Magic Shifts(Kate Daniels,book 8)(8) by Ilona Andrews
George took the pen and signed her name on the line. “That’s not a problem. I can leave tonight.”
“No, you can’t,” I said. “You have to go back.”
“Because we can’t walk into the Keep and start an investigation,” Curran said. “We’re blocked by Pack law. You know this. It’s a trade-off: we don’t attempt to influence people into leaving with us, and Jim can’t interfere if they do. We’re no longer part of the Pack, but you still are.”
“You have to go back, do your job, and listen,” I said. “You’re well liked and respected. Eduardo was well liked, too. You might hear something. If someone from Clan Heavy did make Eduardo disappear, your being there will be a constant reminder of that. The guilt will eat at them and they might feel bad and come clean, or at least point you in the right direction.”
“I can fight,” George growled. “Just because I have one arm . . .”
“I know it doesn’t slow you down,” Curran said. “But I need you inside the Pack. Talk to Patrick. On your worst day you can run circles around him. Compliment him for looking out for you. See what he knows. It might help us find Eduardo.”
She thought about it. “Okay.”
I pulled the writing pad closer to me. “Now, I need you to tell me about Eduardo. Where he lives, what his family is like, what he likes to do. Tell me everything.”
Thirty minutes later we were done.
“I should go home,” George said.
“We have more than enough bedrooms,” I said. “Why don’t you spend the night?”
She shook her head. “No, I want to be home in case he calls. You will find him, Kate?”
George was looking at me with a familiar anxious hope in her eyes. I had seen it before in the faces of people driven to their breaking point. Sometimes you love someone so much that when something bad happens to them, you’ll do anything to keep them safe. If I promised to make Eduardo magically appear if George stabbed herself in the heart, she would do it. She was drowning and she was begging me for some straw to grasp.
I opened my mouth to lie and couldn’t. The last time I promised to find someone, I found her chewed-up corpse. That was how Julie came to live with me. “I promise you that we will do everything we can. We’ll keep looking and we won’t stop until we find something or you ask us to walk away.”
The relief was plain in her eyes. She hadn’t heard a thing I said except “we’ll find something.” “Thank you.”
George left. I headed upstairs while Curran lingered downstairs to check the doors. It was our nightly ritual. He checked the doors downstairs and I checked the windows on the second floor, while Julie checked the third. I climbed to the second floor and stopped. Julie sat on the landing, wrapped in her blanket. She was holding a stuffed owl.
I remembered the look on Julie’s face when she told me she’d seen the torn-up body of her mother. It was seared into my memory. After Julie’s father died, her mother drank too much and didn’t pay as much attention to Julie’s existence as she used to, but she loved her daughter deeply and Julie loved her back with the single-minded devotion of a child. A piece of Julie’s childhood died that day, and no matter how hard I tried, I could never bring it back. I had wished so badly that I could have found Jessica Olsen alive, but she died before I had even started looking.
Julie didn’t talk about it. She never said her mother’s name. One day we were walking down the street past a yard sale and Julie stopped without saying a word. She walked over to the box of toys and pulled out a big stuffed owl toy, just a ball of brown velvet with two dorky white eyes, a yellow triangle of a beak, and two flappy wings. She hugged it and I saw a heartbreaking desperation in her eyes. I bought the owl on the spot and she took it home. Later she told me she used to have one like it when she was a toddler. That owl was a secret treasured memory of being happy and being loved, sheltered and protected by two people who adored her, never suspecting that the world would one day smash it all to pieces. It had been a year since we found it and she still hugged it when she went to sleep.
“I gave her the rest of the apple pie,” Julie said. “I hope you don’t mind. She’s a bear and they like sweets. It made her feel better.”
“I don’t mind,” I said.
“You’re going to find him, right?”
“I’m going to try.”
“I’ll help you,” Julie said. “Tell me if you need anything.”
She gathered up her owl and her blanket and stood up. “I like Eduardo and George. They’re always nice to me.” She hesitated. “I don’t want her to feel what it’s like.”
My heart tried to flip over in my chest. It hurt. “I know.”
Julie nodded and went to the third floor.
I would find Eduardo. I would find him because he was my friend, because George had suffered enough and deserved a chance to be happy, and because I knew what it was like to have someone you love ripped away from you.
IT WAS MORNING, the tech was up, and I was in our sunlit kitchen, making a small tower of pancakes. Julie’s school didn’t start until nine, because traveling through the dark in post-Shift Atlanta was too dangerous for kids, and we made our own hours. In our line of work, we weren’t guaranteed a lunch and we weren’t always home in time for dinner, so breakfast was our family meal. Shapeshifters had faster metabolisms than normal humans and they consumed a shocking amount of food. Curran was no exception. I had a pound of bacon baking in the oven—cooking it on the stove resulted in burned bacon, a cloud of smoke, and everything around me covered in bacon grease. Two pounds of sausage simmered in another pan, and I was on my tenth pancake.
The sun shone through the windows, drawing long rectangles on the tiled floor, sliding over the light stone of the countertops, and playing on the wood of the cabinets, setting their dark finish aglow with red highlights. The air smelled of cooking bacon. I had opened the window and a gentle breeze floated through the room, too cold but I didn’t care.
After breakfast Julie would go to school and we would go to the Mercenary Guild. It was the best place to start looking for Eduardo. According to George, Eduardo’s family wasn’t in the picture. His parents lived somewhere in Oklahoma, but Eduardo didn’t keep in touch. He had no siblings. He was friendly with everyone, but George was his best friend. He spent all of his time with her.
Julie stomped into the kitchen and landed in a chair, tossing her blond hair out of her face. A long smear of dirt crossed her face. More dirt stained her jeans. When I found her on the street years ago, she was starved, almost waifish. She was fifteen now. Good food and constant training were paying off: her arms showed definition, her shoulders had widened, and she held herself with the kind of ready assurance that came from knowing an attack could come at any moment and being confident you can repel it.
“I want a new horse.”
I raised an eyebrow at her.
Curran shouldered his way into the kitchen from the back porch. Blond, broad-shouldered, and muscular, he moved like a predator even in his human form. It didn’t matter if he wore fur, beat-up jeans, and a simple gray sweatshirt like right now, or nothing at all; his body always possessed a coiled, barely contained strength. A month ago he had gone to our first job together in his other shape and the client had locked himself in the car and refused to come out. Curran turned human, but the client still fired us. Apparently human Curran was still too scary, probably because no matter what kind of clothes he wore, they did nothing to tone down his face. When you looked into Curran’s clear gray eyes, you knew that he could explode with violence at a moment’s notice and he would be brutal and efficient about it. Except when he looked at me, like now. He stepped close to me and brushed a kiss on my lips. Mmm.
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