Authors: Christine Pope
his is a work of fiction
. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, places, organizations, or persons, whether living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 by Christine Pope
Published by Dark Valentine Press
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hen Sydney entered
the train station, she took one look at my face and pulled me into a hug, her embrace as fierce as it was unexpected. Without saying anything, she picked up my suitcase, while I grabbed my purse and duffle bag from the bench where I’d been sitting. In silence we left the building, heading to where she’d parked her Focus in the small lot just outside. It wasn’t until we were out of downtown and back on the freeway that she finally said, “You want to talk about it?”
All those unshed tears were still a logjam in my throat. I coughed, then shook my head and replied, “What’s to say?”
The headlights of an oncoming car shone on her face briefly before they flicked past. I could see the tight set to her mouth, the worry in her eyes. “Angela — ”
“Later,” I cut in, knowing if I started talking now, I’d break down. And I really didn’t want to have this conversation in her car. We could talk about it when I got home.
Home. What was home? Over the past few months I’d come to think of Connor’s apartment as home, but it wasn’t, not really. The rambling Victorian house waiting for me back in Jerome didn’t feel much like home, either. I hadn’t lived there long enough for it to have become mine yet. I realized then that I’d spent more time at Connor’s place than in the house I’d inherited. No wonder it didn’t exactly call out to me as a welcoming refuge.
But it was the only place I could go, so I let Sydney drive me there, the miles flashing past in silence until at last she pulled up in front of the house and parked there. We retrieved my meager luggage from the trunk and climbed the steps to the front door. It was a dark night, with barely a crescent moon, but I noticed the porch light was on. I frowned; was someone in my house?
Not bothering to hunt through my purse for the key, I laid a hand on the doorknob, willing the deadbolt to unlock itself. Which it did, the door swinging inward with a faint creak.
Sydney stared at me, mouth slightly open. “I’ve never seen you do that before.”
“Well, my powers are a little…stronger…now.” Talk about your understatements. Goddess only knows what Sydney would think if she’d seen the way I’d fought back the wolf-creature that Damon Wilcox had become.
The overhead light in the entry was on, too. I scowled up at it, wondering if it had been on the whole time since I left almost three months ago. You’d think someone would have come by to check if that were the case.
But the mystery solved itself when I heard footsteps coming down the hallway toward us. Instinctively, I stepped in front of Sydney, preparing to mount a defense against the unknown intruder if necessary. Then I blinked as I saw my cousin Kirby enter the foyer.
It’s hard to say who was more surprised, him or me. His gray eyes widened, even as I stammered, “K-
“What are you doing here?”
His expression told me he was thinking exactly the same thing, but he said, “We’ve sort of been taking shifts watching the house. You know, turning the lights off and on, keeping the water running, making sure the pipes didn’t freeze during that bad snowstorm we had back in January.”
I supposed that made some sort of sense. When I left, I’d been so angry at my family and their reaction to Connor that I hadn’t stopped to think what might become of the house if I left it unoccupied indefinitely. “Oh,” I said after a lengthy pause. “Thanks, then.”
Gaze flickering over to Sydney and back to me, he asked, “So…are you home now?”
There was a question I really didn’t want to answer. But word would get out soon enough, and if I had Kirby spreading the news, I wouldn’t have to worry about doing it myself. At the moment, I just wanted to hide in this house for about the next sixty or seventy years. I let out a breath. “Yes, I’m back.”
For how long, I have no idea….
Since I didn’t feel like going into it any more than that, I added, “But I’m really tired, so if you aren’t in the middle of anything — ”
“No,” he said quickly. “I mean, I was going to watch a movie, maybe drink a beer, but I hadn’t opened it yet. So I’ll just let myself out.”
Again he looked over at Sydney, almost as if he were expecting her to say something, illuminate the situation somehow, but I could tell she thought this was a family matter and therefore intended to stay out of it. So Kirby didn’t exactly sigh, only went to the hall closet and got out his jacket, then shrugged into it. He paused, studying me carefully, his eyes full of questions. He must have seen that I was not in the mood to answer any of them, because he just said, “’Night, Angela.” He nodded at Sydney, and she gave him a hesitant smile before he went to the door and left.
