This is book three in the BOUND BY MAGICK series and it’s Gage’s book.
â€śLauren Dane always delivers a steamy, exciting ride,â€ť* and she does it again in her new novel of two lovers fighting for their lives against a rising threat, and a passion thatâ€™s just as dangerousâ€¦
In the wake of the Magisterâ€™s rampage, chaos rules. Left reeling, the Others and the humans scramble to create a some sort of unity in the face of growing unrest and violence from anti-Other hate groups federationâ€”and ruthless PR guru Molly Ryan is the witch who can do it. She grew up in the human world but thereâ€™s nothing left for her there. Sheâ€™s lost her PR firm, her friends and sheâ€™s decided to put all her fight toward aiding the Others in this dark, new reality. If thereâ€™s anything left for her there, sheâ€™s going to fight for it. But Gage Garrity, one of the few Others who survived the massacre, fears that the crusade will expose Molly to greater dangers than ever before.
Now, together, with magick on their side, theyâ€™re on the road in a desperate struggle to unite a torn world. From state houses to television news to legislative conference rooms across the country, theyâ€™re fighting the good fight. And itâ€™s bringing out a passion in both of them they never expectedâ€”one as volatile, intense, and all-consuming as their relentless battle for world unity. A battle that could be their undoingâ€¦
Burning flesh created a smell unlike any other heâ€™d ever experienced. Sickeningly sweet while at the same time sticky with death and pain. It was a stench heâ€™d hoped to never come across and yet, over the last months, heâ€™d gagged on it more than once.
The house burned, casting orangey yellow all across the street. Over the cars parked by people whoâ€™d simply wanted to slump inside their homes and relax until they had to return to work the following day.
The red of the fire truck would delight children any other time. But the fire made that shiny cheery red into something more sinister. Grime coated the faces of the firefighters whoâ€™d been working to put the fire out. But it didnâ€™t hide the resolution that there was nothing else they could do to save those three whoâ€™d been caught inside and unable to escape.
â€śThey had to have used an accelerant of some type.â€ť Lark, who still favored the side she hadnâ€™t been shot on, looked on, standing next to him. Her sister, Helena also watched.
This was supposed to be a visit to share information and new spells. And now theyâ€™d have to attend yet more funerals.
â€śThey best goddamn back off in my town or thereâ€™ll be hell to pay.â€ť Helena wasnâ€™t scrappy and scary like Lark. But she had her own sort of strength and Gage believed the Hunter in charge of Gennesseeâ€™s security would indeed take out the murderous asshole humans whoâ€™d set a house on fire while the people living there had been locked inside.
People. Others. Witches to be exact. Five of them who shared the house and attended nearby UCLA. Three of whom had been home in bed when the place had been set on fire. Strategically. At the exits so the witches inside couldnâ€™t escape.
The firefighters had tried. Two had been hurt when part of a landing collapsed as theyâ€™d valiantly attempted to get to the second story where the bedrooms were.
Impotent fury tightened Gageâ€™s muscles so hard he had a headache. The stench of these young menâ€™s death would live in his system for days, though he believed the memory of it would live far longer. Right next to the memory of how Edwina Owen, his former boss, had looked after sheâ€™d been shot just weeks before.
â€śI donâ€™t know if thereâ€™s a peaceful way out of this now.â€ť Helenaâ€™s hands, fisted, hung at her side. Rage pulsed from her in wave after wave. Her magick sparked from her body, even as Lark ran a hand up and down her sisterâ€™s back.
â€śIâ€™m not sure there ever was.â€ť
â€śSo you understand, of course, that this . . . attention youâ€™ve garnered of late is detrimental to the firm.â€ť
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. Theyâ€™d never know just how hard she had to work to hold herself together.
â€śI 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.â€ť Paul Weller was another named partner. Weak. She had little respect for any man who spent so much time being afraid.
Their business wasnâ€™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.
â€śYou canâ€™t honestly believe this will blow over.â€ť Angelica Reynolds spoke from her place to Mollyâ€™s right. â€śI know things have been hard on you, but this is not going away. And itâ€™s costing us money.â€ť
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 Mollyâ€™s control not to slap Angelicaâ€™s face. Now that was hard.
â€śI 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.â€ť
Aaron took a deep breath before he spoke. â€śNo one disputes that. But Angelica is right. This isnâ€™t blowing over. There have been riots in some cities. This morning Bright and Cleen called and theyâ€™re going to pull their campaign if youâ€™re not fired. That makes four of our biggest clients all on the way out the door.â€ť
The others at the table she could handle. But knowing Aaron Davidson wasnâ€™t behind herâ€”well, that was a blow.
â€śBecause of you,â€ť Angelica added.
She smiled sweetly at Angelica before turning her attention back to Aaron. â€śI think it would be best if you just spoke plainly. Otherwise this is a waste of my time.â€ť
If she stayed remote and chilly, she might get through this. She couldnâ€™t stop to think about the cost of putting herself in that place over and over again for the last month. Not then.
â€śWeâ€™ve prepared a generous severance package. Letâ€™s call it a sabbatical to the public so it will appear youâ€™ve left for personal reasons. After all, thatâ€™s not so very far from the truth, is it?â€ť Aaronâ€™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.
â€śYouâ€™re terminating me? A named partner in a firm you all know I built. Based on what?â€ť
â€śYou did not disclose your . . . nationality to us. This is a direct violation of your partnership agreement.â€ť Paul stuttered the first part.
â€śMy nationality is American. I was born here in Chicago, to my mother, who was also born here. In fact, my motherâ€™s family has been here eight generations.â€ť
Aaron sent a glare in Paulâ€™s direction. â€śOf course you are. To put it bluntly, youâ€™re in violation of several clauses in your contract. Your behavior has led to a stampede of our top clients. Youâ€™re costing us money each day youâ€™re still on the letterhead.â€ť
â€śMy behavior. And how so?â€ť 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.
â€śYouâ€™re one of them and you never said! For godâ€™s sake, youâ€™re an abomination and you had no business thinking youâ€™d be allowed to stay here with what you are!â€ť Angelicaâ€™s face was red by the time she finished.
â€śAllowed? One of whom?â€ť
â€śYouâ€™re a goddamned witch! How can we trust you now?â€ť
â€śThat is more than enough, Angelica.â€ť Aaronâ€™s mouth was in a hard line as he glared at the other woman.
Molly looked to Aaron. â€śMore than enough? Please, Aaron, you can get mad that she says it, but by going along with this, youâ€™re giving in to it. As far as I can see, you all think it but sheâ€™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.â€ť 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. â€śThe negative attention youâ€™ve garnered because of your . . . whatever youâ€™d call it, status, identity, has impacted the bottom line of the firm.â€ť
â€śTo be clear, because of my genetics, something Iâ€™ve kept private because it was none of your business, is the reason Iâ€™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, Iâ€™m to be terminated from this firm. Youâ€™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.â€ť
Aaronâ€™s face colored. â€śYou have been an integral part of this firm. Iâ€™ll be the first one to state that. I hate what theyâ€™ve done to you. Iâ€™m sorry for it. But this is business.â€ť
The last three weeks had gone by in a sickening haze. Sheâ€™d gotten that proverbial late night call, telling her the man sheâ€™d considered her father had simply disappeared and was presumed dead. Not only that, but his oldest daughter, Mollyâ€™s best friend, sister and the girl whoâ€™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 sheâ€™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 sheâ€™d known and worked with for years had begun to ease away. Thereâ€™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 sheâ€™d counted on, even as her clients had turned skittish in the previous weeks.
That internal wall sheâ€™d built inside began to crumble and she saw clearly for the first time in a very long time.
â€śBusiness? Your giving in to bigots whoâ€™d be siccing dogs on small children for daring to use the whites-only drinking fountain is just business?â€ť
â€śItâ€™s not the same.â€ť But Aaron didnâ€™t hold her gaze.
â€śIt is the same. Just because you want to be able to celebrate your bigotry and call it something else doesnâ€™t mean anyone with an actual brain should allow you to do it. If youâ€™re ballsy enough to do it, be ballsy enough to call it what it is. Own it like an adult, but donâ€™t expect me to shuffle off in shame because Iâ€™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 weâ€™re talking business and all, Iâ€™m the one who pays the bills. Iâ€™m the one who brings in clients.â€ť
Paul didnâ€™t meet her gaze. â€śThis is uncomfortable for us all. I donâ€™t see why we canâ€™t remain civil.â€ť
â€śIâ€™m sure you donâ€™t consider the fact that youâ€™re firing me because Iâ€™m a witch to be uncivil. But I do. And as such, I only give respect where itâ€™s due. And none of you deserve it.â€ť
â€śDonâ€™t you at least want to see the details of your severance? Weâ€™re trying to take care of you. Even in these difficult times.â€ť Aaron pushed a piece of paper at her.
â€śYouâ€™re not trying to take care of me. Youâ€™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.â€ť
Molly didnâ€™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.
â€śYou should send these to my attorney. Heâ€™ll be in touch later this morning.â€ť She stood, brushing her skirt to rid herself of the wrinkles. Sheâ€™d never let them know how hurt she was. She was better than every single person in that room. And sheâ€™d never let them forget it.
Aaron attempted a charming frown. â€śYou canâ€™t mean to fight this. Itâ€™ll only bring more negative attention to the firm.â€ť
He was quite fortunate she didnâ€™t go with her instinct to slap his face for that. â€śYouâ€™re truly going to sit thereâ€”in a chair I choseâ€”and tell me I should accept your bigotry like a good little second-class citizen to save you embarrassment? Youâ€™re out of your mind.â€ť
â€śBe reasonable, Molly. You built this, as youâ€™ve said. Would you really tear it down? For what?â€ť
â€śFor what?â€ť She blinked at him, so incredulous it was a wonder she didnâ€™t start laughing hysterically. She felt her power deep in her belly and panicked a moment that sheâ€™d do something she didnâ€™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 sheâ€™d gotten her power under control again, she squared her shoulders and glared. â€śIâ€™m defending myself against a completely unwarranted attack on my person. And for what? Because Iâ€™m a witch? What if I had brown skin? Or my religion was different? Thatâ€™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 Iâ€™d simply pack my office up and go quietly.â€ť
Sheâ€™d been utterly and completely numb for weeks. Now she was awake and theyâ€™d better run.
The bitterness and hate rolled off Angelica in waves. â€śYou canâ€™t win and you know it. Now that we know about you and your kind, weâ€™ll make sure you canâ€™t.â€ť
Molly smiled at Angelica and then over to Aaron. â€śSee? Just business.â€ť
Molly wouldnâ€™t give anyone the pleasure of rushing away. She turned her back on that sorry trio and walked to her office on shaky legs.
Her assistant was waiting for her there, her features expectant, then falling when she caught sight of Mollyâ€™s demeanor.
â€śIs it true? Oh my god, it is.â€ť Paige threw her hands up as she began to mutter and pace. â€śThose assholes!â€ť
Well, this was at least better than the last reception she got so Molly eased into her chair to watch her assistant of five years pace and bitch about the other partners.
Molly needed to be doing something. Anything. She grabbed her phone. â€śI need to call Jim. Keep the bad words to a minimum.â€ť Paige snorted as Molly dialed her attorneyâ€™s office and was put right though.
She laid the entire story out for him as Paige plopped into a nearby chair and gawked.
He asked a few questions as they went and when it was all over he sighed. â€śYouâ€™re the third client this month whoâ€™s been terminated for their status.â€ť
She knew it had been happening nationwide to lots of Others. Rosa, her foster mother, still reeling from the death of a child and her husband, had been asked to retire early from her job teaching middle school. Though asked was a nice term for the pressure they laid on her to get out. Mollyâ€™s biological mother, a human, had been harassed by groups of students under the flag of PURITY. PURITY who proclaimed to be about love and safety all while digging through trash and turning peopleâ€™s lives upside down by outing them they way they had with Molly. They even had a television show and a nationally syndicated column called Know Your Enemy where they published lists of names of Others They may as well be wearing white sheets, it was the same thing.
