Immersed in faerie stole.., p.1
Immersed in Faerie (Stolen Magic Book 4), page 1
A Note From the Author
Copyright © 2017 Robert McKay
Copyright © 2017 Faith McKay
Cover designed by Najla Qamber Designs
All rights reserved.
IMMERSED IN FAERIE
(Stolen Magic, #4)
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Caffeine had sunk its claws deep into my psyche. I should have known I couldn't start drinking coffee without it becoming habit. On the other hand, if there was ever a time for me to adopt the vice, it was now.
"So, this is happening." Phoebe sipped from her own mug behind me. We'd lived together a long time, but I was only recently coming to appreciate having her around. Of course, "lived together" was a bit strong. She was a dryad, and my treehouse was attached to her tree. She more or less haunted me. Since I'd given up sleep and taken up coffee, I'd discovered she made a fresh pot early each morning. I didn't gripe so much about having her around anymore. "Well," she said, "this is bad."
"I know." The words resonated deep in my gut. This was very bad, and I knew it. Worse yet, I believed I was the only person who knew it, who understood the full breadth of it. The responsibility of that knowledge felt like it would drown me.
"You've lost it," she said. "No amount of baking is going to fix this. I always knew it would come to this with you. You are so the type. I admit, I didn't see it coming this soon."
"What?" I asked, glancing at her and then back up at my wall. It was covered in everything I'd discovered about Mr. Supervillain. The Faerie Affairs Bureau only allowed me access to the basic information they knew about him. They didn't exactly allow their agents sensitive material about fae council members without a good cause, and I wasn't ready to tell them what I knew yet. Not until I had a better sense of the picture. Without FAB's help, a lot of my information came from snooping around. It was a lot messier than it could have been. Seeing it through Phoebe's eyes, I could see how it might not make sense. She was still staring at me like she expected me to explain myself. I didn't have time for that. I wasn't ready yet. I waved a hand over my shoulder and turned away from her. "Think what you want to think. I'm working."
"I've seen you work a lot of years, Sophie Morrigan, and you've never worked like this before."
She was right. I'd never worked like this, but I'd never fallen into a situation like this before. It required new tactics. I had to change the way I thought. A change of perspective was required. Hence, the wall. With all the facts up there, it freed up my mind to work on putting the pieces together.
"This isn't going to lead anywhere good," said Phoebe, and then she disappeared as she often did when she felt she'd sufficiently gotten the last word.
She was right about one thing: it wasn't going to lead anywhere good. I knew that. There was no way that revealing the underhanded dealings of a fae council member was going to lead to anything good for me. I never wanted to be put in that position. I found dangerous magical objects for a living. Most of them were in the possession of people who were merely curious about what the item would do. They were mischievous and maybe a little bit of trouble, even dark trouble, but not necessarily evil. It wasn't often I dealt with someone with truly malicious intent. I believed that, even when they tried to kill me when I came to confiscate their treasures. They felt like they were defending themselves. They didn't believe I'd only take the dangerous object and leave them alone. Or maybe they were particularly attached to the item for a personal reason. If those same people saw me on the street, they wouldn't react violently. They were just people.
If I dealt out justice, it was likely to someone who got overly carried away. I'd recently arrested a witch, Clarissa. She'd been a bad egg. She'd tried to kill me, she'd killed my sister, a reaper, and several pixies, among other misdeeds. It was hard to remember her without feeling rage; she deserved much worse than she'd got. Even with all of that, deep in my heart, I didn't believe she was evil. She had become seduced by power. I think she wanted acceptance, from the fae community at large, but particularly from my birth mother. I could understand that, to some extent. Dealing with Clarissa and the reaper's scythe she'd stolen was about as dark, or complicated, or important a case as I ever wanted to work again.
So why was I doing this? Why was I involving myself in the dealings of a member of the fae council? It wasn't assigned to me as a job. I could let it go. Everyone else was. But that was exactly the problem: no one else was going to do anything about this.
I couldn't let it go. Maybe Phoebe was right. Maybe I was losing it.
The wall certainly suggested it.
I'd shoved my dresser into the closet. It took yoga moves I'd never trained for in order to get new clothes out of there. That was fine, though. I'd needed the wall space.
I wasn't sure what people would call it. A mural? A symptom of a problem I needed to seek treatment for? I saw it as a workboard, one that had given my printer a workout. I'd collected every piece of news or social report I could find. The Supervillain at benefits for underprivileged ogres, or new community centers for the gnomes, or raising funds for a new Volarus location on Earth. He was a busy bastard.
Lana Kinney, Owen and Ava's mother, was on the fae council. She was at many of the same events and in many of my photos. So were other council members, but I noticed he hung around her like a shadow. She was congenial. She seemed happy to put an arm around a child's shoulder and pose for photo after photo. It wasn't that she was boastful or desperate for the camera, as many of the other council members were, but she was available and happy enough to do it, in a professional sort of manner. She had professional written over her whole persona. It was hard to imagine her sitting down to a meal with her family at home, and I'd actually eaten a meal with her and her family in her own dining room.
Mr. Supervillain, as I continued to call him, wasn't exactly hopping to be in front of the camera. He'd stand for one or two photos at an event, his smile nearly a cringe, and then he'd slither off to the background--or more precisely, the background of Lana Kinney's photos.
I'd taken to circling his face in red pen on all of the photos, so I didn't have to play Where's Waldo? each time I went looking for him. If I got a couple strings to help me draw connections, I'd have the serial killer vibe down pat. Actually, that sounded like a good idea for organizing my thoughts…
Something to consider later. I needed to get to the office. I'd been avoiding getting assigned any actual cases wherever I could. I'd only taken on two cases I was sure I would accomplish in an afternoon, and I'd only done them to appear busy enough that my boss, Hammond, wouldn't bother me. That wouldn't work forever. I needed to make progress while I still had the time to. Today's plan was to head into the office for a check in and to handle any paperwork necessary
I gulped down the last of my coffee, shook away the unpleasantness of the cold liquid, and headed off to Volarus. I was surprised when I looked around and realized I was already there and parked. Lack of sleep was partly to blame, but mostly I was too in my head to be trusted to do things like drive a motorcycle on bumpy northern California roads through the rain. Crap.
I went into the office still dazed by my own bad choices. Ridiculously, it had me walking through the office in the same state of obliviousness. With even an ounce of awareness, I like to think I could have avoided what happened next.
My eyes were pointed downward. I hugged my helmet under one arm, having forgotten to leave it with Bliss, because I'd apparently forgotten my brain back at the treehouse, and I was mumbling to myself about how I needed to pay better attention to my surroundings or I was going to cause real damage. My hair was in a state of frizz no hair product could have tamed. I didn't even know what I was wearing; whatever I'd been able to reach in my crowded closet was my one and only guess.
So of course, I slammed into a wall of a person. I bounced off of them so hard I rebounded into the cubicle behind me, tried to right myself, and somehow hit my head against the opposite wall on my way down to the floor.
"That's about right," I told the ceiling. My head felt bruised already. My ass felt like the fat had slammed up into my own brain. "Yep, that's about right." Sometimes, the universe really does dose you out some shit you completely and totally deserved, and staring up at the ceiling of the office, that had never felt more true.
And then Owen, perfectly groomed and sexy as ever, popped his cruelly beautiful face into my field of vision.
Fuck you, universe. Too far. Too. Far.
"I didn't see you," said Owen. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine." I cleared my throat so that when I spoke again it would come out as less of a mortified squeak. "I'm fine. It was my fault. It was really, really my fault." I swallowed a few more times before I tried again. "Are you okay?" I sat up and tried for casual when I brushed my hand over my head. I felt it puffing up after my palm ran over it. I considered reaching for the helmet. Could I think of a way to make it into a cute joke about office safety?
"I'm fine. Are you sure you're okay? I think you hit your head on the wall there."
"That's my move," I said. Oh yeah, that sounded cool, Sophie. "What are you doing here?"
"You don't know?"
"Uhh." I paused with my hands still brushing dirt off my butt, searching my brain for what I possibly could have missed that would explain Owen Kinney's presence at the MOD office. We hadn't spoken since I'd told him I needed space to think. I'd almost called him a dozen times, but I kept putting it off. I didn't know what to say. I still didn't know how to explain what was wrong with me in a coherent way. I know we were taking it slow with the physical stuff, which meant we should have been getting to know each other, but I can't help but notice I don't know much about you. I like you too much, and it makes me stupid. Not that I'm particularly smart when you're not around either, but you know, there are levels.
I was sure that's what he wanted to hear from me after so much silence.
"Sorry. What?" I finally said. A brilliant follow up to my prolonged uhhh. See? Levels.
"I work here," he said. "I would have told you myself, but I didn't want to invade your space. I thought Hammond would have told you since he knows we know each other."
"Wait. What now?" I shook my head. I used to be more confident than this. It's not supposed to bother me when I'm socially inept. I'm supposed to be better than this. I cringed and looked down at the floor, my inner monologue of you are such a loser really starting to distract from my ability to talk. On the upside, it was helping to yank me out of my previous state of dumbfoundedness. "You work here? Doing what?"
"I didn't mean that like it sounded," I quickly said. "You can do things. You're very--nevermind. Sorry. You work at MOD now?"
