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Authors: Marie Castle

The Devil You Know (28 page)

BOOK: The Devil You Know
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That left us with a very full, very close…very awkward…house.

Aunt Helena and Marco were seated at the opposite end so I heard little of their conversation, but I caught an earful…and eyeful…of everything else. Van was clearly drunk and more intent than ever to make a romantic connection with
any
woman in his general vicinity. My grandmothers were acting like long-lost sisters. Marco was doing everything but make love to my aunt at the dinner table. The normally taciturn Mynx was flirting outrageously with Fera, who was flirting back while carrying on a conversation with at least three others. Alex and Car were butting into everyone’s conversation with the guileless innocence and frightening curiosity of the very young. Betz and Brittan were dishing on their relationships or lack thereof with the tiger twins, Rom and Risa. Cassie and Gem looked very uncomfortable seated nearly on top of each other. JJ’s cold sarcastic semi-violent side had reasserted its delightful head. General chaos was abounding.

It was a sad but unexpectedly welcome day when Jacq and I were the most uninteresting people in the room.

I ate my dinner slowly, my free hand lightly touching Jacq’s thigh, my gaze jumping from person to person as they spoke, catching only pieces at a time. It was like something between a train wreck and a disjointed play, one that was part farce, part tragedy…and all nightmare. I longed desperately to tear myself away but couldn’t. Conversation rained in on me from all sides.

Fork to mouth, Kathryn was saying to Nana, “This sauce is delicious, Gwendolyn. You must give my cooks the recipe when you visit. As to our earlier conversation, I recommend the fall. Denoir is quite lovely then.”

Nana nodded. “Thank you, Kathryn. I feel much better about seeing Denoir before Cate’s arrival. It’s been decades since my last visit to the Otherworld.”

Kathryn’s ring with its blazing golden sun glowed softly in the room’s low light. Earlier I had remembered seeing the same sun emblem on the medallion I had taken from the corpse of Bob Rainey, the embezzling CPA Benito Carmel had hired me to track down. I suspected the demonic spirit who had possessed Rainey had stolen the medallion. A connection to Kathryn was there somewhere. The recurring image of the blazing sun said so. I didn’t know what that connection was. But I would find out. However, at this moment I wanted to know something entirely different.

Kathryn sat across the table from me. I asked her quietly, “Tell me about my father. What is his name?”

Kathryn smiled softly. “He has many names and titles but Falcon is his given name. Our House name, what you might consider a last name, is Aditya. Falcon is a good son and I believe a worthy father for you.” She looked happy, her eyes twinkling in a way I’d yet to see.

“Falcon.” I nodded. “Tell me…” I met her eyes. “Did he love my mother?”

Kathryn’s happiness was lost in the shadow of another, unidentifiable emotion. “That is something you will have to ask your father. What he has told me of their relationship was spoken in confidence.”

I smiled. “Thank you. I may just do that.”

Kathryn returned my smile. I knew we had different interpretations of my last statement but didn’t correct her, instead turning to listen to the other conversations occurring around us. Sometimes a pleasant misunderstanding was better than an unpleasant truth…at least when that truth was served with dinner.

Further down the table, an outraged Brittan loudly said to Betz, “I can’t believe Rom left you three days before your wedding. The prick! And for another woman, no less. I’d have cut something off.”

Betz couldn’t meet the other woman’s eyes. “At first, I was so angry I could’ve done that or worse. But now I’m just confused and worried. My parents will marry me to someone else once the betrothal is ended. Our bloodline has unique abilities. We don’t have the privilege of remaining unmated past a certain age. When they picked Romulus and his parents agreed to the match, I thought I was fortunate. But then he ran. And I’m right where I was to begin with.”

Brittan was pensive. “Exactly how does one annul a Were betrothal?”

Betz looked very sad. “You don’t. It’s a binding, till-death-do-us-part contract.”

Brit paused with her water glass to her lips. “That doesn’t sound good.”

Betz nodded grimly. “No, it won’t be.”

“My heart beats for you,” Van said lustfully to JJ.

JJ gave him a cold stare. “Demon, if that hand moves even one inch higher, I will stab you with this fork and make it look like an accident.”

“Mama, what’s a prick?” mumbled Alex around a half-full mouth.

“Ask me again in thirteen years, baby, and we’ll discuss it,” responded Cassie with the calmness of a battle-seasoned mother. “Swallow then talk. I don’t want you to choke.”

