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Shadow silence, p.12
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       Shadow Silence, p.12

           Yasmine Galenorn
 
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  “Heads.” I wasn’t sure what game we were playing, but I knew better than to ignore him.

  He flipped it, and the coin landed tails up. “You lose. Pick up the coin.”

  I leaned over and fished it up. As I blew the sand off it, I saw that both sides were tails. “You cheated.”

  “You didn’t think to ask. You accepted that I was offering you a fair choice without finding out the facts. Always gather your facts. Always question, especially when you are conversing with someone who views you as an enemy whom she cannot harm . . . outright.” He laughed then and held out his hand. “My coin, please.”

  I softly placed the coin in his palm and for the briefest second, my finger touched his flesh and it felt like I was being sucked into a vortex of whirling energy. He quickly pulled away, tucking his coin back in his pocket.

  Staring at my finger, I contemplated what he had said. “Veronica can’t harm me because of the Morrígan, but she doesn’t like me. She’ll help because she’s forced to, but I shouldn’t trust her—there are ways she can still subvert the truth. Am I on the right track?”

  “Like a cart set for market.” And with that, he motioned for me to stand and waved his hand. The water blurred, the sandspit blurred, and the next moment . . .

  * * *

  . . . I was back beside Bryan, staring at a bright light. Only I was in the car, and he was gazing at me, a worried look on his face. I blinked, shaking my head as I realized it was still nighttime. The light was coming from the cab light of the car.

  “Are you all right? Kerris?” He let out a sudden breath. “You’re awake! Kerris, speak to me.”

  I winced, aching like I had been sitting in a cramped position too long. It didn’t take much for me to figure out that he had put on my seat belt and it was grating into my shoulder because of the way it was positioned across my breasts. Seat belts and big breasts weren’t a good mix.

  “I’m okay—really. I just . . . the Crow Man took me wandering for a little while. He was just trying to help me with something.” I glanced at Bryan, shifting as I unbuckled my seat belt. We were still in the cemetery, but at least we were out of the area around the Pest House. “Can we get out of here? I need to go out—get some food, be somewhere filled with people. People who are alive.”

  He laughed then, looking relieved. “We can do that. I wondered what had happened but figured that it was something on the order of the Morrígan or the Crow Man.” He didn’t ask what I had learned, or where I had been. By now I realized that Bryan was uniquely gifted in understanding that his role was one of support, at least as far as being my guardian went. He would accept what I could tell him, but not pry further.

  I wanted to tell him about Veronica, but the words were frozen. Not your secret to tell . . . that little inner voice whispered. Instead, I sought for what I could say.

  “Veronica . . . we can trust her to help us when we ask, but I’ll never fully put faith in her. There are so many layers to her story and by now you’ve figured out that I can’t tell you everything. But . . . I will tell you when we can trust her, and when we can’t. Do you remember what she said about looking for the witch bottles in the forest that Magda made?”

  It was Bryan’s turn to look puzzled. “Um . . . no. I don’t remember hearing . . . much of anything, to be honest, after we walked into her throne room.”

  “I’m not surprised. Well, she told me that there are witch bottles in the forest that are the summoning vehicles for the rogue Ankou, and that we need to find them and have the Matriarchs destroy them. There are fifteen of them. How we’re to find them, I don’t know. And I have no idea what they look like, but I bet you anything Ivy or Oriel will know. Or Ellia, even.”

  Bryan sucked in a deep breath. “I really don’t remember that conversation, but yeah, that sounds about right. So, she said Magda was the one who was behind this?”

  I nodded. “Yes, and the Hounds still think she’s . . . as Veronica put it, their chew toy. But Magda’s really the one running the show. She also said that the Shadow People will start attacking the village if we don’t do something soon.”

  “That means a trip to Timber Peak to look for those bottles. This time, we’ll take the Crescent Moon Society. They’re going to have to know about this.” He reached across to stroke my hair back from my face. “I wish you hadn’t had to go through what you did tonight. I may not remember much of it, but I remember enough to know it wasn’t easy.”

