When I went back inside, Eddie was waiting for me.  “Where is she?” he asked.  Before I could answer, he saw how cold I was.  “Jeezus, Nikki, your lips and fingers are blue.  C’mere,” he said, taking one of my hands in both of his.  Eddie massaged my hand, forcing blood back into the fingers and warming them.  It was nice, actually.  I felt myself blush.  “Other hand,” he said when he’d restored some color to my left hand.  I gave him the right without complaint.  He was careful not to squeeze the cut on my hand.

“She went in the carriage house.  There was a hole in the floor, and she’s under the floor.” Eddie frowned at me.  “She went down there herself.  I didn’t want to follow her.”

“She broke the computer,” he said.

I wasn’t surprised.  “Bad?”

“I’m making room in the budget for a new laptop.”


“I’ll live.”

“You’re in a good mood, considering she just smashed the most expensive things you brought with you,” I said, thinking of the Town Car that was resting on top of Martin’s station wagon out front.

“Surprisingly, yes.  I have no idea what’s going to happen when Ian gets back–if he comes back.  He may just send the loony squad.  She scared the piss out of him,” he added with a chuckle.  “But I’m still in a good mood.  I think it’s because I don’t have to arrange anything.  He can go and pull her frozen ass out of a hole in the ground.  Not that I hope she freezes to death,” he said, as I scowled at him.  “I’m just glad I can sit back and watch.  For once.”

“How’s the other thing going?”

“It’s going.  Dell can handle it.”

“I’ll ruin that good mood of yours,” Taiisha said from behind us.  Eddie jumped almost as much as I did, which was unusual.  I pulled my hand guiltily out of his.  “Stop with the pattycake and finish your job, Kerry.  Now.”

She was going to tell on me.  I called myself a hundred useless names for not telling Eddie before now.  I scrambled out of my chair and took several steps toward Taiisha before turning back to him.  “Eddie, you have to listen to me.”

The look on his face said there was no way I was getting the chance to explain.  “Gray? What are you talking about?”

“Unfinished business.  Hers.” She nodded toward me, then dropped the bomb.  “She’s here to kill you.”

“Shut up!” I yelled, too late.

Eddie tried to laugh her comment away, but my reaction killed his smile.  So did Taiisha’s voice.

“She’s been here to kill you since the beginning.  In San Francisco.  When she found you in that silly tourist trap.  Not the other way ’round.” Eddie was looking hard at me.  I tried to shrink, to disappear.  Taiisha took Eddie by the chin and turned his face toward hers.  “My name isn’t Gray,” she said with a smile.  “You must remember.  I took your tooth.”  She lost the Italian accent and changed the pitch of her voice slightly, injecting a hint of upstate New York into her words.  “I said I wasn’t finished with you, remember? It was going to be a secret, but plans change.”  She released him and addressed me in her normal voice–the third distinctly different inflection she’d used in two minutes.  “Now finish him, please.  This has gone on overlong.”

Taiisha smiled maliciously at me, spun on her heel, and left the dining room.  I looked desperately after her.  As a result, I didn’t see Eddie coming.

Before I knew what was happening his hands were around my throat.  He didn’t make a sound, just grabbed me around the neck and threw his weight into me.  I could have hit him, but the instinctive response that rose in my mind was an eight-step attack that likely would have killed him by step three–so I did nothing.  Both of us went sprawling to the floor.  It hurt.  The air was blasted out of my body in a harsh gasp.  Eddie got up first, dragged me up by the throat, and threw me across the table.  My head struck the wall, but I tumbled with the impact as best I could and came up on my feet, disoriented and out of breath but not badly hurt.

He was coming again, silent and huge as a charging bull.  I didn’t want to fight him.  Maybe if I let him hit me for a while, he’d see that I was on his side because I didn’t fight back.  The trick was to live that long.  He didn’t know how to fight, but there was a chance he’d just crush me to death with pure brute force.  Eddie threw a punch at my face (I could see desperation in his eyes, mingled with the anger, and that was bad, that was very very bad) and I swatted it aside without even thinking about it.  He would have collided with me again, but I sidestepped that as well.  I had to make him stop, before he hurt me seriously and set me off the same way Lexi had.  “Eddie,” I tried again, “please.  Please listen to me–“

There was no listening in him now.  He took another swing at me, but I was gone by the time his fist got there.  I grabbed his second punch, taking the impact with my forearms, captured his hand with both of mine and pulled it down to my chest.

Eddie!” I screamed in his face.  “Stop!”

The moment I stopped yelling, he headbutted me in the face.  My vision disappeared in a bright flash.  I turned into it, so he couldn’t punch me in the gut, and he hit me twice in the back, square in the spot where it had been broken.  I let out an involuntary scream, and my legs went weak.

It was too much.  Everything went red, and I felt myself turn on him.  I climbed him, battered him, and rode him to the floor.  I don’t remember what I did exactly, only that all of the anger and hurt that he’d put in me came out and when he fell I had to make a conscious effort not to hit him again.

