Coming January 2, 2024
Book 1 in Magic For Hire
When old-world demons, modern-day mages, and irresistible attraction collide, desire becomes the most powerful and dangerous weapon of all, in this spellbinding new series from New York Times bestselling author Alexandra Ivy…
There was a time when demons reigned. That was before they were forced to retreat to the shadows. Today, in hidden corners across the globe their evil blood still pools, and the authority of their new rulers—the Vampire Cabal—must never be challenged. Leave it to a Jersey girl to change ancient history…
At sixteen, when Peri Sanguis’s wild magic first appeared, she was forced to flee her Wyoming ranch—and her suddenly murderous family—to save her own life. On the East Coast, tutored by mages who run the Witch’s Brew bookstore-cafe, Peri’s world seems magically tranquil—until her estranged mother and a coven of witches are slaughtered. Now, to solve the violent mysteries of her past, she must put her trust, body and soul, in a sensual immortal who is every woman’s darkest fantasy…
The golden-eyed vampire, Valen, has never wanted more than to claim an untamed female like Peri. Lured into each other’s orbit, and working together against a resurrected evil brings them intimately closer—to danger, blood betrayals, all-consuming passion, and to sacrifices that must be made to save themselves and the world…
Series: Magic For Hire, Book 1
Characters: Peri Sanguis Valen
Read an Excerpt
Elias Mitchell was king of the world—at least in his own mind—as he watched the crowd churn and sway to the music thumping through the air from the shadows of his private balcony.
Neverland Nightclub was currently the place to see and be seen for the movers and shakers in Manhattan. It wasn’t just the beauty of the smoked-glass walls that reflected the laser lights bouncing over the dance floor, or the floating spiral staircases that led to the upper floor that lured the cream of society through the front door. It was the exclusive privilege of being built in the center of a Gyre, which meant it was surrounded by a pool of magic. And it was also one of the few clubs that catered to both humans and demons.
Not that the humans realized they were sharing their space with creatures who possessed the blood of goblins and fairies.
It wasn’t that mortals were stupid. No, wait. That wasn’t true, he wryly acknowledged. They were utter idiots. But that wasn’t why they didn’t realize they were living side by side with demons.
Long ago, goblins and fairies wandered the earth, but over the centuries they developed the ability to disguise themselves. These days they could easily pass as mortals. It was only demons who could see the auras that surrounded their species. Red for goblin and green for the fey. The darker the aura, the stronger the old blood ran in their veins.
And Elias’s aura was dark indeed.
It was a damned shame that they had to hide. But it was the only way to survive in a world being overrun by the rancid tide of humans.
Learn. Adapt. And take advantage whenever possible.
And speaking of taking advantage.
Elias slowly leaned forward, his attention captured by the stunning red-haired woman who strolled toward the bar that ran the length of the far wall. The flash from the overhead laser lights danced over her, emphasizing her stark beauty. It was a pity that she was tall. And that beneath the clinging material of her satin gown he could see lean muscles, not the soft curves he preferred.
Still, she was stunning enough to attract his jaded attention and best of all, there was no aura glowing around her.
She was a human.
After his last disastrous affair with a fairy, Elias had sworn off demons. Not only did they have the power to stop him from doing what he wanted with their bodies, but they had a nasty habit of blabbing about their relationships to anyone who would listen. His wife had threatened to do unspeakable things to his private parts the next time he cheated. The bitch.
Smiling in anticipation, Elias rose to his feet and headed down the spiral staircase. His wife was a snob. She never mixed with humans. Which meant there was no fear of her or her snooty friends being at this particular bar. And what she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her, right?
He forged a path through the customers, lifting a hand to smooth back his dark hair. He wasn’t worried about whether the woman would accept his invitation to visit his nearby lair. They always accepted. But he took pride in his appearance. He had enough ancient blood pumping through his veins to ensure his features were flawless and his sturdy body without an ounce of fat.
At last reaching the bar, he shoved aside the men who’d gathered around the stranger like bees to honey. He ignored the muttered curses, moving in close to blatantly study the woman’s elegant profile.
“Welcome to Neverland, babe. Your night is about to become unforgettable.”
Peri Sanguis clenched her teeth as the male’s arm pressed against her boob. The urge to teach him a quick and painful lesson in personal space was nearly overwhelming. Unfortunately, tonight she was working and her prey had just scurried into her snare like a rabid rat.
Time to close the deal.
“I’m just here to enjoy the music and have a drink,” she informed him, her smoldering glance promising she was willing to change her plans. With the proper persuasion.
On cue he motioned toward the bartender. “Let me assist you.” His gaze never left her face as the uniformed man obediently appeared in front of them. “The lady will have…”
“Casamigos Blanco,” Peri broke in before he could order her some cheap-ass drink.
Elias flinched as she named the top-shelf tequila, and Peri hid a smile. Her research had revealed that this male was not only a sleazebag, but he was a stingy sleazebag.
“An expensive lady.” He allowed his gaze to boldly roam down the length of her body. “Are you worth the cost?”
Peri tossed her hair. She’d created a simple glamour spell before arriving at the club, tinting her hair with red highlights and concealing the scar that would have been revealed by the plunging neckline of her gown. She didn’t think the male would recognize her, but she didn’t want to take a chance.
“I’ve never had any complaints,” she assured her companion.
“Good to know. I’m Elias.”
“You can call me Diana.” Peri always used the name of the Goddess of the Hunt when she was working. It felt appropriate.
“Diana.” He murmured her name like a caress, running his finger down the bare skin of her arm.
Peri didn’t pull away. Instead she leaned forward and absorbed the demon essence he leaked with reckless abandon. It bubbled through her like champagne before she reluctantly stored it in the bracelet she wore around one slender wrist. If the male hadn’t been such a self-centered bastard he would have noticed the way the jade glowed in the darkness of the club.
Instead, his gaze was locked on her boobs.
“I haven’t seen you here before,” he drawled.
“I’m passing through town.”
“Passing through, eh?” There was a hint of satisfaction in his voice. If she wasn’t a local, then there was obviously less chance of his wife discovering he was with another woman. “Business or pleasure?”
“That has yet to be decided.”
He laughed. A sharp sound that grated against her ears. “I like your style, babe.”
The bartender arrived with her drink and, lifting the chilled glass, she offered a toast.
“To absent friends.” She swallowed it in one gulp. Smooth fire slid down her throat. “Yum.” Holding Elias’s gaze, she slowly licked her lips.
