Authors: Tricia Owens
Copyright © 2016 Tricia Owens
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Cover art by Ravven
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Many thanks to David "Pup" Zamora for his helpful style and tone suggestions which really gave the story life, Suzanne Morrell for a much needed last minute proofread, and Samantha Ashpaugh for proofreading and helping me give this series some flavor despite not being a fan of urban fantasy (thank you for your sacrifice!). Thanks most of all to my mom, who was my sounding board throughout the writing process and read more drafts of this book than any sane person should have to.
Read more from Tricia Owens at
Descended from Dragons
Trouble with Gargoyles (coming soon)
Forged in Fire (coming soon)
"Anne Moody… Anne Moody… You're cursed for all eternity…"
"Anne Moody, you can never run away…"
I rolled over in bed and yelled, "Shut up, already!"
"…never get away…you'll always be cursed…"
The only thing more annoying than a blaring alarm clock was a dozen or so cameo jewelry pieces that refused to shut up. They were more obnoxious than a kitchen full of roaches. And just as impossible to get rid of.
"Anne Moody…today you'll meet the love of your life…"
"…too bad he'll try to kill you."
I groaned and opened my eyes. The shadows that streaked across the ceiling of my studio were already long. It was nearly one in the afternoon, yet I was still tired. I'd listened to footsteps on the roof for hours last night, until I'd finally fallen asleep, feeling delirious, sometime around nine this morning.
"Anne Moody…Anne Moody…"
"Have mercy," I moaned.
The cameos were a menace. Since they were cursed to harass whoever owned them, no one else could hear their voices except me. Wearing earplugs or listening to my iPod didn't block them out. Throwing them out was as pointless as tossing a working Ouija board in the trash; they showed up the next morning as though nothing had happened.
The only way I could be rid of them was if someone willingly took them off my hands, and you'd better believe I'd fantasized about putting them on clearance in the shop. But if I did that I'd need to be careful who I sold them to. That was bad karma any which way you looked at it.
The shadows above me began to shift. I yawned and rubbed my eyes. Above me reared a dragon. I gasped and sat up quickly.
But the shadow was cast by the limbs of the scraggly dead tree in the backyard. It wasn't a manifestation of my sorcery, which took the form of a Chinese dragon I called Lucky. Lucky was gold and sort of misty anyway, like clouds at sunset. Actually, Lucky was cloudy only as long as I had control over my sorcery. It was when he began to take on physical form that things got hairy, because that was a sign that my innate nature was coming through and that I was losing touch with my humanity.
My innate nature wasn't pretty. It wasn't that I was rude or cruel or talked about people behind their backs. Think fully fleshed monster that could wreak the type of havoc that Godzilla would applaud.
Guys complaining about bitchy girlfriends? They had nothing on me.
Resigned to being awake, I rolled out of bed and shuffled over to my kitchenette. I didn't cook much in it, preferring to order delivery from the numerous small restaurants scattered throughout downtown Las Vegas. Vegas has a ton of restaurants and I never lacked for choices even if I chose not to eat from a casino or Strip restaurant.
Sometimes I had leftovers or I got it into my head that I should eat more salads or vegetables or whatever, and played at being a vegetarian for a week. I had a microwave, a hot plate and a George Forman grill. Also a small fridge. But that fridge…hoo boy.
Cringing, I cracked the door open on it and peered inside. "Dammit."
As I'd feared, the can of Diet Coke I'd risked putting in there last night had exploded. Brown soda stalactites joined the thick crust of ice that rimmed the fridge. Together they formed a sort of picture frame around the ugly ice demon that glared back at me from the back of the appliance. Its eyes were blue with glowing red pupils and it sported teeth that resembled icicles. Definitely not a character from
. I slammed the door just as the demon began spitting ice chips at me.
The stupid fridge was literally cursed, so some days it worked fine, other days, like today, it was the
Mountains of Madness
. I was lucky the same didn't hold true of my air conditioning. Vegas regularly sat at triple digits during the summer but no one needed snow in their home to survive it.
Since there was nothing to do for the fridge except hope the demon went away long enough to allow the ice and soda to thaw, I set my electric kettle going for some coffee.
Next up was a shower. A lesser mortal probably would have been put off by the blood dripping from the bathroom ceiling and the spattered walls which made the whole room look like a crime scene. But I didn't freak; I just blinked my eyes hard and the vision of bloody walls and dripping ceiling vanished, replaced by the ugly seafoam green tiles that were only a minor improvement over the blood.
There was another face in the mirror, too, overlaid on top of mine while I brushed my teeth. Today it was a woman in her seventies, with long, stringy white hair and lips stitched closed with black thread. Her skin looked like she'd spent too much time beside the Mandalay Bay pool without proper sunscreen. Those wrinkles were harsh.
Living in a house that had been cursed wasn't as bad as it sounded, and I got that it sounded pretty bad. But the thing was, the hot water wasn't affected, the AC was okay, and none of my furniture moved around or spontaneously burst into flames.
Sure, I had a bloody bathroom at least three days out of the week, an obsessed spirit entity that liked to pace on the roof whenever I went to bed, and quite a few objects in my shop gave me the willies when I touched them. But none of it could physically hurt me.
I could prepare for another work day just fine so long as I didn't take any part of the curse seriously, which was probably easier for me to do being a sorceress and all. Actually, having grown up in a city like Las Vegas was likely what had jaded me to all things weird. Once you've people watched on Las Vegas Boulevard at three a.m., you've pretty much seen everything that's wrong with the world. Supernatural weirdness was nothing special after that.
Finally cleaned up and dressed, I passed through the beaded curtain that separated my living space from the selling floor of the Moonlight Pawn Shop. The place was mine by default because the original owner, my uncle James, had disappeared two years ago.
I don't think it's easy for people to fully empathize with a situation in which a loved one goes missing. These days it's nearly impossible for a grown man to disappear. Thanks to Facebook and closed circuit TV, someone who's MIA shows up eventually, dead or alive.
But going on two years later, Uncle James still hadn't resurfaced. It was a hole not only in my life, but in my heart. I hadn't figured myself for abandonment issues, but lately I'd caught myself wondering if Uncle James hadn't just gone missing, maybe he'd deliberately left to get away. From Moonlight Pawn. From me.
It was a bitter pill to swallow, and it had been lodged in my throat a lot lately. What had I done wrong? Why hadn't I been enough? What if my dragon—my inner self—had pushed him away?
With Uncle James gone, the shop was now mine. This was highly unfortunate because retail was not my thing at all. There were days when I wished I could ditch it all and go farm oysters in Nova Scotia or become a dive master in the Caribbean or sell fruit in Vietnam. Anything, really, than buy, sell, and trade a bunch of junk to desperate people with gambling addictions.
But thanks to the curse on the shop I couldn't sell or walk away from the place. It would be like handing someone the keys to a car that you knew had dodgy brakes and a steering wheel that tended to come off during turns. Some things you just don't do.
Moonlight Pawn was located in downtown Vegas, just north of Fremont Street. Here, edgy, cool, and artistic began to give way to seedy and desperate. Picture a tattoo artist stumbling into the wrong alley at night and you're on the money. That taut mix of danger and creativity held its charms for a certain demographic. Over the years this had become a go-to neighborhood for unusual people looking to set up unusual businesses.
My shop sat on a side street that had been zoned for both housing and commercial use, so around me were house conversions that also sold merchandise or offered services. Next door was a beef jerky store-slash-palmist and tarot reader. (Yeah, I don't even.) Across the street from it was an art gallery where I heard someone had lost a hand. Seriously, they'd come out with just a stump.
Beside the gallery was a used bookstore that I was confident would one day be the epicenter for something truly horrific, and directly opposite that was an exotic animals breeder; no way was I ever going in there to check out what they were breeding.
It was the weirdest neighborhood ever, but there was a sort of comfort in being clustered together like the outcasts at a prom. We could at least dance with each other.
