The one word dripped with warning as I regarded Cormack Grimlock with as much menace as I could muster. I, Luna Thorn, was not going to put up with any crap. Not today.
Cormack didn’t look worried.
“You need a real plumber,” he replied, his expensive suit completely out of place in the Cathedral, the home I’d built for all the rejects in the area. Some of those rejects were paranormal. We’d built a home together despite our differences, and I was determined to keep control of that home, even if I was constantly razzed about being a control freak.
Cormack was also a control freak, something he readily admitted. But he had money to back up his position.
“Lincoln is watching YouTube videos,” I replied primly. “He can figure it out.”
Cormack’s eye roll was pronounced. He was the father of five, grandfather of one tiny tyrant, and he didn’t like being told no. “Luna, this building is old.” He used his most practical voice, the one certain to have me grinding my teeth. “You’ve done a great job of rehabbing it. I applaud you. But plumbing is not something you can learn from YouTube.”
I begged to differ. Almost everything we’d accomplished at the Cathedral, so named because there was a church attached to the abandoned warehouse I’d bought at auction several years ago, had been done thanks to how-to internet videos. I was a firm believer in “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and I wasn’t going to change my position now.
“We’ll figure it out,” I insisted.
Cormack’s sigh was one for the record books. He’d adopted me somehow. Not legally. There was no way he could accomplish that, and he still didn’t know the true reason behind my ways. I’d been cagey filling him in on my past.
I didn’t know why I was here. I recognized there was a reason—Reid and Lincoln told me as much—but the hows and whys of my appearance in Detroit remained a mystery. I feared that if I told Cormack the truth of my past, he would turn me into a project. I didn’t want to be a project, no matter how fond of him I was.
I was fond of him, even if he drove me insane when dropping in for his weekly visits.
“It’s a clogged toilet,” I argued. “We can fix a clogged toilet.”
“It’s a toilet that’s regularly clogging,” he said. “There’s a problem in the line. Let me get a plumber out here.” He had his phone in his hand, a challenge in his eyes. He knew I hated when he turned all Daddy Warbucks and tried to fix my life. I was a capable woman. I could handle a simple plumbing problem.
“No,” I snapped.
We eyed each other, two combatants fighting for the WWE Championship belt. I considered using my magic on him. That notion fled when the pitter-patter of little feet became apparent. I couldn’t very well blow Cormack off his feet to teach him a lesson with his granddaughter as a witness.
Lily Taylor, her black hair pulled back in a ponytail, made her presence known with a shriek. She was a loud little girl who had just celebrated her second birthday. She was spoiled, entitled, and mouthy.
I absolutely loved her.
“Luna.” She grinned when I switched my gaze to her. She was dressed in pink overalls—her favorites—and Converse. The shoes had come from her Uncle Redmond, a regular at the Cathedral because he liked to flirt. He wasn’t picky about who he flirted with, but because we had a constant influx of new faces, it was easy for him to peruse the offerings without having to exert himself. Redmond often had Lily at his side when he visited. Today, however, she was with her mother, Aisling, who was upstairs helping some of the new faces get settled into their rooms.
“Hi, Lily.” I grinned at her. The kid was spoiled beyond belief. She had a bevy of doting uncles, two devoted aunts, and a grandfather who was looking for a way to get the moon gift wrapped so he could have it delivered to her before next Christmas. Even when someone told her no, it didn’t last. She got what she wanted and wasn’t afraid to bat those long lashes of hers to get it.
“Papa.” Lily turned to her grandfather. “Ice cream.”
Cormack beamed at his only grandchild. “You want ice cream?” he asked.
I happened to know that Lily’s mother had already vetoed ice cream. I’d heard Aisling reject the request when they’d arrived. Lily being Lily, she intended to make her rounds asking relatives the same question until one of them eventually gave in.
Lily nodded solemnly. “Chocolate.”
“I think something can be arranged.” Cormack leaned down, intent on swooping her up, but Lily, independent lately, took a step back. “No, Papa. Stay down.”
“Fine.” Cormack straightened. “I like it better when you let me carry you around, though.”
“No, Papa.” Lily shook her head. “Ice cream.”
Cormack exhaled heavily. “I’ll get you ice cream before I go to work. I promise. For now, I need to argue with Luna. She’s being a brat.”
I bristled. He’d used the word to describe me more than once. “I don’t think that saying we can fix our own problems makes me a brat.”
“Luna is a good girl,” Lily argued as she wrapped her arms around my leg. Her violet eyes were wide as she stared up at me. “Good girl,” she emphasized.
I wasn’t a good girl, but Lily was impressionable, so I simply nodded. “I’m a very good girl,” I agreed. “Just like you.”
Lily’s smile was angelic. “I’m the best girl.”
