Reap the Wind – Karen Chance

Okay, this was going to be easy. That wasn’t something I said very often, because my life is a lot of things, but easy has never been one of them. My name is Cassie Palmer, and I used to be a down-on-my-luck clairvoyant who made ends meet by reading tarot in a bar. But then stuff happened. A lot of stuff. A lot of hair-raising, spinetingling, unbelievably crazy and potentially deadly stuff. As a result, I was now a down-on-my-luck Pythia, the chief seer of the supernatural world. Yeah, I don’t know how that happened, either. But my no-good luck was about to change. Because my partner, who was currently lost in time, and who I’d been searching for for what felt like forever, was right across the room. And this time, nothing was going to go wrong. “This time, nothing is going to go wrong,” I said into my beer. The should-have-been-handsome-but-wasn’t-because-he-was-an-ass who was propping up the wall next to me didn’t answer. His shirt was open and he was poking at something on his stomach— presumably a bruise. I clenched my hand on my beer mug so I wouldn’t be tempted to add a few more.

“Did you hear me?” I demanded softly, trying not to call attention to us. Not that that seemed likely. The little dive in Amsterdam where we’d washed up was loud, and an especially raucous group had just blown in through the door. Along with a blast of cold air and icy slush that numbed my toes even through thick leather boots and added another layer of frost to my eyelashes. Apparently, central heating was not a thing in the 1790s. The smart people were over by the fire, which had managed to melt the slush around a small ring of chairs and a few stool-type things that I guess were supposed to be tables. Or beer holders, anyway. But we couldn’t join them and try to thaw out. Because the bar was by the fire and a halfdemon war mage named Pritkin was by the bar. He’d glanced around a few times since we’d come in, but hadn’t picked me out because my strawberry blond curls were hidden under a dark brown glamourie.

The same one that had changed my tip-tilted nose into a pug and fattened my already plump cheeks into chipmunk territory. It was not a great look for me, but since my reluctant partner had provided it, I’d decided it could be worse. I was sort of surprised he hadn’t given me warts. I wasn’t surprised that he hadn’t bothered to answer. Rosier might be Lord of all Incubi, the demon race known for being smooth, suave, and charming, but I didn’t get to see that side of him. No, I saw this side. The side that was poking at his hairy abdomen with a frown, as if the ring of bruises there was potentially life-threatening. If only, I thought, and kicked him. That won me a glare out of a stranger’s black eyes, because Rosier was wearing a glamourie, too. Normally, he shared the green eye color and rugged blond good looks of his son and our elusive target.

And nothing else. The stubborn sense of honor, the brutal honesty, and the iron discipline of the man I knew must have all come from Pritkin’s human side, because I’d yet to see a shred of them in his reprehensible father. “Why are you asking me?” the creature demanded, glowering at me from under greasy dark brown bangs. “I wasn’t the one who screwed up last time.” “You got mugged last time!” “You shouldn’t have left me alone,” he complained. “London is a dangerous city, doubly so in the Victorian age—” “You’re a demon lord! How the hell you managed to get beaten up—” “A demon lord without magic.” “—by a handful of street thugs who didn’t even have—wait. What?” He scowled at me. “Why do you think I’m carrying this?” he slapped the side of the leather man purse he’d brought along, because I guess incubi are more secure in their sexuality than most guys. Or maybe there was another reason.

He’d pulled the little patch out of it that had provided my glamourie earlier. I hadn’t stopped to wonder about it at the time, being too busy already wondering how to get into my multilayered Victorian outfit. But now it occurred to me that maybe a demon lord shouldn’t have to carry around his magic. And shouldn’t have the crap beaten out of him quite so easily. “In their infinite wisdom, the demon council decided to put a dam on my power,” he confirmed bitterly. “They worried about what I would do to some of them, back in time with both foreknowledge and magic intact. Not being able to deprive me of the former, they restricted the latter—something that becomes a problem when one is set upon by six huge brutes!” I didn’t waste time pointing out that it had been three the first time he told that story, because deflating his ego could wait. Something else couldn’t. “Then what about the counterspell?” I hissed. Rosier and I were putting up with each other because we had a common goal: to save his son from obliteration.

