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Jeb walked the streets of Paris for what seemed like hours, watching night steal the light and warmth of the day, aware of the rage rushing through him. When he’d accepted his position on the Council he never dreamed he’d have put his family in danger. Now he faced losing one or two of his children.

If Zeid’s words were to be believed. A traitor on or close to the Council. Seeking what? That’s what Zeid needed Jeb’s help for, there had only been so much he could discover hiding in the shadows. Now they needed someone who could talk freely, if not easily with the others.

“Why me?” Jeb had asked, struggling with the information Zeid had shared. “Except for Philippe the others and I have only been at odds.”

“Because of your daughter?”

“Yes.” Jeb had slammed to his feet. He’d made the hard choice a year ago and lived with that decision every day, as did Alex, but the other Council members had painted Jeb as less than trustworthy because his daughter had come so close to that line of exposing preternaturals to humans. Close but never strayed over the line.

He’d contained her actions and lost her to the prison system in the process. Wasn’t that enough of a price to pay?

Obviously not, as someone sought to undermine what Jeb sacrificed so much to uphold. But who were they and what did they want?

There had always been factions fighting factions, one group thinking another group was getting more than their fair share, those who never accepted the dominance of humans over non-humans. The list was endless, so why now did someone work behind the scenes to undermine what had made the world a slightly more stable place?

That’s what had been squirreling through Jeb’s thoughts as he pounded the pavement
. The more he walked the more clarity danced just outside his awareness.

By the time he’d returned to Philippe’s townhouse, having never found different lodging, Pádraig was waiting for him. “I thought I had lost you,” the younger man said as a greeting. “And without a word.”

Jeb had no patience for pleasantries as he jumped right in. “Tell me what’s been happening at the Council lately?”

Pádraig tightened his mouth, then seemed to change his mind. “You are more involved in the Council than I am.”

“But I only rarely interact with day-to-day affairs.” Jeb knew he’d pushed the Irishman, but wasn’t sure why the other pulled back as if assaulted. As his wife had always told him he had magic in the way of his words, when he chose to use them. A lesson he’d tried to impart to Alex, though telling her and showing her had not always meshed. Time to use a little of that now if he wanted to get what he needed. “I value your insights, your experience,” he said, making sure the other heard the sincerity in his tone. “I admit that I’ve been distracted of late so may not have paid attention as I should.”

Two balms to another’s sense of value were to acknowledge their strengths and your own weaknesses. Even as he said the words he realized how true they were, especially the last part.

Pádraig’s shoulders relaxed, as he tilted his head toward the formal living room off the entryway. “You mean the Were agitation?”

Jeb followed the other man, waving off an offer for a drink. Instead he crossed to one of the chairs near the far window and eased himself into it. No matter how much he wanted to find what the other knew and sooner rather than later. If he pushed too hard, too fast, he’d learn nothing
. “Are the Weres creating the most agitation right now?”

Pádraig lifted the glass stopper of one of the decanters and paused with his hand midair. He seemed to ponder for a moment. “No more than usual. In fact I’d say just the opposite. They’ve pulled back a few of their petitions. I think Philippe’s recent overtures to them have helped steer their more moderate members away from the fringe fanatics.”

“What overtures?” Jeb refused to kick himself for not knowing these details. By nature he was usually out of the mainstream of Council politics but he’d preferred it that way. Maybe at too great a cost but what had been done was done.

Pádraig finished pouring his drink, the smell of aged bourbon reaching Jeb as Pádraig took a deep sip then crossed to sit in the padded chair across from Jeb. He didn’t speak until he made sure the crease of his linen pants was centered exactly mid-leg. “Philippe made a few staff changes recently at some of the ancillary Council posts. Brought a few more Weres on as advisors, people with more rather than less power.”

“Undoing some of the slights Wei Pei has offered over the years?” Jeb asked, seeing the thought process behind his friend’s actions. He leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers before him. “So if the Weres have been appeased, who else might be unhappy with the status quo?”

Pádraig took another sip, watching Jeb over the rim of his glass before he set it down and leaned forward in his chair, his elbows on his knees. “I may be way out of line here, but there is something that’s been bothering me.”


“This warlock who was called up recently.”

“The one called Bran?”

Pádraig nodded, looking very druid with the movement.

“What about him?” Jeb warned himself not to jump too fast but to hear what the other had to say and weigh it.

“I can’t really put my finger on it.” Pádraig flopped back in his chair, releasing a deep sigh. “I know he’s suspected of being involved in this new drug that’s supposed to make someone act out of their own best interests.” Jeb circled one hand. “Go on.”

“They say his cousin was testing the drug on humans . . .”

“But was killed, wasn’t she?”

“Yes, but what if this warlock had also been testing the drug on preternaturals at the same time only his tests haven’t come to light? Yet.”

