Home > Sapphire Flames (Hidden Legacy)(7)

Sapphire Flames (Hidden Legacy)(7)
Author: Ilona Andrews

The next year would be crucial. Our first case with me as the Head of the House would be equally important.

This morning, sometime between turning off the alarm and jerking awake, I had dreamed that Arabella burned to death. In my nightmare, I was holding her charred corpse to me, looking at her picture on my cell phone, and crying. I woke up with my face wet. For Runa, it wasn’t a nightmare, it was reality.

“Venenatas are combat mages. Runa Etterson would make a formidable ally,” I said. “I’ve looked at our schedule, and if Leon closes the Yarrow case today, we’re wide open.”

We were wide open because for the first time in the last three years we had decided to lighten our load for the holidays. We had mostly succeeded, except for the Yarrow fraud and the Chen case. The Chen case was a nightmare. Someone had stolen a van with three prize-winning boxer dogs in it on Christmas Eve. The van was found abandoned the next day, all three dogs missing, and the breeder was beside himself. Cornelius, an animal mage and our only nonfamily investigator, had taken that one, and we hadn’t seen him or Matilda, his daughter, since the day after Christmas. He’d emailed me yesterday to inform me he was still alive and working.

Bern smiled. “That’s a solid argument, and if I wasn’t your cousin, I would totally believe it. You’re making an emotional decision. You would help her if her magic consisted of conjuring up cute garden gnomes.”

“Bernard,” my mom said in her Mom voice.

“I want to help her as much as anyone,” Bern said, “but my job in this family of Care Bears is to provide logical analysis, so humor me.”

“I understand your point. It’s valid.” I sipped my tea to buy time. Bern could be swayed, but you had to present your arguments in a methodical fashion. “You’re right; the grace period is almost over, and I’m an unknown commodity. It would be different if Nevada was the Head of the House.”

“If Nevada was here, I would give her the same assessment,” he said.

“Either way, we’ll be watched and our first case with me in charge will be scrutinized. I considered it carefully and I like the message this case is sending.”

“What message?” Grandma Frida asked. The coffee must have finally kicked in.

“We stand by our friends,” I said. “We aren’t a House who abandons allies out of convenience. If you earn our trust, we’ll honor it.”

Bern nodded. “Very well. As long as we’re all clear on what we’re walking into. Two Prime Venenatas may have been burned to death in their home, on their own turf. We all know what that means.”

“What does it mean?” Runa asked from the doorway. She wore a big T-shirt and a pair of leggings. Her hair was a mess, dark circles clutched at her eyes, but some of the stiffness in her posture had eased off.

“House warfare,” Mom said.

House warfare had its own rules. When people who could incinerate entire city blocks and throw buses around fought to the death, the government turned a blind eye, as long as all reasonable precautions against civilian casualties had been made. You went to the courthouse, filed some paperwork, and walked out with carte blanche to murder your enemies as you saw fit. If your House was in a feud and people with guns and magic were storming your home, 911 wouldn’t take your call. If you were running down the street with a pack of summoned monsters on your heels, the cops wouldn’t stop to help you. That was one of the many costs of being a Prime. You weren’t above the law, but, in many cases, you existed outside of it.

“We don’t know for sure that it’s House warfare,” I said. “Let’s get all the facts and then make a decision.”

“I don’t want to put anyone in danger,” Runa said.

“Danger is our middle name,” Grandma Frida said.

Mom stopped what she was doing and looked at Grandma Frida.

“What?” Grandma Frida shrugged. “It’s been too quiet around here. I’m ready for some action.”

“The last time you got some action, you drove Romeo through a storm mage’s compound, while Nevada rode shotgun and fired a grenade launcher at the giant animated constructs chasing you,” Mom said. “Your tank had to be rebuilt from the tracks up, and you had four broken ribs and a gash on your head that needed thirty stitches.”

“Don’t you worry about me getting action, Penelope.” Grandma Frida grabbed a handful of her white curls and pulled them back, exposing the edge of a scar. “It adds character.” She paused. “And an air of mystery. A woman can always use more mystery.”

“God help me,” Mom said.

“Thank you for inviting me into your home,” Runa said. “But this is my problem. I don’t want any of you getting hurt because of us.”

Mom pointed at the chair next to Bern and said, “Sit.”

Runa sat. The combination of mom and sergeant always worked.

“You’ve helped our family,” Mom said. “Now you’re in danger and you’re responsible for your brother, who also might be a target. His safety should be your first priority. We’re offering you a protected base and assistance. We may not have the resources and the manpower of larger firms, but we close our cases. You are the Head of your House now, Runa. Do what’s right for your House.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Runa said.

I turned to Runa. “Do you have a dollar?”

She gave me an odd look and dug through her pockets. “I have a five.”

“If you give me that five-dollar bill, I’ll consider us officially hired. Your choice.” I held my hand out.

“I don’t expect you to work for free . . .”

“Have no fear, we’ll bill you for all of the expenses that will come up. If you still feel that you need to adequately compensate us, we can trade you for poison-detecting services.”

Runa took a deep breath and put the money in my hand. “House Etterson is honored to accept help from House Baylor.”

“Good.” Mom put a plate of pancakes and sausage in front of her.

“Tell us about the fire,” I said.


“It’s bullshit,” Runa said.

“Eat your pancakes,” Mom said.

Runa dug into a pancake with her fork. “The house was four thousand square feet, two stories, and every bedroom had an exit. Mom’s bedroom was on the first floor, Halle’s bedroom on the second, and it opened to the backyard balcony. When she was little, she used to jump off that balcony into our pool. Drove Mom crazy. The house had six smoke detectors and a high-tech alarm that should have sensed the rising temperature and alerted the fire department.”

“Did the alarm go off?” Bern asked.

Anger sparked in her eyes. “I don’t know. It should have though. Somehow, despite the alarm, and the smoke detectors, and the easy access to outside, my mother and my seventeen-year-old sister ended up dying together in the study at three in the morning. My mother could kill an intruder from thirty feet away. Halle could probably do the same, although she mostly specialized in purging toxins. None of this makes any sense. Especially the part where everyone I talked to insists on referring to this as ‘a tragic accident’ as if they’re all reading from the same script.”

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