My grandmother and her new husband arrived in a shiny Arctic Wolf fifth wheel. Their new toy was nicer than my apartment and almost as big.
George is her fourth husband and the patriarch of his Clan, while my grandmother is the matriarch of hers. They are a good match. They both love to travel and seem to bring the sunshine with them wherever they go.
I introduced them to Henry with the basic pleasantries. Leo met George many times over the years and was raised between my home and his. My grandmother was practically his grandmother. This familiarity between Leo and my family seemed to bother Henry. I could feel him retreating.
A little voice in the back of my mind marked this moment as the beginning of the end. Less than a day out of the White, and already, my future is shifting us in different directions.
Once the crowd thinned, I led Henry back to his tall bar stool in the shade and stood between his legs, wrapping my arms around him.
“Are you hanging in there?” I kissed him quickly and felt his hand on my lower back, pulling me to him.
“Yeah, I’m just tired. Maybe the six bottles of beer are starting to get to me.”
“Let me make you a plate.”
“Lila and Will already did. I’m fine, really. I hope they work out. Sounds like Will may start working for your dad’s friend, Fred, buying commercial property.”
“Is that what Will does now? Commercial property?”
“Sort of, his firm buys and resells they don’t develop the projects into malls like Fred. The job brings him upstate, closer to Lila, and sounds like it pays marginally better. He’s excited about everything today.”
“That’s wonderful.” Henry rested his head on my shoulder. I could feel his exhaustion wash over me.
“I feel that tingle on your skin again. Like outside the White.”
“Sorry, it’s probably a chemical thing,” I explained, patting his back lightly.
“It’s fine. I just never felt that from a person. It hums like a magnetic field. What kind of chemicals?”
“Pheromones, things you get from blood or saliva, magical blood.”
“Like Leo’s blood, it’s okay if you two need...”
I put my fingers through Henry’s hair. “I’m beyond what Leo can provide. He’s a half-blood and runs on supreme. I’m running on premium plus platinum now. It might get worse the more we fight in the Yolk.”
“Wow, so do those videos from earlier show three P’s and one V options?”
“No, that’s a paid subscription video for sure. I’m more animal than human now, but that doesn’t sound like a good idea.” Henry grabbed my waist and buried his face in my chest. Those standing close by seemed uncomfortable. I ran my fingers through his hair and kissed his forehead.
They hardened their hearts, so they no longer loved her. Floated in my mind. My dark monster was slowly taking up residence in my life outside the Yolk.
“You want to go up to my room and rest. We have hours before the party’s over, and we can drive home. You know we can always sleep for a while and then drive back overnight.”
“Yeah, we need to figure that out. I’m expected in the office Tuesday, but I can sleep on the way back.”
“No problem, we drive back tonight then.”
“A few hours to sleep sounds good. Maybe you can walk me through your room before you go back to the party.” Henry and I walked through the crowd toward the house.
He was tired for a good reason, but the judgment on the faces we passed shocked me. Everyone was eager to discount him as weak.
As we walked to the front of the house, Henry let go of my hand and ascended the steps without me. He counted the eight strides to the doorway and opened the door for me. I was impressed. He made his way across the entry and found the handrail.
“Okay, now I’m getting hazy. Twelve steps, to the landing, then a right?”
“I think so. I used to follow the handrail at night when the lights were off. It curves off to the right to my room.”
“Ahh, good tip. Sorry, I’m ducking out like this, but I was tired before the beers and all the buttered rolls I ate.”
“No, it’s totally fine. I’m looking forward to stretching out across that big bed of yours later tonight.”
“So, you are coming home with me later?”
“Of course.” We wandered around the walls of my room and bathroom twice before Henry felt comfortable with the layout. The room is small and, thankfully, sparse after I moved out.
Henry took off his shirt and hung it over my desk chair. My bed was too small for him. He looked like a linebacker laying on a lounge chair cushion. He folded his arms behind his head and nestled into the mattress. I took off his glasses and kissed him.
“Go back outside and mingle. I’ll be fine after a few hours.” He reached out and patted me on the ass. I wiggled my cheeks a bit and saw a smile spread across his face.
“Okay, sweet dreams. Your phone is next to you. Text me if you need anything.”
My grandmother sat at the bottom of the landing waiting for me to come downstairs. She hugged me for a long time before pulling me toward her fifth wheel. George popped out the extra spaces and set up the breakfast table and couches.
Three people sat waiting for us in the modern-looking space. They were introduced as witches from Malou’s coven who volunteered for my next run into the Yolk.