The red aura surrounding the male pulsed in anticipation. “I have more of that at my apartment.”
“Whatever you desire.”
She licked the rim of the empty glass. “And what do you assume I desire?”
His breath hissed through his gritted teeth. “Let’s go to my apartment and I’ll teach you.”
Teach her? Gag. Peri set aside the glass. The innuendoes were obvious to anyone, but the contract she’d signed demanded a clear and concise declaration of intention.
“You want to have sex with me?” she asked.
“Oh yeah.” He leaned close enough she could catch the musky scent of goblin beneath his expensive cologne. “In every position possible. And some that haven’t been invented yet.”
Double gag. Disguising her revulsion behind a smile, Peri reached up to brush her fingers down the side of his face. At the same time, she released the curse she’d created that afternoon.
A raw, addictive magic swirled through her, heating her blood and sending shivers of pleasure down her spine. It was always thrilling to call on her powers, but standing at the epicenter of the Gyre, it was…staggering. For a glorious moment she held the magic inside, savoring the epic buzz before releasing it through the tips of her fingers. She smiled as she watched the tendrils of the curse sink into his flesh.
She went on her tiptoes to whisper in his ear. “Maybe we should ask your wife if she cares if you hook up with random women.”
“What?” He jerked back. “Is that supposed to be funny?”
“It’s mildly entertaining. At least to me.” Peri wrinkled her nose. “Stella, however, doesn’t look amused.”
She pointed toward the dark-haired female sitting at the edge of the bar. Stella Mitchell was short and solid with a square face. Tonight she was wearing a designer dress that cost thousands with diamonds flashing on every stubby finger, but it was her deep red aura that revealed her true worth. In the demon hierarchy, she stood above her husband. Which was no doubt why he’d tried to hide his inability to keep his dick in his pants.
“Shit. You…” He whipped back toward Peri, the words dying on his lips as his gaze caught sight of the jade bracelet that continued to glow.
“Mage.” The word came out as a curse.
“What did you do?”
“A simple curse.”
His aura flared with fury. “What curse?”
“You want the gory details?” She waited for the jerky nod of his head. “Okay. First, you’re going to endure a bout of explosive diarrhea that will last for around an hour. But that’s only a prelude to the main event. At precisely midnight, your balls are going to swell up to the size of cantaloupes.” It was Peri’s turn to run her gaze down his stiff body, her smile mocking. “If you don’t mind a suggestion, you might want to head home before the diarrhea hits. And make sure you have some ice packs ready for your balls. I’m told the pain is intense.”
Elias made a choked sound. Was he was struggling to breathe? Peri hoped so.
“How much?” he at last managed to wheeze.
His face turned an interesting shade of purple. “How much to remove the curse, bitch?”
“Oh. Unfortunately—at least for you—your wife paid a very generous sum to make sure the curse remained in place for at least forty-eight hours.” Peri reached into her push-up bra to pull out a gilt-edged business card. “Come into the office on Monday and we can negotiate a new contract.”
The purple drained from Elias’s face to leave it a strange shade of ash. “Why you—”
Peri braced herself as the demon prepared to lunge at her. She wasn’t scared. She was far from helpless, especially with the magic of the Gyre pumping through her. But she preferred to avoid drawing attention. There were worse things than being beaten by an enraged goblin.
Thankfully, there was a blur of motion and suddenly a male was standing between them. He was well over six foot with copper hair that was pulled into a knot on top of his head. He was wearing a black T-shirt with gold lettering that spelled out Neverland and black jeans that fit with heart-stopping perfection. His face was impossibly beautiful and his dark gold eyes usually held a sinful promise of endless pleasure. At the moment, however, they were hard with warning as he glared at Elias.
Aston Wellman was the manager of Neverland and one of the most powerful fey creatures that Peri had ever encountered.
“Don’t make matters worse for yourself, Mitchell.” His voice was soft, but the threat carried easily over the thumping music. “Not unless you want to be banished.”
The demon clenched his teeth, but wisely stepped back. Carefully, he inched his way around Aston, but as he stepped past Peri he bent to the side to whisper in her ear.
“I won’t forget this.”
She blew him a kiss, not bothering to watch as he stormed out of the nightclub. Her interest was locked on the fairy, who leaned casually against the edge of the bar. His green aura shimmered so bright Peri found it impossible to believe that the gathered humans couldn’t see it.
“Always a pleasure to see you in action, Peri,” Aston murmured.
“Not much action. But the contract paid well.”
Aston folded his arms over his chest, his muscles rippling beneath the tight T-shirt.
“I could pay more.”
Peri’s heart fluttered. Really, a woman would have to be dead not to be bedazzled by this exquisite male.
“I prefer my independence.”
He studied her with a searing intensity. “Are you truly independent?”
She arched her brows. Was he referring to her two partners, Maya and Skye? Or the mysterious Benefactor who provided protection for them?
“For the most part.” Her tone warned she wasn’t going to discuss private mage business.
“I could triple whatever you’re getting paid.” A warm pulse of energy swirled around her, seeping into her skin. Her bracelet glowed as it absorbed the fey magic. “I could get you an apartment overlooking the park. And allow you unlimited time in my special playroom.”
He whispered the word playroom as if it was a sexual invitation. It wasn’t. The playroom was a space where a demon or mage could use their magic without it being detected or traced. Most mages had specific talents. Like brewing potions or using magical items that intensified a spell. Just like the bracelet around her wrist. It absorbed and stored the magical essence of demons, allowing her to convert it into magic. Just like a portable battery.
Her talent was quite simply her amazing power. It came in handy when she was working, but unfortunately created a target that allowed demons and other nasty creatures to pinpoint her location when she was practicing her magic. She preferred to keep her more exotic spells a hidden asset.
She shook her head. “Tempting, but no.”
Aston tilted his head, his expression curious. “Is it me specifically that you don’t want as an employer?”
Peri stiffened. They both knew why she would never consider Aston’s generous offers.
Valen. The local vampire and the ultimate ruler of this particular Gyre.
“I won’t bend my knee. Not to anyone. Not again.” An icy chill raced over Peri. As if the mere thought of Valen was enough to make her shiver. “Gotta fly.”
She was turning away when she felt Aston’s hand brush through her hair, destroying the glamour spell to reveal the rich brown strands.
“Be careful out there, Peri,” he warned.
“Never,” she called over her shoulder.
A wistful smile touched his lips. “No shit.”
Dodging her way through the crowd that had thickened until it was hard to breathe in the elegant nightclub, Peri exited through a side door. She paused, sucking in the night air before she plunged into another mass of people. It was midsummer and a horde of tourists clogged the streets around Times Square.
