Title: Devious Magic
Series reading order:
Witch hunters who will stop at nothing.
A deadly foe who wants to harness witches’ power.
A secret supernatural world that is in danger of revealing itself.
When the recent surge of supernatural activity in the secretive town of Wilding apparently draws the fearsome Brotherhood, Stella knows she could be risking her life to give in to their demand to return to England.
But defying them sees her world fall apart as her best friend is kidnapped. Lured home to her birthplace, Stella’s powers are tested to the limit as she battles magic and trickery at the heart of the Brotherhood’s operations. But flight across the world brings as many questions as it does answers, and Stella can never be sure who is on her side and who will betray her.
Instead, I viewed a thickset man in a black suit and a shirt so pristinely white, it was like a fresh snowfall. He slid into the booth opposite me, as though I invited him there. I frowned at him, assuming he made a mistake and waited for him to leave. He didn’t.
“Good morning, Miss Mayweather,” he said after a long pause, resting his wrists on the table and folding his hands together.
I smiled hesitantly at him, in case I knew him while I tried to place his face. It was no good. I couldn’t think where I could possibly know him. “Do we know each other?” I asked, thinking I would apologise for my ignorance later after he’d jogged my memory.
“You could say that,” he replied. Picking up the menu, he studied it for a moment, then flicked his eyes up at me. “What’s good here?”
“Everything,” I said, which was true.
He laughed, a short, sharp sound that didn’t have a lot of humour in it. “Unfortunately I’m not quite that hungry.” He signalled a waitress with a shake of the menu and she walked over quickly, notepad ready. “Coffee,” he said to her, his voice easy and melodic. “And... apple pie. Is the apple pie good, Miss Mayweather? It sounds good.”
“Sure,” I said, now completely distracted from the pancakes I’d already started demolishing. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I really can’t place you.” There was something off about him, something that made my nerves tingle. I couldn’t place him at all. His accent was English, in a very proper way that didn’t reveal his region, and that was what made him stand out the most. That, and the arrogant way he had taken over my table. This man was a long way from home and I had a bad feeling about him.
“We haven’t met formally,” the man replied, his attention on me again, coolly assessing me, but not at all annoyed by my question. “But you met some friends of mine, almost a year ago now.”
“Oh?” A year ago I’d been on the verge of leaving England, after being chased by a gang of men whom I now knew were murderous witch hunters. They were behind a string of merciless burnings across Europe. The night I left England, I had nearly fallen prey to them and it terrified me.
The man smiled; his teeth a perfect row of white, expensive, dentistry. He could have been a businessman, a lawyer, anything. I was certain I’d never met him.
“Miss Mayweather, you are of interest to my employer,” he said, “and my employer would very much like to meet you.”
“Are you offering me... a job?” I asked, my brows knitting together as I became purposefully dense.
He laughed. “No, no. My employer has, shall we say, an interest in you. He asked me to approach you, to introduce us to you. His last attempt to make contact with you was unsuccessful and he was most displeased.”
“Who is your employer?” I asked.
The man leant back in his seat while Aimee set a mug down, pouring it to the brim with coffee, then adding a plate of hot apple pie with a little flourish. The man dug his fork in and took a large bite, chewing on it. After a couple of mouthfuls, during which he made appreciative noises, he put his fork down. “First things first, let me introduce myself. My name is Mr. Jones.”
“Really?” I blurted out and he laughed, the lines around his eyes creasing. He was probably somewhere in his forties, cheeks slightly puffy, but clean-shaven with dark brown hair, cut very short. I would be hard pressed to describe him later, he was so average.
“Does it matter?”
“Yes. You know my name.”
“That I do, Miss Mayweather. That I do.” He picked up his fork again, tapping the tines on the plate. “This really is good pie. Am I putting you off your pancakes? I do apologise. Don’t let me stop you from enjoying your breakfast.”
“What’s your first name?” I asked.
He hesitated. “John.”
He smiled again. It didn’t reach his eyes, of course. They remained hard and cold, despite his easy smile. “No, I don’t believe it either, but, like I said, it hardly matters. Let’s be formal, Miss Mayweather. My employer demands formality.”
“Who is your employer?” I asked slowly, my mind racing. I narrowed it down to a couple of unpalatable options. My first thought was the Council, who had returned to my life only a few months ago. It was after I’d gotten caught up in a very strange magical case that drew a lot of witches to Wilding. The Council were the governing body of witches, a secretive faction of the population. Part organisers, part regulators, they set the rules that witches lived by, and enforced them, imposing sanctions when things went awry, or when a witch turned rogue.
The Council had been in disarray for several months when the last leader was murdered right in front of me. It was that disorganisation which left all the other witches vying for power. Council leadership would be a major coup for whoever got elected, be it legally obtained or by intimidating the competition.
My second thought was the FBI or CIA; some big organisation that might want to harness a witch’s power even if they didn’t quite believe in it. But that still didn’t explain Jones’ accent. My final guess was the most unpalatable of them all.
Mr Jones took his time eating another piece of pie before he answered. “My employer is known by many names, but I believe you know him as the head of the Brotherhood.”
Cover designer: Robin Ludwig
Editor: Teri @EditingFairy