Authors: Lori Handeland
Tags: #Novella, #New York Times Bestselling Author
However, if he stuck too close to Megan, she shooed him away. He couldn’t blame her. He’d done his best to appear less than he was, which had only succeeded in making him so much more than annoying.
Quinn snuck in the back, wondering why the fool had not just killed Megan and moved on, then he heard the thing speak.
“Where is the leader of the light?” The creature lifted his hand from Megan’s mouth.
Why hadn’t Megan screamed in an attempt to bring Quinn running? Because she thought he was incapable.
Quinn stepped inside, pressed the point of the knife to the man’s neck. “Let her go.”
Megan cursed. “Quinn, I’m—”
The half-demon released her. It had no doubt smelled the silver.
“Free,” Quinn finished. “Go.”
She spun, frowning at the knife. “Where did you—?”
“Go,” he ordered, and her frown deepened. “Call the authorities.”
It would give her something to do. By the time anyone arrived, this beast would be ashes on the wind. If it couldn’t be killed by silver the thing never would have released her.
Megan went into the bar. As soon as the door closed behind her Quinn murmured, “Are there more of you?”
The creature didn’t answer. Quinn hadn’t thought it would, but he had to try. He plunged the knife into the Nephilim’s neck and it imploded, covering Quinn in gray grime. How he would explain that, Quinn wasn’t sure, but anything that threatened Megan must die.
The being had to be some type of shifter—Lord alone knew what—as it had died by silver. He thought it odd that the beast had been asking about Liz. Usually his mistress left a trail of ashes behind her that was very hard to miss.
Quinn retrieved a dustpan and broom as he listened to Megan speak with emergency services. By the time they arrived even the ashes would be gone.
He stepped to the back door, pan full of Nephilim dust, to have his attention captured by a movement in the alley. The hair on his arms lifted again as the fellow smirked. Quinn didn’t like that at all. He dropped the dustpan, ignoring the puff of ash across his shoes as he spun toward the kitchen. He sniffed, caught a hint of something wrong, then he heard the tick-tock.
Drawing on his preternatural speed, he sprinted into the bar, snatching Megan around the waist and lifting her easily from the ground.
“Quinn, I’m still—”
He leapt through the front door and raced across the street as Murphy’s tavern blew upward, then rained in several thousand pieces from the sky.
I still held the phone in my hand when I landed in a yard across the street. I was so dazed I even lifted the thing to my ear. “Hello?”
No one answered. How could they when the base of the phone was still in Murphy’s and most of Murphy’s continued to rain in pieces all around us?
Quinn, who’d done some fancy twisting in the air, managing to land beneath me and not on top of me, cushioning my fall, removed the phone from my hand. He stared at it a moment as if he couldn’t figure out what it was, then tossed it over his shoulder.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
“I—” I began and then stopped, unsure what to say. I was fine, but my tavern was toast. Which meant I wasn’t fine at all.
“Megan?” He leaned in close, peering into my eyes with his eerie yellow gaze. As no one had yellow eyes, I understood that the shade was merely a reflection of the flames rising from the rubble.
Sirens wailed. They seemed very far away.
Quinn’s long, gentle fingers ran over my head. His touch felt so good, I leaned into him. “Is there somewhere you hurt,
I lifted my hand to my chest and rubbed at the ache there. He snatched my fingers, peered at them, then my chest. “Did a chunk of wood strike ye?”
His voice sounded more Irish by the minute. I liked it.
“Megan!” I lifted my gaze. His had gone chartreuse. “I see no blood.”
“No,” I agreed. “No blood.”
I’d sweated every last drop I could spare into Murphy’s.
The police arrived, then the fire department, and an ambulance. Make that two.
“Stay,” Quinn said.
He needn’t have. I couldn’t have moved if I wanted to.
He sent the EMTs in my direction. While they checked me over I kept my gaze on the shell that was Murphy’s and tried to think what to do.
“I got nothin’,” I muttered.
The EMTs exchanged glances. One of them stayed with me, the other crossed to Quinn, said something. Quinn’s eyes met mine and he strode toward me.
“You should lie down.”
“All right.” I stood then started toward the house. It wasn’t until Quinn slid an arm about my waist and tugged me close that I realized I’d been zigzagging down the walk like a drunk. I’d seen enough zigzagging, and enough drunks, to know.
We reached my home. Quinn tried to lead me inside but I didn’t want to go.
“Meggie,” he murmured. He’d never called me that before. I liked it, along with the warm brush of his breath against my temple.
“I need air.”
He didn’t bother to ask where I would get it, just led me to the backyard and set me on the bench in the middle of the garden.
