Phillippa tucked Alex’s spare gun in her jeans before she snatched up Kiki. Thick gray ash covered her shorn coat. The dog sneezed twice and squirmed as Phillippa checked every inch of the Maltese. Not so much as a scratch.
“Is she okay?” Alex asked. He brushed ash off his shoulders and jeans.
Phillippa nodded. She set down Kiki, who shook her little body with fervor, Another cloud rose into the air and set both Phillippa and Alex coughing and sneezing.
“What the hell was that thing?” Alex asked once he wiped the pink-tinged tears from his eyes.
“A demon,” she answered. “The same demon that was in Beatrice’s house.” A shudder rippled through Phillippa. “The one that killed her.”
“Wait a minute.” Alex laid a hand on her shoulder. “Think about this. It was in your store, looking for something. Probably your missing tumi.”
Red-hot anger settled in her bones, and she shrug off his touch. “After it tortured and murdered Beatrice to find out where it was.”
“Then why didn’t Kiki destroy it while it was at Madison’s house? The dog’s been running loose inside for the last few of days, remember?” Alex’s fingers ruffled through his thick, blond hair to shake out the ash.
She raked her fingers through his long hair as he slowly entered…
Phillippa crossed her arms and pinched the tender underskin to interrupt the memory. It irked her that she still thought about their night together a century after the fact. It irked her even more to admit he may be right about the demon. She looked down at Kiki, who sat primly next to her.
Alex cocked his head. “Speaking of which, exactly how does a Maltese blow up a demon?”
“They’re divine,” Phillippa said.
“Come again?” Alex shot her a look that clearly said she was crazy.
She smirked. “That’s the problem with men. Short–term memories.”
Alex sighed. “Phillippa, tell me what you know about Maltese dogs.”
The compulsion tugged along her nerves. What in Hades’s name had possessed her to swear an oath of obedience to Alexander Stanton? Much less on the River Styx?
Because you wanted revenge to Beatrice’s death, you stupid bitch.
“When the Phoenician goddess Astarte married the Egyptian god Set, the sky god Haddad created the original pair of Maltese from two small white clouds. They were her companions while she was away from the Phoenician pantheon.”
Alex looked at the tiny canine. “Might be worth getting one myself. She came in handy in a fight.”
The image of Stanton with a fluff-mop of a dog was too much. Phillippa roared hysterically. Alex glared at her while she leaned against the dumpster to catch her breath.
“If you’re done laughing at my expense—” His phone beeped.
With a final dirty look, he pulled out his phone and thumbed the ‘Answer’ icon. “What have you got for me, Tiffany?”
He was silent for a second, then he said, “She’s right here. Let me put you on speaker.”
“Like I told Alex, I pulled Beatrice Madison’s home phone records first.” Tiffany’s voice had a tinny quality coming through the phone. “The two-day thing stuck in my head. There’s a call from her house to Seven Wonders at one-twenty-seven p.m. on Saturday. It lasted for five minutes and thirty-three seconds.”
Phillippa frowned. “I wasn’t here.”
“Yeah, I kno-o-ow. You were at lunch with me and Bebe.” Tiffany’s ‘duh’ wasn’t implied. It was forcefully clubbed over Phillippa’s head. “What did the staff say when you got back?”
Concern wiggled up her spine. Beatrice’s call could have been something simple. Checking if any sales of her consignment had been made. Or finding something else she wanted to sell.
Except with everything between the break-in and the demon, Phillippa wasn’t about to assume anything anymore. “No one said anything to me. Let me check into it.”
“In the meantime, can we use your shower?” Alex asked.
“Sure,” Tiffany said. “I should have more for you by the time you get here.”
When he ended the call, Phillippa asked, “Why Tiffany’s?”
“Tarzana is closer to the Madison house than either of our places.” He scratched his scalp. “And frankly, that demon dust is making me itch.”
* * *
Despite Tiffany and Max’s sprawling three-bedroom ranch, Alex was very aware when Phillippa stepped out of the bathroom on the opposite side of the house. The scent of sea and grass and wind filled the air.
Tiffany looked up from her notebook computer and rolled her eyes. “You really need to get laid.”
“Seriously?” Irritation made him itch almost as much as the demon ash had. He leaned back in his chair. “This coming from the knocked-up nineteen-year-old?”
She bounced a yellow number two pencil off his head. “I’m twenty.”
“You weren’t when you got pregnant.”
She snorted. “It’s not my fault the condom broke. Besides, you don’t have to worry about getting someone pregnant.”
No, just infecting them with a deadly disease. He tried to ignore Tiffany and typed another search criteria into her old laptop. He would have preferred his state-of-the-art desktop, but beggars, blah, blah, blah…
“What about Rhoda, the Karnak casino manager?”
Nope, the kid definitely wasn’t going to drop the subject. And it wasn’t like Rhoda hadn’t made her interest known over the last fifty years. The problem quite simply was the lady vamp wasn’t Phil.
He blew out an exasperated breath. “Just because you got hitched, does not mean everyone else around you has to get married or otherwise coupled.”
