"Using magic, meant it used you back. Forget the fairytale hocus pocus, sparkles and pixie dust crap. Magic, like booze, sex, and drugs, gave as good as it got"
Everything has a cost. And every act of magic exacts a price from its user, maybe a two-day migraine, or losing the memory of your first kiss. But some people want to use magic without paying and they Offload the cost onto innocents. When that happens, it falls to a Hound to identify the spell's caster - and Allie Beckstrom is the best there is.
Daughter of a prominent Portland businessman, Allie would rather moonlight as a Hound than accept the family fortune - and the strings that come with it. But when she discovers a little boy dying from a magic Offload that has her father's signature all over it, Allie is thrown into the high stakes world of corporate espionage and black magic . . .
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It was the morning of my twenty-ﬁfth birthday, and
all I wanted was a decent cup of coffee, a hot breakfast, and a couple hours away from the stink of used
magic that seeped through the walls of my apartment
building every time it rained.
My current fortune of ten bucks wasn’t going to get
me that hot breakfast, but it was going to buy a good
dark Kenya roast and maybe a mufﬁn down at Get
Mugged. What more could a girl ask for?
I took a quick shower, pulled on jeans, a black tank
top, and boots. I brushed my dark hair back and
tucked it behind my ears, hoping for the short, wet,
sexy look. I didn’t bother with makeup. Being six foot
tall and the daughter of one of the most notorious
businessmen in town got me enough attention. So did
my pale green eyes, athletic build, and the family
knack for coercion.
I pulled on my jacket, careful not to jostle my left
shoulder too much. The scars across my deltoid still
hurt, even though it had been three months since the
creep with the knife jumped me. I had known the
scars might be permanent, but I didn’t know they
would hurt so much every time it rained. Blood magic, when improperly wielded by an uneducated street hustler, was a pain that just kept on giving. Lucky me.
One of these days, when my student loans were paid
off and I’d dug my credit rating out of the toilet, I’d
be able to turn down cheap Hounding jobs that involved back-alley drug deals and black-market revenge spells. Hell, maybe I’d even have enough money to afford a cell phone again.
I patted my pocket to make sure the small, leather-bound book and pen were there. I didn’t go anywhere
without those two things. I couldn’t. Not if I wanted
to remember who I was when things went bad. And
things seemed to be going bad a lot lately.
I made it as far as the door. The phone rang. I
paused, trying to decide if I should answer it. The
phone had come with the apartment, and like the
apartment it was as low-tech as legally allowed, which
meant there was no caller ID.
It could be my dad—or more likely his secretary of
the month—delivering the obligatory annual birthday
lecture. It could be my friend Nola, if she had left her
farm and gone into town to use a pay phone. It could
be my landlord asking for the rent I hadn’t paid. Or
it could be a Hounding job.
I let go of the doorknob and walked over to the
phone. Let the happy news begin.
‘‘Allie girl?’’ It was Mama Rossitto, from the worst
part of North Portland. Her voice sounded ﬂat and
fuzzy, broken up by the cheap landline. Ever since I
did a couple Hounding jobs for Mama a few months
ago, she treated me like I was the only person in the
city who could trace a line of magic back to its user
‘‘Yes, Mama, it’s me.’’
‘‘You ﬁx. You ﬁx for us.’’
‘‘Can it wait? I was headed to breakfast.’’
‘‘You come now. Right now.’’ Mama’s voice had a
pitch in it that had nothing to do with the bad connection. She sounded panicked. Angry. ‘‘Boy is hurt. Come now.’’
The phone clacked down, but must not have hit the
cradle. I heard the clash of dishes pushed into the
sink, the sputter of a burner snapping to life, then
Mama’s voice, farther off, shouting to one of her many
sons—half of whom were runaways she’d taken in, all
of whom answered to the name Boy.
I heard something else too, a high, light whistle like
a string buzzing in the wind, softer than a wheezy
newborn. I’d heard that sound before. I tried to place
it, but found holes where my memory should be.
Using magic meant it used you back. Forget the
fairy-tale hocus-pocus, wave a wand and bling-o, sparkles and pixie dust crap. Magic, like booze, sex, and
drugs, gave as good as it got. But unlike booze and
the rest, magic could do incredible good. In the right
hands, used the right way, it could save lives, ease
pain, and streamline the complexities of the modern
world. Magic was revolutionary, like electricity, penicillin, and plastic, and in the thirty years since it had
been discovered and made accessible to the general
public, magic had done a lot of good.
At ﬁrst, everyone wanted a piece of it—magically
enhanced food, fashion, entertainment, sex. And then
the reality of such use set in. Magic always takes its
due from the user, and the price is always pain. It
didn’t take people long to ﬁgure out how to transfer
that pain to someone else, though.
Laws were put in place to regulate who could access
the magic, and how and why. But there weren’t
enough police to keep up with stolen cars and murders
in the city, much less the misuse of a force no one
Things went downhill fast, and as far as I can tell,
they stayed there.
But while magic made the average Joe pay one
painful price each time he used it, sometimes magic
double dipped on me. I’d get the expected migraine,
ﬂu, roaring fever, or whatever, and then, just for fun,
magic would kick a few holes in my memories. It
didn’t happen every time, and it didn’t happen in any
pattern or for any reason I could fathom. Just sometimes when I use magic, it makes me pay the price in
pain, then takes a few of my memories for good
That’s why I carried a little blank book—to record
important bits of my life. And it’s also why four years
at Harvard, pounding tomes for my masters in business magic, hadn’t worked out quite the way I’d
wanted it to. Still, I was a Hound, and I was good at
it. Good enough that I could keep food on the table,
live in the crappiest part of Old Town, and make the
minimum payment on my student loans. And hey, who
didn’t have a few memories they wouldn’t mind get-
ting rid of, right?
The phone clattered and the line went dead.
Happy birthday to me.