Whisper of Shadows

Whisper of Shadows

Diana Pharaoh Francis

April 2016 $15.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-702-1

War is coming . . .
 
Our PriceUS$15.95
Code978-1-61194-702-1
 
Save wishlist

Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt


Back Cover Copy


War is coming . . .

When the FBI uses an anti-magic law to arrest and torture Riley’s boyfriend, they have no idea what hell they are about to unleash. If Riley can’t rescue Clay before he breaks, the result will be a disaster of epic proportions.

With time running out, Riley and her family must rely on two people more likely to stab them in the back than actually help. And, even if Riley manages the rescue, she’s still got to deal with two kidnappings and the return of her dad from the dead—the same dad who’d been willing to see her dead to protect his secrets.

What’s a girl to do? Kick ass, take names, and protect those she cares about at all costs.

"The characters and the world building are fantastic." —Book Junkiez on Edge of Dreams

"Good pacing, a complex and layered plot, and intriguing characters illustrate why the author delivers such amazing reads!” —Jill Smith, RT Book Reviews on Edge of Dreams

"A kickass thrill ride with magic, sex, guns, and mystery.”—John Hartness, Bestselling Author of The Black Knight Chronicles on Trace of Magic

Diana Pharaoh Francis is the acclaimed author of a dozen novels of fantasy and urban fantasy. Her books have been nominated for the Mary Roberts Rinehart Award and RT’s Best Urban Fantasy. Whisper of Shadows is the third book in her exciting new urban fantasy series—The Diamond City Magic Novels.


Reviews


Life just got a whole more problematic for tracer heroine Riley Hollis. Like its predecessors, the third installment of the exceptional Diamond City Magic series wastes no time diving into the action and throwing major complications at its protagonists. Along with the thrilling action, there are boatloads of character developments and revelations that will leave readers pumped for the next chapter! Bravo! —Romantic Times Book Review - 4 star review

Excerpt

Chapter 1

I HAD A WHOLE lot of questions for the man standing in front of me. All of them starting with why.

Why did you leave, Dad?

Why didn’t you tell me where you went, Dad?

Why did you abandon me and the rest of your family, Dad?

And probably most important of all: Why did you put a psychic bomb in my brain to kill me if I breached your carefully constructed walls locking away my memories and my ability to trust, Daddy Dearest?

That last question probably should have been the first. Having to ask the question at all says something about my life, as does the fact that the bomb in my brain wasn’t even my most recent near-death experience of the last few days. I’d come close to dying at least twice since the brain bomb, plus had my thumb cut off.

I’ll admit I wasn’t in the most charitable frame of mind as I stared at my father. For ten years I’d had to wonder whether he was dead or rotting in prison somewhere or even living on Mars. Someone else might have gotten through all the emotional baggage and given him a big hug. Mostly I just wanted to kill him. Except killing him wouldn’t get me the answers I needed.

While I tried to calm down from the shock of finding him in my step­mom’s living room, standing there like he’d never ditched us, I rubbed a finger over my thumb knuckle just to make sure it was still there. Maya, a tinker friend who was quickly earning enough from me to build a vacation home in the Bahamas, had reattached it after a madman cut it off. The reattachment between my dad and me wasn’t going to be so easy. In­wardly, I snorted. Impossible was more like it.

He’d been the last person, place, or thing I’d expected to see tonight. I don’t see the future. I’m a tracer. I can see the magical trails people leave behind by merely existing. I can even see dead trace, which makes me unique and dangerous to all the wrong kind of people. My abilities are the modern-day equivalent of a chimera or a Sasquatch or a snipe. Only I actually exist.

My last couple of cases "outed” me. Now everybody wants a piece of me—whether to hire me, to enslave me, or to kill me. I’d formed an uneasy truce with Gregg Touray, the boss of one of the most powerful Tyet organi­zations in Diamond City. His half brother Clay Price is my... boyfriend of sorts, a former detective who’d traded his own freedom for mine, and quit the force to work for his brother as part of the bargain for Touray’s leaving me alone.

Tonight was about finally introducing Price to the half of my family he hasn’t met—namely, my stepmom Mel and my stepbrother Jamie. He’s already met my sister, Taylor, and my other stepbrother, Leo. Since I’ve never in my life brought a date to dinner, it’s a pretty big deal.

Actually, it was more like a gauntlet, where my metal-working step­broth­ers would wrap him up in a cage and either threaten him if he hurts me or tickle him to death. They aren’t exactly predictable, and even though they are older than me, they still have a healthy teenage practi­cal-joker streak going on. That, or my stepmom Mel decides to get in on the action and interrogate him about, well, pretty much his entire life. As an FBI reader, she can read emotion. She’s also an Einstein-level psycholo­gist, so pretty much she’s a walking lie detector who can get anybody to spill their guts about every last little thing. Another reason I’d been avoid­ing her since the whole thing with Price started. I couldn’t keep secrets when she turned her detection skills on me.

On top of that, I had planned to announce that Price and I were mov­ing in together. Silly me, I’d thought that last tidbit was going to be the shocker of the evening. Then my dad shows up. Now I had to wonder if he was planning to try to kill me or kidnap me. It wouldn’t be the first time for either.

My stepmom felt the need to warn us. When she opened the door, Mel acted kind of cold, which is not her. When she shook Price’s hand, I could tell she did something. As a reader, she can also transmit feelings when she wants to. Whatever she sent to Price morphed him into stone- cold-brutal mode.

"What’s wrong?” I whispered.

Mel gave a brittle smile. "We have unexpected company for dinner to­night. It’s quite a surprise.”

"Who?”

"Come see.”

From the way she and Price acted, the unexpected company was also un­expectedly bad. Price edged in front of me, lacing his fingers tightly through mine, using that connection to angle me behind him as we fol­lowed Mel into her expansive living room, which was nowhere near big enough to hold the tension.

My brothers, Jamie and Leo, stood on opposites sides of the room. Leo’s expression was harsh, like he was made of rage. He had long dark hair that he combed back in waves. His face was chiseled. The only thing that kept him from looking pretty was that his nose was crooked and the bridge was flat.

Jamie had reddish-brown hair he kept clipped short enough to stay out of his face. Like Leo, he couldn’t be bothered to shave more than every few days, if that, so he constantly had five o’clock shadow. He also usually had dimples, but right now, he looked like he’d never smiled in his life. He flicked a glance at me as I walked in. His jaw knotted.

Taylor sat on a stool at the mahogany bar. She looked shell-shocked. Not a look she wore often. She was a pilot and had worked in Iraq and Afghanistan for several years, flying for private security firms and other businesses. She usually had nerves of ice, but right now, she looked like she’d been stabbed in the chest a dozen times. Her hand held a glass, her knuckles white. I didn’t think she even remembered she was holding it.

The focus of everyone’s agitation sat in a hobnailed leather chair near the fireplace.

Dad.

"Look who’s here, everyone. Riley and her beau,” Mel announced, her tone carefully neutral.

My father stood as I walked in. The air went out of the world. A hurri­cane spun up inside me. I couldn’t begin to tell what I felt. I wanted to hug him for a split second. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. I wanted to run. Then I wanted to hit him. Instead, I stood there, drinking him in.

As far back as I could remember, he’d had short red-blond hair. Now it was more silver than blond. His eyes were the same sleepy blue, but red-rimmed now, and he had crow’s feet. He was tanned, like he’d been in the sun recently. He barely scraped six feet and looked fit—no paunch dewlapping his belt. It seemed that the last ten years had been kind to him—that is, as far as I could remember. But then again, I couldn’t trust my memories about him, could I?

He’d made me forget things—I didn’t know what, just that he’d done it. When his little brain bomb had gone off in my head, a dreamer friend, Cass, had gone into my head to put me back together. She’d saved my life, but she couldn’t retrieve what my father had taken. All she knew was that real memories had been uprooted and fake memories had been planted. Maybe he’d done the same to the rest of the family. The thought was enough to loosen my tongue. Anger does that for me.

"Dad. You’re back.”

He smiled. "Riley. It’s good to see you.”

I wondered if he expected me to jump into his arms. I wondered if that was part of the programming Cass had yanked out of my brain. I tipped my head to the side, glaring. "Tell me, Dad, will the rest of us be remembering this little chat or are you going to fix that before you disap­pear again? That’s what you do, right? Play with people’s memories? Mess with their lives, and then go your merry way?” I asked.

Whatever he expected from me, that wasn’t it. From the way his lips flattened, I could tell he didn’t like the sarcasm. Or maybe it was the truth he hated. Probably it was the truth. Too fucking bad. Point for me.

That’s when I noticed Dalton. He’d been my shadow for weeks. I’d thought that Price’s brother, Gregg Touray, had hired him to keep me out of the "wrong hands.” That meant any hands but Touray’s. Unfortunately, he turned out to be my father’s henchman. Point for Dad.

Dalton was handsome in a not-quite-finished sort of way. His face was long, his nose strong and blunt. He had high cheekbones like he might be part Native American. The weird thing about him was his eyes. They were discs of silver, and sometimes the edges would glow different colors. They were tinker mods, but I didn’t really know what he could see. It gave him an eerie inhuman quality. If I hadn’t already distrusted him, his eyes would have done the trick.

As I scanned him over, my brain kicked into high gear. A whole lot of dominoes started falling just then, and I could barely begin to grasp the meaning.

Dalton had come around with a security squad just after my secret tal­ent as a tracer had been exposed. He’d said he’d been anonymously hired to protect me. At that point, I’d stupidly assumed that his boss was either Touray or Price, neither of whom I’d been talking to at that point. I’d been too stubborn and idiotic to pick up the phone and ask them. Instead, I did my own background checks, which didn’t trigger any red flags, and when Dalton had known details about me only Price or Touray could have given him, I’d let him hang around.

Not my finest decision. He’d freed—or maybe just stolen—the megalo­maniac nutjob who’d infected me and my sister with Sparkle Dust and then cut off my thumb. That would be Percy Caldwell, a sociopath and the maker of Sparkle Dust, a magical drug that had been sweeping through Diamond City, killing just about everyone who chanced taking it. The drug was literally made out of drug addicts. Their bodies were harvested to make more SD. That meant, if Dalton was working for my dad, then my dad had Percy Caldwell and the key to making SD. Was he setting up to manufacture it?

The idea made my stomach twist. Weeks ago I’d have been able to say no way—my dad would never be a part of anything so depraved and horrify­ing. Unfortunately, I now knew better. If he was capable of killing his own daughter, nothing else, no matter how awful, could be off the table.

"What do you want?” I asked finally, when he remained silent, refus­ing to rise to the bait I’d thrown out about erasing memories.

He smiled again, a quick quirk of his lips. My heart twisted. I remem­bered that smile. Despite myself, I clung to the memory. Maybe everything about my childhood wasn’t a lie.

"Straight to the point,” he murmured. "Just like your mother.”

I flinched. Price’s fingers tightened on mine. I held on to his hard strength. He had my back. He always had my back.

"Where did you go?”

Taylor. Her voice came out in a rasp.

She stared at Dad like somehow she could cut him open and see what he was really thinking. The wounded look had faded and been replaced with animal fury. There was a wild edge to her that hadn’t been there a week or so ago. She’d seen her hangar invaded and then her friends and employees gunned down. A family in her waiting room had been slaugh­tered. Then she’d been exposed to Sparkle Dust. Cass—the same dreamer who’d mended my brain after Dad’s bomb went off—had fixed Taylor as much as she could be fixed, but the drug had changed her. I wasn’t sure what those changes were, but she didn’t usually lose her cool. Right now, it was probably good she didn’t make a habit of carrying weapons.

Dad’s face softened. I caught myself. Did I still call him that? It didn’t feel right. Calling him Dad implied love. Whatever I felt for him, love wasn’t it. His old name had been Samuel Hollis, but I doubted he went by that anymore. Not that he went by Dad anymore either. He’d quit that a decade ago.

He faced Taylor. "I’ve mostly been out of the country and traveling.”

"Why? Why did you leave?” Taylor swigged down the rest of her drink and set it down before standing up. She held herself still, her arms wrapped around her stomach, her gaze unblinking. "Why did you disap­pear and never call?”

Dad—Sam?—blew out a soft breath. "It was too dangerous to stay. For you. For all of you.” His glance gathered all of us in. "I had—I have— enemies who wouldn’t hesitate to hurt you to get to me.” He looked at me. "One of them murdered your mother.”

Sometimes my mouth gets going before I have a chance to really think. "So Mom gets murdered. Your reaction to your bloodthirsty ene­mies is to get remarried, have another kid, play house for years, and then out of the blue, you vanish off the face of the earth, but not before taking the time to set bombs in my head. It’s like a Christmas movie. You’re amazing. I mean, if it had been me, I probably would have just taken my daughter and—I don’t know—gone into hiding with her instead of playing Brady Bunch for a decade. But clearly I don’t have the vision you do.”

"There are things you don’t know.”

"Yeah. There are. Things that some asshole scrubbed out of my head. Memories someone stole from me. The one thing I do know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that my dad raped my brain and then set booby traps to kill me if I broke through his walls. Thanks for that, by the way. Do you have any idea what it’s like to watch yourself go insane, to have your brain so terrified that it tells your body to quit breathing? Worse, you made it Price’s fault. You made the man who loves me so much he’d cut his heart out of his chest for me feel like I’d picked suicide over trusting him.”

Price’s hand clenched on mine so hard it hurt. Neither one of us were going to forgive my dad for putting us through that anytime soon. I tight­ened my grip reassuringly, never looking away from my dad.

"If it wasn’t enough that half the world was out to kill me, I got to have you doing it, too. So back to the question. Why are you here? Oh! Maybe you want to explain to your wife why you abandoned her? Did you at least bring flowers? Fancy chocolates? Expensive jewelry? What do you get your wife when you disappear? Copper? Wood? Plastic? Is there an abandonment anniversary gift chart?”

I was shaking. I don’t know if I was more mad or more in danger of falling to pieces. Price let go of my hand and put his arm around me. I leaned into him, grateful for his solid strength.

Mel, Jaime, and Leo still hadn’t said anything. I wondered what they were thinking. Mel had loved my dad. My memories said they’d been glori­ously happy. But my memories could be lies. So could hers. All the same, this was her husband. A man who’d abandoned her and left her to raise four children alone. A man who’d made her promises and then tossed her aside like used toilet paper.

"Perhaps we should hear Sam’s explanation.”

