They hovered at the open window as Ramsey conversed via the cordless phone with Fuller. No one was in sight outside now. Only two DPI cars and three agents.
They must want Damien very badly, Cuyler mused, to take such a chance.
Either that or they were playing a huge bluff. Maybe the others were only out of sight, waiting. Maybe Fuller and DPI had no intention of letting any of them go.
"He's out cold, Fuller," Ramsey said into the phone. "Apparently your tranquilizer works. Cuyler and I want transportation out of here. Now."
Ramsey held the phone away from his ear, and Cuyler leaned in close to hear the reply. Damien didn't bother. Cuyler wondered if perhaps he didn't need to. She had no idea the extent of his powers.
"You and Cuyler stay put. We're coming in. When we see for ourselves that he's incapacitated, we'll let you go."
Ramsey covered the mouthpiece with his hand. "Lying through his teeth." Removing his hand, he said, "All right, Fuller. But you better keep your word."
They waited, all of them pressed to the opening in the window. Cuyler knew Damien could leave if he wanted to. He had the ability. But he stayed, all the same.
When they heard the front door open, and Fuller calling Ramsey's name, Ramsey made a stirrup of his hands, and bent. Cuyler stepped up, pushing herself through the window. She emerged kneeling, concealed by the shrubbery, still close enough to hear Fuller's voice raised in alarm.
"Where the hell are you, Bachman?" Then, "Dammit, he's up to something. Search the place."
Damien was beside her a second later. Then Ramsey himself crawled through. She bit her lip as Damien reached back, offering a hand, which Ramsey took.
Sandwiched between the two men, she glanced toward the car.
"We move as one," Ramsey said, his body shielding hers on one side. Damien nodded. Bending low, they ran toward the car. Just as they reached the end of the shrub cover, the front door of the house burst open and several shots rang out.
She felt Ramsey stiffen beside her, but he never faltered. One arm came around her and he moved faster, around the far side of the car. Ramsey opened the back door, bending over her body as she threw herself inside, facedown on the floor.
The window above her exploded and glass rained down into her hair. She tried to turn, tried to see Ramsey and Damien, but the bullets whizzed near her face, bringing back a flood of horrifying memories, until she could only lower her head again, covering it with her hands. She heard the door slam and felt the car jerk into motion. And then the bullets stopped ringing in her ears. She chanced lifting her head, only to see Damien on the back seat, sitting calmly amid the gunfire, his gaze so intense… and then glowing as he stared at something behind them.
Curious, even while shaking all over, she sat up a bit, following his gaze. She saw the DPI men running toward their car. But before they reached it, it exploded in a ball of blinding white flame.
Shielding her eyes and gasping, she glanced at Damien. But he didn't notice, still too focused on what was behind them. He stared at the house now, even as the confused men turned to scramble toward it.
All three flew backward when it exploded. This time, the ground beneath the car rocked with the impact. She heard Ramsey swear, saw him twist in the driver's seat to look at the sight. Then she was looking, too. The entire house was nothing but a flaming framework, rapidly disintegrating to ash. Great beam-shaped lengths of fire fell in slow motion, disappearing into the mouth of the inferno waiting below to devour them.
She still felt the vibrations of the explosion, and the house was all but gone already.
They rounded a bend. The car weaved in and out of its lane and steadily lost speed. Cuyler frowned, clambering over the seat. "Ramsey, what's wrong? What's-"
She bit off the rest of her words, seeing the blood that soaked the front of him. His grip on the steering wheel was white-knuckled, his eyes steadily glazing over, his back bowing more and more as his right leg began a spastic dance. The car jerked with his foot's movements on the accelerator.
"Ramsey!" She swung her leg over his, jamming her foot down on the brake and jerking the gearshift into Neutral. She gripped the wheel, guided the car to the roadside, slammed it into Park, and grabbed Ramsey's shoulders, shaking him.
"Dammit, Ramsey, don't do this to me! Ramsey! Ramsey!"
He focused on her eyes, and she could see it was a struggle. One side of his mouth pulled into that half smile of his, and he managed to wink. "Maybe Damien oughta drive, hmm?" Both his legs trembled now. Then they stopped, and his eyelids fell closed.
Cuyler buried her face in the crook of his neck, crying uncontrollably. "It isn't over, Ramsey. Damn you, it isn't over. Not yet, not like this!"
A firm hand on her shoulder drew her gaze upward to look into Damien's solemn eyes. "No, Cuyler. It isn't over. Not yet." He got out of the car, opened the front door, hauled Ramsey out, then carefully placed him across the back seat.
Cuyler got back there, too, and lifted Ramsey's head as she slid in, so she could cradle it in her lap. Damien got behind the wheel. "Hold on to him, Cuyler. I'll drive you somewhere safe. And the rest…" He glanced over his shoulder at the man she held, his eyes narrow. "The rest, I guess, will be up to Ramsey."
Ramsey woke to the most incredible, burning pain he'd ever felt in his life. But at least he woke. He supposed he ought to be grateful for small favors.
