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Rhapsodic: Chapter 2

May, eight years ago

The air wavers in my kitchen, like I’m staring at a mirage, then suddenly, he’s here, filling the room like he owns it.

The Bargainer.

Holy shit, it worked.

All I can see of him is a good six feet of man and a whole lot of white blond hair tied together in a leather thong. The Bargainer’s back is to me.

A whistle breaks the silence. “That is one dead man,” he says, staring at my handiwork. His heavy boots clink as he approaches the body.

He wears black on black, his shirt stretched tight over his wide shoulders. My eyes drop to his left arm, which is covered in tattoos.

Callie, what did you get yourself into?

The toe of the Bargainer’s boot nudges the corpse. “Hmm, I stand corrected. Mostly dead.”

That snaps me out of it.

What?” He can’t be alive. The fear that thrums through my veins is a living, breathing thing.

“It will cost you probably more than you’re willing to offer, but I can still revive him.”

Revive him? What is this dude smoking?

“I don’t want him alive,” I say.

The Bargainer turns, and for the first time ever I get a good look at him.

I just stare and stare. I’d imagined a creep, but wicked though the man in front of me might be, he is no creep.

Not even close.

The Bargainer is gorgeous in a way that only a few rare men are. He’s not rugged, despite the strong jaw and hard gleam in his eyes. There’s a symmetry to his face, a lushness in each one of his features that you see more often in women than men. High, prominent cheekbones, wicked, curving lips, gleaming silver eyes. Not that he looks feminine. That’s impossible with his broad, muscular frame and shit-kicking attire.

He’s simply a pretty man.

really pretty man.

He sizes me up. “No.”

I stare at him quizzically. “No what?”

“I don’t do business with minors.”

The air shimmers and, ohmygod, he’s leaving.

“Wait—wait!” I reach out. Now it’s not just the air that shimmers. It’s my skin. It’s been doing that a lot lately—glowing softly.

He pauses to stare at my arm. Something passes through those eyes of his, something wilder than shock, something more untamed than excitement. The room around him seems to darken, and at his back, I swear I catch sight of something large and sinuous.

As quickly as the moment comes, it’s gone.

His eyes narrow. “What are you?”

My hand drops. “Please,” I beg. “I really need to make a deal.”

The Bargainer sighs, sounding all sorts of put out. “Listen, I don’t make deals with minors. Go to the police.” Despite his tone, he’s still staring at my hand, now wearing a distant, troubled expression.

“I can’t.” If only he knew. “Please, help me.”

His gaze moves from my hand to my face.

The Bargainer gnashes his teeth together, scowling like he smells something bad. Stares at me in all my bloody, disheveled glory. More teeth gnashing.

His eyes sweep the room, lingering on my stepfather. What does he see? Can he tell it was an accident?

My teeth begin to chatter. I hug my arms tightly to my chest.

In spite of himself, his eyes return to me, his gaze briefly softening before it hardens all over again.

“Who is he?”

I swallow.

“Who. Is. He?” the Bargainer repeats.

“My stepfather,” I croak.

He stares at me, his gaze unflinching. “Did he deserve it?”

I release a shuddering breath, a tear slipping out in spite of myself. Wordlessly, I nod.

The Bargainer scrutinizes me for a long time, his gaze moving to the tear sliding down my cheek.

He glances away, grimacing. The man rubs a hand over his mouth, paces two steps away before turning back to me. “Fine,” he rasps. “I’ll help you at”—more teeth gnashing and another raking gaze which pauses on the tear on my cheek—“no cost.” He practically chokes on the words. “Just this once. Consider this my pro bono for the century.”

I open my mouth to thank him, but he raises his hand, his eyes pinching shut. “Don’t.”

When he opens his eyes, they pass over the room. I feel the magic pulse out of him. I know about this side of our world—the supernatural side. My stepfather built his empire on his magical ability.

However, I’ve never seen this kind of magic in action—magic that can make things inexplicably occur. I gasp as the blood dissolves from the floor, and then the countertop, and then my clothes, and hair, and hands.

The broken bottle follows. One moment it’s there, the next, it vanishes. Whatever enchantment this is, it tickles my skin as it passes through the room.

Once he’s done with the crime scene, the Bargainer heads towards the body.

