A profound apology to my readers! I've been so busy, trying to get this story finished that I forgot to post on Monday!
Phillippa rose from her chair and stepped over Kiki to look at the scanned form on Alex’s computer screen. Impossible. The paper Beatrice had given her couldn’t possibly be…
The computer screen flickered. One of the bulbs in the lamp hanging over the table popped.
“Phil, you blow up my computers and the wiring in the house, I swear I will shoot you through the heart with my crossbow.” Tiffany glared at her.
“Sorry, sweetie,” she murmured. She yanked the threads of her anger back under control before she read the form again. “Why would Beatrice counterfeit the customs paperwork for a fake? That makes absolutely no sense.”
Footsteps shuffled in the hallway. Phillippa looked up from the computer to find Tiffany’s husband, his hair ruffled and glasses askew.
“Honey, it’s two-thirty in the morning. Why is my alarm clock going off?” Max blinked rapidly under the bright kitchen lighting.
Tiffany winced. “Sorry about that.” She shot an evil look at Phillippa. “It won’t happen again. Why don’t you go back to bed?”
Max’s groggy brain finally seemed to register Phillippa and Alex’s presence. “What’s going on?” Alarm flashed across his face. “Sam hasn’t done something stupid again, has she?”
Phillippa crossed over to Max and laid a hand on his shoulder. “This has nothing to do with your sister. Tiffany’s helping us with some research.”
“Why?” Suspicion glinted behind the wire-rim glasses. He turned to Tiffany. “You’re supposed to be on maternity leave.” His head swiveled to face Alex. “She’s supposed to be on maternity leave.” Max twisted to face Phillippa. “Tiffany is supposed to be on maternity leave.”
“She is.” Phillippa squeezed his shoulder. “We won’t let anything happen to her and the baby.”
Max’s blue eyes narrowed. “You mean like at our wedding?”
“Which one?” Alex muttered. “Ouch!” He glared at Tiffany. “My feet are bare.”
Tiffany shook another pencil in his direction. “Don’t make me use this on you.”
Phillippa closed her eyes. Gaea help her, those two were worse than her sisters. She opened her eyes and met Max’s concerned look. “I swear all she is doing helping us with background research on a murder case.”
“Murder?” Max was decidedly awake now. “A supernatural?” Slippers slapped the linoleum as he crossed the kitchen and pulled the fourth chair closer to his wife’s.
“No,” Alex said. “A Normal, but it’s related to a break-in tonight at Phil’s shop.”
In the minute it took Tiffany to fill Max in on the situation, Phil returned to her former position at Alex’s shoulder.
Alex folded his arms over his chest. Sandalwood and his own distinctive evergreen scent teased her. He looked up at her, blue eyes glowing slightly. Apparently, she wasn’t the only one irritated by tonight’s puzzles.
“I’m beginning to think this tumi is not a fake. Did you pick up anything from it while it was in your store?”
She shook her head, damp hair heavy against her neck. “No.”
“No unusual energy? No magick?”
“No,” she repeated. “I…” She rifled her memory of the day she and Jane went to Beatrice’s house to review the items the widow wanted to sell. “Actually, I never touched it. I looked at it, but Jane handled it. In fact, Jane handled everything. Packing the merchandise. Logging it in. Unpacking.”
Phillippa leaned on Alex’s chair to read the customs declaration one more time. Her motion only drove his scent further into her brain, prompting scenarios of everything she’d planned to do to him when he came back to San Antonio all those decades ago.
Except he never returned.
“And you didn’t supervise?” he prompted.
She straightened abruptly. “This was Jane’s first estate sale. I wanted her to have the experience if she’s going to take over for me. The only thing I did was tell her to send the tumi to the assayer when she said she thought the metal was titanium.”
“But you never touched it?” Alex prompted.
Phillippa shook her head again.
Alex wiped a palm over his face. “If we didn’t have to meet Jorge and Siobhan soon, I’d say let’s question Jane a little more.”
Phillippa glared at him. “Are you accusing one of my employers of theft?”
“No, Phil, I’m not.” His voice sounded weary. “But she might have noticed something at the Madisons’ house or the assayer’s that was out of the normal. Maybe a customer at your store who acted or said something about the tumi that might give us a clue of what the hell is going on. We’ve got someone willing to kill for what’s supposed to be a fake Incan artifact.”
He raised an eyebrow, but otherwise let her acknowledgment pass. No pleased look. No teasing. Nothing emotional whatsoever. Something tugged at her that had nothing to do with her oath. Was he really over her?
She should be gratified that his infatuation was done. So why did it feel like someone had hit her in the gut?
