This Wicked Magic (Harlequin Nocturne Series #153)by Michele Hauf
His destined mate
Certainly Jones has pushed it too far this time. Gnawing and clawing at his soul are the demons he unknowingly carried back from his quest into their land. Weak and exhausted, the dark witch gazes down the dim, cobbled street at his only hopea lone vehicle with blazing headlights. Desperate, he makes a mad dash for/em>
His destined mate
Certainly Jones has pushed it too far this time. Gnawing and clawing at his soul are the demons he unknowingly carried back from his quest into their land. Weak and exhausted, the dark witch gazes down the dim, cobbled street at his only hopea lone vehicle with blazing headlights. Desperate, he makes a mad dash for the light, and the striking woman illuminated in its wake.
Vika senses him before she sees him. The good witch with emerald eyes and fiery red hair has never dabbled in dark magic. But one look at CJ turns her life upside down. Soon Vika is lured into his dangerous world and his powerful arms. A few sultry kisses are not enough to save CJ from his demonsit's going to take some seriously potent sorcery. And they're running out of time.
Read an Excerpt
There are things he had done. Bad things. Dangerous things. Wicked things. He'd made mistakes. Broken rules. He regretted.
And he did not regret.
Everything he had ever done had been to expand his knowledge. Learning was never a bad thing. Most of the time. Sometimes a man needed to sacrifice for the greater good. Or that was how he'd talked himself into his latest disastrous adventure.
Now Certainly Jones desired peace. It was not to be his.
Hands shoved in his jeans pockets and senses alert to the warm summer air and gasoline fumes rising from the tarmac, he hustled toward the glow of a streetlight a hundred yards down from the Lizard Lounge.
The faery club had been inordinately brightwhich was why he'd chosen to go there after sundown. He never went out after the world had grown dark, but after months of solitude he'd craved a night away from home. The Lizard Lounge was mind-numbingly weird. He could deal with all paranormal breeds and their ways and mannersbut faeries? There were some things a witch who had been practicing the dark arts for well over a century and a half should not see. Situations, illicit couplings and magics in which even he daren't dabble.
Gut muscles clenching, Certainly felt the familiar warning twinge of an internal takeover. Of late, his body was not his to command.
He increased the pace of his footsteps through the dark alley. Fifty strides ahead beckoned the streetlight. His fingers curled against his abs and he bit his lip.
"Stay back," he hissed. The passengers inhabiting his bodyhis very soulrippled within his being.
Spellcraft had proved ineffectual to prevent an imminent intrusion. Directing his instincts inward, Certainly attempted to, at the least, identify the imposing entity. It gnawed at his insides and clawed to get out. As his mouth began to water, he pinpointed that it craved a dark, seeping, metallic thing. It wanted carrion.
"Hell. Not good."
With a rallying dash, he landed in the safe glow and hooked his arm about the black metal pole, swinging halfway about and chuckling in triumph. He'd won. For now. Yet he stood a stranded sailor adrift in a dark sea, and navigating the infested waters always proved perilous.
The next streetlight punctuating this moonless night wasn't for another long block. He stood on a back street, well off the main avenue. He should have gone the other direction, toward the Seine, where the night was always bright with tourists and passing cars. But the thing inside him had been persistent, pushing him this way the moment he'd exited the safety of the Lizard Lounge's peculiar brightness.
The demon inside smelled something Certainly wasn't able to pick out of the atmosphere now that he had a grasp on his own senses, and he wasn't sure he wanted to if his instincts were correct regarding the carrion demon.
Pushing his fingers through his long dark hair, he pulled at the strands, wincing. It wanted control, and the light made it stomp its hooves and bleat to rattle Certainly's bones. Venturing out after sunset had been foolish. Yet he'd needed the escape from the solitude of his loft.
He wasn't sure how much longer he could endure this torture before he gave in and surrendered. Walked away from the light and into the darkness. Once there, the darkness would swallow him whole. He would never make it back to the surface sane. As it was, he treaded the line that tipped over to insanity. But he wouldn't go down that way, would not let the dark passengers he carried inside take him or claim his soul.
He'd stolen from Daemonia, and so yes, this was his deserving punishment. But he'd find escape to the surface. He always did.
