The air hummed with the magic of books waiting to be read.
They whispered irresistible secrets and promised power to those who would turn their pages. I was still lured by their siren call after years of working as a researcher for the Order of Magica, the supernatural version of the FBI.
The Order’s Archives, one of the largest magical libraries in the United States, contained the secret history of the world—one written by sorcerers and vampires, werewolves and demons. Their stories filled the endless stacks that spiraled deep below Lake Michigan. Tall marble columns supported the library’s domed roof high above.
I wound my way through the warmly lit bookshelves to my desk, sequestered in a lonely alcove at the back of the archives. A precarious wall of stacked books, scrolls, and old reports formed a fortress around my laptop.
A stack of three new forms covered my keyboard. I groaned and snatched them up. Research requests. Partially completed.
Still on my feet, I waved the forms in the air. “Who left these? I was gone like fifteen minutes. Who even uses paper forms anymore? Email me, people.”
No response from the empty room.
I’d spent years compiling research for other people’s cases while trying to work my way up to detective. So far, I hadn’t gotten a lot of credit for my work, and my requests for advancement were always ignored.
I’d fight a raccoon for dumpster dominance if it meant a shot at detective.
I pushed aside my to-do pile and slipped a hidden folder out of my desk. It was full of notes I’d compiled on a recent string of supernatural kidnappings. I wasn’t assigned to the case, but if I could crack it on my own, or even—
My gaze fell on a book that hadn’t been sitting on my desk when I’d left for break. Arabian Nights, flipped open to the middle. My heartbeat quickened as I leaned over to read the words scrawled across the page. In ink, of all things.
Nevaeh Cross. Meet me at Exposition Park at eleven p.m. and your secret is safe. Tell no one.
I swallowed hard, fear rushing through me. Could they know that I—
My phone rang, and my heart missed three beats. I fumbled for my cell, barely catching it before it tumbled onto the floor.
“Neve?” It was my best friend, Rhiannon, a detective with the Order. “Where are you?”
Tell no one. The note’s words echoed in my mind, and I put on a casual voice. “Same place as always. Night or day."
“Neve. Sumerian demons are loose at the Oriental Institute Museum. We need a banishment spell.” She was out of breath.
My heart raced.
This was bad.
While I lived in Magic Side, an all-magic suburb of Chicago, the Oriental Museum was located in Hyde Park, which was mostly inhabited by humans. The primary purpose of the Order of Magica was to keep the existence of magic hidden from the rest of the world, and a demon rampage in a public place like the OI would take weeks to cover up.
What if they killed someone?
I shoved the note to the back of my mind as my fingers raced over the keyboard. “It’ll take time to find the right spell. What kind of demon?”
“No time. Grab whatever books you need. The lieutenant wants you with us. Meet downstairs in five.”
Holy shit. I was on a case.
A real case.
Not just books, but danger and demons. A chance to prove I could do this.
My personal problems would have to wait. I tore the note out of the book, guilt streaking through me, and shoved it in my pocket. Heart pounding, I raced through the upper floors of the Archives, leaping over an oaken banister.
One of the long-nosed library imps buzzed by me on leathery wings. “No running in the Archives!”
I grabbed the little creature by the arm and spun it around. “I need books on Sumerian demons! Lives are at stake. I’ll hit special collections. Can you check the stacks?”
Since the stacks spiraled sixty-seven floors below Lake Michigan, it was only practical to search them if you could fly, like an imp.
If only I could fly.
The imp glared, then nodded and darted away. I dashed into special collections. Technically, I wasn’t allowed in here either, but right now, that didn’t matter.
My fingers danced across the spines until I found the book I was looking for—an old musty leatherbound volume that vibrated with dangerous magic—the Manual of Ancient Demonology. The other books on the shelf had inched away from it, just to keep a safe distance.
I snatched the sinister tome and spun around, colliding with a dwarf.
He glared. “You’re not allowed in here.”
“Take it up with my boss.” I faked right and ducked left out of his reach, then ran back through the library.
The imp caught up with me and dumped a load of books in my arms. “You need to check these out before leaving.”
“Thanks!” There was no time. Books in hand, I backed through the massive doors to the archives, setting off the library alarms. The furious imp shouted at me as I raced across the skybridge and down through the Hall of Inquiry.
Man. I was going to get reprimanded by at least three department heads for this little stunt. But then again, I never got to go into the field, and there were lives at stake. If this worked, they’d let me off the hook. And if it didn’t… Well, it was my only shot.
Totally worth it.
I burst out the front doors, dashed down the steps, and slammed straight into a brick wall of a man who seemed to appear out of thin air.
My books flew across the pavement.
“Hey, watch it!” As the words left my mouth, a wave of magic surged over me. Scents of ancient forests. The taste of sea salt. The sound of waves. His magic was so powerful that it would have knocked me on my ass if I weren’t already on it.
I looked up and locked eyes with him.
My breath caught.
Streetlights cast shadows across his face, but they couldn’t conceal his lethal beauty. Or deadly physique.
His piercing green gaze skated over my form, sending shivers down my spine.
Who was he?
Terrifying perfection. An entrancing darkness radiated around him, like shadows cast by candlelight.
The world pivoted while he stood immobile.
It lasted just a moment, but time refused to move forward. My heartbeat drowned out everything around me until Rhiannon’s voice cut the moment.
“Come on, Neve!”
His spell released.
I scrambled after the fallen books, scooping them into my arms.
“You forgot this one.” His whiskey voice stroked over my nerve endings, and I tried to suppress another shiver. He held out the dusty book on demonology, its dark magic twining with his.
My instincts said run, but my feet were glued to the pavement.
His eyes drew me in with a gravitational pull, and unable to speak, I took the book. My fingertips nearly brushed his, and an arc of electricity passed between us. I swallowed hard and looked away.
“Now, Neve!” Rhiannon shouted.
Sucking in a sharp breath, I took the book and hightailed it to Rhiannon and the waiting car. I opened the door and turned back toward the mysterious man.
But he was gone.