Home > Midnight Curse (Disrupted Magic #1)(2)

Midnight Curse (Disrupted Magic #1)(2)
Author: Melissa F. Olson

Still, if I scared the customers away, he was eventually going to stop inviting me to come along. “I’ll be good,” I promised him.

He leaned over and planted a kiss on my cheek. “Nah. You were right. Those shoes were totally last season.”

“Right?” I said happily. Neither of us knew anything about fashion.

He nodded at the unlabeled binder in front of me. “You studying for tomorrow night?” He’d made an effort to sound casual, but I knew him too well to miss the edge of anxiety in his voice. In his own way, Eli was as nervous as I was.


Eli squeezed my hand. “I’ll be right there in the audience, for every minute. And you’re gonna do great, babe. You know that, right?”

An older couple covered in wrinkly tattoos came up to exclaim over Eli’s sculptures, which saved me from having to answer. Beginning the following night, the Los Angeles Old World would be staging the dramatically named Vampire Trials, which was sort of our answer to The People’s Court. It’s supposed to happen every three years, but it had been more than six since the last one, for the simple reason that there hadn’t been very many interspecies disputes.

Overall, of course, this was a good thing, proving that our odd way of doing things in the Los Angeles supernatural community was more or less working. Eventually, though, enough minor problems had stacked up that the powers that be in LA—Dashiell, the cardinal vampire, Kirsten, leader of the witches, and Eli’s alpha Will, plus myself—had decided to put on the Trials, if for no other reason than to clear the air.

The name makes it sound huge and ominous, but the event itself is fairly straightforward. The three heads of the supernatural communities listen to complaints and make judgments on various conflicts; it’s more “holding court” than “legal court.”

But the pressure on us was still huge. Los Angeles is the only city in America where all three supernatural powers share power and live more or less in peace. If we fucked that up, there would be a lot of repercussions, which could include anything from snide “I told you so”s to violent attempts to take over our city.

I’d attended the last Vampire Trials, but two huge things had changed in the last six years. First, back then my psychotic ex-mentor Olivia had been the null on the scene, and I had attended as more of an unpaid intern than anything else. Now I would be the one sitting at the “defendant” table, making sure the vampire, werewolf, or witch sitting with me didn’t try anything.

Second, three years earlier I’d fought for and earned my own place among the little group that made decisions for the supernatural world in my city. I’d gone from janitor to partner, and this would be my first Trial carrying the weight of that responsibility. I was nervous as hell, which was why I had been reading the binders of handwritten notes from all the previous Trials.

When the couple wandered off with a wrapped sculpture in tow, Eli turned back to me. “Hey, I forgot to mention, I’m taking the pups out for brunch tomorrow morning, kind of a chill-before-the-Trials thing,” he said, looking hopeful. “Do you want to come?”

“Uh, maybe,” I said. The “pups” were the three newest members of the LA pack: Lizzy, Troy, and Yola. Part of Eli’s job as the pack beta was to look after them and make sure they were acclimating. “Did they ask for me to come?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, avoiding my eyes.

“Eli . . .”

“What?” he said stubbornly.

I raised an eyebrow, but didn’t bother responding. Eli knew damn well that my relationship with the werewolf pack was complicated. Whenever they got close to me, werewolves became human again, which meant that they were free of the uncomfortable, relentless magic that was always scratching at the back of their brains, urging them to do wolfish things. A few of them really did hate me, because they were proud of what they were and didn’t want it taken from them. A few of them were indifferent, and plenty of them, including the pups, adored being near me. To them, proximity to me was like being on a truly spectacular painkiller. And I hated it.

Being a null didn’t exhaust me or hurt or anything—that wasn’t the problem. Whenever I got close to those werewolves, though, it was like being the most popular girl in high school, suddenly forced to sit at the loser table. They would alternately kiss my ass, go into stunned silence, or jostle to bring me small treats or do little favors, like fetch me extra napkins or pick up Shadow’s poop. Seriously. They competed for who got to pick up bargest poop.

Some people might enjoy the attention and solicitation, but I didn’t love being around people—Eli excepted—at the best of times. Unfortunately for me, wolves are extremely social creatures, and Eli needed to be with them. He also didn’t really understand why I would dislike people being nice to me.

It was, as I said, complicated.

“I don’t want to have to deal with Shadow scaring the pups,” I said finally. Shadow heard her name—or perhaps picked up on the tension—and lifted her head to look between the two of us. If she got more than fifteen feet away from me, Shadow’s instincts about werewolves returned, and although she wouldn’t kill anyone without a command from me, she became fairly terrifying. This was one of the reasons she went everywhere I did. It had taken nearly two years before she could remain alone with Eli long enough for me to go to the bathroom.

“So we’ll leave her at the house,” Eli persisted.

“You know I don’t like doing that.” We had a special room—okay, it was a cell—for Shadow when she absolutely needed to stay at home, like on some of my messier jobs. She hated it, though, and every time she was put in there she found a way to punish me later—pee on the carpet, shredded furniture, that kind of thing.

“Scarlett . . .” he sighed. “They’d really like to be your friends. Give them a chance.”

“I don’t need any more friends,” I muttered.

Eli raised his eyebrows, but didn’t comment on the fact that he was my only real friend. In my defense, regular friendships are tough in the Old World, where supernatural politics or danger tend to ruin things. I’d lost one friend, a werewolf named Caroline, because she’d been poisoned and the alpha werewolf had needed to put her down before she could kill any humans. Then my former roommate, a vampire named Molly, had evicted me because I’d repeatedly brought danger home with me. We’d initially promised to keep in touch, but it was awkward and uncomfortable, and I hadn’t spoken to her in years. I’d also sort of been friends with a human cop named Jesse Cruz, but he’d wanted more and I had chosen Eli.

Eli knew all of that, but he was too kind to bring it up. Lucky for me, an older hippie couple wandered up to the booth, holding hands, and Eli got sucked into another conversation. I sipped my lemonade and held my tongue.

A few hours later the sun had dipped all the way behind the downtown skyscrapers, and we began packing up the few remaining sculptures. The art walk ran until ten, but Eli was bartending tonight, so we would throw in the towel early. I added up the day’s figures while Eli dismantled the booth. “Nice haul,” I said appreciatively. We were only boxing up three pieces, having sold nearly a dozen.

Box in hand, I walked back to my van, the White Whale, with Shadow, while Eli lagged a dozen feet behind, making a great show of heaving the folded table and chairs. He was far enough behind me to have his werewolf strength back, but it was important not to look too powerful in front of the humans. He was maybe having a good time with the farce.

As Eli loaded the table into the back of my van—we had driven separately so he could go straight to work—I let Shadow into the van’s passenger seat, rolling the windows down so she could sniff the air and eyeball the passing strangers who stared at her. I found myself staring right back and realized my antisocial tendencies were threatening to surface. I wasn’t sure how much longer I could hold up the Supportive Girlfriend exterior without snapping at someone.

Well, someone else, if you counted the Botox lady. I sure didn’t.

Eli had just loaded the gear when a gay couple he’d waited on earlier approached him and began to chat. They seemed like they were settling in to a long discussion of art, and after hours of dealing with people, I didn’t have it in me to join them. There was just too much of a risk that I might have to smile at someone. I reached forward to turn the ignition, planning to wave at Eli as I backed up, but then I realized the van’s rear doors were still open. So I sighed and waited.

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