Autumn Whispers (Page 13)

“Who the hell told you that? The Leprechaun brigade?”

“Smoky. And he was serious.”

I blinked. “Who knew? Well . . . so Mrs. Mother-of-Bruce is actually a duchess? Bruce’s parents are a duke and duchess?” I knew they were wealthy beyond anything we’d experienced, but I had no idea they were nobility. Bruce’s father was a lush, that much had become apparent during their stay back in February. A nice lush, but a lush.

“That’s right. In the Leprechaun Court, they are definitely among the titled. Bruce is officially Lord Bruce Golden Eagle O’Shea. Quite a mouthful, though I’m not sure how it all fits together, and I’ve learned it’s better not to ask. Leprechaun lore is guarded close to the heart among their people.”

He stopped as we reached the cottage. Two steps led up to a spacious porch, with a swing just like on ours. Iris had a massive kitchen herb garden growing in pots that lined the edge of the railing.

As we reached to knock, the door opened. Bruce peeked out. He looked exhausted, but happy, and a giddy smile spread across the curly-headed leprechaun’s face as he stood back to let us in. He looked like Elijah Wood, only with darker hair and finer features.

I flashed back to Iris’s first date with Bruce, when he still dressed like a frat boy and had vomited on her feet after drinking too much booze. But now, he was a professor at the University of Washington, and the head of Irish Studies there. And he seemed to like dressing the part, with his tweed blazers and pleated pants.

He ushered us in to the living room, and there sat our beloved Iris. She was in the rocking chair, her ankle-length flaxen hair neatly braided around her head, and she wore a lace nightgown and robe. Her spiraling tattoos that bordered her face and trailed down her neck glowed with an indigo hue. Bruce stood behind her, his hands on the top of the rocking chair.

On the luxurious jacquard sofa sat Mrs. O’Shea. As in Bruce’s mother. As in, apparently, the Duchess. The regal air she’d sported at Iris’s wedding had only increased and she was dressed in a rich forest green gown with a delicate golden tiara crowning her wheat-colored hair. I could see where Bruce got his looks—it certainly hadn’t been from his father. At either side of the Duchess O’Shea sat a nurse, each holding one of the babies. Obviously, Bruce’s mother wasn’t a woman who dove in and did everything herself.

I curtseyed to her. “Duchess O’Shea, welcome to our land.”

She eyed me up and down, then gently smiled and extended her hand. “The hosts of my son’s home are always a welcome sight.”

Iris started to stand but I dropped to my knees by her side and shook my head. “No you don’t, little mama. You stay in your seat and rest. I’m sorry I couldn’t be here earlier but I . . .” I didn’t want to bring up my injury but Iris wasn’t stupid.

She pointed to my hand. “Yes, I’ve heard the story. Dreglins are dangerous. I’m glad you went to the healer. So, are you going to introduce yourself to my children, Kitten? Or do I have to do it for you?” Her smile broadened, the pride in her voice echoing through the room. For the Talon-haltija, the Finnish house sprites, motherhood was a high honor. And to be a priestess who was also a mother had to be pretty much at the top of the list.

I scooted over to the sofa. The babies were tiny, definitely tinier than FBH babies, but they were perfect and petite and lovely. I cooed over them for a moment—the girl was swaddled in a violet blanket, the boy in one that was sky blue. They were both awake, and their eyes—the same brilliant blue as Iris’s—seemed to search my face. They were going to be smart, that much I could tell right off the start.

“You did good, Iris. What are their names?” I glanced back at Iris, flashing her a thumbs-up sign.

She giggled. “You’ll laugh, but . . .”

“No, I won’t laugh.” I started to say “I promise,” but I knew better than that. Knowing Iris, their names could be just about anything. And somehow, I doubted Bruce had had much say in the matter, his duchess-mother or not. I glanced over at him, and the soft grin on his face confirmed my suspicions.

Iris set down her teacup and joined me, wincing slightly as she walked. She leaned over the little girl and softly kissed her tiny forehead.

