Night Huntress

Page 18

"Delilah, Delilah? Time to wake up!" A woman was lifting me into her arms, and still half-asleep, I purred as she started a delightfully luxurious ear-scritch around my head. After a moment, I shook myself awake and looked up into Menolly's eyes. I let out a loud purp, and she tossed me lightly on the bed, where I leisurely transformed back to two legs.

I stretched and yawned. "Oh, that felt good. How long did I sleep?"

"I made the others give you and Camille two hours instead ninety minutes. That extra time can play a big difference in reflexes and alertness. Feel good enough to go for it tonight?" Menolly was dressed for the woods: jeans, long-sleeved turtleneck, a denim vest, her lace-up-to-the-knee Doc Martens boots. She gave me a toothy grin, and I could smell blood on her breath.

"You ate already, I take it?" I grimaced and shook my head.

"Shit. Breath stinking again?" She rolled her eyes.

"Yeah. Here. Try this. I keep telling you to start carrying one around." I tossed her a pocket-sized Listerine breath spray. Mint. Strong mint. I loved it, because it reminded me of catnip without making me do something stupid. My sisters knew my little secret: Catnip-be it tea or the herb-was as potent for me as tequila was for some FBHs, even when I was in two-legged form. I never told anybody else because I didn't want any practical jokers trying to see how far they could push it.

Menolly couldn't drink or eat anything but blood, but the breath spray didn't bother her like food. She gave herself a few good squirts until I couldn't smell the blood anymore. Holding up the spray, she asked, "Can I keep this?"

Nodding, I glanced down at my outfit. Grungy, yeah, but where we were going, it wouldn't matter. "Think I'm dressed okay? It worked over in OW this morning. I might as well wear it tonight. I'm just going to get filthy again. I know it. I'm about as much of a klutz as Smoky is a clean freak. Have you noticed that he never seems to get dirty?"

"Oh, yeah, and I dare you to ask him how."

"Already did." I snorted. "He just gave me that smart-assed grin of his. Maybe Camille can get it out of him. He's sure a close one with information, that's for sure. You think he's told her his real name yet?"

"Ha! I doubt it. After all, he is a dragon." Menolly grinned. "Come on, Kitten. Iris is holding dinner. Camille and Morio should be at the table by now."

As I clattered down the stairs, my sister silently gliding behind me, I could smell the aromas of hamburgers and fresh fruit. My mouth watered, and I bounced into the kitchen, suddenly feeling jazzed. So what if we were on the tail of one of the spirit seals? We'd come through. We always did. Well, not always, but we had the jump on the fourth seal, and this time, we wouldn't let Karvanak win.

Iris handed me a burger and a thick slice of melon as I slid into a chair. Camille and Morio were already eating. Smoky was leaning over a map with Roz, and Vanzir was sitting in the corner. Menolly reached into the playpen and hoisted the Magster onto her hip. Maggie gurgled something and planted a fat kiss on Menolly's cheek.

"So here's the plan. We've got a forty-minute drive to the Skattercreek Road turnoff." Roz traced the route along the map as I leaned across the table to watch. "Once we get there, the grade takes a steep incline, so we'll want to take vehicles that can weather the conditions. Your Jeep should do fine. Camille, leave the Lexus at home. Same with the Jag, Menolly."

As his gaze flickered over to Menolly, a little bell went off in the back of my mind. Something was going on between them. Or was going to, even if neither one realized it yet. Of course, Roz had been trying to get in Menolly's pants for some time, but had my sister decided to open the gates to her garden? They would be one hell of a match, for sure. The incubus and the vampire.

I decided to keep my mouth shut. So did Camille, though she caught my gaze and arched her eyebrows.

"So if we take my Jeep, there are . . . how many of us?" I counted. Smoky, Roz, Vanzir, Camille, Menolly, and me. "Six. I can fit that many, but it will be a tight squeeze."

"We better just take my SUV," Morio said as the phone rang.

Menolly moved to answer it while I shrugged and nodded. "Fine by me. I don't feel like driving anyway."

