Shadow silence, p.15
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       Shadow Silence, p.15

           Yasmine Galenorn
 
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  Ivy took a long sip of her coffee, then grimaced and added another packet of sugar and more cream. “Bitter stuff. I never understood why Nadia insists on using such a pungent blend. The rest of her food is incredible, but her coffee-making skills could use some work.” After a moment, she let out soft sigh. “I think Oriel knows a spell that might help, but it’s a strong one, and will require assistance. We’ll need Starlight’s help—she works some incredibly powerful guardianship magic.”

  I jerked my head up. “Starlight Williams?” Starlight Williams, the leader of the Crescent Moon Society, whom I had taken an instant dislike to and was polite to only because there was no choice—we had to work together.

  “Yes, Starlight. I wish you wouldn’t write her off. I know you two got off to a rocky start, but Starlight is good for this town, and she’s done a remarkable job of bringing in prosperity for Whisper Hollow. She’s like a beacon for those who want to spend money and attract it. And she doesn’t begrudge helping out when need be.”

  Ivy’s rebuke caught me up short. She wasn’t joking, either. I might be full grown, and she might look my age, but she was still my grandmother and ever since I had returned to Whisper Hollow and met her, she had eagerly adapted to that role.

  “I’m sorry. I just . . . there’s something about the woman that grates on me. I don’t know what it is, but she irritates the hell out of me.”

  Peggin finally broke her silence. “I know what it is. She reminds you of the A-list in high school.” With a faint grin, she added, “In fact, if I remember right, she was on the A-list and barely even knew we were alive.”

  Starlight Williams was our age—in her early thirties—and she was married to Kyle Williams, a lawyer. They had two children, fourteen-year-old fraternal twins. Rachel was the teenaged queen of mean girls, and Zach was a brilliant computer student who was racking up points as a budding sociopath, according to the rumor mill.

  I snorted. “Oh, she was head of the A-list. We never stood a chance around her and her hive, not that we even wanted to be part of that group.”

  Bryan laughed. “Ten bucks says you would have jumped at the chance. Everybody wants to be part of the A-list, even if they hate the members of it. It’s human nature to want to be popular and admired. Unfortunately, at that age, a lot of the admiration is misplaced.”

  Peggin stuck out her tongue at him. “Oh, shut up. We did not want to be part of their inner circle. We were in our own world. I’ll have you know, I was a trendsetter back then.”

  “She was, I can vouch for it.” I gave her a wide grin. “She started retro before retro was a thing. Well, before pinup retro was a thing. And Starlight was always jealous of Peggin because the jocks flocked around her. Men always have loved you, woman.”

  “You’re just saying that. But say it some more.” Peggin laughed and everything felt like it was almost normal. Unfortunately, Ellia brought us back to reality.

  “I hate to squash the good memories, but I’m going to tell you something, Peggin, and you need to pay attention to me and not fight me on it.” Ellia leaned closer. “You can’t stay in that house. I don’t care how much you paid, or what you think, or how independent you want to be. You stay there and the Lady’s going to be on your doorstep. With that mark, the closer you are to the shore, the easier it’s going to be for her to lure you in.”

  Peggin ducked her head. “I was afraid you were going to say that.” Her gaze flickered over toward Deev, and I knew she didn’t want to ask him if she could stay at his place, after all. I was about to offer my home, but Bryan spoke up first.

  “You can stay at my place. It’s huge, I’ve got a ton of space, and you can bring your ferrets.” He glanced at me. “I know you were about to offer her your place, but her ferrets and your cats may not mix too well—if they do, great, but if you think that would be a problem, then take one of the empty rooms in my house.”

  “That’s a good idea except that I don’t want her alone at night. And she’ll need somebody with her when she takes a bath, if what Ivy says is true. I dunno . . . what do you think, Peggin? Will Frith and Folly mind being around the cats? They’re huge, but mellow, and they’ve been around dogs and rabbits before. I doubt they’ll mind the ferrets, and we can keep your guys in the office while we’re gone.”

