- Dragon Wytch
- Night Huntress
- Demon Mistress
- Bone Magic
- Harvest Hunting
- Blood Wyne
- Courting Darkness
- Shaded Vision
- Shadow Rising
- Haunted Moon
- Autumn Whispers
- Crimson Veil
- Priestess Dreaming
- Panther Prowling
- Darkness Raging
- Moon Shimmers
- Harvest Song
- Blood Bonds
- The Shadow of Mist
- Never After
- Tales from Otherworld: C1
- Men of Otherworld: C1
- Men of Otherworld: C2
- Inked Anthology
- Etched in Silver
- Ice Shards
- Moon Swept
- Flight From Hell
- Knight Magic
- Otherworld Tales: Volume 2
Harvest Hunting by Yasmine Galenorn (book 8 of the New York Times Bestselling Otherworld Series)
Berkley (Mass Market); October 26, 2010
We're the D'Artigo sisters: sexy, savvy operatives for the Otherworld Intelligence Agency. But being half-human, half-Fae means our supernatural talents can go haywire at any time. My sister Camille is a wicked good witch whose life recently took a drastic turn. Menolly's a vampire who's still getting the hang of being undead. And me? I'm Delilah, a werecat with a very interesting love life. But life isn't all fun and games. We're on the trail of the demon general who has decided that we've become quite a nuisance...
It's Samhain, and the Autumn Lord, has called for my training to begin with the Death Maidens...and I find that I like it. But we've got problems: werewolves are going missing and a new magical drug, "Wolf Briar," is being used as a weapon. My dear Chase and I have come to a delicate crossroads and there's no turning back from our decision. And most dangerous of all: Stacia Bonecrusher has put a bounty on our heads. Now it's a race to take out the demon general before she realizes the sixth Spirit Seal is within her reach...
My nose quivered. Something smelled wonderful. I followed the scent through the crowded hall until I found myself standing next to the buffet table.
My sister Menolly and I had just stood beside our sister Camille as she married her third husband. Three-count 'em-three husbands. Simultaneously. Trillian had been decked out as the best goth groom ever, wearing black leather pants that matched the obsidian gleam of his skin, a black mesh tank and a velvet cloak the color of blood.
Morio and Smoky had worn what they had to their wedding with Camille: Smoky in his long white trench with a blue and gold vest, a pale blue button-down shirt, tight, white jeans and his ankle length silver hair coiling around him like dancing serpents. Morio wore a red and gold kimono, with a dress sword hanging from his side and his hair rippled down his back.READ MORE
And of course my sister looked good enough to eat, her raven hair glistening against her gossamer priestess robes, so sheer I could see her bra and panties through them. Now that she was an official priestess of the Moon Mother, she was expected to don ceremonial garb for most important occasions.
The four of them had gathered before Iris, who again presided, and together they underwent a variant of the Soul Symbiont ritual designed to bring Trillian into their fold. Menolly and I were wearing gowns-hers of black with shimmering crystals, mine of gold-and stood as witnesses again.
Now we were into the celebration part of the affair.
I glanced at the calendar on the wall. October twenty-second and we were well on our way to Samhain, the festival of the dead. It had been a month, almost to the day, since we'd unsuccessfully raided Stacia Bonecrusher's safe-house.
Thinking about Stacia forced me to face another thought: one I'd been trying to avoid. I glanced across the room at Chase Johnson. The detective was sitting at a table by himself, watching the celebration with a quizzical look on his face. Unable to help myself, I headed in his direction. He watched me approach, his expression carefully sliding into neutral. I took the chair opposite him.
"It's a beautiful wedding." I nervously played with the napkin resting on the table next to me. "Don't you think?"
"Yes, lovely." He blinked, long and slow, and I wondered what he was really thinking. "Camille seemed a little stressed, though. What's up with that?" Even though his tone was normal, I knew there was nothing normal about Chase. Not anymore.
"Our father refused to attend the wedding. Not only does he disapprove of her marrying Trillian, but his official stance is that she's turned her back on her duties for the Otherworld Intelligence Agency by becoming a priestess and agreeing to enter Aeval's court. He refuses to condone her behavior by showing up and the day she actually pledges under Aeval's rule...I'm afraid of what's going to happen."
"Turned her back on her duties? That doesn't seem fair, considering all she's done for the OIA. I know Sephreh's your father, but damn, that's cold." He sipped his champagne, sounding more himself than he had the entire past month.
I glanced at the fading scars on his hands. His body had healed remarkably fast from the deep knife wounds that had laced his skin and punctured several of his organs. But it would take a long, long time for him to heal from the potion that had saved his life. The Nectar of Life had torn his entire world apart and put it back together in a crazy new patchwork. Our relationship was on rocky ground, at best.
"When she promised to train under Morgaine, and especially when she agreed to dedicate herself to Aeval's Dark Court, Father took it as a personal insult. But Camille doesn't have a choice, she's under direct order from the Moon Mother herself."
"Yeah, I got that," he said, fiddling with his glass.
"She did everything for us when our mother died and without her the family would have been ripped to shreds. Father was extremely cruel to her last time they spoke and I'm pissed off that he didn't show today. Our cousin Shamas has been trying to fill the void, but it's just not the same."
"What did he say?" Chase played with his goblet. "By the way, will alcohol hurt me...now? I haven't had a drink since before the accident."
"No, you'll be fine. You can still eat and drink anything you want. It's not like you were turned into a vampire." I stared at my hands. As loyal as I was to our father, I couldn't blind myself to the truth. "At his last visit, things went from bad to worse. By the time he left, Camille was on the sofa, curled up in a ball, sobbing. Smoky came in at the point when Sephreh threatened to disinherit her. In turn, Smoky threatened to shift into his dragon self and crisp our father."
"Crap. The fallout from that can't be good."
"Things were at a standstill until Menolly stepped in, told Father to go home and Smoky to chill. But definitely Not Pretty. Not at all."
"A mess, all the way around, then." Chase morosely picked up his champagne flute and downed the last of the sparkling wine. "And so...here we sit." He stared across the table at me, his gaze unreadable. "I don't know what to say, Delilah. I don't even have a clue on how to start."
Part of me wanted to cry. Nothing seemed to be working out the way we hoped it would. I blinked back my tears.
"How about you start by telling me how you're doing? We've only talked three times in the past two weeks." I didn't mention that we'd barely kissed since he'd healed up and returned to duty.
Chase contemplated the question, looking at me through those limpid, soulful eyes. They'd only grown more luminous since he'd drunk the Nectar of Life. His aura had shifted. Some spark, some force I couldn't put my finger on was changing him.
"How can I answer that, when I don't even know? What am I supposed to do? Jump up and shout, Rah Rah, now I'll outlive everybody I've ever known in my life?" He slammed the goblet on the table so hard it almost broke.
Stung, I blinked back the tears. "Giving you the Nectar of Life was the only option we had-unless you prefer the thought of dying."
Shifting in his seat, Chase let out a long sigh. "Yeah, I know. I know. And believe me, I am grateful. But damn, this stuff does a number on your head. It's more than the realization that I'm going to live a thousand years. There's something...nebulous...about it. The nectar ripped open a part of me-I feel exposed, unable to put the pieces back together again. And I'm afraid to look too deeply at what's happening." He slowly reached out and took my hand.
I stared at him for a moment, but he remained silent. Both Camille and Chase had come through the autumn equinox worn and weary, covered with blood. Camille had bathed in the blood of the black unicorn as she sealed a fate with which the Moon Mother challenged her: Sacrificing the horned beast to his phoenix-like destiny while on the Hunt of her life. And then she'd been thrown under the wheels of Aeval, and would soon be forced to descend into the realms once ruled by the ancient Unseelie Queen.
And Chase...no less life-shaking. He'd been bathed in his own blood and was now-by human terms-practically immortal.
"Whenever you're ready to talk about it-"
"What? You'll play shrink to the mutant?" He shot me a nasty look.
"No. I'll listen. As your girlfriend." I stared at him, the virulence of his anger rankling me. "Chase, this isn't fair. We'd planned on you drinking the nectar anyway and now you sound like you're blaming me for what's happened."
