FOREVER WICKED

The Castle of Dark Dreams series, Book 8

July 24, 2017
Spiceland Press

eBook ISBN: 978-0983749295
Print ISBN: 978-0997192100

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Sparkle Stardust wishes she could take back the angry words she threw at Ganymede. Now the man she loves has left her and is on a collision course with death if she can’t stop him. When she finally tracks him down, Sparkle discovers he has stirred up more trouble than both of them can handle.

Ganymede storms from the Castle of Dark Dreams determined never to return. He vents his anger by creating chaos around the world, certain that the mayhem will drive Sparkle from his mind and from his heart. It doesn’t work.

But when a powerful enemy from their past threatens Ganymede and Sparkle, they stand side by side to protect their lives, their castle, and their love.

 

 


 
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Chapter One

            “What the devil do you think you’re doing, son?”

            Son? Really? No one had ever called him son. Yes, they did. The secret door in his mind had stayed nailed shut for thousands of years until a month ago. Now it leaked memories, a trickle at a time. Ganymede didn’t need any distractions. He slammed the door shut, then leaned against it. Not here. Not now. But soon.

            Reluctantly, Ganymede turned to face the angry farmer. “I’m waiting for the plague of locusts.” Jeez, couldn’t a guy enjoy the fruits of his labor anymore without interruptions from the dumb and clueless?

            “You’re standing in my strawberry field. This is private property.” The farmer’s face turned red. “Get your ass out of there before… Wait. Plague of locusts?”

            “Of biblical proportions.” Ganymede took pride in causing chaos on an epic scale. “Don’t feel special, though. They’ll chew through every plant in California, so you’ll have plenty of company.  You can throw giant pity parties, invite every pathetic farmer in the state, drink wine and get drunk. Oh, I forgot. No more grapes. You’ll have to conserve the wine. Drink beer instead. And don’t forget the chips.”

            “You’re crazy. There’re no…” The farmer’s voice faded as he followed Ganymede’s gaze.

            Ganymede stopped short of laughing. No need to say more. A black cloud that stretched across the horizon moved toward them—immense, relentless. Destroyers. He got all emotional watching it, millions and millions of voracious appetites on the wing. His babies. They blocked out the sun. Soon they’d swoop down and strip every plant, leaving a brown wasteland behind. No weak-ass bug sprays would stop them. Then they would disappear.

            The joy of the moment sang in his blood. This was his destiny, his calling, the purpose behind his creation. He was meant to wreak havoc wherever he went.

            “Lord, no!” The farmer turned and ran toward his truck.

            Absently, Ganymede watched him go. The man had a limp that slowed him down.  Without thinking, he slipped into the farmer’s mind.

            “We’ll lose the farm. It’s all we have left. I can’t start over. The wife is sick, and I’m a crippled old man. This’ll kill her. No family left since our boy died in that war, no one to help us.” He hauled himself clumsily into his truck and drove off.

            Crap. The old fart had killed Ganymede’s mood. He turned back to watch the inexorable advance of his hungry army. He shook his head. No, he would not even consider it. He was a cosmic troublemaker. Sticky emotions like sympathy never affected him. Okay, almost never. Ganymede closed his eyes and tried to shove the old man’s thoughts from his mind. Didn’t work. Finally, with a muttered curse, he opened his eyes and reached out to his creations. 

            A half hour later, Ganymede sat in his car staring at the field. The swarm had devoured every plant down to the bare earth. But beyond the field, the rest of the farmer’s plants stood green and healthy. His freaking plague of locusts had eaten one stinking strawberry field. How pitiful was that? How pitiful was he?

            The farmer would never know how lucky he was. Not that he would show any gratitude. Humans never did. For instance, there was that stupid leaning tower. He had done the citizens of Pisa a favor by knocking it down. Now they could build one that stood straight, that wouldn’t fall on the head of some dumb shit of a tourist who would then sue their sorry asses. But all they did was whine over their lost “national treasure.” See, humans never showed any appreciation when you helped them.

            Ganymede allowed himself a moment of gleeful satisfaction. He had spent a month creating chaos around the planet, reveling in his power to do bad things in a big way, and it had felt damn good. He had denied his cosmic troublemaker roots for too long. For her. No more. He looked away from the field. Yeah, so today had been a huge blot on his troublemaker résumé, a not-to-be-repeated moment of weakness.

            The last month had been fun, but it was time to wrap up this magical mayhem tour and get on with the important stuff. He would put today out of his mind and do what he had planned from the beginning—find his creator, then do some major butt kicking. And he’d have to do it before the Big Boss tracked him down and tried to eliminate him. Ganymede felt a twinge of disappointment. A battle with the Big Boss would have been epic. But finding his maker was more important.

            He drove away from the field and didn’t look back.

            By the following night, he sat leaning against the twisted trunk of a juniper tree—a sure sign of swirling energy nearby—as he waited in the darkness. Sedona was the right place to be for what he wanted. It gave him a choice of four strong vortices within short distances of each other. Now all he had to do was be ready when his creator spit a new cosmic troublemaker into the world.

