"Clay?" she said when he seemed to be ignoring her.
"How did they get into your apartment?"
The shift in topic didn't surprise her in the least, not when she knew how protective he was. "I don't know. The building's about average in terms of security, but I put in a top-of-the-line system on my door." Even then, she rarely slept all the way through the night.
"Only on the door?"
"Yes. Why - Oh, the windows. I figured being on the eighth floor was enough."
"Not against Psy telekinetics."
"Psy?" She laughed. "Far as I know, teleporting is a major ability. I can't see the Psy wasting that kind of a resource on terrorizing an ordinary human."
"Hardly ordinary," he muttered. "But there are other ways to enter through a window. Any changeling with climbing abilities, or wings, could have done it."
She hadn't considered that and now it appeared a glaring oversight. "The blood hadn't stopped dripping when I arrived." Shivering, she hugged her arms around herself.
"Was it warm?"
She almost threw up. "What the hell kind of question is that?"
"If they used fresh - "
"Stop!" she interrupted. "Stop the car!"
He came to a rocking halt.
Sliding back the door, she leaned out and retched. Since the only thing she'd eaten over the past twenty-four hours was that burger with Clay, there was nothing much to throw up. But her stomach didn't know that. It cramped for what felt like hours, flooding her mouth with the ugly taste of bile and tearing her insides apart.
When it stopped at last, she found Clay by her side, one hand in her hair, the other holding a bottle of water. "Drink."
With her throat feeling like someone had taken a hacksaw to it, there was no way she was going to refuse. The water proved ice-cold. "Where?" she rasped.
He understood. "Iced bottles. All of us carry them - changeling soldiers burn a lot of energy. The water's infused with minerals and other stuff."
She nodded and took another delicious gulp. "Tastes good."
He tugged back her head with the hand he had in her hair. "What the hell was that about?"
She couldn't bring herself to tell him the complete truth but she forced herself to tell one. Her deadly little secret didn't need to be revealed. Not yet. Perhaps not ever. "I told you, I hate violence," she reminded him. "You went too far with that talk of warm blood."
His hand clenched in her hair before he released it, a penetrating expression on his face. "You had no trouble with discussing the dead boys."
She clutched at her stomach. "It's psychological." She stood her ground, knowing if she gave even an inch, Clay would walk straight over her. "Can we go? There's..." She nodded at the people peering out the windows of a nearby apartment building.
He ignored her request. "Why didn't the Larkspurs take you to someone who could've helped you get a handle on these things?"
"They did." She swung her legs back into the car and, closing her eyes, leaned her head against the seat. "I'm too screwed up to fix."
The passenger door slid shut and a second later, she felt Clay get back into the driver's seat. "That's a load of crap," he said once he had them moving again. "You never were good at handling blood. You almost passed out that time I cut my knee on a fence."
Her gorge rose at even that harmless memory. Taking another drink, she focused on the piercing sparks of light exploding behind her eyelids. "I got worse. After."
Then, "After me or after him?"
"Does it matter?" She realized she'd drained the water bottle.
"I guess not. You're still as f**ked up."
It hurt. "Yeah."
He swore. "Jesus, Talin. Where's your spine?"
That made her eyes snap open. "You're insulting me to get me to react? What the hell kind of a bedside manner is that?" Outraged, she chucked the empty bottle into the pristine backseat. "I almost threw up my guts and you - "
"When did you become such a scared little mouse?" His tone was hard, his eyes trained on the road.
"Trauma, Clay! I was traumatized. It had an effect."
"So was I," he said, merciless. "I didn't deal by sticking my head in the sand."
She knew immediately that he wasn't talking about the killing. "You saved me."
His laughter was harsh. "Years too late."
"No." She had to reach him, had to make him see. "Orrin never tried to choke me before." He'd wanted to watch the life leave her eyes, just like he'd done with those other girls he'd buried.
"He abused you, Talin. Hurt you, touched you, made you suffer through things no little girl should have to endure. So what if he saved the brutal murder for your eighth birthday! I f**king should have stopped him long before that!"
"I never told you," she cried. "And you were a child, too."
"I should have known. I'm a cat - I could smell him on you."
"He was my foster parent. I remember you telling me you could smell their parents on all the kids."
He didn't respond. She stared at the dark stubble along his jaw, at the ebony silk of his hair. He was so close and yet she didn't dare touch him. "Clay?" Talk to me, please, she wanted to beg. He had always spoken to her, even if he didn't to anyone else.
His fingers clenched on the steering wheel. "Tell me about your life with the Larkspurs."
Relieved, she took a deep, shuddering breath. "They're farmers, all of them. Well, Dixie isn't, but she's a farmer's wife. Already has two babies. It's what she wanted."