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Amaliya screamed before the big man could get a good grip on her. “Call Cian! Call him! He'll tell you!”

“You know Cian?” Santos raised an eyebrow. He considered her words, then said, “Break it. ”

Amaliya twisted hard and fell to the floor. Despite being tied up, she kicked frantically at the big man as he tried to reach down and grab her again.

“Mi único y verdadero amor,” the dark haired woman said from

the arched doorway.

Santos looked up at her and Amaliya managed to get purchase on the floor and push herself under a huge wrought iron table.

“What is it?” Santos demanded.

Amaliya tried to worm her way away from the big man as he got down on the ground and tried to grab her feet and drag her out. Her face felt swollen and it pulsed with pain. There was no way she was going to let anyone break her arm without a fight.

“You got a voice mail from Cian. ”

“Really?” Santos reached out for the phone.

Screaming, Amaliya felt the massive guy catch her leg and began to draw her out from under the table. She was so desperate, she tried to grab a chair leg with her teeth. Roughly, she was pulled out from under the safety of the table and was rewarded with a hard punch to her chest. Blood spurted from between her lips and she knew she had heard her ribs break as her body was enveloped in overwhelming agony.

“Manny, leave her alone. Cian called to claim her as part of his cabal. We don't want to mess her up too badly if she is worth something to him,” Santos said in his deadly, calm voice. He then dialed a number and raised the cellphone to his face, the glowing keyboard illuminating his face red.

As Amaliya vomited up more blood, she heard Cian's voice faintly from across the room. And then she felt her head fall to the floor and drag her body down into darkness.

* * *

Samantha arrived at the small bookshop in South Austin just before eight o'clock. It was a tiny converted house with a wide porch with chairs arranged on it for reading. The front yard was actually well tended and had a birdbath in it. The parking along the side was limited, but hers was the only car in it other than Jeff's SUV. Climbing out of her car, her feet settled into the freshly laid gravel.

She had felt silly in her earlier outfit, so tonight she was wearing jeans and a white fitted t-shirt. Instead of flip flops, she had dug out her cowboy boots and she had thrown on a black shrug at the last minute. Heaving her heavy bag over one shoulder, she walked up to the door and peered in the glass.

The first room was tiny and had a checkout counter. A huge magazine rack full of free publications and political pamphlets of all kinds stood near the door. It was also decorated with old paintings and photos of famous writers of the paranormal. She recognized Stephen King, Anne Rice and Edgar Allen Poe. Pulling the door open, she heard a tiny bell jingle over head.

Rooms opened up to her left and straight ahead. Both were filled to the brim with bookcases loaded up with books. A few overstuffed chairs were shoved into corners under what looked like antique hanging lamps from exotic countries. A string of plastic beads hung over each doorway. The design the colored beads created were of a pentagram on one and an ankh on the other.

The beads tinkled as Jeff appeared. He was limping slightly and he smiled at her awkwardly. He looked really young, but she bet he was her age.

“Hey, Serena,” he said.

“Samantha,” she answered automatically.

“It was a joke. You're wearing a totally different look from this morning and Serena was Samantha's evil cousin and-” He looked flustered.

“Oh, yeah! Oh, sorry!” She laughed and waved a hand. “I'm just a little stressed. ”

“Want to come to the back? I just need to lock the door. It's been dead since about an hour ago. ”

“Yeah, sure. ” She felt a little nervous at the thought of hanging out with a complete stranger. She had her mace in her purse and she consoled herself with that thought.

Jeff limped to the door and locked it. Laying the keys on the counter in plain sight, it was clear he did not want her to feel ill at ease. He had changed his t-shirt since this morning and it read “Vote for Pedro. ”

“I love that movie!” Samantha said, pointing. “Napoleon was like this kid that used to always stare at me and drool in high school. ”

“It seems a lot of guys would do that without being a super nerd,” Jeff responded and winked.

“You're sweet,” Samantha decided as she followed him into the hallway leading to the back.

“Nah, just a nerd,” he teased. “I own an occult bookstore and wear t-shirts from movies. ”