Magic Misled – Keri Arthur

Samuel Kang was the picture of classic male perfection—oval-shaped face, chiseled cheekbones, and an extremely engaging smile. His shoulders were lovely and wide, his frame lean but muscular, and he had long legs that looked damn fine in close-fitting jeans—the very first thing I’d noticed when he’d walked through our café’s door. The second thing I’d noticed—when my gaze had finally wandered back to his face— were his eyes. They were mono-lidded and the most glorious shade of emerald green, which meant—despite the fact he had the crimson hair of a royal witch—there was a smidge of human somewhere in his background. Full-blood witches had silver eyes—even mine were now that color, though they’d initially been the exact same shade as his. Unfortunately, Samuel Kang hadn’t walked into our café to enjoy a coffee or a cake, and he certainly wasn’t in the Faelan Reservation to spend time in one of the famous spa resorts. He was here to catch a killer. And I was very much a suspect. With good reason, of course. I might not have actually killed Clayton Marlowe, but I’d certainly helped orchestrate it. “I have to say, Mrs. Marlowe,” his voice deliciously deep and melodic, “that you’re the furthest thing from a grieving widow I’ve ever seen.” I raised an eyebrow. “He was my husband in name only. The marriage was never consummated and was recently annulled—as you’re no doubt aware.

And my name is Grace. Lizzie Grace.” “Indeed.” Another smile flirted with his lips. I tried my best to ignore it, as I suspected he used his charm and good looks to disarm. “Tell me, in your own words, what happened that night.” “Why?” My voice was flat. “Hasn’t a ‘death by unknown supernatural entity’ verdict been given?” “By the coroner, yes. That doesn’t mean the case is closed or that all parties involved should not be brought to justice.” Great.

Just great. I picked up my hot chocolate and took a sip. Belle—who was not only my best friend and co-owner of the café, but also my familiar—had liberally laced it with whiskey, and it burned all the way down. While it did help ease the inner uncertainty, it was a damn good thing I wasn’t driving home tonight. The mug was large, and drinking it all might well put me over the limit. “You’ve no doubt heard the recordings by the Black Lantern investigators,” I said, “so you already know everything I did and said that evening.” The Black Lantern Society was a group of witches, werewolves, and vampires who worked behind the scenes to right wrongs and bring justice to those who escaped it—via whatever means necessary. They also had an arm that worked openly in the courts, and had both psychic auditors and truth seekers on their books. The latter pairing had not only recorded my memories of the events leading up to my disastrous marriage, but also everything that had led to Clayton’s bloody and brutal death. Technically, you didn’t actually tell them everything.

Belle’s comment whispered through my mind, her tone gently amused. Because you totally omitted the vital part Gabe, Katie, and the wild magic played in it all. How you managed to conceal all that, I have no idea. At the very least, they should have been aware there were memories they couldn’t access. Maybe our connection had something to do with it. I wasn’t telepathic by any means, but she was my familiar. That not only made mind-to-mind communication possible, but also allowed us to draw on each other’s strength—something we’d been forced to do more than a few times over the past months. Maybe, after all these years, some of your expertise has rubbed off. Magic might work that way, but psychic powers don’t. She paused.

Or, at least, they shouldn’t. But this reservation doesn’t seem to like the words “shouldn’t” and “impossible.” Considering you gained precognition after we merged to oust the White Lady from your body, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility. No, but it could also be the presence of the wild magic. Which was another distinct possibility. My mother had unknowingly been pregnant with me when she’d been sent to control a newly formed wellspring. Though she’d been successful, the effort had almost killed her. It most certainly should have killed me. Instead, the wild magic had somehow infused with my DNA, becoming a deeply hidden force that had waited years to be unlocked and unleashed. The first cracks in those inner locks had appeared the night Clayton tried to rape me.

They’d been utterly smashed the night he’d died. I had no idea what the true consequences of that would be, but I could feel the wild magic within even now. It was a river of white heat that pulsed through my body like blood. “I have indeed heard everything the Society have in their possession,” Samuel said. “But I’d still like to hear it all again, this time in your own words rather than as a telepathic memory recording.” “To repeat, why?” He raised an eyebrow. “Because the High Witch Council wishes their own record of events.” “So they can twist the facts to suit whatever decisions have already been made, no doubt.” “You have a rather cynical view of the council.” I snorted softly.

“My parents are—or were—members of that council. I like to think my views are realistic.” Another smile tugged at his lips. They were really lovely lips. “The sooner you comply with the request, the sooner I’ll be out of your way.” Annoyance flickered through me, but I nevertheless gave him a rundown of everything that had happened during the final confrontation between Clayton and me, but once again omitting the part Katie and Gabe had played in it all. I’d rather be arrested than reveal the fact that not only was there a ghost guarding a second wellspring here in the reservation, but that ghost had bonded the soul of his werewolf wife to the wild magic itself. Her influence and power were now spreading across to the reservation’s main wellspring, but none of us knew what would happen if she gained full control over both— or indeed if that was even possible. “You were aware of the vampire’s presence when you walked out of that house, were you not?” Samuel said. It was interesting he didn’t actually name said vampire.

