Home > Midnight Curse (Disrupted Magic #1)(4)

Midnight Curse (Disrupted Magic #1)(4)
Author: Melissa F. Olson

“Yeah. Who pressed her?”

“One of the vampires,” I said. It was obvious, but I didn’t want to lie to him more than I had to. I held up the blood-smudged note, not letting him see what was written on it. “It’s a job, probably just a blood spill or something. But I should go take care of it. Good thing we drove separate.”

I was trying to sound casual, but his frown didn’t budge. Eli had served as my assistant for a few months, and he still tagged along on the occasional job just to hang out with me. The unfortunate part of dating a guy who knows about what I do is that he also knows how it’s supposed to work: usually, I just get a call on my cell from the person with the problem—or possibly one of the Old World leaders, if it’s a really bad crime scene. This cloak-and-dagger thing was uncharted territory.

“How did they know you were here? Why didn’t they just call?” he asked, not unreasonably.

I shrugged. “Anyone who knows we’re together could Google art fairs and figure it out. As far as the phone . . . I don’t know, maybe they had a dead battery or something. I’ll be sure to ask, though,” I promised, fighting not to squirm.

Eli studied my eyes for a moment. “I want to go with you,” he said.

“You can’t.” I gestured at Britt, who was still standing next to the driver’s door, staring at the side of the van. “I need you to get her home. And then you have to get to work.”

“I don’t like you walking into some weird situation by yourself,” he said. He was planting his feet, obviously gearing up for a fight.

“Hey, that’s my job. I do that all the time,” I replied, trying to keep my voice light.

It was the wrong thing to say. Eli glowered at me. “And I dislike it all the time,” he said, mimicking my tone. “You know how I feel about your safety.”

I sighed. This again. “My safety is fine. I can take care of myself.”

He started to argue, and I pointed a finger at him. “Stop. This is the part where you say, ‘I can’t help it, Scarlett, my wolf instincts want to protect you.’ And then I say, ‘Bullshit, Eli, you don’t have wolf instincts this close to me,’ and around we go. But right now, I have a job, and that girl needs your help.”

We both glanced at Britt, who was still standing there staring into empty space. She didn’t even seem to notice the enormous bargest panting a few inches from her face.

Eli turned back to me. “You have blades on you?” he asked. He was wavering.

“Of course,” I said, resisting the urge to add “duh.”

I loved my handheld Taser, but I could only use it a few times before the battery ran out. I needed a weapon that could hurt someone who might be out of arm’s reach, and I really wasn’t comfortable with guns. Lucky for me, there was a werewolf in Will’s pack who knew everything there was to know about throwing knives.

I’m the first to admit that “training with knives” sounds cheesy, like a crappy action movie, but working with Marko had proved anything but hokey. I now carried at least two knives—one silver-plated, one not—on my person at all times, usually in my boot sheath. Partly this was to appease my overprotective boyfriend, and partly it was out of fear of Marko—if I ran into him somewhere without a knife on me, he would make me do burpees until I puked. Seriously. It had happened.

“I still don’t like you charging into—” Eli began, but I stepped forward and planted a kiss on his lips, silencing him.

“Look,” I said when I pulled back, “I’ll stop by the bar when I’m done, and we can finish this argument then. I don’t know about you, but I remember all my lines.”

Eli’s lips wobbled as he struggled not to smile. He lost the battle. “You are so frickin’ stubborn,” he said, but there was fondness in his voice.

Rising to my tiptoes, I brushed another, lighter kiss on his cheek. “Strong-willed. I prefer the term ‘strong-willed.’”

Then I dashed toward the van door before he could think to ask me for the address.

A few minutes later, I was driving the White Whale south on a long stretch of Figueroa, fighting the traffic toward USC. Shadow was accustomed to the concept of “bumper-to-bumper,” so she’d gone back to lie on her bed. I tried calling the last number I had for Molly, but it was out of service. Typical vampire. For a moment I considered trying to find a newer number for her, but who would I ask? Dashiell? That would kind of eliminate the whole point of keeping this from him and Eli.