  The softness of his voice melted my heart. In two short months, I had bonded with Bryan like I never had before with anybody. I’d dated, I’d gone out with men over the years and slept with them, but until now, nobody had ever managed to penetrate the depths of my heart. I gazed into his eyes, wanting to say so much and yet . . . it all seemed so dreamlike—so like a movie that I kept pinching myself to know that this was really happening.

  “I never expected to fall for my guardian. I guess, after seeing Grandma Lila for so many years without a protector . . . I didn’t think I’d have one either.” My voice was shaking. I wasn’t sure what was about to happen, but it felt like we were on the precipice of something so deep and powerful that we’d never make it out from the fall.

  “Kerris, I told you I’ve been waiting for you. I knew that this was my calling in life—to be the guardian of a spirit shaman. The Morrígan told me herself. But . . . I wasn’t sure what would happen either. Now I can’t imagine ever being apart from you.” He leaned across the seat, holding my chin firmly as he stared into my eyes. “I will always be here for you. I will always be your guardian protector.”

  “Never let go of me, please. Never let go.”

  And then, as his lips met mine, I dissolved into his kiss, holding on to the warmth of his body even as the winds rocked the car, and the spirits caught in the night wandered by.

  CHAPTER 8

  I had a restless night, with dreams filled with fire and flame and skeletal thrones, but Bryan was there, and he woke me every time I seemed to be stressing out. We didn’t make love—I was too worn out from the encounter with Veronica, and by the time we stopped for burgers, and then got back to my place, Bryan pretty much dragged my butt inside, drew me a warm bubble bath, and then put me to bed when I fell asleep in the tub.

  The alarm went off at six A.M. sharp. I reached to turn it off, thinking we should just go back to sleep, but then remembered: Today was Peggin’s moving day. Groaning, I pushed myself to a sitting position and, blurry-eyed, turned to stare at Bryan, who was mumbling something under his breath. I couldn’t catch the words but it had to do with the alarm and ways he’d like to kill it.

  Laughing, I reached over and poked him in the shoulder. “Wake up. We need to get over to Peggin’s. She’s providing breakfast. Get up, you.” I leaned down and brushed away a stray lock of hair to kiss him on the forehead.

  His eyes flew open, and he rolled over, grabbing me down on top of him, laughing. “Got you! Give me a kiss, wench.”

  He was tousled and sleepy and warm and I wanted to melt into his arms. I pressed my lips against his and he murmured something as he kissed me, his tongue playing over mine. My stomach tightened as a streak of desire split me in two, and before I could say a word, he pulled me up to straddle him. I said nothing, my breath shattered from the heat. The tangle of sheets got in the way and he shoved them aside so I could lean down and rub my breasts against him, my nipples stiffening as they met his broad chest.

  “Ride me,” he whispered, and I found myself moist and ready. I adjusted my position as he put on a condom, then eased my way down his shaft, letting out a long moan as he thrust upward, driving his hard cock into my body. I arched my back, and he eased a hand between my thighs to finger me, his fingers fluttering over my sex, sending one shiver after another racing though me. I began to ride him then, grinding against him as he bucked below me. He grabbed my hips, holding tight, and I cupped my breasts, squee
zing them as he watched, the hungry look in his eyes deepening.

  “Touch yourself,” he said, and I did, reaching down with one hand to finger myself. As the fire spread, I circled my clit, rubbing hard and fast while I used my other hand to pinch my nipple. Bryan held me tightly, thrusting as he filled me to the core.

  “Do you like it when I fuck you?” Bryan asked, his breath coming hard.

  “Don’t stop, please don’t stop . . . harder, please . . . fuck me hard.” I fell forward, my breasts pressing against him as he encircled my waist, pulling me so tight that we moved as one. He was so deep inside me that it felt like we could never break apart. He rolled me over beneath him, his hips swiveling against me as I began to peak, riding the wave as it carried me upward.

  “I’m coming,” I cried out, no longer in control of my voice.

  Bryan shifted, pumping faster, and then, as I let out a shriek, he grunted and stiffened, arching his back as he came. A moment later, he slumped against me, reaching up to stroke my hair back and kiss me gently on the lips.