Mel sounded unfazed and totally in control. Her calmness gave me something to cling to. Right now I felt raw. I needed some sort of armor to protect me from him, from all of this. Mel wasn’t armor, but she took his focus, settling on the emerald camelbacked couch, crossing her legs ele­gantly and lifting a brow at her husband.

"Provided you’ve come to explain?”

Dad tipped his head toward Mel. "As best I can.”

His cagey answer made my stomach churn. Would we get any truth from him at all? Or would it be carefully cut and shaped, turning the ugly reality into a pretty snowflake lie?

That’s when my rational brain caught up with my emotional-overload brain. My dad was a dreamer, which meant he could worm his way into any of our minds without touching us. He could cause us to see visions, change our thinking, give us false memories, all without any of us knowing. I had a knack for sensing magic, which meant I could usually sense when someone was actively attempting to use it around me. Plus I had a strong sensitivity to dreamer touch. I could feel it when one tried to wriggle into my head. I had to wonder if that had anything to do with him. Had he taught me that? Or had his tampering made me extra sensitive?

Didn’t matter, and now was no time to consider. Dear old Dad hadn’t attempted to come after any of us yet, as far as I could tell, but just in case... I slid my hand down to touch Price’s belt. Inside the leather were a dozen silver disks, each one a null. I activated one.

A magical dead zone surrounded Price. No spell—good or bad— could affect him until the null was deactivated or its power was drained.

"I don’t trust you,” I said to my dad. "Everybody, activate your nulls.”

I’d made each of my family powerful nulls in various shapes and forms. Sometimes jewelry, other times zippers on clothing—though nulls didn’t hold up well to multiple washings. I felt each of theirs activate al­most before I finished speaking. I took a little comfort in knowing I wasn’t the only one so caught off guard I’d not thought about protecting myself.

Mel was the only one who hadn’t triggered a null. I understood why. She wanted to be able to read Dad’s emotions. She couldn’t if her powers were nulled. Neither Dad nor Dalton had active nulls either, probably for the same reason.

I stiffened with another realization. Everybody leaves behind trace. It’s a ribbon of light that only tracers can see. Some can only see it for a few minutes, others for an hour or two. I can see it always, even after a person dies. The only time I can’t is when someone nulls out their trace, which means for as long as that null is active, their ribbon vanishes. Those were the rules. Except that when my father disappeared, his trace vanished with him. One day it’s looped all around our house and my life, the next it’s gone like he’d never existed. Every last scrap of it gone. Just like Dad. It should have been impossible.

For years, I’d tried to puzzle it out and just recently I thought I’d fig­ured out the trick. He hadn’t erased his trace, but rather he’d simply made it impossible for me to see it. He’d gone into my head and blinded me to him. Now I had the chance to test my theory. I dropped into trace sight. Nothing.

I don’t know why it bothered me so much. I mean, he’d tried to kill me. By comparison, this was nothing. And yet—it went to the core of who I was. He’d made me doubt myself, made me feel like a failure when I couldn’t find him. I bit my lips so that I wouldn’t swear. My eyes burned with tears I refused to let fall. One of these days I was going to figure out how not to care. Thanks to my family, thanks to Price and my friends, I’d moved on. I’d broken through Dad’s prison shackles. He didn’t matter anymore.

I told myself that and tried to believe it.

Dad nodded to Mel. "That’s why I came. I am here to explain what I can. Riley, I am glad to see you well after your recent interactions with Mr. Caldwell.”

I glared. "Dalton told you about all that, did he? Did Dalton also tell you that he tried to kidnap me, too?”

"He merely wished to get you to safety.”

Dad smiled. I sucked in a breath, my heart aching. I had so many memo­ries of that smile. Good memories. Or they had been. Now they seemed fake, as if he’d been wearing a mask. Hell, for all I knew, they were fake and he’d planted them in my head.

"I doubt my safety was uppermost in Dalton’s mind,” I said, my lip curling.

Dad turned to glance at Mister Tall, Dark, and Broody, and then back at me. "You can trust him. He’s a friend.” He focused on Price. "Clayton Price, I presume?” He actually held out a hand like he expected a shake.

Price eyed it and then looked back up at my dad. "I am.”

Dad let his arm fall, seemingly unfazed. "Your brother is Greggory Tou­ray?”

"Aren’t you the one who’s supposed to be answering questions?” I de­manded. "You aren’t welcome here. So do us a favor, get to the point of this little visit and then get out. What do you want?”

He scanned us all, his gaze lingering on each of us, finally returning to me. "It’s quite simple, really. My absence no longer protects you. There’s no point in hiding anymore. It’s time for us to be a family again.”


 

 

Chapter 2

I THINK MY JAW might have actually fallen off my face. Mine wasn’t the only one hitting the floor. Even Mel looked like she’d been hit with a base­ball bat.

"If you’re trying to make a joke, it’s a bad one,” Leo said. He went to put an arm around Taylor, who’d gone pale.

I wondered what she was thinking. Over the past couple months, Tay­lor’s world had been turned inside out. Her boyfriend had been kid­napped and now refused to have anything to do with her, Percy Caldwell had murdered a half dozen of her employees before infecting her with Sparkle Dust, and now for the cherry on top, Dad—who it turns out wasn’t anything like who we thought he was—walks back into our lives and announces he wants to be a family again. It had to be tearing her to pieces. I know I felt shredded.

"It’s not a joke,” Dad said.

"Then you are delusional,” Jamie shot back. He’d gone to stand be­hind Mel, his hands resting on her shoulders. She’d recaptured her compo­sure. The fruits of FBI training.

"Samuel, perhaps you should just tell us what you came to say,” she sug­gested.

She simply ignored his pronouncement. It’s not like there was any point in asking about what was never going to happen. Like Jamie said, the man was delusional.

Dad gave a little shrug and resumed his seat near the fire. "I can’t tell you much. The less you know, the better.”

"That’s it,” I said, anger shearing through me. "I’m leaving.” I let go of Price and whipped around, striding for the door. I’d gone two steps before I spun back around. Price was right behind me. He always had my back, always supported me. He’d returned to me what my father had sto­len—trust in another man, and unconditional love. More than that, I knew he would never abandon me.

I pushed past him to face my father, stabbing a finger at him. "You know what? I’m not leaving. You are. You have brass balls, you know that? You fuck with my head, you abandon us, and now you show up with some fantasy about being a family again. You’ve got some bullshit story about keeping us in the dark because of—I don’t know—global warming? Radi­cal vegetarianism? Maybe the Wicked Witch of the West is coming after us?

"Whatever you have to say, I don’t want to hear it. It’s all lies. That’s what you do and I’m not falling for it again. I don’t know why you really came here, but I’m done. You left once, leave again. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.”

"Riley,” Mel said quietly.

I shot a hot glare at her, wrapping my arms around my stomach. "You can’t want to hear this.”

"I think we must,” she said.

I wanted to argue, but something in her voice asked me to trust her. I did. Completely. Especially since she’d taught me to stand on my own two feet. To make my own choices and believe in myself. After Dad’s disap­pear­ance, I’d gone wild, but Mel hadn’t given up on me, no matter what I did. I’d been a complete bitch. Even so, she’d managed to help me grow up and be independent. If not for her, hell, if not for my brothers and Taylor, I don’t know where I’d be now. I wasn’t alone in this. If Mel thought we should listen, then I would.

"You’ve got two minutes. Start talking,” I told my dad coldly.

