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Bring Out Your Dead, Page 2

Katie MacAlister

  I opened my mouth to apologize, but his arms tightened around me. His lips moved, sending little zings of excitement down my body. For a moment, I could taste blood, but the second his tongue swirled across my lip, teasing me, tasting me, all thoughts flew out of my head.

  He must have been eating a spicy sweet or chewing clove gum or something, because his mouth tasted of a heavenly ambrosia I couldn't begin to put into words. A distant part of my brain was shocked that I was lying on a stranger in the middle of a London street, surrounded by passersby as I kissed him with everything I was worth. But at that moment all I wanted was to enjoy the spicy sweetness his mouth offered.

  His body stiffened. I had a momentary glimpse of gray-blue eyes flashing surprise beneath the black rim of a fedora before they narrowed and he spoke. "Beloved!"

  The sound of his voice brought me back to reality. My cheeks flamed with embarassment as I squirmed out of his hold. I got to my feet and gathered my backpack from where it had fallen. "I'm so very sorry, sir. There's no excuse for my actions other than the ground was wet, and I'm being chased—"

  " Tabernak! Peut-être vous would like to murder moi!"

  The man leaped up with a grace I lacked, looking toward the voice issuing from my backpack.

  "Sorry. It's a little confusing, isn't it? That's actually my spirit—" I started to explain, still red-cheeked at my uninhibited display.

  But at that moment, the imps found me.

  "Yip, yip, yip," clamored the murderous little monsters (imps seldom have good on their minds) as they poured around the corner in a yellow wave of menace.

  "Bloody hell!" I scanned the street quickly, searching for the best escape route, but before I could make a decision, the man shoved me toward the entrance to a narrow unlit alley.

  "Down there. Quickly!" he ordered, turning to block the alley with his body. I hesitated a moment, unwilling to place my Good Samaritan in potential danger, worried that he could be harmed. "Run, you foolish woman. I won't be harmed."

  I didn't wait for him to tell me twice. I ran, my arms outstretched in a blind attempt to avoid trash bins and boxes of refuse that hid in the darkness.

  " Belle! J'ai entendu le voice du man. Who was it?"

  "Sally, I really don't have time—ow! Damn it, this is ridiculous."

  The tiny alley ran behind a row of connected buildings, allowing little light to intrude from the shops and streetlights. Judging by the smell of rodent droppings and urine, I gathered the alley was not the safe haven I had hoped it would be. I swore again as my shin connected with something hard and pointy, then turned back to see how my champion was doing, prepared to go to his rescue if he was being overwhelmed. All I could see was his silhouette in the entrance of the alley, bobbing and weaving as he beat off the imp attackers.

  " Vous avez arrête? Why?"

  "Because the man may be in trouble."

  " Run!" he yelled, spinning around toward me. "Turn left at the end of the alley."

  His voice was strong and confident, not at all like that of someone who was about to be overwhelmed by imps.

  "Do as he says," advised the muffled voice. " Il retentit ires Sexy Pants."

  "I am doing it," I snapped, sprinting down the last half of the alley with only minor injuries to my abused shins. I burst out into the lights of the busy street, turned blindly, and raced straight into a demon.

  Pain exploded through my head and shoulder. Sally shrieked, her high-pitched screams piercing the fog in my brain and the stench of demon smoke. Woozy, I realized the demon had instinctively thrown me off him, no doubt believing I was an attacker.

  The pain, along with the sharp, coppery taste of blood helped clear my head. It focused its attention on me.

  "Demon! Demon! Demon!" Sally screamed from inside the backpack.

  "You smell of revenants," the demon said, sniffing the air. Its eyes narrowed on me as I got painfully to my feet.

  "I mean you no harm," I said slowly, showing my palms so the demon would know I was unarmed.

  "Get away, Belle! Demon! Zût alors! It will have you!"

  My gesture of good faith did little good. The demon snarled one word at me, a word that made my blood curdle. " Tattu!"

