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Jun 27

Fated Magic – Chapter 20

I’M DONE! I’M DONE! I’M DONE!

I just finished the book, the last word of the last sentence of the last chapter! Now it’s just a matter of tinkering and getting everything just right, then working on the cover and blurb.

By the way, this isn’t the last chapter. There are seven to go.

Assassin

Emilia stands in an unfamiliar bedroom. It’s tastefully decorated in cream and muted greens, the bed piled with pillows. A comfortable chair and ottoman sit in one corner by the curtained window. Soft, golden light spills from a lamp on a low table. Jasmine scents the air.

Confused, bewildered, she turns to leave. The door opens as she reaches for the knob and a tall, smiling woman draws a man through.

Emilia retreats, stammering an apology, then realizes that she recognizes the woman. It’s the woman from Dragovich’s brothel, the tall woman who first greeted him when he brought Emilia. Emilia’s face burns with mortified horror. Dear God, what is she doing in a brothel boudoir in the middle of the night?

As if Emilia is invisible, the woman pulls the man into a passionate kiss as he shuts the door. Taking advantage of their distraction, Emilia darts to the door to escape.

Her hand on the knob seems no more than a feather. Sneaking a desperate glance over her shoulder, she sees the woman open the man’s suit jacket, strip off his tie and unbutton his shirt, kissing her way down his chest. Emilia takes the doorknob with both hands, but her grip remains weightless and strengthless.

The woman has reached the waistband of the man’s pants. She reaches to unbuckle his belt, but he laughs and holds her hands away, tugging her to the chair in the corner. He sits and she kneels in front of him, running her hands up and down his thighs.

Emilia spins to face the door. As pleased hums and groans begin behind her, she struggles to open the door again. Giving up, she covers her ears.

A crack like the snapping of a big stick sounds. Emilia jumps and spins again, her heart hammering.

The tall woman slumps face-first to the floor in a boneless sprawl, her hair spilling around her. Emilia blinks, trying to make sense of it, then sees the gun in the man’s hand. He rises and comes toward her. His pale eyes are calm, his boyish face shows no emotion.

She throws herself at the door, pounding on it with her fists, then springs away as the man reaches her. Without a glance at her, he opens the door and steps through. Emilia looks once at the still huddle on the floor, then rushes after him.

The man walks down a hall, opens the next door. A woman screams. He points the gun into the room. Another crack, and the scream falls silent. Emilia screams as well and turns to run, but she’s still behind the man, still following him.

Another man appears in the hallway ahead, the big, bearded man who’d opened the door when she visited. He holds a gun of his own. Another crack, and he staggers. His gun hits the floor with a thud as he tumbles to the floor. The boyish man stops to pick up the other’s gun.

A girl—one of the girls Dragovich rescued from Bernard—steps into the hall. She wears an oversized shirt as a nightdress, and rubs her eyes sleepily, frowning in confusion at the sight of the stranger, of the bearded man on the floor.

“No, Lidiya, run!” Emilia screams and lunges at the man with the gun.

Her lunge, which should have shoved him hard from behind, brings her no closer to him. His gun cracks again. Lidiya jolts backward, her mouth going round in shock and pain. A red flower bursts in the middle of her nightshirt. Knotting her fingers in her hair, Emilia screams Lidiya’s name.

The man steps over the girl’s still form and continues down the hall, opening doors and shooting into the rooms beyond.

“Get out!” Emilia screams. “He’s got a gun, get out, GET OUT—”

* * *

Emilia jolted upright in bed, her throat raw, tears streaming down her face. Her heart hammered just as hard as it had in her dream. Faint light from the garden spilled through the French door, turning the room into an ominous landscape of shadows. Struggling free of the tangled bedclothes, she stumbled to the closet, groped for her robe. Dragging it hastily around her shoulders, she ran out of her bedroom.

It was too much, too much like her dream, running down the darkened hallway, terror thumping in her chest and throat and fingertips. She passed the darkened great room and dining room, the high, dim foyer, the small dining room with its shadowy table and chairs. Turning into the wing that housed Dragovich’s office, she paused, took a shaking breath and slowed to a walk.

She’d never seen his bedchamber—Heaven forbid!—wasn’t even certain where it was. She cracked open a door, peeked through.

A slice of dim light showed one corner of a dresser. Yes, this must be it. She slipped in, her heart beating as hard as ever. The room was almost completely dark, the shapes of furniture no more than dimly illuminated edges here and there. A musky, male scent enveloped her. Slow, not-quite snores guided her toward the bed, the bulky shape of the sleeper barely visible in faint strokes of light.

She reached for a shoulder, met warm, bare skin. “Vadim!” Her voice came out in a trembling whisper.

His hand reached up, seized her by the neck.

* * *

Vadim’s eyes shot open at the touch and the voice. Emilia bent over him, a dim blur of pale face and shadowy hair flowing loose over her shoulders.

Arousal flushed through him. He reached up, slid a hand behind her neck under her hair, pulling her down to him.

She gripped his forearm and braced a hand on his chest. “Mr. Dragovich! It’s Emilia!” Her voice was high and tight with fear.

“Emilia—”

“Wake up, you must wake up! He has a gun—”

Every trace of heavy, tingling warmth vanished. Pushing her to the side, he shoved out of bed. The bedside lamp blinked on at a thought and he jerked open the nightstand drawer for his gun.

He grabbed it and checked the clip. “Where?”

Her gaze flicked up and down his body. Her face blazed red and her eyes and mouth went round—he slept nude.

He took her wrist and shook it. “Emilia. Where?”

Her eyes jumped up to his. “No. No, not here. Victoria’s—”

He frowned. “How do you know?”

“I dreamt it!” she flared. “He goes through the house shooting everyone! The women, the big man with the beard, one of the young girls—”

“You dreamed it! God in heaven, woman—”

“For pity’s sake, listen to me! You have to stop him!”

Vadim made himself pay attention. This was no silly woman babbling of a nightmare. This was Emilia.

He sat on the bed, twitched the covers into his lap to spare her English modesty. “When?”

He still held her wrist. She laid her free hand over his and her eyes went briefly unfocused. She gasped.

“Dear God. Soon. Tonight.”

* * *

Dragovich let go her wrist, stood and crossed to the closet. “Tell me what you saw. Everything you remember.”

Emilia averted her gaze from his broad, muscular back and firm backside. She stammered a moment, trying to net her fluttering thoughts. At last, she began relating her dream. Surrounded by Dragovich’s scent, standing beside his bed, heat rushed through her remembering the boudoir scene, the woman stroking the man’s chest, his thighs—

No. She didn’t need to tell him all that. Dragovich would know exactly what went on in those rooms. She skipped to the gun, the horrible, methodical trek down the hall.

Dragovich shrugged into a shirt, pulled on trousers and zipped them up. “Tell me what he looked like. What kind of gun did he have?”

She glanced at the gun he’d tossed on the bed. “Like yours. But it seemed very long, rather like a dueling pistol.”

He grunted. “Silencer on it, probably. Go on.”

“He was—is—middle height, middle build. Short brown hair, light eyes. His face looks young, but I don’t think he is. My age, perhaps a bit older.” She shut her eyes, conjuring his image again. “He’s wearing a dark suit and a grey striped shirt.” She opened her eyes again.

Dragovich sat on a bench at the foot of the bed and pulled on his shoes. “Which woman was he with?”

“When you took me there, remember the tall woman who came out to greet you? The one who called to her friends?”

His lips went thin. “Sylvie. Yes.” He snarled something in Russian. “This—this is what I get for restraining myself.”

He stood, snatched up the gun, thrust it into his waistband. “Go to the security office. You know where—down the hall from Amanda’s office. Tell them I went to Victoria’s. Tell them to come. Say what you need to make it believable.”

“What—?” she began.

He vanished in a pop of air.

* * *

Vadim rematerialized in Sylvie’s room. It was empty, a little lamp on a low table casting soft light over the room. No body on the floor in front of the chair. He let go a breath and crossed to the door.

The hallway outside was empty, but a soft laugh came from behind one of the closed doors. Vadim paused, extending wizard’s senses: murmuring voices, panting, the smells of perfume and sex. No blood, no sharp tang of gunpowder. He continued down the hall to the more public areas of the house.

