We were almost back to the turnoff to the wharf when Andy startled awake. He looked at Bram and at me and he didn't know where he was, or remember how he'd gotten here. "Who are you? Why am I here? No! No! Let me out!"
He reached past me for the door handle; I pushed his hand away from it. He seemed to think we'd kidnapped him. He lashed out with big fists, but we were trained, he wasn't, and he was drunk; no one is good drunk. Bram pinned his arm and I got the other arm in an elbow lock, putting just enough pressure to make him tap out and stop fighting. I felt the skin change texture and had time to let go of his arm, and then it was a nest of snakes that just happened to come out of his shirtsleeve. The pictures hadn't done it justice. I was sitting next to a bouquet of green-scaled, hissing, fang-baring snakes. I went from zero to terrified. Even if you like snakes, you don't want surprise snakes that close to you. I screamed. Micah yelled, "Anita!"
"I will kill you!" Andy screamed. "I will kill you all!"
Some of the heads were hissing in different directions like they were covering us all. Two of them reared back to strike at me, and I punched Andy in the face from inches away with as much force as I'd used against anyone in a long time.
He slumped forward, unconscious, and the snakes vanished into just his arm again. "Fuck," Bram said softly. I don't think I'd ever heard him use that word before.
"Did anyone get bit?" Micah asked.
"No. I mean, not me," I said.
"I'm good," Bram said.
"Is Andy alive?" Micah asked.
I looked at the unconscious man and was suddenly afraid for a different reason. I started searching for the big pulse in his neck. Nicky said, "I can hear his heart; he's still alive."
"Is his neck broken?" Micah asked.
I stopped fishing for a pulse and said, "I didn't hit him that hard."
"You hit him pretty hard."
"It was a good punch," Bram said.
"He startled me," I said.
"He startled us all," Bernardo said. He glanced in the rearview mirror. The rest of us looked at the unconscious man.
"Did I really hit him hard enough to worry about spinal injuries?"
"If he was human, you'd have snapped his neck," Nicky said.
"I didn't mean to do that."
"We need to find more humans for you to work out with, so you can modify your strength better," Bram said.
I stared at the slumped man between us. "Is their kind of lycanthrope harder to hurt, just like us?"
"Not just like us, but, yes, they're tougher than human-normal," Micah said.
"Good to know," I said.
Andy groaned and moved enough to let us know everything still worked. I was so relieved that I was almost nauseous. I hadn't meant to hurt him, just to protect us. Andy didn't wake up or come to, though, which was probably just as well. Bram and Nicky carried him on board the boat after we'd stowed all our gear. Roberto--the boat driver, captain, or whatever--said, "Thanks for getting Andy, Mr. Callahan."
"He changed in the car. If he'd done that at the bar, people could have gotten hurt."
"There were kids in the restaurant," I said.
Roberto looked at the unconscious man. "Andy's burned his bridges with all of us, except for Christy. She still thinks he's going to sober up and be a great dad."
"Loving an addict won't fix them," Bernardo said.
"I know that and you know that," Roberto said, "but she's his wife and about to have his kid. I guess she's got to have hope."
"Hope is a lying bitch sometimes," I said.
"Isn't that the truth," Roberto said and started easing us away from the dock. I'd have enjoyed being out on the blue, green, turquoise sea more before I had been scared shitless by a face full of snakes and nearly broken a man's neck with one punch. Micah pulled me into his lap where he sat in one of the three chairs.
I looked where he pointed, and there they were, my first-ever wild dolphins. They rolled out of the water in a line like the humps of a sea serpent. I smiled because . . . dolphins! They leapt from the water and my heart leapt with them, because--wild dolphins!
I glanced back at the small cabin where we'd put the still unconscious Andy, and then I went back to watching the dolphins, because there was nothing more I could do for Andy, but maybe if I looked out at the ocean, felt the spray on my skin and Micah's arms around me, and watched dolphins ride the waves, just maybe I could do something for me.
THERE WERE TWO burly guys that looked a lot like Andy on the dock when we got to Kirke. They turned out to be his cousins. Christy had guilted them into just meeting us at the dock and bringing her husband home to her. They thanked us for bringing him back, but not like they were happy to see him. Who could blame them?
I texted Nathaniel that we were on the island. His reply text was, "At the pool enjoying our vacation. Have room keys. I love you both." It was a very dry message for him. I glanced at Micah. "I think our shared boy is still pissed at us."
"Upset. If he was still pissed he wouldn't have added the I love you both," Micah said.
"Trouble in paradise?" Bernardo asked.
"Nathaniel is still upset, but he has the room keys at the pool."
"Where his text says he's enjoying our vacation," Micah said dryly.
"That sounds like a girlfriend text," Bernardo said.
"How would you know what boyfriend texts sound like?" I asked, smiling up at him.
He bowed his head. "Good point--I've only dated women. Are you telling me that it's not that different dating men or women?"
"Everyone is broken," Nicky said.
Bernardo looked at him. "Are you saying you've dated both?"
"I had a misspent youth," Nicky said with an utterly flat delivery.
"Am I the only one here that's never dated same sex?"
"I didn't date, I hooked up, but yeah."
Bernardo looked at all of us and then said, "When I met Anita she was like the untouchable virgin and I was the man whore. When did I become the more conservative one?"
I laughed at the dismay on his face, and the men joined me. "Trust me, Bernardo, I never planned on being wilder than you."
"So, you're all telling me, honestly, that it doesn't matter that much whether you're dating men or women? Really?"
"Bitches be crazy, and men are stupid; it's all hard," I said.
"What she said," Nicky said.
Micah just nodded.
Bernardo laughed. "I keep hearing about the women in your life, Anita, but I'm not going to believe it until I see for myself."
"You are never going to see me making out with our girlfriends, Bernardo. Fantasize on your own time."
He blushed, which I hadn't thought possible. "I didn't mean it that way."
"Aww, you really didn't." I punched him lightly in the arm. "We really are friends now."
He laughed again. "Do not put me in the friend box."
I grinned at him. "Would it be a first for you?"
He nodded, the laughter fading to a really nice grin, not the one he must practice in the mirror every morning, not the one that melted strange women into puddles of desire, but just a grin with no agenda attached. I felt privileged to see Bernardo when he wasn't posing.
Nicky offered to stay in the lobby with the bags while we got the keys, but I said, "If Nathaniel is really upset, it could take a while."
"I'm good. Go do what you need to do," he said. I knew that part of what made Nicky so easygoing in the relationship was that he was my Bride. My happiness, my peace of mind, were truly more important than his own, but it was nice to have at least one person in my life who was low maintenance, instead of high. I wanted to kiss him good-bye to show how much I appreciated it, but he shook his head. "I'm working."
I nodded and walked hand in hand with Micah off toward the pool. Bram went ahead of us, opening the side door that led back outside through a wall that was mostly glass. "If we were looking for Nathaniel last trip, he was usually at the pool," he said.