I poured half a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon into a bowl with cream cheese, then sprinkled a packet of ranch salad dressing mix on top. I set it aside until I could grab my mixer.
“You mind wrapping a few more ham and pickle pinwheels?” I asked my hunk of a shape-shifting griffin, who was busy pilfering a taste of the red and green Jell-O salad.
The man was six feet of raw Mediterranean heat and power, and yet he seemed confounded by the smidge of a treat left on his finger. He shook his head. “Cool Whip and Jell-O,” he said with a crisp Greek accent. “Who knew?”
I smiled up at him. “You have a lot to learn about Southern comfort food.”
He grinned back, his angled features softening. “I’m not against getting creative with Cool Whip.”
“I’ll hold you to that.” Perhaps when we didn’t have company coming.
I started up the mixer and went to town. I may have grown up in Atlanta society, but I could whip up a mean cheesy beer dip. It was my grandmother’s favorite, made better by a dash of artisan, aged, raw-milk cheddar. My little secret.
Dimitri and I were hosting our first ever holiday party, with the Red Skulls, my grandmother’s gang of Harley-riding witches, as our guests. We hadn’t had the chance to meet anyone else in California. After our wedding we’d taken a long, long honeymoon. Then we’d spent the fall in Greece, visiting with Dimitri’s sisters.
Even though I was one of the last demon slayers left on Earth, I hadn’t so much as seen a single devil’s spawn in months. It was the first break I’d had really. Too bad it couldn’t last.
I scooped the cheesy beer dip into a cute serving bowl and went to ice the cupcakes.
“Try this,” I said, offering Dimitri a lick of chocolate peanut butter frosting.
He stole it off my finger and used it to paint my lips. “Whoops,” he said, leaning in for a taste.
His lips moved over mine, sweet and seductive. I felt it all the way down to my belly. Damn, the man could kiss. The oven dinged. The pigs in a blanket were ready. I ignored them. The witches liked them a little crispy anyway.
Dimitri pressed up against me, all hard planes and delicious muscle. I ran my hands down his sides and felt him shiver. Good. A girl doesn’t want to be the only one knee-deep in lust. His control slipped, the kiss grew more intense, and I was officially lost. There was no reason we couldn’t have a good time of our own before the official fun started. I mean, it would be a shame to let a perfectly ready and willing man go to waste. Besides, we still needed to break in the kitchen table.
His hips rocked on their own accord. Impatient man. I kept one hand going, down over his belt, skirting the promised land. Oh yes, I was wicked as I caressed his leg before slowly, so slowly drawing my nails up his inner thigh.
He broke away with a huff, bending his head, his nose coming to rest against the curve of my neck. “What are you doing?” he asked against my skin, his voice playful, his body tight.
“Oh, is this confusing you?” I asked, my other hand caressing his jet-black hair where it curled at the nape of his neck. “Hmm. Maybe I need to be more direct.” I cupped the hard bulge in his jeans.
He groaned and rocked into my touch. “Do we have time?”
“I’ll have you begging in two.”
It wouldn’t be the first time. He slid my chopping board into the sink and hitched me up onto the counter. He grinned, before kissing me hard. I savored the rasp of his breath. The clean scent of him mingled with the heady aromas in our little yellow kitchen. He eased my strapless red dress down, kissing my breasts. I wrapped my legs around his waist, my knee-high black boots slick against his jeans as I pressed into him, rocking against him. Mine, mine, mine.
The oven timer dinged again.
“Wait.” I slid off the counter and attacked his belt buckle. In less than ten seconds this man would know for damned sure why his wife was the sexiest woman on the planet.
“God, Lizzie.” His eyes glittered as he looked down at me. He ran his tongue over his lower lip as I unzipped him and reached inside. I stroked the hard length of him and fought back a wicked grin.
“It’s a party!” Grandma burst in the front door.
I yanked my hand out of Dimitri’s pants.Frick!Thank God his wide chest and back hid me from the front door as he yanked my top back into place.
“Aww,” she said, covering her eyes with the studded leather box she carried. “You’re lucky I’m not your mom.” Yes, well Grandma Gertie was bad enough. A half dozen of her witch gang ducked around her like a river past a rock. Then more after that. They must have all ridden together.
“You ever heard of knocking?” I asked as Dimitri kept his back to them and got decent.
He glanced over his shoulder. “Forget that. I’m going for the antiwitch door bolt.”
“Won’t work,” Grandma said, placing the box onto our small kitchen table. “Once you invite a witch, she’s invited. We’re way stickier than vampires.”
More aggressive too. The biker witches attacked the food spread like a pack of wild hyenas.
“You didn’t need to bring anything,” I told her as Dimitri rescued the pigs in a blanket from the oven. Yep. They were singed. Maybe I could melt some Velveeta over them.
She shrugged out of her black leather Red Skulls biker jacket. “We had a few live spells left over from last night,” she said, tossing the jacket over a chair. “I thought you could use a couple.”
