"I'll make it up to you."
"No. I'll make it up to you," she promised.
He nodded and rose. At the door he hesitated. "Even in the day, keep the doors locked. I mean, what happened was in New York. Far away. There are lots of madmen in the world, no reason to think this is part of the same insanity. But still ..."
"Hey," she said. "This is New Orleans. I'm a street-smart kid. I always keep my door locked." He nodded. "Talk to you later."
She brushed his lips with a kiss. She felt odd. As if she'd cheated on him.
Or as if she were cheating with him.
"Rick," she murmured, feeling guilty. Shamed.
"I do love you, you know," she whispered very softly.
He cupped her chin. "I adore you." He smiled, caressed her jaw, then stepped out the front door.
"Lock up," he told her.
The door closed.
Rick Beaudreaux heard Jade lock the door behind him.
He stepped away, starting down the hall. He hesitated, looking back. Idiot! He told himself. Go back.
That was nuts. He'd waited this long. She was a strong character, but she had been damaged by the horror she'd witnessed in Scotland. He understood that. He'd fallen head over heels for her, though, and he'd been willing to wait. She never played games; she'd been honest, affectionate, fun, charming-and beautiful-from the start.
He could wait a little longer. She was unnerved.
And man, but he felt like shit.
He didn't remember ever feeling so bad. Hell, yes, a lot of it had been the corpse. But then, actually, it had started before that. It had started when ...
When that woman in the street had asked him for directions on his way to Jade's last night. She'd been really good-looking. Not that her appearance had really swayed him.
Jade was gorgeous.
But she had been a charming and lost tourist-a beauty with a soft accent and a way of getting a cop not just to show her the way to where she wanted to go, but to lead her in the right direction.
She had sneezed. He must have picked up a bug from her.
And so, at this moment, he was in sad shape. Totally unworthy.
As he left Jade's house, he had the strangest feeling that he had let something slip through his fingers that he couldn't quite touch, and in doing so ... he had lost something.
A strange fear closed around his heart.
Go back! A voice urged him.
He shook off all his strange feelings.
He was a cop, for God's sake!
The young woman slid into the chair in front of Lucian-the chair so recently vacated by Daniel Thacker.
He looked at her, surprised to see her there. Maybe he shouldn't have been, and maybe he shouldn't have cared. God knew, he'd gone through his times of darkness.
Times of cruelty.
And there was nothing different about what he was now: a survivor. The one who upheld the laws, kept the balance. The keeper of the keys, so to speak.
But the world had changed for him that night in Scotland. He'd felt the threat of his enemies again for the first time in eons.
They had waged battle, and he had won the fight, but he knew that it was a war-and for them, a war of vengeance. He knew his own strength and power, which had been savagely won.
Yet there was something else he knew again. Something he had once managed to put down, along with his enemies.
She smiled and reached out a hand, touching him.
"It was you last night, wasn't it?"
"Hey, Cathy, you came in after all!" Shelly said, walking by. Cathy shook her head. "I'm not working, Shelly. I just came by to ..."
Her voice trailed. She looked at him.
"It was you, wasn't it?"
"I'm not sure what you mean."
"Yes, you are. I'm certain I saw you ... no, I think I saw you. Or I heard you. I was terrified and I knew I was about to be mugged or murdered and you ... you stopped him. The shadow, the fear, the footsteps. He never got me. You told me to run. And I did. God, I ran so fast! I reached my car, climbed in, and gunned the motor. I was out of there so fast. ..." She stared at him. "I would have been killed if it hadn't been for you, right?"
"You were followed," he told her simply.
"You saved my life."
He shrugged his shoulders impatiently. "You shouldn't leave this place late at night alone."
"I won't again. Ever. I swear it."
"God, you're wonderful."
He rose impatiently. "No, Cathy, I'm not wonderful. But you need to listen to me right now. You've got to be careful. Really careful. It's that simple. Get off in the daylight. Be careful at night; stick with large groups." He started to walk away; then he turned back to her, shaking a finger beneath her nose. "And don't go inviting any strangers in, you hear me?"
She nodded, somewhat taken aback by his ferocity.