  “Good morning to you,” he whispered gently. “Nothing like a morning quickie to wake the blood.”

  “Good morning back, and you’re right.” I laughed. “We’d better get showered and dressed.”

  “And feed the cats.”

  “And feed the cats, yes.” I glanced up to find Gabby on the bottom of the bed, staring at us. “She could burn a hole in us with that glare.” Apparently Her Highness did not appreciate breakfast being delayed by a morning romp. I glanced at the clock. Ten till seven.

  “Come on, missy. Get your bottom out of that bed.” Bryan jumped out of bed, smacking me lightly on the ass as he did so.

  We jumped in the shower together, lathering up with my honeysuckle body wash. Bryan soaped my back for me, then turned around so I could return the favor. I loved the huge shower. The baths at his house were even bigger, but my house felt cozier. I had bound my hair into a ponytail to keep it from getting wet—I washed it every three days so it wouldn’t dry out and turn into frizz—but Bryan squeezed out some shampoo and began scrubbing his hair. It was shorter, though it covered the nape of his neck and his ears, and would dry quickly.

  I slipped out of the shower, leaving him to finish, and toweled off, then sat at my vanity to put on my makeup. I glanced at my legs—they could use a quick shave but I’d do that in a bath tonight after helping out Peggin. By then we’d all be grubby. I popped my birth control pill into my mouth, then brushed my teeth and headed back to the bedroom to dress as Bryan stepped out of the shower. Today would be heavy work, so I chose a pair of old jeans, a pale gray sweatshirt, and a pair of low-heeled ankle boots. As I was redoing my ponytail, Bryan entered the bedroom, scrubbing the water from his hair with a towel.

  “I brought my work clothes over last night,” he said as he sat on the edge of the bed and slid on his briefs. Then he pulled on jeans, a sweatshirt with a Nirvana logo on the front, and his boots. “Peggin’s sure she wants to do this?”

  I grimaced. “Yeah, and she’s already put a down payment on the place. She’s able to move in so quickly because it’s rent-to-own. So until the escrow goes through, she’s just renting the place. I wish she’d reconsider, but Peggin’s a smart woman and she knows what she’s doing. I just think she underestimates the power of the area down there. Fogwhistle Pier is a freakshow place, and it’s got a long history of accidents.”

  “How did the Lady . . . when did she get her start?” Bryan ran a comb through his hair and then, after we tossed our dirty clothes from the night before into the laundry, we headed into the kitchen to feed the cats.

  “There are several parts to that answer, to be honest. First, there was always a creature in the lake—there are two, actually, that we know of. One’s the lake monster. Totally different thing and doesn’t tend to be seen around where the Lady stays. She can be all over the lake, but she primarily sticks around Whisper Hollow now. The lake monster’s . . . well . . . a small cousin of Nessie, we think. But the Lady . . . she’s something entirely different.”

  “Tell me. I should learn as much as I can about all the creatures that make this place their home, especially since you seem to be involved with all of them to some degree.” He pulled out clean dishes for the cat food as I opened three cans of Fancy Feast. While I scooped the wet food into the dishes, Bryan filled another with fresh kibble and made sure their water fountain was running clean. Daphne and Agent H paced impatiently, while Gabby leaped up on the counter to egg me on.

  I frowned at her. “You know you’re not supposed to be on the kitchen counters, especially when there’s food up here.”

  “Yeah, you tell her, and just see how effective that is.” Bryan snickered. He had taken a shine to my cats in a way that warmed my heart, and my cats—in return—had fallen head over heels for him, even though they seemed to sense the wolf in him. They also had taken a strong shine to Peggin. They respected my grandfather Aidan; probably sensing the lionshifter side of him brought out their obedience.

  “Oh hush, you’ll just encourage them.” I swatted him on the arm lightly, and laughed.

  “So, what else goes into making the Lady . . . the Lady?”

  I pressed my lips together. “Well, first there is the lake spirit that’s always been there—nobody knows what she is, or how she got her start. But then, over the years, she started taking people and each victim seems to strengthen her. Also, in 1937, a woman named Hallie Illingworth vanished from the area. She was constantly showing up to work with bruises, and her husband gave her more than one black eye. The cops had been called out due to their fights. But one morning in December 1937, Hallie was gone. Never seen again. Her husband told everybody she had run off.”

