Long Night Moon (The Bradbury Institute Book 2) (4 page)

Chapter 6

 

Pete tightened the knot in his tie,
then loosened it when breathing became a problem. Maybe he should change it to
something a bit less somber, a little more colorful than dark blue. Perhaps he
should shave as well. The beard made him look scruffy. It also made him look
older and meaner, so he kept it.

He couldn’t remember the last time
he’d cared what he looked like. Sometime in his early twenties, maybe?
Definitely sometime
before
. He gave himself the finger in the mirror and
left the bathroom.

At least his hair looked good. He
pulled on his suit jacket and checked his gun one last time before leaving. Not
that he would need it with what he was planning to do, but it did give him an
odd sort of comfort.

He never should have kissed her. It
had been a huge lapse in judgment on his part. So was what he intended to do
today. If she had any sense, she’d slam the door in his face.

But he hoped she didn’t. He really,
really hoped she didn’t. It had been too long since he’d hoped for anything.

Five minutes later he was standing
outside Eve’s door, fist raised and ready to knock. He continued to stand there
for another minute, then another, finally lowering his arm in defeat. A door
opened down the hall. Frances left her apartment with MacGuffin in tow. She
nodded in greeting while stifling a yawn. Pausing next to Pete, she banged on
Eve’s door. “Mac and I are leaving and Pete’s standing outside your door
looking pitiful!”

“What? Why did you say that?”

“Just helping you out there, big
guy.” She slapped him on the back of the shoulder. “Come on, Mac.” They left.

The doorknob rattled. If he ran at
top speed he might make it outside before Eve opened the door. Then it was too
late.

She stood framed in the doorway
wearing jeans and a black cardigan. Her blonde hair fell long and loose. “So
which version of Pete are you right now?”

He had to stop himself from
scowling. He knew full well he deserved her ire. “I’m going into town. Thought
you might like to come with me.”

“Why would I want to do that?”
There was just enough promise in her voice to make him take half a step
forward.

“Because I’m picking up your Yule
present. And I thought we could get coffee.”

She slid her gaze to the floor and
was silent for far too long to suit him. Finally she said, “A version of Pete
that gives me presents and takes me out for coffee? That might be a side of you
I like.”

Pete swallowed a lump of nerves.
“Don’t get too excited. The present is something useful and I’m taking you to
the cheaper, less trendy coffee shop.”

A hesitant smile dawned on her
face. “It’s a start. Let me get my coat.”

Something glowed warm and bright in
his chest. It might have been happiness, if he’d remembered what that felt
like.

***

Wayfaring looked like a perfect picture
postcard, with tree-lined streets, tidy little houses, and a quaint downtown.
Eve had explored all of downtown with Franny and Chet, enjoying the antique
stores, gift shops, and the small but well-stocked library. Pete drove past all
of that and took a side road to a part of Wayfaring that Eve had never seen. He
parked in a gravel lot outside an old brick building that looked like it used
to a be a factory of some sort. She zipped her coat and followed Pete to the
entrance, deciding to keep a lid on her questions.

The sign above the door read
Rowdon
Metal Arts
. Inside it was warm as summer and humid. The front room was a
large open space dotted with metal sculptures of various sizes. Eve stepped
through the showroom carefully, examining everything. There was a metal tiger,
mouth open and full of pointy fangs. A locomotive about twice the size of a
child’s train set. A black wrought iron holiday tree with copper and steel
ornaments.

Pete made his way to the back of
the room and rang a bell that sat on the counter next to a register. Within
moments a man appeared from the back, wiping his hands on a towel. The man was
medium height but powerfully built, broad through the chest and shoulders.
Black hair shot through with gray fell in waves to his shoulders and a heavy
beard covered his face.

“Ay, Peter, good to see you.” He
unlocked a cabinet, withdrew a small black velvet box, and placed it on the
counter. “Is that your lady friend?”

Eve approached the counter and
extended her hand. “Eve Kane.”

He gripped her hand carefully.
“Conall Rowdon. Pleased to meet another of the Bradbury folk.” Rowdon spoke
with a faint accent that might have been Irish or Scottish, Eve couldn’t tell.

Pete said, “Rowdon is not only a
gifted sculptor, he’s a fine weapons craftsman as well. Made Sanngrid’s
favorite knife.”

Rowdon grinned. “She still sleep
with it under her pillow?”

“I believe she does,” Pete said. To
Eve he said, “She named it Elvis because of the jewels he worked into the hilt.
Said it reminded her of the jumpsuits Elvis wore in the seventies.”

In the many weekend afternoons Eve
had spent in Wayfaring with Franny or Chet or visiting Jean-Pierre and his
wife, no one had ever mentioned there was anyone in town who knew the truth
about Bradbury. How many other townsfolk knew? She’d have to remember to ask
about that.

