Laila parked half a block away from her antique shop. “Sorry for dragging you out of your St. Patrick’s Day celebration.”
DeeAnn dismissed the apology with a wave of her hand. “Thank goodness you came. Mom was driving me nuts. And I was dying to tell you about the most wonderful dress ever made.”
Laila couldn’t help grinning. DeeAnn’s vivacity was soothing her guilt. Also, she reminded herself, we’ll need the energy raised by people’s belief in this holiday, if I’m to lead her through her first cataloging and securing ritual. Under different circumstances, Laila would have waited until after DeeAnn could go through the process on her own. But she wanted to rid her showroom of The Golden Fae’s Wishing Frock. She had set wards around Fine Arts Macabre, but nothing would protect her customers better than the final containment of the accursed thing.
“It was perfect.” DeeAnn continued relating the details of her latest window shopping venture, as she got out of Laila’s car. “You have to come to The City to see it with me, Miss Flynn—”
“Laila, DeeAnn, just Laila.”
“Yes.” DeeAnn walked and talked so fast that Laila had to add magic to her step, in order to keep up with the much taller young woman. “Like I said, Laila, it’s a skintight little number that fits me so well that anyone would think Benedict Cumberbatch finger painted it on me.”
“The Sherlock guy?” Laila stopped to stare at DeeAnn, the shop’s key hovering halfway to the lock.
“Yes, the Khan guy, Laila.”
“I had no idea the man was a painter.” Laila unlocked the door and walked in. “That’s brilliant.”
“I don’t know if he can paint.” DeeAnn followed Laila through the door. “But if he sees me in that dress and my green Doctor Who Chuck Taylors Limited Edition, he would probably paint and dance at the same time. Heck, I felt extra artistic in the fitting room just looking at my…”
Laila followed DeeAnn’s gaze to the back of the shop. “I see you’ve been handling it without gloves.” The Golden Fae’s Wishing Frock was no longer a ball gown. It had shed length, sleeves, ribbons and petticoats, and morphed into a brocade cocktail dress that oozed a gloomy golden radiance into every corner of Fine Arts Macabre’s showroom.
DeeAnn retreated until her back was flushed against the door. “No, Miss Flynn. I’ve never wished for anything bad enough to want to touch that thing.”
Laila walked backwards to stand to the right of DeeAnn, and assessed the dimly lit room. She was aching to turn on the lights, but feared the sudden brightness would spook any already dangerous trespasser into acting too hastily. “Do you notice anything different other than the dress?” Laila said, in soft words that barely disturbed her lips. She was pleased when DeeAnn didn’t answer right away. She knows the eyes don’t always see what’s there.
“Everything looks like it should.” DeeAnn leaned down into Laila’s ear. “But I smell Chanel 5.” When Laila didn’t say anything, her apprentice added, “Aurora, Miss Flynn.”
Laila’s jaws tightened. Now she, too, could smell the perfume mixed with her former employee’s scent. The woman had tried to steal from the shop, and had stabbed DeeAnn before escaping. Laila’s apprentice nearly bled to death all over The Golden Fae’s Wishing Frock.
“We need to get out of here,” Laila said. “Aurora couldn’t have gotten in without seriously powerful help.” She cursed her inability to see magic imprints, or at least smell them like her cousin could. Why is your big nose running late when I need you most, Kassia Van Dyke?
Shielding her movements with her body, Laila reached behind her for the door. When her fingertips touched the handle, something hot pierced her stomach and pinned her hand to the door.
“She moves and she dies, Laila Georgina Flynn,” said a woman who sounded nothing like Aurora. The archer stepped into the glow of the dress. She wore black military boots, cargo pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and no expression on her pale face. She had nocked another arrow, but kept the longbow aimed at the floor.
“Who are you,” Laila said. “How did you get through my wards?”
Aurora stepped out of the shadows, also dressed in black, except for a stained white cloth wrapped around her left arm. “I got some of her blood.” She waved at DeeAnn. “And we’ve been following you all—”
The archer turned around, put an arrow through Aurora’s mouth, and reloaded before the young woman’s body hit the floor. Her expression didn’t change. “Come to me,” she said to DeeAnn.
