The Oracle in the City is an exclusive epilogue short story. It is meant to be read after A Witch Called Red and before Long Witch Night. This story takes place in The Red Witch Chronicles, an urban fantasy series containing magic, paranormal adventure, and vampire mayhem along with swearing, violence, and adult situations.
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Los Angeles shimmered in the valley below as Red half ran, half skidded down Mount Lee.
The back of the Hollywood Sign loomed less than a quarter mile to her right. She slid on loose dirt, forced into a sprint. Soon enough she could spy the front of the unlit giant letters. They were trying to push her off the path to the H.
Breath catching in her side, she dodged rocks and ATV tracks dappled by moonlight to zig zag up the hill. She felt as if she were trying to outrun her own shadow.
The thump of boots echoed behind her. Unnatural green and purple light radiated on the stiff dried grasses.
Stabbing the first oracle guardian hadn’t scared off his friends. If she had the energy, she would have cursed her luck. She stumbled on leaden legs. Sharp pebbles cut into her palm as she caught herself slipping on the steep decline. If she fell here, no one would know to look for her. Not after sneaking out this morning.
Red couldn’t run anymore. Pulling out an iron dagger, she gritted her teeth. She just hoped that Vic and Lucas would forgive her.
Witch circled vampire in the offices of Quinn Investigations.
Red stepped to the side, sweat dripping under her black tank top, her fists up, as she kept her focus on Quinn. The vampire had at least 5 inches and 70 pounds over her without counting the super strength. His soul didn’t mean that he was easy on her when they trained. She was sweating in her gym shorts while he didn’t even have a single gelled blonde hair out of place or a wrinkle in his dark slacks.
The sounds of Los Angeles traffic seemed far away, even though they were in the middle of Culver City. She was so focused, she even managed to ignore Lucas Crawford, all sexy in leather like a modern Byronic hero, perching on a desk under the window.
Red noted the slight tension in Quinn’s broad shoulders. Raising her forearms, she blocked his strike. The blow radiated down to her elbows even though she knew he used a fraction of his strength.
“Concentrate, Red,” Quinn said.
She pivoted to punch him in the stomach, then across his face, before she struck his chest with a pretend stake. Vic knew enough of her anti-vampire history to suggest that they didn’t use real ones when they first discussed Quinn taking over her hand-to-hand combat training.
“Maybe you should, old man.”
“That wasn’t bad.” He nodded, his typical remote expression locked and loaded. For a guy that they used to call the Black Libertine, he wasn’t that flamboyant. Post-being cursed to feel empathy and all those sticky human emotions that vampires usually opt out of, the most he seemed to indulge in were cashmere shirts. Grey and black naturally for the brooding undead.
She smirked. “Draw ‘em in and let them have it.”
Quinn brought her into a headlock. “You should wait to gloat.”
“Oh, come on, if this was really a hunt, you would have been dead already.” Red laughed and elbowed him, twisting out of his grip. She put her hands on her hips.
“Had you there, old man.” Chuckling, Lucas raised his glass of whiskey. His British accent as smokey as the liquor. Tousled black hair brought out the pallor of his sharp cheekbones and the mischief on his lips. Only his grey eyes showed the weight of his soul. He felt it as acutely as his grandsire but hid it better.
Quinn shared a silent look of communication with Lucas, the kind that could only be honed over a century and more, before glancing back to Red. “You don’t know what you could be facing out there. I promised Vic you’d survive your first month in LA, and we nearly lost you to that siren at the pier.”
Red laughed. “I was bait. You liked the idea when I came up with it.”
Lucas glowered at Quinn. “And I tore him a new one for it.”
The office door opened, and Vic Constantine rolled in on his electric wheelchair. Dark circles hung under his brown eyes. An open black flannel shirt with cut off sleeves nearly hid the stain on his white undershirt. It was certainly an improvement over how he had looked yesterday. His black mullet was brushed at least. He still looked far from what one imagined of a Bard from the storied Brotherhood of Bards and Heroes, and even on the scruffier hunter scale, he looked rough.
“Hey, Vic!” Red smiled. It was still good to see him out of the house.
“What the hell?” Vic asked. A vein pulsed in his forehead. “What are you two doing?”
Smile fading, she wrapped a small gym towel on her neck, covering up the healed fang marks. They were courtesy of Kristoff Novak and she still wasn’t used to them. Or the feeling of being claimed by a vampire. It was one of the bigger reasons why she pushed Quinn to train her. “I kicked vamp booty.”
“Debatable.” Quinn sounded amused despite his usual stony expression.
“Stop playing grab-ass.” Vic slurred his words and tilted his head towards the door. “You said you’d be back already. My handicab is waiting.”
Red winced at the bitterness in his tone. The last few weeks had been tough on him. Vic bounced between being like his old self and being angry. He had always been a drinker—most hunters were—but now he had an edge of desperation when reaching for an IPA. She waved at Lucas and Quinn who gazed at Vic with concern. “Thanks for the workout. See you tomorrow.”
“Paying per minute here.” Vic called over his shoulder as he whizzed out the door.
She shrugged at the vampires before following Vic out. “Hey, what’s up?”
“My legs don’t fucking work. That’s what’s up. And the sky.” He punched the handicap button to open the door to the outside.
“In there, I mean.” Red told herself not to take his tone personally. She was simply happy that he hadn’t tried to drive the Millennium Falcon here. “I lost track of time, but Lucas or Quinn could have dropped me off at home.”
“Great. I’m glad I made my nurse put pants on me then.” Vic rubbed his face. He sped up the open ramp of the green hired van marked with Smith and Reaper on the side. The mysterious bank had done more than just arrange their apartment; they had taken over his care. Including getting him a mage for a doctor that had worked near miracles. The service was top notch, and he was healing… physically.
It was everything else that worried her.
She settled into the back of the van with him. “No, I appreciate it. I just… you told me that a hunter who trains is a hunter that survives.”
“Don’t quote the manual to me.” Vic rolled his eyes as he strapped his wheels down. His tone turned sharp. “It’s not like you’re taking the hunter’s challenge, Red.”
“Hey, I could.” Red bit her lip to stop from saying more. A step under Bards, hunters were on the front line of the fight against the supernatural. She had been trying to bring up the hunter’s challenge for a week to ask him to sponsor her bid to join the Brotherhood as an official hunter. Now it sounded like a joke.
“Oh, so you don’t need me.” Vic glared before shaking his head, sighing. “Never mind. Train with Q, do you, boo boo.”
“I always need you. No one knows me better than you. Not even myself.” Red tried to reason with him. He had overextended himself on the last job and had been hurting ever since. Even magic-fueled medicine had its limits. Being in a wheelchair hadn’t stopped him from wanting to be in the center of the action.
Vic shook his head. “You have no idea who you are. Not really.”
“Still. It’s a compliment. Take it.” Red grumbled, she didn’t need her amnesia thrown in her face. She didn’t say more. He had found her nearly dead and nameless. The man might have been crotchety when he was in a mood, but he had saved her life and then given her one. She’d still be called Jane Doe if it weren’t for him.
