Know Thy Frienemy: a Darkworld novel - Misti Wolanski - ebook
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Is freedom always worth the cost, even when it would cost you everything?~After the life-changing week she had in “Destiny’s Kiss”, Destiny Walker knows she’s messed up, but she isn’t stupid. Her magic’s missing at the moment, and at least a few big-name Magiks want her dead. At least as property of the director of the vampire internal affairs agency, she has protections she wouldn’t have if she were a person.The problem with the ‘property’ thing is what kind she is: concubine. Her owner ignores that part of it, perhaps because he’s fonder of her than is good for him. Regardless, after the abuse her previous owner put her through, she perfectly happy with the haven her new owner provides. She’s not the only one he protects, and she’ll do whatever she has to to keep him safe.No matter who’s behind the attempts to kill him.~A dark urban fantasy novel wherein a girl must figure out what she wants despite others’ interference. Contains mature themes, some violence and gore, and a few cases of salty language.

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Know Thy Frienemy

Destiny Walker: Book 2

A Darkworld Novel by

Misti Wolanski

EPUB Edition

Copyright 2013

All Rights Reserved

This is a work of fiction. People, places, and events are made up; any that aren’t made up have all been processed through the shredder of the author’s imagination and therefore bear only superficial resemblance to their originals, at best.

All trademarks, songs, books, and other writers’ characters mentioned in this text are the property of their respective owners. Their use does not indicate any association, express or implied, between their owners and the author of this work.

All effort was taken to respect real-world nations, their laws and reality, but the author is not omniscient or a lawyer, and this story is fiction. If a reader wishes to act in accordance with something mentioned in this work, the reader is responsible to verify that it is still in effect or if it ever existed in the first place.

This file is not authorized for copying by e-mail, website, or other transfer method. This work is licensed in electronic format for your personal enjoyment. If the copy you’re reading wasn’t bought for your use specifically, please respect the author and delete or pay for the e-book. Thanks!

Cover Designed by Najla Qamber

Model & Photographer: Misty Patricia

Cardo font series by David Perry

Book formatted by Misti Wolanski

• Is freedom always worth the cost, even when it would cost you everything? •

After the life-changing week she had in Destiny’s Kiss, Destiny Walker knows she’s messed up, but she isn’t stupid. Her magic’s missing at the moment, and at least a few big-name Magiks want her dead. At least as property of the director of the vampire internal affairs agency, she has protections she wouldn’t have if she were a person.

The problem with the ‘property’ thing is what kind she is: concubine. Her owner ignores that part of it, perhaps because he’s fonder of her than is good for him. Regardless, after the abuse her previous owner put her through, she perfectly happy with the haven her new owner provides. She’s not the only one he protects, and she’ll do whatever she has to to keep him safe.

No matter who’s behind the attempts to kill him.

This novel is dark urban fantasy. It contains mature themes, some violence and gore, and a few cases of objectionable language.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Author’s Note

Mark 7:12–13, ASV

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

How did you like the story?

About the Author

Also by Misti Wolanski

AUTHOR’S NOTE

Frequently it takes a community to produce a book, and Know Thy Frienemy was a good example of that.

Haddie Brice let me chat with her at length about the story at various stages, told me about how guns and gun classes work, and then gave me input on what worked and what didn’t. Sarah on the Emperor’s Edge forums* kindly directed my attention to something that didn’t work and was far more offensive than I’d intended. Annamaria Equizzi fixed my Italian and caught some rather embarrassing typos, though I now want to write a story wherein I can use the word hydroflouric acid…

*If you haven’t read Lindsay Buroker’s Emperor’s Edge series, I highly recommend it. As of this writing, she even has book 1 and much of book 2 on Wattpad.

Then there are the people who donated their money to help me fund release costs. William Gunderson was particularly generous and will be having a character in his honor in book three—I’ve already designed her from his choices, and I’m hoping she won’t end up a redshirt.

