Letters from New York [Blood Magic, Book 2]

Until Mills and Keel, the sorcerer-vampire bond was solely the stuff of folklore and legend – a whispered myth with one hell of a body count.

Now Mills has returned to New York City, to human life, but the bond is reawakening.

And someone knows her secret.

All her secrets…

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11. Lucia

Chapter 8: Lucia

All the coffee did was make me twitchy. I hoped that Bruce wouldn't pick up on that, especially since I knew he'd be keeping an eye out for any lingering symptoms worth reporting to Ephraim. So I did the one thing I was sure would distract him: I cooked breakfast.

By the time he slunk into the kitchen around 10:30 a.m., still trying to rub the sleep out of his eyes, the table was with set with a pair of plates piled high with eggs, bacon, French toast and grilled tomatoes. I greeted him with a broad, cheery grin, wide arms and a bellowing proclamation that "breakfast has been served."

"I wasn't expecting this," Bruce said, bemused, as he slid into the chair across from mine.

"I woke up early today and I realized I’ve been being a real you-know-what lately, so I figured I owed you."

Okay, so that might be laying it on a little thick. But what the hell, I was on a roll. 

"Well, it looks delicious."

I beamed at the compliment, just as I would have a week ago, before all the crazy started. I'd never had much interest in cooking, but it appealed to Bruce even less. Meaning, if I'd left it all to him we'd be subsisting on sandwiches, hamburgers and microwave pizza. He'd only started taking a stab at breakfast after I began teasing him about being intimidated by the appliances. Bruce wasn't the type of guy who was intimidated by anything, except for maybe my father.

"So: ski trip. Is that still a nay?" Bruce asked.

It took me a moment to figure out what he was on about. Oh yeah, being social. He thought it was time I made plans with Anna and Jenny again, and he was hoping my brighter mood would make me more receptive to the idea.

It didn’t. I'd barely thought of the two of them since the bond kicked back in. I used to pride myself on being a good friend, yet since I’d returned I seemed to be aiming for “worst friend ever.” Avoiding them was easier than hanging out, and it almost made me happier, as terrible as that sounds. These days, I was pretty much the opposite of a people person. I hadn’t even texted Mikey back when he'd replied to my late-night message, earlier this morning. I'd been so engrossed in my note-making that I'd simply hit the mute button on my phone and kept right on writing.

I was supposed to be finding my place here, but humanity was quickly losing what little draw it had. Even at this distance, Keel and the supernatural world beckoned me. The bond acted as a perpetual tether and the more time I spent there – with him, in him – the more I acclimatized I was becoming to his Nosferatu nature. That much was obvious. Not that I was ever going to get used his wanton meal-time cruelty, but even that didn't pack the same visceral punch it used to. Not now that I'd come to crave the hot, richness of human blood when I was with him as much as he did.

If eating were just about the blood, I could live with that.

"Mills?" Bruce had lowered his fork and was giving me the hairy eyeball. He was still waiting for my reply.

I shovelled another piece of bacon into my mouth and kept chewing. I had no answer for him, or at least not one that would make him happy.

"Secluding yourself from your family and friends isn't going to make this any easier," he said, for what had to be the millionth time. "If you do that, you're going to regret it down the line when those people stop calling."

"Maybe," I said, dismissively. What good were friends you could never be your true self around? I didn't pose that question to Bruce, because he'd only say the same thing he always said when I used that argument: that I needed to stop fixating on the supernatural stuff. Easy for him: he was bonded but otherwise perfectly human.

"There's no maybe. You will regret it. I did."

"But you still keep in touch with Mike." Bruce and his brother remained close despite of everything, even my exploding part of Mike’s motel.

"Only because he watched your father bring me back from the brink of death,” he said. “Mr. Sayre wasn't going to allow him to walk away from that. Witnesses to the supernatural are liabilities, but I told him if he killed Mike I'd never concede to the bond. I'd fight it to the death if I had to."

"It would have been your death," I said quietly, staring at my plate. I doubted young Bruce had the same mad fighting skills as the current incarnation did and even if he had, hand-to-hand combat was no match for magic.

