Home > Midnight Curse (Disrupted Magic #1)

Midnight Curse (Disrupted Magic #1)
Author: Melissa F. Olson

Prologue

It had helped that she knew exactly how the whores would react.

The setting had changed, but the setup hadn’t: A large “visiting” room where the girls had to parade around in whatever passed for sexy at the time. A gaudy, ornate staircase leading to a long hallway of doors upstairs. Every door led to a small room that contained only a bed and a chair. Unlike most brothels, there were no security guards here, no bouncers. It wasn’t necessary. Abuse of the girls was not only expected, but welcome, and no one knew that better than the girls themselves. It didn’t matter where they came from, what cultures or languages or backgrounds. They first thing they were taught in their new lives was never fight back. And they didn’t. They couldn’t. The magic didn’t let them. She had been an anomaly that way.

She arrived in the most expensive outfit she owned: a scarlet-red pantsuit with nothing underneath, so that the suit jacket gaped almost to her navel. It was sexy, and made her look like she had money and power, which she did. Female clients may have been rare at the brothel, but it was common enough that her presence didn’t even raise an eyebrow, just welcoming smiles. The female manager began to lead her into the visiting room, and for a moment she felt a sharp slash of panic. She could see the girls posed around the room, holding watery drinks and making small talk with listless smiles and empty eyes. Many young women in their position took something to numb the senses, but no drugs in the world would work on these girls.

She felt the familiar urge to fight, to snap the manager’s neck and run out of there, but she reminded herself that she was no longer property. She gave the aging woman her name and explained that she was not here for a date, but to see the owner. They were old friends. The manager paused and eyed her with renewed speculation. Then she simply shrugged and walked over to a black telephone.

Within moments she was being led into his office.

He looked the same, of course. Why wouldn’t he? True, the cut of his suit was different, and his hair was brushed straight back instead of parted in the middle. But he had the same powerful movements and calculating eyes that were always judging the value of goods. Those eyes took in her suit and her heels and her warm, apologetic smile, and concluded that she was exactly who she’d claimed to be: an old friend, looking to make amends. He was arrogant enough to believe it.

Vampires did not hug, but she came around the desk and moved to kiss him on each cheek, in accordance with European fashion. He had always loved that continental bullshit. He smiled genially and reached for her. As she’d expected, he turned his head to kiss her on the mouth, testing her compliance. She forced herself to melt against him, her arms winding around his neck.

While his slimy tongue probed her mouth, her fingers worked the makeshift clasp of the “bracelet.” She was proud of the garrote, which she’d fashioned herself out of titanium cord and oak. The sharpened wire was strong enough to cut through even vampire bone. She had practiced on a tree stump. When he pulled back to leer at her, she smiled as sweetly as she could, flipping one end of the weapon around his neck with supernatural speed. She had drawn it tight and begun to pull before confusion even registered in his eyes. Fast as he was, by the time he got his fingers up to claw at the garrote string, it was too late. She pulled with every bit of her considerable strength, and the garrote snapped the bone of his spine. His head was turning to dust before it hit the tacky shag carpet.

Later, some of her accusers would argue that her actions were a treacherous betrayal of her own kind. They insisted that she should have challenged him to an honorable fight. But she didn’t care about being honorable. She cared about him being dead.

Chapter 1

“What is that thing?” came a disgusted voice from across the table.

I smoothed the sweat-dampened hair off my forehead so I could lift my gaze to the speaker. It was nearly dinnertime, but the heat from the day seemed to linger in the air, making our table at the Downtown LA Art Walk almost unbearable. If that weren’t uncomfortable enough, a ray of sunlight had managed to find a crack between skyscrapers and was rapidly intruding across my table like a three-foot melanoma laser. I knew from experience that in a few minutes it was gonna hit me right in the eyes.

Despite the heat, the woman standing in front of me was immaculate, a heroin-thin fortyish blonde with a Prada bag in the crook of her elbow. Her perfectly made-up eyes were fixed on Shadow, who was curled up on the sidewalk, her chin resting on my foot. I think the woman’s features were trying to convey revulsion, but they were having a hard time fighting through all the Botox. Shadow, for her part, cracked open one eyelid, glanced at the woman, and went back to sleep. I was suddenly very jealous.

“This is my dog,” I said, trying to keep my voice pleasant. Well, okay, I tried a little. Shadow had started life as a dog, it was true, but a hundred-eighty-pound dog that was part hairless Peruvian, part wolf, and God knew what else. And that was before she was spelled to be ink-black and have superpowers.

“Well, that is the ugliest dog I have ever seen,” the woman sniffed, tossing her perfectly blown-out hair.

I hear this line at least once a day, and it’s astounding how many ways there are to deliver it. Some people are shocked, and some are even sort of admiring. I don’t really mind that because, well, Shadow’s ugliness is so thorough that it really is impressive.

But this particular woman was using a tone that suggested I should really consider putting Shadow down to liberate the world from the blight of her hideousness. I put down the binder of notes I’d been studying. “That’s so funny,” I said to the Prada woman. “I was just going to say the same thing about you.”

She gave me a blank look. “But I don’t have a dog.”

I sighed. She was literally too stupid to insult. “Are you going to buy a sculpture?” I demanded, waving a hand at the beautiful handmade carvings spread across the table in front of me.

She turned her nose up. “No.”

“Then go away, or I shall taunt you a second time,” I said in my best French accent.

The woman gave me a bewildered look but had the sense to back away. “Your customer service is appalling,” she snapped as a parting shot.

“So are your shoes,” I called back. There. That was hitting her where she lived. The woman made a “humph” noise and flounced away on her Chanel espadrilles. Not for the first time, I wished Shadow and I could high-five.

I felt the buzz of a werewolf behind me a moment before I heard Eli’s amused voice say, “Making friends again, I see.”

Shadow lifted her head, and was halfway through a growl before she saw who it was. She settled back down, resigned to being near Eli again. As a null, I negate supernatural powers and abilities within a small area around myself. This works out nicely for my werewolf boyfriend, especially when it comes to getting along with my “dog,” who has been magically altered to hunt and kill werewolves. Yes, I know how all that sounds, but I wasn’t the one who turned Shadow into a bargest. I was just the one tasked with keeping her from murdering anyone. Well, anyone who didn’t deserve it.

Eli deposited a lemonade in front of me and sat down in the empty chair, taking a sip from a clear plastic cup of iced tea. “She’s not wrong about the customer service, you know,” he said mildly.

“Hey, I asked her if she was going to buy something before I insulted her shoes,” I protested. “That’s tremendous customer service.”

Eli grinned at me and shook his head. “I told you you’d be bored. This just isn’t your thing, Scarlett. I get that.”

I chewed on my lip, squinted against the sunshine, and said nothing. Eli created beautiful sculptures out of driftwood he found on the beach. Plenty of people sold carvings at these art events, but Eli’s were stunning: he had a gift for using the wood’s natural shape and grain to make it look like the subject—a mermaid, a sea star, a humpback whale—had formed organically out of the wood, or maybe vice versa. At my urging, he kept raising the prices, but he still sold at least three-quarters of what he brought to each event.

Between carving the sculptures, his bartending job, and his position in the werewolf pack, we were reaching a point where if I didn’t hang out at either the art walks or the bar I never saw him. And hanging out at a werewolf bar came with its own complications.

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