Her Warlock Protector Book 8
A magician’s assistant must trick her heart if she is ever to find true magic.
Natalie Trucco has put the past behind her—way behind. For the last nine years she’s flown under the Wiccan radar, doing the only thing she knows: using her power as a magician’s assistant. She and her aging partner have criss-crossed the country, careful never to linger too long or step too far into the limelight. But as her friend and mentor approaches the end of his life, he has one final wish: to return to the Las Vegas Strip.
Magus Corps officer Matteo Monti has been searching for the one true love of his life since the fateful day she disappeared. Even amidst the horrific circumstances of her departure, their whirlwind romance still shines. But he couldn’t be more stunned when she returns to the very place it all began.
Her Warlock Protector books are standalone novels (with an HEA) that can be read in any order.
What Readers Are Saying
As always, the characters are amazing, the ending has a plot twist, and there's tons of action from beginning to end. I absolutely love Hazel Hunter and the way she brings things to life in her books. I definitely recommend reading this book!
Matteo … dark, sexy, rich with lots of secrets and some very extraordinary abilities which he is not afraid to use. The man has been on a mission for nine years and his search is about to end with the entrance of a beautiful woman. Who is she and why is he after her?
This is a really nice read. Wiccan romance, unsolved murders, love thwarted…… it's got all the ingrédients to while alway the tme pleaantly. The plots flows effortlessly, the characters are well developped, it's very well written, what more can you ask for?
This is the 8th book in the series and I enjoyed as much as I did the first one.
I adored the ending, which made this story worth the read.
IF NATALIE DIDN’T know better, she’d have sworn the straitjacket was tighter. She needed to have a word with Conleth about that.
“Right before your very eyes, ladies and gentlemen!” Conleth intoned, his voice loud over the theater’s audio system. “Don’t blink! Don’t turn away!”
Natalie felt the footboard where her boots were attached begin to lift. In the full-length black bag in which she’d been zipped up, she couldn’t see anything. More importantly, the audience couldn’t see her. As the theater’s hoist lifted her clear of the floor, hanging upside down, she began the escape.
“Conleth,” she quietly muttered.
The straitjacket was definitely tighter. Part of the escape wasn’t just being limber and strong, it was giving yourself as much room as possible while you were being tied. Though the audience hadn’t seen it, she’d moved her elbows away from her body, expanded her chest, and simply tried to be a little bigger than her slim and diminutive self. It wasn’t much room, but it was just enough—usually.
“There she goes!” Conleth said.
Natalie braced herself. The water was always so cold! She took a deep breath and expelled as much carbon dioxide from her lungs as she could. That’s what caused the burning, not lack of oxygen.
Though she couldn’t see anything around her, she knew exactly what the audience was seeing. The glass tank of water was dramatically lit with red spotlights. Conleth would be standing directly in front of it. In his crimson velvet cape, black suit, black top hat, and white handlebar mustache, he’d be waving his hands smoothly through the air. It was as if the dapper, elderly man had stepped out of a theater poster for an 1800s magic act.
As the hoist lowered her, she submerged.
But unbeknownst to anyone but herself and Conleth, he wasn’t the magician. She was.
As the frigid water soaked into her clothes, she finally managed to drag one hand up her back, looping the material of the straitjacket sleeve over her head. Though she had to bend her head so far over that it felt like her neck might snap, above all else, she remained calm. That was key. She had plenty of time. There was no hurry. She could hold her breath easily for three minutes. Once the first sleeve was unwrapped, the second was quicker. With both arms in front of her, she began to slip free of the garment. In her head, the countdown progressed. That was one minute. Though she could barely hear him through the water and glass, Natalie knew what Conleth was doing.
He would have turned toward the tank now, his lean face concerned.
“This is taking too long,” he’d sometimes say, or “I don’t like this.”
The audience would become unsettled. They’d just spent the better part of an hour getting to know Conleth the Great, the Master of Fire, and his lovely, young assistant Natalie. They were invested in the show, and particularly in this finale. It was probably the reason they’d bought a ticket in the first place. It was hard to generate buzz for a magic show in Vegas, but Conleth had managed to do just that. Every seat was sold.
She lifted the straitjacket over her head and let it fall to the bottom of the billowing black sack. It was almost time. She stopped moving.
