The food was good. I ate until I couldn't take another bite. Afterward, I leaned back against the leather couch cushions, my coat draped next to me, and relaxed for the first time in what seemed like a lifetime.

My gaze kept going to Luke. There was little resemblance to the imposing figure I dealt with down in the storefront. Once upstairs, Luke seemed to relax. He hadn't said much while we ate, and now he sat back in his chair, finishing a bite of bread.

Every time I glanced his way, I found him looking at me with an openly inquisitive stare.

He was not what I expected. He didn't hide like the rest of his guild members. He was wearing a phoenix on his tank top for Goddess's sake. This was not a guy trying to keep to the shadows—this was a guy living openly in a society that deeply despised his kind. Did he feel alienated? Did he have friends outside his guild?

And what about his sister, Darla? I wondered if she practiced the arts. She sat quietly, finishing off her meal. It was hard to tell if someone possessed magic just by looking at them. Was she also a death dealer? Would the Phoenix Guild initiate someone so young?

I wondered how different her life was from mine. I had become a healer like my mother and her mother before her. The path to becoming a healer started at fifteen, but at that age I had only learned the basics about plants and medicine. Mama hadn't allowed me to delve into the magics that went along with healing until I hit my seventeenth birthday. My training started three months ago and, in that time, I'd learned as much as I could as fast as I could.

No other career choice had ever entered my mind. It had always been assumed that I would follow in my family's footsteps and, honestly, I didn't have any regrets. I love working with plants, being out in the sunshine, my hands pushed into the dirt of Mother Earth. Growing fragile things with care and love, creating medicines to heal the sick, mixing potions, learning a craft passed down through generations—there was no part of being a healer that didn't make my heart swell with joy and make me leap out of bed every morning full of excitement. The world once seemed a place of endless possibilities.

But all of that was now behind me. The path before me was full of shadows and darkness. I was going to become a death dealer, and I didn't have the faintest idea what kind of lives they led.

I took a good look at my surroundings. I was in a studio apartment, but the space was enormous. A well-outfitted kitchen with granite counters and cherry cabinets stood at one side of the room. The middle area was arranged as a living room and office. The couch I was on sat against the wall on a large, patterned rug surrounded by two oversize chairs. To the right of the couch in front of a row of tall windows stood a desk with a laptop computer and printer. Next to the desk was a small row of black metal cabinets. On the other side of the room were three large partitions—walls that didn't quite make it all the way up to the ceiling. Bedrooms, I imagined.

"This is a nice place." It was an expensive place. Every piece of furniture and knickknack screamed money.

"It's our uncle's." Luke leaned forward and put his plate down on the old blue steamer trunk serving as a table for our meal. "So are you going to tell us what brought you here?"

"Good food, terrific soda—what's not to like?" My answer brought a scowl to his face, but I wasn't intimidated. I was paying for his services—I wasn't about to fill him in on the details of my life. "My understanding is that your type of work comes with a certain assurance of anonymity. Like when you pay a shrink or a lawyer."

"Client confidentiality." He leaned back in his chair and took on a thoughtful expression.

"Exactly." I poured myself another glass of soda.

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