Chapter Twelve

Divine woke up making a strangled sound she recognized at once as a scream caught in her throat. She'd woken up like that many times over the years. She used to wake up like that daily, surfacing from nightmares that claimed her while she slept. But they'd waned over the centuries and millennia. She rarely had them anymore. She supposed it was the pain of healing that had brought them back now.


Pushing the dark memories determinedly from her consciousness, Divine concentrated on the here and now instead, taking careful note of the room she was in. It was the same rose-colored room Jackie and Vincent had shown her to before chaining her down so she wouldn't hurt herself and giving her the bagged blood. The chains were gone now, she noted, probably removed once the worst of the healing had ended.

That was a good sign, she decided. It meant they had no idea she was the Basha Argeneau they were looking for.

Sighing, Divine sat up, pushed the sheets aside and grimaced at her bloodstained clothes. She looked like a two-year-old wearing her last meal. Wrinkling her nose with distaste at the nasty dry stuff, she slid out of bed and then headed for the bathroom Jackie had pointed out earlier. She'd considered showering and stripping then, but it had seemed a waste of time at that point when she knew that the healing would leave her feeling slimy and dirty anyway. It always did as impurities and damaged tissue were broken down and pushed out through the pores.

Jackie and Vincent would probably have to throw out the linens and beds she and Marcus had lain in while healing . . . unless they had really good bed protectors. She hoped they did. She'd hate to think she'd cost them anything. Maybe she should give them money for their trouble, Divine thought as she turned on the shower and stripped off her clothes.

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The warm water pounding down on her head and body went a long way toward clearing away the last of the darkness at the corners of her mind. Divine hated the nightmares that occasionally plagued her. It was bad enough to have suffered what she had once; having nightmares about it just seemed to her like her own mind continuing the torture originally visited on her by Leonius Livius. She didn't deserve that. No one did. That being the case, she'd learned to give the nightmares as little room as possible in her waking mind. On waking, she always pushed them back into an imagined closet in her head and firmly closed the door. To her mind it was the only way to handle it.

Divine felt pretty good after her shower, even better when she walked back out into the bedroom and spotted the clean clothes folded neatly and placed on the end of the bed. The fact that the blankets she'd tossed aside on waking lay half over them told her they'd been there when she'd got up and hadn't been brought in while she'd showered. Jackie was obviously not only thoughtful, but the organized type, figuring out what needed doing and doing it before it was needed. Divine appreciated that.

Dropping her towel, she picked up the clothes and began to pull them on, surprised to find there were still tags on everything. Pretty pink panties, a matching bra, a flowy skirt in deep red similar to one of her own skirts that had probably gone up in flames, and a white peasant blouse with red stitching along the neckline that suggested it was Mexican in origin. There was a large skirt scarf too, but without the coins that she'd sewn onto her own scarf. There was also a pair of high-heeled, knee-high black boots.

It wasn't as elaborate as the costumes she usually wore as Madame Divine, but it would do and she appreciated the effort put into the outfit.

Once dressed, Divine grabbed the towel and returned to the bathroom to hang it over the shower door to dry. She then looked around in the drawers and found a brand-new toothbrush in its wrapper, toothpaste, and a brush. She used all three items to make herself more presentable, and then walked back out to strip the bed.

There was a mattress protector, she saw with relief. So only the linens would have to be thrown out. No amount of washing would remove the stench and stains from a healing. After a glance at the windows showed her that it was early evening, the sun just setting, Divine rolled the pillowcases inside the sheets, picked up the bundle, and headed out of the room in search of Marcus and her hosts, sure that if they weren't already up, they would be soon. 

The murmur of voices coming from below as she descended the stairs told her someone was up. Divine followed the sound up the hallway toward the kitchen, but slowed as she reached the door when she heard Marcus ask, "Lucian said he was coming here? Why? We don't know that she's Basha."

"I presume that's why," Vincent said, and she could imagine him shrugging as he said it. "To find out if she is."

There was a brief silence and then Jackie said, "Don't worry, Marcus. Whether she is Basha or not, there is no way she is in league with Leonius. Lucian will see that. He got the wrong information. She would never be in league with him after the things he did to her."

"What the hell did he do to her?" Marcus growled, and the frustration in his voice suggested it wasn't the first time he'd asked the question.

