“You think your love life is bad? Try mine. You only need one Mr. Right. I’m expected to find two.”
Callie Turner looked up from the dainty cucumber sandwiches the housekeeper, Jenner, always made especially for her when she visited, and promptly choked. Harrison Abbott patted her back, her expression concerned. “You okay, Cal?”
“Two?” She looked at her pouting friend, wondering why she was surprised. Harrison never did anything the normal way. No, the unusual blueblood was more than just rebellious.
She was a witch.
“No Magian has every complained about that particular tradition. Leave it to our sweet, agreeable Harrison.” The four-foot-eight, bird-like Jenner rushed over to Callie with a glass of water in her hand.
Harrison blew out a huffy breath. “I just don’t see why we can’t date like ordinary people. Go see a movie or a baseball game. See if we like each other before we bind our magic together for all time. But no. Not us. We have to go to Triune by the time we’re twenty-six. Have to, as in, no options. What if I don’t want two men following me around, telling me what to do? What if I want to be—?”
“Like me?” Jenner shook her head with a sigh. “I’m not an ordinary Magian, Harrison. You know that. If I remember correctly, your mother was just as reluctant as you are now. But Moira Abbott has lived in connubial bliss with her Triune match for decades, and with three troublemaking children no less. It’s the way things are done.”
Triune? Didn’t that mean three in one? So every Magian, every female witch had to have two husbands? But Harrison’s mother—Callie swallowed. “Are you two telling me that Uncle Jackson is actually…?”
Harrison looked over Callie’s shoulder guiltily. “Mom didn’t think it was something you’d understand when we first met you. You were too young. After a while we didn’t know how to tell you the truth. Especially since your foster parents were so—”
Jenner made a slashing motion with her hand across her neck, and Harrison stopped midsentence. Callie set down her sandwich. “Well, damn.”
All this time and she’d never caught on. In a way, it actually made sense. Uncle Jackson was always extremely affectionate with Harrison’s mother, Moira. But her husband, Douglas never seemed to mind. Callie thought they were just a touchy-feely family.
Apparently more than she realized.
Her hurt over being kept in the dark for so many years was overridden by fascination. And envy. Two men to satisfy her every need? Sign her up. Unfortunately she was just an ordinary human. And humans had rules. She should know…she was a cop. Well, almost. Another month to go. But she had always known how to spot when something was up, especially with her childhood friend.
Harrison wasn’t just put out about this particular tradition. She had never been very accepting of her lot in life. “One of the most powerful Magians in generations.” How many times had Callie heard Moira and the other members of the Abbott family say it? All it meant to Harrison was that she could never have any fun. Could never be normal. She had to be the best. It also meant all her Magian peers either wanted to be her friend, to be close to her magical spotlight, or find a way to trip her up. It drove Harrison crazy.
Callie wanted to feel sorry for her, but it was hard. She’d been coming to this sprawling Dorchester home since an eleven-year-old Harrison had found her huddled beneath a slide at the playground. It had been Callie’s twelfth birthday, and no one had remembered. She’d come to the park, determined to enjoy the day, and the sky had opened, ruining everything. The beautiful, if sober young stranger had held out her hand, and Callie had known as she took it that she had made a true friend.
When Harrison brought her back to her large, rambling house, the Abbott family had been so warm and welcoming. Moira said she’d sensed a kindred spirit in Callie, and any friend of Harrison’s was a friend of theirs. They had never hidden their abilities, and Callie had never feared them or the world they’d shown her glimpses of. On the contrary, she’d always wished she could be a part of it.
This place became a second home to her. In it she had known the kind of love and acceptance she used to wish for from her foster family. In it she could imagine she was truly was one of them. Truly was an Abbott. A Magian.
She’d never understood why Harrison wanted to be normal.
When the Abbotts went to the annual skyclad festival in Salem to pay homage to the innocent humans who had died there, Harrison had thrown a tantrum, railing against the mandatory nudity. Callie, on the other hand, stayed holed up in her bedroom at home, dreaming she could join them.
When the Abbotts threw a coming out ball to introduce their very special daughter to the Magian community, Callie had watched from Harrison’s charmed mirror with Jenner as the young debutant frowned, grudgingly showing off her abilities to an approving crowd.