The window caught the reflection of his tight lips and narrowed eyes. Vic shrugged. “I guess I should. The LA Oracle couldn’t figure you out.”
Cocking her head, she furrowed her brow. Now that was an urban legend that she hadn’t heard. “The what?”
“It’s like the Oracle of Delphi but with a spray tan.”
“Why haven’t you taken me there?”
“Because it’s not on a map. You just don’t just stumble on a portal to an interdimensional cave under the Hollywood Sign guarded by mystical warriors. Even if the city let you roam around up there.”
Vic crossed his arms. “This is why I didn’t say anything before. You’re staring at me like an eager puppy. You’ll get a fortune cookie answer. You think I never tried an oracle to find the werewolf who killed my family? It’s a dead end.”
Red matched his stubborn stance. “So, that’s it?”
“Deal with it. You’re still my intern even if you’re training with Quinn.”
Coughing awkwardly to remind them that they had an audience for their bickering, the driver turned up the pop music on the radio.
The ride to their apartment complex felt like an eternity even if it was only a short distance from Quinn Investigations. She stomped into her room and fell on the bed, face first. Kicking her shoes off with a frustrated rumble, she rolled over on her back. Her muscles strained in protest of her sparring session.
The real pain was that Vic had been holding out on her about an oracle. She had one mission besides joining the Brotherhood- finding out who she was. Why was he holding out on her?
She had been his intern for over a year. They hunted demons for their job, drove across states on a hunch and weird newspaper reports. She had hunted by his side, taking down more monsters than most of those stuffy Bards had even seen. Vic said that Bards could be dicks. He was right. He was sure being one now.
After a shower and changing into jeans, Red curled up on the bed. She tried to read. The hours of training tugged at her even at the early evening hour. Just closing my eyes for a second, she told herself setting the mystery novel aside.
The dream crept up like a vampire in the dark. She knew it was a dream as she walked down a darkened hall. The dingy whitewashed walls were cracked the same as they always were. She didn’t know why it was always the same hall.
The screams behind the metal doors were bad, the droning whimpers worse. She wanted to run away from the flickering light at the open door at the end, but hard hands pushed her. Her bare feet scraped on the stone floor as they dragged her forward. Red kicked the shin off her guard as she always did. The smirking doctor with the goatee backhanded her as he always did. It didn’t matter. She always ended up in the same place—on the cold table.
The light was too bright. They forced her head into position and pried her jaws open to put the stick between her teeth. The pain was next. It was always next. But before the blinding pain in her head, she saw the smirk.
He rubbed his goatee and mustache, the shadows growing behind him. “This is your cure. It won’t hurt a bit.”
The doctor was a liar. It always hurt.
Red woke up with a shout, sitting up in bed, clutching her chest, her panting harsh in her ears. She looked up and jumped again, seeing the short shadow in the doorway.
“The nightmare again?” Vic asked, leisurely sipping from a beer can.
“You scared me!”
“You were already scared.” Vic shook his head and turned on the bedroom light. “Are you going to tell me about it?”
Red wiped the cold sweat off her neck with clammy hands. “Damn it, Vic. You can’t just come in here. I could have been naked.”
“Well, you’re whooping and hollering enough to wake the dead. And not in a fun way. I figured you were decent.”
Getting out of bed, Red brushed past him to go into the living room. She shivered as the air conditioning hit her sweat-dampened shirt. The blooming headache had carried over from the nightmare.
“Come on, Red. I thought we were past this. How many nights is this going to go on? That shamanic ritual in Tahoe with Basil woke something up. Stirred up the subconscious.” Vic wheeled after her. “You know what you need to do.”
“I’m not talking to your damn pastor.”
“I am talking about the shrink.”
“I don’t need to talk to her either.” Red rubbed her arms. Smith and Reaper provided her with a list of therapists in the supernatural loop for Vic. He had forced her to go to his one mandatory session. He certainly wasn’t doing it alone. “Once was enough.”
“Obviously not for you!” Vic rubbed his face. “I don’t want to yell at you. I want to help you.”
“How can it help? I can’t talk through trauma that I don’t remember. Panic attacks that have mysterious triggers. I write it all down in my hunter’s journal. Isn’t that enough?”
Vic whispered, “You said Juniper.”
Red forced her hands off her arms and tried to calm down. Her hackles raised at the name of her doppelgänger. Juniper St. James was the woman that all the bad guys wanted. At least, they had in London in 1900 when she was Lucas Crawford’s courtesan and Kristoff Novak was infatuated with her. The resemblance had gotten Red into enough trouble. It was why Kristoff had claimed her after all.
“You were hearing things.”
“No, I wasn’t. You said Juniper.”
“You’re drunk.” Red snapped and grabbed her purse off the coffee table. The traitorous Michel de Grammont had told her enough about the dead witch who had gone to the dark side. She didn’t need to hear it from Vic.
“Drunk isn’t deaf! You are remembering her life.” Vic spun his wheelchair to cut her off from the door. “This is some reincarnation doppelgänger shit.”
She spun around. “I am not her fucking reincarnation.”
“I believe you are you! Stop fighting me. Don’t you get enough fighting out there?” He accidentally dropped his empty can on the wood floor and struggled to retrieve it before giving up. ”I’m trying to help.”
“She’s been dead for over a hundred years. It’s just a weird coincidence that she looks like me.” Even though I found her old boyfriend and started dating him, a snippy inner voice asked. She stepped around him. “If you want to help, then stop bringing her up!”
“You have to be logi—,” he hiccupped, “—cal.”
“And you should be sober.” Red snapped. She mentally kicked herself and added softer. “You know you shouldn’t be drinking on your meds.”
“I always drank. Why is it a problem now?”
“Because you didn’t used to drink at breakfast!”
“Are you sure you’re not talking to my pastor?” Vic shouted. “Because you sound like him!”
“You don’t need to yell at me.” Hands shaking, she put her purse on her shoulder. “I can’t deal with you right now. All I have been doing is getting us settled into LA, and you just bite my head off constantly. Now I can’t even have nightmares?”
“We’re talking about you, not me. I’m worried about you.”
“Worry about yourself.” Red rushed out the door and banged it closed it behind her. She ran out of the apartment, ducking her head when her noisy neighbor old Mrs. Morales peeped out her door. They’d hear about this from the landlord… again.
Red checked her purse when she got to the Millennium Falcon. The keys weren’t there. She wasn’t too proud of herself after their fight. She couldn’t just go back in and demand the van keys. Which were technically his. She hadn’t really thought her storm off through. “Fuck.”
Pulling out her phone and hailing a rideshare, she had to get out of the apartment. She and Vic had been like two penned-up cats for weeks. The only time that the tension wasn’t bubbling was when they were on the job. Between taking him to see the doctor or physical therapist, outfitting the new apartment, and the other million little tasks that ended up on her to-do list, she felt like she hadn’t a chance to breathe.
She went to the only place she could think of—The Pump House, the oldest hunter bar in LA. Red mostly ignored the driver’s attempts at shouted conversation over his loud Hindi music and ended up tipping him heavily for her sullen silence when she stepped out. Vic hadn’t been able to find the source of her mysterious trust fund beyond that Smith and Reaper had managed it, but it still came in handy, even if it was probably from blood diamonds.