"I told you, that's not for me to say. You'll have to ask Divine," Jackie responded solemnly.

Divine turned slowly away from the door and moved silently back up the hall. She carried the sheets all the way back up to the room she'd woken in, set them on the bed, and then simply stood there for a moment, her mind racing.

Lucian was coming.

The thought terrified her despite Vincent and Jackie's reassurances to Marcus that everything would be well. The man was as much of a monster as Leonius had been. While Leonius had haunted her nightmares, Lucian had haunted her waking hours. The fear of his finding her, of his killing her and Damian. She'd been hiding from the man for more than two millennia. It was ingrained now and her mind was screaming at her to run and hide. But a lifetime of training kept her from simply running willy-nilly. That rarely led to good results.

Stop, think, plan, Divine told herself. He wasn't here yet. She had time. She had to do this all carefully, figure out where to run to, and where she could hide.

Carnivals wouldn't be safe anymore, they'd look for her there. She'd have to give up that life, but then she'd seen the end of that coming anyway. Hoskins was one of a dwindling number of self-owned carnivals left in the industry. Big corporations were moving in, buying them up, and taking them over as they did everything else.

Divine knew that Bob and Madge themselves had been approached twice now about selling. She also knew that they had seriously considered accepting the offer and retiring. They hadn't said as much, but she'd read it in their minds. The couple were both in their late fifties, carnie life was hard, and the offer got better each time they were approached. The only thing holding them back was the carnies themselves.

Bob and Madge thought of most of their people as family. Many of the carnies had been with them from the start, others for nearly as long. Bob and Madge felt like they'd be betraying kin by retiring, but Divine knew it would take only one bad thing to change their minds, another greenie trying to lure a child away from the midway, or finding out someone they trusted was robbing them. It was why Divine had got in on the hiring and helped clean house when she'd joined the carnival. Well, that and because she had genuinely wanted to help the couple.

Divine glanced to the bundled sheets on the bed and frowned as it suddenly occurred to her that the RV fire might be the one bad thing to change their minds and make them accept that next offer. Certainly it could be if they learned the fire had been deliberately set. She'd smelled the gasoline around the burning RV. Had they? She wasn't sure if mortals would have been able to, but certainly their fire inspector or whoever it was who investigated such things would be able to tell an accelerant had been used.

"Crap," she muttered, and spun to pull open the door to reveal a startled Marcus standing in the hall, one hand raised and curled to knock.

"Oh. Good. You're up," he said after a pause. He shifted from one foot to another and then gave her a crooked smile and asked, "How do you feel?"

"We have to go," Divine announced, pushing past him into the hall.

"What?" Marcus said with surprise, and then hurried to follow her. "I don't think that's a good idea, Divine. You've just woken up. You aren't really through with healing yet. You should rest a bit and—"

"What day is it?" she asked as she started down the stairs.

"It's Tuesday evening. About 4 P.M.," he answered helpfully.

"Damn, I'll never make it to a bank before it closes," she muttered and then shrugged. She would worry about that later. Right now, she had to get to Madge and Bob and see what was going on.

"Divine." Marcus was sounding less caught out, and more exasperated. He was regaining his footing after his initial surprise. The fact that it had taken this long, though, told her that he, at least, still wasn't fully healed. She supposed she probably wasn't either, but she felt fine. A little thirsty, maybe, but the marks from his stabbing her with the arrow and clawing at her chest were gone. There wasn't even the faintest scarring anymore. Any healing still taking place would be inside.

"Dammit, Divine, stop!" Marcus suddenly barked, catching her arm as she stepped off the stairs and headed for the front door.

"What's going on?" Vincent asked, drawing their attention as he started up the hall toward them with Jackie at his side.

Marcus opened his mouth to answer, but Divine quickly said, "Thank you so much for everything you've done for us. But I have to go now."

She sensed rather than saw Marcus's head swiveling sharply in her direction. "A minute ago it was ‘We have to go,' " he growled, sounding annoyed.

Divine shrugged. "Well, I do. You don't though, so I understand if you want to stay here with your friends. I can always take a taxi back to the carnival grounds."

"You are not taking a taxi—" He stopped suddenly, realization on his face. "The carnival won't be there anymore. They were moving on to the next town on Sunday night."

