Prison food resembled slop on the best of days. I was used to steaks and hors d’oeuvres and fine wine aged gently with time. I could still remember the scent of fresh pancakes in the air at home when Debbie made my favorite breakfast.
My cell was stark and old, the yellowed paint chipping from the walls, revealing old graffiti beneath.
Gertrude was here.
Or was that George? The penmanship wasn’t quite up to the task at hand.
My cell wasn’t much different than what the Crestview Penitentiary inmates were like. Most of them had this hallowed old exterior that even if chipped, revealed another layer of hidden old skin. I didn’t really fit in with them. No, I was much worse than they were.
There were criminals, and then there was me.
I was a monster.
“Casimir!” I glanced up from my book as I lounged on my bunk. The guard regarded me with unveiled disgust I was used to seeing on everyone’s face when they looked at me. “On your feet. You have a visitor.”
I glanced at my calendar on the wall, checking the red marks where I’d marked the days off and frowned. My sister was the only one who visited me, and she’d been there just two days ago. So, it couldn’t be her. Who else would want to see the Destroyer of Cities? Maybe a reporter. That happened sometimes, when someone wanted to dig into what made a mass murdering war hero.
I stood up, shrugging on the thin orange jacket over my white tank and stood outside my cell door while two guards cuffed my wrists and ankles and looped a chain through and around my waist. They took me into a private room. I frowned as I glanced around. When my sister visited, it was in the public room, a wall of glass separating us. Even reporters didn’t warrant a private room.
This place… It was a room they used for interrogations and interviews. A lone metal table stood bolted to the floor; a long bar attached to the side of it. The guard all but pushed me to the chair beside the table and produced a set of cuffs, which he attached to my left wrist and the other side to the bar on the table before he released the cuffs from my hands and legs.
The door slammed shut, echoing in the silence of the room as the guard left without a word. I waited, glancing at the window not far from where I sat. Someone was in there, watching me. I could feel their stare. I stared back at the window, hoping to alpha stare the shit out of whoever it was. Then the feeling of it was gone.
Something gnawed at my stomach. I glanced around the room, noting the support beams in place. If I had to, I could bring the building down in a matter of minutes. But there would be more death than I was comfortable with.
The door banged open a few minutes later, and an older man, probably in his fifties or so, with jet black hair salted with gray, came in the room. He wore the uniform of the Mage Corps, a military branch created when magic changed the world over three decades ago. His boots were shined within an inch of their lives. His olive-green pants were pressed and smooth, with a lone navy-blue stripe running down the outside seam. The matching jacket covered a white collared shirt and a wall of ribbons hung on his chest.
His dark eyes crinkled at the corners; wrinkles born from squinting in the sun too much all his life. His skin was leathery, but his face was clean shaven. His lips were thin and turned downward slightly at the corners, but I knew better than to think he was displaying emotion. Emotions were a weakness. And the Colonel didn’t ever show weakness.
He sat down with a file in his hands and stared at me, his gaze calculating. How long had it been since I’d seen the man that had practically raised me? The man that had seen me through my awkward teenage years? Five, six years? Close to six, I’d imagine.
I glanced at the insignia on his collar and finally managed to make my mouth work. “General? Congratulations on the promotion, sir.” The “sir” came out automatically, like a forgotten habit that just suddenly kicked in.
He grinned at me, and his entire face changed. I remembered this one, the man that had sat down with me my first day at boot camp to soothe my hurt of being sold by my family. Nicola, you were meant for more than a life of dinner parties and country club lunches.
He’d put his arm around me and with his free hand he’d reached out in front of us, palm up and a beautiful miniature fireworks display erupted in front of us. I remembered being in awe of him, and the control he had over his magic. Magic is beauty and power. When you’re done with your training, everyone in the world will be in awe of you.
