Dark Hunger


Page 22



“Don’t be.” She gave her a wistful smile. “It was a lovely moment for me, to see her face again. I didn’t understand what had happened until Annette and I began to eavesdrop on your sleep. Rowan, can you … do that … for everyone?”


“No. Only for men.” She grimaced. “I mean, only for someone who’s been in love with a woman. I can only be a woman.”


Deborah held out her hand. “Then would you do an old lady one last favor?”


Rowan slowly gripped her hand and closed her eyes. She had never used her ability in front of another person who knew about it; not even when she had been screamed at, threatened, and then beaten. She held her breath as she felt the skin on her face stretch and shift as the shape of it gradually changed. Her short, dark hair became a cap of thick ginger curls, and when she opened her eyes and looked at Deborah, she did so through the grass green eyes of Mary Margaret O’Brien—just as she had for a moment when she’d first met Deborah at the shelter.


“Just as I remember her,” the old lady said, and lifted Rowan’s hand to press a gentle kiss on the back. “Thank you, my dear.”


Deborah contracted pneumonia that winter, and never really recovered. A few months later she died as her sister had: peacefully, in her sleep. When Rowan came back to the house after the funeral to pack up her things, she found an envelope tucked away in her bureau, and in it a note from Deborah along with enough cash to pay the rent on a small apartment for a year.


The church didn’t need our old jewelry, Deborah had written. Thank you for being so good to us, and remember us in your prayers. We love you, Rowan.


At least someone had loved her once in her life, Rowan thought as she went to the fridge and surveyed the contents. At least she’d had that much.


Queenie’s dossier didn’t specify her eating habits, but since Rowan went along with Matthias’s vegetarian diet, they didn’t keep any meat on hand. Italian would just have to do, she decided as she took out a basket of plum tomatoes and a couple of sweet yellow onions. Her hands flew as she took out her frustrations on the ingredients; ten minutes later she had a pot of marinara sauce bubbling on the stove and went to work on hand-making the pasta.


She didn’t have to go to all this trouble—she’d personally seen to it that the pantry was stocked with enough non-perishable supplies to see them through an ice age—but she’d bet good money that Queenie couldn’t boil an egg. Maybe if she reminded Matthias more often that she could do a lot more than simply clean up and whip his ass at pool, he’d start realizing how important she was to him. Maybe he’d finally figure out why she’d followed him around like a goddamn groupie ever since she’d first laid eyes on him.


Yeah, and if he ever does, he’ll just pat me on the head and tell me I’m sweet and he’s too old for me and I’ll grow out of it someday. Then I will take a pool cue to the blind son of a bitch’s thick skull.


“Rowan.”


She whirled, her dough knife in her hand. “What? Fuck.” She drove the tip of the knife into her cutting board and kept her back toward Matthias until she could compose herself. “Sorry. You scared me.” She looked around him. “Where’s Dazed and Confused?”


“Jessa is using the computer.”


“We’re giving her access to our hardware?” She leaned back against the counter. “Want me to write down the main number for GenHance for her? Might help speed things up.”


“Jessa must know what Genaro has done to her. The computer will tell her everything.” He went over to the stove and lifted the cover on the sauce pot. “This smells very good.”


“It needs fifteen more minutes.” She took the cover from him and replaced it. “You want this on a tray, or will Her Highness be dining in?”


“We will eat here, as always.” He frowned. “Why are you angry with me?”


“I don’t know. I should go grab a couple of hot prospects, bring them down here, and give them the run of the place. Would liven up things considerably.” His blank expression made her hands curl into fists. “You left her alone, on a computer, an hour after she wakes up—and you don’t see anything wrong with that?”


“Jessa adjusts quickly. She will accept us as her friends.”


“In case you forgot, we don’t know Jessa. Jesus Christ, Matt.” She threw out her arms. “You have no fucking clue what’s going on inside her head right now. She could totally freak out, wreck the equipment, start running around and screaming for help—”


“I believe she is checking the balance in her bank accounts through the encrypted server,” he said mildly. “After that she plans to review the information we have on Genaro, and she will likely send a warning to her friends.”


“Sure. Okay. Terrific.” She went over to the counter, kicked up the linguine she’d hand-rolled and cut, and threw it into the boiling water. “Dinner will ready in thirty minutes.” She stiffened as his hand rested on her shoulder. “Don’t.”


“I have not disabled the security measures, so she cannot leave,” he assured her. “But if we are to gain her trust, she must believe that she can.”