            He had tumbled into being from a vortex like the ones here. That had been millennia ago, and his birthplace now lay deep beneath the sea. Ganymede had done his homework, though. Every seven years on the summer solstice his maker tossed newbie troublemakers with no survival skills from places like this all over the world. They would either live, or not. Most of the time it was not, because no matter how immortal the young ones thought they were, they could still destroy themselves without guidance—burned up in the fires of their own emerging powers, unable to control or channel them. Good thing for humanity, otherwise the universe would be crawling with awesomely powerful beings that got their giggles from doing evil. Not that Ganymede saw that as a negative.

            The real torture for the newly-born troublemakers? They had no memory of their “before.” No where, who, or why to explain anything. Except for Ganymede. He remembered. Okay, not a lot, but enough to know that payback was due. He was the only one, though. He had never told anyone, not even her. If his plan worked, tonight he would open a well-earned can of whup-ass on his creator.

            A sudden surge in the surrounding energy snapped his attention back to the business at hand.  It was about to happen. He could sense it.

            Ganymede leaped to his feet and then waited, tensed and ready. As soon as he saw the new troublemaker appear, he would launch himself at the spot before the portal or whatever it was had a chance to close. With any luck, he would land in his maker’s lap. He smiled. Not a nice smile. After this, the Big Boss might not get a shot at him. That was okay. He could think of worse ways to check out forever. Good times coming.

            He peered into the darkness. There. A figure had just popped into view.

            Instinct took over. Without giving himself a chance to think about the being who waited for him beyond the portal, he raced toward where the figure had emerged and then leaped.

            Too bad the figure jumped at the same moment. Right into his path. He slammed against a solid body. They both fell to the ground. Ganymede could almost hear the click of the portal closing. He crawled over the prone body to where the opening should be. Nothing. Fuck. He flooded the spot with his power, trying to force it to reopen. Didn’t work. Neither did the string of curses he unleashed on it. Now he’d have to wait another seven years, and he might not have even seven days if the Big Boss found him.

            The feral snarl behind him spun Ganymede around. The bright and not-so-shiny new troublemaker stumbled to his feet. Around him the ground shook and then split with cracks running off in all directions.

            Crap. The newbie was an earth mover. “Hey, control it, kid. No earthquakes. Seismic activity will get you noticed before you’re ready.” Before I’m ready. The Big Boss monitored unusual stuff like this, searching for newborn troublemakers to tuck under his mighty wings. Fine, so he didn’t have wings. But Ganymede didn’t want to be found yet. He would pick the time and place for the final confrontation.

            The other troublemaker blinked, and for just a moment seemed like any confused newborn. This one looked about seventeen. The great cosmic daddy was tossing them out younger.

            Ganymede didn’t have time to mull over the ramifications of teen troublemakers before this one gave a crazed yell and leaped at him. Great, just great. He exhaled wearily. His butt was sore from sitting propped up against that damn tree all night, and now he would cap off the crummy night by defending himself from a young savage.

            The naked, wild-eyed newbie went airborne with teeth bared and hands curled into claws. Ganymede flattened the kid with a thought. The boy went splat and stayed down.

            He nudged the teen with the toe of his boot. Nothing. Out cold. Good.

            Next question. What should he do with the boy? If he walked away, the new troublemaker would wake and go on a rampage across Arizona. Ganymede sort of liked the Grand Canyon. This kid could turn it into a pile of rubble in a few frenetic minutes. Newbies didn’t understand moderation. He certainly hadn’t.

            Another option. Drag the kid to someplace remote, restrain him and then watch as he burned himself up from the inside out. But the thought made Ganymede uncomfortable. Too much time spent around that woman had made him soft.

            Well, nothing would get done just thinking about it. He picked the boy up, carried him to his car, and heaved him into the back seat. He had just climbed behind the wheel when the boy came to. Ganymede glanced in his mirror. “I know you can’t understand me yet, but hearing my voice will help you to start learning the language. Your brain is set to pick up things fast. One of the perks of being you.”

            The boy snarled and fought to reach Ganymede.

            “Yeah, you have a point there. Guess I should explain what it means to be ‘you.’ Oh, and don’t bother struggling. You’ll only be able to move when I say you can move. I have to concentrate on my driving. Can’t do that when someone’s trying to tear me apart.”

            “Grrr!”

            Ganymede shook his head. “Damn language barrier. Look, you may as well calm down.  I’ve pulled the plug on your powers for the time being. You aren’t going anywhere for a while, so just kick back and enjoy the ride.”

            A glance in the mirror assured Ganymede the kid might not understand him, but he was listening. Good. The boy had smarts. “Here’s the deal. We’re both cosmic troublemakers. Some bored god, demon, or whatever from another plane of existence created us”—Ganymede figured the kid’s head would explode if he knew the truth—“and then tossed our asses out into the cold cruel universe. Guess watching the Food Channel all day got old.”

            The boy glared at him.

            “Hey, look on the bright side. You’ll be practically immortal—if you survive your first few days—and have eternity to create chaos and harass the universe. Wait till I tell you some of the things I’ve done.” He frowned. That was wrong. He wasn’t keeping this kid around. He had to focus on covering his tracks so the Big Boss couldn’t find him, at least for seven more years.

            The boy managed to lean forward—a little too close to Ganymede’s head for comfort—and snapped those bright white teeth at him.

