That meant they killed them. And cut off their skin.

Oh God. I was going to be sick. If I thought about it anymore I was going to go vegetarian. I pushed all of that horror out of my mind. I needed something that these men had. Being polite was of the utmost importance.

Father Alfred moved around the room, grabbing the kettle from the fire and setting it on a trivet on the table. He placed four handle-less cups on the table, and went back to the hearth to grab a few jars that rested on the shelf above it. He sprinkled an assortment of herbs into the cups and then filled them with water to steep.

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I watched every move, and realized I couldn’t possibly drink whatever was in that cup. Taking herbs from these men would be beyond stupid, but I wasn’t sure how I could get out of drinking without being suspicious.

“Come sit,” said Father Valentine as he settled into one of the chairs.

Matt took the seat next to him. “Where’s my cousin?”

“Oh, the others are on a spirit quest in the mountain. They’ve been gone for a fortnight. I don’t think they’ll be back for another few days. But I like to stick around here.” He chuckled to himself. “My bones are old. This young one stayed behind to make sure I didn’t do anything foolish.”

“That’s not quite accurate,” said Father Alfred. “I stayed back because last time we all left, you got yourself in a bit of trouble. Wolves.” He said the last word like it was disgusting.

It was to be expected, but it still annoyed me.

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“Don’t talk too poorly of them in front of her. She seems to have grown fond of the wolves recently,” Matt said.

Father Valentine leaned back in his chair. “Is that right? Why would you waste your time with those dogs?”

I’d been around the wolves enough to know that “dog” was a huge insult. “I ran into a problem with my coven. I needed a place to go, and my cousin who was bitten offered sanctuary.” I didn’t want to go into too much detail. If Luciana liked to come here, then the old man definitely knew her. They might even be best friends.

Father Valentine grunted.

Well, this was going fantastically. How long did I need to give it before I politely segued into asking for access to the rest of their compound?

Matt motioned to me. “She thinks Luciana is raising demons.”

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Matt! You idiot.

“What gives you that impression?” Father Alfred set his cup on the table with a thunk.

I wanted to wring Matt’s stupid neck. I had to play this carefully. If they really were the kind who dabbled in summoning, then I couldn’t come out and say I was looking for white magic. “She tried to raise some about a week ago, but she doesn’t have enough power to hold them. She’s playing a dangerous game.” Father Alfred and Father Valentine shared a disbelieving look, and I barely contained a sigh. This wasn’t going well. “I know it sounds far-fetched, but I’ve come a long way for help.” I didn’t say their help, because I didn’t want their help.

His bushy white eyebrows nearly disappeared along his hairline. “You want our help? I see.” He pushed the cup in front of me a little closer. “Well, let’s have a think on how we might be able to do that.”

None of the men made a move to sip their tea while they stared at me and I couldn’t help feeling a twinge of suspicion. I really, really didn’t want to take herbs from brujos I didn’t know. Especially ones with auras like theirs.

I picked up the cup, blew off the steam, and pretended to take a small sip before setting it back down. “A little hot.” I gave them my best smile.

Father Alfred smiled, but it wasn’t a nice one. “I’m not sure we have much experience with demons. What type are you trying to raise?”

Of course they’d assume I wanted to raise demons. They were evil. They’d expect me to want to do evil things, too, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t horribly outraged by the suggestion. “There’s been a misunderstanding. I don’t want to raise any demons.”

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“Oh, well, then.” Father Valentine bristled. “I was going to say that it would be very difficult for someone like yourself to raise a demon. That means you want to fight them?”

I nodded.

“That’s not wise,” Father Valentine said. “If you see one, you should leave the area. Fast.”

I wasn’t going to take this personally. Nope. Not at all. “I understand that would be the best thing to do, but sometimes that’s not an option. Sometimes you have to fight.”

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