Destined to be surrounded by magic yet have none of her own, Cassie walks a thin line between love and danger. Her mother is dying and her boyfriend has turned into something which terrifies her. By the time she wakes up to the danger she’s in, it’s nearly too late.
Cassie’s friend, Jeremy, warns her about her scumbag boyfriend, but she doesn’t listen until deeply disturbing events unfold and her life hangs in the balance. With few choices left, she and Jeremy join forces to battle the darkness threatening them. Meanwhile, Cassie warms to Jeremy in ways she never could have anticipated. Love was there all along if she’d just opened her eyes and looked.
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Cassionetta Ceobbinn sat in her old Subaru and rested her forehead against its steering wheel. Her electronic design work had ground to a halt an hour earlier and a headache pounded behind one eye. The garage of the Capitol Hill mansion rose around her, silent as a crypt. Her mother’s Aston Martin sat off to one side, gleaming white in the semi-darkness. Cassie girded herself to open her car door, grab her things, and go inside. “It’s my house, goddammit,” she muttered to boost her courage. “So what if he sent me a text message not to come home.”
The garage lights came on, blinding her. The door leading into the house crashed against the wall. Before the ringing in her ears subsided, her live-in boyfriend stomped to her car. Well, the live-in part was still accurate. The boyfriend part seemed to have evaporated like so much smoke.
“You weren’t supposed to come home tonight,” he growled. “I texted you hours ago. You can just turn that piece of shit you drive around and go stay at your mother’s office.”
Fury boiled up from her guts. She took aim and opened the car door hard into his midsection, hoping she could clip a ball for good measure.
“Oooph. You little bitch.” He jumped back, rubbing his stomach.
You bet I am. High heels slapping the concrete floor, she jumped out of her car and stood eyeball to eyeball with him. “This is my mother’s house, Tyler MacKenzie. I live here. Or have you forgotten?” Cassie yanked her shoulder bag and computer case off the passenger side of the front seat and stormed past him.
He grabbed her arm before she reached the steps leading into the kitchen. “I have people over. It’s the full moon. I’m leading a séance. Your presence would disturb the energy.”
She twirled to face him, breaking his grip. “You mean you have mother’s clients over. Where is she, by the way?”
He shrugged. “Don’t know. Haven’t seen her.”
Cassie turned away from him. He closed his hand over her arm again, hard enough to make her squeal. “If you don’t let me go,” she snarled through clenched teeth, “I will call the police.”
His fingers loosened marginally. “But, sweetie…”
She heard compulsion beneath his words. Cassie didn’t have any magic of her own, but she recognized it in others. When Tyler had wanted her to fall in love with him, he’d used honeyed words all the time. They’d only stopped once she’d let him move in.
“Can it.” She twisted her head so she could lock gazes with him. “Let me go. Now.” His hand fell away. “I want you out of here tomorrow—”
His eyes narrowed. He shoved long, red-gold hair out of his face and sneered at her. “Fat fucking chance of that. We’ve had this conversation one too many times for my liking. I’m here, and I intend to stay. There’s nothing you can do about it. Unless you want to meet with an unfortunate accident.”
A nasty laugh bubbled past lips she’d once thought were full and sensual. “Of course something like that could happen anyway. If I were you, sweetie, I’d watch my back.”
Cassie shuddered. She swallowed, but her mouth was dry. Maybe she’d underestimated Tyler. Once they’d stopped getting along, she’d seen him as an inconvenience, not a menace. He’d never sounded quite like this before though. There’d been threats, but they’d been subtle, veiled in double entendre.
She squared her shoulders and turned to face him. It was the kiss of death to let bullies know they were getting to you. “I’m done with your crap.” She infused as much venom as she could into her voice. “I will call the police. You threatened me.”
He snorted. “I’d just deny it. They’ll believe we had a lover’s spat. Women are so emotional.” His blue eyes gleamed with an unnatural light.
She blinked. For a moment, he looked like a demon one of her mother’s psychic friends had raised by accident. Cassie knew enough about demons—interdimensional beings which traveled from world to world wreaking havoc—for the idea of them to scare the shit out of her.