I’d dreamed of growing vegetables, never had managed it. At first I was lucky if I got in a shower each day, then I had my hands full with kids and Murphy’s. Looked like I’d have plenty of time now.
The burble of laughter that escaped my lips sounded more like a sob.
Quinn, who’d taken a step toward a police officer who’d followed us, stepped right back. I lifted a hand. “I’m okay.”
I wasn’t but I’d had plenty of experience with that lie. I’d become good at it. Apparently not good enough for Quinn. He stayed where he was.
I contemplated the overgrown garden. Something was missing. What? There’d never been anything here but weeds, lost baseballs and—
“My statue,” I blurted, and Quinn stiffened.
I’d always assumed the black panther made of stone had come with the house. I certainly hadn’t bought it. The thing was kind of odd, the shoulders sloped and somehow humanoid. However, when I sat in the garden the beast, tail curved around its sleek body, had kept me company. There’d been something about that statue, even with the eerie yellow-green shade of its eyes, that had soothed me.
“Someone stole my statue.”
“Why would anyone want to take that ugly old thing?” Quinn asked.
“I liked it.”
“Did ye now?” he murmured, and his palm ran over my hair.
“Sir?” The cop was so young I didn’t know him. Max had been gone long enough that all the street cops were new.
Tears pricked my eyes, and I leaned into Quinn. I was so damn tired.
“I need to get your statement,” the officer continued.
“Will ye be all right, Meggie?”
“I’m always all right.”
“I’ll be just here.” Quinn pointed to where the young man hovered at the edge of my property. “I’ll not let you out of my sight again.”
* * *
Quinn answered the policeman’s questions, some of them even truthfully.
“The place went boom,” Quinn said. “No idea why.”
“How did you and Mrs. Murphy get out?”
The officer waited for more, and when he realized he wouldn’t be getting it, thanked Quinn and went away.
“And the truth will set you free,” Quinn murmured.
He kept his gaze on Megan as he withdrew his cell phone from his pocket and hit the first number on his favorites list. He didn’t expect it to be answered, so when it was, and by the woman he’d called, he blinked for several seconds as Liz said, “Hello? Quinn? Hello?”
For an instant he thought the leader of the light was even more psychic than the rumors, then he remembered the annoying/useful invention known as caller ID.
“It is I, mis— Liz.”
“Meg. Is she—?”
“Alive,” he said. “There was a Nephilim, but he is dead.”
“Isn’t that why you’re there? To kill the evil half demons? According to you, you’ve ended legion. Why call me about this one?”
“When I came upon them he was demanding to know your whereabouts.”
“Came upon?” she repeated, her voice deceptively quiet.
“Aye, but he will never touch anyone again.”
“He touched her?” Quinn winced and didn’t answer. “What else?”
Quinn told her everything as Megan stared at the garden. If he hadn’t seen her shoulders rising and falling with each breath, he’d think she’d turned into the statue she seemed to mourn. He hadn’t believed she’d even known it was there.
“Why are they searching for you, mistress?”
“They’re always searching for me,” Liz muttered. That she didn’t correct his slip of the tongue in addressing her only proved how rattled she was by the turn of events. Probably as rattled as he.
“Why would they think Megan knows where you are?”
“They were fishing. I’m sure their next step was to-” He heard her swallow. He understood. The Nephilim’s next step always involved human blood. “Take her and the children—”
“The children are with their grandparents for a fortnight.”
“Excellent. By then I’ll be...” Her voice trailed off. “Is there somewhere you can take her? Far away until I’ve figured this out?”
He thought “this” meant more than the Nephilim that had come here. There was something going on. With Liz, there always was.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“We’ve got a situation.”
“There’s always a situation.”
“Not like this.”
He didn’t care for what he heard in her voice—both despair and fear—something that should never be heard in the voice of a leader such as she. The circumstances must be dire. Though Quinn did not want to leave Megan, he had also foresworn himself to this cause during a time so ancient he only remembered it well in his dreams.
“Shall I come to you?”
Silence fell, and his fingers curled inward. He did not want to go, but he would if the leader of the light called. He must.
“I need you with Megan. Never leave her, Quinn. Never.”
“Your wish is my command, mistress.”
“Stop calling me that,” she said, but there was a lack of heat to those words that frightened him.
He wished for more details. Who was dead this time? Why did her voice shake when he’d never heard it shake before? But he could also tell that she was in a hurry, had places to go, creatures to kill, and she would not waste time sharing anything with him now beyond orders.
“I’ll send a DK to lurk at the senior Murphy’s place,” Liz continued.
“All right,” she said slowly. “And you? Where will you be?”
