Matteo

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.

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!Kelly, Goodreads Reviewer
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? JJ, Goodreads Reviewer
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? Deb Le, Goodreads Reviewer
This is the 8th book in the series and I enjoyed as much as I did the first one.Lynda, Goodreads Reviewer
I adored the ending, which made this story worth the read.AC_1098610, Amazon Reviewer

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.

Two minutes.

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.

Natalie transformed.

* * * * *


“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.