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Twisted Magic

 

 

 

SHARON STEVENSON



Copyright

 

Sharon Stevenson asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

 

Copyright © Sharon Stevenson 2017

 

All rights reserved. Thank you for buying an authorized edition and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning or distributing any part of it in any form without permission of the author.

 

 

This book is a work of fiction and includes the creation of fictional towns. Any resemblance to real persons or places is purely coincidental.

 

 

Cover art by Your Next Book Crush

http://yournextbookcrush.com

 

Formatting by Polgarus Studio

http://polgarusstudio.com

Chapter One

The world was shaking, shuddering under her. Liv reached out to her magic, but the spark didn’t ignite. Memories of the last day flooded back to her, and she knew there was nothing wrong with the world; it wasn’t breaking apart around her–she was the one who was broken. The Trackers Council had taken her ability to use magic from her, stripping her of the inherent power she’d worked so hard to strengthen and control. It was gone now, leaving her to struggle through withdrawal like a goddamned junkie.

Her gaze drifted as she continued to shake. The room was unfamiliar and cold. She couldn’t force herself to lie still. The chill in the air seemed to permeate down to the bone. Sitting up, she pulled the covers around her and moved to the edge of the bed. On unsteady legs, she got up and walked to the closest window. The floor felt like ice under her feet. She had to look down to make sure it wasn’t. The rug looked thick on the stone ground, but it didn’t seem to keep the cold from getting through. Shivering, she wrapped the blanket around her tighter and moved the last few steps to get to the window. The curtains were made of thick red velvet. She pulled one of them back and was hit by her own reflection. Her dark eyes seemed lifeless set in the pale frame of her slack face. The fringe of her black bobbed haircut was sticking up all over the place, mussed up from all the shaking she’d been doing, she supposed. She smoothed it out, but it didn’t do much to improve her overall appearance. Without make-up, she looked like a ghost.

She frowned and moved closer to the glass, trying to see out into the darkness, to find out where they’d taken her. Teleportation had its downsides. Not knowing where she was would make escape even harder than it already would be without her magic. She narrowed her eyes as she stared out of the window. The rural landscape that took shape before her only made her sigh. The fields seemed to go on forever. She had to at least be on the third floor of this building, and she was apparently in the middle of fucking nowhere.

She pulled the curtain shut and turned her glower onto the room. The lamp at the far end provided the only light in the room, situated close to one of two visible doors. Moving as quickly as she could, she went straight for the handle, pushing it inwards. The small room appeared to be an en-suite shower room. She went for the other door without a second’s hesitation. The handle turned, and the door opened when she pulled it in towards her. Letting the sheets drop from around her shoulders, she stepped out into the darkened hallway. Decisions were made instantly in her head, forming into certainties made more solid by every quivering breath she took. She was getting the hell out of there, and she was getting her magic back.

Moving quickly down the hallway, she grimaced at the feel of the cold floor under her bare feet. They’d put her in some kind of tracksuit bottoms and sweater in a bland grey colour, but apparently, socks hadn’t been a requirement. Her black-painted toenails were about the only thing that showed any hint of her personality, but she would have killed for her Doc Martens right now. Escaping without shoes wasn’t likely to make for a pleasant walk home.

The sudden presence of light made her slow her pace. The landing was dark, but the stairs seemed to be faintly illuminated. Someone was likely down those stairs, standing guard. Reflexively, she reached for her magic, and it stung that she could reach nothing. There was no spark, no ignition. The reservoir of energy stored within her blackened soul was gone. She’d never get used to that—she refused to accept it. It wouldn’t do to creep down those stairs without a plan. If she couldn’t use magic, she’d just have to think of something else. There hadn’t seemed to be anything in her room she could use as a weapon, besides maybe the lamp, and she rolled her eyes at that thought. It would be clunky and awkward, but it was a viable option for braining a security guard at least.

She sighed softly, moving back to her room as swiftly as she could. Every muscle in her legs felt like it was on fire. She was weak right now in so many ways, but she refused to give up, refused to be stuck wherever the hell they’d taken her for another single minute. She gasped as her body denied her attempts to keep up the fast pace. Her legs gave from under her, and she collapsed onto the ground, shaking and breathing shallowly as she cursed under her breath and tried to massage her calves into complying with her escape plans.

“Liv?”

The sound of his voice stopped her dead in her tracks. Brody’s here?

She turned, trying to work out where his voice had come from.

“Brody?”

She shook her head at her own stupidity as soon as she heard the hope in her voice. There was no chance in hell he was here. This was some kind of fucked up trick. Her captors were messing with her. Now she knew why they hadn’t locked the door to her room.

“Are you okay?”

He sounded muffled, and she realised his voice was coming from the room across from hers.

Her heart leapt into her throat. He’s really here? She crawled over to his door, her legs not quite ready to be relied on yet. The handle turned when she touched it, but the door wouldn’t be pushed inwards. He was locked in. She frowned. What the hell was going on?

“Liv, listen to me, it’s going to be okay. I’ll get us out of here. I promise.”

He meant every word; she could hear it in his tone. Brody always said what he meant and got what he wanted. He didn’t know how to give up.

She didn’t know what to say. Her mind was still caught on why he was here. How did that happen? She’d accepted blame for the vampire brothel. She’d told Gwen it had been her business and hers alone.

“I don’t understand how they got to you,” she finally said.

“That doesn’t matter. All that matters is that I’m going to get us out of here.”

“Did they…” She swallowed. “Did they take your magic?”

His sigh was all the answer she needed.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said, determination in his voice. “We’re getting out of here.”

“I can barely walk,” she admitted, her voice barely registering above a whisper.

“Not tonight,” he said. “But soon. I promise.”

She closed her eyes, and hot tears dripped onto her cheeks.

“Hold on, Liv. It will be soon. Just hold on.”

She wiped at the wetness and struggled to get back onto her feet. If she didn’t feel the need to collapse so strongly, she might have picked up the lamp and staggered back down the hallway to make her attempt alone.

Closing the door to her room, she picked up the sheets she’d discarded on the floor and crawled back into the bed. It seemed a little warmer than before, somehow more inviting. She had a hard time keeping her eyes open.

***

“Wake up,” the vaguely familiar voice snapped at her.

The sound of curtains being flung open and feet stomping across the room made Liv groan and crack her eyes open. A scowling woman was standing over her. The blonde ringlets and full lips reminded her of a girl she went to school with. Rather, a witch.

She sat up. “What’s your problem?”

The shakes were less obvious now, but her body was still wracked and weak. She struggled to keep herself from shivering as she moved out of the bed. Her feet knocked against something on the floor by the bed; shoes. White slip-ons with no laces. What was she, on suicide watch?

“You really don’t remember me, do you?”

Liv smirked. “Should I?”

The witch frowned at her. “Just get up. You need to meet with Gwen.”

She slipped into the ugly shoes and got to her feet. Shaky or not, there was no way she was letting this bitch help her get to where she was supposed to meet the Council-appointed witch. She brushed off the woman’s hand and glared at her when she grabbed her arm harshly anyway. Her fingers tightened, and Liv hid her grimace, letting her hair fall in front of her face.

“Let’s move, then. Wouldn’t want to keep the Council waiting.” Liv pulled, and the woman tripped over her own feet. That was more like it. She smiled to herself.

“You little…” The witch pushed her, letting go of her arm.

Liv managed to find her balance and stay upright. She added a smirk when the woman’s gaze locked on her face. “You have no idea who you’re fucking with.”

The witch’s face burned red, but she didn’t try to engage her any further. She just grabbed her by the arm, even harder this time, and dragged her, stumbling, out of the room.

Liv’s gaze drifted to the room across from hers, to the wide open door. Her eyes widened as she was hauled past and down the corridor. Her mind sifted through everything that had happened the night before. She hadn’t dreamt it—the hallway looked the same as it had last night.

What did it mean that Brody was out of his room? Had he been summoned to Gwen already?

She’d find out soon enough. There was no way she was asking the irritable bitch who’d awoken her. She doubted she’d even get a straight answer if she did.

***

“I thought my punishment had already been doled out,” Liv said the second her escort let go of her arm.

She moved to the seat across from Gwen in a small room that looked more like a study than anything else. She couldn’t help wondering what spells were contained in the books stacked in the floor to ceiling shelves along the right wall. Her heart rate quickened for a moment before she remembered she’d been magically neutered. Her ability to store and use magic was gone. The spells would be as useless to her as they would be to a normal human.

The elderly witch had long grey hair and an oddly calming presence. It was kind of freaky. Liv had never been able to be a bitch to Gwen. Her spiky personality took a hike whenever she was around.

Gwen looked Liv over in concern. “Olivia, I know that being stripped of your magic must be difficult, but this was the mildest punishment you could have been given. I do hope that you appreciate that.”

Liv swallowed back the answer she wanted to give. Deep down, she knew what the witch was saying was right. She didn’t have to like it, but she didn’t want to voice her anger to the one person who’d convinced the Council Elders to go easy.

“I do. It just hurts,” she said, folding her arms. “I’m still going through withdrawal. It’ll get better.”

“I’m glad to hear that.” Gwen clasped her hands. “Are you having any hallucinations? Or the other side effects you were warned about?”

Liv shook her head. The side effects’ list she’d been given was on the extensive side. But so far, the shakes, physical exhaustion, and feeling of being cold were the only real reactions her body was having to going through withdrawal from magic.

“What happens next?”

“You’ll be here for a few weeks. That’s to help you adjust. To get you to where you need to be before you can be assessed for release.”

A few weeks! Liv shuddered. A few weeks of attempting to follow their rules, to behave like a normal human… She couldn’t stomach the thought of that. Making nice with Gwen right now was testing her resolve to the limit as it was. She pushed down her instinctive reaction, forcing a smile. Concentrate on what comes after. You can make it through this. One day at a time. “Then?”

“Then, you’ll be released to a location decided by the Council…”

Where they could watch over her every move, no doubt.

“…and when your probationary period is over, you’ll be allowed to decide where you go from there.”

It all sounded so goddamned reasonable. But it was too much to take, and she had to struggle to contain her rising panic. Her breathing was starting to quicken. She concentrated and forced it to slow down. She half-wished they’d just sentence her to death. Maybe she didn’t need to wish; she was sure to slip up at one of their hurdles, and that would still be an option for them if she did. Despite her lessened punishment, she wasn’t out of the woods yet, far from it.

Creating vampires had been highly illegal for a long time, and with good reason as far as human laws were concerned, considering that murdering a human was an essential part of the process. Even if said human wanted to be a vampire. Even if they’d begged to be made. None of that mattered when it came down to taking a life, and she’d taken more than one. Whichever way she turned it, Gwen was right about one thing; she was getting off easy.

It turned her stomach to think of that word applied to her situation. Taking her medicine like a good little girl wasn’t going to happen. There was nothing else for it, escape was her only hope to have the life she wanted. The life she needed.

She wanted desperately to ask about Brody. But she was afraid to admit she knew him. Surely, Gwen had worked it out if he was here, but still, she hesitated. The blood brothel had been his. They knew that if they had him. Her blood ran cold at the thought of it. If taking her magic away was going easy on her, what was going to happen to him?

“So what now?” she asked, wondering if that was really all that Gwen had wanted to see her about.

“There’s a kitchen down the hall where you can fix your own meals or take the prepared meals if you decide to keep regular meal times. You’ll be free to wander the property and grounds throughout the day, and will be confined to the house during the evening.”

She was only repeating words Liv had heard the night before after the ‘treatment’ to remove her magic. Though she’d barely taken them in at the time, she recognised them now as if she’d been sharp then too.

There had also been a folder full of information—rules—that she’d been told was next to her bed in her room. She’d barely taken it in, too shattered to listen properly. She supposed she’d have to check it out. It might help her figure out a way to escape. Rules were in place for reasons, after all. She’d pick at them until she found one she could break to get out.

But first things first, she needed to build her strength up. “Which way is the kitchen?”

***

The house was really a converted castle, something Liv learned on further exploration. The rooms were huge, and there were a lot of them. The whole place was pretty cold, though, which definitely wasn’t helping her recovery along. As if she even wanted to recover from what they’d done to her. Losing her magic wasn’t going to be a long-term thing. She’d get it back somehow, even if it meant she had to go on the run and keep running. No one was ever getting to tell her how to live her life, not now, not ever again. Anger fuelled her journey through the castle. Her body was weak, but the rage that burned through her was potent. It was what was going to keep her going.

Another couple of twists in the corridor, and she finally found the kitchen. The room was the warmest she’d encountered in the entire place. It took the venom out of her thoughts instantly as her empty stomach demanded she find out what was in the pot on the stove. The soup was boiling, and she couldn’t think of anything else she’d rather have right then. She opened a few cupboards and found a bowl, managing to make minimal mess in dishing it out. Getting to the table, she found sliced bread under a serving tray and grabbed a piece.

Her body seemed to relax as she warmed it with the food. Tension she hadn’t noticed she was carrying drained from her. The shaking became less frequent, less obvious. She sighed as she took her last spoonful.

“I thought you might like that.”

Brody’s voice made her jump in her seat.

She got up as he walked into the room from what seemed to be a door leading outside. He was in the same bland clothes as her, but the sweater was definitely too tight around his shoulders. He worked out, and his muscles were well-defined. Her gaze always drifted when he was wearing a fitted T-shirt. Right now, she was just glad to see his disgustingly handsome face.

“Brody,” she said, embarrassed at how happy she sounded to see him.

He smiled, his hazel eyes seeming to light up for her. “Well, I guess we finally got what was coming to us.”

She rolled her eyes. “I guess so.”

Clearly, he’d gotten the same punishment she had. Only…

“Why was your door locked?” It seemed particularly odd since hers wasn’t.

He shrugged, going over to the pot. “Some of us are more of a flight risk than others, I suppose.”

She watched him, folding her arms. The urge to run over and throw her arms around him came and went. She couldn’t. Every time they’d gotten close, she’d made an excuse to run away. Opening up to people wasn’t something she’d ever be able to do. He was the one person in the world who saw anything of the real her, and she couldn’t let him get any closer than that. As much as she trusted him, she just couldn’t risk it. He didn’t want that, anyway. She’d shut him down too many times. She’d slept with one of the brothel’s vampires, something she’d always regret doing, just to close the door to any chance that they had to ever be more than friends.

“So, about last night…” she started, wondering if it was wise.

He sat down with his soup and shook his head at her. “Later.”

The promise in his tone relaxed her. She sat back down.

“When did you learn to cook?” She settled for a more mundane conversational route.

“I have a ton of hidden talents,” he said, grinning. “Being human is kind of boring, but it does mean there’s time for this kind of crap.”

“Maybe you can teach me.”

He smiled, and she found herself smiling back. Brody would get them out of there. She knew it.

***

The irritable witch’s name was Caitlin. Liv remembered her more clearly the second time she saw her as one of the witches who’d cast the spell to strip her magic away.

She’d been sweating in the heat of the kitchen, and Brody had been starting to make suggestions about walking in the gardens together. She’d realised she had no idea when she’d last brushed her teeth, either. Even if she wasn’t trying to lead him on, she didn’t want him going off her because she smelled bad. So she headed to her room, a little more energy in her step after the hot lunch.

Caitlin was making her bed when she got to her room. Whatever her job title was, she seemed to be pissed about being assigned to working with Liv.

“Oh, there you are,” she said. “Wondered when you’d be done with your little imaginary conversation downstairs. Though it was highly entertaining, I suppose.”

Liv frowned at her. “Get the fuck out of my room.”

Caitlin smiled at her. “You really think Brody McIntosh got away with having his magic stripped, for what he did? The withdrawal is really messing you up.”

“I said, get the—”

Caitlin went to the door, turning only once she got there. “He hung for what he did, and he damn well deserved it.”

She closed the door with a bang, and Liv heard a key turn in the lock.

She rushed to the door and twisted the handle. It wouldn’t open. She curled her hands into fists and hit hard, earning bursts of pain that flushed down to her wrists. That fucking bitch!

Staring at the locked door, Caitlin’s words rushed through her head on an endless loop she couldn’t drown out.

“She’s a goddamned fucking liar!” she growled, fighting the truth with everything she had.

Gwen’s voice swirled through her thoughts. Are you having any hallucinations? I got you the mildest punishment I could for this.

Everything slammed into place all at once. Brody was dead.

Liv ran into the bathroom to throw up.

Chapter Two

Five Years Ago

 

Feeling powerless had become her default setting. It didn’t matter how much she practiced, or how well she memorised the spells—it was never good enough. She wasn’t powerful; her reserves were always running too close to empty. Her spells could easily be twisted by a more powerful witch. It felt like she had nothing.

“Might as well be human,” she muttered, kicking at the base of the bed.

Lucas would be back soon, and she hadn’t broken the bind he’d put her in. Two hours she’d been trapped like this, sitting with her arms at her sides and her magic bound by his. He was stronger, she’d known it the instant she met him. It was what had attracted her to him in the first place.

He’d told her he was testing her, getting her to dig deep and untap her true potential. She’d started to doubt his true reasons, but she was finding it impossible to walk away from him.

Determination abandoned her easily. She was pliable in too many ways, too ready to be used. The world would just keep right on using her if she didn’t pull herself together and fast. Frustration sank in as she pushed at what little spark there was left of her stored magic, starting a new spell she hoped would be the key to breaking her boyfriend’s binding magic.

A knock on the apartment door broke her concentration. Scowling, she started again from the beginning. The knocking didn’t stop. She seriously doubted whoever was on the other side of the door had the ability to help her so she didn’t bother trying to call out to them. Likely if she did, they’d be shady enough to use this to their advantage. Lucas didn’t exactly live in a nice part of town.

The sound of the door creaking open made her heart jump into her throat. She stared at the bedroom door, horrified. All she could really do was yell at them to fuck off. Shit! She trembled at the thought of a stranger finding her like this. Hopefully, they wouldn’t know anything was wrong. Hopefully, they’d fuck off when she told them to.

“Olivia.”

The teasing female voice was unfamiliar to her, but the fact that the intruder knew her name freaked her out. Who the hell was she? What was she doing here? Had Lucas sent her?

Calm down, Liv. Breathe. You can get this bitch to leave without magic.

“Who the hell is asking?” she called back, finally. Managing to keep only anger in her tone, she tried to keep her lips from quivering as she closed her mouth.

The bedroom door swung open, and a vampire in a tiny top and skin-tight leather skirt slunk into the room, a nasty grin on her monstrous face. Liv swallowed her fear and glowered back at her.

“I didn’t invite you in, bitch. Leave before you burn up.”

“Oh, but Lucas invited me, and this is his place,” the girl said, coming closer. “Right?”

She was within kicking distance now and, while she was severely tempted, Liv knew that would only piss the damned thing off. Vampires didn’t feel pain. Hurting her was useless. Death was the only thing that would deter this bitch. And Liv had no way to land in a killing blow. Not while her body and her magic was bound like this.

The vampire leaned in and sniffed her neck. “Mmm. You smell good.”

Liv gritted her teeth. She needed to think of something, fast.

“He told me to bite you,” the vampire said, her tongue darting out and slithering up Liv’s throat. “He said it would get you off.” Her hand landed on Liv’s knee and started to move upwards, causing her skirt to push up and show more of her thigh. “He said I could take as much as I wanted. That you wouldn’t stop me.”

“No,” Liv said quickly, cringing even as the points of the vampire’s fangs pinched her skin. “I want to bite you.”

Bringing up an act that could form a demon bond was risky. But it made the vampire pause what she was doing. Liv only hoped it would be enough to stop her entirely. If not, she might need to grab any chance she could get to actually make it happen. Biting the girl’s ear sounded gross, particularly if it had to be hard enough to cause bleeding, but that was probably the best chance she was going to get to bite her while her damned fangs were at her throat.

The vampire’s face changed to human. She was pretty, and she gazed intently into Liv’s eyes, her own sparkling blue eyes bright and full of wonder.

“You want to bond with me?” She sounded excited at the prospect.

Shit! That so wasn’t what Liv was going for. She nodded slowly, anyway, stumbling to come up with another plan. A bond with a demon was the last thing she needed. Power boost or not, those things were practically impossible to break. She shivered.

“Let’s do this right, then,” the vampire said, getting up and leaving the room.

Liv didn’t have time to wonder what she was talking about. She needed help, and she needed it now. Her bag was on the floor, and her lower legs were movable. She kicked towards the bag, intent on reaching it and tipping it over. Her phone might be her only chance. She’d figure out how she’d dial with her feet once she got the damn thing out of the bag.

The vampire came back, a kitchen knife in her hand. If Liv had thought things couldn’t get any worse, she’d just been proven wrong.

“I’ll cut my arm for you and your throat for me.”

The vampire sounded dreamy, ecstatic. If Liv didn’t know any better, she’d swear she was high.

“Lucas won’t be happy about this,” Liv told her, just managing to tip the bag. It flopped over onto its side quietly. Nothing fell out. Typical.

“Who cares about Lucas?” The vampire grinned. “He certainly doesn’t care about you.”

Liv was seriously going to kill him for this. It was a step too far. The vampire was right—he didn’t give a shit about her. He was willing to risk her life, and for what? To ‘test’ her? What an asshole. Liv’s anger was building up fast, but it had nowhere to go. She needed to cut this goddamn binding. Bonding to a demon would make it easy for her to break it, but she didn’t want to go that far. There had to be a better way.

“Lucas?” a familiar voice called out. “You left your door open.”

Liv stared at the vampire as the bitch frowned and turned away from her.

It was one of Lucas’ friends. She didn’t have to think twice to come up with his name. Brody. He always sounded bright and spoke with confidence. She’d recognise his voice anywhere. He came into view through the open bedroom door a second later. Breathing out a relieved sigh, she opened her mouth and called back, “Watch out for the…vampire.”

The girl had already rushed him. Liv watched it happen through the open bedroom door. Brody’s surprised expression melted into anger quickly. He cast a spell Liv couldn’t hear, and the knife flew into the air and spun before it burst through the vampire’s chest. The creature who’d been so excited at the prospect of bonding to her was reduced to a gunky spattering of remains on the carpet. But Liv’s attention moved on quickly. Brody’s gaze had fallen on her through the open doorway. A flush of shame rushed through her. He’d know she was weak now.

“I can’t…” She shook her head. It was too embarrassing to admit out loud.

He came into the room and cursed under his breath. She knew he must be working out the spell. It wouldn’t be a difficult one for him, that was for sure.

“He never should have done this,” Brody said, moving towards her and kneeling in front of her. He placed his hands on her shoulders and with three low, whispered words, the spell was broken.

She sighed, relieved that she could finally move. “Thank—”

“Come back to the café with me. You can tell me what happened.” He paused, his expression softening. “Unless you have someplace else you want me to take you.”

She couldn’t really sink much lower than she just had, and he’d already seen the worst of it. She got up and nodded slowly, knowing she wouldn’t be able to trust her voice. It had shaken when she’d tried to thank him. The lump in her throat wasn’t going to dissolve anytime soon.

He had a commanding way about him, but he wasn’t actually commanding her. She could stomach that, particularly since he’d just saved her from something horrific.

He moved back, giving her space. She was just glad to get out of Lucas’ flat. She slipped into her shoes and picked up her bag, then pulled open a drawer and pushed a few extra things into her bag. It wasn’t as if she had a ton of possessions. There was nothing else she desperately wanted to hang onto. Taking a breath, she silently said goodbye to Lucas and their messed up relationship and followed Brody out of the apartment.

***

The Bothy was a nice place, and one she was familiar with. Brody was more than familiar with it. He took her straight through the bustling kitchen, into a back office that seemed to be his. She sat in the plush leather seat across from him and tried to relax. Thinking about Lucas was only making her feel worse than she already did. But she knew he was going to ask her to talk about it.

“How long has Lucas been doing that to you?”

She felt her skin burn. “I don’t know. A while.”

She started to shake under his intense gaze. Was she seriously going to admit this to him? What exactly did he plan to do about it, anyway?

“And the vampire?”

She swallowed. “New.”

“Why…” He took a breath and shook his head, hesitating before he spoke again. His restraint was visible in the tension in his neck and shoulders. “This isn’t your fault. He’s an arsehole, always has been. Did the vampire hurt you?”

“She said he told her to bite me.” Liv folded her arms. “But she didn’t get the chance.”

He nodded slowly. “Do you have anywhere to go?”

She realised what he meant and shook her head. She hadn’t even thought about it. All she knew was she wasn’t going back there.

“Not your parents, or a friend?”

“No,” she said, wishing her parents would be a better alternative, but staying with Lucas was less awful than that, even if he was trying to kill her now.

As for friends, she’d never let anyone get that close. Her cousin was the only person she knew she could trust, if it came down to that. But she hadn’t exactly stayed on good terms with Flicky so showing up now would mean coming clean, and that was something that made her feel physically ill. She couldn’t stand to have the girl look at her like she was something to be pitied.

Brody nodded. “Okay. Then you’re staying here.”

“Here?”

“There’s an apartment above the café. You can use it for as long as you want.”

She blinked. “You’re giving me a place to stay?”

“It probably needs cleaning up a bit,” he said, taking a slow, measured breath. “But you have to promise you’ll stay away from Lucas.”

She nodded slowly. “I don’t want to ever see him again.”

***

Brody’s blood boiled as he showed Liv into the apartment above the café. He’d planned on moving into it himself, but there were other places he could use. She needed to feel safe, and that was more important right now.

He’d known the second Lucas introduced him to her that Liv was going to be his friend’s new toy—it wasn’t his first time messing around with a younger witch, and it wouldn’t be his last—but Brody hadn’t counted on feeling something for this new girl.

The protective streak she’d awakened in him had started the instant they’d met. She’d barely been able to meet his gaze—she was so vulnerable, so broken. She was attractive, too, her dark eyes compelling and her pale skin stunning, but there was so much more to his obsession with this girl than her looks, so much he could barely touch on with words. It was as if he just knew the moment he met her that she was the one for him, the girl he’d lay down his life for. Even if she wasn’t his.

She looked around and put down her bag. “Are you sure it’s okay for me to stay here?”

“I’m sure.” He would probably use one of the rooms at the vampire brothel for his new apartment. It was a little more awkward to get to, but there was no way he could put her down there after what had just happened.

“Thank you,” she said, her dark eyes falling on him. “For everything.”

He wanted to say it was nothing, but that would have been a lie. He cleared his head of any romantic notions. It was the last thing she needed. He was patient. He’d wait for the right moment. He had a feeling it might be a while.

“There are ways to build up more power,” he told her. “Your reserves are low right now, but if you want, I can show you some tricks that will help.”

Her eyes widened slightly. He realised it was probably a touchy subject, but it was too late to kick himself for bringing it up.

“That sounds…good,” she said.

He nodded. “Well. I’ll ask Alexa to bring you up something for dinner, if that sounds okay? And I’ll bring your things over from Lucas’ place. I need to speak to him, anyway.”

A frown darkened her face, but only for an instant. She gave him a tight smile he knew was faked. It didn’t matter. She was worn out. She needed to rest.

“Okay, cool. Just…I should speak to him myself. Probably.”

“That’s not a good idea,” he told her. “I don’t want him hurting you again. Let me deal with him.”

She winced. “I…He…Okay. Whatever. I’ll stay away from him.”

Brody held back a sigh. Lucas had messed with his last witch. He was going to get what was coming to him, and that was the end of that. As for Liv, he’d give her as much space as she needed.

***

Liv wandered around the flat, her head in a spin. Everything had happened so quickly. She could barely take it all in. She’d gotten out of Lucas’ grasp, and here she was in a nice apartment. All because of a man she barely knew. A heart-stoppingly attractive man, but still, he was virtually a stranger to her. Why would he do all of this?

Some people do have compassion, she supposed. Even if there were so few of those people out there that she was shocked to her core when she met one of them. She rifled through her bag to find her cigarettes. It was a habit she’d picked up in high school. She wasn’t exactly a chain smoker, but every now and then, she found herself reaching for one. They tended to calm her down. Her nerves had been thoroughly rattled so she wasn’t going to beat herself up about it. There wasn’t an ashtray so she found a mug in the kitchen and used it instead.

She sat down on the sofa as she smoked, gazing over at the flat screen TV. There was no way this apartment was just sitting here empty for no reason. Putting out the cigarette, she got up and properly looked around. The furnishings were minimal, but there was cutlery and tableware in the drawers and cupboards of the kitchen. The bathroom was stocked with towels and toilet paper. And the bedroom? She hesitated to open the door. Scolding herself for being stupid, she pushed the door inwards and hit the light switch. The bed had to be King-sized, and the headboard was black leather, as was the comforter. It was a guy’s bedroom, definitely.

Was it his? She went to the drawers and found them empty. The wardrobes were a different story. She found a rack of suits hung up on one side. Closing them, she wondered about Brody. She barely knew anything about him, and that alone made her guts twist. Was she really safe here? Or was this just another part of Lucas’ plan to mess with her? She hoped it wasn’t, but bitter experience had taught her to be sparing with trust. She couldn’t let her guard down. Weariness wanted her to just get under the covers and sleep, but she went into the kitchen first and chose a knife from the rack. If witches had one weakness, it was their over-reliance on magic. She wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty if she needed to. She stared at the blade and hoped she wasn’t going to have to use it, but if she had to, she damn well would.

***

Haven was the likeliest place to find Lucas. If he’d just tried to kill his girlfriend, the chances were he was out looking for a replacement.

Brody’s rage hadn’t cooled one little bit on the walk over to White Oaks supernatural nightclub. He couldn’t wait to get his hands on that arsehole, the guy he’d called a friend for the past ten years. He’d never approved of the dark tastes Lucas indulged in with teenagers, but he’d always kept out of it. Told himself it wasn’t any of his business.

That was before he’d tried to kill a girl. Not just any girl. Liv.

He stormed past the bouncer on the door, darting up the stairs to the club. The guy on the door wasn’t dumb enough to try to stop him, even if he was wearing jeans and trainers.

The flashing lights and booming music was enough to give him a headache. He moved through the crowd, his height making it easier to search. He finally spotted Lucas talking to a girl by the door to the ladies room. He had his hand on her hip and was whispering into her ear.

Brody approached, and his friend glanced up just as he bodily lifted the girl, who was waiflike and wrapped in a skin-tight dress, out of the way. She gasped indignantly, and he gave her a little push. She didn’t wait around for him to tell her to piss off, just flipped him off and stalked into the crowd of partiers near the dance-floor.

Brody turned back to Lucas who gave him a silent shrug and a ‘what the hell, man?’ look without the words. He was dressed as smartly as usual, his designer shirt and suit out of place in this teenager-infested club. His dark hair was gelled back, and he was clean-shaven, as usual. He was definitely out tonight to find a new girl to toy with.

Brody grabbed the front of his shirt and teleported them to a less busy place. He didn’t want Haven’s bouncers reporting him to the human police for beating the shit out of Lucas in their club.

“What the fuck, Brody?” Lucas pushed him off as they appeared in the brothel’s reception area, the one place Brody knew his actions wouldn’t be reported to any outside force.

He grabbed the front of Lucas’ shirt again and smashed his right fist into his face.

“That’s for trying to kill Liv,” he said, hitting him again before he could react.

He glanced at Stacy, the human receptionist, who was on her feet behind the front desk and looking decidedly nervous.

“Lock the door. And buzz for Shayne.”

She nodded and sprung into action. Fear really seemed to pay out for her reflexes working at the brothel. He couldn’t deny he’d been wary about taking on a human for the job, but she’d really been proving herself.

Lucas glowered at him, rubbing at his face. “What do you care what I do to them?”

A pang of guilt hit Brody. He hadn’t. Not really. He’d worried that Lucas might go too far one day, but he’d never stepped in his way like this before. Lucas didn’t even think there was something special about this one. None of them meant anything to him, besides providing a cheap thrill.

“Why did you do it?”

“Why the fuck do you care?” Lucas really didn’t get it. “It’s not as if you’re innocent. Look at this fucking place. You feed humans to these goddamned vampires every day.”

He wasn’t wrong. Though most of the time, the vampires fed off of the clients enough to survive and not kill anyone, at least a dozen people had died to feed vampires every year since the day the place had opened. He’d learned to live with that, and he tried to get captives who were on the run from the law, people who weren’t innocent. Hell, he’d even teleported into prisons and taken killers, for nothing more than to assuage his own conscience that nothing hideously evil was taking place here.

“You did what her parents did to her.” And he knew instantly that was the wrong thing to say. It had come out of his anger. It wasn’t something he was even supposed to know.

Lucas’ eyes lit up like Christmas. “You like her.” He laughed. “That’s what this is about? Fuck, man, have her.”

Brody fought to keep his calm as the vampire entered the room. Shayne was as big as a wrestler and just as formidable—he was the head of security in the brothel, and no-one ever messed with him.

“Shayne, I want you to throw this arsehole into one of the holding cells.”

“Aye, boss.”

Stacy’s gaze drifted over Shayne as he lifted Lucas over his shoulder as if he was weightless. Brody could have sworn she practically swooned. But the moment Shayne got close, to pass her, she jerked back, as if afraid he’d touch her. She really needed to get over her fear of vampires.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing, Brody?” Lucas wasn’t fighting back; he just sounded confused.

“The world could use a few less arseholes, Lucas.”

“The fuck?” Lucas’ voice drifted away as Shayne disappeared with him.

Stacy looked at Brody with raised eyebrows. “So, um, yeah. Are you having a good night, boss?”

He had to laugh. “I am now. Stacy, can you check if Marina’s free tonight?”

She clicked away at her computer and shook her head. “She’s all booked up. Abby, too. Might need to get more females in. They’re insanely popular with both sexes.”

He wasn’t too bothered, anyway. Mostly, he wanted to hear himself talk. Marina was just the best listener in the place. He sighed. “Oh, well. I’m going to take that apartment at the back of the building. Can you find the keys?”

She nodded and then frowned. “I thought you had the café apartment all set up?”

“I kind of did. It’s a long story.”

A banging noise made them both jump. Brody winced. “Oh, yeah. You can unlock the doors now. That was just to make sure Lucas didn’t make a run for it.”

Luckily, that arsehole hadn’t realised how serious Brody had been about making him pay for what he’d done. He probably still thought it was some kind of joke. Brody wondered when he’d realise he was going to die in the brothel.

He took the keys Stacy handed over and made his way past her to his new apartment.

Chapter Three

“I’ve never really waitressed before,” Liv said, taking the apron and tying it closed. It’s not that she wasn’t grateful, but it was all new, and everything was changing so rapidly, she could barely think straight.

Alexa shrugged. She was kind of cool – she died her hair purple and wore really bright colours of eyeshadow. Her clothes were black like the other waitresses, but Liv got the feeling black was what she was comfortable in, despite the bright hair and make-up.

“It’s super easy. It’s not a big place. You just ask people what they want and bring it to them. That’s about it. Tips are usually shitty, but the pay isn’t bad.”

She got to it, realising her low-heeled shoes were not as comfortable as she’d thought they were by the end of her shift. Luckily, she was going to be paid at the end of the week so she could get a more suitable pair. She admired Alexa’s boots and decided copying that one small thing wouldn’t be too Single White Female.

She wasn’t ballsy enough to copy her colourful hair and makeup, anyway, but the boots were definitely her kind of thing.

“So, how do you know Brody?” Alexa asked as she locked the doors behind the last customer of the day.

It was a casual question, and Liv didn’t think there was anything malicious behind it, but still, she hesitated before she answered. “He’s kind of a friend. I mean, he was a friend of a friend.”

“Are you guys kind of a thing?” She grinned like she was teasing.

“No way,” Liv told her, blushing furiously. She couldn’t think of him like that. He was incredibly good-looking and completely out of her league. Even if she didn’t feel weird about how nice he’d been to her, nothing was going to happen.

“I don’t know,” Alexa said. “I’ve seen him look at you. I think he has a crush.”

Liv just shook her head. She really doubted it. He felt sorry for her, if anything.

“Do you need me to help close up?”

Alexa shook her head. “Nah.”

“I’ll see you in the morning.” She dashed up the stairs and into the apartment. As soon as she could afford it, she’d get her own place.

***

Brody cracked open another bottle of beer and sat back down. He was going stir-crazy in the underground apartment by himself, but every time he wanted to book time with Marina, he thought about Liv and he couldn’t do it. She rarely left his thoughts, and he’d stayed away for at least a week, instinctively knowing she needed space. She’d been doing well at the café. Alexa had been giving him updates, teasing that he might have a thing for the new girl.

He never should have looked her up when he’d figured out her full name. Finding out what her parents had done to her had only made him angrier about what Lucas had done. Not that it was public knowledge in any way, shape, or form. No. His parents were a part of a cabal. They operated under the radar of the Trackers Council and made decisions based on more than right and wrong. Who you were meant more than any law or rule meant for ordinary people. They’d stopped Liv’s case from being seen by the Council, who would have at the very least stripped her parents’ magic from them.

Liv had taken her case to the wrong person. She’d been screwed over by someone she should have been able to trust. Her aunt had put the case to the cabal, and they’d admitted her parents’ treatment had been extreme, but that ultimately, they hadn’t harmed Liv in any permanent way.

Brody had thrown his laptop across the room when he’d read that. Every one of the arseholes in the cabal should be in the brothel’s basement right now, awaiting death by vampire.

He still felt shitty about asking Liv if she could stay with her parents. He hadn’t wanted to risk her finding out he knew about her past. He didn’t want her thinking too closely about him at all. Considering he’d gone to Lucas’ apartment that night because he’d been hanging around near it for days, knowing Lucas was close to done with her, and ready to rush in when something felt off. Seeing his friend leave looking smug, he’d cast a spell and known Liv was trapped by that asshole’s magic.

If Liv found out about any of that, she’d never trust him. He’d look like a stalker. Obsessed.

The laptop was still there on the floor where he’d thrown it last week. It was probably broken, but he couldn’t seem to make himself care. He tried to ignore it.

A ringing snapped him out of his thoughts. He grabbed the phone—it was a call from inside the brothel. “What?”

“Um, Marina’s having a problem in room eighteen.”

“I’ll be there in a second.”

“Personally?”

“You heard me.” He hung up and slammed down the rest of his beer before he left the room.

The sounds of chaos bled down the hall. Someone was clearly having fun. He sighed and moved swiftly to where the trouble was. The bang was loud. Okay, that someone having the fun was probably Marina, then. He opened the door and saw her, slight thing that she was, naked and with her fingers knuckle deep in a client’s eye-socket.

She shuddered as he stepped into the room, removing her hand. “That was disgusting.”

“Should I even be asking what happened here?” Clearly, he’d missed the show.

She slipped into a robe and breathed a massive sigh of relief. “He had a knife. I’d show you the wounds if they hadn’t already healed. Stacy should have it on camera.”

“And you, what, killed him by poking his eyes out?”

She laughed. “No. Ew. I was going to crush his windpipe, but he slipped and my hand was already moving so…Yuck. So much yuck.”

Brody stepped closer to the body. The guy was definitely dead.

“How the hell did he get in with a knife?”

“Ask your receptionist.”

No. This wasn’t Stacy’s fault. He sighed. They’d only started having problems when they’d started catering to men as well as women again. It just wasn’t working.

“What is that, the third time this week?”

She nodded. “Men in this town are so damn angry. Especially the ones that come in here. If Abby hadn’t been around that last time…” She shuddered. “You need to give us hazard pay for fucking men.”

He laughed. “Message received. I’m going to push it up to Stacy. No new male clients.”

Marina cocked her head to the side. “That could work.”

He was glad. They were turning a nice profit. Denying the existing clients would make things tighter. This new rule was probably going to cause some trouble, too. He’d have to increase security for a bit, have someone posted to reception permanently. Might help Stacy get over her fear of vampires.

“So, you haven’t been around for a while, Brody. I was starting to think you’d forgotten about me.” She pouted slightly.

“Just been busy,” he said with a shrug. He picked up the phone. “I’ll call security to remove the body. Unless you’re hungry?”

She snorted. “I wouldn’t suck on this creep if you paid me.”

She moved into the bathroom, and he called for security.

He heard the tap running and noises of disgust issuing from her intermittently.

He had to smile. He’d missed her. It had been a while since they’d spent any time together.

“So, you’re free for an hour?” he called through.

She turned off the tap and appeared at the doorway, wiping her hands on a towel. “I might be.” She had a suggestive smile on her face. “If we go to your apartment.”

“I was more thinking of talking.”

She raised an eyebrow. “You? Thinking of talking?”

He rolled his eyes. “I don’t have a one-tracked mind like some people.”

“Well, if we’re just going to talk, let me get dressed.” She grabbed something out of her wardrobe and went into the bathroom.

He sighed, leaning against the wall. When she came back out, she was in something that definitely wasn’t a work outfit. The leggings and slouchy top were very relaxed. She went to the door.

“Lead the way.”

Security guards arrived as they were leaving.

Marina turned to them. “The sheets need changed, too. I have another client in a couple of hours.”

***

Bringing Marina into his apartment felt like a mistake. She was incredibly attractive and enjoyed his company a little bit too much. They’d hardly ever spent time together that didn’t end in bed.

He went straight to the fridge as she closed the door.

“So this is what you call home.” She sounded curious. “I’m surprised it’s inside the brothel.”

He grabbed a bottle of beer and uncapped it. “Wasn’t always.”

“So what changed?”

“I suppose maybe I did.” He took a swig of his beer and sighed.

“This is about a girl, isn’t it?” She stepped over the broken laptop and made herself comfortable on his couch.

“Maybe.” He wasn’t sure he should admit it, but there was really no one else he could speak to about Liv.

“So who is she?”

He took another drink and stayed behind the breakfast bar. He had the thirst already; he’d finish this bottle soon and want another. There wasn’t much point in leaving the direct vicinity of the fridge.

“She’s a witch.”

“So she’s perfect for bringing home to meet the parents, then?”

He snorted and shook his head. “Hardly.”

Her case against her parents had been seen by his. He knew what they thought of her. She wouldn’t be considered good enough for their son. She was damaged, broken.

“Ooh. Interesting. So who is this nasty little witch you have a thing with?”

“We don’t have a thing. Not exactly.” The conversation was already turning awkward.

Marina had her head resting on her forearms as she leaned on the back of the couch to face him. Her dark eyes were full of interest. “The plot thickens. Who is this mystery girl? I’m dying to know.”

“It doesn’t matter who she is,” he told her, not wanting to reveal Liv’s identity or past to Marina, in spite of how much he trusted her.

“Oh, Brody. You’ve got it so bad.” She raised an eyebrow. “If you don’t tell me what the problem is, I don’t know how I can help you.”

He sighed and took another swig of his beer, a long one this time. The bottle was empty when he put it down.

“I got her out of a shitty situation. She has some issues. I can’t just ask her out or whatever, like any other girl.”

“Without knowing anything about said shitty situation or issues, all I’m really hearing is excuses here. What are you afraid of?”

She had an uncanny habit of cutting through the crap to get to the heart of the problem.

Brody considered the question carefully. What was he afraid of? He didn’t want to push too hard too soon and ruin things before they could begin. He was worried she’d run from him. Losing her wasn’t worth pushing it to get closer sooner than she was ready. He shook his head. “I don’t want to scare her away. She’s been hurt.”


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