"I know! And I'm sorry-I don't mean to. But you told me that the ritual required preparation and now I understand why. I'm not human anymore. I don't know who-or what-I am. A thousand fucking years to look forward to and I have no idea what to do with them."
Fed up and too tired to deal with his angst as well as my own, I pushed back my chair. "I guess...it's hard for me to understand what you're going through. I'm trying-I really am. But until you can figure it out, you don't seem to need me around."
"Wait! It's just...oh hell, I don't know what to say." He slumped back in his chair. "I want to say that everything's okay. I feel like I should be thinking that wow-now my girlfriend and I can be together for centuries. But Delilah...I have to tell you the truth. I don't know if I'm ready for that kind of commitment now that the opportunity is actually here."
The tears stung behind my eyes, but I blinked them back. "It would seem that Sharah is doing a better job taking care of you than I am."
The elfin medic who worked alongside Chase in the Faerie-Human Crime Scene Investigations Unit had been overseeing his care as the potion worked its way through his system, changing every cell, altering his very DNA.
Chase snorted. "Maybe that's because she's not taking care of me. Sharah is offering me advice, but she's not coddling me or treating me like some freak who needs kid glove handling." A look of pain crossed his face and he dropped his head to his hands and rubbed his forehead. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Delilah. I love you, I really do, but right now I'm no good to either one of us."
My stomach churning, I sat on the edge of my chair again. "Yeah, I know you feel that way. But Chase, please, don't shut me out."
"I need to be on my own for a bit. To think about things. Besides, Camille needs you more than I do now. Her life's a mess too. And Henry...poor Henry doesn't even have a life anymore. Go enjoy the party. Be there for your sister. She deserves the support. And if you meet somebody and you want them, I won't ask questions."
I tried to protest but he shook his head and, feeling abruptly shoved out of the nest, I scurried toward the door, biting the tears back. Chase was right about one thing: our friend Henry Jeffries had fared worst of all. He'd been working in Camille's bookshop-the Indigo Crescent-when the demons broke in. They killed him and blew up a good part of the shop in order to warn us off. We still hadn't gotten the smell of smoke out of the walls.
As I neared the door, a voice echoed from behind me.
"Delilah, you okay?"
When I turned I saw Vanzir, the lanky dream chaser demon bound to my sisters and me. Over the past seven months, we'd slowly been forging a friendship. Menolly and Vanzir hung out a lot. Vanzir and I talked from time to time. Camille kept her distance, but she was growing less leery of him as the weeks wore on.
Vanzir's eyes whirled, a kaleidoscope of colors without any names. His David Bowie goblin-king hair was spiked and platinum, and he looked uncomfortable out of his leather pants and ripped tank. But he made the tux and tails work.
I shrugged and said, "I guess."
"You guess, my ass. What's wrong? You sense anything wrong out there? Demons?" Vanzir leaned against the wall in front of me, giving me the once over. He didn't have a clue as to what was bothering me.
"Men. Even you demons are clueless." As he stared at me, I shook my head and pushed past him. "I'm going to take a run outside. I need some air."
"What? What did I say?"
As Vanzir let out a snort, I sidled to the door, slipping out while everyone was focused on toasting the happy...well, not couple...marriage. Camille would understand. She'd forgive me for skipping out. Because pretty much, only she and Menolly knew what I was going through. What we were all going through.
Rhyne Wood Reception Hall was in one of the larger parks, and the city leased it out for celebrations and parties. Camille had decided to hold the reception here because-unlike her impromptu marriage to Smoky and Morio-this one had been planned, with over a hundred guests. And those numbers took space. Rhyne Wood had a dance floor, a nice big kitchen, and catering staff.
Situated in Fireweed Park, the mansion was a small part of the thousand-acre wilderness buttressing the short of the inlet. I stayed away from the edge of the butte overlooking the inlet. I hated water and had no intention of accidentally going over the edge. But there were plenty of paths and trees and bushes to lose myself in. As soon as I was far enough away from the mansion to comfortably feel out-of-sight, I shifted into my tabby self, my primary Were form. Everybody always thought it hurt, but really, if I went slowly, it didn't. Just a blur and a haze as life shifted perceptions.
