While trapped in a stalled subway train on his morning commute, PR rep Byron Cole flirts with Levi, a young waiter with adorable curls. But Byron's hopes for romance crash and burn when Levi saves him from a brutal explosion—with outlawed magic.
When Levi is imprisoned, Byron begins to question everything he's ever believed. How can magic be evil when Levi used it to save dozens of lives? So Byron hatches a plan to save Levi that will cost him his job and probably his life. If he doesn't pull it off, Levi will be put to death.
Byron discovers that he isn't the only one questioning America's stance on magic. And he learns that Levi is stubborn, angry, and utterly enchanting. Time is running out, though. Byron must convince Levi to trust him, to trust his own magic, and to fight against the hatred that’s forced him to hide his true nature his entire life. The more Levi opens up, the harder Byron falls. And the more they have to lose.
Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:explicit violence
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
Heat Wave: 4 - On-screen and mildly explicit love scenes
Erotic Frequency: 2 - Not many
Genre: contemporary, romance, urban fantasy / paranormal
Themes: abuse, acceptance, angst, hurt / comfort, illness / injury, power imbalance, protection, self-confidence, self-discovery / self-reflection, trust issues
Settings: America, bar / club, city, different Earth
Some Sign of Life
Byron Cole was well into his personal best score at Trivia Dash. His phone blinked with the next question, bright against the darkness around him. Another distant explosion shook the subway car, and the little boy across the aisle began to cry.
The trivia timer was already winding down. Byron clenched his jaw and skimmed the question and answers.
What year did Charlotte’s Law pass? It was ninety-eight or ninety-nine. A girl in his second-grade class had been sent to foster care that year, when magic users were first forbidden to raise their own children.
He went with ninety-eight, and his run of correct answers ended. Sighing, he tucked his phone back into his messenger bag and rehearsed his speech silently.
Thanks to our nation’s vigilance and dedication, the United States has incarcerated those mages who pose a threat to our freedoms. And now Cole Industries has developed a system to relieve the tax burden of these rogue mages by using them to generate electricity to sell back to the power companies. Magic is an untapped resource and can produce the kind of clean energy America needs.
He ran through it again, wishing he’d emailed himself a copy. He’d written the speech himself, so he shouldn’t have been nervous about messing up, but this was his first assignment in front of a microphone. And he wasn’t prepared for follow-up questions he couldn’t answer.
No one had explained to him how exactly mages were going to generate electricity.
At the moment he was picturing thousands of stationary bikes. That was better than tuning in to the restless chatter around him. If his uncle hadn’t advised him to take the subway instead of a town car, he would have been at the press conference by now. But he agreed with the reasoning: He needed to humanize Cole Industries, give people someone to relate to. Someone who took public transportation.
And got stuck on public transportation.
“The police will be here soon,” the young woman sitting beside the sniffling boy was saying. She wore cut-off shorts and sparkling tennis shoes. An older sister or a nanny, maybe.
“How do you know?” he asked between shuddering breaths.
Byron felt a pang of remorse for ignoring the boy until now. Adults had a way of doing that to kids when terrible things happened. “The sirens. Hear them? They’re close,” he said, hoping no one else realized that didn’t mean a thing.
The dim emergency lights were still working, and the car wasn’t on fire, so the likelihood of being rescued any time soon was slim. Judging by the number of explosions that had gone off like thunder, nearby first responders had too much on their hands to deal with a stalled subway train. Thankfully, the boy gave a shaky nod and wiped his nose against his sleeve, apparently satisfied with Byron’s answer.
“Do you think it’s the terrorists?” an older woman asked. She sounded more hopeful than afraid, as if a terrorist attack was the best possible reason for the subway to have lost power in the middle of a pitch-black tunnel. It took Byron a long moment to realize she was addressing him, and by then others were watching him questioningly. They obviously didn’t realize he was only twenty-two.
He shifted in his seat, and his name badge for the press conference he was now incredibly late to caught on his sleeve. The Cole Industries logo gleamed. No wonder they expected him to know something. He plucked it off and shoved it into his pocket.
