Cover Art by Brittany Chavez and Steele Walston




НазваниеCover Art by Brittany Chavez and Steele Walston
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Chapter Nine


While I liked the idea of wearing Valor’s jacket or ring, I wasn’t so keen on the whole tattoo thing. Tattoos are pretty damn permanent. If I got a tattoo for some guy, it would have to be serious. I’d want him to last at least as long as the tattoo.

Havoc draped an arm around Victor’s shoulders and dragged him toward the house. “Come on,” he insisted in an obvious attempt to break the tension that crackled around Valor like an aura of static electricity. “You’ve got to see the television and telephone and refrigerator.”

I watched the others move off toward the back of the garage. Hooligan followed his new friends while I lagged behind. The idea of wearing a guy’s tattoo didn’t really appeal to me so I might have been frowning when Valor turned around and caught my eye.

He must have thought I was mad at him. At least, he acted like he owed me some kind of apology. His voice was low as it trailed away. “I’m sorry if I came across a bit…”

Possessive?” I suggested wryly. I wasn’t really angry with him, just slightly annoyed.

Nay,” he growled. He stepped toward me and loomed over me. I had to tilt my head back to look up at him. “Protective.”

Exactly what are you protecting me from?” I challenged him. I felt a little frustrated as I cut a glance over my shoulder at the rest of the gargoyles who were just entering the house. “Is there something about Victor I should know? Is your cousin dangerous?”

His mouth formed a hard line but he said nothing.

At that point I lost it. Most of the time, Valor acted like he wasn’t interested in me. Now it seemed like he didn’t want anyone else to be interested in me, either. That just wasn’t fair. “What exactly is your problem, Valor? You’ve been sending me mixed signals ever since you landed in my garage. Yesterday, you barely said a word to me. Did it ever occur to you that I might not want to be protected from Victor?”

The words had barely left my mouth before I regretted them. I wasn’t interested in Victor. I was just trying to make a point with the stubborn, headstrong, heart-stoppingly handsome gargoyle standing in front of me.

Pain flashed briefly in Valor’s blue eyes. “Aye, actually, it did occur to me,” he gritted as he turned on his heel and strode swiftly toward the house. “Do what you like, MacKenzie. I didn’t really expect you to be different from any of the other girls.”

Oh, honestly. He’d virtually ignored me for days. Now he was angry because one of his cousins had looked at me without scowling. Feeling defeated, I followed Valor into the house where I located my backpack and headed back out to the garage.

Valor caught up to me as I opened the car door.

Where are you going?” he demanded. He seemed to be taking his job of being-responsible-for-me seriously.

I’m going to see my friends,” I informed him as I tossed my backpack behind the driver’s seat. “You said I could do what I liked.”

That’s not what I meant,” he said darkly.

I sighed as I turned to face him. “You have all your friends around you. Now I’m going to see mine. I’ll be back in a few hours.”

You can’t go,” he stated. His mouth flattened into a stubborn line that looked amazingly good on him. You wouldn’t think anger and annoyance would improve a guy’s looks but they sure looked good on Valor.

I didn’t ask him why I couldn’t go because I was afraid he might use the H-word. It was one thing for Reason to suggest I was a hostage but I didn’t think I could stand to hear Valor say the same thing. Changing tactics, I said, “Mim’s mother has been talking about renting out her basement and it might be a good place for you and the others to stay.”

His expression hardened and a muscle twitched in his jaw. “I’m staying right here.”

You can stay here as long as you’re willing to be statues,” I shot back at him. “My mom will be home in a week and she’ll expect to find six crates holding six sculptures. She won’t understand why a bunch of strange guys are living in our house.”

You can’t go alone,” he insisted without budging an inch.

Why not?” I demanded. I held my breath and wondered if he would dare confirm that I was a prisoner. If he did—and if I didn’t start crying—I was ready to unload on him.

I’ll come with you,” he grated, and headed around to the passenger-side door.

I don’t want you to come with me,” I yelled, finally giving in to my frustration. “I’m mad at you and I’m gonna be mad at you for at least the rest of the day. Maybe even part of tomorrow. If you don’t trust me enough to let me leave here alone, then send someone else with me.”

