Brave the Tempest (Cassandra Palmer #9) - Karen Chance

Chapter One

The small pouf was a little overly excited. It was jade green velvet, and a bit worn in the center, where years of feet had left a permanent divot. But the gold silk tassels at the corners were still fat and sassy, and the little round feet were polished to a high shine.

Not to mention the personality, which was, um, happy.

“I think it’s trying to hump your leg,” Billy told me.

“It is not!”

“Okay,” he said, eyeing the little thing warily. It was currently up on its back two feet, jumping up and down like an overly emotional puppy. Probably because nobody used poufs these days and it wanted out of the small shop we were in.

“It’s jumping,” I told him. “It’s excited.”

“Oh, it’s excited all right.”

“Billy!” I whispered, and glanced around. “There are children in here!”

Normally, that wouldn’t have mattered, since Billy Joe had been among the life-challenged for something like a century and a half now, and ghosts didn’t have to watch what they said. But the children in question were part of the Pythian Court and were all seers of one variety or another. Not that all of them could see Billy—gifts differ—but some could, and more could hear him.

“I’m just saying, maybe a perverted footstool ain’t the best thing to have around the palace.”

I frowned. Our current living arrangements were a sore spot. “It’s not a palace. We don’t live in a palace. It’s a penthouse—”

“Which covers a whole floor and is full of marble and shit.”

“—and I told the girls they could pick out their own stuff.”

It was the least I could do, considering that their former furniture had gone up in a fireball, like their former house. Now that had been a palace, an old charmer of a mansion in London full of priceless antiques and crystal chandeliers, a fit home for the Pythian Court. Unlike a still mostly empty penthouse in a tacky Vegas hotel.

Some days—all right, most days—I wondered if I’d ever get the hang of this Pythia stuff. “Chief Seer of the supernatural world” sounded like a great title, until you saw the job description. Not that I had.

I think they were afraid to show it to me.

My name is Cassie Palmer, and I’d been Pythia for four months. Four very long months. You’d think by now that I’d have some kind of a grip, and I did—sort of. I was still alive, which lately felt like an accomplishment in itself. But elegant? Imposing? One of the awesome Pythias of legend who decided the fates of kings and never blinked?

I caught sight of myself in a large standing mirror that wasn’t standing so much as mincing by, reflecting back a wobbly image of a young blonde with flyaway curls, worried blue eyes, and a T-shirt and jeans combo. The T-shirt was pretty cool, being red with black crossed swords on the front and a caption that read, “As You Can See, the Assassins Failed.” But there was a spaghetti sauce stain from lunch on the jeans. I tried to pull down the tee to hide it, but it wasn’t long enough and bounced back up.

I sighed. The little pouf humped my leg some more. There was probably a metaphor in there somewhere, but I didn’t get a chance to look for it.

Because a small girl of maybe five had come up and started tugging on Billy’s jeans.

He jumped—not surprisingly, since the “jeans” were just a projection. It was all Billy, like the red ruffled shirt and the cowboy hat that completed the ensemble, and the cigarettes he smoked because lung cancer wasn’t an issue for him anymore. So she’d basically just grabbed part of his spirit and started tugging on it, which, yeah.

I’d probably jump, too.

But Billy was surprisingly good with kids, maybe because he’d come from a large Irish family back in the day. Or maybe because it was fun to have someone to interact with besides me. He went down on one knee to see what the child was trying to show him.

“Emily, right?” Billy said, and she nodded. There were so many kids around these days, I kept getting their names confused, but he always knew.

“For you.” She held up a book so big that she needed two hands to lift it.

“For me?” Billy smiled and ruffled her hair. Some of it even moved, so he was exerting some power. “And why would you want me to have that, sweetheart?”

“Look.” She tried putting the massive tome down on