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Ever After (The Hollows, #11)

Media associated with the EVER AFTER tour

NPR WVXU 3/3 Radio
Cover to Cover 2/9 Radio
The List 9 News Colorado 2/5 Video
Raligh Indy Kim Harrison on the Hollows 2/1
BookPeople Blog 1/31
Live video chat on Good Reads 1/30 Video
WYSO-AM Book Nook Interview 1/30 Radio
Live 9 News Colorado and Co 1/28 Video
Authors on Tour:Tattered Cover 1/28/13 Podcast
Clear Channel Radio 1/28
Tulsa World review-EVER AFTER 1/27
Miami Herald-Toil and Trouble 1/27
Sirus XM BookRadio 80 1/26 @ 8 EST
Sirus XM BookRadio 80 1/27 @ 3 EST
Austin Statesman-Kirkus review 1/26
USAToday-What inspired EVER AFTER ending 1/22
UStream Kim Harrison at University Books 1/23 Video
Ann Arbor News-Harrison at Nicolas 1/22
Sirius XM Book Radio Cover to Cover 1/22
Non-Productive Interview 1/21 (Link Soon)
"tell-all" Interview at Harper 1/7
Suspense Radio Interview 11/5
Goodreads nominee best Paranormal fantasy 2012
Houston Press 6 Halloween Reads 10/27
SUVUDU NYCC interview 10/12
Into the Woods at Preternatura 10/10
USAtoday recommended read 10/9


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ISBN: 978-0061957918

The ever-after, the demonic realm that parallels the human world, is shrinking. If it disappears completely, so does all magic. It's up to witch-turned-daywalking-demon Rachel Morgan to keep life from changing for the worse.

There's also the small fact that she caused the ley line to rip in the first place. Her life forfeit unless she can fix it. It's also made her more than a few enemies, including the most powerful demon in the ever after—a terrifying entity who eats souls and now has an insatiable appetite for her. He's already kidnapped her friend and goddaughter to lure her out.

But Rachel has more than a few impressive skills of her own, and she isn't going to hand over her soul and her life without one hell of a fight. With her unlikely ally, elven tycoon Trent Kalamack, beside her she's going to return to the ever after, kick some demon butt, rescue her loved ones . . . and prevent an apocalypse before it's too late. Or, at least that's the plan.

 

EVER AFTER was published January 22, 2013 by Harper Voyager.

It's is available just about everywhere, and a few places I'd never expect, but if you're having trouble:

                             

For a signed copy, order from Nicola's. International is okay, but email them for a shipping quote first at nicolasbooks@tds.net


Ever After foreign edition covers.

When I find them, I'll drop them here. Have one to show me? I'd love to see it. Post a link to it on FB.

 

TOUR PHOTOS

EVER AFTER Wallpapers: Three sizes for your various devices.  Enjoy!

Black Magic Sanction Medium Wallpaper

640 X 480 px

Black Magic Sanction large Wallpaper

800 X 600 px

Black Magic Sanction small Wallpaper

1024 X 768

Click on image to get to larger version, then grab for your own use.

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EVER AFTER
by
Kim Harrison

 

