Read [Southern Arcana 1] Crux Online

Authors: Moira Rogers

Tags: #paranormal romance, #urban fantasy

[Southern Arcana 1] Crux (7 page)

BOOK: [Southern Arcana 1] Crux
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But now wasn’t the time to wonder about her sanity.

Jackson might be crazy, but he hadn’t hurt her yet. She wrapped her hand around his and nodded. “Okay. Okay. Let’s go.”

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Chapter Six

His apartment was in the Garden District, on the first floor of a quiet building on a quiet street. Jackson very much liked it that way, just as he was fond of the multiple exits, excellent vantage point and long-standing wards, thanks to his upstairs neighbor, sweet little Mrs. Morris. She was off her rocker, but mostly harmless, considering she also happened to be one of the most powerful witches in the city.

“Come on in,” he said to Mackenzie. It was clean, for once, so at least he wasn’t embarrassed about the state of his place. “Just…make yourself at home. You want a drink, right?

I bet you want a drink.”

“I—” She looked as dazed now as she had when he’d grabbed her hand to lead her away from the bar. “Maybe I need a psychiatrist. Or a padded room. If I can’t have those, I suppose a drink will do.”

“Nah, you’re okay,” he assured her. “Well, nothing some bourbon won’t cure.” He walked over to the small cabinet in the corner, and withdrew a glass and a crystal decanter. “A little, a lot or ‘bring me the bottle, already’?”
Crux

When he turned, it was to find Mackenzie watching him with shocked blue eyes. “How many bottles do you have over there?”

Well, that answered that question. He poured a generous serving and corked the decanter. “How about we try to keep you sober for the time being? Until I can help you process what you saw.”

She stood in the middle of the room, looking too dazed to sit. “How can I process it? Everyone’s crazy, and now I am too.”

He gently directed her toward the sofa and sat in the sleek leather chair adjacent to it. “You’re not crazy. Neither am I.

Whether this guy after you is nuts has yet to be determined.” He eyed her. “Go on. Ask me something.” Mackenzie blinked once and looked at the glass he’d pressed into her hands. “Marcus said he was some sort of—of werewolf thing. Only not a wolf. A cougar or something. And he babbled on and on about magic and our destiny and how we were connected at birth. I thought he was nuts. I mean,
insane
. Escaped-from-an-institution crazy.”

“Well…” Jackson scratched the back of his neck. “The stuff about magic and destiny sounds like a bad pickup line, but I suppose he could be a cougar.” He eyed her. “That would mean he thinks you’re one too. You’re not?” www.samhainpublishing.com 71

Moira Rogers

She lifted her head, staring at him as if she didn’t understand what he was asking. “Do you have any idea how
crazy
you sound? You just—you just asked me if I’m—” She closed her eyes and drank half of the bourbon at once.

“A cougar, yes,” he nodded, watching her carefully. She might think she was on the verge of a psychotic break, but she wasn’t going into shock, which was the more immediate threat. “I can look, if you’d like. It’s a simple spell. Mahalia taught it to me.”

Mackenzie opened her eyes again and stared at him. “A spell,” she said flatly. “Is that—is that what—God, I can’t believe I’m saying this.” She took another sip and exhaled. “Is that what was going on with those two guys?” Jackson sighed and tilted his head from side to side. “Eh, sort of. The little scrawny guy was a magic-user. A spell caster,” he clarified. “He was getting ready to do something big, so I had to knock him out. The wall was handy. As for the tall guy, Eddie… Well, now, that was something entirely different. I can’t be sure, but I think he was a shifter.”

“Shifter?” She blinked at him.

“Shapeshifter. Wolf, probably,” he said with a nod.

“There aren’t many of any other kind, not around these parts.” He paused, but figured she had to be on information overload, anyway. He might as well go for it. “Nick and Alec, my partner? They’re wolves too.”

72

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Crux

She drained the rest of the bourbon and set the glass down with a
thump
. “Do…” She waved a hand. “Something magical.”

“Useful, or just showy?”

“Something I can see. Something that proves what you’re saying.”

He pondered that. “Energy is my thing. I could make you float, but you can’t see that. I can set things on fire, or throw them, or make them invisible.” He grinned. “Hey. Want to see me make myself invisible?”

“I— Okay. Okay, let me see you make yourself invisible.”