The woman’s voice went shrill. “Well?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if our delay is related to an act of terrorism.” Byron kept his tone low and even. “The alert level is pretty high right now.”
“Animals.” She made the sign of the cross hastily.
“I’m sure we’re safe. If they wanted to hurt us, they would have already.” A small part of him enjoyed the brief thrill of authority. At work, his colleagues—seasoned bioengineers and the pioneers of occult nanoscience—were more likely to ask him for a cup of coffee than his opinion. “All we have to do is wait for first responders.”
The woman sank back in her plastic seat, shoulders sagging with relief, but he had no real basis for reassuring her. Cole Industries was about to make a massive announcement regarding the next generation of their patented suppression technology, CALM. If anything was going to rile up the local cells of mage-rights extremists, it was a bigger and better way to control magic. For all he knew, they were about to die.
“Maybe it’s only construction,” a guy said softly. He’d been in the corner, seemingly asleep. But now he crouched by the boy, offering him a small package of crayons—the cheap, waxy sets of four they distributed at restaurants. He wore a white T-shirt and black slacks. A server, probably. Not at an upscale place, judging by the swirling edges of a tattoo peeking out from beneath one short sleeve.
“What do you say?” the nanny prompted, patting the boy’s shoulder.
The boy tore the package open with his teeth. “Thank you.”
The server smiled. “We’re safer down here than up there.”
“But my daddy’s up there,” the boy said. The tears returned, silent and fat.
“Um.” He sank back on his heels and looked up at Byron helplessly, as if he’d reached the extent of his ability to soothe children.
“I’m sure your father is fine,” Byron said absently, his gaze stuck on the guy’s shaggy mess of brown hair. He’d never considered himself the type to have a type, but after today, he wasn’t going to rule out pale boys with pretty curls as a front-runner.
The young man met his eyes in a bemused way that highlighted the charm of his thick eyebrows and dark-brown eyes. Byron turned away, his chest warming with a jitter of attraction.
“Late to work?”
Byron glanced back at him and yep—he was still incredibly attractive. He wanted to say something to that end, but he was out of practice when it came to flirting. “Sort of. I have a thing to go to.” This was why he preferred engaging in public relations from the safety of his own computer rather than having to act professional in public. His words had a way of jumbling up and making him sound young and foolish when he needed to seem anything but.
A soft smile didn’t make the server any less appealing. He gave Byron a look that held enough significance to make Byron’s pulse quicken. The plain, shameless interest didn’t calm Byron’s nerves. Nearly an hour trapped underground in a broken-down subway had been boring. Being flirted with by an adorable guy? Kind of terrifying.
He didn’t have to worry about his predicament for long though; the police abruptly pried open the door and shouted for everyone to stay calm and follow evacuation orders.
Byron gathered his messenger bag and waited for the little kid and the nanny to walk out first. Seven years at a high-profile boarding school had given him plenty of practice with evacuation drills, and it was second nature to fall in line and follow the light. This was a lot easier than trying to carry on small talk with a flirty, tattooed boy.
The burning smell from what should have been fresh October air above them made it hard to focus though.
The group quietly ascended the emergency stairs from the subway tunnel to the next level. Then it only took a few minutes of walking through a damp, narrow hallway to get to a ladder leading to the surface. Byron lined up behind the child, so he could catch him if the boy lost his grip. The kid climbed twice as fast though, clearly more accustomed to ladders than he was.
When he’d surfaced and picked himself up, Byron reached back for the evacuee behind him and found his hand clasped in the warm grip of the server with curls. Despite the thrum of helicopters overhead and the air thick with sirens, it occurred to Byron that this might be his only chance to ask the guy out. What harm would it do to break the grinding routine of entry-level PR work and catching up on baking shows on Netflix?
He should probably evaluate his coping mechanisms. Police in riot gear were dodging around abandoned taxis a few blocks away. A fire raged in the distance, smoking and steaming under the ministrations of several fire rigs. All signs pointed to an act of terror, and he was focusing on a server’s ass hugged by inexpensive slacks.