He ripped his hands back through his hair so hard it must have hurt. “Take Havoc or Dare,” he barked.

I’m not going to pick my guard,” I informed him, lifting my chin to a proud angle. “If one of your brothers is willing to be my warden, send him out. But tell him to hurry up. I’m leaving in five minutes.”

Five minutes later I was headed to Mim’s place with Dare sitting beside me in the passenger seat. He wore an old skateboard T-shirt and a pair of extremely faded jeans. I’m not sure the moccasins were the best match for the T-shirt, but I hadn’t given him much time change clothes.

Maybe you’d better slow down,” he suggested as I took the first bend after leaving the house.

I glanced down at the speedometer and decided maybe he was right. “I’m sorry,” I apologized as I took my foot off the accelerator. “I guess you aren’t used to these speeds.”

I don’t mind the speed,” he answered mildly. “I’ve gone faster.”

I knew the guys had ridden horses back in the day but horses aren’t that fast. “You’ve gone faster? How is that possible?”

It’s not hard if you dive to earth from a great height,” he pointed out dryly.

Dive to earth?” I exclaimed on a surprised burst of laughter. I figured the gargoyles used their wings to travel around but I hadn’t imagined them just dropping out of the sky. “Why would you do that?”

For fun,” he answered.

I slid my gaze toward him and noticed his eyes for the first time. They were green like Havoc’s, but darker. Thick flecks of gold floated on his sage-colored irises. As I checked out his extreme good looks, I began to suspect he had a wild side.

Tell me about your friend we’re going to see,” Dare suggested, making small talk.

She’s…really nice,” I said, and hoped he’d be nice to Mim.

Mim’s mother never married. Her last name is Monroe. She could have given her daughter any other name in the world but…she chose Marilyn. Mim doesn’t even have blond hair. Her hair is black and hangs in long, loose curls. It’s a hard name to live up to and Mim hates it. Her middle name is Indigo, so we call her Mim.

When Mim was born, her mother was only sixteen so she’s young as far as mothers go. She teaches belly dancing for a living and the guys at school think she’s totally hot. It can be pretty bad for a girl’s ego when your mother is more popular with the guys at school than you are. Cory Devereau actually went out with Mim for two months just so he could hang around her house and ogle her mom. When Mim figured it out, she was heartbroken.

I had biology that semester. I don’t enjoy dissecting animals and the smell of preservative turns my stomach but the class wasn’t a total loss. Devereau never did figure out who shoved that pickled piglet up his tailpipe. He was annoyed when his mustang wouldn’t start and furious when he discovered why, which was after the tow truck arrived and charged him a hundred dollars.

The tow-truck-guy thought the piglet was hilarious. He still tells the story around Pine Grove whenever he can get anyone to listen. I smile every time I think about that afternoon. I can still picture Devereau’s face. I’m really not a very nice person.

I’m sure all of your friends are nice,” Dare said, his words bringing me back to the present.

Yeah, but Mim’s really nice,” I insisted. “And she’s my best friend.”

I’m looking forward to meeting her,” he murmured as he watched the road through the windshield.

When we got to Mim’s, I introduced Dare and told her he was a friend of my cousins in England. I hated lying to her but if I told her the truth I’d end up betraying the gargoyles by revealing the secret of their existence. And I’d promised them I’d keep their secret.

Dare barely said two words to Mim then threw himself on the sofa in front of the TV and ignored us. I was furious when I realized I had another rude gargoyle on my hands. Those guys might be drop-dead gorgeous but their social skills sucked. At that point I was wishing they’d never landed in my century.

Good and pissed, I pretended Dare didn’t exist while Mim and I worked on our costumes. For months, we’d been planning to spend Halloween night at the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder. Everybody shows up there on Halloween to parade down the mall in their costumes.

Whitney was going as Marie Antoinette who lost her head during the French revolution and Mim was going as Ann Boleyn who was sent to the chopping block by her husband, Henry VIII. They were going to wear long gowns and bloody scarves tied around their necks. Since they had such a great headless theme going, I decided to go as Bess Throckmorton who was a lady in waiting to Elizabeth I and married to Sir Walter Raleigh. Fortunately, Bess never lost her head. Unfortunately, her husband did and poor Bess carried his head around in a jar for the rest of her life.

