Flight from mayhem, p.12
Flight from Mayhem, p.12Yasmine Galenorn
That made perfect sense. “Right. And if we are dealing with a doppelgänger, then the creature can change shape every dinner. But if these events are held once a month, and all the victims come from within a six-week period . . . is that right? Six weeks?” All of a sudden, I stopped. “Oh hell. I forgot to tell you. Chase called.”
Alex frowned. “What did he want? When was this?”
“When Ralph’s parents were here—right before Glenda showed up. Things got so chaotic, I forgot to say anything. Chase said that he thinks they have another victim. Someone went missing and he said there was some tie-in to Marlene. They took the same classes or something.” I rubbed my forehead. That I could have forgotten the most important part of his phone call . . . I let out a long, slow breath. “He asked if Bette could call him—he is looking for any scrap of information. I’m sorry. I really am.”
“Did you tell him we think we’re on the trail of a doppelgänger?” Alex merely raised his eyebrows, but he looked ticked.
“I told him we had a theory, but . . .” Knowing I had screwed up, I lowered my head. “No. I’m sorry.”
Alex motioned to Bette. “Get Johnson on the phone now, would you?”
As she put in a call to Chase, I turned to Alex. “I’m still not used to the details on this job. I screwed up. I’m sorry.”
He held my gaze, and I could feel the conflicting emotions emanating from him.
“Be more careful next time. Make certain you don’t forget anything like this again. This time? It might not matter. But someday it’s going to be a life-or-death situation, and a lapse like this? It will stay with you, Shimmer. I guarantee it, because I’ve had it happen to me. Once, because I forgot to pass along a warning, two people lost their lives. Two men who had families, both of whom should have lived long, happy lives. I still live with that memory, and they—they didn’t get to live at all. I don’t want you to have to ever go through that.”
Embarrassed, feeling miserable, I stared at the table. Alex was right—and he wasn’t even being mean about it. But what he said made a hell of a lot of sense. I had been so focused on going swimming that I had let business slide. Important business.
“Come now, just pay attention next time.” His voice was soft. I raised my gaze to meet his and saw—not irritation, but compassion lurking behind those frosty eyes. “We all know how different this life is for you. You’re adjusting, love.”
Another moment and Bette returned, her face ashen. “Stone Weaver, a Fae connected with the Cascade Elemental Fae, has vanished. Nobody’s heard from him in two days. Chase was wondering if we could go scout around and see if we can find him. Stone doesn’t like humans and if a bunch of cops go up there—even from the FH-CSI—he’ll hide. That is, if he can hide.”
Alex glanced at the clock. “Three fifteen. Where does he live and how far is it?”
“He lives up near North Sultan near Kellogg Lake.” She turned to Ralph. “How far according to the maps?”
Ralph tapped out an address on his laptop. “About a forty-minute drive each way without traffic just to Sultan, but then after that, it will probably take another hour on the back roads to get to his house. At this time in the morning? There shouldn’t be a problem with gridlock anywhere, but I’m not sure we want to start out this close to sunrise. And if we really take our time to look for him, it’s going to add a couple hours. There’s no way we can guarantee being home in time to avoid sunrise.”
Damn it. If I hadn’t insisted on going swimming, if I’d remembered to tell them about the call, we could have been on our way. I wanted to thump the wall, but in my frustration I’d probably put a hole in it. But I made up my mind—this was the last time I’d fuck up and forget to relay a message.
Alex stood, then folded his tablet cover closed. “Well then, we’ll go first thing come evening. Meanwhile, Shimmer, why don’t you take Tonya home? Ralph, I need you here. We should go over some of the system commands on the new security system I’ve decided to install. After Glenda’s little visit, I don’t want to leave anything to chance. I’m not just consulting Ysella, but I’ve decided to install a magical system as well. It’s going to cost a pretty penny, but it’s worth it. Bette, we need you here, too. Tonya, you brought your car—can you drive Shimmer home?”
“Damn it, I can’t wait to get my license. One more week and I’ll go test for it.” I hated having to be chauffeured around.
