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Now Stone was a mind-reader? I plastered a yeah-okay smile on my face that didn’t mean squat because I didn’t trust my voice to sound like I was really going to do what he just ordered me to do.

It hadn’t been that long since I’d become an IR team member and I was actually finding that I liked having these strong, focused women at my side. So ditching them now wasn’t an easy step, but I felt it was a necessary step toward getting what I needed. And getting that meant going through Bran.

If I didn’t take this chance to follow up on the one lead I had, who knew if I’d get another opportunity to head out on my own. Not that Mandy and Jaylene knew that was my plan, but they would.

First step, shake their company. Second step, find Bran and force him to see me. Third step, save my brother by doing the first two steps.

I could make this work.

I had to.




Delmore Vaverek stood at his balcony window in the
7th arrondissement
glancing at the slate roofs across the street, the glaring white stone walls brightened by the high noon sun, listening to the childish shouts from the gardens of Champs de Mars nearby. But his attention was totally on what he’d just seen.

Was this the reason he’d been sent to acquire this witch? He’d heard she was powerful but
, what he’d seen was not supposed to be able to happen. Or was what occurred outside his
the result of something else? What did the Americans call it? A sleight of hand. A scam.

Could this be what he’d been waiting to appear at last?

His cell phone rang and while he was inclined to ignore it, one look at the number had him answering before the end of the second ring.

“Vaverek speaking.”

“So you survived your little fray?” The Druid on the other end of the line laughed his nasty, rasping laugh. “You may thank me now.”

“I survived but so did all the members of this upstart agency. The same individuals you said would be easy to eliminate.”

The sudden silence on the other end told Vaverek he’d earned the druid’s attention. “And your people?”

“I would have thought you’d have heard by now.” Vaverek wanted to share his own laugh but this man was dangerous, too dangerous to taunt lightly. “They are dead.”

“All of them?”



Vaverek allowed himself a smile, knowing the Other could not see him. “Which means you must clean up the details on your end.”

“How did you fail?” came the whiplash response.

“Oh, I did not fail.” Vaverek lowered his voice though there was no one in his salon to overhear him as it’d been swept that morning for listening devices. Still one could not be too careful. “In fact, I learned more than I expected from this morning’s fiasco.”

“About the witch?”

“Yes.” Vaverek stepped closer to rest one finger along the wavy panes of the two hundred year old window, aware how fragile so much of this world could be. His smile ratcheted up. “You did not share with me all of her amazing abilities.”


“When we meet later. Not over the phone.”

Vaverek heard the druid catch his breath. Anger? Or anticipation? Either way Vaverek was now the one with the upper hand and they both knew it.

“Fine. Until this evening.”

“You won’t be disappointed.”

“I’d better not be.” If Vaverek thought he’d gotten off lightly he was wrong as the other added, “And speaking of disappointments, how is our guest doing?”

Vaverek tightened his grip on the phone. “He still breathes.” What did the other expect? One minute Vaverek’s orders had been to use any means necessary to extract the information wanted, the next the prisoner was needed alive. It’d been a near miss but the orders were rescinded in time.

That rasping laugh again. “Will he be breathing as you conduct the next experiment?”

“I’ll make sure he is.”

“Good.” Vavervek could almost see the druid nodding. “Still on for tomorrow?”

“No. I think it would be better to push it back to Wednesday.”


“One day will not make a difference and I have decided to make some alterations to the original plans.”

“Such as?”

“I think it would be more effective if his sister were present.”

“You are forgetting she is mine. It’s part of our agreement.”

“I don’t plan to sacrifice her. One Noziak’s death is all we need.”

“And if she is hurt, our agreement is finished. You understand?”

There was no mistaking the threat beneath the druid’s tone. “A Were never forgets,” Vaverek said.

What he didn’t share was the presence of the other at the morning’s event. His presence made the stakes higher, the risks greater, but without either the rewards would not be as sweet
. How to capitalize on this new piece of knowledge was the key. A game changer as the Americans would say.

“You still there, my friend?” the voice jabbed at Vaverek.

“I am.” But not for long. There were pieces to be put in place on the chessboard of life.

“Nothing else to report?”

“No.” Not yet. Maybe not until it was too late for the other.

“I shall see you later then?”

“Until tonight.”

Vaverek hung up before the druid could say more. No doubt there’d be a penalty for that small show of disrespect but he was willing to pay it to retain the upper hand. Vaverek was not just any Were, but of the
clan, the mountain deep Weres that came out of Transylvania before mists were born. The ancient ones. Some said the original Weres.

Soon the druid would be currying Vaverek’s favor and not the other way around. Vaverek now had the key.

Alex Noziak.




“Forgive me, old friend, for this call but it’s necessary.”

Jebediah “Jeb” Noziak set his mug of thick coffee down on the porch rail of his ramshackle farm, knowing that when Philippe
Cheverill called it was not to share good news. “You have learned something of my son?”

“No, but I am still seeking information.”

Jeb released a sigh he did not realize he’d held. No news meant no body. Yet. Van was strong, and resourceful, and Jeb’s visions had not shown his oldest son’s corpse. So Jeb would hold on to that knowledge. There was little that he could do on the physical plane, as Idaho was thousands of miles from Paris. But working with the spirits, he could and had been doing much.

So had one of his oldest friends, Philippe, though druids did not usually go out of their way to be of service to others.

