“A Regency costume ball.” Abbie kicked her skirts out of the way for the hundredth time since she’d put them on. “Everybody's in character. And everybody’s wearing ballet flats.” Crane had assured her that her boots were passable, at least; apparently four-inch heels had been “the thing,” even in his day, although he’d also said they should be painted red. Judging by the shoes the other women wore, it looked as if boots had gone out of style shortly after he’d been interred.
“So they are,” he replied, eyeing the men circulating through the ballroom. “Do you see the cut of that fellow’s coat? Quite the dandy. I’d wager he’s wearing a corset of his own.”
Abbie had flat-out refused to wear a corset when the costume store had offered one to accompany the gown, but since she’d done her shopping alone, there was no reason for Crane to know that she’d opted for a bustier instead. Which was why his suddenly pink cheeks made her smile. “His heels are as tall as mine, too.” She stood on tiptoe, searching faces. “Do you see the reverend? Plenty of Mister Collins wannabes out there.”
Crane didn’t respond to what must have seemed a non sequitur. “No, and we have no hope of dispelling the demons currently infesting the cabin unless and until he, and his catechism, are in our custody.” He tugged at his cravat as though the idea strangled him.
"I know that. Remind me to thank Jenny for passing this particular buck, next time we talk." Abbie sighed as the orchestra struck up again. Dancers bowed and curtsied to one another. "And here we go. There's no way I can see anybody's face when they're all spinning on the dance floor."
Crane ignored her to focus on the pairs twirling in a kaleidoscope of pastels. "What are they performing? All the others have been familiar, but I confess I have no recollection of this particular dance."
Abbie's knowledge of historical dancing stretched back to the jitterbug and no farther. “The one where they aren’t lined up?”
“You must have lately returned from the Peninsular Wars, sir,” said a woman next to them in a passable English accent. The three feathers in her hair stuck straight up into the air, trembling as she spoke. “That is the waltz. Very scandalous to the older set, but quite romantic in its way, do you not agree?”
“Yes, very,” he agreed, one eyebrow raised as he took in the sight. “I’ve heard of it being all the rage in Vienna, but never seen it before.” His gaze slid sideways to connect with Abbie’s.
“That’s Miss Mills to you,” she reminded with a remonstrative look. Not that she minded when he called her Lieutenant in the normal course of events—pretty much the opposite in fact—but they weren’t here in an official capacity.
“—you did say we should try to blend in—”
“I don’t know how to waltz—”
“—and I feel certain I can master such a simple set of steps.” When she still hesitated, he leaned forward to murmur into her ear. “Come now, it’s an easy way to get a look at everyone in the room.”
Abbie flinched from the tickle of his breath. “Fine.”
“Be sure to stay twelve inches apart! Regulation,” the feather-lady said.
His bow was a wonder of grace. Abbie’s answering wobbly curtsey had him biting the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling; she could see it. Together they stepped onto the floor.
“I believe your hand should be upon my shoulder,” he said after a long moment, during which Abbie was counting her steps and trying not to trip on the damned train.
“Oh!” She whipped it away from his waist and put it in the right place. “Sorry.”
“It’s no trouble, I assure you.” Abbie didn’t want to risk looking up to check, but she could hear the devilish expression. “And it’s just as well you did wear the heels. Had you matched the other ladies for footwear, I fear your face would be somewhere in my midriff.”
Sometimes, he said these things, and she would chant married married possibly crazy and married in her head, but this time she was saved by the sight of the reverend’s face under a powdered wig. “Crane! There he is. Over in the corner next to the refreshments.”
He continued dancing, unperturbed. “Excellent.” Making a half turn, he snorted. “That wig was out of date before the War.”
Abbie grinned at the derision in his tone. “He probably scrounged up the thing from a costume shop on the way here to meet his contact. The others look like they made their own. Must’ve taken them weeks. That’s some serious dedication to reliving the past.”
“Odd, isn’t it? They’re attempting to revive history, and yet it’s still my future they’re recreating.”