“You’re Papa’s best girl,” Cormack agreed. “That’s why you should let me pick you up.”
“No, Papa.” Lily’s lower lip came out to play. If Cormack was Superman, that lip was his kryptonite.
“Fine.” Cormack went back to glowering at me. “I’m calling a plumber.”
“No, you’re not.” I was firm on that. “We need to learn to fix these things ourselves. We can’t always come to you when something goes wrong.”
Was he really asking that? Ugh. He was insufferable. Sure, he’d white knighted his way into the hearts and minds of most of the Cathedral residents, but I wasn’t ready to cede every decision to him.
“Because we need to be self-sustainable.” I decided to be rational. “I appreciate everything you’ve done for us. I know you’ll do more. That doesn’t change the fact that we need to be able to fix our own problems. That’s what I want for this place. Sustainability without the help of outsiders.”
Now Cormack was pouting. “I didn’t realize you considered me an outsider,” he sniffed.
“Papa sad,” Lily said. “Don’t be sad.”
“Papa isn’t sad,” he reassured her. “Papa is just trying to understand his place in all of this. I thought I was helping.”
Now he was backing me into a corner. “Don’t even,” I warned, wagging a finger. “I’m wise to your ways, old man.”
“Old man.” Lily giggled at a joke only she got.
“Papa,” Cormack corrected. “I’m your papa.”
“Gramps is more like it,” Redmond replied as he swooped into the bathroom. It wasn’t a private bathroom—those were in houses, and the Cathedral was more than a house—but rather the sort a business would set up. Thankfully, there were showers already arranged on the first floor when we moved in. They’d needed a good cleaning, but they were operational. I would’ve bought the building anyway because it was a steal, but not having to figure out a way to install showers had been a bonus.
“Not Gramps,” Cormack snapped. “Papa. I’m her papa.”
“Gwamps.” Lily giggled as Redmond tickled her.
“Call him Gramps,” Redmond insisted as he planted a loud kiss on Lily’s cheek. He boasted the same black hair and purple eyes as his niece. “He loves it no matter what he says.”
“Gwamps, I want ice cream,” Lily said, her eyes big and soulful. “Chocolate, Gwamps.”
“You’re out of the will,” Cormack groused at his oldest son.
Redmond didn’t look bothered by the news. “Whatever.” He was serious as he turned to me. “There’s mold on the fourth floor in that suite on the far south side. The room you want to turn into a daycare?”
It was like a kick in the stomach. I knew taking on the Cathedral would be work. We’d been living in a park before the purchase, an abandoned tunnel from the Underground Railroad days, and it had been a step up. We’d gradually made improvements, but there was still plenty of work to do.
“How do we fix the mold?” I asked.
“You call in a water specialist,” Cormack replied. “Someone who could also fix the toilet.”
I shot him a hot-eyed glare. “How else?”
“There is no other way.”
Redmond cleared his throat, shrinking under his father’s furious gaze. He wasn’t one to back down, however. “You have witches on the premises.”
I nodded. I had no idea where he was going with this, but I was game if it meant I didn’t have to make another deal with Cormack that required my presence at family meals in exchange for him funding projects. I enjoyed dinner with the Grimlocks once a week or so—they were reapers and had the best stories—but I didn’t want it to be mandatory. That was the part he seemed to have trouble understanding.
“I’m not an expert, but I think that mold can be handled magically,” Redmond volunteered.
“Get Winter,” I said, referring to our on-site psychic. She had witch in her blood. “Ask her to do some research. If she finds the right spell, I can supply the magic.”
Redmond’s smile was so big it almost swallowed his entire face. He jumped at any chance he could find to talk to Winter. With her silvery hair and big eyes, she was a beautiful woman. She was also the only woman at the Cathedral who refused to fall for Redmond’s charms. I found it entertaining. Redmond had turned it into a mission.
Redmond grabbed Lily around the waist when her back was to him and swooped her up. “Do you want to go find Winter with me? She loves you.”
Lily shook her head. “Down.”
“You should come with your favorite uncle.”
Lily’s lower lip quivered. “Down, Hunk.”
My shoulders shifted as surprise washed over me. “Did she just call you Hunk?”
“Uncle Redmond is a lot for a kid,” Redmond replied evenly. “She was calling me Uncle, but she calls everybody in the house Uncle sometimes. Uncle turned into Unc, so now it’s Hunk. I think it suits me.”
He would think that. I snagged Lily from his arms and put her back on her feet. “She’s older now,” I explained when Redmond shot me a questioning look. “She wants to do things on her own. You guys will hobble her if you keep carrying her around.”
“Yeah, but she’s cute, and women love her when I take her to the park and tell them I’m her favorite uncle.”
“Well, how about you let her make her own decisions occasionally?” I suggested.
