I’m finally coming down the home stretch on Fateful Magic. I’m working on Chapter 20 now, and figure I have around three chapters to go. I’d love to give away some advance copies for reviews. If you’d like one to review, send me an email through my Contact Me page.
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Tiff was still where Emilia had left her, looking longingly at the party going on around her. At her feet, a young man was just finishing mopping up the spill. A dustpan of broken glass rested beside him on the tiles.
“There you are,” Tiff said to Emilia. “I saw you talking to Mr. D. You didn’t have to bother him about something like this. See, I already took care of it.”
The young man smiled at her in a way that suggested they’d been having a pleasant chat before Emilia arrived. “Anything else I can do for you?”
Tiff smiled back, cocking her head. “I’d like to say yes, but I’m tied up tonight.”
Emilia lost the rest of the conversation, watching the archway for the man who’d just come. After a moment, he came in, Dragovich’s hand on his shoulder as he talked and gestured.
“Tiff,” Emilia said and caught her arm again. “Let’s get something to drink then go outside. It’s frightfully hot in here.”
She gave Tiff’s young man a nod of dismissal and towed Tiff toward the bar.
“Emilia, what’s wrong with you? You’re acting really weird. Are you drunk or something?”
“I most certainly am not drunk! But I do feel quite ill.” True enough. “I’m hoping the fresh air will revive me.”
“Omigod, I’m sorry.” Now Tiff took Emilia’s arm. “Come on. You’re probably not used to stuff like this, are you? All the people, the smoke and everything. Sure, I can sit with you for a little bit, okay?”
This time Emilia asked for only a sparkling water with an orange twist. Tiff ordered a strawberry daquiri, then followed Emilia outside.
Cricket song blended with the murmur from the party inside. The light fanned across the patio, stretching the shadows of table and chairs and potted plants away into the night.
Emilia nervously watched the doors, people moving back and forth within their frames like stick puppets.
“Are you okay?” Tiff said. “You hang on to that glass any tighter and it’s gonna break.”
“Yes. Yes, I’m fine.” Deliberately, she took a sip. “Tiff, do you know what sort these men are?”
Tiff stared at her. “You’re kidding me, right? How could I not know?”
“Neither of us belongs here. It’s simply not—”
“Hey, Mrs. Dunmoor. Hey, Tiff,” a man’s voice said. “What’re you doing out here when there’s a party going on inside?”
Emilia nearly jumped out of her chair, narrowly avoiding spilling her drink all over herself.
The man stepped into the light. Alex, from her first day here. Tonight he wore a sport coat and tie.
“Sorry,” he said. “Didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Alex!” Tiff sounded genuinely glad to see him. “Emilia’s a little nervous with all the company. I told her I’d sit with her till she feels better.”
Alex put a foot up on a chair and leaned elbow on knee. “Too bad. You’re not a party animal?”
Not this party. Emilia began to wish she’d set up a table in the breakfast room.
No, she didn’t. She wouldn’t have seen Tiff, then.
“This is rather different than the parties I’m accustomed to.”
He nodded, but didn’t comment. He turned to Tiff. “You’re working tonight?”
She shrugged. “Entertaining the guests and all that.”
“There’s a change of plans” Alex said. “One of the guys that was supposed to come tonight, well, his kid got caught in a drive-by. They’re at the hospital now.”
“Oh, crap!” Tiff said the same moment Emilia said, “Oh, my!”
“Some of us are going over there now to show Mr. Dragovich’s support. The kid’s the age he’ll appreciate a pretty girl in a hot dress. Maybe take his mind off other things.”
Tiff gave him a smile and a sidelong look, clearly not missing the compliment. “I’m happy to go, Alex.” She turned to Emilia. “Will you be okay?”
“I’ll be perfectly fine.” She reached across to grip Tiff’s hand, reaching out her gift at the same time. A glimpse of flirtation in the car, and a glimpse of rather more later. She quickly returned to the here-and-now. “Go see the young man.”
Alex straightened. “Good. Come on.”
Tiff waggled her fingers goodbye and followed him through the dim garden, her dress flaming red in the light, fading dark in the gloom.
Emilia let out a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding. How neatly you arrange things, Mr. Dragovich, she thought, impressed despite herself.
She rose and returned to the living room’s open French doors, pausing at the edge of the light to scan the room.
She spotted the new man—the murderer—talking seriously with two other men. Dragovich stood near the archway. From that position, he’d be able to watch all the exits to the room.
Indeed, as soon as Emilia stepped into the doorway, he raised his glass to her. The meaning was clear: come here. She made her way toward him, keeping watch on the murderer as she did.
“There you are, Emilia” he said when you came near. “I’d like you to meet Anthony Bernard.”
Emilia smiled and extended her hand—for a proper handshake, this time. Bernard’s hand seemed too large for the rest of him, and somehow uncomfortably soft, like gripping a large sponge. She gathered herself and looked.
She abruptly released his hand, recoiling into Dragovich’s arm behind her. He moved his arm to support her, curving it around her waist.
“Oh, dear, I’m so sorry, Mr. Bernard. My ankle turned.” She forced a smile. “I know it’s terribly rude, but will you excuse me?”
Bernard murmured something appropriate and meaningless.
“Come,” Dragovich said. “You must sit down.”
While she feigned a limp, he steered her to into the dining room. The sounds of the party spilled into the room along the hallway outside.
She sank into a chair, rubbing her hands. “I looked for you in his future. It must be soon, because what he says came quite clear. He speaks on the phone to someone—‘He’ll be at the construction site at Fourth and Ash. Eleven on Wednesday night.’ Does that mean anything?”
