Left Hand Magic (Golgotham, #2) by Nancy A. Collins
I woke up to find a dragon hovering over me.
The great beast's head was drawn back, its jaws agape as it prepared to spew its burning venom. It was so close I could see the veins running through the membranes of its unfurled wings and the iridescent scales that covered its underbelly. I was about to scream, but then I remembered where I was.
Waking up in my boyfriend's room can be disorienting at times, especially since there is a monster painted on the ceiling in photographic detail. Although I grew up in an apartment filled with works of art, the ceiling mural was freaking me out. It wasn't the dragon so much, though, as the chain of Kymeran maidens that danced around the big lizard. I had the strangest feeling that they were watching me when I wasn't looking.
Then again, that might have been the bedposts.
The carved owls perched atop Hexe's four-poster were as detailed as the dragon on the ceiling and every morning when I woke up, it seemed as if they were in slightly different positions than when I fell asleep. To be honest, a good many of the furnishings in Hexe's private quarters seem to move about of their own accord whenever I look away. Being romantically involved with a warlock was taking a bit more adjusting to than I'd first imagined.
Speaking of which-I glanced over at Hexe's side of the bed. The sheets were rumpled, and his pillow still smelled of his unique personal scent-a masculine mixture of citrus, moss, and leather-but Hexe was already up and about his day. I sighed as I swung my feet onto the floor.
Waking up alone was something else I was having a little trouble adjusting to. It wasn't that Hexe had grown bored with my company in bed-far from it-it was just that his people don't need nearly as much sleep as humans do. I guess I can add that to the umpteen things I didn't know about Kymerans before moving to Golgotham.
I took a quick look at the ornate French mantel clock that sat on the nearby nightstand and muttered a few choice words under my breath. Then I hurried into the master bathroom and stepped into the claw-footed tub, pulling the curtain shut behind me. Water blasted out of the showerhead shaped like a medieval dolphin, delivering the necessary kick start for my day.
I was supposed to be meeting my best friend for lunch. After that, I was going to take a trip to my favorite junkyard in Red Hook to scrounge raw materials for a new set of metal sculptures to replace the ones destroyed by Boss Marz. Not that anyone was in a hurry to exhibit my work now that it had a reputation for marching out of the gallery under its own steam. It's a long story.
After a quick rinse, I grabbed a towel off the rack and headed back into the bedroom-only to discover a hairless winged housWatoo>e cat perched atop the footboard, gazing at me with blazing red eyes.
"So you finally decided to get out of bed, eh?" the familiar growled. "You numps sure like to lollygag. . . ."
I yelped in surprise and awkwardly tried to wrap the towel around myself. "Scratch! What are you doing in here?"
"If you must know," he said with a sniff, "this perfectly delicious sun spot is about to materialize on the floor for the next half hour, and I simply must get my sunbathing in."
"I don't care why you're in the room!" I snapped. "Just get out!"
"How dare you tell me to 'get out'!" Scratch replied crossly, furrowing his feline brow. "I live here! Long before you ever showed up, I might add."
"You heard me-scat!" I shouted, waving toward the door while trying to hold my towel closed.
"You did not just shoo me away!" the familiar gasped indignantly. "What next? Are you going to throw an old boot at my head?"
"What's all the noise about in here?"
I looked up to see Hexe standing in the doorway, dressed in a pair of corduroys and an old sweater, a cup of fresh-brewed coffee in one six-fingered hand.
"Don't look at me-she's the one doing the yelling," Scratch said, nodding his head in my direction.
"I just don't want you in the room while I'm getting dressed! Is that so hard to understand?"
"What's the big deal?" the familiar replied grumpily. "It's not like I want to look at your hairless ape-bits. Besides, I've seen Hexe naked nearly every day of his life."
"That's different," I said.
"It just is!"
Hexe stepped forward, motioning toward the door with his thumb. "You heard the lady, Scratch-get lost."
"The nerve of some people!" The familiar unfurled his batlike wings, and with a couple of brisk snaps, he sailed off the end of the bed, through the doorway, and into the hall.
Hexe closed the bedroom door and turned to face me, shaking his head in bemusement. "I understand you wanting your privacy, Tate. But you're going to have to get used to Scratch being around. He is my familiar."
"I understand that," I said as I tossed my towel aside. "But there's such a thing as being overly familiar."
Hexe sat down on the edge of the bed, watching me with his golden eyes as I hurried to get dressed. "To be honest, I have to agree with Scratch-what's the big deal about him seeing you naked? Do humans always keep their clothes on in front of the household pets?"
"Hexe, baby, where I'm from, the pets don't talk. And, more important, they don't know I'm naked."
"You've got a point," he conceded. "Come to think of it, I guess familiars are more like household servants than pets in your world."
"Exactly." I smiled in relief. "I'm glad you understand where I'm coming from. For me, being undressed in front of Scratch is like flashing the familendng the y butler. It just feels-inappropriate."
