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Magic to the Bone
Devon Monk - Author
£7.99

Book: Paperback | 129 x 198mm | 384 pages | ISBN 9780241956618 | 13 Oct 2011 | Penguin
Magic to the Bone

"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.

‘‘Hello?’’

‘‘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 and abuser.

‘‘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.

Great.

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 can see.

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 measure.

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.


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