It was a quiet Wednesday afternoon in my office in Memphis. The wind howled up and down the canyons of the city, and waited around corners to grab the passerby on the icy sidewalks, just to watch them shiver. The heavy gray clouds were threatening more sleet, but it’d probably go north of us. I hate mid-south ice storms.
Bran had walked down to the liquor store, since we were out of both scotch and rum, a situation that didn’t suit either of us. If the sidewalk was going to get slicker, we might not make it to our apartment and have to spend the night in the office, on my old Murphy bed. It wouldn’t do to be without at least a drop of something. I was drinking a lot less these days, and enjoying it a great deal more, but I still liked my booze. And never try separating a Scot from his bottle.
At least the clerk had gotten used to him and quit dropping bottles of vodka at the sight of his face. My Bran’s badly scarred. A demon ripped his face off at Chernobyl and he still carries the marks. I’ve also learned he’s almost invisible to ordinary people. Combat mages? Oh hell yeah, they see him. Bran’s the first male combat mage to reach retirement age in almost a century.
The Witan, the sorcerous council, hates him. He and his sister, also a combat mage, made them look bad by living to retirement, despite every assignment the Witan could throw at them.
I watched the door, hoping he would get back soon. I love my man. We’re about five months into a year and a day of handfasting, and I haven’t killed him yet. That says something.
The phone rang, a slow melancholy violin tune. Saraphina, Jinx’s landlady again. Twice in five months. This was a new record. I think she usually called me about once every three years.
“If Jinx is late on his rent, remind him he has money,” I told her. My cousin had won The Magic Million jackpot last summer. The jackpot had paid out one million coins, nickels to be exact. It meant about fifty thousand dollars, but Jinx had taken it all in nickels, which meant Saraphina had about eleven thousand pounds of coins on her second floor.
Saraphina laughed. “No, no, Allan is a good boy. He paid for a year. He is taking my niece out on Friday. I’d like you to chaperone. I know this is short notice.”
I sighed. This looked like a pro bono job. “Jinx is completely harmless. They’ll be fine.”
“It is not his advances I worry about. My niece knows one end of a man from the other and he is her type. Would you go? I will pay for you.”
“Three wheels is kinda awkward unless you’re a tricycle,” I said. “Maybe a double date?”
“Done. Friday at six. I’d feel best if you drove. The new ice will miss us, but there are slick patches.”
“And here I was going to let Bran try out his new bike,” I joked. Black Agnes, a Victory Triumph, was secured in the garage until summer. I hated the thought of him riding on ice, especially with Memphis drivers. I wasn’t going to argue with her forecast. People who question witches tend to end up in new and unpleasant shapes.
Saraphina sighed. “I love Allan, you know I do. But bless his heart, trouble follows him as the tides follow the moon. You and your man are more than a match for most trouble. Thank you again.”
“We’ll be there.” I hung up and looked at Bran as he came in, carrying the booze. “Hope you’re up for chaperoning for an evening.” I filled him in. “I know you wanted to go watch the karaoke that night.”
“Double date, huh?” he said, unwinding his woolen plaid. “It’ll be fun. There’s always karaoke. How often do we get to see Jinx blush?” In the summer the man wore a leather kilt and vest. In the winter, he topped it with three yards of the blue, black and green MacKay plaid. He claimed Memphis chill was no more than a fine morning back home. Having experienced August mornings up around Glasgow, I didn’t want to know what January was like.
“Fun he says. Dinner out, a very dull movie, and making sure the pretty girl doesn’t devour my cousin’s soul. Yep. Fun.”
Bran moved faster than I could follow and snagged the still chilly plaid around me. He towed my rolling chair over to him and loomed over me. I raised an eyebrow.
“Nothing like a walk on a fine brisk day,” he rumbled, his accent getting thicker. It always does when he’s horny or angry. He wasn’t mad this afternoon. “Tousle wind, but no slaister.”
“English, kilt-boy.” I reached down and rubbed his knees, bare above his combat boots. They were red and chilled.
“Wind but no dribbling rain.”
“Drizzle. That’s good. Saraphina said the sleet would miss us.” His calves were cold too. I could smell the leather kilt this close, and the scotch, tobacco and aftershave smell of Bran under it.
Bran look down and took up some of the slack in the plaid that was still around my back. “Care to take that rubbing a bit northward, Admire?”
I loved this man. I hated my given name, coped with my initials, but he always called me “Admire,” his burr making it go all sexy and hot. He made me feel sexy and that’s no easy thing when a woman lived alone over twenty-five years and hadn’t been kissed in that long either. I hadn’t ever liked being with people, or kissing or touching, not before Bran. At first it had been just the mana, the ambient magical field, but now it was him.
He pulled the plaid in, tugging me to my feet and drawing me right into his chest.
“We’ll hold the refreshment for later, love. Desk, couch or shall I pull Murf out of the wall? Because I’m not waiting to get you home.”
“Pull down the bed. The sheets shouldn’t be too bad.” I tried to remember the last time we’d used it. About Halloween, when we’d both tumbled into the bed exhausted and filthy. I’d stripped it and remade it the next morning. “See if I’ve got a blanket on it. We’ll just spend the night.”
“You can’t sleep the night through from this hour, lass.” Bran shoved the couch out of the way and pulled down the bed. There was a blanket on it.
“Watch me. I excel at sleeping. You and a couple kisses from the Captain there,” I gestured at the pirate on the rum bottle, “and I can sleep until noon, then get up and start getting ready for that date.”
Bran undid the box latches on his vest. He’d taken to wearing a black shirt under it since the weather had dropped. I missed his tattoos when they were covered.
There they were. I stepped in closer and shrugged out of my sweatshirt. I didn’t usually need a bra, and I’d skipped it today. I bent in and ran my tongue along the Celtic rosary around the base of his throat. That particular one looked faded and much older than the rest. We’d tried removing it over the summer. But it was still there and I was glad. I spared a kiss for the triskelion that hung where a crucifix should and ran my fingers over the Futhark runes on his upper arms and Ogham letters around his wrists.
“And when are we getting you some ink, love?” he asked. “A pretty bit of knotwork here?” He planted one big hand in the small of my back.
“Do I look like I’d wear a tramp stamp?” I let him pull me into his big bare chest and tapped his tattoo of the Morrigan over his heart. “If we marry, I’ll get ink. But we still have seven months and I may decide to kill you before that.”
“You can try,” he teased and twisted us so that I landed on my back on the bed. “Plenty have.”
I kissed along the scars that ran down his face from his temple, two of them splitting each eyelid and cheek. Then I licked the one from mouth to ear. “Nah, I’ll just sic INS on your sheep-fucking arse.”
“Sheep lie, Admire.”
