As Bella hung up the phone, she had a passing thought that what was going on inside her chest was so explosive, she was going to shatter at any moment. There was just no way her brittle bones and her fragile skin could hold in the kind of emotion she was feeling.
In desperation she looked around the room, seeing the vague, blurry outlines of oil paintings and antique furniture and lamps made from Oriental vases and… Phury staring at her from a chaise longue.
She reminded herself that, like her mother, she was a lady. So she should at least pretend to have some self-control. She cleared her throat. "Thank you for staying while I made that call to my family."
"My mother was… greatly relieved to hear my voice."
"I can imagine."
Well, at least her mother had spoken words of relief. Her affect had been as smooth and calm as always. God… the female was ever the still-watered pond, unshaken by earthly events no matter how grim. And all because of her devotion to the Scribe Virgin. To mahmen, everything happened for a reason… yet nothing ever seemed particularly important.
"My mother… is greatly relieved. She…" Bella stopped.
She'd already said those words, hadn't she? "Mahmen was… she really was… she was relieved."
But it would have helped if she had at least choked up. Or shown anything but the beatific acceptance of the spiritually enlightened. For chrissakes, the female had buried her daughter and then been witness to a resurrection. You'd think that would call for some kind of emotional reaction. Instead it was as if they'd just spoken yesterday, and nothing of the past six weeks had occurred.
Bella glanced back down at the phone. Wrapped her arms around her stomach.
With no warning whatsoever, she cracked wide-open. The sobs came out of her like sneezes: fast, hard, shocking in their ferocity.
The bed dipped, and strong arms came around her. She fought the pull, thinking that a warrior wouldn't want to deal with such sloppy weakness.
"It's okay, Bella. Lean on me."
Oh, hell… She collapsed against Phury, wrapping her arms around his tight waist. His long, beautiful hair tickled her nose and smelled good and felt wonderful under her cheek. She burrowed into it, breathing deep.
When she finally calmed down she felt lighter, but not in a good way. The angry emotions had filled her out, given her contours and weight. Now, because her skin was nothing more than a sieve, she was leaching out, becoming air… becoming nothing.
She didn't want to disappear.
She inhaled and broke free of Phury's embrace. Blinking rapidly, she tried to focus her eyes, but the blurriness from the ointment persisted. God, what had that lesser done to her? She had a feeling it had been bad…
She reached up to her eyelids. "What did he do to me?"
Phury just shook his head.
"Was it that ugly?"
"It's over. You're safe. That's all that matters."
None of it feels over to me, she thought.
But then Phury smiled, his yellow stare impossibly tender, a balm that soothed her. "Would it be easier if you were at home? Because if you want, we can find a way to get you there, even though the dawn's coming very soon."
Bella pictured her mother and couldn't imagine being in the same house with that female. Not right now. And even more to the point, there was Rehvenge. If her brother saw her with any kind of injury he'd go crazy, and the last thing she needed was him on the warpath against the lessers. She wanted the violence to stop. As far as she was concerned, David could go to hell right this minute; she just didn't want anyone she loved risking their lives to send him there.
"No, I don't want to go home. Not until I'm completely healed. And I'm so very tired…" Her voice drifted off as she glanced at the pillows.
After a moment Phury got up. "I'm right next door if you need me."
"Would you like your coat back?"
"Oh, yeah… let me see if there's a robe in here." He disappeared into a closet and came back with black satin draped over his forearm. "Fritz stocks these guest rooms for males, so this is probably going to be too big."
She took the robe and he turned away. When she shrugged out of his heavy leather coat the air chilled her, so she quickly wrapped the satin around herself.
"Okay," she said, grateful for his discretion.
As he pivoted back to her, she put the leather into his hands.
"I'm always saying thank-you to you, aren't I?" she murmured.
He looked at her for a long time. Then in slow motion, he lifted his coat to his face and breathed in deeply.
"You're…" His voice trailed off. Then he dropped the leather to his side and an odd expression hit his face.
Actually, no, that wasn't an expression. It was a mask. He'd gone into hiding.
