CW: Swearing, Violence, & Death

Name: Nick

Day/Time: Monday, 3:23 a.m.

Current state of mind: Somewhere between murderous & tired

What are you wearing? Jeans & a black sweater

What are you listening to? NFWMB by Hozier

What are you drinking? Bourbon

Where are you? My bedroom

Jaga’s cottage

Tatry, PL

Things I hadn’t planned on doing on vacation:

1. Breaking a curse.

2. Murdering the two motherfuckers who’d cast the curse.

3. Hunting down an ancient grimoire.

The first two had been crossed off my to-do list. Now all I had to do was play nice with Karina’s grandmother for the evening and get my hands on that grimoire. But that wasn’t gonna be easy.

Jaga—aka Jadzia—wasn’t exactly Miss Forthcoming. The eccentric old witch—who didn’t look a day over forty, BTW—was as secretive as she was paranoid, notorious for her shifting moods and mind games. If manipulation was an art, then she had mastered it. Getting Jaga to cough up that grimoire was gonna be tricky. Good thing I loved a challenge.

“Fresh off the stove.” Jaga set a tray of mulled beer down in front of us, her red lips curving up in a warm smile. She plopped down across from us, curling her fingers around a pint glass. “So, when are you two having kids?”

Here we fucking go.

“Babcia!” Karina sputtered, her cheeks flushing bright red. “Serio?”

“Jadzia.” I leaned back in my seat, draping my arm over the back of Karina’s chair. “There are children present.” I nodded over to the living room, where Lexi was curled up on the sofa, her nose buried in a book.

Jaga heaved out an exasperated sigh. The candles on the dining room table flared as she muttered an incantation under her breath. “There. Now we have plenty of privacy.”

“Good,” I replied, high jacking the convo before Jaga veered off on another one of her tangents. We didn’t have all night to sit around and chitchat about our future and whatnot. I was on vacation, for fuck’s sake. “We need to ask you about a grimoire.”

“Of course. Ask away.”

“It’s a compendium of curses and afflictions.” Karina fiddled with her sapphire bracelet. “Rumor has it that it’s in your possession.”

“I know nothing about it.” Jaga shrugged. She ran her manicured nail around the rim of her glass, her expression pensive as she stared off into space. “But I’d be willing to help you locate it.” She shifted her steely gaze over to me. “In exchange for a small favor.”

Of course she wanted a favor. Not only was she lying her ass off about the book, but now she wanted something in return. It was always tit for fucking tat with her. Everything came with a string of some sort. But I expected nothing less.

As much as I hated these verbal chess matches, I’d play. That grimoire was too important. If that book fell into the wrong hands, it could unleash hell on earth. Literally. And I had enough problems to last this lifetime. I didn’t need to add more to my growing list.

I took a swig of my spiced brew. “What can I do for you?”

“I want you to help me die.”

What. The. Fuck.

The backdoor blew open with a bang and Ryan stepped inside with Jaga’s wolf, Psotka tight on his heels. His expression was all business, eyes grim as they locked onto mine. “Think we’ve got company.”

I frowned. “What makes you say that?”

“Magic. It’s faint, not demonic, but it’s fucking potent.” He shook the snow off his boots. “I already called for backup. Daniel and Luke are en route.”

“Good.” I shot to my feet. “Witches?”

“Yeah.” Ryan tugged his gloves off. “I picked up on five different signatures.”

Well, wasn’t tonight just turning into a good old-fashioned shitshow? I swung my gaze over to Jaga. “Expecting someone?”

“No.” She flicked her hand. The trays of food and drinks occupying the dining table glided through the air, settling down onto the kitchen counters with quiet thumps. “No one comes here uninvited.” An ornate mirror floated down onto the pristine white pine, replacing the antique candle holders and twin vases of white roses. “Let’s see who’s out there, shall we?”

“Let’s.” I dipped my head, focusing my attention on the mirror with Kari, Ryan, and Jaga following suit. Our somber reflections were gradually replaced by wind-whipped snow flying through the midnight sky. I couldn’t see shit past the thick flakes, but then the forest surrounding Jaga’s cottage came into focus.