            “Yeah, you’re right. I’ll order pizza as soon as we get back to the motel. You’ll love pizza.” Personally, Ganymede preferred ice cream in moments of great stress. Whiskey worked, too. “Then I’ll turn on the TV. A night filled with talk shows and old movies should give you a working vocabulary.”

            For just a moment, he thought about what “that woman” could teach this child. The kid had the physical tools—great body, thick blond hair, an amazing face. But she could add those intangibles, the sensual calling cards she gave to all of her students. He smiled to himself. He had never thought of her as a teacher before.

            He stopped smiling as soon as he realized what he was doing. Had to wipe all thoughts of her out of his mind and concentrate on the important stuff—the Big Boss. The guy didn’t have a highly evolved sense of humor. He wouldn’t find anything funny about what Ganymede had done lately.

            Ganymede was still busy thinking about the Big Boss as he parked outside a local mall. The stores were all closed, but he needed stuff for the kid now. He climbed out and then opened the rear door. 

            “I’m taking you in with me. We’ll get you something to wear before we head home.” Home. Wrong word. The motel would never be home to either of them. Ganymede didn’t have a home, not since he had left… Stop thinking about her. “I parked as far away from the lights as I could. Hope the cops don’t come snooping around.” Not that an entire police force could hold him, but he didn’t need the complication. “Try not to look too naked, kid.” He grinned. The boy just stared at him.

            Ganymede raked his fingers through his hair. Young troublemakers didn’t get the nuances of sarcasm. At least the newbie didn’t look crazed anymore. Angry and confused? Yes. And the need for violence still blazed in his eyes. But Ganymede could also see the beginning of curiosity in his gaze. Even in this short a time, the boy probably understood a few words. He would also be analyzing Ganymede’s body language, voice tones, and expressions.

            Ganymede didn’t make the mistake of grabbing him. That would throw the boy into another panic. Instead, he just beckoned. The kid stayed seated for a few moments before cautiously climbing from the car. Ganymede quickly hurried the newbie’s bare ass into the mall. Locked doors and alarms didn’t slow him down.

            He found the nearest clothing store and went in…and was lost. What did he know about shopping for a seventeen-year old? He watched the kid wander around aimlessly, an expression of wonder on his face. Finally, Ganymede decided he’d have to help or else they’d never get out of here.

            “No to the striped shirt and purple pants. You need bland and boring to blend.” He grabbed them from the boy’s hands. “Here. Khaki pants and a black T-shirt.” He scooped up the items and heaved them at the boy. “Those should fit. Try them on fast. We have to get out of here.”

            The boy stood staring at the clothes.

            “Yeah, guess you need underwear and shoes too.” She would’ve had the kid dressed already with a couple of extra outfits to tide him over. Ganymede pushed aside an unwelcome twinge of longing. He did not miss her. “Let’s hit the underwear aisle, and we’ll grab some shoes on the way out.”

             A short while later he watched impatiently as the boy tried to put everything on. Huffing his impatience, Ganymede finally moved in to help. “Here. Shirt—label in back. Pants—fly in front.” At least he’d had enough sense to get shoes the boy could just slide his feet into. He would have made a crappy father. Not that cosmic troublemakers could procreate that way. And not that he had ever even thought about it. Liar. You did. With her.

            Once back in the car, Ganymede glanced at his project. The boy looked almost civilized, until you looked into those gleaming amber eyes that broadcast “untamed” loud and clear.  Ganymede didn’t say anything; he just turned on the radio to a music station. May as well introduce the newbie to some Earth culture.

            All the way back to the motel, he thought about what he could teach the kid. The smart part of his brain—always subtle—pointed out the obvious, “Hey, stupid, what the hell do you think you’re doing? Dump the kid. You want to live another seven years? Then work your one puny brain cell hard to figure out how to keep ahead of the Big Boss. You don’t need anyone slowing you down.”

            His brain had it right. The Big Boss controlled all cosmic troublemakers. He was the self-appointed big cheese, master of minions, king of the cubicles—yeah, so there weren’t any cubicles—and the one who had rescued so many of them when they had needed help reining in their powers. Without him, the world might be nothing but a barren wasteland, torn apart by out-of-control troublemakers. He was even older than Ganymede and probably more powerful, although Ganymede was ready to test that theory. No one knew exactly what the Big Boss was, and he had never offered to tell them.

            So the smart move would be to just stop the car, kick the kid to the curb, and keep on going. He didn’t. Maybe later, when the Big Boss was actually breathing down his neck, he would do it. But for now, he would let the boy hang around. Ganymede refused to even consider any abandonment issues of his own. Didn’t have any. He absolutely did not see himself in this newbie. That would be a weakness, and Ganymede didn’t do weak.

            First, he needed a name. Couldn’t just keep calling him kid. Then he would show the boy…

            And right there, as he was pulling into the motel parking lot, thinking about teaching the newbie, an awesome idea clobbered him. The pure perfection of it left him breathless. He would have to set things up fast, but it was doable. If everything fell into place, he wouldn’t have to wait seven years to confront his creator. He smiled grimly.

