The Key of Darkness

TKOD mini

The Bradbury Institute Book One

At the Bradbury Institute, a private organization dedicated to the study of magic and the occult, adventure and romance are the best benefits.

Eve Kane had one last task to perform for her late employer: deliver a locked box to a mysterious organization. But when the box is stolen, she finds herself down the rabbit hole, pulled into a world of magic and danger – and people who might not only accept her psychic gifts, but help her understand them. How far is she willing to go to finally find a place where her gifts are an asset instead of something to be feared, a place where she can be herself?

Pete Cadkin’s job as head of security for Bradbury is to retrieve the stolen box, the contents of which are a supernatural loose nuke known as the Key of Darkness. The true purpose of the ancient grimoire is murky, but it’s far too deadly an artifact to risk letting it fall into the wrong hands. Pete is eager to do whatever it takes to get the grimoire back, until it looks like the best way to do that is to use Eve as bait. She’s too soft, too beautiful, too appealing to the dark corners of himself he’s struggled to keep hidden.

The stolen ancient spellbook is bad enough trouble, but Eve Kane could open up the Pandora’s box that is Pete Cadkin’s secret past. And if that happens, all of Bradbury could find itself in the crosshairs of a dark sorcerer.

Chapter One:

Eve Kane paced the hallway slowly, her heels clicking on the parquet floor. She smoothed her skirt again, though it didn’t need it, then touched a nervous hand to the back of her chignon. Mrs. Delafield had been dead a week and this was to be Eve’s last day employed by the Delafield estate. She was giving herself a week off, an almost unimaginable luxury, after which she had a job lined up through a temp agency. Boring office work, certainly nothing like being personal assistant to Mrs. Delafield. Eve only had the job for a year and though at Mrs. D’s advanced age her death wasn’t a total shock, Eve still felt herself at loose ends. Mrs. D was a demanding employer, keeping Eve busy seven days a week at all hours of the day and night. But it had frequently been fun work too, and Mrs. D could be every bit as fascinating and charming as she could difficult and irascible.

Eve had to admit she’d miss the old woman.

The door to the study opened and various Delafield family members spilled into the hall. Most of them ignored her, a few gave her a kind nod or smile, but two gave her looks of pure venom: John and Louise Delafield, the middle son and daughter-in-law of the late Rebecca Delafield. Eve kept her face impassive, not wanting to give them the satisfaction of any hint they rattled her composure. It took a great deal of effort, though. Her stomach clenched. In her head she began to count in French-an old technique she used to help focus at times of anxiety. She was going to miss Mrs. Delafield and a lot of things about this job, but not dealing with those two.

“Miss Kane.” One of the lawyers leaned out the door, gesturing for her to enter.

Eve walked past John and Louise as if they weren’t there. To her surprise the team of lawyers left the room, the last one closing the door behind him. Arnold Glassman, Mrs. D’s personal attorney, left his seat behind the large antique desk. Eve relaxed, putting her hands in his when he approached.

“How are you, dear?”

“I miss her already. I keep checking my phone expecting a message and it surprises me every time when there’s not one.”

Arnold led her to the settee and poured them both a cup of tea from the service on a low table. Smiling, he said, “I could have strangled Knox when he taught his grandmother how to use a Blackberry. Of course, he thought it highly amusing when she started issuing orders by text message at all hours of the day and night.”

Eve sipped her tea. “She talked about him a great deal, but I never met him. I’m surprised he didn’t come home for the funeral.”

A shadow crossed the attorney’s face. “Knox always loved his grandmother, but, well…”

“It’s okay, you don’t have to say anything.”

Mrs. D had been quite willing to complain at length over how poorly John treated his son, her favorite grandchild. The young man had been living in Europe for several years, partly to escape his overbearing parents.

Arnold moved the conversation forward. “Rebecca included you in her will, Eve. She bequeathed you a generous sum of money and one of her pieces of antique jewelry. During your employment you were always paid by direct deposit, so that’s how you’ll receive the funds she left you. It will be in your bank account by the end of business today. And I am to give you this.” He withdrew a small, black velvet box from the inside pocket of his jacket and held it out for her.

Eve placed her cup on the table and took the box. Tears sprang to her eyes when she saw the ring, a milky opal set in a delicate gold filigree. It was a piece she had admired both for its beauty and the story of its acquisition. It was a tale Mrs. D loved to tell; equal parts scandalous and delightful, and she’d especially loved how it made Eve blush. The late Mr. Delafield had spent a few years of rebellious, youthful folly in Paris, where he met a beautiful dancer who swept him off his feet. Hiding his wealthy background, he proposed to Rebecca with the opal ring. She accepted initially, then fled when she discovered the truth of his upbringing. It took a year, but he eventually found her working as a showgirl in Vegas. Mrs. D’s favorite part of the story was their torrid backstage reunion.

Smiling, she said, “I know exactly what message Mrs. D meant to send with this.” The tips of her ears burned and she hoped she wasn’t blushing. Eve had no intention of wearing the ring, at least not at this moment. Its latent energy reverberated of passion, something Mrs. D always insisted Eve needed more of in her life. She closed the lid, clutching the box tightly in one hand.

Arnold said, “There’s one more thing.”

“What is it?”

“You know she had a safe deposit box where she kept some of the especially rare antiques in her collection.” Eve nodded. That was about all she knew. Mrs. D never divulged what was in the box. “Those items are being donated to a place called The Bradbury Institute. Rebecca’s will states that Knox is to handle the matter but in his absence she wanted you to do it. She was quite adamant that only the two of you be allowed access to this safe deposit box, both in the terms of the will and in person when she was dictating those terms to me.”

Strange. Mrs. D never mentioned anything called The Bradbury Institute. “Tell me what I need to do and I’ll do it.”

“The arrangements are very specific and I’ve got everything ready.” All trace of humor had left his demeanor. She didn’t know what to make of that. “A car and driver will take you to the bank. A bank manager will assist you with the box, though they are not to touch the contents. Mrs. Delafield’s instructions are for you to hand carry the contents to the institute. The place is just outside of Wayfaring. It’s a two hour drive and there will be no stops along the way, so we’ll get you some dinner before you go.”

“I have to go tonight?”

“She wanted this taken care of as soon as possible. If Knox had been here it might have even happened before the funeral. I’m sorry if you have plans for tonight, but I can’t keep hoping he’ll show up.”

“Oh, it’s fine. All I had planned was Chinese food and a good book.”

“You are entirely too young and beautiful for such a boring Friday night.”

Now she did blush. “What would Mrs. Glassman say if she heard you say that?”

“She’d agree with me and try to set you up with our nephew. Now let’s get you that Chinese food and get you on your way.”

They rose and Arnold escorted her to the door. She paused as he opened it. “What is The Bradbury Institute? Is it some sort of historical society?”

He wouldn’t meet her eyes. “Something like that, yes. But not precisely.” He swept an arm out. “Shall we?”

Eve nodded. This might not have been the strangest thing Rebecca Delafield ever asked of her, but it was certainly the most mysterious.