Chapter One


          This is close enough. Thanks,” I said to the cabdriver, and he swerved to park a block from Carew Tower’s drop-off zone. It was Sunday night, and the trendy restaurants in the lower levels of the Cincinnati high-rise were busy with the March Madness food fest—the revolving door never stopped as laughing couples and groups went in and out. The kids-on-art exhibit had probably brought in a few, but I’d be willing to bet that the stoic pair in the suit and sequined dress getting out of the black car ahead of me were going up into the revolving restaurant as I was.
          I fumbled for a twenty in my ridiculously small clutch purse, then handed it over the front seat. “Keep the change,” I said, distracted as I tugged my shawl closer, breathing in a faint lilac scent. “And I’m going to need a receipt, please.”
          The cabbie shot me a thankful glance at the tip, high maybe, but he’d come all the way out to the Hollows to pick me up. Nervous, I readjusted my shawl again and slid to the door. I could have taken my car, but parking was a hassle downtown for festivals, and tawny silk and lace lost a lot of sparkle while getting out of a MINI Cooper. Not to mention the stiff wind off the river might pull apart my carefully braided hair if I had to walk more than a block.
          I doubted that tonight’s meeting with Quen would lead to a job, but I needed all the tax deductions I could get right now, even if it was just cab fare. Skipping filing for a year while they decided if I was a citizen or not hadn’t turned out to be the boon I originally thought it was.
          “Thanks,” I said as I tucked the receipt away. Taking a steadying breath, I sat with my hands in my lap. Maybe I should go home instead. I liked Quen, but he was Trent’s number one security guy. I was sure it was a job offer, but probably not one I wanted to take.
           My curiosity had always been stronger than common sense, though, and when the cabbie’s eyes met mine through his rearview mirror, I reached for the handle. “Whatever it is, I’m saying no,” I muttered as I got out, and the Were chuckled. The thump of the door barely beat the three loud Goth teenagers descending upon him.
          My low heels clicked on the sidewalk and I held my tiny clutch bag under my arm, the other hand on my hair. The bag was tiny, yes, but it was big enough to hold my street-legal splat gun stocked with sleepy-time charms. If Quen didn’t take no for an answer, I could leave him facedown in his twelve-dollar-a-bowl soup.
          Squinting through the wind, I held a hand to my hair and dodged the people loitering for their rides. Quen had asked me to dinner, not Trent. I didn’t like that he felt the need to talk to me at a five-star restaurant instead of a coffee shop, but maybe the man liked his whiskey old.
           One last gust pushed me into the revolving door, and a whisper of impending danger tightened my gut as the scent of old brass and dog urine rose in the sudden dead air. It expanded into the echoing noise of a wide lobby done in marble, and I shivered as I made for the elevators. It was more than the March chill.
          The couple I’d seen at the curb were long gone by the time I got there, and I had to wait for the dedicated restaurant lift. Hands making a fig leaf with my purse, I watched the foot traffic, feeling out of place in my long sheath dress. It had looked so fabulous on me in the store that I’d bought it even though I couldn’t run in it. Wearing it tonight was half the reason I had said yes to Quen. I often dressed up for work, but always with the assumption that I’d probably end the evening having to run from banshees or after vampires. Maybe Quen just wanted to catch up? But I doubted it.
          The elevator dinged, and I forced a smile for whoever might be in it. It faded fast when the doors opened to show only more brass, velvet, and mahogany. I stepped inside and hit the R button at the top of the panel. Maybe my unease was simply because I was alone. I’d been alone a lot this week while Jenks tried to do the work of five pixies in the garden and Ivy was in Flagstaff helping Glenn and Daryl move.
          The lobby noise vanished as the doors closed, and I looked in the mirrors, tucking away a strand that had escaped the loose braid Jenks’s youngest kids had put it in tonight. If Jenks were here, he’d tell me to snap out of it, and I pulled myself straighter when my ears popped. There were ley line symbols carved into the railing like a pattern, but they were really a mild euphoric charm, and I leaned backward into them. I could use all the euphoria I could get tonight.
           My shoulders had relaxed by the time the doors opened and the light strains of live chamber music filtered in. It was just dinner, for God’s sake, and I smiled at the young host at the reception desk, his hair slicked back and wearing his uniform well. Behind him, Cincinnati spread out in the dark, the lights glinting like souls in the night. The stink and noise of the city were far away, and only the beauty showed. Maybe that’s why Quen chose here.
