Takashi, Riley, and Zeru snuck upstairs. Zeru silently protested, but caved when I began gesturing angrily and Riley yanked him up the steps. I could sense he was right behind the door that separated the downstairs from the upstairs apartment. I knew I was making it difficult for him to be my guard, but the fewer people the cops knew about, the better.
My palms were sweaty as I grasped the old brass handle and forced myself to open the door. A tall man and petite woman in navy blue uniforms with shiny gold badges stood on my porch looking tense and ready for anything. The woman was young, pretty, and Hispanic. The other was older with ruddy cheeks and sandy brown hair. Both looked fit and competent with sharp, intelligent gazes. That was unfortunate. They didn't look easy to outrun or outsmart.
“Uh, yes, that’s me.”
"I'm Officer Hardy,” the man told me. “This is Officer Sanchez. Is anyone else in the house, sir? We heard arguing.”
“Oh, I had the TV on. It’s off now.”
They didn’t look happy.
“I’m sorry, Doctor, but that didn’t sound like the television. Who else is in the house with you?”
I sighed. Great. Looked like I wasn’t keeping Zeru, Riley, and Takashi secret.
“I have some friends staying with me. Two of them were bickering. It’s fine. They were just being ridiculous.”
Two sets of eyes sharpened on the space behind me. Hopefully, Guy wasn’t looming there.
“Can you step out of the house, please, Doctor?”
That surprised me. Didn’t police always want into people’s houses?
I stepped, barefoot, onto the cool wood of my porch. I should have worn socks. I left the door open behind me. One of the cops reached out to push it open wider.
“How many people are in the house, sir?”
“Three upstairs, one on the ground floor,” I sighed.
“Are any of the people inside William Guy Whitmore?”
“Maybe?” I said hesitantly. “I don’t like the way you say his name, like you have a taser with his name on it.”
Sanchez stepped to my right, hand on her fancy utility belt. She kept a close eye on the door behind me. She left Hardy to continue talking to me. I prayed Guy would stay in the house. I could feel his presence in the living room. I was afraid that if he appeared at the door and startled the alert policewoman he might get worse than a taser. Opening my senses slightly, I could sense her readiness.
“Dr. Miklas,” Officer Hardy said quietly. “Mr. Whitmore is wanted for questioning regarding your disappearance. There are some… concerns that need to be cleared up.”
“I know,” I grumbled, rubbing my temple. I was getting a headache. “Guy wasn’t involved in that at all. I called him from the gas station and he came and got me. He saved me.”
Sanchez frowned then blanked her face.
"Can you take a few steps this way, please, Dr. Miklas?" Hardy asked, indicating I come further out onto the porch. I sighed internally and complied.
"Mr. Whitmore," Sanchez said loudly. "Please, come out of the house with your hands held away from your body."
Hardy stepped forward, between me and the door, positioned to keep half an eye on me. A moment passed in tense silence before Guy appeared in the doorway, trying not to look like a big, beefy, dangerous man and failing. Even though he'd been a boy scout with me, not counting the hot sex, the potential was in him for violence and destruction. The cops were used to looking for that kind of thing. The effect showed in tense bodies ready to grab tasers or worse.
"Guy isn't the bad guy," I said quickly, power pushing into the words. "He didn't hurt me. He rescued and protected me. I owe him my life. Don't hurt him."
I didn't know if I was using my ability right. I just needed them to believe me and not try to shoot him or slap Guy in cuffs and drag him off. I nearly sat down in relief, right there on my porch, when the officers visibly relaxed. They both greeted Guy, introducing themselves and confirming his identity as they scrutinized his driver's license.
"Can we go inside?" I asked. "I don't want to do this here."
Guy immediately stepped up to put a protective arm around my shoulders. I felt both officers quickly reshuffle their assumptions about my sexual orientation, but I didn't feel disapproval or disgust from either of them over it. Thank goodness. I had no patience to deal with a homophobe, right then.
"Of course," Officer Hardy said. "And we'd appreciate it if we could speak to everyone in the house."
We all trooped in, calling the others down to be eyeballed by the nice officers. Two more policemen arrived while Officer Sanchez was collecting IDs. Everyone had a driver's license but me. I wondered if my wallet was still at Lester's and had a fleeting thought that I needed to report all my cards lost. That could wait until tomorrow.
