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A NineStar Press Publication

Published by NineStar Press

P.O. Box 91792,

Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87199 USA.

www.ninestarpress.com

Darkling

Copyright © 2018 by Brooklyn Ray

Cover Art by Natasha Snow Copyright © 2018

Edited by: Elizabeth Coldwell

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any material form, whether by printing, photocopying, scanning or otherwise without the written permission of the publisher. To request permission and all other inquiries, contact NineStar Press at the physical or web addresses above or at Contact@ninestarpress.com

Printed in the USA

First Edition

January, 2018

Warning: This book contains sexually explicit content, which may only be suitable for mature readers, and scenes of bloodletting and death (and resurrection) of an MC.

Darkling

Port Lewis Witches, Book One

Brooklyn Ray




Table of Contents

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

About the Author

Dedication

A spell for the witches, magicians and alchemists who were born with too much magic in their veins:

May you burst from this shell beneath moonbeams

May stars align upon your skin like morning dew

May shifting tides transcend what is seen into what is felt

May you become what you always were and will be—otherworldly.

Chapter One

Ryder flipped over the first card.

The Magician.

He flipped over the second card.

The Tower.

Liam watched him carefully. His hands were folded together, chin perched atop them like he might be praying. He tipped his head toward the cards on the table, gaze resting on the vibrant curved arcs of The Magician, a shadowy figure holding a scepter, his shape accented by a billowing red cloak. The card was faded and the edges torn, a testament to how often it’d been drawn.

How often Ryder had drawn it.

“So?” Liam prompted. His clear brown eyes flicked to Ryder.

“Nothing new,” Ryder said. It was the truth and it wasn’t. Ryder had pulled The Magician many, many times, but he’d never pulled it alongside The Tower.

Liam tilted his head and strands of chestnut hair fell over his brow. He sat back and pushed it out of his face, scrubbing a hand on the freshly shaved side of his head. They’d been friends for too long for Ryder not to know that gesture. It was frustration, the quiet, mellow kind that Liam had mastered over the last twenty-two years.

“That—” Liam pointed to The Tower “—is new.”

Ryder rolled his eyes. “C’mon then, Princess. It’s your deck, what does it mean?”

“Don’t call me that,” Liam snapped. He narrowed his eyes. Ryder heard the click-clack of his tongue ring bounce across his teeth, another Liam mannerism he’d become accustomed to since he joined the circle two years before. This one was a louder kind of frustration, a haughtier, angrier kind. “The Magician is a card of intellect. Yours is inverted, meaning you’ll be making an illogical decision soon. A…” He sighed through his nose and struggled to find the word. “A partnership, maybe, through magic. The Magician channels through his own body, meaning ownership of oneself. But it’s inverted, so you’ll be giving something away soon.”

Ryder licked his lips. Ownership of his body had been a struggle since he was a child, and he wasn’t looking forward to giving any part of it away.

Liam glanced at him. “The Tower is a card of sudden change. Chaos, even. This—” He tapped The Tower. “—with that—” He tapped The Magician. “—is a witch’s worst nightmare.”

“It doesn’t sound that bad,” Ryder said. “I’ll be having a sudden magical change soon. What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing,” Liam said. He lifted his brows and slid the two cards off the table to shuffle them back into his deck. “If that’s how you want to look at it, that’s how it’ll be.”

“Let’s see what the cards have in store for you, Liam Montgomery,” Ryder said.

Liam’s eyes settled on him for a moment too long. Ryder’s gaze darted away, over the sharp edge of Liam’s cheekbone, the line of his jaw and slope of his nose. Sometimes Ryder wondered if Liam did it on purpose, if he tilted his head the way he did to catch Ryder’s attention, if he breathed the way he did, or smelled the way he did, or walked the way he did to distract Ryder from everything and everyone else.

“Where’s your deck?” Liam’s tongue clicked against the back of his teeth again.

Ryder huffed an annoyed sigh, embarrassed he’d been caught looking. “In my jacket behind you.”

Liam handed Ryder his jacket. The deck was in a maroon felt bag, tied shut with delicate matching strings. Ryder pulled the cards out, their black backs a stark contrast to his pale skin, and shuffled them. Magic stirred and hummed. It looped through his knuckles, invisible, thrumming heat, and Ryder imagined it sinking into every card. He thought of Liam, who sat across from him, watching intently. He imagined Liam’s mouth and the line of his broad shoulders, how his jeans hung low on his waist—stop. Ryder closed his eyes and redirected his thoughts to Liam’s magic, the strong course of Water inside him, waves breaking and the sound of a river flowing over rocks.

