Autumn Whispers (Page 15)

I smiled back. “Yeah, true. And your aunt knows all about the mechanics of how they work. Seriously, do you think that word hasn’t leaked back? Could Mallen have told her?”

She paled—and elves were naturally pale. “I never thought about that. He’s my friend. He wouldn’t rat me out.”

Grinning, I said, “You’ve been over here long enough that you’re starting to pick up the slang. Well, she’s never mentioned it to us, but your aunt seems to be privy to a lot of secrets and it wouldn’t surprise me that she’s got operatives over here whom none of us know about. Whatever the case, you know that my sisters and I will stand behind you and Chase, even if Queen Asteria gets pissed.”

With a nod, Sharah let out a long sigh. “See, the problem is this: I’m expected to eventually return home and marry into the Court. I’m her niece, and I’m close enough to the throne for things like marriage and breeding to matter. There aren’t that many relatives left who are standing in line. But show up with a half-blood child? I have no idea what kind of reception I’ll get. And the fact that Chase has a little elf blood in his lineage, well, that’s not going to make all that much difference.”

“Are things bad for half-breeds in the elfin court? When Camille, Menolly, and I were growing up, we were teased without mercy. Camille used to beat up on the kids who made fun of us, she tried to protect Menolly and me, but it never stopped.” Visions of our childhood flashed through my mind, and I shook my head. Kids could be so damned cruel. For a long time the memories had haunted me, but lately, I found I could shake them away without the sting they once held.

Sharah caught my gaze and held it. “It’s worse among the elves. Lineage means so much to my people.”

“I didn’t know that, but now that you mention it, yeah, I guess I can see how that is.” The elves were proper and there was a sense of decorum about them that I could easily visualize verging into sanctimonious territory.

“Well, I guess we’ll find out, won’t we?” She gave me a rueful smile. “Thanks for backing us up, Delilah. Especially you. I know that it must feel odd with Chase and me being together but . . .”

“Not anymore. You two are much better suited to one another. At first, yes, it did feel a little awkward, but I’m happy for you, Sharah. And I love Shade. We’re a matched pair. And I want Chase to be happy—and you make him happy, and so does the fact that he’s going to be a father.” I paused, not sure how far I should push, but in for a penny, in for a pound. “You know he would love to marry you.”

“I know.” She paused. “He’s asked, and I was pretty sure that he told you I said no. I just . . . I don’t want to tie him down to something he may regret. He’s just barely beginning to discover his own powers. The Nectar of Life changed him, and there’s no getting around the fact that he’ll be going through this transformation for years maybe. It’s impossible to predict just where he’s going to end up.”

“I know that.” I leaned forward. “But one thing I’ve discovered over the years here is that humans—FBH’s, if you will—they live uncertain and short lives. They are used to taking chances and risks because if they don’t, they may face the end of their lives wondering what would have happened if they’d gone for the gold ring, if they’d jumped at this chance, or that opportunity. They don’t have the luxury to stroll through life. And even though Chase’s life span is now drastically extended, I think his mind is still caught up in that thought process. It’s all he’s ever known.”

I’d never really thought it through before, but now that the words were out of my mouth it made so much sense. “Sharah, if the marriage doesn’t work out, it’s not permanent. Over here, Earthside, there really isn’t any sense of permanence. If you guys find out that you aren’t really meant for each other, you can separate.”

Sharah bit her lip. “I hadn’t thought about that. Back home, in Elqaneve, marriages are for life. Yes, they are usually marriages based on politics, and taking a lover is a common practice—though not quite as common as among your people—but I am expected to marry into the Court and produce children of my bloodline, and unless there is obvious abuse, I’m stuck with my husband for life. Somehow, I don’t think this little one is going to be accepted.” She rubbed her stomach. Tears welled up and she hung her head. “My aunt is going to say I disgraced my name. I know it.”

