Bumble(Legend of the Ir'Indicti,Book 1)(5) by Connie Suttle
"Socks and underwear in the washer," Ashe washed his hands and dried them on the towel his mother always folded around a drawer handle in the kitchen. Painted a sunny yellow, the Evans kitchen had windows facing north and east. A hall on the southwestern side led into Adele's solarium, where plants and cooking herbs were grown. The door leading into the garage was also on the western wall, and it was kept closed and locked at all times, to protect Aedan while he slept.
"We're having smothered steak, honey," Adele said. Ashe loved smothered steak. Principal Billings' note meant his parents were more worried than usual about him. It was also the reason his mother was making his favorite meal. Wondering when they planned to tell him about the human school, Ashe went to the cabinet to get plates for the table.
"Son, how was school?" Aedan walked into the kitchen while Ashe and his mother were eating. Ashe watched as his dad leaned down to kiss his mother on the forehead. Vampires looked and acted human most of the time, as did werewolves and shapeshifters. They kept their other nature hidden, to protect the races. Ashe sighed at the thought. Humans, if they were aware those races existed, would be terrified of them and try to kill them. At least some of them would. If he couldn't change, Ashe would be forced to attend school with hundreds of humans. His silence would protect his parents; the humans could never learn what they were. It could become the most serious secret he'd ever kept.
"Have your list of books written out?" Aedan settled into an extra chair at the table and smiled at his son.
"I went looking on the computer. I have a few things," Ashe smiled back.
"You can ask Sali to come if you want." Adele picked up her plate and took it to the dishwasher.
"Are you sure you want to buy two dinners for him?" Ashe teased.
"That child can certainly eat," Aedan agreed.
"Call him in the morning," Ashe's mother nodded toward the peas still on his plate. Ashe turned to his food.
* * *
"Mom, can I go to Oklahoma City with Ashe tonight?" Sali shouted at his mother the following morning.
"Honey, I can hear you just fine." Denise DeLuca walked into the living room where Sali was talking with Ashe on the phone. Ashe had called first thing to invite Sali along.
"Sorry, Mom," Sali apologized, hoping ill manners wouldn't influence his mother's decision; he hadn't realized she was so close. Being werewolf, her hearing was just as sharp as Sali's.
"Going to the bookstores?" Denise gave Sali a smile instead.
"Yeah. And out to eat." Some things were simply more important to Sali than others.
"All right, but you have to clean your room and do a good job."
"I can go," Sali crowed into the phone.
* * *
"Sali's coming," Ashe replaced the cordless in the cradle. Adele was wiping down the kitchen counters after breakfast.
"I heard. And you should clean your room too, young man." Adele scooted Ashe out of the kitchen. Adele went to work, leaving Ashe at home to do his chores. After cleaning his bedroom, Ashe spent the day going through bookshelves his father had built for him, checking carefully to make sure he hadn't missed any upcoming sequels or favorite authors that might have new books out. The shelves lined one wall of Ashe's bedroom, floor to ceiling, and all were full.
His father was good with his hands. He, Old Harold and Cori's father, Nathan, had built a barn in four nights the previous year. The O'Neill's barn was knocked down by a tornado and they'd lost precious ewes and lambs in the spring storm. The three vampires had rebuilt the barn and others donated to help replace animals.
Ashe had seen the devastation the tornado caused early the following day. Tiny lambs lay nearly a quarter mile from the destroyed barn—all dead. They'd looked like bits of cotton fluff scattered in the fields until he'd gotten close enough to see what they were. Marco joked that you couldn't count them or you'd fall asleep. Ashe had never wanted to hit Marco so badly in his life.
"Time to clean up. Your dad will wake in half an hour." Adele interrupted Ashe's thoughts. She'd found him sitting in the floor, an open copy of the latest in his favorite series on his lap. Time had gotten away from him.
"On my way." Ashe grinned as he jumped up and raced toward his closet.
* * *
"Where are we gonna eat?" Sali asked excitedly as he slid onto the back seat of Aedan's SUV. The vehicle was newer and nicer than the old blue Ford Adele drove. Aedan had offered to replace Adele's battered truck with a new version many times, but Adele argued that she often carried plants or bags of feed in the back and didn't need something else; it would just get scratched up anyway. Aedan had stopped trying to convince his wife after a while.
"Feel like The Italian Grill?" Adele smiled over the back seat at Sali.
"Yeah." Sali loved The Italian Grill.
"Are you buying books?" Adele was still smiling at Sali.
