Read 16 Taking Eve Online

Authors: Iris Johansen

Tags: #Eve Duncan

16 Taking Eve (7 page)

“Then you have to find out,” Margaret said soberly. “It could happen again. Cowards usually prey on the helpless when they’re too scared to go after a person they want to hurt. Animals are often targeted.”

“I’m not exactly threatening,” Jane said dryly. “So that kills that theory.”

Margaret studied her. “Not obviously threatening. But I think you could be intimidating if you had cause. You were very protective of Toby.” She paused. “And the man you’re with could make someone afraid. Maybe it was because of him.”

“I agree that Seth Caleb is in a class by himself in that department. But he only came on the scene after Toby got sick.”

“Really? There could still be—” She shrugged. “He makes me … uneasy.”

“Why?”

She hesitated. “Maybe it’s the blood thing.”

Jane’s eyes widened. “What?”

“There’s something about blood whenever I look at him. I see it. I
feel
it. It’s strong.”

Jane felt stunned. She hadn’t expected that answer. She certainly hadn’t dreamed Margaret would be able to sense that strangeness about Caleb. Blood … Most people were aware of his strength and magnetism but made no connection to anything more bizarre. He managed to keep it hidden … unless he chose to unleash it. “Listen, you’re supposed to be some kind of dog whisperer or something. Are you saying that you can read people, too?”

“For Pete’s sake, no.” She made a face. “I have enough trouble without that to worry about. But sometimes I get impressions. It’s usually when a person is closer to—when their instincts are like—”

“A bit closer to the wild?” Jane supplied.

“Yeah, I guess,” she said. “Anyway, Caleb is radiating something that worries me. I think I’d better go and talk to him.”

“No,” Jane said sharply. The idea of Margaret’s confronting Caleb about anything personal was both amusing and chilling. “Stay away from him. This isn’t your business, Margaret.”

“Yes, it is.” She added simply, “Because after tonight, Toby is my friend, and no one hurts my friends.” She started down the path. “And I don’t like that blood. I’ve never felt that kind of—”

“He didn’t hurt Toby.”

“I’ll find out.” She smiled back over her shoulder. “Just as soon as I ask Caleb a few questions, then—”

“Wait.” She was so damn stubborn, Jane thought in exasperation. “I can tell you about the blood you’re sensing if that’s what’s worrying you. You don’t have to ask him. That’s not a good idea.”

Margaret stopped and turned to face her. “You think he’ll hurt me?”

“I didn’t say that. It might be awkward.”

“But you’re not sure Caleb won’t hurt me.” She was staring curiously at her. “You’re not entirely sure of anything about him, are you?”

“I know he wouldn’t hurt Toby.”

Margaret just looked at her.

“Look, he’s a little like you.” Margaret was still staring skeptically at her, and Jane knew she’d have to try to elaborate. “He has a kind of talent. He can control the flow of blood in people around him.”

“How?”

“I don’t know. He can just do it. It’s a gift passed down through his family. I could ask the same of you.”

She shook her head. “No one in my family was able to do what I do. I don’t think they ever tried.” She thought about it. “Flow of blood … that could be bad or good.”

“Yes.”

“But you’ve seen the bad.”

Shrewd Margaret. So young, so shrewd.

“I’ve never seen him hurt anyone that didn’t deserve it.”

“Perhaps he didn’t let you see it. You said he inherited the talent from his family. Families teach their young. What do you know about them?”

“Nothing.” Caleb never talked about his home or his relations. “He lives in Scotland most of the year. He has a place in Italy. Haven’t I told you enough?”

“No, you’re skirting around trying to not tell me something. I think I should talk to him.”

“He doesn’t like to discuss—” She drew a deep breath. Just tell her and put that curiosity to rest. “He comes from a very ancient family originating in a village in Italy. Back in medieval times, they were known as the Ridondo family, and there were all kinds of stories in their village about their supposed dark powers. Not pleasant stories.”

Margaret started to chuckle. “Vampires?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Caleb is
not
a vampire.”

“Though that could be where the vampire legends originated.” Margaret was looking intrigued. “How cool.”

“Not cool at all.”

“Yes, it is. I wonder how that blood thing works.”

“Don’t ask him,” Jane said dryly. “He might show you.”

“But you just said he was no danger.”