All in all, I did my best to adhere to reality as much as suited the story, but this is a fantasy novel, and the narrator’s a fifteen-year-old girl with an…unusual education, who’s prone to making assumptions about herself. Some details are going to be “wrong”, either because I had to suit the story or because my narrator’s ignorant about that particular detail.

Destiny’s…extreme “PTSD” is a case in point. The cause is in the text, spread across books one and two, but Destiny hasn’t yet realized what’s going on. (Can you spot it? The first 3 people to contact me with a correct answer will get a surprise.)

I know how annoying incorrect details can be. (One thing that always irritates me about Robin McKinley’s Sunshine is the narrator calling a Tunisian crochet hook a knitting needle, even though I suspect the author did that on purpose because the narrator wouldn’t have known the difference.) I thank you for your patience with the ones I mess up, but I also won’t take offense if you decide to rant about them.

If I have any ability as a writer, God gets the credit. My current ability to write and publish stems from a series of fortunate events I can only attribute to His providence. (For those readers who are curious, I actually adhere to a different denomination of Christianity than any of the characters in my book.)

I hope you’ve enjoyed the story! If you did, be on the lookout for book three, Lord willing in Summer 2014.

MARK 7:12–13, ASV

ye no longer suffer him to do aught for his father or his mother; making void the word of God by your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things ye do.

CHAPTER ONE

April 7, 2009 South Carolina, United States

“C’MON, DES. SELENE’S about to cut Viktor’s head off,” Alexis urges me.

I’ll never understand my flatmate’s fascination with Hollywood’s vampire movies. “Seen it.”

I haven’t seen my padrone’s car drive by to enter the parking garage. Spring break started today, the Tuesday before Easter, but he said he’d visit after helping his younger half-sister figure out her visa paperwork, so she could stay in the US to finish high school with me. This is despite the fact that I’m not sure how similar the school systems are, between countries, and she barely speaks English.

My boss shooed me out of work today, too, saying she didn’t have permission from my padrone to use me. He wouldn’t mind, but she doesn’t know him well enough to know that.

Which has left me stuck in my flat with nothing to do, accompanied by the the moody blond bohemian-punk flatmate whose idea of proper seating is a beanbag.

Alexis glances away from her movie to scowl at me, gray eyes narrowed beneath the fire engine red highlighting one side of her blond bangs. “Your sugar daddy will get here when he gets here. No stopping that short of killing him.”

I watch back out the window, scratching my wrist under the braided black bracelet that declares me a vampire’s property, with the manta ray charm that declares which one I belong to. Is that him behind the white SUV? No, that looks like a Wyrwulfs 4EVA sticker glinting on the back window. My padrone isn’t old enough to care about any old-school spelling of werewolf.

“He’s my owner, not my pimp.” I glance at the scar burned into the crook of Alexis’s collarbones, one that matches the sigil of her own former master and marks her as self-freed. Just last week, I learned the scar is trackable, making her ‘ionized’ in the jargon of the Darkworld of gargoyles and vampires and freaks and other types of Magiks. “He isn’t going to pass me around.”

“So he says,” Alexis grumbles.

And in the movie, Viktor makes shocked sounds as half his head slides off.

“Ambrogino isn’t like that!” I knew him back when I was still a person, too. If his mother or older sister were my padrona, I’d have cause to worry about whom they’d give me to, but he won’t share me.

Alexis smashes the coffee table as she gets up from the beanbag. “Then why won’t he free you?!”

Ice lands in my stomach, but she’s a girl—and not a werewolf—so it’s easier to gulp it away. “Because I ticked off a sadistic sorcerer last week and I’m safer from him if I’m his confiscated property?”

She turns the TV off right before her grip snaps the remote in two, though the plastic cracks. “Screw that. How the hell are you safer stuck as property of that fangface that loves ticking off folks older and more powerful than he is?!”

That must be where I learned it from. “More repercussions if I’m harmed.” It’s not unheard-of for a woman to be safer as slave than she’d be as a freewoman. Case in point: the mother of my friend Jordan, who’s the daughter and heiress of Dickens, the werewolf alpha who rules all the packs in the continental US.

Alexis’s growl sounds like stones grinding together. “You’re property, Destiny!”

Phantom pain spears my stomach, and I clutch my fists against the urge to scratch myself. “I know.”

A brisk knock at the door interrupts us. Alexis turns with a snarl, but I scurry around her to get the door first.

My padrone stands there, all six-foot-something of him in a crisp gray suit that’s accented by a Rolex. Perks of running the vampire internal affairs agency.

Direttore Ambrogino Romazzo tugs the cuffs of his fluffy white dress shirt. “Am I interrupting?”

“Of course not!” Alexis snaps. “Come on in. Make yourself at home. Screw your slave girl, while you’re at it. Her sheets are clean. I’m going for a fly.” And she jumps out the window.

Gargoyles can exit all dramatically like that. The revised lease from the new landlords even makes provision for it.

My padrone unhappily stares after Alexis. “Would you like dinner?”

I’m starting to think he avoids being alone with me on purpose. “There’s lasagna in the fridge.”

“Sounds delicious,” he replies graciously, his expression reflecting no more than polite interest. “But I fancy something more exotic, tonight.”

With my Japanese grandmother and magical wackiness, I could qualify as ‘something exotic’.

Breathe, Destiny. He doesn’t mean it like that. Just breathe.

He stiffens, an acknowledgement that he hears my thundering heart and smells my budding panic. “Get ready to go somewhere nice. I’ll wait outside.” And he steps out and shuts the door behind him.

The bind-rune on my lower back—a tattoo in the shape of my padrone’s sigil, a stylized manta ray like the charm on my bracelet—buzzes, poised to compel me to obey, but my master didn’t put a time limit on his order. I make myself take slow breaths and wrestle my pulse back under control.

It helps that I’m pretty much injury-free—just a few bruises, mostly, left over from the end of last week—and he’s in the hallway. My little black sleeveless dress is fine for ‘somewhere nice’, but I go to my room to freshen up. I brush my bottle black hair, and tie it back into something reminiscent of neatness. I hacked it off myself with an old pocketknife last year, so there’s only so much that can be done for it.

The buzzing on my back lets up once I’m ready to go.

The bind-rune’s happy, but the mirror shows some coyote-brown at the roots of my hair. Ulgh. I’ll have to get more dye—or maybe I’ll bleach it, this time. That would be cheaper.

Or I could just let my padrone pay for the dye. He probably would, if I asked him rudely.

I pull on my black boots and join him in the hall outside, locking the door behind me. Doesn’t look as though he’s wearing an Armani, tonight, but with a puffy dress shirt like that, he doesn’t need more ornamentation. “What’s with the blouse?”

He blinks, reflexively straightening his cuffs. “I beg your pardon?”

I pass him and open the stairwell door for him. He catches it, and we start jogging down the stairs.

“Isn’t that shirt sorta girly?” I ask.

Ambrogino Romazzo, director of the vampire equivalent of the FBI, glances at his fluffy shirt. “It’s comfortable.”

And a comfortable shirt is sufficient reason to look girly? “I’m sure it is.”

“It’s silk,” he insists, darting ahead of me to catch the door to the parking garage. He gives me a pointed stare when I try to take the door from him. I roll my eyes as I pass him, and he snorts. “It is not ‘girly’.”

Somebody’s defensive. “What, you pick it up at the secondhand shop? Maybe they put it in the wrong section.”

“I doubt that.” He leads the way to his car.

This is fun. “Why? People make mistakes. Maybe someone misread the tag. What side are the buttons on? Left’s for women.”

He flushes.

I just humiliated my owner. Merda.

