As Nix and I walked down the entry hall, I took in the clean lines and warm colors of Devin’s decorating, the perfect mix between chic and cozy, not that I have much of an eye for decor. I was lucky if my pillowcases matched my sheets.
It wasn’t long before we ran into our first werewolf, a petite woman with long, silky black hair, olive skin, and delicate Asian features. Lucy tugged her crimson sweater straight over her jeans as she hurried toward us from the adjoining living room.
“Xoe!” she exclaimed warmly, wrapping me in a hug as she reached us. She pulled away to continue, “I wasn’t sure if you’d be able to come with the new Demon Code in place. What a pain.” She flicked her gaze to Nix, then took a step back. “What is she doing here?”
I smiled. I’d known Lucy my entire life. She knew just how I felt about Nix, and probably knew just how I’d felt interacting with Jason. “I’m just giving her a ride. It’s been an eventful day.”
She took my arm to guide me toward the nearby kitchen, muttering, “It looks like we have a lot to talk about.”
Nix followed after us silently, then stood off by herself as we entered the spacious, brightly lit kitchen. Everything was white tile and chrome, a stark contrast to the cozier areas of the house. Around the central island stood three more werewolves, sipping from steaming mugs. Devin, pack leader and owner of the house, wore muted tones of business casual as usual, even though he was in his own home. His blond hair, a few shades darker than mine, was gelled to perfection. He always reminded me of a GQ model, though I’d never tell him to his face. Next in line was Max, short with sandy hair and freckles. He’d been a lone wolf without a pack until we’d met in high school and he’d helped with Lucy’s transition. Third was Lela, tall, dark-haired, and a total knockout. Her deep olive skin, a few shades darker than Lucy’s, was accentuated by a lavender sweater and khakis.
Since I only saw the three of them, plus Lucy, this clearly wasn’t a meeting of the entire pack, which had grown to fifteen members since I’d left. We were all founding members though, minus Nix. Besides her, I trusted everyone in the room with my life. Heck, I even trusted the vampire outside.
“Coffee?” Devin offered, raising his mug.
“You know it,” I replied, leaving Nix behind to approach the island. I knew Lela likely had herbal tea in her mug, but Max would be drinking coffee too, heavy on the sugar despite the late hour.
Devin poured me a fresh mug, setting it on the island before raising his gaze to Nix, then to me. “We have private matters to discuss,” he hinted.
I glanced over my shoulder at Nix, then back to Devin. “Do we perhaps have a warm car she can wait in? I can only travel one more time today, and I’ll need it to bring me back underground. I need to drop her off somewhere after our meeting.”
Devin seemed to think about it for a moment, then turned to Max. “Escort her to my office and keep an eye on her.”
I bit my lip, nervous that Nix might hurt Max, but let it go. He was a big bad wolf. He could take care of himself.
Once they’d left the kitchen, I went to the fridge and retrieved some cream for my coffee, then returned to the island to hear the news.
Devin glanced at both Lela and Lucy, then nodded, as if coming to a silent agreement. He turned his blue eyes to me. “We want to hire Minor Magics Detective Agency,” he announced.
I nearly sputtered on my coffee. “Seriously? That’s why you called me up here? You do know I’ll just help you with whatever you need on my own, right?”
Devin nodded. “Yes, of course we know that, but the Demon Council has requested we hire you in a professional capacity.”
This time I did sputter on my coffee. I set the mug down, then wiped my chin with my palm. “The Demon Council?” I balked. “What on earth are you doing talking to them?”
“Some of the half-demons stuck up here in the human realm have approached the Werewolf Coalition for aid,” he explained. “The new Demon Code has been harder on them than most, it seems. We turned them down, but other packs won’t. I feel it will soon become an issue.”
I nodded. Weaker half-demons were relegated to the human realm. The underground was for pure-blood demons, or half-demons from strong bloodlines. The weaker amongst us simply wouldn’t survive, and half-demons were usually human enough to live in the mortal world like regular citizens. It was part of why Nix and her father had hated me and my dad so much. They were stuck in the human world, working menial jobs just to survive.
“I get why they’d approach the Coalition,” I replied, “and why the Coalition rejected them, but where do I come in?”
Devin sipped his coffee, then set his mug on the island. “The Demon Council is worried the half-demons will reveal their existence. Having witches attempting to summon them is bad enough. They don’t want thousands of mortals trying to summon them. They want to hire you as a sort of liaison to work with the wolves and keep everything quiet, but they cannot prove themselves partial to any individual demon, so they asked us to hire you instead.”
“And what do you get out of it?” I asked skeptically.
He raised a pale brow at me. “The Demon Council contacted me and asked a favor. I didn’t feel like dying, so I said yes.”
I flicked my gaze to Lela and Lucy as they both nodded in agreement.
I shook my head. “You know, you don’t have to do whatever they tell you. They might make the laws for demons, but they have no jurisdiction over wolves.”
“That doesn’t mean they can’t still kill us,” Lucy argued.
“Or trap us in the underground as slaves,” Lela shuddered.
I sighed. “Okay, so say this all actually makes sense. Why couldn’t you just tell me this over the phone? You do know I only get one trip up here per week.”
“Because we want to hire you for something else too,” Devin explained.
“Go on,” I pressed, my curiosity steadily increasing.
