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A Perfect Blood (The Hollows #10)(96)

By:Kim Harrison

They’re going to impound my car if it’s still here in the morning, I thought at Al flatly, but the world was already materializing around us, damp and green. I had no idea where we were. It was cold and snowy outside in Cincinnati.
Al’s hand slipped away, and I looked up to see a plate-glass ceiling. Tired ferns edged the slate path we were standing on, and moss. Benches lined the way, most having clay pots on them with even more ferns and flowerless orchids. I peered through the vegetation, deciding that we were in a huge hothouse, the ground cold and gray beyond the glass and the heaters that I could now hear humming. The greenhouse was large enough for trees, and it smelled like vermiculite.
Ahead were more trees, and behind us was a small table and two wire chairs with comfortable, plush cushions. It was vaguely familiar, and I looked up into the dark, silent canopy high overhead.
“Where are we?” I asked. “Trent’s interior gardens?”
The demon tilted his head, giving himself a devilish mien. “Of course. Popping right into Trenton Aloysius Kalamack’s house would be rude.”
It must be something else, because Al had never before been interested in what was rude.
“Mmm, where is my little bitch?” he murmured, his buckled boot grinding into the slate as he turned.
“Winona?” I asked, my anxiety swelling.
“Not Winona. Ceri.” Al breathed deeply. “Bloody-hell wench was easier to deal with when I had control of her soul. She’s gotten positively uppity. Wait here. I’ll fetch her.” He hesitated, his head spinning to look down the trail. “That way, I think. I can smell baby shit.” 
“Al!” I called, not wanting to be caught in Trent’s hothouse alone, but he had vanished in a cascading wash of black ever-after.
I slumped. I was probably on-camera, somewhere. “Hello?” I called, going to sit in one of the chairs. A rustling at the edge of the ferns caught my attention, and I looked down expecting to see a rodent or maybe a bird, but my lips curved up in a smile when I found a gaunt fairy, silver and pale, standing guard with a hand-carved spear pointed at me. She didn’t have any wings, telling me she was one of the fairies who had attacked me last summer.
“Hi,” I said, my eyes widening when the fairy made a stabbing motion at me, snarling. “Um, I know your sister Belle. I’ll take her something if you like.”
Immediately the fairy straightened and stood her spear up to point at the sky. Giving me a long-toothed, scary smile, she ran into the brush. I watched the slowly swaying vegetation grow still, wondering what Trent felt about having become the first year-round landlord of a clan of fairies. They couldn’t migrate, and this was far better than inviting them inside the house. Maybe I should set up a little hothouse of my own. Nah, I liked the pixies too much.
I dropped my keys into my bag, and seeing my phone, I pulled it out to text Ivy that I was at Trent’s with Al and that my car was parked at the DMV. There were soft steps on the slate walk, and I looked up, dampening down an unexpected wash of feeling at the sight of Trent. He was moving at a confident pace, but his stance was wary as he came forward, unbuttoning his suit’s jacket to show a soft linen shirt and a gray tie. I had no doubt that I’d tripped some sort of alarm, but the fact that it was Trent coming to see me, not Quen or a faceless security guard, did a lot to ease my mind.
The memory of tagging HAPA at Junior’s swam up, and I flushed. It wasn’t that I was embarrassed, but I had felt so free with him, talking about memory charms while having pie, and now everything was awkward again. I didn’t know why.
“Rachel?” he said as he came to a stop beside the table, a long, narrow hand coming to rest atop the tiled surface. “When did you get here? Is Ceri with you?”
I pulled my eyes from his hand, still bare of any ring save the one, twin to my own, on his index finger. “Uh, hi. No. Hey, I’m sorry, but Al is wandering around, looking for her.”
Trent’s face lost its expression, a ribbon of fear sliding behind his eyes before he mastered it. “You’re joking, right?” he said, his hand with the missing fingers going behind his back.
Wincing, I pulled my shoulder bag closer to me on my lap. “I wish I was. I’m sorry about this. He thinks that charm, uh, curse for Winona is ready. Trent, I’m sorry. If I’d had any warning, I would’ve called. He snagged me from the DMV parking lot thirty seconds ago.”
