Excerpt – The Blood Alchemist

Warning!  The stories in my Final Formula Series are intended to be read in order.  Reading them out of order will spoil the fun of an earlier tale.  For blurbs, excerpts, and retailer links on the previous books in the series, just click on my BOOKS tab above.


the-blood-alchemist1600x1000Chapter 1

To bottle magic, it takes more than just a knowledge of alchemy and an understanding of how various ingredients interact. It takes a certain mindset. The alchemist must have the confidence—some say, the arrogance—to do the impossible.

As a master alchemist, I never lacked confidence. It was a skill that had taken me far in my profession and one that had gotten me into a lot of trouble. I’d done some things I wasn’t proud of. But I was trying to put that behind me. Now I would make up for my wrongs and in the process, help alchemy attain the respect it deserved.

At least, that was the plan. It seemed the road to redemption wound through some dark neighborhoods.

I tucked the Ziploc bag in my pocket and started across the cemetery. The December wind had a bite that promised snow, but not today. The clouds had broken, and patchy sunshine peeked through, the soft light illuminating random headstones. The place seemed peaceful, at rest. The last of the fall leaves crunched beneath my feet as I left the road and cut across the graves to the mausoleum.

The rusted metal door made no sound when I pulled it open and tugged it closed behind me. Decayed leaves and damp earth scented the air. The smell always reminded me of the first night Rowan and I visited this place. The night I saved Rowan from a lich king and his zombie dogs. The same night Rowan told me he cared for me. But that was the past.

Six weeks ago, I learned that I’d been responsible for Era’s abduction and mental damage. Era was Rowan’s fellow Element, and a daughter to him in every way that mattered. Rowan had given me a stay of execution to heal her. I’d done as he asked, but I hadn’t seen him since

I shrugged off the melancholy and crossed to the open sarcophagus in the center of the room. I took out the tiny flashlight I kept inside my jacket pocket and clicked it on. The beam of light fell across the stone lid leaning against the side of the sarcophagus, highlighting the name carved in the surface. Ian Mallory. Rowan and I had missed that detail the night we first entered the mausoleum, but it hadn’t taken us long to figure out who still occupied this tomb.

I shined my light inside the sarcophagus, illuminating the stairs to the crypt below. It was an ingenious setup. When the sarcophagus lid was closed, no one knew this place was here.

The first room at the bottom of the stairs was more library than tomb, the walls lined with books—most of them first editions from centuries past. The dark red area rug muffled my footfalls until I reached the corridor that connected this chamber to the next. Stopping just inside the door, I surveyed the ancient alchemy lab that had so impressed me the first night I saw it. The tables now sat empty, my new assistant packing up the last of the equipment. A lit candle in an old-fashioned metal holder sat on the table next to him; the sulfur scent of a recently lit match still hung in the air. He hadn’t been here long.

“Did you get it?” he asked without looking up.

I pulled the Ziploc bag from my pocket, displaying the ivy I’d plucked from a weathered headstone. “It was right where you said it would be.”

“Of course.” He lifted his head. “Did you really doubt me?” His bright blue eyes met mine, and his mouth quirked upward, dimpling his cheeks.

I released a sigh and slipped the Ziploc into the box containing the rest of the ingredients he’d kept stored in this crypt. I didn’t feel any better about this arrangement than I had six weeks ago when I dared to brave this place again to make Ian Mallory an offer: his lab in exchange for a vial of the Final Formula, the Elixir of Life. I’d been in desperate need of a lab, and Ian had one.

Ian tucked a strand of shoulder-length, golden hair behind one ear. “I have learned a few things about the discipline of alchemy over the years.” He flashed me another grin. To look at him now, no one would guess that he’d been dead for decades.

I turned to the shelves that had contained his alchemy ingredients, making sure we’d taken everything. Well, everything except the jars he’d used to make his liches. A lich was an animated corpse with its consciousness still intact, like Ian, but having been a necromancer in life, he was also something more. Among his kind, Ian was known as a lich king: an undead necromancer with the ability to make other liches. The jars contained beating human hearts. If I had needed an example of Ian’s true power, that covered it.

