Grace leaned against her arms as they were propped on top of the guard rail of the bridge just outside of Cadillac, Michigan. She watched the sunset as Henry puked up his lunch on the other side of the bridge. Looking over her shoulder with a smirk, she shook her head and looked back out at the sky.
“You should have listened to me when I told you not to eat the fish at that diner.”
More retching followed before Henry spoke. “Fuck you.”
Grace laughed so hard there were tears in her eyes. She stumbled back to the car, still giggling and plopped herself in the front seat, legs hanging out the side. She leaned back against her hands as she waited for Henry to stop puking. She was humming along with Michael Buble’s version of Home when Henry opened the door and sat down. He groaned as he leaned his head back against the seat and Grace grinned.
“Can we go?”
“Not until you’ve finished puking,” Grace said as she continued to watch the sunset.
“No, you’re not.”
Just as Grace finished talking, Henry clutched his stomach and ran for the bridge again. Grace laughed until a yawn interrupted her enjoyment of Henry’s situation. Shaking it off and rolling her shoulders, Grace started the car and turned the radio on. She was settling in behind the wheel when a patrol car came up behind them. Grace sighed and turned the car off again.
Henry was still dry heaving on the side of the bridge when the cop inside the car stepped out and walked up to Grace. She closed the door before the cop asked her to and held her license, the Athlete’s license, the Fury’s registration and insurance papers out the window. He smiled.
“Good to know there’s still some citizens who are willing to follow the law.”
“It makes my life easier,” Grace said with a laugh.
The cop laughed with her. Grace read his name plate and decided that Officer Dillow seemed like a pretty jovial guy. He looked her paperwork over and then flashed his torch over at Henry.
“Nope. Got himself in to a bit of a spot with bad diner fish,” Grace said with a grin.
Officer Dillow shuddered. “Poor bastard. He gonna be okay?”
“Well, he’s emptied his stomach three times. I’m assuming he’s almost done since there can’t be anything left in there at this point.”
The officer laughed along with Grace and handed her information back. Grace tucked it into her bag.
“Where you headed?”
“My cousin and I are headed home to Calumet. Family emergency.”
“That’s too bad. I’m sorry to hear that. It would probably be best if you moved along before night fall. This bridge doesn’t have any lights and we’ve had more than a few accidents from people stopping on the bridge.”
“Gotcha. We’ll be off as soon as he gets his stomach under control,” Grace said with a smile for the officer.
Before the officer could keep talking, Henry stumbled his way back to the car. He pulled up short when he saw the patrol car.
“Officer,” he said with a nod.
“Henry get in the car so the officer doesn’t shoot you,” Grace said with a sigh.
Officer Dillow laughed. “I’m not going to shoot him, but I would prefer it if you did get in to the car.”
Henry nodded and climbed in to his side. Grace looked up at the officer.
“You’re all good to go,” the officer said. “Stay away from the diner fish.”
With a wink he was off and walking to his car. Henry groaned and Grace started the car. She was pulling away when the officer got back in to his car and turned off his lights.
“How much farther?”
“About seven hours. Go back to sleep,” Grace said as she pointed the car north.
“Why’d you put this place so far north?”
“I had to have a place where people wouldn’t find it weird that the same family had owned the property for over a hundred years,” Grace said. She stole a glance at Henry, who was pale and sweating in the seat next to her. “I also needed a place where it wouldn’t be odd if that same family named all their first-born daughters Grace.”
Henry shook his head and curled up in the seat tighter. He was shaking again. Grace reached in the back and pulled a blanket from the seat. She tossed it to him and went back to driving.
“Relax. I have indoor plumbing and a brick paved drive way. You’ll be fine. I even have a healer on the property.”
“Yeah. She’s fifth generation on the property. The family takes care of it while I’m gone. They know who I am and what I’m trying to do,” Grace said as she glanced in the rear view mirror for the fifth time. The officer was following them, she was sure of it.
Grace gunned the engine and whipped around a turn, heading in to a national park. She killed the lights and the engine after hiding the car behind a group of buildings. Henry shot her a look that clearly expressed his annoyance with her. She touched a finger to her lips and dug her gun out of her bag.