I'd hoped that they'd talk to Guy and me at the same time but I should have known better. Sanchez stayed with me in the living room, Guy went with Hardy to the second bedroom, and my other houseguests got to hang out in the kitchen with the two recently arrived officers babysitting them. I sat. She pulled out a notebook and a small recorder and sat. We looked at each other for a moment before she began.
"First of all, I think I can speak for the entire department when I say we're very relieved to see you Dr. Miklas."
"Please, call me Nate or Mick," I told her, trying not to fidget.
"Nate." She leaned forward. "We have an ambulance on site. If you need any kind of medical attention, we can have you at Mercy or UIHC in two minutes flat."
Mercy Hospital. University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. No, thanks.
"No, I'm…" Magically healed by a tentacle monster named Swartbek who felt me up? "Doing much better now."
She looked understandably skeptical.
"Do you mind if I record this?" she asked gently.
She set the recorder on my coffee table.
"Have you had any kind of medical care?"
"Yeah. Guy got me to a doctor. It looked a lot worse than it was."
"I'd really like to have you see someone to check you over." She smiled, friendly. "The guys on the unit really wouldn't mind giving you a quick ride over to Mercy. Lights and sirens or quiet, whatever you'd like best."
"No, thank you. I appreciate it, but I really don't need that."
I could feel her urgency to get me to a doctor, someone who could look under my clothes and see how bad it was, because she knew I couldn't be just peachy after what she'd seen on the surveillance tape from when Guy had pulled my limp, bloody body from my car. I shuddered and pulled away from her thoughts.
"If you change your mind, the offer is open. I'm here to help."
I nodded. She meant it.
"Can you tell me what happened, Nate?"
I drew a deep breath and let it out. Then, I started on the story we'd come up with.
"I remember waking up, sitting in my car. I was hurt. I was scared, so I called Guy. I must have passed out. The next thing I remember, Guy had me in his car and was taking me to the hospital. I begged him not to. I think I must have gone a little crazy. I felt like something bad would happen, that someone would get to me if we went there."
With gentle nudges of power to encourage the officer to believe me,I told her the tale we'd come up with, that Guy knew a doctor nearby who looked me over and patched me up. Then, when I threatened to run off if he took me home, he took me to a safe house he knew about because of his work. As far as regular people knew, Guy was a psychologist for a private group that did pro bono work for people at risk of abuse. I'd spent the last few weeks there, unwilling to let anyone know where I was, until Guy contacted some other friends of mine who were willing to stay with me for a while. Then I'd come home, feeling much better and sorry I'd caused such a fuss.
While I'd been at the Unseelie Court, I'd learned that there's a common belief that fae can't lie. Apparently, this was true for some kinds of fae, but not all. All fae couldn't or wouldn't break an oath they'd sworn. There was a firm belief that a fae who broke an oath would be severely punished, if not by other fae then by the natural magic that existed everywhere. Lying to another fae was possible by most but a big social faux pas. They much preferred to twist the truth until you believed up was down and black was white. Turning the truth into a convincing lie was the most common pastime of most social fae. This meant I could lie my ass off to the nice officer and, as long as they didn't make me swear to it, I was safe from magical blowback. Thank fuck.
Officer Sanchez had questions, of course. She was disappointed in my answers. She knew my story wasn't complete. I wouldn't tell her what doctors I'd seen or where I'd hidden. When she asked about details, I told her things I'd gone over with Guy and the others. Little things to make it more believable. Everything else, I conveniently didn't remember. It seemed too convenient for her, even with my little nudges of power. Especially the big gap in my memory.
"Who hurt you?"
"I don't remember. I don't remember anything before being in the car and calling Guy."
Her mouth looked like it was meant for smiling, but it was in a tight line as she leaned forward.
"We can protect you, Nate. We can keep you safe from whoever did this. And we can stop him from doing it again."
That was a low blow, but I only shook my head.
"He can't hurt you if he's in jail and we have men watching out for you. Kidnapping, assault…" A tendril of ice snaked through my chest at the word. Assault. That was one thing to call it. She went on, "We can't do it without you. We'll have to wait until he hurts someone again, and he will. Someone this violent… They don't stop until someone stops them."
"I told you, I don't remember," I said again, wrapping my arms around myself and squeezing, holding myself together.
"You've been through a lot, Nate…"
She stopped, looking up to see Officer Hardy. Behind him Guy was ushered into the kitchen with the others. I hoped his interrogation went well.
"Will you excuse me for a minute, Nate?" Sanchez asked and I nodded.
