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Authors: Jessica McBrayer

Tags: #paranormal romance, #paranormal, #tattoo, #vampires, #witch, #paranormal mystery, #Irish magic

Stained

BOOK: Stained
9.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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Copyright © 2011 by Jessica McBrayer

ISBN 13: 978-0-984-7008-1-3

ISBN 10: 0-9847008-1-3

All Rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form whatsoever, without prior written permission by the author. No part of this book may be reproduced, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored, or introduced into any information storage system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without express written permission of the author. If you pirate this work I will come after you.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used facetiously. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or to events or locations, is entirely coincidental.

To my mother.

Who makes everything possible, including this book.

CHAPTER ONE

Hail, Guardians of the Watchtowers come! By the air that is Her Breath, send forth your light, be here now…The circle is cast. We are between the worlds… The fire is lit, the ritual is begun.

She wore a white ceremonial dress. It was gauze and swayed with her hips. Moving gracefully, she traced her circle with her athame, making it her own. Now she was skyclad, having tossed her clothes off for the rest of her ritual. Twirling and moving in a carefree manner, she focused on her magick. She chanted as she danced, feeling secure that no one would see her.

But he was watching in the dawn.
Silently he moved closer, the soft bare earth of the Berkeley hills beneath his feet.
A set smile was on his lips, but his eyes were dead pools of black, as he walked right through her circle. She was startled out of her revelry. As he moved forward and grabbed her arms, her eyes darted from side to side looking for help, knowing no one was there. His smile didn’t soothe her. Now he had her hands restrained, yet she struggled and screamed. She pleaded with him not to hurt her. He was amused.

He slowly ran his knife down her leg, searching. There they were, twined in the roots of a willow tree, talismans. He reached behind his back, slid out his katana, and with a smooth swing, sliced off her head. As the head rolled to the side, he was washed in her warm, bright red blood. He didn’t see it or feel it. He was after something more important. He went back to her tattoo. With his athame, he skinned her of her talismans.

•••••

Blood pooled with ink as the needles pierced her client’s skin. Thorn colored in the intricate design. Her stomach tightened as it always did, but years of practice kept her from showing it. The man she tattooed flinched as the pain registered. She smiled to herself. Pleasure and pain would soon be his addiction, as it often was for those who came to her.

Her nitrile-covered hands moved swiftly, as they dipped the needles into ink and moved back to the design, the outline evaporating into blood and a more permanent ink, the flesh raw, after she was done with it.

Her shop, Stained, tucked into the slightly seedy, increasingly funky, but always vibrant Telegraph Avenue, hummed with the noise of tattoo machines, music, and people milling around, looking at the art work displayed in books. Antique prints of ‘painted’ tattooed ladies gave the shop a burlesque feel. Thorn loved everything about it. Being just a few blocks from UC Berkeley, the shop was a favorite with students and more faculty and staff than one might guess. Each tat station was open to the public eye except for one back room, where the artists could work on more private areas. She had chosen dark blue blending to cerulean, towards the ceiling, to soothe the customers, unlike the bright reds of so many other shops.

The man she worked on grunted, trying not to move, as she continued, adding ink and wiping away blood so she could see clearly. The design made itself known. As she wove it into existence, she chanted under her breath a spell of healing into the ink. She had created a sacred space in her store, so she would be protected while she chanted and worked her spells.

Gérard, Reese, and Gwynn worked with her tonight, and they were busy with customers, too. Gérard with his creole accent, Reese with her red hair, t-shirt and jeans, and Gwynn dressed in a hemp dress with her blonde hair thrown up in a messy bun held together with chop sticks. Jason, her intern, worked the front, helping customers, running errands for the artists, and selling t-shirts and other souvenirs. Tonight he wore skinny jeans showing his boxers and a rainbow Muppets t-shirt.

Thorn had more work than she could handle and that was the way she liked it. The shop was open during the day, with a talented, experienced crew. Thorn covered the hours from early evening ’til midnight. She had a steady flow of customers until she shut the doors. Besides her discreet late night patrons, she catered to a select clientele and never took walk-ins. The high fees from her late night clients fed her bolt fund.

Her present client had made his appointment six weeks ago. He’d opted for a custom designed pinup girl and it was turning out nicely. She’d drawn up the design last night and he loved it. Halfway through the night, Raven, her familiar, swept into the room onto his perch and cawed, “Trouble.” He was a large, midnight black raven, with talons that could shred a man to ribbons and a beak like a bowie knife. He refused to be named. Names held power over the being and he wanted no binds on him, so she just called him Raven.

Raven would have warned her mind-to-mind if it had been a real threat. Whatever was coming was more likely some kind of annoyance.