There. Ryder swallowed hard and handed Liam the deck. “Shuffle then draw two cards.”

Liam drew his cards and laid them on the table.

Something wicked lingered in the space between them. The air pulled away from whatever it was, as if the elements knew something the two boys didn’t. It crept under Ryder’s skin, nibbling at the darkness he’d kept at bay for years. It was getting harder and harder to control, and whatever this was, it wanted Ryder’s twisted, unnatural magic to make an appearance.

Ryder focused on the Fire inside him instead and nodded to Liam. “Go ahead.”

Liam flipped over the first card.

The Devil.

He flipped over the second card.

The Lovers.

Liam’s breath hitched. He stared at the table, arms flexed and trembling beneath a tight-fitted black sweater. Heat darkened his cheeks and turned his tan skin the same color as Ryder’s maroon deck-pouch.

“Fatality,” Liam whispered.

“To ravage,” Ryder corrected gently. “To undergo extraordinary efforts. Don’t immediately jump to the cards worst meaning, Liam.”

“And—” Liam flicked his wrist toward The Lovers. “—I’m about to make a fool of myself, apparently. Right?”

“It’s not inverted, so no. You’re going to go through something dark and difficult.” Ryder tapped The Devil. “And it will either push you toward a new love, or it will be because of a new love. The Lovers can mean anything, you know that. It could be a partnership, a romance, a fucking…” Ryder shrugged and sighed. “A meaningless hookup.”

“You know it never means that.”

“Okay, but it could,” Ryder hissed.

“I’m about to do something terrible with someone,” Liam said. He looked at Ryder and shook his head. “Keep this between us?”

Ryder cocked his head. Liam never wanted to keep things from the others.

“Tyler will worry, so will Christy and Donovan.” Liam sighed. His bottom lip was white under the weight of his teeth. “Please?”

“You’ve never been one to break circle pacts,” Ryder said.

Liam’s lips thinned. “I haven’t, but you have.”

Ryder narrowed his eyes.

“Ryder.” Liam breathed his name, pleading in a way Ryder hadn’t heard before. Apologetic, almost.

He tilted his head and dragged his gaze from Liam’s pinched mouth to his feet. “Begging looks good on you.”

“Are you done?” Liam’s cheeks flushed darker. “Yes or no?”

“Fine,” Ryder said. His lips curved into a sly smile. “I’ll keep your dirty secret.”

Liam didn’t thank him. He shifted his gaze toward the candles on the other end of the coffee table and they went out, fizzling as if they’d been drowned. He sighed and pushed the two cards toward Ryder.

“Put them away. We’re meeting everyone in a half hour.” Liam’s bare feet on the worn wood floors in Ryder’s lackluster apartment was a familiar sound. He brushed past one of the many plants Ryder had littered throughout the living room, in baskets on top of the bookshelf on the far wall, in planters beside the entertainment stand, lined up in small pots on the kitchen counter. “Can I get a light?”

Liam plucked a bundle of sage out of a mason jar next to the sink. He walked back over and stood in front of Ryder, still seated on an ottoman in front of the coffee table. Liam held the charred end of the sage in front of Ryder’s mouth.

“Can you?” Ryder teased.

Liam rolled his eyes. “May I, English major.”

Ryder reached for the Fire buried deep in his veins, opened his mouth, and blew gently across the sage.

It lit.

“Whatever showed up to watch my reading, I want it gone,” Liam said. Smoke drifted into the corners, over the table, all around. The window next to the front door was closed and the blinds were cinched shut, causing the tangy smell of it to fill the air. “Something about it wasn’t right.”

Ryder nodded. No, something about it wasn’t right. But he couldn’t say that, because Ryder shouldn’t have been able to sense it. That was Liam’s reading. Those were Liam’s cards.

Only people affected by the reading should’ve been able to feel what Liam felt.

But Ryder had sensed the wickedness. He’d felt its eyes on them, lurking above and around them, like a wraith with a crystal ball looking at their future before they’d lived it. Their future. He stood, turning from Liam to conceal the surprise on his face. Understanding slithered restlessly in his chest. He wrenched the blinds up and opened the window, shooing whatever strange entity hovered in the apartment out with the smoke.

Whatever it was, it had tethered them. Chills scaled Ryder’s arms.

The Magician. The Tower. The Devil. The Lovers.

A magical catastrophe brought about by a dark, vicious partnership.

Liam was probably right. They shouldn’t tell the others.



They arrived at Crescent Coffee before the rest of the circle. The little café on the south side of Port Lewis was homey and warm. It reeked of Darbonne magic, the essence of it coppery on Ryder’s tongue. It was ancient in a way only Darbonne’s, Thistle’s, and Lewellyn’s could be. The old clans. The ones who kept order over all the rest.

But orderly wasn’t his preferred practice, so he never mentioned his last name. He was always just Ryder, because being Ryder Lewellyn was a daunting half truth.

The counter at the front of the small café was next to a glass case filled with colorful pastel pastries. Banana muffins, carrot cakes, and macarons were lined up and labeled with neatly folded tags in front of them. A chalkboard above the case displayed the prices of coffees, sandwiches, and teas in swirling cursive. Tables were scattered throughout the rest of the café, wood-topped and surrounded by mismatched chairs.

“Boys,” Thalia said. She was a stunning woman with umber skin and a warm smile. Her voice was always smooth and pleasant, opposite her newly acquired power, which rolled off her in waves. She nodded to Liam, then to Ryder. “Caramel latte and rooibos?”

Liam nodded. Ryder said, “With honey, please.”

“Do you want a muffin?” Liam dug his wallet out of the back pocket of his jeans as he stood in front of the counter.

Ryder shook his head. He avoided Thalia’s gaze, but her magic dug into him like talons. There was no sneaking past the Darbonne matriarch, no keeping his thoughts to himself, no weaseling out of a confrontation. He walked to the empty table in the back of the café and sat down in the corner chair closest to the wall.

Before Liam joined him, Thalia appeared. She lifted a brow at Ryder in accusation and tilted her head, eyeing him down her nose like a hawk would a mouse. Her palms settled on the tabletop and she leaned forward, the loose scoop of her white blouse obscured by a deep purple pendant.

“Ryder,” she purred, gentle, soothing, the same way his mother used to say his name when he covered his chest after she walked into his room unannounced. As if she was sorry for something she had no reason to be sorry for.

His top lip curled back in a snarl and he rolled his eyes.

“You should tell him,” Thalia whispered.

“You ascended last week and you’re already everyone’s therapist?”

Thalia shook her head, which was shaved to the skin. “I can feel your secrets. All three of them.”

Ryder’s gaze sharpened. His magic lunged at her, a warning bite. “You know my secrets. Don’t.”

Thalia’s magic was strong and unshakable. It barely flinched. She ran her hand over the top of Ryder’s buzzed head and pushed him playfully. “Or wait for the inevitable. Your choice.”

“It is my choice,” Ryder said. He looked away, uncomfortable with Thalia’s knowing eyes staring back at him. A sigil peeked out above the collar of her blouse, angry red against her dark skin. He caught sight of Liam walking over with their drinks. The bell above the door rang and Christy’s laugh followed. He glanced back at Thalia and quietly said, “I’m not hurting anyone.”

“Not yet,” Thalia whispered. She left the conversation there and turned to greet Liam with a smile as he placed their drinks on the table.

Christy twirled in, hands above her head, decorated in an assortment of chunky crystal rings. Her knuckles were blackened by stick-and-poke runes. Her long, wind-whipped hair was streaked pink and blue and black. Ryder had forgotten what color it originally was; he didn’t even know if he’d ever really seen it.

Tyler and Donovan followed. Tyler talked with his hands as he spoke, engaged in a conversation that Ryder would guess was only half as interesting as it looked from afar.

“Thalia!” Christy swung her arms over Thalia’s neck. “Congratulations! I was there, you know. It was a beautiful ceremony.”

“Thank you, Christy. I saw you standing with the Thistles. And you guys too.” She nodded as Tyler and Donovan approached. “Were they accommodating?”

“Yes, the Thistles always are.” Christy batted her hand in dismissive fashion.

“Most of the outside families joined them for the ascension. I even saw Ryder with them, between the Lewellyns and the Wolfes, right?”

Ryder straightened his back. His magic flared, hot and furious.

Liam kicked his shin under the table.

