A daring quest. A lethal enemy. A protector who won’t quit.
Although Wiccan Gillian Granger’s life’s work is finding a legendary city, her research in musty libraries hasn’t prepared her for fieldwork. Add a gorgeous escort, and she is completely out of her depth.
Shayne Savatier knows he’s on a milk run, especially after he meets his beautiful charge. But when enemies attack her, everything changes. The mission turns deadly, passion intertwines with protection, and duty bonds hard with desire.
As an avid reader I love the fact that Gillian Granger is not only a Wiccan but a fellow bookworm/researcher. Now this is my kind of girl. Then in steps Shayne Savatier a bit of a hothead Magus Corps Officer who's been given the task of protecting Gillian as a punishment.Kindle Reviewer
I wasn't sure what to expect when I started reading this book. I was more than pleasantly surprised. I skipped my spin class just to finish it. Great start to the series.Kindle Reviewer
…it had everything I look for in a story: great characters, a suspenseful plot, thrilling adventure, magic and realistic romantic tension with a satisfying coming together–both, sweet realistic and unhurried, despite the dangers or perhaps because of them, it was easy to bond with these intriguing characters.Natasha, Kindle Reviewer
This is the start of a fast-moving adventure that has more than it's share of danger, paranormal activity and sexual promise and fulfillment. We are left with more mysteries, definitely more hot sex, more paranormal activity, and some really bad villains! Sue Me, Kindle Reviewer
This is one big adventure and so far it is a good one.Kindle Reviewer
Gillian Granger ran down the steps of the library, nearly spraining her ankle when she slipped on the last step. She recovered quickly, swearing under her breath, before striding down the sidewalk. Even on a busy street of Los Angeles, people moved out of her way.
She wasn’t tall, but she moved with a sense of purpose––one that might as well have been written in the air with fire. Her dark hair was twisted in a tight bun, but tendrils snaked loose to blow around her face. Her piercing gray eyes flashed a challenge to anyone who got in her way. The black dress she wore snapped like a battle banner in the cool, fall wind.
Gillian hit the metro entrance, slowing only briefly for the turnstile. She dropped in the quarters, her gloved fingers never touching the metal slots. When she was on the subway, she lost her battle with impatience and reached for her smartphone. The number she dialed rang several times before a soft voice answered.
“Well, Granger, you knew what would happen if you bothered me with another bust. So I imagine you have something good for me.”
Witches and warlocks all over the continent trembled when Marceline Martel used that tone of voice. She was one of the most powerful Wiccans in North America, not only for her power over weather, but also for the fact that she ran one of the largest and most modern covens in the United States. She was older than most countries, and her lack of patience for fools was well known.
Gillian took a deep breath.
“I do have something good, Marceline. I’ve found it. It was buried under a stack of twelfth century letters between two monks. The man who transcribed it didn’t even know what he had.”
“You’re not the only pretty witch that’s hounding me for funding. Spill it.”
Gillian’s fingers tightened on the leather portfolio in her hands.
“I have the last key. I know how to find Tenebris. I know how to find the Hollow City. It’s a real place, and I can get there.”
The silence on the other end of the line was so great that for a moment, Gillian thought her mentor had let the line go dead.
“That is quite the claim,” the other woman said. “Show me what you’ve got. Then we’ll see if you have a case. If you don’t, I’m going to make you file three hundred years’ worth of coven receipts.”
Gillian brightened. An audience with Marceline was promising. The threat of cataloging centuries of receipts was real, but also worth it.
“I’ll be there in twenty minutes,” she promised.
The train clattered on. Gillian watched the other travelers, all of them wrapped in their own worlds. Most of them were human, but some of them might have been Wiccan, like herself. Perhaps they were unawakened, waiting for their first brush with sexuality to come into their power. Perhaps they were rogues, choosing to live outside of the coven system. Other people were a mystery to Gillian in many ways. For many reasons, it was easier for her to look rather than participate. Research was always her real love. The portfolio in her hands, made by a fellow coven member, was safe in a way that a human never could be.
As she scanned the car, one man who stood in the aisle looked up, catching her gaze.
Even in the chill of the fall afternoon, he wore nothing but a black, button-up shirt and a pair of dark slacks. It was easy to see his broad, muscular form under the simple clothes. But the most striking things were his eyes: one blue eye and one brown gave him an uneven look. When he smiled a little at her, she knew that he understood how unsettling his gaze was.
Huskies have eyes like that, she thought.
The smile he gave her was slow and predatory. Gillian’s eyes widened, and then narrowed. She glared at him, making sure that he knew not to approach. She was not interested in being accosted on the subway. No stranger, not even one built like an ancient god, with hair as black as coal, was going to be met with anything but a sharp word.
I can defend myself, she thought angrily. Don’t test me.
The man read her signals immediately. He settled back on his heels with a brief shrug. His smile was still friendly, though slightly regretful now.
