"So, what did Queen Asteria say?"
"The Elfin Queen was overjoyed to have the fourth seal. She's still terribly worried about the third seal and what Shadow Wing might be doing with it. The Dahns Unicorns have reported several troubling attacks on the outskirts of their lands. At first they thought the raids were from goblins, but on closer inspection, the wounds don't match the usual pattern for goblin strikes."
I polished off my eggs and bacon. "Well, at least the fourth seal is safe and secure, and we didn't have too hard a time finding it. I'm headed out now. I'll be back in an hour or two, and I'm on my cell if anybody needs me."
"I'm headed out to my land now, too. Here," he said, depositing Maggie in my arms. "You tend to your charge. If Camille asks, I'll be at my barrow for the evening. I've errands to attend to, and those blasted Fae Queens are cluttering up the edges of my land. I need to make sure they don't tear the place apart."
He grimaced. Over the past couple of months, we'd all been privy to exactly what Smoky thought of Morgaine, Aeval, and Titania reconstructing the Seelie and Unseelie Courts.
Torn apart in the Great Divide when Otherworld split off from Earthside, the Fae Courts had been decimated, and Aeval and Titania effectively banished. A couple months ago, thanks to Morgaine's meddling, they'd decided enough with that shit and were now rebuilding their kingdom with a little help from Camille. We weren't quite sure whether this was a good idea, but one thing was certain: It kept them out of our hair, and it pleased FBHs to no end. The big question now was where they were going to set up their actual court. Titania was trying to claim part of Smoky's land. He wasn't budging.
"Just be careful. Those three are dangerous, and I don't trust any one of them." I put Maggie in her playpen and made sure she had her favorite toy-Chase had given her a stuffed monkey named River-and her blocks.
"You're right to suspect them. They're up to no good. I wish Camille hadn't gotten herself mixed up with them, but then, I suppose when the Hags of Fate order you around, you listen." The dragon slipped into his long white trench coat and headed out the door.
He was right about the Hags of Fate, I thought. None of us wanted Camille mixed up with that crew. Although Morgaine technically was part of our family tree, we all knew blood didn't ensure loyalty. But Camille had had no choice. Grandmother Coyote had seen to that.
One favor the new Queens of Fae were doing for us, however, was taking some of the pressure off with the general populace. Ever since we crossed to this world, we'd been seen through lenses clouded with mystique, and we'd been both despised and revered.
Now, with Earthside Fae coming out of the woodwork, it evened the score. But I wasn't counting chickens yet. Once the FBHs realized that the Queens of Fae weren't going to chum up to the ordinary Joe and play footsie, the mood could change in the blink of an eye. And the three Queens were anything but jovial.
I scribbled a note for Iris, who was busy with the laundry, kissed Maggie on the cheek, and grabbed my keys. As I climbed into my Jeep, my thoughts returned to Chase. I really didn't think he was missing. He'd probably eloped with Erika or something equally asinine. In the back of my mind, I wondered why I was still so upset. After all, I'd spent the night with Zach and had an incredible time. And I was going to tell Chase about it. Not rub his nose in it, but be clear about what I'd done. Maybe I should cut Chase some slack.
Then again, another little voice argued, it wasn't just the lying that bothered me so much, or the lying by omission. Chase had put up a squawk about me seeing Zach on a friendship basis as well. So I'd focused on Chase, given him my exclusive attention. And then he went out and screwed somebody else.
Thoroughly confused, hot and cold running about equally, I sped along the freeway until I came to the exit leading to his apartment building in south Seattle. He actually lived around Renton, though his zip code still tied him to the city proper.
As I pulled into the parking lot, I looked around for his new SUV, and sure enough, there it was, in the lot. So either he was home and not answering his phone, or he was out with somebody else-namely, Erika. Or, a little voice said, maybe he was home, but unable to answer his phone. I jumped out of the Jeep and took the stairs two at a time. After two knocks, I dug out my key. As I stared at it, I wondered briefly if this was the last time I'd be letting myself into his apartment. If we broke up, I'd have to give it back, and the thought made me unaccountably sad.
