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Changeling


Page 2


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"So what happened? No pervs out last night?" I winced as I stretched. My muscles needed a good workout. I'd head down to the gym toward evening. They loved me there and had given me a free lifetime membership because men signed up just to watch me work out. Being half-Faerie in a world enchanted with our presence had its perks.


"Not that I could find. I drank a little, then wiped the guy's memory and sent him on his way. I only took enough to stave off the worst of my thirst, but I'm going to need a real hunt in a few nights." Her frost-blue eyes flashed against the copper of her Bo Derek braids. As she shook her head, the ivory beads she'd had woven into the braids clattered like the bones of a dancing skeleton. Menolly made no noise, except when she chose to. The beads reminded her that she had once been alive. That she hadn't always been a vampire.


"You mean a full kill," I said. The phone rang, but it stopped after one ring. Iris must have picked up.


"You nailed it." Menolly shrugged, but I could hear the craving in her voice. A young vampire, she still needed to drink deep and often.


Looking at her, it was hard to believe my sister was a vamp, except for that Butoh dancer complexion. Petite, she barely made five three, if that, but she could toss a dead demon over one shoulder and carry him like a child, and she could drain a person of blood without blinking. She was the youngest, but sometimes she felt old as the hills to me.


Camille, the oldest, was a buxom and curvy five foot seven witch. Long waves of curly black hair cascaded down her back, and her eyes were violet with silver flecks. She was the practical one, although you wouldn't know it by the way she dressed, which was one step shy of a fetish bar.


And me? I was the middle child, though both Camille and Menolly annoyed the hell out of me by treating me like the baby. At least I had them both beat in the height department. I topped six one, and my body was muscled and lean. No couch potato kitty for me, except during my late-night TV binges.


My hair would have been called flaxen by a poet, and until recently had fallen almost to my waist. Tired of the constant upkeep, I'd marched into a salon and asked for a layered shag that barely skimmed my shoulders.


The three of us looked about as much like sisters as we did like goblins. Our mother had been human, and our father was one of the Sidhe. We fell at odd points along the spectrum. Unfortunately, our half-breed status upset the status quo with Father's relatives. Worse, it upset our internal balance.


Camille's magic proved chaotic and was as erratic as her choice in men. Menolly could climb a hundred-foot tree, but she fell off a simple perch when spying on a rogue clan of vampires. They, in turn, tortured and turned her into one of them.


As for me… my shapeshifting was unpredictable, and I couldn't always control it. And even though I was a Were, no gorgeous lioness appeared when I transformed. Just a golden, long-haired tabby, whose tail occasionally got stuck in the briar bush and who ended up with fleas. Damn it. I smelled like Advantage and the beginning of a rash was climbing up my back. It seemed Iris had dosed me a good one. I needed to take a shower before I broke out in hives.


"Where's Camille? I have to talk to her about something I felt out in the woods last night." I glanced around, looking for signs that she might be home. No stilettos, no corsets lying around, no stench of sulfur from misfired magic.


"She said she was stopping off at Morio's before coming home," Menolly said.


Just then Iris appeared in the doorway. "Camille just called. She's on her way home. I'm going to take off for the store. She should rest for a while before coming in," the house sprite said. "Tell her I'll expect her in around one?"


I nodded, watching as Iris bustled off. Camille ostensibly owned the Indigo Crescent, a bookstore in downtown Belles-Faire, a grimy suburb of Seattle. In truth, it was a front for the OIA-the Otherworld Intelligence Agency-for which we worked. They'd sent us Earthside because, bluntly, they thought we were a bunch of bumbling bimbos. Klutzes we might be, but a pack of vacuous T & A? Never. We had brains! We had looks! We had… the worst record in the service. However, thanks to the bureaucracy, instead of getting us out of the way, the OIA had put us right on the fast track to Hell.


A few months ago, we'd had a nasty bit of business with a Degath Squad, a trio of demons from the Subterranean Realms who were on a scouting mission. They were looking for the spirit seals-ancient artifacts that, when joined together, would open the portals and allow Shadow Wing and his minions to take over both Earth and Otherworld.


