Divine tugged the leather jacket she'd donned a little tighter around herself and shifted uncomfortably in the front seat, and then opened her eyes on a little groan and rolled her head. She had a crick in her neck from sleeping upright in the driver's seat. Nice. That was something immortals didn't get if they had enough blood in their system, but then she already knew she didn't. She needed to feed.
Suddenly aware that the moaning and groaning that had been coming from the back of the SUV for what had seemed like hours had now died off, Divine twisted in the seat to peer back at Marcus. He was sleeping soundly, lying in the back amid the flakes of burnt flesh that his body had shed as he'd healed.
The truck would need to be hosed out, she thought with a grimace. It probably wouldn't help though. Divine suspected the smell of burnt flesh would linger in the vehicle for a long time to come.
Turning back, she opened the driver's side door and slid out. Divine took a moment to stretch and crack a few bones before moving toward the door at the back of the SUV. Once there, she peered in at Marcus briefly, and then caught his legs and started to drag him toward her, but dropped them and quickly stepped back when he suddenly sat upright, his expression half asleep and half alarmed.
"Divine." He sighed her name with relief, lowering the fists he'd instinctively raised. Marcus slumped where he sat, letting his hands drop to the floor, only to raise them again and grimace with disgust as he peered at the ruined skin now clinging to his hands. "Gross."
"Yeah," Divine agreed with amusement. "I was going to get you settled next to a tree or something and sweep out the worst of it, then head into town and find somewhere to hose it out. Maybe hose you down too."
"I wouldn't say no to either suggestion," Marcus said dryly, sliding forward on the vehicle floor until he could get out of the SUV. Moving a few steps away from the vehicle, he then tried to shake off the worst of the flakes clinging to him. "I don't suppose there is a lake or anything near here?"
"Actually, we're about half an hour or forty-five minutes from the ocean," she admitted, and when he glanced at her in surprise, she shrugged. "I needed to take you somewhere no one would hear you screaming. I know the people who own this property. It's about forty minutes from San Bernardino, spans hundreds of acres, and they're out of town. I figured this was our safest bet."
Marcus glanced around then. They were parked on a dirt path near a copse of trees. He couldn't see the lights of civilization in any direction, although the copse could be blocking some.
"So you parked me here and went for a walk while I screamed my head off?" he asked with amusement.
"Actually I went for five or six walks," Divine informed him dryly, and then added, "But not here, on the edge of the nearest town, and each time to find you a host."
Marcus tilted his head uncertainly. "A host?"
"Someone to feed on," she said succinctly. "You needed blood to heal."
"You let me bite someone?" he asked, and she suspected he was having some memories of his feedings, because he looked horrified. She could understand that. The man had been in agony and out of control. If she hadn't been there, helping to control the situation, he probably would have killed every one of the mortals she'd brought to him. But she had been there.
"They are all alive and fine and back at home," Divine assured him solemnly. "I realized when you launched yourself at the first one that you weren't fully in your head. I controlled her mind while you fed, forced you to stop when you'd had enough, and then returned her to her bed and fetched another," she assured him, neglecting to mention that she hadn't been able to slip into his thoughts and stop him by controlling him, so had had to get physical with him.
"Hosts to feed on," Marcus muttered unhappily.
Divine didn't comment. Even after all these centuries, she disliked using the word blood. She didn't know if it was the need to hide what she was from the mortals she'd lived with over the years that made her avoid use of the word, but she found herself reluctant to say the word. Hosts to feed on just sounded less nasty to her.
Marcus turned back to the vehicle. Leaning in, he grabbed his duffel bag and straightened. He carried the bag around to the back passenger door, set it inside, and then turned to peer at her solemnly. "Thank you for getting me to the SUV and taking care of me."
Divine shrugged uncomfortably. "I couldn't just leave you in the stand for someone to find. You'd have attacked the first person who came along and drained them dry. Maybe the second person who came too."
"Yes," he agreed, sounding both weary and ashamed at once. Straightening his shoulders, he added, "Still, some would have left me anyway."
"I wouldn't," she said firmly.
"No," Marcus agreed quietly. "I know you wouldn't. You might be a ball buster—"
Divine glanced at him sharply, surprised when he grinned.
"But you're also the woman who does her best to help the mortals who come to you, as well as the carnies you travel with. You would not have left me screaming in a cotton candy stand at the carnival," he said with certainty.
