Copyright © 2013 Vivi Andrews
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
The shop door crashed open and slammed against the far wall, shuddering on its hinges. Prometheus caught it with a mental hand when it would have ricocheted off the wall to retaliate against the woman who’d struck it. He froze the door in place before it could wreak vengeance on that pretty—livid—face. Cracks probably spidered through the frosted glass from the force of her entry, but he didn’t bother to take his eyes off the woman on his threshold long enough to check.
Karma Cox. Owner and benevolent dictator of Karmic Consultants, paranormal problem solvers. A magical Mussolini in heels.
She was here.
And she was pissed.
Fully aware it would only enrage her more, Prometheus smiled with undisguised anticipation. Do I have your attention now, sweetheart? “Yes?”
A few weeks ago, he’d been convinced he’d irreparably screwed up his chances—the drunken demon summoning might have been taking their little feud a smidge too far—but this morning he’d woken up with a feeling. An eerie, storm-brewing, category five hurricane about-to-hit feeling.
Prometheus didn’t run from storms. He was the crazy bastard standing in the middle of the tempest, daring the universe to do its worst. And Karma was one hell of a hurricane.
She was regal, statuesque for a woman with a healthy dose of Asian genes in her family tree, but it wasn’t her height that made her commanding. Delicious power pulsed off her, all the more forceful for her anger. Prometheus could taste her barely bridled strength on the air between them—the rich, seductive decadence of dark liquid chocolate with the spicy slap of a cayenne kick.
Every jet-black hair was in place, but there was still something wild and unhinged about her, despite the flawless manicure and the meticulous perfection of her makeup. A hunter-green sheath hugged her from collarbone to knees, exquisitely sexy in spite of the lack of plunging cleavage or thigh revealing slits. All dressed up…
“How was the wedding?”
That snapped her out of her rage-filled silence. Tawny skin flushed vivid scarlet. “How was the wedding?” she repeated, each word gaining intensity until he could physically feel them striking his skin. “You ass.” She stalked into the heart of his shop, the rap of her heels sharp on the hardwood floor. “I was willing to overlook the medallions you’d sold all over town, causing all manner of magical havoc.”
“Overlook? If no one was causing supernatural problems, you wouldn’t have any to solve. I’m the best thing that’s ever happened to your business. I should get a commission.”
She didn’t appear to hear him. Her smoky, sex-kitten voice rasped over his words, gaining volume. “I chose not to respond to the pranks around Samhain and Beltane, and I ignored what I suspect was a curse of some variety designed to prevent me from being able to keep a receptionist for longer than a week.”
“I lifted that curse weeks ago.” Immediately after he’d semi-accidentally summoned a demon to harass her. It seemed the least he could do.
She went on as if he hadn’t spoken, though her hands clenched, rewarding him for the comment. “I refused to sink to your level, decided not to engage, but this? Siccing a demon on my brother’s wedding. A demon.”
“You have an exorcist on staff.”
“You sent a demon to stop my brother’s wedding!” she shrieked in an admirable impression of a banshee.
“It was a minor demon. And it wasn’t tasked with stopping the wedding. Just disrupting it a little.”
“A little? You almost killed my wedding planner!”
“Are you always this concerned with things that almost happen? I almost rescue orphans from burning buildings on a regular basis. Then I remember I don’t particularly give a shit about orphans.”
“You want things that actually happened? He actually possessed the wedding planner’s car and crashed it. He stalked her for three weeks. He kidnapped her!”
“What’s a little kidnapping among friends?”
“We are not friends. You’re—” She broke off, reduced to sputtering her rage.
“Dashing? Magnetic? Unscrupulous?”
If she could have lit him on fire with her eyes, he would have been a smoldering pile of ash. “There are no words vile enough to describe you.”
“You realize all of this could have been avoided if you’d let me hire you in the first place.”
“My people don’t work for ethical black holes.”
“Ethics.” He flicked his fingers dismissively. “Rules we make for ourselves are easily changed, bent or broken. Survival of the fittest is the truest law. Unbreakable.”
“I’m not going to debate morality with you.”
“What are you going to do? Punish me?” He smiled wolfishly. “That could be fun. I have been a bad, bad boy.”
