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Feb 26

Changer’s Turf – Chapter Eight

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New to the story? S’okay–go here.

 

Chapter Eight


 

 

Kit sat on the floor in the second bedroom, staring at the blank white walls. By the nightlight, she could read Solid Walnut Bassinet on the side of the cardboard box in front of her, but her night vision wasn’t good enough to read the instructions to put it together. She could turn the light on, but she was still hoping this was a temporary bit of insomnia and that she’d be able to go back to sleep and get a few more hours before work. Besides, if she turned the light on, Fenwick would wake up. Unless he was awake already. His hearing was quite keen, not as keen as a vampire’s, but close.

If she were a vampire, she could read in the dark, but of course, she would never be a vampire, even if she wanted it. What happened to their eyes to make them see better? Was it some kind of cellular change, or did everyone’s night vision get better when they stopped going outside during the day? She never thought about these things during the day, when she was running errands for her boss, and never asked them in the evening or before dawn, when she was talking business with Holzhausen and the other vampires at the guild house. These were middle-of-the night insomnia questions. There were so many things that she still didn’t know about vampires.

For that matter, there were even more things she didn’t know about lycanthropes, even though she was married to one. Fenwick changed every thirty-two days, not dependent on the moon cycle, though some called it their “moon time.” Laurel was more regular, every twenty-eight days, she said, always on the third day after the new moon. Fenwick had once changed several days early, in response to stress, but Laurel never had.

She needed data, but she didn’t have any. This was what happened when the people in question didn’t officially exist, when they actively sought to hide evidence of their existence. All she had to go by was Laurel’s genealogy report, with its single-letter code marking if they were a were-bear or a normal human. B, H, H, H, H, B, B, H and then for one cousin, a W. Peter Lundquist was a werewolf. This was important, somehow, but she didn’t know why.

Peter Lundquist had been dead for seven years, and one did not speak to the dead on a whim, even if one knew how to raise them. Kit had a jewel on her brow that let her see spells working, and it let her see lycanthropes, and it could tell her how old a vampire was. It let her peer through faerie glamours as if they weren’t even there. She could make herself invisible, sort of, more like “un-noticed” and she could cast protection spells on a house or apartment, and her boss had gotten her a tutor who helped her with a few other, minor witchcraft spells. But Kit could not raise or speak to the dead, even if Peter Lundquist were able to tell her why he had become a werewolf when every other lycanthrope in his family turned into a bear.

Honestly, even if he were alive, there’s a good chance he wouldn’t tell her anyway. She’d met Fenwick’s other uncles. Salt of the earth, big Norwegian farmers who didn’t exactly chatter on and on about themselves.

Someone told her once if you had a problem, you should think about it right before you went to bed, and then in the morning you’d have the answer. This was probably the dumbest piece of advice she’d ever gotten. If you thought about problems before you went to bed, they just kept you awake, and woke you up in the middle of the night, and then in the morning you still had no further progress, but you were sleep-deprived so you were in less condition to solve them.

Kit pulled at the corner of the box, trying to rip the cardboard as quietly as she could. She could probably assemble it in the dark, or at least she could get a look at it. They’d had it for two weeks now, and she hadn’t even had time to come in here. When was she going to have time to paint the walls? The bucket of paint, “butter cookie,” sat on the floor on top of the pristine dropcloth and pristine package of rollers and the shrink-wrapped roll of decorative wallpaper trim with the duckies. If she didn’t even have time to decorate the baby’s room, when was she going to have time to take care of a baby? Quit, Fenwick said, and take care of the baby full time, but Dayrunner to the Guild Leader of the vampires wasn’t a job you could quit, even if she wanted to, which she didn’t. They were going to need a nanny, a trustworthy nanny, who could see someone shapeshift or cast a spell and keep her mouth shut about it. She added that to her growing mental checklist. Find nanny. Maybe two nannies. Maybe James’ spell would work and a nanny would find her.