Red stepped into the 1950s NASA-themed bar to find a crowd. Hunters had cleared out of LA when the Blood Alliance held its summit in October, but they were filtering back in. She had been drinking for free here for the last few weeks, yet tonight she didn’t feel like booze. Not after yelling at Vic about his drinking. Her hypocrisy had some bounds. She stepped to the bar and ordered a coffee. It was past eleven, but she didn’t want to sleep any more tonight.
The young bartender poured her the bitter beverage in silence. His usually squinty stoned stare widened as it focused on her. “You alright?”
“Fine.” She snapped and slapped a five on the bar, then turned away.
A grizzled masculine voice rumbled from her other side. “You don’t look fine, missy.”
“Chuck. I’m fine.”
Chuck shook his head as he drank his own coffee and stared down on his plate of home fries. The veteran hunter swore he was retired, yet any time of day or night, he could be found on the same stool. Cowboy hat tipped over his wild white eyebrows, he watched her in the mirror behind the bar. “Your makeup is running.”
Red wiped her eyes, seeing her reflection under the chalkboard where the night’s supernatural bounties were listed. At best, she looked like a raccoon. Shaking her head, she bit back a waspish reply and instead thanked him.
“What’s the trouble?” he asked.
“Have you heard of an oracle in LA?”
“Under the big H, they say.” Chuck shook his head. “You’ll fight like a dog to get a haiku. The old tales about tricky oracles were on the nose. The Pythia will tell you gibberish.”
“Let me guess. Its only guessable in hindsight.”
“The oracle business is a racket.” He puffed his white mustache up. “You don’t need to know the future. Changes too damn much.”
“It’s not the future I want to know about.” Red gulped down the lukewarm coffee. She tapped the bar counter before saying goodbye and leaving the Pump House.
Slinking to the parking lot behind the hunter bar, she deliberated on what next steps to take. A far-off dog started barking. Nose wrinkling from the smell of a dumpster, she quickened her pace. Her logical mind told her to research. The crazy impulsive side told her to take an unsuspecting driver on the rideshare of the century to quest for the Oracle of Los Angeles.
The chop of a motorcycle engine broke over the city sounds. She put her hand up to cover her eyes from the headlamp as the motorcycle came to a stop.
“Dangerous place for a lady.” Lucas Crawford’s English accent washed over her like a soothing rain in the desert. It cooled her down enough to think.
“When I see one, I’ll let her know.” Red shook her head. “I got some thinking to do under the Hollywood Sign.”
“Hop on.” Lucas smiled at her as he always did—like she was the only one in the world. Pulling a helmet out of the bike’s pannier, he held it out.
Red loved how sometimes she didn’t have to explain anything to him. In a fight, they moved like they had been fighting together for years. They kissed like they had too. The only thing he hadn’t guess was the only thing she could bear to tell him yet—the amnesia thing. It made her weird even among her usual weird company. She told herself that there was still time for those truths later. He was immortal after all.
Adjusting the helmet, she got on behind Lucas and wrapped her arms around his waist. She breathed in his sandalwood scent.
The headlight flashed on, and they zipped through the parking lot before making a right. Weaving through LA traffic, Lucas took them north towards the hills. He didn’t speak until he brought the bike to a stop on a vista point under the darkened Hollywood Sign. The public couldn’t get to the iconic spot itself, just admire it from afar. Unlit, the back of the giant letters looked dull compared to the city lights below it.
Red stepped off the bike, feeling the vibration of the drive in her thighs even on solid ground as she pulled off the helmet. The table in the clearing on the side of the winding hill road was empty of tourists. Studying the area, she tried to figure out how she would avoid park officials and find a mystical oracle. She had to try. Dead end or not.
“So, you going to tell me why Vic called me, slurring and shouting about the sign?”
“What did he say?”
Lucas put down the kickstand and stepped away from the bike. “Hard to make out even for vampire hearing, but it didn’t sound good, kitten.”
“I’m trying to make a comfortable life for him, but Vic’s been tough to live with.” Red sighed and set the helmet down before walking to the picnic table and sitting down. “I know that isn’t fair. He’s dealing with so much. I know it isn’t easy for him being stuck in that wheelchair.”
“Did you need a night alone? I could drop you off closer to home so you can-”
“No, you are actually the only person that I want to be around right now.”
Lucas put his arm around her and tipped her face up. “Good, because you’re the only one that I want to be around. Fancy that. You’re not the only who’s dealing with a nag at home.”
“Quinn going on about your filing again?”
“I have you to thank for that, what with showing me up and all, acting like a teacher’s pet.” He laughed and brought her closer under his arm. “I’m not the one fleeing into the night. Want to tell me about it?”
“Vic doesn’t trust me to…” Red looked away from him, telling herself to not act emotional about it. Big girls don’t cry, that went double for hunters. After pulling herself together and starting with Quinn Investigations, she hadn’t taken a break. The nightmares hadn’t helped. Going from nomads to settling in LA wasn’t as easy as moving onto the next town in the Millennium Falcon like they used too. Exhaustion had dogged her for weeks.
She didn’t know where to begin or what to say. Lucas didn’t know she was a soap opera amnesia cliché. She still hadn’t told him her best theory about how she lost her memory—mesmerized by a mysterious vampire who left her for dead on a lonely stretch of highway. She had been sidestepping her origins for weeks even as they played this push-pull dance of attraction.
“There is a job that I want to do that he thinks I can’t handle,” she said finally.
“Bloody hell, why?”
“I don’t know. Maybe he thinks it’s a waste of time, or just that I can’t do it. If that’s what he thinks, then how can I ask him to train me for the hunter’s challenge?” Red shook her head. “It’s what I am good at, you know, hunting. It’s what I know.”
“I’ve seen your kill count.” He leaned his head against her temple. “I know what the hunter’s challenge means to you. The Brotherhood is your dream, but you don’t need them to be a hunter, Red. You don’t even need the bounties. You’re on a proper payroll now. And Cora Moon gave you a choice bit of change for saving her bleeding city.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s not like they gave me healthcare.” She shrugged before turning to face Lucas in the circle of his arms.
“I’m not going to be a meathead and say it doesn’t matter because I know that it does, but you don’t need them as much as they need you. I remember the Brotherhood in its prime. Bunch of bureaucrats now. Where were the hunters when Michel was going to drain this city dry? Running scared. Maybe Vic is afraid you’d show him up, not need him.”
“Ha, let’s go with that.” Red let him pull her tighter against him. “He’s wrong. I need all of you guys. You’re what I have of family.”
Lucas kissed the top of her head. “One day, you’ll need to tell me the story. I want to know everything about you.”
“There isn’t much of a story. Vic is the closest I have to a brother, and now, we can barely live together without fighting.”
“Is it because of me?” Lucas’ voice came out almost too quiet for her to hear. “Vic takes the piss a little too much to be casual. I might not be the best for your brotherhood dreams.”
“Oh, no, baby. It’s not because of you.” Red hadn’t even thought that. “Sure, dating a vampire is unconventional, but everyone knows you have a soul. You’ve stopped enough apocalypses for even the stodgiest Bards to doubt you.”
