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Before I fell asleep, I decided Valor must be staying with a family that knew me. The houses are spaced pretty far apart where I live so we don’t know that many of our neighbors but there were at least five kids I knew in the surrounding area; they were on my bus route. In fact, Josh Saxon lived right around the corner…about a quarter-mile away. In addition, I babysat for two families nearby.
I figured someone must have mentioned my name to Valor, though I couldn’t imagine why. But if he’d gone for a walk in the open space park that borders our property on one side, somebody might have warned him he might run into Hooligan when he reached the cliffs at the west end of the trail. And they might have mentioned my name in connection with my impressively large dog.
My ankle felt a lot better in the morning and I could walk with only a slight limp. The rest of me was a mass of purple bruises but I could cover them easily enough with long pants and long sleeves. I put a little more care into dressing than I had the day before and wore my new bone chinos with my pale blue pullover.
I spent quite a bit of time in front of the bathroom mirror. I fought with my hair for a while, tied it back, pinned it up then gave up on it and pulled on my knitted hat. Too nervous to eat, I skipped breakfast and rushed my eye makeup then headed out to the garage with Hooligan, who loped away into the woods as soon as I opened the garage doors.
“Don’t kill anything,” I yelled at Hooli, not that I believed he would. Even though he looked lanky, Hooligan was a well-fed dog. He wasn’t any more likely to kill a rabbit than a deer and, although the breed can be protective where their owners are concerned, they’re exceptionally gentle around children. It’s almost as if they know how big and strong they are.
The day was cool but pleasant. The sun hung low in the sky and streamed through the trees into the garage as I turned toward the wooden crate. I wanted another look at the stone sculpture before Valor got there. When I’d first seen it yesterday, I thought I was looking at the most beautiful guy I’d ever seen. But today I was certain the statue couldn’t be as handsome as Valor. I just needed to get another look to prove my theory.
The top panel came off the crate easily this time, the nails loose in the holes. I propped the flat square of wood against the garage wall and turned back to the tall packing box.
The statue was missing.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. I reached inside the crate and felt through the bubble wrap, which only confirmed the bad news.
It wasn’t there.
My pulse thundered in my ears with a dull, roaring sound and I pressed a hand against my stomach, feeling sick. Although it was the last thing on earth I wanted to believe, I couldn’t help but suspect Valor.
I should have known his apparent interest in me was too good to be true.
Panic stricken, I reviewed the signs I’d overlooked yesterday. Valor had shown up right after the crate was delivered. He’d only asked me if I had a boyfriend to make sure that no guy was going to show up and interfere with his plans to steal the statue. Then he’d offered to clean the garage and close up the crate for me while insisting I stay inside and stay off my feet. He must have used the opportunity to move the statue out of the garage. After he left for the afternoon, it would have been easy to drag the sculpture downhill to the road and load it up on a truck.
It looked like he didn’t care about my ankle or me. It was the statue he wanted! I felt like an idiot for being taken in by him. Greg had tried to tell me the contents of the crate were valuable but I hadn’t listened. Now the fabulous sculpture was missing.
But that wasn’t even the worst part.
When Valor had followed me into the house yesterday, he’d overheard my conversation with Greg and he knew another shipment was scheduled for delivery today. When the other two sculptures arrived, he’d probably want them too. To top it all off, I’d brainlessly volunteered the information that my mother was out of town. He knew I was alone.
I needed to call the police. Actually, I needed to get inside the house first, then call the police. But before I had a chance to do either of those things, I heard Valor’s voice behind me.
“How’s your ankle this morning?”
I almost jumped out of my chinos.
I spun to face Valor then backed away from him. Strangely, he wore the exact same costume as the day before, bare feet and all. He stood with one shoulder propped against the side of the open garage door. My Irish wolfhound was right beside him, wagging his tail cheerfully. It looked as if Hooligan had run into Valor on the driveway and it was clear my dog thought he’d brought me a great prize.
Tears of betrayal stung my eyes when I thought how easily we’d both been fooled. “Exactly who are you?” I demanded. “And what have you done with the statue that was in this crate?”
