Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Thalia landed in London, well away from the crowded buildings of Heathrow. The cargo plane she’d used as transport taxied toward the warehouse, Nigel, her contact here in England used when he had goods that needed to avoid the inspector’s sharp eye. The pilot didn’t exactly stop. As agreed, he slowed as he took a wide turn and Thalia jumped, landing lightly on the tarmac and rolling in to the shadows. It was a bit of a trick, wrapping herself around the sack that contained her light kit and sword. The scrapes she suffered starting healing as soon as she experienced them. It was the kind of fleeting pain she’d learned how to ignore.
She hadn’t landed exactly where she’d wished, so she wiggled the last few feet, and then remained completely still. She looked from camera to camera, satisfying herself that she’d remained in the blind spot. Only then did she get up, using shadows and containers to make her way to the warehouse door.
As she reached for the entry keypad, the blade tickled Thalia’s cheek. “Took you long enough,” Karin hissed.
“As long as was needed,” Thalia replied reasonably. “What about you? Been lounging around England long?”
“Since last night.” Karin’s sword swung back out of sight, wherever she hid it, and the two women ghosted into the warehouse.
No sooner had they closed the door than a noise had Karin moving further inside, fast as a snake. “It’s Nigel!” Thalia’s man called out. His announcement wasn’t fast enough. There was a thud followed by a gargling noise from where Nigel had been.
“Don’t hurt him!” Thalia ordered. “He’s an idiot, but a useful idiot.”
Karin returned from the dark corner and Nigel followed, a little the worse for wear. “Your friend could use manners,” he groused.
“She didn’t kill you,” Thalia shrugged, “so stop whining!” Karin settled on a crate and pulled out a chamois which she used to polish the blade of her short sword. “New?” Thalia asked.
“It is rather pretty,” Karin sniffed. “Picked it up on this last job.”
“Anyone I knew?” Karin’s eyes met hers. Although not exactly polite, it was inevitable word would reach Thalia at some point.
Karin’s eyes flickered to the truly beautiful blade she was holding. “Official business,” she said shortly.
That was code, too. ‘Official’ business meant Karin had been sent to remove a vampire who was breaking Revelation promises. Those orders might be delivered by a small number of people, but they all came from one place. “She still expecting you to carry out these jobs pro bono, or has the old bitch started paying?” Thalia asked.
Karin’s eyes flicked toward Nigel, and then her eyebrow raised that perfect half inch. “Fine!” Thalia laughed. “No small talk! Well?” she asked her contact, “Where is he?”
“He’s been expecting you since Slovenia,” Nigel answered.
“I’m sure he has,” Thalia sniffed. “So, tell me, Nigel, where have you stuffed dear Edward?”
Nigel’s smile was joyous as he led them toward the back corner. The container was small and rusty, but the keypad was new. He punched in the code and stood back while the seal broke and the door popped open an inch. Thalia pulled the door open further and there was Edward Madden, stinking under a wrap of silver. “Charles will hunt you down when he finds you!” Edward hissed.
They all laughed! “When I tell him why I did this, Charles will be too busy wondering how many other side ventures you’ve been running under his nose.” Aside from the burning, Edward didn’t look too bad. Thalia glanced over her shoulder to make certain Nigel was gone. Edward would suspect her man was involved, but as long as there was no direct eye contact, stories could be explained away.
“You’re too late! I’ve already told him everything! Charles knows!” Edward hissed. He shifted and there was a new sound of sizzling when the silver chain found some unprotected part of his body.
“He doesn’t,” and Karin shook her head. “Oh, and he was wondering where you could be. You see, I spent last night with him. He might have been lying, but then again…” and Karin wiped her lip. “I don’t think so.”
“He gave you his blood?” Edward gasped. “You fucking…!”
“Language, dear Edward!” Thalia mocked. “Why? You really thought we’d believe anything you say at a time like this?”
“Men!” and Karin laughed, too. “You really don’t have the aptitude for spying…”
“Or anything else,” Thalia added. “Now, dear Edward, it’s your turn to talk, but I don’t think Karin’s prepared to give you the same persuasion she used on your King.”
“I bet he has a puny dick,” Karin snarled.
“So, no, although she may have another use for your dick.” Karin threw the chamois into the air and more quickly than Thalia could follow, sliced it with the new sword. The cloth never fluttered, but it landed in two pieces. The movement had the proper effect. Madden’s eyes widened and he had the smell of defeat.
