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The fact that we were having a standoff while completely naked might have been hilarious under ordinary circumstances. But these were not ordinary circumstances, and even my twisted sense of humor had its limitations.
“Me?” I demanded. “What about you? You’re not a veterinarian. Veterinarians give dogs rabies vaccines. They don’t throw elementals around.”
Kiyo regarded me levelly. “And Web designers don’t banish elementals to the Otherworld.”
“Yeah, well, sometimes I moonlight.”
The faintest ghost of a smile flickered across his face. He relaxed a little, found his pants, and pulled them on. Not me. I stayed rigid and ready to strike. I was also trying very hard to think of him only as a potential threat, not as the man I’d just slept with. Because if I thought about that, I might falter. Worse, I might have to face the fact that I had just let a creature of the Otherworld –
His pants now on, he approached me. “We need to talk about this – “
“No. Don’t get any closer.” If I could have cocked the wand like a gun, I would have.
“What are you going to do? You can’t cast me out. It won’t work.”
I hesitated, wondering about that. He seemed so human. He had felt human. I hadn’t sensed anything from him like I would one of the gentry, yet his speed and strength had been superhuman. And that wasn’t even counting his unholy stamina. That should have been a dead giveaway right there.
“What do you want from me? Why did you bring me back here?”
His eyebrows rose. “I thought it was obvious. I wanted to have sex with you.”
“No, damn it! There’s more to it. What’s going on? What are you trying to get from me?” My cool demeanor was plunging rapidly. “Did someone send you?”
“Look, Eugenie, just put the wand down. We’ll talk. We’ll figure this out.”
“I thought you couldn’t be cast out,” I reminded him. “Why are you afraid of the wand? Maybe the Otherworld couldn’t hurt you…but what about the Underworld?”
He didn’t answer. I sent my will into the wand and felt the air crackle with power. Fear crossed Kiyo’s face. So. He was afraid. That was all I needed to know. The words were on my lips to send him to the crossroads, but suddenly he moved with that rapid speed I’d seen earlier. He backed up toward the sliding glass door, opened it up, and then ran out and over the edge of the balcony.
A small scream escaped me in spite of myself. We were three floors up. I dropped the wand and dashed off to the balcony, peering around on the ground for him. No way could he have survived that uninjured.
Yet, there was no sign of him. A few bats flew up over the eaves of the building, and around the far side of it, I saw the flicker of headlights. A coyote howled from far out in the desert, and a cat slunk into the shadows. There was life out here but not the kind I sought. With a lot of maneuvering, I hung over the side of the balcony, making sure he wasn’t hiding under it like escaping people often did in movies. Nope. Nothing.
I gazed back over the desert, wondering what had happened to him. It was possible he could have “jumped” figuratively to the Otherworld. He’d have to be a very powerful gentry to do that without a thin spot nearby, but similarly, a strong gentry would have also been able to hold a perfect physical shape in this world. I supposed it was also possible someone so powerful could pass themselves off as human. I hadn’t encountered any who were that strong.
Walking back inside, I sat on the bed cross-legged, wrapping my arms around me. The residual ice from the elemental had melted into small puddles. The bed smelled like Kiyo and sex, and I swallowed down the nausea building within me. Oh God. What had I done? Had I had sex with a monster? Had I had sex with the very kind of thing I hunted and hated and killed? Kiyo had spoken to me about honesty, yet it seemed to have all been a lie. At least it had been safe sex.
Worst of all, I had liked him. Really liked him. When was the last time that had happened? Dean and I had seemed to date and sleep together simply because neither of us had anything better to do. With Kiyo, I had started to feel a real connection. Real chemistry. His betrayal hurt me deeper than I liked to admit.
I opened my eyes, thinking. Most gentry were too technologically inept to function seamlessly in the human world, yet he had navigated it well. He’d had a car back at the bar, one we’d passed over in favor of letting me drive. He’d also had a wallet and cash to pay for drinks and the condoms. And if he was checked into a hotel, he had to have a credit card. Credit cards were traceable. If he had a dual life in our world, I should be able to find out something.
I picked up the phone and hit the button for the front desk.
“Good morning, Mr. Marquez,” a pleasant desk clerk answered.
Kiyo Marquez. It was a start.
“Um, actually this is Mrs. Marquez. I was wondering if you could tell me if my…husband already prepaid for the room?”
A pause while she looked it up. “Yes, he did upon check-in. He left the same card on file for incidentals.”
“Can you tell me the number on the card he used?”
A longer pause. “I’m sorry, I can’t give that out to anyone but the cardholder. If you can put him on the phone, I can tell him.”
“Oh…I don’t want to bother him. He’s in the shower. I just wanted to make sure we weren’t maxing out the wrong card.”
“Well…I can tell you it’s a Visa ending in 3011.”
