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She pursed her lips and crossed her arms. “Sabina, why would a zombie think you’re his mother?”

I had a really bad feeling I knew the answer, but I didn’t like it at all. “Hypothetically , does it matter who the blood comes from in the spell?”

She pursed her lips. “Sometimes. But you’d have to be a very powerful mage for this”— she pointed at Kevin’s corpse— “to happen.” Her tone clearly communicated that Zen believed I was a run-of-the-mill mage with subpar skills. I agreed on the skills part, but—

I swallowed. “You mean like a Chthonic mage?”

Her eyes flared. “You’re a Chthonic?” she roared. “Why the hell didn’t you tell me that sooner?”

I shrugged. “I didn’t know it mattered!”

“Of course it matters! Chthonic magic amplifies necromancy spells tenfold! Especially if there’s blood involved!” She shook her head at me. “Unbelievable! I sensed darkness in you when we met, but I figured it was just the vampire thing.”

“Well, excuse me,” I said. “It’s not like I’ve ever done something like this before. Rhea should have told you.”

She threw up her hands. “Gods of the Loa, you’re unbelievable. This isn’t Rhea’s fault. At the very least Adam should have mentioned it.”

“Hey! At least I took care of it. Which is more than I can say for some people, who ran and hid.”

She started talking under her breath. I only caught a few words, but I stopped listening when I heard “misbegotten daughter of Satan.”

“Okay, so I think we can both chalk this up to a lesson learned,” I said. “Can we go now?”

She stopped pacing and shot me a glare so hot my cheeks burned. “Not so fast there. You’ve got a body to rebury.”

My mouth fell open. “You’ve got to be joking.”

She looked pointedly at the spade. “Don’t forget the owl.”

18

An hour later, I slammed out of Zen’s car. My first priority was a shower. Between the mud and the bits o’ Kevin coating my clothes, I felt like a walking hazmat disaster.

Zen followed more slowly. Smart of her. I’d found her merely annoying before, but after the confrontation in the cemetery and her judgy attitude over my honest mistake, I couldn’t stand the woman. The whole thing had me seriously regretting my promise to have a kinder, gentler attitude toward the mortally challenged.

Of course, part of my foul mood might have stemmed from the fact I’d rammed headfirst into another dead end. As I stomped up the back steps of the store, I prayed Adam and Giguhl’s recon had been more successful than my clusterfuck of a night.

I threw open the door and prepared to go inside, but something stopped me. It took me a second to realize what was off. For a Friday night, the store was abnormally quiet. I held a hand up to Zen. “Wait here.”

She frowned but was smart enough not to argue.

I pulled my gun and entered the office at the back of the building. I stopped to listen, but the place was silent except for the echoes of the crowds of Bourbon Street. I made my way to the thick curtain separating the office from the store.

I blew out a breath and silently parted the panels. The store looked like a bomb had gone off. I cursed. A quick scan revealed overturned tables, broken glass, and colorful debris littering the floor. Then my eyes landed on something sparkly by the stairs that made my blood go cold— a golden cobra atop a black wig. Luckily the cornrows weren’t still attached to a head, but since Cleopatra was supposed to have vacated the premises hours earlier, the sight sent me into full-on crisis mode.

The old me would have charged in with guns blazing. But I held myself back. The intruders could still be in there. Given the recent run-in with a group of crazy-strong magic-wielding vamps, it wasn’t prudent to proceed without backup. I forced myself to back away from the curtain and go outside.

Zen’s face was tense with worry. “What’s going on?” she demanded.

“I’m not sure yet.” I didn’t mention the wig. No reason to scare Zen until I could get inside and assess the true extent of the damage. Instead, I pulled the cell phone from my pocket and punched the preprogrammed button. Adam answered on the second ring.

“What’s wrong?”

“I need you. How far away—”

The hair on my arms prickled a split second before Adam materialized not three feet from where Zen and I stood. I punched the “end” button. His eyes did a quick scan of the pair of us. Then, rushing up the steps, he said, “What’s the situation?”

I glanced at Zen, not wanting to scare her but needing to be honest. “Someone broke into the shop.”

Zen sucked in a breath. “Thieves?”

I shook my head. “Not sure. But they definitely did some damage in the store. Couldn’t tell if anything”— or anyone, I silently amended— “was taken.”

Adam turned to Zen, in full crisis-management mode. “You got any weapons inside they could find?”

“Upstairs in my apartment. A shotgun.”

“Shit,” I said. “Okay, I need you to listen—”

Zen made a worried noise. “What about Brooks?”

I schooled my features to hide my suspicions. “He’s probably at Lagniappe. Besides, Mac would have called if she got here to pick up Brooks and found this.”

“Zen, you stay out here and call Georgia. She’s with Giguhl. Tell them to get here as soon as they can. In the meantime, do not come in there until we give you the allclear. Got it?”

Zen’s mouth worked and her eyes were a little wild. I grabbed her by the shoulders. “Adam and I need to go figure out what’s happening. Will you be okay here for a few minutes?”

She swallowed and seemed to come back to herself. “Be careful.”

I looked at Adam. “Let’s go.”

Leaving the human in the courtyard, Adam and I reentered through the office. When he saw the disaster area that used to be the store, his jaw went hard. Through the drawn shades on the front windows of the store, the silhouettes of passersby, totally unaware of the drama unfolding a few feet away, paraded past at intervals. As my adrenaline surged, I found myself envying their ignorance.

I motioned toward the stairs and the discarded wig. Adam saw it and jerked his gaze to mine. A brief flare of anger crossed his face before his expression returned to mission-ready. He pointed up, indicating I should take the lead.

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