I hadn’t heard a word since. The anticipation was absolutely killing me.
“Hey.” Daisy yawned and scratched the rat’s nest on her head as she crossed to the fridge, just up from her nap.
“Hey.” I leaned harder on the table. “How’d it go earlier? Did you have a good time?”
She pulled open the fridge door and stared into it. “It was fine.”
“Fine? Well…what’d you do? You left in your pajamas for crap’s sake.”
She shrugged. “Not much. We hung out in shadowy areas and watched people.”
“Like a creeper?”
She pushed the door shut. “Yeah, kinda. It was weird—women glanced our way the most. Only one picked us out, but quite a few looked around.”
“Women are used to creepers hanging in the shadows and staring. It’s sad but it’s true. So…you’re cool with it so far?”
She scratched her butt and slouched against the kitchen counter. “Yeah. When are the guys going to get here with dinner? I’m starving.”
Mordecai trudged in a moment later, his eyes puffy and dark bruises covering his arms from another bout of hard training with Jack after our jaunt to the beach. He’d also taken a nap.
“You’d think it was eight in the morning with the way you two look,” I said, a strange uncertainty filling me. I felt like I’d been pushed out of the loop. Like their lives had taken a turn, and they no longer needed me. It made me want to rush them and clutch on for dear life.
As always, I handled it badly. “Did you get any school work done? Because you can’t spend all your time fighting and gallivanting around the city like creepers. You need to work your minds as well as your bodies.”
Daisy rolled her eyes at me, and that was so much better than fine or one of her shrugs that I breathed a sigh of relief. Attitude I could handle. Indifference made me edgy.
“Yes, we did our homework,” she said, glancing at the clock on the stove. “But seriously, where’s dinner? It’s seven o’clock. They’re usually here making it by now.”
Mordecai opened the fridge and stared into it.
“You’re wasting electricity,” I barked. I could only last for so long. “And I get paid soon. We’re going to have to get used to making our own meals again.”
Mordecai turned toward me as Daisy’s eyes widened.
She pushed forward off of the counter, suddenly alert. “Why would you do that to us?” she demanded.
“Who are we to turn down free services?” Mordecai asked. “Usually we’re all for people giving us things.”
I stared at them incredulously. “I thought you guys would agree with me.”
“Agree with you, after all the hell they’ve been putting us through?” Daisy glowered at me. “No way. They owe us dinner.”
“Besides,” Mordecai said, “I think they like it. Even when they show up in a bad mood, they’re smiling by the end.”
I dropped my head into my hands. “Except we’re giving them one more toehold in our lives. Kieran is my boss, his guys are training you—we need an off-switch. We need to get back to our family.”
“We’re still a family. We’re just inviting in more family for a limited time, provided they buy groceries and make us nutritious, delicious meals from scratch.” Daisy blinked those giant blue eyes at me, utterly serious.
“Besides, you kind of gave Kieran a bigger toehold earlier, so I doubt a dinner or two will matter,” Mordecai murmured.
“Why?” Daisy asked, turning to Mordecai. “What’d she do?”
Mordecai looked at the ground.
Suspicion crossed Daisy’s face as she turned back slowly. “Lexi, what did you do?”
My phone rattled against the wood of the table, giving me a more than welcome distraction. A text message flashed across the screen.
Thane: You don’t have a BBQ, right?
I snatched the phone as Frank’s muffled voice drifted through the door. He’d come back, apparently. I paused to listen, but couldn’t make out any words.
No, I typed, my fingers flying across the screen. Have you heard from Kieran? Did he say anything about his mom?
Dinner is on the way.
“Why would he ignore my question?” I muttered, staring.
“What’d he say—”
A knock cut Mordecai off. I stood and handed over the phone, ready to badger the Six until they told me something. “No one’s told me anything since I left that message for Kieran this afternoon.” I crossed to the door. “I have no idea what’s going—”
The air left my lungs as I pulled the door open. Butterflies swarmed through my ribcage.
Kieran stood on my porch, surrounded by thick, swirling fog. A dark blue T-shirt, matching his eyes, clung to his impossibly muscular body. Damp hair hung limply across his forehead, giving him a wet look that sent heat blasting through my core. The smell of the ocean flooded my senses as I gaped at the large trunk suspended between his strong hands.
“That’s…” My eyes glued to the finely-worked wood and the swirling images etched into the top and sides. A seal frolicked through the carved waves, interrupted by the name Lyra. “Is that your mother’s name? Lyra?”
“Yes. May I come in?”
“Yeah. Yes, of course.” I stepped out of the way as I heard an appreciative whistle.
“We don’t get women around these parts who look like you,” Frank said in a strange tone.
A form appeared out of the mists, ethereal and beautiful, with a sad smile and a flowing cream dress. She drifted toward me with her hips swaying and confidence radiating from the perfect lines of her body.
Kieran’s mom, Lyra, no doubt summoned by her son’s turmoil and the trunk he’d rescued from the cliff.
A moment later, the image was ruined by Frank following behind her, his eyes on her butt and an appreciative smile on his face.
“Really, Frank?” I asked, annoyance dashing my mood. “That behavior is inappropriate.”
“What?” he said, stepping onto my porch with his hands out. “She’s a beautiful woman. I’m just acknowledging it.”
“She doesn’t want a dirty old man like you acknowledging anything, Frank. Guys like you are the reason women can’t ever relax.”
“Oh, come on now,” Frank said, attempting to follow Lyra into my house. “I don’t mean—”
I slammed the door in his face.
Kieran stood in the kitchen, still holding the trunk, nearly as wide as the doorway and over a foot tall. It must’ve had a good amount of weight to it, though Kieran didn’t show any strain.
“Here.” I patted the table, pushing aside a random piece of junk mail that hadn’t found its way to the garbage. “Set it here.”
Sorrow etched his face and anger sparked in his eyes. He set the box down gently, as though it was the most precious commodity in the world.
“That’s it?” Daisy said, giving Kieran a wide berth as she made her way to the table. “You did it?”
I glanced at Lyra, whose sad gaze was focused on her son.
“Yes, that’s it. That’s the skin.” I didn’t have to affect a trance to feel the hum of the spirit trap. “Or…the spirit of the skin, I guess.”
“It’s in there?” Kieran said, his deep voice gruff, struggling with emotion.
I fell into the depth of those stormy eyes, feeling the aching misery beyond the shallow anger. His grief was sharp and fresh, slicing through him. I could feel the anguish in his soul, crying out for a life raft in the turbulent waters of loss.
“The spirit trap is keeping something in there,” I said, going to him without thinking. I put a supportive hand on his arm. “I think we can assume it is the skin.”
“Can you…” His voice hitched and he clenched his fists.
Daisy and Mordecai both drifted out of the room without being asked, knowing instinctively to give him space. Demigods weren’t in the habit of showing vulnerability. They might not like Kieran at times, but they both understood human suffering.
“Can you break the hold?” Kieran whispered, his body tense. Tremors ran through him. I couldn’t tell if they were from sorrow or rage.
“Yes. But…” I slid my hand down his forearm before slipping it into his. Without hesitation, he entwined his fingers with mine. “Are you sure you want to do this now? Your father will know. He’s…a little off his rocker where your mother is concerned. That fountain, the picture, the placement of the box…”
“The fountain…” A crease formed in Kieran’s brow before his eyes went distant. Startled, he glanced down at the box. “Are you sure?”
“Yes. It’s the likeness of her when she was younger. Before you. It’s the form she uses now.” I looked at his mother, waiting beside him.
She met my gaze and tilted her head forward. I couldn’t tell if it was a bow or a nod.
“He revered me, at one time,” she said. “He treated me like the most precious thing on the planet. I was too young to know that it was an illusion. That the thing he loves above all is himself. I was a treasure, but only as long as I was under his control. I learned the hard way what it was to defy him.”
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