Now it was Redmond’s turn to frown. “Somebody needs to crank out another kid,” he complained to his father. “We need another baby to spoil.”
“Aidan and Jerry are getting close,” Cormack replied. “I expect them to have a new addition within the year.”
“That’s not soon enough,” Redmond whined. “Why aren’t Maya and Izzy popping them out?” he asked, referring to his sisters-in-law. “When they married into this family, they agreed to give me nieces and nephews to use so I can pick up women.”
“You should talk to them about that.” Cormack waved off his son, shaking his head the whole time. “Sometimes I think he’ll never mature,” he groused.
“You love when your kids are immature, and you know it.” I knew better than falling for his morose act. He only whipped it out when he wanted to get his own way. This time, he wanted his way on the plumber. It wasn’t going to happen. “Listen—” Before I could truly put my foot down, the sound of pounding feet caught my attention. When I looked up, I recognized one of the teenagers who had moved in after leaving a local park two months ago. “Cally?” I asked. I was almost positive that was her name.
The teen’s face was flushed, and she took a moment to catch her breath. When she finally spoke, her eyes were wild. “Izzy wants you,” she said, referring to Izzy Sage, a powerful bruja married to Cormack’s son Braden. She was the reason I’d been saddled with the Grimlocks in the first place. I was both beholden to her and often annoyed at the turn of events.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, taking a step forward. “What floor are they on?”
“They’re outside,” Cally replied grimly. “That wall on the east side of the property? Izzy had an idea about a play area for the kids. They went to check it out and found … something.”
“What?” I demanded.
Cally darted a look toward Lily. “A B-O-D-Y.”
It took me a moment to decipher the spelling. “There’s a body out there?” How was that possible? The Cathedral was loaded with shifters and vampires. There were other paranormals too. Nobody could drop a body on our property without somebody noticing.
Cally nodded. “It’s bad.”
Cormack snatched up Lily and handed her off to Cally. “Please take my granddaughter to Redmond. He’s looking for Winter on the fourth floor.”
Cally clutched Lily to her chest. “You should go,” she said to me. “It’s really bad.”
Resigned, I headed for the east exit, Cormack on my heels, the argument regarding the plumber forgotten.
It was spring in Detroit, the days often wet and cold. Some days it could get into the 60s. Today, it couldn’t even creep into the 50s. Izzy stood with Aisling, Cormack’s lone daughter and Lily’s mother.
“Where?” I demanded as I headed in their direction.
Izzy, her long dark hair swept back in a messy bun, was grim. “It’s not good, Luna.”
“That’s true of most found bodies,” I said. I was almost on top of it before I realized it. “Holy hell!”
It was a woman. She was dressed in jeans and a hoodie—neither of which looked expensive—and a pair of cheaper Converse. Her eyes were gone, and supine on the ground the way she was, she should’ve been staring upward.
“Well, that’s not good,” I said as I sucked in the sight.
“What was your first clue?” Aisling drawled. She had a sarcastic streak a mile wide, one of the reasons we got along so well. Today, however, I wanted to smack her.
“I don’t understand.” I moved closer to the body, my stomach constricting. There were defensive wounds, small cuts on her hands, and bruises everywhere else. This wasn’t the result of an accident. “How did she get here?”
“How am I supposed to know?” Aisling shot back.
“She’s been dead for at least twelve hours, Luna,” Izzy offered. “I don’t know if she died here, or someone dumped her back here hoping she wouldn’t be discovered. This is officially your problem.”
I darted my eyes to Cormack. This was one scenario in which I could use some guidance.
Taking pity on me, he rested his hand on my shoulder. “We have to call the police.” His tone told me arguing would be fruitless.
“I don’t want the police crawling all over my property,” I countered.
“What other choice do you have? You can’t bury her and call it a day. This woman was someone’s daughter. She might’ve been someone’s mother. She deserves to be avenged.”
On that one point, we could agree. “Fine.” I was resigned when I turned to Aisling. Her husband was a Detroit police detective, the one cop I trusted. “Can you get Griffin down here?”
She was already reaching for her phone. “He’s supposed to be breaking in his new partner. I guess this will give them something to focus on.”
I nodded because there was nothing else I could do. “This day is really going down the toilet.”
“No, it’s clogging in the toilet,” Cormack countered. “I’m still not letting that go. You need a plumber.”
Of course he wasn’t. That wasn’t who he was. “Let’s deal with the body and argue about the plumbing later.”
“Fine, but I’m nowhere near finished.”
When I was a kid, I was torn between whether or not I was going to grow up and be the Incredible Hulk or Wonder Woman. I flirted with being a Jedi Knight for awhile, but I wasn't up for the intense travel associated with the gig. In my teens, I settled on being a writer -- although I had no idea the effort that would entail.