An ill wind, p.1
An Ill Wind, page 1
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, places, organizations, or persons, whether living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
AN ILL WIND
Copyright © 2019 by Christine Pope
Published by Dark Valentine Press
Cover design by Lou Harper
Ebook formatting by Indie Author Services
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems — except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews — without permission in writing from its publisher, Dark Valentine Press.
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Trying not to scowl and failing miserably, warlock Tony Castillo pulled into the parking garage at Albuquerque’s Sunport — the city’s whimsically named airport — took a ticket from the machine at the gate, and then went prospecting for a likely space. On a Tuesday morning, the garage wasn’t quite as busy as it would have been on the weekend, but he still had to go up two levels before he found something near enough the elevator for his liking…just in case his unwelcome visitor brought some unexpected luggage with her.
The whole time, he tried his best to keep the irritation simmering in him from boiling over. It was so like his mother to use him as an errand boy. Sophia Castillo had acted as though he had nothing better to do with his time than to drive down to Albuquerque and pick up their visiting de la Paz witch. Point of fact, Tony really didn’t have anything better to do, but still…it was the principle of the thing.
Sophia had called him the day before to let him know that a witch named Cassandra Sandoval would be coming from the de la Paz clan in Arizona to retrieve the books that Sophia had been hiding for almost a year now, magical tomes that the dark warlock Simon Escobar had stolen for his own nefarious purposes. Simon had gotten his ass kicked, thanks to the Castillo clan’s new prima, Miranda — and also thanks to the demon lord that Tony’s cousin Cat was now shacked up with — but Escobar had still left something of a mess behind, a mess that included those dangerous books.
It was still kind of crazy to think that the Castillos could now count a demon lord as part of the family, but when you were born into a witch clan, you had to learn to roll with the punches.
Tony’s mother had been entrusted with the care of the grimoires, since her magical gift of being able to read any and all spell books no matter which language they were written in had made her sort of a natural for the job. Not many people in the Castillo clan even knew where the books were hidden, which was exactly how Miranda wanted it. Those books had already caused enough trouble as it was. However, Sophia had confided in Tony and his younger sister Ava, probably because she hadn’t wanted to keep a secret of that magnitude from her own children.
Frankly, Tony would have preferred to be left out of the whole mess. The episode this past summer, when another dark warlock, this one based in New Orleans, had tried to get his slimy hands on the grimoires only seemed to prove how dangerous the damn things were. They belonged to the de la Paz clan and should have gone back to them as soon as they were discovered, although he supposed he could understand why his mother and his prima had wanted to keep them safely hidden until the de la Pazes were ready to take the books back.
Well, it looked like that day had finally come.
Why the Arizona clan had sent only one witch to collect the grimoires, Tony had no idea. He supposed they had their reasons. Frankly, he didn’t much care. All he wanted was to get this errand over with — pick up Cassandra Sandoval, whoever she was, drive her over to his mother’s house so she could retrieve the books in question, and then bring her right back to Albuquerque. Apparently, the visiting witch wasn’t even staying, had a return flight booked for seven-thirty this evening, giving her just enough time to make the round trip to Santa Fe with a little left over for a short visit with Sophia.
All business with this one, apparently.
He got out of his Fiat convertible, locked it, and headed over to the elevators. As usual, Albuquerque was a bit warmer than Santa Fe, so Tony unbuttoned his overcoat as he rode down to the ground level, although the early November day looked chilly here, too, gray but without any threat of rain. He had a feeling it was probably a lot more cheerful back in Tucson, which was where Cassandra Sandoval’s flight had originated.
Lucky for her, she’d be going back to her sunshine once all this was over with, and he — well, he’d be back to the same old, same old. Probably a civilian — a person born to a non-witch family — would find it amusing that a warlock could be bored with his existence, but that was just about where Tony had found himself lately. He didn’t have any great sense of purpose, didn’t need to work or do anything except go from party to party, event to event, all in an attempt to keep himself from realizing there wasn’t much of a point to anything he did.
His parents, both of whom had done a brilliant job of convincing their civilian neighbors that they were no more than they appeared…that is, a successful lawyer and his philanthropic wife…were less than thrilled with him. All right, he’d done his time at the University of New Mexico, mainly because they would never have let him live it down if he hadn’t managed to get at least a bachelor’s degree, but Tony had emerged with a degree in electrical engineering and no real need to do anything with that degree. His late and highly eccentric paternal grandfather had left him a large inheritance, supposedly because Tony was his namesake…but that largesse could have also been the result of a passing whim and nothing else. Ava hadn’t been too thrilled with the situation, since she hadn’t gotten anything at all except a few pieces of jewelry that had once belonged to their grandmother. To appease her, Tony bought his sister a new car for her twenty-first birthday, but that extravagant gesture had only served to annoy both their parents, who thought she should have gotten a part-time job and earned it herself.