Jeb shook his head. “Explain more if you would.”

The Irishman jackknifed forward, running one hand through his hair. “I may be way off base here but what if the warlock has experimented on subjects using small tests. The kind that would fly under the radar and not attract the attention of the Council.”

“Until it was too late?”

“Exactly!” Pádraig threw both hands open, nearly knocking over his drink in his enthusiasm. “How would the Council know if some fae somewhere quit his job of twenty years? An action that might have been totally out of character if you knew that particular fae, such as an Adbertos or something.”

“You mean one of those who feel sacrifice is the ultimate good so are willing to do the hard jobs others would or could not.”

Pádraig jumped to his feet. “So let’s say this Adbertos just ups and quits his job and decides to go on the dole instead.”

“Acting totally against his base self needs.” Jeb could see where the young man was going with his line of thinking.

“The Council would never know of this individual but the one behind the use of the drug would be aware that he, or she, was able to overcome what makes an Adbertos an Adbertos.”

“The Adbertos would die though and fairly quickly,” Jeb mused aloud
. “Because to act so against their nature would be suicide.”

A smile lit Pádraig’s face as he grabbed his drink and started walking around the room. “A perfect murder. Self-murder. And no one would be the wiser.”

“Are you suggesting such a thing has been done?” Jeb asked, leaning forward.

“No.” The Irishman punctuated the word with a wave of his glass before pivoting to face Jeb. “But that’s the beauty of the situation. We’ve been thinking that if this mind-altering drug has been used up to this point that the Council would be aware of it. After all, the impact on preternaturals worldwide is enormous.”

“And what does this have to do with the warlock?”

“This man travels around the world on a regular basis.”

Jeb nodded. “As far as I’m aware, yes.”

“So what if he’s been trying out the drug on a chambermaid here, a clerk there?”

“Only these were not humans?”

Pádraig shook his head, a wicked gleam in his eyes. “They were nobodys. A kobold here, a sylph there. Beings the Council rarely considers unless they threaten the Council’s functions.”

“And what did he hope to gain?” Jeb asked, playing devil’s advocate.

“Power of course.” Pádraig’s eyes appeared to flicker as if he could understand so clearly what could drive this dress designer. “He’s a warlock. Their reputation presedes them.

Their need to possess and control power legendary. Almost equal to their ability to seduce.”

Jeb ignored the knotting of his gut as he thought of Alex with this warlock
. From what he’d read of this Bran, his daughter was playing with a true power-player. High stakes for a girl from southern Idaho. Could what Pádraig be saying be so simple and so insidious?

But Pádraig was oblivious to the impact of his words as he poured himself another drink and continued, his back turned toward Jeb. “Seduction is all about mastering the bold move, proving yourself, stirring up the taboos and most of all— “ He paused, raising his glass as if to salute the absent warlock. “The absolute win is to create the perfect illusion.”

“Which is?”

Pádraig glanced over his shoulder. “Why, that this Bran is a victim and not the transgressor
. He is not the brains and power behind the design and use of this drug, but has been victimized by it as he claims his cousin was.”

“And what is the end goal?” Jeb asked, his mouth dry, his heart sick.

Pádraig turned, slowly, pointing his glass at Jeb. “If I was such a warlock, I’d be seeking a seat on the Council where, with a few more masterful strokes, I’d become Council leader. Then the world would be mine.”

Jeb watched the young man, heard the truth in his words even as he wanted to ignore them. “You are forgetting one thing,” he said, tumbling the concept around his mind as Pádraig tumbled the drink around his tongue.

“And that is?”

“There is only one Council seat presently given to the magic users, which is what a warlock is.”

Pádraig nodded, taking a deep breath. “Shamans, mages, sorcerers, seers, soothsayers, the whole lot.”

“My seat. The one that cannot be passed to another unless I die.”

Pádraig raised his brow and gave a low, deep chuckle. “And you think this would stop this warlock for long?”




I scooted back on the couch, my muscles clenched so tight I was surprised I could move at all. All things circled back to the Council.

I should just stencil the damn message across my forehead and look in the mirror every five minutes. Instead I shook my head. Bran’s hunting for Vaverek led to Bran’s being pulled before the Council. How convenient. Van’s disappearance being tied to Vaverek, and thus the Council, has led to my hunting for Van. But the closer I got to him, the faster Ling Mai jerked me back. At this point I wouldn’t be surprised to learn Ling Mai was a Council member.

With a sharp glance at Bran I asked, “Was there a full quorum at the Council when you were there today?”

“All six remaining members. Yes.”

“I don’t suppose Ling Mai was there?”

He paused then shook his head.

“You saying no or you can’t tell me?”

