The Kiss & The Killer:
Faery Bargains Book 2
By Melissa Marr
No one had ever accused New Orleanians of being subtle. Carnival season still launched with Twelfth Night, despite the draugar who were going to be noshing on the tourists. Much like drunken excess was inevitable, so deaths or injuries of careless tourists were expected. The best we could do was be careful and warn the tourists who weren’t prepared for the biters.
I watched out the window of my accidental fiancé’s car as we zipped through the city. Sometimes seeing the world this way made me wish for a life without walled cities and restrictions. I wanted to not worry about biters—but that was impossible with my genetic soup. The best I could do was live the life I had, and that meant enjoying the ferocity of the decorations that were draped from balconies. No mild colors or modest sizes. New Orleans was larger than life in most things, and this was no exception.
“Are you unwell, Geneviève?”
“I need a holiday away from here,” I admitted. Maybe this summer. Maybe in the fall. Right now, I couldn’t leave the city. Carnival was deadly these days, so I patrolled to mitigate the stupidity of tourists.
That wasn’t my job, but since I was one of the only people in the city fast enough and strong enough to stop a hungry biter, it was my avocation. The only other living person I knew who could do what I did was driving the car. Eli. My fiancé. My partner. My friend. Unfortunately, not my lover in all ways due to that fiancé problem. We made do, though. It was the best option I had—and when your lover was a faery prince with centuries of experience, his incomplete loving was a damn sight better than what most people could deliver at their peak.
“You’re staring at me, bonbon.”
I sighed. “You’re supposed to pretend not to notice when I stare.”
“Is that a witch tradition I am unfamiliar with?” he teased. “The fae do try to follow traditions.” He glanced at me. “Is there something you need?”
I was saved from replying that far-too-loaded question when I felt my phone buzz. New Orleans Police Department.
I declined the call, but reached out and turned down the car radio.
“N.O.P.D,” I said.
“Ought you answer?”
“Maybe,” I allowed.
He didn’t remark that I’d already turned down the radio. We both knew they’d likely call again, and eventually, I’d answer. Satisfying my curiosity was irresistible to me sooner or later.
Eli cut off the music. He strongly believed in everything being the best possible quality, so the car stereo had been blasting some medieval sounding band that refused to play in my hometown on account of not wanting to get eaten by draugar. They weren’t meant to be played quietly.
Honestly, I was trying to justify a trip to see them live. Maybe that was going to be my holiday plan? Of course, that meant that going on a trip with Eli—and that held levels of commitment I was prepared for yet. Maybe ever.
And any sort of holiday meant abandoning my post, which wasn’t a thing I could do easily. Maybe it was guilt, but I felt an obligation to New Orleans. She was mine, and I protected her people. These days, people either moved to walled cities with no-fanger rules or learned to coexist. I coexisted with a generous side order of magic and swords--and the police tolerated it because, well, they thought I was “just a witch.”
I liked it that way.
My relationship with the police was that I called to report “mysteriously beheaded” draugar, and they stressed that I was not a sanctioned officer and should not behead anything. But no one asked too many questions.
They rarely—if ever--called me.
It rang again; I declined again.
“Have you decapitated anyone interesting of late, Buttercream?” Eli asked, looking at me longer than was strictly safe while driving. “Threatened any influential tourists?”
“Not that I know of.” I met Eli’s curious gaze—although he ought to be watching the road. He was the sort of driver who would terrify a calmer person, but fae reflexes likely meant he could stare at me and still drive better than most people.
He looked away and his little blue convertible moved with a near-silent engine as we raced through the city.
When the phone rang again, I saw “Gary Broussard” on my ID. I might not answer for NOPD, but Gary was my friend.
“What’s it take to get you to answer your phone, Gen?” he grumbled.
“Are you okay?” I asked in lieu of politer greetings. Gary was a sort of father-stand-in for me, sparking more of a paternal affection in me than anyone else ever had. “Are you in the hospital? Should I--”
“No.” He laughed. “Bulletproof, kid. I’m bulletproof thanks to you.”
“Why the call, then? I don’t think I broke any major laws today . . .” I hedged.
“Got a job for you.”
“J-o-b, kid. That thing where you do something, and get paid for it.” Gary sounded like he was trying not to laugh.
