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Black Magic Sanction: Page 76
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It was built into the curving wall, and a thick layer of coals radiated heat. 'Opulent' would be the word. There wasn't a circle in sight, making me think this was a spot of privacy where you would never need one.
"I've never been here," I told Bis as I looked behind us into a lowered, large circular room filled with books. Lots and lots of books. My shoulders eased, and I reached to touch Bis's clawed feet, wishing he wouldn't pinch so hard. "You okay?"
Someone breathed behind me, and I spun. The snap of Bis's wings brushed my ears as he found his balance. It was Al, and he ignored me as he stood before the fireplace and took off his green velvet coat and draped it over a nearby wing-back chair. Heart pounding, I dropped my hand from Bis, watching Al's considerable muscle moving under the thin white silk.
"This is my library," he said, his voice preoccupied as he shifted his shoulders in the new freedom. "I recently got it back." He turned his head and smiled. "Isn't it pleasant?"
I didn't like his mood, both satisfied and evil. "Where's Brooke?" I asked, wedging a finger between my neck and Bis's tail.
Al took off his glasses and set them on the long table. His gloves landed beside them. "I told you," he said, squeezing the bridge of his nose with his thumb and index finger. "I got my library back. Nothing is free, itchy witch, especially in the ever-after."
Crap, he'd sold Brooke. In the time it took for me to catch my breath and turn around, he had sold her. I was going to get blamed for this. "I thought you had to wait until sunset to sell someone," I said, and he eyed me.
"Private sale. Prearranged." Seeing me on edge, he smiled, worrying me more.
"You snagging Brooke is not going to help my situation," I said, watching him move to the fireplace and crouch before it.
"It's helped mine." Al dropped a piece of wood onto the flame, making sparks fly. A lick of flame rose, and the wood caught. "This is what I do, Rachel. You need to worry about yourself, love. I want my conservatory next, and living things are always more expensive."
My face blanched when he stood and turned. If he was calling me love, I was still in trouble. Brooke could wait. "I didn't give Pierce my gun," I said, moving to put one of those tall wing-back chairs between us. "It's not my fault you didn't search him. I forgot he had it."
Looking totally different without his coat, glasses, and gloves, Al rummaged in a basket beside the hearth. "Make yourself at home. You and your gargoyle, Bis. Would you like something to eat?" His eyes met mine and I stifled a shiver. "I'll make cake."
I didn't trust this at all. His show of congeniality was more disturbing than if he were howling at me. But if I sat down, I might be able to get Bis off my shoulder.
Watching him, I went to sit. I didn't want to get smacked by sitting in his chair, but they both looked alike. The fireplace was to my right, and the dim library spilling out and down to my left. "You okay, Bis?" I said, hoping he'd move, but the kid was terrified and-only nodded.
"No cake?" Al murmured with forced idleness - scaring the crap out of me. I'd gone to him for help, but now...
"I can't say how pleased I am that you're accepting your place," he said as he filled a kettle from a pitcher and set it over the fire. Coming close, he seated himself on the adjacent couch facing the fire, his knee almost touching mine and his burnt amber scent pinching my nose. "First a new vanity curse to hide your bite, and now asking for a curse when an earth charm exists. Bravo."
I put a hand to my neck, glad that he couldn't see my hairy legs.
"Don't hide it," he said, ignoring Bis's hissing as he took my hand and pulled it to him. "Your skin is beautiful. None of those lowbrow vampire marks anymore. You're worth more than vampire teeth, itchy witch."
Worry tightened my gut even as I nudged Bis to be quiet or get off my shoulder. "I can't invoke a locator charm made from earth magic," I said, remembering last winter when I'd stirred a batch to find a banshee, only to learn that my blood wouldn't invoke it. Marshal had done it. Seemed the more complex the magic, the more the subtle difference in my blood mattered.
"Neither can I," Al admitted lightly. "Welcome to the club.
I'm not a witch," I admitted, scooting into the cushions to get some space between us.
"You're not really a demon either." Al's eyebrows rose.
Forcing my jaw to unclench, I blurted out, "I didn't give Pierce my gun.
He took it when I was hopped up on that drug. I thought he had it to keep you from taking Lee or Ivy."