Life back in Otherworld could be just as harsh as life Earthside. So many people had always thought of the Fae and elves as happy, peaceful creatures who lived simple lives, but that was a long way from the truth. We didn’t flit around flowers, and even those who were woodland Fae, connected to the forests, were often ruthless and dangerous.

I leaned forward and rested my hand on her hers. “Fuck ’em then. I don’t use that word often, like Camille and Menolly do, but fuck them and the horse they rode in on. If they don’t accept you, too bad. You’ve got Chase here, you’ve got us, and you’ve got friends. You’re not alone, Sharah.”

She lifted her head and I wiped the tears off her face.

“Thank you,” she whispered. “That means so much to me.”

“It’s true.” I sighed. “But I’d better get a move on. We have things to do before leaving for Otherworld tonight. See you this evening . . . and—whatever happens—we’ll be there for you.”

As I left, she began to disinfect the table on which I’d rested my arm. I paused, watching the elf for a moment, then headed to the waiting room. Camille and Shade were sitting patiently, Camille was reading a book—a mystery by J. A. Jance. Shade was writing down something in a small notebook. They both looked up as I entered the room. I motioned to them and they stood, following me out the doors.

When we were in Camille’s car, I told them what Sharah had said. “She’s scared out of her mind that Queen Asteria is going to be so pissed off she’ll kick her out of the family or something.”

“Well, I know how that feels.” Camille frowned. Our father had disowned her for a while, for a decision she had made. He was just now working his way back into our good graces and had apologized profusely.

“I told her we’d back her and Chase up, if the Queen gives her any flack.”

“Hell yes.” Camille put the car into gear and pulled out of the parking lot. “She and Chase are good people. I’m so tired of being pushed around by the royalty and I sure as hell don’t intend to stand by and watch that happen to friends.” She paused, and added, “While you were getting your hand looked at, I made a couple quick calls. Besides all of the offices in the Farantino Building, there’s also a small coffee shop, probably to service the people who work there. But it’s also open to the public. We can make a stop there, and get a feel for the building that way.”

“Have you had a chance to look over what Carter gave us last night? The files on the building?” I had been in no shape to do so that was for sure.

She shook her head. “No, by the time we got home, I was as done in as everybody else. But we can do that . . . I guess when we get back from Otherworld. It doesn’t seem pressing at this point so I think a day’s delay won’t hurt anything.”

As we headed to the Farantino Building, I watched out the window at the heavy rains pounding down. We were in the thick of autumn now, and the energy was strong for me. Hi’ran loomed in my thoughts, and as I leaned back against the seat, soothed by the gray clouds and the gloom, it occurred to me just how far I’d come since we moved here. And it made me wonder just where I was going to end up.

Chapter 8

We found a parking spot right away, thanks to Camille’s ever-uncanny luck at being in the right place at the right time. During the day, the Farantino Building looked even more imposing. The brickwork was intricate, the row of lifelike gargoyles lining the ledge giving pause. They had been made at a time when I doubted molds were used, and indeed, from even this distance, they seemed to have their own personalities and differences.

Camille leaned toward me. “They look real.”

“Yeah. But wouldn’t Grandmother Coyote tell us if there were more granticulars than just Astralis and Mithra?”

She snorted. “You want to bet on that? Grandmother Coyote? Secretive much, I think.” Hoisting her purse over her shoulder, she opened the car door. “Let’s get a move on. At least they aren’t going to be on the lookout for us. Whoever they are and whatever their agenda is.”

A mad dash through the rain and we were in the street-front coffee shop, called the Café o’ Lait. It was small, but laid out in a precise manner that allowed for a surprisingly large number of customers to sit. I glanced around and led the way to a table near the back. I could see a hallway leading out into the rest of the building from there, and we had an unobstructed view of the rest of the coffee shop.

I motioned for Camille and Shade to have a seat. “What do you want? While I order our drinks, you can get a feel for the people in here. You’re better at that than I am.”

