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Infamous (Chronicles of Nick #3)(3)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

CHAPTER 1

If banging your head against a brick wall burned a hundred and fifty calories an hour as they said it did, then Nick should be emaciated. ’Cause he’d been banging it so hard these last two days that he should have a concussion by now.

“Mom, please…”

“I said no and I meant it. You’re too young to date.”

Fifteen? Really? Since when was fifteen too young to date? If he didn’t know better, he’d swear she was from the Dark Ages. Heck, for that matter, Kyrian was more open-minded and he really was from the Stone Age, or Iron Age, or one of those boring ages that they tried to force feed him in school.

That man had actually dated in a chariot.…

Nick had to stop himself from rolling his eyes—that was like throwing gas on a roaring fire while wearing kerosene soaked clothing when his mom was in this mood.

I’m old enough to death match demons and zombies, stop the apocalypse, deal with Death on a daily basis, and hold down two jobs, but I can’t meet my girl for a movie.…

Yeah, that made all the sense in the world.

He sighed irritably. “I’m a year older than you were when you had me.”

She narrowed those beady little blue eyes at him and lifted her chin to glare up at him. He still wasn’t used to looking down at his mom, who barely reached mid-chest on him these days.

The fact that someone so incredibly tiny could cow him with nothing more than an arched brow didn’t sit well with him. But regardless of arguments and differences of opinion, he loved his mother and wouldn’t do anything to hurt her or her feelings.

Which was how she cowed him with a single glance.…

I’m such a wimp.

“Precisely my point, Nicky. You see what kind of trouble you could get into? Are you ready to be a father at fifteen? No, I don’t think you are. You can’t even remember to take out the trash without me reminding you three times a day. Which, for your information, is the amount of times a day a child demands food.”

It wasn’t that he needed reminding so much as the fact that he hated doing it and kept hoping she’d forget about it.

Better not mention that. It’d get him into more trouble. So he went in to attack her first argument. “Technically, if I got a girl pregnant right now, I’d be sixteen when the baby was born.”

Pulling her blonde hair back into a ponytail, she glared at him. “Not funny, Nick. How dare you make a joke about this. I am not amused.”

“Well, personally, I think you’ve done a great job with me, Ma. And that was with no help whatsoever. I don’t know why you’re complaining.”

She put her hands on her h*ps and glared furiously. “And you’re trying to distract me with flattery. It won’t work. You can’t date until you drive, and that’s that.”

There was another sore topic for him. “I keep begging you to teach me.”

“Not in my brand spanking new car. It’s the only new car I’ve ever owned and it’s the only one we have. If you wreck it, we won’t have a way to evacuate during hurricane season.”

Nick growled low in his throat. He had more than enough money in savings to buy a car, but because of his age, he couldn’t sign for one, and his mother refused. That money’s for college, not a car you don’t need. There ain’t no place you need to go that your feet or a streetcar can’t carry you to.

Ugh! His mother frustrated him on so many levels.

He gave her a sullen pout. “So basically, I’ll never learn to drive, and therefore will never date.”

She smiled proudly before she turned around to get her shoes from her bedroom. “Now you got the picture, Boo.”

He mocked her words. Until she snapped around to face him as if she knew what he was doing.

Nick gave her his most charming grin. “C’mon, Ma. Everyone else in my class is dating. Even Madaug.”

“And if—”

“Everyone jumped off the Pontchartrain would you join them?” he asked in falsetto before she had a chance.

Yeah, that got him another hostile glare. “Don’t mock me, boy.”

“Sorry.”

She jerked her shoes on. “No, you’re not. But if you do that again, you will be.” She straightened. “Now, I’m off to work. I’ll be home around midnight. Are you going to the Halloween haunted house your school’s sponsoring?”

Nick snorted. “Oh yeah, Mom. Just what I want to do. Wet my pants in front of my classmates and scream like a girl. It’s another attempt of yours to make sure I never have a date as long as I live, isn’t it?”

He could tell by the way her lips twitched that she didn’t want to be amused. In the end, she lost the fight and laughed. “You’re terrible.” Kissing his cheek, she ruffled his hair. “Be a good boy and I’ll see you in a little bit.”

She opened the door, then shrieked.

Nick braced himself, ready to fight whatever was out there.

Until his mother stepped back, laughing. “Goodness, Mr. Grim, you scared at least ten years off my life. Nick didn’t tell me his tutor was coming over tonight.” She cast a chiding look at Nick who was as surprised by Grim’s appearance as she was. But since they were dealing with Death, he didn’t respond. As always, Death came unexpectedly.… whenever he wanted. “Next time, Boo, warn me about potential company.” Smiling, she stepped past Grim. “You two have a good night. Sorry I have to rush off, but I’m late for work.”

Grim shut the door behind her. To Nick, he looked like any other young man in his late teens, early twenties, with tousled dark blond hair and gray eyes, dressed in a black hoodie that had a skull and crossbones on the back. But the Grim Reaper could project to others any form he wanted them to see and so Nick’s mother interpreted him as someone in his early thirties. Someone who was respectable.

She would literally die to know she’d just let the Grim Reaper into her house.

Laughing, Grim turned to face Nick. “Your mother is so oblivious it kills me. I just love that about her. Most people, even though they can’t see my real form, have some reservations in my presence. But not your mom. She honestly believes me to be human. Priceless.”

“Yeah.” And that was one of the things that concerned him most about her. She lacked any kind of ability to sense the preternatural. “She still thinks Kyrian’s a drug dealer. You wouldn’t believe how much grief she gives me about working for him.”