“Of course, a lot of manufacturers aren’t holding to the gender conventions, these days,” I hear myself babble, fingertips burning in remembered pain from how vampires like punishing miscreants, though I’m too aware that I am wearing black and therefore am fair game to feed from as a blacksnack. “Maybe it was in the right section after all, just made to look like a girl shirt—”

“Kiss.” He grabs my hand as he refers to my old name, the name I had legally changed last year, to help me hide from my previous owner long enough to keep his baby from him.

We stand there in the parking garage, my current owner holding my hand, for a long moment.

I gulp. “Des,” I correct him, though I have no right to.

“Kiss,” he gently insists. Then he manually unlocks the car, tucks his arm under mine, and escorts me to the shotgun seat. How did I miss seeing a navy blue sedan? His mother taught me better than that.

He gets in, and we head to dinner. Minutes pass, and he doesn’t comment on my insulting him.

I watch the evening traffic outside the window and try not to think about how my flesh should be buzzing, right now, surrounded by all this iron. Should be.

Thanks to burning out my magic last week, it isn’t. No magic, and probably not even my immunity to magic. We haven’t exactly been eager to test that latter one.

We reach the restaurant, which is some weird word that I’m not even gonna try to pronounce. My English is good—essentially native, thanks to my mother—but it has its limits. “What’s this?”

“This world has space for all God’s creatures, beside the mashed potatoes.”

Um, “What?”

Ambrogino smiles, showing fang. “This restaurant’s slogan.”

I take a moment to process that. “Caspita.” With all the animal rights groups around, that takes some nerve. “Sounds like a guy place.”

“Thank you.” He studies the parking lot before bowing graciously and assisting me out of the car. There’s a predatory sharpness to dark caramel-colored eyes, reminding me that however foppish he looks, he singlehandedly tracked down and ate his half-sister’s rapist.

Actually, he hunted and ate my kidnapper landlord, too, this past Friday.

A lot of my life right now stems from last week.

We enter the restaurant, claim the Romazzo reservation, and are seated at a spotless table. The waiter looks as though he’s done this awhile, and his black slacks and dress shirt are newer than my thrift store dress.

The waiter rattles off the introductions and today’s specials.

My mind goes full stop. “You serve kangaroo?!”

His smile says my reaction’s not entirely uncommon. “We do.”

I look at my padrone. “I gotta try that.”

Ambrogino’s lips quirk. “Without inquiring what it tastes like?”

“It’s meat. And it’s a marsupial. Doesn’t matter what it tastes like.” I wonder if Jordan ever eats here. Werewolves plus wild game has to be a winning combination, even for a seventeen-year-old wynwolf who doesn’t like bacon.

The waiter chuckles. “Can I get you anything to drink?”

“Tea—hot tea,” I hastily correct my order. Do not want sweet tea. Rock candy should be hard, thanks. “If you have it. Coffee if you don’t. Water either way.” Though the coffee served by most restaurants around here isn’t much better than the rock candy cold tea.

The waiter nods. “And for you, sir?”

“Water, with lime and without ice, please. A bottle of merlot. The ostrich fillet. And does this establishment recognize…?” He pulls a card out of his wallet and shows it to the man.

The waiter stiffens. “I’ll have to check with my manager. One moment, please.” He hurries off.

“Recognize what?” I ask.

Ambrogino pops his neck. “Magik law.”

The manager reaches our table, mumbles something I can’t hear well enough to make sense of.

My padrone waves him off. “Never mind. I have no desire to cause problems for you. Miss Walker can do without any merlot.”

I blink. “I didn’t order merlot.”

He raises his eyebrows. “I did.”

The manager and waiter disperse to their respective duties, and our waters arrive promptly. Ambrogino sips his. “Are you ready for finals?”

“Yes.” Okay, so that answer makes me sound like a jerk, since this is my first year of formal schooling since I was twelve, but it’s amazing what you can learn when you can either study schoolbooks or mull over what further torture will be coming that night.

That sadistic sorcerer I ticked off? He was my owner. And a werewolf.

Phantom knives slice my stomach from the inside.

“Kiss!”

I jerk and stare at Ambrogino towering over me. I look at my stinging arms and realize I’ve scratched myself. Again. “Um, oops?”

He gently takes my braceleted wrist and pulls my arm towards him across the table. He fishes a piece of ice from his glass and rubs the welts to soothe them.

My arms chill and numb, even while my cheeks burn. “I can tend myself.”

He merely raises an eyebrow and repeats the process for my other arm, lifting it slightly in demonstration of what happens when I take care of myself.

I sigh. “It’s not as if I nearly killed myself or anything.”

“No, you generally need your magic to accomplish that,” he murmurs.

Malandrino. So I’ve somehow fried myself with lightning. I yank my arms away from him. “I don’t have any magic, right now!”

“My point precisely,” he says calmly, ignoring my temper. “You need to learn to defend yourself without magic.”

Yeah, because mundane methods work so well against sorcerers. “With what? A gun?”

He frowns thoughtfully as the waiter puts our orders before us. “Good idea.”

Excuse me? “Che? I’m a druidess. Metal hurts me.” …When my magic’s working, at least.

“Making this the perfect time for you to learn things you otherwise would not be able to.”

“Who would teach me? You?”

He snorts. “Hardly. They are one weapon that my mother never taught me to use.” He takes a bite of his ostrich and swallows it with a sip of merlot. “Perhaps because she thinks them too obvious.”

“And a knife isn’t?”

Ambrogino shrugs. “Once you know how to use various types of blades, you can easily find something on site that will suffice as your knife.”

I cut my own kangaroo steak and skip the obvious example. “Like a fork.”

“Precisely. How is your kangaroo?”

I shrug and take a bite. Texture like pork loin, and the flavor’s good. “Why’s there pepper in the orange marinade?”

“The kangaroo naturally tastes peppery.” His dark golden-brown eyes are unfocused. He cuts another piece of his fillet and pushes his plate towards me without looking at it. “Try my ostrich.”

The bind-rune sigil buzzes on my back, warning me that I have to obey his orders, but I don’t think he meant that as one. No reason to remind him of the magic thing, though. “Fine.”

I take the offered bite, and he pulls his plate back and focuses on his own food. The ostrich tastes kinda like gamey lamb. Not bad, but I put a bite of my own meat on his plate before admitting, “I prefer the kangaroo.”

“Mmm.” Evidently his meal’s delicious enough to shut him up.

…Wait. He’s eating?

I stare. Yes, vampires eat. But I don’t often see this vampire eat. He isn’t going to gag himself in the bathroom afterwards, is he?

Ew. Is that how he stays so thin?

He pauses between sipping his wine and taking another bite of ostrich. “Yes?”

“Nothing.” If he were bulimic, Calandra would know, and she would never let him get away with it. She’s his younger half-sister, yes. But she hasn’t survived as the bastard daughter of a Court general without being steel-willed when it counts.

We finish eating. The waiter gives him the check without asking. Ambrogino pays via plastic and leaves a good tip on the table before we return outside. A large shadow passes overhead as we step into the parking lot.

“Did you enjoy your meal?”

How many times is he gonna ask the same question before he accepts my “Yeah. Grazie”?

He mutes his smile, but he nods in obvious pleasure. “Good.” He pulls the car keys out of his pocket and readies the keyless entry to unlock the car door.

Something slams into me, shoving me behind a car as something explodes like a firecracker. Fire lashes out, and metal bits rain down.

Kinda hard to breathe when it’s too hot and I’m being smooshed by something.

Someone. Ambrogino.

He adjusts to put his arms on the ground to bear his own weight, but he’s looking around. “Perdonami.”

Thank you, God, for breathing. Ribcage aches—sharply when I breathe deeply—but I don’t sense any damage. “Grazie,” I wheeze, and I bite back a squeak at the pain that stabs my chest.

He looks at me sharply, scrutinizing me with those dark golden eyes. He jumps up and drags me by the arms up the curb and into the bushes. I yelp.

“Breathe shallowly!” he murmurs.

I am. But that was bumpy, and my chest still hurts. I don’t sense any problems. Why does it—

Oh, merda. My magic’s gone. I can’t sense injuries, right now.

If I consider the pain and ignore that I’d usually be able to sense injuries and what they are, this does remind me of the times my baby’s dad cracked my ribs.

Folks have come out, used their cell phones, all that. But few drivers heed sirens around here, so it’ll be a few minutes before police or anybody can get through traffic. Ambrogino blocks the path of any who try to near me.

While he’s busy doing that, I carefully push myself up to sit and look around. Ahi, ow, and however you say that in Spanish for good measure.

I squint at the flames and pieces of car. “What happened?”

“Explosion,” he replies tersely, raising his voice enough for me to hear him, without speaking to the crowd at large.

Well, duh.

He absentmindedly adds, “A bomb, mayhaps.”

Right. Because that wasn’t obvious or anything. “You’re the only guy who says mayhaps, this century.”

Ambrogino intercepts an older woman who tries to come near. I can tell she’s probably mundane just because Magiks who age like that usually don’t survive to look that old.

The woman raises her hands placatingly. “I’m a first responder.”

“She’s—” He stops himself and gives me another searching glance.

I force a smile. “I’m fine.”

“You’d think that,” he murmurs, then coughs and shakes his head. I realize he’s covered in soot, and he’s gotten a few cuts from the shrapnel, himself. “Have you a copy of your certification?”

The lady pulls a card from her wallet. Ambrogino studies it with a swift thoroughness and with some repeats, indicating that he isn’t even sure what he’s looking for.

He ultimately shakes his head. “I would rather wait for EMS.”

“She could be seriously injured,” the lady insists, tone firm but polite.

He hands her card back with a sigh. “You may check her, but I don’t smell anything severe.”

With my magic gone, that’s right. I miss my scent façades. “I’m fine.”

“You do not have a good understanding of injury,” he tells me as the lady puts her card away. “Your mother spoilt you.”

Just because my mother could always heal or patch up injuries with magic doesn’t mean she did so. I did spend a few years owned by a sadistic werewolf sorcerer who would’ve ripped me to shreds if he’d known I could heal my own injuries.

Werewolves don’t like freaks for slaves. We’re too dangerous to the pack.

Do. Not. Scratch.

“Kiss!” He’s still watching the crowd more than me. “I cannot focus on you, right now. You believe you can help yourself. Please do so!”

My skin crawls, and pain flares on my back. I’m not that dirty. The itch is in my head. It’s all in my head.

The first responder introduces herself. Leah, I think, though she might’ve said Mia. She explains what she’s going to do before she does it, but I’m frankly more interested in breathing silently through the pain and watching my padrone’s stance.

God, help me. It’s not my fault the car blew up. Ambrogino won’t hit me. I know he won’t hit me.

Then why the heck am I terrified of him?!

…Because it is my fault. Blood sorcerers are crazy scary, and so is any Magik who’s survived a few centuries or more. The werewolf I used to belong to is both, so that makes him insanely terrifying. That might just be me and my conditioned body talking, but I don’t think so.

I destroyed my old master’s cozy life, last week. He’s insane and downright sadistic. You can’t expect me to believe he doesn’t want payback. He enslaved his own son with magic because Emilian refused to condone his father’s sins.

“Milosh,” I gasp.

“Possibly,” Ambrogino agrees. “Though I have my own enemies, as well.”

A familiar pair of men park nearby and get out of the car. They take up guard positions, which lets Ambrogino relax and dig out his cell phone. He sighs and shakes his head.

The werewolf standing near guard—Dickens, alpha of all werewolf packs in the continental US—offers Ambrogino his own cell. My padrone accepts it with a grateful nod and places a call.

Henrique, the usual near bodyguard for my friend Jordan, stands far guard, keeping watch for further threats. I scowl at him. “No.”

Dickens doesn’t look at me, but he doesn’t need to. He can hear me. “No?”

I squint at the back of Dickens’s head, since it’s polite to look at someone when you’re talking to them. “Not him.”

“Why not?” he asks, not sounding the slightest offended that I’m gainsaying his choice of bodyguard.

“I’ve seen Henrique ‘protect’ Jordan. All he does is stand around and play with his yo-yo all day. He’s easily distractible, magically ignorant, and all-around clueless. And his reflexes are terrible.”

Ambrogino snorts and apologizes who whoever he’s chattering to in Italian.

He has to apologize for getting distracted? “That isn’t your mother, is it?” He turns away from me but otherwise ignores the question. “No, padrone, non sua madre!” Please, not his mother.

He makes a polite farewell in Italian and hangs up. “As director of VAI, I am required to report any potential assassination attempt to the Council. My mother sits on that Council. Alerting her therefore suffices, and it allows her to at least feign that she cares what happens to me.”

And that’s precisely why he doesn’t need to talk to his mother. But no use crying over what can’t be changed. “I’m gonna have to heal from his the old-fashioned way, huh?”

That question gets me blank looks all around.

Ambrogino catches my meaning first. “The ‘old-fashioned way’ is magic, Kiss. Fewer of the general population are able to work magic than once could, due to founder effect and genetic bottlenecking.”

…Okay. Haven’t gotten to that point of biology class, yet. Or maybe that’s beyond a normal high school. Ambrogino’s already proven himself a chemistry geek, interfering with my homework. Figures that he’d be a biology nut, too. (Yes, I’m in chemistry and biology. Oh, the joy of exempting the only classes that are the same whether you’re a Magik or a human: geometry and algebra.)

“Whatever,” I say. “You know what I meant. No shaman.”

Ambrogino hesitates, then nods sharply, admitting that his bank account does have limits. Dickens doesn’t contest that, either.

Wow, the benefits of having a budget—one that doesn’t involve throwing thousands of dollars at a girl you haven’t seen in five years and likely will never see, again.

So Ambrogino has ended up my padrone, but still. He had no way of knowing, when he started tossing too-expensive gifts at me last week, that I’d end up his property.

EMS shows up first. Paramedics check me out, want to take me to the hospital, but my padrone won’t allow it. “No insult intended, but I cannot condone Miss Walker’s admission into a hospital. Is she safe to move?”

The lady paramedic wants to argue, but the guy evidently knows his share about Magiks. “Safe enough. Keep her braced. Those ribs will hurt. I recommend X-rays, to make sure nothing else is damaged. And both of you should get a tox screening.”

Ambrogino mildly studies the man, then offers a polite smile that shows his fangs.

The guy paramedic shrugs. “You should still get checked. You don’t know what might have been included in the bomb. It may have been vampire-oriented.”

His companion gives him a blank look. “Vampire?”

“He’s a vampire.”

Nice to meet a human who’s matter-of-fact about that kinda thing. For whatever reason, more folks in town believe in werewolves than they do in vampires, though vampires have been public for longer. Maybe the reasonable paramedic’s a feeder.

“His girlfriend’s doubtless something else,” the man adds.

Clueless paramedic gives me an incredulous look-over. “Girlfriend? I think we need to see some ID, here. There’s no way that girl is legal.”

The man rolls his eyes. “I highly doubt that Direttore Romazzo would risk his alliances by committing statutory rape.”

Ambrogino bows slightly in acknowledgement of the correct identification.

“Look, Frankie,” the paramedic continues. “Once magic enters the picture, everything you think you know about how people age has to go out the window. The girl could be five hundred.”

Frankie laughs in disbelief. “People can’t live that long.”

“Judge Giovani,” he says directly.

Ambrogino and I both give him sharp looks. I’m fairly certain that she isn’t public.

He notices our expressions and quickly backpedals. “At least, I mean, I think she is, with how young she looks, but she might not be.”

“She isn’t. She’s a midget,” Frankie cluelessly insists.

I snort and squeak. Merda. Can’t laugh. The centuries-old sorceress who was Shakespeare’s inspiration for his Juliet. A midget.

I try not to laugh and break into coughs. Ahi! But I wanna laugh!

“What are you?” I croak. Maybe he’s a Magik, after all. Not as though I can sense magic, right now.

“Pack child.”

I blink. Human kid of a werewolf other than the alpha. Should’ve guessed that, all the werewolves in town. I give Dickens a sidelong look, but he doesn’t acknowledge it. Nor has he acknowledged the paramedic who’s the son of someone in his pack.

Actually, the paramedic just called himself a pack child, not born of Dickens’s pack. Would there be a special term for that? I don’t even know what Dickens calls his pack. Nor his title as top werewolf of the US, for that matter. Everyone just calls him Dickens.

“What?” Frankie asks.

Her pack child colleague shakes his head and sighs. “Never mind.” He raises his hands and steps back. “Let’s go.”

The lady scowls. “Ron, the kid needs to go to the hospital.”

“And her guardian has refused to allow that. So, no.”

Her frown deepens. “Guardian? Thought he was the boyfriend.”

“He’s both.”

That has to be the most innocuous—and misleading—way of describing my relationship with my padrone that I’ve heard yet. But then, we haven’t had this relationship for all that long for anybody much to describe it.

I glance up at Ambrogino, who still studies me every so often, though he’s been trying to focus more on the crowd so he doesn’t seem worried about me, since his older sister or mother might end up recognizing who I used to be and all. Is this even a relationship?

After a few more barbs, EMS leaves. The fire department arrives and handles the flaming car. The restaurant’s management is all apologetic and bewildered, and Ambrogino tells them point-blank that he doubts the incident had anything to do with their establishment or the quality thereof. And he’s too fond of all God’s creatures to abandon the restaurant’s mashed potatoes.

The manager doesn’t seem all that reassured, glancing warily at me. So I give him my own input: “The kangaroo was delicious.”

The manager blinks at me and fumbles for words before managing to get out a professionally-worded ‘Thank you.’ He eyes me again, brow furrowed. “Are you sure that you don’t want to go to the hospital?”

I shrug slightly, so I don’t aggravate my ribs too much. “Yeah, ’cause I’m so human.”

Dickens gives Ambrogino an odd look.

Ambrogino rolls his eyes and shakes her head. “Miss Baros considers Magiks a separate entity from humans.”

Erm, “Walker.”

“Hmm?”

“I’m Destiny Walker, not…” His expression blanks, and I flinch. He won’t hit me. “Not Kismet Baros.” Not anymore.

“Baros,” Dickens repeats quietly, like the way folks do to remember something. A chill runs up my spine.

“Mi scusa,” my padrone apologizes for messing up my name, not that he has to. I’m his slave. Slaves don’t talk back to their masters.

Then why do I do it?

Police finally get here. The primary officer who comes over to us looks vaguely familiar, even in the way he flashes his badge. “Detective Müller.”

Müller, Müller… Oh! Right, the detective on the scene last week when—well, I’m not sure what happened exactly, because I blacked out, but I’m told I somehow fried myself and an attacker with lightning.

“Is Miss Walker well enough to be moved?” Detective Müller asks my padrone, showing that he’s up on the local legal issues. Er, up on Magik law, at least. It’s different enough from mundane that I’m sure cops have to specialize.

“The paramedic believes so,” he answers.

Detective Müller nods. “Come down to the station, then. I’ll give you a ride.”

Ambrogino picks me up before I can protest. I don’t squeak from my ribs. “Thank you,” he says to the detective.

Who nods again. “Don’t mention it.”

CHAPTER TWO

April 7, 2009 South Carolina, United States

“YOUDIDN’TNOTICEanything