The Kiss & The Killer – Melissa Marr

NO ONE HAD EVER ACCUSED New Orleanians of being subtle. Carnival season still launched with Twelfth Night, despite the draugr who were going to be noshing on the tourists. Much like drunken excess was inevitable, deaths and injuries of careless tourists were expected. The best we could do was be careful and warn the tourists who weren’t prepared for the biters. I watched out the window of my accidental fiancé’s car as we zipped through the city. Sometimes seeing the world this way made me wish for a life without walled cities and restrictions. I wanted to not worry about biters—but that was impossible with my genetic soup. It was a well-guarded secret most of the time, but I was half-draugr. Any blood tests to move into safer cities would expose me. Admittedly, I suspected that I would always love New Orleans better than anywhere else. The trouble was simply that knowing I couldn’t move to any other city rankled. Most cities—and all airlines and train stations—had blood tests, and those cities that didn’t have that still had temp checks at the gate of the city. I’d always been able to pass the temp checks, just a simple brief energy pull to make me warmer, but a few months ago, I was injected with venom. It was intended to be a murder, but I was half- draugr so it just .


woke that up more. Could I still get through the temp check? Had I lost that, too? I was like a cat with a closed door. I disliked rules and limits. I wanted to have the choice to move before ultimately admitting I was already where I belonged. This was home, and I wanted nowhere else long term. It would just be nice to have a choice. Right now, I was enjoying the ferocity of the decorations that were draped from balconies. No mild colors or modest sizes. New Orleans was larger than life in most things, and this was no exception. “Are you unwell, Geneviève?” Eli prompted. He was smart enough to realize that I was only this silent when I was feeling moodier than usual. A more rational man would avoid poking the proverbial bear. Luckily for me, Eli was not as rational as people thought the fae were. “I need a holiday away from here,” I admitted. Maybe this summer. Maybe in the fall.

Right now, I couldn’t leave the city even for a holiday. Carnival was deadly these days, so I patrolled to mitigate the stupidity of tourists. That wasn’t my job, but since I was one of the only people in the city fast enough and strong enough to stop a hungry biter, it was my avocation. Such speed was atypical for the living. The only other person strong enough and alive was driving the car. Eli. My fiancé. My partner. My friend. If I stared at his hair, I could see a universe I wanted desperately to touch. “Geneviève?” “Mmm.?” I watched him the way I suspect prey watches a predator. I was vulnerable —and not just my heart. Eli could overpower me. He could pin me.

It was a new and absurdly thrilling reality. But it wasn’t the only reason he had my knickers in a knot. His features were sharp, more cut glass than museum statue. His mouth was full and luscious, and the energy woven into his very fiber had called to me since the moment we’d first met. His magic called to my own like we were made to be together. His skin held the kind of energy that felt like electricity. “You’re staring at me, bonbon.” I sighed. “You’re supposed to pretend not to notice when I stare.” “Is that a witch tradition I am unfamiliar with?” he teased. “The fae do try to follow traditions.” He glanced at me with the half-smile that made me want to pounce on him and asked, “Is there something you need, Geneviève?” I was saved from replying that far-too-loaded question when I felt my phone buzz. NEW ORLEANS POLİCE DEPARTMENT. I declined the call but reached out and turned down the car radio. “NOPD,” I said.

“Ought you answer?” “Maybe,” I allowed. He didn’t remark that I’d already turned down the radio. We both knew they’d likely call again, and eventually, I’d answer. Satisfying my curiosity was irresistible to me sooner or later. Eli cut off the music. He strongly believed in everything being the best possible quality, so the car stereo had been blasting some medieval sounding band that refused to play in my hometown on account of not wanting to get eaten by draugr. They weren’t meant to be played quietly. Honestly, I was trying to justify a trip to see them live. Maybe that was going to be my holiday plan? Of course, that meant going on a trip with Eli—and that held levels of commitment I was not prepared for yet. Maybe ever. Couple trips weren’t my thing. And any sort of holiday meant abandoning my post, which wasn’t a thing I could do easily. Maybe it was guilt, but I felt an obligation to New Orleans. She was mine, and I protected her people. These days, people either moved to walled cities with no-fanger rules or learned to coexist.

I coexisted with a generous side order of magic and swords— and the police tolerated it because, well, they thought I was “just a witch.” I liked it that way. My relationship with the police was that I called to report “mysteriously beheaded” draugr, and they stressed that I was not a sanctioned officer and should not behead anything. But no one asked too many questions. They rarely—if ever—called me. It rang again; I declined again. “Have you decapitated anyone interesting of late, Buttercream?” Eli asked, looking at me longer than was strictly safe while driving. “Threatened any influential tourists?” “Not that I know of.” I met Eli’s curious gaze—although he ought to be watching the road. He was the sort of driver who would terrify a calmer person, but fae reflexes likely meant he could stare at me and still drive better than most people. He looked away and his little blue convertible moved with a near-silent engine as we raced through the city. When the phone rang again, I saw “Gary Broussard” on my ID. I might not answer for NOPD, but Gary was my friend. “What’s it take to get you to answer your phone, Gen?” he grumbled. “Are you okay?” I asked in lieu of politer greetings.

Gary was a sort of father-stand-in for me, sparking more of a paternal affection in me than anyone else ever had. “Are you in the hospital? Should I—” “No.” He laughed. “Bulletproof, kid. I’m bulletproof thanks to you.” “Why the call, then? I don’t think I broke any major laws today . ” I hedged. “Got a job for you.” “A what?” “J-o-b, kid. That thing where you do something, and get paid for it.” Gary sounded like he was trying not to laugh. “I’m not really NOPD material, Gary, and raising witnesses is iffy business. People aren’t reliable even when they’re alive. Plus, I work best on my own. It’s safer and—” “Freelance.

Take a breath, Crowe.” “So raising the dead? For . you? Or the department?” I glanced out the window, watched the increasing darkness. No foot traffic remained on the side streets in the Central Business District once dark fell. “No raising. Freelance killing dead things for the department,” Gary clarified. “Temporary position. NOPD got a grant for it, specifically to hire you.” I paused. We’d always sort of agreed to officially pretend the NOPD didn’t know that killing was part of what I did, although I had left enough bodies to pick up that it was hard to deny. I was about as subtle as a sharp sword. I guess we were finally officially admitting that I hunted the creatures that tried to eat their neighbors. “I’m not sure I’m the person for—” “Biters are cutting into tourism. We need an exterminator, Gen. Just come down and hear them out,” Gary said.

“Plus, the grant’s only good if we hire you.” That set off alarms, and I tensed enough that Eli noticed. “I’ll stop in this week. I’ll call you.” I disconnected and stared at the phone for a moment. Who wanted me on the street? Who wanted the NOPD to know what I could do? Did someone know what I really was? Magic sparked in blues and purples along my skin, a side effect of my temper that had accompanied my recent brush with mortality. Eli stopped the car, ignoring the honking car behind us. “Job offer,” I said, gesturing toward the road. “Drive, please?” He gave me a raised brow, but said nothing as he looked back at the road and sped off. Eli wasn’t a talker when he could convey his meaning with a look—or an action. He accelerated, cutting through the city, traveling at a speed that was only safe due to fae reflexes. Every spin of the wheel or drift around a curve was inviting me to comment, to object, to say something. I fought back a laugh. If anyone else had the wheel of his little blue convertible, I’d be doing more than objecting. I’d climb into the driver’s lap and stomp the brake pedal whether they liked it or not.

