Tangled Web (Venin Assassin Book 2), p.4Gena D. Lutz
Rider was sitting on a high ledge right above my head looking down at me with a shit-eating grin on his face. Syn and Blaze were seated at the very edge of the mountain a few yards away; they glanced at me, then at one another in relief. Their concern stilled me.
My breathing remained calm, but I couldn’t lie to myself—my excitement over seeing the hellhounds was almost palpable. A new awareness stirred within my very soul—their queen awakening to her hounds’ presence no doubt. I tightened my fists and regained composure. I would need to learn how to deal with my new savage passenger.
I moved down the mountain, stopping next to Syn and Blaze. They both stood.
Blaze gave a quick nod. “Glad to see you back in one piece.”
I smiled at that.
Syn walked up behind me and laid a hand on my shoulder. I let him do it; it felt oddly right.
I gazed up to see Rider standing on the ledge, his cinnamon-peppered dark hair hung windblown around his face. He loomed over everything like a Greek god, all otherworldly and imposing.
His brows rose playfully. “We’re all relieved to see you.”
It was a sentiment I felt deep within the depths of my heart.
“How long have you guys been waiting out here?” I directed my question to Edge. He was alpha; his rank deserved preference above all others.
His muscled body shifted off the rock wall, and he flicked his cigarette to the ground to stomp it out. As he moved forward, he shoved his hands down the front pockets of his jeans, his massive shoulders rolling forward underneath his dark shirt.
“You’ve been gone for three days now.” He said, watching me with interest.
“Wait,” I began, folding my arms, “you mean to tell me that you’ve all been here that long, in this very spot, waiting for me?”
For some reason, that made me feel warm and fuzzy… I’d never been a fan of the warm and fuzzies.
My brows pulled together. “It felt like I was gone for twenty minutes, tops.”
“Time moves differently in Fairy.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Have you given any thought to us?” Edge questioned.
My gut twisted at how many times I’d thought about the hounds. But he wasn’t asking me if I’d missed them—no, not that, not now. What he wanted from me was a definitive answer to the question they’d posed three days prior: yes or no. Well, maybe it was that simple a thing to them. It wasn’t for me. That answer was the final nail in the coffin. What if the Oracle was telling the truth? If I accepted the bond, then as the Night Queen, I wouldn’t be able to ever return to Fairy. Essentially, I had to choose between the hounds and my father. Normally, that would be a no-brainer.
“I can’t do this,” I said, inching away from the hounds. The back entrance to the circus was close. “I’m sorry.”
Edge frowned. “Is it really that hard?”
“Harder than you’ll ever know,” I explained, trying to keep the sorrow out of my throat. Tears were already under my lids. “But I will make a decision soon. I promise.”
I picked up my pace; the gate was only a few feet away now.
“Do you think we won’t be able to handle your decision?”
“No, that’s not it at all.”
I scooted to the edge of the entrance, trying very hard not to turn tail and run. I hadn’t realized until this moment how badly I wanted to accept their claim. It was a tangible need that scared the shit out of me.
They all stood in silence after that. It made me feel pressured, uncomfortable.
“I’ll talk to you guys later… have lots of stuff to do.”
Edge’s baffled expression turned neutral. “We’ll be seeing you soon.”
Of that I had no doubt.
“I know,” I said, and entered the fairgrounds, leaving them to stare at my back as I disappeared.
I sniffed the air. The scent of burnt amber rose to mix with the smell of freshly-spilt blood. It wasn’t faeblood magic, or even venin. It was of the parablood variety, otherwise known as Black Magic. It shivered through the air around me.
My heart was pounding, and my hand shot to the dagger hidden at my waist. I’d had no other place to stash my weapons considering my clothes had been obliterated during my shift into hellhound, so I’d tucked the gun down my bodice, wedged deep between my skin and the tight waist of the skirt. My dagger had been easier to hide in bunched-up folds of material at my side. I grabbed the knife.
With my dagger at the ready, I followed the scent.
After a few minutes of tracking, I found myself standing in the last place I wanted to be: the carni-campgrounds. It was dark, sparsely lit by the moon. It reminded me of a bad B movie set, where the women with the biggest tits always got killed first. I looked down at my ample breasts and gulped. Holy crap, did this feel like a bad idea.
My gaze jumped to a place more familiar.
Mercifully, Jake’s trailer seemed abandoned, no lights or noise coming from in or around his lot, I breathed a sigh; I wasn’t in the mood to run into him.
Not missing a beat, I stalked past his place, stopping two doors down. The cause of the magic was close, and so was its victim.
Something growled, and I heard a scraping of claws behind the trailer I was standing in front of. As silently as I could, I crept over to the side of the metal structure. With steadied breaths, I stretched to gaze around the corner. My instincts went haywire at what I saw: a glowing circle with a body inside of it. A frazzled-haired lady knelt in front of an unconscious woman, something wicked looking clenched in her right hand. Claws as red as crimson curled around the felled woman’s hair, then in the next beat, she wrenched back hard, exposing her victim’s throat.
Salt circle, magic, blood… oh God, I was about to witness a human sacrifice. Or was I? Not fucking likely.
I have had enough! Those words echoed inside my head with tenacity.
“Back away from the human, bitchy witch!”
The witch spun and hissed at me like a cat guarding its meal. “Leave me alone, or you will be next!”
The witch looked like she hadn’t washed for days. Her snowy hair was stained red and brown in places. Her street clothes were a mess, the dirty sneakers on her feet not even tied. You could tell she’d had a hard few days or even weeks.
I heard a moan behind the witch and felt a modicum of relief. Her victim was still alive.
“Just so we’re clear, I’m not going anywhere.”
The witch stood, rage evident in her expression. “I’m tired of people meddling in my business. That’s why I have to kill this virgin. Her blood will help me regain what has been lost.”
I shook my head and suppressed a shiver; the cold of the evening was seeping into my bones, and so was the witch’s malevolence. I shifted to the left to get a better view of the human. Upon closer inspection, I placed the poor girl at no older than twelve. There were frantic parents out there somewhere missing their little baby tonight.
I figured it was best to keep her talking, so I asked, “What is it that you’ve lost?”
The witch stared at me. The redness in her eyes wasn’t from power, but of weariness. Her eyebrows furrowed together as if she were tense; her fingers twitched and so did the unchecked muscles in her face. If I were to venture a guess, I would say that this witch was strung out on something.
Her head twitched subtly, and then her lips parted. “Isn’t it obvious? I’ve lost my wits. And that one over there is going to give me enough power to find them.”
The witch was right about one thing, she was out of her goddamn mind, especially if she thought I was going to allow her to hurt the human girl.
I searched for a reasonable end to this standoff. And finally came up with something.
“If I help you find your wits, will you agree to let the girl go?”
She searched my face, for what, I didn’t know. But whatever she was looking for, she must’ve found, an
Her hand lifted, palm facing me, a blue churning ball rotating at its core.
I dropped to my knees just in time to dodge the magic orb. The barreling ball of malice hit a bush a few feet behind me, obliterating it into a pile of charred twigs.
“Shit,” I muttered. “That was close.”
She leaned forward, a smile turning into a scowl, and said, “Get up.”
I jumped back to my feet and stepped forward, my chin slightly raised. “I happen to know that you can’t pull that trick again for at least ten more minutes.”
It was true, she couldn’t. Witches didn’t have an inexhaustible supply of power. Once spent, it took some time for the surrounding earthly elements to recharge their battery, so to speak.
Sweat beads trickled from her hairline and down the sides of her dirt-smeared face. Underneath all the grime, I could tell she was a young and very attractive woman. Then she held up a bloody knife, and all I saw was a bunch of ugly.
“I’ll carve the flesh from your bones with this, you stupid wench.”
I made an amused sound. “You’ll need to do better than that.”
Unlike the witch, I had plenty of power to spare. And I proved as much by holding out my hand, palm up, and calling forth an orb of magic of my very own. Small tentacles of light, very thin and bendy, twisted and spun over my hand. I smiled and let my eyes flash pink.
“This is your final warning, witch. Leave or I will remove you.”
Another power vibrated across my skin. And I knew in an instant what it was.
Not fucking now, I berated myself.
The last thing I needed to do was shift into a hellhound, a beast, mind you, that I had no clue how to control. What if the she-beast had a hankering for witch flesh? Or even worse, human. Oh, no. Screw that. I wasn’t about to let myself go unchecked.
Teeth clenched, I fought my body to keep the magic from taking me over. Luckily, after some effort, it worked.
All of a sudden, a vehicle skidded to a stop behind me. Jake jumped out, ran past me, and barreled into the witch.
My heart was pounding so hard at the sight of him I almost forgot what I was doing. I flinched as the witch pulled back her arm.
“Jake! Watch out for the knife!”
In the next instant, said blade flew over my head. I ducked it.
I cast the ball of light swirling over my hand off into the ether, letting it dissolve on its own. Now that the witch was otherwise occupied, I darted over to the circle, only to run smack dab into an invisible wall of magic. My face hit hard, a shoulder twisted back, and I felt something tear. I forced myself not to succumb to the pain, and after a deep breath, I drew back and searched the perimeter for another way to breach it.
On the ground, next to where the witch had knelt, I saw a drawstring bag. I picked it up, untied the knot, and opened it. I blinked back welling moisture and lifted a forearm to my nose. The smell was putrid, of death, decay, and rot. My eyes widened. The contents were packed tightly with the petrified bones of small animals—maybe a rat or bird, dried plant, and a folded-up blood-stained piece of parchment paper. I turned it over and shook the bag, all the gruesome items scattered out across the gravel. My God. The witch was practicing blood magic! No wonder she was out of her damn mind, and even worse, she had crafted a Death Curse.
“Shit!” I’d breathed it in, even touched the son of a bitching thing!
I fell back on my hands, and pebbles ripped at my palms as I scooted away from the deadly incantation.
The young girl stirred in front of me. Her eyes twitched, mouth tightened; she was coming to. I needed to get her freed from the circle and away from all this madness, so maybe, just maybe, I could save her from being even more traumatized this gruesome night.
I frantically searched the area, “Ah, ha!”
I reached to the edge of the circle and scraped up some salt. Salt didn’t only serve as a protective barrier against a myriad of things; it also cleansed objects that had been used in spell casting. I figured if salt could clean a witch’s fouled instruments then it should be able to dissolve the pollutant itself. There was only one way I was going to find out if my hunch was true. I let out a long worrisome breath, sprinkled salt over each item, making sure to cover everything including the bag. Almost immediately, I felt the power of Black Magic rise. It was thick and cloying, sick and twisted, and pulsed warmly within the air. In those brief moments of waiting to see if it would dissolve, I felt true fear. This was the kind of magic that stuck. It could saturate your entire essence, making you do things that you wouldn’t normally do, speak things repulsive and vile. The only known cure for it was an exorcism by a true-born holy man. And finding such a man was nigh impossible today.
The marking on the back of my neck flared hot just as a gray swarm of smoke spiked upwards from each item. Combining into one long stream, it swirled together like a tornado, then with a burst of light, poofed into nothing.
The air instantly cooled, and I smiled. To the best of my knowledge, it had worked. I hurried over to the girl just in time to see her open her eyes. She pushed off the ground into an unsteady seated position. She fussed with her messy braid and tugged at the white unicorn shirt that was loose and torn at the collar. She was out of it, lethargic.
The space between her brows scrunched together. “Who are you? Where am I?”
“You’ve been through a tough ordeal little lady, but you’re safe now. I promise.”
She looked up at me with big brown eyes and stared for a moment, then relaxed her head on my shoulder. It was slight, but I heard her let out a sigh of relief. I didn’t know why, but somehow my presence reassured her. I closed my eyes, my arms wrapping around her.
“Is that crazy lady gone?” the girl whispered into my shoulder.
I looked over the girl’s head to where Jake was fighting the witch and nodded, my chin brushing against her cold ear. “She’s gone enough.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means you’re safe, dove.”
“Can I be a unicorn instead of a dove?”
Despite myself, I chuckled. “Of course you can… Unicorn.”
She squeezed me tight. “Good. I like unicorns. They’re my favorite.”
Holding tight to the little girl’s willowy form, I stood. The sounds of flesh pounding into flesh, grunts, and screams were not something I wanted to expose her to any longer. I walked in the opposite direction of the fight until I ended up at Jake’s back door.
After I’d twisted the knob hard enough to break the lock, we entered into a hallway. The aroma of Jake’s cologne and his unique scent grabbed my attention, and I languished in it. I shouldn’t be here. This was dangerous because despite everything, I still wanted him. And being smack dab in the middle of the wolf’s den wasn’t helping me get over him. But for the child, I would endure.
I walked over to the small couch in the living room.
“Okay, Unicorn,” I whispered as I laid her down on top of the blue cushions, “I have to go find your parents, so promise you’ll stay right here.”
Her eyes fluttered from exhaustion, and it took her a minute to nod, but she did. I reached over and grabbed one of Jake’s extra-large, Pyke & Ash band shirts from an open box next to the couch and covered the precious unicorn’s shivering body with it. Her knees went to her chest, and her head snuggled between the crook of the arm and the back of the couch with a contented sigh.
Satisfied that she would be safe, I walked out of the front door and back over to Jake.
A few seconds later, the witch had her face in the dirt, hands zipped behind her, and Jake’s boot pressing in her back, holding her down. She was tapped out magically and physically, so she didn’t bother to fight against his hold.
He looked at me as I walked up. His face was battered. His hands were in tight fists at his sides, a few of the knuckles
I gave him a less than friendly look. “I had things under control.”
Was I being petty? You betcha, but who could blame me?
He smirked. “Didn’t look that way from where I was sitting.”
So, this was how it was going to be. Rather than banter back and forth, I said, “Look, I’m, uh… grateful for your help and all, and I assume you can handle things from here.”
His brow rose. “Do you have some place to go?”
As a matter of fact… “I need to find the kid’s parents.”
Something flickered in his eyes, then vanished. “Can we talk before you leave?”
“I’d prefer not to.”
His cell phone rang. He slipped it out of his pocket, mumbled a few things, and hung up.
“Who was that?”
“The owner of the circus. He was asking about the girl. I told him that she was here. He’ll be around momentarily to clean shit up.”
By shit, he meant the witch and her circle.
I nodded. “The girl is asleep on your couch. Make sure her parents are with you when you wake her. She’s had enough bad shit happen to her tonight.”
Sighing, Jake lifted his boot from the witch’s back, leaned over, picked her up by the arm, then walked her over to his truck. Once there, he pulled another plastic zip-cord-thingy from his pocket, lifted her arms, and bound her to the side mirror.
“You hate me.”
“Well, yeah,” I said, blinking, “for the most part, I do.”
He left the witch tied to his truck and walked over to me.
“I didn’t mean to be such an asshole.”
“That’s probably true. But the fact remains, you were one, and I didn’t deserve it.”
He inched closer. My heart didn’t literally stop, but it sure as hell felt like it would.
I held out a hand that came to an abrupt stop against his ridged stomach. “Jake, no…”
He cupped his hands around the sides of my face, pulled me forward, and kissed the living daylights out of me. He kissed me like his life depended on it, as if our lungs shared the same air. I matched his kiss with a heat of my own. Then out of the blue, a bright light beamed over us, startling me. I quickly pulled his hands from my face and stepped away. His eyes dragged open, and he gave me one of his million-watt smiles.
Tangled Web (Venin Assassin Book 2) by Gena D. Lutz / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes