This book should be available now so this is the last snippet.
Noah’s Boy – Snippet 35
He looked at her. His eyes were within dark, hollowed circles, and his face looked… older somehow. Tom had always looked younger than his twenty one years, a condition Kyrie attributed to the fact that he was well… no one would call him that to his face, but Tom was frankly pretty: features that were perfectly regular, big enamel-blue eyes, and those dark curls framing his face. If he’d been a girl he’d have been beautiful. Because he was a man and one who looked like he didn’t like to start fights but could finish any fight started around him, people called him “handsome” but that wasn’t quite right. Handsome called for a more sharply cut chin, for rougher features.
Because of his features, Tom usually got carded everywhere he went, and if he’d shaved recently people often assumed he was still in high school. But now his features looked graver, older. He looked his age until you looked directly into his eyes, and then he looked an age that no human being could be, thousands and thousands of years old.
Still, as he looked at her, his lips twisted up in a smile, and his eyes softened. “Right now, my dear, I’m the Great Sky Dragon, and though many people have called me a bastard in the past, I don’t think my dad would like to hear it.”
“Speaking of your dad –” Kyrie said. “Isn’t he supposed to visit sometime soon?”
“Not until the weekend,” Tom said. “When we’ll either be done with this or –”
Tom shrugged, then his look changed, and the eyes again had that impossibly old look, “Listen, if something happens — if I should not … well, if I don’t survive this… Would you tell my dad the whole story? I don’t know what he might make of it otherwise and… I’d like him to think well of me.”
She felt her features harden, her mouth draw into a straight line, as she employed her strongest voice-of-command. “Tom Ormson,” she said. “You are not going to die.”
He chuckled, standing up, and kissed her on top of her head. “Even you can’t order me not to die. I don’t want to, of course, and I’ll try not to. But –”
She grabbed at his arm. “But nothing. You’re not going to die.”
“I’ll do my best not to. Meanwhile, if you go on home, I’ll try to see about paying Jason and sending him home to sleep a bit, then wait till he comes back, and then I’ll come home to sleep.”
Kyrie looked up at him. You didn’t need to be an expert in Tom Ormson to see trouble brewing. And she was an expert in Tom Ormson. “You’re going to do something stupid,” she said.
“Nah,” he said. “Just look out back and see if we can find Old Joe.”
* * *
She stopped at, of all places, a Chinese restaurant — a small one, tucked into the side of a mountain, probably the only ethnic restaurant in a hundred miles. She was starving, and she thought Rafiel might or might not have cooked.
The restaurant didn’t have the look of a triad outpost. It was small, with maybe ten tables, and what appeared to be a married couple working behind the counter, while a baby in a playpen slept in front of it. They were just opening to clean and set up for lunch, she guessed. She was three hours early for their advertised lunch time. But they didn’t make any trouble about it. Instead, they worked down the menu with her, explaining what could be made quickly enough and what couldn’t, and she ended up with some general or other’s chicken and beef with orange flavoring, as well as two tubs of rice in a take out bag. They offered egg drop and she took it, too, before paying and taking her leave.
Rafiel might very well think she was nuts showing up at ten in the morning with a bagful of Chinese takeout but she guessed not. Shifters ate when they had shifted, and she hadn’t eaten enough at that very odd conference. She felt too weak, anyway, and it was no good at all to be starved. She kept being afraid she’d shift into a dragon and go hunting rabbits or deer. And if it were just that, it wouldn’t be very bad at all.
Her first thought on seeing the cabin was that something was terribly wrong. The door stood open to the outside, and when she walked in and called Rafiel, no one answered. She thought perhaps it was the habit, this far away from civilization, to leave everything unlocked while they went out hiking or something. Perhaps he’d just gone hiking. But she had a very bad feeling.
She walked to the kitchen, set the food on the counter. And then she heard the water running. In one of the bathrooms, water was running continuously. Okay, so he wasn’t out, he was taking a shower.
Following the sound of the water to the bedroom he’d taken, she knocked at the door to the bathroom. “Rafiel!” she called. “Rafiel.”
