Shadow’s Blade – Snippet 41

This book should be available now so this is the last snippet.

Shadow’s Blade – Snippet 41

“Because I think it’s possible these dark sorcerers are after you because of him.”

“You’re wrong.”

“I know he’s into dark magic.”

She scowled, but wouldn’t meet my gaze. “And how do you ‘know’ that?”

“The night I talked to your parents at Jacinto Amaya’s, he followed me and we . . . well, I guess you’d say we had a little confrontation.”

“Is he all right?”

“He’s fine. But I noticed that he was quick to go for a knife. There’s no doubt in my mind that he was going to use it to draw blood for a casting. Which is exactly what a dark sorcerer would do.”

“Is it?” she said, sarcasm saturating the words. “I couldn’t help but notice that you used blood against Fitzwater a little while ago. Does that make you a dark sorcerer, too?”

“That was different!” I heard the defensiveness in my voice and cringed inwardly. She’d come too close to hitting the mark.

“Because it was you and not him?”

“Because it was a last resort against a weremancer I couldn’t defeat in any other way. Neil pulled his knife out of habit, not desperation.” I offered the distinction with more surety than I felt, but I didn’t pause to let her see that. “Maybe he was drawn into the dark stuff,” I said, making an effort to soften my tone. “Maybe he had friends who used dark magic, and he started out just experimenting with it.”

She said nothing.

My grip on the wheel tightened. “Why are you still so eager to protect him? After all he’s . . .” I broke off, shaking my head.

“After all what?” She bit off each word, though I saw that she glanced at Emmy as she spoke.

Emmy gave no indication that she was listening.

“Never mind.”

She glared at me. “Stop the truck.”

“What?”

“I said stop. Pull over.”

I opened my mouth to argue.

“Now!”

Emmy did look up at that, her eyes wide.

We were on an open stretch of road. Another pickup pulling a small trailer followed us at some distance and a pair of motorcycles rode ahead of us. I pulled over and came to a stop, dust billowing over my dad’s truck. As soon as we stopped moving, Gracie pushed open her door, slipped out of the truck, while at the same time easing Zach’s head down to the seat, and then stalked off into the desert.

Emmy eyed me expectantly.

At last I got out and joined Gracie in the brush and dirt. She stared off toward a distant line of mountains, her fists on her hips.

“Nice spot,” I said.

She rounded on me. “I don’t know what my parents told you — No, that’s not true. I know exactly what they told you. And apparently you believed every word. Well now you’re going to listen to me. Whatever you think you know about us, it’s not true. More to the point, it’s none of your goddamned business.”

I wanted to tell her that she owed the kids two more quarters, but this didn’t seem like the time.

“It’s not only your parents,” I said, trying to keep my voice level. “You’ve been to the ER quite a few times, and the police have noticed a pattern to your injuries.”

Her cheeks colored, but her eyes held mine. “I hope you were better at this when you were a cop.”

Kona had said something similar when she and I argued about Neil and his role in Gracie’s disappearance.

“Your parents are worried about you, and I’ve seen enough cases of abuse to be worried, too. About you and the kids.”

She ran both hands through her hair. “My parents don’t know what they’re talking about,” she said. Much of the anger had leached out of her voice. “They don’t understand my life, and they never particularly liked Neil. Not because of anything he did, but because of what he represents, and because of who I’ve become since we married.” A faint, sad smile curved her lips. “They want me to be Engracia Trejo.” Her accent materialized like magic when she spoke her name. “They don’t like me being Gracie Davett.

“But despite what they think they know, and despite what you’ve decided is fact, Neil has never hurt me. He’s never hurt either of the kids. Whatever his faults, he’s not abusive.”

“Then why did you leave him?”

“What?” she said, her voice rising once more. “I’m not allowed to leave unless he hits me?”

“That’s not –”

She threw her hands wide. “I left because it wasn’t working. And like I said, anything more than that is none of your damn business.”

She started to walk away.

“It’s not that easy, Gracie.”

She halted, her back to me, her dark hair dancing in the wind.

“For whatever reason, you and your family have drawn the attention of dark sorcerers. Now I’m guessing that’s because either you or Neil has been working with them or for them. I’d also guess the break-in is tied up in all of this. They were after the knife, because somehow one of you has come into possession of it. You don’t want me accusing Neil of anything, and you don’t like it when I question the things you tell me. But there is way, way more to this that you’re admitting. To be honest, I don’t care if it’s Neil’s fault or yours. I came out here to help you, and that’s what I’ll do. But it works both ways. I need you to trust me, just a little bit, enough to help me understand what the hell is happening here. Someone like Fitzwater doesn’t simply show up at your door. There’s a reason he found you. And I’m still convinced it has something to do with Neil, but if you tell me it was you, I’ll believe it.”

Gracie turned, squinting against the sun.

“I didn’t bring blood magic into our lives,” she said, surrender in the words.

“So he was casting dark spells.”

“Yes. But it wasn’t like he had joined with men like that.” She waved a hand, and I knew she meant Fitzwater and the guys he’d had with him today. “He was playing around, trying new magic. He never . . .” She gazed back down the road the way we had come, her expression more fragile than I had yet seen. “He didn’t like it that I had more power than he did. Some husbands don’t like it when their wives out-earn them. Neil made plenty of money, but he was no match for me when it came to spells.”

I frowned. “Did you two . . . did you have magical battles or something?”

“No. We used to play around a bit, that’s all. I thought it was fun. But after a while he grew frustrated, because I was always better than he was. That’s when he started playing with blood spells. One night he insisted on playing one of our old games. We hadn’t in a long while. I’d gotten tired of the way his mood soured when he couldn’t keep up with something I did. But this night he insisted.”

“We did fire spells. That was our usual. We’d set up candles in our room and see who could light them fastest. Sometimes after, with the room all lit up like that . . .” Her mouth twisted and she crossed her arms over her chest. “Anyway, on this night, he pulled out a knife and before I knew what he was doing he had cut himself and lit all the candles with a single spell. There was this whoosh of power, and it was like a wave of fire had swept through our bedroom. I swear he almost burned the place down. He was all pleased with himself, but I got angry with him, told him not to use spells like that in the house ever again.

“We got into a big fight. He said that I didn’t like being beaten at my own game. The truth was, though, I was scared. I’d heard about blood spells but I’d never seen one. And I didn’t want that kind of magic around the kids.”

“So that was why you left.”

She hiked a shoulder, dropped it again. “I didn’t leave right away. He said he wouldn’t use blood spells anymore, at least not around the house, and for a while I don’t think he did. But we didn’t play that game again. Or any others, for that matter. Even that would’ve been all right. But he stopped talking to me, at least beyond the day-to-day stuff. We didn’t laugh anymore. It was like there was this constant tension, you know? After a while, I couldn’t take it any more, so I took the kids and went back to my mom and dad’s place.” A smile ghosted across her lips, reminding me of one I had seen on her mother’s face. “That’s how desperate I was to get away at the end. I went back to them.”

I had no idea what to say.

“The kids don’t know any of this . . .” she said.

“Of course. I won’t say a thing.”

“I’m not in love with him anymore. It got too sad for that. But I still love him, and I want the kids to keep loving him. That’s why I reacted the way I did.”

“I understand. What about the knife?”

She shook her head. “I’m not ready to tell that story yet.”

I suppose I could have pushed her, but she had opened up to me more than I expected, and I thought maybe if I didn’t push now, my patience would pay off later.

“Fair enough,” I said.

She regarded me for another moment before nodding and turning to walk back to the pickup. I should have followed right away, but for a few seconds all I could do was watch her, feeling a blend of pity and something else I couldn’t quite name. Or perhaps didn’t want to name.

I had only met her a couple of days ago. This morning I hadn’t been sure I wanted anything to do with her. And now . . . Now I had to remind myself that I was here to protect her and her kids, and that the woman I loved was back in Phoenix, probably worrying about me.

I took a step toward the pickup, but then froze as magic brushed my mind.

Justis Fearsson.

I spun, expecting to see Saorla behind me. But I only saw clusters of brittlebush and stunted prickly pear cacti.

I know that you can hear me.

“What do you want, Saorla?”

Where are you? I can speak in your mind, but I cannot see you or find you. What glamour is this? What have you done?

I didn’t answer. I was impressed, though, that my father’s warding had worked against her so well.

I can always find the woman, you know. I can use her to make you tell me anything, to make you do whatever I wish.

