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Shadow silence, p.5
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       Shadow Silence, p.5

           Yasmine Galenorn

  “Well, that’s something. The plumbing will be okay for now, and the furnace is fine.” Peggin frowned. “How much will a new septic system run me?”

  “Between ten to twenty thousand dollars, depending on what permits the city requires.” He consulted his clipboard. “While we’re at it, one other thing you can check off your to-do list is the wiring. It was upgraded about fifteen years ago and should still be good. The circuit box is still in good condition, according to the inspection that I had done.”

  I wasn’t sure whether to cheer or sigh. That was one worry off her list and one less impediment toward buying the house. But at least she’d be safe from stray fires. “What about the roof? How’s it holding up? And any water damage or mold noted?”

  If Peggin was upset with me for asking questions, she wasn’t showing it.

  Jack consulted his clipboard again. “Roof has about ten years left on it. Needs a few patches but it’s still good. The inspector found no sign of mold, which honestly surprised me and I’d have that test run again, just in case. No water damage found. Chances are that the place has asbestos but it wasn’t uncovered during the inspection. It might come up during renovations or repairs, though.”

  As we entered the kitchen, Peggin pointed to the floor. “What’s underneath the linoleum? Hardwoods, by any chance?”

  “I don’t know on that one. One thing I can tell you is that all the upstairs renovations were permitted. The records are there.” He leaned against the counter. “So, do you think you might be interested?”

  Peggin glanced at me, but I kept my mouth shut. After a moment, she nodded. “What’s the asking price, and it would have to be rent-to-own, so what would that entail?”

  Jack let out what seemed to me was a relieved sigh. “Asking price is seventy-five thousand, and that’s negotiable, depending on the terms. Let’s go back to my office and talk. Of course, you can rent it without the to-buy option, but if you want to make any substantial changes in the near future, you’ll have to go the other route. Meet me in about twenty minutes?”

  “Twenty minutes it is.”

  He walked us to the door, locking it behind us and pocketing the key. “I’ll see you in a little while, then.” And with that, Jack returned to his car and eased out of the driveway.

  I glanced at the lot. There were plenty of creatures walking this land that weren’t visible to the naked eye. But if Peggin had made up her mind, there wasn’t much I could do, and given that the Crow Man wasn’t allowing me to tell her about my dream, I figured that I might as well do what I could to help her.

  “You want me to come with you?” I asked.

  She frowned, then shook her head. “No, I’m just grateful that you’re here. I think, given the repairs needed, if I can get them down to sixty thousand, that will be a good place for me to be. I’ve some savings, but that will have to go into fixing up the necessities.”

  “Let me know what happens. Meanwhile, I’m joining Bryan for coffee when his meeting’s over, and I want to do some shopping. At some point this week, I’m going to buy a tree.”

  I hadn’t celebrated much of anything while I’d been away from Whisper Hollow, but the town valued its winter holidays. Christmas, Yule—Solstice—Hanukkah, Kwanzaa . . . they were celebrated town-wide, and the town turned into an extravaganza of lights and decorations starting the weekend after Thanksgiving. Whisper Hollow seemed to welcome the cheer.

  “Oh, good. I’ll call you later.” She gave me a quick, tight hug, whispering, “Thanks again, for being here. Trust me, I’ll be careful.”

  As we both pulled out of the driveway, a gust of wind hit hard, and beyond the house the lake churned. I stared at it silently, thinking that sometimes, careful wasn’t good enough.

  * * *

  Whisper Hollow was a beautiful town, regardless of the dangers inherent within it. With a nouveau-Victorian feel to it, the town might as well have been the oldest living member of the community. While Whisper Hollow had its abandoned lots and houses, most of the town was well-kept and tidy. People took pride in their homes, in their businesses, in the community. Brick and stone comprised a good share of the buildings, and Whisper Hollow had a number of Painted Ladies. San Francisco might have its Postcard Row, but Whisper Hollow was a postcard unto itself.