Free of clothing-except for a bright blue collar-I took off, racing into the undergrowth, reveling in the scents that flowed like hot chocolate on a cold autumn night. And it was cold, but my fur kept me warm and cozy. My worries floated away as I bounded through the rain-sparkling grass, romping in the misty evening, chasing the few moths still braving the rain and sodden evening.
I leapt at one, an Anna's Blue, and caught it in my mouth. With a quick nom nom, I swallowed and wrinkled my nose as the feather-light wings tickled my throat. A moment later, a rustling in the grass distracted me and I raced in the direction of a thicket of alder trees surrounded by dense huckleberry bushes.
I knew enough not to get too near the bushes-they had nice, sharp thorns perfect for snagging my tail. But whatever was hiding there, I could smell, and the scent set my pulse to racing. I wanted to chase, to stretch my legs and feel the thrill of the hunt. I needed to rip things apart, to act out my aggression. And whatever was in the bushes, I might be able to play cat-and-mouse with it.
As I skirted the huckleberry, the rustling grew louder and then out popped another...cat?
Puzzled, I cocked my head, staring at the creature. Not cat. But what the hell was it? Fluffy, bushy tail, cute, dark with light stripe...I knew I'd seen one somewhere, but I couldn't remember where. Wondering if it might be friendly, I took a hesitant step toward it and its big, bushy tail fluttered in the wind. The plume of fur was so pretty and tempting that I forgot my manners and pounced.
The creature swung around, turning its butt toward me.
Oh shit! Skunk!
Just as I remembered what it was, it took aim, shook its ass, and a wide spray came shooting toward me. I yowled and bounded away, but not before getting drenched by the foul-smelling perfume. At least it managed to miss my eyes, but I didn't wait around for the skunk to get in a second shot. I high-tailed it back toward the mansion.
As I reached the steps, I slowed, sneezing violently. What the hell was I supposed to do? If I ran in there as a cat, I'd stink up the joint. If I ran in as myself, it would be worse because I'd be bigger, hence, giving off more of the odor. I paced nervously in front of the steps, wanting the nasty scent gone. Now.
Luck was with me. Vanzir was standing there, watching for me. As I stared at him, eyes wide and praying he wouldn't start laughing, he slipped back through the door. A moment later, he reappeared, Iris and Bruce in tow. Iris glanced around, her nose wrinkling, and I let out a plaintive yowl.
"Oh good heavens!" Iris shoved her flute of champagne into Bruce's hand and came racing down the stairs, a look of horror on her face. "You poor thing. Oh dear, how are we going to get you home?"
Just then, Rozurial slipped outside. He looked at Vanzir, then Bruce, who was still holding the champagne, and then down at Iris and me.
"That's not who I think it is, is it?" He barely muffled his laughter and I hissed at him. "Oh, yeah, babe. You have a little B.O. problem, know that?"
"What should we do with her?" Bruce asked.
Iris stared at me, cocking her head, and I could see the wheels turning. "Rozurial, you take her home through the Ionyc Sea. I'll head home with Bruce in the car and we'll get her cleaned up."
She leaned down and shook her finger at me. It was tempting, but I had learned not to swat Iris while in cat form. She wasn't above scruffing me and holding me off the floor, even though she was barely four feet tall.
"Listen to me, Delilah, and I know you can understand me so you'd better do as I say. Don't you dare turn back into yourself until we take care of this. I guarantee it will be far worse with all six-foot-one of you skunked, rather than just yourself as a little pussycat. Got it?"
I stared at her and blinked. If I disobeyed her on this one, she'd have my hide. Slowly, I let out a complacent meow.
"Good. Now, Rozurial, you take her home. And I don't want to hear any fuss about it-just do it. Honey, will you let Camille know where we're going?" Iris motioned to Bruce, who hurried back inside.
"I'll come with," Vanzir said to her. "I'm not all that comfortable in a tux."
"Good. I can use your help."
Roz picked me up and I snuggled against the incubus, rubbing my chin on his chest. I had the feeling I wasn't going to like what Iris had in store for me and I wanted comfort. Purring loudly, I gave him my best good-kitty look and he snorted, rubbing my ears.