“So you keep telling me.” I got my hands into his shaggy, graying hair and pulled him down for a kiss. Something had gone out of Bran’s kiss in the last five months. The urgency, the need, the knowledge that he could be dead tomorrow, they had all vanished with his retirement. Now, he kissed like a man who’d been given all the time in the world and planned to make the most he could out of it. He tasted my mouth, plunging deep and then tickling around the edges, exploring slowly at first before speeding up, driving me wild with his tongue and teeth and lips, until I shoved my hips up against him.
“Uh-huh.” He grinned as he came up for air. “Showing off those pretty titties again, Admire. You think you can fuddle me just by taking your shirt off?”
“I know I can, old man.”
He laughed and ran one thumb over my left nipple. It got hard under his touch and I squirmed as little sparks went all over me, but mostly landed in my twat. “And I can fuddle you right back, my grouchy girl.”
He lowered his head to lick each one in turn. In the cool air, that made me break out in goosebumps all over my chest and arms. I squirmed some more until he planted one strong thigh between my legs. I got the seam of my jean just right and rubbed against him. When he nibbled one nipple I came, burying my scream in the top of his head. I didn’t need a repeat of our first encounter, when Frau Blucher had barged in, think she was saving me from a fatal attack. I’m a screamer, so shoot me.
Bran blew out a chuckle against my skin and I knew he was thinking the same thing I was. “Want me to eat your sweet pussy until that old bag breaks down the door again?” he whispered. Our first encounter had not gone uninterrupted. I ground harder against his thigh when he nipped my neck.
“Just fuck me already,” I growled, feeling the dampness soaking my panties and jeans. Swell, I was going to have to wear those outside in the cold later.
“As my lady wishes it.” He knelt up, and tucked the front hem of the kilt into the buckled waistband. He kicked it off and loomed over me again. I never told him I found it sexy and not terribly intimidating. His big fingers undid my jeans and pushed them and my panties down. He moved out from between my legs so I could get rid of them. I kicked off my sneakers and let the jeans follow them into a heap on the floor. The sheets were warm against my butt, which was nice.
“I’m all naked and you still have those stupid boots on.”
“You’re wearing socks.”
“If my toes get cold, I have to pee. You know that. And we aren’t into that shade of kink.”
He scooted us around so we were stretched out properly in the bed. “Nah, just mine.”
I ran a finger over the line of writing tattooed at the base of his cock. The tats shifted under his skin, tightening like a cock ring. His cock stood straighter than it had, flushing even darker.
“And I like yours.” I kissed the triskelion again and watched that tat shift too, sliding up around his throat. As he got more aroused, it would cut off more of his air. Yeah, I know, not bright, but oxygen deprivation brings some men off a lot faster, including him. So he’d found a way to control the autoerotic asphyxiation with magic, without risking his life over an orgasm.
“By my count, you’re two ahead. You want a ride?”
I gave him a grin and licked his cock, which was starting to leak. I loved it when he’d been hard for a while. “I thought I might kiss him for a while and then let you have your wicked way with me.”
Bran shook his head. “I won’t keep, lass. Been standing too long.”
I licked him once more, teasing the slit with my tongue and then kissing each of the darkly furred balls. He absolutely couldn’t take that, so of course I always did it. When he sucked in his breath, I swung a leg over him and engulfed him in a single quick motion.
“Ah, that’s dead pure perfect, love,” he said with a sigh. The tats drew tighter around his neck, not life-threatening, just enough to turn him on even more.
“And how long can you go with it?” I demanded.
“You set it to the All-Night Ride tightness below. You think you’re up for that?”
I laughed. His half-dry cock filled me fuller than usual and I twisted my hips, grinding against him, almost desperate for more sensation. Sexy sexy man, and I knew I probably wouldn’t get any loving tomorrow. No matter how innocuously the evening began, with my cousin along it would turn into an exhausting debacle that ended with us dragging in and tumbling into bed at an unreasonable hour. Hopefully in one piece and without police records. So tonight it was.
“If I can’t take it, I’ll just have you loosen it up.”
“Loosen you up, lass,” he said. Tiny blue sparks flew off his fingertips. I flinched, automatic reaction to magic, but they didn’t hurt when they landed on my skin. The little things rolled all over me, their points barely touching me, making a teasing tingle instead of anything painful. Two of them landed on the tips of my nipples and bounced around there while five more landed in each aureola, spiraling in and out.
It was better than his finger, even better than his mouth. The stars made a prickly sort of suction, tightening as they twisted in and loosening as they left. My orgasm caught me by surprise and I sat down hard with two sharp bucks of my hips, gasping.
“Not even a scream? We’ll fix that, darling one,” he teased, getting hold of my hips with his big scarred hands. I came again, still not screaming. I panted and rubbed harder, feeling the next one lurking just beyond the edge of my skin. The friction tipped me over that edge and I screamed my way through it.
Bran just chuckled and pulled me down for a kiss.
“You-” The orgasm aftershock cut me off and I came again, twice and shuddered in his arms.
He rolled me off and cuddled me close. If I got to the shuddery aftershock stage, it tended to damp our fun until I recovered. And half the time, I wasn’t in the mood after I had. I was still getting used to this “orgasms worth taking my clothes off” thing. I lay in his arms, relaxed and conjured sexy thoughts about my man. I opened one arm and saw the little stars were still around. He had them dancing along his cock.
I giggled. That was a sound that had never come out of me before Bran McKay, and one only he got to hear. Tough as nails PIs didn’t giggle. He was playing hell with my self-image and reputation and I loved every minute of it.
He kissed me for that. A snap of his fingers made the stars go away. “Slow and sweet then,” he said, and rolled me away from him before sliding back inside. We spooned under the thin old comforter on the bed, his chest to my back, him wrapped around me, all snug. I’m not sure how long we rocked together, sometimes moving, mostly just cuddling, his cock never flagging. I loved that tattoo. The one around his throat was loose enough that he breathed slowly and deeply, occasionally kissing my neck or ear.
I dozed off in his arms, secure and safe.
I woke up about two in the morning and lay there staring at the ceiling, the hazy orange light pollution of a Memphis night filling my office. I wasn’t sure I could get back to sleep. I hate it when Bran is right. Not because he says “I told you so.” He just gives me that smug and indulgent smile as if to say “Maybe you’re done being a brat about this, Miss Headstrong?” He was curled around me like a protective blanket, all warm and snoring. Outside, it was finally sleeting, the ice hitting the window panes. Saraphina was a fine witch, but not much of meteorologist. Far away, I heard a police siren. I nestled back into the warm circle of his arms.
