It's Valentine's Day and the D'Artigo women are preparing for their friend Iris's wedding. But when Delilah and her sisters get word that the Super Community Center has been bombed, things get really ugly, The evil coyote shifters-the Koyami-are back, and Newkirk, their new leader, has joined forces with a group of rogue sorcerers. Then, just when they think things can't get worse, the demon lord Shadow Wing sends in a new front man, and life really goes to hell...
“I’m going to be sick! Move!” Iris shoved past me and ran to the bathroom. I could hear her retching and then, after a moment, the toilet flushed and the sound of water ran in the sink.
Grimacing, I decided she could manage on her own and busied myself by putting the finishing touches on my outfit. I wasn’t a fashion maven, and all I could think was, Please, oh please, let me be dressed up enough for tonight.
My jeans were new, for a change, with no rips, and dark black, and I was wearing a bright fuchsia tank top with a rhinestone kitty on the front. I’d traded my utilitarian brown leather belt for a white leather one with a silver buckle, and I’d grudgingly changed my shitkicker boots for a pair of suede ankle boots with threeinch heels, which put me at an even six four.
My spiky hairdo was back to the golden shade it normally ran from the horrible calico mess that it had ended up, although I’d waffled and finally asked Iris to add in some chunky platinum highlights and a few thin black ones, and now I had tigerstriped spikes. The vining leaf tattoos on my arms had darkened somewith each passing week, they seemed to fill in a little more. Camille had helped me with my makeup, and I looked reasonably ready for clubbing, even though my typical evening was spent hanging around in front of the TV with Shade, curled up eating junk food and trading kisses. That is, when we weren’t out kicking demon ass.
I slipped into my black leather jacket and patiently sat on the edge of the bed, playing with one of my kitty toys. The squeaky mouse had become a favorite of mine andeven in human formit made me grin. I shook it until it let out a string of loud squeaks.
Iris poked her head out of the bathroom.
“Will you stop that damn noise? You’ve been obsessed with that toy night and day for the past two weeks. If you don’t put it down, I’m going to toss it in the garbage.”
“Not my squeaky mouse!” I quickly dropped it on the floor. I loved my squeaky mouse, and nobody was going to take it away from me.
Iris had fixed her makeup, and, with a look that told me she wasn’t at all sure about our plans for the evening, she edged out of the tiled room and shouldered a smile. “Do I look okay?”
Grumpy notwithstanding, I could tell she was anxious. About six weeks pregnant, even though she wasn’t showing yet; her hormones were playing her fast and furiouslike Jimi Hendrix played his guitar. Add to that, tomorrow she was getting married, and our Talonhaltija sprite was as jumpy as a cat in a thunderstorm.
“You look beautiful,” I said.
Iris was radiant, for all she was going through. Her anklelength hair shone like spun gold, and her skin was smooth and flawlesspregnancy agreed with her in that regards, at least. Her eyes were luminous, round, and blue as the early morning. And she still had her figureshe was curvy and buxom and, standing at three ten, she put me to shame in the girly department. But the feminine demeanor was deceptiveIris could pack one hell of a punch, both magically and physically.
She stared at me for a moment. As she cautiously dashed at her tears, trying to keep from messing up her mascara, she gave me a blissful smile. “You’re so sweet. Can you braid my hair for me? I sure wish I had Smoky’s ability to order it to fix itself.”
“I think a lot of people want a taste of Smoky’s talents. Among other attributes of his.” I sat her down and divided her hair into three sections. “I know I’d love to come out looking peachy clean every time we fight a battle.”
After I wove one section over the other and finished it off with an elasticcoated rubber band, Iris coiled it around her head in an intricate pattern, leaving the tail end of it hanging down to her midback like a tidy ponytail. We added a brilliant yellow bow. It reminded me a lot of Barbara Eden’s hairdo in I Dream of Jeannie.
“I wish you could, too. Then I wouldn’t have so much laundry to do.”
She laughed and smoothed her skirta gorgeous cobalt blue number she’d paired with a pale gray buttondown shirt and a pair of pumps that matched the color of her hair bow. The Finnish house sprite looked like a pretty secretary rather than the high priestess she was. Talonhaltijas were good at blending in. Even when they could whip your butt in a battle.
