Coming July 23, 2024
Book 2 in Magic For Hire
Return to bestselling author Alexandra Ivy’s new Magic for Hire series, where the witches of a small New Jersey bookstore discover a secret dormant for centuries—and one woman unlocks the passion of a solitary heart . . .
The Vampire Cabal meets only under the direst circumstances. But since Skye Claremont’s coven proved wild magic has returned, the cabal has gathered in New York City to decide the fate of the powerful mages.
Skye doubts her oracular powers can help. After ten years indentured to a demon gang, paying off her father’s gambling debts with visions, her freedom has come despite her weak abilities, not because of them. But when her father sends a text to demand a meeting, she doesn’t need to read the future to know trouble will follow.
The demons want her to kidnap Micha, the reclusive, fearsome leader of the New Orleans vampire cabal. As if a low-voltage witch like her could succeed. But when Skye looks into Micha’s eyes, she sees certain doom if she doesn’t take him to their stronghold after all. Spellbound more by beauty and intrigue than magic, the vampire follows her into the dark of a demon cell. When the door slams behind them, they’ll have to unravel the tangled threads of prophecy and politics that make the way forward immeasurably dangerous. But it’s desire that could undo them both . . .
Read an Excerpt
Skye Claremont studied the brick building in front of her. Once upon a time, the Green House Theater must have been an impressive sight. Consuming most of the city block, it had a massive marquee outlined with lights that jutted over the sidewalk and high arched windows on the upper floor. In the center of the building was a glassed-in box office that was framed by two sets of double doors with ornate handles. Even the roof was decorated with bronzed statues that peered down as if waiting for an invisible crowd enter.
Now, it was less impressive and more depressing. Even at a distance she could see that the bricks were crumbling and the windows were covered by sheets of plywood that had been spray painted by vandals. And not even good vandals.
Just crappy initials and gang symbols.
Skye heaved a sigh. The Green House Theater looked…depressed, she decided. As if it was feeling abandoned by the audiences who’d turned their attention to other entertainments.
Maybe it was the gray October weather that was making it look sad, she acknowledged. It wasn’t raining, but the clouds hung low in the sky, blocking out the afternoon sun and casting a shadow over New York City. Or maybe it was the empty lots that surrounded the building that emphasized an air of neglect.
Whatever the case, this place had obviously seen better days.
Turning her head, Skye glanced at the woman standing next to her.
Maya Rosen appeared to be in her early thirties with elegant features that were highlighted rather than marred by the spidery web of scars that ran from her left ear down her jawline. Her eyes were a bright green and her silky smooth black hair was chopped at her shoulders.
Most people first meeting Maya assumed she was a successful businesswoman. And they would be partially right. She did own a wildly popular coffeeshop called the Witch’s Brew in Linden, New Jersey. But she’d passed her thirtieth birthday several decades ago. Like all mages, she’d stopped aging after her powers had fully matured. It was one of many bonuses to possessing the wild magic that flowed in their blood.
Not that Skye had ever been concerned about aging. At the age of twenty seven she still looked like a teenager with her mane of pale, corkscrew curls that bounced around her heart-shaped face and deep dimples. It didn’t help that she chose her clothes for comfort, not style. Today she’d pulled on a pair of sweatpants and a fuzzy sweater with the Cookie Monster on the front to combat the chilly air.
It was only her black eyes that were framed with long lashes that warned she wasn’t as young and innocent as she appeared. Her gaze had unnerved some of the most powerful demons. As well as a vampire or two. Maya had once told her that people could sense the mystic powers that bubbled inside her.
“You’re sure this is the place?” Skye asked her companion, her voice barely above a whisper.
Despite the fact they were in Upper Manhattan, the sounds of traffic and pedestrians were muffled, as if this neighborhood was shrouded from the city that hummed with an electric excitement just a few blocks away.
Maya grimaced before touching her temple. “According to the voice in my head.”
Skye wasn’t reassured. She’d been taken in by Maya almost five years ago when she’d wandered into the Witch’s Brew in search of a job. The older woman was not only one of the most powerful mages that Skye had ever encountered, but she was also one of the rare few who wasn’t under the rule of a vampire.
Vampires were rare—only the leeches knew the exact number—but they owned the Gyres where the last of the magic in the world lingered. It was rumored that the hotspots were the ancient lairs of dragons who’d left this world eons ago. Not that it mattered. However the Gyres had been created, they offered demons the ability to touch their primeval powers. And since the vampires controlled the Gyres, they controlled the demons.
Thankfully for Skye, mages didn’t depend on the Gyres for their magic. It flowed through their blood. And while her magic might be amped by the power that hummed in the air and thundered beneath her feet, she had no desire to be the slave of a vampire. Or a demon.
But as Maya had warned her, independence had a price. For Maya it was the mysterious Benefactor. Skye didn’t know much about the elusive creature. It never visited the Witch’s Brew or contacted Maya by traditional means. Instead, it spoke directly into the older woman’s mind. And while the Benefactor surrounded them in an aura that somehow kept away the leeches, it occasionally demanded they perform small tasks.
“So what you’re saying is that the Benefactor placed an invisible GPS in your head” Skye teased, trying to ease the tension that had been building since they entered the city.
“Something like that.”
“And I thought I was weird.”
“You are,” Maya assured her.
“True,” Skye agreed. Unlike her companion, or Peri Sanguis, who was another mage that Maya had taken in, Skye didn’t have enormous magic. She couldn’t brew potions like Maya or call on long-lost powers like Peri, but she was the most unique of all mages. A seer. A rare gift that did nothing to help in their current circumstances, she acknowledged as she glanced back at the theater. “The place looks empty. What now?”
“I guess we go inside.” Maya squared her shoulders before crossing the road and heading toward the empty lot next to the building.
Skye struggled to match her friend’s long strides. Just one of many problems for a short girl.
“Maybe we should give Peri a call,” she suggested.
“It’s her day off.”
It was Sunday and the coffeeshop was closed, meaning that Peri would be spending the day with her mate, Valen, the Cabal leader of the East Coast, in his lair near Central Park. A short taxi ride away.
“Yeah, but she’s the muscle of our crew,” Skye muttered.
Maya arched a brow. “What am I?”
“Debatable.” Maya halted in front of a rusty side door that was propped open a few inches by a broken brick. She turned her head to send Skye a wry smile. “You, however, are most certainly the heart.”
Skye leaned forward to peer through the narrow crack. “Very nice, but right now I’d prefer some muscle.”
Maya paused, as if communicating with the voice in her head. Then she grimaced.
“We can’t wait. It has to be now.”
“Okay, then.” Skye grabbed the handle and pulled the door wide enough for them to enter. “Are you ready?”
“No,” Maya muttered even as she squeezed through the opening.
Skye quickly followed, glancing around the narrow hallway. Directly ahead of them an arched opening led to the main auditorium that was lined with rows of seats. To the left the hallway disappeared into the shadowed wings of the stage and to the right a wide staircase curved up to the mezzanine.