"I know, but what I didn't know at the time was that after Ephraim and I had bonded my death would have had grave consequences for him as well. So instead I traded Mike's life for my attachments to everyone else, for a lifetime of servitude, even though I could have bargained for so much more. You should be happy that you don't have to do what I did. You should be happy that this is a life that Mr. Sayre wants you to have."

I was about to reply with my own familiar refrain of "Thing is, you're human and I'm not," but I was still hung up on Bruce's first sentence. Bruce dying would have consequences for Ephraim. What consequences? Bruce had once mentioned that I would know if Keel had died, but this sounded like a hell of lot more than simply "knowing."

"What would have happened to Ephraim if he'd killed you?" I asked.

Now it was Bruce's turn to fall silent. I could tell from the way he raised his hand and rubbed at his temples that he was wishing he hadn't mentioned it at all.

"What aren't you telling me?" I'd stopped eating and was glaring at him across the table. I couldn't believe that he and Ephraim had omitted this information, especially when they both knew that I might well have to kill Keel someday. Were they worried that if I discovered the truth, I wouldn’t go through with it?

"How bad is it? Why won't you tell me?"

When Bruce continued to sit there stoically, refusing to yield to my inquiries, I huffed and shoved back my chair. It scraped across the linoleum floor like nails on a chalkboard, echoing my mood. "I'm sick to death of all the goddamn secrets around here," I said, as I dumped the remainder of my breakfast into the garbage.

"I could say the same thing," Bruce retorted, but there was no way I was going to let him play that card. Not when what he was not telling me could change everything.

"Whatever," I chirped back at him, before retreating to my room to get dressed. I couldn't stand the thought of being in the apartment with him one second longer than I had to today.

* * *

I loaded my laptop, my journal and the charred remains of the old Nosferatu tome I’d rescued from the burned-out motel guest house into the black duffle bag that Bruce had given me as a peace offering when I'd refused to get out of bed in the wake of that incident. I realized now that he and Ephraim had been withholding even then; in fact, they’d likely been scarce with the truth from the moment they’d realized who I was bonded to.

Hell, the orders probably came from way above them, from within the League of Sorcerers somewhere. To them, the bond and I were public enemy one. If it weren’t for Ephraim they would have probably executed me already, but apparently even hard-hearted sorcerers had places they drew lines.

I could hear Bruce hitting the bags in the training space as I left the apartment. He’d be mad that I hadn’t told him where I was headed, but I had no interest in being grilled. It would only result in a whole lot of yelling, and I didn't have the energy.

As I stepped outside, a sharp gust of wind and a fine peppering of snow blew into my face, chasing away some of the grogginess that had returned now that the coffee had begun to wear off. I retraced my route back to the street-corner psychic shop, making only one small detour along the way – for more caffeine.

I was half-hoping to find Lucia sitting on the steps of the walk-up next to it, as she’d been two days earlier, but she was nowhere to be found. Couldn’t blame her either; the weather was blowing itself into a storm. First of the year.

Damn.

I tightened my grip on the disposable coffee cup in my hand, took a deep breath and approached Lucia’s mother’s store. Lucia had known instantly who and what I was: would the rest of her family too? How would they react to that little revelation? Human psychics kept their distance from supernaturals and here I was about to walk straight into their lives, bringing who knows what with me. What if they took one look at me and threw me back out onto the sidewalk?

I reached out with my free hand, placed my fingers on the door handle and… hesitated.

Come on, Mills, you have to try. You faced off against the Nosferatu king and half his army and now you’re scared of someone’s mom? Really?

I took a deep breath and stepped into the store. It looked exactly how I expected it. Candles littered nearly every surface, though most weren’t lit; sheer curtains with delicate hair-like strands of silver and gold woven in obscured all the walls, as well as parts of the windows; and gaudy semi-precious stones and crystals of varying shapes, sizes and colours dangled on translucent fishing line from the ceiling. It was a New Age miasma—and the perfect cover for a real psychic working incognito. The whole place screamed scam, loudly.

I heard a dull rattle from the rear of the tiny store and a generously endowed, dark-haired woman in a purple head scarf emerged through the bead drapes from the back room. While their figures were nothing alike, Lucia shared the woman’s deep brown eyes and chiselled cheekbones, and when she smiled in greeting the resemblance between the two became even more striking.