"They might have been held up by the fire, it being arson and all," Divine said quietly. "If they were, I'll clear things up so they can continue with their schedule. If not, then I'll still clear things up with the local firemen and police and what have you, and then I'll follow them to the next town."

She wasn't sure if that last part was true. Divine had no idea what she would do. She might catch up to the carnival just long enough to see how Bob and Madge were taking things and to assure them she was all right. After all, she'd disappeared rather abruptly. But after that, she'd have to move on to something else. The problem was, she wasn't sure just what she'd move on to.

"Divine's right," Jackie said thoughtfully.

"She is?" Marcus asked with amazement.

"About what exactly?" Vincent asked.

"Well, we've been so busy worrying about whether she was . . . er . . ."

Divine raised her eyebrows and simply watched as the woman floundered. She knew the ending to that sentence had been "whether she was Basha or not." However, she also knew Jackie wasn't going to say it now that she'd caught herself. The question was, what would she use in its place?

As it turned out, Jackie didn't say anything. It was Vincent who saved her bacon by suggesting, "Whether she was healing all right?"

"Yes," Jackie breathed on a relieved sigh and even managed to smile. "We've been so worried about these two healing that we didn't consider what would be going on with the local authorities." She glanced to Marcus. "You said you could smell gas and that the flames erupted all around the RV at once? Filling every window?" She barely waited for Marcus to nod before saying, "Well, it won't take long at all for the authorities to decide the fire was deliberately set, and since you two disappeared directly afterward . . ."

Marcus blinked in surprise. "You think they'll think Divine and I set the fire?"

"More likely they'll think you set the fire since Divine wasn't there," Vincent commented, looking thoughtful. "But the two of you disappearing after that will probably make them think you set the fire and maybe kidnapped her or something when you realized she wasn't caught in the fire."

"What?" Marcus squawked with dismay.

"It's all right. We can fix this," Jackie said at once and then gave her head a shake and admitted, "Although I'm a little embarrassed that we didn't think of this when you first arrived. The sooner we'd tended to it, the less fixing there would have been. By now, a lot of people are probably involved and every one of them will need mind wiping and such." She clucked with irritation and then suddenly said, "Who are you calling?"

Divine didn't bother glancing around from the phone she'd picked up, but punched in numbers as she answered, "Information. I need the number for a taxi service."

Marcus immediately snatched the phone from her hand. "You don't need a taxi. I'll take you back. I'm certainly not letting you go back alone with people bashing you over the head and setting your home on fire."

"We'll all go," Vincent said, suddenly sounding cheerful. "In fact that was the plan all along. Marcus was sure you'd want to return to the carnival as soon as you were up and about, so I called the office and had a couple of our vehicles sent over."

Vincent moved past her to the front door, and threw it open with a dramatic gesture that was punctuated by the house alarm suddenly blaring all around them. Cursing, he rushed to a panel on the wall and began punching in numbers to silence it.

"Forgot about the . . . er . . ." Vincent gestured toward the panel with a grimace and then moved back to take her arm. "Close your eyes," he ordered as he ushered her toward the door.

Divine reluctantly did as he asked, and allowed him to lead her outside. When he said, "Okay, open," she blinked her eyes open to find him standing in front of her grinning like an idiot and blocking her view. Just as she started to arch an eyebrow, he waved his arms about like a magician and then stepped aside with a loud singsong of "Ta-daaaa!"

Divine stared in surprise. There were two RVs parked in front of the house, both of them at least as large if not larger than her own had been. She stared at them briefly and then said, "They look new."

"Newish," Vincent admitted. "We have older ones, but I like to travel in comfort so told them to send the newer ones."

Divine frowned. "I understood you were in the theater business."

"Among other things," Vincent agreed. "We use these sometimes for dressing rooms for the more demanding stars in our plays. Or for stakeouts."

"More for stakeouts than demanding stars," Jackie said dryly. "Vincent doesn't seem to understand that stakeout means being unobtrusive and drawing as little attention to yourself as possible, and that parking a big old boat of a recreational vehicle out in the street is the opposite of unobtrusive."

"Nonsense," Vincent said at once. "We've never once been pegged as being on a stakeout."

"Only because no one with any sense would imagine a detective would be stupid enough to drive such a ridiculously large and noticeable vehicle around on a stakeout," Jackie said with exasperation.

"See. It works then," Vincent said with a pleased smile.

