tagRomanceA Cloak of Lies Ch. 06

A Cloak of Lies Ch. 06


Niko returned to the barn to find Camille bent over his friend. The man's head was cradled in her hand, while she held a small bottle of water to his lips. His eyes were closed though he seemed to be hearing what she was telling him.

After attending to Olan's thirst, Camille lowered his head back to the blanket, moving around to tend his wounded shoulder. The man moaned weakly as she carefully removed the old dressing, laying the weeping hole bare. As she turned to prepare a new compress, Niko knelt at her side, intending to help.

She slapped his hand, glaring into his face. When he opened his mouth to speak, she cut him short. "You have nothing to say to me."

The warm caress of his hand trailed down her back as she applied the first compress to the wounded man. She flinched away from the touch, refusing to look at Niko as he knelt behind her. Working quickly, she applied the second compress, speaking soothingly as the man on the blanket moaned pitiably.

"Make yourself useful," she barked over her shoulder. "Get some wood and make a fire. We need to get some food in him."

"Don't push me, Camille," Niko warned, but he got up to do her bidding.

Returning her attention to her husband's friend, she finished the bandage and tucked a blanket around his shivering form. How could she have been such a moron as to screw Niko? Everything she'd worked so hard for, all the effort she'd put into rebuilding her life was lost to her now. How could she face Doug now that she'd betrayed him?

He loved her, had been waiting so long for her, and in less than two days she'd given herself to another man. Yes, the man was her husband, but she'd lost him eight years ago. He'd made his choice when he'd left her, abandoned her without a word.

"He's a pain in the ass."

The voice that spoke was barely audible, weak and whispery, laced with pain. Camille looked into the glassy eyes of the injured man. "Nice to have you awake," she said gently, laying the back of her hand on his forehead. "You have to be still now. I'm Camille Pavli."

"Olan Jeffreys," he rasped, a weak smile playing at the corners of his mouth. "Forgive me for not getting up."

Camille smiled in spite of herself and the circumstances of their meeting. "Don't worry about it."

"Don't be too hard on him, Camille. Niko's an idiot sometimes, but he really does love you."

She snorted in response, packing away the unused supplies, looking everywhere but at her husband's friend. "If he loves me so much, why did he take so long to let me know that he was alive?"

"It was too dangerous," he groaned on a sputtering cough. "He was trying to protect you."

"Oh, yeah. You guys always think we poor, defenseless little females need our big, strong, hairy men to save us. I'm not a child, Olan. I don't need protecting. What I needed was a man I could trust. He deceived me. I believed he was dead and he did nothing to change that, to let me know that he was alive. He just left me to rot in grief. Fuck him."

Olan tried to speak again, coughing weakly, gasping for breath. Opening the bottle of water, she brought it to his lips, holding his head while he drank.

"I'm sorry, Olan," she murmured. "Don't talk anymore. Just rest. In a little bit we'll have some soup ready for you."

The man nodded feebly, his eyes fluttering closed as she settled his head on the blanket once again. Looking at the pallor of the man's skin, she wondered if he would survive. His eyes looked sunken with dark shadows under them. The pain he was experiencing was etched in the white lines that encircled his grimacing mouth. Olan was suffering terribly and there was little she could do to offer him comfort.

Niko returned to the barn to find his wife sitting beside his friend, holding the man's hand, a look of deep concern on her lovely face. Her expression turned to one of distaste when she spied his returning form in the open door. She turned back to Olan without sparing him another glance as he bent to the task of building a small fire on the dirt floor.

"Why don't you get some sleep," Niko said softly. "I'll feed him."

Still refusing to speak to -- or even look at -- him , Camille climbed to her feet, presenting him with her back as she walked to the car. The backseat looked as inviting as any bed. She hadn't realized how tired she'd grown.

The last two days were taking their toll -- hiding out, car chases and constant paranoia were enough to drain the most stalwart of people. All that coupled with the emotional trauma of finding out her husband was still alive and the intensity of their pond-side tryst had sapped her reserves. She was more tired than she could ever remember being.

Practically throwing herself down on the upholstery, she curled into a ball, her eyes fluttering closed. The car door nearest her head opened almost immediately, wrenching an exasperated sigh from her lungs.

