New World Order, Chapter 20: Cross-Cultural Interactions (Belinda)

Their guide, Sandeep Singh, met them in the hallway of the hospital. “Did you find what you needed?” His voice had a faint British-Indian accent.

“Yes,” Belinda told him. “I released the spell keeping him in a coma.”

Sandeep’s dark brown eyes, so dark as to be indistinguishable from black onyx, bored into hers. “You have power.”

“Yes.” She held his gaze, but waited. He seemed to expect her to do something, so she obliged by doing nothing.

His eyes narrowed. “You aren’t what I expected.”

“What, ten feet tall and fire-breathing?” Jon snapped from next to them. “The dancing’s getting old, Sergeant.”

Sandeep transferred his gaze to her partner. Jon outstripped him by several inches of height and at least fifty pounds of solid muscle, but Sandeep looked as though he wanted to test him in a boxing ring or something.

“Gentlemen,” Belinda soothed. “Let’s not fight. We’re on the same side.”

“Are we?” Sandeep asked.

“Yes!” Belinda frowned. “What would make you ask that?”

“Oh, I don’t know. The first time in living memory that a Gary comes out of Madison, she’s after a dangerous artifact. The only victim in Milwaukee is taken by a sorcerer and left in a magically-induced coma that you just happen to remove when you get what you need from the victim.”

Jon stepped closer, menacing suddenly. “I don’t like your tone, or the implication.”

Sandeep swallowed but resisted stepping back. “I don’t like your partner in my city, Mr. Taylor.”

“It’s Detective, Sergeant, and she can go anywhere she damn well pleases. You’ve got something to accuse her of, then do it. Otherwise, back the fuck down before you and I have a problem.”

Belinda eyed her partner in shock. He defended her with no self-consciousness, radiating sincere outrage. She had to admit, it felt good.

Of course, if they got into a real fight this far from Madison…

“Please. Let’s not fight. Let’s share tea, and have no lies between us.” Belinda stepped closer. “Please.”

Sandeep flicked his gaze to hers and back and then nodded. “Fine.”

Of course, finding tea in this hospital wasn’t exactly what one would call a simple matter. They ended up in the cafeteria, which did have a large selection of tea packets. She grimaced and picked out a Blackberry leaf tea and went to pay.

“Allow me,” Sandeep put in, handing the cashier a twenty. “You are in my town.”

She hoped she only imagined the slight emphasis on ‘my,’ but Jon’s glower let her know she probably wasn’t the only one to do so.

Sandeep led the way to a table. Even here, the odor of disinfectant permeated the place. She lifted the cup of tea and let the steam wreath around her face, trying to ignore the depressed feeling the room evoked. Hospitals weren’t places where healthy people went.

They all sat down, and Sandeep jumped right in. “Why don’t you explain to me, Detective, why you’ve come to my town and interrogate a sick man?”

Okay, this time she knew she didn’t imagine the superior tone. Jon shifted in his chair and drew breath to speak, but she shook her head slightly. The big man subsided, but the glare on his face endeared him to her.

“We are following a string of burglaries turned homicides. When we heard one of the daggers was here, we came to check it out.”

Sandeep sat back, playing with his paper cup with long fingers. The water’s surface trembled slightly with the vibrations of his hand, and she wondered if he’d knock it over.

“Does Ashara know you’re here?” The Sergeant’s black eyes snared hers and he gazed at her with such intensity, it sent chills down her spine.

“What does the High Priestess of the Temple of Bast have to do with this?” Belinda frowned. Part of the Protective Circles of Madison, Ashara Kendrick wasn’t a Gary herself but Belinda knew her from childhood. “I’m not here on her behalf, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“It’s well known the Garys do not travel beyond their borders. Yet here you are, Miss Gary.”

“Detective,” Jon snarled.

Sandeep bared his teeth and waved his palm in Jon’s direction, but didn’t look away from Belinda. “I think that Ashara would have much to say if she knew you came here without Mathilda Gary’s permission.”

Belinda blinked. Hearing Gran called by her first name, and by someone with such an urbane accent, made her want to laugh.

Yeah, that would be appropriate…

Instead, she allowed herself a small, sardonic, smile. “You want me to believe that you know her so well personally? Then you know that anything that annoys my grandmother she would support, as long as it does not bring danger.”

Sandeep snorted. “Perhaps.”

“Look, Sandeep. I’m not trying to do anything wrong. I’m trying to solve a murder. Please, help me.”

Jon cleared his throat. “All of this is wasting time. Why are we indulging this man’s crap?”

Belinda winced. Subtle, Jon. Subtle. She turned to him. “Jon, we need his help. His and the unit’s.”

“How?”

“When I leave, the victim needs police protection.”

“Why?” Jon demanded at the same moment that Sandeep rumbled, “How?”

“Police protection as well as magical.”

Jon and Sandeep gazed at each other as though trying to decide how to best take each other apart. Oh, dear. This was not going well, dammit!

“Gentleman, please. Let’s start over.”

Sandeep glared at her, but she sensed a slight softening of his manner. She wished she dared go deeper into his thoughts, but knew he’d sense it.

“You think the killer will come back.” Sandeep eyed her and then Jon, and it wasn’t a question. “Why?”

“To finish their work,” Jon responded. “But we disagree on that.”

Sandeep studied the big man. “Oh?”

Jon shrugged. “Belinda thinks it’s two perps. I think it’s one.”

“Explain.”

A flush crawled up Jon’s throat at the order, but he answered readily enough. “They’re devolving. Started out organized but getting steadily more desperate.”

“If that is the case,” Sandeep mused, “then they know what they are after.”

Belinda felt a chill walk up her back on cats’ feet. “What do you mean?”

“If the legends are even halfway true, it is an artifact of rare and frightening power.”

“You say ‘it.’ There is more than one dagger.” Jon studied Sandeep like the man had finally done something interesting. “Why?”

“The Year Sword can be reformed from the daggers.”

Belinda felt like the air went out of the room. “You can’t be serious!”

Jon looked back and forth between them, his nostrils flared. “Will one of you please explain what you’re talking about?”

“You can’t be serious!” Belinda leaned forward, fear growing in her belly. “They’re daggers! How can they make the sword? I thought the legends told of the daggers being formed from the sword!”

“The daggers are the sword.” Sandeep sat back. “And now, I think I believe you when you tell me that you are here for nothing more than to find a dagger.” He paused. “You are a fool to leave your protections like this.”

“You go too far!” Jon shouted.

Several people nearby glanced over, startled.

“Jon, keep your voice down!” Belinda hissed.

Sandeep chuckled. “If you have collected all the information from the victim that you need, I suggest you come back to the station with me and then leave Milwaukee with all possible speed.”

Belinda gaped at him, the fear that started in her belly now out to her arms and chilled even her fingers. “You’re scaring me.”

“Good. You should be scared. Forewarned is forearmed, and you have been treating this like a teenager sneaking out of her room at night.” He leaned forward so suddenly it stopped her breath. “And the monsters out at night really can hurt you, Miss Gary.”

Detective,” Jon growled.

They stared at each other for another couple moments and then Sandeep stood. He finished his tea in one swift swig and crumbled the cup. “Come.”

Jon rose. “Are we done with the victim?” He asked it of Belinda, ignoring Sandeep entirely.

“I guess so.” She frowned, trying to think. She finished the rest of her tea and stood. “I think so.”

Jon narrowed his eyes and glared up at Sandeep, still seated. “You really want a pissing contest? To act like her self -appointed curfew officer? Have her running home scared like she’s ‘all alone’ out here in scary Milwaukee?”

Sandeep smirked. “And how can you protect her here? You are so out of your depth you only understand half of the discussion.”

“I don’t have to.” Jon flipped open his phone and punched a number. “Somebody is trying to push Belinda around here.”

Jon snapped it shut and sat back with a smug expression.

Belinda glared at him even as she took a deep breath and relaxed. She could feel it, familiar and unwelcomed. Her twin connected with her, not mentally but magically. Her aura deepened and expanded as Brock’s energy flooded into her.

And though she might have distanced herself from the Gary Covens, the energy of them pulsed from him straight to her. A part deep inside her stirred and began to sing. She wanted to crush it and push it away even as her soul soaked in like parched earth waiting for the rain.

Sandeep’s eyes narrowed. “What just happened?”

Jon laughed outright. “Not so smug now, eh?”

Belinda looked across the table at Sandeep, who still stood by his chair. She might not want this power, but she certainly wasn’t going to waste it. She just held his gaze without speaking.

“I sincerely hope, Miss Gary, that you do not need to use that power for anything more than your shields.” Sandeep bowed from the neck and then strode to the door without looking back.

“Arrogant son of a bitch,” Jon snarled half under his breath. “And it’s Detective!” Jon called out after the retreating cop.

Laughing, Belinda turned to follow. “Come on. We don’t want him to leave us behind.” She winked and let the grumbling detective stomp after her.

New World Order, Chapter 19: Long Distance Call (Brock)

Brock parked behind Uncle Matt’s Jeep. Parker and Nelly, two of the huge Irish Wolfhounds that lived at the Gary farm but didn’t really belong to anyone specific, raced up to his SUV. Parker let out a deep bark, his tail wagging so hard Brock feared he might dislocate it. Nelly jumped up, her paws muddy.

He sidestepped so she wouldn’t plant those messy feet on his pants. “Down, Nel.”

She made a disappointed sound, not quite a bark, and lowered her front like a bow.

He laughed and scratched her ears. Parker shoved his face in his hand, pushing Nelly out of the way.

“Parker…”

“Hey, boy!” Uncle Matt called from the porch. “You’re just in time for lunch!”

Brock smirked. “All part of my plan!”

Matthias grinned, a flash of white teeth, and sipped his beer. “Where’s your sister?”

“Working, I assume.”

Matthias grunted. “She still hasn’t come out.”

“She said she’d come to dinner Thursday.”

“That’s tomorrow.”

“Yes, I know. Let it be, Uncle.”

He cocked an eyebrow at Brock. “You giving me cheek?”

“Yes sir!”

“Getcher ass in this house, boy,” Matthias growled, eyes twinkling. He turned and retreated inside, leaving Brock to follow.

Brock started up the stairs but stumbled. A different room intruded on his awareness like an overlay.

~Brock~

~Bee? Jesus, you have shitty timing!~

~Why?~

~I’m gonna kill myself on these stairs, is why. What’s up?~

~You near Dr. Z?~

He felt a spurt of fear in his stomach. ~Why?~

~It’s not what you think. I need you to ‘look’ at a victim with me and tell her what you see. He’s in a coma, but I think it’s magical and not physical~

~All right. Give me a minute to get in the house, will you?~

~Sorry~

Now she’s sorry. He rolled his eyes and walked into the organized chaos of the kitchen in full swing. He saw Dr. Z. in the dining room, arguing with Ginger. As usual.

He greeted everyone on his way by, not really seeing who he talked to, and made it into the dining room. “Dr. Z?”

“Brock! About time you got here!”

“You got a minute?”

Her head swiveled around and she stared up at him. “Is everything all right?”

He pecked Ginger on the cheek and turned back. “Everything’s fine, but Belinda wants a favor.”

“Oh?” Her eyes sharpened. “Let’s go in the library.” She rose and led the way.

~Bee?~

~I’m here~

~Show me~

He sat down across from Dr. Z. on one of the white wicker chairs by the window and Dr. Z took the one across from him.

He sat back against the cushions with a sigh. He loved these chairs. “Belinda’s with a victim. She says they’re in a coma, but she thinks it’s magical.”

Dr. Z. cocked her head. “And you can see this?”

Brock nodded. “He’s male. Early thirties. Blond. They have him on an oxygen feed of some kind. His pulse is normal, regular beat.”

“Take my hand,” Dr. Z. ordered.

Brock did as she asked and felt a jolt.

~Brock?~

~Hush, children, I’m working~ Dr. Z’s mental voice sounded tart, much like her in-person voice. ~It’s not physical, you’re right about that. Look there~

Brock had the sensation of his awareness being directed by something outside his own control. Dr. Z. pointed out a faint tracery of light blue lines just over the skin of the victim, like a net.

~Disrupt those, and he should wake up~

~Thanks, Dr. Z~ Belinda sounded tired but grateful.

Dr. Z. let go of Brock and stood. “I’m going to go talk to Tilly,” she told Brock quietly. “Finish up before she finds out what you’re doing.” With that enigmatic advice, she slipped out of the library.

He got a feeling. ~Bee? Where are you?~ Brock asked.