And boy were they. My public videos alone, filmed by war correspondents mostly, had millions of hits. My murderous accolades were infamous. Rumor had it, I had my own fan club out there. And fan fiction, most of which was probably thinly disguised erotica with whatever celebrity they wanted to pair me with. Infinitely better than my currently non-existent sex life.
“Thank you, Captain.” General Lionel inclined his head, his eyes shining with the power of which I remembered being so enamored. But that was the thing with the man. Manipulation and illusions were second nature to him. That little fireworks display in the palm of his hand all those years ago had been simply to show me the wonders of the magic I had been afraid of.
“I don’t know why you insist on calling me by my rank. I’m out, old man. Been out for six years.”
He ignored me, and instead, swept his gaze over me. “You’re looking a little thin. You’re not eating enough in here. Nutrition is important, you know.”
“Food sucks,” I replied, cutting off his argument. I so did not want to have a conversation about my eating habits with a man I hadn’t seen in six years.
Colonel John Lionel. Well, now I supposed he was a general. When I’d first met him twelve years ago, he was a colonel. The man was a force. When I was in the Academy, he was our instructor. He ran us until we were all heaving over, vomiting our guts out. He’d watch us do it, patiently waiting until we were done, and then he’d run us back. He never faltered. He could outrun even the fastest of us. He was ruthless, shrewd, and manipulative, everything required in an instructor for a bunch of mage kids that would have ran him over like he was nothing more than a forgotten dust bunny.
I saw the calculating way he stared at me now. He wanted something or he wouldn’t be here. He thought I’d have that something.
“I’m out, General,” I repeated. Six years was a long time, long enough for me to lose the blinders he’d outfitted me with years ago. I saw everything now with a clear head.
“That’s why I’m here,” he said. He opened the folder and turned it to face me. “I’m authorized to offer you a full pardon, release from Crestview, and a lump sum of one hundred fifty thousand dollars. Tax free and in cash.”
I laughed. I couldn’t help it. I just bubbled right out of me.
He didn’t laugh. He stared. I remembered that one too, the one that said he was in no mood to deal with my antics. I leaned forward and rested my elbows against the edge of the table. “Now, General… Why would you do something like that?”
“Casimir, you don’t belong here. I don’t even know why you’re even letting them cuff you to the table. Those aren’t even steel cuffs, for fuck’s sake. You and I both know, if you wanted to, you could walk right out the front door, and no one could stop you.”
I did know. I thought about it every time I came into a room. The first thing I did was think about my exit. It was more instinctual than a habit now.
“I don’t do it anymore. It’s too dangerous.” I cleared my throat. “So, tell me, General, what do I have to do to earn this awesome opportunity from you?”
His dark eyes regarded me closely. “You come back to the Corps.”
“No.” Well, that was an easy decision.
“Just hear me out, Captain.”
“I’m out. I’ve been out for six years. Why would I come back now?”
“There’s a war coming. A big one.”
“There’s always a war,” I whispered. “I’m not that girl anymore.”
“Of course, you are,” he said, laughing. “I raised you. I taught you. I know exactly who you are—and what you are capable of. You can’t tell me you don’t miss it. I know you haven’t used your magic in years.”
I swallowed. I missed every moment of it. Not the part where I killed thousands. I missed my magic. I missed the way it blanketed me, surrounded me, nurtured me. When I left the military, I’d locked the magic away, kept it from destroying any more. I didn’t use it, didn’t even touch it. If I could help it, I didn’t even think about it.
Something in my chest knotted painfully. My magic pressed against the cage I held it in, reminding me of its presence. Like I could ever forget it.
“I do miss it,” I admitted. “But I can’t.”
“So instead, you rot in this place, letting your talent and your skill go to waste? For what? To uphold the law that didn’t work for you? That locked you away because they were afraid of what you could do.” Lionel leaned forward. “You’re one of mine. You are special. You’re above the law.”
