The crows murder, p.16
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       The Crow’s Murder, p.16
 

         Part #5 of Kit Davenport series by Tate James
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  “Huh.” I chewed my lip and pondered on this. “Do you think it would be particularly painful? Being trapped inside a rotting corpse?”

  Yeah, Vali’s pep talk had really helped me. I mean, really fucking helped. But shit if this whole thing wasn’t going to leave me just a little messed up. The fact that I was actively seeking the worst punishment for Simon was a testament to how much I’d changed.

  Cole snorted a little laugh; of course he would get where I was coming from. “Probably not as much as you’d hope, Vixen.”

  “Hmm,” I hummed, staring back at Simon as he glared daggers at me.

  “Would you like me to take care of this, regina mea?” Vali offered in a quiet but deadly voice. He was standing beside me, slightly closer to Simon, and I could already see his fingertips curling into dragon claws.

  “Perhaps you might just tear him into little pieces, then let me eat him?” Sam suggested, slithering out of fuck only knew where. “That will guarantee he can’t come back again.”

  “Gross, Sam,” I muttered in disgust. “He’s all decaying and shit.”

  Sam rose up on his coils to flicker his tongue at Simon. “So? I’m a magical snake. I don’t care so long as it’s meat.”

  Sucking in a breath to think this over, I gagged a little on the smell of decay. “Vali, he’s all yours. Just... do it on the lawn. So you don’t get zombie juice all over the outdoor furniture.”

  My own callous tone shocked even me, but it was what it was. Simon—the Simon I’d known—was long gone. He certainly wasn’t this decaying thing standing on the porch.

  “You sure?” Caleb asked, and I gave him a tight nod. Simon was long dead, and this was the most humane thing to do. Besides, he fucking deserved to die for killing Jonathan.

  Swallowing back tears, I held my head high as Cole escorted what was left of Simon down onto the lawn and Vali quickly stripped to turn dragon. I’d made my choice, and I sure as shit wasn’t going to hide inside like a scared little girl while my men did the dirty work.

  No, I’d chosen Simon’s fate, and I needed to see it through.

  So I stood there on the veranda and didn’t so much as blink when Vali closed his huge jaws over Simon’s decaying head and tore it clean from his shoulders. I didn’t look away as the muscle and sinew shredded at an odd angle, sending one of his arms flying, even as the rest of his corpse dropped into a heap.

  Vali then proceeded to torch the body with dragon fire, burning it until there was nothing left but ash on the scorched grass. Once that was done, he looked around and located the head, which he’d spat out, and repeated the procedure.

  After there was a second pile of ash on the lawn, he swung his head around as though looking for something else, and I frowned.

  “Uh... don’t tell me that Simon’s arm just got up and walked off on its own,” Caleb muttered, looking a bit green.

  “Not on its own,” I replied, glaring at Sam who was slithering away from the scene of the crime with a distinctive looking bulge in his throat.

  Caleb groaned as Sam joined us back on the veranda.

  “What?” Sam hissed at us. “It tastes like chicken.”

  It was that one, stupid statement from an asshole snake that finally cracked me. Hysterical laughter started bubbling out of me, and I couldn’t control it. I just kept laughing... until I wasn’t anymore. I couldn’t say at exactly what point my laughs turned to sobs, but the next thing I knew, River was carrying me inside while I bawled my eyes out onto his neck.

  Who knew I had so many damn tears left inside me after all?

  It was just as River started up the grand staircase with me in his arms that I felt it, that distinctive pop and shift of air pressure. But both twins were here, and they hadn’t said anything about leaving.

  “Holy fucking dick cheese,” Caleb breathed from somewhere behind us, and River paused mid-step.

  “Wesley?” Cole exclaimed, and I scrambled out of River’s arms to see what they were talking about.

  Sure enough, standing in the middle of the foyer as though he’d just entered through the front door was a shaggy-haired older version of Wesley Reed.

  “Wes?” I squeaked, hardly believing my own eyes. Was this some sort of fucked up grief delusion? But then the guys wouldn’t be seeing it too... would they?

  River’s arm snaked around my waist, holding me back from getting any closer, and his muscles vibrated with tension.