“What do you think?” His words held a bitter edge. Not that I blamed him. Die if you do or die if you don’t. It was one thing to share that he’d even been called and what happened to him directly, but a whole different thing to reveal anything that those on the Council might see as an attack on them or their bloody group. Which meant everything that might reveal a hint about the Council location, its procedures, and most of all its members.

I glanced at
and Willie. “Maybe you guys had better plug your ears since it appears I can’t say anything about my dad without bringing the big C into the conversation.”

“Too late.”
shrugged. “We’re in too deep to get off with a slap on the wrist now. Might as well spill the beans so we can clear up this mess before it takes us all out.”

I cut a you-too look toward Willie. His nod was his only answer, though I did notice he had paled a little.

It was Bran I spoke to as I asked, “At this point you’re under suspicion from the Council for association with the designer drug, but nothing more. You want to leave it at that or move forward?”

He actually impressed me by taking a moment to consider. No jump-in-first-and-cry-foul-later approach. Instead he said, “Of the six Council members present two were women, the other four male, but I had no idea of all of their abilities
. And no, your Ling Mai wasn’t there.”

I hated it when he seemed able to read my mind. It was only a trick, right? Otherwise I was in even deeper do-do.

“Bet I could have sniffed them out,” Willie said, puffing out his chest.

“Not from within the glass tube all outsiders are forced to stand in as they come before the Council,” came Bran’s laconic reply.

“And I bet that tube is reinforced against any number of super-human preternaturals,”
said as if already considering how to get out of such a trap.

Bran nodded.

“I bet it’s rigged with the means to execute on the spot, too,” I added, thinking aloud. Then I looked around at the three others. Talk about the party pooper. Nothing like pointing out that Bran was going to be contained in that very same tube in about eleven hours.

I squared my shoulders and took a different approach. “So let’s go worst case scenario.”

Bran’s brow arched as if asking, hadn’t we already done that?

I waved one hand and pulled myself forward to the edge of the couch. “I mean, let’s assume the Council, or someone on the Council—” Please not Dad. Anyone except Dad
. I sucked in a deep breath and continued, “That the Council is backing this designer preternatural drug. Why?”

pushed himself off the wall. “To use it against other preternaturals.”

“But why?”

“To wipe another species out of existence?” he offered, then looked at Willie.

The Were scratched his chin. “I know that the Weres have been unhappy for decades at their lack of Council representation.”

“But there’s always some group that wants something,”
said. “The fae want distinct subgroups to each have seats. The dragons are being ignored. The— “

That surprised me. “There are really dragons?”

“Not many but they’re very long-lived, have outstanding memories, especially of every perceived slight ever offered to them, and once roused are very nasty and hard to kill. They’re also mean as hell when they’re not roused.”

The description sounded like dozens of the species Frau Fassbinder had discussed in bestiary and myth classes. The ones I needed to pay way more attention to in the future. If there was a future.

gave a chin nod toward Bran. “Even the warlocks have petitioned the Council for more recognition.”

I glanced at Bran, ”Was that you?”

His look was short and pithy.

“Right. What was I thinking.”  Bran was a more behind the scenes manipulator. The pickpocket kind of thief, rather than the one who ran in guns blazing. Not that Bran would stoop to picking pockets, too small potatoes for him.

I was missing something. Something important. “Why now? What’s changed?”

“Whatja’ mean?” Willie asked, eyeing the kitchen, probably wondering if he’d left a drop of food anywhere in it after his last forage and devour.

“We’re talking about longstanding gripes. A feud a few centuries in the making might be at the root of this, but it’s not like the Montagues and Capulets decided it was a Tuesday so it must be the perfect day to wreak havoc.”

Willie shrugged. “They were Italians, they probably did that all the time.”

This was the challenge when working with Weres, they tended to be short sighted. Shifters could be the same way. I can’t tell you how many times one of my brothers focused on ‘getting the new girl’ and forgot that the girl’s father was the ump at the upcoming state baseball finals, or her cousin’s best friend was just dumped to make room for the new relationship.

“You mean it was Romeo going arse over elbow over Juliet that set off the fallout that Willie wrote about,”
said. Then shook his head at our Willie’s bright look. “Not you, a different Willie.”

“Yeah.” At least I think I was following
. “Somebody has gone to a lot of manipulation here. Van’s kidnapping.
Cheverill’s murder. Van’s exposure in the park. It’s as if all these events are leading to one big kaboom.”

“Kaboom?” Bran asked, both brows now raised.

“Get off your warlock high-horse. You know exactly what I mean.” I was on to something but it was like wrestling with a ghost in a fog bank. I couldn’t figure out what I had.

“Let’s look at this from a different direction then.”
started pacing across the room. “See what might be missing.”

