All Charged Up

Eww. My familiar had, in fact, pooped on the floor, and defecating appeared to be the extent of his talents. I spent a solid minute staring into his beady black eyes but no shooting stars or magical tingles came to pass.


"What are you going to name it?" Michelle asked.

"Hmm, what do you name the creepy, hooked-beak, bird of death? I'm not sure."

Michelle lowered her voice to an Alfred Hitchcock bass. "Quoth the raven, nevermore."

"Nevermore is too long, and too obvious." I snapped my fingers. "Of course, Poe! I'll name him Poe."

"Stellar. Now that you've named him, what will you do with him?"

My shoulders sagged, the magic hangover hitting me hard. I hugged my knees to my chest and closed my eyes.

"Drained you, huh?"

"To the porcelain bottom." I rubbed my eyes. "Do you know what ravens eat?"

"Not a clue, but that's why I have my old friend Mrs. Google." From her back pocket, she removed her phone and typed a few words into the search bar. "Ugh."

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"Listen to this. Ravens are omnivores eating whatever is easiest to catch, including the dead bodies of other animals, small living rodents, reptiles, other birds, and occasionally grains and berries. They will also eat maggots and animal poo."

"Eww," I said. "That's disgusting."

"I prefer baby goat, but don't knock maggots until you've tried them," Poe said, ignoring the way Michelle and I gaped in surprise at the deep tenor voice coming out of his throat. "They are surprisingly sweet and nutritious."

"The bird just spoke," I said.

"Yes. The big, scary bird just spoke to us in a muddled European accent."

"Do you have a problem with my accent? Because the east coast Jersey shore lilt you've acquired isn't exactly prizeworthy."

I snorted, covering my mouth with my hand.

"Oh, that's rich," Poe said, laughing low and dark. "Not exactly an aristocratic giggle you have. Did you snort like that before you became a witch or was the cause a spell gone bad? Because if it was the second, my condolences for the loss of your femininity."

Michelle wrapped an arm around my shoulders and helped me to my feet. "Um, Grateful, your familiar is a total ass."

"Yeah. I don't get it. The woman in the spell said he would be what I needed. I don't think I needed another smart-ass in my life. I have you."

"I'll take that as a compliment."

I nodded.

"So, about that young goat. I am feeling quite hungry. It doesn't have to be freshly born. A few days old is fine. If you open the window, I can find one myself."

I glanced toward the window, noticing the gray-toned sunset. Looked like a winter's storm was coming. Someone needed to tell Mother Nature it was still November. "Are you sure you can take care of yourself if I let you outside?" I turned toward the big black bird.

"Of course, dear witch. I may be new to you but I am no spring chicken." He cackled at his own joke, breaking into caws that didn't match his low, human-like voice.

"Do you think it's a good idea to set him loose on Red Grove, Grateful?" Michelle asked. "We hardly know him."

I pointed a hand toward the pressing night. "I've got to go see Rick," I said.

She groaned. "Right. You've got a job to do. You let Poe out. I'll get some paper towels to clean up the mess."

"You're the best."

"Sorry about the state of things," Poe said, tilting his head toward his excrement. "Blackberries. They're a habit really. Once you eat one..." His low laugh trailed off.

Michelle scrunched her eyes and stuck out her tongue in my direction.

"Sorry," I said, opening the window. Poe burst past me, taking to the cool November twilight like it was a long lost friend.

"Never mind. Go to work. I'll take care of it," Michelle said.

I could always count on Michelle. I closed the window and coasted down the stairs, lifting my black wool coat from the rack near the door. Down my driveway I raced, spilling out into the street. At a jog, I crossed the stone bridge, but before I even reached the door to Rick's cottage, his shirtless form moved from his porch. He could feel me coming, just as I could feel his need for me pulsing in the twilight. Eyes as black as his ebony waves, their natural gray was drowned out, a sign that his beast was close to the surface. The scar on his chest, the scar I had caused in my past life when I made him my eternal soul's vessel, was the only mar on the smooth, golden expanse of his skin.

The storm I'd seen coming arrived. Downy white flakes dumped from the gray sky and swirled between us. If Rick felt the sting of the icy wind on his bare flesh, he didn't show it. In a flash, he met me where I was, in the street. He scooped his hands under my bottom and lifted me to him. Bliss. My arms instinctively wrapped around his neck, and my legs locked at the ankle behind his hips.

