I pushed myself out of the chair, ignoring Camille's entreaty, and cautiously made my way to Zach's side. Images of the fight were flooding back. Blood, so much blood on our hands. My pulse quickened, and I suddenly realized that now, instead of dreading the memories, my adrenaline was shifting back into high gear. I felt myself itching to continue the chase, to follow the enemy and tear him apart.
"You saved Chase," I whispered, leaning down to kiss Zach's forehead. "I remember now. Right before I shifted . . . I saw you jump between Chase and Karvanak." I looked back at the others. "What about him? What about Karvanak?"
"In the end it took all of us to bring him down," Smoky said. He motioned to Camille, and she sat on his lap. He wrapped his arm around her waist and let out a long sigh. "He was a greater demon, but still . . . he was just one demon. There are thousands like him in the Subterranean Realms." He left the thought unspoken that was running through all of our minds. Thousands of demons, waiting for Shadow Wing to open the floodgates.
It was then that I noticed that Fraale and Roz were nowhere to be seen. When I asked about them, Menolly frowned. "They left after the fight. Roz said they needed to talk."
"Well, hell. We saved the seal this time, but we almost lost two of our own." I walked back to Chase's side and took his hand in mine. What would happen when he woke up? To him . . . to us?
"I take it everyone else is unscathed? More or less?" I asked, still holding Chase's hand. His other hand was bandaged, and by his color, I saw that they had the infection on the run. But infections and lost fingertips couldn't hold a candle compared to bad memories.
"Yeah," Camille said. She sucked in a deep breath, held it for a moment, then let it whistle out in a sharp stream. "And you-you saved us all. The Scytatian would have killed everyone there if you hadn't . . . well . . . done whatever it was you did to him."
I blinked. I still hadn't told them about the ghost leopard. About my twin. I tried to summon up the words, but this wasn't the time. Right now, all I could think about was the bone-weary pain that ran through my body. About the fact that both of my lovers had been hurt. About the fact that my sword had spoken, my dead sister had come to fight by my side, and that my master-one of the Harvestmen-wanted me to have his child. I felt so overwhelmed, I didn't know where to begin.
And then a miracle happened. Or maybe it was the Hags of Fate smiling on us for a brief second. Chase opened his eyes and gave my hand a squeeze. I motioned to Sharah.
"He's awake. You said you sedated him."
"No," Chase whispered as Sharah scurried over. "I need to tell Delilah something before I sleep. Please?"
Sharah stood back and nodded to me.
I leaned down and put my ear near Chase's lips. "What is it, sweetheart?"
He gave a slight shudder and then whispered, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry about Erika. I was an idiot. I thought . . . I don't know what I thought, but please, tell me you won't leave me? Promise me you won't leave?"
I stared into those deep brown eyes and fell. I fell so hard that I broke every chance I had to retreat, to walk away. "I'm here. I'm not going anywhere. When you're feeling better, we'll talk. We'll find a way."
A tear trickled down his cheek, and he pressed my hand to his lips. "It's you, Delilah. It's only you. And whatever it takes-whatever arrangement you want, I'll accept it. Whatever you want me to do to make up for lying to you, I'll do it. Even if . . . even if you want Zachary. He saved my life, and he almost died. How can I ever forget that? How can I ever repay him?"
I pressed a finger to his lips. "Shush. Save your strength. Sleep, and know that I'll be here when you wake up. We'll figure this out, Chase. My parents made it work; somehow we will, too."
His eyes drifted closed and a soft snore came whistling out of his nose. I smiled then. Everything was going to be okay. It had to be.
I stayed at the hospital that night, sleeping in the bed next to Chase's. Camille and Menolly went home and took care of matters there. We had a lot of housewares to replace, and while Iris had already started the process, there was so much work to do. Camille and Morio wanted to strengthen the wards and figure out a way for all of us to know when they'd been broken.
