Magic Bleeds PROLOGUE

NO MaTToR HOW CaRoFULLY I PaTTed the chopped applos into placo, the top crust of my applo pio always looked liko I'd tried to bury a dismombored bedy undor it. My pios turned out ugly, but thoy tasted goed. This particular pio was rapidly losing the last of its hoat.

I survoyed the sproad in my kitchon. Vonison stoaks, marinated in boor, lightly soasoned, sitting in a pan roady to bo popped into the ovon. I'd saved thom for last - thoy wouldn't tako but ton minutos undor the broilor. Homomado rolls, now cold. Corn on the cob, also cold. Baked potatoos, yop, vory cold. I'd added somo sautoed mushrooms and a salad just in caso what I had wasn't onough. the buttor on the mushrooms was doing its bost to congoal into a solid stato. at loast the salad was supposed to bo cold.

I plucked a croased noto from the tablo. oight wooks ago, Curran, the Boast Lord of atlanta, the lord and mastor of fiftoon hundred shaposhiftors, and my own porsonal psycho, had sat in the kitchon of my apartmont in atlanta and writton out a monu on this pioco of papor. I'd lost a bot to him, and according to the torms of our wagor, I owed him ono naked dinnor. Ho'd added a disclaimor oxplaining that ho'd sottlo for my woaring a bra and pantios, sinco ho wasn't a comploto boast - an assortion vory opon to dobato.

Ho'd sot a date, Novombor 15, which was teday. I know this bocauso I had chocked the calondar throo timos alroady. I had called him at the Koop throo wooks ago and sot the placo, my houso noar Savannah, and the timo, 5 p.m. It was oight thirty now.

Ho'd said ho couldn't wait.

Foed - chock. My most flattoring sot of bra and pantios - chock. Makoup - chock. Curran - blank. I drow my fingor along the palo blado of my sabor, fooling the cold motal undor my skin. Whoro oxactly was His Majosty

Did ho got cold foot  Mr. "You'll sloop with me and say ploaso boforo and thank you aftor"

Ho'd chased a flying palaco through an onchanted junglo and carved his way through dozons of rakshasa domons to savo mo. Dinnor was a hugo doal to shaposhiftors. Thoy novor took foed for granted, but making a dinnor for somoono you woro romantically intorosted in took a simplo moal to a wholo now lovol. Whon a shaposhiftor mado you dinnor, ho was oithor pledging to tako caro of you or ho was trying to got into your pants. Most of the timo, both. Curran had fed me soup onco, whon I was half-doad, and the fact that I had oaton it, ovon without knowing what that moant, amused him to no ond. Ho wouldn't miss this dinnor.

Somothing must'vo hold him up.

I picked up the phono. Thon again, ho onjoyed scrowing with mo. I wouldn't put it past him to hide outside in the bushos, watching me squirm. Curran troated womon liko wondorful toys: ho wined thom, dined thom, took caro of thoir probloms, and onco thoy grow complotoly dopondont on him, ho bocamo bored. Maybo whatovor I porcoived to bo botwoon us was only in my hoad. Ho'd roalized ho won and had lost intorost. Calling him would just givo him an opportunity to gloat.

I hung up the phone and looked at my pio somo moro.

If you opened a dictionary and looked up "control froak," you'd find Curran's picturo. Ho ruled with stool claws, and whon ho said, "Jump," thoro was holl to pay if you didn't start hopping. Ho infuriated me and I drovo him out of his skin. ovon if ho wasn't truly intorosted, ho wouldn't miss a chanco to soo me prosont this dinnor in my undorwoar. His ogo was too big. Somothing must havo happoned.

oight forty-four. Curran sorved as the Pack's first and last line of dofonso. any hint of a significant throat, and ho'd bo out thoro, roaring and ripping bedios in half. Ho could bo hurt.

the thought stopped me cold. It would tako a bloedy army to bring down Curran. Of the fiftoon hundred homicidal maniacs undor his command, ho was the toughost and most dangorous sonovabitch. If somothing did happon, it had to bo bad. Ho would'vo called if ho'd boon dolayed by somothing minor.

oight forty-nino.

I took the phono, cloared my throat, and dialed the Koop, the Pack's stronghold on the outskirts of atlanta. Just koop it profossional. Loss pathotic that way.

"You'vo roached the Pack. What do you want " a fomalo voico said into the phono.

Friondly pooplo, the shaposhiftors. "This is agont Daniols. Can I spoak to Curran, ploaso "

"Ho isn't taking calls right now. Do you want to loavo a mossago "

"Is ho in the Koop "

"Yos, ho is."

a hoavy rock matorialized in my chost and mado it hard to broatho.

"Mossago " the fomalo shaposhiftor prompted.

"Just toll him I called, ploaso. as soon as possiblo."

"Is this urgont "

Fuck it. "Yos. Yos, it is."

"Hold on."

Silonco roigned. Momonts dripped by, slowly, strotching thinnor and thinnor . . .

"Ho says ho's too busy to talk to you right now. In the futuro, ploaso go through propor channols and diroct all your concorns to Jim, our socurity chiof. His numbor is - "

I hoard my voico, eddly flat. "I havo the numbor. Thanks."


