Night Huntress

Page 27

She took another sip. "I never heard back, so I assumed he was still pissed, and I sure as hell wasn't about to be the first one to call."

I swallowed some of my irritation. She sounded just as angry as me. "What did you argue about?" I asked, forcing my tongue to form the words.

She gave me a faint smile. At first I thought she was being snide, but by the tone of her voice, I realized it was just one of those "we're both women, we both know men can be pigs" smiles. "Do you really want to know?"

I didn't, but with Chase missing . . . I sighed. "It might give us some clue to help find him."

Erika let out a snort. "Well, I doubt it, but hey, what the hell. I imagine you must be on top of the world knowing we had an argument. Whatever. Chase wanted to have an open relationship with you. I said forget it. He got pissed." She stood and slowly crossed to the window, where she stared out over the parking lot. "He blames me for this whole mess."

I blinked. Chase was interested in an open relationship? That was news. Chase had been staunchly against it when I'd ventured the idea because of Zachary. Had he changed his mind? "There's something I want to know. Did Chase tell you he was seeing me when you first came back to town?"

She didn't move, didn't turn around, but by the shift in her stance and the droop in her shoulders, I knew the answer. "He didn't, did he? You didn't know at first."

"Fine," she said, polishing off the booze. "I didn't know at first. Chase didn't tell me." She turned around, looking less confident. "I found out about you two weeks ago when I went to his office. He had slipped out for lunch. To kill the time, I started talking to the elf-Sharah? Anyway, she told me you were his girlfriend. She didn't know I'd been seeing him. When he came back, I had it out with him. He said that he thought you two were on the rocks. I told him to break it off with you, then. I didn't realize until this week that he was exaggerating. I should have expected him to do something like that, damn it."

Tears rose in her eyes, and even though I didn't want to, I felt sorry for her. "What do you mean?"

"Because that's why we broke up in the first place. Let me ask you a question now. Did he ever tell you about me?" She placed her glass on a coaster and dropped back into the armchair.

I shook my head. "No, he didn't. He told me . . . he said he'd never had a serious relationship before."

"I see," she said. Even though she was trying to keep a straight face, I saw the devastation creeping in around the edges.

"We were engaged for three years. I suppose, in his book, that doesn't qualify as serious. Or maybe it was just me. Anyway," she said, shaking her head. "Two months before the wedding I found out that he had fucked my best friend. He insisted it had been a one-time slip. I loved him, so I took him back. The night before our wedding I caught him with a stripper. In our bed. I left him. Moved away."

I felt like I'd just been hit with a brick. Chase had done this? My Chase? Sure, he was abrasive at times, but he always seemed to preach doing the right thing. And now I find out he had a history of being a slimeball?

She glanced up at me, her gaze flickering over my face. "Aren't you going to gloat?"

Shaking my head, I said, "Not my style." Which wasn't entirely true, but this time, I meant it.

"Thanks, I guess. Anyway, I thought . . . when I came back a month ago, he seemed changed. He apologized. He brought me flowers and told me he was happy to see me. I'd never really gotten over him so I . . . we . . . I fell for him again. When I found out about you, I knew he hadn't changed. So I decided to play him for as good of a fling as I could get. I'm not out to keep him, Delilah. I just wanted to build him up, then drop him like he dropped me. I wanted to hurt him."

Cripes! I stared at her. Revenge ran deep among FBHs as well as the Fae. Chase would have his own side of the story, no doubt, and the truth probably fell somewhere between the two, but whatever the case, the whole mess left me with a lot to think about.

"So you were arguing about me?" I asked again.

"About you-about responsibility. About doing the right thing. I don't give a flying fuck if you get your pussy bent over this. But I am angry that Chase still doesn't have the balls to stand up and say, 'Yeah, I did this,' and accept the consequences. Yesterday, when he blamed me for all the problems, I decided that I'm done. I'm too old to play head games with a spoiled brat. And I'm not interested in getting involved in a love triangle. Or a three-way."

