There are times when I want to roll my eyes so far back in my head, I'm sure I'll see my brains. That's one way to have them examined.
And this was one of those times.
High above the wind-whipped whitecaps, I stood quaking in my sneakers on the temporary bridge spanning Matanzas Bay, the one in use while the old Bridge of Lions was being rebuilt. Sure I was safe on the pedestrian walkway for now, squarely behind concrete barricades topped with strong metal railings. But I wouldn't be high and dry for long, not if I went through with this lunacy.
"Guys, for the last time, I am not taking a flying leap off this bridge. Somebody's watching. I can feel it, and they're going to report me as a jumper."
Saber put an arm around my shoulders and huddled the three of us closer so he didn't have to shout over the wind.
"Cesca, it's nearly two in the morning. There is no traffic right now, so we won't alarm drivers. Plus I called the city police and the sheriff's office to tell them we're conducting an experiment."
"In what? Doing belly busters off the bridge?"
"You're not going to fall, honey. You're going to fly."
"Besides, Highness, you're the one who insisted we practice over water."
"I didn't mean from a million feet in the air." Another strong gust blew, and I death-gripped the railing. "Why can't I jump off something shorter?"
"Like what?" Saber asked.
"Like a curb," I snapped.
"My lady, you have to be high enough to catch the updrafts," Jo-Jo said.
I could tell his patience was waning, but me jump off the bridge? Not in this afterlife.
Saber rubbed his forehead. "I have an idea."
"Oh, goody, another one?"
"Jo-Jo, how much weight can you carry when you fly?"
"Saber," I said, partly objecting to another scheme, and partly to insist that someone watched us.
"Are you thinking I should take the Princess up for a test spin? Like a tandem parachute jump?"
"Exactly. Can you do it?"
Jo-Jo looked uncomfortable. "I can if Highness will allow me the liberty of touching her person."
Both men looked at me.
"Face and conquer your fear, honey," Saber challenged.
I hate it when he's right, and short of making a dash for freedom, I was stuck on the damned bridge. For the moment.
I squared my shoulders. "Fine. How do you want to do this, Jo-Jo?"
"Let's give the piggyback position a go."
He crouched, and Saber gave me a boost onto Jo-Jo's bony back. It was like mounting a malnourished horse. I feared I'd slide right off, but Jo-Jo hooked his arms under my legs.
"Good, Princess. Now put your arms around my neck while I climb up and test my balance with you on my -- aargh," he croaked. "Arms. Too. Tight."
I loosened my hold on his neck, then slid off his skinny back when he arched to rub his throat.
Attempt aborted, which was fine by me. I still felt watched, and the watcher was creeping closer.
I peered into the shadows, even used my vamp vision, but saw nothing. I didn't smell anything either--like Gorman's foul breath--but I wouldn't if the lurker was downwind. Should I alert Saber?
"Cesca, pay attention," Saber hollered and tipped his head toward Jo-Jo, who gave his abused neck one last rub.
"By your leave, my lady, I'll hold you in front of me. You'll be able to feel the liftoff better from this position anyway. May I demonstrate?"
I shrugged, and he stepped behind me. His arms around my rib cage, he told me to start walking with my right foot.
"You won't take off without warning me, right?" I yelled over my shoulder.
He shook his head, so I stepped when he did. One. Two. Three.
"Good, Princess. Now we do it for real."
"We're not going to climb on the rails?"
"No. Hold on."
His leg nudged mine.
One step. Gulp.
Two steps. Eek.
Three steps. Panic.
My rubbery legs suddenly locked, and I dug the heels of my tennis shoes into the concrete.
Jo-Jo tripped over me, and we stumbled forward like a couple of stooges.
"Are you all right, Princess?" Jo-Jo asked when we'd righted ourselves, his arm still curled around my waist.
"Fine, and I'm sorry. Really. I'm just positive someone is watching."
At that moment, a flash of golden fur landed smack in front of us, and a brain-rattling "Rrryyow" rent the night.
Jo-Jo screamed, "Aaaiiieeee," tightened his hold around me, and vaulted away from Pandora.
Next thing I knew, I was dangling from Jo-Jo's crooked arm, ten feet away from the bridge and a hundred feet over dark, churning water.