"I'm just so glad that you're both all right," Madge said, beaming on both Divine and Marcus.
"Yes." Managing a smile, Divine nodded and then changed her expression to an apologetic one. "I'm really sorry, Madge. I thought I'd left a note to let you know that Marco was taking me to get a new RV. I guess in all the excitement and chaos I just forgot. Or maybe it just got mislaid. I was sure I left that note."
It was at least the twelfth time Divine had told that lie. She was beginning to find it hard to keep her smile in place as she repeated it, but then the past eight hours had been a bit harried. They'd arrived at the carnival site to find it empty The only evidence that it had ever even been there was some yellow police crime scene tape that had caught in the branches of a tree at the edge of the grounds and was fluttering in the hot, dry breeze.
Divine, Marcus, Vincent, and Jackie had headed straight to the police station from there and then the fire department. As Vincent had suggested, the arson investigator had quickly recognized the fire as deliberately set. Divine had apparently been the number one suspect at first. At least until they learned from various witnesses, both carnies and townies alike, that she had been in town when it started, had returned to find it in flames, and was now missing. When Marcus's absence had then been noted, he had become the prime suspect for both the arson and her kidnapping.
There had been no other choice but for Divine, Marcus, Vincent, and Jackie to use a combination of finessing memories, influencing thoughts, and even a touch of mind wiping to turn the situation around. By the time they'd finished, the whole ordeal had turned from arson and kidnapping to nothing more than an accidental fire with no insurance claim, no one injured, and nothing of real note about the entire episode. They'd then ensured the file went missing, both hard copy and digital.
After that had been taken care of, they'd followed the carnival to its next scheduled stop. They'd arrived at the fairgrounds where the carnival was set up to find the midway silent and dark, and the carnies relaxing in the back lot after a long, hot day.
Divine had headed straight for Madge and Bob's RV with Vincent, Jackie, and Marcus following her. But by the time she'd arrived at the older couple's home on wheels, most of the carnies were following as well, every single one of them eyeing Marcus suspiciously and asking if she was all right, but leaving any other questions until she reached Madge and Bob.
There was a pecking order in carnivals and as the owners, Madge and Bob were Ma and Pop, King and Queen. The others left it up to them to get the answers they wanted and merely surrounded Divine and the three strangers accompanying her as they made their way to the Hoskinses' RV.
Well, most of them had. Someone had obviously run ahead to tell Madge and Bob that she was back because the couple had been coming out of the RV when Divine led Marcus, Vincent, and Jackie to it. The mortal couple had greeted Divine with relief, ignoring the three people with her, even Marcus, until she'd explained that while the arson investigator had first mistaken the fire for arson, he had now determined it had been accidental, an electrical fire that had ended with the propane tank blowing up. She'd then explained that Marco had found her distraught after she'd stumbled away from her burning RV, had comforted her, and then had offered to help her replace the vehicle so that she could get back to work and that's what they'd been doing the last couple days; visiting used RV lots and the bank to arrange for a replacement.
"Well, I'm just glad the fire inspector realized his mistake and informed the police it was an accident before they arrested poor Marco," Madge said now.
Bob snorted at his wife's words. "He'd have been lucky to have been arrested. If Marco had returned to us alone instead of with Divine alive and well at his side, our boys would have strung him up, no questions asked."
"Yes," Madge agreed solemnly, and then patted Marcus's arm as if to soothe him. "Well, fortunately, he didn't. He brought her back, and with friends too to help us."
Divine's smile became decidedly forced at this comment. Vincent had quite caught her by surprise when he'd informed Madge and Bob that he and Jackie were friends of hers who had come to help in any way they could, and who wanted to set up a gourmet candy apple stall with another couple, Tiny and Mirabeau, right next to Divine's fortune-telling spot. She had been just as surprised when Madge and Bob had embraced the idea with enthusiasm, until she'd realized that Vincent and Jackie were using their special skills to influence the couple and ensure they thought it was a good idea.
It seemed that so long as she stayed with the carnival, Divine was going to have a trio of bodyguards/babysitters on her butt. Actually, a quintet of bodyguards/babysitters, she thought, recalling this unknown Tiny and Mirabeau.
