A Perfect Blood
The woman across from me barely sniffed when I slammed the pen down on the counter. She didn’t care that I was furious, that I’d been standing in this stupid line for over an hour, that I couldn’t get my license renewed or my car registered in my name. I was tired of doing everything through Jenks or Ivy, but demon wasn’t a species option on the form. Friday morning at the DMV office. God! What had I been thinking?
“Look,” I said, waving a faded photocopied piece of paper. “I have my birth certificate, my high school diploma, my old license, and a library card. I’m standing right in front of you. I am a person, and I need a new driver’s license and my car registered!”
The woman gestured for the next guy in line, her bedraggled graying hair and lack of makeup only adding to her bored disinterest. I glared at the tidy Were in a business suit who had moved to stand too close behind me, and nervous, he dropped back.
The clerk looked at me over her glasses and sucked at her teeth. “I’m sorry,” she finally said, tapping at her keyboard and bringing up a new screen. “You’re not in the system under witch or even other.” She squinted at me. “You’re listed as dead. You’re not dead, are you?”
Crap on toast, can this get any worse? Frustrated, I tugged my shoulder bag up higher. “No, but can I get a dead-vamp sticker and get on with my life?” I asked, and the Were behind me cleared his throat impatiently.
She pushed her thick glasses back where they belonged. “Are you a vampire?” she asked dryly, and I slumped.
No, I was obviously not a vampire. From all accounts, I looked like a witch. Long, frizzy red hair; average build; average height; with a propensity for wearing leather when the situation demanded it and sometimes when it didn’t. Until a few months ago I’d called myself a witch, too, but when the choice was between becoming a lobotomized witch or a free demon . . . I took the demon status. I didn’t know they were going to take everything else, too. Demons were legal nonentities on this side of the ley lines. God help me if I should land in jail for jaywalking—I apparently had fewer rights than a pixy, and I was tired of it.
“I can’t help you, Ms. Morgan,” the woman said, beckoning the man behind me forward, and he shoved me aside as he handed her his form and old driver’s license.
“Please!” I said as she ignored me, leaning toward her screen. Beside me, the man grew nervous, the spicy scent of agitated Were rising up.
“I just bought the car,” I said, but it was obvious this date was over. “I need to get it registered. And my license renewed. I gotta drive home!”
I didn’t—I had Wayde for that—but the lie wouldn’t hurt anyone.
The woman eyed me with a bored expression as the man took a mo- ment to write his check. “You are listed as dead, Ms. Morgan. You need to go down to the social security office and straighten it out there. I can’t help you here.”
“I tried that.” My teeth clenched, and the man in front of the counter fidgeted as we both vied for the scrap of worn carpet. “They told me I needed a valid driver’s license from you, a certified copy of life from my insurance company, and a court-documented form of species status before they’d even talk to me, and the courts won’t let me make an appointment because I’m listed as dead!” I was shouting, and I lowered my voice.
“I can’t help you,” she said as the man pushed me out of his space. “Come back when you have the right forms.”
Shoved to the side, I closed my eyes and counted to ten, very conscious of Wayde sitting in one of the faded orange plastic chairs under the windows as he waited for me to realize the inevitable. The twentysomething Were was one of Takata’s security people, having more muscles than tat- toos showing from around his casual jeans and black T-shirt, and the small, stocky man had a lot of tattoos. He’d shown up on my doorstep the last week of July, moving into the belfry despite my protests, a “birthday gift” from my mom and birth father/pop-star dad. Apparently they didn’t think I could keep myself safe anymore—which bothered me a lot. Sort of. Wayde had been on my mom’s payroll for nearly four months, and the anger had dulled.
My eyes opened, and seeing that I was still in this nightmare, I gave up. Head down, I gripped my birth certificate tighter and stomped to the bank of orange plastic chairs. Sure enough, Wayde was carefully staring at the ceiling, his feet spread wide and his arms over his chest as he snapped his gum and waited. He looked like a biker dude with his short, carefully trimmed orange-red beard and no mustache. Wayde hadn’t told me this was a lost cause, but his opinion was obvious. The man got paid whether he was playing chauffeur for me or camped out in the church’s belfry talking to the pixies.
Seeing me approach, Wayde smiled infuriatingly, his biceps bulging as his arms crossed over his wide chest. “No good?” he asked in his Midwestern accent, as if he hadn’t heard the entire painful conversation.
Silent, I fumed as I wondered how the woman could treat me like I was just some jerk-ass nobody. I was a demon, damn it! I could flatten this place with one curse, burn it to nothing, give her warts or turn her dog inside out. If . . .
Hands clenched in fists, I gazed at the decorative band of charmed silver on my wrist, glinting in the electric light like a pretty bauble. If . . . If I hadn’t wanted to cut off all contact with my adopted kin. If I wasn’t such a good person to begin with. If I wanted to act like a demon in truth. I’d devoted my life to fighting injustice, and being jerked around like this wasn’t fair! But no one messes with a civil servant. Not even a demon.
“No good,” I echoed him as I tried and failed to get rid of my tension. Wayde took a deep breath as he stood. He was small for a man, but big for a Were, coming to my five foot eight exactly, with a thin waist, wide shoulders, and small feet. I hadn’t seen him as a wolf yet, but I bet he made a big one.
“You mind driving home?” I asked, handing him my keys. Crap, I’d had them in my hand for only the hour it had taken to get to the front of the line. I’d never get to drive my car legally.
Introspective, Wayde fingered the lucky rabbit’s foot key chain, the metal clinking softly. There wasn’t much on it these days—just the key to a car I couldn’t drive and the key to Ivy’s lockbox. “I’m sorry, Rachel,” he said, and I looked up at his low, sincere voice. “Maybe your dad can fix something.”
I knew he meant Takata, not the man who had actually raised me, and I grimaced. I was tired of going to other people for help. Hands in the pockets of my little red leather jacket, I turned to the door, and Wayde slipped ahead of me to open the milky glass. I’d get the car registered to Jenks tomorrow. Maybe Glenn could help get my license pushed through— they liked me down there at the human-run Federal Inderland Bureau.
“Ms. Morgan?” crackled and popped over the ancient PA, and I turned, a stab of hope rising in me even as I wondered at the hint of worry in the woman’s voice. “Please come to window G.”
I glanced at Wayde, who’d frozen with his hand on the door. His brown eyes were scanning the room behind me, and his usually easygoing expression was professionally wary. The switch surprised me. I hadn’t seen it before, but then, it had been pretty quiet around the church since I’d officially switched my species to demon. Very few people knew the band of silver around my wrist truncated about half my magic arsenal. It was basi- cally a Möbius strip, the charm’s invocation phrase never ending, never beginning, holding the spell, and therefore me, in an in-between space where it was real yet not completely invoked and barred any contact with the demon collective. Long story short, it hid me from demons. My inability to do ley-line magic was an unfortunate side effect.
“Ms. Morgan, window G?” the worried voice came again.
We turned our backs on the bright, windy day beyond the cloudy glass. “Maybe they found another form,” I said, and Wayde slid into my personal space, making me stifle a shiver.
“If you’d give the I.S. and the FIB the lists they want, you’d get your citizenship faster,” he said, and I frowned. This didn’t feel good. There was way too much whispering behind the counter among the no-longer-bored clerks. People were looking at us, and not in a good way.
“I’m not going to write out every single demon curse so they can decide which ones are legal and which ones aren’t,” I said as I found the hand-lettered, dilapidated G hanging over a small window at the end of the room. “Talk about a waste of time.”
“And this morning wasn’t?” he asked dryly.
I ignored that, hopeful as I approached the woman waiting for me. She was dressed like a supervisor, and the flush on her face ratcheted my worry tighter. “Ah, I’m Rachel Morgan,” I said, but she was already lifting the counter to let me into the back area.
Eyes bright, she glanced at Wayde. “If you could come with me, Ms. Morgan. Both of you, if you like. Someone would like to speak to you.”
“If it’s about—” I started.
“Just please come back,” she said, standing aside and ushering me through in excitement.
My gut tightened, but I wasn’t helpless, even lacking half my magic, and Wayde was with me. Again my eyes touched on the band of charmed silver. I didn’t like being without ley-line magic, but I’d rather that than the demons knowing I was alive. I’d made a few mistakes during the last year, the least of which had caused a leak in the ever-after. The entire alternate reality was shrinking, and as soon as the demons realized it, they’d probably take turns at me.
The woman sighed in relief as she closed the partition behind us, her low heels clacking fast as she led us to the back offices. An elated, frazzled living vampire in a black dress suit sat behind a cluttered desk in one, her face flushed and her eyes bright. She was young, professional, and probably bored out of her mind with working in an office day in and day out if the photos of her skydiving and running zip lines that were posted to her three-by-two calendar on the wall meant anything. Her office was over- flowing with stacked folders and files in a weird mix of organized clutter. She probably took on more than she could handle. Trying to prove herself at the office, maybe as she clearly liked doing on her weekends?
I’d guess her human heritage was Hispanic, with her long dark hair pulled back in a simple clip and her dusky complexion, dark eyes, oval face, very red lips, white teeth, and pretty eyelashes. Her fingers tucking in her blah-brown blouse were long and slender, her nails painted a dull red. I could sense her confidence as she looked up at our entrance, a strong thread of self that ran through her. She was a living vampire, but clearly not high on her master’s favorites list. I thought it odd that the more favored a living vampire was, the more emotionally damaged she was. This woman was clearly one of the forgotten. Lucky her. Being forgotten meant you lived longer, and having been forgotten, she’d probably lack most of the darker abilities that Ivy, my roommate, had developed in order to survive.
“Nina,” the supervisor said, and the young woman stood, by all appearances not interested in me as she stacked the papers on her desk in a vain attempt to tidy up. “This is Ms. Morgan, and, ah . . .”
Wayde stepped into the hesitation, extending his hand as he moved both of us into the small, cluttered room. “Mr. Benson,” the Were said. “I’m Ms. Morgan’s security. Pleasure to meet you, Ms. Ninotchka Romana Ledesma.”
The elaborate name rolled off his lips as if he’d grown up in the south of Spain, and surprised, I looked at the nameplate on the desk and decided I’d stick to Nina.
Nina blinked, her gaze going from him to me as if seeing me for the first time. “Ah, good to meet you,” she said as she confidently shook Wayde’s hand. She turned to me, hesitating as she saw my hands deep in the pockets of my red coat. “Sit if you want.”
I glanced at Wayde. Nina was excited, yes, but not about us. Was some- one else coming? I thought, looking at the only open chair in the cramped office.
“Uh,” I started, blinking when Nina shifted her bra strap and took a peek down to make sure everything was where it was supposed to be. “Do we need another chair?”
“No,” she said abruptly as the woman who had brought us back here left, closing the door behind her. “Unless your security wants one. But don’t they usually stand?”
“I’m fine,” Wayde said as he took up a position just inside the closed door. “Ma’am, just what is it you want with Ms. Morgan?”
[. . .]
To see the rest of chapter one, two, three, and four, go to Harper's blog. Sneak Peek