Don’t be ridiculous. Ridiculous, ridiculous echoed in her head. I’m seeing things.
Her heartbeat sounded loud in her ears; her hands fisted at her sides. “You’d better get back to your séance. Wouldn’t want any of those high rollers to get away.” He took a menacing step toward her; his mouth was set in a hard line. She sucked in a breath, ready to defend herself.
Thank Christ he spun on his heel and trotted smartly back into the house. Tyler cut an elegant figure with his richly-embroidered gypsy cape, broad shoulders, and classically handsome Nordic features.
Flowing ruby silk pants rode low on his slim hips. No wonder she’d been taken in by him.
Fuming—and scared half to death—she followed him into the house, but turned a hard left before she reached the kitchen and took what had once been the servants’ staircase. It had been stupid to fall for Tyler, one of the dumbest things she’d ever done, but there was no going back. She couldn’t unravel time and choose not to tumble into his arms and his bed. That part was a done deal. If she listened to him, his residency at chéz Eleanora was a done deal as well.
Worry for her mother filled her, obliterating her fears for her own safety. Eleanora Ceobbinn was—or had been—a well-known psychic, but she’d apparently made one too many trips to the far side of the veil. She was still alive, but she hadn’t spoken a word in nearly a year and spent the majority of her time rattling around their old house like a ghost.
Eleanora had come from money—and made plenty on her own—so at least that wasn’t a problem, but Cassie’s mother was definitely fading. It was almost as if someone—Tyler?—were feeding off what little energy she had left.
Unable to shake her earlier sense of foreboding, Cassie shivered. If she hadn’t been holding onto her purse and computer bag, she would have wrapped her arms around herself.
Maybe because she was thinking about her mother—and the house had a mind of its own—she wasn’t surprised to find herself beneath a full-sized oil painting of Eleanora. Lush dark hair ended at knee-level and her haunting violet eyes seemed alive. People had told Cassie she looked like her mom, but she’d never thought so. Eleanora was beautiful—and ageless. Cassie had the hair and the eyes and the striking six foot height, but the effect wasn’t nearly the same.
She still had no idea what had gone wrong the day her mother had checked out. She’d come home from work to find Eleanora sprawled face down on the Oriental carpet in the séance room, candles smoking black gouts of greasy flame. If there’d been clients, they were nowhere to be found.
Her mother had regained consciousness, but that had been about all. Cassie had known better than to lug Eleanora around to a bunch of other doctors with their uncomfortable questions and pained silences after the first one had asked, “Your mother does what for a living?”
Cassie dragged her gaze away from the portrait. As a little girl, she’d believed her mother’s painted eyes were the gateway to a magical world. She’d asked Eleanora and her mother had smiled shrewdly. “Stranger things have happened, child,” she’d said. “It’s best not to test this one.”
Cassie pulled a key out of her bag, unlocked her bedroom door, and then used the voice activated electronics she’d designed to spring the second lock. She was almost positive Tyler was stealing from her, but that wasn’t why she kept her door locked. Even the marginally gifted could wreak havoc if they got hold of your things. Her father, Francis Statton Braxbury, a British seer, had taught her that before his visits to Eleanora had petered out.
Cassie locked her door behind her and tossed her things in a chair. Kicking off her high heels, she sat on the edge of the bed and rubbed her sore arches. This thing with Tyler was way out of control. He’d shown up right before her mother’s accident. Lost in the first flush of sex with a new man, she hadn’t realized it was a shade too convenient that he just happened to be there to snap up all her mother’s clients.
That had been nearly a year ago. Tyler had dropped any pretense of a relationship with her after the first few months, but he’d been marginally friendly—and even polite—until recently. She shook her head, trying to figure out what had changed. It had actually been useful to have him help watch Eleanora, which was why she hadn’t tried harder to get rid of him.
Most of her non-Eleanora time was devoted to developing an electronic version of the Ouija Board because she hoped she could use it to reach her mother. Usually her circuitry was spot on, but for some reason this project had dragged on for months, dogged by one setback after another. It was like everything she’d learned getting her degree in electrical engineering didn’t work quite right. She was still stuck on the basic circuit board design. Until it worked right, there wasn’t much point in designing software or hunting for a microprocessor.
Speaking of which … I need to hunt for Mother. Cassie got to her feet and stuffed them into slippers before heading into the hall. She glanced around nervously before locking her door. Tyler had moved into the guest suite at the north end of the ground floor, but the mood he was in, it paid to be vigilant.
“Mrroww.” Hector, Eleanora’s large, black tomcat, landed lightly not ten feet from her, tail pluming as it swished back and forth.
Cassie jumped. “Where’d you come from?” She bent to scratch his head. The cat arched his back in pleasure. “Do you know where Mother is?”
“Mrroww.” Swish, swish.
“I take it that’s a no.” She turned a wall dial. Crystal sconces lining the long hallway brightened. Polished hardwood with Aubusson runners stretched before her. Leaded glass panes lined the hall. Priceless paintings graced the walls at intervals, interspersed with elegant bronze sculptures. Cassie checked her mother’s bedroom. Empty. Eleanora’s wonderful, earthy scent lingered. It made her heart ache. If ever she needed one of her parents, it was now.
I need to stop feeling sorry for myself. I’m twenty-five, for God's sake. Time to fight my own battles.
Not finding Eleanora anywhere on the second floor, Cassie mounted the stairs to the third. She heard faint chanting coming from downstairs and wondered whose dead relative was on the hook tonight. She believed in the spirit world and had always trusted Eleanora to hold the gates. Her faith in Tyler’s ability to do the same was pretty truncated.
Oh my God. Is that how he’s planning to hurt me? By proxy?
Her heart slammed against her chest. It was hard to breathe around the thickening in her throat. Some spirits could do a lot of damage, mostly through suffocation or running people off cliffs…
“Stop it.” She spoke out loud to get a grip on what was starting to feel a lot like out-of-control panic. “Just find Mom. Make sure she’s okay.” It did occur to her that if Eleanora were truly missing, it would give her the perfect excuse to clear out all the New Agers at the séance and call the police.
There were seven bedrooms on the third floor. Eleanora was in the one at the far end of the hall, staring out its large windows into the night. Cassie left the bedroom lights off. Enough illumination filtered in from the hall which was twin to the one on the floor below. “Mother?” She crept forward and laid a hand on Eleanora’s arm. Her mother flinched and shook her off.
Cassie’s eyes flooded. Even though her mother wasn’t really rejecting her, it still hurt. Especially now that she felt so alone and vulnerable.
Cassie looked around. Hector sat in the doorway, ears pricked forward. She hadn’t realized he’d followed her.
Eleanora turned and went to the cat. Maybe his non-human frequency was easier for her to respond to. He twined himself around her legs, purring for all he was worth. She reached down and petted him and then drifted into the hall like a sleepwalker. Cassie thought about trying to talk to her mother again, but gave it up for wasted effort. Either Eleanora couldn’t hear her, or she couldn’t answer.
Her mother was dressed all in black as always; her skirts swirled around her as she walked. Cassie followed her back to the second floor and breathed a sigh of relief when her mother went into her bedroom and shut the door behind her. The snick of the deadbolt was loud in the silence of the hall.
“Mrroww.” Hector’s tail swished faster. He looked annoyed. The cat lifted a paw and left a long scratch in the wood next to Eleanora’s door.
“It’s okay. You can sleep with me.”
Cassie strode the few feet to her own room and unlocked the door. Hector raced inside. Who knew? Maybe the séance made him just as uncomfortable as it made her. The rise and fall of voices from below hadn’t abated. She pulled the door shut and secured it, wishing she’d inherited some sort of magical ability. Almost anything would be helpful. Telepathy to read Tyler’s mind. Clairvoyance to peek into the future. Medium skills to raise spirits to protect herself—or harm him.
