Authors: J. D. Robb
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #New York (N.Y.), #Women Sleuths, #Large type books, #Mystery Fiction, #New York, #New York (State), #Police, #Missing Persons, #Suspense, #Mystery, #Political, #Romance - Suspense, #Policewomen, #Detective, #Mystery & Detective - Women Sleuths, #Fiction - Mystery, #Pregnant Women, #Mystery & Detective - General, #Police - New York (State) - New York, #Eve (Fictitious character), #Dallas, #Dallas; Eve (Fictitious Character)
THE WAYS AND MEANS OF FRIENDSHIP WERE murderous. In order to navigate its twisty maze, a friend could be called upon to perform inconvenient, irritating, or downright horrifying acts at any given time.
The worst, the very worst requirement of friendship, in Eve Dallas’s opinion, was sitting through an entire evening of childbirth classes.
What went on there—the sights, the sounds, the assault on all the senses—turned the blood cold.
She was a cop, a Homicide lieutenant with eleven years on the job protecting and defending the hard, merciless streets of New York. There was little she hadn’t seen, touched, smelled, or waded through. Because people, to her mind, would always and could always find more inventive and despicable ways to kill their fellow man, she knew just what torments could be inflicted on the human body.
But bloody and brutal murder was nothing compared to giving birth.
How all those women with their bodies enormous and weirdly deformed by the entity gestating inside them could be so cheerful, so freaking placid about what was happening—and going to happen—to them was beyond her scope.
But there was Mavis Freestone, her oldest friend, with her little pixie body engulfed by the bulge of belly, beaming like a mentally defective while images of live birth played out on the wall screen. And she wasn’t alone. The other women had more or less the same God-struck look on their faces.
Maybe pregnancy stopped certain signals from getting to the brain.
Personally, Eve felt a little bit sick. And when she glanced over at Roarke, the wince on his angel-kissed faced told her he was right there with her. That, at least, was a big red check in the Pro-Marriage column. You got to drag your spouse into your personal nightmares and into that twisty friendship maze right along with you.
Eve let the images blur. She’d rather study a crime scene recording—mass murder, mutilation, severed limbs—than look up some laboring woman’s crotch and watch a head pop out. Roarke had horror vids in his collection that were less gruesome. She could hear Mavis whispering to Leonardo, the entity’s expectant father, but blocked out the words.
When, dear God, when would it be over?
Some setup here, all right, she thought, trying to distract herself by evaluating the birthing center. The whole damn building was a kind of cathedral to conception, gestation, birth, and babies. She’d managed to duck Mavis’s attempt to give her a tour of the entire place by pleading work.
Sometimes a well-placed lie saved friendships, and sanity.
The educational wing was enough. She’d sat through a lecture, several demonstrations that would haunt her dreams for decades, been forced as part of Mavis’s coaching team to assist in a mock birth with the labor droid and squealing droid infant.
And now there was this hideous vid.
Don’t think about it, she warned herself, and went back to studying the room.
Pastel walls covered with pictures of babies or pregnant women in various stages of bliss. All filmy and rapturous. Lots of fresh flowers and thriving green plants arranged artistically. Comfy chairs, supposedly designed to aid the women in hauling their loaded bodies up. And three perky instructors who were available for questions, lectures, demos, and serving healthy refreshments.
Pregnant women, Eve noted, were constantly eating or peeing.
Double doors at the back, one exit in the front, left of the vid screen. Too bad she couldn’t make a run for it.
Eve let herself go into a kind of trance. She was a tall, lanky woman with a choppy cap of brown hair. Her face was angular, and paler than usual, with whiskey-brown eyes currently glazed. The jacket she wore over her weapon harness was deep green and, because her husband had bought it, cashmere.
She was thinking about going home and washing the memory of the last three hours away in a full liter of wine when Mavis grabbed her hand.
“Dallas, look! The baby’s coming!”
“Huh? What?” Those glazed eyes popped wide. “What? Now? Well, Jesus. Breathe, right?”
Laughter erupted around them as Eve lurched to her feet.
“Not this baby.” Giggling, Mavis stroked her basketball belly. “That baby.”
Instinct had Eve glancing in the direction Mavis pointed, and getting a wide-screen blast of the bellowing, wriggling, gunk-covered creature sliding out from between some poor woman’s legs.
“Oh, man. Oh, God.” She sat down, before her own legs went out from under her. No longer caring if it made her a sissy, she groped for Roarke’s hand. When he gripped it, she found it as clammy as her own.
