Death and relaxation, p.29
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       Death and Relaxation, p.29

           Devon Monk
 
She shifted her left hand on the steering wheel and dipped her head so she could see me through the passenger door. “We’ll find Cooper. I promise.”

  I gave her a thumbs-up and a smile I didn’t really feel. “Call me as soon as you do, okay?”

  She nodded and I shut the door. I stood there a moment watching her drive away, then my gaze tracked to the bushes where Margot had recently hidden to shoot me.

  A chill ran over my skin along with that memory. It was going to take a while for me to feel secure here again. But I knew I’d manage. One step at a time.

  “If this stupid power doesn’t kill me first,” I muttered.

  The power seemed to rouse at that thought, filling up all the spaces in my brain where my own thoughts should be.

  I pushed back, tired, but determined. Then started up the stairs to my house, one step at a time.

  Chapter 30

  I MADE an appointment with Death. We met early Monday morning at a little coffee shop called the Perky Perch that had once been a tiny, out-of-place Victorian cottage overlooking the ocean.

  Yesterday’s good weather seemed to be holding, although there was a heavy fog shrouding the horizon where the gray of the ocean met the blue of the sky.

  Today, in less than twenty-four hours, Heimdall’s power would break out of me and tear the town apart. And while I would love to say we’d find Cooper in time, I knew Cooper. When he wanted to disappear, he did exactly that.

  Thanatos strolled into the small space and seemed amused by the cozy interior and oceanfront views. He was wearing a slim black T-shirt with sedate gray letters that said, ORDINARY MAN. Instead of the Hawaiian shirts he’d seemed so fond of, he was wearing a knit forest-green cardigan with a subtle repeating pattern that looked like rows of bunnies engaged in butt sex.

  I stifled a grin and wondered where he was finding these things. Better yet, I wondered who was taking advantage of his newly mortal self and was selling him these things.

  He saw me at the table and crossed the small room to sit in the chair across from me.

  “Good morning, Delaney Reed,” he said in his smooth and cultured voice. “Have you ordered my drink?”

  “I did. They serve a hot chocolate that will make you sing.”

  He glanced down his nose at the mug on the table in front of him. “I see.”

  I sipped my coffee and waited to see if he would try it. He drew the mug across the table, cradling the warmth in his palm. “Are we here to discuss the merits of chocolate, or my singing voice, Reed Daughter?”

  “Well, neither,” I said. “I have a favor to ask you.”

  He lifted the mug and took a sip. He blinked, his black gaze riveted to mine, his stare incredibly intense.

  I waited. “Feel a song coming on, Than?”

  His lips twitched at one corner. “Not in the least.”

  I pointed at him. “That’s what we mortals call a lie.”

  He blinked again and rested the mug against his palm. “I am curious as to this favor.”

  I wiped my hands on my jeans, slicking away the sweat there. It wasn’t particularly warm in the shop, but I felt like everything inside me was vibrating with the rhythm of the song in my head. It was like having the worst case of nerves, while also running a marathon. I felt shaky, a little nauseated, and overstimulated.

  “I want to know the repercussions of my death.”

  He held still in a way I’d seen very few people manage. Then he drew the mug back to his mouth and took another sip.

  I felt the silence stretch out, and decided I didn’t have enough time left to wait for anything. Not even Death.

  “Specifically, I want to know what happens if you kill me while I’m containing a god power.”

  “Specifically,” he said.

  “Specifically.”

  “It would be a great disappointment to me, Reed Daughter. I would miss you. Specifically.”

  “Oh,” I said softly. I swallowed against the mix of emotions. It was kind of him to say that. But kindness—if that was what that was—wouldn’t solve my problem.

  “I…I need to know if my death would somehow keep the god power from tearing apart the town. If I die holding it, containing it, will it slow it down? Stop it?”

  “I am not the guardian of power. That burden your family alone must bear.”

  I laced my fingers on the tabletop and nodded. “I know. I know you’re not an expert in guarding powers. But you know your power like no other being. I want to know if Death can kill a power.”