Rowan exhaled. “She’s not stupid. She’ll try to go anyway.”


“I do not think so,” he said. “Not after she learns what Genaro has done. She is a good woman, Rowan. We will persuade her to help us.“ He gave her shoulder a fond squeeze before he left the kitchen.


A good woman. One who could be trusted. Of course she was.


Steam from the pot heated Rowan’s face but she didn’t move. A year ago she had gone into Matthias’s bedroom one night, a small mirror in her hand, and she’d sat by his bedside and held it, watching as she touched him and let herself change. Her ability allowed her to assume the image of any man’s ideal woman, the woman he would ultimately fall in love with. She’d desperately wanted to know whom Matthias could love, but she hadn’t recognized the beautiful, regal face in the mirror. All she found out was that his ideal woman looked nothing like her.


Later she saw that face two more times: first when she had uploaded the driver’s license photo of Minerva Starret, and then when she had seen Jessa Bellamy’s face.


His dream girl had arrived, and nothing would keep them apart now. Not even her love for him.


As Rowan watched the long strips of pasta dance around the bubbles, she let the tears slip down her cheeks and drip, one by one, into the boiling water.


Chapter 9


Lawson didn’t remember much after Genaro left. The doctors came back and he shouted at them to leave him alone, until one of them stuck a needle into his IV tube. From the way things got fuzzy after that it must have been a tranq. He was too doped to fight them when they dragged him over to another gurney, and when they rolled him onto a bed, he passed out. Sometime later he woke up in the dark, fiery pain shooting up into his hip, and howled until someone came. A fat-faced nurse blabbed at him to be quiet as she stabbed what felt like an ice pick into his hip. He would have taken a swing at her, but she split into three and then danced around the room.


Morning came like a rancid bitch with a rolling pin, pounding on his head and shrieking in his ears. He groped until he found the call button and thumbed it over and over. Another hatchet-faced twat in whites appeared, but this one wouldn’t give him the stuff. She told him he’d have to wait until the doctor made rounds.


He told her what he thought of her until she left, and then he waited. He hit the call button. The lazy slut of a nurse didn’t come, but spoke over an intercom in the wall. She said the doctor wasn’t in yet. They did that three more times, and then the stupid whore stopped answering the call signal. Like he was nothing—he was nobody.


Lawson saw an empty wheelchair sitting at the end of the bed, but when he tried to sit up his thigh stretched and the pain became a thousand snakes, crawling and biting their way up his chest. His heart thundering in his ears, he eased back on the pillows and tore two holes in the sheets with his clenched fists.


“What kind of hospital are you running here?” Bradford said as soon as the doctor came in. “I’ve been waiting on you for hours.”


“You’ve been waiting for thirty minutes, Mr. Lawson.” He picked up the chart hanging from the end of the bed and read the top page.


“Where’s the needle?” When the doctor didn’t answer, he added, “The nurse wouldn’t give me anything for the pain. She said you would. Where is it?”


“The amount of drugs still in your system makes it unwise to continue to administer IV morphine, and oral analgesics will only promote more bleeding.” The man barely glanced at him. “You’ll have to tough this one out for now, but in a few days the pain should begin to ease.”


He was in agony, and the shithead wasn’t going to give him anything at all. He’d have to get to his stash. “Just sew me back together and discharge me.”


“I’m afraid I can’t do that, either,” the doctor said. “The man who attacked you completely severed your semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris muscles. We’ll schedule the first surgery as soon as your condition stabilizes, but you will be hospitalized for several weeks, and then you’ll require extensive physical therapy to restore some function to your leg.”


His condition. Extensive therapy. Some function. Lawson’s gut knotted, but he wouldn’t give in to fear. Not when he had work to do. “Give me whatever papers I have to sign to get the fuck out of here.”


The doctor met his gaze. “Mr. Lawson, listen to me very carefully. The muscles that your attacker cut through are what allow you to bend your knee and extend your hip. If you leave this facility without proper treatment, and they heal as they are, you will never walk normally again, and it will be impossible for you to run, jump, or climb.”


“I’ll take care of it later.”


The doctor’s cold eyes remained pitiless. “Continuing to inject steroids and cocaine won’t help you, either. Aside from inducing the unacceptable levels of aggression and anger you’ve been displaying since you were admitted, your addiction has inflicted a considerable amount of damage to your liver and spleen.”



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