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Tag: necromancy

Spell of Shattering (Dark Caster #4)

Written by Anna Abner

Copyright 2015 by Anna Abner

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Cover Blurb:

Dive into the heart-pounding final chapter of the Dark Caster series!

If the Chaos Gate opens…
Demons will infest the world.

When the charismatic mayor of Auburn hires junior agent Jessa McAvoy to acquire him a very specific property, she hopes this is her big break. She’ll do anything to make her first real estate client happy, but the one favor he asks of her is impossible—convince her former friend Derek Walker to come out of hiding. Doing so will not only bring her into the orbit of dangerous casters, but force her to confront long-buried feelings for her missing friend.

After failing his tasks for the Dark Caster, necromancer Derek Walker is hiding in Alaska from his humiliating defeats as a card-carrying member of an evil dark cabal. But when his old boss begins opening the Chaos Gate, there is nowhere on earth Derek can hide. With no other options, he must return to the last place he wants to go—home.

When Derek Walker joins forces with Jessa and the entire Raleigh coven, the dark cabal’s biggest disappointment may be the only thing standing between earth and total destruction.

Chapter One

With a little pressure, Derek Walker punched his boning knife through the throat of a dead Silver Salmon. Working the knife like a saw, he removed the head and tossed it into the trash, and then got to work gutting the unlucky creature. Bright fish blood swirled in the lake below, creating an abstract waterscape.

Bo’s voice carried over the sound of the lapping tide. “Ice is the strongest element there is,” he shouted at Stubby.

They were certainly surrounded by the stuff. Bits of frost clumped in Bo’s scraggly beard, heavy snow clung to drooping tree limbs, and gray clouds swept across the sky ready to shower ice upon their heads at any moment. Derek hoped the storm would hold off a little while longer, though, at least until the men finished fishing.

“Bullshit.” Bo’s friend Stubby dug through the nearby cooler but came up empty. The six-pack was long gone, and it wasn’t even ten a.m. Frustrated, Stubby spit brown tobacco juice into the mud. “Fire’s stronger than ice.”

Derek shifted weight from one foot to the other and skidded in the mud, catching himself on a rock. It may be August in Alaska, but the wet ground around Bear Lake at first light was cold and seeped through his sneakers.

“No it ain’t,” Bo argued. “Glaciers carved up the earth, you dummy. A few drops of frozen water will break boulders.” He waved Stubby off. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Stubby seemed to take the argument personally. “Fire melts ice. End of story.”

Derek prayed it was, but of course, it wasn’t. Bo and Stubby could argue for hours over the most accurate brand of deer rifle, the stoutest superhero, or the most potent tequila. This latest debate could rage on for days.

Derek sliced up two beautiful fish fillets and wrapped them in paper for his boss’s dinner. Most likely, Derek would sear them on the grill with some peppers and serve them up tonight to a small house party of world-class belchers and bearded survivalists on Bo’s deck.

It surprised Derek he could even wield a knife or a BBQ grill in his condition. The memory spell Holden Clark had hit him with four months ago had devastated his mind. Literally. He may as well have dropped him headfirst from a forty-story building onto broken glass and concrete. Holden had stolen every single memory, skill, and instinct Derek possessed, leaving him alive but hollow.

Waking in a hospital bed blank and vulnerable had been the most terrifying moment of his life. He picked up the second fish and attacked it with the knife.

Generally, the work he did as Bo’s assistant was exhausting, which suited Derek just fine. He didn’t need the money. He needed the distraction.

Actually, it wasn’t that much different from the work he’d done in Auburn as Rebecca Powell’s assistant. Then, he’d redecorated houses, delivered paperwork, sometimes picked up coffee and her dry cleaning, and most of the time surfed on his computer or chatted with Jessa McAvoy, the adorable junior agent working as Rebecca’s protégé. Here, he bought groceries, cooked rudimentary meals, lugged trash to the dump, and drove Bo home when he drank too much.

Whether it was good living or not didn’t enter his mind. It was just living.

“All done, boss,” Derek said with effort, throwing the last of the slimy scraps into the trash and tucking the fillets into the cooler. It was a constant struggle to form words and transfer them to his tongue. He was getting better, but he feared he would never be whole again.

“Anything else?” Derek asked, rinsing his bloody hands in the icy lake.

“Yeah, run into town and get another twelve pack, will ya’?” Bo asked.

“Sure.” He ambled for Bo’s pickup, jingling a ring of keys as he went.

“You’re putting too much weight on your bobber again,” Stubby accused. “You’ll never catch anything that way.”

“You don’t know what you’re yammering about,” Bo shot back. “I’ve caught twice as many fish as you have, and that’s just today!”

Derek climbed into the truck before he caught Stubby’s reply.

He didn’t care. He didn’t care about much anymore. Even after the memory-destroying spell had been reversed, he still wasn’t the same. Like tying shoelaces. He just couldn’t get it. No matter how many YouTube videos he watched, he couldn’t make the bunny go round the tree or the fox go in the hole or whatever nonsense he was supposed to do with ease. It worried him how much he didn’t remember. What else was gone, never to return?

Kissing, for one. Surely, he must have kissed a woman at some point—he was a grown man—but he couldn’t recall specifics. Or even gather the desire to try it again. It seemed silly to him. That and sex. Bizarre, pointless endeavors when he had other much more important stuff to worry about.

Like how he was…

“…A huge fucking disappointment,” the spirit spat at him. “A total waste of good space. You think you deserve a second chance? What have you ever done…”

A grizzly of a dead man with a full beard and hunters cap hovered beside Bo’s truck, a gleeful smile on his pudgy face. For the past four months, the ghost had been his unwanted but constant companion.

Derek tuned out the ranting. It was getting a little easier. Night was the hardest. Trying to sleep while a nasty ghost screamed obscenities and curse words at him from the ceiling was challenging. Ear plugs only muffled the noise. They didn’t erase it completely.

The irony was, Derek was especially good at shield spells. With a spirit’s assistance, he could produce an invisible barrier impenetrable to both magic and spirit chatter. With a spirit of his own, Derek could cast banishing spells on all the ghosts the Dark Caster sent to torment his every waking moment. But Derek didn’t have a spirit companion anymore. Robert had been destroyed back in Auburn, North Carolina in the magical fiasco that had stolen Derek’s memories. And a necromancer without a spirit was just a man.

Almost the way a stray, foul-mouthed ghost couldn’t do any real damage without a necromancer to channel his spirit power.

