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Black Magic Sanction

Black Magic Sanction: Page 38

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The last corner between two windows had a gray slab of slate propped two feet up on cinderblocks, probably to get the underside of a circle free of pipes or lines. Beside the raised stone was a locked box. It had demon summoning all over it, and I think Pierce had come to the same conclusion, since his lips were pressed tight in disapproval.

But it's okay for you to do black magic, eh?

"This is nice," I said as I dropped my bag on the couch. The fabric was faded, and I sat gingerly on the edge and wiggled out of my coat, leaving it to slump behind me. It was warm in here, for Jax, and the windows dripped condensation.

Nick looked satisfied as he came out from the fridge with a bottled water. "Pierce, you want a beer?" he said as he threw it to me.

The water thunked into my raised hand, and I set it on the coffee table unopened, thoughts of Alcatraz's spice drifting through my head.

Pierce didn't look away from a rack of leather books, his hands behind his back as he squinted at the titles. They were regular spell books, then. Demon texts had no names. "No. I'm of the mind to remain clearheaded," he said, his voice flat.

Deciding that Nick wouldn't magic my drink, I cracked the lid and took a sip. My gaze landed on a statue of an Incan god, and I moseyed over to the ugly thing. "Is this real?"

Nick leaned against the counter with his ankles crossed. "Depends on who you ask."

Depends on who you ask, I mocked in my thoughts. Stupid ass.

Pierce's hands came out from behind him to touch a long, curved knife resting on a wooden stand before the leather-bound books. It was almost a dagger, really. "This is real," he said, turning it over and examining the detail on the engraving.

"Is it?" Carefully casual, Nick pushed himself into motion, beating me to Pierce and taking the knife from him. "I found it at an estate sale," he said as we peered at it, the lie coming so easily it was disgusting. "The woman said it belonged to a sea captain who refused to sail back to England. I thought it was pretty. Someday, I'll find out what the words on the handle mean." Setting it on a higher shelf over our heads, he put his beer on the coffee table and moved to the bedroom, defined by a large folding screen.

The words on the handle were in Latin, and though I hadn't been able to read them, I think Pierce had by his grim expression.

Tired, I turned to the big TV affixed to the wall. "I'd think you'd be worried about thieves," I said, looking at the equipment piled under it. I didn't see any security system, and though Jax was better than any detection setup known to man or witch, he wasn't here 24/7.

"Not since the first one had a heart attack in the hall, no," Nick said, and I turned to see him bring a shirt out of his dresser and drop it on the bed.

From the far corner by the kitchen, Jax piped up, "He walked right into the ward, bam! It took three days for the stink of burnt hair to go away. Annie was pissed."

Feeling ill, I sat on the couch with my back to him. That's why Jax had gone ahead of us. Bringing my focus back, I casually brought out my big-mojo amulet, glowing a very faint, almost-not-there red. Whatever safeguards Nick had, they were nasty even when uninvoked. "Got yourself a rep, eh?" I needled Nick, watching his reflection in the blank TV as Pierce tried to figure out the blinds.

Nick took his shirt off in one easy move. "Not as bad as yours."

Pierce's eyes snapped in ire, but the words never made it past his lips when he saw Nick's battered and scarred body. I'd forgotten, but Nick was covered in scars; the deep gouges never properly taken care of had mellowed to lumpy white scar tissue, crisscrossing his chest and shoulders in a bizarre pattern. Most had probably come from the rat fights where we'd met. Even more disturbing was the new demon scar with two slashes on his shoulder. Nick's gaze flicked away when he realized I'd seen it. Motions fast, he put on a lightweight T-shirt.

Peeved, I crossed my arms and sank back into the cushions to stare at the black TV. An uncomfortable silence grew, broken only by Jax's wings. In the almost-mirror of the TV, I watched Nick sit on the edge of the bed to pull a pair of stained blue overalls over his pants. I wondered if it was the same pair he'd used when he had helped me break into Trent's grounds. Maybe I was as bad as he was.

"Bathroom is behind the kitchen," Nick said as he stood and adjusted the straps about his shoulders. "I've got extra blankets under the bed if you're cold or on the off chance you're not sleeping together and one of you wants the couch."

