While waiting for Shadow Wing’s next move, I decide to revamp my ragtag PI agency into the Cat’s Eye Investigations firm. My first client turns out to be our cousin Daniel. During the grand reopening for the Wayfarer, he shows up while being chased by a rampaging ghost. Daniel has procured a rare and valuable sword, and a ring of ghostly warriors comes attached to it. Protectors of the soul trapped within it, the spirits are out to stop anybody who threatens the weapon. As my sisters and I unravel the history of the sword, we quickly realize that the entity locked within the blade is a dangerous king from times gone by—and he’s about to break free and try to recover his crown…
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Painted Panther Yasmine Galenorn
“Do you think she knows what we’re up to?” Menolly fretted.
She hiked herself up onto the counter of the newly renovated Wayfarer Bar & Grill and leaned back on her hands, swinging her legs. The bar had been rebuilt, revamped, and revitalized, and tonight we were going to rock the block with a grand reopening party, welcoming back—we hoped—all the regulars who had made the Wayfarer their local watering hole. The doors opened in twenty minutes and we were just killing time as the staff finished last-minute touches, which included sorting out a massive number of balloons for Camille’s birthday, which also happened to be today.
I sat on one of the barstools, absently flipping through a book I’d picked up at the pet store: How to Take Care of Your Mouse. I had no plans on raising pet mice anytime soon—that idea could too easily turn into a disaster. No, my friend Misha, a mouse who had helped me out in a sticky situation, had just died. I wanted to look after her children . . . and her children’s children. The micelings were still frightened of me, but I’d managed to keep my promise to her and never once had chased after her extended family when I shifted into cat form.
“Probably. Camille makes it her business to know everything about everybody. She can’t help it. It’s the control freak in her. You know that by now. So, did you have any luck finding a new guard?” The portal to Otherworld downstairs needed constant watching, but Menolly had recently gone through a turnover in staff and now was shy not only an evening bouncer, but someone to watch over the portal during the morning shift.
She grumbled. “Not yet, and it worries me. I don’t like leaving just one person on duty—not after what happened to the bar. But there’s nothing I can do. At least Derrick and I can take care of tossing out the troublemakers during the evening shift until we find someone, though.”
Hunger pangs hit my stomach and I ran my tongue over my teeth. I’d just had them polished and the dentist had been a nervous wreck the entire time. Even though he was Supe-friendly, my fangs were sharp, and while not overly large, they didn’t retract like a vampire’s. Slicing a finger open would be all too easy. I could feel him tense up the entire time he was checking through my mouth.
Occasionally I cut my tongue on them, but I figured that was all part of being a werecat. What was really dicey were blow jobs. Shade and I had worked out a system where I managed not to hurt him most of the time, but in the end, it was easier to focus our attentions on other forms of love play, given the risks.
“I’m hungry, you have any snacks in this joint?”
Menolly leaned over and flicked my nose. “Doofus. I’m surprised you aren’t packing a candy bar. Go check near the birthday cake in the kitchen—we have plenty of cupcakes and one or two won’t be missed. We won’t be firing up the grill till it’s officially opening time, so if you want, grab yourself one . . . or some nuts from the bar.” She smiled and let out a satisfied laugh. “Kitten, I can’t tell you what a relief it is to actually have a decent grill to go with the name.”
Before an arsonist had torched it, the Wayfarer Bar & Grill’s kitchen had been barely passable. The cook had managed a few simple things like fries and burgers, or grilled cheese, or cold sandwiches. Standard dive food: filling, but nothing to write home about.
During renovations, Menolly had consulted with the architect and they’d redesigned the entire joint. She had commandeered the upper floor and ditched her attempts to turn it into a bed-and-breakfast. Instead, they’d relocated the kitchen upstairs, added an elevator, and revamped the staircase to make it user-friendly. A dumbwaiter and intercom system completed the cooking arrangements. They’d gutted two of the bedrooms in order to create a large private meeting room, to be rented out as needed.
“Are you going to miss having a bed-and-breakfast?” I glanced around. While the outside of the building looked the same—red brick, old, and historic—inside, the Wayfarer had a far different feel than when we’d first come Earthside and Menolly had started working as a bartender for her cover job.
“No, I don’t think so. I barely had one anyway. The bar had its charms, but now it’s my vision, through and through.” She glanced around, a satisfied look on her face. “As painful as the fire was, at least I was able to rebuild and put my own stamp on it.”
She bit her lip, drawing a drop of blood with her fangs. That they were showing told me she was stressed. Vampires had retractable fangs and they only came down during hunger, arousal, or stress. I knew she was thinking about the lives that had been lost during the fire but I said nothing. No use in scraping an open wound.
The walls were covered with postcards and wine labels, and the bar itself was polished to a high sheen, as were the bar stools. Two large tables, each seating up to ten people, took center stage. The booths had been rebuilt, their upholstery now a supple black leather. All the tables on the floor were new, the wood was a deep mahogany, rich and warm.
Menolly had asked the contractor to build a dance floor, and to replace the antiquated jukebox, she’d installed satellite radio. Large-screen televisions were mounted on the side wall of the bar for the sports freaks who occasionally came in—she kept the sound off, but they were continually running different games.
But despite all the Earthside trappings, everywhere I looked, I could see touches from Otherworld, giving the Wayfarer an exotic feel. Star crystals from the mines of the Nebulveori Mountains. Woven lattice tapestries from the shores of Terial, the Eastern Port on the Mirami Ocean. And sand-cast urns holding dried flowers, potted from the dunes of the Sandwhistle Desert. The Wayfarer Bar & Grill had become a beautiful hybrid between the two worlds.
“Well, I approve of the kitchen. I approve of anything to do with food.” I reached out and ran my hand along the red brick of the wall. There was a lot of brick in this building, and together with the warm wood and muted lighting, it gave the bar a cave-like feeling, but in a cozy, protected manner.
Menolly sobered. “To tell you the truth, I don’t think that I could rebuild as a bed-and-breakfast. No matter how much people say the deaths weren’t my fault, I’ll never be able to forget.” She gave a quick nod toward the new waitress. “I just hope she works out.”
I followed her gaze. Jenny was an FBH—full-blooded human. Camille had met her at Broom Stix, a magic shop, and Jenny had taken Chrysandra’s place as head waitress. She was a good worker, eager to learn, and just as eager to be out of her stepmother’s store.
“She’ll do a good job. She’s sincere. But I’m surprised you hired another FBH, given Chrysandra . . .” I stopped at the stricken look on my sister’s face. “I’m sorry . . . I didn’t think.” Great, I was just making things worse. I had a knack for opening mouth, inserting foot.
After a moment, Menolly shrugged. “What can I say? Her death will always weigh heavy on my shoulders. Especially at the end.” She flinched. “But you’re right, Jenny will do a good job. She’s smart, personable, and sassy enough to handle the customers. The vamp crowd will love her.” She glanced at the clock. “So when does the birthday girl arrive?”
“Camille and Smoky are supposed to be here in about ten minutes. Smoky said he’d have her here right before the opening. They’ll come in the back, so the crowd out front doesn’t swarm in behind them. You have a fan club waiting, you know.” I jerked my finger toward the front of the building.
“I’m surprised anybody’s showing up. The final count was twenty-five deaths, you know. Including vampires.” Again, the haunted look.
I wanted to wipe away the memory, to wipe away the guilt Menolly felt, but there was nothing I could do. Only time would help her sort out everything that had happened.
So instead, I forced a bright smile. “Well, I’m not surprised. People love this place. And they love you.” I reached out, patted her hand. The coldness of her skin had ceased to bother me. She was my sister, even if she was a vampire.
I wasn’t lying. There was a crowd out front. A number of vamps—I assumed they were vampires by their pallor—had shown up to show their support for the Wayfarer. There were also a number of Weres and Fae. All in all, there must have been fifty people outside, waiting in the rain-soaked January evening.
But tonight was more than the reopening. Tonight, we’d planned a special surprise. Since it was also Camille’s birthday, Smoky had volunteered to keep her occupied while the rest of us decked out the bar for both the reopening and her party.
“I’m not so sure about this, Delilah. You know Camille isn’t much on surprises. You think we can pull this off without a hitch, given our track record?”
I wrinkled my nose. “Our parties always suck. Why should this time be any different? At least this time nobody’s hired a stripper.”
It was sadly true that we seldom had people begging us to throw another shindig. But it was also true that there was no stripper in a fringed G-string for me to attack as my fluffy-butt tabby self. Although the balloons were mesmerizing, I could keep a handle on myself unless the ribbons were left dangling. Then all bets were off. Candy in front of the babytime.
Shade sidled up to me and slid one arm around my waist. He nuzzled my neck and I planted a kiss on his cheek. We were officially beyond the honeymoon stage, and had been together almost a year and a half. But as I leaned my head against his side, the warmth of his musky scent quickened my pulse. I’d never experienced this kind of love before we met. He was sweet and funny, and sexy in that easy, comfortable way. And I could be myself around him.
Shade reached into his pocket for something, but at that moment, Jenny came scurrying out from the back.
“Your sister is here.” Her eyes were wide. Camille had cowed her at one point, and Jenny still seemed to be scared of her.
“Thanks, we’ll take it from here. You go ahead and finish checking all the booths and tables to make sure everything is ready.” Menolly jumped off the bar. She glanced around. “Everybody here?”
I counted. Trillian and Morio were in the corner—Camille’s other husbands. She had three of them and they were all very happy together, if at times a little loud.
Vanzir and Roz were playing darts together. We called them the demon twins because Vanzir was a dream-chaser demon and Roz was an incubus, and they liked to hang out together, like a couple of slightly demented frat boys. Hanna, our housekeeper from the Northlands, and Maggie, our baby calico gargoyle, sat at a table with Iris and Bruce.
Nerissa—Menolly’s wife—carried the cake down from the kitchen. She placed it on one of the large tables. Everybody was here tonight, including Erin, Menolly’s middle-aged “daughter”; Roman, the son of the vampire queen; and Chase, the FBH detective who had become part of our extended family. Even Mistletoe and Feddrah-Dahns had traveled over from Otherworld for the party, though having a unicorn at any function was always problematic.
“Everybody’s here and we’re good to go.” I motioned to Jenny. “Will you ask Smoky to bring her in?”
Whatever excuse the dragon had made for keeping our sister out of the way appeared to have worked. Menolly doused the lights, and a moment later, a rustle told us they’d entered the room. But as she flicked the lights on again and we all yelled “Surprise,” we found ourselves shouting and throwing confetti at one very nervous toadsquatter.
“Ah, hell!” Menolly launched herself forward, but just then Camille and Smoky followed the creature through the door.
“Stop!” Camille grabbed the arm of the toadsquatter, yanking him out of the way. The squat goblin-like figure let out a shriek and hissed at her. “Shut up, you little weasel.” She swatted his nose as Smoky loomed up behind her, all six-foot-four of him.
“What the fuck?” Menolly pulled back. “What’s that doing in my bar?”
A whiff of the toadsquatter’s stench hit me and I gagged. Lovely. Cross a patch of skunk cabbage with a lumberjack who’s gone a week without showering and that’s pretty much what the creature smelled like. My stomach lurched.
Derrick Means, one of the bartenders and a werebadger, stared at the thing with a horrified look on his face. He leaned over to me and asked, “What the hell is that? It looks like a goblin that’s been squashed and deformed.”
“Toadsquatter. From Otherworld. A mutant version of a goblin. Goblins use them as slaves, and the toadsquatters hate them as much as we do. The little creeps aren’t blameless, though. They can be nasty tempered, fickle, and they’re all a pack of thieves.” Which begged the question: Why was one of them standing in the bar, and why had Camille protected him?
Derrick, whose ponytail was black streaked with white, shook his head. “Guess it’s no worse than some of the things we have over here. I bet you have no clue how many strange beasties we have running around the woods.”
“I’ll bet you’re right.” I grinned at him. Derrick was usually pretty grumpy, but he was fair, honest, and respectful. And that was more than we got from a lot of the Earthside crowd, FBHs or Supes.
Camille was trying to calm the toadsquatter, who was disturbingly close to tears. And trust me, a crying toadsquatter wasn’t any more appealing than a happy one. “Don’t upset him any more. He has important information for me, or so he says.”
Menolly paused. “Information?”
