CAL WASN'T PARTICULARLY SURPRISED TO SEE Fox's truck in his driveway, despite the hour. Nor was he particularly surprised when he walked in to see Fox blinking sleepily on the couch in front of the TV, with Lump stretched out and snoring beside him.
On the coffee table were a can of Coke, the last of Cal's barbecue potato chips, and a box of Milk Bones. The remains, he assumed, of a guy-dog party.
"Whatcha doing here?" Fox asked groggily.
"I live here."
"She kick you out?"
"No, she didn't kick me out. I came home." Because they were there, Cal dug into the bag of chips and managed to pull out a handful of crumbs. "How many of those did you give him?"
Fox glanced at the box of dog biscuits. "A couple. Maybe five. What're you so edgy about?"
Cal picked up the Coke and gulped down the couple of warm, flat swallows that were left. "I got a feeling, a...thing. You haven't felt anything tonight?"
"I've had feelings and things pretty much steady the last couple weeks." Fox scrubbed his hands over his face, back into his hair. "But yeah, I got something just before you drove up. I was half asleep, maybe all the way. It was like the wind whooshing down the flue."
"Yeah." Cal walked over to stare out the window. "Have you checked in with your parents lately?"
"I talked to my father today. It's all good with them. Why?"
"If all three of us are direct descendents, then one of your parents is in the line," Cal pointed out.
"I figured that out on my own."
"None of our family was ever affected during the Seven. We were always relieved by that." He turned back. "Maybe relieved enough we didn't really ask why."
"Because we figured it, at least partly, was because they lived outside of town. Except for Bill Turner, and who the hell could tell what was going on with him?"
"My parents and yours, they came into town during the Seven. And there were people, you remember what happened out at the Poffenberger place last time?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I remember." Fox rubbed at his eyes. "Being five miles out of town didn't stop Poffenberger from strangling his wife while she hacked at him with a butcher knife."
"Now we know Gran felt things, saw things that first summer, and she saw things the other night. Why is that?"
"Maybe it picks and chooses, Cal." Rising, Fox walked over to toss another log on the fire. "There have always been people who weren't affected, and there have always been degrees with those who were."
"Quinn and Layla are the first outsiders. We figured a connection, but what if that connection is as simple as blood ties?"
Fox sat again, leaned back, stroked a hand over Lump's head as the dog twitched in his sleep. "Good theory. It shouldn't weird you out if you happen to be rolling naked with your cousin a couple hundred times removed."
"Huh." That was a thought. "If they're descendents, the next point to figure is if having them here gives us more muscle, or makes us more vulnerable. Because it's pretty clear this one's it. This one's going to be the all or nothing. So...Someone's coming."
Fox pushed off the couch, strode quickly over to stand by Cal. "I don't think the Big Evil's going to drive up to your house, and in a..." He peered closer as the car set off Cal's motion lights. "Holy Jesus, is that a Ferrari?" He shot a grin at Cal.
"Gage," they said together.
They went on the front porch, in shirtsleeves, leaving the door open behind them. Gage climbed out of the car, his eyes skimming over them both as he walked back to get his bag out of the trunk. He slung its strap over his shoulder, started up the steps. "You girls having a slumber party?"
"Strippers just left," Fox told him. "Sorry you missed them." Then he rushed forward, flung his arms around Gage in a hard hug. "Man, it's good to see you. When can I drive your car?"
"I was thinking never. Cal."
"Took your goddamn time." The relief, the love, the sheer pleasure pushed him forward to grip Gage just as Fox had.
"Had some business here and there. Want a drink. Need a room."
"Come on in."
In the kitchen, Cal poured whiskey. All of them understood it was a welcome-home toast for Gage, and very likely a drink before war.
"So," Cal began, "I take it you came back flush."
"How much you up?"
Gage turned the glass around in his hand. "Considering expenses, and my new toy out there, about fifty."
"Nice work if you can get it," Fox commented.
"And I can."
"Look a little worn there, brother."
Gage shrugged at Cal. "Long couple of days. Which nearly ended with me in a fiery crash right out on Sixty-seven."
"Toy get away from you?" Fox asked.
