Authors: Diana Pharaoh Francis
Table of Contents
Trace of Magic
“Best book of the year! Best new character of the year! Best new series all year! I. Loved. This. Book. You gotta read it.”
New York Times
bestselling author of the Jane Yellowrock series
Trace of Magic
caught me up fast and pulled me in tight for a fun, action-and-sass adventure full of deadly magic and dangerous romance. Diana Pharaoh Francis delivers a downright terrific read.”
Devon Monk, nationally bestselling author of
“A vividly written world of magic and kick-ass action.”
D. B. Reynolds, author of The Vampires in America series
“Wonderfully fun read! The perfect mix of magic, sleuthing, action, and romance—with a likeable, wise-cracking heroine in a dangerous, well-developed world. I couldn’t put it down.”
—Barb Hendee, co-author of the Noble Dead Saga
Other Bell Bridge Book Titles by Diana Pharaoh Francis
The Diamond City Magic Novels
Trace of Magic
The Crosspointe Chronicles
The Black Ship
The Turning Tide
The Hollow Crown
Edge of Dreams
Diamond City Magic: Book 2
Diana Pharaoh Francis
Bell Bridge Books
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons (living or dead), events or locations is entirely coincidental.
Bell Bridge Books
PO BOX 300921
Memphis, TN 38130
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-61194-578-2
Print ISBN: 978-1-61194-585-0
Bell Bridge Books is an Imprint of BelleBooks, Inc.
Copyright © 2015 by Diana Pharaoh Francis
Published in the United States of America.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review.
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Cover design: Debra Dixon
Interior design: Hank Smith
Woman (manipulated) © Haywiremedia |
Woman (manipulated) © Avgustino |
Background (manipulated) © Leeloomultipass |
To Mom and Dad, who gave me everything.
Diamond City had been hit with snowstorm after snowstorm. Every single one brought a foot or more of snow. The stuff was piled twenty or thirty feet deep in some places, and the city was dumping truckloads of the stuff into the river as fast as trucks could haul it. Most of the main streets had been plowed, but the side streets hadn’t been touched. I’d been getting around on snowshoes for the most part, and the subway. I’d have gone out and bought a snowmobile, but apparently everybody else had had the same idea. My name was on a waiting list for the next shipment. It couldn’t come soon enough. I was tired of being frozen.
“Here. This will help.”
I grasped the coffee cup like it was the elixir of the gods, which it was. I sipped and groaned. Sweet, creamy warmth spread down into my frozen core.
“C’mon. I’ll help you get your coat and boots off. You’ve got a new client waiting out front.”
Patti shoved me down onto a wood bench in the mud-slash-storage room at the back of the Diamond City Diner and started digging at the boot’s laces to loosen them.
“Stop,” I told her, taking another swig of the coffee. I didn’t even care if I scalded my tongue. As cold as I was, I would gladly have stood in the middle of a raging inferno just to warm up. “You’ll break your nails.”
“Screw my nails,” Patti said, but she paused to check them all the same.
I grinned. Patti is my best friend and half owner of the diner. She stands about five foot three in her stiletto heels, which she wears without fail. Otherwise she’s just scraping four foot eleven. She’s also tough as razor wire. She’s got several black belts in an assortment of martial arts, and she wouldn’t back down from a starving grizzly bear. But her nails were her pride and joy.
I set my coffee on the bench and bent over with a tired groan. The laces were crusted with ice and frozen stiff. I wasn’t going to get them off until they thawed out. Instead, I unzipped the sides of my snow pants and shimmied out of them. I unzipped my jacket and handed both over to Patti. She hung them on the line stretched across the back room.
I bent my fingers around my cup again and leaned back against the wall. I was starving, but most of me was still numb from the cold.
“Is this blood?” Patti demanded. She spun around. Her only concession to the cold was a pair of indigo tights instead of fishnet stockings under her tight miniskirt. “Are you hurt?”
“Not really,” I said. “It’s nothing. It was barely even a knife.”
“Barely a knife? It was enough of one to cut you, wasn’t it? Let’s see.”
She dropped my coat and grabbed my arm to pull it straight. I was still too cold to feel any pain.
“What the hell happened? Who did this?”
“I was looking for that surgeon. The one who went missing a couple of months ago.”
“Right. I remember the case. The wife was in here a few days ago. All designer glitz and dripping money. I think she had a chauffeur.”
I nodded. “That’s the case.”
I’m a tracer. I can see the ribbons of light that everyone leaves behind and follow them. I can even see trace off dead people, which had been one of my biggest secrets, right up until a month ago when I’d been outed in front of the biggest Tyet kingpins in Diamond City—think mafia with magic. I’d come out of the proverbial closet with a big bang. I might as well have rented a billboard. The janitor in the local 7Eleven probably knew what I could do by now. Since then, my private tracer business had gone through the roof. Now I could charge a grand for an hour’s worth of work and still turn people away. As far as I knew, there wasn’t another tracer in the world who could track dead trace. That’s why the surgeon’s beautiful and plastic wife had come to see me three days ago.
