Witchlight

Witchlight x 190

Book Two of the Magic Born

In 2066, the Magic Born are segregated in urban reservations. The laws do not protect them, or their allies.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Marsden is a powerful player in New Corinth politics, but a closely guarded secret could destroy her life—she’s a hidden Magic Born. Her family has gone to great lengths to erase all her magic-related records, until a trancehacking outlaw discovers the last remaining one…

Vadim Bazarov smuggles Magic Borns through the underground railroad and threatens to reveal Elizabeth’s secret unless she helps him access blank ID cards. Elizabeth wants to hate him for having a stranglehold on her life, but can’t help being attracted to someone so sure of who and what he is.

Vadim initially sees her as a political ice queen, but is intrigued by her suppressed magical abilities. He trains Elizabeth to use her magic, and before long finds himself falling for her. But their newfound love may be shortlived; an anti-magic ordinance forces one of them to make a choice that will change both their lives for good.

Chapter One:

Vadim Bazarov began his day with a wicked nightshade hangover and three guns pointed at his head. He stubbed out his cigarette on the metal table of the interrogation room. “If you’re going to drag me out of bed this early, the least you could do is offer me coffee.”

Agent Grant stood behind three uniformed officers holding guns. “It’s noon, hardly early.” He sneered. “I’ll start bringing coffee to the likes of you the same day I start wiping your ass.”

Vadim smiled. “Everybody’s got their kinks. Interesting to know another one of yours. Which one does it for you best, wiping asses or hitting women?”

Grant stepped out from behind the uniforms and came at Vadim with a shock baton, striking him in the sternum. The two-foot-long device delivered less voltage than a stun gun but was still powerful enough to cause a lot of pain if concentrated in the same spot long enough. The initial burst of current knocked Vadim out of the rickety chair. His hands flat on the dank concrete, he kept himself steady as the current coursed through his nerve endings and danced along his skin. Grant stood over him and hit the button again, an obscene glint in his eyes. The idiot had no idea the jolts of electricity were better for Vadim than a week at a spa and a cocktail of the finest drugs combined. It lit him up inside, burning off the hangover and making up for the lack of sleep.

Somewhere in the flash of blue-white current, the Enchantress of Numbers whispered to Vadim in a language of ones and zeros. Vadim reached out and listened intently to what she had to say. Someone in the room had a device capable of internet connectivity on them. Narrowing his focus, Vadim found it. Grant had a cell phone clipped to his belt.

Vadim wanted to smile. The DMS agent was going to pay for getting him up so early.

Grant waved the baton over Vadim’s head. “Still feeling like a smart-ass, witch?”

Vadim adjusted his vest and jacket and ran his hands through his hair while settling himself into a more comfortable position with his back to the wall. “What can I do for you, Agent Grant?”

Somewhat mollified, Grant paced a short path between Vadim and the armed officers, bouncing the baton on his palm. “Where were you last night, right after midnight?”

“My club. Plenty of people saw me.” Sinsuality had been packed last night. He knew from overhearing gossip that the university had just finished midterms, which accounted for the higher-than-usual number of Normals in the dance hall. Grant would know that too, though, and that Vadim had been seen several times during the night. If this was serious they would have searched him before throwing him in an interrogation room, and they hadn’t done that. Casually, Vadim stretched his legs and placed his hands in his pants pockets.

“Oh, I’ll be checking that. You can be sure. But here’s the thing, Bazarov.” Grant came to a halt directly in front of Vadim.

One sweep of his legs and Vadim could have the agent on the floor. Then he’d wind up shot to death, so he set the temptation aside. He had a better idea anyway. “What’s the thing?” he said, not having to fake his lack of interest. In his head he carefully recited a chant to activate the barely visible strip of carbon nanomaterial affixed to the short, antique touch screen stylus he used as a wand and kept in his pocket. The addition was an extravagance, but it would absorb the light normally created by trancehacking, the spell acting as a funnel that would draw the excess energy bleed into his wand. Satisfied it was working, he kept his eyes on the agent and the bulk of his concentration on the agent’s phone. If he could have touched the device, he probably wouldn’t have needed the stylus. As dumb as Grant was, though, even he wasn’t dumb enough to hand over his phone to just anyone.

