Caitlin got out of her car, self-consciously pulling her hair down to cover her ears. Then she reminded herself that mortals couldn’t see the pointy tips, which, of course, reminded her that she wasn’t a mortal, after all. She was still getting used to the fact that she was a changeling. Shifting back to more mundane thoughts, she made her way up the walk, knocked on the heavy wooden door, and mentally ran through her options for dinner. Neither she nor Eddy had gone to the store this week, which meant slim pickings. They had to have sauce and pasta in the pantry, right? Spaghetti it was.
A bespectacled woman with dark hair opened the door and smiled. “Hey—”
“Sorry I’m late, Heather,” Caitlin said. “I won’t go into details, but work was less than pleasant and Eddy had a last-minute consult with a patient.”
Heather shrugged and laughed as she opened the door to let Caitlin in. “No worries, honey. Come on in. Fiona and Carleigh finished their homework and are playing out back.”
“Thanks.” Caitlin stepped inside. “Have I mentioned this week how much I appreciate you watching Fiona after school?”
Heather laughed again and led the way through the large living room. Toys and books were scattered in small collections.
“This week?” Heather asked. “Only a dozen times or so.”
“Call it lucky number thirteen, then,” Caitlin said. “I still wish you’d let us pay you something.”
“No chance. Fiona is a fantastic kid, and I love that she and Carleigh get so much time together. I think they’re a good influence on each other.”
“You’ll let me know when your canonization comes through, right?” Caitlin joked and made a mental note to get Heather and Harry something nice as a thank-you.
“You’ll be the first to know,” Heather said with a chuckle.
Caitlin walked to the sliding glass door that opened onto a massive fenced-in yard and smiled when she spotted Fiona, marveling again at how fast she was growing. She was only six and a half, but she was one of the tallest girls in her class. Caitlin watched the two girls play. She had no idea what the game was, but it was something involving a sword fight, apparently to rescue Paddy Bear, who sat at the top of the slide.
She couldn’t help but wonder how much was just make-believe and how much was Fiona remembering her kidnapping and rescue from Tír na nÓg. At least the worry was a faint twinge, not the obsessive worry she’d had for the first year or so after getting Fiona back. It had taken months for her to come to terms with the truth of her—and Fiona’s—heritage. Caitlin had gone her entire life not knowing her father had been a faerie in the Dawn Court. She only wished she’d learned the truth in a less abrupt way; on the way into Tír na nÓg to rescue her child from dark faeries was less than ideal. She hadn’t had time to process the information then. The real shock had come a couple of months later, when Caitlin had noticed the changes to her physical appearance. She wondered if Fiona, whose biological father had turned out not to be a mortal, but rather the king of the Dusk Court, would one day undergo the same thing . . .
“You okay?” Heather asked.
“Huh?” Caitlin asked, coming back to herself. “Yeah, sorry. It’s been a long day.”
“Mommy!” Fiona shouted when she spotted Caitlin and ran to the door.
Caitlin opened it and knelt down, wrapping Fiona in a tight hug. “Hi, peanut.”
“Hi, Mrs. Huntington,” Carleigh said shyly.
“Hi, Carleigh.” Caitlin turned to Fiona. “Go get your things.”
“Okay.” Fiona rushed over to her backpack and started packing it up, Carleigh at her side. The two girls shared some whispered chatter as Fiona put Paddy Bear in her bag and zipped it up so only his head poked out.
“You know,” Heather said, “if you ever need us to, Fiona is more than welcome to stay the night. Or, you know, longer.”
Caitlin blinked. “Oh, well thanks.” She eyed Heather for a moment.
“I’m ready, Mommy,” Fiona said and rushed over.
“You want to drive?” Caitlin asked Fiona, holding out the key fob.
“You’re silly, Mommy,” Fiona said with a laugh, then turned to her friend, who had taken her spot next to and just behind her mom. “Bye, Carleigh.”
The four of them walked to the front door, and as Heather opened it, she leaned in. “Remember what I said. Anytime, we’re happy to have Fiona over.” She gave Caitlin a conspiratorial smile.
Caitlin furrowed her brow. She was clearly missing something, but it had been a long day, and she didn’t have the brainpower left to figure it out.
“I will, thanks.”
Fiona opened the back door of Caitlin’s car and climbed into her booster seat. Caitlin checked to make sure Fiona was buckled in, remembering like it was yesterday when she was still in a car seat.
