She managed to leave the room quickly then, before he could stop her again, and before Lucian could stop her- or join her, either. She told Canady where she was going, and took the elevator up a floor.
She found Maggie Canady. She had taken the place of the cop who had been watching Rick's door.
"How's he doing?" Jade asked.
"Great. He's been in and out of consciousness, but doing much, much better. Go on in and see him. If his eyes are closed, try talking to him. The doctors say it's important."
"Thanks. Maggie, Shanna and the twins are all right, aren't they?"
"Fine. They have a houseful of Barney, Disney, and Pokemon, Legos, Fisher Price-you name it.
Shanna is fine, and the kids are fine. And I'll go back and spell her in a few hours so she can come and see your stepmom."
"Go see Rick."
Jade nodded and went to the room. Rick looked good. His color was pink. He seemed to be breathing easily. His heart monitor showed a fine line almost perfectly accented by little beeps.
She sat at his side and took his hand. No matter what, these days, it seemed she was tired. She held his hand in both of hers and rested her forehead on her hands.
"Hey, kid," she heard.
His voice was thick and raspy, little more than a whisper. He smiled, trying to raise his head, then giving up that effort.
"Rick, thank God!"
She stood and kissed his forehead. He closed his eyes again. "Thanks for being here, Jade."
"Well, of course," she murmured, sounding only a little bit awkward. "You really scared us."
"I think I was scared, too. I don't remember."
"You had an awful fever."
"I hear your stepmother is here."
"You should be with your dad."
"I was with him. Liz is doing really well."
She smoothed back his hair, looking at his pale, still handsome features, and his honest blue eyes.
He shook his head, catching her fingers, his grip weak. He met her eyes. "It's all right. You don't have to say anything.''
"But I do. I-"
"You're not in love with me," he said quietly. He even said the words kindly.
She was so startled by his words that she was dead silent for several long seconds. "Rick, I'm so sorry-"
"No, no, it's all right. I know that you wanted to be. But Jade .. ." He hesitated, then told her.
"Something just. . . with this fever, well, I was having some pretty bizarre dreams. And you weren't the one in my dreams."
She smiled. "Oh?"
"A dream is a dream, but there was this woman I had met, and she was the one in the dream. And I was thinking ... well, hell, people have fantasies in life; they have them before marriage, they have them after.
In the end, rather sadly, we're all animals, but... then I realized, you want to love me; you just don't."
"Rick-," she began, but then she realized he was looking past her.
"I had met this woman. Casually, I was just giving directions. But she's the one I was dreaming about, Jade. If that makes you feel any better."
"Rick, I'm just sorry about everything. You are the greatest person." She turned quickly. She hadn't heard him, but Lucian had come in.
Rick looked straight at him.
"Rick, this is Lucian De Veau," Jade said. "I met him in Scotland. He also happens to be a friend of the Canadys."
Rick offered a limp hand to Lucian, but then said, "I know you from somewhere."
"I've been in here a few times with Jade," Lucian offered.
Rick shook his head. "No .. . strange ... I have this feeling that I know you really well. Do you live in New Orleans?"
"I have a home here," Lucian said vaguely.
"Maybe that's it. Maybe we've crossed paths, walking around Jackson Square, downing a pint or two at a bar somewhere."
"Maybe. How are you feeling?"
"Pretty good. Weak as a kitten, but otherwise pretty good. This thing is wicked on the bloodstream. But they've been pumping me up with the red stuff, and it seems to work." Lucian nodded, then looked at Jade. "Think I could talk to Rick a moment alone?" She was startled-and not at all certain that she wanted the two of them talking alone. "Lucian, Rick isn't well-"
"And he isn't stupid; he knows the score."
Rick suddenly squeezed her hand. "It's cool, Jade. Really." She walked out of the room. Maggie was in the hall. "You know, they're all shits, and that's simply the way it is."
Maggie smiled. "Men?"
She shrugged. "Well, I guess they feel we're all a pack of harpies."
"He's involved me in all of this!" Jade exploded. "These are my friends, and-"
"There's a lot at stake," Maggie said softly.
Jade lowered her head. "I think I need some coffee. Will you tell Lucian I'm in the cafeteria? No, never mind, he'll know that, won't he?"
"He'll be able to find you," Maggie said.
"Hm. Well, you know, maybe he shouldn't be able to find me." She walked back to Maggie, not at all sure why she was so upset. "Because you know what? Maybe I look like this Igrainia of his, but I'm not her. I'm not the reincarnation of some selkie-some fish! I'm not. So if he's looking for someone else ..." Maggie waited, just listening, allowing her to spew out her anger.
"I'm not a fish!" Jade repeated.
"The coffee in the cafeteria is fresh," Maggie suggested.
Jade sighed. "Thanks." After a moment, she added, "Maggie?"
"It's all right," she said softly.
"Damn, but I feel like you're someone I know really well," Rick said, still studying Lucian.
Lucian shrugged. "Who knows?"
"Did you go to school down here? I mean, obviously you're from somewhere else, but ... that's not a French accent, is it?"
"Continental, I guess," Lucian said. "I was born in Scotland, but I did spend a number of years in France. Paris is a great city."
"Yeah? Maybe I'll see it one day. So, what happened? There was something going on in Europe, you were around during that whole Scotland thing, you ran into Jade, and, apparently, jumped her bones."
"It really isn't anything like that," Lucian said.
But Rick lifted a hand, cutting him off. "What am I going to do, try to crawl out of bed and beat your ass? Not today. But I'm still crazy about Jade-she's a great person-so if you mean to hurt her-"
"I mean to help her. And this is going to sound strange, but I need to know about the woman you met."
"I only slept with her in my dreams."
"Are you so sure about that?"
"Unless she really floated through my window."
"Could you tell me about her?"
"Dark hair, lots of it, dark black, and pale skin, really startling with that hair, makes her even more exotic-looking . . . boobs up to her eyebrows. I mean, the lady has a chest. And a waist. Great hips. All the stuff fantasy is made of-which is why I suppose I was fantasizing about her. I work with kids, families, drugs-I'm supposed to be familiar with the human psyche, and that seems to be about the best way I can analyze myself."
"Did she have a name?"
"Not that she gave me."
"How was she dressed?"
"She wasn't dressed. You're forgetting the nature of the fantasy." Lucian shook his head. "I think your fantasy woman might be real. She sounds like someone I know who is probably here in New Orleans."
"Oh, yeah? If you find her, send her in. I used to have a girl. I don't anymore." For the first time, he sounded bitter.
"I really am sorry."
"I believe you. But, it's just still strange. I'd be more pissed at you if I didn't think I knew you from somewhere. Of course, if you had been a friend, what you did would have sucked more."
"Rick, you say that this woman was naked. Can you tell me, though, was she wearing jewelry, a locket of any kind?"
Rick thought about it for a moment. "No."
"How are you positive?"
"She was naked in my dream. And I was really studying her chest. If she'd had a locket hanging there, I would have seen it. But it was a fantasy, so what the hell difference does it make?"
"It might be really important. Thanks for your help."
"Anytime. See you around, my new friend-or my old friend, whichever you may be." He grinned, then winced. "Man, it would be nice to have some strength back."
"It will come," Lucian told him.
He left Rick. As he did, he hesitated and looked back. Then he kept going. Maggie was in the hall, sketching. Her fashion designs were truly unique; women came to New Orleans just to shop at her boutique. "Nice one," he told her.
She looked up. "You think he's going to be okay?"
"I don't know. I hope so."
"I just remember years ago ... how tainted and terrible that old general became, killing everyone. Lucian, if someone like Sophia infects the blood ..."
"Sophia made me," he reminded her.
She nodded. "I was having these terrible images of a cop gone mad."