A date. I thought hard and realized I had never been on an actual date. Dinner and entertainment and all that traditional stuff. I got myself emancipated at sixteen, lived in an efficiency and then my office until I finished school, had kissed two boys and spent twenty-five years alone. Then Bran had shown up. I looked at his scarred face, relaxed in sleep, and listened to him snore.
A date. All right, I could handle this. I regularly faced down demons and other Nightfolk. Why did the prospect of going out for dinner with my mate, my cousin and a pretty girl have me jittery?
Couldn’t be my precognition. That doesn’t have a full day range. It runs two seconds to five minutes. Had to be the weirdness magnet tingling, gearing up like a big old electromagnet I’d seen at a college lecture. If there was a talking dog in need of a sympathetic ear, it would find my doorstep. If a dimensional portal opened, it would probably be on my block. It made me grumpy, but it brought me work at the same time so I couldn’t complain too much. It had brought me Bran.
But Jinx was a weirdness magnet and an untrained luck mage. This was a terrible combination. It meant he got into the most ridiculous situations and still landed on his feet. Oeliett was a case in point. Jinx had died, temporarily, last summer, when a demon possessed him and then outgrew his body, leaving his skin crumpled like a shed jumpsuit. But, he’d been brought back to life, and come out of the deal fifty thousand dollars richer. This made going out to dinner with him a real challenge, because I never knew what would happen. It might just be dinner. It might be a full scale Nightside riot.
I curled closer into Bran’s chest. I was betting Bran’s magic and my Desert Eagle could take any brawl that turned up. I carry, and carry big. I can’t take most Nightfolk hand to hand. Vamps and ’thropes are a lot stronger than humans to start with. And I really don’t want to get that close to too many of the Nightfolk.
I shut my eyes and tried to get back to sleep. I was warm and snuggled. It was the middle of the night. I did not need a drink. If I drank myself to sleep now, I would have a hangover tomorrow and be even more awful than usual. I sniffed Bran’s neck and skin. Mmm, sexy man in my arms.
I got up and poured a coffee cup half full of rum. Bran grumbled and rolled over into the warm space I had just left. I chased the rum with a glass of water. Now my bladder would wake me up, but I wouldn’t feel like my eyes were exploding.
I turned off that particular bad memory and crawled back into bed. Bran was warmer and he wrapped right around my cold and naked body. The rum worked and I was asleep before the digital desk clock clicked over the half-hour.
Morning wasn’t awful. I woke up too early, about eight, to the sound of my shower running. Steam billowed out of my tiny bathroom, and I smiled. There was a wet and naked Bran in my shower. That made me happy just imagining it.
My man wasn’t a handsome one. He’d been cute once, all round face and laughing brown eyes, but never handsome. His Ma had shown me pictures when we’d been visiting in Glasgow. And now the scars just made him look deadly. But he loved me. That never stopped amazing me.
The water stopped and I waited for him to come out. My bathroom was tiny enough that two people couldn’t fit in the shower. The apartment had a nice big bathroom, with a jacuzzi tub. We’d enjoyed the hell out of that.
He came out, wearing out my one dry towel. I paid a visit in and grabbed my nicely warmed up bathrobe.
“It’s too early,” I grumbled as I started the coffee. He had his own cup in the office, a soup-bowl sized one that held three cups. I poured generous measure of scotch into his mug and rum into mine. We waited for coffee. I dry-swallowed a couple of aspirin while waiting.
“So, we have breakfast, work out and then go home and canoodle until time to get ready. I trust you’re not the sort who needs a day and a half to dress?”
“No teasing before coffee.” It was our cardinal rule and kept me from killing him.
He caught me as I passed to fill our cups, and pulled me into his lap. “I love you, Admire.” He held me and kissed me for a few long minutes.
I sat there a little longer and let him. He had lived under the shadow of death since his teens, trained and sent to fight monsters and demons and other horrid things. He’d been meant to die years ago, with no chance at a family or love. It was an exceptionally harsh system, but it kept the world intact. I forgave him for stealing every moment he could. Even when he kept me from my coffee.
“Love you too, big guy.” I kissed him quick and got up to get the day going.
We checked my closet when I got home. Bran looked it over and clucked a lot. “Ye’ve nothing but sweatshirts and trews and t-shirts. Not even a blouse or jumper?”
“I’m not a homeschooler. No jumper.”
He looked me funny, and I figured it was a translation error. “Right, a pullover. We’re going shopping.”
“I hate shopping.” I did. Clothes never interested me.
“Of course you do. So get your coat and bring the car around. I’m going to buy you a lovely frock.”
“There’s room for one skirt in this handfasting, and you’re wearing it. And there’s more sleet scheduled for rest of the weekend.”
He laughed at me and tossed me my car keys. “You’ll be the death of me, woman.”
We hit the mid-level department store. I fussed at Bran over the prices and he kissed me quiet. He had money and didn’t mind spending it on me. “This will look nice.”
I tried on the green sweater. it was tighter than I usually wore, but it did look nice on. I looked at the woman in the mirror. Not too bad, just ordinary-looking in a sweater that flattered instead of concealing.
I stepped out of the dressing room and the smile on Bran’s face was worth the whole shopping trip. “That’s my lady. Do you like it?”
I nodded. When I came out of the dressing room, he had three more, a blue, a brown and a gold one. I raised my eyebrow at the latter.
“I knew you like blue and brown. Try the gold. It’s the only one what’s chancy.”
I shrugged and tried on the gold. It wasn’t bad either. I’d never been much for color, preferring to keep my wardrobe mostly blue and brown, since both went with my jeans. I stepped out to let him see. He shrugged.
“As you like. The green and blue are coming home.”
I took it off, trying not to look at the price tag. Hopeless. I kept a mental record of what he spent on me, even though I knew it was futile. Still trying to be totally independent, I guess.
We checked out, leaving the gold one behind, and went home.
“We’ve time for a frolic in the bath, if that’s your pleasure,” Bran suggested as he hung up the sweaters and dark pants. He’d insisted on slacks too, saying my jeans were all too work-worn for the occasion.
I considered it. I considered my thighs, chafed from last night. When books talk about all-night sex, or lots of sex with lots of men, they never seem to go into how painful the friction can be afterward.
“Chafed,” I grumbled.
He just grinned. Smug bastard. “I’ll kiss it better.”
I ran one finger over his goatee. While I loved the feel of it between my legs, it was only going to scratch today.
We cuddled on the couch, watching some dumb movie on TV. I think I napped. The low hum of the weirdness magnet firing up was still making my teeth hurt. The weather had improved and the streets were dry, which was a plus. I didn’t think a car accident was enough to trip the weirdness, but I could see it being something really esoteric, ending with my poor little blue beater on its roof while a carriage horse tap-danced with a trolley on the undercarriage.
