Cursed(The Thrice Cursed Mage Book 1)

By: J.A. Cipriano

The guy snarled by way of reply and lunged at me, crossing the ten feet between us in the blink of an eye. I stepped calmly under his lunge and caught him across the throat with my right forearm. The force of the blow reverberated down my arm as I stepped around and kicked his legs out from under him while using my bodyweight to drive him into the ground.

He collapsed flat on his back, gasping for breath that wouldn’t come as I calmly got to my feet and stepped past him. I probably should have felt bad about nearly crushing his windpipe, but I didn’t. They’d beat up a woman, and while I wasn’t sure if my mama had raised me right, I still felt pretty pleased with myself for saving the girl. If a couple of dirt bags got their asses kicked in the process, I wasn’t about to shed tears over it.

I paused and took a deep breath on the way to the girl. Had I really just rationalized what I’d done in a rage-filled haze under the cover of chivalry? Hell, for all I knew this girl was a mass murderer, and I’d just saved her to kill again. Even if she was innocent, what right did I have to play judge, jury, and executioner? I pushed the thought out of my mind. If saving her turned out to be a problem, it was one I was okay with having.

I spun on my heel and dropped down next to the two downed thugs and searched through their pockets, hoping to find something nefarious on their persons that would let me ignore the guilt suddenly prickling at the back of my neck. I found exactly what I was looking for. Along with about fifty bucks in cash, brute number one had a loaded 9mm Beretta pistol with one of those nifty fifteen-round magazines that was illegal in California now.

Either these guys were holding illegal weapons or had been grandfathered in. I was pretty sure it was the former and not the latter. Either way, the weapon was mine now. Asshole tax and all. I stuffed the gun into the waistband of my khakis before making my way over to the dryer I’d pilfered earlier. I tossed the cash inside. Hopefully, whoever I’d robbed would feel a little better about it now.

The woman was sitting up, watching me with a look on her face I couldn’t quite identify. It was part relief, part excitement, and part something dark and afraid. That look told me she hadn’t ruled out the possibility of me coming after her next.

“Are you okay?” I asked, moving across the laundromat and offering her my left hand. I wasn’t sure if she was one of those “I don’t need a man’s help” girls. For all I knew, she’d be pissed at me for saving her when she’d totally had those thugs right where she wanted them. Still, I wasn’t going to stand there and wait for her to get up without offering. I wasn’t a jackass.

“Yeah, thanks,” she said, and her husky voice rolled over me like velvet and rich cream, sending little shivers down my spine. The reaction startled me so much, I nearly dropped her when she grabbed my hand.

“Don’t mention it,” I replied, straining to keep the excitement from my words as I pulled her to her feet.

She nodded once and shook the hand she gripped, mischief in her eyes. The heat of her touch melted across me like warm butter, making my knees go weak and my breath catch in my throat. What had she done to me? How was she doing it? And could she do more?

I tried to speak, tried to say anything at all as she released my hand and finger brushed her dark hair out of her face. Even with the busted lip, she was beautiful. Not in the ridiculous Hollywood way either. No, she was the perfect girl next door. Only, the way she looked at me, gave me the feeling that not only would my mom like her, but I’d like what she did when the two of us were all alone together.

She was curvy, sure, and her tanned skin would be the envy of anyone, but her face was just a touch flawed. Her nose was a little too big, and her teeth were a little too crooked. Rather than mar her though, those deficiencies served to ground her beauty and make her seem real.

“We need to get out of here before those two bozos recover.” Her full ruby red lips quirked into a smile. “Thanks for saving me.” She gave me the once over and bit her lip, letting it drag free of her white teeth. “I’m not sure how to thank you.”

“Don’t mention it,” I said, shaking my head and shoving my right hand in my pocket. I’m not sure why I did it, but I didn’t want to have to go explaining why one of my arms was black as pitch.

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