Butch now tapped the pen on the pad he’d been scribbling on, its 8½ by 11 inches filled with blue crosses, arrows that jumped from sentence to sentence, and doodles of . . . golf carts?
“I’ll be honest, I’m still not over it. When I think about Janie, it’s just what you said. Fresh as it was the instant I found out. It takes a lot of time before you don’t wallow in grief every second of the day and night. More time than you want it to. I promise you, though, one evening you’re going to wake up, and you’ll be in front of the mirror brushing your teeth . . . and you’ll realize that you actually slept through the day and you don’t feel like you’re in someone else’s skin.”
Boone went over and joined them. The experience of wedging his body into that landlocked chair wasn’t half as smooth as it had been for Helania, but he made himself fit.
“All death is hard,” Butch murmured to the pair of them, “but it’s so much worse when you feel like you could have done something to stop it.”
Boone nodded. “Amen to that.”
“You truly feel responsible for your father’s death?” Helania asked. “I tried to get him to stay home that night.” Boone pictured his sire clear as day in his mind, Altamere sitting at that desk in his study and glaring as Boone tried to reason with him. “But he insisted, and the thing that I worry about . . . the thing that haunts me? It’s what if I . . .” Boone cleared his throat. “What if I wanted this to happen? What if I . . . wanted him to be gone, so I didn’t try hard enough to keep him away from those people?”
“But you did talk to him, right?” Helania said. “You did warn him about not going.”
“Maybe I could have done more.”
Butch shook his head. “I was there when you came to speak to Wrath. I saw the conviction on your face when you went on about your dad. If I could play my mental tapes back to you? You’d see what I did—a good son trying to do the right thing privately and then coming to his King when he’d taken things as far as he could on the DL. And the reality is, if you hadn’t told us what was going on, the Brotherhood wouldn’t have been there and more people would have died that night.”
“What happened?” Helania asked.
As Boone gave the details factually, he wished he could believe what the Brother said. Doubts lingered, however—and the same appeared to be true for the other two.
They had all lost a family member in a violent way, and each one of them felt responsible.
Looking around the table, Boone felt like a little club was meeting in this room, and how apropos that the mountings on that wall were about death.
After a quiet stretch, Butch looked past Helania’s shoulder at what he’d put up. “You know, as someone who’s walking the same path you guys are on, but who’s a little further along? All I can say is that it’s a process, and the only way through the worst of the pain is putting one foot in front of the other. There are stages, but the bitch of it is is that you never really get to the end. You never stop missing them. The stuff at the beginning is the worst, though. You’re both going to be looking under all kinds of stones and searching for answers for a while. What you have to do is ride it through and don’t self-medicate. I tried that for three decades, and drinking and using drugs didn’t do shit except give me cirrhosis of the liver. It’s better to do the work and get it over with than put your head in the sand and drag the shit out forever.”
“I miss Isobel so much,” Helania said.
Without thinking, Boone reached across and took her hand. When he realized what he’d done, he wondered if she’d prefer he not touch her. But instead, she held on to his palm hard. As their eyes met, he felt a communion with her, although it was sad the kind of territory that they had in common.
It would have been so much better if it had been . . . needlepoint, for example.
Still, he was grateful to know he wasn’t alone, and that she was with him. The Brother as well.
Ducking his thumb under, Boone deliberately stroked the fine network of scars that marked Helania’s palm, leftovers of her work with that shovel.
She offered him a sad smile. Then she focused on the Brother. “So do you have anything new?”
The Brother tilted back in his chair again and crossed his arms. His hazel eyes once again narrowed on the photographs, the articles, the notes on that wall.
“No,” he muttered. “We’re going cold at this point. But Boone said you’d reached out to some of your sister’s people on social media?”
“I can give you the sign in details to Isobel’s stuff so you can see for yourself?” Helania shrugged. “Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s anything super helpful. Maybe you’ll notice something I missed, though. You’re the professional.”