He gave me a measuring look, then nodded. "All right. None of you are safe anymore. My enemies have learned of your existence and they plan to use you against me. I did my best to erase all evidence of my life before I disappeared, but alas, some small clues remained, and some very moti­vated people followed up.” He paused. "The people who killed your mother are after you now, too.”

My mouth fell open. Again.

"When Elaine was murdered, I believed the crime was random. Cer­tainly the police said so. Years later, I discovered Elaine had been killed because of her ties to some dangerous people. She’d always kept her past a secret from me.”

"You’re a dreamer,” I said, fighting through the tightness in my throat. "You expect us to believe you never tiptoed into her skull to have a look around?”

He shook his head. "I should have looked, but I trusted her. I loved her. I regret it with all my heart, now. When I learned why she was killed, I promised myself I’d never make that mistake again. I’d do whatever I had to do to protect the people I loved, no matter the cost.”

I bit the inside of my cheek til I tasted blood. If he thought that justi­fied what he’d done to me, he had another thing coming.

"What exactly did you discover about Elaine’s murder?” Mel asked.

Thank goodness for her. I wasn’t sure I could stay logical. I just wanted to scream. He was blaming my mom for her death. At least that’s what I was hearing. If only she didn’t keep secrets, he could have protected her.

"Elaine had stolen things from people who don’t tolerate that sort of thing. They wanted their goods back and they wanted her to pay.” He sighed and looked at me. "I hate to say it, but your mom was a grifter. She knew how to run a con, and she was good at it. When she met me, she quit. I didn’t learn about her previous profession until years later. I’m sorry, Peach, but I can’t hide it from you anymore. Your mother wasn’t the woman we thought she was.”

My brain burst into flames. First, calling me Peach. He’d called me that as a kid, but he didn’t have the right anymore. Second, my mom was a con artist? Did he really expect me to buy that line of bullshit?

I didn’t want to believe him. Believe that Mom was responsible for her own death. But inside, I just didn’t know. I couldn’t know. I couldn’t believe anything he said, and I couldn’t not believe it. I had no facts, and none of my childhood memories were reliable. That’s when I remembered I could actually ask my mom. She might be dead, but her ghost was hang­ing around in the spirit dimension, and she wanted to talk to me. Dad knew nothing about that. Doubt crept in again. What if she was a con artist? What if everything she said was a lie? God, what a complete cluster­fuck.

Taylor pushed away from Leo and went behind the bar. She poured her­self a healthy drink, but left it untouched. I understood the need to do something, not to mention she’d put a massive piece of wood between her and Dad.

Abruptly, I strode over and picked up the drink that she hadn’t touched and drank down half of it. It was pretty much straight-up vodka with a touch of lemon. It burned down my throat and made my eyes water.

Taylor met my gaze, her blue eyes sunken and bruised. Her lips ghosted in a smile as I raised the glass in a toast and swallowed the rest. She reached for a bottle and set up another one as I set the glass back down.

"Nothing like a dysfunctional family reunion to make you start drink­ing, is there?” she murmured. "Do you think he’s telling the truth about your mom?”

My teeth bared. "I think we can’t trust a word he says.”

She lifted her glass. "Amen to that.”

"You all right?”

"Sure. Why not?” Her smile was brittle.

I reached over and touched her hand. She gripped mine tightly, then let it go. I took a breath and let it out, then faced back around. Time to deal with this head-on.

I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to say, but I never got a chance.

A flash of brilliant light burst outside. At the same time, a rumble like thunder rolled underneath the floor. Wood groaned and strained.

"What the hell is going on?” Price demanded, glaring at my father.

Leo and Jamie had that preoccupied look they got when they were talk­ing to metal.

Dalton had started talking into his hand. He eyed the walls and ceil­ings. Not for the first time, I wondered just what the hell he could see with those weird eyes. I didn’t think they were X-ray vision à la Superman, but clearly they were specialized.

"We have to get going,” he said, turning back to my dad. The outer rings of his eyes were green. I’d seen them orange, blue, and red.

"Report,” my dad ordered.

Dalton gave that ever-familiar impatient snarl. "It appears the FBI has come calling. Time to go.”

The FBI? I’ll admit. I wasn’t as surprised as I could have been. I’d had a run-in not too long ago with the super special agents of the FBI. The one in charge—Sandra Arnow—was a particularly nasty bit of business. She was ambitious, cold, and ruthless. She and I shared a mutual hate-hate relationship.

"What do you want to do?” Price asked, looking to me, but Mel an­swered.

"Open the door when they make it that far. Not much else we can do. Jamie, shut down the house.”

Jamie jogged out of the room to turn off the house spells before our in­truders launched binders, which they were sure to do any second now. Binders bound all the magic within their range so nothing worked. They also played havoc with active spells, sometimes twisting them so they didn’t work again. I deactivated my trace null.

"What are they doing out there?” I asked as thunder rolled under the floor again. But then I felt their binders spring up and suck all the active magic down. "They’ve got the binders up,” I said.

I hadn’t been paying attention to my dad. He’d come across the room. Price stepped between us.

"That’s far enough.”

Dad stopped

"I have to go,” he said. "You aren’t safe. None of you.” He turned to look at everyone else, then faced me again. "I can protect you if you come with me.”

I didn’t have to consider. "No thanks. So far your protections have been almost lethal,” I said, tapping my forehead. "I don’t trust you to get me a glass of water. I sure as hell won’t trust you with my life.”

He nodded, his expression unchanged. "Fair enough. I’ll see you again. Soon.”

With that, he and Dalton walked out of the room.

"Where are they going?” Price asked, watching them go.

"There are dozens of routes out of here. He built most of them,” Mel said, edging aside a curtain to look out the window. "It is the FBI. They’re coming in the gates.”

"What do they want?” Leo asked.

"I guess we’ll find out.” I looked at Price. "You don’t have to be here.”

Connected as he was to his brother’s Tyet organization, he was techni­cally a criminal. For all I knew, the FBI had come to arrest him.

He narrowed his eyes at me, a line cutting deep between his brows. "I’m not leaving you.”

I got the message. He wasn’t going to betray me or abandon me to save his own hide. My heart swelled, and I grinned at him. My smile faded. "Our two weeks is going to get postponed, isn’t it?”

I’d promised him that after the dinner tonight, we’d hole up alone for two weeks and spend it together, no distractions or interruptions. If my dad’s arrival hadn’t shattered that glorious plan, certainly a mass of super special agents showing up did.

He shrugged. "I’ll still have you in my bed and sitting across from me at my breakfast table.”

"Unless I’m going to jail.”

"No one’s taking you to jail,” Mel inserted. She frowned at Price. "You’re going home with this man?”

Not the way I wanted to break the news. I nodded. "We’re moving in to­gether.”

Mel gave me a sharp look and then examined Price again. Finally, she nodded. "Good. Better you aren’t alone right now.”

She turned to Taylor. "You either. I want you to stay here.”

Taylor laughed. "No thanks. Besides, Dad’s not interested in me. He’s all about Riley.”

I could hear the pain stitching her voice. I could have pointed out that being the target of his interest had nearly killed me, but it wouldn’t have helped. I understood. He’d always made me special by making sure every­body was watching out for me and protecting me. That put Taylor always on the outside. She didn’t complain, and she and I had managed to be close for the most part, even though she lived with a constant wound. It amazed me sometimes that she didn’t hate me.

