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«Bewitched & Betrayed», Lisa Shearin

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Найти другие книги в жанре: Русская классическая проза, Фэнтези (Все жанры)

As always, for Derek, husband, arm candy, and my biggest fan. LY!

To my sister, Terie. Your encouragement and support mean the world to me.

Acknowledgments

To Kristin Nelson, my agent. You’re always there with invaluable guidance, advice, and support. I’m a lucky author to be your client.

To Anne Sowards, my editor. Thank you for helping me to find and bring out the story inside the story.

To Katherine Shaw, a wonderful fan. The winner of my Name That Bordello contest with “The Satyr’s Grove.”

To my fans. Your boundless enthusiasm for my books never ceases to amaze and inspire me. I write these books for you.

 

Chapter 1

I was being chased by a pissed-off naked guy with a knife. A really big knife.

Him being naked was expected since I was doing my ducking, weaving, and dodging down a hall in the Isle of Mid’s finest bordello. You’d think that the worst that could happen to me was acute embarrassment and possible death. But this naked guy was possessed by the specter of a three-thousand-year-old evil elven sorcerer who’d turned Mid’s red-light district into his personal playground. I’d interrupted recess, and he was mad as hell.

My name is Raine Benares, and I’m a seeker. Tonight I’d found what I was looking for, as well as things I never wanted to see. The men who frequented the Satyr’s Grove were here because they had money, not muscle tone. These weren’t your finer specimens of manhood. And believe me, I got to see enough manhoods and fleeing pasty white posteriors to last me a lifetime.

Even worse, the sorcerer’s specter had picked himself a young, fit, and fast body, not an old, flabby, and slow one. But on the upside, apparently slinging spells was a challenge when wearing someone else’s skin. Hence the big knife and bad attitude.

There were screams, shouts, and chaos from the first and second floors. We now had the third-floor hallway all to ourselves. Everyone had either fled downstairs, or barricaded themselves in the bedrooms that lined the hall. Unfortunately, in the Satyr’s Grove, the more expensive ladies were on the top floor, and our quarry had decided to splurge. I’d gotten separated from my Guardian bodyguards in the stampede of working girls and clients on the two floors below. I couldn’t stop to wait for them. I’d been tracking this specter all week; I’d found him, and he was not getting away.

We’d had a plan, a good plan, but like most plans I’d been involved with lately, it’d gone straight down the crapper moments after implementation. I was upstairs, the specter was upstairs, but the man with the containment box to trap the specter in was somewhere in the chaos downstairs.

“Get him to stand still,” shrieked the necromancer.

Yeah, I was sure he’d do that, just as soon as he got close enough to start killing me. The specter-possessed man was chasing me. Sid, the necromancer on loan from the college’s necrology department, was chasing the man. At the same time, he was waving around a little drawstring bag of something he’d promised would keep the specter in his host body until an exorcist could extract him. With a choice of a naked guy with a knife versus an evil sorcerer with three thousand years of practice, I was all for the specter staying right where he was. Then it wouldn’t matter if the containment box that was downstairs found its way upstairs.

My job had been to find the specter; that’d been the easy part. But judging from the ruckus and outraged upper-class-sounding voices coming from downstairs, Mychael and his boys had caught some of Mid’s elite with their trousers down or their robes up. Getting caught being naughty by the commander of the Conclave Guardians and a dozen of his best knights had heaped mortification on top of outrage.

So until Mychael could cut through that crowd with the containment box, it was just me and Sid.

And a dead-end hallway.

Oh crap.

I drew a long dagger and spun to face tall, naked, and pissed—and he stopped dead in his tracks, eyes wide in recognition. He probably didn’t know who I was, but he knew what I was.

What he saw was a slender elf with red hair, pale skin probably paler than usual right now, and gray eyes wide with either mere panic or basic terror. But the thing he sensed coiled and eagerly waiting inside of me was what froze him to the spot.

The Isle of Mid was haunted. Not by the chain- rattling, cold spot, moaning sort of specters. This sorcerer and five of his coconspirators had escaped from the Saghred, a soul-stealing stone of unlimited power. They weren’t dead, but they weren’t exactly alive, either. A couple thousand years ago, this guy had probably tried to use the Saghred to do something he shouldn’t, and by some mishap had gotten himself sucked inside.

Through a few mishaps of my own, I was linked to the Saghred. My life’s goal had become to find a way to sever that link, but for now the rock and I were locked in a struggle of wills. It wanted me to use its power so it could take my soul or possibly my sanity one nibble at a time, but mostly it wanted me to feed it. And right now, it wanted the ancient shadow I saw reflected in the man’s eyes, and it wanted it badly. My link to the Saghred made me the Conclave Guardians’ specter-hunting bloodhound. Not only could I sense the specters; I could see them. Lucky me.

No way in hell was I going to be a straw for the Saghred to slurp up stray souls, and I didn’t want to kill the host body. That would just force the specter out, and Sid and I were not equipped to handle that alone. Besides, this poor naked bastard had just been looking to get laid, not possessed. I didn’t want to kill him, but the specter inside of him didn’t share my moral dilemma.


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