His eyes narrowed, and he sighed, looking up into the vegetation. I followed his eyes and saw a camera blinking. “Really!” I insisted, scooting to the back of my chair. “He’s been like this lately. Popping into my kitchen like it’s his closet and he’s looking for his slippers. I think the other demons are giving him a hard time, and he’s using me as an excuse to leave. He keeps taking my spelling equipment and whipped cream.”
Trent reached for an insanely thin phone from the inside of his suit’s jacket, flipping it open and beginning to tap fast with his thumbs, like an adolescent girl. “If there’s a demon wandering around, Quen should know,” he muttered.
“Sorry.” It was the third time I’d said it, and my gaze lingered on his mutilated hand.“It happens around you,” he added sourly, eyes on his tiny keyboard.
“You’re taking it rather well.”
Trent snapped his phone closed and tucked it away, his remaining fingers curling, hiding the fact that some were missing. “If he so much as touches my girls, I will hold you responsible.”
I stiffened. Taking my bag from my lap, I set it on the slate floor, leaned back in the chair, and crossed my legs to look more confident. “Al is not my responsibility,” I said lightly, even as I felt a new tension begin to take hold. If he touched Ray or Lucy . . .
Pulling the other chair out, Trent sat, angled away from me but not enough to be rude. “He’s here because of you. Take responsibility.”
I frowned, pulling my thoughts back from the curse I’d found to put maggots into food stocks. “Can we wait to see how bad he is before we start burning me in effigy?” I said sourly, and he cracked a smile.
Relief spilled into me, and he shifted to put the flat of an arm on the table as he looked into his garden, his mind clearly on other things as we waited. “Have you seen any more evidence of HAPA?” he asked, and I uncrossed my legs, surprised.
“Yes and no.” I forced my teeth to unclench. “Glenn is quitting the FIB.”
Trent’s eyes flicked to mine and held. “Really?”
I nodded. “As far as anyone knows, you took me out for coffee so I could blow off steam. I think Ivy and Jenks suspect something, since no one seems to care that Dr. Cordova is gone and I’m not hell-bent on finding HAPA, but Ivy tells me Glenn is quitting the FIB, packing up Daryl, and moving to Flagstaff where the air is cleaner.” Ivy was pissed, to say the least, which made living with her difficult. Well, more difficult than usual.
“I think the-men-who-don’t-belong asked him to work with them,” I whispered, and Trent’s foot stopped moving. I looked up to find him watching me with an I-told-you-so expression, and I picked at the stone table. “It’s either that, or he figured out that Dr. Cordova was a member of HAPA and he wanted out.”
“Felix won’t return my calls.” Trent was reaching for his phone again. “Damn,” he swore softly when he changed his mind and left it where it was. “I don’t like the closed hearings they’re conducting with the three HAPA members they have, either. It smacks of the old days.”
It was one of the few times I’d ever heard him swear, and it made me smile even if the news wasn’t good. “Does Ceri know what we did on our coffee date yet?” I asked, and he jerked his attention to me.
“God no.” He shifted uncomfortably. “I think she suspects something, though. We’ve had cherry pie for dessert five nights in a row.” 
His voice drawled, and my smile deepened. We both settled back, content to wait as events shifted around us. I kind of liked having secrets with Trent, and I glanced sidelong at him in the growing darkness as snow started to fall, a soft hush on the glass ceiling. His profile was clean and young, his smile at our last words fading into a slight frown at some private thought.
He had turned Dr. Cordova into a monster, and I didn’t care. What made it so different from what Chris had done? Was it because his justice was an eye for an eye, brutal but satisfying in a horrible way? Was it because Cordova wanted to wipe out Inderland, and he was protecting it? Or maybe that I knew he’d never do anything like that to me?
Someday, you’ll thank me for that skill echoed in my mind. Don’t change because I’m a bastard quickly followed it, and I dropped my eyes, confused.
“There she is,” Trent said softly, his gaze on the path as he stood. I still didn’t see anything, but a second later, I heard Ceri’s voice. Another moment, and she made a turn on the path and was there. She had both Lucy and Ray, the smaller baby, over her shoulder, looking back at Al. I stiffened and rose to my feet, even if the demon was following at an obvious ten-foot distance. He was making funny faces and turning his hair different colors to entertain the little dark-haired girl, and I didn’t like it.