Authors: Linda Robertson
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Urban, #Contemporary, #Romance, #General
“You see, we’ve had reports coming in about this pack,” Blue Tie said. “It seems some dubious activities are going on in Cleveland, activities that—according to our investigation—lead back to this den. As the paperwork trail you’re now looking at shows, this includes burglary, grand theft auto, receiving stolen goods, trafficking, money laundering, racketeering, tax evasion, embezzlement . . . ”
“That’s not true,”
Blue Tie hesitated only briefly at the outburst. “ . . . We even have evidence of insurance fraud, where the widow of one Ignatius Tierney is concerned.”
Johnny’s hands clenched. They’d made this up. All of it. They’d falsified documents to blackmail them. He could not let them mess with the pack, and
let them harass Moira. His beast slavered and snarled, feasting on his hate. Fur sprouted on the backs of his hands—
Calmly, Plympton reached out and touched Johnny’s wrist.
Soothing coolness swirled around his skin. The wolf within him howled in pain and retreated.
“We’re prepared,” Blue Tie continued, “to deliver all of this documentation to our local and national news organizations. I’m sure they will be happy to write headlines about the new Domn Lup and his pack being sordid
criminals. If you don’t want to start his rule with an uphill battle to overcome those kinds of black marks—which we
put front and center for the world to see—then you really should agree to our terms now.”
Plympton laughed. It started out small and quiet, but it grew. As it lifted in volume, the tone became menacing.
“You think this is funny?” Blue Tie asked.
Plympton kept laughing. Johnny joined in, then Gregor, then Todd. They all laughed together as if there was some fantastic joke when they were in fact simply following the lead of the
. It was not so different from a pack lifting their voices in unison because their alpha howled.
“What?” Blue Tie asked again. The men around him shifted, uncomfortable with the evil, echoing sound.
Only when Blue Tie had clearly shown his anger did Plympton let his mirth fade. “All right, boy. If you want your road so bad, we will give you the Cleveland Cold Storage . . . in exchange for Grays Armory.” His voice continued to convey humor.
Blue Tie’s suspicion was evident. “No deal.”
Plympton shrugged. “You are forcing us out. If we have no den to kennel in, it is your public that is at risk. You don’t want us telling the media you’re willing to endanger your citizens for your road. Do you?”
“The Armory is a public historical icon and a museum.”
“Wærewolves require a fortified structure to keep the beasts inside. Our team has already appraised every building in the city. No other building will protect your city’s inhabitants from us like the Grays Armory will.”
“Go somewhere else.”
“Not happening,” Johnny growled.
“We don’t have the authority to give you—”
“Then get it.” Plympton waved the papers at him. “With your obvious skill for fraud, I’m sure you can come up with something that will appease the people.”
“Mr. Plympton—” Blue Tie began.
“To you, this has always been about the building, but not to us. It’s about having a secure location for our people and safety for all. You’re clearly desperate to get your big road built, so you can have the building.”
He pulled his sunglasses off, revealing the wrongness on his silvered eye. The ODOT reps reacted as Johnny had.
“Trade us the Armory and the Zvonul will forget you tried to blackmail us. Don’t and . . . well, we’ll make sure the first casualties stemming from us not having a safe place to kennel will be those nearest and dearest to you.” He pointed at the reps individually, calling them each by name. They shifted uncomfortably. “Shall I name the men hidden in the darkness as well?”
Blue Tie swallowed hard.
“We’ll be ready to start our move this weekend, boys. You’d better be, too.” Plympton turned and walked away, giggling like a Cajun fool.
undown was fast approaching when the cab for which I was paying an immense fare neared my farmhouse. I spied Celia’s CX-7 in the driveway and smiled. It would be good to see her and Beverley.
I glanced into the backyard, hoping to see the girl riding around on a prancing Errol, but instead I saw Celia, hands in her hair like she was extremely frustrated. She turned and saw the cab. She started running toward the front.
It took long seconds before the cabbie made the turn. “Stop, stop,” I cried, threw money at him, and I jumped out to run up the driveway.
