Black Heart Page 43

“But you didn’t believe it,” I said.

“Pfft. I’d never believe you were dead if I didn’t see the body myself,” Beezle said. “Are you my girl or not? I made you too stubborn to die.”

“Am I your girl?” I asked, very quietly, afraid of the answer.

“You know you are,” Beezle said.

He flew to me then, put his little arms around my neck, and the tears were back. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I left you. If you ever tell anyone I said this, I will deny it to my stone-turning.”

I laughed then, and patted his back, and kissed his head in between his horns. “I missed you.”

He pulled away, wiping his eyes. “Yeah, yeah. Enough with the waterworks. The Retrievers are going to be back for you as soon as Sokolov realizes you’ve returned.”

“I will take care of the Retrievers,” Daharan said.

Beezle flew up to my shoulder. It was comforting to feel his weight there again. He stared at Daharan for a long time, then said, “So, another of Lucifer’s brothers, eh? What do you want from Maddy?”

Daharan spread his hands. “Nothing. I have come only to assist my niece in her struggles, which are primarily the fault of Lucifer.”

“Just trying to clear the family name?” Beezle asked skeptically.

Daharan nodded. “I can arrange for the Agency to call off the Retrievers.”

“And how will you do that?” I asked. “The Agency is pretty convinced that they are a law unto themselves. Puck and Lucifer have both indicated to me that even they don’t mess with the soul collectors. And the Agency likes to take a hands-off approach with the other supernatural courts. I learned that from J.B. Basically, the Agency’s got a you-don’t-bother-us-and-we-won’t-bother-you attitude.”

“Except where you’re concerned,” Beezle said.

“Yeah, I don’t know what makes me so special,” I said.

“You’re special because you have managed to piss off an incredibly diverse collection of powerful beings,” Beezle said.

“Through no fault of my own,” I said.

“Fault doesn’t come into it,” Beezle said. “The fact remains that you attract attention, and a lot of it. And the Agency doesn’t like that.”

“I do not like it, either,” Daharan said. “I will be having words with my brother on the subject.”

“Oh, to be a fly on the wall when that conversation happens,” Beezle whispered.

“And won’t it attract more attention if you go storming in to the Agency and ask them to leave me alone?” I said to Daharan.

“I will not ask,” he said.

Daharan smiled, and for the first time I realized why his brothers were afraid of him. He exuded a tangible sense of menace, of power, that would not yield to any persuasion. He was the strongest of them all, and the most implacable. His magic was born in fire, and fire was the most pitiless force in the universe. Fire did not discriminate. It could not create. It could only destroy.

I looked into his eyes and I knew that if Sokolov and the Agency did not give him what he wanted, they would burn.

Beezle knew it, too. “Are we okay with this?” he asked in a way that let me know he was not okay with this.

“Don’t harm the Agents,” I said. “They’re just foot soldiers. But Sokolov, and Bryson . . .”

“You can feel free to grind them into little pieces if you like,” Beezle said. “Even I don’t see any point in trying to redeem the two of them.”

“I will find you again, Madeline,” Daharan said.

Then he took to the air. I watched him go until the night covered him and I could see him no longer.

“So,” Beezle said. “Do you think the manager at Dunkin’ Donuts would let us sleep in the back room if we paid her enough?”

“We are not living anywhere you would have twenty-four-hour access to doughnuts,” I said. “You’re heavy enough as it is. What’s Samiel been feeding you?”

Beezle shrugged. “Whatever Chloe eats, mostly. She’s an eating machine. You wouldn’t think that a person that little could eat so much, but she can give me a run for my money. I’ve never seen anyone eat so many tacos in one sitting.”

“So you’ve been gorging yourself while I was half-starved on a distant planet?” I said. “Nice. Very nice.”

Beezle flew off my shoulder so he could look critically at my figure. “It doesn’t look like you haven’t been eating.”

“That’s the baby, you idiot,” I said.

He grinned. “I know, I know. Actually, you do look kind of thin—other than the basketball hanging off the front of you, that is.”

I rubbed the new roundness in my tummy. “It’s not basketball-sized yet. It’s more like softball-sized.”

“That’s not a slow-pitch ball,” Beezle said. “That’s a Chicago sixteen-incher.”

“Enough about my belly,” I said. “Don’t you want to hear what I’ve been up to?”

“Only if you feed me first,” Beezle said. “I haven’t eaten in at least a half an hour.”

“I don’t think these pants came with a platinum card,” I said, digging into my pockets. To my great surprise, I found a twenty-dollar bill in one of them.

“Neat-o,” Beezle said. “Do you think it will do that every time?”

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