  She snorted. “I think we’d be better off locking them in the guest room or you may come home to a mass of shredded documents.” She smiled at Bryan. “I really appreciate the offer but Kerris is right; if I need supervision when I’m taking a bath, I think she’s better cut out for the job.”

  Bryan blushed. “I wasn’t suggesting—” Flustered, his voice trailed away.

  “I do believe that’s the first time I’ve seen you fall all over your words,” I said, laughing. “Don’t sweat it. Peggin knows you weren’t trying to sneak a peek. It’s settled, then. We’ll stop back at the house, you can pack a suitcase, and we’ll head over to my place. I’m happy to have the company and we can have a slumber party, only better. With booze.”

  “All right, and can we pick up Frith and Folly on the way? I miss them already.”

  I nodded, leaning back as Nadia escorted the waitress over. The waitress was carrying a huge tray, and Nadia placed a folding rack next to the table for her to set it on. The food smelled delicious. Ivy, Ellia, Bryan, and Peggin had ordered burgers and fries. Deev and I had ordered fish and chips. The servings were generous, and as we fell to eating, I snuck a peek at Peggin. She might have been trying to make the best of the situation, but I knew that she was both terrified and unhappy. What had been such a hopeful beginning had turned into a nightmare.

  A sudden thought crossed my mind. “Tell Ivy and Ellia about the ship beams!”

  Deev explained what we had found.

  “There’s a lot of painful energy attached to those beams, too. I really didn’t like touching them. I think that, after we get back to my place, we might start looking up ships in the area to see if we can figure out how those beams got in your basement,” I said to Peggin, figuring that at least it would give us something to take her mind off the Lady.

  Bryan cleared his throat. “There’s also another matter. Shouldn’t you tell them about your trip out to Veronica’s?”

  I blinked. In the excitement and fear of rescuing Peggin, it had entirely slipped my mind. “Bryan’s right. You know that I went out to meet Veronica last night. It was quite the experience. But long story short, she told me that there are fifteen witch bottles out in the woods on Timber Peak. Magda created them to summon the rogue Ankou that are gathering there. We need to find them, and then you, Oriel, and Ellia are to destroy them.” I paused. “Won’t breaking them do the trick, though?”

  Ivy shook her head. “No. It takes a witch to destroy a witch bottle, especially one made by a woman as powerful as Magda. So, I guess it’s another trip back to the Peak.”

  “Yeah, but not today.” I leaned back, the food suddenly making me tired. The adrenaline of the morning was starting to wear off, and I wanted nothing so much as to go home and take a nap. The others seemed to feel the same way. We lingered at the table, ordering dessert though I doubted any of us were terribly hungry, and only after more coffee and cheesecake did we reluctantly exit the restaurant.

  Peggin slipped her arm through mine. “Are you sure you don’t mind me staying at your house? And the ferrets?”

  “I wouldn’t want anybody else.” I leaned over and kissed her cheek. “Peggin, you’re my best friend. I’m not about to let the Lady get a second chance at you.” At her worried look, I added, “We’ll find a way to break the curse. I promise you.”

  But inside, I wondered if I could keep that promise. And I wondered if we could keep Peggin alive until we had a chance to break the curse.

  CHAPTER 10

  The trip back to the house at Foggy Downs was quiet. Deev pulled Peggin to him, and she rested her head on his sh
oulder in the backseat. Bryan was staring at his phone, frowning over some text he had gotten. None of us felt like talking much, and I couldn’t decide if it was because we were all tired, or because of all the crap that had gone down that day.

  As I pulled into the driveway, I stared up at the looming Victorian. The spirits were still wandering through the yard, I could see them as plain as I could see the trees and the grass and the house itself. A brooding feeling hung over the place and I shuddered, not wanting Peggin to go back through those doors.

  “I think you should let me go pack your bag. You stay here with Bryan. Deev, want to come in with me and help?” I wanted Deev with me because I wanted to have a little talk with him out of Peggin’s earshot. I was done not interfering. Maybe I wasn’t able to tell anyone about my dream, but I could make sure he heard what I had to say about everything else.

