(Note to readers of the original series: sorry for the info-dump! I wanted to give new readers enough background to know what's going on :) ).
Dory was leaning against my desk with her arms crossed as I emerged from the bathroom.
I held up a hand before she could speak. “Please don’t start. We’re going to help him, then we’re going to continue on without him in our lives.”
“We’ll talk about that later, Poptart,” she replied, pushing away from the desk with hands like glittery porcelain. “Devin called. He says he wants you at the next pack meeting.”
My shoulders slumped. Here I was without any real clients, spending all my time doing favors for old friends. At one time, I’d been the leader of the small werewolf pack in Shelby, Oregon. Devin had taken over the job for me when I opened Minor Magics. Really, I should have never had the job to begin with. I’d only taken on the responsibility to keep my friends safe, but now I couldn’t seem to get away from it.
“He knows I can’t just come up there any time I please,” I sighed. “The Demon Code states we can only go for six hours once a week, and I already had plans for this week.”
Dory rolled her eyes. “Yes, plans with a werewolf. Lucy will be at the meeting. I’m sure she’ll understand.”
I paced across the room, retrieved Chase’s card from the desk, then turned to Dory. “What day is the meeting?” I sighed.
She straightened her back, seemingly satisfied with her powers of persuasion. “It was supposed to be Friday, but they moved it to tonight.”
Of course they did. I removed my cell phone from my jacket pocket to check the time, 5:00 pm. The meetings usually happened at six.
Scowling, I returned my phone to my pocket, then gestured for Dory to follow me. “Let’s lock up and get some dinner before I have to go. If I’m back soon enough, we’ll start work on Chase’s case tonight.”
She followed me across the room, shutting and locking the office door behind us. She had a small receptionist area in the waiting room, across from four chairs lined against the far wall. I was lucky to even fill one of the chairs on any given day.
We headed out the main door, which Dory locked behind us. Waiting on her, I glanced around the sparsely populated street, burying my hands in my jacket pockets against the chilly air. Most people would need a heavier coat in the winter weather, but as a fire demon, I tended to run hot.
Finished with the door, Dory joined my side as we headed back toward our shared house, left to me by my father. Dory had become sort of a roommate, though we had a more familial dynamic. She’d originally come from the dream realm, a place only I and a few other demons could reach. I’d accidentally stolen her away from there when I was a teenager, and she’d been with me ever since. She wasn’t allowed to live on her own in the demon underground, and was only allowed to live at all because the Demon Council had owed me a favor.
My sneakers hissed across the old fashioned cobblestone street as Dory’s boots clomped beside me. I barely noticed the surrounding buildings, though I’d gawked in awe upon my first visit to the underground. Most were made from impossibly smooth looking stone in a myriad of colors. Some buildings were tall, some short, but they were all designed with artful curves and angles that would never be seen in the human world.
It took us about ten minutes to reach home, just as the winter sky was beginning to grow dark. It would be winter in Shelby too. There were various demon cities, all with different climates. Think of them like underground pockets mirroring the weather of the places above them. I wasn’t sure why the weather was the same, since we had artificial skies, and were actually situated on slightly different planes of reality, but that was the way it was.
I took a moment to look up at my house, more normal looking than the other buildings around. It always seemed so empty when we got home, even though it had been nearly a year since Chase moved out, and many more years than that since my dad died. Still, I couldn’t help reminiscing about the short time I’d had with all four of us living there. It was the closest I’d felt to home since my human mom found out I was a demon, thus driving a wedge between us.
I waited while Dory unlocked the door, then headed into the dark entry room, shucking my jacket. I had a brief moment where I sensed someone else in the room, then Dory was there, shoving an unknown person against the wall. Whoever it was had been lying in wait.
I quickly slammed the door shut and flipped on the lights.
A girl about my size, tall and gangly, with hair cut into a short brown bob and dark eyes, struggled against Dory’s impossibly strong grip.
I crossed my arms and waited, glad Dory had been there. I knew the girl could have sliced into my flesh with invisible daggers if she’d managed to jump me. She was another half-demon, like me. She was also my cousin.
“What do you want, Nix?” I asked as she ceased her struggles. She’d probably been trying to cut Dory up, but had little luck against Dory’s hard skin.
Nix sneered. “Tell your pet to let me down and I’ll explain.”
Dory looked over her shoulder at me and I nodded. Now that I was aware of Nix, I could launch a fireball at her before she could reach me . . . though I’d risk singing the wallpaper.
Dory let her down, then stepped away.