"And your timing couldn't be better," Bob announced. "Jack's submarine ride died on him today. We'll move it out in the morning and you can park your RVs side by side where it was."
"Oh yes," Madge said happily. "That worked out well."
"Not for Jack," Divine muttered and then asked. "Can't he fix it?"
"Divine honey, that ride is more than fifty years old," Bob said dryly. "Jack has fixed and fixed it, but frankly I think this time it's done in."
"He had a technician out today, but he said the parts would cost a good couple thousand dollars by themselves," Madge told her solemnly. "And Jack just doesn't make any money on that ride anymore."
Bob grunted and nodded. "It's a kiddie ride that even the kiddies find boring. A bunch of yellow tubs that go round and round." He wrinkled his nose. "Not much of a thrill. He'll probably either sell it for scrap or as an antique online or something."
Madge nodded in agreement. "We were just going to put an ‘Out of Order' sign on it and leave it in place so we didn't have a hole on the midway where it had been positioned," she admitted, and then added brightly, "But now that you and your friends are here, we'll have the boys take it down so you can pull the RVs in for the night."
"Oh no," Divine protested as several of the men moved forward, apparently volunteering for the duty. "I don't want the boys to have to trouble themselves at this hour."
"Oh now, Miss Divine, it's no trouble," Jack said, moving through the crowd to join them. "It's trailer mounted. We just have to take the fencing down around it and haul the trailer off. It won't take more than a couple minutes. Besides," he added dryly. "I can't stand to look at the damned thing. It's given me nothing but grief for years now. I'll be glad to get it out of my sight, and then out of my hair. I'm happy to move it."
"Great," Divine said dryly as Jack headed away with several men following him.
"Why don't you take your friends and go get your RVs," Madge suggested. "By the time you walk there and drive back, I guarantee the submarine ride will be gone and you can pull right in."
"Great," Divine repeated weakly as Marcus took her arm to urge her away. She'd been rather hoping that they'd have to split up the RVs and park them in different spots along the midway. Or that they wouldn't have been able to fit them both in at all and the second RV, with Marcus, Vincent, and Jackie in it, would have had to be parked somewhere in the back lot, well away from the one she intended to use. That would have given her at least a little space to maneuver and manage her escape. She certainly needed to get away from her bodyguards/babysitters before Lucian arrived. But it seemed even fate was against her in this endeavor. Seriously, what were the chances that the submarine ride would drop dead, leaving a space just big enough for two RVs to park side by side in its place?
Pretty good, actually, Divine acknowledged. The damned thing seemed to break down pretty regularly. Although this was the first time the breakdown had been something that Jack couldn't repair himself.
"Oh darn, Divine!" Madge called suddenly.
Divine paused abruptly and turned to see the woman waving her back. After a hesitation, she turned to Marcus and suggested, "Why don't the three of you go ahead? I'll catch up. She probably just forgot to tell me something."
He didn't even hesitate, but said at once, "I'll come with you."
"Are you going to join me in the toilet too when I have to use it?" Divine asked sweetly, and when his eyes widened in surprise, she said in a firm voice, "I've been taking care of myself for a very long time, Marcus. I don't need an escort to walk over and talk to Madge, and I don't like tripping over people every time I move. I'd appreciate a little space. You can either wait here while I see what she wants, or go get the RV, but you are not going to follow me around like a guard dog."
Marcus eyed her solemnly for a moment and then nodded his head and said, "As you wish."
Divine had no idea what that meant. Was he going to go get the RV or wait here? And why the hell was Vincent now chuckling softly? Shaking her head with bewilderment at the pair of them, Divine turned and headed back toward Madge. She'd taken only a couple steps though when she heard Jackie say softly, "Tiny loves that movie."
The comment was just as bewildering to her as the men's behavior was, but Divine merely rolled her eyes with exasperation and continued on to Madge. Honestly, she didn't know what to make of the three of them. They had been kind; had given her blood, a bed, and clothes; and had taken care of her while she'd healed. They also appeared sincere in their intention of finding out who was behind the attacks on her and her RV. But she'd heard them talking. She knew they suspected she was Basha, and she knew Lucian was coming. Why hadn't they just kept her chained to the bed and held her there until he arrived? Why this charade of friendship and caring?
