Chapter Three

The moment Marco settled on the motorcycle behind her and slid his arms around her waist, Divine knew she'd made a mistake. She'd had the occasional passenger on her motorcycle before, both men and women, but this time it felt uncomfortably intimate. The man had plastered his chest to her back, and Divine was very aware of his hands resting just below her breasts. She felt enveloped in his embrace, and that was something she hadn't experienced in quite a while, if ever. Short of elbowing him and perhaps catching him by surprise and sending him flying off the motorcycle, however, there was little she could do about it, so Divine did her best to ignore her own discomfort and concentrated on driving.


The Hoskins Carnival came to Bakersfield, California, every year. Divine had been in the town before, but not just with this carnival. She knew the place Hal had mentioned. McMurphy's had been around a long time. Not that Divine had dined in the establishment, but she had driven past it and had a good memory. Years ago it had been McMurphy's Tavern. It was now McMurphy's Irish Pub and Sports Bar, though. Whether it had changed hands and been renovated, or the owners had just changed the name, she didn't know. She did know where it was, though, and found it easily enough. Little more than ten minutes later she was relieved to be able to bring the motorcycle to a halt and wait a little impatiently for Marco to disembark before she set the kickstand in place and got off herself.

Divine avoided looking at Marco as she removed her helmet and quickly unhooked her skirt to let it fall around her legs again. She could still feel the warmth where his body had pressed against her back, and found herself annoyed by it. Sighing, she used the helmet lock to secure her helmet, then took the one Marco held out and secured it as well. Determinedly ignoring him then, Divine headed for the pub's entrance, but could hear him following. 

The day had cooled once the sun had set, but was still hot at around eighty-five degrees. The pub was air-conditioned though, and the wave of cold air that hit them as they entered was a relief. Divine paused inside the doors and simply enjoyed the rush of cool air for a moment before turning her attention to trying to find Hal and Carl.

"I don't see them," Marco commented behind her, bending to speak by her ear to be heard over the cacophony of voices in the room.

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Divine stifled a shiver as his breath blew across her skin. Ignoring the sensation, she simply peered around and then frowned. She didn't see them either. "Hal definitely said McMurphy's. He said he had their ribs last year and wanted them again."

"Hi. Can I help you? You look like you're looking for someone."

Divine glanced to the perky girl who had approached. She had long brown hair tied back in a ponytail and carried an empty tray, pressed against her chest. Divine couldn't help noticing she was also eyeing Marco appreciatively as she waited for an answer.

"We're looking for some friends of ours," Divine said, drawing the girl's reluctant attention. "A couple of older gentlemen. Kind of rough-looking, sun-weathered, one with no teeth, the other with no hair."

"Oh yeah." Smiling, the girl nodded her head, her ponytail waving as she turned her gaze back to Marco. "They're here. I sat them . . ." She had drawn her gaze from Marco to gesture to a table in the corner and frowned when she found it empty. "I sat them over there a couple minutes ago." She glanced around briefly and then smiled and shrugged. "They probably stepped out on the patio for a smoke."

"Probably," Divine agreed, remembering that Hal and Carl both smoked. Quite a few of the carnies did.

"Well, you can look for them on the patio, or sit down and wait for them if you're friends. They probably won't be long. I saw their waitress talking to them just after I sat them. They've probably ordered drinks and asked for menus, but haven't ordered their meals yet."

"We'll wait at the table," Marco announced, taking Divine's arm to lead her that way. She didn't protest. Divine had no desire to go out on the smoking patio. She didn't even really want to be here. She'd only come in an effort to avoid the man escorting her. Best-laid plans and all that. If not for this man, she could be sitting in Madge's trailer right now, relaxing to the buzz of conversation. Damned man, she thought with irritation.

Settling in the chair he pulled out for her, Divine picked up the menu to avoid looking at him.

"Do you eat?"

Stiffening, she glanced over the top of her menu to Marco as he settled in the chair across from her. Rather than answer, she asked, "Do you?"

He hesitated briefly, and then said, "On occasion."

Divine shrugged with disinterest and lowered her gaze to the menu again.

"So . . . you're an immortal . . ."

That got her attention; Divine peered at him sharply, and then glanced around to be sure no one had heard the comment. No one seemed to be paying any attention to them, but—

"And I'm an immortal," he continued.

"For heaven's sake," she snapped, glaring at him. "You know better than to talk about nonsense like that in public."

"No one's listening," Marco said soothingly, and then tilted his head and asked, "What are you running from?"

Divine stiffened in her seat. "What makes you think I'm running from anything?"

"Oh, I don't know," he said with amusement, "Maybe the fact that you're hiding out at the carnival?"

"If I were hiding out, I'd be working somewhere where hundreds of people didn't see me every day," she said dryly. "I work the carnival because I happen to make a very good living there."

"By reading people's futures?"

There was no judgment in his voice; still, Divine felt herself stiffening defensively. "I don't read their futures and I don't claim to."

"Right. You define their future," he said quietly.