"Eat it up, beauty. Eat it up. Come, you'll be safe enough, just don't try to jump out of my arms." And in the blink of an eye, we leapt into the Ionyc Sea and crossed a world to travel fifteen miles.
Roz set me down outside, warning me not to enter the house until Iris had tended to me. "I'll be back in a moment to keep an eye on you, though smelling like you do, I doubt anybody's going to be a bother."
He vanished into the studio-cum-shed that he shared with Vanzir and my cousin Shamas. With Camille's three men staying with us now, and Bruce shacking up with Iris part of the time, we had built ourselves quite the extended family.
I tried to sniff out if there were any enemies near, but the scent of skunk infiltrated every pore. My eyes hurt, my nose hurt, my throat hurt, and I was queasy. It felt like the mother of all hairballs was churning in my stomach. I hunched near the porch, trying to avoid being seen by any would-be heroes of the animal world.
Roz came back after awhile, dressed in a pair of skin tight jeans and a muscle shirt, and he sprawled on the ground near me, on his back, staring up at the stars, his long curly hair spreading on the ground beneath him.
"Look at the sky, fuzzball." He ruffled my head. "Look at all the stars whirling around...I've walked among them, you know." His voice dropped and took on a sinuous cadence. Even in cat form, I found it soothing and seductive.
"I've danced through the aurora borealis, skated my way through the Ionyc Lands. When I was searching for Dredge, I followed any and every lead, wherever the wind blew me. I journeyed from the Northlands to the Southern Wastes, from Valhalla to the gates of Hel, looking for that motherfucker. I've seen so much beauty and terror in my life that you'd think nothing would phase me...but the stars...they're still the ultimate treasure. Pristine, luminous, and always out of reach."
He rolled over on his stomach and plucked a long blade of grass, tickling my belly as I stretched out beside him. "I know you're worried about Chase. But Delilah, you have to let go, if that's what he needs. The Nectar of Life plays havoc with humans when they aren't prepared. You saved his life, but he lost something he wasn't ready to lose. His mortality-in the human sense-is a huge part of what makes humans...well...human. When you have such a short time to live, you make the most of it. Now, you need to stand back and let Sharah help him. She knows what to do."
I knew he was speaking the truth, I just didn't want to hear it. But he was right. Camille and Menolly had been telling me that for days but coming from them, it felt like sisterly meddling instead of advice. I let out a little yowl.
"Yeah, I know you know, and I know you don't like it, but take my advice this time, okay? I understand what it means to have life ripped apart and drastically changed."
And I knew that Roz did understand. He'd lost his family to Dredge, he'd lost his wife when Zeus and Hera decided to use them both as pawns. He'd been changed from Fae to incubus in the blink of an eye. Chase's life had been turned upside down in that same fraction of a second, though not as harshly as Roz's.
A car pulled into the driveway. Bruce and his driver. And Iris. They jumped out and I saw they'd brought Vanzir home, too. Probably a good thing. He wasn't the most decorous guest and I had a feeling he'd be happier here than hanging out till late at a party where most of the guests avoided him.
Iris ran inside, and in less than ten minutes, she dashed down from the back porch, wearing a rubber apron over what I recognized as a dress she kept for the grungiest chores. She stood over me, hands on her hips.
"Well, I don't know how you got yourself in this fix, but let's take care of you." She leaned over and scooped me up in her arms, her nose twitching. "You reek, girl. What did you say to that skunk?"
I wanted to protest-it hadn't been my fault, I hadn't done anything. But I knew that Iris would call me on it. Truth was, I'd invaded the skunk's territory and threatened it by pouncing.
Holding me against one hip, Iris carried me up the back steps and into the enclosed porch, where I saw something so horrible that I squirmed, desperately trying to get away: A bath full of what looked like dark, thick water.
Iris struggled, her thick rubber gloves losing their purchase on me. The minute her grip weakened, I bolted for the door to the kitchen, which was standing open.
"Come back here! Delilah, get your fuzzy butt back here right now!"
I galloped toward the stairs but before I could get there, Vanzir was standing in front of me, snickering. Faster than I could blink, he reached out and snagged me up.