Laila shook her head. “Just take The Frock. I give you my oath. I won’t follow or ever harm you, if you leave now.”
“Come to me, DeeAnn Iris Bridges, or I’ll kill her and make you do what you must anyway.”
“I’m sorry, Miss Flynn.” DeeAnn began to walk towards the archer. “I’ll do what you want if you leave her alone.”
“She’s bluffing, DeeAnn. I would already be dead, if she could kill me.” A second arrow joined the one in Laila’s stomach. She bit down on her tongue. She would not scream. She would not fill DeeAnn’s ear with her pain.
“That could be,” the archer said, nocking a third arrow, her eyes focused on Laila and her words aimed at DeeAnn. “But I can make her hurt so much that her mind would flee her body. She’ll do my killing for me. I give you my oath on that.”
“What do you need me to do?” DeeAnn said.
The archer cocked her head towards The Golden Fae’s Wishing Frock, and said, “Put it on.”
“No!” Laila howled, before an arrow went through her neck.
“The next one goes into her head,” the archer said to DeeAnn.
Laila could hear DeeAnn telling her that she was sorry, to forgive her for not being strong enough. She twisted her body, welcomed the pain that would tear her apart. On any other day, Laila would have never attempted it—raw energy can’t be guided by a mind in agony—but she was the child of two powerful Crafters; the world outside her door was celebrating old magics, feeding half of what made her who she was; and the other half of her was pissed off enough to change rage into purpose. She willed her eyes open.
Her apprentice, her brave girl, had not wished for anything. But the cursed magic of The Golden Fae’s Wishing Frock had lifted her into the air, and was crushing her bones, trying to push her mind into making the wish that would certainly kill her. Blood leaked like tears out of DeeAnn’s eyes. Her lips, still mouthing, I’m sorry, had gone purple. Incandescent gold threads were beginning to weave twisted patterns over the skin of her face, arms and legs.
Shaping intent and self into a circle around DeeAnn’s form, Laila told her mind, You will do this. She turned her anger into fire, and aimed it towards the archer. Then she let her body go limp, felt the arrows’ shafts ripping through her, and used the shock to separate her mind from her flesh and bones.
Laila’s consciousness tried to merge with DeeAnn’s. After a moment of confusion and crushing pain, she felt her apprentice let her in. The magic of The Golden Fae’s Wishing Frock no longer sensed DeeAnn’s essence, so it slid off her body and landed in a heap of antique golden fabric that pooled at the bottom of Laila’s hovering protection circle. After DeeAnn relaxed, Laila was able to see and hear through her.
The archer was laughing as she patted her pant legs, and shook her quiver and longbow to put out the flames from Laila’s rage. “You thought a little fire would keep me from waiting until your circle breaks? Now that you’re tainted, I can kill you both without consequences. You must be really—”
Fine Arts Macabre’s protections snapped into place. An unseen force squeezed the archer until her mouth stopped opening and closing. Her eyes lost focus. The corpse collapsed to the floor and began to sink into reddish concrete. Aurora had already been swallowed. Laila’s maimed body was still pinned to the door, three arrows sticking out of her stomach and neck.
“Are you all right, DeeAnn?”
“Yes, I think so. But… what did just happen?”
“My fire burned the bloody bandages around Aurora’s arm. And when the magic of the shop stopped registering any blood that belonged within these walls, the wards and traps reset.”
“And where did the bodies go?”
“No idea, DeeAnn. Not even I know all of Fine Arts Macabre’s secrets.”
So, my Wicked Luvs, how long will DeeAnn and Laila survive in their current state? What will Laila do after that? And most important, who wishes to try on the pretty golden dress? These and other questions will be answered on April 11th. Yep, the conclusion of “Skintight” will be my contribution to Oma Linda’s Shadow of Oz party.
If this is the first time you run into Laila Flynn, fly over to Stories (and scroll down to Web Serials until you find Laila) and see what else this lady has been doing. You don’t need those stories to follow this one. However, the reading experience will sure be yummier if you can delight in all the tales.
Michael Kors Gold Brocade Dress
(not cursed… *cough*)