Magic Gifts Page 5

"Pretty much," Curran said.

"Strange. It doesn't seem to be actively harming the boy at the moment beyond rooting in."

"Does it hurt him?" I asked.

"Doesn't appear so." Doolittle leaned against the chair. "The 'roots' shift under pressure so any attempt to cut the necklace will likely cause it to contract. I don't want to fool with it."

"The woman," Curran said.

I thought out loud. "She was unaffected by the glow, so either she's immune or she knows how it works."

"The boy didn't cry when you took him from his mother?" Doolittle asked.

"No," I said.

The medmage glanced at the door again. "The child is very passive and compliant. He doesn't speak unless spoken to. He doesn't take initiative. This boy is doing his best to be invisible. Sometimes this is a sign of shy nature. Sometimes it's a sign of emotional abuse or neglect." Doolitle crossed his arms. "Such an accusation can't be made lightly. This is just something to keep in mind in dealing with her. If she is emotionally distant, she may not have any attachment to him. Let me run some tests. The sooner we will identify what the necklace is, the better."

We left the infirmary and walked down the long hallway, heading toward the stairway leading up to the top of the tower, to our rooms. The Keep's hours were skewed toward the night. For most people ten pm meant evening and probably bedtime - both electricity and charged air were expensive and people tended to make the best of daylight. For shapeshifters ten pm was closer to four in the afternoon. The hallways were busy. Random shapeshifters ducked their heads as we passed them.

Something had occurred to me. "When the journeyman handed Amanda the necklace, did it seem paler to you?"

Curran frowned. "Yes. Almost white gold."

"And now it's almost orange."

"You think it feeds on the host?"

"It would make sense. Maybe it develops hunger. The girl died instantly, because the necklace was hungry. Now it's satiated, so it's biding its time."

"We'll need to talk to the journeyman," Curran said. "And the woman."

"Yes, the woman. The supernaturally beautiful woman with long flowing hair... Can't forget her."

Curran turned his head to look at me.


"That's what I would like to know."

I shrugged. "I will speak to the journeyman tomorrow."

"I'll come with you."

And why would he want to do that? I pictured trying to conduct an interview in the presence of the Beast Lord. The journeyman would take one look at him and run for the hills screaming.


"You always say that word," he said. "Is it supposed to mean something?"

"It means I don't want you to come with me. The moment you muscle your way into the room, he'll clam up out of sheer self-preservation. Let me handle this."

We started up the stairway. Our quarters were at the very top and I really could've used an elevator right about now.

Curran kept his voice even. "Somehow I have managed to deal with the People just fine for almost fifteen years without your help."

"As I recall, without my help you almost had yourself a war. And I won't be dealing with People. I'll be dealing with one specific journeyman facing sanctions and scared out of his mind."

"If you really think Ghastek will let you anywhere near him without me you're crazy," Curran said.

I stopped and looked at him. "I will take my boudas and the personal guard, dress them in black, put them on horses, and ride up to the Casino. Then I will pick the scariest looking shapeshifter in the bunch and send him in to announce that the Consort seeks an audience. Do you really think the People will keep me waiting for long?"

It's good that we didn't have any kindling or paper around or the sparks flying from our butting heads would set the Keep on fire. We were both tired and pissed off.

Above us Jim rounded the corner on the landing and came to a dead stop, obviously thinking if he could get away with turning on his foot and going into a completely different direction. Curran turned to face him.

That's right, you're busted.

Jim sighed and headed toward us at a brisk pace.

Tall, with the skin the color of rich coffee, and dressed all in black, Jim looked like was carved from a block of solid muscle. Logic said that at some point he must've been a baby and then a child, but looking at him one was almost convinced that some deity touched the ground with its scepter and proclaimed, "There shall be a badass," and Jim sprung into existence, fully formed, complete with clothes, and ready for action. He was the alpha of Clan Cat, pack's Chief of Security, and Curran's best friend.

He braked near us.

"Have you vetted the Wolves of the Isle yet?" Curran asked.


"Who are the Wolves of the Isle?" I asked.

