Night Season (Lupi Series #4)

Night Season (Lupi Series #4)

4.3 67
by Eileen Wilks
     
 

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Lupine sorcerer Cullen Seabourne and FBI Agent Cynna Weaver are just coming to terms with having a baby, when they are lured to another realm where magic is commonplace and night never ends. Their only way home lies in tracking down a missing medallion-one also sought by powerful beings who will do anything to claim it.See more details below

Overview

Lupine sorcerer Cullen Seabourne and FBI Agent Cynna Weaver are just coming to terms with having a baby, when they are lured to another realm where magic is commonplace and night never ends. Their only way home lies in tracking down a missing medallion-one also sought by powerful beings who will do anything to claim it.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780425220153
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
01/02/2008
Series:
Lupi Series, #4
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
338,975
Product dimensions:
4.25(w) x 6.90(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

PRAISE FOR
BLOOD LINES

“Another winner from Eileen Wilks, Blood Lines will leave many aching for more long after the last sentence is read, and I have no doubt the next installment will be just as enjoyable!”

—Romance Reviews Today

“The world Ms. Wilks overlays against the one we know is an exciting one that becomes more fascinating as layers of it are revealed…Moreover, Ms. Wilks shows just enough sensuality to give us romance to go along with the fast-paced, tense action…Ms. Wilks is a true master of her craft.”

—The Eternal Night

“Fast-paced and nail-biting reading…I really like this story line and the characters, so I highly recommend you add Blood Lines to your library.”

—Fresh Fiction

“The magic seems plausible, the demons real, and the return of enigmatic Cynna, along with the sorcerer, hook fans journeying the fantasy realm of Eileen Wilks.”

—The Best Reviews

“Intriguing…Surprises abound in Blood Lines…A masterful pen and sharp wit hone this third book in the Moon Children series into a work of art. Enjoy!”

—A Romance Review

“If you enjoy beautifully written, character-rich paranormals set in a satisfyingly intricate and imaginative world, then add your name to Eileen Wilks’s growing fan list and savor Blood Lines to the very last page.”

—BookLoons

“Quite enjoyable, and sure to entertain…A fast-paced story with plenty of danger and intrigue.”

—The Green Man Review

“Those in search of paranormal tales that are rich and multifaceted will get exactly what they’re looking for in the brilliant Wilks’s exceptional supernatural stories.”

—Romantic Times

MORTAL DANGER

“Terrific…The cat-and-mouse story line is action-packed…A thrilling tale of combat on mystical realms.”

—The Best Reviews

“Mortal Danger is as intense as it is sophisticated, a wonderful novel of strange magic, fantastic realms, and murderous vengeance that blend together to test the limits of fate-bound lovers. An intricately crafted, loving, lavish tale.”

—Lynn Viehl, USA Today bestselling author of the Darkyn series

“A dramatically told story…It is this reviewer’s hope that this series will have many more stories to come.”

—Romance Junkies

“I’ve been anticipating this book ever since I read Tempting Danger, and I was certainly not disappointed. Mortal Danger grabs you on the first page and never lets go. Strong characters, believable world-building, and terrific storytelling make this a must-read for anyone who enjoys werewolves with their romance. I really, really loved this book.”

—Patricia Briggs, USA Today bestselling author of Moon Called

“[A] complex, intriguing, paranormal world…Fans of the paranormal genre will love this one!”

—Love Romances

“A thoroughly enjoyable read. I’ll be looking out both for the previous volume and the next book in what promises to be a series well worth following.”

—Emerald City Fantasy and Science Fiction

“Gripping paranormal romance.”

—Fresh Fiction

TEMPTING DANGER

“A story whose characters I remember long after the last page is turned.”

—Kay Hooper, New York Times bestselling author of Blood Dreams

“An exciting, fascinating paranormal suspense that will have you on the edge of your seat. With a mesmerizing tale of an imaginative world and characters that will keep you spellbound as you read each page, Ms. Wilks proves once again what a wonderful writer she is with one great imagination for her characters and the world they live in.”

