Outlier Prophecies Book Seven: Half Cup Magic – Chapter One

To be clear, I never asked to be amazing at magic. It wasn’t my fault my mother was a master healer witch and my father the grand druid. Not a grand druid, THE grand druid. Yes, you heard that right. I’m your fucking magic princess, heir to the shitty white trash version of spells in which we have replaced our art.

Except, lucky me, druids don’t air their dirty laundry publicly. And don’t share their social structure to outsiders. And let’s brush past the whole excommunication thing after my dad took off, leaving my mother to deteriorate in a mental facility. So I guess that makes me not your princess. Fuck you very much. Nobody asked me to fill his shoes and, to be frank, they probably prefer to shove me aside and pick their new leader. For all I know they already have.

My cousin Kate doesn’t even really know the full story and I’m not about to tell her. She’s too engrossed in her own mess. I’d rather poke around in her dirty laundry than expose the rotting festering pile of mine. Which perfectly explains why I’m sneaking into Agent Goya’s hotel room.

The security mechanism shocks me with a zing on my third attempt. “Shit,” I hiss and shake out the sting.

Usually hotel wards are as flimsy as using fishing line on a navy ship tanker’s anchor. I dig in, attempting to attack the mechanical joints rather than the electronic ones when my own security measures tug at the edges of my psyche.

Knock, knock, a sprinkle of tingles scatters up my shoulder and projects an image of Becker turning a corner around the hallway onto the room’s door. I abandon my break-in and scamper to a ficus tree next to a couch in an alcove lobby a few doors down.

Blend.

Most magic users believe they have to speak their wish intentions after a spell. Not true. If you’re skilled enough you can merely think them. And, babe, I’m at the top of my game. Don’t tell MUC (Magic Users Committee), they think I’m fucking useless and I want to keep it that way or they’ll expect me to volunteer for Sunday neighborhood cleanups or some other bullshit charity case.

While I’m at it, I mask my scent to something resembling the vegetation I’m hiding behind.

Becker’s heavy-footed approach would be almost comical if it weren’t for the determined look on his face, zeroed in on my direction. What the hell? His meeting with Goya isn’t until tomorrow. It took me three batches of rugelach to bribe Abbot to break into my cousin-in-law’s schedule.

He scans the hallways and quirks his head at the plant in the corner. I suck in my gut. He sneezes. The gig is up. Werewolves are allergic to magic and now he knows there is magic where there shouldn’t be. Correction: he knows my magic.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are, Ali,” Becker calls out as if he enjoys this game we play.

“Go away!” I bite out.

His gaze adjusts until he’s almost looking right at me, but he can’t see me. It would be impossible with the strength of the masking spell I’ve cast. He’s zoned in on me through my voice, breathing, and heartbeat. I can only mask so much from a nearly full-blooded werewolf who claims me as his pack.

Oh right, forgot to explain how a witch—druids and witches being mortal enemies of wolves—becomes part of a werewolf pack. But Becker isn’t a normal werewolf. This is probably a story Kate, my cousin, would tell better. Long of the short? Ian Becker is stuck with me through blood.

He sneezes multiple times. “Come on, Ali. Let’s go home. I’ll taste test whatever concoction or experiment you want. Leave the poor federal agent alone today. He had a long flight to get here. Another long day in meetings with the local federal office. When he gets to this hotel room you’re going to let him rest.”

I uncloak slightly, showing a few features of my face so he sees I’m not playing around and just enough of my right hand so he can see me flipping him off.

He sighs. “Goya isn’t going to be nice about this forever. His guilt will only go so far.”

“I won’t leave him alone until he goes back to Texas.” Maybe not even then. I’d have to check into those postal fees for mailing poisonous snakes across state lines. “I can’t believe you defend him at all. After everything…” I can’t even finish the sentence. My anger boils up to the surface, threatening to spill over into— goddess forbid— real tears.

“Goya, Agent Goya, didn’t do anything. His brother did.”

A little background: Goya’s brother aided an anti-fate terrorist group that targeted Kate. As part of the collateral, they captured Becker and me. He and his brother are gaki, bloodsuckers of the worst kind. Goya’s brother drank my blood and absorbed my full power and used it to make Becker go feral.

Becker nearly lost everything. I only lost my self-worth. Goya’s brother had to know the moment my blood touched his lips and lit every sensory cell of his body that I’m the daughter of the most powerful druid in the States. That information he could sell to the highest bidder. I won’t be the reason my cousin and the rest of her pack become a target. They do that all on their own.

