Under the Moon (Goddesses Rising), page 18
She turned. Chloe stood on the cottage’s wraparound porch, shading her eyes against the still-low sun. Quinn smiled and waved, her heart contracting at Chloe’s eyes. Even from this distance, the color was abnormal, bleached. An indicator of her loss that would be difficult to hide.
Chloe grinned and ran down a second set of stairs to the sand, hurrying to meet Quinn in a hug.
“It’s so good to see you!” Chloe tilted Quinn side-to-side, squeezing. She seemed much more chipper and calm than Tanda had. If it weren’t for her abnormally light gray eyes, Quinn wouldn’t know anything had happened to her.
Chloe let go and tucked her arm through Quinn’s elbow. “Where’s Sam?”
“Probably standing at your front door.” As she spoke he appeared around the side of the cottage. He wore jeans and a chocolate-colored V-neck sweater over a white T-shirt and looked very J. Crew with his hair blowing in the breeze off the water.
“Yum,” Chloe said, and Quinn laughed.
“C’mon. I have breakfast all ready.”
Visiting Chloe was far different from visiting Tanda. Tanda was refined and serious and had still been grieving the loss of her goddess power. Chloe, however, was often described as “kooky,” and her way of dealing with her loss fit the description.
The first thing Quinn saw when she walked into the kitchen was a big framed needlepoint sampler that said, “Once a Goddess, Always a Goddess…Unless You Date Leeches.” She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “You were dating the leech?” she asked, though Holly had already told her she was.
“Yep.” Chloe pointed at herself. “Idiot.”
“Was he dating all of you?” Sam asked, sounding incredulous.
Chloe raised her head. “All of us?” Her voice quavered, and Sam looked abashed.
“I’m sorry. I guess you didn’t hear about the others.”
Blinking fast, as if against tears, Chloe shook her head. “No, I haven’t been in touch with many people. But he traveled a lot, so it’s not surprising.” She smiled when Sam took a basket of muffins from her to set on the table. “He wasn’t dating Tanda. She had a boyfriend. The asshole,” she added, already back to her normal demeanor. “Would make sense for my asshole to cozy up to whomever he wanted to steal from, though.”
“Okay, right, I forgot that.” Sam poured juice and laid napkins on the table, while Chloe removed warm croissants from the oven and butter from the refrigerator. Quinn stood back, knowing she’d just get in the way of their dance if she tried to help. Chloe basked in having someone to nurture, as well as Sam’s solicitous attention.
“Chloe, I’m sorry,” she began, but Chloe waved a hand at her.
She obviously meant it as a dismissal, but Quinn explained anyway. “For getting all wrapped up in myself and not trying harder to reach you.”
Chloe rolled her eyes. “Oh, for goodness sake. You already apologized, and you know he took my phone. It’s not like you were hanging in your bar. I know you.” She eyed her out of the corner of her eye. “I know Nick, too. I expected him to be hanging all over you. Doesn’t he think you’re a target?”
Quinn wasn’t sure how to respond. Sam helped her out.
“We do think she is. I’m the hanger today, while Nick checks out a couple of leads.”
“Ahhhhhhh.” Chloe nodded. She pulled the kettle off the stove and set it on a trivet, clearly done with the topic. Quinn’s determination to catch this guy took on a new dimension. Not just protecting herself and the other unleeched goddesses, but getting justice for her friends.
“Tea, Quinn? Or coffee?”
“Tea sounds good, thanks.”
“I’ll take coffee.” Sam held Quinn’s chair for her, then waited to seat Chloe as well. “This is fabulous, Chloe, thanks.”
“Oh, it’s nothing. Since I can’t do my usual stuff”—she waved a hand at the windows looking out on the ocean—“I’ve been spending a lot of time baking.”
Quinn took a bite of an orange muffin. “Wow.” It melted in her mouth, filling it with a blend of tang and spice. “This is incredible.”