She pointed at the box and said,
“Is that for me?”

Pete snatched up the box and tucked
it into a pocket. “Thank you, Rowdon. Happy Yule.” They shook hands.

Rowdon plucked a candy cane from a
jar on the other side of the register and held it out to Eve. “Happy Yule, Miss
Kane.”

She took the candy and returned the
salutation. Pete led her back out through the maze of sculptures. As they
passed the large metal tiger Eve thought she saw a glimmer of movement. A
heaviness pressed against her senses, the kind of sensation she had begun to
associate with magic. For a moment she considered removing her gloves and
reading the sculpture but Pete already had the door opened.

Once back in the car she said,
“When do I get my present?”

He gave her the box. She held it in
her palm, trying to get a sense of it. Nothing came. Pete ran his hands over
the steering wheel, radiating nervous energy. The temptation to run her fingers
through his hair or some other small touch was great, just to see if she could
calm him. It might just as easily spook him so she refrained.

She opened the box, moving tissue
paper out of the way. It held a heavy, dark metal bracelet covered with
intricate carvings of Celtic knot work, vines, and a single apple opposite the
clasp. “Pete, this is amazing!” She examined it closer, letting the box fall to
the floorboard. “You said you got me something useful. I didn’t expect
jewelry.”

“It’s both.” He indicated the
bracelet. “May I?”

Eve placed the bracelet in his hand
and held out her left wrist. His fingers skimming the outer edge of her hand,
he draped the bracelet around her wrist and closed the clasp. She made to
withdraw her hand but he held it, holding the palm of his other hand over the
clasp. Blue silver light flashed in his eyes as magic swirled between them,
twining around the metal and sliding into her skin. She gasped as heat rocketed
through her nervous system.

“What was that?”

“A protective spell. The bracelet
is bound to you now and it’ll help protect you from certain things.” He laced
his fingers with hers. To her it seemed an unconscious gesture, one she didn’t
want to draw attention to in case doing so made him pull away.

“What things?”

“Things from Sideways. Full blood
Sidhe and faeries.” He ran his thumb over the bracelet. “It’s made of cold
iron. Working with cold iron is a specialty of Rowdon’s.”

“It won’t bother Maura and the
others, will it? If they come in contact with it?”

“Halflings are immune. That’s why
it’s easier for them to live on this side than it is full bloods.”

Even after these months at Bradbury
there was still so much she didn’t know. Questions tumbled through her brain
like rocks down a hill - about Rowdon and any others in town who  knew
about Bradbury, about why Pete felt she needed protection from creatures from
Sideways. Instead she asked something she knew he might not answer. “Everyone
says you never did magic until recently.” Until she arrived, but Eve didn’t say
that. “That you believe it’s dangerous for you to use magic. But you do it for
me. Why?”

Pete leaned closer. Sparks of
silver brightened his dark blue eyes. A faint smile curled the edges of his
mouth. “There was discussion of coffee.”

Apparently there wouldn’t be
discussion of anything else. That was okay by Eve. One step at a time. “Yes,
there was. A peppermint mocha would be excellent right now.”

“Two peppermint mochas, coming
right up.” Pete drew her hand to his lips, placing a soft kiss on the knuckles.
Tiny shivers of pleasure raced from the skin his lips touched to the rest of
her body. Then he turned her hand over, lips pressing against her palm, the tip
of his tongue a quick tease. Those tiny shivers burst into flames more intense
than the magic of moments earlier. She forced herself to stay still, to stay
calm, to not climb into his lap. He said, “That’ll hit the spot, won’t it?”

Not sure if he was talking about
coffee or something else, Eve squeaked out an unintelligible reply.

***

Chet was halfway to his table in
the Oracle, carrying a plate stacked high with pancakes, when Rami came flying
into the room so fast they almost collided. “Whoa, buddy, where’s the fire?”

“We got a big freaking problem.”
The wizard wore a Mario t-shirt and flannel Darth Vader pants, his hair in
disarray. He looked like he just rolled out of bed, which wasn’t a surprise.
The institute was on holiday schedule until after the new year, which meant
there was no schedule.

What bothered Chet was the thin
fibers resembling spider web that hung from Rami’s hair, covering one ear.
Traces of it clung to the wizard’s face as well.

Bettine approached, a steaming cup
in each hand. “Is that gossamer on you, Rami?”

“Yes,” he said, shaking with
agitation. “And I woke up screaming like a two year old from an ungodly
nightmare.”

