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What in blazes was going on?

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In front of us a woman stood in torn clothes, her head oddly indented. She turned to look at us. A raw, red wound gaped where the left half of her face used to be. She screeched and reached for our car with gnarled fingers.

The hair on my arms rose. Someone in Eleventh Planet was afraid of zombies.

“Not worth damaging the car,” Jim said.

I stood on the brakes. Pooki screeched, slowing down. Before he rolled to a stop, Jim leaped out and pounced on the zombie. The knife flashed in his hand and the zombie woman's head rolled off her shoulders. Jim caught it. So gross. So, so gross.

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  • Magic Steals PDF book (Kate Daniels) (Kate Daniels Series) Read Online or Free Download in ePUB, PDF or MOBI eBooks. Published in 1992 the book become immediate popular and critical acclaim in fantasy, urban fantasy books. The main characters of Magic Steals novel are Dali Harimau, Jim Shrapshire.

The woman's body toppled.

I jumped out of Pooki. He threw the head at me. I grabbed it. Rotten magic touched my fingers and recoiled. The head melted, the skin and muscle dripping off it, turned to white ash, and disappeared.

Ha! Unclean. My magic worked on it. There were no such thing as zombies in our world, but whatever these things were, I could purge them.

Jim pulled a second knife from the sheath at the small of his back. His eyes shone with green. “Let's do this.”

We walked to the crowd of zombies blocking the comic book shop. I never felt so badass and completely terrified at the same time in my whole entire life. There were so many . . . If my magic failed, they would rip me apart with their rotten teeth. For some reason the image of yellow rotting teeth stuck with me. I shivered and glanced at Jim. He just kept walking, like he had no doubt I would lay waste to the whole horde of zombies.

The zombies moaned at the comic book store, oblivious to us.

“Hey!” Jim roared, his voice deep and laced with a snarl.

They turned and looked at him.

“Fresh meat,” Jim said.

The mass of undead turned and ran for us, gnashing their
rotten teeth, their hands stretched for us like claws. Jim spun like a dervish, his knives out. Heads rolled.

I took a deep breath, stepped next to him, and walked into the crowd. My magic waited for my orders.

I am the White Tiger.
An invisible aura flared around me.

A huge zombie with half of his guts hanging out was running straight at me.

What if it didn't work? A pang of panic shot through me. No, can't think like that. I focused on the zombie. He was over six feet tall, arms like tree trunks.

You are an aberration. You skew the balance.

The zombie spread his arms, moaning, ready to crush me with his bulk.

I will restore the balance. I will purify this land.

He reached for me. My magic surged, the aura coating me gaining a weak, pale glow.

The zombie touched me. Foul, dark-colored fluid dripped from his fingers. He froze as if petrified, his flesh running off him in dirty rivulets. A blink and he became ash.

I could do this.

Another zombie grabbed me and melted. I held my arms out and walked right through the crowd. They fell all around me. Some bumped into me, some tried to bite me, some attempted to claw my back, but in the end all of them became liquid, then ash. Next to me Jim carved a path through bodies, each strike of his knife finding the target with deadly precision. Limbs fell as he cleaved them off, driving the knives with superhuman strength. Heads tumbled, severed clean off the rotting necks. Skulls cracked as the knives pierced the brain inside.

We kept going. It felt so right. So right. If only all fights would be like this.

The last zombie melted at my feet.

Jim straightened, splattered by gore, and winked at me.

I smiled at him and looked into the store. Three dead zombies lay on the floor, two bludgeoned and one beheaded.

Jim rapped his knuckles on the door.

Two heads popped out from behind the shelves, one blond—Brune's—and the other dark haired, probably Christian Leander's. I made a funny face and posed against the carnage next to Jim.

The two guys left their hiding spot. Leander was carrying a replica sword that looked like it belonged to some barbarian and Brune was brandishing a crowbar.

They stepped over the dead bodies and Brune carefully opened the door.

“Hi,” I said, with a bright smile.

“Hi,” the dark-haired guy said.

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“Are you Christian?”