“Good!” She beamed some more. “I’m going to open a bakery. I always wanted to, but the goddess stuff took so much of my time, I couldn’t. So maybe it’s a blessing my power was taken from me.”
“What did you do?” Sam asked, tearing a croissant.
“The usual. You know, a lot of the same stuff Quinn and everyone else does. Finding lost things, diagnosing problems. I wasn’t very good at healing, but I could make adjustments. Like if a broken bone didn’t fuse right, or if someone had a birth defect. It’s a never-ending stream.” She scooped some sugar into her teacup and stirred it vigorously.
“I think you’re amazing,” Quinn said. “Your attitude is very healthy.” She wouldn’t be so positive if it happened to her.
“Oh, no, it’s not!” Chloe hooted. “I’m sick of helping everyone else all the time. I want to be selfish for a while. Don’t you ever feel that way?”
“She’s plenty selfish,” Sam said. Quinn smacked him on the arm with the back of her hand.
“It’s not always about selflessness,” she told Chloe. “Sometimes it’s fun. There was a woman in Columbus a couple of years back. A guy she dated once and refused to sleep with wouldn’t leave her alone. She hired me to put the fear of goddesses into him.”
“That was one of the fun ones,” Sam agreed. “You made his Eminem CDs play Neil Diamond.”
Chloe laughed in delight. “No way!”
“Not exactly,” Quinn corrected. “I twisted the path in his CD player so it played a different disk than he thought he was playing.”
“She also turned his shower water blue, which turned him blue. Then she set his dog on fire.”
“Don’t worry,” Quinn said. “It didn’t touch the dog. But since the dog sounded like he was roaring something like, ‘Leave her alone or the wrath of Khan will crash upon you!’ it was quite effective.”
“I didn’t know you were so much fun!” Chloe reached to spear a slice of pineapple from a plate. “Tell me more.”
They swapped stories for hours, laughing until they cried. At dinnertime, they ordered pizza for a late lunch and sat in chaise recliners on the back porch to wait for the delivery.
“In your e-mail, you said something weird happened,” Quinn reminded Chloe. It had been in the back of her mind all day, but they’d both needed the interlude, and she’d instinctively known asking would ruin their happiness, however momentary it was. She was sorry to bring it up now, especially when a frown replaced Chloe’s relaxed expression.
“A security team came to interview me after I was leeched. A few times. I guess as they compiled more information, there was always more to find.”
“That’s logical,” Quinn said.
“Yeah, but the last time, a few days ago, they sent one guy to talk to me, and he asked a bunch of questions about you.”
Quinn wished she felt more surprised. The dread their interlude had held at bay came creeping back.
“What kind of questions?” Sam asked.
“Weird ones. Like, how long have I known you, have I met your family, do you have a boyfriend, stuff that made no sense.”
Sam looked grim. Quinn figured he was thinking the same thing she was—the Society’s suspicions went beyond “family ties.” It sounded like they thought she’d created the leech. Had they sent the security team after her yet? They’d been on the road, and therefore hard to find. She had to get to Maine before they caught up to her. She checked her watch, a little shocked at how many hours had passed. They hadn’t heard from Nick all day.
A horn honked out front, and Sam got up. “I’ll go pay the driver.”
“You’re so lucky,” Chloe said as he rounded the corner of the house. “He’s so devoted to you.”
Quinn nodded sadly. “I know.”
“Not really. It’s true.”
“But there’s Nick.”
Quinn sighed. “There’s always Nick.”
“Always, and yet never.”
“That about sums it up.” She stared out over the water. Amazing how she’d thought her feelings for Nick were buried so deep no one else could ever have discerned them, yet everyone she talked to nailed their relationship in a few words.
“You know, not to put any blame on you or anything, but being jealous of you and Nick was part of the reason I hooked up with Adrian in the first place.”
Quinn jolted with recognition. “Adrian?” Ned said Marley was with a guy whose name began with an A.
