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Episode 10 Wild Hunt

Blissed Season 1 Episode 10

Wild Hunt

by

Nicolette Jinks

 

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously.

 

Copyright © 2016 by NICOLETTE JINKS

NICOLETTE JINKS asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

You may contact the author via email: [email protected] or check in at Twitter, Facebook, [Google++], [ GoodReads+]. To follow the author, her blog is www.nicolettejinks.wordpress.com, where she writes about writing and life.

Independently Published by author

doing business as Standal Publications

393 River Road Bliss, Idaho 83314

Thaimon has gone mad, and if Brandy can’t catch him nobody knows where the killing spree will end.

Wild Hunt

Thaimon had chosen an odd place to loiter. The Morris Corner Grocer was located on the elbow of two little-known side streets with a weathered sign and dimly-lit windows. Whoever Morris was, they sold things that made hippy health-food stores look entirely normal. Iron elderflower water, dried anemone wreaths, black poppyseed candles, allspice rum—too many things to look at. Pity it would all be destroyed if the wraith went nuts the instant he saw me.

Maize husks rustled against my hip as I leaned around a stack of wooden boxes. I cringed at the noise, but Thaimon’s behavior remained unchanged. He moved quietly, confidently, a tiger sauntering along a jungle trail. As I adjusted the mic bothering my shoulder, Thaimon came to a halt to inspect a basket of gold-plated apples.

A roundfaced man with rosy cheeks stepped close to me. “Welcome to Morris. This is your first visit. What do you need?”

“Nothing, thank you,” I said, hoping to be rid of him before Thaimon noticed.

“Then I ask you to leave.”

Great. An exclusive place was all I needed. Giving him my best I’m-Serious-Glare, I said, “I’m hunting that wraith there.”

Rosy-Cheeks squinted at Thaimon, who was now talking to a guy who had to be a brother to my greeter. “Arthur is no wraith.”

“Who is Arthur?”

Rosy-Cheeks shrugged. “Cousin.”

I doubted that was all he was. With the way he was not speaking directly to Thaimon, rather by pretending to talk into a cell phone, I’d bet that he was in a shady deal of some kind. Too bad I wasn’t Nicholas Wraithbane, scary enough to throttle the truth out of Rosy-Cheeks.

I said, “Find a way to get your cousin away.”

“Why? We’re anti-discriminatory. Doesn’t matter who or what our customer is, so long as they are a customer.”

“Three days ago I saw that wraith jump bodies and slaughter a dozen White Knights.” To my relief, the man visibly lost the roses in his cheeks. I continued, “He’s on a bloodpath, even if he looks sane now. Have you seen the Thaumaturgical Tribune about the Market Square massacre?”

Oh, he had, if those wide eyes were any indication. With a tug on the sleeve, the man pulled me out of sight and whispered, “What’s he doing here?

“You’d best hope it wasn’t to talk to Arthur—or that Arthur gives him what he wants the first time he asks.”

“He can’t—he’s not a longtime customer. New accounts need time for verification and more time for trust. Arthur can’t—”

“Arthur must, or he’s—”

A yell cut me off, chilling my blood and making my newfound companion run towards Arthur and Thaimon. Suspect as this business was, I had to admit that these storekeepers had courage in excess. Arthur was struggling with Thaimon, who was thankfully still all solid, just angry. For now. Should he go all misty, I didn’t know what I’d do.

“Soul-stealer! Soul-stealer!” screamed the man who’d been with me.

Arthur heard and obeyed by promptly turning tail. He ran with the speed of someone who has experience dodging swift-footed cops.

Since I had the shortest legs out of everyone present, I took a guess that the ultimate destination would be the nearest exit followed by a chase around the building. Thanks to Wraithbane insisting on walking the perimeter before letting me enter, I knew that the closest active portal was near the front door. While everyone else bolted for the back door, I ran through the front and hoped I’d cut them off.

“What’s happening?” Jay asked through the earbud.

“They’re out the back door now. I’m going to the portal.”

“Got him,” Wraithbane said through the connection. Beyond him, I heard the plaintive wailing of the man I’d been talking to, crying out for Arthur.

“You’ve got one half of the operation,” I said. “Thaimon wanted Arthur. They’re black market, I think.”

Outside, the sun was blindingly intense. I blinked frantically but fell into a fit of sneezes anyway.

I heard Jay fall and grunt. “Your way, Silver,” he said.

Arthur rounded the corner of the building, saw me, and ducked down a slender gap between two adjacent buildings. Thaimon started after him.

“Don’t move! Council Enforcement!”

A gun sounded. Thaimon jerked off-course. Willow stood in a shooter’s stance, ready to fire again. Not that a bullet would do a lot to a wraith, but it would distract him for a time. And Wraithbane promised that it did hurt Thaimon.

I crossed behind Willow and took off after Arthur. Bricks snagged my shirt and dog messes squished beneath my shoes. In places the walls had leaned towards one another, making the passage so slim that I had to wriggle to get through. After what felt like ages, I found Arthur cornered against the far wall.

“You aren’t getting me!”

I wasn’t sure where he was going to go. Up? It would be fairly easy to wriggle all the way to the roof, I supposed. I said, “I’m not here to ‘get’ you. What did the soul-stealer want?”

Arthur spat on the ground between us. “I didn’t tell him. I’m not telling you.”

He started to strip.

At first I didn’t know how to respond or what to do—did I stop him? How? By the time I squeezed in close enough to touch his arm, he had his trousers down and was working on his boxers. I seized a wrist and twisted.

“Stop that!”

He wrinkled his nose. He pulled back, making his wrist fully dislocate with a sickening grinding sound. I didn’t ease up and yet his body was visibly sliding away.

“I don’t want to bust your shoulder. Knock it off.”

“I don’t want to bust your shoulder,” mocked Arthur. He yanked his arm.

The skin slid by my fingers. Tissues stretched thin before snapping at displaced tendons, leaving me in direct contact with slippery yellow bones. As his soft tissues slurped away from bone I gaped, recognizing the radius and ulna in my grasp. Between the elbow and hand, Arthur’s arm hung limp and twitching.

“What?” I asked, then I saw the magic in him. Black shards sprayed up and down his body, marking all his bones. The bones in my hands seemed to be made of grey-speckled marble. It sparkled in the faint light.

“You won’t catch me,” Arthur said, shedding the bones in his hands and feet now. “Not even the soul-stealer will get me.”

“I can help you,” I said. “I’m a hex-breaker.”

Arthur spat on the ground again. This time I saw that it was made of the same material as his bones. “Hex-breakers are a myth. We’re all monsters in our own way. Even you.”

Blood sprinkled the ground from exit wounds in his flesh. Hesitantly, I extended my hand.

“Please stop. That looks painful.”

