Robert and I spent several hours bonding over our mutual love of orc-killing. At some point a pizza got ordered, because, despite the fact that Robert really did have canapés at the ready, I wanted something I could seriously sink my teeth into. As the night wore on, I kept expecting to hear the backdoor open and Valentine to come sniffing around for dinner or company.
It never happened.
I finally gave up on hope and the game somewhere after midnight. I could have kept playing, but Robert had to work in the morning. I didn’t really, since Spenser had told me I was off the case, but I was determined to find out if the spooked Centaurs and the drop victims had any connection.
After helping Robert put away game consoles and recycle the pizza boxes, I crawled into my bed, alone. Pulling a blanket over my head caused coins to shower the carpet, followed by a mysterious ‘thunk’ sound. I turned the light on to see what had made the heavy noise. A few minutes of searching revealed the evidence baggy full of handcuffs and manacles.
I felt a strange sort of sadness as I set the plastic bag on the end table. All that potential fun just sat there, languishing, while Valentine was off somewhere sulking… or brooding, or whatever dragons did when they were in a funk.
Switching the light off again, I sat in the dark, alone in my bed. Moonlight shone in through the window. Crickets chirped in that lazy, summer way. I stared up at the cracks in the plaster ceiling and tried to pretend I was okay.
Five minutes of that had me flicking on the lamp again, this time searching for my cell phone. I had to get out of bed and dig through the pockets of the clothes I’d thrown on the floor, but I found it. I walked over to the window and stared out at the night sky as I dialed the number.
The phone rang.
He’d pick up.
He always picked up.
My heart hammered through two more rings.
Finally, it clicked on, in answer. Valentine’s voice was hollow, accusing: “I thought you made a choice.”
“I…” I guess I did, but I didn’t want it to be like this. “It wasn’t supposed to be an ‘or.’ I want it to be an ‘and.’”
There was a thoughtful silence, then: “I’m too big for a small town. So are you.”
All this was painfully true. “But… I have a purpose here.”
“And I don’t,” he said simply.
My stomach clenched at the finality of his tone, and I felt desperate enough to beg, “I thought your purpose was to be my familiar.”
In the receiver, his laughter was cold and distant. “We were always more than that, and you know it. But,” he said, his voice very dark now. “If you will me to, I will come to you. You have that power. Use it.”
If you dare, hung unspoken in the space between us, like a threat.
The stars twinkled in the clear, dark sky. “What if I did?”
“Then I would have no choice. I am your creature,” he said. “Do what you will.”
In the soft pool of yellow lamplight lay the handcuff bag. I glanced at it, remembering that, despite his strength, Valentine confessed to enjoying being tied down. My voice trying for a seductive purr, I asked: “You sure you wouldn’t like it, if I did? Maybe I could put a collar on you...?”
Air came out of him in a surprised huff. “Heh. You know I like those kinds of games. But, is this a game, Alexandra?”
That was the problem, wasn’t it? “I just don’t want to be alone. Would you come back just for one night?”
“If I came back, I’d want to stay,” he said, his voice finally losing the edge it’d had since they started this conversation. “I’m not ready to stay.”
“Yeah,” I said, admitting defeat with an unhappy sigh. “Just tell me that you won’t stay away forever.”
“Not forever. Probably not even all that long,” he said softly. “You’re a difficult person to stay away from.”
“Yet you always leave.” My voice was far more raw than I intended, but I was angry that I’d had to choose between him and my life. It wasn’t fair.
A pregnant sort of pause, and then he let out a fond chuckle: “You’re a difficult person to stay with, as well.”
I guessed I could give him that. “Accurate,” I admitted. I let out another longing breath, and looked down at the empty bed, rumpled and unmade. I could see the glint of coins hidden in the folds of the sheets—evidence of his presence. Maybe the pillow still held his scent and I could bury my face in it. “I’m going to be thinking about you, probably while doing all sorts of wicked things to myself.”
“You tempt me,” he said.
“But not enough?”
“Not just yet,” he said.
“I kind of hate you right now.”
He let out another one of his dark laughs. “And I you.”
With that, he hung up. I stared at the phone for several long minutes, my feelings so roiling I couldn't even say what all they were. Finally I let out an angry, inarticulate shout and threw the phone at the wall. It hit with a satisfying crash.
Flinging my body onto the bed, I wanted to rage and cry, but… somehow couldn’t do either. I just turned off the light and glowered at the darkness until, somehow, I fell asleep.
YOU ARE READING
Alex Connor thought that being the South Dakota Hughes County Coroner was going to be a boring cushy job. She didn't count on the fact that her first case would leave her with a magical, living tattoo and awaken her latent magical powers. Now she'...