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|Priestess Dreaming(Sisters of the Moon #16) by Yasmine Galenorn|
I frowned. There were at least ten frogs that were still alive that I could see. I felt bad. I hadn’t intended for this to happen, but intentions didn’t matter to the freezing amphibians.
“Oh, for f**k’s sake. Pick up the frogs and we’ll . . . we’ll put them in Iris’s greenhouse. They can eat any bugs that happen to get in there.”
“That’s a great idea.” Delilah began scooping up the frogs, a goofy smile on her face. She had always had a soft spot for stray animals, and as a child, we’d had more bunnies, birds, and stray dogs than we knew what to do with. As a cat, she’d been territorial and not once had she brought home what I wanted—a kitten. She was mellowing, though, and I had a suspicion I might be able to get away with bringing a kitten into the house at some point. After all, Delilah had given me Misty—my ghost kitty—a year ago at Yule. I loved the fluff-brained spirit, but I still longed to have a flesh-and-blood cat that wasn’t my sister.
“But what about all of those people down there?” She finished picking up the last of the live frogs she could find.
“Chase and his men can handle them. The pixie dust will wear off. There’s not much more we can do here.” I sighed. “I suggest we stop somewhere and buy a box for those frogs, then I want a mocha. A very large, very caffeinated, mocha. And then, I suppose, we’d better try to track down the place where the portal landed. Iris sent it somewhere, and by the appearance of the pixies, I have a feeling we aren’t too far from where it ended up.”
Morio wrapped his arm around my shoulders. “Sounds good. Starbucks, here we come.”
As we headed back to the rooftop door, I wanted nothing more than to go home. Trillian should be up and packing by now, but finding the portal took precedence over saying good-bye to him. The pixies may not be out to harm anybody, but they could have easily done so.
And there were other, bigger, nastier things that were capable of coming through that portal. The yeti, for one, and the barbegazi and the amaroks and who knew what else. And those creatures were out for blood. With a sigh, I straightened my shoulders, and led the way back down to the street.
The nearest Starbucks was just down the street, but we decided to drive to the one located on Blackthorn. For one thing, when the parade ended, the traffic would be even more of a nightmare. For another, I just wanted out of the area.
Seattle was home to the mega-coffee chain and the people were as divided about it as they were about politics. We were on the pro-Starbucks side. I loved their coffee, loved the atmosphere. Small, independent coffee shops vied for the java trade here, too, but there was room enough for both. The coffee fixation in Seattle and the surrounding area was on par with religious fervor.
On the way back to the parking garage, I texted Chase. He responded with a rather sarcastic thank you—the result of the frogs and slugs, no doubt—and said his men would get things under control.
As we seat belted ourselves in, I glanced at Delilah. “You know, if those frogs get loose while I’m driving, I’m not going to be very happy. How do you plan on containing them?”
The frogs had been relatively silent but with the warmth in the car, I could easily see them coming out of their cold-induced comas to bounce around the car. I had no clue where she had put them, but I was assuming she’d stuck them in her pockets.
She grinned and turned around to look at Shade in the backseat. “Might want to make sure your pockets are buttoned, sweetie.”
I glanced at Shade’s expression through the rearview mirror. He didn’t look very happy, but he’d learned the lessons of a relationship well. He just nodded. The pockets on his duster were deep and I knew exactly what had gone down. Delilah had convinced him to store the frogs inside his coat.
“Whatever you say, Pussycat.” Shade’s voice was like smooth honey, and he humored her with a smile while checking to make certain his pockets were closed.
“I just . . .” I started to say something snarky but then relented. Delilah truly loved animals of all sorts, and as rough as we’d had it lately, if saving a few frogs made her happy, then we’d save the frogs.
She glanced at me. “What?”
“Nothing, hon. Nothing.” I paid the parking garage fee and we were off. Traffic going back toward the Belles-Faire district was lighter than coming into the city proper, and it didn’t take us long to emerge from the main congestion.
As we turned onto a side street that would lead us directly to the Blackthorn Starbucks, I spied a drugstore and eased into the parking lot. “Wait here. I’ll go get a container for the frogs.”