  “You’re dead, mate,” he said quietly, his tone laced with suspicion, and I noticed none of the other guys had moved to greet Wes. “You want to explain how this is possible? Or how you found us here?”

  I frowned up at River, but understanding dawned when I glanced at everyone else’s wary expressions and defensive body language. They think this is a trap. Of course, that actually makes more sense than Wes coming back from the dead.

  “I found you because I helped you pick out this fucking house over the internet and then drew up the contracts of sale for you. Besides, if you’re so worried I’m an imposter, just ask the question.” Wes arched a brow at River in a confident way that had me hesitating. That wasn’t the Wes I knew.

  River gave a short nod. “What did you see last Tuesday?”

  With a little grin Wesley replied with confidence, “A pink-and-green-striped chimpanzee drinking tea in the sun.”

  At this nonsensical response, the tension dropped from River’s body, and he relaxed his hold on my waist. “Crow, you’d better have a damn good story for what the fuck happened.”

  River sounded relieved, but I was confused as all hell.

  “It’s a passphrase, Vixen,” Cole explained. “We have them set up for any situations where our team might be compromised. Each key word gives a different meaning if changed. For example, if Wes had responded with ‘a green-and-pink-spotted baboon drinking coffee under the moon’ we would have known that he was here under duress and that there were seven people both watching and listening.”

  “Oh,” I said, nodding. “So… he gave the right phrase? It’s… him?” I glanced over at the him in question as I said this, feeling a bit rude for talking about him and not to him.

  “No idea how,” Caleb muttered. “But yeah. That’s him.”

  The missing member of our team gave me a shy smile—Wesley’s smile—and my shattered heart thumped heavily in my chest. I stumbled down the two steps we had just ascended and crossed the foyer to him, pausing when I got a foot or so away.

  I scanned his face, desperately seeking some sort of confirmation or denial that he was who we thought he was. Perhaps he was some long lost older brother?

  “Sweetheart,” he said softly, his blue eyes capturing my gaze as sure as any radar. “It’s me. I’m home, Kit.”

  Hearing him speak, hearing him say my name and call me sweetheart...

  “Wes,” I gasped, then threw a solid right hook at his scruffy jaw.

  His head snapped back, and he stumbled, clutching his face, before frowning at me. “Ah, okay. Yeah, I guess I deserved that,” he groaned, rubbing his jaw. “You still hit pretty damn hard considering you’re human right now, sweetheart.”

  “Shut up,” I whispered, throwing my arms around his neck and clinging to him for dear life while he hugged me back just as fiercely.

  There were no logical explanations for how he was back. None. But I couldn’t care less. Wesley was back, my Wesley was back... Maybe this world wasn’t doomed, just yet.

  19

  The guys had to all but peel me off Wesley, but soon we were tucked up on the couch with a mug of coffee each. When Caleb had produced coffee for everyone, I’d had to shift off Wesley’s lap just far enough that we could both access our drinks without actually losing contact.

  “Holy fuck,” Wesley groaned, taking a long sip of his coffee. “You have no idea how badly I’ve missed coffee, you guys. I’m going to start rivalling Kit for crazy coffee obsession.” He said it with a lazy smile and gave me a little wink.

  He was so...
different. More confident in his own skin and relaxed. I guess that made sense given he hadn’t thought we were dead.

  “Wes,” I started, tightening my grip on my mug as my anger started to surface, but River beat me to it.

  “Why don’t you start from the beginning, Wesley?” he suggested, giving my shoulder a quick squeeze before sitting in one of the armchairs with his own steaming mug. Tea for him, though. Some habits he’d never shake.

  Wesley sucked in a deep breath, then blew it out and took a quick sip of his drink. “The beginning. Fuck, it was so long ago for me...” He trailed off, looking at his hands wrapped around the mug. “So I should start that morning in Ireland.”

  He glanced over at me, and I gave him a small smile. “I left to get groceries, and when I was coming back, the house just exploded.”