“It’s almost a pity,” Karin was saying. “It slices through bone so easily. You don’t even notice your arm is gone, and then the pain blooms. It’s pretty to watch in a way.”
“But I don’t think Edward wants to find out for himself,” and Thalia leaned close. “Do you?”
“Why are you doing this?” Edward groaned. “So I paid some people to ask questions…”
“About dhampirs,” Thalia reminded him.
“My brother is a dhampir,” Karin said. “Perhaps the only dhampir. You understand how it would make me nervous.”
“If only we understood your motivation,” Thalia nodded.
“If only we believed what you told us,” Karin added.
“You don’t have to do this!” Edward protested. “You could have just asked me!”
“Well?” and Thalia waited.
Edward shifted again, then muffled a groan as the renewed scent of burning flesh filled the air. “I was curious,” he said. “There are so many legends. The Fae wanted him before. Why?”
“You are such a liar!” Karin growled. “Pull him out of there! I’m starting with his ears and then his fingers. Bastard! You’ll wear my handiwork for months!”
“I’d be careful,” Thalia cautioned, pulling on leather gloves. “With that amount of silver on him, he might not withstand more than a small amount of blood loss.” She smiled at Edward as she approached him, “It would be a real pity to send him to join his brother, and also we’d have to explain it to Charles.”
“I don’t think Charles will cry over much,” Karin sneered. She stared directly into Edward’s eyes. “I don’t think he likes you, Edward. I think he keeps you because you know too much. If you were gone, how long would it take Charles to replace you? What’s that saying about honor among thieves?”
“I am his sworn vassal!” Edward snapped.
“Who’s been cheating him for decades,” Thalia sniffed.
“I haven’t…” Edward protested, and Thalia just laughed.
“By the time we finish telling the story, Charles won’t know what to believe,” Karin pointed out.
“Bitches!” Edward screamed, and then screamed again when his body hit the floor, exposing new places to the silver swaddling him.
Karin flipped Edward face up with the point of her sword. “Let’s try this again. Who hired you to dig up stories about dhampirs?”
Thalia leaned in. They needed the information and they needed to extract it inflicting the least amount of damage possible. Everything they’d said up to now was false. When Charles realized what they’d done to his Second, he’d be furious. Karin could make a discreet offer of her services and Thalia could offer money, but it was likely neither of them would be able to return to Charles’ territory for some time once their treatment of Edward was discovered.
Fortunately, Edward was as cowardly as they believed and it was all too easy for him to believe their lies since that was what he would have done. “I’m not sure who’s behind it,” he whimpered, “but I have my suspicions.”
“Well, we know it isn’t the Viking,” Thalia purred, “although that’s what you let your little hirelings believe. I wonder why you gave them that idea?”
“It was logical!” Edward grunted. “The Viking has one. He’d want to know more about his creation’s capabilities.”
Thalia nodded, “Neither of your minions questioned your story,” she agreed. “Still, since that’s not the real motivation…” and she waited.
“The money is coming from the Americas,” Edward told them. “Your Viking has an enemy, someone who doesn’t appreciate him or what he represents.” Edward glanced at Karin, “His friends are shaking vampires down to fund their cross-country political movement. You’ve heard that?”
“My Sire is doing as he’s been asked,” Karin replied.
“No one believes that!” Edward hissed. “Eric Northman loves the spotlight! And his Queen! All blond hair and tits, and old to boot! He’ll do anything to make a spectacle of himself.”
Thalia’s sword drew first blood. “You are talking about my brother!” she snarled. “They are my family, or hadn’t you heard?”
Edward’s mouth worked, and Thalia realized her news only served as further proof in Edward’s eyes. “There are many like me,” he snarled. “You might take care of this situation, but don’t think there won’t be another! Eric Northman attracts attention and you know what’s happens to heads that pop up too often!”
Thalia did. “Tell me where the money is coming from and we’ll leave you the key to your chains,” she promised.
“I never spoke with him directly, but I’m sure it’s Russell Edgington,” Edward told them.
As they prepared to part, Karin asked, “Do you think he was telling us the truth?”
“It fits,” Thalia nodded. “He doesn’t like us but, in the end, Edward has no real reason to hate us.” She pulled out her phone. “I’ll be in the Americas by tomorrow. You?”
“Not yet,” Karin sighed.