A few minutes later, a man in a black button-down shirt, jeans, and a jacket walked in. The suit jacket fit tightly over his broad shoulders, pulling under his right arm around the bulge of his gun. His eyes catalogued everyone and what they were doing. He acted as if he was like every other patron, but he was trying too hard to look casual. He had cop written all over him.

“I’m looking for Thorn,” he said, in a whiskey-rough voice.

Thorn shifted slightly in her chair to look over her shoulder. “You’ve found her,” she answered.

“I’m Detective O’Bradigen.” He pulled out his card. Thorn nodded towards the countertop and he placed the card there, as she was already gloved up. She noticed his first name was Sé, pronounced Shay in Gaelic, meaning raven. An omen? O’Bradigen meant spirited. She was getting defensive vibes from him though, guarded. He didn’t seem comfortable around her for some reason.

“Sé… raven,” she said. One dark eyebrow climbed, but it didn’t alter the expression on his square-jawed face. His eyes were deep blue and vibrant under his thick ink-black hair.

“You speak Gaelic?”

“A bit,” she said, as she wiped away some more blood from her client.

Sé’s eyebrow climbed again.

“Something I picked up over the years traveling. What can I do for you, Detective?”

His eyes took in her leather pants, and short t-shirt, her hands in gloves, poised above the shoulder blade of a young woman, her second customer of the night. “I want to ask you a few questions on a case I’m working.”

She blew the hair out of her face, as she kept working. “I’m booked solid until midnight. Can you come back then?” Raven shifted on his perch, turning his head from side to side. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. She knew what he was thinking. He was going to make her pay for delaying the hunt for his late meal.

He nodded. “I’ll see you at ten till.”

She gave him a slight nod of the head in return, and turned her attention back to her customer. But her mind was on the detective.

Thorn noticed Jason snap a picture of her with his phone, as she bent over her client. She sat up and stretched, and he took another, then furtively put his phone away. She shivered like a goose had run over her grave as her mamó used to say. He sometimes took photos for the display books, but he didn’t have to hide that. She glanced back at Raven, but he was preening his feathers.

Two stations over, Gérard’s honey-colored face concentrated on his customer. Thorn thought Gérard was humming to himself, perhaps a creole lullaby? He looked up and met her gaze with a smile. She went back to her customer, asking the Goddess to aid in her healing as she continued to ink in the design. The hours passed and Thorn stretched as the end of the night approached.

At ten minutes to twelve, Detective O’Bradigen strolled through the door. Thorn was just wiping down her station, checking that the sharps box wasn’t full. She could have guessed he would be punctual. Gwynn shook out her bun, taking Reese’s hand as they left for the night. They threw curious looks at Sé. Gwynn pulled her woolen shawl tight against the wind and Reese pulled on her hoodie. Raven ruffled his feathers. He turned his back to Sé. Sé mirrored the gesture by shaking the cold October air off with a brisk shiver.

Thorn rolled her neck and stretched her shoulders, letting the muscles relax. “I could use some coffee. Want some?” Thorn led him to the back of the shop.

“That’d be great.” He shivered. “I think the rain’s going to start early this year.”

They made their way down a hallway to the break room. It was cheerful and brightly lit, painted white, with watercolors from local artists on the walls. Everything was neat and clean, like she expected the rest of her shop to be. She had some old and new artists represented. Sé took his time appraising them, while she put water in her electric tea kettle. Thorn loved the way the muted paintings washed color across the stark white walls. It was a calm room to be in, after dealing with people all day, and that had been her goal when she set it up.

Thorn noticed the broadness of Sé’s shoulders as he studied the paintings. The way his hair fell across his eyes made her wonder if it was as silky as it looked. Before she got too worked up, she pulled two mugs down and a canister of coffee beans. She ground the beans she’d picked up at Peet’s and scooped the fresh grounds into her French Press. When the water boiled she poured it in. The strong aroma of French Roast permeated the room.

“Mmmm,” Sé said, with a lopsided smile. His smile transformed his face from tired cop to sensuous Irish rogue, his eyes sparkled, and his dimples showed.

She carried two steaming coffee mugs across the hardwood floors. She put them down on the table, took a seat, and asked, “Do you follow any local artists?”

“A few. No one in this media,” he said, as he took a mug. After a sip, he asked, “How long have you been tattooing, Miss Thorn?”

“Please, it’s just Thorn. I’ve been doing this for six years now. How can I help you, Detective?”

“I’m a homicide detective. My partner, Detective Scettico, and I, are working on a case that involves a tattoo. A very intricate, tribal-looking tattoo. I asked around and was told you specialize in tribal tats. Is that so?”

“I like to do them. I do a lot of them.” She crossed her legs, letting the butter-soft leather slide across itself. “I don’t know if that qualifies as being specialized in something.”

“I’d like you to look at the tattoo and tell me if you recognize anything about it.”

BOOK: Stained
9.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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