Autumn Whispers (Page 36)

On that gloomy note, she offered to help Chase carry his bags over to Iris’s, leaving me to sort out what to do next. Now that the dreglins were squared away, it was time to get back to hunting for Violet. I opened my laptop. Might as well start with the Supernatural Matchups site, now that I had her password. By the time Camille returned, I was into Violet’s account and poking around.

“Why don’t I call Tanne Baum and see if he’ll talk to us?” She pulled out her phone. “You find anything yet?”

“Not yet. Go ahead. See if he’ll meet us this afternoon.” I shook my head. “I’m trying to figure out how to navigate her account. There are a gazillion different links and I want to make certain I don’t do anything to alert the site owners that I’m hacking in. Especially if they might be in on her disappearance.”

As I puzzled through the menu, the doorbell rang. Camille went to answer it. She returned within seconds and motioned for me to follow her. There, on the front porch, stood ten soldiers, dressed in the colors of black, indigo, and silver.

“Aeval sent us guards for the house.”

I scanned their faces. They weren’t as friendly as the elves, by the looks of them, but they also looked more feral and dangerous, which was probably a good thing considering what we were facing.

“Welcome, and thank you.”

The leader of the group, a stalwart, stoic warrior who carried a thin, light blade that looked as glitteringly sharp as his eyes, tapped his heels together and gave us a curt bow.

“Kendris, at your service. My men and I will do our best to protect you and your family, Lady Camille. We will die in your service, if need be. If you will just show us the lay of the land and tell us who lives here and who your safe visitors are?”

Camille glanced at me. “Go back to the website. I’ll call Tanne Baum from out here. I’ve got his phone number in my contacts.” She led the warriors down the steps as I headed back inside, glad to not be the one wandering around in the scattershot of rain.

After pouring another glass of chocolate milk, I hunted through Violet’s account. She had a prime-level membership, which meant she could peruse all the videos available, as well as all the text listings. I glanced over the settings on her profile as to what she was looking for in a partner.

She’d checked the classifications for lovers and friends with benefits, but apparently was not looking for a long-term relationship. She’d also checked the box for polyamorous, but she was straight, not bisexual. She wasn’t open to anybody other than Fae—no Weres, vamps, humans, or other races. Which made Tad’s assertion that she wasn’t interested in him more likely to be true.

Under her interests, she’d listed computers, gaming, dancing, hiking, camping, gardening, rafting, and a number of other outdoor activities. Violet didn’t drink, she didn’t smoke, and refused to try drugs. She had checked the box for kink, but in the designations, she had excluded some of the grosser activities—no water sports or bodily wastes. Also, she wasn’t into S&M, however, she was open to bondage, and slave-play.

She’d uploaded a video a couple weeks ago that had already been viewed four hundred times. A listing offered statistics as to who—by nickname only—had looked at it. As I studied the stats, I noticed that the same user had viewed the video thirty of those times, all before Violet had disappeared. The rest had watched it once or twice. Noting down the nick of her most avid fan, which was HotBod24, I watched the video.

Violet was pretty . . . long dark hair with brilliant green eyes. She was slight, but looked fairly strong, and I had the feeling she was a tough little cookie. Her voice was soft, and alluring. No wonder Tad had been attracted to her, there was something primal about her—seductive but not overt. Definitely a geek girl—as much as one of the Fae could be—she had the same glamour that all the Fae do, regardless of background or interests. Even the Fae who were hideous by human standards possessed a magnetism that was hard to deny.

Next, I did a search on HotBod24.

Well . . . according to his profile, HotBod24 was a guy, and his picture had a Fae look to it, but something felt off. His profile seemed too streamlined, almost generic, and if there’s one thing that the Fae weren’t, it was generic. Even those of us who were half-breeds had some oddball quirk that made us who we were.

The more I studied his picture, the more I had the feeling the account was a cover up. And the fact that he didn’t have a video posted seemed odd, too. I did a quick perusal and, as far as I could tell, at least 75 percent of the members had some sort of live footage available.