“Boyfriend, am I?” Lucas smirked at her.
“Boyfriend material.” Red blushed as she quickly clarified. He had been cagey about putting a name on what they had. Even told her once that he had nothing to offer a living woman. It was hard to talk about what was growing between them. She hadn’t even slept with him, but somewhere along the line, she couldn’t help but think of them as dating. “I mean, um… its soon. Er, I just, well, I like you.”
He kissed her, grey eyes twinkling as he drew back. “Enough stammering. I understand. You don’t need to blush even if it’s cute.”
“It must sound so juvenile to a guy with a centennial.”
“It sounds perfect.” Holding her tight, his grinning lips brushed against hers again.
Many kisses later, Red sighed as she leaned into him. “Keep playing your cards right, and you can be my arm candy.”
The lights of Los Angeles glittered in the smog below them. He let the silence grow as she clung to him like a life raft in a raging sea. She didn’t know how long she had been breathing him in before he rubbed her arms.
“You’re freezing, Red. Let’s get home.”
“Not there. Not yet.”
Lucas nodded, and they walked back to his bike. “Well, I can make a space for you at my place.”
“Clear out the old joints in the ashtray and the older books on the bed then.”
“Eh, I’ll chuck them in the closet.”
Red laughed as she put on the helmet and sat behind him on the bike. “You might not be evil, but you’re certainly untidy.”
“You’re the one who named me boyfriend material.”
With the wind rushing around her and Lucas in her arms, Red almost felt like she had left her worries behind under the big sign. She glanced back at the giant H on the Hollywood Hills. Almost.
“Shush, you’ll wake the dead.” Red giggled as they crept down the steps to the basement apartment under the investigations agency.
Lucas and Quinn’s place had a bachelor pad vibe, but her neat boss kept the leather couch and dark butcher top kitchen island in the open living space cleared of clutter. Exposed brick and charcoal sketches adorned the walls. Tastefully decorated as it was, there weren’t many places to hide.
“He’s not here.” Lucas rolled his eyes. “He’s not my dad either.”
“More like your granddad. Or grandsire, I mean.”
Lucas chuckled, leading her to his room. “I’m 166 years old, I don’t need to sneak girls in.”
She smiled as she walked through his open door. The sight didn’t shake the feeling that she was sneaking into a college boy’s room. Leather jackets and jeans nested in a corner of the floor. The bookshelf and bedside stands cluttered with paperbacks, daggers, and teacups. An old print hung, of Jean-Paul Sartre smoking a pipe in Paris, corners curling around the thumb tacks. The chaos contrasted to the elegant minimalism of the living area.
“I better be the only one you’re sneaking in here.”
He closed the door. “I’m a one-woman vamp.”
Red dipped her head, feeling suddenly shy. She had slept in his bed once. Of course, he hadn’t been in it at the time.
Lucas stepped to his dresser and pulled out a black t-shirt to sleep in. He handed it to her. “You’ve had a rough go of it. Get comfy. I’ll be a gentleman and stick to the couch or one side of the bed. Lady’s choice.”
Laughing, she twirled her finger to motion him to turn around. “I am imagining Quinn’s face if he heard you call yourself a gentleman.”
Smirking, he turned around. “I was born one. Well, my family bought our place in society anyway.”
“I call the left side.” Her voice muffled by the shirt fabric as she whipped hers off and put his on. It covered her to mid-thigh.
His back tensed under his leather jacket. “What was that?”
“I’m a left sleeper.” She pulled off her pants and folded it up.
“Yeah, er, whatever you say.” Lucas shook his head. His voice sounded uncertain.
Red stepped next to him to put her folded clothes on the only bare spot on his dresser top. She turned his face to her. Sometimes that mischievous devil may care facade broke around her. As they got to know each other, she saw more and more of the sensitive writer that he had been in his human life. “You look pale. More than usual. What is it?”
“Quinn’s getting closer.” Lucas changed the subject.
Red shrugged. Just like she didn’t tell him her secret, she had a feeling he had plenty of his own. She walked to the bed and laid down on the left side. Leaning on her elbow, she watched him climb into bed next to her. “Thought you didn’t need to sneak girls in.”
“You’re a hunter, not a girl.”
Smiling, she studied his sharp cheekbones and storm grey eyes, the black hair forever mussed in a way that celebrities spent hundreds of dollars on hairdressers to produce.
“Aren’t you going to sleep?”
Pulling off his jacket and tossing it aside, he grinned. “I’m going to hold you and have a bit of coze with my girl, but it’s too early for me. You look knackered. You should try to sleep. You trained for hours today.”
She rested her head on him. After weeks of cuddling up to him, she barely noticed that his chest didn’t move with breath. “I don’t sleep much, but this is nice.”
Nice wasn’t the right word for it. Being held by Lucas felt familiar yet exciting, like she had been there forever and still anticipated the next minute. She tried not to think about Juniper St. James and how many nights her doppelganger had laid in his arms. Eight years as a vampire’s courtesan… Red hadn’t heard of many vampires who had kept a human lover around unturned for that long.
“It feels right,” she said.
“That it does.” Lucas brushed his hand down her back. “You fit here.”
Red looked up at him and kissed him slow. The heat grew between them. She had been hunting for over a year, nearly died more times than she could count, and she felt her life changing like watching a fork coming up ahead in the road. When looking back only held horrors and the future full of questions…there was only the now. Hunters lived for today.
“Are you-” he started to ask, lips curling up in anticipation.
“I know what I am doing.” Red put her finger to his lips. She slipped on top of him to pull off his shirt and leaned forward. Her breasts rubbed against his chest as they kissed again.
The tentativeness in Lucas’s touch disappeared, and he pulled her closer. Just like the first time they had kissed, there were no awkward fumbles or sloppy groping. It felt like their hands and lips already knew what to do, where to go. She pulled off her sports bra, smirking at his look of unbridled lust. “I want you, Lucas. If there is one thing I know, it’s that.”
He flipped them over, and his lips trailed down the unbitten side of her neck through the valley of her breasts. He nipped and sucked at her chest before laying butterfly soft kisses on her belly that made her giggle.
The giggle died in her throat as he pulled her underwear down. She sighed and opened her legs for him.
Lucas paused as he lifted himself up, arm muscles trembling from want. His eyes filled with the heartbreak of a poet watching their masterpiece go up in smoke. He stared at her as if she was too precious to touch. “We can’t do this.”
“Huh?” She shook her head, slow to process their sexy times turning on a dime.
He rolled over, ruffling his hair in a burst of nervous energy. “Not now. You deserve better.”
She propped herself up on her elbow. “What are you talking about? It’s not like I am a virgin.”
“It’s not that. You don’t get it.”
“You can explain it then.” Brow furrowing at his silence, she shrugged. “I think I can make up my mind on what I want. I choose you.”
“You wouldn’t if you knew what I’ve done.” He didn’t look at her.
“I’ve read the bio. I know you used to be a real bastard. Twenty years of unrestrained vampiric evil. I also know the rest of the story. Over a century of good.”
