Home > Born in Fire (Fire and Ice Trilogy #1)(5)

Born in Fire (Fire and Ice Trilogy #1)(5)
Author: K.F. Breene

“Hire better people.”

“Buy some papers.”

I glanced back at the note one last time as I walked from the room, the folder tucked under my arm. I needed to think on that. I also needed to plan a course of action for bringing in the idiot terrorizing one of the few solely magical neighborhoods within the city. So much to do…

Fifteen minutes later, I sat down on a barstool.

“Hurricane, please.” I rapped my knuckles on the bar as the bartender walked away to make me a drink mostly consisting of turpentine and artificial flavoring. Other bars made a fruity drink high in alcohol that the tourists loved. Not this bar. They tried to peel the eyebrows off your face.

Just what I needed to take the edge off.

I shifted, trying to get comfortable. The stool clunked to the right, uneven.

“Do you live around here?”

I glanced over to find a twenty-something guy slumped in the stool next to mine. Glazed-over eyes and a strange lean said he didn’t know what he’d gotten himself into with the hurricanes.

“Yeah,” I answered. “You?”

He shrugged and visibly tried to play it cool. The result was a dangerous sway in the other direction. “I’m in town for a few days. Just taking it in, you know?” He leaned over the bar. His tongue wandered out of his mouth until it bumped off the straw in his drink. He corralled the straw between his open lips before taking a sip like a giraffe eats leaves, grossly floppy.

“Is that tasty?” I asked sarcastically, nodding toward the drink.

He released the straw and licked his lips. A cock-eyed, drunken smile slid up half his face. The other half was probably numb from the alcohol. “Yeah. Killer.”

I figured there was about a ninety percent chance he’d end up half-naked and facedown in the gutter with beads littering his back. Grimacing, I pulled out the file. My drink arrived as I was perusing the magical misdeeds of my new mark, which all seemed like high-powered hexes gone slightly wrong.

“Power-drunk mage,” I muttered to myself, looking at his handiwork.

“Mage. Is that, like, Warcraft or…” The man swiveled in his chair until his knees bumped off mine, clearly attempting to face me.

I pushed his leg, turning his body back toward the bar. “There you go. That’s better. Just ride that stool, cowboy. Keep straight and hold on. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

“Ha ha ha!” He wiped his mouth. “But, like, a mage. That’s cool, right?” He might have attempted a thumbs-up, but only succeeded in pointing at himself with his thumb.

I sucked down a quarter of my drink.

“Whoa. Careful. I don’t know if anyone told you”—his burp turned into a small groan—“but these drinks are strong.” A finger wobbled into my peripheral vision.

I batted his hand away. “I’m a local. I know how this shit works.”

“I know. How this shit. Works.” He nodded dramatically and slumped toward the bar. “Ha!”

I looked for the bartender, who was perched in the corner looking out at the bright day through the distant door. A little wave brought his eyes toward me.

I threw a thumb at the man next to me before putting that digit to my head, indicating his intoxication level.

The bartender shrugged. “Let’s see how he does.”

A little sport on a slow day. Fair enough.

I pored over the contents of the file, preparing myself. A touch skimmed my back and a face closed in for my throat.

A shock of fear washed over me. The next instant, my fist smashed into the guy’s nose, throwing his head back. I’d already grabbed the hand on my back, and now I twisted it, bending his body toward the ground. He rolled off the barstool and crashed to the floor like a clump of wet paper towels.

“Oh shoot.” I dramatically grimaced. “Sorry about that, guy. But really, you shouldn’t try to invade a girl’s space without approval. That’s a dick move, right there. Stuff like that gets you hurt. Obviously.”

Face toward the floor, he threaded his hands behind his head like the ceiling was falling down. “Please don’t hurt me.”

The bartender hurried closer, looking over the bar with a smile plastered on his face. “Hey, bud. You okay?”

“I definitely tweaked his wrist,” I murmured. “I wasn’t thinking.”

“Serves him right.” The bartender leaned on the bar for a better look. “Good reactions, though. Fast.”

The drunk guy’s hands relaxed to the floor. His breath evened out into a slow, deep rhythm.

“Did he pass out?” a woman down the bar asked, leaning backward to see around me.

“He passed out!” the bartender said with glee.

The woman turned to her friend. “I told you these drinks were intense. Didn’t I tell you?”

Somehow she seemed to have missed the fist he’d taken to the face.

I gingerly sat down and vaguely gestured at the body on the ground. “Should someone pick him up, or…?”

The bartender shrugged. “Probably.”

No one moved to lift him.

Like everyone else, I decided it wasn’t my problem.

Back to my notes—I went over a few more particulars before closing up the file and finishing my drink. I grabbed my duffel, which held my sword, a pack of throwing knives, and a nine millimeter I called Daisy. Wearing the full arsenal at night was one thing—I’d saved a cop’s life from a drugged-out tourist a few years ago, and he’d spread the word that I was good people. The police feigned blindness under the cover of darkness. But in the daytime, when it was easier to see what was strapped to my body, I dinged all kinds of danger bells with the visiting folk. For that reason, I only kitted myself out in daylight in dire emergencies.

“Wish me luck,” I said to the bartender as I headed for the door.

“Thanks for the tip.” He collected the five off the counter.

He wasn’t great at listening to direction.

The glare of the sunshine made me squint as I stepped out of the bar. I threw up a hand to block the rays and struggled to get my phone out of the small leather pouch around my waist.

There was a Lyft car nearby, so I ordered it and waited until it worked around the block. I slipped into the back and froze as the clanking of my weapons gave away what was in the duffel.

“Where ya headed?” The bearded driver showed me a pleasant smile in the rearview mirror.

I pointed at my phone. “I put the coordinates into the app…”

He leaned toward the dash where his phone was stationed. “There it is. Okay, then.” He pulled away from the curb, almost hit a pedestrian, swore under his breath, and away we went.

“Good day so far?” he asked.

I mumbled something to the tune of “fine.” My thoughts had strayed back to the vampire’s note. Short and sweet, penned in an elegant hand, it had read: I require a bounty hunter. Reagan Somerset. Send her to me. I’ll make it worth her while.

It hadn’t said anything about a partner. Maybe they’d try to stick me with a new vamp that would lose its head and try to latch on to my neck. I’d then be forced to kill it, which might stress my relationship with the poster of the bounty, somewhat.

The real question was: was this a trick to get me into the Dungeon, a name everyone but them used for the vampire’s lair, so they could check me out?

“This is it, right?” The driver turned in his seat to look back at me, and that was when I realized we were stopped in front of a dilapidated house overrun with weeds.

“Yes. Thanks.” My bag clinked as I climbed out of the car.

Small houses fairly close together stretched down the street. All but one had perfectly manicured, brownish-green lawns—all the weeds trimmed, if not pulled—straight welcome mats in front of the doors, and pruned bushes. No beads hung from the power lines. In their desire to fit in with the humans, they completely stuck out.

I eyed the sore thumb, the kind of house I might expect in this area. The breeze rattled leaves across the ground. Weeds grew like a disease, choking the sides of the cracked or crumbling walkway leading to a weathered door with peeling paint. I noticed a blackened area charring the dirt in the front yard—any hint of grass was long gone. Beside it were shells, a bone, and some feathers sticking to a clump of something no longer living.

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