Flight from mayhem, p.24
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       Flight from Mayhem, p.24

           Yasmine Galenorn
 

  I bit my lip, unsure how to answer her. “The house is definitely haunted. But my friend and I believe there’s a lot more to the story. Things about Mary that nobody else knew. We think . . . we believe that she had a rough life. In fact, to be honest I think the demons she thought were haunting her were very real and very mortal.”

  “What you mean?”

  “We have reason to believe that she may have suffered terrible abuse from her husband. Some of the things we’ve seen and found corroborate that. It’s nothing that we could take into a court to clear her name, and the truth is, I think that she actually did murder her husband and three of her children. But we think that something happened to drive her over the edge. You see, early this morning we discovered the skeleton of her missing baby on the property.”

  “That’s what Officer Yugi told me. It’s hard to believe that after all these years they found him.” Elena sighed. “I suppose I can’t just ignore that the house exists. As much as I’d like to pretend that that blot on our family name never happened, I guess I have to deal with it. If your friend wants to buy the house, have her call me and we’ll talk numbers. Maybe it’s time to clear away the past. I’ll be home all day, as well as tomorrow.” And with that, she quietly said good-bye.

  * * *

  I returned to the kitchen to find Ralph chugging down a mug of coffee. His drink of choice was Flying Horse—an energy drink that was so caffeine rich it made espresso look like Kool-Aid. But I never kept any around because I didn’t like the taste of it, so he’d have to make do with old-fashioned caffeine.

  “I just talked to Elena, the woman who owns Mary’s house. She might be interested in selling and I think it would do her family good to get rid of that place.” I had already made up my mind that whether or not Tonya bought the house, it was time to clear out the ghosts. And if she didn’t want it, I thought I might buy it. We could clear the land, fix it up, and rent it out. In fact, if Tonya didn’t want to live there, I could use it for a second income property.

  Ralph was mumbling to himself. He took another swig of caffeine and set down the mug on the coaster. “There’s nothing I can find out about this except that yes—he did alter the photo. One of the problems is that Tonya doesn’t remember anyone taking a picture of her recently.”

  “But it’s just your face. Would you recognize where this picture was from?”

  Tonya gingerly pointed to the earrings that she was wearing in the photo. “I bought those a week and half ago. I haven’t had a picture taken of me since, and I’m not in the habit of taking selfies. So somebody else had to take this picture.”

  I realized what they were saying. “Jack took it, didn’t he?”

  “Yeah . . . He took it all right.” Ralph sounded furious. “I can’t stand these freaks.”

  “What do we do now? Is there a way we can have him arrested?”

  “Well, this e-mail is as good as a threat. I’m going to call the police in Port Townsend and see if they’ll pick him up for questioning. Stalking laws are still nebulous, and it all depends on where you live and whether the authorities take it seriously. I also suggested to Tonya that she have a friend go over and check on her house. Stalkers can get pretty freaky when the object of their obsession vanishes. And since Tonya just took off, there’s no telling what Skelton might do.” Ralph cast a pointed look at Tonya.

  “All right, all right. I hear you. I’ll call Patrick. He and I’ve been talking a lot since you guys cleared out his bed-and-breakfast. I’ll call him tonight and ask him to go over and check. I’d ask Alice, one of my friends, but I don’t want to put any other women in danger. It seems safer to ask a vampire to go check. And you’re right, I think it’s time to talk to the police. I was hoping that this would all turn out to be my imagination—that I would be exaggerating things. But I guess I’m not.”

  “It’s so much easier to think it might be our imagination. By the way, Elena wants you to call her if you’re interested in the house. And if you’re not, I might be.” I explained my reasoning.

  “Well, either way then, I guess we should call her.” Tonya paced around the dining room. “You know, when I went home, after I had climbed down from my high horse that sent me careening over to Aberdeen, I hoped that my mother and I could pick up our relationship without too much of a problem. I was pretty naïve, expecting her to just ignore the fact that I had walked out on her and cut her out of my life. It took a while but we became friends again, but it was never the same. I hurt her pretty badly.”

