Authors: Gayla Drummond
Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Paranormal & Urban, #Mystery, #werewolves, #urban fantasy, #Shifters, #Vampires, #Magic, #Paranormal, #psychic
"Oh." I closed one eye, forcing myself not to flinch when his tiny, cold nose touched down behind my ear. "Okay."
A few more sniffs, and he stopped. "I found it. It smells like mold."
Lovely. "How did you pick it out?"
"I remember how you smelled before, and searched for a difference." He sneezed, a wee "Ah-ah-choo!" and I fought a giggle. "You smell more like tigers now, too."
"They adopted me into their clan."
"Neat." He leaned against my neck. "Is he still there?"
"Yes." I could see Merriven from the corner of my eye. The vampire, or illusion of him, was preoccupied with studying a statue. He didn't appear to be worried, and that made me worry. Maybe Petra wouldn't be able to fix things.
The thought summoned her from the cave, something dangling from her mouth. Padding over, she sat down, and removed the item. A clear, golden-hued stone hung from a brown leather thong. I leaned forward for a closer look, and saw a drop of dark red suspended in the middle of the tear-shaped stone, which was attached to the thong by a nearly translucent net of delicate wires.
"My son is not yet old enough to uphold his responsibilities to you."
"What? Tase isn't..."
"He chose you. As I am free, I will stand in his place until he's ready."
I remembered Damian telling me to talk to David about gargoyles, and regretted having forgotten to do so while there earlier. "I don't understand."
"Our race was created to be guardians. My son chose you." Petra's wings rustled. She held out the necklace. "This will negate the hex until you discover the being responsible. When you do, call my son's name. I will come, and deal with the matter."
"Deal" sounded a lot like "kill" to me, but being on unexpected ground indicated caution was necessary. "Thank you."
"Put it on, so he goes away," Tase said. "Thank you, mama."
I obeyed the little guy, pretty eager to see the last of Merriven myself. Watching the vamp, who'd suddenly become interested in what we were doing, I pulled the leather thong over my head. As it passed eye-level, the vampire disappeared. "I can't see him anymore. Can you, Tase?"
He moved, sticking his head out to look under my chin. "No. I told you Mama would fix it."
"Do not remove it," Petra said.
"Will water hurt it?"
No need to skip bathing then. "Thank you so much."
"You will thank me by visiting regularly."
I noted the tips of her fangs and nodded. "Yes, ma'am. I can do that. How often should I visit?"
"He is your guardian, or will be. Until he is able to attend to his duties, you will visit weekly. The bond between you must be allowed to strengthen." She tilted her massive head ever-so-slightly. "I had expected you would come sooner."
Fan-freaking-tastic. I'd definitely tripped into another unplanned alliance, just by poking around a murder scene. Tase purred, the soft sound faint comfort as he snuggled against my neck. Why on earth had the cute little guy chosen me?
"I'm sorry. I'm going to need a bit more information, because I don't know anything about gargoyles, and I don't really understand what you mean when you say he chose me."
Petra lowered her front half, to sit like a cat. "He shouldn't have chosen anyone until his second decade."
Dollars to donuts, his doing so was probably my fault. "Oh."
"The more time spent together, the stronger the bond between you." She paused. "He will be with you until your last breath, a personal guardian against any who choose to attack you by magic or physical means."
I gulped. That was a heavy commitment for someone who'd freaked out over a thirty-year mortgage, and wasn't sure she was ready for a long-term boyfriend. Especially since the newest commitment was in the form of small, fragile, baby creature. One with a really frightening, huge mother. Right then and there, I vowed to talk to David as soon as possible. "I understand. I'll be here every week."
She nodded her massive head, apparently satisfied. "I begin to glean the reasons for his choice."
I didn't, but now knew why she'd been so easy to convince, when I'd come to her for help in defeating Merriven when he'd kidnapped my mother.
"He will tell me if you call for him. Do so as needed. I will come."
Which would surprise the hell out of anyone after me. Having a secret weapon like her might prove super-useful. "Thank you again, and I'm sorry this happened."
"He chose you. A gargoyle's choice is seldom a matter for regret."
fter spending about an hour chatting with Tase, who'd quickly begun to remind me of my little brothers, I teleported home to a cacophony of barking. "Come on, guys."
Door, door, door
," Squishy yapped, running in circles around the dining table. It was becoming more obvious, day by day, that the pudgy little Chihuahua wasn't quite right in the head. I couldn't blame her, after what she'd been through. She was one of the little dogs we'd rescued from the dog fighters. She was sweet when she wasn't bossing Speck around, but she was funny when she was harassing him, too. My "Enough barking!" shut the noise down. Speck uttered one more soft yip. His little barker occasionally got stuck.
Bright eyes, wagging tails, and wide doggy grins greeted me as I joined the big dogs at the door. With them there, I didn't bother looking through the peephole before unlocking and opening the door.
Logan staggered, trying to keep his balance as Leglin, Bone, and Diablo rushed out and across the porch, Speck prancing in their wake. "Hi."
"Hi. Hang on." I left to catch Squishy, who was still running laps. "Time to potty."
She wiggled, licking my chin when I tucked her against my chest for carrying. Logan leaned against the porch railing, his hands in his pockets, and watched me put Squishy down. I winced when she overshot the first step and face-planted on the third. Squishy regained her feet, shook off the fail, and scampered away. "
Potty, potty, potty
With a shake of my head, I looked at Logan. "What's up?"
"Not much. Your car's about due for an oil change."
I leaned against the wall beside the front door, and crossed my arms. "You didn't have to walk over to remind me."
He scanned my face before his cute grin made an appearance. "I know."
"I kind of skipped dinner. Any chance you're hungry?" I let my arms fall, smiling back at him. It was hard not to smile. He was one of the coolest people I knew, and that particular grin was totally adorable. We liked each other, enough that I had a dating rain check in my pocket. And we'd snuggled a few times in the not-too-distant past.
"A snack would be nice."
"You can have a snack. I'm going to pig out." I waved my hand toward the dark front yard. "Once everyone's finished."
"I'll watch them, if you want to go ahead."
My stomach was softly protesting the paltry amount of linguini I'd given it. "Okay, gonna take you up on that offer. I'll be in the kitchen."
"See you in a few."
More like a half hour, I thought, walking into the house and shutting the door. Speck was finicky about pottying. My black, thin-legged Chihuahua always had to find just the right spot to do his business. Fortunately, Diablo had taken to the little fella, and always kept an eye on him. Speck sometimes wandered a full acre before finding his perfect potty spot, which meant keeping an eye out while jogging. I'd stepped in one of his "special" potty spots that morning.
In the kitchen, I poked around in the fridge and pantry before deciding more pasta was the right choice.
The front door opened and closed twice, as Logan let in Bone, and then Leglin shepherding Squishy, back in. I cut smoked ham into bite-sized chunks while pasta shells simmered and a slab of sharp cheddar melted.
By the time I had those three ingredients mixed, and was sliding the baking dish into the oven, the front door opened again. Logan followed Diablo and Speck inside. "All accounted for."
"Thanks. Dinner will be ready in ten. Do you want beer, tea, or wine?"
"Whatever you're having is fine." He crossed to the breakfast bar and climbed onto a stool. "Smells good."
"Mac and cheese with ham." I poured two glasses of a fruity white, and passed him one.
"Thank you. How are things?"
I took a sip before answering. "Better than they were. Mostly."
Turning away, I collected bowls and spoons. "You didn't come over here just to remind me about an oil change."
"No, I came because I wanted to see you. Haven't since Solstice night."
One of the things I liked about him: Once he decided on something, he didn't backtrack or beat around the bush on anything pertaining to it. "Yeah, I've been busy. Holidays and family stuff."
"How 'mostly' better are things?"
I picked up my wineglass and nearly shrugged. Catching myself in time, I answered the question. "I found out what Merriven said was a big, fat lie. That helped a lot, but then I found out someone hexed me, which is why I was seeing things. That, I didn't mention to you, but I was seeing Ginger, then Merriven. While I was awake."
Logan's brows drew together, and his voice was slightly deeper when he asked, "Who hexed you?"
"I don't know yet, just relieved I'm not going crazy. But," I fished the stone out of under the neck of my shirt by its thong. "This is blocking the hex."
His eyes widened. "Where the hell did you find a Gargoyle's Tear?"
"Funny story. I seem to have been adopted by a baby gargoyle."
I nodded. "Yep. His mother gave me this. She decided to stand in for him until he's old enough to start being my guardian. Whatever that actually means. I mean, I have an..." the oven timer dinged. "Just a minute."
About five minutes passed before I was seated next to him, full bowls of gooey deliciousness in front of us. Stealthy paw steps heralded the appearance of my three big dogs. "You guys had your dinner. This is ours."
"So Petra's acting as your guardian. That's good. I thought you seemed less jumpy when you answered the door."
I grimaced. "Crap. I’ve been trying to act normal."
Logan smiled. "You did a pretty good job. But sometimes, you'd look at something and kind of flinch. Now I know why."
"Sorry I didn't share then. I was really convinced I was on my way to Happyville Manor."
"You don't owe me an apology for wanting to keep something private. The only help I could have offered would have been suggesting you talk to Moira about it."
Which reminded me... "I think I still need to talk to her about something else."
"I can call her over here," he offered. "And leave so you two can talk."
Wow, Nick wouldn't have offered to take a powder. He would've wanted to be right in the middle of it. "Thanks, but not right now. I don't think it's life- or brain-threatening. It's about that dream, when we were in the Unseelie realm."
"The one you were a White Queen in, or the one we talked to Sal in?"
"First. Because." I hesitated. "I saw the ancestors on Solstice Night, and there was an empty place where that White Queen was supposed to be."
"That's definitely Moira's territory," he said. "I've never seen the ancestors."
Logan shook his head. "Nope. Not enough mysticism in me. I'm too grounded in the here and now."
"Discord Jones, natural mystic?" I made a face. "That sounds kind of dumb. I don't usually see ... oh, I guess I do see things. But those are because of my abilities, not woowoo visions of spirits."
He laughed. "Except you've seen the ancestors three times, two when you were awake. And I don't think I was dreaming the other time.
"I hallucinated the exact same thing you dreamed?"
"Well, when you put it that way." I took a drink of my wine. "How did you know it was me?"
"The same way I know who's who when we've all shifted." Logan's smile returned. "I could see you looking out."
Confused, I had another drink. "See me?"
"Maybe 'sense' is a better word."
That felt more logical. Sort of. "Anyway, I'm wondering what happened to her, and hoping Moira could tell me."
"Are you sure you don't want to talk to her tonight?"
I glanced at the clock on my stove top. It was after ten. "No, that's okay. It's kind of late."
"Okay, but I doubt she'd mind."
"Kind of need to figure out who cursed me, and we have a case, oh, and Thorandryll called in my debt."
Logan frowned. "Let me guess: His New Year's Eve ball."
"Yeah. How did ..."
"We received invitations to it this afternoon. Our queen plus three."
I snorted. "Wait. Prince Snooty Pants sent invitations to his big, important bash to people he can't stand?"
"I was wondering why, but now I know. It's because of you. You're a queen of our clan, and elves have rules about proper protocol. Leaving a queen without the support of her people is," he made air quotes, "Not done."
"Elves are weird."
"Yes, they are."
"Don't torture yourselves on my account," I said. "Though it would be Terra's first public appearance as official Queen. Right?"