He pauses when he gets there, peering curiously down at the dead man. Then he stills. “Is that who I think it is?”

Now is probably not a good time to tell the Bargainer that I off’ed the Hugh Anders, the most powerful stock market analyst out there and the man who, for the right price, could tell you just about anything you wanted to know concerning the future. When a drug deal was going to go down, whether the threat on your life was harmless or real, if you were going to get caught for the death of an enemy. If he wasn’t the world’s best seer, he was at least one of the richest. Not that it saved him from death.

Oh the irony.

The Bargainer lets loose a string of curses.

“Fucking cursed sirens,” he mutters. “Your bad luck’s rubbing off on me.”

I flinch, well acquainted with sirens’ predisposition for misfortune. It’s what landed my mother an unwanted pregnancy and an early death.

“Have any relatives?” he asks.

I bite my lower lip and shake my head, hugging myself tighter. It’s just little old me, myself, and I in the world.

He swears again.

“How old are you?”

“I’ll be sixteen in two weeks.” The birthday I’d been waiting years for. In the supernatural community, sixteen was the legal age of adulthood. But now that very fact could be used against me. Once I hit that magical number, I could be tried as an adult.

I’d been two weeks away from freedom. Two weeks. And then this happened.

“Finally,” he sighs, “some good news. Pack your bags. Tomorrow you’re moving to the Isle of Man.”

I blink, my mind slow to catch up. “What? Wait—tomorrow?” I’d be moving? And so soon? My head spins at the thought.

“Peel Academy has summer sessions starting in a couple weeks,” he says.

Located on the Isle of Man, an island smack dab between Ireland and Great Britain, Peel Academy was the premiere supernatural boarding school. I’d been dreaming of going for so long. And now I would be.

“You’re going to attend classes starting then, and you’re not going to tell anyone that you killed Hugh fucking Anders.”

I flinch at that.

“Unless,” he adds, “you’d prefer that I leave you here with this mess.”

Oh God. “No—please stay!”

Another long-suffering sigh. “I’ll deal with the body and the authorities. If anyone asks, he had a heart attack.”

The Bargainer eyes me curiously before remembering that he’s annoyed with me. He snaps his fingers, and the body levitates. It takes several seconds to process the fact that a corpse is floating in my kitchen.

The Bargainer looks unfazed. “There’s something you should know.”

“Uh-huh?” My gaze is fixed on the floating body. So creepy.

“Eyes on me,” the Bargainer snaps.

My attention snaps to him.

“There’s a chance my magic will wear off over time. I might be powerful, but that pretty little curse all you sirens have hanging over your heads might override even my magic.” Somehow he manages to come off as arrogant even as he’s telling me his powers might be inadequate.

“What happens if that’s the case?” I ask.

The Bargainer smirks. Huge asshole. I’ve already got him profiled.

“Then you best start utilizing your womanly wiles, cherub,” he says, his eyes flicking over me. “You’ll be needing them.”

With that parting line, the Bargainer disappears, along with the man I killed.


Present

Power.

That is the heart of my addiction. Power. I was once crushed under the weight of it, and it almost swallowed me whole.

But that was a long time ago. And now I’m the formidable force.

The restaurant’s private room glows softly under the candlelight. I lean in close to Micky. “So this is what’s going to happen. You are going to return that money you embezzled back to your mother.”

His previously vacant eyes focus on me. If looks could kill …

“Fuck. You.”

I smile, and I know I look predatory.

“Listen closely, because this is the only warning I’m going to give you: I know you have no idea what I am. But I assure you, I can ruin your life, and I’m just enough of an asshole to consider it. So unless you want to lose everything you care about, you are going to be respectful.”

Regular mortals know that supernaturals exist, but we tend to separate ourselves from the non-magically gifted, simple reason being that fun shit like witch hunts tend to pop up when mortals get too intimidated by us supernaturals.

I reach for my purse.

“Now, because you can’t be a good son on your own, I’m going to help you,” I say conversationally. I pull out a pen and a series of documents my client gave me out of my bag.

Shoving Micky’s plate out of the way, I lay it out in front of him.

One is a written confession of guilt, and the other is a promissory note, both documents drafted by my client’s lawyer.

“You’re going to repay every penny you stole—with ten percent interest.”