He nodded.

“Are you afraid of zombies?”

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He nodded again.

Right.

“Have you seen your neighbor today?” Jim asked. “Steven Graham?”

“No,” they said at the same time.

“What about Cole?” I asked.

“Cole and Amanda left,” Brune said.

“They went down to Augusta,” Christian said. “Until whatever this is blows over.”

“How sure are you?” Jim asked.

“I saw them board the leyline last night,” Brune said. “Amanda wouldn't get into the car after what happened yesterday, so I gave them a ride in my cart to the leypoint.”

Jim glanced at me, a question in his eyes.

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“No,” I said. “Augusta is too far for the curse to work.”

Cole wasn't our guy.

“Thank you,” I said and shut the door. “Steven.”

Jim's face snapped into a harsh mask. “Let's pay him a visit.”

•   •   •

Steals

WE
got Steven's address from his bodyguard at the courier shop. At first he didn't want to tell us, and then Jim asked him if he was left- or right-handed. The bodyguard asked why and Jim told him that he would break the other arm first, because he wasn't a complete bastard. The bodyguard folded.

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Now I was driving through an upscale neighborhood to Steven's building. All of the houses on both sides of the road had really tall fences topped with barbed wire and at least three acres of land. Life in post-Shift Atlanta required fences and plenty of space between them and the house, so you could shoot whatever was coming at you.

“What's the deal with you?” Jim asked.

I'd been thinking about the zombie fight. “Nothing.”

“I have three sisters,” Jim reminded me. “I know what nothing means.”

“What does it mean, Mr. Female Expert?”

“It means you're upset about something, it's been bothering you, but you don't want to bring it up because you're not sure you're up for the conversation that might follow. Sometimes it also means I am supposed to magically guess why you are upset.”

I harrumphed. It seemed like a good answer.

“You know I'll never figure it out on my own,” Jim said. “Don't be a chicken. Just tell me.”

Come on, tiger girl. You can do this.

“I just want to be clear. This isn't a needy commitment thing.”

“Okay,” he said, stretching the word.

“Where is this relationship going, Jim?”

“This is the kind of question that can explode in my face,” Jim said. “You're going to have to be more specific.”

“I mean what happens from here?”

“We discover if Steven is responsible, beat his ass, go to your place or my place, and celebrate.”

“Are you being deliberately obtuse?”

“No, I'm being very precise in my answers.”

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Grr. “Let's say for the sake of argument that we continue this relationship.”

“I thought that was a given,” he said.

I waved my hand. “Let me keep going with this, or I'll never get to the point. Where do you see us a year from now, if everything goes well and we stay together?”

“Are you asking about marriage?” he asked.

“I'm asking about mating.” Mating in the shapeshifter world was a firm declaration of being in a relationship. Some couples married, some didn't, but mating cemented the relationship.

“I never liked that word,” Jim said, “But yes. Mating. Marriage. This wasn't the way I wanted to approach this.”

I made a conscious effort of will not to freak out because the word
marriage
came out of his mouth. This had to be said. “That would make me the alpha of the Cats.”

“Yes.”

Words came out of me, tumbling one over the other. “What happens when we're challenged, Jim? My purifying powers don't work against shapeshifters. The magic won't always be up. I can't always use my cursing and even if I could, they wouldn't respect me for using magic. You and I both know that they understand and respect physical prowess. They would see me as a freak. Not only that, but I would be a liability. If you stand there and protect me so I have time to write my curses, that makes our battle strategy predictable. It would anchor you to one place. I'm not a fighter, but even I understand this. We sacrifice mobility and the element of surprise. I will get you killed, Jim. I'm not an alpha. I'm a half-blind, vegetarian tiger.”

There it was. It lay between us now, out in the open.

Jim opened his mouth.

“It's not that I don't want to be badass,” I said. “I do. I would like nothing more than to grow giant claws and do the kick and spin and disembowel everything around me thing, but I can't.”

Jim nodded and opened his mouth again.

