"What is it?" Nathaniel asked.
"If you don't feel love or friendship, can you be lonely?"
He raised eyebrows at me. "I don't know. Why do you ask?"
"We've all just brushed up against the Mother of all Vampires, and she's more like the Mother of All Sociopaths. Human beings are rarely pure sociopaths. It's more like they're missing a piece here and there. True, pure sociopathy is really pretty rare, but Mommy Dearest qualifies, I think."
"It doesn't matter if she's lonely," Caleb said.
I glanced back at him. His brown eyes were very large, and underneath his fading tan he was pale. I sniffed the air before I could think, and the car was a playground of scents; the sweet musk of wolf, the clean vanilla of Nathaniel, and Caleb. Caleb smelled . . . young. I wasn't sure how to explain it but it was as if I could smell how tender his meat would be, how fresh his blood. He smelled clean, the scent of some lightly perfumed soap coated his skin, but underneath was another scent. Bitter and sweet all at the same time, the way blood is salty and sweet at the same time.
I turned as far as the seat belt would allow and said, "You smell good, Caleb, all tender and scared."
He was the true predator, not me, but the look he flashed me was all prey--huge eyes, face soft, lips opened just a breath. I watched his pulse beat against the skin of his neck.
I had an urge to crawl into the backseat and run my tongue over that frantic pulse, set teeth into that tender flesh, and set that pulse point free.
I had this image of Caleb's pulse like a piece of hard candy that would come free all in one piece and be sucked and rolled around in my mouth. I knew it wasn't like that. I knew that if I bit down the pulse would be destroyed, that it would die in a spill of red blood, but the candy imagery stayed with me, and even the thought of blood spraying in my mouth didn't seem terrible.
I closed my eyes so I couldn't see Caleb's neck beating and concentrated on my own breathing. But with every breath I drew in more of that bitter sweetness, the taste of fear. I could almost taste his flesh in my mouth.
"What's wrong with me?" I asked that out loud. "I want to tear Caleb's pulse out of his throat. It's too early for Jean-Claude to be awake. Besides I don't usually want blood. Or not only blood."
"It's close to full moon," Nathaniel said. "It's one of the reasons Jason lost enough control to change all over your seats."
I opened my eyes, turned my face to look at him, and away from Caleb's fear. "Belle tried to get me to feed off Caleb, but she couldn't. So why suddenly does he smell tasty?"
Nathaniel had finally found another exit back onto 44. He eased in behind a large yellow car that needed a major paint job, or maybe was in the middle of getting one, because half of it was covered in gray primer. I caught movement in the rearview mirror. It was the blue Jeep. It was at the end of the narrow street with cars on either side. It had.just cleared the corner, and seen us, and now it was hanging back, hoping, I think, that we hadn't seen it.
"Shit," I said.
"What?" Nathaniel asked.
"That damned Jeep is at the end of the street. Nobody look back." Everyone stopped themselves in mid-motion except for Jason. He hadn't even tried to look back, maybe wolf necks didn't work that way, or maybe he was staring at other things. I realized that he was looking at Caleb.
I looked at that huge shaggy head. "Are you thinking about eating Caleb?"
He turned and gave me the full force of that pale green gaze. People say that dogs are descended from wolves, but there are moments when I doubt that. There was nothing friendly, or sympathetic, or even remotely tame in those eyes. He was thinking about food. He met my gaze because he knew I'd caught him thinking about eating someone that was under my protection, then he turned back to gaze at Caleb, and think of meat. Dogs never look at people and think food;hell, they don't even look at other dogs and think that. Wolves do. The fact that there is no recorded account of a North American wolf attacking a human being for food has always amazed me. You look into their eyes, and you know that there is no one home that you can talk to.
I knew that lycanthropes want fresh meat when they first change shape. New lycanthropes are deadly, but Jason wasn't new anymore, and he could control himself. I knew that, but I still didn't like the way he was looking at Caleb, and I liked even less that he was projecting his need onto me.
"What do you want me to do about the Jeep?" Nathaniel asked.
I jerked my attention back to Nathaniel and away from the hunger. It was an effort to think past it, but if the Jeep was full of bad guys, then I needed to be concentrating on them, not some metaphysical craving.
"Hell, I don't know. I don't get followed that much. Usually people just try and kill me."
"I have to either pull out onto the highway, or turn the other way. Just sitting here, they're going to know we saw them."
He had a point, a good one. "Highway."
He moved us forward, angling for the ramp. "Once we're on it, where are we going?"
"The Circus, I think."
"Do we want to lead the bad guys there?" Nathaniel asked.
"Jason said it earlier, most people know where the Master of the City bunks during the day. Besides, the wererats are still there, and most of them are ex-mercenaries, or something in that ballpark. I think I'm going to call ahead and ask Bobby Lee's opinion."
"Opinion about what?" Caleb asked, from the backseat. His eyes were still too wide, and he still smelled of fear, but he wasn't looking at the wolf on the seat beside him. Whatever he was afraid of wasn't something that close.
"About whether we catch them, or turn around and try to follow them."
"Catch them?" Caleb said, "Catch them how?"
"Not sure, but I know that I know a lot more about catching bad guys than about following people to see where they lead me. I'm not a detective, Caleb, not really. I can spot a clue if it bites me on the ass, and give an opinion about monster-related crime, but at heart I'm in a more direct line of work than detective."
He looked puzzled.
"I'm an executioner, Caleb, I kill things."
"Sometimes you have to track things in order to kill them," Nathaniel said.
I looked at him, that serious profile, his eyes searching the traffic, his hands on the wheel at exactly two and ten. He hadn't had his license a year, yet. If I hadn't insisted, I'm not sure he'd have ever had one.
"True, but I don't want to kill them, I want to question them. I want to know why they're following us."
"I don't think they are," Nathaniel said.
"What?" I asked.
"The blue Jeep didn't follow us onto the highway."
"Knew we spotted them, maybe."
"Or like everyone else knows where the Master sleeps. So it's not hard to find his girlfriend," Nathaniel said, voice quiet, eyes on the road. But he knew I hated being the Master's girlfriend, or at least being called that. Truthfully, he had a point. If you knew who someone was dating and where they lived, eventually, you could locate them again. I hated being predictable.
Jason's great shaggy head came around my seat and rubbed against my shoulder, the ruff of his face tickling along my cheek. I reached up and petted that great head without thinking, the way I would have done if he'd been a dog. The moment I touched him, the hunger thrilled through me from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. The hair on my body stood to attention, and it felt like something was trying to crawl up the back of my skull, because the nape of my neck was prickling so badly.
The wolf and I turned as one to stare at Caleb. If my eyes could have bled to wolf, they'd have done it then.
Caleb looked terrified. I think if he'd just stayed still we'd have been okay, but he didn't. He unfolded his arms from his nearly bare chest and eased across the seat.
Jason growled, and I was out of my seat, on the floorboards in the back, before I had a chance to think, unseatbelted in a speeding car, bad idea. I think that would have put me back in my own head space, but Caleb ran. He spilled over the backseat, and Jason and I spilled after him. It was like being water, following the natural course.
We didn't pin Caleb, so much as kneel and sit around him. Caleb was pressed tight in the corner of the cargo area, his hands tight against his chest. He tried to take up as little space as possible. I think Caleb knew that touching either of us would be bad. Jason sat on his haunches, flashing fangs and letting the trickle of growl slide out. You didn't need words to know what it meant, don't move, don't f**king move.Caleb didn't move.