  I leaped backward as it lunged at me. If only I hadn't taken the tube. The imps never would have found me, and I'd never have run into the delectably kissable man outside the alley, and he'd never have sent me careening (intentionally, or accidentally?) straight into the arms of one of the few beings who could do me damage.

  I whirled around, about to sprint away in a desperate attempt to escape the demon, but at that moment the man I'd been kissing burst from the alley, flinging himself between the demon and me.

  I didn't wait around to see whose side he was on—I ran. Judging by the demonic curses and screams that followed me, the man must have been an ally. When I stopped three blocks away in a small square, one hand on my side to ease a stitch as I gasped for air, there were no demon or imps in pursuit. No mysterious man in a dark hat with glittery blue eyes, either.

  " Qu'est que going on? Porquoi have you stopped?"

  For a moment, I was disappointed that the stranger—back in the savior role—hadn't followed me, but I quickly regathered my wits.

  "Economy be damned," I said grimly, limping to the nearest taxi rank. "The streets aren't safe for someone like me."

  " Vous said it, sister."

  "Tell me you're the tutor."

  "I'm the tutor."

  "Oh, thank God." The woman who opened the glossy black door of the three-story town house yanked me inside without any ceremony. She looked to be in her mid-twenties, and bore a frazzled, wild glint in her eyes. "Ew! What is that?" She asked, eying the paper bag I carried.

  "I'm so sorry. It was an imp who got a little too personal with my leg. You know how they are—they'll mount anything that moves."

  "Imps," the woman said, her eyes round with horror.

  " Il était seulement one imp." I gave the backpack a little shake to remind Sally that I didn't want her speaking until I'd had the chance to check out my new employers. Not everyone is thrilled to see a tutor who has a spirit guide following her everywhere.

  The woman's eyes widened even more at the words emerging from my backpack.

  "Ignore that," I said.

  "Yes, I think I'd better," she answered, her face tight. She said nothing more about either my unsavory package or my talking backpack, simply pulling me inside and slamming the door behind me. She frowned a moment, opened the door again, and dashed out to where the taxi driver was attempting to merge back into traffic.

  "Save me from having to order one," she said breathlessly as she returned. She stopped in front of me, running an agitated hand through her hair. "What's taken you so long? I thought you'd never come."

  I glanced at my watch. If she didn't appreciate hearing about the imp who had been hiding in the taxi, I doubted she'd care to hear of the demon I'd run into earlier. "I take it you're Mrs. Tomas? I apologize for being late, but it is only five minutes past my appointment time—"

  "It doesn't matter, you're here now," the woman said, grabbing a raincoat from a nearby chair. I looked around the small entrance and noted the dark paneling on the walls, marble tile, and sparse but elegant furnishings. I had been told by the private tutoring agency I worked through that the child I was being assigned had been sent down from an exclusive boarding school.

  Coupled with what I could see of the house, I assumed the family must be pretty financially comfortable. "I don't know where he is right now, and frankly, I don't care. He's probably dismembering a cat or planning some evil crime against nature or plotting to overthrow the government. I don't know and I don't care! He's your problem now. I've had all I can take!"

  "Erm…" He, I took it, referred to my pupil. What a very odd response this woman had toward her own son. She grabbed two large bags and her purse before turning to face me again. "You're Damian's mother?"

  "Goddess, no!" The
woman actually shuddered as she spoke.

  "Ah. Then you must be the nanny. I was told there would be a new nanny. I'm Ysabelle Raleigh."



  "I was the nanny. They hired me yesterday, but I hereby quit. I don't care how many bonuses they pay me to stay with him while they're gone, it's not worth living with that little monster."

  A loud crash sounded from the floor above, startling me into an exclamation of surprise, but the agitated woman in front of me didn't even blink an eye. "Tell them they can send my wages to me. They have the address."

  "I'm sorry," I said, completely lost. "I don't seem to follow you. You're the nanny but you're quitting?"

  "Yes. You're here now. I didn't leave him until you came—you can tell them that. But he's your problem now!"