“Thanks,” I said, trying to sound like I meant it, while wishing she’d gone for a simple box of candy, or even a petrified fruit cake. Live spells were more like creatures than enchantments. And they certainly had minds of their own.
They were always in motion, and they loved to escape. Oh, and they tended to breed in the wild. There were hundreds of different kinds—some for defense, like Mind Wiper Spells that would render a person or creature unable to focus on anything other than their one secret wish. Then there were the nuisance Lose Your Keys–type spells. Oh, and the Mexican Food–Craving Spell. No telling why the witches even invented that one. It seemed completely counterproductive. Either way, they never should have allowed the last two to escape. Those things would creep up on you when you least expected it.
I cracked open the box, using my hand to hold back the two spiraling, lime-green spells inside. “What do these puppies do?”
Grandma accepted a handful of salt & vinegar flavored pork rinds from a gold-toothed biker witch. “They whip up holiday decorations,” she said, chowing down. “Fancy ones. You can do a whole biker bar with just one.”
“Great,” I said, trying to hand the box off to Dimitri. But he was talking to Ermogene about her family recipe for trosquirrelen: pickled trout stuffed in a squirrel, stuffed in a chicken, and roasted on the grill.
Not in this lifetime.
I mean, yes I’d embraced my inner biker witch. Or maybe just my demon-slayer side. But I drew the limits at Harley-chic decorations or anything involving fish from a jar. Besides, our beachside condo was already decorated for the holiday, with a strand of twinkling white lights above the cabinets, a red and gold tree in the corner, a sprig of fresh mistletoe here and there.
A sharp bark came from outside the sliding glass door off the kitchen. I scooted around the table and opened it up for my Jack Russell terrier, Pirate. Ever since I’d grown into my powers, my dog could talk to me—in real sentences. It was a blessing and a curse.
“Come on in,” I said as he shook off, scattering beach sand over my hardwood floor. “Where’s Flappy?”
Flappy was Pirate’s pet dragon. Because a pet should have a pet.
Believe me, it wasn’t my idea.
Pirate snorted. “Flappy’s dive-bombing for jellyfish. Sad that you won’t let dragons into the house.”
I had to have my limits, and a fifteen-foot-tall adolescent dragon was one of them. “I’ll make a plate for you to take out to him.”
Pirate cocked his head. “Better make it two. I might get hungry on the way down.”
Before I could answer, he dashed toward the front door, where a witch named Ant Eater, built like a battering ram, stood, staring up at the mistletoe. She let a pig in a blanket slide off her plate, and I’m not even sure it hit the carpet before Pirate had it.
The door banged open, and Crazy Frieda, with her blond hair stacked high, charged inside with a half-dozen more witches. Her eyes were wild. She’d forgotten her coat. She stood, chest heaving under an avalanche of green-and-red holiday costume jewelry, looking almost as if she were surprised to see us there.
Ant Eater ran a pig in a blanket through the thick glob of ketchup on her plate. “Haven’t you people ever heard of knocking?”
My thought exactly. Frieda rubbed her hands on her white leather pants and just stood there, as if she were looking straight through us.
“Hey,” I said, walking up next to her. “Are you okay?” I took her arm. Yes, she was wearing a sleeveless zebra-print top, but her skin was ice cold.
She stumbled a little on her platform heels. She was shaking. “It’s my son. He’s going to kill himself.”
I didn’t even know Frieda had a son.
Ant Eater towered over her. “You heard from Bruce? Where is he?”
Tears flooded Frieda’s eyes. “He got ahold of me right before I left,” she burst out. “And I’m not sure where he is. He didn’t say.”
Ant Eater cursed.
Frieda bypassed her and headed toward Grandma. “For ten years he’s cut himself off from me. He never told me why. Now I get this.” She held out a crumpled piece of loose-leaf paper.
Grandma met her halfway. “Let me see.”
Dimitri joined us, wrapping a hand around my waist. Grandma held up the paper for us to see as well. On it was scrawled
Nothing was your fault, Mom.
I never stopped loving you.
I thought we could fix this all someday, but I was wrong.
Please don’t blame yourself.
I didn’t like to think it, but it really did sound like a final good-bye. And I knew better than to question the blond biker witch’s instincts.
Frieda wrapped her hands around her chest, as if she could ward off her fear. “I don’t know what’s going on with my baby. He made it clear he never wanted to see me again.” She braced herself. “No mind, though. I am going to find him. I’m going to save him.” Only it was clear she didn’t know how.
Grandma nodded, thinking. “He still in the Dark Lords motorcycle gang?”
Frieda took the note back from her, folding it like it was a precious relic. “Yes.” She shook her head. “Last I knew anyway.”
Ant Eater’s jaw tightened. “That’s the trick. Nobody quits the Dark Lords gang.” She said it as if he’d joined the supernatural mob. Hell, maybe he had.
Grandma nodded. “Okay. Fine,” she said, giving a knowing glance to Ant Eater. “Then we know where he is tonight.”