“Why can’t you just buy new clothes?” Davin brushed his hair back in frustration.
“Because it’s not only the clothes! I don’t even have my wallet with me. My underthings! My laptop! I can’t simply stop writing, you know. I’ve got deadlines.” Paige shot back.
His interest piqued at the mention of underthings. Heading back to her place didn’t seem like such a bad idea anymore despite having to face the witch that was her landlady.
“So tell me again why are we knocking on your landlady’s door instead of going straight down to your unit downstairs?” The renewed wards made his skin itch as they stood on the house’s landing.
“Her name’s Lillian, and it’s because you didn’t even give me time to get my keys. Besides, I want to make sure she’s okay.”
He’d be lucky if she didn’t hex him. Perhaps he should have waited in the car but his more primitive instincts had urged him to stick to her side. In case the inugami attacks again. Yeah, that was totally it.
“Oh Paige dear.” As Lillian opened the door, she wasted no time in enveloping Paige in a smothering hug. “Thank the powers that be you’re okay.”
Paige hugged back and clung to Lillian like a lifeline. A shot of envy coursed through him. Would she ever embrace him with that same level of trust again? He averted his eyes, letting her have a private moment with the woman whom he was learning was practically her surrogate mother.
The one word made him snap his head back up. “Hello Lillian,” he greeted, caution making him a man of few words.
Lillian nodded. “Demon.”
“Lillian, this is Davin,” Paige introduced, shifting out of her embrace to angle and include him in the conversation.
“Oh, I remember his name.” Lillian sniffed daintily.
“Is that Paige?” A familiar voice called out from inside and the door opened a little wider to reveal a relieved Ainsley.
“Oh my god.” Another round of hugging. He looked away, taking the chance to search for any new signs of the inugami. He was right, it hadn’t been back since Paige wasn’t here.
“Come in, come in.” Lillian ushered both girls into the house before throwing a backwards glance at him. “I suppose you too.”
The itchiness lessened and he followed the three into the house, closing the door behind him. His eyes scanned the airy interior of the house. Thick rugs and old but well cared for furniture filled the place with little to show what Lillian truly was, except for small subtle signs. Herbs strung above for drying - he recognized sage, thistle and pennyroyal to name a few. He noticed salt lining the window sills and holly tied to the top of window and door frames. Paige probably didn’t know she rented her unit from a hedge witch.
“Davin, come on.”
“We should get going. We need to catch Dante before his classes start.”
“A few minutes, ’kay?”
He sighed and followed his charge to the dining table where Lillian had already brought out two more mugs and a plate of fresh scones. Fine.
Before sitting down, Paige lifted the messenger bag he had lent her on to the table. It landed with a heavy thud.
“What are you carrying? Rocks?” Ainsley asked. Her eyes travelled from the bag up to Davin. He had noticed her curious glances.
In response, Paige withdrew the iron long dagger from the bag and he watched with satisfaction as Lillian’s eyes grew round.
“For protection.” Paige ran her fingers along the scabbard. She was growing a rather unhealthy attachment to the blade and Davin wasn’t quite sure how he felt about it.
As Davin took his seat at the dining table, he remained silent, wary of a power of some sort he sensed from all three women. There was something moving here that he didn’t quite understand, but even the incubus in him had quieted in their presence. It reminded him of when his three sisters got together, but this was a very different power from what his sisters held.
“Lillian caught me up over the phone last night and I came over this morning with these.” Ainsley pulled over a large binder. “This is your file. Every interview and blog post, any fan mail that you received that sounded stalker-ish or off base. I also have here a list of any other authors that you’ve interacted with that may have jealousy issues with your success.” Davin sat up. This friend of hers was useful.
“Wait, wait, wait.” Paige held up both her hands.
Lilian passed a dish of scone and a mug of tea her and gave her a reassuring smile. “I did some research as well. The inugami is not a natural creature. Someone with power created it. From what Davin said yesterday before he whisked you away, they targeted it at you which means they very much want you dead.”
“And I can’t think of anyone in your personal life that’s that big of an enemy. Unless there’s something you haven’t told me before?”
Paige shook her head, her expression like a deer caught in the headlights.
“Eat your scone dear.” Lillian patted Paige on her back. “Here, have some cream and jam with it.” A brief pause later, she placed a mug in front of Davin as well but made no offer on the food. Apparently, he didn’t deserve a scone yet.
Only when Paige took a bite did Lillian ease herself into one for the remaining chairs.
“May I see that?” Davin nodded towards the binder.
Ainsley waited until her friend nodded her permission before pushing the binder towards him. “Ainsley Knight.” She held out her hand, and he noted the professional cool tone. He was in the doghouse with all her friends. Great.
“Davin Murphy.” He shook her hand then let go, turning his attention to the treasure trove of information on Paige as an author.
“You can come back home if you want dear. I’ve strengthened the wards.”
Davin’s head snapped back up but he bit back a verbal no. His first instinct was to sweep Paige up in his arms and take her away but that was unreasonable and not a good way to gain back her trust. If he wanted her trust, he needed to trust her decisions first. And he knew her stubborn streak. If he answered for her, she was going to stay here just to spite him.
