“He’s a medicine man. Don’t worry, one of the good guys, from the Nez Perce tribe. He was involved in a demon possession case involving a little boy.”

“And what happened? Did it work?”

Silence. “The boy died,” Bird said.

“Okay, so how about we look at option B.”

“There is no option B. This is the most I can do for you at this hour. I haven’t even called him yet; he might not even be open to it. But I feel that this is the option we have to take. Like I said, if things get rough, we can back out. But Perry isn’t a little boy. She’s got age and fight and spirit on her side. If anyone can handle this, it is her.”

He was right about that, even though the risk was bigger than I originally thought.

“Dex, we’ll do whatever we can,” he continued reassuringly. “I’ll call you back after I hear from him.”

He hung up the phone and I sat back in the chair, pulling my hair out at the sides. I was so damn close to freaking out. I eyed my book of pills, wondering if taking a few of the smuggled-in Valium would help me out. But I needed to think. I needed to be alert and ready to act. I couldn’t medicate or drink my way out of this one. Perry needed me more than I needed relief.

I sent a quick text to Ada, asking for an update on the situation. Nothing had really changed, which was great, but it looked like she’d be taken away by morning. She’d been eavesdropping on her parent’s conversations and they were adamant that Perry was having a mental breakdown and needed professional help. She said they never believed her, no matter how much Ada backed her up.

I told her I’d be there in a few hours, that I was just waiting on something. I did not want to mention the exorcism, because even though Ada had brought up the idea of possession, it didn’t mean she’d be open to the idea of a medicine man doing some magic on her sister. People had different limits when it came to what their brain could accept, I knew this all too well.

Finally, after I paced a mini-marathon around the apartment, Fat Rabbit staring at me with concern, my phone rang.

“Bird!” I exclaimed as I answered, my chest squeezing around my lungs and heart and everything else I considered vital.

“Roman said he’ll do it,” Bird said. “I have his address here. I’m going to fly to Idaho tonight to help him get ready.”

“Oh, you don’t have to do that,” I told him, touched by his generosity. Bird was a ranch hand from a poor reserve in New Mexico. He did not have money for an impromptu flight.

“It’s no bother,” he said, and he somehow made me believe it. “I’ve already made my reservation. I have to hurry to Albequerque now, you just go to Perry and get her out of there. And be careful.”

“I owe you one,” I told him.

“You already owed me one,” he joked softly. Then he gave me the address and some vague directions that sounded simple enough and said goodbye. That man. I really needed to order him a high-class hooker for his next birthday or something. You know, as a way to say thank you.

I exhaled, steadying myself, and texted Rebecca. I asked her to take care of Fat Rabbit while I was gone and that I’d let her know if there were any developments.

Then I went to the door, not bothering to pack anything. I had my wallet and my car keys; it was all I needed. I stopped by the mirror in the hallway, and at first glance, I hardly recognized myself. For the first time I really saw the differences in my body. My face was skinnier, now covered in a layer of scruff that I didn’t shave every day. My arms and shoulders had expanded. I shrugged on my cargo jacket and noticed that even that didn’t fit the same as it used to.

Did this mean I was a new man? I didn’t know. Perhaps not yet. Perhaps it wasn’t a quick fix and a matter of working out and eating right and embracing the crazy fucking nutjob that I was. Still, I decided to take out my eyebrow ring and placed it in my jacket pocket. Now I looked different. And hopefully, different enough for Perry to put her trust in me. I didn’t want to be that guy anymore, the one that hurt her. I wanted to be me. Perhaps the same me she had seen underneath all this time.

CHAPTER SIX

I sped the Highlander down the I-5 like a demon in the night. Perhaps that was a bad analogy, but I felt almost supernatural as I managed to clock record speeds while somehow avoiding every single speed trap there was out there. I was motherfucking Batman and timing seemed to be on my side—I just hoped it would be as kind to Perry.

I texted Ada as I drove, letting her know I was on my way and urging her to keep things as secret as possible. I was pretty sure that their parents wouldn’t be too happy to have me in their house and would probably throw me out on my ass, especially when I decided to quiz them on my dear old Pippa. And Max, well, I had a bad feeling about him. I didn’t understand how it was even possible that the giant ginger king was there, in Portland, in their house, meddling in what used to be my affairs. After everything that he and I had been through, this just reeked of sabotage.

It was raining steadily and dark as fuck outside when I turned the car onto Perry’s street. As much as I tried to tell myself that everything would be fine and that the plan would work, I was a nervous pervous. I was not only afraid of what was happening to Perry, afraid that I might fail in saving her, but I was afraid of her in general. Not of the thing that had apparently taken over her, but of her. Of what she’d think of me. Of the way she’d look at me.

