“Good. Then I’d say we’re not looking for a witch, either.”
She replaced some of the bottles she’d removed from the shelf and took down a metal plate that had little feet on the underside to prop it up, and then waved me into the circle.
“Before we begin, I want to remind you there is only a very small chance this will work. And I cannot assume responsibility for any unforeseen consequences that may arise from the spell.”
I nodded. “Yeah, got it.”
She frowned. “I know you must miss your partner. But this is a tricky spell in the best of times. And I require payment regardless of outcome.”
“Just cast the damn spell.”
The witch nodded and grabbed Amanda’s brush from the floor and set it next to where she knelt. She pulled a city map from a small stack on the shelf and unfolded it, and then set the paper on the floor to her left. She placed the small metal plate in the middle of the circle, on top of the symbol, and dumped a pile of herbs and small pieces of wood onto of the rough surface.
Natalie whispered a word and lit a wooden match. “Kneel,” she ordered.
As I knelt across from her, she tossed the match onto the plate.
The pile of tinder exploded into a small fire, filling the air with the scent of lemons and sage, which combined with the other scents and made the air rushing into my lungs smell almost medicinal. I let out a small cough to clear the taste from my throat, but it didn’t help.
Natalie closed her eyes and murmured something I couldn’t make out. She pulled a handful of Amanda’s hair from the brush and tossed it onto the fire. A few more strands went onto the map.
Holding her palms up in front of her, she waved her fingers at me until I gripped her hands in mine.
“Close your eyes.”
I closed them and tried to steady my breathing. The overpowering herbs grew stronger, burning their way down my throat and into my lungs.
“Concentrate. Visualize your partner, what she meant to you, how much you miss her.”
Amanda’s face filled my mind’s eye, as if summoned by the witch: her sardonic grin and steady personality, her long hair and devotion to her job. Her wide, unblinking eyes. Her tangled hair hanging over the edge of her bed.
I swallowed around the lump in my throat.
“Yes,” Natalie said softly. “Now I will guide your intent. Concentrate on him. The killer who took her from you. Feel how much you need to find him.”
I forced myself to see her, to picture Amanda. And I thought of him, the man who killed her. How badly I wanted to return the favor. I felt it all. The pain and rage and fear. It was as if Natalie had opened a floodgate, and maybe she had, perhaps that was part of the spell. I didn’t know. I concentrated, blinking back tears that came more from emotion than the heavy burning of herbs in the air, and through it all Natalie hummed.
The hair on my body pricked up, and I felt goose bumps rise to cover my arms. I heard a buzzing sound, and struggled to keep my focus. The space around us vibrated, and I could no longer smell the herbs. Instead, everything reeked of burnt things. The spell hit me with a blast of energy that skittered its way up my arms and into my body. The air pushed from my lungs as if a great weight pressed against me. I couldn’t breathe, but I didn’t care because the energy felt so good. Painful yet powerful, as if before that moment I’d never felt anything real, only shadows of what living was supposed to feel like. I struggled to keep my focus on Amanda, on her killer. Then, as if someone clicked a light switch, the weight was gone. Nothing crawled up my arms begging to be freed, no energy pulsed through me.
I gasped and blinked stupidly at the witch, my brain fuzzy from the force of her spell. “Jeez,” I managed after a few moments. “Could’ve warned me.”
But the witch wasn’t paying attention to me; she was frowning at the map. “Just as I thought,” she murmured.
“What?” She didn’t answer me, so I reached out and grabbed the map and scanned it. The surface was perfect. No marks scarred it. Nothing showed it hadn’t come new off the shelf only minutes before.
“I take it something was supposed to happen to this?” I stared at the map. Then I tossed it back down and struggled to my feet. “What happened? I thought you were a powerful witch?”
She shook her head, and then pushed herself up and dusted off her knees. “It didn’t work. Whoever you’re looking for is powerful. Powerful and possessing no small amount of psychic energy.”
“Now you’re telling me he’s psychic?”
She looked at me like I’d said something especially stupid and took a deep breath. “No. I’m saying he’s full of energy and he knows how to use it to protect himself. Lots of things can accumulate energy, though few to that degree. Are you sure he isn’t a vampire?”
“He’s not a freaking vampire. I told you that!” I took a breath and lowered my voice. “I think he might be an incubus.”
