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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18. Mom

Chapter 15: Mom

“Hey Mills, you hear about that woman who sat on the toilet for so long it became attached to her rear end?” I ignored Bruce’s dig and continued to stare at the TV. I didn’t even stop when he walked over and flicked it off. “Your body is going to grow into that couch.”

“Who cares?” I mumbled. “Turn it back on.”

“You’re pathetic.”

“So are you,” I parried back, but my heart wasn’t in it. Tossing insults to and fro with Bruce was about as boring and useless as midday television.

“I’m not the one who’s been bagged out on the couch in my pajamas for the last half-week.”

I took immediate offence to his air of superiority. “You’re also not the one who’s not allowed to leave the apartment. Coincidence?”

“You don’t have to be a smart-ass.”

“And you didn’t have to shut off the TV.”

“Mills, for god’s sake, go find something else to do,” Bruce said.

“Fine. Whatever.” I rolled myself off the couch and stomped back to my room, feeling a tad childish, yet not caring. I slammed my door to punctuate my misery. I’d been back at one hundred percent for days now – both physically and magically – but Ephraim and Bruce hadn’t stopped treating me like I was some fragile little bird, this apartment my gilded cage.

As long as my life was on hold, I couldn’t deal with the things I needed to deal with. And as I was learning, apparently I didn’t do not dealing well.

* * *

I was sitting cross-legged on the rug halfway between my bed and my desk using magic to levitate a pencil, idly turning it end over end in lazy circles, when I heard the muted squeak of my bedroom door’s hinges. Ephraim poked his head in. He’d forgotten – or deliberately not bothered - to knock again. I channelled my annoyance into the magic and sent the projectile hurtling in his direction. It sank into the doorframe at hip level like an arrow, quivered for a moment, then stayed stuck there. Ephraim reached down and yanked it out, the blood I’d smeared on the side smudging onto his hand.

“Not bad,” he said, sounding almost impressed.

“But ultimately pointless.”

“If you say so.”

“What do you want?” I asked, pulling a loose thread out of the seam of my jeans. Had he come to berate me for lipping off to Bruce earlier? That was just what today needed. More scolding. I braced myself for an earful.

“Bruce is worried.”

“What else is new? Bruce is always worried.”

I’m worried.” Okay, that was new – and interesting.

“Is that why you’re keeping me locked up in this apartment?”

“Yes,” Ephraim said and sat down on the edge of my bed. The springs gave a tiny forlorn creak. He was still holding the bloody pencil in his hands; perhaps he thought that if he gave it back to me, I’d just turn around and launch it at him again. “I have reason to believe Dr. Warrett treated your whereabouts less than confidentially.”

The doctor's irrational hatred came back to me like a toxic stench. “I told you that guy was a creep.”

“We were always aware he had certain leanings, that he sympathized with some of the more strictly traditional members of our community.  But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s still the most talented doctor on the sorcerer payroll. If anyone could determine what happened to you and heal you, it was him. I had to make a judgement call: his loyalties versus saving your life.”

“But now you think he’s told someone where I am, so they can come finish what he couldn’t?” I said, beginning to piece it all together. “And I’m guessing that if it plays out like that, he won’t be easily linked to the crime.”

“Dr. Warrett’s medical skills command a certain loyalty all their own. They’ve made him rich and powerful and granted him some unlikely allies. If he wanted to use his influence in this manner, he has all the resources to do so.”

I sighed. It was hard work keeping up with all the constantly evolving threats to my life. “Geez, so much grief just to keep a Nosferatu king in power.”

“Is that what you think?” Ephraim said. His right eyebrow twitched up a tick, then his expression faded into something much more unreadable.

I nodded. It had been implied often enough.

“It is the public reason,” Ephraim allowed, “the one the League sanctions, and the one that lets me continue doing my job. But it’s not the only reason.”

“There’s another one?” I asked, unable to shake the feeling that pursuing this line of questioning would mean treading on some very brittle eggshells. Ephraim and I hadn’t exactly mastered or even had much practice at the heartfelt father-daughter chat. And I worried that any wrong word might send the whole thing south. For whatever reason, right at this moment he was trying, and I did not want to sabotage that.

Ephraim looked decidedly uncomfortable, even more uncomfortable than I felt. In fact, he was so ill at ease – his faced creased; his posture stiff, like a statue – that I was sure he was about to reveal something utterly dreadful. Instead, he said, “I made a promise to your mother.”