“I think you know.” Grant knelt, placing the business end of the baton on the concrete and leaning one hand on the other end. “About what’s been going on.”

Vadim closed his eyes for a count of three and reopened them. Blue-white lines coalesced in his vision as he slipped partially into trance, hacking into Grant’s phone with practiced ease. A quick flip through the apps brought him to the agent’s banking site.

Vadim allowed himself a small smile. “I don’t know what you’re talking about and I’m getting sleepy. Cut to the chase.” Voices sounded underwater and the room had taken on a pale blue glow.

Grant turned a mottled shade of purple, tapping the baton on the floor. “There was another disturbance in the city last night. A bunch of witch punks hid their cowardly faces behind glamours and put on a light show in Rockenbach. And I’m betting you know who those punks are.”

One of the first spells Vadim had developed when he began trancehacking was a simple decryption spell. It had served him well for years and he used it now. “I’m just an ordinary businessman, Agent Grant. I do my best to stay away from unsavory elements.” He silently congratulated himself on being able to say that with a straight face. “But I am curious. Why do you care what happens in the Rock? It’s a slum. Full of Normals, yeah, but still, a slum.”

Grant leaned forward. “I care because it’s my job, witch. Practicing magic off the zone is strictly illegal and the punks that are doing this, they’re going all over the city and doing it.”

“What makes you think I know anything about it?” A series of lights flashed in cyberspace as the decryption spell found the password and briefly superimposed it over realspace. Vadim blinked to sharpen his focus. The next part would be tricky. If he used too much energy, it could cause both the phone and the app to react badly, confused by the strange signals. Gently, he pushed his will through the phone, the app and cyberspace to take a peek at Grant’s bank account.

“You like to pretend you’re just a businessman, but nothing much happens in FreakTown without you knowing about it or giving the okay. So why don’t you cut the bullshit and tell me who those punks are?”

Grant’s account was still flush from being paid. The last time Vadim had done this it had been after the agent’s rent was due. Slim pickings that day. He closed his hand tighter around the wand and cast a spell to move money from Grant’s account into a secret one of his own, first hopscotching the funds through several dummy accounts. This was a newer spell and so far nicely lucrative.

“Even if I did have the kind of knowledge and power you attribute to me, Agent Grant, keeping up with petty pranks wouldn’t exactly be a priority.”

Grant reached into a pocket and dropped a small red-and-black package on the ground. “There’s nothing petty about what’s in that.”

Vadim took a closer look at the box. His pulse ticked up a notch. Cyber and realspace ran together as he nearly lost control of the trance. “Isn’t that a deck of cards? A poker game seems like a small thing to roust people over.”

Grant used the baton to nudge the pack closer to Vadim. “Open it and see for yourself.”

Vadim had intended to leave Grant rent money. Instead he tamped down his anger and sent another spell, this time cleaning out the account. “I’d rather not, thank you.” He kept his hands firmly in his pockets.

The agent moved the baton under one arm, then picked up the pack. He opened it, withdrawing a white card with a government logo and a magnetic strip over an RFID chip embedded in the plastic.

Fuck.

“Not a playing card, huh, Bazarov? Know what this is?”

Vadim knew exactly what it was and where it came from. “I have no idea.”

“ID cards, ready to be imprinted with data. You have any idea how much blank ID cards might be worth? What somebody could do with this?” Grant wagged the single card. “Much less a whole pack full of these things.”

“I imagine that would be worth quite a lot, if anybody could do anything with them. But you’d need tech to do that, wouldn’t you?” Vadim shrugged, his vision wobbling for a moment as he ended the spell. “I’m just guessing. It’s not like we know much about that sort of thing.”

Grant issued a derisive chuckle. “Oh, nobody thinks you people could do anything with these cards. Growing vegetables and doing laundry for rich people is more in line with your abilities. But if you could make a buck off selling these things, it wouldn’t surprise me to find you all over this.”