  He sat back, his face almost serene with wonder as his dark eyes studied me like I were something he had never seen before.

  “Such a thing…” he whispered with hollow longing.

  “Is that a yes?”

  He shook his head slightly, bemused wonder still relaxing his features. “I do not know.”

  “Crap.” I slumped against the back of my chair. “There goes my nuclear option.”

  He sat up straight again, his fingertips stroking the curve of the mug before he slipped his fingers through the handle. It seemed to be an unconscious motion, but the way he did it made me think he was petting a cat.

  Or a bunny.

  I tipped my head a bit to get a better look at the repeating pattern in his sweater.

  Yep. That was one hundred percent bunny loving going on.

  “What I can assume from your question is that you are no longer confident that you can bridge the power to its mortal vessel. Is that correct?”

  “Confidence in my ability isn’t really the problem,” I said, even though, yes, I was worried that I wouldn’t do that part right too. “The problem is I think the mortal vessel has skipped town before I could give him the power.”

  “And why would he do that?”

  “I kind of punched him in the face.”

  Than tipped his chin and blinked quickly. “That is… I see,” he said. “And who do you believe is to take on the mantle of Heimdall?”

  “Cooper Clark.”

  “What actions have you taken to find him?”

  “We put out an all-points bulletin. Every cop on the West Coast is looking for him.”

  “Yes. Of course.” He lifted his mug again, drank. This time he hummed just a little after he swallowed.

  “Was that a happy hum?” I said. “It sounded musical.”

  He ignored me. “Which non-mortal actions have you taken to find him?”

  I blinked. “What?”

  His eyes hardened with something that looked an awful lot like glee. “You have a town of vacationing gods who could easily regain their powers for a brief time. At least one among them must be a hunter. And then there are the vampires who seem quite capable in scenting familiar blood, the werewolves who are quite possibly even better hunters than the gods or vampires, and any number of far-seeing and divining creatures and deities who may offer some small amount of use.”

  I stood so quickly that the table shook. Than lifted his hot cocoa to safety before it spilled.

  “I can’t believe I didn’t think of that.” Yes, the gods had offered to help, but I’d assumed they meant something with lightning bolts and locus curses. It never crossed my mind to drag them into the very mundane action of tracking down a runaway.

  “You are a beautiful genius!” I stopped beside him and impulsively planted a kiss on his cheek.

  He grunted, but his mouth curved up what might, almost, in the right light, pass for a smile.

  “Yes,” he said, smoothing his features until he appeared uninterested and irritated. “I am.”

  I waved over my shoulder and hurried out of the Perky Perch.

  Just as I hit the parking lot and was trying to get my keys out of my pocket, Myra pulled up in her cruiser. She rolled down the window. “I thought you were going to call this morning and come in to work.”

  I held up my hand to tell her to hold on, and walked over to the passenger side of the cruiser. She popped the lock so I could get in.

  “What’s
wrong?” she asked.

  “Nope. What’s right. I need you to get me to Bertie. Fast.”

  Myra had the car in gear and the lights on before I even had my seatbelt buckled.

