Under the Moon (Goddesses Rising), page 20
“Sam, when he touched you, you screamed, too.”
He wrenched his gaze back to her. “Yeah, it’s a shared thing. Like he’s projecting what he’s feeling. It’s okay—if I wear gloves, it should block it. For me. That won’t help him.”
“God.” She shoved her hair back and drew a long breath. “Okay. I’ll take care of the pain. You extract the slug. Get the doctor and everything you’ll need to do this.”
Sam nodded and left. Quinn moved up to kneel next to the bed at Nick’s side, masking her fear. This was beyond anything she’d ever done before, and she didn’t understand what was causing it. “You okay?”
He looked exhausted, his eyes sunken and bruised, his lips white at the edges. But he nodded a little.
“What do you see when someone touches you?”
“Their demons,” he whispered. “The doc was the worst. He’s dealt with some serious shit in here. It fades after the contact breaks, so I can’t tell you what I saw, but the pain is worse than anything I’ve ever felt. And Sam.” He opened his eyes and licked his lips. “It’s all about you.”
She winced. “You didn’t scream when I touched you. But it hurt.”
“Some. No demons, though.”
Quinn didn’t know why that would be, but maybe, as he’d said, being a goddess offered some protection. She had demons, of course, and if Nick could see them, he’d know they were mostly about him. She tried to smile reassuringly. “We’ll take care of you.”
Nick’s eyes closed. “I know you will.”
Sam returned, followed by a tall, thin man with equally thin hair pushing a steel cart laden with instruments and supplies. Sam pulled a plastic chair to the foot of the bed and positioned the cart.
“Ready?” he asked. Quinn nodded.
Nick managed a weak grin. “Go for it.”
Sam pulled on a pair of latex gloves and stripped a set of forceps out of their sterile wrap. He nodded at Quinn, who sat on the edge of the bed and braced Nick’s head between her hands. He kept his green eyes locked on hers, and she opened herself to the power of the moon, letting the cool surge of energy snap into place. She didn’t know how much she could draw. The moon wasn’t very high yet, and there were still two days before she reached full power.
The physical limits on her ability to draw and use what could be unlimited power had never bothered her before. Humanity was about strength and weakness, and goddesshood was another level of that. But now, for the first time, it affected someone she cared about.
And it sucked.
Quinn didn’t watch Sam but knew when he first touched Nick, who hissed through his teeth and grabbed her wrist as if fighting to keep still. His eyes skittered sideways.
“Keep looking at me, Nick.” She reached into Nick, to feel what he felt, so she could interfere with the effect of Sam’s touch. Her power wasn’t strong enough to block it completely—she had to take some of the pain into herself. The sharpness made her gasp and she stopped as soon as Nick settled and locked his gaze back on hers. Taking in too much could make her lose contact with Nick, and the explosion of physical and psychological pain could kill him.
“I can feel the bullet,” Sam said. “It’s deep.”
Quinn ignored him and focused intently on Nick’s eyes, trying to draw all his attention so he wasn’t aware of what was happening at the foot of the bed.
His body jerked. “Son of a bitch,” he gritted out. His fingers tightened on her wrist, but he didn’t look away from her again.
“That’s it, Nick. Stay with me. It won’t take long.” She pressed her hands tighter, holding on.
“Nng. Naaarrrgh!” He strangled the yell, but the pain increased. Quinn let more of it in. Shards of glass tumbled through her bloodstream, but Nick screamed and she opened up even more. Her eyes watered with the effort of keeping contact, but Nick relaxed a tiny bit and his breathing became more gasp, less hiss.
Quinn tried to relax her body, to distance herself from the pain. She gritted her teeth to avoid screaming as Nick’s grip tightened again and the shards sliced deeper into her. Sam cursed behind her. Nick’s body bowed. She couldn’t talk, couldn’t see anything beyond the torment in his eyes, or feel anything but the agony spinning between them.