With super speed, he whirled me inside his place, our mouths melding together and his tongue working adeptly at kindling the fire within me. He pulled back long enough to unbutton my coat and hung it on the brass hook near the door. I'd threatened that I'd withhold myself if he tore any more of my clothes, so he was extra careful as he unbuttoned my blouse. The silky material was a deep lapis blue, a color I'd discovered made his eyes flash wider than any other in my wardrobe. I'd never admit I liked that reaction. With Rick, the specter of losing myself always nipped at the cuffs of our relationship. I had to be careful. I had to have boundaries.

While his fingers worked nimbly on the last button, his mouth found my pulse on the left side of my neck, his teeth raking over the taut flesh. Rick pushed the shirt off of my shoulders and laid it carefully across the back of the couch. I slipped off my own shoes and socks, backing toward his bedroom. The fabric of his cotton pants peaked, teasing me. He blew into me like a dark wind. My bra was off and draped across the dresser in a heartbeat, nimbly undone while I was distracted with the way his thumb caressed my bottom rib. And then his hand cupped my breast and his hot mouth drew in my nipple, rolling it across his tongue and sending an exquisite cascade of electrical sparks straight to my nether regions.

I buried my fingers in his hair, arching my back. He didn't deny me. Finding my other breast, he kneaded the flesh with his fingers before playfully flicking his tongue across the nipple. In return, I bit his earlobe and kissed my way down to the well of skin between his neck and chest. My fingers reached for the waistband of his pants and pulled the cord like a ribbon on a birthday present I desperately wanted. The blessed cotton fell away without any effort on my part. I promptly wrapped him in my palm.

"Mi cielo," he moaned, closing his eyes. "I have missed you." His lips slanted across mine, his tongue stroking while his hands got busy down below.

"You saw me last night," I said lightly into his mouth.

He pulled back. "Exactly. An eternity." His brilliant smile lit up the room, and then his fingers found my zipper. In no time, my pants and underthings were off and carefully folded on his dresser.

Naked, I moved toward the bed and sat down on his duvet. I leaned back and allowed my knees to drift apart slightly, giving him full view of what was between them. "Why Caretaker, you act as though I'm a sure thing."

"You are naked on my bed. Do you intend to tell me no?" He eyed me from head to toe and licked his lips.

I rolled back and flipped up onto my toes, feeling the power of the sexual energy between us swirl thick and musky in the bedroom. "I intend to make you work for it."

With a lithe leap, he landed in front of me, his body between my crouching knees. "What would you have me do?"

I leaned forward until my lips hovered in front of his. "You can have me when I say your name."

"Then I will make you scream it," he said before spreading my lips with his own and exploring my mouth once more.

The kiss turned my muscles into Jello, and I collapsed to my knees on the mattress. He held me up, straddling him chest to chest. One of his hands gripped the base of my skull while the other trailed down the outside of my breast, over my navel, and plunged between my thighs. His fingers worked, darting in and out of me. I closed my eyes, tipped my head back, and moaned. He pivoted, sinking to the bed, and slid his head between my knees. His tongue replaced his fingers.

Pleasure racked my body. I tipped forward, taking him into my mouth as well. The echo of ecstasy that coursed through our connection brought me to the crest of the first peak.

I tossed my head back. "Rick," I screamed. Manipulated by his able hands, he lowered me onto my back, cradled me in his arms against the mattress. Face to face, he entered me, slowly, gently. The heat and throb blasted me straight into oblivion, the first of many launches into the beyond that filled the room with golden energy.

When I thought I couldn't possibly take any more, his teeth found my neck. A soft nip and warm blood oozed over my skin. His partially shifted hand worked between our chests and a talon sliced a clean cut over his collarbone. I accepted what he offered, sealing my lips around the wound and gulping his blood. Vitality dripped down my throat until my head spun-that free dizzy feeling like running downhill as fast as my legs could carry me.

For a moment, I gave myself over to it, always knowing deep inside that this feeling was dangerous. Too close to an addiction. I'd messed up every relationship I'd ever been in, drove men away by moving too fast. My last boyfriend, Gary, had abandoned me and become a vampire. The guy before said I was too clingy. The one before that, cheated on me. I wasn't ready to open myself up again.

Rick and I needed each other to stay strong and fight the bad guys. What would happen if this relationship went sour? Could I even survive without him? Better I didn't get too close. But that didn't mean I couldn't enjoy what we had together physically. I forced my thoughts to stop and simply relished the pleasure, the smell of him, the close, filling warmth.