If only he had the time, Vadim would have loved to turn off the agent’s utilities. He filed the idea away for another day and backed out of cyberspace. The room came into sharper focus, the light harsh and pounding. “Sorry to disappoint but I don’t know anything about this.”

Grant watched him for a moment, then returned the card to the pack. “A city cop tangled with those witch punks, almost caught one. The cards fell out of the punk’s pocket in the fight. Up until now these kids have been a nuisance but they haven’t hurt anyone. Now they’re gonna get hurt when they get caught, and they will get caught. Mark my words, Bazarov.” The agent stood, pressing the baton against Vadim’s chest but not pushing the power button. “This isn’t something somebody can bribe their way out of.”

Vadim held up his end of the staring contest. His lips twitched into a tiny smile. “Surely you don’t mean to suggest the fine, upstanding agents of the Department of Magic Security could be bribed. Or members of the New Corinth police department.”

“We all know one cop you don’t have to bribe.” Grant smirked.

The implied threat to his friend Nate Perez, and by extension Calla Vesper, made Vadim swallow his attitude and keep his mouth shut. He kept the smile on his face though.

Grant laughed. “You comfortable there, witch? Because it might take a while for someone to have the time to process you out.”

“Fine with me,” said Vadim. “I’ll take a nap.” He leaned his head against the wall and closed his eyes.

Moments later the shuffle of feet and slamming of the door told him he was alone. They’d keep him for hours just to be dicks. He’d bide his time, go home when they let him. Then would come damage control.

Actually, first would come chewing a chunk off that punk Tyler’s ass. Vadim didn’t care about Tyler and his merry band of junior miscreants putting on displays of guerilla magic in the city, but losing his blank ID cards was not acceptable. The last thing the railroad needed was more suspicion.

He’d paid a lot of money for those cards too. Good thing he’d stolen so much from Grant.

**

The dance hall pulsed with multicolored witchlight in time with the music. Vadim made the rounds slowly, greeting everyone he knew and a few he didn’t. By eleven o’clock he’d had enough of establishing an alibi and schmoozing with people. He made his way to his private apartment in the back of the club and from there into the secret tunnel that led to the FreakTown hub of the underground railroad. He nodded at the witch babysitting the handful of people taking refuge for the night as they passed through. In a few hours a sojourner would lead them on the next leg of the journey. This group was leaving the country by way of a coastal port hundreds of miles away. They still had a long way to go, a lot of hardship ahead. Their fee would help pay for supplies needed on the trip, bribes and documentation. Passage on a container ship to Brazil. Some had paid to go all the way to Australia. Others had barely had the money to cover breakfast. The railroad covered the rest with a combination of donations and outright theft.

Vadim entered a small meeting room. A scrawny fourteen-year-old boy with a shock of acid-green hair sat slumped with his head on his arms at the table. Vadim resisted the temptation to dump him out of the chair. Instead, he leaned over and bellowed nonsense words in the kid’s ear.

Tyler woke with a shout, falling out of the chair. “What the fuck, man?”

“What the fuck, man?” Vadim repeated incredulously. “Are you fucking kidding me? Do you have any idea how much your carelessness cost me? Cost the railroad?”

Contrition briefly wiped the surliness from Tyler’s face. “Okay, yeah. I screwed up.” He stood up, righted the chair and sat. “I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”

“It damn sure won’t. You and you little buddies are done. No more magic displays in the city.”

Tyler shook his head. “Hell, no. I just won’t do it again when I’m on a job for you.”

Vadim stood behind Tyler’s chair. “You won’t do it again at all. It was cute at first. I can appreciate publicly thumbing your nose at Normal law. I certainly did my fair share of that when I was your age.”

The kid said, “Shit. I don’t want to hear ancient history, old man.”

Vadim grabbed a handful of hair and yanked. “What was that?”

Tyler swore. “Look, look. I didn’t mean to call you old.” He tried to push Vadim’s hand away. “Let go, already.”

Vadim gave Tyler’s hair another yank. “I mean it. No more showboating. Not when you’re on a job. Not when you’re out on your own. And your friends won’t be doing it without you either. Last night was the last time.” He let go of the boy’s hair and slapped his head forward.