And that was what really scared me about the General. I believed him. I was one of his, I was special, and the law didn’t apply to me. That was why I’d spent so much time running from the law after I got out. Because the law didn’t apply to me. The thing was… I wasn’t in here to uphold laws, anyway. And if that’s what he thought I was doing, he really had no idea who I was. I was in here because I was a monster and monsters needed to be locked up. Here, people were safe from me. Here, I couldn’t be triggered into losing command of my magic. Here, the monster was controlled.
“Why me, General?”
“Of all my kids, you were the best. The brightest. The strongest. You had the most potential.” He smiled, his eyes lost in memory. “Why not you?”
I shook my head. “I’m sorry you made the trip out here for nothing.”
“You know I don’t take no for an answer. It’s a fair deal, Captain. You should take it.”
The finality in his voice caught my attention. A shiver slithered down my spine. Realization cut through my chest like a machete. The General wasn’t here to give me a choice. He was here to inform me of his decision.
“If I don’t take the deal, you’re going to have me transferred out anyway, right?”
His silence confirmed it. The regular military was governed by law. The Mage Corps, while they were considered another branch, like the Marines or the Air Force, they played by their own set of rules. That was why me and nine other kids had spent our entire teenage lives in a Corps boot camp, learning to use our magic like a weapon, learning to be able to kill with just our natural ability.
There weren’t many of us, but there didn’t need to be. The Corps trained the strongest and the brightest, like the General said. One of us was worth a battalion of troops. And there had been ten of us originally.
“What makes you think I won’t fight you?”
He smiled, but it wasn’t a nice one. It was more like a knife slicing through my throat. This was Lionel I’d grown up worshipping. The one that demanded excellence. The one who you never could tell if he was going to smile or throw a knife at you. The one who created the world’s worst weapons.
“Because deep down inside, Nicola, you want me to take that choice from you. To give you orders to kill, to destroy. You trained all your life for it.”
He closed the folder and pushed it toward me. “I’ll give you a couple days to think about this. Fight if you want, but one way or another, you’re coming home with me when I come back. Take the deal. At least you’ll get some money you can use for Fiona’s college fund. She’s graduating next year, isn’t she?”
He stood up and smoothed out his uniform before he strode away. I didn’t move, didn’t breathe until the door banged shut behind him, the sound echoing through the room. I picked up the folder and stared at it as the guards came back in to return me to my cell.
The military wanted me back and they weren’t going to let me go. They’d never really let me go in the first place. They’d let me think it, because I was grieving over my parents’ loss, and I’d lost my usefulness for the moment. But I’d never truly been free of them.
Back in my cell, I sunk onto the bunk and leaned against the wall. Two days, and I’d be roped back in. I could have left right then. I could have broken out. All I had to do was let the magic out. In all actuality, that was probably what Lionel wanted me to do. But were the lives of all these prisoners who were stuck here worth my freedom? Once the magic was out, there was no stopping it. It would bulldoze anything in its path.
Myarrest and subsequent arrival at Crestview Penitentiary were probably the biggest news to hit the Austin society circuit in years. One of Austin’s finest mage citizens was a lowly con artist and thief? The city had charged and convicted me in record time, then shoved me into the first hole they could find that had bars on it. Because my military records were sealed, all they knew was that I had magic, not that I was an Alpha or that I was combat trained to use it. The General wasn’t wrong that I could have walked right out of jail any time I wanted.
The leading agent on my case with the Federal Magic Bureau worked on it and chased me around Austin for five years before he finally got enough proof to arrest me for my various little crimes against the rich Mage Families of Austin. The last time I’d seen Special Agent Ian Harrison, he testified at my trial. I never expected to see him again after that, and over a year later, I hadn’t.
Which was why it was baffling to see his name on my visitor list less than a day since General Lionel had come.
I waited alone in the private room, sitting handcuffed to the table. Deja vu. Just like when the General visited. It was cool, the air conditioner working overtime today. My skin prickled with goosebumps, a shiver holding at the top of my neck and waiting to slither down my spine. My heart was pounding against my rib cage relentlessly, my magic washing up against the bars of its prison. I didn’t know what Harrison wanted, but it couldn’t be good if he was coming on the heels of the General. I wasn’t naive enough to think the two weren’t related somehow.