"You left this at the pond," Niko said, hovering at the open door. When she didn't respond or even look at him, he laid the object in the floorboard. "I want you to keep it with you at all times, Camille. It could save your life."

She opened one eye, peering at the small handgun on the floor before closing her eye again. "Whatever."

Slamming the door shut, Niko turned on his heel, stalking back to the prone body on the floor. "Katarameni gynaika," he muttered under his breath, pulling up an old crate to sit on.

"I don't have a clue what you said, old buddy, but it didn't sound nice."

Finding some small relief in seeing his friend's eyes open, Niko shot him a sardonic smile. "I was cursing at my wife. She's a stubborn woman."

"Cut her some slack," Olan rasped. "She's had a pretty big shock."

"I know, but she can't seem to get her mind around having her husband back or give up the fool notion that she's going to be someone else's wife. Dammit, she's already married -- to me."

Olan tried to laugh, the sound coming out as a painful, sputtering cough. "You really are an asshole, you know that? Did it ever occur to you that maybe she doesn't want to be your wife anymore? Maybe she just doesn't love you any longer."

"Nope," Niko grinned. "Especially after what happened outside a little while ago."

"Have a good time?" Olan's brows drew together in a frown. "That was a fool thing to do, pal. That lady is harboring a pretty big hurt. Screwing her's only gonna make it worse," he rasped, falling silent for a minute, gritting his teeth as a stab of pain shot through him.

"That's not the way I see it. I just spent a little time making love to my wife, showing her how much we still mean to each other."

"Stupid Greek," Olan snorted, sputtering once more. "All about the prick and no feeling for the heart. Your Camille is hurtin' pretty bad. She's feeling betrayed, thinks you intentionally let her suffer, believing you were dead."

Holding the bottle of water to Olan's lips, Niko scoffed at his words, "She'll get over that soon enough -- once she realizes that I did it for her own good..."

Olan cut him off, choking on the water.

"That's the problem," he wheezed, his eyes fluttering for a moment before he fixed Niko with a stern glance. "You made that decision for her, treated her like a brainless kid. I think," he groaned, closing his eyes, "she feels like you didn't trust her to know what was best for her. Betrayal comes on a lot of different levels."

"Don't talk anymore, Olan," Niko said, noting the exhaustion on his friend's face and the weakness in his voice. "Get some rest."

"I swear I don't know how a man who has women falling at his feet can be so ignorant about the female mind," Olan whispered, drifting off to sleep.

Niko tended the small fire he'd started, opening a can of Campbell's to heat for his friend. As he stirred the food in the small kettle that was part of his camp gear, he thought about what Olan had said. Am I really that obtuse about women?

The answer, of course, was yes. Before he and Camille had actually started dating, he'd been just like any other teenage boy, high on his own hormones, looking to score with any girl that walked his way. He'd never really had to spend any time or effort wooing them. The small handful of women he'd come across after his enforced exile had been no different. They'd just seemed to gravitate to him, offering themselves up like sacrificial lambs.

He thought about those girls from his school days -- Mavis Connelly, Georgia Perkins, Cheryl Ellege, and a drove of others whose names he couldn't even remember. Some he'd deflowered, others already had some experience. When he'd finished with them he'd just shrugged them off like yesterday's dirty laundry. He'd broken some hearts, especially Cheryl's. The girl had been crazed when he'd told her he didn't want to see her anymore.

That had been at the same time that he'd started feeling more and more attracted to Camille. She'd been the prettiest girl in school, and they'd always been friends. When he'd tried to get closer to her, however, she'd rebuked him, telling him she'd no intention of being another notch on his belt. She'd always been a person who knew what she wanted, and more importantly, what she didn't want.

It wasn't until after he'd gone to college and high school was almost over for her that she'd finally consented to going out on a date with him. For the first time in his life he'd found himself at a loss. He'd had no idea how to get closer to her. He hadn't wanted to make any mistakes, didn't want to run the risk of losing her.

It had been a new sensation for him, and a scary one to boot. She'd seemed to understand his predicament, had taken him by the hand, had taught him, with infinite patience, how to love. It wasn't until their wedding night that she'd given her body to him, an honor she'd bestowed only on him. Things had been so easy in those days, never seeming to be any real trouble between them.

