"Silas?" I dropped to my knees in the snow and pressed both hands over the wound, trying to stop the blood flow. "Shit."


Flapping wings turned my attention skyward. Rick. His beast landed on the bank behind me, his gossamer wings blowing up powder. The only gentle feature on the beast was his face. Dog like with large black eyes and a leather-like snout, he lowered his head next to me.

"Don't change back, Rick. I need your help getting Silas to your place. He was possessed. If we can heal him, he might be able to give us more information about how this happened."

The beast snorted his acquiescence.

I sheathed Nightshade and gathered the werewolf into my arms. Lifting that kind of weight would have been impossible before I was the witch, but super-strength came with the job. I still had physical limitations, but my abilities hovered around Olympic athlete rather than couch potato nurse.

With some effort, I climbed onto Rick's back, cradling Silas in one arm and gripping a tuft of hair with the other. Three running steps and he was airborne, flying low over the treetops until his stone cottage came into view. Conscious of my tentative grasp, the beast landed in the front yard. I dismounted and carried Silas inside, laying him gently on the sofa.

A moment later, a naked Rick followed through the still open door and came to my side. "How did this happen, mi cielo? What were you doing in the woods without me?"

"I was investigating that woman's house, the drowning victim I thought you left for me last week. Her cottage is teeming with nekomata, including the one who bought my house from my father."

"Bought your house? You cannot sell your house. There could be horrific consequences."

I widened my eyes sarcastically. "No kidding." I should have told him what was going on before, but he was MIA and then I was injured. "Get me a balm for this wound and I'll explain."

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He left for the kitchen and came back a moment later with a gooey concoction of herbs and a roll of gauze. As I ladled the stuff on Silas, I explained about the detective calling me to check out Avery's house and how that had turned out.

"Who is this Avery person?" Rick asked.

"The woman who died in the ER last week. She coughed up a nightmare when she died. I thought you sent her."

"I did no such thing, mi cielo. I left town after our argument about Gary's turning to obtain a magical object that I thought could help our situation. I did not return until Poe came to get me."

"But your kitchen floor was wet when Poe and I came by."

Rick thought for a moment. "The snow. The night I left, I'd tracked it in with me. I left quickly and didn't clean up after myself."

"Oh. But if you didn't find her, who did? No one has access to the lake except you and...Oh, the nekomata! You didn't leave the woman for me to find, they did. They were sending me a calling card."

Rick rested his hands on his hips, calling attention to his naked flesh in a way that caused my blood to heat even though my arousal was completely inappropriate to the situation. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and turned my attention back to Silas's wounds.

"Why? If the Nekomata want to obtain the book, they should be avoiding your wrath until the solstice."

"I don't know." I felt for Silas's pulse. He was breathing but his heartbeat was weak. "It's clear the nightmares want me dead. They used Silas to lure me to Red Grove Lake and tried to kill me. I don't think there were ever finfolk in those waters. It was a trap."

"Finfolk?" Rick shook his head. "Not in these waters. You are lucky to be alive. Werewolves are deadly."

"I had Nightshade drawn, trying to find the finfolk. Otherwise, it might be me on the couch."

Back and forth, I paced in front of the television I'd never seen Rick use even once, rubbing the palms of my hands together. "Let's say the nekomata and nightmares are working together. They must be since the nekomata have overtaken Avery's home. The nekomata wanted a place close to the book to case the area, so they made a pact with the nightmares to possess Avery and cause her death, thus leaving the house for their purposes."

"Sounds plausible."

"Part of me thinks they tried to kill me because my father pushed back the closing, but Silas requested that I investigate Avery's house before I talked to my father."

"Which means they wanted you dead regardless of the sale."

"Exactly. When I was his prisoner, Julius said Anna would have killed me, thinking my death would break the enchantment around the house. It could be the nekomata are making the same presumption. If I'm dead, they don't have to worry about the technicalities around the sale."


I faced him and swallowed hard. "But beyond that, my death would make things...easier. Closing or no closing, you and I are the thorn in their sides. We are not going to allow them anywhere near that book, no matter what. They tried to take me out of the equation."

