Beyond Twilight (Page 3)
It wasn't the castle it at first appeared to be. It was actually no bigger than an average house, all made of stone, blocks of it two feet in depth. Deep gray here, lighter there. Sometimes nearly white. It had the huge rooms and high ceilings of a mansion. But the place wasn't what it seemed. The ground floor consisted of only three rooms. The palatial front one with the fireplace, a dining room fit for a king, and a tiny cubbyhole of a kitchen with a fridge and stove that appeared to be gas-powered, like the lights. He tried the faucets, found they worked. Hot and cold. The place had every comfort.
It was a whimsical place. Made him think of the castles and enchanted cottages in fairy tales. Everywhere he looked there were crystals. Huge blocks of quartz with jagged points like countless fingers, sparkling at him. Glittering purple amethysts. Lapis lazuli, so blue it hurt your eyes to look at it too long.
Tiger's eye, flashing and winking yellow and gold at him as he passed. And a hundred others he couldn't identify. Tiny pewter statuettes peered up at him from every inch of space not occupied by a stone. There were fairies, unicorns, dragons, wizards, castles on high. My God, there Were hundreds of them. And the art that adorned her walls held similar themes. No pastels, though. Grim colors, grays and browns and dull blues. Lots of charcoal sketches. Pegasus. Pan. An ugly creature that might have been a troll.
“Looked your fill yet?” She sat on a beanbag chair near the fire-a beanbag!-with her legs curled beneath her. She hadn't followed him, seeming content to let him explore the house on his own. More evidence there was really no way out. If there was a chance he could escape, she wouldn't have let him out of her sight.
“I haven't looked upstairs yet.”
“Three bedrooms, with a bathroom between two of them. No big deal. Can we sit down and talk now?”
“The place is smaller than it looks. The size of the room is deceptive.”
“Astute observation. Please, Ramsey, I have so much I want to know.” She sat a little straighter, pleading with those big, round eyes that seemed to want to suck him into their depths.
“How'd you ever find this place?” He poured himself some more wine, his back to her. He had to avoid looking at her if he was going to manage to remain in control, maybe get her to let something slip, like how the hell he could get out of here.
“I had it built. Always wanted a castle all my own. Ever since I was a little girl.”
That tidbit made him turn to face her. His next question was impulsive and not at all what he'd intended to ask. “How old are you, Cuyler?”
“Ninety-nine.” She smiled fully when she said it. Her smile was something to see. Made her eyes crinkle at the corners and sparkle with mischief. “Pretty spry for my age, huh?”
“How long have you been-“
“Didn't do much research on me, did you, Ramsey?”
He shook his head. “Research isn't my job.”
“Right. I forgot. You just hunt us down and bring us in.”
“I'm not going to apologize for it.”
“Who asked you to? I just wondered why you suddenly wanted to know about me.”
She turned to stare into the firelight. It made her eyes glow, and gleamed its reflection on her multilayered ebony hair.
“Is that all?” She didn't look at him. Just sighed softly before she went on. “I was twenty-five. My sister and I danced at a gin joint in Chicago during the height of Prohibition.”
He stopped with his wine halfway to his lips and just stared at her with his mouth gaping. “You were a flapper?”
She shrugged, looking at him, grinning. “I was young and I needed the money.”
He laughed. He couldn't help it, she was funny. She'd always been funny. Every time she'd pulled one of her pranks on him and slipped out of his reach, she'd done it with a stroke of humor that couldn't be ignored. More than once he'd been in the midst of anger and frustration, only to find himself smiling and shaking his head at her wit. That dummy in the coffin at her house had been just one more example of her impish streak.
He stared at her, tilted his head a little. He could see her very clearly in his imagination, wearing a fringe-covered sac dress and a headband with a feather.
Then his laugh died. He wasn't sure he wanted to hear any more. Seeing her as a real person with a life and a past would only make this harder.
“Honestly, I loved to dance. We both did. And we were good at it.”
“I'll bet you were.” It slipped out before he thought about it. He averted his eyes, cleared his throat. “So, what happened?” He could have kicked himself.