Suddenly I felt like a moron. I was keeping a secret from my live-in boyfriend and my boss, for a person who had dropped me from her friend list years ago. “What are you doing, Scarlett?” I said out loud. By not telling Eli, I was risking my relationship with him, and by not telling Dashiell, I could conceivably be risking my job. I picked up my cell phone, willing myself to call Dashiell and explain the whole situation. But I hesitated.

For the past few years, whenever I faced these moral dilemmas I would hear a little voice in the back of my head. What would Jesse want you to do? Jesse Cruz, the ex-LAPD detective who used to be my friend, was one of the few humans in LA who was allowed to know about the Old World, despite not really being connected to it. He also had serious ethics, and I knew damn well that in this situation he would want me to help my friend. Not because she was worth more or less than my other relationships, but because she needed me. The way this was done—pressing Britt, sending the note—it was desperate. Hell, contacting me after three years of radio silence was desperate in itself. Whatever had happened between us, Molly needed me bad.

I tossed the cell phone back onto the passenger seat, half-certain I would regret this later.

Even the last bits of cloud-reflected sunlight had been swallowed into the ocean by the time I reached campus, although the streets weren’t exactly dark, thanks to the new-looking streetlights. The buildings on the streets around USC tend to fall into two categories: Some of them are still shitty hovels that have been slapped with just enough paint and landscaping to prevent rich parents from constantly calling the university to complain about safety. The rest, on the other hand, used to be crappy houses until investors dumped piles of money into renovating them into subdivided apartments that would suit the expensive tastes of Mommy and Daddy’s little princes and princesses. The finished products were astonishingly swanky, considering the inhabitants were eighteen years old and didn’t know how to do their own laundry. Nearly all of the buildings on Scarff fell into the latter category.

There was no parking right in front of number 2310, but I stopped the van there for a moment anyway, leaning over the passenger seat so I could see the property. It was beautiful, actually, nearly as pretty as the little bungalow house Molly and I had once shared. There was a small, extremely tidy front lawn, enclosed by a wrought iron fence with tall gates. They opened onto a pretty cobblestone path leading to a porch that had been painted with contrasting shades of green and yellow. The building itself was an emerald-green Queen Anne–style Victorian that had been converted into two large units, one on each floor. I had to respect the designer, who’d pulled together a look that felt both secure and classy. The lights downstairs were on, but the upper floor was dark.

I drove past and parked in the closest street spot I could find, a few hundred feet away. I threw on a denim jacket, pocketed my Taser, and looked at Shadow, who was giving me the same expectant, hopeful look that normal dogs pull out when there are Snausages nearby. I weighed the pros and cons for a moment. Shadow could be a very useful weapon, but I’d gotten the bloody note from Molly forty minutes ago; whatever danger there had been had passed by now. We were in a highly civilian area, and if I was being honest, I had a really bad feeling that I was going to find something horrifying in there. I wasn’t sure how the bargest would handle it. “Sorry, girl,” I said. “You have to stay here.”

Shadow made a whining noise, not liking that, but we both liked it a lot better than leaving her at home. Besides, if she sensed I really was in danger, she would break through the van’s window to get to me. It had happened before.

Outside, I was relieved to see the sidewalk was deserted. There was a small security box next to the gate, but no one answered when I rang the buzzer. I pushed lightly on the gate, and it swung open easily. Looking closer, I saw that the locking mechanism, a small but solid chunk of metal, had been bent out of shape. There were no scratches or tool marks, which suggested a vampire. Or, I amended, a werewolf. The last time I’d seen Molly, the werewolves hadn’t been very fond of her. Part of me was hoping this was a retribution thing, and I was going to find Molly in there next to a dead werewolf. I hated myself for the thought, but it was looking more and more like the best possible scenario.

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