Today had been the first day I’d had time to go out to track him down. The wife seemed to be hoping he’d turn up dead. Most people thought he was dead. She probably wanted the insurance that came with a death certificate. I told her I was too busy for her case, but I’d read his trace and at least let her know if he was alive or dead. Not that my word would hold up in court. I wasn’t a bonded and licensed death authenticator.
She’d handed me his running shoes. I’d been about to tell her the happy news that he was alive and send her on her way, when she mentioned the kids. That got me. My dad had disappeared when I was around sixteen. Just
! Vanished. He hadn’t left any trace behind, which was . . . impossible. I still don’t know what happened to him. I figured the surgeon’s kids deserved to know what happened to their dad. I took the case and then went under the knife, so to speak.
“He was down in the Bottoms, of all places.” I braced myself for Patti’s reaction. She didn’t disappoint.
? And you followed him? Alone? Crap on a cracker, Riley! Do you have a death wish or something? You’re lucky you didn’t end up worse off than this.” She shook my arm for emphasis.
I winced as pain began to wake in my flesh. “It’s not like I haven’t been to the Bottoms before,” I said by way of an excuse. I shouldn’t have bothered.
“Let me understand this. Being stupid once deserves repeating it again and again until someone kills you for real? Is that it? For fuck’s sake, Riley, you’re wanted, now. You’re like the tracer messiah. There’s no one you can’t find and everybody wants a piece of you, whether you like it or not.”
She let go of me and tossed her hands in frustration. “Why do I even have to say this? You know it better than I do. Every Tyet crew has been nosing around here looking for you, not to mention the FBI, CIA, NSA, Homeland Security, and every other agency on the planet. Given what you can do, most everyone would rather see you dead than working for someone else. You seriously have to start looking out for yourself better. Did you at least shoot this asshole? Or did he just knife you and get away with it?”
I tipped my head back and looked at the plaster ceiling, exhaustion weighing me down. “It was the surgeon. He came at me with a scalpel.” He’d been hiding in a shack down near Helo’s, a ramshackle juice joint that served homemade liquor and surprisingly decent food.
Diamond City is built on the side of an ancient volcanic caldera. The higher you go, the more money you’ve gotta have to live. The people who lived in the Bottoms were dregs—those who’d fallen off the diamond dole, or who needed a place to hide from the Tyet or the law. My job took me down there fairly often. More often than Patti would ever know. What she didn’t know didn’t hurt me.
“What’s he doing down there? Why did he attack you?”
“I expect the answer to both questions is Sparkle Dust,” I said, and the words left a bitter taste in my mouth that the coffee couldn’t clean out.
“Sparkle Dust?” Patti repeated. “But—Why? He’s got money and a family. Why would he get on that stuff?”
I shrugged. “Who knows? Maybe he wanted to find out what talent felt like. Maybe he just wanted to feel good.”
Sparkle Dust was an ugly new drug made from minerals found only in the Diamond City caldera. The stuff supposedly made the user feel invincible and orgasmically good, to hear dealers tell it. Plus, it gave those with magical talents extra, if temporary, abilities. Fat lot of good that did. The drug-induced abilities were totally unpredictable. For people without any magical talent, they got to experience it for a brief time. ’Course, without any knowledge or skills in using that magic, they often killed or maimed themselves.
As if all that wasn’t bad enough, the drug had another side effect—this one fatal. It turned the users into what the street had come to call
. I didn’t know much more about how that worked, except users turned translucent from the outside in, fading away until they just vanished off the face of the earth. As Hollywood as that sounded, it seemed accurate. At least, you didn’t trip over a lot of dead SD users lying around the streets.
“You know, that shit is expensive,” Patti pointed out. “You wouldn’t think he’d have to go to the Bottoms to find it. You wouldn’t think anyone in the Bottoms would have any to sell.”
That fact had been bothering me, not that it really mattered to my case. “He was holed up in a little flophouse.” Sometimes those houses provided sexual company, but this one was just a warm place to sleep for a couple of bucks. Dirty, sleeping bodies had been squished inside like sardines. “I hadn’t realized he was dusted at that point. I went inside to see if I could talk to him.”
I ignored Patti’s sound of disgust. It
been stupid, but it’s not like I had options.
“When I put a hand on him, he jumped up and came at me with that scalpel.” I’d scrambled out over the sleeping bodies, leaving him raving and stabbing at anyone who came near him. I hadn’t even realized he’d got me until I was out the door. But one thing I’d seen for certain despite the gloom was the telltale opalescent shine of his teeth and the shadows of muscles and bone beneath his skin. He was going wraith.