â€śThis is a gray area, but Iâ€™m working on it with some other civil rights attorneys across the country. Iâ€™ll get something to Aaron by dayâ€™s end. Do you . . . are you sure you even want to stay?â€ť
â€śHow can I let them get away with this? If I walk away, Iâ€™m saying itâ€™s all right!â€ť She knew really that she didnâ€™t want to work with any of these people ever again. But there were principles at work here. And this was her business, damn it.
â€śI can get more money out of them to get you out the door. I can probably work it so they have to use a different name. As part of your separation agreement. Even if I win, and I donâ€™t know if I can, do you want to be there with them?â€ť He paused, she knew, looking for the right words. â€śIâ€™m sorry. Youâ€™ve suffered a lot over the last several weeks. I just want you to know that no matter your choice here, Iâ€™m on your side.â€ť
She heaved a sigh and fought back nausea. She wanted to go home and hide under the covers. Wanted to pretend the sickness of heart and soul hadnâ€™t beaten her down.
â€śTake some time. You donâ€™t have to make a decision right this moment.â€ť
â€śTime.â€ť She snorted. â€śWhy should I have to? Theyâ€™re trying to push me out for something that is unacceptable. Like Iâ€™ve committed a crime or something.â€ť
â€śYou havenâ€™t done anything wrong, Molly. You know it and so do they. Iâ€™ll fight for you as hard as I can. But you also know youâ€™re not going to have anything to do but ruminate over this over and over until you make yourself even sicker. Just get out of there a while and make it about yourself. Let me do the obsessing, okay? Itâ€™s my job.â€ť
Molly blinked back tears of frustration. â€śI donâ€™t have much to do here today. My clients, the biggest ones, have fired me.â€ť
That cut deep. Some of them had cloaked it in a bunch of talk about how they couldnâ€™t afford the controversy in this economic and political climate. This after sheâ€™d saved them more than once. These were people who sheâ€™d had dinner with, had spent time in their homes.
â€śGo home. Iâ€™ll have something messengered over to your place in an hour or so. Iâ€™ll lay out all your options and you can think them over. Iâ€™ll keep you updated.â€ť
She hung up and looked to Paige, whose anger soothed some of Mollyâ€™s agitation.
â€śThis is dumb. They canâ€™t do this. Who freaking cares if youâ€™re a witch or not? What does it have to do with how you do your job?â€ť
Molly picked up an award statuette. Sheâ€™d won it only three months before. Three months before when the world was different. She slid it into the large tote next to her desk.
â€śFair or not, itâ€™s happening all over the place.â€ť She grabbed some of the photographs from the credenza. A shot of Molly with her foster family, her magickal family, she supposed, at her college graduation. One of her with her biological mother and her maternal grandparents when sheâ€™d accepted an award a few years back. Memories of a different world. She placed them in the tote.
â€śAre you really going to let them do this? None of these dicks would even have a place to work if it werenâ€™t for you.â€ť
â€śIt makes me sad to think theyâ€™re going to drive this firm into the ground. All for what? My witch cooties? They canâ€™t catch it, for heavenâ€™s sake.â€ť
â€śItâ€™s Angelica. Sheâ€™s been agitating everyone with every single newspaper article and Internet thing she can find. Itâ€™s like that nightmare where your sister-in-law sends you mass forwards filled with things a simple visit to snopes.com could tell her were fakes.â€ť
â€śIâ€™m sure sheâ€™s a card-carrying member of PURITY. But that doesnâ€™t matter. Aaron is with her. As is Paul. Thatâ€™s three of four partners.â€ť She realized they could, and would, be able to terminate her contract. The knowledge was awful and unbearably sad. A whole part of her life was being taken away from her.
Sad or not, she sure wasnâ€™t going to go down without a fight. Or a financial settlement that was far more representative of her value to the firm. Sheâ€™d start over if she had to, but sheâ€™d do it with the money she earned. And theyâ€™d have to change the firmâ€™s name.
