Read Pretty When She Destroys Online

Authors: Rhiannon Frater

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BOOK: Pretty When She Destroys
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“Huh?” He redirected his gaze from the computer screen to Samantha. “What do you mean?”

“They both said ‘you let him do this to me.’ Remember? Cassidy said that.”

Jeff winced. “Yeah. I remember.”

“Why do you think they said that?”

With a weary exhalation, Jeff stared at the computer screen. “Maybe because I’m the guy who’s supposed to keep Austin safe from the supernatural bad guys. And I failed.”

“So you think something supernatural killed Cassidy and this other girl?”

Hesitantly, Jeff nodded.

Samantha glanced toward the front of the store, her heartbeat starting to accelerate. “Eduardo. You think it’s Eduardo.”

Jeff closed his eyes for a second, then again nodded. “I don’t have proof.”

“Jeff, what the hell? Why didn’t you say something?”

“Because I have no evidence at all. I’m looking into it, Sam. I have been since we saw Cassidy. I think the attacks were definitely some sort of supernatural beast. Eduardo is on the list because he’s a coyote, but it could have been something else. I can’t just accuse him of something when I have zero evidence it’s him.”

“But you think it might be him!”

“For a really lame reason.”

“And what lame reason is that, Jeff?”

“There have been women disappearing around Austin the area for the last few years. All of them have had long dark hair and blue eyes. Like Amaliya. You see how Eduardo is around her.”

Samantha pondered this bit of information. It was flimsy, but in a way it made sense. Eduardo was a supernatural beast that was attracted to a certain type. A lot of the supernaturals liked human blood and flesh. “Have you told Cian?”

“No. And I won’t. And neither will you. I have no evidence, Sam. None. Just a suspicion.”

“If I could get the ghosts to talk...” Samantha bit her bottom lip.

“Well, they’re not, so we’re stuck.” Jeff checked the time again. “And I have a meeting.”

“This fuckin’ sucks,” Samantha decided.

“Yeah. Everything does. Except for you.” Jeff wove their fingers together and drew her down for a quick kiss. “I’ll get done here then we’ll make out. If you want to stick around that is.”

Samantha gave him a wan smile. “I want to be near you tonight. Want to stay over at my place?”

“Okay.” Jeff kissed her hand, then moved to answer the incoming call.

Feeling scared and weary, Samantha sat on the floor near his desk, crossed her legs, and wondered why her happy moments always seemed to disappear before she had the chance to truly relish them.

 

 

Etzli ran her fingers down the jaguar’s back as she rested on a divan in a skimpy white bikini admiring the full moon above. The gentle lapping of the waves in the pool added to the serenity of the scene. The coarse dark hair of the beast was a pleasing sensation. The big cat let out a growling purr, arching against her hand. The jaguar was almost black, with its spots barely discernible on its back and head. She had four of the great cats and they inhabited the walled-in back yard of the mansion near the downtown area of San Antonio. After she had taken over the city, she had her favorite pets flown in from Mexico City. Along with them had come the were-jaguars and the black magic witches from Etzli’s cabal. The mansion was now protected by massive wards and repulsion spells that kept unwanted visitors away.

At the patio table next to her, a thin, pale young man dressed in ratty shorts and a t-shirt with a bizarre yellow creature on it was rattling off the latest information on their endeavors while staring at his iPad.

The waters of the pool twirled into water spouts, sending spirals of mist floating through the air.

“Trish, you’re getting me wet!” Etzli shouted at the elemagus standing nearby.

The woman with the wild red hair and bizarre maroon eyes pouted, but lowered her hands. The water spouts vanished.

“You’re in a bathing suit next to a pool,” the boy said, smirking.

Etzli resisted the urge to grab the tablet from his hand and throw it into the water. As annoying as Stark could be she tolerated him because of his genius. Yet, everything about him from his terrible fashion sense to his ridiculous comic book nickname aggravated her.

“So, the first rings arrive over the next few days. I have definitely tracked down another three. Just like you said, The Assembly is doing most of our work for us. They’re in a panic.” Stark grinned, flashing his yellowed teeth. He consumed obscene amount of coffee and always smelled like the stale brew. “Collecting the rest of the rings is going to be damn easy if they keep it up.”