“No problem. Since I’m staying with her, that will be fine. And I’ll tell her what I told you.”
“Good. We all need to discuss it later on. Shimmer, can I talk to you a moment?” Alex motioned me into his office. Once there, he shut the door and turned to me. “I’m sorry I yelled at you.”
“You were right to. I screwed up and I feel horrible about it. But Alex, really . . . is this a good idea? Us? It’s tricky, blending a work and personal relationship together.” I hated bringing it up again, but I didn’t want him to feel like he had to compromise his work ethic for me.
But he stroked my cheek. “I know you say it’s too soon to promise exclusivity. I accept that. But Shimmer, I don’t want to go back to being friends. You mean too much to me.” The heat in his eyes belied the chill of his hands. “It’s been a long time since I felt this way about someone. I can’t say the words yet . . . I won’t say them yet because I don’t want to jinx it, but . . .”
I pressed my finger to his lips. “Shush. Don’t. I’m not ready to say them either.”
And then I leaned in and kissed him, softly at first, then deeper until we were wrapped in one another’s arms. All of a sudden, I realized I was right where I wanted to be—in his arms. He wanted me, he wanted to be with me, he . . . and in the back corner of my mind, a little voice whispered out the words neither one of us could yet say.
Without thinking, I blurted out, “Alex, I’ll be your girlfriend—exclusively. But I’m going to slip up now and then. I make mistakes, like I did tonight with forgetting to tell you about Chase’s call. I’m not used to being part of a team, let alone a relationship. Can you accept that? That I’ll make mistakes and maybe screw up bad enough for you to get pissed at me? And when it happens, can you make certain you don’t treat me with kid gloves, as Bette says? I don’t want you to give me leeway on standards that you hold Bette and Ralph to.”
He pulled me close, whispering roughly in my ear. “Trust me, when you screw up, I’ll yell at you. And we’ll probably fight. But no matter what, we’ll work it out. Can you accept that?” His voice was husky, and the scent of his cologne made my knees go weak.
I melted against him, wanting to slide my hands under his shirt. “Yes. I can accept that.”
“Then get out of here. Take Tonya home, before I toss you on my desk and fuck you so hard you scream.” And with that, he slapped me on the butt, and grinned. “You lovely dragon wench.”
With it being three thirty, I still had quite a while before bedtime, but then I realized that Tonya wasn’t on a nocturnal schedule like the rest of us were. She might need to get some sleep.
“You want to go to bed?” I directed her to my house, but mostly the GPS did the work.
She seemed preoccupied. “No, actually, I’ve had a lot of late nights lately and have been sleeping late. I have a lot to tell you.” She pulled into the driveway, killing the lights as we got out of the car. Abruptly, she turned to face the house across the street, craning her neck. “Say, what the hell is going on with your neighbor? The energy over there is like a beacon shooting out fireworks.”
I sighed. “That’s Mary’s house. Mary’s a ghost. Mary has apparently decided that she is the guardian of the block and wants me to find someone to take over the house to help her keep it safe.” As I lifted Tonya’s suitcase out of the car—for me, it was an easy carry—I told her about what had happened over there. “So, she almost threw me down the stairs but she said it wasn’
“I don’t know how much I’d believe her. Some ghosts do a damned good job lying. Let me read the cards for you while I’m here. I wouldn’t mind taking a look for myself, either.” She followed me into the house, with a last glance over her shoulder. As we entered the living room, the first thing we saw was Chai, stretched out in a chair, asleep. Snookums was wedged under his chin, also snoring up a storm.
I pressed my lips together, trying not to laugh, and motioned for Tonya to follow me up the stairs and down the hall. “Chai lives with me, but I have a fold-out love seat that makes for a comfy bed in the third bedroom. I use it as a library right now. Will that do?”
“That’s fine. I can go to a hotel if it makes it easier on you—” But the catch in Tonya’s voice sounded like it was the last thing she wanted to do.
