The house had grown cold. Really cold.
No. She was imagining it.
"Cold, Shanny," Petey said.
"Ah. Cold, eh? We'll light a fire then, and wait for Mommy." Rick tossed and turned, and tossed and turned, nightmare images of the kid who'd gone into the tree and then through the windshield filtering through his dreams. The kid talked to him.
"Hurts, man. Hurts."
"I keep trying to teach you guys to stay away from drugs, and watch the alcohol." The kid's head was detached from his body, floating above it. "You don't know. You really don't know. Man, I saw it. Bad scene. I wasn't so drunk. Just driving fast. Running. But you can't run fast enough, you know? No, you don't know, you don't know...."
Go away, please go away, oh, man, kid, you look just awful!
"You don't know who I am. You don't know what I saw. How hard I ran ..." But the kid's image faded from his fevered dream.
Suddenly a different face was in front of him. Much better. It was the tourist. The beautiful, dark-haired tourist who had been so lost the other day.
"Hello, Rick. I'm so sorry to see you suffering."
Her voice was so gentle. Sweet. She was just stunning. All that dark hair framing the perfection of her face ...
She was floating, too. Just outside his window.
It was a second-floor window, but that was okay. She was much, much better than the decapitated kid haunting his sleep.
"Just a cold, I think. Sore throat. Thirsty," he said politely.
"I'll just bet you are," she said sweetly. "Did you get where you were trying to go the other night?" he asked.
"I'm getting there, bit by bit."
"It's a great city," he said. "You'll want to take your time. See everything."
"Oh, I think I will." Her tone was silky, so soothing. "Rick!" The kid with the detached head seemed to be floating by his bed.
"Kid, go away. She's a much better delirium."
"You don't know, you don't know, you can run-"
"Rick!" she said softly. "It's cold out here. I need to come in."
"Of course. Come in."
The kid was gone again. Thank God. His head floating ... his neck all chopped up, his face bloated ... it had been bad.
"I rang the bell, Rick," she said, climbing through the window. "You didn't answer."
"Sorry. I'm sick. Really sick. Sore throat. I just got it the other night."
"Well, of course you were cold," he told her, staring at her, amazed.
Now this was a dream.
She was naked. Stark naked.
"You have no clothes on."
"No clothes? Oh, dear."
"It's all right. It's quite all right." And it was. Wow. She was stunning. Her breasts were swinging, perfect globes, peaked with rosy red, large, hard nipples. She had a will-o'-the-wisp waist. Flaring hips.
Long, shapely legs. A black thatch of short, silky hair at her crotch. She was ...
"You can ... uh ... borrow a robe. Or a coat. Or a shirt," he told her.
She smiled. "That's okay. I don't think I'll need one." She sat by his bed, smoothing back his sweat-dampened hair. "Poor dear. You're cold."
"No, no. I think I'm burning up. And you're an invention of my fever." He looked her up and down again, amazed. "And I'm not usually this inventive. Wow. Wait till I tell the guys at work. No, maybe not," he amended.
"Um. Maybe you are hot. Hot-blooded, hum, Officer? Well, I'm cold, so cold. You'll share with me, right?"
She scraped her breasts over his chest, rubbed her body against him.
He sprang to with an erection that would have done a porn star proud.
"You are cold," he whispered as she crawled over him.
"And you're hot...." She leaned over him, engulfing him. "So, so, hot... thanks ..."
She was moving over him. This was really delirium. "Thanks for ... ?"
"Inviting me in," she whispered against his lips. Then she was kissing him. Moving, bringing him to spasms, kissing him . . .
His fever must have worsened. His hallucinations faded....
He blacked out after thinking that his dreams were fantastic, but his throat hurt worse than ever.
When the phone rang later, he didn't hear a thing.
Shanna was really ready to run right out by the time Liz made it back. The day had worn on long enough now.
She could stop by Jade's house.
But Liz wanted to talk, and so she forced herself to be patient, playing with Petey for a few minutes, glad to see him so much better.
Then Liz put the kids down for a nap and made a cup of tea. Shanna declined, itching for a good, strong cup of coffee, but not wanting to wait long enough now to brew any.