Micky makes a small noise.

“Was that fifteen percent interest I heard?” He shakes his head furiously.

“That’s what I thought. Now, I’ll give you ten minutes to flip through the document, and then you’re going to sign it.”

I spend those ten minutes sampling the wine and food that Micky’s guests left behind, kicking my heels up because, ugh, stilettos.

When the time’s up, I collect the documents from Micky. As I flip through them, I peek over at the man himself. His face is now coated with an unhealthy sheen of sweat and I bet if he removed his dinner jacket, I’d see huge rings of it beneath his armpits.

I finish flipping through the document. Once I’m done, I slide them back in my purse.

“We’re almost done here.”

“Al-most?” He says the word like he’s never heard of it.

“You didn’t think I’d leave you to just a few paltry signatures did you?” I shake my head, and now my skin is doing more to illuminate the room than the low lighting is. The siren in me loves this. Toying with her victim. “Oh, Micky, no no no.”

And this is where I stop toying with Micky and go in for the kill. I lean forward, putting as much power into my voice as I can manage. “You are going to right your wrongs. You’re never going to do this ever again, and you are going to spend the rest of your life working to be a better person and earn your mother’s forgiveness.”

He nods his head.

I grab my purse. “Be a good son. If I hear you haven’t been—if I hear anything at all that reflects poorly on you—you’ll be seeing me again, and you don’t want that.”

He shakes his head, his expression vacant.

I stand. My work here is done.

A single command is all it takes.

Forget I exist. Poof, your memory scrubs away my existence.

Look away. Your eyes move everywhere but me.

Tell me your darkest secret. Your mouth and mind betray you.

Give me your riches. You’ll clean out our bank account in an instant.

Drown.

Drown. Drown. Drown. You die.

That was someone’s favorite back when the world was young, back when sirens got their reputation for coaxing sailors to their deaths.

Drown.

Sometimes, when I’m left alone to my own thoughts—which is fairly often—I wonder about those women, the ones who hung out on the rocks calling out to sailors and coaxing them to their deaths. Did it really happen that way? Did they want them to die? Why did they prey on those particular men? The myths never say.

I wonder if any of them were like me—whether their beauty made them victims long before it gave them power. Whether some sailor somewhere abused those women before they had a voice at all. Whether they grew angry and jaded like me and used their power to punish the guilty as payback.

I wonder how much of the tale is true, and how many of their victims were innocent.

I prey on bad men. This is my vendetta. My addiction.

I climb the staircase to my Malibu beach house, my feet sore from the hours spent standing in heels. In front of me, the slate grey paint of my house peels away from the wooden slats. Bright green mold grows along the roof’s shingles. This is my perfectly imperfect home.

I step inside, and in here, the air smells like the ocean. My home is simple. It has three bedrooms, the tile countertops are chipped, and if you walk through it barefoot, you’ll get sand between your toes. The living room and bedroom face the ocean, and the entire back wall in both rooms is nothing more than giant sliding glass doors that can open completely onto the backyard.

Beyond my small backyard, the world drops away. A wooden staircase winds its way down the coastal cliff my house is perched on, and at the bottom of it the icy Pacific Ocean kisses the sandy California shore—and your feet, if you let it.

This place is my sanctuary. I knew it the moment the real estate agent showed it to me two years ago.

I walk through my house in the dark, not bothering to flip on the lights as I strip my clothes off piece by piece. I leave them where they fall. Tomorrow I’ll pick them up, but tonight I have a date with the sea, and then my bed.

Through my living room windows the moon shines brightly, and my heart is filled with such unending longing.

I’ve secretly been glad that Eli has to keep away from me until the full moon passes. As a lycanthrope, he has to stay away from me during the Sacred Seven, the week surrounding the full moon when he can’t control his shift from man to wolf.

I have my own reasons for wanting to be alone around this time, reasons that have nothing to do with Eli and everything to do with my past.

I step out of my jeans as I enter my bedroom to grab my swimsuit. Just as I reach back to unclasp my bra, a shadow darker than the rest moves.

I stifle the shriek bubbling up in my throat. My hand gropes against the wall next to me until I find the light switch. I flip on the bedroom lights.

In front of me, lounging on my bed, is the Bargainer.


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