“You don’t think Menolly is upset about putting off her promise ceremony to Nerissa? They had decided on February second and now . . . they changed their plans because of me.”
“Are you kidding? Both of them are fine about it. And it gives them more time to get ready.” I knew that Iris felt she had upstaged them, but neither my sister nor her lover were upset in the least.
“As long as you’re certain I didn’t tread on their toes.”
“I’m sure. Now, are you ready?” I stood, reaching for my purse.
She closed her eyes and pressed one hand against her stomach. “My stomach feels like it won’t ever be ready for anything again, but let’s get a move on.” As we left my room, she glanced up at me. “By this time tomorrow, I’ll be Iris O’Shea. Bruce’s wife. What the hell am I doing?”
I laughed at her panicked expression. “You’re marrying the leprechaun you love, Iris. And you’re going to have his baby, so you might as well get used to it. Life’s changing.” Cocking my head, I added, “So, you’re taking his last name?”
She nodded. “If Kuusi were my family name, I’d hyphenate. But . . . as much as I loved the Kuusis, they weren’t exactly family. I worked for them, I cared about them, but when it comes down to it, they were my employers. So I figure, since I’m starting over yet another time, so I might as well start with another new name. Only this time, someone I love is attached to it. You’re right. Life is changing. And I’m embracing it.”
As we headed downstairs, I realized that was so true for all of us. Life was changing all around us. Some things for the better, some things not. And there was no way to stop the ride now that we’d all gotten on board.
“They’ll be out like a light by the time we get home, want to make a bet?”
“I kind of hope so.” I really didn’t want to think about what kind of trouble they could get up to without us here to supervise.
Menolly’s coppery cornrows shimmered under the lights, and she was dressed in bluetight jeans and a denim jacket over a rustcolored turtleneck. Her boots were even made of denim, and they sported thin stiletto spikes, almost as high as Camille’s.
Camille, on the other hand, was fully decked out in her usual fetish noir. Chiffon skirt, with a green underbust longline waist cincher with black boning and silver hooks and eyes, beneath which she wore a shiny black spaghettistrap top that left nothing to the imagination with regard to her DD breasts. She balanced on a pair of skyhigh stilettos that I couldn’t even imagine wearing and was carrying a sparkly black wrap.
Nerissa, who was munching on a bread stick she’d found in the cupboard, wore a flirty tiered powder pink skirt that barely covered her butt, and a glitzy tank top. Strong, lean, and muscled, she was an Amazon of a woman, a werepuma who wasn’t afraid to tackle life with my sister the vampireand she was always ready to party.
Camille lit up as we entered the room. “You both look great. Sharah’s meeting us at the club. Come on, let’s get this show on the road and leave the house to the guys. Trillian told me they’ve got a fully stocked bar, but he didn’t say anything about a stripper . . . I’d be surprised if they don’t just end up playing games on that damned Xbox all evening.”
Supes or not, some of our lovers and cohorts had developed an addiction to video games. It seemed odd to watch two grown demons battling it out over Super Mario or whatever was the latest Xbox rage, but they took it seriously.
“What about Maggie? Who’s looking after her?”
“Don’t you worry about our baby gargoyle. Hanna’s watching her. Maggie has really taken to her.” Iris picked up her purse. “I’m ready.”
“Then we’re ready.” Camille arranged her shawl. “Bruce gave us the use of his limo and driver. Ladies, our chariot awaits.”
“At least we aren’t headed out to get our butts kicked.”
I peeked back in the living room at the guys. They looked innocent enough, but the amount of trouble an incubus, a demon, a leprechaun, a dragon, an FBH (fullblooded human), one of the dark Fae, and a half dragon, half shadow walker could get into boggled my mind. Without us to keep an eye on things, I fully expected to come home and find the house trashed.
Iris must have been reading my mind because as we clattered down the porch steps, she muttered, “Here’s praying Hanna can keep those men in line.”
“Hanna’s a tough woman, but I don’t know if she’s that tough.” Camille nodded to the limo. “Bruce’s driver is named Tony; tip him big tonight. Okay, let’s go, ladies. Iris, this is your last night as a free woman; we’re going to live it up.”