            Distracted, Ganymede herded the kid into his motel room and right into the bathroom. He mimed the essentials of showering, drying, and dressing then left with a warning that he would be monitoring the boy from the other room. He also mimed what would happen if the kid disobeyed—a finger slice across his throat, lots of gagging, and eyes rolled back in his head. Hope the boy got it.

            As soon as he heard the sound of water running, Ganymede grabbed his phone, dropped onto the only comfortable chair, and then called in some favors.

            Exactly twenty minutes later, he was the proud owner of a Victorian painted lady in Cape May, New Jersey. Since the kid was still playing in the shower, he decided to reward himself by checking out her blog. Sure, he shouldn’t do it, but he was never one to spend lots of energy resisting temptation. He would think of this as a reward for coming up with a killer plan to force his creator into the open.  He wouldn’t have to worry about a portal if his maker came to him.


 

Chapter Two

           How had things come to this? Sitting in some anonymous motel in Who-Cares USA staring at her perfect nails—no chips with a fresh coat of Silver Sex. Perfect nails usually gave her a mega mood boost. Not tonight.

            Sparkle hadn’t felt this alone in a long time, maybe ever. She had driven away from Live the Fantasy—the theme park she owned in Galveston—leaving behind stunned and bewildered friends. Now no one knew where she was, so no one could try to stop her.

            She abandoned her makeup and nail stuff scattered across the desk and moved to the bed where her laptop rested. Propping herself up with pillows, she went to her Facebook page. She loved modern technology. With minimum effort, she could seduce untold thousands over to the dark side with advice on all things sexy and naughty. And if she sometimes wandered across the line to downright wicked, well, Facebook hadn’t noticed yet.

            So far she’d had zero luck finding Mede. Not surprising. He could hide his presence from everyone when he felt motivated. Knowing the Big Boss was in a murderous mood gave him a huge incentive to keep his head down, only popping up occasionally to perform incredibly stupid acts guaranteed to make the BB even madder.

            But she had been with Mede on and off for thousands of years, and she knew him. He wouldn’t be able to resist taking a peek at her page, if for no other reason than to see if she was suffering. Sparkle knew her smile was all sly anticipation. She’d given him something to think about in her last update. She had loaded her post with whatever she thought would push his anger button. Hopefully he wouldn’t be able to stop himself from blasting her.

            Relationship problems? We all have them, even me. Let me share. The whole argument started over nothing. I said one little thing and he just blew up. It was like I didn’t even know him anymore. Then he disappeared. Typical. Pack your bags and run when you know you’re wrong. He’ll have lots of apologizing to do before I forgive him. And, yes, he’ll come slithering back because—cue sensual music here—I’m simply irresistible. That’s the attitude I want all of you beautiful women to keep. Now go shopping and buy a sexy pair of shoes. Make sure they have four inch heels so you can stomp all over his prostrate body when he comes crawling back. 

            Sparkle scrolled down the page, skipping over outraged comments from men and you-go-girl ones from women. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Almost at the bottom. She was ready to give in to despair. Finally, she reached the last comment…and there it was.

            Nothing? You had sex with a freaking Viking, and I’m the one who’s wrong? Get over yourself, babe. And you know it wasn’t “one little thing” you said. It was a big load of crap, and you shoveled it all over me. Don’t bother sharpening your heels because I won’t be back.

            Yes. It was Mede. She closed her eyes then took a deep calming breath. If her hands shook a little and tears seeped from beneath her closed lids, it was only a momentary sign of... Relief? Fear—that the Big Boss would find him, that Mede could be gone forever. What would she do then?

            Now for the tough part. Keeping her eyes closed, she reached out to the only one who could help her. Sparkle felt the exact moment she connected with him. It had been so long, but he could hold a grudge forever. She sighed. It felt as though she had ticked off everyone in her personal universe. All she could do was deliver her message and hope.

            She didn’t go back to her makeup. Instead she stayed online, searching for news of any new disasters, natural or otherwise. Thankfully, everything looked pretty quiet. She wanted to believe Mede had gotten the rampaging out of his system.

            Sparkle had just decided to pull on her nightgown, shut off the lights, and try to get some sleep when, without warning, the door crashed open. She leaped from the bed, grabbed her nail file from the desk and crouched, ready for battle. But only darkness and the wind waited outside. Something was there, though. She felt it.

            She was about to shove the door closed when the sound of the wind changed. Its low moan rose to a shriek. Before she could react to the unseen danger, an icy blast of air exploded into the room. It shoved her back and scattered clothes, loose papers, and the makeup she had left on the desk.

            The air spun into a funnel that grew taller and taller until the shape of a man materialized within it. Finally, it faded to a breeze and died away. The man remained. He held a severed head by its long blood-soaked hair.

            She didn’t scream. She didn’t pass out. You couldn’t live for millennia without running across the occasional severed head. Besides, this was Mistral. “What is it?”

            He glanced down at the head. “Lesser demon. Unique. Notice the five eyes set where its nose should be. The horn growing from the chin is unusual too. Useless during a fight, though.  I’d add it to my collection of shrunken heads, but I don’t have any more shelf space.”

            She narrowed her eyes.

            He laughed. “Okay, no shrunken head collection.  I was just taking it to my truck when you called.”