“We think he may know the name of the sorcerer who is tracking Camille.” Smoky glared at the toadsquatter, obviously not thrilled with this turn of events.
Camille knelt down by the creature. Toadsquatters were about four feet high, and squat. And butt-ugly. “Listen, calm down. I warned you people would react this way, so chill out. I promised you that if your info was worth it, I’d give you a reward, didn’t I?”
He nodded and, in a halting variant of the common tongue from Otherworld, said, “Yes, yes . . . You promised. You also have to promise they won’t kill me, though.” He jerked his finger toward us. I’d say thumb, but since he had six or seven digits I wasn’t sure which stood in for what finger.
“I promise.” Camille stared at the rest of us, and we slowly nodded our heads. Nobody seemed too enthusiastic, though. While toadsquatters weren’t inherently evil like their brother race of goblins, they were sneaky and reminiscent of cockroaches. They might not do anything to you, but they were so nasty you just kind of wanted to squash them on principle.
She straightened up and looked around, her gaze falling on the cake. “Oh, hell—birthday party? For me?”
“Yeah, but you kind of blew that one out of the water.” Menolly laughed. “Let’s get drinks started, Derrick. Camille, take that . . . thing . . . to my office. I don’t want my customers coming in here and finding him.”
Camille grabbed the toadsquatter by the hand and started for the back.
Menolly turned back to us. “Delilah, carry the presents to my office, please. We don’t want them to get stolen. It’s time for me to unlock the doors. Luckily, I ordered a gigantic cake. One big enough to include my patrons. But Jenny, would you move it out of sight till we’re done talking to that creature?”
And with that flurry of orders, Menolly headed over to unlock the doors. I gathered up the presents, then paused, watching as she inserted the key to open the Wayfarer to the public for the first time in over two months.
The crowds flooded in, swamping the staff. Once it appeared everything was going off without a hitch, I headed for the back, presents safely in my arms. Menolly motioned that she’d join us in a bit.
The office had been expanded during renos, and we all managed to fit in, albeit a little snugly. I set the gifts on the desk, and Camille walked over, looking at them. She seemed preoccupied.
“Anything wrong?” I glanced over at the toadsquatter but he was ignoring us.
She frowned. “There was someone in the bookstore today who made me uneasy. He was looking for a rare grimoire and was very pushy about it. He acted as though he thought I was hiding a copy from him, when I told him I didn’t have it and didn’t know where I could get one.”
“What’s his name? Did he have a demonic feel?” The fact that that question was always one of our first considerations now saddened me, but we always had to take it into account, given what we were facing.
She paused, considering. “No, he didn’t—I think he was FBH, but he did have a lot of magical energy, and there was something off about him. I think . . . he introduced himself as Jay. And he said he’d heard about my store from a friend . . . but that could be anybody.”
I sighed, leaning against the desk. “Has he been in before?”
“I don’t think so. But I don’t trust him.”
“Keep an eye out.” I leaned against the counter. “If I’m upstairs in my office, you can always call me down next time he comes in. And tell Giselle to do the same.”
A garbled grunt interrupted us. We looked over to see Smoky holding the toadsquatter in place, his hand firmly on the creature’s head. The toadsquatter wasn’t moving, but neither did he look like he wanted to be here and I didn’t blame him. He was in the middle of a group of hostile people who could easily make mincemeat out of him without so much as a blink. His gaze flickered toward the door.
“Easy, boy. You’re not going anywhere. Not yet. So what’s your name?” Smoky asked.
Shifty-Eyes thought for a moment, then sighed. “Rataam.”
“Well, Rataam, give us the information we’re looking for and you get to leave here alive. However, if I discover that you’ve gone back to whoever you’ve been snooping for and ratted us out, I’ll personally track down your family and there will be no more little Rataam babies in the world. Do I make myself clear?” When Smoky played hardball, he didn’t hesitate to break heads.
The toadsquatter seemed to realize this was no idle threat. He gulped and nodded.
Smoky let go of his head. “Tell us what you know, then. If it’s worth it, we’ll pay you for your knowledge.”
Rataam ducked his squat head. He really did look very toad-like, and for a moment I felt sorry for him. It was a scary thing to be surrounded by people who could pull you apart. I’d been there. But then he let out a noise—I didn’t know what it was and didn’t want to—and a vile stench filled the room.
“Oh, dude, that’s nasty. Do you have to do that?” I blurted out the words before I could stop myself.
Rataam scowled, but ignored me. Instead, he turned to Camille. “The sorcerer following you is named Iyonah.”
Iyonah? We’d had a run-in with the woman recently. Or rather, Camille had. But none of us realized she was anything other than a blip on the radar of “potential issues.” That she was following Camille and potentially out to kill her was a step up in the game.
Camille blanched. “Oh, fuck. I knew there was something about her! But how do you know this? How do you even know about me?”
“I only know about her because I was paid to find out. I never heard of you before my employer paid me to look into the matter.” Rataam shifted, obviously uncomfortable.
I blinked. Someone had paid the toadsquatter to snoop into Camille’s life? That alone was unnerving. Apparently, Camille thought so, too, because she knelt beside him, pale and looking worried.
“And who is your employer?” She took his hand in hers, unleashing her glamour, which immediately seemed to have a calming effect on the creature.
He let out a long breath. “Promise you won’t tell them I told you?”
She held up her hand. “On the Moon Mother’s honor.”
Rataam scuffed his foot on the floor, then shrugged. “Raven Mother. She asked me to find out who was following you, and to warn you.”
Startled, Camille withdrew her hand and stood up. Raven Mother could be bad news when she wanted to be, but for some reason, she’d decided to help us out. That didn’t mean we could trust her, though. Raven Mother was wily and cunning, and she had so many hidden agendas that our enemies looked like simpletons compared to her.
Camille had been getting to know more about the Elemental than she had ever wanted to know—she had no choice given the way events had been turning. As a result, Menolly and I’d been privy to a number of late-night conversations. Intrigue seemed to run rampant in the whole Raven Mother–Triple Threat–Moon Mother triangle that was going on.
“Did Raven Mother tell you why she wanted you to spy on me?” Camille’s eyes flashed—they were a vivid shade of violet, and now silver flecks appeared. No, she wasn’t happy, and her magic was rising.