“Not without Namid knowing about it. Now what is it you want?”

I want the woman. Not yours. She is nothing more than a cudgel I can use against you. But this other — you know which one I mean — her I want, and her children as well.

She didn’t mention the knife, and I thought better of admitting to her that I knew of it. “Well, that’s too damn bad.” I said it with enough force, but my heart was laboring, because I knew what her response would be. I should have expected this.

Do not be so quick to refuse me, she said in my mind, as if reading from a script I’d already memorized. You owe me a boon, and I choose now to demand its payment.

“I won’t give them to you. You can demand all you want, but I won’t do this. You want to use them, to make them soldiers in your army, and I won’t allow it.”

It is not for you to decide! Her words raged in my head like a storm. She might not have known where I was, but she could still lash at my mind with her power.

I winced, raised a hand to my temple.

You will bring her to me, and the children, or I will kill everyone who you hold dear. Your love, the dark-skinned woman you used to work with, your father.

I started to object, but she talked over me, her voice like thunder in my ears. Namid protects them, I know. He protects you, as well. But he does not know of our agreement, does he?

I could picture the cruel smile that met my silence.

I thought not. Defy me, and he shall learn of it. And once he does, he will be helpless to protect you or those you love. A promised boon is no small thing, Justis Fearsson. We have a bargain, truly sworn. Uphold your end of it, or face the consequences of breaking your promise to one such as I.

In the next instant she was gone from my head. I sensed her absence as forcefully as I had her presence. Nothing looked different; her voice was gone, of course, but even that wasn’t what told me she had withdrawn. It simply seemed that a weight had lifted, that my thoughts were once again my own.

I rubbed at my temple a second time; the shadow of a headache lingered, but most of the pain had vanished with her. I turned eastward. The moon hung low in the sky, white on blue and nearly full. Its pull on my thoughts was more gentle than Saorla’s had been, more kind. I’m not sure I’d ever thought of the approach of the full in such benign terms. I had a lot to figure out before the phasing began.

I stumbled back to the truck, trying to clear my thoughts.

“You all right?” Gracie asked as I drew near.

“Sure, I’m fine.”

“You don’t look fine. You look sick.” She stepped in front of me, forcing me to stop. And then she laid the back of her hand against my forehead, the way my mom used to when she checked me for fever. “You feel cold.”

“Aren’t I supposed to? Cold and wet, like a puppy’s nose?”

That earned me a giggle from Emmy.

“Seriously, Fearsson, what’s up with you?”

“Don’t call me that.” I said it more sharply than I’d intended, but right now I really didn’t need anything that would make me equate her with Billie, even in the most superficial way.

“I’m sorry. Jay. Now tell me what’s going on.”

“There’s nothing –”

“I saw that you were talking. I couldn’t make out what you said, but your lips were moving and you seemed good and pissed. So I’d like to know who you were talking to and what it was you were saying.”

I managed not to flinch away from what I saw in her eyes. With the sun shining in them they were a deep, earthy brown. “It’s nothing you need to worry about.”

“Generally speaking, I like to be the judge of that myself, especially when it concerns my children.”

She had a point, I suppose. And being embarrassed at my own fear and powerlessness didn’t seem like the best excuse for keeping her in the dark. I regarded the moon again.

“I was talking to Saorla.”

“Saorla,” she repeated, her eyes narrowing. “You’ve mentioned her. She’s the one . . . like a runemyste, only dark.”

“That’s her. She wants to know where we are, and she thought she’d try to scare me into telling her.”

“Scare you how?”

I met her gaze once more. “By threatening to kill all the people I care about.”

She stared back at me, clearly at a loss for words.

“I essentially told her to go to hell. I don’t know what the consequences of that will be. I’m hoping she understands that once those people are dead, she has nothing on me, so she’s better off letting them live and using the threat again and again. But she’s more than a little unhinged and I never know what she might do. So the next time you’re feeling sorry for yourself and want to tell me to mind my own business or remind me again of how little I know about you and your life, try to remember that I have a stake in this, too.”

Her cheeks colored and her lips thinned to a hard, flat line. But after a second, she nodded once and backed out of my way.

I walked around to the other side of the truck, and climbed in. She had already taken her seat and shut her door.

Saying nothing, I pulled out into the road once more and continued on to wherever the hell we were going next.

 

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