Instead, I was pretending not to notice how close to cars he zagged or how fast he zigged into intersections. He glanced at me, and I just grinned. I liked making him ask questions, and right now, I cherished the distraction of his provocative driving. Eli had the kind of charm and looks that meant he was used to everything falling into his lap—except me. We had the chemistry, and at first I thought that was all we had. Then he became one of my best friends, so I refused to get naked with him despite sparks. An accidental engagement complicated my resolve, and lately, I realized I’d been wrong. We fit in every way. Of course, that didn’t mean I was going to fall over myself to charm him or make things too easy. We’d both be bored if I did that. So I waited as he steered his faemodified car around several slower cars, clearly trying to provoke me. When I stayed silent even as he all but grazed a sign turning a corner, he laughed and asked, “I give, Geneviève. Would you care to elucidate?” I bit my lip. Elucidate? Eli could make the most mundane things sound sexy. It was one of his less-irritating traits, although it was hell on my self-control.

“NOPD wants to hire me freelance for the season,” I explained, forcing my mind away from thoughts of Eli’s voice or body or charm. “To ‘exterminate’ the troublesome biters.” “And you plan to . ?” Eli prompted. “Grab the spot by the black SUV.” I motioned to a parking spot that was more challenging than usual. Carnival season had only just started, and we already had more tourists than I liked. Once upon a time, New Orleans was always tourist central, but then came the biters. Having walking parasites eating the tourists changed things—until the city found ways to adapt. Eli slipped his little convertible into a spot that only he could manage. The car was the epitome of elegance, silent unless Eli was in the mood to make it growl, so cutting off the engine was unnoticeable. “Bonbon?” He turned toward me and prompted, “What will you tell the New Orleans Police Department?” “I’d be out there anyhow. If they have some sort of grant to pay me, maybe I should con—” “A grant? From whom?” Eli frowned, obviously as uncomfortable as I was at that detail. “Why me? Who wanted me involved? Why? Was it to help or harm me?” I nodded. “Their budget is shit, but .

the grant is specifically to hire me.” “That is concerning,” he murmured. “Precisely. I need to know who funded it,” I said. “Even if I refuse, I want that answer. To get that, I must meet them.” Silently, Eli got out and came around to my door. I’d given up resisting his insistence on opening the door. He extended a hand once he’d opened the door. Instead of pursuing the issues of who was funding the grant or that I ought to take a few weeks off, Eli pronounced, “I will not expect compensation.” Despite myself, I laughed. “For?” And my partner looked me in the eyes and pulled me in for a kiss that was more territorial than usual. I melted into him, wrapping around him like it was the best idea in the world to forget that there were monsters, murders, and midnight revelers out there. When he released me, he stepped back and said, “You’re the affianced of the heir to Elphame, Geneviève, and there are traditions that—” “Short version,” I interrupted. “Where you go, I go.

Where you are hired, I shall be. Where you behead, slaughter, or defend, I shall be. As long as I am able, this is how things shall be.” He lifted my hand to his lips. “You are my warrior bride, Geneviève Crowe, and—” “We’ve discussed this. I’m not a bride.” I pulled my hand away, trying not to swoon at the thought that he would be at my side for the innumerable years to come if we ended up married. “The engagement is just a temporary state and—” “Hush, Geneviève.” He gestured toward the cemetery with the same grace that he used when he escorted me before his uncle, the king of Elphame. “Shall we hunt?” “Yes to hunting, no to—” “Be aware of the traditions, Geneviève Crowe. If you end our courtship, my time in your world ends as well.” His voice held genuine fear this time. A carefully worded faery bargain or two had bought Eli a reprieve from the faery king’s edict on his heir’s matrimony. I didn’t want that reprieve to end. Neither did he.

And if I wasn’t careful, it would. So instead of marriage, we were currently planning on the world’s longest engagement. Committed enough to keep him in my life, but not committed enough to trap him in a marriage with a half-dead witch. To succeed meant keeping up the ruse that our engagement would lead to marriage. Because, unfortunately, what most sane people thought of as “tradition” was a law to the fae, and I was blundering around trying to thwart centuries of traditions-but-reallylaws without ending up married or losing the man I was falling irreparably in love with. “I need to kill something,” I muttered. “Yes, dear,” he murmured softly, as he offered me his arm to lead me to the cemetery wall we were about to scale.

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Updated: 10 June 2021 — 18:10

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