"I agree with Mel. Dad might have been telling the truth about his ene­mies wanting to get at his family. I don’t think you should go home. Your house doesn’t have enough protections.”

"Actually, it does,” Price said. "Gregg and I had them installed this week. There’s also a twenty-four/seven watch on the place, and Taylor’s got bodyguards who travel with her now, too.”

I eyed him in surprise. This was the first I’d heard about any of that. I looked at Taylor, lifting my brows in a silent question.

Her expression turned sour. "I told them no, but arguing with the two of them is like arguing with a couple of rocks. Or Jamie and Leo, for that matter.”

Price smiled. "All part of the service. After all, we’re family now.”

"You are?” Jamie said, choosing that moment to return. "Since when did you adopt my sisters?”

Price snorted. "Adopt? Oh no. Riley is most definitely not my daugh­ter. She’s—”

I looked at him. Just what exactly was I to him? But just then someone pounded on the door. With a battering ram. Wood cracked. It was a very solid door.

We all jumped.

"What the hell?” Jamie exclaimed. "What the hell are they doing? Why didn’t they just knock? Mom, you’re one of them.”

My stepmother’s face had turned to alabaster, her lips pinching to­gether in fury. She made herself relax, smoothing a hand over her hair. "I’m sure they’ll have a good explanation,” she said, but I couldn’t imagine what explanation would be good enough. ’Course, her colleagues might be having a conniption fit about her inviting the brother of a major Tyet player to her house for dinner. Or maybe it had to do with my dad. It was awfully coincidental that this invasion happened now, right when he showed up for his first visit in a decade.

"Maybe it makes them feel like they’ve worked hard,” Leo said with forced calmness, taking a seat at the bar. "Earned their money. How about another drink for me?” he asked Taylor. "I think I need it.”

"Me, too,” said Jamie, sliding into a seat. Red flags rode high in his cheeks. "Make it quick. They won’t be long.”

The battering ram slammed the door once again. Leo’s jaw tightened, the muscles visibly knotting.

"Another one and they’ll be inside,” Jamie said, taking a strong pull on his drink.

Mel joined them at the bar.

"What do you suppose they want?” Taylor asked as she slid a neat glass of scotch over to Mel. "Think they came because of Dad?”

"Or Price,” I said tightly. "Or me.”

That caught their attention.

"You?” Jamie asked.

Just as I thought—they hadn’t quite gotten around to putting that partic­ular two and two together. "I’ve not exactly been Miss Clean lately,” I said. "You know, interfering in an FBI investigation. A whole lot of breaking and entering. Trespassing. Theft. Consorting with a known Tyet kingpin. Not to mention generally having a magic talent that everybody seems eager to get their hands on, including the cops.” I listed the high­lights, but there were a lot more crimes the FBI could scrape up to throw at me, many of which I was actually guilty of.

Mel, Jamie, Leo, and Taylor exchanged looks.

"I don’t like this,” Mel said, the corners of her mouth deepening into a frown.

I hadn’t liked the situation before she said that. But now that she had, my level of apprehension went zooming into the stratosphere.

I didn’t get a chance to wallow in it. Just then the doorjamb finally splintered and the ornate double doors banged against the tables on either side of the entry. Incredibly expensive knickknacks shattered on the mar­ble floor.

Agents dressed in full riot gear and carrying automatic weapons at eye height came thundering into the room and circled around us.

"FBI! Throw down your weapons! Down on the floor, legs crossed, hands behind your back!”

It was surreal. None of us moved.

"Get down on the floor!” a man bellowed again.

Someone grabbed me and jammed their knee behind mine, forcing me down. I landed on my stomach. My chin bounced off the floor. I’d have a bruise later. Price thudded down heavily beside me. In about two seconds, we were both handcuffed.

Pretty quick, the rest of my family joined us, even Mel.

"What the hell is going on?” Leo demanded. "Do you know whose house this is? Mel Hollis is one of your top readers. Your bosses are going to have your asses on a platter.”

Nobody answered. I wasn’t sure they were required to. Legally, I had no idea what our rights were, except to shut up, and I meant to do that. Besides, my experience with cops of all stripes said that they didn’t feel bound by the law. If it got in their way, they’d mow it down and stomp it into an early grave. Finding an uncorrupt cop in Diamond City was a lot like finding a four-leaf clover in the desert.

"Don’t say anything,” Price said to me. His face was scary. I’d seen him go all stone-cold dangerous before, but this face was a new level of stone. "If we’re separated, go get Gregg. Promise.”

Luckily, I was saved from an answer by someone kicking at our feet. "Shut the fuck up. No one talks. You’ve a right to remain silent, so do it.”

Well, that was one way to handle suspects. The question was, what did they suspect us of?

Abruptly, someone grabbed Price’s collar and yanked him up off the floor.

"Get him in the van,” a man growled. I could smell the stench of stale cigarette smoke emanating off him.

"What about the rest of them?” A woman this time.

"Talk to Vilcott. Clayton Price is the one we were sent for. Now, move.”

"I want to see your warrant,” Mel declared.

Paper rustled. I heard the rev of an engine, and a vehicle drove away. A minute or two passed. They felt like years. Finally Mel spoke.

"The warrant’s in order.”

Panic twisted my gut. Even though I’d known he could be a target, I hadn’t really thought they’d come for Price. Deep down, I thought they were after my dad. It seemed logical, given the timing. What did they want with Price? I forced myself to lie still even as adrenaline surged through me, demanding that I do something.

"You got what you wanted. Release us and get off my property. Now.” Mel’s voice was cutting. "If you don’t move your asses in the next ten seconds, I’ll have your badges. And trust me, I can do it.”

Her threat was met with silence, then I heard the sound of someone moving and the clicking of her handcuffs coming off. She stood up, and a second later I heard her talk into her phone.

"Give me Director Erickson, please. Tell him Melanie Hollis is call­ing. It’s urgent.”

More sounds of movement and clicking. At the same time, I felt the binders go down. I guess we weren’t a threat anymore. I was released last. A pair of boots settled on either side of me as a man bent down to unlock the handcuffs. The choking scent of stale cigarettes let me know just who he was. He twisted the cuffs and yanked, bruising me in the process. I made no sound, refusing to give him the satisfaction of knowing he’d hurt me.

"Director, are you aware that your agents just broke down my door? They didn’t bother to knock.”

I sprang to my feet, shoving against the asshole agent who’d freed me. He fell back a step. Swearing, he raised a hand to hit me. It never landed. His gun dissolved, along with every other bit of metal he was wearing or carrying. It flowed together into a thin cage around his hand that circled his waist so he couldn’t move his arm.

"What the hell?” he said.

"You don’t touch her,” Jamie growled, his face gone feral.

"You’ve assaulted an agent. Your ass is going to jail,” cigarette man snarled back.

"Not today,” Jamie said. "You and your asshole crew are leaving. With­out any of us.”

"Fuck you.”

"Director Erickson wants a word with you,” Mel said, extending her phone so that the trussed agent could take it in his free hand.

For a moment he didn’t move, then he took it, holding it to his ear. "Who is this?”

He listened as the director spoke. Yelled, really, though I couldn’t make out the words. I glanced around. The other agents were equally trussed up. A really good use for their guns. They waited in hot silence for the phone call to end.

