The Favor

I woke in the circle of Rick's arms to a loud buzz that I assumed was his alarm. It wasn't. He was snoring. Snoring! I decided to enjoy it while it lasted. It might be the last time I ever got to see him sleep. With a contortion of my body that would put a ninja to shame, I disentangled myself from his limbs and climbed out of bed. I dressed quietly, retrieving Nightshade from the bathroom. Still, I was surprised to find him asleep when I returned. He didn't even flinch when I kissed him goodbye on the cheek.


I left a note on the counter and left for home. Shit. Could I still call it my home? As I walked up my driveway, dead nekomata stained the snow to my left and right, signs of Rick's bloody battle apparent all around me. A gaping hole had replaced my front door. What did I expect? Kai, or the nightmare controlling his body, and Naill were certainly not going to close up shop before they kidnapped me. I trudged over the mound of snow that had collected on my threshold, and had a second to consider what the wet stuff was doing to my hardwood floors. My phone, still parked in its charger next to the stove, began to ring. U2's Mysterious Ways and Dad's picture blasted at me from the screen. I stepped over the bodies piled at the bottom of the stairs, grimaced at Seraphina's half shifted form at the base of my kitchen island, and answered it.


"Grateful! Finally. Are you still avoiding my calls? I know you're angry but-" Dad's voice sounded raw and gritty, like maybe he was getting sick.

"No. Just needed a good night's sleep and turned the ringer off. Listen Dad, I'm sorry I was so hard on you before. I was just disappointed about losing the house."

"Grateful, something terrible has happened."

The sound of a footstep in my foyer brought my attention to the hole in my wall. Silas Flynn, dressed in a brown suit and tie, stepped over one of the bodies and met my eyes.

I nodded my hello.

He gestured toward my driveway and two monstrous men came inside. They had broad foreheads and biceps the size of tree trunks. Although they looked human, something inside me was hiccupping 'ogre.' One smiled a mouthful of razor sharp teeth in my direction. Yep, ogres.

"A Detective Silas Flynn called me this morning," my father said, voice breaking. I placed a hand over my mouth. Dad was crying. "Seraphina and her uncle Kai were killed in a car accident last night. She had my information in her purse..." His voice trailed off.

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"I'm so sorry," I said. For more than I could safely say.

"How could this happen, Grateful? One day here, the next day gone. Life is... fleeting. She was... I didn't love her, but I could have. We had something."

"Aww, Dad." My eyes misted over, even as the two men loaded Seraphina's stiffening body onto a stretcher and carried her toward the door.

"The guilt...Before she'd left for the night we'd talked about her moving out. What if something I did, our fight, somehow distracted her?"

I walked to the window and watched the men load the body into a large box truck. "That can't be true. You said she was with her uncle Kai. Who was driving? He wouldn't have allowed her to drive if she was upset."

He sobbed.

Hell, this was killing me. "I'm so sorry, Dad. Do you need me to come down there?"

"No. I've just got to pull myself together. Detective Flynn said he'd be notifying the rest of the family. I just hope they include me in the service. Besides Kai, I never met any of them."

"Mmhmm." What could I say? I was pretty sure the entire family was being piled in the back of the truck.

"Dad, I don't know how to bring this up, but what will happen with the house?"

He gave a deep sigh. "Kai's lawyers included a clause in the contract that in case of death on or before the closing date, the property would revert to the seller. Some folks do that to avoid adding debt to the estate. The house is mine. I know how much you wanted it. If you still want to buy it, it's for sale again."

I frowned, my heart breaking at the sadness coming over the airwaves. "Thank you, Dad. I'm truly sorry for your loss. I still want the house. Give me a week to get my finances in order. I'll pay full market price."

"I still don't know why you want it so badly, but after almost losing you over this sale, I'm not going to fight you anymore. You're all the family I have, sweetheart. Please tell me all is forgiven."

"All is forgiven," I said, and I meant it. I missed him, and I needed him.

"I'll see you at Christmas," Dad said.

"Wait, Dad, is it okay if I bring a guest?"

He coughed. There was a long pause. "I thought it would be just the two of us."

"It could be, if that's important to you. But there's someone special in my life. I'd like you to meet him."


"Er, Rick. The caretaker of the cemetery. We've been dating."

Another long pause. "Sure. Why not? Bring him." That was the real estate agent voice, held together by a plastered-on smile. The timing wasn't great with his girlfriend freshly dead and, based on my trail of failed relationships, he probably thought this one was doomed as well. But I was sure he'd come around once he knew how serious Rick and I were.

We said our goodbyes and I tapped the screen just as Poe flew in through my front hole and landed on the banister. The ogres carried out the last body, and Detective Silas Flynn approached me, handing me a piece of paper.

"A bill?" I asked, defensively.

"The Malmot brothers don't work for free. That price includes disposal and cover-up." Silas raised his bushy eyebrows and shrugged.

"Twenty-two hundred dollars!"

He slapped me on the shoulder. "You have thirty days to pay. And just so we're clear, you don't want to stiff the Malmot brothers." The corner of Silas's mouth tugged downward. "Good to see you again, Grateful."

I nodded dumbly, staring at the bill as he slipped back out the door. I watched him climb into the box truck with the Malmot brothers and back down the drive.

"Not that I don't love the open air feel of the place, but maybe we should call someone to fix this," Poe said.