“That’s not what I mean. I’m just tired of you mooning over Phil. And I’ve only had to deal with it for the last twenty years. I can only imagine what the rest of the coven thinks.”
“I am not mooning,” he ground out between clenched teeth.
“Ri-i-ight.” She stood and stretched. On her petite frame, her belly already bulged even though she was barely half-way through her term.
An image of Phil, heavy with his child, rose in his mind. He brutally shoved it away. As a demi-goddess, she may be immune to the V-virus, but the disease still left him sterile.
He shook his head to clear his mind. “What?”
A smirk twisted Tiffany’s lips, one that said she knew exactly where his thoughts were without any telepathy. “I said, do want some more blood or coffee?”
“Coffee, please.” He pushed the super-size mug, with the word “Bazinga!” stenciled in bright primary colors, across the table.
A whine came from the floor, and a dainty paw brushed his bare big toe.
Alex reached down and picked up Kiki. The dog was slightly damp from her own bath. She licked his nose and whined again.
“Tiffany, you got any meat?”
She waddled to the table and set down his coffee. “I’ve got some leftover roast beef.”
“Can we have a few small chunks?” he asked. Kiki panted and gave Tiffany a doggie smile for good measure.
She laughed. “I don’t need both of you making puppy dog eyes at me. She can have some.”
Kiki jumped from his lap and raced for the refrigerator.
Tiffany crossed the kitchen at a more sedate pace and pulled out a large baking dish. She brought it back to the table along with a knife. Once she settled back in her chair, she sliced off teeny bits of roast. Somehow she managed to feed the Maltese with one hand and type with the other.
A few minutes later, she said, “Bingo.”
Alex looked up from his own search through the Customs database. “Whatcha got?”
Tiffany’s eyes darted back and forth as she read her screen. “Dennis Madison’s SUV blew a tire on the freeway. He lost control of the vehicle, slammed into the concrete barrier and flipped. He died at the scene. Witnesses reported that he and another vehicle, a black Suburban, seemed to be racing him, but CHP never found the other driver. Apparently, the license plate was obscured by dirt.”
“The accident was reported to 9-1-1 at three-oh-two a.m.”
It could have been an accident. Or maybe was someone chasing Dennis Madison? If so, why?
Tiffany shook her head. “Reconstruction found a puncture in the tire that blew. No definitive cause though.”
Alex’s finger tapped a restless rhythm on the tabletop. “Could have been an accident. Picked up a nail.”
“Or someone in the other vehicle could have tossed a spike.”
“Or shot out the tire,” he added.
Alex and Tiffany stared at each other over the screens of their respective computers.
“I don’t believe on coincidences,” he said.
“Highly overrated,” she added.
Phil sauntered into the kitchen. While most of the Augustine enforcers kept extra clothing at each other’s residences for emergencies, she had to borrow a t-shirt and a pair of knit athletic shorts from Tiffany’s husband Max.
Her perfectly shaped breasts stretched the cotton shirt and made it definitely clear that she wasn’t wearing a bra. The curves of her hips pulled the seams of shorts taut.
Alex quickly sat straight. His cock showed its enthusiasm for Phil’s display a little too much. Would she take off her clothes if he ordered her to? Did her oath stretch that far?
Stanton, you are one sick bastard. Maybe he needed another shower. A very cold one. He took a gulp of coffee instead.
Phil sat on the chair between them and reached for the knife. “I spoke with everyone that worked in the store on Saturday. No one talked to Beatrice on the phone, and she didn’t come into the store while I was at lunch.”
Alex watched her hand a pebble-sized morsel of beef to Kiki. “How can you be sure they were telling you the truth?”
Phil ignored his gaze while she sliced off a larger hunk of meat. “Because everyone who works there is a nymph except Jane. And even a Normal isn’t stupid enough to lie to me when she knows what I am.” She popped the beef into her mouth.
“Why did you tell her?”
She chewed on the beef for a full minute before she swallowed. “Because I’m looking for someone to take over the business.”
“Why?” he pressed.
Another long pause as she fed Kiki and sliced herself more meat. “Because this is the longest I’ve ever stayed in one place. I’m getting restless.”
Tiffany stared at Phil, her dark eyes wide with pain. “You stayed because of me, didn’t you?”
Wetness shimmered in Phil’s blue-green eyes, and she lowered them. “I’m sorry, sweetie. This isn’t how I meant to tell you. I’m staying until the baby is born.” She laid a hand over Tiffany’s. “And I’ll keep in touch.”
A rock settled in the pit of Alex’s stomach. Phil was leaving. Anything he said right now would only drive her faster and further away from Los Angeles.
He stared at the computer screen. It took a minute for him to realize he was looking at the information he’d been searching for the last hour.
“Phil, when did Mrs. Madison say her husband bought the fake tumi into the country?”
She handed another bite to Kiki. “The sale paperwork she gave me was dated three years ago. Why?”
“Because according to this customs declaration, Dennis Madison brought a ceramic and titanium replica into the United States three days before he died.”