Hadn't he just decided he didn't want to know?
“There was this woman, the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen in my life. She was elegant. No, regal is a better word. But she was fun, too. She used to come in all the time, bugged us to teach her the dances. One night she came in dressed as a flapper and joined us on stage.” Cuyler shook her head slowly, smiling, the movement drawing his gaze against his will. “She was something.
Every man there wanted her, but she never seemed interested. And when the lushes got a little out of hand with us, she'd step in and scare the hell out of them.”
Ramsey wondered what man in his right mind would be interested in any other woman when Cuyler was in the room, then frowned and reminded himself what he was doing here. “Who was she?”
Cuyler only leaned back in her beanbag, drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. She ignored his question. “One night there was a raid. FBI. G-men as we called 'em back then. The owners fought back, naturally.
The rest of us got caught between machine guns.”
She released her legs and rolled to her feet with a little bounce. She walked toward him, stopped when she stood right in front of him, then caught the hem of her blouse and lifted it.
Ramsey licked his lips and tried to deny his instant reaction to the sight of that taut skin, her flat belly, the curve of her waist, the dark well of her navel. He stiffened when she took his hand and pulled it toward her, but he didn't pull away. And then his palm was pressing to her warm flesh and he felt odd puckers that shouldn't be there. They barely showed, but he could feel them.
He frowned, moving his hand over her waist, feeling more of the puckers, and more on her rib cage. Slowly, it dawned on him just what these scars had to be, and for some reason his stomach convulsed, twisting into a knot, and a hot fury came to life in its center. He set the wine on a stand and stood, both hands on her warm skin now. Clasping her waist, he turned her slowly and ran his palms over the small of her back, as well, then higher, slipping them beneath her blouse and up to her shoulder blades.
He tried to swallow as he felt the scars left on her smooth flesh where the bullets had passed through her body. But he couldn't. His throat had closed off.
He had a sudden image of her, with her short ruffly hair held in place by a feathered headband, her fringed dress filled with holes, her small pixie's body riddled by bullets.
His hands stilled on her skin. He closed his eyes, trying to block out the image.
She leaned back just slightly, pressing herself closer to his touch. “My sister was killed, and I wasn't far behind her. But that woman found me in the chaos.
She took me out of there while the bullets were still flying. I don't know how, but she did. She laid me down in the alley and she asked me if I wanted to live.”
“And you said yes.”
She turned to face him and somehow his hands ended up on her shoulders. He ought to move them away. He really ought to.
“What would you have said?”
He shook his head slowly. It wasn't a clear decision between good and evil. It wasn't an easy question to answer. Not the way he'd always thought it would be.
He couldn't get the image of it out of his mind, her small body jerking like a marionette's as bullets tore hot paths right through her. Her lying still, the life seeping away from her. Why was this so vivid to him? Why did he feel as if he'd witnessed the whole thing? His hands tightened a little on her shoulders, a natural reaction to the sensation of her life slipping away. “I don't know.”
Her hands rose in slow motion, came to rest lightly on his chest. “I probably wouldn't have known, either, if she'd asked me while I was strong and alive. But I was bleeding. I was dying. I couldn't even feel the pain by then. And I said yes.”
He couldn't blame her. He couldn't imagine himself in the same situation doing anything differently. But the decision, that single moment in time, was only the beginning. And he found himself wanting to know more. “What about afterward?
When you were changed, a completely different being? Did you regret your choice?”
She closed her eyes, smiled softly. “But I wasn't a different being. Ramsey, the changes were physical. I was the same person inside. A little flaky, maybe. A believer in fairy tales. A practical joker. I was the same. I still am.”
His stomach clenched. For a second he wondered what right he had to drag this woman off to DPI's research center. He stared down at her wide eyes, her moist lips, and felt her lean toward him. His hands tightened on her shoulders. She rose on tiptoe and tilted her head up, fit her mouth to his…
The hiss of resin seeping from the firewood got louder just as he caught her lips, began sucking at them, tracing their shape with his tongue. A loud snap worked like an electric shock, jarring him out of the spell she'd woven around them. He wouldn't have fallen so easily unless she had. He deliberately called up the image of his mother's lifeless body and unseeing eyes, focused on it to remind himself of why he'd joined DPI in the first place.
