My black leggings and navy blue skirt, paired with my black thigh-length trench, relegated my form to another shadow as I passed through the Lady’s Realm. It was dangerous, using her portals this way. I counted on the fact I was unlikely to be caught – there was virtually no one here, despite the grand size of the place. Her companions were few, and any who did catch me would know me. They wouldn’t question the business of a Hand.
I passed through the portal to Seattle quickly nonetheless, ending up underground, below my mentors’ apartment downtown. Godwin had told me earlier they were headed out of town, so I wasn’t worried about being intercepted here. I still left hastily, cutting it close on my meeting time already.
Outside, I walked the quiet city sidewalks to the meeting place. It was a Tuesday night at midnight, and only a few people were out. I found Tim easily. He was a big man, imposing in the darkness. He gave me a quick nod and stepped back against the railing, crossing his arms. Tim was probably intimidating to most. But really he was a softy. Or at least he had a soft spot when it came to me, even though I’d kidnapped his son. Unwittingly, but it had still happened. Yet Tim had taken me under his wing as I joined up with the Prince of Chaos right after those events had unfolded. Add half a year to our arrangement, and we felt comfortable together.
“Sorry to bring you out so late,” Tim watched the sidewalk over my shoulder as he spoke.
I shrugged. I would probably be up anyway, and I wanted to know what kind of intel he had for me. He slipped me a folded piece of paper.
“The first item on my agenda. Chaos wants to meet you in person tomorrow night. Now you have your instructions.”
I huffed impatiently, opening the note to peer at Chaos’s scrawled handwriting.
I need to speak with you. In person this time. It’s important, or I wouldn’t ask. Meet me at the corner of MLK and Belmont, at 10 p.m.
I stared at his name as he’d signed it for a full minute, trying to resolve the familiarity with the order to meet him when he knew I wasn’t comfortable with the risk.
This was not good. I’d have to memorize the instructions and burn the paper before I returned home. Why in the world was Chaos going to be in Portland tomorrow? I had any number of ways to meet him outside my hometown.
I glared at Tim, and he held up his hands in surrender. “Don’t shoot the messenger. He told me to pass a note; I passed a note. You know how it goes.”
We’d agreed early on that the fewer face-to-face meetings I had with Chaos, the better. The Lady had a talent for smelling out a lie, and I didn’t want her to smell Chaos all over me. That’s why I had the arrangement with Tim.
I rolled my eyes, exasperated. “What else did you bring me out here for?”
“We had a call from a Queen witch earlier today.”
Now he had my attention. I cocked my head to hear his low voice in the wind streaming off the sound. He caught the gesture and leaned in, close enough I could feel the heat of his large body.
“She needs help. Chaos would appreciate it if you heard her out.”
“She’s here?” A Queen witch in the proximity of my meeting with a Chaos agent? My eyes narrowed in challenge. “What were you thinking asking me here to meet another Queen witch? Are you a complete fool?”
“She’s close. Sage, she mentioned you by name. Said you were a good example, that you were standing up to the Lady in your own way. And she didn’t even know I was your Handler.”
“You think you’re so clever with the nickname, Tim. But let’s get this straight – I didn’t sign on to end up caged in concrete down there.” I pointed past him at the Sound, and watched him stiffen, his focus narrowing to my hand. Good. He’d better fear me.
That didn’t stop him from pressing on. “Let me just ask you this. Do you remember a Queen called Grace?”
At first I didn’t. I wracked my brain. A Queen who would call me a good example? I glared impatiently and Tim went on.
“She tells me her boyfriend disappeared recently. Apparently, they’d spoken about this possibility. If he went missing, he wanted her to call Chaos. He’d given her the phone number she was supposed to call and everything.”
“Lionel.” Now I remembered. Lionel and Grace. They were a couple who practiced their magic together despite the fact such practice was prohibited by the Lady. Only twins were trained to their magic among the Queens. Everyone else was trained in repression. But Lionel and Grace had each other. Of course the Lady couldn’t let that be.
Tim was watching me, but I wasn’t interested in sharing at the moment.
“I’m still confused about why I’m here. This is a big risk.”
“Grace isn’t sure about the course she’s chosen, but she knows she needs out, or she could be the next to disappear. I want you to meet her with me. Welcome her to the Chaos fold, as it were.”
“What about Lionel?”
“What about him?”
“Does she know any more about what happened to him?”
“You’ll have to ask her yourself. I’ve passed on everything she told me. She’s a tight-lipped one. But I bet you get through that shell.”
“Don’t give me too much credit yet. I have no idea whether she’ll talk to me.”
“If you’re willing, let’s go. It’s getting late.”
I didn’t answer; just fell into step beside him on the nearly empty sidewalk. This wasn’t a good idea. Not by a long stretch. I had to push fear for my own safety to the background. For some reason, I felt a sense of responsibility for Grace, now that I’d heard about Lionel’s disappearance.
I thought back to when I’d met Grace and Lionel close to a year ago. They were strong – they’d started to run from me when they thought I was the usual type of Hand. But I didn’t hold their magic against them, I just wanted to talk to someone who would dare defy the Lady.
