“This would be so much easier if you were a vampire,” I told him. “I could feed you some blood, and everything would just fix itself.”
“Jane says that all the time,” he mumbled as I tried to focus.
A bell tinkled toward the front of the shop. We both cowered against the sudden intrusion of light in the room. I sprang to my feet and grabbed the athame from the counter, brandishing it at whoever had just walked through the door.
I squinted against the light, but I could see now that the shop had been ransacked. Books were scattered on the floor, their pages ripped. The glass of the display cabinets had been smashed, and anything of value had been taken.
“Zeb? Nola!” Jane called as she came in, with Gabriel close at her heels, his face filled with concern. “What’s going on? Why does your brain sound like a car alarm, Nola? And when did we decide to electrocute the security system?”
“Jane!” I yelled. “Back here!”
Jane found me crouched over Zeb, trying to stabilize his head and prevent further injuries. Whatever color remained in Jane’s face drained away, and she seemed frozen to her spot on the floor, staring down at her friend’s battered body.
“What happened?” she cried, dropping to her knees next to Zeb and pulling out her cell phone.
“He said he was attacked,” I told her.
“Well, fix him!” she commanded me.
“I tried. It’s not working,” I told her, my voice cracking. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I checked him over, and his injuries seem minor. But I want a doctor to look at him. The trick now is keeping him awake and still. Why was he here alone?”
“Jane’s childe, Jamie, had a meeting with his parents, trying to mend fences,” Gabriel said.
Jane’s face went even paler as she surveyed Zeb’s injuries. “We went for moral support. Then we were supposed to meet Zeb here to talk about some plans he had for his and Jolene’s anniversary.” She glared up at me. “Did you see anything strange when you came in?”
“I don’t know. I came in and found him like this.”
“What about sounds, a weird smell, a car parked out front, anything?” she demanded.
“Look in my head if you want, Jane. The shop was dark and unlocked, and the security system was toast. But I didn’t see anyone there.”
“Jane, calm down,” Gabriel told her. “This isn’t Nola’s doing.”
“I’m sorry.” Jane grunted. “It just feels too much like before, with Mr. Wainwright and Andrea and . . . Gabriel, please call Jolene. She’s going to want to meet him at the hospital. Tell her Jamie will watch the kids if she wants to leave them at our place.”
Gabriel nodded and turned away to dial his phone. Jane was edgy and protective, hovering over Zeb, waiting for the ambulance to arrive. She asked him silly questions about his mother to keep him agitated enough to stay awake. I took the opportunity to look around the shop. The framed pictures were moved but intact. The register had been pried open, the cash taken out. Every single athame had been swiped from the display case. Most of the ritual candles had been knocked around.
Jane insisted on riding in the ambulance with Zeb, threatening dire consequences for the paramedics if they tried to stop her. As the ambulance pulled away from the shop, I marched to Jane’s office and checked the safe. Her desk was overturned, the papers and bits of glass tossed about on the floor. The safe door had been gouged and scratched, but it was closed. I spun the lock to the combination and yanked it open. The little wooden case was still inside, with the plaque and the candle intact. I breathed a sigh of relief.
I opened the drawer packed with white cloth and wrapped the knife, saying a quick and dirty version of the purification ritual. I didn’t have the time or the energy to do anything else. I secured the safe door and walked back to the coffee bar, surveying the damage with hot, wet eyes. Gabriel had said we had to stay so I could give my statement to the police.
All I wanted to do was go home and hit something. The shop had been torn apart with a purpose. The athames, the candles, the safe—all connected to the Elements. Had Jed done this? Was he so desperate to help the Kerrigans that he’d hurt someone I knew and liked? He’d been next door to me all of this time; why would he suddenly become aggressive?
Should I tell the police about him? What would I say? I believe my neighbor may have broken into this shop to steal ancient magical artifacts, but he assaulted my friend instead? I would end up answering a lot of uncomfortable questions, and I didn’t know if I could lie to the police. And what would I tell the others? If I told Jane or Dick about my suspicions, Jane would probably separate Jed’s head from his shoulders before she asked him any questions. I didn’t want to know what sort of creative revenge Dick would come up with, given even more ammunition against Jed.
I needed to handle this on my own. I didn’t want anyone else to be in harm’s way. Vampires or no, my friends were still vulnerable. I wasn’t going to let anyone else get hurt on my behalf. I leaned my head against the coffee bar. Zeb could have been hurt, badly. He had a wife and two beautiful little kids. Was it worth this? Was the power my family used worth the risk? The hurt?
What was I preserving, really? This stupid feud? Maybe my family deserved to lose its magical heritage if this was the cost. Maybe I needed to locate the bell just so I could burn the whole deal.
The arrival of Half-Moon Hollow Police Sergeant Russell Lane interrupted this self-pitying train of thought. He flipped open his notepad, ready to take a lackadaisical stab at recording my version of events. Gabriel stood at my side, giving Sergeant Lane the evil eye every time he questioned my motivation or ability to relate the story honestly.
“And you didn’t see anything?” Sergeant Lane asked. “Nothing? Not even someone walking out of the shop right before you walked in?”
“I’ve already told you I didn’t. Three times,” I told him.