He and the taunting soul were in the same boat—stuck with each other and frustrated.

It didn’t make listening to his insults any easier.

“Go away,” Derek murmured.

“What’s that, you miserable piece of crap?”

Clenching his jaw, Derek glared through the mud-streaked windshield at his new boss reclining in his favorite camp chair.

“Lost your voice?” the spirit taunted. “Loser,” he chanted. “Imbecile. Idiot.”

Alaska seemed far enough away to be safe.

So far, the worst the Dark Caster had managed since Derek’s escape was the big-mouthed ghost clinging to the inside of the truck.

Derek cranked the engine and steered away from the lake at a leisurely five miles an hour. Driving was something he had only re-learned since he’d been in Alaska. With the way Bo drank, it was a necessity.

Derek drove slow. Probably too slow. He remembered, vaguely, driving his former sports car fast on long, lonely stretches of highway, taking turns at warp speed and weaving recklessly through freeway traffic. Not anymore. Now, he was worse than an old woman. He didn’t drive the speed limit. He drove under it. When Bo teased him about it, which Bo loved to do at all times about all things, Derek blamed it on the rain and snow, but it honestly had little to do with weather conditions.

Just one more thing Holden Clark had stolen from him.

He parked in front of the town’s shopping center, bypassing a hardware store, a smoke-filled tavern, and the post office to pull open the heavy glass doors of a grocery store. Derek selected a twelve-pack of cheap, cold beer from the refrigerator case in the rear of the shop, and when he spun around, he came face-to-face with the eighteen-year-old checkout girl.

“Hi, Derek,” she said, grinning brightly.

It was too cold, too quiet, and too depressing to be so happy.

“Hello,” he returned, veering around her.

“Going fishing again?” she asked, trailing him down the baked-goods aisle.

“Bo is.” Derek didn’t fish. He’d never learned and didn’t see the point.

“I love to fish,” she exclaimed, scampering behind the register as he set the beer on the counter. “I’ll teach you how. I mean, if you don’t know how. Do you know how?”

While he rearranged possible responses in his mind, he studied the girl. Lea, read her nametag. She was young and dewy, and he envied the ease with which she spit out words, but something was missing. There was no light in her. An overabundance of enthusiasm, but no inner glow.

The thought of touching her in any way, let alone kissing her, made him slightly queasy. Definitely uncomfortable. And not in a good way.

“No, thanks,” he said, the same as every other time Lea had invited him somewhere.

Her face fell. “Oh. Yeah. Some other time.”

He paid for the beer with Bo’s credit card and turned to leave.

“You’re gay, right?” Lea called after him. “That’s it. You only like boys?”

He lowered his eyes and exited fast, tossing the beer in the cab of the pick-up.

Derek had been called worse in his life. It hardly bothered him anymore. He knew what kind of person attracted him. At least, he used to know. Since Holden’s spell, it was hard to say what turned him on anymore because nothing did.

He just wasn’t interested in being tangled up in someone else’s life. Or worse, someone tangling up in his. Because his was a twisted disaster of epic proportions.

To prove it, as if Derek held any doubts, his least favorite ghost appeared in the seat beside him.

“Worthless,” he repeated, making his voice purposefully ominous. “Worthless…worthless…worthless…”

Arriving at the lake a bit distracted, Derek stomped around thick-trunked trees toward Bo and Stubby’s camp chairs and silently arranged the twelve-pack in their cooler.

“Thanks, my friend,” Bo exclaimed. “Come pick us up later.”

“I will.” Until then, Derek would be working on his cabin. Struggling, he finally spit out, “Text me if you need anything.”

Once Bo and Stubby started drinking, though, they’d be arguing good-naturedly and downing cold beers for hours. Derek would have the rest of the day to himself.

“…just kill yourself already…you spineless worm… The Dark Caster’s spirit trailed him toward the truck. “…cut your own throat, and I’ll laugh while you die…”

Or maybe not.

* * *

Jessa McAvoy glanced from the weather report on her computer monitor to the beautifully embossed, rose-colored invitation in her lap.

Mr. Holden Clark and Ms. Rebecca Powell request the pleasure of your company…

Rebecca was getting married—Jessa double-checked the date—in almost three weeks.

She wasn’t sure how she felt about it. Conflicted, definitely. She was happy for Rebecca, but at the same time it made Jessa feel like she was stuck in neutral while everyone around her raced off to new and exciting destinations.

Though there was one bright spot on her horizon. Two days earlier Carly Pritcher had hired her, verbally, to be her real estate agent. So long as her boss allowed it, Jessa was on the verge of cutting the apron strings.

“Jessa?” Speak of the devil. Ryan Rohmer emerged from his office.

“Yes?” She crammed the invitation back into its drawer.

“Pull up the phase-two forms and personalize them. Here’s the info.” He slapped a pink post-it to the door beside his head. “And I smell coffee. Can you bring me an extra large? Two sugars. Thanks.”

The sticky note lost its purchase and fluttered to the carpet.

Jessa exhaled weakly as the note swooped through the air. This wasn’t her dream. Not by a long shot. As she crossed the room to collect the slip of paper, she knew she couldn’t stay with Ryan for much longer or risk being his junior agent forever.

Jessa hated her job. No, hate wasn’t a strong enough word. Loathed maybe. She’d spent a long time as Rebecca Powell’s junior agent. When Rebecca quit the real estate game, Jessa had taken a new job with Ryan Rohmer, assuming she’d be an agent of her own. But no. She was still a junior agent, just for a different person. She hated it. Loathed it.

Jessa was a good Realtor. She should have her own business, run her own shop, be master of her own destiny. Instead, she was fetching coffee, delivering paperwork to clients, and answering Ryan’s email as if she were his assistant, not his partner. Like she was Derek Walker, Rebecca’s former assistant.

There was someone Jessa worried about a lot. She hadn’t heard from in him months, not since he had up and disappeared. Hadn’t even said good-bye.

“I don’t know why you’re sighing all dramatically,” Karen snarked from her nearby cubicle. “I work my ass off day and night for leads and you and I make the same paycheck.” She curled her upper lip. “I’d count my blessings is all I’m saying.”

“It’s not about the money,” Jessa retorted.

But Karen ducked her head over her keyboard as if she hadn’t heard.

The money made no difference at all. Yes, Ryan paid Jessa a percentage of every commission he earned while she assisted him, but she didn’t want to be an agent for the money. The chase excited Jessa. Schmoozing clients. Running down leads. Closing deals. That’s what she craved. The thrill of the hunt.