But when I went to open it, I found the door was unlocked. I pushed it open, gingerly stepping over the threshold. The lights were on, though it was broad daylight. Chase got plenty of light in his apartment, and he was meticulous about turning off the lamp when he left the room. Bad sign number one.
Bad sign number two was in-my-face big. The living room looked like a tornado had raged through it. Books were scattered everywhere, everything on the desktop now littered the floor: pencils, pens, papers. His laptop computer was open and blinking. Somehow it had survived the fall. My heart in my throat, I slowly made my way through the mess. What the hell had happened?
Panic rising, I ran to the bedroom. No sign of a fight, no sign of suitcases, the closet was full, the bed was still made. Which meant he'd either had time this morning to make it, or he hadn't slept in it.
The light on his answering machine was blinking, and before I even thought about fingerprints, I hit the button and sat down to listen. The first was from the dry cleaners, telling him his suit was ready to pick up. The second was from Sharah, asking him to call her as soon as possible. The third was from Erika. I stopped short at that one.
"Chase, where the hell do you get off? I thought we agreed that this time, you were going to play things my way. I don't play second fiddle to anyone or anything-whether it's work, or that creeped-out cunt you're sleeping with. Call me as soon as you get this or don't bother calling at all."
Whoa. Was this the real face of the woman he'd been seeing on the side? I stared at the machine, wondering what the hell he saw in her. Sure, she was pretty, but her mouth put an end to anything I'd ever find attractive about her. I never-not once-had treated him to that sort of scathing attack. We'd argued, but I never played dirty. The fourth message came on and startled me out of my reverie. Sharah again, and the fifth was also from her, this morning. And that was it for the messages.
As I sat there, I noticed a picture on the nightstand and picked it up. Chase had taken it a few months ago, it was of me, curled up in a ball on the end of his bed, snoozing on his favorite Armani jacket. I'd left him a hairball there. Purely unintentional, but he'd laughed till he cried and wouldn't let me pay to have it cleaned
. Before I could stop myself, I realized I was crying.
I tucked the picture in my pocket and wandered back out to the living room, looking for the phone. As I picked it up and dialed Sharah's number, I decided to see Erika next. I'd talk to her, because I wanted to face her down. I wanted to face the demon who had come between Chase and me. A demon from his past and from my insecurities.
And I prayed-for once, I prayed-dear Lady Bast, let Chase be there. Let him be safe and sound and with her. Because if he wasn't, then we really had something to worry about.
I didn't know where to find Erika, but it didn't take me long to find Chase's address book. After that, it was a simple matter to scan through the entries until I came to her address and number. She was staying in one of those furnished hotel suites, which told me she hadn't fully made up her mind whether to move back to Seattle or not.
I scribbled the address and phone number in my notebook, stuffed it in my pocket, and then headed out. My fingerprints were everywhere, but Sharah knew that I'd been here. As I eased out of the parking lot, I met her pulling in. I waved to her, and she gave me a quick nod.
The route to Erika's took me ten minutes. She'd settled in as close to Chase's as possible. How long had she been in town? A week? Two? Four?
When I entered the luxurious hotel, it occurred to me that Erika had to have money. No way Chase could afford this on his salary. I sauntered up to the counter and leaned across the marble top, lowering the masks on my glamour. I usually avoided using the charm from my Fae blood, but right now, I wanted every scrap of insurance on my side that I could get.
While the clerk gave me the once-over-long and leisurely-I flashed him a slow smile. "I need some information," I said.
"What do you need, pretty lady?" He was breathless in a creepy sort of way, but I wasn't about to nitpick. I had him hooked.
"How long has Erika Sands been registered here?" I pursed my mouth, offering the promise of a kiss.
He licked his lips as he stared at me. I didn't even think he knew he was doing it. "She moved in about four weeks ago."
Four weeks. So that meant Chase had been fucking her for four weeks. "Has she ever stayed here before?"
