I reached the top of the stairs without spilling a drop, though giggled to myself a little magic was involved to do the trick. Another soft touch of power eased open the first door on the left, leading to my old room. I peeked inside at the tiny girl under the pink covers, one hand curled under her cheek, dark hair spilling over the edge of her pillow. Sassafras perched next to her, licking his paws and blinked slowly in acknowledgment before I pulled the door softly shut behind me with another brush of magic.
The next door down lead to a smaller room, though with the benefit of corner windows. Deep greens and golds were my son’s decorating colors of choice and I had no doubt where his desire for earthy tones came from. Gabriel slept peacefully, strawberry blond hair mussed, covers thrown askew, showing off his cartoon pajamas. It was hard to believe he was only seven years old, Ethie six already, my little family growing up around me. The giant black hound stretched out at the foot of Gabriel’s bed lifted his head with a soft groan, black eyes reflecting a hint of red fire as he licked his chops.
Sorry, I sent. Back to sleep, Galleytrot.
The big dog laid his head down again. Nice to see you home, Syd.
I did my best not to wince, backing out of my son’s room and turning to the other side of the hall. Shenka’s door was closed on the far end, the bathroom entry across from Ethie’s ajar. But it was quiet and mostly dark up here still, and I felt my eyelids beginning to weigh down again at the thought of my soft, comfy bed and the warm body I could curl up to.
Quaid was still asleep when I crept inside, muscular chest exposed where he, like our son, threw off the covers in slumber. I sat on the edge of the bed, depositing the two mugs on the side table, and looked down at my sleeping husband. I still felt breathless from time to time, in moments like this, that Quaid was mine at last. Though it was seven years later, I found there were moments when my heart swelled with old grief and worry that I’d somehow lose him again one day.
And I would, eventually. Considering I was maji, practically invincible and definitely immortal. And Quaid… wasn’t. But I refused to linger on the fact too often. I would enjoy the time we had together, even if it meant I would someday have to watch him grow old and die. And find a way to live without him.
I should have let him sleep, but I couldn’t resist running my fingertips over his tanned skin. The tattoo of a pentagram on his shoulder reminded me of being a teenager again, in lust for him, our power tied together. The first time I saw him without a shirt on… I drew a shaking breath and laughed softly to myself in the stillness of our bedroom.
Oh dear. Maybe I really wasn’t tired after all.
I bent over him, lips brushing across his, feeling his power stir as his body woke. Quaid’s chocolate eyes eased open, big hands rising to slip up my arms and pull me down, a grin tugging at his luscious mouth.
“Morning,” he whispered before kissing me for real, big body turning me over and pinning me to the bed.
Exactly where I wanted to be.
I woke slowly, languidly, one arm draped over the edge of the bed, Quaid’s warm body pressed against my back. The clock flashed 8AM as his body flexed and a deep sigh ruffled my hair, tickling my ear with the heat of his breath.
“Missed you,” he whispered.
“You, too.” My throat tightened, the guilt returning, though I wished it would just go away. I turned over on my side, slipping my arm around his shoulders when Quaid sat up on one elbow and leaned over me. His lips traced a lazy line down my jaw and to my neck, across the top of my shoulder.
“Nothing damaged?” One eyebrow shot up, a wicked grin on his lips as he tugged on the sheet covering me. I rolled over on my back and shrugged.
“You might want to check and be sure.” I winked. “Just in case.”
Quaid laughed, kissed me before nuzzling my neck. “You got it.” His gaze lifted to the end table. “Is that coffee?” The soft groan of hope in his voice made me laugh.
“Excuse me,” I said, poking him in the ribs while he lunged past me and retrieved one of the mugs. “World’s Greatest Dad” graced the side of it, a favorite gift from the kids. “You were attending to something important just now.”
Quaid’s dark eyes glittered over the rim of his mug as he lifted it to his lips. Bubbles emerge from the surface, steam erupting, my demon warming it for him. His lips sipped at the drink and he closed his eyes with a blissful expression.