“Shit.” Chet had been looking
forward to a relaxing holiday. Chasing a goblin that specialized in inducing
sleep and weaving horrific nightmares was not on the list of things he wanted
to be doing. “I’ll go tell Judith something slipped across with George.”

This did not bode well for a
peaceful Yule.

Chapter 7

 

Despite Pete’s joke, there was only
one coffee shop in Wayfaring. The Bean Bag was full of teenagers out of school
for winter break and stay-at-home moms with small children out doing holiday
shopping. They were lucky to get a small table tucked away in a back corner.
Eve wondered if Pete used a little Jedi mind control to get that table. He let
her take care of ordering their mochas and seemed content to wait for her to
guide the conversation as well.

The trouble was, Eve could barely
think. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of inappropriate questions popped into her
head but she gave voice to none of them. Catching sight of the cold iron
bracelet as it slipped past the bottom of her sleeve, she finally thought of
what was hopefully a safe topic.

She held up her wrist for a moment.
“I’m not getting anything from it. Well, I think I’m sort of getting something
that feels like an echo of the spell you did, but that’s it.” Winter-cold but
not unpleasant, like a still, snow-filled night. There was also an undercurrent
of something else, something wild and dangerous. It was a familiar sensation
but she couldn’t think of when she’d felt it before.

“Rowdon is expert at shielding. He
has to be, making weapons and things like this, of a protective nature. Those
are things that should have a bond with the person they belong to so you don’t
want too much leftover energy from the maker. I helped a bit too. Did a spell
to sort of purify the cold iron.”

“Did he happen to have this on a
shelf?” With the apple that was carved into it, she doubted that was the case.

The waiter arrived with their
mochas, giving Pete a chance to dodge the question. They sat in silence for
several minutes. Eve drank her coffee while Pete’s gaze skipped all over the
room, always coming back to her. It should have felt uncomfortable but for some
reason it didn’t. She knew he would speak when he had something to say, and he
seemed content to let her do the same.

In fact, content summed up his mood
very well. He’d been nervous earlier but now he was relaxed and loose-limbed
sitting back in his chair. There was no hint of a scowl or a squint on his
face. He sipped leisurely, one finger tapping the rim of the mug in time with
the cheerful Christmas music.

When he finally broke the silence
between them it took her a moment to realize he’d spoken. “I’m sorry, what?”

“What kind of movies do you like?”

She’d been in his apartment once,
on her first day at the institute. She’d fainted after touching one of the
stone gargoyles and he’d swooped in and carried her to his place while she was
unconscious. Waking up in his bed had been disorienting at the time. The
thought of possibly doing so again sent flashes of heat through her. Clearing
her throat, she pushed those thoughts away and focused on his question.

Movies. The living room of his
place had a book case full of DVDs and Blu-rays, so Pete liked movies. What
kind did she like? She’d never thought about it. “I don’t know. No particular
genre, just a good story, I guess. What about you?”

“Darker stuff usually, character
studies. Classic storytelling. Seems like I’ve been watching a lot of older
movies these days.” He sipped his coffee.

“Got a favorite?”

“Ever seen the original version of
The
Thomas Crown Affair
?”

“I didn’t know it was a remake.”

Pete nodded. “Yeah, the remake is
really good too, in some ways maybe even a little better, plot-wise. The
original is Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. There’s a scene in it that’s too
good to ever be topped. For that scene alone it’s one of my favorites.”

Eve leaned her elbows on the table.
“Tell me about it.”

The right side of his mouth
twitched. He placed his cup on the table, then rested one hand on the window
ledge. “They play chess. Except not really. They’re fully clothed, don’t speak
or even touch until the end of the scene, but there’s so much going on with
their eyes. With their body language. It’s a seduction, and it’s ten times
hotter than anything explicit.” He held her gaze while he spoke, faint silver
shimmering in their dark blue depths. “Dunaway is stunning, just really
beautiful. And McQueen, hell, when I first saw his movies when I was a kid I
wanted to be like him when I grew up.”

“Sounds like a good movie.”

“You should come over and watch it
with me sometime.”

Nothing in his voice made it sound
like anything but a casual invitation. His demeanor was still relaxed, almost
open. Eve would have thought nothing of it except for the flush of warm energy
that wrapped around her head to toe, a tease that matched the upticked corner
of his mouth. It fanned across her nerve endings, spreading a feather-light
pleasure through her.

Oh. Em. Gee
. “Uh, sure.”

In addition to learning more about
reading objects Eve had also begun to study projecting energy. She’d done this
quietly, finding books read on the subject in the Archive and working with
Jean-Pierre. Still in the early stages of exploring what she could do, Eve
hadn’t discussed it openly yet. Pete had no idea. He would surely be surprised
if she was able to send some of that warm sensual energy back to him. Letting
her eyes unfocus, she concentrated on the sensation, willing it to expand and
reach back to him in a slow languid stroke.