Grace left the car quietly, circling around to where she could get a clear view of the road that they just came down. Grace settled in to wait and wasn’t surprised when the cop turned down the lane, lights on and spot light searching for the car. Grace was just about to get up when a hand landed on her shoulder. Another came around and closed off her scream.
“Ssshhhh.. Grace Anne.” Gabriel said.
Grace relaxed and elbowed Gabriel to let go of her. They both couched down and waited while the cop circled the lot and buildings before driving off again. Grace waited until she was sure he was gone before getting up and turning to look at Gabriel.
“Let me guess, Michael?”
Gabriel nodded. “He’s packing a hole in the floor of his office because he can’t talk to you.”
I grinned. “That’ll show him for being a dick and refusing me.”
“That’s Michael,” Gabriel said as he followed Grace down to the car. “Not please tell me you weren’t going to pop that cop?”
Grace stopped and looked at Gabriel. “You’ve never said that before. Not since I turned you and made you one of mine.”
Gabriel’s features dissolved and Luke was standing there. He grabbed Grace by the throat and lifted her off her feet.
“I warned you not to betray me,” he growled.
Grace lifted her gun and shot him. Luke dropped her and she gasped out a breath as he roared in pain.
“You bitch! Those are laced bullets!” Luke howled.
“I always lace my bullets. I never know who’s going to attack me and now that you’ve taken the contract off,” She said as she raised the gun again and fired, hitting him in the forehead.
Luke dropped to his knees, clawing at his face. “I’m going to kill you.”
“No you’re not, lover. You always did like it when I got frisky.”
He glared up at her. “I’m going to kill you eventually.”
“That day will be very sweet indeed. I’ll finally be free of you and this whole existence.”
He was healing as Henry ran up holding a shotgun. He dropped it when he saw Luke.
“Grace?” he asked.
“We’re fine, Henry. Just a little disagreement between lovers.”
Henry nodded and retreated a little bit away, but still kept Grace within eyesight. Luke glared up at her.
“You did not turn Gabriel the Avenger.”
“Shows how much you really paid attention to me. Imagine, I managed to build a whole network of spies and backstabbing in both courts because you were too busy trying to bang that princess of yours,” Grace spat at him.
Luke eyed her from where he was on his knees and then got up.
“How many in father’s?”
“I’m not telling you, but it’s more than you’re thinking.”
“I still say you’re a liar.”
“Says the man who just found out I turned an Arch Angel.”
Luke glared at her. Grace sniffed and turned on her heel, walking back to the car.
“Where are you going?”
“Calumet. I have to collect a contract.” She said over her shoulder.
“but what about me?” he asked.
“You’ll heal, or you won’t. Either way, you’re not my problem. You’re his,” Grace said as she pointed at Satan in his dog form.
She got immense pleasure from hearing Luke scream as he was being dragged into Hell by his father.
“You’re going to pay for tonight later, aren’t you?” Henry asked as they got in to the car.
Grace laughed and started the car.
“No, I’m not. I’ll get another fucking medal for the lie I just told.”
“Another medal? How many do you have?”
Grace thought about it for a minute and then responded, “One hundred and thirty-two.”
She peeled out of the parking lot and headed back to the highway while Henry stared at her.
“Do I even want to know how you got most of them?”
Grace grinned and headed north on the highway. “No. You’re stomach is still too tender for my battle stories from the Wars and the Arena.”
“Probably. Now you know why I didn’t want you in the Arena. Hunting is one thing, the Arena is something else entirely.”
Henry went silent and Grace was grateful. They drove in silence for nearly an hour before he spoke again.
“So, what exactly was in those bullets?”
Grace laughed. “Blessed silver.”
Henry snorted and joined Grace in laughing.
Grace hiccuped, laughing harder. “Those are going to sting when they come out in a week. He’s going to have a hard time doing anything.”
Henry looked over at her, still laughing. “Are you sorry you shot him?”
“Only that I didn’t shoot him in the ass,” Grace replied.
They dissolved into laughter again. They got themselves together again by the time Grace had to make a turn on to another highway. Both Henry and Grace were breathing hard and laughing at each other whenever they caught an eye. They eventually settled down and Henry soon fell asleep, leaving Grace to drive the distance with just the soft sounds of the local radio stations coming from the Fury’s speakers.