“In a minute,” he said. “It’s coffee we’re talking about, Syd.”
I laughed and sat up, reaching for my t-shirt lying on the floor. A quick tug and it was on, my missing panties joining it. Decent enough just in case, I propped myself up against the headboard and drank my own newly heated coffee, shoulder to shoulder with the man I loved.
“Drach problem solved?” Quaid slipped his arm around me, kissing my temple with his hot lips.
“One, at least,” I said, and frowned. “Were you talking to Sassafras?”
“About?” Quaid’s brown eyes watched me carefully as I chewed one thumbnail. His free hand rose and pulled my hand away. I flashed him a frown and resumed gnawing.
“He said he’s been feeling off lately.” His big hand trapped mine, forced me to stop mutilating my nail.
Quaid’s frown darkened his handsome face, scruff of beard tightening around the corners of his mouth and casting shadows. “He didn’t mention it. But now that you do…” Quaid looked off into the distance. “I know what he means. Everything is kind of… muffled.” He shrugged. “I chalked it up to boredom and peace and quiet, Syd.”
“Maybe that’s it.” I stared down into my mug. “We’ve had a lot of that lately. At least here at home.”
Quaid’s arm tightened. “Don’t tell me,” he mock groaned. “You’re looking for trouble again?”
I tsked at him and jabbed him in the ribs, but he laughed, lips on mine a moment before he spoke again.
“Syd,” he said. “I’ve learned to trust your gut, my beautiful wife. And Sassafras isn’t one to raise an alarm for no good reason.” Quaid sipped his drink. “Maybe we should be more careful. We’ve been pretty complacent lately.”
“Not really.” I felt the need to defend our actions for some reason. “We’re warded, and in touch with other races.” One of my promises to myself when the last mess ended was to stay in tune with what was happening around me, on this plane and others. Was I failing? But no, Shenka and I both searched, as did Sass, and we found nothing even remotely resembling a threat.
“Just saying,” Quaid said. “If you think something is off, it’s probably off. So, we'll be more vigilant in the next little while. Just in case.”
I loved my husband so much.
But I didn’t get a chance to show him the way I would have liked. The door to our room slammed open and two squealing children hurtled themselves over the threshold and onto the bed. More magic kept our brew from spilling as Ethie threw herself at her father, snuggling into his lap, a slightly more demure Gabriel wiggling his way between Quaid and me. Sassafras leapt up to the end of the bed, curling up to wait for the kids while Galleytrot padded his soft way into the room, giant head on the edge, eyes locked on our children.
“Mom!” Ethie leaned in and kissed my cheek with a very loud suction sound before repeating her smooch on her father. Gabriel hugged me, leaning his head on my shoulder. “You’re home!”
I stroked her dark hair back from her blue eyes and smiled. She looked just like a Hayle, but she had her father’s jaw, the shape of his nose. And she tanned way more easily than I ever did. I felt Quaid in her as much as me, despite her outward appearance, and the feeling of her demon deep inside.
Gabriel, on the other hand, was a breath of spring air, sweet face beloved to me and more painful to look on the older he grew. I could see Liam in him, his dead father long gone. Ethie might look like a Hayle, but thanks to the power of the Sidhe and the Gate that controlled the O’Dane family for centuries, my son was literally the exact image of his lost parent.
“I’m so glad,” Ethie said with a little huff of air. She reminded me a lot of her namesake, my grandmother. Though much more boisterous and overwhelming. I could only imagine Ethie would make an excellent coven leader one day, if only we could teach her some restraint. “We had a question to ask you.” She said it like knowing the answer would solve world hunger.
“Ask away.” I grinned at Quaid as Ethie prodded her brother. But Gabriel looked down, shy suddenly, and his sister, as usual, just took over. I held in my need to giggle at her seriousness as Ethie leaned toward me, beautiful little face inches from mine.
“We think it’s about time,” she said in her piping voice, power rippling around her, “you told us who Gabriel’s real father is.”