HIS DARK MAGIC A Northern Circle Coven Novel
LYRICAL PRESS Kensington Publishing Corp. www.kensingtonbooks.com
To the extent that the image or images on the cover of this book depict a person or persons, such person or persons are merely models, and are not intended to portray any character or characters featured in the book. LYRICAL PRESS BOOKS are published by Kensington Publishing Corp. 119 West 40th Street New York, NY 10018 Copyright ÂŠ 2018 by Pat Esden All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews. All Kensington titles, imprints, and distributed lines are available at special quantity discounts for bulk purchases for sales promotion, premiums, fundraising, educational, or institutional use. Special book excerpts or customized printings can also be created to fit specific needs. For details, write or phone the office of the Kensington Sales Manager: Kensington Publishing Corp., 119 West 40th Street, New York, NY 10018. Attn. Sales Department. Phone: 1-800-221-2647. Lyrical Underground and Lyrical Underground logo Reg. US Pat. & TM Off. First Electronic Edition: December 2018 eISBN-13: 978-1-5161-0630-1 eISBN-10: 1-5161-0630-X First Print Edition: December 2018 ISBN-13: 978-1-5161-0631-8 ISBN-10: 1-5161-0631-8 Printed in the United States of America
Chapter 1 Earth. Air. Fire. Water. —Inscribed into a white candle Chloe padded barefoot across her apartment to the altar on her windowsill. She struck a match and lit a candle. Its light shimmered over a row of crystals and washed into the darkness beyond the open window. “Spirits of air,” she intoned, holding out her hands. “Guardians of thought and intent, grant me your presence today. Spirits of fire, guardians of will and passion…” A gust of wind sent autumn leaves whirling through the darkness and rustling against the window’s screen. She stopped chanting and cupped her hands around the candle, shielding it from the breeze. She shivered. There was a sense of foreboding in the air, a whisper and a chill that a witch like her could not ignore. Someone else with powers was close by. And they were thinking about her—at least that’s what her intuition murmured. She glanced out the window. There was no one in the tiny parking lot, one story below. The windows in the house next door stood dark and silent. She caught a whiff of bacon and hash browns, but the smell was faint and not unexpected. It was almost five-thirty, breakfast time for the couple upstairs. Quiet as could be, she tiptoed past her bed and a stack of textbooks to the studio apartment’s front door. She opened it a crack and glanced out. The hall light was on, its brightness fanning across the hallway between her and the main staircase. But the doors to the other two apartments on her floor were shut, everything dead silent.
Remembering her candle, Chloe swiveled back. “Out,” she whispered, flicking her fingers to send a burst of energy at its flame. The flame obeyed, only a thread of its rosemary-scented smoke trailing behind her as she opened the door all the way and crept down the hallway, the hairs on the back of her neck prickling. When she reached the top of the staircase, everything was still quiet. But after a moment, a faint thump-thump echoed up from the foyer below. Thump-bang. Bang. Chloe froze, her breath knotting in the back of her throat. It was as if someone had leaned into the front door, hard shouldering it to see if it would give way. She waited, listening for the noise to happen again. One long second passed, then another. She gritted her teeth and took a cautious step downward. Her ear caught the swish and clink of something being slid through the mail slot, followed by a hum of magic. Not daring to breathe, Chloe snuck down the stairs far enough that she could see the foyer and the front entrance. A narrow envelope lay just inside the door, as white as moonlight against the worn floorboards. She glanced at the window set into the front door. No one was looking in or lurking in the shadows on the porch, so she sprinted down the rest of the stairs and snatched the envelope. Even before she read who it was for, her intuition screamed that it was addressed to her: Chloe Winslow The ink was black. The handwriting neat and controlled. Perfectly centered. But it wasn’t an envelope. It was handmade, paper folded and held shut by a disk of gold sealing wax stamped with an N surrounded by a circle. She nudged the seal with her index finger. Energy crackled off of it, snaking up her arm. She gasped. Powerful magic. She was certain of it, though if any of the other tenants had found the letter and touched the seal, they wouldn’t have felt a thing. Adrenaline pumped into her veins. A month ago, she’d moved out of her parents’ house in Connecticut to take prerequisite courses at the University of Vermont before applying for medical school. In all those weeks, she hadn’t encountered any other true witches or magic. No way in hell was she going to let someone drop off a thing like this and then escape before she could meet them. She shoved the letter into the waistband of her yoga pants, unlocked the front door, and charged out onto the porch. Her gaze flashed to the
