The meeting is held in the large workroom behind the candle shop. It smells heavenly, with notes of vanilla, different fruits, and essential oils lingering in the air. The Fold and their sons, the Clip and their sons, and what looks to be all the mates of these influential members are present. All the females gather in a group at one end, and I feel odd standing close to Rocks near the center of business amongst the males.

“It’s clear the Vuelo de la Muerte released the owls that have plagued us,” the oldest Fold member, Levi, says to the group. “Now they have taken the Duskwing. We need to work out their plan. Why the owls? When we visited with their Fold, they too had owl injuries.”

“But did they really?” Zander asks. “Or was the young male, Tronido, controlling his Sire?”

People hiss at the suggestion. I’m guessing that’s close to treason.

“Well, let’s confront them and find out,” Cypress suggests. It doesn’t escape my notice that the gruesome tattoos of humans gushing blood—which cover his arms from neck to wrist—are still bare. Surely I’m not the only one to have worked out he’s not eating aeronaught food. Rocks always felt the cold more when he survived only on Mom’s hospitality, so I scan the group and take note of those wearing less revealing clothes. It’s harder to tell since spring is in full swing, but many of the females aren’t showing off their usual amount of flesh.

“Without the answers for why they released the owls and why they took the Duskwing, it’s too dangerous,” Rocks says, moving forward. “Unfortunately, I have proof the Vuelo de la Muerte are in a dangerous business in the aeronaught world. It gives them power, and more money than you can imagine.”

Everyone present starts speaking at once. It’s chaos with questions and accusations flying. Of course, the Plant and Mac wings immediately implicate me, after Rocks explains the basics of illegal drug dealing. I don’t blame them. It is because of me and my bio-daddy we know the Muerte are in the business. But it would be much worse if we didn’t know this crucial fact.

“But isn’t it better we know about this?” I defend. “This says a lot about what they’re capable of. Otherwise we would be blind.”

“We?” Ash hisses. “When did you become one of us?”

“When I paid for the food that’s keeping you all healthy and alive.” I shouldn’t snap when all eyes are on me, but that bat is getting on my nerves. The fangs tattooed on his chin make me want to grab a sharpie and draw a giant curly moustache on his top lip. “Do you have the kind of cash it takes to support your colony?”

Strickland immediately orders for me to be reimbursed from the colony treasury. Snowcap is a small, wiry, elderly gentleman—I’ve never seen before— and he limps away at his Sire’s command. He’s from another wing I’ve never heard of, and I wonder at the honor of being in charge of the colony’s funds.

“Rockland is correct,” Judge says. “There’s no point in visiting the Vuelo de la Muerte’s Fold. They lied to our faces once, and now there’s more at stake. It’s too risky.”

A debate breaks out as to whether members believe the Muerte would interact so much with aeronaughts to actually sell drugs. I don’t mention how hypocritical that is since the Shadows run a shopping market, and they aren’t exactly selling stuff to themselves. When tempers flare, Rocks pulls me though the frustrated crowd and out into the sunshine.

“I can’t take those meetings any longer,” he says, grabbing two fistfuls of his hair. “Let’s go to my wagon. I need to hold you.”

My frustration from the meeting dissolves into a tingling that starts in my stomach. It’s been forever since Rocks and I have gotten to be carefree, in-love teenagers. “Yes, please,” I answer, taking his hand.

The second we’re alone in the wagon, Rocks is all over me, and I love every second. He kisses me hard and pulls me close. A moan escapes me, and I’m a little embarrassed. We haven’t made out in so long, I’m almost shy about it.

“God, I miss you,” he whispers in my ear. “I miss kissing you so much.”

His lips find my neck and I stand up on my tippy-toes to be closer to him. My flesh is on fire.

“Oh, gross!”

Rocks is two-feet from me in half a heartbeat. We turn to see three shocked little faces standing in the open doorway of his wagon.

“It’s not gross, Moonshiner. It’s called love,” little Bailey states, pushing past her half-brother and coming to say hello to me. “Thanks for those hot dogs, Miss Connie. Can you please bring more donuts next time? The hot dogs are good, but those donuts are my dragon’s favorite. He needs more of them, please.”

Bailey is going to be a female to be reckoned with when she comes of age. Strickland had better watch out. Moonshadow has taken a seat on the bench running along one side of the wagon. Poor Moonshiner is still on the doorstep, looking like he’s gonna puke. Boys are so funny when they’re still in the ‘girl germs’ phase, but boy, do they get over that quickly once their hormones kick into gear.

“What are you doing here?” Rocks asks. I’m guessing he’s wishing he locked the door, or at least closed it.

“Some of the fledgers are saying Moonshiner helped the Muerte kidnap Moonshadow’s family,” Bailey explains. “I said you would know because you know everything.” She’s looking up at her big brother with her one good eye, like he’s got the secrets of the universe tucked in his back pocket.

“But I didn’t know those harnesses I engraved were going to be used for that,” Moonshiner replies, looking like he’s a nanosecond away from bursting into tears. “I swear, Moonshadow, I didn’t.”

Camazotz Curse