Nix huddled against the wall, wrapping the baggy green flannel she wore as an overshirt tightly around her thin frame.
“What do you want?” I demanded.
She scowled. “I came here to hire you, not to kill you.”
I raised an eyebrow at her. “And that requires breaking into my house? I have an office, you know.”
She rolled her eyes. “I see you’re still the same old Xoe, thinking about no one but yourself. I’ve been on the run since you brought the Demon Council down on my father’s operation.”
My face felt hot with a brief flash of anger. Once upon a time, Nix’s father, Art, who was also my uncle, had run an operation kidnapping other supernaturals to drain them of their powers. I’d infiltrated his operation to save my friends. Long story short, Art ended up dead, and everyone else involved had been hunted down by the Demon Council, though they obviously hadn’t caught Nix.
I counted to ten in my head, stilling my anger. A few years ago I wouldn’t have been able to control it, and something, or someone would have ended up on fire. Fortunately for Nix, I’d grown a lot since then.
Once I’d calmed myself, I sighed. “How did you get back underground? I know you can’t travel.”
She scowled. Few demons had the power to travel between realms. It had always been a sore spot with Nix and her side of the family that my dad and I could. She probably reveled in the fact that the Demon Code now limited that power.
I crossed my arms and waited patiently for her to answer.
“Sam brought me down,” she admitted. “He was going to set me up with a new identity so I could finally stop running from the Council.”
“Of course he was,” I muttered, wondering if Chase had known Sam was working with Nix. If he had, and hadn’t warned me she was back in the underground, I was going to be pissed. “Though that doesn’t explain why you want to hire me,” I added.
Nix glanced at Dory, waiting just a few paces away with a stern expression, then back to me. “Not long ago, Sam disappeared. My guess is he ran off with my money. He told me Chase couldn’t find out we were working together, so I couldn’t ask him where Sam went.”
Well, I didn’t need to be pissed at Chase . . . at least not about Nix. “So I was your next option?” I asked skeptically. “Forgive me if I have trouble believing that.”
She glared at me. “You run a detective agency, and I figured you wouldn’t mind an opportunity to atone for destroying my family.”
It was my turn to glare. “Your family tried to kill me . . . repeatedly.”
She continued to glare, but didn’t seem to have anything else to say.
Ready to get her out of my house so I could get on with my evening, I explained, “Sam didn’t run off with your money. He’s dead. Chase came to see me less than an hour ago.”
She gasped, then lifted a hand to her face, shaking her head as she leaned her back against the wall near our hanging coats. “I’m screwed,” she groaned. “I gave him all the money I had for this.”
I shrugged. “Sorry, not my problem.”
She lowered her hand to reveal tears in her eyes. I’d expected another glare, hateful daggers, anything but tears. “This was my last resort,” she whined. “The Council will kill me if they find me.”
I crossed my arms, attempting to strengthen my resolve, but . . . I was a wuss when it came to tears, and I had killed her father, even though he’d deserved it. “I’ll take you back to the human realm,” I sighed. “You’ll have more luck hiding there than down here, especially with the Demon Code in place.”
She lifted both hands and wiped the tears from her face. “Yeah,” she muttered, “Sam told me about the new laws. That must be soo-oo terrible for you.”
“You do realize I just offered to help you,” I huffed, “so can the sarcasm.”
She looked down at her combat boots. “Sorry, it’s my defense mechanism.” She raised her eyes up to meet mine. “When can we leave?”
“I’m going up tonight,” I explained, “as soon as I get something to eat.”
Her shoulders slumped in relief. “Great, I haven’t eaten in ages.”
“That wasn’t an invitation,” Dory snapped, ever protective of me.
I held up a hand to stop her before she could go on a tirade. “It’s fine, we’ll just get some pizza, then drop her off above ground so we can all move on with our lives.”
Nix gave me a strange look. Almost . . . hopeful? Perhaps a few slices of pizza was all we needed to set our differences aside, but I doubted it. Our history was too far reaching, and she’d never truly forgive me for inheriting enough power to be respected by the Demon Council, while her side of the family got nothing. All we truly had in common was one crazy dead grandmother, and two dead fathers.
Dory continued to glare at Nix while I slipped my cell phone out of my pocket and dialed the number to the pizza place by heart. After I placed the order I removed my nice professional jacket to reveal the less professional Ziggy Stardust shirt underneath, hanging the jacket up on one of the free wall hooks.