Arthur smirked. “What about this?” he asked and shoved his fingerless hand into a drain which would barely be big enough to fit both my thumbs.

Breathless, I could only watch as the drain slurped and gurgled his body down the pipe. Though it felt like it took ages, it was a matter of seconds before Arthur was gone. First it was his hand, his forearm, then his shoulder, then his neck. His skull popped out of an eye socket. After that, I stopped watching. When the drain made muffled burps and belches, I looked again to find a pile of grey-black bones shining in the light. A shadow blocked them out.

I looked up, only to get a bunch of brick dust in my eyes. While I scrubbed my face on the sleeve of my shirt, someone landed over the pile of bones.

“What was he?” I asked, expecting my visitor to be Wraithbane.

“A chalkman,” said a voice which I didn’t immediately recognize.

Eyes watering, I focused on the wraith before me. He had taken on a small collection of bodies in the time that I’d known him, and I wasn’t sure if this was the same body as he’d had last time, or if his fashion sense just made it look new. Barely thirty, the man had hair the color of paper after a chance encounter with coffee and eyes a couple shades darker. Fit and athletic without being muscle-bound, this body was a close match fitness-wise to Wraithbane’s.

“Thaimon, you look…” I didn’t have the guts to finish the sentence. Not when I didn’t know if the others could hear me.

He dipped his head, accepting the intended compliment. “And you look a bit disheveled.” He grinned boyishly. “I find it most charming. The two of us in a tight place, alone, hiding from your chaperone, makes one think of what trouble two such star-crossed young people could get into. No, disheveled isn’t the word. Different. You do look different, but what could account for the change? I wonder…”

Blushing, I cleared my throat and said, “You’re standing on bones. What were you going to tell me about chalkmen?”

“Them? There is not much to tell. They shed their bones the way lizards shed tails. The novelty wears thin very quickly.”

Thaimon went through Arthur’s discarded clothes.

“How many of them are there?”

“They’re dotted around here and there.”

“Why chalkmen?”

“Their bones decompose to chalk.”

“Oh.”

“Many a collector has opened his bone collection to find chalk powder instead of the bones he thought he had. The bone miners in particular hate chalkmen.”

“What did you want with him?” I asked.

“I desire what I desire,” Thaimon said. He grabbed the man’s shirt and took a knife out of the jeans pocket. He proceeded to cut a section out of the shirt, analyzing me between slices. “Come here and I’ll show you.”

My heart increased; I hesitated. At an arm’s length away, I was plenty close.

Thaimon’s smile changed to a not-quite-teasing one. “You’re terribly close to me as it is. Approach. See what I have to show you.”

Butterflies flipping in my stomach, I sucked in a breath and squeezed in close to him. Drawing this close to anyone always sent my senses into overdrive, no matter who they were or why they were in my personal space. Usually I felt a measure of fear. But now, I felt every sense with an added tinge of anticipation. The beating heart, tight chest, and cool fingers were not entirely unwelcome.

He watched me closely, making up for the way I avoided looking at him. Even before I crossed an arm over my chest, I knew he’d noticed the way that I should have worn a padded bra today. He stooped slightly, his nose brushed my neck. Goosebumps formed along my arms, less from the cool of the bricks shielding the warmth of the sun and more from the proximity of a man’s body.

“There,” he murmured in my ear. “That is what is different. Subtle. So very subtle, yet it changes things.”

My fierce blush made it hard to swallow. I asked, “What?”

“You smell of him.”

Every pulse of my heart sent me closer to dizziness, preparing me to launch away with all due speed—or to soften into his arms. Which was the appropriate response? I managed, “I should go.”

“You should.” He didn’t drop his arm from around my hips.

Would he let me go if I pressed it? I thought so. But my task was and always had been to delay him. Delay him as long as I could.

“If I go, so will you,” I said.

“Yes. And it would be a tragic waste of perfection suspended temporarily in time.”

And so it was that I didn’t go. He withdrew paper from the shredded shirt, glanced at it, put it in his back pocket.

I stayed with his arm around my hips, his lips occasionally brushing a feathery kiss against the slope of my neck. He gathered up my hair and nipped teeth against the lobe of my ear. I felt a tug on the mic cord hiding in my hair.

He chuckled.

I went rigid as Thaimon eased the earbud out of my ear. Between thumb and forefinger, he held it up to the sky, admiring it with a tight voice. “They make these things so small these days. Almost unnoticeable. You have intentionally distracted me?”

I nodded.

Warm fingertips traced my collarbone, withdrawing my shirt, exposing skin to the damp air of this tiny alley. The chord of my mic wrapped around his finger. It snapped. Both it and the earbud disappeared, replaced by his lips and testing fingers.

In my ear, he whispered, “I am easily distracted in this state. A fresh body owns me to a greater degree than I own it. Raw passions are quickly excited, but I have endured enough of these changes that I can direct my desires towards a pointed goal. And so I have.”

“What goal?” I asked.

A hand tightened in my hair, pulled my head back to expose my throat. “Do not ask. It is less pleasant than the task at hand.”

I swallowed. He kissed my throat, tipped my chin down, and kissed me. It was a hungry kiss, quick to turn rough in a way which would have frightened me before. Even with bruised lips, I knew his excitement was held in check. That worried me.

Still, it gave me the chance I needed. Casually as I could manage, I groped his butt. Specifically, I was after his pockets. Something stiff was in one—a folded square of paper. Pickpocketing had not been one of my talents, so I hoped I wasn’t obvious about what I was doing.

Something clobbered Thaimon’s shoulder. He withdrew with a snarl, glaring up at the roofline.

Wraithbane peered over the edge, half a brick in his hand. “Oi, Prince Charming! Is that how the chalkman got away?”

Thaimon withdrew, clearly looking forward to a scuffle with Wraithbane. He started to climb straight up between the walls at a very quick rate, leaving me behind on the ground.

Red-faced, I yelled up at Wraithbane, “How long have you been up there?”

Thaimon laughed and answered. “Since you asked about the chalkman. Isn’t that right, Nicholas?”

Wraithbane shrugged, a very long way from denying the comment. In fact, he seemed to be dismissing it.

Well.

At least I hadn’t been as endangered as I’d thought I was.

And at least Wraithbane wasn’t the jealous type. Though it would have given me a bit of an ego boost if he had been envious or protective. Oh well. At least I had one of the things Thaimon had looted off the chalkman’s clothes.

I unfolded it. It was one of those long, narrow grocery list-style stationery embellished with a stylized silver poppy with its stem curled into a circle. Two words were written: Kayla Mattison.

I shivered. What was my housemate involved in now?

A two-tone whistle came from the opening of the tiny alley. From the rectangular silhoutte at the other end, it was Jay. He waved at me to get moving.