Christ, I was in over my head and my head was over my heels. I was just a fucking tumbleweed in love with a constant breeze at my back. I slammed the car into park a few houses up from hers, and wished I had a whole packet of Nicorette that I could jam into my mouth.

Alas, I didn’t. So I settled for one—bite, bite, chew, then sent one last text to Ada and waited for five painful, agonizing minutes before I saw her lithe little form running down the street through the rain. She jumped in the passenger seat and slammed the door, her white blonde hair going all Debbie Harry on her.

“Hey,” I told her, twisting in my seat to get a better look at her. Maybe I should have been afraid of Ada instead of Perry. Though she was just fifteen, Ada looked years older at that moment, dark circles under her eyes, which were wide and flashing like blue hazard lights. She looked jacked up, angry and scared all rolled into one emo bundle. “Thanks for—”

Smack.

It wasn’t as hard as Rebecca’s slap and from the surprised look on Ada’s face, I could tell it was the first time she hit someone and meant it, but damn. The Palominos had some serious anger management issues. Or Dex Foray issues. Potatoes, potatoes.

I stretched out my jaw and shot her a wary look. “Well, I suppose I deserved that.”

“I thought about it and decided you’re still an asshole,” she snarled. Then smiled politely. “But thank you for coming.”

Oh man, what did I get myself into? Nope, didn’t matter. I’d walk over hot coals and a million teenage slaps if it meant getting to Perry.

“You’re probably going to get it worse from my dad,” she went on. Okay, make that a million teenage slaps and a punch from an angry Italian.

“Let’s try and prevent that from happening. Anyway, can you sneak me into her room?”

She shook her head. “Maximus is in there, thinking he’s taking care of her. He’s such a tool.”

I ground my teeth together, not appreciating the mental image of Perry strapped to a bed with Max taking “care” of her.

“Well, the flannel-coated pussy stealer won’t be taking care of her for much longer,” I said, unbuckling my seatbelt. She looked at me blankly. Perhaps she didn’t appreciate her sister being referred to as “pussy.” I cleared my throat. “I meant flannel-coated…ginger douche.”

She dipped her chin and said dryly, “Dude, the term is douchecanoe.”

She flung her door open and we ran down the street in the pouring rain. The Palominos’ large house loomed at the end of their driveway, the lights from the windows looking more like reptilian eyes than anything else. Warm and cozy? Nuh-uh. I could already tell that something was terribly wrong and I felt it in every part of my body. Evil? Yeah, I could believe evil lived in that house.

A movement at Perry’s window caught my eye—the silhouette of he-who-shall-not-be-named-except-in-insults-I-found-fitting. My fists clenched and I breathed out slowly through my nose. So many things were rushing through me—conflicting, dangerous feelings, it was no wonder Ada looked so torn and cracked out. My head and heart were already being done in and I hadn’t even been in the house yet.

We paused on the steps, Ada holding her finger to her mouth, as if I needed to be quiet. Maybe I was breathing through my nose rather loudly.

“Just stay behind me,” she whispered. “I think my parents are in their room.”

I nodded and she pushed the door open. I was immediately met with this…darkness. A malevolence, like a cancer in the air, that rushed through me, making me feel sick all over.

Ada gave me a look like she understood exactly what I was going through and I followed her in, walking as quietly as possible. I shrugged off my wet jacket, a droplet of water running down my neck.

It was strangely still inside, like some unseen life force inside had paused the second I walked in. It’s hard to explain, but since I was grasping for the impossible anyway, it was almost like there was a fuck-you-up energy in the house that was waiting in a hidden corner somewhere, ready to pounce.

“You feel it too?” she asked quietly, as we walked up the stairs, my eyes searching the dark hallway that led to even darker rooms.

I nodded. “Is it always like this?”

She shook her head. “I can feel it, all the time. But it’s never been so calm like this. It’s freaking me the fuck out.”

“Like it knows I’m here.”

We exchanged a worried glance and continued up the stairs, the blood pounding more loudly in my head the closer I got to the top.

Once there, I could see Perry’s room at the end, the door slightly ajar. I could hear his stupid drawl but couldn’t make out what he was saying. We walked to the door and Ada slowly pushed it open, casting me a furtive glance before doing so. As if she was trying to prepare me.

Maximus was standing in front of Perry, looking down at her. I couldn’t really see her body, but I could tell she was lying on the bed, immobile. A rope was wrapped around one leg and down around the bed post. I focused on her foot, her little toes, the fact that she was held down. I couldn’t even move. I could only listen as he went on, not noticing either me or Ada in the doorway.

“Just get through tonight,” he said in an overly cloying voice. “Things will turn around tomorrow.”

“And what will you do when the men in the white coats take me away?” Perry answered. I hadn’t heard her voice in so fucking long. I almost collapsed right there and then, her presence rolling through me, wanting to bring me to my knees like she had before. “What will you say then? Will you still ask me if I’m scared?”

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