Daisy studied me for a reaction.
“In the future, check in,” I said in a dangerous tone. “Do not wait for me to tell you.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Mordecai said, and I marveled at his use of that term again. It was new and kind of nice. I felt in charge and important.
The same lesson hadn’t rubbed off on Daisy.
When I finally turned back to Thane, I had his full attention. A small smile was hidden in his bushy beard.
“What?” I asked.
“Has Demigod Kieran heard you use that tone?”
I frowned. “My mom tone? I doubt it. It’s usually reserved for times when my wards”—I turned and raised my voice—“forget that they are no longer children.”
“I guess this is how Mordecai learned pack structure,” Thane said. “Jack couldn’t figure it out.”
“I don’t use this tone very often. It’s just that I’m right in the middle of trying to figure things out, and those lugnuts were lazing around, and you’re interrupting…” I took a deep breath. “What can I do for you, Thane? Besides not accept your apology?”
His smile grew. “For the record, a true leader rarely needs to use the tone, as you call it. Once you garner respect and loyalty, people aim to please. Demigod Kieran could write a book on it. He has very little employee turnover. You’re a natural, too. I wonder if he knows.”
Hearing Kieran’s name sent a little thrill through me, reminding me that I’d been feeling his roller-coaster emotions all morning. He went from aroused to anxious to fearful to excited, then back to aroused, on a constant loop. Add to that my interrupted study of the spirit world, my growing list of questions, and the incessant pounding in my core, and I was not a joy to be around.
It must’ve shown in my expression, because Thane’s smile dwindled.
“Anyway.” He took a step toward his car. “I did want to apologize. I realize that I put you and your wards in danger—”
“I put my wards in danger by working with Kieran. You’re one danger of many. Forget about it. And don’t think you’ll get out of helping, either. We might need to take it to a wide open field, or to the beach where Jack can grab you from the water and drag you away, but I want to let that beast out again to see if I can subdue it a second time.”
Fear flashed through his eyes, and I didn’t know what he feared more—what he could potentially do when he changed, or me.
“Demigod Kieran won’t—”
“He doesn’t make the rules around here.” I looked down at the vibrating phone trapped in my hand. The face lit up.
Kieran: Find me.
My bad mood dripped away and a smile took over my face. Another message came in before I could scoot Thane out of my yard.
Kieran: Bring the kids.
My bad mood crept back in.
That wasn’t my idea of a fun lover’s tryst. Kids could really water down the romance of a situation.
I texted back: Are you sure about the kids? They have chores to do.
They did now, at any rate.
A feeling of excitement came through the soul connection, followed by a wave of heat that made it hard to breathe.
Kieran: We’ll have plenty of time to be alone. Bring the kids.
Fire surged through me.
“Thane, I gotta go,” I said, speaking unnaturally quickly as I turned toward the house. “Kids, get your shoes on. We gotta go.”
“I’ll go with you,” Thane said.
I held up my phone. “I got a text from Kieran. He didn’t mention you.” I paused and narrowed my eyes. “Does he know you’re here?”
“I’m on duty watching you,” Thane said. “Plus, I’d be pretty stupid to show up with you if I were trying to hide this tête-à-tête.”
I tilted my head at his perfect French accent. “Do you guys have the ability to speak all languages like Kieran does?” I glanced back. No kids were in sight. “Hurry up,” I yelled.
Footsteps shuffled off to the right. Something banged in the back bedroom.
Thane was smiling again, but this time it was accompanied by a brow furrow that looked like a nice way of saying I was stupid. “You don’t know? Demigods impart certain gifts to those who give them a blood oath. It’s different for each person, like a level up of the magic they already have. But certain gifts, like universal communication and enhanced strength and speed, are given to everyone. Those help us do our job.”
“A simple yes would’ve been fine,” I muttered, incredibly impatient, both naturally and because Kieran was feeding me his own impatience. I needed to figure out how to lessen our connection at times.
I prepared to shout into the house again. It was like the kids operated at half speed unless I was yelling. It drove me nuts.
Daisy walked down the hall in flip-flops and Mordecai came out of the bedroom with one of my old robes, a pink faux satin affair with red tassels.
“What’s going on?” I asked them.
Daisy held up her phone. “Zorn said to change to sandals.”
“I’ll be working on multiple changes today.” Mordecai flung the robe over his shoulder.
I pointed at it. “You’re going to wear that?”
He glanced at it in confusion. “Yeah. Why? What’s wrong with it?”
Daisy rolled her eyes. “Don’t bother, Lexi. He’s not worried about his masculinity.”
“Oh, because it’s pink?” Mordecai shrugged. “Pink is just a color, like any other. Besides, pink used to be perceived as a masculine color. It only became associated with femininity in the past century.” He waved the thought away. “I don’t really care either way.”
“You should care about those weird tassels.” Daisy flicked one. “But then again, you change from an animal to a human, then back again. You got the lock down on weird.”
“Yeah, like you can talk. You sneak around in the gutter,” Mordecai retorted.
“How is that weird?”
“You guys!” I took a step out the door. “Can’t you go half a day without fighting?”
“We fight out of love, Lexi,” Mordecai said, shoving Daisy in front of him.
“A love of torture,” Daisy muttered.
“What can you expect?” Thane waited for us with a cockeyed smile. “They train together, they live together—they share the same room. That’s too much time with one person.”
“I don’t advise you ever getting married,” I said, locking the door.
“No one would have me.”
I expected him to laugh, like Donovan surely would’ve. Jack made that kind of joke with regularity. Instead, sadness crossed Thane’s features.
“Because of your magic,” I said softly, feeling like a real dickhead for giving Bria a hard time about having Thane around. I waved the thought away. “I’ll probably have a similar problem. At least you aren’t shackled to two crabby wards.”
“We’re right here, Alexis,” Mordecai grumbled.
“Yeah. I know.” I unlocked the car as we headed down the sidewalk. “Boy, do I know. Wait…” I blinked back at them, slowing as I approached my car, a shiny BMW Kieran had gifted me in the guise of calling it a company car. “Where will you be training? Is that where Kieran’s sending us?”
Both kids shrugged. “My text just told me to go with you, and what to bring—shotgun!” Mordecai laughed and darted for the front seat.
Thane hurried around to the other side of the car, his face suspiciously blank.
“Damn it—damn isn’t a curse, Lexi,” Daisy said. “I’m godless, remember? So that means the idea of damn is moot.” She trudged to the backseat, not waiting to hear my verdict. It was probably for the best—I was still sorting through her reasoning. “I was thinking about what Zorn would have me do barefooted. I missed that one.”
“Snooze you lose.” Mordecai shut his door.
“The adults should sit in the front—” But Thane was already slamming his door shut, his chosen seat directly behind me so I couldn’t see his expression.
“What the hell is going on?” I murmured, the butterflies rolling through my stomach a match for how Kieran was currently feeling. It wasn’t a good sign.
I didn’t want to know what made a Demigod nervous.
Not even twenty minutes later, I idled in the car while the ocean crashed against the cliff in the not-so-far distance. Wispy swirls of white interrupted the deep blue expanse overhead, stretching out to meet the ocean. In contrast to the wild beauty beyond us, a broken down car without any tires sat rusting in the barren gutter of the dead-end street.
I’d followed the feel of Kieran to this forgotten strip of land at the very edge of the dual-society zone, backed right up against the grimy brick wall blocking off the magical zone. It was a no man’s land, and it looked like people stumbled out here to die.
“I knew it, Lexi,” Daisy said in a hush, pushing forward to peer out the windshield. Her hand squeezed the side of Mordecai’s seat. “I knew he’d eventually get tired of you and kill you off.”
“I doubt that’s what this is,” Mordecai whispered.
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