—The Romance Readers Connection

“Fantastic…Lily and Rule are a fabulous pairing…Ms. Wilks takes a chance and [her] readers are the winners.”

—The Best Reviews

“Wilks’s heroine is so top-notch.”

—The Romance Reader

PRAISE FOR THE PREVIOUS NOVELS OF
EILEEN WILKS

“Fun [and] very entertaining!”

—The Romance Reader

“Should appeal to fans of Nora Roberts.”

—Booklist

“Fast-paced.”

—All About Romance

Books by Eileen Wilks

TEMPTING DANGER

MORTAL DANGER

BLOOD LINES

NIGHT SEASON

Anthologies

CHARMED
(with Jayne Ann Krentz writing as Jayne Castle, Julie Beard, and Lori Foster)

LOVER BEWARE
(with Christine Feehan, Katherine Sutcliffe, and Fiona Brand)

CRAVINGS
(with Laurell K. Hamilton, MaryJanice Davidson, and Rebecca York)

ON THE PROWL
(with Patricia Briggs, Karen Chance, and Sunny)

NIGHT SEASON

EILEEN WILKS

BERKLEY SENSATION,NEW YORK

PROLOGUE

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

CHAPTER NINETEEN

CHAPTER TWENTY

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

CHAPTER THIRTY

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

PROLOGUE

IN the east, dawn smeared a promise across the inky sky, but air and earth were dark yet. At an abandoned house just outside Midland, Texas, a pair of headlights shut off. A man and a woman climbed out of a 2005 Toyota Corolla.

“I keep thinking we’ve forgotten something,” the woman said as she popped the trunk. She was tall and angular, with a runner’s build and with strong shoulders—not pretty, but striking. She wore jeans, hiking boots, and a dark sweater. No makeup. Her hair was long and straight, a medium brown; her skin, an indeterminate tan that looked more Anglo than not; but she had the broad, high cheeks and strong nose of her mother’s people, the Diné. Navajo, as outsiders named them. “I always forget something.”

The man gave her a singularly sweet smile. He, too, was tall, angular, and athletic; his only remarkable facial feature was his eyes. The gray of a winter sky, they were heavily lashed and set off by the dark slashes of his brows. Some might guess him to have Native American blood as well, based on his coppery skin and black hair. They would be wrong.

“We have everything on our list,” he said as they pulled camping equipment from the trunk. “If we failed to plan for some need, we’ll make do.” He paused. “You’re frightened.”

She nodded, though she looked and sounded almost placid. “Not all the way to real panic yet. About a six on the ohmygod scale.”

“Well, then.” He put down the duffel bag he’d been holding and folded her in his arms. “Let’s see if we can get it down to a four, at least.”

“Mmm,” she said after a moment, the sound muffled by his neck. “Yes, but we won’t get much done like this. My anxieties say inaction would be fine, the lying rats. That we can just can stand around and nuzzle each other. But your queen is going to expect promptness, I think.”

“Among other things. She’s a great one for expectations.” He let a few inches come between them without releasing her. “You’re all right, Kai?”

“I guess I can be scared and okay at the same time. Excited, too. It’s a whole new world, after all. I’m all boggled about it.” Kai drew air in through her nose, sighed it out, and nodded once. “Let’s get moving.”

She shrugged into her backpack and tucked the sleeping bags beneath her arms. They’d not be afoot long, so the weight wasn’t a major issue. Still, he carried more of their gear, which was sensible. Nathan was probably five times as strong as she normally was, and she wasn’t normal now. Hunger gnawed at her, a hunger food couldn’t satisfy since it wasn’t hers. She tired quickly.

Not for much longer, though.

