She lifted her head to meet his kiss. It was the seal on his promise and the tease of what was to come.
After a long moment, they broke contact, and she smiled and reached up to press her hand to his cheek. “Take me home.”
Twilight had fallen by the time Nick swooped down into his backyard. It made for good cover, although Nocturne Falls was one of the only places in the world he knew of where being spotted by tourists in one’s true form was usually seen as a good thing. Night flights by flying-capable supernaturals were under some restrictions, but if he got dinged for it, he had a feeling the Ellinghams would look the other way since it was part of his bringing Willa home safely.
He shifted back into his human form as soon as Willa slid off. She looked a little worried. He grabbed her hand. “Jasper’s going to be fine.”
She stared at the house. “I hope so.”
Nick prayed that was the case. “I’ll have us inside in a sec.” Thankfully, he kept a spare house key tucked away in a magnetic hideaway inside the grill. He fished under the grill cover and opened the lid enough to grab the little box. He slid the key out and unlocked the back door, then pushed it wide to let her in. “You check on Jasper. I’ll run around front and see if all the picnic stuff is still laying there. Open the front door for me, okay?”
She went in, calling for the cat. “Jasper? Where are you, baby? Momma’s home.”
Nick jogged around front. No sign of the cooler or the umbrella or anything. He hoped a neighbor had stored it for him, not that it had been stolen. The front door opened behind him.
“Nick.” Willa’s voice was strained. “I can’t find Jasper.”
“He’s probably curled up somewhere sleeping.” But even he knew a hungry cat was more likely to yowl for food when humans arrived than to stay hidden away sleeping. Nick went inside.
Willa stood in the living room, shaking her head. “I can’t imagine what’s happened to him. I’m going to check the bedroom again.”
“Okay, I’ll poke around out here.” He went into the kitchen. The food bowls were licked clean. The water dish wasn’t entirely empty. That had to be a good sign. The house smelled like it had been closed up. He opened the slider into the backyard and let some fresh air in even though it was warm.
The breeze blew a piece of paper off the counter. He went to see what it was. A note, from Pandora Williams.
Hey, not sure where you guys are, but I checked on the house and took Jasper home with me. I put the stuff from the front yard in the garage. Everyone’s worried about you two! Call me!
“Willa,” Nick called out. “Jasper’s at Pandora’s house.”
Willa came running down the hall. “How do you know?”
He held up the note. “She was here. Let’s go see her and get Jasper.”
Willa let out a breath. “Yes, absolutely. If she’s got him, he’s definitely okay. Probably a few pounds heavier, but perfectly fine.”
Nick grabbed the spare truck keys off the hook by the phone. “Good to know our disappearance didn’t go unnoticed.”
She waited by the counter while he shut and locked the sliding glass door. “How could it? Neither one of us showed up for work and with as neat and tidy as you are, leaving the picnic stuff out in the front yard had to arouse some suspicions.”
“Pandora put that stuff in the garage. I’m sure she’ll fill us in on the rest.” He walked with her to the garage door.
“I hope our phones and wallets are still there. If someone else didn’t get to them first.”
“Me, too.” He opened the door. The picnic things were stacked neatly beside his truck.
Willa bent and started digging through the beach bag. “Yep, your phone and wallet. And my purse. With all my stuff still inside. Phones are dead, but that’s no big deal.” She stood and handed him his wallet and phone.
He tucked the wallet into his back pocket then opened the truck door and tossed the phone onto the dash. Wasn’t going to do him any good until it was charged anyway.
Willa looked at the stuff again, then back at him. “How did she get in the house?”
“I let her keep a key after I moved in.” He shrugged as he went around and opened the passenger door for her. “I figured one of my neighbors should be able to get in in case something happened. Soldier mentality, maybe.”
“Whatever the reason, I’m glad you did it.”
They climbed into the truck and headed down to Pandora’s. The trip took less than five minutes. All her lights were on, including the outside spotlights that lit up the big live oak in her front yard. Pandora was all about curb appeal.
They parked and got out. Willa practically ran to the door. She tapped the bell and waited, shifting from one foot to the other.
Pandora opened up a few seconds later. “Hey, where have you guys been? Great dress, by the way.”
“Thanks. Long story. Is Jasper here?”
“Yes, come on in and I’ll get him.”
But she didn’t need to. As Willa and Nick stepped into the house, the sleek orange cat ran out from the back, meowing his head off. Pandora laughed. “He must have heard your voice.”
Willa scooped him up and kissed his neck. “Hiya, babycat. I’m so glad you’re all right.”
Pandora looked at Nick. “The whole town’s been looking for you. You should call Sheriff Merrow.”