Jenny didn’t open her mouth except to put food in it. Drinking water was done through a straw, and she didn’t count that as opening her mouth. The woman in the room with her, another cop, asked her if she wanted anything. Jenny didn’t bother answering her.
She’d been in the hospital for five days now, in a private room with a television and a nice couch, and chair. They were much nicer and in better shape than the ones she had in her apartment. But here she was chained to the bed, and not able to go home and be on her own not so comfy furniture.
The winged man asked her how she was feeling. He’d not left her side once since she’d been brought here. And the fact that no one else could see him gave her the willies. She didn’t talk to him either, but he sure did talk to her. And most of it was about the day in the diner.
“The man you killed—rightfully—would have killed all those people in that diner if not for you.” She huffed at him. “He would have, and you saved them. Whatever they’re holding you for, it’s going to be finished very soon. I promise you.”
Jenny glared at him and he smiled. She had no idea why she found him to be charming. Most of the time she didn’t go for that. But this man, for some reason, made her feel safe and secure. It was really too bad that he wasn’t real.
She remembered every detail about the day that things had gone to shit. Every second seemed to be burned into her mind—even the face, the half face of the man that she’d killed by shooting him with his own gun. She didn’t think that would be anything that she’d ever forget. But, it was kill him or be killed.
All she wanted to do was make enough money that she could have a good meal. Not even to go out to dinner and such, but to be able to afford enough groceries so she could eat better. To say that she wasn’t making ends meet would be a gross understatement. She barely had a roof over her head when the rent came due.
Rolling to her side as best she could with her leg wrapped up and the handcuff on her leg, Jenny thought about what it would be like not to have to worry about every little thing that came along. Like a coat for winter that didn’t need to have furnace tape on it to cover the holes. Or boots that were just a little too snug and put blisters on her toes. Being hauled into court over this credit card, one that she’d never seen or used, had taken all she had, and a great deal that she didn’t. Perhaps, she thought, she should have let the man kill her.
“Don’t think like that.” She looked at the man in front of her. His wings were impressive, and she wanted to touch them to see if they were real. “You mustn’t think like that. You are going to be so much better than you are now.”
Closing her eyes against the pain that his words brought her, Jenny felt the tears roll down her cheeks. Nothing was ever going to be better, and she knew it as surely as she was lying there. When the door opened, she didn’t even bother looking up.
“Miss Hale.” She looked at the cop, Benny Anderson, the one that had locked her to this bed. “I’ve come to apologize to you and to take the cuffs off. We shouldn’t have ever put them on you.”
“Is this a trick?” He shook his head and smiled. “If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather you didn’t talk to me. You’ve been hounding me for days now, and I don’t particularly like you.”
“Really? My wife says that I’m charming, when I want to be.” She only huffed at him and the female officer left them. “Yes, well, you’re right on that one when I locked you up. But I did have a reason for doing it. You would have left here the first day you were admitted, wouldn’t you have?”
“I can’t afford this. And I’m pretty sure that you know it.” Benny nodded and glanced to her left at the winged man. “Is he real?”
Benny looked at her with the strangest smile. But he only nodded. A million and one questions came to her in that second, but she wasn’t sure that she trusted herself or this man enough to ask them. Instead, she looked at the winged man.
“His name is Arryn. He’s a protector.” Jenny tore her eyes away from Arryn and looked at Benny again. “He’s here to watch over you while you’re here. And there are more like him to take care of you when you leave.”
Closing her eyes again, she thought of someone watching over her. It would have been a lot easier had someone been watching her since she left home ten years ago. Benny was talking to Arryn, and she tried to calm her mind down enough to think. It was difficult when all she could think about was how much this stay in the hospital was going to cost her.
Arryn sat in the chair that was in her line of sight. “I’d like to talk to you about some things. Is that all right? Benny has gone now, but he’ll be back later with his wife. You’ll like her, she’s one of us.” She asked him just what that was. “I used to be a Protector, someone that watched over an assigned person or animal from birth until they passed onto the next part of their journey. But now, I’m call a Mystic. I’m training new Protectors on how to manage in the real world, your world, so they can figure out how to blend in when they’re here.”
“I think I would have noticed winged people all around.” He told her that she wasn’t meant to see them. “I see. Actually, no I don’t. You want to help them blend in, but no one sees them. What does that even mean?”
