Authors: Linda Robertson
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Urban, #Contemporary, #Romance, #General
Plympton was standing rigidly at the back of the Altima as Johnny returned. Giving Plympton a little time, he slid the key from the trunk lock and popped the fob apart. He found no microphone inside it. He put it back together. “Is that what you’re looking for?”
nodded slowly, engrossed in what he was reading.
The old man looked up.
“I have to go now. You’ll take this car?”
“Yes.” His eyes slid back to the documents in his hands.
Johnny wanted to hurry off, but something kept his feet planted. The old man had been true to his word. He’d let Johnny keep the information that was clearly pertinent to him. “Hey.”
“Hmmm?” Plympton didn’t stop scanning the paper in hand.
The use of his title made him break his focus on the newfound data. “Yes, sire?”
“Let’s get together tomorrow at the den and see what can be done about your situation.”
Plympton shook his head. “Not at the den.”
“Wherever you would like, then,” Johnny said, extending his hand to shake. “I
help you, Jacques.”
shook his hand. “And I will give the court my account of your beast.”
• • •
Johnny pulled into the driveway at the farmhouse at a quarter ’til four, mentally singing praises for the Maserati’s speed and handling, and the lack of police on the roadways that night.
Mountain met him at the door. “There’s been no change in Persephone,” he said.
Johnny strode into the kitchen and stood with his arms crossed. He frowned and he paced. He circled Red. Then he sat before her and mimicked her pose. He couldn’t imagine staying positioned like this for hours.
What went wrong?
He wondered if the goose egg on her head had anything to do with it. What if she had a concussion? Doctors tended to want people to stay awake for a while after taking a knock to the head. Did meditation count as sleeping?
The urge to reach out and touch her arm, to shake her gently as if to rouse her from a deep sleep, was overwhelming. But he couldn’t do that.
If I hadn’t gone after Aurelia, she’d still be alive, I wouldn’t have made a deal with Plympton, and Red wouldn’t be like this
From the living room, Mountain said, “There’s a car coming up the drive. I don’t recognize it.”
“Check the plates,” Johnny called out.
“It’s someone from the Pittsburgh den bringing Demeter.”
He heard Mountain’s heavy steps heading for the door.
Johnny stood up, intending to go and greet her, but he stopped when Mountain said, “Look out. The granny looks distressed and she’s got a serious move on.” He opened the door. “Hello, Demeter.”
“Out of the way,” she said, pushing through the doorway. She gasped and stopped dead as her gaze took in the hole in the floor near the stairs, the broken handrail, and the splintered spindles. Finally, her eyes locked onto Johnny. “Where is she?” she demanded.
He put his back to the wall and pointed down the hall.
Her bad knees, worry, and the late hour combined to make her wobbly; she barreled past like a wild bowling ball, weaving side to side. Johnny fell into step, albeit on a straighter path, behind her. In the kitchen doorway she stopped again.
He was sure that the broken dinette table and chair, the tabletop against the wall, the bench lying on its back, the pieces of the old phone scattered around, and the set of claw marks torn into the linoleum stunned her. And there sat Red, posed peacefully in the midst of the wreckage that her kitchen now was.
Neither of them spoke.
Breathing heavily, Demeter studied Red. The moment grew interminable for Johnny. When he was about to say something, she finally shuffled one slow step forward.
Then another. With her head cocked, she approached Red. She made two circuits around her granddaughter, and Johnny watched her face for a clue.
“What caused the lump on her head?”
Johnny told her about Red being hit with the chair, but didn’t mention that the attacker was a woman or, more specifically, his own wærewolf assistant. “That was after the attack. From the mark on her neck I have to guess her assailant tried to strangle her first.”
Demeter looked up from her granddaughter and held his gaze. There was no blame in her eyes, no anger, but the grave trepidation was unmistakable. “This shit isn’t going to stop.”
“None of you three are safe anymore.” Her focus dropped onto Red again and her expression turned infinitely sad. Her hands rose as if to touch the mound of her beehive hairdo—but she’d cut her hair short. She altered the gesture to place her palms on her cheeks. “When we get her out of this . . . things have to change.”
Johnny nodded. Demeter didn’t even know about Beverley yet. He figured he’d save that for later. The elderly woman had enough on her mind right now. “But you can bring her out, right?”
“Not alone I can’t.”
“What do you need me to do?”
Demeter sized him up, then glanced at Mountain, who’d come to stand in the doorway from the other room. “Nothing. I need witches.”
ilo ran through the haven to the theater, across the stage and into the backstage area. No guard had come to replace Vinny.
. She climbed the metal stairs silently, keyed the code on the door, and opened it.
“What the fuck?” Risqué stood up from the sofa. Seeing Ailo, her red eyes flashed and she added, “You can get your conniving ass right the hell out of here.”
“Menessos said he needs you to come to the accounting office.”
One thin blond brow arched. “Why?”
“Something’s gone wrong.”
“And that has got what to do with me?”
“He did not elaborate.” Ailo was irritated that Risqué wasn’t simply complying. “You are an Offerling. He sent for you, and you must go.”
Risqué crossed her arms. “I don’t know anything about accounting.”
“So? Your master sent for you.”
“So?” Risqué mimicked her.
Ailo stomped across the room and right up to the one person standing between her and the child. She was taller than Risqué, who must have slipped out of her usual clear high heels to stretch out on the sofa. Looking down her nose at the red-eyed woman, Ailo said, “When he says jump, you ask how high.
is how a haven works. Offerlings obey. Period.”
Risqué was not to be easily intimidated. Her hands dropped onto her hips. She thrust her nose against Ailo’s. “Clearly, you don’t know
“Your master said—”
“Honey, Menessos and I have an
.” She pulled away from Ailo and tilted her head. “Besides, he isn’t the boss anymore. Goliath rules the haven now, or have you forgotten?” The sweet smile she ended with was as fake as the lie Ailo was trying to use.
Ailo didn’t have time for the banter. She had to get the child and get out of there. Balling up her fist, she hit Risqué in the jaw.
The blow knocked Risqué to the sofa with a squeal of surprise and pain. Ailo leapt upon her. Sitting on Risqué’s chest, she held her down while repeatedly punching her in the head.
Pinned against the cushion, Risqué’s arms were stuck at her sides. She clawed at Ailo’s dress, but that was insignificant. Ailo kept punching, right then left, until the Offerling gave up trying to fight back. Surely she would lose consciousness soon.
Then the heel of a clear stiletto pump bit into Ailo’s side. She looked down as Risqué drew back for another awkward strike. She hadn’t given up trying to fight back; she’d managed to pick up one of her shoes to use as a weapon. This time when it slammed against Ailo’s body, it pierced the flesh and sank deep.
Screaming in pain, Ailo instinctively leaned away from the weapon.
Risqué used that moment to flip Ailo onto the floor. She kicked the shabbubitu repeatedly, then clambered onto Ailo’s chest and began throttling her about the
head. “How do you like it, bitch? How do
Now Ailo’s arms were restrained, but she put her hands against Risqué’s thighs and called on her power to read people, urgently probing deep into the other woman’s mind. She hissed at the Offerling, ready to give her much agony.
Risqué laughed and punched Ailo in the mouth, splitting her lip on a fang.
Ailo dug her nails in, desperate to force a reading.
Risqué slid her fingers through Ailo’s hair, gripped tightly at the sides of her head, and slammed her skull against the floor three times. “You dumbass, I’m the one person in this haven immune to your touchy-feely shit.” She twisted to slam her fist against the shoe embedded in Ailo’s side.
Screaming, Ailo spat blood from her mouth. She willed a change, wanting to become an owl, but the chains around her neck prevented her from transforming fully. Still, she pushed the change into her legs and feet, feeling talons stretch out from her toes.
Reaching awkwardly up, her talons snatched hold of Risqué’s arms and she kicked the woman across the room. Risqué slammed into the stools at the kitchen counter, sending them flying like bowling pins.
Ailo staggered into an upright position as her feet reverted to human. She tore the shoe from her side and started forward. “What are you?” There was no one she couldn’t read.