She stood, arms folded, her exquisitely painted nails drumming a beat against the smooth silk robe. "My motto anymore is that when it stops being fun, I'm gone. And it stopped being fun. You wanted to know when the last time I saw him was? Yesterday, at Ruth's Chris Steak House. We were having drinks and appetizers. He walked out and stuck me with the bill."

With that, she turned to me. "I am going to get dressed. When I come out, I'd appreciate it if you weren't here. I'm leaving town today. He's all yours, honey. But I don't recommend you plan on any long-term commitments, because Chase is carrying a shitload of baggage in that trunk of his."

I watched as she disappeared into the bedroom, then slowly got up and left, making sure to lock the door on my way out.

So Chase had lied to me, several times over. If Erika was telling the truth, Chase had done to her what he'd done to me, only worse. The night before their wedding . . . even in Otherworld, that behavior wouldn't be acceptable for anybody except nobility. And only the kind of nobles that congregated around Lethesanar.

I slowly returned to my Jeep, rehashing the conversation over and over. Chase was missing. Chase played the field. Chase had lied to me, had lied to her, had a history of lying about women.

In some ways, it made me feel better that I wasn't the only victim. If only he could have accepted an open relationship from the start, maybe this wouldn't have happened. But he couldn't-at least not on his woman's side. I was beginning to get the picture. Chase needed to play the field, but he couldn't stand having the tables turned on him. So where did that leave us? Me? Him?

Erika said she was leaving, and I believed her. I now realized she wasn't the enemy. In fact, there was no enemy . . . there was only the gaping void left by my new inability to trust a man who insisted he loved me. A man who had introduced me to passion, to love, to my human emotional roots.

Now what was I supposed to do? Turn my back on him? Walk away? But I couldn't do that. We needed him because of his job, because of the demon problem. Could we pull back, be friends instead of lovers? The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a good idea. At least until we got our heads sorted out .

Wondering where the hell he was, I took off for home, deciding to put any major decisions about our relationship on hold until we'd had a chance to talk.

As I pulled into the driveway, I had the feeling something was wrong. I parked the Jeep a ways down the drive, just in case, and slipped up to the house by skirting through the woods. I hurried up the kitchen steps and stopped, staring at the door leading to the back porch. It had been ripped off the hinges. Shit!

Racing inside, I kicked aside the basket of laundry that had been overturned. The kitchen was a mess, with broken dishes and upended food everywhere. A glance showed that Menolly's entrance to her lair was still closed; with any luck, whoever it was hadn't found it.

But Iris-and Maggie? I whirled around to Maggie's playpen. It was torn to shreds.

Fighting back a scream, I raced into the living room, which was also upended. An odd fragrance hit my nose, and I recoiled. Almost overpowering, it was like decaying fruit: oranges and sugar vanilla and jasmine . . . oh fuck. Oh hell. The scent of Rāksasa. Karvanak had been here.

I sank down to the floor, crouching as wave after wave of energy rolled through me. I wanted to transform, to run and hide under something where it was safe and dark and hidden. As I fought the urges that ate at me like a junkie craving a fix, I could only wonder if Karvanak was still here-and if Iris and Maggie were still alive.


"No, no, no . . ." I whimpered. If only I could change into my tabby self and go find a safe corner in which to hide. I didn't want to be the one to find the bodies. I didn't want to see what Karvanak had done to our home. Where was Camille? She was better at this than I was. Why wasn't she here? She was my big sister, and it was her job to take care of us.

I rocked back and forth on my heels, holding my head in my hands, trying to blank out the destruction around me. By now, I should be shifting. Why wasn't my body taking over and forcing me to do what I wanted to do? For years, the involuntary shifting had been a refuge from fear and anger, a respite from arguments. Where was it now that I really needed it?

After a moment, I realized it wasn't going to happen.