Glad to not shimmy the walls like a suburban spiderwoman, I forced myself through the alley again. Outside, fresh air cut through my hair and enlivened the damp spot on my lower back. Sun baked my scalp and prompted the apple tree Jay waited under to open up its blooms. He had several petals misting his black leather jacket, and his beard was an assortment of pinks, whites, twigs, and street dust.

“Bane’s having to pursue. He’ll meet us at the rendezvous point,” Jay said.

“Fine. Let’s go.”

Jay didn’t move. The tail end of Wraithbane’s green Harley caught my eye, Willow’s pumpkin spice perfume still drifting on the air. Jay held the keys to the van, clearly waiting for something.

“We going?”

“It’ll get here.”

What will get here? I was just about to ask when the Kettle van turned down the street, completely driverless. It parallel parked right next to us, turned off the engine, and unlocked the doors.

“This thing has autopilot?” I asked as I buckled myself in.

“Yeah,” Jay said and started it up. “We don’t use it often.”

“Why not?”

Jay shook his head. “It drives like a safety officer’s pet student and none of us can sort out how to up the aggressiveness level.”

“Would that be safe?”

“It’s the safest car on the road, so long as the program doesn’t glitch.”

I didn’t know what to say to that, so I joked, “Who is riding the deathtrap then, us or Willow?”

“Bane’s bike is fine,” Jay snapped.

“Oo-kay.” I waited until we made our turn past a blind corner. The padded seat between us seemed both a gulf unpassable and barely enough space to breathe. He stared determinedly at the lines on the road ahead. “What’s this about?”

“Break his heart and I’ll send you to the most arid outer reaches the Kettle has access to.”

“Who?”

“You know who,” Jay said, pointing a finger at the top of a bank building. The angle was wrong for me to see the two men running over rooftops unless they were on the edge of the building.

Shadows on the street showed the skyline of false-fronted buildings where two opponents fought hand-to-hand on flat roofs. It was the only way I could see what was going on. Soon we were beyond the contestants.

“I saw you come downstairs with him this morning.”

I crossed my arms. “That doesn’t mean anything.”

“Look who knows Bane so well. What’s his last name?”

“It’s—” I realized: Nicholas Wraithbane had not been what his parents had put on the birth certificate. “It’s not originally Wraithbane.”

“No, Silver, not even close.”

“Stop being so smug, Jay.” I huffed, annoyed to think that Jay knew what his real name was and I didn’t. “It doesn’t change who he is.”

“Exactly. He keeps his affairs downstairs. Last person to go upstairs uninvited got a concussion and Lyle’s Black Throat Choke.”

“That seems overly aggressive.”

Jay shook a finger at me. “That’s why you don’t wake him up by pouncing on him and screaming ‘Boo’.”

“Aw, was that you?”

“That was Crystal Paris. They’d worked together months before the incident, too.”

I felt as if I were slowly being squeezed in a vise. “Well, he invited me, and I don’t see why he’d do that if he thought he was going to spaz out on me in the middle of the night.”

“He won’t. He trusts you. That’s the point.”

“You don’t trust me. That’s your point.”

Jay didn’t deny the accusation. “Brandy, there is so much about you that—”

A flicker caught my eye. A symbol I recognized. Heat seared through me. “Stop the car! Back up.” There was reluctance written all over Jay’s manner. I clawed at the door. “I saw something—just let me out.”

My feet hit the concrete sidewalk before the van finished stopping, the landing twisting pain up my ankle. I ran off the pain trying to catch the flyer darting in the whirling eddy of a breezy street. No sooner had Jay backed up beside me than I was in the van with the door slammed shut, pointing at an ad at the bottom of the daily deals. Jay wasn’t comprehending its significance. “It’s the logo on the stationary that we got from Arthur.”

I showed him the piece of paper. He frowned at my roommate’s name.

“A jewelery store? What is a chalkman doing with that?”

“I’ll bet I know where Thaimon is going to go to answer that same question,” I said.

Jay checked the streets and flipped a U-turn at the next intersection. He gunned it and told the computer to notify the rest of our new destination.

  • * *

We gathered in a parking garage, going up to the third floor where few vehicles had bothered to park. Willow had her hair all ruffled from a helmet. Wraithbane’s dark locks weren’t any better. A pile of gear littered the floor beside them. Damp coolness of concrete greeted me as Wraithbane shoved the motorcycle gear into the back of our van.

Our conversation on the rest of the way here had been short. Partly this was due to the motorcycle helmet noise, but once we’d cut off that conversation, it had been just Jay and me. He’d occupied himself singing to the radio, and I had snuggled up against the armrest to nap. Best conversation we’d ever shared.

Willow passed her bag of motorcycle gear to Wraithbane and stretched out her legs. If she resembled the tree at all, she resembled the trunk of a very mature specimen. That wasn’t to call her in any way unattractive. She had a perfect semicircular smile, for one thing. For another, there was a certain matronly air about her. I wanted to use the fancy french term to describe her energy and very presence, but I wasn’t sure what that term was or if it meant what I thought it meant. No matter. She was the person who people seeking comfort and protection would speak to. She could kick a vampire’s ass one minute and dab a baby’s milky chin the next.

She was the closest thing I’d come across to a living embodiment of what I wanted to one day be.

Willow said, “I wish we could have Charlie team with us.”

“The more hunters, the faster Thaimon’s survival instincts will take over,” Wraithbane said. “Four of us is plenty, so long as you have me and Brandy.”

“But with Brandy…”

Wraithbane grunted, dismissing her worries. “You scared, Silver?”

“Oh, yeah,” I said.

“See? She’s fine.”

Willow pursed her lips at me as if I had somehow participated knowingly in his shenanigans. “That’s not what I mean. She’s never trapped anything before, and the slip-up at Morris’ proves my point: she should sit this out.”

“I thought we salvaged the situation,” I said, not liking how she held me culpable. “If you don’t approve, that’s fine, but at the end of the day Thaimon wants to talk to me. He’ll blow off anyone else.”

“Or rip off their head,” Wraithbane said almost cheerfully.

“But it isn’t fair to you, Brandy. Without preparation, you’re at a disadvantage.”

I believed she was genuinely concerned about me, she was a worrywart. I’d seen her fret over Jay and Wraithbane both, and was a little touched that she now added me to that list.

The others were quiet. Waiting for me to respond, I realized.

I shook my head. “Nothing including Thaimon will ever be fair. It’s the way it is. So, the deal is the same as we discussed before. I go, distract him if he needs distracting, stay hidden if not. Meanwhile Wraithbane and the two of you get your trap ready. When you’re all set, you swoop in and snag him.”

“Yes,” Jay said. “Emphasis on the stay hidden part. Don’t reveal yourself unless absolutely needed. I’d rather he not know we are here.”

“Gotcha,” I said, snagged a fresh earbud from the padded black case, and made a beeline for the parking garage elevator.

“Take the stairs!” Wraithbane yelled after me.