"I really want to thank you
. So much," Liz told her. She was already cleaning up her kitchen.
Apparently, though Shanna had washed the griddle, she hadn't cleaned the counter sufficiently.
"Sometimes I just feel so bad. . .."
"Liz, why?" Shanna said, struggling for patience. She suddenly wanted to leave really badly. This wasn't her home anymore. It hadn't been for a long time. There wasn't anything wrong with Liz; she was a good human being, a good mom to Petey and Jamie. Shanna just felt acutely uncomfortable.
The fire hadn't done a damned thing.
"I don't know," Liz murmured, mopping down the counter, then meeting Shanna's eyes. "Last year . . .
your sister had given your phone as an emergency number rather than this number, your father's number.
You went after her when there was trouble, and your dad didn't even know what had happened until Jade was home."
"Liz, Jade didn't mean to hurt anyone's feelings. The kids were really little then. Jade didn't want Dad leaving you when . . . when ..."
"Jade's having survived a terrible massacre wasn't important enough for him to leave us for her?" Liz said softly.
"She never meant to hurt your feelings," Shanna said. "I never meant to hurt your feelings."
"Then . . . well, then, quit doing it!" Liz said. She suddenly squeezed her sponge out over the sink with enough force to cause it to become a gusher.
Shanna stared at the sponge, then at her stepmother. "Excuse me?"
"Quit being so polite to me. Treat me like I am a member of the family. Don't tiptoe around me all the time. Let your father know that you need him sometimes. Make the twins go without now and then so that you can have some of his time-or our time."
Startled, Shanna sat back. She nodded. "All right. All right then. You quit apologizing when you ask me to help with my baby brothers."
"I ... well, I can hardly expect-"
"Yeah, you can. If you want to be a real family."
Liz smiled slowly, nodding. "Okay. But if you hadn't wanted to get up, I would have called Jade. She's more of a morning person."
Shanna grinned suddenly. "Oh, no, not this morning. I think she might have finally slept with that great cop she's been dating."
"Really!" Liz's cheeks suddenly turned very red. She looked down. "Would you have ... would you have said that to your mother?"
Shanna thought a minute. "Yes, actually, I would have. But, Liz . . ."
"I wouldn't say it to Dad. So that was between us, huh?"
Liz agreed, still blushing. A minute later Shanna told her that she really had to go. After giving the boys huge, sloppy kisses, she hugged Liz warmly. She had never felt closer to her stepmother.
And still, she was eager to go. The house was so cold. Colder than outside. And it was a bone-chilling, damp kind of cold today.
Liz offered to drive her back, but she insisted that she didn't mind taking a taxi. She was still so chilled, though, that when she reached the French Quarter she had the driver drop her at a coffee shop rather than at her home, or at Jade's, where she was heading next.
She walked to the counter, just wanting a rich, French-roast coffee.
Someone came up beside her. He was obviously cold, too. He warmed his hands before him. He looked pale, and he was slim, as if he had been ill awhile.
A good looking guy, though. Different from the muscle-bound, blond good looks of a guy like Rich Beaudreaux. This one was . . .
Hm. Tall-and wickedly lean. Cunning, maybe. Like a fox. All right, so his hair had a red tinge to it, and it seemed he had a few freckles.
A scholarly, sly red fox. He was cute.
And he offered her a very inviting smile.
"Darned cold out there for the Deep South, isn't it?" he said. Nice voice. Very nice voice. Deep, rich ...
exciting. She felt like getting closer to him, just because of the sound of his voice.
"It's all the water. The temperature isn't that bad, but it's damp."
"Yeah. Yeah, I guess."
Her coffee arrived. She curled her fingers around the cup.
"My name's .. . Dave," he told her.
"Dave. Hi. I'm Shanna."
"You're gorgeous," he said.
She grinned deeply, enjoying his blunt appreciation. "Thanks."
"I realize I'm a total stranger... but I'd like to see you."
"You might be fun to get to know."
"Oh, I can promise you-I'm different."
He smiled, but he suddenly started coughing and backed away. "Sorry, I guess I'm getting something."
"Seems to be going around. You look like you need to be in bed."
"I do," he agreed.