Home > Moonshifted (Edie Spence #2)(6)

Moonshifted (Edie Spence #2)(6)
Author: Cassie Alexander

So that meant … shopping for a couch cover. With my last forty dollars from this paycheck. On Christmas Eve.

Dismayed, I set out for Target.

CHAPTER SEVEN

On my way out the door, I stopped and grabbed Anna’s knife. My brother had a lifelong penchant for going through my things. New couch covers could be explained away, but fancy cutlery could not. I decided to toss it in my locker at work for a few nights. It was three times as secure there as anything in my house would be on Christmas Day. I left the fancy box behind on my dresser, settling the knife into the bottom of my purse, wrapped in a hand towel, and had a few crazy thoughts about how exactly I’d explain it away if I got pulled over on my drive in.

Only no one was out ticketing people on Christmas Eve night. They—and by they, I meant everyone—were at Target, desperately shopping.

Packed to the gills did not begin to describe it. I parked my Cavalier out in a satellite parking location, and then hiked into the store.

Throngs of shoppers milled around, none of them looking any happier than me. I was lucky, I supposed—I wasn’t going to the toy aisle. I wove my way to homewares and stood in front of the couch cover zone, in do-it-yourself home-decorating land.

It would take a lot more than forty dollars to make my entire apartment look nice. But there were only so many extra shifts I could take and still maintain a life, by which I meant feeling like I left the hospital often enough to see the sky.

Out of habit, I diagnosed people around me. Flat affect and slumped shoulders? Seasonal affective disorder. Red eyes and sneezing? The flu. I wondered what disorder people could read on my face, given both knowledge and half a chance.

“Hello, Edith.”

No one had called me Edith since my grandmother’d died. No one except for—I had a sinking feeling in my stomach as I turned around.

A tall man was standing there—strike that, a vampire, one that I knew. “Dren.” A Husker, in service to the Rose Throne. The last time I’d seen him was at the end of my trial when he’d tried to kill me. I’d cut off his hand in self-defense.

“What do you want?” I asked him. The other shoppers glanced at me when I spoke, but none of them looked at him. He had his vampire look-away high beams on; no one’s consciousness could get a grasp on the fact that he was there.

He stared at me with his grass-green eyes. “I believe you owe me.”

“For what?”

“My hand and my Hound.”

His right hand sat on his sickle holster, his left wrist plunged into a coat pocket that subsequently stayed flat.

If he hadn’t tried to hurt me, he’d have been fine. And I didn’t even kill his lizard-person-Hound-thing—the Shadows did. We were very in the open here. Sure, I had an antique knife hidden inside my purse, but I didn’t think I’d know how to use it, if I even got a chance to pull it out.

“Let me get this straight—say, if I had let you kill me, then would you, technically, owe me?”

“If that had happened, you would not be in a state to ask for reparations,” he said over a short blond woman’s head.

“So my crime is really not that you lost your hand, but that I didn’t finish the job?”

“That’s one way of putting it.”

All of the passing shoppers veered to the left, nearer me and farther from Dren. None of them could see him, and yet none of them wanted to come near him, either. Me, though, they could see and hear. They might not be able to diagnose me, but they knew that I was wrong. I started getting the stink eye, but it’d take a hell of a crazy show to get people off course on Christmas Eve.

The couch covers I so desperately needed were at my back. I looked up and down the aisle. I couldn’t count on any of these people to help me—they all thought I was talking to myself. And even if I could have … I still couldn’t. I couldn’t put anyone else in danger.

“What do you want, Dren?” I asked, letting my weariness with the world seep into my voice. “I’m a noncombatant. You can’t hurt me.”

“I’m not supposed to hurt you. That doesn’t mean I cannot.”

And suddenly all the ways that Dren could hurt me came to mind. I’d be seeing them tomorrow. My horror must have flashed in my face. “So you see,” he said.

I cleared my throat so my voice wouldn’t crack. “How can I make good?”

“My hand is irreplaceable.”

“I didn’t know—” It was his own fault for attacking me. I hadn’t meant to injure him.

“My Hound,” he continued as if I hadn’t spoken at all, “requires the use of a gifted victim.”

“I didn’t kill your Hound, Dren. The Shadows did.”

“I do not have access to the Shadows. You do.”