“I’ve got it.”
There was a clink behind her, and Nick went limp. Quinn gulped in air as the glass seemed to melt and slide out of her body.
“I need to rinse it with saline, put some ointment on it, and re-bandage it. I’m not going to try to stitch it or anything. Infection risk, besides keeping him in pain.”
“Appreciate that,” Nick managed to say. His hand slipped off of Quinn’s wrist, but she didn’t release him. She held on while Sam quickly medicated and bandaged the wound. Her fingers cramped and her back spasmed. Nick groaned a few times, but the worst of his agony had passed. When Sam declared himself done, Nick sank deeper into the pillow and patted Quinn’s hand.
“Thank you,” he whispered, his eyes boring into hers even more intensely than they had during the procedure. Then they closed, and he fell asleep.
And Quinn allowed herself to collapse.
“What the hell was it?”
A short while later Sam and Quinn huddled over the cart in the corner of Nick’s room while he slept. Sam had gathered her off the floor and deposited her in a chair, then rushed out to find her a bottle of juice. She’d recovered enough within a few minutes that she could focus on what the hell was going on.
She held the bullet with the forceps Sam had used to retrieve it and studied it with both her senses and her power.
“It’s been treated,” she said.
“With what? And why?”
“Hard to say without knowing who did it, but there are some goddesses who combine their powers with other disciplines. Like healers who use herbs and homeopathic remedies and infuse them with power to enhance their properties.”
“Or the opposite?”
She frowned. “So it would seem. This is strange, though. It’s like a hallucinogenic, but it caused him pain and insight, not hallucinations.” That rang a bell, but before she could figure out why, the tall psychiatrist returned with a baggie Sam had asked for, to contain the bullet he’d extracted.
“I’m sorry, but we are not equipped for this kind of thing,” the doctor said with a nervous glance at Nick. “I must insist you move him to a proper facility. One that has the experience to…handle all the…requirements.”
“We’ll pay you for the room and supplies,” Sam assured him. “And we’ll leave in the morning. He needs rest now.”
The doctor pursed his lips but nodded shortly. “If you’re finished with this?” He backed out of the room, pulling the cart.
“He’s got to call the police,” Quinn said in a low voice, watching the door. “It’s the law.”
“Don’t worry.” Sam dragged over the vinyl chair he’d used and pressed Quinn’s shoulder until she sat. He bent close to her ear. “I convinced him we’ll move Nick to a regular hospital tomorrow, and they can handle the report. He’s not made for this. He was eager to take that reprieve.”
“Good.” She stared at the plastic-encased bullet in her hand, her vision going lax from fatigue and post-adrenaline comedown, as well as from the use of power.
“Tell me again where you were.” She forced her heavy eyelids open. She had to stay strong so they could figure this out.
“The inn is on a hill surrounded by open land. It’s clear-cut at the back and carved with walkways and gardens and stuff. It’s one of her draws, I guess. Peace, serenity…”
“It might not have had anything to do with her.”
“Or with Nick specifically? Like they’d do this to just anyone who was there?”
Sam didn’t answer, but she’d been speaking rhetorically. There was no way this didn’t have anything to do with Marley or that Nick wasn’t a deliberate target. Blame tried to settle on her shoulders. Nick
But that was stupid. The only person responsible for this was the person who’d done it. They could run and hide, but that would only delay the inevitable. They had to keep going and stop the enemy before they harmed anyone else.
She held up the bullet, finally understanding the hallucinogeniclike properties. “Do you know who does things like this?”
Sam scowled. “Like this? To hurt people?”
“No.” She set the bag on the flat arm of the chair and let her head drop against the back. “She infuses objects. Fun stuff for souvenirs—infusing light or kinetic energy or the essence of certain compounds. There were rumors she did it for legal highs, too.”
“But she’s been leeched.”
Understanding dawned. “You think the leech did this.”