Jackie shook her head, but then smiled and even gave a short laugh as she admitted, "Yes, it does."

"And we enjoy the comforts of home while spying on the ne'er-do-wells of the world," he said with satisfaction.

Divine narrowed her eyes and turned to Marcus.

"Jackie was a private detective before she turned," Marcus explained quietly, and then added, "Well, she still is obviously, and Vincent helps her out from time to time."

Divine let her breath out on a small sigh. Great. So the two she'd thought were a baby immortal and a flaky artsy type were just another pair of detectives out to find her. Great. She turned back to Vincent. "Why two?"

"One for us," Vincent said, slipping his arm around Jackie. "And one for you two."

"You can change that to one for you two and one for Marcus. I am not sleeping in either of those with him," she said firmly, and then shifted impatiently. "Actually, I don't know why you two are even coming. You have no business at the carnival. Marcus and I can handle the authorities."

"But you need protection," Jackie said firmly. "You've already been attacked twice. We don't want it to happen a third time. Vincent and I will help with the authorities and then stick close to help sort out who set the fire and who attacked you the first time."

Divine almost said, "Don't you have to wait here for Lucian to show up?" but caught the question back. She had no intention of revealing that she knew about that. Her main concern at that moment was to get to the carnival, let Bob and Madge know she was healthy and well, and make sure they weren't being held up by the authorities looking into the RV fire. After that, she could slip away and disappear and start yet another new life. First, she had to get to the carnival though, and it was looking like if she wanted to get there, she'd have company. It would have been a lot easier if they'd let her call a taxi, but that obviously wasn't going to happen.

"Fine," she snapped, and then forced herself to smile and added, "Thank you. For . . . everything," she ended on a sigh, and then asked, "Can we go now?"

Jackie and Vincent exchanged a glance and then turned toward the house. "Just give us a couple minutes to pack our bags. Why don't you two raid the fridge and pantry for food?"

"There's a cooler in the pantry for cold stuff," Jackie added, glancing back to them as they started into the house. "And bags to put the canned and dried goods in."

"Don't worry about blood. I'll take care of that," Vincent added before the two disappeared inside.

"Shall we?" Marcus asked.

Divine wanted to say no and make a run for it, but suspected she wouldn't get far. While she'd got the better of the man when she'd gone after him with the mop, she suspected that the element of surprise had played a big factor in that. The man was immortal. He was as fast as or faster than she, and probably stronger, if only because men were physically stronger by nature.

Although it looked to her like he might be physically stronger than most male immortals too, she decided, her gaze sliding over his chest in the very tight and obviously borrowed T-shirt he was wearing. The man really had a very large, very nice physique. Funny she hadn't really noticed that until now.

"Who bought my clothes?" Divine asked curiously as she let him lead her inside.

"Vincent had one of his people buy them," Marcus admitted. "He asked what you normally wear and I said pretty much what you had on when we got here. That I'd never seen you in anything else, and he made a couple calls and . . ." He shrugged.

"And voilà," she finished wryly, thinking it must be nice to have "people" to do things for you.

"He had them pick up clothes for me too, but—" Marcus glanced down at himself with a grimace.

"But he was a little off on size for you," Divine said with amusement, and then said, "Either you pissed him off at some time in the past, or Vincent only has an eye for size when it comes to women."

"Jackie helped him with that," Marcus assured her.

"Oh good," Divine murmured, and when he glanced at her in question, admitted, "Well, it would be a little alarming to think he could guess my bra size at a glance."

His gaze slid over her bare shoulders where she'd tugged the peasant blouse to the side to ride her upper arms and she explained, "It's strapless."

"Oh." He nodded.

As they entered the kitchen, Divine added, "Pretty pink with white lace trim along the bottom. I'm wearing matching panties too."

Marcus stopped dead in the doorway as if he'd been shot and after a couple steps, Divine glanced back at him and almost smiled at the expression on his face. She didn't know what little devil had made her say that. Really, it had surprised her as well when the words had slipped out, but the expression on his face . . .

Goodness, the man looked like he'd swallowed his tongue. He was also looking at her as if he could see the undergarments she'd described right through her clothes. For some reason that sent a thrill of excitement through her.

"Yo! Marcus?"

Divine glanced past Marcus to the stairs. Vincent was halfway down, hanging over the railing to peer into the kitchen at them through the kitchen door Marcus held open with his body.

