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He chuckled. “It does, actually.”

He thought she might turn her head a little more. Let her lips glide across his. Instead, she sighed and straightened up. “This is breaking a rule, right? Doing magic in the alleyway?”

Despite her attention shift, the feeling around them didn’t wobble. The magic rolling playfully through the air didn’t shift or change.

“Your focus is unreal,” he said, feeling his eyes go wide. “How can you keep this level of…balance? Does it come naturally to you?”

She shrugged as she glanced around. “Practice, probably. I love this feeling. I mean, it has never been this strong. The zing of electricity, the pulse of the energy, the sheer magnitude of oneness—none of that’s normal for me. But the basis of it is. It’s something I work toward all the time, like with my stones. It has helped with my temperamental third eye.”

“Your what?”

She shrugged again, and now things did falter. The bubble around them cracked, ready to break. Something tugged at his middle, attempting to distract him.

He rubbed his palms up her arms and then back down, refocusing on her. Not letting his attention wander.

Miracle of miracles, the magical pocket they’d created—their bubble of balance and peace in topsy-turvy surroundings—strengthened again.

“What happened just there?” he asked softly, finding her hands again and holding them.

“Nothing. It’s fine. Let’s—”

“It’s not nothing, Penny Bristol. Tell me.”

She looked away, and the magic in their surroundings wobbled again. “I have a lot of baggage when it comes to the weird little things I do. I realize that some of those things are magic, but clearly my third eye is just as strange as ever.”

“Strange? Somehow I’m helping with this, instead of tearing it down like I used to do when I worked certain spells with Conrad. I’m speaking and moving and having a conversation in the midst of all this.” He used one of her hands to gesture at the magic. “Because of you. You’re stabilizing me, I have no doubt, and the only way you could do that is by hours and hours of focus, trying to find balance your whole life. There is no other explanation. So cherish that third eye of yours, regardless of how temperamental it may be.” He laughed and pulled in a set of elements, weaving them through his fingers entwined with hers. Shadows draped over them, obscuring them from anyone passing by. He should’ve done it immediately, but he’d been too caught up.

“And don’t forget,” he said, feeling the other elements passing over and around them. “I have a third eye too. It’s my Seer ability. It has kept me alive more times than I can count.”

“My third eye doesn’t keep me out of trouble. What was the spell you just did?”

“I didn’t say my Seer ability kept me out of trouble. I said it’s saved my life. Trust me, you have nothing on the amount of havoc I can create.” He paused to shift gears. “I created a light-concealing spell. Very little power and energy and focus needed. It’s a breeze in this bubble. Here, I’ll do it again.”

He weaved the spell again, moving slower this time. “This is as slow as I can mix things together without the elements of the spell frazzling.”

“Do you use the term ‘elements’ for everything?”

“Kind of, yes. It’s easier.” He got to the end and let the identical spell drift into the air around them. “Do you want to try—”

She shrugged off his hand and started weaving immediately. He chanced stepping around the side of her, wondering if the bubble would break. Amazingly, it held, even when his focus switched from the magic at her fingertips to her teeth chewing her plump bottom lip. Her brows dipped in concentration—or maybe frustration—before her eyes squeezed shut.

At once, the wobbly weave drifted into harmony. The spell came together perfectly, the weave not as tight as his, but the elements in all the right places.

She didn’t work with magic by seeing, like he did—she worked by feeling. Witches did that, for the most part. Was that because they didn’t have extensive spell training either? Was this the natural path found by someone who’d been given no map?

She flung her hand and the spell fell against the wall, not doing much to an already shadowed area.

“Did that work?” she asked, opening those large, luminous eyes. She caught him staring and a crease wormed between her brows. Fire sparked in her eyes, and it wasn’t the lustful kind. It was the explosive kind that promised pain. Whatever she’d seen on his face, she had not liked it.

“Great job.” He took a large step back and barely stopped himself from raising his hands in surrender. Or maybe an apology. “You got it on the first try.”

As if pricked by a pin, the bubble between them burst. The sensual throb of energy and electricity, working together, fizzled out. The magic—so playful and pleasant—dissipated into nothing. Cool air rushed in, replacing the heat from a moment before.

He sighed in the aftermath, returned to the dark and wet alleyway with its musty stink. The hollow ache he’d lived with these last three years beat in time with his heart, the small reprieve making the effects so much stronger.

Somehow, she’d sucked him into her balanced bubble. He might’ve helped keep them on track, but he had to own that she was the anchor. She’d drawn him in, and once there, they’d easily synced up.

When have mages just randomly synced up like this?

He studied her for a moment, remembering the story she’d told about New Orleans. She’d joined a coven, out of the blue, and led them through an advanced potion. She must’ve synced with them, too. Perfect strangers with no basis of trust, and she’d still turned them to a high-powered circle.

He couldn’t help shaking his head in disbelief. He’d never heard of such a thing with mages. In many ways, she seemed more like a witch than a mage. A natural at working with others, with a pulse on the world around her and the emotions of the people around her. Even her intuition was geared toward witchcraft, since mages typically used recipes and remembered spells.

Yet there could be no denying she was a natural of the highest order. In the structure of magic, she was classified a mage.

“Let’s get you settled, then I have to get rid of the car,” he said, chewing on the differences between the magical hierarchy and nature’s way. Maybe the difference was less about power level, and more about corruption of thought.

Maybe being a natural witch would make Penny stronger than a natural mage in the end. Maybe she was an accidental new breed of power that the world hadn’t yet seen. No limits. No rules.

Chapter Twenty-Three

I grimaced when I opened the door. Then sneezed.

The tiny stockroom was exactly that. A stockroom. With boxes of glasses, napkins, and a couple of keg shells resting on a bed pushed into the very corner. Across the hall was a restroom with a toilet and a sink, lit by a bare bulb hanging overhead.

I dropped my duffel bag at my feet and moved a few boxes so they were at least properly stacked. Who just opened doors and threw boxes in? Granted, the glassware had its place, but other than that, it was a messy heap of brown squares.

I set about righting everything, trying to reestablish that same calm energy in the air that I’d found in the alleyway. It was there, but watered down. The electrical charge was absent entirely. Something about when I physically touched Emery, or at least stood really close to him, amplified my magical ability.

That was worth exploring.

I thought back to that cursed church. To the spell in the circle of women. I’d felt something similar with them, but not as potent. Certainly not as focused.

I grinned as I made my way into the room, then beamed. Working with magic felt really good. The thrill of it was indescribable. The slide of it against my skin and how it seeped into my middle fired me up. Working with Emery made it that much more awesome. He was all raw power and force, which blasted fire through my usual calm. I liked the change. It was like an upgrade to my programming. Hopefully he wouldn’t get annoyed that he had to keep schooling the newbie for fear she’d blow up a neighborhood.

I pulled another box off the floor. Something rushed out, straight at me.

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