Etzli supposed he wanted some sort of congratulatory gesture from her. She stared at him through her sunglasses, then reached out and patted his head. Instantly, she regretted doing so. His hair was a greasy mess.

“Gregorio!”

The older mortal man rushed forward with a hot towel already in his hands. Etzli adored the servant because he always anticipated her needs. Gently, he cleaned off her hand, mindful of her sparking diamond rings.

Stark shoved his hair back from his face, frowning. “It’s just hair product.”

“It’s disgusting.”

Lowering his head, the boy sulked. He wasn’t quite twenty yet, and though arrogant in some ways, he was quite needy in others. Ever since Etzli had recruited him, he’d been eager to please. If she revealed any sign of dissatisfaction with him, he sulked for days.

“I won’t use it anymore,” he grumbled. Tapping at his screen, he said, “I have more news.”

“Go ahead.”

“That Benchley guy from the Austin hunter group has been doing research on phasmagi.”

“They’re extinct.” Etzli waved Gregorio away and resumed petting her jaguar.

“Well, I don’t think so because he seems real intent on tracking down anything he can on them. He’s not as smart as his sister. She always uses a VPN, which makes it way harder on me.”

“What is this VPN?” Etzli wasn’t particularly keen on any technology, but she understood its usefulness.

“Virtual private network. It’s a way to hide what you’re doing online. Anyway, he’s been doing everything over the public network, so it’s been real easy for me to track.” Stark’s narrow little face took on a smug expression. “Also, he’s been researching Josephine Leduc.”

When Etzli didn’t respond in the way he hoped, his cockiness faded slightly. With a bored sigh, she said, “So?”

“He probably wants to know more about Bianca.” Stark’s blue eyes flicked toward the French doors that opened into the house.

“Of course, he does.” Etzli flexed her toes, studying her pedicure. The edge of one red nail was chipped. She frowned, not only at the imperfection of her appearance, but at Stark’s discovery. If The Assembly was scrambling to find the rings of Lucifer’s Sword, why would they bother to waste valuable time researching an extinct supernatural being? “The phasmagus research is disturbing. I do
not
like this development.”

When The Summoner had created Amaliya and Bianca, he had altered the order of things in the supernatural realm. His offspring didn’t even abide by the rules of his own power, which made them unpredictable and difficult to deal with. The Summoner would never admit it, but she knew his grip on Bianca’s body was not absolute. Every once and awhile she saw the girl peering out of those big blue eyes.

“Think they found one?” Stark asked.

“Or made
one,” Etzli murmured. Phasmagi were closely related to necromancers, which was why most had been killed. Etzli wondered if The Summoner’s little experiment with Amaliya and Bianca had resulted somehow in creating a phasmagus. “Follow his research carefully. Find out what you can about this possible phasmagus.”

“What about a phasmagus?”

Bianca’s voice was delicate and sweet, but coupled with the cold, deadly look in her blue eyes it was a terrifying sound. The Summoner stood in the doorway of the mansion. Bianca’s delicate form was dressed in a long black lace dress and her blonde hair was twisted up onto her head with rhinestone clips securing it.

“Tell him,” Etzli ordered Stark.

The young man wilted under the gaze of The Summoner and swallowed several times before recounting what he’d discovered in a raspy, frightened voice. As he spoke, Bianca’s pink lips gradually turned upward.

“Well, I guess our friends in Austin aren’t so uninteresting after all,” The Summoner said with delight. “And here I thought we’d have a dull time of it until I call Amaliya to my side.”

“Why don’t we just let the mice run on their wheel and ignore them?” Etzli suggested. As the words left her lips, she knew he’d disregard her completely. He loved to play with people’s lives. It amused him. Even his plan to rip the veil between the world of the living and the abyss was just one grand game.

“If there is a phasmagus among them, it could prove to be interesting,” The Summoner answered, dismissing her outright. “Keep me informed of all you discover.”

“We should concentrate on the rings and the temple.” Etzli slid off the divan and strode toward The Summoner. “Distractions will slow down our progress.”

The smirk on Bianca’s face angered Etzli. The Summoner had grandiose ideas, but tended to be easily distracted. She supposed it was a product of his ancient age. He constantly complained about boredom. The possibility of a phasmagus coming into existence was irresistible to him.