“Statue?” he hedged while Hooligan sat down and gave me an uncertain look.
“Don’t try to act innocent, Valor—assuming that’s really your name. I want to know what you’ve done with the damn statue!”
He looked at the crate and sighed as he returned his gaze to me. “I was hoping you wouldn’t notice the box was empty until the others got here.”
The others? I didn’t know if he was talking about the other crates or if he meant he had a bunch of accomplices lined up to help him steal the rest of the statues. I hoped he was talking about the crates because the alternative was just too scary to handle. “The other statues? You plan to steal them too? How did you even know about my stepfather’s shipment in the first place?”
He smiled as if he wasn’t a lying thief, as though everything was going to be fine when I felt like nothing would ever be right again. I wasn’t just angry. I was hurt and humiliated and just plain devastated. He wasn’t a nice person at all. He probably thought I was a pathetic joke, because I had fallen for his flirting and his pretending to care about my ankle.
“It’s hard to explain, MacKenzie.”
“And how do you know my name?” I yelled. I’m not normally much of a crier but I was so upset I had to press my lips together to stop my chin from trembling. I didn’t want to appear helpless or weak—or hurt—in front of him.
“Actually, that might help me with my explanation,” he mused without removing his gaze from my face.
So far he wasn’t explaining anything and I was starting to feel like I should be more worried. But even though I was angry and upset, I wasn’t afraid he would harm me—which was probably a mistake. I figured a smart person would have been scared witless, especially since my guard dog had apparently changed sides.
I glared at Hooligan. Why was my big, huge dog that was supposed to protect me, still sitting at Valor’s side like they were best friends? I took another step backward toward the door that led to the house and called, “Come, Hooligan.”
Hooligan looked at me then up at Valor.
Valor straightened. His expression was resigned as he said, “Go to MacKenzie, Hooligan.”
Obediently, Hooligan stood and padded toward me.
Great! My guard dog was taking orders from the bad guy. “I’m calling the police,” I threatened, locking my fingers in Hooli’s collar as soon as he reached my side.
“That won’t be necessary, MacKenzie. I can explain everything.”
I desperately wanted there to be an explanation. His tone was so calm and his expression so sincere that I was tempted to listen to him. But I figured he was just pulling the same crap he’d pulled yesterday. I was determined I wouldn’t be fooled again.
“But first, why don’t you tell me about this missing statue,” he suggested.
“What do you mean?” I snapped.
“Describe the statue to me, lass.”
Lass? Who used that word anymore, other than senior citizens in Scotland and Ireland? I decided he was just trying to keep me off balance. I tucked Hooligan behind me so he couldn’t desert to the other side and I planted my fists on my hips. “You must have seen the statue last night when you closed the crate.”
“Aye, I saw it. It was a…male.”
“Yes, it was a male,” I spat. “He was tall with shoulder-length hair.”
“Like mine?” he asked evenly.
I stared at his hair for a split second but refused to be distracted. “And his arms were crossed over his chest.”
“Like this?” he queried, and folded his arms in front of him.
“Yes,” I answered angrily. As if he didn’t know! “And he was made of gray stone.”
Valor nodded solemnly.
“And he had wings!”
Valor uncrossed his arms and took a step backward, into the sun. As his hands dropped to his sides, the leather vest that wrapped the front of his body lifted away from his chest. The two sides of the vest rose above each of his shoulders and tilted gracefully backward. With a snap of sound like the wind filling a boat’s sails, the black leather expanded into two huge wings.
My knees went jelloid as I leaned sideways and gripped the heavy workbench that stood against the garage wall. “But he was made of stone,” I claimed in a faint voice.
“Like this?” he asked, just before he changed. The warm coloring of his skin, the intense blue of his eyes and his ink-black hair all shifted to pale gray.
“This isn’t possible,” I whispered as I stared at the scowling statue of Valor.
The color returned to his skin in a warm rush as he changed back to living flesh and blood. He sent a wry smile in my direction. “I heard you give your name to man who brought me here. That’s how I knew your name was MacKenzie.”