Finally, stinky cigarette man handed back Mel’s cell phone. His lips curled back, his eyes hardening into chunks of ice. "I apologize for the damage we caused in executing our legal warrant,” he said, spitting each word like it stung his tongue. "The FBI will compensate you for repairs. We will now be on our way.” He glared at Jamie.

The metal cage around his hand dissolved, but the band wrapping his waist remained. It tightened so that the agent would have to cut it off. One by one, the other agents were released, each retaining part of their shackles. A spiteful reminder from my brothers not to fuck with our family.

They all went to the door. Cigarette man paused, turning as the others went down the steps and got into the vehicle. "This isn’t over,” he said.

"You’re damned right it’s not,” Jamie retorted. "Don’t forget it.”

The agent gave a thin smile. "See you soon.” With that, he trotted out the door, and a moment later, the squad of vehicles retreated off our prop­erty.

"Can you help Price?” I asked Mel.

"I’ll try,” she said, dialing her phone again.

"What about you two?” I asked Jamie and Leo.

They both shook their heads.

"Maybe if he was closer,” Leo said.

"Maybe if he wasn’t moving,” Jamie said at the same time.

In close distances, they could work metal without having to touch it, or have some physical connection. Long distances, they at least had to be able to find a conduit to the metal they wanted to work. The rubber in the tires provided insulation from their touch. On top of that, moving targets were almost impossible to hit.

Everything inside me told me to go after him. He’d told me to call his brother and leave everything in Touray’s hands, but I couldn’t. I needed to go be with him. At least provide moral support. Maybe I could find out some detail that would help free him. Like the actual charges against him. I’d call Touray on the way.

"I’m going after him,” I declared, heading for the door. I stopped short. Price had the keys to our car. I took a breath. That was okay. We had our bodyguards out there. Not that they’d been much use. But then again, going to war with the FBI was in no one’s best interests. Likely they were already on the phone to Touray.

"I’ll give you a ride,” Taylor said, seeming to read my mind. "I’ll grab my coat and keys.”

"Wait, Riley,” Mel said, then spoke into her phone, "get back to me as soon as you can. I need all the details you can find.” She hung up the phone. "We all need to talk. Now.”

She turned and walked away. Jamie, Taylor, and Leo looked at her and then at me, and went after her. I hesitated before following. Mel led us into a small sitting room, shutting the door after we filed in. It was deliciously warm inside. I hadn’t realized how cold it had been out front with the door kicked in.

"Price has been arrested pursuant to the Magical Crimes Act,” Mel an­nounced abruptly.

We stared at her a moment, each of us trying to remember the details of the law and what exactly Price’s crime could be.

"I don’t get it,” Leo said, shaking his head.

I was impatient. "Okay, so he’s a part of his brother’s Tyet organiza­tion. He’s connected to some serious magic. This has to be their way of getting at Touray.”

Mel gave me an unreadable look. "Sit down. All of you. This is im­portant. It affects all of you. All of us. Well, Taylor only indirectly, of course.”

"Of course,” Taylor muttered and went to sit, crossing her legs and arms. "I’m all ears.”

I perched on the arm of the couch, while Leo and Jamie settled on the couch.

Mel gave a little sigh. "I’m going to give you all the short and dirty ver­sion of the Rice Act. You probably know some of it, but bear with me. It matters.

"Senator Rice, from Tennessee, has strong religious values. Like a lot of people, that means that he thinks the magically talented are nothing more than demons, abominations made by Satan, and not quite human. So fifteen years ago, when he was fairly new to office, he made a stink over the talented having the ability to skirt and entirely evade the law through magic. Whether by changing a person’s mind—literally—or perhaps de­stroy­ing all the evidence through magical means, or any number of schemes. Anyhow, he argued that the talented had an unfair social ad­vantage and that the law should offer equal protection to all citizens.

"The first Rice Act went through minus his major cornerstone, which would have stripped most legal protections from the talented. Undaunted, he’s continued to press for tighter restrictions. Then about five years ago, when the Congress last leaned conservatively, he proposed an amendment to account for the difficulty in prosecuting magical crimes. It opened the door to give law enforcement wider leeway in their investigations. That amendment also incorporated elements of the RICO laws and Hobbs law. It was wide ranging and encroached on people’s constitutional rights, so eventually the amendment was trimmed back before it passed.

"Again, Senator Rice counted it a victory, but was determined to keep chipping away at the resistance to his legislation in the name of homeland security. After the attack in Florida on the theme park there—a practical joke, according to the perpetrators, albeit a horrifying one resulting in four dead children—Rice succeeded in passing the cornerstone he’d failed to get through Congress before. The amendment took effect two months ago.”

Mel looked at us expectantly. Two months ago was right about when my life had really hit the fan. I’d found myself in over my head with Price and rescuing Taylor’s then-boyfriend, Josh. Since then, I’d barely had a moment to think, much less keep up with the news. I had no idea what Mel was getting at.

Taylor leaned forward, her head cocked, her eyes narrowed. "All right. But Price has no talent. So how does this apply to him?”

Mel grimaced. "That is the twenty-four-dollar question. I don’t know.”

"Unless he does have a talent,” Jamie suggested.

"Never saw any of any hint of it when we went after that scumbag Cald­well. What about you, Riley?” Leo asked. "Does Price have some sort of secret talent after all?”

"No!” I burst out, shoving to my feet. "Of course he doesn’t. He’s as mundane as Taylor.” I drew a calming breath and let it out, making myself calm down. Slowly, I said, "I’ve been fairly busy the past couple months or so. Can you all tell me exactly what I’m missing with this Rice Act?”

"Rice changed the basic legal rights of someone charged with federal magical crime. Once someone is arrested—and the charges need only be approved by a special star-chamber sort of panel and don’t have to meet the usual levels of proof for the mundanes—the suspect is brought in for interrogation. The feds have seven business days to question the suspect before they are required to continue into full due process. Meaning that for that seven days—plus the weekend—the suspect’s rights are suspended. He can’t have a lawyer. He can’t make a phone call. Worse, the Rice Act says that the feds can use any means deemed ‘reasonably safe and neces­sary’ to get their answers.”

Jamie chimed in. "That last bit means that so long as they don’t do per­manent damage, they can pretty much get away with any sort of torture they like. All in the name of protecting the public.” His disgust was palpa­ble. "Once they get a confession, the suspect goes on trial. You can bet they’ll use every dirty trick they can, including magical methods.”

I blinked stupidly, processing the information. It was almost too much to wrap my brain around. Or too fucking scary. "That’s not fair,” I said finally.

"Congress thinks it is and the president didn’t veto. So it is what it is,” Mel said.

I shook my head. "Okay, but that doesn’t answer why Price was ar­rested and how the Rice Act applies.”

"No, it doesn’t,” Mel said, frowning. "I don’t understand. It’s not a good idea for you to go to FBI headquarters. Not with the Rice Act in play. They could arrest you. You said yourself they have plenty of reasons.”

I shook my head again. "If they’d wanted me, they could have taken me with Price.”

"They may change their minds if you go waltzing in there,” Leo pointed out. "I think Mom is right. Wait until her contacts come through.”

"You won’t be able to see him,” Mel said. "There’s nothing you’ll be able to do.”

The idea of not going made me sick. Like I was abandoning him. "I need to go,” I said. "I need to be there. I can’t just stay away.”

Mel gave me a long look, then nodded slowly. "You’re a big girl now. It’s your decision.”

Something in the way she said that gave me a shiver. I’d been living on my own a long time, and I didn’t need permission to do anything. But Mel had raised me and guided me, even when I was a complete nightmare to deal with. Her words felt like a push out of the nest. Like she was saying I was ready to take on the world, dangerous as it was.

"Taylor should drive you. No—” she said when both Leo and Jamie blustered. "—you two are at risk under the Rice Act and there won’t be anything you can do that Taylor can’t.” She looked at me. "Be careful. Hopefully I’ll have more information by the time you get back.”

I hugged her tight. "I will,” I said, and then let go, turning to find Tay­lor waiting by the door.

I flicked a wave of my fingers at Leo and Jamie and left, grabbing my coat by the front door. I jerked it on before stepping carefully over the fallen wood and out onto the grand front porch. The cold slapped my face. I’d actually put on a dress for the night—a clingy sapphire-blue wool num­ber that clung to all my curves. It came down below my knees. I’d put on silk stockings and black ankle boots with spike heels. All in all, not the best attire for taking on the FBI. Not that I had a choice. Which reminded me—

I typed a quick text to Touray. A Tyet boss was now in one of my speed-dial slots. That fact in itself was more than a little surreal. I told him that the FBI had arrested Price and we were on our way downtown. At least we knew where to go, thanks to Mel having worked in the main build­ing.

"What was that?” Taylor asked.

"I let Price’s brother know what was going on.”

She nodded. I couldn’t tell if she approved or not, but she didn’t hesi­tate, just headed for her parking spot.

Taylor wasn’t dressed any better than I was. She wore platform red spike pumps that made her legs look like a million dollars. Above that she had on a dark purple dress that came down to mid-thigh and fit her like a glove. Unlike me, she was slender. I’d have looked like a stuffed sausage in that dress. She looked like a runway model. Her coat was a sleek leather swing jacket. Her auburn hair was caught up in an elegant chignon. Be­tween us, we looked a little bit like two-thirds of Charlie’s Angels about to go off on a mission.

In winter, Taylor drove a daffodil-yellow Lexus SUV. We climbed in, and she gunned the motor, fishtailing slightly as we zoomed down the drive and onto the road.

We didn’t speak. The silence pooled thick between us. I couldn’t tell what she was thinking. She and I hadn’t been talking a whole lot since I’d managed to rescue Josh, her ex-fiancé. Before his kidnapping, they’d been headed toward getting back together again, and now he wouldn’t even talk to her. Then after I escaped from Percy Caldwell, the bastard had decided to force Taylor to fly him out of Diamond City. He’d killed a bunch of her employees and infected her with Sparkle Dust. Tonight was the first I’d seen her since then, and it didn’t seem like she was all that happy with me. ’Course, I’d brought Price to the party tonight, and I knew she blamed his brother for what had happened to Josh—not that Touray had had much to do with the actual kidnapping. Plus, my moving in with a major Tyet player, as Price now was, made me something of an enemy. After all, Mel was FBI. No wonder they’d raided her house. Someone was making a point about her not being trustworthy anymore. Clearly Taylor was blam­ing that on me, too. Not that she was wrong.

I let out a frustrated sigh. "Why don’t you just say what’s on your mind already?”

She glanced at me. "What do you mean?”

"You’ve been pissed at me since Josh went AWOL after his rescue. Like it’s my fault he won’t talk to you. Why don’t you just yell at me already and get it over with? The brooding thing is getting really old.”

"I’m not brooding.”

"Yeah? Then you’re faking it really well. Come on, Taylor. I did my best to get Josh back for you, but the Sparkle Dust they gave him changed him. He’s not the same guy he used to be.” I remembered the way he’d attacked me, hitting me mercilessly. If Price and Touray hadn’t pulled him off me, I’d be dead now. I wasn’t the slightest bit sorry he’d stayed away from Taylor. Who knows what he might have done to her? "And I know you think it’s my fault Percy came after you, but I had no idea he even knew you existed.”

"He wouldn’t have come after me if not for you,” Taylor pointed out, then stopped. "Anyway, I’m not mad at you for what happened with Josh or Percy.”

"So then it’s my involvement with Price and Touray, especially now that Touray’s decided you’re family, which means he thinks he’s got a license to poke in your business and look after your best interests, whether you like it or not.”

"That’s supremely irritating, but no, not that either.”

I tossed up my hands. "All right, then why don’t tell me what’s got your panties in a twist?”

She pulled up at a stop light. Snow mounded a good fifteen to twenty feet high on either side of the road. She glanced sideways at me. "This isn’t the time.”

"When is? Please tell me, because I’ve no idea and I’m getting pretty sick and tired of all the silent accusations you’re sending my way.”

"You have no idea? That’s just awesome.”

"Just tell me.” I probably shouldn’t have cared at the moment. But for once I had her trapped and alone, which made it the perfect opportunity. Never mind that we were on our way to rescue Price. The distraction would keep me from banging my head on the dashboard.

She glared at the road, her knuckles whitening on the steering wheel. I waited. Not patiently, but I waited. Smacking her upside the head wasn’t going to knock the words out of her, and it was the only thing I could think of to speed things along. Finally she spoke, which only served to confuse me more.

"Did you ever wonder why I took up flying? Or why I went over into the war zone to work?”

"You’re a closet daredevil?”

That didn’t win the expected laugh. Instead her mouth twisted, and she muttered something.

"All right,” I said. "Why did you start flying?”

"Because of you. And Dad.” The last word was bitter.

"Me? What did I have to do with it? And Dad hated you flying.”

Taylor had earned her pilot’s license by the time she was thirteen. Ironic, that. She had to be driven to the airport in order to fly a plane.

She nodded. "He said it was too dangerous.”

I waited for more. Taylor hooked a corner, and another, heading for the Mariview Tunnel that led from Uptown into Midtown. When it was clear she wasn’t going to say anything else, I prompted her. So far her explanation was more confusing than anything else. "If you think you made your point, I missed it. Maybe you should talk slower and use more words.”

"All the time we were kids, we were taught the world was dangerous. That you needed special protection. We were all given basics—using guns, defensive combat training, plus we got drilled on escape routes and what to do when this bad thing happened or that one. You, Jamie, and Leo had more lessons. Stuff on magic and I don’t know what else. I didn’t get any of that.”

Her voice had dropped, and she looked furious. I still didn’t get it.

"You’re—” I stopped. None of the words describing someone with­out any magic was very nice. Neuter had caught on lately, but the oth­ers—mundane, ordinary, defective, broken—each carried its own negative. I elected to be more politic. Score one for me. "You don’t have magic talent. So what would you have done?”

"And that right there is the problem I have with you,” Taylor said, shooting me an angry look. "Treating me like I’m breakable and incapable. All. The. Time. Yes, it’s true: I’m ordinary. Neuter even. Not defective. Not broken. Not lacking. But none of you believe it. You always treat me like I’m about to shatter or I’m not capable of knowing the dangers that are out there. You treat me like I’ve got cotton for brains and all I know how to do is look pretty.”

My mouth fell open, and I stared. "What the fuck are you talking about?”

She rolled her eyes again, punching the gas. The SUV fishtailed again. She straightened it easily. "All right. Let’s try an example,” she said. "Why didn’t you tell me that Josh tried to kill you when you were rescuing him?”