Next, I opened up Violet’s account e-mail. There were five e-mails from HotBod24, all sent within the past three weeks, all asking her for a meetup. They became more insistent with each one. They weren’t slimy, which some of the other letters were, but again, something nagged at me that I couldn’t put my finger on. I checked her Sent Mail. Bingo. She’d finally agreed, after writing two hesitant letters. They’d scheduled a meeting for . . .

Hell. She’d agreed to meet him at the coffee shop at the Farantino Building. At 4:00 P.M., the day she had disappeared.

As I stared at the e-mail, Camille entered the kitchen from the back porch. She was flushed from the rain, and wet.

“I got them squared away—one is on duty at all times watching the rogue portal out . . . what’s wrong?” She cocked her head. “What’s going on?”

I crooked my finger. “Come look at this. I found out Violet was having coffee with one of her contacts from Supernatural Matchups the day she vanished. Look at where she agreed to meet him.”

Camille peeked over my shoulder. “Oh fuck. Fucking hell.”

“Yeah, that was my reaction. What now?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know what to make of this. But if she is involved with daemonic activity, it can’t be all that good.” She glanced around. “Where’s Shade?”

“He’s taking care of some sort of business. He left a note that he wouldn’t be back till dinner time. What about Morio and Vanzir?”

She shrugged. “Morio was gone this morning too. Left the same kind of note. I’m not sure about Vanzir. He never leaves much in the way of messages.”

I let out a little laugh. “Gee, the house feels empty. Wait—who’s taking care of Maggie today?”

Camille’s eyes opened wide. “Fuck, I don’t know. I thought she might be with Shade.” She jumped up and me, hot on her heels, headed into Hanna’s room.

As we skidded into the tidy bedroom, we stopped short. There was Vanzir, playing on his Game Boy while Maggie was laughing in her playpen. She was dancing with her Yobie doll, and she moophed softly when she saw us, and held up her arms.

“Camey! De-ya-ya!” Her smile cut through the gloom and I lifted her out of the playpen while Camille leaned over Vanzir’s shoulder.

“Thank you—we thought she’d been left alone.”

“Hell no. Nobody leaves the Magster alone.” Vanzir flashed us one of his rare smiles free of sarcasm. “What’s shaking besides your boobs, chickie-pooh?”

Camille snorted. “Hey, I can’t help having curves. And I don’t remember you complaining . . . On second thought, never mind.” She sobered and took Maggie from me. “We found out something disturbing.”

“No—really?” And snarky Vanzir was back, but that was the way we were used to him. Anything else seemed out of place.

I told him about Violet and HotBod24 and the Farantino Building. “I have the feeling we’re poised on the tip of the iceberg here.”

“I’ll have a talk with some of the guys down in the Demon Underground. I can do that now, if you take Maggie.” He stood, cinching his belt. His jeans were skintight and ripped, and his undershirt was torn. He looked like a retro punk rocker, but he wore the look well.

“Go, but don’t be too long. Hanna’s not here and if we have to run out . . .” Camille stopped.

“Right. I’m off then.” And he was out the door before we could say another word. We followed, Camille carrying Maggie while I dragged out her playpen. Hanna had removed it from the kitchen so she could wax the floor and forgotten to put it back. After settling her in with her toys, I glanced at the clock.

“Time for her morning cream drink. She gets her meat for early breakfast and Hanna always prepares all her meals in advance now, so it’s easy to see when she’s been fed.” I pulled her bottle of cream out of the fridge and poured it into a bowl, then stuck it in the microwave for one minute. Maggie was learning to eat solid gargoyle food, but she would still get her cream dream several times a day for another few years till she was fully weaned onto solid food.

The mixture of cream, sage, cinnamon, and sugar smelled comforting and familiar as I took the warm bowl out of the microwave and put it down into Maggie’s playpen. She eagerly began to lap it up, and I watched her.