"Please." Gage smirked at the idea. "Some ditz, of the female and very hot variety, pulled out in front of me. Not another car on the road, and she pulls out in this ancient Karmann Ghia-nice wheels, actually-then she jumps out and goes at me like it was my fault."
"Women," Fox said, "are an endless source of every damn thing."
"And then some. So she's tipped down in the little runoff," Gage went on, gesturing with his free hand. "No big deal, but she's popped a flat. No big deal either, except her spare's a pancake. Turns out she's heading into the Hollow, so I manage to load her two-ton suitcase into my car. Then she's rattling off an address and asking me, like I'm MapQuest, how long it'll take to get there."
He took a slow sip of whiskey. "Lucky for her I grew up here and could tell her I'd have her there in five. She snaps out her phone, calls somebody she calls Q, like James freaking Bond, tells her, as it turns out from the look I got of Q in the doorway-very nice, by the way-to wake up, she'll be there in five minutes. Then-"
Cal rattled off an address. "That the one?"
Gage lowered his glass. "As a matter of fact."
"Something in the wind," Cal murmured. "I guess it was you, and Quinn's Cybil."
"Cybil Kinski," Gage confirmed. "Looks like a gypsy by way of Park Avenue. Well, well." He downed the rest of the whiskey in his glass. "Isn't this a kick in the ass?"
"HE CAME OUT OF NOWHERE." THERE WAS A glass of red wine on the dresser Quinn had picked up in anticipation of Cybil's arrival.
As that arrival had woken Layla, Quinn sat beside her on what would be Cybil's bed while the woman in question swirled around the room, hanging clothes, tucking them in drawers, taking the occasional sip of wine.
"I thought that was it, just it, even though I've never seen any death by car in my future. I swear, I don't know how we missed being bloody pulps tangled in burning metal. I'm a good driver," Cybil said to Quinn.
"But I must be better than I thought, and so-fortunately-was he. I know I'm lucky all I got was a scare and a flat tire out of it, but damn Rissa for, well, being Rissa."
"Rissa?" Layla looked blank.
"Cyb's sister, Marissa," Quinn explained. "You loaned her your car again."
"I know, I know. I know," she said, puffing out a breath that blew curls off her forehead. "I don't know how she manages to talk me into these things. My spare was flat, thanks to Rissa."
"Which explains why you were dropped off from a really sexy sports car."
"He could hardly leave me there, though he looked like the type who'd consider it. All scruffy, gorgeous, and dangerous looking."
"Last time I had a flat," Quinn remembered, "the very nice guy who stopped to help had a paunch over his belt the size of a sack of cement, and ass crack reveal."
"No paunch on this one, and though his coat prevented me from a good look, I'm betting Gage Turner has a superior ass."
"Gage Turner." Layla put a hand on Quinn's thigh. "Quinn."
"Yeah." Quinn let out a breath. "Okay, I guess it's hail, hail, the gang's all here."
IN THE MORNING, QUINN LEFT HER HOUSEMATES sleeping while she jogged over to the community center. She already knew she'd regret jogging over, because that meant she'd have to jog back-after her workout. But it seemed a cheat on the lifestyle change to drive three blocks to the gym.
And she wanted the thinking time.
There was no buying, for any price, Cybil and Gage Turner had run into each other-almost literally-in the middle of the night just outside of town as a coincidence.
One more thing to add to the list of oddities, Quinn thought as she puffed out air in frosty vapors.
Another addition would be the fact that Cybil had a very sharp sense of direction, but had apparently made wrong turn after wrong turn to end up on that side road at the exact moment Gage was coming up the main.
One more, Quinn decided as she approached the back entrance of the community center, would be Cybil saying "he came out of nowhere." Quinn was willing to take that literally. If Cybil didn't see him, then maybe-in her reality, for just those vital moments-he hadn't been there.
So why had it been important for them to meet separately, outside the group? Wasn't it strange enough that they'd both arrived on the same night, at the same time?
She dug out her membership key-thanks, Cal-to open the door to the fitness area, pressed her guest pass number on the keypad.
