"Really, he's not as bad as you seem to be reading in your crystal ball. He can be sweet."
Divine blinked her eyes open at those strained words and stared at the door frame overhead, her mind a complete blank for a moment.
"Kiddo, he's an uneducated, unemployed, pothead thief who treats you like crap. You really need to cut him loose and find someone else."
That was Jackie's voice, she realized. Who the devil was she talking to? And where the devil am I? Divine lifted her head to glance around, then let it drop back down as she realized she was lying in the bedroom doorway of the borrowed trailer. At least her head was, the rest of her was sprawled on the floor of the kitchenette with Marcus lying half on top of her, his head in her lap . . . under her skirt. Dear God, they had—
"I told you, he just borrowed his dad's girlfriend's car. He didn't steal it. He borrowed it for the day and then took it back a little after midnight. He's not a thief."
Divine didn't recognize that voice but it sounded like a young female, a rather desperate young female. And she sounded close. Turning her head to try to find the source of the voice, Divine took note of the fact that the curtain had been drawn between the lounging area and the kitchenette where she and Marcus now lay. The voices seemed to be coming from the lounge beyond it.
That curtain had not been closed last night. But then Jackie hadn't been there last night either. Her gaze swiveled to the small clock hanging over the sink and Divine almost groaned aloud. It was almost three o'clock in the afternoon. They'd passed out on the floor and slept right through what had remained of morning and a good portion of the afternoon to boot. Jackie must have come searching for them when they hadn't shown up that morning and—
Divine sat up abruptly, horror sliding through her as she realized that the woman must have seen them like this. She peered down at the skirt-covered lump in her lap that was Marcus's head, noted that the collar of her top was sitting down under her breasts, and closed her eyes. Wow. Well, this was embarrassing.
"Taking without right or permission is the definition of stealing," Jackie said firmly from the other side of the curtain. "It doesn't matter that he brought the car back. Taking it in the first place was theft."
"God, you're being as hard on him about this as his dad and the girlfriend are." The younger woman sounded resentful.
"Of course they're being hard on him," Jackie responded at once. "Theft is a serious business."
"He brought it back," the girl stressed.
"Right," Jackie said sounding unimpressed. "And did he bring back the money he took from your purse to buy his pot?"
Divine's eyebrows rose. The girl had a real winner there. Shaking her head, she tugged her skirt up, eased Marcus's head off her lap to rest on the floor, and then got silently to her feet.
"You can see that in your crystal ball too?" the younger woman cried with dismay. "What else can you see? Is he screwing around on me? If he is, he's out of my apartment."
Divine rolled her eyes as she brushed the worst of the wrinkles out of her skirts. So his being an uneducated, unemployed pothead who treated her like crap and apparently not only stole from her, but sponged off her as well wasn't enough to convince the girl to leave. But if he was messing around he was done?
At least the girl had some limits on what she would put up with, Divine thought wryly as she turned and slid through the bedroom to the bathroom door. She'd encountered too many mortal women who hadn't seemed to have any limits at all on the bad behavior they would take from a partner. They didn't seem to recognize their own value and that they deserved so much more, which was such a shame. Mortals had such short lives, so little time to enjoy all that life and the world had to offer. Why would they waste even a moment of their precious time on someone who didn't appreciate and treat them well?
Divine shook her head over that as she slipped into the bathroom and pulled the door closed, blocking out the voices from the other side of the curtain. She was in and out of the tiny room quickly, only taking the time to rinse her face and run a brush through her hair. She would have liked to stop to change her clothes then too, but when she slid out of the bathroom and stuck her head out of the bedroom to check, the sounds coming from the other side of the curtain suggested Jackie was wrapping up the session and preparing to see the girl out.
Straightening her shoulders, Divine forced her head up and moved to the curtain to tug the end of it a few inches away from the wall. She noted that they'd set up a small round table between the sofa and chairs in the lounge, covering it with an antique tablecloth, and then placing what looked like an honest-to-God crystal ball in the middle. It was probably a prop, but still . . . Divine had never bothered with such stage setting, merely taking the client's hand as if reading the future through some strange energy emanating from them. Which was really what she did. She read their thoughts and helped them clarify the situation they already knew about but were possibly ignoring, or lying to themselves about.
Shrugging, Divine glanced to the women in the room. A petite blonde in jeans and T-shirt was just rising from one of two folding chairs set on either side of the table as Jackie got up from the other.
