Authors: J. C. Daniels
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Vampires, #Tagline… A knife in the dark
Freelancers relied on references and word of mouth. A
reference would hurt him. A lot.
“Yeah? Maybe I’ve already got worked lined up. Very profitable work. Maybe I don’t
what sort of talks you have, bitch.” Ugly hate roiled in his eyes.
Magic tightened in the air around me and I readied myself. “Try anything and I cut you open.”
“I ought to just load that blade of yours up with so much magic, it fucks you up from here to Sunday.” He sneered at me.
I nudged his throat with the tip, all too aware of the fact that we had people staring at us. Once Damon had sped on past us to East Orlando, Xavier had dropped the cloaking and now, we were across the street from the little diner where I’d left my car. We couldn’t do this here.
knew that. Xavier didn’t seem to get it.
This was human territory.
“You think you’re the first idiot to think they can break me or my blade?” I asked him quietly.
“Sugar, I don’t have to
it to seriously
fuck you up
.” A smile, dark and evil, lit his face.
“And I don’t need magic or even this blade to do the same to you.”
He closed a hand around it and I felt the pulse of magic race through it. Banishing it, I spun around, checking myself at the very last second as I smashed my foot into his head.
The spinning heel sent him to the ground. Idiot witch. So many of them were so used to fighting with spells, they never bothered to brace against a physical attack. I could have broken his neck if I’d wanted to.
He was still lying there, probably wondering what had hit him as I walked off. Pulling my phone out, I made a call, talking loud enough so he’d hear. “Leenie?”
“Yes…” her voice was hesitant.
“That witch is an ass. Don’t let that bind off of him until you see me, at your place, in the flesh.”
I smiled as I heard him cursing behind me. Low and ugly.
That described him rather nicely. Low. And Ugly.
* * * * *
come here just to talk?” Colleen wielded a pair of tweezers over my thigh. Her hair was pulled back from her face and she was scowling. She’d been worried when she opened the door, but then she took a look at me and the worry went straight into frustration and aggravation. When Xavier had come peeling up, laying rubber on her driveway not long after I’d arrived, she bellowed at him so loudly, I was surprised the glass in the windows didn’t break.
“I come over to visit,” I said defensively. I’d been over several times. Usually when I was feeling freaked out by how things were going with Damon. By that point, I was in the need for a jumbo sized pitcher of margaritas—for me. Colleen made do with a beer or two. With a frown, I thought and calculated. “It’s only been…ah—three weeks?”
“You used to come over two or three times a week.” She looked up at me and smiled a little. “But that was…well. Before.”
She pulled another piece of the interstate out of my thigh and I managed to keep from groaning by digging my hands into the arms of the chair. “If you tear my furniture, Kitasa, I’m going to heal this the hard way,” she warned me.
Groaning, I clenched my teeth and uncurled my hands from the plushly padded fabric. “Just hurry it up,” I said raggedly. Pain streaked through me and I slammed my other leg down on the floor. “Damn it, how can this hurt so bad? It wasn’t hurting like this earlier!”
“You want it healed with no scars. I have to clean it. I have to do all of this fast. The longer we wait, the harder it is to heal—”
Xavier chose that moment to slam a hand against the door. “This is fucking painful, Antrim. Get this the
off of me,” he snarled through the door.
“He has control issues,” I said soberly.
“Xavier, if you want me to take that off before it amputates your hand, you might want to shut the hell up,” Colleen said without raising her voice. She bent closer to my leg. “Kit, this will hurt. Hold still.”
Her hand moved so fast, I barely saw it coming and then I bit my tongue bloody trying to keep quiet.
A few seconds later, it was done. She dropped the tweezers into a metal pan. “That does it. The last bit was some glass. Sorry.”
Her hands covered my leg. “Last chance, Kit. This is going to be rough. You’re pretty battered. Sure you don’t want a full healing?”
“I can’t.” A full healing would drain me, leaving me out of the count for hours, maybe even a day or so, while my body recuperated. “But I can’t scar. Surface healing and then…something?”
