Flight from mayhem, p.14
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       Flight from Mayhem, p.14

           Yasmine Galenorn

  She paused. “That, I don’t know. I’m not sure if she was able to see through me or not. I suppose, if there’s something restraining her, then when I come back it might show itself. I wonder what it would do if I decided to buy this house?” She said it offhandedly, but I jumped.

  “Do you think you might want to? I’d love having you for a neighbor.”

  Tonya laughed again, shaking her head. “I was just thinking aloud. I have a house, even though I’m uncomfortable there right now.”

  “Well, whatever you decide to do,” Alex said, “can we make it quick? There’s something I want to discuss with Shimmer before I have to leave for home. Sun will rise in a bit.”

  I decided to make an arbitrary decision. “Let’s see what happens if we tell Mary that Tonya is thinking of buying the house. Maybe it will prod her captor into coming out of hiding if he . . . it . . . thinks a human’s going to take over here again.”

  “Sounds good to me.” Tonya opened the door. “I’m always up for a psychic experiment.”

  I entered the house, ignoring Chai’s pleas that I stop.

  “I can’t wait to see what this does,” Alex said, rolling his eyes. But he swung in behind, following us in. Chai grumbled but acceded.

  We traipsed into the kitchen. Mary was still there, shimmering in the dim room. Her hands were folded in front of her, and she looked like she had all the time in the world. Which, I suppose, was true enough.


  Mary turned to me and smiled. “Shimmer, you haven’t introduced your other friends to me.”

  I suddenly realized that a ghost was berating my manners and broke out laughing. The situation seemed so surreal that, for a moment, I wasn’t sure exactly what to say. Finally, I motioned to Alex.

  “May I introduce you to Alex? He’s my boss. Tonya is a friend of ours; she lives in Port Townsend. And this is Chai. He’s my brother.”

  She tilted her head, studying us. “There isn’t much of a family resemblance.”

  I repressed a snicker. “That’s because he’s my brother in all but blood. He watches out for me. Mary, I wanted to let you know that Tonya will be buying this house. She is going to live here and take care of it.” Now to see how Mary reacted.

  One beat. Two.

  Then Mary slowly turned to Tonya, beaming. “How lovely. I think you’ll do nicely, and it will be so nice to have company again.”

  Tonya met Mary’s gaze. I swore that I could see the wheels turning in her mind. “I’m glad you approve. I would hate to think of moving in here and upsetting you.”

  Mary just let out a tinkle of laughter. In that moment a chill ran up my spine and I realized that there was far more to her than we knew. But she smiled, and said, “Oh, child. I’m not upset at all. In fact, I think we’re going to have a wonderful time together as roommates.”

  A simple sentence, but it shook me to the core and Tonya’s face went white. I murmured a quick good-bye, and we headed for the door. As we crossed the street back to my house, I knew then that Mary—or whatever spirit might be lurking in the shadows pulling her strings—was a dangerous predator. And we were walking right into her lair.


  Once we were back at my house I locked the door and closed the curtains, but I still couldn’t get rid of the feeling that we were being watched. The realization that my neighbor across the street was a dangerous spirit really threw a damper into my evening. As we sat around the kitchen table, Chai fretted. Snookums jumped into his lap, and Chai absently petted the cat.

  Alex drummed his fingers on the table. “I’m not sure where you wrestled that thing up from, but it needs to go back wherever it came from. She might look like a friendly old grandma, but I can guarantee you she’s not.”

  “He’s right.” Tonya rummaged through my cupboards and finally came out with a package of cookies. “I’m beginning to think that Mary has secrets we have no clue about. She feels like a predator, but I don’t think she sees herself that way. And usually, the people who are dangerous but truly don’t think they are tend to be psychopaths.”

  “Can a spirit be a psychopath?” Alex asked.

  “Oh yeah, they most certainly can be.” Tonya opened the package of Oreos.

  “What do you need to go up against her?” I had seen Tonya in action up in Port Townsend, and even though she was human, her magic was powerful. She worshipped the goddess Hecate, and that magic was nothing to mess around with.