“It’s hard to believe that someday she’ll be as big and large as the granticulars.” Maggie was so cuddly and oddly proportioned that I couldn’t imagine what she’d look like when she grew up. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a woodland gargoyle, other than her.”

“We should make a trip to Thistlewyd Deep. I know there are pockets of woodland gargoyles there.” Camille patted Maggie on the head, then returned to the table. “I’m going to call Carter and see if he’s found out any more info on Lowestar Radcliffe and Gerald Hanson’s deal for the Farantino Building.”

“Sounds good, but hey, we need to buy the food to pay Ivana. She’ll be here this afternoon, expecting her meat treats, and the last thing we want to do is piss off one of the Elder Fae. I’ll stay with Maggie if you head to the store and pick up the meat. Unless you want me to go.”

“No, I’ll do it.” She grabbed her purse. “I’ll be back in a few. At least we have guards here.”

As she headed out the door, pulling her jacket on, I wandered into the living room. The relatively peaceful days of the past few months were gone, broken. I thought about turning on the TV to watch some mind-numbing trash but for once didn’t feel like it. So I put in the call to Carter. He was home, as usual.

“Carter—things are heating up with the Farantino Building. Have you found out anything more on the deal between Radcliffe and Gerald?”

I dropped into the rocking chair, propping my feet on the coffee table. Iris and Hanna both would kill me if they saw me do that but neither happened to be in the house right now.

He rifled through some papers and I heard the tapping of keys. “Yes, actually. I have it . . . right here. Okay, it looks like when the deed changed hands, it did so for the nominal sum of twenty-five dollars. Which means either Gerald didn’t need the money, or Lowestar has something on him, or perhaps both. I also did some more digging into Lowestar’s background and there is no record of him being born in India. In fact, he’s either far older than he appears or has ancestors by the same name, because the first record I can find of a Lowestar Radcliffe is . . . guess where?”

My stomach knotted. “Italy.”

“Right, he showed up right around the time that the Farantino family began to rise in power. Then he vanished again until he showed up in Seattle. The information as far as his appearance in Italy is sketchy but from what I can tell, he was labeled a “foreign supporter” of theirs. But nobody ever specified where this particular foreigner was from.”

Carter paused. “I have a bad feeling about this, Delilah. We know there’s daemonic activity attached to the building and there has been since Michael Farantino first built it. But there’s something going on there—and Grandmother Coyote is never wrong. If something big is waking up, I have a hunch that Lowestar is directly related to it.”

“More than that.” I told him about Violet and the meeting at the coffee shop. “There has to be more than a coincidence there. I can’t imagine there not being a connection.”

“Then there may be . . . Hold on . . . Let me check on something and call you back in five.” Carter signed off.

While waiting for him to call back, I wandered in to check on Maggie again. She seemed lonely, so I sat on the floor and pulled her into my lap. We cuddled for a moment, and she pushed Yobie in my face for a kiss. I hugged her, staring down into those soft gentle eyes. Her long lashes fluttered as she yawned and I realized it was time for her nap.

“Come baby, let’s put you to bed.” I carried her into her crib and she yawned again, then closed her eyes and fell asleep without a fuss, clutching Yobie. Once I was certain she was snoring up a storm, I tiptoed out of the room just in time to field Carter’s return call.

“Okay, I have some interesting news. Guess where Supernatural Matchups is headquartered?”

I groaned. “In the Farantino Building.”

“Right. And guess who was not only in charge of fielding their legal issues, but who also had stock in the company?”

A chill ran through me. “Gerald Hanson.”

“Right again.”

And then, an image from Gerald’s memory flashed through me. “Fuck. Fuck, fuck, as Camille would say. I think I know something but I need to put it together. Please, don’t go anywhere. I need to think about this and call you back when I’ve sorted it out.”

“I have a lunch date, but that’s not till two o’clock, so I’ll be here till then. And you can catch me again after five.” With that, Carter signed off.

I wanted Camille to get back. We usually worked well as sounding boards for each other. As I strained my memory, the door opened and she toted in a couple big bags.