And then, sometimes he would say those things, and unreasoning fear would lance through her chest. Don’t go.
As if he could go back.
As if he wouldn’t, if he could.
He didn’t know how much he meant—no, how much he symbolized to her—the one person whose levels of crazy had somehow cleared away the shadows of doubt in her own sanity. And she sure as hell wouldn’t be the one to let him know.
“L—Miss Mills?” He distanced himself slightly, tilting his head to examine her face. “Are you well?”
“I’m fine, Crane; a little dancing isn’t going to make me sick. I’m not some Victorian lady who needs a swooning couch or whatever.”
“Naturally not. You’ve a great deal more sensibility than you let on, however.”
Before she could answer, the music came to an end. Around her, the ladies sank into curtsies, and Abbie did her best to imitate them, but the heels betrayed her balance. Crane’s firm grip on her fingers helped steady her as she rose, though. “Ready to get the reverend?”
“Yes, indeed.” He gazed at her for another second, then bent to kiss her gloved hand. “Thank you for the honor.”
“Yeah, my pleasure. He’s gonna leave if we just hang out here.”
“Right.” Turning on his heel, he strode off in the direction of the punch bowl, and the reverend.
“Well!” The feather-lady had drawn alongside Abbie while her attention was elsewhere. “That was very forward of him, my dear. A gentleman’s kiss should never make contact with a lady’s hand unless he’s courting her. Next time, I should rap his knuckles with my fan, were I you.”
Abbie gave her a smile. “Good advice.”
As she followed in the wake of Crane’s departure, she rubbed the back of her hand against her dress, to see if it helped with the tingling.
“Come the hell on,” Abbie growled, tying the tourniquet into a tighter knot around Crane’s arm and then pulling the other, unwounded arm across her shoulders once again.
“I assure you, Lieutenant, I’m making my best effort to comply, but there’s the small matter of the bullet wound.” He stumbled alongside her through the mud.
“You get snippy when you’re shot, you know that?” Fucking forests. Nothing good ever happened in them. She peered through the gathering dark, trying to find the markers he’d left behind.
“So I’ve been told. There’s the broken branch, on our left.”
“I saw it.” She hadn’t seen it.
Twenty minutes later, they were in her cruiser on their way to the hospital, and Crane had passed out, his head resting on her shoulder.
“Crane.” No response. Panic frosted her gut. It hadn't looked serious but he'd been bleeding for a while. “Crane!”
“Yes, Lieutenant?” he muttered into her coat.
Thank God. “Your head is extremely hard and it hurts my collarbone.”
“M’apologies. Shall kiss it and make it better.”
“Don’t you dare,” she spat out, but his lips had already pursed against the thick wool. One second later he sagged, unconscious again, and she could shrug him off and shove his head to rest against the passenger side window. He groaned when his arm came into contact with the glass.
Abbie gave a hysterical giggle, then clamped her mouth shut. She was an officer of the law, not... whatever kind of person would laugh under these circumstances.
The next day she asked him if he remembered anything about the night before. He claimed to have succumbed to delirium sometime just after he pointed out the broken branch. She allowed it, mostly because she didn’t want to have to tell him about the incident.
“Oh, real funny,” Abbie said under her breath, straining her neck back to see the mistletoe hung above the door to the morgue. “Hey, what’re you guys thinking, hanging this up there?” No answer. The ME must have gone on lunch. “That thing is coming down.” She looked around for a stepladder, but the only thing she found was an office chair. Pushing it to the door, she climbed onto the ergonomic seat (wondering what Corbin would say about balancing and the heels, he always hated when she wore them on the job) and reached for the sprig, but the minute she lifted her hand the wheels shifted and she fell with a shriek.
Fortunately, a pair of arms caught her before her ass hit the linoleum.
“Lieutenant.” Crane set her on her feet. “What are you doing?”
Abbie blew a stray strand of hair out of her eye and pointed. “Just getting that down before some idiot comes over here and stands under it with me and we’re both trapped in an awkward social situation. Oh, wait.”