“I’m not really NOPD material, Gary, and raising witnesses is iffy business. People aren’t reliable even when they’re alive. Plus, I work best on my own. It’s safer and--”
“Freelance. Take a breath, Crowe.”
“So raising the dead? For . . . you? Or the department?” I glanced out the window, watched the increasing darkness. No foot traffic on the side streets in the Central Business District once dark fell.
“No raising. Freelance killing dead things for the department,” Gary clarified. “Temporary position. N.O.P.D. got a grant for it, specifically to hire you.”
I paused. We’d always sort of agreed to officially pretend the N.O.P.D. didn’t know that was what I did, although I was about as subtle as a sharp sword. I guess we were finally officially admitting that I hunted the creatures that tried to eat their neighbors.
“I’m not sure I’m the person for—”
“Biters are cutting into tourism. We need an exterminator, Gen. Just come down and hear them out,” Gary said. “Plus, the grant’s only good if we hire you.”
That set off alarms, and I tensed enough that Eli noticed.
“I’ll stop in tomorrow.” I disconnected and stared at the phone for a moment.
Who wanted me on the street? Who wanted the N.O.P.D. to know what I could do? Did someone know what I really was? Magic sparked in blues and purples along my skin, a side effect of my temper that had accompanied my recent brush with mortality.
Eli stopped the car, ignoring the car behind us that was honking.
“Job offer,” I said, gesturing toward the road. “Drive, please?”
He gave me a raised brow, but said nothing as he looked back at the road and sped off. Eli wasn’t a talker when he could convey his meaning with a look—or an action. He accelerated, cutting through the city, traveling at a speed that was only safe due to fae reflexes. Every spin of the wheel or drift around a curve was inviting me to comment, to object, to say something.
I fought back a laugh.
If anyone else had the wheel of his little blue convertible, I’d be doing more than objecting. I’d climb into the driver’s lap and stomp the brake pedal whether they liked it or not. Instead, I was pretending not to be alarmed at how close to cars he zagged or how fast he zigged into intersections.
He glanced at me, and I just grinned.
I liked making him ask questions, and right now, I cherished the distraction of his provocative driving. Eli had the kind of charm and looks that meant he was used to everything falling into his lap—except me. We had the chemistry, and at first I thought that was all we had. Then he became one of my best friends, so I refused to get naked with him despite sparks. Lately, I realized I’d been wrong; we fit in every way.
Of course, that didn’t mean I was going to fall over myself to charm him or make things too easy. We’d both be bored if I did that. So I waited as he steered his fae-modified car around several slower cars, clearly trying to provoke me.
When I stayed silent even as he all but grazed a sign turning a corner, he laughed and asked, “I give, Geneviève. Would you care to elucidate?”
I bit my lip. Elucidate? Eli could make the most mundane things sound sexy. It was one of his less-irritating traits, although it was hell on my self-control.
“NOPD wants to hire me freelance for the season,” I explained, forcing my mind away from thoughts of Eli’s voice or body or charm. “To ‘exterminate’ the troublesome biters.”
“And you plan to . . .?” Eli prompted.
“Grab the spot by the black suv.” I motioned to a parking spot that was more challenging than usual. Carnival season had only just started, and we already had more tourists than I liked.
Eli slipped his little convertible into a spot that only he could manage. The car was
the epitome of elegance, silent unless Eli was in the mood to make it growl, so cutting the engine was unnoticeable.
“Bonbon?” He turned toward me. “What will you tell the New Orleans Police Department?”
“I’d be out there anyhow. If they have some sort of grant to pay me, maybe I should--”
“A grant? From whom?” Eli frowned. I knew he was as uncomfortable as I was at that detail. Why me? Who wanted me involved? Why?
I nodded. “Their budget is shit, but . . . the grant is specifically to hire me.”
“That is concerning,” he murmured.
“Precisely. I need to know who funded it,” I said. “Even if I refused, I want that answer. To get that, I must meet them.”
Silently, Eli got out and came around to my door. I’d given up resisting his insistence on opening the door. He extended a hand once he’d opened the door.
Instead of pursuing the issues of who was funding the grant or that I ought to take a few weeks off, Eli pronounced, “I will not expect compensation.”
Despite myself, I laughed. “For?”
And my partner looked me in the eyes and pulled me in for a kiss that was more territorial than usual. I melted into him, wrapping around him like it was the best idea in the world to forget that there were monsters, murders, and midnight revelers out there.
