By Blood We Live Page 68

“What?”

He told me. Not looking at me. Like a departing employee tiredly running through stuff for his successor.

“Lorcan pulled Quinn’s book from your bag,” he said. “I wouldn’t have thought of Olek, otherwise. Maybe someone’s making this shit up after all.”

There was a twitch in the ether between us when he went through the vampire character sketches and got to Alyssia.

“Sounds like she made an impression,” I said.

He was silent for a moment. Then said: “Don’t.” Quietly. If he’d said it in anger it would have been easier to hear. I resisted the urge to say (pointlessly), “Don’t what?”

He stood up—and when he looked down at me and smiled all the shame and guilt my efficient little self had kept in check rushed up. Into my face, I knew.

“Don’t try for a smooth baton change,” he said.

The smile was his smile, being used now to express its opposite.

I’m not normally the one who looks away. Even now I almost, out of sheer self-loathing, didn’t. Then, with more warm tears, I did. It was a little Pyrrhic victory for him. I felt “I’m sorry” coming up in me again. And him thinking: Don’t bother.

We stayed like that, him watching me crying, for as long as we could stand it. Then he took a couple of paces away. The room needed a window for him to go to and look out of. I could feel the grammar of the moment demanding it. But the room was the room. The room was innocent. And designed by us.

“You don’t need me to tell you this,” he said. “But we got the vamp help because I promised Olek you’d go and see him. That was the deal. That’s the story.”

We both knew I would go, that I was always going, but nonetheless I said: “You promised?”

“He took my word. Old school. Obviously there’s nothing making you go. But since you were going anyway …”

I didn’t contradict him.

“He didn’t seem surprised,” Walker said. “Maybe he’s in on the plot.”

It really sickened him, this idea that there was a shape or purpose to all this. Because if there was then he’d gone through everything he’d gone through according to its design. Was still going through it. I thought of how much we’d loved kissing each other. It was almost an embarrassment, how much just kissing turned both of us on. I imagined myself opening my mouth now and saying: I love you. I do love you.

But I didn’t say it. Instead I lay there and he stood there, enduring the pain and awfulness of this. The moment you think is unbearable forces you to disappoint yourself by bearing it. There’s resigned laughter available, for the hilarity of your own durability.

“He’s in India,” Walker said. “I’ve got the details. He wants you there in time for the next full moon.”

As soon as he said “India” it felt like déjà vu. I realised now that when I’d spoken to Olek on the phone I’d imagined him somewhere like that. Somewhere superficially—somewhere cinematically—unlikely for a vampire.

“Mike and Natasha will meet you there,” he said.

Mike and Natasha. Not him. So it had really begun, the sequence of severances. Well? It was what I wanted—wasn’t it?

Walker went to the door and opened it. All our past tenderness rose up in my chest. I was so close to saying, Please don’t go. Please let’s not do this. Please forgive me. Please, please, please. The thought of how good it would feel if he came and put his arms around me and held me wasn’t a thought but a physical sensation, an ache in the space around my body. I imagined myself saying it, heard myself, felt the sweetness that would come to me in his embrace. And immediately it had come so would the knowledge, like a gunshot, that it had been the wrong thing to do.

“It won’t be safe for the kids,” he said, not looking at me now. “You should leave them here. We’ll take care of them until you get back.”

“And when I get back?” Sometimes you need every nail hammered in.

Walker turned and looked at me. He looked so tired and handsome. I wanted to get up from the bed and go to him. He didn’t say anything. It was as if there was a membrane between us, every moment tearing. We stared at each other. You push it to the absolute brink of finality and there’s a pure moment when you know you can pull it back. The huge gift of our past—and the future we could have—was there like an invisible treasure giving off a golden light and warmth.

Then he turned and walked away, and closed the door behind him.

62

Justine

LOS ANGELES TO New York. New York to Dublin. Dublin to Istanbul. Istanbul to Delhi. Delhi to Bangkok. All First Class. So I could be off the plane fast when we landed.

The New York to Dublin leg was always going to be tough. Six hours. As soon as we took off I couldn’t believe what I was doing. All that resolve about not being stupid. This was the stupidest thing I’d done so far. All the what-ifs I’d brushed aside came back like a crowd of ugly people around my seat, jabbing me with their fingers. What if there was a problem with the plane? What if we got re-routed? What if we had to circle for ages before we were cleared to land? What if I took too long getting through Immigration? What if there was a bomb scare, or a fire that closed the airport? I don’t think I moved for the first three hours. Just stared at my video screen, not seeing anything. The movie’s end credits went up and I had no clue what had played. I switched to Flight Map. Distance to destination. Time to destination. That was worse. There was nothing to do except sit there and freak out. They kept offering me stuff. Champagne, food, chocolates. They thought something was wrong with me. Everyone else in First took everything they were offered. I was grateful for the spaces between the seats. I wanted to smoke. Smoking would have helped. Instead I kept getting up and going to the bathroom and washing my hands and face, just for something to do.

Then worse. In the Arrivals lounge at Istanbul one of the TVs was showing CNN with the sound down. Captions in Turkish I couldn’t read. At first I didn’t know why the footage bothered me. It was just another crime scene. Lights, police cars, yellow tape, people milling around, an officer standing with his hands on his hips and his back to the camera. I couldn’t even understand why it had made it to the news.

Until I realised it was Karl Leath’s house.

The footage cut away to the news studio. A new blonde anchorwoman I didn’t recognise and three male studio guests, one of whom was a priest. I stood there watching, my hands fat and heavy, waiting for a photo of me to come up. I could imagine the voiceover: “The suspect, picked up on CCTV leaving the scene, is considered extremely dangerous …” Any second now. Any second now. My face on screen. My face.

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