“Get her out of there!” Conleth yelled.
There was the usual tug on the boots as the hoist seemed to malfunction.
He banged on the glass. “Natalie!” came his muffled cry.
Still she didn’t move. The carbon dioxide in her lungs was starting to burn. It was nearly time.
Wait for it.
When she was a child, she’d had almost no control over her Wiccan gift. But her parents and Conleth had worked patiently with her. At this point, she could transform in the space of a heartbeat. But even changing her body and clothes to look exactly like Conleth, which she’d done thousands of times, would still only last about five minutes.
She could hear Conleth’s garbled monologue as the seconds ticked down in her head. He was waving his hands in the air right now, vowing that he wouldn’t let her die. He was going to rescue her himself. Suddenly, there was a flash. Outside, in front of the tank, Conleth the Great, Master of Fire, had thrown his hands at the floor and been instantaneously surrounded by a wall of fire.
• • • • •
“Ticket sales or no,” Naldo muttered, “the boss ain’t gonna like this.”
As Conleth disappeared in a roaring ring of fire, Naldo glanced at the photo on his phone again. There was no doubt. It was definitely her.
“Damn,” he said, and turned off the infernal machine.
Her last name of Thomas had to be a stage name. Her Magus Corps dossier said “Trucco.” Of all the places that Natalia Trucco could show up, why did it have to be this casino? Naldo shook his head and ground his teeth. He’d only needed to skim the file. Like any other warlock or witch in the area, he knew her name—or rather those of her parents. The Truccos were infamous.
Still gripping the phone, he crossed his thick arms over his thicker belly, and frowned. The audience in the theater was beside itself. Their anticipation and fear hung in the air. The show had been oversold, but rather than take a raincheck, the ticket holders had packed themselves into the aisles.
Naldo shook his head. This really wasn’t going to make the boss happy. He sucked in a heavy breath and blew it out through pursed lips. No point in putting it off.
He turned to find his four assistants waiting. For once, he was in no mood to admire their curvy forms. Like him, they dressed in business suits. He trundled forward, splitting them into a pair on his left, and a pair on his right. As he made his way past the staging gear, equipment, and stage hands, the four ladies fell into stride in his wake—like pilot fish on a whale.
“Get the boss’s suite ready,” he said over his shoulder.
He heard faltering steps and the scuff of high heels on the floor behind him. Someone had tripped.
“The boss’s suite?” one of them asked.
A stage hand within hearing distance stopped what he was doing and stared at them as they passed.
“He’s…he’s coming here?” a different assistant said.
“Put the head chef on call,” Naldo said over his other shoulder. “Fresh flowers in every room.”
“Yes, Mr. Santorini!” answered two of them simultaneously.
“Cuban cigars from my private humidor,” he said. “Dom Perignon 1981 on ice. Beluga caviar, the…” He snapped his fingers trying to remember the name. “Almas.”
He lumbered to the side stairs, stomping down at a good clip. He pointed to a security guard. “You,” Naldo barked. “With me.”
Dressed in a plain black suit, but with the tell-tale earbud, he all but came to attention. “Yes, Mr. Santorini!”
“Clear the helipad,” Naldo said to him. The security guard fell into step with the steadily growing line behind the assistants. “And keep it clear until further notice.”
“Yes, sir!” the guard said.
Naldo could hear him muttering into his wrist mic. He motioned ahead to the guards at the metal door. They pushed it open just in time. Rinaldo Santorini and his entourage entered the wide and ornate hallway. Startled tourists and gamblers almost had to jump out of the way.
Whirring, chiming, and clicking sounds came from the banks of slot machines they passed. Glassy-eyed players sat with their complimentary drinks, one hand holding the plastic cup, finger on the spin button, and some with cigarettes in their mouths. Naldo crinkled his large nose. He had never understood cigarettes.
Behind him his staff was frantically making hushed phone calls or texting. But the whisper on everyone’s lips was the same: the boss. They said it with awe.
The boss hadn’t been to the casino for years—not since the Trucco incident. Most of the mortals behind Naldo had never seen the man who signed their checks. As far as they knew, it was Naldo who ran the Paradiso. He’d even heard that some of the older dealers had decided the boss was just a legend.