"Where are you going?" Hexe asked, reaching out to caress my naked hip. Every time he touched me, it was as if a mild electric current passed between us. I smiled, savoring the tingle.
"I'm meeting Vanessa for lunch."
"You don't have to hurry off right this minute, do you?" He smirked, snaking a muscular arm about my waist.
As Hexe began planting kisses on my bare midriff, I checked the time on the mantel clock. I did some extremely quick math in my head, and decided I could spare another fifteen minutes-maybe even twenty. If I was lucky, I might get there just before the margaritas ran out.
I met up with Vanessa Sullivan at Frida's, a Mexican restaurant in the East Village, the walls of which are covered with murals inspired by the artwork of its namesake. Vanessa was sitting in front of the self-portrait of the famed surrealist in her shape-shifter form, that of a deer-faced woman. My old college roomie had a basket of tortilla chips in front of her and a half-finished pitcher of margaritas at her elbow.
"About time you showed up!" She grinned, hoisting her drink in welcome. "I got tired of waiting."
"So I noticed." I chuckled as I sat down. "How's engaged life treating you, Nessie?"
"I'm drinking, aren't I?" she replied with a toss of her coppery head. "It's amazing how planning a wedding can drive otherwise sane people to absolute lunacy."
"Anyone in particular?" I asked as I helped myself to a margarita.
"After being a lapsed Catholic-no, make that prolapsed-my entire life, now my mother has decided I should have an old-school wedding-priest, cathedral, the whole shebang! And if that wasn't bad enough, my future mother-in-law is insisting on a rabbi."
"Oy." I grimaced. "So what are you going to do?"
"Adrian and I have decided that if our families don't get off our backs, we're going to chuck it all and have ourselves a nice, old-fashioned Druid marriage ceremony. That should shut both sides up. But enough about me-what's new with you? We haven't seen each other since your opening night at the gallery."
"It was also the closing night," I reminded her. "And now the gallery owner is suing me for breach of contract because I ordered my artwork to march out during the show."
"Please!" Vanessa groaned, rolling her eyes in disgust. "Derrick Templeton should get down and kiss your feet! The art scenesters are still talking about that show-when's the last time that gallery of his stirred up that kind of interest?"
"Yeah, it got everyone talking all right," I replied with a sigh. "Now they think my work's enchanted-no respectable art dealer will represent me."
"Screw respectability. I've found it to be highly overrated. All that matters, Tate, is that you're an amazing sculptor. Anyone with one eye in their head can see that. Just keep doing what you're doing, and the right people will find you."
"That's what I keep telling myself, Nessie," I said. "But I'm starting to wonder if I have what it takes to gut it out."
"Are you kidding me? You're the bravest woman I know! You'd have to be,t s have t to agree to be my maid of honor!"
"I never would have taken you as a flatterer," I said with a laugh.
To my surprise, Vanessa's demeanor suddenly became very serious. "Don't laugh. I am being one hundred percent irony-free. I don't know anyone else who would have gone to the lengths you did to help a friend in trouble."
"What else could I do?" I shrugged, humbled by the unexpected praise. "I couldn't stand by and let Boss Marz put that poor kid to death."
"What are they going to do with that creep, anyway?"
"Right now they've got him locked up in the Tombs, awaiting trial on a number of charges. What's left of his gang is lying low for the time being, thank goodness."
"And how's your teenaged were-cat?"
"Lukas is doing great. He's got a job as a delivery boy for Dr. Mao's apothecary shop. Between work and his girlfriend, he doesn't hang around the boardinghouse that much. He's assimilating into Golgotham a lot faster than I am. Not that Hexe and I mind-we appreciate the privacy right now."
Vanessa arched an eyebrow. "So you finally made the move on your magic man, eh?"
"Yeah. It's been a couple of weeks since we took our relationship to the next level," I said, blushing slightly.
"Oooh, I like how you phrased that. It sounds a lot classier than 'since we started screwing like weasels.'" A look of alarm crossed her face. "Have you told Mrs. E?"
"Of course not!" I replied. "I may be eccentric, but I'm not crazy enough to tell my mother I'm romantically involved with a Kymeran."
"What about Hexe? Does he have family?"
"Yes, he has family," I replied evenly. Although I have to admit that if anyone besides Nessie had asked me that question, I probably would have been pissed. "He wasn't hatched from an egg! In fact, I've already met his mother."
"Really? What's she like? Does she rhyme with 'witch,' too?"
"No, thank goodness. She's actually very nice. I've only met her once, but I like her. Her brother's another story, though." I automatically frowned as I thought about Hexe's dreaded uncle. "He blames me for Golgotham becoming the new hipster hot spot, thanks to that photo-essay in the Sunday Herald."
"But those were Bartho's photographs-you had nothing to do with that!"
"It doesn't matter. As far as Uncle Esau is concerned, all humans are one and the same. However, I am responsible for Bartho deciding to move to Golgotham."
"Ah-so you are guilty!"
"Afraid so. Behold! I am Tate, Destroyer of Worlds," I said, lifting my margarita in a mock toast.