Written by Anna Abner
Copyright 2013 by Anna Abner
Daniela Ferraro can’t touch people without hurting them. So when she wakes up in the Dark Caster’s cell next to the one man guaranteed to mess with her heart, she will risk anything to escape.
David Wilkes has no idea why he’s been abducted and thrown in a locked room with Dani, the woman who jilted him two years ago. But when the Dark Caster threatens David’s four year old son, David will not stop until Ryan is safe and the evil necromancers tormenting him are destroyed.
When Dani’s powers are bound and her necromancer friends are out of commission, the only way to protect the people she cares about and keep the Chaos Gate firmly closed is to trust in David.
But the closer Dani gets to David the more lethal her touch becomes for the only man she’s ever loved.
David Wilkes’s bedroom smelled funny. He woke with a pulsing headache to mold, dust, and perfume scents—three odors he never encountered in his new condo. With great care not to jostle his skull, he peeled his cheek off a strange pillow and rolled onto his back in an unfamiliar bed. A white ceiling came into focus, so he hadn’t skydived with a faulty parachute. But something bad had happened. In a flash, it was four years ago, and he was driving his ‘63 Camaro home with his wife, Jordyn, and their son, Ryan, when a motorcycle veered into his path and the side of a Chinese restaurant rose up in front of his windshield.
He returned, gratefully, to the present and an uncertain female voice. But when he lifted his head to make eye contact, the resulting agony forced him to reconsider.
“Are you in pain?”
That was a nurse type of question. Maybe he’d had another accident and ended up in a hospital. Oh, no. Ryan. David didn’t care if he tore his own body to pieces in a high speed collision, but he couldn’t handle the thought of Ryan injured.
“Where’s my son?” he mumbled. Even speech hurt.
A small, cold hand palmed his forearm. “Heal,” she said. He extracted himself from her icy grasp, and the uncomfortable freezing sensation faded.
David took a deep breath, which helped. A few more and the pain receded into the background.
“I don’t know,” she answered.
He blinked and found himself staring into a pair of dark, nearly black, eyes. Familiar eyes.
“Daniela?” What was his son’s former preschool teacher doing here? And where was here?
This was no hospital room, but a basement, considering the dank odors. Two narrow mattresses lay on the floor, a beat-up recliner between them. A bare concrete floor. And a steel door. The kind of door used in horror movies and prison cells.
This was not a hospital. And there was no sign of his son.
“What happened?” he asked. Time felt wonky. Things blended together, some events hazing over. He must have been asleep a long time.
“Drink some water. You’ll feel better.” She slid a tall plastic bottle across the floor.
Yes, he was thirsty, like really thirsty. David drank, spilling water down the sides of his mouth, and then stood. But he moved too quickly, got light-headed, and reached for Dani to steady himself.
“Something’s wrong,” he said, and then groaned.
She shrank from his touch. “I’m not totally sure what’s going on. I woke up a few minutes ago.”
Her rejection cleared his head like nothing else could have. For a moment, he’d forgotten how cold she was. “You’re not totally sure.” He tried to shake off her obvious revulsion. As if she hadn’t already made it clear a year ago. “But you have an idea?”
David remembered leaving his office in city hall. Had he reached Ryan’s day care? Had he made it home? Someone had abducted him by force, obviously, and stuck him here with Dani Ferraro, of all people. But that didn’t make any sense. He wasn’t important enough to abduct. There must be another explanation. Or this was one big goof-up.
“I don’t know.” She shook her head, and waves of black hair rustled around her narrow shoulders. And just like in the old days, desire zinged through him. She was still graceful and petite and exactly his type. While she had her face turned away, he studied her from her neon pink sneakers to her wild mane of black curls. Yep, still gorgeous. “But it has to do with magic.”
He would have laughed if he hadn’t been so sick inside. “Right.” So, Dani was going the crazy route. Fine. But he couldn’t afford to sit around describing pink elephants and shouting about alien conspiracies. He had his son to worry about.
Turning in a slow circle, he stared at the door and then the high window. Where the hell was he, and where was Ryan? The last he remembered, his four-year-old was safe in Auburn in his new day care. But what if…? David’s insides twisted, and he rushed the door, jerking on the handle. It didn’t budge. Sealed tight. As in triple locked, maybe welded shut.
“Hey!” He pounded on the metal. “Open up!” No response. “You hear me? Open this door!”
His memories twisted and warped. Last night—was it only last night?—he’d been driving home from his office in Auburn’s city hall on his way to pick up Ryan at New Horizons Day Care, thinking about dinner and construction on the bridge and the new crime drama waiting for him on his TiVo. There was no reason he should be locked in this room except that someone with a strong incentive had put him here.
And he was trapped with the one woman he’d hoped to never see again. A year had passed, but he hadn’t forgotten when this sexy woman had flicked him away like lint on her sleeve.
He had to get out of here. Now.
If Ryan was in some room somewhere, alone and scared and hurt, the boy would be terrified. David hauled back and punched the door. Pain shrieked up his forearm, but there wasn’t so much as a scratch on the metal. He couldn’t deal with a fracture when he didn’t even know where he was or why. No more punching things.
Dani didn’t get anywhere near him. “Easy, big guy.”
Mentally, he shut her out. She was too distracting. There was nothing Dani could say right now he’d want to hear. Unless it was a realistic escape plan. Instead, he pulled himself up onto the high window like it was a chin-up bar and peered through glass streaked in dried mud and covered with a heavy-duty security mesh. Were they still in Auburn, let alone North Carolina? He recognized dirt and light and a part of a dandelion weed. They could have been anywhere in the world.
“Ryan!” David banged on the glass so hard it cracked along the left edge. He dropped to his feet. A cut could mean tetanus or a staph infection and eventually sepsis. He couldn’t afford any accidents until he figured all this out.
“There’s broken glass,” he warned Dani. He couldn’t help talking to her just like he couldn’t help still liking her even after she’d rejected him. He was such a sucker. “Stay back.”
“Did you cut yourself?” Her voice registered concern, but she didn’t get any closer in order to look for herself. Obviously, she still couldn’t stand him. Not used to feeling like a leper, he turned his back on her.
“No.” Abandoning the window, he inspected the surrounding wall for weaknesses. The bricks looked new, like maybe someone had remodeled the room recently. “We’re prisoners.” It wasn’t a question. They were.
“I haven’t heard anyone else,” Dani said. “My purse is here, but my cell phone is gone.”
He patted his pants pockets. Everything was in his wallet in its proper place, including eighty dollars in cash, but his phone and car keys were missing. “What do they want? Money?” He snorted.
He was the city manager of Auburn. He had a lot of responsibility to the community, and his job came with a fair amount of power, but he couldn’t single-handedly make things happen. He couldn’t clear arrest records. He couldn’t reduce tax fees. He couldn’t even fix tickets.
But if it was a ransom they wanted, no problem. David had savings. And his mother was stupidly wealthy. All they had to do was ask.
“Do they have demands?”
“I haven’t seen anyone besides the two of us,” Dani said.
No demands meant their jailers had no plans to release them. Ever. “Did you see Ryan?”
He glanced up from the junction of the bricks and the concrete floor to watch her reaction, but something hazy and out of place caught his eye. A figure hovered in the corner. David wouldn’t normally pay attention to aberrations in reality. They were lingering symptoms of a serious head injury four years ago. But he was being held hostage in a basement with a girl he’d once kissed, so he was paying attention to everything.
The longer David stared at the figure, the more details solidified. A teenage boy, tall and lanky, appeared. He had dark hair and wore long pants, a thin sweater, and a pair of skate shoes. A manifestation of David’s inner fears? A memory of someone he’d once known? An amalgam of himself, his son, and his late father?
“Did you?” Dani asked for maybe the second or third time.
David blinked, and the boy in the corner vanished. “What?”
“Did you see anyone else?”
“No.” He checked the dial on his watch. “It’s Friday.” His eyes widened. Not possible. He’d been driving home on Thursday. He ran his fingers through is hair, feeling for bumps or sore spots, but didn’t find any. How had he lost an entire twenty-four hours? “We’ve been here for a whole day? Are you kidding?” His mother must be freaking out. Not to mention Ryan. The boy wasn’t used to David spending nights away from home. He’d be a nervous wreck.
“Actually, it’s the nineteenth.” She waved her chunky digital watch at him. “We’ve been here eight days.”
“No.” The room tilted wildly before righting itself. Eight days. Not only was it physically impossible, but without any word from him, his family would begin to think he was dead. “A person can only live three days without water.”
“Unless we were under a sleep spell. Magic can keep a person alive indefinitely.”
Magic again. This was serious, damn it. He crossed the room in two long strides and grabbed Dani by the upper arms. His fingers dug into her biceps, and he caught a whiff of floral perfume. His nerve endings came to life as his breath shortened. Even after a year, she still affected him.
“Magic’s not real,” he said.
She jerked away, much stronger than she appeared, and stumbled into the wall at her back.
“Don’t touch me,” she said, gasping.
It had been a year since their ill-fated date at Papa Luigi’s when he’d leaned in for a good-night kiss and she’d turned to a block of ice. Apparently, her disgust for him hadn’t dwindled. Which hurt, even now.
He studied her, unabashed, memorizing every curve and square inch of her work scrubs, and he still couldn’t pinpoint the reason for the attraction he felt, even now. She’d always seemed so friendly. A little eccentric, but he liked that. It’s why he’d agreed to the setup a year ago. He hadn’t expected her to reject him so completely. Not after such an amazing first date, during which they’d clearly connected. Chemistry through the roof. He hadn’t imagined that. Her rejection still stung.
Of all the people in the world, what were the two of them doing there together?
“This can’t be a coincidence,” he said. Maybe Dani knew more than she was saying. Was she in on it? He narrowed his eyes. Was she the mastermind come to screw with him? “What aren’t you telling me?”
Dani acted like she hadn’t heard his question. “You must have some knowledge of magic, or you wouldn’t be here.”
“Are you hearing me?”
“Do you hang out with a lot of casters?” she asked.
“Where is Ryan?”
She squinted at different points on his face as if she were solving an algebraic equation.
“Answer me!” God, this was not the time to get weird.
Dani visibly paled. “No way. You’re not a caster. You can’t be.”
* * *
So, so awkward. No, it was worse than that. Humiliating was a good word. So was demeaning. There was no reason for her to be in this room with him. She’d once taken a chance on David Wilkes, the first guy in ten years she’d liked enough to try for something more.
The date had been such a train wreck that he wouldn’t make eye contact the next time he came by to pick up his son from day care. About a month later, David pulled Ryan out of Dani’s preschool class, and Happy Trails completely, saying he had a new job in Auburn, a forty-five minute drive south. It had been humiliating then, too, to think their date had been so painful he couldn’t even stand to look at her afterwards.
Dani folded her arms around her middle, afraid she’d fall to pieces if she let go. Some witch or necromancer had grabbed her and David—what were the odds, really?—and forced them to sleep. Magic, not hers, soured her entire nervous system. Her stomach rioted.
A supernatural being was screwing with her and David, too. And she couldn’t even think about anyone hurting four-year-old Ryan because she’d start crying and never stop.
In the ten minutes or so while David had still slept, she’d examined the basement and everything in it. Whoever had put them here was smart. They’d swept the room of anything resembling a weapon. No tools or lumber or anything helpful remained but the narrow mattresses, the recliner, and a couple bottles of flat, room-temperature water. Anything else she needed was going to have to come through that door.
She just hadn’t figured out the why, yet.
Dani had been born a witch, but she hadn’t fully come into her power until the age of fourteen when she’d squeezed in a hall closet with an older boy. That encounter, too, had ended in pain and anguish. She’d spent the last decade trying to control the unrelenting tropical storm brewing inside her with varying levels of success.
The past few years had been fairly stable. She liked working at Happy Trails Day Care. She liked her new apartment. She had a friend. And purpose. Her power was easier to control when she was content.
So putting her in a cage with the one guy who messed with her head was a very bad idea.
What did David Wilkes have to do with anything anyway? Besides being so gorgeous and blond and tall that he made her nervous, if she got upset and touched his bare skin, she could cause permanent damage. She might even kill him.
Her power operated through touch. She couldn’t wiggle her nose like Samantha in that show. She couldn’t wave a wand like Hermione. Dani had to have actual physical contact with the object—or person—she wanted to effect.
Was that her captor’s endgame? Get her to kill an innocent person?
Or maybe David wasn’t completely innocent. Maybe he was a caster, too. She stared at him, trying to find signs. No paranormal jewelry. No magical tattoos. Just khaki pants, loafers, and a white button down shirt. Absolutely nothing otherworldly about him. Even his hair was neat and tidy.
“Don’t screw around with me,” he snapped. “I want to see Ryan. I want to know he’s safe.”
Someone with significant power had put her and David to sleep like unplugging a pair of blenders. What did David Wilkes have that they wanted? As far as Dani knew, he was a regular guy, a local politician with an adorable son, but nothing screamed supernatural. What was she missing?
“Are you a necromancer? A witch?” Not a single spell mark on him. “Something else?”
David zigzagged across the room from door to recliner to window to mattress like a rat in a maze. Even trapped and freaking out he looked good, which let her know she must be in shock. A normal person in the same situation would be pondering escape, not the power in David Wilkes’s long, long legs. Or the way his shoulders flexed and moved under his white shirt. Or how red highlights shone in his touchable blond hair every time he passed in front of the window. He was still hot, and he still revved her engine. Even after their disastrous date and the awkward encounters right afterwards and then the ensuing silence.
He returned to the door and rapped on the steel. “Excuse me! I want to talk to the person in charge.”
The idea that this local do-gooder was secretly a caster just didn’t click. But if there was a chance that he was a necromancer—even one very, very deep in the magical closet—she had to get him to power up. They needed every advantage they could muster.
And nothing put a caster at ease like seeing someone else use magic.
“I’ll do a locator spell, and then you’ll know where Ryan is,” she offered.
There was no reason to feel silly. Dani cast magic in front of people. Yesterday she’d cast a spell on Rebecca Powell in front of Holden Clark. No, not yesterday. Over a week ago.
But that was different. Holden was a caster, too. And Rebecca had been under a demonic-summoning spell. She’d had a quick and brutal introduction to the supernatural. But David claimed he didn’t believe in magic. It was possible he’d never seen a caster at work, let alone a witch.
He stared at her like she’d suggested they polka. “You’ll do a what?”
“I’m a witch.”
He snorted. “Right.”
“Whether you believe me or not doesn’t change anything.” Kneeling, Dani laid a palm on the cold concrete floor. Her power surged like a blizzard under her skin and connected her nerve endings in a net of magical energy.
The outline of all fifty states appeared in neon-blue lines on the concrete. “Show my location.”
A lavender dot burst into being within the borders of North Carolina, her home state. So, their abductor hadn’t carried them too far. Good.
“Show Ryan,” she said.
Another lavender dot joined the first in nearly the same spot.
“How the hell did you do that?” David asked.
Dani lifted her hand, breaking the spell, and when she next flattened her palm against the floor, a neon-blue map of North Carolina appeared. “Show me where we all are.” Three dots popped up in David and Ryan’s hometown of Auburn.
Scrutinizing the map, David eased nearer than she was comfortable with. On a normal day, she liked a three-foot bubble of empty space around her at all times. What she called her no-touch zone. David was about eighteen inches away, and this was far from a normal day.
“Is that real?” he asked.
“One hundred percent,” she said, trying not to notice little things like the silky caramel color of his trousers or the fine sprinkling of hair on his forearm. It really wasn’t fair that he was that good looking and still so out of bounds. “I, uh, I can be more specific.”
“What’s your new address?” She hadn’t been to his home since he’d moved away a year ago.
“It’s 232 Pear Street. Down at the end of Western.”
In increments, Dani drew new maps. Auburn, his neighborhood, and finally a sketch of their home on Pear. Ryan’s lavender dot lay in bed.
David leaned in, narrowing the gap to about twelve inches, tops. She stiffened, her breathing accelerating. “Can you see who’s with him?”
She magically redrew the blueprint of his condo. “Show me who is in the home with Ryan.” One other lavender dot appeared with a little glowing tag that read “Joan Wilkes.”
“My mother,” he said.
Thank God. The little boy was safe with his grandma. Whatever plot she and David were part of didn’t include Ryan, and that made everything more manageable, even David’s extreme proximity.
“Show me where I am.” The map’s lines adjusted themselves. Her dot paused north of Auburn off Highway 17 on the edge of the old Hofmann Forest.
“We’re so close to town,” David marveled, hopping over to the window and pulling himself up. “Hey!” His voice boomed in the quiet space. “Can anyone hear me?”
Dani sagged in relief, her no-touch zone blessedly reestablished, and then shook off a cold sensation like frost bite. A symptom of practicing magic. She laid her chilled palm flat against the brick wall beside her. “Show me the spells cast on this room.”
Spell marks burst into sight like fireworks around the door and window. Impenetrable, one-way barrier spells.
These were necromancy marks. She couldn’t break them. Only another necromancer could do that, and she was fresh out of those. She knew exactly two. Holden Clark was trying to keep a demon out of Rebecca Powell. Maybe he already had. Or maybe he’d failed while Dani slept helplessly in this basement cell.
The other was Cole Burkov, the biggest, baddest caster in town. He’d be a huge help right now. But she couldn’t get his attention. He wasn’t here, and neither of them was psychic.
“No one will be able to hear you,” she confirmed. “They’ve cast a couple of different spells. Nothing can escape, not even sound, from either the window or the door.”
“This is so absurd.” Massaging his temples, he frowned at the glowing orange spell marks around the window frame.
Dani plopped onto her bottom and hugged herself for warmth because her temperature had dropped a degree or two during the spell. That was the tricky thing about her magic. It was fueled by her body heat, and it eventually chilled her to the bone.
“Now you know.” Her teeth chattered, and she briefly clenched her jaw to stop. “Ryan is with his grandmother.”
“Yeah. What a relief.” David didn’t sound very relieved. “You don’t know why we’re here?”
“No. Are you ready to tell me why a necromancer put you in this room with a witch?”
“I only understood about half of that sentence, so I guess the answer’s no.”
“Then why are you here?” Dani asked. It couldn’t be to simply pretty up the place. Though he was doing a damn fine job at it.
Hands on hips, he faced the window. “Has it really been a whole week?”
The floor was too cold for her now, so she paced instead, rubbing her forearms to get the blood flowing again. And with that window broken, it would only get colder after nightfall. If they were still there after dark.
She was on her own. She’d have to escape without any help. Which meant she was going to have to lay her hands on whoever walked through that door.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” David grumbled. “I didn’t know…” He reached for the marks, but his fingers passed right through them.
“Y-y-yeah.” Damned chattering teeth. She sounded like a cartoon character.
His brow furrowed. “Are you okay, or aren’t you?”
“I’m fine.” And then to distract him from her slight case of hypothermia, Dani added, “What do you remember about the abduction?”
“I’d rather hear how you became a witch.”
“That’s easy.” She completed another circuit of the room. Five strides one way, four strides the other. “I was born this way.”
He returned to the door but didn’t knock. Instead, he eyeballed its framing and the narrow seam along the bottom edge.
“Can I try?” she asked.
David stepped out of her way.
Neon spell marks floated around the edges of the door, but maybe her witch magic could overpower the necromancer’s spell. After almost an hour in this place, she was desperate enough to try.
Over the past few years, magic had gotten easier to control. If she wanted to straighten her hair, it fell in black, glossy strands. If she wanted her work scrubs ironed, the wrinkles vanished. If she wanted her fingernails painted purple with white polka dots, presto change-o. She was further in sync with her power every day. It was possible she was more powerful now than she’d ever been. Wouldn’t that be convenient?
Dani pressed the palm of her hand against the cold metal door. “Open.”
An opposing force blasted her flat on her back. Stunned, she lay there for a moment, focusing on drawing breath as foreign power fizzed like soda bubbles under her skin.
So, lesson learned. Witches still couldn’t do jack shit against a necromancer’s spell.
“Jesus. You okay?” David dropped to his knees beside her, smack-dab in her no-touch zone.
No. All this power battling within her was messing with her equilibrium. “Don’t touch me.”
“Right.” His voice echoed in the quiet room. “Message received, Dani.” He gave her a hurt look and put a whole lot of empty space between them.
Dani bit back an explanation. What was the use? She should have a blinking caution light over her head because touching her was hazardous to a person’s health. It was easier if he thought she hated him. Better than her mutilating him with magic and being unable to stop.
Dani stood and drifted to the window to stare at dirt and light and a whole lot of nothing. “I finished my shift,” she said into the awkward silence. She’d replayed her final conscious hour in her mind a thousand times since waking up in a strange bed. “I walked out with Georgie. I got into my own car and drove away. But after that, nothing. Until now.”
“You didn’t see anything?” he asked.
“Same here. They must have drugged me. Or hit me. I don’t know.”
“Or spelled you.” That was more likely.
They both heard it at the same time.
He hopped away from the door. “Holy shit.”
“Sounds like car tires.” Two vehicle doors slammed shut. A couple of minutes later they heard footsteps on stairs.
“Get behind me,” David said, rising to his full height.
“No, darlin’.” Dani shook her hands to get the blood flowing and then cracked her knuckles as power tingled into her fingertips. “You get behind me.”
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