After brunch, Kay and Katrina did hugs all around, loaded the car, and drove away from the Black Swan Vineyard villa where they had been guests for four days. They were supposed to rendezvous with an Order jet at Voltaire Unit, Presidio, San Francisco and catch a ride to Edinburgh. Kay had been persuaded to consult on a Berserker issue and, since it wasn’t an active duty assignment, Katrina came along.
The young married couple had both been changed by the experience of her demon abduction. The feeling of not knowing whether or not they would ever see each other again was still raw and near the surface of shadow consciousness so they didn’t like to spend time apart if it could be helped.
Storm and Litha stood on the pea gravel drive and waved goodbye like an old married couple. They held hands and watched the teal blue Caddy until it went over the hill before going back inside. At home in Houston, Kay had an expensive sports car that had been custom tricked out to accommodate his size, but only a few loaner cars came big enough for him to ride comfortably.
They closed the door and got as far as the two cordovan, leather sofas that faced each other in the great room before they flopped down. The excursion into the new world of hosting house guests at the newly renovated and furnished villa had been a success.
“I want to clean up the kitchen, but I’m too tired to move.” Litha opened one eye a slit so that she could gauge his reaction. She hoped the thinly disguised suggestion would prompt Storm to volunteer, even though they both knew it was her turn.
He grinned, black eyes sparking with just a touch of taunt. “Nice try though.”
Screwing up her face and groaning, she dragged herself up off the couch and made drama of trudging toward the kitchen.
The spectacle made Storm grin even bigger and his abs rippled with unvoiced laughter. He put his feet up on the heavy, square coffee table, and slouched down into the couch smiling to himself, feeling self-satisfied, and more than a little proud of the vineyard, the villa, and his wife. So this is dreams coming true.
He had hunkered down, nested, and loved every damn thing about it. When the thought, “It’s too good,” wandered across his mind, he could have slapped himself. In his experience “too good” is a state of being that never lasts long. It’s even shorter when the gods think good fortune has been questioned. Don’t they just love to fuck with that?
He snapped out of the fatalistic philosophizing when he heard a knock on the door. Assuming Kay forgot something he opened the door saying, “What did you…?”
It only took a second for Storm to string together everything Litha had told him about Deliverance, add that to the conspicuous family resemblance, – She got her looks from a sex demon. – and come the conclusion that the caller was his new father-in-law, in the flesh, and standing on their porch. He steadily held the visitor’s gaze and, without taking his eyes away, yelled loud enough to be heard in the kitchen.
“Litha! There’s a demon here to see you!”
There was no question that she heard him because of the volume of response. Shiny, new copper bottom pots make a lot of noise when they land on something as hard as a custom poured concrete kitchen counter or a slate floor.
Deliverance had been staring at Storm without blinking. He had to give the kid credit. Not so much as a muscle twitch or tiny tremor. He supposed she could have done worse. He let the corners of his mouth soften with the humor in his eyes. Storm didn’t show any sign of fear, but he didn’t invite the demon inside as they continued to silently take each other’s measure.
Litha rushed past Storm right into the laughing embrace of the male. Speaking of ‘too good to be true’, that pretty much summed up the demon’s looks. Anybody, even a heterosexual man had to admit that he was stunning.
Deliverance was visibly relieved that she was glad to see him. Still on the wide front porch, he swung her around like she was a little girl and she rewarded him for it with delighted giggles.
When he set her on her feet and drew back to take in her face, she said, “Guess what?”
Looking down at her with pride, he answered dutifully, indulgently. “What?”
She swept her hand around in the air. “This is where I live!”
Deliverance laughed. “I thought so.”
“Come in. Oh. Wait.” She turned to Storm. “Guess what?”
“This is your dad.”
“This is my dad!”
Her excitement was contagious and starting to make him smile a little. How bad could the demon be if her made her that happy?
Storm offered his hand to Deliverance. “Engel Storm.”
Deliverance gripped the waiting hand. “You taking care of my little girl?”
Storm withdrew his hand, raised his chin a little and, as he was putting his hands in his jeans pockets, in a show of nonchalance, said, “When she’s not locked in the cellar.”