Bran hissed and made a sign against the evil eye. “Lass, you’re projecting so loud I got that image. Right silly you’re being. It’s just dinner and a lark.”
“Bran, do the math. An untrained luck mage, two weirdness magnets, you and whatever Saraphina’s niece is, in a confined space.”
He laughed and kissed me. “’Twill be just fine. love. Are you sure about that frolic?”
I was, so we just went to bed.
The next morning, I insisted on going shopping, my kind of shopping. I dragged Bran to see Madame Azonka, my talismonger, and had her recharge the protection spell on the heavy silver necklace I always wear. She put a booster shot into my contraceptive amulet too, for good measure. It wasn’t due for another week, but better safe than sorry. Bran didn’t need me adding to the brood of sixty-five children he’d already sired all over the world. He’d made his donations to the magical gene pool regularly before he retired.
Madame Azonka fussed over us, insisting on feeding us Greek coffee and Russian tea cakes. Bran had that effect when he turned on the charm. Scarred and ugly he might be, but witches loved him on sight. She even laid out a free five card reading for him. I stared as four major Arcana landed there. I’d have only worried if it was Saraphina’s cards. And I could read them as easily as if they had been.
The Lovers, us, the querents. Simple enough. The history of the situation: The Hanged Man. Again, easy enough, we were giving up our night out at the Nightside Karaoke club, sacrificing. The situation was The Tower. Disaster. Jinx was going. Of course it would be a disaster. Outside influences: The Devil. Temptation, entrapment, sensualism. I didn’t know what that meant. And the outcome was the ten of Wands. Burdens borne, accomplishment of hard work.
Madame Azonka clucked a bit and gave us a happy bullshit reading about sacrificing in the relationship, out with the old and in with the new and all that crap. We thanked her for the coffee, cookies and reading, paid her for the work and headed out to our next stop.
“That looked bad, Admire.”
I just nodded. “Better add a stop, looks like a rough evening. You need anything?”
“More woad would be nice.”
I laughed. “You just like tripping on it.” The blue body paint herb was also a mild hallucinogen.
“Do not. It lets me channel mana and makes me invulnerable.”
I said nothing. Just rolled my eyes and didn’t remind him about mistaking the fireplace poker for a Claymore and bellowing Jacobite Rebellion songs at the top of his lungs for an hour while brandishing it.
We stopped at the local herb shop anyway. The lady behind the counter saw us coming and scooped two ounces of woad into a baggie. I examined a couple crystals, but I can’t do anything with them. The No-Talent thing again. Bran had given me the only training I’d had for my very minimal talent, and it didn’t include geomancy.
The ammo shop wasn’t far. I dropped in to check with Mac, a ratty little guy who always looked like he was on the verge of darting out of the room, even when he was sitting still and doing accounting. I think there was brownie somewhere in the family or maybe goblin. He was the man to see if you needed specialty weapons made or ordered. He shrugged when I walked in, never meeting my eyes. “Sorry Miss Dixie. It hasn’t come in.”
I glowered at him and caught his shirt-front. “Mac, we had this talk. Now, I don’t get to hurt people without good cause. But if you call me by that name again, I’ll find a really good cause.” I let go of him. “So why haven’t my specials come in? I paid in advance.” Behind me, Bran loomed, letting his aura out. Ordinary people can feel his aura. A Nightside weasel like Mac totally knew what he was dealing with.
“Silver went up again. And they claim the ironwood’s too hard to get.”
“Mac, do I have to explain, yet again, what happens when people try to cheat me? I know a lot of witches. My man is a combat mage. Do you want to wake up in the same shape you went to bed?”
He swallowed hard and I swear his nose twitched. Four magazines mysteriously appeared on the countertop. I popped one bullet from each.
Ironwood soaked in salted holy water, chased in silver, bound in cold iron, and blessed, .50 caliber, seven to a magazine and one in the chamber. They didn’t come cheaply.
Bran tucked them safely into his sporran and I patted Mac on the cheek. “Don’t try that again. See you in a month or so.”
“You planning on shooting thirty people, Admire?” Bran asked.
“Never know when I’ll need to.”
We caught lunch at a little gyro cafe, ordering extra bread to help soak up Madame Azonka’s coffee. I looked at Bran.
“You’re really okay with skipping the karaoke? I promise you haven’t lived until you’ve watched a vampire in a cowboy hat try to boot scoot while singing.”
“It’s fine, lass. And who knows what young Jinx has planned? We may get your cowboy vampire yet.”
We headed home to get ready. I caught a fast shower. The green sweater, black slacks, black socks and my least battered pair of black sneakers made me look almost presentable. I was brushing my hair when Bran came in and took the hairbrush away from me.
I caught my breath as he drew the brush through my hair, gently for such a big man. He knows I like having my hair played with, and pulled. If he pulled it just right, I might forget how chafed I was. He saw the look in my eyes and grinned.
“I gave you your chance last night, lass. Now, if I pull, you’ll just have to cope.”
He brushed me out, until my hair fell around my shoulders. I reached for an elastic.
He caught my hand and produced a copper barrette with Celtic knotwork on it. He pulled the sides back off my face and clipped them. He smiled in the mirror and bent to kiss my neck, mumbling something in Gaelic.
I got a sense of it, but we were still working on my abilities.
“I love you too,” I whispered.
“I said, bless this night, bless your beauty and bless the mana for forcing us together as it did.”
“Think anyone’s listening?” I was never sure how much he believed or what. He wore a tattoo of the Morrigan and protection prayers to the Lord and Lady, but claimed to be a nice Presbyterian boy. I believed in anything I could shoot. So far, no gods fit into that category and saints were just statues that made lousy target practice.
Without warning, he grabbed my hair and yanked my head back, kissing me fiercely. One hand rucked up under my sweater and bra to pinch my nipple. I melted into his arms and kissed right back, as hard as he did, my tongue fighting his. I got one hand up his kilt and laid hold of his cock. He was interested, but we were out of play time.
“Be good, or I trip your ring,” I threatened.
He chuckled and nipped my neck, making me buck against him. “When we get home,” he said, with a second nibble and a gentle squeeze. I didn’t let go of him until he took his hand out from under my sweater.
“Let’s go see what Saraphina has gotten my cousin into,” I said, stealing a kiss as we left the bathroom.
Saraphina lived in a little two-story house in a mixed use neighborhood, and advertised horoscopes, tarot and palm readings with a tacky neon sign in her front window. She was a genuine talent and made her living playing the role people expected of her. I knew her fortunes always came true, her charms worked and she could usually see the major events forthcoming. People who cross witches tend to disappear. We have a lot of bayous and they’re always full of frogs. Since I don’t have a taste for flies, I do my best to stay on her good side.
We headed up the walk. Icicles hung from the edge of her porch, the leftover Christmas lights making it look like a gingerbread house. Bran knocked, although I was sure she’d heard us on the porch.
“Ah, Bran, D.J., come in, come in. Tsura is ready. we are waiting on Allan.”
Saraphina is the only person I know who calls Jinx by his real name. I think he loves her for that alone. I could hear him moving around upstairs. Saraphina led us through a beaded curtain into her living room. It was exactly what I had expected, a complete set piece. Astrological charts, a tea service, tufts and tassels and beads and crystals, all permeated with a strong odor of patchouli. Give the customers what they want, I thought cynically, and tried not to sneeze. A plate of cookies sat on the table, with the steaming tea service.
A pretty dark-haired girl of about twenty-four sat on the brocade sofa. She smiled. “Will Allan be down soon?” she asked. “I’m Tsura, his date.”
“D.J, his cousin and your chaperone. My man, Bran McKay.”
He shook her hand very gently with a, “Pleased.”
Tsura smiled. “Would you like some tea while we wait? I made the cookies myself.” Bran took one, but we both refused the tea, saying it was too close to supper.
Tsura sat perfectly still and waited. I studied her. She looked like any other college student. Her long black hair was plaited into a neat braid. Gold hoop earrings were the only marker of her heritage. She watched the stairs, her head almost cocked to listen. She didn’t say anything, just waited. She didn’t fidget or grow restless. I was reminded of a cat at a mousehole.
Definitely too mature for Jinx, I decided. A good influence, I hoped.
“Good cookies,” Bran said.
Finally, we heard Jinx on the stairs, sounding like a man being dragged to his execution. I wondered why. Tsura was a pretty girl, and sweet seeming. I knew Saraphina had a temper, and suspected her niece did as well, but mostly she wouldn’t show it.
Jinx stepped into the living room, dressed in a nice shirt and slacks. “Hi,” he said, miserably.
Tsura waited for him to come to her. Bran and I just watched. I saw Bran slide in between Jinx and the door. A man who could stare at a demon and only be mildly fazed, who worked for a vampire, was looking at one young woman as if she was this worst nightmare, sitting on the sofa ready to bite his head off and drink his soul. Kinda funny from a guy who frequented a succubus strip joint.
Finally Jinx walked over and extended his hand. “I’m Allan Admire.”
Tsura smiled up at him and took his hand, pulling herself to her feet with it. “I’m Tsura. I’m very pleased to meet you. Aunt Saraphina says many good things of you.”
I relaxed a little as Jinx breathed. He nodded. “Do you like Japanese food?”
Tsura smiled. “Very much.”
He looked at me. “Nagasaki then?”
I shrugged. It was a hibachi grill. I’d eaten there once or twice, a little pricy but a good show. “Your carriage awaits, children,” I said, gesturing out the door..
“Home by eleven, Allan.”
As I followed the kids out the door, Bran caught me by the wrist. “What’s the moon phase? She’s got a touch of the furry in her family. Most Rom do.”
A werewolf girlfriend. I made a mental note to have a talk with Saraphina. The last thing my mixed-up family tree needed was a ’thrope.
I drove them to Nagasaki, Jinx and Tsura being very well-behaved and staying on their respective sides of the car seat. They chatted a little, basic getting to know each other stuff. Tsura had just graduated from school with a degree in art and design. She’d gotten a local job drawing concept pictures for the Highway Department.
“What do you do, Mr. McKay?” she asked Bran
He gave her his nice smile, not the “I’m terrorizing you into a puddle of goo” leer. “I’m retired. I used to be a combat mage.”
Tsura gasped. Combat mages almost never retired and Bran was the first since the Second World War. “How exciting.”
They chitchatted and I drove. The streets were dry but around here, red lights are a suggestion that only two more people get to go.
Dinner was nice. The chef gave a good show as he did up our food on the grill, his knives flashing. I caught Bran watching and suspected I might be seeing some flashy work in my own kitchen soon. We lounged around, drinking coffee and letting dinner settle.
“So, Tsura, do you like roller skating?” Jinx asked out of the blue.
I didn’t facepalm, but I wanted to. I hadn’t been on skates since I was in single digits. Bran chuckled.
“You should see your face, Admire. You’d think he’d asked you to go swimming in a vat of zombie reviving fluid.”
“I’m too old for roller skates. And you, you’ll fall and break a hip or something.”
Tsura looked at Jinx’s hopeful face and then at us. Sweet kid, she looked torn.
“Maybe it’s not a good idea, Allan. I would like to but, your cousin-”
“No, no, roller skating’s fine,” I assured them. I’d sit on the side and drink a coke.
I drove to the roller rink and steadfastly refused to rent myself a pair of skates. Tsura looked enthused and laced hers right up. Jinx took her hand and wobbled to his feet. If he were another sort, I would have considered it a ploy to win her sympathy. Being Jinx, I figured he was just trying to stay vertical.
I looked at Bran who was lacing up his own skates.
“Combat mages are crazy.” I repeated the common wisdom. “You’re gonna break something, old man, and aren’t you going to look cute when they load you into the ambulance. ‘So sorry chaps, I was trying to do the Hokey fewking Pokey and me back went out, and me feet went out and I ended up on me arse. Hope nothing vital’s damaged. Ah, rubbing alcohol, here lad, don’t waste it.’,” I mimicked his accent and pantomimed chugging a bottle.
Bran laughed at me. “Do you a world of good to get out on the floor and be ridiculous with me.”
“Last time I did this, I was nine and I did break something, my arm.”
Bran nodded and said no more. He rolled out to the floor and made a careful circuit, getting his balance and a feel for the skates. Jinx and Tsura were still holding hands as they made their lap. Jinx had trouble keeping his feet moving and frequently rolled to a stop. Tsura had to tug him along to get him moving again.
It was cute in a way. I wondered if they would work out.
I felt responsible for Jinx a lot of the time. Since our mothers had died, I was his only living relative. Neither of us had the first clue who our dads were. Single motherhood wasn’t the norm in late sixties or even the early eighties. The Admire sisters didn’t care. Mom had carried herself straight and tall, said she caught me at Woodstock and everyone else could screw off. I had come around to seeing him as someone I could like, rather than one more irritant in the series of them that was my life.
I was going so soft these days. I slept in my man’s arms. I hugged and kissed and said “I love you,” things I’d never done before last summer. I smiled, which was something I had never liked doing before. And I was being nice to Jinx. One man can turn your life upside down in so many ways.
I watched him out on the floor, looking amazingly sexy, gorgeous and terrifyingly hideous all at once. I caught a couple of young ladies watching him as he made the far turn and then recoil as he got closer and they saw his face.
