Come away, O human child…
No matter the job, no matter the client, Tarot-reading magical artifacts hunter Sara Wilde has only one hard-and-fast rule: protect the children. But the newest strain of technoceutical drugs—specifically designed to alter psychic children’s DNA—has thrown the arcane black market into a frenzy. As mistress of the House of Swords, Sara pits the power of her worldwide criminal syndicate against insidious enemies and even more treacherous allies to combat the threat, but it’s not enough. To destroy these drugs at their source, she must break her cardinal vow and put a child at risk.
Guided by a boy altered by technoceuticals, Sara races to derail the modernization of an ancient ritual devoted to a malevolent god. Except the children aren’t her only responsibility any longer. The Magician of the Arcana Council and her own House demand her focus as the war on magic erupts violently in several hot spots around the globe.
Sara’s pretty sure things can’t get more complicated, until she discovers who is leading one of the other four fabled mortal Houses of Magic…a discovery that brings her face-to-face with the mother she’s never known.
Family skeletons just won’t stop dancing when you’re a Wilde Child.
Read an Excerpt
The austerely gorgeous nation of Iceland had about a dozen things to recommend it. The country boasted no mosquitoes, no strip clubs, no McDonald’s…and virtually no violent crime.
Then again, the night was young.
One long strip of bars on Laugavegar Street marked the capital city of Reykjavik’s sole nod to nightlife. Most of the drinking establishments tended toward hole-in-the-wall pubs and cafés versus anything remotely resembling a club. This didn’t blunt the locals’ level of enthusiasm, but it did narrow down the options of where Nikki Dawes and I would find tonight’s star attraction.
After two days of wallowing in eerily blue waters, slathered in so much thick white mud I was sure we’d sprout, we’d finally found good reason to return to dry land: Agnar Hilmarsson, the man about to lead us straight to a million-dollar prize.
First, however, we had to get close to the guy.
“We so need to have an op when you’re not dressed like a homeless person.”
The voice that carried over the hustle and thrum of the 2:00 a.m. crowd was no less dubious than it had been three hours ago, when we’d started tracking our pigeon at the city’s most famous luxury spa.
I glanced down at my outfit—dull black jeans, worn black hoodie, scuffed black boots. “It doesn’t matter what I’m wearing. I’m just here for backup. You’re who he’s interested in.”
“I think you’re wrong about that,” said Nikki, pursing her heavily lacquered lips. “Pretty sure ol’ Agnar colors inside the lines.”
“Not according to our intel, he doesn’t.”
I surveyed her with a critical gaze, but if there was one thing about Nikki I never needed to worry about, it was her sense of style. Six foot four in stockinged feet, she got an additional four inches from her black platform-heeled shit kickers. The boots contrasted violently with her flared white miniskirt and petal-pink angora sweater. Nights were cold in Reykjavik, after all, even in early September. Nikki’s icy blonde hair tumbled over her shoulders in ringlets that would make Godiva envious, and her lips, eyelids, and fingernails were painted shell pink to match the lavish pearl choker stretched around her throat.
“Even if he does, in that outfit, you’d make a man change his mind,” I said.
She grinned, but her eyes were flat and serious. Nikki Dawes was more than my best friend, more even than the newest hired gun for the House of Swords, a mercenary position known as an Ace. At one time, she’d been a cop covering Chicago’s deadliest beat. She hadn’t lost those instincts.
“Place is crawling with security, dollface. Our intel didn’t mention that.”
“Yeah.” It wasn’t for lack of the quality of our resources. One of the perks of the international syndicate I now ran was its enviable surveillance capabilities. In fact, it was in my role as head of the House of Swords that word of this artifact hunt had come across the wires…only, for once, nobody’d been looking to hire me. I must be losing my cachet.
“He’s arrived.” Nikki’s words were low, tight. “On the phone by the Rolls.”
Agnar Hilmarsson was the head flunky of Thor Bjornsson, Iceland’s richest man and owner of the artifacts we were currently targeting. Thor had, of course, caught wind of the fact that the items had soared to the top of the Artifacts Most Wanted list, the call for the artifacts going out over a secure cell channel more popular among the players of the arcane black market than QVC. Agnar’s arrival here in Reykjavik was undoubtedly the result of that call.
Technically, Thor’s minion had one job to do in Iceland: recover the coveted artifacts the whole world was buzzing about and whisk them away to the family’s main holding. But this was his home territory, far away from the eyes of his overseers in Europe. And, according to my crack research team, he had a weakness for vodka, oxygen bars, and unique dance partners.
Nikki was definitely unique.
“How do I look?” she asked now, patting down her skirt with one broad hand, her nails glittering in the streetlight.
“He saw you today with mud on your face, and he about stroked out. Trust me, he’s not going to know what hit him.”
He wouldn’t either. In more ways than one.
We had two options to gather the information we needed—Nikki could sweep Agnar off his feet and he could take her back to his fortress with me following behind, or she could work her Connected mojo on him in plain view of his security detail. God knew there were enough of his bruisers in the bar to stage their own thug convention.