“Is that what I said? I believe I said he was no danger to Toby.”

Her face was lit with eagerness. “You know, I’ve always been curious about vampire bats. I’ve never been able to merge with them. They’re too single-minded.”

“Merge? Is that what you do?”

“Sort of,” Margaret said vaguely. “It’s difficult to explain.”

“Like Seth Caleb. I’m asking you to take my word for it that he had nothing to do with hurting Toby and not start questioning him.”

She was silent a moment. “I’ll take your word. And I won’t question him … anytime soon.” She added brusquely, “But if he has nothing to do with it, then all this has to be about you.” Her tone was no longer amused or speculative. “Find out who did it and keep him from doing it to Toby or some other dog.” She put up her hand as Jane opened her lips to speak. “I can’t talk any more now. I have to get back to Toby.” She started back up the path toward the hospital. “I just had to tell you what you have to do. You say you’re grateful to me. Prove it. Keep Toby safe from that ugly man.”

“Was he ugly? How do you know?” Her brows rose quizzically. “Did Toby tell you?”

“No, Toby thinks all humans are beautiful. But he doesn’t know about ugly souls.” She stopped at the door and looked back at Jane. “You’ll do this for me?”

“No,” she said quietly. “I’ll do it for me and for Toby.”

“Good.” Margaret’s face lit with a luminous smile. “That’s how it should be.” The harsh bulb above her surrounded her with a glow that should have been stark and unflattering but somehow wasn’t. She looked soft and young and appealing, as if even that unkind glare couldn’t alter that essential effect. “Why don’t you come in and stay with Toby and me? He’s still under sedation, but I think he’d like to have you with him.”

“Think? You don’t know?”

“Of course not. He’s out cold.” Margaret giggled, and suddenly she looked more like sixteen than twenty. “You’re making fun of me.” She opened the door and stepped aside for Jane to enter. “Because I make you a little uncomfortable, and you don’t know how to treat me. You half believe I helped Toby, but you’re not quite sure. Devon was like that for a long time.”

Close. Except how could Jane be uncomfortable with the kid in leather sandals and jeans who could accept being the butt of jokes and suspicion and giggle about it? “How do you want me to treat you?”

“As a friend.” Margaret’s voice was wistful. “That would be nice. The other trainers and techs like me, but they think I’m kind of strange.”

“You are strange.” Jane smiled. “But I know a lot of strange people, and it doesn’t get in the way. We could work through it if you don’t mind me asking you questions. I’m very curious.”

“Sure.” She grinned. “I don’t have to answer all of them. I probably won’t. Everyone deserves their privacy.” She added impishly, “Even Seth Caleb.” She turned to Devon as she came into the room. “You go rest and get a cup of coffee. Jane and I will watch over Toby. I’ll call you if I see him doing anything that worries me. You know you can trust me.”

“I’ll take you up on that.” Devon wearily rubbed the back of her neck. “Thirty minutes. No more.” She headed for the door to the waiting room. “And yes, I can trust you.”

“See?” Margaret murmured as the door closed behind Devon. “No one knows more than Devon how strange I am, but she still thinks I’m okay.” She went over to Toby and stroked his head. “And this one agrees with her.”

Jane was beginning to see that Margaret was a strange and somehow wonderful mixture of strength and vulnerability. She was beginning to wonder what experiences had created that unique blend. “I can see that he does.” She smiled and tapped her own breast with her index finger. “This one agrees with her, too.”

Lake Cottage
Atlanta, Georgia

A BANGING ON THE DOOR.

Eve was abruptly jarred from sleep.

What the hell?

She sat upright in bed and looked at the clock.

Don’t open the door.

Joe’s words came back to her even as she swung her feet to the floor.

But what if it was the policeman who had been cruising the area?

The banging increased in volume.

One way to find out. She checked her phone and retrieved the telephone number for the policeman Joe had hired. Ron Hughes. She dialed quickly.

He answered on the first ring. “Hughes. Is everything okay, Ms. Duncan?”

“You tell me. Is it you that’s been banging on my door?”

“Hell, no. I’m about six miles from your place making the circle from the highway. I’ll be right there. Don’t answer the door.” He hung up.