She blew out a rough breath. “I’ve got something that will do the trick. Surface healing to cover the scars and I’ll slap a poultice on it while I deal with that dipshit out there.”
I covered her hand. “I need five minutes first.”
“Because of the dipshit?”
“That works. The longer the poultice stays on, the better.” A tight-lipped smile spread over her face. “You’re going to be sorry in a second, sweetie.”
I already was.
Or so I thought.
She made me scream.
Very little managed to make me break that self-imposed limit. I rarely let myself make a sound when I was in pain. It was like I couldn’t. It was conditioning of the very worst sort.
Scream for me, you useless waste…
But as Colleen healed the damage to my thigh, a scream ripped out of me and my grandmother’s taunting voice rang through my head.
Scream…yes, little granddaughter, let me hear you scream...
“It’s okay, Kit…I’m done. Come on, now.”
I don’t know how long had passed before I actually heard her voice, but I knew she’d been talking to me for a while. Her hand was a soothing pressure on my brow and my hair was sticky with sweat, my heart thudding heavy and hard against my ribs.
My tongue was glued against the roof of my mouth.
“Here,” Colleen said. “Try this. It will help speed things along anyway.”
I didn’t even have the energy to fight her when she pushed the tea into my hands, and thankfully, it wasn’t one of her more vile concoctions, either. It was astringent and strangely minty, but not overly repulsive. And once I’d gotten a couple of drinks down, I was able to squeeze out more than one word. “What in the hell was that?”
“Healing on several levels. I healed the surface tissues, so there was no scarring. There was damage almost to the bone, though so I had to heal the deeper tissues, as well, so I did that. The minor and superficial damage I left alone and it split my focus enough that I couldn’t channel the pain
you…which is why you felt every blessed thing.”
She touched my leg. The muscles bunched under her hand and I was relieved to realize there was very little actual pain. Lots of soreness, but the pain was mostly gone. “I’ll get the poultice and you can get to work explaining…whatever.”
I ran my tongue across my teeth. “I need privacy.”
“Of course you do,” she said, sighing.
* * * * *
“You get into so much trouble,” she whispered, covering her face with her hands.
I hadn’t been able to explain a damn thing. But Colleen, like Es, had picked up enough just through her empathy that I hadn’t
Once she’d laid a silence charm across the room, I’d felt safe letting her sink her slippery fingers inside my head and she was able to glean everything that had happened since Justin had made his appearance in my office.
“I didn’t look for this,” I said sourly. I rubbed my finger over the scar at my neck and stretched my leg out, staring at the pale surface of my skin. No marks. Thank God. “I didn’t
“You don’t ask for
of the messes you end up. They just
you. Fuck it all, Kit. That cat isn’t worth this,” she said, shaking her head and surging upright.
I stared at her as she moved to the small metal stove she kept in her workroom and stirred something brewing there.
“He’s worth it to me,” I said quietly.
“Yeah, I picked up on that.” She flicked a look my way, studied my neck. “Love the shiny new mark to bear…did he beat his chest after he put that on you?”
I sighed and looked away. “Coll, don’t.”
you, Kit. Wasn’t one set of scars enough?”
“He’s a shapeshifter,” I pointed out. “They don’t exactly operate on human levels.”
“You’re not a shapeshifter.”
“But I’m not exactly human, either.” Then I rubbed my thumb down my neck, brooding. No, I hadn’t exactly planned on the second mark, but if I had issue with it, I could have come to Colleen while it was healing. She could have removed it. Damon would have gotten the point.
I looked back at her as she used a pair of tongs to lift a sopping cloth from a massive pot, waiting just a moment before taking the steaming mess in her hands. I winced instinctively, knowing it had to be hot. It wasn’t hot enough to cause anything more than discomfort and the steam was crucial to the healing, but I still didn’t want that thing on my leg.
I didn’t have a choice.
As she spread it over my leg, I grimaced and swallowed back the dirty names that managed to burn a path up my throat.