Skye moved to peer into the auditorium, only to be halted as Maya grabbed her arm in a tight grip.
“We’re not alone.”
Skye instantly froze. One of Maya’s many talents was the ability to sense the presence of demons.
“How many?” Skye whispered.
“Five. Three goblins and two fairies.”
In ancient times the demons openly roamed the world. But as the magic had faded, they’d been forced to hide among the humans, usually gathering in the Gyres where they could still access their diluted powers even if it did mean bending the knee to a vampire.
“Where?” Skye asked.
Before Maya could answer they heard the crunch of footsteps just outside the door. With a startled glance, they scurried forward, jogging up the staircase to disappear in the gloom.
Once on the mezzanine, Maya took the lead, bending over as she headed toward the low wall at the front of the overhang. Skye crab walked behind her, pressing her side against the wall before she cautiously peeked over the edge.
Below her the auditorium fanned upward in a half-circle facing toward the wide stage. The chairs remained intact, but the wallpaper was peeling and the ornate cornices and molding had long ago lost their gilding. Overhead there was a large hole where the chandelier had been yanked out and the plaster was cracked, but it didn’t look as if it was going to collapse on her head in the next few minutes.
The only good news since Maya announced they were traveling to the city.
She turned her attention to the demons who were seated on the front rows, as if waiting for a show to start. The three goblins looked remarkably alike. All were broad and bald and bulging with muscles. All were wearing jeans with gray hoodies. And of course, all of them were surrounded by a red glow that marked them as demons. At least to those who possessed the magic to see the aura. The two fairies on the other hand, were slender with long reddish hair and delicate features. They wore the same hoodies as if it was a group thing, but the glow around them was green instead of red.
Even from a distance Skye could tell that none of them had particularly strong auras, revealing their blood had been diluted with humans over the centuries, and that they were low on the demon social scale. It didn’t mean, however, they weren’t dangerous.
As if to emphasize the point, the group of demons turned toward the stage as a large form suddenly appeared from the wings. He was a goblin with the usual muscular body, and like the others, he’d shaved his head and was casually attired. But his aura was twice as bright as the others, warning Skye that he came from a family with considerable power.
“You’re late,” one of the goblins from below groused.
“Fuck off, Gunther,” the man on stage retorted. “I’m here now.”
Skye blinked. Someone was grouchy.
One of the goblins, presumably Gunther, rose to his feet, his hands on his hips. “Then let’s get this over with. Why are we here?”
The man on stage who was the obvious leader, glared down at him. “Did you do a sweep of the building?”
“Course we did. We’re a professional crew.”
“So you keep saying.”
“We weren’t the ones who were an hour late,” Gunther snapped, glancing around the empty theater. “I don’t like being out in the daylight. Too many eyes watching.”
The leader scowled, as if he wasn’t used to being chided. “You’ll be out when I tell you to be out. I’m the one paying the bills.”
“But you aren’t, are you?”
The scowl deepened. “Aren’t what?”
“Paying the bills,” Gunther groused. “You keep promising that we’re going to be living large, but so far we’re out there risking out asses with nothing to show for it.”
“You’ll get what’s coming to you.” An ugly smile curved the male’s lips.
Gunther snorted. “When?”
“The bill is adding up. Are you sure you’re going to have enough money to cover it?”
“I told you. You’ll get paid.”
“Yeah well, it’d better be in the next couple of days.” The demon cupped his hand between his legs. “My bitch needs some new bling or her pretty mouth isn’t going to be wrapped around my cock. And then I’m going to get real fussy real quick.”
Maya and Skye shared a glance of pure disgust as the demons obediently laughed at Gunther’s crude joke. The man on stage, however, appeared less amused.
“If you’re unhappy with the situation, I can find another crew.” The leader deliberately paused, flicking his hard gaze toward the gathered demons. “Better yet, I could ask your buddies if they want to choose a new leader. I’m betting they’ll decide to get rid of you. It’s a better option than walking away with nothing after all their hard work. What would you bet?”
Gunther shuffled his feet, smart enough to back down from the threat. “Chillax, dude,” he grumbled. “If we’re not going to get paid then why did you call us here?”
The leader folded his arms over his chest. “I need someone who isn’t a member of your crew to perform a separate task.”
“What’s my cut of the pay?”
“That’s between you and whoever you hire, but I have rules.”
“Rules for what?”
“If he gets caught or squeals about our extra circular activity, you all die.”
There was a sudden burst of chatter between the gathered crew. Gunther ignored them. “Caught by who?”
“That’s a little vague.”
“Make sure they don’t get caught.”
Gunther hesitated. Was he debating whether or not to accept the responsibility for an outside contractor? Maybe, but he wasn’t going to back down.
“Okay, but it’s going to cost more,” he abruptly warned. “Say…double our normal rate.”
“Whatever.” The leader shrugged. “Put it on my bill.”
Gunther visibly jerked, as if caught off guard by the male’s ready agreement to his demands. Skye wasn’t. The demon on the stage possessed a cold, brutality she’d sensed before. He would kill the entire crew once they’d completed the job. And he would kill them without remorse. Like a snake striking an enemy and slithering past the corpse.
“Fine.” He forced out the word. “Anything else?”
The leader stepped forward, running a dismissive glance over the demons sprawled in the front seats.
“Is this your entire crew?”
“No. I have four others. They’re on a job.”
The male clicked his tongue, as if disappointed with the answer. “Next time I call for a meeting I want them all here.”
“Because I said so. That’s the only explanation you need.”
Gunther cleared his throat, as if he was beginning to wonder why the male would want them all gathered in one spot. Skye could have told him it was so it would be easier to kill them.
“About that money you owe us—”
“Shut up.” The leader abruptly tilted back his head, sucking in a deep breath. “There’s someone here. Humans.” He released a feral growl, glaring at Gunther. “You said you searched the place.”
“I did. If there’s someone here they must have snuck in while we were waiting for you.”
“Find them,” the leader snapped. “No one gets out of here.”
Maya grasped Skye’s arm, dragging her toward the back of the mezzanine. Below them the bellows of angry demons echoed through the air, reverberating against the domed ceiling as they charged in pursuit.
“Stay close,” Maya commanded as she released her grip on Skye and reached into the purse slung over one shoulder.
Skye knew that her friend would have at least a few bottles of potion stashed in the leather satchel. A good mage never left home without them. Skye, on the other hand, touched the silver bracelet that encircled her wrist. The various charms that dangled from the delicate chain weren’t for decoration. She used them to store extra doses of magic.
Extra doses that were going to be handy dandy in the next few minutes.
Reaching the stairs, they headed downward only to halt as one of the goblins appeared at the bottom.
“They’re here!” The demon managed to call out before Maya tossed a slender glass tube in his direction.