I had a big, empty plastic jar that used to hold animal crackers. I just needed a head. At that point, I was seriously considering Valor for the job although Dare was running a close second. I’d probably end up settling for a mask stuffed with paper.

Anyhow, Mim was making our gowns. She can sew like anything. She makes all her own clothes and like half of mine. We couldn’t afford new fabric for the costumes so we shopped around the thrift stores for large pieces of material. Whitney’s dress was made from an old set of brocade curtains, Mim was using blue satin sheets for her gown and my widow’s dress was cut from a couple of black Halloween capes.

While Mim sat at the sewing machine and pushed heaps of gold brocade beneath the machine’s needle, she sent the occasional tentative look in Dare’s direction. I kept up a steady stream of small talk while I hand-stitched lace onto the sleeves of Mim’s blue gown. I wished I could tell her about the bizarre turn my life had recently taken and my unusual houseguests—Valor in particular. And Reason’s crazy idea that I was a witch. I did mention that several more of my cousin’s friends were staying at my place and told her she’d probably get to meet them on Wednesday night when we went to Boulder.

She leaned close and whispered, “Are the rest of them anything like him?” She tilted her head toward Dare, slouched on the sofa.

Naw,” I answered, and waved my hand dismissively. “The rest of them are good looking.”

Mim’s eyes widened in awe and I had to muffle my snort of laughter.

You’re kidding,” she murmured.

Not at all,” I insisted a little more loudly, hoping that Dare could hear our conversation with his gargoyle super hearing. It was probably mean of me to suggest he wasn’t good looking but I figured he deserved it for ignoring Mim.

Before we left Mim’s, she offered to borrow her mother’s car and come see me later on but I told her I had homework to do and would catch her at school tomorrow. She gave me a tight hug before I left, as if she could tell something was bothering me. Mim seems to have a second sense about things like that. Her mother claims to have gypsy blood and maybe that’s where she gets it from.

Dare said one more word to her as we were leaving. “Goodbye.”

I was so mad. If I was forced to have guards, they could at least be civil. I decided I’d take Havoc with me the next time I went visiting. I was sure he could scrape up more than a total of three words.

I turned the key in the ignition and backed out of Mim’s driveway onto the road. “You could have talked to us for a little while,” I gritted through my clenched teeth. “Maybe you don’t think Mim’s worth your time, but you’re wrong. She’s the best person I know. Her smile can light up a room.”

I’d like to see that,” Dare muttered.

I assumed he was being sarcastic and got really angry. “Just because she’s not the prettiest girl in the world—”

Did I say she wasn’t pretty?” he shot back.

I pressed my lips together and took the next bend a little aggressively.

There’s something you need to know about gargoyles,” he growled. “When we meet a person, we don’t only see what’s on the outside. We see what’s on the inside, too, and it affects the way people look to us. When Valor met you, he knew you were a good person. He knew he could trust you—”

If that’s true then why am I a prisoner?” I interrupted him.

You’re not a prisoner,” he insisted with an impatient snort.

I shot him a dark glare that said I didn’t believe him.

He backed down a little. “You’re not a prisoner but we have to be careful about you. Just because you’re trustworthy doesn’t mean that you won’t share your secret with your friends.”

I made a dissatisfied sound at the back of my throat but I could see what he meant. It hadn’t been easy for me to keep the truth from Mim. I was dying to tell her about the gargoyles, especially Valor.

Anyhow,” he continued evenly. “Valor knows you’re a good person. I know you’re a good person, too. Even Reason knows you’re a nice person. But…”

But what?” I snapped.

Mim is even nicer.”

That shut me up. I wasn’t expecting him to say that. And I couldn’t argue with him because he was dead right. Mim would never hope a tree would fall on her neighbor, no matter how horrible he was. And Mim would never shove a pig fetus up anybody’s tailpipe so their car wouldn’t start.