His chest was bandaged. His legs had gone numb. But there was warmth, softness. His head was pillowed on what felt like satin. Small hands were running over his face, through his hair. A musical voice, like the wind, begged him to wake up.
Salty tears rained down on his face. Trembling lips pressed to his over and over again.
He opened his eyes. Hazy, everything was so hazy. His body felt weak, drained. And there was this incredible urge to just close his eyes again and float away.
God, but he didn't want to float away. Not if "away" meant away from Cuyler. "Right here." That didn't sound like his voice. It sounded far away, echoing back to his ears from the other end of a hollow tunnel. Man, he was fading fast. He tried to look around, but could only make out several halos of golden light. Candles? And one bigger one, a fireplace, maybe. He felt the warmth, smelled the fragrance. Yes, a fireplace. And he thought he was on a bed, but he couldn't be sure. "Where are we?"
"Damien's house…one of his houses, as he put it. We're safe here, Ramsey. Damien went to get rid of the car. When he comes back, I'm sending him for a doctor."
"A doctor can't help, Cuyler." He knew it, somewhere deep in his soul. Just the same way he knew her devastation. She sensed him slipping away, just as he did. And she was dying a little bit, right along with him.
He struggled to sit up, and she helped him. "I can't stand this, Ramsey. I can't stand losing you." She propped pillows at his back.
He caught her hands, brought them to his lips. "I've been a fool."
"You saved our lives, Ramsey. Even Damien knows what you did back there."
"A fool," he whispered. God, it was getting harder and harder to speak, to string words together. He had to focus every ounce of strength on saying what he had to say. "He's a decent man, Damien. I was wrong… about him. About…about everything."
"It doesn't matter now-"
"Yes. Yes, it does. I'm not…" He drew a painful breath, grated his teeth. "I'm not what you think I am, Cuyler. The insulin… all this time…they tricked me." She sank onto the edge of the bed, running her hands through his hair. "Don't try to talk. Just rest-"
"I don't deserve…to be…to live. But I'm not ready to die, either."
She choked on a sob. Shaking all over, she lowered her head to his chest, clung to him.
"But I'll…make it up to you…to all of you."
She lifted her head and stared into his eyes. "What do you mean?"
"I want to live, Cuyler." He wanted to stop. He was panting, out of breath as if he'd just run a marathon, but he had to continue. "I want to be able…to love you…the way you deserve." The pain in his chest was unbearable. But the pain in his heart was worse. "I want it. I want you to do it to me, Cuyler. Right now."
Her brows drew together as she searched his face, desperation etched in her every feature. "Do… Ramsey, what are you saying? I can't transform you. The antigen-"
"I have it." He inhaled, but it was too shallow. His voice grew weaker with every word. "I have…all along. The insulin…" That was it. It was the end. He felt himself slipping steadily away from her. He tried to tighten his hold on her, but didn't have the strength. With supreme effort, he gasped, and in a harsh whisper, went on. "I love you, Cuyler…"
His eyes fell closed and the breath slowly escaped his lungs.
"Ramsey! Ramsey, no…"
But she knew the end was here. And she knew he'd been telling her something… something she didn't understand.
Go on, Cuyler. Damien's soft, deep voice floated across the boundaries of time and space. He's one of us. Always has been. It's all in the files. They've masked it with some new drug or other. Told him it was insulin and that he was diabetic. They've brainwashed him through most of his life, and still he found his way to you. Go on, bring him over. If ever a man was worthy of the gift, it's him.
Cuyler felt her eyes widen. She was shocked beyond belief, and half wondered if the voice in her mind might have been her own imagination. But if there was a chance…
She bent her head and kissed Ramsey's slack mouth. Then she bent lower, sliding her lips over his bristly jaw, to his throat. "Come back to me, love," she whispered, her lips moving over his salty skin.
When Ramsey opened his eyes a long while later, there were a hundred new and unbelievable sensations coursing through him. Things he'd never felt before, didn't understand, a sense of elation and strength and vitality he'd never had before.
But all of that paled beside the joy he felt at finding Cuyler cradling him in her arms. He looked up at her, saw the uncertainty in her huge onyx eyes as they searched his face.
"You did it, didn't you?" he asked her, and even his voice seemed different. Or maybe it was his hearing that had taken on a new intensity.
She nodded. "You said… I thought…" She bit her lip. "Don't hate me for it, Ramsey. It seemed to be what you wanted. If I misunderstood, then-"
"It's what I wanted."
He lifted his head, silencing her by pressing his lips to hers. "I love you, Cuyler Jade. You know that, don't you?"
The worry fled her eyes and she smiled. "Of course I do. I knew it before you did. And it's a good thing."
She kissed his forehead, then his mouth. "Because, Ramsey, I love you, and I wouldn't settle for anything less in return. Especially since I have to put up with you for the rest of eternity."
"Eternity with Tinkerbell," he said, grinning. He gathered her into his arms and held her close. "I can't think of a sweeter fate."READ MORE >>