Thinking of the scar on her wrist now, the self-inflicted wound where she'd nearly ended her own life, he tried to understand what it must be like to be in her shoes, to feel what she felt. No matter what direction he looked at it from, he still thought her self-righteous attitude was an act. Her woman's pride had been damaged, that's all. She'll come around, he thought, just as soon as she's done making me suffer for it.

That last thought brought a sly smile to his face. She'd torture him a while longer, tease him with her fiery ways, then she'd forgive him. As soon as her pride was appeased she'd open up to him again.

The smile faded as he remembered the way her face had looked as she told him how she'd gotten that scar. The anguish, the tormented pain, and the sudden pallor of her face had been no act. She'd truly suffered for his absence, had known real hardship, and he knew she blamed him for it.

It wasn't all his fault, though. He'd had no choice, had been forced to disappear by forces beyond his control. Why couldn't she understand that, accept it for what it was? He'd never wanted to leave her without a word, but it was the only way to keep her safe.

"Fuck!" he fairly bellowed as the soup in the kettle boiled over, splashing star-shaped pasta and broth on the back of his hand.

He set the pot down on the crate, rubbing his injured flesh. Pacing away from the fire while the soup cooled he found himself standing next to the car where Camille lay. One glance through the window told him that she was asleep, her face soft and angelic in slumber.

A sudden urge to crawl in next to her, take her in his arms, nearly overwhelmed him. There was once a day when doing that would have brought her turning to him, sleepily pressing her warm body to his. He doubted she'd do that now, given her mood when she crawled onto the seat to sleep.

Running a tired hand over his face, he continued to watch her, seeing her muscles tense periodically as she dreamed. Her brows drew together, frowning slightly at the visions in her sleep, only to relax again. Her hair, nearly dry now, splayed over the dark upholstery in a tangled mass, framing her golden complexion.

The glass of the window that separated them was a symbol of the invisible wall that stood between them. She was close enough to touch, but he couldn't quite reach her. In the first months of their marriage, she'd been so open with him, telling him everything in her mind and heart. Now there was no way to fathom the workings of her mind or the thoughts that she kept hidden there.

Olan was right. He should never have seduced her by the pond. Maybe he was being unfair, expecting her to feel the same way she had when they'd first married, as if there'd been no separation of years, no sense of loss. So many things about her had changed since he'd been gone; perhaps it was true that she no longer loved him.

"No," he whispered to himself. "She's mine and always will be."

Still he was not so sure as he moved to the back of the car, opening the trunk and pulling out his bedroll. Opening the back door quietly, he unrolled the sleeping bag, covered his wife, carefully tucking the edges around her. She made a soft, whimpering sound at his touch, clutching the blanket under her chin.

He closed the door gently, walking back to Olan with the task of feeding the injured man the cooling soup in mind. Niko poured some of the soup into a tin cup, knelt next to his friend, nudging him awake.

"You gotta eat, pal," he whispered when the injured man opened his eyes.

Taking a whiff of the food held before him, Olan grimaced painfully. "Pass," he snorted, turning his head away.

"Hey, I'm already in enough trouble with Camille. She said I have to feed you and that's what I'm going to do, so open up."

"Since when did you start taking orders from women?"

Niko grinned sheepishly, his face coloring slightly. "Since she beat hell out of me."

"Ah, so that's what happened to your face. I wondered. From the look of you, I'd say she's got a pretty good right."

"And claws like a cat," Niko chuckled. "Come on, open up."

Olan obediently took a sip from the cup, wrinkling his nose in disgust as he choked down the bland fare. "I hate canned soup," he complained, preparing to take another drink.

"It's your own fault, dummy, for letting yourself be shot."

"Yeah, rub it in, asshole."

Niko lowered the cup, looking directly at his friend. "I really want to thank you, Olan. I'm sorry I got you into this mess. I never would've gotten Camille out if it hadn't been for you. I'd've taken that bullet for you if I could."

"Oh, shit. Don't start going soft on me now," Olan rasped, trying to adjust his position on the blanket. "You spend a couple of nights alone with a woman and you turn into Mr. Sensitive." He stopped to catch a breath, flashing a painful smile at Niko. "I hope you don't think we'll be holding hands in the shower after this."

"Cute, pal. I was just trying to thank you."

"Well, don't. You would've done the same for me."

