Molten lava swirled in her pale white irises. Scarlett Weiss’s pupils were smaller than the head of a pin and as lethal as a poisonous dart. “When?” She spoke loudly to be heard over the roar of whipping wind and the growl of her Harley.
“Sinking into darkness.” Maxim spoke with the dreamlike quality that accompanied his visions. “Boa is taking Magnolia to the chamber next to your father’s suite.”
Scarlett had to focus through a series of hairpin turns as she rode into the heart of the valley. Neither spoke. Magnolia was Scarlett’s niece and the daughter of her half-sister Tia Keating. She couldn’t believe that their father would kidnap his only grandchild. Something was up.
A tug in her heart drew her at a fast clip to her sister’s house. Cows chewing cud in the pasture were blurs of white and black. Scarlett’s rage was checked only by the desperate sorrow Tia was projecting into the woods. A tear trickled down Scarlett’s cheek. It was so foreign it took her a moment to register the source of moisture. The sky was too blue to weep.
“Giovani has set the locks so only his handprint can release the mechanism.”
“Morgana is casting a cloaking spell, but she has no idea how to temper Magnolia’s light.” Her niece was the most powerful firestarter that had been born in centuries. She was literally too hot to handle for most.
Maxim let out a shuddering breath. “She’s terrified he will see this as a failure. Morgana’s on her last chance.”
The road evened out and was smoother than the country lanes. Scarlett was relieved. It was dumb luck that she hadn’t wrecked the bike in her anger. “Shit.”
“Has anyone ever told you that you have a way with words?” Maxim’s voice was warm and spicy, like log smoke piping out of a chimney.
Scarlett chuckled. She liked her bestie’s natural tenor over the creepy, I-see-dead-people voice.
“Scarlett, I’m proud of you.”
She choked on her own saliva; now her eyes were nearly bulging from their sockets as she tried to expel the liquid from her lungs. “Jesus Christ, you know I’m driving.”
“I know.” It sounded like Maxim was smiling. “As much as I’d like to continue listening to the musical stylings of your cough, I’m wiped out.”
Scarlett was still gasping, but managed to eke out, “Thanks for staying under so long. I won’t forget this.”
“I’ll remind you of that ’round Christmas. Ta-ta for now.”
The gravel path crunched loudly as she drove up the winding private drive. She looked up at the house that Tia called home. It suited her, from the wide wraparound porch with hanging baskets of flowers, to the old style Victorian vibe. The house was white, with sage colored shutters, and not a speck of flaked paint in sight. This place was well cared for, almost as well as Tia took care of the foster children that made up her family.
Scarlett worried when the estate came up on her radar. Tia was powerful, but most of her gifts were nurturing ones. Her group home was different than most foster care placements. It was a safe haven for kids with magical abilities. Scarlett kept extensive files on the people who shared her sister’s home, since Tia had asked her to keep her distance. The request stung at first, but having an assassin and spy popping in on a regular basis could put the teens off balance. Erratic powers mixed with adolescent hormones was enough for one house. Scarlett respected her sister’s boundaries, but hated being away when Belladonna slit poor young Angel’s throat. Father must have been truly desperate to let that bitch return to the flesh.
There had been whispers on the other side. Demons were losing their caution and risking exposure—stealing powers, eating souls, and in Belladonna’s case, murdering a young witch to return to the flesh. The urgency made no sense to Scarlett. Stealing his granddaughter in broad daylight was not Giovani’s style. Her father was much more subtle than that. If he was desperate, the world was in trouble.
Scarlett pulled off her helmet and locked down her ride. She took in a deep breath, centering herself. She couldn’t afford to be caught up in her sister’s hysteria. Maxim had said the witches on this property held more strength and raw talent than any of their demonic counterparts. Scarlett balked at the idea of putting untried teenagers on the front line, but she had no choice.
Even Beau would have to join Scarlett in battle, though she had a hard time believing her half-brother was capable of anything other than comic relief and parlor room entertainment. Maxim had said Beau was more than he seemed. When she pressed for more details, he had replied, “You can’t open the presents until your birthday, no peeking.” My birthday my ass. That was Maxim’s way of saying, “Neener neener, figure it out for yourself, I’m not telling.”