When he released me, he stepped back and said, “You’re the affianced of the heir to Elphame, Geneviève, and there are traditions that—”
“Short version,” I interrupted.
“Where you go, I go. Where you are hired, I shall be. Where you behead, slaughter, or defend, I shall be.” He lifted my hand to his lips. “You are my warrior bride, Geneviève Crowe, and--”
“We’ve discussed this. I’m not a bride.” I pulled my hand away, trying not to swoon at the thought that he would be at my side for the innumerable years to come if we ended up married. “The engagement is just a temporary state and—”
“Hush, Geneviève.” He gestured toward the cemetery with the same grace that he used when he escorted me before his uncle, the king of Elphame. “Shall we hunt?”
“Yes to hunting, no to—”
“Be aware of the traditions, Geneviève Crowe. If you end our courtship, my time in your world ends as well.” His voice held genuine fear this time. A carefully worded faery bargain or two had bought Eli a reprieve from the faery king’s edict on his heir’s matrimony.
I didn’t want that reprieve to end. Neither did he. And if I wasn’t careful, it would. So instead of marriage, we were currently planning on the world’s longest engagement. Committed enough to keep him in my life, but not committed enough to trap him in a marriage with a half-dead witch. To succeed meant keeping up the ruse that our engagement would lead to marriage.
Because, unfortunately, what most sane people thought of as “tradition” was a law to the fae, and I was blundering around trying to thwart centuries of tradition-laws without ending up married or losing the man I was falling irreparably in love with.
“I need to kill something,” I muttered.
“Yes, dear,” he murmured softly, as he offered me his arm to lead me to the cemetery wall we were about to scale.
As far as nights out went, scaling brick walls and creeping around rows of mausoleums might not rate. This wasn’t a date, though. Christophe Hebert had been on a list of “possible victims of injections” that my current research assistant, Alice, had created. I checked on the graves on that list with the hope that they were resting quietly where they’d been planted. The last three had been, so I was hoping tonight was lucky number four.
“Alice says Hebert’s mother was a significant SAFARI donor,” I told Eli as I landed next to him on the ground inside the cemetery walls.
My elegant fiancé muttered a curse word in his people’s language that my tongue still struggled to pronounce. SAFARI, the Society Against Fae and Reanimated Individuals, was a hate group opposed to increasingly tolerant attitudes towards draugar and for reasons not-quite-clear lumping the fae in with the biters. Honestly, I expected them to include witches on their list, but so far the “human-ness” of magic-users kept the list restricted to the dead and the fae.
“Not all SAFARAI members have been raised,” I pointed out, but I still drew my single-handed sword.
Eli moved far enough away that he wouldn’t obstruct me if we were startled. My sword wasn’t the sort of metal the fae could handle easily, so I was more cautious around him anyhow.
“Is Madam Hebert alive?” he asked.
“She’s outside the city, somewhere over in Houston.” I tried and failed to keep the disdain out of my voice. I had no issue with Houston. It was a fine city, in fact, but people who abandoned New Orleans but meddled in our affairs were high on my shit list. To abandon the city and funnel money back here for racist organization was a level of asinine I couldn’t tolerate.
“Good riddance,” Eli said, drawing a small silver dagger he’d had secreted somewhere.
The Society Against Fae and Reanimated Individuals was tangled up in an attempt on my life in the fall, among other heinous things. Racists, not surprisingly, weren’t too keen on the continued life of those of us who were different, and some of the SAFARI folks lumped bisexual, Jewish, necromancing witches in there with a level of hostility that made murdering me seem like a lovely idea.
“Was Christophe a member?” Eli asked, as we made our way deeper into the rows of mausoleums. They were often beautiful, but they did make hunting a bit challenging.
“No.” I stared at the shadows, feeling the comforting whispers of the dead resting in the earth. Since my brush with my own mortality, my tie to the dead had grown stronger than I liked. It used to be that I had to bleed to hear them.
Now, the collective whispers of the grave rose up like breezes through dry corn husks. I had to actively refuse to answer, and we hadn’t yet seen what would happen if I bled more than a droplet or two on grave dirt. Before my near-death event, my magic was already off. Now, I was apprehensive of testing that change. So far, my draugar speed had come in handy on that front at least.
“Worse?” Eli asked.
I didn’t think it was worse or better to hear the dead, simply different. I wasn’t sure I wanted to explain that to a nature-based being, though. My magic was of life, but my DNA had my father’s contribution, too, and he had been dead a very long time when my mother conceived. Yeah, I killed the sort of creatures that had fathered me. Daddy issues weren’t just for debutantes.
“Bonbon?” Eli prompted.
“Stronger,” I clarified. “My magic is stronger.”
By the time we reached Christophe Herbert’s grave, we had ascertained that no one else was sliding out of their graves nearby. We’d learned the awkward way that checking for surprise biters first was essential.
The dirt over Christophe’s resting spot was not disrupted tonight, but it had been recently. Someone had patted it back into place, and even added a few stolen flowers in the mound of mud.
“That’s not suspicious at all.” I scanned the area before crouching down.
Eli moved so he could watch a larger swath of the darkened rows of graves. We were looking in opposite directions. He took our partnership even more seriously than our romance, and that was saying something.
“Anything?” I asked.
“No. All clear.” He held his dagger out.
I pricked my wrist on the sharpened tip. A simple droplet worked better than a slice, plus I hated hand injuries. A cut in my palm made my hilt bloody, and that could hamper my grip in a fight.
My blood dropped onto the ground. One drip . . . two . . . there. I felt like I was sinking into the soil. Spectral hands reaching down for a body that was meant to be there.
“Christophe Herbert,” I beckoned.
I held my arm up to keep more blood from falling. Eli slapped an adhesive patch over the cut. It’s not all blood and magic in my business, despite what people want to believe. Sometimes it was blood, magic, and cartoon bandages.
“Christophe Herbert, wake for me,” I ordered. I sometimes used prettier words, French or Latin or the occasional Gaelic, for clients, but magic wasn’t rooted in pretty pronunciation. It was in will, genetics, and sometimes emotions.
That part was true. My blood had power for the dead.
No one answered my summons, though. Christophe Herbert was not in this grave—which almost certainly meant that he was walking around my tourist-filled city looking for a bite to eat. If we were lucky, he had caught the draugar queen’s attention and she’d already handled it. But my Grandmother Beatrice was dealing with her own issues lately, so I had a strong suspicion that this particular biter was going to be mine to handle.
“If he was injected, what are your minions able to. . .” Eli started, his voice sliding into that cautious tone that meant he was aware he’d broached an awkward topic.
I held up a hand. “I’m not collecting minions, Eli.”
“Would you be able to bond him as you have your associates so we can gather answers?”
I sighed. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t considered it. I had the awkward ability to revive draugar so they were sentient beings upon waking, but who wanted the responsibility of minions? I didn’t call them that, but they wouldn’t object. Trey, who was dead but still running his businesses as if he had never passed, wouldn’t object to anything I called him. He was definitely in the Renfield zone these days.
I shudder. “Just because I can fix the newly dead yet, doesn’t mean I want to, and I don’t know if I even can once they walk. Christophe is already walking.”
“Swords ready, then?”
Unfortunately, I didn’t quite know how to answer. Being able to restore a draugar to clarity had the unpleasant side effect of binding them to me, and I had no desire to create my own little army of biters. The average draugar was a slathering, biting monster the first century, but we’d discovered that I could shorten that period of “toddler” years so that a newly-risen biter was perfectly coherent.
“Stay alert,” I said. “If we see Herbert before we get information, we take his head.”
Eli didn’t question me. There were times when he was in control of our actions, but this was my job, my calling, my fucked-up genetic soup, so in this, I was the decision-making body.
“To behead or not behead,” Eli pronounced in a remarkably adept Shakespearean tone. “That is the question.”
By the time we’d searched the entire cemetery, we’d found no biters, no foolhardy kids tempting fate, only one pair of tourists with their cheap “protection” chokers—as if biters only gnawed on throats. Some genius sold them with a remarkably compelling marketing campaign. “I’ve never been bitten” testimonials scrolled through their ads. No one mentioned that the Bite Chokers weren’t field-tested around actual biters.
“Are you stupid?” I asked.
“Are you are a . . . fanger?” the man asked.
“No,” Eli answered, saving me from the half-lie. I was, in truth, sporting fangs these days. I wasn’t dead, though. I wasn’t a drooling, snapping, newly-risen draugar. I had been born half-draugar, but after an attempt on my life a few months ago, I was newly fanged.
