The crows murder, p.5
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       The Crow’s Murder, p.5
 

         Part #5 of Kit Davenport series by Tate James
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  “What’s the little dickhead got to say this time?” I asked in a dry voice. What? Sam had a serious attitude on him.

  “Um,” Caleb grimaced. “Never mind. The point is that we can track that guy down and pay him a visit at a later time, when he least expects it.”

  “Or he might just lead us right to whoever was pulling his strings,” Austin added. “Because there is no way he was acting alone in your kidnapping. Not with Simon being involved.”

  “No, you’re right,” I murmured, frowning. “He seems more like the hired muscle.”

  “Exactly.” Caleb nodded. “Now let’s get back to the hotel. It’s already almost dawn, and don’t you have a flight to catch tomorrow?”

  I nodded, chewing my lip. Wes and I still needed to get to Ireland to meet with this dream dude. He didn’t give a shit that we’d been sort of kidnapped and wasn’t willing to reschedule or bend his rules on allowing the others to join us.

  5

  The alluring scent of fresh coffee was the only thing saving Vali’s life when he woke me a full hour and a half before my alarm was set to go off. Smart man had come armed with fresh java and offered it as a sacrifice before I could lash out.

  “Come on, Regina mea,” he coaxed in that sexy, velvet voice of his while I made grabby hands at the steaming mug. “You can have it when you sit up. You’ll just spill it everywhere if you try to drink lying down.”

  Grumbling obscenities about logic, I pushed myself upright and tried not to snatch as I took the mug from Vali’s huge hands.

  “Why am I awake, Vali?” I yawned after a long sip. “Don’t you know how late we got back last night? Or... this morning?”

  “I do.” He smiled, stroking his fingertips through my hair and brushing it over my shoulder. “But Austin has come up with an idea that we think will help to keep you safe in Ireland. So you need to be awake early.”

  “We?” I repeated, arching a brow at him. “That sounds suspiciously like you’re all getting along. What gives?”

  “When it comes to your safety, Regina, we will always get along. Now, are you coming?” His hand was resting on the curve of my waist, and I had to bite back a dirty joke about whether I was coming or not. Damn sexy guardians got me way too riled up for my own good sometimes.

  “Uh-huh.” I nodded. “Let’s go see what this plan that we have all agreed on is.”

  Vali, ever the gentleman, offered me a hand up, and I followed him through to the little sitting area between bedrooms where the rest of the guys were gathered. We’d rented a “family suite,” which was really just three bedrooms interconnected by an area for couches, a TV, and some tea and coffee facilities.

  I hadn’t bothered to get dressed before leaving the bedroom, and as I entered the sitting area, I could feel more than one set of eyes raking over my exposed skin. I’d been sleeping in just a tank top and panties but saw no reason to be modest around my guardians.

  “You’re all getting along,” I commented with suspicion. “What’s going on? This isn’t normal for you six.”

  “Here, I made you a sandwich,” Austin said quietly, handing me a plate before sitting down on the couch.

  “I helped,” Caleb added, “It’s a regular King Twin Sandwich.” He threw me a saucy wink and my cheeks heated with the dirty innuendo. I took a big old bite of that sandwich though, and moaned my appreciation.

  “Kitten, take a seat,” River instructed, his voice firm, and I found myself doing as I was told without complaint. Damn him and that tone of voice. I climbed over Cole’s outstretched legs and took the free space of couch between him and Austin before looking back up at River expectantly.

  “We’re not comfortable with you travelling to Ireland without backup, in light of this most recent attempt on your freedom,” River explained.

  “The whole Undead-Simon thing doesn’t help either,” Caleb added, shuddering.

  “Uh-huh,” I replied, narrowing my eyes. “So what’s your point? I’m not canceling, if that’s what you’re getting at. Wes needs this trip.”

  Cole made a noise low in his throat. “Wes does. You don’t.”

  “Okay,” River interjected as I opened my mouth to argue back at Cole. “That’s not what we are suggesting.” He speared Cole with a glare that suggested they’d already discussed that and dismissed the idea. “But we do think you need more security.”

  “None of you can come. The old dude made that super clear on the phone,” I reminded them, as if they needed reminding.