"Which is why you're here, itchy witch, and not screaming in my bedroom."
Fear came out as anger. "Knock it off, will you? That doesn't work anymore."
I had time for a breath, nothing more. Al was on me, pushing me into my chair, his face inches from mine, his arm under my chin. Bis fell back, wings flailing as he left my shoulder.
"I need to work harder at it, then," the demon said, his words clipped.
I could feel my pulse lifting my skin to touch him. His heavy weight pressed into me, and my breathless reflection was in his red, goat-slitted eyes. "Get off," I panted.
Bis hissed, and I saw a flash of reaching claws.
"You need to learn your place, goyle," Al said, and I jerked when his eye twitched and Bis thumped to the carpet, unseen but wheezing in what had to be shock and pain.
"Hey!" I shouted, squirming to get out from under Al.
The demon leaned into me harder, and my breath whooshed out. "And you need to develop some manners. Or is it respect?"
A part of my brain realized he wasn't using magic, and I struggled to move. My hand got free, and he shifted to grab my wrist, bringing it to his nose as he breathed deeply. Sensation spilled down, and I realized he had the wrist that carried his mark. Damn.
Behind me, Bis mewled, "It's gone. It's gone. I can't hear them."
Double damn, I was in trouble, and I tried to see Bis, failing.
"That runt of yours tried to drop me with your charms, Rachel."
My eyes flicked back to Al's.
"Lie to me," he coached. "Tell me you had nothing to do with it or you will fund my mansion. I don't care if your brats will be demons or not."
"What are you doing to him!" I exclaimed as Bis mewed. "Bis, go home!" I added, knowing a circle couldn't hold him.
"I can't," the kid panted. "I can't feel the lines. Rachel, I can't see them!"
Holy crap, what had Al done?
Al pressed my wrist against my chest, his fingers against me. "Pierce could have killed me. Me, who has survived... everything!"
Teeth clenched, I grunted, "Let Bis go."
"I'd be more concerned about yourself, itchy witch. Bis is simply existing without contact with a ley line. It hurts the mind. Deprivation." He eased up a little, and I got a good breath of air. "The sooner I'm happy, the sooner I'll stop blocking his contact. Is killing you going to make me happy, Rachel?"
Burnt amber coated me, and I could feel myself start to sweat. "Pierce took my gun," I said again, hoping he believed me this time. "I didn't know he had it when he followed me. I forgot, I mean. I really did. Go ahead, search my thoughts. I'm telling the truth. Why would I want Pierce to kill you?"
Shock flickered in the back of his goat-slitted eyes. He let go of my wrist and pushed himself to a stand. It was too fast for me to get in a parting shot. Shaking, I straightened in my chair. Bis's whimpering took on a shade of relief, and I looked for him, finding him curled into a ball beside my chair. My hand dropped to touch him, and he clenched into himself. "Bis, go home," I said, and he looked up, his ears pinned to his skull, making his eyes look even bigger.
"Not again," he said, tail uncurling from his feet as he shook. "I won't run away again."
We both jumped when Al looked at the ceiling and bellowed, "Treble!"
His gargoyle? I thought, excitement mixing with my fear and spent adrenaline to make me feel ill. Was he going to teach me now so I didn't try again and kill myself? It would almost be worth the pain of pushing myself out of that line.
Bis shivered, and Al put his glasses on and turned to the lit fireplace as a gargoyle three times Bis's size scraped from the flue, wings spreading submissively as she hopped to the hearth.
Treble had black tufts on her ears, long and flowing, where Bis had white. The lion tuft on the end was black, too, and her entire tail looked shorter in proportion than Bis's. Stubby horns like an antelope's were between her ears, and when her golden eyes landed on Bis, she hissed, wings spreading aggressively and black teeth bared.
"Manners, Treble," Al said lightly as he rummaged in a chest to bring out a tin and a coffee press. "Bis is a guest."
Bis hugged my leg, and I extended my hand, helping him up to sit on the arm of my chair, putting him even with the larger gargoyle. His ears were pinned, and his red eyes wild as he shook, his tail wrapped around my wrist like he was holding my hand.
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