Authors: Claire Farrell
Tethers (Ava Delaney: Lost Souls #2)
By Claire Farrell
Editing by Red Adept Editing Services
Ava’s been protecting her shifter friend from the alpha for months, but now he’s managed to come up with a brand new excuse to take Esther, and the Senate have turned their backs on her completely.
While Ava works to find a way to keep Esther out of Mac’s reach for good, a series of violent murders put everyone in the cul-de-sac under suspicion. An entire race will be exterminated if Ava doesn’t find the real culprits, and people like Ava just might be next on the soon-to-be-extinct list.
Copyright © Claire Farrell
All rights reserved. This eBook may not be re-sold
“Oh, Ava, you must think me a foolish old prude trying to rein in everyone’s fun. The type who stays awake at night, dreaming of ways the world will end because of our choices. Heaven knows that’s how my colleagues see me.” Willow removed her glasses and rubbed the indents on the bridge of her nose. “It’s just… the changes have been so swift that I’m worried about the people who fall through the cracks.”
I poured the surprisingly disgruntled Senate member a second cup of green tea. “That’s always going to be the case. You can’t reach everyone, you know?”
Willow represented people like me: those who had nobody else to speak for them. Most of the Senate, and the press, considered her a do-gooder at best, an interfering bat at worst, but at least she
. We’d both known for a while that she was fighting a losing battle, but never before had I seen her look anything less than optimistic or determined.
“It’s not good enough. This was supposed to be a better way, but it’s exhaustingly stressful.” She tugged a lock of her brown hair. “I’m going white! Not just grey—white! I have to dye my hair every four weeks just to keep up. None of my siblings have white hair. This job is running me into the ground. We were all supposed to thrive, strengthen each other, but we’re barely better than the old Council.” She released a mournful sigh. “Shay was a great loss.”
I hid my smile at her theatrical woe. “He didn’t die, Willow. He just decided he could do more away from the Senate. If anything, since he broke away, the government pulls fewer of his team’s strings. That’s a good thing, right?”
“It’s true that he’s cut through a ton of red tape,” she conceded, “but I just can’t take to the police commissioner who took his place on the Senate. Mick is too easily persuaded, too concerned with politics and appearances.” She frowned. “Which means he can be bought.”
“He seems very professional at the press conferences,” I said.
“He’s dismissive of what I do. In fact, most of the Senate members are dismissive of what I do when they’re not concerned with furthering their own causes. I’ve no idea what Elathan thinks, because he shows up only if and when he feels like it.”
“He’s been trapped too often to be confined now.” I pushed a plate of cookies closer to Willow. My neighbour Anka’s special double-chocolate-chip cookies always went a long way toward cheering
up. “And it’s good to have a knowledgeable ancient on the road on our country’s behalf. He knows things and
who most of us don’t even realise we
know. But he can be kind of intimidating to the average person, and he’s a strong reminder of the old ways because he was part of the old Council. I think he’s making the best of the little he has to work with. ”
“And he does enjoy scaring his groupies.” She waved a hand when I gave her a questioning look. “You might make a good point about Elathan, but with Phoenix away for some reason he won’t even share with the rest of us, we’re barely keeping afloat.”
I kept my expression blank. Phoenix had left with the twins weeks ago, without so much as a goodbye. Even for him, that was odd.
“And don’t get me started on the alpha,” Willow continued in an exasperated tone. “He’s just one step shy of marking his territory around his seat in the meeting room. He won’t
. He’s too busy trying to intimidate everyone else into submission.”
“You mean he’s trying to alpha his way to the top,” I said with a snort. I’d had more than my fill of Mac over the last few months.
Willow managed to force the corners of her lips upward. “There is that. But he’s not my only concern. Jack is too close to the police commissioner, not to mention he’s a pain in my behind. Daimhín is… well, Daimhín. Vega is more concerned with the rights of exiles than anything else, and there’s some kind of tension between Callista and Layla that takes up far too much of their time. Not to mention the… oh, never mind. The point is that if Phoenix doesn’t return soon, we may fall apart.”
“You won’t fall apart,” I said firmly. “You’re just… still rubbing off the rough edges. That’s all.”
“The Senate has been in control of supernatural business for over a year,” she said bitterly, “and we don’t appear to have made anything better. There are rumblings of an official election for the coalition government finally coming to pass. They might decide to end the Senate, too.”
“Nobody wants to end the Senate. You
made accomplishments.” I held out my hand and listed items on my fingers. “The school, the museum, Shay’s integration agents, massive reforms in ancient laws, and reuniting stolen children with their only living relatives. All good things. I didn’t even have to think about it.”
“But those things were always on the agenda, even from day one. Where have we gotten since then? This country is simmering on the edge of something, Ava. There’s a darkness out there, and hidden beneath are those who desperately need our help.”
That subdued me. I’d sensed the same thing. “Something changed when the sky went dark, and I suspect we still haven’t seen the full effect.”
She smiled broadly. I sensed her ill humour leave her as her back straightened. She slipped on her glasses and reached out to take my hand. “I knew
would understand. We are alike in so many ways, my dear. When you have a cause, you fight for it until the end.”
“That’s why I came here today,” she said, still beaming. “I have a proposition for you. You seem to be… treading water.”
“I’m trying to stay in business,” I said. “I need an income, and the property tax is kind of killing me right now.”