I’d certainly made no attempt to hide Maelle’s part in all this. “Yes.” “Then why didn’t you stop it?” “For one, I didn’t have the physical or magical strength to fight a gnat let alone a very old and very powerful vampire. And two, why on earth would I? The bastard deserved exactly what he got.” My quick smile held little humor. “If I’d been present when he’d died, I would have danced with glee through his fucking remains.” “Because of what he did to you the night of your marriage?” “Because of what he did to Belle.” He made a show of checking the file in front of him, though I doubted it was necessary. “That would be Isabelle Sarr?” “Legally, her surname is Kent.” And though Belle was seriously considering reverting back to her birth name, I never would.

Between Clayton’s actions and my father’s, the thought of becoming a Marlowe again was vomit inducing. “But Clayton didn’t only torture Belle,” I continued evenly, “he was responsible for the explosion at Émigré that killed eight people and injured dozens of others.” “That connection has yet to be determined.” I snorted again. “Because the council’s not actually trying all that hard to do so, are they? Let’s be honest here—Clayton would never have faced justice for what he did to me or Belle or anyone else. He was too powerful—and had far too many friends in high places—for the case to have ever reached the council’s court of justice.” “That’s not actually true, given your father was one of his victims, but even so, you had no right to be judge and jury.” I studied him for a second. “Have you got a familiar, Samuel?” Surprise flitted briefly through his expression. I suspected it was the first “honest” one I’d seen.

“Please, call me Sam, and yes, I do. But I don’t see—” “And you’re connected telepathically to your familiar?” “Of course, but—” “Then imagine a scenario where your familiar is being tortured, and every ounce of their pain and suffering echoes through you. How would you feel? How would you react? Would you sit back and wait for the law to show up? Or would you do everything in your power to free your familiar, even if that means sidestepping the law?” His expression gave very little away. I wished I knew what he was thinking, but the damn man was wearing the latest electronic gadget that guarded against telepathic intrusion. I could probably get past it, Belle said. She was hiding in the reading room—where we did the psychic portion of our business—to keep out of his sight. But it’d take more time and effort than is probably worthwhile at the moment. Besides, it’s not like he’s hiding all that much—not when it comes to those jeans or indeed the investigation. A comment backed by the fact the file sitting wide open on the table in front of him not only contained the coroner’s report and his own notes, but various witness reports. He didn’t seem to care if I could see them.

It does make me wonder if it’s deliberate. Maybe he wants me to check them out so I can fashion my answers to suit. That hardly makes sense given the statements you’ve already made. It does if my father is placing pressure on them to drop the investigation. Her snort echoed sharply through my brain. I doubt even your father has the gumption to interfere with this investigation—not when his own actions are also being looked at. Those actions being forcing me into a marriage against my will when I was still underage. Why else would Samuel bother mentioning my father, then? Remember, the last thing he actually wants is me being charged as an accessory to Clayton’s murder. It’d play havoc with his latest scheme to marry me off for the benefit of the family. Knowing your father, you landing in jail wouldn’t actually stop his machinations.

That, sadly, was all too true. The only thing that really mattered to him was the family’s position as the most powerful in Canberra. Of course, he also cared—rather greatly—about his own reputation, which was no doubt why he’d temporarily stepped down from the council and was now playing the “my best friend tried to kill me” card. It was simply all an effort to garner sympathy and overshadow the fact he’d illegally forced his underage daughter to marry his second cousin. But even if they do decide to arrest you—and I seriously doubt Samuel’s here to do that—it’s not like he can get you off the reservation. Thanks in large part to my connection with the wild magic within the reservation—and yet it was a restriction we’d never really tested. I’d certainly left the reservation for a day or so, but we only had the word of a ghost and my own intuition saying anything more permanent would be rejected. I’d still rather avoid being arrested, thanks very much. I’d rather you avoid that, too. Having to visit you in jail would get old real quick.

Not to mention play havoc with my social life. Because you have such a busy dating schedule these days. My voice was dry, and she laughed. I’m working on it, but I’m also totally over werewolves at the moment. Shame we’re in a werewolf reservation, then. I paused. I guess there is always Monty. Who wasn’t only the reservation’s resident witch, but also my cousin—and the only relative I actually liked. I’ll ignore that comment. Which was a step up from her usual threat to do me damage after similar teasing comments in the past.

And while it might not be an admission she actually liked him, their relationship had certainly taken a giant leap forward after Monty had not only stepped up to protect Belle, but had floored Clayton with the best punch I’d ever seen anyone throw. She was now openly going out with him, even if she wasn’t yet willing to admit they were dating or an item. “I guess in such a situation, there are very few of us who wouldn’t act as you did,” Sam said. “That does not make it right, however.” I took another sip of chocolate. “Does that mean you’re here to arrest me?” “No, I’m here to question all parties involved and to examine the various crime scenes. Nothing more, nothing less.” “But your recommendations will determine what happens next?” “In part.” He pressed a button on his phone and stopped the recording. “In truth, there has been some pressure on the council to let the matter slide.

