Call of the Wilde

Hello darkness, my old friend…

Still recovering from an explosive family get-together, Tarot-reading mistress of the House of Swords Sara Wilde isn’t ready to return to the war on magic. Then the Magician of the Arcana Council uses her to summon an ancient Greek deity for his own devious purposes, and Sara’s suddenly up to her elbows in oversized egos and millennia-old conflicts. Conflicts that imperil the delicate balance of power between the most formidable mortals on earth and the gods who wait beyond the veil.

To keep both gods and monsters where they belong, Sara is forced to put out the first call to arms of the four Houses of Magic since the fall of Atlantis. Unfortunately, that call brings ancient enemies into the open and reveals truths about the Council–and the Magician himself–she would have preferred not to know. Worse, a brutal resurgence of violence rocks the Las Vegas Connected community and has Sara questioning everything she knows about her closest allies, while a nagging interest from Interpol evolves into a far more insidious threat. Sara’s done her best to become a team player, but with friends like these…

Better pray it’s a wrong number when you get the Call of the Wilde.


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Chapter one

Nothing ruins an idyllic, sun-swept beach like a bunch of cultists gearing up for a sacrifice.

“If you could wipe that scowl off your face, Miss Wilde, you might learn something.”

I ignored the drawled reprimand and continued to scowl. Some skills are hard-won, and I’m a big believer in perfecting my craft.

In truth, I had to give the gathered assembly props for method acting: all of them, men and women alike, wore pristine white robes, their hair caught loosely by golden clips at their ears, then left to flow in the wind. A few carried the big, boring slab of wood on their shoulders like it really was the queen of the Greek gods, Hera herself, and the rest sang something inscrutable as they dragged thin willowy branches down toward the water. Several of them also carried little spongey-looking desserts on wooden platters, and were even now laying the offerings out in a wide circle on the rocky beach. Making this ritual officially a cakery of crazy.

As I watched the throng of thirty or forty Hera freaks do their thing, however, I kept up my own muttered conversation. “A trip to Samos, gorgeous Greek isle, home of stunning beaches and turquoise waters, he says. A chance to get some sun, relax, heal. And, just as I’m warming up to the idea, he mentions there’s a catch. Because there’s always a catch, right? There has to be a catch.”

“It does make it easier to convince you to go anywhere with me,” came the mild response, once more spoken in the honeyed, aristocratic tones that never failed to get under my skin. This time, though, those tones went a little deeper. Okay, a lot deeper. Because if I was honest with myself, he was right. I did need a job to justify spending more than fifteen seconds in the presence of Armaeus Bertrand, Magician of the Arcana Council. A job and usually a payoff besides. And what did that say about me?

Ignoring that inconvenient question, I squinted at the true believers as they laid down the long, featureless board. “Seriously, that wooden plank is kind of creepy. Couldn’t they have at least drawn a picture of the goddess on it or something? Right now, they look like they’re worshipping Home Depot.”

The Magician didn’t seem to mind the redirection. “The earliest followers of Hera set great store by the sacred wooden effigy brought to them from Argos. Despite the cost and danger, it was transported to Samos to venerate the birthplace of the goddess.”

“Uh-huh. More likely, the sailors lost the original statue and pulled up one of the floorboards of the ship to replace it.” I hitched my backpack higher up on my shoulder. The pack contained the change of clothes Armaeus had directed me to bring, including a dress, which I never ever wore, but, whatever. If I had to cosplay a cultist to get today’s job done, then okay, fine.

We were two of only a handful of observers for this dawn celebration, but the Hera acolytes didn’t seem bothered by their ritual’s lack of popularity. A quick scan allowed me to take in the rest of the site. We were a little ways up the coast from the closest building, affording everyone involved some measure of privacy in the early morning light. Here the beach was quite rocky, a swath of small and medium-sized pebbles terminating in thick stands of tall grass that sprouted up from marshy ground. About thirty feet away, that same grass nearly choked the remnants of a meandering stream that still attempted to empty itself into the Aegean. The stream was bordered by squat, flowering trees.

I returned my gaze to the knot of people on the beach. “And you think we’ll find our mark here, out in the open like this.”

He nodded. “Samos has a way of drawing to it all that is ancient and powerful.”

“No wonder you like it here.”

At that, Armaeus chuckled with such unexpected warmth, I shot him a startled glance. And as it always did, the sheer impact of his presence nearly rocked me back on my heels.

There were powerful people in the world who had not an ounce of magical ability, bona fide titans who could silence a room simply by entering it. Then there were the members of the Connected community, a tiny minority of them so highly skilled in leveraging their psychic abilities that they could be considered gods. And then there was Armaeus Bertrand, who blew both categories out of the water.

Tall, lean, and improbably strong, the Magician wore his demigodhood like a mantle of gold. Gold was the operative word when it came to Armaeus, actually. His eyes were gilded with the color, though they could darken to almost black when he wielded his power, and his skin looked like it was burnished by the sun. The son of a French soldier of the Crusades and an Egyptian priestess, the Magician’s features were almost heartbreakingly beautiful, with high, winged brows, sensual lips, and a stern jawline.

He stood straight and resolute, his rich black hair lifting in the morning breeze, only his gaze wasn’t fixed on me but on something at the edge of the group. Something or, more likely, someone.

Which meant I needed to get back to the program as well. “Can you tell me who it is we’re trying to lock down, here, specifically? Because my reading wasn’t real clear. Other than we’re hunting for a woman.”

Armaeus arched one of those high, winged brows. “You cast a reading for this search?”

“Uh, yeah, I usually do,” I said, surprised he would ask. “You know that.”

His answering smile was soft, even a little rueful. “You forget, Miss Wilde, I do not often have the luxury of sharing your adventures with you. Only of hearing of them when you’ve returned.”

“Oh. Well. So anyway, I pulled cards,” I said, the flush creeping up my cheeks having nothing to do with my unreasonable awkwardness around the Magician and everything to do with the hot Aegean sun. “Three of them. Empress, Ace of Swords, Two of Cups. I took that to mean that we were looking for a woman, and we’d find her near a column. Like oh, I don’t know, that thing.” I pointed to the single remaining column far off into the distance, in the heart of the Heraion ruins. The column was a good thirteen meters high, but according to the brochures I’d snagged at the visitor center, it was only half its original height.

“And the Two of Cups?”

“Well, I was hoping I wasn’t going to be scoping out your next girlfriend.” I side-eyed him. “I’m not, am I?”

To my surprise, an unfamiliar skiff of emotion passed over Armaeus’s face at my teasing words, gone too quickly for me to interpret. “I suspect that card is one of negotiation,” he said, his voice perfectly neutral.

“Fair enough.” I turned to the group of cultists again, trying to decide which toga was our target. There was one figure at the far edge that kept catching my eye, wearing a robe of sky blue, not white…but oddly, I was having a hard time getting a fix on her. She kept sort of shifting in and out of view. Or maybe it was some weird trick of the sunlight. “So once we connect with her, you’re going to have to negotiate to get what you want.”

“Not me.” Armaeus shook his head. “You.”

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