Fire in the Blood by Robyn Bachar

Fire in the Blood by Robyn Bachar

Fire in the Blood
Bad Witch, Book 3
by Robyn Bachar

Samhain Publishing

eBook ISBN: 978-1-61921-173-5

Patience Roberts is the last summoner standing between magiciankind and demon invasion. Faust is determined to protect her. When an old enemy punches through the barrier between the worlds Patience must banish him, but she’ll have to sacrifice one too many pieces of her soul to leave room for love.

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Chapter One

Business was booming now that my competition was dead. Too booming. Over the years I’d wished many unfortunate things on the heads of my competitors, hoping that maybe one or two of them would get eaten by a demon, or promise one favor too many and get sucked into a hell dimension. Now I was the last surviving summoner west of Cincinnati and east of the Mississippi, and I’d never been so exhausted in my entire life. I needed a month at a tropical resort with a steady supply of drinks with little umbrellas in them to recover. Too bad the apocalypse was due any day now.
“Mistress, you haven’t eaten today,” Harvey commented from his spot on the couch in my office. My brow furrowed as I peered at him—I didn’t feel hungry, and I was sure I’d eaten earlier.
“Yes, I did. I had that sub sandwich for lunch,” I argued.
“No. That was yesterday.” Harvey shook his head, his pointy ears twitching. The demon’s bloodshot gaze was fixed on his tablet as it erupted with the cheeping of angry birds. I didn’t understand his obsession with video games, but Harvey had been hooked ever since I first put a Gameboy into his skinless hands. I suspected it had something to do with the fact that pookas were elves once, and they shared the obsession that their faerie cousins had with games of chance. At least it kept him occupied while I did paperwork.
“It was?”
I opened my day planner and scanned my schedule. Damn. He was right. As an idiot teenager I’d traded my sense of taste for a favor from a lust demon—I was convinced that I was in love with a boy who ignored me, and that he would love me back if only he noticed me. Well, thanks to the demon he noticed me, and after a few sweaty sessions of bad sex in the backseat of his car, the boy noticed someone else. I was left with a broken heart, permanently numb taste buds and a stunted sense of smell. Hence, I forget to eat, because there’s zero pleasure in it for me. This is why I’m skinny. It’s not a lifestyle choice, a fitness obsession or anorexia. Most days I’m fueled solely by caffeine and bitchery, and with my new crazed schedule I was forgetting to eat more often than usual, because I didn’t have time to eat. Or sleep. Or shower.
“Okay. Remind me to hit a drive-through on the way home.”
“Are we leaving now?” he asked.
“Damn right we’re leaving now,” I muttered. It was almost midnight, and if we didn’t escape soon, more calls would come in and I’d never get any sleep.
I saved the spreadsheet I’d been updating—half the work I was doing now didn’t pay a single dime, which was putting a pinch on my income. Magiciankind was being hunted to extinction again, thanks to a government group of gun-toting fanatics and the demons pulling their strings. As the only summoner left, it was my job to stem the tide of invading demons. It was a good cause, and those never paid well. Then again, considering that said fanatics had wiped out my entire family along with the rest of the summoners, I would’ve done this job for free. Not that I was close with my family—I saw them on major holidays and the occasional birthday. I didn’t miss them so far, because I didn’t like most of them, but they didn’t deserve to die. Vengeance wasn’t normally my thing, but in this case, I was going to give it a shot.
The phone rang before I could get away from my desk. I glared at it as though my irritation could silence the ring, but then I swore as I recognized the number. It belonged to the Northern Illinois Paranormal Society—a group of straights who hunt ghosts, they’re adorable—and they only call me when something bad has happened.
“All on Red Consulting, Patience speaking,” I said as I picked up the phone.
“Ms. Roberts, it’s Dan Pulaski. Do you have a moment?”
A chorus of avian cheering drew my attention and I pointed threateningly at Harvey until he muted his game. “Sure. What’s up?”
Dan was the head of their group, a Chicago firefighter by day and ghost hunter by night. I liked him. He was cute, but being descended from a clan of fire faeries, I wouldn’t consider dating someone who suppressed fire instead of starting it. The fact that he wasn’t a magician was also a deal breaker.
“One of our investigators was pushed down a flight of stairs. He broke his leg.”
My desk chair squeaked as I leaned back. Straights could be excitable when it came to investigating supposed supernatural events, so it could be the man simply tripped. “You’re certain he was pushed?”