Kai’s backpack held a change of clothes, thermal underthings, plenty of clean socks and underwear, their medical kit, and a few more odds and ends. Nathan’s carried the heavier items—their cleverly compact tent, camping tools, and trade goods: several packets of cinnamon; a roll of zippable plastic bags; a pair of small, sharp axes; four very fine knives; two boxes of nails; a hammer and a small spade; and a pound each of gold and silver made up into chains.

Nathan lifted the oversize duffel and they walked slowly away from the car. Kai’s friend Ginger would retrieve it later today. Ginger knew Kai was leaving with Nathan, but had no inkling just how far they meant to travel. The story Kai had given her for abandoning the vehicle out here was pretty lame, as Ginger had pointed out several times, but Kai was used to Ginger’s inquisitiveness. And Ginger was used to not getting all of her questions answered.

Kai hoped hard that she would see her friend again. “You’re looking forward to this.”

“Parts of it, yes. Your home is lovely, but I’ve been here a long time. And even with the recent influx of magic, it’s still a bit thin here for me.” Without breaking stride or changing tone he added, “You’ll do, Kai. I know you’ve doubts, and that’s as it should be, for this quest is a testing. But you’ll do.”

And that, of course, was where the ohmygod scale came from. Not a fear of running out of tampons. Though she sincerely hoped she’d packed enough; if she hadn’t, she’d make do. The fear that she couldn’t learn enough, understand enough, to do what she was supposed to—oh, yes, that was huge.

One step at a time, she reminded herself, following him through the darkness around the side of the old house. He could see here, she thought. She couldn’t, not yet—certainly not in the shadow of the derelict building. She couldn’t hear his footsteps, either. Just her own.

They reached what she would have called the backyard had it possessed anything other than dirt, trash, and dead weeds. Kai could see those weeds now, their rustly skeletons smudging air on its way from black to gray. The sky had lightened from ink to charcoal overhead, with a band of steel along the horizon. She moved up beside Nathan.

Like Grandfather said, swallowing tomorrow’s troubles will give you gas today. And yet…“I don’t see why we’re doing it this way. You could find it. That’s what you do.”

“I could, once I got the scent. But that isn’t what my queen wishes. And no,” he said with a sideways smile for her, “while her wishes are sufficient for me, I don’t expect you to accept them without a question or two. I imagine she saw something that led her to send us this way about things, rather than another.”

“By ‘saw’ do you mean foreseeing? Or farseeing?”

“Likely both. Odds are, she has her hand on a pattern developing there, and this is the best way for it to proceed.”

“Or she may just want to make this as hard as possible on me.”

“That’s also possible. Eh.” He rubbed his nose with his free hand. “You’re all puckered with worry, and a bit angry, too, and I’m still giddy with relief, which is a bad match in our moods. But it will work out, Kai. You’ll see.”

Nathan was giddy because his queen hadn’t killed her six days ago. Kai had been pretty relieved herself at the time. The queen and her brother had thought she was a binder, a rare and dangerous type of telepath who could bind others to her will. Nathan had stood for her, placing himself between them and her, though he couldn’t have stopped them. They’d all known that.

But he’d bought a pause, one in which the queen had listened, because she loved him enough to give him that much. In the end, Kai was allowed to live—for now. But not here. Not where people couldn’t protect themselves from her.

She felt the bitterness coating that thought. She also saw it, strings of greasy gray wrapping the thought as if to mummify it. Oh, she’d seen what happened if you held on to such thoughts, seen people trapped by bitter thoughts too long hoarded, how the grayness strangled all the color out of them. She took a breath and did her best to let the thought and the bitterness go, and was rewarded as they faded away.

Kai wasn’t exactly a telepath. She wasn’t a non-telepath, either, just as she wasn’t exactly a binder, yet could do some of what binders did. Her Gift baffled everyone, including herself. Maybe herself most of all. She didn’t read minds, but she saw thoughts and the emotions connected to those thoughts. And sometimes, when conditions were just right—or wrong—she changed minds. Literally.