  " Ce qui est celui? "

  We both ignored my backpack. "My problem? I hardly see—"

  "That's part of it, don't you understand?" She grabbed my arm in a tight grip, her eyes wild. Outside, the taxi driver tapped on the horn. "Everything looks all right, but it's not. Not any of it. And if you can't see that before it's too late, then all will be lost."

  Before I could ask for clarification, the nanny grabbed her bags and hauled them out to the taxi driver. "Don't go anywhere, I'll be right back," she told him.

  I waited until she returned for the last of her things. "I'm sorry, there seems to be some confusion. I'm not here for the nanny job.

  I'm just here to tutor—" I dug out the employment card. "Damian Tomas, male child, age ten."

  The woman paused dramatically in the doorway. "If you take my advice, you'll clear out right now. The monster can take care of himself."

  "Monster?" asked a muffled voice. " Qui est le monster?"

  I desperately clung to shreds of hope that it was all a big misunderstanding, but sneaky little tendrils of dread kept tugging at me.

  "What about his parents?"

  "Got away while they could. Smart people." She grabbed a cloth bag and a cardboard box, sending a glance of loathing at the ceiling before pinning me back with a look that had the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end. "Be afraid, tutor. Be very afraid. Guard your soul."

  My mouth opened in surprise, but before I could form a coherent sentence, she shoved her things at the taxi driver and got into the black car, slamming the door behind her.

  "The hell!" Sally said.

  I watched the nanny leave, slowly turning to look at the stairs behind me. "I don't know about you, but I'm a bit worried."

  " Une bit is all?"

  "Well… all right, more than a bit. What could be so wrong with a child that he drove away his nanny in less than a day?"

  " Merde!" Sally swore. " Il est temps pour vous to get away! Cette minute! But first take me hors de backpack."

  "I'm not taking you out until I know it's all right—"

  A rhythmic pounding started upstairs, interrupting both my sentence and my thoughts.

  " Allez, allez!" Sally urged, the backpack beginning to twitch.

  I squared my shoulders. "You know there's not a lot that can scare me." Brave words considering the feeling of dread that permeated my bones, leaving me with the unwavering suspicion that I had just gotten myself into a situation way over my head. I marched to the bottom of the stairs. "Hello? Is someone there? My name is Ysabelle. I'm the tutor."

  The pounding stopped. A hushed, expectant feeling settled over the house.

  " Ce n'est pas normal."

  "Hush." I took a deep breath. "There's nothing to fear from a small child, not even one who frightens nannies."

  Sally snorted. I set down the backpack and started up the stairs. Before I got halfway, a head poked around the corner and looked down at me.

  "Hello. I'm Ysabelle. You must be Damian." I released a breath I hadn't realized I was holding. I don't know what I had been expecting, but the boy in front of me looked perfectly normal. Dark blue eyes watched me from beneath two thick slashes of eyebrows. He held a hammer in one hand, a small can in another. "It's a pleasure to meet you. Are you working on some home-repair project?"

  As I rounded the landing and walked up the last few stairs, Damian frowned. "Where's Abby?"

  "Is that your nanny?"

  "I'm too old to have a nanny," he said, scorn dripping from his words. He had a slight accent that sounded vaguely Germanic to my ears. "She was here to watch the house while my dad and Nell are away."

  "Nell being your… stepmother?" I guessed.

  He nodded, turning to stride down the dark upper hall. I followed, looking around for signs that the boy had been engaged in nefarious acts, but there was nothing I could see. From what I could glimpse through the partly opened doors, the upper floor contained only bedrooms. None of them held dismembered cats, evidence of crimes, or mechanisms to overthrow the government. Abby the ex-nanny must have been of a high-strung personality not at all suited to the care of a child.

  "She smells."

  "Pardon?" I stopped in the doorway to the room Damian entered. I judged by the clothing strewn on the floor, the TV on but blessedly silent, and the number of electronic toys and game machines that this was his room. Two windows looked down on the square outside, but Damian had nailed a couple of dirty planks across one window, shutting out all light. He hefted a flat piece of board, grunting a little before glancing over his shoulder at me. "Nell. She smells. Are you going to stand there or help me?"

