Serpentine (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 26) - Page 77

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TYBURN PULLED OUT into the small cross street where police and emergency vehicles had blocked traffic. It took some maneuvering, but once we were out of the mess, Tyburn picked up speed, weaving through the small streets. I'd have preferred fewer stops and starts and less weaving through traffic since I was perched on Olaf's lap and couldn't fit a seat belt around both of us. Dalton seemed perfectly good with how he was driving from the passenger seat, where she rode shotgun, but then she was buckled into her seat. The four of us filled up the backseat of the car. We'd all have preferred for Olaf to ride in the middle so he'd be pinned, but he was too big to sit comfortably there. I wouldn't have given a damn about his physical comfort, but sitting him directly behind the driver meant that Tyburn could not see to drive. What I did give a damn about, what bothered me more than anything, was that I couldn't wear a seat belt. Since my mother died because she hadn't been wearing her seat belt and was thrown through a windshield, I was a serious stickler about wearing one myself. I usually wouldn't even start driving a car unless everyone had their seat belts on, and yet here I was sitting in the lap of the last man on earth I wanted to touch, and not wearing a seat belt. This day had so much suck on it.

Edward was physically the smallest, next to me, so he was in the middle--pressed hip to thigh with Olaf and the same with Bernardo on the other side. I didn't usually think of Edward as small, but wedged between them like that, he seemed farther away from six feet than usual. I had to sit across Olaf's lap with my back to the door because his knees were wedged into the back of the driver's seat. Tyburn was the second tallest person in the car, so his seat was back accordingly, which meant that Olaf was wedged into place like a long-legged sardine. It also meant that my legs trailed in front of Edward's, because they had to go somewhere. If I'd stretched my legs out like I was on a couch, my legs would have trailed over all three of their laps. You'd think a man as big as Tyburn would have a bigger car. I wondered if he'd ever had to sit in his own backseat.

"Everyone comfortable?" he asked as he put the car in gear.

"You're kidding, right?" I said.

He gave a little chuckle. Maybe he had been in the backseat. "Forget I asked."

My pulse was trying to push its way out of the side of my neck. I could keep my breath sort of even but couldn't seem to slow my heart rate, which spiked every time Tyburn proved that he had taken and probably taught a few defensive-driving courses. My fear of riding in cars without a seat belt was not an irrational fear; they improved your chances of surviving a crash, damn it. I just didn't have the confidence in Olaf's lap being as safety tested as the car seats. It didn't help that I was perched across his thighs as if there wasn't more secure lap closer to his body.

Olaf whispered, "You are afraid, why? I have done nothing." His hands were very carefully at his sides because I'd glared at him when he'd tried to put them where they'd normally go when someone is sitting on your lap, which is around the person sitting on you. It's not even necessarily for cuddling; it's just a more comfortable place to rest your hands.

I swallowed past my pulse and spoke low, but didn't bother to whisper. "I can't wear my seat belt sitting like this."

"I had forgotten how strongly you feel about wearing them. You are actually afraid simply from not being fastened into the car."

"Yes," I said, and hated that the one word was breathy with the edge of panic I was fighting.

"I had not anticipated how afraid you would be," he said, voice low and careful.

"Yeah, me either."

He whispered, breath warm against the side of my face, "Fear makes it harder to control my lion."

I turned and looked at him from inches away, both of us in sunglasses helping make it a little less intimate than it could have been. "Your fear, or mine?" I didn't whisper.

He frowned. "I am not afraid of you," and he didn't whisper either.

"Your oversight," I said, and didn't fight the little smile that I got sometimes when it was more threat than humor.

"Do you two need some privacy?" Tyburn asked.

"No, but I'd love to know what was so important that I'm risking life and limb without a seat belt in a car, Captain."

Tyburn and Dalton exchanged a long look as he pulled out onto U.S. 1, which I learned was the only main route to pull out onto. Under other circumstances the long look might have been romantic, but I thought it was more Where the fuck do we start? than Hey, baby.

"It's complicated," Tyburn said with a laugh. He put the pedal to the metal as soon as he could, and suddenly I was worrying about speed and the fact that there wasn't much on either side of the road except water--ocean on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other--but either way, I didn't want to go into the water in a car. Did I mention I almost drowned in a diving accident once? So, yeah, I'm phobic of water, too. Today was just turning out to be full of some of my least favorite things. When I'd been safely buckled into a seat on the drive here, I'd been able to admire the view. Water that looked like melted turquoise and sapphires was pretty amazing, but now it was just one more possible disaster waiting to get me. Phobias aren't about logic; they're about fear.

I didn't even care that I sounded cranky as I said, "We figured it was complicated or you wouldn't have packed us into the car for a little cloak-and-dagger."

"Captain Tyburn, Officer Dalton, the drive won't last forever, so whatever you need to say to us, we need to get started," Edward said, and he sounded much more diplomatic than I did. I wondered if he'd sound as even-keeled if he was the one sitting on Olaf's lap.

Tyburn said, "Rankin is one of my best people. He closes more cases and gets more confessions than any interrogator I've ever met."

I started to say something about Rankin's interrogation techniques, but Edward touched my leg and shook his head. Let the man talk, he was saying, so I stayed quiet and let the man talk.

"He had the same sterling reputation in Los Angeles, where he first became a cop. He left there for Arizona, wanted a place with a yard that he could afford in a nice neighborhood, and on a cop's salary that's hard in L.A., so I'm told. He continued to do impeccable work in Phoenix. I was shocked that a detective with his rep wanted to move to a smaller and much less prestigious force like here. Rankin said he wanted his son raised around his family, who are mostly here. It made sense, and I felt damned lucky to have him.

"Two years ago, I got another top-pick detective from a bigger city when Detective Dalton wanted to leave New York and come here."

Dalton chimed in. "All of us that had been hired and promoted faster because we were psychic were being scheduled to move to different cities now that they felt the program had proven itself enough. If I didn't pick, they would assign me somewhere. I was tired of snow and thought a few years of sunshine would be a nice change. I'll be honest and admit that there was an ex-bo

yfriend on the force, and it was making things awkward. I'm adding that because I now believe that my broken heart"--she made air quotes around the phrase--"opened me up to Rankin's psychic abilities. He seems to specialize in knowing what you want most that's missing in your personal life, and he offers it to you, and I'll even admit that he delivers on the promises, up to a point. After two years of public dating, I'd started to want a husband and family of my own, and he couldn't give me that."

"Because he's already married," I said.

"Yes, but understand that his wife knows. Hell, I come to dinner and family events. I'm on the list to pick up his son at school if there's an emergency."

"Very progressive and polyamorous," I said.

Tyburn added, "I thought it didn't interfere with their jobs, and if Rankin's wife and family were okay with him dating Dalton, I didn't see it was any of my business."

"You don't have to justify it to me, Captain. I'd be the last one to throw stones at a complicated love life," I said.

Dalton turned in her seat to look at me. She'd taken off her sunglasses, so I could see the big brown eyes with their very subtle but well-done liner and mascara. There might even have been pale eye shadow, but I lowered my gaze before I could be certain, because when a psychic takes off her sunglasses in blinding-bright sunlight and stares really hard at you, you don't make eye contact; you just don't. Maybe Dalton was just being sincere, but I'd already been psychically messed with by one of the local cops; I didn't really want to make it two.

"Thank you for letting the men in your life help break me free of Rankin."

"You're more than welcome," I said.

We'd entered a section of road where the water was hidden by bushes and a fence. Tyburn had to be going at least sixty, maybe seventy, and there was a stoplight coming up. He seemed confident that it wouldn't turn red. Well, at least if we wrecked now, we wouldn't drown. I missed the view, though, as if no matter what, today I wasn't going to be satisfied.

"How did you keep him out of your head, Marshal Blake?" she asked.

"I didn't completely."

"But you didn't fall under his power. How? How did you fight him off?"

I opened my mouth to answer but saw a car coming out of the road that was perpendicular to the stoplight. I yelled, "Car!" I wasn't the only one who yelled a warning of some kind.

Tags: Laurell K. Hamilton Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Horror