Before long she would be driving.
“Ugh, not ready to think about that,” she said as she got behind the wheel.
“Ready for what?” Fiona asked.
“Nothing, peanut,” Caitlin said. “What did you learn in school today?”
“And I got the highest score!” Fiona said.
“Good for you,” Caitlin said as she pulled into their drive and hit the button to open the garage.
She was more than a little surprised when she saw Edward’s car already there. It wasn’t like him to say he was working late when he wasn’t. After parking the car, she checked her phone to see if she’d missed a call. She hadn’t.
Fiona unfastened herself and leapt out of the car.
Caitlin ignored the twinge of concern and followed Fiona in.
She hung her keys up and headed down the hall. “I thought you were—”
“Surprise,” Edward said. He was standing with a bottle of wine in one hand and a corkscrew in the other. Behind him, the table was set and candles were burning.
“What’s this?” Caitlin asked.
Edward smiled. “Things have been so hectic at work, I wanted to do something nice for you.”
Caitlin was speechless.
“I made your favorite,” he said. “Scallops and vegetables over angel hair with garlic butter sauce.” He looked at the bottle in his hand. “Oh, and a bottle of Riesling.”
Caitlin stepped forward and gave him a long, slow kiss. When it ended, she whispered, “I love you.”
“I love you too,” he said through a smile.
Caitlin turned to Fiona. “Go put your bag away, then wash your hands and come down for dinner.”
“I made your favorite too,” Edward said to Fiona. “Broccoli mac and cheese.”
“Yay!” Fiona shouted as she ran upstairs to her room.
“No running in the house,” Caitlin called after her. It did as much good as it ever did.
“Let me take this,” Edward said, pulling Caitlin’s bag off her shoulder. “You sit, have some wine, and relax. Uh, you do have to open the bottle though. You got here a little sooner than I expected.”
Caitlin took the bottle and corkscrew and went to the table. She glanced into the kitchen and wasn’t the least bit surprised to see all the dishes were washed, dried, and put away. Sometimes Edward being a neat freak bothered her. Other times, like this, it was freaking awesome. She opened the bottle and filled a couple of glasses. Edward came over just in time to be handed his glass.
“Thank you,” Caitlin said. “This is very sweet.”
Edward shrugged and smiled. “No big deal. I just wanted to do something nice.”
Caitlin’s heart felt full near to bursting. “Well, it means a lot to me.”
They clinked glasses and took a drink as they sat.
“So,” Edward said. “How was—?”
“Broccoli mac and cheeeeeessssssseeeeeee!” Fiona shouted as she came barreling down the stairs to the table, Paddy Bear in tow.
“Slow down,” Caitlin said.
Fiona stopped dead in her tracks, then began walking incredibly slowly.
“Oh, I bet you think you’re funny, don’t you?” Caitlin asked.
Fiona laughed and climbed up into her chair. Paddy Bear was set in his usual spot: in a booster seat of his own next to Fiona’s.
Caitlin took a bite of a scallop. It was perfect, and so was the pasta. Actually, everything was perfect. They ate in silence for a few minutes, and Caitlin just enjoyed the feeling of her family together. She was still getting used to the idea of having a family, not just her and Fiona.
Then a thought occurred to her. She narrowed her eyes at Edward. “You lied to me.”
“What?” Edward asked, his fork stopping midway to his mouth.
“You lied to me,” she said again. “You said you had a patient coming in late.”
“Oooh, Daddy, you’re in trouble,” Fiona said through a mouthful of food.
“I think you’re right,” Edward said in a faux whisper to Fiona but kept his eyes on Caitlin. “Good thing I picked up Cherry Garcia ice cream.”
Fiona nodded sagely. “Smart.”
“You dodged a bullet,” Caitlin said, unable to keep from smiling.
Dinner passed in easy conversation, mostly filled with Fiona telling Edward about her score on the spelling test. After the ice cream bribe was doled out, Edward collected the bowls and set to washing them and the dishes from dinner.
“Time to put your jammies on,” Caitlin said to Fiona and walked to the sink. When she got there, she wrapped her arms around Edward and nuzzled her cheek to his shoulder. “Thank you again. That was a really nice surprise.”
“Well, I do sort of have one more surprise,” Edward said.
“I don’t know how you can top that dinner,” Caitlin said and moved to start drying the bowls.
Edward just smiled and kept washing.
