Harrison didn’t say much when I met him outside. He just nodded and opened the door to the silver sedan he drove. He didn’t say much as we drove down the highway back toward Austin. The silence wasn’t uneasy though. Actually, it was nice. Comfortable. It had been a long time since someone just let me sit in silence.

I rubbed around my wrists, thinking about how the day seemed so bright, the sun shining over the countryside. Austin stretched out ahead of us, barely more than a thin line on the horizon.

In prison, most of my day was accounted for. Meal times, yard times… I’d have spent my life in that cell with books from the library if I could. I’d never felt any connection to the other inmates, and I’d wanted it that way. They might have been criminals, but I was the real monster.

“Your wrists hurting?”

I blinked, looking at Harrison. I hadn’t even realized I was still rubbing my wrists. I shrugged. “They’re just a little sore.”

“It’ll pass,” he said. “It’s just a side effect of the binding. I feel it too.”

“It’s fine,” I lied. Actually, it didn’t hurt. It was just present, a constant soreness reminding me of what I’d done. I drew a deep breath and slowly exhaled. I didn’t want to think about it. “What’s the story on my release? The press is going to have a field day with it.”

His gaze slid over me carefully. I could just see the wheels turning in his head. But he seemed to realize I didn’t want to talk about the binding. “Paroled on good behavior. Hired as a private consultant to the FMB. You’ve turned a new leaf in your life.”

A new leaf. I snorted quietly. The General was going to have a coronary when he realized what I’d done and that he couldn’t use any of his stupid connections to pull me out either. Because where I went, Harrison had to go now, or I was as good as dead. In his mind, I’d disobeyed an order and the General wasn’t a man to let go of what he wanted without a fight.

“Is there any reason to worry?” He asked.

There was every reason to worry. This deal had just painted a giant target on my back.

I shook my head. “No. Just curious.”

His gaze swept over me again, almost like he didn’t believe me, but he didn’t say any more. In the end, though, I knew I’d made the right choice. The General would want to put me back in the field. They’d want me to kill for them again. And I’d have to do it. There wasn’t much the military couldn’t do to me. But even the General couldn’t break a binding bracelet I’d consented to. It wasn’t even proven that it could be broken at all. Harrison could have just bound us for life for all we knew.

We fell into that easy silence again. Harrison seemed content with the quiet, and it was really the first time I’d had quiet in months. Even at night in prison, you could hear the coughs and breathing of the other inmates, the rustling as they turned in their bunks, and the quiet hushed whispers of secret deals for cigarettes and Snickers bars.

“Are you going to tell me about this case of yours?” I asked Harrison.

The corner of his mouth turned up as he turned the car into a parking lot. I glanced out the window. We were already in the heart of downtown Austin. I knew this parking lot, too. It was the Mage Assembly parking.

I swallowed. I hadn’t been in the Assembly Hall since my Family had been removed from membership, well over a year ago. Going in there wasn’t high on my Want-To-Do list.

“How about I show you instead?”

I snorted softly. “You don’t waste time, do you, Agent Harrison?”

He smiled tightly. “No time like the present for you to start earning your keep.”

He put the car in park and got out. I followed his lead, but I paused as I looked up at the building. It had always reminded me of a glass castle. Like most of downtown Austin, it was a steel supported building, but most of the outside was made of a heavy magically fortified glass in case of storms. It had two twin spires that branched off from the main building. I knew the Club was in one spire, and the actual Assembly met in the rooms in the second spire. The main building was mostly offices and such, with a large, obnoxiously extravagant ballroom the Assembly hosted their high society parties in.

This princess wasn’t welcome in this castle. How would they react to me walking their holy halls again? Had Harrison even thought this through?

Harrison turned back when he realized I hadn’t followed. “You coming?”

“Yeah,” I breathed and forced my feet back into motion. His brow pinched tightly at me for a moment, but he seemed satisfied when I caught up to him and continued his brisk no-nonsense pace.

“We think there was at least one fatality here, maybe a few hours ago.”

Long, yellow caution tape crossed off the entrance, but Harrison ducked underneath it and called out a brisk “she’s with me” without slowing down. I followed him down the steps into the basement, almost needing to run to keep up with his long, business-like steps.