Gillian relaxed a little. She might be a witch, but she wasn’t a fighter. Her Wiccan power was as likely to be a liability as it was useful. Even in the human world, she felt vulnerable, let alone the Wiccan world.
Her stop came up. She stood, distinctly aware that she had to make her way past the man with the skewed eyes. He stood well back so that she could pass in comfort. She kept her eyes focused straight in front of her. She was determined not to look at him again, but then, by accident or by design, her gloved fingers brushed against his hand on the pole. Gillian shuddered. Without her gloves there, she could have had a full-scale meltdown.
However, as she got off the train, a small and strange part of her wished that her gloves had been off. The thought was so startling that she spun around to look at him through the closing doors. She met his eyes again. He hadn’t stopped looking at her. His smile was a little sly, and he lifted his hand in a small wave.
Gillian frowned as the train left the station, and she didn’t wave back.
Shaking her head, she started the climb back up to street level. She had to talk with Marceline. That would require all of her wits about her. She couldn’t be distracted by some man on the train whose hand she had brushed.
The Baltus Institute was located in what looked like a modest, California Mission style building in a slightly rundown neighborhood. It was an area that always seemed on the verge of gentrification. There was a microbrew and a couple of fusion restaurants, but it was still a place where it was easy to get mugged or shaken down. The only thing that set the Baltus Institute apart from the other buildings on the street was a discreet bronze plaque on the door––that and the half-sphinx man who sat at the desk just inside.
Nebpu was a beautiful man, with thick black hair and gorgeously smooth, dark brown skin. The only thing that kept him from looking like a model were his eyes, yellow as the sun and slitted like a cat’s. With his mild smile, he looked like any other receptionist in neat, office clothes. Only the most observant would have noticed the hungry glint in his eye as the bell above the door chimed.
“Good evening, Gillian,” he said.
Only long practice told Gillian he was slightly disappointed that she was a welcome member of the Baltus Institute.
“Heya, Nebpu. You look…full.”
His smile became more genuine, and therefore, more bloodthirsty.
“Why yes I am, Gillian,” he responded pleasantly. “Go ahead and go straight down to Marceline’s chamber. She’s expecting you.”
Gillian still felt a touch of fear as she passed Nebpu’s desk. She had some idea what she might sense if she touched him bare-handed. The thought sent a violent shiver down her back.
The Baltus Institute had been many things through its long history, but since it had come under the leadership of Marceline several hundred years ago, it had always been on the cutting edge of modernity. She had taken them from a coven that still operated under medieval guides to what it was now.
Gillian took a small, silent elevator down, a journey that was so smooth that she couldn’t tell she was moving. In many ways, the Institute was like a buried building. The penthouse suite, including Marceline’s working area and chambers, were at the very bottom, more than two hundred feet below street level. Gillian’s own apartments were located closer to the surface. Though she sometimes missed the daylight, the Institute could not be matched for security. The elevator doors opened with a soft whisper.
Gillian stepped into a well lit, plushly carpeted hallway, and made her way to the door at the end. When she knocked, a crisp voice called out for her to enter.
Marceline’s working chamber was a library two stories high with a large table in the center of it. An enormous video panel behind her simulated a window. Today, it looked out over a bright, grassy field at midday, flooding the room with what looked like natural light. Her enormous white wolf came to its feet. Though it had been laying in the center of a round, Persian rug, Gillian’s entrance had brought it to attention. It was something she never got used to. Marceline glanced up from some papers.
She was a small woman, barely more than five feet tall, and as slender as a teenager. She kept her black hair short. Gillian could believe the rumors that she had been a bull-leaper in ancient Crete, vaulting over the backs of charging bulls. There was a furious kind of energy to her.
She shoved her paperwork aside to make space. “All right, Gillian. Let’s see what you have.”
As Gillian stepped up to the table, the wolf’s eyes followed her, but he laid back down.
Gillian took a deep breath and withdrew the fragile documents from her portfolio. Some of them she had found in the basement of a burned out church in Venice. Others had been forgotten in the archives of a university in Istanbul. The most recent documents she had smuggled out of the Getty library. She spread them out carefully on the table, then stepped back and held her breath. Either they would convince Marceline or they wouldn’t.
The coven master came around the table for a closer look, but her eyes were hard. The documents were written in a mixture of Latin, Greek and Aramaic. At least one section was a cypher designed for use by an obscure sect of Coptic sorcerers. Despite the language shifts, Marceline skimmed over them as if she were reading the newspaper. Gillian was only twenty-five and envied the ease with which the other woman translated. Gillian plodded through the texts with some help, but she couldn’t do much more.
Marceline leaned over the irregular sheafs of parchment for a long time. More than once, she brushed her fingers over the faded ink. Once she traced a sigil on one of the Greek documents before running a finger over another sigil on a Coptic text. They completed one another, creating a picture that could only be viewed across centuries and through two languages.