She raised an eyebrow. “An incubus who has drained how many women to the point of death?”
“Maybe a dozen.”
“Well that would have been good information to have, Detective.”
I threw my hands up. “What difference would it have made? Other than making you think I was nuts?”
“I would no sooner try an open trace spell on an incubus full of psychic energy than I would on a vampire who had been draining victims at that rate. It’s dangerous. It’s possible for a creature like that, with appropriate knowledge and training, to use such a spell against you. And almost impossible for you to actually succeed in using it against him—not without something of his to use as a focus.”
“My partner found him and she was a freaking amateur!” My voice rose to a yell, but I couldn’t help it. How the hell was I supposed to find him now?
Natalie raised an eyebrow and crossed her arms. “Did she really? I don’t think so, Detective. I suspect she tried, probably using the hair of a victim like we did here. But she wasn’t a Covenant witch, and not equipped with the same defenses I created for us. She opened a doorway and found something stronger than her. She didn’t find and track him with that spell. He used that spell to track her.”
My mouth dropped open, and I stared at the witch.
She sighed. “I’m sorry. I’m sure your friend was a good amateur witch. But few outside of the Covenant realize such a thing is possible.”
“And you don’t think he’ll find me the same way?”
“Not with the precautions I took. And as the caster he would only be able to trace it to me, not to you.” She sounded convincing, but a bit of doubt nagged at me, adding to my frustration.
I wanted to scream, use the power of my voice to destroy her baubles and bottles and the precious spell ingredients within them, but such a display would have been childish, and wrong. Amanda’s death wasn’t her fault. And screaming would only further hurt my bank account.
So I kept my mouth shut, shook the witch’s hand, and left.
After leaving Natalie’s, I drove around for a while, trying to focus my thoughts. Giving up on that, I stopped at Sylvester’s to make sure the incubus hadn’t been there. Kimmy looked at me like I was a nut, considering it was only six o’clock. I ordered a sandwich to go and headed home.
By the time I got there, I felt like I’d run a marathon. Spell casting required energy and since I had the strongest intent—an important thing in witchcraft—Natalie had used mine for the spell, intermingled with her own to direct the magic. I considered what fueled her side of the energy, and decided that anyone would have a good amount of motivation with the exorbitant fee she charged. I wondered if she’d have had the same intent on an hourly wage.
My keys clanked when I tossed them on the coffee table. Cold beer in hand, I sat down to consider my next move. I could go to the bar, in the hope that he’d show with a new date or come in seeking one, but that was a long shot. After taking a cop there the night she died, he would almost definitely avoid the place like the plague now. In fact, he’d probably head out of town, if he were at all smart.
The doorbell sounded, interrupting my thoughts. I checked the peephole, and then sighed and turned the deadbolt. I opened the door a crack to peer out at the man on my front step.
“Wow, so welcoming. I’m amazed you don’t have men beating down your door with that attitude.”
I gritted my teeth and stepped away from the door. I walked back to the couch and plopped down. Aidan could come in or go straight to hell for all I cared at that moment. I took a long drink from my beer, nearly finishing it, and I heard the door click shut.
“You all right?” He sat down on the couch next to me, not touching, but oh, so close.
“I’m fine.” I shook my head to clear the cobwebs. What was wrong with me? My friend is dead for two days and I was ready to jump someone I barely knew?
“You don’t look fine.”
“Yeah, well, it’s been a shitty week.”
He got up from the couch and disappeared into the kitchen. When he reappeared, he carried two bottles of beer. Handing me one, he took a sip from the other.
I teetered between feeling annoyed at him for acting so comfortable in my house and happy he got me a fresh beer. The lure of the cold liquid proved too good to stay irritated, so I settled for a quiet seething while I nursed it.
“Want to talk about it?”
“Not particularly.” I pressed the bottle against my head and wished I could have a redo of the last few days. “Like I told you on the phone, I got the incubus’s description from Kimmy. He took the first local victim—Claire Simons—to Sylvester’s, too. Not sure about the second one.”
Aidan didn’t say anything; he just watched me with his dark eyes and sipped his beer. God, he was attractive. My heart raced just looking at him—even while talking about my murdered friend and partner. Ridiculous.
It’s stress, I told myself. Stress plays havoc with emotions and hormones.