After a lifetime of suppressing that particular talent, now she had to learn how to master it. Quickly. Before it mastered her.

She felt the purr before she heard it, a low rumbling in her mind. A moment later a lumpy spot ten feet ahead of them shifted and stretched, becoming eight feet of dappled gray cat. Kai smiled. “Dell’s purely glad about this, anyway.”

“She understands we’re leaving now?”

“Oh, yes.” The bond they’d formed was very new, the intimacy of it sometimes unsettling, and some concepts didn’t travel well between minds so different. But Kai knew Dell understood that her long hunger was nearly over.

When Dell’s hunger ended, so would Kai’s.

They’d reached the rendezvous. Kai set one of the sleeping bags down so she could rub behind one tall, tufted ear as the big cat stropped herself against Kai’s legs. Dell had learned that her human was easily unbalanced, so her affection was tempered by care. “She’s eager.”

Dell would be much better off where they were going, and that gave Kai a happiness to hang on to. If the magic here was somewhat thin for Nathan, it was starvingly low for the chameleon-cat—which was why Kai had begun to tire. The familiar bond ran both ways, and the power the queen had generously offered Dell to sustain her while Kai and Nathan readied themselves for the trip was gone now.

“Best pick up the sleeping bag. It’s time, Kai.”

“What?” But she stooped to retrieve it. “I don’t see…is she here?”

“She doesn’t have to be here. It isn’t a true gate. I explained that.”

He had, but that wasn’t to say she understood. Somehow Nathan’s queen was reaching him though she wasn’t even in this world, broadening his innate ability to cross between realms so he could take with him things that were his—clothes, gear, and Kai. Who would bring Dell with her.

“Focus on your bond with Dell.” His voice was low. He stared ahead at something she couldn’t see.

She took a breath and did her best to slip into the state she’d avoided all her life, the condition she called fugue. At first it wouldn’t come. She allowed the frustration to wash through her, focusing only on Dell, the clear, simple colors of her familiar’s thoughts.

Gradually her breathing eased and her mind slid into that other place, where the colors and shapes of thoughts drew her, their shifting endlessly fascinating…a place where she could lose herself. Had lost herself as a child. A place where her own thoughts could reach out and touch the minds of others, change them. Where the compulsion to do just that could be overwhelming.

But Dell’s thoughts were clear and true, triggering no urge to meddle. Kai’s heartbeat steadied and she found the bond between them, a smooth, pale tube just tinged with yellow, and she smiled it stronger. Brighter.

She felt Nathan’s hand on her shoulder. “Now,” he said, his voice the only thing in the world besides the colors, “we walk forward.”

So she did, trusting him, smiling at how beautiful his colors were, and how intricate, the shapes flowing into a new pattern, then another, each elegant and enticing, fascinating…

A sharp pain in her cheek made her gasp—and brought her back, dizzy, into the world of the senses. A world different from the one she’d been in only moments ago. Snow whirled through the night air, damp and cold on her skin. She looked around, but could see neither buildings nor road, only the endless, muted white of the storm.

But Dell was warm beside her, gloriously excited and urgent. Nathan stood before her, worry tilting his brows down. “I’m back,” she said, “though we really need to find something other than pain to get my attention.” The hot sting in her cheek suggested he’d had to slap her out of fugue this time.

“We need jackets. Gloves for you.” He unzipped the duffel.

She hugged the sleeping bags close. “I was expecting something more inhabited.”

“There’s a village or holding east of here.”

Relief swept through her. “You know where we are, then.”

He found a smile, this one apologetic. “No. I smell wood smoke. Here.”

They shuffled burdens between them so both could don their jackets. Hers was quilted, hooded, good to subzero temps if she added the lining. She didn’t. It was cold, but not much below freezing. She’d warm quickly once they started moving. “Dell’s hungry. Can I—?”

“Yes. Don’t worry.” The last was addressed to the cat, not Kai. “I’ll watch out for her.”