After the dishes were put away, he set to wiping down the counters, the stove top, the microwave, and the table. Caitlin just watched him work, smiling as she drank the last of her glass of wine.
When he finally finished she stepped close. “Have I said how sexy it is when a man cleans?”
“Sexy!” Fiona said from the living room, decked out in her favorite dinosaur pajamas. Paddy Bear was dressed in a miniature version of them.
“Don’t you dare laugh,” Caitlin whispered. “She’ll never stop saying it.”
Edward stifled a laugh. “Well, I can’t hide this kind of—”
Caitlin elbowed him in the ribs, lovingly, then turned to Fiona. “Come on, Miss Fiona-saurus-rex, I’ll tuck you in and read you a story.”
“Goodnight Moon?” Fiona asked.
“Again?” Caitlin asked in mock exasperation.
“I know,” Fiona said, matching her mother’s tone. “But it’s Paddy’s favorite.”
“Well, okay then.”
Caitlin led Fiona up to her room and got her settled into bed. She hadn’t made it halfway through the book before Fiona was asleep, Paddy Bear held in a tight embrace.
“Goodnight,” Caitlin whispered and kissed Fiona’s forehead. Then she turned off the light and closed the door, leaving it open just a crack, and went silently back downstairs.
“She out?” Edward asked when Caitlin returned, handing her a fresh glass of wine.
Together they moved to the couch and settled in, Caitlin curling up close under his arm. It didn’t happen as often anymore, but sometimes Caitlin couldn’t help but think how much she liked this house. All the magical eccentricities had taken some getting used to—Edward still hadn’t figured out how to get the fire in the study to go out. Others, though, were comforting. It being larger on the inside than out was fantastic, and nothing brought a sense of security like magical wards on every door and window. Edward had been studying and beefing them up even more. The fact he did it without being asked or saying a word about it just made Caitlin love him all the more. It had been more than two years since Fiona had been kidnapped by the fae, and although it didn’t haunt Caitlin’s every thought like it once had, she never really stopped thinking about Fiona’s safety. True, the queen of the Dawn Court fae had said Fiona would be hidden from all but Dawn Court fae until she was an adult, but Caitlin liked the extra insurance.
“So,” Edward said. “About that surprise.”
“Oh, I’d almost forgotten,” Caitlin said and sat up a little more.
Edward pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to her.
Caitlin took it and read it over. It was confirmation information for two first-class tickets to New Orleans and five days in a honeymoon suite at a hotel in the French Quarter.
Caitlin just stared at the paper for a long moment.
“Surprise?” Edward said. “We can go somewhere else, but Henry and Hannah really wanted us to come and visit—”
Caitlin put her fingertips over his lips. “It’s not the destination.” She let out a long sigh. “I just don’t know if the timing is right.”
Edward took her hand. “If we wait for the timing to be right, we’ll never go. You deserve this.” He squeezed her hand. “We deserve this. It’s not even for a full week. Heather said she and Harry would be happy to—”
“That’s what she was on about,” Caitlin said. “Wait, you told them?”
“I wanted to make sure they’d be okay watching Fiona for a few days. I didn’t tell them anything specifically.”
Caitlin leaned her head against Edward’s shoulder and loved that he drew her a little closer. She looked over the paper again. It did sound nice—better than nice, actually. The thought of her and Edward alone together, exploring a fun city like New Orleans, even having dinner with Henry—Edward’s best friend from med school—and his wife, Hannah, sounded like fun. But her heart ached at the idea of leaving Fiona; the only time they’d been apart overnight had been when Fiona had been taken by the oíche. That had been more than two years ago now, but . . .
“I don’t know if I can get the time off,” she said. “You know how crazy busy the hospital has been.”
“Taken care of,” Edward said.
Caitlin sat up. “What?”
“I had a meeting with Thomas last week, and I sort of mentioned—”
Caitlin’s rising irritation must’ve been visible in her expression, because Edward drew back a little. Then she reminded herself that it was just Edward being thoughtful. She was still getting used to having someone else in her life besides Fiona.
“Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to presume anything.”
Caitlin wrapped her arms around his slender body and kissed his cheek. “No, I’m sorry. It’s a nice surprise.” She stroked his hand for a moment, then nodded. “Okay, let’s do it.”
“Are you sure?”
Caitlin nodded. “I’m sure. You’re right, the timing will never be perfect, so let’s just do it now.”