“You mean like Cheverill is now missing from the Council?” I offered, grabbing the most obvious. “Which means the Council is down a druid.”

snapped his fingers. “And what about your brother’s kidnapping? That brought you on the scene.”

I snorted. “I don’t think I’m important enough to anyone for them go to such lengths.”

“There you may be wrong,” Bran said, starting a flicker of warmth deep inside me. Then he added, “You’re a powerful witch, but I doubt many know of that because you barely acknowledge it.”

That quick the flame went out. But he wasn’t finished.

“Unless someone suspected that you could do what you did in the fight yesterday.” He looked at me as if looking to see if I’d grown a second head.

“But nobody would know about that . . .” Suddenly I realized who did, but Bran was there before me.

“Your father knows, doesn’t he.” He didn’t even bother to pose it as a question.

I was shaking my head. There was betrayal and then there was setting up your own flesh and blood. I drew the line there.

“Yes, he knew but so did the Council. They’ve known since last year.”

and Willie had been exchanging quizzical glances until Willie couldn’t stand it any longer and blurted out. “Know what? What happened in the street? Why did the Council know what?”

“Nothing important,” I answered, still dealing with all the ramifications. “What is important is that except for my father the Council are the only other ones who understand what a freak I am.”

“Alex’s word for gifted,” Bran interjected, earning him a head nod from Willie.

I ignored both of them. “All ro
ads lead back to the Council,” I said aloud this time. Then added, “But we don’t know for sure Van was kidnapped to be used as bait. What if he knew something about someone on the Council that would be dangerous if revealed?”

“Or if he was kidnapped because he was a shifter and someone needed to expose a shifter to the general public,” Willie said.

I could have hugged him. Sometimes the simplest was the straightest line between two points. Leave it up to a Were to uncomplicate matters. “And if Van is exposed as a shifter, the person who’ll be impacted the most is my father.”

“Your father on the Council.” Willie connected all the dots. “Which means he could be removed.”

“Not could but most likely would,” Bran said, being the one of us who thought most like a Council member. “Permanently.”

jumped in after a quick look at my face. “Which would free open another Council seat. So two new Council members within a short period of time. That could change the balance of power among the Council.”

“To what?” I asked, still grappling with the ramifications of Bran’s words.

“From moderate to radical. Radical to conservative. We’d have to know more about who is currently on the Council,”
shrugged. “And it’s not likely we’re going to get that intel any time soon.”

“There’s one piece we’re missing here.” Bran pulled all gazes to him, including my own.

“What?” Willie asked, his face screwed up in confusion. For such a good-looking guy he was a few crayons short of a whole box, but that was Weres for you.

“The Were and others who have your brother did not leave him to be exposed at the park?”

Oh, no, not another blow. But I couldn’t ignore what he was saying, even if I was surprised at his saying it in a gentle tone, as if aware he was dumping a pile of bricks on my head.

Willie looked from one of us to the other. “I still don’t get it.”

“What he’s saying is they didn’t let Van go because they plan to do something more with him.” My words were so quiet I could barely hear them but a Were could and Bran knew what I was going to say anyway.

“More like what?” Willie asked.

“Like another exhibition of a shifter running amuck,” Bran said looking at his phone again, as if it had clues.

, the station where you and Willie lost the trails. That was


We had been discussing my brother being set up to die and Bran was looking at subway information? It took everything I could do not to whack him with a clenched fist.

“Just what I thought,” he murmured, tapping his phone over and over.

“You going to share?” Sure my voice was a little testy, okay, a lot testy, but I had a lot of reasons for that. A large one of them sitting right next to me.

“I’ll share when I’m certain,” he said, still not looking up.

Did that help? No, he made things worse.

I stood, rubbing a headache building along my temples. Thank the Spirits
stepped in to ask what I didn’t trust myself to ask, not without a snarl. “When are you going to be certain?”

“We have to do one more thing.” He rose himself, jamming his hands in his pockets
. “Then all will be clear.”

“We?” I asked as Willie said, “Do what?”

“A scrying spell,” Bran answered Willie, no doubt because he had no doubt I figured out the ‘we’ word. Since I was the only witch around, and the only one able to scry with any hope of find something or someone, it looked like I was the we.

“Small problem your Mageness,” I bit off every word. “I need something to scry with. You have a piece of Vaverek handy?”

“No.” Every muscle of his body was tensed, which gave me a strong hint I wasn’t going to like his next words. But he didn’t speak. Not until pulling out a small wadded napkin from his pocket. One stained brown.

“I’m not going to like this am I?” I said mostly to myself as Bran shook his head.


I swallowed, my throat suddenly too dry. ”Is that blood?”


Willie stepped forward, his nose twitching. Once a Were always a Were.


I didn’t need to ask as I raised my gaze to clash with Bran’s
. His dark and implacable, not giving an inch even though he knew what he was asking of me.

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