” “From my father?” He smiled. It really was a lovely smile. Just as well my heart was taken, or I might have been tempted to flirt. “Surprisingly, no. It’s actually coming from Clayton’s family, who do not wish his behavior to become a matter of public record.” “Because it would reflect badly on them.” “Yes.” I studied him curiously for a second. “I suspect I’m not supposed to know that, so why say it?” He made a small shrug. “Because I can sympathize with your situation.

” “Really?” My disbelief was evident, and he smiled again. “Perhaps I’ll explain why over coffee one afternoon.” “I work most afternoons.” “I meant here, of course. I’m told you make the best coffee in town.” “We do.” “Then we’ll talk again soon.” He rose, gathered his files, and headed for the front door. I followed him—my gaze admittedly more on the butt his jeans hugged so damn lovingly—and locked the door once he’d left. “Well, that was all very odd.

” I made my way back to my chair and picked up my hot chocolate. “I think he needs to grab some lessons from Aiden on how to properly interview a suspect.” “It’s not like they haven’t already got a full record of your actions when it comes to Clayton.” Belle came out of the reading room and went behind the serving counter. Like most Sarr witches, her black hair was long and straight, and her eyes bright silver. She was a smidge over six feet tall and had the build of an Amazon. Stunning was a word often used to describe her and one that was well deserved. “Maybe he really is here to follow up on what happened at Émigré and interview all the victims. The resulting reports might just be enough for the council to decide justice—however brutal—had been dispensed. You want a piece of cake?” “If that’s not the stupidest question of the year, I’m not sure what is.

” She grinned. “Hey, it was only yesterday that you actually said no to a brownie.” “Because it was eight in the morning and I had a hangover.” “Serves you right for partying all night.” “It wasn’t all night.” Just most of it. It wasn’t every day your boyfriend turned thirty, after all, and it had to be celebrated in style. So I’d booked us a luxurious room and an eight-course dining experience with never-ending champagne at a five-star hotel down in Melbourne. To say it was a glorious evening would be another of those understatements. Of course, there was a “proper” party this weekend with all his friends and family, but it was being held within the grounds of the O’Connor compound.

I wasn’t a werewolf, so I definitely wasn’t on the invite list—which was no doubt the plan when his bitch of a mother had presented it as a fait accompli two weeks ago, just as I’d been getting out of hospital. I suspected she’d hoped I’d be so upset that I’d split with him but, in reality, it was just another indication that she really didn’t know me—or even her son—all that well. The more she tried to pry us apart, the closer we became. “Speaking of newly ancient boyfriends,” Belle said, reaching for another mug. “Yours is just about to shove his key in the door.” I frowned and glanced at the clock. It was just gone six. “He was supposed to be working until eight.” “Maybe he decided to leave early so he could rush you home and have his wicked way with you.” Home now being his house in Argyle.

We’d moved most of my stuff there a few days after I’d gotten out of hospital, and he’d spent the rest of that week cosseting me. I rather liked being cosseted. “A girl can only hope.” I rose and headed for the door, then basically threw myself into his muscular arms the minute he stepped through. He caught me with a grunt, kissed me thoroughly, and then said, with a wicked twinkle in his blue eyes, “Now that is a welcome a man can get used to.” “I wouldn’t,” Belle said. “I mean, you’re old now. All that excitement and passion can’t be good for your heart.” “I’ll remind you of that when you turn thirty.” His voice was dry, and she laughed.

“Which is a good year off yet. Plenty of time to get some action in before the senile years set in.” “Senility isn’t generally a problem werewolves face, thank God.” He pulled out the chair next to mine and sat down, his nostrils flaring lightly. “That drink is more whiskey than hot chocolate. Any reason why?” I wrinkled my nose. “We just had a visit from the high council’s chief investigator.” “I’m guessing that would be the witch I just saw leaving, then?” “Deliciously hot witch would be a more correct term,” I said. He raised an eyebrow. “I have competition?” The smile playing around his lips was warm and confident.

A man who knew exactly where he stood in my affections. “If you don’t play your cards right, yes. Especially when he wears a pair of jeans almost as well as you.” “I’m relieved by the modifier.” He thanked Belle as she placed a coffee and a plate of brownies in front of him. “What did he want?” “He’s here to interview witnesses and follow up on the bombing. I dare say he’ll probably want to speak to you at some point.” “I dare say.” He didn’t look overly concerned by the prospect, and with good reason. Werewolf reservations were self-governing and self-policing.

Had Aiden taken an active part in delivering Clayton to Maelle, there might have been problems, but he hadn’t even known about it. He’d been too busy dealing with the bloody mess left behind at Émigré by Clayton’s bomber. “Though the witch council is in full receipt of all our reports to date.” “The council apparently does not want to rely on the conclusions of others.” Belle returned with her drink and two cakes—black forest for me, and a banana bread cheesecake for her—and sat down. “We suggested it’s because they want to twist the facts to suit their already drawn conclusions, but Sam denied it.” Aiden raised his eyebrows again. “Sam?” She nodded. “He was very quick to get on first-name terms with our girl here. I suspect he was more intent on flirting than fact finding.

.

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