To Dance with the Devil

By: Cat Adams

 (The Blood Singer Novels)


1


I dressed carefully for the meeting. The setting was casual; since we were currently officeless, Dawna had agreed to meet Ms. Abigail Andrews, a potential client, for lunch at La Cocina. Unfortunately for me, my business partner had bailed on the meeting at the last possible moment, with what seemed to me to be a fairly flimsy excuse. This was just one of a whole number of things we were going to have to have a serious talk about in the very near future. I get that Dawna’s busy getting ready for her wedding. I understand that she’s distracted. But to not even have done the basic research on Ms. Andrews or filled out a client intake form was just sloppy. Dawna is better than that. She was better than that the first week she had started as my receptionist, years ago.

Graves Personal Protection was the company I’d formed shortly out of college. I am a bodyguard, and a good one. Until very recently I’d run a one-woman operation out of the top floor of an old Victorian mansion in downtown Santa Maria de Luna. Now that building was gone—long story—and I’d been forced to decide whether to expand the business or lose it altogether. I’d chosen to expand, but we were definitely experiencing growing pains.

Dawna Han Long and I have been friends practically since the moment we met, when she came to work for me. She’s smart, beautiful, hardworking, efficient, and one of the most ambitious people I’ve ever known. I’d thought that offering her a piece of the action and partnership in the business would make her even more committed to its success. Thus far, not so much. I reminded myself, yet again, that we’ve been through worse than this, more than once, and made it through just fine.

Still, no matter what I was feeling, I was about to take a business meeting. I needed to smile (but not show fang) and look pleasant, cordial, and ever so competent. With that in mind I’d decided to wear a purple silk shell over black jeans, with my standard black suit jacket. Black and purple are among the few colors that really look good with my paler-than-pale skin tone, gray eyes, and naturally blonde hair. I had to work very hard to find ways to look good—but not too good. Bodyguards are never, ever, supposed to outshine their clients. It’s a rule. Unwritten, but a rule nonetheless.

I was armed to the teeth. No, I did not think Ms. Andrews was going to attack me. But a few months ago some quasi-religious extremists had declared “war” on sirens, and while I’d helped take out the top of their hierarchy, there were still a few stray nut jobs on the loose with an axe to grind. So I don’t go anywhere unarmed—ever. Today I was wearing my Colt in an underarm holster and a new Derringer on my ankle, and carrying an assortment of spell disks. I also had on wrist sheaths that held a pair of very special knives. Made for me by a top mage, they are spelled heavily enough to be considered major magical artifacts. They’re worth more than my car, possibly more than my house. Five years in the making, they are my most prized possessions. Last, but not least, there is a garrote hidden in the collar of my jacket. I’ve never had occasion to use it, but it’s there nonetheless.

Most people think they should be able to tell if someone is a walking armory. Sometimes that’s true. Fortunately for me, my jackets are well tailored and have enough magical spells on them to make them hang perfectly, concealing everything. Still, I don’t look completely nonthreatening, and that’s just as well. After all, a touch of intimidation is part of the service.

La Cocina is a tiny family-run Mexican restaurant tucked up against the college campus. When I was an undergrad, my friends and I hung out there all the time, and we’d continued the pattern long after graduating. Barbara and Pablo, who run the place, feel like my aunt and uncle. When they found out that I’d been bitten by a vampire and partially turned, Pablo made it his mission to come up with something nutritious that I could actually digest—no easy task since solids were impossible for me. He more than succeeded, creating one of my favorite things ever. It’s called a Sunset Smoothie, and it’s made with cooked cow’s blood, spices, and melted cheese, all blended together and liquid enough that I can actually eat it.

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