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Wicked Heat: Book 1 (Lick of Fire) by Mila Young, T.F. Walsh (1)

1

“Hello? Mars to Sephy?” Misty’s southern drawl sliced through my thoughts, and I refocused on her.

“You’ve been sitting there for ages staring into space. Are you doing my reading or are you having an episode?” She chewed on gum, her exaggerated blinking accompanying her tapping fingernails on the table between us.

Maybe she was used to seeing people high on drugs or having so-called “episodes.” My life was shitty enough to know everyone had skeletons in their closet. So, I simply smiled at Misty. You’d be surprised how often such gestures calmed people. She’d hired me after one of my regulars had spoken highly of my services. This was the first time I’d been booked to tell her future. But the least she could have done was open a window or switch on the fan. I was sweating up a storm sitting in her trailer and the lack of ventilation made it damn hard to concentrate.

She smacked her lips with gum, and I wiped away the perspiration rolling down my neck. My attention drifted to the pile of unwashed dishes in the sink and the browning curtain. I oughtn’t to have judged since I still had a stack of unwashed bowls back home too. Part of me wished my roomie would get sick of seeing them and wash them. Instead, she added to the pile.

The microwave sitting on the fridge flickered 1:06 p.m., reminding me I had to pay my landlord by the end of the day when I got home too.

My grip tightened around the handful of tiny chicken bones, and I pushed aside all thoughts and took a deep inhale.

With my free hand, I grabbed the bottle and poured a shot of clear rum into a glass. A libation for our ancestors to help me see the future. I then ran my fingers over the spiritual necklace I wore everywhere, the onyx beads always cold under my touch. Powerful protection stones, they absorbed negative energy, and I wore them so spirits could tap into the power to take form if needed for communicating with me.

Cupping the bones in both hands, I lifted them to my mouth and blew over them, blanketing them in my energy.

A shiver zipped up and over my head as if someone had breathed over my nape. That happened sometimes, so I wasn’t freaking out. I rolled my shoulders and looked back to find an empty hallway leading to a bedroom. Shaking it off, I dropped the bones into the wicker tray. The finger-length bones tumbled across the flat surface. Each sported writings and runes, and interpretation came down to where they landed. I spun the plate so the directional rock in the tray faced north.

Misty leaned closer, her eyes bulging. “What do them bones say? Am I pregnant with a werewolf baby? And where’d the bastard run off to? I used them store-bought tests, but I heard shifter pregnancies don’t show up on them. I’d go to hospital, but I don’t wanna lose my home, you know.”

Of course, if Misty carried a shifter baby, she’d gain no help at the hospital, as their kind were regarded as a lower cast. Shifters were prohibited from owning property in cities or towns near humans, so if she carried one’s baby, she’d lose everything. Yeah, we lived in a shit-hole world, and most who weren’t humans stayed in rural areas.

An exhale floated across my left ear and with it came a faint voice. But there was still no one behind me, and I ruffled my hair, covering my ear.

Misty blew another bubble, grabbing my attention. Maybe it was the heat but concentrating seemed a chore.

Okay, focus. Most bones lay scattered around the edges, but one had landed dead center. A circle was carved into its side. “This one”—I pointed to the culprit—“is the moon. A fertility issue, and because it’s sitting at the middle, this represents the main problem in your life. Sorry, Misty.” I softened my voice, hating to deliver bad news, but she’d asked this specific question. “You’re not pregnant,” I finally said.

With the way she slouched back in her chair, a smile splitting her mouth, I guessed she’d gotten the result she’d wanted.

“You sure ’bout this?” She scratched her head, messing up her tight ponytail.

“The bones are pretty accurate.”

There was a mumbled whisper in my other ear, and I turned around. Nothing.

“You all right?” Misty gawked at me like she’d seen a ghost.

“Yeah, just sensing something else.”

Her mouth dropped open. “God, there’s a ghost in my home?” Misty pressed her stomach against the table, studying me as if I were a bug under a microscope. I hated when people looked at me that way.

The grumbles grew louder, clearer.

Persephone, a female voice whispered.

I stiffened. Last time I’d been called that, I’d been thirteen and gotten booted out of my foster home after I’d admitted to speaking to spirits and suggested they check the local sheriff’s cellar. No one had listened, so I’d done it myself and found two shifters he’d chained up and beaten for hell knows what reason. No one had wanted to admit the truth, so a week later, my foster family had had me moved to another home and town. They loathed what they didn’t understand. I’d changed my name to “Sephy” and moved to Evangel, a new city in Mississippi.

Twisting in my seat, I studied the space between me and the window, the air rippling and quivering like a scorching summer’s day. I perched on the edge of my seat. Seeing a new spirit always excited me because I had no idea what to expect. The majority of the time, ghosts that came through simply offered messages to their loved ones.

Now, a figure formed before my eyes. Translucent, yet clear as day, a woman wearing a cape, the fabric cinched in at the waist with a red sash. Beneath, a green floral skirt sashayed outward with each step she took as she paced across the small trailer.

“Umm, Misty, has your mom passed?” I asked without taking my attention off the spirit. Usually when they appeared, they hovered in one spot, lingering near the client. But this one reminded me of a trapped lion. Traipsing back and forth, eager for escape.

“That cow?” Misty blurted out, and I flinched at her sudden outburst. “Hell, wish she was dead, but she’s too busy peddling smack to kids downtown and making a fortune. Saw her this morning and the redheaded devil begged me to join her. Can you believe?”

I nodded, still concentrating on the woman with long, flowing chestnut hair. She had no shoes and blood dripped from her hands, leaving a trail of splattered drops in her wake.

“Who are you?” I turned in my chair to face the newcomer more directly.

“What?” Misty asked.

I lifted my palm for her to hold that thought.

In a flash, the spirit swished closer, and a flutter of wind brushed through my hair.

“Shit! What was that?” Misty was out of her seat and backing into the corner, her eyes flicking left and right.

I climbed to my feet. Always stand up to the supernatural—don’t feed them fear. “What do you want?” I raised my voice. Already a fiery surge danced across my palms.

My dear, you don’t know me, but you are part of me.

I stared into familiar green eyes with golden flecks. They seemed familiar because I looked into them every day in the mirror. I swallowed hard. My parents had dumped me on the side of a road on my third birthday like they would have done to an unwanted pet. A family had found me only wearing a dress. Or so I was told. Someone had scribbled my name across my chest in a marker and cigarette burn marks riddled down my arms. I’d long covered them with ink, concealing my ugly past. And that was it would remain. A distant memory I had no intention of resurrecting now or ever.

I studied the woman who looked too much like me with her high cheekbones, her porcelain skin—even the slight gap between her two front teeth matched mine. A bubbling emotion coiled tight in my chest and could have sworn someone had punched me in the heart.

“Mom?” The word shook on the way out because I’d hosted dozens of séances to connect with my parents, thinking if they were dead, I’d call them, but they never came. I craved revenge and yearned to make them cry, and mostly, I had to find out why I could manifest fire.

Misty’s yelling in the background faded as my pulse increased, thumping like tribal drums in my ears.

The spirit nodded, and my mouth parched as question after question shoved to the front of my mind. I’d run through this scenario hundreds of times, thinking of the exact grilling I’d give her, but now standing near my mom—a stranger, really—my mind went blank, barren. I felt like a child again.

“Why?” was all that came out, but she hushed me with a finger across her mouth, and I silenced. But no one had power over me, and definitely not my dead mother. Fuck, she’d lost that privilege long ago.

Spirits can’t cross over. They’re stuck.

I froze, trying to make sense of her words. “What are you talking about?”

Death is rising and coming for you, my child.

“I’m not your child. Wait! Death? Like getting hit by a bus and dying? But why should I believe anything you say? Why did you abandon me? That’s the real question here.”

My mother shook her head, her hoop earrings swinging about.

Misty patted my arm. “Sephy, are you seeing my death? Oh my God, please tell me how so I can stop it. I’m too young and still want to have kids.” She was crying in her hands.

Everything was happening too fast, and I couldn’t keep up. Dread sat on my chest, making breathing impossible. I turned to comfort Misty and explain this was about me. But Mom’s hand smacked down on my shoulder, and I shuddered from the iciness of her touch.

She wrenched me forward with such strength, I stumbled. The momentum hurled me into the kitchen, and I slammed against the fridge, face-first. My vision blurred as sharpness struck across the bridge of my nose. I gasped for each breath, and fear contorted in my gut. The coppery tang of blood sat at the back of my throat.

Fingers gripped the back of my neck with such force, I cried out from the sheer agony. Spirits sometimes took solid form, but it was rare, as they needed energy for magic from a human. It had to be the power in my necklace.

I clenched my fists and swung them over my shoulders, but they hit nothing. Slowly, my brain caught up with reality. My mom was trying to kill me. I felt hopeless. Just as I must have been as a child. But I promised myself to never let anyone abuse me again. Fire sparked across my hands, burning across my flesh.

“Sephy!” Misty screamed my name over and over. “What’s happening?”

Lifted off the ground, my feet dangled over the linoleum. I writhed for leverage, but I couldn’t move or lift my arms. I was stuck midair inside an invisible straitjacket. My pulse skyrocketed, and I pictured myself dying this way. Found by the police as a disfigured corpse with my mouth in an angled O-shape and my eyes wide open.

Mom floated beside me, inches from in my face, her brows knitted.

Listen, child. A growl followed each word. Magic makes you vulnerable; stop using it. He’s coming for you.

And in a puff of electrical energy zapping across my skin, the grip on my neck eased. Mom sparked into a dusty cloud and vanished all in the time I’d taken to hit the ground. My fiery hands fizzled.

But my knees gave way, and I landed on my ass, my legs sprawled out in front of me. Goddamn son of a bitch.

I gasped for air, shaken, uncertain of what had just happened.

Misty was at my side, prodding my arm, her words a buzzing gnat.

But the only message reaching my brain was my mom’s warning of death, and if there was one thing I knew without a shadow of a doubt, it was that human spirits couldn’t lie.

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