People applauded, actually clapped and cheered when the wailing, slippery-looking form was laid on its mother’s deflated belly, and between her engorged breasts.
“In the name of all that’s holy…” Eve muttered to Roarke. “It’s 2060, not 1760. Can’t they find a better way to handle this process?”
“Amen” was all Roarke said. Weakly.
“Isn’t it beautiful? It’s the ult, the extreme ult.” Mavis’s lashes—currently dyed sapphire blue, sparkled with tears. “It’s a little boy. Awww, look how sweet….”
Dimly she heard the lead instructor announce the end of the night’s coaching class—thank God—and invite people to stay for refreshments or questions.
“Air,” Roarke murmured into her ear. “I’m in desperate need of air.”
“It’s the pregnant women. I think they suck up all the oxygen. Think of something. Get us out of here. I can’t think. My brain won’t work right.”
“Stand with me.” He hooked a hand under her arm, pulled her up.
“Mavis, Eve and I want to take you and Leonardo out for a bite. We can do better than the offerings here.”
Eve could hear the strain in his voice, but imagined anyone who didn’t know him as well as she would only hear that easy, fluid stream of Irish.
There was a lot of chatter going on and women were making a bee-line for the food or the bathrooms. Rather than thinking about what was being said or done, Eve focused on Roarke’s face.
If it couldn’t distract a woman, she was too far gone to worry about it.
He might have been a little pale, but the white skin only intensified the wild blue of his eyes. His hair was a black silk frame around a face designed to raise a woman’s heart rate. And that mouth of his. Even in her current state it was tempting to just lean in a little and take a good bite of it.
And the body only added to the fantasy: tall, leanly muscled, and slickly presented in one of his perfectly tailored business suits.
Roarke wasn’t just one of the richest men in the known universe, he also looked the part.
And at the moment, because he was taking her arm and leading her out of that nightmare, he was her ultimate hero. She grabbed her coat on the fly.
“They wanted to see if a friend of theirs could join us.” He still had Eve’s hand, and was rapidly walking toward the exit. “I told them we’d get the car, bring it around to the front. Save them steps.”
“You’re brilliant. Freaking white knight. If I ever recover from this trauma, I’ll screw your brains out.”
“I hope, eventually, my brain cells regenerate enough to make that possible. My God, Eve. My God.”
“Total tandem here. Did you see how it sort of slithered out when—”
“Don’t.” He pulled her into the elevator, called for their level of the parking garage. “If you love me, don’t take me back there.” He leaned back against the wall. “I’ve always respected women. You know that.”
She rubbed at an itch on the side of her nose. “You’ve nailed plenty of them. But yeah,” she added when he just gave her a bland stare. “You’ve got respect.”
“That respect has now risen to admiration of biblical proportions. How do they do that?”
“We’ve just seen how. In graphic detail. Did you see Mavis?” Eve shook her head as they walked out of the elevator. “Her eyes were all glittery. And it wasn’t fear. She can’t wait to do all that.”
“Leonardo looked a bit green, actually.”
“Yeah, well, he’s got that thing about blood. And there was blood—and other stuff. ”
“That’s enough. There’ll be no talk of other stuff.”
Because the late January weather was lousy, he’d driven one of his all-terrains. It was big and black and muscular. When he uncoded the locks, Eve leaned back against the passenger door before he could open it.
“Look here, ace. We gotta face this, you and me.”
“I don’t want to.”
Now she laughed. She’d seen him face death with more aplomb. “What we did in there, that was just a preview. We’re going to be in the room with her when she pushes that thing out. We have to be there, counting to ten, telling her to breathe, or to go to her happy place. Whatever.”
“We could be out of town, or the country. No, we could be called off planet. That would really be best. We’ll be called off planet to save the world from some criminal mastermind.”
“Oh, if only. But you know and I know we’re going to be there. Pretty soon, probably, because that bomb inside her’s just ticking away.”
He sighed, then leaned down to rest his brow to hers. “God pity us, Eve. God pity us.”
“If God had any pity on us, He’d populate the world without the middle man. Middle woman. Let’s go drink. A lot.”
The restaurant was casual, a little noisy, and exactly what the midwife ordered. Mavis sipped some sort of exotic fruit punch that was nearly as sparkly as she was. Her riotous silver curls were tipped in the same sapphire as her lashes. Her eyes were a vivid, unearthly green tonight to match—Eve supposed—the tone of the sweater that fit over her breasts and belly like neon elastic. Numerous loops and squiggles hung from her ears and shot sparks of light as she moved her head. Her sapphire blue pants fit like a second skin.