“This is wrong. I’m being selfish.”
“Two consenting adults in a relationship. It seems right to me.” She covered her bare chest with her arm while pointing to the bulge in his pants. “You seem to be enjoying it.”
“You deserve better than me.”
His words sounded like a nice guy’s way of rejecting a girl. She shouldn’t have been surprised. How many times had he stopped them when he wanted her closer? She felt like a yo-yo.
He whispered, hand falling from his hair to cover his eyes. “You always did.”
Red sat up and grabbed at her underwear and pulled it on. “Are you talking about me or Juniper?”
“You. I’m not thinking about anyone else.”
“It seems like you are.” She shook her head. The lust chilled on her flesh. Suddenly, she felt so tired and she certainly wasn’t sleeping over here. They had played this game before. It wasn’t doppelganger weirdness either. Since she met him, he drew closer, then pushed her away. It was the friction she craved, as they brushed up like tectonic plates. The earth moved when they were together. But right now, he felt a million miles away.
“You’re thinking something. Why are you doing this when we both obviously feel something for each other?” she asked.
His expression closed as if she slapped him. “Can’t you see I’m doing this for you?”
Red stood up and looked around for her bra. “I don’t even understand what you are doing, so no, I don’t see that. Can you explain?”
“It’s complicated. I just don’t want you to get hurt.”
“That’s relationships for you. The potential for being hurt is there, Lucas. It’s always there. Big deal.”
“It’s not a boy meets girl situation, kitten. Not when it’s vampire meets human.”
She didn’t know how to explain it to him. Why couldn’t he see what she saw? “I don’t think of you that way. You’re a hero to me.”
Waving his hands in front of his face in panic, Lucas stared at her with wide eyes. “Don’t say that. I’m bad news. Always have been.”
“You think that I haven’t thought about the fact that you are a vampire with a past? I calculated it and decided you were worth it. What we could be is worth it.”
“I just want it to be different this time.”
“This time…” Ears buzzing and anger burning her cheeks, Red put on her bra, threw on her shirt, and started pulling on her jeans. “There is only this time. You’re not a repeat to me, but obviously, I am to you.”
“Come on, get back in bed so we can talk about this,” he pleaded, reaching for her.
“Why? So, you can give me more cryptic answers on why you’re always tossing your English charm on me, but then leave me hanging? No thanks. I don’t need another complex.” Red buttoned her pants. “I’m alive. She’s dead!”
“Don’t.” Lucas glared at her before groaning and cursing at himself, tugging his hair with shaking fingers. “It’s hard to know you when you don’t let me in. Why do you get to read encyclopedia entries on me, but I know nothing about you?”
“That’s not even what we’re talking about!” She sputtered as the conversation switch gave her emotional whiplash. He just pushed a whole other issue into the mix. “I tell you stuff.”
“No, you don’t.” He shook his head. “I want to fuck you, Red. I’m as beastly as the next bloke but more than that, I want to know you. In the non-biblical sense.”
She shrugged, the lie tightening her chest. “You do know me. What you see is what you get.”
“Bollocks. You’re right, I don’t know what I want. I do not that I don’t want this wall around your past.”
He didn’t get it. Once he learned she was Amnesia Girl… if he looked at her like a beautiful freak of DNA now, her big dramatic secret would make it worse. He didn’t know what he asked.
Anger heated her cheeks. Confused, stomach churning, Red yearned to know what normal girls did when a guy wanted a real connection. Share something about summer camp? She had months of demon hunts and roadside diners. She had Vic forcing her through a marathon of all the TV she missed in the multi-year hole in her pop culture memory. She had a ghostly rumor about a mysterious mother who was a witch. She didn’t have summer camp or a wacky aunt who took her to New York City or whatever formative life events that real girls had.
There was just a question mark where her life should be.
Red clenched her fists. “It’s all I can give! I told you what you need to know.”
Lucas scoffed, lips twisting into a sneer. “Are you serious?”
“Like cancer.” She grabbed her purse. “This isn’t all me and you know it. When you figure out what you want, Lucas, let me know. I might still care.” She rushed out of the room and ran up the stairs. Slamming the door to the basement apartment, she stomped through office above and then out to the parking lot. Lost in her own thoughts, she bumped into Quinn Byrnes’ very solid chest.
He caught her purse before it fell. Cringing, he glanced towards the building where Lucas stood shirtless in the doorway. Quinn’s deep voice came out stilted. “Need a ride?”
She walked past him toward his convertible. “Yeah, just get me out of here.”
Quinn shared a look with the other vampire before he turned to open the car door for her.
Red slid into the passenger seat and buckled herself up. She pointedly didn’t look at Lucas as the car pulled out of the lot before turning onto the familiar route to her apartment. She couldn’t hold back her outburst. If there was one person who knew Lucas, it was Quinn after a few decades of living together.
“What is his fucking problem?”
“Depends on who you ask,” Quinn said quietly as he turned the steering wheel.
“With me. Why is he always playing hot and cold? It’s all flirty looks and sexy British accents, then when it gets serious… Ugh, I don’t get it.”
“Maybe you should be asking him this.”
“I’ve tried. I called him boyfriend material tonight. He’s into it, and then we try to, you know…” Red’s indignation curdled to embarrassment, but her rant train was already out of the station. “Sex. Then he is like, ‘you always deserved better.’ Like I am walking along memory lane with him. I am in the now and he is in the past. He says he doesn’t know me. He does, it’s just clouded by her. I know its Juniper. It’s always her.”
“He doesn’t want to make the same mistakes.”
She glared at Quinn. “That’s what gets me. I’m not her. No matter what anyone says.”
“I know that. So, does he, but—”
“I wasn’t there for how it all went down, but I got the gist. He tried to turn her, Kristoff stopped him, he got a soul, and Juniper still died.”
“No. It’s not about how it ended. He’s eaten up by how it was before. Juniper was his courtesan. Do you know what that means?”
“The world’s oldest profession. He paid, she gave.”
“If she was Lola Montez, and he was King Ludwig, then yes, that would sum it up. Juniper was a vampire’s courtesan with an underworld contract signed in blood. Lucas essentially owned her even if she consented once upon a time. Kept by an impetuous fledgling only a decade in the grave, she didn’t know what she was getting into.” Quinn seemed to have to force himself to look her in the eye. “He wasn’t just a patron; he was a vampire. Lucas had been soft around Juniper, but he didn’t know how to care for a human girl. Until my sire stepped in, she wouldn’t have survived the first year, let alone the rest.”
Red made a face. Delilah might have a soul now, but even with one, she still played the role of fierce bitch to perfection. Red had read the vampire encyclopedia—his sire was the ringleader of the Bloody Byrnes through massacres and masquerade balls. She was currently the CEO of a boutique modeling agency. “Delilah stepped in to save Juniper?”
“She had been a courtesan herself when she wasn’t on the stage. Maybe that was why she was sympathetic. She’s a mystery even after centuries.” Quinn shrugged. “Lucas lost Juniper for a reason, and it wasn’t because he was a good boyfriend.”
Red frowned. Lucas had told her that he was the original bad boyfriend. He hadn’t gone into detail. “Why doesn’t he tell me this stuff?”