~The hospital, I told you~

~Don’t lie to me~

He felt her spurt of anger like it was his own. ~It’s none of your business!~

~Where’s Jon?~

~He’s here with me~

~And if I called and asked him, where would he say you are?~

~I’m in Milwaukee. Are you happy now?~

Shit. No wonder Dr. Z. didn’t want to let Gran know what happened. ~Are you out of your mind?~

~I’m hunting a murderer, Brock. I had to go where the witnesses are~

~So if I go tell Gran it won’t be a big deal?~

The door opened suddenly, making him jump. “Tell me what?” Gran walked in, her hair arranged in a braided crown around her head. She wore a soft gray pantsuit that Brock’s mom designed for her; it fit her perfectly.

His heart sank. “Hey, Gran.”

“Don’t ‘Hey Gran’ me, young man. Where is your sister?”

“Working on a case.”

“Give me your phone.”

“Gran, I –”

“Now!” she snapped.

Brock sighed and pulled the phone out. Gran hit the ‘call’ button and waited. He could tell Bee picked up by the way her mind seemed to get distracted and dropped their mental connection.

“Where are you, young lady?” Gran demanded.

He didn’t hear Bee’s side of it, but he could imagine. ‘Gee, Gran, I’m out of town without permission, but you don’t care, do you, because it’s not like I’m actually in the coven anymore…’ He’d slap his sister silly if he thought it would do any good. She insisted on mourning Monica all by herself, that damned tough-cop routine she tried to hide behind…

As he predicted, Gran started shouting after less than thirty seconds on the phone. Uncle Matthias appeared in the doorway, blocking the view of anyone else who might be in the hallway, but it effectively trapped Brock. Which, come to think of it, probably played out exactly as his Uncle intended it.

Gran snapped the phone shut and glared at Brock. “How long have you known about this?”

“I didn’t, Gran! I just found out when she called me today!”

“She’s in Milwaukee!” Her fury hit him like a steam train, but under that came real fear.

His stomach dropped and a bolt of cold went through him. Her fear added to his own. “I didn’t know, Gran!”

She narrowed her eyes and pointed a finger at him. “If I find out differently, young man, you are in big trouble!” She whirled and then stopped in her tracks, staring at her brother. “Do you mind?”

“Belinda isn’t a child, Tilly.”

Oh shit. Brock wondered if he could jump out the window.

“Don’t you start with me, Matt. She’s in Milwaukee, without so much as a by-your-leave –”

“Yeah, and Marjorie Bells is going to keep an eye on her. I just talked to her before you started your screaming match.”

Gran fell silent, glaring at her brother. “Madge is in Milwaukee.”

“Which you’d know, if you stopped seeing Belinda as if she’s twelve.”

“I don’t see her that way, Matt! She isn’t acting rationally. Not since Monica died. She needs to let it go, move on, and stop being such a sourpuss!”

“She’s not –” Brock started.

“No, Brock,” Matthias snapped, flicking a glance in his direction.

A glance was enough. Brock snapped his teeth closed.

The fight went on from there, modulating from a low-voiced argument to a full-on shouting match. Brock sank lower in his chair, miserable. No one else came to intervene. In fact, the whole house felt still, like everyone froze in their tracks. Then Brock heard angry footfalls approach.

“Mom, why are you fighting about this?” Heather demanded.

“You stay out of this, honey!” Gran shouted. “If you weren’t so indulgent, you’d see that!”

“Tilly!” Matt shouted.

“Mom, you don’t understand, you never have. It would be like me losing Morgan! Or when Uncle Matt’s Jocelynn died!”

Brock saw Gran pale and actually sit down. He felt shocked as well, no one ever discussed the fiancé of Uncle Matt, killed the last time they sealed the gate.

“I…” Gran trailed off.

“Why do you think she stayed away?” Heather demanded. “You keep hounding her to do the Samhain ritual, to let go of Monica, and you risk pushing her away for good!”

Gran drew breath to argue and Matt stepped forward. “Enough!”

“Uncle Matt –”

“I said enough, Heather! Let it go.”

“Matt, this is ridiculous. You can’t just –”

“I can’t just what, Tilly?” Matt snarled, rounding on his sister. “She’s coming to dinner tomorrow, and you can bully her then. But now, this conversation is over!”

“Fine, Matt. We’ll talk about it with her tomorrow. When she comes to dinner.”

Matthias studied his sister, clearly not convinced, and then stepped back into the hall. She followed and then disappeared toward the kitchen. Heather stormed out and Brock heard her run upstairs.

Eddie stuck her head in and smirked at Brock. “You’re dumb enough to get in between the two o’ them fightin’, you’re lucky you still have your head.”

He rolled his eyes. “Shut up.”

She cackled and disappeared toward the living room.

Old busybody. He decided to go out and see if the dogs needed food or water. Or a trip to Mexico. He rubbed his neck, a headache starting.

New World Order, Chapter 18: Making New Friends (Belinda)

Thursday morning, Jon pulled onto the highway and Belinda stared out of the window, watching the city turn to fields and rolling hills. This being the first time she ever left Madison, Belinda decided to enjoy every moment of her unexpected freedom. She remembered Sandillo giving her a long look that morning before they left. Jon suggested they travel to Milwaukee to interview a possible victim and she pretended to flip though the file while waiting for her Lieutenant’s reaction. He didn’t forbid her to leave, but his look conveyed to her that he knew her family would.

What her family didn’t know, wouldn’t hurt them.

Jon slipped in a CD and she leaned back in the deep leather seats while the deep bass of Nickelback rolled around her.

She woke with a start. Dammit, she hadn’t meant to fall asleep! Then she looked up at the building Jon parked behind, still groggy from her nap. She didn’t realize they’d actually arrived in Milwaukee.

Then she craned around, confused. “This isn’t the hospital.”

“Nope, that explains the squad cars instead of ambulances. Good job, Detective.”

Bee glared at him. She’d missed the whole drive and saw nothing, dammit! Her first time out of the city and she had to fall asleep!

He just gazed back at her, impassive. “We need to talk to the local cops first. We can’t question, or even gain access, to the vic without them. And looking over their files might give us more clues.”

“Sounds good,” Bee admitted. She craned her head around, trying to see everything at once without looking like a tourist.

“Of course, it was my idea.” Jon grinned at her. “Oh, a tip. I was here for a seminar on Jeffery Dahmer, no Laverne and Shirley jokes.”

Belinda rolled her eyes as she climbed out of the car. Jon seemed in a good mood, driving on the highway and letting the Cobra gobble away the miles must have mellowed him out. They walked into the precinct together, but soon her steps lagged. While her partner strode up to the Sergeant’s desk, her shields went haywire. She tightened her magical barriers and glanced around. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but it ‘felt’ odd. Distinctly odd.

Jon touching her elbow drew attention back. “Their supernatural division is handling it.”

“Huh? Why?” Belinda started following him down the hallway.

“I guess the crime scene reeked of magic, from what the Sarge said.”

“Then it sounds like our perp from the last one,” Belinda told him. “Especially if there’s a physical mess to match the magical one left behind.”

He didn’t argue her ‘two perps’ theory, just led the way to a double door with inset frosted glass windows. “It’s in here.” Jon opened the door to a larger room with more detectives than Belinda expected. Jon seemed to agree with her unspoken opinion. “Damn, why doesn’t Madison have a Supe Squad?”

A masculine voice nearby answered. “Because a roach can’t fart in Madison without their witches’ permission.”

Belinda turned her head to glare at the speaker. She might not want to be part of the coven anymore, but they were still family.

She also thanked the Goddess that she strengthened her shields in the lobby. This room reeked of some kind of strange, electric energy. The big, bearded man returned her glare. His East Indian features seemed exotic to her and he smelled like unfamiliar incense.

A trim middle-aged woman bustling towards them broke the staring contest. Her sharp gaze flicked between Belinda’s and Jon’s faces to their badges flipped to hang from their belts. “I’m Lieutenant Marjorie Bells. The front desk called back, can we help you?”

Jon smiled and offered his hand. “We hope so; it looks like our cases are overlapping.”

Belinda offered her hand next, the shake aborted when a charge passed between their palms. Bells jerked her hand away and stepped back. Filling the awkward silence, Jon continued his introduction.

“I’m Detective Jon Taylor and this is my partner, Belinda Gary.”

“Did you say… Gary?”

Belinda nodded and offered a small, hard smile. In the stillness that now filled the busy room, she bet anyone could hear a roach fart.

“Did you hear?”

“No shit!”

“She’s a lot smaller than I thought.”

“Is that her brother?”

“No, he said Taylor…”

The whispers continued in that vein until Bells cleared her throat. Absolute silence fell. “This way, please.” She spun and strode toward the glass-walled office at the back of the room.

Jon glanced at Belinda and then followed the older woman. Feeling like she was on stage, Belinda trudged along behind. Lieutenant Bells waited for her to enter and then swept the door closed. “Sit.”

Jon sat down and Bells walked behind her desk. She regarded Belinda with a raised eyebrow.

“I’d prefer to stand.”

“Sit down, Gary. I don’t want to get a crick in my neck staring at you. I’m not going to eat you, for the love of Pan.”

“Who?” Jon asked.

“Never mind,” Belinda muttered. She sat down.

“Your Gran know you’re here?” Bells demanded.

“Excuse me?”

Bells leaned forward. “I’ve been a Witch for longer than you’ve been alive, girl. And I know Mathilda Gary, I trained with her when I walked from Maiden to Warrior Circle. So don’t play stupid with me!”

Belinda swallowed. “I…”

“This is a police investigation, Lieutenant, not a personal visit,” Jon snapped.

Bells leaned back in her chair and regarded Jon with a sardonic expression on her face. She transferred that gaze to Belinda, her brown eyes thoughtful and slightly mocking. “You didn’t tell him, did you?”

“Tell me what? I’m beginning to lose patience,” Jon growled.

“Your partner,” Bells stressed the word, “is out of Madison without permission.”

“She’s a grown –”

“From the coven,” Bells interrupted. “Which means, she’s in danger.”

Jon’s eyes widened and he swiveled around to stare at Belinda. “Is what she says true?”

Belinda waved her hand in front of her. “Let’s stay on point.”

“Is it true?”

“Jon, just focus –”

“Answer me!” he shouted.

She blinked, startled. “Yes.”

“Yes. That’s all you have to say? You drag my ass across the state after God knows what and that’s all you have to say?”

Bells chuckled.

“What’s so funny?” Jon snapped.

“Think about it from her perspective, Sergeant Taylor,” Bells said. She glanced at the windows behind them and the blinds swiveled shut.

Jon whipped his head around and swallowed audibly. To his credit, though, he said nothing.

“You never played hooky?” Bells asked him.

“What?”

“Hooky, Taylor. You ever run off where you’re not supposed to, kiss someone you’re not supposed to, smoke in the bathroom?”

“I don’t smoke,” he said almost reflexively. He studied the Lieutenant. “So what you’re saying is that she’s sneaking out of town because she can?”

Bells nodded. “Not very smart, with a killer on the loose, but totally understandable.” She shifted that brown-eyed gimlet stare to Belinda. “If you get me in the middle of a family fight with your grandmother, however, and you and I will have words.” She leaned forward. “And I guarantee you, you will not like the results.”

Belinda felt a chill and her shields wavered. Bells was a crone, all right. “Yes, ma’am.”

She saw Jon’s eyebrows shoot up but couldn’t look away from Bells to say anything to him. The Lieutenant’s gaze bored into hers and Belinda could feel the edges of the older woman’s power beat at her shields like an axe. She strengthened them and waited, wondering if the woman meant to attack her.

“That’s better,” Bells said then, startling her. She reached into a drawer and pulled out a small crystal decanter and a matching chalice. “Keep them that way while you’re here, Gary. There are things in this city you don’t want to meet.”

“Like what?” Jon asked.

“Like nothing you need to worry about. You’re here on a case. Do your business and get out. The less I have to explain to her family, the better. The boys outside may joke about the Garys, but the truth is, they’re strong mojo. You may be a Christian, Mr. Taylor, but that doesn’t make their power any less real. Or needed. Your partner would be a powerful tool in the hands of an enemy strong enough to use it.”

“Are you?” Jon asked.

Bells shook her head and took a sip. “No. That’s what that was just now, a pissing contest. Her shields are stronger now, thicker. I can’t do anything to her.” She passed the chalice to Belinda first. “May you never thirst.”

“Thank you.” Belinda sipped and passed it to Jon. “May you never thirst.”

“Huh?”

“Just take it and sip it,” Belinda growled. “Don’t be rude. It’s a sacrament,” she added when it looked like he’d refuse.

He hesitated and then took the glass. He sipped it and his eyes widened. “Wow! That’s really good!”

