Night Huntress

Page 12

I closed my eyes, remembering that afternoon. I hadn't liked water before, and since then, I hated getting wet. A daily shower-or on rare occasions, a bath-was the limit to any liquid frolicking I might do. Rain was okay, but I still didn't like it much.

"What happened?" Zach asked. "How did you get out?"

"Camille saved me. You have to understand, even before Mother died, Camille always looked after us. She followed me home after school to make certain I was okay. K'sander swore up and down that he had nothing to do with it, but the truth came out. His parents didn't even punish him. The fact that he'd lied hurt worse than the kids dumping me in the pond."

"Honey, you deserve so much better than that. I'll pick you up at seven on Sunday. We'll go out to the Keg Steakhouse. Afterward, how about a walk through the woods at your place?"

"You're on," I said, hanging up. Inside, I was a mass of knots. I'd just made a date with Zachary. If Chase found out-but then again, Chase had no place to talk. I ruthlessly kicked him out of my thoughts. I was going to enjoy my evening with Zachary, and Chase could fuck Erika all he wanted if he needed company. Apparently, she served him on a moment's notice far better than I did.

By the time Iris arrived home, Menolly was awake and puttering around the kitchen, fixing Maggie's dinner. They both listened silently as Camille and I ran down our encounter with the venidemons, the hellhound, and the shade, and Camille's resulting wound.

"Shit, you really got roughed up," Menolly said, examining Camille's hand. "I wish I could have been there. I'd have sent that hellhound back to hell in a handbasket. You sure you're going to be okay?"

She poured the warmed cream, sugar, sage, and cinnamon into a bowl and set it down on the floor for Maggie, then prepared the ground meat with which we were supplementing her diet. The Care and Feeding of Woodland Gargoyles had made it clear that it was time to introduce Maggie to solid food.

"For the hundredth time, I'm going to be fine," Camille said. She pointed to the raw slice of meat Menolly was mincing. "How's she liking the lamb?"

Maggie had-like any toddler-developed some inexplicable likes and dislikes. She loved chicken and turkey but hated fish. She gobbled up beef and buffalo but was hesitant about pork, and there was no way in hell we could get her to touch liver or other organ meats.

Menolly shook her head. "She's eating it so far, but I don't think it's going on her favorites list any time soon. Does the book say she should get any vegetables or fruit?"

I picked up the volume from where she'd tossed it on the table. It was so well-thumbed that we'd need a new copy soon. It felt odd to read in our native language again after reading predominantly English for well over a year, but Mother had taught us both English and Spanish when we were young, along with the various Fae dialects. All three of us were well-versed in multiple languages.

"Let's see." I thumbed through the chapters. "Sleep . . . play . . . hey, have you tried to teach her how to use her claws yet? It says here she should be learning the basic rudiments of hunting through play, though she won't be ready for a real hunt for years to come."

Menolly shrugged. "I tried, but she seems reluctant to take a swipe at anything. I used a dead mouse, but she showed little interest in it, either as a toy or as food."

That was strange. Gargoyles were notorious carnivores, and in the wild they fed on game primarily. I skimmed over the feeding section. "No sign . . . oh here-she needs berries for roughage, and they recommend giving her wildcress and grasswort once a week. In the wild, the mothers chew it up for the babies and regurgitate it." I grimaced. "I don't think I want to chew either one of those, let alone feed it to Maggie afterward. I might urp up hairballs, but that doesn't mean I enjoy the process."

Camille laughed. "That's what food processors are for. What's the closest thing to wildcress and grasswort over here Earthside?"

Iris piped up from the rocking chair where she was ensconced with a light afghan and a cup of orange spice tea. "Watercress and wheatgrass, I expect. I can buy some next time I'm at the market. I wouldn't wild craft it around here because of all the pesticides and chemicals used on the roads and orchards."

"Sounds good," I said as the phone rang.