Deliverance snorted. “I’d like to see you try it. Did she ever tell you what she did to my cousins?”
shrugged as if to say, “Aw, shucks, it was nothing.”
Storm was interested. “No she didn’t. Was it fire related?”
Deliverance looked at Storm like he must be mentally deficient. “No,” he said slowly like he was trying to exercise great patience. “Fire wouldn’t hurt my cousins.”
There was a very loud ‘duh’ that hung unspoken in the air.
Storm was thinking that it was shaping up to be a long afternoon.
Litha shook her head a little and repeated, “Come in,” to her father, the demon.
They gave him a tour of the house and he pretended to be interested in every tidbit about the renovation while rarely taking his eyes away from his daughter. When they circled back to the kitchen, Litha glanced toward the pantry with a dismissive wave in that direction, “I’d offer you something to eat, but…”
Deliverance nodded in the direction indicated. “You have women in there?”
Litha and Deliverance both laughed at his joke. Storm didn’t question the fact that he didn’t think that was funny. He knew, all the way to his core, that it wasn’t funny and thought it may have bordered on disturbing. The fact that Litha found it hysterical was disturbing.
“I’m not staying long. Just wanted to pop in and bring you a wedding present, or housewarming gift, or whatever you want to call it.”
Litha perked up. “Present?” She looked around thinking he had set the bar pretty high with a red, convertible Aston Martin that held a vintage Gucci suitcase full of cash in the trunk. “Where is it?”
“In the abstract.”
“An abstract present?” She blinked. “I don’t get it.”
“Do you want to guess? Yes! Let’s do that. It’ll be so fun. Three guesses and I’ll give you a big hint. Ready?” Storm was trying to remember if Litha had ever said her father had a personality like a game show host. “It’s travel related and better than owning your own private jet.”
“Wow. Really. Okay. I’m in.” She glanced toward Storm. “Storm can play, too, right?”
Deliverance leveled a look on Storm that left no doubt he considered that his new son-in-law was intruding on his visit with Litha. “Sure. Go for it.”
Litha noticed the change of tone and the reduction in the level of enthusiasm, but pretended she didn’t.
“I surrender.” Storm would rather observe than horn in on their fun. The dynamic between his bride and her father was interesting and surprising. He knew Litha had tolerated learning about her heritage and was mentally flexible enough to adapt, but he had no idea she held the demon in such regard and with so much affection. “Litha’s better at guessing games.”
Litha jerked her head at Storm and narrowed her eyes. “Liar. There’s not a game on Earth I can win when you’re playing.”
“There’s one.” Deliverance sang those two words as he crossed his arms over his chest and stoked the mystery with his smile. As an incubus demon he had an acute appreciation of the value of anticipation.
Stumped by the esoteric clues – travel related and better than a private jet – she lunged at her father and grabbed two fistfuls of shirt. “Tell me!”
He laughed, clearly delighted by her display of delirium. “No, but I’ll give you another clue. And, watch the threads! My sustenance depends on good grooming, you know.” She snorted as he gently wrested her hands away from his shirt.
“Somehow I think you’d survive, fresh pressed ‘threads’ or not.”
Deliverance bowed his head a little in appreciation of her admiration. “The lord of the manor here…” He jerked his chin toward Storm. “…is not what you think.”
Litha dropped both hands to her sides and took a step back. She sobered instantly, all levity gone from her expression and tone of voice. “You’re not here to make trouble, are you?”
Deliverance was taken aback, a scowl looking out of place on his flawless features. “Certainly not. I would never do anything to hurt you. It’s not anything bad. He’s just not fully human.”
She stared at her father for a couple of beats then looked at Storm to judge his reaction to the outlandish and completely unexpected announcement. Except for a muscle that twitched involuntarily under Storm’s right eye he had not reacted in any visible way.
“This isn’t fun anymore, Dad. Start explaining now.” Litha watched the demon pull a heavy, wrought iron bar chair away from the kitchen island and gracefully take a seat like he knew his way around a barstool.
“You remember saying you thought his eyes looked like mine?” Litha’s gaze flew to Storm. Though her face remained passive, it was easy to see her mind was doing some lightning speed gymnastics. She nodded silently. Storm looked at Deliverance to see if he would agree to a resemblance. “Well, you were right. They do. That’s because his father was Abraxas. Probably a distant relative, but definitely same tribe.”