“Yeah, we were all together for it. Figured it’d be best to stick with our circle.” Christy grinned cheerily, her heart shaped face light and true. She didn’t notice Ryder’s murderous heat, which wasn’t uncommon. Christy was as white a witch as they came. Her focus never drifted from light-working, so it never drifted to Ryder. He’d waited for her to notice it—for any of them to notice it, but somehow, they hadn’t.

Ryder couldn’t keep it contained forever, though. Flare-ups like that would lead to questions he couldn’t answer.

Thalia hummed in agreement. She didn’t bother looking at Ryder before she walked away, but he felt her magic shift. It stung him like a transparent blade pressed against his throat: Don’t test me. The fluttering in his stomach calmed and his magic retreated.

“What the fuck was that?” Liam seethed.

Ryder chewed on his lip and shook his head. Two fingers pinched Ryder’s jaw and tugged. Liam’s thumb and index finger sent a jolt through him, and it deepened when he saw the recognition slide into place on Liam’s face. Their magic collided, tangling and untangling, stretching to make room for one another. Ryder almost gasped, but he clenched his jaw to keep the sound at bay. They were sitting next to each other in a café, and their friends were sitting around them. Christy’s singsong voice. Tyler’s rambling. Donovan’s quiet laugh. But all Ryder could focus on was how Liam’s fingers loosened, and how their magic pulsed suddenly; a warning, a prelude.

Their magic danced between them. Water and Fire and something else, something darker.

Liam dropped his hand. It brushed Ryder’s arm, and he shifted away, putting space between them.

“How’d the reading go?” Tyler had the voice of a charismatic spokesperson. He was eloquent and commanding, the kind of person who took the lead in everything he did. Especially their circle.

Ryder waited, but Liam said nothing.

“We skipped it and smudged instead,” Ryder said. The lie came easily. “Are we doing anything for the full tomorrow?”

Thankfully, Christy ran with the subject change. Her silver bangles clattered around her wrist as she wiggled her hands excitedly. “Drum circle and fire pit at Tyler’s. We invited everyone.”

“Yeah?” Ryder nodded to Tyler.

Tyler nodded back. His black hair was slicked back, making the roundness of his copper cheeks stand out and the multiple silver hoops through both his ears glint in the light. His eyes were upturned and clever—fox eyes as Christy would say.

“It’s in Pisces,” Donovan piped up. His light eyes were as open and pure as Christy’s, blue like the aquamarine pendant that hung around his neck. “You should set some intention, Liam.”

“I will,” Liam said. If he was shaken, he didn’t show it. His face was as set and serene as ever; cheekbones that could cut glass, a jawline Ryder envied, sharp, smart eyes that flicked once to Ryder. They didn’t linger. His gaze shifted back to Tyler and Donovan, but not before Ryder caught the distinct wave of his pupils, expanding out and in again, a flare of magic he’d snuffed out. Liam cleared his throat. “Did you figure out the communication spell, Ty?”

“We were just talking about that,” Tyler said and gestured to Donovan with a wave. “I found a few things, but most of the instructions are in Latin, which none of us speak.”

All eyes turned to Ryder. He knew what Tyler wanted, but none of them had the courage to mention it. So, they stared, urging Ryder with pointed gazes. Christy looked away first, then Donovan. Liam looked at his steaming mug.

“What?” Ryder spat.

Tyler shot him a knowing look, trying to get his point across without words.

Christy made a weak noise. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she said to Tyler.

Instead of waiting for an explanation, Ryder cut them off and said, “Ask Thalia.” He sipped his tea and averted his gaze to the table. “She’s closer to her than I am.”

“Didn’t she used to tutor you, though?” Tyler asked. “It would be a short conversation, Ryder. You know I wouldn’t usually recommend going to…them, but we need it.”

“You don’t need to talk to trees, Tyler.” Ryder snorted a laugh. He replayed the way Tyler said them again and again, disgust under anger under fear.

“Yeah, we can work on something else,” Christy said softly.

“It’s not about me,” Tyler said sternly. “Donovan hasn’t been able to focus his energy. He’s Earth; he needs the guidance. The forest is filled with spirits, ancients, nymphs.” He tapped his finger on the table. “Answers. We can’t not try.”

“At least be brave enough to say her name then,” Ryder said under his breath.

The table went quiet. Liam’s eyes were all over him, pinpricks like spider feet.

“Ask Jordan…” Tyler stood up from the table. “Anyone want anything? I’m getting coffee.”