Her eyebrows rose at the sight of the woman. Vincent's mate was wearing a long flowing skirt, a peasant blouse, a red scarf around her head, the most god-awful gaudy jewelry she'd ever seen, and ridiculously dramatic makeup. Probably Vincent's doing, Divine decided. Jackie looked like a theater version of a Gypsy rather that the real thing.
She'd barely had the thought when Jackie glanced her way as she ushered the girl to the door. She paused at once, a smile curling her lips.
"Good morning," she said, smiling widely. "You look well rested."
Divine grimaced at the words as she pulled the curtain further open. She normally didn't sleep more than a couple of hours a day, but she'd certainly got more than a couple of hours of sleep this morning. It had been just before 6 A.M. when she and Marcus had— Well, anyway, that couldn't have taken more than a couple minutes so she must have slept a good nine hours straight. Strange for her.
Divine glanced to the blonde at that curious question, but it was Jackie who answered.
"Don't worry about it. Go on now. Have a good day," she said cheerfully, and then pushed the girl out the door, adding grimly, "And dump that loser you call a boyfriend."
Closing the door, Jackie turned to Divine and said wryly, "I don't know how you do it. I swear I've wanted to slap some sense into half the people who have come in here this morning."
"That's about par for the course," Divine said with amusement.
"Hmmm." Jackie wrinkled her nose at this news and then asked, "Is Marcus up?"
"He is now."
Divine gave a start at that announcement and glanced over her shoulder as Marcus pushed himself to his feet and walked toward her.
"Is that Jackie?" he asked as he approached.
Realizing she'd only opened the curtain enough to frame herself, she pushed it further open now so that he could see the other woman. "Yes. She opened shop while we slept. Thank you for that, by the way," Divine added, turning back to offer a grateful smile to the woman.
Jackie smiled in return and shrugged. "It's fun."
Divine snorted at the claim, knowing it was sometimes interesting, sometimes rewarding, and sometimes just plain frustrating, but not really ever fun.
"Well, I appreciate it," she said sincerely, stiffening a little with surprise when Marcus slipped an arm around her waist. Smile a little forced now, she eased out from under Marcus's arm and turned back into the kitchenette saying, "You go ahead and find that husband of yours and I'll quick-change and take over now."
"Don't be silly, I'll continue here for the afternoon," Jackie said at once, bringing her to a reluctant halt. When Divine turned back, she added, "You need to eat, feed, shower, and change. Just grab some clothes and head to our RV, you can shower and everything else there."
Divine shook her head at once. "Oh, I can't make you—"
"You aren't making me do anything," Jackie said firmly, moving into the kitchenette to catch her by the shoulders and urge her toward the bedroom door. "Besides, I want you to meet Tiny and Mirabeau."
"Are they here already?" Marcus asked, trailing after them as they entered the bedroom.
"Got in early this morning. Arrived with half the apples grown in California and enough caramel and chocolate to cover the state," Jackie announced dryly, and then squeezed Divine's shoulders and said, "You're going to love Tiny. He's been my best friend for ages. He's a sweetie. And his partner, Mirabeau, is lovely too."
Divine murmured noncommittally, hardly noticing when Jackie left her by the end of the bed and moved to the closet. Her mind was busy trying to find a way to get rid of Jackie and Marcus and reclaim her position as Madame Divine. The arrival of the other couple was only going to complicate matters and make escaping more difficult. She needed to think and found it difficult to do so with Marcus nearby.
"I hope you don't mind, but I slipped in and borrowed one of your outfits this morning when I realized you two weren't going to make opening. But there is plenty more here to choose from," Jackie announced, beginning to slide clothes along the rod in the small closet.
"Of course I don't mind." Divine smiled wryly as she took in the blue skirt and peasant blouse Jackie wore. How could she mind the woman wearing them when they weren't really hers anyway? Vincent had arranged for the clothes Jackie was now calling hers.
"I think the forest green skirt," Jackie decided, pulling out the skirt in question. "It will look great with your coloring."
Nodding, Divine walked over to take the skirt the woman was holding out. Then she reached past her and grabbed several scarves as well. She'd need them to add some color, Divine thought, and then glanced to the floor of the closet and the row of boots lined up there. She bent and picked up a pair of dark red-brown ones and then turned away with her booty, pausing briefly when she noted that Marcus was dragging clothes out of the closet on the opposite side of the bed.
"Vincent put Marcus's clothes in here," Jackie explained quickly. "There are only the two tiny closets in each of the RVs and we were using both of ours."