The grass was always greener, or so Jenner had told her many times. But Callie believed it was an empty sentiment. Harrison didn’t know what it was like to be an average human, to deal with the kinds of things she’d had to. Callie was positive she wouldn’t like it.
But this wasn’t just another rebellion. Harrison didn’t look put out so much as nervous. Wired. “So why now? Why, after all this time, have you decided to share this bit of Magian trivia with me? Do your parents know you’re telling me?”
Jenner and Harrison shared a speaking glance. “No.” Harrison shook her head. “They’re celebrating their anniversary on a whirlwind European vacation. According to their schedule they should be in Paris. It’s been so long since Mom’s been able to be convinced into taking a vacation from the jewelry store, and we knew she’d come back right away if we told her. I—we didn’t want to worry them.”
Callie leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms. “Worry them? Uh huh, I knew it. Okay, what’s going on here, Harry? Another spell in a fit of anger? Is the postman barking at dogs again? Or did you finally lay a magical whammy on that weird Goth guy from the grocery store who always follows you around?”
“If only.” Harrison stood, pacing around the table in agitation. “Besides, I haven’t done anything that interesting in years. This isn’t about me. Not directly. I need your Spidey sense, Cal. I need you to help me find out who is attacking witches.”
“Attacking? Someone’s been attacking witches? Have you called the police?” Callie pushed her chair back and reached for her cell phone, but Harrison stopped her.
“We can’t, sweetheart.” Jenner shrugged apologetically. “It’s another Magian. There is nothing your police can do.”
“Well, what about your police? The Magian law enforcement? I know you have your own code, right?”
Harrison nodded. “The Rede, yes. And the Magian enforcers have done a cursory investigation, but whoever this guy is, he’s flying low under the radar. None of the women had any traces of residual magic on them when they were found. No scrying spell or enchanted object can be found that will even show the victim’s final moments before the attack, and none of them can remember a thing about the man, which should be suspicion enough to delay the next ritual. Especially since there is only one thing we know linking the women.” At Callie’s questioning look, Harrison shrugged. “They had all been participating in the joining ritual this month. Like Jenner said, it’s called Triune. A few times each year, single Magian’s go to Triune to seek out their sexually and magically compatible mates. The same ritual I’m supposed to be a part of in one week’s time.”
Callie ran a hand through her hair. “Harrison, you know I would never be allowed to attend a Magian ritual. They’d sense me as an outsider right away. I’ll help anyway I can, but I’m not sure what it is that you want me to do.”
Jenner patted her shoulder, drawing her attention away from her agitated friend. “You know those makeover shows I love to watch? Our little wonder witch has found a way around your, um, handicap.”
“Gee, thanks. I’m not insulted by that comment at all.” Callie rolled her eyes, but adrenaline filled her at Jenner’s implication. She turned back to Harrison. “Harry? Is she right? Can you make me a witch?”
A dry, male voice immediately dampened her excitement. “Magian, little girl, Magian. And Harrison can’t make you what you aren’t, she’s not that good. But, though I hate to admit it, her glamour is fairly impressive.”
Damn. She’d hoped he was out of town.
Tyghe was one of Harrison’s older brothers, and the only dark cloud over her time with the Abbotts. She got along fine with the rest of her friend’s brothers, Tucker and Lorie. Especially Tucker. The eldest brother was perfect in Callie’s eyes. Tall, dark, handsome and above all, kind. He’d always been patient with her. Always made her feel welcome. When he’d shown an interest in Magian law, her own aspirations to be a police officer seemed to link them somehow. Yet another reason for her to admire him, to fuel the fire of her most secret fantasies. She’d had a crush on him for as long as she could remember.
But not Tyghe.
The mahogany-haired scoundrel had teased her unmercifully all through her teen years. Made her feel somehow lacking because she wasn’t like them. Wasn’t Magian. And his piercing grey eyes had always noticed everything. Even the things she didn’t want anyone to see, like the way she reacted to his older brother.
Tyghe smiled as though he knew she was cursing his arrival. “I don’t know if you can do it, Harry.” He tilted his head, studying Callie in her comfortable sweats and hooded sweatshirt. “Do you really think you can turn this ordinary human into a wicked witch?”
Harrison glared at her brother in warning. “Shut up, Tyghe. You’re not helping.”