She waved a hand. “That’s money. That’s not what I mean. I want to give you a cause to fight for, Ava. You seem so lost without one.”
I pressed my lips together. Without the business side of things, I would have been at a total loss. My very first lost soul had come to me a year ago. After helping her, I’d felt a new resurgence of life. And then… nothing. I was still impatiently waiting for lost soul number two. The Eleven hadn’t warned me I might have to wait.
Willow leaned forward in her seat, an expectant gleam in her eyes. “I want you to be an advocate for those without a voice, Ava. You’re perfect for it. You’re the face of something, and—”
I held up my hands. “I’m not the face of anything anymore. People don’t recognise me on the street. They leave me alone, and I like it that way.”
“But you look so bored every time I see you. I’m not asking for much, just a recognisable face to something new. So many people need our help. They need to know that strong, independent women like ourselves are willing to speak up for them.”
“Speak to who, exactly?”
“Okay.” She licked her lips. “People bring things to the Senate. Sometimes, it’s an unfairness in an old law. Sometimes, it’s to renegotiate. And some people are still indentured, Ava—don’t forget it. We need to work hard for them, to make sure they’re taken care of.”
“I just don’t see how I could help with that. I’m not anything to the Senate.”
“You make them listen to you. You’re not intimidated. And I know you’re not led by money or power. You don’t let past experiences with certain species sway you from doing what is right. I’m not asking you to give up your life for strangers. I just need someone at my back at times. I’m fighting against the tide here, and I could use someone like you. Desperately.”
I saw she meant that, but I had been doing such a great job at avoiding the Senate for so long.
Do I really want to face them now?
“And it’s not just strangers. You’ve already advocated for others in need,” she said, not a little slyly. “I’m talking about people like those special children left behind in that home. I know how hard you worked to get that boy a pass to work in the outside world.”
“Noah? That was a lucky break.” Actually, I had tormented Phoenix and Shay until they agreed to bring Noah’s situation to the rest of the Senate, and I had even exchanged a minor deal with Daimhín to go along with it. Reminding Callista of an old favour hadn’t been tough, and Willow had already been on board with the idea. The Senate had voted in my favour, and the kid had been allowed to work in a local garage. Of course, he only received a supplement as an income, but it was a start, and Noah was finding a way to fit in. Unlike a lot of the other children in the home, he didn’t have magical powers, but he had been raised to kill. Even though we had rescued him from the slave market, he had still felt like a captive until I’d persuaded the Senate to give him some freedom.
“We both know that’s not true.” Willow flashed a knowing smile. “You fought for him, and you won. There have been three other cases since then. You advocated for them without even trying.”
I fought my smirk. I already knew what I had won. Part of me wondered if Shay had quit his role and Phoenix had left the country so I wouldn’t call on them for anything else. Fighting on Noah’s behalf had been different from the pleasure of defeating a foe on the battlefield. Maybe a quiet life really was for me.
I’d just opened my mouth to speak when somebody knocked on my front door. “Just let me get that,” I said, then winced as the sound repeated more insistently. Great. I already knew who was at the door—an extremely annoying shifter.
“Mac,” I said snidely, answering the door. “People will start to talk if you keep turning up on my doorstep like this.”
“Where is she?” he demanded gruffly. Mac was tall and broad shouldered, but he had put on weight since becoming alpha, and it didn’t suit him.
I sighed. “Esther
isn’t here. She would have to be the stupidest person on the planet to be here when you’re this predictable.”
“No more of the smart mouth,” he said, sending saliva flying.
I laid a hand on my roiling stomach. “The news, not the weather, MacDaddy.”
With a growl of rage, he kicked. Luckily for him, he caught my door rather than my thigh.
“Careful, now,” I said as steadily as I could manage. “Wouldn’t want the Senate’s golden boy caught destroying property or intimidating women again.”
“That was a false accusation!” The massive scar on one side of his face deepened in his rage.
“Somehow, I doubt that.” The accusation had been a massive story in the newspapers until the Senate hushed it up, and his reaction had just convinced me of its authenticity.
His lips curled back, revealing teeth clenched with anger. “You
“Mac?” Willow joined me at the door. “Is there a problem here?”
He bit down on his fury, but his eyes remained wild. The previous alpha had been a dickhead, too, but at least he’d maintained a modicum of self-control. Fur was bursting through Mac’s skin around his cheeks.
“You really need a shave,” I said lightly as I moved in front of Willow. If the man shifted, she was much too breakable to be in his way.
He rubbed his face, embarrassment suddenly wiping away the anger. He panted like an animal, but I sensed the shift receding. Still, the alpha didn’t look well. His skin was pasty, his eyes were red-rimmed, and his hair was rapidly turning white.
He swallowed hard. “I’m looking for the panther’s bitch sister.”
“Excuse me?” Willow brushed past me, bristling at his tone and language. “For
,” he ground out. “I know this one is hiding her.”
“I’ve spent the afternoon in her house. There’s no shifter inside there.”
He sneered. “Of course you’d take her side. You’ve no backbone. You have no place on the Senate.”
“Oh, hi there, kettle,” I said. “Go home, Mac. I’m getting tired of this. You won’t find Esther unless she wants to be found, and since you’re looking for her so she can take her brother’s punishment, I’ll make sure to send her away if she does come here.” The heat had risen in me, too.