Yes. The door. My door. To my house. Needed to be fixed. I stared at the mountain of melting snow in my foyer for a minute, then at the shards of wood and metal scattered across the house. I let out a deep breath. "Let me try a trick I learned." I raised a hand under my chin, and picturing my foyer as it once was, I called all of the magic I could muster from the house and my night with Rick. I blew. Air left my lungs and tornadoed toward the foyer, picking up snowflakes and ushering them out the door. Slivers of wood lifted from the floor and implanted themselves back into my walls. The door stood up and walked itself back into place, followed by the etched glass oval that melded and became whole again.

Again and again, I huffed and puffed, until the last gust of air seeped from my lungs and my foyer was restored.

"Wow," Poe said. "Practically a miracle."

"No. Just practical magic."

I made for the stairs. "Take the day off, Poe. I'm going Christmas shopping."

"If you insist." He didn't sound disappointed. "I'd love to try guinea pig if you're asking."

I stuck my tongue out at him and turned the corner for my room.

Several hours later, I arrived at Maison des Etoiles, arms laden down with gifts. My feet ached like my boots had a vendetta against me, and the handles of the shopping bags cut into my skin, even through my thick wool coat. I would have loved to go straight home, maybe with a side trip to Rick's, but I needed to check on the book first.

This was the first time I'd come through the front door. I supposed I wasn't Soleil's regular clientele but I could appreciate the allure of the place. A stone walkway, lined with ornate lampposts, traversed a wrought-iron fenced lawn. A blanket of pristine snow glistened, reflecting the bright colors of the leaded glass in the lampposts. When I reached the oversized red door, there wasn't a traditional doorbell. After searching for an alternative, I yanked a chain dangling to my left. An old-fashioned doorbell rang inside.

With slight complaint from its hinges, the door opened and a petite blonde with unnaturally green eyes welcomed me. The silver swath of fabric wrapped around her petite body seemed to defy gravity. I stepped into the foyer.

"Soleil is waiting for you in her room. That way," the fae said, pointing.

I followed her directions, down a hallway lined with judges paneling, sophisticated oil paintings, and red damask curtained doorways that led to the clean lines of well appointed parlors. The place was Wild West meets east coast chic. Sophisticated, but clandestine.

The light filtering from under the door at the end of the hall told me I was in the right place. I knocked as a courtesy but let myself in. Gold heat washed over me. Soleil's room was white on white with the only color coming from the hundreds of plants and flowers growing from pots lining the walls. The place reminded me of a Greek garden of the gods. Fitting, I thought, considering Soleil could rival Apollo. A sculpture of a brass sun spit water into a pool to my left. Soleil herself stood in front of a window overlooking the back yard, shining so brightly in her gold and white dress I could hardly bear to look directly at her.

"Good afternoon, Grateful. Thank you for coming."

I set my bags down and gave her a quick hug hello. "No problem, Soleil. I was in town anyway. Good to see you looking like your old self again."

She blinked slowly. "Yes. I am thankful for your help, once again."

"So, where is it?"

"I've sealed it here." She pointed to a slab of marble that looked no different than the rest of the floor and passed her hand over it. "Only sunlight can open it." The square levitated and I squatted to get a clear view of the Book of Flesh and Bone inside the vault underneath.


"You may take it now," she said. "I will hold it open for you."

I stood, shaking my head and stepped back. "It needs to stay here."

Her eyes flared and the marble tile dropped noisily back into position. "No, no, no. You can not leave this here!"

"It's the safest place, Soleil. The vampires wouldn't dare search here for this and my home isn't safe, not when Naill, Bathory, and Julius are still walking the streets of Carlton City. Not to mention, there could be relatives of the nekomata clan out there who still know its original burial place.

"But Bathory and Julius will suspect I have it."

I stepped forward and took her hands. "You promised me a favor."

Calm washed over her, and she searched my eyes. "Are you sure? The wish could be used for your own personal gain, material things, relationships...children."

The last hit me hard. I couldn't have children with Rick. For a moment I was tempted to save the wish for myself. Then I thought about Bathory getting her hands on the book.

I squared my shoulders. "I have everything I want or need, except for this."

She nodded.

"I ask that the Book of Flesh and Bone be bound here forever, unable to be reached by anyone who might use it for evil."

Soleil nodded her head and then clapped her hands in front of her chest. A ripple coursed out from those joined palms, passing through me and echoing off the walls before plowing back into her like a strong wind.

"It is done. Be forewarned, the results will only last for my lifetime."

"Would it be rude for me to ask how long your kind typically live?"

"A few thousand years."

"And you are..."

"A few months from my nine hundredth birthday."

I smiled. "Good enough."

Digging through my bags, I pulled out a small package I'd wrapped for the occasion and presented it to her. "It's a few days early but Merry Christmas."

"You shouldn't have." Her actions didn't match her words as she ripped into the plaid paper.

She laughed when she saw what was inside. "Sunglasses?"

"I thought they might be a cool accessory for you to wear when you're a bridesmaid at my wedding?" I raised an eyebrow in question.

She gasped, then reached forward and drew me into a hug. "You do have everything you want."

I nodded.

"And yes, I would be happy to be your attendant. Rick must be so happy."

Lifting my packages, I smiled and moved for the door. "You know, I think he is."

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