From Chapter One of Ever Strange (Legal Magick 1)…

“My men know I’m here,” Jankov said, but even Zane could hear the fear in his voice. “They’ll avenge me. Your whole operation will burn.”

A tinkling bell sounded from the front.

Jankov whipped around, but the door between them and the front of the bakery had swung shut. The small crease on Pennies’ brow said he was in the dark about this, too. Zane reached out into the fields of wild magick…

Holy shit. Whoever was coming through the bakery crackled with the energy of a Level One mage. Or stronger. Maybe even a sorcerer. What the fuck? He’d never tasted anything like it.

“Boss…” he said quietly.

Pennies whipped a look to him just before the door swung open.

Two of Pennies’ men—lookouts from outside—shoved a woman through the doorway, frog-marching her into the room then stopping just inside the door. A witch. A dark-haired, slender, crackling-with-magick witch more powerful than any Zane had ever met. And yet she was dressed like the plainest of simples—cropped jeans, a white blouse that draped over her curves, leaving her arms bare. Maybe mid-twenties, but her long brown hair swept back in a ponytail left her looking even younger. It was a hell of a disguise for what she really was.

“What?” Pennies hissed at his men.

“Sorry, boss, but she was snooping.”

“Why the fuck did you bring her in here?” Pennies was livid.

Zane just blinked. The hairs on the back of his neck rose. This woman—no way she could be taken by two of Pennies’ goons. They were simple, all of them, except for Jankov-the-charmer and Pawel-the-wildcard. She wanted to be here. What was a powerful mage doing slumming in a drug lord’s underground bakery?

Her gaze was locked on Pennies, fury burning in her brown eyes. “You’re him. The one who killed my father.”

Pennies momentarily regarded her like a bug who had spoken … then his mystification gave way to something… else. Something darker. “Is that right?” A smile slithered across his face. The man hated adepts with a passion that only a burning desire to be one could elicit. Did he realize she was a witch? Was he simply glad to cause her anguish?

Jankov and his men were looking between the two, mystified. “Who is this?” Jankov demanded. Unwisely, in Zane’s opinion, but he kept that to himself.

Pennies jerked his chin, waving off his men from holding her. “Do tell us,” he said to her. Then he slid a look to Zane.

Everything in him tensed. If he was loathe to feed off Jankov, that was nothing compared to the danger of feeding off a woman like this. Bursting with magick. Beautiful and arrogant and walking into a den of low-lifes like a Queen.

His inner demon wouldn’t stop. Zane didn’t know if he could stop. Or would want to.

The woman’s fury turned uncertain. She flicked a look at Pawel who was salivating in her general direction, fingers twitching. Could she sense his short-circuit magick? Could she feel Zane’s disruption? Most adepts felt uneasy around him even if their Talents weren’t mental—it was the natural response to a predator in the room.

Her roaming gaze settled back on Pennies. She lifted her chin. “My name is Ever Strange.”

Pennies eased forward. “Ev-er Strange.” He said it like he was tasting it, and his smile just grew. “Now where have I heard that name before?” But he was playing with her. He knew.

Zane’s brain pinged around, trying to place it. Nothing.

She stiffened. “My father is Asher Strange. He—”

“Oh, yes!” Pennies snapped his fingers as if it had just occurred to him. “The Family Strange. Powerful adepts all the way back to the beginning of High Magick, if I recall correctly.” He was creeping closer to her.

Zane tensed. What the hell was Pennies doing?

The woman—Ever—glared at Pennies. “My father OD’d on skitter. Your skitter. I traced the chemical composition back to your gangs. Your pipeline. Your supply chain.”

Pennies froze. “So what? Your father’s an addict like any other.” But he wasn’t playing anymore.

“He’s no addict! He’s a world-famous researcher—”

Pennies sneered. “Who kept his ugly little addiction a secret from his naïve and stupid daughter.” He smiled, but it was deadly—then he gestured with one hand to Jankov, who seemed baffled by the whole exchange. “See what I’m saying, Jankov? We need to consolidate our operations, so these terrible tragedies don’t keep happening.”