  “We can’t, but he didn’t say anything about magical back up.” Caleb grinned at me, and I got the distinct impression this idea was partly his. He looked too proud for it not to have been.

  I arched an eyebrow at him. “You mean...”

  He nodded. “Familiars.”

  Confused, I flicked my gaze to Austin beside me and then belatedly noticed the tattoo equipment set up on the coffee table. I wasn’t usually so blind, but in my defense I was still half-asleep. Austin looked relaxed, which told me he was in agreement on this plan.

  “Uh, newsflash, guys. They’re not exactly inconspicuous, and I seriously doubt I can pass them both off as support animals on a commercial airline, you know?” Although the mental image of me trying to get on board a flight with a tiger and a viper was amusing.

  “I don’t know about that,” Cole snickered. “I think Sam would look dashing in a harness and leash like a guide dog.”

  Caleb grimaced. “Sam says he will bite you in the ballsack while you sleep. Except, you know, with more swearing.”

  “Ouch,” Cole cringed, but the small smile on his lips said he was still amused. It was understandable. Sam’s attitude was amusing to all of us except Caleb, who was the one who actually had to hear it all.

  “How would this even work? And won’t you guys need them here with you?” I directed this question to Austin, seeing as he clearly had his tattoo gun out for a reason.

  “Should be a simple case of giving you anchor points for both Sam and Tyson. I don’t imagine it would work on anyone else, but seeing as we’re bonded...” He trailed off with a shrug. “Worst case scenario—it doesn’t work and you just have another cool tattoo.”

  “Another one, huh?” I teased. “That would imply I had a cool tattoo to start with.”

  Austin glared at me, then slid off the couch and onto the floor. “Left arm, Princess,” he commanded. His long fingers tapped the coffee table beside him, and I obliged, handing my empty coffee cup to Cole and sliding off the couch to join him on the floor.

  I’d noticed a few days earlier that both twins wore their familiar tattoos on their left arms, and when I’d queried Caleb about this, he’d told me it was a magic thing. Closer to the heart or... something. I hadn’t really listened all too well as I’d been in a sleepy, post-sex haze at the time.

  Austin started his equipment up, and I yawned, leaning my head back against Cole’s lap. One cup of coffee just wasn’t cutting it for me today. Thankfully, though, my boys knew how to treat me right, and a fresh cup appeared under my nose courtesy of Wesley.

  The buzzing sting of the needle started up on my forearm, and I yawned again. It hadn’t been any sort of stretch to trust Austin with this task. His tattoos were gorgeous, magical or not, so I didn’t see any reasons why we shouldn’t give it a try. Even if it was only for their peace of mind.

  “Regina, shouldn’t you take that bracelet off for this?” Vali asked as he watched Austin outlining the tiger on my fair skin.

  Blinking a couple of times, I looked down at my naked wrist. “What bracelet?”

  Vali frowned at me, pointing to my left wrist. “That one. Where did it even come from? I’ve never seen you wear it before.”

  Austin had paused in his design and looked up at me with a confused expression, then turned back to Vali. “There’s nothing there, lizard-man. Are you seeing things?”

  Oh God, was he seeing things? Like, having a stroke? Or was that when you smell things?

  “
I’m not,” Vali snapped back. “How can you not see this?” He reached across the coffee table and touched a finger to my wrist.

  Sure enough, right there across the pad of his finger rested a thin, gold chain bracelet. It had a small fox charm attached to it, and it seemed oddly familiar, though I couldn’t place why.

  I certainly had no recollection of putting it on or where the hell it had come from in the first place. Shit, this wasn’t good.

  Ice cold dread pooled in my belly as the guys all crowded around to look at the offending item of jewelry, but I just wanted it off. Nothing that appeared with no explanation could be good. Right?

  “Get it off me?” I asked Austin, when my own fingers failed at the clasp a third time.

  He placed his ink gun down and took the thin chain in his fingers, fiddling with the little clasp to try and get it undone for me but having no success.

  “I think the clasp is stuck,” he told me. “Do you want me to break it?”

  “Please,” I agreed, nodding. Panic was starting to flare up in me, and I just wanted it off.