Both relieved and chagrined, I looked around. The urge to shift had died down to a manageable level. Another moment, and I could breathe again. I stood up, swallowing my fear. I forced my shoulders back. I had no choice. I'd deal with whatever aftermath the Rāksasa had left in his wake.

My pulse racing, I flipped open my cell phone and dialed the Indigo Crescent, Camille's bookstore. As soon as she answered, I said, "Get your butt home now. The demons have been here. And contact Smoky if you can. We might need him."

Pocketing the phone, I edged my way over to the stairs. I had the ability to move silently-creeping like a cat-and I used it for all I was worth now, gliding up the staircase until I came to Camille's floor. The doors were all standing open. I checked each room. Everything had been torn apart. There were clothes everywhere in her bedroom. I glanced in her study. Her magical oils had been overturned and spell components destroyed, but there was no sign of the intruders. Thank the gods she carried the unicorn horn with her.

As I made my way up to my own chambers, I listened carefully, trying to pinpoint any noise that stood out. When I reached the third floor, I found the same situation. Everything tossed, some things destroyed, but nobody around.

That just left Menolly's lair. Praying that she was okay-and that I'd find Iris and Maggie alive-I raced back down the stairs, only to run into Camille and Smoky as they appeared in the living room, Smoky's arm around Camille's waist.

"We came through the Ionyc Sea," she said, looking disoriented. "I left my car at the shop."

"Thank the gods you're here," I said. "I haven't found Iris or Maggie yet, but I searched both the second and third floors, and there's no sign of blood, bodies, or the demons. Can you pick up the scent? Karvanak was here."

She breathed deep, paling as the fragrance of the Rāksasa hit her. "Hell and high water."

"Let's check Menolly's lair." I slipped past her.

We stopped in front of the bookshelf. Smoky was standing behind us. I glanced at Camille and she shook her head. "He's bound to find out sometime. Open it."

So, for the second time since we had come here to live, we revealed the secret entrance to Menolly's lair. As the shelves swung open, Smoky said nothing but gave a little nod.

I slipped into the dark opening and flipped on the dim light that illuminated the staircase leading down to Menolly's nest. As we slowly descended, I struggled to pick up the demon's scent, but there were no telltale fragrances lingering to indicate that he'd found the lair.

"Iris? Iris?" Camille called softly down into the depths of the basement that we'd retrofitted for Menolly. As I set foot on the bottom step, I found myself staring at Iris, her brilliant blue eyes wide with fear and anger. Maggie was tucked behind her, and she held out her wand with the Aqualine crystal on it.

"Stop where you are," she said, raising the wand.

"It's us, Iris . . ." I stopped. She was right to worry. Rāksasas were masters of illusion. We could easily be the demon and his cronies, cloaked behind a mirage. "Go ahead. Cast your Dispel Illusion spell, and you'll know for sure."

She raised the wand, and I could see her hand was shaking, but she called out in a loud, clear voice. "Piilevä otus, tulee esiin!"

A wash of light splashed over us, and I felt a little odd, but nothing much happened except for a moment I thought I was going to shift into my tabby form. After the flare died away, she lowered her wand, sinking to the ground and gathering Maggie into her arms.

"Thank the gods, thank the gods . . . I thought . . ."

"You thought we were the demons," I said, running to her. Camille checked on Menolly. When Menolly walked through her dreams, she looked wan and pale, dead as the vampire she was. She neither stirred, nor breathed, nor made a single movement. Sometimes I wondered where she journeyed in her dreams, but she wouldn't tell us, although I knew she wandered through her memories at times.

I gave Iris a kiss on the forehead and was about to help her up when Smoky gently pushed me away. He gathered Iris and Maggie into his arms and, as if he were carrying two feathers, headed up the stairs. Camille and I followed, securing the bookshelf firmly after we entered the kitchen again. Smoky deposited Iris by the rocking chair and motioned for her to sit.

"Tea," he said to Camille.

She nodded, searching through the mess of pots and pans that littered the floor. She found the stainless teakettle-dented but still usable-and filled it with water, then set it to heat.

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