Magic Shifts(Kate Daniels,book 8)(30) by Ilona Andrews
I had very low tolerance for people who tried to tell me what to do. Curran had even less. He’d lived in a cabin in the woods until he was twelve. Then loups killed his family, and he lived on his own for almost a year, starving in the forest, until Mahon found him. Two years later Curran became the Beast Lord. When he spoke, everyone in the Keep went silent. When he entered a room, all eyes were on him. If he wanted something, it was brought to him with apologies that it took longer than thirty seconds. Living among regular people wasn’t in his frame of reference, and today had done nothing to put him into a charitable frame of mind. The fact that Heather had sprinkled cayenne pepper on her lawn didn’t endear her to him either. Not that he would bite Heather’s head off, but I could see him putting it in his mouth and holding it in there for a bit.
“My turn,” I told him. “You did the last one.”
“Call for backup if you need me.” He got out and went inside. I stepped out and lingered by the car. I could do this. I just had to be cordial and not punch her. Piece of cake.
“Hi,” Heather said, stretching the word. She walked carefully, as if worried I’d bite her.
“Hi!” Kate Daniels, a good neighbor. Would you like some cookies?
“I’m sorry to bother you . . . What is that smell?”
Spider guts. “How can I help you?”
“Umm, the neighbors asked me to bring some issues to your attention.”
I bet they did and she bravely soldiered under that burden. “Shoot.”
“It’s about the mailbox.”
I could see the communal mailbox out of the corner of my eye. It seemed intact.
“You see, the mailman saw your husband during one of his walks.”
“He’s my fiancé,” I told her. “We are living in sin.”
Heather blinked, momentarily knocked off her stride, but recovered. “Oh, that’s nice.”
“It’s very nice. I highly recommend it.”
“As I was saying, he saw your fiancé when he was in his animal shape. How to put it . . . He became alarmed.”
That was generally a normal reaction when encountering Curran for the first time.
“We are not sure if they will deliver mail again.”
“Did you receive any official notices from the post office?”
“No, but . . .” Heather tried a smile. “We were thinking maybe your fiancé could not do that anymore.”
“Do what?” I had a sudden urge to strangle Heather. I was so tired of people acting like Curran was an inhuman spree killer who would murder babies in their sleep.
“Walk around in his animal shape.”
No strangling. Strangling would not be neighborly.
“It would also be nice if he limited the range of his walks.”
I had had a really long day. My nerves were stretched thin and she was jumping up and down on the last of them.
I inhaled slowly. Two years of sorting shapeshifter politics and their run-ins with humans had to count for something. “According to the Guzman Act, a shapeshifter in the United States is free to wear whatever shape he or she chooses. It’s a federal crime to discriminate against shapeshifters based on the form of their body. It’s also illegal to make regulations interfering with their ability to freely change shape. I sincerely hope the neighborhood hasn’t considered signing such a petition.” Because if they did, I would make them eat it. Slowly.
“No, no, of course not.”
“I’m sure you weren’t suggesting that my fiancé should be limited in which shape he wears on a street in his own neighborhood?”
“No, of course not,” she said, backpedaling. “It just that it upsets the dogs . . .”
“Also, he isn’t taking a walk. He is patrolling. We live next to a wooded area. I’m sure you’ve heard coyotes howling. Judging from the ‘lost pet’ posters taped on lampposts and fences, a number of dogs and cats have disappeared from this neighborhood, but none after January fifteenth. Do you know why that is?”
She didn’t answer.
“It’s because on January fifteenth we moved into this house. My fiancé is a top-level predator. He has claimed this territory, and all of the other lesser predators know better than to challenge him.”
The magic vanished, like a veil jerked aside. The feylanterns went out and the electric porch light came on, illuminating me in all of my bloody nasty glory. Heather sucked in a sharp breath.
“Will there be anything else?” I asked.
“No.” Her face turned pale.
“Thank you so much for stopping by. If you get anything from the post office about interrupted delivery, bring it to me. I’ll take care of it.”
She nodded and took off across the street to her house at a near run.
I walked into our house, locked the security door and the front door behind me, and exhaled. A delicious scent of stew floated to me. My mouth actually watered. So hungry.
I made my way into the kitchen just in time to see Curran, already showered, pull a pot of stew Julie must’ve made from the coal oven. Grendel, our freakishly large black attack poodle, sprawled on the rug, cleaning a big bone. He wagged his tail at me and went back to stripping shreds of meat. Julie set out the bowls for dinner.
“Did you see the mailman while doing your rounds yesterday?” I asked.
Curran’s face turned carefully blank. “Yes, I did.”
“Did you do anything to scare him?”
“I was perfectly friendly.”
“Mhm.” Please continue with your nice story. Nonjudgmental.
“He was putting things into the mailbox. I was passing by and I said, ‘Hello, nice night.’ And then I smiled. He jumped into his truck and slammed the door.”
“Rude!” Julie volunteered.
“I let it pass,” Curran said. “We’re new to the neighborhood.”
The former Beast Lord, a kind and magnanimous neighbor. “So you sneaked up behind him, startled him by speaking, and when he turned around and saw a six-hundred-pound talking lion, you showed him your teeth?”
“I don’t think that’s what happened,” Curran said.
“That’s exactly what happened, Your Furriness.” I laughed, pulling off my boots.
“George called,” Julie said. “Twice.”
“Did she say she found out anything?” I asked.
“No, she just wanted to know what was happening. Also, some person called Sienna called and left her number. I put it on the board.”
Sienna was the Maiden of the Witch Oracle. Officially the Atlanta witch covens were independent of each other. Unofficially, they all listened to the Witch Oracle, consisting of three members: the Crone, the Mother, and the Maiden. Each of the three had unique powers. Sienna saw into the future. My stomach sank. She never called me. The last few times I spoke to the Oracle, I had been summoned to their lair in what once was Centennial Park.
I went to the phone, checked the number written on the small chalkboard above it, and dialed.
“Hello?” a young woman said on the other end.
“Sienna, this is Kate.”
“I am glad you called.”
“Does this mean the Oracle decided not to curse me into oblivion?” The witches and I had made a deal: they would help me and I would keep my father from claiming Atlanta. When I claimed the city instead, they didn’t take it well.
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