The Mage in Black, p.1Part #2 of Sabina Kane series by Jaye Wells
The Kum-N-Go’s roadside-chic interior was bathed in a sickly fluorescent glow. The aroma of stale smoke, urinal cakes, and rotgut coffee had me breathing through my mouth on the way back to the ATM. It was my turn to pay for gas, so getting cash took priority over raiding the snack aisle for the moment.
While I entered my code and waited, Adam chatted with the attendant at the front of the store. He glanced over and raised his eyebrows. I lifted a finger and took a moment to admire the way his ass filled out his jeans. Even after sitting in a car for two days straight, he still looked hot with his stubble and road-weary smile. Too bad the mage part made him off-limits.
Before I got caught staring, I moved my gaze to the window. Adam’s SUV and my cherry red Ducati provided the only scenery in the empty parking lot. The bike’s 180 horses rested docilely on a trailer behind Adam’s behemoth. Before we’d left California, he’d argued I wouldn’t need wheels in New York, but I held my ground. That motorcycle was the only good thing left of my old, broken life. Leaving it behind wasn’t an option.
A flash of white caught my attention as Stryx landed on the roof over the gas pumps. The red-eyed owl had followed us all the way from California, and I assumed he’d be joining us in New York. I’d gotten so used to seeing him, I no longer questioned his reason for following me. He never caused trouble, which was more than I could say for my other companions on this road trip from hell.
The headlights from a midnight-black Mercedes lit up the window. It pulled in on the other side of Adam’s car, so I couldn’t see the driver get out. I waited to see if he’d come inside to pay, but loud beeping from the ATM grabbed my attention.
I took the clump of twenties the machine spat out and stashed it in my pocket, relieved the account still worked. Registered under a false name through a bank in the Caymans, the account held the bulk of my savings. When I’d set it up, it was a better-safe-than-sorry measure, but now it was all I had left to my name.
I was turning toward the front of the store when the three redheads came around the back of Adam’s car. My heart sputtered and then kicked into overdrive.
How’d they find me so fast?
“Adam! We’ve got company!” With one hand, I reached for my waistband and grabbed for my gun. I cursed, realizing I’d left it in Adam’s center console along with a box of apple cider bullets. After a few days on the road with no sign of trouble, I’d grown complacent, and now I was about to fight three assassins armed with nothing but the pair of apple-wood chopsticks that held my hair back. Awesome.
The mortal male behind the counter wore a red smock with a nametag that read “Darrell. ”
“Go lock yourself in the storeroom,” I told him.
I flashed my fangs and pulled him bodily across the counter. “Get the hell out of here!”
Wetness spread across the front of his wrinkled khakis. He stammered for a moment, then turned tail and ran toward the back of the store.
Adam had already spotted the trouble. “Friends of yours?”
I turned toward the door, watching the three vampires make their way toward us. “The one on the left is Nick Konstantine. Likes to get stabby, so watch your back. ” Nick was the kind of vamp who gave the rest of us bad names. He liked to rape his prey before draining them. Nasty dude. “The big guy is Fatty Garza. ”
“What’s his specialty? Eating his opponents whole?”
“Something like that. ”
“And the female?”
I narrowed my eyes and gripped my gun tighter. “Mischa Petrov. ” Just saying that bitch’s name left a bad taste in my mouth.
Adam parted his lips to say more, but the assassins stopped about ten feet back from the door. Mischa’s eyes met mine through the glass doors. She smiled snarkily and nodded. You ready to die, bitch?
I raised an eyebrow in return. Bring it.
Adam stood calmly at my side, waiting. He didn’t waste time with unnecessary questions. I knew from experience he could hold his own in a fight, which meant I didn’t have to worry about saving both our asses on my own.
Something shifted. Nothing obvious. No overt signal was given. But one second the whole world seemed to hold its breath, and the next, the air exploded with gunfire. I shoved Adam to our right, and we slid down the aisle in a tangle of limbs.
Bullets ripped through the store, turning it into swiss cheese. Sodas exploded in the refrigerated cases, coating us with cold, sticky wetness. Pulverized chocolate, salty snacks, and tampons rained down to create a PMS-themed collage on the floor.
“You got any weapons?” I yelled over the noise.
“Magic. ” I shot him a look. He smiled. “And a Glock. ” He pulled a Glock 20 from his waistband and handed it over. Releasing the magazine, I was relieved to find it full. That gave me fifteen rounds. Fifteen nonlethal bullets, considering we were fighting vampires, but I’d still be able to inflict some pain.
Finally, the hailstorm of bullets stopped.
“Yoo-hoo! Sabina?” Mischa called.
“What?” I shouted, and glanced at Adam. “Get ready to create a diversion. ”
“Just let me zap them out of here. ” I shook my head firmly. This was vampire business. I’d be damned before I let a mancy save me from my own kind. Besides, if anyone was going back to L. A. , it was to take a message to my grandmother. And it wouldn’t take three of them to deliver it. But Adam’s magic could come in handy in other ways. I pointed to the fluorescent lights overhead. He nodded coolly and rose into a crouch.
Mischa sighed loudly. “I don’t suppose you’d just surrender now and save us all some time, would you, Mutt?”
I gritted my teeth. Mischa never missed an opportunity to remind me and everyone in hearing distance of my mixed blood. “Riiight. Tell you what, if you’re in such a hurry, why not just put that gun to your temple and squeeze the trigger? It’ll save me the effort. ”
“And muss up my hair?” Mischa drawled. “You’re just talking crazy now. ”
“Enough of this shit,” Nick said, clearly unimpressed with our banter.
Boots crunched on broken glass, signaling the assassins were on the move. I nodded to Adam.
His lips moved with an incantation, and a zap of energy shot from his fingertips. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end as I peeked between cereal boxes. Two fluorescent lights exploded above Mischa and Nick, and the metal housings holding the bulbs broke loose and crashed on their heads. Mischa’s gun skittered away, and Nick got knocked to the floor. Fatty, surprisingly agile given his size, jumped aside and started making his way to the back of the store.
With the shelves as cover, I opened fire on Mischa, who’d taken refuge behind a display of travel mugs. Taking aim at the bank of coffee machines behind her, I shot the carafes. Judging from her screams, the coffee shower that splashed on the bitch was roughly the temperature of magma.
One second, Adam crouched next to me, and the next, he inhaled sharply and cursed. I ripped my gaze off Mischa in time to see him pull a throwing star out of his thigh. He tossed it to the ground with an irritated grimace. “Okay,” he said, his jaw tight. “Now I’m annoyed. Seriously—who uses a throwing star?”
I sensed movement behind me. Before Fatty could get his hamhock hands on me, I back-kicked him in the stomach. My boot heel sank into the fleshy layers like I’d stepped into a pool of Jell-O before ricocheting back. Fatty’s belly shook with laughter for a moment before cutting off suddenly. We all went still for a moment, and then everyone shifted into fast-forward.
Mischa, looking like a wet, pissed-off cat, jumped Adam from out of nowhere. As he fended off her claws and kicks, Fatty grabbed
I barely had time to gasp a few gulps of air before Mischa knocked Adam down and came after me. I backed down the aisle, pulling the apple-wood sticks from my hair. Behind Mischa, Adam went after Fatty in a blur of motion. I didn’t have time to see the outcome of his attack, because just then Mischa produced nunchucks from her back pocket. With a self-satisfied grin, she swung them overhead like helicopter blades. Cans of Spam and packages of pork rinds flew to the floor as she advanced.
I retreated until I hit a dead end at the row of drink coolers at the back. The gunfire earlier had shattered the glass and most of the bottles and cans, but I managed to find a bottle of apple juice among the wreckage. I popped the top and tossed the contents in Mischa’s face. She inhaled sharply out of surprise, forcing the forbidden fruit juice into her system. I ducked the flailing nunchucks and slammed a chopstick down at an angle behind her collarbone.
Mischa jerked back, falling into a display of Doritos. Her body ignited, and the chips went up in flames with her. The resulting odor was a bizarre mix of smoke, apple, and nacho cheese. In addition to the oddly pleasing scent of Mischa’s death, I experienced the sweet taste of retribution on my tongue. Mischa might have tormented me for years with jokes about my shameful birth, but I’d just gotten the last laugh.
A bellow near the front of the store got my attention. Fatty bent over at the waist, his hands cupping his crotch. Apparently, Adam wasn’t afraid to fight dirty. I smiled and mentally added that to my list of favorite things about him.
I moved to join the mage up front, but right then Nick performed an over-the-counter somersault, landing a foot away from Adam. My scalp tingled as Adam shot the vamp with a bolt of magical energy. Nick flew backward, his head crashing the counter before he collapsed on the floor.
I came up behind Adam and shot Nick a few times for good measure. The wounds wouldn’t kill him. To do that, I’d need to inject a dose of the forbidden fruit into his system first, to strip away his immortality. But I had other plans for Nick.
I crouched next to his limp body. He groaned, his eyes fluttering. Whatever Adam hit him with had scrambled him good. His labored breath had a wheeze to it that made me suspect I’d clipped a lung.
The Mage in Black by Jaye Wells / Fantasy have rating 3.8 out of 5 / Based on19 votes