The door opened, and Fenwick slipped into the room. He wore flannel boxers and nothing else. God, he was sexy. His trim waist widened to a broad, barrel-like chest, covered in soft golden hair. She stood up. She reached out her arms and pressed her face against his chest. Kit was a little taller than average, and dense with muscle from years of karate training, but she always felt dainty next to Fenwick. Most people felt dainty next to him. He had an intimidating bulk only mitigated by his pleasant expression and easygoing personality.

“Trouble sleeping?” Fenwick asked.

“Had to pee.” She stood up. “Did I wake you?”

“No, just worried. I keep thinking about the boys, and poor Laurel and Brad.” Fenwick wrapped his arms around her and held her close. The warmth of his hand covered most of her shoulder blade, and his chin cleared the top of her head. “Do you think they’re okay?”

“Yes,” Kit said. “I think they’re alive, and I’m going to find them.”

“Come back to bed,” Fenwick said. “It’s lonely without you.”

Kit let him lead her back to bed. They climbed into the tousled king, still warm from his heat. Fenwick lay down with the huge bulk of his back facing her, and she spooned behind him, flinging an arm as high up as she could reach. She didn’t sleep. Her mind kept churning, and as she listened to the sound of Fenwick’s breathing, she realized he wasn’t sleeping either.

“She’s more like a sister to me than a cousin,” Fenwick said.

“I’ll find her children.”

“Brad and I talked today. She’s out of ICU. Doctors say she can start learning to walk again in a week or two. So, physically, she’ll recover, but emotionally …”

“Shh. It’s okay.” Kit stroked his shoulder, and kissed his back. “I’ll find them.”

“Why would werewolves kidnap were-bear children?” Fenwick asked. “First Vanessa, and now Laurel? It doesn’t make sense.”

Kit sat up.“Who’s Vanessa?”

“My second cousin. Vanessa Lundquist-Meyer. She’s a changer too. She’s a very pale bear, they say, naturally blonde and with blonde fur when she shifts, but I’ve never seen her in bear form. I only met her once. Laurel told me this story.”

Fenwick rolled towards her and propped himself up on his elbow.

“Lemme see if I remember. It was a while ago. Vanessa was at this outdoor concert, Fourth of July, I think, and when it was over, there was the usual mad rush of people trying to leave. She looks down, and the stroller is empty.”

Fenwick stopped. She couldn’t see his face, but she knew he was thinking of their own stroller, empty in the baby’s room, with the plastic protecting the wheels and the tags and receipt still on it in case it wasn’t suitable for their little one. “I’m sorry, is this going to upset you?”

“No,” Kit said. “Please go on.”

“They heard him crying and saw a woman carrying him off. Vanessa and Daniel both take off after her, and the woman starts running towards a mini-van with its door open.

“So she climbs in the back with the baby just as Vanessa gets there. Vanessa grabs her baby, and yanks him out of the woman’s arms just as the mini-van drove away. They told the police, but the police never found them.”

She exhaled sharply. “Twice in your lifetime, someone has tried to kidnap the children of were-bears, and you never thought to tell me?”

“You weren’t family then. And Morfar was alive. He insisted we never tell anyone family secrets, especially not about the lycanthropy. He would have disowned me if he’d known I told you. He never even told me that Laurel was a were-bear. I didn’t find out until we were both teenagers. She must have been changing for years, but she never said anything. If I hadn’t caught her in bear form and recognized her perfume, I never would have known.”

“You’d never asked the rest of your cousins?”

“No. Lycanthropy and uncle Einar’s drinking were the two things we were never allowed to talk about. Not even to each other.”

“I tried to ask Holzhausen about lycanthropy yesterday at work. He shut me down. He wants me to meet him at his house instead of the Guild House. He’s either going to give me information about lycanthropes or give me a harsh lecture on not messing around with other people’s problems.”

