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Black Magic Sanction


Black Magic Sanction: Page 53


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"I can take care of you, teach you to survive. Be there for you, even if you do hate me."

I shivered. "I don't want him," I said, and Al turned away, seeming smaller somehow.

"Mmmm." Al stood before me, running his gaze up and down and lingering on the mess my hair had become. "Do you think the coven might summon me tonight?" he asked as he took my arm and escorted me past Pierce to the elaborate glyph of the screaming face. His smile deepened, becoming pure evil. "I do."

"Al, wait," I said as I hobbled with him, one foot in a boot, one in a sock. But I knew my protests would be futile. If I warned them, I wasn't helping my case of being a white witch, seeing that I'd have to explain why Al had his name back. If I didn't warn them and Al took someone... Well, if he took them all, I might stay out of jail, but how could I live with myself?

"If they don't summon me," Al continued, "I suspect that they'll likely spend their resources sending assassins after you. It's a tricky moral problem, isn't it? Warn them, and they survive to kill you. Remain silent, and they die and you live. My little gray witch."

He reached to touch my face, and I swung my boot at him. Al only laughed. "Get yourself cleaned up, will you? You're a mess," he said, then gave me a shove.

I fell backward onto the screaming face etched into the marble floor, feeling my body dissolve into thought as my boot skidded across the stone floor. Before I could feel the cold of nothing, the black stone shifted to the familiar salt-laced linoleum of my kitchen. I was home.

Looking up, I found Ivy, Jenks, and Lee waiting for me. Silently they took in my blood-smeared hand and the lack of Pierce. Ivy sighed and Jenks's wings slowed and stopped.
My jaw clenched, and I forced it to relax.

I was home. I'd gotten a demon mark removed. I couldn't be summoned by anyone but Al and my friends. And I didn't have the slightest idea what I was going to do.

Eighteen

Jenks dropped down on a column of glittering sparkles before I could get up from my hands and knees. My pain amulet was useless, the linoleum hurt my knees, and my tangled hair made a curtain between md the world. "Rache!" he called, a gleaming sparkle darting erratically as he tried to get past my hair. "Are you okay? Where's Pierce?"

Much as I hurt, I couldn't help my smile. Melancholy and elation were a weird mix as I sat back on my heels and got my hair out of my face. I'd lost a demon mark, but Pierce was still with Al. He was being beaten because he'd helped me, and it didn't sit well.

"I'm fine," I said on an exhale, taking Ivy's hand as she extended it so she could pull me to my feet. Muscles sore and knees complaining, I got up, tossed my useless pain amulet into the sink, and looked at Lee sitting at my spot at the table with a chipped coffee cup in his short, laced fingers. Over the sink, the dark window was shining with streaks of moisture. It was raining.

Ivy let go of my hand and dropped back to put the usual space between us. "What happened to your other boot?" she asked, and a slow smile grew despite my worry for Pierce. Leaning against the sink, I painfully twisted my foot up and around to pull the sock off again.

"It's gone," I said, meaning the demon mark. "I've gotten rid of two, now. Just the one left." The one I got thanks to Nick.

Ivy leaned over to see, holding her hair back as she peered at my foot. Jenks flew closer, the draft from his wings a breath of chill. From the corner, Lee jerked upright in his chair. "You got a mark off?" he questioned, almost spilling his coffee. "You gave him Pierce?"

My foot hit the floor, and both Ivy and Jenks backed up. "I didn't give him Pierce. Did it look like I gave him Pierce? Huh? Did it look like I told Pierce to follow me? Did you hear words come out of my mouth saying, fierce, save me!' No. He already belongs to Al. Got himself demon snagged last winter. He's on loan right now, babysitting me. He'll be back." I looked at Ivy and Jenks, frowning. "Count on it."

Lee raised a hand in protest. "Sor-r-r-ry," he said dryly. "What did you give him, then?"

Brow furrowed, I brought my other foot up and undid my remaining boot and kicked it off. Rex, Jenks's cat, went to investigate, and I crossed my arms over my middle. "I gave him his summoning name back, if you have to know. The mark I got rid of tonight was the one I originally took from Newt the day you tried to give me to Al and I had to buy my way home."