She’d managed to forge a path to Penn Station when she felt another chill brush over her. This time she didn’t dismiss it as a product of her imagination. She was being followed.
Resisting the urge to draw on the magic she’d stored in her bracelet, Peri picked up her pace as she entered the large building, congested with hundreds of commuters despite the late hour. She avoided the large, open lobby and instead darted toward the temporary partitions erected around the inevitable construction area. When she’d arrived in the city earlier in the evening, she’d taken the precaution of creating a circle of protection in case things went sideways.
A habit she’d developed after being chased by a gang of young goblins who’d suspected she had sold them a bogus dragon scale. It had been bogus, of course. Dragon scales were incredibly rare, but when they were discovered they could be ground up and used by demons as a potent aphrodisiac. It also caused hallucinations and bouts of extreme violence. Which was why they were illegal to sell.
It had been her job to uncover the ringleader who was seeking to find a dragon scale to sell to the local demons. Just one of the many strange tasks she’d been asked to perform for the Benefactor who protected the Witch’s Brew.
Stepping through the wards, Peri was suddenly surrounded by a thick, impenetrable wall of silence. She remained on guard, listening to the people as they rushed past. None of them sensed her presence, not even the demons who were mixed among the mortals.
She was on the point of heaving a sigh of relief when the air temperature abruptly dropped and a dark, silken voice spoke directly in her ear.
Peri froze. Even her heart stopped as the icy threat pressed against her. It wasn’t exactly fear, she tried to tell herself, just a healthy dose of caution twisting her stomach. Vampires were lethal predators who ruled their territory with an iron fist. Any transgression could lead to instant death. Or banishment from the Gyre. A fate worse than death to most demons.
Sternly reminding herself that she was an independent mage with no ties to Valen or the Vampire Cabal, Peri squared her shoulders and turned to face the male who was standing inches away. She swallowed a low curse as the impact of standing so close to a vampire slammed into her.
No, not just a vampire. Valen, a voice whispered in the back of her mind.
He wasn’t a large male. He was a whisper over six foot with a slender body that was currently attired in a black Armani suit, a crisp black shirt and a silver tie. The stark, sophisticated style perfectly matched the austere beauty of his chiseled features. His blond hair was cut close to his head and smoothed back from his narrow face, and even in the harsh lighting of Penn Station it shimmered with threads of the purest gold. His eyes, in contrast, were the exact same shade of silver as his tie, although Peri had seen them flash to a steel gray when he was angry. Thankfully, she’d never had that infamous temper directed at her. Probably because she’d done her best over the past nine years to avoid crossing paths with this male.
“What’s up?” She forced the question past lips that felt weirdly stiff.
He was silent as his unnerving gaze swept down her elegant gown, lingering on the scar just over her heart. Awareness vibrated through her. If Aston oozed sensual appeal, this male blasted it with the impact of a nuclear weapon.
Not that she was stupid enough to give into temptation, she sternly reminded herself. She might dance close to the flame, but she didn’t leap into the fire.
At last his gaze lifted, his expression unreadable. “Are you lost?”
“Just headed home.”
“Can I ask what you’re doing in my territory?”
“You can ask.” The words came out as a taunt. Tension brought out the snark in her. Okay, to be fair, lots of stuff brought out her snark. Mornings. Rain. A bad hair day. However, it was especially high when she was standing inches from Valen. “But that doesn’t mean I have to answer.”
“Yes.” The word was soft, but the silver eyes were suddenly as hard as steel. “Yes, it does.”
She shrugged. “Fine. I’d heard all sorts of rumors about your new club. I had to check it out for myself.”
“Really not my scene, but I’m sure it’ll make you oodles of money.”
“You didn’t happen to conduct business while you were here, did you?”
He stared at her, an eerie stillness settling around him. Not the motionlessness of a human. This was absolute. As if he was carved from marble. Most of the time vampires made an effort to appear human. They breathed, they blinked, and she’d heard that they occasionally smiled—although Peri was convinced that was an urban myth—but there was nothing human about them.
She cleared a sudden lump from her throat. She doubted Valen would kill her for being snarky, but business was a different matter altogether. She was in his territory and that meant she needed his approval to earn money.
He was perfectly within his rights to punish her.
She chose her words with care. “Technically the business was conducted at the Witch’s Brew,” she said, referring to the New Jersey coffee shop/bookstore/mage-for-hire business she managed with her friends. “The details were negotiated, the contract was signed and the money delivered outside your territory. I just executed the contract here.” She did her best to look innocent. It was a stretch. “There’s no law against magic, is there?”
“If it’s meant to harm a demon.” He deliberately paused. “Or me.”
“There’s no lasting harm,” she insisted, blocking out the image of Elias’s current situation. Now didn’t seem the appropriate moment to laugh at the knowledge his balls would soon be expanding to the size of balloons. “Just a couple days of extreme discomfort.”
He bent his head, allowing her an up close view of his painful beauty. The narrow length of his nose. The sculpted cheekbones and surprisingly full lips. The smooth perfection of his pale skin. And the hypnotic power smoldering in his silver eyes.
“You play a dangerous game,” he whispered.
A warning zinged through her as she began to sway forward. Vampires had the ability to manipulate the minds of both humans and demons. Only mages possessed the ability to resist.
The ability, she reminded herself, but not always the will…
With a jerky motion she stepped back, breaking the spell he was weaving around her.
“Dangerous games are the only games worth playing.” She tilted her chin. “It’s late and I’m tired. Is there anything else you wanted?”
Peri could have bitten off her tongue as his lips parted, revealing the tips of his lethal fangs.
“I’m currently considering the various possibilities.”
The cool words slid over her with a silken promise. Or maybe it was a threat. Hard to tell. Both possibilities sent a tingle of excitement to the pit of her stomach.
Time to make a strategic retreat.
“I’ll let you consider them while I head home.” She inched away, feeling the protective wards press against her back.
“Run, little witch.” The silver eyes darkened to smoke. “You can’t hide.”
“Annoying bastard,” she muttered, even as she turned and did exactly as he commanded.
Peri exited the covered shelter that served as a train station in Linden, New Jersey, grimacing as the night air wrapped around her like a soggy blanket. It wasn’t just the humidity, although it was thick enough to cut with a knife. It was the lack of magic. Any area outside a Gyre was called a dead zone for a reason. It was a void between the pools of enchantment.
