“We may have to let him go,” I said. “Mom is beating herself up over the whole thing.”

“They were friends and Abarca looked good on paper.”

“That’s what I told her.”

“Catalina, if you really get in trouble, call Heart. I’ll text you the number. He’s in the States and between wars right now.”

He headed Rogan’s elite unit, fighting in conflicts all over the world for astronomical prices. We couldn’t afford Heart, even with Rogan’s discount.

“I will,” I told her. “Does he take installment payments?”

“Seriously,” Nevada said. “Call him. I don’t want to come back home to burned bodies.”

“You worry too much,” I told her.

“I worry just enough. I would worry less if you promise to call Heart.”

“If things get bad, I promise I’ll call Heart. Love you.”

“Love you too.” There was a pause as my sister hesitated. “Catalina, kidnapping cases rip your soul right out. Especially if you know the client. Take care of yourself.”

“I will.”

I hung up. My stack of pancakes was almost finished, and the mushrooms had browned nicely.

Someone cried out. It was a very short, startled sound, cut off in mid-note. Now what?

I turned off the gas burners, wiped my hands on a kitchen towel, hung it over my shoulder, and went to investigate.

The door to the spare bedroom stood ajar. A deep rumbling sound came from within, a soft kind of snarl born deep in a huge throat. It sounded demonic. I pushed the door open with my fingertips.

Ragnar sat on the bed, his back pressed against the headboard, his face pale, his eyes opened as wide as they could go. An indigo-blue beast sprawled on the floor by the bed. Six feet long, not counting the tail, with a tiger’s thickness and a muzzle with four nostrils, the creature watched Ragnar with electric-blue eyes. His paws were as big as my head.

Ah. Cornelius and Matilda were back. I would have to put more eggs into the scramble.

The otherworldly feline saw me. A fringe of tendrils rose around his neck. Sickle claws shot out of his velvet paws and vanished.

“Zeus, what did I tell you about scratching the rug?”

Zeus made a short noise somewhere between a bull and a sea lion.

“Don’t sass me.”

The beast resumed his throaty snarling.

“Hi,” I said to Ragnar. “Remember me?”

Ragnar shook his head, his gaze fixed on Zeus. “No.”

“That’s good,” I told him.

“What is he?” Ragnar asked.

“He’s a summoning. A few years ago, a summoner pulled him out of the arcane realm. He made friends with an animal mage here. Nobody has ever seen anything quite like him before, but he stays with us now. Come on, Zeus. Out.”

Zeus refused to move. That meant one thing: someone higher than me in his pack told him to stay here.

I raised my voice. “Matilda!”

A moment later Matilda walked into the room. Prince Henry, a ball of white fluff made of cuteness with blue eyes and an absurdly fluffy tail, trailed her. Matilda and Cornelius claimed he was a Himalayan cat, but I had my doubts.

Slight for her age, with long dark hair and big chocolate-brown eyes, Matilda looked a lot like Nari, her Korean mother. Nari was murdered three and a half years ago, which was how Cornelius came to work for us. Matilda split her time between school, her aunt’s house, and our warehouse, and when Cornelius was in the office, she was usually here.

“Is your dad here?”

“He dropped me off.”

“Could you tell me why you asked Zeus to stay here?” I asked.

Matilda looked at Ragnar. “He slept too long, and it was time for him to wake up.”

I had sent Cornelius an email last night catching him up on the case. Clearly, Matilda read it. “Yes, but why Zeus?”

“Medical studies indicate that hearing a cat purring lowers human blood pressure and promotes calm,” Matilda recited.

“Matilda,” I said gently, “most people find Zeus scary. The article probably meant house cats, not enormous blue tigers from the arcane realm.”

She shook her head. “There is no difference in purr quality between Zeus and Prince Henry. If he doesn’t understand that, it’s up to him to educate himself.”

Sometimes dealing with her was like talking to a fussy forty-year-old. “Please ask Zeus to exit.”

Matilda rolled her eyes. “Fine. Come, Zeus, you are wasted on this stupidhead.”

I had no idea if she meant me or Ragnar.

She left the room, and Zeus trotted out, following Matilda deeper into the house.

I turned to Ragnar. “My name is Catalina. You and Runa are staying with us for now. Runa helped our family a few years ago and now we’re investigating what happened to your mother and your sister.”

Some color came back into his face. “They died in a fire.”

I really needed Runa for this conversation. “We confirmed that your mother is dead. However, the other body the firefighters recovered doesn’t match Halle. There is a small chance that Halle might be alive.”


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