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THE UNSEEN, Chapter Two (continued)
That night, he lounged on their bed watching the late-night news, feet crossed at the ankles. He was going to miss the twenty four hour news channels. He’d hired someone to compile a summary report each week of the news, both human and Elder Races, and to collect various newspapers to have couriered to him. He might be withdrawing from earth, but he wasn’t going to stick his head in the sand. It always paid to stay informed.
Pia lay back against a pile of pillows. She had just finished nursing the baby, and Niall had fallen asleep on her chest. The French doors were propped open, as they so often were, to the cool evening air that smelled damp with impending rain.
Stroking the baby’s dark, downy head, Pia crooned, “Who’s my stabby little psychopath?”
Dragos chuckled as he curled a hand around her knee. “You better not let him hear you say it like that when he’s in his Wyr form. He might get the idea that being a stabby little psychopath is a good thing.”
“I would never.” She grinned. “At the moment, he’s just a baby and he doesn’t know any better, but in his Wyr form he understands every single thing we say.”
“Only goes to prove what I’ve been saying for centuries,” he remarked lazily. “Animals are the most intelligent of all creatures.”
“Yes, and that’s not just the Wyr,” she agreed. “Mundane animals are super smart too. Anybody who is a pet owner can vouch for that…” She frowned. “Mundane. Pet owners. Oh no.” Holding Niall firmly, she lunged upright. “Dragos, get up and get dressed. We need to go to Miss Creedy’s house—we have to find out where she lived.”
She spoke quietly so she didn’t wake the baby, but the urgency in her words had him launching into action. Eva,he said telepathically as he yanked on a pair of jeans. We need you now.
Be right there, Eva replied. Even though he had probably woken her up, she sounded completely alert. What’s wrong?
I don’t know yet. He could already hear Eva running through the house toward them, so he switched to verbal speech. “What’s going on, Pia?”
She had already eased Niall onto the bed and was dressing quickly too. “Miss Creedy rescued a dog while Liam was in her class. He loved that dog. Said it was the ugliest thing, but so sweet and smart, and it really loved to learn tricks.” She looked at him, distressed. “She didn’t have any family, Dragos. What if nobody’s thought about the dog and it’s still at her house? It’s been three days since she died.”
“Right. I’ll find out her address.” As former lord of the Wyr demesne, Dragos still had access to certain databases. He passed Eva in the hallway and jogged down the steps to his office.
“Eva—oh good, there you are,” Pia said. “We need you to watch Niall for a while.”
While Eva and Pia’s voices floated downstairs, he logged into his computer and ran a few quick searches. When Pia’s quick footsteps sounded in the doorway, he had already stood. He angled his way around the desk.
“Got it,” he told her. “She lived on the other side of town. I can shapeshift and fly us there in a few minutes.”
“Okay. Wait.” She dashed to the kitchen and came back carrying a Tupperware container filled with the bacon she had cooked for breakfast. “I hope somebody already thought to check her house for pets. If they haven’t yet… well, I hope it’s still alive.”
Dragos didn’t understand the need to keep pets. To him, animals were either predator or prey—and since he was the ultimate apex predator, he didn’t concern himself too much with the niceties of those distinctions.
But he did understand the emotions people attached to their pets, and he understood all too well the emotional upset that now darkened Pia’s scent. And the thought of any mundane animal being neglected or abused was distasteful, to say the least.
“It’s going to be all right,” he told her, resting a hand on her slender back. “If it’s alive, we’ll help it.”
Rain started to fall as they strode out the front door and across the lawn. When they were far enough away from the house, Dragos shapeshifted, expanding in size rapidly until Pia shrank in his perspective to the size of a doll. The dragon bent his head to her. She touched his muzzle, a quick, affectionate gesture, and then he scooped her up to nestle her in a secure cage of his claws and launched into the air.
Once they had decided to leave the city and move upstate, Dragos had made a point to learn every detail of the back and side roads of his new terrain. Well versed in the layout of the nearby town, he flew with exact precision to the street where Elizabeth Creedy had lived.
Once there, it took only a few moments to figure out the location of her street address. Within minutes the dragon touched down silently in the middle of the road in front of a small, well-kept craftsman-style house.
It was close to midnight, and the surrounding neighborhood was mostly dark and quiet. Streetlamps provided regular sparks of illumination that highlighted spitting rain and newly formed puddles on slick asphalt. A few lights shone in windows, but Dragos felt certain there weren’t any witnesses to their arrival. Setting Pia carefully on her feet, he folded back his wings and shapeshifted back into his human form.
Pia gave him a mute glance. She was so obviously bracing herself to discover something grim and sad inside, he shook his head and plucked the Tupperware container out of her hand.
“You don’t have to do this.” He kept his voice quiet. “I can. Wait here.”
“As much as I love you, I have to say, you’re a very scary sight to most people.” She spoke as quietly as he did. Her eyes were huge shadows in her pale face. “Imagine how scary you’ll be to one starving, traumatized dog.”
“At this point, it might be scared enough of anything and be inclined to bite,” he told her. “I’ll take care of it.”
