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White Witch, Black Curse
White Witch, Black Curse

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White Witch, Black Curse

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018
Добавлена: 27.12.2018
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“Ivy, I told you it wasn’t you,” I blurted. “God, I know what you smell like, and you weren’t there! How many times do I have to say it!” I didn’t care that it was really weird I knew what Ivy smelled like. Hell, we’d been living together for a year. She knew what I smelled like.

Ivy put her elbows on either side of her keyboard and dropped her forehead into the cradle of her fingers. “I thought it was Skimmer,” she said flatly. “I thought Skimmer had done it. She still won’t see me, and I thought that was why.”

My lips parted as it started to make sense. No wonder Ivy hadn’t been hell-bent on finding Kisten’s killer. Skimmer had been both her best friend and girlfriend in high school, the two sharing their blood and bodies while Ivy was out in a private school on the West Coast. The intelligent, devious vampire had moved east to get Piscary out of prison and hopefully become a member of a foreign camarilla to be with Ivy, and the top-of-her-class lawyer would cheerfully kill Kisten or me if that’s what it would take. That the petite but deadly woman had killed Piscary only added to the travesty of vampire logic. She was in jail for the crime of killing a city master—in front of witnesses—and would likely stay there until she died and became an undead herself.

“Kisten couldn’t be taken down by another living vampire,” I said, pitying Ivy for having lived with this alone for six freaking months.

Her deep brown eyes had lost their fear when they met mine. “He’d let Skimmer kill him if Piscary gave him to her.” Ivy looked at the mirrored black square the night had turned the window into. “She hated him. She hates you—” Ivy’s words caught, and she shifted her keyboard in a nervous reaction. “I’m glad it wasn’t her.”

The bubbling soup was threatening to run over, and I got up, giving her shoulder a squeeze of support before I went to turn it down. “It was a man,” I said, blowing on the top and flicking the gas off. “It’s going to be okay. We’ll find him, and we can put an end to it.”

My back was to her, and I froze as a faint tingle started at my neck, the scar she’d given me hidden under my cursesmoothed skin. I felt the muscles in my face grow slack, and my motion of stirring the soup slowed as the feeling deepened into a soft anticipation that struck the pit of my being and rebounded. Knowing Ivy couldn’t see, I let my eyes close. I knew this feeling. Missed it, even as I struggled, against my instincts, to push it away.

In her relief that Skimmer hadn’t killed Kisten, Ivy had unconsciously filled the air with pheromones to soothe and relax a potential source of blood and ecstasy. She wasn’t after my blood, but she’d been uptight for the last six months, which was probably why just this hint of pheromones felt really good. I breathed them in, enjoying the rush of desire that tightened my gut and set my thoughts spinning. I wasn’t going to act on it. Ivy and I had a safe, secure, platonic relationship. I wanted to keep it that way. But that wouldn’t stop me from this tiny little indulgence.

Sighing, I forced myself to focus on what I was doing. I adjusted my posture and shoved the whisper of desire deep, where I could ignore it. If I didn’t, Ivy would sense my willingness, and we’d be right back where we’d been six months ago, unsure, uneasy, and way too confused.

“Are you going to open your mail sometime this century?” Ivy asked, her voice distant. “You’ve got something from the university.”

Glad for the distraction, I tapped the spoon and set it in the spoon cozy. “Really?” I said, turning to find her eyeing the half-hidden stack of mail. Wiping my fingers off on my jeans, I came closer, pulling the slim envelope with the university emblem on it out from under my bag but leaving the rest, as it so clearly bothered her. I’d registered for a couple of ley line classes right before winter break, and this was probably the confirmation. I could use ley lines, but everything I knew had been learned by the seat of my pants. I was in desperate need of some formal classes before I fried my synapses.

Ivy shifted her crossed legs and focused on her computer as I ran my finger under the seal, having to tear the envelope to actually get it open. I pulled the letter out, hesitating as my check floated to the floor. Ivy was on it in a flash, short hair swinging as she bent to pick it up.