Her black biker boots made rhythmic thuds on the paved walkway. She was just shy of the front porch when the door opened. Her sister was in a state. Tia’s green eyes were wild, torn between tears of rage and despair. Her red hair was snarled from tugging. Fussing with her hair was Tia’s way of dealing with stress. The mess of her waist-long curls was impressive. Magnolia couldn’t have been gone more than an hour.
Scarlett took the stairs two at a time and drew Tia into her arms. She may have been a good fifteen years younger than Tia, but she was the protector, even when they were kids. “I’m sorry I couldn’t get here in time.”
Tia pulled back from her embrace. “You knew the bastards were going to take my baby?”
“No,” Scarlett barked, then softened her tone. “I may not be a regular part of Magnolia’s life, but my niece is precious to me.” Having to stay away hurt more than Scarlett was willing to admit. “I would never let Father get his evil little hands on her. He’s crossed the line this time, and
that means war.”
Scarlett wasn’t being dramatic. She meant exactly what she said. Kidnapping Magnolia was an act of war. Scarlett followed her sister into the house. Tia’s silence was more disturbing than her earlier outburst. That scared Scarlett; her sister was normally unflappable. Then again, she knew the monster who took her daughter. His involvement would rattle the most battle-hardened soldier.
Two teenagers trampled down the stairs like a herd of elephants. “Not exactly known for stealth,” Scarlett teased, her smile sardonic.
“Who the fuck are you?” the blue-haired punk rock girl asked with a shudder-worthy growl. She had been dropped on Tia’s doorstep, but not as a baby in a basket. Her parents were terrified of her abilities. Shorting out the electricity in her parents’ mansion had been the last straw. They were lucky the blue sparks hadn’t set the house on fire.
Scarlett liked her instantly and her smile even reached her eyes when she introduced herself. “The name’s Scarlett. I’m Tia’s half-sister.” Scarlett was only a couple of years older than the teen, but in the Dark Realm an eighteen-year-old was considered a full-on adult. There was no coasting through college and finding yourself. A demon’s childhood ended the moment their powers quickened.
“Pasty bitch.” Her laugh was cruel and biting, just like her words. “Shit, you’re completely colorless.” Her uncensored distaste made Scarlett like her even more.
“Finally, you have someone interesting in this house.” Scarlett turned to her sister and said, “What do ya call her, ‘Switchblade’?”
“She’s Lilith, and I’m Kayla.” Kayla’s smile was wan. The teenager seemed a watermark of the usual self Tia had described. Pain and loss had changed Kayla. Scarlett knew the teen was trying and that was a good start. She needed her strong for the upcoming battle. “Pleased to meet you.” She offered her hand first to Kayla, which made Lilith snarl. Ah, more than friends, interesting.
Lilith’s handshake was a work of art, iron strong with just enough electricity to give off blue sparks. “Sure I can’t call you Livewire? That’s a neat trick.”
Lilith’s eyes narrowed and electric blue flame swirled in her eyes.
“Have you ever mixed your blue fire with red?” Scarlett asked conversationally.
Lilith raised a finely sculpted, dark blue eyebrow.
“We could melt the Empire State Building with some practice.”
“You’re not kidding,” Lilith said, the slight relaxation in her pose betraying her interest.
“Not at all. If we bring Kayla into the mix, we can blast a hole clean through my father’s fortress.”
“Rad.” This time the blue sparks sang with excitement, witch wind fluttering Lilith’s blue pigtails.
“Oh look, trouble’s come to town,” an elegant older woman teased as she joined the group.
“You have no idea,” Scarlett quipped. She loved Sophia, and wished she had been her mom. Maybe she would have turned out normal and nice—like Tia. Scarlett repressed the sigh that had built up. Nothing could change the damnation of her birth. She looked forward to using her darker magic against her father. They would get little Magnolia back, and this time, her father would pay with his soul. Scarlett smiled. A few good friends would fight over the right to swallow his evil soul and damn it to the depths of hell. A girl can dream.