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I summoned a demon once. At least at the time, that's what I'd thought it was. I could probably chalk up both the summoning and my hesitation about its result to the fact that I'd been drinking and smoking a wee bit -- okay, a lot -- of something not quite so legal. One thing for sure: the damned beast had smelled rotten, like it'd been rolling in a thousand dead skunks or a few not-so-fresh corpses.
In my world, demons were nothing more than tangible evil.
And right now, evil was about to raise its stinking, ugly-ass head again -- in the form of my former lover, Gideon.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not talking metaphorical he-done-me-wrongness or a badass boy who turned his back on my loving redemption. Gideon was neither the heartbreaking villain of a country-and-western song nor the hero of a romance novel gone amok. No, Gideon was evil. He had chosen the darkside. His power lay in darkness. He could speak to the shadows, call the shades.
I'd been in love with him and trusting and he'd convinced me to drop all my barriers, to open my naive self to him completely so we could truly be "one." I fell for it like an egg from a tall hen.
When I touched his soul, what I saw and felt inside him scared me so badly I ran from London all the way back to Texas.
But Gideon was also family. Not closely related, but all Clan were cousins, aunts, uncles, all connected. Clan blood begat Clan blood. He was blood kin.
So when Aunt Isabel showed up declaring she needed my help because Gideon was dying, that I had to leave immediately for the family compound in British Columbia -- I knew I had to go.
Of course Gideon wasn't the only reason I had to skedaddle to Vancouver. I'd also Changed yesterday, and not solely the capital-C Clan Change we all undergo when we come into our true Talent. I had to be special. I'd become the Kelly heir -- yeah, that one, the one who only came along every so many blah-blah generations, etc. The one who didn't have only a single Talent, but got the whole supernatural shebang, all the Talents from astromancy to weather witching. Not something I'd ever imagined, nor wanted. Leave it to me, Keira Kelly, to be genetically unique...or maybe a genetic freak.
The previous couple of days had been insane in other ways, too -- missing people, the one person I'd found that I could truly be myself with in a coma, my best and oldest human friend nearly raped and murdered...
The craziness had turned downright depressing, though. Said best friend, Bea, wouldn't even speak to me on the phone.
After yet another failed speed dial, I slammed the phone Bea would not answer shut and shoved it in the pocket of my backpack. A yelp came from behind me as I tossed the pack aside.
"Ay, watch it!" Bea's nephew, Noe, a gangly just-turnedeighteen-year-old loped into my living room, avoiding the pack, which had landed next to him.
"Damn. Sorry, Noe. I didn't hear you come in."
"No prob. I didn't exactly knock," he answered.
I kept my back to him as I tried to compose myself. Had Bea sent him to talk to me? To tell me to stop bugging her? I just wanted to explain to her why I'd done what I'd done. Why sentencing a man to death at the hands of a Sidhe instead of turning him over to proper human authorities had been my only choice. Noe knew none of this, however, only that his aunt and I were in the midst of some sort of disagreement.
"So, packing, huh?" Noe said as he settled onto a nearby chair. "You gonna keep calling Bea?"
I nodded and fiddled with the fastenings on a rolling suitcase I'd pulled out of the hall closet. Most of my clothes were at Adam's, but some of the cooler weather gear that I expected to need for my unexpected and unwanted trip to Canada were still at my house. The temperatures would most likely be mild, but I'd probably need warmer outer gear for nighttime.
"How'd you know I've been calling her?" I managed to say after a moment.
"You've only been calling the house and the café over and over for the past few hours," he said, leaving off the obvious "duh."
I rubbed my eyes, trying to avoid the tears that threatened. Thirty years and I still had no clue how to handle a fight with my best friend...and this one was a doozy. Less of a fight, really, and more of a complete dissonance in moral systems.
"You're heading to Canada?" Noe prodded.
"How'd you hear that?"
"I listened to the messages you left on the answering machine," he said.
"Yeah, of course you did," I muttered and put aside a pile of receipts and other detritus that I'd dug out of my duffle bag. Last time I'd used this, Adam and I had gone on a trip to a fancy vampire hotel.
"You stopping by the house first?"
Noe tried to make the question sound casual, but failed miserably. Sorry, kid, I thought, you're too damn young to dissemble. Ignoring him for the moment, I turned to search through the center drawer of a small chest I used for storage. It was a pretty cool item, picked up at a craft show last spring. The vendor claimed it was some sort of antique Asian-style chest. I didn't care about its provenance and had bought it because it was unusual. Instead of hiding it away in my bedroom, I'd installed it in my living room, its washed-out red paint and metal accents complementing my other furniture.
"Damn it, where the hell's...there you are." I slid three passports out of the back of the top center drawer, found the red one and tucked it into a travel wallet, which I then placed inside the front pocket of my backpack. Nothing like doing busywork, pretending I needed to be more prepared, even though at this point, I was as ready as I'd ever be. No need for packing much as I had plenty of clothes at the family homestead. I wasn't planning to take more than this small duffle bag and my carry-on backpack, private plane or not.
I liked to travel light. Besides, if I really needed anything while I was there, it was a good excuse to take a day or two trip to Vancouver.
"All those different passports yours?"
"What -- oh, yeah," I said, trying to keep my brain on what I was doing. Did I want to stop by their house? Bea was there, sure. No doubt getting some much-needed rest and recuperating from what happened last night...well, early this morning.
"Didn't know you could have so many. You a spy?"
I stared at the boy, all six-foot-something of him sprawled across an armchair, body spare and rangy, whipcord lean in the way that only teenagers can be. "Spy?"
