In the morning, when we left to drive home, Nyte and Cazzandra drove toward their horse farm with Ward, Purity, and their grandmother. The rest of us turned toward the Mississippi ferry and Muddy River.
This time, I didn’t mind that the entire trip was a blur. So were my thoughts. When we finally passed the wards that guarded our town, I would have gladly stopped and gotten down on my hands and knees to kiss its earth. Hecate, how I’d missed it!
We drove straight to our house, so that Derek and Prim could get their car. They’d left it there to drive with us. Destinie and Wes, along with Chloe and Archer, Baryl, Syn and Gray stopped for a minute. Wes yelled, “See you in town! Where will we meet? At your office, Raven? You know everyone’s going to want to hear what happened.”
“Give us half an hour,” Raven called, “and we’ll be there.”
We took quick showers and changed. “I want to wash off every speck of Murlyn and this mess,” Raven told me. I felt the same.
Claws ran to the river banks while we got ready but came to jump in Raven’s black Lamborghini for our drive to town.
“I love your SUV,” Raven told me, “but we’ve spent too much time in it lately. And it still has the dust of our battles in Missouri on it.”
When we finally parked in the lot behind the brick building that held Raven’s office and our town’s jail, the others were already there. And Wes was right. So was most of the town. Raven walked to the sidewalk and faced Main Street to greet them. As the rest of us joined him, cheers went up.
When the noise died down, Silver Lopez grinned. “Glad you guys are back. Brown’s done his best to man your office, and I’ve tried to do right by Derek’s bar, but we’re not cut out for this.”
Raven smiled. He scanned the crowd for Brown and gave him a grateful nod. “Thanks for watching over things.”
Festus yelled from the crowd. “Silver’s a great guy, but he can’t mix drinks worth crap. We all ordered beer to be safe.”
Derek laughed. “At least he made sure the bar stayed open. Thanks, buddy.”
Prim’s gaze wandered until she found Faiza and Winifred. When she saw the young witch, the girl burst into a smile and Faiza gave a nod for her to run to be with her. Winifred threw her arms around Prim, burying her head against her shoulder.
“I was afraid you wouldn’t come back.”
Prim rubbed her back. “So was I.”
And then the questions started. We all stayed and patiently answered every single one. When the buzz eventually died down, Ruby said, “We’ve planned a community carry-in for tomorrow. But tonight, each of you are coming to my restaurant for a free supper. You can see what a good worker I’ve adopted.”
I stared. Ruth was a wonderful cook, and the food she served showed how well the Druid knew her herbs and spices. She was a warm woman but not given to anything demonstrative. “You adopted one of the settlement’s children?”
A young boy was standing beside her and grinned. “Me. She adopted me.”
Prim smiled and said, “Red, a fox shifter.”
Another surprise. I didn’t know there was such a thing, but I should have. Not every shape-changer was a fox, bear, or cat.
Ruby gave the boy a look of pure love. “He’s not as expensive as having a wolf. When he shifts and needs energy, he’s happy with chicken.”
We all laughed, including Red.
“If you guys can stick around, I made a list of every kid who was adopted and who they went to,” Brown said.
There was no way Prim was going to miss that. Neither would Syn and Gray. They’d asked to adopt a twelve-year-old girl. “I love Gray,” Syn had told me. “But I miss Yenene. No one can replace her, but it would be nice to have a girl around again.”
Raven nodded, and when people started heading for home, we stayed. Brown and Meda started toward the office to show us the paperwork Brown had kept, and I was surprised to see Strike and a lovely, young woman join them. His new Fae bride? I thought Strike was going to settle in Carolina close to her family. Faiza followed behind, probably anxious to see Prim and tell her about Winifred.
When we all gathered in the office, Strike—the handsome warlock who’d once courted Meda—bowed and motioned to the woman with him. “Let me introduce you to my wife, Amaris.”
Prim looked excited. “A Fae, like me.”
Amaris, willowy and lovely with silky brown hair and hazel eyes, gave a shy smile. “I’ve heard so much about Muddy River.”
“How long are you visiting?” I asked.
Her clear, bright eyes clouded with worry. “We’re settling here.”
Before I could ask, Strike said, “We meant to settle in Carolina, near my two sisters and Amaris’s family, but supernaturals are disappearing there. They leave for a short trip and don’t come back.”
“Your families?” Raven asked.
“All safe, but we decided to find settlements to make our homes, to be near our own kind. My sisters went with their husbands to live near their families. Amaris’s family is returning to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan where they first lived. There’s a strong supernatural community there. They should be safe. Amaris grew up there and liked the idea of southern Indiana better, so we came here.”
Raven nodded. “We welcome you. Glad you’re back.”