That’s why I must find the sucker and bring him to the committee for justice. It’s illegal to steal magic ability. Sometimes even with consent depending on the situation. With consent both the witch and the vampire are charged if used for malicious purposes. Without, well, I’ll need to prove my innocence, which should be easy, but if it gets out that I’m potentially in a position of power, then I might be eliminated just as an inconvenience to those who’d like to keep the current structure. Nobody likes a usurper.

“Ali—he’s on his way here. Let’s get out of here and not cause a scene.” Becker clears his throat. “Again.”

“If you hadn’t tossed me over your shoulder, I wouldn’t have had to curse you with a pox.”

“And I wouldn’t have bit you.”

“You marked your own grave when you sat on me,” I remind him.

“Because you bit me first!”

“Let’s not bicker over the details.”

He huffs. The elevators dings. I blend back into the plant.

Goya steps out, turns our direction, his attention fully on the newspaper in his hand until he glances up and sees Becker. He stutters his next step. “Shit.”

“Maybe you should wait in the lobby until I can convince her to leave,” my cousin-in-law explains.

“She’s here?” He removes his hat, sets it on the door handle, and peeks around the corner almost as if he expects me to jump out at him.

I’m his worst fucking surprise party. If I do what I’d like to him, marring his hat is the least of his worries.

Becker grunts and tips his chin my direction. Goya squints at the ficus. “That’s a tree. Are you telling me…”

“She’s fucking magic, asshole. Do you expect her to play fair?”

Goya addresses the tree. “Ali, I’m not allowed to meet with you alone. We agreed—”

I fully unmask. “We agreed to nothing. We implies I had any say in the arrangement.” I shoot Becker my I-just-lickeda- lemon face.

“I’d be fine with it if I didn’t think you’d kill my only source for full-time employment right now,” Becker says with more force behind his words than the situation calls for.

“Unlikely,” I snap back. “I need Goya alive for questioning.”

Goya motions for Becker to join him down the hall a ways and when both men are convinced I won’t follow they begin their huddled meeting I’ve titled “what are we going to do with the crazy witch.” Becker pins me with a nasty stare to keep me in place. Goya is his new chew toy and I’m not allowed to play fetch with it. More likely Becker wants off baby duty and following me around ruining my Tuesday afternoon is a more high-octane distraction.

Since October our pack house has been in constant turmoil, not the town of Turmoil, that’s about an hour and a half away, but the state of turmoil. Not like state as in Connecticut…ugh, never mind. Anyway, our pack house has dealt with one nasty anti-fate group after another. Kidnappings. Crazy evil statisticians. Secret siblings. Aiding two Oracles to finding true love. And, worst of all, a baby who won’t sleep through the night. But she’s gotten a lot better since Yule. Now Kate and Becker are talking about having one of their biological own. This is why I need a hobby and that hobby is making Goya’s life hell. I need to find his brother, preferably last summer. I’m so behind.

Becker finishes his talk with his new best friend and prowls to my side, crowding me back into the ficus tree. “He’s going to give you fifteen minutes. After this, no more. You got a problem with Goya? We all figure a way around it together. None of this vigilante shit.”

“I don’t have a problem with Goya.” I smile and press past my keeper. “I have an appointment. And I promise to make it my last if you take yourself at least ten blocks away.”

He grits his teeth. “I’m not going to leave you alone with him. I’m protecting you as much as him.”

“You trust me?” I wait until he nods. “You trust him?” I point a thumb at Goya. Becker nods again. “Then you can certainly give us our privacy so I can kill him without you hearing.”

Goya sighs and unlocks his hotel door. Becker makes his way to the elevators, but not before shooting me with one last glare. I stick my tongue out at him.

“Careful. If you make a face at a wolf it will get stuck that way, I hear,” Goya says.

I laugh before I remember I don’t like Goya. So I don’t think his jokes are funny. We enter the room and the door clicks softly behind us. “Tell me where you’re hiding your brother.” I don’t like to beat around the bush. I’d rather trim it, hack it to pieces, and burn it. But never beat around it.

“No.” He sits at his desk and swivels from side to side.

“So you know where he is!” I hop onto his bed so I can tower over him. “Ha! Ah-ha! I’ve caught you in a lie.” In the mirror I catch a glimpse of my crazed expression.

I look amazing. He’ll definitely be afraid this time.

“I didn’t say that.”

“But if I say ‘tell me’ and you say ‘no’ it implies that you know where he is and that you are hiding him.”

“How about this: if I knew where he was—and I’m not admitting to such a statement—I wouldn’t tell you. Even then.”

I gasp and bounce on my butt on the side of his bed facing him. “That is unnecessarily cruel.”

“I’m a cruel jerk. What can I say?” He sets his wallet and key on the table, shrugging out of his jacket.