“This . . . this is my beloved Maria.” She gave me a long smile and a well of tears swelled up from my throat. I gazed at her silently, unable to speak. Our mother’s name . . . she’d given her baby our mother’s name. At my look, she whispered, “I wanted to honor your family—because the three of you girls are part of my family.”

Biting my lip I looked back at the baby. “Hello, Maria. Welcome to the world, little one. You have the bravest mother you could ever hope to have.”

Iris chuckled. “Well, I would give my life for them, that is a surety. The boy, my strapping lad, is Ukkonen. I named him after the Sky Father, and after the wind. He will be a musician, I think. Perhaps a bard.”

Laughing, I tried to keep from startling the babies. “You know all of that, already?”

“I do.” She nodded emphatically. “And my daughter . . . my daughter will follow in my footsteps and serve the Lady of the Mists. Undutar has already spoken to me about this. Maria will be raised as an Earthside priestess. She will not go to the Northlands like I did.” Her voice darkened. “No one, save for the goddess herself, could force me to give up my children the way I was snatched away from my home.”

“Ukkonen and Maria. Iris, you did good, love. You did good.” And then, I burst into tears and hugged her gently. When we’d first met her, she’d been under a curse, with a tortured past we had only learned about in dribs and drabs. Now, the curse was broken and she was getting her happy ending. Or at least, as happy as any of us could ever hope for.

“You get up to the house now, Kitten. Camille is waiting for you, and I need to rest.” Iris returned to the rocking chair.

I stood, slowly, not wanting to leave. It felt like her life was moving along a different path than ours. Logically, I knew it was just that she was finding her niche. She was here, her home was here, and Bruce was more than happy to share his wife with us. But I still felt like things had shifted so far from the safe, tight-knit group we’d started as. Leaning down, I kissed Iris on the cheek.

“Little mama, if you need anything, anything at all, just let us know. Rest now.” As Shade and I left her house, I looked up at the sky. Once more, clouds were coming in, thick and dark. A storm was on the horizon and I could feel it in my bones.

Chapter 7

The kitchen was jammed. Breakfast time had become a thriving bustle in our home, with the exception of Menolly, of course. Everybody other than Iris and Bruce was there. Smoky and Trillian were handing stacks of plates and dishes of food from Hanna, who was in charge of the counter, to Vanzir, who arranged them on the table. Camille was on the phone, trying to talk over the clamor. Nerissa had her head jammed in the refrigerator, looking for something while Rozurial filled juice glasses. Shade jumped in to help, while I slid through the chaos to sit by Camille.

Camille had one finger in her ear while pressing the receiver against her other ear and was shouting over the mayhem. And then, she let out a loud “Oh, fuck” and, at the tone of her voice, the kitchen quieted down. A moment later, she punched the End Talk button and looked up, mute sorrow on her face.

She inhaled sharply, slowly exhaled, and shook her head. “That was Chase. He’s down at the Wayfarer. The fire’s out, the embers are cold . . .”

“What’s the damage?” Nerissa closed the refrigerator and approached the table, a guarded look on her face. She’d have to be the one consoling Menolly the most, even though we’d all be there.

Camille flashed her a bleak look. “Eight dead—they found another body in the remains. The bar is eighty percent destroyed. The fire marshal says a candle in one of the upstairs rooms tipped over, or something like that. It caught the curtain on fire and . . .”

“Oh crap. One of the guest rooms. Was the occupant one of the victims?” If not, then whoever it was had left the candle burning unattended.

“That’s the thing . . . the door was locked, and there seems to be no record of a guest checked into that room.”

“We were right. Arson.”

Camille shrugged. “Yeah. I told them about the calls. Would be way too easy to cloak arson as an accident. And while there’s a record of all guests, Menolly’s office with the computer was a casualty. We have no way of accessing any of their names or where they came from. And you know, nobody’s going to remember in this mess. Chase talked to Derrick and to Digger, but neither could help much.”

“Do they have any clue whether any vampires were caught in the fire? Nothing would be left but piles of dust to mix with the ashes.” Fire could destroy so much, including all traces that someone had once walked this world.

“We won’t know for sure, ever, though tonight when the vamps rise, we might be able to figure out a few things. See if anybody was at the club with a vamp who has vanished. You know how that goes.”

