The male officer concurred. "And you might want to have your boyfriend stay with you tonight."
A wave of fear went through her. "You think they’ll come back?"
The male officer shook his head. "We don’t know. Besides most burglary vics have trouble sleeping for a night or two after a break-in."
Tory sat on the arm of her couch as she surveyed the destruction around her. She was grateful she kept her precious artifacts either with her or locked in a vault on campus. "I can’t believe this." Ash took her hand in his and didn’t speak while the police questioned her about possible suspects and their people came in to dust various areas and pieces for fingerprints.
They found nothing. Not a single smudge. Either the burglars were wearing gloves or they were mutants.
Personally she voted for mutants. She preferred to think that than deal with the fact that a normal, everyday person could do something like this to another.
When the police were finally gone, she turned to Ash. "I’m sure you have something better to do than baby-sit me."
"It’s all right. I don’t mind. There are some things you shouldn’t be alone for."
There was a slight note in his tone that made her think he’d been alone through a lot of them.
He stooped down to pick up the pictures of her parents before he returned them to her mantel. She didn’t know why, but the way he handled them made her heart clench with tenderness at his consideration for her.
"Do you have any family, Ash?"
He put the pictures right back where they’d been, as if he remembered the exact spot from his previous visit. "We all have people we love."
She didn’t miss the fact that he avoided answering her question. Without looking at her, he went to the items that’d been knocked off her end table.
Kneeling on the ground, Ash frowned as he picked up a shadow box that had a small black rock in it. A tiny bronze plaque on the bottom read SOTERIA’S FIRST EXCAVATION 1985.
Her eyes misted as she moved to take it out of his hand. "It’s from the first time my parents allowed me to dig with them. I was so proud when I found this. I thought I’d discovered a rare spear point. My father didn’t have the heart to tell me it was only a rock. So they framed it for me and put it in my room by my bed with a light that used to shine on it." She sobbed as a tear escaped past her control. "Those bastards touched my parents’ belongings!"
Ash came to his feet to hold her as she cried. She clung to him as if her entire world had been shattered. He’d learned to bury his tears so deep inside that he couldn’t fathom the passion and hurt it took for her to cry like this. All he knew was that the few times in his life when he’d cried this way the one thing he’d craved had been comfort.
And not once had there ever been any.
So he offered to her what no one had ever given to him. He let her sob until she was spent and the shirt over his chest was damp from her tears.
Tory pulled back, wiping at the wet spot she’d made. "I’m so sorry, Ash. I’m not an emotional person. I’m not." She cleared her throat and gave him the most determined look he’d ever seen. "I will not let them do this to me. I’m stronger than this."
"Everyone cries sometimes, Tory. There are some pains that run too deep for even the strongest to take without breaking. I don’t think any less of you for it."
She laughed nervously. "You really aren’t the ass**le I thought you were, are you?"
He offered her a kind smile. "Actually, I have moments of great assholishness. Unfortunately, you seem to have been witness to most of the recent ones."
Tory patted his muscular arm in gratitude for his understanding. He was so easy to talk to at times. Sniffing back her tears, she looked around at the mess. "I’ll never get all of this cleaned up."
Her house phone rang. She left Ash in her living room as she went to the kitchen to answer it.
Ash returned to gathering up the photographs as he tried to understand what had happened here. He should be able to replay the entire scene in his head, but like trying to see Tory’s future, it was blank. This just wasn’t normal for him.
He was a god of fate . . .
Glancing over his shoulder, he watched as she returned to his side and picked up one of the drawers that had been tossed upside down next to the couch.
"That was my friend Pam. She panicked when I didn’t answer my cell and called the house. She and Kim are going to come over and help clean the mess."
"You want me to leave then?"
She hesitated. "Only if you want to. It’s actually comforting to have you here with me." She looked away from him as if admitting that embarrassed her and put the drawer back in place. She stepped back and froze. "How weird."
"They didn’t steal my stereo either." She moved a sweater that had been tossed over it by the burglars to show him her white Bose wave system.
That was an odd thing for a burglar to miss. "Maybe they didn’t see it."
"Maybe." She pushed it back on the shelf, then turned it on.
Ash frowned as the Bee Gees blared. "Night Fever"? He shuddered. "Disco?"
"Shush," she said, waving at him before she picked up another drawer. "It comforts me when I feel bad."
"How on earth can disco comfort you?"
She picked up a picture of her parents and turned it toward him. Her mother, who looked a lot like Tory, was in a white halter top dress with feathered brown hair while her father was in a yellow paisley polyester shirt and brown leisure suit with curly black hair and a mustache. They were leaning together in front of what appeared to be a New York disco club that Ash vaguely remembered from the late 1970s.
Tory stroked the photo lovingly. "My mother’s best friend, Sheri, who is a major shutterbug, took this the night my parents first met. My father thought my mother was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. So he sheepishly went over and asked her to dance, expecting her to say no. She didn’t. She thought his bashful hesitancy was so sweet that she said yes. They went out onto the dance floor right as Donna Summer’s ‘Last Dance’ began playing. The extended dance version. By the time it ended, my father went down on his knee right there in the club and proposed to her. They married a year later and were never parted again until the day my mother died."
She swallowed as if the memories were hard for her to handle. Her bottom lip quivered as she swayed to the song. "When I was little, my parents used to break out their disco albums and we’d dance to them until we were too tired to move. Hearing disco is like having them with me again. I swear every time I hear Thelma Houston’s ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way,’ I hear my mother’s voice singing to me while she holds me in her arms and dances around the room with me laughing."
