Vendetta(Legend of the Ir'Indicti,Book 4)(2) by Connie Suttle
"Should you not have a special guard at your side to do your bidding until the Jewels return, then? Someone to keep our beautiful Queen safe?" Parlethis was very persuasive. When he wished to be.
"Perhaps," Friesianna pretended to think it over. "Yes. You may be correct. Perform well in your duties and when my Jewels return, we may consider a permanent promotion for you."
"That is all I ask, my lovely and talented Queen." Parlethis bowed low. Rabis wanted to gag. Steeling himself, he remained where he was.
* * *
Traci set the usual glass of ice water down in front of her customer, who seemed completely engrossed in the menu. "You don't have chicken and dumplings?" he asked, lowering the plastic-covered paper and lifting an eyebrow at the waitress.
"No, sir. Not today. I think we might have it tomorrow, though. The chicken-fried steak is good—it's the special for today."
"I'll have that, then." Weldon Harper handed the menu back to the waitress. Winkler said Betsy's was the best diner in Cordell. He was about to find out.
"What's the special?" Winkler slid into the booth on the opposite side.
"Chicken-fried steak," Traci said brightly. Two strangers, both handsome, had come in and sat at her table. She was hoping for a good tip and perhaps a little gossip—they didn't usually get two nice-looking strangers at once. The last time she'd gotten nonlocals, it had been a couple in their mid-fifties who were looking for the historical marker for Cloud Chief.
Traci and her fellow waitresses had snickered at the couple's questions—there wasn't anything left of Cloud Chief except the marker and a few crumbling buildings right off the road. The rest of the old ghost town was farmland. Of course, the boy from Philadelphia had been killed not far from there, but everyone knew that was a rogue grizzly bear or something. Nobody had found the creature yet, although there were always rumors of sightings. A bounty had been placed on the creature but so far, nobody had claimed it.
"We're just passing through," Winkler waved away Traci's questions. She'd asked if he and Weldon were from the area. He and the Grand Master were on a mission, following up on Jason's theory. They would learn soon enough if their hunch bore fruit. Weldon had flown commercial into Oklahoma City, while Winkler had driven up from Dallas. They'd agreed to meet at Betsy's Diner in Cordell for dinner before taking a short side trip.
* * *
"Ready?" Weldon asked after Winkler paid the check.
"Yeah. I'll drive." Winkler grabbed a toothpick on the way out of the small diner. Winkler had a more comfortable car than Weldon's rental—he'd driven his Mercedes. Trace and Trajan had been left in Dallas, although they complained about letting him go without any guards. Neither knew he was meeting the Grand Master.
"I prefer North Dakota to this heat," Weldon felt like taking his shirt off.
"You're just not used to it," Winkler grinned, turning the air conditioner up a notch. Winkler backed out of the parking space and drove away.
* * *
"I left the power on, just in case," Winkler shut the car door quietly after they parked beside the Evans home in Cloud Chief. "Water was on a well and septic," he added, fishing for a note in his pocket. There was no true front door to the house—the Evans family had always come and gone through the garage door. It was the vampire way of making sure a prospective break-in had as many solid walls placed between the outside and the residents inside as possible. Winkler punched in the code written on the note and watched the garage door rise. Another code let him in through the back door and into the kitchen, with Weldon following close behind.
* * *
"Adele, I don't know what to do," Aedan sighed. "We could move if you want."
"I have no idea what I want at this point." Adele didn't feel like doing anything. Depression had come to call, she supposed. Laundry and housework were things she forced herself to do. Had she considered taking college courses again? Ashe had urged her to do so. Now, information and enrollment forms were forgotten. Ashe's bedroom had been closed. Aedan refused to allow anyone inside.
"Winkler's insurance paid for Nathan's boat," Aedan said. "And the other boats, too. He must have some clout to get past the adjusters like that. I hear they'll start rebuilding the houses that burned down in a few days. Marcus says Winkler's contractor will be down soon. I hear he has several work crews hired already, to put things together in a hurry."
"We're supposed to meet Marcie and Jason at the mortgage company in four weeks," Adele said. "To complete the sale of the store in Cordell."
"It's hard to let all of it go, isn't it?" Aedan put an arm around Adele.
"It's like letting go of Ashe, all over again," Adele wept.
* * *
The sign might not have been evident to anyone else, but Winkler saw it. Two summer tomatoes were sitting in the kitchen window behind the curtain. He tapped Weldon lightly on the shoulder and pointed. Weldon nodded slightly. Winkler turned to open the door that led downstairs and into the main portion of the house when the voice came, and then the body that went with the voice became solid. "I wondered if somebody would come," Ashe sighed.