The first thing that hit me as soon as we hit the edge of the scene was the magic residual. A wave of fear and heat coasted over me, searing me down to the middle. My entire body broke out into a sweat as I stumbled backward and hit the wall of the hallway hard, just outside the room. My magic responded to my panic, slamming hard against the cage in my chest, digging painfully against my ribs in its attempt to get free.

Sweat dripped down the side of my face as my body trembled. I took a deep breath and let the wall hold me up. Harrison stopped and faced me. Why the fuck hadn’t he warned me? Instead, he was standing there, watching me like I was some sort of lab animal.

“What the hell leaves a residual like that?” I breathed out, trying to catch more air to calm my body down.

“We don’t know,” Harrison said. He gave me a once-over as I forced calm into my body, controlling my breathing and counting out the exhale. “You good?”

No.

“Yeah, I’m good.”

He nodded and then turned and stepped into the open room. I didn’t want to go in there if this was what it was like in the hallway. I could hear the voices of the FMB agents working inside, so I wouldn’t be alone, but damn. I so did not want to go in there.

But this was the job I’d accepted, right?

I forced my legs to move, even as they shook under my weight, and followed Harrison in.

I stopped just inside the doorway as the residual hit me even harder. “Holy shit.” The entire room was charred, completely obliterated. Horizontal burn marks coated the walls, all the way around the room. There wasn’t one inch of the room that was untouched by the magic. Harrison had this wrong. This wasn’t an explosion, magical or otherwise. It was a controlled eradication of the entire place.

Bedford was definitely responsible. I’d seen his work before, but this… it was way stronger than he was capable of. Magic residual of this kind had to be an Alpha.

I closed my mouth as someone bumped me out of the way of the door with a brisk apology. The action spurred me into moving, into stepping deeper into the blackened room. My magic left a lot of evidence and a lot of rubble behind. Most magics of the destructive variety did, whether it was elemental, mystical, or mental. There was no way to hide magic use. But this? Everything in this room was dead. Like someone had taken a magical blowtorch to it.

Charred.

Everything. In exactly the same way. Evenly.

Bombs didn’t do that. Bombs didn’t destroy in nice, even patterns. Bombs were messy. Bombs didn’t care if they missed a certain section of the room. But a person using magic in a methodical way could. But why this room? Why in the center of Austin, in the one building that was guaranteed to be full of mages?

“The wheels are turning inside that head of yours. What do you think?” Harrison asked me.

I glanced at him. His face was stoic, turned into a Zen-like mask. “What did this?”

“What do you think did it?” He asked. I glanced at him, frowning then realized what he was doing. He wanted to know what I thought before he told me his theory.

I took a few more steps into the room, turning around in a circle to survey the damage. “No way was this a bomb. This is definitely magic-made.”

Harrison pointed toward the center of the room. “Parts of a machine were found there. We think they were from a detonator. There were also traces of human tissue. We’re sending it all to the labs to be analyzed.”

“No one could survive this,” I whispered.

Harrison didn’t answer right away. He took a clipboard from a guy that came up to him and signed the bottom of the paper on it. He handed it back and focused back on me. “So, tell me what you think happened here.”

I glanced around the room. I wondered how much I should tell Harrison about why I knew exactly how this room got destroyed. I’d seen it before. Caleb was really good at this sort of destruction. It was why the General always paired him and me together. We were far too good at annihilating our targets as a team. This was a military-style hit and that in itself was bad news, particularly since the General had come to see me yesterday out of nowhere.

I pointed toward the blast marks that shot up the walls. “See those burn marks? Those are typical of controlled magic burns. Heavy, Alpha strength magic.”

“If it was an Alpha wouldn’t it have destroyed the walls?”

I shook my head. “The Assembly building is warded to prevent accidental magic discharges from Alpha users. Instead of going through the walls, the magic hit the wards, and it was redirected upward where it curved up to the ceiling. That’s why the center of the ceiling isn’t as charred as the rest of the room. But everywhere else, it’s a completely even pattern, like someone took a blowtorch to the room in a big, wide circle.”