           “I’m meeting Quen Hanson,” I said, forcing my attention away from the view and back to the host. The tables I could see were full of people taking advantage of the festival’s specials.
          “Your booth isn’t ready yet, but he’s waiting for you at the bar,” the man said, and my eyes flicked up at the unexpected sound of respect in his voice. “May I take your shawl?”
           Better and better, I thought as I turned to let him slip the thin silk from my shoulders. I felt him hesitate at my pack tattoo, and I straightened to my full height, proud of it.
“This way, please?” he said as he handed it to a woman and took the little plastic tag, handing it to me in turn.
          I let my hips sway a little as I fell into step behind him, making the shift to the revolving circle without pause. I’d been up here a couple of times, and the bar was on the far side of the entry, and we strode through tables of upscale, wining-and-dining people. The couple who had come up ahead of me were already seated, wine being poured as they sat close together and enjoyed each other more than the view. It had been a while since I’d felt that, and a pang went through me. Shoving it down, I stepped again to the still center portion with the brass and mahogany bar.
           Quen was the only one there apart from the bartender, his stance hinting at unease as he stood, not sat, with a ramrod straightness in his suit coat and tie. He had the build to wear it well, but it probably hampered his movement more than he liked, and I smiled as he frowned and tugged at his sleeve, clearly not seeing me yet. The reflection in the glass behind the mirror showed the lights on the river and beyond it, the Hollows. He looked tired—alert, but tired.
          His eyes were everywhere, and his head cocked as he listened to the muted TV in the upper corner behind him. Catching the movement of our approach, he turned, smiling. Last year, I might have felt out of place and uncomfortable, but now, I smiled back, genuinely glad to see him. Somehow, he’d taken on the shades of a father figure in my mind. That we kept butting heads the first year we’d known each other might have something to do with it. That he could still lay me flat out on the floor with his magic was another. Saving his life once when I had failed to save my dad probably also figured into it.
          “Quen,” I said as he needlessly tugged his dress slacks and suit coat straight. “I have to say this is better than meeting you on the roof.”
          The hint of weariness in his eyes shifted to warmth as he took my offered hand in a firm grip to help me onto the perch of the bar stool. Tired or not, he looked good in a mature, trim, security sort of way. He was a little short for an elf, dark where most were light, but it worked well for him, and I wondered if that was gray about his temples or a trick of the light. A new sensation of contentment and peace flowed from him—family life was agreeing with him, even if it was probably also why he was tired. Lucy and Ray were thirteen months and ten months, respectively. As Trent’s security adviser, Quen was powerful in his magic, strong in his convictions . . . and he loved Ceri with all his soul.
          Quen made a sour, amused face at the reminder of our first meeting at Carew Tower. “Rachel, thank you for agreeing to see me,” he said, his low, melodious voice reminding me of Trent’s. It wasn’t an accent as much as his controlled grace extending even to his speech. He looked up as the bartender approached and topped off his glass of white wine. “What would you like while we wait?”
          The TV was just over his head behind him, and I looked away from the stock prices scrolling under the latest national scandal. My back was to the city, and I could see a hint of the Hollows beyond the river through the bar’s mirror. “Anything with bubbles in it,” I said, and Quen’s eyes widened. “It doesn’t have to be champagne,” I said, warming. “A sparkling wine won’t have sulfates.”
          The bartender nodded knowingly, and I smiled. It was nice when I didn’t have to explain.
          Quen leaned in close, and I caught my breath at the scent of cinnamon, dark and laced with moss. “I thought you were going to order a soft drink,” he said, and I set my purse on the bar beside me.
          “Pop? No way. You dragged me all the way into Cincy for a meeting at a five-star restaurant; I’m getting the quail.” He chuckled, but it faded too fast for my liking. “Usually,” I said slowly, fishing for why I was here, “when a man invites me somewhere nice, it’s because he wants to break up with me and doesn’t want me to make a scene. I know that’s not the case here.”
          Silent, he tightened his jaw. My pulse quickened. The bartender came back with my drink, and I pushed it around in a little circle waiting. Quen just sat there. “What does Trent want me to do that I’m not going to like?” I finally prompted, and he actually winced.
          “He doesn’t know I’m here,” Quen said, and his slight unease took on an entirely new meaning.