I went outside, blinking in the intense sun that bounced off the rocks in my yard. I was about to deal with the wards when a Mexican food truck pulled up at the curb and my friend Melanie jumped out, holding a small white box.
"A new cupcake recipe, Anne!" she told me when I went out to the cracked sidewalk to meet her. "It's horchata flavor with so much cinnamon you'll scream."
"Is that supposed to be a selling point?"
Melanie's hair was three shades darker than the sky, so more of a powder blue, which didn't exactly go with her dark complexion but try telling her that. She'd been into steampunk for the past four months and today wore a bronze corset over a brown skirt made flouncy thanks to eyelet-lined petticoats. Brown stockings led to vintage-style spats and boots. She was a blue-haired, Mexican, steampunk girl.
I've seen worse.
"People go crazy for cinnamon, Anne. It bridges the gap between white people and Mexicans."
I accepted a cupcake from her. "I thought Taco Bell did that."
She pointed her finger at me ominously. I gave her a suitably apologetic look.
Her family owned Todos Tortas, a food truck selling modernized Mexican sweets of all kinds, not just cakes.
"I warned you not to bring that thing around here," I said, glaring at her truck which featured cartoon cakes and cookies zooming around against a background of the cosmos. A sombrero-wearing planet Saturn drooled as it stared at a pink cake. "You're going to make me a diabetic."
"I'd be concerned, except you said that with your mouth full of my cupcake!" Melanie had already shoved half of her cupcake in her face, too. "Mmmm, oh, my god, so good, right, Anne?!"
I mumbled something around the cake in my mouth. So maybe cinnamon
the magic rainbow bridge between cultures.
"Sorry, not sorry, for bringing the truck around today. I had to pick up an extra shift because my
brothers got drunk last night and now they're all hung over! Gah, they're so stupid!"
I grinned at the mention of her two brothers who, like Melanie, were monkey shapeshifters. Once, and only once, I'd gone to a family dinner at her parents' place. The experience had been similar to visiting a zoo, complete with a food fight.
Everyone in Melanie's family was easily excitable and talked a mile a minute. When they got
worked up they shifted in and out of their monkey forms as though they couldn't help themselves. This led to a lot of monkey screeching and naked human skin, the latter which might have been okay if it hadn't included Melanie's beer-bellied dad. I'd been exhausted by the time I left, but armed with lots of great blackmail material.
Melanie fanned her face with a hand smeared with frosting. "Hurry up with the yard, Anne! It's hot as hell out here. Hurry!"
The front yard of Moonlight was surrounded by a black iron fence. That wasn't the real security, though. Like most yards in drought-stricken Vegas, the yard was comprised of nothing but rocks. Desert landscaping is what it was called, but mine was a bit more than that.
The rocks in my yard were either white quartz or shiny black obsidian. As Melanie watched, hopping from foot to foot with impatience, I squinted against the sun's reflection and spent several seconds rearranging the rocks into a specific pattern that an ordinary person would think had been created by someone who'd dropped a tab of acid. But the moment I placed the final rock, the magickal wards around the property vanished.
While the wards had been up, ordinary people could have entered the yard just fine—albeit with that icky sensation you get when you drag your feet on the carpet and you just
you're about to be shocked by something. However anyone magickally inclined would have been rebuffed with a figurative hand to the face.
It was a decent enough defense that had served me well so far, not that I had any reason to expect someone to want to do me harm. I kept my sorcery under the radar, which made me appear to be a non-threat to the magickal community in the city.
Melanie, being both a shapeshifter and not a fan of magickal hands to the face, never dared enter the yard while the wards were up. Now that they were down though, she sprinted into the shop, yelling about melting, and turned on the neon Open sign that hung in the window.
"So how was the date last night?" she asked me while straddling an old rocking horse that rocked on its own sometimes, but apparently not today. "Was he nice? Did you sleep with him?!"
"On a first date?" I rearranged a pair of nutcrackers that were painted to look like zombies. One of them tried to bite my finger. "Actually…I was too busy to go."