  “Ah, I figured it was something like that. It took a while to get any sort of answers on the other side.” He ran his hand through his hair, the same old nervous gesture he’d always had, then linked his fingers through mine on his lap. “So, that morning I was working through some of the info in Seamus’s book, which talked about being able to physically cross over into the dream realm—not just inside your mind, but with your physical form. According to the book, that was the only way to access the city of Caora where the badbh originated from.”

  “They originated there?” Austin asked, leaning forward on his tattooed arms. “They weren’t created by the first Ban Dia like all other supernaturals?”

  Wesley shook his head. “No, the badbh are older. From a similar time and place that the Ban Dia came from.” He shrugged. “Sort of hard to explain; there was a lot of just like... data dumping via direct mind link.”

  “That sounds like something out of Star Trek,” I murmured jokingly, and he smiled.

  “Something like that. Anyway, that morning—not long after you left for the store—I worked it out. Or I had in theory. I hadn’t actually tried it yet when there was a knock at the door. Seamus answered and carried a package back inside. That’s all I really remember happening. The next thing I knew, I was in a field outside this sort of medieval-looking village, and the fact that there were three suns was sort of a dead giveaway that I wasn’t on Earth anymore.” His fingers tightened on mine. “That was three years ago for me.”

  My jaw dropped in shock. “Three years?”

  “Give or take a bit. They don’t really follow any sort of calendar, so I did the best I could by tracking sunrises. How long has it been here?” He looked around at the guys, all of whom looked as stunned as I was.

  I mean, that certainly explained why he looked like an older version of himself and how his hair had grown out so much, but how was that even possible?

  Duh, Kit. Magic... idiot.

  “Uh, about ten days or so?” Vali was the first to answer, which made sense as he was also the least shaken by both Wesley’s “death” and his reappearance.

  “Ten days?” Wesley’s blond eyebrows shot up. “Shit, I miscalculated that one. I was aiming for two or three days at most. You’ll have to fill me in on what’s happened.”

  “Maybe later,” I croaked. I’d need to tell him about Jonathan, but that wound was still way too fresh.

  “Fair enough,” he agreed. “So anyway, once I’d arrived at Caora, I wasn’t permitted to leave until I could prove my powers had been mastered. Which was a pretty big problem, given I knew squat about being a badbh.” He rolled his eyes, and I caught another glimpse of this more confident, comfortable Wesley.

  “And it took you three years to figure it out?” Caleb exclaimed in disbelief. “Bro, you’re supposed to be the genius here.”

  “No shit,” Wesley growled, flipping Caleb off awkwardly with the hand that held his mug. “Clearly it wasn’t as easy as I had first thought.”

  “So you learned your magic, and now... here you are?” River summarized for him, heading off whatever was about to start between the boys.

  “Pretty much. Oh, and I saved the book, too. I must have been holding it when I realm-jumped because it came through with me.” He grinned, and I couldn’t help but smile back. Of course our academic managed to save the magical bible from being burned to a crisp.

  “Wait, I saw you in the fire.” I frowned. “Even the cops said they’d found a body, but they just couldn’t ID it because we were on fake passports.”

  He shrugged and gave me an awkward nose crinkle. “Could it have been Seamus?”

  My jaw dropped, and I stared back at him for a moment, before shaking my head. “No, they said a body other than Seamus.”

  “Maybe whoever sent the bomb wanted to make sure the job was done and got caught in the fire or something?” Wes suggested.

  “I was so upset it never even occurred to me that anyone else might have been there.” I groaned, mentally kicking myself for being an idiot. “Then again, the idea that you’d escaped into another freaking realm also never would have occurred to me.”

  “Well, that’s understandable. I’m here now though.” Wes pried the cushion from my face and placed a gentle kiss on my knuckles. “And I’ve got a pretty solid mastery of my magic now, so that can only be a good thing, right?”

  “Of course,” I agreed.

  “Well... don’t keep us all in suspense,” Caleb teased. “What can you do? And what the hell happened with that dickhead who was supposed to be training you? Did he get his ass handed to him?”

  “Gaelin?” Wesley’s tone darkened, and his lips tightened. “Yeah, he definitely got what was coming to him. Apparently I was just collateral damage in a long-standing argument.”

