Changeling


Page 3


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I could never pull off the outfits that Camille wore, even if I wanted to. My closet of choice included plenty of low-rise jeans, camis, turtlenecks, and sweaters. Ostensibly, my cover for the OIA was that of a private eye, and since I took on real cases, I had to be able to move. Sneaking through bushes and climbing fire escapes in a tight silk dress just wouldn't cut it. Not to mention that, at six one-a good six inches taller than Camille-I didn't need stilettos, though I owned a few pairs. My taste in footwear ran to motorcycle boots.


Iris joined us at the table, and I pointed to her plate. "Food's on."


She scrambled up on the barstool that allowed her to easily reach the table. At barely four feet, she didn't look intimidating, but she packed a wallop that could take down a grown man. Or beast. A pissed-off house sprite was nobody to mess around with.


"What do you need me to do today?" she asked.


Camille flipped open her DayTimer. "I'll need you at the store this afternoon while the FWC members are there. They're coming in around three, so if you could show up around two forty-five, I'd appreciate it."


"No problem." Iris had a photographic memory, not only for visuals but for conversations. "What else?"


"Would you take Maggie outside to play for a while this morning? I think she needs some fresh air," I said. "But be careful. Whoever that strange Were is, he's still hanging around the borders of the property, so stay close to the house."


"Done," she said. "By the way, Delilah, I don't mean to complain, but you haven't cleaned your litter box yet."


"I noticed that, too," Camille said. "Remember, no maids, so we clean up after ourselves." She ruffled my hair.


I grabbed her hand and gently bit her thumb, leaving a mild impression from my fangs. She yelped, and I grinned.


"I didn't even leave a mark, so don't try to play me for sympathy. You mess up my hair every time you do that. Anyway, I'm sorry about the box. I can't believe I forgot. I'll get to it first thing when I get home."


When we'd been unceremoniously dumped Earthside by the OIA, we'd made a pact. Without servants to look after us, we agreed to clean up after our own messy lifestyles. Thinking about the number of hunts Menolly had been on, I was secretly grateful that I only had to contend with kitty litter. I glanced at the bookcase that was hiding the entrance to Menolly's lair. The last thing I wanted was to clean up her blood room where she hosed herself off after feeding. Washing the love stains off Camille's ridiculously expensive sheets was child's play next to the mess Menolly left. I resolved to do better in keeping up my end of the bargain.


Camille snorted. "I can tell what you're thinking. I'm glad I don't have to clean her lair either, though I have a better stomach for it than you do."


"Hey, you said it. I didn't." I was still working on accepting Menolly's transformation, while Camille had managed to overcome any revulsion she might have had. I didn't like being squeamish, but I couldn't help it.


I jerked my head toward the door. "Let's head out. Iris, have a good day. You know where to call us if anything happens." I scooped up Maggie from where she was playing in the corner and gave her a big smooch on her fuzzy forehead. Camille crowded in, and after a moment, Iris had to wrestle the gargoyle away from us.


"Get moving, you two. I'll take care of the little one here," she said, tucking Maggie back in her playpen.


Camille shrugged into a flowing black opera coat and marched out the door into the frostbitten morning. I slipped on my leather jacket and checked to make sure my long silver knife was safely snapped inside my boot sheath. I'd carried a gun for a while, but the iron had proven too much for me, even what little there had been in the specially formatted Glock that Chase had bought for me. I'd never had to shoot it, and it wouldn't work on demons anyway.


Chase, on the other hand, had special bullets made for his gun. Some were embedded with iron in the center for taking down rogue Fae who might be breaking the law. Others included silver and would kill lycanthropes, the only type of Were affected by the metal.


The December morning was overcast as I clattered down the porch steps, the clouds glimmering with a luminous sheen that warned of impending snow. While Seattle wasn't exactly the winter wonderland of the world, on occasion we received a coating of the white stuff.


Camille blew me a kiss, then jumped in her Lexus and headed down the driveway. I crunched my way across the frost-covered grass to climb into my Jeep Wrangler. As I warmed up the engine, my thoughts went back to the Were who'd been stalking our land. Since we'd discovered his tracks, the three of us had walked the borders of our acreage each night. We could still smell cat magic, but neither Menolly nor Camille could sense demon energy. Just because we couldn't smell it didn't mean it wasn't there, though.


