“You see, the mailman saw your husband during one of his walks."
"He's my fiancé," I told her. "We are living in sin."
Heather blinked, momentarily knocked off her stride, but recovered. "Oh, that's nice."
"It's very nice. I highly recommend it.”
“Consort,” I said. “You honor us.”
“Fuck you,” Dali said. “Fuck your shit. I quit.”
“One does not simply ring Roland."
Oh boy. I supposed I would get a lecture on the dangers of wandering into Mordor next.”
“DOES EVERYBODY THINK I am an asshole?” Curran asked. “Only people who know you or have met you.”
“Curran, please don’t bite his head off.”
“Because it’s illegal. Technically you assaulted him first when you threw him across the lawn.”
“I didn’t throw him very far."
I rolled my eyes.
“I could’ve thrown him straight up and let him land on the pavement.”
“That would also be illegal.”
“You keep bringing this ‘illegal’ thing up as if it means something to me.”
“Where were you? What happened?” I carved a chunk out of another lizard’s face.
“I just took the kids to fight some ghouls,” Curran said.
Oh, so it was fine, then . . . Wait. “You did what?”
He kicked a lizard. It flew into the others like a cannonball. “I called Jim before we left the house to talk about ghouls, and he said they found some in the MARTA tunnels. So I grabbed the kids and did a little hunting.”
I would kill him. “Just so I get it right, Jim calls you and says, ‘Hey, we found a horde of ghouls in the MARTA tunnels,’ and your first thought was, ‘Great, I’ll take the kids’?”
“They had fun.” A careful note crept into his voice. Curran saw the shark fin in the water but wasn’t sure where the bite would be coming from.
“You even took the dog.”
Grendel chose that moment to try to shove past me. I shoved him back into the Guild and he began running back and forth behind us, growling.
“He had fun, too. Look at him. He’s still excited.”
“Who’s the guy?”
“He’s my . . .” Fiancé, honey-bunny? “He’s mine.”
Lago nodded knowingly. “The thing with the Beast Lord didn’t turn out, huh? That’s okay, I heard that guy is a dick. You don’t need that shit.”
“Try to look casual.” I pulled the top book out and put it on the desk.
“Because what I’m doing is illegal without a warrant, and we have about twenty witnesses observing our every move.”
Curran crossed his arms, making his biceps bulge, leaned against the desk, and fixed our audience with his stare. Everyone spontaneously decided to look anywhere else but at us. Right. Casual, my foot.
“See,” he said. “No witnesses.”
“I will always be there. I will walk across the whole planet if I have to.”
I closed my eyes and whispered, “I’ll meet you halfway.”
“How have you been?” my father asked.
Say something diplomatic . . . something . . . “If you build a tower in Lawrenceville, I will smash it, set it on fire, and salt the ground it stood on.”
“Why am I the expert all of a sudden?”
“Of the two of us, you have more stalking experience.”
He leaned back. “Really?”
“Yes. When you let yourself into my apartment before we were dating, did you fidget while you watched me?”
“Will you let it go?” he growled.
“I didn’t fidget. I checked on you to make sure you hadn’t gotten yourself killed. I wanted to know that you weren’t dying slowly of your wounds, because you have no sense and half of the time you couldn’t afford a medmage. I didn’t stand there and watch you. I came in, made sure you were okay, and left. It wasn’t creepy.”
“It was a little creepy.”
“It worked, didn’t it?”
“You’re still alive.”
“Yes, of course, take all the credit.”
“He wanted to wear sweatpants, because “they tear easier.” I asked him if he wanted me to get him some male stripper jeans so he could avoid looking like a Russian gangster from pre-Shift movies, after which he got all offended and put on a pair of regular jeans instead.”
“Answer me this, did you hesitate at all or did you see the giant, go ‘Wheee!’ and run toward it?”
“She ran toward it,” Juke quipped.
“He was biting people in half.”
“I rest my case,” Curran said. “A note wouldn’t have made any difference.”
“Will you stop eating it,” I growled.
“No,” Andrea said. She was sitting on the ground and chewing on some unidentifiable chunk of bull flesh.
“It’s a piece of meat from something a djinn summoned.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Who else would send a bull made of fire to my house after I helped kill a djinn-possessed giant? Stop eating. It might have been a person,” I told her.
“I don’t care.”
“Andrea! You don’t know what this will do to the baby!”
“It will make it nice and strong.”
“Really, Luther, if I knew you were that hungry, I would’ve picked up some takeout.”
At the sound of my voice, he turned. “You!”
