Authors: Nicole Peeler
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Contemporary, #Fiction, #General
I had a brief, intensely detailed fantasy of springing up and hovering, like Keanu Reeves in
After a second I registered how ridiculous that was, and I had a secondary, equally vivid fantasy of my short-assed legs hopping awkwardly across the floor toward Anyan while he stared with a mixture of confusion and horror.
Shaking my head to clear it of my daymare, I ruefully smiled at nothing in particular just as Nell yelled for me from the yard.
“Training time!” I sang, awkwardly and too loudly, before plastering on a grin and pivoting on my heel to flee to the front side of the cabin.
What the hell is wrong with me?
Could I be any more of a spaz?
Luckily, my self-recriminations were short-lived. Mostly because the second I turned the corner I was diving to the ground as Nell tried to take my face off with a mage ball.
, I thought as I struggled to maintain shields, scramble to my feet, and create a mage ball all at the same time. Nell loved what she called surprises. And by “surprise,” Nell meant trying to maim you when you least expected it. She was like Cato from the fucking
, only more destructive.
To Abby and Wyatt
and eventually you’ll be allowed to read
one of your aunt’s books.
I love you both so very much.
love it when people pre-laugh at their own jokes. And whatever Marcus was about to say, he obviously found
funny, since he had started chuckling as soon as he’d told us he’d heard “a good one.”
“A god gives a selkie, an Alfar, and a nahual each a free wish. The selkie asks for an ocean full of fish.” With that, Marcus paused to give me a Look, as if it were my cue to pull a halibut out of my bra and start gnawing on it, before continuing: “The Alfar pushes the selkie aside and asks for a walled city for only the Alfar to live in.” We all pushed our drinks around as Marcus stopped again, silently revving his engines for the punch line. He also indulged in one more self-congratulatory chortle. “The nahual thinks about his options. Then he looks at the god, looks at the Alfar, and asks how high the wall will be. When the Alfar says he’d want it to be very high, the nahual tells the god…
“… to fill the wall with water!”
Iris giggled, tossing back her honeyed mane of hair. Marcus was laughing so hard he was doubled over, as his partner, Sarah, gave him the long-suffering grimace of a woman who’d heard the same joke fifteen times in a row. Marcus and Sarah were one of those couples who, like dogs and their owners, had come to look exactly the same. They were both short and very lean but muscular, with similarly cropped haircuts and almost identical outfits of jeans and college sweatshirts. In other words, they looked like twins, except he appeared to be African-American and she Caucasian. In reality, however, they were both nahuals—or shape-shifters—and not really human at all.
Not that you would know by hearing their punch lines
, I thought as I shook my head, articulating my biggest complaint about supernatural jokes in general and Marcus’s in particular.
“Dude, all your jokes are just human jokes in which you take out the ethnic slurs and replace them with faction slurs. You’re like Cartman, from
, when he switches ‘baby’ with ‘Jesus’ in popular songs and calls himself a Christian rocker.”
“So not true,” Marcus replied again. We’d had this argument just about every time Marcus told me a “new” joke. “Humans stole
jokes and replaced our factions with human religious leaders.”
I snorted. Fat chance of that happening, what with the way the supes jealously guarded their secret existence. But again, this was an old argument that neither of us was going to win. Not to mention, Iris was still giggling and she was too pretty to ignore.
“Oh, Marcus, you’re so funny,” she tittered as Sarah and I rolled our eyes.
“Don’t encourage him,” Sarah muttered beside me.
“We know he’s got more where that came from,” I added for her ears only, just as Marcus turned to Iris and said, “Well, I’ve got more where that came from.”
Sarah and I threw up our hands at the same time, yelling out a triumphant, “Ohhhh!” Then we sealed our collective brilliance by high-fiving each other and collapsing into laughter.
“You two are hilarious,” Marcus said drily as he stood to get us all another round from his stand-in at the bar. He and Sarah had the night off, but the Sty was the only place in Rockabill to drink, so they often ended up spending their free time at their place of work.
