Beginning: Part 1: Constantinople
I reached Hugo’s home in Michigan and glided towards the second story window that he always left open. I fluttered through the curtains and shifted back to myself, dropping onto the beautifully knotted rug that adorned the floor of his office.
Hugo sat in an armchair in the corner of the room, pipe in one hand and the day’s paper in the other. He raised his eyes from the print as I appeared and one eyebrow cocked above the wire frame of his spectacles.
He folded his paper and placed it on the arm of the chair, then took a puff from his pipe, still observing me through his glasses with eyes that looked too large.
“Not that I’m not delighted to have you back, Felicity, darling, but what has sent you to me so on edge.”
“Am I so obvious?”
“You usually use the door.”
I crossed to the desk and rested a hip on it. “I met a girl, up on the mountains.”
“Not quite the statement I expected to hear,” he said with a chuckle, rising from his chair and opening the drink cabinet.
“She was a shifter,” I added.
“Naturally.” He poured himself a drink and offered me one too
“Young, barely turned.”
“And what, pray tell, did she say that’s got you so in a bother?” He took a swig of his glass. I raised the wine to my nose and inhaled its rich scent.
“Do you remember what I told you, about why my name is Mink?”
He nodded. “The ‘familia’ thing.”
I took a sip of the wine. “Our familias are what ground us,” I said. “They tie us to something tangible, something unalterable. Our faces may change, our names, our gender, if we feel so inclined. But no shifter can change their familia.”
“What of this girl then? What’s her familia?”
I lowered the glass to the desktop. “I don’t believe she has one. Like a beast without a heart, she is…lacking.”
“My dear, you make it sound as if the girl has no soul,” he said with a half-laugh.
“Hugo, it is not her soul that concerns me,” I looked up at him again. “Everything exists in balance, and every familia has an opposite, a form that is harder to take than any other.”
“Are you saying she’s unbalanced?”
“I’m saying she could be dangerous.”
Hugo nodded slowly and moved towards the window, leaning against its frame. “Where is she now?”
“Gone. She didn’t stay, but I couldn’t either.”
“And so your nature walk was cut short. You know, darling, I really don’t understand why you feel the need to go on these excursions.” He took another sip of wine. “Why hunt for your dinner when you have such comforts available to you here?”
I smiled. “I wouldn’t expect you to understand, Hugo. You’ve never run on four legs.”
“A record I plan on maintaining.” He raised his glass in a mock toast. “What of Thomas Sunderton? I thought you would be returning to him. Or has his bed, or bank, lost its comforts?”
“Neither, he kicked me out.”
“A fool of a man.”
“Yes, I believe that’s what his wife said.” We both laughed.
“And he did not offer to give up his fortune if it meant remaining by your side?”
“He tried, but Mrs. Sunderton’s lawyer made a rather compelling case for the contrary.”
Hugo chuckled and raised his glass again. “To Mrs. Sunderton, whose husband does not deserve her.”
We laughed and it occurred to me suddenly that even though he was only in his third decade, I would one day lose him too.
“You know, Hugo, I’m going to miss you when you die.”
He smiled, not at all perturbed by the statement. “You mean because I am a mere mortal, and you, my eternal goddess, will remain a siren for ages to come.”
“Exactly. You know that if I could keep you around for ever, I would. Sometimes I think you’re the only one who understands me.”
“No, I’m just the only man you’ve met who isn’t in love with you.”
“No man I’ve met is in love with me. Men aren’t capable of love, only of lust and greed.”
“And anger? I’m sure you mentioned that one last time.”
“Indeed, but as I have no intention of ever falling in love, it needn’t matter either way.”
“Don’t be so dour.” He glanced out the window and his lips twitched into a small smile. “I have a gift for you,” he said, looking back at me and nodding his head in the direction of the window. I slipped off the desk and moved to stand beside him.
“Who is he?” I asked, watching a dark haired man get out of an automobile and walk up to the house across the street.
“Foreigner, that’s all I know. He moved in last week. Delicious, isn’t he? You know, I was in half a mind to go over there and snatch him up for myself. You’re lucky I love you so much I’m willing to share.”
“He’s a shifter,” I said, still watching him. He moved like a cat, languid but graceful. Powerful.
“Is he? You know, I did wonder. No mortal man has a face like that. I guess you have something in common now, that should make things easier.”
My eyes remained glued to him as he reached the front door of the house. He stepped inside and was gone from view. I blinked and backed away from the window.
“Hardly,” I said still picturing the line of his jaw under the black hair, his shoulders as they slipped out of sight. “Shifters, as a general rule, have much higher standards.”
“My dear, you are the standard.”
Continue: Part 6: Cadisi