“Have you considered taking a more permanent position, say in New Orleans?” asked Marco of Aunt Helena with the voice of a snake oil salesman. “It cannot be easy to pursue romance when you are always moving from place to place. And such a beautiful woman as you is very deserving of more.”

“Thank you, you’re a good-looking man…er vampire also.” Aunt Helena flushed.

Fera tilted her head toward Kathryn. “Sooo, what’s Hell like? Is there really that much gnashing of teeth? I’ve always thought it would be like Florida without the geriatrics.”

Young Alex answered the question. “Hell must be close. Mama always says Great-Aunt Prime is going to go there one day.”

“Do you have a mama?” Carlin asked Gem, his eyes big.

Gem held Car close. “I did. She’s gone now. My baba, my father, too.”

Alex gave Gem a gap-toothed smile. “You can have our mama. Car and me will share.”

Cassie turned red and wiped Alex’s mouth with a napkin. “You can’t give me away, Alex. And don’t repeat what I’ve said about the Witch Prime. You weren’t supposed to hear that.”

“Are things so difficult where you come from that you damn your own family?” Gem’s eyes were concerned as she asked Cassie the question in a hushed tone.

Perplexed, Alex asked Cassie, “But, Mama, you said it’s good to share.”

Exasperated, Cassie answered Alex, “It is good, baby. But people are different than toys, mamas especially.”

Gem winked at Alex, but her direct gaze said she was aware Cassie had skirted her question. “That’s right. Besides, maybe I don’t want your mama. She smells.”

Alex giggled and shook his head. “Nuh-uh, she had a bath.”

Van leaned half out of his chair to eye Gem and Cassie and gave them a lecherous grin as he said, “Yeah, she smells…gooood. If you don’t want their mama, I’ll take her. She’s smokin’!”

“Did Van watch TV
all
day?” Jacq whispered to me.

“I think it fried his brain,” I whispered back. “That and the many, many…
many
…beers he drank.”

When I’d gone to retrieve Van for dinner, I’d been shocked to find the den littered with junk food wrappers and empty cans. It looked as if he’d knocked over a 7-Eleven. I wasn’t sure if it was the alcohol, the sugar, the Were phers floating around the house, the kick to the head, or all of the above, but Van was definitely jonesing on something.

Mixing phers with alcohol was a very bad idea.
Or a very good one depending on your intentions.
A lightbulb went off in my head and I made a mental note to consult with JJ about it after dinner.

Returning to my conversation with Jacq, I asked, “Did my Nana just say she’s going to Hell and I’ll be following her?”

Jacq nodded. “Yes. Let’s hope she doesn’t try to take the RV.”

“Lovely.”

Mynx, voice husky and low, said to Fera, “Tell me, sheriff, why does my bedroom smell like a zoo?”

Fera’s eyes smoldered. “That’s because a
wild
woman lives there.”

“Is that the best explanation you can offer?” Mynx asked, her own eyes sparkling.

“Get a room,” muttered JJ. “And take this lush with you.” She jerked her thumb at Vanguard, who sat beside her. “His breath could knock over Fort Knox.”

Van simply batted soulful, puppy-dog eyes at JJ. “You complete me.”

JJ’s expression was sour. “The last man that said that to me disappeared to never be seen again. Have some ice cream and shut up. It’s coconut.”

Aunt Helena licked her lips, saying nervously to Marco, “You may have misunderstood my motives for inviting you tonight. When I said I wanted to discuss romance, I didn’t mean my own.”

Kathryn looked around and asked Nana, “You know, I’ve wanted to ask…why is there a hole in the wall of this room?”

Nana gave Kathryn a sad look. “There was a fight.” She looked to the children. “We haven’t finished painting over the repaired area.” Nana didn’t elaborate, and I understood why. Only a few days ago, it had been the children’s grandfather, Wellsy, dead and possessed by Nicodemus’s evil brother, who had put the hole in the wall.

Van, slumped in his chair and humming the theme to
Three’s Company,
asked no one in particular, “What is this thing called ganja? They spoke of it today on TV. It looked quite enjoyable.”

Fera passed Van a piece of bread. “Demon, if JJ doesn’t stab you, I will…and with something larger than a fork. Stuff a roll in your hole before you get yourself hurt.”

“Did you know Marco was coming?” I looked at Jacq with slitted eyes.

Jacq shrugged. “I thought Helena would tell you. The last thing I want to do is interfere in your aunt’s…uh…” Her eyes shifted and her voice became hesitant. “…affairs.”