  Deev silently unwound himself from Peggin, and followed me into the house. As I shut the door behind us, he followed me upstairs.

  “I know you want to talk to me about something. What is it?” He sounded almost defensive.

  “I want to make certain that you remember to keep an eye on her when you guys are alone. If you’re working on a project, don’t let her go off wandering. If she stays the night at your house, you need to make certain that she doesn’t bathe alone. I’m just . . . a little raw.”

  He smiled then. “I thought you were going to blame me for what happened.”

  Blinking, I stared at him. “Why would I do that? You aren’t the one who encouraged her to buy this house. You tried to get her to stay with you, if I remember right.”

  He shrugged. “I’m used to people assuming things about me, to be honest. Trust me, I know that people think I’m an odd duck, to put it mildly. I’ve had more than one person assume that because some of my creations come to life, that I’m deliberately messing with forces that are better left untouched. I also get a lot of comments about my braids and clothes.”

  I walked over to Peggin’s bed and flopped down on it, shaking my head. “Oh, Deev. I know what it’s like to stand out and to be talked about. Trust me on that one. But no, I’m not blaming you—it’s not your fault. And as for assumptions, I never really knew you—you came to town after I left—but I’m glad to get the chance now. Because I, for one, think you’re a pretty cool dude. And I also think . . .”

  He sat beside me, folding his hands as he rested his elbows on his knees. “You think what?”

  I wasn’t sure whether I should say it or not, but decided I might as well. “I think you’re good for Peggin. Anybody more mundane would cramp her style. But I know she’s been lonely, to some degree, and I know that she loves with all her heart when she finally opens up to someone.” I turned to him. “I also know that she refused to stay with you because she was afraid of doing something that would drive a wedge between you guys. You know . . . reality has a way of creeping in when you move in with somebody.”

  He shifted, his shoulders relaxing. “I see. I wondered, but I wasn’t going to push her on it. I was afraid she just didn’t want to live with me and didn’t want to hurt my feelings about it. I wasn’t ready to hear her say she wanted to take things more slowly, so I didn’t ask.”

  A sneaking suspicion crossed my mind that they needed to quit being so afraid to talk things out, and I decided to just be blunt. “You guys can’t be afraid to discuss this stuff. You’re both pussyfooting around issues that could easily lead to a misunderstanding. Promise me, you won’t assume? Once one of you starts talking, I’m pretty sure the other will follow suit. Peggin may seem like a tough cookie, and she is, but to be honest, she’s really a big fluffball inside.” I grinned at him. “But you know that, don’t you?”

  The corners of his lips turned up, and he let out a gentle laugh. “Yeah, I know it. I can see her strength, but I also know that a very sensitive nature is lurking behind all that bravado. I promise, I’ll start talking to her more. Because Kerris, I really like Peggin. And I don’t want to mess things up with her.”

  Satisfied, I patted him on the knee. “She told me the same thing. So you’re both on the same page, at least. Now help me get some things together for her. Can you run downstairs and bag up all the food that might expire? We’ll also need her ferret food and their cages, and whatever else it is that ferrets take.”

  “Sure thing.” He obligingly took off, and as I watched the back of his duster flutter out the door, I had the feeling Peggin wasn’t going to be alone again for a very long time.

  I turned back to the room and picked up one of the suitcases we had emptied only a few hours ago. Time to get the show on the road. I knew Peggin loved her dresses and skirts, so I filled a garment bag with five of the dresses I knew she liked best, then added four skirts and hung the bag on the hook behind the door so the clothes wouldn’t wrinkle. I tucked the suitcase full with knit tops, a couple of button-down blouses, two of her favorite corsets, several pair of shoes, underwear and bras, and then hunted around till I found her makeup-to-go bag, a scaled-down version of her vanity table cases that held scads of eye shadow and mascara.

  As I was zipping the cases shut, I was startled by the door closing behind me. Thinking it was Deev, I said, “You’re done already?”