Ryder noticed the space where Jordan’s last name lingered, unsaid but there all the same. It was one thing for a matriarch to mention it, but discussing a dark clan was taboo for a small circle of beginner witches.

“Hey…” Christy rested her palm over top of Ryder’s hand. He expected her to pull away when she felt the blistering heat rising from his skin, but she didn’t. “If you don’t want to—”

“It’s fine,” Ryder said.

Liam’s foot brushed against his under the table. Another spike of energy shot through him. Christy flinched away, as if he’d shocked her. Liam swung his foot back and tucked it under the chair, far from Ryder.

Christy’s pale eyes flicked between Ryder and Liam. She was psychic, but her gifts rarely manifested within the circle, which was a common practice. Psychic or not, circle-mates shouldn’t have access to everything. Information dealing with emotions had the potential to be dangerous, and Christy was almost always respectful of their boundaries as a group. This time was no different. Instead of prying, her magic hovered around her as a shield, an instant response to Ryder’s spark.

“I’m just nervous,” Ryder explained. He offered her a smile, but it was heavy and faraway. “Sorry.”

Christy nodded. She tucked a blue strand of hair behind her ear. “It’s probably just the full moon. It gets everyone worked up.” A white mouse crept out of the breast pocket on her slouchy black T-shirt. Willow’s long whiskers trembled as she wiggled her nose. Christy scratched the mouse’s head with the tip of her finger. “It’s all right, Willow. He didn’t mean it.”

“Sorry, Willow.” Ryder offered Christy’s familiar another withered smile.

“Say it’s okay, Ry,” Christy cooed at Willow in a baby voice.

Tyler and Donovan appeared with their coffees. But Ryder’s energy was too volatile for him to sit through a circle meeting. The magic he’d worked for years to keep at bay hummed deep in his belly. It made everything sharper, closer, more defined. He heard Liam inhale, listened to the sound of air sucked past his lips, the constant click of his tongue ring against his teeth. Liam shifted and Ryder’s heart sped up. Liam moved his hands in his lap and Ryder’s stomach clenched.

Being in proximity with each other after recently tethering was a bad idea. Especially after Liam had just put two and two together, and Christy had witnessed a collision of their energies, and Ryder was biting at the bit for a release.

“I’ll go deal with this Latin bullshit,” Ryder said.

“Ryder, really, it’s fine. We can find another way,” Donovan said. Orange freckles dusted the tops of his cheeks and across the bridge of his nose. He was the youngest of them, barely nineteen and barely a witch.

Ryder didn’t blame him for wanting to harness his gifts. It was natural for most witches.

The notion turned Ryder’s stomach, though.

“I don’t mind. She was my tutor after all.” He aimed the sarcasm at Tyler as he stood, adjusting the buttons on his peacoat. “See you guys tomorrow.”

“Tonight,” Liam corrected. “I’ll see you tonight.”

Christy’s lashes fluttered, the way they always did when she caught a whiff of something supernatural. She glanced at Liam, then up at Ryder. Her lips rounded in a surprised O, but she stayed quiet.

Ryder didn’t have the patience to ask her what she’d seen, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to know. His eyes flashed to Liam’s, and he was met with caution or confusion, both at once. Liam’s lips parted, but Ryder walked away before he could say anything.

“Be careful,” Tyler called.

Ryder flicked two fingers over his shoulder in a lazy wave. Thalia Darbonne watched him from behind the counter, her gaze knowing and strong. She nodded to him, and her magic gave a gentle push to the center of his back as he walked out the door.

Chapter Two

The loft above St. Maria’s Catholic Church was inhabited by a necromancer. Some people thought it was riddled with bones and corpses. Other witches thought they’d find skulls and black candles and cobwebs if they ventured inside. Most counted on the irony of the situation to mask the urban legend. A few dismissed it, thankful they’d never needed to knock on a necromancer’s door in search of assistance to begin with.

White witches who weren’t versed in dark magic thought it would swallow them whole if they even looked in its direction. But that wasn’t quite the case.

Ryder stood at the top of the steep, narrow staircase in front of a thick wooden door. His fist hovered inches from its surface, but before he mustered enough courage to knock, the door opened.