“We may as well go into the kitchen,” I said, gesturing for Nix to lead the way. She’d probably snooped all through the house while she’d been waiting, so she’d know where it was.
Sure enough, she led the way to the adjoining kitchen, flipped on the light, then slumped onto one of the chairs surrounding the small dining table in the center of the room. The tiles beneath the table, and the surrounding walls and cabinets all still had the luster of newness to them, though they’d been installed several years prior. Things had gotten out of hand when I was still learning to make portals to other realms, and I tended to destroy any area I left. I ended up demolishing half the house in an emergency before I’d learned to travel without portals.
My Dalmatian, Alexius, was sprawled out on the tiles. He groggily lifted his head as I approached, then looked down at him with hands on hips. “Some guard dog you are,” I chided.
He grunted at me, then laid his head back down.
Having removed her blue sweater to reveal a white tank top, Dory entered the kitchen behind me, clomping across the gray marble tiles to take the seat across from Nix. She then proceeded to cross her arms and glare at her. “I’m watching you.”
Knowing I’d better diffuse the tension before Dory attached, I took one of the remaining chairs and placed my elbows on the table. “So,” I began, my attention on Nix, “do you have any idea who would want to kill Sam?”
Nix narrowed her eyes. “Why do you ask?”
“I’m investigating his case,” I explained, not wanting to give away the fact that Chase was implicated in the murder. Knowing Nix, she’d probably go after him for revenge.
Seeming to think about her answer for a moment, she shook her head. “Sam wasn’t the most well-liked demon around. There were probably a dozen or more demons who wanted him dead.”
I frowned. “My thoughts exactly, but that doesn’t really narrow it down for me.”
She sighed. “Since you’re helping me, I guess I can tell you what little I know. He’d been doing business out of the wharf at the edge of the city. Chase didn’t know about the extra office. Sam used it for his darker dealings, mostly hiding criminals who didn’t want to be found. Maybe he came across someone he didn’t want to help, and they killed him to keep him from snitching.”
I stroked my chin in thought. “The wharf? Can you be more specific?”
“A small warehouse right near the docks on the south side,” she explained. “Gray bricks, steel door, pretty inconspicuous except for boarded up windows, and a huge padlock on the door.”
I nodded, taking in the information. Perhaps I’d been right to give Nix a chance, seeing as she was providing me with my one and only lead.
The doorbell rang, signaling the arrival of the pizza. There were definite drawbacks to living underground, but the speedy pizza delivery was not one of them.
With a final glare at Nix, Dory stood and left the kitchen.
Nix watched her go, then whipped her gaze back to me. “One more thing,” she whispered. “Sam was in contact with a few other demon constructs like Dory. He was using them to run his errands inconspicuously, since no one pays much attention to them.”
“Good to know,” I commented as Dory returned with the pizza.
She set the boxes on the table, then doled out paper plates and napkins. “Coffee?” she asked, her gaze on me.
I shook my head. “I’m sure we’ll have some at the pack meeting. Nix and I are going to have to eat and run.”
“Pwack meetin’?” Nix asked, her mouth already full of pizza. She swallowed. “I thought you were done with that.”
I turned to my suspicious gaze to her. “Just how long have you been spying on me?”
She smirked. “The Demon Council asked you to find me and turn me in. The best way for me to stay out of your way was to always know where you were. You haven’t spent much time in the human realm the past few years. I just assumed you were done with the werewolf business.”
I shook my head as I reached into one of the boxes for a slice of pepperoni. “Once you’re in the werewolf business, you never really get out. At least, not with wolves like Abel around.”
Thinking of Abel, I sighed. He was the Coalition leader for all the wolves in the Western portion of the U.S., and had been the one to make me a pack leader to begin with. Having a demon involved made his Coalition a little more scary. It kept would-be usurpers at bay . . . for the most part. There were still occasional threats that I dealt with for old time’s sake, and as part of my deal with Abel. He’d been reluctant to let me leave entirely, so that had been our compromise.
I wolfed down my first slice of pizza, then grabbed another as Nix moved on to her third. Dory slowly ate her first, still glaring at Nix.
I finished my second slice, then waited while Nix had her fill. Once she’d downed four slices, she sat back in her chair and wiped her mouth with a paper napkin.
“Ready?” I asked.
She sighed. “As I’ll ever be. I don’t relish the idea of living back in the human realm, but I suppose it’s my only option.”
I briefly debated introducing her to Abel so she could get a job with one of the packs, then dismissed the idea. Nix wasn’t exactly trustworthy, and I didn’t want to risk the Council coming after any of the wolves for working with her. Come to think of it, I really needed to get her out of my house ASAP, lest the Council come after me instead.
