“What did you expect?”
“Someone called in, said they thought they saw grave robbers. Thought teenagers were pulling some prank, or maybe it was a fraternity stunt. With things as quiet as they’ve been the past few weeks, I guess we got careless.” He rubbed his forehead. “I hate this. Tom was single. His family’s back in Maine. But Markus, he has three kids and a wife back in Elqaneve. And now, I have to tell them he’s dead.”
“That’s always the hardest part.” I hung my head. “Chase, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. We just have to do what we can to keep our losses to a minimum. Did you know there were also goblins out here when you went in?”
He frowned. “No. I had no idea there were any until that scene back there in the graveyard.” After a pause, he added, “Dare I ask if you know who’s behind this? Or should I just assume we’re facing Gulakah’s cronies?”
I shrugged. “We aren’t positive, but ten to one, yeah, Gulakah and Telazhar are working together. The goblins came from OW, there’s little doubt of that. With Telazhar over there, ratcheting it up, I think we should assume he’s in close communication with Gulakah.”
“Like we are, with Darynal’s team.” Delilah draped her arm around Chase and hugged him. They’d been an item for a while, until they realized they were better off as friends than lovers. Now they seldom argued.
Darynal was Trillian’s blood-oath brother, a mercenary. Together with Taath, a sorcerer, and Quall, an assassin, he and his team were scouting out info for Queen Asteria, spying on Telazhar’s growing threat in Otherworld.
“Yeah, only Darynal only has two other members on his team. Telazhar has a freaking army under—” I stopped as my phone rang. As I pulled it out of the pouch and punched the Talk button, a couple of cruisers and a van pulled into the cemetery. Yugi’s recovery team was here.
I answered my phone. “Hello?”
“Camille? It’s me, Iris. I’m just checking up on you.” She sounded a little frantic. Pregnancy hormones were running rampant in her system, and we’d quickly learned that a Finnish house sprite carrying twins was a force of nature. Only a fool would try to cross her.
She was showing now, and so were her moods. We were beginning to see why the Finns revered motherhood so much—the Finnish mothers were the bears of the maternal world, including their extended family. They’d take on an army if that was what it took to protect their loved ones. Iris was having a boy and a girl, and they’d have the fiercest, most loyal mother in the world.
“We’re okay. We’re about to head home for the evening. Chase has a sprained ankle, but we’re fine.” We could tell her about everything when we arrived home. No sense worrying her now. “Did you need us to pick anything up on our way back?”
She paused, then laughed. “Yes, please. I’m really craving ice cream right now.”
“With pickles?” I was joking, but she made a tsking sound.
“Don’t stereotype me, missy. I’ve never been a fan of pickles before, and I’m not a fan of them now. But…some bacon would be good. I think we’re out. So, bacon and chocolate cherry ice cream, and smoked salmon. We have crackers and plenty of cheese.” And with that, she hung up.
I grinned at the phone. “Iris,” I said, in answer to Delilah’s questioning look.
She laughed. “Ice cream?”
“Oh yeah.” I snorted. “And a harangue over stereotyping her cravings. She’s a firecracker, all right.”
“That’s putting it mildly. And I’ll bet she asked for chocolate cherry,” Morio broke in.
“Right again. Along with bacon and smoked salmon.”
As Mallen, the elfin medic who worked most of the middle-of-the-night calls, knelt to examine Chase’s ankle, a group of six others—two medics with four armed Fae guards—headed in the direction of the officers’ corpses. Shade went with them to stand guard.
Mallen motioned for his assistant to hand him a splint. “I think it’s broken. You’re going to have to have this x-rayed once we get back to headquarters.”
“Fuck.” Chase slammed his hand against the bench. “I don’t need this right now.”
“Better a break than a nasty sprain. Breaks will heal faster, especially since you have the Nectar of Life in you.” Mallen strapped the ankle up. “Any cuts or abrasions from the zombies, or the goblins? On any of you? With the zombies, you run the risk of infection. The goblins—poison.”