Picking herself up from the floor, Risqué touched her already swollen face, dabbed at one puffy eye. “I’m your worst nightmare.”
Ailo called to the magic that clothed her, shifting the
fabric to a short sheath dress, the excess forming silver weapons in her hands, cylinders that fit her grip nicely, with points on either end. “You don’t look like more than a mild daydream to me.”
“Is this better?” Risqué thrust her hands downward with a jerk and flames swirled across her skin. With a toss of her head, her pale ringlets transmuted into a mass of thin, hissing white serpents.
“Daughter of Hell,” Ailo whispered.
Risqué leapt at Ailo.
Diving to the side, Ailo rolled away. Risqué landed on the sofa, knocking it over with her momentum, then setting it aflame with her burning hands. Ailo pounced as she was clambering to her feet, and struck at the half-demon. Risqué threw herself backward, kicking out and knocking the weapon from Ailo’s hand. It clanged to the floor and reverted to quicksilver, which pooled and slithered to rejoin with Ailo.
Risqué crouched behind the burning sofa, her every serpentine appendage hissing.
As smoke filled the room, Ailo changed her weapons into daggers and advanced. As she swiped the blades before her, Risqué blocked with fire so hot, it melted the blades as they passed through the flames.
The fire alarm began clanging. With a scream of frustration, Ailo threw a dagger.
Risqué raised her hands to block it but miscalculated the speed, and it sailed through her defenses. She lurched sideways at the last, and the dagger sheared off the heads of three white serpents. Blood dripped from their severed bodies. The weapon clattered to the floor and dissolved into a pool of liquid.
Ailo magicked another dagger from her quicksilver and launched it. The blade thumped into Risqué’s torso between her lowest ribs. She fell backward. The dagger pooled on her skin, disappearing inside the wound, only to roll around under her skin, making her scream and writhe, before the liquid slithered out of the wound and returned to Ailo.
A scream from her side drew Ailo’s attention.
The child stood holding back the curtain that separated the back half of the room. Her eyes were wide, jumping from the burning couch to Ailo, to Risqué, and back.
Ailo ran to the girl. “I’m here to help you.”
She took a step back. “Did Celia send you?”
Ailo started to agree, then she had a better idea. “No. Persephone did. Come with me.” When the child took her offered hand, Ailo sent the fabric rushing down her arm, encircling the girl’s head, gagging her mouth lest she scream, and wrapping her body in a cocoon of gray satin. It left very little in covering for Ailo, but that was irrelevant. She lifted the girl in her arms and hurried from the room, leaving Risqué gasping for air on the floor.
She heard the sound of many feet rushing across the stage. Leaping from the top of the stairwell, she landed heavily with the extra weight of the girl in her arms. Still, she managed a second long leap, landing behind the door, unseen by those charging in. She slipped into the unlit depths of the backstage and located the service elevator—a minor detail she’d gained from Sil’s mind.
y love, are you recovered?”
I heard the voice in the darkness. A man’s voice. It was close to me. Then I realized my so-heavy eyelids were shut. Little by little, I managed to part them and allow some light to hit my retinas.
The man was lying beside me in this soft bed that smelled of sweet white flowers. Indeed, as I moved I noticed the petals strewn about us.
I faced him, and my spine stiffened. He was handsome with his dark hair and eyes, but I didn’t recognize him. I chanced to answer. “Yes?”
He smoothed hair from my forehead. “You don’t remember me, do you?”
My eyes widened slightly but I said nothing.
“It’s all right,” he said. “The physician said you might have memory loss for a while.”
“Memory loss?” I made a confused face at him. I was sure that any second now all my thoughts would click into place.
He gave me an unconvinced expression. “Tell me my name.”
So simple a question. And yet I did not know. “I can’t.”
I don’t know my own name!
I sat up, heart racing—but his hand on my shoulder was reassuring and warm.
“Stay calm,” he said soothingly. “You are safe here. All will be fine.”
“How is it going to be fine when I can’t remember who I am?” My mind raced, searching for details. I could think in sentences, I knew language, I could identify that we were in a bed, but I could not remember myself.