“Is this Council business then?” Jeb asked as silence lengthened on the other end of the line.

“Yes and no.”

Philippe was a cautious man, not an obtuse one, so Jeb waited, leaning against the front porch post, watching the first rays of dawn kiss Antelope Butte in the distance. This had always been his favorite part of the day, early when the sun slowly revealed herself and all was fresh and new. Jeb did not think of himself as a romantic man nor a verbose one. Aideen, the woman he loved so wildly, so dangerously, had always said he never shared enough with her. Then one day it was too late.

He had tried since then to be both mother and father to his four sons and one daughter. Tried to fill the void left by their mother’s abandonment. Tried to raise his offspring, each with their own abilities and talents, to be good people.

And they were. Even Alex, who had killed a man and was still paying the price. Just as Van was paying the price for being the type of man who took his responsibility as a soldier, as a citizen, so seriously.

Jeb wasn’t sure why Van had disappeared, but the minute Van did, Jeb had started searching, seeking the truth, holding the knowledge from his other children so they would not feel the empty, gaping wound that Jeb felt every waking hour
. Even as he watched dawn give way to morning.

“Jebediah, we must speak.”

Was that not what they were doing? Or did Philippe wish to connect in the supernatural realm, though they both were aware there were listeners there, too. Dangerous ones.

Jeb found his tongue reluctant to voice what his soul knew. Even powerful shamans could break if bent under the burden of too much knowledge, too much pain. Yet his tone held no waver as he asked, “You are worried?”


If there was one thing Jeb had tried to instill in his children it was responsibility, whether it was accepting punishment for a childish prank or facing the consequences for choices made. Jeb could do no less. “Tell me what it is you wish from me.”

“Come to Paris.”

The answer felt like a body blow. Jeb walked the earth of his forefathers, gained strength from his physical connection to the high desert country of his home. He rarely traveled beyond his self-imposed boundaries, unless called by the Council of Seven.

But Philippe was not the Council. One of its oldest members, yes, and that meant something as druids were known to be long lived, even older than many of the others on the Council. So why Paris? And why now?

Instead of asking, though, Jeb did what he knew his friend would do for him. “I shall find the next flight available.”

.” Jeb could hear the relief in his friend’s voice, which worried Jeb even more.

“I will contact you once I arrive.” Jeb took a deep swallow of cooling coffee.

“I shall open my home to you,” Philippe replied, then added. “but I ask a small request.”


“Tell no one you are coming.”

“No others on the Council?”

“Especially them.”

Now Jeb knew the situation was dire. Philippe took his position as senior Council member very seriously, often acting as the lone voice of reason between the various interests and factions. Since the Council included fae, shifters, vampires, witches and demons as well as shamans and druids, reason often butted heads with warring needs and ancient feuds. These seven members spoke not only for themselves but for the peoples and the beings not represented on the board, and there were many.

Juggling the needs of preternaturals made raising five children on his own seem smooth sailing in comparison. So why the sudden secrecy?

“I will speak to no one,” he said, to allay his friend’s concerns. “Until I speak with you.”

“You are a true friend,
mon frère

Jeb knew Philippe used his word choices intentionally and being included as a brother meant a lot to both of them.

“I shall send Pádraig to meet you at Orly.”

Pádraig was Philippe’s newest protégé and Jeb had heard a lot about him, though they had never met
. “I look forward to meeting this young man at last,” he said. “And we shall see if he lives up to his name’s birthright.”

Philippe gave a soft chuckle, maybe surprised that Jeb would know the meaning of the Irish name. But then Aideen had been Irish through and through, her Celtic witch roots running deep

Philippe’s words broke Jeb’s dark memories as the Frenchman spoke of his protégé’s name. “To be born noble you mean? I think you will be as impressed by him as he will be by you. There’s nothing greater I can give him than to share our friendship.”

Jeb was truly touched. Yet Philippe wasn’t finished. He cleared his throat.

“One more thing,” he murmured, his voice suddenly lowered as if someone new had entered the room. “The request I just made to you. . .”

“To speak to no one of my coming?”

.” A pregnant pause. “I ask that you extend that request to your own family.”

This was asking a lot, as Jeb did not like to keep secrets from his children
. Adult grown though they were, to him they were still his responsibility.

Before Jeb could reply, or even know his answer, Philippe added, “It will not be the first time,” his voice solemn.

Jeb straightened, knowing what Philippe spoke about though neither had mentioned that event, or its cost. So why now?

“Before I placed the needs of the Council above my needs as a father,” Jeb said, each word striking his heart. “And I have paid the price of that decision every day since.”

“I am aware of this my friend.”

But was he? Was he really?

The case the Council had reviewed was complex. The use of magic to stop a rogue Were from killing a shifter who was in the middle of his change and thus vulnerable to attack. One sibling trying to protect another. In a different situation a jury could hear all the details and the accused would have not only been hailed a hero, but allowed to go scot-free. But not in a world where humans must never learn of the presence of non-humans. And if the human jury could never learn of the extenuating circumstances then the verdict was a given before the trial ever started.

Jeb had been told to be happy that the death sentence had not been decreed. Scant condolence when he saw his youngest child, and his only daughter, leave the courtroom for a life sentence.

It wasn’t Philippe’s deciding vote cast that day on the Council last spring. The vote that sent Jeb’s only daughter to prison.

It was Jeb’s.

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