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Black Magic Sanction

Black Magic Sanction: Page 81

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Nick had wanted me in it, not Al.

Nick bolted, and instinct kicked in. Lunging, I grabbed him around the waist, letting go before we hit the floor, then rolled into a stand and smacked a front kick in his middle. His breath whooshed out, and he clutched his stomach. Swell, he was in his underwear. I hated arguing with men in their underwear. "Get up!" I shouted, hoping there was no one upstairs.

"Ohhh, nice one, little grasshopper," Al said as he rummaged through a crate.

Ignoring Al, I yanked Nick to his feet and shoved him back on the bed, where he hunched over his knees, feet on the floor. "Poor Nicky," I said as he struggled for air. "Can't make a bubble cause I'll just shove you into it. Can't tap a line cause we're better than you. And your pixy is gone. Don't you even wonder where he is? Or did you send him to spy on us?"

Nick looked up, ears red and having gotten in only one good breath. "What do you want?" he wheezed. "You want something, bitch, or you wouldn't be here." Hunched over, he glared at Al. "Don't touch that!"

From the edge of my sight, I watched Al raise a multiple-pipe instrument to his lips. It looked old, and with his fingers bare of his usual gloves, he played a few notes, then carelessly tossed it back into the crate. Nick cringed, and I brought his attention back to me with a shove that pushed him into the wall.

"I want you," I said, answering his question. "Or more specifically, I want your nasty, devious, light-fingered skills. Wanna job?"

Nick looked up - I hadn't hit him that hard - and smiling, as if I'd just given him the upper hand, he pointed to his pants on the chair. Wary, I checked the pockets before throwing them at him. "Right," he said as he shoved one foot, then the other, in. "Why would I help you?"

Behind me, I heard Al sigh dramatically. "I told you, itchy witch. Let me. Violence works so-o-o much faster."

My eye twitched at the sound of Nick's zipper. "Oh, he'll do it," I said, tension winding tighter. "He won't be able to resist."

Eyebrows raised, as if asking for permission, Nick clicked on the small bedside lamp sitting on a milk crate. His scars became visible, reminders of our beginnings. "I'm not doing a job for you," he said as he roughly pulled a white T-shirt on to hide them. "I don't care that you have your demon on a leash."

Al growled, and I hoped he'd keep playing the good cop. Maybe I needed to get rougher.

"Al leashed? Right," I said, standing with my hip cocked. "The only reason you're not on the auction block buying me a set of rooms in the ever-after is because I don't want you."

Nick hesitated, eying me as he shoved his arms into the sleeves of a plaid shirt. Long fingers moving dexterously, he stood before me in the low-ceilinged room and did up the lowest four buttons. "You admit you're a demon," he said bitingly.

My face burned, and I stayed silent.

"What do you want?" Nick yanked a pair of white socks from a pile and sat on his bed.

Al was rummaging again, and ignoring his muttered prediction of doom, I said, "I want you to help me steal something."

Nick, true to form, sucked on his teeth and eyed me. "What?"

He didn't mean "what" as in "excuse me." He meant what did I want him to steal, and a quiver rose and fell. I almost had him.

Nick waited for me to answer, and when I didn't, he pointed to his boots, out of his reach. "Fair enough," he said. "What's in it for me?"

Smiling, I felt his laces, sensing the charmed silver in them. Nice. "Nothing," I said as I yanked the laces free and tossed him the first boot. "You get nothing. Not a damn thing."

His second boot landed next to the first, untouched. Sitting on the low cot, Nick put his elbows on his knees and looked up at me from around his shaggy hair. An almost-hidden disappointment was in him for my having found his means of possible escape, and I could nearly see him reassessing the situation. "Remove my mark, and I'll think about it," he grumbled.

Al came forward, and as I handed him the laces, he intoned, "It's my mark, not hers."

"So she owes you a mark instead of me," Nick said. His tight face turned to me. "I bet you could get rid of it overnight, Rachel. Or don't you charge for your services?"

I hardly felt Al's hand on my arm as I shoved it off. Feeling like Ivy, I sauntered to him, confident, in control, and pissed to the ends of the earth. Did he just call me a slut? Again? "I'm not taking your lousy little mark," I said, close enough to do some damage if I tried. "I'm still trying to get rid of the one you foisted on me."

