Standing in my own living room, I glared at Alex Stanton. Yeah, technically he was my boss, but I couldn’t believe what he’d done. “My daughter is missing, my husband had the shit beat out of him, and you called my mommy on me?”
He crossed his arms. “No, but you’re are making me wish I had.”
I glanced over at my foster mom, Phillippa Mann-Stanton, who stood at the entryway to the rest of our house. She spoke in low tones with Siobhan Sifuentes, the beta of the Lannigan werewolves, probably comparing scents or some other supernatural bullshit. I did my best to ignore the gigantic bloodstain amidst the scattered toys on my beige carpet.
I tried to shove the memory of finding the nearly unrecognizable body of my husband on the living room floor into a deep, dark hole in the back of my brain. If I thought about it too much, if I thought about what some stranger may be doing to my precious little girl…
Work the problem, Tiffany!
Somehow, Max managed to text 9-1-1 to me when I was driving home from my quantum theory class. I’d been running late because I stayed to ask the professor a couple of questions. Max could have been trying to dial emergency services for all I knew. And I wouldn’t know until he woke up.
If he woke up. I didn’t need a medical degree to understand how bad his injuries were. And if I thought about the broken body of the man I loved too much, I would be useless to Ellie.
I took a deep breath. I had to focus on what I could control—the search for my missing daughter. So far, we hadn’t found any evidence that my baby had been hurt. But that didn’t mean—
From the expression on Alex’s face, he’d seen that awful thought in my head.
“You’re implying I can’t do my job,” I said through gritted teeth.
He lowered his voice. “You’re too close, and we both know it. Go be with your husband. We’ve got this. You know we will do everything we can to find her. Between Phil, Siobhan, and your grandfather, we have this covered.”
“Duncan and my in-laws are at the hospital,” I ground out. “Duncan will let me know when Max is awake. And if I have to listen to that bitch tell me how this is my fault one more time, so help me, I will stake her.”
“I’ll hold her for you,” said a familiar feminine voice behind us.
Alex and I both jumped and whirled to find my sister-in-law dressed in her goddess clothes. In other words, she resembled Neo if Keanu Reeves had a blond ponytail and boobs.
“How many times have I told you to cut the creepy crap, Sam?” I holstered my gun. A little part of me was pleased Alex had to do the same. Someone catching a Normal like me off guard was one thing. A goddess of death getting the jump on any vampire, especially him as the Augustine chief enforcer, had to be embarrassing as shit.
“I’ve already been to the hospital.” she shrugged. “There’s nothing I can do there. I figured you could use my help.” She closed her eyes, but they quickly popped open. “What the fuck! I can’t sense Ellie.”
“Try expanding your search outside of my neighborhood,” I snapped. And the gods only knew what the neighbors thought with the extra vehicles parked in front of our house. Hopefully, they thought the werewolves were police dogs. I sure as hell couldn’t contact Normal police in the assault on my husband and the disappearance of my daughter.
Sam glared at me. “I searched the whole solar system. Unless you’re suggesting she was taken by Klingons.”
Ice formed in my stomach. As much as I ragged on Sam about the deity stuff, I figured between her and Phil’s dad being Ares, the Greek god of war, Ellie would be home within a couple of hours. The only other time I’d been this scared, the psycho bitch who had killed my parents had me by the short and curlies.
But her grandson was still running around causing trouble—
Rage roared through as I realized what my boss had been hiding, the real reason he didn’t want me inside my own home. I whirled and jabbed a finger in Alex’s chest. “Marcus Giovanni was here. You knew, and you didn’t tell me!”
My fist clenched of its own accord and launched itself at Alex’s face. Phil’s tight grip stopped the blow millimeters from his nose. I glared at her.
Her expression held the same fierceness it had when I was twelve and had nearly gotten myself killed by rogue vampires when I skipped school. The one that said she wasn’t tolerating any more of my bullshit. It didn’t matter that we all knew hitting Alex would hurt me far more than it would him.
Which was probably why he was going to let himself be my punching bag. Better I take it out on him than some innocent Normal.
Well, if my foster mom wanted in the middle of this, I could turn my impotent wrath on her. “I promise not to try to deck Stepdaddy anymore—tonight.”
Phil released me and turned to Sam. “I’m glad you’re here. There’s something Father and I want your opinion on.”
“If you mean the lizard people scent, I picked it up the moment I ‘ported in here.” Sam had none her usual snarkalicious attitude which scared me more than I wanted to admit. In fact, she was as all icy seriousness as Phil.
I folded my arms over my chest. “Is this the first sign you’ve had since the Las Vegas incident?”
“Yes.” She drew the word out, like how dare I question her.
“Then maybe we need to pool our resources.”
“I don’t need your help.”
Maybe Ellie’s terrible twos had taught me some patience. When my sister-in-law and I first met, we snapped at each other like rabid dogs before settling down and getting the job done. But now...
“What’s the problem? You afraid I have more skills than your new buddies?” Okay, maybe I did snap after all.