            “Why did you kill it?”  Not that Sparkle gave a damn, but he’d expect her to show some interest, would be disappointed if she didn’t. Since she was about to ask him for a favor, she’d do whatever to keep him happy.

            He shrugged. “We had a territorial dispute.”

            “So where is your territory?” What could she say to convince him to help?

            “Earth. He crawled out of hell last week and got busy upgrading his digs to a penthouse condo in Chicago. Bad decision. This planet is mine.”

            Sparkle laughed. She couldn’t help it. That answer was so Mistral. She had only met one other cosmic troublemaker with a bigger ego. Her smile died. And she had to find him fast.

            “Get rid of it.” Those five dead eyes staring at her creeped her out. “You’re dripping blood on the carpet.”

            He huffed his impatience with her, but he heaved the head into the parking lot. “I’ll pick it up on my way out. That head’s worth money.”

            Of course, what had she expected? Mistral tied everything to profit in one form or another. But that was a good thing, because she had plenty of money to throw at him. “I hope no one finds it before you leave. You could’ve knocked. I didn’t need the dramatic entrance.” She gathered up her makeup, then set everything back on the desk. “Close the door.”

            “Sure you did.” He kicked the door shut. “You haven’t seen me in five hundred years. I needed to remind you.” He moved closer.

            She remained standing.  Sitting would give him an advantage, and she didn’t want him to have any kind of edge. “That you’re as cold and violent as the wind you’re named for? I remember. Don’t worry, your light hasn’t dimmed.”

            Five hundred years, five thousand years, it wouldn’t matter. He still rated as one of the most incredible-looking men she had ever seen. If he thought the jeans and T-shirt made him look human, he could think again. Mistral was a male cosmic troublemaker, tall and powerful like most of his kind. But from the neck up he dazzled. Long, straight white hair fell to below his shoulders. Not just an ordinary white, but a shining fall that would leave any woman gasping for air. When the light fell just right on it, the strands glittered with an iridescent sheen. The streak of demon blood made a startling contrast. His hair framed a riveting face—knife edge cheekbones, dark brows, amber eyes framed by thick lashes and a full sensual mouth. She didn’t have a clue how he had rated such dark brows and lashes with that white hair, but it definitely made for an exotic look.

            Of course, even Mistral faded in comparison to Mede, but then everyone did. Mede. She pushed thoughts of him aside and concentrated on Mistral. “I’m surprised you came.”

            His smile still held the memory of bitterness. “Five hundred years is a long time to sulk. So what if you chose Ganymede over me?” He shrugged. “I got over it. Eventually. What do you want?”

            Sparkle tried to calm her racing heart. She might act casual, but he’d rattled her. “Have a seat and we’ll talk.” She waited until he dropped onto the end of the bed before sitting. Then she forced herself to lean back in the chair and cross her legs with a maximum display of thigh. He would expect that from someone who had honed her sexual weapons for thousands of years. Her departure from an expected routine might signal desperation.

            His smile widened, became real. She sighed. In the end it didn’t matter whether she sat or stood, he would always dominate a room.

            She forced a smile to her lips. Confidence. She’d had it until Mede left. Better get it back fast, because she swore Mistral could smell fear. “How has life been treating you?” More to the point, how had he been treating life? The Mistral she remembered didn’t have much respect for anyone’s life, human or nonhuman.

            “Same old same old. I go where I’m needed.”

            Where he was needed? More like where he could find someone willing to pay him big bucks for his talent. Call her naive, but she had always believed the joy of sharing her gift should be its own reward. “Come on, something exciting must’ve happened during all those centuries.” She didn’t care about his life, but she needed a few minutes to compose exactly the right words that would convince him to help her. She glanced away from his stare. Those amber eyes seemed to strip her down to her bare essence. Not a comfortable feeling.

            “I’m not here to talk about me, Sparkle. Time is money. Why did you call me?”

            Everything about him seemed harder than she remembered, if that was even possible. She looked into his cold eyes and wondered why she had thought she could appeal to him after all this time. They’d been close once, but she doubted any affection for her or for anyone remained in what passed for his heart.

            “Mede has dropped off the grid. I need help finding him.”

            Mistral blinked. “You’re still with him?” He paused to glance away. “Fill me in. What’s happening in your life now?”

            Did he care? Didn’t matter. She would humor him. “I own an adult theme park in Galveston, Texas—Live the Fantasy. I give people a chance to act out their secret yearnings. Role playing releases a lot of inhibitions.” Sparkle smiled. So many innocent desires and so many ways she could manipulate them. “Mede and I live in the main attraction, the Castle of Dark Dreams.”

            Mistral’s smile didn’t reach his eyes. “Sounds like you’ve found a sweet spot to settle down in and practice your…craft. Why did Ganymede leave?”

            “We fought. Why isn’t important.” Mistral didn’t need to know those painful details. “Now he’s doing his cosmic wrecking ball thing all over the planet. The Big Boss has noticed. He’s looking for Mede. I have to find him first.” The stupid man had actually believed her ugly words. She said unfortunate things when she lost her temper. After so many thousands of years, you’d think the dumb-but-beautiful idiot would know that.