He made that face, the biting-the-inside-of-his-cheek face, but nodded. “Allow me to assist you.” Reaching overhead, he freed the mistletoe from the thumbtack holding it in place while Abbie watched with resentment. He didn’t even have to straighten his arm all the way.
“What the hell are you doing?” Morales’ voice echoed down the hallway. Abbie jumped, but Crane only showed his reaction through a tightening in his jaw.
“I’m here to check on my DB. What the hell are you doing?” she shot back, turning to glare at her ex.
He didn’t take the hint, but then, subtlety had never been Luke’s strong suit. “Wondering why the special consultant is waving a mistletoe branch above his police contact’s head.”
“A branch? Really, Morales? For your information—” Her voice cut off in a strangled gargle when Crane ducked to brush his mouth against her cheek.
“There’s your answer, Detective Morales. Happy Christmas, Lieutenant.” He walked past her into the morgue, tossing the mistletoe into the trash can on his way.
She was going to kill him with the sheer heat of her rage, but first she had to deal with Luke. “I’ll let you know what the ME says about the body, but for now I need you to contact Rye PD and see if this matches up with their suspect’s MO.”
He had two red spots high on his cheekbones, but restrained himself for once. “Okay.”
Abbie didn’t trust herself to speak to Crane until she heard the ding of the elevator moving up. “You,” she said, pointing an accusing finger at him as she stalked into the morgue. “You do not ever do that again. Do you understand me?”
He straightened from his examination of the dead Hessian’s body on the slab and bowed low. “I most humbly beg your pardon.”
She waved the apology away with an irritated flick of her hand. “Ugh. Quit that.” A raised mark on the Hessian’s exposed torso caught her eye. She stepped past Crane to examine it, but she still hadn’t finished with him. “I don’t know exactly why you enjoy giving Morales a hard time all day long," although she had her theories, "but I don’t want to be a part of it. Got it? I’m not gonna be a pawn in that game, especially not a pawn who gets kissed just so you can piss him off. Keep that shit to yourself. It’s unprofessional and it’s beneath both of us.”
He was silent long enough that she knew he had to pick through her euphemisms to find their meaning.
“Now this is different—” she started to say, pointing at the tiny triangle with the eye in the middle branded into the dead man’s skin, but Crane cut her off.
“You think I kissed you only to, as you put it, ‘piss him off’?”
Abbie closed her eyes for a moment, glad he stood behind her. Married married possibly crazy and married. “Considering your wife in the Great Beyond could see the whole thing, most likely, I can’t imagine any other reason you’d do it.”
Another long silence. “No. Of course not. Neither can I. Is that an Eye of Providence? How unexpected.”
She crossed the room to pull some gloves out of their box, grateful for the excuse to move away from him.
“So let me get this straight, Lieutenant.” Irving’s voice carried a wealth of suspicion undiminished by transmission over speaker phone. “You’re currently lost and wandering around aimlessly—”
“Escaping would be a better word, sir,” she gritted between her teeth, pulling herself up over a ledge to join her phone where she’d tossed it.
“Crane is hallucinating—”
Possessed would be a better word, sir, she thought. But maybe that wasn’t it either. He didn’t have pitch-black eyes or speak in some freaky language. He just seemed to be reliving the past as if it were occurring around him all over again. “Yes, sir.”
“And you’re trapped in a labyrinth of underground tunnels.”
Abbie leaned back against a wall and wiped sweat off her forehead with the back of one hand. “That’s an accurate assessment, sir.”
“And you still have a cell phone signal? Who’s your carrier? I’m switching providers.”
Her lip curled in disbelief. “Sir?”
“Never mind. We’ll triangulate your location and send backup.”
“Thank you, Captain.”
“Katrina!” Crane’s anguished howl reverberated through the cavern. Abbie jerked in surprise. Her cell phone dropped from her hand and cut the connection.
She examined the shattered screen. “Great.”
Damn, he sounded completely torn up. With a sigh, she tucked the phone into her coat pocket and took off after him again. “Crane! Can you hear me?” Waste of breath. She’d already tried it, but then again she couldn’t think of anything else.