Bells smiled, a kinder, gentler version of her more ferocious expression of earlier. “It’s Barenjager. Honey liqueur.”

He took another sip and handed it back. “May you never thirst.”

Her eyebrows shot up. “We’ll make a Wiccan of you yet, Mr. Taylor.”

“Call me Jon.”

Belinda smiled to herself. She’d have him charmed in no time. “So will you help us?”

“Will it get you the Hells out of my city faster?” Bells shot back. “What are you here for?”

Belinda pulled out her case file. “A Mr. Daniel McCaffey. He owns a…” She trailed off, seeing the expression on the lieutenant’s face. “What’s wrong?”

Bells pulled a file of the stack to her left and flipped it open. “Mr. McCaffey hasn’t woken up. He’s at Aurora St. Luke’s.”

Belinda went cold all the way to her toes. “What happened to him?”

“Home invasion. The attacker probably meant to kill him. Skull fractures in four places, subdural hematoma, a bunch of unpronounceable medical crap; the usual.”

“Can we see him?”

“Belinda!” Jon protested.

“Jon, I need to see him. I may be able to help him!”

Bells picked up the telephone receiver. “Get me Sergeant Singh when he’s done with the staff meeting, Destry, please?” She hung up. “I’ll have a Sergeant take you over. He’s in a meeting for the next thirty; take a desk and look over the file.” She stood and handed the file to Jon. “Good luck, and keep me informed.”

The blinds flipped open and Jon flinched. He shook hands and turned.

“Thank you, Lieutenant.”

“Call me Marjorie, Belinda. I’ve known Tilly for years. When she forgives you, tell her hello for me.”

“I will,” Belinda promised. She followed Jon out of the room.

New World Order, Chapter 17: Banker’s Hours (Belinda)

Belinda stepped off the porch, heading for her Prius, but her brother caught her arm.

“Just leave her here,” Brock ordered. “We’re going to be late. We’ll take the Pearl.”

Fury filled her and she yanked her arm free. “Don’t order me around!”

He smirked. “Touchy, touchy.”

“This is my case, Brock! Not the Coven’s!”

He grabbed her arm too fast for her to avoid and all but dragged her across the patio to the side away from where the others gathered. She saw Jon’s face as he watched them, his eyes narrowed and a frown between his brows. At least he noticed Brock was being a jackass!

“Let go of me!” she snarled, yanking free once they were out of sight. She poked his chest. “You don’t order me around!”

“Calm down, Bee,” he said in a condescending tone. “This is bigger than your case!”

“What’s going on?” Eddie’s boots thumped the slats of the porch as she came around the corner, her face blank.

“Nothing!” Belinda snapped at the same time Brock drawled, “She’s being difficult.”

Eddie glared at Brock but then transferred her gaze to Belinda’s. “We need to hurry. The bank will close before you two work out whatever’s going on.”

“Brock is demanding we take the Pearl!” Belinda protested.

Eddie shrugged, not budging. “We need to go, Belinda. You two can wrangle later. Either take your Prius or don’t, but the dagger’s going in Pearl.” She turned away to walk back to the stairs and snapped over her shoulder, “Now!”

Belinda’s lips thinned and she stalked after her adoptive aunt, not deigning to speak to Brock about his victory. She wasn’t about to let that dagger out of her sight, but she sure as Hades wasn’t going to follow him in the Prius like some hanger-on. She’d make him take her straight back to the homestead to pick it up, instead.

He said nothing, just walked up to Jon and held out his keys.

Belinda felt her eyes widen, shock chasing away her anger at her brother. “You’re letting him drive?”

“We can’t, and Eddie won’t,” Brock responded. “Take them.” He shook the keys at Jon.

Jon’s eyebrow cocked and he held Brock’s gaze without moving. Brock’s face turned a little pink but he didn’t back down. Jon finally held out his own hand, but made her brother drop the keys into it rather than take them from Brock.

That made Belinda feel a little better, at least…

She climbed into the back seat behind Jon, and Brock mirrored her on the other side. Eddie got into the passenger seat. Jon got in, making Pearl bounce a little with his weight, but he didn’t have to re-adjust the seat or the mirrors. If he felt surprise at that, he gave no sign; just started the motor and pulled out of the driveway.

“You just wanted to take Pearl to have leg room,” Belinda fumed half under her breath.

Eddie looked back over her shoulder. “Actually, it was my call. You haven’t kept up the shields on the Prius. Not like the Pearl.”

Jon looked at Brock using the mirror. “You named it?”

“No. The guys did and it just stuck.”

Belinda snorted. She ignored her brother and, instead, stared out the window at the leaves. Their autumnal splendor gleamed in the fading afternoon light. Monica would love to bake as it got colder, making their house smell like cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, and sugar. Her stomach tightened and she shoved the memory away, glaring at the trees that swooshed past.

“We may have a lead for you,” Brock said into the silence.

Belinda didn’t answer and after a moment, Jon grunted. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.” Brock paused, clearly wanting Belinda to look at him, so she stared out the window. He sighed. “There’s a new witch in town.”

Belinda swiveled her head around. “Why didn’t Gran tell me?”

“Gran doesn’t report to you, Belinda,” Eddie growled.

Swallowing any sarcastic reply that might have shot out of her mouth at her aunt, she glared at Brock instead. “So, who is she?”

“Jade McKenzie. She’s a guest curator at the museum. Came with another dagger.”

Belinda felt a chill. “I see. You met with her?”

Brock nodded. “The coven did. She’s…” He trailed off.

In spite of herself, Belinda felt curiosity bloom. “She’s what?”

“She’s hiding something,” he murmured, though in a slow and thoughtful tone. “I just don’t know what. It may be nothing, but…”

“Who did the interview with you?”

“Naomi.”

“When was this?” Jon interjected. “When she first came or after this became a police matter?”

Brock’s silence was answer enough and Bee caught Jon’s glare in the rear view mirror. Now it was her brother’s turn to stare out the window. Unfortunately he also stopped volunteering information.

“And?”

“And what?” Brock’s mismatched eyes glared into her own. “Just check it out, will you?”

“Because you told me to?”

“What the fuck is up with you? Why are you so pissy with me?”

She snarled and turned away, angry all over again. “Just forget it!”

Eddie chuckled. “You two remind me of Tilly and Matt.”

Belinda managed to keep the ‘shut up’ between her teeth, but only just. Something made her glance at her brother and the look in his eye told her he agreed with her. In spite of herself, she grinned and he echoed it.

“What are these daggers?” Jon asked then.

Brock turned his attention to her partner and Belinda gazed out the window again, wishing she were in bed.

“They’re part of a set,” Brock explained. “All sorts of legends about them.”

Jon grunted. “But why are people killing for them?”

“They’re valuable.”

“And dangerous.” Jon glanced at Brock in the mirror, his eyes unreadable, at least to Belinda. “Don’t pretend they’re not.”

Brock opened both hands on his lap, his face surprised. “Jon, I’m not pretending! Why do you think I got the one out of my family’s house?”

“But you’re not handing it over to the police,” Jon pointed out.

“No.” Eddie’s voice sounded sure and firm. “No, we’re not handing it over to the police.”

Jon glanced at her but focused on the road. Belinda could see the muscles in his arms ripple as he flexed his hands on the wheel.

A change in the energy of the dagger caught her attention, though, and she turned back to it at the same moment Brock did.

“What is that?” Brock whispered.

“It’s talking,” Belinda answered, her voice in the same hushed tone. “I think it’s talking.”

“Talking,” Jon scoffed. “What ab –”

“Hush!” Eddie cut in. “Let them work!”

Great. Let them work, except Belinda had no clue what to do next. The presence of the dagger in her mind seemed to grow, though, along with a sort of ringing – as though something struck a piece of metal. The bell tone increased and Brock rubbed his ear.

“That won’t help,” she muttered.

“Shut up!”

She smirked, pleased at annoying him. About time, since he’d been doing it to her for the last… well, ever. “Do you think it’s trying to talk to us? Or tell us something?”

“I have no fucking clue, Bee. It’s not like I’ve done this before!”

“Do we take it out of the wrapping?”

“No,” Eddie said before he could respond. “Matt wrapped it. Leave it be.”

“But –”

“She’s right, Bee.”

Belinda sighed. “Yeah.” She studied the cloth-wrapped bundle on the seat next to them. A square of white silk lay in neat folds around it, hiding it from view. The silk should have blocked any magic coming at the dagger. But, obviously, not anything coming out of it… “Do we need a stronger shield?”

“Um…”

Before Brock could make up his mind, it stopped. Everything: the bell tone, the sense of the dagger’s presence, all of it. Then Jon stopped the Pearl and Belinda’s head came up to stare out the windshield.

“We’re here,” Eddie said unnecessarily. “Get it and come on.”

Belinda met Brock’s gaze, unsettled. “Do you think it knew?”

He shrugged, but a frown creased his brows. “I have no idea.”

“Come on, you two, it’s nearly closing time!” Eddie called, a ‘tone’ in her voice.

Brock rolled his eyes and scooped up the dagger. “Come on.”

Belinda scrambled out of the Pearl, annoyed that he grabbed it without letting her discuss it. His long strides carried him up the steps before she even got out of the Pearl and she trotted after, seething.

Brothers!

New World Order, Chapter 16: Two Stronger Than One (Brock)

The Prius spun into the driveway, gravel flying and hitting the porch. The sharp little sounds ricocheted like machine gun fire in the quiet afternoon air. Belinda jumped out of the car before it fully stopped, or so it seemed to Brock. Great. Last thing they needed was for his sister to add her attitude to Gran’s, but it looked like that’s exactly what was going to happen. His heart sank.

The group waiting on the front lawn made her pause. The Guardians in full gear and with tense attitudes seemed to surprise her. Jon exited more slowly, no doubt the swords strapped on backs and hips unexpected to him as well. Brock hoped that the badges pinned below the exposed gun rigs reassured him. Doug and Merrick, as part of the Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team, were allowed to wear them. Today, peace of mind, not official capacity, prompted the shields’ appearance.

“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me sooner!” Belinda shouted at him.

“I can’t believe you didn’t guess Gran already had one!” Brock yelled back.

The glare she answered with told Brock it had occurred to her as well on the drive over. She bounded up the steps, Jon’s longs legs letting him keep up with her. Brock didn’t miss the man’s considering glances at the Guardians.

“What’s with the welcoming committee?” she asked, waving behind her.

“They are the ‘bodyguard while moving the dagger’ team.”

“Gran’s giving it to us? And where is it going?”

“She vetoed the station, but it’s too dangerous to remain here so I suggested our safe deposit box.”

Belinda looked shocked. “She agreed?”

It was Edith who replied loudly from the lawn. “It’s not her call. I’m in charge of coven security and safety.”

His sister appeared doubtful. “So she went along with the decision?”

“No.” Brock smiled grimly. “That’s why we’re taking it.”

She followed him into the library, practically walking on his heels. He pointed at the box across the room without speaking.

“Oh, Goddess! I can’t believe it was there all this time!” she gasped.

Afternoon sunlight filled the narrow room. At one end, the small white wicker table still sat with three chairs surrounded it. They had destroyed the fourth during a game of Fort as children. The large windows on that wall made a warm spot for anyone reading or researching. Two cozy chairs sat in the middle of the room, sharing a floor lamp.

Books, of course, lined the walls. Some were magic texts, others the spy thrillers Uncle Matt adored. Their mother’s cookbooks were scattered among them and even some colorful Richard Scarry books left over from childhood for when little ones came to visit.

And at the other end of the room waited ‘the Box.’

The elaborately carved wooden box resided on a small pedestal table for as long as Brock could remember. It had a powerful warding around it, spreading out in a semi-circle radius. Behind it, the bricks of the dining room fireplace gave warmth to the room in winter. As kids they would dare each other to run through the edge of the wards, squealing as the magic shivered through their darting bodies.

The powerful relic that someone was willing to kill for, and they had made it into a childhood game.

Belinda just sighed and shook her head, drawing nearer to it. Brock wanted to smirk, but considering he had just figured out the location an hour ago he stopped himself.

Gran sat in one of the chairs like a little queen, watching them.

Belinda addressed her. “You won’t just hand it over, will you?”

Gran shook her head, a small smile curving her lips. “If you are powerful enough to take it, you can put it someplace else. If not, then it must be safe right where it is.”

His sister glanced at him. ~You’ve already tried arguing with her? ~

~Did my best. I think she’s seeing this as some sort of test for us. If we had more time and all ganged up on her she might cave, but the bank closes soon. ~

~Oh, goody! Well, this is more your area of expertise. Any ideas? ~

“First you can take out that contact before it bugs me more,” Brock replied out loud.

