We were sitting on top of Barrons Books and Baubles in a lush rooftop conservatory I hadn’t even known was there until Fiona, who’d shown more distress over my injuries than I’d expected, had told me about it. I spent the late-afternoon hours sprawled in a chaise, pretending to be reading but not really doing much of anything. When blazing floodlights, mounted on all sides of the roof, had come on shortly before dark, illuminating the garden, I’d taken a good hard look at my ragged nails, gone down for my manicure kit, come back up, and spread my tools on a pretty glass-topped wrought-iron table above the facade of the bookstore, right under one of the brightest floodlights, and given it my best shot. But no matter how hard I’d tried, I’d not been able to paint the nails on my right hand with my splinted left arm. Then Barrons had arrived and I’d wasted no time putting him to work.
A muscle leapt in his jaw. “Tell me again why I’m doing this, Ms. Lane?”
“Duh,” I said. “Because my arm’s broken.” I waved my splint at him, in case he’d forgotten.
“I don’t think you tried hard enough,” he said. “I think you need to try again. I think if you angle your splint out like this”—he demonstrated, in the process tipping fingernail polish onto the tiled patio—“then twist your arm around like this. “He nodded. “Give it a try. I think it’ll work.”
I gave him a cool look. “You drag me all over the place, making me hunt for OOPs, but do I complain the whole time? No. Suck it up, Barrons. The least you can do is paint my nails while my arm’s broken. It’s not like I’m asking you to do both hands. And I’m not asking you to do my toes at all.” Although I really could have used some help with my pedicure. A proper foot grooming was a two-handed job.
He glowered at the prospect of having to gloss my toes a matching shimmery, gold-frosted Ice Princess Blush, which, by the way, had always seemed oxymoronish to me, like jumbo shrimp. None of the ice princesses I’d known in high school and college had been the blushing types.
“Some guys,” I informed him loftily, “would jump at the chance to paint my toenails.”
Barrons bent his head over my hand, applying pale pink polish to my ring finger with exacting care. He looked big and muscular and male and silly painting my fingernails, like a Roman centurion decked out in a frilly chef’s apron. I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing.
“I’m sure they would, Ms. Lane,” he said dryly.
He was still calling me Ms. Lane.
After all we’d been through. As if he’d not found my map with the pink dot I’d stabbed on it, followed me into the Dark Zone, rescued, splinted, iced, bandaged, and, I think, even kissed me.
I narrowed my eyes, studying his dark, bent head. I knew how he’d found me. Fiona had told me she’d called him right after she’d seen me go walking into the abandoned neighborhood. From her guilt-tinged distress over my injuries, however, I was pretty sure she hadn’t called him immediately after, if you know what I mean.
But that was about all I knew. I’d spent most of the three days since I’d gone to 1247 LaRuhe in a deep, drugged sleep, surfacing only long enough for Barrons to feed me something before ordering me to sleep again.
My back and hips were bruised, various parts of me were bound and immobilized, my ribs were wrapped and it hurt to breathe, but on the brighter side of things, my eye was almost completely open again. I hadn’t been brave enough to look in a mirror yet, nor had I showered in four days, but I had other things on my mind right now, like some of those questions that had been burning holes in my gut all day.
“Okay, Barrons, it’s time.”
“I am not helping you shave your legs,” he said instantly.
“Oh please. As if I’d let you. I meant for questions.”
“What are you?” I dumped the question on him like a bucket of ice water.
“I don’t follow,” he said with one those elegant Gallic shrugs.
“You dropped thirty feet in that warehouse. You should have broken something. You should have broken two somethings—like legs. What are you?”
There was another of those shrugs. “A man with a rope?”
“Ha-ha. I didn’t see one.”
“I can’t help that.” The look he gave me was dry, bored, and just enough to make me doubt what I’d seen that night. After all, I had been pretty wigged out at the time. I couldn’t absolutely guarantee there hadn’t been one of those sophisticated thin cables thieves always used in movies. I tried another tactic. “You sent Mallucé flying through the air. Smashing into pallets, then a forklift.”