Pete gasped, eyes widening. He lurched
forward and grabbed his coat from the back of the chair, covering his lap with
it. “Stop it!
Oh god
.”

Horrified, Eve used a quick
grounding technique to stop the energy. “I’m sorry! Are you…uh, are you okay?”

Half-crouched over the table, Pete
ran a hand through his hair, covering his face for a long moment. When he
finally removed his hand Cranky Pete was back, scowling and stone-faced. “Don’t
ever do that again! Shit, especially not in public.”

“I’m sorry! I thought you were
flirting with me and I wanted to flirt back.” Finding a rock to crawl under
seemed like a great idea.

“I was flirting with you. But what
you did - you need to learn to control that before you go whipping it out.”

Now it was Eve’s turn to cover her
face. Embarrassment boiled a scalding path straight back to horrific memories
of the awkward teenager she’d been years ago. She couldn’t stand to look at
Pete, or even be at the table with him. Mumbling about the ladies room, she fled
like a pathetic coward.

Hopefully she’d find a gateway to
another world in a bathroom stall.

***

Pete knew he should regret speaking
to Eve so harshly but he couldn’t. That
flirtatious
stunt of hers nearly
made him humiliate himself, in public no less. Until she learned control she
had no business using magic for any reason. Chet would have to talk to her.
Explain the rules. Threaten her with disciplinary action if she didn’t watch
herself.

The thought of
disciplining
Eve made him groan and drop his head into his hands. He wasn’t going to tell
Chet or anyone else what just happened. For one thing Chet would only laugh and
say Pete had brought it on himself. Which he had, but still. He’d had no idea
she could do that, and at such strength. With practice and fine-tuning Eve had
the potential to be formidable. She had the potential to be…

His.

An image came to him of her in his
bed, waves of long golden hair spread across a pillow. He shut it down before
it could become more detailed. He was in public, for crying out loud. He had to
get himself under control.

The periodic table of elements
helped him steady his breathing and heart rate. He recited the whole thing
silently before he realized Eve had not returned from the ladies room. Probably
hiding in embarrassment, something he understood all too well, but she couldn’t
stay there all day. He’d go get her if he had to.

A spike of energy pinged his radar.
Before Pete had a chance to look around, a man took Eve’s vacant seat.

Crantz.

Dressed in a charcoal suit, black
hair gelled off his forehead, the sorcerer smiled. “Good to see you, chap.
How’ve you been since Frankfurt?”

Fingertips itching for his gun or
even better, magic, Pete gritted his teeth and hoped Eve stayed in the
bathroom. “Fine. You? Had anyone hand you your ass lately?”

The smile stayed pasted on Crantz’s
face but his dark eyes went flat with a serpentine cold. “I’m not here to fight
with you, Cadkin. I’m just here to deliver a message.”

Crantz was just a flunky who worked
for some unknown sorcerer or group who’d tried to take The Key of Darkness. A
grimoire with that kind of power had no business being used but Chet believed
that was exactly what they intended. Not that the institute had any idea who
they
were. Apparently they knew who Pete was, a fact that sent a tendril of fear
down his spine. “So are you going to give it to me in code or a singing
telegram?”

Crantz produced a black gift box
about the size of a shoe box. He kept his hands on the lid. “My employer
requests a private meeting with you. Only you, not your institute. You are to
be under the Long Night Moon at midnight.”

Sideways. Hell no
. “Tell
your employer he can shove his request up his ass.”

Crantz tapped the box, smile
widening. “Yes, he thought you might say something like that. This box contains
incentive. If you refuse the meeting, you will receive more pieces until
there’s nothing left.” He pushed the box at Pete and rose. “Have a nice day,”
he said, voice dripping with condescension.

Pete stared at the box, nausea
dumping acid into his gut. He didn’t need to open it. He knew. But perhaps he
was wrong, and if he didn’t open the box she’d come back from the ladies room
still embarrassed and wanting to go home. He would apologize. He would drive
them back to the institute and cajole her into watching McQueen and Dunaway
play chess and seduce each other. As long as he didn’t open the box, she was
safe in the ladies room.

But he had to open the box, didn’t
he? So he did, lifting the lid tentatively. Black tissue paper covered the contents.
He pushed it aside. A coil of long golden hair lay in the box. The scent of
Eve’s herbal shampoo wafted out, mixing with the sour stink of his own fear.

Pete could not go to Sideways.

He
would not
go to Sideways.

He had to go to Sideways.

Three years of relative peace
shattered like brittle glass, inviting every single one of his private
nightmares out in the open.

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