  While there were only about five thousand people in the town, it was compact and the downtown area was definitely centralized. The shops were as colorful as the houses. The Broom & Thistle Coffee Shop was the local coffee hangout. The Herb & Essence apothecary was run by a gothic-looking gentleman I knew only as Prague. The Harlequin Theatre served as both cinema and stage. All were beloved members of the community.

  So was the Vintage Bookstore on Cedar Street, owned by Trevor Riversong, a member of one of the Salish tribes. Trevor was also a member of the Crescent Moon Society. He brought his tribal knowledge of the area to bear in our meetings.

  A block over, and a few blocks further north on Main Street was the Whisper Hollow Town Square, a mini-mall, and the Crescent Moon Spa, a full-service day spa. Other little shops dotted the main drag, boutiques that catered to both specific interests and general browsing.

  As I drove through the streets, looking for a parking spot, I spied one next to Beacon Park, on the corner of Third and Main. The park was across the street from a sports field, the community center, and the town pool.

  Beacon Park had a gazebo and plenty of benches scattered around, as well as a playground area for children. In the center was a large tiered fountain. For eight months out of the year it ran, but from the beginning of November to the end of February, it sat silent, except for the period starting on the Winter Solstice until New Year’s. Then, it sparkled with colored water spray, providing the temperatures cooperated. Towering firs and maples guarded the park, along with a couple of old oaks, and a giant cedar. Smaller bushes and ferns graced the park floor, but for the most part, the undergrowth was kept in check.

  I eased into the spot and turned off the engine. Parking was cheap; I could park all day here for five dollars compared to cities like Seattle. As I fumbled in my purse for quarters to feed the meter, a tapping on my window jolted me out of my thoughts and I found myself staring at a fit, pulled-together-looking woman with skin the color of deep umber. Her short, spiky pompadour was bleached red. What always stood out to me, though, were her eyes. They were luminous, coffee brown like my own.

  “Nadia!” I quickly found my quarters and then opened the door, stepping onto the sidewalk.

  Nadia Freemont was near my own age, although you could never tell ages in this town, and she owned the Mossy Rock Steakhouse, the most upscale restaurant in Whisper Hollow. She was a genius with food and her meals were rumored to have sparked more than one romance in town. Nadia was in the circle of friends Peggin and I had known in high school, and she, too, was part of the CMS. I had seen her a couple of times since returning to Whisper Hollow, but we hadn’t had a chance to catch up yet.

  Nadia gave me a quick hug. “I saw you parking there and couldn’t resist. I don’t have a lot of time, but wanted to clue you in on something.” Her eyes twinkled and she winked at me. “Women have to stick together.”

  “What’s up?” I pulled my coat tighter. The wind had picked up, and the temperature felt like it was dropping.

  “That man of yours? Bryan Tierney? He’s made a reservation for Sunday night and he asked me to make a special dessert. I’m not going to tell you what, but I have the feeling something’s up, so make sure you let him surprise you. Don’t make any other plans.” She leaned against my car, shivering. “Damn, it’s cold. I expect we may be in for a dusting of snow. Hurricane Ridge is getting massively dumped on.”

  I glanced at the sky. There was a faint whiff of ozone in the air—like right before a snowstorm or thunderstorm. “I can smell it. Whether it’s snow or rain, I think the weather’s going to hold nasty for a while.”<
br />
  “I think you’re right. Anyway, I have to run. I just gave a talk over at the high school about what it’s like to be a chef and own a restaurant. Career day, I gather. Now I’m headed to the steakhouse to make sure dinner prep is under way.” She blew on her hands, then, briefcase in hand, headed toward her car, which was parked a couple of spots up the street from me.

  I said good-bye and briskly headed the other way, toward the center of the downtown area.

  Whisper Hollow was alive and bustling. Regardless of the small population, the town never seemed empty. It had its share of regular ghosts. I could sense and see them walking the streets. Most, I never bothered with. My grandma Lila had let them roam, as well. They weren’t doing anybody any harm, and seemed content to meander through the town without upsetting anybody.