  Chai vocalized a question that I was thinking but hadn’t wanted to ask. “What was your argument about?”

  Tonya shrugged. “Does it really matter?” After a moment, she added, “My mother wanted me to go to college. Something she had never been able to do. I wanted to get married to my boyfriend. He was a pretty rough character and I was caught up in the excitement of being a rebel. And then he was caught trying to rob a bank and went to prison. I tried to defend him to Penelope, but she rubbed it in my face. I hated that she was right. I didn’t want to admit that she had seen through him and that I hadn’t. So I picked a fight and it escalated.”

  “Family dynamics are never easy,” Ralph said, frowning. “I know, I’m going through a situation right now.”

  “Family dynamics make for damned rough complications. Anyway, Penelope told me that I had to decide how I wanted to live my life. I could straighten up and take responsibility, or I could live it as a reactionary, rebelling against authority just for the sake of rebelling. I got pissed, and she told me to make a choice, so I packed a suitcase and took off. I crashed on a friend’s couch in Aberdeen until I could find a job. Over the next few years I tried to sort out my feelings. Finally, I realized what an ass I had been and that Penelope had just wanted to make my life a little easier. So I went home, expecting her to jump for joy. When she didn’t, I realized that some fences are hard to mend.”

  As I listened to Tonya speak, it occurred to me that quite a lot of people had bad relationships with their parents. I had always assumed that it was easier among humans and Fae than among dragons, but apparently I was wrong. Family drama was family drama no matter where you were.

  Tonya let out a soft laugh, then shrugged. “At least we ended on decent terms, even if things were never the way they had been before I left. In fact, if I’m honest with myself, they weren’t all that great, so I guess we ended better than we started. I always blamed her for driving my father away, but the truth is he just wasn’t cut out to be a parent or a husband. He didn’t even come to her funeral, although I notified him when she died. He sent me a sympathy card, but he didn’t offer to come. I guess I’m alone, really.”

  I realized Tonya was as lonely as I had been. Oh, she had friends in Port Townsend, but I had the feeling that, deep down, she felt isolated.

  Wanting to change the mood, needing to lighten things up a little, I glanced at the clock again. It was eleven thirty. “I kind of want to go spy on Bette, to see if anybody takes the bait today.”

  “I don’t advise that,” said Ralph. “We have no way of knowing if he’s going to be there today—the doppelgänger, that is. And frankly, I don’t trust you to spy on the situation without giving yourself away.”

  Tonya let out a sigh. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m feeling tired. Ralph, if you would call the police in Port Townsend, I would appreciate it. You have my permission to forward any of the e-mails and the letters to them that they might need. Jack is scaring me.” She gave me a quick hug and a kiss on the cheek, then waved at Chai and Ralph before disappearing up the stairs to her bedroom.

  After she was gone, Ralph motioned for me to sit down. “I didn’t want to scare her while she was here, but the truth is this guy is a real nut job. I’m afraid for her life. I’m going to call the cops, and fill them in on everything. But for now, she needs to stay here.”

  I could tell he wante
d to say something else, and I thought I knew what it was. “You think he might have followed her down here? Do you think he knows she’s here?”

  Slowly, Ralph nodded. “I’m pretty sure that he’s kept close tabs on her. I doubt if she made a move over the past month that he hasn’t noticed. In fact, I’m going to talk to Patrick and suggest that he sweep her house. I’m not a betting man, but I’ll give you good odds that Skelton has bugged her house, if not installed a secret camera somewhere. From the nuances in the letters, I think he has erotomania. And that hardly ever ends well.”

  “What’s erotomania?” I wasn’t familiar with all of the terms for stalkers and perverts.

  Chai broke into the conversation. He had been listening from the door to the kitchen. “Someone who believes that the object of their affection is in love with them, when in fact the person may not even know they exist.”