"Yes!" Hammond rushed out of his office and threw an arm around Owen's shoulder. He shook Owen against him like a proud papa. "Everyone! I'd like you to meet the head of our new research division, Owen Kinney!" He reclaimed his arm and began to clap.
I took a step back and then remembered I should clap, too. The people popping out of their cubicles and offices were much quicker to join the applause and my own claps rang out awkwardly after the others had stopped.
I tried to brush my hair down with my hands again.
"Everyone make him feel at home!" said Hammond.
"Hello, everyone," said Owen, and waved out at the crowd like a practiced beauty queen. "I appreciate the warm welcome. I'll be the guy with the books in the basement. You can come to me for research questions anytime; I'll be happy to show you what I can do."
The crowd clapped again. I was careful to watch for when the others stopped this time.
"All right everyone, back to work!" said Hammond. He clapped Owen on the back a few times and then disappeared into his office.
Owen started to walk away. I could have been done with the awkwardness, but I was a glutton for punishment. If I had to be awkward, there was no one I'd rather be awkward with. "That'll be a good job for you," I said. He was the perfect fit for it. He loved books, especially books about legendary fae history. He liked knowing things just to know them. I could easily picture him at a table of books, excitedly telling agents about items he'd read about in his books that they needed to go recover.
He smiled sadly. "We'll see how I do."
"Oh, come on, Owen." I raised a fist as if to slug him, but let it fall between us. "Humble doesn't look good on you. You know you can do anything, especially research. But what about Smoke & Mirrors? Shouldn't you be running the bar?"
"I've established the bar," he said. "A manager can handle the day to day operations."
"That's great," I said.
"Yeah." He nodded for a little too long. "Well, I'll see you around, Sophie."
"You aren't going to show me your office?"
He looked surprised, but then nodded a little more enthusiastically, though somehow tentative. This wasn't the cocky Owen I was used to seeing. "Back here, with the dust bunnies." He jerked his head to the right and I followed him. "I'm doubtful that it should be called an office. I've been thinking of it as my research lab. Maybe that sounds too pretentious, though."
We turned past all the offices I was familiar with and went down a stairwell. I knew on the opposite side of the building there was a set of stairs that went down one floor to one of the rooms for the temporary storage of dangerous magical objects, but we went further down than that.
The door opened, and I saw it. "Wow," I said. I don't know if I would have been able to picture what a "research lab" would have looked like, but this was it. A cluster of white tables covered the front floor. Behind them, you went up two steps to a raised floor with aisles of bookshelves. The magic protecting the books smelled dusty, but nothing else in the space actually looked dusty despite his dust bunny comment, except, perhaps, the old beat up sofas he had lined against the wall. As ugly as they looked, they also appeared comfortable. Owen hated pretty sofas that weren't good for sitting on.
"Have you recovered anything interesting lately?" he asked.
"Not really," I said, to which he raised his eyebrows. It had been long enough since we talked that I should have confiscated many neat things by now. My job had always been a safe conversation topic for us. It was too bad it wasn't such a straightforward question at the moment. "I've been pulling back a little."
"Yeah?" He bit his lip and I closed my eyes against the memory of kissing those lips. "How is that going for you?"
"You don't have to do the polite thing with me," I said. "You can ask me why. I know it's weird." I fell back onto one of the sofas. "I'm trying not to draw
"Yeah?" He pulled one of the chairs from the tables and sat on it in front of me, his eyes lighting up at the mention of research.
"It's not exciting or anything," I said to quell his interest; he loved all this research stuff. I certainly had no passion for it. It felt like my brain was breaking with the effort of tracking down Supervillain leads. "How many books are there in here?"
Disappointment flashed on his face. I'd changed the subject. I was shutting him out. He leaned back in his seat and sighed, faking a smile that turned genuine as he looked out at the room. "A lot."
"Oh come on, you know the number. You can't fool me."
"That's more complicated than you'd think."
"How is that?"
"All of these books aren't really here." He took off toward the back. "Come with me."
I'd thought the aisles were neatly lined up so I was seeing everything upon entering the room, but in fact, the aisles hid doors at the back that led off into other rooms; one of them had a staircase, another smelled like unfamiliar magic. "What's that?" I asked.
"I knew you'd catch that." He beamed. "Many of those books are not actually in this room."
"The books I'm looking at?"
"That is correct," he said. "Like how Volarus itself is actually on the land of Faerie, but taking up space on Earth, those books are from other libraries. This is my interlibrary system room."
"Holy crap," I said. "I've never heard of anything like that."
"That's because it's the first," he said.
"Wow." I shook my head. "You just got this job. How did you do this already?"
He blushed and avoided my eyes, looking out over the aisles of books like he'd find an answer there. Eventually, he glanced my way and shrugged.
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