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Black Magic Sanction

Black Magic Sanction: Page 96

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Pierce's head thunked into the dirt wall as he looked up. He was warm behind me, smelling of sweat, dirt, redwood. Masculine. They were gone. "Let me go," I whispered.

Pierce loosened his grip. In a smooth motion, he slipped out from behind me, taking his warmth and comfort to the other side of the hole. The light in the corner dimmed.

Cold and sick at heart, I fingered the abandoned blanket closer and draped it around me, shaking as I looked back at my panic. God, I'd completely lost it. What in hell was wrong with me? And yet I was still shaking. "Thank you," I said, looking at my trembling hands, covered in dirt and stinking of the river. "I don't know what got into me. It was..."

His eyes meeting mine were dark with pity. "You've been run by dogs before?"

I nodded, looking at the ceiling and pulling my knees to my chin. My leather pants were damp and icky. Freezing. His thin clothes were dark with moisture where he'd held me.

"I can tell," he said, frowning as he remembered his past. "It's always the ones who have been run before that give me the most trouble." Smiling faintly, he returned his attention to me. "I'm sorry if I hurt you. It wasn't my intent."

My gaze dropped, embarrassed, as I remembered my terror. "No..."

"Oh, Rachel," he said softly, and I looked up at the compassion in his voice. "I don't set much store by what happens in a hole in the ground. It's of no circumstance. None at all. There was one time, I swan, it took three of us to keep him down and quiet. When elves ride, they magic fear into their prey. And Kalamack's spawn has hunted you before."

Instead of making me feel better, I felt even more stupid. It hadn't affected him. Expression sour, I peeled my socks off my feet and checked between my cold toes to make sure I hadn't picked up any leeches. "I flaked out. Sorry." I remembered his warmth behind me, and his voice, calm and frightened all at the same time, begging me to be quiet as he sang about silver and gold. "You've done that before. Kept a person quiet."

He nodded, not looking up. His brow was furrowed. "Does it always work?"

He shook his head, and I shivered. I had a right to be afraid, then.

"You're cold," he said, seeing me with my arms wrapped around my shins. It was the cold, sure, but it was the spent adrenaline, too. There had been nothing but fear in it. No high, no euphoria. God, I was stupid. Or maybe I was starting to get smart.

I looked over the small room, gaze lingering on the fieldstone wall. "Where are we?"

"A short stretch from the river."

My belt pack was in the corner, and I eyed it. I was cold, hungry, and in a hole in the ground, but at least I had my elven porn, damn it. "Jenks?"

Pierce settled himself, gaze on the ceiling. "On his way to Ivy," he said. "He was determined not to mosey off until satisfied you were sound, but after you pinked up, he left."

Wiping my hand under my nose, I found a more comfortable position. There wasn't much room here. It was bigger than say... two coffins, and about four feet tall.

Pierce's bare feet shifted as he found a new way to sit. "We're likely to be some time. I'm of a mind sharing that blanket might make it nicer."

My attention jerked to his, suspicion rising high. "You can have it." I pulled it from around my shoulders and tossed it to him. It landed between us to somehow look dangerous.

Pierce leaned forward, his expression cross as he dragged it to himself and watched me shiver. "I won't say you're a cold woman, Rachel, because you're not. But you're... a sight too wary of those whose aim is but to give you comfort. Grit your teeth if you must, but I'm coming over and we're sharing this blanket."

"Hey!" I said loudly, then froze, looking at the ceiling, fear spiking through me. "You stay right there," I whispered, hand outstretched in warning. "I said you could have the blanket."

He hesitated, crouched awkwardly because of the low ceiling. His black hair was in disarray, and his white underthings covered everything and hid nothing.

"What are you going to do?" he asked. "Hurt me because I want to share a blanket? I won't impugn your honor. You're an ornery woman if you won't allow a man even that."

He moved forward again, and I pressed into the wall, feeling its cold through my thin chemise as he came on. "I said stop!" The pitch of my voice halted him, and he hesitated, a foot back. Heart pounding, I whispered, "I might. I've hurt people before. It's what I do. Demon kin. I'm demon kin, and tonight proves it."