He laughed. “I never get tired of that one.” He stood and rubbed his hands together. “Okay, this isn’t so much about me being invisible as you not being able to see me. I’m going to be affecting light refraction, or some shit. Mahalia explained it all to me, but I don’t really care how it works. Here goes.” He closed his eyes and the humming started, the barely perceptible thread of sound that usually accompanied magic.

“Now, look away, but just for a second. I’ll stay right here.” Jackson watched as she closed her eyes and opened them again. She looked to the left and right and furrowed her brow.

She rose to her feet and glanced behind the couch. Then she started toward him, obviously planning on looking behind the chair he’d been sitting in.

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Moira Rogers

Touch negated the effects of the spell, but he didn’t move.

He knew what she’d see when she bumped into him—a shimmering, almost like she’d disturbed a pool of water, and he’d be there in front of her, appearing as the spell dissolved around him.

It happened a second later. She walked directly into him, smacking the top of her head against his chin. He grabbed her arms just in time to keep her from stumbling backward, and her eyes widened as she watched the spell fade. “Oh. My.

God.”

She swayed as if she was going to faint, and he strengthened his grip on her arms, steadying her. “Hey. Hey now, you’re the one who wanted flashy.” He bent and looked into her eyes. “Come on, Kenzie.”

“I—” She stared back at him. “I am either really, really crazy, or…” She closed her eyes. “Do your spell,” she whispered. “The one that—that will tell if Marcus was lying about me.”

He hesitated. “Are you sure?” At her nod, he took a deep breath and backed away a few steps. “Okay.” It didn’t take long, and it wasn’t flashy at all. It would tingle, not in a pleasant way, but it wouldn’t
hurt
as the magic coursed through her, revealing her to his sight.

He’d never seen a cougar in the flesh before, but there it was. Inside Mackenzie was a great sleeping cat, curled up and 74

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Crux

dreaming, alight with the magic potential she had yet to unleash.

She watched him nervously, and he smiled. “She’s in there, all right, sweetheart. You’ve just got to figure out how to get her out.”

Mackenzie stared at him in abject shock. She took one shaking step back and another before collapsing onto the couch. “This is nuts. And I’m nuts to even be considering it…”

“It’s not nuts,” he told her calmly. “I know it seems that way, but you’re not crazy. This stuff is real.”

“I still feel crazy, though.” She wrapped her arms around her body and looked at him, her expression lost. “I don’t know what to do. It was bad enough when I had a crazy stalker. Now you’re telling me I have crazy stalkers with supernatural powers, and that apparently there’s nowhere I can hide.”

“That doesn’t mean we can’t make you safe,” Jackson said quickly. “They’ll be able to find you no matter where you go, yeah. But that means we need to make sure you’re protected.” He gestured to the room around them. “Here, for instance, is safe.”

“Here?” Her eyes shifted to take in his living room, as if looking for something that made this place different. Special.

“Is it because you—you did some…spell?” www.samhainpublishing.com 75

Moira Rogers

“Well, see, I
would
have,” He sat in his chair again.

“After I moved in, I was all set to put up the strongest wards I could manage.” He gave her a smile. “Turns out, my upstairs neighbor is a witch. She placed wards years ago, and they’re more powerful than anything I could rustle up now.”

“Oh.” Her voice sounded strained. “So…your neighbor is a witch, my boss is a werewolf, you can make yourself invisible and you think I can turn into a cat.”

“Oh, I’m pretty damn sure you can tu—” His words cut off as her eyes grew impossibly wide.
Nice going, Jackson.

She’s going to snap if you don’t shut up.
“Uh, listen. Why don’t you take a bath while I start dinner? A nice, long soak?

How does that sound?”

“Okay,” she said faintly. “I—I could— That would be nice.”

“Okay,” he said, relieved. “It’s, uh, right through here.” He led her down the short hallway to the bathroom, reaching to turn on the light before stepping back. “The building’s kind of old.” He gestured to the claw-footed tub.

“But in a charming way. I think…” He opened the cabinet situated in an alcove and rummaged through it. “Susie had some— Yeah, here we go.” He pulled out a glass jar of bath salts and grinned. “My girlfriend left these. Well, you know, back when she
was
my girlfriend.” 76

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Crux

She stared at him, and he mentally kicked himself. She’d been through enough without him running off at the mouth like a nervous kid on a first date. The bath salts had clumped together in a solid pink mass at the bottom of the jar, so he banged it against the cabinet door and shrugged. “Yeah. So.” He placed them on a low shelf by the tub and scratched the back of his head. “Towels are in the closet and it takes a minute for the hot water to get hot…”

She remained quiet long enough to make him fidget nervously before she offered him what looked like an honest smile. “Thank you, Jackson. I appreciate it.”