“We know where the temple is. Many of the rings are already en route. The Assembly continues to uncover the rest for us. And we have a long wait until December.” The Summoner tilted Bianca’s head and feigned a yawn. “I enjoy my distractions.”

Trish, Stark, and Gregorio were perfectly still and quiet, obviously unnerved by the growing tension between Etzli and The Summoner. Etzli believed in The Summoner’s quest to plunge the world into darkness, but his methods were infuriating at times. Yet, she loved him and his power. She was proud, but not foolish enough to defy him. He was a god after all.

Etzli bowed her head, her long dark hair slipping over one shoulder. “Your desires are my desires.”

Bianca’s hand was soft and gentle against her cheek. “Of course, they are.”

 

 

 

Part Two

Hard Lessons

 

 

 

Chapter 7

 

August 2012

 

Samantha sighed as Jeff finished dressing. She didn’t want him to leave, but knew he had his duties he needed to fulfill. At least he was trying very hard to make time for her and their relationship. After he’d closed the bookstore, he’d taken her out for hamburgers at Phil’s Icehouse, then home for a few hours of cuddles and lovemaking.

With a slight pout, she traced her fingertips over the blue tattoo that adorned his right shoulder blade just before he tugged his t-shirt down.

“You’re such a geek,” Samantha teased.

“I like Dr. Who,” Jeff said, defending his TARDIS tattoo.

“You’d be a sexy Dr. Who.”

“He’s just the Doctor, remember? That’s the joke?” Jeff put on a terrible English accent. “‘I’m the Doctor.’ “Doctor who?’ ‘Just the Doctor.’ That’s the running joke.”

“Whatever. You’re like the tenth Doctor with his awesome hair.” Samantha ran her fingers through Jeff’s brown hair making it stick up in the way she liked. Samantha watched the show to make Jeff happy, though she did enjoy it more than she had anticipated.

Jeff made a face, but endured it. “You only love me because I have great hair.”

“I love you because you’re adorable.” Samantha kissed him lightly on the lips. They were both a little damp from their shower and he tasted like clean water.

Playing with the blonde tendrils falling over her brow, Jeff sighed. “I wish I didn’t have all these Skype calls tonight, but time zones are a bitch. Plus Aimee and Cass are picking up Baptiste and bringing him to the store. I really need to get him up to speed.”

“Well, at least he’s finally here.”

Sharing a few more sweet kisses, the couple ignored the yowling of the cat outside the bedroom door. Beatrice was not pleased at being banned from the room during Jeff’s visits. Her small paws slid under the bottom of the door while she continued to protest loudly.

Samantha reluctantly let Jeff slip out of her arms and watched with amusement as he let the cat in. Beatrice haughtily strode past him, flicking her tail with disapproval in his direction.

“Go ahead and stay in here by yourself, bitchy kitty,” Samantha said to the cat as Beatrice jumped onto the unmade bed.

Beatrice settled onto one of the pillows, yawned, and turned her face away, as if dismissing the two humans.

“That’s why I don’t have cats. They’re assholes,” Jeff said, and ducked so he wouldn’t get smacked by his girlfriend.

“She’s just moody! She doesn’t like being excluded.”

“Like someone I know,” Jeff continued to tease while hurrying down the hallway.

Following Jeff to the kitchen, Samantha couldn’t help but admire his rear. She found it insanely sexy in his cargo shorts. Jeff’s broad shoulders were also very alluring as far as she was concerned. Beneath his blue shirt which read “The Doctor Will Save Us,” Jeff had some very nice muscles. The more she fell for him, the more attractive he became in her eyes. Someone had made a snide comment to her once about him missing one of his legs, and she had torn them a new one. Jeff was all man as far as she was concerned. It didn’t diminish him as a person that he had lost a limb. He’d once shown her all the different prosthetic devices he’d worn over the years. The little toddler ones had broken her heart. Today he was wearing a prosthetic leg that looked like it belonged on a robot, but it was the one that gave him the most movement.

“I would totally go sit in on your boring phone calls if I didn’t have to study,” Samantha answered grumpily. She was still getting used to being a phasmagus and what it meant for her life. At least she had Jeff and the others to help her through.

“You haven’t seen any more of the ghostly victims, have you?”