My gaze slid over to the observation window. Unlike yesterday, I hadn’t felt that stare again, but I knew Harrison was in there, watching with that contemplative stare he did all those restless nights in the FMB field office when he hadn’t known I was watching him.
I looked up as the heavy metal door clanged and echoed through the room and tore my gaze from the window.
Harrison didn’t look much different. His chiseled jaw lined up perfectly with his ears. His short brown hair cropped close to his scalp in almost military precision. His navy-blue suit fit him in all the right places, made him look larger than life to me as he walked into my cage. The dark blue tie complemented the color of his suit, which looked exactly like the suit he’d arrested me in more than a year ago. I wondered briefly if he had a closet full of those navy-blue suits like rich women had Jimmy Choo shoes.
“Agent Harrison, as I live and breathe,” I burst out in a dramatic Southern belle accent. I always had a bit of the South in my voice, but I played it up as he came into the room. I pasted a wide smile on my face that he didn’t return. I hadn’t expected him to, but the grim look on his face worried me.
As he neared me, I inhaled, the scent of his magic strong in the small room. I always loved the way he smelled, the way the magic he wielded curled around him almost possessively, like it was afraid I’d contaminate him if I touched him.
Hell, maybe I would have.
“Nicola Casimir. You’re looking… thin. Don’t you eat?” he replied, sitting down in the seat across from me. Really? Had I lost that much weight that everyone noticed?
I glared at him. “Food sucks here.”
“I suppose it’s not a five-star restaurant.” He carried a briefcase, which was new. He’d never carried anything but a gun when he was hunting me. And he didn’t really need the gun either. His magic could be lethal, and he certainly knew how to use it. He also carried a brown paper bag, which he set down on the floor. Curiosity bit at me to know what he hid in there, but I forced myself to remain patient.
“To what do I owe this delicious pleasure?” I asked as he set the briefcase down on the table.
“We need to talk,” he said, as stoic as a statue. He opened the briefcase and pulled out a paper, keeping it from my view. It was slightly heavier than your typical copy paper, so maybe a photograph. Did the nice agent need information? Maybe we could come to an agreement if I helped him out a little.
He set it face down and looked at me. His bright green irises glowed with magic, but it wasn’t deployed. He wasn’t using it at all. It just suited him so well, he couldn’t hide it. And I was sure that he didn’t want to hide it anyway. Ian Harrison knew exactly who he was. And he was born a cop.
Okay, maybe not really, but I was pretty sure the first thing he did when he was born was reach for his Junior Sheriff badge.
“What would you like to talk about?” I asked him. “It’s beensolong. I bet we have tons to catch up on. The last time I saw you, you testified at my trial.”
“I’m not going to lie. I enjoyed watching them whisk you away in handcuffs. I love a good guilty verdict.” A smile twitched at the corners of his mouth. No, that was definitely not a lie. Harrison loved when criminals got convicted. Especially ones he’d chased for five years. And I’d been a major pain in the ass. It was all part of my charm. I wondered if he’d gotten my Christmas card last year.
“Jealous you didn’t get to handcuff me again?” I leaned forward, pressing my breasts against the table and gave him my best sultry smile. “I think I would have enjoyed that.”
He didn’t react, and I didn’t expect him too. I loved baiting him, loved flirting with a man that couldn’t be coerced. Ian Harrison was as straight-arrowed as they came. He couldn’t be bought, seduced, or otherwise coerced. It just wasn’t written in his DNA.
Instead, he flipped over the paper, and turned it so I could see it the right way up as he slid it toward me. “Recognize this man?”
My handcuffs clinked as I picked up the photograph and studied it.
Of course, I knew who it was. The blond hair that was almost white, the blue eyes that pierced your chest with ice even through the photograph, and the broad shoulders of an ex-military were unmistakable.
“Frank Bedford,” I replied. “What did he do now?”
Frank had been one of the General’s kids too. He was a little older than I was by a few years. He was magically skilled as any child of the General’s was, sure, but he loved fighting. I steered clear of him since I’d gotten out. Frank was a thug, through and through, and I had no need for thugs, even one of the General’s kids. I could adequately take care of myself.
“We believe he may be responsible for a bombing under the Assembly Hall yesterday.”
The Mage Assembly Hall was the seat of the Mage Council, our unofficial governing body. Technically, we were citizens under the United States government like anyone else, but mages were powerful and the governing Families mostly rich, and so when the Assembly spoke, the government listened.
I frowned, staring at the picture. I didn’t remember much about Frank. He’d not been at the Academy for very long while I was there. He’d been shipped out soon after. But what I did recall of him was that he wasn’t any kind of bomb expert. That had been Elaina’s specialty. Frank was always better with one on one fights. Not to mention, the Mage Assembly Hall was fortified by magic. It could withstand most bombs with minimal damage by design. The only real way to bring down that building would have been to have me hit it.
“I’ve been assigned the bombing case. I want you to work with me on it.”
“Forgive me, Agent Harrison, but I’m not sure what exactly I’d have to offer you. I’ve never worked with Frank Bedford. And I’ve been forcibly retired for the last twelve months.”
Harrison’s eyes swept over me as he took the photograph back. It wasn’t exactly a lie that Frank and I hadn’t worked together. Yes, we’d trained together, but we’d never been on a mission together. The General always put me and Caleb together. His pyro ability worked well with my destruction.
“We think he’s working for someone. Maybe you might have some ideas of who.” Harrison slipped the photograph back into his briefcase. “Who would Bedford take orders from?”
I shrugged, but it was only half-assed. I knew exactly who Frank would take orders from. The General. But even the General wouldn’t be bold enough to attack the Assembly, a building on home soil. It wasn’t his style. “Why ask me, Agent Harrison? This kind of information pretty… easy to come by and I don’t know Frank all that well.”
Harrison’s emerald eyes slid over me again, like he was searching for something. Then he grabbed a manila folder from his briefcase and slid it toward me.
Two folders in one week. Apparently, someone had decided I was important for some reason.
“What’s this?” I asked.
I eyed Harrison carefully, but he’d apparently gone Zen on me. He gave nothing away in his expression. So, I pulled the folder closer and opened it. I read the first page, my frown deepening the further I went. I looked back up sharply. “You’re fucking joking, right?”
“I don’t joke about the law,” he said. I didn’t doubt that one bit. Harrison was one of the most serious mage cops I knew. “It’s a straightforward deal.”
“You want to let me out?”
“Not exactly. It’s a work release. You will work for me, helping me on high profile cases involving the Mage Families. In return, your sentence will be turned into time served.”
“A snitch?” I couldn’t seem to wrap my head around the idea.
“Officially, the title is confidential informant for Magic Family Affairs.” Harrison leaned forward, his bright eyes almost aglow. I resisted the urge to curl myself up into a ball. First the General wanted me, now Harrison. What was going on?
“What can I do that no one else can?” I asked.
“I need someone who knows the Families, their members, their magic, everything.”
I frowned more. “You’d know that just as well as I do.” Harrison was the Heir to his Family, the next in line. When his father retired from their family business, Ian Harrison would have to step up to the plate. He was a crown prince for all intents and purposes. The Harrison family was legendary.
“I don’t participate in Family politics.” That might have been true. Though it had been a year since my arrest, I had dirt on just about every member of mage society. Hell, I’d probably rummaged through every one of their private safes at some point.
“Neither do I. It’s not my thing,” I said.
“I chased you around Austin for five years, Nicola. It’s exactly your thing.”