“Thanks.” Their hands remained entwined a moment too long. The man blurted, “Levi,” just before Byron could manage an introduction.
“Who’s Levi?” Byron asked.
“Oh, right.” He shook his head, flustered. “Of course. I’m—”
The storefront beside them exploded.
I’m going to die.
Would it be like the plane crashes and car wrecks that haunted his nightmares? But this time he wouldn’t wake up in a sweat. This was it.
“Shit.” That was Levi beside him, crouching with both hands raised as if to ward off the explosion.
“Oh God,” Byron whispered.
“I’m sorry.” Levi’s eyes were huge and scared. “I didn’t . . . It was an accident. Shit!”
Levi had warded off the explosion. With his hands—with magic. A shimmery barrier encircled all of them: The men and women from the subway car. The little boy. The police officers who already had their guns trained on Levi’s trembling form. The first responders who had been jogging toward them and now stood still and stunned.
“Lower your hands, mage,” one of the officers barked out.
“Dude.” Levi’s voice broke and his shoulders hunched in on himself. He flinched at the sound of boots scuffling closer. “If I stop, we’ll burn. We have to move away from the fire first. Can’t you see the flames?”
Most of the officers remained stalwart, advancing slowly—but a few looked up and around. Levi wasn’t exaggerating. Angry licks of fire were dancing along the perimeter he’d created.
Byron wasn’t about to wait on the decision-making skills of a group of rookie officers who’d been given evacuation duty. He began ushering the others to the far end of the bubble, away from the fire. He only had to gesture. Everyone shuffled with the wooden movements of people in shock. Levi remained still, clearly stricken with fear too raw to be fake.
Hadn’t it occurred to him that he could probably stop bullets with the same magic that shielded them from the explosion’s shrapnel and heat?
If he was really that clueless, he couldn’t be dangerous.
“I’m going to take a few steps back,” Levi said, swaying. “Okay? We’re all stepping back.”
When the entire group was out of the reach of the flames, the shield disappeared with no fanfare. It was simply there one moment and gone the next.
The others from the subway took off running down the street, toward the riot squad and the ambulances. But Byron couldn’t move. A sharp chill ran through him despite the pressing heat from the burning building across the road.
Levi’s shoulders sank like he wanted to curl in on himself and disappear too. Byron was startled to find himself wishing he would.
The punishment for unsanctioned use of magic was life in prison at best. For the powerful mages, it was execution.
Levi had to be strong. He’d stopped the raw force of an explosion. There were rumors that powerful mages could transform into small animals or bugs. Surely he had enough magic left to escape with his own life?
Byron clearly wasn’t the only one wondering if Levi could flee. One of the approaching officers hit Levi with a baton, driving him to his knees. Byron flinched and reached out as if he had the authority to stop them.
“Please. I didn’t mean to.” Levi made soft, pained sounds on each ragged breath. “It was an accident.”
They began to beat him, batons thudding against his back. He fell forward, bracing himself with his palms on the pavement and crying out.
He’d performed powerful magic by lifting his hands, but now he did nothing to defend himself from the blows that accompanied each demand that he keep his hands down on the ground.
“Mr. Cole.” One of the officers took Byron by the elbow. “Are you hurt?”
Levi’s pained expression gave way to betrayal that sent a lance of unreasonable guilt through Byron’s middle.
“Yes. I’m fine,” he said. Thanks to Levi.
“I recognize you from the Police Foundation gala. The magic containment unit is en route. Cole Industries vehicles. Let me escort you to an ambulance.” Fresh-faced and eager, the officer couldn’t be much older than Byron. It was a wonder none of them had put a bullet or ten through Levi’s skull yet. No one would fault an officer for killing a mage in self-defense—and that’s what it would be called if Levi so much as twitched his fingers in the wrong direction.
“I’ll stay,” Byron said, noting the officer’s name badge. Madison.
He didn’t need to stay. But he could explain his presence away easily enough: he’d never witnessed Cole Industries’ equipment in the field firsthand, and his curiosity had gotten the best of him. Even his uncle would believe that.