Divine shrugged and glanced away, then sighed and turned back, "Sorry about the . . . er . . . ball-busting thing. I—"
"I shouldn't have just walked in," Marcus interrupted quietly. "I gather that could get a man shot here in America. The truth is I walked right in because I didn't think you'd invite me in," he smiled wryly and admitted, "which probably means I deserved it, I guess."
"You deserved to get hit," Divine assured him. "But I didn't mean to do . . . what happened," she finished with a grimace. She really hadn't meant to do that kind of damage. She just didn't handle it well when people tried to take choice away from her. Now that he'd been through so much, she actually felt bad about her part in his suffering. Really, fate had over punished him.
"Well, fortunately, I healed. One of the benefits of being immortal," Marcus said with a shrug and then added grimly, "A benefit that is definitely appreciated after that fire."
Divine nodded solemnly. Healing was one very definite benefit of being immortal, but there were many; being stronger, faster, able to see in darkness, never getting sick . . . Some would say that never aging was an amazing benefit too, but that lost its charm after a couple centuries. At least it had for Divine. Actually, she would have been happy to die in her teens, but then she'd gone through something terrible at that time, a nightmare really. One whole year of her life had been hell. It had taken a long time to get over it, and she had got over it. But it was the kind of thing that had an impact on a person and shaped their personality. It would always be a part of her, but she had long ago got over the death wish it had inspired. The closest she'd got to that feeling since then was a deep weariness, a bone-deep boredom. She had been around long enough to have seen it all, well, at least when it came to human behavior. That boredom and weariness had begun to wane a bit the last couple of days though. Between the questions she suddenly had about her son, and the events that had taken place at the carnival, things had certainly turned interesting.
Her gaze slid to Marcus and she noted his pallor. She had seen him feed several times while he was going through the worst of the healing, but he obviously needed more. "You need to feed again."
"Yeah. The problem is there's no more blood in the refrigerator and it will take some time to get more delivered," he said, sounding weary.
Divine arched an eyebrow with disapproval. "You know bagged blood is like junk food for immortals, don't you?"
Marcus's eyes widened slightly. "Where did you hear that?"
"From Ab— a friend," she corrected quickly, and then shrugged. "Most of the nutrients are destroyed once they leave the body, and the longer it's refrigerated, the less good the blood does. It's like drinking from a dead person. Pretty much useless."
Marcus frowned. "I'm sorry, but your friend was misinformed, Divine. If what he said was true, mortals couldn't use bagged blood for transfusions and such. As long as the blood is kept at the proper temperature, it still holds on to its nutrients. It's as good as getting the blood straight from the source." He hesitated and then added solemnly, "That's why immortals are restricted to bagged blood now. It's just as nutritious, but doesn't carry the risk of discovery like biting mortals does."
"Immortals are restricted to bagged blood?" she asked with surprise.
He nodded and walked slowly back to join her behind the vehicle. "Except in cases of emergency, we aren't supposed to consume anything but bagged blood."
Divine frowned at this news. "And if they do?"
"They're considered rogue," he said quietly. "At least they are here in the U.S. and in Canada. Feeding off the hoof is still allowed in Europe and some other places, but even there it's frowned on more and more."
Divine sank to sit on the end of the SUV. She hadn't realized they had made that rule. She hadn't realized that bagged blood could even sustain them. Abaddon had said— Divine closed her eyes and bowed her head. She should have known better than to trust anything Abaddon said, and normally she was skeptical of everything he told her, but it had sounded so logical. Not that it would have made much difference. She didn't have access to blood banks and would have been forced to feed off the hoof anyway. That thought made her glance to him curiously. "So, what do immortals do? Rob blood banks or something?"
Marcus smiled crookedly at the question and shook his head. "They run their own blood banks. They collect the blood, and immortals purchase it like a mortal would buy steak or potatoes at a grocery store."
"They actually sell it in stores?" Divine asked with surprise.
"No, of course not. Immortals order it and it's delivered to their residence or where they're staying," he said with amusement.
"Oh," Divine murmured. "So how do you order it?"
"Argeneau Enterprises runs the blood banks and distribution of—"
"Of course they do," she said on a sigh and stood to walk around to the driver's seat. If the Argeneaus were involved in the distribution, she couldn't risk ordering it and drawing attention to herself. She would just have to continue on as she was going. It was a bit distressing to think that she was considered rogue now though.
