"Will you do it?" Aunt B gazed at me over the rim of her cup.

"Not while I'm alive, no. Wait, I take it back. That should be 'hell no.'"

"Has he invited you to dinner, dear? Gifts, flowers, the usual?"

I had to put my cup down, because my hand was shaking too much. When I stopped laughing, I said, "Curran? He isn't exactly Mr. Smooth. He handed me a bowl of soup, that's as far as we got."

"He fed you?" Raphael stopped rubbing Andrea.

"How did this happen?" Aunt B stared at me. "Be very precise, this is important."

"He didn't actually feed me. I was injured and he handed me a bowl of chicken soup. Actually I think he handed me two or three. And he called me an idiot."

"Did you accept?" Aunt B asked.

"Yes. I was starving. Why are the three of you looking at me like that?"

"For crying out loud." Andrea set her cup down, spilling some tea. "The Beast Lord's feeding you soup. Think about that for a second."

Raphael coughed. Aunt B leaned forward. "Was there anybody else in the room?"

"No. He chased everyone out."

Raphael nodded. "At least he hasn't gone public yet."

"He might never," Andrea said. "It would jeopardize her position with the Order."

Aunt B's face was grave. "It doesn't go past this room. You hear me, Raphael? No gossip, no pillow talk, not a word. We don't want any trouble with Curran."

"If you don't explain it all to me, I will strangle somebody." Of course, Raphael might like that...

"Food has a special significance," Aunt B said.

I nodded. "Food indicates hierarchy. Nobody eats before the alpha, unless permission is given, and no alpha eats in Curran's presence until Curran takes a bite."

"There is more," Aunt B said. "Animals express love through food. When a cat loves you, he'll leave dead mice on your porch, because you're a lousy hunter and he wants to take care of you. When a shapeshifter boy likes a girl, he'll bring her food and if she likes him back, she might make him lunch. When Curran wants to show interest in a woman, he buys her dinner."

"In public," Raphael added, "the shapeshifter fathers always put the first bite on the plates of their wives and children. It signals that if someone wants to challenge the wife or the child, they would have to challenge the male first."

"If you put all of Curran's girls together, you could have a parade," Aunt B said. "But I've never seen him physically put food into a woman's hands. He's a very private man, so he might have done it in an intimate moment, but I would've found out eventually. Something like that doesn't stay hidden in the Keep. Do you understand now? That's a sign of a very serious interest, dear."

"But I didn't know what it meant!"

Aunt B frowned. "Doesn't matter. You need to be very careful right now. When Curran wants something, he doesn't become distracted. He goes after it and he doesn't stop until he obtains his goal no matter what it takes. That tenacity is what makes him an alpha."

"You're scaring me."

"Scared might be too strong a word, but in your place, I would definitely be concerned."

I wished I were back home, where I could get to my bottle of sangria. This clearly counted as a dire emergency.

As if reading my thoughts, Aunt B rose, took a small bottle from a cabinet, and poured me a shot. I took it, and drained it in one gulp, letting tequila slide down my throat like liquid fire.

"Feel better?"

"It helped." Curran had driven me to drinking. At least I wasn't contemplating suicide.

I SLID THE BEAT-UP VOLUME OF MYTHS AND LEGENDS close and flipped to the index. If I was going to see Bran, it was best to go prepared. I needed a better grasp on this situation. Unfortunately my brain insisted on replaying the memory of Curran offering me soup.

Raphael wrinkled his nose. "Your books smell like chicken."

"They're not mine."

"If you're going to look for Julie, I'll help." Andrea brushed Raphael's hands off her shoulders. "She's my respon¤Çsibility."

I shook my head. "No, she's mine. There is nothing I can do for her right now. But I can find Morrigan's bowman." I explained the coven and Esmeralda's books, and reeves, and needing Bran's blood, although I didn't go into what it was for. "When the reeves attacked us, the Shepherd mentioned the Great Crow. Let's see..."

I ran my finger down the index. No Great Crows. Loads of Fomorians but no Bolgors or Shepherds. What else? Something had to connect them all. Let's see, what did I have? A Hound of Morrigan, bow, covens, missing cauldron...

I found the entry on cauldron: "Cauldron of Plenty, see Dagda." Dagda was Morrigan's main squeeze for a while. "Cauldron of Rebirth, see Branwen." I flipped to the right page. "I will give you a cauldron, with the property that if one of your men is killed today, and be placed in the cauldron, then tomorrow he will be as well as he was at his best, except that he will not regain his speech."

"Any luck?" Raphael asked.

"Not yet."

That was certainly interesting. The reeves were partially undead...Maybe they came out of the cauldron of rebirth, somehow. I went back to the index. "Cauldron of Wisdom, see Birth of Taliesin." Anybody with a drop of education on Celtic mythology knew of Taliesin, the great bard of ancient Ireland, the druid who succeeded Merlin. I knew the myth as well as anybody but found the right page anyway just to be thorough. Blah-blah-blah, Goddess Ceridwen, blah-blah...

If it was a cobra, it would've struck me.

"What?" Andrea wanted to know.

I turned the page and showed them the illustration. "Birth of Taliesin. The goddess Ceridwen had a son of incredible ugliness. She felt sorry for him and brewed a potion of wisdom in a huge cauldron to make him wise. A servant boy stirred the potion and accidentally tasted it, stealing the gift of wisdom. Ceridwen chased him. He turned into a grain of wheat to hide but Ceridwen turned into a chicken, swallowed him, and gave birth to Taliesin, the greatest poet, bard, and druid of his time."

Andrea frowned. "Yes, I see that the boy was reborn through the cauldron, but so what?"

"The name of the Goddess's ugly son. Morfran: from the Welsh mawr, 'big,' and bran, 'crow.' The Great Crow."

"This is the guy?" Raphael asked. "The guy in charge of the Fomorians?"

"Looks that way. And more, he is a crow just like Morrigan. Very similar names plus very uneducated witches equals..."


Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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