“Really?” Edward said, looking like a big kid.
Caitlin couldn’t help but smile at how cute he looked with his lopsided grin. “Really.”
Edward traced his fingertips gently over Caitlin’s cheek. “We’ll call Heather and Harry tomorrow,” he said. “Fiona will love spending all that time with Carleigh.”
Caitlin nodded absently, her mind churning.
“What are you thinking?” Edward asked.
Caitlin laughed a little. He could always read her like a book. She drew back a little and looked at him. “What do you think about asking your parents to watch her?”
“No way,” Edward said. “Especially not after the way my mom treated you at our wedding.”
“I know, and you’re right. It was pretty tactless.”
“But?” Edward prompted.
Caitlin shrugged. “But they’re your family. I don’t want you to lose touch with them or Fiona to miss out on knowing her grandparents.”
“I saw how your mother looked at Fiona,” Caitlin said. “She smiled. Not much—I mean, it is your mother—but she smiled. We can always keep Heather and Harry as a backup plan.”
Edward considered for a long while, never looking away from Caitlin. Finally, he sighed. “Well, if anyone can soften my mom, it would be Fiona.” He shook his head. “I just don’t want you to get your hopes up. I grew up in that house. I know what my parents are like. My dad is okay, but he really just follows my mom’s lead.”
“What have we got to lose?” Caitlin asked. “Worst thing that can happen is that we wind up right back where we are. But maybe, just maybe, something magical can happen.”
Edward smirked. “Magic skips a generation in my family.”
“We’ll call her tomorrow, then?”
Caitlin hugged him again. “Thank you.”
“I’m only doing it for you and Fiona.”
“I know. I’m still grateful.”
There was another long moment of silence. Caitlin loved that they could share silence and not feel the need to fill it with inane talk. Then another thought occurred to her.
“Um,” she began. “We should really let Dante know too.”
They both knew the Rogue Court regent had a protection detail looking after Fiona. The little girl had both Dawn and Dusk Court blood in her. Caitlin wasn’t sure, and Dante never said, but it was clear Fiona was important to the Rogue Court. Really, she didn’t much care. She just liked the idea of someone watching out for Fiona. And it was apparently the definition of unobtrusive, because neither she nor Edward ever saw anyone.
“Really?” Dante asked, glancing at the speakerphone.
“I know,” Edward said. “But Caitlin wants Fiona to have a chance to know her grandparents. I’m not hopeful, but—”
“She’s a very special little girl,” Dante said. “And there’s something about becoming a grandparent that changes you. Don’t get me wrong, being a parent changes you too, but there’s something about grandkids.”
There was silence on the other end of the phone, and Dante wondered if he’d said too much. Edward was anything but obtuse.
“We’ll be discreet, of course,” Dante said, quickly changing the topic. “They’ll never know we’re watching.”
“I’m not worried about that,” Edward said, obviously grateful for the change. “She still might end up with the Heckels. I’m sure she’d have more fun with Carleigh than my parents, but just about anything is more fun than—”
“Would it be intruding if I ask where you and Caitlin are going?”
“New Orleans,” Edward said.
“Louisiana?” Dante asked. His eyes drifted to the map on his office wall. It showed the three regions of the Rogue Court in North America. There were only a few places where the court didn’t have free rein. The largest was the state of Louisiana.
“No, the one in Canada,” Edward said.
Dante laughed quietly.
“You remember Henry from my wedding, right?”
“I do,” Dante said. “I liked him.”
“He and his wife, Hannah, live there. She’s a professor at Tulane, and he’s got a medical practice. He’s been after me to visit him for years. Seemed like a good way to kill two birds with one stone.”
“Probably shouldn’t word it that way around Caitlin.”
“Good idea,” Edward said.
Dante’s mind began spinning. “I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful time,” he said, his tone more abrupt than he intended. “Just let me know where Fiona will be staying, and we’ll make sure she’s well protected.”
“Um, is there something—?”
“Yes, I’m sorry,” Dante said. “I just have some things going on I need to handle.”
“Oh. Well, I’ll let you get back to it.”
Dante hung up the phone and immediately dialed Brigid, magister of the Middle Region. She answered on the second ring.
“Well, this is a nice surprise, Regent,” she said.
“I need your help,” he said, his eyes focused on the map—and the symbol of the First House of the Cruinnigh that sat over Louisiana.