Page 37

“Two hundred.” She held out her hand, snapping her fingers. I gave her another bill. The money was nothing to me.

Smiling, she held the door wide. “Welcome to House of Pleasure. Ignore the sounds. Pleasuring happens all night.”

I was sure it did. Her skirts dusted the floor as she led us to the back of the two-level house. She looked to be the daughter of the woman I’d rented from before. The looks were similar enough with her dark hair and eyes, and curvaceous body. She glanced back more than once at me, and her eyes just flickered over Norm. She gave him a wink and grunted, but wisely he kept his mouth shut.

The room she opened was small, barely ten feet by ten feet, and there was a single rickety bed pushed up under the window that was maybe big enough to get my head out if I wanted to suddenly leave. Of course, that was probably part of the reason it was so small. Having people skip out without paying the bill was probably an issue. I shook my head as Norm flopped so hard onto the bed it groaned like a dying beast. “Must be well made,” I muttered.

“American right? I thought so with the money.” the woman asked, speaking clear, if heavily accented, English.

I turned and faced her. “You could say that.”

“All these Americans lately. You a scientist like the others?” Her eyes glittered with barely disguised greed. I went along with the story.

“Yes, I am a companion of theirs. But I would like to find out what the locals are saying about the earthquakes that are happening. Do you have old . . . stories that might explain them?” What I’d learned in my travels in the human world was that there was always a connection between the humans’ stories and the world of magic. Often they didn’t even realize what it was they saw, but they still explained it quite well. Usually, anyway.

She grinned at me, showing a perfect set of white teeth. “What is it worth to you?”

“Another fifty,” I bargained, knowing it was expected of me.

“No, what is it worth to you?” She slid a hand over my shoulder and down my arm, making it perfectly clear what she wanted.

“Not that.” I shut the door, which pushed her out. The last thing I saw was her eyes widen and then narrow rapidly.

She rapped a knuckle on it. “For seventy-five we will just talk.”

I waited a moment and then she buckled. “Fine, fifty then. Just talking.”

I opened the door. She wasn’t unattractive, with her long cascading hair and sensuous body. But not only was she a human, which in and of itself was considered taboo. Not to mention I didn’t have eyes for anyone who wasn’t Lark. I’d waited my whole life to truly find the one I was meant for. There was no way I would ruin that relationship with some ridiculous fling, no matter how curvy the body was.

She beckoned with a hand toward the front of the building. I looked back at Norm, who was already passed out on the bed, snoring deeply despite only lying down moments before. I wondered if it was something to do with his head injury.

I followed the woman to the front of the building to a table and set of chairs.

“Come, have a drink. A little spice to add to a boring conversation.” She poured me a shot of something that was so heavy with alcohol I could smell it across the room. I took the cup anyway and threw it back, forcing myself not to gasp as the burn lit up my throat and belly. Rotgut . . . the word came to mind rather suddenly and I knew that this was what that was. Didn’t matter what she called it, I could feel it eating away at my belly already.

“Tell me about the earthquakes,” I said. “What are the locals saying is causing them?”

She smiled and winked at me, her eyes bright. “You are smarter than the other scientists, I think. They believe they will find a new fault line, I heard them talking. But that is not the source of the rumblings.” She poured herself a glass and sipped at it slowly, cupping it between her hands and staring into it like the answers she sought were hidden at the bottom.

“Tell me,” I repeated.

A sigh slid from her. “There is a mountain range not far from here, one that is haunted. It has been haunted for years, and that is what the scientists do not understand. That the ghosts of the past clamor to be heard. They want us to free them from their torture,” she whispered, and a tear gathered in the corner of one eye. She dashed it away. “There is nothing we can do, not that I know of. But it is there that the witches dance, drawing on the power of the dead, and that is the cause of the rumblings of the earth.”

Now we were getting somewhere. “Witches? You believe in witches?”

Her eyes were deadly serious. “You do not?”

I wasn’t about to tell her that yes, indeed, I believed in witches. The last thing I needed was for her to get further into my world. “What else do you know about these witches?”

She swirled her glass and then downed the entire thing. “That they are not good witches. They will cause the ground to shake in their anger for being cast out. They seek vengeance, justice for wrongs done to them.”

I blinked several times. “What do you mean?”

With a roll of her eyes, she poured herself another drink. I put my hand over mine, stopping her from giving me more.

“What I mean is that when a child comes of age to follow their bloodlines into the craft, the family casts them out. That is the tradition. And they are raised by the other witches and trained in the darkest of arts. That is why they hate. Because they learn it from one generation to the next. There is a saying that there will be a final witch from this land that will stop the hate. But I do not see it happening.” She shook her head sadly as if the weight of the world was on her.

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