"Of course," Divine murmured and simply turned to head out of the room. But as she entered the kitchenette area, she frowned and said, "Maybe I should shower and change here. That way Marcus can use the shower in your RV and—"
"The sound of the shower would be distracting for the people wanting a reading," Jackie pointed out and shook her head. "No. It's better you use the other RV. You'll like it better anyway. It has a bigger shower," she added in tempting tones, and then smiled wryly and added, "Everything about it is bigger. It's the ‘luxury' RV Vincent had made for our stakeouts and he insists everything should be bigger and better. The man is spoiled rotten."
Divine couldn't help smiling at the claim. Especially since Jackie made it with a combination of exasperation, amusement, love, and something that sounded very much like pride.
"All set," Marcus announced, coming out of the bedroom. He'd pulled on a T-shirt and boots and looked ready for the day. His gaze slid to Divine. "Don't worry about the shower. It's yours. I have to get to work before Chapman or Mac come looking for me."
"They won't. Vincent filled in for you today," Jackie announced.
That sent Marcus's eyebrows shooting upward. "Vincent? Work?"
"He's just running the Tilt-A-Whirl, it's not like he's slinging steel or something," Jackie said with amusement. "And actually, I think he's enjoying himself. He's surprisingly good at luring in riders with his patter. Must be the theater in him."
"Must be," Divine said with a smile.
"You two go on next door," Jackie said, ushering them into the lounge area. "I should get back to work. The natives are probably getting restless out there."
"No doubt," Divine murmured and then stepped outside when Marcus pushed the door open for her. She paused after one step though, her hand instinctively rising to block out the worst of the sun as the day slapped her. It was the hottest part of the afternoon. The sun was high in the sky and the heat was a wave that plastered itself to her skin like thin, clinging plastic. It stole Divine's breath, even as the glare of the sun blinded her.
She sucked in a lungful of stifling air and blinked several times to get her eyes to adjust and then let her breath out on a sigh as the blurry glare subsided into the shapes and color that made up the midway. People of all shapes and sizes milled everywhere, rides turned and whirled in motion, various songs and sounds rose from the different rides clashing in the air with the sound of laughter, the patter of ride jockeys and game agents, and the excited screams of the people on the rides. And all of it accompanied by the smells of popcorn and food grilling under the burning Death Valley sun. Carnival life.
"Okay?" Marcus asked, resting a hand on her shoulder.
Forcing a smile, Divine nodded and descended the stairs to weave her way through the line outside her door to get to the RV next to this one. Like hers the door on Jackie and Vincent's RV was on the side, so she had to walk around the back of their RV to get to it. Divine was shifting the bundle of clothes she carried so that she could open the door when Marcus reached past her to do it for her.
Murmuring a thank-you, Divine slid inside and was brought up short again.
This RV was set up much the same as the one she was using, except that both the kitchenette and lounge were a bit bigger. They were also both presently filled with apples; baskets of the sweet red fruit filled every space on the floor as well as the couch and the chairs in both the lounge and kitchenette. Meantime the countertops and kitchen table were covered with trays of apples, each with a Popsicle stick poking out of it. They were also all coated with some variation of chocolate or caramel or both, and then had been rolled in various toppings ranging from crushed peanuts to tiny marshmallows. The stove was the only place free of apples. Instead it held four large, simmering pots that a huge man was stirring by turn as he hummed.
"Hi, you must be Marcus and Divine. Awake at last, huh?"
Divine turned to peer blankly at the woman who had spoken. Tall and curvaceous with short, dark hair highlighted with streaks of fuchsia, the woman wore an apron reading "Did you hug the chef today?" Under it were tight, faded jeans and a T-shirt. She was definitely interesting-looking, Divine decided, accepting the hand the woman extended in greeting as Marcus said, "Yes, I'm Marcus, and she is definitely Divine."
The way he said it suggested he wasn't talking about her name. She wasn't the only one to think so though, because the man at the stove looked amused as he murmured, "I'm sure she is."
Flushing, Divine peered at the man with curiosity. He really was a big fellow. Huge. Marcus was a big man, but not like this guy. She'd never seen shoulders quite as wide and muscular as this man had.
"This is my life mate and husband, Tiny," Mirabeau announced.
Moving to stand behind the man, Mirabeau slid one hand up and down the center of his broad back.
Tiny shivered and arched under the touch briefly before growling, "Woman, unless you want me to spill this fudge all over both of us, I suggest you cut that out."
Mirabeau grinned and leaned up to kiss his ear, murmuring, "That might be fun."
"Yeah," he agreed, bending to kiss the tip of her nose. Then he glanced past her to Divine and Marcus. "You two must be hungry. I'll whip you up some breakfast while you shower and change."