A group of seven witches trudged through the maze of snow-soaked pines, making their way towards the clearing. They were close to the perimeter, and it was only a matter of minutes before they breached it.

“What’s going on?” Lexi asked, trepidation lacing through her voice.

“Um…” Karina’s panicked sapphire blues flicked up to mine, silently screaming for help.

If Lexi wasn’t fourteen, I’d give her the truth, straight up. No chaser. But she was just a kid. She didn’t need the gritty details, just like she didn’t need front row seats for what was about to become supernatural fight night. I didn’t want her involved in this shitshow any more than Kari did. Lexi might’ve not been my blood, but she was still my sister and I’d murder anyone who even thought about hurting her.

I needed to get Lexi to safety, get her and Kari both out of harm’s way. That was priority number one. Priority number two, kill the motherfuckers who threatened my family.

“Look honey, it’s nothing I want you to worry about, but we’ve got some unexpected guests heading our way.” I leveled my gaze, meeting Lexi’s eyes. “Everything’s gonna be fine, but I’m gonna need you to listen to us, okay?”

Lexi nodded, trying her best to put on a brave face, but it was impossible to miss the fear churning in her sky-blue depths. “Okay.”

Fuck. I hated putting her through this. If I could get her out of this house without incident, I’d have Ryan take her home. But I wasn’t sure who we were up against—or if there were more witches lying in wait. It wasn’t worth the risk.

“Where’s the safest room in your house?” I asked Jaga.

“My bedroom. It’s upstairs at the end of the hall.” Jaga turned away from the window, drawing the lace curtain closed, looking at Kari. “Take Psotka with you, she’ll protect you both.”

“Why don’t you and Lexi head on up?” I cupped Kari’s cheek, stroking my thumb across her smooth skin. “We’ll take care of things down here.”

“Nick—”

Boom! A series of bangs and blasts rocked the house, rattling the floors and walls. Time was up. The assholes wanted in. And even though they couldn’t come inside without an invite, I wasn’t about to sit around while some dipshits with a death wish hurled magic bombs at my family.

“Go.” I pressed a kiss against Kari’s forehead and turned to Lexi, gently squeezing her shoulder. “Listen to your sister.”

“I will,” Lexi replied.

“Be careful.” Karina threw her arms around me as another series of blasts rocked the house.

“Always.” I held her, breathing in her sweet spring scent. I dipped my head, brushing my lips over hers in a quick but tender kiss. “I’ll get you when this is over.”

“We’ll be waiting.” Karina raised up on her tiptoes, kissing my cheek. She grabbed Lexi’s hand, and the two of them darted up the stairs with Psotka in tow.

“Cholera jasna.” Jaga gripped the back of the sofa as another quake shook the floor. “I just remodeled.”

“I hope you have your interior designer on speed dial,” Ryan replied. “Something tells me you’re gonna need him. Her. Whoever.”

I rolled my eyes, tuning them out as I surveyed the first floor—it was small but open, with the kitchen, dining room, and living room all spilling into each other. There wasn’t a ton of room, but it was better than the great outdoors. And the home’s protective magic would give us an advantage.

“Let’s not keep our guests waiting,” I drawled, planting my feet.

Jaga tapped on the wall three times. And with a couple of creaks and groans, the house came to life, pulsing with power. The front door flew open with an ear-splitting shriek, ushering in a vortex of cold, snow and wind, damn near blowing us all backwards.

The seven chucklefucks were sucked inside the supernatural maelstrom. Their screams pierced the air as their bodies ping-ponged off the ceiling and walls. But the cyclone didn’t last. The door slammed shut. The wind died. And gravity took over, dropping the group of chucklefucks like flies.

One of the assholes crash-landed in front of me, his face cracking off the gray oak. He groaned, slowly dragging his head up, his eyes widening in terror as they met mine. I flashed him a cold smile. “Siema?”

“Ja pierdolę.”

“That’s no way to talk to your king.” I kicked him in the head, taking the thing clean off. “Next time, show some fucking respect.”