Jenks landed on Ivy's shoulder with his hands on his hips. Ivy, too, looked severe as they stared at him. Lee, though, looked just as peeved. "Who gave whom to Al?" he said darkly. "I was the one who took the long tour of hell."

"You bought your own ticket," I shot back. "Next time listen when I warn you, okay? I'm not as stupid as you'd like me to be."

Lee frowned, but then his face eased and he chuckled. "I think you're just lucky. I'm listening now, if that means anything."

Immediately, I lost my ire. Belonging to Al must have been hell. That Pierce was there now really bothered me. It would bother me more if I didn't know he'd be back babysitting me before too much longer. Unless Al accidentally killed him and I became Newt's ward. Shit.

"Tell you what, Lee," I said as the tension in the room eased. "How about we simply agree that you be nice to me and I be nice to you? It seemed to work today."

"He locked you in a boat and blew it up," Ivy said darkly.

"Kist planted the bomb," I said, wishing she'd quit bringing it up. My attention returning to Lee, I said, "How about it? I'm not talking about a partnership. More like a truce. You don't have to trust me, just stop pissing me off. And don't spell me again. Ever. Even if I am going to cause us to drive into a bus."

"You remember that?" Lee asked, and I nodded.

"Most of it." I'd be mad at Lee for knocking me out, but it was probably the only reason we made it home. King of the world... jeez, how embarrassing.

Lee's dark eyes became thoughtful. Jenks's wings slowed, and even Ivy seemed to relax. My eyes fixed on Lee's disheveled but staunchly upright posture, I crossed the room and held out my hand. It hung there all by itself, and I tilted my head, wondering if he was going to be stupid about this and let his pride put him in the crapper again. But then Lee's thin lips quirked, and finally a smile showed. With the sliding sound of his dirt-marked suit, Lee stood and we shook hands. There wasn't a whisper of power threatening to spill between us. His hand felt small in mine after Al's, and firm. "This is going to rot Trent's bridle," the man said as he let go.

Chuckling, I nodded. Poor Trent. Hope he choked on it. Eying Lee's coffee on the table, I turned to the coffeemaker. Jenks went to "chat" with Lee about the dangers of going back on even our informal truce, and I fumbled in the cupboard for a mug. Ivy was suddenly at my elbow, and I gave her a quick look to make sure she wasn't vamping out, then relaxed.

"Pierce?" she whispered, and my elation at getting rid of a mark and mending a fence with a city power evaporated.

"Al's beating him up for threatening him with Newt," I said, and she winced. "I'm sure he'll show up before long." But in what state, was the question. He should have kept his mouth shut. I was handling it. Interesting, though, that I was allowed to threaten Al and Pierce wasn't.

I bowed my head, and my hair made a curtain between me and the rest of the world as my grip tightened on the cold porcelain. This wasn't right.

Ivy's hand touched my shoulder, and she gave me a quick sideways hug. "I'm sure he'll be fine," she said, her lips inches from my ear.

I pulled out of her hold to see her smirking good-naturedly. "You're something else, vampire," I said sourly even as my neck started to tingle and she moved away, but I couldn't contain my growing feeling of excitement. My foot was clean. I had one less tie to demons. One less reason to be shunned. One more mark to go, I thought, looking at my wrist.

Jenks darted from Lee, satisfaction on his small features as the much larger man nodded, clearly understanding the threat that Jenks could be, even as small as he was. "Rachel," the witch asked as he set his mug down on the table, "would you mind if I used your phone? Brooke took my cell, my wallet." His face shifted, eyebrows rising. "Damn, she mugged me! I need to call my wife and tell her I'm okay. Have her send a car."

Surprised, I leaned back against the sink with my coffee mug warming my fingers. Ivy's and Jenks's expressions were as confused as mine. "You're married?" I asked for all three of us.

Lee grinned, looking like another person - a happy one. "Six weeks. Nice woman. Met her on one of my boats. She's got her own money, so I know she's not a gold digger." His head dropped, and a shocking amount of honesty shone from him when he looked up again. "I asked her to marry me for the selfish reason of making my nights easier, but I love her."

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