“What is this?” He looked at Julie. “Mini-you?”
“Did you just grab my butt?” I whispered. “What?” “Curran!” “Yes?” I could hear controlled laughter in his voice. Unbelievable. I sped up. “We’re tracking ghouls and you’re grabbing my butt.” “I always make sure to pay attention to important things.”
“Okay," Juke said. "Your horse is a donkey, your poodle is a giant wolf breed, and your boyfriend is whatever the hell he is. You have problems.”
“Did they think I would throw a tantrum?”
“Baby, you’re not the tantrum type. You are the scary-smile-and-stabbing type.”
“So you got fired?”
“When I quit the Order, you told me I was besmirched.”
“That’s because you quit in a huff over some silliness like trying to save people’s lives. I quit to maximize my earning potential. Don’t you know being a hero is a losing bet? The pay is shit and people hate you for it.” Luther looked at Curran. “Who is the male specimen?”
Curran offered Luther his hand. “Lennart.”
Luther grabbed Curran’s hand and smelled it. “Shapeshifter, feline, probably a lion, but not the run-of-the-mill African Simba. You’ve got an odd scent about you.” He glanced at me. “Why do you always hang out with weirdos?”
“Do we have a flamethrower?” Curran asked.
“We should get a flamethrower.”
“Did you think I was sitting on my hands?” “I thought you might be injured.” He looked at me. “We’ve met, you and I?” I deliberately took a big step back. “What?” he growled. “I’m making room for your ego.”
“Besides, if I’d decided to pull Carver’s spine out of his body, I would’ve done it already.”
“Can you actually do that?”
Curran frowned. “I don’t know. I mean theoretically if you broke the spine above the pelvis, you could, but then there are ribs . . . I’ll have to try it sometime.”
“He grabbed the nearest lizard, twisted it with a loud snap, and tossed it aside. “Hey, baby.”
“Hi.” I beheaded a lizard. “Where are the kids?”
“With the MSDU.” He disemboweled a beast with a quick swipe of his claws. “You’re having all this fun without me.”
“I’m not doing much. Just having tea and cookies.” I cut at another lizard. “Thinking deep thoughts.” I love you.
“Then I’ll join you.”
He loved me, too.”
“How many of these houses do you own?”
“We own, and all of them.”
“Do we own anything else?”
“We also own the woods directly behind us.”
Those woods extended for quite a while. There used to be a huge golf course and a shopping center behind us, but trees and brush had swallowed it long ago. “How many acres?”
“Five hundred and twelve.”
I opened my mouth and nothing came out.
“I thought of calling it the Five Hundred Acre Wood," Curran said.”
“I unbuckled my seat belt.
“Are you going to jump onto his car?” Julie asked. “I can get closer.”
“What are you, out of your mind? No, I’m not jumping on his car. That only works in movies.”
“Someone knocked on the door. “Come in!” Barabas called. The door swung open and Derek stuck his head in. “Hey, do you have any duct tape?” He saw me, stepped back, and closed the door without a word. Well. “Coward,” Barabas said, loud enough for Derek to hear.”
“One doesn’t let her fiancé fight a horde of ghouls by himself. Some things were just not done.”
“I opened my eyes as wide as I could. “Why, of course, Your Majesty. What was I thinking? I will go and do this right away, just please don’t look at me.” “Kate, get in the car.” “Maybe you should growl dramatically. I don’t think I’m intimidated enough.”
“Is this you trying to cheer me up?”
“What are you . . . going . . . to do about it?” I asked. “Your Wussiness?”
He touched his index finger to my forehead. His voice was rough. “Tap. You’re out, Ass Kicker.”
Why me? “We don’t do requests. Try Iowa. I hear they’re more accommodating.” Hey, Dad, I found a lovely present for this coming Father’s Day. Enjoy.
The insect pointed a leg at me. “Die.”
Curran’s eyes went gold. His clothes tore, falling in shreds to the street, as the massive meld of human and lion spilled out. “Let’s see you try that shit on me.”
“My hailstorm tore them limb from limb.”
“Maybe I just need to stop overthinking things and let myself live a little. ”
“Say that the berries on a tree fermented / say that some birds ate them got drunk demented / couldn't fly straight flew straight into instead / wall of an office block and fell down dead / down on the pavement people undeterred / stepping over the mound of broken bird”
“I was convinced that the proverb about money not buying happiness was written by a rich guy who didn't want you to feel bad because you didn't have any.”
“Most people need love and acceptance a lot more than they need advice.”
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