A Murder Of Crows
The Crow Series, Novella 3
Arizona Territory 1878
Bounty hunter Kester “Kit” Boggs, along with his brothers, tracks and destroys the vilest of men, both from this world and the next. With a Scottish and Comanche lineage, his connection to the supernatural is tied directly to the crow. For too long, he’s been hunting El Viejo del Saco, a demon known as The Bag Man who feeds on the blood of children. A rumor leads Kit to the Mexican frontier, where he must find a man called Hamish Kerr. But with Hallowtide descending, Kit has lost his ability to hear spirits, and his only hope is a woman whose family is a sworn enemy to the Boggs’ clan.
Eliza McCulloch’s ancestors hail from Scotland, her clan carrying an ancient curse and a warning—a McCulloch may never bind herself to a Boggs. When Eliza learns that Hamish Kerr stole her family’s book of spells, the McCulloch Grimoire, nearly two decades ago, she sets out to reclaim it. Often called witch, she possesses a unique skill to open doorways to the other side. But when she finds herself beholden to a Boggs for protection, her abilities take an unexpected turn.
As Kit and Eliza unearth far more than a stolen book, they must work together if they are to survive. But with the past pushing into their future, can they resist the growing desire between them? Is it possible for a Boggs and a McCulloch to find lasting love? Or will defeating the demon separate them forever?
Read Chapter One
Kit Boggs downed the last of his rye whiskey and settled into the wooden chair, the supports creaking loudly. He fully expected the contraption to give out at any time. He usually kept his liquor intake to a minimum when on a hunt, but the firewater was so watered down that he indulged his thirst.
From his vantage point outside the Wild Dog Cantina, the midday bustle of La Noria buzzed like a bee’s nest. The border town—straddling Mexico and the Arizona Territory—was occupied by mostly local white and Hispanic farmers, but the streets were also swarming with the hungry and savage looks of men who had arrived in search of work in the nearby Patagonia Mountains. With their eyes clouded with dreams of riches, these desperados were no doubt intent on striking it big with copper or silver. But that wasn’t what had brought Kit so far south, farther than the usual region he and his manhunting brothers patrolled.
As he watched the main street, his gaze was drawn to a woman riding a lathered red Indian pony. Both exhibited a stubborn bearing. The woman stopped before the mercantile and slid from the horse, tying the reins to the hitching post, her clothing covered in dust and the hem of her skirt frayed. Pausing, she removed her hat and wiped sweat from her forehead. She gripped the wooden support and appeared to take a fortifying breath, then leaned her head back to read the overhead sign. Her dark hair spilled down her back, loosened from the pins of the bun at the base of her neck, and Kit’s eyes were drawn to the outline of her feminine curves.
Reluctantly, Boggs turned to the scrawny Mexican beside him. “Nobody uses that.” He planted all four legs of the chair to the ground. “Call me Kit.”
“Like a kitten?” The gaunt man was also missing a few teeth.
“No.” Kit’s voice was resolute. “Do you have news for me?”
“Sí. They will see you tomorrow in an abandoned smithy at the far end of town.”
“Gracias.” Kit tossed a coin at the man, then turned back to the woman. She was gone.
He searched up and down the street for her horse, but both animal and female were nowhere in sight.
Had he imagined her?
He leaned forward and adjusted his Stetson. He’d been on a cat and mouse game these past few months and his reserves were pushed to the limit. Manhunts were his repertoire, but he usually had his brothers with him. Jack, however, had slipped headfirst into the arms of Hannah Dobbin, swiftly losing his edge for bounties since he wanted to remain near his new wife and the impending birth of their first babe—due any day now. And Callum had ventured to Colorado, speaking cryptically of a dream he’d had and the need to investigate. Kit had been ready to accompany him when rumors that Hamish Kerr was spotted down south had reached Kit’s ears. There had been little time to waste.
Now that a seed had been planted in La Noria, Kit would see if it paid off tomorrow.
He scanned the street once more. The disheveled siren was good and gone. Just as well. It was best not to get distracted.
It was bad enough that no voices from the other realms whispered in his ear, since it was those very voices that often gave Kit the edge he needed in his work. This only added to the strangeness of the town—calm on the surface with an undercurrent of cutthroat.
And the wind carried a whiff of desperate survival, along with a stench of stone-cold fear.
Surely the dead inhabited this place as much as the living. Kerr couldn’t be far, since a man as vile as he had most assuredly made a deal with the Devil. It was said he kept company with El Viejo del Saco—also called The Bag Man due to the criatura’s propensity to appear before children as an old man with a sack over his shoulder. It was this demon that Kit was determined to find and vanquish, this monster that preyed on the blood of the young.
Maybe the mysterious woman wasn’t of this world either. Perhaps the Maker had sent her mirage to soothe Kit’s ragged and exhausted thoughts.