“How you do you know he hasn’t tried, in his own way? He might have century’s old writer’s block, but he’s free with his words. Maybe you don’t want to hear it.” Quinn lifted a palm in apology. “Lucas might act like a sarcastic ass, but he has as much guilt as any souled vampire. You are the first human he has had a relationship with in over a hundred years. Even if you didn’t look like Juniper, dating you would give him anxiety.”
“I accept him. It doesn’t matter what he is.”
“It does. Even if you don’t care. He knows you see the darkness and still stay. It probably scares him.”
“Why? He should be happy.”
“That can be as scary as fear.” Quinn shook his head. “I can’t claim to understand the boy. He’s rash, always had been, but he is trying not to be. If I were to guess, you are exactly what he has always wanted—a do over with a good woman.”
“Then he should act like it.”
“You know what happened after my family was cursed with souls?”
“Stab in the dark—lots of guilt and group hugs.”
Quinn chuckled. “Not quite. We split up not long after. I went crazy with guilt and spent years slumming it. Literally.”
“Rat eating has come up.”
Quinn shook his head. “Vic.”
“You’re not the talkative one in the group, but I need some kind of answer.”
“We all reacted differently.” He sighed, focusing on the road, fingers tightening on the steering wheel. “Delilah returned to show business. Lucas took Selene and tried to go on like it never happened. Even reunited with Kristoff in the twenties. It didn’t last. What people and even other vampires don’t get is that when you have a soul, you’re never alone. You carry every victim with you. Juniper wasn’t just an ex-girlfriend. She’s a symbol of every evil thing he’s done. Every time he saves someone, when he helps save the world, that is the weight on the other side of the scale. Maybe you’re a symbol of how he can atone.”
She sighed. “That’s a lot of pressure.”
“It is. He’s falling for you, Red, and it’s scary.”
“What if I am falling for him, too?”
“That’s something to tell him.” Quinn slowed the car as he rolled up to her pink apartment building. The light was still on in her apartment. “He’s trying to not be a selfish bastard. It’s hard for any man.”
Red unbuckled her seat belt. “You know, I get why Vic looks up to you. You’re pretty smart.”
Lips twitching into the ghost of a smile, he nodded. “After a few lifetimes, you pick up some things.”
“Thanks for the pep talk, boss.” She stepped out of the convertible.
Lapsing back into his usual silence, Quinn drove away, taking centuries of memories with him. She had almost two years in her head. It was a difference that she found hard to grapple with even if she appreciated the perspective.
From boyfriend problems to best friend problems, Red tried to clear her racing thoughts as she walked to her apartment door. It felt naïve now, but she thought things would be easier once she saved Los Angeles.
Stepping inside the living room, she first saw Vic asleep in his wheelchair in front of the TV, and then she noticed that the beer cans had been cleaned up. She walked into the kitchen, suddenly feeling famished, and grabbed a leftover smoothie in a jar from the fridge. The usual six pack in the fridge was gone. Her eyes noticed the dried foam in the sink. Had he poured them out?
She smiled before drinking the smoothie, putting the jar in the dishwasher. Walking back to the living room, she pulled the blanket off the back of the couch and placed in on Vic, covering him up to the chest.
“Bitcoin is coming back,” Vic mumbled as he stirred in his chair.
Red laughed and looked at her room, trying to not feel like she was stepping into another battle. She undressed next to her bed and forced herself underneath the covers. Praying to the god that Vic believed in, she hoped for dreamless sleep. She almost got it.
The storm continued to rumble, but the rain had let up, even if the clouds blocked the sun. Wisps of fog obscured the greenhouse and stable in front of her. She spun in a slow circle, visualizing the wind blowing away any negative energy around her. The breeze pushed her apron back and caused the top of the large front pocket to billow.
The wind carried muttered foreign words and the crack of a whip, followed by pained neighs. A shadowy figure beat a whip against the gray mare’s flank in the stable doorway.
She could only make out a few of the words like ‘girl’ and ‘mistress.’
Hiking up her skirts, she turned on her heel to run out from the shadows of the covered stable. She didn’t need to see the fangs to know that this was a vampire. The clouds were dark enough to protect him from the sun.
She grabbed the garden shears from her apron. Her stockinged legs flashed as she ran out into the yard towards the house.
Strong arms grabbed her.
“I saw the lies on your face.” His fingers dug into the meat of her upper arms through her sleeves. “My mother was a whore with red hair, too.”
She slammed her elbow firmly into his groin before spinning around to slash him across the face with the open shears.
The blades of the heavy scissors caught him in the right eye. He shrieked.
“Lucas!” She spun and sprinted to the door with her skirts bunched up in her palms.
Lucas already stood in the open doorway with his fangs bared. He rushed past her in a blur to charge the other vampire.
Waking up, Red felt the sunshine on her face. The memory of the dream dissolved as her alarm chimed. She rolled over to her phone, suddenly stricken with the desire to call Lucas to apologize. The guy tried to be a gentleman, thinking of her feelings instead of with his dick. He was trying to know her as a person, and she freaked out. She sighed. There was no use calling. He’d be dead to the world in a vampire’s sleep.
The problem was that she didn’t know what person to introduce him to. Maybe Red would find her under the H of the Hollywood Sign.
Pop culture made it seem like the Hollywood Sign was neon glamour. The giant unlit letters looked dingy under a smoggy moonlit sky in real life. They were the only witnesses to Red’s last stand against the oracle guardians. Pivoting, she raised the iron dagger to confront her stalker.
The boot steps disappeared behind her.
Her harsh panting breath answered her. On the thin maintenance path, cut with ATV tires, she was alone. Or was she? She wasn’t much of a witch, but she could sense power. The place radiated with it.
Purple and green twin orbs zoomed up the path. Tiny wings cut through the air. The pixies were sick of running the human way. They were the mystical warriors that Vic had warned her about. More like mystical pains in her ass.
“Fuck!” Red turned, her jaw clenching, as her sneakers dug into the dirt to sprint.
A miniscule yet steely grip pulled her back.
She slashed out with the dagger. Iron warded off fae folk of all kinds. She sprinted passed the “WOOD” in the Hollywood Sign.
The attacker pulled back, but iron wasn’t enough to scare the oracle’s bodyguards.
Orbs dive bombed her head trying to push her away from the enormous H. Tiny hands grabbed the iron, small howls echoing on the hills, before flinging the dagger into the dark scrubs.
“Get bent!” Red swatted the purple orb. She tried to spot the iron dagger, but just like her long-fallen water bottle, the gloom hid it. The pixies wanted her off the path. She wanted answers more. “I rented a car, hiked three miles, and stabbed your first friend. I’m seeing the oracle!”
Elongating with a battle cry, the orb transformed into a lanky ginger with a long braid in white painter’s overalls. She whined in an Irish accent, “Come on. It’s our dinner break soon.”
“Leave then!” Red elbowed the pixie in the nose.
The female reeled back, clutching her nose, Gaelic curses streaming nasally out of her mouth.
Red rushed ahead. This was the job the guardians signed up for, fighting oracle seekers. It’s not like she hadn’t asked nicely and even tried to bribe them to let her through.