Voices came from the living room ahead, women’s light tones, the deeper ones of men.

Vadim strolled into the room as if dropping in for a visit. Five women and three men looked up from sofas and chairs. Delight bloomed on the women’s faces. The men eyed him more appraisingly.

“Good evening!” Vadim said, smiling.

He studied the men. One was middle-aged with a belly that overhung his belt, another harsh-looking and angular, maybe somewhere between 65 and 70. The third—

Middle height, middle build. Light eyes in a round, soft, too-young face. He wore a dark suit. Sylvie, perched on the edge of his chair, was just loosening the tie in the collar of his striped grey shirt.

“Mr. Dragovich!” Morgan, who wasn’t presently entertaining a man, rose from the sofa to come greet him. “How are you?” She took his hands, pulled him close and kissed him on the corner of the mouth.

The other women murmured greetings, but appropriately didn’t let their attention wander far from their clients. The man Sylvie attended stiffened slightly.

Ah, yes, Vadim thought.

Morgan continued talking to him, asking if he’d like a drink, if he planned to stay. Yes, a drink would be welcome, and yes, he might be convinced to stay. Morgan smiled, stroked a manicured hand down his arm and crossed the room to the wet bar.

Vadim made himself comfortable in a chair, crossed ankle over knee and considered strategy. It wouldn’t do to make a scene. It would be bad for business. Neither would he allow the assassin out of his sight. Vadim’s presence might alter the man’s plans—killing Vadim himself would be a far sweeter victory. Maybe he should simply sit back and make himself a tempting target. But there was no guarantee the assassin wouldn’t attempt wider carnage for effect. Or that there wasn’t more than the one assassin Emilia had seen in her dream.

The man was watching him, maybe planning strategy of his own. Vadim smiled and raised the drink Morgan had brought, then continued his own watching, making no secret of it.

The man was a professional, that was clear enough. Other than that first reaction on Vadim’s entrance, he showed no nervousness, no tension or watchfulness, apparently enjoying Sylvie’s attention. Yet he was too cool. An ordinary client would react to Vadim’s scrutiny, either writhing under it, or challenging it.

Even Morgan, perched on the arm of his chair, noticed. Bending close as if kissing his ear, she murmured, “Everything okay?”

He reached up, pulled her head down and kissed her. The movement reminded him viscerally of Emilia, when she’d bent over his bed a few minutes ago. Heat pooled in his groin and he coaxed Morgan’s mouth open, exploring it with his tongue. He imagined doing the same with Emilia, wondering how she’d taste, imagining his fingers shaping her curves beneath the nightgown—

He broke free of the kiss before it could distract him any more, brushing his lips back to Morgan’s ear. “Wait. We’ll see.”

“Mmm,” Morgan said. “How about I get you a snack? I’ve never seen a man enjoy his food as much as you do.”

“To keep up my strength,” he said with a suggestive twitch of the brows.

Morgan gave a soft, throaty laugh and stood. Some communication must’ve passed, because Leigh, the other unattached woman, stood as well.

“Maybe something for everyone,” she said and followed Morgan.

Vadim, relieved of the necessity of conversation, went to work.

He’d entertained enemies from time to time, in drafty halls smelling of straw and dogs and sweaty men and roasting meat, around campfires in the vast dark, a dome of glittering stars overhead. When enemies gathered to talk, all were supposed to come unarmed. But sometimes, they hadn’t been.

He shaped a spell much like the one he’d used in his chat with Lebedev, the one that had convinced him to let go of the icon. But this time he directed it toward steel.

The big-bellied man suddenly stopped speaking, muttered and rubbed at his wristwatch. “Damn,” he said and held out his wrist to Ava, who sat on the sofa beside him. “Feel that. It’s hot!”

She made a sympathetic noise and slid off the watch. “That’s the wrong thing to be hot right now.”

Vadim missed the man’s reply, increasing the power to his spell. The man with Sylvie twitched and shifted in his chair. Another moment, and he leapt to his feet, his hand going under his jacket as if reaching for a wallet. Vadim tensed.