Thankfully, Peri was a mage, not a demon. She could still use her magic even if it didn’t have the same potency. It was the sizzle of electric energy that she missed as she headed down the stairs and across the parking lot to the shadowed street. And perhaps the cool wash of power from a vampire…
No, no, no. She shut down any lingering thought of Valen. She’d done what she was paid to do. Time to move on to the next assignment.
Zigzagging along city blocks lined with auto repair garages, liquor stores and mini marts, she at last could see the neon light in the shape of a witch’s hat with a coffee cup in the center.
The Witch’s Brew was sandwiched between a tanning salon and a falafel restaurant, with large windows that were currently decorated with unicorns and rainbows, along with the specials of the day: Mocha coffee. Chocolate espresso. Lemon bars. And blueberry scones.
She was halfway down the street when a hunched form detached from the shadows of the tanning salon. The man was wearing a velour tracksuit with a fishing hat pulled low to cover his hair. His face was covered by a bushy beard, making it hard to determine the man’s age and ethnicity, but he’d been hanging around the neighborhood for as long as Peri had been there.
“Hey, Joe.” Peri had no idea if that was his name, but it’s what the neighbors called him. Narrowing her gaze, she watched him shuffle forward. “It’s late for you to be out here.”
“You smell like you rolled in goblin turds,” Joe retorted.
Peri wrinkled her nose. She always looked forward to the man’s scathing insults. Some of them were creative enough to win an Emmy. Tonight’s was…mundane.
“Hmm. Not your best work.”
“I know.” Joe lifted a gloved hand to cover his mouth as he coughed. “I think I’m coming down with a cold.”
“Come inside and I’ll give you something to make you feel better.”
“Nah, I gotta move along.” Joe cocked his head, as if listening to a voice in his head. “Besides, you’re going to be busy.”
“Busy?” Peri didn’t want to be busy. She was tired and hungry and in dire need of a shower. “Doing what?”
“That,” he muttered a second before Skye rushed out the front door of the coffee shop, her golden curls corkscrewing around her heart-shaped face with more bounce than usual. Like a halo on steroids. In contrast, her midnight eyes smoldered with unfathomable depths. Those eyes could see into a person’s soul and occasionally catch a glimpse of the future. A rare, sometimes awful power.
“At last.” Skye rushed toward her, the gossamer material of her sundress floating around her soft curves. “I was getting worried about you.”
Peri glanced back, not surprised to discover that Joe had disappeared into the night. The man was a mystery, but Peri had never tried to probe into where he lived or why he chose their particular street to pass the days.
Everyone was entitled to their secrets.
With a smile, she hooked her arm through Skye’s and urged her back down the street.
“It took me longer than I expected,” she apologized, sensing her friend had truly been concerned. “I had to circle the damned dance floor a dozen times before my mark noticed me,” she told Skye, not bothering to reveal she’d also been offered a job by Aston and stalked by Valen. All’s well that ended well, right? “Am I losing my touch?”
“Never,” Skye assured her with a fierce loyalty.
“Like you would ever tell me the truth.”
“The truth is that you’re gorgeous. Both inside and out.”
Peri snorted. “Now I know you’re lying.”
They reached the front door, entering the brightly lit coffee shop. It was a narrow space, but the white tiled floor and bright lavender walls made it seem larger. There were small tables set near the window and glass cases at the back. The scent of freshly baked scones lingered in the air, despite the fact the shop was closed.
“Let’s have a cup of tea,” Skye urged, tugging Peri toward the arched opening that led to the attached bookstore. “I have a tray set up in the office.”
“Thanks, sweetie, but it’s too late for me.” Peri was weary to the bone. “I intend to grab a bagel with a very large schmear of cream cheese, then hop in the shower before I fall face-first into bed.”
Skye grasped her arm, her expression apologetic. “Maya needs to talk to you.”
“Tonight?” Peri frowned. Had Valen called to complain? That seemed…petty.
“Yes, I’m afraid it has to be tonight.” A voice broke into Peri’s ridiculous thoughts and she glanced toward the arched opening to discover the owner of the Witch’s Brew had stepped into the light.
Maya Rosen was tall and slender with silky-smooth black hair that was bluntly cut at her shoulders. It was impossible to determine her age. Like all mages she stopped aging around thirty, but there was a hint of ancient wisdom in her bright green eyes and a spidery web of scars that ran from her left ear down her jawline. The scars possessed the silvery gleam of a wound caused by a gruesome spell, but they did nothing to detract from her beauty. Just the opposite. They only heightened her regal perfection. Tonight, she was wearing her usual sleeveless sweater and jeans that were dusted with flour.
Maya was magic in the kitchen. Literally. She could not only create a muffin that had customers lined up out the door every morning, but she possessed the ability to conjure potions that could destroy cities.
Thankfully, she avoided the more explosive potions and concentrated on the garden-variety magic. Love potions, disguise spells, alchemy…the sort of stuff demons were willing to pay a fortune to get their hands on even if they knew the magic was temporary.
“Okay.” Peri didn’t need Skye’s clairvoyance to know something was wrong.
Moving forward, she allowed Maya to lead her through the narrow room lined with books. In the center was a wooden table with reading lamps. Between the mouthwatering muffins, freshly ground coffee and free Wi-Fi, Witch’s Brew was the go-to location for the local college students.
They at last entered the office at the back of the building. Most people would be surprised to discover how stark it was. There was a desk with a computer, two filing cabinets and three leather chairs. The floor was wooden planks and the walls were paneled, without one picture or piece of art. Overhead there was one bare light bulb.
It looked more like a prison cell than an office, but they dealt with angry customers on a regular basis. Elias, after all, wasn’t the first demon who’d been contracted to be cursed. Or blinded by a love spell. And nothing could destroy an office quicker than a pissed-off demon. Plus, it was stripped of any loose objects a mage might use as a weapon.
“Better safe than sorry” wasn’t just Peri’s motto. All three of them took precautions.
Peri stopped in the middle of the room as Skye moved toward the tray perched on the edge of desk.
“What are you doing up past the witching hour?” she demanded of Maya, trying to lighten the tension that pulsed in the air.
“Thankfully, I’m not a witch,” Maya countered in dry tones.
“No shit.” Peri grimaced. A witch was a woman who could use spells and incantations, but they didn’t possess wild magic. Which was why they routinely tried to destroy mages. “What happened?”
Maya nodded toward the leather chairs, her scar more pronounced than usual. “Maybe you should sit down.”
Peri clenched her hands. She hated surprises. Probably because they usually tried to kill her.