The male held up his arms, protecting his face as the thin glass shattered and a massive explosion sent him flying backwards. He roared in fury as he hurtled down the hallway and smashed into the far wall. The force was enough to knock him unconscious and Maya didn’t hesitate as she continued down the staircase. Skye scurried behind her. They had to get out of the theater before their escape was cut off.
They were halfway down the steps when Skye felt a familiar flare of magic spread through her. A vision. Dammit, now wasn’t a good time. Not that any time was a good. But this was spectacularly bad.
Sadly, she’d learned a long time ago it was futile to try and suppress them, no matter how unwelcome they might be. You might as well try to halt a volcano from erupting. Besides, Maya was still holding her hand. The personal contact meant that the vision was more than likely connected to her friend.
Gritting her teeth, Skye grunted as she was rudely blinded by her powers, and the image of Maya lying dead at the bottom of the staircase seared through her mind. There was a bleeding bullet hole directly in the middle of her forehead and her eyes were wide open, staring sightlessly at the demon standing over her.
“No, Maya!” Skye wrapped her arm around her friend’s waist, yanking her to a halt.
They stumbled, falling backwards at the same moment that a gunshot boomed from the hallway and a bullet ripped through the exact spot where they’d been standing.
Maya released a shaky breath, turning her head to send Skye a glance of gratitude despite the fact that the older woman had made Skye swear never to share visions she might have of Maya or Peri while they all lived at the Witch’s Brew. Skye understood Maya’s rule. Knowing the future without context was worthless. And Skye had always been happy that she had no ability to see her own destiny.
But desperate times called for desperate measures.
And this was about as desperate as it could get.
“I don’t suppose the Benefactor is whispering an escape plan in your head?” Skye demanded, scrambling back up the stairs.
Maya once again reached into her purse and pulled out a vial. She tossed it over her shoulder without looking back.
Skye clenched her muscles as she prepared for another explosion. Instead, a cloud of smoke filled the air and she could hear demons choking from the hallway.
The potion had given them a brief opportunity to escape. If only they could find a way out of the building. Back in the mezzanine, Maya headed directly toward the windows. They would have to bust through the plywood, but—
Skye’s thoughts were shattered as the male voice echoed from the other side of the mezzanine. Turning her head she watched the two fairies leap over the low wall and race toward them. Skye touched a charm on her bracelet and whispered a spell, but even as the magic pulsed in her blood, the closest fairy tossed a dagger. Skye dodged to the side, but the blade was enchanted. Curving with lethal precision it headed straight for her heart. Skye released a hasty spell designed to create a bubble of protection. It managed to deflect the knife far enough to avoid a killing blow, but the blade managed to slice through her upper arm.
Maya muttered in frustration, throwing another vial. It wasn’t aimed at the advancing males, but instead it hit at their feet, smashing against the warped floorboards. There was a loud sizzle before flames abruptly appeared, twirling like tiny tornadoes as they headed directly toward the advancing males. The fairies shouted in fear, diving back over the edge.
“Are you okay?” Maya rasped, turning to inspect the wound on Skye’s arm.
“I’ll be fine,” she assured her friend, trying to ignore the throbbing pain. “Let’s just get out of here.”
Maya turned back toward the windows, lifting her hand as she released a pulse of magic. It smacked against the plywood, splintering one in half. Not enough to allow them to squeeze through, but Skye was hoping that it weakened the wood enough they should be able to physically wrench it off.
They rushed forward, Skye holding her hand over the wound that seeped blood down her arm. She would worry about healing the cut later. Right now nothing mattered but fleeing.
Unfortunately, there were still five demons determined to prevent them from accomplishing their goal.
On cue, the leader roared his way up the stairs, his aura flaring with a brilliant crimson as he barreled directly toward them. Maya whirled to face him, but even as she reached into her purse the male was swinging his meaty fist, catching Maya directly on the chin. The mage soared backward, slamming into plyboard that collapsed beneath the impact. With a low cry, Maya flew through the broken window and down to the street below.
Skye lunged forward, terrified her friend was seriously hurt. Mages were far more durable than humans, but they weren’t immortal.
She’d managed only a few steps when a massive hand grabbed her by her nape, and lifted her off her feet. She struggled to glance over her shoulder to see the demon who was carrying her forward. The instinctive turn of her head saved her nose from being busted as he slammed her face first against the wall.
“Who are you?” the leader snarled, ignoring the white cloud of plaster that floated from the ceiling to layer them in a fine powder. “Why did you follow me?”
Skye ignored the pain that burst through her skull as it connected with the wall. She also ignored the male who continued to slam her into the wall as he asked the same question over and over.
Her ability to glimpse the future or to sense emotions wasn’t much help during a fight. And while she had a few spells, they weren’t potent enough to combat a full-grown goblin. Thankfully, she had one other skill. A skill she’d discovered by accident and rarely used.
Reaching up she pressed her hand against the fingers that were currently digging into her neck. Her magic, including her visions always worked best when she was touching someone. She assumed it had something to do with the sheer intimacy of her powers.
Now she closed her eyes, blocking out the demon who continued to shout at her for answers, the acrid stench of flames, the plaster dust floating in the air, the splintering pain in her head, and the fear that Maya might be injured. Then, focusing her thoughts on the feel of his fingers beneath her hand, she released a tendril of magic, directing it to crawl up his arm and along the broad width of his shoulder.
The demon stiffened as her magic reached his neck and arrowed upward. Did he feel her powers moving through his body? Or was he tired of smashing her into the wall? Nah. He couldn’t be tired. Not when he was obviously getting pleasure from her pain. Which meant he sensed the danger.
Realizing she had to hurry, Skye clenched her teeth and concentrated on the magic, urging it to surround his mind in a web of shimmering stands.
“What the fuck? Get out of my head.”
The male abruptly released her, allowing her to drop to the ground as he tried to shake off her lingering touch. It was too late. Skye had a firm grip on his mind, her magic tightening and tightening until the demon screamed in agony.
“Stop! You bitch. Stop…”
With a moan the demon fell to the floor, clutching his head in his hands. Skye could have destroyed him. Just another squeeze and his mind would have become mush. Instead, she broke the connection between them and leaped through the window.
It wasn’t easy to attract attention in New York City. Not when there was a plethora of pedestrians who clogged the streets with styles that went beyond flamboyant. Skye had seen a man stroll stark naked through Times Square without getting a second glance.
But not even the jaded citizens of the Big Apple could hide their interest as Skye and Maya limped their way into Penn Station. It might have been their torn clothing, tangled hair and layers of dust and plaster that clung to them. They certainly had a zombie-vibe going on. Or the blood that dripped from Skye’s arm. Or Maya’s swollen eye where she’d slammed through the plywood and hit the pavement two-stories below. Or perhaps it was the grim expressions on their faces that warned the world they weren’t in the mood to… Well, anything really. Unless it included a hot bath and bottle of aspirin.