She strode across the room and pawed through a bottom drawer, coming up with a dog-eared card. It was one of the last birthday cards her father had given her before he’d declared her too old for such nonsense. She dug a small, flat crystal out of the envelope. Her father had said if she ever needed him to hold the crystal in her hand and think of him. He’d told her to plan ahead because results wouldn’t be immediate, and she might have to do it more than once.
Cassie stared at the clear stone with amber flecks deep inside. She set it down, unzipped her black wool skirt, and let it pool around her feet. Her green cashmere sweater came next. She bundled both up and took them to her closet where she hunted down some hangers. Grabbing purple sweats off the floor, she pulled them on and returned to the table where she’d left the crystal. Her hand hovered over it before she picked the crystal up again.
What about fighting my own battles?
To hell with that. What about being so stubborn I end up dead?
Hector jumped onto the bed and groomed himself. She flopped down next to him and kicked off her slippers. She didn’t want to bother her father in London unnecessarily—cripes, she hadn’t seen him since she was ten—but the escalating tension between Tyler and her was more than a little unnerving. I need help, but it’s not fair to involve anyone else. Cassie blew out a tense breath. Her magical heritage had been quite effective at sealing her off from casual friendships. She’d always been afraid something would slip, and the person would think she was crazy.
Rubbing her temples—the headache was behind both eyes now—once again she considered involving the police. Even if she got them to chase Tyler off, unless she hired a bodyguard, he’d probably worm his way back into the house. And then he would kill her, as retribution for calling in the law if nothing else. Tyler had a pretty sweet deal. One he planned to hang on to. He’d made that patently clear in the garage.
Wonder why it’s taken me so long to figure out how toxic he is?
Feeling like a gullible idiot, and a weak one at that, she let the stone warm in her hand and thought of her father.
Cassie didn’t realize she’d fallen asleep until her standard ringtone—“Ode to Joy”—sounded from the depths of her shoulder bag. Staggering muzzily across the room, she located the phone and punched answer without focusing on the display.
Her eyes widened. “Jeremy? What time is it?”
“Past midnight. Sorry to wake you, but—”
She picked her way back to the bed, cursing when she stepped on one of the high heels she’d discarded earlier.
“Are you all right?” He sounded worried.
“Uh, yeah. Just stepped on something sharp. Give me a second to get back under the covers. It’s cold in here.” She pulled the duvet up to her chin. “Okay, all set. What’s up?”
“I just got this feeling…” His voice trailed off again.
Cassie sat up straighter in bed, not feeling sleepy at all anymore. Something in her friend’s voice was … unsettling. Jeremy was almost her only friend; she’d known him forever. Psychic like her mother, he definitely marched to his own drummer. “Whatever it is, just spit it out. Sometimes it’s easier that way.”
A sigh rattled through the cellular network. “It’s hard to explain, but I felt something and thought you were in danger.”
Cassie sucked in a breath. For the briefest of moments she considered telling him everything but then reined herself in. No point in getting Jeremy riled up about Tyler’s threats. This wasn’t really his problem. Besides, she was embarrassed about fessing up to her own stupidity. Yeah, I was so desperate for a guy to want me, I didn’t read the fine print.
“Cass? You’re pretty silent over there. It is not making me feel any better.”
“Huh? Oh,” she forced out a light laugh. “Tyler held a séance earlier, but I’m sure they’ve mostly left by now. I could go look—”
“No!” The single word thundered in her ear.
“Okay, okay. You don’t have to shout at me.”
“I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to.” He cleared his throat. “I probably shouldn’t have bothered you. Promise me you’ll stay in your room until daylight.”
“Sure.” Confusion and an uneasy sensation made her feel ill.
“Call me tomorrow.”
The sick feeling did not get any better. Jeremy had never felt the need to check on her before. “I’m spending all day working on e-Ouija.”
“Okay, I’ll call you. Sleep well, Cassie. Sorry to wake you.”
He wasn’t there. She clicked end call and shut off her phone. To her surprise, she could barely keep her eyes open. Then she realized he’d probably cast a spell to make sure she stayed in her room. Damn it. Last thing I need in my life is two meddling men using magic to control me.
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