He huffed. "No, damn it!" I raised my eyebrows, waiting, and finally he gave me a short shrug. "Yeah, all right, I have cheated a few times. But I never felt the desire to be with just one woman before. I never met the right girl."
Until now. I heard the words as clear as day, even though he hadn't said them.
I crossed my arms and leaned against the railing. "Then how about if we set some rules. Right now? I won't ask you to be exclusive, and you won't expect me to be. But no hiding or lying. If I end up sleeping with somebody else, I'll tell you about it. And vice versa." I waited. It would make life so much easier if humans were just up-front and honest about relationships and sex.
Chase leaned against the railing, staring out at the falling snow. "Okay. For now. But Delilah, if you sleep with Zachary, don't think I want to know all the sordid details. I'm not that liberated. I don't want to know how many times he makes you swing from the ceiling or how big his cock is. Got it?"
He headed for the door. Our relationship had just taken a drastic shift, and I feared it might not be one for the better.
"Got it," I said, following him. "Chase, I hope you know how much I like being with you. Because it's true." But he'd already gone inside.
Trillian was leaning against the desk, staring at the Yule tree, when I returned to the living room. He was ignoring Smoky, who had his arm around Camille. Morio was talking in quiet whispers to Menolly, and Iris was washing dishes. She finished up and came back into the living room, carrying our little sleepyhead, Maggie. Settling into the rocker, she began to lull our girl to sleep.
Trillian let out an exasperated sigh when he saw me. "Are you quite through, now? Do you mind if I change the subject? I have news about your family and the war, and it's vital you hear me out before Menolly goes in to work tonight." He looked so pissed that I decided it wasn't a good time for a snarky comeback. Even if I could have thought of one.
"What's going on?" Camille started to get up, but Smoky pulled her back down, a faint smile of amusement playing across his face.
Trillian cocked an eyebrow but managed to keep his thoughts to himself. I knew he was scared of the dragon and with good reason. Any jealous boyfriend who forgot that the gorgeous, sardonic hunk of man-flesh was actually a Crypto capable of swallowing him whole was an idiot. And would soon be a dead idiot. Trillian knew this, even though it was obvious he was fighting a battle with himself not to stride over there and drag her out of Smoky's arms.
"Your father and aunt are safe, but one of your cousins has been taken into custody," Trillian said.
"Who?" Camille and I spoke at the same time.
Trillian glanced up. "Shamas. He's been convicted of spying for Tanaquar."
Shamas. He was a rabble-rouser, all right, and never listened to a single word of warning that he was playing a dangerous game. A conviction for treason meant that he was lost. Death came slowly to traitors, and by the end, they were usually too far gone to even appreciate it.
Hanging my head, I whispered, "That's it, then."
"He won't suffer," Trillian said grimly. "I promise you that. Tanaquar is kind to her loyal followers. The king of Svartalfheim has provided her with a triad from the Order of Jakaris for the duration of the war."
I looked at Camille, then at Menolly. We knew what that meant. Shamas's fate was sealed. The monks of Jakaris, a Svartan god of death and vice, worked in triads and were skilled assassins. They would trace Shamas through the astral and then—in a quick blaze—stop his heart. He would die. But he wouldn't be in pain. At least not for long.
Chase leaned forward and propped his head on his hands, staring at his feet. Morio frowned, playing with the fringe on the ottoman.
Camille shook off Smoky's arm and paced over to Trillian's side. "That's best, then. Truly," she said, as if trying to convince herself of it. "Shamas won't suffer. He'll die with dignity. Does Father know?"
Trillian gave her a long look, dark and pointed. "Yes, I stopped there before returning through the portal and let both him and your aunt know."
Aunt Rythwar was Shamas's foster mother. Aunt Olanda, Shamas's mother, lived far away in Windwillow Valley, a small community of Fae who embraced an arboreal life.
"What else do you have for us?" Camille played with one of the ornaments on the tree, her hands shaking. She and Shamas had been good friends when we were young, but there was nothing we could do for him now.