We'd barely managed to squeak through the assault alive.


When we returned to Otherworld to prove that things weren't so hunky-dory back on Earth, we found our home city in an uproar with a full-scale civil war going on. We reconsidered our options and showed up on the doorstep of the Elfin Queen.


When we dropped the dead demons and other assorted goodies at her feet, Queen Asteria promptly proclaimed that, like it or not, as of that moment we were now working for her. Oh, and one other thing-a little thing, really-just don't tell the OIA about this arrangement. When a millennia-old magic-wielding queen tells you to do something, you don't argue.


One thing we knew for sure: Where there was one demon, there were bound to be more. Where there was one Degath Squad, other Hell Scouts would follow, and eventually, with an army to back them up. And even with the help of Camille's boyfriends, Trillian and Morio, a gorgeous hunk of dragon flesh we knew only by the name of Smoky, and my boyfriend Chase Johnson, we were a pale wall of defense.


The door opened, and Camille blew through. She was in full getup: flowing plum chiffon skirt, black lace bustier, black PVC boots that laced up her calves, their heels a mile high. Her eyes sparkled with silver. She'd been running magic, all right. Her glamour was so strong that I was amazed she didn't have a pack of men following her home.


Of the three of us, she had the most appeal to full-blooded humans. Her very scent invited them to come play, and her voluptuous curves left little to the imagination.


Camille had another side, though. She'd taken care of us after our mother died. Menolly was off in her own little world by then, though not yet a vampire, but Camille held it together for our father and for the three of us.


"Something tripped the wards," she said. "I can feel it. Anything happen tonight I should know about?"


I jumped up. "I've been waiting for you to get home." I glanced out the window. First light was only moments away. "I want you to come out back with me. I smelled cat magic last night, and I think we might have a Were prowling around, but I'm not positive. I was in cat form, and the full moon can cloud my senses."


She ruffled my hair, a habit that I both loved and hated. "Let's go check it out, sweetie." With a glance at Menolly, she added, "You need to get downstairs. The sky's clear, and the sun will be up soon
. I'm surprised you aren't already feeling the pull."


Menolly brushed her eyes. "I am, actually. I'll put Maggie in her box and go to bed." Unlike most vampires, Menolly slept in an actual bed, and her nest-very Martha Stewart-was hidden in the basement behind a secret entrance we'd fashioned to keep out intruders. No one else but Iris knew that the bookshelves in the kitchen actually opened up to reveal the staircase leading to Menolly's apartment.


Camille followed me out to the backyard. I grabbed a trowel on the way. Everything looked so different from this height, but the minute I saw the cockleburs, I felt my dander rise. I stopped, kneeling down to root them out.


"What are you doing?" Camille asked.


I grunted. "These suckers got stuck in my tail last night. I'm going to hire a gardener to come in and clear the yard of thistles and thorns and other nasty crap like this." Managing to get the point of the trowel under the root, I levered the plant out and tossed it in the compost pile.


"Oh yes, that's going to do the trick. The seeds will just spring up again, you goober. Just make sure you don't get rid of my belladonna or wolfsbane," she said, choking back a snort as I led her to the path where I'd sensed the intruder. "I take it your butt's sore?"


"Worse than diaper rash," I said. "So are the wards sounding an alarm, or were they just tripped by accident?" They were Camille's spell, and she was the only one who'd be able to sort through the variances of disruption that happened when they'd been detonated.


She closed her eyes. "No demons at play, but that doesn't mean much, considering how Bad Ass Luke conned Wisteria into working with them." Stopping suddenly, she blinked and said, "Did you know that Trillian is going to be staying with Chase until he can find an apartment? He moved in with him last night."


I blinked. Chase hadn't mentioned anything of the sort the last time I'd talked to him. "No. And just how long do you think that arrangement will last?"


Trillian was a Svartan, one of the elves' darker-souled cousins, and he'd been stringing Camille along for years. They were lovers, though at times she wasn't sure if she even liked him.