Knowing he'd gotten to me, Nick smiled. "We have nothing to talk about. Get out."

This wasn't going well. Maybe Al was right and I didn't have it in me to be the bad cop.

Al was gleefully rubbing his hands together, and my promise to abandon reality if I couldn't do this came crashing down on me. "I told you!" he crowed. "What color do you want your walls painted, Rachel? Snag him now and be done with it."

Nick's face got ugly, and I held up a hand. "You owe me, Nick."

Grabbing an unlaced boot, he shoved his foot into it, hard. "I don't owe you anything."

"How do you figure that?" I shot back, hand on my hip.

He wedged his foot in the other boot. "The focus?" he mocked.

"You sent it to me!" I said loudly.

"I thought you were dead!" he shouted back.

"And you never bothered to check!" I said. "Not my problem!"

Al chuckled as he tried on tribal masks, and I frowned, not liking him watch us argue.

"I had to get it back," Nick said sullenly. "I'd already promised it to the coven."

"And you gave them me instead," I said bitterly. "I was in Alcatraz, Nick. They want to give me a lobotomy. They lace the food with compounds that block your ability to do magic. I don't owe you shit."

He stood, and seeing a hint of remorse, I crossed my arms over my chest. If he was going for the door, he'd find himself on the floor again. "Maybe lying to me is acceptable to you," I said. "And maybe selling information to demons about me is not a problem. And maybe I was a naive sucker of a girl who deserved everything she got." My voice was rising, but I couldn't help it. "But if that's what I was to you, then that's what I was. My mistake for thinking I was something else."

I sounded like a hurt girlfriend, and I hated it. I thought I'd let this go, but apparently not.

"I've learned one thing through this crapfest, Nick," I said, forcing myself to be calm. "People treat you like they see you, not who you really are. Let's say you're right. Let's say I'm the bad guy here, and you're the poor abused human. Is that who you want to be? The helpless human? 'Cause that's not how I saw you. And if I'm the big bad witch who is unreasonable and mean, then that's how I'm going to act."

A year of bottled-up frustration surfaced, and his eyes widened as I came at him.

He raised a hand to block my punch, and I shifted my grip, levering his own arm under his chin as I shoved him back into the wall. Yelping, he froze when I used my free hand to find his nuts. That fast, it was over, and Al was laughing.

"Still think you don't owe me anything?" I shouted, inches from his face, and giving a little squeeze. Okay, maybe I could do bad cop.

"Ow," he said, not moving apart from his chest as he breathed fast. "Let go, Rachel."

"Why?" I said. "You don't use em!"

"I'm not helping you," Nick said breathily. "You can go screw a demon for all I care."

From behind me Al chuckled. "No offense, but this is a lot more entertaining."

Having made my point, I let go and backed up out of his reach. I was shaking inside, but I wasn't ready to give up yet. Not by a long shot. "You're not the man I thought you were," I said. "Thief extraordinaire? Right. Fine. I'll go talk to Rose. I should have gone to her anyway. Come on, Al. Nick doesn't have the guts for it."

"Rose?" Al said, confused as he looked at me from around an open crate.

"Yeah, the gal at the place with the thing?" Turning my back on Nick, I went to the middle of the room and stood as if waiting for Al to join me so we could pop out. In a bad temper that wasn't faked, I scoffed, "You don't think you're the only thief I've run into, do you? The Turn diamond? Or England's lodestone? Who do you think lifted them?" I was making this up as I went along, but the diamond was legendary, as was the lode-stone.

Catching my drift, Al sidled closer to me. "You are a versatile itchy witch," he cooed, and I wiggled my fingers to get his lips away from my ear.

Nick, though, had paused. "No one's lifted them," he said, doubt on his face. "They're right where they belong, under enough security to kill a cockroach."

I smiled brightly. "I'm sure you're right. Al? We've got only a few hours."

"Quite right!" he said brightly, and I slipped my arm in his, dropping one foot behind the other to pose with him. God, Nick was easier to manipulate than my brother.

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