"Gotchya, puddy tat."
I squirmed but he held fast and carried me at arm's length to the porch where he unceremoniously dumped me in the water. Iris slammed the door so I couldn't get into the house again. Resigned, I huffed and patiently waited. I was already wet, I might as well let her give me the bath. The scent of tomato juice cocktail broke through the smell filtering into my nostrils and I took a cautious lick of the water.
Not bad, not bad.
Iris began to scrub me with the juice, and I hated to admit it, but it felt good. I detested the smell of skunk-it was making me nauseated-and if Iris thought that a bath in V-8 would help, then I'd let her bathe me. I even relented enough to let her scrub my tummy. She took off my collar and I suddenly felt naked. After all, that collar contained my clothing. When I changed back, if it wasn't on me, my clothes wouldn't be either.
After about ten minutes Iris motioned to Roz and they moved to the side, leaving Vanzir to hold me in the tub.
"Puddy tat like her bath? Puddy happy?" he crooned.
Good for you I know you're just teasing, I thought. Or you'd be dead by now. Vanzir was our slave, and if we chose, he'd die. Enslaving him had been the only way to keep from killing him when he defected to us in the first place and there was no undoing the deed. He was ours. Forever.
I settled for chomping on his thumb. He raised his eyebrows but that David Bowie-Ziggy Stardust platinum shag barely moved. I wondered how much gel he used it in to get it to stay in place.
Iris and Roz came back, and she lifted me out of the bath and dipped me in a bucket of warm, clear water to rinse off the tomato juice.
"Uh oh," she said.
That didn't sound good.
"Oh Mama." Roz let out a snort. "She's not going to like that at all. I wonder if...will it translate over?"
What? Will what translate over? What the hell was going on?
"Delilah, honey, I think you better shift back now. Vanzir, would you fetch a towel? She's not going to want those clothes, I guarantee you that. What a pity-your beautiful gown. You'll have to replace it."
My gown! Oh no! I hadn't even thought about that but Iris was right, the skunk had ruined my most elegant evening dress. My only evening dress.
She sat me down and I sniffed the air. Hey-what the hell? I still smelled like skunk! Letting out a huff, I shook my head and water flew everywhere. Iris jumped back.
"I know you're not happy, but please-mind your manners. I would prefer to smell as little like skunk as possible. Now, here's the towel. Boys, be nice and quit teasing her."
She took the large beach towel from Vanzir, who was grinning ear-to-ear by now. Oh, he was going to get his. Iris held one end while Roz held the other. She stared pointedly at both of them until they averted their eyes. Normally I wouldn't give a damn, but right now I was in a pissy mood and the Talon-haltija knew it.
I shifted back, slowly because I was in no mood for any nasty muscle spasms and the slower I shifted the easier it went. As I stood up, feeling rank, I wrapped the towel around me. Iris's gaze traveled up to my face.
"Oh my stars," she whispered, her eyes wide. "I had no idea that was going to happen."
"What? What's going on? If somebody doesn't tell me soon I'm turning back into a cat and going on a shredding binge."
"Hey, Red," Vanzir said, once again ruffling my hair. Only this time he had to reach up to do it.
"No....no...you don't mean what I think you mean, do you?" I took off for the bathroom, the smell of skunk with a side of tomato following me.
As I flipped on the light and stared in the mirror, I let out a groan. My beautiful golden hair was now rife with brilliant highlights. I looked like Ronald McDonald, only tiger-striped. The tomato juice had dyed the lighter parts of my hair and now I was a patchwork of pink, rust, and burnt orange. And none of it looked good.
"Fuck! Fuck, fuck, fuck me."
Iris peeked around the corner. "I'm so sorry, Delilah. I had no idea tomato juice would do that. And it didn't take care of the smell, either."
"I reek, and my hair looks like a dye bomb went off in it!"
I dropped to the edge of the tub. I loved my hair. It wasn't fancy, it wasn't anything super special, but it was mine. Now I looked like I was doing a bad Little Kim impersonation.