Devin took another sip of his cooling coffee. “Ever since the big reveal, tensions have been high between the wolves and vampires. It’s turned into a struggle to prove who’s the least threatening to the humans, which has led to wolves trying to catch vampires doing bad things, and vice versa.”
I snorted. “The vampires are definitely going to lose that battle.”
I hadn’t known many vampires except for Jason, but for the most part they were the soulless monsters of horror movie lore. There were a few exceptions, like Jason, but most simply gave in to their darker instincts, murdering as they pleased.
Devin shook his head. “Everyone loses that battle. We’ve hidden what we are for centuries for that very reason. The humans have good reason to fear us all. They don’t need any extra proof.”
I absentmindedly drummed my fingers on the countertop, still wondering what any of this had to do with me, and why it couldn’t be said over the phone.
Devin watched me for a moment, then sighed. “You still don’t get it, do you?”
I shook my head.
“If things continue as they are,” he began patiently, “it will mean outright war between the vampires and werewolves. The witches have already sided with the vampires—”
“Wait,” I interrupted. “The witches are seriously siding with the vampires? Why?”
Devin smirked. “Because despite all of our differences, witches hate demons more than anything else.”
I sighed, finally catching on. “And the demons are associated with the werewolves because of me.” I lifted my hand to rub my brow. “They really are preparing for a war.”
Devin nodded. “I don’t know the Demon Council’s true intent. Either they do actually want to stop full blown war from happening, or they’re playing us, and want us to eradicate the vampires and witches.”
I let out a long breath. “So either way, kind of bad.”
He nodded. “Very bad.” He turned his attention to Lela and Lucy, waiting by silently. “Tell her what you’ve learned.”
Both nodded, then Lucy turned to me and explained, “The local coven has shut us out. Not even Rose is returning our calls.”
“Seriously?” I replied. “After all we went through with them, they ran off to join the vampires?”
We had a history with the local witches, thanks to Nix. She had killed a few of them for revenge, and I’d worked to save those who’d remained.
“They were all terrorized by demons,” Lucy stated matter-of-factly, “and werewolves for that matter. I don’t really blame them. Hell, if it weren’t for you and Chase, I’d probably want to side with anyone but the demons too.”
I cringed. “Speaking of Chase, he came in to see me today.”
All eyes were suddenly riveted to me.
I glared at each of them in turn. “Nothing as exciting as apologizing for everything,” I grumbled. “Sam was murdered, and Chase is being framed for the crime.”
Lucy’s jaw dropped. “How could you not lead with that, Xoe!”
Devin tsked at me. “Here you’ve let me go rambling on and on. You know, we were all friends with Chase.”
“And Sam,” Lucy muttered, turning her gaze down to her feet.
I sighed, then walked around the island and hugged her. I’d nearly forgotten that she and Sam had dated. It had ended pretty much like it had with Chase and I, but that didn’t mean she didn’t still care about him, just like I cared about Chase.
As I let Lucy go, Lela put a companionable arm around her.
Lucy closed her eyes for a moment, took a deep breath, then opened them. “Do we know who really killed him?”
I shook my head. “Not yet, but I’m on the case. That’s why Chase came to see me. If the Demon Council finds him guilty, he’ll most likely be put to death.”
“Then why are you here?” Devin balked.
I flung my hands in the air. “You said it was an emergency!”
Devin pinched his brow and shook his head. “Dory does tend to exaggerate. Go back underground and help Chase. I’ll call your cell once I have more information on the witches, and what the Demon Council would like from you. We’d like to avoid war if we can, but I fear we’ll end up doing whatever the demons want in the end.”
I crossed my arms. “I know you want to stay alive, but you don’t have to listen to everything they say.”
He shook his head. “No, you don’t. They like you, which is why I’m glad you’re on our side, even with your inability to prioritize emergencies.”
I glared at him. “Fine. Keep me posted on everything that’s happening, and I’ll do all that I can. Now who wants to give Nix and me a ride?”
Lela raised her hand, but Devin grabbed it and lowered it for her, then turned to me. “Jason can give you a ride. We still have to go over the more mundane pack meeting topics.”
“What about Max?” I suggested, fighting the nervous squirming in my gut.
Devin rolled his eyes at me. “I’m sure Jason won’t bite,” he looked me up and down, “unless you want him to.”
I held up my hands in surrender. “Fine, Jason can take me and explain to me what he thinks the vampires might be planning.”
“Good idea,” Devin muttered, dismissing me.
I gave Lucy a forlorn look. “We’ll get together next week?”
She nodded. “Sure, if we’re not neck deep in witches and vampires by then.”
With that comforting thought, I waved to Lela, then went to find Max and Nix. Jason could help me transport Nix to wherever she wanted to go, then it was back to the underground to work on a murder case. I knew I should be more worried about the possible war brewing, but for now, I’d have to focus on saving a single demon. A single demon who had once meant more to me than anything else. Now I felt like I barely knew him. He’d become a true denizen of the underground, while I’d still choose to run with werewolves over demons any day.
Stay tuned for Chapter Four next Sunday!
P.S. I'm posting my Ko-fi link at the end of each chapter just in case anyone wants it. I don't expect anyone to buy me even one coffee, let alone a coffee every week! Honestly, I'm probably caffeinated enough as it is :D