Sydney had been holding my suitcase the whole time. “Should I take this upstairs?” she asked, lifting it slightly in question.
“No, you can put it down there, at the foot of the stairs. I’ll take it up later.”
She did as I requested, then said, “That sounded good.”
“You hate beer.”
“I mean, a
. Don’t you want one?”
Oh, yes, I did. A drink or ten. I had a feeling Syd was hoping that if she got some alcohol inside me, I’d tell her what was going on. Maybe that would work. Maybe if I blurred the lines with booze, it wouldn’t hurt so much to confide in her, tell her how Connor had rejected me.
“Yeah,” I said at last. “I guess we’ll have to look and see if there’s anything left to drink here…besides Kirby’s beer, that is.”
I set down my duffle bag and purse next to the suitcase, then headed toward the kitchen, Sydney a pace or two behind me. Once I got there, it looked as if the countertop wine rack had been left untouched. When I peered into the fridge, I saw Kirby’s six-pack of Lumberyard IPA sitting on the bottom shelf. My throat tightened when I looked at it; the Lumberyard Brewing Company was walking distance from Connor’s apartment, and we’d eaten and drunk there more than a few times over the past few months.
The contents of the refrigerator blurred, and I turned away, blinking furiously.
“Angela? You okay?”
I was incapable of speech at that moment, so I only shook my head.
She hesitated, biting her lip. “Do you still want a drink?”
“Okay. Just sit down, and I’ll take care of everything.”
Somehow I managed to blunder over to the kitchen table and fall into one of the rickety farmhouse-style chairs there. Sydney busied herself with getting out a couple of wine glasses, then selected one of the bottles from the rack. Pausing, she looked over at me and asked, “Corkscrew?”
I pointed toward the utensil drawer. Tears had begun to leak from my eyes and spill down my cheeks, and I reached up to wipe them away.
“Sweetie — ” she began, taking a step toward me, but I shook my head.
“I-I’m okay. Just hurry up with that wine.” As if to prove me wrong, more tears filled my eyes, forcing me to reach up with the back of my hand to try to blot them away. Streaks of black mascara and eyeliner came off on my skin; I’d put on full makeup for Damon’s memorial service.
Brow puckered with worry, Sydney got out the corkscrew, then inexpertly pulled the cork out of the bottle. It came out crooked, but at least it didn’t break off. After that she filled each glass almost full. She shot me a dubious glance. “When was the last time you ate?”
I shrugged. I had a dim recollection of eating a few cold cuts and some cheese at the reception following the service. The whole day had begun to take on a hazy, nightmarish quality, like something I’d experienced while suffering a high fever. I didn’t want to think too hard about the service, or the reception…and especially not what had happened afterward.
“I’ll see what’s here,” she said, correctly interpreting the shrug to mean that I hadn’t eaten very much at all. To my annoyance, she left the glasses of wine sitting on the counter while she rummaged through the refrigerator. “Well, whoever’s been hanging out here, they’ve left some good stuff behind. Here’s some smoked gouda. Where would the crackers be?”
“Over there,” I replied, jerking my index finger toward the pantry.
She opened the door, located a box of cracked wheat crackers, and arranged some on a plate, along with the cheese she’d found in the fridge. Finally she brought the plate over to the table, then returned with the wine.
I seized my glass and took a long swallow. It was a local red blend, and usually I found it fairly mellow and fruity. Now, though, it seemed to burn like acid when it hit my empty stomach. Although I felt as if I never wanted to eat again, I knew I’d better put some sort of a buffer in there. So I picked up a cracker, sliced off a bit of cheese, and then shoved it in my mouth.
“Better,” Sydney said. She’d been smiling faintly as she watched me eat, but her expression abruptly sobered. “You ready to talk about it?”
Not really. However, I knew I couldn’t hold her off indefinitely. And better that I should first relate the story to someone sympathetic, someone who didn’t have any agenda where Connor was concerned.
. Just the sound of his name in my thoughts was enough to send more tears welling in my eyes, and I swallowed another large gulp of wine. This time it didn’t burn quite as much, instead feeling pleasantly warm. “It’s bad, Syd,” I said at last.
“I kind of figured.” For the first time she took a sip of her own wine. “I just — what happened? You guys seemed so happy. So perfect for each other.”
