Mercy Blade Page 63


EPILOGUE


Two weeks had passed, and I still hadn\ gotten the carnage out of my mind, my memory, my nightmares. I had thought I was used to the stink of slaughter, the screams, the cursing, the eardrum-blowing concussions. The stench of my own fear-sweat. The smell of the dead.


I\d been wrong. Nothing about that morning at Booger\s Scoot had fit in with my past experience. Unlike my usual chase-\em-down-and-stake-\em method of hunting and killing rogue vamps, this had been a slaughter.There were twelve werewolves in the fenced compound, most in human form. Within five minutes, all were dead. Maybe it had taken only two minutes. I hadn\ checked the time. While the battle went on, it felt like it took forever. And only an instant. From the moment we got into the panel van, time had started breaking and stumbling as it tried to find its way back to normal. I still had nightmares;not of the battle, but of the time in the van, bandaging Rick\s wounds. Holding him. I\d wake, crying, the feel of his fevered skin, his beard, fresh and intense in my memory.


I could have taken him to the hospital, and maybe I should have, but what could a doctor do? Treat his symptoms, not the contagion in his bloodstream. The world would have known he\d been bitten by werewolves. Repeatedly. If he went furry, he\d have been a prize to doctors and scientists. His life would never again have been his own.


So I\d left Rick there, with Gee curled up beside him on the marble floor in the foyer, lying on the mosaic of the Anzu. Derek drove me home, me wearing Bruiser\s sweat pants and hoodie, his scent trying to replace the scent of Rick\s sickness in my nostrils. The Vodka boys brought Bitsa home later that day, cursing about the witchy locks that had burned them while getting her into the van.


My belief that I had been working two cases had been both right and wrong, though I managed to solve both of them. It had all been tied together, with Tyler and Maggie Sweets and the awful event that turned her were at the center, like a pole around which everything else swung.


The next morning, I had tried to visit Rick at Leo\s, but he\d refused to see me. He\d sent word by Bruiser to keep away. And I\d left, hating the look of pity in Bruiser\s eyes. Later that week, Bruiser called to tell me that Rick had left. Bruiser called. Not Rick. From him, I\d heard nothing, not a word, not a text, not an e-mail. Not even after the first night of the full moon, last night, which would have forced a shift on him, if he had the contagion. Bruiser told me some of what Rick had endured, things he\d learned from Gee DiMercy, the Mercy Blade, as the Anzu tried to heal him from the were-taint.


Rick went through hell at the hands, fangs, and claws of the wolves. Had suffered things that made him not want to see me. Guilt. Shame. Post-traumatic stress. Pure hell.So . . . Crap. I was leaving.


Maybe it was all girly to leave an entire city and a really profitable job because of one man, but that was my plan. I hadn\ told Bruiser or Leo yet. They thought I was just taking a few weeks off, heading back to the mountains to rest and visit with the Everheart sisters, who were justifiably worried about the changes in Evangelina, who had gone home, and wanted my input. The vamps would figure it out when I didn\ come back. Or when I called Deon to ship my belongings home;they were boxed and ready to go, sitting on the floor of my closet with Maggie\s trunk of belongings that I\d never bothered to open. What was the point? She was dead.


Tyler was dead too. Jodi and NOPD were not happy campers about the carnage at Booger\s Scoot, but there wasn\ much they could do about it until Congress settled whether weres were human, with equal rights under the law, or animals, and under control of local animal control officers. The battle had fueled the contentious legal debate between vamps and the U.S. government, but NOPD\s problem was that no bodies had been found. No one could prove anyone was even dead. Stalemate. For now. No one had seen anything, heard anything, or knew anything. Derek\s men were in the clear.


I hadn\ burned any bridges. Not yet. For now, I was getting outta New Orleans. Away from the kinder and gentler Leo, who seemed to be around too often, his Mercy Blade at one side, his prime blood-servant at the other.


I locked the side gate. Pocketed the ornate key. Walked to Bitsa, parked out front of my freebie house, my Lucchese Western boots crunching on the asphalt. The light of the full moon glinted off the bike\s chrome and artwork, the cougar claws that reached from the seat, along the gas tank, toward the front wheel, standing out in the dim light of midnight. The bike looked wicked good, even strapped down with bags and gear. Even damaged by wolf attack. I checked to see that Angie Baby\s new doll was safely strapped to the bike in its shipping box and wouldn\ tumble to the highway.


I straddled Bitsa and rose up, ready to kick-start her. I heard the sound. The motor of a bike, revving high. Heading this way. I froze. Listening. And slowly, so slowly, swung my leg back over the bike. Pulled off the helmet. And stood there, the wind in my face. Waiting.


The bike downshifted, making a turn onto my street, half a block down. The red Kow-bike puttering to a stop in the middle of the street. Rick put his feet down, bracing himself, his head and face hidden by the helmet and face shield. For a long moment, he watched me.


And then his scent reached me. And my Beast rose up hard and fast, holding me still.


Pelt roiled beneath my skin, so hard that my flesh ached and burned, as if I would shift where I stood. And I remembered Rick\s blood-scent in the elevator at Leo\s. He\d been injured early, hidden, carried out by the wolves. But it was Safia that the grindy had killed first. Safia, who conspired with the wolves behind her lover\s back. Safia, who slept with Rick and bit Rick, long before Magnolia Sweets got to him. It was Safia who first broke were-law. And because she broke were-law, she was dead. The wolves were dead.


And Rick had been infected with the were contagion.


Big-cat, Beast thought. I/we smell black leopard. Big-cat.



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