A new idea occurred to me as I accelerated up a hill toward home. If Valor knew I was a good person then he had no reason to dislike me, unless he had something against red hair or witches, which were probably the same thing as far as he was concerned. That supported the idea that maybe he just didn’t want to like me. I shifted my gaze toward Dare and said, “Tell me why Valor hates witches.”

Dare turned his head and gave me a long, measuring look. “Valor doesn’t hate witches. Not really.”

I didn’t like the sound of that “not really” part. As a qualifier, it didn’t fill me with a huge amount of confidence. “Great,” I grumbled. “It’s just me, then.”

Valor doesn’t hate you, either.”

How do you know?”

I know,” he answered quietly.

I sent him a pleading look. I really needed to find out what was going on with his brother.

It’s probably my fault,” he finally sighed, and rubbed his fingers between his eyes.

How can it possibly be your fault?” I exclaimed.

A witch betrayed me once.”

Oh!” I cried softly.

She scryed my location and watched me until she was sure I was alone. Then she told a harpy where to find me.”

But how could the witch betray you when you can sense the good and bad in people?”

I didn’t even know the witch,” he explained in a low voice. “The harpy probably pointed me out in a crowd and the witch must have kept track of my movements.”

Why?” I asked. “Why would she do that?”

Money,” he answered with more than a trace of bitterness. “Gold, silver, treasure. Harpies are great thieves as well as avid collectors. They’re like ravens. They like shiny things, pretty things. They always have a treasure trove somewhere and they always have money.”

I looked at Dare’s beautiful face and figured that’s why the harpy had stolen him.

After she captured me, the harpy told me she’d paid a witch to scry for me.”

I was too terrified to ask what the harpy had done to him. My gaze slid down to his knuckles and I wondered if she was responsible for the deep scars on the backs of his hands.

Anyway,” Dare continued, after taking a deep breath. “I think that experience has tainted Valor’s opinion of witches.”

Well, that sucks,” I whispered.

Dare’s gaze was sober as he watched me. “Yeah, it does. And it’s just plain wrong. Valor shouldn’t have let one bad experience affect his attitude. He knows the difference between a good witch and a bad one.”

Does he?” I asked slowly, and wondered if a witch could hide her true nature. That might have explained Valor’s reluctance to trust me and maybe even the way Reason treated me. “Can a witch hide her true nature?”

She’d have to be very powerful,” he answered.

Well, I figured that let me off the hook since I wasn’t a powerful witch. Except that…something had caused Valor to wake in the garage before the sun reached him. “Could a powerful witch hide her true character and…even cast spells without realizing it?”

Possibly,” he answered. “Again, she’d have to be very red.”

Very red?”

The redder the hair the more powerful the witch.”

My mouth turned downward. My hair is really red. I kept thinking about that pig fetus and how not-a-nice-person I was. Maybe I was a bad witch.

You haven’t bewitched Valor,” Dare insisted gently, as if he was reading my mind.

Of course I haven’t,” I scoffed, and gave myself a shake. I wasn’t a witch and I had no powers. “But maybe Valor thinks I have.”

Valor’s just being careful,” he argued. I could tell he felt sorry for me.

What do you mean?”

If I’m reading the signs correctly, Valor likes you—a lot—but he’s fighting it. He probably doesn’t want to like a witch the way he likes you. But eventually he’ll come to his senses and realize he shouldn’t hold your red hair against you.”

I hope so,” I muttered as we pulled up the driveway and into the garage. But I wasn’t convinced and it probably showed in my expression.

Why do you think Valor revealed himself to you?” Dare asked encouragingly. “Why do you think he let you know he was a gargoyle?”

I blew out a heavy sigh. “He didn’t have any choice. I threatened to call the police.”

Dare shook his head and snorted. “He could have stopped you easily enough.”

I turned in my seat and looked at him. “What are you saying, Dare?”

That Valor wanted you to know he was a gargoyle. He’d already decided he trusted you and…”

And?” I prompted him, holding my breath.

He’d already decided he wasn’t going to leave you any time soon.”

You think so?” I asked in a small, hopeful voice.

I know so,” Dare said firmly. “And you know what else?”

What?”

I think Valor made the right decision.”


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