“I’ve been denied entrance,” I said, bewildered as I scanned the formal letter. “They say there was a problem with my check.” My eyes shot to the date under the letterhead. Crap, I had missed early registration and now I’d have to tack on another fee. “Did I forget to sign it or something?”

Ivy shrugged, handing it to me. “No. I think this has more to do with the professor dying the last time you took a class.”

Wincing, I jammed everything back in the envelope. Problem with my check? I had money in my account. This was crap. “She’s not dead. She’s in Trent’s basement playing Ms. Fix-it with the elven genetic code. The woman is in heaven.”

“Dead,” Ivy said, smiling to show a slip of teeth.

I looked away, stifling a quiver at the sight of her fangs. “This is so unfair.”

The harsh clatter of pixy wings gave us a second of warning, and I dropped the letter in disgust as Jenks buzzed in. Ivy’s eyes were wide in question as she gazed at him, and turning, I was surprised to see a stream of red sparkles slipping from him. “We got trouble,” he said, and I jumped, looking down when a faint bump came from under the floor.

Ivy stood and looked at the faded linoleum. “Someone’s under there.”

“That’s what I’m telling you!” Jenks said, sounding almost snotty as he hovered between us with his hands on his hips.

There was a masculine, muffled shout and a series of thumps. “Holy crap!” I shouted, dancing backward. “That sounded like Marshal!”

Ivy was a blur headed for the back door. I jumped to follow, jerking to a halt when the rear door in the back living room thumped open unseen. Bis, who rented out the belfry, flew into the kitchen at shoulder height, his skin a stark white to match the snow and his eyes glowing like a demon’s. The cat-size gargoyle beat his wings in my face, and I backed up. “Get out of my way, Bis!” I shouted, squinting at the draft and thinking about Jenks’s cold sensitivity. “What the Turn is going on out there?”

There was a commotion in the living room, but Bis wouldn’t get out of my way, shouting in his resonant voice about how he was sorry, and he’d clean it up. That he had followed the kids with the paint and didn’t know it was a distraction. I was ready to smack him one when he landed on my shoulder.

I could barely feel his weight, but vertigo hit me and I slumped back into the counter, shocked into thoughtlessness. The sensation wasn’t unexpected, but it got me every time—with Bis’s touch, every single ley line in Cincinnati became clear and present in my mind. It was sensory overload, and I wavered on my feet, focus blurred. It was worse when he was excited, and I almost passed out. That Jenks’s kids were darting among the hanging pots didn’t help.

“Get. Off,” I breathed forcefully, and looking chagrined, the gargoyle beat his wings three times and perched himself sullenly on top of the fridge. The pixy kids scattered, shrieking as if he were death itself. Bis’s creased face scowled at me with teenage bad temper, and his pebbly skin shifted to match the stainless steel of the appliance. He looked like a sulky gargoyle peering over the edge like that, but that’s what he was.

My head jerked up when Ivy shoved a snow-and-dirt-covered man into the kitchen. His face was hidden by a hood, and frozen chunks of dirty snow scattered across the floor, leaving streaks of mud as the kitchen’s warmth thawed them. The odor of cold earth rose, and I wrinkled my nose, thinking it almost smelled like the man who had killed Kisten, but not quite.

Ivy sauntered in behind him to take a stance in the door with her arms crossed over her chest. Marshal was behind her, and he came in, sliding around Ivy with no hesitation and grinning from ear to ear, excited and bright eyed under his knit hat. His coat and knees were covered in dirt as well, but at least he hadn’t rolled in it.

The unknown man in the parka lifted his head, and I almost flew at him. “Tom!” I shouted, then checked myself. It was Tom. Again. Under my house instead of looking at my car. Fear slid through me, replaced with anger. “What are you doing under my house!”

Jenks was at the ceiling yelling at his kids to get out, and when the last fled, with their wooden swords and plasticcoated straightened paper clips, Tom pulled himself upright and pushed his hood back. His lips were blue with cold, and his eyes held an irritated anger. It was then that I noticed the ley line zip-strip on his wrist, where his gloves ended. He was basically magically neutered, and my estimation of Marshal went up a notch for not only knowing what to do with an experienced ley line witch, but for having a zip-strip to begin with.

