He released my hair but didn’t look away. My heartbeat quickened, and it was so loud he must have been able to hear it, but he did nothing to acknowledge the change.
“There are laws. Laws even I am bound by. Once a warrant is issued, it’s final, and its reasons are for those who issued it to know and for them alone. The Tribunal is signed into silence once we issue a warrant.”
“You can’t tell me anything?”
“I can tell you that if I do not bring you home, Juan Carlos has no qualms about issuing a new warrant. One with your name on it.”
The mention of Juan Carlos brought the reality of the situation into sharper focus. Left in the hands of Daria and Sig, I suspected my lease on life would be a little longer term. But Juan Carlos hated me. Not in the passive way people hate spiders or little kids hate eating vegetables. No, Juan Carlos hated me the way the families of murder victims hate the killers. He hated me the way the people of Europe hated the rats who brought them the bubonic plague.
He hated me the way women in New York City hate finding out about a clearance bridal sale at Kleinfeld the day after it happens.
Not only did he want my lease on life to expire, he wanted to evict me before the final notice. I wasn’t sure if it was because I was alive and Sig had accepted me as one of the fold, or if it was because I never showed the Tribunal the appropriate level of respect, or if it was because I was so willing to execute other vampires, but Juan Carlos didn’t like having me around.
He was also seriously scary. He’d been a Spanish Conquistador in life, which wasn’t a fluffy day job. Before he’d been turned, he’d met the wrong end of someone’s sword, and it had butchered up the side of his face. His lips had healed together wrong, and the mangled side of his mouth gave him a constant sneer. The combination of that sneer with his fangs, and the look of absolute hate in his eyes, made him one of the scariest vampires I’d ever encountered.
I never, ever wanted to be on the wrong side of a fight with Juan Carlos.
“Well gosh.” I lay down again and placed my head back on his stomach. “If Juan Carlos wants me home, I guess that’s all the invitation I need.” I’d rather not let my fear show to Sig. He already knew I was scared, but there was no reason to flaunt my unease.
Sig was the only member of the Tribunal who knew what I really was. It was in my best interest to stay on his good side rather than tempt fate by poking an angry bull.
“I’ll go back,” I said after a long pause.
He remained quiet. The room was filled with a literal dead silence. He didn’t move until he began to stroke my hair again. Like before, I let myself enjoy it, even though it reminded me of how Ingrid, his daytime servant, once said Sig thought of me as his pet.
“Sig?” I asked, wondering if his silence meant he hadn’t heard me.
“Shhh,” he replied. “Secret, the last time I slept next to someone with a pulse was the year seven.” I waited for him to finish, but he didn’t, and it dawned on me he meant the year 7 A.D. “That someone was my wife, and it’s been over two thousand years since anything has reminded me so much of her. So shhh.”
I took that in the best way I could and tried to remain silent for as long as possible, but my curiosity reached a boiling point and I could no longer contain it.
“What was her name?”
“Ingaborg.” He was still stroking my hair.
“Is that why you singled out Ingrid? Because of her name?” Vampires had done things for more ridiculous reasons before, so it wasn’t out of the question he would base his choice for a daytime servant on name alone.
“No. By the time I met Ingrid, Ingaborg was the shadow of a memory to me. I was an angrier man in Germany during the Middle Ages.”
“Did you have any children?”
“Ingaborg gave birth to eleven children. Seven lived past their infancy. While at war, I fathered another. I know nothing of what became of her.” He said these things like they were footnotes in a history text. To him, they must have been. Could someone still love a child who had died before Western civilization was a reality? Sig’s children might have died before Jesus.
Sig’s children might have killed Jesus.
I reminded myself Sig was Finnish, and it was pretty unlikely any of his spawn would have traveled across Europe to kill a trouble-making Jewish carpenter. I was also putting way too much thought in to this. I had to admit, though, it would be cool if one of his children had played a famous part in history. Asking him about this seemed frivolous, so I didn’t.
“What happened to your family after you were turned?”
“I do not know.”