“Is Lucia here?” I asked. I tried to look the woman in the eye, but my attention kept flitting from one shiny bobble to the next.

“You must be Mills!” she exclaimed. Her words were full of warmth and welcome. Definitely not the greeting I was expecting.

“Yes, ma’am,” I replied.

“My daughter said you might be stopping by. You can go right on up. Her room is in the attic. Just follow the stairs all the way to the top.”

Lucia’s mother reached back and held the bead curtains open for me. I hesitated for a moment, wondering if it was wise to walk into a stranger’s house without telling anyone where I was going. But surely a sorcerer could defeat a pair of psychics, if it came to that.

Beyond the drapes was a small office — just as crowded with gauze and tchotchkes as the main room, but it also boasted a desktop computer, a coffee maker and a mini-fridge. All three of those things looked alien among the otherwise soft and shiny terrain.

A door at the back of the office opened onto a well-trodden, creaky wooden staircase, which led up to the apartment above.

I started climbing.

As arrived on the first landing, I realized that the store gave only the tiniest hint of what lay ahead. Lucia’s house was mental. Antiques and oddities completely filled the space. Every shelf was crammed full of books and curios and glass jars filled with unidentifiable substances. Everything was immaculately clean, but it was enough stuff to easily fill three rooms that size. The theme continued all the way to the top of the house. By the time I mounted the final set of stairs, claustrophobia was nibbling at my heels. It felt as if all the old furniture and weird doodads were closing in on me, sliding another inch or two in my direction with each step I ascended.

The door to Lucia’s attic bedroom was at the top of the stairs, hanging open; the gaping mouth at the head of the house-beast, welcoming me inside. Thankfully, her room was nothing like the jumble of randomness that comprised the rest of the apartment and the heaviness in my chest immediately lifted. It looked like the most normal bedroom in the world. Movie posters – Hunger GamesBeautiful CreaturesChronicle, and a couple that looked British that I didn’t recognize – cluttered up the wall directly beside her bed, on which Lucia and several textbooks were strewn. The rest of the space was filled with a beech dresser and vanity combo, a dress form with what looked like a half-finished, hand-sewn prom dress hanging on it and a gaudy, psychedelically coloured bean bag chair that could only be authentic 1970s. Some CDs and books were stuffed in a pair of milk crates that had been turned on their sides to form some makeshift shelves in the corner. If Lucia had a particular style or clique she subscribed to, it wasn’t identifiable from her furniture – or her clothes. Her outfit today consisted of a pair of faux denim jeggings and a long, sleeveless purple tunic. She wore no jewellery apart from a tiny woven bracelet, but she did have the symbols of the zodiac tattooed in a thin line down her upper arm from her shoulder to just above her elbow.

“Those hurt?” I asked, when she noticed I was standing there, taking everything in.

“Yeah,” she said. “But it’s a family thing. We get them when our powers emerge. Which, it turns out, is right around the time us girls get our first period. Double whammy.”

“Oh,” I said, slightly derailed by Lucia’s bluntness. “Isn’t that just giving supes and whatnot a chance to easily identify you?”

“No. I already told you: we don’t provide services for supes. They don’t know we exist. Even if I walked outside in a tank top or a bathing suit, none of them would recognize me or the tats. Of course, I still have to cover them up: it’s illegal to get a tattoo here before you’re eighteen.”

“Is it?” I hadn’t ever really given much thought to body art. “And hold up: I’m a supe and you told your mom to let me come up and now you’ve shown me your… family markings. Isn’t that breaking all the rules?”

Lucia shrugged. “What do you think they’re there for? Besides, you’re not like the others – the lifers, I mean, the ones who were born into it – or at least that’s what I get from the ghosts. You’re something new, and everybody’s talking about you because you don’t hold allegiance to anyone – not even your own kind.”

“Bully for me,” I said. “Also, not quite true.”

Lucia closed the book in front of her and moved it and the rest of texts to the floor beside the bed. “How’s that?” she said, once she was done. I had her full attention.

