"I'm going into hiding with Jim."
The silence on the other side of the phone had a distinctly sinister undertone. Perhaps he thought that his kissing superpowers had derailed me. Fat chance. I would keep him from having to kill Derek. That was a burden he didn't need.
"I thought about this morning," I said, doing my best to sound calm and reasonable. "I've instructed the super to change the locks. If I ever catch you in my apartment again, I will file a formal complaint. I've taken your food, under duress, but I did take it. You rescued me once or twice, and you've seen me near naked. I realize that you're judging this situation by shapeshifter standards, and you expect me to fall on my back with my legs spread."
"Not necessarily." His voice matched mine in calmness. "You can fall on your hands and knees if you prefer. Or against the wall. Or on the kitchen counter. I suppose I might let you be on top, if you make it worth my while."
I didn't grind my teeth - he would've heard it. I had to be calm and reasonable. "My point is this: no."
"There will be no falling, no sex, no you and me."
"I wanted to kiss you when we were in your house. In Savannah."
Why the hell was my heart pounding? "And?"
"You looked afraid. That wasn't the reaction I was hoping for."
Be calm and reasonable. "You flatter yourself. You're not that scary."
"After I kissed you this morning, you were afraid again. Right after you looked like you were about to melt."
"You're scared there might be something there, between you and me."
Wow. I struggled to swallow that little tidbit. "Every time I think you've reached the limits of arrogance, you show me new heights. Truly, your egotism is like the Universe - ever expanding."
"You thought about dragging me into your bed this morning."
"I thought about stabbing you and running away screaming. You broke into my house without permission and slobbered all over me. You're a damn lunatic! And don't give me that line about smelling my desire; I know it's bullshit."
"I didn't need to smell you. I could tell by the dreamy look in your eyes and the way your tongue licked the inside of my mouth."
"Enjoy the memory," I ground out. "That's the last time it will ever happen."
"Go play your games with Jim. I'll find you both when I need you."
Arrogant asshole. "I tell you what, if you find us before those three days run out, I'll cook you a damn dinner and serve it to you naked."
"Is that a promise?"
"Yes. Go fuck yourself."
I slammed the phone down. Well, then. That was perfectly reasonable.
On the other side of the counter an older, heavyset man stared at me like I had sprouted horns.
Glenda handed me the money I'd given her. "That was some conversation. It was worth ten bucks."
I got up just in time to see Brenna ride up, leading an extra horse.
I VISITED DEREK. I STAYED FOR HALF AN HOUR and then Doolittle came in, took a look at my face, and decided I needed another lovely glass of tea. I followed him into the kitchen. It smelled like food: a rich, savory aroma of gently spiced meat and fresh pastry. The scent grabbed me and I practically floated to the table, just in time to see Jim slide a golden-brown loaf onto the cutting board. He carefully sliced an inch-wide section from it, revealing a beautifully cooked medium-rare sirloin.
I nearly fainted. "Beef Wellington?"
Jim scowled. "Just because you never have any decent food in your refrigerator . . ."
"It's because you or Derek or Julie eat it all."
Brenna came in and got a bowl of salad out of the fridge.
"Plates are in the cabinet," Jim said.
I got out four plates, found silverware, and set the table. Doolittle put a glass of iced tea in front of me. I tasted it. It had so much sugar, if you put a spoon into it, it would stand up all by itself.
Jim placed a slice on my plate. When I made Beef Wellington, it looked good. His looked perfect.
Brenna sat next to me. "Sorry about the thigh."
It took me a second to connect the stinging bite on my leg to the quiet woman next to me. "No problem. Sorry about the needle."
The scar on her throat had faded, but a thin gray line was still there. "It's okay," she said.
"I've had silver in me before."
"Where is everybody else?" I asked.
Nobody answered. Chatty Cathys, the shapeshifters.
I cut into my Beef Wellington and put a small piece in my mouth. It tasted like heaven. Jim cut his meat with the precision of a surgeon.
The three shapeshifters around me stopped breathing for a moment.
"I thought I'd mention it before you started eating. I didn't want you to choke."
"He say anything?" Jim asked.
"You have three days to turn yourself in." I imitated Curran's voice. "After that he'll have to find you. And he doesn't want to find you."
"He mostly cussed after that. I told him you and I were having a hot roll in the hay and he was interrupting."
Tea came out of Brenna's nose.
Jim struggled with it for a long moment. "I wish you hadn't done that."
"He didn't believe it." I left it at that. Mentioning my morning exercise and naked dinner promise was bound to give Jim apoplexy. "He can't find us here, can he?"
"Never underestimate our lord," Doolittle said.
"It's hard to say," Jim said. "Curran's persistent. He'll find us eventually. But not for a while."
I hoped he was right. If not, both of us would have some explaining to do.
WE WAITED FOR SAIMAIN IN THE PARKING LOT OF the Games.
Jim's black, fur-trimmed cloak flared behind him as he walked, revealing a black leather vest, black pants, and black steel-toed boots. His body was toned to the point of absurd: he looked like a prizefighter in his prime, his thick muscle crisply defined, his stride loose, his bearing broadcasting bad-ass. An ugly scowl sat on his face. He looked as if he wanted to punch somebody.
"You need a pair of shades," I told him. "Someone might mistake you for a yuppie."
Saiman's sleek ride slid into the parking lot. He got out, dapper and urbane in his Thomas Durand persona, popped the trunk, and took out an oblong object bundled in canvas and wrapped with a cord. He swung it onto his shoulder, which proved to be a difficult feat - the thing was about four and a half feet long and two feet wide.