“Or someone working with the leech.” She didn’t need to spell it out. The heaviness in her voice was obvious.
“See if you can find another chair. We need a little sleep before tomorrow.” She dragged herself to her feet and pulled the chair to the side of Nick’s bed before collapsing into it.
She was asleep before Sam returned.
Quinn woke with degrees of awareness. First was the dishearteningly familiar churn of need. The moon lust usually took half the full moon period to manifest, but because she’d ignored it for so long, it surged much earlier.
Luckily, the crick in her neck and tingling up and down her left side were stronger discomforts. Sunlight poured through the window, making her blink. She realized the tingling was from the vibration of her cell phone, which wasn’t also ringing. She must have hit the button to silence it at some point in her frantic scramble to get here. That explained why she hadn’t heard it when Sam called last night. She tugged the phone out of her pants pocket and checked the display. The number wasn’t familiar.
“How’s your boy?”
She sat up. The voice was disguised, neither male nor female, but whatever device the caller used to distort it didn’t filter out the glee. Hatred made her voice shake when she answered.
“Don’t play coy. The legendary Nick Jarrett, taken down with a little of the magic he protects.”
“It’s not magic.”
“Of course it is. Magic is just another word for things science can’t explain.”
“Who are you?”
“I think you call me ‘the leech.’ I’d capitalize it, though.”
“Why disguise your voice? Do I know you?”
“No. You don’t know me. But you will, and I don’t want you to see me coming. Ta for now.”
Her phone beeped the call summary, but she didn’t look at it. It had been thirty-four seconds. Not enough time to trace the call, either electronically or with power. And dammit, she hadn’t even thought of it.
And there wouldn’t be a next time. He wanted to play games but wouldn’t be stupid enough to repeat himself. She squeezed the phone in her hand, her jaw clenched, until the urge to roar her anger subsided.
“Who was that?” Sam unfolded himself from the chair he’d scrunched into on the far side of the bed and rubbed his eyes. Nick slept on between them, much more peaceful and rested than a few hours ago. The sunken look was gone, his color normal.
“The leech,” she said, not taking her eyes off Nick. His chest rose and fell with a slow, natural rhythm. Watching it calmed her, and she unclenched her muscles, one by one.
Sam, on the other hand, lurched to his feet. “What?”
“The leech. Apparently Nick was right. He’ll be coming after me.” She told him about the conversation. “He’s responsible for Nick’s leg.”
Before Sam could launch into the outburst that had built while she talked, the doctor appeared at the doorway. “It’s time to check out,” he said dourly. “If one of you would like to settle the charges?”
“I’ll do it.” Sam followed him.
So Nick had been right all along. She might not be the leech’s endgame, but he was coming for her, and he was smart. He knew she wouldn’t be as easy as the others had been, so he was targeting the people around her first. Trying to get them out of the way or to unbalance her, make her vulnerable emotionally? Maybe both. His motives didn’t really matter. Now there was no doubt this was personal. So, okay. He’d learn what a mistake that was.
Quinn sat forward and touched her fingertips to the back of Nick’s hand. He didn’t move. Relieved, she stroked his fingers, then up his wrist and forearm to his elbow. Still no writhing or screaming. He rolled his head the other way but slept on.
“Nick.” She pressed her thumb into the spot inside his elbow. “Wake up, hon.”
He smiled. “I like the way you say that.” His voice was sleep-rough, but not the croak it had been the night before. Rolling his head back toward her, he opened his eyes and twisted his arm to wrap his fingers around hers. “Not a bad sight to wake up to, either.”
Quinn couldn’t help it; she laughed, shoving her hair back with her free hand. Her relief that he was okay made her momentarily giddy. “I’m a mess.”
“The gold light makes your skin glow. Your eyes, too. You’re beautiful.” His brows furrowed, as if he were remembering what had happened. He looked around at the hospital room, then lifted his left leg a little and flinched. “Ow.”
“I’d better look at that before we leave.” Quinn released his hand and moved to the end of the bed. She carefully peeled up the bandage. The flesh beneath was pink now and not bleeding. She smiled. “Much better.” The wound was still severe, but she didn’t want to try to heal it yet. She’d used so much power, she wasn’t sure how much she could draw on right now, and the leech could attack at any time.
“If you say so.” Nick frowned. “Man, he shredded my favorite jeans.”
“You can thank him later. Can you get up? They’re kicking us out.”
“Yeah, no problem.” He swung his legs around, started to push himself off the bed, and sank back down, raising his eyebrows and squeezing his eyes shut. “Okay, small problem.”
“Here.” Quinn reached for the pitcher. “Drink some water. I’ll go see if I can find a vending machine, get you something to eat. Your blood sugar must be low.”
Nick caught her hand as she rose. “Hey.” He tugged, and she sat back down. “Thank you for what you did last night.”
“You don’t need to thank me.”
“Yeah, I do. This is a pretty severe role reversal. It wasn’t your job to come get me, and it put you at risk.”
Quinn felt her face go stony. “It had nothing to do with a professional relationship. You’re my friend. At some point, my own well-being has to stop being more important than anyone else’s.”
Nick held her gaze for a moment, then let her go. She stood, hesitated, and decided they’d said enough. He needed food, not a debate.
By the time she got back with a pack of peanut butter crackers and a bottle of apple juice, Sam had returned. He had Nick on his feet with his arm slung over Sam’s shoulder, but they hadn’t moved far from the bed.
“Are you having trouble walking on it?” She moved to Nick’s other side and slid under his shoulder. His long, lean, hard body aligned with hers stoked her lust to a simmer.
“Nah. It’s the dizziness thing. Dr. Scary was in here, though, looking like he was going to shoot me again if I didn’t get my sorry carcass out of his bed.”
They wobbled out of the room and down the hall to the rear entrance. Once outside, Quinn and Sam lowered Nick to a bench next to the door. As soon as she wasn’t touching him, the simmer subsided but didn’t go away completely.
Quinn swallowed hard and stepped back a few feet. “I’ll get Chloe’s car. We’ll drive to the Charger. Sam, where’s the rental
“Back on the road near Marley’s inn.”
“Can you call the rental company to come get it? We’re not going to be able to take it with us.”
“I can drive,” Nick said. But he was blinking funny again, a lot like Sam had after his accident.
“No way,” Quinn said.
“Fine, but you’re not driving the Charger.”
“Neither are you. Not until your head clears.”
“Sam can do it.”
Quinn snorted. “Obviously, you’re out of your head.” Both men gave her pained looks. “All right, fine. I’ll be right back.”
She brought Chloe’s car to the sidewalk, then drove them to the Charger on the side of the dirt track.
“Why is this road so dubious?” she asked.
“It’s not the main way,” Sam explained. “Just the fastest.”
“How did you know that?”
His mouth quirked. “Google satellite maps.”
She shook her head. “You’re such a geek.” But thank god for that.
“Thank you.” He opened his door to get out. “What’s the next step?”
“There’s a truck stop about ten miles down the highway,” Quinn said. “I think Nick probably wants a shower, after all that sweating last night.”
“They’ll have medical supplies in the store. And we need food. We can plan over breakfast.”
“Sounds fan-freaking-tastic to me,” Nick said. He hadn’t moved. His eyes were closed, his head back against the headrest.
Sam hesitated. “Aren’t you coming with me?”
“Nope. Don’t crash her.”
Quinn caught Sam’s pleased smile before he stood and slammed his door.
Nick winced. “God, I feel hungover. All the crap without the fun.”
“You didn’t think that was fun? I’m crushed.” She put the car into gear as Sam started the Charger with a roar and rolled down the wagon tracks.
Nick didn’t open his eyes, but his voice went husky. “When we have fun together, Quinn, there won’t be any hangover the next day.”
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