            “Good. I never liked the arrogant bastard.”

            She raised one brow. “Pot kettle?”

            “What do you want me to do?” He glanced at the door, not even trying to hide his need to escape her.

            “Find and follow him.” Sparkle could almost see Mistral getting ready to turn her down. She rushed into speech before he could speak. “I’d do it myself, but I can’t sense him.” Over the thousands of years she had known Mede, loved him, she’d always felt a connection, sort of an emotional umbilical cord tugging at her. But not this time. Of course, this was the first time he had purposely hidden his whereabouts. Sparkle only hoped Mede had thrown the Big Boss off his trail, too. “I’ve already visited the places that held a special meaning for us. Nothing.”

            He lowered his gaze, hiding his expression. “Two questions. Why me, and what do I get out of it?”

            “You’re the most powerful shape shifter to ever walk the planet.” True. He could become anything: animate or inanimate. It didn’t hurt to stroke his ego a little. “Added to that, you can find anyone. Even Mede won’t be able hide from you.” Sparkle took a deep breath before going on. Knowing Mistral, this next part could get tricky. “Name your price. I don’t have a budget limit.” A dangerous, dangerous admission.

            He raised his gaze to meet hers, and she couldn’t miss the speculative gleam in his eyes.

            “I don’t need money. There’s only one thing I want.”

            He paused, and an emotion Sparkle couldn’t read moved in his eyes before he looked away.

            “I want to put down roots for a while.”

            She frowned. That could mean anything from buying a small country and making himself king to changing into a patch of crabgrass growing on someone’s front lawn. You never knew with Mistral. “What does that have to do with me?”

            He shrugged. “I’m not sure yet. But when I decide, I want your promise that you’ll help me settle in to whatever new home I choose.”

            That was sort of weird. But she didn’t have time to worry about Mistral’s request now. “Fine. Now help me find Mede.” Sparkle retrieved her laptop, then set it on the desk. She pointed. “This is Mede’s response to my last post.”

            Mistral stood beside her. He placed one finger on the screen over Mede’s comment. “He’s in Arizona. Sedona.”

            “Amazing. How do you do that?” She had forgotten after five hundred years exactly how good he was. There might not have been any Facebook back then, but he could still touch a mark, an object, anything connected to the person he hunted and know exactly where they were.

            He grinned at her. “How do you create sexual chaos?”

            “I’m the queen of sex and sin. It comes naturally.” She nodded. “I get it.”

            Mistral kept his finger on the screen. He frowned. “Is he supposed to be alone? Because I sense someone else with him.”

            “Male or female?”

            “I can’t tell.” 

            She couldn’t control her spurt of jealousy. It had to be someone he trusted completely. That should be me. She took a deep breath then stomped on the jealousy. She’d deal with it later. “We leave now.”   

            She packed her things while he went outside to dispose of the demon’s head. No way would she ask what he did with the disgusting thing. Men and their toys.

            Mistral insisted on driving. “I can see his route in my mind, so it makes sense for me to drive. Telling you to turn here or there would be an extra hassle.” He pulled out of the motel’s parking lot. “He’s heading east. You know, this would be a lot easier and faster if you stayed here and just allowed me to kick into wind form to find him. I’d be on him by noon today.”

            She shook her head but didn’t look at him. “I have to stay close.” In case the Big Boss finds him. “He’s in Sedona, we’re near Denver. If he’s heading east and you drive fast, we can intersect with his path. Then we just stay far enough behind him that he doesn’t make us.” She wouldn’t try to confront Mede until he reached his destination, wherever that was.

            Mistral remained silent so long she almost believed he’d let it drop.

            “Makes sense.” Pause. “So what’s your real reason?”

            She couldn’t help it, she smiled. Mistral, always suspicious. And usually right. “I don’t trust you. You’re easily distracted. If you got word a demon lord was laying waste to Disney World, you’d be all over it. I’d be left sitting in that motel room wondering what happened to you.” He wouldn’t stray when she was with him. Mistral knew what she could do close up when someone made her mad.

            He laughed. “Can’t help it. I love the rush. Chasing Ganymede across the country isn’t exactly high excitement.” His laughter died as he glanced at her. “You can’t stop the Big Boss from destroying him, Sparkle.”

            If she didn’t know him better, she would swear she heard a note of sympathy in his voice.

            “I can try.” She’d fight the Big Boss for Mede’s life even though it would probably be a losing battle, because she couldn’t imagine a world without Mede in it.

            Mistral didn’t argue with her. At least he remembered some things from those hundreds of years ago.

            “Then here’s what we have to do. I can feel him right now. That connection will last until we have to stop tonight. But by tomorrow it’ll start to fade. Once that happens, tracking him will get harder. It’ll help if you can get another response from him so I can renew the connection.”

            “Fine.” She reached for the spiral notebook she always kept near her while she was driving just in case she got a delicious idea for spreading sexual chaos. Then she got down to some serious planning. This was about more than just trying to capture the attention of the sexually inept and sensually clueless. She made a list of subjects guaranteed to enrage Mede, enough to last for at least three days: how to manipulate your man, men will do anything for sex, and her personal favorite, research has shown that men who sit in front of the TV eating ice cream and chips have lower testosterone levels.

            Then she sat back and closed her eyes. Please, please let me find him before the Big Boss does. When she did find him? She would worry about that later.

* * *

            “Can you sense him?” Sparkle squinted. She was having problems focusing on the Victorian mansion across the street.

            “No.”

            “No?” She raised her brow, her signature expression for, “You had one job, doofus.”

            Mistral raked his fingers through that spectacular hair, and at least ten women on the beach sucked in their breaths. “He’s not there. The only person I sense is his traveling companion. Give me a minute to figure this out.”

            Sparkle made a disgusted sound as she stripped off her sandals. They were way too awesome to be touched by mere sand. She wasn’t a sand-and-surf kind of woman. “Maybe the spell threw you off.” She didn’t want to toss Mistral a ready-made excuse, but to be fair, it had confused her for a moment too.

            “It’s a do-not-notice spell. Powerful. It might keep people’s attention away from the house, but it wouldn’t stop me from knowing who was inside. Hand me your phone. I need something fresh to help me track him.”

            Sparkle bent to scoop her phone from the blanket spread on the sand. Distracted, she barely noticed the growing congregation of men. Their stares didn’t bother her. After all, she was the queen of sex and more sex. Adoration was to be expected. She pulled up her Facebook page then handed the phone to Mistral.

            She refused to look at it. Sparkle had read every one of his snarky posts while they followed him across the country. They made her mad at him all over again even though she was the one who had instigated his remarks. 

`           Beside her, Mistral chuckled. “I hate this guy, but you have to give it to him, he’s funny.”

            “Right. Ha, ha.” She couldn’t wait for this to be over so she wouldn’t have to see Mistral for another five hundred years.

            “I love these. The guy’s a riot. ‘Ice cream and chips don’t climb into bed still wearing four inch ball-busters because they can’t stand being separated from their new shoes. They don’t wake me up in the middle of the night because they dreamed that all their nails broke.’ ” He scrolled down. “Okay, here’s today’s comment. ‘Men aren’t the only ones who’ll do anything for sex. Did your Viking show you his snow cone before you jumped into bed with him?’ ” Mistral laughed. “That’s just mean.” He touched the screen for a moment and then handed the phone back to her.

            Now she was furious. So furious she hardly noticed that her number of likes had doubled since her online fight with Mede had started. “Jerk.”

            “Sure, but I sort of have to give him props for style and content.”

            “Oh, shut up.” She huffed her annoyance. “So where is he?”

            “He’s in the air heading out over the ocean.”

            She just stared at him.

            Mistral closed his eyes. “He’s on a plane.”

            Oh, for the love of… “Can you follow him?”

            “Yes.” He opened his eyes. “But it’s a little more problematic if I have to drag you along. We’d have to find out where he’s landing and then book a flight to the same airport. That’ll take time.”

            “Go by yourself. I’ll stay here.” She hated doing this, but time was important. Mistral could become one with the jet stream and trail Mede’s plane. He couldn’t take Sparkle with him, though.

            He nodded. “I’ll drive you to a hotel and—”

            “No, I meant I’ll stay here, in that truly beautiful house, the painted lady. With Mede’s ‘traveling companion.’” She put all the evil she could muster into her smile. “We’ll have a nice cozy chat once I’ve seen you off.” 

            “Painted lady?” Mistral put on his shirt. Then he retrieved their blanket at the same time he offered his female audience a smile guaranteed to reduce every one of them to a puddle that would quickly evaporate in the Jersey shore heat.

            Sparkle took grim satisfaction at the thought of all of those empty female heads returning to their water-vapory origins. After all, any woman dumb enough not to see past Mistral’s spectacular looks to the wickedness that lay beneath deserved her fate.

            “Gorgeous Victorian houses painted in three or more colors and decorated with lots of gingerbread trim.” She smiled. “I bet Mede felt all his manliness seeping out through the cracks the minute he walked into it. He’s not a pink-house-with-white-and-green-trim kind of guy. Personally, I think the green is a bit much.” Sparkle thought about the house. “Wonder why he bought it, dumped his companion, and then took off again?” At least she knew he intended to come back to it.

            “I have no idea, but I have to admit the Big Boss would never look for him in that place. At least he got a good deal on it. The real-estate agent couldn’t wait to unload it. Not much call for a haunted house that people can’t find.” Mistral offered her a sly grin. “By the way, great job of getting all that info from the agent.”

            Sparkle shrugged. “I’m good at manipulating. It’s what I do.” What she had always done. Then why did the thought of trying to manipulate Mede leave her feeling slimy? Could she make him listen to her without using her power? She didn’t know. 

            “I always liked that about you.” He turned to glance back at the ocean. “Too bad we had to stop at the agency, though. We just missed catching him here. I can’t believe he’s really thinking of starting some kind of school for ‘exceptional’ teens. What the hell is that about?”

            “I don’t know. It doesn’t make sense. Mede was never a kid person.” It was one of the things they had in common. She had no patience with the young and impulsive. The old and foolish were more susceptible to the games she played. 

            He looked at her. “Do you think barging into the place is wise? The companion might not want to share the house.”