“I was turned in 9 A.D., during the Battle of Teutoburg Forest, in what is now Germany, but was then simply Roman land in need of leadership. I had come from the North two years earlier to help prevent my brother’s settlement from being overtaken by the Romans. This, ultimately, proved unsuccessful, but we did manage to hold them off at the time. It was a special kind of day to be turned. September ninth, in the year nine. A lot of nines. Of course, the modern system of dating didn’t exist then. I only learned that date later when the history books wrote about our war, and I liked the symmetry of it. All I knew then was that I was seized one night from the camp, and the next night I had to dig myself out of a shallow grave.”
I was starting to be sorry I asked.
“The reason I don’t know what happened to my family was because I didn’t go back to Finland for almost forty years. It took me a long time to learn how to control myself and not be the killer who emerged from the woods that night.”
“You needn’t be.”
“Do I remind you of her?”
“No, my sweet. Only in your breathing and your pulse. The nearness of someone alive feels marvelous. It makes me feel almost human, and I haven’t felt that since I died,” he admitted. I raised my face to look at him, and he smiled down at me even though his eyes were closed. “Ingaborg was very…womanly. Not all bones and angles like you girls today. She was unbreakable.”
I found it hard to imagine Sig married to any woman, especially a curvy, motherly type with a brood of babies all around. But the way he smiled when he talked about her made me shut my mouth fast. Love is love, and though she was nothing but history now, Sig had obviously loved his wife.
We lay like that for another hour, and then it was time to leave.
I knew Sig could wake before sunset, but I’d never known before that being near him would make it easier for me to do the same. It had still been light out when we’d had our chat in the motel room, and now the final minutes of sunset were upon us.
When Sig pulled his navy blue Lexus out onto the old highway with me in the passenger seat, I didn’t look back at the motel. The sun had dipped below the horizon, and the whole sky was glowing a deep peach-pink. I was too busy enjoying the briefest glimpse of day to spoil it with remembrances of how I’d gotten here.
When we arrived at the main highway and began driving east, the last traces of twilight vanished in the rearview mirror. We drove in silence, and I didn’t attempt to make small talk. What could a twenty-two-year-old say to a two-thousand-year-old vampire that wouldn’t sound completely vacuous?
I pressed my temple to the cool glass of the passenger window and watched the darkness set in while the scenery whipped by in a nauseating blur. Vampires always drove too fast.
Before I had time to think too much about my return home, we were in New York State. I hadn’t yet let myself think about what I would do when we got back to the city. Foolishly, I’d assumed we must have been several hours away from home. Worry yielded to reality as the road signs began to read shorter and shorter distances to New York City. The pretty, wooded spaces of upstate New York became more populated and urban, and at last the glow of the city skyline came into view.
“Where am I to take you, pet?”
I didn’t have much time before we’d be in the heart of Manhattan, and my gut was a clenched fist of nerves. Did I want to go to the office and see Keaty? Or perhaps have Sig drop me at the 52nd Street Starbucks? It was a short walk from my apartment but also a gateway to the unique reality inhabited by the Oracle, Calliope. Certainly the half-god/half-fairy would have a thing or two to tell me about what my arrival home meant. Did I maybe, instead, want delivery to Rain Hotel, where my coveted black keycard would give me direct access to the three-story penthouse?
Unless my access had been cut off.
I swallowed hard.
“Take me home.”
For a moment I swore he smiled, but just as fast, it was gone.
Without time for further thought, we were on the four hundred block of West 52nd Street and stopped in front of my slender yellow apartment building. The lights in my basement suite were dark, and I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding.
Who had I expected to be there?
Neither Desmond nor Lucas would be there like obedient dogs, awaiting my return. Nor could I expect Holden to be inside, inviting me to capture him for his mysterious crimes.
Behind our idling car, an impatient driver honked.
“You may need these.” He handed me a familiar-looking bundle. It was my gun and the small wallet I’d had with me at the Elm Tree. The only keys I needed for anything were inside the zippered change compartment. I took them tentatively. I’d never noticed the wallet was gone. The car honked again.
“Do not be so quick to thank me, Miss McQueen.” His smile was unmistakable, but before I could make sense of it, I was standing in the street, smothered by the humidity of the July night. I eyed my building with suspicion as several cars sped by.
“Home, sweet home,” I sighed.
Inside, things went from odd to completely insane.
I unlocked my front door and didn’t give my eyes a chance to adjust when I stepped over the threshold, taking for granted my familiarity with my own apartment.