I stared at him, unsure if my mouth was hanging open or not. My brain had momentarily stopped accepting sensory input, including that from my own body. My mother. Holy shit.

I couldn’t fathom what had suddenly inspired him to bring her up. There was nothing Ephraim avoided talking about more than my birth mother. All these months and I could still count the things I knew about her on one hand. “What?!” I blurted out. “And you didn’t think I deserved to know?”

“I wanted to keep my promise,” he replied simply, and I swore I heard honest-to-god regret in his voice. I was stunned, not just by the unexpected display of emotions from a man I doubted capable of any other than anger and derision, but by the very idea that Ephraim was doing something – anything – because a human had told him to. It exploded pretty much everything I thought I knew about him.

“Tell me about her,” I said, barely realizing what I was asking before it had spilled out of my mouth.

He got up and walked past me to the window. The cloud-diffused light made the sad expression on his face more poignant; when combined with his dark shirt and slacks, he looked as if he’d stepped out of real life into a melancholy, centuries-old oil painting.

“She was someone who shouldn’t have happened,” he confessed, after gazing out at the street for a long time. “She was human.”

He said this like it was some big revelation, but Lucia had already told me she’d seen sorcerer, human and vampire in my aura. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t understand.”

Ephraim fell into another long, brooding silence. I stared at his back and wondered what he was thinking about. I found myself oddly fascinated with the man behind the facade, the one I hadn't known existed until this afternoon.

“The truth will set you free,” I offered, as dopey as that was. I wanted to fill up the wordlessness with something; I’d never seen Ephraim struggle so hard to express himself.

“I’m the one who owes you an apology,” he said. He spoke carefully, deliberately, softly. “This goes beyond me being tricked into signing an unscrupulous contract. This bond between you and the king would have never been possible if you weren’t a half-breed.”

My stomach turned at the H-word. He really couldn’t think of anything less cruel to call me? Then the rest of the sentence sank in.

“Explain,” I demanded. This was the first time I was hearing any such thing. Both Bruce and Ephraim had led me to believe that sorcerers could bond with other supes at will – it was just something that wasn’t done, for a handful of reasons that all boiled down to “causes death.”

Ephraim turned to look at me. “As you already know, when a sorcerer bonds with someone, essence travels both ways: that’s why your eyes are ringed red. But if you’d been born to two sorcerers, your natural defenses would have stopped the vampiric onslaught, the bonding process would have failed, the prince would have died and you would have retained your autonomy. It was your humanity that provided a vulnerability, an in, if you will. Though I doubt either of the Argarasts knew that. The disinformation campaign has spanned centuries.”

“Is that why vampire-sorcerer bonds are so rare?”

“Exactly.”

“But how are sorcerers able to bond with humans then?”

“Humans bring no power to the equation. Their essence is easily accommodated.”

“But why keep this a secret for so long when it ultimately changes nothing?”

“In a way that’s my fault too,” Ephraim said. “I didn’t tell your mother what I was until after she became pregnant. Then I implored her to terminate the pregnancy. Told her I’d pay for the procedure, put her up in an apartment for the rest of her life, that she’d never have to work again if she didn’t want to, but she refused it all. Your mother never believed she could have children; that’s what the doctors had told her her entire life. So when she became pregnant with you, she considered it a miracle. Then I destroyed that miracle. I had no choice but to. She could never raise you; it would have been too dangerous for both of you, because of who I am and what you are. Eventually someone would have figured it out. You needed to be hidden. She hated me for that, but in the end, I think she understood. She made me promise to protect you and protect the secret of your lineage; she never wanted you to be caught between our two worlds.”

The more Ephraim sp0ke, the more gutted he looked, as if verbalizing all that history was forcing him to relive it in vibrant detail. As I watched my father, the fearsome, unshakeable sorcerer, crumble in front of me, I realized something: regardless of what he thought of me, he'd loved my mother. So much so that, sixteen years later, whatever had gone down between them as a result of my birth was still tearing him apart.

“Then why didn’t you rescue me when the Nosferatu took me?” I asked.

“Because promise or not, some laws cannot be circumvented without triggering a war.”

“So why break your promise now?”

“The stakes,” he said bluntly. “And Bruce.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Bruce convinced me that sometimes the essence of the promise is more important than the promise itself.”

