Black Heart Page 50

My hand covered the bulge in my belly. What would my son think of a mother who killed demons instead of baking brownies?

I’d been walking on autopilot, and therefore found myself back in front of the charred ruin of my house.

“Oh, yeah,” I said. “No home to go to.”

I sat down on the sidewalk and crossed my legs.

“It’s kind of depressing, isn’t it?” Beezle said.

“Kind of,” I said. “What are we supposed to do now?”

A voice spoke from the darkness. “Why, go home with me, of course.”

12

I CAME TO MY FEET SO SUDDENLY THAT BEEZLE LOST his balance and fell off my shoulder. He fluttered in an irritated way beside me. J.B. emerged from a shadow beside a tree farther down the street.

“J.B.?” I squinted my eyes at him. I’d been fooled by demons’ masks before. My hands curled into fists, and I readied my power.

He halted his approach, holding up his hands in a sign of surrender. The streetlight glinted off the metal rims of his glasses.

“Maddy, it’s me,” he said. “Don’t blast me into oblivion.”

Beezle gave J.B. a good hard stare. I knew he was checking all the layers of reality to make sure that it was actually my former boss standing there and not something pretending to be him. I felt acutely vulnerable standing near the ruins of my house, knowing that a threshold would keep me safe from those kinds of attacks. If it was a demon disguised as J.B. and I was in the house, all I would have to do was make sure not to invite him in. But without the threshold I’d have to engage in a fight with anything that wanted to have a go at me.

After a very long moment, Beezle said, “It’s him.”

I breathed a sigh of relief and started toward him, then stopped. The last time I’d seen J.B. we had said some very ugly things to each other. Yes, he had called me later and tried to warn me about the Retrievers, but the argument we had seemed to hang in the air, echoing in the space between us.

“Maddy,” he said, and I heard the hoarseness in his voice, could see the telltale gleam of unshed tears in his green eyes. “I thought you were dead.”

“How could you believe anything Sokolov would tell you?” I said. “You know he’s a liar. You know how much he hates me.”

J.B. took a tentative step toward me, shoved his hands in his pockets like he didn’t know what else to do with them.

“I thought he wouldn’t be able to lie about a death,” J.B. said. “It’s a bureaucracy. Paper is sacred. If it’s written on a piece of paper, then it must be true.”

I laughed, despite everything. “Not everyone is as honest as you.”

“I’m not even as honest as me,” J.B. said, referring to the argument we’d had on the beach. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about what the Agency knew of Lucifer and his plans.”

“You could have saved me a lot of grief,” I said.

“And myself, too,” J.B. said. “I mourned you.”

I almost unbent then, almost ran to him and embraced him. But there was an awkwardness between us that hadn’t been there before. It would take a long time to mend this tear.

“I am sorry you had to go through that,” I said, and despite everything, I was sorry. It’s a horrible thing to lose someone to death, and I knew that better than anyone. “How did you know that I was back?”

J.B. jerked a thumb in the direction of the downtown offices of the Agency. “Your uncle showed up.”

“What did he do?” I asked, a little afraid of the answer.

“He menaced,” J.B. said. “And then Sokolov invited him up to the boardroom to talk to certain members of upper management.”

I peered in the general direction of the offices. “Well, I haven’t seen a fireball exploding into the sky, so presumably he hasn’t blown the whole place up with everyone inside.”

“He’s going to make sure they call off the Retrievers,” J.B. said. It was a statement, not a question.

“Yes,” I said.

“How do you do it?” J.B. said. “How can you break every rule there ever was and get away with it?”

“First of all, I don’t break them on purpose. Second of all, I don’t get away with anything, believe me. Whatever I do, I always pay for it. Always.”

Silence fell again. Beezle cleared his throat significantly. “So, you were going to give us a place to sleep?”

J.B. looked like he’d dropped into deep thought, and he shook his head like he was coming out of a fog. “Uh, yeah. It’s going to be a little crowded with Nathaniel and Bendith there, too, but we’ll make it work.”

“You have Nathaniel and Bendith with you?” I asked. “How did that happen?”

“Nathaniel had nowhere to go once the house was burned down and we thought you were dead. He didn’t feel right returning to Lucifer’s court now that he’s been revealed as Puck’s son.”

“Yeah, that would not have been a good idea. Lucifer and Puck seem like they’re unreasonable about one another.”

“And then Bendith tracked Nathaniel down, because he left his mother’s court—”

“We know,” Beezle said in a bored voice.

“You do?”

“Beezle’s on Facebook,” I said. “So Bendith tracked down Nathaniel, and?”

“And he wanted to stay with his brother, and I didn’t have the heart to turn him away,” J.B. said. “Especially now that he’s more vulnerable away from Titania’s court.”

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