He lifted his head and pushed her away. Dammit, she was playing with his mind, making him feel things he had no business feeling. Those dreams he'd had of her, these pictures she was drawing for him, it was all part of her plan.
He looked at her. She was biting her lip, shaking her head, looking everywhere except at him. “I'm sorry. I didn't mean to-” She spun in a circle, pushing both hands through her dark hair, ruffling it until its short layers resembled the feathers of a flustered raven. “It won't happen again. That's not why I brought you here.”
She was apologizing. He gave his head a shake. Why the hell was she apologizing?
“Look, Ramsey, I'm not trying to seduce you into anything. If we can come to an understanding, I want it to be because you've thought things through and listened, and you believe me. Not because your libido was too strong to resist.”
He blinked twice, more confused than ever. Seduction would be her best weapon here. Did she mean to tell him she wasn't even going to try? And why did that idea feel like such a letdown? Hell, he ought to be relieved. At least he wouldn't have to worry about her passions taking over and him ending up dead.
Glancing at the grandfather clock in the corner, he felt his eyes widen. They'd been talking for a couple of hours, yet it hadn't seemed more than a few minutes.
She followed his gaze, shook her head. “You ought to eat, Ramsey. And take your insulin before you get sick.”
He frowned, glancing through the windows where the pale winter darkness still reigned. “Just how far north are we, Cuyler? Shouldn't it be light by now?”
She shook her head. “Dawn around 9:00 a.m. Dusk again by three this afternoon.
That's part of what I like about this place in the winter.”
“Don't you get tired on so little rest?”
“Hell, Ramsey, since you've been on my tail my rest hasn't been very restful, anyway.”
He knew she was referring to the dreams. Maybe she really had experienced them.
He doubted it, but there was probably a slight chance. And there was also a slight chance, he conceded at last, that she was being straight with him about her reasons for bringing him here. For, even though he couldn't admit it to her, she'd been haunting his life the same way she claimed he'd been haunting hers.
Only difference was, he hadn't known who she was. Just the pixie with the big sexy eyes that seduced him in his dreams. So maybe she did want to understand this thing, and maybe she would let him go when she had her answers. Maybe she was telling the truth.
But he doubted it.
Wes Fuller held the lighter to the tobacco in the bowl and inhaled until it caught. He puffed appreciatively, then held the pipe in his hand and blew smoke rings as he studied the maps tacked to the wall.
“Only way in will be by helicopter. And then they'll hear us coming.” It was Stiles, his chief aide. Stiles, always the cautious one, always wary. “We could land a few miles away, though, and hike in. But we'll want to be sure we can get in and out by daylight. We want to be well out of there before dark.”
“What's the matter, Stiles? Afraid the three of us can't handle her?” And that was Whaley, the intrepid. He wanted a battle. It gleamed from his eyes like a fever.
“Stiles is right in this case,” Wes said slowly. “We have no way of knowing whether she's alone up there or not. There might be half a dozen others with her.”
Stiles's eyes widened. “I hadn't thought of that. My God, do you supposed Bachman is still alive? I mean, what if they just took him up there to-“
“But, sir, how can you-“
“He's alive. There's not one of them who'd hurt Bachman. If there was, he'd have been long dead by now. God knows, I've given him the riskiest assignments, sent him up against the worst of them. But he's never been hurt beyond repair, and he's never brought one in.”
Whaley frowned. “You telling me you've deliberately put Bachman in high-risk situations with them? Including this one?”
Fuller nodded. Whaley wanted to hit him. Fuller could see it in his flashing eyes. But he wouldn't. He was a subordinate and he knew his place. “You'll understand in time, Whaley. Till then, you'll just have to trust my judgment.
Bachman's been one long experiment. And his usefulness to us has just about run out. Don't trust him, whatever you do. He's never really been one of us. He just didn't know it.”