Naldo grimaced. Nothing was further from the truth. He headed immediately to the private elevator. When he stepped in and turned, he held up his hand. His pretty assistants were brought up short. The guards behind them, along with random employees who’d joined the group, nearly bumped into each other.
“Take another elevator,” Naldo ordered.
He jammed his thick thumb on the button for the executive floor. As the doors closed, he sucked in a breath and blew it out. As the elevator rose, he leaned against the mirrored wall. It was time to make the call—but first he wiped the phone with his thin tie. He’d managed to sweat all over it. When he turned it on, Natalia’s photo showed again. Naldo paused to study it: the beautiful face, the soft curves of dark curls, the lush lips and glittering green eyes. She was unmistakable.
He swiped the photo sideways and sent it to the trash. Then he went to his address book, brought up the search field, and typed a single word: Matteo.
• • • • •
Even as Natalie’s lungs seemed ready to explode, a new countdown timer began in her head. With her transformation into the spitting image of Conleth complete, she’d only have five minutes until she could no longer hold it.
The winch began to lift her from the water tank. Much heavier now that she and the bag were soaked, the pressure of the boots and clamps on her larger feet was greater. Even so, she was careful to remain still, appearing dead to the audience. As soon as she was clear of the water, she could hear them. The clamor was tremendous. A few people were calling for Conleth, some for her, and some for emergency help. She took in a smooth, long, lungful of air, as she concentrated on the transformation. She could already feel the heat building in her core. Four minutes and thirty seconds left.
Conleth had disappeared in the ring of fire, dropping through a trap door. As she was being lowered by the winch back to the stage floor, he was racing as fast as he could to the side stage.
Natalie’s head touched the floor, then her shoulders and back.
“Help her,” someone yelled.
“Is she dead?” screamed someone else.
But as the footboard finally settled to the ground, Natalie sat up and reached for the zipper.
A woman in the balcony shrieked.
This was the part that always amazed Natalie. It was as if they actually wanted to see someone die. Or maybe they just believed what their eyes told them. To see the black bag sit up must look like someone rising from the dead.
Wasting no time, Natalie unzipped the soggy bag and emerged.
The crowd gasped as one—she was Conleth.
Quickly, she released her feet. Gray-haired, wearing a soaked black suit and sagging white mustache, she stood up. With a flourish of the hand that was Conleth’s signature, she bowed.
The crowd erupted in cheers so loud it was like an explosion. Natalie rocked back ever so slightly, pushed by the wall of sound. But as she stood, smiling and embracing the accolades, she studiously observed her clothes. She motioned to them, shaking droplets from her hands, as if she’d just noticed she was drenched.
Three minutes left. Heat was radiating from her face.
With an imperious beckon to the side stage, and the audience still roaring their approval, one of the theater hands shoved a crate on wheels toward her. She caught the heavy wood box and slowed it quickly, moving backwards a little to the center of the hidden ring of flame launchers in the floor. Though Conleth was as slim as her, he was tall. He’d folded himself into the tight space behind the false back wall of the box. Natalie unlatched the side of the crate facing the audience. Inside were Conleth’s cape and top hat. She removed them and closed the crate. Inside, Conleth would be lowering the false wall down to the floor and scooting over. She gave him a few seconds to get ready. She was just about to put on the top hat, when it seemed as though she’d remembered something. She took the soaked white handkerchief from her pocket and mopped her forehead. Unsurprisingly, it did no good.
Two minutes left. Her internal temperature was rising.
In the beginning she had wondered why the transformation had this side effect. She’d decided the molecules of her body were struggling to return to their normal state. She pictured them moving against one another, fighting to get back into position. In her mind’s eye, there were atomic collisions and friction creating the heat. But whatever caused it, she was about to start sweating. It was time to be done. Conleth had to be ready by now.
Again with his signature flourish, she held the top hat in one hand, but threw her other hand towards the floor. The wall of flames roared to life. Hidden by it, the lid to the crate opened and Conleth popped out. As she exchanged places with him, she handed him his hat, and transformed. In less than a few seconds, he stood where she had. She looked like herself again, and she put her hands on her hips.
The flames vanished, and this time the crowd came to their feet.
Conleth beamed at her.