In spite of her eagerness to hunt, Dell studied Nathan a moment. Kai could feel the big cat considering whatever communication she’d received from him—not the spoken words Kai had heard, but something. Then she vanished into the snow-blurred night.

Kai tugged on her gloves. Dell considered her too weak to survive on her own. In this place, she was likely right. “Can you tell if the others have come through yet? The ones we’re to follow?”

Nathan tilted his head as if listening, though she had no idea what sense he was actually consulting. “We have two or three weeks, I think. I stepped somewhat backward as we came through.”

“Backward?”

“Time isn’t entirely congruent between Earth and Edge. There’s enough flex to allow me some choice. Forward would be tricky, but it wasn’t so hard to slide it back a bit.”

She stared. “You can adjust time?”

“No.” He was patient. “But when two realms aren’t time-congruent, time becomes one of the choices I make when crossing.”

He thought that made sense. Ah, well. She had a great deal to learn about him still. They’d been friends for two years, but lovers for only six days.

And now they were supposed to rescue this world—or play a part in its rescue, anyway. If she could make her Gift work. “We’d better get moving.”

ONE

IT looked like a digital thermometer. There were two little windows in the plastic casing, one showing a deep purple the other, a pale teal. Cynna tilted it, squinting. Maybe the light was fooling her.

Still purple. Not the pretty teal she’d been praying for. No matter how hard she stared or squinted, or what angle she used, it stayed purple.

The knock at her door made Cynna jump. She dropped the tester, scowled at it, and left it lying on the floor. She slammed the bathroom door as she hurried to the other door—which was only steps away. Hotel rooms always put the bathroom right off the entry door.

“Coming, dammit. I’m coming.”

No, she wasn’t. Not now, but she had last month. Three times. Which was why the color of doom had showed up on the godforsaken tester.

Cynna checked the spy hole, unlocked the door, and swung it open. “Hey,” she said with frantic cheer. “I’m ready. Let’s go.”

The woman at the door was a full head shorter than Cynna. Her hands were tucked into the pockets of a long sweep of coat as black and perfect as the shorter sweep of her hair, and a small frown was tucked between the arch of her brows. Her eyes were dark and steady. “You need a coat,” Lily Yu said, not moving. “It’s February, so you need a heavy coat. And maybe your wallet? If we’re going to shop—”

“Oh, yeah. Right. I’ll get them.” Cynna started to shut the door in her friend’s face, but stopped herself in time. “Come in, but don’t go in the bathroom.”

That sent the eyebrows up. Cynna ignored that, grabbed her denim tote and her jacket from the pile of clothes on the bed. “I sure do need to wash clothes,” she said brightly. “Let’s go. Oh, one more thing. No one is to say the p-word this afternoon, or allude to it in any way.”

Lily nodded thoughtfully. “Okay. No allusions to the p-word.”

Wow. That was easy. Should have tried that a month ago and spared herself any number of gentle, tactful, or blunt interventions. Lily had been so sure Cynna wasn’t facing reality.

Turned out Lily was right. The bitch. “So where are we going?” Cynna asked as they headed down the hotel hallway to the side exit.

“I thought we’d give the Fashion Center a try.”

“Sure. Uh…do they have those snooty clerks who look at you like you’re about to boost a pair of panty hose?”

Lily gave her a look. “How long have you lived in D.C.?”

“Seven years. Why?”

“The Fashion Center is a mall. They’ve got all kinds of clothing stores—Macy’s, Talbot’s, The Gap, Kenneth Cole—”

“So I don’t shop much. So sue me.”

Lily patted her arm. “You will today.”

That’s what she was afraid of. Whatever had possessed her to ask Lily to help her pick out some new things?

She glanced down at the woman beside her and sighed. Envy, that’s what. Lily always looked right. But she was tiny and…well, not cute. You wouldn’t call a bullet cute, no matter how small and shapely it was. Bullets were also notoriously hard to stop, and that was like Lily, too.