“Maya. Just spit it out.”
“Sorry.” Maya wrinkled her nose. “There’s no easy way to say this. Your mother is dead.”
Peri absorbed the news with a small flinch. Her mother was dead. The woman she’d hated with the force of a thousand fiery suns was dead. The bitch who’d condemned her to death on her sixteenth birthday was dead. The leader of a witch’s coven who placed her ruthless ambition above the life of her only child was dead.
It didn’t seem possible.
“When?” The word came out as a hoarse croak.
“Last night,” Maya said.
“I…” Peri’s words faltered, her brain functioning in weird bursts intersected with blank spaces. “How did you find out?”
Maya touched her temple. “Our Benefactor.”
The Benefactor didn’t have a name. At least Peri had never heard Maya say it. In fact, all she knew was that the mystery creature spoke to the older woman telepathically and that he offered a cloak of protection to Maya, and indirectly to Skye and Peri. Not a tangible source of security, but a basic understanding that they were allowed to remain independent.
A special gift for mages, who were rare enough to be highly sought after by the Vampire Cabal. And the reason they’d never been forced to become Valen’s minions.
In return, he occasionally demanded that they complete random tasks.
“What did he say?” she asked.
“Not much,” Maya admitted. “He simply urged me to check out the news connected to Wisdom Ranch.”
Peri’s breath tangled in her throat. Wisdom Ranch was the name of the isolated compound her mother owned to provide privacy for her coven.
“Let me see.”
Maya held her gaze. “It’s bad, Peri,” she warned.
Peri clenched her teeth, her fingers brushing over the scar in the center of her chest. “When it involves my mother it’s always bad.”
Maya stepped toward the desk, turning the computer monitor so Peri could see the front page of the Casper newspaper.
Mass suicide at Wisdom Ranch.
Following a tip from an unknown source, law officials made a grisly discovery at the ranch located north of Casper, Wyoming. Twelve women were found dead in a locked barn. Although the sheriff has assured the public that he has ruled out foul play, he refuses to give details, citing an ongoing investigation. More information as it becomes available.
Peri sucked in a sharp breath. “Twelve? That’s most of the coven.”
“I’m sorry,” Maya said.
A strange numbness spread through Peri. Shock. No matter her troubled past with the coven, the thought of twelve women destroyed in one night was horrifying.
“Was there anything else?”
Maya studied Peri with blatant concern. When Peri refused to blink, she conceded defeat with a soft sigh.
“Someone managed to get a picture of the bodies and posted it on the internet.” She moved to place her fingers over the keyboard, hesitating as if she regretted revealing that there were photos. “Are you sure you want to see it?”
Peri squared her shoulders, her gaze locked on the monitor as Maya touched the keyboard, bringing up a fuzzy image. At first Peri couldn’t make out more than a blur of dark objects on a wood-plank floor. She stepped closer and bent down to make sense of what she was seeing. At the same time, she tapped into the magic that flowed through her blood. She couldn’t alter the picture, but she could intensify her vision until she could pick out even the smallest detail.
What she noticed first was the strange way the bodies were laid out. They were arranged in a perfect circle with their feet pointed toward the center. Like macabre spokes in a wheel. They were all wearing heavy white robes that fanned around their bodies, concealing any hidden injuries, but there wasn’t a speck of blood on the pristine material. Not on any of them. She leaned closer, studying the faces that were pointed at the rafters high above them, their eyes wide open and their gray hair smoothly spreading across the floor.
“Wait.” Peri shook her head. “This can’t be my mother’s coven.”
“Why not?” Maya demanded.
“They’re way too old.”
She studied the deep wrinkles that marred each woman’s face. Witches aged like normal humans, but her mother couldn’t be more than fifty. The corpses looked like they were all at least a hundred.
Moving her attention from one woman to the next, her breath was abruptly squeezed from her lungs as she caught sight of a distinctive tattoo. Her mother. It had to be. The large raven on the side of her neck was supposed to be a symbol that she was destined for greatness. Returning her attention to the other women, she slowly managed to recognize them despite the dramatic aging.
This was the coven that had raised her from the day she was born until she turned sixteen.
“Oh my God. What happened to them? They look like mummies.”
Maya moved to stand next to her, studying the monitor. “I have no idea.”
“Someone knows,” she suddenly breathed.
Whoever had taken the picture must have been standing at the front entrance. They’d not only captured the image of the dead women, but the stalls that lined the side of the barn.
“Why do you say that?” Maya asked.
“Look.” Peri pointed at the eyes peeking through the wooden slats of a stall. “There was a witness.”
Maya studied the image. “There’s no way to see who it is.”
“We might not need to,” Peri said. “My mother insisted that there always be thirteen witches in her coven. Specifically thirteen at all times. It was supposedly her lucky number. So one escaped whatever happened.”
“Do you know which one?”
“I suppose I could try to guess by process of elimination.” Ignoring the sickness that churned in the pit of her stomach, Peri moved her gaze from one face to another. “There are three I don’t recognize,” she finally concluded. “They must have joined after I left.”
“So that means there are four possible witnesses. Assuming the eyes belong to a witch from the coven,” Maya murmured. “Who’s missing?”
“Irene Webster. But she was close to eighty when I was still at the ranch. It’s likely she passed years ago,” Peri said, sorting through the names of the women who weren’t among the dead. “Pamela Foster.”
“She created her own coven in New Mexico,” Maya said.
Peri wasn’t surprised that Pamela had started her own coven. She’d been blatantly ambitious, often challenging her mother’s authority. It also wasn’t a surprise that Maya knew she’d created her own coven. The older woman kept a close watch on their enemies.
Peri came to the end of her mental list. “Unless it’s a stranger hiding in the stall, then the eyes must belong to Destiny Mason.”
Destiny had been four years older than Peri and barely capable of performing the easiest spell. If she hadn’t brought a sizable inheritance with her, Peri’s mother would never have allowed her to stay at the ranch. It would make sense that she might be excluded from whatever the other witches were doing in the barn.
Peri pressed her hand against her stomach, which continued to rebel at the sight of the mummified women. What the hell had happened? A demon attack? A vampire? Humans?
“Are you okay?” Maya brushed her hand over Peri’s hair, her tone concerned.
“Ask me later.” Peri wrenched her gaze away from the gruesome picture and focused her attention on the woman standing next to her. “Right now I need to go to Wyoming.”
Peri arched a brow. “No argument?”
Maya shrugged. “Is there anything I could say to change your mind?”