“You mean the women Eduardo is killing?” Samantha answered grumpily.

“We have no proof,” Jeff said, sighing.

“I haven’t seen any others,” Samantha said with a pout. “I still think it’s creepy, the one who showed up at the store. Maybe Eduardo killed her there.”

Casting a startled look at her, Jeff hesitated in his steps.

“Just a thought,” she said.

“A disturbing one.”

“That’s how our life rolls, huh?” Samantha said.

“Yeah, sadly.”

The continuous whir of the air conditioning made Samantha sigh. The hot weather was going to wreck her budget. The electric bill was going to be enormous with the triple digit weather Austin was experiencing, but the utility bill was the least of her worries with all the bad guys lurking out in the world.

After claiming a bottle of water from the refrigerator, Jeff collected his wallet and keys. “Call me later, okay? I want to make sure everything went okay tonight.”

“Don’t worry about me. I’m a bad ass,” Samantha assured him. Clad in a summer dress adorned with bright red flowers she didn’t look dangerous, but Samantha knew she was more than capable of handling herself.

“Well, you do own a pink Glock.”

“Uh huh.” She tilted her head to catch his kiss on her lips. “I’m dangerous.”

“And I love it,” Jeff whispered, his grin affectionate.

Walking with him to the front door, Samantha held onto his hand, reluctant to let him leave. Every day she spent with Jeff was another day of her falling more deeply in love with him. He was funny, smart, and the nicest person she’d ever known. His quiet strength and support of what she was going through only made her love him all the more.

“I’ll be the best phasmagus that ever existed in no time at all,” she said confidently.

Jeff grinned at her, pressed a kiss to her cheek, and opened the front door.

Benchley and Alexia stood on the stoop ready to knock. The sky was darkening behind the siblings, stars dotting the indigo. The gentle buzz of the cicadas in the trees always made Samantha think of peaceful summer evenings on the porch of her childhood home. She longed to curl up on her porch swing with Jeff and enjoy the last bit of the sunset. However, she knew the night was the most dangerous time now for all of them.

“Hey, Shark Boy!” Samantha waved, trying to keep herself lighthearted despite the fear she felt slowly blooming inside of her. Using her powers was always a bit unnerving. “Hi, Lex.”

“Ready to teach my girlfriend how to kick ass and take names?” Jeff asked his friends.

Benchley’s round cheeks reddened. “Uh, sure, but only if she wears a super heroine costume.”

“Sexist,” Alexia growled, shoving her brother into the house. “We’ve got it covered. No worries, Jeff.”

Samantha gently pushed Jeff out the door. “Go do what you have to do. I’ll be good and train.”

“I just feel like I’m leaving you defenseless,” Jeff said, sighing.

“I’m fine,” she answered. “The ward is up and holding.”

Jeff looked upward, but she knew he couldn’t see the transparent dome that encapsulated her house. It resembled a soap bubble, the colors of the rainbow sliding over its surface as the light caught it. Aimee had set a ward over the house right after the battle with The Summoner and Samantha had worried that the neighbors would freak out at the sight of the magical barrier. It had taken her a few days to realize that regular humans couldn’t see it.

“It’s been too quiet since that night in the graveyard,” Jeff said finally.

“Don’t jinx us,” Samantha chided.

“Right. I’ll shut up now. Love you.” Jeff pressed one last kiss to her lips then hurried to his beat-up Land Rover.

Samantha waved until he drove off, then stepped back into the house. Benchley was already rummaging around in her kitchen for snack food while Alexia hooked up a laptop to Samantha’s television.

“I got this whole presentation ready for you to watch,” the diminutive young woman said from behind the flat screen. “It’s going to rock. Benchley figured out some exercises for you to do to develop your abilities.”

Flopping onto the sofa, Samantha propped her bare feet on the coffee table. “Teach me, oh wise one.”

Benchley appeared with a bag of chips. “It’s really cool. We got some scans of an old journal from a hunter in France. Real rare stuff.” He shoved some of the crispy snacks into his mouth and settled onto the sofa beside Samantha. “You can do some seriously cool shit.”

