridesmaid."
"What are you talking about?" I asked.
"I just meant to distract you all, but I pushed at the woman's deepest, darkest desires and didn't understand that she has a . . . crush on Peter Parnell."
"What? Dixie has known him from birth; she babysat him."
"Yes, but something in the boy's background came to light about him liking rough sex is what I got from her memory, and that's her dark, secret desire, to have a man throw her over his shoulder and have his rough way with her. How was I to know that the kid would actually throw her over his shoulder? But I did not mean to almost get him killed. I just didn't understand how deep her emotions were running."
"Even if you know their secrets, you're not supposed to use that against them," I said.
"You think your fiances are monsters, but you don't know what monster means yet, Anita. I looked online on the website for the club and the Coalition, and both of them are still handsome in whatever form they take. Nathaniel is still beautiful as a big cat. He's always been beautiful, even as a child."
It took me a second to realize what he'd said. "That's the second time you've hinted about Nathaniel. How do you know what he looked like as a child?"
He looked past me to Tyburn. "This is part of what I don't want anyone to know. Love-talkers drown women and children; we seduce both; it's in my genes."
"Are you saying . . ." Tyburn couldn't finish the sentence.
"I swear to you that I have never touched a child inappropriate
ly. I had convinced myself that I found a safe way to get the urge out by watching videos."
"God, Terry." Tyburn sounded ill. I didn't feel much better.
"You know how images and video on the Internet never really go away; they just float out there forever?"
"Is that a rhetorical question?" I asked.
"Maybe, but I found a few older videos that were my favorites. I thought they were my dirty little secret and I could just pretend it wasn't real. Then suddenly I'm meeting my favorite fantasy in person, except he's all grown-up. Those eyes--you can't change those eyes. I thought they must have colored his eyes for the film, because no one has violet-colored eyes, not in real life."
I was suddenly cold. The room was still over ninety degrees, and the breeze wasn't helping that much, but I still felt cold.
"They didn't use his real name, or even the name he uses on stage at the club, so I didn't connect your Nathaniel with that little boy. It was when he showed up with his hair cut short that I realized that it was the same . . . person. I had convinced myself that those videos didn't hurt anybody. I think I thought of them as movies, made up, not real children like my son. I love him and I would never hurt him. I don't look at him with lust in my heart, thank God. It's like a normal father having a daughter. You don't lust after your own kids. I've never touched a child in real life, never. I would never."
"But you watched the videos," I said, and my voice didn't sound like me.
He nodded. "I could lie to myself that no one got hurt, that somehow it was special effects or a trick, until I met your fiance face-to-face. I thought it was just a coincidence until I ran his name and got his background; then I realized it was him all grown-up, and for the first time I wanted something I couldn't have. I wanted him to be evil. I wanted him to be a monster that preyed on children and women and whored them out, abused them, the way he'd been abused, but he wasn't like that. He isn't like that. He's remarkable for his background, so healthy, so happy, so real."
"That's why you tried to frame him for the crimes."
"I needed a fall guy, and what better way to get rid of my pathological crush than by making him the bad guy. I'm sorry for that, sorry that I was one of the adults that watched his films and helped exploit him. Exploit, such a clean word, a nice word for what it actually means."