Menolly wiped her hands and picked up the phone while Camille and I took turns feeding Maggie the ground meat, one spoonful at a time. Menolly whispered something, then took the phone and disappeared into the hall. Must be Wade, the president of Vampires Anonymous. While they'd dated a little, they'd ended up just friends. Menolly had become extremely active in local vampire politics, especially since offing her sire, though she said there were a number of vamps who disapproved of her actions.

"You say Smoky and Morio are bringing dinner home?" Iris said, frowning as she stared at the clock. "Do you know what they're getting? I'm not sure whether to get out soup bowls, chopsticks, or plates."

"If Smoky has anything to do with it, plan on pizza," Camille said with a shake of the head. The dragon had developed a pizza fixation over the past month, and we'd eaten it every time he'd been in charge of bringing home food. He'd shaken off every gentle hint to perhaps go for Chinese, or hamburgers, or even fish and chips.

At that moment, the door slammed open and Vanzir and Rozurial strode in. Vanzir looked ready to bust. "Man, have I got some information for you-" he started, but I waved him silent.

"Wait till Menolly's off the phone. Meanwhile, go take off your coats. Dinner will be ready soon." We'd gone from eating alone to big family-like dinners. Iris loved it, but sometimes I missed the privacy we'd had for so many months. Between Chase, Smoky, Morio, and-until recently Trillian-and then the two demons, and occasionally Bruce, Iris's leprechaun boyfriend, we had somehow expanded our evenings alone to lively discussion roundtables. Fun, but right now, I wasn't feeling very social.

I was about to excuse myself when Smoky and Morio meandered in. Instead of the predictable pizza boxes, Morio was carrying a large bag from Chang's Golden Palace, a Chinese restaurant about ten minutes down the road. It had recently opened up, and I'd been wanting to try their food.

"Dinner's on," Morio said.

"Thank the gods you convinced him to get something other than pizza," Camille said as Iris pulled out plates and chopsticks. As she set the table, Roz and Vanzir helped her. Menolly came strolling back into the kitchen and slowly replaced the receiver.

She turned to me. "So, when were you going to tell me?"

"Tell you what?" I stared at her, wondering what bee she was hiding in her bonnet this time .

"Tell me that your dick of a boyfriend decided to expand the explorations of his penis. That was Chase. He told me what happened. I'll give him this-he knew better than to lie. So, your detective's developed a yen for his own kind? Good riddance." She hovered up by the ceiling, her eyes flashing dangerously. "You want I should spank him a good one?"

Smoky blinked. "Chase strayed? Without asking permission?"

Camille swiveled her head to stare at him. "They aren't married, dude. Chill out, this isn't our affair."

"They may not be married, but from Chase's tone, I gather he knows he screwed up," Menolly said from her perch near the ceiling.

Iris cleared her throat. "Dinner's ready. I suggest we leave Delilah's business to Delilah for the meantime. I believe Vanzir had something to tell us?"

Oh yeah, the night was just getting better and better. I flashed Iris a grateful look and pulled out a chair, sliding into it with a thud. "Thanks, Iris. I'm going to say this once, and one time only tonight. The last thing I want is a bunch of unsolicited advice. I'll handle this in my own way, and it doesn't include any spanking, crisping, groin kicks, or any other attacks. Let me attend to my own affairs. I'll call Chase when-and if-I'm ready to, and until then, you can tell him I'm not available if he calls. Of course, if there's an emergency, we'll get the job done, but right now, butt out of my private life. Everybody."

The room fell silent until Camille let out a snort. "Good girl," she said as she piled her plate high with pot stickers, rice, almond chicken, and an egg roll.

Menolly glared at me. "Kitten, you tell me everything. I can't believe you were planning on keeping this a secret from me. Chase has no right to treat you like this-"

I jumped up. "See? This is why I didn't want to tell you. Camille, I told. Okay? She's leaving my decisions to me lately, and I appreciate it. You, on the other hand, still act like I'm five. If you'll remember, I'm older than you-Oh what's the use?"

Seeing her expression, I knew it was hopeless. Dropping back into my chair, I grabbed the nearest box of takeout. "You never listen. Just let it go for now, okay? Vanzir, what do you have for us? And it better have nothing to do with boyfriends, love, or sex."

