Magic Strikes Chapter 21

I TAPPED MY FINGERS ON THE COUNTER, THE phone to my ear, and checked the gauze I pressed against my ribs. Still bleeding.

The line clicked and a soothing female voice greeted me. "Ms. Daniels?"


"My name is Citlalli. I'm Julie's counselor."

"I remember. We've met." Memory thrust an image before me, a small dark woman with Madonna eyes. A very strong empath. Like surfers, the empaths rode the waves of people's emotions, feeling the grief or joy of others as if it were their own. They made excellent psychiatrists and sometimes their patients drove them insane.

I frowned. Something was up. I didn't ask to speak to the counselor.

"Ms. Daniels . . ."


"Are you precognizant, Kate?"

"Not that I know of. Why do you ask?"

"I'm drafting a letter to you regarding Julie, and I wondered if my concentration may have triggered your phone call."

Oh no. "What did she do?"

"Julie has developed some issues."

Julie was an issue riding on an issue and using a third issue for a whip. But she was mine, and despite the kind quality of Citlalli's voice, all my needles stood up defensively . I tried to keep the hostility out of my answer. "Go on."

"Due to the gap in her education, she has to take remedial classes."

"We discussed that prior to her admittance."

"Academically she's progressing ahead of schedule. I have no doubt that she will catch up with her peers by the end of the year," Citlalli assured me. "But she's experiencing problems adjusting socially."

She had practically lived on the streets for the last two years, hiding from gangs and being brainwashed by her scumbag boyfriend. What did they expect from her?

On the other end of the line, Citlalli cleared her throat softly. My irritation must've been intense enough for her to pick up. I took a deep breath and cleared the baggage. Emotions receded, still present but held deep below the surface. It was a meditation technique I had learned in childhood. I rarely used it because I liked to ride the edge of my emotions. Fear, anger, outrage, love, courage, I utilized them for a boost in the fight. But I knew how to suppress them, and the older I got, the easier suppression came to me.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to cause you discomfort. You were describing Julie's problems?"

"Thank you. Children can be cruel at Julie's age. They struggle for personal identity.

Establishing pecking order becomes very important. Julie finds herself at a disadvantage.

Academically she's behind, so she can't use her accomplishments in that area to gain popularity. She's not very good at sports, partially due to malnourishment and partially because she doesn't have remarkable talents in that arena. We have some outstanding athletes and she realizes she will never be a star. She doesn't excel at combat, and while those with knowledge find her magical sensitivity impressive, children appreciate flashier magics more."

"In other words, she isn't a jock, she isn't a warrior, she's taking remedial lessons, and her magic is lackluster because she can't breathe fire or melt metals with a blink."

"Essentially. Some of the children in the same position reach for their family history to establish their cred with other kids."

"Julie doesn't have any remarkable family members." No heroes. No great mages.

"She has you."


"She's been telling stories. Beautiful, terrifying stories of demons and goddesses and witches.

I know they are true recollections because I feel her sincerity. But the kids . . ."

"They're picking on her because they think she's lying."

"Yes. We're monitoring the situation very closely. She has not suffered any abuse. However, Julie's an emotional child . . ."

"She's a chunk of plastic explosive with a fuse armed."

"Aptly put. She has a knife."

I closed my eyes and counted to three. I had taken away all her knives and searched her twice before I dropped her off.

"She refuses to part with it. We can take the knife away physically. But it would greatly reinforce the damage already done to her ego. It would be much better if she gave it up voluntarily and I'm afraid you're the only person who could compel her to do so at this stage."

I glanced at the clock. Eleven. Felt like 6:00 p.m. "What's Julie's schedule for the rest of the day?"

There was a pause. "Remedial algebra until one, second shift lunch until one thirty, instruction in the remedial arcane until three, social studies until four, and archery until five . .


"Does she take archery with the other children?"

"Yes. It's an outside activity."

If I hurried, I could get there before five. "Could you do me a favor? Please tell Julie at lunch, so the other children will hear, that her aunt is coming to pick her up during archery practice?"


"Thank you."

I hung up and saw Jim leaning against the doorframe. "Kid okay?"

"Yeah. I'm leaving to pick her up."

"I'll send someone with you."

"I don't need an escort."