"It's a small pack from Florida Keys," Curran said. "Eight people. They're petitioning to join us and for some odd reason our Security Chief is dragging his feet on the background checks."

Jim waved the stack of paper in his hand. "The Security Chief has two thefts, four murders, and an abandonment of post to deal with."

"Murders?" I asked.

Jim nodded.

"I gave my word to the wolves," Curran said.

"I'm not opposed to admitting them." Jim spread his arms. "All I'm saying is let me make sure people we have are safe before we add any more to them. By the way, Kate, did you review the Guild documents I sent you?"

Deflecting the attention, are we? I gave him my tough stare. It bounced off Jim like hail from the pavement. "Somewhat. I was busy."

"See?" Jim pointed to me. "Your mate is doing the same thing I'm doing. Prioritizing."

I would get him for this. Oh yes.

Curran looked at Jim. "Do you need my help with the background checks?"

A muscle in Jim's face jerked. "No, I've got it."

Ha! He didn't want Curran in his hair either. "Don't worry, he's coming with me to investigate things."

"In the city?" Jim asked.


"That's a great idea. You both should go. To the city."

Curran and I looked at each other.

"He's trying to get rid of us," I said.

"You think he's planning a coup?" Curran wondered.

"I hope so." I turned to Jim. "Is there any chance you'd overthrow the tyrannical Beast Lord and his psychotic Consort?"

"Yeah, I want a vacation," Curran said.

Jim leaned toward us and said in a lowered voice, "You couldn't pay me enough. This is your mess, you deal with it. I have enough on my plate."

He walked away.

"Too bad," Curran said.

"I don't know, I think we could convince him to seize the reins of power."

Curran shook his head. "Nahh. He's too smart for that."

We finally made it up the stairs, through the long hallway, up the second flight and into our quarters. I dropped my bag down, shrugged off the leather sheath with my sword in it, and took a deep breath. Aahh, home.

Generally tackling someone from behind is very effective, because the person doesn't know you're coming. However, after being tackled a dozen times, the victim becomes accustomed to it. Which is why when Curran made a grab for me, I danced aside and tripped him. He grabbed my arm, then we did some rolling on the floor, and I ended up on top of him, our noses about an inch apart.

He grinned. "You're jealous."

I considered it. "No. But when you stared at that woman like she was made of diamonds, it didn't feel very good."

"I stared at her because she smelled strange."

"Strange how?"

"She smelled like rock dust. Very strong dry smell." Curran put his arms around me. "I love it when you get all fussy and possessive."

"I never get fussy and possessive."

He grinned, showing his teeth. His face was practically glowing. "So you're cool if I go over and chat her up?"

"Sure. Are you cool if I go and chat up that sexy werewolf on the third floor?"

He went from casual and funny to deadly serious in half a blink. "What sexy werewolf?"

I laughed.

Curran's eyes focused. He was concentrating on something.

"You're taking a mental inventory of all people working on the third floor, aren't you?"

His expression went blank. I'd hit the nail on the head.

I slid off him and put my head on his biceps. The shaggy carpet was nice and comfortable under my back.

"Is it Jordan?"

"I just picked a random floor," I told him. "You're nuts, you know that?"

He put his arm around me. "Look who is talking."

We lay together on the carpet.

"We can't let the necklace kill that boy," I said.

"We'll do everything we can." He sighed. "I'm sorry about the dinner."

"Best date ever. Well, until people died and vampires showed up. But before that it was awesome."

We lay some more.

"We should go to bed." Curran stretched next to me. "Except the carpet is nice and soft and I'm tired."

"You want me to carry you?"

He laughed. "Think you can?"

"I don't know. Do you want to find out?"

It turned out that carrying him to our bed wasn't necessary. He got there on his own power and he wasn't nearly as tired as he claimed to be.

*** *** ***

Morning brought a call from Doolittle. When we got there, Roderick was sitting on the cot, the same owlish expression on his face. The necklace had lost some of its yellow tint during the night. Now it looked slightly darker than orange rind.

I crouched by the boy. "Hi."

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