          The last time I’d met Quen without Trent knowing about it . . . Dude! “Holy crap, did you get Ceri pregnant again? Congratulations! You old dog! But what do you need me for? Babies are good things!” Unless you happen to be a demon, that is.
          He frowned, hunching over the bar to sip his drink and shooting me a look to lower my voice. “Ceri is not pregnant, but the children do touch on what I wanted to talk to you about.”
          Suddenly concerned, I leaned closer. “What is it?” I said, a flicker of anger passing through me. Trent could be a dick sometimes, taking his “saving his race” quest to unfair extremes. “Is it about the girls? Is he pressuring you about something? Ray is your daughter!” I said hotly. “She and Lucy being raised together as sisters is a great idea, but if he thinks I’m going to sit here while he shoves you out of their life—”
          “No, that’s far from the truth of it.” Quen set his drink aside to put his hand on mine in warning, imprisoning them on the bar. My words cut off as he gave my hand a warning squeeze, and when I grimaced, he pulled away. I could knock him flat on his ass with a curse, but I wouldn’t. It had nothing to do with the fancy restaurant and everything to do with respect. Besides, if I knocked him down, he’d knock me down, and Quen had a spell lexicon that put mine to shame.
          “Ray and Lucy are being raised with two fathers and one mother. It’s working beautifully, but that’s what I wanted to discuss,” he said, confusing me even more.
          I drew my hands back to my lap, slightly huffy. So I had jumped to conclusions. I knew Trent too well, and pushing Quen out of the picture to further the professional image of a happy, traditional family wasn’t beyond him. “I’m listening.”
          Avoiding me, Quen downed a swallow of wine. “Trent is a fine young man,” he said, watching the remaining wine swirl.
          “Yes . . .” I drawled, cautiously. “If you can call a drug lord and outlawed-medicine manufacturer a fine young man.” Both were true, but I’d lost any fire behind the accusations a while ago. I think it was when Trent slugged the man trying to abduct me into a lifetime of degradation.
          Quen’s flash of irritation vanished when he realized I was joking—sort of. “I have no issue in having a secondary public role in the girls’ lives,” he said defensively. “Trent takes great pains to see that I have sufficient time with them.”
          Midnight rides on horseback and reading before bed, I imagined, but not a public show of parenthood. Still, I managed not to say anything but a tart, “He gives you time to be a dad. Bully for Trent.” I took a sip of bubbly wine, blinking the fizz away before it made me sneeze.
          “You are the devil to talk to, Rachel,” he said curtly. “Will you shut up and listen?”
          The unusual, sharp rebuke brought me up short. Yes, I was being rude, but Trent irritated me. “Sorry,” I said as I focused on him. The TV behind him was distracting, and I wished they’d turn it down even more.
          Seeing my attention, he dropped his head. “Trent is conscientiously making sure I have time to be with both Ray and Lucy, but it’s becoming increasingly evident that it’s caused an unwise reduction to his own personal safety.”
          Reduction to his own personal safety? I snorted and reached for my wine. “He’s not getting his fair share of daddy time?”
          “No, he’s scheduling things when I’m not available and using the excuse to go out alone. It has to stop.”
          “Ohhhh!” I said in understanding. Quen had been keeping Trent safe since his father had died, leaving him alone in the world. Quen practically raised him, and letting the billionaire idiot savant out of his sight to chat with businessmen on the golf course probably didn’t sit well. Especially with Trent’s new mind-set that he could do magic, too.
          Then I followed that thought as to why I might be sitting here, and my eyes got even wider. “Oh, hell no!” I said, grabbing my purse and shifting forward to get off the stool. “I am not going to do your job, Quen. There isn’t enough money in the world. Not in two worlds.”
          Well, maybe in two worlds, but that wasn’t the point.
          “Rachel, please,” he pleaded, taking my shoulder before I could find the floor. It wasn’t the strength of his grip that stopped me cold, but the worry in his voice. “I’m not asking you to do my job.”
          “Good, because I won’t!” I said, my voice hushed but intense. “I will not work for Trent. Ever. He’s a . . . a . . .” I hesitated, finding all my usual insults no longer holding force. “He never listens to me,” I said instead, and Quen’s hand fell from my shoulder, a faint smile on his face. “And gets himself in trouble because of it. I got him to the West Coast for you, and look what happened!”
          Quen turned to the bar, his voice flat. “His actions resulted in a bar burning down and the collapse of a US monument.”
          “It wasn’t just a bar, it was Margaritaville, and I’m still getting hate mail. It was his fault, and I got blamed for it. And let’s not forget San Francisco getting toasted. Oh! And how about my ending up in a baby bottle waiting for my aura to solidify enough so that I could survive? You think I enjoyed that?”