Divine didn't understand and didn't have time to figure it out. She needed to lose the trio, leave the carnival, and start the next chapter in her life of running and hiding.
"Come," Madge said when Divine reached her. Catching her hand, she then turned to lead her back toward her RV. "I almost forgot."
"Almost forgot what?" Divine asked, following the woman.
Madge didn't answer, but led her to the small enclosed trailer they always kept attached to the back of their RV. She quickly unlocked the door, pulled it open, and then beamed at Divine. "I bet you thought it was gone forever."
Divine raised her eyebrows at the comment and shifted closer to the woman to peer inside the trailer, a smile pulling her lips apart when she saw the motorcycle inside. She'd forgotten all about the vehicle she'd left lying in the dirt in front of her burning RV the night Marcus had been injured.
"Madge, you're an angel," she said, stepping forward to run one hand gently over the handlebar. This was her ticket to freedom. It was how she was going to escape. All she had to do was give the trio waiting for her the slip for even five minutes, hop on the bike, and ride away. Turning, she gave Madge a quick hug. "Thank you. Can I leave it with you for now?"
The woman's eyebrows rose in surprise, but she nodded readily enough. "If you like. I suppose the new RV doesn't have a built-in storage space to keep it like your old one did."
"No, it doesn't," Divine agreed, and then admitted, "But the RV I'm using right now is just borrowed. I'll have to wait on a custom made one for special storage spaces like that. But I won't make you hold on to the bike for that long," she assured her. "I'd just rather leave it here for now. Tomorrow or the next day I'll probably swing by to pick it up. If that's all right with you?"
"Of course," Madge assured her, closing the door. "It's no problem at all."
"Good," Divine murmured as she watched her attach the lock once more, and it was good. She really hadn't wanted to dip into the woman's mind and make her agree to keeping it for her. But she would have. She needed the motorcycle, and she needed Marcus and the others not to know about it.
"What do you think she was showing her in the trailer?" Marcus asked, eyes narrowed on the women as they turned to walk back toward them.
"A motorcycle," Jackie announced. "Divine's motorcycle. She apparently abandoned it here when she took you away in the SUV the night of the fire and Madge had Bob put it in the trailer to keep for her until she returned."
"Hmm." Marcus nodded. He had fond memories of that motorcycle and riding behind Divine on it. He was actually surprised he'd forgotten about it until now. "We could store it in the RV to keep it safe yet handy. Why isn't she bringing it with her?"
"Because she doesn't want us to know she has it," Jackie announced, and then pointed out, "It would be easier for her to slip away and escape on it if we don't know it exists."
"Escape?" Marcus asked with surprise. "Why would she want to escape? I'm her life mate."
"I don't think she knows that yet," Vincent said thoughtfully.
"Well then maybe it's time I helped her with that," Marcus muttered.
"You'll have to help her with more than that," he said solemnly, and when Marcus glanced to him in question, added, "She has no idea what nanos are or how they work. She really didn't know they were man-made by scientists back in Atlantis."
"What?" Marcus peered at him with surprise. "How could she not know something like that?"
Vincent shook his head. "I'm not sure. I guess you'll have to ask her to find out."
Marcus frowned and turned to peer at Divine. She was confident, caring, beautiful to him, and seemed so savvy on so many subjects that it was hard to believe she didn't know what were basically the immortal facts of life. He hoped that she at least knew what the symptoms of immortals finding their life mates were. That thought made him ask, "Do you think she knows about life mates?"
The question obviously surprised Vincent and he blinked twice before saying, "For your sake, I hope so."
Divine saw Marcus give her the thumbs-up in the rearview mirror, brought the RV to a full halt, and then slipped it into park and turned off the engine. Much to her surprise he'd suggested that perhaps she should be the one who parked the RV in the tight space left over once Vincent had parked the other RV. She'd been surprised because most men seemed to prefer to take the wheel when it came to driving. Apparently, Marcus wasn't most men. He'd merely shrugged at her surprise and pointed out that he'd never driven an RV before while she had years of experience at it. She seemed the better choice for the job. Divine found she had a great deal of respect for him for that and was a bit ashamed that she hadn't admitted her own lack of knowledge when it came to the origins of nanos.
Marcus didn't mind admitting she knew or had more experience and skill than he did at something. Yet she'd been too embarrassed to do the same.