He moved through the crowds at the baggage claim in the Southwest terminal, then took an escalator to the second floor and yet another to bring him to the third level where the passenger greeting area was located. At least he didn’t have to stand here and hold up a sign like an idiot — all witches and warlocks could sense when they were in the presence of another of their kind, so as soon as Cassandra got within a few yards of him, he should be able to tell who she was. The de la Pazes hadn’t sent any kind of description, except that she’d be wearing a leather jacket. Considering that it was first week of November and almost every other woman he passed was wearing a leather jacket, that snippet wasn’t much help.
Flight 303 on Southwest from Tucson was right on time, and had already landed and was about to allow the passengers to deplane. That might have been cutting it a little close, but Tony hadn’t been too worried. If he’d hit unexpected traffic, he would have just texted Cassandra to let her know, since he’d been given her phone number along with that vaguest of v
His eyes scanned the crowd as the passengers from Cassandra’s flight began to filter through to the passenger greeting area, his gaze pausing on every woman wearing a leather jacket. None of them were witch-kind, however, and he began to frown. Was it possible that she’d missed her flight? No, that didn’t seem right. She would have called or texted if something like that had happened.
Then Tony caught a flash of shimmering copper, long red hair gleaming against a sleek black leather jacket. Along with that glimpse of red hair, he felt the faint twinge he experienced whenever he met a witch or warlock for the first time.
Obviously, she’d felt it, too, because her eyes, an arresting hazel-green, immediately sought him out in the crowd. Their gazes met, and she gave the faintest of nods, possibly in greeting, or possibly to affirm to herself that she’d found the person she was looking for. She cut through the mass of humanity crowding the waiting area, then came up to him and paused a few feet away.
“Tony Castillo?” she asked. Her voice was a little lower than he’d expected, throaty.
Goddamn, he thought. I wasn’t expecting a goddess.
Because…she was. Probably a few years younger than he, body slender with curves that the leather jacket accentuated rather than concealed. Then there was that gorgeous mane of red hair, and a full mouth with a wicked lift at the corners.
He realized he was staring, so he cleared his throat and replied, “That’s me. You’re Cassandra?”
“Yes.” Despite the sexy huskiness of her voice, she was very brisk, all business. If she’d assessed his appearance the way he’d assessed hers, she didn’t seem too impressed. “Thanks for coming to meet me. I could have taken a shuttle — ”
“It’s no problem,” Tony cut in. “The Castillos don’t leave people waiting at airports.”
The lift at the corners of her mouth became a bit more pronounced. “You have a lot of visitors?”
“Well, no,” he admitted. “I mean, sometimes we have cousins from down in Las Cruces fly directly into Santa Fe to avoid having to drive, but — ”
“But mostly you don’t get around too much,” she finished for him. “I get it — it’s the same way with us.” Her gaze sharpened, and she added, “It’s about an hour to Santa Fe, right?”
“Yes,” he said, noting the change of subject. Clearly, it was going to be all business, all the time for her. Too bad — and too bad she wasn’t going to stay in Santa Fe for any length of time. He thought he would have liked the chance to show her around. Then again, she didn’t seem the type to be too easily impressed by local knowledge. “My car’s in the garage across the way. Do you have any baggage you need to claim?”
One dark russet eyebrow lifted, and he got the impression she was inwardly laughing at him. “Um, no. I brought my big purse so I could have a few extras with me in case the flight got delayed or something, but I didn’t see the point in packing much since I’m not staying over.”
Of course. Tony wanted to smack himself for asking such a stupid question, but the damage was done. He didn’t know what his problem was, because usually pretty women weren’t quite enough of a distraction for him to develop a case of foot-in-mouth disease. In fact, his sister Ava had once accused him of being Santa Fe’s biggest flirt, which he thought wasn’t quite fair. Maybe the Castillo clan’s biggest flirt, but all of Santa Fe? He didn’t think so.
Maybe he was off balance because he’d been expecting the de la Paz clan’s envoy to be older, a powerful witch who could guarantee the safe passage of those dangerous grimoires back to their territory. Cassandra, young and pretty as she was, seemed like an odd choice.
Well, the de la Pazes must know what they were doing. At least, Tony had to hope they did, although they’d proven to be almost criminally careless when it came to letting those valuable books out of their sight in the first place.
“This way, then,” he told her, figuring it was probably safer to say as little as possible.
Cassandra followed him through the crowd and then out to the parking garage, where they rode the elevator up to the level where his car was waiting. Although she didn’t say anything, Tony noticed the way her gaze traveled along the length of the low-slung black convertible. Had he impressed her with the car?
Judging by the way she got into the passenger seat and buckled the seatbelt without comment, probably not.
He held back a sigh as he got in as well, then engaged the self-driving mechanism to let the car back itself out of the space where it had been waiting. They moved down to the first level of the garage, where Tony fed the ticket into the machine and then waved his credit card in front of the reader to have the proper amount deducted from his checking account.
Too bad it was such a cold, gloomy day. He would have liked to put the top down so he could watch Cassandra’s fiery red hair blow in the breeze. If he tried that now, he’d probably only succeed in freezing both their asses off, so he settled for asking, “Warm enough? I can turn on the heater.”
“Thanks,” Cassandra replied. “That would probably help. I guess I wasn’t expecting Albuquerque to be so chilly.”
If she thought this was chilly, she was going to be in for a shock when they got to Santa Fe. Tony figured it was probably better not to comment, especially since she wasn’t going to be spending enough time in his hometown for her to get too frozen. He pushed the button to set the heater at a low but comfortable level, then asked, “Better?”
“Yes, thank you.”
She turned her head then, apparently intent on taking in the scenery outside the car window. There wasn’t really much to look at, just the freeway on-ramp they were approaching, but Tony took it as a sign that she didn’t want to talk.
All right, she was gorgeous, but she sure as hell wasn’t very friendly. Or maybe what he’d interpreted as frostiness was simply discomfort at having to be here at all. No matter how you looked at it, her clan had screwed up pretty spectacularly, first by allowing books as dangerous as the ones Simon Escobar had stolen to be taken at all, and then by acting as though nothing was wrong once the thefts had been discovered. Sure, it had to be embarrassing as hell to admit that you’d been robbed by a dark warlock, but the de la Pazes should have at least reached out to the other Arizona clans to let them know what was going on. At least that way his prima Miranda’s parents — who were the prima and primus of the McAllister and Wilcox clans, respectively — could have let their daughter know that Simon Escobar was even more dangerous than everyone had first thought.
But that was none of his business. The books would soon be gone, and since they were still safely hidden at his mother’s house, Tony supposed he could say things might have been a lot worse. However, even though it was pretty obvious that Cassandra really didn’t want to talk, he couldn’t help asking the one question that wouldn’t leave him alone.
“So…why did your clan send you?”
Now she turned toward him just the slightest bit, a tight smile touching her lush mouth. “You mean, instead of someone older and more experienced?”
Oh, hell. He could tell he’d already put his foot in it, but he decided to plow ahead. “Well, yeah.”
“It’s because of my talent,” she said. One hand played with the strap of her oversized purse, which currently rested in her lap.
Asking about a witch’s talent was considered rude, but Tony figured she’d already halfway volunteered the information. “Which is…?”
A small hitch of her shoulders before she replied, “It’s…I can cast a shield, but not around myself. Instead, I can make the shield appear around anything I want — other people, buildings, cars, and so on. I guess it’s kind of the inverse of a talent one of my cousins has. He can cast a shield that will protect him and anyone else inside it. That shield keeps him safe from anything — magical attacks, falling rocks, raindrops, whatever. It’s impervious. What I do…well, it’s basically the same, except that it protects objects.”
Or maybe he was just fooling himself.
“Right. If I cast the shield around the books, they’re protected. No one can touch them, which means they’re safe from theft or damage. I have a couple of small carry-on bags folded up inside my purse, and I’ll put the grimoires in the bags, cast the spell, and stick them in the overhead compartment for the trip home. Easy.”
She made it sound easy, and Tony hoped it would be. He had to admit that an airplane would probably be safer than taking the books back overland in a car, where there would be far more opportunities for someone to interfere and try to steal them, magical shield or no. This way, she’d have them nearby for the short flight, and then he guessed a large contingent of de la Paz witches and warlocks would be waiting for her at the airport to make sure the grimoires made it safely the rest of the way to the home of their clan’s prima, who apparently had built a library addition onto her home in order to make sure nothing like this ever happened again. Even the most dedicated book thief would think twice about trespassing on a prima’s property.
“That’s an interesting talent,” he said, making sure his tone sounded casual. It wasn’t his business to second-guess the de la Pazes’ plans. All he had to do was ferry Cassandra to his mother’s house and back to the airport, and then they’d be done with all this. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of it before.”
“I guess it is pretty rare,” she admitted. “My cousin’s is rare, too. I’m just glad I didn’t get his wife’s talent. She’s a seer.”
Yes, being a seer could be pretty rough. A witch with that talent — seers were almost always witches, not warlocks, although no one had ever been able to explain why — owed her gifts to the clan even more than the rank and file. A seer often consulted with the prima, and had a position of importance in a clan. But that wasn’t usually enough of a trade-off to compensate for having your life interrupted every time a vision of the future decided to take up space in your brain.
by Christine Pope / Romance / Science Fiction & Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes