The Memory ThiefRachel Morgan
CITY OF WISHES
1: The Memory Thief
CITY OF WISHES
1: THE MEMORY THIEF
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Copyright © 2019 Rachel Morgan
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In a world of fae, vampires and shifters, Elle is human, bound to her stepmother by a slave charm. Her only hope is to wish for her freedom. But can she pay the price the Godmother demands in exchange?
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This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or, if real, used fictitiously.
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All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written permission from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For more information please contact the author.
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About the Author
Elle Winter’s evening was going exactly according to plan until the moment she smacked face-first into a broad chest and landed on her bejeweled backside on the sidewalk outside Club Onyx. Rough concrete stung her palms, and pain shot up her left wrist. She sucked in a hiss of breath as heat rushed immediately to her face. Lifting her head, she squinted into the flashing neon purple light from the sign above the club’s doorway.
“I am so, so sorry,” said the owner of the broad chest, blocking the purple glare as he stepped closer and extended a hand toward her. “Are you okay? Can I help you up?”
“I’m fine,” Elle answered automatically, darting a quick look over her shoulder. Every eyeball in the queue waiting to get inside the fae-exclusive nightclub was now on her. Brilliant. She turned swiftly away from the crowd, blond hair falling across her vision as her heart hammered against her ribcage. This was exactly the kind of attention she tried to avoid.
Peeking up, she found a hand still stretched toward her. Since it was the quickest way out of this situation, she reached for it. In one smooth motion, Mr. I Don’t Look Where I’m Going pulled her up. Momentum kept her going, but she managed to jerk to a halt before crashing into his chest a second time. “Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked.
Elle let go of him, twisting her left hand in slow, careful circles as she looked up and met his gaze. His silvery blue eyes were piercing in a way that only fae eyes could be, and his dark hair was just the right kind of messy. Makes sense, she thought. Of course the guy who’d witnessed her land gracelessly on her butt was heart-stoppingly gorgeous. That was the way the world worked, right?
She cleared her throat and took a step back. Her fingers itched to check whether her hair still covered the pointed tips of her ears, but she managed to resist the urge. Better not to draw attention to them. This close up, he might notice they were fake. “Um, yes, I’m fine,” she said belatedly. She uncurled her fingers the tiniest bit and examined her palm. Her skin was grazed, but thank the stars she wasn’t bleeding. If anyone saw the color of her blood, they’d know in an instant that she was human. Well, either human or a shifter of some sort, but that was even worse. If the fae outside Club Onyx thought she was human, they’d probably just toss her across the street—onto her ass again. If they thought she was a shifter … well, she might not live to see morning.
“Hey, can you get out of the way?” a woman shouted from somewhere behind her. “You’re blocking the door and some of us are trying to get inside.”
Eager to remove herself from the spotlight, Elle stepped past the man with the silvery blue eyes, but the bouncer—who’d done nothing until this point except watch the unfolding scene in silence—brought one muscled arm down in front of her. “Hang on, miss. You don’t look old enough to be here.”
Wonderful. He’d been happy to let her walk right past him a minute ago, but now that she’d embarrassed herself in front of a crowd of fae, she didn’t look old enough? Instead of arguing, Elle retrieved her ID card from her purse and held it in front of the bouncer’s face. He squinted at it for several moments, his eyes darting between her and the card, which told him her name was Trixie Gold and that she was twenty-two years old. It was an excellent fake that had given her access into many clubs in Vale City, most of which wouldn’t have allowed her through the door if they knew she was only nineteen.
“Fine,” the bouncer grumbled, stepping aside and jerking his head toward the inside of the club.
“Wait,” Mr. Blue-Eyed Fae called after her. “Are you sure you don’t need someone to take a look at that wrist before your magic sets it wrong or something?”
“I’m sure,” she said without looking back. It wasn’t as though she’d broken any bones. Now that the shock of the moment had passed, all she felt was a dull ache. Probably nothing to be concerned about.
“I really am sorry,” he continued, catching up to her as she entered the dimly lit passageway inside the club’s entrance. She stopped and narrowed her eyes at him. Why on earth was he following her? “Can I at least buy you a drink to make up for knocking you over?” he asked. “I’m Dex, by the way.”
Instead of answering, Elle stepped aside to make way for the people behind her. Three women sauntered forward on sparkly heels, leaving a cloud of cloying perfume and the faint gold glimmer of faerie dust in their wake. The tallest one tossed a look over her shoulder and lowered one glittery eyelid in a wink, no doubt directed at Dex. Elle almost rolled her eyes in response. Enchanted perfume hardly ever worked on anyone. Even she knew that, and she was human.
She faced Dex, and something stirred in her chest when she found his silver-blue eyes still on her. Vindication, she decided, pushing her shoulders back a little. Told you so, she thought in the direction of the woman who’d tried to catch his attention with her magic perfume. “Weren’t you on your way out when you walked into me?” she asked.
His smile stretched a little wider. “Yes, but I can easily change my plans.”
She worked hard to maintain his gaze and keep her shoulders pushed back. Saying no to someone without fear of consequences or punishment was always a strange experience. “Well, Dex,” she said, “I’m afraid my plans can’t be changed. I’m meeting someone else here.”
“Ah. How unfortunate.”
Heat inched its way up Elle’s neck. Guys didn’t pay her this kind of attention. Or if they did, she’d never had time to notice. She kept her head down, got the job done, and left. There was no other option if she was hoping to stay out of trouble. But if Elle was honest with herself, she longed for just one normal night. The kind of night where she could relax and dance and maybe get to know a cute guy over a vodka unicorn or a piskie sour, neither of which Salvia had ever allowed her to taste. Standing here, staring into Dex’s eyes, it was so tempting to say yes.
But that kind of night would be part of Future Elle’s life. Present Elle had other priorities. So she wiped away the smile that was trying to find its way onto her lips and said, “Not unfortunate for me.” She stepped past Dex and strode forward, trying to convince herself she wasn’t disappointed when he didn’t follow her a second time.
Swaying bodies, pulsing lights, and the smell of sweat and alcohol greeted Elle as she entered the main part of the club. Drinks hovered around peop
le, and soap-like bubbles floated in the air, rainbow colors visible where the light struck them. Here and there, people jumped to pop a bubble, and faerie dust fell in a rush of gold sparkles, releasing a surprise charm: temporary jewelry, or the ability to breakdance perfectly for two minutes, or a pretty pattern of gold light that erupted into the air before vanishing.
To the right of the club, where a stage floated at eye level, dancers in glowing costumes spun around poles. Elle moved in the opposite direction, away from the deafening speakers and toward the far corner where several booths lined the wall. She was pleased at how well she blended in here. She wore short shorts and a glittery tank top, along with rhinestone-studded combat boots tall enough to hide her ankles. Wearing skimpy clothing was something she still wasn’t entirely comfortable with, even after doing so for almost two years. But she’d learned early on that the more skin she exposed, the less likely she was to draw attention. Add some bling, and this strategy became even more effective. Strange, but true.
She sidestepped two girls taking selfies with their phones, and almost bumped into a man with a barcode tattoo on one side of his neck. A little more pushing, shuffling and dodging, and she finally reached the booths. She stopped at the second one from the end and slid onto the cushioned seat on the side that provided the best view of the room. After checking the time on the antique gold pocket watch she wore on a chain around her neck, she leaned back to wait for her client.
It wasn’t long before he arrived, dropping into the seat opposite her with a grin and pushing a hand through his shoulder-length hair. “Always on time, Trixie,” he shouted above the music.
Elle shrugged and refrained from saying the words that ran through her mind: I have nowhere better to be. “Ready?” she asked.
“Definitely,” Monty replied, swiping one hand through the air between them. Gold dust glittered at his fingertips as a privacy charm formed over the booth, reducing the club’s music to muffled background noise.
“Thanks,” Elle said.
“No problemo.” Monty lowered his hand and placed it on the table between them. Elle laid her hand over his.
“Is it about—” Her words were cut off as someone crashed into the side of their table, breaking the privacy charm. She jerked back and pressed herself against her seat as a middle-aged man fell halfway across the table. With a groan, he flattened his palms on the table and raised his head. He met Elle’s eyes for a second before pushing himself up and straightening. Her, stomach lurched as she noticed first the rounded tips of his ears and then the metal collar encircling his neck. A chain joined the collar to the wrist of a fae woman in a black skintight bodysuit.
“What was that for?” the woman shouted. Her anger wasn’t directed at the human though. Elle followed her fierce gaze and found the burly bouncer who’d checked her ID.
“I turn my back for one moment and you bring a slave in here?” the bouncer demanded. “Don’t you know the rules?”
The woman tilted her chin up and looked down her nose at the bouncer. “What rules? My slave goes wherever I want him to go.”
“Not in this club, he doesn’t. You’re leaving. Now.”
“Or you could just free the poor man,” Monty grumbled, much to Elle’s surprise. Her gaze flashed to the woman in the bodysuit, and then to the bouncer, but it appeared no one else had heard Monty over the pounding music.
“Come with me, ma’am,” the bouncer said, reaching for the woman’s arm.
“Don’t touch me,” she snapped. “And get out of my way.” She tugged the chain, yanking her slave to her side, and sauntered away. The bouncer followed closely behind them.
“Well,” Monty said, turning back to Elle. “Now that that little interruption’s out of the way …” He waved a hand and reactivated the privacy charm.
Elle shifted forward in her seat, tucking her hair behind one ear. She didn’t generally encourage conversation, but for something like this, she couldn’t keep quiet. “You don’t agree with the slavery of humans?”
