Wicked Deal – Linsey Hall

“I swear it won’t bite,” said Eve, my Fae friend. I arched an eyebrow. “It’s a dried demon head with giant fangs. It really looks like it might bite.” She laughed. “You owe me. I know it’s gross, but I need to know where it came from.” I scowled and looked at the severed, dried head sitting on the counter in her cluttered shop. Hundreds of charms and potion bottles lined the shelves, but I only had eyes for the head. Its skin was wrinkled, and its horns protruded upward. “Thank God the eyes have rotted out,” I muttered. “I couldn’t handle it if it looked at me.” Eve laughed again, and the raven who sat behind her hopped along the shelf, as if interested. Eve still claimed she couldn’t see the raven, and I didn’t push. “Seriously, the world of magic is crazy,” I said.

“Having something like this is insane.” “Hey, it’s rare. Normally, those heads disintegrate upon the death of the demon. I need to know why this one didn’t.” “Yeah, yeah.” Eve sold magic potions and spells that she made using her Fae power, and I DID owe her for the potions she’d given me last week. Anyway, I was trying to get my business up and running, and she was my first client. If I planned to sell my ability to magically read people and objects, then I needed to start now. “You’ve got this, mate,” Mac said, a big grin on her face. I shot my other friend a grateful smile.

Mac lived in the flat below me and could always be counted on for support. I drew in a deep breath, hovering my hand over the head. “One, two, three.” On three, I touched the head, doing my best to control my magic and see something specific about the disgusting thing. The power surged through me, seemingly stronger than ever. That had to be impossible though, right? I was new to this world, but I was pretty sure magic didn’t grow stronger. I focused on the vision. There was a blast of light in my mind, followed by an eerie, high-pitched laugh that turned into a scream. It seared through my skull, making me wince. I stumbled backward, shaking my hand.

“Well?” Eve asked. “A laugh, a light.” I scowled. “That was pathetic. I’m trying again.” I could feel their eyes on me as I approached the head once more. This kind of magic —and danger—wasn’t unusual. Unlike me, they’d been born into the magical world and had known about it their entire lives. I was a newcomer, just trying to make my way. The skin of the dried head was papery against my fingertips as I pressed them to the skull.

“Come on,” I muttered. “See something useful.” The light flashed again, and the laughter howled, shrieking through my mind. I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to see through the bright light. Please work. I needed control of my power, damn it. I saw nothing, but once again, the laughter turned into a scream. Eve. The scream was saying her name. The magic faded from the air.

Shocked, I looked up. “It said your name. Screamed your name.” Eve paled slightly, her eyes dark. She drew an unsteady breath. “Thanks, that’s helpful.” “That’s it? This scary demon head screams your name, and that’s it?” She shrugged. “You need to get control of your magic, though. Your signature is off the charts.” I glared at her.

“You’re changing the subject.” “Well, we need to talk about it. But we don’t need to talk about my deal. Not now.” “Fine.” I knew when to stop poking. “Eve’s right.” Mac waved a hand in front of her face. “It’s like I’m lying in a freaking lavender field.” I winced.

“I know.” All supernaturals had magical signatures—as many as five, each corresponding with one of the five senses. Powerful supernaturals had all of them, and, apparently, I was one of those. According to my friends, my magic smelled like lavender and tasted like oranges. Sounded like roaring wind and looked like a silver glow. “Seriously, mate.” Mac said. “Everyone in Guild City has to keep their signatures on lockdown or the Council of Guilds gets a bee in their bonnet.” “You do not want their bonnets disturbed.” Eve met my gaze.

“And your magic is…” “Weird?” I asked. “I was going to say different,” Eve said. “There’s something about it. And considering how serious the Council is about keeping us secret from the humans, they’re not going to like the fact that you’re just letting it all hang out there.” Damn it, this was bad. “Do you have more suppressor potion?” “I do, and it’s all yours, but I don’t think it’s going to work.” Eve frowned apologetically. “You’ve taken too much already, and your system is used to it.” “You’re going to have to think about joining a Guild, too,” Mac said. “Like, soon.

” “But which one?” Guild City was made up of various magical guilds, each representing one of the main magical species—fae, shifters, witches, and seers, among others. “Whichever will have you, I guess.” Mac shrugged. I didn’t like the idea of that, but if I wanted to stay here, I’d have to do it. Mac was a member of the Seers’ Guild, and Eve belonged to the Fae Guild, though neither lived in her guild’s headquarters. “I’ll figure it out,” I said. “Soon.” “It had better be, or—” The bell to Eve’s shop jingled, and I turned. The Devil of Darkvale stepped into the little shop, his lean, muscular form filling the door. I fought dueling instincts.

Part of me wanted to step toward him. Part of me wanted to turn and run. I stayed frozen. In a moment, I took all of him in. The firelight scent of his magic blasted though the hodgepodge of aromas in Eve’s shop. I liked the way he smelled, but I was careful not to inhale too much. As usual, he was impeccably dressed. He looked like a spy, an unstoppable James Bond in a bespoke suit. It was damned unfair that men’s dresswear was easy to move in and made the wearer look hot as hell. He stood in the doorway, still as a statue.