“I’m exiled because everyone thinks I’m a threat. I’m not even supposed to do magic. Tell me how that’s freedom.” When she didn’t say anything, I continued, “Never mind that some days I think the bond has more influence in things than I do.” It wasn’t what I’d been planning to say, it just spilled out, as if the dam that had been holding all my secrets had sprung a leak, but it also gave me an opening. “Do the ghosts ever talk about the other ones who were like us? Garstatt and his sorcerer?”

“Is that why you came?” Lucia asked, her mood switching from interested to bored as if someone had flipped a switch inside of her. “To grill me for info?”

I should’ve guessed that she’d read my intentions as easily as she’d read everything else about me. “I – I wanted –” I stuttered. I was totally screwing this up. “I just wanted –”

“Hey, look, it’s cool,” Lucia said. “But just so you know, it goes both ways. You want me to tell you stuff, you gotta tell me stuff.”

“Ummm…” Everything about this little scenario screamed trouble, just like it had the first time we met. “I don’t want to put you in danger.”

Lucia kicked her legs over the side of bed and stood up, so we were eye to eye. “How about you let me decide what I put myself in? Now, do we have a deal or not?”

“You know I have magic, right? I could just make you tell me.” I wasn’t sure if I was lying or not.

Lucia laughed. “Go for it then. Try.”

I looked at the floor.

“I thought you were a killer,” she continued. “Now you’re too chicken shit to even make a deal to swap information. To be honest, I’m not sure you’re the game-changer the dead think you are.”

I raised my eyes to glare at her; she met them with an open challenge and stuck out her hand. She knew that last line was going to trap me, hook, line and sinker.

“Fine, we have a deal,” I snapped, and shoved my hand into hers for a rough handshake.

Lucia relaxed and grinned broadly. The smile reached all the way to her eyes. I felt considerably less triumphant.

“So what was it like being with a vampire?” she asked. I almost laughed: not even Anna or Jenny would be this forthright in their interrogations.

“That’s what you want to know? In exchange for answering my questions?” I couldn’t believe it.

“It’s one of the things I want to know,” she said mischievously, sliding open her night-table drawer. “Chocolate bar?” she said, extending a Kit Kat towards me.

“No thanks.” I waved it off.

“Well, what was it like?”

“Bitey?” I offered.

“Mills, I’m not screwing around here. We made a deal and I want to know.” She paused to take a bite out of her chocolate bar. “You did sleep with him, right?”

I sighed. “Yes, I slept with him,” I conceded. “But why do you want to know? I don’t get it.”

“Come on: if you were me, wouldn’t you be curious? You lived half the country’s teenage fantasy.”

I frowned and it quickly deepened into a full-blown scowl. Being homeschooled after spending the better part of half a year with the Nosferatu, I sometimes forgot what other people my age could be like. And they could be just like this.

“If only they knew what they were wishing for,” I said darkly. “If they did, they’d be sticking to boy bands and hunky actors.”

“But the ghosts said you fell –”

“It’s complicated,” I said, cutting her off and regretting it almost immediately. I’d finally met someone I could talk somewhat openly with – even if I was being coerced here – and I was acting like a mega-bitch. “Look, I’m sorry, I barely know you. Maybe I’m just not down with the whole kissing-and-telling thing, alright?”

Lucia gave me an assessing look. For the briefest of moments, it reminded me of the one Keel’s father had given me when I’d first been dumped before him on the throne room floor. I stifled a shiver. I was hundreds of miles from there now, and he was dead.

“Try not to take this the wrong way,” Lucia said, “but aren’t you too powerful to be such a prude?”

“I’m not a prude,” I shot back, planting my hands on my hips.

Lucia laughed. “No need to get to defensive.”

“And just so we’re clear. I’m not that powerful.”

Lucia stopped teasing me, her expression turned assessing once more. For the first time, I found myself wondering if she might be older than she looked, but a quick glimpse at the pile of textbooks on the floor told me she was tenth grade. A year behind me, assuming I managed to catch up to the rest of my class.

“Now, that’s interesting,” she said.

“What’s interesting?”

“That you don’t know.”

“Know what?”

“Your power.” Even when Lucia wasn’t outright teasing me, she was goading me with withheld details. Like Bruce, but a hundred times cheekier.