Ah, yes, the whole enclosed-spaces-are-death-traps-waiting-to-happen talk. I’d forgotten. I angled towards the stairs, pretending that they had been my goal all along.

By the time I finished four flights of stairs, I’d lost my pep and felt a bit sweaty. Not that I was in the best shape, but it was unseasonably hot. Instead of winter gradually defrosting into spring, Mother Nature had leapfrogged straight to summer just this afternoon. My wardrobe was still from yesterday, which made it totally outdated for today’s trek across the ground-level premium-pass parking lot. Even the little brown wrens rested under bushes or panted near cars classier than any person I’d ever sneezed on.

Past double-glass doors, I found a map of the mall in an entrance which resembled the lobby of a fancy spa that I had once applied as a cleaner at. It smelled the same, like cucumbers and fresh towels. The employees checking trash bags by the door wore black uniforms and shining shoes. The best I could say for my own appearance was that I didn’t look like a greasy spoon waitress who had given up on earning tips from tight-fisted curmudgeons. I didn’t exactly stand out, but I sure didn’t fit in.

“Hmmm.”

“What’s wrong, Brandy?” Wraithbane’s voice carried through the earbud.

“In the future, I need to pack spare clothes to match the venue.”

He laughed, a sound which warmed my cheeks and made me feel all fluttery in my stomach. “Ritzy place, isn’t it?”

“Last time I was in a place this posh, they told me my application was denied because I wasn’t tall enough to reach the top shelf unaided.”

“How tall did you have to be?”

“Six-foot-one. No heels.” I found the logo of the jeweler’s store among all the other upscale, elegant logos on the glass map. Lines indicated hallways between the logos, each floor displayed one above the other. “Have fun reading this space-aged map. If I am reading it correctly, the jeweler’s is up three sets of escalators from the main entrance, all the way in the back, down the right hand corridor at the end. There should be space for two shops, but I’m only seeing the jeweler listed.”

“Space not filled?”

“Maybe, but the rest of the mall is occupied. Could be that they take up two spots?”

“That’s a lot of diamonds,” Jay commented.

“A lot of diamonds in a not-prime location,” Wraithbane said. “Be careful about getting too close, Brandy.”

“Sure, but why?”

“It sure sounds like a Bliss Club in operation,” Jay said.

“Different from a Bliss Den, how exactly?”

Jay said, “There’s a subscription fee which ensures you don’t go missing.”

“Great.”

“But you would disappear.”

“Because my name isn’t on the list?” I wondered how much the subscription was. It had to be substantial.

Someone clicked their tongue twice, the sound usually accompanied by a point and a wink.

“Which one of you made the ‘you got it’ noise?”

“Bane did,” Jay said.

“Enough talking, please,” Willow said. “Brandy, I need their full attention now.”

I paused at a no-cell-service sign. “I think they have a signal blocker in this place. Will it bother our comms?”

“One way to find out,” Wraithbane said. “If it does, we’ll have to make the best of—”

His voice went dead as soon as I mounted the first escalator. Oh, goody.

With a mind to giving them ample time, I moved at a leisurely pace through the shopping mall. Every now and again I admired dresses which I would have barely been able to afford when I still was working as a Lady Luck in Shevdon’s casino. Even so, the thought of dumping that much dough on a sheath dress made me cringe.

The whole place oozed class and serenity, lacking the frantic bustle of bargain shoppers. These were a different type of people, the kind whose men spent their business lunch on a special hotline where they were told what a turn-on their authority was. So irresistible. Won’t you let me stroke you, please, Sir? I grinned to myself. Ah, the memories.

That hadn’t been a terrible job until my fifth client. I spent four hours talking a guy down from suicide. Some people just needed someone, anyone at all, to listen to them. It hit too close to home. Reminded me too strongly of myself when I’d been desperate for someone to validate my crazy impulses and agree that they were indeed crazy.

The memory of that night, the night of reliving my own horrors alongside the awkward pauses of a stranger’s confession, left me shaken as I navigated my way to the jewelers. I felt nauseous at the shiny silver poppy against its white backdrop, the prisms of hundreds of diamonds twinkling in their illuminated cases. At the twist of my stomach, I walked instead into a small concessions store called Jane Ann’s Cupcakery.

The name was misleading; cupcakes were only a portion of their menu. Five minutes later saw me sitting in a fancy little cafe table with a honey toasted-flaxseed bagel and the most expensive fizzy mineral water on the face of the planet. My seat just happened to also face the jewelery store entrance. And as I sat I just happened to keep tabs on the traffic flow.

A few things stood out.

#
p<{color:#000;}. The customers were usually between 20 and 40.

#
p<{color:#000;}. They dressed for a hot night of dancing. Except they all had long sleeves. To hide injection marks?

#
p<{color:#000;}. They were all led through a sidedoor which appeared to enter the blank void of a shop beside the jeweler.

#
p<{color:#000;}. No one left the jeweler. They only entered.

#
p<{color:#000;}. Thaimon was not in sight.

…unless he had inhabited the body of a scantily-clad young woman and gone by me without saying hello.

Trouble with that thought was, Thaimon preferred to be a male. It was odd. I’d never before considered that he could be female if he chose. The concept of a woman crooning, “Brandy, baby,” was bizarre. I doubted Thaimon would do it unless it was absolutely his only way to survive.

Now, Wraithbane on the other hand. If he were capable of jumping bodies he was the sort of curious person who would—I flinched in surprise.

Thaimon had just entered the jewelery store. He didn’t bother to check his surroundings. Just walked headlong into the place and spoke to an employee who scurried off to the manager’s office.

Unless he conducted his business out in the open, I was going to lose all trace of him. Of course, following Thaimon would be stupid.

As I got to my feet, I hit on a plan equal parts brilliant and idiotic.

I walked through the jewelery store and slipped my hand into the crook of his arm. At the turn of his head, I kissed his cheek.

“Knew I’d find you here,” I said.

To his credit, he was neither surprised nor annoyed with my sudden appearance. A half-smile curled on his lips. “The question is, do you know what I am doing?”

“Don’t tell me. You’re picking me out a ring?”

He laughed. It startled me at first. It wasn’t the raspy pack-a-cigs-a-day laugh that I’d grown to associate with his old codger body.

He squeezed my arm. “That is a brilliant idea.”

“Uh…” Heat scorched my cheeks. “That’s okay.”

“Perfect. Glad we’re In agreement,” Thaimon said and beckoned for the other sales associate to approach.

“Thaimon,” I whispered.

The grip on my hand tightened. “Humor me. Help me stay in a good mood so I don’t get mad.”

A chill snaked up my spine. I remembered the night he’d gone mad, the bodies that lay crumbled and crunched at odd angles, the metallic stink of hot blood in the starlight.