She went to Officer Hardy across the room and they put their heads together, whispering. I couldn't hear what they were saying. I opened my empathy, hoping for a hint. I got better than expected, seeming to download the essence of the information each knew, what they shared with the other, and what they believed and felt. Hardy was almost as dissatisfied with Guy's story as Sanchez was with mine. He believed it, though, which was a relief. Guy had also said to Hardy that I wouldn't tell Guy who had taken me, either. So they wouldn’t try to get it out of him.
After they’d caught each other up on what all of us had said, one of the kitchen officers joined them and added his two cents. Then shit spiraled in a direction that had me sucking in a harsh breath and curling in on myself.
I saw Lester, standing before police officers with dark rings under his eyes and cheeks flushed with anger. He was alive. I knew it had been more than a possibility. I hadn’t checked his pulse when my glamour cracked and blew the fuck up. I’d gotten out of there like demons were nipping at my ass.
I absorbed too much information, too fast, too vivid. My living room fell away as I dropped into the visions like a stone sinking into a murky pond.
The cops had figured out I liked the Village Inn from Lori at work. They’d questioned the staff. One of the waitresses remembered my date with Guy. Another remembered me meeting Lester there the night I’d disappeared and that I’d looked more than slightly distressed. The police had looked into my past. They’d found out about Lester and what had happened with my sister and my baseball bat. Lester had recently moved to a house in the country between Iowa City and Solon, not far from the gas station where Guy had picked me up. I was shocked to discover Les wasn’t a cop with the ICPD, though I shouldn’t have been surprised he’d lied to me. In fact, he’d been let go from a couple police departments under questionable circumstances. He was pretty much unemployable in police work. Lester was living on savings and early retirement funds.
Les had been livid when questioned and refused a search of his home. They’d gotten a search warrant within a few hours. The garage had stunk of bleach. They found blood in the cracks of the worktable and floor. They’d found more in his car, even with evidence he’d tried to steam clean the upholstery. I almost puked when I saw the chewed up screwdriver dropped into an evidence bag, rusty red staining where the handle met metal. The bleach and cleaners had deteriorated most of the blood, but they’d found a spot under the table they’d been able to test. It matched mine, not Lester’s.
In the backyard, the firepit had been picked apart. They found remnants of clothing, papers, photographs, and my wallet. The papers and photos were too consumed by the fire to help. The contents of my wallet had been a melted mess with no names or information identifiable. The leather hadn’t burned well, though. It had been a recent fire, no more than a day or two old. It was damning evidence. They took Lester in and questioned the hell out of him. He lawyered up and kept his mouth closed. The police wanted more before they charged him. They wanted a murder charge to stick. That’s what they were sure they had. Murder. They borrowed a cadaver dog from Chicago and had him search the property but didn’t find anything. Which they wouldn’t have. Since I was kind of not dead.
Then my mom and sister had contacted the police with the news I was alive, I was hiding and recovering. The police had been waiting for me to show up. They wanted my confirmation that Lester had kidnapped and tried to kill me. Then they’d snap him up and lock him down. And then I’d called today. The detective in charge of the case was out of town but had been notified and was on his way back, ready for shit to roll tomorrow.
Lester would be arrested and tried. I’d be put on the stand for the grand jury and then the trial. The story was sensational. The footage of Guy carrying me from my car, bloody and broken, had been leaked. It was on the internet and had been sampled in national news stories. My family was fending off journalists with a taste for blood. Mom had talked to the police about how to keep the news people away. When the journalists got wind that I’d reappeared, they’d be beating down my door. A trial would only make it worse. Les had been my stepdad. They’d eat the story up and love every minute. They might even figure out bits of the truth. Shame bubbled inside me like tar, covering me from inside out. Everyone would know.
“Mick! Come back…” The voice was far off, hard to catch.
“He’s gonna pass out if he keeps breathing like that.” I recognized Zeru’s voice. I thought it might have been Riley before that.
“We have an ambulance outside. Jennings, get them in here.”
“He’s having a panic attack,” I heard Guy growl. “And the last thing he’s going to want is to go to the hospital. He’s going to lose it if he comes back to himself in an ambulance or the ER. Just fucking wait. We’ve got him. Just give us some goddamned space. I’m a therapist. I know what to do for a panic attack, even a bad one.”
