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Copyright © 2013, Mary Arsenault Buckham

First Edition



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Cover and book design by






This book is dedicated to my dad who passed away during the writing of the story. He was my earliest storyteller, who made the world a better place for being in it. I’ll miss you dad and hope I can live up to your legacy!





It takes a village to create a book and this book is no acceptation. A huge note of appreciation to the following who helped so much in making sure the story held together: Laurie G Adams, Cari Gunsullas, Debbie Kaufman, Dorothy Callahan and Deborah Anderson. Thanks for being such amazing readers of this story. You guys rock! A special thanks to Mimi Munk for copyediting, you are my Grammar Goddess. Also, a huge hug to Dianna Love for her support and lovely cover quote. And, of course, thank you to my husband who keeps me sane—which is a full time job! Any mistakes or adjustments in detail for the purpose of fiction are entirely my own doing.




“Team report,” I spoke the words calmly, coolly even, nothing like my insides felt, jumping a mile a minute. The nerves were part anticipation, part terror.

The next minutes would change everything.

I’m Alex Noziak, a witch/shaman in the temporary employment of the IR Agency. I for invisible, R for recruit, and calling any of my five-member team employed was a load of crock. I was here as an alternative to prison. Long story boiled down to a year’s agreement to be a member of a small, highly secret organization meant to combat a rising tide of preternatural agitation against humans. Fancy words for saying five of us stood against who knew how many species that, until lately, were mostly content to stay hidden from human eyes.

So here I was, in the exotic city of Paris, lounging on a street corner, a baby buggy in front of me, dressed like a down-on-her-luck Parisian mother
. I had my waist-length braid of hair tucked up under a cheap hat that was itching like crazy and enough makeup on my face to disguise my Native American skin tones. I’d considered using an appearance spell then discarded it. Not that I liked looking like I’d bought every kind of cosmetic Walmart had to offer and used all of it at once, but magic was something I used with extreme caution.

Why? Because it always exacted a price and I was still smarting from my last bout with spell casting. That and a run-in with a demonic African witch doctor.

About two months ago it became apparent that someone, or something, was no longer happy with the status quo of humans being blithely unaware that there were more than themselves populating the planet. Preternaturals had their reasons for flying under the radar, for many of them survival being the biggest reason. Humans tended to kill first and ask questions later when they dealt with anything they perceived as a threat. If you don’t believe me consider the poor cockroach. As if a bug that small was really going to do something to them. Non-humans, like most squishy, squirmy bugs, fell squarely under the category of dead must be better.

But someone wanted to change all that and my job, along with my five teammates, was to stop it from happening.

Team leader Vaughn, who was sitting at a nearby café table, sipping espresso and looking more French than the locals, was I assumed fully human. She also was a socialite, pampered money, and stunning looks; more than that though, she was willing to put her life on the line for a cause, protecting those who didn’t know they needed protection.

Then there was Kelly, a former kindergarten teacher who was so nice I kept waiting for the catch. Her gift was the ability to turn invisible for short bursts of time. Drawback was, she was still learning how to get a handle on not popping away when stressed or scared. Right now she was playing tourist, complete with a crumpled map, a camera, and a vacuous expression on her face as she looked around the seedy neighborhood. She fit the role so well even I believed she was lost.

She was waiting for my signal to do her thing, become invisible and reconnoiter our target and mission accomplished. A quick get-in-and-get-out-in-one-piece job. Piece of cake.

Jaylene Smart and Mandy Reyes were the two other team members, lounging against a far wall, looking, except for the cast on Mandy’s a
rm like hookers trolling for johns among a few other women doing the same thing. Jaylene, tall, gorgeous, and African American was a psychic, which meant she saw the future. Not always in technicolor or clearly, but that was the challenge with gifts, you had to take the bad with the good.

Hispanic Mandy was a soulless spirit walker;
someone who like me, could pass over to the spirit world. Difference was I remained a shaman when I traveled between realms. She might as well have worn a neon sign that flashed corporal-body-ready-to-be-inhabited to any spirit with enough chutzpah to try.

I figured the reason some spirit hadn’t succeeded yet was only because they were wary of Mandy’s abrasive personality. Smart spirits.

M.T. Stone was our team instructor, and as we had yet to finish our training, was here with us for support. Since he’d nearly died on our last mission, one that was supposed to be easy, I took it as a good sign. He’d barely left a German hospital so his presence was meant for tactical support. He was dressed as a Parisian workman in a one-piece paint-splattered coverall, poking at a chip in a stucco wall. He should have looked harmless but there was nothing harmless about him. One close look and most people’s first reaction was to step back, those who hadn’t already taken off running.

“Team, report,” I repeated, getting antsy, as operational leader. I had the most at stake on this mission. Our primary goal was catching a man named Vaverek and all we had was a faint description: broad shouldered, stocky, dark-haired, who was supposed to be living in the second floor, front right flat in the building across the street, a building so old that if Stone kept picking at it might crumble.

We were to verify the intel that this was his hidey-hole and withdraw, period. no matter how much I wanted us to go in, blast his door open and take him out, after he told me what I wanted to hear. With two of the six of us on the recuperation list we weren’t up to doing anything more, even with at least two snipers on nearby rooftops to help us if we needed backup.

Vaverek was the man behind a dangerous synthetic drug used against humans so far that could force them to commit crimes without their knowledge
. Two weeks ago we’d stopped two of the women involved in testing the drug on unsuspecting victims. We also managed to seize a sizeable amount of the drug, which should have been a high-five moment for the team, and for me as point on that operation.

The moment lasted a lot less than sixty seconds when a containment spell I’d cast backfired and killed our two chief suspects before they could give us any leads to their power brokers, the individuals who financially backed the scheme, and who might still have enough of the drug, or worse, the formula, to pose a threat.