Monty paused before answering, his eyes narrowing slightly. “No, I don’t. Is that a problem?”
“Not at all. I completely agree with those who’ve been campaigning for years to abolish the slave charm.”
Monty’s eyebrows rose. Elle wondered what surprised him more: that she agreed with him about slavery or that she was talking to him about something other than business. “Cool,” he said. “There probably aren’t many in this club who feel the same way.”
“Probably not. There are plenty of free humans these days, but most fae aren’t exactly thrilled about it.”
“Yeah, tell me about it. I’ve had plenty of arguments with people. And don’t get me started on the subject of blood slaves and vampires. I could go on all night.” Monty placed one hand on the table again. “I do kind of understand how it started, though. They’re definitely lesser beings, seeing as how they’re powerless and all that. But at least employ them as servants or something. And let them donate blood voluntarily instead of forcing them. The whole slavery thing just isn’t right.”
Elle blinked as the sick feeling returned to her stomach. She made no move to reach for Monty’s hand. “Lesser beings?” she repeated.
“Yeah. And don’t look at me like that,” he added with a roll of his eyes. “You know it’s true. I mean, okay. They’re technically one of the four High Races, but they’re the only ones who can’t do anything with magic. Obviously that means they’re not on the same level as fae, vamps and shifters.”
And if one of these so-called powerless humans could perform some strange, unheard-of magic? she asked silently. Would that make her an equal to the fae, vamps and shifters?
“So, are we doing this or what?” Monty asked, rapping his knuckles on the table.
She almost said no. She was so close to standing and walking away. But she needed tonight’s payment. Every little bit made a difference. And Monty was a repeat customer. She couldn’t afford to burn this bridge. Besides, most of her clients probably felt the same way—or worse—about humans. The only difference was that they’d never had any reason to voice their opinions in her presence.
She exhaled slowly, pushing aside the image of the man confined by a metal collar and chain, then placed her hand carefully over Monty’s. “Is it Jilly again?”
“Yes. I saw her this morning. And it was just … it was awful. I want to forget the whole nasty confrontation.”
Elle nodded. She didn’t ask whether it might confuse things if Monty ran into his ex-girlfriend again—something that seemed to happen fairly often—and had no memory of their most recent verbal clash. She’d asked before, and he’d told her it wasn’t a problem. And clearly it wasn’t, since he kept seeing this girl, they kept fighting, and he kept asking Elle to make him forget.
“Have you written down anything else you need to remember that happened during the encounter?” she asked. She always checked, even if she’d performed her services for a client multiple times before. “Even if whatever happened had nothing to do with Jilly, you won’t remember it. I can only—”
“I know, I know. You can only remove blocks of time, not separate out individual memories within the same time frame, yada, yada.” He waved the hand that wasn’t currently sitting beneath Elle’s. “Nothing else important happened while we were arguing. You can go ahead.”
Elle shut her eyes, and within moments, memories that weren’t her own began sliding across her vision. She sifted through Monty’s surface memories, flicking back through the events of this afternoon and evening, and quickly locating the one he wanted to forget: a heated argument in the middle of a cafe that involved a hot coffee thrown at his chest and bright magic arcing across the cafe to slap his face. All it took was a mental nudge and Elle had removed the entire incident from Monty’s memory. Well, except for the very beginning. The moment he’d walked into the cafe and seen Jilly standing in the queue, before any unpleasantness began. Just so Monty would at least know he’d run into
Elle opened her eyes and withdrew her hand as Monty let out a contented sigh. “You’re amazing. I have no idea what you took away—I know it was something to do with her—but I know I’m better off without the memory.” He leaned back and rolled his shoulders. “Now I can relax and enjoy the evening.”
Elle didn’t bother replying as she removed a small glass vial from the front pocket of her shorts. She passed the vial across the table to Monty, and he unscrewed the metal lid. As he held his open palm over the top of the vial, a golden vapor-like substance drifted away from his skin and into the vial. Essence. The name the fae gave to the raw, unformed magic that pulsed through their bodies. When the vial was half full, Monty replaced the lid and passed it back to Elle. “Always a pleasure, Trixie.”
“Yeah,” she answered, taking the vial and returning it to her pocket.
“Hey, what do you actually do with all the Essence I pay you?” With a smirk, he added, “Planning to go wish shopping?”
“No,” she answered, a little too quickly. She could tell from Monty’s raised brow that he knew she was lying.
“Well, that’s probably a good thing,” he said, playing along, “since it would take you years to save for a wish at the rate I’m paying you, even if you’re saving up your own Essence as well. But if you are in the market, I can hook you up with a great wish dealer I know. Super low prices. Better than what you’d get at the apothecary—”
“No thanks,” Elle said quickly. “Not interested.” She slid to the edge of her seat. “Anyway, enjoy your evening.”