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left. Parked cars lined the dark street. But no one was getting into or out of any of them. The swish of someone striding through fallen leaves came from the opposite direction. She wheeled and caught a glimpse of him. Definitely a guy, striding down the sidewalk through a glimmer of streetlight. Broad shoulders filled out his dark quilted jacket. Khaki chinos. Lean. Athletic. Confident. Chloe’s long legs took the porch stairs in a single leap. She sprinted down the sidewalk after him, leaves scattering beneath her bare feet. The guy jogged between two parked cars and crossed the street. “Wait!” she shouted. He slowed and glanced back. That was all the time Chloe needed. She willed her legs to go faster and in a dozen strides caught up to him and snagged his sleeve. His eyes met hers. He looked to be maybe twenty-four or -five. His darkbrown hair curled at the nape of his neck. Deep, brown eyes. Muscular. Classy. Gorgeous. His magic purred in the air around him. She gulped a breath and toughened her voice. “You owe me an explanation.” His gaze traveled over her slowly, from her bobbed honey-blond hair, past her makeup-free face and stretched out T-shirt, down to her stormyblue painted toenails, then back up to her eyes. Dimples formed as his lips twitched into a roguish smirk. “Not afraid of confrontation, are you?” he said. His voice was warm and deep, liquid danger spiked with an undercurrent of confident innuendo. It sent an excited shiver up her arms. Still she glared at him. “First of all, I suspect you dropped off that letter at this time of morning because you knew I’d be awake and sense you. That means you’ve been spying on me.” “Is that so?” He shifted closer, his magic sweeping her skin. Her legs weakened. Desire thrummed low in her belly. Dear Goddess, this hadn’t been one of her brighter moves. Maybe she could snuff out a candle with a flick of her fingers, but with seemingly no effort his magic had aroused every inch of her. Clearly, he was extraordinarily gifted—and not just with working spells. She let go of his sleeve, retreated a step, and found herself trapped against a cedar hedge. He cocked his head. “Why don’t you open the letter if you’re so curious?” Her fingers obeyed, sliding it from her waistband—
She stopped. What the heck was she doing? She’d felt the magic crackle off the seal. If she broke it, there was no telling what kind of spell might be activated. Chloe pulled herself up to her full height and looked him square in the eyes, which wasn’t that hard to do. He was probably five-foot-ten, but she was only a couple of inches shorter even in bare feet. “I’ve got a better idea. How about if you tell me what it says?” He frowned as if the idea didn’t appeal to him, then surprisingly he stepped back and shrugged. “All right, if you insist. It’s an invitation from the Northern Circle coven. Have you heard of us?” “Umm—no.” Her pulse quickened, renewed wariness pumping into her blood. Her parents had mentioned a few older hereditary witches who lived in this area, but never this group. “It’s to a party. A meet and greet. A chance to see if you might be interested in joining us and if we think you’re a good fit.” He rubbed a hand down the sleeve of his jacket as if deciding whether he should say more. Finally, he went on, “We’re dedicated to finding ways to access ancient knowledge. Through out-of-body travel, retrocognition…” He studied her face carefully, as if watching for her reaction. She pressed her lips together, refusing to give him one—though what he’d said totally enticed her. Amusement twinkled in his eyes for a second, then he continued. “We believe there are cures to modern diseases and conditions that have been lost to time. The wisdom and magic of Imhotep, Hippocrates, even Merlin.” He smiled, slyly. “You are interested in medicine, right?” Her wariness evaporated and that thrum jumped to life again deep inside her. But this time it had nothing to do with sex. Magic. Medicine. Secrets lost to time. None of the classes she was taking or anything she’d come across at the university were even remotely as exciting as this. She folded her arms across her chest. “Of course you’d know I’m interested in that. You’ve been keeping tabs on me.” “I—we haven’t been spying on you. You don’t always use protection spells. We picked up on your energy. That’s one of the ways we find new potential members.” He stopped, his jaw tensing as if he were holding something back. She pinned him with a steady look. “And?” He grimaced. “All right, we have contacts in administration. We may have checked your college records as well: graduated from a community college, taking additional prerequisites before applying for medical school.
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Top-ten test scores. Not a great apartment. But somehow you scored it last minute.” Now he sounded like her father, using his connections to screen potential employees. She thrust the letter out. “If this is all so innocent, then why don’t you open it? Or does the seal bother you?” He laughed, tugged the letter from her fingers, and broke the sealing wax. The welcoming scent of sage and lavender perfumed the air, and a trail of green firefly-like sparks twinkled upward, swirling around before vanishing off toward the brightening eastern horizon. “Better now?” he said, handing the open letter back to her. She skimmed it, nibbling her bottom lip. Even in the dim street-light, she could see he’d told the truth. It was an engraved invitation signed: Athena Marsh, high priestess, Northern Circle. “You can take a city bus—or text Athena if you want a ride. She’ll probably ask me to pick you up, but she’s the one doing the organizing. This is her pet project,” he continued. “You won’t be the only newbie. No one will force you into anything.” His voice settled sugar-sweet in her ear. Medicine. Magic. A chance to gain the knowledge from ancient physicians, scholars, and sorcerers. Perhaps even pick the wizard Merlin’s brain. How could she say no?
For one young witch seeking redemption, the Northern Circle coven will challenge her skills—and her heart—beyond measure...