"Well, hop in the shower, maybe you can scrub some of the skunk scent off. Meanwhile, I'll see what I can find out. I've never had to deal with this before-no one I've ever known got skunked. Not that I remember." She headed out of the bathroom, muttering to herself.
I grimaced, then looked at myself in the mirror again. I'd always loved the combination of my emerald eyes and golden hair, but now I looked like I'd gone punk. Bad. Very bad. Splotches of pink-to-orange dappled the gold, and even where it hadn't, my natural color had become brassy. And not only my hair up-top had decided to turn calico, but everywhere on my body. Eyebrows, razor stubble on my legs, and...oh yah, I had a burning bush all right. I'd be begging Camille to teach me how to go Brazilian.
"Crap. One more thing to deal with." But right now, I needed to focus on getting the stench off me.
"Here we go," Iris said, coming back with a basin filled with a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, a box of baking soda, and some dish soap. "Fill the bathtub."
Mutely, I did as she ordered, backing off as she poured a cup of the baking soda into the churning water. Then she added the quart of peroxide and about a quarter cup of dish soap. I stared at the briny bath and gingerly stepped in when she gave me a little shove.
Far from a nice, fresh, minty bubble bath which I'd willingly take, this felt more like she was scrubbing off the last seven years of skin. By the time we finished washing me and my hair, I was bright pink from the vigorous use of the loofah. As I rinsed off under the shower spray, I could still smell the skunk, but at least it was muted. A little.
"Oh, dear," she said, looking up at me.
Wordlessly, I peeked in the mirror. Now, in addition to pink, orange, and brassy blonde, I had platinum patches from the peroxide. Down below, too.
"Crap," I said again, shaking my head. "What can we do about my hair?"
Iris bit her lip. I'd never seen her look quite so remorseful. "I'm not sure. I have no idea how hair dye would react on you, given your half-Fae heritage. Let me do some research on spells. Maybe there's something we can do magically."
"Forget about asking Camille to touch my head," I muttered. "I remember perfectly well what happened when she tried to make herself invisible. She was nekkid for a week and couldn't do a thing about it. And didn't even know it until somebody told her that her clothes were invisible."
A knock on the door interrupted us. I wrapped the towel around me and Iris answered. It was Vanzir.
"Delilah-it's Luke, from the bar. He wants to talk to you."
Luke? Luke was a werewolf who worked at the Wayfarer Bar & Grill, owned by my sister Menolly. He occasionally came over to dinner but if he was here instead of on-duty, there must be something wrong.
I stared down at my towel-wrapped torso. At six-one, I was lean, though not gaunt by any shape of the imagination. You couldn't see my bones-they were all covered by a nice layer of muscle.
"He'll have to deal with me being half-dressed. I'm not climbing into any of my clothes till I find something that will prevent the skunk smell from spreading to them."
Wandering out into the foyer, I nodded at the tall, lanky werewolf who slouched against one wall. Luke could be mistaken for a cowboy except for the scar that laced its way down his cheek. A faint smile flickered across his lips. The ponytail that hung down his back was tidy, but gave me the impression that his hair was fly-away and tousled by nature.
He touched the hat he wore. "Miss Delilah, how you doing? Ran into a skunk, did you?"
"Between your...perfume, and the new dye job up top, yeah. I bet Iris used tomato juice to no effect?" A lazy smile took the place of the worried look as he flashed a wink at Iris. She blushed.
I nodded. "Yeah, something like that. And then some quasi-crazy peroxide mix. You don't happen to have a cure, do you?"
"Maybe," he said. "At least for the scent. I'll have to go back to my apartment to get it. Learned to make it years ago when I was still running with the Pack. We found out first hand that tomato juice did a number on light colored fur. But first, I have need your services, if you're willing."
"My services?" I started to bristle, suddenly all too aware of my semi-naked state.
"You're a P.I., aren't you?" He was doing his best to keep his eyes on my face, though I saw them drop a couple times, then swiftly scan back up to look me in the eye. Kind of cute, actually. He was blushing. And, mingling with the skunk, the tomato juice, and the chemical scent of the peroxide, I could smell his musk, though not so thick as to indicate arousal. But he liked women, that was for sure.