Jinx and Tsura made a couple more circuits, growing confident enough to let go of the railing.
The guy at the DJ booth put on an old, sappy ballad from the eighties. “Partner skate. All singles must exit the floor.”
Bran found his way to the exit and came to sit beside me. He was in excellent shape and not even breathing hard. Jinx and Tsura and a few high school kids circled the floor, under the lowered lights and romantic music.
“We could be out there, Admire,” Bran said, stealing a drink of my pop.
I shook my head and he pulled me in close. That was when I felt the weirdness magnet grinding away in the back of my mind.
Noises of a scuffle from the box office were followed by the sound of hooves on tile. My hand hovered near my Eagle. Hooves? Here? I turned and saw eight centaurs coming in, led by a big bay stallion. Of course. And Jinx was still on the floor holding hands with his girl.
The Centaurs made their way to the rink-side in good order, only a few of them looking back at the box office. One or two of them jeered as a group of minotaurs made their way in, all muscles and horns and piercings.
Roller derby night or gang rumble? The centaurs were all wearing scarlet vests that read “Chiron’s Bastard Sons” but they were fitting on horseshoes with wheels. Most of them wore mohawks that flowed down their backs into their manes. Their tails were bound up with scarlet ribbons like polo ponies and they pulled matching helmets out of their bags. The big bay put on one that had a yellow stripe on it, while a smaller buckskin covered his black mane with a helmet marked with a bright yellow star.
The minotaurs sported earrings, nose rings, lip rings and eyebrow rings. Their faces were mostly human, with a bovine cast, but they had cow’s ears. Most of them wore their heads shaved, and no shirts even in this weather, showing hairy bodies. They had on yellow vests, so technically the rink had to let them in regardless of the no shirt no shoes rules. Their yellow shorts bulged obscenely and the black padding on their cow-like legs and elbows only set it off more.
“Labyrinth Lovers? That’s a thing here?” Bran chuckled and watched the minotaurs lacing on their own custom-made skates. The minotaurs put on acid yellow helmets, with cutouts for their horns and ears. The one with a black stripe had some longhorn in his line, apparently, and the one with a black star was paler than the others, colored like a Charolais.
“We’re in trouble. Let’s get the kids and go.” They were just past us and unable to double back. There were no exits on that side of the rink past ours.
“Trouble? I want to see this. Are we really getting Nightside Roller Derby? And there’s nothing I can’t handle, love.”
“Roller derby grudge match,” I said, remembering seeing something about it in the paper a while back. My stomach sank a little more. Those could get violent very quickly. The whine of the weirdness magnet had stopped. Of course. “You really want to tangle with tons of horseflesh and hamburger on the hoof?”
He looked even more eager. “My sister’s keen on it, and Mum hasn’t missed one of the Glasgow Roller Girls’ bouts on the telly since they started.”
“And the kids we’re responsible for are about to get put through the meat grinder.” Jinx and Tsura still hadn’t noticed and were skating very slowly. Chiron’s boys were starting to roll out onto the rink. The more observant skaters were getting off the floor. Nobody had ever accused Jinx of being observant.
The Minotaurs were on their feet now, and getting on out there.
The DJ finally spoke up. “Everyone off the floor. Everyone off the floor now! You two, still thinking it’s couples’ skate, get off the floor!”
The whoosh of a full grown centaur stallion rolling past them startled Jinx and Tsura enough that they froze in place.
The DJ yelled at them some more, and they just clung to each other, staring, as the rest of the herd rolled past.
“Oh, bloody hell,” Bran grumbled. “We’re going to have to save them. They don’t know which way to jump.” The minotaurs were passing them, skating in a single line, at top speed. They passed the centaurs at our end of the rink.
The teams made another fast circuit and a few of them noticed Jinx and Tsura still not moving. One of the minotaurs barreled in to Jinx, knocking them both flat.
“Fall small!” one of the centaurs yelled.
They crawled and dodged, trying to get away from the fast-moving skaters. The centaurs herded them toward the exit, but a couple of minotaurs cut off their escape and forced them into the center of the rink, laughing at the puny, fragile humans.
“How nice to have prizes. A pretty maiden and a decent youth,” the team captain bellowed. A couple of the others leered at Jinx and Tsura.
Assholes. I hated bullies. And worse, I didn’t think they were joking. A few of the centaurs cheered along with the minotaur team. I felt my face getting red as I shoved my chair back. As the teams took position on the lines, with Tsura clutching Jinx for dear life in the middle of the rink, I elbowed and shoved my way around to the exit.
There hadn’t been this many people in here when we came. The grudge match must have gotten a lot of Nightside publicity, because I saw at least three pixie gangs, showing colors, sitting on the ledge around the rink. A couple of vampires moved through the crowd and I recognized Chet, my local trolley driver and werewolf.
“Great show, huh, Ms. Admire? I love roller derby.” I saw he was sporting a red shirt.
“That’s my cousin out there. I have to save him.”
Chet blinked and noticed the kids out there. “Oh man. Good luck.”
“Any help would be nice,” I shouted over the referee’s long whistle. The teams took off, skating slowly, using themselves as a wall of flesh, with the starred helmets waiting behind for a moment. They took started out from way behind when the ref blew twice on the whistle.
The kids stayed together, as small as they could, in the very middle of the rink as the jam skated past them. The two in starred helmets skated as fast as they could to catch up and pass the other skaters.
“They’re going to get killed out there,” I said as one of the minotaurs cut in front of a centaur and slammed his shoulder into the centaur’s chest. He hadn’t reckoned on the centaur’s greater size and momentum. The centaur plowed onward, wheezing and the minotaur fell under the horse’s barrel.
He screamed as one of the back legs rolled over his arm. The centaur didn’t fall. The refs whistled four times and stopped the skirmish.
“Jinx,” I shouted, “Get the hell out of there now. Right now!” He and Tsura started for the exit but a couple of the centaurs circled them.
“We’re human and we didn’t agree to be prizes,” Jinx protested. “We have our rights.”
The centaurs just laughed and herded them back into the middle of the rink with the referees.
“What am I going to tell Saraphina?” I asked of no one in particular. I had lost track of Bran in the press. I hadn’t drawn yet. This wasn’t a killing matter.
First thing I was taught when I took my firearms safety courses was never draw unless it is a life or death matter and be prepared to live with killing someone. So far, I’d shot three or four Nightfolk when my life was threatened. I had hated every one of those. I was not going to open fire in a crowded roller rink if I didn’t have to.
The crowd was getting thicker by the minute, pressing me up against the rib-high wall that blocked off the rink from the changing area. People were standing on benches, cheering their team. The injured minotaur had been packed off by EMTs and a new one took his place.