Whatever the cause, they were given plenty of space as they settled in the train that whisked them to New Jersey. Neither spoke during the thirty minute ride. Skye was too relieved that they’d escaped alive, while Maya no doubt brooded on the reason the Benefactor had sent them to the stupid theater in the first place.
Hobbling off the train in Linden, they crossed the parking lot and zigzagged their way through the narrow streets, backtracking more than once. Skye assumed that Maya was making sure they weren’t being followed. No doubt a wise precaution, but Skye wasn’t in the mood to be wise. Or cautious.
She was cold, exhausted, and her arm hurt like a bitch. Time to get home.
At last they turned onto the block where they could see the neon sign stuck over the sidewalk with a coffee cup in the center of a witch’s hat.
The Witch’s Brew. Thank goodness.
Concentrating on placing one foot in front of the other, Skye jumped in surprise as a man abruptly appeared from seemingly nowhere. Instinctively she touched a charm on her bracelet, absorbing the magic. Tired or not, she was ready to fight off an attack.
It wasn’t until he stepped closer that she breathed a sigh of relief.
Joe was a regular fixture in the area. She didn’t know if he had a home nearby or stayed in the local shelter, but he was always hanging around, usually dressed in a velour track suit with a fishing hat stuck on his head. His age was indeterminant behind his bushy beard, but she suspected that he was older than she’d first assumed.
“Hey, Joe,” she murmured.
The man leaned toward them, his eyes nearly hidden beneath his hat. “You look like you rolled in the sewers. You smell even worse.”
Skye managed a weary smile. Joe enjoyed calling out insults whenever they passed. She honestly preferred it to the creepy whistles and catcalls that some men thought was flattering.
Without warning, Maya glared at the harmless man. “Not now.”
Joe snorted. “You know what? The smell of you would be an insult to the sewers. You—”
Maya pointed a finger in the man’s face. “Not. Now.”
“Maya,” Skye protested as they limped past Joe. “He’s just teasing.”
“I don’t trust him.”
Skye frowned. Since last summer Maya had grown increasingly suspicious of Joe.
“You keep saying that, but I don’t understand why not. He’s been hanging around here forever.”
Maya’s features pinched into a sour expression. “He’s more.”
“I don’t know,” the older woman muttered. “But I intend to find out.”
Skye didn’t argue. She was too tired. Besides arguing with Maya was like smacking her head into a brick wall. And her head had already been smacked into enough walls for one day, thank you very much.
Reaching the coffeeshop squashed between a tanning salon and a falafel restaurant, Skye placed her hand against the door to unravel the protective wards and they stepped inside.
It wasn’t a large establishment but to her it was filled with charm. There were small, round tables spread around the white tiled floor and walls that were painted a bright lavender. Skye had recently decorated the large front windows with fall leaves, pumpkins, and black cats in celebration of the Halloween season. And even though they were closed, the air was scented with the rich aroma of freshly pressed coffee and baked pastries that lured customers from miles around to stand in a line down the block. Sometimes for hours.
For those customers who weren’t in the mood for coffee and muffins—or just preferred a bit of peace—there was an attached bookstore where you could sink into one of the cushy armchairs and read without distractions.
Of course there were parts of the Witch’s Brew that weren’t so charming.
From a small, barren office at the back of the building, the three mages offered their magical expertise. For the right price a demon could purchase a love potion, a glamour spell, an illusion charm that would last for weeks, and a tonic that could stiffen up a demon’s sagging performance in the bedroom.
And if you had deep enough pockets, they could create agonizing curses to punish an enemy.
Coffee, muffins, potions, charms, and curses. A full-service business.
On the point of crossing toward the door behind the counter that hid a staircase to the upper floors, Maya came to a sudden halt.
“Is something wrong?” Skye demanded.
“Peri’s here.” Maya’s brows tugged together as if she was attempting to pinpoint their friend’s precise location. “She’s in the office.”
Skye instantly forgot her weariness, her aching head, and the wound that still seeped blood. There had to be something wrong. Since becoming Valen’s mate last summer, the couple had made it a rule that Sunday was the one day a week that they were unavailable. Nothing and no one were allowed to intrude into their privacy.
Clearly as alarmed as Skye, Maya hurried through the attached bookstore and into the back office where Peri was pacing the floor, her body tense and her hands clenched.
“What happened?” Maya demanded.
Peri jerked as if she hadn’t sensed their approach, slowly turning to face them.
“Hello, to you too…” Peri’s words trailed away as she took in the sight of her bedraggled friends. For a long moment she merely stared at them, as if wondering if she was hallucinating. Then she shook her head in disbelief. “Holy crap. You’re asking me what happened? Look at you guys.” Her eyes widened with horror. “Skye. You’re bleeding.”
Skye managed a weak smile as she edged around Peri and headed toward Maya’s desk at the back of the room. Pulling open the bottom drawer, she pulled out one of the emergency healing potions. They were nothing if not prepared. Acutely aware she was being watched, Skye tugged off the stopper and poured the thick green liquid over her wound. It didn’t instantly heal, but the bleeding stopped and the worst of the pain eased. Replacing the vial she grabbed a disposable wipe and cleaned off the dried blood and dust.
Once she was finished, she returned her attention to Peri who was watching her with a lift of her brows. Peri was wearing a casual pair of jeans and Chicago Cubs sweatshirt, but she still managed to look elegant. The mage was just a couple years older than Skye with long, dark curls and glorious blue eyes and a stark beauty that had softened with happiness since she’d mated with Valen.
“Are you going to explain why the two of you look like you spent the day a horde of demons?” Peri demanded.
“Because we spent the day battling a horde of demons,” Skye admitted.
Peri’s mouth dropped open. “Why?”
“A request from the Benefactor that went sideways,” Maya answered, moving to stand next to Peri. “We can discuss our spectacular failure when you come to work tomorrow. For now I want to know why you’re here.”
Peri grimaced, wrapping her arms around her waist. “It’s nothing really. I’m sure I’m overacting—”
“You’re worried,” Skye abruptly broke into Peri’s attempt to act casual.
Peri stiffened. “Skye.”
Skye held up her hand. “I wasn’t peeking into your mind,” she assured her friend. “But I can sense your fear.”
“Is it Valen?” Maya snapped. The older woman was as protective as a mother hen when it came to Skye and Peri. Especially when vampires were involved. “Skye and I have sensed for weeks that something’s bothering you. You might pretend to be happy, but you can’t fool your family. You’re worried and it’s only getting worse.”
“What are you talking about?” Peri tried to sound surprise, but she had to know her friends had noticed the darkening shadows in her eyes.
“You can tell us,” Maya insisted. “Has Valen done something to you? I warned you that leeches couldn’t be trusted—”
“Valen is perfect,” Peri swiftly defended her mate.
Maya narrowed her gaze, her silvery scars seeming to glow in the stark light. “Perfect?”
“Okay, maybe not perfect, but he makes me happy.”
