Home > Born in Fire (Fire and Ice Trilogy #1)(8)

Born in Fire (Fire and Ice Trilogy #1)(8)
Author: K.F. Breene

My burning curiosity made it even more annoying that I’d accidentally killed him.

“How could you get anything done— Oh no!” The woman dropped the sheet she’d just ripped off the window and rushed toward me. “That’s going to leave a mark, dear.”

“What is?”

“Here. Quickly. Into the garden.” She half dragged me behind her, which was pretty impressive given the difference in our strength levels. She had the drop on me when it came to pushiness.

“I am really impressed,” she said conversationally as we reached the kitchen. “I didn’t think anyone would be able to help us.” She walked me out of the back door, into a well-tended herb garden. Unlike the front yard, this place saw a lot of loving care. “I’ve tried a few others. It didn’t end so well for them. When his house started shaking, I thought that was it for you. Here we are.”

She released my wrist and bent to a plant. After ripping off a leaf, she stuck it into her mouth and chewed. Moments later, she smeared the wet pulp onto my cheek.

I grimaced. “I could’ve chewed that myself.”

The numbness from the slash line receded with cold, tingling pain.

“He became very powerful,” she said before sticking more plant into her mouth.

“I really don’t mind chewing it…”

“Crazy, but very powerful.” She took out the pulpy mess and reached up to smear it on my neck. “It was mostly in spurts, though, his increases in power. One day, heightened power. The next, back to normal. He wouldn’t say why.”

I prevented myself from flinching away from the green spit-wad being spread on my neck. My face felt better now. That was worth the ick factor of having this woman’s saliva on my skin.

“Unlike those shifters, you came prepared.” She stepped back and analyzed her handiwork.

“Not all that prepared. I got sprayed with freezing goo.” My cheek started to itch.

A brief nod and she was scrutinizing me as a person. “I haven’t seen you before, but you seem experienced. It would take someone powerful to outmatch John. Are you a mage?”

“No. Just a do-gooder.” I stopped myself from itching my face. “When can I take this stuff off?”

“A few more minutes.” Her eyes narrowed as she assessed my pouch. “That is a small fanny pack. You can’t have much in the way of supplies in there…”

“This is not a fanny pack. It is a pouch. A very cool pouch. The nineties are over, okay? I know that.” Garret’s constant taunting was ringing through my head. He liked to make fun of my pouch to no end.

I adjusted it so it was off to the side a little. “I’m not a mage, like I said. I don’t need supplies.”

“But I saw you cast spells.”

“I bought those spells. That’s standard procedure, even for me.”

Her brow furrowed suspiciously. I was a terrible liar.

I opened my pouch and dug out an empty casing. “Here. You can have that.” I put it into her hand. “Nothing unusual about a non-mage using a mobile spell. I’m just like any other bounty hunter.”

I barely stopped myself from itching my cheek again. “Not that I’m vain or anything, but is this going to scar?” I pointed at my cheek.

“I think I got to it in time.” She minutely shook her head. I could tell the wheels were still turning regarding my ability. Time to go.

“Right, then. Thanks for this.” I waved my finger across my face. “I need to grab a few things, including Big C”—she’d just said his real name, but I’d already forgotten it—“and head out. I have rent to pay. You know how it is.”

I headed to the kitchen first, because I wanted to see what was in that hole. That green goo wasn’t magical, but it was still a defense. He was protecting something.

She followed closely behind me. “How is someone as skilled as you not permanently employed by one magical faction or another?”

“I like to keep my options open.” Back on the dirty linoleum, I stayed as far back as I could and peered into the hole, just in case. It was too deep, though—I’d have to get closer to see anything.

“Forgive me for saying…” She edged around me so she could see my face. “But bounty hunters are usually hiding from something. What are you hiding from?”

“You watch too much TV.”

She eyed the thin, holey curtains, then my face again, squinting in the low light.

Dang it! The darkness. I kept forgetting. This was why I didn’t work with other people.

I snatched the curtain and ripped it off. Light flooded into the kitchen. “I am definitely hiding from something. Coworkers. They get in my way. Have you ever met Garret in the New Orleans Magical Division?” I paused and ducked my head closer to the mouth of the hole before quickly pulling it back. Nothing spat out at me. “He is no picnic, let me assure you.”

“No man is an island,” she said.

I bent forward again, for a little longer, before pulling back. The hole held something canvas coated in green goo, containing small bumpy-somethings. Dropping my hand right above it, I could feel various currents of magic, mostly mediocre in power.

If that danged hole hadn’t been so deep, I would’ve felt the magic a lot sooner, and wouldn’t have had a run-in with the goo. Nor this inquisitive, chatty lady.

Too bad kicking a dead body was in bad taste.

I hunted through Big C’s drawers until I found some tongs. “Men aren’t islands because they want someone to do all the domestic stuff for them.” I peeled back the canvas, realizing it was a sack. “They leave their islands for the promise of a lazier future. But there are a bunch of women islands. We’d rather be alone than take on the role of life secretary and housemaid.” Or so my mother had always said. I wouldn’t know.

“I suppose you have a point. If my ex-mother-in-law had raised her son to lift a finger, I might still be married,” she groused.

“Reason number two for being an island—I don’t care.” I opened the bag and found what I’d expected, a bunch of various-sized casings in good condition.

Thank you for the cache of mediocre spells, Big C. I will use them in your memory.

She laughed. “Honesty is good. I can support honesty.”

“Awesome,” I muttered. I grabbed a paper bag from under the sink and emptied the spells into it, the transfer a bit awkward what with the goo and kitchen utensils. I didn’t want to touch that stuff again. I didn’t need another spit bath.

“You’re taking his spells?” I could hear the uncertainty in her voice.

“Finders keepers, Ms.…”

“You can call me Margaret.”

“Great. Finders keepers, Margaret. With mediocre risk comes mediocre treasure.” I bunched the top of the paper bag to keep everything in, abandoning the goo-covered sack.

“You’re really capable, which is good, because I should warn you that he had friends.” She hurried after me as I stalked down the hall. “I’m not sure I mentioned that on the listing with the agency.”

“You’re not sure, huh?” I stopped in front of the bedroom door and stuck my hand out. “Stay here.”

I could tell she was trying to see what I was doing in the bedroom and, judging from her squinting, having a hard time of it. I grabbed Big C by the back of the shirt and carried him over to where I’d hidden the book. Concealing my movements behind Big C’s bulk, I slid the book into his shirt.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Minding my own business.” I tucked his shirt in to keep the book put, then hoisted him up and draped him over my shoulder, thankful for the daylight outside, which would mean no vampire could come and steal my mark.

“Wow. You’re strong.” It sounded like another accusation.

“I think there was a vampire in my lineage somewhere…”

“Vampires can’t breed.”

“You know what I mean.” I pushed past her and hesitated at the mouth of the living room.

“No, I’m not sure I do,” she said, still watching. “Oh heavens, is that him?”

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