I was ready to scream at the human EMTs and demand to know why they hadn’t taken Jinx and Tsura out of the mess. They weren’t in range, so I watched, willing with all my might for my foresight to work.
What good is having precognition if it only works in two minute bursts? I stared at the kids and let my eyes unfocus a little. I relaxed, just as Bran was teaching me to do. Trying to relax when you’re being crowded, jostled and shouted at is just as easy as it sounds. I failed miserably.
Where was Bran? He could get Jinx and Tsura out. Then again, I figured the Glasgow had come through and he was cheering both sides equally, the checks and fights most of all, and planning to buy them all beers.
Jinx just stared at me, looking scared. Tsura kept looking at him with those huge dark eyes of hers, expecting him to be some sort of hero and rescue her. I couldn’t tell her that most of the time Jinx stayed alive because of the whole “untrained luck mage” business and came up smelling like a rose from situations where normal folks would die an embarrassing death.
When the ref called off the jam again, I stepped out into the rink. “That is my cousin and I want him back. Find someone else to be your evening’s prizes. If you harm him, you answer to Elvis.”
A mutter went through the Nightfolk. Nobody crossed The King. Hoots of derision went up, most of them not believing the Vampiric King of Memphis would care about one little human. Any other human, he might not. But Jinx was his personal courier. I never asked what he took into Graceland every evening at sundown. I didn’t want to know.
The roller boys laughed some more and got back on the lines.
“Get off the track, little mare, or be run over,” a strawberry roan told me as he skated up to the starting line. I came up to his chest and I’m tall for a woman.
“Screw off, nag.” I started across the slick concrete floor to Jinx and Tsura.
The first whistle blew and the pack of horses eased off, keeping the minotaurs penned up behind them despite the bulls’ best efforts to get past.
A strong arm around my middle caught me and I found myself sitting side-saddle on the bay’s back. Not that he was wearing a saddle. He shouldered through the wall of minotaurs, me ducking horns. Once through, he slung me over to the broad-bodied black and skated out to take the lead position. The starred minotaur was still trying to get past four horse-butts about nine feet wide.
The black was on the inside of the rink, barely skating, and using his large body to keep the minotaurs back.
“Watch the jammer,” the roan shouted.
“Got him.” The black threw his back hips into the way of the lead minotaur, and I nearly fell off as four hundred pounds of hamburger slammed into us. The black reached back and set me in the middle with Jinx and Tsura. “And you can join your cousin. More to go around with three prizes.” He kept going.
I cheered a moment later when one of the minotaurs tipped him over. I was surprised more hadn’t been tipped. The hooves aren’t a lot of surface area and the wheels make it even smaller, and centaurs are heavy. Like a semi, which has approximately a post-card’s area of each tire in contact with the ground at any given time, a roller skate has about a postage stamp’s worth.
The black hit the ground as gently as he could, and got his feet under him to continue and catch back up. But the whistle blew its four blast. I knew that meant the end of a session. The skaters lined back up for another go. I saw they were just in between the exits. I had a really bad idea.
How long did these fool things run anyway? I’d never been to one and Bran was MIA so I couldn’t ask.
When the skaters started again, I grabbed Jinx and Tsura and started for the exits. The pack would move slowly, so the jammers could catch up. It would take them a bit to get back around.
I’d forgotten about the extras. The non-skating members of each team blocked the exits. “Naughty little humans. Get back where you’re safe.” One of the minotaurs shook a taloned finger in my face.
“Let us out, horn-head and I won’t report you to the Bitch Patrol for wrongful imprisonment, intimidation and general terroristic threatening of humans.”
“Silence, cow. Too late now.”
He put his body between us and the roller derby. I tried pushing my way out but a much bigger minotaur stood right behind him. He shoved us back out onto the floor when they passed.
I had a plan, but it wasn’t a good one. I had eight bullets and a spare magazine, and that wouldn’t get us out of here. Half of the Nightfolk weren’t susceptible to bullets, even with wood, silver iron and salt involved. Shooting was only a good idea when you could eliminate your opponent. Too many of them.
That was when I caught sight of Bran. He’d made his way around to one of the exits. He gestured for us to stay put. I nodded. When the only retired combat mage in the country says stay, you stay if you want to live.
“Bran has a plan,” I told Jinx and Tsura. “Make yourself comfortable and watch the roller derby.”
“Deej,” Jinx protested, “combat mages are crazy. You always say so.”
“They also know how to fight and, more importantly, when.”
We sat down on the floor like good little prizes and waited. The crowd’s enthusiasm was infectious. I even saw Bran cheering, fairly indiscriminately. Of course, he was just there for the brawl. For a grudge match, it was surprisingly clean and free of fouls. I’d expected more bloodshed.
Even Jinx and Tsura started cheering for the teams. Me, I sat quietly and harbored dark thoughts based on ancient myths. There was a reason the tribute to Minos was seven youths and seven maidens. I remembered tales of Chiron who trained the great heroes. Nowhere was there a mention of a heroine. Jinx could be in more danger than Tsura and I were.
Bran kept looking over at us, giving me the occasional smile and nod. I hoped he had a plan, a real plan and not a seat-of-the-pants one. I dodged as one of the minotaurs fell out of bounds and landed about three inches from my hand. He got up and skated back to the pack.
I watched the skirmishing on the floor getting more violent. The centaurs used their greater weight and momentum to block and shove the minotaurs. The bulls elbowed and used their greater speed to score points when they could. There was going to be a fight. I could see it taking shape around the edges of the room and smell the first blood-lust, like foul electricity crackling through the mob.
Wonky precognition again. I shook my head to clear it. I grabbed Jinx and Tsura and stood up. They wobbled on their wheels and then caught their balance. “Go when I say go. Don’t stop for anything. It’s about to go bad here. Jinx, get her out to the car.”
Jinx looked around the crowd and blinked. “I’ve never seen this many Nightfolk in one place. Deej, I don’t know if I can.”
I gave him what I hoped was a bracing smile. “You’re a luck mage, remember. Just don’t overthink it. Go with the flow.” I looked at Tsura and shoved my car keys into her hand. “Whatever you’ve got, use it. Get to the car, get in. Don’t unlock for anyone but me, Bran, your aunt or the cops.” I looked at Bran, gestured to all three of us and made a signal for “going.”
He shook his head. I held up two fists like a boxer and then tapped my eye, hoping he’d catch the pantomime before-
Ah shit. There it went.
One of the minotaurs went for that chest block move again on the bay captain of the team, only this time, he put his head—and his horn—into it. The bay let out a scream as the horn went right into him. The minotaur tried yanking his head free, only to realize he’d gotten wedged between the centaur’s ribs. They crumbled to the floor in a bloody heap, the EMTs running.