Sarah and I were still chuckling as Iris’s blue eyes started to glow in that telltale succubus manner. Sure enough, when I turned around, it was our local minister and his wife. They were paragons of conservative propriety in public, but in private they swung like piñatas. Iris gave them a small wave, which they returned benevolently as they went and sat down in the restaurant portion of the Sty.
Iris watched them, her eyes all aglow. Her succubus mojo rolled against my shields and I gave her a warning look. No matter what, Iris received a lot of attention: She always sent out little waves of attraction compulsion, plus—with her Playboy-model figure and girl-next-door features—she was drop-dead gorgeous. But she sometimes got excited and let her shields slip, unleashing the full power of her succutastic self. Unfortunately, when Iris lost control,
The last thing we needed was for Iris to start an orgy here in Rockabill… Our puritan ancestors would rise up
from their graves and spit us on their razor-sharp rod of approbation.
My friend gave me an apologetic smile, and I felt her tone down her magic. I was just about to make a joke, since Iris always felt bad when she slipped, when the cell phone in my purse buzzed. After fishing it out, I saw Ryu’s name blinking at me from the caller ID. While I debated whether or not to take it, he hung up. I frowned at my phone until, finally, I excused myself. Iris gave me a knowing look as I walked toward the Sty’s exit, pulling Ryu’s number up on my phone once outside. Then I proceeded to stare at the phone, again, trying to decide what to do.
My former lover and I were still on the outs after he’d made a big scene demanding that I move to Boston to be with him. We’d never stopped talking entirely, and we were talking a bit more nowadays. But I was still unsure about what I wanted. On the one hand, I did care for Ryu a whole hell of a lot. He was beautiful, and generous, and he knew how to
. He’d also saved my life, in more ways than one. When we’d first met, during an investigation into a murder here in Rockabill, Ryu had stuck around to sleep with me. He could have wrapped up his portion of the investigation in a few days without my help, but he’d drawn it out and schlepped me about with him because of our mutual attraction. Which I later realized had saved my skin, as there’d been a killer waiting in the wings to murder me who’d been thwarted by Ryu’s presence.
Ryu had also brought me out of the long torpor to which I’d succumbed after my first love, Jason, had died so many years ago. I’d been only half-alive till Ryu came
along. That said, meeting him had inaugurated my plunge into my current position, floundering in the supernatural world. But I couldn’t blame him for that. I’d been the one to find Peter Jakes’s body, and, anyway, I was too strong in my powers. Nell the gnome, along with the other supernatural folk who lived in or around Rockabill, would eventually have brought me into the fold anyway.
So, on the one hand, I did care for Ryu. On the other hand, however, the baobhan sith had some strange priorities, especially when it came to love. I couldn’t shake the feeling that, while I knew my vampire lover did genuinely care for me and we were definitely attracted to each other, the real reason he wanted me so much was because I was the halfling equivalent of a bento box. For whatever reason, my mixed blood had combined into a very rare cocktail: I was both supernaturally magical and sanguinely human. In other words, I was a rarity in that I could be a complete partner to him. He could feed off my essence-rich blood, and yet I was able to keep up with him both magically and in terms of longevity.
While I couldn’t blame him for wanting a true partner, neither was I comfortable with living my life as a walking, talking sack lunch.
Another major factor that made my falling back into Ryu’s life awkward was that I had a serious high school crush on someone who was probably the most inappropriate person in the world for me to crush on. Anyan Barghest was a badass warrior, an internationally renowned artist (throughout many human lifetimes of name changes), a stud muffin, and someone who had known me since I was a toothless, drooling infant. In other words, he was so out of my league it was ridiculous. But somewhere along the
way I’d not only fallen for him, I’d fallen like a seventh grader. I wanted to pass Iris notes signed Jane Barghest. I wanted to write ANYAN LOVES JANE on my geography notebook, if I were still in geography classes. I wanted to play MASH with him as my only “husband” option. That said, I wanted to do a whole hell of a lot of things to him that were
seventh-grade, many involving various forms of slathery foodstuffs, but it was all hopeless. Not least because I hadn’t seen Anyan once, and I mean once, since I’d fallen asleep next to his doggie-form after I’d returned from Boston two months ago.