Well, she'd been considered rogue before this, Divine supposed, but unfairly in her opinion. This, however . . . well, she knew the rule and could order the blood, but was choosing not to, so she supposed she truly was rogue now.
"Come on," she said, slipping into the driver's seat.
Marcus closed the back door and walked around to get in the front passenger side. "Where are we going?"
Divine paused, and then asked, "How long would it take you to get blood delivered to you?"
Marcus grimaced, and shook his head. "Bastien said to let him know when I was down to a couple days' supply because it would take him that long to get fresh blood to me."
Divine nodded and turned forward to start the engine, "Well then, we're going to find you donors. You can't wait two days for bagged blood, you're pale and sweating. I'd guess you're in pain too?"
He nodded reluctantly when she glanced over. "Yes, but—"
"There are no buts here, Marco. You need blood and this is an emergency. You haven't seen yourself. You've healed to the point of scarring, but the burn scars aren't going away. The nanos don't have enough blood to work with. They're obviously trying to find it though." She peered at him solemnly as he felt his face, and then leaned over to flip down the visor so that he could see himself in the mirror on the underside.
Marcus winced in shock at the sight of his own scarred flesh.
"It's an emergency," Divine repeated grimly. "The nanos still have a lot of work to do. You're going to be brainless with bloodlust pretty quickly if we don't get some blood into you." She flipped the visor back up again and shifted the car into gear. "So, we find you a donor."
"Yeah, all right," he agreed reluctantly. "But I should call that order in right now too."
"You must have lost your phone in the RV or while escaping it," Divine said as she noted him searching his pockets. "It's not on you."
"How do you know?" Marcus asked suspiciously.
"Because I searched your pockets for cash when I stopped for gas," she admitted quietly. "I didn't have enough on me to fill this gas guzzler and didn't want to steal the fuel. Fortunately, you had your wallet still. But I found it in the last pocket I searched and didn't come across a phone, so—" She shrugged as she turned off the dirt track and onto an actual road. "You don't have it on you."
"My wallet?" Marcus asked, suddenly looking wary, and Divine smiled.
"Afraid while looking for money I spotted your credit cards and driver's license and noticed that your name is Marcus Notte, not Marco Smith?" she asked with amusement. When he appeared at a loss as to how to address that, she shook her head and said lightly, "There's no need to look so guilty. Lots of people use fake names when they join the carnival."
Marcus grunted at that and seemed to relax in the seat, although his hands were still clenched as he battled the pain he was struggling with. After a moment, he offered a weary "Thank you again for taking care of me."
"It's not like I had anything better to do," Divine said wryly, her attention mostly on her driving. "My home and business were both destroyed in the fire, as was the money I keep at hand. I'll have to wait until Monday to get enough cash to buy another RV and start over." She glanced over with a touch of amusement curving her lips and added, "That means I'm at your disposal for the next day at least."
"Lucky me," Marcus said quietly, and it didn't sound like sarcasm. But then he probably was thinking it was lucky, Divine supposed. After all, his job was to discover if she was Basha Argeneau, and no doubt having her at his side for the next twenty-four hours could only help in that endeavor.
"Hmm?" she murmured, her attention already split between driving and trying to decide where best to go to find him the blood he needed. It was Saturday night. Well, Sunday morning really, she acknowledged, glancing at the dashboard clock that read 12:30. A big city was always her preference. She could go to bars there and easily lure a man or three outside for a little bite, one at a time, of course. But big cities weren't always easily accessible from carnival locations that sometimes set up in mid-sized or even the occasional small town. No one, mortal and immortal alike, wanted to drive for hours for a meal, and she was sometimes forced to feed in more rural areas. In those cases, she tended to pick homes well away from the general population—farms that were mostly self-sufficient and where the inhabitants didn't have to go into town every single day. It made getting caught less likely.
That had been her trick with Marcus while he was healing. Leaving him in a bar parking lot while she went in to fetch out donors for him hadn't seemed practical. His screaming wouldn't allow for that. She'd had to find a nice healthy family out in the boonies. Actually, she'd ended up having to find two healthy families in the boonies. That was her fault. She obviously hadn't thought ahead when she'd brought the first donors to him. Marcus had been so desperate for blood he'd attacked with a speed and need that was disconcerting. Divine had controlled the girl's mind so she wouldn't feel the pain of the assault or even be aware of it, which was much easier than trying to erase the memory of it afterward.