  No answer.

  Very slowly, I turned, cautiously peeking over my back shoulder. The door was shut, but there was nobody in the room with me, at least that I could see.

  “Who’s there?”

  No answer. But then the closet door flew open with a bang. I jumped, letting out a little shriek. As used to spirits as I was getting, they still could startle me without going to much trouble. Especially on a day like today, in a house like this one.

  “Who’s there? What do you want? You know I’m the spirit shaman, right? So talk to me.”

  Unfortunately, logic and reason didn’t always work with ghosts and their ilk. The closet door began to swing wildly, slamming itself closed again and again. I backed away toward the bed, but as I did, the blinds on the window began to roll up and down, just as out of control as the door.

  “Stop this. Talk to me if you have something to say. I have no patience for temper tantrums!” I put as much force into the words as I could, hoping to alleviate some of the outburst. It worked about as well as it did on a kid throwing a tantrum. Read: not at all. The door was whipping open and closed so fast that I knew if I tried to dash through it, I could easily get hurt. I shouted for Deev, hoping that he could hear me, but the house was huge and I wasn’t sure how well my voice would carry. Come to think of it, was he hearing the door slamming? If so, then why the hell wasn’t he up here checking on me?

  I looked around for something to use as a makeshift wand. Not that I thought it would do me much good—I hadn’t even mastered using the tools my grandma Lila left me yet. But if Peggin had anything that I might be able to use to channel energy . . .

  And then I saw it. On her dresser, there was a large chunk of quartz crystal. I grabbed it up, surprised by the sudden current that raced through my hands. As I held it out, aiming the cluster of points toward the door as much as I could, I began to whisper the first thing that I could think of, which wasn’t exactly a charm, but my heart was definitely behind it, even though my voice was shaky.

  “Get the hell out of here, whoever you are. Do you hear me? I’m the spirit shaman of Whisper Hollow and you will listen to me and obey!” I headed toward the swinging door, holding the crystal out, forcing my energy through it.

  The door paused for a moment, but then started up again. At that moment, a perfume bottle whirled past my head, skimming by from the vanity behind me. It barely missed me, crashing against the door as it slammed shut. Furious now, I whirled around.

  “Stop this now, or I’ll bring the Matriarchs out here and make your existence a living hell. Do you understand me?”

  The door suddenly stopped, and a hairbrush that had
been hovering in midair dropped to the floor. At that moment, Deev came running up the stairs.

  “Kerris, are you all right? I heard noise!”

  “I’m all right, but good gods, let’s get the hell out of here. The spirits are up in arms and . . .” I paused. “Did you hear me calling?”

  “No. I didn’t hear a thing!” He grabbed the suitcase from me and headed toward the stairs. “Come on. You go first, and be cautious. If they’re acting up, you don’t want anybody getting the bright idea to push you down the steps.”

  “Good point.” I clung to the railing, Peggin’s makeup case slung over my shoulder. Every step, I could feel the spirits watching me, but we made it to the main floor in one piece, and then out the door without further ado.

  As Deev locked the door behind him, I glanced past the house, toward the lake. There, shimmering through the trees, the water loomed like a dark force, glistening under the silver sky. We reached the cars as the rain began to splatter down, saturating the ground within seconds. Peggin slowly emerged from my SUV, where Bryan had waited with her. She silently followed Deev over to her car, and he commandeered the keys. She quietly surrendered them.

  “I feel her pulling on me,” she said. “I can feel her there. I don’t want to drive into the water, so yeah, you drive.”

  I watched them get in her car, worry eating at me. That she could feel the Lady at all made me nervous, but that she had already thought of the possibility of the car going into the lake scared the hell out of me. That’s how the Lady had taken my grandmother and Duvall.

  Slowly, I returned to the car and looked at Bryan. “I’m so worried. Peggin feels the Lady . . . she’s scared to drive. We have to do something, Bryan. Oriel has to be able to figure out a way to break the Lady’s curse.”

 
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