“Just so long as my supper stays where it’s supposed to,” Iris countered.
As we maneuvered through the melting snowspring was finally on the way and though it was still cold, most of the harsh winter snows were standing puddles of slush and mud nowTony got out of the car to open the doors for us.
The limo was lush; roomy enough for six in the back seat. I pushed my worries away for the evening. Nothing would go wrong. It was the night before Valentine’s Dayand the night before Iris’s wedding. The gods had to be kind to us at least once, didn’t they?
We slid through the crowd. “Do you think we’ll be able to find a table?” I looked at the crowd on the dance floor. Most of them were women, and I had a sudden suspicion Menolly and Nerissa had brought us to a lesbian bar. “Hey, this a gay bar? Not that it matters, but . . .”
“Not so much. And we’ve got reservations for the big table in back they keep for parties, so chill.” Menolly shouldered her way ahead, and after a moment, we caught sight of the bar. She winked at the bartender, who looked like your average hunky guy, except I could tell he was Were. He motioned us over to the big table that had balloons surrounding it. Dangling ribbons. I stared at them for a moment. My Tabby self stirred, wanting to come out and play, but I forced the instincts back long enough to turn to Camille.
“Balloonsribbons? You think such a good idea around me?”
She snorted. “Can’t you control yourself for one night? Sometimes I think you use the fact that you’re a werecat as an excuse for bad behavior. Now, be a good Kitten, Delilah, and don’t tear up the joint.”
As we slid into the booth around the table, a familiar voice echoed through the crowd and Sharah hustled up, carrying a large pale silver box wrapped in a pink ribbon. Her blond hair caught back in a sleek ponytail, the elf looked very sixties. Waiflike in her gogo dress and white kneehigh boots, she made retro work.
Sharah was Chase’s girlfriend, and Chase used to be my boyfriend, but we knew we couldn’t make it work so we broke up. Now we were good buddies. Sharah had slipped in to fill the void, and they seemed to be grooving together. Whatever the case, I knew enough to keep my nose out of it.
She handed me her present for Iris, and I put it with the others on a side table as the waitress came up to take our orders. We quickly went around the table. Iris couldn’t drink, of course, so she ordered a glass of orange juice. Camille ordered a rum and Coke, Nerissa asked for a mai tai, Sharah and I ordered Demented Zombies, and Menolly ordered a Bloody Vampwhich was actually just blood, but it sounded better with a cool name.
“Hereyou have to wear this tonight.” Camille pulled out a rhinestone tiara with a miniature veil attached and plunked it on top of Iris’s head.
“Only if you guys are wearing party hats, too.” Iris shook her finger at us, at which Nerissa pulled out a pack of sparkling princess crowns. We all slid the cardboard hats on as Iris grinned and adjusted her tiara.
The music startedLady Gaga’s “Born This Way”and Menolly and Nerissa excused themselves to the dance floor. A stunning pair, their dancing got dirtier and they began to pull in looks from both sides of the fence. I stifled a snortsome of the women looked jealous, while others looked at them like they were the best thing since sliced bread. Not a gay bar, my ass. Most of the men around didn’t seem interested in anybody but each other.
A rather tall biker chick tapped Camille on the arm. “Dance?”
Camille blinked but then grinned and excused herself to work the floor as the music turned to “Weapon of Choice.” After a few seconds, Biker Chick was looking mighty impressed; Camille had lost herself to the music and they went spinning around the floor, Biker Chick’s arm hooked around Camille’s waist.
“I’m glad to see her smile,” Iris whispered to me.
“Yeah, after Hyto’s attack, I wasn’t sure how she’d come through.” I leaned down so Iris could hear me. The noise in the place was deafening.
“It will take her awhile to fully move on, but I think she’ll be okay, eventually. Her men help a lot, especially Smoky, though it can’t be easy for them since he looks so much like his father.”
Sharah leaned across the table. “Nerissa’s counseling is helping. At least Hyto didn’t infect her with any disease.”
“My sister’s a rock, though Hyto almost smashed her to bits. But she always pulls through.”
