This Wicked Magic - By Michele Hauf

Chapter 1


There are things he had done. Bad things. Dangerous things. Wicked things. He’d made mistakes. Broken rules. He regretted.

And he did not regret.

Everything he had ever done had been to expand his knowledge. Learning was never a bad thing. Most of the time. Sometimes a man needed to sacrifice for the greater good. Or that was how he’d talked himself into his latest disastrous adventure.

Now Certainly Jones desired peace. It was not to be his.

Hands shoved in his jeans pockets and senses alert to the warm summer air and gasoline fumes rising from the tarmac, he hustled toward the glow of a streetlight a hundred yards down from the Lizard Lounge.

The faery club had been inordinately bright—which was why he’d chosen to go there after sundown. He never went out after the world had grown dark, but after months of solitude he’d craved a night away from home. The Lizard Lounge was mind-numbingly weird. He could deal with all paranormal breeds and their ways and manners—but faeries? There were some things a witch who had been practicing the dark arts for well over a century and a half should not see. Situations, illicit couplings and magics in which even he daren’t dabble.

Gut muscles clenching, Certainly felt the familiar warning twinge of an internal takeover. Of late, his body was not his to command.

He increased the pace of his footsteps through the dark alley. Fifty strides ahead beckoned the streetlight. His fingers curled against his abs and he bit his lip.

“Stay back,” he hissed. The passengers inhabiting his body—his very soul—rippled within his being.

Spellcraft had proved ineffectual to prevent an imminent intrusion. Directing his instincts inward, Certainly attempted to, at the least, identify the imposing entity. It gnawed at his insides and clawed to get out. As his mouth began to water, he pinpointed that it craved a dark, seeping, metallic thing. It wanted...carrion.

“Hell. Not good.”

With a rallying dash, he landed in the safe glow and hooked his arm about the black metal pole, swinging halfway about and chuckling in triumph. He’d won. For now. Yet he stood a stranded sailor adrift in a dark sea, and navigating the infested waters always proved perilous.

The next streetlight punctuating this moonless night wasn’t for another long block. He stood on a back street, well off the main avenue. He should have gone the other direction, toward the Seine, where the night was always bright with tourists and passing cars. But the thing inside him had been persistent, pushing him this way the moment he’d exited the safety of the Lizard Lounge’s peculiar brightness.

The demon inside smelled something Certainly wasn’t able to pick out of the atmosphere now that he had a grasp on his own senses, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to if his instincts were correct regarding the carrion demon.

Pushing his fingers through his long dark hair, he pulled at the strands, wincing. It wanted control, and the light made it stomp its hooves and bleat to rattle Certainly’s bones. Venturing out after sunset had been foolish. Yet he’d needed the escape from the solitude of his loft.

He wasn’t sure how much longer he could endure this torture before he gave in and surrendered. Walked away from the light and into the darkness. Once there, the darkness would swallow him whole. He would never make it back to the surface sane. As it was, he treaded the line that tipped over to insanity. But he wouldn’t go down that way, would not let the dark passengers he carried inside take him or claim his soul.

He’d stolen from Daemonia, and so yes, this was his deserving punishment. But he’d find escape to the surface. He always did.

Thinking he could hail a cab and request that the driver keep the interior light on—a feeble and temporary mend to his curse—Certainly scanned down the lonely street, paralleled by brick walk-ups and here and there a limestone three-story, which hailed from medieval times. The street was cobbled, remnants of centuries past when kings and musketeers once paraded before the peasants and Revolutionaries swung sticks instead of swords and lapped up the blood from severed heads. Not so metaphorically, either.

He’d missed that tumultuous time and had instead grown up during Paris’s Bohemian phase in the late nineteenth century, la Belle époque. A hippie at heart, there were days he pined for the halcyon days of artistry, freedom, absinthe, ether and living from sofa to sofa, wherever his body may fall.

The thought of his wilder youth made