Divine nodded. It was a fine distinction, but an important one to her. "I read their minds and define their futures. Or sometimes I read the minds of whoever accompanies them to my RV and use what I learn there to define the customer's future."

"Like the husband who planned to kill his wife for the insurance?" Marco asked. Expression becoming considering, he added, "The husband must have accompanied her to your stall when the carnival was in their town for you to know he planned to knock her off for the insurance."

Divine nodded.

"So you use your immortal abilities to help mortals," he said solemnly.

Divine felt herself relax. As much as she tried not to let it bother her, the attitudes she often ran into with "townies" about the carnies bothered her. Most people came to the carnivals just to have fun and didn't make judgments, but there were a large number of people who thought all carnies were scum, con artists, and thieves. That she was a con artist and thief, scamming money off foolish people who believed in fortune-tellers and such nonsense.

Divine did not—and never claimed to—tell fortunes. She did, however, try to help whoever she was reading, in whatever way she could. It was rare to actually save a life as she had with Allen's wife, but she liked to think she had contributed to the health and well-being of others. She could quite often smell illness on a mortal. Undiagnosed diabetics had a sweet scent while cancer had the faint but distinct, sickly sweet stench of rot. She could also hear the rasp of lung or bronchial problems, a skipping or irregular heartbeat, a fast or slow pulse rate, etc. There were many health issues she could recognize and diagnose and advise the customer to have checked out.

Divine also did a quick read of the minds of whoever accompanied each customer, sometimes finding useful information there, like a cheating husband, a troubled friend, a child with a dangerous secret that needed revealing, or abuse they'd been warned to keep quiet. And then too, she could read the customer's mind and know when they were going to do something stupid, or illegal, or desperate and advise them against it. Often, their shock that she knew what they were thinking or planning was enough to return some sense to them.

Divine tried to help people in exchange for the money they paid. She did not simply take the money and give some spiel about meeting a tall, dark, handsome stranger and living the good life. She tried to help. She always had.

"Yes, I use our abilities to try to help mortals," Divine said finally. "And I get paid for it. I'm not ashamed of that."

Marco nodded, but then asked, "So you aren't hiding or running from something?"

Divine shifted impatiently at the question. She wanted to say no, but instead asked, "Is that why you joined the carnival? Because you're running or hiding from something?"

Marco grimaced and then sat back in his own seat with a smile. "Touché."

"You didn't answer the question," she pointed out.

"Neither did you," he responded at once.

They were both silent for a moment and then Marco sat forward and asked, "Will you at least tell me your real name?"

"Madame Divine to strangers and Divine to my friends," she answered at once and raised her menu again.

"Is Divine your real name?" he asked suspiciously.

"Is Marco yours?" she countered, staring blindly at the appetizer section.

After a pause he asked, "How old are you?"

Divine slapped the menu down with irritation. "Now that's just rude."

"Yes, it is," a laughing voice announced, drawing their attention to a cute little blonde who had just stopped at their table. Their waitress, it seemed. With twinkling eyes and a bright smile, she admonished Marco, "You never ask a lady her age. At least not if you enjoy your manhood and wish to keep it intact."

Divine's mouth twitched briefly and then eased into a smile when Marco's jaw dropped at the girl's cheek.

"Thank you," Divine said to the waitress. "You're going to get a big tip."

"Only if you're paying," Marco grumbled, but there was amusement in his eyes too now, and chagrin as he glanced to Divine and murmured, "My apologies. I wasn't thinking."

"Obviously," Divine said dryly, but was still smiling.

The waitress laughed and then tilted her head. "Can I get you folks something?"

"Ah." Divine's gaze dropped to the menu she'd been pretending to peruse. She really wanted to order something. She did plan to give the girl a tip. The problem was she didn't eat. At least she hadn't for eons. She didn't even drink except to nurse teas when in mortal company, and those she didn't drink so much as hold in front of her face, occasionally pressing the rim to her mouth as the steam gave her a mini facial of sorts. It was probably good for her pores, she thought, frowning at the menu. After another moment, she sighed and smiled apologetically at the girl. "Actually, maybe we'll wait for Hal and Carl to get back."

"Oh, you have friends coming?" the girl asked.

"Well, they're here already I think. Two older men, one bald and the other missing most of his teeth?" she said, hoping to prod the girl's memory. "The young lady who greeted us at the door said they had been seated here and thought they might have gone out to the patio."

"Oh no, they left," the blonde said, looking rather disappointed to pass this news on. "They wanted the oak-smoked ribs, but we only serve those on Sunday. They said they might as well come back on Sunday instead then and head back to their bottles and bunks now . . . Whatever that means," the girl added wryly.

Divine merely smiled faintly. It meant exactly what it sounded like; the two men had gone back to their bunks in the trailers and the bottles of booze waiting there. She didn't explain that though, but slipped her hand in her skirt pocket and pulled out a ten. Setting it on the table, she offered the girl a smile and stood. "Thank you."