I spun, spotting some jackass darting towards the stairs. I leaped over the decapitated corpse, snagging the asshole by the back of his collar just as his foot hit the second step.

“Going somewhere?” I snarled, whipping him around. My magic surged, shooting out of me as I tossed him across the room.

The asshole flew backward, his back smashing against the far wall. I pinned the jackass in place with my mind, making his body one with the paneling. With a quick flick of my wrist, I shattered both of his kneecaps.

His howls joined the symphony of screeches and screams echoing throughout the space. It was pure chaos. Lights flickered. Glass shattered and wood splintered as the sounds of a supernatural throwdown engulfed the cottage.

I stalked towards the fucker, stepping over the debris that littered the once pristine living room. I flicked my wrist again, dislocating his elbows with a quick snap, crackle, and a pop. Beads of sweat dotted his forehead as I seized his throat, cutting off most of his oxygen supply. “Any last words?”

“I’ll talk.” He wheezed. “Tell you anything you want to know.”

“Is that so?” I cocked a brow, studying him for a beat.

He bobbed his head—or tried. But hey, A for fucking effort, right?

“Wypierdalaj stąd!” Karina’s curse rang out from above. Another round of tremors rocked the foundation. Kari’s magic flooded the home, her rage so palpable that it stung my skin. Clattering and crashing exploded from the second floor, followed by more of Kari’s creative cussing. “Stay the fuck away from my sister!”

Fucking hell. I needed to get up there.

“Raincheck.” I shocked the jackass in my grip, dosing him with just enough joules to put him down for a quick nap.

I raced across the room, skidding to a halt in front of the staircase as a red head tumbled down the flight of polished hardwood. Her body struck the landing with a thump. Red rolled onto her back, her lifeless eyes staring up at the ceiling. Bruises bloomed over her ashen face, crimson plasma pooling from the gaping hole in her chest.

“Damn,” Ryan muttered, joining my side.

“Is she dead?” Karina white-knuckled the railing as she descended the stairs. Blood gushed from her forehead, streaming down her cheek. Her cream-colored sweater and jeans were spattered with dark red splotches. But I wasn’t sure if the blood was Kari’s or not. 

“As a doornail.” I met her halfway, roping my arm around her waist. “I’ve got you.”

I led her over to the couch—which was surprisingly intact, given that everything else had been pretty much destroyed. The entire lower level looked like a tornado had ravaged the joint.

As I eased her down onto the ivory cushions, her sapphire blues flicked to mine. “Lexi.”

“I’ll go check on her,” Ryan said.

“Thanks, man,” I replied.

“Sweetheart.” I swept her blonde hair away from her face, tucking a couple of the blood-stained locks behind her ears. “I’m gonna assess your injuries, okay?”

“Nick.” She groaned, turning her head with a cough. “I’m fine, just a little sore, that’s all.”

“Humor me.”

“Okay.” She sighed. “But you’re just wasting your time.”

“It’s not a waste.” I pressed my palm against her cheek, using my magic to do a thorough system check. And Kari was right. No major damage had been done—other than the gushing bleeder she was sporting. “I’m gonna heal your cut.”

“No.” Karina placed her hand over mine. “I’ll heal on my own. You need to conserve your energy.”

“You’re bleeding—”

“This?” Kari scoffed, touching her forehead with a wince. “It’s nothing. You know how head wounds are, one tiny scratch and you look like you’ve been nearly murdered.”

“One, that’s more than a fucking scratch.” I hovered my palm over the seeping gash, pouring my healing magic into the wound. “Two, you could’ve been murdered.”

“Yeah, well, you should see the other bitch.”

“I did.” I grinned, pride swelling in my chest. “You got her good.”

Karina smiled, closing her eyes as I healed her.

The bleeding slowed as Kari’s skin gradually stitched itself back together, resuming its smooth, seamless texture like nothing had ever happened. “Good as new.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

Karina blew out a long-winded breath. “I think we should forget about that stupid book—at least for tonight. Let’s grab Lexi and get the hell out of here.”

