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Boston 1868

Boston was not like London. The streets, though properly paved and lined with stately buildings, felt wider. In truth, everything about America felt bigger in some essential way. Even here, on this side street where taverns and quaint shops lined the block, could not compare to the cramped and sinister darkness of London.

No, Boston was too picturesque, with snow falling like lazy feathers to cover the ground in pristine white. Merry lanterns glowed at every doorway and lit a trail that was easy to follow. Pedestrians did not huddle down in their coats, avoiding eye contact, but gave a distinct nod, as if to say, Welcome to our fair city. Indeed, they all smiled. It was ridiculous. Never, in all her years, had Lena seen so many sets of teeth.

She outright scowled at the simpering woman in a bright pink bonnet and felt a flutter of pleasure when the woman gasped and hurried along. But the pleasure was short-lived. A gust of icy wind rushed down the lane, forcing her to hold the little bundle in her arms closer. Which in turn had her icy heart clenching just a bit tighter too.

It was fortunate, then, that she’d reached the Howling Wolf Tavern. With grim determination, she pushed open the door. Warm air, heavy with the scents of roasted meat, pipe smoke, and the ever-present sweetness of human blood, assaulted her lungs. Ignoring her hunger, Lena strode towards the back of the room. She needn’t search for her quarry; she’d felt him before she had even entered the building. His scent was part of her now, a poison in her blood. She would always be able to track him, even if she didn’t want to.

And though she’d been expecting to find him, the moment Lena set eyes on Augustus, his stern profile limned golden in the lantern light, a punch of feeling tore through her. She simply could not look upon him and not want him.

He did not acknowledge her presence until she slid into the worn wooden bench opposite him, though she knew perfectly well he’d felt her approach too. They’d always known when the other was near.

With careful precision, Augustus pushed his tankard of peaty ale aside and rested his forearms upon the table.

“Lena.” His pleasant, calm voice was a roll of sensation down her back. “Lovely as ever.”

She did not miss his fleeting glance at the basket and the subsequent tightening of the skin around his mouth and eyes. Curiosity there, but not fear or anger.

“As I recall, when last we met, you compared me to a black widow spider.” Lena unwound the red silk scarf covering her hair and tossed it down on the seat next to the little basket she’d been carrying.

Augustus’s smile was thin, but his dark eyes shone with affection she did not deserve. “Well, as they say here, if the shoe fits, wear it.”

“Touché,” she said with a nod. For, really, she did possess the ability to turn into spiders—not one, but dozens—so he was correct.

“What brings you here?” he asked.

So solid, was Augustus. The calm in the eye of the storm. Not even her reappearance after thirty years of separation had him rattled. Was it wrong of her that she wanted to unnerve him? Likely so.

“Would you believe I missed you?” she offered lightly.

“Yes.” His gaze stayed steady on her. “I missed you too.”

Well. She was not expecting that. It deflated her, damn him. “Let us not play games. You could find me anytime you wanted, Augustus.”

“It is not the finding that proves troublesome, my dear. It is the welcome I shall receive once found.”

“Fair enough.” Lena settled back onto the bench, trying to convey ease. “I have to go away for a time. Perhaps to Nowhere.” Nowhere being another plane of existence where demons such as her could escape. Augustus, along with all manner of supernatural beings, could travel there as well. Though there were realms, such as what supernaturals commonly called There, that pure of heart Augustus could enter, and she, with her tainted soul, could not. A fact that never failed to irk her.

As expected, his dark eyes flashed silver upon mention of Nowhere. “Why?”

“I have a few things to take care of.” She had some hunting to do, and her prey was currently skulking in the darkest corner of Nowhere. But Augustus needn’t know that.

He frowned at her caginess. “No one simply chooses to go to Nowhere.”

“I’d prefer it to here. Tell me, are you happy living amongst these simple colonials?”

He didn’t bother to answer, merely gave her another one of his eloquent looks. Which only made her want to needle him.

“What pet are you following now, Augustus?”

He always had a few souls he guarded over, guiding them this way and that way, like some overzealous hand of God. They were little pawns in his ultimate chess game. And yet, she knew he loved every one of his “children.”

Augustus did not bother to deny it. “A girl named Eliza May. She’s an Evernight—the Boston branch.”

Odd coincidence, though, as she was intimately tied with the Evernights, an old and powerful family of Elementals who lived in Ireland. She’d recently placed St. John, a young babe who was in need of hiding, in their care. The irony almost made her laugh.

“And who is Miss May destined for?”

“Never you mind,” Augustus said with sad predictability. “Now, answer my question. Why are you really going to Nowhere? Do not tell me you have a sudden urge to holiday there.”

She lifted her shoulders in a shrug. “Believe what you will. I shall confide in you this: it is safer for me to go.” This was true.

“Explain, Lena, and use long sentences for once.”

A brief smile touched her lips. “If I stay, I shall be hunted down by the father of this.” With flourish, she lifted the basket and pulled back the woolen blanket draped over it. Deep in a nest of red silk lay a tiny babe. The few wisps of hair she had were a rich brown, and her plump, little cheeks flushed pink with life as she slept, oblivious to the chatter around her.

All color drained from Augustus’s skin, leaving little streaks of silver at the edges of his hairline. He managed to get himself under control quickly, but his mouth remained agape. “Please do not tell me you’ve stolen a baby. Anything but that.”

“Stolen? Ridiculous. What would I do with a baby?”

His stern look spoke volumes.

Though Lena had been waiting for this moment, relishing it with a sort of sick glee, she suddenly faltered, her cold heart thumping hard against her ribs. “It is mine,” she got out.