Valens made a light gesture with his hand, indicating the call was nothing, before retiring to his library. He had been about ready to make the move anyway.

“And where is that?” he said into the receiver as he climbed the stairs.

“The Necromancer is in a decrepit bar in the dual-society zone near the ocean.”

“Decrepit goes without saying in that waste of an area,” he murmured, stalling the conversation until he could sequester himself in his library. His son never ventured very far into this room. His disgust for Valens’s hunting conquests was plain, though that was probably because his son didn’t understand the cunning and endurance required to bring down some of these beasts. A manticore, for example, was a formidable foe. The creature had nearly taken Valens’s skin.

Or maybe it was another example of his son’s weak constitution.

Right now, Valens’s allies were giving Kieran a pass. They were letting the boy breathe to mourn his mother. Soon, however, they’d start to wonder if Kieran was hard enough to take Sydney. They’d wonder if Valens could execute his plans for expansion with his son as his partner.

Valens was starting to wonder that himself.

In another few months, Valens would be forced to give his son an ultimatum, one with possibly devastating consequences for both of them: continue the family business, or you will cease to be useful. He had not spent his life creating an empire to see his wife’s weak blood ruin his efforts. She’d weakened him once—he would be damned if he allowed her to do it again from beyond the grave.

Valens walked around his desk, checking the doorway to make sure Kieran hadn’t followed him, and then sat in his chair.

“Who is she there with?” Valens asked Flara. He’d chosen her for this lowbrow task because she was decent at blending in, powerful enough to hold her own, and rarely, if ever, professionally engaged. He didn’t like his bedmates bruised. Her greatest asset came when she spread her legs. Not to mention all of his elite staff were assigned to higher level duties, at present, getting his complex plans into action.

“She showed up at the bar with a female in her mid-twenties, and they sat next to an older man with a staring problem. The older man is a drunk and is trying to pick a fight.”

“Ignore him. The other female—do you recognize her?”

“No, but I’ve had the team run her face. She’s a lower-level Ghost Whisperer living in the dual-society zone. She’s a nobody.”

Valens clenched his fist and leaned against the dragon scale desk. A desk he’d commissioned after stalking and killing one of the most fearsome creatures in the magical wild. It was said that a man who could take down a dragon could do anything. But here he was, nearly two months after his employees had disappeared, and he still had no clue who’d done it, or why.

They’d already ruled out a crime of passion. The complete lack of evidence indicated a cool head. The bodies hadn’t turned up, and there was no sign of foul play.

It had to be someone with access to the government building. The security footage had been expertly manipulated. Three hours had been cut out, and footage from a different day with the same time stamps had been spliced in. His team had nearly missed the anomaly. The security booth was rarely empty, but this person had managed to get in unnoticed, which spoke of someone with access codes and familiarity. And yet, all the checks had come up clear.

How had the perpetrator even known what those particular employees did? There had been rumors of them calling ghosts, but he’d kept a tight lid on their true function. Not even all of his Elite knew about the spirit trappers. He’d grilled those who did know mercilessly, enough to feel confident they hadn’t let the information slip. Someone must’ve figured it out for themselves.

The Necromancer—Bria Stevens—was a strong class five who couldn’t keep a job. She had a problem with authority and a penchant for unlawful behavior. She bounced from place to place, living in squalor and dressing like an inmate. No one with any pride would hire her.

Or would they?

She was the only stranger in his territory with the right sort of magic.

“That Ghost Whisperer,” he said, thinking through this new information, “what is her power level?”

“The file says she’s a class two.”

He leaned hard on his desk, frustration eating at him. A Ghost Whisperer, even a powerful one, didn’t have enough tools for something like this. Their skillset as a whole was lackluster. Mostly worthless.

“She is dressed well,” Flara went on, “but she doesn’t wear the clothes like she was born to them. She’s pretty—she’s probably someone’s plaything.”