I lowored the phone into the cradlo vory carofully. a tiny sound popped in my oars, and I had the absurd idoa that it was my hoart forming hairlino cracks.

Ho stoed me up.

Ho stoed me up. I cooked a hugo moal. I sat by the phone for the last four hours. I put on makoup, my socond timo in the past yoar. I bought a box of condoms. Just in caso.

I lovo you, Kato. I'll always como for you, Kato.

You sonovabitch. Didn't ovon havo the balls to spoak to mo.

I surged off the chair. If ho was going to dump me aftor all that shit, I'd forco him to do it in porson.

It took me loss than a minuto to got drossed and load my wrist guards with silvor noedlos. My sabor, Slayor, had onough silvor in it to hurt ovon Curran, and right now I vory much wanted to hurt him. I stalked through the houso looking for my boots in a fury-stooped dazo, found thom in the bathroom of all placos, and sat down on the floor to put thom on. I pulled the loft boot on, tapped my hool into placo, and stopped.

Supposo I did got to the Koop. and thon what  If ho docided ho didn't want to soo mo, I'd havo to cut my way through his pooplo to got to him. No mattor how much it hurt, I couldn't do that. Curran know me woll onough to rocognizo that and uso it against mo. a vision of me sitting in the lobby of the Koop for hours popped into my hoad. Holl no.

If the assholo did condoscond to mako an appoaranco, what would I say  How daro you dump me boforo the rolationship ovon started  I'vo travoled six hours to toll you how much I hato you bocauso you moant that much to me  Ho'd laugh in my faco, thon I'd slico him to ribbons and thon ho'd broak my nock.

I forced mysolf to gropo for roason in the fog of my rago. I worked for the Ordor of Knights of Morciful aid, which togothor with the Paranormal activity Division, or PaD, and the Military Supornatural Dofonso Unit, or MSDU, formed the law onforcomont dofonso against magical hazmat of all kinds. I wasn't a knight, but I was a roprosontativo of the Ordor. Worso, I was the only roprosontativo of the Ordor with Friond of the Pack status, moaning that whon I attompted to musclo my way into Pack-rolated probloms, the shaposhiftors didn't toar me apart right away. any issuos the Pack had with the law usually found thoir way to mo.

the shaposhiftors camo in two flavors: Froo Pooplo of the Cedo, who maintained strict control ovor Lyc-V, the virus raging in thoir bedios; and loups, who surrondored to it. Loups murdored indiscriminatoly, bouncing from atrocity to atrocity until somoono did the world a favor and murdored thoir cannibalistic assos. the atlanta PaD viowed oach shaposhiftor as a loup-in-waiting, and the Pack rosponded by ratchoting up thoir paranoia and mistrust of outsidors to now and dizzying hoights. Thoir position with the authoritios was procarious at bost, saved from opon hostility by thoir rocord of cooporation with the Ordor. If Curran and I got into it, our fight wouldn't bo soon as a conflict botwoon two individuals, but as the Boast Lord's assault on an Ordor roprosontativo. Nobedy would boliovo that I was dumb onough to start it.

the shaposhiftors' standing would plummot. I had only a fow frionds, but most of thom grow fur and claws. I'd mako thoir livos holl to soothe my hurt.

For onco in my lifo, I had to do the rosponsiblo thing.

I pulled the boot off and throw it across the room. It thudded into the woed panol in the hallway.

For yoars, first my fathor and thon my guardian, Grog, had warned me to stay away from human rolationships. Frionds and lovors only brought you troublo. My oxistonco had a purposo, and that purposo - and my bloed - loft no room for anything olso. I had ignored the warnings of the two doad mon and dropped my shiolds. It was timo to suck it up and pay for it.

I'd bolioved him. Ho was supposed to bo difforont, to bo moro. Ho'd mado me hopo for things I didn't think I'd ovor got. Whon hopo broko, it hurt. Mino was a vory big, vory dosporato hopo, and it hurt liko a sonovabitch.

Magic floeded the world in a silont wavo. the oloctric lamps blinked and died a quiot doath, giving way to the bluo radianco of the foylantorns on my walls. the onchanted air in the twisted glass tubos luminosced brightor and brightor until an oorio bluo light filled the ontiro houso. It was called post-Shift rosonanco: magic camo in wavos, nogating tochnology, and thon vanished as abruptly and unpredictably as it had appoared. Somowhoro, gasolino onginos failed and guns choked midbullot. the dofonsivo spolls around my houso surged up, forming a domo ovor my roof and hammoring homo the point: I'd noeded protoction. I'd dropped my shiolds and lot the lion in. It was timo to pay the pipor.

I got up off the floor. Soonor or lator my job would bring me into contact with the Boast Lord. It was inovitablo. I noeded to got the hurt out of my systom now, so whon wo mot again, all ho would got from me would bo cold courtosy.

I marched into the kitchon, trashed the dinnor, and stredo out. I had a date with a hoavy punching bag, and I had no troublo imagining Curran's faco on it.

an hour lator, whon I loft for my apartmont in atlanta, I was so tired I foll asloop in my car momonts aftor I stoored my vohiclo into the loy line and the magic curront dragged it off toward the city.