His muscles flex. I can see them through his shirt and it sends that tingly feeling through my stomach.

I cover my eyes. “Stop it. Stop what you’re doing.”

“What?” He pauses, genuinely concerned as to what he’s done.

I take two breaths, getting all the horny thoughts from my system. See? This is the real injustice. I think Agent Goya is hot. Totally fuckable. I’m pretty sure if I went to a shrink they’d explain this phenomenon as some kind of advanced Stockholm syndrome—where I fall for the brother of an employee of my captor. It’s sufficiently complicated enough to be something that could happen to me.

“Ali—” He tries again. His voice is soft and gentle. “Should I call Becker back? If you don’t feel comfortable being alone with me—”

I peek from behind my eyes. “Why would you think I’m not comfortable around you?” I might have said it too quickly. “I’m fine. Everything’s fine. Where were we? Oh. Right. You were going to give me your brother’s location and I was going to very calmly thank you and be on my way.”

“My brother’s location isn’t any of your concern—”

“Excuse me? No.” I stand and pace the room. “Agent…Goya.” I trip over his name. “What is your name?”

He narrows his eyes at me. “Why do you ask?”

“Because. Don’t you find it ridiculous that I call you Agent Goya? That Becker and Kate do? We should be on a first-name basis. I made you my famous tamale pie.”

“Is anything you make not famous?”

“Don’t change the subject. Name.”

He opens his mouth like he’s about to tell me and then he covers it with a smile and sinks back into his hotel chair. “It’s Billy Bob. Very Texas name, don’t you think?”

The air from the breath of his lie goes red. “Liar.”

“I’d never dream of it, Ali Hale.” He elongates my name as if he’s taunting me that he knows my full name, but I still don’t know his.

“When I find out your real name, I’m going to call you that. I’ll say it, think it, breathe it.” And I would too. I don’t make idle threats. “You will beg me to stop, but I won’t.”

“I won’t beg you. Not for anything.”

“We’ll see.”

I stop my pacing and examine his mini bar, taking the most expensive items and the cookies. I open those, lick them in front of him and toss each one in the trash.

“Please, Ali. Don’t accost my refreshments.” He holds up his hands in mock surrender. “I’ll give you the location of my brother. My name. Anything.”

I take the alcohol to the bathroom sink, pouring out each bottle. I take a nip of one for myself. “Don’t think that I’m letting you off easy.” Each bottle hits the trash with a thunk. “I will continue to visit your hotel room and one day I will get inside. When I’m inside I will go through all your things and I will know all your secrets.”

“Oh?” He’s standing in the bathroom doorway. “Why? You’re here now. Why not just look while you’re here?” He makes a gesture for me to go on ahead with this plan.

I press my lips together as if I don’t know how I’d call his bluff. “Really?”

“Really.” He lowers his head and his eyes, as always, hold a forever apology. The guilt he carries for his brother’s crimes ripples off him in waves.

I don’t let it get to me. I can’t feel sorry for him, being attracted to him is bad enough. I tip my head for him to move out of my way and he does. I point to the corner. “You have to stand over there.”

He nods and takes his place, hands held in front of him, shoulders square. “Very well. Let me know if you have any questions. I hope this will satisfy you and you have no need to return.”

I huff, tossing his sheets, lifting his mattress, and pulling his luggage from the closet. I go through his dirty underwear and mildly become concerned with myself and what I’ve become. I shove the luggage back into the closet. Next I go through the papers at the top of his desk.

I hold up his work tablet. “Password?”

He shakes his head. “I’ll draw the line at treason. I can’t give you my password to the federal database. Trust me that I wouldn’t put information on my brother in there either.”

Right. If he wanted his brother’s crime to escape notice of the federal government he wouldn’t put any information that could be used against him on their site. I sigh and set it down.

“Do I pass inspection?” he asks with a sly grin.

I cross my arms and glare.

The air becomes thick between us. His grin changes from amusement, dropping incrementally past concern to apologetic.

“Ali…” His voice is deep as if it’s fighting past a lot of emotion to be heard. “I want you to know that—”

“Stop it.” I hold out my hand.

“You can come back any time and we can talk about it.” He holds out his card.

My chin trembles and I turn away before tears spill over, marching out the door, down the hall, and as far away from Goya as I can manage. The man confuses me, rips me in two, and then tries to help me pick up my own pieces.

I can’t let my guard down around him. He’s dangerous enough as it is. With the information his brother holds he could ruin not just me, but the little crumbs of what’s left of my family, and the tenuous relationships I’m forming in Becker’s pack.

Worst of all? I was beginning to trust him.