My body was cold, I felt myself shaking with the ice lodged inside me as my breaths came short and shallow. There was a line of soothing warmth up the middle of my back and wrapped around one of my hands. I leaned into it, desperate for the heat. My head was aching above my eyes, sharp and harsh. I realized my lids were scrunched closed so tightly it hurt. I fought to let my face relax from the tight grimace it was pulled into. My heart was pounding, my chest tight, as I forced open blurry eyes.
“Hey, there you are. You coming back to us?”
Guy’s voice was low and gentle, like I was a cat he was coaxing from a tree. The idea of a werewolf rescuing a treed kitty made a laugh bubble in my chest but it came out raspy and choking.
“You’re okay. You’re in your living room. You’re safe. I’m here. Takashi, Riley, and Zeru are here. Breathe, baby.”
I blinked until my eyes focused. Guy was crouched in front of me, one hand on my forearm. Riley was smooshed next to me in my seat, holding my hand with one of his own and the other shoved up the back of my shirt. His was the warmth I’d felt. Takashi stood at my other side, one hand on my shoulder and his eyes on the room. Zeru stood between us and the police, head turned to watch me and them at the same time. What was going on? Weren’t they all separated by the cops a minute ago?
I wanted to ask but I couldn’t. I was still trying to ease my galloping heart and sawing breaths while pushing back the panic clawing my gut.
“You’re okay,” Guy repeated. “Do you know where you are?”
I nodded. I was home.
“Can you feel me?” he asked, squeezing my arm gently.
I nodded again.
“You’re here with us in your house. Okay?”
“Yeah,” I croaked. Guy smiled at me with relief in his eyes.
“Your breathing is getting better. Keep slowing it down for me. In… Out… Slow and easy.”
My breaths stuttered as I tried to ease the fuck down. My eyes dropped to Guy’s chest, trying to get my breathing to match his. Takashi and Zeru were saying something to the cops, but I ignored them. This was all that mattered, right now. I needed to get my shit together. The cops were in my house. They’d been there before, looked through my things trying to figure out what had happened to me. With all the fellas around and thinking of everything that needed to be done, I’d missed it. What else had I missed? Probably too much.
“Hey, don’t start amping up again. Focus on me. I’ve got you.”
Right. Guy. His broad chest expanding and relaxing evenly. That was better.
“Dr. Miklas.” That was Sanchez. Not soothing. “Do you need an EMT? I have them just outside the door. Say the word and we’ll get you to the hospital.”
There went my calm.
“Would you shut it, lady?” Zeru snapped. “Can you see how much you’re not helping? The big guy was just getting him calm and now he’s sucking air like a landed fish, again. Good work, there.”
“I apologize.” Her voice was sharp and tight. “Dr. Miklas…”
“Don’t take this wrong, Officer Sanchez.” Hey, I could talk. My voice was still a little rough, but it was audible and strong enough. “Can you and your people get out of my house? I’m done. The detective or whoever is running the show can call me tomorrow on my landline. I’ll be home. For now, I need you to leave.”
The cops wanted to argue, really badly. The manly badassery standing in a fierce, protective phalanx around me helped. There was also the fact that I looked like if they pushed me I might shatter. I felt brittle enough that I couldn’t argue their perception.
“Call for anything,” Hardy told us, putting a card on my coffee table. “Someone will call tomorrow. We’ll have a car on the street keeping an eye on things.”
Hardy and Sanchez exchanged a look before the small gang of uniforms tromped in a dissatisfied group to my door. Zeru saw them out, closing and locking it behind them Then all the men were looking at me. I sighed, slumping against Riley. The red-headed fae hugged me, petting me gently.
“What do you need?” Takashi asked, voice so gentle it made my chest ache.
“I’m tired.” I was. My weariness was like a weight dragging my limbs and making my head heavy. I probably needed to talk to the others, find out what the police had asked and what they’d answered. I just couldn’t do it, though.
“Bed?” Riley asked.
I nodded, forcing myself to my feet. I think Takashi and Guy were ready to lunge forward and catch me if I fell. Luckily, I made it without embarrassing myself any further. Zeru stayed at the bedroom door while Takashi and Guy stripped me down and tucked me in with Riley curled around me. They left the door open a crack. I knew they were going to be talking about me but I couldn’t bring myself to care. I cuddled Riley as he cuddled me and let my eyes close.
It wasn’t late but I was done with today. I didn’t want to be conscious for any more of it. Tomorrow was early enough to deal with whatever needed to be handled. It would have to be.