Authors: Gayla Drummond
Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Paranormal & Urban, #Mystery, #werewolves, #urban fantasy, #Shifters, #Vampires, #Magic, #Paranormal, #psychic
"Everyone enjoys a bit of luxury, Miss Jones."
I grinned. "Keyword's a bit. Drowning in it? Not me."
Thorandryll nodded and smiled back. "Very well. Straight talk now, I believe the saying is."
"Okay." Holy crap, had I really convinced him to lay off?
"I am a power in this city. I have a duty to my people, and to those who name Santo Trueno home." He paused, watching my face. "I wish to see this city prosper, and that requires making alliances."
How refreshing was this? He was talking straight.
"As you noted, you are a power in this city as well. A growing power; one that discomfits certain groups."
"It would be beneficial to us both to be allied."
Like I didn't already have enough alliances to keep straight. "In what way?"
"Marriage would be the first option."
I blinked. Did he seriously just...not understand I wanted him to back off? "Option two?"
"Less optimal would be a declared alliance."
I felt my forehead wrinkling. I had declared alliance with the tigers, but was now an adopted clan member. Which meant I was a declared ally of the lions, because the clan was. For all intents, I was an ally of the vampires' Council now too, and possibly the gargoyles as well. "Why is that less optimal?"
"You've chosen allies that aren't acceptable to some of my people. They will wonder where your loyalty truly lies."
Oh, well... "That's easy. People. All the law-abiding and innocent. In fact, make that every living being in Santo Trueno who isn't up to no good."
Thorandryll raised his left eyebrow. "You consider this city yours?"
"I was born here, and have lived here all my life. Yeah, that makes it mine, as much as anyone's." Hell, I'd fought for it against demons, gods, vampires, and dark elves. "I'm not going to marry you to make all the other elves feel better."
"Then you'll agree to a declared alliance?"
"I need to talk to Terra first." I'd done way too much tripping into supe politics in the past year. "Because if I'm your ally, that makes the clan your ally too, and you've made it pretty clear you don't like shifters."
The prince frowned. "Logan has earned a modicum of my respect."
Good to hear, especially since he had a funny way of showing it. "That's nice to know."
"Discuss it with your people and inform me of your decision." He hesitated. "I must request a friendly appearance between us during the ball."
"I'll be nice," I said after swallowing a giggle. "Promise."
"Then let's move onto the matter that brought you here."
"Lady Celadine." Possibly my imagination, but I thought he flinched at her name. "She hired us to find a stolen object, a mirror she loaned to the museum."
"And you require my assistance in what way?"
"She wasn't exactly forthcoming with useful info. I wondered if you could shed any light on why someone might want to steal it."
He smiled, leaning back in his chair. "Anyone able to use magic is interested in acquiring objects of power. How they would use those depends on the object, and I can assure you that the mirror has proven to be remarkably uncooperative to those who have possessed it."
I frowned. "We were told it—he—has an attitude. Do you know how he ended up in the mirror? I mean, he was a person once, right?"
Thorandryll tilted his head to the left. "He was. The legend is that he was a human who angered a god, and thus, was stripped of his body, his soul imprisoned in the mirror."
"That's horrible." I shivered.
"Gods aren't above cruelty, Miss Jones. Hasn't that become clear to you yet?" He stared into my eyes, and I half-expected to have an attack of the hazies, but it didn't happen. "When they walk among us, we would all do well to remember their capacity for cruelty."
"I know. Do you have any idea who the second god was? With Cernunnos?"
Thorandryll shook his head. He hadn't been much help, if I discounted having my worries increased about having gods interested in me. "Okay, thanks."
"Would you stay for dinner?"
"Sorry, can't, but thanks for the offer. Bye." I stood up and teleported home.
With the dogs already fed, I only had my own stomach to worry about. Merriven appeared to watch me build a couple of ham and cheese sandwiches.
"Those look extremely unappetizing."
I ignored him, but he kept yapping while I ate, then followed me into the damn shower. He was still yapping when I finally fell asleep.
he insistent blare of my alarm clock opened my eyes and pulled a groan from my throat. With a swing of my arm, I smacked the clock, hitting the snooze button. "Argh."
Leglin chuffed. He hadn't had nightmares about being turned into a vampire by Merriven. I had, and they sucked. The screams and blood were still too vivid, and I discovered dried tears on my face when I rubbed my hand over it.
Roughly twenty minutes later, I was dressed and stretching on my front porch—how awesome was it to be able to say that? My porch?—while the dogs took care of their early morning bladders. Were early-morning jogs really necessary?
Mom had thought it a great idea, but she did yoga four days a week. Like me, she always had several somethings going on at all times, but her time management skills far surpassed mine. Weird, considering I'd tagged along and helped her practically from birth.
I finished stretching, slipped my MP3 player from the pocket of my windbreaker, and stuffed the earbuds into my ears before hitting the play button. "Come on, let's get this over with."
Squishy was the first to meet me at the bottom of the steps, her pink winter coat the only bright spot in the pre-dawn gloom. I shivered while bending to pet her little head. "It's fricking cold."
." Bone began walking toward the south side of our property. "
You'll warm up
He was right, but I said, "Remember, slow and easy first."
Run, run, run
." Squishy scurried to Speck, to herd him ahead of her. The black Chihuahua wasn't a fan of my new exercise efforts. He wore a black and red plaid coat, but trembled as though he were freezing to death.
My Pit Crew had laughed at the idea of wearing sweaters or coats. They didn't know I'd ordered them each a hoodie with their names on the backs.
I broke into a slow jog, the bigger dogs ahead, and the two little ones behind. A good PI didn't shirk on exercise the way I had been doing for the past several months. I'd even missed some self-defense classes. Of course, I hadn't exactly been lazy either, with my job being what it was. But a regular fitness regimen? Forget about it.
Nearly everyone I might face would be bigger and stronger. Probably faster too, but that didn't mean I shouldn't try to keep fit. Or that I should grow to rely on my psychic abilities too much, since I knew they weren’t always available in some places.
At my slow pace, two songs had played by the time we reached the first back corner of my property. I was already beginning to huff and puff. Slowing to a walk along the back fence, I caught my breath, and couldn't keep from grinning. How cool was it that I'd found such a great place? The dogs spread out, leisurely sniffing the crunchy grass and glistening weeds. It was so cold, the dew had frozen on everything. It was beautiful, and it was all mine.
At the northwest corner, I turned east and began jogging again. Halfway to the front fence, the Chihuahuas began to complain they were tired. I sent them to the house, Diablo going with to make certain they made it.
He caught up with us a couple of minutes later, and at the front northeastern corner, I dropped back to a walk. "Okay, at the driveway, we sprint back to the house."
My legs were feeling the burn, so I wasn't looking forward to the sprint. But hey, at least I wasn't freezing anymore.
The distance from drive entrance to house was longer than I hoped I'd ever have to run from anyone or anything, especially full-out. That's why I was doing it. We reached the asphalt surface too soon for me, but I turned and took off running, trying to convince myself something was chasing me.
Diablo and Bone barked, shooting past. Leglin stayed beside me, adjusting his pace to do it. He wasn't running full out. Didn't have to, to keep up with me.
My heart was pounding triple time, my lungs were burning, and my legs felt ready to fall off. We reached the end of the driveway and I staggered to a stop, gulping air while bending at the waist, my hand pressed to the stitch stabbing me in my side.
More than a few minutes passed before I was able to straighten, and my entire body felt lead-filled. Pacing to cool off, I said, "Whoever said exercise makes you feel great is a raging idiot. I don't feel great. I feel like throwing up."
Diablo snickered from the front porch. "
I feel hungry
"Ugh." Sweat had plastered the tee I wore under the windbreaker to my skin. "Breakfast for you guys. I'm going to take a shower before mine."
he doorbell rang at nine AM, announcing my partner's arrival. When I answered the door, he held up a box of donuts. "They had your favorites."
"You're my bestest friend in the world right now."
Dane grinned. "I have the list Tabitha made too."
"Awesome." We retired to the dinette table—which I really needed to replace for something larger—for coffee and donuts, and to look over the list. He'd brought a work laptop and a few books from his shelves, so we set to work after devouring the donuts. There went my morning's exercise.
A few hours later, Dane sat back and stretched. "I thought I had a decent handle on all the pantheons. I do not. Especially when it comes to the elder gods."
"You're doing better than me. I have no handle at all, and I've met three gods." I stuck a bookmark into the book on Aztec gods I'd been scanning. "Maybe we should take a drive, see if Jo and David can help us out."
"With a lunch stop?"
"Damn." He stood. "Chinese?"
I nodded. "That'll work. I have to let the dogs out first."
However, we didn't make it to the Blue Orb as planned, because Tanisha from the museum called to let us know she'd located the dust cloth that had covered the mirror. We went there to pick it up after we finished eating.
Once back outside, Dane shook the giant baggie. "Do you want to try it here?"
I waited for him to open it, and stuck my hand inside. The dust sheet held the remnants of air-conditioning chill. Merriven appeared on top of my car, leaning back to brace his hands, his pale face tilted up to the sun. Frickin' vampire.
Closing my eyes, I opened the doors to two rooms in my mental maze—psychometry and tracking—and waited, reveling a bit in how well I'd managed to follow Sal's suggestion about mental shielding.
We probably looked strange to the few people arriving or leaving the museum. Good thing none of them could see the sunning vampire, who chose to speak. "It won't work. I do believe your powers are waning. What a shame it will be, should you become just another boring human."
Teeth gritted, I concentrated harder. A damn vampiric delusion was not going to shred my self-confidence. After a few more minutes passed, Dane quietly asked, "Anything?"
"Not ye...wait." A thread unfurled, dark gray in color. I'd have to add it to my list, and hope to figure out what the new color stood for. I opened my eyes to find the thread stretching out in mid-air, which was freaky, since it went right through Dane's throat. "I have a trail."
"Yay." He closed the bag while I rushed around to the driver's side. A few seconds later, we were out of the museum parking lot and dodging through traffic. The thread continued to float at eye level, and I wondered if it indicated shadows. The ones involved in the mirror's disappearance had been kind of floaty.
Dane stayed quiet, texting on his phone. I'd never gotten into the habit of texting, but kind of envied him and Tabitha for having someone always there, just a text away.
Not that it was anyone's fault but mine. Logan would probably enjoy seeing texts from me, if I hadn't put him on hold.