"Thought only spies had more than one passport."
I laughed despite my mood. "Only in the movies," I said. "I'm a citizen of the UK by birth, U.S. by family and Canada, well...I'm not really sure about that one, but I've had all three since I was a kid. Since I'm going to Canada, I'm going to travel on my Canadian passport."
"Huh. That's kind of cool." He threw a long leg over the arm of the chair and started to swing it, his natural nervous energy needing some sort of outlet. One hand toyed with the pull on the reading lamp.
"So what's up, Noe? You need something?" I tried to keep it light, keep my voice from breaking. I managed, but just barely.
"I came by because I didn't want her to...you know...she's -- " Noe shrugged in that boneless way teenagers do. "I came by to tell you Tia told me to come see you and tell you that she's gonna talk to her."
Despite the run-on sentence and lack of pronoun attribution, I didn't have a problem parsing his message. "Yeah, thanks," I said roughly and turned away.
"You ready, sis?" My brother Tucker stuck his head through the door, one hand on the frame as he leaned in.
"Yeah." I picked up my backpack and slung it over my shoulder, trying to avoid looking at Noe. He'd done a good thing, coming out here to talk to me. Bea was the de facto matriarch of her small family, despite the fact she was about my age. Even her elderly aunt, Tia Petra, and uncle, Tio Richard, bowed to Bea's need to lead. She ran the house as well as she ran the café.
Bea and I had been friends for most of our lives. She'd been my first real friend, human and more accepting of my oddities than anyone outside my family. This estrangement was killing me.
"You leaving now?" Noe asked. "Without talking to Bea?"
Tucker started to say something, but I held up a hand. "We'll actually be here until tomorrow. Tucker's here to take me out to the ranch where we're spending the night."
"We were supposed to be leaving now," Tucker added. "But the pilot's delayed because of weather and can't get here until sometime tomorrow."
Noe stood up, brightening. "So you can come by, then, now that you have time?"
Surely Bea wouldn't turn me away in person, would she? "I'll be there in a while," I said.
"You got someone to take care of the house while you're gone?"
"We do if you're willing," Tucker answered for me as he picked up my larger duffle and hoisted it over his shoulder. "It'd be a big help if you could stop by every once in a while."
"Oh, cool. You mean me. Sure." Noe beamed. He was a good kid, mostly. Just a teenager with few prospects and very little money. He attended school part-time at the University of Texas at San Antonio and worked part-time at Bea's café, but there were few other legal ways to make ready cash around Rio Seco.
Tucker grinned at the boy's enthusiasm. "Excellent." My brother dug out his wallet and slipped Noe some bills. "Thanks, kiddo. You'll save me some worry."
"You know when you're coming back?"
Not a clue, I wanted to say, but didn't really want to go into all the reasons I was leaving so suddenly. "I'm not sure exactly," I said, "but I'll call, I promise."
I damned well intended to come back as soon as I could, but so much was up in the air, I couldn't predict anything right now.
Noe nodded and in an unexpected move, he wrapped his arms around me in a hug. "I'll tell Tia." With that, I took one last look at the house that I'd sort of called home for the past couple of years and walked away.
I tried to swallow but, despite having gulped down sixteen ounces of water before I stepped out of my Land Rover, my mouth was as dry as the Llano Estacado. Bea knew I was here in front of her small limestone house. The Rover had a distinctive engine sound, one we'd laughed about in the past. "You can't ever sneak up on someone, chica," she'd teased.
My hand clenched, fist tight. Damn it. Knock already, Keira Kelly.
The brown wooden door opened before I had a chance.
I cleared my throat, still unsure of what to say, but it was only Noe. "Hey," I said, a lame attempt at being casual. I failed as utterly as he had two hours earlier at my house. I'd gone with Tucker to the ranch, dropped him and my bags off and returned to town to try to mend fences.
"Tia says that Bea says she needs some space." He looked down at the metal strip across the threshold, his toe worrying at a bent corner. One hand was propped up on the door frame, the other stuck in the pocket of his loosefitting jeans, waistband riding dangerously low on his hips, the top two inches of white cotton boxer topping the denim. A skinny bare chest showed evidence of a recent workout. Tia Petra probably had Noe doing some heavy lifting at the café this morning. It was nearly three, the time I used to stop by my best friend's restaurant for a coffee, breakfast taco and a quick gabfest...just another afternoon in the life of Keira Kelly.
But all that had changed with Adam's arrival, Marty's death and now...oh, so much had changed now after Bea's near murder only two nights ago.
"Space?" I repeated the word like a badly trained parrot. "She does know I'm leaving for a while?"
The boy nodded; a more miserable expression hadn't yet been invented. Noe was eager to please, still a bit of a teen slacker, yet always there to help the family out. "She said she'll talk to you when you get back." He toed the metal strip again, one bare toe running a line across the ridges. He looked up at me finally. "You are coming back, right?"
I nodded, too full of questions, pleas, emotions I couldn't elucidate blocking my voice.
" 'Kay, then." Noe nodded back at me. "She'll be here. You know she's still -- " He blushed, a teen boy's embarrassment at girly stuff overwhelming his attempt to be the man of the house.
"Yeah, she's still my best friend," I said, my voice finally working. "Tell her, no matter what happens, I'll come back." I looked at him, Bea's amanuensis, the person who would report back to her. "Tell her. I will be back." I turned away, my eyes blurring. "I'll call her."
The door shut behind me and I climbed into the front seat of my car.
Copyright © 2009 by Maria Lima