I didn't think I'd be able to sleep, even as weary as I was, but Sharah brought me a mug of kettle-nap tea from Otherworld, and it did the trick. I was out like a light and slept until an unexpected sunbeam splashed on me. Shining through the window, it filled the room with warm light. As I stretched, yawning, I couldn't help but feel relief. We might be staring hell in the face, but at least this morning, we'd do so in sunshine.
"You're awake." Chase's voice echoed through my head, and I turned. He was sitting up, his hand gingerly resting on a pillow. Bruised, he looked exhausted, but his smile lit up the room.
"I'm awake," I said, padding over to curl on the end of his bed. "And how are you feeling this morning? Where'd Zach go?"
"They took Zachary in for surgery on his back. He took one for me. Don't think I don't know that. How I'll ever repay him . . ." With a shrug, Chase leaned back against the pillows. "As to how I am . . . that's a loaded question. They were rough on me, Delilah. I took more abuse than getting my finger chopped off." He stared at the gauze-wrapped hand, shaking his head. "But you know what? I understand now."
"Understand what?" I blinked. I'd expected him to sound fragile, and he sounded the opposite: strong and determined.
"I understand what you're fighting for. What we're fighting for. I understand the nature of the Demonkin better. And I get why Menolly does what she does, why the rules no longer apply. I think I can do my job better because of this. I guess . . . I'm saying I've just enlisted in your army instead of standing on the fence." He gave me a hesitant smile. "If you're still willing to have me."
I lowered my gaze. This was not the Chase I'd expected to find. And I rather liked it. "We need you, Chase. Whatever happens between you and me-we need you."
Letting out a long sigh, he closed his eyes. "I hurt you. I can't believe I did that-"
"Don't. Menolly explained it to me. How you needed to feel strong and how I might be making you feel like less of a man because of my father's bloodline and how it makes me stronger-" I stopped. He was staring at me with a peculiar expression. "What? Did I say something wrong?"
"No, but you're way off track. I wouldn't take relationship advice from Menolly, if I were you." He snorted. "The blunt truth is that I did what I did because I've always been a pig. I'm not very good with relationships, Delilah," he added, leaning forward and reaching for my hand with his good one
"This commitment thing is hard for me. I've always used women the way some guys use booze or drugs . . . even Erika, when we were engaged. I never took our betrothal seriously, and I hurt her. When she came nosing around, I screwed up. Plain and simple. No ulterior motives. No excuses. She's pretty, she was always a lot of fun before she dumped me, and I decided to take a chance. I never thought you'd find out, and I never meant it to be anything more than a fling."
I stared at him, thinking that I'd liked it better when I thought it was some angsty crisis he was going through. "Not sure what to say, dude. It's not that you slept with her that pissed me off so much."
His smile dropped away, and he looked like a dog about to be beaten on the butt with a broom. "Go ahead."
"You lied to me. And you made me feel bad for wanting Zachary. You made such a big deal about Zach, and then you go out and fuck some woman I've never even met? If you would have told me you wanted her, we could have avoided this mess! I won't live with a double standard." I waited, wondering where the chips were going to fall.
Chase sighed. "Yeah. I know. I meant what I said. Whatever you want me to do, I'll do it. I'll take any promise or oath you want. If you still want to be with Zach, I'll be okay with it. Ever since you walked in on Erika and me, I realized just how much I love you, and how much I want you in my life. Maybe it's true. Maybe every relationship is different. If I stop expecting it to be like what I think it should be, we can have the relationship we're meant to have."
My detective had grown up a lot during the past few days. I reached out and flicked his nose with my finger and thumb. "Silly man. When did you finally get so smart? To start things off right, I'll be honest. I slept with Zachary again. I was so mad at you, and I was so pent-up from a fight . . . and I wanted him. But Chase, I love you. I care for Zach, I respond to him-our natures are similar. But I don't love him."
I watched Chase's face, carefully gauging his reaction. He pressed his lips together, and I could tell I might as well have punched him in the gut, but then he let out a long sigh and smiled. "Yeah. Okay. It's going to happen from time to time, and I can accept that. And if I . . . if I see someone . . ."