  Tonya bit into the cookie, then leaned back in her chair and chewed thoughtfully. After a moment she swallowed. “What makes you think I’m going to go up against her?”

  I blinked. “I . . . I . . .” Truth was, she had never said she was willing to take on Mary. “I guess I just assumed . . .” I felt like a fool now.

  But Tonya let out a laugh. “I’ll do what I can to help you. But first, I need to understand what it is that we are actually dealing with. I’ll have to lay out a spread with my tarot cards and see what I can find out. And we need somebody to research the house and land. Find out what was there before and what might still be there now. But right now, I’m exhausted. Whatever that snake-thing was that came at us did nothing to help. The adrenaline is wearing off, and I really need to sleep. Do you mind if I go to bed? I don’t want to be rude.”

  “Please, go to sleep. Can you find your way up to the library? The blankets are in the sideboard that’s against the window. Do you need me to show you the way again?” I started to stand, but she waved for me to sit down again.

  “No, it’s not like you live in a mansion where I could get lost.” With a smile, she gave Alex a wave. “I’ll see you tonight at the office.” Turning to Chai, she winked. “Night, Chai. Sleep well.”

  He smiled back, watching as she left the room. As she trudged up the stairs, sounding as tired as she looked, I wondered whether it was safe to have her here, considering the spirit across the street. Mary seemed to have taken a fascination with her. But whether Tonya was here or in a hotel probably made no difference. If the ghost had latched hold of her, it wouldn’t matter where she was.

  I turned to Chai, thinking of how best to phrase my thoughts. “I think it would be best if we keep a close eye on Tonya. It occurs to me that Mary—whatever she is—might have tried to attach to her. I’m remembering the land wight and how it corded into Degoba.”

  The djinn gave me a thoughtful nod. “Good point. And since you need your sleep, I am going to keep watch over her. And no”—he laughed with a wink—“I’m not doing you a favor. I want to do this.”

  “I love how well you understand me.” I glanced over at Alex, who looked preoccupied. “You wanted to talk to me about something?”

  Alex glanced at Chai. “I do, but it’s rather private.”

  Chai took the hint. “I’m going to go keep a watch on Tonya. I promise not to peek when she’s undressing.” He headed out of the kitchen and up the stairs.

  After he left, I turned to Alex and leaned across the table, taking his hands in mine. “So, what’s so important that you had to come over here at this time in the morning? I know I’m charming but I’m not that much fun.” I laughed as I said it, but he didn’t join in.

  “After you left the office, I got a call from Glenda. She wants to see me. She says she knows she went too far, and that she did it because she still loves me.” He was watching me closely and I knew he was waiting for me to react.

  My gut twisted, tying itself up in a knot. I tried to read his expression but it was guarded. I managed to keep calm, however. “And what are your thoughts about that?” was all I said, when I actually wanted to shout, Are you crazy?

  My expression must’ve shown in my face because Alex started to laugh. “Oh love, you don’t think I am going to fall for her hijinks, do you? I just need to talk to her and make her understand it’s over between us.”

  “Hijinks? Hiji
nks? The woman’s a flaming lunatic. What’s she going to do next time? Burn the building down? She left a silver stake on your desk, for the sake of the gods!” I stared at him, unable to believe he was being so blind.

  Alex frowned. “I know she is reckless, but I don’t think she’d try to deliberately harm us—”

  “Really? We are seriously having this conversation? And why do you need to see her at all? You know she’s just going to try something else.” As much as I cared for Alex, sometimes I thought he was a lot more gullible than he’d ever admit to being. That was not a word I would usually apply to a vampire, but when it came to Alex and women, he seemed to have a blind spot.

  “I need to see her because I know I can talk sense into her if we sit down and talk face to face.” He sounded a little put out. “You might be a little more enthusiastic that she’s willing to talk at all.”

  “Enthusiastic? Alex . . .” But I couldn’t even continue the thought. There was no way in hell that I would ever trust Glenda to be anything but trouble. Succubi had volatile natures as it was; they didn’t need a reason to lash out. There were a few exceptions, of course, but Glenda wasn’t one of them.