"Yeah. Mom said I had to get at least three. And read them." Sali didn't enjoy reading nearly as much as Ashe did.
"Come on, dude. You liked the last ones I told you to buy." Ashe poked at Sali.
"I read those in self-defense, 'cause you wouldn't shut up about 'em." Sali grinned at Ashe.
"Whatever it takes dude." Ashe settled back in his seat as Aedan pulled away from the house. Oklahoma City was nearly a hundred miles away. They'd eat first, then visit the bookstores. Ashe was thankful the big bookstores stayed open late.
"Come on, you'll like this one," Ashe shoved a book into Sali's hands. He'd already dumped two others onto Sali's stack. "Besides," Ashe added, "that DVD you like so much—about the crazy inventor? That book was written by this author."
"Then why don't I read that instead?" Sali whined.
"You can read it first." Ashe dropped a paperback copy onto the growing pile, which shifted dangerously and nearly fell from Sali's hands.
"Ashe, please stop. Mom will expect me to read all this." Sali hefted his books dramatically, begging his friend not to add any more.
"Fine. I'll stop there." Ashe went to collect the stack of ten titles he'd placed in the floor nearby. His parents had approved ten books; Ashe had gathered them quickly.
Aedan and Adele were sitting in the coffee shop, waiting on both boys to finish shopping. "That's quite the stack there," Aedan remarked when Ashe and Sali showed up at their table.
"Dad, I'll have these read by the end of spring break." Ashe replied with a grin.
"Can you pace yourself a little? I was hoping to get some help at the store," Adele said. "And we'll pay for Sali's books if he'll help."
"I'd help for cookies," Sali agreed, his brown eyes pleading hopefully with Ashe's mother.
"I was throwing cookies into the deal, too," Adele laughed.
"All right," Sali breathed happily. "Cookies and free books."
"Come on, you two," Aedan rose and ruffled Ashe's hair.
On the drive home, Sali slept in his corner of the back seat and Ashe was nearly asleep on the opposite side when Aedan's cell rang. He passed it to Adele to answer. Aedan never talked on his cell while driving and normally wouldn't ask Adele to answer either. Something on the caller ID convinced him to hand the phone to his wife. Ashe woke completely as Adele said, "Nathan? What's wrong?" Usually, Ashe appreciated his gift of acute hearing. He heard Nathan's voice clearly as he explained that James Johnson's savaged body had been found in a field behind the Evans' home.
Ashe huddled into his corner of the back seat, utterly stunned. He wanted to wake Sali, and then thought better of it. James Johnson was Marco's best friend. He and Marco were often engaged in horseplay and frequently ended up in Principal Billings' office. That's how the lock on the Principal's door had been broken, Ashe recalled. And James was a werewolf—old enough to go hunting at the full moon with Marco and the other adults. It would take someone or something extremely strong to kill a werewolf.
Ashe listened while his mother informed Nathan Anderson that they were nearly home and terminated the call. Aedan, who'd listened in just as Ashe had, spared a glance for his wife and sped up.
When they arrived home, Ashe saw cars and trucks parked everywhere surrounding his house while people milled about in the front yard. Sali finally woke when the SUV's engine shut off inside the garage. Adele was out of her seat and opening Sali's door as Nathan and Lavonna Anderson walked into the garage, Marcus DeLuca right behind them.
"Have you told him?" Marcus DeLuca asked, gripping Sali's shoulders as he slid out of the vehicle, rubbing sleep from his eyes.
"No, we let him sleep," Adele replied.
"What's wrong, Dad?" Sali stared groggily at the Cloud Chief Packmaster.
"James Johnson was killed in the field behind this house, son," Marcus held Sali away from him as he explained. "Your brother Marco went crazy when he was told. Turned and broke through a window getting out of the house."
"But how?" Sali, still half asleep, wasn't sure he understood. Ashe, standing nearby, wasn't sure he understood either. Shivering in the early spring night, Ashe watched as Marcus knelt and pulled Sali against him. "Son, we don't know. James was strong. It would have taken somebody really tough to take him down. Micah is there, checking the ground and doing some sniffing with Ben, but we don't have anything yet."
"How did they find him?" Adele asked.
"Cori," Marcus turned to Adele with a sigh. "She and James have been dating on the sly, I suppose. Neither of their parents knew of it. When James didn't show up at the usual spot half a mile from here, Cori tracked his normal path, roughly six hundred yards behind your house. Her panther tracks are there, but we can't get a good scent off the ground around the body—it's still wet from the snow we had two days ago."
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