As Rossiter groaned, Travis's expression turned chilling, while Izabel studied her captain's sudden change in demeanor.
"Wait - what was that?" Lucia asked. Nïx had said, Beware of the barão da borracha. The Rubber Baron wasn't a person but a ship? "Why do you say that?"
Schecter answered, "The Barão is filled to the bevels with cryzos. You know, cryptozoologists. Captain Malaquí takes them hunting in the jungle for 'demons' and 'shape-shifters' in backwater tributaries." He added, "I've heard passengers go out with Malaquí. But sometimes... they don't come back."
Lucia waited for Travis to naysay that, to call it a baseless rumor. Instead he drank deep.
She asked the captain, "Is that ship close by?"
"Headed north in the opposite direction," Travis said tightly. He added in a mumble, "As I like it."
Izabel canted her head at Travis, and her thick black braid swept off her shoulder. The young woman clearly carried a torch for the much older, and remarkably less sober, captain. Good luck with the male specimen you've got there, Izabel. P.S.: This ship has been over-culled.
"Where're they searching for demons?" MacRieve asked. "Which tributary?"
Schecter answered, "My guide in Iquitos told me Rio Labyrinto, or some such."
At that mention, Lucia tensed and of course MacRieve noticed. He put his callused hand on her back. It was warm against her, even through her shirt.
"That's nothing but a hokey legend," the captain muttered into his cup. And for a second, Lucia thought he was lying.
Schecter said, "Well, likely so. But I'd taken all that information with a grain of salt since the guide also told me that they were loading a coffin onto the ship!"
Now both Lucia and MacRieve tensed. A vampire? What would a leech possibly be doing out here? For some reason she thought of Lothaire. He'd been making power plays throughout the Lore for the last year -
"Your turn, Dr...." Schecter asked her, trailing off.
"What? Me? I'm Dr. MacRieve." She grated out the last word, and the werewolf's lip curled. "From LSU."
Damn it, what would Nïx have said was her field? She glanced at Travis. "And I'm a..."
He frowned. "Paleopathologist?"
Paleo what? Damn you, Nïx!
Now Dr. Rossiter frowned. "Paleo? How will you find a fossil record in a live river basin?"
"I would love to tell you, but it's a trade secret," she said with a forced smile.
"At least tell us what diseases you are studying as a pathologist," Damiãno said.
"If Dr. Rossiter feared he'd make your eyes glaze over, I could put you to sleep."
Schecter turned to MacRieve. "And what is your field, Dr...?"
Despite the fact that he was a prince, he answered, "Mr. MacRieve. I'm here in a security capacity for my wife. She's the beauty and brains - I'm the brawn."
She stiffened again at his calling her his wife. MacRieve had no idea how much that word bothered her.
Schecter asked, "Why exactly would anyone need security?"
"Are you jesting?" MacRieve asked. "You doona know?" He flashed an aggravated look at Travis, then said simply, "Because we're in the bluidy Amazon."
The sun had begun to set, filling Lucia with more anxiety. She couldn't remember the last time she'd dreaded nightfall more. And she'd warred with vampires!
She repeatedly debated her options. One idea she'd ruled out? Telling MacRieve the truth. If she revealed to him precisely why they couldn't have sex ever, much less tonight, he would no doubt tell her she could live without the archery - because he would protect her.
And if he used that reasoning with her, she thought she could hate him.
Once the meeting was over, Izabel brought in a tub of iced-down Iquiteña beer for "the doctors." When she set the tub down, her blouse gaped, and Travis's eyes were on her like a hawk. Then he scowled at the glimpse of her exposed bra. A scowl? Most men would be delighted.
With an inward shrug - who could understand the minds of mortals? - Lucia crossed to the salon entrance. As she reached for the knob, she noticed that the door was thick, with a security barricade that could be slammed in place. A rain forest panic room? Interesting...
Once she walked outside, she stopped at the closest rail, nearly gasping at the oppressive heat after being in the air-conditioned room.
MacRieve snagged a bottle of beer, then followed her out, standing next to her at the railing. He held the bottle with his forefinger curled around the neck. Which was so... male. "Where do you think you're going?" he asked, stowing his sunglasses in a pocket.
"Back to my cabin."
"Happy to escort you there." He took a swig, placing his free hand on her lower back.
Dead man walking? Try dead Valkyrie walking. Every step closer was grueling. She was breathless, filled with trepidation. Why hadn't she been able to deny him in the past? Part of her whispered, It's not him you can't deny - it's yourself.
She was going to have to strike against him yet again. But how? How to get her bow? And then get him off the boat?
Silence reigned between MacRieve and her, while all around them the rain forest was awakening. Frogs croaked, building to a deafening crescendo before dwindling to silence, then building once more. Insects whirred and chirped, howler monkeys screeching.
MacRieve took another swig of beer. "Never met so many scientists who needed to get laid."
Unable to help herself, she asked, "What are you talking about?"
He stopped, leaning in, forcing her back to the wall. He rested his free hand against it over her head. "Looks like we're going deep. Gotta get deep up the river. Really penetrate the virgin bush, over and over again, till we achieve our mutual aims."
When he grinned, she stared at his lips. Then at his eyes, at those laugh lines. As ever, she was captivated by this big, brawny male and curious about his past. Just from looking at him, she could tell he'd been in the sun laughing in the days before he'd been frozen forever into his immortality.
Another swig. Was he waiting to finish his beer before bringing her to the cabin, or just enjoying the sunset? "Those docs got more bollocks than sense. They have no idea how dicey it is out here."
"How do you know so much about the Amazon?"
"Unfortunately, I'm verra familiar with the Green Hell." He appeared to have mellowed somewhat, though he still seemed preoccupied. "When the clan wanted to leave Scotland, the Amazon basin was one of the proposed settlement options. Lots of room to run, and no humans for thousands of miles in some areas. It sounded perfect."