Ah well, Divine thought as she opened her door to get out. No one was perfect.
"Nice job," Marcus complimented, meeting her halfway up the side of the RV.
"Thanks," Divine murmured and went to move past him, but he caught her arm to stop her. Pausing, she raised her eyebrows. "What?"
"I wanted to ask you a couple of questions," Marcus said quietly.
Divine hesitated, but then forced herself to at least appear relaxed and nodded slowly. "Okay."
Marcus took a breath, considered her briefly and then asked, "Do you know about life mates?"
Divine tilted her head a little surprised by the question. "Of course." She smiled faintly and admitted, "A visiting cousin and I used to play at being life mates when I was eleven. She was always the girl," she added dryly and shrugged. "Don't all immortal children chatter and dream about finding their life mate one day?"
"What do you know about them?" he pressed.
Divine shrugged. "They are an immortal's one true mate, the one who can't read or control them and whom they can't read or control. They bond for life."
"Do you know the symptoms of finding a life mate?"
She frowned now. "Why are you asking me this?"
"Because I'm 2,548 years old," Marcus announced. "And I can't read you."
Divine blinked. He was old . . . but she was older. His not being able to read her, therefore, was no great surprise. However, as the older one, she should have been able to read him . . . and couldn't. She hadn't enjoyed any of the other symptoms of meeting a life mate though, at least not that she'd noticed. She wasn't hungering for food, but then she hadn't really been around any unless you counted the canned and boxed goods in Vincent and Jackie's pantry.
"And neither Jackie nor Vincent should be able to read me, but they can for the first time since I've known them," Marcus added solemnly, and then pointed out, "The inability to block younger immortals from reading your thoughts is another symptom of finding a life mate."
Divine swallowed, her mind beginning to whirl.
"And," he added, "while I can't read you, Jackie and Vincent can."
Divine actually felt the blood leave her face as this news struck her. This was . . . Cripes, Vincent and Jackie could read her? Two babies like them? Impossible. But if they could . . . Was Marcus her . . . ?
What had they read? She worried, suddenly. What did they know? Was all of this true? Was Marcus her life mate? She remembered the sensations that she got whenever their bodies touched, brushed, or accidentally rubbed together and had to shake her head. She couldn't handle that just then. She couldn't handle Marcus being her life mate either. This was some cosmic joke. One of Lucian's spies her life mate?
Dear God, Divine thought with dismay and then her mind circled back around to wondering what Vincent and Jackie had read in her thoughts. What did they know? What had she given away?
Marcus was her life mate, her mind screamed, and Divine raised her hands to rub her temples. Her thoughts were too chaotic. She couldn't deal with all of this right now. Couldn't even consider him being her life mate. He was Lucian's spy, for God's sake, and her son might be in jeopardy from whatever Vincent and Jackie had read in her thoughts.
"Divine?" he asked with concern.
"I have to—" Divine shook her head and tried to move past him, but was so shaken up she stumbled over her own feet and would have fallen if he hadn't caught her arm. Marcus saved her from falling, but her momentum swung her around and she slammed up against his chest with a surprised gasp. Swallowing, she stared at his chest briefly, but then closed her eyes as his scent wafted up to her nose. His scent was definitely male, something woodsy but with a hint of citrus. It was incredibly . . . tempting. She wanted to press her nose into the crook of his neck and just inhale deeply. Instead, she stopped breathing altogether and tried to gather herself to step away.
"Divine?" His voice had dropped, becoming this sexy, husky murmur of sound. That combined with his warm breath brushing her ear made a small groan slip from her lips.
"Did you hurt yourself?" Marcus asked with concern, urging her back slightly to try to see her face. The action pressed their lower bodies tighter together, nestling her groin against his, and Divine bit her lip at the sensation that sent rushing through her. Dear God.
"Divine? What's wrong? Look at me," he insisted.
Tipping her head back, Divine reluctantly opened her eyes and then simply stared. His eyes were a black glowing with silver streaks through it. They were fascinating, hypnotic. In fact, they so had her attention she didn't notice that they were moving closer until a heartbeat before his lips covered hers. Divine had that heartbeat to pull away, and should have, but instead she hesitated and that was her undoing. Once his mouth brushed over hers she was los