Charlotte shook her head at the humans' instinctive fears. Yes, they were slicing through traffic with a vicious purpose, but the two vampires hadn't stopped to feed. Toby's driving hadn't slowed a bit even after Charlotte had pointed out that the humans were shying away from them in traffic as if they had the plague. If anything, his slicing in and between cars was more aggressive. And the BMW was up to the challenge; his carefully stroked shifting between gears was truly amazing as the vampire was one with the machine.
"There's a brush fire out to the East." She volunteered into the silence. Toby had something classical running in the car's stereo system haunting them down the road. Even though the instrumental music was at odds with the rather bizarre evening, she liked the sound.
"I noticed," Toby nodded and slowed the car down nearly within legal limits -- for the road to Las Vegas. He was still flying well over all posted speed limits by a good twenty-five to thirty miles per hour. The car had a quiet interior and vampires alone rarely breathed or bothered to mimic a human pulse much less a heart beat. The music filled to the edges of the car's interior, but something was pushing at Charlotte.
It dawned on her that she'd never been completely alone with Toby. Ever. Other vampires were always a fang's breadth away. They'd met up during plenty of battles and conflicts -- all-out human slayings and vampire wars. Yet she couldn't recall ever having it being just Toby and her alone. His silence was deep. Thinking about him, it dawned on her that she never heard of a lover -- human or vampire in all the time she'd known him. Tired, Charlotte hadn't been careful about blocking her stray thoughts from the fellow vampire. A rookie mistake at best, but it was understandable given her recent ups and downs. Nevertheless she jumped when Toby quietly said, "My one love died centuries ago."
Mentally she smacked herself. Granted it was considered rude for a vampire to eavesdrop, she still should have been less open. Saying 'sorry' about his loss after centuries had passed didn't seem appropriate. The basic letters to Miss Manners never covered the really needed points of etiquette. Instead she handled things like, 'Which way should the dinner knife point next to the plate?' or 'How should one address the wife of an ex-husband during a bridal shower for the illegitimate child from the affair during your marriage to said ex-husband?' Such things weren't nearly as important to vampires as they seemed to be to humans. Maybe she'd write a letter some day on that topic -- she mentally grinned at how that letter would go over at the human offices of the famed etiquette writer.
"Charlotte, don't worry. You didn't know her." He forgave her while still watching the freeway fly past their car. She'd not even thought of actually having known Toby's dead lover. It made her wonder if she'd even been a vampire.
"Ah, okay," another awkward moment, but she didn't have a clue what else to say next.
"You remind me of her," Toby said, rendering Charlotte speechless.
Laughing, Toby knew where her mind had traveled and said, "Not your coloring, dear one. Your spirit." His revelation further stunned Charlotte. She'd never gave much thought to Toby outside Eddie's and the vampire sphere where she'd known him. To hear all this personal stuff was weird.
"That's what makes this all so painful to me," he added.
Confused, she found words, "What's painful?"
The car's speed increased along with the driver's tension. They were traveling well over a hundred mph now and there were no signs Toby intended on slowing down any time soon. Yet he seemed to be weighing his reply carefully, as he drove recklessly, zipping in between cars with mere inches to spare. The fear rolling off the drivers was intoxicatingly erotic and of the best sort of quality -- car wrecks were one of humans' biggest fears. Being mangled and surviving, while vampires worried about losing their heads and being truly dead -- not that they'd passed any vampires but still the humans' fears were rather tasty.
"Why do you have to be so much like her?" Toby said in a whispering soft voice that Charlotte didn't think he'd meant for her to hear.
She certainly wasn't going to mention his talking aloud. As he wrestled with his inner demons, she noted that he skipped the freeway exit for Eddie's club. Normally she would have quipped some sarcastic comment about missing the spot, but the vampire driving didn't seem to even be conscious of the fact nor did he appear to be open to any driving criticisms. Her preservation instinct was one of the best and also one of the single most important characteristics for being a long-lived vampire. Well, that and some scrumptious fangs full of blood frequently to keep up her youthful appearance.
Still driving at the ridiculously fast speed, Toby turned his head and looked directly at Charlotte while saying, "Even now -- you aren't afraid. You're worried about me, yet you haven't a single thought for yourself. Why?"
Carefully masking any stray thoughts Charlotte replied, "Because you've always been a friend to me. We've fought literally back-to-back, fang-to-fang, many a time. If you'd wanted to harm me there've been ample opportunities."
His head jerked at her unexpectedly serious reply and with eyes nearly sightless, as he warred with himself internally, he slightly dropped the speed on the humming car. Quickly the scenery became more distinctive with the parched chaparral and weeds lining the road, and Charlotte noticed that they were nearly out of town. The dry chuckle coming from the vampire driving was pain made verbal. Toby shook his head briskly and he seemed to come to some sort of resolution.
He inhaled then spit out, "Charlotte, I am part of the Council."
The words sat between them. Something clicked inside her head and she started laughing. Toby wasn't talking about local politics but the vampiric council.
"Well, damn, that's got to totally suck," her voice was mischievous and she still laughed, knowing fully well what Toby had disclosed.
He was the one stunned speechless now.