Rataam shook his head. “No, but she made it clear it was important. She threatened to destroy my family if I didn’t do what she asked.” He sounded so disheartened that I instantly felt guilty for feeling so uncharitable toward him.
Smoky and Camille looked at each other, and she slowly nodded. There was no real way of telling if he was lying, but odds were, Raven Mother hadn’t told him what Iyonah wanted. Her motives might be questionable, but she wasn’t stupid by any means.
Smoky let out a grumpy sigh. “All right, we will pay you well, but only if you vow on your family’s life to keep your mouth shut about everything that’s happened. As long as you keep your bargain, we won’t tell Raven Mother that you told us it was she who hired you.” Smoky nodded to the door. “Come, I’ll take you to a portal, pay you, and you can return to Otherworld immediately.”
Camille kept her mouth shut until Smoky escorted the creature out. Then she let out a slow whistle. “I should have known Iyonah was up to no good. I think I did, I just didn’t realize she was after me.”
Irritated that we had to focus on enemies, even on our birthdays, I shook my head and gave her a hug. “Well, we should be able to take care of the matter as long as she remains clueless to the fact that you know about her. We’ll go over there tomorrow.” I pointed to her presents. “Meanwhile, birthday party.”
“You didn’t hire a stripper, did you?” She stared at me pointedly.
I blushed, but then swatted her playfully. “No, and I’m not going to turn into a cat and go lunging after the customers tonight either. But can you imagine Smoky walking into the room to find a guy jiggling his junk in your face?”
Trillian meandered over, laughing. “Oh, I’d pay to see that.” He, Smoky, and Morio had a good-natured rivalry going on. While they were all married to Camille and she loved each of them with a passion, they still sparred at times. But when push came to shove, they had one another’s backs, and together they surrounded her with a ring of protection that sometimes chafed at her.
Feddrah-Dahns spoke up. For a unicorn, his voice was simultaneously melodic and authoritative. “This Iyonah—I will send Mistletoe home right now to do research on her. Don’t take her on until we’ve dug up everything we can. I don’t want you in any more danger than you already are. If she’s truly a sorcerer, chances are she’s fairly powerful. And powerful sorcerers are danger incarnate.”
Before Camille could say a word, I interrupted. “She promises. She’ll be good and wait. Now, can we go join the party? This is Menolly’s special night, and it’s also special for Camille. We don’t get many celebrations. Please, let’s enjoy the ones we can.” I pushed Camille toward the door, and for the moment, the issue was shelved.
* * *
The party was rocking, the music loud, and the bar crowded.
The two large center tables were reserved for our party, but most of the booths were full, as were the counter stools. People had packed the joint, showing their support for Menolly.
In one corner, Marion Vespa—the owner of the Supe-Urban Café—and her husband were ordering drinks. Jonas and his werebear buddies had crowded into a booth and were eating burgers and fries, along with giant steins of beer. At a table near the door, Frank Willows, the leader of the Supe Militia, was holding court with three other werewolves.
And, of course, Roman, the son of the Vampire Queen, sat in the most luxurious booth, along with several of the higher-ups from the Seattle Vampire Nexus. Menolly was his official consort, and boy, did she walk a tight wire between her wife and Roman. All in all, the bar was crowded. The look on Menolly’s face made me happy. She’d expected people to ostracize her after what happened, but truth was: none of it was her fault. Maybe tonight would drive that through her thick skull.
As we gathered around the tables, Jenny brought over the cake. Camille winked at her, and the girl, flustered, stuttered out a “Happy Birthday” and immediately left.
“Hey, I wanted to order—” Camille laughed. “I’m going to have to do something to put Jenny at ease, it seems.” She stood up, looking over at the bar.
I motioned for her to sit down. “You’re the birthday girl. I’ll get a waitress. What do you want to drink? Do you want anything to eat?”
“I want a Goblin Blaster and can you order me a grilled cheese and fries? We’ll cut the cake while we’re waiting for the food.” She was eyeing the massive sheet cake like I eyed catnip. Normally Camille didn’t go for sweets but Earthside store-bought birthday cake had proven to be a weakness for her.
I motioned to a different waitress and gave her Camille’s order, and my own. Grilled cheese sounded good, so I asked for two. As the others ordered their food, I pushed my way up to the bar. Derrick, along with Digger—the assistant bartender, who was a vamp—were mixing drinks as fast as they could.
Derrick winked at me. “What do you need?”
“Camille wants a Goblin Blaster. For me? A Kahlúa and cream, please.” I didn’t drink a lot, but when I did, I preferred my booze with something to soften the impact.
He raised an eyebrow. “She wants a Goblin Blaster? We don’t get much call for those. They’re an acquired taste, that’s for sure.” As he began mixing up the basil liqueur with orange juice and both light and dark rum, the drink took on an earthy, pungent smell. The drink almost glowed green, and I grimaced. I preferred my drinks sweet.
Derrick added a twist of orange to the glass, then whipped up my Kahlúa and cream, and slid both drinks across the counter. I started to thank him but he had already moved on to his next order.
I picked up the drinks and carried them back to the table, handing Camille’s to her. She took a long sip and closed her eyes. Something about the basil and orange really appealed to her. Like me, she wasn’t much of a drinker, but ever since Menolly had concocted the recipe, Camille had, for the most part, stuck to a standing order.
Over the past few weeks, Menolly had gotten so irritable without the Wayfarer to distract her that she’d turned her lair into a makeshift bar and had managed to get just about everyone in the house drunk at one point or another, experimenting with new recipes. The upside was, the drink menu at the Wayfarer had increased by at least fifty percent.
While we waited for the food, Camille cut the cake. The frosting was an inch thick and my taste buds were doing a happy dance on my tongue. Camille’s favorite flavors were strawberry and lemon, so the cake was strawberry with lemon icing. There were chocolate cupcakes for those whose tastes ran to the more traditional, but I wasn’t picky. If it was cake, I’d eat it. And I did. Two pieces of cake and three cupcakes.
Menolly climbed on the counter and whistled to the bar. “Listen up! Tonight’s not just the reopening of the Wayfarer, but it’s also my sister Camille’s birthday, as you may have surmised. We have a lot of cake here, so feel free to drop by our table for a slice. It’s free till it’s gone.”
