In GOING UNDER, Molly Ryan is a witch who’s pretty much grown up human. She knows what she is and isn’t ashamed of it, but she’s never really been overly involved in the local coven. Until the Magister happened and she lost so many people she loved. But like many Others, it didn’t just stop at having to go to funerals of friends and loved ones, she’s also losing the thing she’s spent the last years of her life building, her PR/media relations firm. Because she’s an Other.
So that part of her life is ending and she’s got to embrace the next stage. But it doesn’t make the situation any easier for her.
Bound by Magick: GOING UNDER by LAUREN DANE
Copyright 2013, Lauren Dane
All Rights Reserved, The Berkley Publishing Group
“So you understand, of course, that this . . . attention you’ve garnered of late is detrimental to the firm.”
Shafts of sunlight gleamed against the mahogany furniture in the room. Elegant. Chosen with extreme care.
Molly cocked her head, resisting the urge to lick her lips. Her hands were clasped on the tabletop before her. Her legs were crossed, back straight. They’d never know just how hard she had to work to hold herself together.
“I understand many things, Paul. This is our business, after all. And you know as well as I know, that things like this can be spun into positive attention.” Paul Weller was another named partner. Weak. She had little respect for any man who spent so much time being afraid.
Their business wasn’t for the weak. Or the scared. He was both. His family money and eye for design were the only reasons he was fit to sit at the table with her.
“You can’t honestly believe this will blow over.” Angelica Reynolds spoke from her place to Molly’s right. “I know things have been hard on you, but this is not going away. And it’s costing us money.”
Hard? How many people had died? How many of the ones left were losing everything else? Like Molly was right then. It took every bit of Molly’s control not to slap Angelica’s face. Now that was hard.
“I built this firm. I was the top earner here last year. And the year before, and the one before that too. The biggest clients are those I brought in. Whatever rabble might be making a fuss out there, this is my firm. I made it into what it is today.”
Aaron took a deep breath before he spoke. “No one disputes that. But Angelica is right. This isn’t blowing over. There have been riots in some cities. This morning Bright and Cleen called and they’re going to pull their campaign if you’re not fired. That makes four of our biggest clients all on the way out the door.”
The others at the table she could handle. But knowing Aaron Davidson wasn’t behind her—well, that was a blow.
“Because of you,” Angelica added.
She smiled sweetly at Angelica before turning her attention back to Aaron. “I think it would be best if you just spoke plainly. Otherwise this is a waste of my time.”
If she stayed remote and chilly, she might get through this. She couldn’t stop to think about the cost of putting herself in that place over and over again for the last month. Not then.
“We’ve prepared a generous severance package. Let’s call it a sabbatical to the public so it will appear you’ve left for personal reasons. After all, that’s not so very far from the truth, is it?” Aaron’s gaze skittered away for a moment and she successfully kept her lip from curling. Her muscles burned from holding herself together.
The nausea shifted to a cold, numb emptiness.
“You’re terminating me? A named partner in a firm you all know I built. Based on what?”
“You did not disclose your . . . nationality to us. This is a direct violation of your partnership agreement.” Paul stuttered the first part.
“My nationality is American. I was born here in Chicago, to my mother, who was also born here. In fact, my mother’s family has been here eight generations.”
Aaron sent a glare in Paul’s direction. “Of course you are. To put it bluntly, you’re in violation of several clauses in your contract. Your behavior has led to a stampede of our top clients. You’re costing us money each day you’re still on the letterhead.”
“My behavior. And how so?” They would say it. She would not simply crawl out of there and let them make her feel ashamed. This was bigotry plain and simple.
“You’re one of them and you never said! For god’s sake, you’re an abomination and you had no business thinking you’d be allowed to stay here with what you are!” Angelica’s face was red by the time she finished.
“Allowed? One of whom?”
“You’re a goddamned witch! How can we trust you now?”
“That is more than enough, Angelica.” Aaron’s mouth was in a hard line as he glared at the other woman.
Molly looked to Aaron. “More than enough? Please, Aaron, you can get mad that she says it, but by going along with this, you’re giving in to it. As far as I can see, you all think it but she’s the only one who has the guts to say it. As for your charge? My behavior has not changed. My behavior is to get up at five, exercise, come to work where I spend ten to twelve hours each day doing my job. And then I go home. There is nothing in my behavior that could be considered a violation of my agreement with the firm.” She could add some new things to that routine like funerals, being hassled by the cops, being outed by human supremacist groups. Good times.
Aaron heaved a sigh. “The negative attention you’ve garnered because of your . . . whatever you’d call it, status, identity, has impacted the bottom line of the firm.”