“Are you sure?” Maya pressed. “If he’s done something—”
“Tell us what’s bothering you,” Skye interrupted before a squabble could break out.
The three of them were closer than sisters. Which meant they had a genius talent for annoying the crap out of each other. Peri hesitated before squaring her shoulders. She had come to the Witch’s Brew with a purpose, and she wasn’t happy about it.
“The Cabal showed up in New York last night,” she abruptly announced.
Maya and Skye released mutual sounds of shock. Only the most powerful vampires were invited to become members of the exclusive group who ruled over the demon world.
“The whole Cabal?” Skye breathed in horror.
Peri shook her head. “Four of them. Gabriel from Denver. Micha from New Orleans. Kane from St. Petersburg and Ambassador Azra. He’s some sort of assistant to Sinjon who’s the current head honcho of the Cabal.”
“Four of the most lethal leeches invaded Valen’s territory?” Maya’s magic tingled in the air, brushing over Skye’s skin like an electric current. “Are they plotting a rebellion?”
Peri grimaced. “TBD.”
Maya blinked. “What?”
“Too be determined,” Skye clarified for her friend.
Maya sent her a frustrated glare. “I know what it means. I want to know why it’s yet to be determined.”
Skye shrugged. “Then that’s what you should have asked.”
It was Peri’s turn to head off a squabble. “The rumors of my wild magic have made their way through the demon world. The Cabal is here to determine if I’m a danger to the demons.”
Skye felt a sudden stab of unease. Unlike regular witches who could manipulate magical items and create spells with the proper ingredients, mages were born with wild magic flowing in their veins. Usually that manifested in a nuclear blast of power that ignited their powers when they reached adulthood—like gas being poured on kindling—before the magic retreated to a low simmer. Except for Peri. Her magic had always been amazing, but during a battle a few months ago with an ancient evil the raw magic had once again blasted through her and stayed, giving her a power that was off the charts.
The sort of power that didn’t go unnoticed by those in charge.
“I don’t believe that’s why they’re here,” Maya growled in dangerous tones. “They aren’t worried about demons, they worried your power might be great enough to pose a threat to their supreme rule.”
Skye blinked. “Seriously? You think they’re a threat to Peri?”
“Absolutely. Leeches consider themselves superior to the rest of us. If Peri threatens their dominance, they’ll do whatever necessary to destroy her.”
“I don’t threaten anything,” Peri argued.
“Of course you do,” Maya insisted. “Just having the power in your hands is a threat.”
Skye studied Peri, absorbing the pulses of apprehension that she couldn’t control.
“You’re worried,” Skye murmured.
Peri offered a grudging nod. “I don’t know exactly what they want from me. It’s not like there are specific reassurances I can offer to prove I’m not going to hurt anyone. At least, I would never hurt anyone on purpose.” She grimaced. “Plus, having four of the most powerful vampires in the world staying at our lair is a lot. Even Valen is uneasy.”
“You should stay here until they leave,” Maya announced, sounding as if the decision had been made.
Peri shook her head. “Tempting, but I refuse to be driven from my home. Even if they are the Cabal.”
Skye moved to grasp her friend’s hand. “What can we do to help?”
Peri offered her a grateful smile. “Valen and I are hosting a formal dinner party tomorrow night to welcome the Cabal to our Gyre. Not that we’re in the mood to entertain, but we don’t want anyone to think we have anything to hide.” She looked like she’d rather have her teeth pulled than to throw out the red carpet for her unwanted guests. “We’ve invited a few demons along with the servants who’ve traveled with the vampires. And I want you both to be there.”
“Of course we’ll be there,” Maya said. “What time—”
“No,” Skye interrupted.
Maya narrowed her gaze. “No?”
Skye gave Peri’s fingers a squeeze. “We love you Peri, you know that. And we would do anything to help you. But Maya can’t be trusted around vampires.”
The older woman sucked in a harsh breath. “That’s not true.”
Peri was clearly blindsided by Skye’s stark refusal. “It’s just for one evening.”
Skye kept her gaze focused on Peri. “Do you remember when Maya and I traveled to Paris to take pastry lessons at the Le Cordon Bleu?”
“Yeah, I stayed here to keep the shop open.”
“We were there less than a week before we were on the verge of being thrown into the local dungeon.”
Peri arched her brows. “I didn’t hear this story. What happened?”
“The vampire in charge of the local Gyre discovered we were staying in Paris and requested that we join him for dinner at his chateau,” Skye said. “Most people would have been honored.”
Peri’s lips twisted. “But not Maya?”
“She told his messenger to shove his invitation up his ass and threatened to shrink his balls to the size of grapes if he returned to our hotel.” Skye leaned toward Peri to whisper in her ear. “Spoiler alert. He didn’t return.”
Maya clicked her tongue. “It wasn’t an invitation. It was a royal decree with enough of a threat to piss me off.”
Skye ignored Maya’s protest. The invitation might have been worded in a way that sounded like a command, but it hadn’t been that obnoxious.
“We were told to leave Paris and not return. And then last year we went to China to taste a selection of teas we wanted for the shop and—”
“That’s enough, Skye.” It was Maya’s turn to interrupt, obviously not anxious to have Skye share the story of the spectacular fire she’d caused when a vampire at the airport insisted on searching their luggage in search of ancient artifacts he implied they’d come there to steal.
Peri grimaced. “I could really use someone there who has my back.”
Maya heaved an audible sigh. “Skye should go, but she’s right. I’m not sure I would be an asset. I’m not very good at hiding my opinion of vampires. Although…”
Both Skye and Peri glanced at Maya in confusion as her words faded.
“What are you doing?” Skye demanded.
Maya tapped her temple. “Waiting for interference.”
“Ah. The Benefactor,” Skye belatedly realized why her friend hesitated. “Anything?”
Maya shook her head. “Nope.”
“Okay. I guess I’ll be flying solo,” Skye said, not unhappy that the Benefactor had kept his opinion to himself.
She was still aching from head to toe from their disastrous trip to the theater.
Peri cleared the lump from her throat. “Drinks start at seven o’clock, but if you don’t mind coming a little early I could use your help to get ready. I’m not sure my hands will be steady enough to put on makeup. Or manipulate a zipper. Or open a door.”
Skye wrapped her friend in her arms. “I’ll be there. I’ll always be there.”
“I know.” Peri leaned into the hug before she was pulling away to grab the satchel she’d left on one of the wooden chairs. It was no doubt brimming with various potions. Better safe than sorry. A mage’s motto. “I love you, guys.”
With a wave, Peri disappeared from the office. Maya watched her leave with her hands on her hips.
“If those vampires try to hurt her I’ll burn Valen’s lair to the ground.”
“I’ll light the match,” Skye agreed.