“Maybe. What else?”
She realized she was still rubbing her fingers, as if to rub out a stain. “’It will be in the storage trailer next to the crane.’”
“He says in English? Of course he does. You wouldn’t understand if he didn’t.”
“Not so. Since I’m…” She gestured, searching for a way to explain. “…seeing through his eyes, hearing through his ears, I see and hear and understand what he does…” She trailed off, remembering what else had come to her.
“They begin speaking of something else—” She stopped.
“Of—” She wet her lips. “He says— The new girls. Coming in.”
Dragovich waited expectantly.
“He—he sells women,” she said in a rush. “They’re only young girls! They cry and beg, and the men—they—they—”
She squeezed her eyes closed, but couldn’t shut out what she’d seen.
He spat a word in Russian. “He’s trafficking. They go to Russia, to Estonia, to Ukraine, they tell the poor girls there they’ll be models or dancers or movie actresses. They don’t say what kind of dancers, or what kind of movies.”
She was shivering now, sick to her stomach. “Vadim, I can’t do this.”
“Oh, pah. Of course you can. Where would Tiffany be if you hadn’t come tonight? You suffer seeing unpleasant things. What if those things did happen?”
“And those young girls? What good will my vision do them? Will you arrange for them to be whisked out of danger?”
He smiled. The smile sent an icy trickle down her back.
“When they belong to a man who plots to betray me? I will ruin his plans with pleasure. All his plans.”
She wondered what he’d do if the man had been as friendly toward him as Kargin.
“I don’t want to…to know these things,” she said. “I don’t want to associate with these people.”
“You associate with me.” He bent near and whispered, “And I’m much worse than they are, don’t you think?”
She said nothing.
He straightened. “Come, Emilia. Don’t tell me your sight never showed you the ugliness people hide. Mothers who beat children. Doctors who peddle poisons. Men who play around with their best friends’ wives.”
She made to get up, to get away from him. He set a hand on her shoulder, holding her there.
“Don’t tell me you never saw disaster come near someone you cared about.” He paused. “Maybe your husband?”
She shot to her feet and slapped him. He jerked back, so it wasn’t much of a slap. But his eyes narrowed and turned hard as broken glass. She instantly knew her mistake but clenched her fists, bracing against the black menace of that look.
“Don’t you speak of my husband!” she spat. “Men like you killed him. Villains who cared for nothing, nothing but what they wanted. He died a terrible death. I saw it. I saw it, and could do nothing to stop it, nothing to help him. Nothing, even, to comfort him as he died. You might keep me, and threaten me, and force me to see such things again and again, but I will not hear you make light of one who was more a man than you can ever hope to be.”
Silence stretched, thin and brittle. The music, the sounds of the party in the next room seemed a mockery.
“I see I was mistaken in thinking you afraid of me,” he said at last.
“On the contrary, sir.” She was shivering now, with reaction, with real fear at the look on his face. “One can bear the ground quaking beneath for only so long before wishing for the worst be over and done.”
He pinned her with that cold, hard gaze. “Sit down. I will bring ice for your twisted ankle. Return to the party after.”
He turned his back on her and left the room.
Emilia groped for the back of the chair and sank into it, still shaking. She leaned her elbows on the table and put her head in her hands.
The worst to be over. Dear God, she didn’t want to see the worst. She wanted to be far, far away from it.
She got up and slipped back to the party before Dragovich could return. Even the company of his vile guests was preferable.
The ‘twisted ankle’ was fortuitous. It enabled her to sit out of the way and watch without, mostly, being bothered. Dragovich did attend to her on occasion, his smiles not reaching his eyes. Emilia offered the same in return.
On one of these instances, a stir passed through the room like a current. One by one, male faces turned toward the entry. Emilia looked as well. Then looked again.
If Kisa had been stunning in jeans and a t-shirt, she was positively breathtaking in a black gown girdled with a thin, shimmering red belt. The gown left one shoulder bare, and a slit in the skirt revealed nearly the full length of one shapely leg against a glimpse of red lining.
“Ah,” Dragovich said. This time his smile reached his eyes.
There was a general movement of men toward her. One of them was the tall man, the murderer. Emilia caught her breath when he took Kisa’s hand and introduced himself.
“Don’t worry,” Dragovich said. “Kisa can take care of herself.”
With a nod of farewell, he wandered in Kisa’s direction.
“Kisa!” he said when he reached her, his voice rolling across the room. He kissed her on both cheeks, took her hands. “I was beginning to think you wouldn’t come.”
She smiled warmly at him. “You know I come any time you ask, Vadim.”
Emilia watched the scene worriedly—Dragovich the friendly host, Kisa smiling, accepting a drink from the hand of the murderer. Her worry turned to shock and disbelief when Dragovich left them together to visit with other guests.
The men vying for Kisa’s attention gradually fell away under her clear preference for the murderer, the way she glanced, touched him, laughed at his jokes. He took the liberty of placing a hand on her hip, pulling her close and whispering something in her ear. She cocked her head, smiling, and whispered something back.
Emilia rose to her feet, ready to do…something. What, she didn’t quite know. But Kisa had to be warned, even if she could take care of herself.
She’d taken a step when a sense of attention brushed her. She stopped, looked around and found Dragovich watching her. Holding her gaze, he raised his drink, forefinger lifted in warning. Emilia shook her head, No, you can’t be serious, and glanced back at Kisa and the murderer.
They were walking together out of the room, his hand on her very familiar. Emilia cast a desperate glance back at Dragovich.
He turned away and resumed speaking to his friends.
Go here to read from the beginning.