All the countless hours of rehearsal, the stretches to be limber, the weight training, and the practice with her gift—this was the payoff. How he adored this moment. The applause rolled like waves over them. He elegantly stepped forward and took a deep bow. Flowers began to land on the stage at his feet. He took another bow, stage left. Then another, stage right.
She waited and smiled, one hand on her hip, the other gesturing to him. Her outfit was a mini version of his, except her jacket was cropped at the waist, she wore fishnet tights instead of pants, and her stiletto heels made her nearly as tall as him.
With a gallant and practiced gesture, he scooped up a single rose, and blew a kiss to the front row. As he turned back to her, Natalie came forward and took his extended hand. As though they danced together, he swung her past him and gave her a twirl. She pirouetted to a stop and took her bow.
The applause of the audience swelled, joined by whistles, and shouts. As the buzz for the show had grown, and the audiences had swelled, Natalie had found herself at the center of attention as well. She blushed a little, as always, but was never sure if it was the latent heat from the transformation. Luckily the stage lights made it impossible to actually see the audience.
As she rose from her bow, Conleth smoothly came to her side and looped his arm around her waist. Together they waved to the balconies and, as the curtain began to descend, they took a final bow. Finally the heavy drape reached the floor. She exhaled and slumped.
“Listen to them,” Conleth said, gripping her tighter. The thunderous applause was deafening. “They were eating out my hand.”
Though she was exhausted, she couldn’t help but smile. Conleth was living the dream—his dream. He was back on The Strip. He was headlining—and he was having the time of his life. Though at first she’d flatly refused to bring the show to Las Vegas, she couldn’t deny him. It was his swan song, and they both knew it. The final show of final shows. More than anything she wanted to see him happy. From the day her parents had died, he had been father and mother to her. There was nothing she wouldn’t do for him.
But life in the limelight wasn’t just something she didn’t like. It carried a risk. As her parents had learned, rogue witches were not tolerated. They were either brought into the fold or they were killed.
• • • • •
Despite being ready to hate the show, Jude couldn’t help but be impressed. Like everyone else, he was on his feet, even though he was in the front row. The enormous curtain dropped, cutting off the view of Conleth the Great and his assistant, but it didn’t seem to matter to the audience.
“Bravo!” screamed a man behind him.
There were whistles piercing the air, and the applause only grew louder.
“How did he do that?” exclaimed the woman next to him, clapping furiously.
Jude Newcastle knew how.
“It’s like mirrors or something,” her companion shouted. The man clapped just as frantically as his friend, his voice barely audible over the din. “Or maybe a mask.”
Jude smirked. These mortals had no clue. Then again, not that long ago, he’d had no idea either. As he waited for the crowd to begin filing out, he made his plans. First, he’d head straight to headquarters. All of his suspicions had just been confirmed. It still amazed him that none of his Templar brothers bothered with The Strip. Perhaps they’d been too long in the harness. Or maybe this was the role of the next generation. Either way, Jude had done the most logical thing: he’d taken the war to the enemy’s turf. What better locale than the Las Vegas Strip?
The couple next to him finally stopped applauding, and the first row was starting to move.
“We have to get tickets to the November show,” the woman said. She was typing on her phone. “If it’s not sold out.”
Jude couldn’t help but sigh a little. Only last summer, his mega-church was the hot ticket, maybe even hotter than Conleth. It was the first thing that had tipped Jude off. The church’s Cirque du Soleil style extravaganza, complete with rock bands, lasers, and an enormous screen above the arena, had been the season’s show not to miss. In a way, it still ticked him off. He put his hands in his pockets as he stepped slowly into the aisle, and merged with the rest of the crowd. But the church wasn’t really his concern anymore. His Templar brothers had made that clear. More often than not, the church repudiated them. He’d never really fit there anyway. He’d always known that he was destined for greater things—important things, serious things, even deadly. His blood initiation had impressed that upon him.
Over the heads of the couple in front of him, the exit from the theater was finally in sight. As he emerged from the auditorium, the buzz of excited conversation faded away. Jude smiled as he took up his normal, long stride. What hadn’t faded was the tingling, almost electric, feeling along his spine. He nodded and smiled to himself. It was just as his Templar brothers had said it would be. There had been Wiccans on that stage.