The lights were still off, which was a surprise. Normally when she arrived, they were already on, and at least one of the trio of swivel TVs was tuned to CNN or ESPN or one of the morning talk shows. Very often there was somebody on one of the treadmills or bikes, or pumping weights.
She flipped on the lights, called out. And her voice echoed hollowly. Curious, she walked through, pushed open the door, and saw the lights were also off in the tiny attendant's office, and in the locker room.
Maybe somebody had a late date the night before, she decided. She helped herself to a locker key, stripped down to her workout gear, then grabbed a towel. Opting to start her session with cardio, she switched on the Today show before climbing onto the single elliptical trainer the club boasted.
She programmed it, resisting the urge to cheat a few pounds off her weight. As if it mattered, Quinn reminded herself. (Of course, it mattered.)
She started her warm-up pleased with her discipline, and her solitude. Still, she expected the door to slam open any minute, for Matt or Tina, who switched off as attendants, to rush in. By the time she was ten minutes in, she'd kicked up the resistance and was focused on the TV screen to help her get through the workout.
When she hit the first mile, Quinn took a long gulp of water from the sports bottle she'd brought with her. As she started on mile two, she let her mind drift to what she hoped to accomplish that day. Research, the foundation of any project. And she wanted to draft what she thought would be the opening of her book. Writing it out might spark some idea. At some point, she wanted to walk around the town again, with Cybil-and Layla if she was up for it.
A visit to the cemetery was in order with Cybil in tow. Time to pay a call on Ann Hawkins.
Maybe Cal would have time to go with them. Needed to talk to him anyway, discuss how he felt, what he thought, about Gage-whom she wanted to get a look at-and Cybil's arrival. Mostly, she admitted, she just wanted to see him again. Show him off to Cybil.
Look! Isn't he cute? Maybe it was completely high school, but it didn't seem to matter. She wanted to touch him again, even if it was just a quick squeeze of hands. And she was looking forward to a hello kiss, and finding a way to turn that worried look in his eyes into a glint of amusement. She loved the way his eyes laughed before the rest of him did, and the way he...
Well. Well, well, well. She was absolutely gone over him, she realized. Seriously hooked on the hometown boy. That was kind of cute, too, she decided, except it made her stomach jitter. Still, the jitter wasn't altogether a bad thing. It was a combination of oh-oh and oh boy!, and wasn't that interesting?
Quinn's falling in love, she thought, and hit mile two with a dopey smile on her face. She might've been puffing, sweat might have been dribbling down her temples, but she felt just as fresh and cheerful as a spring daisy.
Then the lights went out.
The machine stopped; the TV went blank and silent.
"Oh, shit." Her first reaction wasn't alarm as much as, what now? The dark was absolute, and though she could draw a reasonable picture in her mind where she was in relation to the outside door-and what was between her and the door-she was wary about making her way to it blind.
And then what? she wondered as she waited for her breathing to level. She couldn't possibly fumble her way to the locker room, to her locker and retrieve her clothes. So she'd have to go out in a damn sports bra and bike pants.
She heard the first thud; the chill washed over her skin. And she understood she had much bigger problems than skimpy attire.
She wasn't alone. As her pulse began to bang, she hoped desperately whatever was in the dark with her was human. But the sounds, that unholy thudding that shook the walls, the floor, the awful scuttling sounds creeping under it weren't those of a man. Gooseflesh pricked her skin, partly from fear, partly from the sudden and intense cold.
Keep your head, she ordered herself. For God's sake, keep your head. She gripped the water bottle-pitiful weapon, but all she had-and started to ease off the foot pads on the machine to the floor.
She went flying blindly in the black. She hit the floor, her shoulder and hip taking the brunt. Everything shook and rolled as she fought to scramble up. Disoriented, she had no idea which direction to run. There was a voice behind her, in front of her, inside her head-she couldn't tell-and it whispered gleefully of death.
She knew she screamed as she clawed her way across the quaking floor. Teeth chattering against terror and cold, she rapped her shoulder against another machine. Think, think, think! she told herself, because something was coming, something was coming in the dark. She ran her shaking hands over the machine-recumbent bike-and with every prayer she knew ringing in her head, used its placement in the room to angle toward the door.