Trillian paced over to the window, staring out into the storm-ridden night. "The war is tearing Y'Elestrial apart. Lethesanar is conscripting every male who's barely reached puberty. Families are smuggling their children out of the city, hoping to keep them safe. Officers have been quitting right and left, and in their place, the Queen's appointing her power-mad cronies. The lines of traitors marching to the dungeon are long, my girls. Be grateful your father and aunt fled the city. There are spies everywhere."
"Anything else?" I asked, not really wanting to know. The news was so bleak. Y'Elestrial was a beautiful city, but it would run red with the blood of the enemies before too long.
"Yes," he said, turning to face us. "The OIA has been disbanded for the duration of the war. The portals will stand unguarded."
That brought a reaction, all right. Menolly's eyes flared red, and Camille leapt up, letting out a string of curses that made Chase blush brighter than her crimson lipstick. I stood slowly, unsure of what to do.
"How ridiculous," Iris said. "Makes me glad I'm earthbound. But you girls can't go back. Who's going to keep away Shadow Wing?"
"She's right," Menolly said. "You are telling us that after Bad Ass Luke they're going to just let that damned Soul Eater march in here and wipe out the world? Why haven't we heard word of this?"
Trillian examined his nails. In an offhanded tone he said, "The person carrying those orders never made it through the portal. I delivered the news to Tanaquar, and she had a little talk with the director of the OIA."
"The director actually spoke to her?" I couldn't believe it—that was just too bizarre.
"He's a double agent. Don't ask how or why. Just trust me. And he's agreed to a compromise. He'll recall the operatives that Lethesanar would miss. She'll never know that you—and a few of the others who have no love for the Queen—have been left behind. Word's already been sent to them."
A double agent? Our head honcho was working for the enemy? Things must be terribly wrong back home. For a moment, I had the crazy idea that if we could only hurry back, we could somehow make things right, but I stopped myself from even suggesting such a half-baked plan.
With a frown, I asked, "So, how many other operatives are staying? Enough to guard the portals?"
"Not enough, no. And definitely not enough to engage against the demons. I hate to drop this on your shoulders, but it's up to you girls to keep Shadow Wing's Hell Scouts at bay until she can wrap up the war and take control of Y'Elestrial."
Oh delightful. Both the Elfin Queen and Tanaquar were expecting us to keep things nice and tidy. We'd better get really good at what we did, really fast.
Trillian shook his head. "I know what you're thinking, but it really is up to the three of you and whoever you can get to help you. You have my aid, of course. I'll be here as much as I can, when Tanaquar doesn't need me."
"We know you will," Camille said, looking glum. "I just wish we knew who we could rely on and who we can't."
Chase frowned. "From what you say, it might be a good idea to make contact with the other Earthside agents. You could bring in other Supes and humans you can trust."
"That's another thing," Trillian said, turning to Chase. "I hate to tell you this, but you're out of a job. At least with the OIA. All Earthside operatives have been cut loose."
"In case you weren't listening, I figured that out already," Chase said. It looked like they were about to get into it, so I interrupted.
"Bottom line, where does that leave us?"
Trillian shrugged. "The way I see it, you should be safe enough here. You bought the house with money from your father, not from the OIA. And nobody from the OIA will be coming through the portals anytime soon. But don't use the Whispering Mirror to contact the OIA or the Guard Des'Estar. And whatever else, don't let yourselves be seen in Y'Elestrial if you return to OW."
All three of us paused. We all knew what was coming next, but nobody wanted to be the one to ask. Finally, Camille whispered, "Why?"
For the first time, I saw a flicker of fear race across Trillian's face. "Because there's a bounty on your heads should you return to the city."
"Then we're under a death threat," I said.
Chase jumped up. "You have a bounty on your heads? What the hell is going on? Is your Queen insane?" Any residue of anger he had left seemed to disappear, and he reached for my hand.