“The leech. I have no idea if that’s his real name.”
“And you were—”
“Jealous of you and Nick, yeah.”
Quinn stifled a quick burst of resentment. From inside, she couldn’t see what there was to be jealous of. But someone on the outside might only see the friendship and assume it was more. And as complicated and painful as things were right now, it beat being betrayed and damaged by someone you cared about.
“I saw you at the last board meeting,” Chloe continued. “July, right, in Chicago? It was new moon, and he was with you. And you guys just work together. I was feeling lonely and spiteful and when this guy came up to me in the hotel bar—”
“Wait. You met him in the bar?” Quinn sat up, her feet hitting the floor. “At a Society board meeting?”
“Yeah. I saw him about once every two weeks after that, for a couple of days. He said he had to travel for work.”
Sam’s heavy tread sounded from the side of the cottage. As soon as he appeared, Quinn said, “Did you hear that?”
“Part of it.” He set the two boxes on the small, square plastic table between the two chaises. “Paper plates?”
“Cabinet next to the fridge, with the napkins. Thanks, doll.” Chloe flipped the first lid and the spicy aroma wafted out. She pried out a wedge of the broccoli-chicken pizza.
Sam went inside and came out a minute later with all the supplies. “So he was scouting at the meeting,” he said to Quinn. “I wonder if he’s been to other meetings. Chapters, maybe.”
“Might have been. Did you see him with anyone else?”
Chloe shrugged. “Nope. He was alone in the bar. Until he came up to my room with me.” She grinned. “It was a fun night.”
“But not worth what came later,” Sam said. “Was it?”
“Of course not, but I try not to think about that. I mean, you can only call yourself stupid for so long before it becomes true. I made a mistake, but I couldn’t have known. Even if I hadn’t slept with him that night, it would have happened.” She lifted the slice of pizza to drop dangling cheese into her mouth.
Quinn ignored the pizza, energized by the new information. This was more than they’d had before. A name, a process. But not enough to help them find the leech, never mind stop him. Not even enough to confirm the connection to her family. “Chloe, do you know Marley Canton? She’s in Maine.”
Chloe shook her head. “I knew a Tess Canton. She came to the chapter meetings for a while. Not in years, though. Why?”
Sam’s brow puckered, but Quinn didn’t see why she shouldn’t tell her. It was going to come out eventually.
“She’s my sister. Marley is.”
Chloe gaped. “No way!”
“Yeah. I didn’t know until a couple of weeks ago.”
“Wow. What a time to find out.” She dropped her crust onto a plate. “Is Marley involved? Is that why security asked all those questions?”
Quinn reached for a piece of pizza. “Probably.” Hopefully. Quinn being a suspect didn’t seem to cross Chloe’s mind. “I wonder if Marley knew the—knew Adrian.”
Chloe shrugged. “I have no idea. But obviously, I’ve been clueless all across the board.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes as they ate, not wanting to pursue the subject anymore. After a little while, the mood lightened, and they enjoyed the unusually mild weather and friendly conversation until four o’clock. The moon had reached the horizon, and the faint buzz that accompanied its power vibrated deep inside Quinn, familiar and comforting.
But then a blade of unease sharpened into fear for an instant before fading. All the hairs on her body rose. She shivered.
She reached for her cell phone, mindless of the fact that Chloe was midsentence. Sam, who’d been using Chloe’s wireless connection to go online, leaned toward Quinn.
“What’s the matter?” he murmured.
“I don’t know,” she whispered back. “Can you call Nick, please? Check in with him?”
“Sure.” He stood and set the computer on the chair, then walked several feet away to make the call.
“So you should come to the chapter meeting!” Chloe said, not paying any attention to their exchange. “Since you missed the big one last week. Everyone will be glad to see you.”
Quinn wasn’t so sure about that. “What happened at the Society meeting?” Did anyone talk about me? But she hadn’t told Chloe that the board cut her off, and Chloe hadn’t mentioned it, so she didn’t voice the question out loud.