A general round of applause and a chorus of “Happy Birthday”s rang through the bar as I settled in beside Camille and Menolly with a sigh of satisfaction. Despite the toadsquatter, everything had gone off without a hitch.
A little voice in the back of my head kept whispering, Don’t let down your guard, but I was tired of always being on alert. I decided, what the hell, for once I’d ignore the warning and let down my hair. That was more than a cliché. I actually could let down my hair more than usual, because I’d started growing it back in. I was sporting a chin-length shag. Shade liked it, and while I wasn’t sure I’d ever grow it long again, it was fun for a change.
I downed the Kahlúa and cream and got a second, then a third round of drinks for Camille and myself. A fourth followed shortly.
The volume of noise had risen to a steady buzz now as more people crowded into the bar, and I blinked, realizing that I wasn’t following any particular conversation, but instead, I just sat back, taking it all in.
Menolly was beaming. Another round of drinks later, and the party was growing louder.
Wild Cherry came over the speakers, singing “Play That Funky Music.” Nerissa grabbed Menolly’s hand and dragged her up to dance. Nerissa towered over Menolly in her tawny, werepuma glory, but the two could boogie it up good. In a skintight hot pink minidress, with golden hair and gold sparkling heels that sent her over six feet tall, Nerissa was a striking sight.
Camille and Trillian followed, spinning onto the dance floor in all their fetish goth-glory. Dark and vampy, they made one hell of a pair. I blinked. Trillian cut a damn fine figure, now that I looked at him through my Kahlúa-colored eyes. The song shifted to “Super Freak” by Rick James, then it was fully into retro city with “Electric Avenue,” followed by “She Blinded Me with Science,” then “Whip It,” and of course, “Safety Dance.”
I polished off my drink and grabbed Shade’s hand. “Dance with me.”
He blinked. I danced, but it wasn’t a common request, considering I preferred curling up on the sofa with television and junk food.
“Are you sure, babe? You look a little flushed.” His voice sounded huskier than usual and I wanted nothing more than to press up against him.
I glanced down at the glasses on the table, counting them. Apparently, I’d had seven rounds, not four like I thought. But though my mind was a little fuzzy, more than anything, I wanted to dance with my lover.
We whirled out on the dance floor, but I whirled a little too enthusiastically and would have gone toppling over except that Shade had a tight grip on my hand.
He pulled me back into his arms and we began shaking it up to “Elevator Man” by Oingo Boingo.
But as Shade spun me around, I began to realize that maybe I really was a tad drunk. Booze hit my system overly fast and I hadn’t planned on having seven drinks—that was for sure. Not entirely certain what I was doing, I just attempted to stay on my feet. I probably should have asked Shade to take me back to the table, but I was so light-headed I couldn’t seem to form the words.
The next minute, none of that mattered.
The door burst open and Daniel, our Earthside FBH cousin, darted inside, followed by what looked like a very angry Viking. The muscle-bound man wearing the leather breeches and tunic grabbed Daniel by the collar and lifted him over his head.
Shade let go of my hand and I was so startled that I tripped back into the crowd, taking down a couple of vampires who were dancing. We hit the floor as Daniel sailed across the room, the Viking tossing him like a Scotsman tossing a log in the Highland Games.
As Daniel landed in a shuddering heap by my side, Camille darted toward the northern intruder, but the man took one look at her, then at the rest of the bar, and vanished from sight, as if he’d never existed.
Shade reached down to help me to my feet. The shock of landing on the hardwood floor and of seeing Daniel used as a giant football managed to jolt some of the alcoholic haze out of my system. Though I was a little unsteady on my feet, my head had cleared considerably, probably thanks to the adrenaline.
Camille knelt by Daniel’s side, helping him sit up. He looked dazed and confused. Smoky reached down and slid his hands under Daniel’s arms, hoisting him to his feet, while Morio brought him a chair.
“Are you all right, sweetheart?” Shade looked me over.
I nodded. “I think so.” Tentatively, I tested out my limbs. Feet, ankles, legs—okay. Arms, torso—okay. Neck—a little stiff, but okay. “Yeah, I’m fine. No damage done. But who the hell was that? And where did he go?”
“I don’t know, but I imagine Daniel can provide some sort of answer. Maybe.” He took my hand and we threaded through the crowd that had gathered around Daniel. By her quick glances around the room, I knew Menolly was keeping a watch out for anybody else looking to stir up trouble.
“Daniel, are you all right?” Camille leaned over him. “Can somebody bring him a glass of water?”
Our cousin had a slender build—one might almost call him effeminate until he spoke. Lithe, blond, and in his mid-forties, Daniel was related to us on our mother’s side. He was also an internationally known cat burglar who had belonged to the ISA—the International Security Agency—which meant he’d done some pretty shady stuff in his life. The ISA trained killers, snipers, and assassins, and carried out coupes unknown to even the heads of governments, until they were successfully done and over with. There wasn’t a lock in existence that Daniel didn’t have a good chance of getting through.
He winced, rubbing his neck. “I’ll be all right, I think. I took a good blow to the shoulder, though.”
Chase joined us. “I looked for the guy but couldn’t find him. I suppose I could put out an APB on him—he wouldn’t be hard to spot.”
Camille glanced at me, then shook her head and turned to Chase. “No . . . Chase, that wasn’t any ordinary person. Leave it be for now. Trust me?”
He shrugged. “Whatever you say, but if some lunatic is running around the streets of Seattle—”
“I don’t think we have to worry about that. We’ll talk later. Why don’t you go home with Bruce and Iris? We’re going to probably be late, and I’m sure Iris can use her sleep. Hanna needs to take Maggie home, too.” Camille caught Chase’s questioning gaze with a shake of the head.
He shrugged. “No problem. We’ll talk later.” Returning to the table where Bruce and Iris were waiting, he whispered something to them and they gathered their things and headed to the door, Hanna and Maggie in tow.
Camille flashed them a wave, then motioned to me. “We should take Daniel in back and get him some ice for his shoulder.” Which was code for: We need to talk in private.
“Yeah, you’re right. Let me get Menolly.” As I headed back to the bar, I motioned for Digger and Derrick to join us. Menolly’s gaze flickered over to Daniel as she wiped her hands on a bar towel and leapt over the counter.