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to think. I wasn’t sure I wasn’t dreaming! And I was so stunned I didn’t have enough sense to be afraid. But more than anything, I was so relieved Valor wasn’t a lying thief or a bad guy. “What on earth are you?” I croaked when I found my voice again.
“Have you never seen a gargoyle before?” he asked as his lips curved into a sharp smile.
Yeah, I’d seen gargoyles before, and not only in pictures. I’d seen them carved into stone buildings in England when I’d visited my cousins over there. There were a ton of them in Oxford. “But gargoyles are ugly,” I insisted as I grasped at any argument that might disprove his claim.
“You think I’m ugly?” he asked, one of his dark eyebrows tilting upward.
“No, I don’t,” I answered as I searched his features for any hint of imperfection. “That’s the problem. I’ve seen gargoyles before and they’re ugly.”
“You’ve seen gargoyles?” he asked as his eyes narrowed in interest. “I assumed they had all died out. Are there any who live around here?”
“Live?” I was having a hard time keeping up. “Died out?”
“In my time there were several thousand gargoyles living on the island you call Great Britain.”
At that point, I was so rocked by everything I’d seen and heard that I couldn’t grab onto a complete thought. “Your time? You have a time?” I lifted my hands behind my head and leaned back to look at the rafters in the garage. I took a deep, steadying breath. “Okay,” I said, without looking at him. “When was your time, exactly?”
“I’m not sure of the year by your calendar but I’m fairly certain it was at least eight hundred years ago.”
Eight hundred years ago! That would have made it the thirteenth century! If I could believe Valor, it meant he had been knocking around with Vikings and knights and feudal lords who lived in castles…with moats! It meant that he had been around during the crusades. That was hard to believe…though not much harder than the fact that he was a gargoyle. On the other hand, it helped to explain the messed up mixture of words he used.
I’d like to think I hid my internal freaking-out from Valor and he didn’t notice how rattled I was by his claims. “I’ve never seen a live gargoyle,” I said, taking another deep breath and going for calm nonchalance. “At least not until today. Just stone carvings. But they were definitely all ugly.” I knew I was rambling but hoped I sounded reasonably sane.
“Ah,” he said. His mouth turned downward in disgust. “Harpies.”
“H-Harpies?” I echoed. As if gargoyles weren’t enough, now I had to deal with the possibility that another mythical beast was entirely real. I shook my head in bewilderment.
“What you saw were harpies. They’re related to gargoyles. Aye, they’re ugly.”
“Related to gargoyles?” I repeated inanely, my brain still trying to catch up to my mouth.
A dark slash of color burned across the high arc of his cheekbones. “Closely related,” he admitted though he didn’t seem too happy about the fact.
“And they’re stone creatures that can come to life, like you?”
He grimaced. “Unfortunately, yes.”
It sounded as if he didn’t like harpies very much. I guess that shouldn’t have surprised me since I’d never heard anything good about them in any of the old myths I’d read. On the other hand, I didn’t think gargoyles were considered to be the embodiment of pure goodness, either.
“I’m thinking my clothing isn’t exactly up to date,” he said, changing the subject. He held his hands out from his sides and gave his wool shorts a critical look. “Do you happen to have anything I could wear?”
Relieved to be discussing something halfway normal, I crooked a finger at him. He followed me into the house and upstairs while Hooligan stopped and checked out his food bowl in the mudroom. “This is my brother’s bedroom,” I explained as I opened a door to a room on the upper level. “He’s at school. College.” When Valor didn’t appear to understand, I added, “University.”
He nodded as if he knew what university meant.
I opened a drawer, pulled out several pairs of faded jeans and tossed them on the bed. “Those look like they should fit,” I offered then added some T-shirts to the pile before leaving the room. “I’ll go downstairs and keep my eye out for the delivery van. Come on down when you’re ready.”
While I waited for Valor to change, I stood at the living room window and watched the driveway. I had so many questions for the gargoyle I didn’t know where to start. Was he immortal? Could he fly? Did he have any other…super powers besides his ability to change to stone? Was I dreaming or just going mad? And if I was dreaming, would a pinch wake me up or would a kiss be better?