And now, because Cynna had opened her big mouth, all that deadly determination was focused on her wardrobe. She’d actually used that word when she talked to Lily about helping her shop. A new wardrobe, she’d said. For work.

Clearly she’d been insane. She didn’t have a damned wardrobe. She had clothes.

They left through the side door. Cold sucked at Cynna’s face and made inroads along her front, so she zipped her jacket. It was an unusually cold winter for D.C., but she wasn’t about to say so. It was too much fun needling Lily, who’d lived in San Diego all her life.

Lily grumbled under her breath and headed for her car—a plain white Ford exactly like Cynna’s, only cleaner. The FBI must buy the things in droves.

The day was as sunny and still as it was cold, the sun a bright ball in a sky so blue and clear you’d think smog had never been invented. So when the shadow passed overhead, Cynna looked up.

The sinuous shape was growing familiar, though she still felt a chill of awe at the sight. Against the brightness of the sky it looked dark, but she’d seen the photographs. Who hadn’t? Up close the scales would be red and shiny, the color of rubies or fresh blood.

“Is vanity a dragon thing?” she asked, one hand on the car door, her head tipped back to watch legend crawl lazily across the sky.

Lily opened her door. “What do you mean?”

“All the photos. Mika doesn’t talk much, but he sure likes getting his picture taken.” Technically, Mika didn’t talk at all. Mindspeak wasn’t the same as talking. But the ruby dragon seldom bothered to speak in any manner to the humans around him, much to the frustration of reporters. “Is Sam vain like that?”

Lily snorted. “Haven’t seen a bunch of photos of him on the Internet, have you? I guess if you already know you’re the biggest, baddest dude on two wings, you don’t need a picture to prove it. Mika’s young,” she added as she got in.

Young was a relative term, but since Mika had probably been born before a passel of Pilgrims washed up on a big rock near Plymouth, Cynna thought Lily was stretching the limits of the word.

But dragons stretched a lot of limits.

For years people had believed they were myth, fairy tale, no more real than Odysseus’s Cyclops. Even when twenty-two of them ended their long exile last November to return to Earth, it had been easy for people to dismiss the sighting since they’d vanished right away.

Probably some publicity stunt, right? It happened in California, and much of the country considered that explanation enough for any oddity. Since the government sat on its information—which included radar, both still and video images, and the reports of two of its own agents, namely Cynna and Lily—there had been no solid proof. Talk show hosts had had a field day with dragon-sighting jokes.

When they showed up again, no one was laughing. This time, the world needed them to be real.

The realms had done one hell of a bump-and-grind, knocking streams of magic loose from nodes all over the world. Loose magic has a randomizing effect on technology, especially anything run by computers…which was just about everything. It turned out that, in addition to being strong, beautiful, and deadly, dragons made dandy sponges. They soaked up all the excess magic in their vicinity.

Two days before Christmas, the black dragon had landed on the White House lawn. Sam—whose other call-name was Sun Mzao—had negotiated for the rest, assisted by Lily’s grandmother. Much to Cynna’s frustration, no one would tell her why Madam Yu had been involved. She had some guesses, though they were so preposterous…but so was Lily’s grandmother.

Sooner or later, Cynna promised herself, she’d worm the truth out of Lily.

So far the Dragon Accords were working. Computers operated normally in the nation’s capital, on Wall Street, and in and around the twelve U.S cities and eight throughout the world that had a dragon. True, dragons ate a lot, and the animal protection people were not happy about their preferred presentation style—the dragons insisted on catching the evening’s cow or pigs themselves. But they’d stuck to their agreement to leave people and pets off the menu.

Problem was, there weren’t enough dragons.

Cynna watched Washington’s dragon bank and head down. Looked like he was heading for Rock Creek Park. He’d claimed the amphitheater there while governmental types argued over where to build his permanent lair.