The car slowed even more as he processed her reply. It wasn't like he hadn't heard the word 'damn' or 'suck' before but it was doubtful he'd ever had them dished up so casually upon hearing such a revelation. Most vampires tended to get completely neurotic when the council was involved and Charlotte's laughter wasn't manic or faked -- she genuinely found it amusing.
Vampires as old as Charlotte were not unaware of the Council and the power they wielded. Toby had been around Charlotte long enough to know she definitely was filled in on the Council and their power. For him to tell her that he was a representative of the council meant one of two things: they were recruiting her or killing her. At least that was why most vampires got in private personal conversations with Council-owned vampires. Since she'd transgressed a few of the basic vampiric rules, the second option should've been the one immediately running amok through her mind. Instead she taunted him and laughed.
It had to have been a first for Toby.
"So you want to start picking up the jewelry or they going to let me keep all the pretty baubles?" Charlotte still had laughter in her voice as she asked him.
"That's what you want to know? If I am here to collect the jewelry?" His voice was much higher pitched than his usual baritone rumbling register. Her liberation from the bank vaults wasn't the topic foremost in his mind.
"Well, duh. It wasn't like I didn't plan on giving it back once I figured out it was mostly vampire stuff. I only spent the cash from the safety deposit boxes without jewelry. I think. I figured they'd understand it was a natural mistake." Charlotte had put her feet up on the dashboard and admired her fingernails while replying to Toby's rhetorical question. She really needed to get into a manicurist very soon. All this fighting was killing her nails. The chips were craters and Toby didn't seem to understand. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed he was again turned totally facing her with his mouth gaped open. Thankfully, since there were no fangs in sight so she might actually survive this drive. Nevertheless she pretty much doubted he'd be open to swinging by her manicurist's shop for a touch up.
"Charlotte, I am not here to pick up stones and gold. I'm here to report back to the Council what should be done about the Southern California region." His voice was back to normal but she knew he wasn't telling all.
"Please, you can't give it to Kenyon. You know he's a monster and a crappy vampire." She licked off some blood from her thumb wondering where she'd got that. Once it was in her mouth she knew the flavor. Eww, it was from Hank. He really was gutter trash.
They still were heading out of town but not at such a rapid clip anymore. She'd thrown Toby for a loop and he wasn't sure how to proceed or what to do with her. The biggest problem she was facing was she had limited leverage with Toby. He knew most of what she did about Kenyon since he had been in Eddie's. She'd been working on the assumption she'd rat out Kenyon and his schemes, but that wasn't going to happen with Eddie as the conduit.
"Kenyon isn't your concern any longer. More than just Eddie's vampires are gunning for him now. He's crossed too many lines and broken too many promises." That was good news but still didn't get her out of the car and on the road. He wasn't telling her about Kenyon to make her feel better, but just as an informational tidbit to distract her while he figured out what to do with her. Not reassuring in the least.
Still, there wasn't much she could do but sit back and wait. Picking at her nail polish she hoped it wasn't going to be her final death given how bad she looked. She really missed the Florida scene and wondered how Giselle and Theo were doing. It hadn't been very long since she'd left them and their club was probably closed. The silence stretched into the night as they continued to drive. Toby wasn't chatty as a rule but Charlotte really wished he'd give her a clue what he was thinking.
They hit the edge of the Anza Borrego desert and he definitely wasn't turning around to head back to the city. That didn't seem promising to Charlotte, but she wasn't going to jump to any conclusions. She hadn't been kidding earlier that he had ample opportunities to kill her in the past and tonight wasn't her time to die. But damn, she hoped he wasn't going to give her to the Council for a trial. Those never went well.
A rumbling and Charlotte saw a motorcycle rapidly approaching. She reached out and suppressed a smile. It was Kegs. He pulled next to the BMW and indicated for Toby to pull over. There wasn't any smile on his face and Charlotte watched Toby give in to Kegs' motion.
Once the car stopped Toby said, "Let's see what's up." Kegs' bike came to a stop and he hopped off amidst swirling dust and dirt.
Wasting no time, Charlotte launched out of the car to Kegs' side. The vampire wasn't pleased. Thankfully the anger wasn't aimed at her but Toby.
"Did you really think I wouldn't find out?" The biker growled. He hadn't even bothered to put on a helmet in his desire to catch up with Toby. Charlotte wondered if anyone would have survived stopping him to give him a ticket.
Placing a hand on Kegs forearm she said, "I'm fine. He was just taking in the scenery. Showing me the view. You know."
Her lighthearted words fell on deaf ears. Kegs was in full warrior mode and Toby was saying nothing to defend himself. He stood a foot from Kegs and Charlotte with a blank face. It wasn't confrontational nor angry -- just frozen.
"C-Girl, old Toby here is Council." Kegs looked straight into her face and waited to see if she jumped.
She laughed, "Well, duh. Sort of screws up my negotiations for leniency from the Council, now doesn't it?"
Kegs stumbled over whatever he was going to say. He came out with an indistinct murmur of sounds. Toby stiffened and waited to see what Kegs was going to do. The blow of Toby being from the Council on top of his girlfriend also being a witch was pushing at all his buttons. Charlotte could see he struggled with his immediate impulse to at least attempt to pummel Toby.
A car slowed down and pulled in behind them. The vampires froze.