“Thank you,” she whispered to the angel as the beast reached out and sniffed at the brown wrapper.
“G’head,” Lassiter said to the dragon. “Take it.”
And what do you know, with a precision that was impressive given the dagger-size of those chompers, Rhage’s alter ego took the tiny little candy bar between its front teeth and munched it down.
A split second later, there was a poof! and Rhage was naked and shivering on the floor.
“Am I good or what!” Lassiter proclaimed. “Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeah.”
Rhage came back from the far side of Beast World blind, freezing cold, and in an absolute panic. As he flailed around on a floor that seemed slippery, he was petrified there was blood everywhere—but no, he didn’t scent any carnage. What he did smell was electrical burning, plaster, and astringent, and he was dimly aware that he wasn’t nauseous, which was another good indicator that he hadn’t eaten anyone—
Wait, why did he taste peanut and chocolate? And something plastic-y?
“Mary …!” he called out into the darkness. “Bitty—”
“Everyone’s okay.” Mary’s voice was close to him and utterly calm. “Everything’s all right.…”
As her hand smoothed over his forehead and brushed through his hair, he mumbled, “Bitty?”
“I’m right here, Father. The beast just wanted to make sure I was sorted.…”
Rhage exhaled—and then realized he was lying on a bunch of debris. And there was rain hitting his face?
Oh, God, how in the hell had the beast fit into the exam room? It wasn’t like the damn thing could ratchet down on its size.
Talking. Footsteps. A light weight being drawn over his lower body. A loud scraping noise like some big piece of a wall or the ceiling or part of a tall cabinet was being moved out of the way. Meanwhile, all he could do was lie there like a planker, drowning in a pool of aches and frustration.
It fucking sucked.
Vishous’s voice came up close. “My brother, we’re going to put you on a stretcher, okay? Then get you out of here. Fritz is coming in the Mercedes because we can’t fit you in the GTO as easy.”
Fuck me, Rhage thought. He was so fucking tired of this shit.
Bitty had needed him, and what had he offered her? A fucking mess. What the fuck had made him feel like he could be a father? He couldn’t—
“I want to go with him,” Bitty said.
Doc Jane spoke up. “We need to set your limbs, sweetheart.”
“I’ll wait!” Rhage barked. “I want to wait!”
Bitty’s voice grew strident. “Put the casts on and we’ll go. But we want to be together.”
Rhage closed his lids even though it didn’t change how much he couldn’t see. The last thing the girl needed to worry about was him—
“You got it, Bit,” Vishous affirmed. “That’s why I asked for Fritz to come.”
“I have to take care of my father.”
“Of course you do.” Vishous was talking in as gentle a way as he ever did. “And you got it right, kid. He’ll do better with you.”
No, Rhage thought. He was supposed to support Bitty.
This was a total fucking nightmare.
But at least things moved fairly quickly after that. Havers cleared a path and rolled in a portable X-ray machine, and the image confirmed the thighbone was where it needed to be. Then there was a flour-and-water kind of smell as fiberglass casts were put on both of Bit’s legs and her arms. Rhage refused to leave her, staying on the hard wet floor until everything was dealt with.
And then they were off.
Bit had a wheelchair. He was a slab of meat on a gurney. And the grim entourage of Z, V, and Lassiter fell in step behind Mary.
Talk about the halt and the lame.
“Hey, Rhage?” Lassiter said softly.
“What?” he mumbled.
“If your career as a trained killer doesn’t work out? Don’t go into interior design. You don’t have a knack for it.”
Rhage had to laugh. “You are such a fucker.”
“Yeah, and you’re a good male. Even if you just caused about two hundred grand of damage back there. Don’t worry, I think we can write it off your taxes. You know, as a demolition deduction.”
There was a squeeze of his shoulder and then Rhage sensed the angel fade back. Taking a deep breath, it was a case of holding it together until he and Mary could get some privacy.
Then he’d fall apart.
Onto an elevator. Slow rise. Slight jerk as they came up to the surface.
The cold, dry air of the night was fantastic in his lungs, but it did nothing to relieve the ache in his chest. And he and Bit both moaned and groaned as they were moved, by other people, into the back of Fritz’s S600 4Matic.
Which was brutal for Rhage and not just because every joint and straightaway of his body was killing him.
He wanted to be the one lifting Bitty up and settling her in the back bucket seat. He should have been folding up the wheelchair and putting it in the trunk. He needed to offer support to her as they bumped their way over to the paved road.
It was he who should be carrying her up to her room when they got to the mansion.
As Mary said his name, he looked in the direction of the front of the sedan. “Yeah?”
Or at least those were the words they spoke. What they had actually communicated was: