Authors: Ashley Meira
“It’s clear.” I stood up and turned the lights on.
Alex came up behind me and closed the door, the click of the lock behind him providing me with some much needed peace. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah.” I flexed my fingers and sent feelers throughout the house. “There’s foreign residual magic around, though.”
“So, the intruder used magic. Can you tell if it was from an item or…?”
Visions of mages being milked for magic both haunted and amused me. “Homemade?”
“Yes.” Guess someone’s still not in a laughing mood.
“It was from a person; magical items give off a different feel than raw magic. Have a seat while I look around.”
I checked my sleeping nest – taking the time to discard my torn dress and pull on some sweats and a sweater – and the entire first floor, but didn’t find a thing out of place. Alex raised a brow when I moved the coffee table in front of him aside and kicked the rug under it away, but didn’t move to stop or help me. With a magic infused fingertip, I traced a pattern over the floor and watched it glow, warming under my hand for a moment before revealing a trap door.
Call it cliché, but I couldn’t resist keeping a secret lab in my basement. A basement that took moving mountains to create. Well, moving dirt and stuff, which is basically what mountains were. Okay, so Ipos did all the work for me – call it a perk of having a powerful demon for a fuck buddy. And a regular buddy. Who says you can’t have it both ways?
My so-called dungeon was supposed to be the coldest room, but with my wards destroyed, the temperature in the rest of my apartment made it almost toasty down here. Nothing here had been disturbed, either, and I didn’t feel any foreign magic in the room, so the intruder hadn’t come down here. Or didn’t have time to.
“Nothing’s missing,” I told Alex as I resealed and cloaked the door before pulling the carpet back over it.
He was kind enough to help me move the table back before we took a seat on the couch, enough space between us for another person and a half.
“What do you think they were looking for?” he asked.
“I have no idea,” I said. “It’s weird, nothing was even disturbed. Maybe they were just very meticulous.”
“Or maybe they just wanted you to know they could reach you. That could be why they broke the wards.”
“I guess? Wouldn’t it be a bigger threat to destroy a few things instead of just breaking the wards and leaving everything else untouched?”
“Did you bring anything from your current case home?”
I shook my head.
“A past case?”
“No, nothing I can remember. The last few cases I’ve worked have been with you.”
“Could that be it? Could they have been looking for something we found in Dovesport? Lucas’ knife, maybe?”
“You mean the evil knife with dark clouds of, well, evil swirling around it that can kill and skin shifters like they were butter? We gave that, and all the information Wright had on that motherfucker to the Council. We need a better name for that knife, by the way.”
“How about ‘Lucas’ knife’?” he said flatly. “Don’t you have copies of the documents?”
“In the basement. Untouched.” I stared at the coffee table. “Do you really think this is about Lucas?”
“I don’t know enough about your past caseload to have other suspects in mind.”
“True. I have no idea. I’ll put up extra wards and re-work the original ones a bit. Just to be safe.” I sighed and leaned against him. For a moment, it was like we were relaxing back in Haven, but my thoughts sobered quickly and I sat up. “Sorry.”
“Don’t worry,” he said, his voice softening. He stroked his hand over my arm, sending tingles across my skin. “Are you okay? Having someone break into your home can feel like a huge violation.”
feel? I couldn’t imagine a time when it wouldn’t feel like a violation. Maybe it was time to invest in a guard dog or golem. Definitely a golem. I’d name her Shale.
“I’ll live,” I said with a shrug. A chuckle escaped me as I realized, “You know, a murder happened the first time you came to visit me, too.”
I did a little dance in my head as Mister Grumpy Cat smiled softly. “Technically, Lady Maxwell was dead before we met.” His smile fell, sympathy shining in his eyes. The look bordered on pity, and I wanted to claw my own skin off. “How are you holding up? It’s been, what, almost two months?”
“Thereabouts,” I nodded. “We’ve been apart for less than two weeks, Alex. Pretty sure you’ve seen how I’ve been holding up.”
“I’ve seen how good you are at keeping things in,” he said in a quiet voice. My shoulders tensed but I didn’t reply. He continued, “It feels like it’s been way more than two weeks.”
I “mm’d” in agreement and tried to lean against him again. This time, he didn’t stiffen at the contact. He wrapped an arm around me and pulled me to him, burying his face in my hair. With a content sigh, I rested fully against him like a cat in front of a fire.
worried about Lily, though,” I said into his chest. “Hopefully, I can get things done here and take some time to visit her for Christmas.”
“Christmas is still far away,” he said thoughtfully. “Are you going to tell me what you’re working on, by the way?”
“Damn it, right. Sorry.” I filled him in on everything that happened, from meeting with Marcus to Robert getting killed.
He nodded along as I spoke, lifting up my shirt when I mentioned getting stabbed. His fingers traced on the nearly gone scar. My stomach clenched at the ticklish sensation and I pulled his hand away, entwining our fingers together.
“Does it still hurt?”
“Naw, I’m tough as steel,” I smirked. “So, will I be seeing you for Christmas? Y’know, for Lily and all.”
“Well, I do
“Hey!” I yanked my hand away with a fake pout, but he grabbed it back. Handholding jerk.
“Are you going to take her to visit your father, make it a family thing?”
The thought hadn’t crossed my mind. It’d make a hell of a picture, though. Lily, me, and my formerly estranged father. We could even invite my werewolf half-brother, his shaman mother, and her alpha brother. That’s it, I’m going to write all this shit down and send it to every TV studio in the country; we could be the new Kardashians.
“I still can’t believe you watch that show,” he said.
“Did I say that out loud?”
“Just the last bit.”
“Oh. It’s a guilty pleasure, okay? And don’t act like your eyes weren’t glued to the TV whenever I watched it in Haven.”
He opened his mouth to protest, sputtered, and then said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Totally.” I held our hands up and pressed a kiss to the top of his. “You’ll be with your family, then?”
“For Christmas? They travel for the holidays, and I’m usually working. I don’t think my sister’s that excited to go this year, though. Guess most nineteen-year-olds aren’t into taking long trips with their parents.” He shrugged. “I don’t know. We’ll see.”
“I hate the unknown,” I huffed.
“And water is wet.”
I glared at him before letting out a self-deprecating laugh. “We all have our challenges. You’re always welcome to spend the holidays with me. Er, us. Lily and me. Maybe my father, too. If only because he might swallow his tongue if he sees we’re still together.”
“Still against his daughter dating a hunter,” he groaned. “Think he’ll shoot me?”
“Maybe he’ll sic Tamlin on you,” I said, thinking back to how Alex had acted when the werewolves accused his best friend of murder. “You two aren’t exactly besties.”
“How have you been getting along with your new baby brother?”
I rolled my eyes. “He’s eighteen.”
“So, you don’t like calling him your baby brother?”
“No.” I grinned. “I love it.”
Alex snorted and kissed my temple. “I bet he doesn’t.”
“Indeed,” I said. “We’ve been chatting a bit. Not too much, though, since I’m a shitty conversationalist.”
Now that there weren’t any people trying to harvest shifters and werewolves for parts, Tamlin’s been able to visit my father a lot more. The tribes eschewed modern technology, so those visits were the only time he had access to a phone. It did chafe me a bit that he spent his childhood actually getting to know my dad while I’d gotten shipped off, but the little guy was just so endearing. Like a puppy. A comparison he didn’t appreciate at all. I found that out when dad sent me a picture of Tamlin when he first started shifting. He’d been the size of a regular wolf, as opposed to the giant, dire wolf size adult werewolves were, and I spent our next call cooing over how cute he’d been. It was the first time I actually felt someone blush through the phone. I don’t remember teenage boys being this fun to tease when I’d been his age.
We spent some time in pleasant, quiet contemplation before curiosity shattered the whole thing like a crazy bitch with a sledgehammer.
“About Khalil…” Alex said so innocently it looped back around to underhanded.
I tensed up at the silent implication and sat up to face him, my legs criss-crossed in a feeble attempt to create a barrier. “What about him?”
“I believe ‘private contractor’ is the politically correct term.”
“We’re working on this together. So, yeah.”
Oh my God.
“And…he’s tall? What exactly are you looking for?”
“Just wondering how professional the relationship you two have is,” he said as the heavy curtain I’ve named “Fuck You, Miss Maxwell” settled over us.
I gaped at him. “So, is this how it’s going to be with everyone? One flirty comment and you’re off on a rampage? Am I not allowed to speak to anyone ever again?”
“That’s exactly what this is!” I stood up, my chest heaving. The ends of my hair curled from the electricity in the air. Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath, trying to control my temper; wild magic would only make things worse. “I don’t remember you being this prissy about Ipos.”
“We weren’t dating back then.”
“I’m a grown woman, Alex. I’ve been independent my whole life, okay? I know how to handle myself. I mean, do you really not trust me?”
“Don’t ‘Morgan’ me–”
“How am I supposed to feel?” He pushed himself up, face flushed. “I come to visit and catch you necking with some stranger!”
“That wasn’t–” I cut off, trying to find the right words. I couldn’t.
Alex nodded with a sneer. “Yeah.”
“That was a misunderstanding,” I said slowly, clenching my fists as my magic throbbed inside me. Just imagining how good it would feel to let it loose made me breathless, but I gritted my teeth and held back. “Besides, I’m not the one who forgot how to answer their phone.”
“I was busy!”
Alex tugged a hand through his hair and turned his back to me. “We’ve already discussed this.”
“Well, I’m still pissed about it.”
“No shit,” he said. “I come all this way–”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, don’t act like I should be grateful you spared time for me, like this was all some big favor.”
“It’s not a favor, damn it. I came because I missed you and wanted to see you. Guess I was the only one telling the truth when I said ‘I love you.’”
If it could have, my jaw would’ve hit the floor. As it was, I took the tiniest sliver of satisfaction in the way Alex shivered as the temperature in the room dropped low enough to make the last circle of Hell feel like Rio de Janeiro. I walked over to the shoe rack near the front door and grabbed my sneakers.
“I tried,” I said, slapping my face as the first tear splashed onto my shoelace. “I
trying, but that doesn’t mean I’m suddenly the perfect girlfriend. I fucking worked through my commitment issues enough to admit how I felt about you. That was hard, okay? And no, not because of you – because of
. I may flirt with people,” I swallowed thickly, “but I would never cheat. I don’t know what kind of fucking perfect trophy Barbie girlfriend you want, but you need to fix your expectations if you think I’m it.” It felt like I was just vomiting words out, the tension chafing me like a bodysuit made of sandpaper. I wrenched the door open, letting out a sneeze as the winter air hit my moist face. It was a fucking miracle my voice hadn’t cracked yet. “You can sleep here if you want. Spare sheets are in the closet.”
As soon as I finished speaking, I slammed the door behind me and ran out into the lonely city streets.
Walking through unlit streets with electricity running through my veins made every scratch, crash, and whisper feel like a monster about to strike. Of course, it wasn’t paranoia if someone was actually out to get you, and finding out your home was broken into after being jumped by assassins was a big incentive for me to look over my shoulder.
I actually wanted them to show up. Them or anyone, really. I needed to blow off some steam, and being able to regenerate tended to get me booed out of fight clubs, except the illegal ones Ipos ran for demons in the back of his bar. But Oregon was too far of a walk, so I’d have to find something else. Preferably something I could set on fire.