“Maybe he can help you.” Fenwick’s voice rumbled next to her ear, rough with sleepiness. “I think he follows us the way he follows witch families, waiting for talent to emerge.”

“Witchcraft is a learned skill. It’s not inherited.”

“Let’s not argue.” He kissed the top of her head. “Sleep now.”

“Okay,” she said, and though she didn’t think she’d be able to sleep, the alarm startled her when it went off forty-five minutes later.

It was still dark outside. She got up quietly and slipped into the shower. She dressed quickly and went to the kitchen to make herself some breakfast. She was starving, but when she microwaved the oatmeal, the smell made her nauseous, so instead she grabbed a handful of strawberries and ate them on the way to Holzhausen’s house.

Holzhausen’s house was in the neighborhood of Ipswich, one of the more respectable neighborhoods, and less than two miles from her own house. His was the oldest house in the neighborhood, an enormous two-story shaded by massive oaks. She’d heard from a real-estate agent that his house was the original farmhouse and that the rest of Ipswich lay on what were originally fields, which explained why his lot was oddly shaped, and the house lay at an angle slightly askew from its neighbors.

As she pulled into the gravel lot behind the screened-in porch, she waved at Campbell, who was just leaving. He peeled off, scattering gravel with the wheels of his truck. Kit looked at her watch and then shook her head at Campbell’s foolish risk taking. Cutting it pretty damn close. Dawn was just thirty-five minutes away.

Kit tapped on the whitewashed kitchen door, hearing the stained-glass window rattle in its casings. The inside was covered with light-blocking fabric, so she couldn’t peer inside.

An elderly woman opened the door. She wore a dark gray dress with an apron, and her hair had been pulled back into a bun. Kit smiled at her, but the woman’s face bore no expression as she gestured for Kit to step inside what had once been the mud room. After the housekeeper had locked the door behind Kit, she opened the second door and admitted Kit into the kitchen.

Holzhausen’s kitchen looked like it came from a spread of “Country Living” except that all the antique kitch had gained its much-coveted patina from actual use. A low hanging lamp cast yellow light onto a scarred wooden table. Enameled plates and crockery lined a high wooden shelf in the shadowy corner of the room. The room smelled like cooking, like oil and garlic and baking bread. Kit folded her hands in front of her and waited, standing not too far from the door.

“Mister Holzhausen will see you in the parlor,” the housekeeper said, with a voice as gray as her dress. She walked Kit down the hallway into a room that lacked only a velvet rope, a placard, and a docent to make her feel as though she were sitting in a museum. A small, beaded lamp didn’t mitigate the gloom. The housekeeper left the room. The furniture, ornate and delicate, perched on the threadbare carpet like dainty velveteen pets. She sat down on a carved rosewood armchair that had a back as curved as a seashell. She expected it to be uncomfortable, but was still startled by how poorly it fit her frame, as if it had been made for a different species of human. Yes, this furniture belonged in a museum.

Kit had been telling herself that her boss would be much less intimidating in his own house than he was in the Guild House. Right. She’d just pop over to his house, plop down at the kitchen table over a couple of beers, and they’d chat. She’d just forget that he was her boss, that he was a vampire who also studied sorcery, that he was so powerful that even the most asshole full-of-themselves vampires she knew called him “sir” without sarcasm.

Kit wiped her hands on her skirt. A clock ticked loudly in the room, though she couldn’t see it well in the shadows. She could barely make out an upright piano along the far wall. Heavy drapes marked where the windows had been boarded over on the inside. Her eyes strained to make out more details. Ornately framed oil paintings on the walls, hung close together. Flocked damask wallpaper.

Holzhausen stepped into the parlor. Kit stood up. She realized she was playing with the fabric of her skirt and forced her hands to stop fiddling.