Thinking he could hail a cab and request that the driver keep the interior light ona feeble and temporary mend to his curseCertainly scanned down the lonely street, paralleled by brick walk-ups and here and there a limestone three-story, which hailed from medieval times. The street was cobbled, remnants of centuries past when kings and musketeers once paraded before the peasants and Revolutionaries swung sticks instead of swords and lapped up the blood from severed heads. Not so metaphorically, either.
He'd missed that tumultuous time and had instead grown up during Paris's Bohemian phase in the late nineteenth century, la Belle epoque. A hippie at heart, there were days he pined for the halcyon days of artistry, freedom, absinthe, ether and living from sofa to sofa, wherever his body may fall.
The thought of his wilder youth made him smirk and release the pole. He stepped out onto the street, his well-worn leather boots clicking the cobblestones, and scanned left then right. Cabs generally tracked the main avenues.
The darkness had grown to an inky maw separating him from the brightness of the Lizard Lounge's neon sign and his glowing outpost. Putting up his left hand, he spread his tattooed fingers wide. The entire hand was gloved with spell-craft tattoos used for a multitude of magics. He focused on the electrical connection his body had to the world and tried to see a map of all the streetlights as if a hologram in the air before him. Faint lines formed but quickly puffed away. His demonic passengers weakened his magic. With a huff, he gave up the read and dropped his hand to his side.
Across the narrow street and down the alley, he sighted a vehicle with its headlights on, facing an alcove he couldn't see from his point of view. The long white car was a dash away through darkness, but it was the only action he suspected he'd see on this street for a while. And without firm control of a tracking spell, he would be left to walk home blindly. Perhaps he could hitch a ride?
The carrion demon again scented its target, and Certainly felt his body sway and stumble. Away from the light.
If only he'd mastered the art of fire magic, he could draw up a fireball to lead his way home. Fire was about the only elemental magic witches avoided, for it could bring their deaths. Though some witches had mastered it. CJ hadn't time for it over the decades when he'd been gorging his knowledge on all other magics.
"Hitchhiking it is," he muttered, and made a daring dash for the deceptive safety of the car's headlights.
"Yuck. A werewolf," Libby said.
Viktorie St. Charles walked around her sister Libertie, who stood posed, hands on hips, body encased in a white Tyvek cleaning suit, before tonight's job. Her sister's toe tapped the asphalt in time to the tunes blasting through her ever-present earbuds.
Vika tugged a white mesh cap over her hair, tucking up some stray red strands. With a step, her Tyvek-covered flat shoes squished in a pile of werewolf guts.
No one had ever said financial stability was glamorous.
"Twenty minutes," Vika stated, inspecting the slick mess oozing about her foot. Lemon and myrrh would take out the smell and the blood. "You pick up the chunks. I'll start spraying down the brick."
Giving her the thumbs-up signal, Libby wielded the black zip-up morgue bag with her pink latex-gloved hands and bent over the task. "This guy is still in solid form in places."
"The silver must have worked quickly. Usually what happens in werewolves if it doesn't have time to course completely through the blood."
Vika aimed a handheld spray canister filled with vinegar, water and rosemary, bespelled to remove all trace of DNA, at the brick wall behind the parking lot for a down-on-its-luck bistro. She worked efficiently from top to bottom, directing the stream toward a center point that collected all the refuse for easier cleanup with the portable wet vac that waited in the back of their work vehicle.
They worked in tandem, having done this for years, both sisters knowing the job well. Cleaning was to Vika as music was to Libby.
Years previously, a date with a sexy werewolf had ended in him getting staked with a chunk of silver by a vampire rival. Vika hadn't been attached to the big lugfirst date, don't you knowbut she had liked him and had been hoping for a one-night stand, with him in were form, not werewolf, that is. She did not do fur during sex. The vampire had chuckled and offered to fulfill her desires, until she'd kicked him in the 'nads. Didn't matter what sort of paranormal breed you were. A kick to the gonads would take down any man for a few minutes.
As the vampire had hobbled away, Vika stood amid the scattered bits of werewolf and the idea of leaving behind such a mess had been reprehensible. She'd managed to get the biggest pieces into a nearby garbage can, and with a run to a nearby supermarket, had purchased some bleach and rubber gloves. The werewolf had deserved a decent burial. It had been the best she could offer at the time.
Needless to say, she'd been spied by a Council member while tidying up the crime scene, and the next thing she knew, she was being encouraged to become a cleaner.
Her sister Libertie, as good-natured as they came, had joined in only because she always tagged along on Vika's coattails. She had never had the adventurous spirit of their sister, Eternitie, who was off in the wilds of some African nation at the moment. Libby and Vika were homebodies, and they liked that just fine.
When the area was clean, Vika pulled off her pink rubber gloves and looked over the wet asphalt and brick sparkling in the harsh shine from the car headlights. The warding spell they always initially cast around the crime scene kept passersby from witnessing what they were doing, so she worried little about being seen. She inhaled the lemon scent, smiling. Always felt good to accomplish a necessary task.
Libby packed up the cleaning supplies and bent near the rear tire of the hearse they'd had a mechanic modify as a cleaning vehicle.
"Found something!" Libby dangled the hairy chunk to show Vika. "An ear. Give the tarmac a blast of purifying magic over by the tire, and I think we're good to rock and roll."
Vika packed away the wet vac and then grabbed an amulet fashioned from bloodstone and strung on a silk cord from an assortment they kept in a purple tackle box. Just as she was about to speak the purifying spell, her nose tickledand something brushed her soul.
Noticing her sister's distraction, Libby asked, "One hanging around?"
Vika nodded but found the tickle in her nose would not dissipate. A sneeze strained at her sinuses, entirely unrelated to the wandering soul she felt nudging against her soul.
Vika divided her attention between fighting the sneeze and eyeing the dark figure her sister pointed to. He ran up along the hearse toward them. A man with long, messy hair blacker than coal waved his hands at them. One of the hands was blackened with a glove or maybe it was tattoos? And his eyes.
Vika squinted. Were they red?
He winced and bent at the waist, appearing to fight some inner struggle.
"He can see us?" Libby asked, gaping at the realization. She tugged out her earbuds. "I haven't taken down the ward yet."
The soul brushing up against Vika's soul began to attach itself. A bright glow entered her chestand she sneezed so forcefully her head bobbed forward and she staggered side to side. She caught herself against Libby's arm.
"Blessed be," Libby said. "That one was a doozy."
"Oh, no." Vika slapped a palm to her chest. "It's gone. I sneezed it right out of me!"
Certainly felt the force of the woman's sneeze enter his core. It was the weirdest thing. One minute he had been racing toward the twosome, fighting against the carrion demon to maintain control of his being, yet baffled at what the two women dressed head to toe in white clean suits were doing in the alleyway with scrub brushes, and then she sneezed, and it was as if the sneeze moved through him. Permeated his clothing and flesh and sparkled its way through his innards.
Bright and immense, it was as if some divine force had entered him. And he felt the effect immediately. Because the carrion-sniffing demon urging him toward the rangy scent of dead flesh had given an inner howlsomething he'd felt clawing at his insides instead of actually hearingand then it was gone.
Certainly slapped a hand to his gut. He knew without doubt the demon had been expelled.
By a sneeze?
He shook his head and brushed long strands of hair from his face. Crouched against the brick wall and safely ensconced within the headlight glow, he looked up to see the front doors of the hearse slam shut. The vehicle backed up.
"No!" He ran after the departing vehicle. "Stop. I need you!"
The hearse turned onto a main road near a video store that glared with a multitude of neon lights, and the driver stepped on it, peeling away into the night. Certainly was able to catch only the tiny logo on the back door of the white hearse, a pen-tacle overlaid with what looked like a vacuum cleaner and the words Jiffy Clean.
A patron from the video store walked out, and, staggering, CJ bumped into him. The man cursed him in French and shoved him aside. CJ stepped out onto the street, following the retreating red taillights.
"You are all right, monsieur?" the man who had cursed him called, though he was still walking away down the sidewalk.
Certainly nodded and gestured with a wave that he was indeed better than all right. But now he had to find that hearse and the woman who had sneezed at him. She'd worn white from head to toe, so he had no idea what she actually looked like. Her eyes had been green though; he'd seen as much in the glow of the headlights.
"That woman." He slapped a hand over his pounding heart. "She exorcized one of my demons."
Meet the Author
Michele Hauf lives in Minneapolis and has been writing since the 1990s. A variety of genres keep her happily busy at the keyboard, including historical romance, paranormal romance, action/adventure and fantasy. Find her on Facebook at: Michele-Hauf-Author, and on Twitter @MicheleHauf, and also on Pinterest at: pinterest.com/toastfaery
Visit her website: michelehauf.com
Email Michele at: email@example.com
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Entertaining tale of witches, demons, and romance.