Pyro magic was a difficult mistress most couldn’t contain on a massive scale, particularly like this one. It took years of training with masters to be that precise with pyrotechnics.

Harrison folded his arms over his chest and stared at the room. His face was pensive, and it reminded me of when I’d used to watch him in his office. I wasn’t supposed to know where the FMB offices were, but I’d found them because I had wanted to know what they knew about me. 

The first time I’d seen it, I’d seen him. He’d had a board up, with pictures of me, of loot I’d taken, newspaper articles, and everything he could find about me. He’d crossed his arms like that and stared at the board, like it would magically present its secrets and findings to him.

It was strange to be standing so close to him. In all the years he’d chased me, I could only remember being this close twice. And both times, I smelled the same distinct sandalwood and spicy heat on him. I wasn’t sure if it was his natural scent or if he had a favorite cologne. I hadn’t found anything in his bedroom when I’d broken into his house, back when we’d first started this cat and mouse game.

“What else?”

What else was there? I frowned as I glanced around the room again. The magic residual was really strong, which was overwhelming at first. But now that I’d been standing there for a bit, I realized it was also wrong. Maybe that was why it hit me so hard. It just didn’t feel like magic was supposed to feel.

But I had no way of telling Harrison that. He’d have thought I was insane. How could magic not feel like magic?

I did have something else I could mention, though. “I think this was a practice run. An experiment of something.”

“How do you know that?”

Okay, that was another thing I couldn’t explain. A lot of my theories were coming from my time in the military. This was something I’d seen, something I’d watched back then. Something that the General would have been involved with. But surely, the General wouldn’t sanction a hit on US soil, even as an experiment.

“It’s what I would do,” I said.

“Tell me,” he said, softly. I glanced at him, looking for judgement and ridicule but I found none of it in his expression. His face was serious, yes, but he was intense, focused on me in a way that was almost too much.

“Let’s say you were hired for a specific job and you have a specific ability that you need to make sure works the way you need it to work. You need a practice run, to make sure you have everything you need in your tool box, to make sure you can time the op right. If it were me, I’d find a contained area that I could let loose in but wouldn’t attract any immediate attention.”

Not that there was a place that was contained enough for my magic. But for this pyro? It definitely worked.

That tactic was actually something I’d picked up from my time at the Academy. Every op, every mission had a practice run. The General used to build full scale models for us to run through. Sometimes we didn’t have time to do a practice run, so he’d drill us on theory while we traveled to our target until we had every step of the plan memorized and mapped out.

I didn’t like how this kept going back to the General in my head. The timing stunk too. Just after the General came to see me to recruit me back? What was that man up to? Was there another pyro in the General’s team now? He wouldn’t be able to recruit Caleb, not now that Caleb was the Head of his Family. Family trumped military every time. So maybe the General had a new pyro.

“Do you have a list of Alpha pyrotechnics in the city?” I asked him. 

He nodded. “Sure. We pulled it already. It’s taking some time to weed out the Weak and Omega users.”

“If it’s an experiment, they’ll need another place like this one,” I told him.

Harrison nodded and flagged down the nearest passing flunky. “Morris, I need you to get me a list of every building in Austin that matches this one in size and security. Particularly warded buildings.” The agent nodded and ran off, disappearing out of the room.

I looked at Harrison.

He looked back at me. “What?”

“Do you order everyone around?”

He shrugged. “It’s their job.”

“Does everyone always follow your orders?”

His expression was deadpan as he replied. “You didn’t.”

“I believe your last order to me was ‘surrender now or I’ll shoot’.”

He grinned at me. “You didn’t surrender.”

“You didn’t shoot.”

He shrugged again. “It was a lapse in judgement, obviously.”

I blinked as he turned and walked to the other corner of the room. “Did you just make another joke?” He shot me a glare as he stopped next to another agent, taking a clipboard from him.

As Harrison continued doing whatever it was that FMB special agents do at crime scenes, I walked to the edge of the room. The walls were black as night. I reached out and ran my fingers over the charred remains of the wall. My magic flittered inside me in response, but it stayed put. It was probably just a reaction to the residual.

I glanced back at Harrison, but he was deep in conversation with another agent. I knelt down next to the wall. Quickly, I drew a Sight glyph in the air and held it inside my balled hand. With a quick glance around that confirmed no one was looking at me, I released the spell. The magic opened like a flower, drizzling out like molasses as it covered my vision in its thick syrupy colors.

As I’d suspected, the entire room was covered in magic, every nook and cranny of it. There wasn’t one place that was untouched. So much magic, and yet, it still didn’t feel right.

It was hard to believe that thirty-five years ago, magic hadn’t existed like this in the world. Sure, there were Families living with old magic, like mine, but it wasn’t public then. Technology had ruled the world and magic had been hidden in its underbellies. Centuries of being hunted and burned alive for our abilities had taught Old Magic Families to keep themselves hidden. But when a nuclear bomb had gone off in a testing facility in North Korea, it had triggered a world-wide Change. From what the powers that be said, it had broken a seal deep inside the Earth, and magic had poured out, changing things, the people, everything. People woke up with the ability to command fire, objects, illusions. So much magic had created chaos. It had been up to the Old Families to create a new world order, to teach the New Families how to control and use their abilities.

Chaos. That was sort of what this room felt like, on a much smaller scale, of course. The room was drenched in magic, so much so that it slowed the way my glyph had cast. The patterns in the Sight glyph formed and coalesced like smooth syrup. Under normal circumstances, my Sight glyph would show the break in the magic, where it was concentrated so we’d know where it had originated. But here everything was even and everywhere. There were no slivers, no breaks.

The glyph solidified slowly around me, holding my Sight in place. It was so hard to concentrate on the glyph, to keep it in place. Sweat beaded along my brow, my body overstimulated both by the residual magic and the strength to cast the glyph in this room.

I made my easy sweep of the room, carefully looking for any slivers, cracks, or breaks in the magic. Something to find out where it originated. But the entire room had an even coat of magical residue. But as the spell held out, the bright colors that coated the room began to coalesce, to converge at certain points around the room, all vivid yellows and reds.

Aha. There you are.

The glyph spell was moving slower than usual, but it was working.

A circle of colors surrounded the room. Five points all around the room, around the walls, all converging in these sections. Green, yellow, white, red, and blue. Someone had cast the spell inside this room and used the entire space as the circle. Thin red layers of magic still connected the points together across the floor and up the walls and ceiling, though they were starting to fade. The circle was useless, its power extended, but it hadn’t faded yet. A tremendous amount of magic must have passed through it for it to still have been visible and have such a strong magic residual.

I knelt down next to one of the points.

A dark gray rock, covered in dirt and grime, burned in my Sight with brilliant reds and oranges. I touched its surface, expecting heat, but it was cool and its surface smooth and unburned.

“What did you find?”

I gasped, half jumping as I yanked my hand back from the rock. Harrison didn’t look amused as he regarded me. I looked at him, my Sight giving me a view of his magical aura. Everyone had one. His was brilliant emerald, cocooning around him like a protective shell.

“You scared the shit out of me,” I said as I pressed my hand against my sternum. My heart pounded like a hammer against a nail. I blinked out the Sight and looked back at my rock. It was a dull gray, almost hidden among the charred remnants of the room. “It’s a rock.”

He stared at it for a long second, not saying anything.

I swallowed, trying to get my bearing back. Dropping the Sight glyph always made me a little bit dizzy. It was hard to go from all the beautiful colors of magic to the cold, hard reality in any kind of smooth way.

“There’s a circle here, a big one. It spans the entire room. It’s been used up, but I’d bet your entire life savings that it’s part of your explosion.”

“My life savings, huh?” He had a clipboard in his hand, which he handed off to a passing agent and knelt by me. He regarded the rock with that same pensive look he’d given the board in his office years ago.

I shrugged, trying not to fall over when his calm magic brushed against my shoulder. I’d always been sensitive to magic, but it was worse when I was pulling myself out of the Sight. “I don’t have any savings. Gotta bet something.”

He frowned, but it was focused toward the rock, not me. He drew a Sight glyph himself, but the variation of it was different from mine. I drew in a hot breath as it spawned into the room, my body shaking as I felt the crawl of it over me.

He frowned harder at the rock. “It doesn’t make sense to cast inside a circle that spans the room. It wouldn’t protect the caster from the bomb, particularly if the bomb was inside the circle as well.”

“I’m still not convinced it was a bomb.”

“What else could it be?”

“A bomb couldn’t do anything to a place that’s magically fortified. Tech and magic don’t mix well.” I sighed. “Maybe they were trying to use the circle to amplify the bomb.”

That was total amateur hour too. The General had tried that with me, once, but the bomb and I didn’t mix. As soon as I’d cast the magic, the bomb had fizzled out.

“Pretty sure that can’t happen,” Harrison said. “Maybe they tried, something went wrong.”

“There’s too much magic here. It’s wrong, somehow. It crawls up my skin like a thousand spiders. Makes me want a shower.”

“Yeah, me too,” he said, casually. I glanced at him. He didn’t show any signs of discomfort. Usually, I was the only one that felt such strong reactions to magic. I was sensitive to it. But if it affected him the same way it did me, he didn’t show it. But he’d always radiated strength. Weakness wasn’t in his blood.

The General would have loved to have gotten Harrison as a kid, for the sheer power he held in check, and for his personal strength. On the other hand, Harrison would have been a liability. He couldn’t have manipulated him the way he had the rest of us. Harrison’s strength would have held him up, kept him as unbendable good as he always was. He wasn’t malleable like the General’s children. Like me.

I cleared my throat and stood, my knees popping from being in that squat for too long. Harrison followed my example. “Here’s another question for you, Agent Harrison.” I glanced around the room. “You said the pieces of the detonator were over there?” He nodded as I pointed toward the center of the room. “That wouldn’t have done any damage. Not really. Shook the place, sure, to a point. But the Hall is huge and magically fortified. You’d need several bombs, all tucked up next to load supports to even partially get through the defenses of the building.”

His green eyes flashed white for a hot second. His eyebrow twitched. “You’re right. The blast didn’t even shake the main building. No one even knew the explosion happened until they saw the smoke coming up from the basement entrance.”

I smiled. “So why create an explosion that doesn’t do anything? What was this room?”

“Just maintenance storage. It didn’t even have a lock on the door.”

So, whoever had used this room knew it was low security. But they’d still have to have Assembly credentials to get in the building.

“This was a testing site,” I told him.

He nodded. “Yeah, I think you might be right.”

I’d have never considered that Harrison and I might have worked well together. In all honesty, I felt like we should have poked at each other and fought, for the different views of life we had. But here we were. Before today, I could count the number of times on one hand that I’d interacted in person with him. During all those times, he’d been suspicious and distant, and I’d played with him. Of course, we had other interactions over the years. He kept trying to bring me in for questioning, or he’d get a warrant to search my house. I’d sent him birthday and Christmas cards every year and flowers when he closed a case that wasn’t mine. Shit. I’d sent him congratulatory flowers after he arrested me, too, along with a bottle of champagne. Real champagne. From France.

One of our in-person meetings had been at the Club, one of the most exclusive mage gatherings in the city. I was the Head of Family Casimir at the time. He was the Heir of Family Harrison. He’d already been suspicious of me back then.

We’d sparred with each other that day, not physically, but he’d watched me, and I’d watched him. We’d bit off barbs at each other, trying to provoke each other into the duel we truly wanted to happen. But we were both stubborn and unwilling to break our cat and mouse protocol to truly have it out with each other.

We left the scene together, in silence. My thoughts strayed back to that day in the Club. I was two years out of the military. Back then, I saw everything as a mission. And I’d made it my mission to get under his skin. People that were compromised like that made mistakes, and I wanted him to leave me to my own deals. But he’d kept his calm, pursued me like unrequited love.

As we walked down the hall toward the exit, an older man stepped out of an office door about twenty feet away and headed our way in short, quick steps, two aides nipping at his heels. They both carried an armload of paper and folders and hurried behind the man like they were afraid they’d lose him.

The man walked with purpose, his head high on his self-importance stick up his ass. Blond hair was slicked back against his scalp, showing off a wide forehead and bushy blond eyebrows that were a sliver darker than his head. His eyes were beady and dark, though the blue of his irises shone through easily. His jaw looked like it was carved straight from granite.