More centaurs plowed into them, momentum carrying them into the mess, to trip and fall. A couple of the minotaurs came to sudden halts that dropped them to one knee but the white one wasn’t so lucky. He went face-first on the floor and his horns skidded into the black centaur’s flank. More blood. The black screamed and kicked with his front hooves, the skates leaving bloody dents in the minotaur’s side.
I gave Jinx and Tsura a hard shove in the back. “Go now!” They shot toward the exit—I knew I hadn’t pushed them that hard—and the folks moved out of the way, seeing the semi-guided missile of Tsura imitating the jammers’ speed-skating while towing Jinx behind her. I was just going to pretend I didn’t see Jinx covering his head with his arm in preparation for a crash.
The crowd went wild at the smell of blood in the air. There were too many Nightfolk in one place and most of them like blood in one form or another. Only vampires take it straight from the tap, so to speak, but I had seen bogles and boggarts in the crowd and they’re big fans of cleaning up after vamps, if anything is left.
Bran felt the change in the room, too. He beckoned for us. I lost track of Jinx and Tsura. I hoped they were safely out to the car. I was kind of betting on Tsura. The girl was quick-thinking and fast on her feet. She’d need it if she was going to spend any time with us.
I headed for Bran, fighting my way upstream as the fans surged onto the floor, eager to help, eager to devour, I didn’t know or care.
I kept my eyes locked on the last spot I’d seen my man, knowing his nearly six and a half feet of pure Scots granite would be standing just like one of those crags we’d run up and down in August. He wouldn’t get knocked down or swept aside.
I blinked hard when I saw him above the crowd. It took me a minute to realize he was body-flying. Some mages, the more powerful ones, could. He was good for about two hundred miles unencumbered. But it was showy and drew a lot of attention, so he only did it in emergencies.
Someone stepped on my foot and a clumsy shove sent me sprawling on the hard concrete. Now it was an emergency. The EMTs wouldn’t thank me for shooting my way out of a stampede. Someone stepped on my calf and I yelled.
Then my smarts came back and I yelled again, “Vampire down! Watch your step, vamp down!” Nobody would step on a vampire.
It helped. Those who had heard detoured. Those who hadn’t kept coming. I struggled to a kneeling position and tried to get to my feet, but a fast-moving colt dashed past me, knocking me back to the floor and kicking me into the bad bargain. I managed all fours. A pair of size fourteen combat boots planted down about a foot from my hands.
“Up you come, lass.” He hoisted me to my feet and wrapped me up close to his side. We’ll let this lot sort it out themselves. We’ve young ones awaiting us. I saw them get out the door.”
“Screw the skates. We’ll bring ’em back tomorrow.”
“Already turned mine in, shortly after it started. Hold tight, Admire.”
Bran had taken me flying a couple of times. I couldn’t say I was a fan. Of course anything that lets me cuddle up close is fine, but I don’t have a good head for heights. At least not without a steady floor under me.
We lifted straight up. I half-expected him to thrust a fist at the sky like a superhero. He didn’t go high, just above the heads of the crowd. The initial mob scene was over. Now most people just milled around, waiting for someone to tell them what to do.
I held on tightly as Bran took me over the heads of the crowd and then set our feet on the ground at the exit. We stepped into the cold January night and I realized he’d forgotten my coat. I’d get it when I returned the skates. Bran felt me shiver and draped a loop of the plaid around me.
“I should stay. I can clear the crowd out for the medics to work or evac.”
“No way, big fella. That’s what they’re for,” I gestured to the arriving ambulances and police cars. “We’re taking the kids home.”
Sergeant Thomas, of the Preternatural and Magical Squadron, recognized us and caught me before I could get into the car. We’d worked with her before. She was a fine Seer and a stern officer.
“What’s going on in there, Admire, McKay? Sounded like a full riot from the radio.”
“Roller derby grudge match turned bloody when one of the minotaurs gored the centaur captain. We were kinda stuck in the middle.”
“You didn’t cause it, did you?” she asked Bran.
“I swear by all the saints, I did not. And I managed to forget my girl’s coat, so might we go?”
Thomas nodded and took the Bitch Patrol, the crack all-female squad that dealt with magical disturbances, into the rink. Jinx unlocked the car door for me.
“Hi Deej. You okay?” He beamed at Tsura. “You should have seen the right cross she laid on a ’thrope.”
I slid behind the wheel, feeling every bruise. There was a reason I didn’t arm-wrestle the Nightside. It tended to win.
“If everyone is all right, just leave your skates in the back seat. I’ll send Bran to return them, and get my coat in the morning.”
Jinx looked down and seemed to realize he was still wearing the roller skates.
“I forgot my shoes.”
Tsura laughed. “I did too.” She leaned over and kissed his cheek.
I very carefully kept my eyes on the road and my own smile under wraps at that.
Saraphina hurried onto the porch when we pulled up, a jacket over her bathrobe. Every light blazed across the lawn, and Tsura hopped out of the car
She dashed across the lawn on striped socks, ignoring the cold ground, and hugged her aunt, talking excitedly. I tried to get up but found my trampled leg was stiff and wasn’t wanting to hold me.
“See the kids safely in,” I told Bran.
“Are you hurt, love?”
“Just stiff and sore. Nothing a hot soak and some meds won’t help.”
Jinx hotfooted it up to the house, and I pretended I didn’t see the hole in his sock. He had money, he could get new socks if he wanted. Bran got out and followed.
I laid my head back, and let it pound like a hangover. I closed my eyes and waited. A tapping at the window drew my attention.
“Thank you,” Saraphina said. “Tsura told me everything.”
“She’s a nice girl. Might have a future as a jammer if Tea Room Manglers takes off,” I joked.
“She said you were brave and risked yourself to rescue her and Allan.”
“Chaperone, body guard, basically the same job,” I said.
“So come inside and let me feed you tea that will make you hurt less. And I have a poultice for your face. Your man will carry you.”
I smiled and winced as I did. Yep, I’d hit the floor a little hard. My ribs hurt too from my body weight slamming down on my gun. I was going to be colorful.
Bran carried me up. Saraphina fed me tea that made me all warm and drowsy (and horny but I wasn’t telling her that). She put compresses on my face and ribs and leg, fussing over me.
Tsura and Jinx sat on the love-seat, holding hands the whole time.
I dozed off under all the warmth and medicine. And promptly sneezed myself awake when she lit patchouli incense. Tsura kissed Jinx on the cheek again.
“It was all very exciting, Allan. I’d like to see you again.”
He sputtered. Bran gave me a grin.
Oh well, no matter what a witch and luck mage got into, we could get them out.
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