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Rhapsodic the bargainer.., p.1
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       Rhapsodic (The Bargainer Book 1), p.1

           Laura Thalassa
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Rhapsodic (The Bargainer Book 1)


  Table of Contents

  Prologue

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Glossary

  Prologue

  May, eight years ago

  There’s blood on my hands, blood between my toes, blood speckled in my hair. It’s splashed across my chest, and to my horror, I can taste a few droplets on my lips.

  There’s far too much of it staining the kitchen’s polished floors. No one can survive that much blood loss, not even the monster at my feet.

  My entire body shakes, adrenaline still pumping through my veins. I drop the broken bottle, the glass shattering as it hits the ground, and fall to my knees.

  Blood soaking into my jeans.

  I stare at my tormentor. His glassy eyes have lost their focus, and his skin its color. If I were a braver person, I would’ve placed my ear to his chest to just make sure that his cold, blackened heart had stilled. I can’t bear to touch him, even now. Even if he can no longer hurt me.

  He’s gone. He’s finally gone.

  A shuddering sob pushes its way out of me. For the first time in what seems like an eternity I can breathe. I sob again. God it feels good. This time tears follow.

  I’m not supposed to feel relief. I know that. I know people are supposed to mourn the loss of life. But I can’t. Not him, anyway. Maybe that makes me evil. All I know is that tonight, I actually faced my fear and I survived it.

  He’s dead. He can’t hurt me anymore. He’s dead.

  It takes only a few more seconds for that realization to hit me.

  Oh, God. He’s dead.

  My hands begin to shake. There’s a body and blood, so much blood. I’m drenched in it. It speckles my homework, and one fat droplet obscures Lincoln’s face on my history textbook.

  A harsh shiver courses through my body.

  I stare down at my hands, feeling like Lady Macbeth. Out damned spot! I dash to the kitchen sink, leaving a trail of bloody footprints in my wake. Oh, God, I need to get his blood off of me now.

  I rinse my hands furiously. It stains my cuticles and embeds itself beneath my fingernails. I can’t get it out, but it doesn’t matter because I notice the red liquid coats my arms. So I scrub those. But then it’s on my shirt, and I can see it congealing in my hair.

  I whimper as I do so. It doesn’t matter. It’s not coming out.

  Fuck.

  I lean over the granite countertop and assess the pink mixture of blood and water that stains it, the floor, and the sink.

  Can’t hide from this.

  Reluctantly, my eyes slide to the body. An illogical part of me expects my stepfather to sit back up and attack me. When he doesn’t do just that, I begin to think again.

  What … do I do now? Call the police? The justice system protects kids. I’ll be okay, they’ll just call me in for questioning.

  But will they protect me? It’s not like I killed just anyone. I killed one of the wealthiest, most untouchable men alive. It doesn’t matter that it was self-defense. Even in death, men like him get away with the unthinkable all the time.

  And I’d have to talk about it—all of it.

  Nausea rolls through me.

  But I have no choice, I have to turn myself in—unless …

  The monster bleeding out in our kitchen knew a man who knew a man. Someone who could clean up a messy situation. I only had to sell a bit of my soul to speak to him.

  No cops, no questions, no foster care or jail.

  You know what? He can have whatever’s left of my soul. All I want is out.

  I dash to the junk drawer, my trembling hands having trouble opening it. Once I do, it’s short work grabbing the business card and reading over the peculiar contact information. There’s a single sentence written on it; all I have to do is recite it out loud.

  Fear washes through me. If I do this, there’s no going back.

  My gaze sweeps over the kitchen. It’s already too late to go back.

  I squeeze the card in my hand. Taking a deep breath, I do as the business card instructs.

  “‘Bargainer, I would like to make a deal.’”

  Chapter 1

  Present

  A file folder drops to the desk in front of me. “You’ve got mail, bitch.”

  I lower my mug of steaming coffee from my mouth, my eyes flicking up from my laptop.

  Temperance “Temper” Darling—swear to God that’s her name—my business partner and best friend, stands on the other side of my desk, a coy smile on her face.

  Temper drops into the seat across from me.

  I kick my ankles off my desk, reaching across it to drag the file closer to me.

  She nods to the folder. “This one’s easy money, girl.”

  They’re all easy money, and she knows that.

  Her eyes drift around my cupboard-sized office, the twin of hers.

  “How much is the client offering?” I ask, propping my feet up once more on the edge of my desk.

  “Twenty grand for a single meeting with the target—and she already knows when and where you’re to intercept the target.”

  I whistle. Easy money indeed.

  “Rendezvous time with the target?” I ask.

  “Eight p.m. tonight at Flamencos. It’s a fancy-ass restaurant, FYI, so—” her gaze drops to my scuffed up boots, “you can’t wear that.”

  I roll my eyes.