When Deliverance finished that sentence, there was no response. The silence drug on as both the newlyweds processed individually, internally testing the likelihood that the news was the truth.
Finally, Litha said, “And you thought this would make us happy?”
He beamed. “Yes. It’s my gift.”
Litha lifted fingers to her temple and stared at the ground for a minute. “I can’t believe I’m asking this, but how does this relate to trav…” She stopped in mid sentence and looked a little stunned. She jerked a wide eyed gaze back up to his face. “You’re saying he can ride the passes.”
“No.” Deliverance was shaking his head emphatically. “He doesn’t have enough demon blood for that. But he can piggyback. Well, not literally.” His eyes drifted down Storm’s body and up again unapologetically as if he was calculating how much Storm might weigh. “He could go along with you and survive it.” He turned to Storm. “Just don’t get separated from her because she’s your ticket in, out, and everything in between.”
Litha took in a big breath and let out a curse ending in, “…Jezebel’s Juice.”
“You don’t look happy,” Deliverance was just starting to tune in to the mood in the room.
“Well, I don’t know how I feel about it. I’m, um, surprised to say the least.” She wanted to look at Storm and get a read on how he was taking the dubious news, but, at the same time, hesitated to see his reaction. “When we’ve had time to get used to the idea, I’m sure we’re going to be really excited.”
“Well, yeah! Go anywhere you want to go instantly? Do anything you want to do? How many humans can say that?”
She stared at him. “None.”
“Exactamundo!” He jumped down from his stool in a fluid move and bent to give Litha a big smooch on the cheek. “Getting hungry. Gotta go.” He grinned and straightened the sleeves of his sports coat by pulling on them.
“Thanks for coming, Dad.”
“Say goodbye to Storm,” she directed.
Deliverance tossed a look over his shoulder that implied he had forgotten Storm was there. “Engel Beowulf Storm. Take good care of my little girl.”
“Stay right where you are.” Storm said it quietly, but in the demanding tone of someone unaccustomed to being ignored. When Deliverance turned and faced him, he added, “With all due respect, Sir.” Storm may have coated the honorific title with a little too much sarcasm, but he wasn’t in the mood to guard against belligerence. “I want to be sure I’m not misunderstanding. You’re claiming my father – biological father – was an Abraxas demon?”
“Occam’s Razor. The simplest explanation is usually the correct one,” the demon said cheerfully right before his expression abruptly changed to serious; as if he had just stumbled upon an unexpected obstacle. “Hold on. I’m not impugning your mother’s name or anything as Dark Ages as that. Right?
“Just look at it this way. If he was an Incubus, she wouldn’t have been able to resist. I mean…” He held his arms out in a pose that was reminiscent of Fonzy from the old TV show, ‘Happy Days’, in evergreen reruns on the grid of screens in the demon’s living room.
Storm was every bit as unimpressed as you would expect a Black Swan knight to be. His manner and tone were even. “Where’s your proof?”
Deliverance didn’t look offended. If anything, Storm’s reaction seemed to soften him around the edges. He shook his head slightly in a way Storm had previously thought was unique to Litha. “The only proof I can give you is the fact that you can survive the passes. Of course…” He smiled just a little too wickedly to suit the lady of the house. “… if I’m wrong, you’ll be dead.”
Storm straightened, pulled his jaw in, and glared. He looked like he would love nothing more than to throttle one exceptionally pretty, super arrogant demon currently standing in his kitchen with blatant effrontery written all over his smug mug.
“Comforting,” Storm said drily.
“Ask your mother then.” He cocked his head in a way that served to remind Storm that Deliverance was not exactly human. “Doesn’t she live nearby?”
Storm almost took a threatening step toward daddy dearest. Litha sucked in a breath as she practically read her husband’s mind.
“Dad,” Litha said quietly while pulling on his sleeve, “time to go.”
“Alright, love. See you soon.”
Urging her father toward the door, she glanced at Storm and didn’t like what she saw. “I’ll let him out and be right back.”