Cover Art by Brittany Chavez and Steele Walston

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Chapter Seven

While Valor was out, I called my mother and brought her up to date on everything. Well, everything except for the gargoyles. She asked if we had enough dog food; she knew how hard it was to keep up with Hooligan’s appetite. I told her I’d take care of it. She also asked about the neighbor and I told her he was still cutting trees. She hated the tree-cutting almost as much as I did. When she warned me not to approach him—for like the zillionth time—I promised again to be careful.

I ordered three large pizzas, which were delivered shortly after Valor returned from his tree hunt. He hadn’t found a single yew. I looked them up online and was able to tell him they were pretty rare in Pine Grove.

As soon as I opened the cardboard delivery boxes, the guys pulled out their knives and started chopping the slices of pizza into smaller chunks. Then they used the long blades to spear the food into their mouths. When I tried to tell them they could eat the slices with their hands, they stared at me like I was some kind of barbarian. Giving up, I pushed some forks at them. They experimented with the forks for a while before they returned to feeding themselves with their knives.

While they made their way through the hot wedges piled with thin, crisp pieces of pepperoni, they got caught up on everything that had happened while they were trapped between the walls at York—like the last plague, the most recent wars and football and music.

Surprisingly, even though they’d all listened to the exact same football games on the radio and television, each of them supported a different British team. Havoc favored Arsenal and Reason cheered for Liverpool while Valor preferred David Beckham’s Manchester United. Since I don’t follow British football, or any other professional sports, I wasn’t very familiar with any of those names…except for David Beckham. I just knew the guys were going to be disappointed when they found out they couldn’t watch their teams in America since the games aren’t televised here.

When it came to music, Havoc was a fan of practically everything but especially the forties’ big band songs. Reason preferred classical stuff. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Valor’s tastes ran closer mine, since he liked a lot of the current indie artists.

As the evening wore on, the guys got to talking about the gargoyles they’d known back in the day. My favorite story was about their friends, Panic, Mayhem and Malarkey, who decided to fly to Ireland one afternoon to meet some new girls.

They’d been through all the girls in York,” Havoc explained with a wolfish grin that put a keen edge on his humor. “So Victor told them to fly toward the sun.”

Only they got a late start,” Reason snorted. “And they didn’t leave until the next morning.”

Havoc snickered. “So when they flew toward the sun, it was in the east instead of the west and they ended up in the land of the Danes.”

They barely made it there alive because it was so much farther,” Reason added with a gruff bark of laughter. “And they didn’t like the girls in Denmark.”

At least, that was their story,” Havoc chuckled. “I suspect it was more a case of the girls not liking them.”

Those guys were crazy,” Valor commented with a reminiscent smile.

Havoc sighed. “I suppose they’re long gone now.”

I suppose so,” agreed Reason quietly.

A hushed silence fell over the kitchen. Even though the gargoyles appeared to be happy in the twenty-first century, I could tell there were things they missed from their own time. “They flew in the daytime?” I asked. “I thought gargoyles tried to hide their existence from humans.”

Havoc lifted his chin with a quick jerk, as if pulling himself from a dream. “We did and we do. But those guys were crazy.” He looked around at the pizza boxes and paper plates that littered the counters. “We’ll help you clean up,” he offered.

After the kitchen was straightened up, I showed them the bathroom and briefly explained how the plumbing fixtures worked. All of them were keen to try out the shower and took turns. Each gargoyle stepped out of the bathroom dressed only in his jeans, with his wings unfurled and dripping. Reason stood in the middle of the living room and flapped his until they dried. Havoc waited until Valor disappeared behind the bathroom door then tossed me a towel and insisted I help him dry his leathery wings. I’d hoped Valor might do the same when he came out, but he curled his wings in front of him and dried what he could reach with a towel then let the rest air-dry. I have to say, the guys were pretty impressive with their wings stretched open like big, night-black hang gliders. It might sound cliché, but the handsome gargoyles looked like a bunch of vigilante angels.

I dug up a new shaving razor for them, in case they needed it. But after they figured out what it was for, they told me gargoyles don’t have facial hair. I nodded, recalling that I hadn’t seen much growing on their chests, either. In fact, there was only a light dusting of hair on their arms. That was okay with me. I’ve never liked the wolfman look.

By nine o’clock, Havoc and Reason were both yawning so I showed them upstairs to the bedrooms. I gave Reason my brother’s room and put the other two gargoyles in the guestroom. Before I reached my bedroom door, something occurred to me; I stopped in the middle of the hall and backtracked to the room Valor was sharing with Havoc. “Where did you sleep last night?” I asked Valor.

He rolled his shoulders in a brief shrug. “In the woods.”

But, weren’t you cold?” I asked.

Our wings keep us warm,” he explained briefly as if he wasn’t interested in making conversation.

I could tell he just wanted me to leave him alone and felt angry tears begin to gather at the back of my eyes. Swiftly, I blinked them away.

They make a dandy tent when necessary,” Havoc spoke up quickly and cheerily. “Comes in handy when it rains.”

I shot him a grateful smile and said good night. As I walked down the hall toward my bedroom, I tried to figure out how the tent-making thing could possibly work. I wasn’t sure Havoc wasn’t “winding me up”, as my English cousins would say. But more than anything, I didn’t understand why Valor was being such a jerk.

Again, I wondered if the care and friendliness he’d shown me earlier was just an act. I decided there was only one way to find out; my ankle would just have to start bothering me again. And when it did, I planned to watch Valor closely to see how he reacted.

The next morning I woke up determined to carry out my wonky-ankle plan. I threw on some clothes and practiced limping around my bedroom while trying to look vulnerable but sincere, which was no easy trick. When I thought I had the hang of it, I realized I was limping on the wrong foot and had to start all over again.

Eventually, I made my way downstairs to the kitchen. I let Hooligan outside then started some coffee and made a pot of tea. I didn’t think either was available in England eight hundred years ago and had no idea what the gargoyles would like. But once the tea was brewing, I answered a few text messages then headed down to the family room and turned on the computer.

While the computer was booting up, Valor stepped into the entryway with his long fingers wrapped around a steaming cup of something hot.

Did I wake you up?” I asked, startled by his sudden appearance.

Nay,” he said.

Are you drinking coffee or tea?”

He lifted his cup. “A little of both.”

I wrinkled my nose. “I don’t think you’re supposed to do that.”

He took a sip and made a face. “I think you’re right.”

I was just checking on the coin,” I explained in a nervous rush. I felt suddenly self-conscious and guilty about my wonky-ankle plan. “To see if it sold.”

He stepped down into the room and pulled a chair over to join me at the computer. The light from the computer monitor flickered across his features as I clicked my way to the right website and I couldn’t stop my gaze from sneaking toward him—to his brilliantly blue eyes, his elegantly sculpted face and the strong line of his shoulders. His nearness made me uneasy. Or excited. I wasn’t sure which.

Is that it?” he asked, drawing my attention back to the computer screen and our listing.

Yes,” I murmured. The coin had sold in the middle of the night and we were eight hundred dollars richer. “We’re in the money,” I said, and shared a shy grin with him.

Well done,” he said, and his lips curved into a warm smile.

For the moment, he appeared to have forgotten that he didn’t like me. I took a second to bask in the glow of his approval then reached for the coin I’d left sitting at the edge of the desk. Valor reached for it at the same time and our hands collided. My pulse raced and my heart pounded at the fleeting contact, upsetting the uneasy balance I was trying so hard to hold on to. I got quickly to my feet and—as chance would have it—my ankle gave out. I sucked in a sharp breath and forgot to cry out, which is what I would have done if I’d planned it. I clutched the back of the chair but lost my balance anyway and almost landed in Valor’s lap.

I’m sorry,” I cried. “It’s my ankle.” My hand was spread on the middle of his chest as I struggled to regain my balance. I could feel the heavy beat of his heart surging beneath my palm. The rhythm of his heartbeat was almost as frantic as my own.

Valor gasped, his eyes going so wide it was almost comical. “Softly,” he rasped in a hoarse voice as he scooped me into his arms and stood. “Softly, lass. I didn’t know your ankle was still bothering you. You should have told me.”

It wasn’t bothering me,” I moaned, using the words I’d practiced for just this occasion…only now they were the truth instead of blatant lies. “I thought it was fine.”

He carried me to the center of the family room and lowered me onto the wicker sofa in front of the fireplace. He knelt on the rug and clucked his tongue softly while probing my ankle with his strong, warm fingers. “We’ll have to get you a staff,” he suggested, getting all strict with me. “Or a cane.”

Or crutches,” I added breathlessly.

His dark hair spilled over his face and his thick eyelashes shadowed his cheekbones. As I looked down on him, it occurred to me that maybe he was trying to hide the fact that he cared about me. Maybe he didn’t want me to know he cared, or…maybe he just didn’t want to care about me.

Now I just needed to figure out what my red hair had to do with any of this.

But before I could give the idea any more thought, I heard Havoc and Reason on the stairs. Havoc found us and leaned into the entryway. He pointed at me. “You,” he said. “You need to take us to see airplanes.”

And helicopters,” Reason added from the kitchen.

Her ankle is bothering her,” Valor immediately argued.

No,” I cut in right away before that idea had a chance to take hold. “It’s not bad at all. I just stood on it wrong. It won’t stop me from driving.”