And she had no intention of opening that door. But she wasn’t going to cower in this bedroom, either. There was desperation, maybe even violence, in the force with which those blows were being struck against the front door. If it was desperation, it could be that someone had had an accident in this torrential rain and needed help. If it was violence, she wanted that violence to have a face she recognized. The person on the porch might very well take off when he saw the patrol car coming down the road. For good or ill, she had to know who it was out there.

No problem. The two picture windows on either side of the door had drapes that she could pull a little aside so that she could see who was standing in front of the door. She thrust her feet into slippers, shrugged on her robe, grabbed her gun from the bedside table, and left the bedroom. The next moment, she had reached the front door.

The banging continued.

She moved to the far right side of the door and carefully drew the red drapes the tiniest bit away from the window.

She stiffened with shock.

The next moment she was at the front door, turning off the alarm.

She thrust her gun in her robe pocket and threw the door open.

“Stop that banging. What are you doing here?”

“You need me,” Ben Hudson said simply. “So I came, Eve. May I come in? I’m all wet.”

“For heaven’s sake, of course you have to come in.” She took his arm and pulled him into the cottage. “Just look at you.” She grabbed a dish towel from the kitchen cabinet and handed it to him. “You look like you’ve been swimming in the lake.”

“Do I?” He smiled his warm sweet smile as he wiped his face. “I guess so. After all, it’s all just lots of water.” He dried his sandy hair until it stood up in spiky tendrils. “But kind of different.”

She shook her head as she gazed at him. Here he was on her doorstep smiling at her as if he had just dropped in to say hello. Wide-set blue eyes stared at her from beneath that ridiculously spiked hair, and he was obviously pondering the difference between lake and rainwater. He was the same calm, sweet, slow boy she had grown to know all those months ago when he had helped Joe and her find Bonnie’s body. The counselors at the charity camp where he worked had told her he was twenty years old but had the mental capacity of a child of ten. She had never been sure that was true. He was indeed special, but that uniqueness seemed far beyond the easy pigeonhole where they wanted to put him. When she had first seen him, his joyous smile had reminded her of Bonnie’s. It still did. She wanted to hold him, take care of him, shake him for wandering outside in this storm.

“Sit down. I’ll get you some hot chocolate.”

He shook his head. “No, I have to go back outside. I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”

She was already at the counter putting in a chocolate K-cup under the drink dispenser. “So you decided to bang down my door and make sure.”

He nodded gravely. “I thought that would be the right thing to do. I had to be sure. She said Joe wasn’t with you.”

She stiffened as her hand closed on the cup of chocolate. “She?”

“I had a dream last night. She said that I had to try to help you.”

She. He had to mean the dream had been about Bonnie. Bonnie had reached out to Ben in the past in dreams. Perhaps she recognized and bonded to his clear, simple soul, which was so like that of the child she had been when she had been alive. The fact that Bonnie had chosen to come to this boy made Ben all the more close to Eve.

She crossed the room and handed him the cup, and said very carefully, “Let’s go slowly. You had a dream about Bonnie?”

“Sort of.” He frowned. “It was more about you. She said she couldn’t get through to you. She said the darkness was holding her back.”

“Darkness?”

“Bad darkness. She said it was coming toward you, and I had to try to help.”

“Because Joe wasn’t going to be here?” She felt a sudden chill. “Were you at the vocational camp when you had this dream?”

He nodded. “She came almost as soon as I went to sleep. So I started out right away.”

“All the way from the camp in south Georgia? You don’t drive.”

“I woke up Kenny. He brought me. He’s a counselor, too, and sharing my tent right now. But he was afraid his Honda would get stuck in the mud and wouldn’t bring me past the highway and I had to walk.” He made a face. “I think he was kind of mad at me for waking him up. But it was nice of him to bring me, wasn’t it?”

“It would have been even nicer if he’d gone the extra couple miles,” she said dryly. But it didn’t surprise her that he’d been able to persuade this Kenny to drive over a hundred miles when Ben had asked him. Ben was special, and everyone he touched seemed to realize that. “You’ve got to get out of those clothes. I don’t suppose you brought anything with you?”

Ben shook his head.

“Then I’ll get something of Joe’s for you to wear.” She started to turn, then saw a spear of headlights outside the window. “That’s the patrol car. I almost forgot he was coming.” She headed for the front door. “Stay here. I’ll talk to the officer.”

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