“Kit,” she said softly, smoothing the poultice down over my leg. “I know you’re not human…or not entirely. I get what you are better than
do, I think. One thing I don’t entirely understand is why you’re
“I…” I swallowed and looked away. “I’m with him because I want to be.”
“Because he makes you feel safe or something? Because he wants you?”
I laughed. “Colleen, seriously…do I
like safety is my concern here?” Then I shrugged, something uncomfortable moving inside of me. I didn’t let myself think about this too often, because it scared me. Being happy scared me, because I never trusted it to last. “I’m with him because I want to be. I’m happy with him. Yeah, having him want me is part of it, but
want it. That’s enough for me.”
She reached up and brushed my face. “It’s more than that,” she said, blowing out a breath. “I can feel it.”
I glared at her.
She just shrugged. “Empath. What do you expect?”
She’d feel the things even I didn’t entirely understand if I wasn’t careful. “If you already
, then why are you asking?”
“Knowing isn’t the same as understanding, Kit.” She stood up and folded her arms over her chest, gazing toward the door. “What do you need from me about Xavier?”
She snorted. “I can’t curse, Kitasa. Not even for my best friend.”
“I’m not asking for a curse,” I asked quietly. “But I do think you have a way of keeping him from talking about anything he saw or heard today. Justin placed a binding on me, without my consent and it’s something I would have done willingly, you know it. Especially once I understood how important this is. You two fight the same kind of fight…even if you’re different sorts of witches. If
can do it to me, bind me from talking, than can you…?”
“I can.” She bit the answer off as if it hurt to say it. I caught her hand before she could move away.
“They’ll kill him if I don’t stop this, Colleen,” I said quietly. “I have to get to Justin and that jackass doesn’t
. If he talks to the wrong person? I can’t risk it. I can’t risk
. If you…if you know what he is to me, then you know how important than is. I wouldn’t ask if it didn’t matter.”
Colleen stared at me, worrying something at her wrist. A charm, I realized. A twin to the one Xavier wore.
Hers wasn’t biting into her wrist, but she didn’t look happy about it. “I know, Kit,” she said quietly.
She rubbed a thumb along the twig’s surface and then looked to do the door. “I can bind him. Xavier’s got a blood debt to me—one he’s never going to get free of. But you need to understand…this is hard for me. I don’t like using my magic this way.”
Her hand touched my cheek. “Don’t be.” A ragged breath escaped her. “I’d do the same damn thing.”
* * * * *
I sped down the highway, with a few clear things in mind.
I needed to find Justin.
I needed to make sure I kept the hell away from freelance witches in the future.
I owed Colleen, big-time.
And I needed, so desperately, to find Damon and just curl against him for the rest of my life.
The first thing, though, was to track down Justin. I’d been calling him, hoping he could meet me at Colleen’s, but he hadn’t yet answered.
I placed yet another call and checked my bag while the phone rang. I had to leave a message and I groaned, tossing the phone back down and consoling myself by touching the letter from Es. It buzzed under my hand and I wanted to just drop down, rest. It was over, right? Needed to be over.
Except I still hadn’t gotten a hold of Justin and nothing was done until I talked to him.
I’d go to my office.
Justin would look for me there, I figured.
Lock myself up, keep calling him and maybe see if I couldn’t find another damn contact at the Banner office.
Every mile that passed, I found myself checking my phone. Looking for a message from Justin, fighting the urge to call Damon. I never called him in the middle of the day unless there was a problem, so if I called now…
a problem. I just didn’t need to let him
there was one.
Which meant the very last thing I could do was call him.
Still, when my phone rang just outside my office and I saw Damon’s name, my heart started to race, clenching in my chest until it hurt just to breathe. Turning off the car, I answered. It was a good thing he usually made me a little breathless because my voice was erratic as hell when I said, “Hey.”
An odd silence fell and I could count the measure of my heartbeats.
Reaching up, I touched the mark on my neck, felt the ridged flesh where he’d sank his teeth into me. Marked me. “You calling to meet up for a quickie? Maybe you want to pee on my boots or something now?”