her. I figure I’m safer sticking with the lot of you than going back to town alone.”
“Good enough,” D replied in a tone that suggested there was nothing good about it at all, and then he squatted beside Stanza. As she was face down, he rolled her onto her back and unfastened her armored chest piece. He then pulled up the shirt beneath it.
“What . . . are you . . . doing? Stop . . . it!” Stanza said, with nothing save a flimsy brassiere to secure her bloodstained and ample breasts.
“Hold it right there! I’ll handle this.”
Ignoring Irene’s flustered protests, D removed the undergarment. The woman’s bosoms spilled free. The bullet had entered at the base of Stanza’s left breast. The flesh had already closed around it.
Irene wore an expression that seemed to curse the Hunter as a pervert, but then her features stiffened when she looked at D’s profile.
The thumb and forefinger of his left hand probed the wound. Stanza twitched.
“This will hurt a bit. You can cry out if you want.”
Opening her eyelids a crack, she said, “You must be . . . joking.”
The girl and the warrior both watched as D’s fingers sank into the wound.
Stanza’s face twisted with the terrible pain. Actually, the agony shattered it. Her eyes, nose, and mouth were distended into inhuman shapes, and a series of spasms jolted through her body.
Irene simply stared at D’s pale visage. Her body wouldn’t move. It was as if someone far stronger was in her head, commanding her to train her eyes on D. To watch a man who could lay bare the chest of a writhing, bloodied woman and cruelly jam two fingers into a wound without raising an eyebrow . . .
He’s not human, she thought. No, a man that cold and beautiful couldn’t be human. I’m witness to something here that’s not of this world. That’s why I don’t need to cover my ears or shut my eyes. Even the stench of the blood isn’t making me sick. That unearthly beauty trumps everything else in this world.
Stanza stopped moving for a second, let out a little sigh, and then twisted her body again. D’s fingers had started to come back out. A startling amount of blood spilled from Stanza’s mouth, clinging to her chin and chest. Nevertheless, she didn’t make a sound. Irene wondered if the agony had been so bad the woman had bitten her own tongue off.
D’s fingers slipped out of the wound. Between them, he held a huge lead slug. Naturally, it was covered with blood. Setting it down by his feet, D said, “You didn’t need to cry out, did you?”
Though his tone was still cold, Irene widened her eyes. She detected a certain emotion in his words. Something resembling praise.
Without another word, D put his left hand over Stanza’s mouth.
Shaking violently, Stanza was about to spit up more blood when the strength suddenly drained from her body. Was she dead? As if this were what she’d been waiting for, peace returned to her pain-wracked features. It was almost as if D’s left hand had poured some miracle drug into her.
The Hunter’s left hand was quickly pressed against the wound on her breast. In the span of two breaths it came away again, and Irene heard both herself and Strider gasp in astonishment. Though the woman was still covered with blood, no scar or any hint of the wound remained.
Evening came. Spotting a service area to the right of the highway, D turned his cyborg horse in that direction. Ordinarily, dhampirs operated better at night than by day. On his own, D might’ve charged ahead and covered more of the distance to the abandoned castle, but with the lowly humans along that wasn’t an option.
Up until now, he’d ignored their wishes. All of them were riding on a single steed: Irene sat in front of D, Strider behind him, and Stanza was over his shoulder. As they galloped along, Irene’s and Strider’s asses had taken the bumps right through the bare back of the beast, with the wounded Strider in particular letting out a