I sucked down the rest of my coffee and set the cup down hard on the bench. I closed my eyes, trying to get rid of the memory. I didn’t think his wife or his kids would be happy with my news, though not for the same reasons.
I sat up and twisted to try to get a look at the cut. I couldn’t tell. Blood had clotted to my long-sleeved shirt, hiding the damage. I was beginning to feel a faint ache in it. I had a feeling it was going to hurt a lot worse. “Think I’ll need a tinker?”
“Maybe I can superglue it,” Patti said, rolling her eyes in pure disgust. “Don’t be an idiot. Of course you’ll need a tinker, if only to be sure you don’t get infected with rabies or something.”
I laughed. “I didn’t get bit by a stray dog.”
It wasn’t until then that her first words to me registered. “I’ve got a new client?”
“Yep. She’s been waiting awhile.”
I groaned. “Not another cheating husband case.”
“Probably not.” Patti hesitated. “She’s a cop.”
I stiffened as a wild mix of emotions crashed over me. My stomach flip-flopped. “A cop?”
The last cop who’d hired me had been Clay Price. He also moonlighted as a Tyet enforcer. He hadn’t given me a lot of choice on whether to work for him or not. When my not-quite-brother-in-law was kidnapped, Price had helped me get him back. On the way, I discovered Price’s brother was one of the biggest Tyet kingpins in Diamond City. Rather than running for the hills, instead I’d fallen head-over-heels in love with Price. I’d never been much of a believer in love at first sight or chemistry—true chemistry—until Price. I fell fast and hard for him. I’ll admit, he was sexy as hell, but there was more to it. He was smart and funny and annoying. He argued with me and tried to keep me out of trouble, then followed me into hell and had my back, regardless of the cost.
I admit that what had happened between us was near unexplainable for me. I’d never let anyone that close. I’d even blindly followed him into enemy territory, where I was promptly captured and nearly killed twice—four if you count the times I didn’t bleed. We’d got out by the skin of our teeth. That’s when I’d kicked the love of my life to the curb.
I had to. To get his brother to leave me alone, he’d promised to join his brother’s organization. As bad as Touray wanted me, that made Price my enemy. I knew he would do whatever he could to protect me, but he had split loyalties and he loved his brother. Sooner or later push would come to shove, and I just didn’t believe I’d be left standing. Before we could even think of being together, I needed to find a way to stand on my own two feet and protect myself and my family. Then maybe we could figure things out.
this was real love and not just a crush.
he still wanted me then.
I was still breathing.
Patti was right to worry. Hell, I was so deep into the woods, I doubted I’d ever get out. Not without a helicopter, a bucket of hand grenades, and one or two miracles. Now that my secret was out—now that I’d gone head-to-head with the highest-ranking members of Diamond City’s own magical mafia—I was on the top of every bad guy’s to-do list, not to mention on the lists of a few of the good guys. Neither list made me happy. I supposed that meant I was still on the right side of a psychotic break.
I rubbed my hands over my face and winced as pain burned up my arm from the scalpel cut. I didn’t want to think about Price or the trouble I was in with the Tyet. Both made me want to curl up into an emotional ball. Since I was a grown-up, I wasn’t going to do that. I told myself this firmly, and tried to believe it.
“I suppose I should talk to this cop,” I said, focusing on the here and now, pushing Price’s image out of my mind. I was more than a little bit curious what this potential cop-client wanted. “How long has she been waiting for me?”
“Through a dozen cups of coffee, two bathroom breaks, a grilled cheese sandwich, and a slice of pie,” Patti said.
“That long, huh?” I smiled and started to stand up.
Patti put a hand on my shoulder and shoved me back down. “No, you don’t. I’m going to bandage you up first.”
I waited while she fetched supplies. My mind skittered back to the surgeon. What a waste. He’d been good, if his wife’s appearance was anything to go by. You didn’t make that kind of money by being a hack. In a world where he had to compete with tinkers and their magic, he must have been downright brilliant. Now he was nothing. What had made him start using Sparkle Dust? I’d probably never know. He was as good as dead. The addiction was awful. Most people couldn’t shake it.
I thought of my almost-brother-in-law, Josh. I hadn’t seen him since just after we’d rescued him. He’d been tortured and force-dosed with Sparkle Dust. My dreamer friend, Cass, had healed what the haunters had done to his mind. She had also done all she could to stop the effect of the SD, but I didn’t know if it had been enough. For all I knew, he was dead in the gutter somewhere. Hell, he could be totally invisible and watching me right now.
I shuddered. Not a comfortable thought. He and I had not ended well.