Personally, I was leaning toward the kiss.
Seriously, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d suffered some kind of brain damage when the tool chest had fallen on me. But everything else in the world seemed normal. It was just Valor that was…extraordinary. I also wondered about the way he’d acted yesterday and if he’d only been friendly because he wanted to learn more about the crates, which I assumed held more gargoyles. It seemed too much to hope for that he would actually like me or anything like that.
I heard him on the stairs and turned to watch him come down the steps. His gait was loose and confident like some of the best athletes at school. He’d pulled a V-neck T-shirt over his vest and a small triangle of smooth, glossy leather showed in the deep plunge of the soft black cotton.
I’d expected him to wear the shirt underneath his vest then realized that would be impossible unless he cut slits in the back for his wings to fit through. The T-shirt looked good on him, though. The close-fitting gray jeans did nothing to hurt his looks, either. His muscles flexed beneath the burnished skin on his arms as he reached up with his hand to move his hair out of his eyes.
He stopped at the bottom of the stairs and hooked his thumbs through the belt loops on his jeans, pulling the waistband forward an inch. “My belt wouldn’t fit through the loops,” he told me as a frown formed between his eyebrows. “So, I have no way to carry my knife.”
“I can probably find you something in my brother’s room,” I offered. “Will white be okay until we can go shopping?”
“I’m not particular,” he assured me. “I just need a way to carry my blade.”
The thought of his long knife hanging from an old emo belt made me grin as we strolled back through the garage and out into the sunshine. Hooligan followed us and made himself comfortable, sprawled in the middle of the driveway. “So, what does it mean to be a gargoyle?” I asked as if I met mythical creatures every day and I wasn’t freaked out in the least. “And how did you end up in that crate?”
He told me that he and his pack had been trying to outrun a gang of harpies. According to Valor, harpies are way larger than gargoyles, despite the fact that they’re female. As night approached, the gargoyles found themselves near the Roman walls at York. They decided to turn to stone so the harpies couldn’t harm them. They’d hoped the harpies would eventually give up on waiting for the gargoyles to change back. But instead of giving up, the harpies built a wall around them.
Gargoyles can change to stone and return to their living form at will, as long as direct sunlight can reach them. They need the extra boost the sun’s energy gives them to make the change. The wall blocked the sun’s light and they waited for eight hundred years, trapped between the walls, until Greg found them and crated them up.
“So, you’re immortal, then?”
“No!” he replied. His eyes registered surprise. “What gave you that idea?”
I sank my teeth into my bottom lip and lowered my gaze to the garage floor then returned it to his face. “Um. You’re at least eight hundred years old and you don’t look a day over eighteen.”
He explained that gargoyles don’t age when they’re in their stone form. But when they make the change back to their living form, they age at the same rate as humans. “My brother, Dare, was actually born three years before me,” he volunteered. “But he’s spent so much time in his stone form that we’re about the same age now.”
“Was your brother trapped between the walls with you?”
He lifted his chin in a brief nod. “Dare was trapped with me, along with the rest of my pack—my other brother, Havoc, and six of my cousins.”
“You can’t…communicate with each other while you’re in your stone form, can you?”
He shook his head in answer as he looked down the long length of the driveway. “I hope my brothers get here safely. They were standing closest to me between the walls so I’m hoping they’re in the two crates that are supposed to arrive today.”
“Why were you waiting for your family to get here before telling me you were a gargoyle?”
“I didn’t want to mislead you,” he answered with a guarded expression. “But I was hoping I could pass myself off as a human until the rest of the crates made it here. Then we would have all left together, before you knew anything about us.”
“Oh!” I said softly. My eyes widened in realization and my heart pounded dully. He hadn’t meant to hang around any longer than necessary. But I should have realized that. I could see how the gargoyles might want to keep their existence a secret, especially in their time. Maybe in my time too.
“How did I do?” he asked. “Did I make a convincing human?”
“Well, you fooled me,” I pointed out soberly. “Although some of your word choices were a bit…unusual.”