Jordan Wolfe shared Ryder’s sharp, fine features. Her cheekbones were prominent and her chin pointed. Her dark, sultry eyes were the same shape as his, tear-dropped and sad; sexy in a way that shouldn’t be, but still was. Except Jordan had Wolfe eyes—brown that was almost black, under gold that was almost yellow.

Ryder had his mother’s, Lewellyn eyes. They were canopy-leaf green, vibrant and startling in the light.

His Lewellyn eyes didn’t make him any less Wolfe, though. But no one needed to know that.

“What’re you doing here?” Jordan asked playfully. Her nose scrunched when she grinned, and she wrapped her arm around his shoulders to pull him into a hug. He’d forgotten how alike they sounded, raspy and graceless.

“I can’t come see my sister?” Ryder mumbled.

Jordan’s ashy blonde hair tickled his nose, swaying in loose curls over her shoulders. She smelled like lilies and blood. “You can, but you never do. What’s up? What’s going on?”

Ryder wanted to tell her, but everything lodged painfully in his throat. The reading. Liam. What it meant. If it even meant anything at all. His magic going nuclear more often than he was comfortable with. Him being a necromancer, but not. Him being a Fire witch, but not.

“Hey.” Jordan sounded sad. She brushed her knuckles across his cheeks. “Hey, no, I don’t like this. You feel like…” Her words were lost somewhere between them.

He stepped inside, and she closed the door. The loft was spacious and lulling. Candles were lit on the nightstand and the dresser. Runes and sigils were carved into the vaulted ceiling beams. A white-chalk circle decorated the floor beneath a round window on the far end of the room. No skulls, no rotting bodies, just odd purple plants, a stereo, and a rumpled bed.

Ryder paced back and forth, free to let his magic spark on the tips of his fingers now that he was with someone who understood it. “What happens if I choose to die?”

Jordan gave him space. She stood next to her bed, swathed in a long black dress. A fresh sigil was carved onto her arm. Part of it might’ve matched the one he’d seen on Thalia at the café earlier.

“If I go through with the Wolfe ceremony, if I die and come back, what then?” Ryder asked. He shrugged off his peacoat. It hit the floor, exposing pale, lean arms. His magic went every which way, abandoning the glamour he wore daily on his chest. The scars didn’t bother him, but it didn’t hurt to cover them either.

“God, look at you,” Jordan said, exhaling on the end. “You look wonderful, Ryder.”

“That’s doesn’t answer my question,” he said. He stopped and stared at the ceiling, reining in the grate of his voice. “Thank you, yeah, whatever, but—”

“If you decide to die, you become a necromancer.”

“And what happens to my elemental gifts?”

“I’m not sure. You’re the first Lewellyn-born Wolfe we’ve ever seen.”

The magic writhed against Ryder’s bones. It thrummed under his skin, loud like gunshots inside him. “What would Dad say?”

“You can ask him yourself,” Jordan said, her tone matter-of-fact. “I’m only a year older than you; it’s not like he listens to me more than he listens to you.”

“Yeah, okay, but you’re…” Ryder gestured up and down, from Jordan’s head to her toes. “You. You’re the darling dark daughter.”

Jordan rolled her eyes. “Are you going to tell me what’s really going on?”

“I drew The Magician and The Tower today.” He paused and licked his lips. “Liam pulled The Devil and The Lovers. Something came for us, and it was dark. Wolfe dark.”

“Ancestors make appearances all the time with young alchemists. What’s the problem?”

“We both felt it. I felt it, Liam felt it. We…”

“Tethered.”

“Yes.”

Jordan sat down on the edge of her bed. “Have you told him yet?”

“Which part?” Ryder sat down on the floor in front of her and hugged his knees to his chest.

“The part about you being fond of him?”

“Fond of him? Just say it, Jordan, Jesus Christ.”

Jordan scoffed. “We’re in a church, young man.” Ryder choked on a pained laugh. The audacity. Jordan continued. “The part where you tell him you have feelings for him.”

“He knows that.”

“Does he know the extent of it?”

Ryder’s magic thrashed about. It collided with Jordan’s and the room heated. Steam leaked from between Ryder’s lips, hot and scalding in his mouth. “I don’t even know the extent of it!”

Jordan wasn’t fazed by Ryder’s outburst. “Has he acted on it?”

“Neither of us have! We haven’t even talked about it; it’s just there, all right? He… I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know how the fuck he couldn’t know. But we’re friends, and we’ve been friends for two years. I can’t screw that up.” Ryder swallowed a mouthful of steam and closed his eyes, hoping the unnatural magic coming to the surface would die down. “None of them know about me. I haven’t told the circle.”