  Austin slipped his fingers under the chain and gripped it tight, yanking hard enough to break any normal piece of jewelry. Unfortunately, it was quickly becoming clear that this was no ordinary piece of jewelry. It shrank down so fast Austin barely pulled his fingers free before it closed around my wrist tight enough to draw blood.

  “Guys?” I gasped, feeling the sharp bite of metal in my flesh for a moment before it eased off a fraction. Not enough to get it off, but enough to stop cutting my skin. As it settled on a firm grip, the chain, which had once looked delicate and flimsy, solidified into one seamless band of gold metal. Like a delicate handcuff.

  Shit.

  “Kit, do you have any idea where this came from?” River asked me, snapping my attention to him as he crouched opposite me, across the table.

  I shook my head. “None. It looked sort of familiar though. But I don’t know why.”

  “It looked familiar to me too,” Austin agreed, and Caleb murmured his own agreement. “So that leads me to think we do know where it came from, but it’s been tampering with our memory.” He seemed lost in thought for a long time while he stared down at the band of metal encircling my wrist. Then, he simply picked up his tattoo gun and continued with my new ink.

  “Aus,” I gasped in shock, but was not stupid enough to yank my arm away. “What are you doing? This is sort of a really big thing right now.”

  “I agree,” he muttered, not stopping for a second. “Which is why it’s even more important that you get an anchor point for our familiars. I don’t want you left unprotected, baby girl. Not ever.” He said this last part so quietly I knew it was intended for my ears only.

  “Austin’s right,” River agreed, standing back up with his face set in his customary blank expression. I could see tension in his golden eyes though, which made me panic even more. “You need to have Tyson and Sam as back up. Meanwhile, we all have our task. We’ll find out what the bleeding hell is going on with this bracelet.”

  “Would you try magic to remove it?” Wesley asked the twins quietly, and Caleb was the one to respond.

  “No.” He shook his head. “You saw what just happened when Aus tried to break it using his bare hands. I wouldn’t want to risk hitting it with magic until we know more about what it is... and where it came from.”

  “Must be something bad,” Vali commented. “Else, why bother with the illusions? None of you could see it, so we don’t even know how long Regina has worn it.”

  “How come you could, though?” I asked the big Romanian. “Is that a dragon-sight thing?”

  Vali gave me a small smile. “I doubt it. Probably my Romani blood. My mother’s people always claimed they could see through any illusion.”

  “Huh,” I nodded. “That’s handy.”

  My casual attitude was fooling no one. I was freaking the hell out about this magical, nefarious bracelet that seemed impossible to remove. Cole’s hands rubbed soothing circles on my scalp while Austin worked, and I was able to calm down a fraction by the time he was done.

  “Shall we test it out?” my broody Ink Mage suggested, packing up his equipment while I inspected the design. He’d woven the tiger and viper together so it looked like they were playing... or fighting. Most incredible, he’d managed to still make it look elegant and watercolor to match my fox and lily tattoos.

  “May as well,” I murmured, all too aware of the ticking clock. Wes and I needed to be getting our asses to the airport any moment now.

  The twins both summoned their familiars out in a sparkle of magic, and the second they were corporeal, I could feel them connected to me. Not in the same way the guys all were; this was something different.

  Tyson, the big lug, clambered over Austin to lick my face, and I could sense his affection and greeting as clearly as any words. It was so cool. This must be the way he and Austin communicated with each other.

  “Hey buddy.” I returned his greeting with a scratch behind his big, soft ears. “You feel like coming on vacation with me?”

  The big cat rumbled a purr that was a resounding yes through our new link, and I smiled at him. I was actually really relieved to have him and Sam coming with me, especially with the added concern of this mystery bracelet.

  “Try and convey to him that you want him to rest,” Austin coached me.

  Meeting Tyson’s feline eyes, I pushed the suggestion to him, and his fur rippled down his back. He stretched his jaws at me and disappeared with a cloud of sparkles. The feeling he left me with was that I’d pushed that suggestion way too hard and I really only needed to ask nicely.

  I knew he’d settled in my new ink and not back in Austin’s when he sent a vibration of purrs tingling through my body, starting at my arm and fanning out from there.