Marcus turned to peer at the man and then cleared his throat. "Yeah?"

"Make sure you throw some ice cream in the cooler too. I want to make us some of my famous super-duper sundaes later while we're relaxing."

"Right. Ice cream." Marcus nodded.

"And the fixings," Vincent added.

"Right. Fixings." Marcus nodded again.

Divine couldn't see his expression, but whatever it was made Vincent suddenly frown. "You do know what fixings are needed for sundaes, right?"

When Marcus didn't respond Vincent clucked impatiently and yelled upstairs, "Honey, can you throw a couple pairs of shorts and some T-shirts in a bag for me? Marcus hasn't eaten in more than two millennia. If we leave it up to him we'll be stuck with Puppy Chow or something."

"You have a puppy?" Divine asked curiously.

Vincent lowered his gaze back to them and grinned. "Yeah. We dropped her at the vet's last night. She was being operated on this morning. Spayed," he added and then frowned. "We were supposed to pick her up at four." Raising his head he yelled, "Jackie, we forgot to pick up Little One at four."

"Crap," they heard from upstairs. "I think they're open until eight. I'll call."

Divine raised an eyebrow. "You don't plan on bringing her along to, do you? I mean, what if they set the RV on fire again or blow it up this time or something?"

Vincent stiffened and then raised his head and yelled, "I'll call the office and have someone pick her up if they're open. They can take her to the kennel tomorrow until we get back."

"Oh, but—"

"It's safer for her," Vincent interrupted.

There was a pause and then Jackie sighed. "Okay."

Vincent nodded, but didn't look pleased himself as he came down the rest of the stairs to join them in the kitchen. Once there he commented, "You know, Bastien should really have some of his scientists look into developing nanos for dogs."

"Why not just give our nanos to the dog and see if it takes?" Divine suggested, crossing the kitchen to a set of double doors she suspected was the pantry. She was right, she saw once she opened them.

"Because that wouldn't work," Marcus said with a laugh.

"Why?" Divine asked absently as she flipped on a switch, lighting up the small room lined with shelves. A survey of the contents on the shelves left her a little bewildered. There were fruits and vegetables. She recognized those, but there were a ton of other items she didn't recognize. What the devil was Spam? she wondered.

"You're kidding, right?"

Divine glanced over her shoulder to see Marcus in the doorway, peering at her with wide, disbelieving eyes. Shifting uncomfortably, she asked, "About what?"

"About why our nanos wouldn't work for dogs," he said. "I mean, they were made to work with the human anatomy and chemistry only. The scientists who made them programmed them that way. They—"

"Scientists?" Divine interrupted with surprise before she could catch herself. She hadn't realized the nanos that made her so strong and gave her such a long life were man-made. She'd thought . . . well, she supposed she'd just assumed they were a part of every immortal, as natural as gills on a fish. That immortals were maybe a different species to humans or something.

Divine hadn't been educated on the origin of immortals before she'd been kidnapped, and certainly Leonius hadn't had any desire to teach her anything that didn't have to do with horror and pain. Once she was free of him, her time had been taken up with running and hiding and constantly moving to avoid the great and monstrous Lucian Argeneau. It had left little time to ponder the origins of her people or the source of their nanos.

"Divine," Marcus said slowly. "Did no one teach you about—?"

"Of course they did," she interrupted sharply. Turning away, she picked up a can of Spam as she added, "I was just pulling your leg."

A long silence passed, and then Vincent said, "Marcus, come help me with this, will you?"

Divine remained completely still until he moved away and then let her breath out on a sigh. She should have just admitted that she didn't know, but she hadn't wanted to look stupid in front of Marcus. Divine had no idea why that should be the case. She wasn't stupid. She knew that, and not knowing something didn't make her stupid. It just meant she didn't know something. It did not take away from all the things she did know. No one could know everything there was to know on this vast planet, no matter how many years or centuries they'd lived. For instance, she had no clue what Spam was and didn't care who knew that. So why did not knowing their origins bother her and make her feel ignorant?

Sighing, Divine set the can of Spam back on the shelf. She wasn't packing anything she didn't recognize . . . which was pretty much everything in a can or box in the pantry. Shaking her head, she grabbed a folded bag from the shelf, opened it, and began to place vegetables into i

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