He envied her those memories of being loved and cherished. He wished for her sake that her parents were still here to comfort her. "How old were you when they died?"
"I was seven with my mother and ten when my father died. He was never the same after she left us."
"She didn’t leave you by choice."
"I know." Tory placed the photo back on her bookshelves on top of an old, worn copy of Homer’s Odyssey. "It’s just easier to say she left than to say she died." She looked at him. "What about you? Do you have any memories like that?"
He tried not to think about it. "Not really. I grew up without my parents."
"Did they die?"
He turned away and focused on cleaning the mess in her floor. "It’s more complicated than that which is why I don’t talk about it."
Tory scowled at the coldness in his voice that she was sure he was only using to shield himself. "I’m sorry, Ash. Did you know them at all?"
He didn’t answer, but she could feel the sadness in him which led her to believe that he hadn’t really known anything about them at all.
She watched as he quietly made order out of the chaos the burglars had left. There was an Old World air about him. A really old soul trapped inside a young body. More than that, there was something soothing. As if being with him calmed her deep inside in a way nothing else ever had. It was almost like being home . . . It didn’t make any sense, but there was no denying what she felt when she was around him.
All of a sudden, there was a sharp knock on her door.
She went to find Pam and Kim standing outside with two boxes of extra large pizza and a twelve-pack of beer. The two of them looked a lot alike in many ways. Pam was taller and had her spiked hair bleached blond in front and dyed jet black in back. Kim’s hair was the same style but the exact opposite in color. Decked out in their uniquely Goth fashion, they looked like they belonged with Ash a lot more than Tory.
Pam indicated the road behind her with her thumb. "Hey, is that a cop in the car across the street?"
Tory saw a brown sedan. "I don’t think so. Why?"
"Cause the two guys in it had a pair of binoculars trained on this place when we pulled up."
Ash was at the door before Tory could even blink. He brushed past her, but before he could make it to the first step the car peeled out.
Ash almost summoned Simi to follow the car, but caught himself the moment the words gathered to this tongue. Damn, that had been close. The women would have been shocked to find a demon coming to life off his arm . . .
"Why would they be watching the house?" Tory asked.
Ash turned to face her. "I think you need to tell me everything you found on that dig."
"What do you mean?"
"I think something was uncovered that a lot of people are suddenly interested in."
Tory scoffed. "They’re museum pieces. Nothing of any real value to anyone other than a collector."
Yeah and the small sfora necklace Ash had given to his daughter also had the capabilities of ending the entire world. The problem with the most powerful amulets and talismans was that mortals couldn’t identify their significance.
But in the right or wrong hands, rather, they could have cataclysmic consequences. "Humor me and show me what you’ve found."
"Good tuna fish sandwiches; he’s the tallest man I’ve ever seen."
Tory laughed at Pam, who was gawking at Ash.
Ash shook his head at what had to be Pam’s most commonly uttered phrase since she’d walked into the house with him. She’d said it four times already.
"Pam," Kim chided as she set the pizza on the coffee table. "You’re going to make him self-conscious."
Pam set the beer next to the boxes. "Well it’s not like he doesn’t know. I mean at five nine, I know how tall I am. Tory’s six one so we’re allowed to gawk. It’s not every day we meet a man who actually makes us feel like we’re short, right Tory?" Pam stood up on her tiptoes next to Ash. "Kim, you’re tiny and barely crack five feet. You have no idea what it’s like to be tall in a world of average height men. I could finally wear heels!"
Ash laughed before he scooped her up in his arms and moved her over by the couch.
"Oh, good grief!" she said as he set her down. "I’ve never had a man pick me up before and not grunt like he’s dying. I’m in heaven. Marry me, Ash, please!"
"I would say yes, but I come with more baggage than even Samsonite can cover."
Tory ignored them as she entered the room with her dig journals. She pushed the pizza boxes aside on her coffee table, then set them down. "All right, this is everything over the last year."
Ash knelt down and started flipping pages.
Tory leaned over his shoulder as she reviewed what he was looking at. "See, mostly pottery shards and fragments. A few friezes and some bottles."
Ash paused as he found one familiar piece that made his breath catch . . . it was Ryssa’s hair comb that matched the one he’d found centuries ago. His heart clenched as he ran his hand over the photograph, remembering how beautiful she’d been with them in her blond hair.
"It’s incredibly well preserved, isn’t it?" Tory said, unaware of how much this one piece meant to him. "The pearls are even still set where they’d been. It looks like something you could buy today. The workmanship on it’s incredible."
"Yeah." He forced himself to turn the page to see more pottery before he betrayed himself with misty eyes.
Then he found it . . .
"Where’s this piece?"
Tory frowned at the deep, firm tone from Acheron. Looking over his shoulder, she saw an ornate gold dagger that Bruce had excavated. "That one is still being tested in the lab, why?"
"We need it."
Wow, his tone was more commanding than a general calling for war. "Is it that valuable?"
Ash hesitated. Not from her standpoint, but since it was a weapon that could kill anything that breathed it was extremely valuable to him and to other nonhuman entities who’d do anything to possess it. "Yes."
Pam rolled her eyes. "I don’t understand you people and your old stuff."
Kim patted her shoulder. "It’s okay, sweetie. We don’t understand you and your BeGoth doll obsession either." She looked at Tory. "You should have been with us on our Leda Swanson quest. She dragged me to three states until we finally found the doll in a boutique in Alabama."