  I took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, then tried again.

  “You seriously believe you can calm her down with a little chat? Alex, you know what she’s like. How many things of yours has she broken over just the past few months? How many temper tantrums has she thrown? You were in a relationship with the woman for years. By now I think you should have a pretty good idea of what her reaction is going to be.”

  Alex just stared at me, the smile vanishing from his face. “Shimmer, I know you’re trying to help, but I think you’re underestimating my influence. It’s obvious that Glenda’s still in love with me. Yes, we had a rocky relationship, and yes, it went south months ago. Neither she nor I was able to admit it. And now, she’s angry and hurt, even though deep inside, she knows it was for the best. The least I can do is meet her in person and talk her through this.”

  And that was that. There was nothing more I could say. But the fact that Alex could brush off what she had done so quickly pissed me off. I jumped to my feet, striding over to the sink because I couldn’t sit there and face him when he was being so stupid. After a moment, I turned to face him, leaning back against the counter.

  “Get real, Alex. Open your eyes. Glenda’s out for revenge. She’s not upset that you broke up with her, she’s upset that any man broke up with her. She doesn’t want you, but she doesn’t want me to have you either. And she’s going to make trouble for both of us. Mark my words.”

  Pushing his chair back, Alex came to his feet. “When you’re in this sort of a mood I can’t deal with you. I have to go. It’s getting close to sunrise. But, like it or not, Shimmer—I am going to talk to Glenda.” He glanced at the clock. “And I don’t want to hear any arguments over my decision.”

  As he headed for the door, I shot out, “Then you’d better be wearing a spike-proof vest, because trust me—she’s going to be ready when you come.”

  He glanced over his shoulder, shaking his head. “Shimmer, you’ve got a lot to learn about relationships. I’ll talk to you later.” He didn’t even blow me a kiss on his way out.

  * * *

  As Alex left, I realized I was shaking. This was the first big fight we had had since we had paired up. When I had been with Carter, he and I had never fought. Not until the sorcerer charmed me, but even then, Carter and I both knew that we weren’t in it for the long haul. I thought about giving him a call—we were still good friends and maybe he could help me make sense of everything. But if I did, Alex might misinterpret it. My thoughts were interrupted by the phone.

  I glanced at the Caller ID on my cell. Stacy. Relieved to see her name, I answered. “Hey, Stacy, how are you? How’s the bronchitis? I miss you.”

  Stacy’s voice was raw, but she sounded stronger than she had the last time I had talked to her. “Shimmer, I miss you, too. I’m trying to stick to my usual schedule so it isn’t so much of an adjustment when I go back to work. I’m sick of being sick. I thought I’d give you a call and see how things are going. I had a feeling something is wrong and I wanted to make sure you’re doing okay.”

  “Yeah, I’m okay. Alex and I just had a fight thanks to Glenda. She’s being a pain in the ass. And I’ve got a ghost living across the street who is turning out to be a troublemaker, as well. My friend Tonya, from Port Townsend—remember I told you about her? She’s here visiting. I’d like for you to meet her—I think you would get along well.”

  “Men always bring headaches with them, whether they’re human or vampire. That’s why I don’t date right now. The last boyfriend I had was a leech and I kicked his ass to the curb. I’d like to meet your friend, too. If she still here when I get well, we can get together and have a girls’ night. I figure I’ll be up and running again in a couple days. The antibiotics the doctor gave me kicked in and I can already tell they’re going to do the trick. It drives me nuts to be flat on my back and not working, and Mama is doing her best to help out, but I hate putting her to the trouble because she has enough problems of her own.”

  Stacy’s mother was disabled, and Stacy did her best to help. Emily had multiple sclerosis; she had apparently developed it shortly after Stacy’s brother was born. He was in his early twenties now and going to college, but Emily’s disease was beginning to progress at a rapid pace. So Stacy worked two jobs and lived at home to help out her mother. She also helped put her brother through school. He was on a full-tuition scholarship and worked after class. Without that, Stacy had confided in me, there was no way they could have paid for him to go.

  “Do you need anything? I can run over there if you need me to get some groceries for you. Bette will drive me.” Stacy worked her butt off, and now that she was sick, I wanted to help if I could.

  She paused to cough. “Are you sure?”

  I could hear the hesitation in her voice. “Of course I’m sure. I’d love to help and it’s no trouble at all. I promise.”

  Sounding almost on the verge of tears, she agreed. “That would be wonderful, I would appreciate that so much. My brother is so busy right now with exams and his job. I don’t want to bother him any more than I need to. If you could pick up some soup and some prepackaged frozen dinners, it would help a lot. That way we can pop them in the oven and Mama won’t have to try to cook.”

  I smiled. “I’ll be there in a couple of hours. You just get some rest and I’ll call you before I arrive.” As I dialed Bette’s number, I wished I could make all our problems go away with a shopping trip.

  Bette came right over. “I needed to get away from Dent, so this solves that little issue. And I’m happy to help. Stacy’s a good girl,” she reassured me. “I don’t think I’m going to be keeping Dent around much longer.”

  I slid into the passenger seat, looking longingly at the steering wheel. She caught my look.

  “Oh, no you don’t. You finish getting your license in Ralph’s car. I’m not trusting you with my baby.” Bette was exceptionally protective of her car, and she would only ever say that it was a gift from someone who had been very dear to her.

  I sighed. “Fine. I’ll be getting my license in a week, and then you and Ralph can go car shopping with me.” I leaned back against the leather, which was smooth as a baby’s bottom. I had no clue what a baby’s bottom felt like, but I’d heard the expression and it sounded good. “So, why are you done with Dent?”

  “He’s nice enough, but he’s clingy and he’s starting to talk marriage. And that’s when I skedaddle.” She grinned at me, her cigarette hanging low on her lip as she puffed and talked at the same time.

  “You really aren’t ever getting married, are you?”

  Bette snorted. “Me? I’m a Melusine. It’s a wonder we bother with relationships at all, but I admit—I like having a man to hang around with. But then they get
all possessive and they start to talk about the altar and at that point, I’m done. Because once a man has it in his head he wants to marry you, it’s hard to ever maintain the status quo. They may say they can handle a casual relationship, but truth is, men need women more than we need them.”

  “Alex and I had a fight.” I didn’t like admitting it, but Bette had been around the block more times than I could even imagine and I trusted her judgment. “Glenda wants to meet with him, to talk things over as she put it. She told him she’s still in love with him. He fell for it and we got in an argument. He thinks she’s on the up-and-up and that he can talk some sense into her.”

  “He’s a man. No man I ever knew could talk sense into a succubus. Just like no woman can ever control an incubus. They always have the upper hand because they can manipulate your hormones.” She shrugged. “He’s going to be in a world of hurt if he lets her worm her way back in with some sob story.”

  I stared at the dash. “You think . . . do you think he still . . .” Even thinking the words made me cringe.

  “Has feelings for her?” She cast a quick glance my way. “No, sugar pie, I don’t. But I think Alex’s Achilles’ heel is his sympathy. If she can get him to feel sorry for her, he’ll let her back into his life and she can work on him subliminally.”

  My stomach sank like a lead balloon.

  “Damn it.” I pressed my lips together and looked out the window. It was nearly six A.M. and the daylight world was just beginning to wake up. Bette let me stew in silence as we pulled into the local Wholemart Grocery. As we headed into the store, I grabbed a cart. If Alex was stupid enough to let Glenda have that much influence on him, then nothing I could say would do any good.

  Bette, a cart of her own in hand, joined me. As we strolled through the aisles, I tossed cans of soup and boxed meals into the cart, trying to focus on the job at hand. Stacy wasn’t up to cooking and her mother wasn’t strong enough to do a lot anymore. But heating up prepared foods? Easy enough. Baked beans, soup, boxed mac ’n’ cheese, rice pilaf mix, prepared hamburger patties and stuffed chicken breasts that just needed to be fried up or roasted . . . some frozen entrées—lasagna and the like.

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