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The Singer Elizabeth Hunter 2022/7/22 11:38:39

“What is huh?” Orsala asked.

“My dad. He just started a European tour for the New Year. Might try to see him if it works out.”

“Hmm.” She was distracted, flipping through the pages of the book with a frown on her face. “You’ll have to speak to Damien and Sari. See if one of them can go with you to meet him.”

The thought of having to ask permission to see her own father grated on her nerves. “If I want to see Jasper, I’ll see him.”

Orsala’s only answer was a raised eyebrow.

The more Ava thought, the more it seemed like a great idea. Jasper might have been a mess, but he did have lots of security. In fact, she liked his security a lot better than most of the nameless bodyguards her stepfather had hired over the years. Jasper’s guards were big and mean-looking, but they usually had a sense of humor. They’d have to, to work with her father. So what if they were mostly for show? It wasn’t as if Grigori were going to break into a suite at the Four Seasons and kidnap her. No one got kidnapped at a Four Seasons.

She sighed and contemplated calling her mother. She’d have to if she wanted Jasper’s number. Her phone had been left in Cappadocia, and she didn’t know anyone’s number from memory except for her mom’s. If she wanted to see Jasper, she had to call ahead. Most of his people didn’t know that Ava existed. Only his manager and head of security knew her by name.

She had time. Looking at Jasper’s website, it seemed like he’d be in Europe through the beginning of summer. Then she noticed movement out the window. It was Sari and Damien, arguing again.

“Cranky and Crankier headed back,” she told Orsala. “Estimated time of arrival, four minutes, unless they start arguing on the stairs.”

Orsala sighed. “They were always like this. For the life of me, I do not understand why.”

A few minutes later, Damien walked through the door with no Sari in sight. But the color was high on his cheeks and his lower lip looked distinctly… bitten.

He cleared his throat. “Sari went to call Renata. She finally got a message from her.”

He nodded and hung up his scarf on the back of the door. “I think so. Yes.”

Ava checked her work e-mail for the first time in weeks. Mostly junk, but there were thirty messages from her usual clients. A dozen or so from magazines she’d worked with occasionally. And another from an online publication she’d been considering approaching on her own. She liked their subscription numbers, and one of their regular photographers had won several prestigious awards last year. Things were moving online, and she didn’t want to be left behind.

A few months ago, she’d considered leaving her human job behind and following Malachi around the world. She didn’t know what they would do, but they’d be together. That dream was over. She’d have to find another. And with the knowledge she’d been learning from Orsala, the skills she’d learned from Mala, with a little preparation and a lot of caution, Ava thought she could probably have her old life back. At least a little bit. After all, what else was she going to do? Hunt the Grigori who had killed her mate? The attack in Bergen had shown her the foolishness of that. Join some war she didn’t understand for a race of people she barely belonged to? She had no ties here. No family.

She’d been living in a dream world in more ways than one. That wasn’t real life.

She needed her cameras, her computers, and an assignment that took her far, far away. Maybe going back to Antarctica was an option. The Galapagos. The Brazilian rain forest was probably Grigori-free.

And if it wasn’t, oh well.

“Damien,” she asked, “where are my cameras?”

“In Cappadocia, I believe. Didn’t you bring a small one with you?”

“I need my full-sized—never mind,” she muttered. “I’ll just buy new gear in Oslo.”

Maybe instead of taking one of the assignments the magazines were offering, she’d tag along with her dad on his tour. Take pictures of the rock music world for a while. He’d offered during his last tour of Asia, but their relationship had been too new. Too raw. It was still awkward to think of him as her father. But a few years had passed. They talked regularly… well, if every six months or so with the occasional e-mail between was regular.

He said he wanted to know her more. This might be the perfect opportunity.

Damien sat down beside her. “You seem…”

“Distant. Did anything happen?”

I woke up from a dream. I realized the love of my life is really gone. I gave up pretending I was anything special.

“Nothing much. Just checking mail. I need to call my dad.”

“You talked to your mother last week, didn’t you?”

“She informs on me, but I should call him directly. He’s in London right now.”

“Hmm.” He was eyeing her with suspicion, but Ava ignored him. She ignored the pang of guilt. Damien would probably go batshit insane if she talked to him about following her dad on tour. But he wasn’t her boss. Sure, they said she was family, but she wasn’t. Not really. They had a political war to fight that didn’t include her. She didn’t even want to get involved. There were other girls like her out there? Fine. She’d survived. They would, too.

“I know you’ve been cooped up in here. Do you want to go out for a walk?”

And scope out Grigori soldiers for you, so you and Sari could kill them? Make myself even more of a target?

“No thanks. I’m fine.”

He was on to her, but Ava didn’t care. She was just… done. She could rebuild the wall Malachi had pulled down. She’d have to. Then she’d move on with her life. And if the Grigori caught up with her?

She didn’t really care anymore.

There were pounding footsteps on the stairs. The door burst open, and Sari rushed in. She stared at Ava, then her eyes darted to Damien. Then back to Ava.

“What’s the deal?” Ava was trying not to feel freaked out, but something was obviously wrong.

Sari blinked and closed the door behind her. “We need to get to Oslo.”

Damien frowned. “Why?”

“I’ll explain more in the car. But… we need to go.”

“Now?” Orsala asked. “The sun is almost down. It’s a six-hour drive. We’ll go in the morning.”

Damien was more cautious. “What is happening in Oslo?”

Sari glanced at Ava again, but Ava looked back to the computer. She’d follow along to Oslo, there was a large airport there. After that, she’d catch a plane to London and make her way from there. She was done with the Irin fantasy world. She needed to get back to her own.

“Some of the Istanbul scribes arrived at the Oslo house. There is… news you need to hear.”

Her heart twisted a little. Part of her would have liked to see Rhys, Leo, and Max again. But even the thought was too painful. They looked at her and saw Malachi’s mate. She looked at them and saw his brothers. It was too much.

“Pack up,” Sari said. “I promise I’ll tell you more in the car. I’m… not sure of everything that is happening. Renata is meeting with them tonight. We’ll talk to her after we get there. She’ll know more. Ava, are you ready to go?”

She closed the computer and shrugged. “I don’t have much stuff. I’ll throw it in a bag and we can disappear.”

Damien shot her another suspicious look, but she ignored it and started packing.

Oslo. She’d get to Oslo. And then she’d be gone.