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Black Magic Sanction

Black Magic Sanction: Page 32

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Jenks' tiny phone, on loan, was small in my fingers, and after making sure I hadn't missed Ivy's call, I tucked it in my bag, hesitated, then moved it to a back pocket. It was almost noon, and still no Ivy. I was worried. Jenks hadn't been happy about me leaving. Neither was I. Pierce accompanying me didn't make me feel better, especially since he was turning heads.

I was so tired. Even the picture of babies dressed up as fruit salad couldn't make me smile. Somehow we'd landed at Junior's place. Or Mark's, if I remembered properly. I'd been banned because of my shunning, but no one had given me a second look when I'd shuffled in, the heavy-magic detection amulet above the door buzzing a warning at my old-lady disguise. Mark knew me by sight, and without the charm, we would've been chased out.

Why a fruit salad? I mused, tilting my head to get my hair out of my eyes.
I hadn't time to put it back in a bun, which sort of diluted the old-lady thing. But it was gray now, and I certainly acted old, walking slowly from my bruised knees. Rummaging in my bag, I took the lethal-spell and heavy-magic detection amulets from my key ring and moved them to my pocket instead in case I got summoned out at sundown.

My back was to the wall as I sat at the same table where I'd once had a conversation with a spoiled brat of a banshee and her husband the serial killer. Outside, my mom's big blue Buick shone in the bright spring sun. Yes, we should have parked it somewhere else, but to be honest, when I spotted Junior's I had all but screamed for Pierce to stop the car. He wasn't a good driver, unable to get his feet to work the brake and gas with any precision. I think I'd bruised his ego. He'd been somewhat cold since. Sor-r-r-r-r-ry.

I rubbed at my aching neck and smiled as I recalled his red-faced, benign cussing about jo-fired fife curs and strumpets. Gaze rising, I looked at the register where he was counting out exact change for our drinks, looking appalled by the cost. Mark was waiting impatiently, and our coffee was done and sitting at the pickup counter before the till was shut.

A sigh sifted through me, not all of it from my fatigue. Pierce looked charming in his vest, long duster, and hat, his softly waving hair almost to his shoulders. It made him look like a young Were as yet free of responsibilities. Tucking the folded receipt away, he went to get our drinks with the smooth grace of a vampire. Drinks in hand, he moved slowly, not trusting the plastic tops to keep them from spilling as he wove between the tables busy with noon customers - both breakfasting Inderlanders and lunching humans - avoiding all with the awareness of self that most witches have. It was strange watching Pierce. He was a quick study and had been among the living again long enough to pick up most things, but it was obvious he had trouble with some of the smaller stuff, like how to open a package of gum.

"Rachel," he said softly, eyes darting to mine before he placed a tall cup before me and sat at my elbow so that he could see the door as well. He looked confident but wary of the surrounding people. Furtive, maybe, as he tossed his hair from his eyes. He smelled good, too, a mix of redwood and clean hair. And he used black magic as if it were a breath mint.

"Thanks, Pierce." Gaze dropping, I took the lid off so I wouldn't have to taste plastic with my coffee. My eyes closed in bliss when the shot of caffeine laced with raspberry slipped down. "Oh, that's good," I breathed, eyes opening to see him smiling. "You remembered."

"Grande latte, double espresso, Italian blend, light on the froth, heavy on the cinnamon, with a shot of raspberry in it." Tilting his head, he added, Tm not accustomed to seeing you graced with wrinkles. It takes a body a moment."

Graced with wrinkles? Cant he just say old? I shrugged, embarrassed. "If I'd been thinking, I would have grabbed a disguise for you, too."

"You'd rather I be disguised?" he asked, and when I nodded, there was a soft pressure against me, as if something was rubbing my aura. My eyes widened when a sheet of ever-after flowed over Pierce, ebbing to nothing to show Tom Bansen. Same curling brown hair, same blue eyes, same slight build, same... everything.

"Uh, good," I said, uneasy at the reminder that Pierce was living his life out in another man's body, dead just long enough for his soul to depart. His posture, though, was Pierce's upright stance, and the slacks and vest, which were charming on Pierce, looked really odd on Tom. "You're a dead ringer for Tom."

Pierce flushed. "I am Tom Bansen, mistress witch. The trick is to look like myself."

That gave me the willies even more, and I hid my unease behind another sip. "Call me Rachel. We belong to the same demon, I think that entitles us to some informality."

He made a noise as he found a new way to sit. "To call a woman by her given name - "

"It makes you stick out," I said, starting to get peeved.

"It's powerfully disrespectful," he muttered, shaking his hand when his coffee spilled, squeezed from the cup when he took the lid off.

My eyes were on the bright sun on the street. "It's a rougher time, Pierce." Which I thought was weird. With all the conveniences and clean simplicity we lived in, people had lost a lot of polish. Sighing, I gazed up at the ceiling, glad no one had noticed Pierce changing. Few knew that the witch named Tom Bansen had been killed by a banshee and reanimated by Al to hold Pierce's soul only moments after Tom's last heartbeat. It was black magic in the extreme, and probably why Pierce's aura was now blacker than mine - among other things.

"Has Ms. Tamwood sent word?" Pierce asked intently, a weird mix of Tom and Pierce.

Another swallow of coffee, and the caffeine started to take hold. The cup warmed my hands, and I set it down. "No. I hope everything's okay. I'm about ready to leave her a voice message. Something doesn't feel right." Something more than you next to me instead ofjenks.

Pierce ran a hand under his hat to get his hair out of his eyes. "I'm sorry for you having to leave your diggings, but it's not safe, Rachel. The coven - "

"Yes, I know," I said angrily. The church had always been my safe haven, and it bothered me that it was now a place of danger. It bothered me a lot.

Leaning back, Pierce crossed his arms over his chest. "A body might begin to suspect that you don't like me. I'm only trying to see you safe."

His eyes were narrowed, and I sighed. "Pierce... ," I started, and he looked away. Save me from the tender male ego. "Can you put yourself in my shoes for a minute?" I asked, unable to keep the bitterness from my voice. "Wouldn't you be the smallest bit upset if an entire society told you that you weren't able to take care of yourself? And then your babysitter told you to leave the security that you spent a year making? That it wasn't adequate?"

"You think I'm a babysitter?" he said, clearly annoyed.

"And then you realize he's right?" I continued. "And if he's right about that, then maybe the rest of them are right, too, and you aren't able to take care of yourself at all?"

His eyes flicked back to mine, and his expression eased. "I'm not your babysitter."

My shoulders slumped, and I pushed my coffee away. "I don't know if I could have handled Vivian today," I said, depressed. "She's using white magic, and she's making it deadly and totally legal. Ivy and I managed at the grocery store, but some of that was luck." I flicked my gaze up, my heart clenching at the sorrow in his eyes. "You saved my butt. Saved Ivy." Taking a deep breath, I looked at him. "I can't thank you enough for that. I appreciate everything you did, but I don't want to be someone who needs help all the time."

I couldn't stand to look at him anymore, and my thoughts returned to the black Latin falling from him. Black magic had driven Vivian away, not me. Maybe I did need a babysitter.

Pierce resettled himself. "Al sent me to protect you," he said gruffly.

My head came up. His blue eyes were vivid as he looked at me as if he was trying to decide to say more. Past Tom's narrow face, I could see Pierce's determination, his soft confusion as he tried to fit in a world that had raced past him, and his frustration that he wasn't enough. "Is that why you stayed?" I asked. "You could have left."


My head hurt, and I looked away, but something inside me had felt the weight behind that one word. He had stayed, yes, but he used black magic with no shame, no reluctance. What was I doing here with him? This was a mistake, but what else could I do?

Chest tight, I looked over the coffeehouse noisy with conversation, only to jump when Jenks's phone rang. Ivy, I thought, then realized it was playing "Ave Maria." Maybe it was Matalina? When I flipped the lid, the name WARM FUZZY came up. Unsure, I tossed my hair from my face and thumbed the connection open. "Hello?"

"Hi, Rachel."

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