"Oh. Um...yeah." I edged into the living room and nodded for him to follow me. "Have a seat. What do you need?"
Luke edged onto the sofa while I curled up in the rocking chair, making sure nothing was showing that shouldn't. Before I could sit down, Iris slipped in and spread a grungy sheet beneath me. Great. I was beginning to feel like Typhoid Mary.
"My sister's missing."
"I didn't know you had a sister," I said.
He nodded. "Amber was moving up here. She said that she'd had a vision, she needed to live in Seattle for some reason. A few weeks back, she left the Pack, which is a big no-no unless you're excommunicated like I was."
"Did she say why?" I was beginning to wonder about lycanthropes-the Were system wasn't the same in all species and I'd heard rumors that amongst the wolves, rules were very patriarchal. Not conducive to free-thinking females.
"Yeah...I'll tell you why in a moment. Anyway, she called when she hit town this afternoon. She was going to check in, then rest a bit and meet me at the bar around eight. But she never showed. I called the cops but they won't put out missing person reports on Supes for forty-eight hours, which is bullshit. My sister came all the way from Arizona and I'm worried. I checked with the hotel. They said she checked in at two PM, but they haven't heard from her since."
"Any chance she got caught up visiting someone else?" Interested now, I pulled a notebook off the end table next to me and began to jot down notes.
Luke shook his head. "Nope. She doesn't know anybody else here, but she was adamant about being summoned to this area. That's the word she used-summoned. I'm especially worried because she's pregnant. A werewolf who is seven months pregnant just doesn't disappear. She should be nesting, creating the lair for the pups...or children, so to speak." His voice belied his calm exterior and I could hear the panic welling just below the surface.
"What's her last name, and do you have a picture of her?"
He handed over a faded picture from his wallet. As I took it from his hands, I noticed the calluses that had long embedded themselves into his fingers and palms. This man had seen hard work, harder than he was doing at the bar, and his skin was covered with faded scars.
I took the picture and gazed at the young woman staring back at me. She looked about twenty-five-misleading, of course, given the long-lived nature of the Supe community. She had Luke's eyes. Feral and yet...a yearning hidden behind the wariness. Long wheat colored hair drifted down her shoulders, honey-kissed and vibrant. She was beautiful, luminous, and dangerous.
"Her name is Amber. Amber Johansen. We haven't seen each other in years."
He left something unspoken. Something that told me Luke had a suspicion about what had happened.
"What do you think is going on?" I caught his attention, turning on my glamour, willing him to open up.
He sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly, locking his gaze on mine without flinching. "I think that rat's ass she calls a husband came after her. She told me over the phone that she was being followed down there, and my guess is he's trying to convince her to come back to the pack. His ego-the ego of the Pack-neither takes it well when their women leave. Rice is an abusive motherfucker and I'm afraid he'll track her down and kill her."
And then, slowly, he crumbled. "Amber's the only family I've got."
"We'll find her," I said, sliding my hand over his. "We'll do everything we can to find her." But inside, I was praying we weren't too late.COLLAPSE
Bravery, The: Believe
Cher: The Beat Goes On
Chester Bennington: System
Cobra Verde: Don't Play With Fire
David Bowie: Golden Years
Deftones: Change (In the House of Flies)
Evans Blue: Cold
What It's like
Mercy on My Soul
Fleetwood Mac: The Chain
Down in the Park
My Shadow in Vain
She's Got Claws
Stormtrooper in Drag
The Angel Wars
Spitting Out the Demons
Kids With Guns
Last Living Souls
March of Cambreadth
Jace Everett: Bad Things
Jay Gordon: Slept So Long
Rocks on the Road
King Black Acid:
One and Only
Soul Systems Burn
I'm Not Scared
Lee Dorsey: Give it Up
Little Big Town: Bones
Low: Half Light
Lake of Fire
Nothing to Fear
Ringo Starr: It Don't Come Easy
Sarah McLachlan: Possession
Simple Minds: Don't You (Forget About Me)
Steeleye Span: Blackleg Miner
Tina Turner: I Can't stand the Rain
Muhammad My Friend
Warchild: Ash A
Zero 7: In the Waiting Line