“Then what’s the point?”
Peri wasn’t impressed with the woman’s logic. “Since when do you need a point to argue? It’s your default reaction.”
Maya clicked her tongue. “Harsh.”
Peri planted her hands on her hips. She’d known this woman for nine years. She was as overprotective as a mother hen. There was no way she would willingly allow Peri to rush into a potentially dangerous situation.
“Maya, what’s going on?”
“This needs to be investigated,” she said, the scars that marred the side of her face emphasized as she clenched her jaw. “I’ve been told you are the only one capable of seeing the truth.”
Ah. Now Peri understood. The mysterious Benefactor had warned Maya that it was Peri’s duty to deal with the death of the witches. And the command to let Peri handle the problem without her was killing Maya.
“But not alone,” Skye abruptly burst into the conversation, her curls bouncing as she moved to wrap her arm around Peri’s waist. “I’ll come with you.”
Maya shook her head. “It has to be Peri.”
“I don’t want her to be by herself,” Skye insisted.
Peri brushed a kiss over Skye’s curls. “It will be fine, Skye. I’ll go to the ranch, figure out what happened and be back before you notice I’m gone.”
“I don’t like this,” Skye insisted.
“I don’t either, but I trust that Peri can take care of herself,” Maya said.
“Of course she can.” Skye tightened her arm around Peri’s waist. “That’s not why I’m worried. Her mother and the coven who raised her are dead and she needs her family with her.”
Peri’s icy shock melted away as Skye’s words settled in the center of her heart. Yes. These two women were her family. They were the ones she laughed and cried with, who had her back no matter what. The ones she trusted without hesitation.
“Skye, I love your tender heart,” she assured her friend. “But if you think I’m grieving for the woman who tried to slaughter me then you don’t know me at all.”
“You aren’t as tough as you pretend, Peri Sanguis.” Skye’s eyes shimmered with a sudden power. “That’s your salvation.”
“Skye.” Maya’s tone was sharp, as if she feared that Skye was about to offer a premonition.
They’d made a pact when the younger woman was invited to join them at the Witch’s Brew that she would never reveal the future.
Not to them.
Skye reluctantly stepped back and Maya cleared her throat, taking command of the suddenly tense situation.
“I have you booked on a flight to Casper tomorrow,” she told Peri. “A vehicle will be waiting for you at the airport. Stay as long as you need.”
Peri jerked her head in a semblance of a nod. She’d sworn she would never return to Wisdom Ranch. It’d been fourteen years since she’d fled the place, but the wounds were still raw. Everything about this trip made her want to vomit.
“I need to pack.”
She headed toward the door, her thoughts a tangled mess.
“Peri,” Maya called out. “You didn’t tell me how things went tonight.”
Peri grudgingly halted and glanced over her shoulder. “Just as we planned. You can expect Elias Mitchell bright and early on Monday morning.”
Maya arched a brow. “Nothing else?”
With shocking speed the image of Valen’s fiercely beautiful face blazed through her brain. And just as swiftly, Peri was squashing the memory of his icy power wrapping around her like a caress.
She had enough problems. She wasn’t adding a fascination with the lethal predator to the list.
“Nothing worth discussing.”
Maya narrowed her eyes, easily sensing she wasn’t being entirely honest, but it was Skye who responded.
“Be careful, Peri.”
Peri’s lips twisted. “I hear that a lot.”
“And you never listen,” Maya muttered.
The older woman wasn’t wrong, and Peri didn’t try to argue. Instead, she turned and headed to her room on the upper floor. There was no way she was going to be able to sleep, but she could at least pace the floor in peace.
Valen detached his fangs from the delicate wrist that he cradled in his hands and licked the bleeding wounds to ensure they were sealed. The female fairy moaned in pleasure, swaying toward him in blatant invitation. Valen dropped her arm and grasped her shoulder, keeping her at a distance. Not every vampire made the experience pleasant, but he preferred a willing donor.
Stepping back, he touched the light switch to allow a soft glow to chase away the shadows and reveal the elegant details of the room. The décor matched the rest of the lavish penthouse. Sleek furniture in soft grays with charcoal accents. This space, however, was carefully devoid of any personal items. The books on the shelves that consumed one wall had been chosen at random, as had the framed pictures on the wall. Even the marble chessboard arranged on the coffee table had been bought by a servant.
Valen rarely allowed visitors to trespass beyond this formal salon. The less anyone knew of his personal life, the less opportunity they had to discover a weakness. He hadn’t lived two thousand years by being careless.
The fairy tossed her reddish curls with a sultry expression. But with impeccable timing, Renee Newark pushed open the door and stepped inside.
His secretary was a diminutive female with short hair that she bleached to a silver-blond and dark gold eyes. Her features were delicate enough to give the impression of fragility, but her aura pulsed a deep green, revealing the power of her ancient fey blood.
It wasn’t her fairy magic, however, that made her the perfect servant. It was her discretion, her military-grade skill in organization, and her uncanny ability to sense his needs.
And, of course, her ruthless loyalty.
“Thank you, Lily,” Valen said.
“My pleasure.” Her lips parted, as if urging him to kiss her. When he simply gazed down at her, she sent him a small pout. “Same time same place next week?”
Valen didn’t answer. Lily was a lovely female, but she was unfortunately becoming emotionally invested in the feedings. It was time to find a new donor. As if reading his mind, Renee crossed the room and wrapped her arm around the female’s shoulders.
“I’ll show you out.” With a smooth ease she forced the reluctant fairy from the room. She paused at the door to glance back at Valen. “You have a call. I put it through to your private office.”
Valen arched a brow. He was wearing a black silk robe that he used during his feedings. After he finished his meal it was his routine to head to his shower to scrub off the scent of his donor before preparing for the night. Renee would have taken a message if the call wasn’t important.
Crossing to the back of the room, Valen placed his hand on the edge of the bookcase. There was a faint click before the shelves slid inward and Valen stepped into his private office.
It was an impressive room, with glass cases displaying rare Ottoman artifacts and daggers from Roman generals. Most of them he’d been given as gifts. A few he’d taken as spoils of war. Another wall was lined with high-tech monitors that displayed images of his various clubs, spread from Boston to Washington, DC. He had managers he trusted—as much as he trusted any demon—but he was very much a hands-on leader. There was nothing that slipped past his notice. No matter how trivial.
He closed the hidden door behind him and headed toward the massive desk. Once seated, he allowed a satisfied smile to curve his lips. From this angle, he had a stunning view of the park through the window that stretched from one end of the office to the other. He smiled. This view was the reason he’d purchased the building. Why create an empire without having the means to survey his territory?