Not filling out forms and pouring coffee.

She emptied two sugar packets into an oversized mug.

“Here you go, Ryan,” she said, handing him the steaming drink through his office door.

“Mmm.” He accepted it, smiling gratefully. “Just what I needed. Thank you.”

He sipped, nodded, and returned to his computer monitor, essentially dismissing her. But she had something to tell him, and if she didn’t spit it out soon she may never say it.

Having an actual client in her back pocket gave her courage. “I didn’t get my Realtor license,” she began, “to be a junior agent my whole life.”

Ryan’s fingers stilled on the keyboard. “Are you unhappy with your job here?”

Yes. “I want to close my own deals, and every lead I’ve had in the past few months you’ve taken out from under me.”

His eyebrows collided. “That’s the contract you signed. You assist me in finding clients, you help me keep those clients happy, and if I close a deal you earn twenty percent of my commission. There are lots of people who would love to do what you’re doing.”

“I guess I’m not lots of people,” she said. But when he gave her a wounded frown, she rushed to add, “I’m thankful for my job. All I’m asking for is a couple clients of my own.”

“Are you ready to be cut loose?” he returned. “Because I can’t use you if you’re distracted with your own clients. I need you available to me twenty-four seven. So, this is what we’ll do.” He steepled his arms on the desk and stared disdainfully at her. “You continue working as my junior agent, but if you actually find a serious client and close the deal, I’ll let you out of your current employment contract and then you can be a free agent in my office.”

Jessa exhaled. “Thank you. I’ll take it.”

“Okay.” He refocused on his monitor. “But until then, I need those phase-two forms and then track down someone—anyone—who’ll approve the Jones’ for a half a million dollar home loan. Thanks.”

She returned to her cubicle and scrolled through her business contacts list. In the past month, she’d either left voicemails or spoken personally to each and every person, hoping to sniff out leads. Sometimes finding a client was about being in front of them at the right time. Today, she was beginning callbacks. Just to check in and chat.

She dialed her former neighbor, Carly Pritcher, but the call went to voicemail. “Hi, Carly,” she greeted brightly. “I hope you’re doing well. Did those tomatoes ever come in the way you wanted? If so, let me know. I’d love to swing by the old neighborhood and buy a couple. And while I’m there, we can talk about properties.”

She said good-bye, and her hand hovered over her phone to dial a different number when it buzzed with an incoming call.

“Good morning. Jessa McAvoy with Ryan Rohmer Real Estate. How can I help you?”

“This is Anastasia,” greeted a brusque female. “Please hold for the mayor.”

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Spell of Vanishing (Dark Caster #3)

Written by Anna Abner

Copyright 2014 by Anna Abner

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Cover Blurb

Cole Burkov is a necromancer, but waking from a devastating nightmare spell has left him confused about what’s real and what’s fantasy. Afraid of hurting more of his friends, he casts a vanishing spell on himself, except something goes wrong. He’s not invisible to spirits. He’s invisible to everyone.

Talia Jackson doesn’t want to help Cole cast his vanishing spell. She’s too busy trying to collect him for the Dark Caster. But when Cole uses her, against her will, to create the spell she becomes the only human being on earth that can see him.

Together, the unlikely allies will seek out one of the most diabolical casters in the dark cabal—the White Wraith. But when the witch fights back, Cole and Talia discover the only way to survive her furious assault is by working together.

Chapter One

Rough asphalt dug into Cole Burkov’s knees, but he couldn’t remember why he’d knelt in front of a burned down church in the first place. His memory was in tatters, made up of a pinch of nightmare, a dash of reality, and a whole lot of lost time.

Blood was what brought him back to himself. The old, itchy blood on his hands and the fresh, slimy blood smeared across his left forearm, obscuring the line of scars of varying ages running up his wrist like railroad tracks.

When he cast magic he was always careful to cut shallow slices, but maybe sometime during the night, lost in his muddled memories, he’d cut himself too deep.

He couldn’t remember.

Cole sucked in a deep breath, hoping the rush of humid, North Carolina air would stimulate his memory, but it only made him dizzy.

Something wasn’t right.

As he gazed up at the charred skeleton of a former religious building, he got the funny feeling he was supposed to be doing something. That he wasn’t there on his knees by chance.

But the only other living being in the vicinity was a large, ebony crow peering at him from a willow tree at the edge of the parking lot. Crows were bad luck. One in a churchyard was an omen of death. The bird flapped its wings once and took flight, soaring low over the parking lot before disappearing behind a brick wall.

“Cole!” A familiar ghost appeared in front of him, her face a mask of agony. He’d never seen his spirit companion Stephanie so distressed. “I found Dani. She’s coming. Can you hear me? She’s on her way. Just hang tight and everything will be okay.”

Daniela Ferraro. His friend. The witch.

Bits and pieces of the last few days resurfaced. He’d strangled Dani in a hospital room and then escaped, hiding out on the streets and in the woods ringing the town. The night before he’d slept sheltered among a copse of pine trees behind Auburn’s movie theater. The night before that? Hard to say. He thought the clothes he wore, black scrub bottoms and a yellow smiley face tee, were castoffs from the hospital. Or maybe that was part of the nightmare spell. Maybe he’d never been inside a hospital.

Either way, unable to suffer the guilt a moment longer, he’d come to the Dark Caster’s last known gathering place to face him. Or join him. That, too, was vague.

Of course the bastard wasn’t there.

But if Dani was on her way it meant one of two things. Either he was still in the nightmare spell and Cole would be forced to kill her again when the evil inside him rose up, or he hadn’t killed her and she’d try to stop him from going to war with the Dark Caster.

Neither of those things was going to happen.

“Tell her not to come,” he said. “Tell her not to come anywhere near me.”

* * *

Cole Burkov didn’t look like much of a threat. Talia Jackson had seen homeless people with better personal hygiene.

Black hair made even blacker with days of clinging dirt and grime. Chalky pale skin peeking out of secondhand clothes. Dirty, bare feet.

But she did what she was told, the way she always did, and got out of her car. She straightened a pair of barely-there shorts and a new gray tank top. Even after midnight, late April in North Carolina was muggy, and tendrils of cinnamon curls stuck to the nape of her neck.