  “Sounds like you dealt with things,” River commented, and Wesley nodded. “Will you share with us some of the things you learned?”

  Wesley finished his coffee and placed the mug down on the table beside my own empty one. “It’d be hard to explain a lot of it, but I can show you one cool thing if you want.”

  Everyone seemed to glance at me for permission, and I nodded frantically. Hell yes, I wanted to see what he’d learned.

  “Let’s go outside,” he suggested. I stood up from his lap, letting him get up from the couch, then took his hand.

  Cole led the way back out to the rear porch, and Wesley released my hand to stand closer to the railing.

  “Uh, what’s with the burnt patches?” he asked, turning to raise an eyebrow at Cole and Vali.

  “I’ll tell you later.” I shook my head, not wanting to discuss the devastating events of the evening. Not yet, anyway. We’d just gotten Wesley back, and for now that was the only thing I wanted to focus on.

  He nodded his understanding and sucked in a deep breath as his fingers twisted the silver ring on his thumb. I’d noticed it when he’d been holding my hand, but had been too caught up in the fact that he wasn’t dead to ask about it.

  “Okay, so, this was part of my final exam—so to speak—to prove I had mastered all of the badbh core magics. So...” He trailed off awkwardly and sucked in a deep breath. “Here goes.”

  Light sparked from the ring he was twisting, spreading out rapidly to encase his whole body, and when it faded, he was gone. In his place a large black crow perched on the veranda railing and cawed at us. Around its left leg was that same ring Wesley had just been fiddling with.

  “Holy shit burger,” I breathed, taking a step closer to him. “You can fully shift into a crow. Not just borrow their eyes and ears.” The oversized bird dipped its head in agreement, then with another flash of light, shifted back into Wesley.

  “I know its not as cool as, like, a dragon or something. But it could come in handy. Traditionally, my people were spies, which kind of suits my personality, don’t you think?” He gave me a half smile, and I beamed back at him.

  “It’s perfect for you,” I agreed.

  “I’d say it’s probably more useful than these overgrown lizards,” Austin commented, and both dragons in question narrowed their eyes at him. In return, Tyson—who had been hanging out quietly—growled
and flashed his fangs.

  I guess they hadn’t been kidding about dragons and cats not liking each other.

  “He’s got a point,” River murmured, the corner of his mouth twitching with a smile. “You two are hardly inconspicuous. But that’s enough for tonight, I think. Wesley, mate, it’s damn good to have you back.”

  River stepped forward, clasping Wesley in a brief man-hug and clapping him on the shoulder. I always found those man-hugs a bit awkward, but seeing a display of affection from River for one of his team sort of drove home just how badly Wesley’s temporary death had affected all of them. I’d been selfish in my glass house of emotion; I could see that now.

  “Everyone get some sleep,” River ordered us. “We can check out the book in the morning.”

  One by one, the guys all gave Wesley their own version of River’s man-hug before heading inside, until it was just the two of us left on the veranda. For ages, we just stared at one another.

  “You look exhausted, sweetheart,” he said eventually, cocking his head the side. “Something more has happened, hasn’t it?”

  Incapable of words, I swallowed and nodded. Vali was right in what he’d told me. There would be plenty of time for tears later; now was the time for strength and justice. It took a few shaking breaths before I could utter the words.

  “Simon... killed Jonathan.” Saying it aloud was like being punched in the gut, and it left a sour taste in my mouth.

  Wesley looked stunned and held out a hand to pull me closer to him. “And Simon?”

  “Dead. For real this time.” I nodded to the burnt patches on the grass. “Vali made sure of it.”

  “Good.” He wrapped his arms around me tightly, and we just stood there like that for a while. “Would it be okay if we stayed out here for a bit? I doubt I can sleep any time soon, and I just want to stare at the stars for a bit.” It was asked with the same old shyness he’d always had, and I smiled.

  “Of course we can. Come on, I have your suitcase in my room if you want to get changed first,” I replied, looking pointedly at the thin, basic, cotton shirt and pants he wore with no shoes. It was a cool night, and he was already shivering a little. He nodded and took my hand as I showed him the way up to my beautiful purple room.

 
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