I sighed. That wouldn’t do me much good, but I doubted I’d get more from this woman. “Okay. Thanks.”
“Is there anything else I can help with you?”
“Yeah…can you connect me to room service?”
I ordered breakfast on Kiyo and then showered while I waited for it to show. I needed to wash away the sweat, to wash away the scent of his body on mine. When the food arrived, I munched on toast and ransacked the room for some kind of evidence. Kiyo’s wallet had been in his pants, so that was gone. He had no other personal possessions in the room, save the other discarded clothing from last night. I explored every drawer and nook, just in case he’d hidden something away.
The sun was well up over the horizon when I finally left the hotel. When I arrived back home, I called Lara and told her his name. I asked her to see what connections she could find to it, Phoenix, and vets. She excelled at that kind of thing, but I knew it might take a few days. Fortunately, a career in banishing and destroying is a great way to relieve frustration while waiting.
My first job the day after the Kiyo incident involved frisking a marid out of someone’s bathroom. Marids are one of the djinn – genies to most Americans – and are tied to the element of water. Like the keres and most other djinn, marids tend to occupy some sort of physical object. Only, rather than a bottle or lamp, they prefer someplace wet – say, like, a sink pipe.
Annoyed at being troubled with such an idiotic task, I cast my circle in the large, black-tiled bathroom and used the wand to yank the marid out of the pipe. She materialized before me, looking very much like a human female, save for her death-pale skin and rippling blue hair. A silk dress hung from her body.
I saw her tense up, instinctively ready to lash out at me with her power. Then she did a double take, sizing me up from head to toe. A funny look came over her face, and moments later, she lit up with a schmoozing smile. She swept me a low bow.
“My lady,” she said grandly. “How may I serve you?”
“You can’t,” I told her, holding up the wand.
She kept the smile, but there was tension in it. “Of course I can. I have the ability to conjure up riches and other wonders. I can make your dreams – “
“Stop it. I’m not falling for this.”
The myths about djinn granting wishes aren’t entirely fabricated. She wasn’t all-powerful, but she could definitely pull some tricks out of her hat. When faced with danger, a djinn’s most common strategy is to try bargaining with the enemy. Unfortunately, the “wishes” they grant rarely turn out the way others expect.
Uneasily, she backed up toward the wall. She hit the edge of the circle first. Glancing around, she realized she was trapped. The smile slipped, replaced by true fear.
“Surely there’s no need for violence,” she said. Her eyes widened. “Please.”
I stared. I rarely had Otherworldly creatures beg for mercy. I hesitated for a moment, then my Kiyo-induced bad mood took over. I poured my will into the wand, ready to push her through the gate.
She felt the power charge up in the air and kicked into true self-defense mode, now that she realized her wheeling and dealing wouldn’t work. Her magic trickled into the circle. It reminded me of mist or fog, a soft dampness filling the air. I blinked in surprise. I didn’t usually sense magic in this way. Most often, I felt Otherworldly power as a tingle or a pressure. This was tangible.
She saw my surprise. Her eyes widened with hope. “You see? You have no need to tear me apart. Like calls to like.”
Like? I was puzzled but didn’t hesitate to take advantage of her distraction. Her magic might be weaker in my world, but I still didn’t want to fight it head-on. Far easier to deal with her this way.
A moment later, I had made my connection to the Underworld. She grew more pale when she realized I’d used my wand to ensnare her and begged me again for mercy. Gritting my teeth, I thought about the way Kiyo had used me and grew angrier. No. No quarter for Otherworldly creatures.
And yet…staring into her eyes, I recalled the brief feel of mist from her magic. Like calls to like. I didn’t know what that meant, but it had struck me. At the last possible second, I decided to spare her after all – in a manner of speaking. There was no way I could allow her to stay in this world. Instead, I shifted my focus to the Otherworld and sent her over there in entirety, rather than giving her instant death via the Underworld.
When it was all over, I stared at the empty bathroom, wondering what had come over me. “Going soft,” I muttered.
It took Lara awhile, but she found something about Kiyo a few days later, the same day I decided to go see Roland and break the news that I was going to go after Jasmine. Something about that encounter with Kiyo and the elemental in the room had made me decide I couldn’t leave that poor girl to the mercy of the Otherworld. Roland might not like it, but he couldn’t stop me, not anymore. My powers had surpassed his awhile ago. I also intended to ask him about my newfound status as bachelorette of the year in the Otherworld.
At least in the few days since being with Kiyo, there had been no other attacks specifically targeted at me. Wil had left a million messages with Lara, but we’d been putting him off. I’d had only a handful of small jobs: one banishing and a couple of exorcisms. I could almost have said it was a slow week. Not much was happening while I waited.