How had the Lady found them out? Or had Lionel been taken for some other reason? And where was he now? It was possible the Lady still didn’t know about Grace, and the way they operated together. I’d already accepted that the Lady took Lionel, but I should probably question that assumption, too. Tim might not like the turn my thoughts had taken. I didn’t want to save Grace. I wanted to find Lionel, and I knew that’s exactly what Grace would want, too.
Was Tim’s choice of diner purely coincidence? When we stepped up to the door my mind reeled. My boyfriend Peter used to work here. Just the thought of him softened me in a way I couldn’t afford at the moment. But I’d welcome a slice of their should-be-famous apple pie.
I stepped through the door holding my breath, but I didn’t recognize any of the servers. I did recognize a tall redheaded woman whose expression had just gone colder and harder than Arctic ice at my appearance.
She stood, but I motioned for her to wait. I turned to Tim. “You mind if I talk to her alone for a minute?”
I knew I couldn’t stand behind Tim on this one. Grace wasn’t stupid and I figured the best bet was to air my place in all of this right up front. He just nodded and took a seat at a table in the center of the room.
Grace had taken her seat again, and I slipped into the booth across from her without meeting her eyes. How the hell was I supposed to explain this?
Maybe I wouldn’t have to.
“You?” Grace hissed. “What are you doing here? Have you come to take me, too?”
“No.” I shook my head emphatically. “Far from it.”
Our waitress bounced up just then, appearing about sixteen and on the thick side of curvy. I gave her a smile with only a touch of hesitation. I’d never be real comfortable around normal people, let alone a bouncy, fresh girl like this. Our worlds were so different, and she wouldn’t even know it to look at me.
“I’d like a slice of apple pie, a la mode.” I raised my eyebrows in Grace’s direction. She narrowed her eyes suspiciously, but gave a slight nod after considering me for a moment. “Make that two. And two coffees.”
As soon as the girl skipped back to wherever she’d come from, Grace turned her cold eyes on me. “What are you doing here?”
“You called Chaos? You got me.”
Her mouth worked, but she was apparently at a loss for words. Maybe I’d better spell it out for her.
“I’m taking a big risk tonight, and I need you to know I’m on your side, no matter which immortal you choose as your patron. Is that clear?”
“Why? Why would you help me?”
“I’ve been helped myself. And I know where you’re coming from. She makes her power a noose around our necks – if we step out of line, we either strangle ourselves or she’ll do the deed for us.”
“You’ll do the deed for her.”
I nodded. I wouldn’t argue with the obvious.
“What about Chaos? Is that why you’re here? Or are you serving the Lady now?”
I leaned in. “I went to Chaos about six months ago. I just haven’t escaped the noose quite yet.”
Grace shivered, her gaze locked with mine. Some emotion came into her face, but just as quickly she pasted on a serene expression, like that would fool me.
“What happened to Lionel?” I asked.
“The Lady happened. It was the other two – the ones who came with you when you visited Pennsylvania.”
I hadn’t recalled the location until she mentioned it. That whole period of my life was full of travel to meet and scare the bejesus out of different parts of the Queen family. I’d met Grace and Lionel on one such trip.
“Men?” I asked Grace. The Lady had just one male pair of Hands serving, so that centered the blame squarely on my mentor’s shoulders. Godwin and his twin Briggs, always following orders like a mute pair of donkeys. They’d shoulder the load, but never the moral weight.
Grace told me about the night they’d awoken to find a pair of strangers, Hands, standing over them in their bedroom. Grace spoke of her fear being confronted in that space. She told me how she froze as my mentor and his twin took her lover in the dead of night, and left her there, naked and alone in what should have been her safest place. How she did nothing to stop them, she was so afraid.
I understood feeling powerless. And I clenched my jaw at the pain in her voice. Was Lionel dead? I didn’t know yet, but I would find out.
I brushed her fingertips with my own, the skin-to-skin contact startling for one like me. I didn’t touch many, and of those I did, a solid percentage did not live to tell about it. “I’m not going to tell you not to worry. But you’re not alone. Go with Tim. I’ll look for Lionel.”
She squeezed her eyes shut. “You don’t have to do that. It’s too dangerous.”
I smiled. “Thanks for worrying about me, but no thanks. I’m past that. But I don’t have a death wish, I have a life wish, so I’ll be careful.”
Grace smiled back. “A life wish. I get that.” The moment of levity fled, and her smile turned to a feral snarl. “I will kill them if I ever lay eyes on them again.”
I understood she meant Briggs and Godwin, and I said nothing. She would never succeed in such a plot. They were adept with their power, after so many years as Hands. Grace was a strong witch, but like all other Queens, she was untrained, her skills raw.
Grace’s face softened, and she blinked like she was holding back tears. I turned from those tears, but then I heard her say, “Sage? Thank you.”
I nodded, my insides twisting in yet another knot.
Find the Foulweather Twins books at your favorite retailer.