I couldn’t forgive our father, though, for not standing up for her after he knew what had happened. That he’d sat in our living room, listening as she told him what horrors the crazed dragon had put her through, and then chosen to leave, had hardened my heart to him. His own daughter, kidnapped and raped, and he walked away. Our cousin Shamas had threatened to go home and confront him about it. We persuaded him to hold off, but I had the feeling he was so pissed that he might do so without our consent.
Iris tapped her fingers on the table in time to the music as the others returned from the dance floor.
“Did you want to dance?” Menolly asked.
She shook her head. “Not the best idea. Stomach’s queasy.”
Sharah handed her a packet of saltines. “Here, these will help.”
Iris munched on them. “I see presentsand they’re unopened.” Her eyes glittered as she motioned to the stack of boxes on the side table. We’d brought gifts from the guys, too.
“Not just yet,” I said, glancing at Camille and Menolly. I’d been in charge of the party, much to their dismay, and one of the first things I’d decided was we were going to entertain Iris to the max. “Up, you two.”
Camille grimaced. “Oh please, do we have to?”
“Yes, as excruciating as Delilah’s yowls can be. We have to.” Menolly’s eyes were pale as frost, but she smiled a toothy grin. “Come on.”
A path opened in front of our table to reveal the stage and a karaoke machine. I snickered.
“You just wait. I’ll get you for this.” Camille shook her head, leaping lightly up on the stage.
“Hey, Menolly’s not complaining.”
“She can sing! You and I are pathetic . . . well . . . mostly.”
We clambered up on the stage and Menolly swung around in front of us, striking a pose with legs spread and both hands around the microphone. Camille and I took up our stations as her backup singers. The music swept in, and, with a deep breath, we dove into our rendition of “We Are Family.”
We turned on the glamour, dropping our masks so our charm shone through, and the crowd went wild, laughing with us and clapping along. We spun and twisted to the music, throwing our hearts into it. Even though Camille and I weren’t that great in the vocal department, we warbled away while Menolly carried the song. We’d been practicing in secret for over a week now, and though we weren’t polished, we were doing a pretty good job keeping a beat to the music.
Menolly leaped off the stage, carrying the microphone with her, and danced her way over to Iris. Gently lifting the sprite onto her shoulder, with another leap she made her way back onto the stage, where she set Iris down and we surrounded her, singing as she clapped and swayed to the music.
People started throwing dollars on the stage, “for the bride,” and by the time we finished, jazz hands and all, we’d collected seventyfive bucks and a couple rounds of free drinks, which put an end to Camille’s and my being able to sing anything.
“You guys are great,” Iris said as we headed back to the table. “And thank you. Presents now?”
I laughed, a little too loud, and burped. How many drinks had I managed to put away? I countedthere were only four glasses in front of me, but the Demented Zombie was one hell of a drink and packed a punch. I wasn’t sure what was in it, but it was better than catnip.
I glanced around. I’d arranged for some special entertainment for the evening andand . . . there he was. The guy was fine, gorgeous, with dark hair to his shoulders. Even beneath his policeman’s outfit, it was obvious that he was ripped. I motioned to him and he sidled over to the table. The music dimmed and everyone around us turned to watch.
“Are you Iris Kuusi?” His voice was smoothso smooth it made me want to slide up against him.
She blushed bright red and her eyes glistened. “Yes . . . ?”
“Iris Kuusi, you have the right to scream as loud as you want. You have the right to let me arouse you” And with that, he motioned to someone at the counter, and Amanda Blank blared out from the speakers as his hips began to move.
He was a great dancer, keeping up to the beat in perfect rhythm with the rapper even as hewoohoo! There went the jacket, tossed on the ground near him. As he slid his hands to the cuffs of his shirt, he jerked and the shirt landed in Iris’s lap. Gleaming muscles flexed as he clasped his hands behind his head and swiveled his hips in a move that put Elvis the Pelvis to shame.
“Wow,” Sharah said, breathing softly. “Just . . . Wow . . .”
“Wow is right.” I felt a little glassyeyed myself. He looked far better than I thought he would and his dance was just . . . well . . . the way he moved his hips had me thinking about a different kind of bump and grind. Oh yeah.