“You coming?” Lily said.

Cynna slid in the car and buckled up. “Do you ever wish we’d gotten Sam instead of Mika?”

Lily shrugged and started the car. “Sam wanted to be near Grandmother. Or else Grandmother wanted him near. Or maybe he just wanted to be warm. It’s never warm here.”

“Bitch, bitch, bitch. If you’re still around this summer, you’ll be complaining about the heat. It’s not a dry heat like you’re used to.”

“San Diego isn’t as hot as you’d think. Hotter in the mountains, of course. As you move away from the coast, you don’t get the cooling effects of the ocean.”

“You miss it.”

Lily sighed and pulled out. “More than I expected. This was supposed to be temporary.”

Lily had originally been posted to Washington, D.C., for two purposes: to assist the Secret Service in an investigation and to take an abbreviated version of the standard FBI training at Quantico. Like Cynna, she belonged to a special unit in the FBI’s Magical Crimes Division, one that until recently very few knew existed. Lily had been recruited last November. She was a touch sensitive, able to feel magic tactilely yet impervious to its effects, but her background as a homicide cop was as valuable to the Unit as her Gift. A lot of the Unit’s agents lacked that kind of law enforcement training and experience.

Lily had finished up the assist-the-Secret-Service part of her assignment, but what with demon assassins and the Turning and all, her training still wasn’t complete.

“There is an upside, I guess,” Lily said. “Being parked at Headquarters puts twenty-six hundred miles between me and my mother.”

“Yeah, but planes are flying again, cell phones are working—”

“Don’t remind me.”

Cynna smiled because she was supposed to, but she wondered…if her mother had lived, would she be as mom-averse as Lily? Some of her other friends were like that, too. A few seemed to be close to their mothers, but a lot of them had issues.

Not that she didn’t have issues. You didn’t have to have a living mother to find knots tangled all over your heart tagged “from Mom.” Which was a damn good reason for never…not going there, she reminded herself. “How’s Rule?”

“He’s good. The mantles have settled into peaceful coexistence…which you’d know if you hadn’t been avoiding us. I—oh, God.”

“What? What is it?”

“I sound like my mother.”

Cynna laughed. For the first time in hours—days—well, a long time, she felt like laughing. Maybe she’d been isolating.

You think? whispered a snide inner voice.

“I’d better get over that,” Lily added casually. “It looks like I’m going to be a mother myself soon. Of sorts.”

Cynna jolted so hard she nearly gave herself whiplash. “You—you’re going to have a baby?”

“No. Oh, no, though—well, I can’t say what I’m thinking without making a forbidden allusion. I was talking about Toby.”

Toby was Rule’s son, and Rule was…well, just about everything to Lily, except a husband. Lupi didn’t marry. “You mean he’s going to sue for custody? Or did Toby’s mom finally agree to let him live with Rule?”

“Alicia didn’t agree, but her mother has. I think Mrs. Asteglio approves of me, and with Rule and me going down there so often after she broke her leg—”

“She broke her leg?”

“Fell down the stairs. It was a wake-up call for her. She’s sixty-three, you know, and has some other health problems that make it hard for her to care for a child Toby’s age. And she knows Toby wants to live with his dad.”

Since the boy had run away just before Christmas so he could spend the holiday with his father, Cynna agreed that Toby’s preference was obvious.

“I feel sad for her,” Lily added. “She loves Toby. It’s hard on her, giving him up, but we’ll make sure she gets to see him often.”

“But Toby’s grandma doesn’t have legal custody, does she?”

“Toby’s grandmother,” Lily said tartly, “has raised him. His mother sure hasn’t. Alicia visits on the occasional weekend, but even that’s dried up now that she’s in Lebanon. She’s huffing and puffing and dragging her feet, but for the first time Rule has a good chance of winning if she does contest the suit. We’re hoping she won’t. It’ll be easier on Toby if we can come to an agreement.”