Lips parting, I turned to give him an ugly look. Pierce's attention lifted from a rack of preindustrial buttons, his stance stiffening as he eyed Nick from under his loose black curls. "Rachel is a lady, sir, not an adventuress. If I was not obliged to abide by good manners for the turn you gave us, I'd be of a mind to settle this off the reel directly."

Nick said nothing, no emotion at all. Not watching his hands, he opened his top drawer and raked his arm across his dresser to dump everything in. Turning, he pulled something from his coat, on the bed, and dropped it in there, too, hiding what it was with his body. "Rachel isn't a lady," he said as he shut the drawer with a bang. "She's a witch, rhymes with bitch, randy and ready. Rachel, how many men have you slept with? A dozen? Two?"

"Nick!" I protested as I stood, first flustered, then alarmed when Pierce headed for him. "Pierce, don't!" I shouted as I got between them, my splayed fingers on his chest and stiff arm stopping him dead in his tracks. I felt a jump in energy between us, and he reddened, backing out of my reach with his eyes down and his jaw clenched.

"This coming from a man who lives in a house of assignation?" Pierce muttered.

Stiff, Nick crossed to the kitchen to put his shoes on again. I was about ready to smack Nick myself, but it wouldn't do anyone any good.

"What Rachel does is no one's funeral," Pierce said. "I'll allow it takes a coward to invite a woman to his diggings only to cast doubt upon her standing. Apologize at once."

Nick's foot thumped down as he slipped his second sneaker on. "I'll apologize if it's not true. Rachel? How about it?"

I couldn't say anything, staring at him with my arms over my middle. Why is he doing this? To hurt me? It was working, and finally Nick turned away.

"I have to go to work," he said, grabbing a torn coat from the hook beside the door. "There are eggs in the fridge, and some apples. Help yourself. I'll bring something back about six. If you leave and arent coming back, lock the door. Jax can get me in."

My jaw clenched. He was goading me into leaving, hoping pride would rob me of a good day's sleep and a chance to shower.
"Thanks, Nick," I said dryly. "I appreciate this." Bastard.

Pierce was stiff, and Nick's eyes flicked to him before he opened the door. A faint argument filtered in, and Jax flew out, green sparkles of discontent slipping from him. "I'm not a monster, Rachel," Nick said, hand on the door and feet in the threshold. "You loved me once."

The door shut, and I found myself shaking. "Yeah, well, we all make mistakes," I whispered. I wouldn't feel guilty. Nick had lied to me. Kept secrets from me. Still did.

Pierce cleared his throat, and I went warm, probably as red as my hair. Taking a deep breath, I turned. "Pierce," I said, wanting to explain, but he held up a hand.

"What a spit-licked son of a bitch," he said, shocking the hell out of me. Steps slow, he went to the couch and sat, his long coat falling open and his elbows on his knees. His hat he dropped on the table. For a moment, he was silent, then, "You sparked with him when you were younger?"

I didn't know if sparking meant dating or sex, but it didn't matter. Uneasy, I sat on the other end of the couch with lots of space between us. I felt like a whore, and mirroring him with my elbows on my knees, I took a drink of water and swung the bottle between my knees. I wasn't trying to impress Pierce, but who wants to be thought of as a whore?

"Yes," I said, not looking up. "A couple of years ago. I got my first demon mark because of him. I didn't know he was a thief at the time." I looked at Pierce, seeing his gaze lost in thought. "Or maybe I did and I was ignoring it. I've got a problem with bad men."

Pierce's focus sharpened, and when our eyes met, he looked away. He may as well have it all. "Nick's right, though," I admitted, watching the water swinging in my grip. "I'm not a particularly chaste woman. Compared to the women of your time, I'm probably a whore."

"You're not," Pierce protested a little too stridently, and I set the bottle down beside Nick's beer, wanting that instead. God, I was tired. And my knees were throbbing.

"I swear, and cuss," I said, giving in and taking a swig of the beer. The bitter taste tightened the back of my mouth but it was marvelously cold.

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