There was a crash behind her, and something thudded against her foot. She jerked up, tripped, jerked up again. No longer caring what might stand between herself and the door, she flung herself toward where she hoped it would be. With her breath tearing out of her lungs, she ran her hands over the wall.
"Find it, goddamn it, Quinn. Find the goddamn door!"
Her hand bumped the hinges, and on a sob she found the knob. Turned, pulled.
The light burst in front of her eyes, and Cal's body-already in motion-rammed hers. If she'd had any breath left, she'd have lost it. Her knees didn't get a chance to buckle as he wrapped his arms around her, swung her around to use his body as a shield between hers and the room beyond.
"Hold on, now. Can you hold on to me?" His voice was eerily calm as he reached behind him and pulled the door closed. "Are you hurt? Tell me if you're hurt." His hands were already skimming over her, before they came up to her face, gripped it.
Before his mouth crushed down on hers.
"You're all right," he managed, propping her against the stone of the building as he dragged off his coat. "You're okay. Here, get into this. You're freezing."
"You were there." She stared up into his face. "You were there."
"Couldn't get the door open. Key wouldn't work." He took her hands, rubbed them warm between his. "My truck's right up there, okay. I want you to go up, sit in my truck. I left the keys in it. Turn on the heat. Sit in my truck and turn on the heat. Can you do that?"
She wanted to say yes. There was something in her that wanted to say yes to anything he asked. But she saw, in his eyes, what he meant to do.
"You're going in there."
"That's what I have to do. What you have to do is go sit in the truck for a few minutes."
"If you go in, I go in."
How, she wondered, did he manage to sound patient and annoyed at the same time? "I need to as much as you, and I'd hate myself if I huddled in your truck while you went in there. I don't want to hate myself. Besides, it's better if there's two of us. It's better. Let's just do it. Just do it, and argue later."
"Stay behind me, and if I say get out, you get out. That's the deal."
"Done. Believe me, I'm not ashamed to hide behind you."
She saw it then, just the faintest glimmer of a smile in his eyes. Seeing it settled her nerves better than a quick shot of brandy.
He turned his key again, keyed in the touch pad. Quinn held her breath. When Cal opened the door, the lights were on. Al Roker's voice cheerily announced the national weather forecast. The only sign anything had happened was her sports bottle under the rack of free weights.
"Cal, I swear, the power went out, then the room-"
"I saw it. It was pitch-black in here when you came through the door. Those weights were all over the floor. I could see them rolling around from the light coming in the door. The floor was heaving. I saw it, Quinn. And I heard it from outside the door."
He'd rammed that door twice, he remembered, put his full weight into it, because he'd heard her screaming, and it had sounded like the roof was caving in.
"Okay. My things are in the locker room. I really want to get my things out of the locker."
"Give me the key, and I'll-"
"Together." She gripped his hand. "There's a scent, can you smell it? Over and above my workout and panic sweat."
"Yeah. I always thought it must be what brimstone smells like. It's fading." He smiled, just a little, as she stopped to pick up a ten-pound free weight, gripped it like a weapon.
He pushed open the door of the women's locker room. It was as ordered and normal as the gym. Still, he took her key, nudged her behind him before he opened her locker. Moving quickly, she dragged on her sweats, exchanged coats. "Let's get out of here."
He had her hand as they walked back out and Matt walked in.
He was young, the college-jock type, doing the part-time attendant, occasional personal trainer gig. A quick, inoffensive smirk curved on his lips as he saw them come out of the women's locker room together. Then he cleared his throat.
"Hey, sorry I'm late. Damnedest thing. First my alarm didn't go off, and I know how that sounds. Then my car wouldn't start. One of those mornings."
"Yeah," Quinn agreed as she put back the weight, retrieved her water bottle. "One of those. I'm done for the day." She tossed him the locker key. "See you later."
She waited until they were out of the building. "He thought we'd been-"
"Ever do it in a locker room?"
"As that was actually my first foray into a girl's locker room, I have to say no."
"Me, either. Cal, have you got time to come over, have coffee-God, I'll even cook breakfast-and talk about this?"