  “Oh, and he’ll be there with friends.”

  And here I was looking forward to getting home relatively early.

  “Do you know what the client wants?” I ask.

  “The client believes her uncle, our target, is abusing his guardianship of his mother, her grandmother. The two are going to court over the issue; she wants to save some legal bills and get a confession straight from the horse’s mouth.”

  Already, a familiar exhilaration has my skin beginning to glow. This is the chance to potentially help an old lady out and punish the worst kind of criminal—one who preys on his own family.

  Temper notices my glowing skin, her gaze transfixed. She reaches out before she remembers herself. Not even she is immune to my glamour.

  She shakes her head. “Girl, you are a twisted motherfucker.”

  That is God’s honest truth.

  “Takes one to know one.”

  She snorts. “You can call me the Wicked Witch of the West.”

  But Temper’s not a witch. She’s something far more powerful.

  She checks her phone. “Shit,” she says, “I’d love to stay and chat, but my perp’s going to be at Luca’s Deli in less than an hour, and with L.A. lunch hour traffic … I really don’t want to be forced to part the 405 like the Red
Sea. Shit like that looks suspicious.” She stands, shoving her phone to her pocket. “When’s Eli getting back?”

  Eli, the bounty hunter who sometimes works for us and sometimes works for the Politia, the supernatural police force. Eli, who’s also my boyfriend.

  “Sorry Temper, but he’ll be gone for another week.” I relax a little as I say the words.

  That’s wrong, right? To enjoy the fact that your boyfriend’s gone and you get time alone?

  It’s probably also wrong to find his affection stifling. I’m afraid of what it means, especially because we shouldn’t be dating in the first place.

  First rule in the book is to not get involved with colleagues. One evening of afterwork drinks six months ago, and I broke that rule like it’d never been there in the first place. And I broke it again, and again, and again until I found myself in a relationship I wasn’t sure I even wanted.

  “Ugh,” Temper says, her ’fro bouncing a little as she leans her head back, her eyes moving heavenward. “The bad guys always love to stir shit up when Eli’s gone.” She heads for my door, and with a parting look, she leaves my office.

  I stare at the file a moment, then I pick it up.

  The case isn’t anything special. There isn’t anything particularly cruel or difficult about it. Nothing to make me reach for the Johnnie Walker I keep in one of my desk drawers. I find I want to anyway, that my hand itches to pull the bottle of it out.

  Too many bad people in this world.

  My eyes flick to the onyx beads that coil around my left arm as I drum my fingers against the table. The beads seem to swallow the light rather than refract it.

  Too many bad people, and too many memories worth forgetting.

  The swanky restaurant I walk into at eight p.m. sharp is low lit, candles flickering dimly from each two-seater table. Flamencos is clearly a place rich people come to romance each other.

  I follow the waiter, my heels clicking softly against the hardwood floor as he leads me to a private room.

  Twenty grand. It’s a crap ton of money. But I’m not doing this for the payout. The truth is that I’m a connoisseur of addictions, and this is one of my favorite.

  The waiter opens the door to the private room, and I enter.

  Inside, a group of people chat amicably around a large table. Their voices quiet a little as soon as the door clicks shut behind me. I make no move towards the table.

  My eyes land on Micky Fugue, a balding man in his late forties. My target.

  My skin begins to glow as I let the siren in me surface. “Everybody out.” My voice is melodious, unearthly. Compelling.

  Almost as one, the guests stand, their eyes glazed.

  This is my beautiful, dreadful power. A siren’s power. To compel the willing—and unwilling—to do and believe whatever it is I wish.

  Glamour. It’s illegal. Not that I really give a damn.

  “The evening went great,” I tell them as they pass. “You’d all love to do this sometime in the future. Oh—and I was never here.”

  When Micky walks by me, I grab his upper arm. “Not you.”

  He stops, caught in the web of my voice, while the rest of the guests file out. His glazed eyes flicker for one moment, and in that instant, I see his confusion as his awareness fights my strange magic. Then it’s gone.

  “Let’s sit down.” I direct him back to his seat, then slide into the one next to him. “You can leave once we’re finished.”

  I’m still glowing, my power mounting with every passing second. My hands tremble just the slightest as I fight my other urges—sex and violence. Consider me a modern day Jekyll and Hyde. Most of the time I’m simply Callie the PI. But when I need to use my power, another side of me surfaces. The siren is the monster inside of me; she wants to take, and take, and take. To wreak havoc, to feast on her victims’ fear and lust.

  I’d be hard-pressed to admit it out loud, but controlling her is hard.

  I grab a piece of bread from one of the baskets at the center of the table, and I slide over a small plate one of the guests hasn’t touched. After I pour olive oil, then balsamic vinegar onto the plate, I dip the bread into it and take a bite.

  I eye the man next to me. That tailored suit he wears hides the paunch of his belly. On his wrist he wears a Rolex. The file said he was an accountant. I know they make decent money, especially here in LA, but they don’t make money this good.

  “Why don’t we get right to the point?” I say. As I talk, I set up my phone so that the camera records our exchange. For good measure I pull out a handheld tape recorder and turn it on.

  “I’m going to record this exchange. Please say yes out loud and give your consent to this interview.”

  Micky’s brows stitch together as he fights the glamour in my voice. It’s no use. “Yes,” he finally says between clenched teeth. This guy is no fool; he might not understand what’s happening to him, but he knows he’s about to get played. He knows he’s already getting played.

  As soon as he agrees, I begin.

  “Have you been embezzling money from your mother?” His senile, terminally ill mother. I really shouldn’t have read the file. I’m not supposed to get emotionally involved in cases, and yet when it comes to children and the elderly, I always seem to find myself getting angry.

  Tonight’s no exception.

  I take a bite of the bread, watching him.

  He opens his mouth—

  “From This moment until the end of our interview you will tell the truth,” I command, the words lilting off my tongue.

  He stops, and whatever he is about to say dies on his lips. I wait for him to continue, but he doesn’t. Now that he can’t lie, it’s only a matter of time before he’s forced to admit the truth.

  Mickey fights my glamour, though it’s useless. He’s starting to sweat, despite his placid features.

  I continue eating as though nothing was amiss.

  Color stains his cheeks. Finally, he chokes out, “Yes—how the fuck did you—”

  “Silence.” Immediately he stops speaking.

  This sicko. Stealing money from his dying mother. A sweet old lady who’s biggest failure was birthing this loser.

  “How long have you been doing this?”

  His eyes flicker with anger. “Two years,” he grits out against his will. He glares at me.

  I take my time eating the last of the bread.

  “Why did you do it?” I finally ask.

  “She wasn’t using it and I needed it. I’m going to give it back,” he says.

  “Oh, are you?” I raise my eyebrows. “And how much have you… borrowed?” I ask.

  Several silent seconds tick by. Mickey’s ruddy cheeks are turning a deeper and deeper shade of pink. Finally he says, “I don’t know.”

  I lean in close. “Give me your best guess.”

  “Maybe two hundred and twenty thousand.”

  Just hearing that number sends a slice of anger through me. “And when were you going to pay your mother back?” I ask.

  “N-now,” he stammers.

  And I’m the Queen of Sheba.

  “How much money do you have available in your accounts at the moment?” I ask.

  He reaches for his glass of water and takes a deep swallow before answering. “I-I like to invest.”

  “How much money?”

  “A little over twelve thousand.”

  Twelve thousand dollars. He’s emptied his mother’s coffers and here he is living like a king. But behind this façade, the man only has twelve thousand dollars at hand. And I bet that money will get liquidated soon as well. These types of men have butterfingers; money slips right through them.

  I give him a disappointed look. “That’s not the right answer. Now,” I say, the siren u
rging me to be cruel, “where is the money?”

  His sweaty upper lip twitches before he answers. “Gone.”

  I reach over and turn off the camera and the recorder. My client got the confession she wanted. Too bad for Mickey, I’m not done with him.

  “No,” I say, “it’s not.” Those few people who know me well enough would recognize my tone’s changed.

  Again his brows draw together as his confusion peeks through.

  I touch his lapel. “This suit is nice—really nice. And your watch—Rolexes aren’t cheap, are they?”

  The glamour makes him shake his head.

  “No,” I agree. “See, for men like you, money doesn’t just vanish. It goes towards… what did you call it?” I look around for the word before snapping my fingers. “Investments. I moves around a bit, but that’s all.” I lean in close. “We’re going to move it around a little more.”

  His eyes widen. Now I see Micky—not the puppet controlled by my magic, but the Micky he was before I walked into this room. Someone shrewd, someone weak. He’s fully aware of what’s happening.

  “Wh—who are you?” Oh, the fear in his eyes. The siren can’t resist that. I reach over and pet his cheek. “I-I’m going to—”

  “You’re going to sit back and listen, Micky,” I say, “and that’s all you’re going to do because right now, you—are—powerless.”

  Chapter 2

  May, eight years ago

  The air wavers in my kitchen, like I’m staring at a mirage, then suddenly, he’s here, filling the room like he owns it.

  The Bargainer.

  Holy shit, it worked.

  All I can see of him is a good six feet of man and a whole lot of white blond hair tied together in a leather thong. The Bargainer’s back is to me.

  A whistle breaks the silence. “That is one dead man,” he says, staring at my handiwork. His heavy boots clink as he approaches the body.

  He wears black on black, his shirt stretched tight over his wide shoulders. My eyes drop to his left arm, which is covered in tattoos.

 
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