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Black Magic Sanction: Page 36
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Embarrassed, I turned my attention to the passing buildings. They were low and squat, dirty with neglect and apathy. Something told me we were still on the Cincinnati side of the river, and by the look of things, deep into human territory. It wasn't the nicest part of town, and I eyed the idle people sitting outside nasty storefronts in the thin sun.
Nick 's gaze slid to me and back to the street. "Welcome back, sleeping beauty."
My pulse was slow, and I felt thickheaded. "Please tell me I wasn't snoring," I said as I pulled my old-lady coat higher around my shoulders. It was warm in here, but I felt vulnerable.
Pierce made a calculating noise, accidentally brushing my knee as he shifted. "As Jenks would say, you snore nice."
I smiled back unconvincingly. I snore nice. Not 'I opine that your auditory nasal exhalations are most pleasing.' He was already losing his unique speech patterns, not that I cared. I vaguely remembered hearing two male voices intertwined among my dreams in a soft, intent battle. Clearly I'd missed something. "Where are we going?" I asked, still not able to place where I was. No doubt, since I didn't get into the poorer parts of human Cincinnati much.
Nick kept his eyes firmly on the potholed streets, a soft tightness to his scarred jaw. "My place. Well, one of my places." His gaze went to his savagely marred wrist, and he looked at his small but probably expensive watch. "You'll be safe enough." Cracking a window, he murmured to Jax, "You want to get the door for us?" and the pixy flew out in a clatter of dragonfly wings. I couldn't help but notice that Jax's black shirt had a tear in it, and his shoes were scuffed. Clearly he didn't have a wife. If he wanted any kids to survive him, he'd have to start a family in the next year or so, or risk them being slaughtered by the first fairy clan to find them without a patriarch when he was gone.
Both men were silent and, uncomfortable, I scanned the shop fronts. Nick probably didn't have a problem here, but even I would think twice before walking these streets after dark. The leprechaun's words echoed in my thoughts, and I asked, "Nick, don't take this the wrong way, but why are you helping me?"
Nick's eyes searched mine before returning to the road. "It's not obvious?"
My head went back and forth. "We are done. Through. I thought I'd made that clear."
Nick stopped at a red light and rolled up his window when the car ahead of us began spewing blue smoke. "I could have let the coven take you," he said tightly.
My face burned. "Who says you didn't just save me from Vivian so you could turn me in yourself and get all the bounty?" I accused. "Don't give me any I-could-have-turned-you-in-so-trust-me-now crap. I could have told Glenn you were in my living room three minutes after you ran away. I don't owe you anything."
Nick's face went red, making Al's mark on his forehead stand out. "I can't fight witch spells. Besides, Pierce seems to have everything under control with his black magic."
Pierce stiffened. My pulse hammered, and I looked at my hands, in my lap. Nick had hung around long enough to see the curses flowing out of the church. Damn it, why was it he could make me feel ashamed for something I hadn't even done?
"So," Nick said tightly as we went through the intersection, "you know where we stand?"
Stand? We dont stand anywhere. "I don't trust you, and you don't trust me?" I guessed.
Nick's long expression was hurt. "I told you we were even."
A sarcastic noise slipped from me. "So that makes it all better?" He wanted a clean slate. Right. After selling secrets about me to demons? Not likely.
Scowling, Nick made a sharp left into a closed gas station that looked like a chop shop, pulling directly into one of the open bays. Seeing people inside, I looked in my bag for my disguise amulet.
"You won't need that here," Nick said, sounding insulted. "No one will squeal on you."
I hesitated before I let it drop back in my bag, not because I trusted Nick, but because I might need it later to slip out. Nick seemed mollified, but Pierce cleared his throat in an understandable warning - which ticked Nick off all the more.
Jax was hovering outside the closed window, and when Nick put his car in park, someone pulled the garage door down, cutting off the light and making me feel trapped. "Wait here," Nick said stiffly, taking the bag from the coffeehouse with him as he got out. His door slamming shut was loud, and he went to greet the man who had closed us in, doing a complicated handshake thingy. I could see Pierce memorizing it. As a ley-line witch, he probably had it down with one look.