I let out an exasperated sigh. “Look, I can do spells, but nothing compared to most sorcerers.” I did the fiery palm thing and a foot-high, perfectly controlled flame shot up out of the hand I’d just extended between us. The light from the fire danced off of Lucia’s olive complexion as if she was seated in front of a roaring campfire. She didn’t even flinch, just shook her head at me and looked unimpressed.

“I’m not talking about spells,” she said. “Answer my question, and I’ll try to explain.”

I let the fire die out in my hand. I thought I heard a soft fizzle as the last of the flames turned into a plume of grey smoke. I rubbed my palm on my pants, even though I knew there’d be no trace of soot left on it. I was nervous. Where before there had been heat and magic, now there was only sweat.

“I’ve never been with anyone except Keel,” I admitted, reluctantly. I wasn’t sure where to start. I'd never done the awkward confessional thing – no tipsy party games of Truth or Dare, none of that – but Lucia had information I needed. And the more she alluded to it, the more I was sure I would not be disappointed. If a little oversharing was her price, I supposed could afford it.

And if it could help…

With that, I didn’t just answer Lucia’s question. I launched into the whole back story of Keel and me. I glossed over some of the more intricate details of the bond and Nosferatu life but my kidnapping, my imprisonment, my discovery of magic, my relationship with Keel – I put it all out there. I felt I had to; I had no idea how to tell one fragment of the story without telling all of it. In pieces, it lost its sense and cohesion. When I next looked at the retro Nightmare Before Christmas clock on Lucia’s night-table, nearly two hours had passed – and Lucia had snacked her way through two more candy bars.

“Wow,” she said, when I finally finished talking. “Who knew all I had to do was get you to open up a little, and everything would just fall out.”

“Not everything,” I said, feeling incredibly uncomfortable that I’d revealed so much without fully understanding Lucia’s intentions. What the hell was it about her that made it so easy to spill my guts to her? “But definitely more than I should have. Do you know what the Nosferatu and the sorcerers would do if they found out that you know everything I just told you?”

Lucia didn’t look the least bit worried. “Probably the same thing they’d do if they found out the dead have been gabbing their heads off at me for the last three years. I can keep a secret, you know. I can probably keep one better than you.”

“Very funny,” I said. I was starting to think that Lucia was at least peripherally aware that something about her encouraged openness. “Now I think I’ve given you enough answers to warrant some of my own.”

“Of course,” she said. “Fair’s fair. Ask away.”

Sometime during my epic info dump, I’d joined her on the bed. My duffle bag sat unopened next to her pile of textbooks, along with my boots. I was tucked up cross-legged at the foot-end of the mattress, while she leaned against one of her pillows, which she’d butted up against her headboard.

“Tell me about my power,” I said.

“Right to the point, aren’t we?”

I faked looking at a watch I wasn’t wearing. “I’d say ‘right to the point’ passed at least an hour and a half ago.”

“Okay, okay,” Lucia said, raising her palms at me in mock defense. “From what I understand from the ghosts, it goes well beyond magic. Spellcraft is what you bring to the equation. Keel brings other things – Nosferatu things.” It was strange to hear Keel’s name on the lips of someone who didn’t automatically imbue its single consonant with distain. “Separate, your power is still twofold. But if you were together, it would be cumulative, ever increasing. They say the bond is like a muscle; it strengthens when worked. And if you worked it, it's rumoured you two could be more powerful than any supernatural that has ever existed.” Lucia’s eyes widened a little as she said that final sentence.

“So you’re in it for the power, then,” I said, reading between the lines. I couldn’t help but think back to what Keel had said about Arthos, and why he’d kept all our secrets. “I give you some or you blackmail me with something I just told you.”

Lucia looked genuinely taken aback by my accusation and more than a little hurt. “Honey,” she said, her voice suddenly sounding almost exactly like her mother’s. “If you and this Keel guy get this thing between you two sorted, you are going to be way beyond blackmail. You’ll be –”

“Unstoppable,” I said, stealing the word away from her. I sure didn’t feel unstoppable right now, I felt overwhelmed and exhausted, like another two flights of stairs would probably finish me off. I wondered if it would be rude to ask Lucia if she had any coffee.

“Yes, unstoppable. That’s why the ghosts think you can change things.”

“And what exactly do they want changed?” I couldn’t think of anything Keel and I could do that would have any effect on the afterlife, other than further cluttering up its halls or realm or whatever it was.