We all examined ourselves. I had a skinned knee, but that was from scraping against a broken piece of tombstone. But Mallen insisted on dousing it with an antibiotic. The brown liquid stung, but I said nothing. Better safe than sorry.
I leaned my head wearily against Smoky’s shoulder, and he wrapped his arm around me. “I’m tired and worn out. I don’t think I can face any more monsters tonight.”
He rubbed my temples gently, kissing me softly. “Then you’d better make sure to take home that ice cream, or you’ll never get any sleep.”
Laughing, I pulled out my keys. Mallen was helping Chase into his squad car. Another officer would drive him back. The men returned, carrying the body bags. We waited until they had all pulled out before getting ready to go. We weren’t needed at headquarters tonight. Chase knew everything that we did.
“I’ll drive Shade, and we’ll stop for the food.” Delilah kissed me on the cheek. “You just go home and have a long, hot bath.”
“Thanks, Kitten.” I was weary, and the promise of a bubble bath made the drive home seem tolerable. As we headed out, Smoky riding shotgun and Morio resting in the back, I was relieved that we weren’t far from home, because once I walked through the front door, I was going to be toast for the evening.
By the time we arrived home, I was the physical and emotional equivalent of a ramen noodle: limp, tasteless, and with no nutritional value whatsoever.
Iris was sitting in the rocking chair, eyeing the door.
I forestalled the question with a raised hand. “Delilah’s getting the food.”
The glare quickly turned to concern. “Oh, you poor dear. You look done in. Are you hurt, girl?” She started to push herself out of the chair, but Trillian, who was fixing some tea, stopped her.
“Let us worry about Camille. You just rest. You’ve had a hard evening.” He glanced over at me and tipped his head, motioning for me to follow him into the living room.
Hanna, our new house helper, was sitting on the sofa, folding clothes. Maggie, our baby calico gargoyle, was playing on the floor next to her.
“What happened? Is Iris okay?” I dropped into the recliner and leaned back, not daring to close my eyes. If I did, I’d be asleep in a minute.
Hanna glanced up. “She will be fine, but Maggie, she accidentally tripped Iris, and we had to send for the midwife to make certain everything is all right.”
“Oh, no! Is she—”
Hanna stopped me before I could continue. “Iris is fine, but the midwife, she tell her, ‘Don’t you do any heavy lifting for a while.’ So, I will do the heavy work, and she can do whatever she feels capable of.”
Trillian knelt down and began unlacing my boots for me. “Let me get these off you. The midwife also feels it might be best if Iris stops looking after Maggie until she’s given birth. Playing with her is no problem, but to actually attend to her feedings and so forth…not such a good idea. Maggie didn’t mean to trip Iris, but baby or not, she’s still a gargoyle and she can be dangerous. More so, since she doesn’t understand what’s going on.”
I sighed. We knew the time would come when Iris would have to turn over primary care of Maggie, but we’d all hoped it would be later on.
“Hanna, it looks like you’re going to be taking care of Maggie more. We’ll all pitch in as much as we can. We can make sure her cream drinks are mixed up in the proper proportion and in the fridge, and that her lamb and beef are ground to the right texture. Meanwhile, do you need someone to help with the housework? We can hire someone.”
There was a lot to do, looking after everyone who was living here. Iris had managed it without complaint, but she was a house sprite and it was in her nature to look after others.
But Hanna reassured me. “I can do this work. If I need help, I will tell you. Remember where you found me…the work here is easy and fulfilling. Working for Hyto, that was a nightmare.”
As she said his name, she glanced into my eyes. A look passed between us. Hanna and I had a connection—one forged from bearing the brunt of cruelty and fear. I’d been there; I knew what she’d faced. And Hanna had watched me endure Hyto’s brutality and helped me pick up the pieces afterward. In different ways, we’d both faced the long night of the dragon and come through alive, and there was no need for words.
“Whatever you need to make your job easier, just ask.” I let out a little sigh of satisfaction as Trillian slipped off my boots. My feet were tired. I loved my heels, but after a full day and then a graveyard fight in them, I was ready to let my feet breathe.