Tyghe placed a hand to his chest, drawing Callie’s unwilling gaze to his lean, muscled physique. Her mouth went dry. Damn Abbott men. Did they all have to be so stunning? How could she get a good hate on for someone she wanted to lick?
His sigh drew everyone’s attention. “My dear, sweet sister. That’s exactly what I came here to do. Help. Show a little gratitude.”
“He knows?” Callie crossed her arms defensively. She didn’t like the way Tyghe was looking at her. “I had no other choice.” Harrison wrinkled her nose. “Tucker was already gone on his annual hike into the wilderness before the first attack. Besides, he definitely wouldn’t approve of us trying to catch this guy on our own. And Lorie…well, you know Lorie.”
She did. Lorie was a good guy when he was around, but he wasn’t the most dependable member of the Abbott family. The dreamer, his mother often called him. Since they were children, he’d rather find some remote corner in a dusty Magian library and read then be a part of any of their adventures.
Tyghe came closer. “I know that for once Harrison is right. Each one of the attacks, from what I’ve been hearing, has gotten successively worse. And the lack of evidence makes them highly suspicious. Even those of us who don’t have a Nancy Drew complex,” he looked pointedly at Callie, “still know something is wrong. We can’t take a chance that my sister could be the psycho’s next target. I’m just not sure she’s thought her plan through. Using a human as bait is all well and good, but getting the bait inside is only half the battle. You wouldn’t be able to participate. Not unless the men you were with were in on it.”
Men? Bait? “Okay, time out. Is Tyghe right, Harry? You want me to go in undercover and flush this guy out?”
Jenner glared at Tyghe before gripping Callie’s elbow comfortingly. “He’s never been known for his subtly, but he has a point. We have no intention of using you as bait, dear. We, Harrison and I, both trust your instincts. You may see something our kind has missed. But you would be in danger. Just of another sort. We can get you inside, but with the magic Harrison will cloak you with, you’ll also have to deal with potential suitors as you search for clues.”
“And they will love her. Those big, innocent eyes? That naïve sensuality? The sharks would start circling in no time. And her cover would be blown.” Callie’s chin jerked sharply at the compliment. At least, she thought it was a compliment. From Tyghe, she could never be sure.
“I wasn’t planning on leaving my best friend alone in that place,” Harrison grumbled. “Jenner and I would be there with her at all times. All she’d have to do is use that intuition of hers—an intuition not even Tucker can match by the way, and I would zap the son of a bitch until he squealed.”
Callie felt her lips twitch. She’d seen Harrison angry, seen the electricity she could generate when she gathered her power close. She knew her friend would protect her. Maybe she’d get in a few good punches herself. What kind of creep went around terrorizing young females? Witches or not, those women had no doubt been at their most vulnerable, searching for love. The last thing one of them would expect was an attack by another Magian at such a sacred event. “I’m in.”
“So am I. That’s what I’m trying to say. I can attach myself to Callie as a potential suitor, even with the distant cousin story you’ve decided to run with. I’ll turn away any thirds I find unsuitable, which will be all of them, and keep an eye on my troublemaking sister at the same time.”
Callie and Harrison made sounds of denial, but Tyghe wasn’t backing down. “Ask Jenner. This is the only way your plan will work. Either I join you for her preparations and the Triune, or I will call in the rest of the family. Your choice.”
Jenner tilted her head, a small sparrow studying Tyghe with a strange, knowing expression. “He’s right, girls. We need a man to make this work.”
Tyghe snickered. “Words to live by.”
“Don’t get cocky, boy. I can still take you over my knee.”
Callie looked Jenner up and down, doubting the tiny woman could make good on her threat, but Tyghe looked duly chastised.
Harrison threw her arms in the air. “Fine. You’re in. But don’t interfere with our investigation. You aren’t exactly known for being discreet. As soon as I glamour Callie, we have to start preparing her, getting the word out that there’s a new Magian in town. And that she’ll be coming to this quarter’s Triune.”
What had she gotten herself into? Callie sat on Harrison’s luxurious bed in nothing but a small towel, watching the two women muttering to each other as they gathered their supplies. This was what she’d always wanted. Sort of. She’d wanted to be an Abbott, truly to be a Magian born. Harrison’s temporary fix would have to do.
