Autumn Whispers (Page 28)

He winced, staring at the ground, but I could see the stubborn line of his jaw and I realized he wasn’t quite ready to budge yet. Pausing, I tried to think of another way of getting him to own up to what was going on.

“Listen, if Sharah was in the ES army and had to go to combat, you’d stay home and take care of the kids, right?”

Still silent. Exasperated, I smacked him on the shoulder—not hard, but enough to get his attention. “Right?”

Apparently, I’d dislodged the last bit of resistance.

“All right, already! Enough.” The glint in his eyes shifted and he deflated. “I get it, Delilah. I just don’t like it. But yes, I get it.” Straightening his shoulders, he looked over at me. “I didn’t totally fuck it up, did I?”

“You will if you don’t get your ass out there now and tell her good-bye and that you’ll wait for her and take good care of your daughter. Your daughter as in the child you both produced, and whom you will not turn against her.”

Standing, I yanked him to his feet. “Get moving, Johnson. Before I kick you in the ass again.”

He wiped his mouth, then turned toward the door. “Delilah,” he said over his shoulder, without looking back. “Thanks. Kick me in the ass any time I need it, okay?” And then, he was off and jogging down the hall.

I followed more slowly. Chase and Sharah had a long, hard road ahead of them and a lot of obstacles working to block them. But he didn’t need to know that right now. He just needed to do what was right for the moment, and deal with the consequences later.

Camille and I wandered over to the nursery—or what had been turned into a nursery for the baby. She was tiny, and delicate, with Sharah’s nose and ears, but Chase’s shock of dark hair. The nurse let me pick her up and it felt strange to hold her—she was so small. I tried to imagine having one of my own. It would happen, one day, the Autumn Lord had made that clear, but for now, I was content to leave it to the future. Too much danger surrounded us to ever think about having a child until we’d dealt with the demonic war.

I glanced over at Camille. “What about you? You still not interested in this?” I motioned toward the baby.

She laughed. “Only from a distance. I really . . . there’s no pull. I know Smoky wants one, but you know, even the chance of us finding a way to interbreed is remote. And having a child because somebody else wants you to, when you’re not ready? Beyond stupid. I’m not mother material. I mothered you and Menolly most of my childhood. I’m done with that. Now it’s my turn. I’d make one hell of an auntie though.”

With that, I brushed a kiss across baby Johnson’s forehead and handed her back to the nurse. We returned to the nursing station just in time to see Chase leaning over Sharah to kiss her. She caught my eye as he hugged her, and smiled. It was a rough, wan smile, but it was a smile. And then they wheeled her away, and Sharah was gone.

I glanced at Camille. “I guess . . . we’d better get a move on.”

“First, you get your hand looked at.” She pushed me toward where Mallen was standing, looking over a chart.

He rebandaged my hand. “It’s healing well. Keep it clean, and keep using the salve. Replace the dressing twice a day. You’ll have a scar, definitely, but you’ll live.”

And with that, we headed out. We had work to do, and I had a feeling we’d have a lot more work as the days went along.

• • •

In the car, as Camille drove, we made a list of what we needed to do. Take care of the dreglins, hunt down Violet, deal with the Farantino mess—whatever that was. And overshadowing everything was the specter of losing our father and the threat of the Keraastar Knights being captured.

“We need some good news soon.” I tapped my notebook.

“I think we may have gotten our little bit of it in that Iris and Sharah had their babies safely.” Camille pulled over to the curb, parking. She pointed to the Supe-Urban Café, which Marion Vespa, a coyote shifter and friend of ours, had just rebuilt after arsonists destroyed her restaurant and her house. “Let’s grab breakfast and talk.”

Marion saw us the minute we entered. She and her husband had stayed with us after the fire, and we had a long history before that. We considered them extended family.

“What will you have? Just coffee today?” Marion was unusually chipper, but then again, the gaunt, lanky woman wasn’t very taciturn to begin with. You wouldn’t want to fuck with her, but, overall, she was a good-natured person.