Holzhausen had been born in the eighteenth century, and while he had probably been considered a tall man when he was human, the rest of the world had since overtaken him. The malnutrition and disease of the eighteenth century had given him a scarred and unsymmetrical face which could, charitably, be described as having “character.” Cameras did not treat him kindly.

But photos couldn’t convey the magnitude of his presence. Holzhausen held himself with impeccable posture, standing so upright that people who guessed his height usually overestimated by three or four inches. He moved gracefully, powerfully, like an athlete who had complete control over every muscle. Not all vampires had that. He wore his tailored jacket and pressed slacks as comfortably as if they were a sweatsuit. Even his voice was controlled, carefully modulated, cultured and refined without being snooty.

“Welcome, Melbourne.” Holzhausen flicked on a second light. “Please be seated.”

The second light made it possible to see the color scheme of the room in all its mauve tastelessness. One of the oil paintings appeared to be of Holzhausen, done many centuries earlier by an artist of only moderate skill. The rest of the paintings were of hunting scenes, riders on long legged horses following bloodthirsty hounds. Kit pressed her knees together and tried to relax as much as the horribly uncomfortable chair would allow, but the tension between her shoulder blades wouldn’t diminish.

The housekeeper came in with a tray. She handed Kit a bone china plate with a piece of brown and yellow cake, and a cup of what appeared to be warm milk.

“Oh, you shouldn’t have,” Kit said, wondering if she had enough courage to tell him she couldn’t possibly eat this food. The smell of the cake and the milk made her queasy.

The housekeeper curtseyed to him and turned to fetch something.

“There are formalities one must observe,” Holzhausen said. “I don’t often invite guests to my home, but I remember how it’s done.”

Kit gave him as much of a smile as she could manage. The spindly table next to her had its surface taken up by a porcelain lamp with an oriental design, so she set the milk on the floor and balanced the cake plate on her lap. Using the dainty fork, she pried off a bite of the cake. It was even worse than she thought, a tasteless mass with a texture like baked sawdust. It was so dry, it sponged all the saliva out of her mouth.

“How are you this evening? I trust you are well?”

“Yes, sir. I am fine. Thank you for asking.”

Kit smiled, waiting for the housekeeper to finish her elaborate whiskey service for Holzhausen. She glanced sidelong at the housekeeper.

Holzhausen seemed to read her face, as he kept the subject on city politics and gardening until the housekeeper gave a final curtsey and backed out of the room. “You wish to speak to me of lycanthropes, specifically, of the werewolves. How unfortunate that your path has crossed theirs.”

“Do werewolves differ from other lycanthropes, sir?”

“Lycanthropes take on some of the characteristics of the animals they turn into. Werewolves have close kinship ties, and when you engage one, you engage all of them.”

She pressed her lips together.

“Melbourne, I am not forbidding you from this pursuit. I just wish you to be aware of the danger.”

Kit took another bite of the cake, to be polite. It got caught in her throat, and she had to sip the milk to get it down. She could smell the lemon dish soap clinging to the china. Her stomach roiled. Shallow breaths. Shallow breaths. Don’t vomit.

“I will tell you what I know of your husband’s family. I have been following some of the lycanthropic families for quite some time now.”

She looked up at him. “You have, sir? How unusual.”

“Genealogy is one of my many interests, especially families with unusual traits, such as lycanthropy.”

She smiled and nodded. Still creepy.

“No doubt your husband has told you that when a carrier of the trait reaches puberty, he or she gains the ability to shapeshift into an animal, usually once a month, usually for one to three days.” He nodded at her teacup. “You should drink the milk before it gets cold. Warm milk is excellent for a woman in your condition.”

Kit sipped the milk. It tasted scalded, and left a waxy film on her tongue. It was even worse than the cake. The flavor was making her gag, so she picked at the cake. Maybe she could get away with eating just the chocolate part.

“There are families of werewolves and families of were-bears, and families in which most of the women become deer. Some of these families see their trait as so desirable that they refuse to mate with outsiders, and become quite inbred.”

The darker brown swirls were just as cork-like as the rest of the cake. Could you tell the Guild Leader of the vampires that his dessert just didn’t measure up? She choked down another bite. If Holzhausen had the guard-dogs he’d talked about getting for so long, she would have “accidentally” dropped the cake on the floor by now.

“But a curious thing happens when a child in one of these families is adopted. Sometimes one of these children will turn into a completely different animal.”

She stopped chewing. Was Peter Lundquist adopted?

“You have thought of something?” Holzhausen asked.

“Peter Lundquist, sir. A werewolf in a were-bear family, surely there’s some connection to werewolves who kidnapped a were-bear’s children. But I don’t understand why he was a werewolf, when the others were were-bears.”

“Perhaps he was raised to feel kinship with wolves.” Holzhausen looked at her, face inscrutable as usual, but there was something about his tone. He knew the answer, and he was waiting for her to come to the same conclusion.

“Peter Lundquist is dead, but his daughter is still alive. I tracked her down as much as I could. Her name is Jennifer. Laurel’s files said Jennifer went someplace called Seacrest, but I can’t find any information about it except a post office box on Orcas Island. I wrote to them, but I haven’t had a reply yet.”

Holzhausen smiled, as if she had gotten a good grade on a quiz.

“You know it, sir? Laurel thought it was some kind of sanitarium, or maybe a religious commune.”

“I know of them.”

“Are they werewolves?”

“No, Melbourne. They call themselves selkies.”

A door opened and closed, as the housekeeper went into another part of the house.

“And now we may speak more freely. Mrs. Esteban is a solid, uncurious person, but it doesn’t do to have any kind of a weakness.”

“Weakness, sir?”

“That is the great irony, that one must trust in order to be strong, but these trusts can easily be a man’s undoing. I trusted Mr. Hall.”

Kit pinched the cake plate tightly between her hands. Mr. Hall.

“Sooner or later everyone has something they want to keep secret, or some weakness. The question is not if they will find some hold over you, Melbourne, but how we deal with it when it happens.

“For Mr. Hall, it was an affair. Chen discovered it and told Glavin, who coerced her to blackmail Mr. Hall into secreting information about me. But Chen was loyal, for a time. She fed Glavin information about me that I wished for him to know.  Eventually Chen’s loyalty for me eroded, and we had to part ways, but for many years Glavin trusted this false information. The strong may bully the weak, but the clever exploit the foolish.”

“Sir, I haven’t any secrets to exploit.”

“Albers is looking, Melbourne. She will find something she can use to twist you to her own ends. I expect this. Frankly, I am surprised it has not happened before now. You will not be able to hold them off forever, Melbourne. If you have a weakness, she will discover it.”

“But sir, I—“

“Melbourne,” he said gently, “Councilman Albers knows more about you than you think she does.”

“How?”

“There are ways. I am certain that every word you utter to Fain lands again in her ears.”

“I don’t speak to him anymore, sir.” She stared at the gilded rose pattern on the plate.

“She has other spies. She certainly knows you want to find these missing children. Be wary. We are never so vulnerable as when we desire something.”

“Yes, sir. I understand.” Kit took a bite of the tasteless cake, just because it was in front of her, and then immediately wished she hadn’t.

“No, you do not understand,” Holzhausen said. “But I hope that your education in this regard does not cost your life. As for this investigation, you may take the time you need, but I will not help you. Nor may you use my name to open doors. This is none of my affair. Find your own allies.”

“Yes, sir.” She felt her shoulders un-tense. “Thank you for not standing in the way of my investigation, sir.”

“My dear Melbourne.” Holzhausen’s unexpected warmth made her look up. “Only a fool stands between a lioness and her prey.”

Can’t wait for more? This book is already available for purchase. You can buy the paperback here and the kindle version here and the smashwords page with other e-formats here.

Like the book, but short on cash?  New chapter next week!

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