The green orb morphed into a short round man, in the same white uniform, who held a battle axe. His glasses slipped down his nose. He shook his weapon in the middle of the path. “God damn, lass! Do we have to chase you around Mount Lee?”
Dodging around the other pixie, Red ran. An energy signature pulsed ahead. Through her weak third eye, she could see the aura smudges shimmering on the H of the sign. Chuck had been right. She knew it.
Purple light glittered like a warning on the dry bushes around her. She pumped her legs to run faster but she wasn’t quick enough. Strong fingers curled around her ankle. Red grunted and kicked out.
The grip disappeared.
“The lady isn’t interested.”
Turning her head around, Red gasped. “Lucas?”
“Stay down.” Fangs out and amber shining in his eyes, Lucas growled at the male pixie at his feet. He pointed at the ginger pixie female. “You too.”
The female spit. “This will be paperwork.”
The short male lurched up, hands reaching out for his axe.
Lucas placed a boot on the overgrown pixie’s chest. “Pet, you wanted to ask a question.”
Red smiled, hoping that her eyes said all the things that she didn’t have time for. She hadn’t expected him, but he was there when she needed him.
Lucas grinned. “Get to it.”
Walking to the giant H, she lifted her hand to the swirling invisible mass of energy at the foot of the letter. She’d sat in Starbucks researching most of the day. Partly to use their free Wi-Fi, but mainly to avoid Vic. Apparently, many cities had an oracle. They appeared in places of worship with a Pythia, a seer assigned to hold court. Celebrity culture must have made the cut for worship. She learned from the brotherhood database enough to know how to enter the oracle.
“Servant of the Delphian Apollo. Guard your lips from offence. To those who ask for oracles. Let the God’s answer come. Pure from all private fault.”
A brilliant vortex appeared, glinting like a crystal-clear spring.
Stepping inside, Red held her breath as if jumping into a pool. The spiraling light enveloped her. She had tried to figure out her question earlier in the day, mulling over each word to exorcise ambiguity on each step on her illegal hike to the sign.
She didn’t know how many chances she had with the oracle. Even the great kings of yore only did pilgrimage to Delphi once in their lifetimes. Questions about her family, how she had come to lose her memory, who she had been before Vic found her… they bred more questions with each answer.
The question came to her at the last minute—what did her mother name her? She had the internet. She could do the rest. All the oracle had to give her was a name.
The lights cleared, but her blinking eyes took a minute to adjust. Her vision cleared, radiant spots still in the corners.
Grand pillars rose into a shimmering fog as white marble stretched into the distance. Magic suffused the air. Red expected a choir of angels. Instead she was alone.
Big headphones over his ears, a janitor pushed an electric dust mop over the marble. Ordinary in every respect, from his dull brown hair to olive skin tone, the man in the white overalls could have blended into any crowd. His head bobbed to an unseen beat. The whirl of his machine echoed in the large chamber.
Catching her breath and wiggling to shake off the portal’s energy residue, Red waved her arm. “Hello!”
“Oh, hiya, what’cha you doing here?” The janitor pushed the headphones off. A touch of a Minnesota accent peaked in his startled voice. “The guards are slacking, I bet.”
“I gave them a good chase.” She said warily as she stepped to the janitor. Her heart lumped in her throat. “Do I have to fight you to talk to the oracle? Because I rather not.”
“Oh, god no. I’m strictly on floor patrol. An infinite chamber doesn’t clean itself.”
The tension slipped in her shoulders. That was something that she could relate too. She had been dealing a lot of other people’s messes lately. Juniper St. James in particular.
“Cool. Could you point me in the right direction?” she asked. “I am hoping the oracle takes walk ins.”
“No can do-ski, good buddy.” The janitor leaned on the dust mop. “You’ve come through the wrong portal. We don’t have an oracle right now. Try the one on Wall Street. Just make an appointment first.”
Hand on her chest, Red slumped against a pillar. “What? Why did I have to fight those pixies if there’s nothing here?”
“Union rules. They work even if you don’t know the oracle is, ya know, dead.” The janitor sighed. “Oh, jeez that was a day. Those bikers made a mess.”
“Bikers? Michel…” Red shook her head. Of course, the tricky master manipulator would have taken care of the oracle before his aborted vampire coup. Her head swam. Was it dehydration or crushing disappointment?
“She saw it coming but that’s destiny for you. Some things you can’t fight.” The janitor winced. “I’m not talking ill of the dead, but she did make the break room really awkward before the end.”
“Seriously? There isn’t anyone who can answer my question? There isn’t even a magic 8 ball somewhere?” Red blinked back tears. It was stupid how much she had gotten her hopes up. Vic had been right. He looked like a roadie for a classic rock band, but he knew what was up. He tried to warn her too.
“I was going to ask her what my real name was, the one my mom gave me. I wanted to know who I am.”
The janitor looked down, wiping his forehead with a rag from his pocket. His hooded gaze softened. “Hey, kid, I’m sorry. It’s a tough break but I can guess what the Pythia would have said. It would be more lyrical but something about the name being earned and that the truth is in you. Look inside, find your way. You know vague motivational stuff.”
Red put her hands on her hips. “You’re really selling the majesty of the oracle here.”
The janitor lifted his hand as if to say that he just worked there. “The future is always changing because you are. The past is never quite what we think as we learn more. The Pythia sees far but you want more than a name. You want an identity. She can’t give you that.”
She bit her lip. Sarcasm rising at the self-help psychobabble. She might as well complain about a big box store’s prices to a cashier. “This was useless.”
“Real sorry, lady.” The janitor shrugged. “What can I say? Next time call first.”
A portal grew behind Red. Numb, shoulders hunching, her ears buzzed at the dismissal. She had fought pixies for nothing. The rules stated that she could walk out again without assault after seeing the oracle. They wouldn’t jump her, only leave her alone with her unanswered question. A punch would have distracted her at least. She sighed before walking through to step from marble onto red earth. The lights faded behind her.
A commotion stilled as her eyes adjusted.
“Get off, we’re leaving.” Lucas shook off the short pixie before glaring at the female one who backed away. He walked to Red and took her hand. He brushed a chilled tear on her cheek. “Didn’t like your answer?”
“I didn’t get one.” Red leaned into him as Lucas pulled her against him. “And now I got to hike back in the dark with my failure.”
“And me.” Lucas lifted her up. “There are some perks to being a vampire.”
That was her only warning. He sprinted with supernatural speed. The nighttime landscape blurred around them.
Shriek giggling, Red held onto his neck, his arms stabilizing her even on the rough patch up the hill. “What are you doing?”
“Saving you a hike.” Lucas laughed as he sped up from the Hollywood Sign to a maintenance road. He cleared the fence in a smooth leap. Stopping at his bike, he set her down.
Shaking on trembling legs, she clung to him to get her bearings. “Dear Poseidon, you’re fast. I should have timed you. For science.”
“You would have made it on your own, but didn’t you already take the scenic route today?”
She nodded against his shoulder. Her limbs felt like jelly from all the hiking. “You carried me and the failure.”