He started out to the street, anxious to be away. The sunlight was very bright. Too bright. He doubled over suddenly, caught in the vicious grip of a gnawing agony. Home. He needed to get home. Quickly.
Now. He needed rest today. His customary strength was more than admirable, but the sun was bright this October.
You should see the other guy! he had said earlier.
And that had been true enough.
He had known they were there; they had wreaked carnage in New York and come here. Quickly. Last time, he had ripped them both to shreds. ...
But they had healed.
This time he hadn't seen Sophia. She was keeping her distance, ready to sacrifice that fool, Darian. And he had stopped Darian, torn into him again. ...
Darian had escaped. Lucian had kept him from Cathy, but he had escaped Lucian's hold.
And, this morning Lucian could still almost hear the taunting voice of his adversary.
Just who do you think you are? Just what do you think you are? To the others, are you any less fetid, horrible, repulsive?
I think I'm the king, the ruler; that's what I know.
You have to hold on to power.
And I will, my friend.
You grow weak, and I grow strong. And she, she grows stronger still.
You are a fool. You will never be stronger than I! I will never allow it.
And to himself he added, Because my hatred is greatest, my bitterness the deepest. I will hold my power with my will, and it is not weakness that governs me, or a conscience, but sense and logic and the will to survive.
We are what we are, Darian taunted. Hunters. Wolves. And wolves will hunt sheep.
Not when meat is provided. And not when hunting the sheep will bring upon us a hundredfold the vengeance of the sheep farmers.
Farmers. You've seen through time. We will all fight to survive. The farmers just as fiercely as we do.
You are growing foolish and sentimental and weak. We bided time. We healed. We grew strong.
And in the end, we will best you, and I will be king. She made you, and she will unmake you as well What she created, she can destroy.
Never. . . never. . . you think you know hatred, you think you know anger? You have no idea what hatred is, fury, loss. . . .
Because you think you have found her again, you think you have a soul. You see Igrainia in that woman. But what would she see in you ? You are a creature of the night. Foul. Loathsome. You are heinous. You have sinned as few others, raged, killed . . . you are darkness, you are death, you are the very flames of hell...
His head was nearly bursting. The sunlight was staggering. He gritted his teeth and straightened, his shoulders squared beneath the sunlight. He seldom needed help. He kept no one close. He had spent a great deal of time taking the gravest care, trusting no one.
It was all he could think.
She must have the talisman again.
Damn, but the sun is bright! He needed his home here, rest, a place of darkness....
No, he needed more than home. He needed help. And though he had sworn to stay away, he had an old friend in the city. A very old friend ...
He walked with the crowd.
And then he was shadow.
By the bright light of day, Jade was convinced that she needed a psychiatrist. She tried to analyze herself, and could only come up with the fact that she must be frustrated, afraid since Scotland.
Not wanting to dwell on her thoughts, she decided on a trip down to the police station. Gavin, a friend of Rick's, worked in Homicide, and was a really nice guy. If he knew something, he would surely share it with her.
When she was just about ready to leave, Renate appeared at her door.
"You were on your way out?"
"I thought Rick was here." Renate looked over Jade's shoulder, into the living room.
"He was. He left."
Renate wedged her way into the entry.
"He's really gone?"
"Yes, he's really gone."
"I was hoping to learn more."
"The kid killed in the accident," Renate said impatiently.
"Sorry. He's really gone." She hesitated, then added. "He came in, but he's sick. He's in bad shape.
He's a good cop, you know, and he went back in to work last night just because of the kid."
"I thought he could tell us about it."
"Well, he's not here."
She didn't tell Renate that she was about to head off for the police station. She didn't want company, not Renate's, at any rate, not right now.
"The story about the accident is in the paper. The alcohol level in the kid's blood was off the charts. Not that they found that much blood. Not even on the car-or on the tree he hit. He shouldn't have been driving. He'd been drinking, beating up his girlfriend.... I know Rick is really fond of kids, that he prides himself on his work, but this one .. .Jade, he hadn't even been at LSU a semester, and he was in trouble for outrageous stunts. I'm telling you, this kid-I know how you usually feel-but this one ... this one ..."