“Nonsense. You’ll stay with us. Here we go.” The third bedroom was small, but the perfect size for bookshelves, a little writing desk, a rocking chair, and a love seat. I had picked up a love seat that folded out into a double bed, and it was surprisingly comfortable. The room was one of my favorites in my house. I had painted it a deep blue with white trim, and even though Bette told me it was so ’80s, I had affixed a seashell border around the top of the room. I liked it, even though it was out of date and no longer the trend. I had found a banker’s lamp in bronze and cream, and a floor lamp to match, and the room felt cozy and welcoming to me every time I set foot in it.
Tonya looked around as I set down her suitcase. “This is lovely, Shimmer. Your house is wonderful.”
“Well, it was the right price. It’s in the Greenbelt Park District—the most haunted neighborhood in Seattle. A lot of heavy stuff can go on here, from what I gather. But I’m a dragon. I can deal with it.”
“Seriously, though—your ghost next door? I want to go over there with you and check out the situation. I have a lot of experience with ghosts. And, dragon or not, they can harm you. They aren’t like normal mortals, even if they were human to begin with. Ghosts take on a special type of power when they’re dead. I just don’t want to see you hurt.”
I nodded. “You want to head over there after you get situated?”
“Sure.” She glanced around. “I guess I’ll lay out a few things I don’t want to wrinkle. Can I use the closet?” She pointed to the door against the opposite wall. “Or at least, I assume that’s a closet?”
“Yeah, it is. There are even a few hangers in it. I’ll meet you downstairs in the kitchen.” And with that, I withdrew, giving her time to get settled.
* * *
Downstairs, Chai was cooking something that smelled hearty and slightly spicy. “Tonya getting settled?”
I heard something in his voice. “Chai . . . you’re really happy to see her, aren’t you?”
He went back to frying the sausages. “If you want to help, you can crack the eggs into a bowl and add that little dish of seasoning to them. The whole dozen, please. I’m hungry, you’re always hungry, and I imagine Tonya could use something to eat.”
As I did as he asked, I casually mentioned, “Tonya is going to go across the street with me and check out the house over there. To see if Mary’s really the spirit she says she is or if I’m being played.”
Chai’s shoulders stiffened. “I’ll come along.”
“That’s all right, you don’t need to.”
“No, and that’s final. You’re a dragon, Little Sister. You can take care of yourself. But Tonya, she’s human and she might need some watching after.” He cleared his throat. “Hand me the eggs, please. There’s French bread in the oven, warming with parmesan and butter.”
“I can smell it. I’m hungry.” And indeed, the yeasty, buttery smell wafted up to fill my senses. My stomach rumbled. I decided to tease him a little. “But Chai, you seemed worried enough about me back at the office.”
“Don’t even try to start a fight. I tell you one thing for sure: That succubus is going to get her ass whipped. First, nobody attacks you and gets away with it. Not on my watch. Second, she’s nasty, that one. She’s got a spiteful nature that won’t listen to reason.” He stopped, putting down the spatula after pouring the eggs into a large skillet and turning down the heat. “Shimmer, that succubus is dangerous, and she’s not all wrapped up right. I’m worried that she’ll do more than just try to cause havoc. I think she has it in her mind to go after you—to try to harm you. She may be lashing out at Alex, but you’re her real target. You’re the one whom Alex loves—”
“Loves? He doesn’t—”
He held up his hand. “Little Sister, you are the only one who can’t see it, and if you’d only open your eyes, you wouldn’t be blind either. Alex is head-over-heels nuts about you. And you are treating this like a summer fling.”
I stared at him, and once more, the wall I’d erected began to crack. “Chai, you know my background. Blue dragons . . . we feel things very deeply. And I spent most of my life alone, once I got out of the Lost and Foundling. I was able to push my emotions away—to ignore them. Truth is, I haven’t ever had to cope with the onslaught of emotions that surround me here. The past few months have been like an overload for me. I’m trying to process and learn how to deal with all of this.”