He rose and left the cantina, going directly to the tiny room he had rented at a dilapidated boardinghouse. Despite daylight still working hard to take the late October chill from the air, Kit shed his clothing and fell into a deep sleep.
He dreamt of the siren.
* * *
Eliza McCulloch peeked around the adobe building. All clear. She moved along the darkened alleyway, careful to make little noise. When she had arrived in town earlier, she’d thought to march straight into the mercantile and ask where Hamish Kerr lived, but instead she’d caught sight of the ruddy-faced man she suspected had been trailing her since Tucson. She’d quickly grabbed her horse’s reins and blended into a nearby crowd.
She had spent the last three weeks making her way from her home in Taos, and while she’d occasionally encountered men of crass manners, it had been nothing of true concern. But this one was different. Her extra sense—the McCulloch gift—had signaled something was amiss.
And not just with the man following her.
She’d felt something as she’d stood outside the mercantile. Could the McCulloch Grimoire be inside? It was outlandish that it might be so, but she hadn’t wanted to wait until morning to find out.
Hamish Kerr had stolen her family book of spells over twenty years ago. If it was now sitting in a dry goods store in this god-forsaken location on the Mexican frontier, then didn’t she have a right to it? Setting aside the fact that she would be breaking the law, Eliza had concocted a plan as she’d waited for night to fall: She would steal it.
The grimoire was a book woven with the history and magic of the Shaw clan, created by her Scottish grandmother, Beitiris Shaw McCulloch. It had belonged to Eliza’s mother, Marta, along with Marta’s two sisters before Hamish had taken it.
While Eliza regretted trespassing in the mercantile, the sooner she found the grimoire the sooner she could return it to her mother. And perhaps it would aid in finding her own cousins—Deirdre and Catriona.
Her mama and her aunts—Aileen and Rose—didn’t know she was here. They didn’t know that Eliza had overheard them discussing the theft of the book by a man named Hamish Kerr; they didn’t know that she’d eavesdropped on their growing concern that Dee and Cat hadn’t been heard from these past two months after a trip from the McCulloch home to Tucson.
Eliza crept to the mercantile now bathed in black shadows. It was 3 a.m., the best time to do a little sleuthing. She reached for the door and found it locked. Hardly a surprise, but it was worth checking first.
Her eyes shifted to the window.
She glanced around. Not a soul was in sight.
Before she could talk herself out of trespassing, she stepped to the pane, wrapped the edge of her skirt around her right hand, and punched hard into the glass, wincing from the sound as well as the impact. The window shattered. She continued to knock jagged pieces away to clear the opening as best she could, then she wiggled into the store, the fabric of her already worn-out dress tearing further. She suppressed a grunt as protruding shards scratched her torso and slivers penetrated her hands.
She landed on the floor with a thud, knocking into a table filled with canisters of coffee which crashed in a cacophony of sound.
She stood and whipped her head around, searching for anyone who might be present. But she was alone. As she silently gasped for air, she brushed debris from her skirts, fragments of glass bloodying her palms. Ignoring the discomfort, she searched for books among the modest supplies of goods. When she found several volumes on a low shelf, she squinted in the darkness as she struggled to read the titles. She hadn’t even been born when the grimoire had been stolen, so she really had no idea as to its appearance. But her mother and aunts had crafted a second grimoire over the years; unfortunately, it was inferior to the original. Beitiris—Granny Bea in all the tales handed down to Eliza, Dee, and Cat—had had a skill in the natural arts that none of the women had been able to match. Although Marta had often remarked that Eliza was a spitting image of the old woman.
Perhaps the new grimoire resembled the old. Eliza searched for a match.
When she clasped the final tomb of the collection, her heartbeat quickened, her fingers tingled, and her forehead perspired despite the brisk night air pouring in through the broken window.
She knew before she opened the cover that this was it.
Careful not to stain the tome with her bloodied hands, she opened the book. On the title page was an inscription. She cursed not bringing a light, but had she used a candle it might have alerted someone to her presence. Or worse, she might have accidently caught the book on fire. Too risky.
She moved to the window and held the book up to the moonlight that offered slightly better illumination. The words were in Scottish Gaelic. Thanks to her mother and aunts, Eliza was well-versed in the language of her ancestors.
A ‘nighean mar a mathair.
Such mother, such daughter.
Or, as Aunt Rose liked to say, Like mother, like daughter. It was an oft used phrase of Eliza’s upbringing.
Exiting through the window, she clutched the book to her bosom and swiftly ran down an alleyway beside the building. Abruptly she halted, fear surging through her.
A shadow shifted.
She stood unmoving. Eliza couldn’t take her eyes from the form that slowly appeared.
She blinked, not believing what she saw.
A three-headed dog. And a large one at that, with its trio of fangs bared.
Taking a step back, she prepared to flee but bumped into something. A man? It was the last thing she remembered.
Copyright 2018 K. McCaffrey LLC
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