The next morning most of Skye’s injuries had healed. She still ached from head to toe and she had to use an illusion spell to hide the bruises on the side of her face, but she counted herself lucky that nothing had been broken. Thankfully, Maya seemed equally recovered, although her expression was grim as they served the crush of customers who were stretched down the block despite the icy drizzle that escaped from the sullen clouds.
Skye assumed the grim expression was caused by the knowledge that several members of the Cabal was currently gathered in New York City. Having vampires hanging around was not only dangerous for Peri, but any demon or mage who refused to accept their authority.
Of course, it was also possible that her pissy mood was a direct result of the Benefactor sending them to the theatre for no rational reason. Skye assumed the mystical patron had been bored and decided to brighten his Sunday by tossing them into a nasty demon nest to battle for their lives. It was the only thing that made sense.
Whatever the cause, Maya wasn’t ready to discuss the epic failure at the theater or the arrival of the Cabal. Which was fine with Skye. If being a seer had taught her nothing else, it was to live in the moment. There was no point in brooding on the past or fretting about the future.
It was the now that mattered.
Besides, she had enough on her plate without fretting over Maya’s bad temper, she wryly acknowledged.
Before tonight’s dinner she still had to replenish her charm bracelet with magic, dig through her closet for something halfway presentable to wear to a formal dinner, and hopefully sneak in a nap.
But first she had an important duty that demanded her attention.
Removing the apron she’d slid on before her marathon morning of grinding and brewing coffee, Skye replaced it with a bright yellow rain slicker before she opened the walk-in cooler and grabbed a wicker basket.
“Where are you going?” Maya demanded as she completed the cleansing spell that not only sanitized the shop from any germs and bacteria, but purged it of any hexes that might have been cast when they weren’t looking.
Their side business of bewitching, beguiling, and occasionally cursing demons meant they made a lot of enemies.
“It’s Monday,” she reminded her friend. “I’m going to take Clarissa some goodies.”
Maya glanced toward the large windows with a frown. “It’s raining. If you’ll give me a minute, I’ll drive you.”
Skye had never bothered to learn to drive. Her visions hit without warning, momentarily blinding her. It wouldn’t be safe to be behind the wheel when that happened.
“It’s only a couple of blocks away,” Sky said, heading toward the front door. “Besides, I like walking in the rain.”
Maya clicked her tongue. “I hope that woman realizes how lucky she is to have a friend like you.”
Skye shrugged. She’d befriended the local fortune teller not long after she’d settled in New Jersey. Both Maya and Peri assumed it was because she felt sorry for the woman who struggled to make a living. And she did, but the truth was that she’d sought out the older woman because her own mother had been a fortune teller in a traveling carnival. At least until she’d died of cancer when Skye was just a child.
“She’s an old woman on her own,” Skye reminded her friend. “It’s what neighbors do.”
“Not all neighbors,” Maya muttered, still glancing out the window.
Skye frowned as she noticed the man leaning against the light pole a few feet away from the shop. He was hunching forward, as if trying to keep the rain out of his face, but there was no mistaking the velour track suit and oversized fishing hat.
“What is your problem with Joe?” Skye abruptly demanded. “He’s harmless.”
Maya’s jaw tightened, emphasizing the silvery scar. “There’s nothing harmless about him,” she insisted. “I don’t know who or what he is, but he’s not another homeless man wandering the streets. In fact, I don’t think he’s human at all.”
Skye considered the accusation. When she was very young she’d been like any other kid. She had no idea there were vampires or demons or even mages. And while she’d known her mother was clairvoyant, she hadn’t known that she was a practicing witch. Not until her visions started to appear.
Since then, she’d discovered there was a huge magical world surrounding her. Why wouldn’t there be creatures she hadn’t encountered yet?
“Neither are we,” she pointed out.
“True.” Maya shook her head, visibly dismissing Joe from her thoughts before she glanced toward Skye. “Call if you want a ride back.”
Skye exited the building, not bothering to pull up her hood as the drizzle dampened her curls. She’d nearly reached the light pole when Joe lifted his head, his eyes briefly glowing with a deep green fire before he was covering them with his hand, as if he was protecting them from a blinding light.
“Yikes. You look like a lemon exploded.”
Skye glanced down at her slicker with a smile. “It’s new. Do you like it?”
“Like it?” His voice was low, but it held a distant thunder. “It gives me a headache.”
“Thank you.” She smiled, reaching into the wicker basket to pull out a muffin. “Here you go.”
Joe snatched it from her fingers, holding it to his nose to take a deep sniff. “Blueberry? Probably tastes like dog piss.” He scowled over the top of the pastry. “Where’s my cappuccino?”
“You’ll have to ask Maya for one.” Skye nodded toward the shop. “She’s inside.”
“Huh. I’d rather stick a fork in my eye.”
“She’d probably hand you the fork,” Skye assured him, snapping shut the basket as a stiff breeze swept down the street. She didn’t mind the rain but she hated the cold. “Have a lovely day.”
Skye hurried up the street, skipping over the puddles and the bits of trash that swirled out of the gutter. The area went from charming to crumbling in the span of three blocks, but she wasn’t worried. She could deal with any human threats and most demon ones.
At last reaching the narrow strip mall, she slowed to study the buildings that were nothing more than a smear of gray in the misty rain. An improvement really. The stark, industrial cement blocks that were wedged together to create a laundromat, an auto parts store, an Indian take-out, and an insurance agency would never win architectural awards.
At the very end of the strip mall was a store with a wooden sign hung over the doorway: The Lunar Pathway. A shop that catered to the local mystics as well as those who wanted Clarissa to read their future.
Prying open the glass door, Skye stepped inside and shook off the clinging raindrops. At the same time she wrinkled her nose as she was hit by a cloud of smoke from the bronze burners hung next to the window.
The incense was used as a deterrent to evil spirits, as were the numerous satchels filled with dried spices that lined the walls. There were also crystals and charms that the local witches used connect to their earth magic. And a table with candles that filled a home with calming scents.
At the very end of the store was a glass case filled with oils and trinkets that were supposed to improve a sagging sex life.
Skye occasionally wondered if they would improve a non-existent sex life.
Not that it mattered. Even if she wanted a man in her bed—and she was currently just fine without one, thank you very much—the various cures would have no effect on her.
This shop catered to humans, not mages. Which made sense because the owner had no idea mages existed.
“Hang on, I’ll be right out,” a voice called out from a back room.
Skye grimaced at the hopeful note in the older woman’s voice. No doubt Clarissa was scurrying to pull on the colorful shawl and silk scarf she used to cover her thinning gray hair. For years Madame Clarissa had traveled with carnivals to ply her trade as a fortune teller, but her advancing years and encroaching arthritis had made it painful to continue her life as a vagabond. She’d decided to open this shop in Linden, New Jersey, hoping that the locals would be anxious to have a glimpse into their future.
Turns out, the locals were more interested in paying their electric bill.
Which was why Skye had started dropping by with a basket to ensure the woman had a couple good meals a week.
