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I almost tripped over my own feet when I noticed the face of the woman.

“That’s Kieran’s mom,” I said in a breathy whisper, touching my fingertips to my chest. I needed to get some pearls so I had something to clutch in times like these. “Her likeness, I mean.”

Bria squinted at the statue. “Are you sure?”

I studied that face, so similar to what was stored in my memory. Young and vibrant and shockingly beautiful. “Yes. That’s the form she takes as a spirit. It must’ve been her in her heyday.”

“Huh.” Bria grabbed my elbow and directed me onto the front walk. “Was she full of herself?”

“Not now, but she had a kid and a downhill spiral of a life. There’s no telling what she was like before all that.”

“Even still, Valens doesn’t typically worship anyone but himself.” Bria slowed as we passed the fountain, taking it in. “He might’ve actually loved her. And when Demigods love, it is way overboard. They lose all reason. You think Kieran is possessive? That’s just attraction. That’s nothing. As you can see.”

“Which is why he’s holding on to her, even in death,” Mordecai said, his gaze scanning the woman’s face, then body. Water splashed up from little shoots, like sea foam spraying from a crashing wave. Her stone dress swirled around her legs, and her arms hung in the air, floating as she danced. “He knows she’s trapped in this world. She’s still with him, even though she’s not.”

I shivered. “That is so fucked up, I can’t even.”

“Yeah.” Bria nodded and nudged me to get walking. “Very.”

“Let’s find that skin and put an end to this.” I clenched my fists as we stepped onto the huge porch, facing the intricate metal door knocker featuring artful swirls and a weird face with the ring sticking out of its mouth. “At least the door knocker isn’t her face.”

“Maybe it’s someone else. Someone he didn’t like as much.” Bria shifted like she was impatient before looking behind her, her eyes shrewd even if her bearing seemed peaceful and compliant. “Okay. Let’s work around to the back. Any neighbors who noticed us have probably hidden in their bathrooms by now, clutching their pocketbooks, scared we’ll pry ten dollars out of their miserable hands. Shitheads. I hate rich people.”

I pointed at a big leafy bush at the side of the property line, pushed up against the neighbor’s competing big leafy bush. “Mordecai, get between those. You should be able to see the street just fine. Let us know if anyone comes. Then get out. Above all…don’t get caught!”

He nodded with worried eyes before slipping away, light and graceful. The branches barely shook as he slipped into their depths.

Regardless of what happened to me, at least he’d be able to run.

19

Alexis

“He’s going to be really good someday,” Bria whispered as she yanked me forward, really handsy for someone who didn’t like micromanaging.

We wove between bushes not indigenous to the area before reaching a freshly painted wooden fence separating the front yard from the back. She hunkered down to the side, dragging me with her. “I don’t know the layout of the house. There wasn’t much time to plan, and even if there had been, I still wouldn’t be as good as Kieran. There’s the question of training—”

“What’s your point?” I made a get on with it gesture.

“I know we need to get on the other side of this fence, but I don’t know if we should climb or open it.”

“Why wouldn’t we just open it?”

“Because there might be a kitchen window on the other side, or some other door or window from which someone would notice a gate moving.”

Scowling, I grabbed the top of the fence, doing a small hop as I pulled myself far enough up to get a good look.

“It must be really fucking nice to be tall,” I heard Bria mutter.

A stretch of wall greeted me, followed by a glass double door down the way, currently closed. Shining glass hinted at windows beyond the doors, dotting the side of the house. Bright blue shivered in the distance. Valens didn’t have a fence blocking off the cliff face. At least not a tall one that would obstruct my current view.

“We’re good to open the gate.” I lowered down before moving to the other side and reaching my hand over to grab the metal clasp.

“Really fucking nice to be tall,” she repeated. “Look at you. So easy.”

“I don’t think I’ve seen a wooden fence painted this color blue,” I murmured as Bria pushed through ahead of me.

“Of course you haven’t. You don’t hang out with ridiculous people. You stain or whitewash a fence. Everyone knows that. You don’t paint the thing like you would a house.” She trotted along the side of the house, her shoulder skimming the wall. “Some overpaid landscaper or designer probably wanted to be different. Morons.”

She paused next to the double door before leaning forward ever so slightly and catching a peek inside.

“Curtains, nice,” she said, glancing at the neighbor’s house. Sunlight glanced off the windows, the reflection masking anyone potentially looking out. “Way retro, but great for breaking and entering.”

“You have strong opinions on house design,” I whispered.

“I’ve been in and out of a lot of rich people’s homes. Trust me, there’s a right way to do things, and then there is too much money and overpriced help.” She unslung her backpack and pulled out a small black kit. Metal jingled as she opened a flap, extracting two thin rods with smaller straight or slightly bent ends. “Let’s see what’s inside, shall we?”

I watched the neighboring windows for movement, but it didn’t take long before a metallic click pulled my focus. Bria curled her fingers around the long, gold-colored (and possibly real gold) door handle before pushing down. Air disturbed the curtains as the door cracked open.

We listened. The crash of the ocean waves far below blocked out any subtle sounds we might’ve heard from inside the house.

Bria ducked farther in, parting the curtains slightly so she could have a look. She poked her face through the slit in fabric. A moment later she was back, a surly expression on her face.

“A glass double door leading into a fucking laundry room? Are you kidding me?” She shook her head. “This is what I mean. What a dumb fu— whatever. It doesn’t matter. Come on.”

I followed her, moving slowly through the curtains. For once, I was in wholehearted agreement with her about a design flaw. A small cream couch sat opposite us with a cream cushion resting against the back. A gossip magazine featuring two famous people wearing grim expressions lay in the middle of a cushion. White cabinets lined the left wall and a space-age-looking washer and dryer rested on two pedestal looking things across from it. Beside them sat three rolling hampers and a larger canvas one. A nondescript doorway beside the sofa housed a plain white door, currently closed.

“I need sunglasses for the amount of white in here,” Bria whispered, moving quickly through the room. She paused by the closed door. “Okay, we need to visit the trophy room, the west sitting room, and his private quarters. I’m betting on the private quarters.”

“And you have no idea where any of these rooms are?”

“No. I tried to pull it up on Zillow, but this address wasn’t listed.”

Nervousness swam through my body. “Shouldn’t you check if people are inside or not? Aren’t you feeling for souls?”

She shook her head, placing her hand on the door knob. “If he has some high priority guest who can feel magic, I don’t want to go prodding around with my magic.”

“You don’t know if he has a freaking guest over or not?”

“He doesn’t.” She shook her head confidently. “Definitely doesn’t. It’s just a precaution, is all.”

She didn’t take precautions. And this situation was terrible.

“Come on.” She turned the handle before slowly opening the door. Without warning, she slipped out and was gone, leaving a crack for me to go after her.

My feet glued to the floor. My stomach somersaulted.

Her anxious face appeared in the crack. “Come on! The faster, the better. In and out. We don’t have time to be scared.”

We did have time to run away right now. We could just sprint back to the stolen car and forget this had ever happened.

But when my feet started moving, it wasn’t in the opposite direction.

Nearly holding my breath, I followed her through a small hallway with a bathroom on one side and a closed door on the other and into a long kitchen with a really freaking cool reclaimed wood table that would go perfectly in the dream house I would build when I married a prince. At the other side, an open doorway led into an equally empty small (for the house) sitting room with lovely dark wood floors, not so lovely white chairs and couches, and a shit brown rug that someone should’ve been fired over. An older man stood at the window with his hands clasped behind him and a slight hunch to his back.

“Excuse me,” I whispered, tip-toeing in his direction. “Sir?”

The man slowly glanced at the other entrance of the room. When he didn’t see anyone, he finally found me.

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