I was burned at the stake when I was fourteen years old. At nineteen, I was dissected by a zealot “physician” who knew less than a pile of cow shit about medicine. I was drowned in a lake when I was twenty-four. At twenty-seven, I was stoned in a public square.
When I was thirty—long after I quit aging—I finally got smart. If I stopped helping people, if I stopped trying to save the humans who were so ungrateful for my assistance, no one would know what I could do. I wouldn’t hear the word “witch” from the lips of men who didn’t know the first thing about me.
Sure, it meant more people would die, but with as many times as I’d been “killed” for my gift, they deserved it.
I made rules—ways of hiding in plain sight.
One: never, ever, on literal pain of death, live in a small town. There is no hiding there, no way to keep nosy people out of your business. Also, when the town magistrate happens to go “missing,” they are going to look at the strange girl who keeps to herself. Yes, I killed him, and no, I’m not sorry.
He deserved it.
Two: no matter how much I may want to, don’t cast in public. It doesn’t matter if some asshole parent is beating their kid, mistreating their dog, or driving like a blind monkey on uppers. Don’t do it. Memory spells are slippery and difficult to execute.
Three: Don’t talk about history or politics with people. You run the risk of talking about the French Revolution as if you were actually there (I was), and then some jerkoff history buff—who swears by the books he so ardently clings to—starts getting nosy. It’s bad news all around.
I remind myself of my rules—especially rule two—as I walk the dark and rather dirty streets of Denver’s warehouse district. While I suppose I could get scolded for being a beautiful woman walking alone at night in a big city in a decidedly seedy part of town, I just don’t give a fuck. I wasn’t leaving my cherry-red Chevelle anywhere but in a highly secure parking garage, even with the three-block walk on five-inch spiked heels. And I’d break rule two in a heartbeat if a man—or woman, I’m equal opportunity—came at me in this part of town. Like the shady-looking fellow giving me the “V” sign as he adjusts his crotch, his tongue waggling through his fingers like some sort of deranged animal.
I contemplate just what I could turn him into. A trash barrel, or maybe a port-a-john, or even a mailbox. Transmogrification spells aren’t too hard if you’re working with something of equal mass. All it would take is a snap of my fingers and the right words in Latin.
My plans are derailed by my phone ringing in my clutch. Lucky prick.
Someone just saved your life, pal.
I fish the slim, yet annoying device from the creamy pink satin of my bag and answer it.
“You just saved someone’s life and ruined my fun. I hope you know I’m going to make the next tattoo I do on you hurt,” I grouse, stomping my way down the cracked sidewalk toward my destination.
“No, you won’t,” Aurelia says, “and sweetheart, if you could make me feel pain, I’d lick your freaking pumps. Why are you planning murder?”
Aurelia Constantine has been one of my best friends for the better part of a century. We bonded over being cast out of our respective families and our mutual love of tattoos—me giving them, and Ari receiving them. Aurelia is a phoenix—like, no shit, flaming-wings-and-everything phoenix. I, on the other hand, am something altogether different.
“Some jackoff is making a rude gesture at me. Speaking of, what would be a worse fate? Life as a port-a-john or trashcan? I can see significant downsides to both,” I muse, my fingertips itching to snap.
“Stop plotting the silly human’s demise for a minute. Are you coming to my wedding or not, woman? You keep flip-flopping and I can’t see what you’re going to do.” Aurelia is a rare and powerful psychic, and newly crowned leader, along with her twin, Mena of the American Phoenix Legion, and if she can’t see what I’m going to decide, it really must be up in the air.
In all honesty, I can’t see myself—a Rogue witch—hobnobbing with all of the powerful Ethereal leaders that will deign to be there. It sounds like a sure-fire way to get myself thrown in a dark hole somewhere to never be heard from again.
Yeah, I don’t think so.
“I feel horrible, but I don’t think I’m going to be able to make it, babe. It seems too risky. All it takes is one coven leader to be there, and then I’ll be carted off to some dank hole in the ground praying to die. I really want to be there, but…” I trail off, unwilling to disappoint one of the few people who has made this long, lonely life somewhat bearable.
“I get it, sweetie. Don’t beat yourself up. You still planning on coming to the bachelorette party? Evan is cooking up something weird and probably hilarious as hell.”
Evangeline Carmichael, Queen Wraith and all-around pixie badass, is an odd duck but a hilarious one. Whatever she’s planning for a bachelorette party is sure to be a smashing success.
“This, I can do. You swear you’re not upset?” It isn’t every day that one of your besties gets married—even though technically this is her second wedding, and she has been bound to her husband Rhys for the better part of two centuries.
“Darling girl, if there was anyone in this world who understood hiding out, it would be me. No worries. I’ll see you in a few days.”
“You’re bringing the twins into the shop, right? I need to squeeze those little balls of baby goodness.”
Aurelia’s twins, Henry and Olivia, are a solid bright spot in my life. I can’t wait to see them grow up. There isn’t anything in the world I wouldn’t do to keep them safe.
“Yes, if I can get Rhys to tone down the bodyguard detail. Oh, shit! I need to go, babe. Henry is hungry, and if Rhys picks him up, well…” She trails off. Her son Henry inherited some of the Constantine family traits. Namely the Aegis ability—one which shields and electrocutes anything within a ten-foot radius. I foresee his toddler years to be pure hell.
“Okay, babe. Have fun with that,” I say as I disconnect, picking up the pace on my black suede peep-toes on the uneven sidewalk. If I wreck these shoes, I will murder Striker on principle.
Striker Voss is my business partner and other best friend. And his ignorant ass convinced me to get dressed up and meet him out here in the ass end of nowhere to get into an exclusive club. How Strike managed to get a plus-one, I’m not sure, and with his abilities, I probably don’t want to know.
But here I am in what I think is the perfect club number—a royal-blue velvet, off-the-shoulder wiggle dress from the ’50s. The gathered bust and tulip-style pencil skirt make it classy and racy. Plus, the three-quarter sleeves show off a hint of my tattoos—just enough to keep people guessing—and the blue of the dress compliments the freshly dyed indigo of my hair.
The nearly silent purr of the engine pulling up next to me yanks my eyes from my feet and my awareness from the man across the street. The whir of a window lowering is followed closely by Striker’s low whistle. He pulls into a parking lot a hundred feet down the road, and exits his Tesla Roadster like he’s a model strutting down a runway.
Striker is beautiful in a way that is almost unearthly. Wavy blond, shoulder-length hair, cheekbones sharp enough to cut glass, a jaw dreams were made of, and a pair of lips I know for a fact are just as soft and yet just as firm as one would hope them to be. Eyelashes that would make a model weep brush his cheekbones as he blinks, and I swear, if I didn’t already know we weren’t compatible in bed, I would hold him hostage and drain him dry.
But I do know how incompatible we are. Margaritas plus an unfortunate anniversary, equaled a solid degeneration to straight tequila and a rather fumbling night together in the 1940s. Striker is a giver—given his species, it’s understandable—but in bed, I need a taker. He couldn’t be a taker if I held a gun to his head, thus, no more naughty times with Striker. It was awkward for about two seconds until we both laughed about it and moved the fuck on with our lives.
Living as long as we do, little things like sleeping with your best friend tend to get swept under the rug. What doesn’t get swept away is the dick move of dragging me out into the middle of stab-central in a club dress.
“Yeah, I know I look good. Could you pretty please tell me why you dragged me out here? I almost turned a thug into a port-a-john for Fate’s sake.”
Typically, Striker is the one bitching about something, but tonight my back is sore from hunching over one body part or another, inking fresh designs on smooth skin. I love my shop, love my job, but nights like tonight, I’d rather soak in my garden tub and drink a big old glass of wine than go out to this club Strike’s been raving about for the last five years.
“All in good time. I swore I would take you to the hottest club in town, but before we go in, there are rules.”
Rules, my fabulous ass. What am I, nine?
“I’m nearly four hundred years old, Strike. Not, in fact, the teenager you are treating me as.”
Striker gives me the raised eyebrow of impatience and carries on. “As I was saying. Let me open the door for you. Only members can access the building. Don’t pay the bartender. Drinks are free and they work for tips only. Do not hand him money, put it in the tip jar. If he touches you, he’ll know you’re not a member and that is bad news all around. Try and stick to my booth when we get in, and for Fate’s sake, do not go on the dance floor. It’s like a Roman fucking orgy in there. I plan on sticking to you like glue, but if we get separated, be careful. I swear this place is pure shenanigans. It’s like the witches took a look at Fae clubs and decided to go one bigger. Ugh. Like they can compete with Fae clubs.”
This rigmarole tells me something hinky is going on. Wait a minute…
“You don’t have a plus-one at all, do you? You’re sneaking me in? Have you lost your damn mind?”
I may not have ever been to a witch club, but I know enough about them to know only accepted coven members are allowed admittance for one, and two, they have a rule about no Rogues. Striker assured me he could get me into the local club since he had an in.
“You know me, it’s better to ask for forgiveness, blah, blah, blah. Just come on. Have I ever steered you wrong?” he asks as he pulls me by the elbow.
“Yes. Several times in the last century, fucker.”
“Okay, but”—He pauses, opening the creaky warehouse door which seems to have appeared out of nowhere—“look at this place.”
Striker is about to get me in a world of trouble, I just know it.