After putting the cooler between the two chairs like a side table, he took a seat and pulled out his magazine to pass the time until he could pick up Willa. An hour in and the spaces around him were rapidly disappearing.
Quarter to six and he knew he’d gotten there at the right time. The fairgrounds were jammed. The only spaces still available were on the edges and near the back. He did a three-sixty and smiled. He’d chosen well. And now it was time to pick up his girl.
“Hey, buddy, can I ask you a favor?” He nodded at the older couple who’d set up next to him. The man was wearing a USMC Retired cap.
Semper Fi looked at him. “What can I do for you, son?”
“Watch my gear until I get back? Gotta pick up my girl. I’ll bring you a beer if you want.”
The man squinted at Nick’s Ranger tattoo. “You got it, son. Happy to have that beer, too.”
“Will do. Thanks.” Nick picked his way through the crowd and back to Main Street, arriving at five fifty-nine.
Willa was at the door, laughing. She opened it and came out, keys in hand. “Right on time.”
He leaned against the building. “Miss me?”
“Terribly. Did you feed Jasper?”
“Like a king.”
She locked the door. “Did you get a good spot?”
“No.” He grinned as she frowned. “I got a great spot.”
She tucked the keys in her purse. “Lead me to it.”
He took her hand and walked her back to the fairgrounds, stopping to get a beer off one of the roving vendors. It was more expensive than getting one from a food truck, but he didn’t want to waste time waiting in the long lines.
Back at the spot he’d set up, he handed the cold brew to Semper Fi. “Thanks.”
“Much obliged.” The man gave Nick a nod as he took the beer.
Willa had already settled into one of the camp chairs. She beamed up at him. “This is a great spot. You did well.”
Nick preened a little at the praise. Making her happy was really all he cared about. “Hungry?”
“Then let’s eat.” He opened the cooler and spread out the meal he’d picked up.
He asked her about her day as they ate, then he cleaned up and they sat for a bit in comfortable silence, holding hands and watching people go by. Time slipped away with the setting sun. He took the umbrella down when twilight settled over them and they folded up the camp chairs and sat side by side on the blanket.
The fireworks followed shortly after, a spectacular display that had the whole crowd oohing and ahhing simultaneously. Every time one of the big boomers went off, Willa gave his hand a little squeeze.
He couldn’t remember a time when he’d been happier. It was a physical presence within him, a lightness of being that seemed incongruous with who he was. A leviathan-class gargoyle should not feel like he was filled with helium. He snorted softly at the thought.
“What?” Willa asked.
He shook his head. “Nothing. Just happy.”
She nodded, a short quick movement. “Me, too.”
Fireworks over, they packed up and gathered everything.
She stuck her little purse in the large bag he’d brought, then slung it over her shoulder. “I can carry something else.”
“I’ve got the rest.” He patted his pockets. “Hey, check that my phone and keys are in there?”
She looked inside the bag. “Yep. Side pocket. You want them?”
“Not until we get to the house.” He slung the straps from the camp chairs over his shoulder, then grabbed the handle of the rolling cooler. Finally, he tucked the umbrella under that arm as well to leave a hand free for Willa.
Hand in hand, they made their way along with the crowd. Progress was as slow moving as he’d anticipated, and it was after eleven by the time they turned onto his street, but he didn’t care and she didn’t seem to either.
The night had been perfect. For him, anyway. “You have a good time?”
“No.” A slow smile spread across her face. “I had a great time. Thanks for putting all that together. It was perfect.”
He nodded. “Anytime.” And he meant it.
“I bet Jasper’s going to be crying for food.”
Nick snorted as they approached the house. “I bet he won’t be.”
She looked at him. “Why’s that?”
“I was starting to think you were never coming back.” Two people walked out from the shadows on the side of the house. One was Martin Burnside. Nick didn’t recognize the one who’d spoken, but judging by his pointed ears, he was fae.
Willa sucked in a breath. “Martin, I thought this was over.”
The troll just looked straight ahead, his dark, unblinking stare like that of a man not in full control of his faculties.
Nick dropped everything and took a step forward, putting himself in front of Willa. “You’re on private property. You need to leave.”
The fae grinned and tried to look around Nick at Willa. “Look at how well you’ve trained your pet. Kyanna is going to be so pleased.”
Willa put her hand on Nick’s arm and stepped up next to him. “He’s not my pet. Who are you and what are you doing? And who’s Kyanna?”
The fae had the blunt-cut hair of a schoolboy, shaved close on the sides and long on top. A hank of the muddy blond hair fell over his brows as he dipped his head and splayed his long fingers over his chest. “I’m wounded. Dear sweet Willa, do you really not recognize your brother, Zane? Or the name of your sister?” He dropped his hand and his smile. “But then, why would you? You ran away from your family and your responsibilities.”