“So, you’d rather waste what time you have to share with him? Fuck a zombie! Turn him!” and Thalia growled. “Turn him and be done with it. You don’t trust your ability to lose him? Do something about it. Taking assignments until you find someone who can kill you is nothing more than slow-motion suicide! I never took you for a coward, Karin.”
When her friend didn’t say anything, Thalia asked, “Tell me, what does the human say about all of this?”
“He says when I’m tired of running to let him know,” Karin whispered.
Thalia frowned, “That’s it? Does he know what you’re up to?”
Karin nodded. “He hasn’t said it, but he does.”
“You say he loves you?” Thalia snorted. “If that’s love, then you can keep it!”
“He won’t ask me to change,” Karin sighed. “Not even to save myself. Peter says when I’m ready to do something different, it needs to come from me, not because I’m doing it for him. He says he loves me too much to ask me to change.”
“So is that how he is, too?” Thalia asked. “That’s madness, Karin! Deciding to share anything with another person changes you! Of course you change!”
“Because you choose it,” Karin said, “You see, that’s the point.”
Thalia thought about it. “So, you’re saying he’s asking you to decide when to come home.”
“When to stop running,” Karin confirmed.
“Have you asked him what changes he’s decided to make about the two of you lately? Your human seems smarter than most. He wouldn’t be letting you know he’s waiting if he knew he was only offering more of the same.” Karin’s eyes lifted as Thalia asked, “Would he?”
They agreed to meet back at the airport in a few hours. It wouldn’t take Madden long to free himself and by tomorrow night if they were still in England, there’d be some effort made to exact retribution. However, if Thalia and Karin were gone, honor might be satisfied in other ways.
“I hope you’re right,” Karin said for the fourth time.
“By tomorrow night, you’ll know,” Thalia assured her friend and they parted temporarily, slipping into the gathering fog.
“How’s it going?” Pam asked.
“Good,” Hunter replied. “Nothing here I haven’t seen before. I think I’ve interviewed half her court. Who knew a vampire would employ so many non-vampires!”
“Phoebe’s tied into the human world in a pretty big way,” Pam agreed. “Most of us are happy being tourist attractions. She’s running companies and not bothering to hide who and what she is.”
“Still, you’d think she’d have more vampires in charge,” and Hunter grunted as he rolled over in bed. “She’s got a second, but I think he’s more for show. The ones she really relies on are her plant managers and not one of them are vampire!”
“That may change when we get a few of our own through a university with contemporary degrees,” Pam pointed out. “Anyone who did get that certificate did it a long time ago when humans weren’t so picky about identification. Now, everything includes medical histories. Not that we couldn’t fake it, but you should have seen the crap Rick had to go through!”
“Times are changing,” Hunter sighed. “Hey, did you catch Eric and Sookie on TV last night?”
“They always look so clean!” Pam snorted. “Isn’t Chicago close to where you’re staying? Did you fly over there to see them?”
“I stood in the wings and then we went out to a club. They were sparring a little more than usual.” Hunter shifted, “Vampires say that marriages between vampires don’t last.”
Pam laughed, “Don’t believe it! They may decide to live apart for a while, but they’re bonded more tightly than anyone I’ve ever seen. It may be part of the problem. Possessiveness is a two-edged sword. It can make you crazy if you let it.”
“Yeah,” and Hunter nodded, “Yeah, I can see that.” They were quiet for a bit and then Hunter asked, “By the way, where are you?”
“Texas,” Pam told him. “It was time to visit Stan, so I volunteered.” Pam gave it just a beat before saying, “You know, by the book.”
She knew Hunter recognized she telling him her room might be bugged. Hunter barely hesitated. “How’s he doing? You know, I’ve always liked Stan best.”
“Me, too,” Pam echoed, keeping her smile firmly in place.
“So…” and the silence stretched a bit. “Have you two actually had time to talk about things?” Hunter asked.
“If you mean about your particular friend, then yes.” Pam heard Hunter’s audible sigh on the other end. “Don’t get too worked up, little Cuz, it’s not like she sent you any particular message.”
Hunter didn’t both hiding his relief, “But, she’s still there! She’s able to send messages, which means she’s healthy. Did she have anything useful to share?”
“She did,” and Pam sighed. “I haven’t told Eric yet, but they’re my next call. Heidi thinks our problems are coming from Mississippi. She didn’t say Russell directly, but all the signs point in that direction.”