Jim leaned his hands on the table and stared at me. "I assume the worst. If it was me, I'd have a way to track my dead. I'd track them here and watch the house. I'd follow you when you left and hit you when you're at your weakest - when you had the kid with you. You die. Julie dies. Derek dies. I don't tell you how to swing your sword. That's your thing. Security's my thing. Take someone with you."

My side had finally stopped bleeding. The magic of Doolittle's med-spell must've caught up and repaired the damage.

"Kerosene?" I asked.

He reached into the cabinet and handed me a bottle of lighter fluid and a box of matches. I went to the sink, dropped the gauze, sloshed fluid on it, and set it on fire. "Fair enough. Let me take Raphael."

"The bouda?" Jim's face wrinkled in distaste. "You want to bring a bouda into this?"

"None of you can go. In case you missed it, there is a Pack-wide APB out on you and your crew. But Curran would never give an order to apprehend me."

"You seem very sure of that."

I knew the way Curran's mind worked. Having me brought to him would not be as satisfying as catching me himself. He wouldn't give up that chance. Of course, saying that to Jim would lead to explaining the "not only will you sleep with me, but you'll say please before and thank you after" conversation Curran and I had had. And the insane morning antics. And the naked dinner promise. What the hell was I thinking kissing him anyway?

"I'm not under Curran's jurisdiction." I chose my words carefully. Hopefully he'd buy it. "He has no authority. Ordering the Pack to detain me would be sanctioning the kidnapping of a law enforcement official." Which wouldn't stop Curran for a second. "Let me take the bouda."

"What makes you think he won't turn us over to Curran?"

"He's in love with my best friend. I'll ask him to help me pick up Julie and that's all.

Technically, he won't be aware he's helping you and your lot in any way."

Jim shook his head, dialed the number, and handed me the receiver. "You talk to him."

I listened to the ringtone. "Can you have horses waiting for us at the ley point in Macon?

Something flashy that I wouldn't normally ride in a million years?"

Jim gave a fatalistic shrug. "Sure."

"Hello?" Raphael's smooth voice murmured into the phone.

"Raphael? I need a favor."

RAPHAEL WAITED FOR ME BY THE LEY LINE, LEANING against a Jeep. The Jeep had been modified to run on enchanted water and it looked like it had tried to vomit its engine through its hood.

Raphael looked . . . There were no words. I had explained my plan on the phone and he had arrived wearing leather: black, shiny boots up to his knees, black leather pants that showed off his legs, and a black leather cuirass that molded to him like a second skin. A shotgun hung over his shoulder. An oversized sword, three feet long and nearly six inches wide, rested at his waist in a short sheath, completing his ensemble. The sword was too heavy for any normal human and covered with black runes etched into the upper portion of the blade. Coupled with the rich waterfall of Raphael's black hair and his smoky blue eyes, the effect was devastating.

I wasn't sure what I needed more: a cardiac surgeon to restart my heart or a plastic one to reattach my jaw.

Two teamster ladies waited for their shipment on the ley line platform. They watched Raphael and did their best not to drool. As I neared, one of them, a redhead, nudged the other with an elbow, and said, "We're expecting a load of plug nickels from Macon."

Ammo. Bullets were an expensive commodity. Some merchants took slugs in lieu of money; that was how the term "plug nickels" had come about.

Raphael dazzled them with a smile. "Not a highway-man."

"Too bad," the redhead said. "Because you can hold up my shipment anytime."

Raphael bowed. The ladies looked close to fainting.

I marched over and stood next to him before the teamsters threw caution to the wind and jumped him right there on the platform. The redhead eyed me. "Killjoy."

I turned and gave her my hard stare. The teamsters moved to the other end of the platform. I didn't blame them. I was decked out. Unlike Raphael, who was shiny, I had gone for the solid, light-gulping black of treated leather, from the tips of my soft boots to the shoulders hidden by the dramatic cloak I had to borrow from Jim. I looked like a piece of darkness in the shape of a woman. Jim wasn't happy about letting me have the cloak either, but I had no clothes that would adequately serve my plan and no time or place to get them. All of us were living on a timer we'd borrowed from Derek, and his time was running out.

The cloak coupled with a black leather vest made me suitably menacing. All that was missing was a giant neon sign with rotating sparklers proclaiming HARD CASE. LINE TO GET


A wide smile stretched Raphael's lips.