Death curled his lip. “Don’t mention your boss to me. People who cheat Death piss me off. I hate that whole thing Artemis does with bringing the dead back. Really, there shouldn’t be a loophole.”

Nick clamped down on mentioning the fact that one day, he’d be another one who would cheat Grim. That day should prove interesting, given their relationship. “How does Artemis do that, anyway?”

Grim scoffed. “Like I’m dumb enough to tell a Malachai? Do I have ‘stupid’ tattooed on my forehead?”

Knowing better than to answer that sarcastic jab—only a fool lipped off to Death, Nick scratched at the back of his neck.

Grim, who was extremely OCD and couldn’t stand foreign germs, tucked his hands into his pockets and closed the distance between them. “So how’s my least favorite pupil?”

“Not dead yet.”

“Unfortunately, I know.” Grim released a heavy sigh. “Pity that. I keep waiting for something to get ahold of you and not let go, but no such luck.… Yet.”

“Love you, too, Grim. I so look forward to our get-togethers.”

“I’m sure you covet them as much as I do.”

Yeah, it ranked up there with root canals and losing limbs. Without commenting, Nick went to get his box of “toys” for their lesson, but Grim stopped him.

“We’re taking a break from the divination for a while. I think you’ve mastered most of it.”

Nick would argue that since the last time he’d tried to use his pendulum, it’d swung up at him and almost put out his eye. The bridge of his nose was still tender from it and that’d been a week ago.

As for the rest, it came and went with no rhyme or reason. But he was always up for learning something new. “What are we doing, then?”

“Silkspeech.”

Nick arched his eyebrow at a term he didn’t understand. “I’m going to learn to talk to fabric. Wow. Awesome power there, Grim. Just what I always wanted to do. Can’t wait to get started. Point me to a comforter.”

Grim let out an aggravated growl at Nick’s sarcasm. “It pains me so that I can’t kill you.”

“Yeah, well, what can I say? Not everyone gets to rankle Death and live. I relish my role in your world.”

Grim mumbled something under his breath that sounded vaguely like a threat. “Silkspeech is the power of influence and control.”

Finally, a power worth having. “Influence?”

“The ability to sway other people to believe what you want them to believe or to do what you want them to.”

“Like mind control?”

“Yes and no. Mind control won’t work on those who are really hardheaded. You know.… Creatures like you.”

Well, if it only worked some of the time—“Then what good is it?”

“Fine.” Grim headed for the door. “If you don’t want to learn it.”

“Wait, wait, wait. I didn’t say that. I want to influence others.” Especially if it could change his mom’s attitude about dating, driving, chores …

Yeah, it had a lot of possibilities. With luck, he might not ever have to take out trash again!

Grim turned around slowly. “Word to the wise, short stack, when you do use this power, you have to be careful. Like all the others, it can sometimes come with a devastating side effect.”

“Like what?”

“It could cause someone to kill themself. Alter their fate. Impact you in ways you won’t know about until it’s too late.”

Oh goodie. Another power he couldn’t count on. Just what he wanted.

At this rate, he wasn’t sure why he was being trained. It was like giving nuts to a squirrel who had no teeth.

Nick let out a heavy sigh. “All these powers and the only one that actually works is the ability to call for help—and that one only so long as Caleb isn’t in the shower or with a woman. Why can’t one … just one power work the way it’s supposed to?”

Grim’s expression was wicked and cold. “Technically, they do. The problem is every human is different and they react to stimuli in ways unique to them. That’s what you can’t count on and it’s what makes your powers appear to misfire. Before you use them, you have to take time to know your target.”

Nick frowned. “I don’t understand.”

“Yes, you do. It’s instinctive in you, and it’s why you gravitate toward some people and run from others.” Grim picked up one of the porcelain dolls Nick’s mom collected and studied it as he talked. “Let’s take the term ‘redneck.’ Some people think of it as a badge of honor. Others as the ultimate insult.” He returned the doll to its shelf. “Originally, the word had an entirely different association and meaning. Back in the day, rednecks were union coal men from Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and eastern Kentucky- a far cry from the Deep South where most people mistakenly believe all rednecks live. They were from all races and creeds, and proudly wore a red bandana around their neck as a way of identifying themselves to others, and as a mark of solidarity of the working man standing up against the big corporations who exploited them. In short, they were folk heroes and admired.”

Nick widened his eyes. When Grim and Kyrian talked about history, it was interesting. When his teacher did it, it put him to sleep. “Really?”

Grim nodded. “It took decades before it was twisted into a derogatory term. Happens a lot with language. The word ‘war’ once meant to be cautious, as in ‘warning.’ ‘Precocious’ originally meant ‘stupid.’ But I digress. The point is, Slim, people have triggers. Words or images that cause a surge of negative emotion to run rampant through them. If I were to call your friend Bubba a redneck, he’d laugh and agree. If I were to call your friend Mark that, he’d be extremely offended and probably, to his detriment, try to punch me. Whenever you attempt silkspeech, you have to understand how it might adversely affect your target. If you accidentally hit on that person’s trigger, then you could end up with a violent response instead of a positive one. Or vice versa.”

Nick nodded as he followed Grim’s teaching. It was something he’d been doing for years, especially with jerks and bullies like Stone at school. “So what you’re saying is I have to learn what buttons to push.”

“Exactly.”

“That’s basic psychology, Grim. How’s that supposed to be a power?”

 

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