“You can’t tell me what to do when I’m not working for you. I won’t stop. Neither will my friends.”

“Are you stupid or something?” Vadim sat on the table, arms folded across his chest, and looked down at the kid. “It’s bad enough the cards were lost. The real problem is that they were found. By a gods damn cop, no less. Now the New Corinth police and DMS agents are gonna be all over any remotely suspicious Magic Born. And they’re gonna be on the lookout for you and your punk friends.”

Tyler swallowed, the enormity of the problem clearly starting to sink in. “I messed up bad. I shouldn’t have been doing it after a pickup. I know that now. I told you, I won’t do that again. But we’re not gonna stop.”

The stubbornness of youth—it made Vadim want to break something. Preferably over the brat’s head. Using kids for simple errands like pickups and deliveries, running messages and other assorted things had seemed like a good idea when he’d started it years ago. They didn’t need to be paid much and they generally scared easily, despite the bluster of teenage attitude. Tyler had been a problem from the start though. He asked too many questions and had the appalling gall to make suggestions. As if Vadim needed the advice of a fourteen-year-old punk to run his affairs. Still, he was a good kid. Smart. Resourceful. He always got the job done. But if he was going to get careless, it might be time to cut him loose.

“What the hell is this with you and your friends? The witchlight displays, the spelled graffiti, all the other crap. Why are you doing this?”

Tyler shrugged. “People like it.”

“People like it? What people? What does that even mean?”

“Have you been in the city when we do it? Seen how people react?”

Vadim blew out his breath in a loud exhalation and rubbed his temple. “No. I’ve seen a little on the news about it. Scaring Normals may have its charms but you’ve got to know when to quit, Tyler.”

“But that’s just it! Normals aren’t scared! Well, okay, some of them are. But most of them, they love it. They love seeing what we can do with magic. It’s no different than the ones who come to Sinsuality. The ones that buy charms and spells on the black market.”

“Sinsuality is safely in the zone, and the black market is underground. Normals don’t want magic thrown in their faces. That’s why our kind got herded like cattle into zones in the first place.”

Tyler stared at his hands, balled together on the table. “You don’t know what it’s like out there anymore. You stay inside the zone, you stay busy with the railroad. You don’t know.”

“Tell me what I don’t know, kid.” Vadim couldn’t decide if he was genuinely curious or just humoring the boy.

Tyler looked up and met his eyes. “Things are changing. More and more Normals, they’re not afraid of us. Of magic. That’s why we do it.” He looked away, faint pink staining his pale cheeks. “To show people magic isn’t something to be afraid of.”

“I thought you were just stupid but it’s so much worse,” Vadim murmured. “You’re an idealist.”

“So what if I am?”

“Tyler.” Vadim paused, not sure what to say. “What do you think this stuff is going to accomplish? Really? Have you even thought about it?”

“I don’t want to live in a zone my whole life. None of us do. And I know some Normals. They’re my age. I met them at the arcade in the Rock. None of them ever want to have a family. One guy, his cousin joined the military just so he could try to go AWOL. His leg got blown off in the Congo instead.”

“What does that have to do with anything? Start making sense, kid, or I’m gonna find another runner and you can go back to working in the orphanage kitchen for ten bucks a week.”

“I’m just doing the same thing you’re doing with the railroad. Peaceful protest.”

Vadim thinned his lips into a hard line. “So that’s where this is coming from. You’ve been going to those esbats the council elders have every month. I have to listen to this shit from Zinnia, I won’t hear it from you too.” Another one of his orphan protégés, Zinnia was now an adult who worked as a midwife. She had routinely annoyed him with nonsense ever since she started attending the old-fashioned esbats.

“They’re not wrong. And it’s working. We’re getting people on our side.”

“What you’re doing is pissing off law enforcement and drawing far too much attention to yourself and to my operations. For fuck’s sake, you’re fourteen. Shouldn’t you be out trying to get laid for the first time and, I don’t know, wasting hours in the arcade? What are you doing hanging out with the elders and listening to their addlebrained nonsense?”