Within under five minutes I was back, a plastic tub with a very secure lid in hand. I used the tip of my dagger to poke a few holes in the lid and then Shade carefully transferred the frogs into it. I’d also picked up a bottle of water, a plastic soap dish that would serve for a trough, and tissue paper. I figured we could crinkle it inside the tub and give the frogs some extra warmth. Delilah rigged it all up, then fastened the lid on. When she was ready, we took off again.
Another five minutes and we reached the Blackthorn Starbucks. Leaving the frog brigade in the car, we wandered into the coffee shop. I was ready for caffeine. A lot of it. The afternoon had worn me out. While my thoughts were preoccupied with finding the portal, I longed to be home to say good-bye to Trillian. I ordered a quad shot peppermint mocha and a brownie, and—leaving the others to order—looked around the room.
There, at a table in the corner, was a familiar face. Tanne Baum, one of the Fae from the Black Forest in Germany. He was from the Hunter’s Glen Clan, a group of demon hunters originating in Europe. Tanne had decided to migrate to the United States. We had saved his girlfriend, Violet, from an unscrupulous sex slave operation run by a local businessman who turned out to be a daemon, but that was a whole ’nother kettle of fish. Catching his eye, I waved and he gestured for us to join him at his table.
“Hey, Tanne.” I slid into a seat at the long table. Starbucks had recently changed their décor to include communal seating and I wasn’t sure just how I felt about it, but a chair was a chair was a chair.
“Camille, hello.” His accent gave him away. Tanne spoke in precise sentences, his words overlaid with an odd European accent. It wouldn’t be found in any country per se, at least not among FBHs, since he was full Fae. He pushed his book away and leaned back in his chair. “You were at the parade?”
“Not exactly. We were fighting pixies at the parade. A group of them decided to raise havoc there. It was a barrel of laughs.”
He took one look at my face and burst into laughter. “That good?”
Ducking my head, I shrugged and smiled. “Pixie dust makes me giddy. My magic conflicted with theirs. It was . . .”
“Breaking news: Raining frogs and slugs in downtown Seattle. You were responsible? I saw it on Twitter.” Again, the sparkling glint in his eye.
I couldn’t help but smile in return. “Yes, that was me, all right. Lovely, huh? We got rid of the pixies but . . . it’s hard when your opponents aren’t ones you can just look at and say, ‘attack and destroy,’ you know?”
Tanne sobered. “I know. In the Old Country, when my clan would go out hunting, we sought for beasts of destruction. We had no qualms about killing them—they were dangerous and had to be stopped. It’s much harder when your opponent is more . . . innocuous?”
“You understand then.” Sighing, I looked up to see Morio. He had my order in hand and I gratefully accepted the drink and food, relishing the rush as the caffeine begin to work its way through my system. “Oh, I need this so much.”
Morio returned to the counter for his own order and then, with Delilah and Shade in tow, joined us. “So, Tanne, what brings you out on this snowy day?”
Tanne saluted him with two fingers. “I needed to get out of the house.” Then, after a beat, “Violet and I broke up. She needs her space. I think the imprisonment cost her too much on an emotional level. She isn’t capable of sustaining a relationship right now. At least, that’s what she told me. So, I am stepping back. I will not pursue a woman who doesn’t want me. She quit her job and is moving back to the forest with her mother.”
I bit my lip. I’d undergone torture far greater than Violet at the hands of Smoky’s father. On one level, I understood what she was going through. But for me, the thought of running away from the memories and my family and lovers held no promise of healing. But everyone had to find their own recovery from assault, and Violet was doing what she needed to do.
“I’m sorry.” Reaching out, I placed my hand over Tanne’s. His skin was warm, and sparks flowed between our hands. Not sexual sparks, though I could easily find him attractive, but more—magical. He glanced at me, startled, as a surge of strength and power rushed from me into his fingers. Surprised by the energy rush, I slowly withdrew my hand. Tanne kept hold of my gaze with those piercing eyes of his, like glacial pools from high in the Alps they were. They matched the tousled mop of platinum hair carefully styled to look fresh out of bed.
