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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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As I fumed on the ground, there was a rustling, and a dead leaf fluttered down. A pale fairy poked his head out, the leader of the small bachelor clan orienting on me immediately. “It’s not your garden,” he said loudly. “It’s my garden, and you can take a long walk in a short ley line for all I care.”

My mouth dropped open. From behind me came the thump of a window closing; Ivy didn’t want anything to do with what was to follow. I didn’t blame her, but it was Jenks’s garden, and if I didn’t drive them out, it would be trashed by the time I convinced him to come back. I was a runner, damn it. If I couldn’t keep Jenks’s garden intact, I didn’t deserve the title. But it was getting harder each time, and they only returned the moment I went inside.

“Don’t ignore me!” I shouted as the fairy disappeared inside the communal nest. “You nasty little twit!” A cry of outrage slipped from me when a tiny bare ass took the place of the pale face and shook at me from the wad of leaves. They thought they were safe up there, out of my reach.

Disgusted, I dropped the broken stems and stalked to the shed. They wouldn’t come to me, so I would go to them. I had a ladder.

The blue jays in the graveyard called, enjoying something new to gossip about while I struggled with the twelve-foot length of metal. It smacked into the lower branches as I maneuvered it against the trunk, and with a shrill protest, the nest emptied in an explosion of blue and orange butterfly wings. I put a foot on the first rail, puffing a red curl out of my eyes. I hated to do this, but if they ruined the garden, Jenks’s kids would starve.

“Now!” came a loud demand, and I cried out when sharp pings pinched my back.

Cowering, I ducked my head and spun. The ladder slipped, crashing down into the very flower bed they had destroyed. Ticked, I looked up. They were lobbing last year’s acorns at me, the sharp ends hard enough to hurt. “You little boogers!” I cried, glad I had on a pain amulet.

“Again!” the leader shouted.

My eyes widened at the handful of acorns coming at me. “Rhombus,” I said, the trigger word instigating a hard-learned series of mental exercises into an almost instinctive action. Quicker than thought, my awareness touched the small ley line in the graveyard. Energy filled me, the balance equalizing in the time between memory and action. I spun around, toe pointing, sketching a rough circle, and ley line force filled it, closing it. I could have done this last night and avoided a trouncing, but for the charmed silver they had put on me.

A shimmering band of ever-after flashed into existence, the molecule-thin sheet of alternate reality arching to a close over my head and six feet under my feet, making an oblong bubble that prevented anything more obnoxious than air to pass through. It was sloppy and wouldn’t hold a demon, but the acorns pinged off it. It worked against bullets too.

“Knock it off!” I exclaimed, flustered. The usual red sheen of energy shifted to gold as it took on the main color of my aura.

Seeing me safe but trapped in my bubble, the largest fairy fluttered down on his mothlike wings, his hands on his narrow hips and his gossamer, spiderweb-draped hair making him look like a six-inch negative of the grim reaper. His lips were a stark red against his pale face, and his thin features were tight in determination. His harsh beauty made him look incredibly fragile, but he was tougher than sinew. He was a garden fairy, not one of the assassins that had almost killed me last spring, but he was still accustomed to fighting for his right to live. “Go inside and we won’t hurt you,” he said, leering.

I snickered. What were they going to do? Butterfly kiss me to death?

An excited whisper pulled my attention to the row of neighborhood kids watching from over the tall wall surrounding the graveyard. Their eyes were wide while I tried to best tiny little flying things, something every Inderlander knew was impossible. Crap, I was acting like an ignorant human. But it was Jenks’s garden, and I’d hold them off as long as I could.

Resolute, I pushed out of my circle. I jerked as the energy of the circle raced back into me, overflowed my chi and returned to the ley line. A shrill cry came to ready the darts.

Darts? Oh swell. Pulse quickening, I ran to the far side of the kitchen for the hose.

“I tried to be nice. I tried to be reasonable,” I muttered while I opened the valve and water started dripping from the spray nozzle. The blue jays in the graveyard called, and I struggled with the hose, jerking to a halt when it caught on the corner of the kitchen. Taking off my gloves, I snapped the hose into a sine wave. It came free, and I stumbled backward. From the ash tree came the high-pitched sounds of organization. I’d never hosed them off before. Maybe this would do it. Fairy wings didn’t do well when wet.

“Get her!” came a shout, and I jerked my head up. The thorns they held looked as large as swords as they headed right for me.

Gasping, I aimed the hose and squeezed. They darted up and I followed them, my lips parting when the water turned into a pathetic trickle to arch to the ground and die. What in hell? I spun at the sound of gushing water. They had cut the hose!

“I spent twenty bucks on that hose!” I cried, then felt myself pale as the entire clan fronted me, tiny spears probably tipped with poison ivy. “Er, can we talk about this?” I stammered.

I dropped the hose, and the orange-winged fairy grinned like a vampire stripper at a bachelorette party. My heart pounded and I wondered if I should flee inside the church, and subject myself to Ivy’s laughter, or tough it out and get a bad case of poison ivy.

The sound of pixy wings brought my heart into my throat. “Jenks!” I exclaimed, turning to follow the head fairy’s worried gaze, fixed beyond my shoulder. But it wasn’t Jenks, it was his wife, Matalina, and eldest daughter, Jih.

“Back off,” Matalina threatened, hovering beside me at head height. The harsh clatter of her more maneuverable dragonfly-like wings set the stray strands of my damp hair to tickle my face. She looked thinner than last winter, her childlike features severe. Determination showed in her eyes, and she held a drawn bow with an arrow at the string. Her daughter looked even more ominous, with a wood-handled sword of silver in her grip. She had possession of a small garden across the street and needed silver to protect it and herself since she had yet to take a husband.

