I’m as amazed as anyone. I’ve been slowly plugging along on Crooked Magic, the sequel to Familiar Magic, when I suddenly realized it: I’m closing in on the finish line! I’m working on the scene before the climax. I figure I have about 6,000 to 8,000 more words to finish.
In the spirit of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, here’s an excerpt from Chapter 2 of Crooked Magic, which will be published under my Kathlena L. Contreras pen name:
Her name came as clear as if someone had whispered it from the back seat. She whipped around, any impulse toward laughter gone. The street behind them was thick with the glare of headlights, the glow of signs and street lights.
“Did you hear that?” she said. ‘Hear’ wasn’t the right word, but there wasn’t one better.
“What was it?” Talys wasn’t alarmed. Just…curious. Interested.
“My name. Someone’s thinking my name. Someone close by.”
He peered into the mirror once more. “Ah. I’d perceived we were being followed.”
“You—” She pushed a breath through pursed lips. No point arguing about why he’d neglected to mention it earlier. She shot a narrow look back. “Well, let them follow this.”
She reached for the magic. A coil of Talys’ silver energy held her back.
“Wait,” he said. “I see some value in discovering who should be so presumptuous. Don’t you?”
“I don’t know.” She dug through the junk heap of spells in her mind. One conjured a doppelgänger. Another used light to baffle and bewilder an enemy, perfect for the circumstances. A third made the hunter follow his own tracks until the spell was dispersed—or until the hunted decided to put an end to the hapless circling.
She sighed. “I guess you’re right.”
“Confidence, love,” he said, flipped on the signal and turned left onto a side street.
The stores in the strip malls on either side of the street gave way to a back alley, then the windowless, metal-roofed blocks of what must’ve been warehouses or industrial buildings. The street dipped down and the busy flow of traffic on Menaul disappeared.
“I changed my mind. This is not a good idea.”
“Patience. Just a moment more, I think.”
He flipped the car into a U-turn, pulled to the curb and twisted off the lights.
Amethyst pulled her seatbelt out, let it snap back.
Talys reached over and put a hand over hers. “Be still.”
She knotted her hands together in her lap. Headlights appeared up the street, one—no, two cars.
“Shit,” she said.
The lights paused, then the car in front came on, drove past and also turned around, pulling in a few yards behind them. The rearview mirror suddenly reflected a bar of light across Talys’ eyes. Headlights shined in the passenger side mirror, too. The second car stayed where it was, half a block or so up the street. Headlights glared through the windshield, then swung off at an angle.
Damn, damn, damn. Now they were blocking the street. So could Talys do evasive driving, too? She wasn’t sure she wanted to count on it, although she’d seen him execute some mean moves when he’d been a car.
Her heart beat so hard she was dizzy. “What now?”
Talys gave her a curious look and put on his sunglasses. “Why are you frightened? You’re a wizard.”
“Because up until last year, I was just a regular person, and regular people freak when cars follow them and then block them in. Habit, y’know?”
He chuckled and glanced in the side mirror. “Ah. I see. Simply remain calm, love, and all should be well.”
“Yeah, right,” she muttered.
Amethyst squinted into her own mirror. A figure approached, silhouetted by the headlights. She could tell only that it was male, and sort of bulky.
Talys buzzed down his window. With the light from the two cars’ headlights, there wasn’t any problem seeing the guy when he leaned down. He looked maybe in his mid-forties, Anglo, his cheeks marked with acne scars.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hey,” Talys said. “What’s up?”
The slang jarred her, but Amethyst kept herself from giving him a look.
The guy must’ve seen something in her face, because he said, “Sorry, don’t mean to scare you. I’m looking for the Naked Furniture warehouse. Do you know where it is? I must’ve taken a wrong turn.”
“Oh,” Talys said. “I doubt that.”
The guy gave a lopsided grin that showed movie-star-white teeth. “Well, I guess you might be right.” He leaned an elbow in the window frame and looked across at Amethyst. “Actually, Ms. Rey, there’s somebody who wants to see you. I’m here to take you to meet him.”
“Who’s that?” Amethyst said, but Talys spoke over her.
“I’m afraid we have to decline the invitation.”
“No, I don’t think you will,” the guy said.
A tap came at the passenger side window. Amethyst jumped and spun. Another man stood there, though she could only see his chest and arm. And a gun. With a freaking silencer.
“You both look like smart people to me,” said the man at the driver’s window, “so I’m sure you’re thinking, ‘I wonder what all they’ve got in the other car?’ Right?”
Panic squeezed her chest. Talys didn’t touch her, didn’t even glance at her, but she felt him, felt a sense of calm and soothing wrap around her like a comforting arm.
You’re a wizard, he’d said. Okay.
She riffled through spells. One would take the man’s power of movement, leave him frozen and helpless. Another would open a void that would swallow him. Eeek. No. Not even under the circumstances. All she wanted was out of the circumstances—
She knew exactly the spell for that. Amethyst took a breath, clamped one hand around Talys’ wrist, splayed the other on the dashboard and hauled up power.
Outside the car windows, everything went dark and silent. A sense of enclosing walls replaced the open air of the city night. A smell of old oil wafted in.
“By the dark gods of all the underworlds,” Talys snarled and grabbed her as she slumped in the seat.
Her ears rang. Retinal ghosts from the headlights flickered when she moved her eyes. Her guts felt crushed, the marrow of her bones sucked dry.
“Sorry,” she croaked. Her head lolled.
He made a furious noise and flung out of the car. He came around, jerked open the passenger door and scooped her up in his arms.
The fluorescent light overhead stuttered on, illuminating the familiar clutter of Amethyst’s garage, the scarred old workbench and pegboard above it. The door that let onto the laundry room banged open ahead of him. He carried her up the garage steps, into the living room and plopped her down on the couch then stalked off.
Caramela padded to the couch and studied her out of worried, amber eyes. Her thoughts pushed into Amethyst’s mind, wordless, layered with worry and concern and the scents she smelled of stress and fear. I’m okay now, Amethyst thought to her and raised a shaking hand to scratch her bulging jaw.
In the kitchen, the refrigerator door opened and closed. Same with the silverware drawer. There was the clink of a plate on the countertop, a sound of chopping. Talys came into the room carrying a plate and a glass of orange juice.
Standard operating procedure when a wizard worked big medicine was to refuel afterward or face the consequences. And zapping them out of the middle of deep doo-doo and into her own garage counted as major big medicine.
She downed the juice first—quick energy. Talys knelt beside the sofa with a plate of apple and banana slices, good, simple sugars, easily digested. She devoured it all.
Talys chewed curses in what sounded like several different languages.
“Why are you so mad?” she said. “What was I supposed to do?”
“So you transported us, as well as a large, immensely heavy object, not a street or two over, but several miles across town. Mass and distance do matter in magic, Amethyst. Newtonian laws of physics don’t revoke themselves as a special courtesy to wizards, and the more you defy them, the greater the cost in power.”
“Excuse me, did you not see the gun? And like Mr. Acne Whiteteeth said, they probably had some more firepower trained on us in the other car. Sorry if I thought the best thing was to just get the hell out of there.”
“You do realize, of course, that you’ve just given them a dazzling display of your power. I doubt we’ve seen the end of this.”