What also wasn’t happening was any healing of the scratches on my back. The blood had dried up and scabbed a little, but the marks didn’t fade at all. They stayed red and angry-looking, although they didn’t hurt. Every morning I would look at them, hoping they had disappeared. They never did.
I harbored a secret thought that if the scratches went away, so would my feelings about Kiyo. I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I’d spend my days venting and fuming over him, and at night, scandalous dreams would play through my head, making me wake up hot and restless. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I’d never behaved this way, especially with a guy who represented everything I stood against.
“I finally turned up a Kiyo Marquez at a vet hospital in Phoenix,” Lara told me as I drove out to my mom’s house. “I had to call around a lot. They say he doesn’t work a full schedule there and is on vacation for the next two weeks. I couldn’t get anything else. His address and phone number are unlisted.”
I thanked her and pondered this. So Kiyo hadn’t completely lied. He had a job, a very human one. It still didn’t mesh with what I’d observed or knew.
I saw my mom bent over in her garden when I arrived, requiring me to sneak inside quietly so I could speak with Roland in private. I found him in the kitchen, almost exactly in the same place as last time.
We exchanged greetings, and then I dove in, deciding to save the Jasmine thing for last.
“More of them know my name. I’ve fought with two now who knew me as more than Odile. I also heard about a third who knew who I was.”
“Were the attacks specifically targeted at you, then? Like revenge attacks?”
“One was. The other was part of a job. Why? Did they come looking for you when your name got out?”
“A little. Inconvenient, but not the end of the world.”
“The weird thing here…”
“Well…they’ve also sort of been, like, soliciting me…”
He arched an eyebrow. “Like for sex?”
“Yeah.” Roland undoubtedly had done all sorts of sexual things in his life – most with my mother, God help me – but he was enough of a father figure that I didn’t feel entirely comfortable discussing such things with him.
“Well, you know how they are with human women. If one were trying to get back at you…well, rape is a common enough act of retaliation.”
“Great. I’d rather they just beat me to death.”
“Don’t make jokes like that,” he warned. “If your name was just discovered, it’s probably pretty hot right now. But I imagine the hype will die down eventually. Just wait it out. In the meantime, watch your back – not that you don’t already. Do the usual things. Keep your head clear. Stay armed at all times. Don’t drink.” He cut me a look. “Stay away from the peyote.”
I rolled my eyes. “Come on, I haven’t done that in years.”
He shrugged. “You’ve got something else to unload. I can see it in your eyes.”
“Well…speaking of watching my back…”
I stood up from the chair and took off the loose button-up shirt I wore over a tank top. I swept my hair aside and turned around so he could view my back.
He gave a small grunt when he saw the scratches. “Those look nasty. You get in a fight today?”
“They’re from four days ago. They won’t heal.”
“Do they hurt?”
“What gave them to you?”
“Not sure. He looked human, but…I don’t know.” I let my hair drop and turned around, putting the shirt back on.
“How’d he get you at that angle and position?” Roland looked puzzled. “Were you wrestling?”
“Uh, that’s really not important,” I said hastily. “Have you ever seen anything like it?”
“Not exactly, no, but I’ve seen enough to not think this is too out there. If there was enough magic or whatever used to inflict them, they may just take awhile to heal.”
That didn’t really make me feel better, but I was unwilling to elaborate on my encounter with Kiyo.
I took a deep breath. “There’s one more thing.”
“I know. You’re going after the girl.”
So much for my dramatic proclamation. “How’d you know?”
“Because I know you, Eugenie. You’re foolish and headstrong with a naive sense of righteousness. You’re like me.” Not sure if that was a compliment or not.
“Then you understand.”
He shook his head. “It’s still dangerous. And stupid. You cross in your own body and – “
We both looked up like guilty children. My mother stood in the doorway in a wide-brimmed hat and dirt-covered gloves, further evidence of her gardening. I had a few planters out in the rock garden that passed for my backyard, but she maintained a veritable oasis. Her long, slightly graying hair streamed down her back as she regarded us. Her hair lacked my reddish hue, and her eyes were just blue, not violet-blue. Otherwise, everyone said we looked alike. I wondered if I’d age like her. I hoped so, although I would probably dye any gray away.
“What are you planning on doing, Eugenie?” she asked in a level tone.
“Nothing, Mom. Just hypothetical stuff.”
“You’re talking about going over there. I know what that means.”
“Mom – ” I began.
“Dee – ” Roland began.
She held up a hand to stop us both. “Don’t. I don’t want to hear it. Do you know how much I already worry about you in this world, Eugenie? And now you want to walk right into their homes? And you.” She turned on Roland, her eyes flashing. “I spent twenty years worrying about you. I’d lie awake, wondering which night would be the one you didn’t come home. I thanked God the day you retired, and now you’re encouraging her to – “
“Hey, whoa, he’s not telling me anything here. Leave him out if this if you want to thrash somebody. This is just me. He’s not involved.”
