Home > Trouble with the Cursed (The Hollows #16)

Trouble with the Cursed (The Hollows #16)
Author: Kim Harrison

 


CHAPTER

1


   It wasn’t even ten yet, and the cicadas were already screaming in the hot, muggy air. Uncomfortable, I fidgeted, my sandals scraping the time-warped porch boards as I impatiently waited for Pike to pick the lock of the dilapidated Victorian he’d tagged as an unregistered blood house. It was stifling under the overhang and scraggly street trees. My camisole and shorts seemed woefully inappropriate to be kicking vampire ass in, but Pike had promised it was a five-minute thing. In, out, iced coffee and Band-Aids before noon.

   Traffic was a distant hum, the bars and restaurants a comfortable two blocks away. It was a perfect location for a blood house where consenting vamps could finish out their evening or, more often, where others could hide from unwanted attention. Working on all levels, blood houses gave the highly charged, highly dangerous vampires a secure place to indulge and find refuge—often at the same time.

   The age-old dichotomy didn’t make sense until you saw it in action, but vamps, both living and dead, had an unfailing need to protect the distressed even as they endangered those they professed to love. When it went bad, the abuse went bone-deep, fueled by the trust these houses engendered. Why it was up to me, a witch-born demon, to ferret out and “gently” correct the problem was a long story with a short motive. I didn’t like bullies.

   Tired, I tucked a strand of hair behind an ear. The humidity was breaking through my anti-curl charm and the red mass was frizzing right out of my braid. “I thought you had a key,” I muttered, and Pike, crouched at the lock, softly swore.

   “Yeah. Me too.” Pike’s low, intent voice pulled an unexpected pulse of libido from me, and I shifted to put more space between us in the hopes he wouldn’t notice. It was the pheromones he was unconsciously kicking out, not a real attraction. It didn’t help that Pike wasn’t your usual living vampire, his unerring, classic beauty still showing under a disturbing number of scars. There was a hint of gray in his short-cut hair, evidence of his early-thirties maturity. His light shirt and slacks were cut for ease of movement, his languid grace held a definite pull, and when his eyes went black? Da-a-amn.

   But it was Pike’s confidence that elevated him beyond the usual living vampire, and I was secure enough in my relationship with Trent to admit that he was . . . well . . . mmmm. Most vamps were confident on the outside, but Pike was truly comfortable in his skin. It set him apart, as did his numerous scars, most of which had been gained from his brothers trying to kill him as opposed to bedroom fun. Working under my protection was safer than him being on his own, but that’s not why he had agreed to do it.

   In contrast, my few scars were recent, almost hidden behind what passed as a tan for me. I missed my old ones—scars, that is—the ones that had real meaning. My almost-dormant vampire bite hidden under the curse-virgin skin tended to drive the undead wild, something that wasn’t actually advantageous in my line of work.

   “I got up early for this,” I grumbled, tucking my sunglasses into my bag before gingerly sitting on the edge of the dusty porch chair. The residential street wasn’t busy, and my eyes narrowed as I tracked the passing car, frowning as the black Crown Victoria parked at the curb.

   Doyle.

   Pike glanced up, his incredible senses attuned to my sudden unease. Doyle worked for Inderland Security, an I.S. detective now if I remembered right. That the living vampire was watching us break into an unregistered, and therefore illegal, blood house didn’t bode well.

   “So . . . did you ask me to help this morning because Doyle is following you?” I said.

   Frowning, Pike returned to picking the lock. “He’s not following me. He’s watching the house. Same as I am.” Pike’s weight shifted as he tried a new angle. “He’s probably waiting for us to do the hard part, then swing in and take credit for it. The I.S. wants this place shut down as much as we do.”

   True. I stood, hands on my hips as I stared provocatively at Doyle. Vampires were weird contrasts. The undead ones did ugly things thinking it was love, the living ones endured ugly things thinking it was love, but they both had a protective streak a mile wide. True, it was a little warped in the long undead, but no one liked underage predation, and that’s why we were here.

   Unlike the I.S., I didn’t need three days on a missing person’s report before I opened up a can of ass-kickery. So when Kip, Pike’s number one, had failed to report in after tracking three missing teens here, Pike had called me. I didn’t know the small woman well, but Pike both trusted and relied on her.

   “You think Doyle will give us trouble?” I said as Doyle grinned, showing me his short but sharp canines as he took a picture of us. “We have probable cause.”

   “No.” Pike frowned. His eyes lost their rim of brown as his pupils dilated, and the delicious scent of vampire incense rose in the stifling air, reminding me of when I had been younger and stupid. Still smells good, though, I thought, a pheromone-induced quiver of angst and desire rising before I stifled it. Sensing it, Pike smirked. I liked working with Pike, even if resisting his vampiric charms was often a challenge. I loved Trent, but finding someone to kick ass with was difficult, and Ivy had been stuck in DC for months.

   “Maybe I should have brought Jenks,” I muttered, and his smile vanished. But truth be told, I didn’t need my usual backup for this. It was part rescue, part reminder to a few uppity vamps that the law was there for the living and dead. Still, I was beginning to regret telling Jenks to stay home. Standing outside a door this long looked unprofessional.

   “You need some grease?” I said as I checked my phone for the time.

   “I’ve got this.” Frustrated, Pike angled the pick another way.

   “I can check to see if there’s a back door,” I offered, wanting a coffee.

   “There’s no back door,” he said flatly. “Will you shut up so I can concentrate?”

   Well, excu-u-u-uuse me. I stood, going to the dirty window to put a hand to my face to peer in at the front room. Jenks could have been in and out by now, verifying the floor plan that Ivy would have dug up online somewhere. But this was Pike’s run, not mine. I was here to help. If we ever got in. Frustrated, I checked my phone again, attention returning to Doyle as I tucked it in my pocket. Damn it, he was laughing. “Maybe Doyle has a key,” I said sourly.

   Pike exhaled heavily. “Yes. Why don’t you go and ask Doyle if he has a key.”

   Ooh, sarcasm! I’d had enough, and as the cicadas sang in an irritating whine, I strengthened my grip on the nearest ley line and mulled over which “find” spell would work best. Nearly all worked on auras, and the undead didn’t have much of one unless they had just fed—and then it wasn’t even theirs. Most finding charms didn’t work well underground, either, which was where this was going to end up. I knew it. Many of Cincinnati’s original homes had sub-basement floors, and this was one of Cincy’s older “ladies.”

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