“What can I help you with on this fine occasion?” the saleswoman asked in her pristine white skirt suit.

Thaimon smiled brightly.

Actually, he was sort of beaming.

You know the kind—that big, perfect grin that cartoon princes could sell toothpaste with.

“We’re in the market for a ring,” he told the sales clerk.

She chuckled, taken in by his charm. “Time to change the relationship status?”

The full impact of my teasing struck me in the chest. Words failed me.

They didn’t fail Thaimon. “Precisely. We need a ring to close that little space between close friends and something dearer.”

Her laugh was a string of tinkling bells on Christmas eve. “You can’t buy love, but you can buy a physical representation of the neverending affection and commitment that you feel in your heart.”

Cheeks afire with a horrendous blush, I murmured to Thaimon, “I don’t want to waste your time.”

“Nonsense, it is a perfect way to distract me from waiting on that tortoise slow excuse of a manager.”

“Tom is very slow,” agreed the saleswoman.

“Do you have any antiquity rings in stock?”

She grinned broadly, examining us again. “I thought you two had that look about you. What’s on your mind?”

“Antiquity ring?” I asked.

“It’s a polite way to refer to enchanted items,” the saleswoman said. Her name tag, I now noticed, said Tiffany. Fitting. She reached under the counter. “We carry a full range.”

Tiffany came up with a tray. For being a full range, I wasn’t so impressed with the two dozen or so clunkers gracing the velvet display, but Thaimon’s mouth formed an ‘o’ so he must think it was a good selection indeed.

“I don’t know a thing about them,” I admitted.

Tiffany did. “Any one and their pet can make an enchanted ring, but it takes a special talent to make it last. We evaluate an antiquity based upon three categories: Potency, Subtlety, and Durability. Masters of enchanting will perfect all three components, a good enchanter will perfect two, and a competent enchanter can do one.”

“I assume these are masters?” Even when I tried to see the magic in them, I found that I could catch little traces of spells and nothing more. The super bright lights might make everything look sparkly, but it killed my one strength with magic.

Tiffany said, “It’s more than my life is worth if these were all masters. No, these three here—the plain gold, the ruby, and the silver—are master craftsmanship but the rest are from a solid line of good enchanters.”

Thaimon said, “It serves the shops best to keep mid-grade antiquities. The items from the masters are particular in regards to their owners, which means they don’t sell fast.”

“How can a ring be particular?”

Thaimon swept his hand over the tray. “Them them on.”

No sooner did I touch the ruby than it felt blisteringly hot. I withdrew. “Will it burn me?”

“It will make your skin red in the majority of cases,” Tiffany said. “However, I have yet to see anyone spell burned.”

Thaimon nodded. “Most antiquities do not cause harm, simply varying levels of discomfort. Try another.”

The plain silver was icy cold. Even as I wandered through the ‘good’ part of the tray, I experienced slight discomforts—tingling, pinching, vibrating, chills, too-tight or too-loose.

“You must be sensitive. You would make a great evaluator, but this makes it a little challenging to find items you can work with. Once you find an enchanter you can handle, stick with their work.” Tiffany cocked her head. “You haven’t tried the solid gold Celtic yet.”

“It’s a man’s ring,” I said and touched the triskele carved top.

It felt warm and pliant-yet-firm. I picked it up where it rested in my palm as if someone had just taken it off their finger and given it to me. It was familiar, as if it had been in my palm many times before. The nubs decorating the ridge caught my thumbnail in a soothing slide. A braided band was worn along the bottom. Something was engraved inside.

“Turn it so I can read it,” Thaimon said.

“Are those runes?”

“Old Scandinavian. ga.alu.Rtt, Hariuha. haitika.farawisa,gibu.auja. It means I am named Hariuha, having knowledge of danger. I give luck.”

“Really?” asked Tiffany, intrigued as I slid it onto my forefinger. “Our analyst said it was very old.”

“I would like to purchase it, if you would be so kind?” Thaimon said before I could object. He forked over some hundreds and Tiffany took them to investigate their legitimacy.

Softly, I said, “I’m surprised you didn’t just take it.”

“There is greater power in displaying wealth than in stealing it.”

“I didn’t think you cared.”

“How people perceive you is vital. You have survived this far by being unthreatening. You need to break out of that image. It does not hold up against your antagonists. They believe you are an easy target, which you will be if you continue to behave as one.”

“Who are my antagonists?”

Thaimon withdrew a piece of paper from his wallet. It was a match to the paper I had in my pocket but this one read, Isla Montague QID330.

“What is this?”

“This is the Query. See the code? QID330. Query Identification. 330 is a numerical code which could mean anything. Whatever was on the paper that you stole from me has that particular intelligence.”

He didn’t seem upset about the theft. “Aren’t you mad that I took it?”

“Wrong lead. I don’t care about this Isla Montague. What matters is being here now to get the answers I do want.”

“Which are what?”

He withdrew to see if I was serious. “I seek to find who has been selling information pertaining to you. Specifically, about your whereabouts and activities.”

“What?”

“Did it not seem odd to you that the slavers would know where to find your friend? Or how to catch you? Or how about sending the White Wizard Council to retain you whilst Wraithbane coincidentally was indisposed and physically restrained to a containment center bed? No, Brandy, someone is out for you and I intend to stop the leak before they get you first.”

The flush on my cheeks was now angry. “Maybe if you hadn’t brought me into this—”

“I should have done so earlier. I waited until I was sure someone had caught your scent in order to provide you with time to yourself. That wait may have cost you everything.”

Thaimon as my savior. It was a recurring theme, not one I was willing to embrace as his true identity. Yet it was getting hard to ignore. I steadied myself. “Who?”

“Someone who thinks Dream Weaver should burn, perhaps.” He paused, staring over my head at something. “Here’s our manager. Pardon me for a moment.”

Reeling, I stood in numb shock, feeling the ring on my finger as I sorted through what Thaimon had just said. It made sense. All too much sense. A voice crackled to life in my earbud.

“Testing? Again? Hello?”

Started, I looked around. Thaimon was talking jovially. I said quietly, “Yes?”

“Good. Bout time they allowed us access,” Jay said.

“You took your time.”

“Not us. It was Charlie and Delta teams. We had to get them. We confirmed Bliss Club at Glitz Jewelers, evacuated the wing of the mall, and sealed off Glitz. Charlie and Delta are going to raid the Bliss Club in moments. Stay away from any bouncers and the brewer. Draw Thaimon away from the fight.”

The door to the club slammed open, a cacophony of noise chasing after a burly man. Beyond him, a club scene was rife with black armored people, shrieking girls, and spells swinging into brilliant action. The door slammed as the burly man and manager peeled towards the back door. Thaimon’s skin burst into a bright red hue at the interference.

“What was that?” Jay asked.

“You lost a bouncer. I think he’s going to throttle the manager, and Thaimon is in the middle.”