"You were pretty shattered at the whole situation. I didn’t want to make it worse.”

She grimaced and nodded. "So lie to me. Protect me. Now compare that to Dad fucking with your brain in the name of protecting you. He didn’t think you could handle yourself so he handled you for you. All for your own good. After all, what’s losing a few memories and a little behav­ioral modification if it means you could be safe?

"And another example. Your boyfriend and his brother practically rail­roaded me on upping the security on my hangar. They didn’t bother asking me what I wanted to do or how, they just assumed I wouldn’t do enough. After all, I’m so fragile and, apparently, stupid as a box of ham­mers.

"You’re always doing the same thing to me. Not just you. The whole family. None of you think I can handle trouble—or you think I don’t have anything valuable to contribute because I’m not talented, and you wall me out. When you get into trouble, you never call me. You never tell me until after the fact, and then you sanitize the hell out of it, so I won’t—what? Worry? Be terrified of what you’ve gone through? Too bad for you I was there for the last time when Percy chopped off your thumb. I’m surprised you didn’t have your dreamer friend Cass do a little erasing of my memo­ries. Just so I could be protected.”

The words spilled out of her in an angry, acid torrent. About halfway through, I managed to close my mouth. Then I started to feel like a total and complete idiot. And a jerk. And a really shitty sister.

"Yes, I like nice hair and makeup and pretty clothes,” she went on. "That doesn’t make me some sort of idiot child without balls.” She glared at me. "Don’t say it. I know I don’t have balls. It’s a metaphor. Just be­cause I like to look good, doesn’t make me stupid, just like you dressing like a homeless person doesn’t mean you are one. You clean up nice, by the way,” she said, waving at my dress.

"Anyway, I’m sick of being treated like I can’t handle myself, like I can’t be useful. You know what’s worse? Your new boyfriend has no more magical talent than I do, and yet you trust him. You don’t act like he might break himself at any moment. You don’t try to keep him in the dark all the time and you don’t try to wrap him in Bubble Wrap.”

"He was a cop and in the Tyet.” I wanted to bite the words back as soon as I said them.

Taylor swerved into the bike lane and jammed on the brakes. Luckily, the roads here had been treated for ice and we didn’t slide into a snow­bank. She twisted around, stabbing the air between us with her finger to punctuate her anger.

"I’ve piloted planes through war zones. I’ve been blown out of the sky and lived to tell about it. Twice. I’ve been shot at and I’ve done some killing of my own. I train five days a week in different forms of combat. I’m good with knives, staffs, and bare knuckles. I’m betting I can take you down nine out of ten times. There’s not a gun I don’t know how to shoot and hit dead center on a target. Price’s being a cop and Tyet doesn’t have a damned thing to do with the way you treat me or him. It’s all about you not believing in me. Any of you. Leo, Jamie, Mom, and Dad. I’m so sick of it.

"Yeah, finding out about Josh broke my heart. But I’m a big girl and I’ll get over it. I just needed a minute, one damned minute to deal with it. Just like I can survive Percy killing my employees and cutting your thumb off. Just like I can survive getting infected with Sparkle Dust.” She knotted her hands into fists. "What’s it going to take for the rest of you to start letting me be a full part of the family instead of the sickly idiot child you keep locked up in the attic?”

She had a point. I’d never looked at it from that particular angle, but now that I did, I realized she was right. We always figured her as kind of girlie, too delicate for danger, and too prissy for the grit and dirt of the life I’d come to lead. I’d convinced myself that flying planes in a war zone was more like playing a video game where she had been far away from the real action. Talk about prejudice and preconceived notions. If anyone had said I was too much of a girl to do anything at all, I’d have ripped them a new asshole. Here I was doing just that to my own sister.

"Okay,” I said, gathering myself. "One”—I held up a finger to count. "I’m sorry. Two”—Another finger. "You’re right. I need to think about it some more in order to fix myself, but I hear you. I will work on it. Three, and not to act like what you shared is unimportant or like I’m ignoring you, but can we drive now?”

She narrowed her gaze at me and then nodded. "Right. Driving.”

She twisted the steering wheel and pulled back out into traffic. A horn blared as she cut someone off. My phone rang. I looked at the screen. Touray. It had taken him long enough to call back. I answered.

"Where are you?” he demanded before I could say anything.

"I’m heading to FBI headquarters now.”

"Turn around and go back. Better yet, come here where I can keep an eye on you.”

"No.”

He swore and I held the phone slightly away from my ear. Not that he said anything I didn’t want to say, but it was so loud, it actually hurt my ears. Finally he stopped. "I don’t want you down there. I’ll handle this. Stay the hell away.” He hung up without waiting for an answer.

"He’s very bossy,” Taylor noted, having heard every word. "What do you want to do?”

"We’re going to FBI headquarters,” I said, sliding my phone back in my pocket. "I’m not his village idiot to order around.”

"See what I mean? Makes you want to stab someone.”

I held in my exasperation. Taylor had a right to her irritation. "I get it. Really.”

She flashed me a wicked grin, the kind we’d shared as kids right before we broke all the rules. "Good. Then I’ll stop beating the horse. But don’t think I won’t call you on it when you start in again.”

"Better than the silent treatment.”

"So you say now.”

We didn’t talk much more after that. Taylor concentrated on weaving in and out of traffic. She ran a few lights that took too long to change, passed in the center lane, and generally drove like a bat out of hell. She was absolutely brilliant.

We pulled into a parking garage down the street from FBI headquar­ters. Taylor found a spot near the exit. I had to admire that. She was think­ing about how to get away. I wished that hadn’t surprised me. She was right. I needed to adjust my thinking when it came to her.

We got out and met at the rear of the vehicle. I looked down at my boots. Spike heels on ice and snow.

"The clothes make the woman,” Taylor said. "Use the way you’re dressed to your advantage. Go in like you own the place. It works.”

I gave her a doubtful look. "If you say so. I feel like a fraud.”

"Just follow my lead. You can do this. And you might give some thought to the fact I may have a few skill sets you don’t have and you need.”

She strode away, head held high, her entire body regal. I followed, feel­ing like I was going to twist an ankle with every step. All the same, I kept my back straight and my chin lifted. Right up to the point where someone locked an arm around my neck and jammed a gun into the small of my back.


Please review these other products:

 
The Cipher

Diana Pharaoh Francis

June 2014 $17.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-500-3

A Crosspointe Novel - Book One

Lucy Trenton's ability to sense magick is one of her most dangerous secrets. But only one.

Our Price: US$17.95

click to see more

 
 
Trace of Magic

Diana Pharaoh Francis

August 2014 $14.95
ISBN: 9781611945140

Book 1 of The Diamond City Magic Novels


 

Our Price: US$14.95

click to see more

 
 
The Black Ship

Diana Pharaoh Francis

October 2014 $16.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-5-461

Book 2 of The Crosspointe Novels

Our Price: US$16.95

click to see more

 
 
Edge of Dreams

Diana Pharaoh Francis

April 2015 $15.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-5-850

Book 2 of The Diamond City Magic Novels

Our Price: US$15.95

click to see more

 
 
Shades of Memory

Diana Pharaoh Francis

November 2017 $17.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-837-0

Book 4 of The Diamond City Magic Novels



Our Price: US$17.95

click to see more