"I'm glad you're with us. Try to get some sleep. And eat some of what I brought you, if you can." The door shut behind him without a sound.
The drive back to Tohr's house was awkward, and John spent the time staring out the side window. Tohr's cell phone rang twice. Both conversations were in the Old Language, and the name Zsadist kept reappearing.
When they pulled into the driveway there was an unfamiliar car parked in it. A red Volkswagen Jetta. Yet Tohr didn't seem surprised as he eased past the thing and went into the garage.
He killed the Range Rover's engine and opened his door. "By the way, classes start the day after tomorrow."
John looked up from undoing his seat belt. So soon? he signed.
"We had the last trainee sign up tonight. We're good to go."
The two of them walked in silence through the garage. Tohr was in front, his big shoulders moving with the long steps he took. The man's head was down, as if he were looking for cracks in the concrete floor.
John stopped and whistled.
Tohr slowed, then halted. "Yeah?" he said quietly.
John took out his pad, scribbled something, and held it out.
Tohr's brows came down as he read. "There's nothing to be sorry for. Whatever makes you feel comfortable."
John reached out and squeezed the man's biceps. Tohr shook his head.
"It's all right. Come on, I don't want you to catch cold out here." The man glanced over when John didn't move. "Ah, hell… I'm just… I'm there for you. That's all."
John put his pen to the paper. I don't doubt that for a moment. Ever.
"Good. You shouldn't. Straight up, I feel like I'm your…" There was a pause as Tohr rubbed his thumb back and forth across his forehead. "Look, I don't want to crowd you. Let's go inside."
Before John could beg him to finish the sentence, Tohr opened the door into the house. Wellsie's voice drifted out… and so did another woman's. John frowned as he came around the corner into the kitchen. And then stopped dead as a blond female looked over her shoulder.
Her hair was cut off at her jawline and her eyes were the color of new leaves. Those hip-hugger jeans she was wearing were so short-waisted… God, he could see her belly button and about an inch of flesh underneath. And her black turtle-neck was… Well, he could tell exactly how perfect her body was, put it like that.
Wellsie grinned. "You guys got here just in time. John, this is my cousin Sarelle. Sarelle, this is John."
"Hi, John." The female smiled.
Fangs. Oh, yeah. Look at those fangs… Something traveled like a hot breeze over his skin, leaving him tingling from head to foot. Out of confusion, he opened his mouth. Then thought, uh-huh, right. As if anything was coming out of his useless piehole?
While flushing to all hell and gone, he lifted his hand in a wave.
"Sarelle's helping me with the winter festival," Wellsie said, "and she's going to stay for a bite to eat before dawn breaks. Why don't you two set the table?"
As Sarelle smiled again, that funny tingling thing got so strong, he felt as if he were levitating.
"John? You want to help set the table?" Wellsie prompted.
He nodded. And tried to remember where the knives and forks were.
O's headlights swung across the front of Mr. X's cabin. The Fore-lesser's everyman minivan was parked right next to the door. O stopped his truck behind the Town & Country, blocking it in.
As he got out and the cold air shot into his lungs, he was aware that he was in the zone. In spite of what he was about to do, his emotions lay like smooth feathers over his chest, all arranged, nothing out of place. His body was just as unruffled, moving with its power checked, a gun ready to fire.
The scrolls had taken a long time to wade through, but he'd found what he needed. He knew what had to happen.
He opened the cabin's door without knocking.
Mr. X looked up from the kitchen table. His face was impassive, showing no frown, no sneer, no aggression of any kind. No surprise, either.
So they were both in the zone.
Without a word, the Fore-lesser rose, one hand going around to his back. O knew what was there, and he smiled as he unsheathed his own knife.
"So, Mr. O—"
"I'm ready for a promotion."
O turned his blade on himself, putting the tip to his sternum. With a two-handed jabbing motion, he stabbed his own chest.
The last thing he saw before the great white inferno crisped the shit out of him was the shock on Mr. X's face. Shock that quickly shifted to terror as the man figured out where O was going. And what O was going to do when he got there.