Jordan went quiet. She slid off the bed and sat in front of him on the floor. Her lips parted and she reached out to touch his knee. “About you as in you, or you being a Wolfe?”

Ryder shook his head. “Neither.”

She fidgeted. Her black painted nails clicked together, hands decorated in an assortment of jewelry and ink. “You still injecting once a week?”

Ryder held up two fingers. “Twice a week. I moved up eight months ago.”

“And you’re okay doing it by yourself?”

He shrugged. “It’s been a while. I’m used to it now.”

She gestured to his chest with a flick of her wrist. “Dad told me you healed up really well.”

“That was two and half years ago, Jordie,” Ryder scoffed.

Jordan’s lips twitched into a smile when he used her nickname. “Yeah, I know, and I was dealing with my own bullshit back then. We haven’t actually talked about everything, not since we were in high school.”

Three years ago, Thalia had left. Six months after that, Ryder had top surgery. Another six months and he’d joined his own circle. Everything in between those specific markers was blurred and distorted, a mess of circumstances Ryder didn’t want to pick apart. “Do we need to start now?”

Jordan shook her head and sighed, swiftly changing the subject. “You don’t have to tell them about the Wolfe stuff until you’ve figured out what you want to do. But that—” Jordan gestured to Ryder’s eyes. “—won’t go away. Your magic will keep going nuts if you don’t do something about it.”

“What can I do?” Ryder pawed at one of his eyes with the back of his hand. Black fanned away from his pupils, covering the whites of his eyes. It took a minute, but slowly the inky black crawled back to the center.

“Practicing would help. You don’t have to take life, but you need to at least work with blood on some level.”

“Tyler would never approve of blood magic.”

“Whether you choose to die or not, you’re still the child of a necromancer. You’ll always crave it.”

Ryder nodded. He couldn’t disagree with her; she was right. His thoughts circled the last few months, how quickly his necromancy had manifested within him. He couldn’t tell her about the dreams he’d had, the ones that involved his teeth in Liam’s skin and Liam’s blood coating his tongue. He couldn’t tell her how often he’d caught himself wondering what it might be like to feel Liam’s heart beat in the palm of his hand.

“Can you translate something for me?”

“What is it?” Jordan tilted her head back against the bed.

“Latin for a spell Tyler and Donovan are working on.”

“Donovan still can’t cast?”

“Not well. He has a hard time focusing. He can’t find his element.”

Jordan barked a laugh. “He’s Earth! It’s right underneath him!”

Ryder’s lips quirked into a smile. “I know, but he’s just starting out. They want to give an offering to the woods and see what the trees have to say.”

“Careful,” Jordan purred. “Those trees will rat you out.”

Ryder arched a brow questioningly.

“They call us bone benders,” Jordan said. “Sometimes, darklings.”

Ryder’s magic settled. He could finally breathe without feeling like he was on fire, or going to start a fire. He noticed one of the basket plants hanging from the ceiling curl its tendril and sway back and forth. Their violet and teal leaves glowed prettily in the dark.

Jordan translated the part of the spell Tyler needed and made two cups of lemongrass tea. Since alchemists were the only clans who still used Latin for spells, they were typically the only ones who needed it. Jordan taught Ryder a few phrases and laughed at him when he couldn’t pronounce ignis. The night quieted, and they sat in companionable silence for an hour, then another. It was half past eight before either of them mentioned leaving. Jordan worked in her grimoire. Ryder scrolled through his phone, avoiding Liam’s social media at all costs.

Sometime during Ryder’s second cup of tea, he realized how much he’d missed her. Just as Ryder’s resolve crumbled, and Liam’s Instagram loaded, Jordan grabbed her coat and keys off the dresser.

“Where are you off to?” He swiped the app away and slid his phone into his pocket.

“Thalia’s meeting me for pizza,” Jordan said. She smiled gently and arched a brow. “You can’t avoid going home forever, Ry.”

He nodded, a dark blush tinting his cheeks. “I’m not ashamed of it. The magic. Our magic. You know that, right?”

Jordan narrowed her eyes and held the door open with her foot. Ryder walked down the stairs while she trailed behind him. A nun dipped her fingers into a bowl of holy water by the last set of pews. She clutched her rosary and scurried toward the front of the church at the sight of them.