“The usual, only more boring.”
“They didn’t talk about the leech?” Quinn couldn’t believe that.
“Oh, sure. The board gave their official statement and some security tips, handed around the sketch of Adrian, weak as it was. His charisma doesn’t come through. But they said the security team was handling it, anyone with information should call the office, blah blah blah. If they heard anyone talking about it, they forced the conversation to something else.”
“That’s unbelievable.” Quinn shook her head. “Why are they being so stupid?”
Chloe shrugged. “I don’t think they’re being stupid. I think they’re trying to keep people from panicking. Can you imagine if we started seeing the leech in any random guy? PR nightmare, not to mention maybe people getting hurt.”
“I guess you’re right,” Quinn said. “Hey, do you have a copy of that sketch? Or any pictures?”
“Nope, sorry. We never took photos, and there was no reason for me to get a copy of the sketch.”
Sam returned to his chair and shook his head at Quinn. He looked worried. Panic squeezed Quinn’s lungs. It might not be anything. His battery died again. I told him to get another charger. Or maybe he turned the phone off so it wouldn’t ring and give him away or something.
Or something. Her attempt to stave off the panic was only partially successful, but what the hell could she do about it now? Nick was hundreds of miles away.
“I’d love to come to the meeting with you,” she told Chloe, forcing herself back to the subject. “Is there a nearby hotel you recommend?”
“You can stay here. I only have the sofa bed, but it’s just one night. You don’t mind, do you, Sam?”
Quinn cringed. The rising moon only provided a trickle of power, and if she didn’t use it, she should be able to avoid the moon lust for one night. It would be disastrous to have to deal with it now, after their conversation last night.
She managed to stop herself from building a barrier of pillows down the center of the barely double-size sofa bed later that night. She had already claimed a side and was in bed with the lights off when Sam joined her.
“How many times did you try to reach Nick?” she asked him.
“I tried three. It’s not like him, Sam.”
“I know. And the last time…” He lowered his voice. “The last time I called, a minute ago, it picked up. There was static and some yelling before it cut off.”
Panic fluttered through her again. “What kind of yelling?”
Sam slid his long legs under the covers and sighed when his feet poked out the bottom. He hitched himself higher against the back of the sofa
“Or it could have been real people. I didn’t hear enough to know if it was Nick.”
She sat up. “We have to go after him.”
“Quinn, he’d kill me if I let you anywhere near there if we think there’s trouble.”
“I know, but we can’t leave him.” She swung her legs over the side of the bed and dug underneath for her shoes. “We shouldn’t have let it go this long.”
Sam caught her elbow and tugged her upright. “It hasn’t been long. It takes hours to get to Maine, and I think Marley’s place is rural. Maybe he can’t get a signal again.”
She was tired of that excuse. For all the bragging of the various mobile phone companies, none of them seemed to have the coverage they needed, when they needed it most.
“He’s probably fine,” he tried, but she could tell he wasn’t certain of it himself. “I’m supposed to keep you safe. Here is safe. There—we don’t know.”
“All the more reason to go after him.” She pulled her arm away and got down on the floor. Where the hell was her shoe? She spotted it, an arm’s length under the bed, and caught it as Sam climbed off the bed and pulled her to her feet.
“No one has gotten the better of Nick Jarrett in fifteen years,” he reminded her, rubbing his hands up and down her arms as if to soothe, but too briskly to have the intended effect. “What if the yelling was nothing?”
“What if it’s not?”
“What if it’s a trap?”
His earnestness penetrated. He was trying to protect her, like Nick had demanded, and he was right. If it were a trap, running into it would hasten any harm that could come to Nick. Her brain started working rationally again. “Someone could have taken Nick’s phone.”
Sam’s hands relaxed their grip. “Right. There are a hundred things it could be.”
Sighing, she dropped back onto the bed. “I don’t know what to do.”
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