Flight from mayhem fly b.., p.24
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       Flight from Mayhem (Fly by Night #2), p.24

           Yasmine Galenorn
 

  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 wanted 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 wh
at 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.”

  “I can’t drive, I don’t have my license yet and I don’t have a car.” Furious that I had let it go this long, I waded through the ankle-deep water toward the front door. I had no clue where my purse was and I didn’t have time to look for it.

  “Let me grab my purse, I’ll drive you.” Tonya raced back up the stairs.

  I yanked open the front door and a rush of water flooded out and down the stairs, swirling around my ankles as it flowed out of the living room. I ignored the fact that my fish were splashing around, trying to breathe, and that my jeans were soaked through, and took the porch stairs in a single jump, landing on the sidewalk below. Tonya was right behind me, keys in one hand, my purse in the other. As she tossed me the bag, she held out her key fob, unlocking the car doors. I slid into the passenger side and fastened my seat belt. She slammed the door, jamming the keys into the ignition as she turned the engine. Without another word, she eased out of the driveway and we headed toward the office.

  We were halfway there when I managed to find my voice. “I knew it was a bad idea. I knew we shouldn’t have let her go ahead with it. Alex won’t be able to wake up for hours. What the hell are we going to do?”

  “We’ll take things one step at a time. First, you’ll call Chase Johnson. You tell him what’s going on. They will probably meet you over at her boat, to make sure that it wasn’t some run-of-the-mill burglar. You should check the community center as well. Someone there might have seen something. But you need to stay calm because panic isn’t going to help anything.”

  She was right, all panic would do would be to make things worse. I did my best to calm my breathing and clear my head.

  “I don’t understand how the creature knew what we were up to. If Bette never said who she worked for, why would it be suspicious? Or was it just in a panic, looking for a new victim as soon as possible?”

  “I don’t know, and there’s no way to tell at this point. We just have to focus on finding her.” She paused. “I should have brought my cards with me. Maybe Chai can bring them down to the office?”

  “I’ll give him a call. He can just lock up the house and we’ll deal with the mess later.” All my anger at Glenda had vanished for the moment, overwhelmed by my sorrow over my fish and my worry about Bette. I pulled out my phone. Chai answered almost immediately. “Hey, lock the doors and bring Tonya’s cards to the office, would you?”

  “Of course. I’ll meet you there.” He hung up before I could say anything else.

  Unfortunately, traffic was thick, and there had been a nasty fender bender in the middle of an intersection. As we sat there waiting for the tow trucks to clear the area, I began to fret. We were still far enough from the office that it would take me a while to get there if I ran, but there was no way of knowing how long it was going to take for us to get through the quagmire of traffic.

  “Some days it feels like everything is just falling apart,” Tonya said. “Just breathe, and we’ll get through this as soon as we can.”

  “Does this happen
to humans a lot? Everything happening at the same time?” Right now, Earthside looked far less glamorous than it had twenty-four hours ago.

  Tonya gave me a sideways look. “I know you’re grumpy, and I know it’s because you’re scared for Bette and you’re mad at Glenda. But sometimes, shit just happens. It’s part of living in the human world. Don’t dragons have the same problem?”

  I didn’t want to admit it, but finally I nodded. “I guess we do. I’ve just never been part of society enough to notice. Whenever anything went wrong after I left the orphanage, it was easy enough to just pick up stakes and move on, to leave the chaos behind.”

  “You really didn’t have any roots back in the Dragon Reaches, did you?”

  I ducked my head, staring at my hands. After a few minutes, I answered. “Not really. Once the Lost and Foundling releases you, you’re on your own. And if you have no background and no relatives, you’re really and truly alone. I would sometimes wander the countryside for months without speaking to a single person. I kept to myself and kept away from the populated areas. I didn’t mind so much, usually. I’m good with my own company. But sometimes, I would pass by an isolated house or a dreyerie and I would see the lights inside, and it would hit me how much I wanted a home of my own. Just to gather around a table with a group of people who wanted me there. Those times, they were hard.”

  Tonya said nothing and I glanced over at her. I was surprised to see a single tear trickling down her cheek. “Are you all right?”

  She sniffled and dashed away the tear. “I’m just sorry that you had to go through that. And given the life span of dragons, even though you’re young, it sounds like you have spent so many years alone. I’m glad you’re here now, and I’m glad that you have friends. People you care enough about drop everything and run to help. And you know, if something happened to you, we would come running.”

  The tow trucks eased the cars out of the center of the road as we sat there. Another couple of minutes and the congestion began to thin out as we edged forward, turning onto a side street. Another five minutes and we were traveling at a decent clip down a back road. And a few minutes after that, Tonya pulled into the parking lot at the office. We dashed out of the car and into the building.

 
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