“What’s wrong?” I called, seeing Celia round the back corner.
“What?” We stopped before each other, both of us panting. I heard voices yelling the kiddo’s name in the distance.
“I was working on contracts and she came out to see Errol.” Her eyes were red and she started tearing up. “I heard the door open and close as she went out. Then, ten minutes ago, Mountain comes by and asks where Beverley is, since he didn’t see her outside. Errol’s in his stall, Seph. She never got to the barn.”
My stomach felt like it dropped into my feet.
“We don’t know where she is. We can’t find her. Mountain and Zhan set out in opposite directions around the cornfield.”
Mountain was a Beholder and Zhan an Offerling; both served Menessos. They were both very capable, but I couldn’t stand idly by. I hurried past Celia. After a few steps, I was jogging, then sprinting. I raced into the first barn where the unicorns and griffons were housed. “Thunderbird!”
From the back, I heard hay rustling and then the majestic tiger-raven stepped into view, his head turned slightly, his one eye squarely on me. He’d lost the other in battle.
“Beverley’s missing. Take to the air and find her!”
He loped past me. Five other griffons swiftly trailed him, some eagle and puma, some hawk and panther. I returned to the edge of the barn as they all took flight. In contrast to the dire moment, watching them gave me a sense of awe. They were beautiful creatures, these griffons. They fell into a pattern, crisscrossing the property from above.
Behind me, clip-clopping sounded as the unicorns backed from their stalls and walked out of the barn around me. They lifted their heads to watch the griffons circling. Except for one. Errol nickered low and touched my arm with the side of his mouth as if to ask, “Is she okay?”
Facing him, I’d have sworn he looked worried.
was. The day was fading fast and thinking of Beverley lost was awful, but thinking of her lost
alone in the cold dark was so much worse.
My only consolation lay in the fact my property had
wards to keep the nasties out. If something was able to cross the ley line–empowered barrier, a psychic alarm would alert me, even if I wasn’t home. I’d felt no such warning of a breach.
Reaching out with a sliver of power, I tried to detect the flow of energy from the obelisk-shaped piece of jet that Xerxadrea had given me. It rested in my bedroom and was keyed to empower the iron spikes at each corner of my property. I fed it from the ley line, but I hadn’t exactly been home to monitor it lately.
Nothing. I felt
from the ward.
My breath caught. Had I let the power fade from my ward? If something snuck in and—
One of the griffons cried out.
It was the one Mountain called Eagle Eye, a lion-and-eagle male. He gave his cry again and angled his wings to circle back. Errol burst forward and galloped away into the cornfield. Celia and I shared a look and charged after him. I was a dozen steps into the cornfield when true sunset occurred.
I felt Menessos awaken.
His screaming torment ripped through me and my steps faltered.
I fell hard to the ground. It knocked the wind out of me, then Celia stumbled, trying not to step on me.
“Seph, are you okay?”
I wasn’t. I could barely breathe and it hurt like hell. I nodded at her.
She wasn’t looking at me, but at her foot. Her shoe had come off, and she was assessing a broken ankle strap.
The low heels she was wearing certainly weren’t meant for dashing through a cornfield.
“It’s Menessos,” I croaked. “Go on. I’ll catch up in a minute.”
“Yes. Go.” Beverley needed a person to get to her. If she was hurt, neither the unicorn nor the griffon could do much.
Celia turned and, with her one shoe flopping, hurried off in the direction the unicorn had gone. It would have been laughable if the circumstances had been different.
I worked conscientiously on making each breath a little deeper than the last, which should have been much easier than it was. This had been happening at every sundown since I’d staked him. I wasn’t certain what it all meant, but I knew Menessos. It was getting worse each night.
An upward glance revealed that all the griffons had gathered in the air and were circling at different altitudes. It was an awesome sight—until I realized they were circling the grove.
Where the ley lines that crossed my property intersected.
Even before I really recovered, my feet were under me and I stumbled forward, gasping and choking for breath.