I drew in a breath as I recognized him and under my breath, I whispered, “Fuck me. Not now.”

Harrison glanced at me, then up to the man in front of us. The man stopped a few feet from us, his aides almost ramming right into him, but they both managed to stop before physical contact occurred, like it was a practiced move. The man’s mouth twitched upward into a knowing smile. “Miss Casimir, this is a pleasant surprise.”

No doubt because I had no business in this building anymore. My Family had been stripped of its Assembly status over a year ago, after my arrest. But Norman Cooke was not your run of the mill Assembly member. He did nothing without a reason behind it.

“Mr. Cooke.” You manipulative son of a bitch, I added in my head.

His eyes slid to Harrison and back to me. “This is… interesting.”

“This area is supposed to be off limits until the scene is processed,” Harrison said. I didn’t look at him. I stared at Cooke. He stared at me.

“Yes, well, this is the only way to my car,” Cooke replied, not breaking my stare. “Was there something you needed, Agent Harrison?”

“No. I’ll have an agent escort you out,” Harrison said.

“That’s not necessary.”

“It is until we’re done with that room,” Harrison replied. A phone appeared in his hand, but not by magic. He’d had it on him, I guessed. He bit out instructions and ended the call. Like magic, a guy in a blue suit appeared.

Cooke smiled at me. “I’d love to have dinner with you, sometime, Miss Casimir. I’m very interested in what you’ve been up to for the last year.”

I bet he was. I smiled my sweetest Southern smile, the one that promised violence. Harrison stood silence, unmoving at my side. I didn’t know if he expected something to happen right there, but he was ready.

“Agent Harrison is invited as well, if you’d prefer an escort.” But he didn’t look at Harrison. His focus was on me. He knew. Somehow, he knew I was bound to Harrison.

Cooke dabbled in information. He made it his business to know everything. And he was letting me know he knew about me, too. Anger burned deep inside my gut.

“Thank you for the kind offer,” I bit out. “Unfortunately, I must decline. I’m working.”

His eyebrow rose as he finally looked at Harrison. “Is that so?”

“Nicola is consulting on a case for me,” Harrison finally spoke.

“Well, she certainly does have unique visions of how things should be,” Cooke said. “Well, I’m starved so I must take my leave.”

I shook my head. “Another time, Mr. Cooke.”

“Of course.” He swept by me, his FMB escort next to him, and kept going, his two little pets hot on his heels. I stared after him. I was a leper to polite mage society. To interact with me was potentially opening himself up to a tabloid scandal or two. But Cooke had not only ignored that but invited me to dinner. He had an angle, I was sure. Maybe he knew more about what had gone on with that room than we did.

I frowned. “Have you talked to the Assembly, Harrison? About this?”

“Of course. I had to get their permission to get in the building with my team.”

Because of the wards. So, whoever had been in that room had to have had Assembly access to get in, and time to set up that circle. I glanced at the path Cooke had taken. Maybe I should have taken the man up on dinner.

~*~*~

Harrisonand I walked out of the building, and the heat of Texas summer drowned me, even though the sun was starting to set. It was September, but summer lasted longer here. It was still a sweltering hundred degrees out.

“I’m going to have the detonator components tested so we can figure out where they were made. Maybe that can lead us to who sold it and who bought it.” He could do that. It would take weeks to pin it down. This was a big display of power, one that the person who created it knew would be discovered. Most of the time, if people put on an opening show, the main attraction isn’t too far behind it. Whatever was happening, it was going to be soon. We didn’t have time to waste on official lab results.

“Or…” I peered up at Harrison carefully. “I could talk to someone myself.”

Harrison’s face rolled into a hard mask of I-Don’t-Like-That-Idea-Already. “Who?”

“I have some friends that are in the arms industry. I could probably find out where the bomb was made and who sold it in a fraction of the time your lab puppies would take.”

“You don’t even use weapons,” he said, deadpan.

“No, but it never hurts to have friends that do,” I replied. “I’ll let you know what I find out.”

“How about I go with you?”