At least, we would have been, if it weren’t for Damon.
How I’d ever begin to explain that, I didn’t know. I wrapped my hands around the bowl of my wine glass, but I didn’t drink. “You remember how I told you Connor’s brother was the head of their clan, and that he wasn’t exactly a nice person?”
“Understatement,” she replied, with something very close to a snort. “Wasn’t it his idea to kidnap you?”
“Yes. He wanted — he thought having me as his consort would help to break the curse.”
“Curse?” she repeated, nose wrinkling.
I realized I’d never mentioned the whole Wilcox curse situation to her. Hard to say why, except I’d wanted to ignore the whole thing as much as possible. My relationship with Connor was new enough that children were way out of the picture, and if I didn’t have a child of Jeremiah’s line, then I wasn’t in any danger. It was a pretty simple calculation.
As quickly as I could, I explained how, long ago, a Navajo witch had cursed Jeremiah Wilcox…and how that curse had affected every single woman attached to the Wilcox
“Holy shit,” Sydney breathed when I was done. “So he thought your powers would destroy the curse. But how?”
“I don’t know for sure. He did a lot of experimental magic, stuff no one else has tried. I’m sure he had a theory, but he didn’t really confide much in Connor.”
“So….” She drew out the word as she appeared to consider what I’d just told her. “I still don’t get how that connects with you and Connor having a blow-out fight. I mean,” she added quickly, “I’m assuming that’s what happened.”
“I don’t think it was loud enough for a blow-out, but yeah, the end result was the same.” No, that confrontation had been conducted in cold, calm tones, but it had been just as painful as if we’d been screaming at each other. “Damon got frustrated. He saw how things were with Connor and me, and — ”
“He was jealous?”
It was my turn to snort. “No. That is, he never wanted me for
, just for what I am. But because he knew he couldn’t use me to break the curse, he started exploring other kinds of magic. Dark magic.”
“Darker than what he’d done before? ’Cause based on what you’ve told me, the guy wasn’t exactly a saint to begin with.”
“No, he wasn’t, and yes, it was darker magic. Black, black magic.” I paused, and drank some more wine. My stomach told me it needed more than just that one piece of cheese and cracker to soak up the alcohol, but I ignored it. “All those girls killed up in Flag?”
She nodded, blue eyes widening. “You’re not saying — ”
“It was Damon. Yeah. He’d gone…bad. Like a rabid dog, Connor’s cousin said. And you know what you have to do with a rabid dog.”
“Put it down.” The words were barely above a whisper.
“Exactly. Problem was, no one in the clan was strong enough to do it. He was the
, after all. So guess who ended up with that little job?” It was odd, but as I spoke, I could feel the tears recede. Maybe because I was relating all this in a dry tone, as if it had happened to someone else. A shrink would probably call that a distancing mechanism, but it was working for me at the moment.
This time Sydney’s reply really was a whisper. “
had to do it?”
“Yeah. It was…awful. I don’t need to go into the details. But at the end of it all, Damon was dead, and by my hand…and, as you can guess, that didn’t go over so well with Connor.”
“But — but he knew you had to do it, right? I mean, if you hadn’t, wouldn’t Damon have gone on killing?”
“Definitely. Connor knew that intellectually. But he just can’t handle being around me…said every time he looks at me he thinks of how I killed his brother.”
“Jesus Christ.” She’d gone pale, the blush standing out on her white cheeks. “And so he just…threw you out?”
I winced. True, that was pretty much what had happened, but I still didn’t like hearing it put so baldly. “Basically, yeah.”
“So he said, what, ‘get out’?”
Goddess, did I have to rehash the whole conversation? I could tell Sydney to stop picking at me, but I knew this was her way of trying to process what had happened. She just wanted to help. “He told me he needed to not be around me for a while.”
To my surprise, she seemed to perk up a little at that. “Really? That’s what he said?”
“Pretty much. True, it’s a little more polite than just saying ‘get the fuck out of my house,’ but — ”
“No,” she broke in, “it’s way better than that. He’s upset right now. He’s hurting. He didn’t tell you that he never wanted to see you again — he just needs his space. You’re taking a break. You’re not broken up.”