  I ran over my shopping list in my mind. I wanted to find gifts for Bryan and Peggin, obviously, but also Aidan—my grandfather—Ivy, Ellia, Deev, and a few other people. It felt good to have friends again. When I had been living in Seattle, managing a coffee shop, I had acquaintances, but never anybody to really hang out with.

  And I had rarely dated. Once guys found out that I could speak to their dead mothers and girlfriends and find out just what kind of people they really were, they seldom asked me out again. Or they just wanted an easy lay, and the fact that I wore an F-cup bra never failed to bring in a certain group of fetishists as well.

  That reminded me, I needed new bras. Big boobs meant a lot of wear and tear on the support system, and I went through bras every six months, even though I treated them with loving care. I was passing Elsa’s Lingerie & Lux Shop, so I dropped in for my first stop of the day.

  Elsa was in her eighties, but she was also still as pulled together as she had probably been every day of her life. She never went anywhere without her coral lipstick, her gloves, and her Dior handbag.

  “Kerris, how are you?”

  I smiled and leaned on the counter. “I need new bras, Miss Elsa. Did you get in the brand that I like?”

  “Right here—Elomi, 38F. Are these the styles you wanted?” She showed me two different choices, and I bought two of each.

  Purchase in hand, I gave her a little wave and headed for my next stop. Peggin’s gift was easy. I knew she had been eyeing a new dress, but had bemoaned the cost. She wouldn’t be able to buy it now, not if she was going to buy the house, and I also knew what shoes she wanted to go with it. The vintage shop where she had found it also carried new retro designs. The dress had a flared skirt, fitted bodice, and was printed with a gothic floral design in plum and black. The shoes were chunky heels, also a plum color to match. I asked the clerk to box up both and, shopping bags in tow, headed for the coffee shop. Bryan should be there by now.

  The Broom & Thistle was one block over from the vintage clothing shop, on Third and Cedar. I pushed through the doors just as another bone-chilling gust of wind swept past. Shivering, I glanced around the shop, hoping to see Bryan. He was there and he jumped up when he saw me, hurrying to take my bags.

  “What do you want? Sit down and get warm while I order your drink.” He pressed his lips against mine while maneuvering me back to the table.

  “Triple-shot hot mocha, heavy on the chocolate and whipped cream. And a slice of cherry cake, too.” I hustled into the chair, taking the bags back from him to set by the wall. We were next to a window, but the shop was well insulated. Even so, I could still feel a slight chill radiating through the glass. This winter was going to be a cold one.

  As I waited for Bryan to return, I saw Nelly bussing tables. The Broom & Thistle was owned by the Brannons—Nelly was also a lounge singer and took part in the local theatrical group, and Michael was an excellent swordsman, as well as a member of the Crescent Moon Society. Michael was Irish through and through, and Nelly also had Irish roots.

  Whisper Hollow was steeped in three ethnicities—Irish, Russian, and Native American. And the three backgrounds jostled with each other to attempt to create a comfortable mix of heritages.

  Bryan returned, drink and cake in hand. “For you.”

  I cupped the mocha with my hands, grateful to feel the heat radiating off of it. “I’m so cold. It’s icy as hell out there and blowing a good one.”

  “So, did you go with Peggin this morning?”

  I let out a long sigh. “Yes, I did. And I don’t like the place at all. She’s going to buy it, though, and I guess . . . I understand why. I quit fighting her about it, because once she’s gotten an idea into her head, she’s not going to let go. The best we can do now is make it as safe as possible, but there are spirits walking that house, Bryan. And I don’t think all of them want to be there. And the lake . . . it’s too close. The Lady’s out there and hungry. She’s riled up this winter, and I’m not certain if it’s because of . . .” I paused.

  “Magda?” Bryan’s tone dipped. He held my gaze.

  I hung my head, not wanting to talk about her, but then nodded. “Yeah, Magda.”

  Magda Volkov was Ellia and Penelope’s mother. The woman was well over 115 years old, but she was going strong. Back in Russia, Magda had been a foe of the дух мастер, the spirit masters who worshiped the goddess Morena. Basically, it was the same idea as the spirit shamans and Morrígan. Magda had been a dedicated witch in the service of Baba Volkov—Mother Wolf Witch, a forest crone–goddess powerful in the ways of shadow magic and necromancy.

  Even though they had immigrated to the United States, Magda had wanted her daughters to follow in her ways, but both had repudiated the sinister magic and so Magda had killed Penelope and had cursed Ellia, effectively writing off both daughters. Penelope had become the Gatekeeper, and Ellia—a prodigy from birth—had been called into service by the Morrígan as my grandmother’s lament singer.

  Magda had retreated to the woods of Whisper Hollow, and had integrated herself into Cú Chulainn’s Hounds, the mortal enemies of the Morrígan and her servants. Now, the Hounds and Magda were railing against the town, for control and dominance, and it was up to the Crescent Moon Society and me to stop them from succeeding.

  “I don’t know if Magda’s behind the Lady being so hungry, but I wouldn’t put it past her to stir up things. As it is, I need to talk to Veronica. I’ve put it off as long as I could, but I need to curry her favor. There are too many spirits walking, too many of the Unliving going rogue.”

  “When do you plan on doing this?” He frowned. “You aren’t going anywhere near her without Ellia and me in tow. We’re a team, remember?”

  I smiled softly. It felt good to have protection, and even though Bryan couldn’t guard against everything that came at me, it helped bolster me up knowing that he was ready and able to follow me into the darkest shadows if need be. Even if we hadn’t been pulled together as lovers, he would have made an incredible friend.

  “I remember, and I promise. I’ll talk to Penelope. In fact, maybe I’ll stop by her tomb this afternoon. Even if she doesn’t show herself during the day, she’ll know I’m there and she’ll hear me.” I leaned back, basking in the warmth that blasted through the heating ducts. “You know, it feels like a lifetime ago that I returned to Whisper Hollow, yet it’s only been a couple of months. How does that happen? My life in Seattle seems like a long dream that I just woke up from.”

  “You knew you had to return. Somewhere in your heart, you knew that it was your destiny, and so you were just marking time there.” Bryan leaned across the table to take my hands in his. His skin was warm and protective, and he brought my fingers up to his lips and kissed them gently. “I’m so glad you came home. I didn’t realize how lonely I’ve gotten over the years.” He paused, then added, “My daughter’s coming to town after the first of the year. Do you mind that she’ll be here?”

  That was enough to wake me out of my lazy haze. “Juliana’s going to be in town?”

  Bryan had been married once, back in 1950, by o
rder of his pack. Arranged marriages were common among shifters, especially in wolf clans. Though Bryan and Katrina weren’t a good match, they had a daughter together. Katrina had died in childbirth. Juliana lived in Boston. In her sixties, she looked mid-twenties. Shapeshifters aged far more slowly than humans. I had spoken with Juliana on the phone a couple of times, but never for any length, and I wondered if she would resent me.

  I must have looked askance, because Bryan laughed and kissed my fingers again. “It will be fine. Don’t worry yourself over it. Juliana’s glad that I found you, and she accepts my role under the Morrígan as any good Tierney daughter should. She knows what our family’s duty is, and she honors that duty. She’ll never be called to serve, given she’s a female shapeshifter, but one day she may bear a son promised to be a protector. And I would be proud if she is chosen to be one of the Sacred Mothers.”

  I had never heard that term before. “Sacred Mothers?”

  “Any woman who bears a child destined to be a shapeshifter guardian, a spirit shaman, or one of the lament singers is considered one of the Sacred Mothers. All spirit shamans, if they have children, are Sacred Mothers.”

  “Then my mother and grandmother and great-grandmother . . .”

  “Yes, they were part of the honored ones.” He smiled gently, and then said something that I had not been expecting to hear. “When we have a child, if it is a daughter, you will join them.”

  I blinked. I had barely gotten used to being in a relationship, let alone thought of having children. But before I could say a word, he shook his head.

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