He gave me a sympathetic smile, but the light in his eyes was cold. Sometimes it took me a moment to remember he was a demon, after all. Not human, not Fae, but a dream chaser demon who had, up until recently, entered humans' dreams and dined on their life essence, leaving them weakened and terrified from the constant barrage of nightmares he brought with him during his soporific visits.

"I was hanging around the Bloody Gin, when I overheard somebody talking about Karvanak," he said.

I grimaced. The Bloody Gin was yet another vampire-owned bar that welcomed shadier customers. Like Dominick's and the Fangtabula, they'd resisted every attempt by Wade and Menolly to get them on board with the mission statement of Vampires Anonymous.

And Karvanak was a Rāksasa-a Persian demon. He'd stolen the third spirit seal from us during our last big battle. Vanzir had defected at that point, but we'd still lost the seal, and Camille blamed herself, though there wasn't much she could have done. Rāksasas were greater demons who had far more power than we did.

Even with the horn of the Black Unicorn-a gift Camille had received from the Dahns Unicorns-she'd been unable to withstand the demon's demands and had lost the seal to him. Chalk one up for Shadow Wing. We were determined it wasn't going to happen again.

"Just what did you hear?" Menolly asked, leaning close.

Vanzir gave her a long, studied look, and she backed away just enough to tell me she still didn't fully trust him. None of us did.

"I overheard a goblin tell a vampire that Karvanak was offering big money for any clue to a great treasure, a gem that was priceless. The goblin seemed to think it was some sort of ring or something, but I'll bet you anything that Karvanak's putting out feelers, trying to find the fourth seal." He crossed to the silverware drawer. "Anybody else need a fork? I can't use chopsticks."

"Me, please," I said, raising my hand. Smoky did, too. Menolly stared at the food like she was both starved and ready to throw up. I had to give her credit. Sitting through dinner, watching all of us eat while she could never touch food again, had to be rough, but she did it for the cause.

"How does that help us, though?" Iris asked.

Vanzir handed me a fork and one to Smoky, then sat back down, a smile slowly spreading across his face. "It helps us because I also spent some time today talking to a couple of modern-day prospectors whom Karvanak at one time had thought to employ. They weren't interested in scouting out the mountains for him, and rather than tell them as to why he wanted their help, he just passed by the rejection and let them go."

"Prospectors?" I asked. "They spend a lot of time up in the Cascade Mountains?"

He nodded, the grin widening. "Oh yeah, and they were eager to make a quick buck today, especially when Rozurial laid on the charm. We found out several interesting things, including that one of the men ran across a cave a few weeks ago. A cave that's haunted. But before he managed to escape the cave, sans his buddy, he caught sight of a necklace being guarded by what sounds suspiciously like a passel of wights. A ruby set in gold. And it was glowing like a firefly in June."

A ruby? I glanced at Camille. "Is one of the spirit seals-" She nodded. "A ruby? Yes. Did the dude remember where the cave was? And, more important, did he tell Karvanak about it?"

Vanzir shook his head. "Yes, and no. And he won't ever have the chance to spill his guts, either."

"You didn't-" Iris gasped and almost fell off the high stool that boosted her to the table. "You didn't kill that poor man, did you?" she asked, steadying herself.

Roz cleared his throat. "Chill, pretty wench. No, Vanzir did not kill the guy. Neither did I, though we thought about it. After all, Karvanak can't very well extract information from a dead man, now can he? But I charmed him and talked him into going to sleep, and Vanzir slid into his dreams and ate up the memory. There's nothing for him to tell now, so he should be safe enough. And so should we."

I stared at my plate, my appetite starting to return. "That means that we know where the fourth spirit seal is, but that Karvanak hasn't got a clue. We can snatch it up and send it back to Queen Asteria."

"No shit, Sherlock," Vanzir said, but his eyes crinkled, and the cold fire went out of them for a moment. "We're one up on Shadow Wing's cronies this time. Let's just make sure we keep it that way."

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