Then too, I’d already seen Ian in action that first night Rowan and I entered the sarcophagus. As a rotting corpse in decaying robes, Ian had been a terrifying sight. He’d also been a smartass even then.

“So, if the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” I said, “then the road to redemption is paved with…smart-mouthed necromancers?”

“Pondering the deep questions of the universe, I see.”

“Or is this just my personal penance?”

“You’re in a mood.”

“Sorry. We ready?” I turned back to the table and picked up the box of ingredients.

In answer, he lifted the heavier crate of equipment. A whisper of hot air brushed my skin and a dark portal opened beside him.

“Come.” He stepped into the opening he’d created and I followed.

It had shocked me to learn that Ian could travel to the same dimension James could. At first, I thought it an ability of the dead, but Ian had quickly set me straight, claiming it was a skill belonging to only the most powerful necromancers. Being part hellhound had given James the same ability, but I didn’t talk about James with Ian. I didn’t trust Ian that much.

The portal winked closed behind us and we stood in darkness, lit by only a dim red glow that came from everywhere and nowhere. I assumed this was the same place James visited. It looked the same. The only thing missing was Gavin, James’s predecessor and fellow grim. Not that I missed Gavin’s presence.

A howl rose from the darkness and I fumbled the box, almost dropping it. Maybe Gavin would be making an appearance after all. “What’s that?” I whispered.

“Hellhound. This is no place for the living.”

A doorway of light opened before us, and I squinted in the brightness. Our new lab lay on the other side. I stepped through and Ian followed. We’d been here almost a month, but I hadn’t wanted to move the rest of the equipment over until I was sure we were staying. Yesterday, I’d signed a six-month lease on the building.

Ian set the crate on one of the stainless steel counters and began rooting through its contents. The building had once been an Italian restaurant. With lots of counter space and an industrial-sized hood over the gas range, the kitchen made a good lab. Certainly a step up from the little room in Ian’s crypt. Even the faint odor of garlic was an improvement.

I traded my jacket for a lab coat.

“Here it is.” Ian lifted a large syringe from the crate. Made of glass and steel, the old-fashioned instrument had a needle thick enough to use as a kabob skewer. I shivered, wondering what applications he’d used it for in the past.

“Now we can get to work.” Ian turned to another counter, this one occupied by a medium-sized, mixed-breed dog. Ian had found the animal in a nearby alley, dead.

Abruptly, the dog rolled to its stomach and rose to its feet.

I took a step back.

“Really, Addie.” Ian tsked. “Do you fear I’ll sic him on you or are you squeamish?”

I tore my attention away from the dog to give my assistant a frown. Eyes that were normally bright blue now resembled the color of faded denim.

“I don’t like dead things,” I said.

A pale brow rose over those faded eyes.

“I haven’t made up my mind about you,” I added.

“Ah, well, nice of you to keep an open mind.” Those eyes dropped to the syringe, and he took a few moments to tighten the needle.

I’d told the truth. I still didn’t know what to make of Ian, even after working with him for almost six weeks. Technically, his flesh was as dead as the canine now standing before us, but unlike the dog, Ian’s soul still resided within. When I first met him, he’d been a desiccated cadaver of decaying flesh and yellowed bone, but I had changed that when I gave him the Final Formula.

The Final Formula had powerful regenerative properties. For the dead, it wouldn’t restore life, but it would return the body to its prime form, if not function. This new body only gave the appearance of life. The organs, though not functional, did regenerate. This was a critical benefit for Ian. The necromancer who’d made Ian a lich had taken his heart, giving him the power to imprison Ian in his tomb. Now, with his body once again whole, Ian was free to leave, though for now, he seemed content to tag along with me.

“You really found this animal dead in the alley?” I asked.

Ian looked up from the syringe to give me a flat stare. “I didn’t kill the dog.”

I hoped he was telling the truth.