I took his hand. "Lethesanar's lost all sense of perspective. She's never borne an heir to the throne, so there's no princess to take her place. I have a feeling she means to rule for as long as she can."
"But Tanaquar has two daughters," Trillian said. "And she's clearheaded. She can turn things around."
"Where does the portal in the Wayfarer lead?" Smoky said, suddenly breaking into the conversation.
"It's connected directly to Y'Elestrial." Menolly floated up to the ceiling. "We'd better find a way to recalculate its target. And for now, if we return to OW, we have to use Grandmother Coyote's portal, which will take us safely to the outskirts of Elqaneve, the Elfin city."
"So," I said, "we've lost our jobs. What about the other agents over here? Do you have their names?"
Trillian held out a file folder. "I thought you'd want this. I put together a list of their names and where they're staying. One other thing—they know nothing about Shadow Wing. Apparently the OIA never officially acknowledged that the demons are planning to invade Earth, and none of the other agents were told about your encounter."
Well hell. That meant that every OIA agent who had chosen to stay Earthside, other than the ones we knew personally, was in danger. And none of them knew about it.
He handed me the file. "I think they deserve to know what they're facing. When I return to OW, I'll contact your father and aunt to let them know you're safe."
"Thank you," I murmured bleakly. Unemployed except for what we had in savings and what we could earn off our cover jobs, we were alone in a strange land without any hope of support from home. Well, that wasn't exactly true. We had allies, but they weren't available at the drop of a hat.
A sudden thought hit me, and I looked up. "Do you think we could reprogram the Whispering Mirror to contact Queen Asteria's court? That would be so much easier than having to send—or wait for—her messengers."
Camille clapped her hands. "That's perfect! I love the idea. Can we do it, though? My magic isn't good enough to ensure success, and we don't dare take a chance on anything less."
"I'll head out tomorrow first light. My first stop will be Elqaneve. I can convince them to send one of their mages out to work with you." Trillian yawned. "I'm so fucking astral-lagged," he said, wincing.
Frequent or prolonged travel through the portals could cause the system to overload and throw off sleep cycles, metabolism, and all sorts of goodies. Trillian had been hopping between OW and Earthside several times a week since he'd healed from the skinwalker's attack.
Camille took his hand. "Come to my bedroom."
"Gladly, my love." He motioned for her to go ahead, then turned to Smoky. "Remember," he said in a tone that was as calm and deadly as a viper. "Camille is on loan. I don't care whether you're a dragon or a gecko, she's mine. Understand?"
Smoky chuckled. "As you wish. I won't interfere," he added, but I wasn't so sure he was telling the truth.
As Camille led Trillian away, Menolly glanced at the clock. "I'd better get down to the Wayfarer." She grabbed her keys and purse, a cute little patent-leather clutch. I had no idea where she'd found the handbag—it was shaped like a bat with wings spread and was probably part of some kid's Halloween costume. "I guess I'll just keep everything we earn from there now."
"Well, you can't send it home anymore," I said.
She nodded. "That makes me think. With the OIA pulling out so abruptly, my guess is that they won't bother to do anything about ownership of the buildings. We'd better find out if there's a monthly mortgage on the bar and the Indigo Crescent. If the OIA is still paying them off, we'll have to make the payments. At least for the bar. There's no way we can let go of the Wayfarer, since it houses the portal."
I grunted and jotted down a note in my book as she headed for the door. "Good idea. The last thing we need is someone trying to foreclose."
Morio stood and stretched. "I'm going to drive Smoky home," he said. "I'll be back, if you don't mind me crashing in the parlor tonight."
"Not a problem," I said. "I'll leave a note for Iris that you're here." The two men left, leaving Chase and me alone. I looked at him and let out a long sigh.
"Things are so messed up," I said, so exhausted I could barely think. So many things were unresolved. I wondered if we'd make it through this. Once again, I longed for the days of my childhood when life had seemed simpler.