“Something has to break,” Butch said under his breath. “We just have to catch a break before someone else gets hurt.”
As Helania recited the sign in and password to her sister’s Facebook page, she watched the Brother Butch take down the details on a fresh sheet of paper. She never would have guessed that he knew firsthand what she was going through with Isobel’s killing, and the fact that they had both lost siblings made it possible for her to give him free rein with anything that might help him.
They were a kind of kin. By bloodshed.
“There’s a computer in the office down here,” he said. “I’ll sign in on it after you all leave.”
“Can I do anything to help?” she asked.
“Just let me know if you hear from anyone on a different platform.
All we can do is keep digging until something turns up. It always does. Unfortunately, the revelations are on God’s time, not man’s, and He makes us wait.”
“I don’t know when I’m returning to rotation,” Boone said. “But I’ll go back to Pyre and keep an eye on things until then.”
“We’ll add you to the monitoring list, son. Beginning with midnight tonight, we’re going to have brothers and fighters on-site there every hour that place is open. Just in case.”
“So people will be safe,” Helania said with relief.
“It’s for vampires, first and foremost, although, of course, if they see something affecting a human, they’ll intercede as a secondary priority.”
“Good to know.” Helania slid out from her chair. “I’m going there tonight.”
Butch frowned as he stared up at her, and she braced herself for a load of let’s-be-reasonable.
“I don’t think that’s necessary,” the Brother said. “And it’s risky, given how connected you are with the investigation.”
“I’ve never been in danger there.”
“Do you know that for sure? Someone could target you just because you called the killings in.”
“But it’s a confidential line.”
Shaking his head, the Brother got to his feet. “I apologize for sounding paranoid, but I don’t trust anyone with my witnesses. Things can go in directions nobody can guess. I want you safe, so please stay out of Pyre’s Revyval.”
Boone stood up as well. “We have no right to tell her what she can and can’t do. She’s not a suspect or a person of interest. She’s a witness, you just said so.”
“And that’s why I’d like to keep her on the side of the living and breathing.”
“How about she can go if she wants, but I’ll be there with her.” The Brother looked back and forth between them. Then he picked up his pad. “Okay. That I can live with.”
“I won’t let anything happen to her.”
Helania would have argued the self-sufficiency line again, but the Brother had a point. She wanted to help the investigation . . . as the closest representative of Isobel. But maybe there were risks at the club that she couldn’t assess? And why be stupid about that. Besides . . .
As her hand went to her lower abdomen again, she knew there might be another reason she wanted to stay alive—
For some reason, it was at that moment that she realized Isobel would never know any young she might have.
With a fresh wave of sadness hitting her, Helania said, “I really hope we find whoever is doing this.”
The Brother’s eyes were grave as he tucked into the neck of his silk shirt and took out a heavy gold cross. “I swear on my Lord and Savior that I will never give up until whoever killed your sister is found and dealt with properly. This is my vow to you and your Isobel. I will not quit and I will never abandon the search—and God will show me the way. He always does.”
Helania stared up at the male. And then, even though she should probably have kept things professional, she threw her arms around him and hugged him.
Pulling back a little, she looked into his surprised face. “You treat every victim like it’s your sister, don’t you. And every perpetrator like it’s her murderer.”
The pain that flared in his eyes was hard to see—because she had the same thing in her heart. “Yes,” he said. “Every one of them is my sister.”
“You’ll find the male.” She glanced at Boone. “And we’ll work together with you.”
The Brother gave her a hard embrace and then stepped back. “Thank you.”
“Believing in me.”
She eyed his cross. “It’s all about faith, isn’t it.”
After Boone said goodbye to the male with a clap of the palm, Helania stepped out of the room with him and the Brother strode off down the corridor.
Boone took out his phone. “I just need to text Fritz that we’re ready to go.”
Settling back against the cool concrete wall, she found herself wondering if she would be coming here often. For appointments. As her belly got bigger and life grew inside of her.
A quiet, tentative excitement kindled deep in her heart.