He returned to the animal. “I think it would bother you less if it were human.”

“Probably. I like dogs.”

Ian smiled. With those blue eyes and waves of golden hair, he was a very handsome man. Or he had been. Now his lightly tanned skin was ice cold. Without a beating heart, no blood flowed in his veins, and without his blood, I couldn’t capture the essence of his power. I had to take a different approach.

“You’re sure this will work?” I asked.

“Not as well as if you had a living, breathing necromancer whose blood we could use.” Ian sunk the syringe into the side of the dog’s neck. The animal didn’t even flicker a glazed-over eye. “But I have imbued its blood with my power. And my power is no small thing.”

“Unlike your humility.” I watched the syringe fill with bright red blood. The animal hadn’t been dead long.

Ian withdrew the syringe and offered it to me. “You’ll find that more than sufficient.”

The dog slumped to the counter, and Ian’s eyes immediately returned to their former vibrant blue. He’d once told me that a way to gauge a necro’s power was to watch how quickly his eyes returned to their natural color. Of course, that information came from Ian himself. I’d have to ask another necromancer sometime. Unfortunately, the only ones I knew probably wanted to make my corpse their personal plaything.

I returned to my counter and found a folded newspaper lying beside the assembled equipment. “What’s this? Another alley find?”

“Yes. It’s yesterday’s edition, but I thought you might find it interesting.”

The headline at the top of the page snagged my attention. Magic in Medicine: the Debate Continues. Beneath it, a photo of the University Hospital Burn Center showed a collection of protestors outside the front door. They held up signs that read Keep Witchcraft Out of Medicine, and something about Satan’s Mistress.

“I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure I never went out with Satan.”

Ian grunted. “Maybe that was before your Grand Master wiped your memory.”

Thanks, Ian. It was hard to move beyond my past when he kept reminding me of it. I frowned at his back as he walked over to the opposite bench and his half-assembled apparatus.

I turned my attention back to the article. Last week, the media had learned about the alchemically enhanced salve the Burn Center was using. At first, I’d been thrilled. Here was a chance to redeem alchemy—and me. The burn salve was mine, and at the moment, my sole regular source of income. My fledging alchemy shop had yet to draw much attention, but considering the current mindset, perhaps that was a good thing.

I skimmed the article and found it a rehash of a lot of things I’d read before. Should magical cures be administered without a patient’s consent? Were such cures truly safe? Should alchemists fall under the same regulations as pharmacists? And a new one: should alchemical formulas require FDA approval?

“That wouldn’t work,” I muttered.

“What’s that?” Ian didn’t look up from assembling a ring stand.

“FDA approval. I’m constantly refining my formulas.”


It still amazed me how little Ian knew about the modern world around him. I gave him a quick explanation.

“You have presented the world with some interesting questions,” he said when I finished.

I dropped the paper on the countertop. My eyes caught on another headline further down the page: Third Victim Raises Concerns about Serial Killer. Nice. My story got better page placement than an article about a serial killer.

I sighed. “This debate about alchemy in medicine; it’s not going to blow over, is it?”

Ian glanced over his shoulder at me. “If the government can regulate it and make money?”

He had a point. I picked up the syringe of dog blood. Another sigh escaped before I could help myself. Blood. It seemed I always came back to blood alchemy. I could blame my training. I was an Alchemica alchemist after all, but it felt deeper than that, instinctive.

I glanced over at Ian. He had his ring stand and burner set up and was currently eyeing a four-ounce jar of liquid. Something solid floated in the liquid. From where I stood, it looked like a finger. Like me, Ian was a blood alchemist. Unlike me, he had no problem with the label.

I set down the syringe of dog blood. If I was going to change, give up my dark ways, I should do it now.

I frowned at the thick red liquid. But I really needed some necromancer essence if I was going to design a potion to save James from necromantic possession. Being dead, James was just as open to necro control as the dog Ian had just animated.