Valor gave me a severe look. “Are you sure?”

I won’t be walking on it, Valor,” I said, loving his protective streak. “I’ll just be sitting and steering the car.”

Jolly awesome,” Havoc declared, and rubbed his hands together. “Now come and teach me how to cook on this tiny oven-stove thing.”

I shared a grin with Valor and got to my feet. I’d never thought of our kitchen range as tiny but I guess it was small compared to the huge hearth fires that were used a century ago. I was just glad Havoc had taken an interest in cooking since my own skills were limited and I’d have my work cut out for me with six more gargoyles on the way.

Valor’s hand rested low on my back as he guided me up the three stairs into the kitchen. The contact sent chills of excitement up and down my spine. Too soon, he left me in front of the stove with Havoc while he settled onto a barstool to watch us make breakfast.

Aren’t you gonna help?” I challenged him with a laugh.

He opened his mouth to answer but Havoc cut in before he could say anything. “Don’t go looking for trouble,” he warned me cheerfully.

What does that mean?”

It means I’m a way better cook than he is.”

And that’s an understatement,” Reason added.

Valor explained. “Back in our time, I did most of the hunting.”

And Havoc did most of the cooking?” I asked as I pulled a carton of eggs from the fridge.

Valor shrugged. “He was good at it.”

Havoc certainly seemed at home in the kitchen. Using his knife, he chopped potatoes into a mound of small pieces and threw handfuls into a frying pan while I scrambled eggs. Reason stood at the sink and washed the pans as we finished with them. “Hot water at the turn of a knob,” he murmured. “It’s freaking amazing.”

With breakfast out of the way, I ran upstairs to put on a little makeup while Havoc filled Hooligan’s food and water bowls in the mudroom. When I came back down, we were ready to go. “Be good,” I told Hooli as I locked him in the house.

We stepped into the garage just as the neighbor started up his chain saw. My sauntering herd of gargoyles came to a sudden halt. “Is that a motorcycle?” Reason asked. His brow creased into an uncertain frown.

Chain saw,” I answered.

Her neighbor is cutting down the trees on his property,” Valor explained briefly.

All of them?” Havoc asked, clearly stunned.

What was it with these guys and trees?

Why is he cutting them?” asked Havoc. “Is he…building a house?”

I shook my head. “He already has a house. We don’t know why he’s clearing his lot. I guess he could sell firewood if he needs the money. But he’ll have to wait at least a year for the wood to dry.”

And you did nothing?” Reason criticized. “Did it not bother you?”

Yes, it bothered me,” I answered, my voice rising with emotion. The tree-cutting had bothered me deeply, right from the start, though I didn’t really understand why.

Why didn’t you stop your neighbor?” Reason demanded.

This is a free country,” I grumbled, starting to get a little impatient with Valor’s cousin. “And it’s his property. He can do whatever he wants with his land.”

So, you said nothing to him?”

Ugh. I preferred not to think about my neighbor at all. His name was David Blocker. Mim called him Blocker the Stalker and he totally gave us the creeps. “We don’t talk to the neighbor. We’re…not sure he’s safe.”

I expected this explanation to satisfy the blond gargoyle. But Reason’s brow knitted into a deeper frown. “You could have made him change his mind.”

My mouth dropped open. I’m like five-four and sixteen years old. What on earth could I possibly do to stop a grown man?

Before I could ask the stubborn gargoyle what he meant, he went on. “Any good witch worth her salt could have stopped him.”

An inadvertent snort slipped past my lips and I tried to smother it. It really wasn’t fair to laugh at Reason. Back when he lived in Europe, everyone believed in witchcraft…although I didn’t know why Reason had suddenly decided I was a witch. Maybe it was just his backhanded way of insulting me. “Yeah, well, unfortunately, I’m not a witch.”

Reason tilted his head and narrowed his blue gaze on me. “What do you mean?”

There’s no such thing as witches. I know people used to believe in them back in your time but they don’t exist.”

The blond gargoyle shared a look with Havoc.

Yes, they do,” Havoc stated firmly. “We’ve known several during our lifetime.”

And what made them witches?” I challenged the gargoyles.

They could cast spells to change peoples’ behavior,” Reason said. “They could predict the future and scry to locate missing objects or people. Witches can perform all kinds of magic.”

If Reason really believed a witch could do all that, then why would he tell me I might be one? Surely a witch who could change someone’s behavior wouldn’t make very good hostage material. I figured he was just looking for an excuse to criticize me. “Did any of their spells actually work?” I demanded with a strong dose of skepticism.

Of course they did,” Havoc insisted. “Witches could heal people and change the weather and make fire.”

Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed. “And why are you convinced I’m a witch?”

It was Havoc’s turn to snort. “All redheads are witches,” he said easily.

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