Alex hit a few keystrokes, and a printer whirred to life in another room. “Get some sleep, Tiffany.”
“What about the rest of the research?” she countered.
“Work on it during the day, and e-mail it to me.”
Max looked from Tiffany to Alex and back. “You’re supposed to be on maternity leave.”
She fixed her husband with a nasty look. “Shut up, or this will be the only child you ever conceive.”
Kiki started barking from the tension in the kitchen.
Phillippa bit her tongue to keep from smiling. “She’s not going to be on street duty, Max.”
Tiffany glared at Phillippa. “That’s not your decision.”
“No, but if your uncle Duncan asks me, I will enforce his will. Understand me, little girl?”
A pout appeared on Tiffany’s elfin features, and she crossed her arms over her belly. “I thought Amazons didn’t do what men told them.”
For the first time in Tiffany’s short life, anger rose from deep in Phillippa. “You’re being a selfish brat. Duncan’s order has nothing to do with your competency. That baby is dependent on you. Honor the life you created.”
Tiffany’s jaw dropped. Crimson spread across her pale face. “Yes, ma’am.”
The men exchanged surprised looks at the girl’s capitulation, but thankfully, they kept their mouths shut.
“Jorge’s about to call. I’ll go get my shoes.” Phillippa pivoted and headed for the front porch.
Alex’s phone beeped behind her. She smiled to herself as Max marveled over her psychic abilities and Alex confirmed to Jorge they were on their way back to the Madison’s house.
* * *
Alex tried to keep his eyes on the road. Honestly, he did, but Phil’s breasts subtly swayed with the motion of the truck. Irritation jangled his nerves.
Irritation that Kiki was curled up on Phil’s lap instead of him. Irritation that the two of them were tagging along on this investigation. Irritation with his inability to control himself.
“You enjoy messing with people, don’t you?”
From the corner of his eye, he could see her turn toward him. Her rich chestnut hair had dried into a glorious mass of curls that framed her oval face. Over one hundred and twenty years later, he remembered how it looked spread out over her pillow.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” A frown tugged at the corners of her mouth.
“That thing with pretending to predict when a phone’s going to ring.” He shouldn’t be taking his pissy mood out on her. It wasn’t fair.
Like she hasn’t been taking hers out on you for the last century? a little voice said in the back of his mind.
“Is that what crawled up your ass tonight? That I know when a phone’s going to ring?”
“Answer my question.” He glanced at her. An odd look crossed her face. The oath. She was actually trying to fight the oath.
Finally, she muttered, “Yes.” She crossed her arms over those heavenly breasts. “But I didn’t make it to my fifty-third-hundredth birthday by not using every talent I have to my advantage.”
The cab remained silent for another mile before she said softly, “Aren’t even going to ask how I know?”
Alex spared another glance at Phil. Her lips were parted, anticipation on her beautiful face. Her expression only spiked his irritation. “I already know how.”
The moist sound of her tongue on her lips sent signals to his groin he should damn well be ignoring.
“How?” she whispered.
“Since you’ve got your granddaddy Zeus’s talent for throwing lightning bolts, I figured you can pick up other electrical signals as well. Like between a cell tower and a phone. I’ve just been trying to figure out the why-I-pretend-I’m-precognitive part. What does it have to do with survival?”
“Seriously? You don’t read any of the Greek classics?” Sarcasm dripped from her voice.
“Yes, I have. What’s that got to do—”
The truck’s running lights brightened, then dimmed.
Phil stared out the window. Her chest heaved, which certainly did not help his libido. “Everything,” she whispered. “All of my sisters, every single one, died because some dickwad had to prove himself.”
With no siblings, Alex could hardly put himself in Phil’s position and claimed he understood. But something else made sense with her confession. “How’d you manage to erase yourself from history?”
Her head whipped back to face him. “What?”
“Look, I’m not disputing your view that guys like Heracles, Theseus and Achilles were assholes. Let’s face it—Homer and the other poets and historians don’t exactly paint these guys as Boy Scouts and they were on the heroes’ side. But you’re never mentioned in any legends or stories like your sisters. How’d you manage to disappear?” A quick look at Phil revealed her shocked expression.
“How-how did you know?” she choked out.
“Like I said, I read the classics.” He couldn’t help a smile. “Otrera, the daughter of Eurus the East Wind and the first queen of the Amazons, had a long-term relationship with Ares, the god of war. They had several children, all girls. Your sisters. But there’s no mention of a Phillippa as one of the daughters. So how’d you manage to disappear from all the stories?”
“You wouldn’t understand.” She stared out the passenger window again.