She glared and stomped off to the downstairs bathroom. With his sister gone, Brock took this opportunity to flirt with Jon. The large man hovered in the doorway. Seeing Brock looking at him, he glared back.

Well, this must be my day for pissing people off, Brock thought.

“I did call.” Brock tried to look contrite.

“You knew for two days.”

“Wasn’t mine to talk about.”

“But it is to take now?”

Brock’s eyes narrowed. “I’m not having my family at risk. Things changed.”

“Not proving to be very trustworthy.”

Brock bristled at that. Before he could make a rebuttal, his sister rejoined them. Jon glanced at Belinda’s mismatched eyes. Hers were the opposite of Brock’s and it eased something inside him to see them back to normal.

Brock bent and unlaced his hiking boots and Belinda copied him, sitting at the small table to shed them. Socks came off next and were tucked inside the abandoned footwear.

Uncle Matt joined them, his entrance forcing Jon further inside the room.

“Why don’t we go to the other end of the room?” he suggested to the detective. “I’m Matthias Gary, their great uncle, by the way.”

As Brock watched the two men shake hands, he realized that he neglected to make introductions to this grandmother. Well, the way he was feeling, politeness was not heading his list. He saw Uncle Matt give Belinda a hug before sitting in the chair she vacated. Jon gingerly lowered himself into one as well, not seeming to trust the sturdiness of the wicker.

Brock paused to strip off his shirt. It was not by chance that he chose to do it right in front of the other man. He got a covert inspection before Bee’s snort reminded him that they were on a time constraint.

Together they padded barefoot over the hardwood floors closer to the box, stopping at the edge of the ring of power. Brock pulled his athame from his back pocket. The dagger was more than a ceremonial blade, it held a sharp edge. He cut the pad at the base of his thumb and returned the knife to his pocket.

At his sister’s frown he explained. “Gary blood was used to make this ward. I’m hoping it recognizes like-to-like. You’re going to hold my hand and anchor me while I cross into the circle.”

“You’re using your weaker hand?”

“Less dominant, not weaker. Besides, water flows,” Brock replied, referring to the tattoo of swirling waves that covered his left forearm.

His sister stopped close to the invisible edge, one not seen, but felt by both of them. He noted with approval that she had rolled up her slack hems when removing her shoes. Belinda planted her right foot under her, slightly turned like a dancer. The delicate vine tattoo encircling her ankle grounded her for this endeavor. Her left foot stretched out and the extended toe just rested on the edge of the circle. On that ankle he had tattooed a modified compass cross years ago. Inside the compass lay the triple moon symbol with each point inked to represent an element. The North point colored green for earth, East gold for air, South red for fire and deep blue on West represented water.

On the top of her foot, the red star outlined in black for protection seemed more brilliantly scarlet, than Brock remembered.

“Are you going to remove your gun?” he asked.

“It’s a part of me, of who and what I am.”

Brock nodded at her reply. She took his right hand in her left, reaching her right back into the air behind her. Despite Gran’s refusal and her desire for this game, neither twin doubted that she would grasp that waiting hand, adding to the chain of power, if this went crazy.

Breathing evenly and deeply, Brock stepped forward. Power cascaded over him and seemed to grow thicker as he drew closer to the box. He paused, panting, in front of it. He slowly extended his arm, mentally imagining it as not solid, but fluid like the element inked on it. Sweat rolled down his back, and from far away he heard Belinda singing. His own tattoos pulsed in reaction and the effort behind lifting the lid seemed tremendous.

Brock had no idea how much time passed.

After the box sat open he removed his hand and sighed with relief as some of the pressure eased. Peering inside the metal gleamed up at him, but the depth of the container appeared more than it should be.

“Gran, is it booby trapped?”

“I honestly don’t know. I didn’t think you would get this far. I couldn’t.”

Her voice sounded closer, as if she had already left her chair and approached them. Brock didn’t look to verify that, all his attention centered on the dagger. It seemed to move, quivering on the faded red pillow, and he didn’t think the wards were the cause.

He knew it wasn’t him.

He ‘felt’ with his magic and realized that the wards surrounded the box, not attached to the dagger itself. The weapon radiated its own power, separate from the protective spells.

“Belinda, call to it.”

Her singing changed and power surged through him, using his body as a conduit to enter the circle. He held his hand above it and the dagger vibrated more violently.

He felt a snap, as if his ears popped, but throughout his entire body. The dagger flew up and landed in his waiting hand. Swiftly, he stepped back and slumped with relief when he was outside the circle.

Giving the dagger to his sister he staggered over to one of the armchairs and sank into it. She studied if for a moment before a passing it off, to their uncle and not Gran, Brock noted with amusement. She knelt in front of him, her hands on his knees and peered up into his face.

“Hey, you okay? Done showing off?”

He grinned and cuffed her rather weakly on the side of her head. He wiggled next.

“Damn, my athame doesn’t like being sat on,” he told her, pulling it free.

“The dagger didn’t like being kept in that box, either,” she noted.

“It was lonely,” Uncle Matt announced, turning it over in his hands.

“Well, now it can be lonely in a nice bank,” Brock said firmly. “Afterwards we can decide what to do with it. Maybe carry it around on field trips or something.”

They had more important things to worry about than a piece of metal’s feelings, like making his family and city safe.

New World Order, Chapter 15, Appraising a Jewel (Brock)

Brock looked over at his team as the SUV glided to a smooth halt in the parking lot. Crowded with silent cars, many people were still waking and beginning their day. Not many people out and about yet. This fit perfectly with their plan.

Jon’s visit, very early that morning caused Brock to make two phone calls. One, to his Gran, infuriated him; while the other filled him with pride. He decided not to dwell on his frustration at his grandmother’s refusal to move the dagger. He’d deal with that later. The other call, to scramble the Guardians to readiness, accomplished much. The team of Guardians had readied within thirty minutes and their arrival here was within an hour from when Jon left Brock’s front door. An aura of excited tension radiated from them. They knew this visit held the potential to escalate swiftly.

Rather than waste time arguing with his grandmother, Brock switched to the other priority of discovering who was behind the disappearances. They needed to know if the ‘bad guy’s’ presence in Madison was the Coven’s fault. Magic users need permission to settle in their city. He’d hate to think one of his friends met with a murderer and couldn’t sense it and allowed them into their midst.

Brock and Eddie’s conversation on the phone determined that this time was best. Though there might be civilians around, the element of surprise would be on their side. Besides, hopefully, this would just be a calm conversation.

Chad Cadfell tapped him on the shoulder and Brock switched his attention to the muscled redhead. “A female with strong magic is in that corner unit for sure.”

“Let’s move into position,” Eddie ordered.

They moved from the vehicle, magic blurring their images. Even while watching them, Brock couldn’t follow their progress with his gaze. They seemed to melt into the early morning shadows within minutes. He felt a mental nudge from Eddie to let him know they were ready.

He straightened out his suit after climbing from the SUV. He decided on this formal wear to let his quarry know this was an official visit. Brock’s hand smoothed over his ponytail, checking its smoothness.

He decided not to wear the uniform of the Guardians, black fatigues with their name on the back. It emulated a security firm, which on paper they were. Their only client happened to be the entire city of Madison. But a suit would blend into the idea this was an official, but not intimidating, visit. Brock didn’t need to spook her into offensive tactics as soon as she opened the door.

His own shields carefully hid his magic from anyone. He looked over at Naomi Peck. The older woman nodded her readiness. Her trim figure in a navy suit and graying blonde hair in a smooth chignon, she looked prepared for a board meeting. She possessed the uncanny ability to sense the truth, so Naomi was the logical choice to accompany him.

Knocking firmly, he waited to the side of the door to meet the young woman. He sensed when a presence hovered just on the other side of the wood panel. Staring at the peephole, he sent a strong compulsion for her to open the door to them. It opened slowly, the chain still in place. Brock met the hesitant green gaze looking out at him and saw it widen.

Was it arrogance to assume that she would recognize him? That descriptions of the Gary Guardian twins preceded them to anyone magical entering Madison? According to the background he’d read, she came from the Boston area. From her reaction, it appeared that the other coven was well informed.

Brock drew himself to his full, intimidating height. “We need to talk.”

Her blonde hair, cut in a chin-length wavy bob, swung as she nodded. Unhooking the chain, she stepped back and waved them in and at the loveseat.

“Coffee, tea?” she politely asked.

They shook their heads.

“Then what can I do for the Madison Guardians?”

“Just to answer some questions, Miss McKenzie,” Brock replied as he seated himself.

Naomi sat next to him and the young lady claimed one of the armchairs facing them. Jade McKenzie smoothed her grey pleated skirt over her long legs.

They were fantastic legs, Brock noted. After all, he was still bi; but it stirred nothing deeper. He knew it wasn’t because this visit was ‘official’, nobility didn’t cling to him. Was the lack of interest due to his recent acquaintance with a certain large handsome detective or something else?

Brock wished his empathy was better developed.

Naomi ‘accidently’ jarred him as she shifted. A pale blue Gary gaze eyed him, reminding him why they were here. Many coven members shared the pale blue eye color, all related, however distantly, to him.

He turned back to his quarry. “Miss McKenzie, I’m Brock Gary and this is Naomi Peck.”

She cocked her head, giving every appearance of excited interested. “Peck, another founding family of the region, isn’t it? It’s a pleasure to meet you.” She paused, and then appeared regretful. “I’m on my way to work, though, so if you don’t mind…”

“Understood.” Before Brock could continue, they were interrupted.

A pale, slender shape skittered into the room from the bedroom of the suite. Brock watched the odd, humping run as the ferret drew closer. It clambered onto the coffee table so it could face them. Rearing up on its hind legs it sat, folding its little paws and studying them with every appearance of intelligence.

Jade smiled, appearing more relaxed. “And this is Kiki, my familiar.”

Brock nodded and made the introductions again, this time to Kiki. The degree of intelligence that familiars possessed varied; but it was best, and polite, to assume it was high. Kiki’s robust appearance reassured him. Though a practitioner might hide the affects of using dark magic from others, it usually showed on their familiars that were used as conduits. Kiki’s friendliness, teamed with her shiny and healthy coat, made this less likely.

Naomi spoke next to him, getting them back on track. “When you previously contacted a Coven member to receive permission to live within the city limits you stated it was for your job.”

Jade nodded, her blonde bob swinging and brushing her jaw.

“You work on the Madison campus for the University of Wisconsin, is that correct?” Naomi seemed calm and friendly, all ‘good cop.’

“Yes.”

“With one of the daggers,” Naomi added.

A crease appeared between Jade’s eyebrows. “Yes…”

“Did you steal them?” Brock demanded. Guess he got to be ‘bad cop.’

“Did I… No!” Jade met his gaze with no prevarication. “I did not!”

Brock ‘felt’ Naomi’s slight confusion, thought she outwardly hid it. Hmm… “You know they were stolen, though?” He continued.

She nodded. “That’s why I had them take it off display. A man in town kept calling, trying to pressure us to let him see the piece…”

“You wrote to our historian concerning the dagger prior to coming here.”

“Of course. I’m a researcher and it’s a prominent piece of my exhibit.”

Brock only sense calm professionalism radiating from her now. Any discomfort fled now that the topic turned to the firm footing of her job. He exhaled, frustrated.

Naomi glanced at him and back at Jade. “Why Madison, Miss McKenzie? You told our Coven in your letter that you wished to come here to study and work at the University. But you’re from Boston; surely there are more interesting cities to visit?”

“Madison is one of the few cities in the country with no détente. Your covens rule the area with iron control. This area has also preserved the Celtic customs of old Wales. Only the Appalachian mountain region shows similarities and that is because of its isolated nature. You don’t find that fascinating?”

The young woman’s gaze now shined with interest as she leaned forward, excited. If it was an act, it was a good one.

Though Brock didn’t like feeling like a butterfly in a scientist’s case.

“This is our home, Miss McKenzie, not an experiment,” he growled, annoyed.

She flushed and glanced at him. “I didn’t mean it like that!”

“Have you watched the news?” Naomi put in. “This is getting darker and more serious as more time goes on.”

Jade nodded. “We’ve talked about it quite a bit at work, actually.”

Brock heard a light scratching against his chair and looked down. The other two women continued to talk as Kiki climbed up the side of the loveseat, laboriously trying to get closer to the top. He reached down to help her and Jade laughed.

“She’s faking it,” Jade told him. “She doesn’t need help, she just wants to get close to you.”

Kiki swung her tail around Brock’s wrist and clung with all four paws to him instead of letting him deposit her on the arm of the short couch. He sat back with her in his lap and stroked her back with his free hand, amazed at her light fresh scent. He sniffed. She didn’t smell at all like ferret musk, if anything, she smelled like sage and rosemary…

“I bathe her a lot,” Jade said then. “I make a soap from rosemary herb and sage leaves. She loves it, the dear.”

Kiki grinned at him, showing her little fangs, and then crawled along the couch arm to try and root behind his back. “That tickles,” he murmured.

The ferret pulled back and looked up at him with bright black eyes as he watched her over his shoulder. She then crawled up the back of the loveseat to go along and curl up behind Brock’s head.

Distracting little creature, he noted. He had the distinct feeling that the little familiar could answer all of their questions. Naomi, thankfully, didn’t lose her focus as she continued to question Jade on the exhibit. Kiki, meanwhile, attempted to unhook his ponytail holder and play with his hair, so he finally lifted her bodily off the couch and set her on the table. She regarded him with large sad eyes over one shoulder as she flounced over to her mistress. .

Great, a guilt trip from a creature smaller than his cats.

He gazed around the apartment as his mobile buzzed the ‘all clear.’ He felt his muscles unclench, but Jade looked up at that moment and met his gaze. She held Kiki in her lap now, and the ferret looked out the front window.

“Am I in trouble with the Coven?” Jade asked, her tone of voice much more afraid than before.

Brock cocked his head. “Why would you ask that? Have you done something I should know about?”

Jade paled. “No… I just… There’s a lot of you out there…”

Brock gazed at her, trying to read her. “You’re not in trouble. But we would be foolish not to be on our guard.”

“But I’m not going to harm anyone!” Jade cried.

Naomi shifted in her seat, but Brock couldn’t spare the attention to look at her. He let his gaze bore into Jade’s eyes. If he got to be ‘bad cop,’ might as well play it all the way. “I’m not saying you are, Miss McKenzie. But this is a serious matter, you have to agree.”

“I think we’ve said all we can,” Naomi declared, standing. “You know that we’re aware you’re here, Miss McKenzie. The daggers are valuable, and to more than just the historians among us.”

Jade’s expression appeared pinched. “Yes, ma’am.”

“How did you know it was more than just the two of us?” Brock asked.

Jade gave him a strained smile. “You shielded yourselves, not the vehicles you drove that magic clings to. And I can feel four of those, so I’m guessing a dozen arrived with you. Should I be flattered or scared shitless?”

Brock smirked. “A little of both, maybe.”

Naomi made an odd noise, soft, but audible. He glanced at her and saw her trying not to laugh.

Jade smiled again, eyes still tight. “I appreciate the distinction.” Her eyes flicked to the adjoining bedroom that Brock could see as he stood.

“Are you alone?” he asked sharply. He knew he would have ‘felt’ anyone else. Just as he cold have ‘felt’ the presence of the daggers. But there was an odd lingering impression of ‘something.’ It ebbed through the wards the young witch erected in her temporary home that Brock breached by being invited inside them.

Kiki hissed and jumped out of Jade’s grasp. “Yes, why?” Jade asked.

Brock watched the little ferret, wishing his ex-boyfriend were there. Doc Soskoff could have ‘read’ the little ferret, since he was an animal empath, and just told Brock outright what he wanted – needed – to know. “Mind if I check out the kitchenette?”

He headed over that direction without waiting for an answer and Jade followed, nervous all over again. Two bowls sat in the strainer, along with two spoons and a coffee mug. No other clues jumped out to bite him, but he wished they would. His sister was probably better suited to this part of the work, as much as he hated admitting that – even to himself.

“I told you,” Jade insisted, “it’s just Kiki and me!”

Kiki hissed again, and waddle-humped over to the bedroom. Brock followed and Kiki looked up at him, her little face screwed up into an angry scowl. She glared at the bed and the feeling Brock sensed earlier seemed stronger here.

Jade got a can opener and caught the little creature’s full attention, giving her some wet food. Frustrated, Brock walked back to where Naomi waited. “All right, we’ve taken enough of your time,” Brock decided. “Have a good day, Miss McKenzie.”

“Thank you,” Jade answered, coming out of the kitchen with a spoon in her hand.

A bowl for Kiki sat on the floor, just like the two cereal bowls in the strainer. Maybe he was just being paranoid.

On the other hand, maybe his sister and Jon ought to check her out anyway. He sighed, knowing the upheaval his revealing, after not sharing this information, would cause between him and his twin. Not to mention the oh-so-serious detective. He followed Naomi out into the sunlight, annoyed that the answers weren’t clearer.

New World Order, Chapter 14: No More Games, Mr. Balistreri (Belinda)

A half hour after barging into Sandillo’s office, Belinda found herself back at her desk. The day planner sat there like an accusation. Balistreri refused to speak to them, then refused to even talk to Sandillo. He relented, finally, and agreed to see them – but later, not right that moment. He had ‘important business to attend to.’ She wanted to snarl with frustration.

“You hungry?” Jon asked.

Belinda blinked. “I could eat. Why?”

He stood. “Come on. I’m buying.” He walked toward the door without waiting for her.

Scrambling out of her chair, she snatched her shoulder bag and stuffed the case file and day planner into it. Her fingers lingered on the carved wooden button that she’d added to it after getting it last Yule. Her palm smoothed the soft leather flap down and she saw Jon glance over his shoulder at her. By this time, her partner had surged halfway down the hall so she jogged to catch up.

“What do you have a taste for?” she asked after climbing into the car. His car surprised her. The Cobra, crouched and waiting in the reserved lot, seemed out of place surrounded by dark, four-door sedans.

She watched as Jon folded himself into the low seat with the ease of long practice. His large hands gripped the steering wheel of the sports car and she realized how well her new partner and the car ‘fit.’ It highlighted how much she still needed to learn about him.

“Burgers. I was going to try a new place I saw… Why? You have a suggestion?”

“Brocach Pub has the best burgers in town. We’re kind of regulars there. It’s one of Brock’s favorite places.”

He blinked and shot a glance at her, but didn’t comment. He pulled to the entrance of the parking lot and then looked at her.

“What?”

“Directions?” he drawled.

“Oh!” She gave him the headings and he set out for the pub. She liked that he’d asked her rather than reaching for the fancy GPS unit perched on his dashboard.

“So. Explain something to me.” His tone sounded firm, authoritative.

“What?”

“What exactly can you do?”

“Huh?”

“You can talk to Brock without a telephone. What the fuck is up with that?”

“Oh. That.”

“Yeah, that.” He glared at her. “Exactly. Weird shit, you ask me.”

“You’re the one who transferred to Madison,” she retorted, stung.

The light turned green and he focused on the road again.

“You never saw magic in Chicago?”

He shrugged. “Not up close and personal. There’s a unit of practitioners, but I didn’t do much with them.” His tone seemed to indicate he thought that just as well.

“And what, you think it’s odd?”

“No, I wouldn’t use the word odd.”

“Creepy, then.” She felt bitterness well up inside her. It figured that she’d lose her third partner over something as stupid as her natural abilities.

“No, not creepy. But you’ve got to admit, if you’ve never seen it before, it’s pretty fucking weird.”

She felt a bolt of anger surge through her that it left her trembling. ~It’s not that weird~ she said into his mind.

He hit the brakes so fast it threw her against the seat belt hard enough that her ribs creaked.

“Fuck!” He stared at her, eyes wild. “What the bleeding hell was that?”

She wanted to laugh. “You want weird, fine.” ~I give you weird~

He stared at her. The car behind them honked but he ignored it. They honked again and he started moving, both hands gripping the wheel so tight she could hear his skin creak.

She glared out the passenger side window. “It’s not weird, Jon. It’s just natural ability, like running fast or a good singing voice.”

The Brocach appeared and he pulled into a parking spot but didn’t turn the car off, just stared out the windshield. He inhaled and blew air out, as though frustrated. “So you can speak into my mind?”

“Yeah.”

“How?”

“I don’t know how, Jon! How do you walk?” She snapped her belt loose and reached for the door handle.

He caught her arm. “Wait. Please. I’m trying to get my head around this. Jesus, Belinda! It’s not like you broke it to me easy or something!”

She grudgingly conceded he had a point and sat back in her seat. “Sorry,” she grunted finally. “I probably should have picked a better way to show you.”

“Yeah. You sure are touchy!” He rubbed his face. “Okay. We’re parked and I’m not going to hit someone. Do it again.”

“Do what again? I’m not a trained dog, Jon!”

His eyes met hers, shocked. “I didn’t mean…”

She frowned. No malice showed in his eyes. “You really didn’t, did you?”

“No! I’m trying to understand this shit. I’m a profiler, Belinda! I deal with serial murderers, not weird magic daggers and brownies and shit!”

She digested that. Was it possible she’d misread him? Brock sure seemed to think he fit the bill…

~All right. This is what it’s like to talk without talking~

He jumped when she started talking and stared at her with huge eyes. ~Like this?~ His ‘voice’ sounded gravelly, but clear.

She nodded and felt herself smile. ~Exactly~

“And you and Brock can talk like this?”

“I can. Brock can only do it if I start. Otherwise, he has to be touching me for it to work.”

“Oh.” Jon seemed disappointed. “I thought…”

“His skills are more physical than mine. I can borrow his strength, but he’s an elemental mage. My skills are more in the mind. I’m psychic and a precog. He’s a telekinetic and empath. He can talk to people mind-to-mind if he’s touching them.”

“What’s a precog?”

“I can get echoes of future events. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does it can help me.” She looked away, memories of Monica welling up despite iron control. “It doesn’t always work.”

“Can you, uh, read my mind?” She didn’t need to be psychic to see the faint hesitation in his expression.

“Nope, not that good. Wouldn’t want to if those magazines articles are true and you guys think of sex every three minutes.”

Relief flooded her when Jon’s bark of laughter echoed in the confines of the car. “You hungry?”

She laughed. “You think with your stomach?”

“Yeah, why?” he retorted, but his eyes twinkled. “Come on. I’ll buy you lunch and you can pick my mind.”

“I’ll starve,” she quipped.

He snorted. “You wish. Besides, it’s more like every five minutes.” He got out of the car, grinning.

She rolled her eyes and followed.

They’d hardly ordered when Jon got the call that Mr. Balistreri would see them in ninety minutes at his shop.

“We have time to eat,” Belinda told him.

“Good. I’d’ve done it anyway. This guy pisses me off.”

She laughed. “Yeah.” She decided to change the subject. “Shame my uncle’s not here, you could meet him.”

“Oh?”

“This is his hangout when he’s not at the dojo.”

“Dojo?”

“He owns a jiu-jitsu dojo a couple doors down.”

“Jiu-jitsu, huh?” Jon seemed impressed. “I suppose you and Brock studied?”

“Yeah. He’s had other training as well so he doesn’t compete, but I still hold a couple titles.”

“You don’t say!”

She smirked at him. “State Champion two years in a row in my age and weight class.”

She saw curiosity on his face and ‘felt’ that it concerned her brother, but Jon asked no further questions. Kelly brought their food and the big cop took an enormous bite out of his burger.

“Kelly, this is my new partner, Jon Taylor. Kelly’s an old family friend,” she added to Jon so he didn’t have to speak with his mouth full of burger.

“Nice to meet you,” Kelly said warmly. “You work with Belinda?”

He nodded and swallowed. “I just transferred from Chicago.”

Kelly cocked her head. “Welcome to Madison. How do you like it so far?”

“A lot,” Jon answered, not putting the burger down.

Kelly took the hint. “I’ll let you guys eat. Hope to see you again,” she told Jon, then moved to another table.

They finished and Kelly took their cash. “We can walk,” Belinda proposed.

“Sure,” Jon agreed, following her out into the bright afternoon sunlight.

The antique shop had a brass bell hanging from a hook at the top of the door and clattered as they entered. Mr. Balistreri, whom Belinda had seen multiple times, appeared in his habitual suit, this time a dark grey. As usual not a hair appeared out of place. Belinda would bet money that he touched up his hair coloring to keep the distinguished white wings in the still-dark hair.

“Miss Gary. Mr. Taylor. I was given to understand that Guillermo would join you?”

Sure you were, you pompous pig-head, Belinda thought. “He’s on his way.”

“Parking,” Jon added.

“Ah. If you’ll come this way, I have coffee prepared.”

Sandillo appeared at the door and stepped in. “Good afternoon.”

“Ah, Guillermo! Good of you to stop by,” Gilberto gushed, coming forward to shake the lanky Latino’s hand.

Belinda wondered what Sandillo thought of being called by his first name. His expression gave nothing away. They followed the dapper shopkeeper through the immaculate display area and into the office at the back.

Well appointed, with natural light from three large windows, the office fairly screamed opulence. A thick rug lay on top of the already wall-to-wall carpet, its black outline and jewel-bright colors setting off the furniture well. The desk stood diagonally to the room, heavy walnut with brass hardware. A matching glass-front cabinet stood on the left with two small spotlights inside, showcasing a gorgeous collection of decorated eggs and what looked to Belinda’s inexperienced eye like actual Faberge. Two heavy chairs sat in front of the desk, and Balistreri pulled another one out to set next to it before going to his credenza and pouring coffee.

He handed cups and saucers to each of them and she recognized the Havilland china without turning it over. Jon cocked an eyebrow at her but said nothing.

The coffee, predictably, smelled decadent.

Balistreri sat down. “So how can I help you?”

“What is your relationship with Thomas Evans?” Sandillo asked in his quiet voice.

“A client, nothing more. Why?”

The coffee tasted even better than it smelled and she sat there a moment, blissed-out.

“What kind of client?” Jon asked.

Balistreri waved a hand and the diamond in his pinky ring flashed. “He had an item he wished to sell. He didn’t come to his meeting, and I assume he’s changed his mind.”

“You’ve had no contact with him after scheduling the meeting?” Sandillo asked.

“No. Nor prior.”

“So you have no knowledge of his whereabouts?” Jon pressed.

“This is getting tedious, gentlemen.” He glanced at Belinda as though to say, ‘Men.’

“He’s dead, Mr. Balistreri,” Belinda told him while she had his gaze.

His eyes widened and he paled slightly. “Beg pardon?”

She leaned forward and she watched him fight to not look at her bosom. “He’s been murdered, Mr. Balistreri. For the dagger.”

That hit home, she could see it. She felt his flash of shock and then he broke eye contact. “This is very unexpected,” he murmured, but without his usual urbane tone.

“Frieda’s was taken too,” Belinda continued, suddenly angry. “They’re being collected and there’s a killer on the loose.”

“Surely you don’t think that I had anything to do with –”

“Then stop withholding information and help us do our jobs!” Belinda shouted.

“Belinda,” Sandillo murmured.

“No, Lieutenant, your detective is right,” Balistreri said. He sighed. “I have been… less than forthright in my dealings with you.” He looked up at Sandillo and Belinda could read the pain in his eyes. “But you have to understand my perspective! The daggers are priceless!”

“Enough to steal them?” Jon purred.

“No!” Balistreri swallowed. “No, I didn’t mean that. I mean…”

“Why don’t you start at the beginning?” Sandillo coaxed.

Most of it, they knew already. Balistreri kept his dagger hidden, not part of the insurance policy. He knew about Wilfrieda Kincaid’s dagger, but she refused to sell it. “But the other two…” He trailed off and sat back. “I was trying to strike a deal!”

Two,” Jon echoed sharply. “What other two?”

“The one at the museum and the one in Milwaukee,” Balistreri said impatiently.

“The museum.” Jon rubbed his cheek. “What museum?”

“The Chazen Museum of Art at U-W Madison,” he answered. “It’s been taken out of public view by the Guest Curator, though, according to the museum staff. They won’t set up an appointment for me, either, but I’ll keep trying.”

“Who?” Belinda asked.

“A graduate student named Jade McKenzie. She’s finishing up her doctoral thesis, I’m given to understand.”

“And the one in Milwaukee?”

“It was the first one stolen,” Balistreri said. “That’s why I brought mine to the store, to keep it safe. I don’t know how they knew I moved it!”

“Can I look around?” Belinda asked. “Maybe get an echo of something?”

Balistreri hesitated. “Very well. Just be careful, please. This is my place of business.”

She smiled, but knew it didn’t reach her eyes. “I’ll be on my best behavior.”

Belinda slipped out of the office. No one occupied the store and she saw the reason: the “Be Back Soon” sign hung in the front door. She smirked. Must not interrupt the police, Mr. Balistreri. More like, he didn’t want anyone to know he was slumming.

She walked around the perimeter of the store. The echoes she felt didn’t seem like the ones at Mr. Evans’ house. She got the impression of a very orderly individual, methodical and careful. She didn’t disturb any of the other items in the store…

Belinda froze. “She.” The perpetrator was a woman? She got no such feeling from the murder scene. But here… She closed her eyes. Faint traces, like golden filaments, appeared in her mind. She opened her eyes enough so she could walk without running into anything, then traced the trail from the back door, through the store to the front. A detour to one of the étagère confused her for a moment and then she headed for a cabinet at the back of the store, beyond the office. Another presence, this time of a powerful object, intruded on her mind.

“That’s where it lay before it was taken,” Balistreri said.

She jumped. “I didn’t hear you come up.”

“I’m sorry. I assumed you knew. But that’s where I had the dagger, locked in that cabinet. How did you know?”

She glanced at him. “The thief toured the shop. They left very little traces and touched nothing. They knew what they wanted, walked through the entire place and paused up front, then came straight here. Very neat and surgically precise. A woman,” she added.

“Impressive,” Balistreri noted. “You see much. How long have you trained?” He stepped closer, invading her space a bit.

She stepped back. “My whole life. Why?”

“I’ve never met an ancestral Witch of your power before,” he noted.

~He’s lying~ she told Jon.

The big man jolted, but since he stood behind Balistreri the shop owner missed it.

~How can you tell?~

~He knows Gran. He’s flirted with two members of the crone’s coven, and they’re both ancestral Witches~

Sandillo stepped out from behind Jon and regarded her with his large, dark eyes. ~Ask him about them~

She blinked, startled. ~Sir?~

He smirked, but said nothing. Figured, he’d pull a stunt like that and not explain.

“Do you know Ginger Hopkins?” Belinda asked the shop owner.

“The City Councilwoman? Of course, we’ve met.”

~He’s head blind~ Sandillo put in.

Belinda covered her surprise by turning away to examine the cabinet. She decided to take a different tack. “Nothing else from this cabinet was disturbed?” she asked, even though she knew the answer.

“No. Nothing.”

“Why didn’t you tell us about the man in Milwaukee?” Jon interjected.

“I didn’t think it was pertinent! I gave you the address!” Balistreri protested, the picture of offended innocence. It was a good act.

“Thank you for your time, Mr. Balistreri. We’ve disturbed your business long enough,” Sandillo said. He collected Belinda and Jon by gaze.

She followed them out of the store. As she left, she could feel the shop owner behind them, watching them with a bemused expression on his face. Head blind or no, he gave her the creeps.

New World Order, Chapter 13: You Can Pick Your Friends… (Belinda)

Belinda Gary spread the file out on her desk. Mr. Thomas Evans, age forty-seven, formerly resident of the house with a brownie and a housekeeper… She left the crime scene photos in their plasticine sleeves, face down. She did not need more nightmares. Instead, she sorted everything across her blotter. Her own notes and Jon’s went on the left, then the details of the insurance file. The contents of the kitchen went to the right of that, followed by Mr. Evans’ day planner.

“Very organized.”

She jumped. “Don’t sneak up on me!”

Jon Taylor chucked. “Don’t be so jumpy.” He went and sat down at his desk across from her and watched her fiddle with more papers, putting more material in piles. “What are you looking for?”

“Connections,” she grunted, concentrating. He fell silent and she focused on the papers. Letting her intuition rule her hands, she sorted and resorted piles and kept coming back to the day planner. She leafed through it and then set it, closed, in front of her. Leather, its brown cover well-worn, the two-inch thick binder held all the mundane details of a life. An inkling tickled the back of her mind.

A babble that erupted near the door broke her concentration. Bee looked up from her desk. Why was she even surprised? Her family rivaled the Pony Express for gossip getting around.

As her mother breezed in, a chorus of “Hi, Heather!” rang out.

She insisted on not being called ‘Ms. Gary’. That title belonged to Gran, usually with bowing involved.

Heather Gary aged well. Her waist-length honey-blonde hair, the source of Belinda and Brock’s own color, flowed around her head like a crown, with very little grey. Belinda knew chamomile tea and other herbs kept the color shiny and bright, but nature merely supplemented her mother’s natural beauty. Large, almond-shaped blue eyes saw the world from a smooth-cheeked face of a woman ten years younger. Her favorite colors, autumnal shades of russet, lavender, and gold, decorated her long skirt and tunic. A plain ivory top peeked out from the tunic, and her long legs tapped along in soft brown leather knee-high boots.

The large brown paper bag, the type that supermarkets used to carry before being seduced by plastic, probably contributed to the enthusiasm of her greetings. Already the smell of fresh baked cookies filled the station.

It was no use telling the front desk sergeant to announce her first; bribes of his own bag corrupted him long ago.

Her mother’s trim form paused at the kitchenette counter at the back of the squad room. She tisked over the old pot of coffee and started a new one. Despite Heather Gary’s aversion to caffeine, it still would brew beautifully for her.

Hardened, grouchy detectives crowed around her like a football team of youths homing in on the most popular cheerleader, one that possessed baking talents rather than acrobatic skills.

Sandillo emerged from his office and Belinda’s coworkers parted like the Red Sea for her mother. Another, smaller brown bag appeared from the huge hand-knit satchel always on her mother’s shoulder when she ventured forth.

“I made chocolate chip for the squad, but I remembered that oatmeal raisin was your favorite so I whipped up a few for you,” Heather said, holding them out.

Belinda watched as her lieutenant accepted them silently, but sighed as a smile spread across his harsh countenance. She patted his arm like old friends and they began chatting quietly, too quiet for Belinda to overhear.

Chatted!

There would be no stern looks reminding them to work now. Thoroughly grumpy, Bee turned back to her file with her concentration totally out the window. She set the planner aside and pulled the photos from the insurance company over.

Jon sat opposite, a steaming mug in his hand. “The coffee’s really good, you want one?”

“Only if it’s big enough to drown myself in.”

“So, who’s Miss Popularity?” Jon asked, faint sarcasm in his deep voice.

“My mother.”

She watched her new partner hide his wince behind a sip.

“It’s okay. I’m fully aware of her effect.”

“If your mother is visiting, why isn’t she over here?”

“Trust me, I wish she would ignore me. She’s letting me get accustomed to her invasion gradually.”

Belinda glared when she overheard Sergeant Gavin Tensell tease her mother.

“Heather, are you sure you’re already taken?” he called out around a mouth full of cookie.

The warm, soft look on her mother’s face as she looked over her shoulder gave answer enough. Belinda concentrated on the fuzzy photo in front of her. The reminder that her brother had been right about the quality of the insurance pictures didn’t improve her mood. The dagger seemed like so much metal blob, rather than a dagger.

She watched her mother approach from the corner of her eye and considered hiding under the desk. Realizing that would be too subtle Belinda resigned herself, raising her head and smiling.

A stronger smile that reached the warm blue gaze that matched Belinda’s one blue eye returned it. Belinda could see where Gavin’s teasing comment rooted in truth. Her mother still possessed a lithe figure, soft curves accented by the flowing tunic sweater and multicolored skirt of fall colors. No grey showed yet in the honey blonde Gibson Girl knot that Belinda could not master. On her, the style always ended up in messy disarray.

Of course, her father never being around helped fuel the good natured flirting a few of the detectives indulged. Gavin, catching sight of Belinda’s face, blushed and turned away to chat with his buddies. They all suddenly ignored Heather and Belinda, giving them the illusion of privacy.

“Hi, honey.” Heather hugged her and pecked her cheek. Then she turned to Belinda’s desk mate. “You must be Jon.”

Jon stood and stuck out his hand to shake. “Jon Taylor. I’m Belinda’s new partner.”

Instead of shaking hands, Heather deposited a small bag of cookies into the huge paw. “These are for you. Do you like Snickerdoodles?”

“Yes!” Jon sounded delighted and dove into the bag. “These smell better than…” He blushed and cleared his throat. “They smell great!” He took a bite of one and beamed. “Taste even better.”

Bee rolled her eyes. “Other than bribing half my department, what are you doing here, Mom?”

“You’re in a snappy mood,” Heather commented. She sat down in the extra chair next to Belinda’s desk. “I can’t check on my daughter?”

“I’m not fourteen, Mom. What are you doing here?”

“Mind your tone,” Heather warned, heat in the back of her eyes.

Belinda felt her face redden and sat down. “Mom…”

“How are you, honey?”

She frowned. “Fine. Why?”

“Are you coming to Gran’s for dinner this week? Thursday night is good.”

“I…” She cleared her throat and stood abruptly. “Let’s take a walk.”

Jon eyed them with mild surprise but didn’t comment. Heather stood gracefully and hefted her much-lighter bag. “Sure, honey.”

Bee led the way outside and across the street to the park where Heather parked her bicycle. “Why are you here, Mom?”

“I was in the neighborhood, Bee. You really ought to come to dinner, you know. Your Uncle wants you to be there.”

Belinda sighed and looked down, avoiding her mother’s gaze. She concentrated instead on the fluttering strands of green, silver and white that streamed from the handlebars of Sasha. For as long as she remembered her mother rode the same bike. Bright green, the smaller basket hanging from the front of the handle bars supplemented the larger ones that resembled saddlebags. Large enough to be stuffed full of various baked goodies.

Unable to resist she slipped into her ‘sight’. An aura of a large pony superimposed over that of the bike now. Her hand reached out and long, silky stands of a mane tangled around her fingers. The flapping sounds of cards stuck among the spokes covered the faint echo of hoof beats Belinda knew she would hear when her mother pedaled away. Often she swore that the shrill bell her mother often rang resembled a whinny.

For the last few years she gained the ability to ‘see’ Sasha’s ‘other’ form and it fascinated her, but frustrated her as well. For now there existed yet another subject that her mother refused to fully explain.

The fuzzy image of an equine head tossed and Belinda jerked her hand away. She stepped back and shoved her hand in her pocket, her fingers tingling. She glared at the metal bike, leaning on its kickstand. Raising her gaze she caught her mother’s frown.

She hated earning her parent’s censure and it made her angry. Angry that this time she felt it wasn’t deserved. Angry that her mom seemed more concerned about Brock than her right now. And especially angry at herself for using her magic again.

The case justified its use, someone had died. But it felt good in an odd way that, even thought the subject had been horrifying, a tightness in her chest eased afterwards. Just now had been for fun, and fun and her magic were not allowed to mix anymore.

“And Gran?” she asked bitterly.

“Gran too, you know that.”

“All right. I already told Uncle Matt I’d come, so I’ll come. Thursday?”

Heather eyed her but didn’t comment on her tone. “That will be fine.” She went to her bicycle and deposited her bags into the basket. “I’ll let Gran know.”

Belinda gave her mother a stern look. “You really didn’t need to come to the station to check up on me.”

“That wasn’t the reason behind my visit.”

“Okay, to check out my new partner, then. He probably won’t last anyways for you to worry if we’ll get along.”

Her mother’s warm palm cradled her jaw and Belinda leaned into it. “I didn’t for your sake, honey, but for Brock’s.”

Belinda blinked as her mother climbed on her bicycle and peddled off.

Jealousy flared in her stomach and she felt tears in the back of her eyes. “Damn you, Brock,” she muttered without real feeling. It wasn’t like it was his fault.

She turned and trudged back to her office.

The day planner sat on her desk, practically talking to her. She picked it up and set it in the center of her blotter. “What is with you?” she muttered.

“Huh?” Jon asked, looking up from some forms.

“Nothing. Sorry.”

He shrugged and turned back to his paperwork and she leafed through the planner. The pages fell open to reveal that week and she stared at it for a moment in shock.

“Jon!” she cried.

He jumped. “What?”

She looked up at him. “Our vic had an appointment to see the antique dealer. Tomorrow.”

Jon sat back, looking as stunned as she felt. “You don’t say.”

She tapped the day planner. “It’s right here.”

“I think it’s time we talked to this antique dealer, don’t you?”

She grinned and his answering expression matched it: feral, excited, and altogether predatory. They turned as one to go to Sandillo to set up a meeting.

New World Order, Chapter 12: Interlude at the Door (Brock)

Fresh from the shower, the melodious tones of his wind chimes caught Brock’s attention. He shuffled over to the stairwell. Originally, the brownstone had been divided up into flats; convenience prompted him to keep the front door buzzers on each level when he remodeled.

Of course, his sanity and temper changed the harsh buzz to this sound when premonitions of interruptions while he painted came to him.

He pushed the button. “Good Morning.”

“It’s Jon Taylor, your sister’s partner,” the answer clarified for him.

In case Brock had forgotten his name.

In case Brock hadn’t shouted it while jacking off.

“A very good morning, then.”

“Uh, can I come up? Official police business.”

The latter was said in a much firmer tone; the low, growly one Brock already loved. He could imagine the large man shifting uncomfortably on his front stoop.

“Sure. I’ll buzz open the entry door and meet you on the second level. It’ll take me a second.”

Not only would he need to get down from the third to the second floor, but he was not dressed for the early morning visit.

Or, more accurately, he was overdressed.

His favorite shapeless grey sweat suit draped his tall frame and a towel wrapped, turban- style, around his wet hair. Huge polar bear slippers adorned his feet.

The hardwood floors got chilly.

He kicked off the slippers and stripped the fleece away, tossing them in the general direction of his bedroom. Racing down the stairwell, he paused in front of the door. He sensed Jon on the other side.

Pulling the towel from his head, he draped it around his lean hips instead. Brock squeezed some water from his damp hair so drops beaded on his bare chest.

Glancing over his shoulder, hoping the opening of the front door didn’t reveal a mess, he spied his audience. Three cats were lined up on the back of the couch staring at him as if he was crazy on catnip and crack.

Brock glared at them. “Look casual!”

Pulling open the door revealed a rather uncomfortable-looking detective. Brown eyes widened, taking in Brock’s appearance. Those lush lips slightly parted as Jon began to breath through his mouth. Brock wondered how wonderful the other man would sound panting with excitement.

Perhaps he could find out, now rather than later.

“Come on in,” Brock purred.

He stepped back and waved Jon into his home. Brock decided to ignore his pets and hoped his guest did the same. Amelia now hid under the couch, peeking out warily while Jezebel busily washed her paws. Queenie sat with her back to the men, ignoring them.

“Why don’t we sit down?”

His wide and deep couch could easily hold both of them.

Horizontal.

A gentle push of magic nudged the cats from it. Jezzie hopped down, Queenie glared first before complying. Jon shook his head, still hovering at the open door.

Brock’s manners kicked in. “How about a hot cup of Chai?”

Another head shake answered Brock. This time the restless shifting of large feet accompanied the negative gesture. It appeared as if Jon prepared to bolt. Brock’s flirtatious manner disappeared. Jon would not be allowed to escape after showing the courage to show up uninvited like this.

He moved forward, invading the other man’s personal space. Reaching past Jon, he pushed the door shut and continued to crowd closer. The detective backed up until he leaned against the oak panel.

“You are being rude, and rudeness needs to be punished,” Brock stated, making his tone low and firm.

He watched Jon’s eyes widen before dropping. But, not before Brock glimpsed the yearning. He placed his palm against the door level with Jon’s shoulder. Then Jon shifted sideways and Brock’s other hand moved to stop him. Now, Brock bracketed the set of wide shoulders and he leaned inwards.

Jon’s aborted movement ended with his legs now spaced apart, making his height even shorter. Brock realized this was deliberate and pleasure at his new playmate’s ingenuity flowed through him. He obliged Jon by looming over him.

No hands rose to push him away. Instead, they flattened low against the door. Quickened breathing betrayed Jon’s excitement and Brock noted that the lowered eyes fastened on his mouth. He leaned forward until his warm breath bathed the waiting lips.

“Look at me,” he ordered softly.

Dazed brown eyes obeyed and met his.

“Tell me your safe word.”

Jon blinked, confusion and awareness creeping into his gaze. It seemed that Brock’s command jarred the building scene. But Brock always asked for safe words first, they were just too important. Changing this, just to maneuver a sub into a scene, wasn’t the way Brock played.

“I didn’t come here for that,” Jon protested.

His still body and needy eyes contradicted that statement. Brock did not deride him for that apparent falsehood. Instead, he waited.

“I wanted to warn you not to withhold information from me, especially if you were planning on only telling your sister.”

“I won’t,” Brock assured him. “I consider you Bee’s equal and partner.”

“But not your equal.”

Jon’s face flushed. Brock read embarrassment on the other man’s face. He knew of several subs whose self image of their submissive side warred with their personality outside of a scene. Brock also wondered if another reason for Jon’s hesitation was due to Jon’s work world crossing the line into his fantasy one.

“You know that the sub holds all the true power, the power to stop everything when uttering his safe word.” He paused. “So, tell me yours.”

“I haven’t agreed to a scene or anything else! Besides, now that I’ve seen you in just that towel I know I’ve got thirty pounds of muscle over you!”

Brock smiled. The heated gaze roving over his exposed flesh when the door first opened had almost dried him. Jon had noticed a lot, and appeared to like it very much. He remembered how the brown gaze lingered on his tattoos. They both knew that the scene had already started and Jon’s protest was a prod to be proven wrong, but Brock wouldn’t allow any gray areas between them.

He reached down and grasped the other man’s wrists, raising them and pinning them against the door. His fingers moved over the rapidly beating pulses. Again, no physical resistance halted him. Brock, though, was not going to allow Jon to get away with just letting things happen to him and enjoying them. He had to make an admission of want and a decision to consent.

Brock moved his hands away, fingers tracing a pattern on the door instead.

“You’re helpless now, so tell me you safe word.”

Brock made his tone taunting and washed a wave of tingling power through Jon. The other man narrowed his gaze, the odd sensation clearly jarring and confusing him. Instinctively he tried to move and discovered he could not.

Brock’s magic held him more securely than any chain or shackle.

Panic flared in the brown depths as he struggled. Brock buried his hands in the loose waves of Jon’s hair and directed his gaze to meet his own.

“Remember the rules, you have the power.” Brock squeezed Jon’s hands. “Tell me and choose if you are actually going to use it.”

A shudder shook the large, muscular frame followed by a sigh. Awe replaced fright in Jon’s eyes as he relaxed.

“Shit! You really could physically dominate me if you wanted to!”

“If you wanted me to,” Brock corrected.

“It’s ‘Peaches,’ and you’re right, my rudeness earlier should be punished.”

Upon hearing the other man’s consent, Brock’s mouth swooped to cover Jon’s. Their first kiss was not tentative and exploring, but harsh and invading. Brock ground his mouth against Jon as his body copied his movement. Pressing the other man against the unyielding oak door, his hips rubbed against the cradle of Jon’s pelvis. The towel and thin pant fabric proved to be flimsy barriers.

Jon moaned and Brock took that opportunity to force his tongue inside. He swept around, discovering the faint lingering hints of minty toothpaste and coffee. Warm wetness surrounded his tongue and he tangled his with Jon’s.

His hand reached to tangle in Jon’s loose hair, forcing a better angle for his invasion. The whimper he swallowed proved that Jon liked this action and Brock’s fingers tightened, producing more soft sounds. Brock’s other hand swept down the pressed dress shirt, finding peaked nipples under the stiff cotton. He tweaked one, twisting and pulling on it. The large frame trapped under him arched, a deeper moan rumbling from the massive chest.

Brock smiled in satisfaction, his mouth still devouring Jon’s. Finally releasing his prize, he moved his lips to nip and bite the strong jaw that curved to expose a tanned throat. Brock accepted the silent invitation and licked and nibbled Jon’s neck. The other man’s pulse raced under his lips.

Abandoning the nipple he tormented, he followed the line of buttons down to Jon’s belt. Brock moved slightly to the slide to give himself room to explore. Nimble fingers worked the buckle free and the rasp of Jon’s zipper sounded loud, even over the sound of their labored breathing. Brock felt the other man stiffen and decided not to let him think too much. His mouth still freed, Jon could safe word and stop him at any time.

His fingers reached in Jon’s slacks and found engorged flesh. Brock grinned at the feel of sensible cotton boxers. He stroked Jon through the thin fabric and the other man’s hips twitched.

“Don’t move, be still for me.”

“Sorry,” Jon muttered.

Brock sipped his fingers into the slitted front of Jon’s boxers. Coaxing and pulling, he freed the swollen cock. A swipe of his thumb found and spread the pre come beading from the slit. He gently ground the pad of his thumb into the narrow slit and more flowed as Jon gave a hissing groan.

He looked over, the other man’s eyes were closed a dull flush spread under the freshly shaven cheeks. Jon’s lips were swollen and wet from his earlier kisses. The hands held against the door fisted and the muscled chest heaved, brushing against Brock’s with every breath. Pleasure filled him at Jon’s reaction to his touch.

“You’re not going to come until I allow it.”

Jon nodded then frowned and shook his head. Brock’s fingers slipped to pinch the sensitive skin between Jon’s cock and scrotum.

“Agree with me with words,” he instructed.

“I’m not going to come until commanded.”

“Good, baby.”

As a reward he closed his hand around the impressive girth of Jon’s erection. After a few strokes Brock removed his touch and Jon whimpered.