“It’s just me, Clarissa,” Skye said in a loud voice.
“Oh. Come on back, dear.”
Skye ignored the hint of disappointment that was combined with pleasure at her visit. Times were tough for the older woman.
Reaching the back of the narrow store, Skye pushed aside the thin sheet that covered the doorway and entered the cramped room that was technically an office, although Skye suspected Clarissa slept on the narrow couch more often than not.
In the center of the room was a round table that was covered with a blue silk cloth embroidered with silver stars. Clarissa was seated on a wooden chair wearing a flowing caftan that matched the tablecloth and heavy bracelets that rattled as she closed the book she’d been reading. Next to her was a crystal ball and stacks of tarot cards ready to do a reading if a customer happened to show up.
“What are you doing out in this weather?” Clarissa chided.
Skye moved forward with a smile. Clarissa was in her mid-sixties although she looked older with a round face and gray hair that she pulled into a tight knot at the back of her head. Her blue eyes, however, still sparkled and her smile held a sweet sincerity that encouraged her customers to trust her.
At a glance, she looked like a cheerful grandmother who could offer wisdom and comfort to those in need. Skye, however, could sense the weary defeat just beneath the surface. This woman had struggled her entire life to survive. Now it was an effort to make it day to day.
“I brought you a goody basket,” Skye said, placing the hamper on an empty chair next to the table.
Clarissa clicked her tongue. “You shouldn’t have. Especially not today. Look at you. You’re all wet.”
Skye shoved her fingers through her damp curls. “I like walking in the rain.”
“You would tell me you enjoy crawling through a blizzard so I wouldn’t feel guilty.”
“Why would you feel guilty?” Skye demanded, opening the basket to pull out the fresh salad and crusty loaf of bread. “I’m here because I want to be here.”
“Spending the afternoon with an old woman?” Clarissa protested. “You should be with a boyfriend.”
“I’m happy.” Skye concentrated on arranging the fresh fruit and warm muffins on the table. “Why spoil my life with a man?”
“Why do you assume a man would spoil it?”
“Why do you assume one would improve it?”
The older woman grabbed the fork Skye had provided and dug into the salad. No doubt it was her first real meal in days. “I had a special one.”
Skye arched her brows in surprise. They’d discussed Clarissa’s colorful past a hundred times, but she didn’t remember her mentioning a man in her life.
Clarissa continued to work her way through the food spread in front of her. “It was a long time ago.”
“Did he work in the carnival?” Skye was genuinely curious.
The older woman shook her head. “We both worked at a small Renaissance Fair. I told fortunes and he juggled fire. We were dirt poor and outrageously happy.”
Skye paused, absorbing the echoes of joy that filled her friend at the memory.
“What happened?” she finally forced herself to ask.
Clarissa sighed. “We’d just celebrated our first year anniversary when he died in a car accident.”
“Me too.” Clarissa glanced up, her expression wistful. “But the time we had together was wonderful. I want that for you.”
“Perhaps one day,” Skye said, even as she silently dismissed the possibility. Her ability to sense emotions, along with her visions, made it difficult to maintain an intimate relationship. Nothing like knowing your date is lusting for the woman at the next table to put a damper on the evening. “Right now I want to make sure you eat a decent meal.” Skye studied the circles beneath Clarissa’s eyes. “You look tired.”
“I haven’t been sleeping well,” the woman admitted, nibbling on a muffin.
“Is something wrong?”
“I’m not sure. It feels like…”
Skye leaned forward as the woman hesitated. “Feels like what?”
“In October?” Skye considered the possibility. There were some witches who were sensitive to the weather.
“I’m sure it’s nothing,” Clarissa broke into her thoughts, clearly embarrassed she’d shared her concern. Then, with an obvious effort to change the conversation, she gathered up the empty dishes and placed them back into the hamper except for the fruit and bread that would no doubt be her dinner. “Thank you for this, but you should get back home.”
Skye nodded, grabbing the basket. Today she couldn’t linger. “I’ll be back in a few days.”
Clarissa reached out to grasp Skye’s hand. “You’re a good girl, Skye. I…”
Without warning, the woman’s eyes widened and her grip tightened until she was crushing Skye’s fingers.
“Clarissa.” Confused, Skye tried to pry her hand free. “Clarissa, you’re hurting me.”
“Thunder,” the woman rasped. “Do you hear it?”
“What thunder?” Skye demanded, her heart racing as a green fire briefly consumed the woman’s blue eyes.
“It’s under our feet. Rumbling. Stirring.”
The woman blinked and as abruptly as it’d appeared, the green fire was gone. “I’m sorry.” Clarissa released her hold on Skye’s hand, her expectant expression revealing she had no idea anything unusual had happened. “Did you say something?”
Skye licked her dry lips. “Are you okay?”
“Just tired.” Clarissa managed a weary smile. “I think I should lay down for a little while. Will you lock the door on your way out?”
“Yes, of course.”
Skye waited until Clarissa was stretched on the couch before she headed out of the shop, double-checking the lock, and then placing a protective spell on the door. She didn’t know what had happed to Clarissa, but she suspected that the older woman had been dabbling with a magic that went beyond her powers. Or perhaps she’d accidentally gotten ahold of a demon talisman that had infected her.
Tomorrow she’d return and do a thorough sweep of the store.
Just another job on her to-do list.
She heaved a sigh and plowed through the rain that had gone from a drizzle to a gully washer.
The sleek glass and steel building that towered toward the star-splattered sky in central Manhattan was an impressive sight from outside. It was even more impressive for the rare few who were allowed beyond the heavily guarded lobby.
Valen, Cabal leader of the northeast sector of North America, understood that his personal lair was required to project an image of success and impenetrable strength. Centuries ago he would have built a sprawling castle and surrounded it with a moat and armed knights. Now he chose high-tech gadgets and designer furnishings.
Standing in a corner, Valen allowed his gaze to skim over the formal salon of his penthouse. The soft glow from the recessed lighting revealed low couches and comfy chairs unholstered in soft grays with charcoal accents. One wall was devoted to bookshelves loaded with rare first editions and on the far wall were several framed oil paintings that were worth an astronomical figure. Everything in the salon had been purchased through a professional decorator. Valen preferred to keep his public rooms a statement of wealth, not an insight to his personal taste. Besides, the jewel of the room was the floor to ceiling windows that offered a view of the park.
Currently the salon was overflowing with a flood of guests who were mingling in groups that melted and reformed as if dancing a waltz to the classical music that played in the background. The most powerful goblin and fey families had arrived in force, wearing their most expensive attire, and dripping with jewels. It was a long-standing tradition to try and outshine each other whenever they had an opportunity to enter Valen’s lair. At the same time they cast nervous glances toward the five vampires spread around the room.
Not surprising. It was rare for one vampire to enter the territory of another, let alone to have four of them arriving at the same time. The power that was currently gathered in the room was sending shockwaves through the city.