  “Somehow I don’t think she ran very far, did she?”

  I shook my head. “No. But nobody heard a peep from her till 1940. Two men were out fishing when they found something floating in the water. Turns out, it was Hallie. But the odd thing is, the chemicals in the lake water had turned her body into what basically amounts to . . . soap—the process is called saponification. Long story short, they discovered she had been weighted down. Her husband was eventually arrested and convicted of second-degree murder. When I was young, my grandma Lila told me about the story, and she said that Hallie’s spirit had left behind an angry residue that blended with the lake’s own Lady. So she, too, became part of the overall Lady. When outsiders refer to the Lady of Crescent Lake, they’re usually talking about Hallie. But our Lady . . . she’s far more insidious and dangerous than that poor murder victim.”

  Bryan shook his head. “The history here . . . it’s ruthless at times, isn’t it?”

  “Oh, that’s not even the half of it.” I gave Gabby one last pat on the head. “Let’s go. I want to get coffee on the way. I told Peggin that it would be my treat.”

  “Did she ever get the chimney guy in to clean out her chimney?”

  “I think so—you can ask her when we get to her place.” I gathered my purse and keys, and Bryan grabbed his backpack—which he’d taken to using instead of a briefcase—and we locked the door, heading out.

  * * *

  Along the way, we stopped for coffee. I knew what Peggin liked, and she’d assured me that Deev would drink whatever we offered him as long as it was well caffeinated. Bryan wasn’t a heavy coffee drinker, but I forgave him for that. We ended up ordering three quad-shot triple-shot mochas, and one large tea for Bryan, and even though I knew Peggin was providing breakfast, I asked for four bear claws.

  Peggin lived on Ravenwood Drive, on the south side of the copse where Diago hung out. I had already had one run-in with the local spirit who lurked in the hospitals, seeking out those in serious condition in order to siphon life-energy off them. He never went for the healthy, unless they tried to interfere with his feeding, but he was scary as fuck, and I really didn’t look forward to any future encounters. I had
hoped that we could figure out some permanent way to ban him from the hospital, but like most of the entrenched spirit-creatures in Whisper Hollow, there seemed to be no real way to get rid of him.

  As we pulled into the driveway, once again I felt a sinking feeling. The house Peggin rented was charming—a small cottage complete with a rose-covered trellis that arched over the gate leading to the front door. It looked comfy and warm and safe, and the thought of her moving into a drafty old mansion filled with spirits made me cringe.

  “I wish she could buy this house, but the damned landlady . . .” I gritted my teeth, letting out a slow breath between them.

  “You’re going to have to let it go, Kerris. This isn’t your choice. The best we can do is try to make sure Peggin stays safe.” Bryan turned to me. “Promise you won’t make it harder on her than it already is. I guarantee you, she’s probably not jumping for joy on the inside, but she’s making the best of a bad situation and you’re her best friend. Don’t make it worse.”

  I stared at him, wanting to sputter out a protest, but unfortunately, I couldn’t argue with his logic. He was right, and I had to suck it up. “Fine. Come on, then. Let’s get a move on.” I carried the bag of bear claws while he picked up the tray of drinks.

  Peggin was already hauling stuff out to the rental truck that was pulled up to the front of the garage. She grinned and waved as we headed up the drive. “Hey there, early birds. I see you didn’t forget the caffeine!”

  Deev joined her, carrying a box that he slid into the back of the moving van. It was one of the smaller ones, but it would fit everything she owned in a couple of trips. As Bryan handed out the coffee, taking the tea for himself, I held up the pastries.

  “I brought sweets.”

  “I have sausage muffins inside on the kitchen table, along with hash brown cakes. It’s all finger food. Let’s go eat.” She motioned for us to follow her and we trooped into her kitchen. It was small, but tidy, and filled with carefully marked boxes. I glanced in the living room—the same there, neat, clean, and filled with more boxes. The furniture was all covered with plastic and blankets to keep it from bumping around in the truck.

 
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