“I’m retired.” Revisiting my past wasn’t something I wanted to relive, and everyone seemed intent on making me do it. First the General, now Harrison. Seemed like folks had all lost their damn minds.
“Wouldn’t it be better for your sister if you were out? One case, maybe two, and I could probably get your sentence commuted completely. Time served. You’d be free as a bird.”
Now that was a dirty trick I hadn’t expected from Harrison. I’d have done anything for Fiona, and he knew it. Luckily, she was safe with friends of my family’s in Cedar Park. My seventeen-year-old sister deserved so much more than to be used as a pawn in my life.
“Fiona is fine where she is. She’s doing well.”
That was not a lie. She was thriving in school. She truly seemed happy when she came to visit. It had to be difficult for her to have a convict for a sister. Winchester Academy had a lot of mage kids. No doubt she probably had to deal with those idiots trying to get a rise out of her because of me. Kids were cruel.
“I’m a social pariah, Agent Harrison. My Family is in pieces and broke. Or do you not remember your father buying my family’s company and dismantling it?”
Harrison didn’t even blink at that. It was a cheap shot, I knew that. My father made some very poor business decisions that ended up in the Casimir Family losing its company, and its main source of income. It was part of the reason I did what I did. Fiona would never struggle in her life if I could help it.
“I have complete faith in your ability to con your way back into their good graces.”
I sighed and leaned back or tried to as the cuff on my right hand stopped me just short of sitting back. “Why me? You spent five years trying to put me away. Why let me out now?”
“First, let’s get things straight. You wouldn’t be out. It’s work release.” He grabbed something from inside his briefcase and set it on the table. Two twin circles clinked against the metal table, their silvery shine immediately becoming the focus of the room. “You’d be bound to me with these. Your life to mine.”
The bracelets were thin and delicate, like they made for some rich woman who’d sport them down at the Club. But that wasn’t what they were for, was it? They were made for criminals like me.
“Binding bracelets?” My eyes widened. “That kind of magic isn’t well documented. You could end up tied to me for life. Surely there’s a better way to keep track of me.”
“Nicola, I know you. If I gave you even an inch, you’d take a mile. With these, I’ll know where you are at all times. If you step outside the boundary of the bracelets for too long, you’ll die.”
“You must really be desperate to come to me,” I said. Anyone else wouldn’t have caught the change, but the slight twitch of his eyebrow was plain as day to me. I smiled. I wasn’t far off.
“People have died. I’m trying to keep more from dying,” he said. “So, what do you say?”
“Maybe I should think about it.” Except I really didn’t have time to think about it. I had another day and the General would be back for me. I had a choice right then I didn’t think I’d have. Life with the General wasn’t freedom. It was life with blinders. I let my magic out, demolished entire cities, and then woke up in another country with a raging hangover. But it wasn’t really freedom with Harrison either. I could have freed myself at any time here, but that wouldn’t be the case if I let Harrison cast that binding magic on me.
“I need to know today,” he said. “It’s a one-time offer.”
I swore his eyes started glowing hotter as he waited for me to respond. Nothing else moved on the man. He was as still as a statue. A hot, built like marble statue.
“I never wanted to be involved in Family business again,” I whispered.
“That makes two of us,” he replied. “This is your chance to give back to the world. I know you, Nicola. You spent five years running around Austin. In some twisted way, you did all of it to save people.”
I shook my head. “I did it because I’m a selfish, greedy bitch. You’re just going to get yourself killed.”
His mouth slid up at one corner. “Awe, are you worried about me? I’m touched.”
“Was that a joke?” I let my mouth fall open in a dramatic fashion. “I’m so proud.”
He pushed the bracelets across the table, closer to me. “What do you say? A couple cases solved and you’re free. No more prison. No more looking behind you waiting to get arrested.”
And no General if I did it either. I picked up the rings and examined them closer. They seemed so innocuous, three simple little silvery circles, woven within each other. I pulled it apart, the simple clasp releasing easily.