“Bruce said that?” I marvelled. Sometimes he surprised me. “What about the stakes?”

“Bruce’s latest intel suggests that a rogue faction of vigilante sorcerers has been sniffing around.”

“But what about Keel? If they kill me, aren’t they worried it’ll cause supernatural unrest?”

“Some sorcerers would like nothing more than to force a confrontation with the Nosferatu.”

It was like the thing with the vampire assassins all over again – just with the supes switched out. Problem was, sorcerers came packing a lot more natural-born firepower and I’d just discovered I wasn’t even a real one. I suddenly felt really stupid for standing up to Ephraim all those months ago at his safe house; he could have squashed me like a bug.

“Are there others like me out there? Half–” I stumbled on the word, refusing use to the designation Ephraim gave me earlier. “Halflings, I mean?” That was slightly better, but not much.

“There are a few that are known to us, but sorcerers who take human mates generally live off the grid, and those that prefer supernatural ones – ”

“Die.” I finished for him.

My answer caught him off guard. “How do you know that?”

I swallowed hard. I’d almost outed Lucia without even thinking. “You think I don’t read? You’re the one who gave me all those sorcery books, remember?” I didn’t know for certain that it said that anywhere in them, but I was counting on the fact that Ephraim wouldn’t remember precisely what volumes he’d approved and that he wouldn’t go back and check. “So where’s my mom now?” I asked, switching gears before he figured out what I’d just done. I hoped he wouldn’t say that she was dead, or locked away in some mental ward somewhere. There were only so many whammies a girl could take in a given afternoon.

“Canada,” he told me, and I almost laughed out loud, not because it was funny, but because I’d gotten so accustomed to hearing bad news that the good stuff was twenty times more shocking. I felt downright giddy. I have a mom out there! One who’d wanted me desperately. Of course, there was no way I could go find her, not with the way things were now, it would only drag her into this mess too, but knowing she was alive and out there was enough.

“Wait, are you telling me I’m half-Canadian too?”

“Is that a problem?” Ephraim asked. “You were so accepting of the Nosferatu; I figured you wouldn’t have a problem with Canadians.”

I grinned. I couldn’t freakin’ believe it. My father had just made a joke. I had an urge to join him at the window, to see if hell had started freezing over.

“Now that we’ve had this conversation, I’m hoping the sulking will stop,” Ephraim said.

I saw my in and dived at it as if it were a cool, refreshing pool. “Let me go visit Lucia, and we have a deal.”

When Ephraim didn’t reply right away, I was positive he was going to shut me down again and tell me that I didn’t understand the seriousness of the situation, despite the fact that he'd just explained it all to me.

“Okay,” he conceded. “But one of us drives you there and picks you up, and you stay inside her house. You now know what the danger is and if you don’t respect it…”

“I know, you’ll never let me go out again. Gotcha, Dad.”

Ephraim raised a questioning eyebrow at me, but made no comment about my use of the word. I was thankful. I told myself I was just trying it on, seeing what it felt like, but deep inside I knew I was hoping that this conversation had finally changed things between us, that maybe we could now move forward. It was exhausting fighting with everyone all the time.

Ephraim walked back across the room. As he passed me he dropped the bloody pencil and another one he’d picked up off my desk into my lap. “Try the same trick with two,” he suggested.

“Does being half human mean I have less magic than you?” I asked, as he was slipping back out the door.

Ephraim turned and gave me a considering look. “It did. That’s why I was able to send you to live with the Millhattens; if things had remained as they should’ve, you might never have discovered your magic.”

“And now?”

“Now you’re bonded with a vampire. That changes everything.”

“How?” I asked. Sure, the bond had allowed Keel and I to do some freaky stuff, but nothing world-altering.

“We don’t know yet. But one way or another I think we’re going to find out,” he said, closing the door behind him.

I picked up the two pencils, opened a fresh cut on my finger and levitated them both, feeling miles more optimistic – despite the bad news – than I had since Lucia’s Christmas Day phone call.

My mother was alive, and she hadn’t wanted to give me up. Ephraim had miraculously stopped being a hard-ass jerk, at least for today, and it looked like I was going to get to talk to Garstatt after all.

For once, (almost) everything was coming up Mills.

Of course, I was wise enough to know that probably wouldn’t last.

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