“Dammit, I forgot, I’m supposed to make a call,” the assassin said to Sylvie. “I’ll just step out into the hall.”

Sylvie’s brows climbed, but she smiled. “Don’t go too far, honey.”

Vadim considered increasing the heat enough to catch clothes on fire, then decided that would indeed make a scene. No, just hot enough to burn skin.

The man hurried past him, his back arched as if to escape pain. Nodding pleasantly to Sylvie, Vadim pushed to his feet and followed.

Morgan must’ve raised the alarm—Richard, the big, bearded man who’d greeted Vadim and Emilia when they’d visited, was coming down the hall. The assassin gave him a nod of greeting—

Then reached around under his jacket and came out with a gun. It was lengthened by a silencer. With a hiss of pain, he promptly dropped it.

The same instant, Richard raised his own gun. Vadim, no more than six feet behind the assassin, knew he himself would make either a good target or a valuable hostage. His wards would prevent either one from happening.

Naturally, the assassin came around at Vadim. As he tossed another spell at him, Vadim caught a flash of a knife in the man’s hand. The assassin lunged, and his feet went out from under him. He went down hard on his back.

Richard fell on him like a breaching whale. He hit the man on the temple with the butt of his gun, then in the throat with his wrist, ending a tedious, possibly noisy struggle before it began.

“Good job,” Vadim said in an undertone.

The entire confrontation had taken place in near silence. He plucked the knife from the assassin’s fingers. It wasn’t hot—the handle must be made of carbon fiber, unaffected by his spell. He stuffed it into his pocket.

Richard only growled like the bear he resembled, kicked the gun down the hall and grabbed the limp man under the shoulders. Picking up his feet, too, to keep the noise down, Vadim helped lug him down the hall.

“Where do you want him?” Vadim asked.

“The garage, for now,” Richard said. “What do you want to do with him?”

“My men should be here soon. We’ll take care of him. I’ll leave one or two with you, in case this one,” he jerked his chin at the unconscious assassin, “has a partner.”

Richard nodded grimly, turned and opened the door to the garage with one hand, supporting his end of the burden with the other. “You knew about him?”

“I found out just in time.”

They dumped the man on the garage floor. Vadim pulled out his own gun, guarding him while Richard crossed to a workbench.

“Strange, isn’t it, how he dropped his gun,” Richard said, pulling open a drawer and digging through it. “I was worried he’d drill one of us before I could get off a shot. And the way he tripped…” Richard shook his head. “I wouldn’t’ve expected either one.”

“I’m not complaining,” Vadim said.

Richard straightened, a bundle of zip ties in one big hand. “No, me neither. But still…”

He turned his attention to binding the man’s wrists and ankles. He wasn’t gentle about it. “Look at this! His hand is all burned.” Richard tsked. “Pore widdle pussy. He shouldn’t’a brought his gun if he couldn’t hold it.”

Vadim grunted a laugh. “It makes you wonder about the quality of the help the opposition hires.”

Shaking his head in reply, Richard stripped off the assassin’s tie and gagged him with it. He pushed to his feet and scowled down at him, hands on hips.

The sound of a car, then another, came from outside. Engines fell silent, doors slammed.

Vadim extended wizard’s senses, heard Roman’s quiet voice speaking Russian, and two or three other familiar voices.

He gave a satisfied grunt. “That should be my men. Go check it out. I’ll watch him.” He toed the man on the floor.

Nodding, Richard chambered a round and went into the house.

The assassin groaned and rolled his head. Gun in hand, Vadim waited for his men, more curious to discover what Emilia had told them than who had hired the man.

That, he had a fairly good idea. Now he had only to decide what form his retribution would take.

2 comments

  1. donbay2013

    Even dreams carry warnings.Cards and personal contact are conscious paths, but Emilia’s dreams are an avenue to her talent. Will they be enough? Where will it lead and will Vadim be turned from destructive ways or will he be consumed by them? Will Emilia get trapped by her own seeings? Will she need help? Will another wizard arrive in time?

    1. Kathlena L. Contreras

      No deus ex machina here!

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