"Nah, no woman would be stupid enough to hook up with you. Now eat."

After managing to choke down half the soup, Olan closed his eyes again, drifting off into a fitful sleep. It was time to change the bandages again, but Niko decided to let the man sleep. Camille had been correct when she'd said that they needed to get him to a more sanitary location. The barn was a filthy place for a man with a gunshot wound.

Niko wrestled with the decision of what to do next. His friend was too weak from loss of blood and the fever that still ravaged his body. The pain had to be excruciating, from the look of misery on the man's face. Niko remembered that pain, waking up in a hospital with white-hot spasms in his chest. He'd been given morphine, but there was nothing to give Olan, except the over-the-counter remedies they'd purchased at the pharmacy in St. Louis. They didn't even have antibiotics to fight the infection.

They needed someplace to go, but it appeared that his enemies knew about his network of safe houses. If they'd found the one in St. Louis, it was a sure bet that they knew about the others. A hotel was definitely out of the question, too public. Niko rubbed his eyes, fatigue gnawing away at his mind.

"You need sleep."

He looked up to see Camille standing a few feet away. Wrapped in the sleeping bag, her hair a tangled mess, with dark circles etched under her eyes, Niko thought she'd never looked so beautiful. He would have given anything that was his if he could enfold her in his arms at that moment. The wary expression on her lovely face told him not to dare.

"I'm all right."

"You're worried about him, aren't you?" she asked softly, inclining her head to the sleeping form on the blanket.

"Yeah. We need to get him someplace safe."

"He needs proper care, Niko -- a hospital, a doctor. This is no place for him."

"I know, but we can't chance it," Niko said, looking at his friend. Scooping the jet-black hair from his eyes, he returned his gaze to his wife. "I don't know what to do. They'll be watching for us everywhere. There are a couple of more places that I usually use, but I'm sure they'll know about them. I gotta get him out of here, but... where?"

"You can't think straight like this. Get some sleep. I'll stay with him."

"No, go back to bed. I'm good."

"Jesus, Niko. Do you always have to be so in-charge? Get your ass to bed. I can sleep while you drive. It'll be dark again in a few hours, and I know you. You'll want to leave."

Camille turned her back, walking to the door to feel the sunshine on her face. Despite the heat of the mid-summer day, she was chilled clear to the bone. Her body was tired but her mind was racing. There had to be a way out of this mess.

A few minutes later, she looked over her shoulder, seeing her stubborn husband still sitting where she'd left him. "Do you remember my friend, Allinson Varble?"

"Vaguely," Niko answered. "Why?"

"Her divorce settlement a few years ago left her with a house down in the Ozarks. I've been there with her a couple of times. She keeps threatening to sell it but I think she likes it too much; plus, it irritates her ex-husband to know that she enjoys it. I think I could find it and I know where the spare key is hidden. It's a great place, out in the middle of nowhere."

Niko sat up a little straighter, his sharp eyes meeting hers. "Any chance that she might show up in the next few days?"

"Not likely. She just got back from her vacation last week. Allinson usually only goes down there once or twice a year."

"And you're sure you can find it? How far do you think it is?"

"It's a few hours away. I'd hate to carry Olan down there in the back seat of your car, but once we get him there, he'll have a much better place than this to convalesce."

"That might just do the trick. How many people know about it?"

Camille looked at the man on the blanket, wondering if he could withstand the trip. "Not too many. Allinson only told a couple of us about it. She was afraid that everyone would want to use it and she likes just having it to herself. Can't really blame her."

Niko stood, striding toward her, studying her too closely for her comfort. "Where is it?"

"Just outside a little town called Cabool, about a hundred miles east of Springfield, Missouri." Camille walked away from him, putting the car between them as she searched the interior for a map. Popping her head up over the roof of the vehicle, she added, "We're going to need a map."

"I'll look in Olan's car. Maybe he's got something in there," Niko stated as he strode to the beat-up black Porsche on the other side of the barn.

While he searched, Camille checked on their patient, satisfied that he was resting as comfortably as possible. Pulling herself back to her feet, she dropped the sleeping bag, turning to see Niko walking to the back end of the Taurus after having found what he was looking for. She joined him as he opened the road atlas he'd taken from the Porsche, spreading it across the deck lid.

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