For years Rule had had no legal rights to his son. Toby’s grandmother had allowed the boy to visit his father, but his mother—a reporter for the Associated Press—hadn’t even put Rule’s name on the birth certificate.

Rule had never taken the matter to court. The son of the best-known werewolf in the world would have been irresistible to the paparazzi. Besides, Rule had been certain he’d lose. The courts weren’t exactly friendly to lupi. Until a few years ago, some states had allowed people to shoot them on sight. Most lupi had actually preferred that to the federal government’s policy—forced registration and drugs that prevented them from Changing.

But those were the bad old days. A few years ago the Supreme Court had ruled that lupi were citizens. As such, they were entitled to all the rights and protections of the law…when they were shaped like humans, that is. It was still legal to shoot one in wolf form.

After a few moments Cynna sighed. “I’ve been an ass, haven’t I? So busy doing the poor-me bit I didn’t have a clue what was happening in anyone else’s life.”

Lily gave her a smile. “It’s okay to play turtle for a while, as long as you don’t get too fond of your shell. You’re out of it now. How much of your money do I get to spend today?”

“Oh, a couple hundred. I usually buy myself a Christmas present, but this time I never got around to it, what with the demons and all.”

“Triple it.”

“What? I’m not going to—”

“You said you wanted a new work wardrobe. Unless you’ve changed your mind? For example, you might have some reason to think your size could suddenly change—”

Cynna made a beeping sound.

“What?”

“That’s the allusion alert.”

Lily slid her an amused glance. “We’ll start with the basics. Two good jackets—”

“I have jackets.”

“Sure, and they might work if you were eighty pounds heavier. And eighty years old. And not interested in fashion. You look great in jeans, but the suits you pick…” She shook her head. “Is that what you think an FBI agent is supposed to look like?”

“All right, all right—but I look like crap in suits. I’m not built like you. I can’t wear those teeny little fitted jackets.”

“You can wear clothes that fit, though. As for how you’re built…” Lily snorted. “You don’t like looking like Xena, Warrior Princess? You’re tired of wiping the drool off men’s faces?”

“Well, but—”

“You’ve got a goddess’s body, Cynna. Not the Maiden, but the Mother or some fertility deity.”

Cynna gave her a dark look. She did not care for fertility deity references.

“Add in the butch haircut and tattoos, and I’m thinking we need to go for simple but dramatic. Whatever we get will probably have to be tailored, but—”

“Tailored?” Cynna squeaked.

“Most likely. We’ll start with two jackets, like I said, and four pairs of slacks to mix and match. You could add a skirt, but I’ve never seen you wear one, so I thought we’d stay in your comfort zone and go with slacks.”

“You’ve got a weird notion of my comfort zone.”

“And of course you’ll need things to wear under the jackets. Tees, a long-sleeved shirt, a sweater or—”

“There’s a Wal-Mart about a mile from here.”

“You didn’t buy those jeans at Wal-Mart. They’re killer.”

“Thanks. But jeans aren’t like suits. They have to fit exactly right, and most of them aren’t long enough, so…quit looking at me that way.”

“Uh-huh. How much did you pay for the jeans?”

Too much. “Sales. There are bound to be sales.”

TWO

THE Fashion Center turned out to be a three-story temple to consumerism. It was midweek and the middle of the day—somehow Lily had persuaded her to take a day off for this insanity—so the teens and tweens were missing. But everywhere Cynna looked, a mom had stuffed a baby in one of those enormous touring devices they called strollers.

There was a muffled little lump of infant in one not ten feet away when Cynna emerged from the dressing room. It was staring at her with enormous, wary eyes.

It gave her the willies. She scowled at Lily. “They don’t make clothes for people with breasts. Have you ever noticed that?” She tried tugging the jacket across her chest. The ends wouldn’t meet. “See that? If you’re more than a B-cup, forget it.”

“Shut up, Cynna, and try this instead.”

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