Sergeant Lane closed his notebook with a snap. “Look, ma’am, I make quite a few calls at this shop, and the case files rarely get closed. That reflects against my productivity. And that makes me cranky.”
“Well, I’m so sorry to inconvenience you,” I deadpanned.
“I’m just saying, if you have information, you need to share it. Now, let’s go over it one more time.”
I sighed, prompting Gabriel to nudge my arm. Long pauses while Sergeant Lane scribbled down my answers left me plenty of time to think. I knew I was overreacting, thinking of destroying the Elements. I was shocked and hurt and felt guilty, and it was clouding my thinking. I’d come too far to give up now. The problem was that I’d resorted to lazy tactics to find the Elements. I would be much more proactive in finding the bell. Once I left town, no one here would be at risk.
Right. I shoved my sleeves to my elbows and crossed the room to the magic section. Jane had an interesting stock on darker magic, written from a purely academic perspective. Stuff that I’d never seen before, because, frankly, no one in my family would dare try some of the rituals involved. There had to be some sort of magic LoJack spell here somewhere. I didn’t care if I had to sacrifice a small goat or a car or something, I was going to find that bell. I was through with this bizarre journey through other people’s problems and past deeds. I flipped through the pages of Most Potente Magick, looking for keywords such as “location” and “lost object.”
I dropped the book to the floor. And another, when it didn’t give me the answers I wanted. And another. I tossed books over my shoulder, one after the other. Sergeant Lane was ignoring this erratic behavior while staring at a painting of a naked wood nymph.
Gabriel quietly stepped to my side. “What are you doing?”
“Nothing!” I snapped, tossing another book aside. “Because I can’t actually do anything. I can’t keep people from dying. I can’t keep them from being hurt. I can’t keep them happy or safe. I’m this walking time bomb of potential disaster.”
“Stop!” he ground out, grabbing my wrists. “Nola, just stop.”
I whispered, “I’m so tired of this, Gabriel. I really am.”
“This isn’t your fault,” Gabriel assured me as Sergeant Lane wandered out of the shop without bidding us good-bye. “This sort of thing happens a lot around here. One of us is always being sprayed with silver or shot with arrows. You know, when I turned Jane into a vampire, it was because a local drunk mistook her for a deer and shot her. Jamie had to be turned when he was run over by a car right in front of the shop. Our little family is a magnet for trouble. The remarkably underwhelming attentions of Sergeant Lane are the result of his repeat visits here at the shop. And Jane’s come a bit unglued because Zeb’s never been hurt before. He’s her oldest and dearest friend. She’s not angry with you, understand that. If anything, as soon as Zeb is recovering, she’s going to throw herself into the search for the final Element.”
“Right,” I said, nodding as I grabbed my purse from behind the bar. “I’m heading home.”
“Let me drive you,” Gabriel offered.
I shook my head. “You go on to the hospital, be with Jane and Zeb. I’ll be fine.”
“I’m calling Dick!” he shouted after me as I walked toward the door.
“I know!” I called back, entering the darkness on full steam, almost wanting something to attack me just so I could strike back at it.
When all else fails in polite conversation with any supernatural creature, just smile and nod.
—Miss Manners’ Guide to Undead Etiquette
I came home to find that whoever had broken into the bookstore and attacked Zeb had made a night of it. My living room had been thoroughly trashed. My kitchen windows had been smashed with my own tea kettle. Upstairs, my bed was torn to hell, my soft sheets and quilts ripped to ribbons. My books were burned and torn.
“Right,” I growled, walking out the back door. I threw open the storage shed, the light of the full moon shining over my shoulder and bathing the complement of gardening tools in silver. I grabbed the first shovel I saw. Jed’s windows were dark, but I didn’t care at the moment. I got a cricket grip on the shovel handle and smashed the glass in Jed’s kitchen door. Gingerly, I put a hand through, but without cutting my arm to ribbons, I couldn’t reach low enough to get at the lock. I took a step back and swung the shovel at the doorknob, hoping to disengage the lock by brute force.
The shovel blade struck the metal knob with a deafening clang. I grunted, swinging again, the blade only glancing off the doorknob. “I really need to start going to the gym.”
As I once more raised the shovel over my shoulder like a bat, I heard a shuffling noise behind me and turned to find a hulking, dark shape looming in the darkness. A huge monster towered over me, with the legs of a man, a gray leathery torso, and a long, curved, and tapering snout. In the light of the full moon, I could see small, bright eyes and wide paw-like hands with razor-sharp claws. I screamed and swung the shovel wide, whacking the creature in the face with the broad side of the blade.
Ow? Did the evil, drooling creature before me just yelp, “Ow?” I didn’t expect that.
Was this the strange shape I’d seen lurking in my back garden all this time? A creature that seemed to be covered in gray leathery skin and . . . was that an armadillo’s head? I’d watched a nature special on armadillos once with Nana. She called them “the sport-utility animal,” because nothing that ugly could go without purpose. The shovel’s handle slipped through my hands, the blunt blade edging my palms. I turned and swung for the fences, bringing the wood down across the creature’s thighs.
The thing dropped to its knees. “Ow!”