“We sometimes take a break. We take them when our charge, the one we’ve been chosen to watch over, passes from this life to the next level. It’s hard, spending a great many years with someone and not get to know and love them. So the break is necessary so that we can get back in the rotations and go with another being.” She asked him why she could see him. “You’re not dead, if that’s what you’re thinking. I could look, but I won’t do that again unless you stop talking to me. You can see me because of your future. You’re going to be the mate to one of my kind. Do you understand what a mate is?”
“You mean a slave to someone. Thanks, but no thanks. My mother was a slave to my father, and I’m never going to go through that. Never.” Arryn told her that it wasn’t like that. “Sure it’s not. And this other man, this other Protector, he’s going to take care of me? I bet that this job you say you have, it more than likely doesn’t pay much, does it? And that I’m going to have to find a job to support us both. As I said before, thanks but no thanks.”
“It pays very well.” She didn’t bother asking him what sort of well he thought it was. “You’re very hard to reason with. Has anyone told you that before?”
“No. I’m not usually so untrusting. But you being a winged man while I’m in a hospital room that I can ill afford while I wonder where I’m going to work, or even if I have a place to go back to, that makes me a little hostile.” He laughed. It was a beautiful sound, one that she thought she could hear a great deal and never tire of it. “Why don’t you go bother someone else? As soon as I’m out of here, I have a shit load of stuff to do. And being here, it’s not going to pay my rent or feed me. I don’t usually have enough to do the latter of that, but I need to find a job.”
The door opened, and a beautiful woman came in. She glowed, like a million lights were shining on her. And when she smiled, it was breathtaking. Jenny was afraid to acknowledge her. What if she was as unreal as the rest of this?
“Hello, Jenny. My name is Lily. I’m the wife of Benny Anderson. The detective that brought you here.” Jenny shook her hand and felt something profound run over her body. It wasn’t painful, but it was certainly a lot of something. “Oh, you’re going to be so good for Valyn. He’s expecting you, but doesn’t know where you are or when you’re coming.”
“Is that the man that expects me to wait on him hand and foot? If it is, I’d rather he didn’t know where I was at all.” Lily just smiled. It was becoming irritating the way they thought a smile was the cure all to everything. “I think you both should leave me alone now. I’m hoping to get myself out of here soon. As much as you probably expect me to say it’s been fun, it hasn’t. You two are bonkers.”
This time she heard different laughter. Looking around for the source, she knew that she’d gone off the deep end. But the man sitting in the chair, one that hadn’t been there before, was still laughing. He asked the other two to leave them alone, that he’d keep an eye on her for a little while.
“You’re very lucky. And smart.” Jenny didn’t know what to say to him, so she kept her mouth shut. “I wanted to tell you about Valyn. He’s my—I guess you could call him my next project.”
“If it’s all the same to you, I don’t want to be someone’s lab rat in a project.” He laughed again, and for some odd reason, Jenny thought that he didn’t do that very much. “Who are you?”
“They all call me Boss. I have come to like the term. It so much friendlier than anything else I might go by. I’ve really come to calm your mind about a great many things. If you would allow me to, that is.” She nodded, not even sure that she could have told him no. “There’s a good girl. Valyn, he’s one of the most generous and kind men I have had the pleasure of working with. I think that you and he will get along famously. But he’s been heavy in his heart for some time now. I think you’re the one to pull him from it all.”
“I don’t want to pull anyone out of anything. In the event you might not know, I don’t have a pot to piss in, and not enough money to even begin to pay this bill.” He snapped his fingers and handed her the paper that suddenly appeared. It said that her stay here was paid in full. “What did you do? Screw around on a computer to do this? I won’t be a part of anything illegal. You fix it.”
“The bill has been paid. There is no screwing around on anyone’s part. I paid it. And I’d do it again for you if you needed it.” She still didn’t trust him. “I’d like for you to listen to me for a bit. I would like to tell you what you’re coming into with Valyn.”
“I see. You’ve paid off my bill so that I’d have no choice other than to go to this man and be his slave.” He asked her why she thought she’d be a slave. “I know what I am, Mr. Boss. A nobody that has nothing. And men that would want a nobody like me are usually either drunks, thieves, or a combination of both. I don’t need the extra pressure put on me. I don’t have it in me.”