“He’s dead because of you!” Zane could feel the pressure building. She had powerful field magick—several Talents; he couldn’t even taste them all as they smeared together. The magick gathered to her, as it did with Pawel, only this witch could control it—of that Zane was certain. Yet she was holding back, not turning her anger into magick that could rip Pennies apart. Why?

“I want him back,” she said tightly, gaze intensely focused on Pennies’ face.

He laughed outright. “Well, if I had the power of necromancy—”

“I want his body!” Her voice rose, sharp.

Pennies just frowned, giving her a look like she’d gone stark, raving mad.

“His body,” she breathed, her chest now heaving like it was everything she could do to put this into words and not magick. “You stole it. From the morgue. I don’t know why. I don’t care why. I just… I just want him back.”

“You’re mistaken.” Pennies glowered at her, a sudden edge in his voice. He lifted his chin to his goon, Anton, by the door behind her. His thug eased a gun from his jacket.

She wasn’t paying attention. “Please. I’ll pay you whatever you like.”

Pennies turned his back. Anton raised his gun.

Fuck. “I want her.” The words were out before Zane could stop them.

The woman whipped her gaze to Zane like she’d just discovered he was in the room. Anton hesitated and looked to Pennies.

The drug lord raised his eyebrows.

“I want to keep her,” Zane elaborated, tightly. “For a while. She’ll be no trouble to you when I’m done.”

“No one’s keeping me—”

Zane slammed his mental magick into her mind, breaking all restraint in one swoop. Ever gasped, and he flinched as the lust surged back to him. The images that played through her mind, fantasies of one strapping young man after another, had her crumpling to the floor in an instant.

“No, no, no,” she whimpered. She was fighting him, uselessly.

Zane’s fight was entirely with himself—to not devour her immediately.

Pennies watched her torment, and a slow smile grew on his face. Then he shook his finger at Zane and chuckled. “I should have known The Lover would want this one. Take her.”

She cried out, and the rocketing wash of her pleasure nearly undid him. He crossed the room to where she lay, gritting his teeth under the onslaught.

“Get up,” he hissed through them.

She twitched but stayed down, whimpering, eeking out cries of no—as if the endless stream of lovers in her mind weren’t causing her pleasure at all, but some horrible kind of pain. He bent down, slipped an arm around her waist, hauled her up from the floor, then scooped her into his arms. He was careful not to touch her skin with his bare hands, not to breathe in her scent, not to in any way add to the overwhelming sensuality rocketing off her. With an iron will he’d labored to perfect, he focused entirely on the mechanics moving her the hell out of there. If he didn’t, if he dwelt for one instant on the boundless magick of the woman squirming in his arms, that would be the end.

He would feast. She would die. And he would be finished in every way.

“Well,” Pennies said, “now that that’s done.” He flicked his fingers in Jankov’s direction. Before Zane could think to speak—much less fight through the massive need to feed that was shutting down his mind—Anton turned to Jankov and shot him between the eyes. A flurry of rapid pops and his men were lying on the floor too.

Zane staggered back, his arms tightening around the moaning, writhing woman in them.

“Clean this up,” Pennies was saying to Pawel. “I want this store up and running product by tomorrow.” He turned to Zane and grinned. “Go on. Have fun. But when you are done, return her to me, incubus. Alive. Leave me that final pleasure, yes?”

Zane gave a curt nod and turned to shuffle toward the back of the bakery, the way they came in, Ever’s magick still hazing his mind. He told himself he saved her because she was an innocent. She didn’t deserve to be shot in a mob bakery. That there was something about her story that was wrong. The missing body. The dead father. The overdoses that were riddling the city. That it absolutely wasn’t the hungering need to consume her that was wracking the depths of his soul.

By the time he reached the back door and stumbled out into the noontime sun, her moans were loud enough to echo down the alleyway.

And he suddenly wasn’t sure of anything.

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