"Ashe, your parents are devastated. They think you're dead," Winkler pointed out carefully. After all, Ashe could get away from all of them and there was nothing they could do about it. Weldon sat quietly in the booth at Betsy's while Ashe ate stew and cornbread. He was quite hungry, as it turned out. He'd been afraid to use the debit card he had in his pocket and his cash had run out after the third day.
"I realize that," Ashe buttered half a piece of cornbread and bit into it, chewing thoughtfully. "Isn't that the best thing? Who else will come looking for me? Who else is going to die, Winkler? If they think I'm dead, then everybody should be safe."
"You have no proof of that," Weldon said quietly. "We all live our lives on an edge of some sort. None of us have guarantees. Think about who you're talking to, Ashe. Winkler and I have seen plenty during our lifetimes. Dead wolves, vampires, shapeshifters, humans. The world isn't an easy place, son. All we can do is make it better if we can. You have a gift that could help. If I understand correctly, there are a lot of people who work for the British Embassy who owe you their lives. Same with Winkler, Trajan, your parents, most of those kids you pulled off that island—they'd probably be dead now, if you hadn't been there. Dominic Pruitt was determined to get his son and the others with him, to help Ezekiel Tanner with his sick scheme to haul drugs across the border. You saved them from a terrible fate."
"I watched Jackson die," Ashe hung his head. "The first time he changed and he died because of it."
"But the rest of them are alive, Ashe. Think of that. And still with their parents instead of in a compound in Mexico, getting the sense beaten out of them if they didn't cooperate." Weldon sipped his coffee. Ashe went back to his food.
"I'm just asking you to come back with me; I'll take you to your mom and dad," Winkler pleaded softly. "Your mother sits around the house and cries all the time. At least that's what Marcus and Denise told me."
"You had to say that, didn't you?" Ashe's appetite had deserted him.
"Ashe, remember what I said—that you have to keep as much as possible as normal as possible? Let's take you back and do what we can on that front."
"Isn't the community moving again?" Ashe asked. "They know where we are."
"They don't want to. They like Star Cove," Weldon said. "In Marcus' words, we want to take a stand. They're not forcing us to move again."
"They think you're dead, too, I'm sure. So there's that," Winkler pointed out.
"Well, that's something at least," Ashe sighed.
"Come on, finish your dinner and we'll drive back. In fact, I'll let you drive the Mercedes to the Texas border."
"Really?" Winkler had said the magic words.
"Yeah. Here are the keys." Winkler passed them across the table to Ashe. "Eat. Then you drive."
* * *
"This is Weldon Harper, Mr. Evans," Weldon called the number Winkler had given him after watching Ashe drive Winkler's Mercedes away from Cordell. "We found your son in Cloud Chief. He was afraid he'd endanger the community again, so he ran away. They're on their way back now—he's driving Winkler's Mercedes to the Texas border."
"My baby's alive?" Weldon heard Adele Evans' voice clearly in the background. Aedan Evans was apparently too stunned to speak. "My baby's alive!" Adele was screaming, now.
"As you can see, this is good news," Aedan Evans finally said. "When can we expect him home?"
"I believe Winkler will have the jet warmed up and ready to go the minute they hit Dallas. And he'll call and give you an estimated arrival time," Weldon added. "It's good to speak with you again." Weldon terminated the call.
* * *
"We wanted to get you three together and tell you first," Adele was wiping her eyes with a tissue as Sali, Wynn and Dori sat on the sofa inside Marcus and Denise's media room. Marco had gotten a text from Winkler, so he knew already. Wynn's hand was gripped tightly in Sali's as they waited for the news. "Ashe is alive," Adele wiped more tears away. Dori drew in a breath.
* * *
"Mr. Winkler, I can get myself home," Ashe pointed out as they stood outside his jet at the Dallas airport. "We don't have to waste the fuel."
"But we're coming back down," Winkler said, pointing to Ace, Trajan, Trace and two other werewolves Ashe hadn't met. Winkler had driven straight to the airport after taking over driving duties at the Texas line. "Buck is sort of my Third, and he's my building contractor, too," he introduced a rather broad-shouldered werewolf with a good tan, light-brown hair and hazel eyes. "We need Buck to rebuild my beach house and what we lost in Star Cove. And this is Andy, my personal assistant," Winkler nodded to the last werewolf. Andy was perhaps five-nine, with dark-brown hair and eyes. Ashe thought he looked efficient. "We'll be setting things up to get the beach house rebuilt fast. Buck is a master at that. He'll make sure everything goes smoothly and gets done right. Andy will keep an eye on costs, so Buck doesn't go overboard." Winkler grinned.
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