Nick laughed, fitting in perfectly with the rough men around us, thin from Brimstone and too hard a life. Jax was on his shoulder, clearly familiar by their casual acceptance.
I sat nervously and watched as Nick and the guy talked, both of them looking at the car. At us.
"I'd allow that Nick's car has a lot more levers than yours," Pierce said, eying the dash.
"Nick's car goes faster than my mother's," I said, sitting sideways so I didn't have to take my eyes off Nick. "Don't touch anything. It might go boom."
It wouldn't, but Pierce drew his hand away. "I don't trust him."
"Neither do I." Nick took a metal cutter from a nearby bench, and I fingered my zip strip, eager to get it off.
"If you're not of a mind to trust him, then why are we still here? This is vexing, sitting like a fence post."
I had to think about that for a moment, first to piece together what he was saying, and then to figure out why we hadn't left. I had nothing for Nick but bad feelings, yet here I was. "I need to sleep," I finally said, "and I don't want to do it on a bus touring Cincinnati." My gaze returned to Pierce, finding a surprising amount of tension in him. "Relax. I've known Nick for a couple of years. We did okay until it fell apart. I don't trust him, but I think he loved me in his own way once. Even if he did sell information to Al about me."
That last had been barely muttered, but Pierce had shifted to look at Nick. "The lickfinger," he said. "You're a powerful more forgiving person than me, Rachel. I would have - "
His words cut off, and I looked at him sharply. "What?" I asked, remembering his black magic - magic not only black in name but deed, too. "What would you have done, Pierce?"
He dropped his eyes at my pointed look, silent, and I turned back to Nick in a huff. The more I knew about Pierce, the more I worried. And I didn't need a babysitter.
Out the back window, I watched Nick hand the garage guy the bag from the coffeehouse and shuffle our way. Pierce squinted at Nick when he opened the door and leaned to look in. "You want those bands off?" Nick asked, holding the clippers up.
Immediately I shoved Pierce to get out, grabbing my bag in passing as I slid across and found my feet beside him. It smelled like acetylene torch and oil, and three ragged guys were watching us as I held out my wrist. The metal was cold against my skin, and I shivered when the zip strip was clipped through. The strand parted with a little thump, and I rubbed my wrist.
"God, that feels good," I said as I reached for a ley line, realizing where we were in the process. Not far from the university. Cool. "Thanks, Nick." My chi filled, and my shoulders eased when I spindled a little bit extra in my head. It was easier now to stand confidently under the eyes of men talking in low tones and accents hard for me to follow. My knees felt better, too.
"Thank you," Pierce said stiffly, and Jax zipped down in a bow of silver dust, catching Pierce's zip strip before it hit the stained concrete, taking both of them to a high shelf. I wasn't surprised that Pierce remained looking like Tom when his band fell away. He'd probably keep his true appearance to himself for the same reason I was holding my old-lady disguise back.
Nick glanced at where Jax had left the zip strips, then turned back to us. "No problem," he said, looking skinny as he tossed the clippers to the closest bench, where they slid to a noisy stop. "You want to crash for a few hours? I've got a room across the street."
I shifted nervously, feeling cold in a garage that had never seen the sun, surrounded by concrete, tools to strip a car to nothing, and the men messing around with them - and watching me. "Sure. Thanks, Nick."
My fingers slipped into Pierce's hand as we headed for the man door, shocking the hell out of him, but I wanted Nick to know that I didn't consider his helping us as anything other than a temporary encounter. The guys watching laughed at both men's reactions, but I didn't care. If they thought I was an insecure airheaded fluff, then all the better.
Pierce's brow furrowed, and suddenly the ley-line pressure between us eased as he drew on the same line and brought himself, holding an amount of energy, nearer mine.
Nick saw Pierce's fingers intertwined with mine.
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