His sharp cheekbones and strong jaw could have been carved from granite, but his lips were full, the only part of him that looked soft. Even his silver eyes were hard as they surveyed us. He was still ice, but I knew the heat underneath. It would burn me—and not in a good way. Where was the man who had bitten me? I’d never quite felt anything like that before—I’d nearly lost my mind from the pleasure. He stepped farther into the store, his movements graceful and smooth. The spell was broken. I snapped my mind away from the memory and focused on him. The interior of Eve’s store was like her—delicate and whimsical—and he stood out like a sore thumb. All raw power and strength.

The glittering faerie lights that sparkled near the ceiling veered away from him. “What can I do for you?” Eve’s voice was flat. She didn’t particularly like the Devil of Darkvale. He was Guild City’s version of the mob, and as the owner of a small shop, she was beholden to him for protection from the overly enthusiastic government—the Council of Guilds. Not to mention the Witches’ Guild. They’d have her head for selling magics like theirs if they could. “I’m here to ask Carrow’s help.” His smile was small but genuine. Unexpected. “I’d like to hire her.

” It was true that I was trying to set up shop as a clairvoyant—or whatever I was, I still wasn’t sure—but I didn’t have a storefront yet. The plan was to get started by helping Eve on the side. “Oh, no, you don’t.” Mac stepped forward, looking like she was ready to throw down. “You are dangerous to her.” His gaze snapped to Mac. “Macbeth O’Connell…aren’t you the mother hen.” His eyes glinted, and I raised a hand. “Don’t even think of trying your mind thing on her.” I’d already warned him off using it on my friends, and I was immune to it, thank God.

“Wouldn’t dream of it.” His words were smooth as he turned to me. “As I said, I’d like to hire you.” I leaned against Eve’s counter and raised a brow. “Oh?” Mac shot me a glare. I shrugged. I couldn’t help it—I was interested. Yes, I knew he was dangerous. But damned if I wasn’t a cat who was willing to risk one of her nine lives on him. “I just want to hear him out.

” Mac stifled a groan. The Devil’s half smile grew the slightest bit, and he was so damned sexy that I hated it. Worry twisted through me. I had a nice life here. Back in the human world, my home had sucked monkey balls. Clashing with the Devil of Darkvale could get me kicked out of Guild City. I shouldn’t risk it. “I have a man I’d like you to read,” he said. “For what?” Not that I could control what I saw from people. “Motivation.

He was trying to break in through my personal gate.” My brows rose, as did Eve’s and Mac’s. Guild City was hidden deep within London, a walled town formed in the medieval period—possibly by the immortal Devil of Darkvale himself—to hide the supernaturals in the city. The wall was punctuated by several gates, one the Devil’s own personal access point, an impressive symbol of his power. The fact that someone might have tried to break in through it… Interesting. I frowned. “Where is this person now?” “Detained.” “You kidnapped him,” Mac said. “He was trying to break into my club from the outside.” I’d been to his base of operations a few times, but only briefly.

It was well guarded. “That is an inefficient way to break into Guild City. Are you sure he wasn’t trying to break into your club or your office?” “It’s also an inefficient way to break into my club.” “They’re all inefficient.” Eve’s tone was dry. “Everyone knows the Shifters’ Guild guards that place like it contains the holy grail.” “I like to do my part for the economy.” Mac scoffed. “The shifters sell protection services to anyone, and they’ve got plenty of work coming in elsewhere.” The Devil smiled.

“Be that as it may”—his gaze turned to me—“Carrow, this may be a threat to the city as well as a threat to my empire. I could use your help. I’d pay you well.” “Ah—” “Can I speak to you, Carrow?” Mac’s voice was sharp. “Um, yeah.” I watched the Devil warily as I followed her to the back room of Eve’s shop. The Fae proprietor followed, turning back to point at the Devil. “I’m watching you. Don’t touch anything.” The little room at the back was cluttered with Eve’s most valuable potions.

Mac whirled around as soon as we entered. “You are NOT seriously thinking of doing this, are you?” “Um—” I frowned. “He’s not so bad. He retrieved my books for me from my flat last week, remember?” “That was nice, I’ll give him that,” Eve said. “I know how important those were to you.” They’d come from my friend Beatrix, who’d been murdered last year. They were all I had of hers, and he’d left them for me in my new flat. “The books aren’t the issue right now. You know what the Oracle said. Remember her?” Mac raised her brow.

“That all-powerful seer who looks too legit to quit?” I did remember the seer. She’d grabbed me at the Witches’ Masquerade, her ghostly form flickering from old to young, and told me that the Devil and I were Cursed Mates. “Do you really believe it, though?” I asked. “This Cursed Mates thing seems…” “Fated Mates are real, and while I don’t know anything about Cursed Mates, there’s no way it’s a good thing,” Mac said. “It’s quite difficult to put a nice spin on the word CURSED .” Eve shot me an apologetic look. “You’re not wrong about that.” I sighed and leaned back against the wall. Eve raised a hand. “Oh, careful there!” I straightened.

“Right, right. Valuable potions.” “Dangerous potions.” She pointed to the left of my head. “See the blue ones? They’ll blow your head clean off.” “Oookay, then.” I stepped away from the wall, vowing to be more careful from now on. “Well?” Mac said. “You’re saying no, right?” “Yeah, yeah. I’m saying no.

” I wasn’t sure I believed in the damned concept of Cursed Mates, even though it scared the hell out of me. But Mac and Eve were my Yodas in this new world, and I would listen to them. “Let’s go.” I returned to the room to find the Devil standing still as a statue. It was eerie how he did that—almost as if he could turn to stone. Apparently, he really was immortal—at least in the sense that he wouldn’t age, though he could be killed by trauma—and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was a coping technique meant to deal with the misery of being alive forever. “I hope you’re going to say yes.” His voice was impossibly smooth, a caress across my skin. “No. I’m sorry.

I’m busy here.” “You’re frightened.” I bristled. “No, I’m smart. And I’m serious. I appreciate the offer, but I don’t want to have anything to do with some random man who broke into your club.” I shrugged. “I can’t control what I see anyway, so maybe I couldn’t help you.” “Practice would give you more control of your magic.” If I did this, we’d have to spend time together.

Probably be close to each other… It was tempting. And the Council of Guilds was going to come after me if I didn’t get a handle on my magic. Especially now that it seemed to be growing stronger in a way that I couldn’t explain. But… “No.” My words were firm. “But thank you.” He nodded. His face was expressionless. “I can’t say I’m not disappointed, but you’ve made your wishes clear.” “You’re going to come back and ask again, aren’t you?” Mac demanded.

“I might.” Oh, he would. This wouldn’t be the last I’d see of him. “Thank you for your time, ladies.” He turned and disappeared through the door, all grace and smoothness. I looked at the others. “That was unexpected.” “Really?” Mac crossed her arms over her chest. “I’ve seen the way he looks at you. And honey, that man trying to get close is the least unexpected thing ever.

” “She’s right.” Eve grimaced. “But you can’t forget the Cursed Mates thing. That could be deadly.” I swallowed hard. She was right. I looked toward the door. “I hope I didn’t piss him off. He’s powerful, and I’m new in town.” “He’s used to getting what he wants,” Mac said.

“But we’ve got your back.” I nodded shakily and turned to Eve’s desk. “Let me take a look at that second object.” “Thanks.” She walked around it to retrieve the golden chalice she’d asked me to look at. The door to the shop jingled again, and I turned, expecting to see the Devil of Darkvale. Instead, a man and a woman in dark trousers and red jackets emblazoned with the crest of the Council of Guilds stood there. As with all supernaturals in Guild City, their magical signatures were on lockdown, but I could still get a feeling for what they were. Shifters. Something about them, a leonine grace or the cunning in their eyes, made me think of animals.

All guilds in the city sold something, and the shifters sold protection services and fighting forces. Which meant that these two were basically the cops of Guild City. “Penelope. Garreth.” Mac’s voice was a bit cold. “What are you doing here?” “We’re here to escort Guild City’s newest citizen to a meeting with the Council.” What the hell? Had the Devil set this up? Was this retaliation for my refusal to help him? My gaze flashed to Mac’s and Eve’s, and I swore I saw the same questions reflected there. But no, the Devil had just left. Would he really have had time to arrange this? He was powerful. He could have had them waiting on standby.

Would he really have done that? Thrown me under the bus? You don’t know him. The thought flashed, and it was so true. We’d shared an almost-kiss that had nearly made me lose my mind and a bite that had definitely made me lose my mind, but I didn’t know what it had meant to him. And there was that little matter of the Cursed Mates thing. He wasn’t on my side. I couldn’t forget it. I shoved him from my mind and looked at the two shifters. “Okay, I’m coming.” Garreth pulled something from his pocket, and I spotted two golden bangles. They looked like bracelets, but from the way Mac gasped and Eve scowled, I knew they couldn’t be.

“Really?” Mac said. “Magicuffs?” “You know the rules, Mac. She isn’t in a guild, which makes her dangerous. Illegal.” “No person is illegal.” “This one is,” Garret said. “She’s new in town,” Eve said. “She’s been here a week,” Penelope said. “More than enough time to approach the Council about joining a guild.” “They require this.

” Garreth held up the cuffs. “Not us. Let us do our jobs.” Mac growled, but I held up a hand. “It’s fine.” This guild member stuff was SERIOUS. And I’d known I was supposed to join one—Mac had explained how things worked here. But I’d been nervous. I didn’t have control of my magic or my magical signature, so I’d hesitated, reluctant to approach the Council on uneven footing. Apparently, they weren’t willing to wait.

Or the Devil had sped up our meeting. Either way, I was going there now, and I was doing it in handcuffs.

.

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