Crane appeared in front of her after she turned the next corner, eyes still staring at nothing as she shone the flashlight at his face. “Katrina!”
“Crane, it’s okay.” She opted for soothing over yelling, walking closer to lay one hand on his sleeve. “Everything’s okay.” His ears weren’t plugged, so on some level he must be hearing this.
His expression shifted, melting into relief. “Oh, Katrina.” Both hands rose to grasp her elbows and yank her closer, so quickly that she dropped the flashlight. “My love, I’ve been so worried.”
“Yeah, no, wrong girl,” she grunted, struggling in his grasp. It would be an easy thing to free herself, of course, police combat training being what it was, but she really didn’t want to hurt a delusional man. “Crane, I know you’re in there somewhere. The real you, I mean. Let go of me.”
“Of course I’ll always love you,” he said, answering another woman’s query.
Like that was news. Who wouldn’t love the woman who’d sentenced you to unnatural longevity and the constant feeling of being at odds with one’s environment without your permission?
Not that she had any problem with Katrina. Of course not.
This was just a little inconvenient.
Before she could decide whether to kick him in the shin or twist his arm behind his back, Crane pulled her up farther and kissed her. Since Katrina apparently stood a good four inches above Abbie, though, he merely landed on her eyeball.
She kicked him and then twisted his arm behind his back until he lost his balance and fell to the floor. Fortunately the impact with the rock beneath them knocked him out of the trance.
“You’re married to Mr. Crane.”
Abbie had no proof of where the INS inspector had come from, or why he had decided to investigate Crane’s visa, but she held strong suspicions. Suspicions reinforced by the conspicuous absence of Morales from his desk.
She lifted her chin and offered a tight-lipped smile. “Engaged.” Beside her, Crane shifted in mute protest, but she put her hand on his knee under the desk and he went still again.
The INS guy looked at her left hand. “No ring?”
“How’s your government job paying you, these days?”
“And how long have you been engaged?”
“It seems like we’ve been together forever.” He raised his eyebrows, so she added, “A couple of months.”
Captain Irving walked into the bullpen, head bent over a sheaf of papers, caught sight of Abbie, and veered over to her desk. “What’s going on?”
“Someone reported Crane to INS for staying past his visa expiration date.” Abbie directed the same tight-lipped smile toward her captain.
“Is that so.” Irving’s gaze went to Morales’ empty seat. “I need to make a phone call.” He disappeared into his office.
“Forgive me.” Crane leaned forward. “I must ask—what is the nature of your business?”
“Come on, sweetheart,” Abbie said with a laugh. “You have to remember applying for a visa so you could come over here legally and with the permission of our government, right? Mr. Whatshisface here—”
“Oh, that’s perfect. Mr. Johnson is from Immigration and Naturalization Services. Otherwise known as the people who’ll kick you out of the country if you don’t have the paperwork you need.”
Crane blanched, but managed to cover reasonably well. “Ah. Of course.”
When she reached for his hand on the armrest, he clutched at her fingers.
Johnson shuffled through his file. “Well, Mr. Crane, I’m certain you realize that an engagement isn’t really enough to justify you staying here. The proper procedure would be to return to the U.K. and apply for the necessary permissions from there.”
Abbie tried to keep her voice steady, but she could feel Crane’s growing panic leaking into her skin, and it made her own heartbeat skip. “Mr. Crane is also a valued and integral asset to the Sleepy Hollow police force in his role as consultant.”
“You’d think that being surrounded by people sworn to uphold the law would have enabled him to follow it a little more closely.” Johnson looked up from his papers. “And to be honest, your relationship is hardly convincing.”
She didn’t mean to say it, but hell. They’d been working 18-hour days for the past week, they weren’t any closer to finding the rogue witch who was trying to draw a pentagram around Sleepy Hollow with various sacrifices, and something about the way Crane’s expression had gone stark made her furious. “We’re at work. What did you expect, for him to bend me over the desk right here in front of you to prove we’re the real deal?”