“Very nice,” Taiisha said from the door to the kitchen.  “Now you can finish him easy.”

My legs were shaking.  I knelt on the floor, looking at Eddie’s inert body.  My eyes were watering, but I wasn’t crying.  I wanted to, but I wasn’t.  Shit, I thought.  Shit shit shit shit fucking shit.

Taiisha sighed.  “Kerry, don’t do this.  No time to dawdle.  Martin’s people are coming.  The Ravens will burn you for what Edward stole.  You should finish him whilst he’s pacified.”

“No.  You do it.”  My voice was a defiant growl.  Eddie hadn’t hurt me too badly, considering that he was a hundred and fifty pounds heavier.  It was still hard to breathe, though.

“It’s your kill!” Taiisha shouted, covering the distance between us as she spoke.  She was a blur of attacks; I deflected her fist with a forearm, then ducked under her second punch.  “Yours!” she snarled.  “You think he’s going to play papabear for you when he wakes?  You have no friends, Kerry.  Not any more.”

She lunged toward me again; I recoiled, but her attack was a feint.  She kicked my feet out from under me when I tried to block her.  Knowing another kick would follow while I was on the floor, I arched my back.  Her shin caught my side, but her foot found nothing but empty air.  I dropped back down, trapping her foot, and then hit Taiisha’s rear leg as she put her weight onto it to free the trapped foot.  The hit knocked her down; she fell to her hands and knees across me.  I grabbed her foot in both hands when she hit the floor and rolled toward her.  She said “Kerry–” as she realized what I was going to do.  I put my shoulders into it and twisted her foot through almost a hundred and eighty degrees.  Both her knee and ankle made sickening, gristly pops.  Taiisha finished whatever she was going to say with a sound that was part laugh, part sigh.  I recognized the noise as one she made instead of screaming when she was in a lot of pain.

I let go, stood quickly, and kicked her in the back of the head.  The impact bounced Taiisha’s face off of the floor.  I overturned one of the heavy dining room chairs on her for good measure.  She pushed herself up but couldn’t get to her feet.  I left her there and went to Eddie.  I took his hands in mine and pulled.  Dragging his fat, unconscious body forced a yell of exertion out of me.  It took all of my weight to move him a few inches.

“That was–ugh!–that was delightful, Kerry,” Taiisha called.  “Most unexpected.  What are you doing with him over there?”  She sounded the tiniest bit uncertain, like she suddenly didn’t know what to expect from me  I didn’t answer.  “What are you doing?” she called, louder. 

It wasn’t uncertainty the second time.  She was pissed.  She was also crawling toward me.  I was still afraid of her, even though she was mostly immobilized.

Seeing Eddie’s shattered laptop on the table near her, I picked it up and ran around to where Taiisha was.  She heard me coming, and rolled onto her side, bringing her arms up to block.  I stomped on Taiisha’s broken leg instead.  Even that didn’t hurt her enough to lower her guard; she had a phenomenal tolerance for pain.  I stepped on one of her arms with my near leg, forcing it down, and turned my hip so Taiisha couldn’t hit me with the other hand.  While the injured woman squirmed to escape or make a more effective block, I swung the computer, low and hard.  The hard plastic cracked when it hit the side of Taiisha’s head.  She sagged to the floor with a sigh.  I hit her again to make sure she was out, then checked to make sure she was alive.  I didn’t want to kill her.  I could probably fight her off if I forced her to borrow time–she wasn’t immune to the clumsy, pins-and-needles feeling that followed–but if she came back her leg would be healed, and I wanted her immobile.

I had to hide Eddie.  If Taiisha’s “Ravens” came and found him unconscious on the floor, he was dead.  I couldn’t stay with him; Taiisha would come to wherever I was.  Also, if Eddie woke up, he’d probably kill me.  In fact the only person in the house who could be counted on not to kill me–or try–was Lexi, and she was vanished underground. 

Lexi’s room was the best place to hide Eddie.  The problem was the stairs.  I dragged him into the kitchen, flung open the door next to the pantry, and looked up the long, dark flight of steps.

“Shitfuck,” I said, which summed it all up pretty well.

On the way up the stairs I had plenty of time to ask myself why I was saving Eddie, and plenty of time to call myself names for dragging the fat prick upstairs.  The latter were easy to come up with; what I was doing saving him, when he was probably going to try to kill me anyway, was a harder one.  It didn’t make sense, but while I didn’t like Eddie much, I did care about him.  He had been nice to me in ways that counted.  He was worried when I was hurt.  He hadn’t tried to rape me.  Sometimes he listened to what I had to say.  Sometimes he talked to me like I was the only person in the world who’d understand what he was talking about, and I liked that too.  That was enough to make up for all the times he had pissed me off.  I really wouldn’t have expected someone like him to have any interest in me as anything other than a piece of ass.  If he was going to have faith in me, then I wanted to prove myself worthy of it.

Even if that faith probably was a thing of the past.

I got him over the threshold and into Lexi’s room with one final grunt.  Then I swore again, because Lexi’s room had been destroyed.