She drove like that for over two hours before her cell phone rang. Swearing, Grace snatched the device off her purse and answered if before Henry woke up again. She was started to feel for him what she felt for her sisters long ago.
“Hello?!” Grace said in a hushed tone.
It was Michael. Grace sighed.
“What are you doing calling me? I thought I told you to stay away. It’s not safe,” she said.
“I’m worried. Last thing I need is to lose you before we’ve gotten you out.”
“Then you need to stay away. Keep sending Gabriel. They think I’ve turned him.”
There was silence on the line and then laughing.
“How’d you pull that off?”
“I shot Luke when he disguised himself as Gabriel.”
The laughter suddenly cut off.
“You shot him?”
“He pissed me off.”
“What’d you shoot him with?”
The laughter started up again and made Grace smile.
“Oh that’s going to sting.”
“It’s going to sting even worse with the fact that I’m the one who shot him.”
Michael snorted on the other end of the phone.
“He shouldn’t have underestimated you.”
“I can’t afford to. Especially when I know how devious you can get when it comes to contracts and promises.”
“I can’t afford to make a promise without knowing I have a way out.”
Michael sighed. “I know and I wish you didn’t have to be that way.”
“Doesn’t matter what I used to be, it’s the way I am now. I’ve accepted that, Michael. I just wish you hadn’t asked me and then held it against me,” Grace said with a sigh.
Silence followed Grace’s declaration. Grace almost pulled over to the side of the road so she could cry, but changed her mind. She needed to get to Paradise and check in with Eden. When Michael didn’t answer her after five minutes, Grace pressed the end call button.
“You know, you’re going to have to make a decision about him sooner or later.”
Henry was awake.
“He’s not going to change who he is for you and apparently, he’s not ready to forgive himself or you for being what he asked you to be,” Henry said with a yawn. He shifted and settled down in the seat, falling back asleep before Grace could answer him.
“He’ll never forgive me for saying yes,” she said into the darkness, the only light coming from the Fury’s headlights as they headed north on the highway. If she cried, well, Henry wasn’t awake to see.
It was nearly dawn when Grace pulled in to the brick covered drive of her Eden. The driveway was nearly a mile long and the forest that surrounded the grounds was thick. They came across a huge stone fence with a lychgate. She beeped the horn at the gate twice and woke Henry up, who stared at the huge wrought iron gate as it swung back.
“Where are we?” he asked as he looked around at the woods.
“Eden,” Grace replied as she drove through the lychgate and stopped, waiting for it to close.
When she was sure that the gate was closed and no one had followed them inside, Grace continued up the driveway. The house came into view as they rounded a thicket of blackberry bushes. Henry’s jaw dropped as he saw Eden. The lights on the house cast an eerie glow in the fading night. It looked almost haunted.
“How the hell did you get all that stone up here?” He demanded as he took in the four towers faced with stone.
Grace laughed. “It took two years and I nearly killed my architect, but I got my Eden.”
Grace pulled through the porte-cochere and to the carriage house behind the walls of the castle that Grace had built into the woods. The Carriage house itself felt like a mini-version of the main house, with only one tower in the middle. The garages underneath made Henry think of horses in stalls instead of cars.
“How big?” Henry asked.
“The main house? Twenty-one thousand square feet in forty-nine rooms,” Grace said as she parked the car outside the garage.
“What kind of architecture is this?”
“Châteauesque, I think. I didn’t pay much attention to it in 1888 when I commissioned the house,” Grace said as she got out of the car and went around to the back to start pulling things out of the trunk.
“Who designed it?”
“Louis Kemper. He did it for a song when I agreed to forget about his contract.”
That brought Henry up short. “You forgot about the man’s contract? You wouldn’t forget about mine.”
“and I paid for it when he finally showed up. I spent twenty human years in the Arena,” Grace said quietly.
“I couldn’t forget about yours because it meant that I would have to go back into the Arena. Too many people want me dead in The Pit, Henry.”
Henry sighed. “I guess you did what you could to get me out.”
“You were only in there an equivalent to one Earth month and I only put years on to your contract. Compared to some of the others, you got off with a song,” she said as she went to the driver’s side back door and opened it. Grace pulled out her purse and left Henry to grab his things.