She glared at him, sparks all but shooting from her eyes, hands on hips, her anger radiating a fierce heat. She’d missed her calling as a dominatrix. Give that woman a whip.
“You’ve gone too far this time,” she hissed. “You wanted war? Well, you’d better brace your ass because war is exactly what you’re going to get.”
Bring it on. Prometheus barely stopped himself from issuing the challenge. It was hard to remember when looking into her fiery brown eyes that going toe-to-toe with Karma wasn’t his end game. Step One had been to make it so the ice queen couldn’t ignore him—mission accomplished there.
Step Two might be trickier. Cooperation had never been his strong suit, but he needed hers. “As it happens, I don’t want war. I want your help.”
“You’ve done an excellent job of making sure I couldn’t care less what you want.”
“Not even if it comes with a truce? No more pranks, no more curses. I’ll be on my best behavior.” For all that’s worth. “Helping me is a small price to pay for peace of mind.”
“No.” She pivoted toward the open door, revealing the plunge of the backless dress. He lost his smile. She was bare to the small of her back, the soft curve of her spine vulnerable, exposed, lickable, but Prometheus had more pressing concerns than the itch to tease every inch of her silky skin.
He reached out a mental hand and slammed the door shut. “We aren’t done here.” Power thrummed in his voice. Life or death had always sounded foolishly dramatic, but when it was his death, that changed things substantially. He didn’t bother playing nice—not that he ever did.
Karma spun back to him, eyes widening as the lights in the shop flickered in reaction to the energy surge coming off his body. “Excuse me?”
“I was willing to play by your rules, do things your way, but you turned me down. Now you’re on my turf and you will hear me out.”
“Do you really think threatening me will help your case?”
“This isn’t threatening. When I’m threatening you, you’ll know.” Though she had a point. He took a slow breath, trying to dial down the current of power coursing through him. It was always easier to let it out than it was to get it back in the box.
Her mouth fell open. “When? When you’re threatening me? My God, Prometheus. Is that supposed to make me want to help you?”
“You don’t need to call me a god. That’s a different Prometheus.”
“You really don’t get it, do you? You can’t bully me into helping you. Especially not after you’ve spent the last year doing everything you can to piss me off.”
“It wasn’t the last year. I’ve really only been focused on aggravating you for the last six months. Everything before that was just a coincidence.”
“Ah!” She shouted in frustration, spinning toward the exit. Her heels slammed the hardwood in counterpoint to her anger. She jerked hard on the handle, but Prometheus easily held the door glued shut.
The more she struggled, the more his fascination grew. Along with his smile as he watched her.
Karma Cox was a titan among magic-users. She’d been born with the kind of natural power many would—and did—sell their souls for. If she’d tapped into it, she could have kicked his ass into next week and opened the door with one hand tied behind her back. But instead of embracing the chaotic rush of her power, she repressed it. Her rigid control and unrelenting restraint bottled up her gifts until she was all but powerless, trapped by a net of her own making, yanking futilely at a door that should have been no obstacle at all.
He had to give her credit for stubbornness though. She kept hauling on the door long after a less obstinate woman would have admitted defeat, until finally her hands stilled and her head dropped forward, just an inch—all the surrender she would allow.
“Ready to listen?”
Her head came back up sharply, recovering the inch of surrender. She spoke, still facing the door. “What are my odds of ever getting out of here if I say no?”
“Slim. I’m a gambling man, but even I wouldn’t take that bet.”
She turned slowly, the ice queen back in control. Her dark brown eyes were cool and her ruby lips pursed. She leaned back against the door she’d battled. Her bare back must have touched the cool glass, but she didn’t flinch, folding her arms and pinning him with her imperial gaze. “Well?” One sleek, carefully plucked eyebrow rose. “If I’m not getting out of here until you’ve given your little speech, start talking.”
Prometheus reminded himself to breathe. It came down to this. He wasn’t going to get another chance to enlist her help. Tread carefully.
“I’ve lost something,” he said, keeping his words intentionally vague. Best to ease her into it.
Somehow he didn’t think Karma would react well to the knowledge that he’d sold his heart to the devil twenty years ago and now he needed her help to steal it back.