Maybe she’d rented it out, though. Maybe she wasn’t here because she worked weekends. Maybe she would take one look at Mary Ann and tell her to get lost. She definitely wouldn’t want to answer questions akin to, “Was your husband a weirdo who could raise the dead?” But Mary Ann was going to try.
The sun shone brightly, clouds floating by and obscuring the golden rays every few minutes. Mist formed in front of her face every time she breathed. As she unrolled her shirtsleeves for added warmth, she asked, “How’s Aden?” ashamed for not asking sooner. In her defense, he was the reason she was here.
“Recovering,” was all Riley said. “No thanks to Tuck.”
“Can you just let it go?” Tucker snapped. “I said I was sorry.”
“Absolutely I can let it go. The day you’re dead.”
Mary Ann pinched the bridge of her nose, certain her head would explode by the end of the day. She had never wanted to become a referee, but that’s what they had reduced her to. Next go-round, she was going to demand a paycheck!
After two hours of the back-and-forth insults, her headache was more of an enemy than the witches and the fairies, and she was very close to convincing herself Tonya Smart couldn’t help her. Of course, that’s when she heard the purr of a car motor, the crunch of tires coming up the drive.
Mary Ann hopped to her feet. Her butt had fallen asleep, and the abrupt movement awakened it with a vengeance.
“Let me do the talking,” she told the boys.
“What are you going to say?” Tucker asked.
“Just watch and learn, demon,” Riley said. “She’ll say the right thing, that’s what.”
Tucker pouted. “You told him your plan, but didn’t tell me?”
“No. He just trusts me. Now zip it.” She hadn’t told either one of them because she hadn’t yet figured out what angle to pursue. But this was crunch time. She had to figure it out now.
Ms. Smart emerged from the vehicle. She was in her mid-fifties, with light brown hair, a trim form, her clothes neat and tidy. She was pretty in a motherly way, and at one time, she’d probably been beautiful.
She carried a sack of groceries and smiled warmly as she approached. Mary Ann wished she could see her eyes, but they were hidden behind sunglasses.
She was human, Mary Ann thought, surprised her mind now worked that way. Nowadays, the first time she met someone new, she immediately sized them up.
“Her aura is black,” Riley muttered, and he sounded confused.
What exactly did that mean? No time to ask. “Yes, you can help me. My name is Mary Ann. You’re Tonya Smart, right?”
“Right,” she replied, just a bit hesitant now.
Finally. A break. “I’m just…well, my mother died the same day as your husband.” Was she really going there, right from the beginning? “In the same hospital.” Yep. She was. “She gave birth to me, and…that was it. The end.” How stupid did she sound?
Some of the warmth faded, wariness taking its place. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you. I’m sorry for yours, as well.”
Ms. Smart nodded in acknowledgment, shifting the grocery sack to her other arm. Her gaze must have skidded over the boys, because the wariness became laced with fear. “Why are you telling me this? Why are you here?”
“We won’t hurt you,” Mary Ann assured her. “The boys can leave if they bother you. In fact,” she said, glancing at them, “go. Now.”
Though Riley looked like he wanted to protest, he reached out, grabbed Tucker by the shirt collar and dragged him away. They didn’t go far, stopping under a large oak in the front yard.
“So which one are you dating?” Ms. Smart asked.
“Neither. The dark-haired one. Neither,” she added.
Smart laughed, relaxing once more. “Oh, to be young again.”
Mary Ann found herself studying the boys. Riley, with his dark hair and rough, fighter face, resembled a devil. Tucker, with his pale hair and innocent features, resembled an angel. Yet, personality-wise, the opposite was true. Doesn’t matter right now.
She returned her focus to the woman and cleared her throat. “One of my friends was born that same day in the same hospital. St. Mary’s,” she added, in case Ms. Smart thought she was lying. Proof was in the details, after all. “He’s looking for his parents.”
Confusion flittered across that aging face. “And you think my Daniel could be his father?”
“No, nothing like that. It’s just, my friend…and me…we…can do…things. Weird things.” From the corner of her eye, she could see Riley fighting the urge to close the distance and sweep her away. She shouldn’t be admitting this. To anyone. Especially not to a virtual stranger who might mention what she’d said to the wrong people. People who could come after Mary Ann and Aden. There was no other way, however.