Sometime later, we rolled apart. The wound from his bite healed immediately. It hadn't hurt at all. A side effect of our connection was that my flesh moved aside to give him access to my blood. The sexual energy bled from the room, and only then did I notice the sun had set. The moon, through his bedroom window, cast the muscles of his chest in a pale light. Face to face, his eyes conveyed soft, awe-filled wonder. The expression was an ocean to my puddle of vacillating feelings.

"I love you, Grateful," he whispered. "Marry me."

I rolled onto my back and stared up at the ceiling. "No."

Silence. I listened to the snow blow against the window, the tick of my watch the only other sound. Tick, tick, tick. The bed sheets rustled. I looked at my watch.

"Looks like it's time to go to work," I murmured.

An awkward moment passed where I wondered if he was going to push the subject like he had in the past. Rick wanted to marry me. I wasn't ready for marriage. End of discussion.

"I'll get the mirror." He rolled off the bed and headed for the closet. I blew out a relieved breath.

Rick had been teaching me about our duties over the last couple of months, duties he'd been performing on his own in my absence. Our job was to police the supernaturals within our ward-the state of New Hampshire. It was a small ward in terms of square miles but had the third highest rate of supernatural activity. The highest was Arizona, followed by Maine. I'd learned that most supers were attracted to natural energy-forests, deserts, wide-open prairie. Trouble arose when they lived too close to humans. New Hampshire was the fifth least populated state in the country, which attracted the supers, but the small cities were spreading, putting humans closer and closer to overpopulated super territory. That's what was happening with the Carlton City vamp coven we'd discovered in September. That group was getting dangerously large and living in the city, a recipe for disaster.

The mirror in Rick's hands was a misshapen stretch of polished silver I'd enchanted during my second lifetime. It didn't exactly tell the future, but it did zero-in on supers who were thinking about making bad choices. Nine times out of ten, they'd act on those impulses and Rick and I would catch them in the act. Rick placed it flat on the floor where it looked like a puddle on the hardwood.

I sat down across from him, not bothering with my clothes. It was better this way. Nature had the strongest connection with magic and clothing only complicated the clarity of the vision.

"Ready?" I asked.

He nodded and placed his fingers at the edge of the mirror. I did the same. Instantly the magic awakened, the silver bubbling to a boil and swirling like liquid mercury.

"Mirror, mirror, on the floor-" I began.

"I do not know why you insist on starting that way," Rick said, giving me a sour glare.

"It's funny," I said. "It's from Snow White."

He rolled his eyes. "Mi cielo, please."

I straightened up. "Fine, but you could benefit from more humor in your life. You take yourself way too seriously."

He cocked his head to the side and raised his eyebrows.

"Okay, okay." I stared at the swirling silver and said in a cool, strong voice, "Reveal."

The bubbles rose to form buildings, a 3-D model of an area I recognized immediately.

"It's the edge of Carlton." I pointed at a blinking silver sign at the center of the cityscape. "See, it's the Mill Wheel nightclub."

"You know this place?"

"Everybody knows this place. It's where all the college kids go because they don't enforce the drinking age."

A male figure boiled up in the back alley, watching silver skinned girls filter past him to smoke near the dumpster. I frowned.

"I believe a certain vamp would like to take advantage of the most impressionable guests." Rick's brows knit.

I passed my hand over the mirror and the scene melted into a pool of swirling silver.

"Reveal," I repeated. Another scene boiled to the surface. Another man, another alley.

"I know this place," he said. "Maison des Etoiles. It's a fae bordello."

"Should I ask why you are familiar with a bordello?" Rick told me he'd never been with anyone but me.

"These fae are friendly to our cause and often have information about creatures of the night due to their profession."

"So, you use them for information?"


"Ah." A wayward pang of jealousy sliced through me at the thought of Rick in a Bordello. Had he really saved himself for me? And if he had, why did that mean so much to me now? Hell, why did the thought of Rick in a bordello fill me with green-eyed rage? I shoved the feeling down deep. I had no right to that emotion, not while I refused to commit.

I turned my attention back toward the mirror and watched the voluptuous silhouette of a shiny winged fae meet the man in the alley. He grabbed her shoulders, and she writhed in pain, dissolving between his hands.

"That's not a vampire. What is this, Rick? He just eviscerated her with a simple touch."

"I'm not sure. The fae are filled with light and warmth. Whatever he is must possess the opposite to have that effect."

I blinked at the silvery scene, an ominous sinking feeling in my belly. Then I passed my hand over the top and said, "Reveal."

The scene changed again. This was going to be a busy night.

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