“It’s not like he’d put a billboard on it!” Hunter hooted. “No offense, but you vampires can be a pretty sneaky bunch!”
“True,” Pam shrugged, “Still… There’s something about this that doesn’t quite add up.”
“What do you mean? Do you think Heidi’s being pressured into saying things? You don’t think they know what she’s up to, do you?” Hunter’s voice was sounding stressed.
“Chill out!” Pam scolded. “No, it’s not that. It’s just, I’ve known Russell a long time. He’s capable of this kind of scheming, but playing it this close to the vest for this long? It’s just not him! He likes to push the boundaries a little, you know, like teasing. He likes to feel like he’s the smartest guy in the room and his pride usually gets him caught.”
Hunter wasn’t buying it. “There’s lots of vampires learning new tricks,” he pointed out. “Everything’s changed since the Revelation. Vampires are taking sides and most are on the side of progress. Isaiah was up here and he got a pretty warm reception. Even the guards are willing to do what it takes to keep Washington out of their business, still, I think I should tell you, there’s some vampires up here who don’t think too much of Aunt Sookie.” Hunter sighed. “It’s bad. They don’t even bother keeping their voices down around me.”
“It’s jealousy,” Pam huffed. “Sookie’s pretty, she’s smart, and her teeth are straight. She looks great on television and everyone’s fawning over her.”
“She isn’t old enough,” Hunter repeated the criticism he’d heard over and over. “They worry she’s done something to Eric. They say he looks at her as if he’s been bewitched or…I don’t know, made stupid or something.”
Pam snorted, “There you have it! They can’t think of anything else to say, so they throw the age card! Yes, she’s new to this life, but Sookie was impressive before she was turned. I wouldn’t worry about it, you watch, when the age card criticism fails, they’ll fall back on accusing her of witchcraft. I swear! Vampires can be such snobs!”
“I’m sure you’re right,” and Hunter sighed again. “It’s just if it came right down to it and we needed allies to line up, I’m not sure they’d come running.”
“Then, let’s hope it doesn’t come to it,” Pam said in her perfectly reasonable voice. “So, have you heard from the other happy couple? Any hints about the gender?”
“Not telling me a thing!” Hunter laughed.
“I didn’t think you’d have to wait,” Pam wheedled. “You can’t tell me you haven’t taken a little tiptoe through Brigid’s head. I know you’re just as curious as me!”
“You’re wrong!” and Hunter made some ‘tsking’ noises. “You know I wouldn’t do that, not even for you! Let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that I did, you know, by accident, slip in? Well, it seems she told Amy Ludwig in no uncertain terms she didn’t want to know and if she did find out by accident, she wanted Amy to wipe her memory out!”
“No!” Pam sounded shocked. “I think she did that on purpose! She knows how important this is to me!”
“It’s not all about you, Pam!” Hunter pointed out. “Besides, we’re talking weeks here. I’ve got dispensation to leave as soon as I get the call, but you know you’ll be there first. That’ll just have to satisfy you!”
Pam growled, “Some people don’t appreciate how much money it takes to arrange these things! You have to shop for boys and girls differently. Those two are just being selfish!”
“Plenty of stuff in green and yellow,” Hunter volunteered, knowing it was adding gasoline to the fire.
“I’m not buying my niece or nephew clothes the color of phlegm,” Pam sniffed.
“Most babies I’ve seen have runny noses,” Hunter teased. “Why not put them in clothes the same color so it all blends in?”
“I don’t know why I call you!” Pam fumed. “You are just mean!”
“Now,” and Hunter turned on his accent, “You know that not the case, Cher! You like me fine, n’est-ce pas?”
“Maybe,” Pam conceded before asking, “You really okay?”
“I miss her,” Hunter confessed.
“We’ll find a way to bring her home,” Pam promised. “She’s helping. You heard about Rasul? He confessed to being a spy, but Eric let him off with just a fang.”
“The way I heard it, Rasul didn’t actually spy on his King and he didn’t run to Mississippi, making him look guilty, either.” Hunter waited for Pam to say something, but she didn’t. They both knew it would take a miracle to get Heidi back. After a bit, Hunter said, “Well, thanks for calling. Take care of yourself.”
“And you,” Pam added. She stayed on the line, allowing Hunter to hang up first.
“We can wait until after the baby is born,” Rick offered. He and Jason were on the front porch, headed to Shreveport to collect a playscape.
“Or you can just go and you’ll be back after lunch,” Brigid snipped back.
“I think you could do with a drive,” and Jason gave Rick a solid push toward the steps.
“Sure,” Brigid said, her lip jutting a mile. “At least you can get away from all of this for a while!”
Rick almost turned back, but Jason grabbed his arm. “Leave it! She’ll be feeling different when we get back. Sometimes you just need to give a pregnant woman a little space.”
Peter wandered out of the house. As he draped his arm around Brigid’s shoulders, Rick heard him say, “Can’t ask for a better day to make bread. What about those lessons I’ve been promising you?” and he pulled Rick’s mate against him. Rick watched Brigid’s pouty expression drop away as he pulled out of the parking area. It was a mild day and they left the windows open. As they pulled onto the road and started past the cemetery, Jason pulled the truck over.
Kyle walked out of the underbrush. He had gym shorts on, so Rick knew he’d been patrolling in his wolf form. “We’re on our way to Shreveport,” Jason repeated.
“Think you’ll be back before lunch?” Kyle asked.
“Don’t see no reason we shouldn’t be,” Jason shrugged, “Course, if we call on our way back and she’s still in a snit, we might stop at Merlotte’s for some reinforcement along the way.”
“She didn’t get much sleep,” Rick growled. “It’s not her fault!”
“Didn’t say it was,” Jason laughed. “Just trust me! I’ve gone through this three times already. When a gal’s got that kind of sour on her, the best thing to do is give her some space. She’ll calm down. We’ll find her something pretty in Shreveport, something that isn’t about the baby or reminding her how fat she is.”
“She’s pregnant!” Rick protested.
“And can’t fit into her clothes no more.” Jason gave Kyle a look and Kyle nodded.
“Do yourself a favor,” the Were chuckled. “Take your time. Peter’s there. He’ll make her forget about how she looks in the mirror. It’ll all be smoothed over by the time you get back.
“Don’t worry,” and Jason punched Rick’s shoulder. “We got your back! We men got to stick together at times like these!”
Kyle was nodding in agreement. “You going to be here when we get back?” Rick asked the Were.
“Yeah,” and his guard looked behind him. “Pulling a double today. You’re not the only one with family issues. My replacement called in. Guess fighting is in the air.”
“Make sure you take a break,” Rick grinned. “She’s got half the freezer defrosting again. She and Peter look like they’re going on another one of their cooking binges.”
“For fuck’s sake!” and Kyle rubbed his washboard-hard abs. “I don’t think I can take too much more of this, Rick! I’m already in the gym four times a week. She’d better have this baby soon or I won’t be fitting into any of my clothes!”
“What are you bitchin’ about?” Jason drawled. “You ain’t living with her. She’s on me twenty-four/seven! I wake up to muffins and she’s tucking me into bed with brownies. I’ll be on cholesterol medication for sure!” His uncle gave Rick a stern look, “If you were doing your part in the bedroom, she wouldn’t have all this energy to be cooking up a storm!”
“Shut up!” Rick blushed. “I won’t talk about Brigid like this! You want her to stop, you tell her, but you better be sure you have that box of Kleenex handy. It’s feast or famine with her right now!”
“Well, if there’s one guy who knows how to get around her, it’s Peter,” Jason nodded. “Don’t know how he does it, but he always knows to say the right thing.”
“That’s cause he doesn’t say much of anything at all!” Rick grunted.
They waved at Kyle and got started down the road. “So,” Jason asked as they turned onto the main road, “You think Peter’s going vampire?”
“Brigid thinks he is,” Rick replied. “He’s waiting for Karin to decide to come home, and then he’s going to tell her.”
“Well, if that don’t beat all!” and Jason whooped. “I’m betting he’ll do it right. Put a ring on it and everything!”
Rick sighed, “Not you, too! Mom’s started pushing the wedding thing. I figured you’d let it go.”
Just because it ain’t worked out for me doesn’t mean I don’t believe in it!” Jason answered. “Seems to me you two like living around here. You want your woman to have respect in a town like Bon Temps, you marry her. Otherwise, folks will be wonderin’ what’s wrong with her.”
“There’s nothing wrong with her!” Rick huffed. “We just don’t believe you need to be married to be committed to each other.”
Jason didn’t look at Rick, he just shook his head. “Oh, yeah, I’ve heard all your fancy up-north ideas, but down here, things are a little different. We don’t pull our ideas out of some fancy philosophy book or quote smart people. We just live from the heart and when you love someone and you want to be with them for the rest of your life, you do something about it. You make it right.”
“And marriage is how that happens,” Rick said quietly.
Jason did look at him now. “You thinking this isn’t going to work out? You thinking Brigid isn’t the one for you?”
It was like a kick in the gut. “No! That’s not what I meant!” Rick exclaimed. “I love her!” Rick knew things between them hadn’t had the same passion they’d had before, but it was hard right now. Between the stress of his training and Brigid’s ups and downs, there were nights they barely spoke. Then, he thought of that sassy girl who’d walked down the streets of Boston, her guitar on her back. He thought of the brave woman who’d run off a cliff trusting the wind to catch her and he knew, or at least he hoped, that they’d find that same feeling on the other side of all this. “You’re right,” Rick said softly. “I should marry her.”
“Now, you’re talking!” Jason grinned. “That’s more like it!”
The day was fine and they kept the windows down all the way to the highway. Jason turned on his favorite southern rock band and when they put the windows up, Jason gave up tapping time against the metal of the door for the leather binding on his steering wheel. When Rick didn’t join in after the second chorus, Jason punched him in the arm, “Come on! Show me your Stackhouse!” and together they warbled about being born a rambling man all the way to Shreveport.
It was past lunch and they were passing through Bon Temps when Rick’s phone rang. “Mustapha,” Rick frowned. He punched the answer button and held the phone to his ear.
“Where are you?” the Were asked, and Rick knew. He felt the blood run from his face and the phone started to fall from his fingers.
“Rick?” Uncle Jason sounded like he was a million miles away. Rick’s vision was blinking in and out and the blood was roaring in his ears. “Hang on!” Jason was yelling and Rick was thrown back into his seat as his Uncle floored the truck.
When they made the turn into Hummingbird Lane, Rick heard a thud and the truck swerved. He’d find out later it was the playscape flying out of the bed. As they approached the cemetery, the truck slowed. Mustapha was standing in the road. There was blood on him but his eyes were the only thing Rick saw. Jason threw the truck into park and was out the door, running around the front, leaving the engine running. Rick could hear Jason’s voice as he talked with Mustapha, and then Jason went running, jumping the small fence, his feet hitting the ground hard before he took off between the grave markers.
Rick was frozen. He couldn’t hear. He couldn’t see anything but the green and light as the sun shone through the branches ahead.
“Rick?” It was a voice from somewhere far away. “Rick?” and then there was a hand on his shoulder.
Rick could hear a wail, like a cat screaming, and he turned his head. Mustapha was standing right outside the window. “I’m opening the door,” he was saying.
Warren was there, walking up behind him. Things didn’t make sense. Things couldn’t make sense. Rick pulled into himself, afraid if he allowed his thoughts to walk very far, this feeling he had would be real, and there would be no going back. “He’s in shock,” Mustapha said.
“He’ll be all right,” Warren replied, and then the door was open and Rick was looking at a squirming bundle laid in his lap.
Mustapha’s hand was back on his shoulder. “You need to hold on to her, okay?” At first, Rick couldn’t move, but then the baby started to cry and he touched her.
“Hold her against you.” Warren was beside him now. Mustapha was walking back toward the tree line. “Do it like this,” and Warren guided his hands. The baby was bloody, but Rick could see she had hair slicked against her skull and her tiny fists flexed. “Here,” Warren was saying, “I’m opening your shirt so she can feel your skin.”
It was like a dream. Rick held her away for a moment and in the next, his shirt was open and the small form was against him, her head against his chest, and she stopped crying. It was the same way he felt when he held his Mom, or Brigid, and Rick felt himself breathe out for the first since the phone rang. “I’ve got you,” he told his daughter. “I’ve got you.”
Rick kissed her small head, then moved his hands, cradling her more securely against him. The shadows through the leaves shaded his face, throwing patterns across them both. A beam of sunshine found the crystal Jason kept suspended from his rear-view mirror and a spray of rainbows exploded across the truck’s interior.
Somewhere close there were voices and sadness. Somewhere close there was some terrible thing Rick needed to know, but for now, he only needed to know this; the weight of his daughter in his arms and feeling that he would see to it she’d be safe if it was the last thing he ever did.