“I was coming over to drop off that box you left in my car,” Marshal said, shifting to stand between Tom and me. “That’s when I saw this”—he gave Tom a shove and the man caught himself against the island counter—“coming over the far wall. So I parked and watched. He gave a couple of kids a can of black spray paint and a twenty, and after Bis chased them off your front door, he snuck around back and broke the lock on your crawl space access.”

Mouth open in anger, I thought about giving Tom a shove myself. “You paid someone to ruin our sign!” I shouted. “Do you know how long it took me to clean it the first time?”

Tom’s lips were starting to pink up, and he pressed them together, refusing to answer. Behind him, I saw Bis sneak out of the kitchen. The small gargoyle had gone entirely white to match the ceiling, and only the rims of his ears, his long clawlike nails, and a thick stripe down his whiplike tail were still gray. He was crawling along the ceiling like a bat, wings held to make sharp angles and claws extended. It just about broke my creepy meter.

“Rachel,” Marshal said gently, “he did it to get rid of Bis.” Marshal took off his hat and unzipped his coat, sending a wave of redwood into the kitchen, heady from whatever magic he’d used to catch Tom. “What’s important is finding out what he was doing under your church.”

We all turned to look at Tom. “Good question,” I said. “Got an answer, witch?”

Tom was silent, and Ivy cracked her knuckles one by one. I hadn’t even known she could, but that’s what she was doing, pop, pop, pop.

“Ivy,” I said when it was clear he wasn’t going to say anything. “Why don’t you call the I.S.? They might be interested in this.”

Tom snickered, his arrogance clear. “Sure, you do that,” he said. “I’m sure the I.S. would love to know a shunned witch was in your kitchen. Who do you think they’ll believe if I tell them I was buying charms from you?”

Oh shit. My gut twisted, and I frowned when Marshal’s eyes widened at the word “shunned.” Without a word, Ivy set the phone down. Her eyes a dangerous black, she eased closer. A threatening haze seemed to drift a few seconds behind her as she placed her finger under his chin and asked in a soft voice, “Is there a contract out on Rachel?”

Fear bubbled against my skull, and I caught it before it triggered something worse in Ivy. I’d lived with a death threat before, and it was hard. If not for Ivy and Jenks, I would have died.

Tom took a step back and rubbed his wrist. “She’d be dead already if there was.”

Jenks bristled, his wings a sharp clatter as he came to stand on my shoulder.

“Oooooh, I’m scared,” I said to hide my relief. “What are you doing here, then?”

The angry witch smiled. “To wish you a happy New Year.”

My eyes narrowed, and, fist on my hip, I looked at the dirty puddles his boots were making. Gaze slowly rising, I took in his white nylon pants and his gray coat. His face was calm but the hatred was there, and when Ivy shifted her feet, he jerked, tense. “I’d start talking,” she threatened. “If you’re shunned, no one will care if you don’t show up for church next week.”

The tension started to rise, and my gaze broke from Tom when Bis flew back in.

“Tink’s diaphragm!” Jenks shouted. “When did he leave? Rachel, did you even see him leave?”

“Here, Rachel,” the gargoyle said as he dropped an amulet and my hand flashed out to catch it. The metallic circlet hit my palm with a cool sensation, smelling like redwood and frozen dirt. “I found it stuck to the floorboards. It was the only one.”

Tom’s jaw went stiff as he clenched his teeth. My anger grew as I recognized it from the days when I’d sit with my dad while he prepped his spells for a night at work. “It’s a bug,” I said as I handed it to Marshal to look at.

Ivy’s face grew even grimmer, and spreading her feet, she tossed her short, gold-tipped hair out of her eyes. “Why are you bugging our kitchen?”

Tom didn’t say anything, but he didn’t have to. I’d found him in front of the Tilsons’ house. He had told me he was working. He probably thought we’d have the inside scoop on the situation, and since he didn’t have access to anything magical or the Inderland database, he was going to steal what we knew and use it to jerk the tag out from under us.
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