“It’s better than being doped up on nightshade all the fucking time. We had another OD in the orphanage last week, did you know that? A twelve-year-old. You want to know why a fourteen-year-old is going to old-style esbats and listening to the elders talk about peaceful protest and nonviolent resistance? Try asking why a twelve-year-old thought her future was so fucking bleak she didn’t care if she fried herself on nightshade.” Tyler stood, awkward in ill-fitting clothes. His patched jeans were an inch too short, and an overlarge Silver Wheels T-shirt billowed around his painfully thin frame. His knowledge of the background story was limited, but Vadim knew Silver Wheels was the eponymous main character of a popular new game. That’s how Vadim had discovered Tyler and his trancehacking ability—the kid was a regular at an arcade not far from the zone. When Vadim went looking for Magic Born gifted with electric magic, the arcade was the first place he searched.

Tyler’s baby face was at odds with the words that came out of his mouth. “Fire me if you want. I’m not stupid. I know I screwed up and I know I can’t take a risk like that again. But I won’t stop. A lot of Normals really do like it. And the ones that are scared of a little harmless magic?” He snorted. “Fuck those cowards.”

It was hard for Vadim to argue with that. Putting on a witchlight show was a much healthier way of dealing with things than some people chose. All of the frustration and anger and yes, even rage, that could so quickly build up from the constant demoralization of living in the zone had driven a lot of kids to violence and drugs and anything else they could find to bury their feelings. He would never tell the boy, but Vadim had put on a few shows of his own, once upon a time.

None of this solved the problem of the lost ID cards. “You’re working for free until I say so. And you’re going to stay far away from trouble until the authorities are over their fit about those cards. Stay away from Grant too. He’s sniffing around like a dog looking for a place to piss.”

Tyler nodded. “We can take a break for a while.”

“Oh, that’s very magnanimous of you. Dipshit. Now get out of my sight before I change my mind.”

The kid left in a hurry, not even trying to hide his grin.

Vadim had had his fill of talk about the esbats from Zinnia and a few others. He’d thought them harmless but seeing the fervor in Tyler’s eyes changed his mind. Too much hope was a dangerous thing. It made you think about tomorrow. In his experience, tomorrow was just another replay of yesterday, and there was nothing to look forward to in that.

**

City Councilwoman Elizabeth Marsden stared into her tea mug as her staff droned on about the next week’s events. Her chief of staff, a dour middle-aged man named Michael Carger, broke through the haze of inattention by bringing up the last thing she wanted to talk about.

“Ordinance number 88257 will come out of committee soon. We need to talk about how you’re going to vote, Lizzie.”

Lizzie continued to stare into her tea for a long moment. “The people I represent are not going to want me to vote for that ludicrous piece of legislation. You know that.” She lived in the university district, a vibrant community that thrived in large part because of the school. The area managed to be both upscale and bohemian, attracting educated young professionals as well as various types of artisans and boutique owners who did business with the Magic Born.

Senior policy aide Duane Mendoza spoke up. “As soon as it comes out of committee and people find out about it, there’s going to be protest.”

“Protest?” Carger glared at the younger man. “From who? Magic Born? They wouldn’t dare.”

“Business owners, for one.” Mendoza tapped the large tablet in the middle of the table, sending a batch of files to another computer. “A significant portion of the city’s small businesses depend on trade with Magic Born customers to stay afloat. Small grocers, entertainment venues of all kinds, raw materials wholesalers.”

Carger tapped his fingers impatiently. “They get food rations, plus they have their own stores in the zone. Their own restaurants and that godforsaken nightclub. I don’t know what this raw materials nonsense is you’re talking about, but I seriously doubt it would affect Normal businesses that much. There are plenty of places in town with a No Magic Born policy.”

“Raw materials like cloth and craft supplies. For their own use and to sell in the bazaar. The bazaar, I might add, is a huge boon for the city’s tax coffers and might as well shut down if this ordinance is passed. And there are also plenty of businesses that don’t have that policy.” Mendoza bristled with anger. He and Carger routinely butted heads. It could be annoying to listen to, but hearing both sides of every single argument that came before the city council came in handy.