“It’s mine!” the fairy screamed in frustration. “Two women can’t hold a garden!”

“I need only hold the ground I fly over,” Matalina said resolutely. “Get out. Now.”

He hesitated, and Matalina pulled the bow back farther, making a tiny creak.

“We’ll only take it when you leave!” he cried, motioning for his clan to retreat.

“Then take it,” she said. “But while I am here, you won’t be.”

I watched, awed, while a four-inch pixy stood down an entire clan of fairies. Such was Jenks’s reputation, and such was the capabilities of pixies. They could rule the world by assassinations and blackmail if they wanted. But all they desired was a small plot of ground and the peace to tend it. “Thanks, Matalina,” I whispered.

She didn’t take her steely gaze off them as they retreated to the knee-high wall that divided the garden from the graveyard. “Thank me when I’ve watered seedlings with their blood,” she muttered, shocking me. The pretty, silk-clad pixy looked all of eighteen, her usual tan pale from living with Jenks and her children in that Were’s basement all winter. Her billowy green, lightweight dress swirled in the draft from her wings. They were a harsh red with anger, as were her daughter’s.

The faire of garden fairies fled to a corner of the graveyard, hovering and dancing in a belligerent display over the dandelions almost a street away. Matalina pulled her bow, loosing an arrow on an exhale. A bright spot of orange jerked up and then down.

“Did you get him?” her daughter asked, her ethereal voice frightening in its vehemence.

Matalina lowered her bow. “I pinned his wing to a stone. He tore it when he jerked away. Something to remember me by.”

I swallowed and nervously wiped my hands on my jeans. The shot was clear across the property. Steadying myself, I went to the faucet and turned off the spraying water. “Matalina,” I said as I straightened, bobbing my head at her daughter in greeting. “Thanks. They almost filled me with poison ivy. How are you? How’s Jenks? Will he talk to me?” I blurted, but my brow furrowed and my hope fell when she dropped her eyes.

“I’m sorry, Rachel.” She settled upon my offered hand, her wings shifting into motion, then stilling as they turned a dismal blue. “He…I…That’s why I’m here.”

“Oh God, is he all right?” I said, suddenly afraid when the pretty woman looked ready to burst into tears. Her ferocity had been washed away in misery, and I glanced at the distant fairies while Matalina struggled for her composure. He was dead. Jenks was dead.

“Rachel…” she warbled, looking all the more like an angel when she wiped a hand under her eye. “He needs me, and he forbade the children to return. Especially now.”

My first wash of relief that he was alive spilled right back to worry, and I glanced at the butterfly wings. They were getting closer. “Let’s go inside,” I said. “I’ll make you up some sugar water.”

Matalina shook her head, bow hanging from her grip. Beside her, her daughter watched the graveyard. “Thank you,” she said. “I’ll make sure Jih’s garden is safe, then I’ll be back.”

I looked to the front of the church as if I could see her garden on the opposite side of the street. Jih looked eight, but in pixy years she was old enough to be on her own and was actively searching for a husband, finding herself in the unique situation of being able to take her time as she developed her own garden, holding it with silver given to her by her father. And seeing that they had just evicted a clan of fairies, making sure there was no one waiting to jump Jih when she returned home sounded like a good idea.

“Okay,” I said, and Matalina and Jih rose a few inches, sending the scent of green things to me. “I’ll wait inside. Just come on in. I’ll be in the kitchen.”

In a soft clatter, they flitted up and over the tall steeple, and I watched, concerned. Things were probably tough for them while Jenks’s pride kept them out of their garden and they struggled to make ends meet. What was it with small men and oversized pride?

Checking to see that my bandages hadn’t come off my knuckles, I stomped up the wooden steps and wedged my gardening sneakers off. Leaving them there, I went in the back door and into the living room. The smell of coffee was almost a slap. A set of masculine boots clattered on the linoleum in the kitchen across the hall, and I hesitated. That wasn’t Ivy. Kisten?

Curious, I padded to the kitchen. Hesitating in the open archway, I scanned the apparently empty room.

I liked my kitchen. No, let me rephrase. I loved my kitchen with the loyalty of a bulldog to his favorite bone. It took up more space than the living room and had two stoves—so I never had to stir spells and cook on the same flame. There were bright fluorescent lights, expansive counter and cupboard space, and sundry ceramic spelling utensils hanging over the center island counter. An oversized brandy snifter with my beta, Mr. Fish, rested on the sill of the single blue-curtained window over the sink. A shallow circle was etched in the linoleum for when I needed the extra protection for a sensitive spell, and herbs hung from a sweater rack in the corner.

A heavy, antique farm table took up the interior wall, my end holding a stack of books that hadn’t been there earlier. The rest held Ivy’s precisely arranged computer, printer, maps, colored markers, and whatever else she needed to plan her runs into boredom. My eyebrows rose at the pile of books, but I smiled because of the jeans-clad backside poking out from the open stainless-steel fridge door.

“Kist,” I said, the pleased sound of my voice bringing the living vamp’s head up. “I thought you were Ivy.”

“Hi, love,” he said, the British accent he usually faked almost nonexistent as he casually shut the door with a foot. “Hope you don’t mind I let myself in. I didn’t want to ring the bell and wake the dead.”

I smiled, and he set the cream cheese on the counter and moved to me. Ivy wasn’t dead yet, but she was as nasty as a homeless bridge troll if you woke her before she thought she should be up. “Mmmm, you can let yourself in anytime so long as you make me coffee,” I said, curving my arms around his tapering waist as he gave me a hug hello.

His close-cut fingernails traced an inch above the new bruises and tooth marks on my neck. “Are you okay?” he breathed.
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