I had just taken a bite of my burger when Menolly handed the phone to me. I stared at it, hoping it wasn't Chase. Menolly shook the receiver at me, and I finally wiped my hands on my jeans and took the damned thing.

"Yeah?" Not too friendly, but it might be Chase, and I wasn't ready to play nice-nice. But I shouldn't have worried; it was Zach.

"I'm in town, and thought I'd see if you were up for a movie." His pleasantly growly voice was thick and rich as usual, and my body responded to the deep baritone.

I sucked in a deep breath. "No can do. Not tonight. Say, how would you like to take a trip with us? We can use all the help we can get."

A pause, then a low sigh. "Spirit seal or demon or both?"

"Spirit seal. Demons aren't quite onto this one yet, and we'd like to keep it that way. You feel like taking a road trip out toward Snoqualmie?"

He laughed. "Delilah, by now you should know that if you're involved, I'm up for anything. I'm about twenty minutes from your house. I'll be there as soon as I can. Don't start without me."

As I handed the receiver back to Menolly, I felt a smug sense of satisfaction. Zachary wasn't scared to help us. Zach wouldn't let us down. I told the others we'd have another pair of hands on board.

"Good," Camille said, licking the ketchup off her fingers and reaching for a napkin. "Iris, if we have any cookies, now would be the time to spring them. I always crave sugar when we're on a job."

Job . . . I blinked. "You know, I never thought of it before, but you're right. That's what all this has become, hasn't it? More so than the bookstore, than my supposed PI business . . . more than the Wayfarer Bar & Grill. Your mission, D'Artigo sisters, should you choose to accept it: Hunt down and procure the magical spirit seals before the demons get to them. If you should fail or be caught, Earth and Otherworld will suffer a horrible fate . . . "

Menolly snorted. "Not quite as poetic as Jim Phelps, but hey, it works in a pinch. Look at it this way, Kitten. At least we're not stuck behind a desk. Now, that would be hell."

Good to his word, Zach arrived fifteen minutes later as we finished tracing out the route. I opened the door to find him standing there, looking all tidy and polished. Zach was tall. Even taller than Smoky, by an inch. At six five, he towered over my six foot one. His blond hair was cut into a collar-skimming shag, and he sported a perpetual five o'clock shadow.

Lean and muscled, Zachary was one of the golden boys: good-looking, rugged, all-American. Except for the fact that he was a werepuma on the Council of Elders for the Rainier Puma Pride .

I leaned toward him, inhaling his mingled scents of leather and dusty sunlight. We'd slept together once, and though I had sworn it wouldn't happen again, now I found myself considering him from a whole new angle.

He seemed to sense something was up, because he leaned down and softly kissed me on the forehead. My knees quivered. His lips found their way to my lips. My pulse revved like an engine on steroids. He brought his hand up to my hair and gently pushed it away from my face.

"What's going on?" he said. "Is it over between you and Chase?"

We were ready to go. We had work to do. Not the right time for a long, insightful talk.

"I don't know," I said. "Right now, help us retrieve the fourth seal. Then, if you don't mind a late-night dinner, we can talk." I knew I was inviting Zachary to play more than tea party, and I knew that he knew it. It was my choice. Chase had chastised me for doing the exact same thing he'd succumbed to. Double standards weren't on my menu, and if he now felt free to play without permission, I'd take my cue from him.

He stroked my cheek. "Whatever you desire."

As he pulled back, Camille slipped by, smiling brightly when she saw him. "Good to see you, Zach. Glad to hear you're joining us. We can use all the help we can get."

We clattered down the steps and converged on Morio's SUV. Menolly shoved Zach toward the back door. "Get in, puma boy. Fight now. Talk later. You, too, Kitten."

With a last look at the house, where Iris stood holding Maggie in her arms, I scooted into the backseat next to Zachary, shivering as the warm, musky bulk of his thigh pressed against mine. Oh yeah, it was going to be one hell of a night.


We'd made the drive out toward Snoqualmie before, to a battle involving some butt-ugly werespiders and an ancient shaman who put the E in evil. This time I prayed we wouldn't be facing anything quite so gruesome. After all, spirits and ghosts couldn't be as frightening as werespiders, could they?

