"It's fine, ma'am. It's all fine. That young lady is supposed to be in the hospital. We're here to take her back."
Jagger smiled and stared hard into her eyes. "You won't remember this in the morning," he said quietly.
She blinked. The commotion behind him had quieted; they had gotten Abigail off the street and, hopefully, back into his house without further notice.
"That's all right then," the woman said, smiling. The dog wagged its tail.
"Good evening," he said pleasantly.
"Just getting off work, Detective?" she asked.
"Yes, ma'am." If he knew the woman, he didn't remember her.
"You shouldn't be out this late, you know," he added.
"Not walking your dog alone."
"Mrs. Beasley needs her constitutional, Detective."
"Then walk her in your yard. Please, don't wander in the dark alone. There's a killer out there."
She laughed. "I'm old, plump and gray. Not his type at all."
"Please, for me, will you stay inside once it's dark?"
The woman flushed. "When such a handsome young man asks a favor, I do my best to oblige," she said, and winked at him.
"Where's your house?" Jagger asked.
"I'm walking you back," he said, and offered her his arm.
She gave him a bountiful smile and turned to walk with him.
When they reached her house, she thanked him, gushing, and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
The dog yapped.
He bade her good-night and hurried back to his own place, wondering why on earth human beings couldn't have the common sense to lock their doors when there was a murderer on the loose.
"How on earth did you let her get away?" Jagger demanded, still unnerved by everything that had been happening that evening.
"I didn't let her get away. Did you notice that she was naked?" Fiona protested. "I was getting some clothing for her!"Thankfully, Abigail was at long last clothed--still blonde and beautiful, and now cute, as well, in one of Jagger's shirts.
"I'm so sorry," Abigail said. "Oh, my God. What would the nuns say? I was running around naked." She looked at Billy with her huge blue eyes.
"What would the nuns say?" Fiona asked impatiently.
"You're a vampire." Fiona turned to confront Jagger.
"You'll have to excuse me. I have to get back home or my sisters will be calling a city wide meeting, wondering if I'm alive or dead. You chose this course of action, so you--"
"Wait just a minute," he said. "We chose this course of action, and you're just upset because you let her escape."
Fiona stiffened. "Then I'm sure you'll find it a relief to manage the rest of the evening on your own, Detective DeFarge. I leave everything in your capable hands." She spun on Billy and Abigail. "You two! Get it right or I will have no choice but to handle the situation--and you know what that means."
She had started for the stairs when Abigail suddenly tore after her. For a moment Fiona felt a rush of fear, sure she was about to be attacked.
But Abigail only touched her arm, and she turned to look into the young woman's anguished eyes.
"I'm so sorry. I understand that you've shown me incredible mercy. It's just that I was so terrified, so confused...and it's still so hard to believe. I went to a party, and now...Please forgive me. I swear, I'll stay here and do anything and everything Detective DeFarge tells me to do."
Lovely. You'll listen to him--now that you've made a fool of me, Fiona thought.
She told herself not to let her own hurt and humiliation affect her handling of the situation.
Before she could speak, Billy Harrington strode over to stand behind Abigail.
"We'll never be able to express our gratitude. We'll both do anything Detective DeFarge says, I promise," Billy told her.
"If you really mean that, then Abigail has to disappear. The world thinks she's dead, remember? So no one can see her. No one. Perhaps David Du Lac will be able to discover that she has a long lost identical twin, but setting that up will take time. And, Billy, you have to go to your classes. You can't spend your days hanging out here with Abigail. If you want this to work, you have to do these things, or else leave the city. And this isn't a good time for you to leave the city, Billy. Not unless you want to look guilty of murder. Do you understand what I'm saying?" she demanded.
The two of them nodded in fervent agreement.
She looked back at Jagger. His golden eyes had a glitter in them that told her he was angry with her, but he didn't say anything. Apparently he had chosen not to argue any further, at least not then.
She hurried up the stairs, trying to make a dignified exit.
Then she realized she couldn't get through the gate without Jagger's help, so she waited at the door, arms crossed over her chest, trying not to admire the warmth of the large fireplace in the living room, the masculine and inviting...decor that was earthy, warm and secure, and spoke volumes of the man. She didn't want to fight with him. She just wanted to touch him and be touched by him.