“Why wouldn’t I?” His grip tightened on the steering wheel. “Because I’m just a tiny name on a wall in Austin. Because there isn’t statues and coins and shit thousands of years after I supposedly died, like there is for Caesar or your sisters.”
Kiki crawled from Phil’s lap to rest her head on his thigh. He reached down with one hand and scratched behind her ears.
Phil turned to face him. “Name on a wall?”
He should’ve dropped the subject when she gave him the chance. Old bitterness welled. Not over his Turning. God knew that Duncan had saved his life in more ways than one.
It didn’t make the survivor’s guilt any less difficult to handle at times.
He kept his eyes on the traffic. “There’s a wall at the Texas Rangers Museum in Austin. It lists all the men who died in the line of duty.”
“Why would you even go?”
He could feel her watching him, and he shrugged. “Part of it was morbid curiosity.”
“And the other part?” Her voice was gentle as they turned down the Madisons’ street.
He didn’t want to answer, but if anyone would understand, it would be Phil. “I couldn’t remember the names of everyone in my old battalion anymore.”
* * *
Phillippa cracked the window for Kiki before she climbed from the truck cab. This time she made sure the door was securely shut.
With all the bickering between her and Alex, she’d forgotten how young he really was. What would he do when he woke up one night centuries from now and had trouble remembering his own name, much less his family.
The changing of identities, creating false histories, had become so ingrained she barely remembered her mother and sisters. Images of Hippolyta in the comic books seemed far more real than the eldest sister she’d loved and admired.
And then there was the matter of Father…
Shoving the thought aside, Phil stalked after Alex.
Jorge Sifuentes waited for them on the front step, clothing in his hands. The front door stood open, and the scent of wolf permeated the yard.
The detective nodded. “Siobhan decided to get started.”
Phil smirked. “Just like her father.”
Alex looked at her. “Behave.”
She opened her mouth for a snide remark, but the compulsion yanked on her jaw. Instead, she said, “Is it okay if we do another search through the house?”
Sifuentes shot her an odd look before he said, “Go ahead.”
Old blood and death filled her head when the three of them stepped inside the foyer.
“By the way,” Alex said. “We caught the demon inside Phil’s store a few hours ago.”
“And?” Sifuentes propped his hands on his hips, curiosity on his face.
A bitter laugh erupted from her throat. “It committed suicide rather than talk to us.”
The detective’s expression turned incredulous. “How the hell does a demon commit suicide?”
Alex grinned. “Apparently by touching a Maltese dog. Another interesting tidbit is that Dennis Madison brought the tumi into the U.S. two months ago. Three days before he died.”
Sifuentes’s head swiveled to stare at her. “You told me it was a fake.”
Phil folded her arms over her chest. Alex quickly found interest in a painting that decorated the stairwell. Maybe he wasn’t as over her as he pretended.
“Beatrice gave me fake a customs declaration, so I’m guessing the bill of sale is also a forgery. The demon was rummaging through the merchandise, probably looking for the tumi. I want to go through her paperwork.”
Jorge gestured toward the stairs. “Have at it.”
She jogged up the steps, Alex on her heels. It took them minutes to sort through the chaos of what had been Dennis and Beatrice Madison’s office.
“Notice anything strange?” she asked as they surveyed the neat piles.
“Yeah.” Alex wiped a hand over his face. “Anything regarding the tumi is missing.”
Phillippa propped her fists on her hips. “Well, a demon sure as Hades wouldn’t have bothered taking paperwork.”
A whisper of movement came from the hallway. Siobhan Lannigan Sifuentes appeared in the doorway. “My guess is it was the Normals.”
The Los Angeles pack’s beta was naked. A tiny thrill spiked in Phillippa that Alex didn’t seem remotely interested in the attractive redhead. Of course, his refusal to peruse her nude body might have more to do with the fact that she’d gut him in an instant if he showed the were any disrespect.
Phillippa tapped her finger on her cheek. “Could you tell who killed Beatrice?”
“My money’s on the Normals. Steel was used. Also, no ozone. The whole purpose of a sacrifice is to raise power.” Siobhan shrugged. “I’d double-check with someone from Silver Bear though if I were you. Demons aren’t my forté.”
Wonderful. The last thing she wanted was to involve the Los Angeles witch coven.
Sifuentes appeared behind his wife. “Thanks for dumping the problem back in my lap, honey.”
Phillippa looked at Alex. “If Normals killed Beatrice, then why cut out the heart? And why break into my shop?”
Alex stared back. His eyes brightened. Not a full-blown vamp-out, but enough to show he was disturbed. “The bigger question is why a demon is trying to recover a Incan artifact.”
“You don’t think it’s a fake?”
“Not anymore, darling.”