“We need an ice pack for his shoulder. And Menolly, we need to find out what’s going on. In your office, if you get my drift.”
“Right. Derrick? Grab an ice pack and bring it to the back. And you and Digger keep a close eye on the crowd just in case anybody else decides to stir up trouble. Send someone to get us if there’s a problem.”
“Got it. But Menolly, Delilah?” Derrick’s voice was gruff but firm. “That was no drunken brawler. That was a ghost.” He voiced what I suspected we’d all been thinking.
I clapped him on the arm. “Yeah, we know, but don’t say anything to anybody, okay? Just do your best to convince them he was a drunk who vanished into the crowd. Say whatever you have to say. We don’t want questions until we have some answers to go along with them.”
“She’s right.” Menolly removed her apron and handed it to Derrick. “Just keep a close watch on things, do your best to squash any rumors, and come get us if all hell breaks loose.”
We navigated our way toward the back, passing the stairway leading down to the portal. As I glanced down the steps, I realized I’d rather be talking with the toadsquatter instead of doing this.
Apparently, Menolly felt the same way. “I really do not want to be dealing with ghosts again. I hate those fucking things.” She paused as Derrick approached, ice pack in hand. “Thanks. This should be fine.”
As the werebadger made his way back to the bar, I let out a long sigh. “Yeah, I’ve had my fill of them, too. We’ve dealt with so many spirits over the past year that it feels like we live more in the world of the dead than the living.” Then, realizing what I’d said to her, of all people, I started to laugh.
Menolly broke into a grin. “Yeah, ya think so? Maybe just a little? Let’s see, Camille and Morio are steeping themselves in death magic. I’m a vampire so, technically, yeah, I’m all the way to the left of the spectrum—dead and then some. And you’re . . . what? Right! A Death Maiden. Maybe there’s a reason we keep tripping over them?”
“Oh, shuddup.” I playfully swatted at her. She knew how to be snarky when she wanted to.
We reached her office—along with Smoky and the rest of the guys—and Menolly handed Camille the ice pack. Daniel let out a groan as Camille placed it over his right shoulder and the back of his neck.
“Well, that feels lovely, in a masochistic sort of way. I’m going to have a lump on the back of my neck tomorrow, that much I can tell you.” He winced, trying to hold it into place.
Camille found a strip of cloth—what looked like a long tea towel—and fashioned a tie to keep the ice pack in place. “There. Just don’t move too fast and it should stay put.”
We gathered around Daniel, Menolly taking her place behind her desk. She leaned back and put her feet up on the mahogany surface, ignoring Camille’s frown. “My desk, my feet. So, Daniel, care to tell us just what the fuck was going on out there?”
Daniel shrugged, then immediately let out another groan as the ice shifted slightly.
“You shouldn’t do that.” I was feeling all too perky, given the mix of adrenaline and alcohol. Or maybe, impertinent was the right word. The evening had been a bust, but not in the way we’d expected.
Daniel stuck out his tongue at me—an uncharacteristic move. “Well, thank you, Captain Obvious. I never would have thought of that.” He sobered. “All right, here’s the deal. I need your help. I was on my way to ask you when . . . when . . . well, you saw what happened.”
“You were being chased by one butt-ugly big Viking and we’re pretty sure it was a ghost. That’s what happened. Care to tell us where you picked him up and why he was after you?”
The fact that Daniel was coming to us for help could only mean that he’d gotten himself in some sort of trouble he couldn’t handle. And since he normally ran on the shady side of the law, that also meant he couldn’t go to the cops.
He let out a long sigh. “Okay, the thing is . . . I think I’m in trouble. Big trouble. And the only ones I know who might stand a chance in hell of helping me are you guys. Because this trouble? Is the kind I know nothing about.”
“Right.” He shifted again. “I fully admit to ignorance in this venue. I have never been one to pretend to have knowledge that I don’t. That sort of arrogance gets you killed very quickly.”
Trillian let out a laugh. “I like you, Daniel.”
I caught Camille’s gaze and grinned at her. Our cousin and her husband had a great deal in common—they were both mercenaries, of a sort, and both were arrogant but it wasn’t the blustery know-it-all machismo that drove us nuts. No, they knew what they were capable of, and they were honest about what they couldn’t do.
Daniel took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “All right. Long story short: I came across a sword—a very old one. And now I think it’s trying to make me do things against my will. And that Viking? I think he was one of the sword’s protectors. I have no clue as to what I’ve gotten mixed up in, and for the first time in my life, I’m up against something I can’t fight. Will you help me?”
Camille pinched the bridge of her nose and winced. “By ‘came across,’ you mean you ‘stole it,’ right?” We all knew what Daniel’s shorthand meant. But to our surprise, this time he shook his head, looking serious.
“I did not. You know I’d tell you the truth if I had, but no—I didn’t steal this sword. And now, I don’t know how to get rid of it.”
Menolly let out a long, exasperated sigh. I whistled, low and long. We didn’t even have to consult over this one. Daniel was blood kin. He and his sister were the only blood relatives of our mother’s that we had ever met. Whatever he’d gotten himself into, we were going to help him. With our family so rapidly diminishing, we wanted to keep everybody as intact and safe as we could.
“Of course we’ll help. Start from the beginning.” I settled down in one of the chairs as everybody else found a place to sit. “And Daniel? Don’t leave out anything.”
* * *
So I’m Delilah D’Artigo. Over in Otherworld, my name is Delilah te Maria. We take our mother’s first name as our surname over there, but when my sisters and I came Earthside, we adopted her surname for our own. Camille, Menolly, and I are half-Fae, half-human.
Our mother, Maria, was human. She fell in love with our father—Sephreh ob Tanu—a full-blooded Fae from OW. He took her home with him and she willingly sacrificed her Earthside life for him. They settled down to live happily ever after, and promptly had four daughters, including my twin, who died at birth. Mother fell from a horse and broke her neck when we were very young, and Camille took over the household, because our father retreated emotionally. We had a rocky time of it, but at least we had each other.
We work for the OIA—the Otherworld Intelligence Agency. Or rather, now we run the Earthside division. Our jobs have gone through a major shift since we first crossed through the portals from Otherworld.