If it worked, she could finally see the people and places Harrison would tell her about late into the night during those lucky occasions when her foster mother allowed her to sleep over. And those stories Jenner wove at the kitchen table before anyone else was awake. Stories about stormy battles and the origins of the Magians. Tales that took her away from her awkward, unhappy life just long enough to give her hope for something more. Something magical.
Please let this work.
Callie wasn’t afraid of the mysterious Magian they were searching for. They’d given her so much, it was nice to be needed by them for once. And she was looking forward to using the skills she’d been learning at the police academy. Harrison was right, other than Uncle Jackson being her friend’s second father, Callie had an uncanny knack for finding out the truth. It had always been that way. Call it instinct or luck—most of the time it was a double-edged sword. From discovering her foster family believed her a nuisance they’d only kept around for the money, to finding out her math teacher was engaging in extra- curricular activities with the football coach, she’d just always…known. Like a tickle up her spine. And she was always proven right.
The only thing she wasn’t looking forward to was being Tyghe’s pretend love interest for the next week. She could hardly imagine it. Okay, that was a lie. She didn’t want to imagine it, but since the idea had been presented it was practically all she could think about.
He was a jerk, but he was a sexy jerk. Always had been. And he knew it too, the arrogant ass. Harrison was always telling her one wild story or another, usually revolving around Tyghe and his kinky predilections. He’d already been reprimanded twice by the Magian law for using his magic in public, and, according to his sister, sex had usually been involved.
Sex with Tyghe in public. She could never be so bold, so brazen. Her skin heated as she closed her eyes, instantly envisioning the stormy-eyed Magian pressing her against a wall and taking her as a crowd of people looked on. He wanted them to look, to know how crazy she made him. Wanted them to know she was his.
“Don’t be nervous, Cal. I promise I know what I’m doing.”
Callie’s eyes popped open and she blushed, shrugging. “I know you do, Harry. I trust you not to turn me into a hamster…again.”
“Never gonna let me forget that are you?”
“Not a chance.”
Jenner smiled, coming to stand on the other side of the bed. “The spirits blessed the two of you when they brought you to each other. It was fate. The bonds of friendship are more powerful than any magic you could name.” She sniffled, and the two younger women rolled their eyes, pretending they weren’t moved by their gentle companion’s words. “I just think it’s wonderful that you’ve agreed to do this, Calliope. That it’s finally happening. I only wish it wasn’t under these circumstances, but I know you’re old enough to take care of yourself.”
“What do you mean finally hap—?”
“Please—” Callie reached out to shake Jenner’s arm playfully, interrupting Harrison’s startled question, “—don’t call me that. I’ll never understand why the woman who brought me to the home had apparently been so adamant about my name. Calliope? That’s just adding insult to injury. ‘Here, we don’t want you, but we want to give you a name to ensure you get picked on by the other children.’” She sighed dramatically, knowing Harrison would smile.
“Calliope was the muse of epic poetry. The hero’s odyssey. It’s a lovely name.” Jenner sounded miffed on behalf of the monstrosity of a name.
Harrison chuckled at Jenner, but Callie heard an unusual note in her voice. “Yes, well, you can’t be trusted. You thought all our names were wonderful. I don’t believe a woman should be allowed to name her children until she’s recovered from childbirth. Especially not my mother.”
Jenner harrumphed before resting her hand on Callie’s shoulder. “She knew exactly what she was doing. She named you after a wonderful young Magian. A man who died before his time, and one of her closest childhood friends. And I believe I’ve kept enough of your secrets, Harrison Jennera Abbott, for you to trust me with your life. It should be easy. I did help bring you into it.” She pursed her lips. “Now it’s time. We should do this soon so she has a chance to recuperate before tomorrow’s salon and fitting appointments.”
“Salon? Fitting?” Callie’s voice squeaked. The idea of that was far more terrifying than a crazy glamour spell. Enough to distract her from the palpable tension in the air, as well as the origins of Harrison’s name.
Harrison smirked. “Uh huh. Did I forget to mention that? It’s part of the preparation. What every Magian female about to participate at Triune does. That means the four victims will have gone to the same places we’re going, gossiped with the same old biddies, gotten fitted for the, ah, appropriate attire.”
