I left Lee at his vendor booth on my way to give the Bentons their crystal. He wanted to check in on his sibling. Whit gave me a wicked smile before I walked away. Their threat from our first meeting sprang to mind. While I felt sure I’d win a fair fight with Whit, something told me they didn’t believe in playing fair. Despite the unease his sibling gave me, I’d return to Lee’s stall after I made my delivery; we weren’t ready to end our night yet. I reminded myself that I had no intention of breaking Lee’s heart, so nothing would come from Whit’s threats. That made it easier to focus on the task at hand.
The Bentons told me to meet them in their office when I texted them about the crystal. Their security guard held the door for me when I arrived at the bar left of the arena. I nodded my thanks as I passed her, and she closed the door behind me. We’d been getting along well enough recently, but I still didn’t trust the Bentons. So, I took the opportunity to study the charms in the hallway to their office. They hadn’t added anything new since the last time I examined them, as far as I could tell. The magic still made my body feel like it couldn’t pick a temperature as I walked down the hall. The door to their office opened for me of its own accord.
“Casper, welcome back,” Kenneth said. My mind flashed to the last time I’d been here. How could they work here without thinking of Milton’s dead eye staring at them?
“Thanks.” I did my best to push thoughts of the dead man out of my mind.
“We heard an interesting rumor about you,” Summer said playfully.
“What’s that?” I asked. I imagined they’d heard about my warning to the local witch community.
“You’ve been fighting demons,” she said with a mischievous smile. “I wouldn’t have believed it if you didn’t have witnesses.”
“Demon, singular,” I corrected. Had Cormac and Cal spread the story, or did the fae from the park tell someone?
“That’s more than most people can claim,” Summer said.
“We have a proposal for you,” Kenneth said before I could respond to her.
“Please don’t tell me you want me to fight another one,” I said, only half kidding.
“No, of course not. We’re not foolish enough to summon demons for fight nights. They’re too unpredictable,” he said.
“We want you back in the ring,” Summer interjected.
“With the story spreading around the city, it would draw an excellent crowd,” Kenneth added.
“I’m not a fighter anymore,” I declined.
“You haven’t even heard the offer,” Summer said.
“We’re willing to cut your debt in half if you’ll agree,” Kenneth offered.
That made me pause. The Bentons didn’t offer charity. If they’d forgive that much of my debt, they’d anticipate a far more significant return from this scheme. There had to be some catch. They wouldn’t just treat it like any other fight night. They might not summon a demon, but would they expect me to take on something equally powerful? I’d only survived the fight in the park because of the energy Peter had left for me.
“What are your conditions?” I asked.
“We haven’t put together all the details yet. All we need is for you to participate and put on a good show,” Summer said.
“You’ll be the main event, so you can’t throw the fight,” Kenneth said. He hadn’t made it an accusation, but we both knew it could have been.
“So, I show up and do my level best, and poof, there goes half my debt?” I asked, then clarified, “win or lose?”
“Either way, you walk out of the ring fifty percent happier,” Summer answered.
“I’ll think about it,” I told them. “Let me know when you’ve got a plan.”
“Fair enough,” Kenneth said.
“Fine,” Summer sighed.
“Tell us about the crystal,” Kenneth requested.
“It will glow red whenever someone walks through a door in the DPI office while thinking of the Lyndale market,” I explained, pulling the clear quartz prism from my pocket. “I tested it.”
“So it won’t tell us they’re on their way?” Summer asked.
“No. This will help you see how often you cross the DPI’s radar whether or not they show up. I’m working on getting Lee into the office again. DPI might be in the market for Specternet-capable computers,” I said. “If you make it worth his while, I believe he’d be willing to set up a system warn whenever the market comes up in their documents.”
“We’ll consider it,” Kenneth said. Lee had already offered to install the spyware for free. I didn’t see why he shouldn’t benefit. Even if they didn’t pay him for the work, the Bentons might offer him more time without a vendor fee or something equally valuable.
“And of course, as long as DPI employs me, I’ll contact you directly if I hear anything,” I reminded them.
“Very well,” Kenneth said. “We’ll be in touch soon.”
“Have a good night,” I responded and turned on my heels.
I sighed with relief as I walked back out from behind the bar. My muscles unclenched. I hadn’t realized how tense I’d gotten standing in that office. As I weaved through the bar patrons, I noticed several eyes following me. Were people watching me because I’d come from the Bentons’ office or because of the rumor they’d told me about? I’d been so focused on delivering the crystal I didn’t see if people were watching me beforehand. The stares followed me as I walked through the market stalls as well.
“Hey, demon slayer,” Whit said when I got to their booth.
“Whit,” Lee said in a warning tone.
“I guess they weren’t lying about the rumor,” I said.
“Is it true? Did you kill a demon?” Whit asked, too excited to be cowed by their brother’s glare.
“No one can kill a demon. The best we can do is banish them from our plane of existence,” I clarified.
“Semantics. Did you fight a demon and win?” Whit asked. Lee stayed silent and unreadable. Would this cut short whatever we’d started?
“I did,” I admitted.
“Badass,” Whit said.
“Mind the store,” Lee told them. He nodded for me to walk with him. Part of me hoped this would scare him off. I’d temporarily silenced my guilt for involving him, but it rushed back. He turned into an unoccupied vendor space, so we didn’t block the walkway.
“I’d understand if you didn’t want to see me again,” I said.
“That’s how he trapped your friend’s spirit?” Lee asked, ignoring my statement.
“I don’t want you to fight demons,” he said. It sounded like he’d confessed something more with those words.
“Neither do I. If I find Smith in time, he won’t get to summon it again.”
“And if you don’t?” he asked.
“The demon will come looking for me,” I admitted.
“I’m sorry. I wish I could see this through,” he said. He must know what it really meant for the demon to hold a grudge against me. I knew I’d lost him with that apology. I couldn’t think of anything to say. It wouldn’t be right to try to change his mind. Lee pulled me into one more kiss. He broke away before we let our hormones take over. “You’re going to survive this. I’m not giving you another option. Whatever you have to do, find a way to stop this asshole. I’m not done kissing these lips.”
I wanted to promise him I’d be back, but I couldn’t.