“Are the terror suspects in custody?” he asked, gesturing at the blaze. Half a dozen ladder trucks idled a few blocks over, likely waiting on an all-clear after Levi’s display of magic.
“Only this one.” Madison jerked a thumb toward Levi. His hand trembled.
Anger flashed across Levi’s face. He tossed his hair out of his eyes. Blood ran down the side of his face. “Seriously? If I wanted to kill people I could have let them die. In the giant explosion.”
The air seemed to stir.
“You said yourself saving them was an accident,” one of the officers near Levi said, gun trained on his back. “You didn’t really mean to protect anyone else but yourself.”
“So I rigged an explosion and then saved people from it? Super logical. I’m a criminal fucking mastermind.”
Christ, Levi. Stop talking. All of this was on tape thanks to the officers’ body cams. Angry sarcasm or not, that would hold water as a confession. The best Levi could hope for now was a quick death, and he wasn’t even going to get that if the public thought they had a terrorist to burn.
A special unit vehicle hurtled down the street like a tank on steroids. Byron had seen plenty of videos of test runs, but surround sound didn’t compare to the angry roar of the engine. It was the size of a monster truck. Embarrassingly bulky.
Levi was so small in comparison.
The vehicle skidded to a stop, and half a dozen men and women in hazard armor poured out. One of them hit Levi with a long-range stun gun without a word of warning.
Levi fell onto his side and convulsed, eyes blank with pain as the current ran through his body. The regular police officers shuffled back, unabashedly staring.
Madison rubbed his jaw and frowned. “I’ve only seen magic, you know, on TV.”
Every season some new show featured a villain using special-effects magic to rob banks or go on a killing spree. “Magic on TV isn’t real,” Byron said, voice tight.
Levi gasped on the hot concrete. That was real.
“Think they can stop him?”
“Stop him from what?” Byron snapped. It wasn’t like Levi was threatening anyone. And in a moment, he wouldn’t be able to use magic at all, thanks to Cole Industries.
A woman from the containment team nimbly clasped CALM bands around Levi’s wrists while he lay on the dusty concrete struggling to breathe, tears streaking down his face.
Byron tried to shake the feeling that all of this was wrong. He’d spent his entire life listening to his uncle justify magic control. Thanks to a minor in ethics with a concentration in occult theory, he understood better than most the reasoning behind keeping magic heavily regulated. CALM bands gave mages the opportunity to live normal lives, and they protected the general public inexpensively—a fact that tax payers loved.
“Stop him from doing magic.” Madison shuddered. “The Devil’s work.”
Byron’s teeth clicked together as he swallowed back a sharp reply. He wasn’t one of the uneducated bigots who hated all mages—even bound mages—because magic was “Satanic.”
“Yes,” he managed, watching a containment unit officer reach for the button that would activate Levi’s CALM bands. “I think they can stop him from doing magic.”
Garbled orders sounded from the radio at the officer’s hip. She pressed the button.
Levi began screaming.
It was awful—like nothing Byron had ever heard in his life. He knew in an instant that he would never forget the mindless, raw sound.
Madison turned to Byron, eyes wide. “Is that normal?”
“No. We don’t manufacture torture devices.”
Levi’s screams died down, and then choked off.
He stopped convulsing.
He stopped moving at all.
Byron held his breath in turn, waiting for a twitch. A gasp. Some sign of life. But nothing happened. Levi lay there pale and contorted, with rivulets of bright-red blood streaking from his nose and ears.
The woman who had activated the bands crouched and touched Levi’s chest, hand inching out like she was reaching into a basket of snakes. “He’s not breathing.”
“Perform CPR!” Byron shouted. No one moved. “Listen to me, there’s a project. It’s part of the announcement today. We’re searching for mages like this man, untapped potential. If my uncle finds out we lost a prime candidate . . .” He let the empty threat hang.
After a long pause, two of the containment unit techs began resuscitating Levi. Byron sat down hard on the curb, his legs numb. Helicopters circled above. He could already see the headlines. Billionaire’s heir narrowly escapes death at the hands of a rogue mage.
