Midlife Fairy Hunter - Chapter 23
Midlife Fairy Hunter – Chapter 23
I didn’t bother to pull both knives. Her power was pretty obvious, and I knew I couldn’t fight her and win. But I could buy my friends the time they needed to get out.
“You know,” I said as she slowed to a stop in front of me, “I thought you were pretty cool when we met. But you’re just another mean girl, aren’t you?”
The stag lowered his head as if he would impale me and I took a step back. “Look, you don’t have to be like this.”
Karissa held a hand out and bands of air wrapped around me, pinning my arms to my sides. “You are causing me no amount of grief.”
I didn’t panic, didn’t attempt to escape from the hold she had on me but instead went limp. “You don’t seem to understand. I am looking out for my friends, and for Savannah. That’s my job.”
Her eyes narrowed. “I want to hate you.”
“Why?” I spluttered. “I did nothing but try and help you until it became apparent you were a two-faced liar.”
Her jaw jutted out. “Because.”
I blinked up at her. “That’s a child’s answer.” Okay, in retrospect, perhaps that wasn’t the smartest thing to say given I was already in a boa constrictor’s hold of air bands I couldn’t see. She tightened her hold and I squeaked. “Are you one of the four baddies?”
Her hold on me loosened. “What?”
I sucked in a deep breath, and I’m not sure why I asked the next question, only that it seemed like a why-the-hell-not kind of moment. “Four, there are four more assholes who want to do damage to Savannah. I’ve killed the O’Seans, so that takes one off the list. Are you one of the remaining asswipes?”
Her eyes cleared of some of the anger. “You really think you are protecting Savannah? That you are like Celia? And the O’Seans are dead?”
The bands loosened, and I drew another good breath. “Look, I don’t know why you wanted that fairy cross. I can’t believe you really intended to give it to the O’Seans in the first place!”
“To keep it from Crash,” she said softly. “The O’Seans wanted him to make a crucible for a ceremony, and I told them I would retrieve the cross for them, but I fully intended to give them a fake.”
“I hid it,” I said.
The bands relaxed completely. She slid off the stag and walked toward me. “Why did you not give it to Crash then? Was he not able to woo you?”
I snorted. “Same reason you weren’t going to give it to O’Sean. I didn’t want them to be able to do whatever it was they planned on doing. Because I doubt very much it was going to be anything good.”
A sigh slid from her. “I really want to hate you.”
I laughed. “Why?”
Her lips pursed. “You are the first one Crash has had real interest in since our marriage ended.”
And how would she know that if she weren’t spying on me? Kinkly seemed to pick up my thoughts.
“Sorry, I had to tell her,” she whispered.
A snort escaped me before I could catch it. “Please. You should have seen him with a girl under each arm in the go between I stumbled into.”
Her eyebrows went up. “You went into a go between?”
“Some idiots in black were chasing us.” I held up my hands. “Look, I suspect Crash is using me, okay? I think—” Gawd in heaven, I did not want to say this out loud, especially to her.
“—that he knows I have a crush on him, and he’s using it. But I’m aware. Okay?”
She lifted a hand and put it on my shoulder. “You will keep the fairy cross hidden somewhere safe?”
“I will,” I said. My mind was already putting pieces together, and I knew that what I was about to ask next might not go over well. “But . . . I think you should let Kinkly stay with me. She could report back to you if you like.”
A quick nod from her surprised me. “Excellent.”
I took note that she wasn’t offering me any payment.
And just like that, I was leaving on foot, with my head still attached, and although the fairy queen was not exactly on my side, she wasn’t fighting me either. I’d take that as a win.
Even if my body was suddenly remembering my age and lack of fitness. I stumbled through the fountain and out into the water on the Savannah side. Through the mini-waterfall and then a pair of very strong arms scooped me up.
“How the hell did you get away?” Crash’s voice rumbled through me as he dragged me out of the fountain. “You’ve been in there for two days, and the entryway was blocked even to me!”
Did that mean he’d waited out here for two days?
I gave him a hug back and put my head against his chest, thinking about what I’d said. That I thought he was using me. I wanted to trust him, I wanted to believe that he wanted me, but I was no child.
I was a grown-ass woman who knew better. Fairy tales didn’t come true, I wasn’t going to get the prince (or the king in this case), and I wasn’t going to magically get the house back in my name. But we were all alive, and no one was currently gunning for us, and I’d take that much as a small win.
