“I’ll guard the front,” Mordecai said, his patchy head suddenly stuck in the doorway of the bathroom. The hair that had fallen out in his illness was just starting to grow back.
“There.” Bria shoved her finger through the air in triumph. “He’ll guard the front. Case closed.”
“No.” I pointed at him. Then her. “No! Mordecai, you’re supposed to be the voice of reason. This is madness.”
“Despite your theory about the water, it makes sense that the you-know-what would be in his house,” Mordecai replied. “Valens would probably want to guard it. And Bria said Demigod Kieran is watched at all times. If you have to go, better to do it now, at the beginning of the investigation, when there is no suspicion and both of them are engaged elsewhere.”
Bria’s eyebrows lifted and her lips pulled down at the corners. “Wow. You’re really level-headed.”
“Thank you,” he said.
“It wasn’t a compliment. This is probably the only situation where you’ll be any fun.”
Mordecai frowned at her.
I looked between the two of them. The gravity of the situation weighed on my shoulders. Mordecai’s serious expression flipped my stomach.
Fucking hell, I was going to do it. I was going to go along with this outrageously stupid plan.
“Okay, here’s the situation.” Bria slouched in the driver’s seat of her Mercedes with the visor down, parked against the curb, looking ahead at the ritzy, quiet street. Huge houses backed up to nothingness, high on a cliff overlooking the sparkling blue, seemingly limitless ocean. Sun showered down on the perfectly kept lawns and artfully cut shrubs lining the sidewalk. Off in the distance, the majestic orange of the Golden Gate Bridge spanned the inlet into the bay.
“This is paradise,” I said in Bria’s pause. “Deep blue sky, gorgeous houses, and that view!” I sighed, in rapture. “What must it be like to live in a house like that?”
“Considering you’d have to live with a batshit crazy Demigod who has more power than sense? Terrible. Now…” Bria rested her elbow on the edge of the window and covered half her face with her hand. “…we’re going to grab those Bibles in the back seat and make the short walk to Valens’s house. His is the big one at the point there.” She fluttered her eyebrows instead of pointing. “We’ll go up to his door, holding our Bibles out so people can see them, and pretend like we’re trying to get money for charity. Dressed like you two are, that’s totally plausible. Then we’ll slip off to the side and go around back. Valens thinks just being Valens protects his house (gotta love huge egos), so we won’t have any wards to worry about, and I can pick a lock, no problem. We’ll be inside in a jiffy. Mordecai can hide in a bush at the edge of the property and text us if someone is coming.”
“I don’t have a phone,” Mordecai said, passing up one of the Bibles. “And this isn’t a Bible.”
I took the proffered book, an old volume with Bible written on the cover in sparkly gray Sharpie.
“This isn’t right,” I mumbled. “Or believable.”
“What’d you think I was going to do, bring actual Bibles?” She scoffed at me. “I don’t need God pissed at me. I got enough problems.” She turned back to stare at Mordecai, sitting in the middle seat and staring down at the other two books. One was a light red, faded with time. The “e” in bible bumped up against the end of the cover. “What do you mean, you don’t have a phone?” she demanded. “How old are you?”
“Fifteen,” he replied.
She glared at me. “Fifteen is plenty old enough to have a phone, Alexis. I know you’re not a real mother, but surely that has occurred to you…”
“This is my first well-paying job,” I said in between deep breaths. The beauty of my surroundings slowly eroded as I considered everything that could go wrong with our non-plan. “I haven’t gotten my first check yet. Funds are low.”
Her expression crumbled into anger. “He fawns all over you, suffocates you, helps you in and out of cars like you’re broken, and he won’t give you an advance to cover the staples of life?” She shook her head and blew out an aggressive breath. “If he wasn’t a Demigod, I’d punch him right in the dick.”
“A phone isn’t really a staple,” Mordecai said. “Demigod Kieran is supplying all the food we could ask for. That’s—”
“No.” She held up her hand. “This is depressing me.” She huffed and fitted her hands into black gloves. “One thing at a time. First, we need to get into that house and have a look around. Then I can sort out this phone issue.” She shook her head. “Now. If the house staff finds us out, pretend like you were trying to steal something and run like hell. If the worst happens, and Valens comes home, then we need to sneak out. He can feel magical power.” She tapped my arm, looking at the brick red house standing proudly at the turn in the street. “Give the kid your phone.”
I did as she said.
“Now. Kid.” She vaguely waved her finger in the air. “You text us the moment you see his car. He’s driving a lime green Lambo today. You see that, you text us. Then you need to head back to this car pronto, got it? You’ll open the trunk, haul out the cadaver, and run back to the house—”
“No.” I pushed her hand out of the air before glancing at a slack-faced Mordecai. “No. You won’t be carrying a dead body down the street. We’ve parked too far away to make that look in any way believable.”
“It’s fine.” Bria waved her hand this time. “I dressed the cadaver up. This area is home to some serious alcoholics. Throw him over your shoulder and people will think a son or young helper is carrying some rich drunkard home. It happens.”
I shook my head. “I think you’re making things up at this point—”
“—but it doesn’t matter. We need to get moving. This car might fit into the neighborhood, but three people sitting in it surely won’t.”
“Okay. Then only grab the body if I say to.” Bria put her hands up to stall my reaction. “It’ll be our fail-safe if things go totally wrong. Trust me, you’ll be glad for a dead guy running rampant through the house.”
We climbed out of the car and set a quick pace down the street. As we walked between the houses, my jaw dropped at their sheer size. The majority were three stories tall and wider than three of my houses put together. Two large families could probably coexist in one of them without ever seeing one another.
“I got the impression you were into frugal living for some reason,” I said conversationally, fighting my tight vocal cords and rampaging heart.
“I am,” Bria said, her voice even and calm. She strolled along, seemingly not a care in the world even though she was on her way to break into a ruthless Demigod’s house. “I’m saving everything I can. My studio apartment is tiny. Not tiny like your house, but nearly.”
“Then what’s the deal with the Mercedes?”
“Oh, that’s not mine”—she snapped—“I forgot to mention. If we have to run for it, don’t run back to the Mercedes. Especially if you grabbed the cadaver, Mordecai. That car is hot. My car is parked four blocks away next to—”
“It’s hot…meaning you stole it?” I asked her incredulously.
“Yeah.” She gave me a look that said I was dense. “I’m not going to bring a five-year-old Mazda into this neighborhood. It’d be noticed. Not to mention someone might write down the plate number. That’d lead them straight back to me.” She huffed. “Madness. No, I grabbed that Mercedes from a sleepy little retirement community on the other side of town.”
“Which car to run to is a very important part of the plan. It’s worrying that you forgot to mention it,” Mordecai said in a wary voice.
“Wow. You are definitely a buzz kill for a fifteen-year-old.” Bria glanced back at Mordecai. “I’m not used to coordinating with people on this scale. Anyway, don’t head back to the Mercedes unless you need the body. Head down the hill, hugging the cliff. Four—no, five—blocks away, soon after the neighborhood ends and the road splits away, there’s an old motorhome parked in an outlet in front of a burnt-out building. The people in that motorhome are probably making drugs or something. I’m parked in front of that. Hopefully the cops will think my car is part of the motorhome’s outfit.”
“You want them to think you make drugs?” Mordecai asked.
“For a little while, yeah. Have you ever seen what happens when you burst into a meth lab? The thing goes up in flames. Cops don’t rush into those. It’ll buy us time.”
Mordecai didn’t comment, and I assumed it was because he was just as gobsmacked as I was. I’d known Bria was a nut, but I hadn’t realized it was to such epic proportions. What had Kieran been thinking, pairing her with me?
Too late. This was happening whether I was ready or not.
The brick red house rose up in front of us, easily the largest and most extravagant in the neighborhood, with the best positioning for a scenic view. Flowers bloomed in a cascade of color along a walkway leading from the sidewalk to the house. Perfectly manicured bushes and vibrant green grass decorated the front yard, surrounding a large fountain with a beautiful woman dancing amid splashing waters.
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