"Oh, that's not—"
"Thank you, Tiny. That'd be great," Marcus interrupted, urging Divine toward the door to the bedroom. "Go ahead, take a shower and get ready," he said, pushing her gently into the room. "I'll be out here with Tiny and Mirabeau."
Divine watched him close the door, stared at it for a minute, and then shrugged and headed into the bathroom.
Marcus stood by the door for a moment until he heard sounds that suggested Divine was actually going to do as he'd suggested, and then relaxed and turned to Tiny. "Good to see you again."
"You two know each other?" Mirabeau asked with surprise.
"That business with Vincent and Jackie," Tiny said solemnly.
"Oh yes." Mirabeau nodded at once and smiled apologetically at Marcus. "You and Christian arrived in time to help with the turn and what followed."
Marcus nodded. "I saw the two of you at the big multi-wedding as well, but you were both a bit distracted and then gone, of course, on your secret mission. I'm glad that worked out all right."
"There were a couple of close moments, but it turned out better than all right in the end," Tiny said with a grin, slipping his free hand through Mirabeau's.
Marcus nodded as they shared a smile and muttered, "I should be so lucky."
Mirabeau glanced to him quickly. "Jackie told us about you and Divine. She might be Basha, but no one's sure."
Marcus grimaced and nodded.
"But Jackie says she's pretty sure that if Divine is Basha, she can't be rogue like Lucian thinks," Tiny added solemnly. "And I've never known Jackie to be wrong. Things will work out."
"From your mouth to God's ear," Marcus said, running a weary hand through his hair. He shouldn't be tired, he'd just woken up for God's sake, but he was as exhausted as if he hadn't slept at all.
"It's the situation," Mirabeau said sympathetically, as if he'd spoken his thoughts aloud. And he might as well have, he supposed. His mind was apparently an open book right now to everyone.
"Yeah, well, we've all been there, so can sympathize," Tiny said gently.
"Yeah," Marcus drew out the word and then asked wryly, "Do you think you could stop doing that and maybe only address things I say out loud?"
"We could try," Mirabeau said with amusement.
"I'd appreciate that," Marcus assured her.
"Why don't you come over here and stick some Popsicle sticks in apples and we'll try to sort out how you can convince Divine that she is your life mate and should accept you as hers," Tiny suggested, waving him over.
"She knows she's my life mate," Marcus muttered, accepting the bag of Popsicle sticks Tiny held out to him and then moving in front of an empty tray with a basket of apples beside it. "At least she should after last night."
"I'm afraid the issue isn't that she hasn't accepted that he is her life mate," Mirabeau commented, taking a stick from his bag and showing him how to stick it in the apple and place it on the tray. It was a pretty simple procedure. Still, examples were always good.
"No," Tiny agreed, moving back to stirring his pots. "It's convincing her that she can have him."
"She can have me," Marcus assured them, stabbing an apple. "Anytime, anywhere, anyhow."
"Yeah. I feel you, buddy," Tiny said with amusement.
Mirabeau rolled her eyes as the men shared a wry smile, and then said seriously, "But she doesn't think you'll want her for a life mate once you know she's Basha Argeneau."
Marcus stiffened, his head slowly turning to the woman. It was Tiny who said with surprise, "You're sure she's Basha?"
Mirabeau nodded solemnly. "It's right there in her thoughts, plain as day."
"I didn't get that," Tiny said with a frown.
"You haven't been an immortal for long, sweetheart. You might not be reading everything clearly."
"Yeah, but Jackie and Vincent didn't read that and Vincent is four or five hundred years old," Tiny pointed out.
"But I'm older," Mirabeau pointed out quietly. "And it's possible that wasn't on the top of her list of concerns when she arrived at Jackie and Vincent's. After all, Marcus was hurting, she was hurting . . ." Mirabeau shrugged.
"But it is now?" Marcus asked with a frown. "On the top of her list of concerns, I mean."
Mirabeau nodded. "She wants you as her lover and life mate. That's on the top of her mind right now. That she wants you, but doesn't think she can have you. That she has to escape. That you would turn from her anyway if you knew she was Basha. She knows you're a spy for Lucian."
"How the hell did she find that out?" Marcus growled, stabbing another apple, a little too enthusiastically this time. He snapped the stick.
Mirabeau took the apple from him to remove the stick and replace it. "I'm not sure. I guess she could have read Jackie and Vincent, but I don't think that's it." She was silent for a minute, and then shrugged and said, "It doesn't matter. The point is she knows you were sent here by Lucian to find her. She also knows Lucian is on the way here and she's desperate to escape."