“We came to an understanding, Karissa and I,” I said as he put me down. I looked around to see that we were alone—or at least none of my friends were there. The sun was high in the sky, just past noon on whatever the hell day it was.
Robert and Skel were gone, but that was a good sign. It meant I wasn’t in trouble.
For the moment. “I’m tired,” I said. “Tell me I can sleep now?”
Crash scooped me up as if I weighed nothing. “You can sleep now. You’re safe. I . . . you’re sure you’re okay? What do you mean you came to an agreement?”
“We are both grown-ass women, who can actually have a conversation rather than spitting and hissing at each other.” I leaned my head against him and closed my eyes. “The Hollows Group? Are they all okay?” I was worried that Sarge might come at me again. Or that Corb might make another move, and I didn’t know if I had it in me to fight off either of them.
“You were right about the spell latching on to their weaknesses. Your interactions with Suzy seemed to have dispelled the effects on her, and likely if you’d spent enough time with the others you could have done the same for them. But killing O’Sean was a much quicker way of releasing all of us from our ties to him.”
I mumbled, “Sarge?”
“Sarge admitted to shooting at you. He doesn’t remember much of the last few days, like he was dreaming. He’s been in love with Corb a long time, and they both knew it. But Sarge didn’t realize how deep it went until now. The wolf in him has claimed Corb as an unofficial mate, so he’ll have to work on that. Corb, on the other hand, is mortified about the moves he made on you. He says he pushed you when you were scared and drunk.” His arms tightened around me, holding me impossibly closer. “Expect an apology from him.” I wondered just how Corb had been convinced to give an apology.
“And the others? Eammon, Louis, Tom?” I kept my eyes closed, just enjoying his warmth and his scent of fire and steel. He might try and use me someday, but I’d give him credit where credit was due—in his arms, I was safe as I was going to be.
“Same thing,” he said. “They’ve all been struggling with things that could be considered weaknesses. In fact, it’s why Eammon agreed to O’Sean’s demands. The first spell was subtle, and no one would have realized that it was even happening. His weakness has always been trying to keep the peace to the point of making mistakes. Same reason why he okayed your arrangement with Karissa, I think.”
That made me open my eyes as a thought rippled to the front of my fatigued brain. “You didn’t find the fairy cross, did you?”
Crash looked down at me. “Someone saw you go to the Hollows graveyard. Whoever O’Sean was working with, they know it’s there. And they are looking.”
I sighed and closed my eyes, unable to keep the smile off my face. A few minutes passed before I let the one word slip out of me. “Good.”
“Good? How can that be good?” His hands loosened on me, and I found myself standing upright. The smell of Gran’s garden circled around me, along with several sets of arms, and I opened my eyes to find myself home.
Feish, Suzy, and Eric held me tight, and I held them back. “Hey guys.”
“I never doubted,” Feish said softly as she pulled back. “I knew you’d get out. You are my bestest of friends.” She gave me a big double blink that maybe was supposed to be a wink, I’m not sure.
Suzy clapped me on the back. “We were prepping a rescue mission. Eammon was even going to help.”
I grinned, although it felt like a struggle. “Thanks. But it was better this way. Me and the queen bee had a good chat. Talked about all sorts of things.”
“Like men?” Suzy offered.
I laughed. “That was one of the subjects.” I could almost feel Crash stiffen next to me.
“Look, look at the new little oak tree I planted.” Eric tugged me to the side of the garden he’d been working in. Kinkly fluttered around in front of us, dancing in the tree’s leaves.
“This is my favorite, Eric!” she said, her long legs flashing as she hopped from branch to branch.
I smiled as he blushed. Looked like I wasn’t going to get sleep any time soon so I gave the tree my attention. “It looks great! Imagine how good it will look when it’s been here a few years.” I gave him a wink, and he winked right back. Our secret.
The fewer people who knew where the fairy cross was really buried, the better, and the fact that everyone thought Robert and I had buried it in the graveyard solidified our ruse.
Kinkly danced over the leaves. “Here, I can speed up its growth!”
A sprinkling of fairy dust fell from her, and the oak tree rose underneath her, the trunk thickening even as it stretched taller, leaves bursting out and creating a stunning canopy that would have taken many, many years.
Now a huge oak stood where there had been nothing but a sapling moments before. I reached out and touched the trunk, feeling a tiny thrum of magic deep below, there and then gone.
I stepped back. “It’s perfect, Kink. Thank you.” She spun down and gave me a high five. I sighed. “I’m exhausted. I’m going to bed.”