“Thank you for your concern.” He studied me for a moment, his fingers stroking the side of his cup, then he glanced at Morio and back at me. “Violet . . . I will miss her, but I would never stop her from following her heart. And her heart is no longer focused on me.” He paused for a moment. “I am looking for a task to take my mind off her departure. If you need any help, I’m available. I’m adept, as you know, and have faced danger.”
I caught my breath. Beneath the table, Morio reached out and put a hand on my knee, squeezing gently. I wasn’t sure if it was a warning, or a love tap. But I just smiled.
“We’ll remember that. We have your number. It can be helpful to keep busy, can’t it?” I sipped at my mocha when a thought crossed my mind. “Hey, we do have something you can do today if you want. We are looking for a runaway portal and need all eyes on deck.”
Tanne blinked. “Runaway portal?”
“Yeah, it kind of . . . got away from us.” I ran down what had happened with Vanzir, Roz, and the misguided spell. “So, we have an open portal to the realm of the Northlands. That’s pretty much like putting up a bright neon sign saying, COME FUCK WITH US! Not only that, but it’s spewing out snow. Which means—well, I don’t know how that will affect the environment, but it sure as hell f**ked up our living room.”
Tanne glanced at Shade, laughter dancing in his eyes. “Living in the house with the three of them? Must be one hell of a ride. Okay, then—and yes, the Northlands creatures can be temperamental. The pixies must be from the Snow Fields branch.”
“Their wings were frosty white and they were dark as night in skin.”
“That’s right. You’re lucky they only wanted to f**k with the parade. They tend to be nastier-tempered than regular pixies. Everybody up in the Northlands seems to be more stoic, harsher edged.” Tanne finished his coffee, draining the cup.
I thought of Hanna. “They have reason to be. It’s a harsh place. When Hyto kidnapped me and took me there, it didn’t take me long to develop a sense that it’s eat or be eaten. Survive or die. When the winters are long and brutal, when the snow muffles the world, there’s no time or place for fancy parties or delicate sensibilities. Even within Howl’s clan, there are few barriers to privacy.”
“You’ve met Howl?” Tanne leaned forward. “Is he like the legends say he is?”
“Howl is . . . He’s Howl. There’s no other way to put it.”
Howl was an Elemental Lord, one of the Immortals. He was a wolf spirit—not a werewolf, but a true shifter. Together with his wife, Kitää, he ruled over the Katabas Wolf People—the Wind Wolves. They had helped me when Hanna and I escaped from Hyto’s cave and made our way down the glacial mountain to their home.
“I’ve always wanted to meet him. He has a huge following in the Black Forest among the Supe groups. Our werewolf clans there tend to pay him homage.” Tanne leaned forward, his stare focused on me. “You should come to the forest someday. Our lands are ancient and the magic runs deep. The woodlands reek with it. You would find the moon brighter there.”
I smiled softly. Magic blood recognized magic blood. Whatever kind of woodland Fae Tanne was, his heritage was steeped in magic. He might be a demon hunter, but his spellcrafting roots ran deep as the trees out of which he had come. That much I could sense about him.
“Maybe someday I will. Meanwhile . . . will you help us find the portal?”
“Why not? I don’t have much else on my plate today. I’ve got a good sense for ice and snow magic, so I’ll head out and see what I can dig up. I’m good at tracking, you know that.” He pushed back his chair. “I’ll call you later, regardless of what I find.” And with that, he slipped on his black leather jacket and headed out the door.
I watched him go. “I have a feeling he’s going to become very useful to us in the future.”
“Plus, he has a charm that’s hard to ignore.” Delilah winked at me.
“You might want to try a little harder to ignore it.” Morio scowled at me, but then laughed and shrugged. “He’s sincere. That much I can tell. I have a feeling he’s blunt and to the point.”
“I like that. He doesn’t mince words.” I watched him exit the shop and turn to the right. “I’m sorry about Violet, though. They seemed well matched.”
Delilah shrugged. “You of all people know what trauma like she went through can do to you. She may not have been tortured or . . . ” Her voice drifted off.