After wiping my hands with a napkin, I stood, motioning for Nix to do the same. “I’m not allowed to use magical means of travel once in the human world anymore, so I’m just going to have to take you to where I’m going.”
She nodded. “Anywhere is better than down here.”
Stepping away from the table, we joined hands.
Dory remained seated, her expression worried.
“I’ll see you in a few hours,” I assured.
She nodded, though her expression didn’t change.
Personally, I thought she was worried about the wrong things. I could easily best Nix in a fight. It was whatever emergency Devin needed me for that had my gut in knots.
I glanced at Alexius, lying on the floor a safe distance away, then closed my eyes and envisioned Devin’s house in Shelby. It was a cabin-style home, too large for one person, but he’d gotten it knowing he might occasionally need to house members of his pack, especially during the full moon. The house sat far away from the nearest narrow road, nestled in tall pine trees.
The seclusion was necessary. A year ago, humans had discovered the existence of vampires and werewolves. The supernatural community had hoped it would mean no more hiding, but in reality it just meant hiding even harder, because now the humans were looking for them. Some were just curious, and even wanted to become werewolves and vampires themselves. Others were afraid, and wanted to hunt them down. Upon seeing the results, the Demon Council had decided all demons must remain in hiding, hence, the Demon Code.
Once I had a clear picture of Devin’s house in my mind, Nix and I became enveloped in a burst of red smoke. Seconds later, we appeared in front to the house I’d envisioned, except I’d left out the fresh coating of snow on the ground.
“Shit, it’s cold!” Nix hissed. She pulled her hand away from mine to huddle in her green flannel.
I glanced back in the direction of the road. It was almost dark. The temperature would drop even more soon. Nix would probably survive the walk, but . . .
“Come inside,” I sighed, gesturing toward the house. “I’ll have someone drive us wherever you want to go after the meeting.”
She gave me a perplexed look, as if unable to believe I was helping her. I could hardly believe it myself.
Sympathy wasn’t my strong suit, but she was my cousin, and we’d both lost our fathers young. I couldn’t help but feel a little pity, because I could have ended up in her shoes just as easily.
With a nod, she followed me down the soggy gravel driveway toward the cabin’s front door.
We were halfway there when I realized someone was lurking in the shadows of the awning. I narrowed my gaze, then sighed. It was just my luck to not only have to see my demon ex boyfriend, but the vampire one too. Though he hid in the shadows, he could step out into the sun and not burn. The burning thing was a myth, one the vampires were now keen to perpetuate to keep humans from recognizing what they were.
I finished my approach with Nix skulking along behind me, then stepped up onto the small porch in front of the door. I looked up into Jason’s deep blue eyes. He was an inch or two taller than Chase, around 6’2”, with tousled, dark brown hair and a chiseled jaw. His lanky body was clad in his usual flannel, jeans, and hiking boots, basically the uniform for everyone living in this part of Oregon.
Jason smiled down at me, flashing the barest hint of fangs. “It’s good to see you, Xoe.”
I wondered if he meant it. We’d broken up years ago, but there had always been some remaining tension. He hadn’t been a fan of our breakup, though he had eventually moved on. Still, he was an immortal, and if my demon blood proved as strong as my father’s, I might end up living a few centuries myself. We had a long future of interaction ahead of us, and we both knew it. It made things awkward.
“Good to see you too,” I replied, wondering if I meant it. “You’re still working for Abel?”
He nodded. “I spent some time in Utah, but he sent me back here to keep an eye on things during this latest emergency.”
I pursed my lips in thought, then asked, “Care to give me a little more info?”
He smiled. “You know Devin won’t want me to spoil the surprise.”
“Can we go inside now?” Nix hissed. “It’s freezing!”
I glanced over my shoulder at her. I felt the cold, but probably not as much as she did, and Jason never seemed overly fazed by high or low temperatures.
With a smirk, he turned and opened the door, gesturing for us to make our way in.
“You staying out on door duty?” I asked as Nix hustled in ahead of me.
He nodded. “Yep. You and I will just have to catch up later.”
I nodded and forced a smile, though my gut twisted uncomfortably. I was great at confronting my enemies, not so much at other types of confrontations. I wasn’t even sure if a confrontation was what waited in mine and Jason’s future. All I knew was that I was already regretting this meeting, and the night had only just begun.
Chapter Three will be posted next Sunday! Stay tuned!