Camille is the oldest. She’s a witch, and a Priestess to the Moon Mother. She has three husbands—Smoky, Morio, and Trillian—and together, she and Morio work death magic. Curvy and busty, Camille has long raven-colored hair that reaches mid-back. Her eyes are violet, an unnatural but gorgeous color, and when she runs magic heavily, they become tinged with silver. Camille lives in corsets, skirts, and heels that would break my ankles. She’s shorter than me—five-seven, and not nearly as athletic.
Menolly is the youngest. At barely five-one, Menolly is thin and petite; she was a jian-tu for the Otherworld Intelligence Agency until she fell into a nest of vampires. Dredge, the biggest, baddest vamp in OW, caught hold of her, and after the longest night of her life, he raped her, tortured her, and then turned her into a vampire. The motherfucker scarred every inch of her body except her hands, feet, and her face, leaving intricate swirling designs that were as beautiful as they were deadly and macabre.
There’s no way Menolly can ever fully let go of all the baggage, but we dusted Dredge a few years back, and it helped free her from her past. She’s married to a werepuma—Nerissa. They’re madly in love, though they have their problems. Menolly is also consort to Roman, the son of Blood Wyne, Queen of the Vampires—and Queen of the Crimson Veil, the sacred realm from where all vampires draw their power.
Then, we come to me. I was born a werecat, and as I said, I had a twin, but Arial died at birth. When Camille, Menolly, and I were sent Earthside, I ended up pledged to serve the Autumn Lord—an Elemental Lord. At first I thought it was inadvertent. Turns out? Now I’m thinking, not so much accident as destiny.
The Autumn Lord sparked off a change in me so that I now have two Were forms—the tabby one I was born with, and a black panther who primarily emerges during combat situations. I’m engaged to Shade—a half-dragon, half-Stradolan (or shadow walker), and he, too, is bound to the Autumn Lord. I’m destined to bear the Autumn Lord’s child via Shade, but I’m hoping that’s a ways in the future because right now? Children? Not such a good idea, considering what we’re facing.
Ever since we came Earthside, we’ve traveled quite the winding road, but I have the nasty feeling we have a long ways to go before we see the light at the end of the tunnel.
When we were first assigned to come over Earthside, we thought we were on an enforced sabbatical. We tried, but just weren’t the most effective at our jobs—no employee of the month awards in our trophy case. But as I said, once we were here, life took a major detour.
Now we’re embroiled in a demonic war. Shadow Wing, leader of the Subterranean Realms, is trying to break through the portals, in order to pour his hordes Earthside. Meanwhile, he’s managed to send one of his minions through to OW to start a horrific war. They’ve pretty much devastated the Elfin race at this point. The Demon Lord intends to take over both Earthside and Otherworld to make them his private stomping grounds. And all the nukes the humans have won’t be able to stop him.
We’ve lost our Father, and a number of friends due to collateral damage, but along the way, we’ve also met some pretty incredible allies. We’re holding on as best as we can. Where this will lead? Anybody’s guess right now. But we’ll fight to the end, because really, that’s the only thing we can do.
* * *
Daniel cleared his throat. “So, yes. Yesterday, I was on a consultation with a potential client—”
“You mean, you were making a deal to steal something for somebody. Let’s be blunt here, Daniel; we’re not prettying up what you do.” Camille let out a snort.
He flashed her a bad-boy look, but just smiled. “As you wish. Anyway, during our meeting, I noticed a sword hanging on the living room wall next to a painting. I prefer guns and other more portable weapons, so for the most part, I ignored it. But something about it stood out. Almost like it was calling to me. I ignored it, but it kept . . . I swear the damned thing was whispering to me.” His voice trailed off and he shook his head. “One thing you need to know about me: I never steal anything from my clients. That’s a firm rule. You consult with me, you’re free from me ever taking anything you own.”
“Okay, so what happened?”
“I don’t remember the rest of the meeting, nor do I remember leaving. I must have, but the next thing I knew, I was on the side of a road up in Shoreline. I have no idea how I got there, but my car was out of gas. I had meant to fill it up before the meeting but forgot. Anyway, I managed to flag someone down and get gas, but then I remembered I’d promised to do something for Hester. By the time I finally got home, I found out my apartment had been ransacked. The alarm system had been mangled, and the security tapes showed nothing.” Daniel shrugged, looking both irritated and confused.
That someone had the guts to break into his place was odd enough, but to ransack it? They either didn’t know Daniel very well or they considered themselves stronger and more dangerous than he was. “Someone ransacked your apartment? For what?”
“I don’t know. But it only gets stranger. When I went back out to my car, I found the sword in the backseat, covered up by a blanket. I don’t know how I got hold of it—I honestly don’t remember.”
I cocked my head. “And the sword is the same one that was in your client’s living room?”
“Yes. But there’s more. I didn’t call the cops about my apartment, obviously. But I was going to phone Le—my client—and tell him I had the sword. That somehow it had gotten into the backseat of my car. But when I tried his number, nobody answered.” He paled. “That’s when I found out that he’s in the hospital. Somebody hit him over the head a good one. He claims he can’t remember who did it. What if . . . what if that someone was me?” He drifted off, staring into space and it felt like he’d vanished down the rabbit hole.
“Daniel?” Camille leaned forward. “Daniel?”
He barely registered her words.
I frowned. Daniel was one of the most focused men I’d ever known. It wasn’t like him to lose track of conversations, let alone anything else. He’d been part of a squad so elite that there was no record of it on the books. Trained to absolute discipline, nothing save for an enchantment or spell should captivate him like this. And he usually never lied about what he did, so why would he lie about what had happened starting now?
Leaning forward, I shook his arm. “Daniel? Can you hear me?”
He jerked, startling out of his reverie. “What . . . ?”
“You tranced out when you were talking about the sword.”
“The sword?” He paused. “Oh, yes. That’s right. It’s really beautiful, isn’t it? Makes you want to just hold it . . . ” Again, he started to drift.
“So you found out your client was in the hospital. What did you do then?”
“That was late last night. Given the state of my apartment and what happened with the sword, I decided to stay in one of my hideouts for the evening. Today, I checked on my client—he’s all right but apparently he either really does have amnesia or he just doesn’t want the cops to know about our talk either. I thought about it, and decided that I’d ditch the sword down off the docks, into the Sound. I normally don’t go in for antics like that, but this whole mess has just weirded me out.”