“I know that,” Jordan assured. “But you’re scared of it.”

Ryder didn’t answer. He didn’t have to.

Jordan brushed past him. Her expensive perfume left a trail of vanilla and musky cinnamon. “As you should be,” she quipped, rosy lips spread into a grin.



Port Lewis was a rainy little town on the coast of Washington. Ryder liked the way the streetlamps that lined the sidewalk illuminated the fog, and how mist dampened his face. He walked through downtown past the movie theaters and shopfronts. Water beaded up on the glass, and when he caught glimpses of himself, it was Jordan staring back at him.

He stopped in front of a deli. The glass window was dark, but the glow of the “closed” sign made it easy to trace the line of his nose, dainty like Jordan’s, and his mouth, full like Jordan’s. But there was no mistaking their striking differences: His buzzed head and stretched earlobes. His brow, as fair as hers, but stronger, the angled line of his jaw, more defined—harder.

You look wonderful, Ryder. Jordan’s voice crept into his thoughts.

His peacoat wrapped around him and was buttoned tight up his chest, highlighting the cut of his shoulders. He shifted until his combat boots scraped the sidewalk, and ducked under an overhang as the rain started to fall faster. A taxi careened down the road toward the movie theater, and a few people hurried across the street to the 24-hour diner. He glanced at his reflection once more and kept walking.

Ryder trudged down Main toward his apartment building. Two left turns and a block past Crescent Coffee brought him to his neighborhood. He smiled at his neighbor Lucy who walked three yappy Chihuahuas, and fumbled with his keychain as he bounced up the stairs to his door.

A soft meow pulled his attention from his keychain to the entryway to his apartment.

Liam sat against his front door, his sweater replaced by a loose T-shirt, showcasing the bold oceanic tattoo on his left arm. Ryder’s familiar, a yellow-eyed black cat named Percy, watched him from his place in Liam’s lap.

“I’ve told you how cliché it is that you got a cat as a familiar, right?” Liam asked. His large hands stroked Percy’s back, and the cat purred loudly.

Liam had teased Ryder about that weekly for two years.

“Once or twice,” Ryder said. He swallowed hard and fiddled with his keys. His magic jumped under his skin, clawing its way through ligaments and joints to get to the surface. “It’s not like an owl’s any less cliché.”

As if on cue, Opal landed on the railing of the outdoor staircase. She chirped at them pleasantly, ruffling her cream feathers to shake off the rain.

“He didn’t mean that,” Liam said to Opal. He lifted Percy into his arms and stood, gaze lingering on Ryder for long enough to make his heart beat a little bit faster. “You gonna stand there or can we go inside?”

Ryder offered his arm to Opal. She hopped onto his forearm, then his shoulder. “Do you want tea?”

Liam didn’t answer. He followed Ryder into his dark apartment. The smell of sage and wax filled the space, left over from their reading that morning. Opal flew off Ryder’s shoulder and landed on the bookshelf next to a thriving green fern. Percy’s paws hit the wood floor. Ryder turned the lock on the door and hesitated, staring down at the doorknob while he tried to gather his thoughts.

There was breath on the back of his neck. Liam’s energy squirmed around them, frantic and busy. Heat bloomed in Ryder’s stomach, but he could barely control it.

When he finally mustered enough courage to turn around, Liam’s wide hand hit his chest and shoved him against the door. Ryder reached for his magic and stitched it into a glamour, covering the pink scars that curved from his sternum over his ribcage on either side. A coat and shirt covered them, but his glamour was an old, comfortable habit.

Everything narrowed down to the sweep of Liam’s dark eyelashes and his mouth tightening into a thin line.

“We tethered?” Liam snapped. A card was pinched between his thumb and index finger. He flashed it in front of Ryder. The Lovers. “I’ve pulled this fucking card three times today.”

“It doesn’t have to mean anything,” Ryder said softly. He tried to look elsewhere, but Liam wouldn’t permit it. Every time Ryder turned away, Liam leaned into his line of sight.

“Our reading isn’t a joke. We’re going to do something terrible together. Don’t you get that?”

“How do you know it’ll be terrible? What makes something terrible?”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” A breath left Liam, winded and small. He pressed harder on Ryder’s chest.

“You have eyes, don’t you? C’mon, I wasn’t that subtle.” Ryder’s blush betrayed his attempt at confidence.


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