Pritkin’s twenty-first-century body was back where it belonged, and in decent shape despite being hit by a deadly curse. But only because it hadn’t been the target. His soul had. The demon spell had sent his spirit sliding back through the eras of his life, and would destroy it once it reached the beginning of what had been, thankfully, a very long existence. At least, it would unless we put the countercurse on him first. But that wasn’t my job. I’d done my job—flipping us through time after the wildly careening soul, which didn’t have anything like a steady, predictable path. It jumped here and there, like a piece of flotsam in the rapids, catching only occasionally on some bit of time’s shoreline before being snatched off again a few minutes later. And now the one person who could stop it was telling me he couldn’t cast the damned spell? “Of course I can,” Rosier said acidly, when I pointed this out. “They had to leave me that much, or what’s the use in my coming?” “Nothing as far as I can—” “But that’s the only one.

” I stared at him as his meaning sunk in. “You mean that’s the only spell you can do?” He gestured at his bruised ribs. “Obviously.” “But . but what if we run into trouble?” “Well, you’re a witch, aren’t you?” “No! No, I am not a witch! How many times do I have to—” A hand reached around my shoulders and clapped over my mouth. “Keep your voice down! That is not a popular word in this era.” I shut up, because he was right. And because I didn’t have a choice. And, eventually, Rosier decided to let me breathe again, but just so he could interrogate me. “What do you mean, you’re not a witch?” “I mean, I don’t do witch stuff,” I whispered.

“I do Pythia stuff. That’s why I have bodyguards!” Only there was a limit to how many people I could take along on my jaunts through time, since every person added to the already considerable strain. So I’d left my guards at home, assuming that a demon lord could protect me. Only to find out that he couldn’t even do that for himself. “What do we do if we’re attacked?” he demanded. “That’s what I just asked you!” “You couldn’t have mentioned this before?” “You told me to get us here and you’d take care of the rest!” “That was before I knew I was dealing with someone without even rudimentary—” He abruptly cut off. “What is it?” I glanced around nervously. But it wasn’t a witch-hunting posse coming for me with torches blazing. In fact, nothing of interest appeared to be happening at all. Just the bar’s alcoholic tabby winding around a few legs, looking for handouts, more icy rain lashing the windows, and a couple guys arguing over a game of dice.

And Pritkin chatting up one of the barmaids. I did a double take at that, because it wasn’t the sort of thing you saw every day. Or ever. The asshole beside me had seen to that. About a century ago, Rosier had had one of his intermittent bouts of fatherly enthusiasm, during which he usually managed to screw up his son’s life in a major way. That time, he’d decided he wanted Pritkin back in hell on a permanent basis. Not so much for the pleasure of his company as to use him as a pawn in his little power games. The fact that incubi gain power and influence through sex, and that this plan had therefore involved whoring his son out to the highest bidders, wasn’t thought of as a problem. Or probably thought of at all, since incubi have to feed to live anyway. So obliging other demons merely meant a two-way power exchange for them, with a little added influence for the pimp-in-chief.

At least, it did unless you were Pritkin. Who, as half human, could live off pizza like the rest of us. And who’d had this weird idea that there might be more to life. Long story short, he’d ended up being allowed to stay on earth, but only for as long as he could handle complete abstinence— something that, for most incubi, was considered the same as constant torture. Rosier assumed he’d have his son back inside a month. He was still waiting. As a result, when I met the stubborn cuss known as John Pritkin, he’d been that strangest of strange creatures: a celibate incubus. So it was more than a little odd to watch him flirting with a buxom blonde who was trying her best to fall out of a low-cut blouse. It looked like barmaids dressing for tips wasn’t a new concept, I thought, scowling. And then a mug was shoved in my face.

“Here,” Rosier told me abruptly. “I need a refill.” “So? What do you expect me to do about it?” “Get me another!” “With what? You were mugged, remember?” He’d charmed the first round out of the other barmaid somehow, but that sort of thing wasn’t in my repertoire. Besides, I still had beer. “Do you usually pay for your own drinks?” “No, but that’s in—what are you doing?” I demanded, as he started unbuttoning the top of my prim little shirtwaist. “Advertising.” I slapped his hand away. “Advertise yourself!” “I’m not his type.” “His—” I stopped, staring at Rosier. “We need to get him alone,” the demon said impatiently.

“And distracted. Can you think of a better way?” “I can’t think of too many worse ones,” I said, clutching my top to stop Rosier from looking down my shirt. “And anyway, that sort of thing doesn’t work on Pritkin.” “Doesn’t work on your version,” he corrected, wiping something off my cheek. “But this isn’t the man you know, and this one didn’t come in here for a drink. He came in for a meal.” “But this place doesn’t serve—” I broke off at the look Rosier was sending me. “Oh.” That type of meal. “Hurry,” Rosier said, stealing my beer.

“It looks like he’s already found the first course.” I looked back at the bar to see that, sure enough, Pritkin was being led off somewhere by the blonde. I felt my face flush. I thought he’d have better taste. And then Rosier gave me what could only be called a shove, sending me stumbling into the middle of the room. I might have returned the favor, but he was right, damn him. We couldn’t just de-hex Pritkin from across the bar, however nice that sounded. That’s what had tripped us up in London. I’d left the poor, unprotected demon lord at the mercy of the city’s murderous brutes in order to play damsel in distress. Or at least damsel in need of some directions.

Pritkin had gone sauntering by the alley where we’d popped in, and I’d run after him to lure him back so Rosier could zap him, although not with the counterspell. We’d planned to knock him out and wait—until his eyes glowed neon green with a double dose of soul energy behind them. We’d showed up in London to get ahead of the hexed spirit, because hitting him with the counterspell before it arrived wouldn’t help. And, knowing Pritkin, would probably get us hit back. So unconscious it had had to be. Or distracted, although that sort of thing was more daunting for me than for a horny demon lord. I looked back to see Rosier shooing at me, with an expression of utter disgust on his face. Whatever. I started winding my way through the low, bench-like tables, nervousness gnawing at my gut. Sure, Rosier wouldn’t have a problem seducing somebody into doing what he wanted.

It was practically his job description. But it wasn’t mine, and the whole thing was uncomfortable in ways I didn’t want to think about right now. Like some of the things Pritkin had said recently, after he’d had his father’s prohibition lifted, but before he’d gotten zapped with the curse. Things I had probably misinterpreted. Things that, even if I hadn’t misinterpreted, weren’t going anywhere, because my personal life was even more complicated than my job. And wasn’t that saying something? I stopped in front of a tattered curtain leading to what I guessed was the back of the bar. And then just stayed there, chewing my lip and trying to come up with a better plan. Because this one wasn’t going to work. I wasn’t one of Rosier’s succubi, some experienced femme fatale. Hell, I wasn’t even a femme slightly nauseous.

I was a time-traveling, ghost-whispering, somewhat clumsy clairvoyant, with an upturned nose, too many freckles and cheeks nobody would call defined even without Rosier’s idea of a disguise. I wouldn’t have been competition for Dolly Parton in there on my best day. But I had to come up with something. Enough to keep Pritkin in sight, at least. Otherwise, if his soul came and went while he was in the back, we might never know it. And that would be a problem, since we were fast running out of time before— And then I was out. The curtain was abruptly thrown back and the blonde emerged with a giggle and a wink, tucking something down the front of her front. Wow, I thought, faintly disappointed. That hadn’t taken long. And then I was being jerked through the door by a furious war mage.

“You!” “What?” I asked stupidly. And then three things happened at once. The outer room went suddenly silent, a knife blade bit into the skin of my throat, and the barmaid came back through the curtain, smirking at me. And then continued doing so as she toppled over, stiff as a blond-haired mannequin. And hit the floor, bouncing on her considerable padding off to the side. Pritkin and I stared down at her for a moment, at her glassy eyes and messy hair and still-leering face. Which was more than a little creepy, since she was now leering at my left boot. And then we looked at each other. “What did you do?” we demanded, at the same time. “What?” we said again.

And then “Stop that!” And Pritkin did. But only so he could grab me and snarl: “It’s here, isn’t it?” “Wh-what’s here?” I asked, as he backed me into a wall with no effort at all. Because I’ve always found a knife over my jugular to be really persuasive. “Don’t play games,” he hissed. I started to swallow and then stopped, afraid I’d push the blade in more. Of course, that might not matter. Since one glance at the frozen girl told me I had bigger problems than a pissed-off war mage. There are spells that can render a person unconscious just that fast, but they wouldn’t leave her with one hand raised, adjusting a bit of material over the assets between her assets. Or cause her skirts to be stuck in a swirl, like around moving legs. Or make stray bits of her hair stay suspended in air that was no longer flowing.

She looked like someone had called her name right after she’d come out of the back, and she’d turned toward them, professional grin already in place. Only to freeze halfway through the motion and come tumbling back in here. She looked like a frame cut out of a movie, which would have been weird if I hadn’t seen that sort of thing before. “You know,” I told him nervously, “I’ve never felt less like a game in my—” “What you stole from me!” he yelled, making me flinch. And freak out, since I wasn’t sure I hadn’t just slit my own throat. And then a voice came from the outer room. “In back! Check it out.” Pritkin and I froze, stiff as the girl on the floor. I don’t know what his reasoning was, but mine ran something like: crap. That command had been in English, which was weird enough considering where we were.

But not as much as hearing it in imperious female tones, in a place where women were tolerated only if they were with a man or serving drinks. It can’t be, I told myself sternly. You’re just being paranoid. Even your luck isn’t that— And then the curtain was flung back and Pritkin let go of me to face off with . two little girls? That’s what they looked like at first glance, two teenagers wearing long, white gowns, their red and brown curls held back with ribbons from their innocent faces. But I knew the drill, I knew the goddamned uniform, and innocent they weren’t. “Oh, shit,” I said, causing the brunette’s head to jerk up. Her hand followed the motion a second later, but I’d expected that and already thrown myself at the floor, jerking Pritkin down with me. As a result, the time wave she threw rippled overhead, missing us by inches. And hit something to our rear that collapsed in a cacophony of rusty metal and shattering glass that I didn’t see because I was busy.

Freezing two Pythian acolytes in place before they could do the same to me. It was lucky I was already on my hands and knees, because the power drain of stopping time was immediate and terrible, especially after flipping through the damn stuff all day. If “day” even meant anything anymore, which I wasn’t sure it did, I was just sure I was going to throw up. And then Pritkin grabbed me again. “Where is it?” Dear God, he was single-minded, I thought, trying to crawl off. I’d forgotten that, somehow. Although I was remembering as he dragged me back to my feet and shook me. I caught sight of myself—red face, tumbled blond curls, startled blue eyes—in some brass platters hanging on the wall. And damn Rosier! He must have taken off the unflattering glamourie when he sent me after his son, and hadn’t bothered to mention it. Well, that explained my reception, anyway.

My Pritkin might not be here yet, but this one . well, we’d met before. To be precise, we’d met in 1793 on one of my previous time jaunts, which had been barely a year ago from his perspective. It was why I’d needed the glamourie. Okay, and because the last time we’d met, I’d made like one of Rosier’s street toughs and mugged him. It hadn’t been intentional—all right, it had been, but it was for his own good. He’d been looking for something he absolutely couldn’t be allowed to find, and he’d had a map on him to its location, and, well, I’d had no choice but to take it. And strip him and steal his clothes. And get him beaten up by a vampire. And then there was the small matter of burning the only map that led to the location of his most prized possession, so, yeah, I probably wasn’t his favorite person just now.

But I had one big advantage. “I’m n-not t-trying to k-kill you,” I told him, pointing at the girls. “They are!” It wasn’t a lie. Because the frozen barmaid, and the time wave, and the girls’ prim little outfits all added up to one thing. One very, very bad thing. And if there was about to be a time battle in here, I didn’t want him anywhere near it. “You have to go,” I told him frantically, when he finally stopped shaking me. But Pritkin didn’t go. He just stood there, looking bemused, as I tried my best to push him out the back door. “Why?” “Because .

there are some . people . after me and . goddamnit!” The guy weighed a freaking ton. Green eyes narrowed. “Perhaps we could work out an arrangement—” “No! No, we can’t!” “Give me what I want, and I will help—” “You can’t help me with this. It’s . new magic,” I said, thinking fast. “Really new. Like super new.

” Pritkin frowned, but he didn’t call me on the lie, maybe because he couldn’t. This Pritkin wasn’t the spell master of my day, when there were few enchantments he didn’t know or hadn’t invented. This one was just back from an extended jaunt in hell, and was therefore out of the loop as far as magical theory went. Way out. It was why he’d lost the property he was trying to recover from me to a couple of lowend scam artists who didn’t have as much magic in their whole bodies as he did in his little finger. But knowledge is power, and they’d known stuff he didn’t. I could almost see the thoughts running through his head, but he still wasn’t moving. And that was a problem since he was half again as heavy as me and most of that was muscle. But I was determined, because we didn’t have a lot of time. And then we had less, when he glanced at the curtain and then at me, and I suddenly found myself up against the wall again.

But this time, the knife was nowhere in sight. “No, see—” I managed to say, right before a hard mouth came down on mine.

.

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