She crossed the parking lot, her flip-flops kicking up ash and bits of charred wood from the meetinghouse’s remains. Creepy place. She’d been sent there by one of the Dark Caster’s messenger spirits, Johanna. Not on his orders, though. No, the White Wraith herself had organized this pick-up. And, to be honest, Talia was much more afraid of the wraith than she was of the DC, the Dark Caster himself. Witches freaked her out.

Of course, Talia had never actually seen or spoken to either the big boss or his right hand woman. It didn’t matter. Their reputations were enough to give her nightmares.

Fear of them both was the only reason she stood in the remains of their meetinghouse. To say she was there willingly would’ve been one heck of an exaggeration. She was there because her nephew was being held by the dark cabal—a sinister group of followers of the Dark Caster—as living, breathing collateral. And Talia was terrified of what would happen to him if she refused.

Burkov hadn’t noticed her yet. He had his back to her, studying something on the ground.

According to Johanna, he was a valuable asset. Or a target. It was difficult to guess the cabal’s true motives sometimes. All Talia knew was she was supposed to get over there, ASAP, never mind the time, and acquire the scraggly bum with the crazy eyes and bare feet. His spirit companion, an equally nonthreatening soccer mom type, blinked erratically around his periphery like she had a short in her wiring.

Talia really needed this assignment to go smoothly and for Burkov to get in her vehicle without a fight. Because this was one more notch on her Must Impress the DC belt, and one step closer to finding her nephew Sylvester.

“Miss, you must put him to sleep,” Hugh whispered at her. Her spirit companion did not trust strange men. Annoyingly old-fashioned, he still fussed when she went out in public unescorted. “Do not give him a chance to speak. He may hurt you before you can protect yourself.”

Talia had drawn an emergency spell circle on the roof of her Honda two-door for just such a contingency. She may need it tonight.

The simplest course of action was to put Burkov to sleep—against his will—drag him into the backseat of her car, and then dump him on the Carver’s front lawn.

But she didn’t do any of those things.

“Cole Burkov?”

He faced her, and only then did she see the dried blood up both arms to the elbows. God, what kind of magic had he been casting? The sight of so much blood triggered a memory. The Carver had warned her Cole was seriously, ridiculously, take-no-chances dangerous.

She slid a step in reverse, her breath freezing in her throat.

“You’re not the Dark Caster.” He scratched at two days’ worth of whiskers. “Are you?” But he didn’t go for a weapon. He didn’t draw any glyphs.

So, she straightened her shoulders like she would with any big-mouthed freshman. Once a less than impressive fourteen-year-old had sneered at her, “I don’t have to listen to you. You’re just the school nurse.” He’d quickly learned disrespecting her was more trouble than it was worth.

“He sent me to collect you. My name’s Talia Jackson. My car’s in the lot.”

“Don’t be an idiot,” the spirit in workout clothes shouted at him. “She’s a liar. She’ll say anything.”

“I’m not a liar,” Talia grumbled, stung. She’d done terrible things, but she’d never lied.

“Shut your mouth,” the ghost snapped. “You don’t care about him the way I do. And he’s not going anywhere.” She turned on Cole. “Listen to me. Just hang on for a little while longer. Your friends are coming.”

The threat of his so-called friends made Talia nervous. She wasn’t strong enough of a caster to overpower him and his cohorts, too. And if she failed to deliver Cole to the Carver…

The repercussions were too awful to contemplate.

Cole waved the ghost away like swatting a buzzing insect. “Who are you?” he demanded of Talia.

“Talia Jackson,” she said again. Nervous, she blew sticky auburn curls from her brow, and then glanced over her shoulder toward her car and the spell circle on its roof. “I’m a member of the dark cabal. I was told you’d be here. And I’m kinda in a hurry.”

He stumbled nearer, blood dripping a trail from his fingertips. So near she could tell his eyes were an intense shade of green.

“That’s close enough,” she warned. Ill or not Talia didn’t trust him to play nice. All the other people the DC had introduced her to had been criminally insane. She had nothing to convince her Burkov was any different. “I will protect myself, if I have to.”

He produced a bloodstained pocketknife and cracked it open.

Screw it. She reverted to plan B.

Quick as a cat, she scrambled up the windshield of her car. Even though the roof creaked in complaint and dipped beneath her feet, it was worth it to stand surrounded by spell marks. Magical power tingled in her fingertips.

“Miss, I don’t like the look of this man,” Hugh said softly as he hovered at her side.

Neither did she. “Stop,” she shouted at Cole. “We’re only doing this my way.” But he didn’t stop. “Please don’t make me do this,” she muttered. She didn’t want to put him to sleep. She didn’t want to hurt people anymore. And without the Carver, his buddy Jeff, and their spirits standing over her goading her on, she faltered.

Cole squinted up at her as if he could read every thought, every criminal act, and every doubt in the contours of her face. “You don’t work for the Dark Caster.”

“I do.” Not by choice, but that was none of his business. “And he is anxious to meet you. If you will please get in the car, I’d really appreciate it.” At any moment reinforcements may roll up, incapacitate her, and run off with her target. Seconds ticked by, and she bounced a little in frustration.

“You don’t seem like you practice black magic,” Cole said, staring hard with those penetrating green eyes of his.

“I’m a casting all-star,” she bluffed.

He made a grunting noise. “If you say so.”

“Well, I do.” She only bent the truth a little. She may not be the best necromancer in the world, but she’d been born one and that made a huge difference.

He caught her eye, and she had the unsettling feeling he was leveling with her. Maybe even trusting her a tiny bit.

“I’m not going to hurt you, as long as you don’t cast on me,” he said. “Deal?”

She believed him, which was absurd. She didn’t even know him. And he had all kinds of reasons to want to hurt her.

“I guess.”

When she started to get off the roof of her car, Cole held up a hand to stall her. “I need a favor first.”

She didn’t want to perform any favors, have any conversations, waste anymore time. But he’d piqued her interest. She couldn’t help herself.

“What kind of favor?”

“I need you to help me with a healing spell, and then I’ll go with you.”

Not a bad compromise. “Okay. Just do it quick. This place gives me the creeps.” She may as well have been trampling over fresh graves. Odds were no one had died on the property, but it felt like they had.

He pulled a black marker from his pocket and paired it with the knife.

“Cole Burkov, are you listening to me?” His spirit sounded a bit like an aggravated mother, which amused Talia.

Unperturbed, Cole drew a spell circle, but then he did something Talia had never seen any caster do. He used his very unsanitary looking knife to slice the tender skin of his left forearm, and fresh blood pooled.

“Why did you do that?” she exclaimed. The guy couldn’t afford to lose any more blood. In fact, he flattened one hand on the pavement to remain upright.

“I’m fine,” he mumbled, though that didn’t exactly answer her question.

“Please, Cole!” His spirit broke down and wept with undisguised anguish. The type of grieving wail Talia’s mother had made after her eleven-year-old grandson had been abducted.

Just to end the agony, Talia cast an amplification spell at Cole.

Different spells affected her in unique ways, but they all began as a tingle in her extremities, and this was no different. Then, as Hugh fed her more power, an electrical current flowed up from her fingers and toes.

Nothing strange there. Not until Cole channeled both his spirit and Talia’s. He soaked up her juju like it was an oil spill and he was made of paper towels. He dragged raw power out of her by the roots, and she winced. It felt like he was tearing the skin off her bones.

She should’ve known he wouldn’t be so greedy with her magic for a simple healing spell.

Rather than mend his cuts and bruises, he rounded on his spirit companion. “Sorry, Steph. I need some time. Vanesco,” he said.

Talia didn’t speak Latin, but no way had Cole cast anything helpful or soothing.

The vibrations of Hugh’s power died down. The pulling sensation ceased.

“Cole!” Steph sobbed, seeming to lose sight of him in the dark parking lot. “Goddamn you, Cole!” She sent Talia a final, scathing look, and then disappeared.

Talia, though, had no trouble whatsoever seeing Cole. “You used me,” she accused. “I don’t appreciate being tricked, Burkov. I should turn your eyes inside out for that. What spell did you use me to cast?”

“A vanishing spell,” he admitted.

Oh, that was new. She slipped her cell phone from her back pocket and opened a journaling and sketching app she really liked for studying spells. It gave her the freedom to draw glyphs with her fingers and add captions with the on-screen keyboard as well as attach photos.

“What was the Latin word you used?” She tapped a quick summary, and then snapped a pic of the glyph on the asphalt.

“I’ll tell you later.” He stood, weaved, and took a knee. “Sorry I couldn’t be upfront with you, but Steph wants to help me, which means stopping me.” He blew out a long breath. “I don’t want to be helped.”

He’d made himself invisible to all spirits, even his own. Tricky, tricky fiend.

On his second attempt, Cole climbed to his feet. “You said something about a car?”

Blood dribbled over his palm and rained upon the ground. But he did nothing to stop it. Like he didn’t care if he bled to death. Like it might be a relief.

“Cover that cut, would you?” Talia put away her phone and hopped off the roof. “Your blood pressure must be in the toilet.”

Without a word, he pulled his T-shirt over his head and wrapped it around his left arm. Talia froze, absorbing the sight of him unexpectedly bare-chested. He was on the thin side, but that only accented the ridges and plains of his torso. His wide chest had a fine covering of dark hair trailing down and disappearing beneath the waistband of his pants.

“This your car?”

“Yeah.” She forced herself to focus. “Get in.”

* * *

“Becca?”

Rebecca Powell rolled to the left, expecting to find a warm body to curl into. But Holden’s side of the bed was empty. The sheets were still warm and smelled of his skin, though, and she burrowed deep under the comforter. Her nagging to-do list attempted to break through her consciousness. So much to finalize. Especially if she and Holden Clark were ever going to open a second Sparky’s diner on the far side of Auburn. But she mentally pushed those thoughts away.

Later.

“Becca, you have to get up.”

She mumbled something to convey that it was still dark out and she’d much rather sleep until at least dawn after the workout he’d given her the night before. Muscles she didn’t even know she possessed ached. But in the very best way.

The bed rocked under his weight, and a gentle hand pulled the silken sheets below her face. She scrunched her nose. No fair.

“Believe me, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be than in this bed with you, but Dani just called,” he said. “She’s freaking out. She and David got word Cole is at the cabal’s meetinghouse, which is closer to our end of town than hers. He needs help.”

Rebecca sat up, fully awake. “Is he okay?”

“She’s not sure, but she basically ordered me to get my ass over there and pick him up, whether he likes it or not.”

“Of course.” She scurried out of bed and dressed in the clothes she’d tossed onto Holden’s bedroom floor the night before. “Let’s go.”

When she’d been in desperate need of support Cole Burkov had been there for her. He’d woken Holden from a hellish nightmare spell while Becca had been helpless. She would do anything for him.

“Who’s Cole?” asked the snarky female spirit that had been haunting Becca for days. She lurked in the corner between the dresser and the master bath, her head cocked to one side.

Rebecca refused to answer. Her strategy so far had been to ignore the ghost and hope it simply faded away.

Holden, though, worked off of different instincts. “How long are you gonna ignore Jolie?” he asked gently. “She just wants to get to know you.”

She didn’t know how to explain to Holden the feelings churning inside her.

Becca remained silent as she followed him outside and climbed into the passenger seat of his stripped-down Jeep.

Ignoring people was becoming second nature. Luckily, he didn’t seem bothered by it.

“Last I heard Cole had woken from a nightmare spell like yours,” she said as he rolled the vehicle onto the street. “And disappeared. Anything I’m missing?”

“I don’t know.” His mouth compressed into a tight line. “I remember how disorienting it was coming out of that spell. I couldn’t tell what was real. And he was in it for a lot longer than I was.”

“I hope he’s okay,” she said, but Cole’s loitering around the Dark Caster’s meetinghouse said otherwise. What reason could he possibly have to go there?

Turning her palms up, she studied them. She’d accessed her new necromancy powers once. To save Holden from Derek Walker, a top member of the dark cabal. But she hadn’t tapped it since. Honestly, she never wanted to again. If there were a pill to take necromancy away, she would swallow it. But it wasn’t so easy. For the rest of her life she’d be able to cast magic and see spirits of the dead trapped on earth. Whether she liked it, or not.

“We’ll make sure he’s okay,” Holden promised. “I owe the guy.”

But when they drove into the parking lot of the burned out building, the whole place was deserted.

“Damn it,” Holden swore, hitting the steering wheel. “Dani’s gonna kick my butt.”

Becca snickered, couldn’t help it, imagining the tiny woman fighting a full grown man, but Daniela’s power didn’t lie in her physical form. She was a witch. And terrifying.

She stifled her laugh.

“Some chick came and picked him up.”

Becca jumped at the sound of the young man’s voice. She’d never get used to spirits popping up at random times.

Tony, David Wilkes’ teenaged spirit companion, appeared beside Holden. Dani and David were spending a lot of time together and sometimes sending a spirit messenger was faster than a phone call.

Tony added, “Dani told David to tell me to tell you—”

“We get it,” Holden snapped. “Where is Cole?”

“On the move. Dani’s meeting us. I’ll navigate.” As if he were corporeal and not a hazy image, Tony swung into the back seat and pointed north. “It’s up Western.”

“This lady,” Holden said, “who was she?”

With the wind whipping around the cab of the Jeep, Tony’s reply was no more than a whisper in Becca’s ear. “I don’t know her, but she drove off and no one’s seen Cole since.”

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Spell of Binding (Dark Caster #2)

Written by Anna Abner

Copyright 2013 by Anna Abner

Cover Blurb:

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.

Chapter One

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.

“David?”

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.

“Ryan!”

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.

“Magic.”

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.”

“Please.”

“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.”

“Your…?”

“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.

“Afraid so.”

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.

“Nope.”

“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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Spell of Summoning (Dark Caster #1)

Written by Anna Abner

Copyright 2013 by Anna Abner

Or, Enjoy A Sneak Peek At Chapter One Of Spell Of Summoning

Cover Blurb

Holden Clark walks into Rebecca Powell’s life, a tall, blue-eyed stranger who stirs long forgotten desires. But nothing, including this man, is what it seems. A dark necromancer is targeting Becca for a full-blown demonic possession. She is thrust into a world she never knew existed—a world where dark casters create chaos and necromancers talk to the dead.

Holden has no faith in his power. A necromancer, he communicates with the dead, but he has never embraced his gifts. Now, he has no choice. He must stop the dark caster attacking Rebecca, but accepting this mission means he’ll be delving into dangerous magics he’s never used before.

Under the protection of the damaged and mysterious Holden, Rebecca will question everything …

Chapter One

April in North Carolina didn’t have the sticky heat that would settle over the state during the summer months, but it was warm. Sweat tickled at the back of Holden Clark’s neck. But not because of the weather. He’d lied to a woman to get her here.

Well, lie was a strong word. He’d rather say he’d persuaded a woman to join him for lunch under false pretenses. Because he wasn’t a liar. In fact, he prided himself on his honesty.

But he couldn’t think of any other way to get Rebecca Powell to meet him here. Telling her the truth over the phone was out of the question.

Buster, Holden’s yellow Labrador, sat up off the asphalt and whined at an approaching, slow-moving vehicle. This must be her.

A silver Lexus pulled over and parked two spots down in the half-empty lot, giving Holden plenty of room to watch Rebecca Powell through her car windows. Grams was right. No doubt about it, the woman was under a summoning spell, and the demon trying desperately to break into their world clung to Ms. Powell’s blonde hair and narrow shoulders like a filthy veil.

“Tell her whatever you have to,” Grams said, rounding the hood of his stripped-down 1979 Jeep. “She doesn’t have much time.”

He leaned against the passenger door, his fingers tightening to the point of pain around Buster’s long, braided leash. The air between him and Rebecca crackled with magical energy. The spell on her was no amateurish accident. It was stronger than anything he’d ever experienced. Fear coiled inside him. He couldn’t help her. No matter what his Grams said.

With a flip of her hair, Rebecca rose from her car and smiled that big Realtor smile. She looked just like her photo on her website. Pretty, brown-eyed, and about his age, twenty-eight or twenty-nine. She wore her business attire—curled hair, expensive jewelry, short skirt, and heels—like battle armor. It all pronounced her professional, but friendly. Smart, but feminine. A tough southern girl.

Buster’s ears perked up. Holden dug in his heels, but Buster was eighty-five pounds of overgrown puppy. He launched himself at Rebecca full force, as if he had springs for feet. The leash jerked out of Holden’s hand, and before he could stop him, his dog scratched both her knees, untucked her white blouse, and slammed her against her car. It was Buster’s version of a polite “How do you do? Is that a demon over your shoulder?”

“Good Lord,” she squealed.

“Buster, no!” Holden wrapped both arms around the dog and lifted him clear off the ground to stop the assault. “Not cool,” he grumbled, setting the dog in the Jeep. He secured his leash to the steering wheel, giving him only enough slack to lie down.

“I’m so sorry,” Holden said, turning to Miss Powell. “He wouldn’t hurt you. He wants to smell—” He almost said the demon. “—you.”

Rebecca straightened her light blue skirt, one hand on the car for balance, and smiled, the perfect agent even with dog slobber on her arms.

“He sure is friendly.”

She closed the distance between them and the air sizzled. She extended her hand for a shake, but her knees wobbled. The magic written all over her must be taking a toll. She listed to the side.

Holden leapt to catch her before she fell, accepting the brunt of her weight against his chest. She was small and light as a bird, and she smelled like fruit and flowers and something even more delicious underneath.

At her touch, a slice of him long frozen roared back to life. It had been so long since he’d felt anything near to desire that he didn’t immediately recognize the sensation.

“Excuse me,” she chirped, wrestling free. “I got light-headed for a sec. I’ve been having migraines.”

“No problem.” Holden brushed himself off, uncomfortable with so much physical contact. It had been months since he’d been this close to a woman. And he’d never been this close to a demon.

“I’m so embarrassed.” Rebecca wiped at the worst of the dirt streaks on her skirt.

Blood bubbled up from a scratch above her knee. Holden pulled a mechanic’s rag, the closest thing to a Band-Aid in the Jeep, from his glove box and offered it to her. If only he owned a first aid kit like a normal person.

“I’m sorry,” he said again.

“No, thanks.” She waved away his rag and handed him a fancy business card with her photo on it. The spell on her crackled, passing him a minor electrical shock. She must have felt it, too, because she snatched her hand back.

“Mr. Clark,” she said, “let’s get down to business. You said you wanted to sell your house, but you had some questions?”

Right. His cover story. He’d called and offered her a job, insisting on meeting her here at this strip mall for a lunch date at a little Mexican restaurant. But he had no intention of selling the farmhouse he’d inherited from his grandparents. The ruse was the simplest way to get her to The Repository, a store that shared the same shopping center.

“Uh. Yeah.”

She narrowed her eyes. “Did you change your mind? Because I’m not feeling very well all of a sudden. I could reschedule.” She produced a cell phone and tapped on it. “To be honest, I’m not taking any new clients right now. My associate, Jessa, though…”

Grams appeared at his elbow. “Don’t even think about it, bubba.”

How did she know he was half a second from accepting the out?

“I can’t,” he mouthed. “It’s worse than I thought.”

Rebecca glanced up. “Sorry?” Her smile faltered.

He’d promised Grams to help Rebecca. He’d actually said the words. But if Rebecca refused his help, it wasn’t his fault.

Might as well come clean. “The spell on you. It’s worse than I thought.”

She cocked her head, a strand of honey-blonde hair sliding along her collar. “What did you say?”

Buster whined and strained at his leash, rocking the Jeep.

“The possession spell,” Holden said. “The demon.”

For a moment she didn’t react. Then, very calmly, she put away her phone and said, “I understand.” She straightened her shoulders and seemed to grow another three inches, though even in her towering heels she remained half a foot shorter than him.

“Good to meet you,” she said in a steely tone. “Have a nice day.”

Her first instinct was to dismiss anything to do with the supernatural, but he didn’t have the luxury of denial. His whole life was one big supernatural tragedy.

Grams adamantly shook her head at him. She’d given him an ultimatum. Stop the demon from breaking through to their world, or she was leaving. For good.

Last try, and then Grams would have to accept he’d done all he could.

Holden grabbed Rebecca by the wrist, stalling her. “Don’t you know someone is trying to possess you with a demon?”

* * *

Fear flashed through Rebecca, momentarily obliterating the constant headache and the pain in her thighs from his devil dog. The man whose arms she’d nearly fainted into was another lunatic. The third psychic in the last month. That must be some kind of record.

But Holden didn’t look like a Ouija-loving madman. First off, he showed up to a business lunch in jeans and a T-shirt. He was tall. And young, about her age. And way too handsome.

The fear morphed into anger, granting her strength. She locked eyes with his very, very blue ones. Quite distracting eyes, actually.

“Let me go. Now.” She stared him down, willing him to release her without any further fuss.

“Hear me out.”

“I don’t think so.” Becca palmed her cell with her free hand, her thumb poised to hit send on a 911 call.

Holden stepped so close she caught his freshly laundered scent, but Rebecca held her ground.

“Have you been seeing things? Having headaches? Does it seem like a haunting, except it’s only around you?”

Did he read minds? Yes, yes, and double yes. She dropped her cell phone into her purse. “My father hired you.”

“No.”

“Then how—?” Becca blinked and couldn’t stop.

She’d hoped today’s migraine was food poisoning from the Chinese take-out she’d shared with her staff at lunch, but she’d been suffering headaches for weeks. And the other unexplained phenomena surrounding her had nothing to do with MSG or bad bean sprouts.

The pain at the back of her skull receded, but for a minute there—the one during which she’d fallen into this guy’s arms—she’d feared she was having a stroke. Maybe she had.

Holden’s voice lowered. “I can see the summoning spell all over you.”

“You cannot be serious.” Nothing in Becca’s life, not her realty courses or the motivational seminars or the “Double Your Sales” DVDs she’d watched last week, had prepared her for this nonsense.

She forced a smile, wishing she had her sister beside her to roll her eyes for. They would jostle each other and giggle and reinforce the absurdity of all this. Because there were no such things as demons or spells or magic or any of it. That was summer movie, cable TV bullshit that didn’t translate to the real world.

Except she wasn’t so sure anymore. She’d seen so much.

Holden frowned, his gaze crisscrossing her face. “Am I wrong?”

“That’s private.” She pointed at her car. “I have a lot of work to do.” That wasn’t true. Not completely. She owned her own office. She made her own schedule.

He looked her right in the eye and leaned in even closer. Way too close. Kissing range close. “A necromancer is targeting you for a full-blown demonic possession. I can help you, if you let me.”

Becca swallowed, overwhelmed with the urge to retreat. His body heat rolled over her like a wave. “What do you—”

“I know what’s happening because I’m a necromancer, too.”

She froze, not sure whether to laugh or get her phone back out and press send on that call. “You’re joking.”

He freed her, leaving her reeling.

“I was trying to—” Holden shook his head. “Forget it. I’ll see what I can do.” He tilted his ear toward his vehicle as if he heard something.

Buster popped his scruffy blond head over the passenger door and rested his chin on the sill, but nothing else about the decades old Jeep drew her attention. And she didn’t hear a thing.

“What are you going to do?” Becca disliked the idea of Holden Clark investigating her personal life behind her back. “What do you mean?”

“There’s a guy in the store over there.”

She glanced at the row of shops. “What guy?”

Holden eased farther away. “I’ll let you know what I find.”

“Whoa,” she said, following him. “You’re not going over there to talk to some guy about my personal business.”

“Then come with me.”

Her logical mind urged her to get as far away from Holden Clark as possible. And fast. She’d taken a self-defense class. Distance and crowds were two important assets. Right now, she had neither.

But what if he wasn’t a lunatic? What if he was right?

She was already here, and she had nothing to do the rest of the day but sit in her mostly boxed-up office or go home to her too-small apartment, the second one she’d moved into in the last three months, and eat alone.

Then he went in for the kill, aiming the full strength of those blue eyes on her. “There’s a summoning spell on you. I want to get rid of it.”

“Not possible.”

But Becca couldn’t lie to herself. Some too-weird-to-be-believed shit had been going on for a while. It was the reason she lived in a tiny, slightly toxic-smelling one-bedroom apartment instead of her real house on River Road. This wasn’t all make-believe. Those chairs hadn’t moved themselves.

“Without help it’s only going to get worse.”

Worse wasn’t an option. Worse was stroking out during her morning commute. She couldn’t do worse.

“Does this guy have a name?” she asked.

Holden cracked a small, approving smile, and his features softened. She was struck, again, by how handsome he was.

“Cole Burkov. He has experience with dark magic.”

“Is he a friend of yours?” she asked.

“Sort of. But the point is he knows a lot about spells.”

Becca bit her lip and then went with it because not only was her schedule flexible for the first time in ten years, but if her issues weren’t supernatural, then it was CAT scan and blood work time. The very real possibility that she was suffering from a brain tumor was always sitting there in the back of her mind, terrifying the living daylights out of her. And she’d much rather deal with a pesky spirit than chemotherapy.

“Fine. You got me here. Let’s see what he has to say.”

Because, yeah, Mr. Clark was probably a head case, but how else to explain the headaches, the nightmares, and the electricity glitches?

She glanced at the fluorescent lamp pole arcing above their heads, but it held steady. No light shows today, then.

Holden secured his dog, and Rebecca pulled an off-white cardigan from her trunk. It would cover the gritty paw marks on her clothes. As she pushed her arms through the long sleeves, she made a promise. Five minutes with Cole Burkov, and then she’d return to her office. That was long enough to decide whether Holden was on to something or a frustrating waste of time.

Of the two other psychics that had tracked Becca down at work, neither had mentioned a necro-whatever or a demonic possession. Their conversations had run more toward blocked chakras, sage smudging, and EMFs. They’d been equally earnest in their conversations and only slightly more ridiculous. And each had brought up forms of payment in nearly the same breath as “Hello, nice to meet you.” At least Mr. Clark wasn’t asking for money. Yet.

Holden got his dog out of the Jeep, a stronger grip on the leash this time, she hoped, and gestured for her to proceed.

She faced the storefronts. Not exactly voodoo country. Where were the Spanish moss and rolling fog?

“So,” she said, “which is the collection of dark and unknowable magics—the fast food Mexican place or the ice cream parlor/arcade?”

He eyed the row of family-friendly establishments. “It’s the comic book shop.”

The dog surged toward Rebecca, straining at his leash and dancing up on his hind legs. He was obviously biding his time until he could jump all over her. She gave him a look that said, “Try it, and I’ll hobble you.”

“Who’s your fine young gentleman?” Rebecca asked.

“Buster. I hope you don’t mind, but he doesn’t like being alone.”

Mind? “Of course not.” She grabbed her bag, locked the car, and marched ahead in her heels and turquoise pencil skirt, her cardigan hiding most of Buster’s little gifts.

Holden led the unrepentant Lab across the parking lot, keeping barely enough space between them to prevent further assault. The dog couldn’t belong to anyone but Holden. Neither one had a clue about personal space.

“What is a necromancer?” Becca asked, quickly outpaced by Holden’s long strides.

He paused on the sidewalk for her to catch up. “I see spirits. Deceased persons.”

“You see dead people.” She fought a smile. “You’re obviously a movie fan. So, is that like a magician?”

“I’m not sure magician is the right word.”

He settled Buster in a shady spot under the store’s front windows and poured water from a bottle into a stainless steel bowl. The little devil tilted its head up and stared at Holden with an expression of pure adoration before belly flopping on the warm concrete. His tail thumped twice, and then he fell asleep.

“You’re good with him.” It wasn’t right to be jealous of a well-cared-for animal. Becca looked after others, but there wasn’t a single person who took care of her. Not her sister, not her dad, and her mother didn’t count. If she had time for a boyfriend, maybe he would, but she didn’t, and there was no point in dwelling on all the reasons why she didn’t.

Holden pulled open the shop’s glass door and held it for her.

Tall wall-to-wall shelves ringed the interior of the store, which smelled like books and Mexican food. Three men played a dice and card game at a table in the corner, a teenage girl flipped through back issues, and a twenty-something guy stood at the cash register, his nametag pinned to his dark blue polo.

“We have to go,” Becca whispered. “They don’t have magic. They’re role playing.”

Holden grunted.

A dark-haired young man wearing a company shirt stared hard at her and then headed right for them. “Freaky. It’s like you have your own personal storm cloud. Demonic possession?”

Holden had probably called this guy on the drive over and prepped him for their little con game if that’s what this was. And there was a good chance that’s what it was.

“Rebecca Powell.” She extended her hand for a quick shake, reflexively passing him her card.

“Sure.” He frowned at Holden. “Let’s talk in the back room.”

“And your name is?” she called after them. No answer.

Damn them. She knocked her knuckles on a glass case dedicated to Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. The stake-wielding blonde glared up at her from the cover of a glossy graphic novel.

This was a mistake.

Becca checked her watch. Three minutes down. Two to go.

Quiet conversation in the store picked up again. She didn’t mind being the center of attention—her job encouraged it—but this didn’t feel right.

“Hi.” The cashier stepped into her periphery. His nametag read Justin.

“Hello.” Smiling sweetly, she handed him her card. “Rebecca Powell. Nice to meet you.”

He traded her a plastic-encased comic book. Leaning in, he whispered, “You’re welcome.” He stared meaningfully at the book and then wandered to the checkout area.

She glanced at the comic in her hands. A group of teenagers under the Statue of Liberty raced across the front cover of Runaways.

Time’s up.

She set the book on a shelf and marched for the closed door marked Private—No Exit. Nobody tried to stop her, and she let herself in. Groups of used candles, posters of big-breasted superheroines, and crates of comic books surrounded Cole and Holden. No ancient tomes or long wands in sight.

Becca crossed the threshold, and her ears buzzed. The air hummed as if she were standing beside an electrified fence.

Cole stopped talking midsentence, and both men stared at her.

The lightning storm in her brain intensified, worse than ever before, and her instincts screamed at her to escape.

The shelf beside her rattled.

Rebecca pasted on a smile, cloaking herself in professionalism. “What have you come up with?”

“Go back into the store,” Holden snapped, a twinge of panic in his voice.

Just what were they doing in here?

She stepped into the room. And the whole building shook.

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Spell Marks & Spell Circles

Or, My Interpretation of a Necromancer’s Spell

In the Dark Caster Series, I write about necromancers. In my world, they channel a spirit’s power with a lot of self control and the help of a spell circle. Most of my research came from the book A Dictionary of Symbols by JE Cirlot (1971). Here are a few of my own–very amateurish–drawings of what I imagined in my head while writing Spell of Summoning:

A symbol of power that hangs suspended between heaven and earth.
Bell; a symbol of power that hangs suspended between heaven and earth.

A bridge between worlds and a link between what can be perceived and what is beyond perception.
A bridge between worlds and a link between what can be perceived and what is beyond perception.

The lower part becomes a receptacle open to spiritual forces while the upper part closes over the earth.
Chalice: the lower part becomes a receptacle open to spiritual forces while the upper part closes over the earth.

Libra, a sign of equilibrium between good and evil; justice.
Libra; a sign of equilibrium between good and evil; justice.

The mystic symbol for justice.
Scales; the mystic symbol for justice.

A link between the upper and lower worlds; inversion.
X; a link between the upper and lower worlds; inversion.

A six pointed star is the symbol of the human soul.
A six pointed star is the symbol of the human soul.

Virgo; symbolic of dual--positive and negative--forces.
Virgo; symbolic of dual–positive and negative–forces.

A spell circle with four spell marks at compass pints, plus four others.
A spell circle with four spell marks at compass pints, plus four others.

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