  “It worked!” I beamed at Austin, running a finger lightly over the inked tiger and feeling my skin shiver in response.

  “It sure did,” he murmured, looking thoughtful. “Caleb, Sam’s turn!”

  Hushed whispers drew our attention to where Caleb was involved in what looked like a heated argument with his giant viper. Only this time, I could hear both sides.

  “Everything okay?” River asked politely, interrupting them, and Sam flashed his fangs in River’s direction.

  “Yes,” Caleb replied at the same time as Sam said, “Fuck no.”

  My jaw dropped, hearing the snake actually speak for the first time. Not that I hadn’t believed Caleb that his familiar could, it was just a whole different thing to hear it with my own ears.

  “Sam,” Caleb snapped, turning back to the viper, who flickered his tongue at his Mage. “We discussed this earlier, and you were totally fine with the plan. You said it was the best solution for Kitty Kat’s safety.”

  “Yessss, but that wasss before I knew she wass sssuch a fucking moron. I refussse to be bonded to sssomeone that sssssssstupid.” Sam cast a glance over at me that was nothing less than derisive before slithering to a vacant arm chair and curling up in a ball. “Sssso jussst, fuck off.”

  “Um, Sam, I can hear you,” I pointed out, feeling a bit taken aback. We all knew he was a bit of an ass but it was somewhat different hearing the insults for myself.

  “Good, at leassst your earsss work, even if your brain doesssn’t.” He flicked his tongue at me, which was seriously starting to feel like his version of flipping me off. Little fucker.

  “Um, okay... Do you want to explain why I’m suddenly such a moron?” I challenged the reptile, while feeling just a fraction embarrassed.

  “Because,” he huffed. I could still hear the extension of his Ss but was growing used to it the more he spoke and noticing it less. “You put on that stupid bracelet from your creepy biological mother and then had the audacity to look shocked when you couldn’t get it off. Moron.”

  “Wait what?” Caleb and I exclaimed this at almost the same time.

  “How do you know the bracelet was from Bridget?” Caleb deman
ded of the snake.

  “You mean I put it on myself?” I gasped, feeling like the fucking snake had just dropped a bomb on me. Around us, the other guys, who weren’t privy to Sam’s chatter firsthand, were all on the edges of their seats, ready to demand answers.

  “Christ,” Sam groaned, shifting his coils as though getting comfortable. “And you have the nerve to be offended when I call you a moron. Which you are. A moron, that is. Bridget gave the bracelet to Caleb, Caleb and Austin gave it to you when your magic went all screwy after the bonding, and then you all seemed to just forget it ever happened.”

  “Wait, how the hell do you know all of this?” I demanded. Rubbing at my forehead, I noticed the offensive bracelet and growled.

  “Because I am clearly superior to you all, so the confusion and illusion didn’t affect me.” He paused. “Heh, that rhymed. Confusion and illusion.”

  “Sam,” Caleb snapped. “Stay on topic, please.”

  “What else do you want to know? I told you the important factors. The bracelet came from Bridget, you put it on her willingly, and now she’s fucked. ’Cause she’s a moron.” Sam flicked his tongue at me again, so this time I flipped him off. Shithead.

  “Okay, is Sam giving any useful information?” River interjected. “Because if not, Kit and Wesley need to be going. I highly doubt this bloke in Ireland will let us reschedule again.”

  “Sam?” I prompted. “Do you have anything more to tell us on the subject?”

  “No,” he replied without hesitation. “Except that you need a shower; I can smell you from here.”

  My face flushed with embarrassment, and I automatically sniffed at my pit. I smelled just fine. Infuriating little reptile.

  “Okay, Sam are you coming with us or not? Because I have Tyson, I don’t necessarily need you as well.” I pushed myself up from the floor and started toward the bedroom to find clothes.

  “Oh, please,” the snake hissed as he slid from the chair and crossed the room to me. “As if that overgrown pussycat will be able to keep a moron like you safe.”

  I paused and leant down to put my arm closer to the ground. Still muttering obscenities too quietly for me to hear, Sam coiled the first foot or so of his body around my forearm and then disappeared with a sparkle of magic, settling into my new ink.

 
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