Flipping open the laptop on his desk, Valen pressed a button on the keyboard to connect the video call. A second later an image flickered on the monitor and he was staring into the face of Gabriel Lyon.
The male possessed the ageless perfection of a vampire, but his dark hair was heavily streaked with gray and cut to brush his broad shoulders. His face was square and his features distinguished. To humans he looked like a successful businessman. Perhaps an international banker. And he was both of those things. But a glance into the icy hazel eyes was enough to reveal he wasn’t a mere mortal.
“Gabriel,” Valen murmured. This male was one of ten vampires who made up the North America Vampire Cabal. His territory included Denver through Salt Lake City. And even by vampire standards he was extraordinarily wealthy. “This is unexpected. Is there a problem?”
The male considered the question. “More a curiosity,” he finally said.
“What sort of curiosity?”
“One of your mages arrived in Denver today.”
Valen’s vague interest was securely snared. One of your mages…
They weren’t technically, of course. The three women lived inside his territory, but they weren’t within the Gyre. And while he could use his power and influence to make their lives a misery until they agreed to submit to his authority, he’d resisted the temptation. It wasn’t the knowledge that he could sense a mysterious power keeping guard on the three women. He was an immortal who feared nothing. Eventually he’d figure out who or what was assisting the women.
No. He’d maintained a hands-off approach because he wanted the mages to come to him willingly.
Long ago he’d chosen brutality to enforce his position of power, but the long centuries had refined his skills. Oh, he could use violence when necessary. The demons he ruled had to understand that he had zero tolerance for breaking his laws. But he discovered that his fearsome reputation was usually enough to keep order in his territory. Along with a healthy dread of being forced out of the Gyre. No demon wanted to live in a dead zone, where they were unable to feel the ancient magic that pulsed through their veins.
He desired loyalty, not grudging obedience.
“Did you capture their arrival on video?” he asked, knowing that Gabriel would have his territory fully monitored. Both electronically and with his guards.
“Of course.” The monitor flickered and Gabriel’s face was replaced with a grainy surveillance video. “This is from the Denver airport earlier this afternoon.”
Valen placed his palms flat on his desk as he leaned forward, his gaze locked on the dark-haired woman dressed in a pair of cutoff shorts and a T-shirt with a faded Bon Jovi logo. Peri. All mages were rare and special, but Peri…she was gloriously unique. And she’d fascinated him from the moment she’d arrived at the Witch’s Brew nine years ago.
A strange sensation clenched his muscles as he watched her weave her way through the mass of travelers. It felt like anger. As if he was disturbed by the knowledge she was so far away from him.
He shook his head, refusing to dwell on the intensity of his reaction. Instead, he focused on the tension detectable in the angle of her shoulders and her grim expression. Whatever had taken her to Denver, it wasn’t pleasure.
“Was she alone?” he demanded.
“As far as we could tell.” Gabriel was once again visible. “The sensors didn’t trigger for any other mages.”
“None that approached her in the terminal.”
She was alone? The anger once again flared through him. An icy blast that created a layer of frost over the top of his desk. A lone mage, no matter how powerful, was at risk. They were too valuable not to be the target of a kidnapping attempt by an enterprising demon.
“Is she still in Denver?”
“No. She is currently waiting for a commuter plane to Casper.”
“Casper?” Valen was genuinely puzzled. “Why would she go there?”
“Check your email. I sent you a file.”
Valen grabbed his phone, which he’d placed on the desk before retiring for the day. Pressing the screen, he swiftly pulled up his private email and clicked on the link that Gabriel had sent him.
“Mass suicide at Wisdom Ranch,” he read out loud. “Humans?”
“Do you know what happened?”
“No, but I’d bet my favorite Rolex your mage is here because she knows how they died or to discover what happened.”
That wasn’t a bet Valen was willing to take. Although mages and witches weren’t the same—any more than goblins and fairies were the same—a mage was always born to a mother who was a witch. It was very likely that Peri had a personal connection to the coven.
“Why did you call me?” he abruptly asked.
“The ranch is outside my Gyre, but it’s part of my territory. I have every intention of finding out why twelve witches are dead. I can do it or—”
“I will,” Valen interrupted.
The hazel eyes darkened with an emotion that might have been amusement. “I thought you might take a personal interest.”
“The mages are valuable assets,” Valen said in cold tones. “Eventually they’ll accept my authority.”
Valen refused to be provoked. It was no surprise that Gabriel was aware of his interest in the mages, and his particular interest in Peri Sanguis. Even though the Cabal had sworn a peace treaty, they all had spies in each other’s territories. A treaty was nothing more than a promise. One that was easily broken.
“Is that all?”
“No. I have a contact in the area.”
Valen nodded. Gabriel would be a fool not to keep a close watch on a coven of witches. They didn’t have the power of a mage, but they could manipulate magic. That was always trouble.
“The coven has always been secretive, but the past few years they’ve completely isolated themselves.”
“Any reason why?”
“My contact said there are rumors that they’d started practicing dark magic.”
Valen shrugged. Humans were the only ones gullible enough to believe in dark magic.
“Magic is magic. There’s no black or white.”
Gabriel’s features tightened. “There is, however, evil intent.”
They shared a glance that was filled with ancient pain. They’d both survived the demon uprising that had destroyed several vampires. As immortals, they were resurrected in new hosts, but each rebirth meant that the vampire awakened with no memory of their past and powers that were a small fraction of what they had possessed. It took centuries to regain their strength.
A severe loss, considering there were around fifty vampires in total spread throughout the world, and that they had no means of expanding their numbers. The human myths about a vampire’s bite turning them into an immortal were ridiculous. They only things that Hollywood had right were that vampires drank blood and they couldn’t go out in the sun.
“For now I have eyes on the property,” Gabriel assured him. “Nothing will approach the ranch without me knowing.”
“Good. I’ll be there as soon as my jet is ready.” Valen’s mind was already racing with the number of details that needed to be taken care of before he could leave the city.
“I can make a call to delay the commuter flight to Casper,” Gabriel offered.
“I would appreciate that. I would also appreciate if you’d spread the word that I’m not invading your territory,” Valen said. “I don’t want any messy misunderstandings.”
Gabriel nodded. “In return I want a full report on what you discover.”
Valen was preparing to end the call when Gabriel abruptly smiled, revealing his massive fangs.
“You have excellent taste.”