Johnson’s eyes widened, and Crane’s hand spasmed in her grip.
Before she could backpedal, Irving burst from his office, waving a fax. “Mr. Johnson, I think you’ll find what you need here and copied to your email. As you can see, Mr. Crane is fully documented and his visa’s not set to expire for quite a while. You must have just been misled. Have a good trip back to the city. Lieutenant. Crane. With me.”
Letting Crane’s hand drop, Abbie jumped to her feet to follow the captain. She heard Crane’s footsteps hurrying behind her. Together, they got into the elevator. Irving took the stairs.
“You’re quite fierce on occasion, Lieutenant,” he said after a moment.
“He messed with me on the wrong day.” She pretended to check her holster, embarrassment heating her face.
“Believe me, I appreciate your defense.” He lifted her hand from the holster and kissed her knuckles. Without a glove to get in the way, the tingling was way worse than it had been the first time.
Abbie gave him some side-eye. “A lady once told me that you were being forward if you made contact with my hand.”
“Upon my honor, Miss Mills, I intend no impertinence,” he said, eyes widening with innocent wonder.
“The way you bite your cheeks to keep from laughing at me is impertinence,” she informed him in lofty tones, and swanned from the elevator before he could make a comeback.
She’d always thought that echo-y voice sound effect they did on TV when someone was half passed-out was just that, an effect. Turned out, it was based in reality.
“I’m fine,” she said, before realizing she really wasn’t.
“You are not.” Crane’s arms slid beneath her. Recognizing that his medical knowledge likely didn’t include not moving someone who’d just fallen half a storey, she lifted a hand to his shoulder, but missed. The double vision didn’t help. Her palm came to rest against his cheek.
“Don’t move me, okay? Wait till I can see if I’m all right.”
He hesitated, then withdrew, though he raised his own hand to press against hers. “Very well.”
She lay still for a moment after he sat up. “That bitch hit hard.”
“She had a suspiciously firm hand for a ghost,” he agreed.
“My toes can wiggle. I’m probably not paralyzed.”
“That’s very good to know.” He touched the sides of her neck, her arms, her ribs. She giggled. “I would enjoy to share your diversion.” Her legs. Her feet.
“I’m ticklish, that’s all. And I also don’t think I have any broken bones.”
“It doesn’t seem you do. I’m relieved.” He took a handkerchief from his pocket and applied it to her forehead. “Head wounds always bleed a copious amount.”
“Yeah.” Wincing, she tried to sit up. She only managed it after he helped with an arm under her back. “Welp. The graveyard’s not haunted anymore.”
“A night well spent.” He fussed with her jacket, drawing it more tightly around her and turning the collar the right way. “You needn’t have thrown yourself between me and the spirit.”
“I know. I just…” She couldn’t find an explanation she liked, so she shrugged. “I guess it was instinct. A really dumb instinct, like the kind that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs.”
Crane had read Darwin, followed by Buckland and Mantell, within the first month of his revival, so he gave a huff of laughter. “Your instinct is to protect me, is it?”
“Maybe.” She stood, and almost immediately fell to her knees again. Crane hopped up and caught her as she swayed. “Not that you need me to.”
“Lieutenant.” He wrapped one arm around her and put the other to the back of her head, tilting it up so their gazes could meet. “I need you far more than I believe you realize.”
Her legs were weak because of the concussion. Most likely. Which would explain why, instead of standing up straight so he’d move away, she leaned into his chest, resting her chin on his breastbone. “Good. Then we’re even.”
“No, we’re not even. Not till your heart has stopped because of something stupid I’ve done in the service of your safety,” he grumbled, forehead lowering until it pressed to hers.
Married married possibly crazy (probably not) and married.
The mantra faded, banished by pain of various sorts.
Abbie let her eyes close and held very, very still. She was pretty sure Crane stopped breathing altogether.
A familiar engine roared down the road. Abbie smiled without opening her eyes. “Better late than never. Little sisters have the best timing.”
Crane straightened and held her head steady against his chest. “I suppose they do.”