Cody gazed at me with profound regret, but he didn't try to stop me from leaving. "You, too."
This time, I didn't turn back.
Things settled down in the aftermath of the Night Hag attacks. There were a few more false reports, but those tapered off quickly. People in Pemkowet placed a lot of trust in Chief Bryant. If he said the Night Hag was gone for good, that was a promise you could take to the bank.
Of course, there was no guarantee that another Night Hag might decide Pemkowet looked like a nice place for a getaway, but I was hoping that Gruoch's negative testimonial would help dissuade others. And I actually had a reasonably civilized meeting with Stacey Brooks in her capacity as the PVB's recently appointed head of online promotion regarding tweaking the wording on the website so it didn't constitute an open invitation to all and sundry, especially predatory members of the eldritch community.
I left Stacey mulling over new taglines like "There are no strangers in Pemkowet, only friends we haven't met yet." Cheesy, yes; safer, definitely.
Needless to say, I returned Sinclair's hex charm to him for disabling the same day I left Cody's place. Whatever he did to undo it worked. I didn't have the nightmare in all its immediate visceral sense of reality again.
But it hung over me.
Whatever I did, wherever I went, the memory of that nightmare hung over me like a dark cloud, casting a shadow over my thoughts.
Stefan called me from Poland the day after I dealt with the Night Hag, asking delicately if all was well. I should have known he'd have sensed my terror, though I hadn't been sure how well our one-way emotional bond held up with an ocean between us. Apparently, just fine. I gave him a brief rundown on the whole Night Hag affair without going into the particulars of my nightmare.
"You did well to bind her," Stefan said to me, his faint Eastern European accent more pronounced than usual. "I am glad the situation is resolved."
"Thanks," I said. "Me, too. How about you? How's your . . . situation?"
"I believe the matter is settled," he said. "I will remain a while longer to be certain." Stefan hesitated. "You may recall that I spoke of the possibility of asking a favor of you upon my return."
Actually, I'd totally forgotten. "Of course."
"I fear it will come to pass." He sounded somber. "And I wish you to know in advance that I do not ask it lightly."
"Stefan, I don't think you do anything lightly," I said. "You've done me plenty of favors. Of course I'd be happy to do you one in return."
"Do not be so swift to make assurances you may not wish to keep," he said. "Not until you know what I ask of you."
I sighed. "Oh, for God's sake! Enough with the cryptic eldritch crap
. Can't you just tell me?"
"Forgive me." There was a hint of amusement in his tone. "It was not my intention to subject you to cryptic eldritch crap. But it is a grave thing I mean to ask of you in your role as Hel's liaison, Daisy." Any trace of levity vanished. "And it is a matter best discussed in person. I merely wished to forewarn you."
"Okay," I said, doing my best to conceal a rising sense of apprehension. "Consider me forewarned."
Stefan laughed softly; a tired laugh but a genuine one. "It's good to hear your voice."
I found myself flushing. "Yours, too. I miss you." Oh, crap. Had I really said that? Yes, I had. Did I mean it? Yeah, actually, I think I did. "Do you have any idea when you'll be back?"
"Next week, perhaps." He paused again. "May I ask if your circumstances have changed since we parted?"
"My circumstances . . . oh." Duh. If Stefan had felt my terror, he'd felt the rush of unbridled lust that followed it. My face got hotter. "No, that was just an, um, heat-of-battle kind of thing."
"Then I look forward to resuming our . . . conversation," he said. "Your existence in this world gladdens my heart, Daisy."
"Thanks," I said, feeling awkward, but sincere. "I really needed to hear something like that right about now. But you probably knew that, didn't you?"
He gave another soft laugh. "Perhaps. But that does not render the sentiment any less true. Take care."
So that was the situation with Stefan-infuriatingly cryptic, disturbingly intimate, distinctly apprehension-making, yet definitely intriguing.
Then there was the Cody situation, or the Cody nonsituation. I wasn't going out of my way to avoid him, but I was just as glad that our paths didn't cross in the days following the Night Hag incident. Maybe it wasn't fair of me to feel betrayed by his correspondence with Stephanie the werewolf in Seattle-if I had a Stefan in my life, he ought to be entitled to a Stephanie-but I couldn't help the way I felt. And somehow it was worse knowing Cody did have feelings for me-just not strong enough feelings to override his loyalty to his clan.
Maybe that was as it should be, but it didn't make it hurt any less.
I talked it out with Jen. It's not like there was anything she could do about it, but she gave me plenty of sympathy and a hearty "You go, girl," for having said my piece to Cody, which is all I wanted anyway. Well, that and the dish on her situation with Lee, about which she was a lot less forthcoming. The only reason I knew she was going to Thanksgiving dinner at his mother's house was because she turned down an invitation to join me at Mom's.