  “Oh, lovely.”

  I yawned. Normally I didn’t go to bed until around one thirty or two P.M., but lately, things hadn’t been all that normal. I found myself rubbing my eyes, as Chai leaned down behind my chair, his hands resting lightly on my shoulders.

  “Little Sister, why don’t you get some sleep? Go to bed early and rest. Ralph and I will finish up here, and then he can go home and sleep, too. Everything will be okay, wait and see.” His hands were warm against the tops of my shoulders and I found myself starting to drift.

  “I think I might do that. If anybody calls and it’s important, wake me up. Otherwise I’m going to set my alarm for six P.M. and get some extra sleep.”

  As I dragged myself up the stairs to my bedroom, I tried to sort out my feelings. I was worried about Tonya; I was upset over what had happened to Mary. I was mourning the bones of a child that I had never known. I was in a relationship with someone and feeling the first pangs of love, and had no clue of how to handle them. All the emotions swept in like a towering wave to wash over me and as I crawled beneath the covers, the sheets smooth against my skin, I wanted nothing more than to be wandering alone on the shore, unfettered by all these feelings.

  * * *

  Chai woke me up. At first, I wasn’t sure what was going on because I wasn’t used to seeing him in my bedroom. Normally, I woke from sleep as quickly as I fell into it. Head on the pillow, eyes closed. But I felt groggy and out of sorts as his voice penetrated the layers of fog in my mind.

  “Shimmer, it’s time to wake up. You need to come downstairs. Glenda’s here and she wants to talk to you.”

  Glenda? Glenda who? And then the name pierced the fog and I realized who he was talking about. I shot up out of bed so fast that I almost knocked him over. It didn’t even occur to me that I was standing there naked until Chai raked his gaze over me, a peculiar grin on his face.

  “Oh, stop that. I know you don’t think about me that way.” I pushed past him and stomped over to my dresser, yanking out a pair of panties. As I slipped them on, snapping them tight around my hips, Chai let out a low chuckle.

  “No, in truth I don’t. But that doesn’t stop me from looking. Face it, Shimmer. You’re a gorgeous woman—dragon—and it’s not my fault that my parts stand at attention when I see you naked. But you can trust that I’ll never make an effort to act on it.”

  We stood there staring at each other, an awkward silence suddenly filling the room. Chai had never really remarked on my looks before, other than to tell me I was pretty or that the outfit I was wearing looked good. He swallowed, blushing.

  “Well, then . . . I’d better get dressed.”

  Looking relieved, he headed for the door. “I think that’s best. I don’t think the bitch from hell is going away until she talks to you. I could probably take care of her, if you wanted. But somehow I think that might make more trouble than it would be worth.” Abruptly, he turned and strode out of the room, shutting the door behind him.

  Muttering a few choice curses, I shoved my feet through the leg holes of my jeans and drew them up, fastening the snap and zipping them quickly. I hurriedly hooked my bra and then slipped on a sweater, adjusting the cowl so that it wasn’t choking me. I ran a brush through my hair to smooth it back, and thought about putting on boots, but I decided that it was my house, damn it, and if I wanted to go barefoot I would.

  As I dashed down the staircase, I heard Tonya moving around in her room. I wanted to get Glenda out of there before she came down because I didn’t trust Glenda around humans. I hurried into the living room, and sure enough—there she was. Decked out in her finest leather pants and halter top, wearing snakeskin ankle boots with heels a mile high, and carrying what looked like a high-end designer bag, Glenda was leaning against the back of the sofa, staring around the room with a smirk.

  “What do you want?” I wasn’t awake enough to be friendly, and I wasn’t friendly enough to be polite.

  “Is that how you greet all your houseguests?” She flashed me a smile but I could sense the bared teeth behind it. “I think we need to have a little talk.”

  “Make an appointment at the office.” I shoved my hands in my pockets and leaned against the wall, looking her up and down. When I really took the time to look at her, her beauty felt just a little too jaded. The expression in her eyes was a little too weary. I realized that Glenda wasn’t just angry, she was tired.