“To be clear, because of my genetics, something I’ve kept private because it was none of your business, is the reason I’m being fired. Or rather, because I did not give in to the blackmail of the hate group who finally outed me after stalking me,, my friends and family, I’m to be terminated from this firm. You’re firing me because of who I am. Which, by the way is who I was two weeks ago. Two months ago when you had me on your boat, a boat I remind you that you were able to buy after the success of a campaign I created.”
Aaron’s face colored. “You have been an integral part of this firm. I’ll be the first one to state that. I hate what they’ve done to you. I’m sorry for it. But this is business.”
The last three weeks had gone by in a sickening haze. She’d gotten that proverbial late night call, telling her the man she’d considered her father had simply disappeared and was presumed dead. Not only that, but his oldest daughter, Molly’s best friend, sister and the girl who’d taught Molly how to put on eyeliner, had also disappeared.
Worse, then came the insanity of the reaction from humans as the world of the Others had been exposed.
Little by little, everything she’d known and counted on to keep her anchored and safe had been stolen from her. Funerals were a weekly occurrence. The human-only hate groups had begun to agitate and turn the fear the humans had into rage. Her clients, people she’d known and worked with for years had begun to ease away. There’d been write-in campaigns to get her fired. Her work suffered. Her home had been vandalized multiple times. Several of her neighbors had put up anti-Other signs in their yards and would ignore her, or worse, call her names as she left for work each day.
Work at the public relations firm she had built with Aaron was the one thing she’d counted on, even as her clients had turned skittish in the previous weeks.
That internal wall she’d built inside began to crumble and she saw clearly for the first time in a very long time.
“Business? Your giving in to bigots who’d be siccing dogs on small children for daring to use the whites-only drinking fountain is just business?”
“It’s not the same.” But Aaron didn’t hold her gaze.
“It is the same. Just because you want to be able to celebrate your bigotry and call it something else doesn’t mean anyone with an actual brain should allow you to do it. If you’re ballsy enough to do it, be ballsy enough to call it what it is. Own it like an adult, but don’t expect me to shuffle off in shame because I’m not the one who should be ashamed. You all should be. I have done nothing wrong. In fact, of all of us sitting here at this table, as we’re talking business and all, I’m the one who pays the bills. I’m the one who brings in clients.”
Paul didn’t meet her gaze. “This is uncomfortable for us all. I don’t see why we can’t remain civil.”
“I’m sure you don’t consider the fact that you’re firing me because I’m a witch to be uncivil. But I do. And as such, I only give respect where it’s due. And none of you deserve it.”
“Don’t you at least want to see the details of your severance? We’re trying to take care of you. Even in these difficult times.” Aaron pushed a piece of paper at her.
“You’re not trying to take care of me. You’re trying to cast me off because of my genetics. This is not acceptable. You know this, Aaron. Even if Angelica is too greedy and stupid, you know this. Even Paul knows this.”
Molly didn’t touch the paper but she saw the figures on the first page. Enough money to get her through the next year or so. Help her start her own firm, or relocate. Still, it was money to shut her up after they cast her out.
But the walls were down and all she felt was anger. No, it was past anger now. She was into rage territory and she was seeing things very clearly.
“You should send these to my attorney. He’ll be in touch later this morning.” She stood, brushing her skirt to rid herself of the wrinkles. She’d never let them know how hurt she was. She was better than every single person in that room. And she’d never let them forget it.
Aaron attempted a charming frown. “You can’t mean to fight this. It’ll only bring more negative attention to the firm.”
He was quite fortunate she didn’t go with her instinct to slap his face for that. “You’re truly going to sit there—in a chair I chose—and tell me I should accept your bigotry like a good little second-class citizen to save you embarrassment? You’re out of your mind.”
“Be reasonable, Molly. You built this, as you’ve said. Would you really tear it down? For what?”
“For what?” She blinked at him, so incredulous it was a wonder she didn’t start laughing hysterically. She felt her power deep in her belly and panicked a moment that she’d do something she didn’t plan. That would be very bad.
So, instead of going all Carrie on them and setting the place on fire, she took a deep breath and centered herself, just as Rosa had taught her all those years ago. Once she’d gotten her power under control again, she squared her shoulders and glared. “I’m defending myself against a completely unwarranted attack on my person. And for what? Because I’m a witch? What if I had brown skin? Or my religion was different? That’s not acceptable so why should this be? And why on Earth would I stand for it? Do you think I built this place so small-minded hatemongers could simply shove me out and reap my profits? You have another thing coming if you believe I’d simply pack my office up and go quietly.”
She’d been utterly and completely numb for weeks. Now she was awake and they’d better run.
The bitterness and hate rolled off Angelica in waves. “You can’t win and you know it. Now that we know about you and your kind, we’ll make sure you can’t.”
Molly smiled at Angelica and then over to Aaron. “See? Just business.”
Molly wouldn’t give anyone the pleasure of rushing away. She turned her back on that sorry trio and walked to her office on shaky legs.
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