"Oh, you don't have to—" the girl protested, picking up the ten-dollar bill to give back to her.

Divine waved it away. "I appreciate the information. We could have been here awhile waiting, and then I would have worried about what had become of our friends. Keep it."

Patting the girl's shoulder, she headed for the door, aware that Marco was following her.

"Bottles and bunks?" Marco asked. "I gather that means—"

"Back to the carnival," Divine finished with a nod. "Both Hal and Carl have bunks in the bunkhouses." She shrugged and added, "Dining out is expensive on their pay. If they want the ribs, they probably can't afford to spend money tonight too."

"Yeah, I noticed the pay is lousy in the carnival," Marco said dryly.

"Worse than lousy," Divine agreed with amusement. "Which makes me wonder why you'd bother with it. Surely you could find a job elsewhere?"

"Surely I could," he agreed evasively. "But this seemed like fun."

"Hmm," Divine said dubiously, doubting there was anything fun about hefting steel and hawking corn dogs.

"I gather you do better than the laborers?" Marco asked as they stepped outside into the humid night. It was like walking into a sauna, or slamming into a hot, wet towel. Honestly, the heat the last week or so had been terrible, but the humidity had been worse—a wall of misery that enveloped them everywhere they went. She would be glad when summer passed and fall returned with its milder temperatures.

"I suppose that's a rude question too," Marco muttered suddenly, and Divine realized he was still waiting for an answer. She debated just saying yes it was rude, but then changed her mind.

"I own my RV and don't need to hire setup guys," she said quietly as she led the way to her motorcycle. "Everything I make is my own."

"You don't have to pay Madge and Bob for rental space or anything?" he asked with surprise.

"I used to," she admitted. "But I've become a bit of a draw, and then I started helping them with things like hiring locals when we get to each town, steering them away from the troublemakers and criminals and things like that. The second year I did that, I prevented their hiring a fellow who turned out to be on the FBI's most wanted list. They were so grateful they decided to pass on making me pay rental anymore as a thank-you."

"Yeah, someone mentioned that this morning when I was hired," Marco said quietly. "Not that you'd prevented their hiring someone on a wanted list, but that you normally help with hires," he explained, and then added, "But you weren't there."

It was a question whether he couched it as one or not. As they reached the motorcycle Divine merely said, "I had personal business to attend to and didn't get back to the carnival until just before opening."

Marco wasn't rude enough to ask outright what that business was and remained silent as Divine unlocked the helmets and handed him one. She donned the other, then tucked her skirt up, mounted the motorcycle, and started it. This time she didn't have to tell him to get on. She'd barely got the engine started before Marco was sliding onto the seat behind her, his hands slipping around her waist.

"I could learn to like this," he said by her ear, speaking loudly to be heard over the engine. 

Divine didn't comment, but simply revved the engine and headed for the carnival grounds. This trip had been a complete and utter bust. Not only had she not escaped his presence, but she didn't know much more about him than she had before. In fact, he'd learned more about her than the other way around. Not that he'd learned much either. At least she hoped he hadn't, and wondered if Marco could read her.

Divine definitely hoped he could not read her, and she was pretty sure he couldn't. Surely if he'd read who she was, he'd have said or done something by now? She fretted over that for the rest of the ride. By the time they reached the carnival grounds, she was eager to get away from the man and get a chance to think. Divine found it hard to concentrate with his hands on her and his body pressing up against hers. She supposed she just wasn't used to a lot of physical contact. It was distracting.

Divine steered the motorcycle up the empty midway, but didn't head for her RV, instead, turning off the midway between the Ferris wheel and one of the game stalls so that she could ride around to the opposite end of the back lot from her RV. It was where the bunkhouses were and where she presumed Marco was staying if he didn't have someplace in town.

She brought the motorcycle to a halt by the first of the bunkhouses and braced her feet on the ground on either side of the motorcycle to keep it upright, but left the motor running as she waited for Marco to get off. After a slight hesitation, he did, and relief immediately rushed through her. When he then moved up beside her and said something she couldn't hear, Divine decided it was probably thanks for the ride, or at least she wanted it to be. Eager to be off, she simply nodded and then sent the motorcycle shooting forward, driving along the outside of the back lot to reach her RV. Once there she dropped the kickstand and removed her helmet as she got off the motorcycle.

She was about to press the button to open the side panel to put the bike away when she heard a dull thud. It sounded like it came from inside her RV. Pausing, Divine listened briefly and heard a clinking sound. She set her helmet on the seat of her motorcycle and moved around to the door. She mounted the two steps, and slipped inside on silent feet.

There was no one in the curtained-off area where she saw clients. Divine eased across the floor, reached for the curtain, and tugged it to the side enough to peer through, but there was no one in the lounge and kitchenette area either. She wasn't terribly surprised. The panel where she kept her motorcycle was off the bedroom. Letting her breath out slowly, she moved through the lounge, reached for the accordion door to the bedroom, but paused as a rustle sounded behind her. Before she could turn, pain exploded inside her head and then the lights went ou

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