Hell’s Spells – Devon Monk

IT WAS THURSDAY MORNİNG, and I needed to hit the road to pick up the mail for the gods. Usually I liked getting out of town. Not today. “Is it me?” I asked the dragon pig, who was curled up on my bedroom floor. The hoard of clean socks it had gathered over the last few weeks—none of them belonging to me or my boyfriend, Ryder Bailey—stuck out from under it. The dragon pig grunted without opening its eyes. I pulled a shirt over my tank top—early October meant layers—stuck my badge on my pocket, and nudged the little pink critter with the toe of my boot. “Hey, are you listening?” It rolled, four stubby legs in the air, round belly exposed, ears flopping back. Those button eyes glittered with a warning flash of fire. “It’s not just my imagination, right?” I lifted the box of aluminum foil off my dresser and waved it in the air. The dragon pig’s gaze sharpened. It scrambled up to sit, curly tail wagging. “You see it too, right? Ryder dashing out of the house every day as fast as he can?” I ripped off a length of foil and wadded it into a little ball. The dragon pig tracked my every move, eyes on the prize. “Out of the house early every morning, home late every night.

He’s avoiding me.” I paused. I knew what that sounded like. It sounded like he was hiding something. I could feel it. Something between us was about to change. I groaned. “I don’t want to fight,” I said. “I don’t want this, any of this, to change.” To end.

I blew out a breath and stared at the ceiling for a few seconds. “He’s hiding something,” I said to the ceiling. Maybe I was overreacting. Ryder hadn’t told me he wanted to break up. He hadn’t picked a fight, hadn’t said he needed a change. What I needed was to talk to him. Really talk to him. Find out if we’d taken a wrong turn, and if we could backtrack and make it right again. We were new at the relationship thing. It was okay if we made mistakes.

But today I had to pick up god mail, then there was the High Tea Tide event Bertie was throwing on Saturday. “We could take the weekend and just talk. That would work right?” The dragon pig grunted. It was standing now, little mouth open in a happy smile, and I choked on a laugh. “Well, I can see I’m loved for my aluminum foil treats. Flame on.” I tossed the ball in the air, and the dragon pig waited until it fell off the apex. Then it blew a short, white-hot burst of flame, frying the metal to a black marshmallow crinkle. The dragon pig caught the ball and crunched it with happy grunts. I ripped off another strip.

Wadded. “One more, then we’ll get mail.” The dragon pig hopped up on its back legs, flamed the tinfoil ball, and snapped it out of the air with a happy little growl. I grabbed my holster, keys, and a rubber band so I could pull my hair back in a pony, then headed down the stairs, the dragon pig on my heels. Ryder was already at the kitchen island, his plate empty except for crumbs, his travel mug and thermos staged on the counter. It still hit me in unexpected moments. How much I loved having him in my mornings, my days, my life. How his hair, dark with layers of copper and gold felt between my fingers when we were curled up together on the couch. How his mossy eyes went soft when we kissed, how that wicked smile of his popped dimples in his cheeks. I’d watched him grow up from a boy to a man.

I’d loved him every step of the way. There was going to be no breaking up with him if I could help it. I inhaled, exhaled, and put on a smile. “You’re up early,” I said as I padded into the room. Spud, Ryder’s half chow, half border collie doofus of a dog, came over from where he’d been sniffing around for toast bits and sat in front of me. I gave him a good scratching behind the ear and a face rub. “Morning, Spuddo. Where’s my toy?” He wagged and wiggled, then bounded off toward his box of toys by the fireplace. “Morning, Delaney.” Ryder stood and pulled his coat from the back of his chair, the timing of his escape carefully planned.

“Busy day?” I nodded toward the thermos and coffee. He had the good grace to look at his travel mug a little guiltily. “This build is a pain in my ass. No one can get their damn act together. If I’m not there, I’m going to get fined and sued for half a dozen code violations.” “Sure,” I said, walking toward him. He hadn’t looked up, his gaze and hands going to the zipper on his Carhartt jacket. The problem with knowing a person for almost your entire life is that they can’t hide what they’re feeling. Not really. Not for long.

He was nervous. I stopped in front of him and there was this moment where we were both waiting for the other to reach out. Time hung suspended. Then he turned toward me, almost unconsciously, smoothly, like we’d been this way all our lives, like we’d always been. Together. His arms lifted, and those eyes, the shadow green of a forest in winter, came up to meet my gaze. The question lingered between us. Were we still good? Should we be worried? Should we talk? Just like every morning for the last month, I moved forward into him, needing contact. Needing to tell him with my body what I couldn’t say with my words yet. We were good.

We were everything. We fit, our arms finding their familiar positions, my head turned sideways so I could smell the sweet sawdust and deep woodsy notes of his soap mixed with that scent that was his, only his. I inhaled deeply, and he tipped his face down, burying his nose in my hair. I felt him inhale, exhale, felt his arms shift and tighten, as if he didn’t want to go. Didn’t want to let me go. “Miss you,” I mumbled. He hummed. “Build’s not gonna last forever.” Spud arrived and bumped his head between us, trying to wedge his way in with whichever stuffy he had clamped in his mouth. I could feel Ryder’s smile.

“I’ll be home late,” he said, letting me go and moving toward his coffee in one smooth move, eyes averted again. He snapped his fingers for Spud, who dropped the toy donut I’d bought him for his birthday at my feet. The dog rushed over to Ryder. “I’ll be out of town today,” I said. “God mail?” Thermos in one hand, travel mug in the other, he was already halfway to the door. “Yup. Thursday,” I said. “Do you want to meet for lunch?” He stopped. “I’m meeting with the…investor today. Sorry, Laney.

Raincheck?” He looked back at me. Hopeful and apologetic. He was hiding something. “Raincheck,” I agreed. “Sorry, baby,” he said, emotion punching each word. “We need to talk,” I said. “When you have time.” “Yeah,” he said. “Sure. As soon as this job stabilizes, we’ll talk.

I promise. It shouldn’t be too much longer.” He and Spud were out the door so fast, I couldn’t have said a word if I’d tried. I pressed cool fingers against my eyelids, let out a slow breath, then picked up Ryder’s plate, took it to the kitchen, and found a note on the coffee pot. “Full pot. Omelette in the oven.” He’d drawn a little heart on the note. I stared at that heart for a long time. Then I carefully folded the paper and dropped it in the drawer with all the other morning notes. C H A P T E R T W O I HADN’T EXPECTED the werewolf blockade.

I slowed my Jeep on the narrow, two-lane highway just outside Otis and turned down the radio. A dozen members of the Wolfe family, all wearing flannel and denim, stood on the sides of the road talking to cars stopped on the shoulder. It looked like they were handing out flyers. “What are they doing?” The dragon pig, in the passenger seat next to me, grunted and propped its feet up on the window, its too-hot breath steaming little circles against it. “Chief?” A knock on my window followed, so I rolled it down and came face to face with Jame Wolfe. Jame was a good-looking guy. Built like a cement truck, he was a firefighter who also put his lycan strength into helping out with the gravel business his family owned. He and Ben had caused quite the stir in Ordinary because werewolves and vampires usually didn’t get along, much less dated. I thought there might be wedding bells in their future, and for one unreasonable moment, I was insanely jealous. Jame’s heavy eyebrows went up.

I knew he heard the spike in my heartbeat and the rush of heat through my body. He’d be able to smell jealously, no matter how brief, and I was embarrassed about that. Which he’d probably be able to smell too. “All good, Chief?” His strong hand gripped the top of the door, but he gave me a puzzled smile. “How’s Ben?” “Still gay. Why? Tired of Ryder?” The smile was teasing, but his nostrils were wide. He smelled emotions on me. I sighed. “I am not after your boyfriend, for gods’ sake. And before you get nosey, we’re fine.

Ryder and I are fine. Every relationship has its ups and downs. We’re in a…” I lifted my hand and did a flat wavy motion that was supposed to mimic a roller coaster. He could smell uncertainty, even though I worked to keep it out of my tone, out of my body language. “Uh-huh.” He glanced at the interior of my car, spotted the dragon pig, then focused on me again. “You’ve been acting different lately, Chief.” Blunt. That was another trait of most werewolves. “I keep thinking you’re dealing with,” he took a moment to inhale, his eyes narrowing, “something you want to hide.

” “One, stop sniffing up in my business. Two, I’m not hiding anything. Three, now’s the time to give me a good explanation for why your crew is blocking traffic.” “We’re not blocking traffic, just catching a few cars coming in and out of Ordinary.” “I can see that.” I nodded toward the two cars and one motorcycle stopped on the shoulder, the driver of each vehicle being addressed by someone from the Wolfe pack. “Why?” “We’ve been robbed.” “What? What’s missing? When did this happen? And who’s ‘we’?” I threw on my lights, unbuckled my seat belt. He stepped back to give me room to get out of the car. “Here?” I scanned the area.

Otis Junction was a tiny blip of a place. On one side of the road stood a diner that sat twelve people, max. The other side of the road offered a gas station and corn dog stand. Kitty-corner to that was a swampy field where the occasional flea market and swap meet broke out during the summer months. Not exactly a spot where I’d expect a robbery. “Not here.” He held up a flyer, and I took it from him. “This. It was stolen. Early this morning.

From the office at the pit.” The carving of a pack of wolves was familiar. Beautifully made out of one knotted and gnarled burl, it was old, the curves and dips of wood darkened by years of hands touching it. Those wolves almost fully free of the burl were carved fine and elegant: exquisite. The ones hidden within the rugged knots of wood, were howling and wild. But it was the small black wolf in the center of the carving that really drew the eye. That wolf looked like it could move at any moment, come alive and shake off the wood surrounding it to run, to hunt. That small black wolf was Granny Wolfe, the matriarch of Ordinary’s pack. “Oh, Jame. The Heartwood?” I glanced up at him.

“I did a drive by last night, went through the pit.” “Why?” The word was drawn out, even. He tipped his head just a little, waiting. For a moment—just a split second—my mind went blank. Why had I been there so late? What was I doing driving around when I should have been home, in bed, asleep? Then that moment washed away, the doubt, the tiniest tick of panic, all gone almost faster than I could process. Jame was frowning now. The memories came back to me, though they seemed foggy, at a distance, as if I were seeing myself from the outside. “I saw a flicker of light through the office window where it shouldn’t be. I checked it out.” “And?” I pulled on memories that felt sticky and unclear.

Why was this so hard to remember? “No one was there. I couldn’t pin down exactly where the light had come from, but I tried the door. It was unlocked.” “Unlocked?” “No. Wait. It wasn’t unlocked.” I frowned. Something felt wrong about that. I had been there just hours ago, really. Drove the main area, checked the parking.

Got out of the car and checked the office. First, with my flashlight through the window, then I tried the handle. It had stayed shut, right? If it had been open, I would have gone inside. And I didn’t go inside. Had no memory of that. The only thing that had happened was I got out of the car, tried the door, got back in the car. Everything had been fine. Everything had been normal. “So which was it? Locked or unlocked?” he asked. “Locked.

” I met his steady gaze with one of my own. “I didn’t see anything missing. The Heartwood was on the mantel over the fireplace like it always is.” “You noticed it there, or thought it was there?” “Know.” “So you saw it there.” “I saw it there.” “On the mantel.” “On the mantel.” I smiled. “If you ever wanted to pitch in as a reserve officer, let me know.

You’ve got the calm, slightly intimidating demeanor down flat.”


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