“You’re much stronger than you give yourself credit for. Why, you saved a great many people when you killed Edward. You have no idea how grateful I am to you.” She said it was only a few people. “No. What you don’t know, and very few would, is that he wasn’t going to be killed by the police as he so wanted. But he was going to leave the diner after killing everyone, including you, and murder thirty-one more people before he killed himself. You also saved three police officers that tried to take him in, as well as two people that would have been so injured by his bullets that they would never able to walk again.”
“You mean, he could have done those things. There isn’t any way that you’d know that for sure.” He only nodded, and Jenny believed him. Looking around the room, she spoke to him again. “Why is this happening to me? I feel like I’m on some kind of rollercoaster that never ends.”
“A very long time ago you saved a small child. Do you remember that?” Nodding, Jenny looked at him. “She had no more idea than you did at the time what she was going to come to mean to a great many people. Her knowledge and will to get to the bottom of things has made her into a great woman. She has saved so many lives because of what she does. And that is all thanks to you. You could have let her lay there and die, but you carried the small bundle to the hospital and left her there to get care. When you yourself needed much more than she did at the time. Your parents had taken a whip to you for not making a good grade on a spelling test.”
“It was the one and only time that I showed them my work from school. I got all A’s all the time. And the spelling test had an A- on it. That pissed them off and they hurt me. Again.” Mr. Boss nodded, the look on his face full of sadness. “I was determined to run away. To hide from them until I turned eighteen. At nine years old that seemed like a lifetime away. But I saw her in the trashcan and took her there. I knew that she’d be helped.”
“And she did get it.” Mr. Boss grinned at her. “You need to stop calling me Mr. Boss. Even in your head. I’m just Boss.”
Jenny laid her head back on the pillow. Watching the man as he sat there, she grew sleepier and sleepier. When he told her to let go, to rest and he’d be back, Jenny let the exhaustion that she’d been feeling since she was brought here take her under.
Valyn was just putting up the last piece of drywall when he felt someone in the room with him. Janie Preston had been coming up all the stairs twice an hour to ask him a question about this or that. He knew that she was nervous, working at a different job than she’d had before, but he wanted her to just yell for him rather than go up and down the stairs.
“You can call the store for them to deliver anything that you want. Or do the click and pay thing that Renie set up for you. It’s okay if you overorder, we’ll fix it.” When she didn’t answer him, he turned to look. Boss was leaning against the door jam and smiling. “You can go away too. This is my down time and I’m using it wisely. Unless you came here to grant my request.”
“Nay, I have not. And I told you already that I will not put you to sleep for an eternity. You’re doing a fine job with this. I remember once before you were a carpenter.” Valyn went back to work. “I’ve talked to your mate.”
That got his attention. But instead of asking Boss anything about her, he continued working. Of course, he thought that was just as funny. Finally, having finished with the sheet, Valyn set his trowel down and looked at him. The man was in an entirely too good of a mood for him to deal with right now.
“I’ve told you, several times already, that I have no wish for a mate. I’m broken.” He’d only say that to Boss, and it pained Valyn when he did. “You’ll have to tell her that you’ve made a mistake.”
Cocking his brow at him, Boss just stared. Valyn, usually not one to squirm when being examined as he was now, wanted to lock himself in a room until Boss left. But he knew that he’d not leave until he said or did what he’d come for.
“She’s a lovely girl. Broken too, if you want to know the truth of it. Perhaps you’ve heard her mentioned. She’s the woman that saved that diner full of patrons about a week ago.” He’d heard of it but didn’t know her name. “The bill collectors are hounding her hourly. However, they are not putting the calls through to her room at the hospital for fear of upsetting her. She’s made some very good friends while staying there.”
“What happened to her?” He told him what she’d done and how she’d been shot. “And the bill collectors? Why are they hounding her? I’m assuming that she has debt, but it’s more than that, isn’t it?”
“Yes. She’s now homeless and jobless. Also, with this other business of the credit card, there is no way that she can make anything work out right for her. Not without a great deal of help.” Valyn sat down on the wire wheel that had been left behind when the house had been rewired. “Valyn, you told me that you were broken and why you thought so. But this woman, she can help you in ways that I cannot.”
“You could if you would just put me to sleep.” Boss shook his head. “What if I don’t go and see her? Don’t take her as my mate? Because I don’t think my life could be any better to have her with me. I’m not good around people anymore. I don’t want to have someone depending on me for their wellbeing. It’s too much.”
“Nay, it is not. And you are very strong, just tired.” Valyn found that he wanted to cry. It had been too long ago that he’d even thought about having something for himself. “Go and see her. You don’t have to show yourself. But see that what I tell you is the truth.”
“I can’t.” Boss nodded and said that he understood. Then he was gone. “I don’t need someone depending on me. Can’t you see that?”
He was talking to air, he knew that, but he really didn’t want to have to deal, or whatever needed to be done, with another person. He’d had about all that he could work with in his time here on Earth, and he didn’t want to tackle having a mate too. Getting up, he stretched his back and walked to the second room that he’d been working on.
The walls in this room were all right. In fact, the ones that he’d been replacing in the other room were fine too. But it was nice to be able to work with his body again. To lift and stretch muscles that had not been used in a few decades.
Going downstairs, he saw that Janie was making an order for the grocery store to deliver. He got himself a glass of tea after telling her that he had it. Janie asked him if he wanted something to eat, that she had a pot pie all ready for him to have.
“Yes, that would be great.” She nodded and went to the oven as he sat down at the little table in this room. “I’m not having your meal, am I? I don’t want to do that to you.”
“No, I’ve eaten already. It’s well after two, and I was just waiting for you to come down.” He told her he was sorry. “Don’t be. You are a smart man and would have, sooner or later, come here to eat. I was ready for you.”
They talked about what he liked and didn’t like, which wasn’t all that much in the dislike column. He did tell her that he enjoyed salads a great deal, and that he’d like to have them on occasion. She beamed with happiness to have him give her something to make for him. Valyn worried about a great many things lately, and very little of it did he have any control over.
“I’ve got myself a mate.” He had told her when he’d rescued her from the bank one afternoon what he was, and begged her to keep his secret. “She’s in the hospital after being shot by a would-be madman.”
“The Hale woman?” He didn’t know her name and told her so. “Jennifer Hale is her name if it’s the same woman. She was shot by the man before she ended up killing him with his own gun. I heard that she’s recuperating, and should be released from the hospital soon.”
“I don’t want her.” Janie didn’t say anything, but he could feel her confusion. “I’m not a well man. I’ve seen too much and done much more. I can’t have someone in my life that could be hurt by my unwillingness to be something that I’m not.”
“And what is it you think she’d want from you, Valyn? She has nothing, from what I’ve heard. And she’s out of work, as the owner of the place that she worked has closed the restaurant down as of the day that Mr. Goodman came in.” He told her what Boss had told him. “Oh, so you think that she’ll want all your money. From what I’ve been made to understand, you have more than you could spend in several lifetimes. Not that it makes it right if that is what she wants, but I highly doubt that. And I’m sure you don’t believe it either.”
“I wouldn’t think so.” He ate a few bites of the pot pie before shoving it away. Janie pushed it right back at him and told him to eat. “I’m not a child that needs to have a mother figure making me eat.”
“Then perhaps you should stop acting like one and get your ass in gear.” He was shocked by her words, and when she stood up and went to the computer, he had the overwhelming urge to cry again. “You have someone out there that could make every hurt that you have seem like nothing. A person that, from what I’ve seen, will love you despite your being a baby about things. And here you sit on your ass, whining about being broken. Well, how do you think she feels right now?”
“Why are you talking to me this way? You work for me.” She asked him if he wanted her to quit in order to talk to him like he deserved. “I don’t deserve any of this. I didn’t ask for her to come into my life.”
“Then you’re going to be as broken as you think you are now.”
Leaving the kitchen, Valyn made his way out to the yard. It was cold this time of year, but he so loved the way the earth seemed to go to sleep and let the winter take control. He wanted to think, to clear his mind, but he had a feeling that he wouldn’t. At least not until he saw this woman for himself. Instead of driving himself, which he was terrible at, he asked Renie to take him there, and she told him she’d be there in ten minutes.
Valyn hoped that he wasn’t making the biggest mistake of his life by visiting this woman. But he knew as surely as he was standing there that she might just need him more than he needed her. And if it took all his money to make her secure in her life, then he’d gladly give it to her, so long as she didn’t come into his life and expect more than he could give her. Love, he knew, was no longer an emotion that he had.