“I was afraid of that,” he admitted. “I tried to pick my words carefully.”
I nodded. That explained his reluctance to talk yesterday.
“Language has changed so much during the last eight hundred years. I was worried I’d use some old word that would give me away, like carriage house instead of garage. And I watched you pretty closely to see how things worked, like your phone and the television and even the refrigerator.”
More disappointing news. I’d thought maybe he was watching me because he was interested in me. “Do you think the other gargoyles will be upset that I know about you and your pack?”
“They’ll just have to deal with it,” he said quietly. He returned his gaze to my face and probably saw the concern in my expression. “Don’t worry. They won’t harm you.”
“Maybe they could just wipe out my memory,” I suggested, trying for a light tone. “That would be a lot cleaner than killing me.”
Valor gazed at me thoughtfully. I would have felt a lot better if he’d laughed or at least chuckled at my comment.
“So, can you fly?” I asked after clearing my throat. “Or are those wings just for show?”
“We can fly,” he replied. A smile lingered on his perfect lips as he glanced up at the sky with an expression of warm longing.
“You don’t have x-ray vision or any other super powers, do you?”
“No x-ray vision,” he answered as his blue eyes glinted with humor. “If I understand what x-ray means and if you’re worried about me being able to see beneath your clothing.”
I rolled my eyes like that was a ridiculous suggestion. “No super powers at all? Because you seemed awfully…strong when you tossed that tool chest across the garage.”
He lifted his shoulders in a dismissive shrug. “I might have used a little more energy than I needed to, but I was in a hurry to get the box off you.”
I sent him a challenging look. None of the guys at school could have thrown the tool chest across the garage.
“In my time, I was never any stronger than the village blacksmith,” he insisted modestly.
Maybe. But it sounded to me like he was at least stronger than the average human his age. And that blacksmith back in his time must have been a freakin’ ox. “What was it like…back then?”
He widened his stance and considered the house with its attached garage. “The homes were smaller and not as clean. Your house would be considered a palace in my time.”
“Anything else?” I pried, just to hear him talk. I loved the low, rough tone of his accent.
“I haven’t been here long,” he pointed out. “You might have to give me some time to get back to you on that question.”
Fair enough, I thought. Though it didn’t sound like he was going to be around long enough for that to happen. “Did my stepfather know about you…being alive?
Valor shook his head. “When he pulled us from behind the wall, there were no windows in the room so no sunlight touched us—just electric light—and we couldn’t change. After that, we went straight into the wooden boxes.”
“Wait a minute,” I exclaimed, as something suddenly occurred to me. “Does that mean you could actually see, even though you were solid stone?”
“We can see when we’re in our stone forms as long as we have our eyes open when we make the change.”
Ugh. That meant he had seen me stroke his arm…and his hair, yesterday morning after I opened the crate. I felt a warm rush of heat crawl up my neck and curl behind my ears. “Can you feel anything when you’re in your stone form?” I asked, even more mortified by this possibility and hoping he wouldn’t notice the blush on my face. If he did, he’d probably guess what I was thinking.
“Not a thing,” he claimed as he dipped his head and hid his smile. But his amusement shone in his eyes and it was clear that he knew exactly what was worrying me. I just hoped he didn’t think I was a total loser.
“And you can hear when you’re a statue,” I stated, steering the conversation back to a safer topic. I knew he’d heard me give my name to the driver of the delivery van.
“Aye. I heard the crash when that box fell on you and I heard your struggles. I knew you were in trouble and wanted to help but I couldn’t make the change.”
“You had to wait until the sun shone on you before you could wake up?”
“Aye,” he answered slowly. He stared off into the middle distance as if he was wrestling with a complicated puzzle. “I only needed a single ray to touch any part of my body. But I could see that the sun was never going to reach me. I was stuck in the building’s shade.”
I nodded. The crate was too far inside the garage for direct sunlight to reach it. “How did you make the change, then?”
A ridge formed between his ink-dark eyebrows and he searched my face for a moment before he looked out beyond the driveway and into the forest. “I don’t know,” he finally admitted.
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