          Granted, the kiss to break the elven spell had been nice, but I still felt tricked.
          Upset, I turned back to the bar’s mirror. My face was red, and I forced myself to relax. Maybe Quen was right to bring me here. If we had been at Junior’s, I probably would be halfway out the door looking for my car. Even angry as I was, I looked like I belonged here with my hair up and my elegant dress that made me look svelte not skinny. But it was all show. I didn’t belong here. I was not wealthy, especially smart, or talented. I was good at staying alive—that’s it—and every last person up here save Quen would be the first to go if there was trouble. Except maybe the cook. Cooks were good with knives.
          Quen lifted his head, the wrinkle line in his forehead deeper. “That’s exactly what I’m saying,” he said softly. “The man needs someone to watch him. Someone who can survive what he gets himself into and is sensitive to his . . . quirks.”
          “Quirks?” Frustrated, I let go of my clutch purse and downed another swallow of wine. “Dude, I hear you. I understand,” I said, and Quen blinked at my word choice. “I even sympathize, but I can’t do it. I’d end up killing him. He’s too pigheaded and unwilling to consider anyone else’s opinion, especially in a tight situation.”
          Quen chuckled, relaxing his tight grip on his emotions. “Sounds familiar.”
          “We are talking about Trent, not me. And besides, the man does not need a babysitter. He’s all grown up, and you”—I pointed at Quen—“don’t give him enough credit. He stole Lucy okay, and they were waiting for him.” I turned back to the bar and the reflection of the Hollows. “He can handle whatever Cincinnati can dish out,” I said softly, going over my short list of trouble. “It’s been quiet lately.”
          Quen sighed, slumping beside me with both hands around his drink, but I wasn’t going to fall for it. “I will admit that Trent has a knack for devising a plan and following through with it. But he falters at improvisation, and that’s where you excel. I wish you would reconsider.”
          Hearing the truth of it, I looked up and Quen lifted his drink in salute. Trent could plan his way out of a demon’s contract, but that wouldn’t keep him alive against a sniper spell, and that’s where the real danger was. My jaw clenched and I shoved the thought away. What did I care?
          “I left the I.S. because I couldn’t stomach working for anyone. That hasn’t changed.”
          “That’s not entirely true,” he said, and I frowned at him. “You work with Ivy and Jenks all the time.”
          My eyebrows rose in disbelief. “Yes. I work with Jenks and Ivy, not for them. They don’t always do what I think is best, but they always at least listen to me.” I didn’t do what they thought was best, either, so we got along tolerably well. Trent, though, he needed to listen. The businessman made more mistakes than . . . me.
          “He’s doing much better,” Quen said, and I couldn’t stop my chuckle.
          “He is not.”
           “He worked with Jenks,” Quen offered, but I could hear the doubt in his voice.
          “Yes, he worked with Jenks,” I said, the wine bitter as it slipped down. “And Jenks said it was like pulling the wings off a fairy to get Trent to include him on even the smallest details. No.”
          Quen’s jaw was clenched again, and the worry line in his brow was deepening. “Quen, I understand your concern,” I said, reaching out to put a hand on his arm. It was tense, and I pulled back, feeling like I shouldn’t have touched him. “I’m sorry, but I just can’t do it.”
          “Could you maybe just try?” he said, shocking me. “There’s an elven heritage exhibit at the museum next Friday. Trent has a few items on display and will be putting in an appearance. You’ll love it.”
          “No.” I faced the mirror and watched myself take a drink.
          “Free food,” he said, and I eyed him in disbelief through the reflection. I wasn’t that desperate. “Lots of contacts with people with too much money,” he added. “You need to get out and network. Let Cincy know you’re the same Rachel Morgan who captured a banshee and saved San Francisco, and not just the witch who’s really a demon.”
          I flushed, setting the glass down and looking around for a clock. Jeez, had I only been here ten minutes?
          “I expect you would pick up a few legit jobs,” he said, and I stiffened. I wasn’t out of money, but the only people who wanted to hire me wanted me because I could twist demon curses. I wasn’t that kind of a girl, even if I had the potential to be, and it bothered me that Quen knew who had been knocking on my door. Working a couple of easy chaperoning jobs for Cincinnati’s elite would do wonders for my esteem.
          Isn’t that what Quen is offering me?
          “There would be a clothing allowance,” Quen wheedled. My pulse quickened, not at the thought of a new pair of boots but at being dumb enough to consider this. “Rachel, I’m asking this as a personal favor,” he added, sensing me waver. “For me, and Ceri.”