“Julian, Lina, and Bob.” My grandmother passed her hand across all three.
“Lina,” I offered my hand and looked at her closely. “I know you from town.”
“Yes, I have the book shop on Main next to the Yarn Hut.”
Julian popped up. “I own the pizza shop by the freeway.”
“Yeah, I’ve gotten pizza there many times,” I commented, suddenly longing for pepperoni on thin crust.
Bob nodded. “I’m with the fire department.”
My eyes widened. “Ha, really?”
“I’m a natural elemental, so being a firefighter isn’t a big stretch for me.”
“Okay now,” my grandmother started. “I need you to tell them everything.” I shook my head in disagreement and stood up straight, looking at my audience.
“Alerie Marie Ganas, I want everything,” she insisted.
I nudged my grandmother toward the narrow corridor leading to the bedroom.
“My dealings with an ancient demon... I know his name. I won’t betray our secrets.” My grandmother’s usually happy face turned grim as her eyes reddened.
“Why don’t you three go out to the picnic and grab some food before it disappears.” Her guests smiled politely at me as they left the fifth wheel.
My grandmother rolled up her light blouse sleeves and washed her hands in the kitchen sink while she recited a familiar prayer.
“I can read anything with a heartbeat. One of my many secrets. Now I expect you to tell me all of yours so I can help you.” She coaxed me toward a chair and rubbed her hands together before grabbing my hand in hers.
At first, I let it happen. My time with Leo, the first days with Henry, it was uncomfortable and deeply embarrassing. Then the information started flowing so fast I didn’t have time to react—the shooting when I bit Henry to save his life and how I first met Malou. When I remembered biting Leo, she winced in disgust at my pure delight.
I could fight her off and gloss over my lessons with Pax, but my mind was exhausted, and she kept rolling back the tape to see what I rushed past.
Eventually, she found him. The train tracks the drowning lessons. The first time I killed a demon and the beautiful dreams, they made me burn down. The party where I first kissed Pax and his voice in my mind while I was fighting in the Yolk. The three of us in the motel room and Pax on the lawn outside my room.
I tapped over my heart twice and stopped it’s beating before pulling my hand away from her. She gasped and looked at me fiercely.
“I won’t share his name with anyone.” With her hand removed, I tapped over my heart again and felt the sluggish thud as it started again.
“His?” she scowled. “They are genderless, Alerie. How could you do this to the Clan? How did the creature find you?”
“Suffice to say, it found me, trained me, and until recently, Pax helped me. Since I’ve been through the Yolk, I can’t hear him anymore. He told me exactly how to kill them. I’m as good as dead without his help.”
She shook her head. “Demon blood was in your veins. How?” she demanded.
“I can’t elaborate on that point.” she grabbed a sharp knife from the block. I closed my eyes and turned my head. She sliced across the back of my hand and licked away the resulting blood from the blade. The wound closed almost instantly.
“Well, its blood is gone from your veins now. And with the speed your hand healed, I can tell you burnt away all your human DNA. You are pureblood—lineage pure from the scent of your skin.” My grandmother took a deep breath and looked at me silently for an uncomfortable length of time.
“Now what?” I asked.
“Send in the witches. I will talk to them. No situation in your life will endure if you insist on entertaining this demon fantasy of yours. It won’t end well.” I heard that same warning from Emma, and I wondered if my grandmother picked up the words while running through my memories.
“Leo will. He’s always there for me.”
“He’s a half-blood. You can’t take Leo with you to your father’s Clan. They kill their half-blood children. You can’t have a life with him here in ours. I don’t see a future for you two.”
“Then, we will leave and not join anyone’s Clan.” My grandmother’s eyes widened. “You can’t do that. You’ll both be hunted down.”
“So, what. I’m hunted now, and slavery died out over a century ago. No one owns me. My mother hates me. She won’t bend her newly minted rules for my benefit. So, we’ll leave.”
“You’re mother does not hate you. One problem at a time, Child. Leo might find someone he falls in love with, and then your issue with him will be solved.”
I huffed at the thought and got up from the table. “Leo falls in love at least four times a year, Grandma, but he never leaves me. We are told to find human spouses, so he tries. I gave up looking until I found Henry, and he’s an angel.”
“Fate is having a wonderful time at your expense. Don’t give her more ammunition. Send in the witches and go mingle with your guests. I called some old friends to meet you here. Maybe you will find more wolves to follow you inside.”