            Sparkle didn’t for a minute think whoever waited for her inside would prove a danger. Her powers might not be as spectacular as Mede’s, but she could kick butt with the best.  “Just make sure you get here first to warn me once Mede’s on his way back.” What if he changes his mind and decides not to return? He had connections in Scotland. Maybe he’d decide to hide out in the Highlands. Or in the past. Time and space meant nothing to Mede. No, he had a house to come back to. And a travel companion waiting for his return? She wouldn’t think about that. But if the worst happened, she’d just find him again. She would always find him.

            Mistral met her gaze. “I won’t interfere if the Big Boss shows up.”

            She tried not to flinch. “I wouldn’t expect you to.” Mistral didn’t put his perfect ass in danger for anyone. “Now help me get into that house and then go.”

            “Place feels weird enough to be haunted. Do ghosts scare you?” He looked hopeful as they waited to cross the street.

            Sparkle pretended to think about it. “Only if they’re wearing flip-flops with their Dior gowns.”

            “Of course.” He glanced at her as he strode toward the house. “By the way, that’s an awesome bathing suit. Ostentatious, but still kickass. Won’t the salt water damage all those sparkly things at the top?”

            “Water? Why would I go into the water? And those ‘sparkly things’ are called diamonds.”

            “Right.” He didn’t try to hide that he was laughing at her. “Let’s see what Ganymede’s left for us.”

            Sparkle pulled on her cover-up, which really didn’t cover up much of anything, and slipped into her sandals before following him down the driveway and up the front steps to the wraparound front porch. He stopped before knocking.

            “Ganymede’s put some sort of protective crap across the door. Probably goes all around the house. Jeez, can you believe this place? A three-story frosted pink cake.” Mistral stretched out his hand as though feeling for something. “Strange. Whatever kind of warding he’s done isn’t very powerful. Not even close to as strong as the do-not-notice spell. It might stop humans, but not us. In fact, it seems geared more towards keeping whatever’s inside from getting out.” He looked intrigued.

            Sparkle shrugged. “Mede’s not a wizard. Wards aren’t his strength. From what the agent said, the do-not-notice spell was already here when Mede bought the house.” She stood still for a moment, concentrating. “I hear someone inside, right behind the door.”

            “If I remember, Ganymede deals in extremes. So we’re either going to find a gorgeous woman or a mutated grizzly.”

            “For his future health and wellbeing, it’d better be the grizzly.” She knew her glare could probably burn a hole in the door.

            Mistral placed both palms flat against the invisible barrier Mede had created. “Step back just in case.”

            Sparkle punched his shoulder. “Hey, cosmic troublemaker here, too.  We face whatever’s inside together.” Mistral had always treated her like a delicate piece of crystal. He forgot that a crystal shard could slit his throat as easily as a sword. “Take down the ward.”

            There was a flash of light followed by a muffled boom and then the door blew open.

            Sparkle and Mistral stood staring at a wide-eyed teenage boy wearing a sleeveless gray T-shirt, droopy khaki shorts, and no shoes. Sparkle didn’t even notice what he looked like. She was too busy absorbing the complete horror of his wardrobe choices. The silence lasted for a dozen heartbeats. Sparkle recovered first.

            “Who are you?”

            The boy stared blankly.

            “Name?” Maybe he didn’t speak English.

            The boy shrugged. He shifted his attention to Mistral and growled.

            Mistral looked pleased. “See, the kid knows who the badass is.” He glanced at her. “And it’s not you.”

            He didn’t get a chance to say anything else before the boy launched himself at Mistral. They went down in a tangle of arms and legs.

            She sighed. Boys and their testosterone. Sparkle swept her fingers through her hair, dislodging a sandy waterfall. Ugh.

            She was kind of enjoying their wrestling match until Mistral ended it by becoming a ticked-off lion. Sparkle quickly looked around before relaxing. She offered up a silent thank you to whoever had created the do-not-notice spell.

            The boy disengaged and scrambled to his feet. He backed up, his eyes wild and confused.

            “At least those of us without badass cred don’t end up getting the crap beat out of us.” She knew this child couldn’t hurt Mistral, but Sparkle loved poking at his monstrous ego.

            The lion roared at her.

            “Yes, yes, I know you were trying not to hurt him.” She studied the boy. Now that she was really paying attention, everything fell into place. “I can feel his power. It’s contained right now—Mede’s work no doubt—but he’s one of us.”

            The lion roared again.

            “I agree. Sedona, the vortices, it all makes sense.” Or not. “Mede must’ve been there when this newbie hatched from one of the power spots. He’s taken the boy under his wing.” Something didn’t feel right. What business did Mede have at a vortex? She couldn’t imagine his sole purpose was to capture a newbie. Mede didn’t have any warm and fuzzy feelings for his own kind.

            “Hey, in case you didn’t notice, we have a problem here.”

            Mistral was back in human form, and the boy looked ready to attack him again.

            “Leave. He obviously sees you as a threat. Find Mede for me.”

            He nodded. At least he didn’t insult her by asking if she’d be okay. “I’ll drive the car up to the house.” Then moving slowly so he didn’t startle the boy, Mistral backed out the door.

            It would have been the perfect exit if he hadn’t paused for a last word.

            “See you soon, sis.”

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