The clerk shook his head. "Not that I know of. She's in her room now. Do you want me to call her?"
"No, just give me her room number," I said. And he did. And then, because I was never one to tease and run, I leaned across the counter and planted a quick kiss on him. He shuddered as I drew away. "Thank you, Cliff," I said, reading his name tag. "You've been a real help."
"No problem," he whispered, staring after me.
The elevator was sluggish, but for once, I didn't feel like taking the stairs. Within a few minutes, I stood outside the door to suite 403. Should I knock? Just barge in? Knocking would be the polite thing to do, so I nixed the idea. I grabbed the doorknob and twisted. Locked. Without missing a beat, I pulled out my lock picks and went to work. Within seconds, I'd sprung the latch, pushed open the door, and wandered in.
Erika wasn't in the living room of the suite, but nothing looked askew. The sounds of water caught my attention, and I crossed to one of the two closed doors leading out of the room.
The smell of lavender wafted out. Synthetic. I wrinkled my nose. She looked rich enough to afford the real thing, so she was either cheap or had shoddy taste. I frowned, then-taking a perverse delight in knowing I'd be scaring the hell out of her-slammed open the bathroom door.
Erika shrieked, prone in a tub filled with metallic-scented bubbles.
"You! What the hell are you doing here? I'm calling the cops-" She started to stand up, then stopped and sank back in the tub. "Get out of here."
"Shut the fuck up," I said, ignoring her tantrum. "Have you seen Chase since last night? I know you left a message for him."
"What business is it of yours-"
"As I said, shut the fuck up unless you're answering my questions. I'm asking you politely, but I could drag you out of that tub and make you tell me, and trust me, you do not want me to get rough with you." A raw jealous streak had taken over. I wanted to shake her, to smack her a good one. Hell, I wanted an old-fashioned catfight, but in this case, I was top cat, and she'd come out the loser. Thank the gods, reason prevailed, and I restrained myself.
"Listen to me, and listen good. Chase is missing. We don't know where he is, so if you've seen him since last night, I advise you to tell me now, because as I said, I can make you tell me. Don't push me, Erika."
"Missing?" The blood drained out of her face, and she leaned back against the tub. "What do you mean, missing?"
"I mean missing as in he didn't show up for work this morning. Last night Sharah tried to reach him by phone, but he wasn't answering. His apartment's been trashed-at least the living room-and he's nowhere to be found. Now, are you going to get out of that tub or do I have to drag you out?"
I took another step toward her, and she scrambled, almost slipping as she stepped out of the oversized Jacuzzi and fumbled for a towel. I stared at her nakedness, decided that I was prettier after all, and turned away. "I'll wait for you in the living room. Hurry up."
Within less than five minutes, she joined me, dressed in a silk robe with her hair wrapped in a turban. She wore fuzzy slippers that looked like they were out of some 1950s glamour-girl movie, and it occurred to me that, even though she was probably in her early thirties, she looked dated. Old.
She headed toward the bar and poured herself a Scotch. "You want a drink?" she asked.
I shook my head.
"Suit yourself. After I answer your question, I want you to get the hell out and never show up here again. I told Chase to break it off with you when I found out about you, but he wouldn't listen. So don't blame me for everything that's happened," she added, giving me a narrow look that could have either been cunning or wary.
"You made the choice to continue seeing him when you knew he was with me. You share some of the fault. But that's not what I'm here about. When did you last see him?" I let out a long sigh. Her calm, collected manner was getting to me. I didn't like being hysterical. I didn't want to be the hysterical one while she remained in control of herself.
"Have a seat," she said, slowly sipping her drink.
As I gingerly sat on the edge of the couch, she slid into the armchair and crossed her legs, restlessly dangling the slipper off the toe of her left foot.
"So, Chase has turned up missing? Well, I have no idea where he is. We had an argument yesterday, during lunch. He started for the door, and I told him that if he wasn't going to take me out dancing as planned, don't bother coming back. He owed me an apology, and I wasn't interested in hearing from him until he was ready to ante up a contrite 'I'm sorry.'"