But there was more. Vaverek was also our only link to the increasingly dangerous agitation among the world’s non-human population. We needed to know who Vaverek was working for, as well as free the man Vaverek held hostage.

My brother.




“You sure you got your intel straight?” Mandy snarled into her comm link. “These shoes are killing me.”

Poor baby
. I didn’t appreciate being second-guessed, especially by someone who sat most of the last mission out.

“Can it,” I cut her off. “Intel’s good.”

Or I hoped like hell it was. Given the source was a man who’d threatened to kill me last time we’d met, there was a definite degree of doubt riding me. The same man had been my lover the week before that. Oh, and did I mention, the man whose beloved cousin was one of the two women I’d killed?

It’d been a busy couple of weeks. And that didn’t count the side trip to Africa, Stone being almost killed, and my facing a Yoruba witch doctor who was one nasty crazy SOB. Then there was a djinn who belonged in his own category of scary.

“We’ll give Kelly another ten minutes to get rid of her new French friends before she moves in.” Stone’s voice washed over the comm.

Ten? What about five instead? It wasn’t his brother being held and tortured by Vaverek. On the other hand, standing around wasn’t getting us any closer to our quarry. Stone was right. Time to kick this op into fast-forward.

I straightened my shoulders, stretched to touch the Glock 22mm with silver bullets in a shoulder harness under my nubby sweater. The weapon was a fall back option since Vaverek was a Were, but I didn’t expect to use it. Better safe than sorry.

What I really wanted to do was to walk across the cobbles, shoo away the French talking to Kelly or, if that didn’t work, march up the stairs I could see from where I stood, and knock on Vaverek’s door.

I’d figure out the rest of the plan at that point. Noziaks were more kick down doors and ask forgiveness afterwards types, so I was acting true to my gene pool. And we wouldn’t have to keep cooling our heels in this backwater neighborhood.

A quick glance up and down the street revealed about a dozen civilians milling about, in the café with Vaughn, with a few hookers around Jaylene and Mandy. The nice looking elderly couple using hand gestures to explain directions to Kelly were taking their sweet time
. I mentally wanted to shout at Kelly to move them along but she was too nice for her own good.

If I crossed quickly, kept Vaverek contained to his own apartment, and called in the team for my backup once I was inside, my frontal assault could contain him. I could pretend I was lost, look clueless and back out. That would also save putting Kelly at risk. She might have volunteered for her role in this op but Stone had done the same thing in Rwanda and look what happened to him.

I was just about to step forward when a hand to my shoulder stopped me.

No Frenchman would be so bold, no team member was close enough, and no bad guy would use this kind of approach. That left one person. Bran. Warlock, former lover, current nemesis.

I snarled as I glanced at him over my shoulder. Tall, dark and dangerous basically summed him up as I ignored the flip-flop of my insides created by just looking at the man. Focus on the job at hand.

“You aren’t supposed to be here.”

“I have as much at stake as you do.”

I understood he was still grieving his cousin Dominique’s death, even if she was a sadistic psycho-killer, and that he blamed Vaverek for involving her in the high-stake world of designer drugs and fatalities. But that didn’t give him a right to insert himself into this mission.

I kept turned toward Vaverek’s apartment building. Never lose sight of the primary target, even if it meant having the biggest threat at my back. “If you kill Vaverek,” I said between clenched teeth, “I lose the only lead to my brother.”

“If I get a shot at him I’m taking it.” I was ready to pull my Glock on Bran, until he added, “But I won’t kill him before I get from him what I want. Vaverek’s the head of an organization but he’s not working alone. I want to know who Vaverek reports to before I eliminate him.”

I knew the first part, but not how badly Bran wanted the second part. Leave him to muddle this mission before we ever got started. But we could agree on something. Identify and contain Vaverek.

“Then stay put. I’m going in,” I said, not loud enough my team could hear, but loud enough to let Bran know I meant business.

I expected him to release his hold. Instead he gripped tighter.

“You have no idea what you’re about to unleash here.”

Bran was a warlock with an over-protective streak, one a good mile wide. It was that need to protect that had him shield his cousin far too long, and try to keep me from harm, even though he knew what my job was, and that I was perfectly capable of protecting myself.

What did he know that I didn’t?

I glanced at him again over my shoulder. “What the hell are you talking about?” I snarled. “You’re the one who told us that the target should be inside that building.”

“Your snipers on the roofs have been neutralized.”

“What?” It took all my limited training not to spin around and shout at him. That was some bomb he just dropped on me.

His fingers bit so hard into my shoulder they’d leave bruises. “Stop looking with your eyes, witch. Look around you.”

I had. I was.

“Close your eyes and look with
your inner senses.”

My inner senses told me he was playing his own deadly game, but he was also a powerful warlock, strong enough to pull people back from the dead, and he had a lot more experience than I did using magic.

I’d give him sixty seconds. But that was it.

So I closed my eyes, aware of my pounding pulse, the kiss of a breeze picking up bringing the scent of fresh baked beignets, the peal of bells echoing through stone and stucco streets.

“There’s nothing−”

And that’s when it hit. The wash of otherness seeping through my awareness. Several Weres, strong enough to hide their scent. At least one vamp, maybe two. I couldn’t quite identify the others, not from this far away. Fae maybe. A demon,
and something else.

My eyes snapped open. Why hadn’t I sensed them until now? I glanced at my silver ring, specially crafted to alert me to non-humans. Nothing. No heat, no humming, nothing.

But they were there. Infiltrating the street. Surrounding my teammates.

“Abort. Abort,” I spoke into my comm set. “Get the hell out. Now!”


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