No one answered. She cleared her throat and tried again, louder. Still no answer.
Something in her told her that there was a problem, that things had gone very, very wrong, that she should … What? Burst in on a near stranger while he showered?
But what if he’d passed out? What if —
She took a deep breath, opened the door a crack and called into it, “Rafiel.” There was no answer, though it seemed to her she heard a sound like gasping.
Then she realized what was really wrong. When you opened the door of a bathroom where someone was showering, you expected to have a blast of steam hit you. Not in this case. Right. That was it. If he’d had a heart attack in the shower, he might have run out all the hot water.
And what if he just liked cold showers?
Into the cold bathroom, she called again, “Rafiel.”
That sound like a gasp, once more, but no words. Right. Bea opened the door completely and walked in. For a moment she thought the bathroom was empty. It was smaller than the one upstairs, and it had only space for a vanity, a toilet and a shower enclosure.
The enclosure was glass on two sides, and one of those pre-molded plastic things on the other two. The water was on and running freely, but no one stood in the enclosure. Then she looked down.
Rafiel was huddled in the corner, under the streaming water, his knees pulled up, his face resting between them, his hair soaked, his shoulders shaking, not as if he were crying, but as if he were struggling to breathe.
“Rafiel,” Bea said, alarmed. She pulled the door open. He looked up. He stared at her, his eyes wild and uncomprehending.
It wasn’t as if he’d gone animal, though. She’d seen animal eyes. She’d also seen the eyes of people coming off a high around campus, and that wasn’t it either. It wasn’t even as if he’d gone mad.
No. The expression in his eyes was one she’d seen once before when her father had found one of the dogs he’d treated for many years and who was one of his favorites dead by the side of the road.
Shock, she thought, and went all decisive. She didn’t know why Rafiel was in shock, but she knew he was. And shock she could deal with.
She opened the shower door further, reached in, turned off the water. It was freezing cold, as it splashed her arm, and it couldn’t have been doing the poor man any good. She reached for a towel from the bar next to her, and she spoke to him reasonably, “Get up, come on. We need to get you warm.”
Bea had absolutely no idea what she’d do if he refused to obey her. After all, she probably weighed a third what he did, and that would be with lead in her pockets.
But he got up, shambling. She noted there were five, parallel, deep cuts across his face, which she’d have sworn weren’t there before, or had got healed. Because if his eye had healed, his face would have too, right?
She tentatively dried his shoulders and was more relieved than she ever wanted to admit when he took the towel from her hands and started rubbing himself. She had been trying not to look at what her mind had classified as his fiddly bits because he was clearly out of his right mind. She had seen him naked before, but now it seemed like she’d be taking advantage of him. She really didn’t want to think of helping him dry there. For heavens’ sake, she’d never even had a boyfriend. She’d seen Rafiel naked more than any other male outside of an art class, as was.
As he was drying himself, she went back into the room to find him clothes, and was relieved to see a thick terry robe hanging from a peg beside the closet door. When she brought it back to the bathroom, Rafiel was standing there, the towel in his hands. He let her dress him in the robe and tie it around him. He was still shivering. “Come on,” she said. “You need to eat something warm.”
He let her lead him to the kitchen, but didn’t actually make Bea spoon feed him the egg drop soup. Instead he ate it, slowly, with measured calm. She refilled his bowl, and made hot tea, which she poured for him. Sometime while eating, he stopped shivering and a frowning expression settled on his face, as if he were trying, very hard, to remember something.
When she filled a bowl with cooked beef, he looked up at her and blinked, “You… went out? You… shifted?”
She filled her own bowl and plowed into it, ignoring the chopsticks and using instead the plastic fork also provided. Looking up, she nodded at him, “Yes,” she said. And because she figured that talking to him might help him calm down, and would certainly take his mind off of whatever had made him go into shock long enough for his mind to get past it, she told him about the call, the strong impulse to go and respond to whatever the call was, the crawling out of the skylight, flying to Goldport.
As she described what had happened in the parking lot, Rafiel stared at her. “Tom did what? Tom does not –”
She shook her head. “I was shocked too. I don’t know him like you do, but I formed an impression of him and that… but then afterwards I got to thinking. I think whatever information he got when the Great Sky Dragon died that… well…” She paused. “I think that whatever the information was, it told him that he couldn’t simply refuse the position, not without asserting his supremacy first. I think the triad works by primitive rules. The heir can’t simply be allowed to slide off and be an anonymous someone. He either rules or gets killed.”
Something about talking of primitive rules made him stare at her, a long time. He finally nodded a little. Then he said, “When you left… I heard the chair fall.”
“Sorry. I was afraid of shifting before I could get out. You know what –”
He inclined his head, and held up a hand. “Doesn’t matter, but I thought you might be in trouble, and I –” He paused and looked past her, as he spoke. “I went outside and I was hit…” Have you ever had blood lust? That is… did you ever…?”
“Want to eat something alive?” she said.
“People. Want to eat people.”
Bea blinked. “No. I’ve wanted to beat them to death with a sock, on occasion, but not to eat them.”
“Oh. Well… when you’re really tired and hungry and…”
A monstrous idea crossed Bea’s mind. “You ate someone?” She wasn’t sure that was something she could forgive, or something she could even start to understand.
He shook his head. “No, but… it was the same thing.”
Bea stared, confused about how anything could be the same as eating someone. “You killed someone?”
He shook his head again. “No, but… when I stepped outside there was this smell, like… like… I can’t describe it. I shifted and… and… when I came to, when I got control over the lion’s mind again, I found that… That is… The creature who attacked me before? She… I was… We were having sex in shifted form. I tried to pull away and she…” He touched the deep gauges on his face.
Bea didn’t know what to say or how to say it. Part of her, having contemplated the possibility of his having eaten a human being, now wanted to laugh with relief but she realized the experience had shocked Rafiel to his core. And looking at him, she slowly understood why. “How long…” she asked. “How long has it been since you lost control so completely, and weren’t aware of what you were doing?”
He frowned at her. “Not since I was very young and in college,” he said. “Not since…” He shook his head. “It was… I feel no attraction to… I don’t even know what the woman looks like in person… It was like…” He shook his head again, as though to clear it. “It was as though something or someone had taken over my mind. It’s a very disquieting, scary feeling. I wanted to… I want to know why, how. I want to make sure it won’t happen again. If she can make me do that, what can she make me do?”
Bea looked at him. “I expect,” she said. It was a slow word, drawn out. “I expect the next time, you’ll have more control. We learn to control the beast by being the beast. It… this mating in lion form… it was the first time?”
He made a face and smiled a little. Red flooded like a tide into his cheeks. “At the risk of shocking you, it was the first time in either form.” He lifted his hand, as though to defend himself from an accusation she hadn’t made. “You have to understand,” he said. “I can’t be sure… I’ve always been afraid of losing control and shifting. Tom… Tom says it doesn’t happen, and anyway, you know, he’s not afraid of that with Kyrie, because of course, she knows he shifts, though I don’t think his bedroom is big enough to — Never mind.”
“To hold a dragon? No. Particularly now. He’s… He’s grown. There seems to be something — beyond, you know… I mean, it’s like magic. The Great Sky Dragon died, and it’s like his death activated something that made Tom from a juvenile dragon into a full adult. Oh, that’s not right. It made him into a full-adult Great Sky Dragon, not just a dragon.”
Rafiel looked at her for a long while, then sighed. “He’s going to need our help, isn’t he?”
Bea opened her mouth, then realized he’d said our. He thought of them as a unit. She should have been horrified, particularly in view of the fact the man had been mating in lion-form with some pre-historic horror. But then… but then he was even more shocked by it than she was. And she meant what she’d told him. In the future, knowing it was possible, knowing what it felt like, he’d know how to resist it – how to keep his head. And if he didn’t… well, if he didn’t, he’d really need her.
She took a deep breath and understanding that this was right, that, somehow, they were supposed to be a team, and that he understood it too, she said, “Yeah. I think so.”