“Shhhh.”

Brock pulled the towel from around his hips and swung it over his shoulder. His own cock curved up and he moved forward. Grasping Jon’s cock again he captured it in a firm grip with his own.

“Watch us.”

His other hand forced Jon’s head forward and he could feel the heat of the chocolate gaze as his new lover followed his instructions. Brock glanced down as well, at the contrast of his nude body and Jon’s clothed one, just a reddened cock protruding from dress slacks, almost obscene and definitely erotic. As the pace of his strokes increased, Brock leaned forward, his tongue tracing a pattern on Jon’s jaw.

His grip rough, only their pre come as lube, he jacked them furiously. Brock had the advantage of enjoying release in the shower just a short time ago. Too soon, though, he felt the familiar tingling at the base of his spine and of his balls drawing up. Jon, at this point, panted like a steam engine and all but trembled with suppressed tension.

He released his grip on Jon’s hair to grab the towel. Wrapping it around their erections, he moved his mouth to Jon’s ear.

“Now, baby, now.”

The muscled body bucking against his almost tossed Brock away as Jon shuddered in release. Feeling warm cum making his cock slick triggered Brock’s orgasm as well. His mouth covered Jon’s again, capturing the whimpers and moans the other man made.

After long moments Jon slumped back against the door, Brock’s body following. The spell restraining Jon evaporated without his concentration. Brock snuggled, recovering waiting for his breath to return to normal. The smell of sex filled the air and Brock gave a low laugh.

“See? You didn’t need an excuse to come see me.”

Surprise filled him as Jon pushed him away. Those muscles came into effective effect.

“This isn’t a game, the case is real! Someone died last night because of those damn daggers!” the detective growled.

Brock blinked in shock, the ramifications of this violent turn in the case affecting him. One of the still missing daggers resided at the Gary homestead where his mother, Gran and Uncle Matt lived. The towel being yanked from his slack grasp focused him. He watched as Jon hurriedly cleaned himself, the rough terrycloth rasping over sensitive skin.

“Did you do the sketch of the dagger?” Jon asked tersely.

“Yeah, it’s downstairs on my studio table. The door’s unlocked, I was down their earlier.”

Before he could add anything more Jon wrenched his door open and stormed down the stairs. Brock heard his studio door open and slam closed, and then that of his front door.

Brock sighed, knowing his fledgling relationship had taken a blow. He should have never mocked Jon’s job. He wondered how much damage control he would need to do. Brock scooped up the thrown towel; nothing to be done about it now. First he needed to make some phone calls.

Then he would concentrate on Jon. This was by no means over between them.

New World Order, Chapter 11: Scene But Not Heard (Belinda)

Belinda parked in front of the quiet house, police ‘do not cross’ tape blocking off the front yard from the neighbors. No neighbors congregated in front of the yard. The street had an abandoned feel, as if everyone hid from the ugliness of earlier. Street lights provided some illumination, but the house seemed shadowed with no porch light or any internal lamps turned on.


“We going in?”

She jumped and snapped her head around to face her partner. “Huh?”

He frowned. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing!”

“Belinda, you’re acting like a rookie case of nerves here!”

She shivered. A breath of wind flowed through her and it seemed for a moment like her hair would move in the face of it. Goose bumps popped up along her arms and throat and tightened both her nipples, but it didn’t feel like arousal. She turned back to the front of the house, inhaling.

“What is it?” Jon whispered.

“I don’t know yet,” Belinda responded. “There’s something…”

Jon’s phone bleated and they both jolted. He rolled his eyes and got out of the car, snapping the phone open. She heard him talking but didn’t pay attention, focused on the house in front of her.

She put her hand on the door handle and a snap of static electricity zapped her all the way up to her elbow. “Ow!”

“What’s wrong?” Jon asked sharply, bending to look in the car.

“Nothing, I’m fine,” she growled, annoyed.

She got out of the car and stood up. The scarab seemed to shiver on her skin and then went cold. She inhaled and opened her right hand, palm down. “Brock…” she whispered.

~Bee?~

~Help me~

She felt his spurt of panic and then the sense of him riffling through her memories. He realized she stood at the crime scene, but not in any actual danger, and calmed down.

~Show me~

She let her eyes fall shut and inhaled deeply. Warmth tingled along her arms and then her fingers. A breeze stirred the leaves overhead and littering the ground, a soft susurration that smelled like dust and small animals. She walked toward the front door, moving through a strange double awareness.

~There~

A faint blue shimmer surrounded the stairs, only a couple inches off the ground. As soon as she registered it, the color faded like mist, but she could still feel it like a pressure against her collarbone.

Jon walked up and she caught his arm. “Don’t step on the stairs!”

He looked down, a bewildered expression on his face. “Huh?”

“Just stay back, will you? I’m trying to figure something out.”

Brock’s ghostly chuckle in her mind only irritated her further. ~Well?~

~It’s not human~ he answered with no delay, despite his clear wish to play with her.

She stifled her surprise. It wouldn’t do to annoy him when he wanted to help out. Then what he said hit her. “You’re kidding!”

“Who?” Jon asked.

~Would I do that to you?~

“Shut up, both of you,” Belinda muttered.

“Excuse me?”

~Is it hostile?~ she asked.

~Depends.~

~On what?~

~What are you there for?~

‘Not everything you see is visible.’ She studied the house and its shadowy angles that shrank from the light. She closed her eyes and opened her hand, palm out, and pointed it toward the house. It felt like she reached through a gauze curtain.

~Brock. I have no clover oil with me~

~Oh. Um… Hold on~

She got a sense of him riffling through his magical supplies and had a moment to wonder if she’d interrupted him mid-ritual. Then she felt a ghostly impression of something cool on her eyelids, as though a phantom hand brushed eye shadow across her skin. She realized he applied it to his own eyes, and used their link to ‘give’ it to her. She wasn’t sure that would work, but… She opened her eyes and the house sat there, ordinary-looking and unshadowed.

~Wow~

~Yeah~ Brock agreed. ~Bee careful~

She grimaced. ~Funny. But what is it?~

~No idea~ He paused. ~Drop your keys~

~Why? They don’t like iron!~

~So Jon picks them up~

She felt his grin like something physical and slammed her shields down on his ghostly laugh. “Prick,” she muttered.

“Who the fuck are you talking to?” Jon snapped, annoyed.

“My brother,” she answered without thinking. “Come on.”

Jon’s big hand landed on her arm, covering nearly the entire bicep. “What?”

“I have a blue tooth for my cell phone,” she lied. “Come on.” She pulled away and went up to the yellow police tape. She scratched on the door frame. “Hello! I’m coming in, and don’t want to disturb you. I’m a police officer, I’m trying to find out who killed the owner of this house.”

“You’re beginning to really creep me out.”

“Keep your shirt on, big guy.” The door opened easily and she stepped in. Even with the clover oil, the shadows inside seemed to move and freeze in slightly different positions than they were before the door opened. She shivered. “Stay behind me.”

She heard the click of his gun safety and resisted telling him to put the gun away.

“Hello?”

His loud bellow made her jump and she rounded on him. “Keep it down!”

He frowned. “Why? The place is unoccupied.”

“How do you know?”

He studied her. “Where’s your blue tooth?”

“What are you talking about?”

“The blue tooth you talked to your brother with. Where is it?”

She flushed and turned away. “Never mind.” She moved toward the kitchen and then saw a flash of something move ahead of her.

Jon bumped into her and then stepped back, his large hand holding the gun next to her head as he sighted down the hallway. She’d go deaf if he fired it from that close. His hand stayed rock steady, but his voice came out breathy. “What was that?”

She eased a hand onto his arm and pressed down, so the gun pointed at the floor. “Relax. It’s what I came here to find. You’ll scare it with the gun. Put it away and stay in the hall.”

She saw the saucer of milk as she entered the kitchen. It sat on the counter in the mercifully spotless kitchen. Someone took their time cleaning, too; she could smell the cleanser in the air. Something fresh and non-chemical, but thorough. A small dish with chocolate chunks sat near the milk; definitely not snacks for a kitten or cat. It had to be one of the fey… but would it be friendly to a stranger?

Belinda felt a pressure in the air to her left and resisted the urge to move quickly. Instead, she squatted down and then sat cross-legged on the floor. “My name is Belinda Gary. I’m with the Madison Police. I’m trying to find out what killed your Master.”

The voice, when it came, sounded like dry sticks rubbing together. “Gary.”

“That’s right. Belinda Gary. My friends call me Bee.”

“You know Tilly.”

She felt a flash of cold bolt through her. She swallowed around a dry mouth and nodded. “She’s my grandmother.”

“Master likes Tilly. Good woman, Tilly, he says. You good woman, Bee-of-Tilly?”

She edged her face to the left slowly, so as not to startle the creature. “I try to be.”

“You not sing, Bee-of-Tilly. Why you not sing, Bee-of-Tilly?”

Her eyes widened. “How do you know I sing?”

“You have the music, Bee-of-Tilly. Tilly has it. Matthias has it. Bee-of-Tilly has it. You have brother, Bee-of-Tilly?”

“Yes. Yes, his name is Brock.”

The creature stood maybe two, two-and-a-half feet tall. Wrinkled brown skin, dark like a walnut, covered it. The hair wasn’t hair so much as corn silk, a silvery greenish brown that reminded Belinda of a garden in Spring. A neat white smock adorned it and its feet remained shoeless, the nails on the toes like little shiny claws. Beady green eyes, like little agates, regarded her out of a wizened face.

“Brock keeps the music. You not sing, Bee-of-Tilly. Not good, not sing. Must sing, Bee-of-Tilly.”

“I’m here to try to find out who killed your Master.” Maybe if she kept to the case…

The creatures eyes welled up with huge tears and it looked to where the body had lain. “Evil woman kill my man, Bee-of-Tilly. Evil woman!”

“Woman?”

“Yellow-haired. Lighter than you. Taller, too. Said to buy the dagger. But lied.”

The hairs on Belinda’s arms raised at that last word, and the echoes hissed and bounced around the kitchen. Despite its diminutive size, the creature seemed menacing suddenly.

“Belinda?” Jon called.

The creature hissed and raised a clawed fist.

“It’s my partner,” Belinda soothed. “Stay there!” She hoped Jon would heed her.

“Your partner, Bee-of-Tilly?”

Belinda got the distinct impression the creature meant romantic partner. “No, my work partner,” she clarified. “He’s a police officer too. We are trying to catch the murderer of your master.”

“You must sing, Bee-of-Tilly. To catch this murderer, you must sing.”

Belinda stared at it. “What?” Her voice had hardly any sound.

“You must sing,” it insisted. It took a small step closer to Belinda and smiled, showing an alarming number of sharp, pointy and very white teeth. “You call me Buca.”

“Can my partner come in, Buca?”

“Your partner, Bee-of-Tilly?”

“He’s helping me find the killer, Buca.” She figured it would be good to remind the little creature. Was this a brownie? Had Belinda finally met a brownie? What would her brother think?

At that thought, Brock appeared in her mind like an overlay.

~Shit~ Brock sounded completely flabbergasted.

She’d’ve laughed if the situation weren’t so serious.

Buca cocked its head. “Bee-of-Tilly? That your partner?”

~She knows I’m here!~

~She?~ Belinda asked. “My brother, Brock.”

“Brock-of-Morgan already sing, Bee-of-Tilly. You must sing,” Buca insisted.

~Look at the dress, Buzz. Of course it’s a chick. Buca is Welsh for ‘brownie,’ I thought you knew that. You’ve never seen a brownie before?~

~Not in the flesh, and not in my murder scene~

~Did she see who did it?~

~Yeah, but her logic isn’t exactly human~

A snort is a weird thing to experience through a psychic link. She felt Brock riffle through the memory of the conversation and then he fell silent, thinking.

~Ask her if the woman had ever come here before~

“Buca, did the killer ever come here before? Did your Master know her?”

“No, not!” Buca said in a loud voice. Her eyes filled with tears again as she looked where the body had lain.

A step alerted Belinda and then Jon stepped in.

Buca turned her head and squeaked. “So big!” A loud clap, like thunder, split the air in the small kitchen and the brownie disappeared.

The force of it knocked Brock out of link with her.

“Fuck!” Jon shouted, frozen in the doorway.

“That was a brownie,” Belinda told him, rubbing her ears. “She saw the murderer.”

It wasn’t until she followed Jon back to the car, so they could go tell Sandillo what they’d seen, that it occurred to her: how did Buca know their father’s name?

She eyed the house, stomach clenched, until the shadows shifted and danced in her vision. Unsettled, she turned the Prius around and headed toward the office.