When Levi’s chest began to rise and fall again, Byron didn’t feel any relief. Dread, thicker than smoke, caught in his throat—and he remained at the curb long after they had carried Levi’s limp form into the special unit vehicle and driven him away.
He didn’t even know Levi’s last name.
But he would soon.
A Minor Moral Crisis
Cole Industries canceled the press conference.
After being checked out by the paramedics and giving a statement, Byron had been allowed to head home. He’d ridden in silence in the backseat of a town car for two hours in the horrendous traffic clogging up the city in the wake of the terrorist attack. All the Trivia Dash had left him with a dead cell phone.
Now Byron sat on his couch watching the news replay an overhead shot of Levi being loaded into the containment unit. He’d called his supervisors at the office under the guise of letting them know he was all right, and they’d confirmed what he’d hoped for—and dreaded.
Cole Industries had already requested custody of Levi. It was essentially a stay of execution. Cole Industries had access to all incarcerated magic users, and carte blanche to use them however the organization saw fit. It was part of the intricate, unprecedented contract Cole Industries had with the United States government to develop magic-containment technology.
“This isn’t how I pictured seeing you on TV today,” Eleanor said.
His roommate—and best friend—taught high school downtown, and the school was close enough to the explosions that it had been closed for the rest of the week.
“You wouldn’t have seen me on TV today anyway.” Byron sank back against the cushions and rubbed his eyes.
“Actually, my tenth graders were supposed to watch the press conference in ethics class. Several of them are writing their term papers on Cole Industries’ role in the private prison system and suppression devices.”
“I’m surprised the superintendent is letting that fly.” Even top universities struggled to fill seats in classes that debated magic control. Students trying to attend those classes had to run a gauntlet of antimagic protestors and smaller groups of students protesting mage registration.
“We have the highest percentage of registered, bound-mage students in the district. These issues are relevant to my kids.”
“Still ballsy, E.” Byron had seen enough drama on Eleanor’s Facebook wall to know that parents were looking for blood, furious with kids having the freedom to discuss radical ideas.
It was only lunchtime, but Byron felt like he’d been awake for days. He slipped his tie off and draped it over the side of the couch. Eleanor leaned against him, as if she instinctively knew he craved the contact.
“Obviously I have big balls.” Her breath huffed with a silent laugh as she nursed the dregs of a lukewarm cup of coffee. The power flickered briefly, but not enough to turn the TV off.
“The biggest.” It had been a running joke since they were little. She’d been the cooler, older kid on weekends at the shore—their parents slinging back cocktails at sunset while Eleanor dared Byron to sneak mini-bottles of vodka out of the cooler.
He’d always refused.
“The CALM kids are just as afraid of terrorists as the rest of us.” She sobered. “They didn’t ask to be born with magic. It isn’t fair to lump them in with terrorists taking innocent lives.”
“Careful,” he said halfheartedly. “Your reputation will go from liberal to radical before you know it.”
“I don’t give a rat’s ass about my reputation. It can’t get any worse than how pissed my parents are about me teaching.” Her words had no force behind them though. They both knew she couldn’t afford to lose her job.
“I’ve seen how rabid those parents are on your Facebook wall. People are looking for blood. You could get fired for standing up for CALM kids.”
“They need someone to stand up for them. It isn’t safe at school anymore. Two more kids in my homeroom got beat up this week. Their parents are going to homeschool them now.”
“They’re probably better off at home.” Byron ignored her gasp. “They won’t get into college anyway. Most employers won’t hire them.”
“Oh, okay.” Her coffee sloshed around in her Nyan Cat mug. “We just give up on them, then. Lost causes.”
Any other day, Byron would have been up for a debate with Eleanor. But the argument didn’t entertain him the way it used to. The argument now had kind brown eyes and a warm, solid hand. And a name. Levi Camden.
“They’re harmless,” he said absently.
Eleanor sighed and turned the volume on the TV down. She pushed her chin-length hair behind her ear. This month it was a reddish brown. Last month it’d been dirty blond. She referred to her color indecision as a midlife crisis, though she was only twenty-six. “Seriously. What is going on with you?”