“Hey, don’t mention it.” He backed out the door. “How do you like Italian food?”

“Sounds wonderful.” She was already fiddling with the taps on the tub. “I—wait. I need to call Nick. She’ll be expecting me—”

“I’ll handle it. I have to make a couple of calls.”

“Okay. Thanks.” She smiled at him again as he pulled the door shut, and he could hear the water almost at once.

Jackson cursed softly as he tried to hold the phone against his ear and fumble through the refrigerator at the same time.

“Come
on
, Alec…”

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Moira Rogers

It took four rings for Alec’s familiar voice to answer.

“Aren’t you supposed to be having your hot date?”

“Would that I was.” Jackson pulled a hunk of cheese from the crisper. “Turns out, I ran into a bit of trouble.”

“Oh yeah?” Jackson could hear the sudden tension in Alec’s casual question. “Found out what’s going on with your new friend, I take it?”

“Someone’s after her,” he confirmed. “Persistent too, whoever it is. Sent a spell caster and some muscle after us, probably a shapeshifter. They tracked her magically and attacked us out behind Nick’s bar. I’d appreciate it if you’d check in on her, make sure they didn’t cause her any problems after we split.”

“Shit.” He heard a rustle of paper in the background and Kat’s voice demanding to know what was going on. “Yeah, I’ll swing by, see if they left a trail I can follow. The girl okay?”

“Physically, she’s fine. She’s just trying to process the fact that she’s a shapeshifter and had no clue until half an hour ago.”

There was a long pause before Alec said hesitantly,

“Cougar?” He sounded almost guilty.

“Yeah.” Jackson dragged a large wooden cutting board from the shelf. “Thanks for the heads-up, by the way.” 78

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Crux

“Well, Jesus, Jackson. Last time I saw a cougar was about twenty-five, maybe almost thirty years ago. I thought I was imagining it, and it didn’t make sense to send you off on the wrong track.”

In the background, Kat’s voice came clearly again.

“Jackson’s girlfriend’s a
cougar
?” Jackson decided to ignore it for the time being, but his ears heated. “The goons working for Mackenzie’s stalker said she has something priceless, something he needs, and I’m guessing they’re not talking about the Hope diamond. Cougars are rare enough that this could be nothing more than—”

“A guy who’s damn determined to have little cougar babies,” Alec finished, his voice hard. “You and I both know there are shifters out there who’ll do just about anything to keep the bloodlines pure.”

“Yeah.” Jackson figured his partner knew that better than anyone. “I guess flowers and chocolates didn’t work, so he’s taken to stalking, which doesn’t seem likely to land him a mate, but…” He let the words trail off, not wanting to voice the obvious. “One of the guys called her by another name.

Jessica Evans. See what Kat can pull up on that, would you?”

“Sure. It’ll give her something to do other than listen to my damn phone conversations. You need any extra protection over there, or are you hunkering down behind the wards for the night?”

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Moira Rogers

“Starting some marinara sauce as we speak.” Alec groaned. “Oh hell, Jackson. You’re making Italian food? Is this really the best time for seduction?” Now his face was flaming. “It’s not seduction,” he insisted, lowering his voice. “It’s a job.”

“It’s Italian food,” Alec countered in an amused voice.

“You always make Italian food when you want to impress a woman.”

“Or when it’s the easiest thing to pull together on short notice.” Jackson glanced back over his shoulder to make sure Mackenzie hadn’t walked in. “Oh, why am I explaining myself to you? Shut up and go check on Nick.”

“Sure thing, Casanova. Call me if anything comes up.” Jackson grumbled as he ended the call and began chopping tomatoes. Calling Nick wouldn’t be necessary; Alec would tell Mackenzie’s boss exactly where she was. Hell, he’d probably mention the marinara too, and they’d both have a jolly laugh at his expense.

Which was absurd. Just because she happened to be the most beautiful woman he’d seen in a while—okay,
ever

BOOK: [Southern Arcana 1] Crux
5.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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