"Aye, you might." Pierce's eyes narrowed. "I'll chance it."

I didn't have time to react as he shifted to sit right next to me, pushing my arm away when I went to shove him back, slipping the blanket around us and drawing it close.

"You son of a bitch," I said, and he caught my wrist as I went to shove him, tucking it under his arm so he could pull the blanket closer over my shoulder. "Leave off!"

"A body is just trying to get warm!" he said, irritated. "Hold still."

He moved to block another smack - and both my hands were caught. "You've been giving your trust to the wrong people. Nohow can you fix it," Pierce said, and I quit, surprised. "What do I have to do to win your trust? Damnation, woman, I just saved you three times, and the sun isn't even up yet."

Panting, I stared at him through my lank strands of hair. "I trust Jenks and Ivy."

His eyes were inches from mine. "You trust on the surface, but no deeper. You don't know how. For a clever woman, you took the short end of the stick when it comes to men."

I shoved my shoulder into him, seeing as he had my wrists in one of his hands. "Get off! I don't want to play this game, Pierce."

I tapped a line - ready to risk Trent's feeling it - and Pierce's grip on my wrists tightened. "Game," he said, voice angry. "It's an all-fired serious game, and we're going to settle it off the reel. I don't set much store by the lies you tell yourself to protect your heart. Tell me a truth, and I'll let go of you. Use that line upon me instead, and I'll smack your head into the wall."

Yeah, he probably would. "This is stupid, Pierce," I said, heart pounding. "Let me go."

"Aye, stupid," he muttered. "Tell me a truth, and I'll let go." I wiggled, and his grip tightened. "You can't think of one dash-it-all truth?"

"You scare me," I blurted out, and he exhaled. The furrow over his brow eased, and he loosened his grip on my wrist.

"Why?" he said, but he didn't sound surprised as he gazed at me, a new stubble on his face and his expression unforgiving.

I thought of his sorry state, stinking of river water and prickly, then the time I'd seen him standing in my church, clean and dressed impeccably, with a hat. Who wears a hat anymore? "Because I'm attracted to you," I whispered. "And every man - or woman, for that matter - I'm attracted to is dangerous. They betray me or end up dead or... hurt me somehow."

My heart pounded as he thought about that. "That's half a truth," he said, and let go of one of my wrists.

I rubbed my wrist, trying to erase his touch. "I'm afraid that anyone who can look past my shunning and smut is a bad person and not to be trusted. Like you."

Emotion crossed his face, too fast for me to read. "There's the other half," he said, letting go of the other wrist and settling himself more comfortably beside me, our shoulders touching. "One that I deem hogwash, but if you believe it, I'll allow it."

Feeling less penned in, I shifted my half of the blanket up around my shoulders. "I want to know what you did for the coven to kill you," I said, then hesitated. "Why you're still helping me when you know I'm demon kin. You kill demons. Or try to, anyway."

He stared at the rock wall across from us. "You don't know how to play this game. Those are wants, not truths."

My wrists were fine, not even red in the dim light as I rubbed them, and I could feel his warmth on one side of me, though space was between us. This was okay. We could share a blanket. I guess. "How about playing my game, then," I said. "The more you talk, the longer I'll sit here under your blanket."

He smiled at that, but it faded fast, and he stared at the stones and into his past with his hands laced over his shins.

"Did they kill you because of Eleison?" I asked, pulse fast. Please dont let it be bad.

"Eleison wasn't why, but it was the beginning of my end," he said, voice soft in the glow of his magic-made light. "You know I destroyed it? Every last living soul?" he asked, his expression haunted, and when I nodded, his gaze became distant again. "They forgave me for that. What came afterward..."

The blanket slipped from my shoulder when he shifted to find a more comfortable position, and I tugged it back up, sending his scent over me along with the blanket. "Eleison was a small town, rife with foul magic," he said softly. "I was a minor coven member, young. Newly taken to my vow.

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