As I cleared the field, Errol was cantering toward me. He turned and trotted away, then spun and trotted back, only to hurry away again. His terribly nervous behavior struck a cold nerve within me. Then I saw Celia backpedaling from the tree branches, staring downward with her hands covering the lower half of her face.
I sprinted forward. “Celia!”
“I can’t go in!” Her voice cracked. “I can’t!”
Of course not. She was a wærewolf and the grove was a small ley line hub. The power there was a no-no for her kind. I should have thought of that.
“There.” She pointed.
I plowed into the branches. They scratched at me and pulled my hair as if they would hold me back. But my urgency would not be denied. I struggled forward, thrashing and flailing, snapping the thin wooden arms around me.
As I emerged in the inner circle, part of my brain wanted me not to look, but my rebellious eyes followed the direction Celia indicated anyway.
There, at the base of the biggest tree in the grove, sat Great El’s slate, like a teeter-totter perfectly balanced over a high root. Beverley’s shoes lay to the side, one upright, the other on its side.
Beyond the grove, Celia’s hands fell to her sides. “What does it mean?”
The slate hadn’t come out here on its own.
Beverley had brought it—but where was she now?
Easing forward, I crouched and studied the base of the tree. The way some of the fallen leaves were scrunched, I could assume a kid had sat there, but I was no tracker. Even the part of me that could discern differences in energy was rather useless here. The whole place was power laden, and trying to get a feel for Beverley was like looking for footprints in sand after the tide has come in and washed everything away.
I reached out, my fingers rubbing along the edge of the slate—and instantly recoiled.
“Damn!” It was searing hot. I jerked so hard my crouching balance was lost. I fell onto my backside.
“What?” Celia demanded.
“Yes, what?” Zhan asked as she burst from the field and approached the grove.
“You could fry an egg on that slate,” I said.
“What is that?” Zhan asked as she bent down and crawled under the branches and through the foliage to get to the inner section of the grove.
“It’s my Great El’s slate.”
Zhan stood and brushed off her hands and knees. Studying the board, she asked, “Is it some kind of Ouija board?”
“Yeah. A spirit board.”
“What is it doing out here?” Zhan asked.
I had barely kept that question from forming in my own mind. But there it was. It had been spoken. My stomach suddenly had more knots than a Persian rug.
My gaze lifted and met Celia’s through the branches. “She heard us talking about it,” I said.
Beverley had been in the kitchen when Celia asked me how I’d found my mother. I remembered Celia saying something about talking to ghosts on it, and though that wasn’t exactly accurate, I hadn’t corrected her.
Oh, Beverley, were you looking for your mother?
“What does it mean that it’s so hot to the touch?” Celia asked.
I didn’t want to answer that question. I felt sick. My hand moved to my stomach as I rose to my feet.
“Where is this thing
to be?” Zhan asked.
That one was much easier to speak the answer to. “Hidden in the back of my closet.”
“Oh my God. Seph, I didn’t know she was even in your room.”
I looked at Celia again. I didn’t want to make her feel guilty. But I didn’t have to. She was doing that all by herself.
“What’s it mean that it’s hot?” she asked again.
Staring down at the slate, my stomach cramped with grief and anger and helplessness. “The heat means it’s been used. In a very bad way.”
I pulled out my satellite phone. If there was any hope of fixing this, I knew I couldn’t do it alone.
Zhan stepped closer and gripped my arm. “Where is she?”
“She could be anywhere, or nowhere. She went into the ley line.”
aked in the dark, Goliath awakened to life with a scream.
He wasn’t alone; he could detect the heat of a fully alive body in the room with him. His own body was cold, having lain dead and uncovered for hours. As his heart shuddered into rhythm the thick blood pumped through his veins, thinning more with each beat.
“Light,” he groaned.
A lighter clicked and the flame flickered over candlewick. An amber glow filled the modest chamber.
The Offerling waiting to feed him was a transplant from the previous Cleveland haven that had belonged to Heldridge. She was beautiful, with perfectly proportioned features and skin so black she was nearly lost to the dark. Her eyes were a bright, pale brown and her lips had a hint of pink.