Muscles tense and right palm curled around the gun tucked into the waistband of his jeans, Tobias Duke ran his left thumb along the front door’s deadbolt. Tiny scratches in the silver finish made it clear that someone had picked his lock. Recently. The wards his grandmother updated quarterly were still intact, so the intruder was human. He reluctantly took his hand off the gun.
Slowly and silently, he unlocked the door. He pushed open the door and crept inside the foyer. The lights were off downstairs. He started towards the safe kept in his office when the sound of running water over his head stopped him in his tracks. Someone had broken into his house to take a shower?
A long, black ribbon curled around the banister caught his attention. He pinched the ribbon between two blue goo stained fingers and held it up. Tiny white skulls dotted the wide ribbon. His jaw tightened as the faint hint of rosemary and sweat.
When he was on rotation, he tended to keep his mental barriers up. The last thing he needed was to be distracted by foreign thoughts when tracking a demon. In the safety of his home, he let his barriers slip and concentrated on the showering intruder. He caught a glimpse of familiar chaos before a wall slammed up between his mind and the intruder’s.
Feminine laughter echoed in his head. “Stay out, you big perv or I’m gonna tell Granny.”
“Viola,” he growled, taking the stairs two at a time. The upstairs guest bath was empty. He rolled his eyes at his own naiveté. Why would Viola bother to use a guest bathroom when his was free?
His bedroom light was off, but the lights in his bathroom were on. He dropped his Tracking pack on the floor beside his bed and stalked to the bathroom doorway. The shower curtain was pulled to one side and two damp towels were piled on top of the closed toilet lid. The back of a purple tank top and a dark auburn ponytail greeted him.
“You’re home early,” Viola observed mildly, not bothering to turn around.
“What are you doing, Vi?” Duke folded his arms across his chest and leaned against the doorjamb. He winced when the door hinge dug into the fresh bruise on his right shoulder. The thought of a hot, steamy shower had kept him going for the last hour of a rough rotation. He wanted nothing more than to pick up Viola by her ponytail and toss her out of his bathroom.
“Cleaning up. I was with Max when the call came in about the four Irgins in the Heights. Since you and Bas were busy with the demons in Conroe, Max and Vic went after the Irgins. Max thought it would be good training for me so I tagged along.” There was a pause as Viola splashed water onto her legs and rinsed her soapy hands. “Man, no one said anything about how foul Irgins are. I don’t think Max is ever going to get the stench out of his truck. I offered to set it on fire for him so he could get a new one, but all that got me was a ten-minute lecture on insurance fraud.”
Duke mentally counted to thirty. It did nothing to soothe his mounting anger. “Viola,” he snapped, “what are you doing here?”
“Cleaning.” She bit her tongue to stop the duh that wanted to follow. Regardless of what her brother and sister thought, she did have a few self-protective instincts. She swiveled her shoulders, careful to keep her face out of view, and pointed at the tattered tights near Duke’s boots. “Turns out I’m not as fast as I’d like to think I am. The cuts are shallow, but the blood was sticking to my tights and it was driving me crazy.”
Duke inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly. He reminded himself that his grandmother was inordinately, unexplainably fond of the littlest Ashwood and would slap him silly if he wrung the girl’s neck. He had only himself to blame for his frustration, anyway. He’d forgotten that one had to be very, very specific when dealing with Viola.
“What. Are. You. Doing. In. My. Bathroom?”
“Oh!” Viola chuckled, reached for one of the towels. She spun around and dried her pale legs. Streaks of red criss-crossed her shins. She ducked her head down, refused to meet Duke’s furious stare. “Well, Bas doesn’t ‘xactly know about my little trip with Max and judging by the radio chatter I heard, tonight’s not a good night to tell him.”
“Sooo,” she bit her lip and flashed him a quick grin, “I couldn’t go home. I thought I’d pop in here real quick to clean up and then head out to the rave on Scott.”
She coughed. “I mean the study session at Aaron’s. Study party. Promise. Do you have a pair of black socks I can borrow? My boots are downstairs.”
Duke pivoted sharply, stomped into his bedroom. He yanked open a drawer, retrieved a pair of black socks, and tossed them at Viola’s head. “Out, Shortcake.”
“No problemo. Just give me a sec to clean up.”
“I’ll clean up.” Duke’s eyes narrowed suspiciously when she started folding one of the towels. He recognized a stall tactic when he saw one. “Now, Vi.’
She winced at his sharp tone. “Okay. Okay. No need to bite my head off.” She dropped the towel, grabbed her ripped tights, and tugged down the hem of her black-and-silver skirt. “See ya, Tobias.”
Lips pursed, Duke’s arm shot out to block the doorway when she started to brush past him with her face firmly pointed towards her pale toes. “Hold up, kiddo.”
She blew out a heavy sigh. “Talk about bipolar. Stay or go. Which is it?”
“Look at me.”
“Uhh… no. I’m not feeding your ego tonight.”
“Look at me, Viola.”
Duke grasped her chin between to fingers and forced her face up. The entire right side of her face was red and swollen. Her lip was split and the bruise had already started to turn purple. “A little slow, huh?”
“Okay, way slow.” Viola shrugged. “I shouldn’t have had that second burger for dinner. Or the shake.”
“How were you going to explain that shiner to Bas?”
“Raves are dangerous. He’d have been pissed and grounded me, but he wouldn’t have banned me from Tracking.”
Duke released Viola’s face. He silently kissed his plans for an early night goodbye. “You need to ice that or your eye will swell shut. Go downstairs and put an ice pack on that. Don’t leave.”
Viola knew better than to challenge the angry glint in his eyes. Duke was one of the few people capable of tracking her when she tried to disappear. She nodded, slipped past him and scurried to the hallway. “Want me to make you a sandwich or anything?”
“Just get the ice and park your ass on the couch. I’ll be down in a minute. We’ll watch SportsCenter and then I’ll have a look at your legs. They should be disinfected. I’m too tired to drive you home, and I don’t trust you with my truck. You can crash here tonight.”
“Thanks, Tobias. You’re the best.” Viola beamed at Duke before skipping to the stairs. The smile slid from her face when his next words reached her.
“First thing in the morning, I’ll call Sebastian to pick you up.”