“I know, Little Sister, but the only thing you can do is learn how to allow yourself to feel without getting overwhelmed.”
“There are a few other things she can do, Chai. I’m pretty sure there must be support groups for Supes trying to come to terms with living here.” Tonya peeked around the arch leading into the kitchen. “I love your house, Shimmer. I love the aquarium!”
As she entered, Chai swung around, a wide grin on his face. Speaking of emotions, he was wearing his heart on his sleeve. Trouble was, Tonya had a thing for a spiritwalker named Degoba. I thought Chai realized that when we had first met Tonya in Port Townsend, but now I wasn’t so sure.
“I hope you’re hungry because I’ve been cooking.” Chai began fluffing the scrambled eggs, softly folding them over until they were done.
The smell from the food set off my stomach and it growled. I blushed, but laughed. “Well, I’m ready for food.”
Tonya nodded. “I could eat something.” But though she was smiling, I still sensed that something was off.
I motioned for her to follow me. “While you’re helping me set the table, tell me why you’re here. What’s wrong, Tonya?”
As we laid out the plates and silverware, Tonya took several deep breaths, like she was gearing up to perform a high dive into a pool of water. Finally, she put down the butter dish and rested her hands on the back of one of the chairs. “Degoba . . . he’s getting married.”
I blinked. “Married? To . . .”
“To someone who isn’t me.” She choked back a sob and then, dropping into the chair, propped her elbows on the table, folding her arms. Tears glistened in her eyes. “I didn’t even know he was dating anybody. We went out once and I had a great time, but he seemed pretty quiet during the date and after that, he kind of avoided me. Now our friendship’s all messed up and I feel like a fool.”
I quickly slipped around back of her and rested my hands on her shoulder. “It’s okay . . . it’s going to be okay.” I wanted to hug her but wasn’t sure that was the right thing to do. I glanced over at Chai. It was obvious he had been listening, but he pretended not to notice. After a moment, though, he carried a platter of eggs and sausages and the basket of bread over to the table and set them down.
“Eat. It will help.” He smiled softly at Tonya. He deftly began to dish out the food, nodding for me to sit down. “Heartaches are a pain in the ass, aren’t they?”
A ghost of a smile flickered at the corner of her lips. “Yeah, they are. And I can’t even claim that he led me on. He really didn’t. I just . . . I like him so much.”
“Do you know who he’s marrying?” I forked a bite of scrambled eggs into my mouth
She sniffled, pulling a tissue out of her pocket to wipe her eyes. “Vaguely. I mean, I know who she is. Her name is Beatrice, and she’s around his age. I guess . . . if he had just mentioned at some point that he was seeing someone, I would have backed off sooner. Now I’m wondering how long he’s known her. Was he going out with her when we went on our date? He had to have been, unless they had a whirlwind romance. I know that can happen, but . . .”
“Chances are, they had a fight around the time he went out with you. And then . . .” I lingered over the last.
“Made up? Yeah, that’s what I thought, too. I guess I can’t complain. He didn’t string me along. He didn’t ask me out again or even suggest the idea of it. On the date, I was having a great time but he didn’t say anything to make me think he was interested in anything more than the evening out. I tried to tell myself he was just being a gentleman, but . . . I just . . . I like him so damned much. And I wanted to believe that he felt more for me than he said.” And once again, a flurry of tears raced down her cheeks.
“So you came here to get away for a little while?” I was starting to piece things together.
She sniffled, then hiccupped. “Yes. They get married on Friday. I figured I’d stay here for a week. I don’t want to be at the wedding. I don’t even want to be in town.”
“What did he say?”
“I have no idea.” She blushed again. “I sent him an e-mail before I left Port Townsend. I haven’t bothered to check if he’s answered. I suppose I should, just to be grown-up about this.”
I murmured a note of sympathy. “Humans have so many concerns about being grown-up. Emotions are emotions, whether you’re an adult or a child. If you really want to, you can use my laptop to check your e-mail after breakfast.”
Flight from Mayhem by Yasmine Galenorn / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes