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Authors: Erin Kellison

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Fire Kissed (7 page)

BOOK: Fire Kissed
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When Jack left the conference room for the work center, he found Adam Thorne waiting at one of the computer stations. The screen before him showed a map—looked like Washington, D.C.—little red dots speckled throughout the metropolis, concentrated in some areas, more widely dispersed in others.
“Jack,” Adam said, waving him over. “What do you make of this?”
Jack was still trying to curb his frustration at Khan’s absolute refusal to work with him. But then, Jack had been among the host of angels who’d decided that the life of Khan’s Layla was not worth the dangers she represented to Earth. The Order had not wanted to hurt her, but no other way had been open to them. There were never easy solutions to problems concerning Shadow.
Khan exited the trailer entirely, and suddenly the space seemed much larger, the air less static. Shadow and light did not mingle well.
Jack felt Kaye follow him to the workstation to look over Adam’s shoulders at the wide display. This close, she was like a sun blazing next to him, hers a light very different from his own. Her scent, which he tried not to inhale through his nose, had the mind-fuzzing markers of Twilight, of magic. It was subtle on her, but too much of that dark stuff and he knew a man could forget who he was.
All mages were difficult, each in his or her own way.
Jack focused hard on the screen before him. A time signature at the bottom of the map said that the dots reflected wraith attacks over the past six months. Adam touched a finger to part of the city, a part with no red dots whatsoever. It was an amoebic shape of urban peacefulness where only mundane violence reigned.
“No wraiths,” Adam said. Mentally, he followed with,
But why?
which Jack thought was directed inwardly, and not to him.
Very good question. Adam and Segue were never far behind The Order’s own findings. There were indeed oases of safety from wraiths within several major cities, a development that concerned the angels enough to hire Kaye Brand to investigate what was going on. No angel trusted organized peace where the wraiths were concerned.
“No wraiths is good, right?” Kaye asked. “How do they manage it?”
“We’ve discovered the same phenomenon,” Jack said. “And we’ve identified at least twenty-five urban areas globally that are not troubled with wraith attacks. And yet, the neighborhoods surrounding the peace zones have a heightened wraith presence.”
Adam looked over his shoulder. “The cause?”
“We believe it’s the mage Houses,” Jack answered. “They’ve begun working with the wraiths.”
Not the first time in the history of the world.
“Begun?” Kaye said from behind him. “Wraiths have been around mages for more than a decade at least.”
“In what capacity?” Adam asked her, turning, surprise in his voice.
“Bodyguards, security,” she answered. “Anything that needed brute force.”
“And no one was concerned?” Adam shook his head in disbelief. “They’re hungry predators. No one is safe with them around ...”
Adam’s sentence trailed off, but the train of thought continued.
... except, of course, someone who doesn’t have a soul.
“That’s right,” Jack said. Adam understood now.
Jack saw Kaye glance over, as if suddenly aware of the telepathy. She narrowed her eyes at him, but he remained impassive.
Adam sighed hard. “Well, this bears some serious reflection. I can’t believe I hadn’t considered it before. I guess I just couldn’t fathom that anyone would accept, condone, and use monsters that feed on the souls of humankind. It’s beyond cold-blooded.”
“The wraiths are only a weapon,” Kaye said, voice smooth. Too smooth for truth. “Like any other that takes a life.”
Adam sat back in his chair, his thoughts roiling with interest.
“A weapon? If you’ve killed wraiths before, you must have seen how they feed,” Adam argued. “They are much more than that.”
Jack let them disagree, though he had no idea what had set Kaye off. No ... he thought he knew. The “cold-blooded” comment about the mages. And she was set on proving Adam right. On owning the description herself—though there was no way Kaye would ever be associated with the word
cold
. Kaye burned.
“I’ve seen how they feed.” Kaye smiled. “How do you think I got my scars?”
Adam’s eyes widened, horrified. “Good God. You survived a wraith’s bite?”
“The mages are a race apart, Adam,” Jack said. “And they are no longer hiding in their Houses. They are taking steps; using wraiths was just one of many. The peace zones are another.”
“But the peace is a ruthless kind, isn’t it?” Adam looked at Kaye. Jack knew he saw her scars more clearly now.
Kaye’s expression went aloof. And suddenly Jack knew that was how she coped with appraisal—making herself remote, above, beyond anything that sought to reach her. People looking all the time. But it wasn’t the real woman. Heaven help him when he met the real Kaye if he was already running hot for this one.
“I take it you’re supposed to figure out what the mages are doing?” Adam asked her. Jack was glad Adam didn’t renew his offers of employment.
“Yes,” she said.
Jack didn’t miss the glint that came into her eye, and neither did Adam.
“And then what?” Adam asked.
Jack intended to curb the rising power of the Houses before it came to bloodshed. He wanted to quash any attempt at a new hegemony of Shadow on the world, putting humankind under mage dominion. But Kaye did him one better.
Her skin took on that seductive, almost solar glow. “And then I think there will be fire.”
Certainly no more offers of employment today. A hundred years ago they’d have burned her at the stake.
Jack gave Adam assurances of cooperation, and then, ladies first, he and Kaye exited the mobile trailer and started down the outside steps. The clouds hung low, turning the sky white, but he did not think it would rain and compromise the open barrow across the way.
“You couldn’t have thought Khan would cooperate,” Kaye said over her shoulder.
“No, but I had to try. With little effort he could have upset whatever plans the mage Houses have. It would have been fast and complete, one danger among many averted.”
“And my role?” She turned back to watch the steps, minding the icy footing.
“As a mage yourself, you have a good chance of being invited past the wards on their Houses,” he said to her back. “You know how the families work, the underlying politics.”
“You want the mages hobbled. From the inside.”
Not his preferred choice of words. “I want the threat managed.”
“Khan said your Order had acted against him.” She reached the long rubber mat over the mud that led to the pseudo parking area.
Jack stepped around Kaye, got another headful of her soul-drawing scent, and opened her car door. She stood within his outstretched arms, waiting for him to explain, and he had the impulse to step forward, step closer. He
wanted
something from her. Badly. Shadow again, had to be.
“We did act against him.” His breath smoked the air between them, curling toward her while he forced himself to keep back. “Khan was Death then, and he’d forged a gate to Hell. The thing had to be destroyed, even if that destruction also meant the death of his beloved Layla. She lived, however, but Khan still won’t tolerate The Order.”
Her breath reached too, and tangled with his. “That
would
put you at odds. What House does she come from? Her connection to Khan is easily the match of the millennium.”
“No House. She’s human,” he said. “Khan works tirelessly for Segue. I hoped he might expand his scope.”
An eyebrow arched. “A human woman lies down with Death?”
Yes. Just like an angel is tempted to embrace Shadowfire. The universe was insane.
“Dark times,” he reminded her. He angled his chin toward the waiting seat, and she turned and slid inside the car. He shut the door and rounded the vehicle, taking lungfuls of the cold air to clear his head of woman and magic. This would not do. Once he was inside, she had another question ready.
“So now what? I might be permitted inside the Houses, but I can’t exactly knock on a front door. A mage never begs for favors.”
Jack had hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but without Khan’s support... “What about Grey? The marriage contract provides an ideal opening.”
Kaye smiled warmly, so he knew she’d refuse. “Last time I spoke with a Grey, a wraith was set on me. Brand House burned to the ground.”
“Eventually you will meet him face-to-face. You can’t let your history compromise the work that we have to do. Grey will at the least be curious. And once he sees you ...”
Jack didn’t finish. She got the point: Use the same fire that was even now reminding Jack that he was a man before he was an angel.
“That’s one way to go about it, I guess,” she said, composed. But Jack could sense the light tension pulling at her lovely features, her scars slightly whitening.
The conversation turned sour in Jack’s mouth. The work was just beginning, and already he felt world-weary. He did not like his part in this, dangling a woman in front of a dangerous man. Even if the woman was dangerous herself. “The question is, how do we get his attention?”
She nodded and shrugged, world-weary too. “With that bad business at the Wake, it would be reasonable, expected even, for me to move my business elsewhere. It’s what I was going to do anyway.”
Immediately Jack knew where she was going with the idea. “And Washington, D.C., would be an ideal choice—where politicians would pay handsomely for a glimpse at their future. The move would show ambition, which the mages would respect.”
She brought her gaze back up. “Arouse their curiosity. Make them come to me.”
“It could work,” Jack said. “And we have a good start. I’ve already arranged a house for you in Georgetown. I had something a little more spectacular set aside for Khan, but I think it’s too much for your purposes.”
“I like hotels,” she corrected with a lazy shake of her head. “The Hay-Adams.”
“You’ll live in a house this time.” He put the keys in the ignition.
Her color warmed. “That’s not my style.”
“A hotel is not an option,” he said. “What if your treachery is discovered? What of the hotel’s other patrons?”
She flushed.
Angry? Too bad. The whole point of this venture, for him at least, was the preservation of humankind.
“You’ll need a client right away,” Jack pressed on. “Any ideas? I’d prefer not to coerce anyone to use your services.” He’d known the line between right and wrong would gray many times before this business was over. He hadn’t anticipated that it would begin so dark.
“I have someone I can contact, a senator,” Kaye answered, still displeased. “She’s used me before.” She paused, those heavy lids lowering a little. “And where will you be during all this fun?”
Jack could have explained, but a demonstration would work better. He held his breath to get it just right. He focused on the cells that made up his body: the tissue, bone, and fluid. And from all that matter, he withdrew his angel’s light, his spark of divinity. He stuffed himself down inside his core and bottled it. Put a stopper on his soul.
Kaye’s eyes widened at the effect, and he knew what she saw: a regular man with his features, his dark hair, blue eyes, his slightly crooked nose. Just a man. No one, not even a mage, would be able to tell he was an angel.
Where would he be during all this fun? He started the car.
“Right by your side.”
Chapter 3
Upon entering the library, Ferrol Grey spotted the naked woman—Gail Meallan, a tempest mage—lying in a provocative sideways twist on the red settee next to the fireplace. Flowing ebony hair, ruddy tits, interestingly hairless at the juncture of her legs. Since it was his library, he assumed she was waiting for him. The ambush was brazen, considering his house had other guests for the upcoming Council meetings. Finally, the good stuff was happening. The waiting was over.
“Excuse me,” he said, retrieving the mage history he was after, and exited.
No seductions today, thanks. House women came in three sorts: viper (Ms. Meallan), broken (under the thumb of her House), and honorable (stayed clear of House politics, therefore stayed clear of Grey House).
Once upon a time, he’d been married to an honorable woman. Penny’s support had made his strong House stronger, hence the rise of the Greys. He did not begrudge her memory that triumph. Credit was due. He hadn’t known what he was doing to her until it was too late. Hadn’t known that it would leave him without heirs as well. His next wife would have to be stronger. Much stronger.
However, in this, his second life, the honorable mage women declined his advances. It seemed cold iron was as anathema to them as it was to the fae, though he was descended from those beings himself too. He wanted little Greys running around and stirring up Shadow. At least the Council meetings would be an excellent opportunity to gauge prospects. To show the honorables that he really wasn’t that bad. And if he was, he’d embrace their better influence.
Honor was power, as true as the iron of his House. One couldn’t trust viper or broken.
For damn certain, his children would not come from the womb of Gail Meallan. If she thought that seducing him would make him blind to the business in Galveston, she was mistaken. Meallan could not have Galveston; it was promised already in the parcel allotted to Wright House, and not for two years yet.
He moved back down the hallway to his private office, glancing at his watch. Twenty minutes to spare. The Shadows swirled as he passed, lifting those ever-present, incomprehensible fae whispers to his ears. They were watching; he knew they were. Could feel it on the back of his neck.
Ferro raised his chin in hello to his secretary, Camilla, and entered his office, the thick tome detailing the history of his kind under his arm. Fortunately, he had the Gordian Knot of the Houses well in hand. Like Alexander the Great, he held the mages at both ends of the string.
Humankind, however, was a mystery. The difference between the two races was subtle at first, as if they were parallel lines in the course of history. But a negligible divergence of trajectory forced the lines farther and farther apart. At a distance, they were clearly at cross purposes.
Therefore: There is only one world. Humanity has had its time. Now rise the mages.
Ferro dropped the history book on his desk, picked up the television remote, and seated himself.
Reality television intrigued him, this idea of looking into a house, just like the fae who looked in on his. This particular program featured twelve young people confined together, their goal to find a way out either through their ingenuity (of which they had none) or through clues they earned performing certain tasks. One million dollars was at stake, but these people seemed more interested in having sex with one another and crying at the camera.
What did this human generation,
his
new generation, want? How could he give it to them and take what he wanted as well?
The show was Ferro’s homework. A lesson in human nature via their entertainment. One per day to keep his sensibilities current, his mind, like his body, young. At one hundred and two, he needed it.
Some fifteen minutes into his work, a polite knock sounded at the door. His appointment. Early.
“Enter,” he said, but didn’t shift his gaze from the screen. A blond girl on the show had walked right by a concealed doorway in the mazelike house.
Right there!
Her gorgeous breasts were admirable. Her attention to detail, lacking. She reminded him of Gail Meallan.
“Miss Darshana Maya and her father have arrived to see you,” Ferro’s secretary said from the office doorway. “Her father brought his wraith.”
Ferro went inside himself, deep inside, and sought the umbra echo of the Grey House ward stones that protected the building from entry. He allowed the Mayas to enter, but refused the wraith, which would stink up the whole house with its decay. “The wraith will wait outside.” A moment’s thought. “And have her father wait”—the fool had caused him too much trouble—“in the
library
. Just send the girl in.”
“Yes, sir,” his secretary said.
On the show, a young man made himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He’d taken to wearing only swim trunks, probably in the event that he needed to use the Jacuzzi at a moment’s notice.
Shana shrieked her fear from outside the office door, and Ferro heaved a sigh.
The father bellowed to match.
And on the show, the girl with the breasts
leaned
her back on the concealed doorway. This was agony. Ferro willed the girl to turn around, but she struck up a conversation with the boy in the swim trunks, who was ogling her assets.
The hidden door. Was. Right. There.
“Miss Maya, sir,” Camilla said.
Ferro looked away from the TV. Shana Maya, eighteen-year-old scion of Maya House, stood two feet inside his office, body held tense as if only force would move her farther. Her gaze darted around his office—touched the windows, the grouping of comfortable chairs, the flat-screen TV to the left of his desk. There was no way out, and so her gaze came back to him.
“Do you watch
Mad House
?” Ferro asked her.
Shana just stood there, white-faced. Her straight black hair had a jagged urban cut, longer in the front, short in back. She was petite, like all the Mayas, and dressed in some kind of Euro-chic jumper with too many zippers. Or were zippers the new trend? Hmm.

Mad House
,” Ferro repeated.
She shrugged. He couldn’t tell if that meant yes or no.
And here he’d been trying to make friends.
Better get it over with. Ferro reluctantly picked up the remote and turned off the TV, then stood and rounded his desk to approach the girl.
“The first time a mage is indiscreet using Shadow,” he said, leaning back against his desk, “I allow the House to handle it. The second time, I personally touch base with the Head—your father assured me that you would not repeat your behavior. The third time, the errant mage comes here.”
Damn, he sounded like an old man. It was one thing to think like one, another to act out of touch.
Her eyes shined, but her face was too tense to quiver. Poor kid. She’d gotten herself into real trouble this time, and now she had to see the dreaded Mr. Grey.
“Miss Maya—”
His phone buzzed in his pocket, interrupting. He pulled it out and looked at the number. “Yeah?” he answered amiably. He’d seen a young man in a hot nightclub answer that way. Just “Yeah,” no “Hello.”
That’s
how the young sounded.
Shana’s chest hitched for breath. Ferro threw her a smile and a wink, then turned a little to the side to concentrate on the call.
“Sir, Kaye Brand has moved again—she’s living in Georgetown.”
“Here? Why?” The woman, one of the broken, never stayed in one place long. She was a boozy, scarred wreck. But to move here while the Houses were meeting had to mean something. Yes, this news was worth bothering him with. An interesting development. “What is she up to?” Was she here to finally say her
I dos
? Had to be. The smartest thing she could do was ally herself with Grey. Too bad she was far too late for the party.
The question was, did he want her? At least Ms. Brand, unlike Shana, was extremely selective about how and when she used her Shadow.
But no, he’d pass. Kaye Brand had no spine. No one weak could bear the Grey name. Or bear him children.
“Keep me posted.” He’d have to make certain there wasn’t some collusion afoot. He ended the call and tossed the mobile on his desk next to the mage history book.
Darshana now. “I trust your father explained where you went wrong?”
Silence. The girl had stolen merchandise from a shopping mall jewelry store by confusing the minds of the staff. The theft wasn’t the problem, however.
“Answer me, please,” Ferro said.
Her chin dimpled with anger, but she recited by rote. “My illusions work on humans, not security cameras. I can still be caught using Shadow in public, and then magic and magekind would be exposed in a negative light and popular opinion could turn against us.”
She’d clearly heard the lecture many times before.
Magic and magekind were already exposed, but not to the general public, not quite yet, and certainly not with convenient video proof. Only some human elite knew—those in positions of power and those with great wealth. The rest of the world heard only rumors, rumblings of trouble. For now. The day would soon come, however, when that would change. And when it did, magekind would be seen as saviors, demigods, not petty thieves.
“Cameras are everywhere.” He gestured toward the television. “Your generation should know that better than any.”
Her expression went sullen as she anticipated her punishment.
He lifted the book,
her
homework. Funny that he studied the present, while she needed to remember the past. The future he would write as he went along.
“Miss Maya,
Darshana.
Do you know what happens when mages are discovered by the masses and, by extension, their guardians, the angels?”
Silence again.
Perhaps a visual aid. He gestured to the painting over the fireplace to his right. “See that?”
Ferro couldn’t be sure, but he thought he might have caught her attention.
He tried for a bigger reaction. “That painting is worth more than your House’s combined wealth. Doubled.”
Her gaze flicked up, held.
“That’s our history, Miss Maya.”
Ferro looked at the Rubens through her fresh eyes. It had been commissioned in the early 1600s by graymage Lloyd Trahaearn to depict, in the artist’s lusty frenetic style,
The Fall of Magic
. Angels, in their perfect beauty, bore down with mighty swords on the naked flesh of magekind, who writhed in myriad angry agonies. And throughout the melee, the immortal trees of Twilight reached into the sky as silent, still witnesses to the scouring of magic from the earth.
It had happened more than once.
Ferro glanced back at Shana, hoping for understanding. A flicker of anything in her eyes might spare her.
But no. The very real threat of angelic discovery had yet to dawn on her.
His
discovery would have to be enough. Pity.
“Okay, one more thing and we’re done here.” He loosened the ring on his index finger; it was a little sweat-stuck. The ring was iron, the backbone of Grey House. A circular rim was its only decoration, as if it had once held a stone, but now only the setting remained. No stone had been lost; the ring had always held Shadow.
He was about to earn his reputation. “This is for your own good, the good of your House, and magekind. And it’s
temporary
.”
Shana made a little noise and backed away from him. He respected her instincts.
“You’ll be all right.” Eventually. “But you won’t be trouble for some time.”
He backed her to the door. He took her hand in his—her nails were short, painted black—and turned her palm upward. She trembled in his grasp, and though he was sorry for her discomfort, he didn’t regret what he had to do. She had to learn somehow, and through her, perhaps a few other careless mages, just coming into their power, would take note. And think twice. Or think at all.
He pressed the top of the ring into the center of her palm.
Shana’s eyes rolled back in their sockets, and she shook against the closed door. He felt a curl of her Shadow enter him, sweet, sharp, and potent. It mixed with the darkness already gathered in his blood. Magic. With it would come the Maya House’s gift of illusion. For a little while, at least.
Color fled from her face, and when she fell to the floor, her weight took her hand. A circular welt had been scorched into her palm, but at least it didn’t bleed.
Eventually Shadow would thread through her system again, quicken her umbra, and she’d be able to wield the magic that had brought her this unwelcome attention. How long that would take varied from mage to mage. But the scar would remain and would remind her to be very careful.
Ferro nudged her fallen body out of the way with his foot and shin. Then opened the door and exited.
“Camilla, have Arman Maya come collect his daughter. Give them a room here in Grey House until she is well enough to leave.” He handed Camilla the book on mage history. “And see that her father gets this too. Miss Maya is to read it before I see her again. Thank you.”
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