When Hester and Raven get back to Muddy River, they stop at Derek’s bar to regroup.


Chapter 16

Our vehicles got really crowded. Drago’s witch rode back to Muddy River with Raven and me, Brown and Meda. We dropped off Oren on our way. Laurel and Flint and the third witch we’d freed rode back with Boaz and Cein. The first thing we did when we reached home was stop at Derek’s bar.

“The three witches need food and fast,” I told Speedy when he stuck his head out of the kitchen to check on us.

“And you?” he asked.

“Burgers for everyone,” Raven said. That made everything simpler…and quicker.

Boaz had called Melodia on the way, and she and Lust walked into the bar a few minutes after we did. I’d called Birch, so she and Lir were there, too, seated with Aengus and Afric. Someone had let Festus know, because he and Wanda were sitting at their favorite table. Gray and Syn were with them to check on Brown and Meda. Gray might have taken off when Brown was young so that mortals wouldn’t suspect either of them were shifters, but he sure liked keeping track of his son now.

“Eat first, tell us what happened second,” Derek ordered. He’d looked at the witches, who were barely hanging in there, and knew they needed energy. When their food came, they practically attacked it. Speedy watched them and went to make more. By the time they finished their burgers and fries, he slid another plate in front of them. When we finally ate our last bites and Derek replenished our drinks, Aengus said, “Can you talk now?”

I nodded to Raven, and he told them, step by step, everything that had happened.

Afric gulped down the rest of her ale. “I wish I knew some way to control spirits. They ran to Buthay while you fought and gave him plenty of time to disappear before you reached his camp.”

That was the thing about voodoo spirits. They could travel fast. I looked at Festus, Boaz, Cein, and Lir. “Do you still have your tattoos?”

They rolled up their sleeves, and Festus stood up to cheer. “It’s gone!”

Laurel winced. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to harm you. I didn’t know any other way to call for help.”

Cein immediately said, “You had to do the only thing you could. We all understand that.”

Festus nodded agreement. “I didn’t mean anything, girl, but I can’t pretend I’ll miss it.”

She smiled, looking stronger already after having a meal.

“Where did you learn Celtic tattoos?” Lir asked, rubbing his arm where the tattoo had been. Faiza came into the bar and sat next to him. She leaned to see his bare skin and grinned. Birch glanced at her and frowned.

Interesting. Like the witches, Lir looked better but still weak.

Laurel studied him. “Are you the one Buthay cursed?”

“Yes, but Hester made a potion for me, and Birch is fussing over me every day. I’m starting to feel better.” His gaze went to Birch, and his green eyes glittered with amusement. He was teasing her, and she flushed. She liked it. Our young witch had better be careful. Lir was clever and playful. He loved to keep people off kilter.

Aengus gave Laurel a gentle smile. “Your tattoos aren’t used often these days. They’re from the old Celt ways. Was someone in your family a Celt?”

“My grandmother was full Fae and married a Celt. I’m half witch, half Fae.”

“That explains it then. It’s a pleasure meeting someone who still knows the old ways.”

Raven returned to the problem of the voodoo priest. “He escaped with three barracks full of Undead and four dark witches.”

“Maybe he’ll decide it’s too dangerous here,” Festus said, sounding hopeful. “Maybe he’ll run as far from us as he can.”

“It won’t be far enough,” Raven finished his beer. “I still want to stop him. Either that, or he’ll kill more mortals. We can’t let that happen.”

Meda yawned. She tried to cover it, but Brown saw her. “Tired?” he asked.

“It’s been a long ordeal.” My fellow witch hadn’t skirted any responsibility, but then, no one in my coven did. “I’m ready to sleep in our own bed.”

Raven nodded and turned to the three witches. “Flint’s staying in my old apartment in town. Laurel can stay with him, if she wants to. If you’d like to stay at our house, you’re welcome. You can call for someone to come to get you in the morning.”

“I don’t want to leave.” Drago’s witch squared her shoulders and straightened her spine. “Not until you find Buthay. I want to help you hunt him and kill him.”

Funny, everyone who met him felt that way.

“Me, too,” the third witch told us. She looked at Flint. “Do you have a couch we can sleep on? Anything’s better than the cots Buthay put in our cells.”

“We have a few more empty houses,” Meda said. “We can help you move into one tomorrow. I’m sure we can round up enough beds.”

Plans made, we went our separate ways. We were all tired. All I wanted to do was crawl under our covers and sleep. It was so late when we got back, Claws curled in front of the fireplace and purred, happy to be home. Raven stopped in the kitchen, though, and sniffed the air.

“I smell cookies.”

I laughed, glad my cookie frenzy hadn’t gone unnoticed. My fire demon’s priorities put sweets at the top of his list. Hopefully, I tied with them, but I wasn’t sure.

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