Suzy looped an arm through mine. “Come on, I’ll tuck you in. Seeing as you looked after me, I’d like to do the same.”
I leaned into her. “Sounds good.”
Half an hour later, I was showered and literally tucked into bed. Suzy patted my head hard, like I was a dog. She needed to work on her maternal instincts a little, but I appreciated the effort. “Go to sleep. Everything is good.”
I closed my eyes and waited for her to leave the room before I sat up. “Gran?”
Gran slid through the door and sat on the end of my bed. The room was dim, with all of the curtains drawn, and she looked like more than a ghost. “Breena. You did it. You stopped the O’Seans.”
“I had a lot of help,” I said.
“That’s the best way to face challenges. Not alone, but with your most trusted people at your sides and your back. This world isn’t meant to be faced alone.” She patted my foot, and I could almost feel her touch.
She was right, but I already knew that. Having my friends around made me feel more powerful. “You were right, there is something happening in Savannah. Something bad.” I yawned.
Gran smiled. “What did Missy do when she realized that the spell book wasn’t what she thought?”
I leaned back into my pillows. “No idea. She didn’t look in the book right away.”
Gran tsked. “That one, she is not bad, she is not good. She is a true neutral, and if she believes one of the four who are gunning to take over Savannah will suit her purposes, she will align with him or her.”
I yawned again. “I’m going to sleep now, Gran.”
“Before you do.” She stood, and I tracked her movement with my eyes as she headed to the door. The desk next to it had a thick manila envelope on it. “The detective dropped this off for you.”
I closed my eyes. “Sleep first,” I said.
I drifted off, safe and warm, the double dose of Advil and lovely heating pad doing their job to keep the aches and pains at bay. Whatever little bit of fae I had in me, and whatever else my father’s line had brought to the table, they didn’t bring what Advil did.
Somewhere around midnight, I woke up. Keeping my eyes closed, I listened as footsteps walked toward my bed. My blood pounded, and I reached slowly under my pillow for the knife I’d stashed there.
Just in case.
“I can’t protect her, Celia. I know you want me to, but she throws herself at challenges in ways I don’t even understand. And comes through them just as inconceivably,” Crash said so softly that I shouldn’t have been able to hear him.
“She has always been a tiger,” Gran answered just as softly. “But for years, she’s been told she was a sheep. She’s finding her claws again. That’s good. It makes her stronger.”
“I know, but that’s part of what worries me. Her feistiness is like a beacon.” A hand brushed over my face, tucking my hair behind my ear. “I’m afraid that she’ll take on more than she can handle on her own. That she’ll end up . . .”
“Like me and get herself killed,” Gran said, and sighed. “Then it’s up to you to help keep her alive.”
He sighed heavily and stepped away from the bed. “I’m trying, but part of that is keeping my distance from her. Protecting her from the fae who would use her.”
“Did you at least put her on the deed?” Gran asked, and I almost sat up right there. Put me on the deed? As in deed to the house?
Crash’s hand brushed over my hip. “She’s been on the deed since I bought the house. You know that I can’t outright give it to her. But she paid in full when she removed O’Sean from this world.”
Gran sighed again. “So you’re still leaving?”
“I have to figure out who is behind this. Who is pulling the strings, Celia. You know that.”
“I don’t always remember,” she said.
Jaysus on a winking donkey, I was getting more information asleep than I could have imagined.
It took everything I had to stay still. “How long will you be gone?”
“I don’t know.” His hand slipped off my hip. “I don’t know.”
“Well, don’t dilly-dally . . . she is going to need you. . . .” Gran snapped. Their voices faded as they left my room, and I sat up slowly, with only one groan, thank you very much, to stare at the closed door.
My heart raced from their words, and from Crash’s touch. Was he telling the truth? Or was it another twist? Was I really on the deed? That would mean I could start searching for the things that Gran had hidden.
I knew what I wanted to believe. That he was telling the truth. That I could have this house in my name.
Like a beacon glowing on the table by the door, the yellow envelope that held information about both Gran’s death and my parents’ beckoned to me.
Whatever was coming for me, I knew that opening that envelope would start it all up again.
I pulled myself out of bed and picked up the envelope, tucked a finger under the edge and took a deep breath.
I had friends at my side. A new lease on life. And a job to do.
All outta ducks to give, I needed to know who was hunting my family, no matter what the cost was to my own life.
I tore the envelope open.