Silas moaned. We both rushed to his side. After shaking him gently and calling his name, it was clear he wasn't waking up, although his pulse beat steadily against my fingers.

"He seems stronger. Maybe when he's conscious, he'll tell us what we're missing." I stared at Silas, willing his eyes to open.

Rick's fingers stroked my hair, and I turned my cheek into his palm. Our eyes met. I came unglued. The stress of the day poured out of me in the form of tears I'd been hoarding for days, and I threw my arms around him, hiding my face in the crook of his neck.

"I will protect you, mi cielo." The thick muscles of his arms wrapped around me and his lips pressed into my forehead.

I pulled away. "Fuck, my car! I left it on the road near the cabin. Will you fly over to get it for me? I don't want the nekomata to know that I'm on to them."

He nodded, eyes lowering to his naked body as he spread his hands. "Still dressed for work."

With a reassuring smile, he disappeared out the door, and I took a seat on the floor near the sofa, watching the rhythmic rise and fall of Silas's chest.

I came awake to Rick shaking my shoulder. "Your car is here. You should go home and sleep."

In a half-awake fog, I reached for him, noticing he was fully dressed but his eyes were still black, a sign he'd recently shifted. I ran my hand down the vee of his button down, hooked my fingers over the first button and pulled him toward me. Instead of accepting my kiss, he stood up.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"I am afraid recent events have left me drained."

"I can help you with that," I purred, standing in such a way that I was flush against his chest.

"This time I need sleep, and so do you. Tomorrow is the solstice. It's important I am rested." His voice was firm and cold as ice. "I will call you if Silas wakes."

"You don't have a phone."

"I'll use our connection. You will be home?"


Skeptically, I stared at him. Rick wasn't himself. He'd never turned down an invitation for sex. I'd thought we were growing closer but he seemed distant and aloof. "Okay," I whispered. "I'll see you tomorrow then. We should be vigilant, just in case."

He nodded.

I turned and began a slow, even walk toward the door but stopped short of opening it.

"Rick, are you sure there's nothing wrong? You don't seem yourself."

"Maybe I am more myself than ever. I want to give you what you need, Grateful. I want to give you choices."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

He scrubbed his face with his hands, suddenly looking weary. "I need my rest. You need yours. When the book is safe, we will talk."

Why did this feel like a brush off? I twisted the knob and let myself out, my chest heavy with longing, not just for sex but for the closeness we'd shared when he was caring for me. What had happened over the last, I looked at my watch, two hours? Why had it taken Rick two hours to get a car parked less than twenty minutes walk away? And he could fly.

I climbed in behind the wheel of my Jeep, keys dangling from the ignition, and spaced out at the wheel for a minute. Was it possible that Rick was possessed? Had a Nightmare caught up to him in the woods and taken control? He called me Grateful; he only did that when he was angry. If he wasn't angry, maybe he was possessed. Shit! If they could possess Silas they could possess Rick. Could I trust him tomorrow?

Nightshade poked into my back as I straightened in my seat. She would know. I climbed back out, prepared to storm into Rick's house and shove my blade into his face. I had to know he was the only soul in his body. I paused when the glint of metal on the passenger's side floor caught my eye. I rounded the car, opened the door, and reached for the crushed metal object. It took me a minute to figure out what it was, but the key hanging off the little chain was a major clue. The crushed Valentine's logo now looked like a piece of gum, chewed up and spit out.

Ugh, Rick was jealous! He'd seen the Valentine's logo and based on the story about losing my house, he probably assumed I was planning to live with Logan. I had to set him straight. All along, I'd been planning to live with Rick. I just hadn't had the chance to ask him.

I rushed toward the door, knocked lightly. There was no answer. I tried the knob. Locked. He never locked his door. I knocked again. "Rick?"


With a deep breath, I took a step back, and then another, until I was back at my Jeep. After seeing what he'd done to the key chain, maybe he legitimately needed his space. Besides, before I broached this subject with Rick again, I had to be sure exactly what I wanted to say. After years of failed relationships and suffering from the blonde paradox, I'd sworn the next time I said I love you it would mean forever.

And a night like tonight was not the right time to start forever.

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