"If you laugh, I'll kill you," I told him.

"Why the rifle? Everybody knows you can't shoot."

Who were these everybodies and would they like to stand in front of me, preferably within ten feet, so I could discuss this issue in greater detail? "I can shoot just fine." I just missed eighty percent of the time. With the gun anyway. I did better with a crossbow and even better with the knife. "Do you know the runes on your sword are nonsense?"

"Yes, but they look mysterious."

Before us the ley line shimmered. Some poetic descriptions likened it to the rise of warm air above the heated asphalt. In reality the effect was more pronounced: a short, controlled spasm, as if an invisible vent slid open, belching a distorting blast, and abruptly closed. The ley current was no joke. The magic itself flowed about a foot and a half off the ground. It grabbed you and pulled you with it at speeds ranging from sixty to roughly a hundred miles per hour.

Anything living dumb enough to step into the current had to wave bye-bye to the bloody stumps of its legs severed just below the knee. Most people used ley taxis, rough, wooden platforms cobbled together, but anything sturdy enough to support a body would do in a pinch. A vehicle. A surfboard. A piece of an old roof. I'd seen a guy ride on a ladder once.

Not something I would try.

Raphael put the car in neutral. We rolled the vehicle across the platform to the ley line. The current jerked before us. I hopped into the cab and Raphael joined me a second later. The car slid into the ley line.

The magic jaws of the current snapped at us. My heart skipped a beat. The Jeep became utterly still, as if it were held immobile and the planet merrily rotated under it, speeding on its way.

Raphael pulled out a paperback and handed it to me. The cover, done back in the time when computer-aided image manipulation had risen to the level of art, featured an impossibly handsome man, leaning forward, one foot in a huge black boot resting on the carcass of some monstrous sea creature. His hair flowed down to his shoulders in a mane of white gold, in stark contrast to his tanned skin and the rakish black patch hiding his left eye. His white, translucent shirt hung open, revealing abs of steel and a massive, perfectly carved chest, graced by erect nipples. His muscled thighs strained the fabric of his pants, which were unbuttoned and sat loosely on his narrow hips, a touch of a strategically positioned shadow hinting at the world's biggest boner.

The cover proclaimed in loud golden letters: The Privateer's Virgin Mistress , by Lorna Sterling.

"Novel number four for Andrea's collection?" I guessed.

Raphael nodded and took the book from my hands. "I've got the other one Andrea wanted, too. Can you explain something to me?"

Oh boy. "I can try."

He tapped the book on his leather-covered knee. "The pirate actually holds this chick's brother for ransom, so she'll sleep with him. These men, they aren't real men. They're pseudo-bad guys just waiting for the love of a 'good' woman."

"You actually read the books?"

He gave me a chiding glance. "Of course I read the books. It's all pirates and the women they steal, apparently so they can enjoy lots of sex and have somebody to run their lives."

Wow. He must've had to hide under his blanket with a flashlight so nobody would question his manliness. Either he really was in love with Andrea or he had a terminal case of lust.

"These guys, they're all bad and aggressive as shit, and everybody wets themselves when they walk by, and then they meet some girl and suddenly they're not uber-alphas; they are just misunderstood little boys who want to talk about their feelings."

"Is there a point to this dissertation?"

He faced me. "I can't be that. If that's what she wants, then I shouldn't even bother."

I sighed. "Do you have a costume kink? French maid, nurse . . ."

"Catholic school girl."

Bingo. "You wouldn't mind Andrea wearing a Catholic school uniform, would you?"

"No, I wouldn't." His eyes glazed over and he slipped off to some faraway place.

I snapped my fingers. "Raphael! Focus."

He blinked at me.

"I'm guessing - and this is just a wild stab in the dark - that Andrea might not mind if once in a while you dressed up as a pirate. But I wouldn't advise holding her relatives for ransom nookie. She might shoot you in the head. Several times. With silver bullets."

An understanding crept into Raphael's eyes. "I see."

"While we're on the subject, maybe you can clear something up for me as well. Suppose there is an alpha male. Suppose he decides he likes a female. How would he go about . . ."

Courting, wooing? What was the right word here?

"Getting into her pants?" Raphael suggested.

"Yes. That."