“Oh lord. Can I change my mind?” Callie blinked in surprise when her friend gripped her chin between her long, elegant fingers.
Harrison’s face was somber, worried. “Yes, Cal. But if you’re going to, you need to do it now. Once we start you’ll be on everybody’s radar. The Magian world will sense your presence, sense your magic, real or not. Not only that, this spell is glamour mixed with a kind of soul calling that Jenner has been teaching me for the last few years. Every being has a little magic inside them—it’s just a matter of pulling it out and intertwining the truth with the illusion.”
Callie smiled. “Sounds complicated. Don’t think you can pull it off, Harry? Don’t think you can turn me into a real, live witch?”
Harrison smiled, recognizing the challenge for the answer it was. “Oh I can do it, all right. With Jenner’s guidance, I’m fairly certain it will be a perfect success. I’m just not sure what a Cal with magic will be like. You’re already impossible now.”
“Bring it on, Glenda.”
“Zip it, or I’ll slip and turn you into a pair of Tyghe’s gym socks.”
”Consider it zipped.” Callie let Jenner lay her down on the silken, ruby comforter, watching Harrison set a bag of herbs, a crystal and some kind of liquid with paint brush beside it on the bed.
This must be a big spell. Harrison had told her once that, though magic was present in every Magian, there were some spells that needed a little extra encouragement. A potion, a ritual, a chant to bring the energy to the surface—to focus the power.
She could only imagine.
Jenner began to mutter rhythmically under her breath, and Callie lowered her lids until she could watch them both through her lashes. She tensed a little as Harrison slid the towel down to her hips, but these women knew her as well as they knew themselves. She breathed out, relaxing against the soft mattress.
Harrison set the small quartz below her belly button, cupping her hands over it and closing eyes that were a darker grey than Tyghe’s, but just as stormy.
Callie gasped and felt the tiny hairs on her arms rise as an electric blue light began to flicker between Harrison’s fingers. It was riveting. Hypnotic, the way the arcing light circled her hand like a living thing, growing before her eyes until it was all she could see.
She felt her stomach warm, a pulsing sensation against her flesh where the crystal was resting. When she glanced down she realized it was glowing, mimicking Harrison’s energy. It felt as though liquid heat was being absorbed into her skin, deep inside her.
Jenner’s chant grew louder, and Callie could see her lit with a sunshine yellow energy, joyous, powerful—so big for her dainty frame. She closed her eyes, but she could still see them both as Harrison reached for the small paintbrush, dipping it in the soothingly scented oil and painting it onto Callie’s skin. Her neck. Behind her ears. Around her nipples.
It was a sensual feeling. The wet bristles scraping, feather light against her skin. Like a man’s stubble. Once more the image of Tyghe pressing her against an outside wall sprang to mind. Only this time, Callie wasn’t embarrassed. This time she took him with as much ferocity and need as he was taking her. She didn’t care about the crowd. Didn’t care about losing control. She reveled in it. Wanted it. Wanted to claim him.
Callie was so lost in the fantasy that the flash of blue-green energy took her by surprise, an electric shock whipping through her system and arching her off the bed.
Something was inside her, reacting to Harrison and Jenner’s energy, reaching for it. Her spine was buzzing, bones vibrating almost painfully. Had something gone wrong? Was it working?
As if from far away she could hear Harrison’s gasp and Jenner’s serene response. “There now. You did a good job, dear.”
“I can’t believe it. All this time.”
Callie tried to talk. What can’t you believe, Harrison? All this time what? But she felt separated from her body, floating above the bed.
Jenner spoke once more. “I think it might be best to keep this to ourselves for a spell. Your family may not react well. Especially your brothers.”
“My broth—oh hell, don’t tell me, Jenner. I don’t think I want to know. We’ll keep quiet. For now. But you and I need to have a private chat. Soon. And Callie—”
“Will be fine. Let’s let her rest now, shall we?”
Deserves to know what? Am I dying? It feels a little like I’m dying. Callie was frantically trying to regain control of her body, her vocal chords, but the blue-green energy surrounded her. It began to combine with a lovely violet that calmed her, soothed her. She should sleep. She needed to sleep. Needed to dream.
At least she wasn’t a hamster this time.