“With Megan.” Quinn hung up.
He knew exactly where to go, and the fewer people who knew about it the better.
In a normal world, Liz would never betray the woman she loved more than any other. But the world was no longer normal, and being the leader of the light meant Liz had pledged to sacrifice everyone, everything to save it. From what he’d heard in her voice, she’d already sacrificed so much she could hardly bear it. She could not survive another loss.
But then neither could he.
* * *
Night had fallen before the police and fire department were through with whatever it was they were doing. I suppose I could have figured it out if I’d wanted to, but a strange lethargy had come over me. I couldn’t make myself care about anything.
Eventually, I’d allowed Quinn to lead me inside. I’d drunk the tea he’d made. I’d even talked to the children when he handed me a phone and ordered me to. I didn’t say much beyond “uh-huh” after they told me of their adventures at the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Shedd Aquarium, then a murmured, “love you too” instead of goodbye. Saying goodbye right now gave me the wiggies.
I would not tell them about
yet. Why spoil their visit? There’d be time enough to discuss ruin when they returned.
“I’ve called the insurance folk.” Quinn came into the kitchen with my overnight bag. It looked in damn good shape. It should. I hadn’t used it since my wedding night. “I told them to contact me by phone if they have any more questions.”
“All right,” I agreed, still not getting the significance of the bag.
“The police as well.”
Why didn’t the police want to talk to me?
“Don’t they need a description of the man in the kitchen?”
The one who’d asked me about Liz. He’d probably been a half-demon, maybe even a whole one.
I giggled then slapped my hand over my mouth, the movement reminding me of the instant when
had done it. Oddly, I hadn’t been afraid until Quinn showed up.
I knew the score. Quinn didn’t.
“That man is dead.”
I remembered the long, silver blade in Quinn’s hand. “Where did you get the knife?” It had not matched any of mine.
“Does it matter?”
I thought it did, but I wasn’t sure why.
“You killed the man?” If he had I didn’t think the police would have left yet.
“Ach, no. Me and the intruder were awaitin’ the authorities.” He turned his gaze to his ash covered shoes. “I smelled gas, then the fool lit a cigarette.”
That explained why he’d come running out of the kitchen. It did not explain how he’d snatched me up, then run so fast without tripping. I wasn’t sure anything could.
He lifted his eyes to mine. “The man who would have stolen from you is dead.”
Quinn believed the Nephilim had been a thief. Worked for me.
“No reason for you to think of him anymore at all,” he continued.
Good. Because whenever I thought of him, my stomach felt a bit queasy. Nevertheless...
“I should call Liz.”
His forehead creased. “Liz?”
“You met her at Anna’s birthday party last month.” Had it only been a month?
He continued to look confused. “She arrived with that teenaged boy. Luther?”
Who’d been a lion shifter, but we weren’t going to get into that.
“And a baby,” he said slowly.
She’d been something too. One minute an infant, the next a kitten. According to Liz, Faith could turn into any animal when touched by something that depicted it. I’d found this out when I’d nearly covered the kid with a blanket of dancing blue baby elephants. If Liz hadn’t stopped me my house would have been in as many pieces as my bar.
I slapped my palm over my mouth before another sob escaped.
Quinn set a hand on my shoulder. “Maybe you should lie down before your flight.”
I lowered my arm. “What flight?”
“I’ve booked you on one that leaves at half nine from O’Hare. By the time you arrive in Dublin it’ll be nigh onto noon.”
“Is there another, love?”
“I think there’s a Dublin, Ohio.”
“And why would that be?”
“My thoughts exactly,” I muttered.
“You should rest. I’ll wake you before we head to the airport.”
“Why am I going to Ireland?”
“Haven’t you always wanted to?”
I had, but how did he know that?
“Don’t say you can’t, because you can. The children are gone; the bar is...” He paused.
“Aye,” he agreed. “But not for long, lass. Not forever. We will rebuild it.”
The idea of Quinn building—tripping, falling, dropping things—made me smile until I remembered that he hadn’t tripped, fallen or dropped anything, including me, since this whole nightmare had started.
“Did you believe I’d leave you in a lurch?”
He wouldn’t. I knew that as well as I knew my name was Megan Margaret O’Malley Murphy. Say that five times fast. I dare you. Even the priest had bungled it during my wedding.
Quinn led me from the kitchen and up the stairs. At the door to my room, he paused. “I have a few errands. I’ll lock up tight, be back in plenty of time.” He urged me inside, drawing the door shut behind me. His steps retreated; the door closed downstairs. By the time I reached the window, he was gone.
A glint in the garden drew my attention. The moon shone off curved, black stone.
The statue was back.