“That man . . .” Byron blinked away the memory of Levi’s brown eyes.
“The terrorist they caught?”
“I’m not sure he was a terrorist. I met him on the subway, and he used magic to stop the explosion from killing over a dozen of us.”
“Did you hit your head?” Eleanor caught his gaze. “I don’t want to be a dick here, but generally you toe the line pretty hard. Terrorists use magic and mages are terrorists and Cole Industries has ’Murica’s best interests at heart, and all that.”
Byron pressed his fingers against his eyes.
“Well?” she prompted. “Wasn’t that going to be the gist of the press conference today?”
“He didn’t strike me as the type of person who’d destroy things and kill people.”
“Ignoring the fact that you’re making a really random judgment call there, can’t rogue mages warp perception?”
“You know how Warren is. I’ve been wearing an antiglamour device since I was ten. Even if Levi had been using perception-based magic, it wouldn’t have worked on me.” Byron glanced up at the TV. “Hold on. Turn it up.”
A middle-aged anchor was speaking gravely beside a graphic with a photo of Levi that looked like it had been pulled from Facebook. Levi smiled broadly from a booth in a bar, his arm around a black man with his face blurred out. Two half-empty beers in glasses sat on the table in front of them.
“Authorities say twenty-one-year-old Levi Camden of Brooklyn has been arrested for unsanctioned use of magic. The suspected rogue mage is not registered with the Department of Occult Supervision and was not outfitted with CALM devices at the time of the incident. Investigators are contacting Camden’s immediate family, coworkers, and friends to determine whether or not there were prior indications of magic capabilities. Under the Homeland Security Act, any individual knowingly harboring a rogue mage may be sentenced with up to five years in federal prison.
“The Keep CALM Alliance published a release distancing the activism group from any and all known terrorists, reiterating that KCA’s focus remains on facilitating peaceful relations between bound mages and the general public.”
“They shouldn’t have to say that,” Eleanor muttered. “Of course that’s their focus.”
“The manager at Café Ciccone, where Camden was a member of the wait staff, has released a statement condemning magic use. According to investigators, there is strong reason to believe that Camden is a member of the terrorist cell that triggered explosives killing eighteen people in New York City early this morning.”
“Levi should have kept his mouth shut,” Byron said.
Eleanor glanced at him, her blue eyes questioning beneath her delicately arched brow.
“Camden’s mother, fifty-one-year-old Cynthia Camden of Taunton, Massachusetts, did not respond to our calls. According to a public social media profile, Camden was active in the local arts and LGBT communities. He had no known ties with magic rights organizations.”
“He’s cute,” Eleanor said.
“I didn’t notice. I was busy almost dying in a horrific explosion,” Byron said, turning the TV off.
Eleanor nudged him. “You thought he was cute, admit it. Is that what this weirdness is about? Don’t feel guilty. You had no way of knowing he was a mass murderer.”
“He’s not— I didn’t— Damn it. No. I didn’t flirt with him. And I’m not being weird.”
“You’re definitely being weird. You never watch the news unless Warren’s bloviating about saving the universe.”
Byron ran his fingers through his hair. They caught in the tackiness of the styling cream he’d used to keep the stick-straight black mess in some semblance of the eighty-dollar haircut only his stylist could tame. It was all so absurd. Hair cream and a suit worth a month’s salary and Eleanor jabbing him about flirting.
Everything was trivial in the face of Levi going into cardiac arrest in the middle of the street because the CALM bands had done something very bad to him they’d never done to anyone else.
Or maybe Byron had never been made aware of CALM bands doing that to anyone else.
“I’m teasing you,” Eleanor said quietly, interrupting his thoughts. “I know you didn’t flirt with that guy. He is cute, though.”
Byron sighed. “He saved my life. And not only me—all those people. And he seemed surprised by his own magic. Do you think he really was? Is it possible to live for twenty-one years without knowing you’re a mage?”
“That’s a question for your coworkers, not for me.” When Byron remained silent, eyeing the high ceiling of their apartment, she went on, “But I think it’s interesting you’re entertaining the notion that he didn’t know he had magic.”