I shook my head. “No, no, no. There are
no
affairs going on in this house.”

“What happened to your parents?” asked Cassie softly of Gem.

Gem, mouth open, said to Cassie, “They—” She stopped. Van was swaying back and forth in his chair.

Car, ice cream dripping down chin, asked Cassie, “Mama, what’s ganja?”

Van slid to the floor with an ungraceful thump. Faster than a pink elephant could fall from the ceiling and pulverize the table’s flowery centerpiece, the room went dead silent. I stared, completely flabbergasted. JJ, one hand captured by Van’s, looked ready to gouge out the demon’s eyes with her ice cream spoon.

Down on one knee, Van asked JJ in a slightly slurred but very solemn tone, “Will you be the mother of my children?”

Fera swallowed too quickly and began to choke, turning blue with alarming speed. Brittan jumped up, yanked Fera out of her chair, and did the Heimlich. A piece of half-chewed buttered broccoli flew out of Fera’s mouth and across the table, landing with a soft plop on the linen tablecloth between Nana and Marco. There was a heartbeat of silence. Then Alex and Car began to clap. Everyone else spoke at once, loudly, vibrating the small chandelier with their volume.

“Timeout!” I yelled, clanging my knife against my water glass. Everyone went silent, looking at me. Brit and a red-faced Fera slipped back into their chairs.

“You.” I pointed at the kneeling Van, working for the children’s sake to keep my tone below an ear-piercing level. “No, she will not. I’ve already told you that the
Wifetime Channel
is not how things work here. Cut it out and zip it up or I’ll take away your television privileges.”

Van opened his mouth to protest.

“And all the new toys Mynx bought you,” I added menacingly.

He climbed back into his chair, mumbling an apology to JJ. I was actually beginning to miss the confident smartass Armani-wearing demon I’d first met. One would think he was seven instead of seven hundred. Or whatever in the hell years he was! Thank God we hadn’t introduced him to the Internet.

“And you two,” I pointed at Fera and JJ, “will not be stabbing anyone.” I forcefully speared a piece of my fish and ate it, saying as I chewed, “This is my house. If anyone is going to stab someone, it’s me.”

I sat. Everyone but Alex and Car remained silent, looking at me. The toddlers were bouncing in their seats with expectant looks on their faces. “Don’t look at me,” I said. “I’m not explaining to them what ganja is.” I waved my hand. “Carry on.” And like a record starting up midsong, everyone began to speak again.

Red-faced, Fera glared at Van. “I’m the sheriff. I can stab you if I want.”

“You could try.” Fire burned in Van’s eyes. He looked drunkenly eager for a brawl, making me worry for the future state of my dining room furniture.

Jacq laughed, distracting me as she said softly in my ear, “I meant affairs as in business, not as in…how do you say ‘knocking boots’.” She raised her eyebrows, grinning.

“Oh,” I coughed, “how do you even know that phrase? Have you, uh,” another cough, “been knocking a lot of boots?”

Jacq’s voice was softly serious. “None in a long time. And none that mattered for longer still. Would it make a difference?”

I considered her thoughtfully. “No, maybe not. I guess it would depend upon your intentions.”

Marco, voice low and serious, said to Aunt Helena, “Perhaps you didn’t invite me here for your own romance, but motives are a strange thing. They often change as do we.”

Aunt Helena looked away from Marco. “True. I’ve changed and so have the things I need.”

Jacq’s mask slipped as she looked at me, showing me the depth of her love…as well as her fear. “You know my intentions, cher, much better than I know yours.”

“Tell us a story,” pleaded Alex, looking at the adults around him.

“I heard a story today,” Van offered. “A funny one.”

“Tell us. Tell us.” Car clapped his hands.

Cassie laid her hand carefully atop Gem’s, asking gently, “You were telling me about your parents?”

“They’re gone.” Gem’s breath hitched. “My mother was lost to us long ago. My father…more recently.”

“I’m sorry.” Cassie squeezed her hand, letting her fingers linger. Gem simply nodded, returning the squeeze. Her voice had fled.

Fera was giving Brit a big smile. “Thank you. Who knew eating your vegetables could be so dangerous?”

Brit blushed. “Just repaying the favor.”

Mynx leaned across Fera. From my seat I could see her fingers move under the table and up the sheriff’s inner thigh. Mynx said to Brit, “You’ll make a fine doctor someday.”

Van began his story, slurring slightly, “Knock, knock.”

BOOK: The Devil You Know
2.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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