"I'm making time."
SHE TOLD HIM EVERYTHING THAT HAD HAPPENED while she scrambled eggs. "I was scared out of my mind," she finished as she carried the coffee into the little dining room.
"No, you weren't." Cal set the plates of eggs and whole-wheat toast on the table. "You found the door, in the pitch-black, and with all that going on, you kept your head and found the door."
"Thanks." She sat. She wasn't shaking any longer, but the inside of her knees still felt like half-set Jell-O. "Thanks for saying that."
"It's the truth."
"You were there when I opened the door, and that was one of the best moments of my life. How did you know to be there?"
"I came in early because I wanted to swing by here, see how you were. Talk to you. Gage-"
"I know about that. Tell me the rest of this first."
"Okay. I turned off Main to come around the back way, come here, and I saw Ann Hawkins. I saw her standing in front of the door. I heard you screaming."
"From inside your truck, on the street. That far away-through stone walls, you heard me?"
"I heard you." It hadn't been one of the best moments of his life. "When I jumped out, ran toward the door, I heard crashing, thumping, God knows what from inside. I couldn't get the goddamn door open."
She heard it now, the emotion in his voice, the fear he hadn't let show while they were doing what needed doing. She rose, did them both a favor and crawled right into his lap.
She was still there, cradled in his arms, when Cybil strolled in.
"Hi. Don't get up." She took Quinn's chair. "Anyone eating this?" Studying them, Cybil took a forkful of eggs. "You must be Cal."
"Cybil Kinski, Caleb Hawkins. We had a rough morning."
Layla stepped in with a coffee mug and sleepy eyes that clouded with concern the minute she saw Quinn. "What happened?"
"Have a seat, and we'll run it through for both of you."
"I need to see the place," Cybil said as soon as the story was told. "And the room in the bowling alley, anyplace there's been an incident."
"Try the whole town," Quinn said dryly.
"And I need to see the clearing, this stone, as soon as possible."
"She's bossy," Quinn told Cal.
"I thought you were, but I think she beats you out. You can come into the bowling center anytime you like. Quinn can get you into the fitness center, but if I can't be there, I'll make sure either Fox or Gage is. Better, both of them. As far as the Pagan Stone goes, I talked with Fox and Gage about that last night. We're agreed that the next time we go, we all go. All of us. I can't make it today and neither can Fox. Sunday's going to be best."
"He's organized and take-charge," Cybil said to Quinn.
"Yes." She pressed a kiss to Cal's cheek. "Yes, he is. And I've made you let your eggs get cold."
"It was a worthwhile trade-off. I'd better get going."
"We still have a lot to talk about. Listen, maybe the three of you should come to dinner."
"Is someone cooking?" Cal asked.
"You ate my breakfast. Plus you actually cook. But in the meantime, just one thing." She slid out of his lap so he could stand. "Would Fox hire Layla?"
"What? Who? Why?" Layla sputtered.
"Because you need a job," Quinn reminded her. "And he needs an office manager."
"I don't know anything about-you just can't-"
"You managed a boutique," Quinn reminded her, "so that's half the job. Managing. You're on the anal side of organized, Miss Colored Index Cards and Charts, so I say you can file, keep a calendar, and whatever with the best of them. Anything else, you'll pick up as you go. Ask Fox, okay, Cal?"
"Sure. No problem."
"She calls me bossy," Cybil commented as she finished Quinn's coffee.
"I call it creative thinking and leadership. Now, go fill that mug up again while I walk Cal to the door so I can give him a big, sloppy you're-my-hero kiss."
Cybil smiled after them as Quinn pulled Cal out of the room. "She's in love."
Now Cybil turned her smile on Layla. "That got your mind off taking a bite out of her for pushing that job in your face."
"I'll get back to that. Do you think she's in love with Cal-the uppercase L?"
"About to be all caps, in bold letters." She picked up the mug and rose. "Q likes to direct people," she said, "but she's careful to try to direct them toward something helpful, or at least interesting. She wouldn't push this job business if she didn't think you could handle it."
She blew out a breath as she walked back toward the kitchen. "What the hell am I supposed to fix for dinner?"