“What were you looking for, Red? I can tell by your face; you didn’t get it. Is it what you can’t tell me?”
“It convoluted, Lucas. I can’t give you any better answers than I have.”
“Reality is convoluted. Lay it on me. You didn’t run when you met my family or when I told you what I was.” He lifted his hands to the side. “I’m not running from you either.”
“I wanted to know what my mom named me.” She looked down. The words sounded so weak on her lips like a sappy kid whining on a TV family drama.
“Vic said you didn’t have family.”
Red shrugged, tears coming to her eyes. This was the thing that she only talked about with Vic and even then, it wasn’t something they talk about a lot. Her amnesia was a secret that could be used against her. Her hope around the oracle was proof. She wanted to know where she came from too much. Revealing that secret… It had felt less intimate to get naked around him.
“I could. I don’t know. This account with Smith and Reaper was supposed to be this big clue, and besides the money, I know as much as before.”
Lucas rubbed his neck. “Yeah, I was curious about all that cash that you suddenly had.”
“Me too. I though the oracle could tell me.” Red shook her head. “I wanted my name because I don’t know it. It’s not like I was adopted or something. At least, I don’t think so. I just don’t remember.”
He tilted her chin up. “You can tell me.”
Staring into his gray eyes, her breath caught. She had spent all month trying to build a life in LA. She had bought the towels, argued with the landlord about leaking pipes, and tried to organize the quagmire that Quinn Investigations called a records system. She had done all the logical things, but the emotional ties… That was the part of settling in that scared her. Life on the road meant that she could always pack up and go if things got tense. If you didn’t stay, if they didn’t get close, you didn’t get hurt.
Red wanted Lucas close.
That meant laying down her own walls.
“Vic found me, bitten and mesmerized to forget, we think. Left for dead by a highway, for sure. We tried everything to break the memory block. A shaman made take magic mushrooms. I even had a vampire in Oklahoma try to mesmerize me into remembering. It’s just gone. Who I am, what I’ve done, where I’ve been? That’s locked up tight, Lucas.” Red gestured to the Hollywood Sign below the scenic vista outlook. “And Michel killed the fucking oracle. That damn pirate managed to get one last stab. Cora took his head, but he’s laughing at me somewhere.”
“Hey.” He pulled her into his arms. “Michel is down below, and he’s doing anything but laughing.”
“Years and years, Lucas. I lost years. I didn’t even know who the president was.” Red hide her eyes in his jacket. She whispered the words, pulled out like wire strung too tight. “I know common knowledge, I got some skills, speak some Spanish, but everything that is me… that’s gone. You want to know me. I don’t know me. I got over a year of hunting under my belt. That’s it.”
“This is what you hid?”
“How could I tell you about a life I don’t remember?”
“You could start with what you do know. It might be months, but I want to know everything about you, kitten.” Lucas cupped her cheek. “You’re like no one else.”
She ducked her head. “No, I look exactly like someone else.”
“That’s not it.” He stroked her hair, letting her hide. “You’re someone special.”
“How can you tell? I might as well be a blank slate.” Red chuckled. “With a lot of supernatural weirdness scribbled on top.”
Lucas rubbed his thumbs over the apples of her cheeks, grey eyes meeting hers. “When I told you that you lived more in a week than I did in my human life, I wasn’t blowing smoke. You’re anything but blank. Vibrant. If I were still a poet, I would describe you in bright neon, pulsing life, and rolling with depths that I can’t even fathom.” He finished with a whisper. “I couldn’t have dreamed you up in my wildest fantasies.”
Closing her eyes, Red leaned her forehead against his. “Are you sure you’re not still a writer?”
“I’m a lot of things.” Grinning, he stroked her hair. “Stay and you’ll see some layers.”
She smirked. “Like how you say you’re a scoundrel, yet insist on being a gentleman?”
“I might just like driving you crazy.” Lucas rubbed his thumb over her bottom lip.
“It’s working.” She murmured before kissing him deeply. The wind whipped through her hair as she snuggled closer to him. She told herself her life would begin once she discovered who she was. In his arms, she realized she was already living her life.
She was a witch called Red. It was enough for now.
Clicking the TV volume down, Vic turned in his wheelchair. His mouth twisted sheepishly. He picked up a small, plastic-wrapped sticker next to his empty cereal bowl. “I kept the temp tattoo for you.”
Rubbing her sleep-wavy hair, Red blinked from the light in the sunny living room. She had dressed, but her hair defied brushes this morning. Smiling, she took the cereal prize. She sat down on the couch across from him. “Thanks.”
“Hey, I was a lot before. I mean, recently in general.” Vic shook his hanging head. “I was a straight up dick.”
“I wasn’t exactly Miss Congeniality either.” Red apologized for losing her temper. She didn’t know how to explain that painful hope that the oracle had ignited in her.
“I’m sorry too. Let’s get out of the house and do something. Whatever you want.”
“I did want to get you black out curtains for your room.” She shrugged, putting the temp tattoo in her pocket.
It was silly, but every little homey task made her feel just that much more grounded. She had been working on making the apartment fit for humans for a while. The apartment had come furnished, down to stock photography in the picture frames, but a rental service for demons and other supernaturals still missed the mark with humans. The gimp mask she fished out of the drain was enough of a clue that the last tenants had been rowdy.
“You’re obsessed with Target, you know that, right?” he asked.
Red shook her head with the frustrated awareness of a longtime addict. “It’s the damn clearance aisle.”
Vic laughed. “You have millions. Why do you still want a bargain?”
“I can’t resist.” She chuckled. “We’re pretty domesticated, huh?”
“That’s not a good thing.” He grumbled. His scowl turned thoughtful. “You went to the oracle, didn’t you?”
“And I got a fat lot of nada.” Leaning back on the couch, she brushed back her frizzed hair. The delight in not fighting with Vic had delayed remembering the disappointment in how much she’d failed last night.
“Oracles, seers, visions- you’re never going to get the closure you want.”
“I wanted a clue. Not closure.” She sighed before clapping her hands. “But at least we have a Target run!”
He play-punched her arm. “Hey, I’m serious. You’re in the deep end with this whole journey of self-discovery. You’ll find your place, Red.”
“Thanks, coach.” Her tone snarky to her own ears, she glanced at him before rubbing her sleepy eyes. Coffee was a prerequisite to existential pep talks. “You’re right. I’ll find my way. I gotta do it the old-fashioned way.”
He grinned. “Exactly. Muddle about like an idiot. The rest of us have to.”
Shaking her head, she couldn’t help but smile back. It might have been his first genuine grin since he had left the hospital. It wasn’t an oracle’s prophecy, but it was a sign anyway.
Los Angeles hadn’t been what she expected. She thought that she would find a serial killer targeting models and then head off to the next city. The script had flipped on her. Too much had changed too soon. She might not know exactly how much the lost years had changed her, but the last few weeks certainly had. That was life.
Red breathed deep. She might not know who she was, but she was building a place for herself in this world. This was her life whatever the future or the past held.
The Oracle in the City was just an epilogue short. Find out what happens next in book 2. Buy Long Witch Night, the full-length sequel to A Witch Called Red here.