I lifted a sword and pointed the tip at them. “If I wanted to bite you, that junk wouldn’t stop me.”
“No one wearing this has ever been bitten,” the woman started.
“Probably because no one has worn it around a biter.” I looked around at the shadowed graves. If there was a dead thing here, these two would be bleeding already. Dumb asses. Too much booze made tourists wander off like snacks-on-delivery to the predator’s dens.
And as much as I wanted to dismiss it as simple Darwinism in action, I couldn’t. I had an overactive need to save people. I motioned for them to stand. “Come on.”
“Where are you taking us?” The man moved his feet like he was going to stand and fight, and as much as I respected the instinct, it would serve him better if he’d had that urge before coming here.
Before I could say anything else, a draugar arrived, standing in the periphery of my vision. She flowed with the speed of a century-or-more corpse. Dressed in a cream linen suit coat that was cut for a woman and a pair of trousers that matched, the draugar looked like a well-dressed woman who’d merely forgotten to wear a blouse under her jacket. If not for the pervading feel of death that flooded me, I might think her human from this distance.
But my magic was grave magic. She was human once, but from the feel of her, it had been at least a century.
Sword up just in case, I called, “On my left.”
Eli moved toward the nice, human tourists and raised a lethal blade that looked like it had been cut from the moonlight. The man had an uncanny ability to hide weapons that I wanted to study in detail.
The human woman gasped as she saw that short sword. “Oh my goodness, oh my—"
“Hush,” the man said, pulling her close.
Then, the draugar was there, flowing with the serpentine motion that typically only came with age and experience. She was one place and then the next, faster than vision can track. It probably looked like magic to the tourists, even though it was simple—albeit remarkable--speed.
“My lady has a question,” the draugar said, bowing her head to me briefly before she glanced at the humans, protected by Eli, and then back at me. From this close, her serpent-like slitted eyes were impossible to mistake.
She flashed a grin at me and put a hand to her chest. “Oh, no, a flimsy clasp and a cheap piece of metal. Whatever shall I do?”
Eli raised his sword as she took a step.
Before she could flow, I moved up to her back, lifting my dagger. I stopped my cut just at the kiss of her throat.
“Don’t,” I whispered, behind her, sharpened blade at the right side of her throat.
The draugar reached up with her left hand and shoved my arm away with the flat of her hand on the wrist of my sword arm. She flowed so we were face-to-face and punched me.
I stumbled, feeling foolish that I’d underestimated her. I knew better, but the more I learned about them, the more I struggled remembering that they were monsters.
But then, I felt it, the echoing voices of the waking dead under the earth. In my stumble, my bloodied hand was re-opened, and my blood had slammed down on to the soil. It wasn’t a large cut, but it was my blood on grave dirt.
I looked at Eli. “Get them out. Now.”
I urged the waking dead, “Stay where you are. Please.”
We are yours.
Who struck you?
“Protect,” I echoed.
Their voices rose, twining together like so many threads. I hadn’t ever been fond of raising the dead en masse, but the combination of my rage and fear had tainted my blood this time. I’d summoned them, and in my exhaustion, I’d given them purpose by repeating that word.
“Witch,” the draugar said, making the sign-of-the-cross over herself.
For some reason, seeing a fanger make a religious gesture struck me silent, but then Eli yelled, “Geneviève!”
I looked over to where he was hurrying the human couple out of the maze of graves. The earth looked like it was bubbling from the number of bodies surging to the surface. Hands, knees, heads. Bodies were surfacing in various degrees of alertness.
“Protect,” one after another whispered.
I could see the animated corpses, clad in magically-restored clothes from eras past. Fifty or so reanimated dead folk stumbled, crawled, and stomped toward me. At least I didn’t hear thundering inside the mausoleums. So far, my grave magic hadn’t broken through the stone tombs. Small victories were still victories.
“Call them off,” the draugar ordered.
“I don’t know how,” I admitted in horror. “They see you as a threat to me. Until they remove the threat, they’re here.”
“And you call us monsters, Crowe?” The draugar fled, flowing out of the cemetery with a far more impressive speed than her arrival.
And I was left watching the expectant dead look at me with a mix of awe and hunger I wasn’t sure how to stop.
Copyright © 2021 by Melissa Marr All rights reserved.