I nodded. “Yeah, sadly.”

Camille attacked her stack of pancakes and sausage. “How are you feeling? How’s your hand? You up to going out to Interlaken Park to find out if there’s any evidence that Violet may have had a stalker?”

I held up my freshly bandaged wound. “It hurts. It’s going to hurt. As long as I take it easy, everything should be fine. It doesn’t look like it’s spreading and I feel a lot better than last night.”

She glanced over at Nerissa. “Tonight, we have to head to Otherworld. Menolly’s going to have to know about the extent of the damage as soon as she wakes up. I think . . . we’d all better gather here around 5:30. Sunset is at about 6:30 for another week or so till Daylight Savings Time kicks in. We need to have as much info as we can on what’s going down regarding the bar. Can you gather up everything you can find out while you’re at work?”

Nerissa nodded. “Will do. I guess sometimes it’s a good thing that I work for Chase’s division.” She finished up her breakfast—mostly, Menolly’s wife ate a lot of meat, some vegetables and fruits, and a small amount of other foods. Her inner carnivore came out in spades. Earthside werepumas were known for their high protein consumption. “Okay, I’m off. I’ll be home before Menolly wakes up, and I’ll see what I can find out. Chase or I will call you if anything comes up that we need to address right away.”

As she gathered up her purse and threw on a jacket, the look on her face spoke for all of us. Telling Menolly that the fire had destroyed most of the bar would be bad enough, but we all knew the victims were the casualties that tore her to pieces. There was no way to cushion her heart from the death.

Nerissa had no sooner closed the door when Hanna turned around from the sink. “Someone needs to watch Maggie. I am to help the Duchess with Iris today, so the housework will have to wait.”

She stood, hands on her hips, staring at us. Hanna was tough. When Hyto kidnapped Camille and carried her off to his lair in the Northlands to face torture and death, Hanna had helped her escape at risk of her own life. Camille had brought her home, and now Hanna lived with us and helped Iris out with the housework and taking care of Maggie.

I decided to delegate. “Smoky, you and Vanzir help Hanna today. Rozurial, can you and Trillian prepare for our trip tonight? Shade, come with Camille and me to check out the park?” And then, it occurred to me that—in the chaos surrounding the fire at the Wayfarer—we hadn’t filled everybody in on what was happening. They knew something was up, given Grandmother Coyote and the gargoyles, but they had no clue about everything else.

“On second thought, let’s start at the beginning . . .” I nodded to Camille, and we laid out everything that had happened the evening before.

“So, let me get this straight: A—Grandmother Coyote wants you to find out what’s going down with the daemonic activity at the Farantino Building and put a stop to it. B—You have to track down a group of dreglins and exterminate them. And C—Tad and Albert want you to find out what happened to their friend Violet.” Vanzir grinned at me. “That about it, pussycat?”

The dream-chaser demon liked to needle me, but his teasing had evolved into a fond playfulness rather than the edgy sarcasm that had at first prefaced it.

“That’s about it. I honestly don’t know what to think about Violet—there’s still a nagging voice that says she just disappeared off on some trip, but I don’t want to chance us being wrong.” I glanced up at the clock. “Okay, let’s head out. First, we’d better swing by the Wayfarer and see just what the damage is. Then we’ll stop at the FH-CSI and I’ll have them look at my hand. After that, we can do a little daylight surveillance of the Farantino Building. And then, over to the park.”

As Camille polished off her breakfast, Shade began clearing the table. My mind was scattered, but in the back of my thoughts, I couldn’t help but think that the dam had broken. Our lucky streak was over and we were back on the job.

• • •

Camille drove again. I was getting tired of my Jeep being in the shop but Jason was working as fast as he could, and we trusted him. Parts could only be ordered so quickly, and with three rush jobs ahead of mine, things had been poking along at a snail’s pace.

We inched through the rush hour traffic. At this time of the morning, it was still bumper-to-bumper and would be for another hour. Camille had her iPhone plugged in to the dash and her playlist was blasting away. I grimaced. How anybody could listen to Nine Inch Nails at this time in the morning escaped me, but it was her car, so we listened to her music.