I had no urge to ever visit the Shadows’ home, subterraneanly deep below the hospital, again—much less do anything else that would indebt them me to them further. We had a deal—they kept my brother clean, and I worked for subpar wages on Y4. I didn’t have anything left to trade, other than matching organs. “We don’t really get along.”

Shoppers were positively arcing around Dren and I now, in broad ellipses that would have done colliding protons proud. Surely it was only a matter of time before security came and—what, kicked me out? So Dren and I could have this conversation out near my car, in the street? I clenched my hands into impotent fists.

“Regardless. You owe me. I need you to do a job,” he said. I blinked, sure I didn’t want to hear what he would ask of me next. “I have suspicions that need confirmation with blood,” he went on.

“Hey there, pretty lady. Need any help shopping today?”

I was rescued from responding by a stranger. I turned, expecting to see someone in a uniform, maybe holding a white coat. What I found was a jovial-looking older man, his stomach stretching the confines of a red sweatshirt that had a Christmas tree stitched on it, LED lights and all.

I looked over to Dren, begging him No civilians with my gaze. “I’m fine—thanks for asking.”

“You’re fine, but you don’t seem fine, if you catch my drift.”

“I get that a lot,” I said, feeling my lips purse. He came nearer, and I saw his eyes flare from dark brown to watery gray. The bridge of his nose changed, and the position of his eyebrows. “Asher?” I guessed, with hope.

He put his arm companionably around me and turned to look at Dren. “I don’t believe we’ve met,” he said, putting his hand out. I watched his skin flow from shade to shade—and so did the vampire.

Dren took a step back. “I want nothing to do with you, shapeshifter.”

“Then you’d best be leaving,” Asher said, taking his hand back.

“This does not end things, Nurse.” Dren turned and started striding away.

“I know,” I said after his departing form. But what would?

* * *

I supposed that Asher and I together, talking to the same blank spot, looked like we were doing performance art. But the tide of people looking for last-minute deals was unrelenting, and soon people trolling for sales forgot about us. Carts and customers angled around Dren without even thinking about it, until he vanished into the darkness outside.

I turned toward my pseudo-Santa. “How’d you get him to leave?”

“I wasn’t born being called Asher. It’s a nickname. The vampires think of my name like a verb.”

“Oh.” Asher had sort of saved my life once before. We’d also slept together, before I knew he was a shapeshifter, and before he knew that I knew what that meant. “Well, thanks. And thanks for the other time, too. And for the flowers at the hospital.”

“You’re welcome.” He grinned at me. I hadn’t seen him wear this face before. I wondered whose it’d originally been. I’d never seen him in less-than-superbly-chosen clothing before now.

“That shirt is hideous.” Maybe it’d come with the face’s original owner.

“It’s seasonal,” he protested. “And you look just as festive.”

“I’m going to work tonight.” I had on two pairs of long johns and one white turtleneck beneath my green hospital scrubs, and my coat. I’d decided to convince myself that the spots on it were pre-existing stains, and not dried werewolf blood.

“Really? That’s tragic.”

I shook my head. “It’s holiday pay. After this, there’s a holiday drought till Martin Luther King.”

“You forgot New Year’s Eve.”

Not in the least I didn’t. “Yeah, well, I’ll be busy that night, it seems.”

“Kissing strange men under mistletoe?”

“Doubtful.” I turned back toward the aisle to contemplate my couch cover choices.

“You’re not worried about the psychotic and pissed-off vampire that you’ve irreparably damaged for the rest of his immortal life?”

“I’m guessing I’m safe for tonight. I’m more fearful of dealing with my family tomorrow.” I pulled down a couch cover. It was large enough to cover my couch, but it had stripes. I didn’t want to commit to stripes. Plus, it was fifty dollars.

“Wait, you’re working, and they’re still coming over? You’re not cooking, are you?”

“No.” I didn’t cook ever, unless turkey sandwiches and peanut butter and jellies counted. “My mom’s coming in. I’ll only have to deal with my family on the most stressful day of the year after just two hours of sleep.”

“That doesn’t sound fun.”

“It won’t be.” I went up on tiptoes and reached to the back. There was a black couch cover there. It wouldn’t go with my decor, slight as it was, but it was cheaper. Thirty. I glanced over at Asher, watching me. “What’re you doing for Christmas? Actually, why the hell are you here?”

“Would you believe Santa sent me?” He touched a spot on his shoulder, and the LED lights on his shirt blinked on, winking green and red.

   
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