The cable man came and broke ours. Broke it all up-and Mommy, too." And he had started to cry.
His tears had made her wonder just what had happened.
And she prayed that Liz would never remember.
When she reached the hospital parking lot at last, she did exactly what she had been told, parking as close to the emergency exit as she could. She had Sean's car, and it had police stickers all over it, so she was able to park under a light, next to the door.
She exited the car quickly and walked to the emergency entrance. There was a man ahead of her, walking toward the same door. Her pace slowed, then quickened. He must have come from the corner lot, she thought. She was afraid, but her mind kept racing. This was a hospital. A public facility. Lots of people came to the hospital. ...
"Let me get that for you."
She had felt him behind her as she raced the last few steps to the emergency room doors.
The doors at the pedestrian entrance did not automatically swing open. As she stood there, almost paralyzed in fear, the stranger reached past her for the bar to the door.
"There you go," he said.
She hurried into the hospital entry, then swung around to look at his face. She gasped, a sigh of relief exploding from her. It was Dave, the guy she'd met at the coffee shop-the guy who had failed to meet her at the movies.
"You!" she said.
"Shanna." He seemed incredibly pleased. "I'm so glad to see you. I've tried to call you; I couldn't reach you." He was smiling as she looked up at him. "I was so sick, I just couldn't make the movie. But I did mean to see you again. To call you."
He was apologizing. Still, he had stood her up. She needed to be a bit cool. "Well ..." she said. "Call me, then."
"You don't sound as if you mean that."
She dropped her attitude and smiled at him. "Seriously, call me."
"I'll still be welcome?"
"Yeah. Yeah, you'll still be welcome." She studied him then, suddenly worried. "You're not here because you've gotten any worse, are you?"
"No, no. I'm here to see ... to see an old friend. What about you?"
"My stepmother and a friend. It's been a tough time."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"Thanks. I guess I should get in. I have to see my father, and then call a friend and let her know that I got here okay."
"I'm glad to see you're better."
"Thanks." They had come down the corridor to the elevators. "I'm going to two," she said. "I'm going to three."
"We'll ride together."
They stepped into the elevator together. He was very close to her. Smiling at her. She was surprised to feel both a little bit uneasy ... and, incredibly, compelled. He was cute. And charming. And standing next to him was somehow . . . sexual.
She was glad when the elevator came to a halt and gave a little beeping sound.
She stepped off, turned around, and smiled. "I'll be seeing you, I imagine."
"You bet. You can just bet you'll be seeing me. It's a promise," he said. He smiled.
The elevator door closed, and Shanna turned around again and hurried down the hall to Liz's room.
* * *
When Maggie had gone, Jack sat down to keep vigil at Rick Beaudreaux's door. The hours passed. He read, did a crossword puzzle, then stood and stretched. He chatted with the nurses who came and went.
An aide brought him a cafeteria hamburger.
He almost drank the holy water, but remembered that it wasn't really a Sprite and what its purpose was, and asked a night nurse for some coffee. At eleven o'clock the shift changed. A new night nurse came down the hall, carrying a tray of medications. She had a stunning face and a perfect figure; blond hair was tucked neatly under her cap. She was really something, wearing her nurse's uniform especially well. She should have been on the cover of Cosmo, he thought, or modeling bras for Victoria's Secret. "Hi, there, Officer. How's my patient doing?"
"He seems to be doing really well."
"You're keeping out the riffraff, I take it?"
"Yes, ma'am, that would be my job."
"Well, then, it's nice to have you here," she said huskily.
He smiled and went back to his book as she went in to the patient. As he was reading, it occurred to him that she looked awfully, awfully good for a nurse. There had been something a little too high-fashion about her uniform and her hat. She had looked like a photo-shoot nurse. A movie nurse ... Not a real nurse.
He leaped to his feet. As he did so, he blinked furiously, staring down the hall.
He thought he had seen a wolf. There. In the hospital. Running toward him. Man, he was overtired.
It wasn't a wolf. It was a man. Sean's old friend Lucian DeVeau.
And then he knew he'd been right. The woman wasn't a nurse. He didn't wait for DeVeau to reach him; he burst into the hospital room.
She was stretched out on top of her patient. She heard him enter and looked up at him. Her eyes were wild, stunning. Hypnotic.
Blood dripped from her mouth. Blood from Rick Beaudreaux's throat...