Still, Paige wasnâ€™t as fortunate to have all the options Molly did. â€śLook, I can probably work on Aaronâ€™s sense of duty and get you on with one of the others. We approved a new-hire slot just a few weeks ago. Youâ€™re terrific and theyâ€™ll need you after I leave.â€ť
â€śYouâ€™re not going to let them run you out of town like a criminal, Molly. Iâ€™m not going to let you. Hell, you can get your stakes back and start a new firm, this one working for Others. Iâ€™ll happily work for you there.â€ť
Molly paused, resting her hip on the desk and thought about that idea.
â€śOh, girl. I can see youâ€™re taking that seriously.â€ť Paige sat nearby. â€śWant me to take some notes? Call some people? We can work out of your place for a while until we get a new office.â€ť
She smiled at Paige, who was also six months pregnant and couldnâ€™t afford to jump ship and risk losing her insurance and the healthy retirement plan sheâ€™d begun to build.
â€śEven if I did that, youâ€™re not in any position to up and leave this job. You need the benefits. For the baby and for Mark too.â€ť Paigeâ€™s husband had been laid off from his job four months before and had been looking for a new one ever since. He had some health problems, which made any risky moves by Paige even more precarious.
â€śYou canâ€™t possibly think Iâ€™d choose this place without you in it. After the way theyâ€™re dumping you? My parents raised me right.â€ť
â€śYes, they did. And I appreciate the solidarity. More than you can know. But, Paige, youâ€™re pregnant. Your husband is unemployed. I canâ€™t offer you health care, even if I did start a new firm. Hang on until you have the baby and youâ€™ve used your leave and all that stuff. By then, well, at the very least I can get you on somewhere else.
Pragmatism was something she couldnâ€™t get around. Molly shrugged. â€śIt isnâ€™t right. Not at all. Iâ€™m going to fight it, but in the end, I donâ€™t think itâ€™s going to make a difference. Oh, Iâ€™ll get more money from them probably, but they wonâ€™t have to keep me. And they wonâ€™t. Right now, all across the country Others are in a gray area legally. And there are plenty of people who will use that.â€ť
Paigeâ€™s pretty face fell as she accepted it. â€śThis is dumb. I hate them.â€ť
Molly laughed without humor. â€śYeah, me too. Now, Iâ€™m going to take some of this stuff home. But before that, letâ€™s go to a late breakfast. You have my permission to take the rest of the day off.â€ť
When she and Paige came around the corner, Aaron was waiting for her at the elevators.
â€śYou going to check my bag to make sure Iâ€™m not stealing pens?â€ť
â€śGive me a break, Mol.â€ť
â€śDonâ€™t.â€ť She held her hand up. â€śYou donâ€™t get to call me that. Iâ€™m leaving for the day. I have the vacation for it. But Iâ€™m not quitting, or saying Iâ€™m going on sabbatical. Thatâ€™s not going to happen.â€ť
â€śWhy donâ€™t you and I go to lunch and talk? Away from here.â€ť
The audacity! â€śIf youâ€™d really wanted that, you wouldnâ€™t have ambushed me here. Youâ€™d have spoken to me in advance.â€ť
â€śIt was in the conjecture stage. And then Bright and Cleen called. Iâ€™m sorry.â€ť His gaze skated to Paige, hindered by her presence to say anything else.
The elevator dinged and the doors slid open. She moved to walk past and he grabbed her arm. â€śMolly, please. Be reasonable. You canâ€™t just end a ten-year friendship. I had to make a difficult choice. You should understand that.â€ť
â€śI donâ€™t understand it at all. I donâ€™t understand you and I will grieve, along with a boatload of other things, that you cared so little about our friendship and this firm that youâ€™d give in to this absurd demand. Itâ€™s terrorism, Aaron, and you know it. You do this for them and what will they ask next? Who else might not be . . . enough for them? Hm? Talk about slippery slopes.â€ť
She yanked her arm back.
â€śMy attorney will be contacting you by dayâ€™s end.â€ť She let the doors slide closed.