He leaned back. "Well, you have to understand that boudas aren't jackals, and jackals aren't rats, and rats aren't wolves. Everybody has their own little quirks. But basically it's about proving that you're clever and capable enough and can provide for her and defend her and your cubs, should there be any."

"Does it involve breaking and entering?"

A little smile stretched Raphael's lips. "I see His Majesty made a move. Has he asked you to make him dinner yet?"

I growled. "This isn't about me and Curran."

He laughed softly. "Basically, yes. It's all about breaking and entering. The way the Pack is set up, all land belongs to the Pack as a whole. There is a bit of land around the meeting place of each clan that's traditionally held as that clan's exclusive domain, like those four square miles around Bouda House. It's mostly a courtesy so the clan could meet in private. There is no clan territory and no individual territory, so your house becomes your territory. When you're pursuing a female, you're trying to prove that you're clever enough to get in and out of her territory."


"Like I said, people get really elaborate with it. It's a point of pride. And every clan has their own traditions. Rats are all about food. When Robert, the rat alpha, was trying to get Thomas to notice him, he stuffed his mattress with M&M'S. Direct, but it worked. They've been together for twelve years now. Wolves are all about class and propriety. Let's take Jennifer, the wolf alpha. She has all of those sisters - I think there are six of them altogether - and they meet twice a week for tea. They're English. She happened to mention to one of her friends that her dishes were all chipped and mismatched and she needed a new set. Daniel was courting her at the time. Wolves got that perfect memory thing. Apparently he broke into her house and replaced all of her dishes with an antique set in mint condition. She came home, opened the cabinets, and found everything exactly the way she had arranged it, every cup, every plate, nothing even an inch out of place. Except everything was brand new. She had a cup and a plate in the sink, and he even replaced those and filled them with water exactly the way he found them."

Raphael shrugged. "I thought it was a bit dry myself, but wolf girls raved about it for years.

So classy and elegant and so sublime . . ." He rolled his eyes.

I couldn't resist. "What do boudas do?"

"We try to be funny." His eyes sparkled. "My mom had to go out of town, and while she was gone, my dad glued all of her furniture to the ceiling."

I pictured Aunt B walking into her house and finding all of her furniture upside down on the ceiling. Oh God. I couldn't help grinning. "What did your mom think about that?"

"She was pissed about the cat."

I stared at him. "Your dad . . . ?"

"Oh no." Raphael shook his head. "No, he didn't glue the cat to the ceiling - that would be cruel. But she had this wire-cage cat carrier, and he glued that to the ceiling and stuffed the cat into it."

I saw where it was going, but it was too good to interrupt and I tried to hold the laughter in.

"The cat got pissed off and peed all over the place, and because the carrier was upside down, it went straight through the bars. The ceiling fan was on at the time, and the draft made the pee into a sort of mist . . ."

I lost it and doubled over.

Raphael was grinning. "He tried to clean it up, but it got all over the carpet. It was a slight miscalculation on my dad's part. He wasn't a cat person, you see."

"That's hard to beat," I finally managed.


"Are you going to do something for Andrea?"

His face took on a sly look. "I've been thinking about it. It would have to be really good."

I finally got the last laughter out of my system. "What do cats do?"

Raphael shook his head. "Cats are weird. There is no telling."

We lapsed into silence.

"So what did Curran do?" he asked finally.

I gave him the look designed to communicate the threat of certain and immediate death.

He shrugged it off. "Tell me. You owe me for coming with you on this trip. I could get hauled before Curran for aiding you and the cat."

"I never said I was helping Jim."

Raphael spread his arms. "Come on. I'm not an idiot. So what did the Beast Lord do?"

"This doesn't go any further. I mean it."

He nodded.

"He's been breaking into my place and watching me sleep."

A frown troubled Raphael's handsome face. "A bit straightforward. I wouldn't expect Curran to pull something elaborate, but that's too basic even for him. Has he done anything odd?

Rearrange anything?"


The frown deepened.

I tapped my fingers on the wheel. "The whole point of the exercise seems to be letting the woman know you're coming into her territory and escaping unharmed."

Raphael nodded.

"I don't think Curran was ever planning on my finding out he was watching me. It just sort of slipped out. So what is the point of being clever if you don't let the woman know you're clever?"

"I don't know." Raphael looked at me helplessly. "I don't have a clue what's going through his head."

That made two of us.

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