He fisted his hand. His staff had been incredibly incompetent of late. He was starting to lose his patience. If it got out that someone had killed two people under his protection without him having a clue how, or even why, it would undermine his position in the magical hierarchy. Add in his wimpish son, who had the power, but not the blood, of a Demigod, and he’d be subject to ridicule.

Ridicule was unacceptable at any time, more so considering what he was planning.

“Follow the Necromancer,” he ground out. “Find out where she goes—who she speaks to. Whoever put this together is higher level, but the fastest way to find that person is to lean heavily on the staff.”

“Yes, sir,” Flara said, her purr getting under his skin.

“And come here when you’re finished. I have a need for you.”

“Yes, sir,” she said in a breathy whisper.

He tapped his phone off and tossed it across the desk. He’d ride her hard tonight. Hell, maybe he’d just break her and toss her aside. He needed to relieve his frustrations.

His mind turned back to that Necromancer. What other lead did he have? She was the only logical choice, especially since she clearly wasn’t trying to fit into his magical society. Only crooks and derelicts hung out in the dual-society zone. She had secrets.

And after he got her in front of his highly experienced torturer, he’d pry out each of those secrets until he found one he could use.

5

Alexis

“The most important thing is not to freak out,” Bria said, finishing off her fourth Jack and Coke. She’d been shotgunning them in anticipation of being followed. The woman had no sense of self-preservation. “The second most important thing is not to let her know we’re on to her. Which might be a little difficult, since your Green Isles friend over there has been staring the shit out of her face.”

“Good, yeah, get nice and drunk before we have to fight for our lives. Great call.” I wiped a sheen of perspiration off my forehead.

I took a deep breath as the woman with the yellow shirt settled on her bar stool. She’d just come back from having a smoke, and she had the pristine soft pack and a box of matches to prove it.

Mick huffed and took a sip of his whiskey. “They sell lighters right there on the counter when you’re buying the pack of smokes,” he muttered. “Buy the fuckin’ lighter, girl.”

Yes. I’d had the same thought. Say a smoker lost their lighter—they’d probably have a few matchbooks swiped from random establishments. They wouldn’t carry around a small box of camping matches from the grocery store. How weird was that?

“She must’ve just checked in with her boss,” Bria said, reading my mind.

I chewed my lip nervously. “Who do you think her boss is?”

“If we’re lucky?” Bria picked up her empty glass, frowned at it, and set it back down. “Some thug-nobody who thinks I stole his grandma’s carcass.”

“Why would someone think—”

“Been there, done that,” Bria interrupted. “I mean, the lady was way across the Line. What did she need with her body? I have no idea what he’d be so worked up about.”

Mick laughed, his body shaking with each loud “Ha!” He slapped the bar before picking up his whiskey. “To your granny’s unneeded corpse.” He took a gulp.

Bria hooked a thumb Mick’s way. “That guy gets it.”

“Okay…so if it isn’t a thug-nobody who’s rightly pissed that you stole his nana’s dead body, then what?” I pushed wisps of hair out of my face. “Who do you think sent her?”

Bria frowned at me, silently calling me an idiot. “Why, Valens, of course. Zorn figured I’d be the first target. Who else would he suspect?”

“Kieran, for a start,” I whispered.

“Well yes, him, but for some reason, Valens hasn’t latched on to Kieran’s rock-solid motive. I haven’t a clue why, because—”

“Here’s the thing about drink,” Mick began as the bar door swung open. “You get louder the more you drink. Drink enough, and you roar your business down the bar.”

Bria ticked a finger at him, tapping the air. “Noted, Senator. Good looking out.”

A man walked in, his dark brown hair cut short and his deep-set eyes cloaked in long black lashes. He scanned the bar quickly, and I groaned and sank in my seat.

“Hello, sir,” Bria said softly as she eyed the newcomer. She sat up a little straighter.

“Miserable coont,” Mick grumbled.

***

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