"I don't know, but it's better than what Menolly suggested," Camille said, shuddering. Our lovely troublemaker of a sister had put forth the idea that Trillian might want to room with Morio, which would have been the mother of all disasters. Of course, she'd been sporting a smirk when she made the suggestion, but both Camille and I knew that Menolly had a hankering for havoc. Her idea of fun was a rousing fight down at the Wayfarer.


"I think I've been forcing her to watch too much Jerry Springer with me," I said, rolling my eyes.


Morio, a youkai-kitsune from Japan-a fox demon-slash-nature spirit-was Camille's other lover. They had hooked up when they accidentally tripped a lust spell out near Mount Rainier, and that was all it took for the two of them to start hitting the sheets. Camille had a weakness for bad boys.


Trillian and Morio kept a cautious truce because of their shared interest in Camille, but they were clear rivals for her affection. It was a good thing that the Fae weren't monogamous by nature, or there would have been bloodshed by now, considering the amount of testosterone involved.


"Well, he isn't likely to kill Chase, since Chase is my boyfriend, but still… I hope for both their sakes-and ours-that Trillian finds an apartment soon." With a wicked grin, I added, "Bet you the arrangement lasts less than two weeks," I said, fishing a twenty out of my pocket and waving it at her.


"You're on." Camille snorted. "I'll give it three at the most." She suddenly stopped and raised her head.


"Hold on, there's something here. It's faint… but definite…"


She plunged into the bushes and knelt near the base of a large oak that watched over the wooded acreage that spread out next to our land. As she examined the tree, I scouted around the path, finding a line of footprints. The night had been clear with no rain to wash them away. They led up to the tree, then away from it again and disappeared in the middle of the tangle of huckleberry, brambles, Oregon grape, and fern.


Just then, a Steller's jay dive-bombed me from the branches of a fir, scolding at the top of its lungs. Little bugger, I thought as I waved it away. It could smell the cat on me. I wrinkled my nose and let out a little hiss, and it screeched even louder. Another jay joined it on the branch, and both perched there, eye-balling me.


"Don't you dare, unless you want to become my breakfast," I muttered.


"Delilah!" Camille's voice brought me out of my sparring match. Her expression was a mixture of disbelief and wariness. "I know what was here."


"What? What was it?" I leaned against the oak, waiting. Not a demon. Please don't let it be a demon, I thought. I was tired of demons. While I could kick ass with the best, I didn't like conflict. When my sisters got into arguments, the stress turned me into a pussycat.


"You were right, there was a Were around here," she said, her eyes flashing with silver. "And unless I'm off my game, I think he's a werepuma." She looked up at me. "He's marked the tree."


"Eww…" I wrinkled my nose, hoping he'd been in Were-form when he'd taken his territorial piss.


A werepuma? I stared at the trunk, then at our house, which you could just barely see from this vantage point. Why had he marked the tree? He didn't own this land, we did. Was he in league with Shadow Wing and the demons? Or was he a free agent? And if he wasn't aligned with our hellion friends, just what did he want?


* * *


CHAPTER 2


My sisters and I lived in a funky three-story Victorian in the suburb of Belles-Faire, one of Seattle's seediest districts. Sure, it was a crummy neighborhood, but we had the necessary acreage to provide us with the privacy needed for our work. Menolly's apartment was in the basement, Camille had the second story, I had the third, and we shared the main floor as a common living area. We'd given Iris a spare room near the kitchen. It was small, but so was she, and we let her live there rent free in exchange for her help around the house.


A couple days after the full moon, I was putting the finishing touches on a three-cheese omelet when Camille sashayed into the room.


"Food ready?" she asked, her eyes lighting up. I nodded. We took turns with Iris making breakfast. "Omelet. Toast is on the table." I divided the eggs and dished them out onto the waiting plates.


"That smells good," Camille said. She was dressed to the hilt in a crimson halter dress with a low V-neck. A silver belt slung low across her hips, and she was wearing fuck-me pumps to die for. I gave her the once-over. "New guy?" I asked, grinning.


She laughed. "As if I didn't have trouble enough with the two I've already got. No. If you want to know, the Faerie Watchers Club is meeting at the store today. I play it up for them when they come in. They like the show, and it gives me a chance to dress up."

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