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A Fistful of Charms
A Fistful of Charms

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A Fistful of Charms

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2019
Добавлена: 29.06.2019
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I was scared, though. If Karen had been trying to kill me, not just cow me into submission, it would have been over in the first thirty seconds.

David hit the down button, and together we turned. “This was not a fair contest,” he said, then wiped his mouth to make his hand come away red with blood. “I had a right to be here.”

Mr. Finley shook his head. “Either the female’s alpha shall be present, or in the case of his absence, six alphas may serve as witness to prevent any…” He smiled. “…foul play.”

“There weren’t six alphas here at the time of the contest,” David said. “I expect to see this recorded as a win for Rachel. That woman is not my alpha.”

I followed his gaze to Karen lying forgotten on the floor, and I wondered if someone was going to douse her in saltwater to break the charm or just dump her on her pack’s doorstep unconscious. I didn’t care, and I wasn’t going to ask.

“Wrong or not, it’s the law,” Mr. Finley said, the alphas moving to back him. “And it’s there to allow a gentle correction when an alpha goes astray.” He took a deep breath, clearly thinking. “This will be recorded as a win for your alpha,” he said as if he didn’t care, “provided you don’t file a complaint. But David, she isn’t a Were. If she can’t best another with her physical skills, she doesn’t deserve an alpha title and will be taken down.”

I felt a stab of fear at the memory of Karen on top of me.

“A person can’t stand against a wolf,” Mr. Finley said. “She would have to Were to have even a chance, and witches can’t Were.”

The man’s eyes went to mine, and though I didn’t look away, the fear slid to my belly. The elevator dinged, and I backed up into it, not caring if they knew I was afraid. David joined me, and I gripped my bag and my gun as if I’d fall apart without them.

David’s boss stepped forward, his presence threatening and his face utterly shadowed in the new night. “You are an alpha,” he said as if correcting a child. “Stop playing with witches and start paying your dues.”

The doors slid shut, and I slumped against the mirror. Paying his dues? What was that supposed to mean?

Slowly, the lift descended, my tension easing with every floor between us. It smelled like angry Were in there, and I glanced at David. One of the mirrors was cracked, and my reflection looked awful: braid falling apart and caked with plaster dust, a bite mark on my neck where Karen’s teeth had bruised and broken my skin, my knuckles scraped from being in her mouth. My back hurt, my foot was sore, and damn it, I was missing an earring. My favorite hoops, too.

I remembered the soft feel of Karen’s ear in my mouth and the sudden give as I bit down. It had been awful, hurting someone that intimately. But I was okay. I wasn’t dead. Nothing had changed. I’d never tried to use my ley line skills in a pitched fight like that, and now I knew to watch out for wristbands. Caught like a teenager shoplifting, God help me.

I licked my thumb and wiped a smear of plaster dust off my forehead. The wristband was ugly, but I’d need Ivy’s bolt cutters to get it off. Removing my remaining earring, I dropped it in my bag. David was leaning into the corner and holding his ribs, but he didn’t look like he was worried about running into the three Weres he had downed, so I put my gun away. Lone wolves were like alphas that didn’t need the support of a pack to feel confident. Rather dangerous when one stopped to think about it.

David chuckled. Looking at him, I made a face, and he started to laugh, cutting it short as he winced in pain. His lightly wrinkled face still showing his amusement, he glanced at the numbers counting down, then pulled himself upright, trying to arrange his torn coat. “How about that dinner?” he asked, and I snorted.

“I’m getting the lobster,” I said, then added, “Weres never work together outside their packs. I must have really pissed them off. God! What is their problem?”

“It’s not you, it’s me,” he said, discomfited. “They don’t like that I started a pack with you. No, that’s not true. They don’t like that I’m not contributing to the Were population.”

The adrenaline was fading, making me hurt all over. I had a pain amulet in my bag, but I wasn’t going to use it when David had nothing. And when in hell had Karen scored on my face? Tilting my head, I examined the red claw mark running close to my ear in the dim light, then turned to David when his last words penetrated. “Excuse me?” I asked, confused. “What do you mean, not contributing to the Were population?”

David dropped his gaze. “I started a pack with you.”

I tried to straighten, but it hurt. “Yeah, I got the no-kids part there. Why do they care?”

“Because I don’t have any, ah, informal relations with any other Were woman, either.”

Because if he did, they would expect to be in his pack, eventually. “And…” I prompted.

He shifted from foot to foot. “The only way to get more Weres is by birth. Not like vampires who can turn humans if they work at it. With numbers come strength and power…” His voice trailed off, and I got it.

“Oh, for crying out loud,” I complained, holding my shoulder. “This was political?”

The elevator chimed and the doors opened. “ ‘Fraid so,” he said. “They let subordinate Weres do what they will, but as a loner, what I do matters.”

I trooped out before him, looking for trouble, but it was quiet in the abandoned lobby, apart from the three Weres slumped in the corner. David had sounded bitter, and when he opened the main door for me, I touched his arm in a show of support. Clearly surprised, he glanced at me. “Uh, about dinner,” he said, looking at his clothes. “You want to reschedule?”

My feet hit the pavement, the cadence of my boots telling me I was limping. It was quiet, but the stillness seemed to hold a new threat. Mr. Finley was right about one thing. This was going to happen again unless I asserted my claim in a way they would respect.