With Shadow Wing on the rampage and most likely pissed out of his mind, my optimism had been tempered by brutal reality. Maybe this was what growing up meant. I couldn't play Bubbles on The Powerpuff Girls anymore. The trouble with life was that it always interrupted our best-laid fantasies.


The Indigo Crescent sat smack in the middle of the Belles-Faire business district. My office suite was in the same building on the second floor, and from there I played private eye in between assignments from the OIA. An outside stairwell provided an alternative entrance, so clients could come and go after bookstore hours.


I managed to find a parking space a block away, but the air was so cold it sucked the breath out of my lungs as I jogged down the street. Camille's Lexus was parked smack in front of the store, as usual. I knew her secret though, and it wasn't dumb luck. She had some nasty dirt on the parking gods, and they never failed to give her a good place. I'd been after her to make me a charm for the past month, but she kept putting it off. I was beginning to think she was holding out on purpose.


As I strode into the store, my breath still visible, I was greeted by the sight of Erin Mathews, president of the Faerie Watchers Club, and her friend Cleo Blanco. I broke into a wide grin. Cleo and Erin were two of the coolest humans we knew, and I loved hanging out with them. Especially Cleo.


Erin owned The Scarlet Harlot, a lingerie store a couple blocks away. Cleo was a female impersonator-slash-drag queen. In his alter ego, he was Tim Winthrop, genius computer student and the father of a young daughter with whom he spent every weekend, no matter what else he had on his plate.


Erin and Cleo were complete opposites. Despite owning a lingerie shop, Erin dressed in jeans, flannel shirts, and hiking boots, which matched her down-to-earth personality. On the other hand, Cleo's tastes-and his nature-ran to the flamboyant when he was out in drag.


Nearly my height, he teetered in five-inch platform PVC boots, fire-engine red and almost hugging his crotch . They clashed in full Yuletide splendor with his hunter green butt-cupping leggings and striped sweater tunic. Beneath the sweater he was either wearing a massively padded bra or he'd recently gotten implants. Cleo's wig was bleached blond, and he sported Tammy Faye eyelashes.


Camille was discussing something with Erin, so I parked my butt on the counter next to Cleo and high-fived him.


"What's shakin', babe? Besides that rack of yours?" I pointed to his chest and grinned. "Where on earth did those come from? Boobs R Us? Are they real, or is there a whole lot of stuffing going on?"


"Well, if it isn't Delilah the Dick." He arched his back and shimmied his shoulders. "You can thank Erin for my makeover. She whipped up this little number for me. I'm trying it out before the show tonight."


Erin turned at the sound of her name, and Cleo winked at her. "Just giving you credit for my lovely cleavage." He turned back to me. "By the way, did I ever tell you how much I love your teeth? They are so hot. I bet the boys flock for miles to get a love bite from you."


My fangs were permanently visible, unlike Menolly's, which retracted in standard vampire fashion. "All part of my nature, dude. Although they can be a hassle if I get too excited. I've punctured my tongue a couple of times."


I didn't mention that I'd also punctured Chase's tongue once or twice. And after one disastrous attempt, I'd decided that giving him a good blow job was out of the question, and he hadn't been in a hurry to suggest another try. That little escapade had cost us two weeks of unhappy-and for him, painful-celibacy. Unlike Camille, I'd been a virgin, except for when I was in cat form. But after a rocky start to my sex life, I'd finally discovered what all the hoopla was about. Now it was getting harder for me to hold my hormones in check.


Shaking myself out of my thoughts, I focused on Cleo's chest again. "Erin did you proud. I'd grade the girls at least an F."


"Meow. Do I detect a hint of envy, Cat Woman?" Cleo grinned to show he was joking. He still wasn't used to us, but I had to hand it to him. He had more guts than most of the humans we met.


I snorted. "Trust me, if I was jealous of anybody's boobs, it would be Camille's. They're the real thing, and they're doubleD."