The love of Mavis’s life sat beside her. Leonardo was built like a redwood, and as he was a fashion designer neither he nor Mavis were ever at a loss for an eye-popping ensemble. He’d gone with a sweater as well, a crazed and intricate geometric pattern of colors against gold. Somehow—Eve could have said—it suited his strong form and burnished copper complexion.
The friend they’d brought along was every bit as knocked-up as Mavis. Maybe even more so, if such things were possible. But in contrast to Mavis’s out-of-orbit style, Tandy Willowby wore a simple black V neck over a white tee. She was a tea-and-roses blonde, with pale blue eyes and a blunt-tipped nose.
During the drive over, Mavis had chattered out introductions, explaining that Tandy was from London, and had only been in New York a few months.
“I’m so glad I saw you tonight. Tandy wasn’t there for class,” Mavis continued as she mowed through the appetizers Roarke had ordered. “She dropped by toward the end to give the midwife the vouchers for the White Stork. It’s this completely mag baby boutique where Tandy works.”
“It’s a lovely shop,” Tandy agreed. “But I didn’t expect to drop by, then get fed and watered.” She offered Roarke a shy smile. “It’s awfully kind of you. Both of you,” she added to Eve. “Mavis and Leonardo have told me so much about you. You must be so excited.”
“About what?” Eve wondered.
“Being part of Mavis’s coaching team.”
“Oh. Oh, yeah. We’re…”
“Speechless,” Roarke concluded. “What part of London are you from?”
“Actually, I’m from Devon originally. I moved to London as a teenager, with my father. Now here I am in New York. I must have a bit of the wanderlust. Though I expect I’ll be grounded for a while now.” Dreamily, she stroked a hand over her belly. “And you’re a policewoman. That must be brilliant. Mavis, I don’t think you ever told me how you and Dallas met.”
“She arrested me,” Mavis said between bites.
“You’re having me on. No?”
“I used to work the grift. I was good at it.”
“Not good enough,” Eve commented.
“I want to hear all about it! But now, I have to make my way to the loo. Again.”
“I’ll go with you.” Like Tandy, Mavis levered herself up. “Dallas? Coming with?”
“I remember—vaguely—what it’s like not to have something planted on my bladder.” Tandy sent the table a smile, then waddled off with Mavis.
“So…” Eve turned to Leonardo. “You met Tandy in the class?”
“Orientation,” he confirmed. “Tandy’s due about a week before Mavis. It’s nice of you to let her come along. She’s going through all this without a partner.”
“What happened to the father?” Roarke asked him, and Leonardo shrugged.
“She doesn’t talk about it much. Just says that he wasn’t involved, or interested. If that’s the way it is, he doesn’t deserve her or the baby.” Leonardo’s wide face went tight and hard. “Mavis and I have so much, we want to help her as much as we can.”
Eve’s cynic antennae hummed. “Financially?”
“No. I don’t think she’d take money, even if she needed it. She seems okay there. I meant support, friendship.” He seemed to pale a little. “I’m going to be part of her coaching team. It’ll, ah, it’ll be like a dress rehearsal for Mavis.”
“Scared shitless, aren’t you?”
He glanced in the direction of the restrooms, then back at Eve. “I’m terrified. I could pass out. What if I pass out?”
“Make sure you don’t land on me,” Roarke told him.
“Mavis isn’t nervous. Not even a little bit. And the closer we get, the more my insides…” He lifted his big hands, shook them. “I don’t know what I’d do if the two of you weren’t going to be there. Backing me up.”
Oh, hell, Eve thought, and exchanged a glance with Roarke. “Where else would we be?” She signaled the waiter for another glass of wine.
Two hours later, after dropping Leonardo and Mavis home, Roarke drove south and east toward Tandy’s apartment building.
“Really, I can take the tube. Subway. It’s too much trouble, and only a few blocks.”
“If it’s only a few blocks,” Roarke said, “it’s hardly any trouble.”
“How can I argue?” Tandy let out a laugh. “And it’s so nice to sit in a warm car. It’s so bloody cold out there tonight.” She settled back with a sigh. “I feel pampered, and fat as a whale. Mavis and Leonardo, they’re the best. You can’t be around either of them for five minutes and not feel happy. And I see they’re lucky in their friends. Oops.”