We’d agreed on option B, despite Nikki being amused enough by Agnar’s instant attraction to consider giving him more than just an eyeful. But safety first.
“Go on inside,” I said. “I’ll head in through the back.”
She gave me one last disappointed glance. “You know, you could at least have made the attempt to look hot. It wouldn’t have killed you to lose the hoodie for one freaking night.”
“No one’s going to be looking at me.” I gave her a push. “Go.”
“I’m going, I’m going.”
Nikki turned on one towering thick rubber heel, then strolled with eye-popping swagger to the front of the line. It parted like the Red Sea, the bouncer at the door letting her in with an easy nod. We’d paid him well to do so, but it was an effective bit of business. Across the street, standing next to his double-parked limo, Agnar pocketed his phone and watched Nikki with unmasked interest. As his gaze swept over her statuesque form, his lips actually parted.
The House of Swords’ data geeks might not have pegged all of ol’ Agnar’s on-site security, but they’d definitely gotten the man’s kink down.
That said, it hadn’t been the eggheads who’d first caught wind of this particular buy. That had come through Nigel Friedman, the chief Ace of the House of Swords and a finder himself, his ear ever to the deepest, darkest ruts of the arcane black market.
A buyer who preferred to remain nameless but who’d been verified through all the usual channels wanted the Gods’ Nails, a particularly mysterious Norse treasure. Thor Bjornsson, apparent owner of said artifacts, hadn’t been interested in selling. Not to be diverted, the buyer announced he wanted the nails no matter how he got them. He’d ratcheted up the finder’s fee on the item, and every international hunter with a need for cash—which was to say, all of them—now had the job on their radar screens.
Ordinarily, Nigel wouldn’t have paid much attention to any of this—jobs went up and came down all the time. According to the rumors behind the rumors, however, the artifact was a binding tool, able to freeze anyone in their tracks…even the most powerful Connecteds. Since I happened to be a Connected with a not-insubstantial skill set, color me interested.
It’d taken some doing to take on the job myself, of course. My years as an artifact finder were, technically, behind me. I had a House to run and easily a dozen finders at my fingertips who could do my wetwork.
But some habits were proving exceptionally hard to break.
Besides, I’d never been to Iceland. A quick trip to the island sounded like just the thing to avoid all the administrative duties lingering after the untimely death of my predecessor, Annika Soo.
Nigel hadn’t been a fan of me getting involved personally. He’d urged me to throw the entire weight of the House of Swords at the problem, including all our bristly bits.
I, however, wasn’t keen on putting my minions at risk. I’d barely gotten them unwrapped. More importantly, the vast resources of my international syndicate were spread out over multiple continents, about to be deployed on a much bigger cause—protecting the most innocent members of the psychic community. I’d need time to figure out how to use those resources effectively, and time was in short supply on this job.
It wasn’t like I was going alone anyway. Nikki Dawes was a more than capable wingman.
The artifacts on this job were also proving satisfyingly mysterious. All we knew about them was that they were an ancient Viking relic from the era of Thorolf Most-Beard, one of Iceland’s founding fathers. But were the Gods’ Nails actually nails? Knives? Bones? No one seemed to know. And Thor Bjornsson most definitely wasn’t talking.
Fortunately, he didn’t have to. His agent would do just as well.
Per the plan, I skated into the back of the bar, peeling off my hoodie to reveal the club’s black logoed T-shirt. I grabbed a tray and loaded it with several complimentary drinks the bartender had just queued up, an apparent ploy to get the crowd to loosen up their wallets. I slipped into the crowd.
It wasn’t difficult to find Agnar. The tall, blond, ascetically thin aristocrat had a tight knot of security that circled him at five different points, though they seemed to pay no attention to their counterparts already set up at all exits of the bar, near the restrooms, at both ends of the counter, and spread throughout the room. Thor should be paying the club extra for rental space.
I buzzed through the crowd, my tray steadily growing lighter. Every time I glanced over to Nikki, she seemed pulled further into Agnar’s net, the poor sot apparently not realizing he was the one being hunted. His security detail, as fierce as they were, had no problem letting the man sidle up to Nikki. Once she got close enough to touch the man, he was hers. A few random references to generic nails, and Agnar’s mind would undoubtedly stray to the Gods’ Nails he’d been sent to Iceland to retrieve. After that…
“Þjónustustúlka?” The word barely penetrated my ears, but it was one of the few Icelandic terms I’d forced myself to learn, given the givens. It meant “waitress,” and I swiveled around with a broad smile on my face, planning to nod vigorously and move off as soon as possible.
Not because I couldn’t actually speak Icelandic either. I didn’t have to—another waitress had heard the request of the tall, slender man as pale as a ghost, his clipped Nordic accent right at home in the Viking capital of the North Atlantic.
However, what stopped me was…I knew the speaker. Well. He’d been one of my top competitors during the bad old days when I was more mercenary than management, and he hated my guts with impressive enthusiasm. The fact that I’d snaked more than my share of artifacts out of his grasp had nothing to do with that, of course. But if he was in the hunt for the Gods’ Nails…