Cazzandra rode with Nyte again, following Raven and the rest of us. On the map, what looked like a one-hour trip sped by in forty minutes. We pulled into the drive of a modest-looking ranch-style house in a suburb a short distance from a city. It looked like every suburb I’d ever seen, devoid of old trees with houses dotted close together, almost all of them with earth tone siding. If supernaturals lived here, they were hiding in plain sight. Claws walked to the couples’ front door with me. If they knew anything about witches, they’d recognize a familiar.
The wife answered the door, looking nervous. “There’s not some kind of problem, is there? We paid in cash. We have a receipt.”
Raven had told us they’d paid $250,000 for the five-year-old boy. No wonder the couple Nyte talked to had dropped out of bidding. Claws glanced in the house and decided to stay behind, sprawling on the sidewalk to wait for us.
“Is it all right if he stays outside?” I asked. “Will he frighten mortals?”
She shook her head. “Our neighbors are shifters and vampires.”
Inside, the house was furnished with fake suede sofas and chairs and black lacquered furniture. The woman led us into the living room and motioned for us to sit. The little boy was nowhere to be seen, but cartoons sounded from the basement.
The husband leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “We didn’t want to upset Brom if there’s a problem. He seems to be happy here, or as happy as he can be so soon after being adopted.”
His wife hurried to say, “I know our house isn’t as big or fancy as some, but we put all of our money into saving to adopt. If the house is a problem, within a year or two, we can buy a bigger one.”
I turned to Prim. She knew the boy. We didn’t. “Prim?”
The expression on her face attested to how difficult this was for her. She took a deep breath. “When you adopted Brom, I’m sure you weren’t told the entire truth. Brom’s parents didn’t die. They were murdered so that someone could steal their children.”
The parents reached for each other’s hand, their expressions shocked. “Did Brom see what happened?” the husband asked.
“We don’t know. We’d like to question him. I’m sure you’d like to know, too. If he witnessed what happened, he’ll need help dealing with it. By the way, I’m Prim.” She introduced the rest of us. “Raven and Nyte are law officers investigating the deaths.”
None of us mentioned that Brom’s parents weren’t the only ones murdered, that the entire settlement was wiped out. They didn’t need to deal with that. That was our job.
The husband took a deep breath, rattled enough. “I’m Kody, and this is my wife, Willow. We bid on Brom because I’m a bear-shifter, and Brom’s a little bit vampire, a little witch, part bear-shifter, and part nymph. We thought we’d match him as well as anyone could.”
A good choice. Kody obviously shifted into a Kodiak, and I sensed a lot of nymph in Willow. I was curious. “Brom’s used to living in a supernatural settlement. Are there many supernaturals here?”
Willow glanced out the window, gesturing up and down the street. “The entire suburb. We all settled here to find a sense of community. We take turns home-schooling our children, so they learn about each magick and get to know one another.”
Impressive. My gaze returned to Prim. I didn’t see how anyone could find a better placement for the boy. These people obviously loved him and had chosen him with care.
Kody’s gaze slid to Raven. “Are we in trouble? We know it’s illegal to pay for children, but it’s so hard to adopt a supernatural, and we wanted a child so much.”
Raven again deferred to Prim, surprising me. And her. Prim pursed her lips. “I don’t see any point in uprooting Brom now. His mom and dad are dead. Their parents were much older and finished with child rearing by the time they became grandparents. Brom needs a good home.”
“We can give him that,” Willow hurried to say.
Prim nodded. “That’s good enough for me.”
Kody and Willow relaxed slightly, relieved, but Nyte interrupted. “I’m glad that’s settled, but we still need to talk to Brom. He might remember something that will help us find the killer.”
Kody stood and walked to the door to the basement. “Brom? Would you come here a minute?”
Footsteps bounded up the stairs. My heart melted when I saw the boy. He had a headful of black curls, chocolate brown eyes, and a naughty smile.
“Are we going to the park now?” he asked, excited.
“No.” Kody pointed to us. “But these nice people need to ask you some questions. They’re about your parents. When they’re through, we’ll go the park and get ice cream.”
Brom strode in front of us and plopped, Indian fashion, on the floor.
Nyte gestured for Raven to question him. Raven gentled his voice. “You remember your parents, don’t you?”
Brom’s face puckered, and he nodded. “They died.”
“Do you know how?”
“They got sick real fast. A nice lady came to get me and said she’d take care of me until she could find me a good home.” He brightened. “And she did. I have a new mom and dad now.”
He sounded chipper, but I knew he was only making the best of a bad situation. He’d come close to crying before he reached the end of his story.
“Can you describe the nice lady?” Raven asked. “We’d like to talk to her, too.”
Brom frowned. “She had long, brown hair and funny eyes. She hid her hair every night and put on sunglasses.”
“Every night?” Raven glanced my way. I shrugged, at a loss. He went on. “Where did you stay until she brought you here?”
“At a big, scary house. She told me never to go upstairs, that monsters lived there, but I was safe when I stayed on the bottom floor.”
Raven started to frown, but made himself smile. He looked formidable when he scowled and knew it. “You said the woman had funny eyes. What did they look like?”
“They were all gray. No black in the middle. And she never blinked. Like a snake.”
A snake. And the parents were covered with poisonous bites. What did that? Were there serpent shifters?
Raven continued. “Was it a long drive from your settlement to the woman’s house?”
“I don’t know. She gave me hot chocolate and it made me sleepy. I was in a bedroom with some of my friends when I woke up.” Brom smiled. “I never got to sleep in a bunk bed before.”
“How many other kids?”
“A lot of us. Their parents got sick and died, too.”
Kody and Willow exchanged worried glances. His words now held new meaning for them.
“What about when the lady drove you here?” Raven asked. “Did that take a long time?”
Brom grimaced. “Almost all day. She wouldn’t even stop for snacks.”
She must not have wanted to drug him this time. She wanted him to be alert when he met his new parents. The house must be in this area somewhere.
“Is there anything else you can tell me?”
Brom sniffed. “I miss my mommy and daddy. I hope Kody and Willow don’t get sick like they did.”
Tears misted Prim’s eyes. Derek reached to pat her shoulder.
Just then Brom glanced toward the front door and squealed happily when he saw Claws looking back at him through the screen. “A kitty!”
Claws’ ears flattened, and I almost laughed at my ocelot’s vanity. His pride flared at the word kitty.
“Can I pet him?” Brom leapt to his feet.
I glanced at my familiar, and his ears twitched back in place. “He’d like that.”
All of us trudged out the front door, and Brom threw his arms around Claws’s neck. My silly cat purred. He might growl and fuss, but he liked children. I watched with pleasure as Brom stroked his spotted fur. This way, the boy might remember us as friendly. His new parents might, too.
Nyte shifted back and forth, trying to be patient, but finally said, “We need to get going, but thank you for your time.”
Kody and Willow led a reluctant Brom into the house, and we loaded back into our vehicles to drive to the next house on our trip, the couple who couldn’t afford a child. I didn’t think the sight of an ocelot was going to cheer them.