“Wards,” Paige echoed with a blink of her eyes and took another bite of her scone.
Ainsley and Lillian exchanged a look before Lillian gave a soft sigh. “Yes, dear. I may not be as powerful as that demon you’ve got there but I am a witch and I know my wards. Now that I know what I’m warding against, I’m sure I can keep you safe.”
Perhaps Lillian was right, but what about the next thing they send?
“I see.” He could almost see Paige’s mind working overtime to process this new information. After a pause, she shook her head, much to Davin’s relief.
“I came back to get some of my stuff. I’d feel better if we go on the offense. Ains, if you can keep researching with Lilian, Davin, and I will try another tack and lure them out.” Paige gave them, what Davin presumed, a supposed reassuring smile. It came out more like a grimace. “Who knows, if we’re lucky, I’ll be back home tonight or tomorrow.”
“Are you sure about this, dear?”
“Paige, that sounds really dangerous.”
What was he, invisible? Davin drew himself taller. Do they underestimate his ability to protect her that much?
“I’ll be fine. The inugami is no match for Davin, right?”
His heart swelled with pride. It didn’t matter what these other females thought. His thought he was damn fine as her protector. Wait no, Paige was not his.
“I’ll keep her safe.”
“I need to go downstairs and pack.” Paige nodded and rose from her seat, ending any other protests.
Before he could say anything, Ainsley also stood up.“I’ll help you pack.”
Paige flashed her friend a quick smile then leaned over to give Lillian a light peck on her cheek. “I’ll be okay, I promise.” Grabbing her messenger bag, she was off with Ainsley in tow.
Davin blinked, awkward silence thickening the air. The sound of a clock ticked somewhere, counting the seconds that went by. His eyes strayed to the binder. He could study it though he doubted he could focus with Lillian’s eyes boring into him.
“What’re your intentions with Paige?”
And here comes the grilling.
With a heavy sigh, Davin closed the binder, folded his arms on the table and stared straight at Lillian, unafraid to meet her eyes. “To keep her safe.”
“For what purpose?”
His answer this time came more composed than the incoherent babble he gave to Paige last night. “For her well being. Contrary to popular belief, we’re not all evil selfish monsters. We come in all shapes, sizes and nature, no different than humans. I only want her safe. And after this, if she wants, I’ll disappear from her life.”
Lillian studied him. “Why her?”
Why her for what? He wasn’t sure what Lillian was asking but venture a guess. “I’ve been with her for over two years now in her dreams. I’ve come to know her, to enjoy her company. She’s funny, brilliant and as charming as she’s beautiful.” Okay, he hadn’t meant to say the last bit and now he hesitated.
“You care for her.” Lillian’s voice grew soft.
Davin exhaled and his gaze fell. “Yes, I care for her.” it was the first time he admitted that out loud to anyone.
“It’ll be hard, for a demon with long life and a human.”
He winced and wished everyone would stop telling him that or variations of. “I don’t intend for there to be an us. I just need her safe.” When he felt Lillian’s hand, warm and gentle on his arm, he looked up in surprise. It was the last thing he expected from the witch that seemed to hate him on sight.
“If you mean what you say, then it’s not only her body you need to keep safe. The heart can be more fragile than the body.”
He snorted. “She hates my guts for lying to her, letting her pretend I wasn’t real all this time.”
“I had a lover once who thought keeping his violent past from me was the best thing he could have done for us. But the past has a way of catching up and when it did, I was so mad. It wasn’t his choice to make for us alone. But when the anger faded, I understood that he did it out of love and out of what he thought would keep me safe.” Lillian smiled and gave his arm a gentle squeeze. “Paige will come to the same conclusion, eventually. Like you said, she’s a smart girl.”
“Maybe the anger is better for her.” Davin wasn’t sure why he was confessing in Lillian when he couldn’t even bring himself to admit anything to his own brothers. But her motherly mannerisms were effective at drawing confidence.
“Anger and grudges are never healthy dear boy. Don’t mix the two up. Once you both have a clearer head, you can decide together if the hardships would be worth trying.” There was a sadness in Lillian’s eyes and Davin wondered at what history made her words sound so bittersweet. Did she have a fae lover at some point?
The shadows disappeared as if they were never there in the first place and Lillian’s smile brightened her face once more. “The girls will be awhile. Have a scone while you wait. I’ll be in the garden if you need me.”
He watched as Lillian walked away. Davin shook his head even as he helped himself to a scone and some jam. He must have passed a test of some sorts though damn if he knew what it was. But that wasn’t going to stop him from enjoying homemade baked goods even if his emotions still swirled in confusion.
It was another fifteen minutes before Paige popped back upstairs with a large backpack slung over her shoulder. Ainsley followed, fanning herself.
“Okay, ready to go.”
Davin eyed the large pack wondering how much and what she packed. Did she have the same pretty underthings she wore in her dreams? He cleared his throat and held out his hand. “Please, let me.”
Paige stared at his hand and after a moment handed her pack to him. Ainsley walked them to the door.
“Say hi to Dante for me. I’ll text you if anything comes up.”
“Thanks, Ains, you’re the best. Say bye to Lillian for me.”
“Will do. Be careful.”
And then they were off.