Besides, she’d done her homework. Daniel Smart had to be Julian. The pieces just fit. “I wondered if…”
She couldn’t say it. She just couldn’t.
“Never mind,” Smart said a split second later, her voice cold. “I want you to leave. Don’t come here again.”
“Please, Mrs. Smart. This is a matter of life and death.”
The older woman pounded up the stairs and skidded around Mary Ann. At the mention of death, however, she paused at the door. Without facing Mary Ann, she whispered, “Are you trying to…raise someone?”
Raise someone—from the dead. She knew. She really knew! Someone ignorant of what Julian could do would not have known to ask that kind of question. Mary Ann wanted to whoop. “No, no, I promise you. Nothing like that.” By sheer will alone, she managed to remain sedate. “I’m just trying to find the person who could…raise something. A person who died the same day I was born. Someone who might have…passed that ability to someone else.”
If Daniel Smart was Julian, his last wish might have been to talk with this woman. Tossing out these half truths as she was, Mary Ann risked alienating her, but she couldn’t just spill the entire truth, either. Not yet.
Silence. More of that dreadful silence.
Then, “My Daniel couldn’t do what you’re asking.”
“Oh.” She’d been so certain. Maybe…maybe Smart was lying. There simply wasn’t another explanation for what Mary Ann had read.
Okay. There was another explanation.
“He disappeared that night, too, and hasn’t been heard from since. Now please. Leave. And remember what I told you. Don’t come back here. You’re not welcome.”
AN HOUR LATER, MARY ANN found herself nestled inside The Wire Bean. The ridiculous name aside, she liked the place. The internet café was cozy, with plush couches and small round tables, as well as booths with multiple plug-ins right there on the side.
She pretended to sip a mocha latte—because actually drinking it would have made her sick. Human food was no longer hers to enjoy, only the magic and powers of others. Not that she was bitter. Except that she was freaking bitter!
Anyway. The drink had been “paid for” by Tucker.
His version of “let me get this” was casting an illusion so that the girl at the register—who’d smiled and flirted with him and Riley to an annoying degree—thought she’d been handed a twenty when in reality, Tucker had handed her a nice helping of air.
Riley had voiced a complaint. Tucker had looked at him and said, “Really, Rover? You stole Mary Ann a laptop, and you question my methods? Really?”
“At least my victim isn’t going to cry all night about losing the first ten pages of his book report.”
“Well, aren’t you just the do-gooder,” the shifter sneered.
At one time—like, an hour ago—all of this bickering would have bothered her. Right now? Hardly a blip on her radar. She was busy.
Of course, then they’d argued about who got to sit next to her. Flattering, as well as insulting, since it was merely a pissing contest and not a true desire to be near her. Riley won. Barely. And only because he tripped Tucker and the boy fell face-first into the coffee-stained tile.
Now her shifter was leaning back, his arm stretched out behind her, and Tucker sat across from her, scowling at them. Mary Ann continued to pretend to sip and type, breathing in the delightful fumes while searching for answers about Daniel Smart’s brother, Robert.
“You know,” Tucker said. “I’m actually a pretty good guy when it’s just me and Mary Ann. You kind of harsh my mellow, Fido.”
“It’s true,” Mary Ann said without looking up from the screen. “Just like I negate Aden’s abilities when I’m around him, I negate Tucker’s evil.”
“And you,” she went on, ignoring the demon, “negate my negating ability.”
“Poor Tucker,” Riley sneered. “Having to deal with being a bad boy.”
“And don’t you care that I’m calling you by different dog names, Max?” Tucker said with an obvious sulk.
“No. And by the way, Max is my brother’s name.”
“Wait.” Tucker leaned forward, lips twitching into a grin. “Your brother is a wolf-shifter and his name is Max?”
“So you do know that’s, like, the most popular dog name of the year?”
Frowning, Tucker ran a hand through his hair. “If you’re not gonna react to insults the right way, I’m not sticking around. First I called you Fido. No reaction. Then I called you Max, and you corrected me. You’re lame.” He slid from the booth. “I’ll be outside. Smoking. Maybe drinking.”