"What do I do?" Marcus asked quietly.
Mirabeau shrugged. "You two need to spend time together doing more than fighting or having sex. You need to gain her trust, Marcus. I think Jackie's right and she isn't rogue, or at least not intentionally. But you need to get her to trust you so you can find out what's what."
Marcus was silent for a minute. He knew Divine—Basha, he corrected himself, had been feeding off the hoof despite the Council's banning it. But she hadn't known about the ban. He wasn't sure that was enough to get her off the hook for it, but surely it had to be a consideration. He couldn't imagine she'd done anything else that would label her a rogue.
"About that," Mirabeau said, and Marcus peered at her blankly. He hadn't said anything. Oh right, he recalled, she could read his thoughts.
"About what?" he asked finally.
"The rogue thing," she said with a grimace.
"What about it?" he asked warily, suspecting by the way she was avoiding his eyes that he wouldn't like what she was about to say.
Mirabeau hesitated and then heaved a deep sigh. "Well, Lucian and the boys had Leonius sometime back. About two years ago. They raided a hotel in Toronto, and caught Leonius. Well, actually, they shot him," she corrected herself. "Through the heart with an arrow. He wasn't going anywhere."
Marcus narrowed his eyes when she paused again. He knew the story, but asked anyway, "And?"
"And someone took him. Just picked him up and carried him off while everyone was busy with his victims."
"Someone?" Marcus questioned grimly.
"Yeah, well, they didn't know who at first, but Mortimer, the head of Lucian's Rogue Hunters—"
"I know who Mortimer is," Marcus interrupted impatiently.
"Right. Well, he reviewed all of the hotel security tapes and it was a woman. Cameras in the stairwells showed a blond woman carrying Leonius up to the roof. I saw them. There were no really good pictures of her face, but from what I saw, it could have been Divine. A blond Divine."
Marcus didn't comment, but his heart was sinking. He'd discovered last night, while his head was under Divine's skirt, that her hair was not naturally the color she presently wore. Her hair was dyed.
"And then there's Dee," Mirabeau added.
"Dee?" Marcus asked. "The mortal victim and kind of co-conspirator to one of Leonius's sons?"
Mirabeau nodded. "She described a woman connected to Leonius named Basha, an ice blonde . . . who was his mother," she finished apologetically.
Marcus was so startled by that one that not only did he stab at the next apple with enough enthusiasm to break the stick, but he missed the apple entirely and broke the stick in his own hand. Cursing, he dropped the apple and jumped back, holding his injured hand by the wrist.
"Okay. No problem," Tiny said soothingly, at his side at once. The big man took his injured hand, quickly removed the stick, and wrapped a dish towel around the wound, then turned to open the small bar-sized fridge and retrieved a bag of blood for him.
Marcus slapped the bag to his mouth the moment Tiny handed it over, and then he just stood there, his head swimming. Divine was Basha . . . Leonius's mother?
"Wait a minute," he muttered, tearing the bag from his mouth. Fortunately, the damned thing had already emptied or it would have made one hell of a mess. "Divine can't be this Basha the mother of Leonius. It's not possible. She's immortal. He's no-fanger. The child gets their blood from their mother, whether they are mortal, immortal, or no-fanger. An immortal woman can't have a no-fanger child."
Tiny's eyebrows rose and then he glanced to Mirabeau in question.
"He's right," Mirabeau confirmed at once. "And while I did find a son in Divine's thoughts, his name is Damian not Leonius, but—"
"So she can't be this Basha who is Leonius's mother," Marcus said with relief.
Mirabeau shook her head. "But I read it in her mind. She is Basha Argeneau."
"So?" Marcus asked with irritation. "The other Basha could be Basha Smith or even Livius or something. They could both just have the same first name. I'm sure you're not the only Mirabeau in the world and I'm certainly not the only Marcus."
Mirabeau remained silent for a minute, and then shook her head. "I don't know. She looks an awful lot like the woman on the security footage and she thinks she's rogue or wanted for some reason."
Tiny peered from one of them to the other and then settled his gaze on Marcus. "I don't know either, but I think you'd better find out and do it quickly, before Lucian gets here."
Marcus sighed and ran his good hand through his hair with frustration. "How the hell am I supposed to do that?"
"Like Mirabeau said, you have to spend time with her and gain her trust," Tiny said simply.
"If only it was as simple as you make it sound," Marcus muttered.
"It is," Tiny assured him. "If you do what I say . . . and we have to have a quick chat with Jackie, Vincent, and Madge before Di