“Bring it. Let’s do this.” Samantha really hoped their presentation would help her focus her abilities. She was now acclimated to seeing ghosts around Austin, but wasn’t too sure what else she could do. Amaliya and Samantha had experimented a bit on their own. They’d figured out that Samantha could definitely enhance Amaliya’s abilities, but they weren’t too sure if it could work in the reverse.

Alexia
finished and sat cross-legged on the floor next to a laptop adorned with stickers of obscure bands and a vampire version of Hello Kitty. “Okay, so being a phasmagus is different from being a medium, because you not only see ghosts and talk to them, but you can make them physical creatures.”

“Right,” Samantha said, nodding.

“You can get the dead peeps to do your will and help you out. You have an auto-connection to the dead,” Alexia continued.

Samantha watched the various sketches and paintings of
phasmagi with ghosts swirling around the lone figures. “Hey, those are all dudes.”

“Well, you know, if a woman did this kind of thing...” Benchley made motions that took a moment for Samantha to decipher.

“They blew bubbles?”

“They were drowned,” Alexia interpreted her brother’s very bad pantomime.

“Or burned at the stake,” Benchley said around a mouthful of chips.

Alexia scowled. “Because having breasts and a vagina is so scary to certain men.”

“Not me! I love them,” her brother said defensively.

Samantha raised her eyebrows.

“Well, not Alexia’s! Eww.”

“But mine are okay?”

Benchley crammed more food into his mouth. He was still smarting over Jeff and her officially being a couple. While Samantha usually found his crush cute and not annoying, if he kept being an idiot, they were going to have words.

“Bench, stop being a wanker and shut up. Giving a lesson here. Stop hitting on Samantha. So...anyway...according to the etchings we acquired a phasmagus could even use spirits to transport themselves.”

Staring at the image on the screen, Samantha widened her eyes. “I can fly?”

“Well, not sure if you can actually fly, or if a ghost is carrying the phasmagus and is invisible,” Benchley said.

“That painting makes it look like I can totally fly!” The idea definitely had its appeal.

“It kinda does,” Benchley agreed. “You could like wear a Supergirl outfit and-”

Samantha hit him. “Shut up.”

Alexia tugged on the strings of her hoodie while frowning at them. “C’mon, you two. I worked hard on this!”

Samantha focused on the screen and the image of a phasmagus ordering ghosts into battle. “I’m paying attention.”

“So, just like The Summoner, there was a phasmagus who could create entire armies of ghosts and send them against his enemies. If a ghost is angry with the person they’re attacking, it makes them stronger and even more effective. That’s why the vampires tried
to get rid of all the phasmagi. Imagine all the ghosts of your victims going after you.” Alexia pulled her hood onto her head, still tugging on the strings. She was obviously nervous.

“Wow.” Samantha could easily imagine how terrifying that would be for vampires. Amaliya had told her all about how she’d raised the dead at Santos’s mansion. Those were only the victims he’d been dumb enough to bury around his home. Add in hundreds of years of killing, an army
of angry, powerful ghosts, and it wasn’t hard to see that the vampire would end up so much mush.

“According to the journal of this hunter, the phasmagus could pull ghosts from all over the world,” Benchley added. “He could just open portals and suck them through.”

“That’s hardcore,” Samantha said in awe. “So, what happened to this phasmagus?”

Alexia’s voice was barely audible. “He was killed.”

“Who killed this phasmagus?” Samantha asked, dreading the answer.

Alexia lowered her head, her hoodie hiding it entirely.

“Well?” Samantha glowered at Benchley.

“Uh, The Summoner,” Benchley muttered.

It made sense. The Summoner wouldn’t want a phasmagus that powerful to live. Considering how many people he’d killed, and his abuse of their bodies, it would be his worst enemy. Samantha felt the sick feeling in her stomach intensifying.

Beatrice skidded down the hallway and with a yowl launched herself onto the back of the sofa. Pushing her head through the slit in the curtains, the cat began to angrily meow.

“Uh, that’s not good,” Benchley muttered.

“He doesn’t know about me, right?” Samantha whispered. “Right?” She ransacked her memories of the night in the Fenton graveyard. Had she done anything remarkable? Well, Amaliya had dragged her through the ground to her side, but that wasn’t Samantha’s powers showing. Or was it?

Back arched, hissing loudly, Beatrice continued to make her unhappiness known.

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