“And it's not even the blood, because I can bite. It's just that I'm not good at fighting. I'm not vicious. I'm scared of
getting hurt. I am afraid of pain. I don't want you to die because of me.”

Jim looked at me.

“Aren't you going to say something?” I asked.

“Are you done?”

“Yes.”

“Dali, you are a
tiger.
You're the largest cat on the planet and you weigh over seven hundred pounds in your beast form.”

I took a deep breath. If he were about to chew me out because I was a tiger and I couldn't fight . . .

“Wait,” Jim said. “Let me finish.”

I cleared my throat. “Okay. Continue.”

“You have accelerated healing even by our standards.”

“That's true.”

“You don't have to be a good fighter for us to make a good team. If you just sit on our attacker for a second, that's enough for me to kill them.”

I opened my mouth and closed it with a click.

“You're concentrating on weakness. It's good to be aware of your weaknesses, but you need to think in terms of assets. What strengths do you have?”

I glanced at him.

“You have bulk,” he said. “You have healing. You have paws the size of my head. You are majestic.”

“Majestic?”

“Your fur is so white, it almost glows. You're this huge majestic creature. When I look at you in your animal form, you look otherworldly. There is almost a touch of divinity about it. The psychological effect of it is staggering. You look and think, ‘How the hell do I even fight this?' I guarantee you, any attacker will hesitate. Even if they think you are weak, they will still hesitate. That hesitation is all we need. If they are unsure, if they question their judgment, psychologically we won the fight, because let me tell you, fighting me requires complete commitment. I don't play.”

I tried to process what he was saying.

“You're the smartest woman I know,” he said. “Think strategically and use that agile brain. Also you just drove past the house.”

I brought Pooki to an abrupt halt, reversed, and parked by a large, two-story mansion. The house stood quiet.

We got out and walked to the wrought iron gate in the six-foot fence. Jim kicked the lock. The gate swung open.

“Is that what you first thought when you saw me?” I asked. “That I was majestic?”

“Yes,” he said. “You asked me at Eyang Ida's house why I am with you. I'm with you because you're smart and beautiful, and you are not like anyone I know. No matter how hard things are, you throw yourself into them. During Midnight Games you walked into a cage with trained killers not knowing if your curses would work, because you knew other people were counting on you. That's what you do. You step up.”

He stopped, stepping too close to me. His voice was quiet. “I watch everyone around me, waiting for a knife in my back. I can't help it. The paranoia is so deeply ingrained now, it's a part of who I am. It isn't about what they would do, it's about what they could do. I have friends, but I never forget that friendship is conditional.”

“Curran wouldn't stab you in the back.”

“He would if the circumstances were right.”

“Jim, do you really live always expecting people to turn on you?”

He nodded. “It's like going through life holding my breath.”

“That's terrible.” I reached over and stroked his cheek with my fingertips. “People are not like that. Some people are like that, but most people are honest and kind. Our friends. Curran, Derek, Kate, Doolittle, they are loyal to us.”

He caught my hand and kissed it. “I love this about you.”

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My heart was beating too fast. “Jim . . .”

“I watch everyone, but when I watch you, all I feel is . . . that I want to be with you. You will never lie to me. And if I need help, you will be there. With you, I breathe.”

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I put my arms around him. I just wanted to make it better for him, to somehow shield him from that. His arms closed around me, his hard body pressing next to mine.

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“Everyone has that someone who is most important to them,” he said, his voice so low only a shapeshifter could've
heard it. “That one person who trumps the rules. You are that to me. I would do anything for you.”

The world stopped. I just stood there, shell-shocked. He did just say all that to me, right? I didn't imagine it?

“You never answered,” he said quietly.

“Never answered what?”

“If you would be the cat alpha with me.”

He was asking me . . . “I didn't know it was a question.”

He pulled away and met my gaze. “It is.”

“Yes,” I said in a small voice.

Jim smiled.

We walked up to the door. Jim tried the handle. It turned in his hand. He swung the door open. We sniffed the air in unison. Steven was home. No other human smells troubled the house. What in the world did he do with his daughter? Maybe she didn't live with him?

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