She was halfway to the backdoor of the house when a woman swung out, laughing. Grace dropped her things and ran for her, laughing as they came together in a tight hug. When they separated, Grace kissed the younger woman’s forehead, laughing.
“Auntie Grace I missed you so much!” she said. “You go away entirely too often.”
“I’m sorry, my poppet. I can’t stay here all the time. Though I wish I could,” Grace said as she tugged on a black strand of the woman’s hair.
The woman sighed. “I know, I just wish you’d stay longer.”
“Well you’re in luck. I’m going to be staying at least a week this time. Possibly longer.”
The young woman cheered and hugged Grace again. Grace laughed and swung her around.
“Hey! Who’s this?!” She demanded when she let Grace go and caught sight of Henry.
“This is my latest charge and newest hunter, Henry.”
“Newest charge? Does that mean he’s contracted?”
“Yes, I’m contracted,” Henry said as he came forward.
“Henry, This is Sloane Dajani. Her family has been keeping Eden since it was built.”
“and damn proud to assist you,” Sloane said.
She tucked her hair behind her ear and adjusted her t-shirt. The woman’s distinctive Indian features combined with her grey eyes made for a striking combination as Henry eyed her over.
“You’re probably thinking what I’m doing out in the middle of the Michigan woods when I look like I belong in a Bangladesh market square,” Sloane said with a wry grin.
Henry sheepishly ducked his head and nodded. Sloane tucked her arm through Henry’s and marched him forward. Grace smiled as she picked up her things and followed.
“My family was fortunate to find Miss Grace and her home. They came in with the construction crews and when the house was completed, asked to stay on as servants,” Sloane said.
“I was taken aback because I wasn’t exactly planning on having anyone here.”
Sloane laughed. “No you weren’t, but my family has a long history of magic and when my ancestors saw what she was building in to the foundation, they were intrigued.”
“They knew I was building a sanctuary for myself and others who were orphaned by what I was being forced to do. I would bring the children who were orphaned by a contract collection back here and Sloane’s family would protect them.”
“Proud to do it, too. She eventually realized that she needed to keep us around and made my family caretakers, which was unheard of back then. An Indian family promoted above a white family!? The scandal,” Sloane said with glee dancing in her eyes.
“The white families I employed left after that and more of her relatives arrived to take their places,” Grace said as she put her bags down in the hallway and stood with Sloane and Henry. “It was an improvement. I never had to worry that her family was going to leave, because they were happy to be accepted for what they were.”
“Magic. I’m a fifth generation Healer. My brother is the warrior mage,” Sloane said.
“Your father was as magicless as a stone.” Grace said with a laugh.
Sloane laughed too. “That he was, but my mother loved the outsider. Even if he was considered beneath the family.”
“True, but he loved your mother,” Grace said, tucking Sloane in to her arm and kissing her forehead. “Okay, are the rooms ready? I’m exhausted.”
“They are, Aunt Grace. Leo helped before going back out on a job,” Sloane said as she scooped up one of Grace’s bags and started up the stairs to the top floor.
“What job?” Grace asked.
“He and Ward are in Colorado for that windigo.”
Grace stopped dead. “They’re what? They know better than to go take care of that without more help.”
Sloane flinched. “Sorry, Aunt Grace. I tried telling them, but they laughed and said they could handle it.”
Grace sighed. “Well there’s nothing I can do about it now. I am going to give them a good thrashing if they come back in one piece.”
Sloane sighed and it made Grace smile.
“I’m not mad at you, hon. I’m pissed they went without proper back up. They could have asked anyone to go with them, but they’re twenty and twenty-four. I can’t expect them to behave properly at that age.”
Sloane nodded. “I’m still sorry I didn’t do more to stop them.”
“You couldn’t have stopped them,” Henry spoke up. “I was that age once. They’re not likely to listen until one of them gets hurt or worse. Then they’ll realize they still have more to learn.”
Grace nodded and wrapped an arm around Sloane. “I raised the three of you as my own when your parents were killed. I love all three of you. Your brothers test my patience though and I will deal with them. You don’t have anything to feel guilty over. Understand?”
“Good. Now you might be the youngest at nineteen, but that’s not going to stop them from trying to blame you. Don’t take it and say it’s okay, because it’s not,” Grace stopped and tipped Sloane’s chin up. “You are not to blame for their bone-headed decisions.”
