I GOT INTRODUCED to the bride-to-be eventually. Thered been a point in my life when I wouldnt have wanted to meet strangers dressed in nothing but a robe, in a hotel room, with a man who I wasnt married to, who was also in a robe. Strangely, this was so mild in comparison to my life lately that I didnt even flinch.
She blinked pale blue eyes at me. What makeup shed started the night with had surrendered to tears and the damp rag that Jason had fetched for her. She blinked up at me, stray wisps of yellow hair clinging to her face where theyd been wetted down, other bits of her hair just all around her face. Without the makeup she looked about twelve, though I knew she had to be Jasons age. Twenty-two or twenty-three; she did not look it.
I said automatically, Nice to meet you, Lisa.
She blushed a nice pink color and looked down. I am so embarrassed.
Jason knelt in front of her, making sure his robe covered him. Its okay, Lisa, you didnt know I was back in town, and the reporters lied to you.
And I was drunk, she said, softly.
I thought, That, too, but out loud I said, Did the reporters lie, or could they really not tell the difference between you and this Summerland guy?
Lisa and Jason looked up at me together, and the mirror effect was startling. They really did look alike.
They do look that much alike, Lisa said.
Trish came up beside us, towering over all of us in her heels. Wait until you see Keith, youll freak at how much alike they look. I swear its like the Summerlands had triplets instead of twins.
Jason stood up. Yeah, everyone intermarried a little too much in Promise.
Promise? I made it a question.
It was the name that Summerland gave to his little religious community in the hills above Asheville. Promise to God was the full name, actually.
You mean like those Puritan names, Pass-through-the-valley-of-death Smith?
He smiled and nodded. Yeah, like that, but it got shortened to Promise.
The school is still called Promise School, Lisa said, as if she were trying to focus and making some headway.
You can still get free tuition if you prove your ancestors came in with Jedediah, Jason said.
I take it your moms side of the family came in with ol Jedediah, I said.
Mine, and Lisas, and others.
In my head, I thought, So does that make Keith and Lisa some sort of kissing cousins? But it wasnt any of my business; once you leave first cousins behind, most states dont care. I decided to concentrate on something that interested me more than ancestors and religious zealots who got eaten by vampires.
Lisa figured out that it was Jason, though, even drunk, I said. Okay, I was trying to be subtle, because what I wanted to ask was, Why did seeing him nude convince you he wasnt Keith? I just couldnt figure out a polite way to ask it.
Jason grinned at me, eyes not quite sparkling, but it was his grin.
I gave him a look that Id once thought would squash that grin, but now I did it out of habit; nothing I could do would ever take the spark out of that smile.
Lisa blushed again, and was very flustered. IKeith isntI She stood up, abruptly, swayed.
Jason and I both caught her arm.
May I use your bathroom, please?
Ill take her, Trish said. The taller woman eased Lisa out of our arms and toward the open bathroom door. Uncharitably I hoped she wouldnt throw up in our room anywhere, but I was glad for the privacy. Though, looking at the two suited guards at the door, I guess privacy was stretching it.
We waited until the door closed behind the women, and then I looked at him. I take it you and Lisa dated in high school.
He nodded. We did. He was going to make me ask. Fine.
She recognized you once you were nude, Jason. What clued her in? You and the Summerland boys not quite identical when the clothes come off?
Youre mad I made you work for it, he said, grinning.
Not mad, just tired of being embarrassed about stupid things. Answer the question.
I assume so does Keith.
I wasnt talking about my face.
Oh. You mean you shaved totally smooth in high school, too?
No, but I did shave enough so that no body hair showed in the costumes for dance recitals. I didnt start shaving completely until after I started stripping. I got enough grief from the other guys about what I did shave, I cant imagine what they would have said if Id showed up smooth as I am now. He shook his head. I liked parts of high school, but other parts sucked.
Amen to that, I said.
There was a knock on the door. One of the suits turned and spoke quietly to the door. He started to take the flip-bar off.
I called, Stop.
He glanced at me, hand still on the flip-bar. He had brown eyes and hair to match. His eyes tried for hard and empty, buTHE was too fresh out of the package to carry it off.
Our room, so we get to say who comes and who goes.
Brown Hair looked at his partner, who was also young, with hair cut so short I could see his skin through the hair. He wore small silver-framed glasses over pale eyes. The haircut made me think ex-military. Id have to wait and see if the haircut matched anything else before making the final call.
Military Cut gave a tiny shrug.
Brown Hair said, Its Peterson and the governors man.
The governors man, you mean, Chuck? I asked.
Another exchange of looks between them, and then they both nodded as if theyd timed it.
I exchanged a look with Jason. Did he think their referring to Chuck as the governors man was as strange as I thought it was?
Jason shrugged. I think we have to let them in; we did call them for help.
He was right, darn it. I nodded at the suits by the door. Let them in.
The two suits exchanged another look. It was Military Cut who said, You do know we dont take orders from you.
All right, guys, first, what are your names?
They looked at each other again. Did they do that before they answered any question, or was it just because I was confusing them?
Im Shadwell, Military Cut said.
Im Rowe, Brown Hair said.
Youre Shadwell and Rowe? I made it a question, because I knew if they hung around I would never be able to resist calling them Shad and Rowe, it would just be too fun.
Jason proved he knew me well, because he touched my arm and said, Be nice.
I grinned at him for a changebut controlled myself out loud. I could always be irritating later; I was good at it. Okay, guys, heres the deal: you say you dont take orders from me; well, we dont take them from you, either. Well need to figure out a way to cooperate or its going to be a very unpleasant few days.
There was a sharper knock on the door, and I was pretty sure it was Chucks voice saying, Open the door.
Rowe said, Can I open the door now? in a tone of voice that said he was unimpressed with anything Id said.
Sure, I said. Because he could be unimpressed, as long as he did what I wanted him to do.