  And for the first time in a week, I thought we might actually be one step ahead of this disaster.

  ~~~

  WE CAUGHT up with Bertie in front of her house just as she was walking out to her car. Having a sister who always showed up at the right time really came in handy.

  Bertie hadn’t wanted to take any time out of her very tight schedule to deal with us, but we promised we would let her get back to the final wind-down of the Rhubarb Rally, which seemed to involve an awful lot of costume judging, dancing, and something with eggs I didn’t quite catch.

  “And the breakdown will last until at least nine tonight…” Bertie said.

  “All I need is a basic schedule of some of deits and creats,” I said.

  She paused in her rambling list of complaints. “What did you just call us, Delaney Reed?”

  “It’s just cop talk… Look. I know you’re busy. But if I don’t find Cooper very soon, there will be no town left for the next Rhubarb Rally.”

  She frowned. “Is the power giving you that much trouble? Your father always seemed to handle his duties without interrupting the festivals.”

  “He had a little more experience. I’m sure there were a few times, maybe when he was new to this, that things went less than smoothly.”

  She stared at me with those hawk eyes, like I’d just said the last wrong thing.

  “Did he speak to you of those things?”

  The way she said it, so measured and calm, was more frightening than if she’d yelled at me.

  “No. I was just guessing.”

  She shook her head, and some of the stiffness melted out of her body. “Let’s not waste time. Come inside. I can draw up the information you need.”

  She strode up her carefully tended walkway, the rolling stone river garden on either side flickering with shiny glass orbs, clever little stone structures, and just the right amount of herbs and tough succulents mimicking waterside plants and flowers.

  “Shut the door,” Bertie said when we’d entered the foyer. “Come back to my office.”

  We did as we were told and were standing next to her tidy wooden desk in her tidy, but thoroughly modern, office.

  “What do you need to know?” she asked.

  “The schedules of anyone who would be willing to help me hunt down Cooper. I’m thinking some of the Rossis, the Wolfes, maybe Crow or Odin, or someone who has some kind of tracking skill.”

  “With or without their power?” she asked.

  “Easiest without. That’s where the vamps and weres come in. But if I can talk a god into taking on their power for a limited time, and talk Crow into releasing it for them, that would work too.”

  “And you expect me to know each of these individuals’ current schedules and predilections?” she asked archly.

  “Don’t you?” Myra drawled.

  She sniffed. “Yes,” she said. “I do.”

  Her golden-tipped fingers flew across the keyboard, and she’d plucked information out of a variety of folders, compiled it all into one document, and pressed “print” in less than a minute.

  “Now, ladies,” she said, as she stood and smoothed her hand down her tailored suit jacket. “I wish you both good fortune in finding your prey.” She held the single sheet of paper out to me. It was a list of over two dozen people in Ordinary, ranked from most willing and able to assist to the least. “If you still haven’t found Cooper by this evening, do come see me again.”

  She gestured to the doorway, and Myra and I startled back into motion and made our way to the front door.

  “Thank you for this,” I said, pausing on the porch while she locked the door. “It will really help.”

  “I know it will, dear,” she said, patting my arm. “Everything is going to be just fine.”

  She brushed past us, and was in her car and headed off to the rally before we’d even made it down her front path.

  “Remind me never to let her run for political office,” I said.

  Myra chuckled. “Oh, I don’t know. She’d clean up the town in a week and be ruling the world in a month flat. Now that you have the list, what’s the plan?”

  “We go to the station, get Jean in on this, and raise ourselves a posse.”

  Chapter 31

  “YOU WANT us to hunt down your ex-boyfriend,” Odin said matter-of-factly. “And kill him.”

  “No!” I said for the third time. “Not kill him. Yes, find him.”

  We had gathered at the station. Roy was here to hold down the fort, and Ryder had been given the day off. Until further notice. I was surprised Myra had been that gentle on him.

  We’d gone down the list, crossed out a few people we knew weren’t really “team players,” and had settled on calling in an even ten.

  Out of those ten, eight people had showed up: Ben Rossi and Jame Wolfe, who both still looked like firefighters even though they were in jeans and T-shirts, the twins Senta and Page Rossi, and the gods Odin, Thorne, Crow, and Herri.