I glanced at Camille. She looked as clueless as I felt. Turning back to Daniel, I asked, “So what happened, and why was a ghost chasing you?”
“Okay, I headed down to the docks—I still haven’t gone back to my apartment but I guess I’ll have to pretty soon, if only to clean up. On my way down to the pier, I had a flashback to my time in the ISA. And . . .” He paused, and a worried look stole over his face. “I don’t even like talking about this.”
“You’d better, if you want our help.” Menolly noticed his water glass was empty and pulled a bottle of water out of the mini-fridge in her office. “Drink.”
He sipped it, a few drops dribbling down his chin. Absently wiping them away, he continued. “All right. But it’s not pleasant.”
I eased out a faint smile. “We’re used to unpleasant. Go ahead, Daniel.”
“Well, you know that I did everything I could to extricate myself from the ISA. I was and am a dangerous and deadly man, and I don’t try to cover that up. When I was given a job, I did it, regardless of how distasteful my orders were. I’ve done things that I regret. That still haunt me in my nightmares. There’s nothing I can do to ever make up for some of the atrocities I committed. That’s why I went to such lengths to get out without the ISA killing me. I couldn’t face the job—or myself—anymore.”
Daniel had set in place a system where, if the ISA had him executed, news would be leaked as to some of their more covert activities, which would go down with the public about as well as public lynchings and the poor house.
“But this afternoon, I had a . . . it was like a flashback. A surge of that ruthless spark. I started thinking maybe I should keep the sword and . . . here’s where it gets really weird. I had the urge to rampage through downtown with it, mowing down people. Almost a craving. Now, even when I was in the ISA, I viewed it as a job. I didn’t enjoy what I did. Today I was craving the rush . . . the kill . . . After a long struggle, at least an hour of going back and forth with myself, I managed to get a hold on it. But this scared the fuck out of me.”
As he once again drifted into silence, it struck me that Daniel was a pressure cooker. As long as he kept the valves running free, he was fine, but clog up the works and he was destined to blow.
Members who had belonged to the military, whether they were secret service or not, always faced the danger of returning to combat mentality. When you added in assassination and sniper skills, along with whatever else Daniel had done, it made for a volatile cocktail. I frowned. Daniel, when I thought about it, had the foundation to become a highly dangerous and skilled serial killer. Or mass murderer.
As if reading my thoughts, Menolly pushed through to Daniel’s side. She took his hand. “If anybody knows what the fear of becoming a monster is, it’s me. I live with that possibility every day. I live with that choice every day. Because, Daniel, I am a monster. I keep control by conscious decision. You have a choice, and you made that choice when you left the ISA. It sounds like something has triggered you back into that mind-set again. You’re going to have to wrestle with your inner monster again, I fear.”
Morio nodded. “I think she’s right. And I think the sword has something to do with this. Daniel, what about the Viking ghost? Have you ever seen him before? What happened to cause him to chase you tonight?”
Daniel cleared his throat and smiled, squeezing Menolly’s hand before he let go and readjusted the ice pack.
“No, I’ve never seen him before. I’ve never seen any ghosts before, that I know of. I think the Viking is like . . . a guardian for the sword. As I said, I was going to drop it into Puget Sound. I stopped down by one of the piers and started to take it out of the car when I heard a noise.”
“The Viking?” Smoky asked.
“Right. I turned around to see the Viking. When I realized I could see through him, I figured he must be some sort of spirit. I was holding the sword, by my car, when he came charging toward me. Discretion is the better part of valor, they say, so I decided to get the hell out of there. I tossed the sword back in the car and slammed the door, managing to lock my keys inside. By that point, he was almost to me, and I didn’t have time to use the code to get my keys and get the fuck out of there, so I ran. I remembered your invitation to Camille’s birthday—which I apologize for not responding to—and decided to head to the bar. Ghosts and spirits are right up your alley, so I figured you’d be able to help me. Or at least, protect me. That damned Viking followed me the entire way. Luckily, I’m fast.” Daniel’s eyes were wide, his pupils dilated.
“Well . . . it’s a good thing you got here before he managed to catch you.” I leaned forward, resting my elbows on my knees. “So the ghost may be attached to the sword.”
“One thing is for sure—we won’t be able to tell until we examine it.” Camille tapped her finger on the desk. “So, to be clear, the only time this Viking has ever shown up was tonight, when you were about ready to get rid of the sword?”
“Right. I’ll be honest about something else. I don’t even know if I could have let go of the sword. I don’t know if I could have actually dropped it into the Sound. There’s something about it . . . But that’s what I was determined to do. I haven’t picked up a carbon copy of the One Ring, have I?” Even though he tried to make a joke, it was obvious that Daniel was shaken up.
“Luckily, Tolkien made up the ring. Kind of. But there are other things as dangerous . . . even more so.” As Shade spoke, I knew we were all thinking of the spirit seals and what would happen if Shadow Wing managed to collect all nine.
Excerpted from "Panther Prowling"
Copyright © 2015 Yasmine Galenorn.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Praise for the Otherworld Novels
“Yasmine Galenorn creates a world I never want to leave.” —#1 New York Times bestselling author Sherrilyn Kenyon
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Reading this just didn't pull me in as much as her previous books. I enjoyed it, but it didn't seem to be as connected to the main storyline as the earlier books. Even with that I did enjoy it,I just kept waiting for the ah-ha moment when we got back to the main theme. The shake up in the future books after the characers deal with changes in their lives should be interesting.
This is a book in The Sisters of the Otherworld series. It needs to be read in order. The first book is Witchling. This story is told from the perspective of Delilah. Again, Galenorn does not disappoint. This installment involves a cursed sword; ghost Vikings, and the sisters cousin Daniel. As always the story is a well balanced blend of character drama and everyday life, intricately woven with the right amount of action and chaos. Plus, several major revelations, and character changes that perfectly make another good read in the series.
Such a cool series. Yasmine Galenorn keeps each installment fresh and the plot never lags. If you haven't read her books yet, what are you waiting for?
Another fantastic book in the Otherworld series, from a fantastic author. I just love this series, and can not wait until the next comes out.
Love it! I can't wait to read more from this author. This book is great if you have never read any Yasmine Galenorn, shame on you! You should start today!