“Shit. Tom’s ours.”

“Really?”

Jay wasn’t yelling, but he sounded like he wanted to. “You’ve met him! You were in his house!”

“Oh, but—”

“Brandy, go save his ass! Thaimon!”

“Yeah, yeah.” I didn’t know what they wanted me to do in the face of a wraith, but I supposed that I had survived Thaimon’s wrath when no one else had. I tried to make my way to Thaimon, but the Club door banged open and people flooded Glitz Jewelers in a haze of gray smoke that stung my nostrils.

It all happened so quickly.

Girls in short skirts, screaming.

Agents flinging spells.

Bouncers grappling, punching, roaring as they ploughed into their opponents.

Glass shuddering under blows, a shimmering opalescence with every spell striking it, yet not caving in to the assault. Tiffany emerged from the boiling crowd, wrenched open a glass case.

I reached for Thaimon, missed his sleeve. Someone shoved me into the case, bruising my ribs on the hard corner.

Tiffany snared a bangle, slid it on her wrist. An ivy pattern trailed up her arm, sinking into her skin so her whole body became transparent. Within seconds the ivy had taken over and she was utterly invisible except for a faint outline which I soon lost in the too-bright lights.

The bouncer hauled on Tom’s arm. Thaimon sent his fist into the bouncer’s jaw. His face ruptured into cracks and he fell straight to the floor, crumbling into clay. The man had been a golem, it appeared. My spell book had a page on them. Runes animated claymations. Powerful stuff.

By the time I was on Thaimon’s tail, the bouncer-golem had ceased moving. I stepped over it (him?) and caught the door before it shut behind Thaimon and Tom.

A small balcony was already crowded with escapees trying to lower a fire ladder to the balcony below. They pushed together in an annoyed cluster upon our appearance, thinking we were people just like them, seeking to avoid a drug bust.

Thaimon grabbed Tom by the throat and leaned him backwards over the railing. Tom gripped Thaimon’s arm, eyes wide. Those nearest us shrieked in panic.

“Thaimon,” I said, but could tell I didn’t have his attention.

“I want a name,” Thaimon said in a perfectly reasonable tone that set my nerves on end. There was something terrifying in his reserved behavior.

Tom made a choking noise.

“The name behind this request,” Thaimon said, showing the ID request to Tom. I touched Thaimon’s back. Tense muscles met me, undermining the calm exterior Thaimon was displaying to the world.

Tom’s face turned a deep, dark red which was quickly approaching purple.

“Don’t kill him, Thaimon, don’t do it.”

“A name.” Thaimon leaned in close.

Tom made another gurgling gasp.

Thaimon distinctly did not look human any longer. Black marks, smeared like warpaint applied with fingers, showed up all along his exposed hands, neck, and face. I couldn’t be sure if I was alone in seeing it because everyone was giving us space now.

Tom pried at his throat.

“He can’t talk if he can’t breathe,” I said, surprising myself with how rational I sounded even as my heart thudded in my ears and my fingers were cold with nerves.

Another girl shrieked in horror. I held my finger to my lips. “Shh.”

I thought she would blow me off, but instead she did shh.

Nifty trick.

Tom was gazing at me, silently pleading to find a way to get this monster off him. To help him survive. To calm Thaimon. Anything at all.

So were the others.

It was cool on this side of the building, all dark shadow which took spring back to winter. The ladies in their skin hugging dresses and exposed thighs shivered violently. The slick glass siding clung to those who were pressed against it, fogging up with every breath. Traces of last week’s rain muddied the surface. With the sheer drop over the edge of the metal barred railing, I knew I had no way to help Tom except with my words.

“He’s a wraith. If you tell him what he wishes to know, I may be able to convince him to let you live. But if you refuse, you’re at his mercy.”

A shudder ran through those who heard me. I thought they were going to turn on me.

“Tell him!” urged one voice. An agitated woman glared, blaming Tom for all their problems. In a way, she was right to do so. Tom tried to swallow. Soon other voices were adding in the fray. “Tell him so he’ll go away.”

“Please, yes!”

“Do it!”

“Tell him, you rat-faced weasel!”

It was their pressure which made Tom tremble. Perhaps it was seeing that they weren’t going to help him. Perhaps it was that they were actually blaming him for their predicament. Or perhaps it was the choke depriving oxygen from his brain.

Tom’s lips moved.

Thaimon leaned to hear.

Tom repeated it again.

I couldn’t catch it, but I saw his lips move. Once. Twice. Three times.

An odd name. Very short. A last name, probably. Lips pursed out at the first sounds, pulled back in a grimace at the end.

People were chattering with the cool wind. Beyond the door, voices came. The thumping of fists on a locked door. A burst of wind made me sway. The ground so far below us swam in my vision and I fought down dizziness.

“He’s told you, Thaimon. Let him go.”

Thaimon’s fist curled, Tom’s skin bulging over his knuckles. I grabbed Thaimon’s arm, planning on twisting his wrist if I had to to make him let go.

The door clattered, casting vibrations through the metal balcony.

People screamed.

Thaimon must have had it all planned. He didn’t look back. He shoved Tom out of his way at just the right angle so he lost his balance and would have fallen over the railing if I hadn’t instinctively grabbed him first.

While my hands were full, Thaimon clamored over the railing. He launched himself through the air, caught onto the poles of the ladder on the opposite building, and slid to the ground.

Wraithbane was beside me as I steadied Tom. Thaimon straightened his clothes and took off at a steady jog. Bane was clearly ready to pull the exact same stunt Thaimon had just performed. A yell came.

“Wraithbane! Brewer!”

And suddenly the balcony below us wriggled with the frantic feet of someone using the emergency stairs very rapidly. No one was visible. I remembered Tiffany and her bracelet. Thaimon’s shoes beat a steady tandem as he ran.

Wraithbane snarled, lunged over the railing, and flipped onto the landing below. The next thing I saw was him soaring through air, snatching nothing, and landing on an invisible body.

I scrambled in his footsteps, leaping over the edge of the balcony, then grabbing the bottom rail to swing below. It was incredibly fulfilling to land in the same spot he had, reminding me of crazy stupid stunts I used to pull in the playground as a child.

Wide eyes met me, from both Wraithbane and the now-un-enchanted Tiffany. I took hold of the zip ties holding her wrists.

“Go, Bane. Get Thaimon if you can.”

He didn’t need to be told twice. He was gone.

Jay peered over the stairs. “Got the brewer?”

“Guess so.”

“Good. Keep her for a minute.”

And then Jay was gone, too.

My moment of glory turned into many minutes of boredom. Tiffany and I stayed there waiting. The fight seemed to have gone out of her. We were left waiting as the Glitz crowd was captured one by one or in groups, clearing the path to the vans for the brewer. It wasn’t until the balcony above was empty of people attempting to bribe their way out of trouble with the SWAT-team look-alikes that someone came to retrieve Tiffany. It was disorienting to have these people in masks call me by name when I didn’t know them well enough to place a voice.

