Dragon Bound(8)

By: Thea Harrison

“I bet my associates that I could get them anything from anywhere,” Keith sneered. “And they suggested something from Cuelebre.”

Today had been a long bad day on top of a long bad week. It had started the moment Keith had put an object of Power in her hand and told her she was going to find Cuelebre’s lair with it. The shock still clung as she remembered the pulse of serious magic that had seared her hand.

The feeling was compounded by a rush of terror for whoever, or whatever, had the kind of mojo to create that artifact and hand it to Keith.

That was sure a special moment, when she discovered Keith had betrayed her. When she realized that, between Cuelebre and the cackle of hyenas, she was screwed. If she stole from Cuelebre, she was dead. If she didn’t, she had no doubt Keith would tell his hyenas, and she was still dead. Rock, shake hands with hard place.

Having the charm sit in her hand was like holding on to a cluster bomb. The design had been deceptively simple. It had felt like a finding charm with a onetime activation, but it had had the Power to slice through all of Cuelebre’s protections.

Her breath shook as she remembered the terrible walk she had taken earlier that day, through an innocent sunlit city park where coffee-drinking adults watched over shrieking children as they threw sand and pelted from the merry-go-round to the jungle gym.

The sounds of traffic and barking dogs had punctuated the blistering pain in her hand, as the charm’s activated Power flared and drew her along a flower-lined path to an anonymous, utterly forgettable rusted metal maintenance door set into a park viaduct. The charm drew a thin shimmering path that led through an invisible mist of cloaking and aversion spells, which had her convinced with increasing urgency that she was lost, mistaken, cursed, trapped in her worst nightmare, in mortal danger, damned for all eternity—

Pia’s fragile control snapped. She slapped Keith’s chest with both flattened hands, driving him backward a few feet. “You blackmailed me into stealing from a dragon, you asshole!” she shouted. She pushed him again and he staggered back. “I trusted you with my secrets.” Although not all of them, thank the gracious Powers, not all. She’d somehow retained a few last scraps of self-preservation. “I thought we loved each other. God, what a wretched joke. I could crawl under a rock and die from embarrassment, except you. Are. Not. Worth it.”

Her last shove knocked Keith into a wall. The look on his face would have been comical if she’d had a sense of humor left.

His astonishment turned ugly. His hands shot out faster than she expected. He shoved her back so hard she tripped and almost fell. “Well, I must have done a good goddamn job of faking it,” he snarled. “Because you’ve got to be the most miserable fuck I’ve ever had.”

Pia never knew until that moment that she was capable of killing someone. Her hands curled into claws. “I am an excellent fuck,” she hissed. “I am the best thing that ever happened to your sorry, deluded, preejaculating ass. You just didn’t have the good taste to recognize it. And you know what? Now I don’t even know why I put up with you. I had a better sex life with five minutes and my hand in a hot shower.”

Captain Fantastic’s face turned puce. She stared. She’d never seen that color on a person before. He cocked back his arm as if to hit her.

“You do that and you never get what you want. Plus you lose a hand.” The frost in her voice turned to an ice pick. He froze. The ruthless stranger that had taken over her body brought her up nose to nose with him. “Go ahead,” she said, settling into a soft and even tone. “Amputation might be a little therapeutic right now.”

She stared him down until he dropped his hand and took a half step back. The move wasn’t much, but it meant a lot to her battered pride. In a contest of wills she’d pinned him to the mat.

“Let’s get this over with,” he snapped.

“About time.” She dug into her jeans and gave him a folded piece of paper. “You get what I stole when you read that out loud.”

“What?” He gave her a blank look. It was clear things had taken a turn beyond his comprehension. As a nonmagical human he couldn’t feel how the paper glowed with Power from the binding spell.

He unfolded it and scanned the contents, and his face contorted again with rage. He dropped the paper like it was on fire. “Oh no, bitch. This isn’t gonna fuckin’ happen. You’re gonna give me what you took and give it to me NOW!” He lunged for her backpack. She took several quick steps back, letting him rifle through the contents. Wallet, tennis shoes, the half-empty bottle of water and her iPod spilled onto the floor.

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