“Why is that interesting?”
“Because you seem determined to defend this guy.”
A traitorous flush heated his neck. “Think about it though. He was scared. Genuinely scared.”
“Jesus, Byron. You’re obsessed.”
“I guess I’m having a minor moral crisis. Maybe I’ll help you grade those ethics term papers. Learn something from your students.” He let out a weak laugh, trying to lighten the mood.
Eleanor gave him a long, unamused look and stood up, taking her coffee cup and his. She headed into the kitchen with her phone in her other hand, thumb already unlocking the screen.
Left in the silent living room with the blank TV in front of him, Byron wondered what else the news was saying about Levi. He couldn’t bring himself to turn it back on and face it.
One thought played in his head over and over, a little more treacherous every time: If he had the ability to stop destruction and death with the wave of his hand, he’d risk his life to keep that power. He wouldn’t give it up. Not for the law. Not for anyone.
If he’d had magic—some way to predict the future or see in the dark or travel great distances in a blink of an eye—he could have saved his parents. He would have.
He would have used magic without hesitation.
It was easily the most treasonous notion that had ever crossed his mind. How did one server from Brooklyn have the ability to unravel the values Byron had wholeheartedly subscribed to his entire life?
It was giving him a headache, and even that gave him pangs of guilt. Yes, his head hurt, but he wasn’t frightened or in agony. He wasn’t all over the news being called a mass murderer. He wasn’t in danger of being put to death for using an innate gift.
The practice of magic had always been abstract to Byron. Sure, he’d been around bound mages, but they couldn’t pull off a party trick, let alone legitimate magic. Not with CALM bands on. And the rare rogue mages who got caught using magic were only characters in the newspaper. A lawyer in Scottsdale. A stripper in Reno. A truck driver in Alaska. Distant threats immediately neutralized by the most foolproof method available—execution.
Levi wasn’t abstract. His hand had been warm and human, and he’d been so frightened, not of the deadly shrapnel and fire, but of the men and women he’d saved.
Byron needed a beer, not another cup of coffee. “Shit.”
Off the Rails
“Did you knowingly and willingly use magic on the morning of Thursday, October second, at 9:16 a.m.?”
Levi wondered how many days had stretched between the beginning of October and now. A week? A lifetime? At least several days judging by the scruff on his jaw.
An investigator sat across from Levi, flanked by a man and woman dressed like cops from a bad sci-fi movie. They held menacing batons and wore black bodysuits with armor sleeker than any bulletproof vests Levi had ever seen. Not that he’d ever seen a bulletproof vest outside of TV shows.
The investigator was a tall guy, with the sallow complexion of a lifelong smoker and the tight expression of someone clenching their butt with fear.
“I didn’t check the time on my phone before everything blew up,” Levi said.
“Unlawful magic use is punishable by death.” The investigator squinted until the protruding bags under his eyes obscured his gaze. “Do you think this is funny?”
“No. I think it’s funny that you think I have a magical time stamp.”
“But you admit to using magic.”
“Whatever happened is probably on fifteen security cameras. Why don’t you review the footage and tell me?”
Talking about magic came surprisingly easy now that he had nothing to lose. After waking up on a gurney in a room too cold and sparse to be a real hospital, he’d tried to use his magic in a panic. A blistering flare of pain had immediately rendered him unconscious. The next time he’d risen out of the darkness, he’d had a breathing tube down his throat. That alone had been unpleasant enough to stop him from trying again.
Now his ribs throbbed with every breath, his head ached like he’d had three bottles of wine for breakfast, and his magic was all wrong.
It was still there. But his magic was a tightness inside of him, like a breath held too long. It hurt.
Whatever the CALM bands on his wrists were doing made his entire body sore like one big bruise. The bands weren’t heavy, but they weighed him down every waking second.
“Believe me, the security footage will come into play during your trial,” the investigator said.
“Will my trial take place in the town square? Right before the bonfire?” Levi
Or, check your local library.
Word Count: 81,000
Page Count: 328
Cover By: L.C. Chase
Release Date: 01/28/2017