Tonight, however, they had taken a dive into a serious situation that could bring nothing but hardship to either one of them.
Jagger arrived and hit a button on the console by the door. Then he held the door open for her as she watched the massive gate swing open. She started toward her car without a word.
His eyes met hers when she turned back for a moment. "Don't worry. I'll see that everything gets done--just as you demanded."
She didn't answer him, just slid into the driver's seat, wondering how they had managed to agree on a course of action, only to arrive at such a cold impasse.
All in the name of love, she thought dryly. And hadn't some of the greatest tragedies and travesties in history taken place in the name of love?
She drove the few short blocks home, then breathed a sigh of relief as she entered her quiet house.
She walked directly up to her bedroom and opened the door.
And found both her sisters, Shauna curled up on the bed reading a magazine, Caitlin pacing.
They both stopped what they were doing and stared at her.
"A stolen corpse?" Caitlin demanded, practically hissing. "Did you think we wouldn't hear the news?"
Fiona tossed her shoulder bag onto the chair by her dressing table, pressed her fingers to her temple and, ignoring Shauna, flopped backward on her bed. It was a big bed, and there was room.
"She was just a college kid, huh?" Shauna said sympathetically.
"Where is the body?" Caitlin asked.
"Risen," Fiona said dryly.
"You let her get up? What in the world were you thinking?" Caitlin cried, striding over to the bed, arms crossed over her chest, eyes filled with a tempest of emotion.
"I am so tired. If you came here just to lash into me--"
"We're here to find out what's going on," Caitlin said.
Shauna cleared her throat. "This is a real mess, Fiona. All the races are up in arms. Since you've been...busy, I'm assuming you didn't hear about the altercation in Jackson Square. Mateas Grenard was attacked in the park. He's new, and he's not exactly politic about what he says. He fought back, of course. The attacker was one of mine, a werewolf named Louis Arile, who owns a T-shirt shop over on St. Peter's. Anyway..."
"Anyway, Shauna was there, she calmed Louis down, and the cops ended up giving them both a slap on the wrist. It was only Shauna who kept the whole thing from turning into a real disaster," Caitlin said.
Fiona looked thoughtfully at Shauna. Her little sister was coming into her own.
Shauna shrugged casually. "Louis isn't a bad guy, just scared, like everyone else. He loves his shop, and he really loves Jazz Fest, and he doesn't want to be forced out of New Orleans if these murders end up alerting the humans to the existence of the underworld."
"The police didn't figure out that there was something...different about them? Neither of them...made the change?" Fiona asked, concerned.
"No. Shauna got there in time," Caitlin said. "She convinced the cops that they were fighting over a sports bet."
"Clever," Fiona said.
"Maybe, but something tells me that was just the start of our problems," Caitlin said.
Fiona stood. "There's another general council meeting tomorrow night. We'll nip this in the bud."
"Nip it in the bud?" Caitlin said quietly, almost gently. She touched Fiona's cheek. "You're my older sister. I love you, and I admire you. You've held us together. You've done everything for us. But this has gone way past the 'nip it in the bud' stage. I understand how you might have fallen under Jagger DeFarge's spell. He's sex on legs. But you can't forget who and what you are. You're a keeper. And this is serious. The races will be up in arms--they're not stupid. They'll figure out that you made the choice to let that girl rise, and they'll know she's young, that she's almost certain to make serious mistakes that could ruin things for everyone--like going out in public and being recognized, when she's supposed to be dead. And if one of them, just one, decides to take matters into his own hands...Frankly, Fiona, I'm terrified. We've seen what a war can do."
"There won't be a war, Caitlin." Fiona sat down at the foot of her bed. "There won't be a war," she repeated, trying to sound convincing. "It was easy to see that Tina Lawrence had to be...dispensed with. Even as a human, she was frightening. She'd hurt people. She was dangerous. But this girl...she was eighteen and raised by nuns. She's a college student."
She saw that Caitlin was about to protest and raised a hand. "Was a college student. The girl hasn't a whiff of evil in her. She'll be fine."
Shauna shook her head, scooting closer so that she was sitting next to Fiona. "How is she going to be fine?"