“Well, well, well,” Marceline said, finally straightening to look at her.
Gillian bit her lip. Everything she had been doing for the last five years was on the table. That would have been a blink of an eye to someone like Marceline. For Gillian, it was a fifth of her life.
“You have something here,” Marceline said. “I don’t know precisely what it is, but the documents are indeed compelling––a cryptic map, if you will. I daresay that if you follow them, you will find something. Though only the gods know what that will be.”
“I think it’s Tenebris,” Gillian blurted out. “I think it must be.”
Marceline’s laugh was mirthless. “I’ll grant you these long dead men and women thought that they were talking about Tenebris.” She shuffled the papers a bit, selecting one and laying it on top. “Do you know these symbols?”
Gillian knew them by heart. They were one of the first puzzles she’d worked out. One of the scribes had alluded to them as a key.
“They’re Old Norse runes,” Gillian said. “They spell–”
“Magician’s Gate,” Marceline said. “From the Kalevala.”
Of course Marceline could read runes. Of course she would know the ancient, epic poem. But did she know about the key?
“I think they’re going to be how I–”
“Wrong,” Marceline said.
Gillian blinked. “What?” She hadn’t even finished. “But they’re the–”
“Key,” Marceline finished. “But not in the way you think.”
Gillian frowned. It’d taken her weeks to track down the runes, then isolate those that named the Magician’s Gate. Marceline raised a sharp eyebrow at her.
“Let me guess,” she said. “You were going to search for an inscription on a stone gate––an inscription made of these runes.” Gillian went still. That was exactly what she’d planned. “Of course,” Marceline said. “That’s what you were meant to think.” She tapped the runes. “But this is not how they will appear. Like this, they have no power.” She smoothed her index finger across them and shook her head. “Completely useless.” She tsked. “No. You must look for the bind rune.”
Gillian cocked her head at the inscription. “Of course,” she whispered, seeing it immediately.
The bind rune––where all the runes were written on top of one another in a complex symbol––would concentrate the power. Her heart raced, and her palms felt damp. The bind rune would be the key.
Marceline stepped back from the table and headed to the only armchair in the room. It had the effect of making the other inhabitants of the space feel as if they were in the presence of a queen. In all fairness, that would not have been far wrong. She put her elbows on the arm rest and steepled her fingers.
“Such a place of power,” she said, as though she were musing to herself. “The center of the Wiccan world. Once, it might have ruled everything.” She dropped her hands and gazed at Gillian. “And a place of danger. No doubt your research has shown you that.”
Gillian nodded. “It has,” she said. “But I think the risk is worth the discovery.”
Marceline’s smile turned toothy. “Go get packed. You’ve got a long way to travel.” Gillian gaped at her coven master. “I think the risk is worth discovery too.”
Gillian gathered up her documents, a huge grin already spreading over her face. She headed for the door, thinking ahead to what she’d need to take.
“Gillian,” Marceline said, as Gillian reached for the door handle. Something in the coven master’s voice stopped her and made her turn back. “Are you initiated?”
“I…I beg your pardon?”
“You heard me, Gillian. Are you initiated? Have you had unprotected sex with another Wiccan yet?”
Gillian’s cheeks flushed hot. She made herself count to five before she answered.
“That’s none of your business.”
Marceline had all but the power of life and death over her coven members, but that didn’t entitle her to the personal details of their lives.
“It’s not,” Marceline agreed easily. “However, you are going into what is a potentially deadly situation. You can’t tell me that initiation isn’t something that would make it easier.”
Marceline was, of course, right. A Wiccan’s first sexual encounter unlocked the powers that had been sleeping within them. Her own awakening had taken place when she was barely eighteen. Initiation, however, was what it would take to unlock the immortality that was the Wiccan’s birthright. Only after unprotected sex with another Wiccan, the possibility of creating sacred life, would she have the lifespan that Marceline and many other Wiccans enjoyed. She had never taken a Wiccan lover, had in fact not taken a lover at all since she had come to the Baltus Institute.
Marceline shrugged. “Get it taken care of,” she said casually. “You know that you are going to improve your odds for success if you do. You know as well as I do that you should have done it by now.”
Gillian turned on her heel, opened the door, and stalked out. Though it closed silently behind her, she suspected that Marceline was laughing at her. The heat rose in her face again. Wiccan immortality didn’t just mean she could live without aging. She would also be much harder to kill. Though it might take her years to recover from an injury, she would.
In the elevator, Gillian looked down at her gloved hands. That kind of intimacy, without her gloves, it would… She shook her head. She couldn’t. Not with someone she didn’t know, not with someone she didn’t care about.
“I’ll just have to be stronger, tougher and meaner than anything that gets in my way,” she said out loud. It was almost convincing.