The Red King

New world order, new job, new mission.
 
As the first Justice of the Arcana Council in two hundred years, Tarot-reading Sara Wilde is tasked with taking out the most dangerous magic-wielding criminals on the planet. Her first assignment? A killer known only as the Red King, who’s systematically picking off the world’s most gifted magicians in the rollicking streets and storied canals of Venice, Italy, on the eve of Carnevale.
 
Amidst the festival’s music, masks, and brightly colored costumes, Sara must unravel the truth about a brutal murderer from Venice’s own murky past, navigate the twisting political currents of magicians who seek to rival her own Council, and keep one costume change ahead of a conjurer whose lethal spells could end Justice—permanently. Good thing the diabolically sexy and deeply powerful Magician of the Arcana Council has Sara’s back…if only he didn’t hold so much of her heart as well.
 
The canals of Venice will run with blood when you deal in The Red King. 

Read an Excerpt

Chapter one

With its endless mountain vistas, crisp, clean air, and granola grunge vibe, Boulder, Colorado was considered the happiest place in America. Not for this guy, though.

“You can’t touch me! I’m protected!”

Ricky Berrit shouted this declaration over his shoulder as he darted away from me, which didn’t speak volumes for his faith in his own inalienable rights. The dude could move, though. I gritted my teeth and bolted after him.

My lungs burned. Mad dashes up snow-covered mountain paths were yet another aspect of my job as Sara Wilde, Justice of the Arcana Council that hadn’t been fully explained to me. Granted, there’d not been a lot of time for orientation. After agreeing to search out, apprehend, and deliver unto Judgment any magic-wielding criminals who crossed my path, I’d been given a couple of fancy bracelets, a quick primer on protocol, and a folder of starter jobs. Ricky was the second of my two newbie assignments, and he was already jumping on my last nerve.

But he also bore the mark of Justice across his temple, a telltale silver slash of energy that pegged him as a psychically gifted offender in desperate need of my particular services. Whether or not he wanted them.

Ricky twisted around to face me at the end of the trail, trapped between a rock and a hard place. Over the edge of the cliff was a bunch of rocks; I was blocking his way back down the trail. I wasn’t liking his odds in either direction.

“I have rights!” Ricky protested again, his eyes jacking everywhere but me. “I want my lawyer. A cop!”

I shrugged, doing my best not to gasp as I sucked in the bitterly cold and unreasonably thin air. “Funny thing about that, Ricky. They save the cops and lawyers for people who break ordinary laws. You didn’t.”

His eyes widened slightly. I wondered how much he knew about the product he was shuttling back and forth across the Rocky Mountain west. According to his file, Ricky had mostly made his name shilling low-level weed up until a few years ago. He certainly looked the part of low-key pot dealer, with his hipster beard, fast-drying pants, and cheerful fleece over a heavy-duty flannel shirt. Unfortunately, then the good voters of Colorado had gone and made pot legal.

Not to be deterred, Ricky had quickly come up with something new and illicit to push. It was his bad luck he’d stumbled into technoceuticals, the half-pharmacological, half-arcane drugs of choice favored by folks looking for the kind of high that came with enhanced psychic powers. The arcane part of the drugs could be inorganic—crystals, metals, nanobot energy conductors, you name it—or it could be organic. Sadly, technoceuticals with organic components were where the big money was.

And the biggest money of all was currently in a new drug called Black Elixir, which I happened to know was what Ricky was packing on this beautiful Colorado morning. I’d encountered the drug’s dark signature in a few hapless victims of Ricky’s on my way to finding him but unfortunately, once Black Elixir got into someone’s bloodstream, it dissipated fast. To get a real fix on it, I needed the source material. Ricky had it.

“Do you have any clue what you’re selling these days, Ricky? Or what effects it has?” I pushed. “Those buyers back at the trailhead looked like they were coming back for their third or fourth hit. You want to know why I think that? Because no one survives the fifth one.”

“That’s a lie.” Still, Ricky’s expression changed at my words, his eyes going craftier. “What happens after the fifth hit is transcendence. Nothing more, nothing less.”

“Uh-huh.” I knew Ricky wasn’t manufacturing the drugs he pushed. He didn’t have the brains for that. Most likely, he was a low-level psychic, several miles downstream from the source of the poison he was witlessly dumping into the nervous systems of his equally witless customers. That didn’t mean he wasn’t accountable, though. “You ever see anyone hit transcendence and come back to tell the tale?”

Lots of people…” Something shifted again in Ricky’s energy, a grifter seeing an easy mark, and I got my first glimpse of the drug dealer lurking beneath all the organic deodorant. Excellent.

“Wait a minute,” he continued, as if struck by a new, startling thought. “You’re curious, aren’t you? Want to try Black Elixir out for yourself?”

“And if I did?”

“I can be generous.”

Good man, Ricky. He was making this easier all the time. “First tell me what you think it is, exactly.”

“It’s magic,” he said, stepping toward me, away from certain death over the side of the cliff. If he knew where I planned to deliver him, he probably would’ve taken his chances on the mountain. But some sort of fever had taken hold of Ricky, and his eyes were alight. “The best stuff anyone’s ever seen. And it’s not what you think. It’s not heroin or something cut into heroin. That shit’s for children. This is the real deal. The kind of juice that the shamans used back in the day.”

“Shamans.” I kept my hands loose. “Medicine men.”

Magic men, I’m telling you,” he said, sounding awestruck. “Women too. Lix is the real deal.”

“Lix?” I wrinkled my brow. “What the hell is Lix?”

His grin went lopsided. “Short for Black Elixir. I made it up myself.”

“Really.”

“You can tell your friends all about it, then you can tell them where to get it. Or, you want to work it a different way, you can be my contact, and they can only deal with you. You do that, I’ll hook you up royal.”

I paused, startled. “Are you seriously running a pyramid scheme on me right now?”

“Ground floor,” he said, taking another step closer. “Premium product, reliable delivery, best word-of-mouth advertising you’ve ever seen.”

“You can’t see word of—never mind.”

“I know what you’re thinking.”

“I seriously doubt that.”

He bobbed his head, flush with sudden confidence. “Oh, I know. Rocky Mountain High guy doesn’t know shit from the real stuff, couldn’t get his hands on anything major if he tried. But you found me, didn’t you? You knew where to look. Who told you?”

“Someone gave me your card.” I didn’t bother explaining that the card in question was a Tarot card—the Fool, as it happened.