Oh, hell. “No offense, Harrison, but you stink like a cop.”

“I am a cop. You are not. Asking questions like who may have detonated a bomb under a bunch of mages could get you killed.”

“Awe,” I smiled at him. “You’re worried about me. So sweet. Don’t. I can handle it.”

“I’m not worried about you dying. I’m worried about you getting yourself into trouble that might land you back in prison.”

Well, I couldn’t pretend that wasn’t a little hurtful. Harrison thought I’d make a return to my glory days. I drew a breath. “I’m not going to get in trouble.” Master of convincing arguments, I was.

He didn’t say anything.

“Look, you know I ran in some… less legal circles. I still have those contacts. You said, you wanted to pick up where the law left off. I can do that right now. I just need a conversation with a couple people to do it.”

“It’s dangerous.”

“Yes,” I replied. “For you. Because you look and act like a cop. It’s not dangerous for me. I’m one of them.” I side-eyed him as I turned my attention toward the basement entrance of the Assembly Hall, where agents I could no longer see were down there picking up pieces and collecting their evidence. “You’re going to have to trust me if you want this to work. I can’t run. I’ll die too far from your range. You have nothing to worry about from me.”

The skepticism on his face clearly showed his disbelief. He didn’t trust me. Because he was smart. He shouldn’t trust me. I was planning on running the first second I could, just as soon as these bracelets came off. But I knew Ian Harrison. He wasn’t the type to come to someone like me for help. He wasn’t the type to want to pick up where the law left off. He was the pillar of justice. That meant this case was beyond his normal scope and he was worried. I wanted to help him because it would mean my freedom. That alone probably wouldn’t inspire his trust, but at least his working cooperation.

“I still think I should go with you.” Defenses meet hammer. I’d cracked them open just a little bit. I was winning him over.

“Okay, how about you drive me and wait in the car? Then you’ll be there, but you’ll be out of sight, so they don’t spook because there’s a cop asking weird, accusing questions.”

“Fine.”

That was the best I’d get.

I smiled and headed for his car. A second later, he followed, his long strides catching up to me in seconds. “I don’t ask weird, accusing questions.”

I snorted. “Yes, you do.” 

He pulled his keys out as we walked across the parking lot. “Where are we going?”

“Gargoyle Lane,” I replied.

He stopped and faced me. “You’re kidding.”

I shook my head. Gargoyle Lane was one of the most dangerous places in the city. It was a pit of magic and crime. It had once been the richest area of Austin, but during the war, it had become an epicenter of a magic attack and never had recovered. I had a lot of friends there, naturally.

“Stay close to me,” he said. “That place will eat you alive.”

“Okay.”

“Nicola?”

He had stopped a few feet from the car, and now he regarded me carefully, his emerald eyes searching for something he seemed to have found. “You’re not one of them, either.”

I stepped closer to Harrison, running my hands up his chest until they rested on his shoulders. He didn’t move, didn’t react. He let me do it. His chest was firm, defined, even beneath his clothes. His shoulders budged beneath my fingers. Whatever girl he picked was lucky there. The man was built. I lifted my head, raising up to my tip toes so I could whisper into his ear. “You have no idea what kind of monster I am.”

The surprise on Harrison’s face was so worth it. I grinned at him and went to sit down in his car. He stared after me for several long seconds before he shook it off and got into the car with me.

Eventually, Harrison would learn. There was no way out of it. I’d been bred, trained, and honed into a weapon of mass destruction. Everything I was at the very core of my being was monstrous. But at the very least, I could help him crack this case, earn my own freedom, and maybe, just maybe, reclaim a little bit of the humanity that my surrogate father, the General, had drilled out of me.

Author's Note

This book is being posted as is (as in pre-edits) for your enjoyment. So, yeah, there's probably going to be typos and comma abuse here and there (as i do). You can point them out if you want, just be respectful about it is all I ask.

As soon as I'm done writing it, I'll be sending it off to the Editor Lady for a more comprehensive edit before retailers get the book. There could be some changes from the serialized version to the final one, but every patron good standing when it's complete gets the eBook for free for following along on the story's journey and supporting me through this page.

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