Camille was looking at him suspiciously, and Menolly looked bored, staring at the crowd, but Nerissa, Sharah, and Iris were all fixated on the dancer. He slid his hips from side to side and caught my attention once again, as he grabbed hold of the waistband andjust like thatthe pants flew off and over to the side.
Now in a tight Gstring leaving nothing to the imagination, with fringe shimmering down the sides and in front, he began to gyrate toward Iris, whose eyes had gone immensely wide as she stared at what was coming toward her.
I was staring, too, but suddenly realized that my attention was no longer on the stripper, but on his fringe. Boy, that fringe looked like it would be fun to play withto bat around, to yank on, to chew on . . . to . . .
Before I could stop myself, I was shifting right at the table. A few screams echoed around me, but mostly, I heard a lot of laughter. None of it mattered as I pounced on the object of my lust. Those stringsthose glorious strings, all dangling and fluttering, calling my nameand all I wanted to do was reach out and grab one and have my way with it.
“Delilah! No!” Camille’s voice echoed from across the table, but the fringe was too pretty and too dangly. The next thing I knew, I’d sideswiped Stripper Boy’s thigh and was hanging from his Gstring, several of the pieces of fringe in my mouth, tugging on it.
“What the fuck? Where’d the cat come from?” The guy suddenly didn’t sound quite as thrilled as I felt. As he tried to pull away, I yanked harder.
Menolly put her arms around my tummy and tried to pry me away. Determined that the fringe was going to come with meit was my toy, damn itI held on for dear life.
Riiiippppppp . . . and the Gstring gave way. Triumphant, I gripped the fringed banana hammock in my mouth and shook it, purring. I glanced up at Menolly, waiting for my praise. The least she could do was tell me what a good girl I was.
The stripper, trying to get away from my claws, fell toward Iris in the process but managed to catch himself on the edge of the table. Iris stared at the dangling penis that now hung free as a bird, hovering inches away from her face. She looked fascinated at firstor so I thought from my cat’s fuzzy brainbut then as she opened her mouth to speak, she started to cough and, the next moment, vomited all over the stripper’s goodies.
Iris was wiping her mouth, totally embarrassed. Sharah and Menolly were taking care of the stripperI saw a few extra twenties pass hands. Camille had moved over to their side.
“Dude, you’ve got some sort of glamour going on. Don’t deny itI can sense it a mile away. You’re an FBHfullblooded human. So what gives?” Her voice was low, but loud enough for me to catch.
He jerked his head up and stared at her. “Babe, I dunno what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t even try blowing smoke with me, dude. You have no clue who you’re dealing with. I just want to know where you got the potion. There’ll be an extra fifty in it if you tell me the truth. And I’ll know if you lie.” She pulled out her purse and waved a fiftydollar bill under his nose.
He paused, then cleared his throat. I tried to focus on what he was saying, but it was hard because the drinks and shifting and the promise of those dangling fringe pieces had all clouded my mind.
After a moment, the stripper shrugged. “What the hell. Why not? I got it from a little shop in south Seattle. Name’s Alchemy for Lovers, and they said that if I put three drops on my dick before a performance, it would increase my profits. Boy, were they right.” He gave a sideways glance to Iris, then me. “Well, until tonight, that is. Damn stuff burns a bit, but hey, it makes sex better, too.”
He sounded vaguely hopeful, but Camille motioned for him to leave.
The bartender was giving us dirty looks, so Menolly gathered up the presents. With Nerissa carrying the cake and Camille helping to guide me, we stumbled out to the limo. Tony was waiting for us right where he’d parked. He opened the doors and we crawled in.
Nerissa sat up front with him, holding the cake; Camille and Iris sat on one side, while Menolly, Sharah, and I sat on the other side of the back seat, and we set off for home to finish partying where we wouldn’t chance ruining anybody else’s evening.
“What the hell . . . ?” Camille stared at them, then shook her head.
“I’m not even going to ask.” My head was pounding. Apparently the Demented Zombies weren’t agreeing with me. As I squinted, I saw Bruce stumbling around, chasing a dog that looked suspiciously like Speedo, the neighbor’s basset hound. He was carrying a pair of bunny ears. Bruce, that is. Not Speedo.