          Groaning, I dropped my head into my hand, and my dress pinched as I shifted to turn away from him. Ceri. Though she had agreed to maintaining a public image with Trent, she loved Quen. Quen loved her back with all the fierceness of someone who never expected to find anything beautiful in the world. Hell, if it was nothing more than being a security escort, I could stomach Trent’s demands for a few hours. How much trouble could the man get into out at the museum, anyway?
          “You fight dirty,” I said sourly to his reflection, and he toasted me, smiling wickedly.
          “It’s my nature. So will you do it?”
          I rubbed the back of my neck as I turned to him, guilt and duty pulling at me. Avoiding him, I sent my eyes to the TV. It was showing the Cincy skyline, which was odd since it was a national station. The banner third infant abducted flashed up, then vanished behind an insurance commercial. Act as Trent’s security? I thought, remembering Trent’s savage, protective expression under the city when he downed that man trying to abduct me. And then how he looked on my front steps when he found Wayde carting me out of the church over his shoulder. Trent had spun a charm to knock the Were out cold with the ease of picking a flower. True, it hadn’t been needed, but Trent hadn’t known that.
           My fingers spinning the footing of my glass slowed as I recalled Trent opening up to me and telling me about the person he wanted to be. It was as if I was the only person who might really understand. And Quen wanted me to be the one to deny him that?
          “No,” I whispered, knowing that Trent would count my presence as his failure. He didn’t deserve that. “I’m not going to be his babysitter.”
          “Rachel, you need to put your petty grudge aside and—”
          “No!” I said louder, angry now, and his words cut off. “This isn’t about me. Trent can stand on his own. He’s better than you give him credit for. You asked me, I said no. Find someone else to spit in his eye.”
          Quen pulled back from me, his face creased in anger. “That’s not what I’m doing,” he said, but there was a whisper of concern in his denial. “I simply don’t want him out there alone. There’s nothing wrong with someone having your back. He can stand on his own without having to be alone.”
          Behind him, the TV was showing the front of Cincy’s hospital, lit up with lights and security vehicles. Have his back?
          “I won’t bring it up again,” he said, shifting away from me, suddenly closed off. “I think our table is ready.”
          Confused, I slid from the stool, shimmying until my dress fell right. If I was there, Trent wouldn’t see it as me watching his back. He’d say I was babysitting him. Quen had it wrong.
          Didn’t he?
          “After you,” Quen said sourly, gesturing for me to follow the man standing before us with two huge menus in his hand.
          God, save me from myself, maybe Quen was right. “Quen . . .”
          But then my gaze jerked up to the TV over the bar as I caught a familiar phrase, and my thoughts of Trent vanished. With a sudden flash, I recognized the new Rosewood wing behind the newscaster on the scene. The Rosewood wing was simply a fancy name for the three comfortable house-like facilities they’d built for the terminally ill babies suffering from Rosewood syndrome. The cul-de-sac was damp from the earlier rain, and lights from the I.S. cruisers and news vans made everything shiny. The thought of third abduction echoed through me, and I jerked to a halt. Behind me, Quen grunted in surprise.
          “Turn it up!” I exclaimed, turning back to the bar and shoving past Quen to get closer.
          “ . . . apparently abducted by a kidnapper posing as a night nurse,” the woman was saying, and I felt myself pale. “I.S. officials are investigating, but so far they have no leads as to who is taking the failing infants, and why.”
          “Turn it up!” I said again, and this time, the bartender heard me, aiming a remote and upping the volume. I felt myself pale as Quen rocked to a halt beside me, both of us looking up. A phone buzzed, and Quen jumped, his hand fumbling to a back pocket.
          “Because of baby Benjamin’s miraculous progress in fighting the lethal disease, officials are not hopeful for a ransom demand—they fear that he was taken by unscrupulous biogenetic engineers trying to find and sell a cure.”
          “Oh my God,” I whispered, fumbling in my clutch bag for my phone. They’d killed all the bioengineers during the Turn. It was a tradition both humans and Inderlanders alike gleefully continued to this day. That I was alive because of illegal tinkering didn’t make me feel any better.
          “Let’s hope they find them soon,” the woman was saying, and then the headlines shifted to the latest Washington scandal.
          Head down over my phone, I punched in Trent’s number. It would go right to his private quarters, bypassing the switchboard. I felt hot, then cold, my grip on my phone shaking. He wouldn’t have abducted the baby, but he’d have a short list of who might have. The Humans Against Paranormals Association, HAPA, maybe, now that they couldn’t have me. Trent had once promised that he’d give the demons the cure to their infertility, but after suffering through the chaos wrought by his father saving me, I couldn’t believe that Trent was looking to increase the number of survivors just yet.