  The fact that the gods were there meant a lot to me. What I was asking of them—to pick up their god powers and help me—didn’t come at a small price.

  Once a god picked up their power, they were off vacation and had to leave Ordinary for a year, just enough time for this old world to circle the sun from point A to point A. It wasn’t a part of the contract the gods signed to get into Ordinary; it was just the way god power worked.

  I’d asked Dad about it once and he’d shrugged. There were things about god power even we Reeds couldn’t understand.

  Crow had agreed to unlock the three gods’ powers, and his, as soon as we made a plan for how to find Cooper. I didn’t think any god had ever given up their vacation time for a Reed. Or at least Dad had never spoken of it.

  Which meant this was a really, really big favor. One I didn’t know how I’d repay.

  “No killing,” I repeated.

  “You don’t have to worry about them, Delaney,” Jame said with a predatory flash of his teeth. “The day a god can out-hunt a Wolfe is the day I give it up and move to Cabo.”

  “Better tell your boyfriend to pack his sunscreen, then,” Thorne said.

  Thorne wasn’t actually Odin’s son, or maybe in a way he actually was. Thorne had picked up Thor’s god power about eighty years ago, and he and Odin had come rumbling into town and taken their first vacation together. Thorne had taken to Thor’s power with an instant delight, as happened with most people newly godded. He even looked every inch the tall, powerful, yellow-haired Norse warrior, and always called Odin father.

  His day job was owning and running the music and record store in town.

  Ben sucked on the back of one fang, staring at Thorne like he was considering a Merlot to go with dinner. “Want to put some money on who’s going to bring Cooper down?”

  “Nobody’s going to bring Cooper down,” I said. “He comes back alive.”

  “Yes,” Thorne said, “of course. We shall bring the quarry in without a scratch. How much money do you have, Firefang? Enough to make this interesting?”

  “No,” I said, “we will not make anything interesting while we hunt for my ex-boyfriend.”

  “Make what interesting?” Crow, who could sense a bad bet going down a mile away, had to join in.

  “Just a friendly little bet,” Ben said with a smile that would freeze a mortal in place. Unfortunately, neither Crow nor Thorne were mortal.

  “Between friends,” Thorne agreed. “My father and I against you and your boyfriend.”

  “Gentlemen, please,” Crow scolded. “Money makes for a boring bet.”

  “Shoulder devil.” I scowled at Crow.

  Crow winked and gave me a big grin.

  “Doesn’t have to be money.” Ben licked his lips, his eyes flicking to the side of Thorne’s neck as if he were imagining si
nking his fangs in all the way to bone. The other Rossis in the room chuckled and Jame shifted to press his wide hand on Ben’s lower back, maybe reminding him that if there was going to be someone getting bit, it was going to be his lover, not some random thunder god.

  “You don’t have the stomach for it, bloodboy,” Thorne scoffed.

  Jame growled. Ben glowered.

  Crow snickered.

  “You’re the one who needs daddy at his side,” Ben said.

  Odin snorted and shook his head, his arms crossed over his chest. “Thorne doesn’t need me to win his fights.”

  “If we don’t believe you?” Crow mocked.

  “Boys,” Herri said, sighing, “reel it in. You can cheat each other blind or bite each other bloody, or beat each other boneless after we find Cooper.”

  “No biting,” Jame growled, his hand fisting in the back of Ben’s shirt. “That’s off the table.”

  Both Ben and Thorne huffed like little kids who’d just been told to clean their rooms.

  “Name your price—” Thorne started.

  “What’s the plan, Delaney?” Herri asked.

  I threw her a grateful look.

  Myra spoke up. “The last person who saw Cooper said he was hitching north out of town. That was a day ago. He could be in Canada by now.”

  “How long have you got before boom?” Sage tipped her blonde head my way.

  I didn’t point out that she made it sound like it was a death sentence. I didn’t point it out because she was not wrong.

  “Today. The power needs to be in a new vessel by midnight tonight.”

  “Plenty of time,” she said. “We’ll find him, Delaney.” She smiled, showing a lot less fang than Ben, a dimple popping in her cheek.

  “Do you have a successor in place?” Odin asked casually.

  That was the other big consequence I’d been avoiding. I hadn’t trained anyone else in how to be a bridge for god power. Myra and Jean hadn’t shown any signs of being someone who could pick up those duties. Though the ability always passed down the Reed bloodline, we were the only Reeds in Ordinary.

  That didn’t mean we were the only Reeds in the world, though.

 
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