Plus, if the dog was in bad enough shape that it had to be put down, he could do that quickly without the added emotional distress it would cause Pia if she were present.
“Okay.” She twisted her hands together. “Be gentle.”
He nodded and strode up the walk to the dead woman’s house. As he crossed the porch to the front door, the boards underneath creaked. Hysterical barking erupted from deep inside the house.
He paused to glance back at Pia. That answered the main question. The dog was in the house and still alive. And it was in decent enough shape to be energetic about intruders.
Grasping the doorknob, he broke the lock with one quick flex and eased inside. The smell of urine and feces assaulted his nose. Abruptly, the barking stopped. Dragos followed the telltale sounds of scrabbling until he reached a shadowed bedroom. His keen eyesight could see very well by the dim light of a nearby streetlamp. Miss Creedy had been tidy. The bed was made, the drawers and closets neatly closed.
He could hear the stressed breathing and terrified heartbeat of the dog cowering underneath the bed. Going down on one knee, he infused his voice with Power.
“You’re safe,” he said. “Come out now.”
It was a mundane creature. Normally, it wouldn’t understand a total stranger who chose to carry on a conversation with it, but the magical compulsion in Dragos’s words brought it out from underneath the bed. It stank. When he laid his hand on its shivering back, he could clearly feel its spine and ribcage underneath the tangled fur.
A quick scan told him several things. It was not a young dog, perhaps nine or ten years old. It weighed around twenty-five pounds but should weigh closer to thirty, but while it was suffering from hunger and stress, its underlying constitution was sound.
“Good dog,” he told it. He set down the Tupperware container and opened the lid. When he offered it a piece of bacon, the dog hung its head and refused to take it. “Eat.”
More trembling, underneath his hand. Timidly the dog took the bacon from his fingers. The taste must have triggered its appetite because it wolfed the piece down. Dragos offered another piece. This one was snatched out of his fingers and inhaled. He fed the dog a third piece. Then a fourth.
A soft footstep sounded behind him. Pia had slipped into the house. He said telepathically, Could you bring some water?
Within moments, she stepped into the bedroom carrying a bowl of fresh water, which she set down beside Dragos’s foot. The dog’s trembling had increased at her presence. Moving the bowl closer to it, Dragos said, “Drink.”
It obeyed, lunging at the water in ravenous gulps.
When it lifted its dripping muzzle from the bowl, Dragos said, “Good dog.” He cast a sleep spell, and the dog folded onto the floor with an exhausted sigh.
Pia’s voice sounded thick with unshed tears. “That was fairly excruciating.”
“It didn’t want to eat. I had to compel it.” Dragos straightened out of his crouch.
“I’m not surprised. It’s scared to death.” Pia moved to the doorway. “I’m going to turn on the light now.”
A moment later, light flooded room. Together they regarded the sleeping animal on the floor. After a moment, Dragos said, “That really is the ugliest dog I’ve ever seen.”
Pia tilted her head. “It’s a he, not an it.” She went to the bed where a crocheted throw lay folded at the foot. “This will smell like home. Hopefully that will be a comfort.” Shaking it out, she knelt to wrap it around the sleeping dog.
“Right.” He pulled out his phone. “I’ll call animal control.”
Pia rose to her feet and turned to face him. “Dragos Cuelebre, you’ll do no such thing.”
He paused with his phone halfway to his ear. “I won’t?”
“We’re taking him home with us.”
An avalanche of reasons for why they should do no such thing crowded his mind. He said, “Pia—.”
Tilting her chin, she held up a stiffened finger. “I don’t want to hear anything you have to say. This dog was loved by a good woman who was kind to our son. She’s dead now, and you can keep him from pining to death and make him eat. We’re taking him home tonight.”
She had called him by his full name, and that stiffened finger meant business. Apparently, now was not the time to bring up the sex and the sleeping, and the indulgent breakfast that had been on his agenda before crossing over to Rhyacia.
Biting the insides of his cheeks, he kept his tone mild. “I see.”
She knelt again to wrap the sleeping dog in the throw. “I’m so angry for not thinking of this sooner. The poor thing didn’t have to go through the last three days.”
“Go easy on yourself. It’s not like you were close friends with Miss Creedy,” he felt compelled to point out. “There were any number of people who knew her better and could also have thought of this sooner—like the principal at her school, and the other teachers.”
“I know. That doesn’t make it any easier. At least he didn’t die, and we can help him now.” She picked up the dog and stood. “Could you see if there’s any dog food we can bring with us? It’ll be better for him if he can eat the food he’s used to, at least for the next week or so. Be sure to grab his dog bowls.”
“All right.” A quick search of the kitchen unearthed a premium dry dog food along with several cans of wet. Tossing everything into a paper shopping bag, he joined her where she waited by the front door. “This should tide it over until we figure out what to do with it.”
“It’s a him, not an it!” She glowered, but his tact had its limits and he had no true remorse to offer. She sighed. “Okay, let’s go home.”
“Sounds good to me.” He was all too glad to leave that place that smelled like abandonment and stress. Escorting her outside, he changed into the dragon, scooped her up, dog and all, and headed home.
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