Dragon Bound(7)

By: Thea Harrison

In normal circumstances she would have taken the subway, but as ugly as the mood had turned on the streets, she wasn’t about to risk getting trapped underground. At last she stood in front of the shithead’s door.

The tenement where he lived was in miserable condition. She breathed through her mouth and tried to ignore the used condom on the floor of the stairwell and the baby squalling two apartments down. After she did this one last thing and she stopped by work to say good-bye to Quentin, she was so out of here.

The door yanked open. Her fist was moving before she had fully laid eyes on him. He doubled over as she punched him in the stomach.

He wheezed and coughed. “Fuck, bitch!”

“Ow!” She shook open her fist. Thumb outside, not inside, dummy.

He straightened and glared at her as he rubbed his abdomen. Then he started to smile. “You did it, didn’t you? You actually, really did it.”

“Like you gave me a choice,” she snapped. She shoved at his shoulder. It knocked him back enough so she could stalk inside and slam the door shut.

His smile turned into a gleeful laugh. He fist-pumped the air. “Yes!”

Pia regarded him, her gaze bitter. Shithead, aka Keith Hollins, had amiable good looks with shaggy dishwater blond hair and a surfer’s body. His cocky grin had women flocking to him like flies to honey.

She had been one of those flies once. Then disillusionment had set in. She had thought him kind when he was charming. She had taken his caressing manner for real affection and called him boyish when the truth was he was selfish to the bone. He was Captain Fantastic in his own mind. He created the fiction that he was a risk taker when in reality he was a gambling addict.

She had broken up with him a few months back. Then just last week his betrayal had punched her in the teeth, but it felt like much longer.

Pia had been so lonely since her mother died six years ago. There was not another single creature who knew her for who and what she was. Only her mother had known. Her mother had loved her so much she had devoted her life to safeguarding Pia’s welfare and safety. She had raised her daughter with a fanatical attention to secrecy and with every protection spell she could muster or buy.

Then Pia had thrown away almost everything her mom had taught her for a sweet smile and the promise of some affection. I’m so sorry, Mom, she said in her head. I swear I’ll do better now. She stared at Keith doing a touchdown shimmy. He pretended to slam a football on the ground and grinned at her.

“I know I had that punch comin’ to me. I owed you one. No hard feelings, sugar.”

“Speak for yourself.” Pia’s words were coated in frost. “I’ve all kinds of hard feelings going on over here.”

She dropped her backpack to the floor and glanced around even though she was pretty sure they were alone. Fast-food wrappers littered the thrift store coffee table. A dirty T-shirt draped the back of the couch. Some things never changed.

“Aw, come on, P., there’s no need to be like that. Hey, listen, I know you’re still pissed, but you gotta understand somethin’, sugar. I did this for us.” He reached for her shoulder, but she jerked back before his fingers could touch her. His smile dimmed, but he didn’t lose his easy, caressing manner. “P., you don’t seem to get it. We’re gonna be rich now. Really fucking rich. Why, you can have anything you want. Won’t you like that, darlin’?”

Keith was the one who didn’t get it. The dimwit didn’t realize he was collateral damage. He had constructed this fantasy world in which he was a player while his gambling debts grew worse, and he fell more and more under the control of his business associates.

Those “associates” were shadowy connections a couple times removed from Keith’s bookie. She imagined them as a cackle of hyenas gathering around their prey with languid purpose. Keith was lunch, but they had decided to play with their food before the kill.

She didn’t know who his contacts were and she didn’t want to. It was awful enough that she knew there was real Power somewhere up that food chain. Human or Elven, Wyr or Fae, it didn’t matter. Something nasty had turned its attention this way. It had enough magic and muscle to take on one of the premiere Powers of the world.

And here was Captain Fantastic, a mere human with not a single spark of Power in him and not a lick of sense, either. The fact that she had ever hooked up with him, even for a few months, would keep her humble forever.

She told him, “You sound like the dialogue from a bad movie.”

Keith’s flirtatious manner fell away and he glared at her. “Yeah? Well, fuck you too.”

“And it goes on,” she sighed. A headache had begun to pulse in her sinuses. “Look, let’s get this over with. Your handlers wanted me to steal something from Cuelebre—”

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