  “You’d like that, wouldn’t you? I’m going to tell you this once: Break it off with Alex. He’s coming back to me sooner or later, and the quicker you let go of him, the less it’s going to hurt.”

  “For your information, Alex and I have agreed to be exclusive. That doesn’t sound like someone who wants to run back to their ex. And that’s something you, as a succubus, can never, ever give him.” Two could play the snarky game. And I could play it better than she could.

  “And I suppose like a good little dragon you said yes. That’s all well and good, but he’s going to get bored. I know Alex, and he needs more excitement in this life than you can provide. I wanted to give you the chance to withdraw gracefully, but I see that you’re not interested in listening to reason.”

  I wondered if she really believed what she was saying. There had to be a part of her that knew Alex was done with her. “Are you serious? Do you really believe what you’re saying? I don’t understand you, Glenda. You weren’t happy with him. He was miserable, so why do you want him back?”

  “Who gives a damn about whether we were happy? Happiness is an illusion. The only thing that matters is that Alex is mine and you’re trespassing on private property.” Her voice was so bitter that I knew there had to be something else behind this.

  “Why are you so pissed off at me? I didn’t steal him from you.” I shifted, wanting the conversation to be over with as soon as possible.

  “What you did was worse. You encouraged him to leave me. And so did Bette, that old bitch. You’re both going to be sorry.” And with that, she reached into her purse and pulled out something wrapped in her hand. With a quick flick of the wrist, she sent it flying. A rock. Damn. And then, before I could make a move, the rock smashed through the central glass in my aquarium.

  I let out a scream as hundreds of gallons of water began to pour into my living room along with all my fish, including Coolray, my pet jellyfish. Glenda laughed as the rush of water rapidly began to saturate my floors, carpeting, and furniture. Then, before I could attack her, she vanished.

  At that moment Tonya appeared on the stairs, her eyes wide. “What the hell is going on?” And then she saw what was happening and stopped in her tracks.

  Chai had already sprung into action, grabbing a pan as he tried valiantly to save some of my fish. With relief, I saw him scoop up Coolray, but there were so many other fish swimming around my living room that I knew we wouldn’t be able to catch them all before they died.

  Anger ricocheted through me, breaking my paralysis. I headed to the kitchen in search of another pan. And then there was a zap as a jolt ran through me
. The water had managed to short out some of the electronics in the room, splashing against the outlets that were placed lower on the wall. The jolt didn’t hurt me, and it certainly wouldn’t affect Chai, but I yelled for Tonya to stay where she was. I crawled on the sofa to get away from the ankle-deep water that was now spreading into the kitchen.

  “Motherfucking son of a bitch,” I shouted as fish began to float to the surface. The electrical shorts had apparently been enough to kill some of them. “I am going to kill that bitch of a succubus, if it’s the last thing I do.”

  At that moment, my cell phone rang and I pulled it out of my pocket. It was Ralph. As I jabbed the Talk button, Chai let out another shout and I glanced over in his direction. He had managed to reach the stairs, where my octopus was trying to pull itself out of the water. Grateful that Wriggly had survived, I brought the phone to my ear.

  “Ralph, I’m going to have to talk to you later. We have something of an emergency going on here.”

  “Unless somebody’s dead, you need to get to the office now. I just stopped by Bette’s houseboat. Somebody tore up the place, and I can’t find her anywhere. Her cell phone was on the floor, smashed to bits. I have a feeling our doppelgänger figured out our plan. I think it abducted her.”

  I stared at the phone, panic washing over me. Suddenly, nothing else mattered. Setting down the pan, I turned to Chai and Tonya. “The doppelgänger has Bette.” And then, overwhelmed by everything that had happened, I burst into tears.

  CHAPTER 16

  Chai was the first to speak. “Get moving. Tonya and I will take care of this mess, and then I will meet you at the office. Just go.”

 
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