Roland turned on me. “Eugenie, if you insist on going, I might as well go – “
“Mom’s right. Your fight’s done. This one’s mine.”
My mom turned on me. “It’s not yours either! Why can’t you just worry about keeping them away from here? Why go after them?”
I told her. She kept her face proud and stony the entire time I spoke, but I could see her eyes betray her. The severity of the situation wasn’t lost on her, even as her words continued to deny that truth.
“You’re just like him. Too noble for your own good.” She suddenly looked older than her age. “You’re compensating for some sort of lack of attention as a child, aren’t you?” There she was, slipping into therapist mode again.
“Mom, she’s fourteen, er, fifteen now. If this were someone kidnapped locally, you’d agree to any measures to get her back.”
“I’d agree to measures that involved backup, not you alone.”
“I have no backup.”
“Except for me,” piped in Roland.
“No,” my mother and I told him together.
She turned to me and used that deadliest of weapons known to mankind: the Mom Card. “You’re my only child. My baby. If something happens to you…”
I was ready for her. “Jasmine’s someone’s baby too, even if her mom is gone. That almost makes it worse, actually. She lost her parents. She has no one. And now she’s trapped, being held hostage by some asshole who thinks it’s okay to kidnap and rape unwilling girls.”
My mom flinched as though I’d slapped her. She looked at Roland. They exchanged one of those long looks that couples who have been together for ages can do. I don’t know what they communicated, but she finally looked away from both of us.
“When…you get her back, bring her to me. It doesn’t matter if it’s…gentry or humans. She’ll need the same kind of therapy any other victim would.” I knew she did that kind of counseling with patients all the time, but I’d never thought of her as helping gentry victims. It was very kind for someone who tried to pretend the Otherworld didn’t exist.
“Mom – ” I attempted.
She shook her head. “I don’t want to know anything else about it until it’s all over. I can’t know.”
She left us then, returning to the peace of her garden.
“She’ll recover,” Roland told me after a quiet moment. “She always does.”
Forced to accept the fact that I would be going over now, he was only too willing to flood me with as much tactical information as possible. It grew dizzying.
At one point, after I’d refused his third request to go with me, he said, “I assume you’ll be taking your other help.”
The tone in his voice showed undeniable derision for my “other help.” I knew he didn’t approve, but he had to recognize the benefits. “You know they’re an asset.”
“So is a grenade – until it goes off in your hand.”
“They’re better than nothing.”
He scowled but said no more, instead discussing more logistics with me: where and when to cross over and what weapons to bring. We decided it would be best for me to wait until the moon was in crescent phase, so I’d have a stronger connection to Hecate. She facilitated transitions, particularly to the Otherworld, which might be useful if I needed a hasty retreat. There’d be a nice crescent in about four more days.
I left their house without seeing my mother again. I hoped she wouldn’t take her feelings out on Roland, and I wondered how much it must suck to love someone who always walked into danger. I decided if I ever got married, I’d choose someone with a normal job whom I could expect to be home at normal hours. Like an electrician. Or an architect.
Or a veterinarian.
As I got into my car to depart, I saw the strangest thing. A red fox watched me from the tree line on the far side of my parents’ house. More surprising than seeing it watch me so seriously was the fact that it was a red fox in the first place. They weren’t common in southern Arizona. You were more likely to see a gray fox or one of the silly-looking little desert kit foxes. I stared into this one’s yellow-brown eyes and shivered. Too many weird things were happening lately for me to feel comfortable with a studious fox, no matter how beautiful.
When I got back to my house, I knew it was time to solicit the “other help.” This was one of the areas where my path had split from Roland’s. He’d been my mentor and had years more experience, but we both knew I’d grown stronger. He could never have done what I was about to do. If he could, he might have understood why I relied on this sort of assistance.
I closed my bedroom door and then shut the curtains and blinds. Darkness fell, and I lit a candle, letting it be my only light source. I was strong enough to do a summoning without the stage tricks, just as I could cast out a spirit without divine help, but I didn’t want to waste the extra strength today.
I produced the wand and touched the smoky quartz crystal on it, strengthening my connection to the spirit world. Closing my eyes, I focused on the being I wanted and then recited the correct words. I often improvised words when I cast out creatures – hence my frequent use of expletives – but it didn’t usually matter, so long as my intent and meaning proved clear. For a summoning like this, however, I had to have everything right. I was essentially invoking a contract, and as any good lawyer knew, technicalities were everything.
The room grew freezing cold when I finished the incantation, a different kind of cold than the elemental had caused. A pressure sort of swirled around me, and then I knew I was no longer alone. I looked around and found him in the corner he usually appeared in, a black shape hidden among the shadows. Red eyes gleamed out at me from the darkness.
“I am here, mistress.”
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