The darkness was absolute as Valen exited the helicopter that had been waiting for him at the private airport outside of Casper. The ranch was too far from civilization to be engulfed in streetlights and the only glow came from the stars splattered across the sky. Not that he needed light to see the flat, empty landscape that stretched toward the distant mountains. He could easily make out the sagebrush and prairie clover spotted over the hard ground along with the small rodents that scurried to hide in their burrows.
Pausing long enough to make sure there were no hidden dangers, Valen abruptly shivered. There was nothing in the area to threaten him, but the dull lack of magic pressed against him like an invisible weight. Witches sought out dead zones, as if sensing that the natural magic in Gyres would interfere in their spells.
It added to the impression of desolation that shrouded the barren landscape.
With a shake of his head, he crossed toward the patch of buildings that were surrounded by a barbed wire fence. His brows arched as he neared and realized the fence was ten foot tall and darkened from the residue of a powerful spell that was no longer active. A spell that had no doubt ended with the death of the witches.
What the hell had they been trying to hide? You didn’t have that level of protection unless you were determined to keep people out. Or…trying to keep people locked in.
Valen circled the fence, glancing up at the wooden sign above the gate.
Trespassers will be shot on sight
Blunt. At least by human standards. And yet another indication that the witches were harboring a secret.
Entering the compound through the open gate, he headed toward the red, four-wheel-drive truck parked in the center of the narrow pathway. As he passed by the front of the vehicle, he could feel the lingering warmth of the engine. It hadn’t been parked there for more than a few minutes. Gabriel had kept his word and delayed Peri’s flight long enough for Valen to get his jet prepared and in the air.
He moved forward, spotting the mage standing in front of one of the long wooden buildings. She was still wearing the shorts and T-shirt she’d been wearing in the airport, with her lush brown hair flowing freely down her back. The casual style emphasized her youth. Or perhaps it emphasized his extreme age, he wryly concluded.
He was still several feet away when she stiffened, the jade bracelet glowing around her wrist as she prepared to launch a magical attack.
“Easy, Peri,” he murmured.
She jerked around, her face pale and her eyes suspiciously red. Had she been crying? Interesting.
“Valen.” Her hands clenched at her sides, the bracelet still throbbing with unused power. She held her spell, as if debating whether to punish him for intruding into her private thoughts. At last discretion overrode her desire to lash out and the magic faded. Wise choice. “What are you doing here?”
“The same as you, I imagine.”
“Doubtful.” Her eyes narrowed. “It was your helicopter I heard.”
“Did you follow me?”
Valen arched a brow. “You assume I spend my time keeping a constant eye on you?”
She flushed, but with her typical rash courage, she refused to back down. “This is my land now. You have no authority here.”
The temperature dropped until Peri shivered and wrapped her arms around her waist, but it wasn’t her defiance that caught his attention.
This is my land now…
“You knew the witches who died here.”
Another shiver. “My mother and her coven.”
Valen studied her tense features and the lack of emotion in her stunning eyes. He didn’t need his superior senses to realize she was in shock.
“Don’t be.” Her hand pressed against her chest. “They stuck a dagger in my heart when they realized I possessed true magic.”
Ah. That explained the scar just over her heart and the chip on her shoulder. He’d always wondered.
“How old were you?”
Valen was caught off guard. Not because her coven had tried to kill her. There were some witches who feared that the wild magic flowing through the veins of a mage would expose them to the witch hunts that killed so many in the past. At least that was their excuse to hunt down and execute mages. Valen suspected it was a combination of jealousy and fear that drove them to murder. They would never be able to possess or control the true magic. So they sought to destroy it.
“You were young to come into your powers,” he said.
“I didn’t stay young for long.”
Valen glanced around, once again aware of the emptiness that surrounded the ranch. “How did you escape?”
She held out her hands, revealing the silvery marks in the center of each palm.
“The wild magic burst out of me, driving them away long enough for me to disappear into the mountains.”
Valen didn’t press for details. At any moment the shock was going to wear off and she would once again be the Peri Sanguis he’d known since her arrival in New Jersey. A prickly, secretive woman who used mockery as a weapon.
“Did they realize you survived?”
“I’m not sure.” Her jaw tightened, a sudden emotion flaring in the depths of her blue eyes. “As you can imagine, the whole trying-to-kill-me thing put a strain on our relationship. I never spoke with any of them again.”
“I assume that means you don’t know why they are dead?”
“Not a clue.”
“Could it have been suicide?”
She laughed. A sharp, brittle sound. “No.”
“You sound very certain.”
“My mother was cunning, ruthless, and consumed with her lust for power. She would kill without mercy if she thought it might give her some sort of advantage.” Her lips twisted into a bitter smile. “But take her own life? Never.”
Valen accepted her words without question. “Then who—or what—had the skill to murder an entire coven?”
With a shudder, Peri glanced toward the barn at the far side of the compound. She was silent for a long moment, as if considering the various possibilities. Valen did the same.
It didn’t take long. He didn’t have enough evidence to develop a logical deduction and he wasn’t foolish enough to leap to conclusions. At last, Peri seemed to come to the same deduction. She shook her head, as if trying to clear her mind, then slowly turned back.
She stared at him, then without warning her eyes narrowed. He didn’t have to read her mind to know that she’d just remembered he was the enemy.
“The more immediate question is why you’re here,” she said in sharp tones. “This has nothing to do with the Cabal.”
He hid a smile. Peri was once again the defiant, pain-in-the-ass mage that had captured his interest. Although she would stab him in the heart if he ever called her a pain in the ass. And oddly, he was fiercely relieved to have her back.
“Twelve witches die under mysterious circumstances. No obvious wounds, no sign of struggle, no indication of an intruder,” he smoothly replied. “Do you think a human could accomplish such a thing?”
She studied him, as if not entirely reassured by his explanation. “You think it was a demon?”
“I’m here to discover the truth.”
“Why you?” she pressed. “This area isn’t even close to your territory.”
“Gabriel asked for my assistance and I agreed.”
“I have a unique talent,” he informed her.
“A talent for showing up where you’re not wanted?”
He allowed an icy silence to settle between them. He gave her more leeway than any other creature. But he had limits.
“Take care, mage,” he whispered softly.
Peri flushed, smart enough not to provoke the annoyed vampire. “What sort of talent?”
“For tracing the scent of a demon. Or mage. If one was here I’ll be able to follow his trail.”
She blinked, as if caught off guard by his words. Then, abruptly, she turned to walk briskly toward the barn.