I leaned forward, resting my elbows on my knees as my skirt draped between my legs. Hanna went back to folding clothes. Maggie toddled up to me and I swept her into my arms, hugging her tightly.
“You okay?” Trillian slipped into the oversized chair beside me.
I shook my head. “Two dead cops. Zombies got them. We found goblins out there. And bone-walkers. And a bloatworgle. And if that’s not enough, something sucked away every spirit in that graveyard. It felt so good to have a break from fighting. I guess, even though I knew it was a pipe dream, I was hoping maybe we’d lucked out. Maybe Shadow Wing called Gulakah back to the Sub-Realms. But that isn’t going to happen, is it?”
Trillian shook his head. “No. It’s not going to happen. You know it, in your heart. We’re in this war for the long haul, and there’s no walking away. A year ago I would have said, let’s get the fuck out. But now, I guess I’m as invested as you are.”
I gazed into his eyes and reached up to stroke his cheek. Trillian’s jet black skin gleamed against my pale hand. His eyes, a piercing blue, stood out like snow against a forest, and his silver hair tumbled down his back in a neat ponytail, the cerulean highlights glimmering in the warm light of our living room.
“I love you more each day. You’ve always been my alpha, and I’ve always loved you, but now…thank you for coming back into my life, for not letting me walk away. Thank you for reminding me of why we came together.”
I’d met Trillian almost fourteen years ago, shortly before Menolly was turned into a vampire. We’d been pulled together as if we were magnets and bound ourselves in a sexual, magical ritual.
And then, six years later, fear had won out. Svartans—the dark and charming Fae, although they were actually cousins to the elves—weren’t known for their loyalty. They were heartbreakers, users, and manipulators. At least, that had been the stereotype, and my fear that Trillian would cast me aside grew as the years wore on. Insecure, afraid he’d leave me, I had backed off, even though he insisted that we were mated for life. I had refused to answer his summons, refused to answer his letters, and in the end, I cast a spell to ward him away from my father’s house. Trillian disappeared, and I thought he was gone for good.
But I couldn’t forget him. The Eleshinar Ritual saw to that. We were forever bound, and it ripped my heart apart to walk away. Other men just didn’t interest me, even though my libido was high. What encounters I had were one-nighters, and I had no desire to form a relationship with anybody.
And then, like a thunderbolt, a year and a half ago Trillian had shown up here, Earthside, with a message from my father. One look at him, and I knew that I’d never walk away again. Just like that, he was back in my life. He was my alpha husband, my lover, and we would be together forever.
Now he pulled me to my feet. “Come on, let’s get you upstairs.”
“I should tell everyone what went down out there—”
“Delilah can do that. There’s nothing more that can be done tonight. Chase isn’t in danger. The officers who died can’t be brought back to life. Let it go. Come upstairs, and we’ll take care of you, and help you relax, and then, you can sleep.” His lip twitched, and I felt a delicious shiver run through me.
“I’m so tired…I don’t know how much fun I’ll be.” I loved my men, I loved sex, but tonight I had very little left to give.
“Shush, and let us worry about the giving.” And with that, Trillian swept me up in his arms and carried me up the stairs to the second floor, which housed our rooms.
Home was a three-story Victorian, with a full basement. Delilah and Shade had the third floor. Smoky, Trillian, Morio, and I shared the second floor. Hanna’s room was on the main level, along with the main living area.
And Menolly and Nerissa had the basement, where Menolly could be protected during the day when she slept. For a long time, the entrance had remained secret, but with so many people living at our place, we finally just let it go and installed a steel door leading down to her suite. It was still behind the bookshelves, and only the three of us, along with Iris and Nerissa, had keys to get through the imposing barrier, but everybody in the house knew where it was.
Iris, who had made her home in Hanna’s room until a few months ago, now lived with Bruce in a cute little trailer out back, while the guys were building their house. It was about half-finished, and they expected to be able to move in by Litha, the summer solstice. And Vanzir, Shamas, and Rozurial slept in a shed-cum-studio apartment down the drive a ways.
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