"Hey, I heard that." Camille sauntered up and slid her arm around Cleo's waist.


He gave her a lecherous grin and bent over to flick his tongue along her neck. "Well hello, little Miss Witch. You know, I might think about making an exception to my no-chicks rule just for you, girlfriend."


"Don't turn in your queer card yet, babe," Camille said, stretching to plant a kiss on his chin. "My bed overfloweth."


Cleo laughed, a rich and throaty sound that made me smile. "Jason would kick my butt anyway. He's delightfully possessive."


"He's also gorgeous, my dear," I said.


Jason was Cleo's boyfriend, and they made quite a striking couple. As dark as Cleo was fair, Jason owned his own car repair shop and had more business than he could handle. The pair seemed to have a bright future in front of them.


"Any chance we'll be hearing wedding bells soon?" I pointed to the hunk of ice Cleo was sporting on his left finger.


He winked. "You never know."


Camille glanced at the clock. "Okay, time to open shop. Delilah, are you going upstairs to work, or do you want to hang here for a bit?" She had that look in her eye that told me she'd put me to work if I opted for the latter.


"I'm going, I'm going." I slid off the counter, reluctant to leave the warmth of the shop for the upper regions of my office. "It's so damned cold up there. The heat never makes it upstairs." I'd been reduced to using space heaters to take the edge off the chilly suite. Luckily, the OIA footed the bill. Considering how pissed we were at them, I took a perverse delight in sticking it to them any way I could.


"You could stay down here and help me shelve books." Camille thrust a stack in my direction, but I shook my head.


"I'd better get to work. I've got an appointment with a new client in ten minutes. If he comes through the store, send him up."


"Later, babe." Camille waved as I took the stairs two at a time.


At the top of the steps, a short hall led to three doors: a bathroom, a janitor's closet where we kept our cleaning supplies, and my suite. The OIA wasn't about to spring for a custodian, and we couldn't take a chance hiring an outside service to clean, so we'd lucked out when Iris volunteered to play maid. We paid her by the hour, and she came in once a week to mop floors and dust and take out the garbage. I dreaded the day she met somebody, got married, and settled down to raise a house full of little sprites.


I opened the main door leading into my office and glanced around before entering. Caution didn't run in the family, but I'd lucked out and picked up the habit somewhere. Someday, that fraction of a second might come in handy and save my life.


My waiting room was sparsely furnished with an old sofa, two chairs, and a table on which rested a handful of magazines, a lamp, and a bell. I flipped the sign that I posted on the main door from Closed to Open-Please Ring the Bell for Service. As I glanced around the grimy room, I thought once again about how lonely I felt at times, being stuck Earthside. Sure, I solved the occasional case, ferreted out secrets for heartbroken wives and cuckolded husbands, but was that really helping anybody?


If we were back in OW… Hell, when I thought about it, I had no idea what we'd be doing if we were back in OW. With civil war on the horizon, most likely we'd be pressed into military service. Especially considering our track record. At least we knew how to fight and live to tell about it.


I opened the door to my office and slipped off my jacket, then turned on the heater. A large oak desk that I'd found at a thrift shop filled the room, along with a leather chair patched with duct tape and two padded folding chairs for clients.


The one thing my office was abundant in was plants. Plants that could survive chilly weather and shade. They made me feel like I could breathe. A huge print of a forest glade on one wall reminded me of home, and Iris had managed to find enough knickknacks to provide a little sparkle here and there. She'd also polished the one window in my office to a high shine. At least I could see the sky in this brick-and-mortar jungle.


I paused by a side table where a statue of the Egyptian goddess Bast sat on a gold and green cloth. Around the statue I'd arranged a necklace of turquoise beads, a vase of fresh flowers, a sistrum, and a cobalt-blue glass pyramid. A bronze candle holder held a tall green taper, and I let out a long breath as I lit the candle.


"Lady Bast, guide my feet. Guard my path. Know my heart resides with you." The simple prayer was one I offered up every morning and every evening. She guarded all of catkind and was, to me, what the Moon Mother was to Camille.

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