Then I remembered the revenant and what it was capable of. I shrank back in the seat, wondering if there was any chance in hell we'd catch a break and get through this without a fight.

At least the night wasn't as cold as it had been in December. And we knew we were on the tail of a spirit seal. That alone cheered me up. If we could find the rest of the seals before the demons did, maybe we could put a stop to Shadow Wing's plans. Relieved to see my optimism wasn't dead after all, I leaned back and closed my eyes, enjoying the feel of the car as it purred along the miles.

Thirty miles east of Seattle, Snoqualmie was nestled in the foothills of the Cascades, towering mountains of fire and ash. The Cascades were the home of Mount Rainier, a majestic volcano who was merely biding her time until she blew again. Her sister, Mount St. Helens, had lost her peak back in 1980 with a thunderous explosion that killed nearly sixty people. When Rainier went, if she blew big, so would a huge swath of the population who lived right in her path. The land around the Pacific Northwest was alive, all right. Alive and churning beneath the layers of rock and soil and forest.

Snoqualmie's main claim to fame, other than a mountain pass by the same name and a ski resort, was that the city had played host to the filming of Twin Peaks, an odd show I'd watched on reruns a few times and found disconcertingly spooky. Considering what we faced on an almost daily basis, I couldn't explain what about the show creeped me out so much, but it was a good scare, unlike the kind in which we always seemed to get entangled.

We had to pass through the Eastside in order to get to Snoqualmie. A conglomeration of cities-Redmond, Bellevue, Woodinville, Kirkland, Issaquah-each had their unique charm. The Eastside was the heart of high-tech in the Northwest, with software companies dominating the area, led by Microsoft. And the area itself was developing at a rapid rate. Bellevue's skyscrapers were giving Seattle's tall towers a run for their money. As we drove through the glittering wash of lights and concrete, I held my breath, thinking how different this was from my home.

And yet . . . and yet . . . Otherworld had its own brilliance and towering palaces and marbled buildings that we seldom saw over Earthside. And the magical lights of the eye-catchers glittered as brilliantly, though not quite so neon, as the scattered lights within the glass-and-steel buildings. Just replace the hum of electric wires and cell phone towers with the buzz of magical energy, and the two realms weren't so different after all.

As we sped down I-90 and then turned off on exit 25, the trees grew tall and thick on either side of the freeway. The towering firs loomed dark over the landscape, and the undergrowth was thick and full with burgeoning ferns and huckleberry and scrub holly and wild grasses.

The Cascade Mountain Range and its foothills, running the length of Washington down into Oregon, were a wild region. Mountain lions and bears and coyotes roamed the hills, occasionally venturing into the outskirts of the city, and the land felt rugged and tough. If you weren't up to the challenge, you could die in the mountains in any number of ways, none comfortable to think about.

As the engine hummed, I inhaled deeply, then let out a long sigh. How many times had we raced off to quell a problem in the past six months? How many nights had we spent bashing heads and getting beat up in return?

The problem with rogue portals opening showed no signs of stopping. Cryptos and Fae were showing up everywhere, especially around the Northwest. Guarding the portals that opened into the Subterranean Realms was proving to be difficult, because the OIA had been absorbed into our Queen's army and for now, we were working off the radar.

One thing we had to be grateful about, though, was that the new portals showed no signs of opening into the Sub Realms. The Netherworld, yes, but the Sub Realms-not so much. A blessing we couldn't ignore.

I leaned forward and peeked over Roz's shoulder. He was riding shotgun, while Morio drove, and considering he had the map, it was probably a good arrangement. "You're sure that Karvanak hasn't got wind of the seal yet?"

He shrugged. "As far as we could tell, no. Of course, there's no guarantee, but I don't think he'd be torturing that poor man if he already had the information. He'd just eat him. Rāksasas do that, you know. They eat humans, along with other species."

Shuddering, I slipped back in my seat. "Yeah, I know, but thanks again for the visual. Just what I needed."

Smoky, who was sitting on my right, snorted. "I eat people, too."

"Not like that," I said. "You don't just go devouring innocents, and we know it. Maybe some dragons do, but don't pretend that you're like them."

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