“Do you really think you guys are the only cross-species lovers to ever have existed? The only friends?”

I stared at her stupidly and shook my head. I honestly hadn’t considered that, outside of Garstatt and his sorcerer. I’d pretty much been fixated on them, but it made sense. So many years, so many supernaturals…

“Most of them were put to death for it; most of them didn’t have a chance. Tracked, hunted, killed, and, if they were of a kind that left a corpse, buried in an unmarked grave – that’s how it always went,” she explained. “They see you as a way to fix lifetimes of wrongs.”

“And what if what we do makes things worse?”

“Then, at least, they have their revenge. Or that’s how they see it.”

“Seems like a big gamble to me.”

“Guess you got to ask yourself: do you believe in waiting for fate? Or do you believe in making your own destiny?”

“I think that’s what I’ve been trying to figure out,” I volunteered.

“So let’s figure it out, then,” Lucia said, literally bouncing off the bed. I wanted to beat the perkiness out of her with my duffle bag, but I did admire her optimism – and her enthusiasm.

“You say that like it’s easy.”

“You mean, it’s not?”

I rolled my eyes at her. “Have you listened to a single thing I’ve told you today?”

“Sure. All of it. But I don’t see how that makes it hard. We have a captive audience, remember? We can go searching for your answers.”

“The ghosts?”

“Exactly.”

Until she brought it up again, I’d all but forgotten what I’d actually come here to ask her. Now it floated straight back up to the surface. “How hard is it to contact a specific one?”

“Not that hard, assuming they want to talk. And most do. Might take a few days for the request to trickle down the line though.” She paused, made a circle with her hand and held it up to her ear. “Imagine it like a game of telephone. There’s no fancy computer signal routing or voicemail system in the afterlife, only word of mouth.”

“And what will you charge me to do that?”

Lucia arched an eyebrow at me.

“Oh come on, don’t play coy,” I said. “The price of information was information. What’s the price of this going to be?”

Lucia was giving me that scrutinizing look again, the one that made me feel like a specimen under a microscope. “Easy. When you return to school, you stop ignoring me.”

“You go to my school?” I blinked at her. I’d tried to figure out whether she did or not when we’d first met, but she hadn’t seemed familiar at all. I swore I hadn’t seen her in the hallways, not once.

“See. Point made,” Lucia said.

“So just to be clear, the cost of you contacting a specific spirit for me is my friendship.” If a girl could have cojones, Lucia’s would have been huge.

“You said ‘friendship,’ not me.”

I narrowed my eyes at her, but I honestly couldn’t figure out if I was irritated or impressed. She was beginning to remind me of another master manipulator I knew. “I don’t think that’s how it works,” I told her. “Aren’t these things usually a little bit more… organic.”

“What, like your relationship with vamp-boy?” Bingo.

“Shut up.”

“No. I won’t. Because I know you’ve been waiting for someone like me to come along, someone you can talk to about all the stuff the normals out there have no idea about, someone who’ll call you on your crap.”

“Is that so?” I said, even though she’d made a pretty accurate assessment.

“Yes it is,” she confirmed. But even as she said that a bit of the bravado slipped out of her, allowing me to catch a brief glimpse of the insecurity behind the ballsy façade. And I found I was able to read her, too.

“You know,” I countered, delicately but not without some firmness, “not because of your psychic abilities, but because that’s how you feel.”

“What can I say? You caught me,” she back-peddled, while fishing yet another chocolate bar out of her bedside drawer. I was starting to get the impression they were a comfort thing for her. Sure enough, her mask slid back into place as quickly as it had slipped out. “And just so you know,” she said, waving the unopened candy bar at me. “I’m still not contacting your dead guy unless we have a deal.”

I thought back to all of the deals I’d made in the last year – with the King, with Keel, with Keel again, once he’d become king, with my father, with the sorcerers – and my lips curled up into a shallow smile. Unlike the rest of them, this one seemed impossibly win-win.

“Do we shake on it, or are you like the supes and we need to get this all in blood?” I asked.

“Your word will do,” Lucia told me.

“Okay,” I said. “You have it. Now I need you to find me a dead vampire.”

“His name?”

“Garstatt.”

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