"Lord!" he said under his breath. He started to lunge for her. Lucian DeVeau went flying past him, tackling the woman, pitching her from the hospital bed
. The IV broke and spurted fluid all around them.
A tray clattered to the floor.
"The holy water!" DeVeau shouted. He ran for it as an alarm bell began to ring in the hospital. It was a code call. Someone was coding out. Yeah! Rick Beaudreaux.
The holy water. He needed the damned holy water. But as Jack burst back out into the hall he saw that there was now a tall, red-haired man in the corridor. He was lifting the Sprite bottle Jack had come for, laughing. "Looking for this, Officer?" he asked. "Give that to me!" Jack commanded sharply. "I am an officer of the law-"
He had started for the man, but the man walked to him, took his arm, and sent him flying with no effort.
Jack fell hard. Still ...
He leaped to his feet. He entered the hospital room in time to tackle the fellow's feet.
He was able to make him fall. The Sprite bottle flew. Lucian was still engaged with the woman.
She leaped up; he followed. She backed away, stepping into the water that had spilled from the bottle.
She let out a terrible scream.
"Ass!" the man, grappling on the floor, turned and pounded Jack once in the head. Hard.
As the room faded to black, it seemed that the woman disappeared. Into thin air.
* * *
Renate was excited.
The others were still in Jade's apartment, waiting. "I know I'm right. I just know I'm right. And there's a whole tale with it! The creature is the cat goddess, and she gives power. I can't wait for Lucian to get back here. Jade, when is he coming?"
Jade, slumped in one of the big chairs, yawned. "Soon, I imagine," she told Renate. How many times had she asked so far?
Danny had dozed; she had dozed. Matt had snored. Renate hadn't had a seat for a single second. "I have found exactly what he needs!" she said proudly. The phone rang then. Jade came awake immediately, leaped up, and hurried over to it. "Jade?" It was her sister.
"Shanna! Oh, my God! Is Liz okay?"
"Liz is all right, but Jade .. ." Her voice sounded so funny.
"What, Shanna? What is it?"
"Rick is dead."
"What?" She gasped.
"Rick Beaudreaux is dead. They coded him, they tried resuscitation, but . . . he's gone, Jade. Rick is gone." The world was spinning around her. She dropped the phone.
Matt caught her, and she turned into his arms and cried as Danny took the receiver from her. "Hello, hello?"
Danny listened to Shanna.
"We'll have her down there in just a few minutes," he said quietly.
Rick had been cleaned up when the hospital officials let her see him. Among the police force, she was still regarded as his fiancée, the girl who had loved him, whom he had loved. There has been all kinds of questions at the hospital, and Jack Delaney had answered them the best he could. He had remained passed out on the floor when the hospital staff came running in on the code alarm; he had come to only later, and then he had tried to explain that a pretend nurse had come in to see Rick. The body had been held for police photographers and forensic people. They had spent several hours searching for prints, fibers, and more. But though there had been little drops of blood on Rick's hospital shirt, there had been no visible marks of foul play upon his body.
Some people suspected that Jack had been denied sleep too long, or that he had hit his head while trying to see about Rick's condition, and imagined the murderous nurse. Of course, a full autopsy would be done. Jack Delaney could have sworn that the woman had ripped out Rick's throat; there were no such marks. He had simply died of anemia brought on by fever and dehydration- that was what it looked like. Rick had been a cop, and a good cop. And Jack was a cop, too. He might need a leave, but his word would be checked out thoroughly. When Jade reached the hospital, Rick was just being wrapped for transfer to the morgue. His beautiful blue eyes were closed forever. His cheeks were whiter than snow. He was cold, so cold already.
He had died, she thought, just because he had known her.
She was sobbing when Sean Canady came for her, telling her they were going to the chapel. She found out that Lucian was there, and the first thing she did was rush over to him and slam her fists against him with all her fury. She threatened him-no matter what happened, he'd best not let his sick enemies get hold of her stepmother as well. He stood perfectly still for the longest time as she beat against him; then he caught hold of her wrists.
"No, I don't want to hear anything from you. I don't want to hear anything at all." She tried to wrench away from him, and found that that was impossible to do; Shanna came and put her arms around her and tried to calm her, though she was in tears herself. Jack Delaney came into the chapel and started apologizing. "I am so sorry; you trusted me, and you warned me. It was my fault, and the doctors here are still convinced we're dealing with a new virus. They think I fell asleep and dreamed up the woman who came into the room."