“Holy crap, how much have they had to drink?”
“I dunno, but we’ve got a pair of dragons on the roof.” She pointed to where Smoky and Shade were sitting on top of the roof, dangling their legs over the side. Neither looked too cozy, but they were talking and not arguing for once. A pile of rocks near the cars told us they’d been taking potshots. At least they hadn’t broken any windshields.
As we stumbled our way into the house, we found cousin Shamas, Morio, and Chase in the living room, playing poker. The table was covered with change and dollar bills, and it looked like Chase was wiping the floor with both of them. Empty bottles of Nebelvuourian brandy and Elqaneve wine were strewn about, along with a couple empties of Irish whiskey. The smell of cigars made me want to hurl, and I glanced at Camille, who was also wrinkling her nose. She opened the window to air out the place.
“Honey, you’re home!” Morio glanced up at Camille. As he stood up, he tripped and went sprawling at her feet, where he stayed down, reaching out to play with her strappy shoes.
“You’re drunk.” She moved her feet just out of reach.
“Ya think?” Morio burped and promptly dragged himself to his feet, where he threw one arm around her shoulders and one arm around Menolly’s. Camille glanced at Menolly, who quickly sidestepped out of Morio’s embrace. He still wasn’t over the bond that had developed when some of her blood was injected into his veins, but Menolly seemed to have shaken it off . . . or at least she acted like it.
“You’re all drunk.” I glanced around as Shade and Smoky followed us in, clutching Bruce between them. “Well, maybe not those two, but geez . . .”
The pair seemed relatively sober, but then again, they were dragons and it probably took a whole keg of hard liquor to even begin to get a dragon bombed.
Smoky took the cake from Sharah and carried it to the kitchen, returning with Trillian, who had his nose in a book. One look at Iris’s pained face and Trillian set down the book and slipped back into the kitchen, returning a moment later with a package of saltines and some ginger ale. She smiled and sipped the soft drink.
As the guys sprawled out in the living room and we joined them, Iris made the mistake of telling them about the stripper.
Smoky leaned forward, his eyes whirling. “You watched another man remove his clothing for entertainment?” He glared at Camille.
“Chill out, Iris threw up on him and that killed the mood.”
Trillian snorted. “You’re lucky we live Earthside and not back in Otherworld. You’d be punching out guys right and left for the way they look at Camille there. Get used to it. Your wife’s hot and people notice.”
“Smoky, give it a rest. Trillian’s right. Just accept it and move on,” Iris grumbled. “And it’s not my fault that I have morning sickness all the damned day!” She looked hurt and Camille slipped over to give her a hug, then settled onto Smoky’s lap. His hair reached up to stroke her shoulders and entwine around her waist.
“I’ll bet the gentleman wasn’t expecting that response.” Shade laughed.
“I’m not so sure he was that much of a gentleman.” Camille repeated what the dancer had told her about the potion and the shop. “Sounds like sorcery to me. I don’t like it.”
I was about to say something when the phone rang. Yugi’s voice echoed through the line.
“Delilah?” Yugi was Chase’s second in command at the FHCSIthe FaerieHuman Crime Scene Investigation unit. And he sounded so frantic I could barely understand him. “Please, we need you over here now. Sharah and Chase especially. It’s an emergency.”
“What’s up?” A tingling in my gut told me that whatever it was, we were in no shape to deal with it.
“There’s been a bombing at the Supe Community Council. Four confirmed deaths so far, and two people are in intensive care. We don’t know how many others were in the building. Rescue teams are heading in as soon as the bomb squad confirms no more danger. Get over here. Now.”
As I hung up, staring helplessly at the phone and wondering if any of my friends were among the dead, I realized that despite the celebrations going on in our private lives, we were always on call. There would never be another moment when we could fully relaxnot until we’d pushed back the demons and stopped Shadow Wing and his cronies. And even then . . . there were other horrors in the world waiting for us to stop them.
“Sober up any way you can,” I said, setting the receiver back in the cradle. “We’ve got work to do. And it can’t wait till tomorrow.”
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