“Breakfast, actually. I know it’s lunchtime, but we haven’t eaten yet.” Camille glanced at the menu, but we always knew what we wanted when we stopped in at Marion’s. A brilliant cook, she made the best biscuits and cinnamon rolls around. “I want one of your big biscuits, a side of sausage, and a cheese omelet. Also, yes, coffee—a triple iced latte, please.”

I didn’t even need to look at the menu. “I’ll have a cinnamon roll, scrambled eggs, bacon, and a big glass of milk. Also some rose blossom tea.” Marion served a delicate herbal tea consisting of rose blossoms, cherry, and some other herbs that she wouldn’t disclose from her secret recipe. It was fragrant and fruity and soothing, all at the same time.

Marion gave us a sharp look. “What’s wrong? I know those faces, and they are not happy faces.”

I glanced at Camille, who shrugged. “There’s been trouble at home—back in Otherworld. We’re kind of trying to keep it quiet for now, because . . . well, because it’s just a good idea, but the Elfin lands? They’ve been decimated. And we were there to see it happen.” I must have looked bleak because Marion stuck her order pad and pen in her pocket and pulled up a chair.

“I’d say that sucks but that’s the understatement of the year.” She frowned. “Hey, aren’t you guys investigating the disappearance of a Fae girl?”

“How did that news get out?” It seemed that none of our secrets were safe anymore.

“Tad told me. Don’t look so surprised. He comes here to pick up goodies for his coworkers. Just because he can’t eat Danishes doesn’t mean that his buddies at work can’t. When he was here yesterday, he asked if I’d seen a coworker of his—she comes here a lot. I said no, Violet hasn’t been in lately. Then he told me she hasn’t been seen around for a while, and that you are investigating for him.”

Tad needed to learn how to keep his mouth shut, I thought. But then again, he was worried and just trying to help. And the fact that Violet came here regularly and hadn’t been around for a few days helped confirm that she just seemed to have vanished.

“Yeah, we are. Since she was a regular here, you don’t have any insights, do you? She hang out with anybody that seems suspicious? Look worried last time she was in here?” I pulled out my notebook.

Marion leaned back in her chair. “Violet’s been coming in on a regular basis for . . . oh . . . a year give or take a few weeks. Of course, we didn’t see her during the time the café was being rebuilt, but once we reopened our doors, she was here again. Sometimes she comes in with her coworkers, other times she’s with some guy. He’s a dark type, as in he feels shadowy. Fae, tall, blond, taciturn. Doesn’t talk much except to her. And . . . once in a while I’ll see her with an odd person. Almost always Supes. She doesn’t hang with FBHs, it seems.”

The blond Fae was probably her boyfriend—Tanne Baum. But the others? “Do they seem like they’re on a date? When she comes in with the people you don’t recognize.”

Marion shrugged. “Hard to tell. Maybe. I don’t really pay that much attention to the comings and goings of my customers. Okay, then, I’d better get your orders in.” She stood as I jotted down the information.

After she headed to the kitchen, I glanced at Camille. “We have to break her password. Remember? Her letter from Supernatural Matchups? And we need to talk to that boyfriend of hers.”

Camille nodded. “How are we going to break into her account? You’re handy with a keyboard but let’s face it, you aren’t a hacker.”

“No, but we know someone who is.” I grinned. “Tim is mighty handy.” Tim Winthrop was a friend of ours. At one time he’d been a female impersonator while he put himself through college. Now, with his degree in computer science, he’d opened his own consulting business. He also ran a lingerie shop, though he hired someone to work there. We’d been at his wedding, and his husband, Jason, was a mechanic and he was the one working on my Jeep.

Camille snickered. “Tim is a whirlwind with a computer. Give him a call while I run to the bathroom.”

As she left the table, I pulled out my cell phone and punched in Tim’s number. He came on the line within two rings. “Hey, Tim. Got a favor to ask. Need you to hack an account. We’re following up on a missing persons case and need to get into her account on Supernatural Matchups.”

Tim laughed. “I just love how you assume I’ll happily dive into your illegal investigations.”

