The silver Persian stared up at me with his glowing amber eyes, the soft light of morning shining in through the basement window lighting his fur with gold.
“Sydlynn.” Sassafras swiped his tongue over one paw before returning to stare at me.
“Sass.” I crouched in front of him, exhaling my weariness as I smiled and stroked his forehead. A soft, deep purr rose from him immediately, the pulse of his comforting power reaching out to me in return. One quick scoop and he was in my arms, kneading my shoulder as I scratched one of his fuzzy cheeks.
“How was your trip?” His amber eyes blinked slowly, evenly. Such a loaded question, really. Sassafras so rarely said anything that wasn’t either double edged or important—at least, in his mind.
“You know,” I said, turning to the stairs and heading up to the kitchen. “The usual.”
“You stink.” He sniffed delicately at me, ears flickering.
“Thanks.” It was impossible not to laugh. The stairs creaked under my feet as I reached the top and pushed open the door, already ajar from his entry. “No respect from you, fuzzy butt.”
Sassafras snorted softly, nuzzling my cheek. “Someone has to keep you humble,” he said.
As Max would say, “Indeed.”
The kitchen was quiet, the sun just rising, everything still and softly warm. Summer was half way through, the lazy days and nights my favorite time of year. My alter egos stirred within me, now free of the focus of battle. It had taken me a long time to get used to having my demon, the Sidhe princess, Shaylee and the vampire essence coexisting with me in my head. But the longer we spent together, the less I even thought about it. We just were.
I settled Sassafras on the table and crossed the kitchen to the coffee maker. It was just beginning to bubble, the scent of its rich, delicious nectar making my mouth water. The temptation to drink it right from the pot was so strong I had to stuff my hands in my pockets. While I wasn’t affected by strong temperatures anymore thanks to my powerful magic and maji status, it was probably best to wait and use a mug.
At least, that’s what the watchful stare on Sassafras’s face said. I knew him too well.
“You were only gone one night this time.” No judgment in his voice. There never was, these days. Still, his comment was enough to tweak my guilt all over again. But this was different. It had nothing to do with who was responsible for the mess in the first place and everything to do with abandoning my family on a regular basis to run around the Universe. I chewed at my bottom lip as I retrieved a giant mug from the cupboard, watching the door swing softly shut on its slow-close hinges. My feet carried me to the fridge, the act of doing things with my physical body instead of with magic helping to ground me. My demon growled at me for my choice of cream while Shaylee asked for extra sugar this morning.
“Quick clean up,” I said, my spoon rattling against the sides of my mug as I waited for the coffee to finish.
Sassafras sighed, loudly enough I turned to face him. While I knew he understood my need to assist Max and the drach, I often wondered what his real opinion was. It wasn’t like Sassafras to hold back. Still, I’d refrained from asking and he, for whatever reason, hadn’t made a point of it.
Until now, apparently.
“You feel badly,” he said, voice soft and deep and a little thick. His ears turned to the sides, lying flat, whiskers curving down. I immediately crossed to him and sat, hands stroking his fur. “You think you’ve abandoned us.”
I shrugged, choking up myself. “Haven’t I?” I was so mixed about how I felt. After all, I spent years faced with constant turmoil and stress, developed powers no one else had and saved the Universe a time or two. Was it any wonder I said yes the moment Max appeared and asked for help?
And yet, I was coven leader of the Hayle family. And was taught from early childhood the family always came first. My demon hissed softly in protest while Shaylee and my vampire remained silent.
“I’ve been meaning to talk to you,” Sassafras said, tail twitching. “To tell you how proud I am of you, Syd.”
Why now? I was so tired he was going to make me all blubbery and stuff.
“I don’t know why I left it so long,” he said. Cleared his throat, ears rising. “But we all have our parts to play. And, thankfully, you are here to clean up what others can’t.” I opened my mouth to comment, but he shushed me with a paw on my lips. “Besides,” he said, a twinkle returning to his eyes, “all this running off with Max keeps your trouble seeking side happily occupied.” My demon chuckled and even Shaylee and my vampire joined in.
“It does,” I said, kissing his forehead again.
Sassafras shifted position, head dropping a little, tail twitching again. “It’s part of what I wanted to talk to you about,” he said, voice hesitant. When he raised his gaze to mine, I could see the troubled look there. “Things are so quiet here.”
I nodded, sitting back, coffee forgotten. At the sound of a soft tread of feet behind me I turn around to smile at the beautiful young woman entering the kitchen. Sashenka Hensley paused to hug me around the shoulders before continuing on, her bare feet padding over the tile, light pink silk robe whispering around her.
“Is that a problem?” I frowned. “You’re saying quiet is a bad thing?” After everything we’d been through, he was complaining about peace and stability?
Shenka turned toward him, her dark skin catching the morning light, glowing with a faint yellow hue. “What do you mean, Sass?” She crossed to us, handing me my mug of coffee and I smiled up at her as she joined us, slipping into the seat next to me, one hand stroking his soft fur while her dark brown eyes watched him carefully.
The silver Persian’s fur ruffled as he shook himself. “I don’t know,” he said, sounding frustrated. “I’ve just been feeling… dull. Uninterested in anything.” His gaze traveled back and forth between my coven second and me. “Am I imagining things?”
I immediately reached out, Shenka’s power joining mine, and searched the vicinity. Were we in danger? Under attack? But I felt nothing and, from the curious feel of my second’s magic, she didn’t find anything either. I pushed all the way to the border of my territory, touched the edge of the power waiting there. Just the North American Witches Council, keeping mark as always.
We both retreated at the same time. But even as we did, I realized Sass was right. The weariness I felt was exacerbated here at home. I had simply blamed it on being tired.
Sassafras shook his head as we both emerged from our search. “I know, I know,” he said, irritation clear in the set of his ears and whiskers, the thrashing of his tail. “I’ve looked, too. Found nothing. All is freaking well.” He sounded almost angry, so much so I soothed him with a touch of energy.
“Sass,” I said, leaning toward him, speaking softly, “I might not be the only one who has a penchant for trouble seeking.”
His amber eyes flamed a moment. “You think I haven’t thought of that?” He shook his furry head. “Whatever. Never mind.” He tried to hop down from the table, but I caught him and cuddled him.
“If you’re worried,” I said, “I’m worried.” Shenka nodded in turn, hands cupping her mug, face serious. “We’ll keep watch, just in case.”
Sassafras’s tension eased. “Thank you,” he said. “I’m sure it’s nothing.”
I let him go, watched him sashay his way out of the kitchen and into the hall. Shenka’s dark eyes met mine when I turned back and smiled at her.
“He’s rarely wrong,” she said, a frown pulling her black brows together. I really needed to get her to shape mine. Hers were perfect. And shook my head at myself. I was thinking about beauty styling at a moment like this?
Maybe he was right after all.
“There’s nothing we can do if there’s nothing out there to fight,” I said. My coffee was half empty already and I stood to return to the pot. “But we’ll pay attention.”
Shenka nodded as I filled a second mug. “Just in case.”
I turned and winked at her. “For now, I’m off to bed.”
She eyed the pair of coffee mugs with a little grin.
“Sure you are.” She waved me off as I left the room, blushing.
I might have been going to bed, all right. But I when I thought about the man already between the sheets, waiting for me, my weariness faded away and I hoped he had other ideas than sleep.