“Yeah, I was with him. I heard a growl before it happened, and there was a bad smell. Plus it looks like he has scratches on his chest where he says the hand pushed him.”
I scowled—so much for sleep. That was demonic activity, and we both knew it. For the most part, NIPS is a harmless group of hobbyists. Though they’re very common, ghosts are pretty low on the paranormal totem pole, because they’re selfish bastards focused on their own drama for all eternity and only necromancers can interact with them. Ghosts can’t physically interact with the world of the living, and moving objects and slamming doors are usually the result of demonic activity. (Sometimes it’s faeries with nothing better to do, but that’s rare.) This is why NIPS calls me, because demons are summoner territory. They don’t know what I am, but somewhere along the line they’d heard from a friend who’d heard from a friend that I was a “demonologist”—as I said, they’re adorable—and that’s how we met.
“What’s your location? Business or residence?” I asked.
“Residence. The family’s here, if you want to interview them.”
Family. Shit. Here I thought I could tell NIPS to go home and I’d add it to my To-Do List, but not with a family involved. “Yes, I do.”
Dan thanked me, and I jotted the address down and promised I’d be there soon. It was in Wrigleyville, which wasn’t too far from my office. Traffic would be light at this late hour, and because it was November I didn’t have any Cub games to contend with for parking.
“You still haven’t eaten,” Harvey reminded after I hung up the phone.
“Drive through. Don’t let me forget.”
“You said that this morning.”
“I did?” I asked in surprise.
“Yes, you did.”
Damn it all to hell and back, my brain must really be fried, because I had zero memory of that. At least I’d been chugging black coffee all day, so there was something in my system, even if it was only caffeine. I couldn’t keep up this pace for much longer, but I didn’t have a choice. I was the only one left to handle the demon problem. I’d tried to call in extra help from the coasts, and everyone turned me down. They were too afraid of the hunters, and though I couldn’t blame them for that, it still pissed me off. I outsourced what work I could to the local guardians, but it wasn’t enough. They weren’t specialists like me.
I was trying to bail out the Titanic with a teaspoon. It was only a matter of time before we all drowned.
“Well, this time I mean it,” I said lamely.
“Of course, Mistress.”
I grabbed my black cashmere coat from the rack and donned it along with my scarf, then slung my messenger bag over my shoulder. This time I made it halfway across the room before I was stopped, but it wasn’t the phone that interrupted me. It was a faerie invasion, and I had only a moment to recognize Faust by the smoky lenses of his round, dark glasses before he pounced on me. He kissed me fiercely and nudged me back until I stumbled into the front of my desk.
“I dislike this overcoat. It’s much too bulky.” He reached for the buttons and I batted his hand away.
“I’ll be in the car, Mistress,” Harvey called out loudly before vanishing. He’s not a voyeur, and he disapproved of my relationship with Faust. I didn’t approve of my relationship with Faust either. Every summoner knows you shouldn’t fuck a faerie, because it always ends badly.
“Cut it out. I’m on a call,” I warned.
Faust grinned, and my chest tightened with an emotion I fought not to show. Yes, this was headed toward disaster, but I couldn’t help myself. Faust was the most addictive temptation I’d ever met. He was just so damn pretty—tall for a faerie, which made him about my height, and dark haired with a pale complexion that spoke more of a vampire than a faerie. Faust had an angular face with high, sharp cheekbones that reminded me a bit of a runway model, a finely-drawn brow and a smile that could make a girl weak in the knees in 0.5 seconds.
“It can’t wait,” he insisted. “I’ve missed you.”
He tugged my scarf aside and kissed my neck, and it was suddenly much too warm to be wearing my coat. I didn’t fight him as he unbuttoned the garment and slid it off. I kissed him and indulged in the lovely diversion of letting his nimble hands roam for a few moments, because the past few days had been all business and no pleasure. But I had an appointment to keep, and I pushed him away with a disappointed sigh.
“I missed you too, babe, but I don’t have time for a break. I’m on call 24/7 now.”
“I know you are.” Faust’s expression sobered, and he caressed my cheek. “You’re a brave woman, Patience, and I admire that about you. But that’s also why I’m here.”
“You’re here because you admire me? Funny, seemed more like desire a second ago,” I teased. The corners of his mouth twitched, and I bit back the urge to kiss him. Experience had taught me that if I encouraged him I’d end up naked and bent over the desk.
“There’s a problem—” he began, and I cut him off.
“I don’t have time for more problems. We’re all full up here.”
“This is serious. Zachary has hired someone to kill you.”
Zachary Harrison was a billionaire vampire and arguably one of the most powerful magicians in the country, aside from myself. My empty stomach twisted, and for a moment the fear that Faust had come to do the job himself slithered through my veins. After all, he worked for Harrison, and he was a shadowspawn faerie. Faust’s entire clan had been banished from Faerie for doing unspeakable acts of evil. Normally his past didn’t bother me, because as a summoner I could spot evil at fifty paces and he didn’t set off any of my alarms. I assumed while the rest of his family might be guilty, he’d been falsely accused. Then my good sense kicked in and reminded me that Faust wouldn’t hurt me. I trusted him, which for me was a really big deal. I don’t trust easily.
I cleared my throat and squared my shoulders. “Well he’ll have to get in line. I assume he’s pissed because I helped the Titania?”
“Quite.”
Damn it, I knew that was going to come back and bite me in the ass. I should’ve said no, but being faerie-blooded, I couldn’t refuse an order from the Titania and Oberon. They’d needed a ritual from the shadow realm—a ritual that freed the Titania from being bound to Harrison—and I helped them retrieve it.
“Why come at me? I’m not the only one who ruined his evil plans. It was a group effort,” I pointed out.
“As I understand it, he is targeting several people for his revenge in this matter.”
“Of course he is. Go warn the Titania and she’ll put a stop to it. I’m running late.” I picked up my coat and started for the door again, and he grabbed my arm.
“This is serious. He’s become…unstable since the bond between him and the Titania was broken. I believe it had unexpected side effects, and it’s growing worse. He isn’t listening to me, and he won’t listen to her. Not about this. He will see you dead.”
“Then tell the pretty boy to take his best shot. I’m not afraid of him. Look, I appreciate the heads up, but it doesn’t change anything. I still have work to do. If I hid every time someone threatened to kill me I’d never leave the house,” I joked, but Faust didn’t appear amused.
He calmly removed his glasses, revealing the pale blue eyes that I’d only seen a few times before. I don’t know why he hides them, because he doesn’t have a pressing reason like I do. His eyes are so light they’re almost clear, but blue is a nice, normal color, unlike yellow. As though hearing my internal monologue, he pulled my sunglasses off next and set them on the desktop. I hoped my eyes weren’t glowing. I hate it when that happens.
Faust stared at me with a seriousness I don’t often see from him. Our relationship is built on lust, and we have an understanding that we enjoy each other’s company without mentioning commitment or the future. Really, a future isn’t possible with a faerie lover, because he’ll live forever and I have an expiration date. Faust slid his arms around me and held me close, and I fought to appear unaffected as my pulse leapt.
“Patience, please listen to me. You’re one of the strongest magicians I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, but you’re exhausted. You’re doing work that should be handled by dozens of summoners. There are hunters, demons and powers know what else out there trying to kill you, and now Zachary’s hired a master necromancer as well. It’s only a matter of time before you make a mistake.”
“I don’t make mistakes,” I argued sullenly. It was an outright lie, but you don’t become a cast-iron bitch by admitting your weaknesses.
He smiled. “Of course. Take the rest of the night off. Come home with me. I’ll make you dinner, and you can get some sleep.”
My brow rose. I didn’t know he had a place of his own. Most of our horizontal activity occurred in my office, with the occasional late-night booty call at my condo. “That’s a nice offer, and I’ll happily take a rain check, but right now I have plans.”
“Then let me come with you. I’ll watch your back while you work.”
Stepping away to get some thinking distance, I ran my fingers through my hair as I considered it. I needed a haircut, though I doubted I’d fit one in before the apocalypse started. What started out as a trendy, angular cut had grown into a messy mop. My fire-engine-red hair was something I’d been born with thanks to my faerie blood. It’s a shade that doesn’t naturally occur in humans. In the past it would’ve marked me as abnormal, and I might’ve been killed by a mob of superstitious villagers with torches and pitchforks, but in the modern age I could claim it was an unfortunate dye job.
Not that any of that aside helped me figure out what to do about Faust, who was still watching me far too intently. This was odd behavior, even for him. The cold, dark part of my soul that’d been corrupted by dozens of deals with demons whispered that I should tell him to get the fuck out and never come back, because I didn’t need him. I didn’t need anyone. I choked the urge down like a mouthful of bad medicine.
“Why?” I asked. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful, but why warn me? You’re on Harrison’s payroll. Shouldn’t your loyalty be to him?”
He frowned. “No, not for this. I love you.”
I froze as the world paused around me, because that was not the answer I was expecting. I’d heard him speak those words often enough in my dreams—and occasionally in my nightmares—but I never thought I’d hear them in reality. My heart leapt at the idea and then plummeted at the sheer insanity of it.
“Don’t say that,” I muttered as I rubbed my face with my hands.
“Do you doubt my affection for you?” he asked, sounding offended.
“No.”
And that was part of the problem. I knew he was sincere, but there was zero potential for happily ever after with a faerie, no matter how badly I might want it. I’d known that going into the affair. Gripped by the sudden craving for a smoke, I dropped my coat on my desk and walked back behind it to rifle through the top drawer. After some searching I found a pack of cloves and withdrew a black cigarette. I lit the end with my fingertips—I love being descended from a fire faerie.
Faust continued to study me, and I shivered as I inhaled. “Are you going to deny having feelings for me?” he asked.
Lie to him. Now both my good sense and my bad sense screamed it at me. Deny everything. Tell him he was nothing more than a good fuck. End it now before it went any further…but I couldn’t. I don’t often have squishy moments, and vulnerable is a word that’s never been used to describe me, but I couldn’t lie to Faust. I’d been doing my best to keep my feelings bottled up and hidden for months, because I figured sooner or later he’d move on to a new obsession, and I wanted to be prepared for it when he did. Faeries are wanderers, and they don’t stick to one lover for long. We’d been fooling around for almost three years and I’d feared that the end would come any day now.
Apparently not. Of course, that was part of the problem—I was used to people leaving. I never expected anything permanent from anyone, but Faust had stayed with me far longer than any other lover I’d had.
“That’s not the point,” I said.
“So you do love me.”
“That’s not what I said. There’s no future in this. We’re not even the same species. You’re Peter Pan, and I’m Wendy. You’ll still be a lost boy when I’m old and gray.”
He stepped closer, extending a hand to take mine. “That doesn’t matter—”
“Hell yes it matters!” I shouted as I flinched away. “It matters to me. I’m sure plenty of girls have fallen for the love is the only thing that matters speech, but not this one. I don’t need you to be my knight in shining armor. I take care of myself. I always have.”
He sighed. “I know you do. I’m not saying you can’t protect yourself. I’m only suggesting that you allow me to share the burden for the time being.”
My mouth twitched as I fought the urge to grin. He did have a way with words. “No. If you want to help, then go tell the Oberon about Harrison’s plans for me, and remind Duquesne that he’s still contractually obligated to have my back. I’d hate to call in that favor this soon, but I’ll do it if I have to.”
“Very well.” He didn’t look pleased, but it’d get him off my case for now. Faust vanished, and I finished my cigarette in silence.
This was bad on so many levels. I was used to people wanting to kill me, because I’d received my first death threat at seventeen. Life as a summoner meant that I dealt with a lot of bad people, but an amorous faerie declaring his love for me… Lord and Lady, that was a problem I hadn’t been expecting. I’d rather deal with an incubus, because at least they were straightforward about what they wanted. I mentally kicked myself again for getting involved with Faust. It was the charm that wore me down. He’d shown up at my door with work from Zachary Harrison, and after a few meetings we started mixing business with pleasure.
That was a mistake I’d never make again. If he was a summoner it’d be different—I might’ve even pinned him down and demanded marriage and babies, the whole domestic package. It was an option I considered for my retirement, but I’d never had a relationship with another summoner last more than a month. Once I had one of the west coast councilmen propose the idea of “breeding” with me. Completely unromantic—sure, I’ve been called a bitch more times than I can count, but that doesn’t mean I’d sign up to be a summoner puppy mill—but he did have a point that we would have exceptionally powerful offspring. I might have even seriously considered it if he’d agreed to artificial insemination, but he wanted to do it the old-fashioned way, and the guy was so creepy he made my skin crawl, so that was a definite no.
I didn’t have that problem with Faust. I loved him. Visions of chubby babies with bright red hair and pale blue eyes danced in my head. With a growl I ground out my cigarette in the ashtray, grabbed my specs and my coat and hurried out of my office before something else could go wrong. It had been a long day, and I had a feeling it was going to be an equally long night.
I really needed that vacation.

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