          The busy signal shocked through me, and I glanced up at the shadow of a man standing too close: Quen, his brow furrowed as he looked at his phone’s screen. Blinking, I remembered where I was. Quen’s lips twitched, and he held out his phone. It was smaller and shinier than mine. “He’s on my line,” he said with a thin, distant voice. “You talk to him.”
          Fingers shaking, I took the phone. “He’ll know we’re together, that we talked.” Oh, God, I didn’t want Trent to know that Quen doubted him. He looked to him as his father despite the monthly stipend.
          Quen shrugged. “He’ll find out anyway.” Mouth suddenly dry, I answered the phone and put it to my ear. “Trent?” The hesitation was telling, but he caught his balance quickly.           “Rachel?”Trent said, clearly surprised. “I’m sorry. I must have hit the wrong button. I was trying to reach Quen.”
          I held the phone tighter, my pulse pounding. His voice was beautiful, and I felt glad for turning Quen down. “Ahh,” I said, glancing up at a stoic Quen. “You hit the right number.”
          Again Trent hesitated. “Okay?”
          “We were having dinner.” I explained nothing, and Quen’s face became even more bland. “Quen and I. You saw the news? Do you know who did it?” My worry came rushing back, crowding out my brief flash of pleasure for having caught Trent off guard. It happened so seldom. The host was still waiting, and when Quen shook his head, he smiled ingratiatingly and walked away, dropping the menus on the bar.
           “No, but I’m going out there right now.” Trent’s tone was tight, and my idea that he was fixing Rosewood babies died. “Since you’re with Quen, would you both meet me there?”
          My lips parted, even as I heard the accusation in his tone. He wanted me there? With him?
          “Rachel, are you there?” Trent asked, and I flushed, glancing at Quen before pushing the phone tighter to my ear.
          “Yes. The hospital, right?” Where all the news vans were? Swell. I couldn’t help but wonder if his invitation was because he wanted my professional opinion or simply to find out what Quen and I were doing.
          “Rosewood wing,” he said, his tone grim. “I doubt there will be any indication as to who took the infant, but I don’t want evidence to be buried if the I.S. doesn’t like what they find. If one of us is there, we will at least have the truth.”
          I nodded as Quen exchanged a few words with the bartender and slipped him a bill. The I.S. was an offshoot of the original FBI and local police forces before the Turn, responsible for hiding Inderland crimes before humans could find evidence that witches, werewolves, and vampires existed. Covering up the uncomfortable or unprofitable was in their blood.
          “Rachel, may I talk to Quen?” Trent asked, shaking me out of my thoughts.
          “Um, sure. I’ll see you there.” My stomach was in knots, and I held the phone out. “He wants to talk to you.”
          Quen looked at the phone, his expression never shifting as he reluctantly reached out. Turning sideways to me, he drew himself up. “Sa’han?” He hesitated. “Having dinner.” Another pause. “Of course Ceri knows. It was her idea.”
          Ceri was in on this too? Frowning, I forced my arms from my middle. Trent would be pissed. I knew I’d been when my mom and dad rented me a live-in personal security guy for a few months.
          “No,” Quen said firmly, and then again, “No. I’ll see you there.”
          I could hear Trent complaining as Quen closed the phone, cutting him off midprotest. That wasn’t going to go over very well, I decided, and when Quen gestured for me to head out before him, I meekly fell into place, my thoughts turning to the hospital.
          Behind us people laughed and clinked glasses. Below, Cincinnati moved with her people, uncaring and unaware. It felt wrong now. Someone was stealing Rosewood babies. The “why” was ugly.
          Quen was silent all the way to the elevator. He avoided my eyes as I handed him my ticket to give to the coat-check woman. I could have given it to her myself, but high society came with weird rules, and it was no skin off my nose. “You’re not going to tell him?” I said, hoping he wanted to use the time it would take to get to the hospital to come up with some story other than Quen asking me to babysit Trent.
          Gaze distant in thought, Quen shook out my shawl and I turned around, my head lowered. “You might be right,” he said, and I shivered as the silk settled over my bare skin. “I may have acted without thought.”
          It was an honest answer, but Quen might be right as well. Trent didn’t need a babysitter, but everyone needed someone to watch their back.

- -- Chapter Two -- -

- -- Chapter Three -- -

 

 

 

Revised: 02/04/2014     Copyright © 2012 by Kim Harrison. All rights reserved.