“Well . . .” I paused, not knowing how to respond. “Um, will you do it? I’ll have Hanna make you cookies.”

A snort, “How can I resist such a desperate ploy? Okay, but they’d better be peanut butter chocolate chip, and I’d better see more than just a couple dozen.”

“Deal. I’ll call you with the info when I get home. And, thanks.” I hung up before realizing I hadn’t even asked him how he was. But when Tim found out what was going down, he’d understand.

Camille returned as Marion brought over our drinks. She set them in front of us. “Your food will be along shortly, girls.” Then she was off again to welcome a large group of werewolves who had just entered the café.

“Tim said sure, for cookies. I need that letter to give him the info.”

“I think it’s still in the car, to be honest. What else do we have to do today?” She took a long drink of her latte. “I need this. Caffeine.”

I stared at the page, doodling a stick man in the corner. “We still haven’t told Menolly about our cousins. We need to do that tonight. We should ask Vanzir if Carter found out anything about the cigarette butt or footprint casts we found at Interlaken Park.”

Camille nodded. “Doesn’t it seem weird to sit here talking about all this crap? Father’s missing, the Keraastar Knights are vulnerable and scattered, and Elqaneve is trashed. Sharah’s on her way home to become a queen . . . Chase has a baby and no one to help him with her. I know they’ll provide a nanny and wet nurse but . . .”

I glanced up at her. “Speaking of Chase, what do you think about asking him if he wants to stay with us until everything gets sorted out? We could put him in the parlor. Hanna will be there to oversee meals and what’s one more mouth at our house? If he has a nanny and wet nurse, Hanna wouldn’t need to bother with the baby. We’d just need to make sure Maggie can’t get in there.”

Camille cocked her head. “I dunno . . . we’ve got a full house as it is. And do we really want him there when we’re always under Shadow Wing’s bulls-eye?”

She made a good point, but . . . “He’s going to be a target anyway, since he’s known to be Sharah’s lover and has her child. In fact, who’s to say some zealot elf with a grudge toward Windwalkers won’t try to kill the child? I promised Sharah I’d look after him.”

After a moment, Camille shrugged. “I’m fine with it. I’m sure Menolly will be too. Are you sure Shade will be okay?”

“You mean because Chase used to be my lover? I doubt if Shade has any worries in that department.” And truth was, he didn’t need to. At least for me, Shade was twice the lover Chase had been.

“Okay then. So we ask Chase to move in. After we eat breakfast, let’s drop by Carter’s to ask if he’s had any luck with the cigarette and the footprint casts. And then, let’s start hunting down the dreglins. We’ll need help. I wonder if Ivana knows anything about them.”

“Oh, you have to be kidding. Not her again, especially after what we found out about her when we were hunting down Gulakah.” I shuddered. Ivana Krask—the Maiden of Karask—gave me the creeps.

Ivana was one of the Elder Fae. They were all entities beyond the realm of mortals, and they played so far out of social niceties that it was amazing they even tried to coexist with humankind. When you had dealings with them, you had to watch every word, every phrase, because it was easy to seal yourself into a deal that was most definitely not in your favor. They weren’t always evil, though some like Jenny Greenteeth, the Black Annis, and Yannie Fin Diver, were definitely not on the best-behaved list. Mostly they were chaotic, and they played outside of human rules.

Camille shook her head. “Let’s face it, Ivana is our best touchstone for finding out what we need to about the dreglins.”

“And you really think she’s going to give us information on other Elder Fae?” I still didn’t buy it, but then again, I didn’t like Ivana. “Fine, you call her. I don’t want any more to do with her or her garden of ghosts than I have to.”

Camille dialed her number as Marion set our food in front of us. It still amazed me that one of the Elder Fae had a cell phone. But then, the world didn’t run on fairytales, and reality was much stranger than fiction could ever purport to be. A few seconds later, she glanced at me and pointed at her phone.

“Yes, Ivana? . . . Yes, it’s the Witch Girl . . . Um hm. That’s right. Listen, we were wondering if you would meet us. We have a deal to propose.”