As one of the dominant members of the Cabal and the local leader, Valen had anticipated being the center of attention, which was exactly why he’d chosen a black Ralph Lauren tuxedo with a crisp white shirt. The classical style emphasized his stark features and the molten silver of his eyes. It also contrasted nicely with the golden shimmer of his hair that was smoothed from his narrow face. His mate, Peri, assured him the expensive suit made him look like an arrogant ass who expected the world to bow at his feet.
Which was exactly the vibe he was going for.
On the point of glancing at the Rolex strapped around his wrist to determine the exact number of minutes he was going to have to endure the unwelcomed guests, Valen was distracted by the large male striding toward him with a grim expression.
Like Valen, he was wearing a tuxedo, although his was a pale gray with a black shirt and matching tie. His silver-streaked dark hair was long enough to his shoulders, but his face was chiseled with distinguished features and his gold-flecked hazel eyes held a calm trustworthiness that gave him the appearance of a wealthy banker. As long as you didn’t catch a glimpse of tattoos on the side of his neck. The thin, barbaric lines were the slave marks from his ancient past.
“Gabriel,” Valen murmured. This male held a territory that took in a large swath of the western states including a powerful Gyre centered near Denver. “Is something wrong?”
“Smile,” Gabriel commanded as he reached Valen’s side. “You don’t want them to smell your fear.”
Valen abruptly smoothed the scowl from his face, but a smile was beyond him. “Better?”
Gabriel didn’t appear to be impressed. “At least you don’t look like you’d rather have a hot poker stuck up your ass than spend another second with your guests.”
“Ah.” Valen’s lips twisted. “Peri calls that particular expression my I’m-about-to-kill-the-next-creature-who-gets-on-my-nerve face.”
“That sounds like something your mate would say. She’s a unique creature.”
Both men glanced toward the tall woman wearing a shimmering Chanel gown with her dark curls piled on top of her head. She appeared glamorously confident, but Valen was painfully aware of the unease that darkened her eyes and her instinct to hover near the closest exit. She was a woman battling her urge to flee.
“She’s a stubborn, quick-tempered woman who can bewitch or destroy with equal ease. I’m terrified of her.” He stilled as Peri glanced in his direction, his unbeating heart melting. Vampires were eternal, but his human host could be destroyed, forcing the inner demon to be resurrected in a new body. Each resurrection erased the memory of the vampire and stole their powers. Valen had been in his current form for almost two thousand years, an impressive length of time, but Peri was his first and only mate. A familiar mixture of joy, adoration, and wry disbelief jolted through Valen. “And she’s the reason I was created.”
Gabriel folded his arms over his chest. “You failed to mention she’s also the first mage in endless centuries to be able to tap into her wild magic.”
Valen snapped his attention back to the man standing next to him. He’d known that Peri’s shocking ability to use the ancient powers would disturb a few of his fellow vampires. But he hadn’t been prepared for the melodramatic response.
“Her magic is a blessing,” he insisted.
“A little more than a blessing,” Gabriel countered. “She blasted a crater in the middle of Central Park and nearly caused a riot when she opened the cages at the Bronx Zoo. Humans tend to get upset when there are tigers roaming the streets.”
Valen managed to disguise his discomfort at the direction of the conversation. He had no intention of revealing there’d been a dozen more disasters that hadn’t been quite as public.
“We all had our growing pains when we came into our powers. Some more uncomfortable than others.”
“Agreed. But stepping out of line means harsh punishments for vampires.”
“No one is punishing Peri.”
Gabriel held up a hand as Valen’s anger created tiny ice shards that floated in the air. “Then you need to convince the Cabal she’s not a threat.”
The ice abruptly disappeared as Valen regained command of his composure. Gabriel was right. He couldn’t force the Cabal to accept his mate was harmless. Mostly because she wasn’t. All he could do was try and convince them that she was an asset not a danger.
Something easier said than done, especially with the vampires who’d been sent to decide Peri’s fate.
“An interesting delegation,” he murmured, his gaze sweeping around the room. “How was it chosen?”
“A few weeks ago a sealed petition was sent to Sinjon demanding that Peri be labeled as a threat,” Gabriel revealed, referring to the current head of the Vampire Cabal who had remained in Greece. “The invitations were sent out to start an investigation into her powers, and here we are.” Gabriel shrugged. “Investigating.”
“I assume I can trust you?” Valen demanded.
“Only as far as you can trust any member of the Cabal,” the male warned. “But I will promise to inform Sinjon of the fact that I’ve spent time with your mate and while she’s outspoken and unwilling to submit to vampire authority, including your own—”
“I’ve never detected any ambition in her to challenge our place as rulers of the demon world.”
“Ruler?” Valen snorted. “Her precise words were that she’d rather be dipped in honey and fed to ants than be involved in Cabal business.”
“More importantly, I have nothing to gain by undermining your control of this Gyre,” Gabriel continued, his gaze moving toward the vampire with pale hair that was pulled into a braid and a massive body stuffed in a white silk shirt that was unbuttoned half-way down his massive chest and tight gray slacks. Kane, the current Cabal leader of northern Asia. “I might not be as powerful as you, but I’m satisfied.”
Gabriel nodded. “Civilizations rise and fall, just as the magic of the Gyres ebbs and flows. You currently hold the prized Gyre. That puts a target on your back.”
“It makes sense that Kane is hoping to kick me out and take my place,” Valen agreed, his attention moving from Kane toward the male with light brown hair that was trimmed short and dark eyes that surveyed the room with a visible intensity. He was wearing a blue suit with a yellow shirt. “And Ambassador Azra might say he’s only here to make sure that an outbreak of violence doesn’t threaten the stability of the Cabal, but it’s possible he has his own ambitions. He’s older than I am and has never had his own Gyre.”
Valen frowned at the soft warning. “Why do you say that?”
“My contacts in Greece have told me that the Ambassador has the ability to directly share his thoughts with Sinjon. Whatever he sees or hears while he’s visiting your Gyre is passed directly to our king.”
Valen grimaced. “A rare talent.”
“Yes. It makes him a perfect spy. Plus, Sinjon is wise enough to pay him a king’s ransom to remain loyal.” Gabriel shrugged. “And honestly, Azra’s never had the strength to become a leader. Not even of a small Gyre.”
“I can’t argue with that.” Valen turned his gaze to remaining vampire who stood alone next to the windows.
He was as tall as Valen with lean muscles beneath his cashmere sweater and silk slacks. His curly black hair was buzzed close to his head to emphasize the chiseled beauty of his face, and the golden glow of his eyes contrasted with his light brown skin. If Valen was handsome and Gabriel was distinguished, this male was painfully beautiful. Like an ancient god brought to life.
“What about Micha?” Valen demanded.
Gabriel turned his attention toward the younger male. “What about him?”
“Is he hoping to expand his territory?”
“That’s a question you’re going to have to ask him.”