Sam’s eyes started to glow. Not blue neon like they should if she were a vampire, but the reflective silver of liquid mercury.
And her pissy attitude just made me tired. I shook my head. “That intimidation shit isn’t going to fly with me. I was raised by vampires and a demigoddess. Either be part of the team and help me find my daughter, or get the fuck out of my house.”
Both Alex and Phil held their breath, but I calmly returned Sam’s gaze. Hell, if she smote me, Duncan would know for sure she was a danger to the human race and the sidhe.
After a long, tense moment, Sam’s eyes slowly faded to their normal, human blue. “Sorry,” she muttered. “I can’t always control it sometimes.” Her attention flicked to someone behind me. “Don’t fucking say it.”
I turned to find Grandpa Ares standing next to Siobhan in the entryway to the rest of the house, looking like a male supermodel as usual in his jeans, t-shirt, and boots. He ignored Sam’s temper tantrum, and Sam herself. “I discovered how the lizard got in, Cherry Blossom. In turn, it opened the door for Giovanni and the rest.”
Grandpa Ares’s nickname for me should have made me feel all warm and gushy. Instead, my fingers clenched with the need for my favorite vampire weapon. “Bastard didn’t learn anything from his previous experience with you, did he?”
“Apparently not, Cherry Blossom.” He grinned, but it was one that would have scared the piss out of most people. Especially with the literal flames in his eye sockets. It reassured me knowing if anything happened to my daughter, he’d hold the fuckers down while I peeled the skin off their bodies.
Like any other Normal Family, Max and I took precautions against not-so-friendly supernaturals. But how do you protect your loved ones against what were basically sentient velociraptors?
I wasn’t dumb enough to cry “Why me?” either. I knew damn well why they’d invaded my home. They wanted to take down Sam before their boss tore into our dimension since she was the only one who could supposedly stop him. My family was simply the most convenient bait.
And I would be dead or in the hospital too if I hadn’t had a night class this term. Thinking about how long Max would have been lying on the carpet bleeding if I’d gone out for coffee with some classmates instead coming straight home—
“It’s not your fault.” Alex rested a hand on my shoulder.
“I know that,” I growled.
He didn’t reprimand me for my lack of respect. He just squeezed my shoulder briefly before we followed Ares back toward the bathroom.
I squeezed in beside the god. Our bathroom was too small for everyone, so they settled for watching from the doorway.
My foster grandfather pointed beneath the sink, and I crouched down to look. The access panel to the plumbing was loose. Three-toed scratches marred the Lovely Lavender paint Max had so carefully applied to the walls around the metal panel.
I held up my hand and compared the scratches against my spread fingers. “These are awfully small for even a lizard bred through a supernatural.”
“It would have to be small to get through the crawl space beneath the house and gain the entry to the pipe conduit,” Ares said.
Sam ripped through more than George Carlin’s seven words, though I noticed she left out anything referring to a deity. “The bastard’s set up another nest.”
“Let it go, Sam,” Phil said. “If the baby got in here, it’s already too late for the mother.”
I’d seen the crime scene photos from Seattle, Tuttle Creek in Montana, and Las Vegas. The Normals in Washington never had a chance. As far as we knew, only one of the supernaturals survived the breeding attempt in Montana last year, and that was because Alyson’s alpha Logan had been there to save her ass and call in the cavalry. Marcus and his rogues had dumped the body of a part-fae woman after she’d died during delivery somewhere they knew the Vegas werecoyotes ran during the full moon.
Something else bothered me though. “So they’re immune to silver and garlic. It doesn’t explain how the baby lizard didn’t trip off the motion sensors.”
“Because you don’t have them in here, and they don’t point at the ceiling in the rest of the house, Cherry Blossom,” Ares said.
I followed his index finger. Tiny pin-pricks marred the wall paint from the panel under the sink with a detour around the hamper before reaching the top of the door frame. You couldn’t see it unless you knew what you were looking for. The damn thing could have been clinging to the ceiling while I was showering this morning for all I knew.
“Shit.” I ducked back into the hallway and followed the pinpricks along the wall near the ceiling. They ended by diving straight down to the security pad. I popped the cover. Sure enough, the circuitry had been bypassed.
Alex was right. I made a rookie mistake because I was too involved. I had assumed my husband had turned off the alarm when he got home.
“You think you can keep it together when you get the ransom call?” Alex asked.
Calls. I needed to call Jessie and let her know Ellie and I wouldn’t make tomorrow’s play date.
My cousin Jessie. A doomsday cult called the Sunshine Believers had kidnapped her five years ago, intending to sacrifice her unborn son to the Old Ones, the ancient gods of the dinosaurs. Just like they’d tried to sacrifice Grandpa Ares four years ago. Not to mention, Siobhan’s husband Jorge, a Normal detective with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office, had discovered Jessie wasn’t the first woman connected to the Augustine Vampire Coven those assholes had kidnapped with the intent to kill.
I couldn’t suppress the sick feeling in my gut any longer as everything clicked into place. “We’re not going to get a ransom call. They plan on sacrificing Ellie to summon an Old One.”