In the mall hallway, I caught glimpses of people being escorted out of Glitz in big black hoods. Others were wrapped up in cocoon blankets with IVs on poles. Overdoses, exhaustion, heat stress. The causes varied. While everyone else seemed to have a job to do, I felt out of place, untrained to do any first-responder things, untrained for the security posts, not permitted to speak to local law enforcement.

Out of nowhere I realized what the name had been. The pursed lips at the front had been either a -ch or -sh, then -n or -g at the end. In the middle he’d touched lower lip to his upper teeth.

F, V.

Ch-f-g made no sense. Ch-v-n wasn’t bad.

But what made even more sense was to change the front sound and add a couple vowels.

I felt like someone had dumped a bucket of ice water over me.

A familiar bootstep rang out on the floor below. I hastened down the escalator to find Wraithbane talking in a quick, irritated tone to Willow, who had taken off her helmet and visor. She was stripping off the rest of her armor, storing them in a plain unmarked bag.

I didn’t have to ask to see if Thaimon had gotten away.

Body bags were being transported as quietly as they could out a staff exit.

This was bad.

  • * *

“Shevdon?” Wraithbane asked. We were resting up over a couple of beers out in my back yard, admiring the recently-cleared perfection of a clean slate.

I’d relocated the magically-growing purple passionflower into a big pot, half in the hopes that rudely uprooting it would kill it off. The opposite proved to be true. It flourished, and its pleasant stink drifted all around. Kayla was temporarily inside, filling a vase up with its flowers. I didn’t think that it should be blooming at this time of the year, but Willow thought the plant was wonderful.

Wraithbane and I rested in the sunshine, feeling lazy after a solid meal and the exciting hunt. The others—perhaps including Doc Mike, if he wasn’t busy—were to arrive sometime relatively soon. A honeybee buzzed overhead, tapping against the windows. I hoped it wouldn’t find its way inside and get lost. Wraithbane rocked his head to the side, a nonverbal prompt in the lift of his eyebrow.

“My former employer in my Lady Luck days. The one who had owned the casino where Kayla and I were to be sold as slaves. He has enough money to buy off a few corrupt people in the White Wizard Council, I’m sure.”

And something clicked from my first conversation with Tom. That had been ages ago. Was I even the same woman? I didn’t feel like it. At any rate, Tom had complained about the neighboring house being a Bliss Den, “…ever since Shevdon bought that place.”

Thaimon was right.

My opponent would think nothing of squashing a good-girl. His resources were as liquid and changing as the ward protecting his gambling houses.

Thaimon thought my past life as Dream Weaver had made me enemies—it had, that was true, but this enemy was one that I’d made in this lifetime.

“But why him?”

“This is about the money I stole.”

He stared at me, silently telling me that short of an answer wouldn’t be sufficient.

“From the beginning?” I asked. “Today when I talked to Thaimon he said he was holding onto his sanity by fixating on finding the person who was selling information about me.”

“A spy?”

“Another one, it would seem. His search took him to the Morris cousins, then from them to the jewelery store where he found our Tom. Tom said a name I couldn’t hear, but I did see the lip motion. Shevdon.”

“Your former employer.”

“Yes.”

Wraithbane considered his beer, mulling over the thoughts. “You were Lady Luck. Meant to lead the players sweetly astray to crash before they could win big.”

“Yes.”

“Except once, you chose to not do your job.”

“Hey, he was a good man. Real estate and accounting. Possibly not for the best crowd, but he made my share disappear from nosey people’s notice.”

“It was a heist.”

“Gambling is anyway.”

Wraithbane said, “But Shevdon is a very rich poor loser.”

“True.”

He sighed, managing to appear both defeated and very intrigued. “All you need is another complication.”

“I’m sure it is all tied together.”

Wraithbane leaned back, propping his boots up so that the heel of one balanced on the toe of the other. “What now?”

I unfolded both the notes I’d taken from Thaimon. “Now you tell me who is Isla Montague, and why I have her as a roommate. She was sworn into the Kettle as an informant, I believe?”

Kayla chose that moment to walk out of our house and join us. She saw the notes and bolted to snatch them both, gazing at them in shock. “Where did you get these?”

“A chalkman.” I paused to see if she understood what I meant. A blank stare was my response. I decided to save the explanation for later. “He was an informant. If we do have someone selling intel…”

“I’ll plug the leak,” Wraithbane said.

I realized that he had not been impressed about the name Isla Montague. In fact, he seemed to have known all about it already. Fire jolted through my veins. “You knew her real name! Nobody told me. Kayla? The hell? I knew you before all this insanity.”

She shivered. “Kayla is my real name, I promise. I was enrolled at the university with it, remember?”

I crossed my arms, feeling the flex of muscles which were showing sign of the added weight lifting I’d been doing lately. “Sure, until you partied too hard and started flunking chemistry.”

“I was not flunking chemistry.”

“You missed two midterms.”

She threw up her hands. “Fine, I flunked the class, but I was tired of being a poor, overworked student, when I could make great money selling formulas for Bliss.”

My jaw dropped. “You were going to be a pharmacist! And here you were brewing Bliss instead?”

“No.” Her defensive attitude failed and her brow came down low over her eyes. Quieter, she said, “Well, small batches only, for trials. So it didn’t cause as hard of a hangover and would give high peaks several times.”

I realized who would find the appeal in a drug like this. “You did the Club’s formula.”

Wraithbane pushed his beer into my hand. While I took a long swig, he said, “We needed her to treat the new strains. Perhaps not needed, but she does make it easier. She worked with Doc Mike for your treatment.”

Kayla said, “I didn’t know a thing about brewing Bliss until I saw your cook book. The handwritten one.”

The one that the great-grannas had given me ages ago. Thaimon had called it a spell book but also said that it wasn’t mine. A spell book made its way to its master soon after their magic woke up. If Kayla’s introduction to magic had been through Bliss, and it had happened while Kayla was under my roof, then she would have found the book about the same time as her magic.

“That was why you kept on borrowing it. Oh. Was this before or after your first Bliss?”

“Shortly before. My experiments drew the attention of a classmate, who suggested I come by a party with him.”

I nodded. “And so it started.”

“Yes. I took up a fake name once I started making formulas. People like to buy from a fancy person. Kayla is so girl-next-door.” She paused. “And Isla Montague also shields my real identity a little.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I know.”

I took another swig of the beer, stared out over my wasteland of a back yard, and wondered about everything I’d learned today. Informants, chalkmen, jewelers, antiquities, spies, now a bonafide Bliss chemist sleeping in the room next to mine.