Breathing deeply of the chill air, I headed for David’s car. “No way, man. You owe me dinner. How about some Skyline chili?” I said, and he hesitated in confusion. “Go through the drive-through. I have to do some research tonight.”

“Rachel,” he protested as his car gave a cheerful chirp and unlocked. “I think you deserve at least one night off.” His eyes narrowed and he looked at me over the roof of his car. “I am really sorry about this. Maybe…we should get the pack contract annulled.”

I looked up from opening my door. “Don’t you dare!” I said loudly in case someone was listening from a top floor. Then my expression went sheepish. “I can’t afford the rider everyone else makes me take out on my health insurance.”

David chuckled, but I could tell he wasn’t satisfied. We slipped into his car, both of us moving slowly when we found new pains and tried to find a comfortable way to sit. Oh God, I hurt all over.

“I mean it, Rachel,” he said, his low voice filling the small car after our doors shut. “It’s not fair to ask you to put up with this crap.”

Smiling, I looked across the car at him. “Don’t worry about it, David. I like being your alpha. All I have to do is find the right charm to Were with.”

He sighed, his small frame moving in his exhalation, then he snorted.

“What?” I asked, buckling myself in as he started the car.

“The right charm to Were?” he said, putting the car into gear and pulling from the curb. “Get it? You want to be my alpha, but have nothing to Were?”

Putting a hand to my head, I leaned my elbow into the door for support. “That’s not funny,” I said, but he just laughed, even though it hurt him.

Two (#ulink_ec5e9db6-1acd-59aa-941d-6d8494ce1698)

Dappled patterns of afternoon light sifted over my gloved hands as I knelt on a green foam pad and strained to reach the back of the flower bed where grass had taken root despite the shade of the mature oak above it. From the street came the soft sound of cars. A blue jay called and was answered. Saturday in the Hollows was the pinnacle of casual.

Straightening, I stretched to crack my back, then slumped, wincing when my amulet lost contact with my skin and I felt a jolt of pain. I knew I shouldn’t be working out there under the influence of a pain amulet, lest I hurt myself without realizing it, but after yesterday I needed some “dirt time” to reassure my subconscious that I was alive. And the garden needed attention. It was a mess without Jenks and his family keeping it up.

The smell of brewing coffee slipped out the kitchen window and into the peace of the cool spring afternoon, and I knew that Ivy was up. Standing, I gazed from the yellow clapboard add-on behind the rented church to the walled graveyard past the witch’s garden. The entire grounds took up four city lots and stretched from one street to the other behind it. Though no one had been buried here for almost thirty years, the grass was mown by yours truly. I felt a tidy graveyard made a happy graveyard.

Wondering if Ivy would bring me coffee if I shouted, I nudged my knee pad into the sun near a patch of soft-stemmed black violets. Jenks had seeded the plot last fall, and I wanted to thin them before they got spindly from competition. I knelt before the small plants, moving my way around the bed, circling the rosebush and pulling a third of them.

I had been out there long enough to get warm from exertion, worry waking me before noon. Sleep hadn’t come easily either. I’d sat up past sunrise in the kitchen with my spell books in search of a charm to Were into a wolf. It was a task whose success was slim at best; there were no spells to change into sentient beings—at least no legal ones. And it would have to be an earth charm since ley line magic was mostly illusion or physical bursts of energy. I had a small but unique library, yet for all my spells and charms, I had nothing that told me how to Were.

Inching my pad down the flower bed, I felt a band of worry tighten in me. As David had said, the only way you could be a Were was to be born that way. The bandage-covered tooth gashes on my knuckles and neck from Karen would soon be gone with no lingering effects but for what remained in my memory. There might be a charm in the black arts section of the library, but black earth magic used nasty ingredients—like indispensable people parts—and I wasn’t going to go there.

The one time I had considered using black earth magic, I came away with a demon mark, then got another, then managed to find myself said demon’s familiar. Lucky for me, I had kept my soul and the bargain was declared unenforceable. I was free and clear but for Big Al’s original demon mark, which I’d wear along with Newt’s mark until I found a way to pay both of them back. But at least with the familiar bond broken, Al wasn’t showing up every time I tapped a ley line.

Eyes pinched from the sun, I smeared dirt over my wrist and Al’s demon mark. The earth was cool, and it hid the upraised circle-and-line scar more reliably than any charm. It covered the red welt from the band the Weres had put on me, too. God, I had been stupid.

The breeze shifted a red curl to tickle my face, and I tucked it away, glancing past the rosebush to the back of the flower bed. My lips parted in dismay. It had been trampled.

An entire section of plants had been snapped at their bases and were now sprawled and wilting. Tiny footprints gave evidence of who had done it. Outraged, I gathered a handful of broken stems, feeling in the soft pliancy their unstoppable death. Damn garden fairies.

“Hey!” I shouted, lurching up to stare into the canopy of the nearby ash tree. Face warm, I stomped over and stood under it, the plants in my hand like an accusation. I’d been fighting them since they’d migrated up from Mexico last week, but it was a losing battle. Fairies ate insects, not nectar, like pixies did, and they didn’t care if they killed a garden in their search for food. They were like humans that way, destroying what kept them alive in the long term in their search for short-term resources. There were only six of them, but they had no respect for anything.

“I said hey!” I called louder, craning my neck to the wad of leaves that looked like a squirrel’s nest midway up the tree. “I told you to stay out of my garden if you couldn’t keep from wrecking it! What are you going to do about this!”
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