  Autocratic little… I stopped before I could even think the word, and reminded myself that I had promised the tutoring agency I was good with children. "Perhaps you'd like to tell me why you're boarding up your windows?"

  "Because—" He plucked a nail from the can he'd set on a small desk and wrestled the board into place. At another arrogant glance, I obligingly held up one corner of the board so he could nail it into place across the window. "Sebastian is coming."

  "He is? Does he always come in through the windows?" I relaxed. Why didn't the agency tell me the boy was special-needs? No doubt the nanny had been unable or unwilling to deal with a child who had a different way of looking at life, but that was nothing new to me.

  Damian shot me another look filled with scorn. "He can't use the door. Nell warded it. And the windows on the lower floor, but she didn't do the upper ones."

  "I see. Who exactly is Sebastian?"

  "He's my dad's enemy. He tried to kill Nell and Papa. Now he's coming for me."

  "He's coming for you?" I added paranoia to my list of qualities most evident about Damian.


  "How do you know that?"

  "He said so." Damian stood back and admired the wood he'd nailed across his windows for a moment. He nodded, then gathered his tools and headed for the next room.

  For someone riddled with paranoia, he seemed oddly unconcerned. I couldn't help wondering whether this was an attention-getting device, but that wasn't my major concern at the moment.

  "Is there anyone else here?" I asked as he proceeded to nail a board across another window. "A… a housekeeper? Or sitter?


  "Just Abby, but she's left. I'm glad. She didn't believe Sebastian was coming. She said I was…" He paused a moment to recall the word. "… delusional."

  "Hmm. Well, here's the problem—I'm a tutor, not a nanny. I have my own home to go to, and other work I must do, so I can't stay here to take care of you."

  "I can take care of myself," Damian said matter-of-factly. He nailed up another board.

  "I'm sure you can. Regardless, I believe it would be best if I spoke with your parents." I sat on the edge of the bed, next to a cordless phone. "Do you have their number?"

  "My mum is on a cruise. You can't talk to her unless she calls. My dad and Nell are in Heidelberg. But there's no phone because they're building a new house."

  It took some doing, but after fifteen or so minutes, Damian was persuaded to hand over a slip of paper with his father's mobile phone number on it. Two minute
s after that, I found myself talking to a pleasant American woman who identified herself as Damian's stepmother.

  "I'm sorry, but I just can't stay," I said after explaining what happened. "I have many other clients, and although Damian seems like a delightful child"—Damian huffed and puffed past me hauling a handful of cobwebby two-by-fours from the basement, shooting indignant looks at my lack of helpfulness—"I simply cannot put it all aside to take on a nanny position."

  "I wouldn't ask you to do so permanently," said the woman named Nell, a distinct note of pleading in her voice. "But we would be so very grateful if you could stay with Damian overnight. Just overnight. I will call the agency right away, but I know for a fact they won't be able to send someone out until tomorrow morning, and we can't possibly get away until after that. I realize this is a great deal to ask you, but if you could see your way clear to just staying with Damian until morning, we would be happy to pay you a bonus on top of your regular fee."

  I bit my lip, swayed against my will by the word bonus. "I hate to appear mercenary, but I'm a bit tight right now financially, so it really does matter when I ask how much this bonus would be."

  Nell was silent for a moment. "How does a hundred pounds sound?"

  It sounded like heaven, but I had enough presence of mind not to blurt that out. Evidently Nell took my momentary silence as disapproval, because she quickly added, "I'll make it two hundred if you can stay until the new nanny arrives."

  My hesitation wasn't due to greed. I quickly ran over a mental list of everything that I needed to do in the next twenty-four hours. "I will agree if you don't mind my clients coming here to see me."

  "Your clients?"

  "I'm a counselor," I answered.

  "Oh. Occupational? Emotional?"

  "Sort of a cross between the two. I counsel people who've undergone a major change in their life and need a little help to get going again. I have three appointments tonight, and a handful more in the morning."