A knock rattled the front door. We had the doors and windows open so we could hear through the house. Kayla shot off to answer like a hare bolting from hiding. Distantly, I heard Willow, Jay, and Doc Mike’s voices as they said hello.

I recalled what I’d wanted to ask Wraithbane.

“Bane,” I asked, working the gold ring off my forefinger, “do you know what this is?”

He held out his hand. No sooner had he caught sight of the engraving on the top and sides than a deep furrow formed between his eyebrows. It was as if he were seeing in real life what he had only seen in pictures.

“Hariuha.”

“That’s what the runes inside say.”

“The runes inside?” He turned the ring so he could see them. From the purse of his lips and the lifted brows, he was surprised to see them.

“Can you read them?”

“No.” He turned the ring over and over in his palm. “But I do have some books on Norse that I can use.”

“It’s Old Scandinavian, according to Thaimon. Says the ring knows danger, gives luck, and is named Hariuha.”

It fit perfectly on his left ring finger. What was more, it belonged to him. A match to his skin tone, the roughened fingers, right down to a scratch on the ring’s face which was in line with a scar across his knuckles.

I added, “It’s old, I guess.”

“How did you find this?”

“Thaimon wanted to buy me a ring. This was the only antiquity that settled for me.”

Wraithbane’s fist closed. I could tell he would have a hard time giving it up.

“You can keep it if you like it. I’d rather not owe anything else to Thaimon if I can avoid it.”

He nodded.

“So,” I asked, hearing the others coming closer. “What now?”

“Now,” he repeated. “We do as we do. Protect those in the Kettle. And enjoy a moment of peace while we can.”

“Shouldn’t we be planning what to do about Thaimon?”

“What’s the point of being alive unless you live it up a little bit?”

I pursed my lips. “True.”

A piercing shriek came from the house and Kayla sprung into my arms. Willow emerged from the house, armed with a heavy-duty water gun dripping from being filled at the sink. Kayla babbled in a rush, “Brandy’s a safe base!” To me, she said, “She put food coloring in them! That stains clothes.”

“What’s the point of a water war if you can’t tell who hit who?” Willow asked. She chucked a plastic shotgun at Wraithbane, who caught it and cocked it, spraying a stream of green water across the patio. To my amusement, I realized that Willow had coordinated the water guns to match the color I said their magic was. Jay had yellow. Wraithbane had green. Willow had purple. Doc Mike had blue. Kayla’s was red, which might have been a generic assignment because I hadn’t seen her use magic yet.

I tried not to feel left out. Though I could do some things, like brewing and modifying the spells of others, I had yet to truly cast a standard spell. The color of my own magic was therefore unknown.

Willow tossed me a gun with a giant water tank. Curious, I pulled the trigger. Clear water mottled with silver glitter sprayed at my feet.

I grinned.

Willow said, “Now, we’ll start at the count of ten. Once you’re out of water, there’s no refills. Ready? Ten.”

Forget the rules.

I brought up my water gun. Wraithbane raised an eyebrow, not believing the threat. If he’d taken me seriously he would have pointed his gun at me, too, but he didn’t. And that was what convinced me to glitter his hair.

“Brandy!” Willow scolded.

I held back a wicked smile, wondering if Wraithbane was going to take the soaking in good humor or if I was in trouble.

Wraithbane blinked the water out of his eyes, swiped his long now-wet hair back, and stood up. Kayla scurried out of my lap as he drew near. I froze a second, not sure if he was in the mood to goof around, or if I would be better to downplay the whole thing. Was that a hint of a smile creasing his eyes?

I scrambled to my feet and darted. Arms wrapped about my waist, and I was hauled giggling over his shoulders.

“Hey!” I hit his back. He was going through my house. “Put me down!”

“I will once we get to Jay’s pool.”

I gasped, realizing he was going to dunk me.

Someone said that a poolside water war made more sense, and they began to follow.

“Fine, but you’re coming with me,” I threatened, imagining hauling him underwater by his hair if I had to.

“Always do.”

Kayla and Willow burst out laughing.

It took me a minute to figure out what he meant. Then my cheeks burned and I hissed, “Nicholas, if you ever let me down on my feet again I’ll make you so sorry.”

He slapped my butt, making me yelp in surprise. “Can’t decline an invitation like that.”

I sputtered, stupefied beyond words or the ability to form a coherent thought. Kayla whooped twice and said, “Put the man in his place, Brandy! Show him what you’re made of. Don’t let him think he can treat you like a ditzy bimbo.”

Jay’s house was two doors down. I had until the pool to plot my assault. I wasn’t sure what it would entail, but it would include copious amounts of silver glitter in places that he wouldn’t be able to get rid of for weeks to come.

If you enjoyed this episode, and I hope you did, please show your support by leaving a review, recommending my name to a friend, or picking up one of my other stories. You can also [+ Subscribe to My Newsletter+]. I’ll let you know whenever something exciting is happening like a new book, podcast, or audiobook.

About Me

I write, doodle, and look at the world in a different way. I’ve lived near Nevada’s backwoods brothels, Utah’s lakes, Montana’s wilderness, and in Idaho’s high-elevation desert. In Leicester, I experienced the world of curry and the Golden Mile. In Yorkshire, I’ve walked the wolds, stood in awe of the destruction WWII brought Hull, and been to the Beverley horse races. Where I’ve lived has shaped me and my view on how I see the world and humans in general.

About Blissed

Blissed is the scandalous lovechild of thriller, horror, fantasy, romance, and things I don’t want my parents to know I’ve written. The format—deciding to go with episodes instead of chapters—comes about because it’s somewhere between a short story and a chapter. Each episode by itself forms a whole story, but they contribute towards a larger overarching story as well.

Barring extenuating circumstances, there will be one new Blissed episode every other week. Plans are in the making for a podcast, too, so stick around if you want to hear the accent that makes everyone ask where I’m from.

See you later,

Nicolette


Episode 10 Wild Hunt

When Brandy Silver picks up her friend from a party, she doesn't expect to be forcibly drugged—or pursued by a demonic wraith. Now she's witness to a bliss den that the police pointedly ignore and, worse, the drug can be deadly. What she saw makes Brandy a target for a dangerous magical underworld and at the heart of a mystery no one else wants revealed. In order to save her, Thaimon has gone mad, and if Brandy can't catch him nobody knows where the killing spree will end. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Wild Hunt is the tenth and final episode of Season 1 of the Blissed series. There are plans for 10 seasons, with about 10 episodes per season, each episode about 10,000 words long. To catch every episode, please sign up for my newsletter. Hope you enjoy Wild Hunt. Nicolette

  • ISBN: 9781311585646
  • Author: Nicolette Jinks
  • Published: 2016-05-16 19:35:08
  • Words: 10508
Episode 10 Wild Hunt Episode 10 Wild Hunt