“I can’t.” I pressed my forehead against hers. “But you can leave with Daniel and Luke—”

“What about us?” Daniel asked, as he and Luke stepped into the living room. “Damn.” He let out a low whistle. “You didn’t leave any leftovers for us.”

“Dude.” Luke rolled his eyes. “You killed two demons the other night. What the fuck are you bitching about?”

“That’s nothing—”

“You two need to take Lexi home.” I shoved to my feet, not in the mood to listen to their bickering. I cut my gaze over to Kari, who appeared to be taking in all the carnage. “Kari, you want to head out with them?”

“Lexi can’t see this,” she murmured.

“We can cloak it.” I squatted down in front of her. “Do you want to go home?”

“No. I’m staying,” Karina replied with the kind of conviction that left no room for arguing. “Let’s finish this.”

The shed on Jaga’s property stood a short distance away from her cottage. The space was simple, with floor to ceiling pine walls, containing two tables and gardening tools that would become of use in the warmer months. It was secluded. Practical. And the perfect spot to interrogate the asshole who’d threatened my family.

The asshole—aka Bartek—was splayed between two wood pillars. Glowing green vines snaked around his ankles and wrists, slithering up his legs and arms, like a quartet of snakes. The sharp thorns that pierced his skin contained a powerful paralytic, which not only neutralized the asshole’s magic, but kept him nice and fucking honest.

“You said you wanted to talk.” I parked my ass against the wall next to Ryan. “Talk.”

Bartek swallowed hard, licking his lips. “W-what do you want to know?”

“Why are you here?” I folded my arms across my chest.

“For the book,” Bartek blurted.

“Care to be specific?” I cocked my head, already knowing the answer.

“It’s some old grimoire filled with curses and afflictions.”

“Why do you want it?”

“I don’t.”

“Who does?”

“Please,” Bartek whispered, terror washing over his features. “He’ll kill me.”

“Let me make myself clear.” I shoved off the wall, crossing the short distance between us. I gripped his chin and squeezed. Hard. “You can either tell me everything you know. Right fucking now. Or I’m gonna take a stroll through your memory banks and get the info myself, and that shit is gonna hurt like a bitch.” I nailed him with a hard stare. “Then I’m gonna kill you. Slowly. So slowly that you’ll be praying for death before I’m even halfway through. Your choice.”

I released him, taking a step back. “You have till the count of three.”

“Kurwa!”

“One—”

“Your father!” Bartek cried. “Your father wants the book. He told us to retrieve it—that he’d reward us with immortality and riches we could only dream of.”

Fucking hell. I should’ve known my father was involved. He was exactly the type of power-starved asshole who’d go after the cursed grimoire. If that depraved asshat wanted that book, then it meant it contained some kind of spell that could be used against him—or benefit him somehow.

But my father hadn’t sent his brightest and best. Why the fuck would he send a group of inexperienced lackeys to retrieve the book? It didn’t make any sense. Jaga could’ve taken them out all by her lonesome without batting a single eyelash.

Unless…

That motherfucker knew he wasn’t gonna get the book. Tonight had been a test—a test of defenses and alliances. He’d try again, probably with another set of sycophants, except the next group would be more adept. Powerful. 

Fuck. I was gonna kill that asshole, right after I retrieved that gods-forsaken book.

“What makes you think my grandmother has the grimoire?” Karina demanded.

“Don’t you know?” Bartek frowned. “She wrote it.”

And wasn’t that just the cherry on top of the shitshow sundae? But then, I wasn’t surprised—not when it came to Jaga. I’d suspected it earlier. And my suspicions had been confirmed.

I stepped forward, meeting Bartek’s beady eyes. “Anything else you’d like to share with the class?”

“Please don’t kill me,” Bartek cried. “I will do anything you want. I can work for you. I can help you spy on your father—”

“Tell my uncle I said hi.” I placed my palm on his chest, the electricity shooting through the leather covering my hands as I fried his heart and brain to a crisp. His body twitched. Once. Twice. His head bowed, the heavy weight of his carcass slipping free from the vines. 

Tension permeated the deafening silence seeping through the cramped shed. The three of us turned, focusing our attention on Jaga.

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