However, when she'd judged that he'd taken enough from that first donor and tried to get Marcus to stop, he hadn't been able or willing to. Caught up in his bloodlust, Divine hadn't been able to pull him off. She'd ended up having to bash him over the head with a tire iron she'd found in the back of the vehicle to make him stop. That had happened three times before Divine had wised up. Fortunately that last time he'd managed to hurt himself while trying to hurt her and had knocked himself out. It had been Saturday morning by then and she'd driven into town to a huge hardware outlet to buy the thickest chain they had. Marcus had still been unconscious when she'd returned to the SUV. Fortunately, the parking lot had been mostly empty, so she'd risked being seen and had chained him up to the refrigerator then before driving back out to the country to fetch another donor.
Marcus being chained had made it all much easier. Divine hadn't had to hit him with the tire iron again after that, which was definitely a good thing. Every time she'd hit him, she'd given the nanos in his body more damage to repair, which meant more blood needed. She'd been creating something of a vicious circle that way.
"I'm having some unpleasant memories," Marcus said tentatively.
Divine glanced to him at that comment, and then turned forward again. "I'm not surprised. Being broiled in an RV can't be pleasant."
"No, not about that," he said quietly. "These memories are kind of fuzzy, but I—did I attack people?"
Divine grimaced. If he had switched to bagged blood when it first came out, it meant he hadn't hunted much since the advent of blood banks. She doubted he was used to it anymore. What was more, though, was that his feedings had been rather horrific. He really had been mindless. If he'd been aware of his donors as living beings, it had been hard to tell by the way he'd ripped into their flesh. She could hardly say that to him though, so said instead, "I brought you donors, and yes, you were a bit enthusiastic, but that was to be expected after what you'd gone through."
"So I didn't hurt anyone?" he asked with a frown.
"I controlled your donors for you. They won't remember anything," she assured him quietly.
"So I did hurt them," he said unhappily.
Divine hesitated. "They will all be fine. You took a little more blood than I was comfortable with from the first donor, but that was my fault. I should have expected that reaction. You were in serious need and a great deal of pain. Besides, when I couldn't get you to release her, I . . . er . . ." She sighed and admitted, "I bashed you over the head with a tire iron."
She sense rather than saw the sharp glance he turned on her.
"It worked," she said unapologetically. "You released her and it was in time. She is probably a little weak and anemic this morning, but otherwise fine."
Marcus cursed and sank unhappily back in his seat. When she glanced to him in question, he grimaced. "I remember it now. I acted like an animal." He stared out the window with dissatisfaction for a moment and then shifted uncomfortably and said, "It's disturbing to realize just how thin the veneer of civilization is. We're really just animals under the polite face we offer society."
"It isn't just us. Starve a mortal for a week or two and then give him a chicken leg and he'll eat like an animal too, tearing at the flesh, fluids running down his cheeks, hands soaked in grease," she said quietly. "Survival is a strong instinct . . . You didn't do anything to be ashamed of."
Marcus was silent for a moment and then sighed out the words, "Thank you."
Divine glanced at him with surprise. "For what now?"
"For . . . everything," he said with a weary smile.
"Even mopping you in the groin?" she asked with amusement.
"Well, that I could have done without," Marcus said with a crooked smile. "But I did deserve it." He turned to peer at her through the dark interior of the car. "Where were you when the fire started?"
"In town," she admitted, and her mouth tightened. "I came back to find the RV fully engulfed by flames and carnies running around trying to beat the fire back from the door far enough to get in and search for me."
"They would have done that?" Marcus asked with amazement.
"Carnies are like family," Divine said quietly, and then her lips tipped with a crooked smile and she added, "A totally dysfunctional one maybe, but—"
"So, your average family then," he teased, but she could hear the pain in his voice. The man was suffering. She really needed to figure out where to find him blood. Divine could do with some herself. Marcus hadn't just attacked the donors she'd brought. When she'd tried to stop him feeding, and then gone about the business of chaining him up, he'd gotten rather aggressive with her. Divine hadn't taken it personally. She'd known he didn't know what he was doing. Still, she'd taken a couple of deep wounds in the process. They'd healed quickly enough, but it meant she was down a couple pints or four, and now she was in need of blood again too.
The problem was, now that Divine knew that feeding on mortals was against the rules, she was reluctant to do it, even in an emergency like this.
"So who is trying to kill you,