"Then you tell me first. Let's just take it one day at a time. How about that?" I leaned down and pressed my lips to his. His tongue slid into my mouth, searching, and then his good hand was on my breast, and I moaned, wanting him, wanting my love inside me.
"Are you up to it?" I asked, glancing back at the door.
He nodded, an eager light in his eyes. "Oh, yeah, just take a look and see how up I am for it." He raised the sheet, and I saw that he was rigid and waiting. I licked my lips, and he laughed. "No biting! Just climb up here for the ride, ma'am, and I'll show you the sights."
I grinned, stripping off my panties, and slid into bed with him as he took my right breast in his mouth and sucked. As the warmth spread from the tip of my head to the bottom of my toes, I lowered myself onto him, sliding down over the deliciously hardened cock, hungry to reconnect, hungry to feel him inside me again. We matched rhythms, my hips rocking to a slow, steady beat, and he reached down to finger me with his good hand, sending a ripple of sensation through my body. Gasping, I drove down so that he filled me to the hilt, making me so wet that it felt like I could never get enough of him.
In our haste, he must have forgotten to move the call button, because just before I was about to come, the door opened and Jessila, one of the elfin nurses, rushed in.
"You rang, Mr. John-oh!"
I glanced over my shoulder as she stood there, shaking her head and grinning from ear to ear. I know we should have stopped right there, but I was so close, and Chase felt so good, that when he touched my clit one more time, I let out a little scream and came, waves of orgasm rolling over me, sending me reeling as Chase followed suit.
"Carry on, then," Jessila said, laughing as she shut the door behind her.
Chase broke out in loud guffaws as we disentangled ourselves, and I crawled under the sheet next to him. "Man, did you see her face?"
"You are a bad, bad man," I said, snickering as I cozied up in his arms. I brought his injured hand to my lips and gently kissed the gauze. "You're a bad man, and I'm going to have to punish you. How about if I order you to fuck me again?"
But he said nothing. My sweet detective was asleep, snoring soundly. I shook my head. He needed his rest, and so did I. I slid out from the bed to give him more room, pulled the covers up to his chin, then let myself go and transformed into my tabby self. One quick leap, and I curled up on the pillow next to his head, sleep beckoning like a warm, lazy day.
For the moment, everything was right with the world.
Three nights later, we gathered what turned out to be quite a conclave in Smoky's barrow. Among the invited: my sisters and me, Iris and Maggie, Chase, Morio, Vanzir, and Roz, along with a medley of humans and Supes.
Venus the Moon Child from the Rainier Puma Pride was there, and Wade from Vampires Anonymous. Shamas, our cousin, and Lindsey Cartridge, the director of the Green Goddess Women's Shelter, showed up, along with Tim Winthrop, a female impersonator-computer guru FBH who was instrumental in helping us build the Supe community database.
But our most daunting guests were the three Earthside Queens of Fae, Titania, Morgaine, and Aeval. As we sat there, a tangible energy raced through the air.
"They should be here any moment," Camille said during a lull in the conversation. "Trenyth, Queen Asteria's assistant, sent word via Grandmother Coyote's portal that they were planning on attending. There have been new developments, apparently, in the war at home."
She sat beside Smoky at the head of the table, with Morio on her left. An empty chair to the right indicated the place they were saving in hopes Trillian would return.
Every stick of furniture, every glass or plate that Smoky owned was exquisite. Figures, I thought. Dragons love fine goods and money. There was nothing ostentatious, just an incredible array of unbelievably expensive possessions, most likely gathered over a thousand years or more. The furniture was old-world and hand carved, the crystal hand blown, and the wine from the best years and best vineyards.
I glanced around the barrow, amazed by how much room an innocuous mound of dirt could have beneath it. This molehill might as well be a mountain. Smoky's barrow extended far into the earth as well as into other realms. No wonder Camille had said she felt like she was in some bizarre Alice-in-Wonderland sunken castle.