Lie Down with Dogs
footsteps, but when I inhaled, I no longer scented him. My nose was a hair better than Mai’s, but she couldn’t pinpoint the guards even when they were standing next to her. For the first time, it occurred to me that might be intentional.
    The ringing of my phone distracted me from bounding out to check on Diode. A quick glance at its display showed an unfamiliar number. I wasn’t sure it was a Texas area code. It looked more like a Nevada prefix. Still, this was my work line, so I answered. “Marshal Thackeray.”
    “I must meet with you,” a crisp, accented voice demanded. British maybe?
    Trying for polite, I didn’t snap back. “Who is this?”
    “I owe you, Marshal.” He sounded less than thrilled about it. “I always pay my debts.”
    “I’m heading out of town on business,” I lied. “Call me in a week, and we’ll set something up.”
    “That simply will not do.”
    Silence hummed in my ear. The call ended before I could wheedle more information out of him.
    I stared at the display. Weird. He owed me? Was that a veiled threat?
    Without caffeine to jolt my brain cells, I wasn’t sure. He sounded serious about paying his debt, which meant this weirdness wasn’t over yet. This guy wanted to meet, huh? Maybe next week wouldn’t be so boring after all.
    Just what my life needed. More excitement.
    After dropping my phone into my purse, I began detangling my hair.
    I ditched my pajamas for shorts and a tank top, set my compact navy suitcase on the floor, wheeled it over the threshold and then hesitated. The messenger bag filled with my marshal equipment hung on the doorknob. I had guards. I had Diode. Shaw would be a phone call away. I could go unarmed. Trust I wouldn’t need to defend myself.
    But my fingers itched for the strap. Being a marshal was the weight keeping me anchored to who I was. All the politics and Faerie drama weren’t me. Not yet at least. Trusting my safety to someone else wasn’t either.
    After snagging the worn satchel, I felt better for it. I didn’t need anyone fighting battles for me. Thinking of the strange caller, I grinned. In fact, exercise might do me good.
    ––––––––
    “L ook what the cat dragged in,” I snarked at Diode as I entered the living room.
    The panther-sized cat made a show of stretching before padding over to say hello with a purr so deep it vibrated my teeth when he leaned against my leg. I sank my fingers in his glossy highlighter-yellow fur and scratched.
    “The guards informed me of the situation,” he said. “I have taken measures to ensure my own comfort.”
    “Wow.” I was impressed. “Everyone around here is so...efficient.”
    Haphazard as Mai and I had lived our lives up to this point, I felt disorganized by comparison.
    “You are under enough stress as it is.” He flicked his tail. “We will not add to it.”
    I bent down and kissed the top of his furry head. “You’re the best cat ever.”
    His grin bared wicked, sharp teeth. “I know.”
    “Are we ready to roll?” Mai strolled into the room, wheeling a compact purple suitcase identical to mine. Except mine lacked the designer label. And the fancy color. And the retractable handle that actually retracted.
    Okay. Well. They were both suitcases on wheels.
    “Almost.” Diode prowled to the couch and returned with a brown paper bag clasped in his jaws.
    “For me?” I accepted the package and waited while he flicked his tongue in disgust at the flavor.
    “For me, actually.” He sat on his haunches and curled his tail around his front paws. “Open it.”
    I tore the bag—it had been stapled shut—and pulled out a thin black leather collar. “Um.”
    “That won’t fit you, fur face,” Mai said helpfully.
    The tip of his tail twitched. “You would think so.”
    He managed to make it sound like an insult, which amused me. Unlike her animosity toward the guards, Mai had a friendly, if antagonistic, relationship with Diode. Foxes were a part of the Canidae family, a

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