Camille nodded. “Order me a quad venti iced chocolate caramel latte, would you?”

Shade laughed. “Caffeine hound. I’ll have black tea. Milk, two sugars.” He pulled his wallet out of his pocket and handed me a ten and a twenty. “Better get us each a brownie, too.”

Camille shook her head. “I’d rather have a roast beef sandwich, thanks.”

I took the cash and headed up to the counter where I placed their orders, along with one for a tall hot chocolate and two peanut butter cookies for myself. As I stood there, waiting for the cashier to give me my change, I tried to start up casual conversation. “So, we just happened by and saw this place. How long have you been open?”

The cashier glanced at me. She didn’t seem all that friendly, but she smiled briefly and gave me my change. “Several years. I just work here, though. I have no idea when they opened the coffee shop.” She set a tray on the counter and slammed down a prewrapped sandwich on it, a small paper plate with the brownie and two cookies on another. “Here’s your food. I’ll bring your drinks over to your table when they’re done.”

And with that, she turned away and I realized the conversation was over. Ignoring the tip jar—which I seldom did—I carried the food back to the table.

“Apparently the cashier has either had a very bad day or she’s not interested in casual conversation.” I handed Shade his brownie as Camille unwrapped her sandwich.

As she bit into it, she winced. “Um, they aren’t that interested in making food taste all that good either. This is okay but it’s not going to win any awards for sandwich of the week. Either that or I’m spoiled by Hanna and Iris’s cooking.”

I tasted the cookies. They were nothing to write home about. “I guess they have a captive audience with the workers in the building.” Glancing around, I tried to assess the clientele. “They all seem to be suit-and-tie, even the women have that dressed-for-success look. Think they all work here?”

Pausing as the waitress brought us our drinks, Camille waited till the girl went back to the counter before speaking. “I think so. And I don’t sense any Demonkin, or even daemons—though I’m not as good at sussing them out as I am Shadow Wing and his kind. These people all seem entirely human to me.” She looked perplexed.

“Then what? We just go wandering around the halls trying to figure out what’s going on?” It wasn’t like the building was a top security fortress, as far as we could see. “We can always say we thought our lawyer was in this building if somebody tries to stop us.”

“Sounds good to me.” She dropped the remaining half of her sandwich on the tray. “This isn’t even good enough to finish.” Picking up her drink in one hand, with the other she carried the tray over to the trash bin and we headed out into the hallway.

“Oh no, we’re not conspicuous at all,” Shade said, with a smirk on his face.

I smacked his arm. “Oh, shut up, you goober.”

He grabbed my hand, entwining his fingers through mine. “A kiss in payment and I’ll stop teasing you.” His eyes were playful, and I leaned over and planted a soft kiss on his lips, once again grateful we’d met.

Camille laughed. “You two are cute. Now come on, let’s get a move on before somebody tries to stop us.”

The hallway led to a bank of elevators, and beyond that, several offices with windowed doors. The hallway was carpeted in a rich navy blue plaid, with green and red stripes running through it. A few potted plants were snug in the corners, and near the elevators sat a wrought iron bench covered with a blue upholstered cushion. Camille saw it at the same time I did and we both shuddered. Cast iron gave us nasty burns, though steel didn’t affect us much. But touch iron too long with our bare skin? Led to a world of hurt.

We passed the elevators and I motioned for Shade and Camille to stay near them as I slipped down the hall to sneak a peek. There were five doors, as well as an entry to the stairwell. The first two offices simply had names on the doors without any indication of title or status or vocation. I jotted down the names quickly and moved on.

The third door, however, had two names: WILSON PRESCOTT III, P.C., AND REGINALD D. FAIRFAX, P.C., ATTORNEYS AT LAW. The fourth door had no nameplate, but there was mail stuck under the door. I wanted to pick it up and glance at the name but the chance of someone coming along and seeing me was too great. The fifth door had a sign on it that read JANITOR.