Strike put a protective arm around his new bride. “Let’s hope trouble doesn’t find us here.”
I’d gladly second that. But Prim had listened to us long enough. She turned to Brown. “Tell us about the children.”
“All thirteen have found homes,” Brown said. He opened the desk drawer and pulled out his list. “We did our best to place them with parents who have similar magicks or interests as they do.”
Syn frowned. “You save a girl for us, didn’t you?”
Prim nodded nervously. “I’d promised Syn and Gray they could have first pick since they went to Missouri to fight with us.”
Brown gave Syn a reassuring smile. “She’s been waiting for you at Sugi and Noira’s coffee shop. They’re bringing her over right now. I think you’ll be pleased.”
Just then, there was a quick knock at the door and Sugi poked her head inside. “You ready to meet Pashun? She’s half witch, half succubus.”
I smiled when I saw the girl with the long, black hair who hadn’t trusted us when we rescued the kids from the orphanage. Smart and pretty, she’d be a perfect match for Syn. The girl stepped inside and stopped to study Syn and Gray.
“Sugi says you’re a succubus.”
Syn nodded. “And this is my mate, Gray.”
“Yeah, I know. Brown’s father.” She looked at Brown. “They want me, right? You’re not just foisting me on them?”
Syn blinked back tears. “We want you. So much. I run a lingerie shop. You could help me, and if you want to, Hester agreed to let you study at our school for witches.”
The girl was no push-over, but she looked satisfied. It would take a while before she truly accepted Syn and Gray, but that was to be expected. She was older than the little kids who’d been adopted, and she was more cynical.
Sugi raised an eyebrow at the girl. “You’re not bad for a teenager. Consider me an aunt. We’ve gotten attached to you.” She looked at Syn. “It takes a minute to get used to her, but she’s all right.”
Syn laughed and held out her arms. The girl didn’t walk into them but went to stand beside her. “Thanks for giving me a home.” The words were brittle.
I glanced at Raven and his amber eyes glittered with humor. This girl was going to be a handful, but Yenene had been, too. Syn was going to be happy.
Brown returned to his list. He pressed a finger to the names Silver and Slinky Lopez. “They adopted two kids, a boy and a girl. Both part shifter.”
I was surprised to see that Aurel, a vampire who’d fought with us against a rogue incubus, had adopted a young boy, who was part vampire, too. Aurel had recently changed Carlotta, his true love, from mortal to vampire. But they’d known each other quite a while. They must be ready to have a family.
Prim studied the rest of the list, looking more and more satisfied. She’d finished, and our business was done, when the pre-teen boy Ruby had adopted knocked on the door and looked in. “Ruby says it’s time to eat. She made you a special supper.”
Derek narrowed his eyes, studying the kid. “You sound so happy. Are you sure you want to hook up with Ruby for another ten years, at the least?”
The kid grinned. “She reminds me of my grandma. Mom always told me her bark was worse than her bite.” He seemed to enjoy his own joke. “She was part shifter, part witch. Get it? Anyway, I figured out that she grumbled all the time while she was doing nice things. Ruby’s like that. She only meant to give me a place to stay until I found a home, but I liked her so much, she let me stay.”
From the look on the grumpy Druid’s face when she introduced the boy, I’d say she’d have fought to keep him. But the boy knew that.
He jerked his head to the door. “You’d better move it. She made me set the table for you and everything.”
We all left the office and started toward the restaurant. Raven and I lingered to bring up the rear. I had no idea where Claws had gotten off to. He was as happy to be home as we were. He was probably hanging out with his fellow familiar friends. As we walked down the street, Raven shook his head. “We’ve been home half an hour, and people are already making demands. Guess life is back to normal.”
I snuggled closer to his side. “You gotta love Muddy River.” But as I glanced at Meda and Brown laughing and talking to Strike and his new bride, a small worry niggled, and I quickly buried it. Whatever had been plaguing the Carolina supernaturals was miles from here. No worries for us. I hoped.
Books Written as Judi Lynn
Muddy River Mystery One (Black Magic Can Backfire)
Mixing It Up with Mortals (Muddy River Mystery Two)
Mill Pond Romances:
Cooking Up Trouble
Love on Tap
Spicing Things Up
First Kiss, On The House
The Body in the Attic
The Body in the Wetlands (due Apr. 23)
The Body in the Gravel (due Sept. 24)
Urban Fantasy Books written as Judith Post
Fabric of Life
Fallen Angel Series:
Wolf’s Bane Series:
Empty Altars Series:
Spinners of Misfortune
Babet & Prosper series, Emerald Hills, Christian & Brina, Death & Loralei, Gorgons & Gargoyles