Except this time.

Carger said, “So there’s some pushback from small business. It’s the bigger businesses that want this law passed.” He looked at Lizzie. “It’s important to come down on the right side of this. A vote like this is about more than just today. It’s about the future.”

The future Carger wanted for her involved higher office. The state legislature, the U.S. House of Representatives, perhaps even the Senate one day.

“Yeah, let’s talk about the future.” Mendoza tapped the tablet quickly and efficiently, sending more files on their way, probably to her computer. “The university district is overwhelmingly young voters. I don’t have to do any polling to tell you they’re not going to be happy with this if it passes. You vote for Two-Five-Seven, this is likely your last term.”

“Oh, come on,” Carger said. “You really think a bunch of college kids care that much about Abnormal trash?”

The slur hung heavy in the air. Its weight pressed against Lizzie from the inside out, the first stirrings of a pressure she knew to be dangerous. She tightened her grip on the mug and dropped her eyes to the table for a moment before raising them again.

Mendoza fairly dripped with contempt. “As long as the law consigns some of their children to the zone, yes, I think they’ll care. I think they’ll care a hell of a lot.”

“People with far more money and influence want this law passed,” Carger said. “You may think you’ve got your finger on the pulse of the city or whatever the hell by talking to half-stoned college kids in coffee shops and nightclubs, but nobody cares what they think. They may or may not remember to show up to vote, but they damn sure don’t make campaign contributions.”

“That’s all this is about to you? Money?” Mendoza sputtered with indignation. “We’re talking about people’s lives.”

“We’re talking about keeping Abnormal filth off the streets. A bunch of them put on another disgusting display in a Rockenbach slum the other night. The police can’t stop them. DMS can’t stop them. We’ve got to get this in hand before they get out of control. Two-Five-Seven will do that.”

Mendoza started to interrupt, but Carger held up a hand. “No, hear me out. It’s not going to hurt anyone so try not to blow this out of proportion. Any of them with a work permit will still be permitted off the zone. The ordinance will keep them out of Normal businesses and homes otherwise, and keep Normals from entering the zone without a special permit. That’s all.”

“Small business—”

Carger snapped, “Will have to get over it.”

Lizzie closed her eyes, light flashing behind her eyelids. She blinked it away, reaching for the core of ice she’d been building steadily since her teen years.

“Jennings AgriCorp,” she said in a quiet voice that nonetheless demanded attention, something else she’d cultivated over the years. “Is that one of the large businesses that supports this ordinance?”

To his credit, Mendoza kept the smirk off his face while Carger appeared pained to answer.

“Yes,” said the chief of staff. “They are one of the biggest supporters of it.”

Lizzie said, “Meaning Brice Jennings?”

Carger nodded.

Lizzie said what no one else in the room wanted to. “Amelia Jennings ran off with her Magic Born driver. A family employee, which means under this law they still would have been able to see each other. They didn’t meet in a club or the bazaar or any of the places that would be off-limits to Magic Born under this ordinance. So what does Brice Jennings think the point of this law would be, other than to punish both Magic Born and Normals who in fact did not run off to Mexico with his much-younger wife?”

Carger wilted under her cold gaze. “This has been devastating for him.”

“Really?” Disdain, when used properly, could be as effective as a knife. “Then why is he already looking for wife number three when it hasn’t even been a year since wife number two ran away with the help and wife number one?” Lizzie paused, tilting her head slightly. “What was it that happened with wife number one? Gossip can be so tedious, I just can’t keep it in my head.”

“We’re going to need Brice Jennings to get reelected, no matter what happens with this vote,” Carger said. “Not only that, we’ll need him to help us lay the groundwork for the future.”

Lizzie drew another layer of ice over her feelings, tired of Carger and his plans for her future. “I’ll decide what I need and how I’ll vote. You may have the ear of the country club and boardroom set, but Duane’s right. As soon as that law comes out of committee and goes public, small business owners will be up in arms. Every council member who votes for it will lose almost all voters under thirty. And just what about closing the bazaar and what that will do to the tax base? That’s an awful lot of revenue to wipe out just to mollify one man’s ego.”

