Epilogue

As the Patriarch drones on and on about additions to the agenda for the Paranormal Community open meeting Sunday night, my eyes drop to my phone. Twenty minutes on how long of a break we should allow. Wow. Uniting the PC got me an upgraded suite at the 'dome and a decorating budget. It also got me an unofficial open-door policy.

One the Patriarch of the Herd seems to enjoy heartily.

Since we took down Annabelle Vardan and her not-Shifters, most of my time has been spent settling disputes, hammering out a blanket nonaggression treaty, and listening to ideas from everyone in the damn building. And that's just when I'm in the 'dome. My hours away from the building are pretty packed. I don't know what Greer put in his final report, but I've been made the liaison to the Houston Police Department, six sheriff's departments, and the local FBI field office. At least it's a paid position.

The Patriarch breaks off mid-word when the inner office door flies open and crashes against the wall. Az scurries inside and kicks the door shut before two ogres can cross the threshold. She sets two cardboard cups of coffee on my desk before collapsing dramatically onto the arm of my fancy ergonomic chair.

"Ricky," she groans, head falling onto my shoulder, "you have to rescind the whole 'anything happens to Az and everyone will feel my wrath' thing. Pretty, pretty please."

"Is there a problem with how you are being treated by our brethren, Reader Stanton?"

Az roll her head so that she can glare at both of us. "I can't go anywhere by myself. No one lets me use the stairs; Rachael alerts the maintenance staff every time I step into the elevator. The ogres escort me through the halls. Evelyn at the coffee shop refuses to serve me anything but iced drinks."

"In her defense, you did burn your tongue on the coffee last week."

She bangs the side of her head on my shoulder. "You have to tell them that I'm not a piece of crystal that has to be coddled."

Withdraw the order that makes her the most protected person in the 'dome? The heap of chores and responsibilities I've piled on her as punishment hasn't done anything to curb her craziness. The only time I don't worry about her finding new and creative ways to put herself in danger is when we're at the 'dome.

I think the order is going to stand just a little longer.

"I'll consider it."

"I hate you," she mutters, burying her face in the curve of my neck. The way her lips unerringly find the sensitive spot along my collarbone tells a different story. She calls it my 'putty' spot because she's an expert at manipulation, but she won't win this one. Not when her safety is at stake.

"The Air Sprites are hosting their monthly potluck dinner. Have you any plans for this evening, Alpha?" the Patriarch asks.

Oh yeah. For the first time in two weeks, the house is going to be empty. Jose has a date with his librarian. Steve and Oscar are finishing the renovations on the office space they rented. Hank is working. Greta and Ike are taking everyone else out for pizza and the latest superhero movie.

My plans involve ice-cold beer, buttery popcorn, the couch, the first two seasons of McGyver, and Az. Time to introduce Az to classic television and the fine art of binge watching. She's already proven that she's a natural snuggler.

"Yes, we have plans."

The Patriarch smiles knowingly as he rises from his padded stool. "Perhaps that is for the best. The Air Sprites are still not comfortable around Reader Stanton."

Az raises her head long enough to snort. "Drain two measly sprites and suddenly you can't be trusted. It's not like those were normal circumstances. The ogres don't hold anything against me."

I tap her nose. "You put one of them through a wall. For ogres that's practically foreplay."

"I will see you on Sunday, Alpha." The Patriarch inclines his head. "Reader Stanton."

"Tell Daniel I'll bring that book," Az calls out. "Bye!"

The door opens and closes. Ah. Peace and quiet. Privacy. Three things that have been sorely lacking in my life. I wrap an arm around Az's waist and tug on the end of her ponytail. When that doesn't elicit a response, I drop a kiss onto her shoulder.

"You can't pout all night, Princess."

"Wanna test that theory?" She slides off the arm of the chair and onto my lap. She grabs one of the cups of coffee and takes a healthy swig. "Don't touch that other cup. I told Franx this one was for you so he didn't test it for poison. It's nice and ogre backwash-free."

I glance at my phone again. "Everyone should have left by now. Ready to head to the house?"

"Yes. Let's go see what's so great about a guy with a mullet and handy DIY skills."

Her impertinence gets her ass dumped on the ground. She laughs as she tosses her coffee cup in the trash and jumps to her feet. "You know, I bet there's a picture somewhere of a young Rick sporting a McGyver mullet."

"No, there isn't."

"Oh, I think there is. Now I know Jose and I are going to have to clean out the attic," she laughs as she dances around to the other side of my desk.

Before I can reach for her, my phone vibrates and lights up. Greer's name appears on the display. Az scoops up the phone and slides her finger across the screen.

"Good evening, Detective. Aren't you supposed to be on a date with Debra in Records?"

I don't even want to know how she knows that. I shake my head emphatically as she listens to Greer. Whatever it is, and it sounds complicated, we don't have time for it. We're off duty. This is our date night.

"Okay. We'll be there." She disconnects the call and hands the phone back to me. "You heard him. Two Wixias were found off Westheimer with a headless goat and a male leprechaun in drag."

"Sounds like Greer needs to throw them all in the drunk tank until tomorrow."

"None of them remember how they got there."

"Drunk tank."

"Wixias metabolize alcohol too quickly to get drunk."

"You, me, couch time," I say, waggling my eyebrows. "Forget McGyver. We can watch that stupid Nicholas Sparks box set you bought."

"Oh, you must be desperate." Az circles the desk and loops her arms around my neck. She drags my face down for a long, lingering kiss. I sink my teeth into her lower lip the way I know turns her knees to jelly. Just when I think she's starting to come around to my way of thinking, she pulls back with a gasp.

"Amnesia," she manages while sucking in oxygen. "Wixias with amnesia."

Well, hell. There goes date night. I enjoy almost every second I spend with Az, but I could do without having to see Greer. Or a leprechaun in drag.

"Let's get this over with."

"It'll be fun!" She slings the strap of her purse over her shoulder and skips to the door. "I wonder what the goat was for. You know, there are quite a few spells that use goats. None that cause amnesia that I know of. Of courseā€¦"

As soon as she steps out of the office, I yank open the center desk drawer. I pocket one of a dozen rolls of antacids before slamming the drawer shut. Just in time, too. Az reappears in the doorway, hands on her hips.

"C'mon, slowpoke. I'm starving. Do you think we could pick up dinner on the way? That taco place on Kirby is on the way, isn't it?"

Dinner and a decapitated goat. Not quite the date I had in mind. Then again, with Az things rarely go according to plan. Maybe it's time I follow her example and just start winging it.

I toss an arm across her shoulders. As if pulled by a magnet, she snuggles against my side. "Sure thing, Princess. We'll stop for tacos."