“Now come on. Show me to my room so I can shower and collapse for twenty hours. Then you can catch me up on the kids.”
Sloane grinned. “I put Henry in the room next to yours.”
Grace grinned and continued up the steps with Sloane and Henry.
“Had to put him in the Armor room.”
“The room is filled with suits of armor from different periods,” Sloane said.
“It’s her favorite room in the house, with exception for the one she uses. You are still in the Japan room, right?” Grace asked as she turned to the right at the top of the stairs and headed down the hall.
“Yes’m. We’re still in the same place we’ve always been. Leo and Ward still use the carriage house.”
“Not feeling the loneliness in this big ass house?” Henry asked with a smile.
Sloane laughed. “Hell no. I’m glad they’re out of my house. The only time they come in here is for the library and the weapons rooms. Speaking of those rooms, we’re low on blessed silver.”
Grace laughed. “I’m not surprised. I’ll talk with Father O’Brian tomorrow and see if he can ship us more.”
Sloane nodded. “There’s more we’re low on, but I’ll save it for tomorrow. The bullets are the more important one.”
Grace patted Sloane’s arm. “Thanks, luv.”
They stopped outside of Henry’s room and Grace nodded at the doors.
“This is yours. I’ll be next door in the Sky room.”
“Why’s it called that?” Henry asked.
Grace laughed. “It’s the tallest room in the house and I had it painted like the night sky in high summer.”
Henry grinned. “That sounds incredible.”
“It is. If you don’t like that one, there are others to choose from on this floor. You’re welcome to any one of them,” Grace said as she and Sloane continued to the next door in the hallway. “Sleep yourself out, Henry. You were sick today and you need to heal.”
“He was sick?” Sloane asked and turned to Henry. “Do you need anything for that?”
“No, I’m better, but Grace is right. I do need to shower and sleep.”
Grace nodded. “Goodnight, Henry. Sleep well.”
Sloane echoed Grace’s goodnight and slipped in to the room with Grace.
“So how are your brothers?” Grace asked as she put her bags down on the chaise lounge at the foot of the bed.
“The same as always. Tiresome, annoying and I’m happy they’re gone half the time.”
Grace looked over at the woman. She noted the bags under her eyes.
“Are you getting any sleep?”
Sloane ducked her head. “Mrs Davenport helps with the kids, but Jason has colic and Declan has the flu.”
“So you’ve been helping out with the kids and then studying for your college classes at night,” Grace said. She put her hands on her hips and studied Sloane. “I thought I warned you about that.”
Sloane sighed. “College isn’t for me, Auntie. Its boring. I feel listless and disinterested in anything other than being a herbalist.”
Grace sat down on the bed. “Okay. Isn’t there a college for that?”
Sloane’s head snapped up and her mouth tumbled open. Grace laughed.
“What? You thought I meant going to a real college like U of M? No honey. I wanted you to go find your own passion and follow it. If that means you become a Herbalist instead of a medical doctor, then that’s what you do. It’s your passion.”
Sloane launched herself at Grace, hugging tightly. “I was so worried you’d be disappointed that I didn’t want to be a traditional doctor.”
Grace hugged Sloane tightly and rubbed her hand down her back. “I want you to be happy. If this makes you happy, then that’s what you’re going to do. First though, you’re going to find a good program to go to.”
“I’ll give you all the research I’ve done later. For now, you need a shower and then bed. You smell.”
Grace laughed and cuffed Sloane on the back of the head. “Then get out, silly girl.”
Sloane laughed as she danced for the door. “It’s good to have you back, Aunt Grace.”
The door closed and Grace was left alone.
“It’s good to be home,” she said to the empty room.
Grace got up and started pulling out night-clothes from the drawers of her dresser and flipped on the radio. The strains of Michael Buble’s Home drifted out and she laughed. Singing along, Grace showered and dressed again. She collapsed in to bed after turning off the radio as she passed, but the song stayed in her head until the long drive caught up with her and she drifted off.
“Let me go home
I’ve had my run
Baby, I’m done
I gotta go home
Let me go home
It’ll all be all right
I’ll be home tonight
I’m coming back home”