“Brice isn’t the only one who supports this,” Carger said. “And it’s hardly about one person. Those people are coming into Normal parts of town and showing off their magic. We can’t allow that to continue.”

Mendoza said, “They haven’t hurt anyone. So far all they’ve done is entertain people.”

“And when they start setting off bombs again? How entertaining will that be?”

Lizzie wrapped her other hand around the mug, twining her fingers together until they hurt. “It’s been decades since there was any Magic Born terrorism.” Her head began to pound, her heartbeat loud in her ears.

Carger slapped the table. “This law will help to keep it that way.”

Mendoza started to argue. Lizzie cut him off with a sharp look. “I’m not committing either way until it’s public and we know what the people want.”

“So you’ll be wanting polling?” Mendoza sounded miffed but not surprised.

“Yes,” she said. “And if no one else asks for it, I’ll be asking for a study of what this will do for the city’s tax revenues.”

Carger said, “I really think we should talk about—”

“We’re done,” Lizzie snapped. “It’s late and I’m ready to be home. I’m sure we all are.”

Everyone but Carger jumped up to leave, no doubt glad to be through for the day and through with this conversation. Mendoza nodded as he left.

“They think I’m a coldhearted bastard,” Carger said with a chuckle. “I am. I’m also right. You’re going to have to vote for this, Lizzie.”

“I’ll lose my seat on the council. You know that.”

“It won’t matter. The support you gain will get you in the state legislature. This is a long game.”

“It’s not a game. You may not like to hear it but Duane’s right. In fact, I’d say he didn’t go far enough. This is going to enrage people.”

“Some of them, yes. But it’s necessary. These laws need to be strengthened while we can.”

For the first time since bringing up the damned ordinance, Carger spoke to the real heart of the matter, whether he wanted to admit it or not. People like himself and Jennings were afraid. They saw themselves losing control as more and more people lost the old fears of magic and the ones born gifted with it. Or cursed, as her mother used to say.

That was the wrong line of thinking. Thoughts of her parents were never helpful in maintaining her calm, and above all else she needed to stay calm at all times. Calm as a floe of ice on the sea, she thought as she latched on to an old method, picturing it in her head. Frozen in a contained, safe state. They’d sacrificed so much for her. Protected her, from others and from herself. Staying calm, staying contained, was one of the best ways to honor their memory for everything they’d done for her.

“I said I wouldn’t make a decision so soon and I won’t. Go home, Michael. It’s been a long day.” She sipped her lukewarm tea, refusing to look at him.

Abnormal trash. Abnormal filth. The pressure ticked in her head, one degree closer to dangerous. Looking at him, after hearing him say those words, could send the tension into overload. Instead she watched the tablet. A news ticker scrolled along the bottom. File headings ran in three columns on the left side. A few smeared fingerprints marred the touch screen surface. The desktop image designed to show the current weather shimmered with rain falling on the cityscape.

Carger packed away his own tablet and briefcase and bade her good evening.

Lizzie sat completely still for several minutes. The pressure built slowly, steadily, a heavy fullness in her head and her chest that threatened to spread if she didn’t do something about it. The room was empty, the door closed. Keeping one hand wrapped around the tea mug as if it could provide an anchor, she raised her other hand over the tablet. The skin facing the device immediately warmed. Electricity crackled between her fingertips and the screen, thin blue lines of power that glowed like lightning over the image of rain.

Quickly, she balled her hand into a fist and held it to her chest, nails pressing hard into her palm. Heart pounding, breath coming in short gasps, she waited for the pressure to ease. Finally it did, replaced with layer upon layer of icy control. The vibration of magic lingered underneath. It always did, no matter how hard she worked to suppress it.

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Witchlight was selected for Library Journal’s Best Books of 2014 list!


Text Copyright © 2014 by Sonya Clark

Cover Art Copyright © 2014 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited

Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. Cover art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved.

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