In another day, the General would be back to take custody of me. Whether I wanted to or not, I’d be on my way back to the Corps to take my place back on his team. If the General was right about a war coming, I’d be in a war zone within weeks. If I went with Harrison, it might be enough to keep the General from using his connections to take me away. But I’d be bound by magic to Harrison. Instead of pretending to be a prisoner here in Crestview, I’d really be one and Harrison would be my warden.
If I was allowed to serve the rest of my sentence here, it would be nine more years. My sister would be twenty-five, no longer a teenager, but a grown woman. I’d already lost so much of her life. I’d come home when our parents died. She had been a scrawny little girl of ten then. I tried to do right with her.
She was fifteen when Harrison took me away in handcuffs. I still remembered that day. It had been her birthday. At least Harrison had let me keep it quiet. How much more of her life could I lose?
Even as I thought the question, I realized there was no place in her life for me. I was damaged, a monster, and she was practically an angel compared to me. If I took the General up on his offer, I’d be deploying for who knew how long. I’d not be able to talk to her, see her. If I took Harrison’s offer, I could feasibly be there for Fiona. Harrison was the good guy. I could atone for all the atrocities I’d committed in the past. I’d be doing good. But I’d be bound to follow him. He would always know where I was. The binding magic tracked its subject, kept them close to their handler by fear of death. Binding magic was strong, a combination of both the handler’s and the captive’s magic blended into one spell, anchored by the bracelets that each of us would wear. It was unbreakable, even by a General.
My choice was clear.
I glanced at Harrison, realizing I’d been quiet for too long. A flash of doubt passed across his face, imperceptible to only those that didn’t know the man. “You know this could be permanent?”
He nodded. “Yes.”
“You could be stuck with me for life.”
“Could be worse.”
“When I’m done and served my time with you, I have your word I’ll be free and clear?”
He nodded. “My word.”
“I won’t get shoved into some deep dark hole the FMB keeps its projects in?”
“You’re not a project.” He rolled his eyes. “I promise you will be free.”
Best I was going to get.
I took a breath and slapped one on my wrist, clinching the clasp closed on the bracelet. Harrison did the same with the other, following my lead. They both lit up with brilliant emerald light. Tendrils of light slithered across my skin, up my forearms. Heat blossomed across my body, from my arms to my chest down to my toes.
The bracelet burned its way into my skin, almost as if it were melting into me. My forearms, from my elbows down to my fingertips, took on the emerald hue and design of the bracelets, even the arm without the bracelet. The binding took hold over my chest, squeezing my heart tightly. It touched my magic, bringing out long, thin fingers of it. Subdued lavender light slid out of my body, holding itself in the air like it was waiting for something.
My body seized itself, all functions stopping for a brief moment before Harrison reached over and took hold of my hands. His magic slid against mine, weaving into it, forging a tight, strong link between us. Power exploded in my vision, colors bursting forth with ethereal song in my ears. The tendrils of our magic slid together like an explosion before my eyes, weaving in and out of each other in gorgeous bright patterns. Fire burned all through me as my body shocked itself into functioning again.
I heaved in heavy breaths, struggling to regain my breathing as the magic faded. I felt like I’d participated in an entire triathlon. Maybe two. I glanced up, realizing Harrison’s hands still held mine. He wasn’t even breathing hard, the bastard.
For long moments, he held my gaze, his emerald eyes practically glowing with residual power from the spell. I wondered if mine were glowing like that too. Without breaking contact with my eyes, he let go of one hand and raised the other that was cuffed to the table. He reached into his pocket and produced a key. Only then did he look down at the cuff, to unlock it from my wrist. The metal fell away from me.
He reached down and brought up the brown bag, setting it on the table. He pushed it toward me. “I brought clothes for you. Just some jeans and stuff. Go change. I’ll get the paperwork started and meet you outside.”
I sat there, stunned and exhausted as he picked up his briefcase and headed out. It wasn’t until the door shut behind him that I realized how to breathe again.