I’d spent my first night post-captivity crashing at Aaron’s house, but since then, I’d been making good use of my shiny new apartment. It was still a shock to think that this place was mine. All mine. Slipping inside, I descended the stairs—and a high-pitched squeal rang out in greeting.
Okay, almost all mine.
A green faery bounded up to me, his leafy body quivering with excitement. Bemused, I dropped my purse on the floor near the stairs. I fully intended to put a table there … eventually. Aside from my brand-new bed—which Aaron had helped me set up a couple days ago—I had no furniture. Zero. Zip. Zilch. The place had a literal echo, and it would be staying that way for a while.
But it was mine. Who needed furniture?
“You’re baaaaaack,” the faery squeaked. “I can’t believe it!”
I pulled a face at his spastic reaction. “Hey Twiggy. I come home every night, you know.”
His name wasn’t Twiggy. It was Taenerpatni … something. Like fifteen syllables that I couldn’t remember, let alone pronounce. So we’d agreed on Twiggy. He seemed to like it.
“I can’t believe it!” he repeated shrilly. “You know the Crystal Druid.”
My face went cold and I froze where I stood. “You—you mean—”
“The Crystal Druid,” Twiggy repeated in a reverent, almost fearful hush. “All fae here know of the Crystal Druid. He who walks among the darkfae of Gardall’kin. Consort of Lallakai, lady of shadow, the great night eagle.”
Consort? I hoped that word had a different meaning for fae, otherwise it was just way too weird.
Still babbling, Twiggy sped toward the kitchen, leaving me with my mouth hanging open. Feeling vaguely giddy at the influx of apprehension and confusion, I padded after him and flipped on the lights.
Twiggy stood on the counter, bobbing up and down as he pointed excitedly at the plain cardboard box sitting beside my sink. A cardboard box I did not own and that had not been there when I left this morning.
No way. Zak had been in my apartment? How did he even know where I lived?
I approached the box with caution. Absently shushing Twiggy, I unfolded the top and lifted the flap just enough to peek inside, my heart beating like a drum roll against my ribs.
Light gleamed on something pale. Breath catching, I pulled the flaps all the way open. Nestled in a bed of crumpled packing paper was a silver orb streaked with aquamarine and pink, its shining surface adorned with strange bumps and ridges. It was the dormant fae … thing … I’d found in Zak’s room and almost knocked onto the floor.
A shred of paper sat on top, half filled with spiky handwriting.
This doesn’t belong in my care. It’s yours now. Keep it safe.
P.S. The faery is your roommate? You’re an idiot.
I glowered at the note. That’s it? He didn’t want the fae orb around, so now it was my problem? What the hell?
And who was he calling an idiot? Some of us didn’t have our very own paradise ranch in the mountains. We had to make stupid deals with annoying faeries just to afford a place to live. Growling, I whipped my phone out of my pocket, pulled up the single message I had sent him four nights ago, and shot off a new text. Three words: You’re a dickhead.
Squeezing my phone in both hands and ignoring Twiggy’s questions about the fae orb, I waited.
Two minutes later, my phone pinged and a reply popped up. No words. Just a photo.
Waving cheerily at the camera, Nadine perched on the top rail of a wooden fence with nothing but wide-open green pasture stretching away behind her. Her smile was relaxed and happy, the circles beneath her eyes had faded, and a tan warmed her fair complexion.
The blank, hopeless stare that haunted her old photos was gone without a trace.
I studied the picture, taking in every detail, then stuck my phone back in my pocket and smiled. Varvara was still out there somewhere, but Zak would keep Nadine safe. A job well done, even if it hadn’t gone at all to plan.
Turning my attention to the box and its supernatural contents, I folded my arms. One problem solved, but another had literally been delivered to my apartment.
I sighed. “Now what am I supposed to do with you?”
The dormant fae didn’t answer, but then, I hadn’t expected it to. Pondering the unforeseen complexities of my life, I wandered over to the cupboard above the fridge and opened it to reveal several liquor bottles. My apartment was unfurnished and my pantry was half empty, but I still had choice alcohol available. I was a bartender, after all.
Twiggy hopped onto the counter beside me, his jewel-like green eyes inquisitively wide. “What now?”
Good question, and not one I planned to worry about anytime soon. I selected a bottle and set it on the counter beside my faery roommate.
“Tell me, Twiggy.” I arched an eyebrow. “Have you ever tried whiskey before?”