The bell on the front door jingled, and I glanced toward the curtain separating the lab from the store portion of the shop. A customer? My mood swung in the opposite direction. A customer was a rare and wondrous thing, often presenting me with some puzzle to figure out. And even if it was just a rudimentary potion he or she needed, it was still an opportunity to illustrate the usefulness of alchemy.

I pushed through the curtain and took two steps into the room. The smile died on my lips.

Rowan, Lord of Flames, leader of the magical community, and my former lover, stood at the counter.

I stopped, not sure what to make of his presence here—or how he’d even found me. He’s made no effort to contact me since the day I’d healed Era.

“Are you busy?” His gray eyes skimmed over me, no doubt taking in my lab coat.

“Not at the moment.” My level tone surprised me. I swallowed and forced myself to start walking to the counter. I eyed him as I approached. He didn’t look angry; he looked…tired. Was it just my imagination or did he look even more run down than the last time I’d seen him?

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I need your help with something.” He pulled out his phone and turned his attention to the screen. For a moment, I thought he’d gotten a text, then he offered me the phone.

Curious, I took the device, rotating it so I could see the picture. I gasped. It was a photo of a man lying face down, a glossy pool of dark red beneath his prone form. “Who—”

“I doubt you know him. Look at the floor beside his hip.”

I zoomed the photo and discovered four symbols written in blood. “The alchemical symbols for the four elements.”

“Go to the next picture.”

I did as told—with some trepidation. This one showed a woman slumped over in a recliner. I didn’t need Rowan to direct me to the message written in blood. It was smeared across the wall beside her: alchemy kills.

“What the hell?”

“There’s one more photo,” Rowan said.

I scrolled to the next one. Another man lay on a tiled floor, his back to the camera. The only blood I saw had been smeared across the tiles behind him: need a hint?

“I don’t understand.” I handed Rowan the phone.

“Donovan just called. There’s been another shooting.” A muscle ticked in Rowan’s jaw. “It’s the fourth magical death in the last three weeks.”

“The suspected serial killer,” I said, remembering the article in the paper.

“He’s targeting my people.”

I took a breath. “And what do you need from me?”

Rowan tapped the screen on his phone then turned it to face me. Donovan’s text included a photo. Smeared across what looked to be a coffee table were the words: ask her.

I stared at Rowan for one long moment, trying to understand why he was showing me this. So some nut was shooting the magical and smearing alchemical symbols in their blood. What did that have to do with me, unless—

I forced myself to speak. “You think I’m involved?” My stomach rolled over. Like he needed another reason to hate me.

He frowned and pocketed the phone. “No. I want you to come to the crime scene.”

“Why? I don’t know what any of this means.” Nor would I do well with a gory murder scene. Hell, I’d probably pass out.

“You won’t come?” The muscle in his jaw ticked again.

I couldn’t let him down. “Let me get my jacket.” At his nod, I ducked back through the curtain.

“Interesting development,” Ian muttered when I stepped into the room.

“Didn’t your mother teach you not to eavesdrop?” I kept my voice low. “And get rid of that.” I waved a hand at the dead animal. Was it my imagination, or had the room begun to smell of wet dog? I went to get my jacket from the coat rack by the back door.

“The blood will lose its potency,” he replied. “Shall I purify it for you?”

“Sure.” It was handy to have another alchemist around. When I got called away, he could finish whatever we had brewing. And he was more than talented enough to handle it. His technique might differ from mine, but he would’ve made Master if he’d been trained at the Alchemica.

I picked up the small shoulder bag that held my vials. I hadn’t a clue what I’d need, but something inside might prove useful.

“And start another batch of burn salve,” I told him. “I’ll need to deliver more tomorrow.”

“Yes, Mistress.” He gave me an elegant bow, though the mocking twist of his lips made it clear that I wasn’t his master.

I rolled my eyes and pushed through the curtain.


The shop was empty.

I snatched up the keys from behind the counter and hurried to the front door. Flicking off the lights, I turned the sign to closed and stepped outside. I could have left Ian in charge of the shop, but I’d rather Rowan not know about him. He wouldn’t be thrilled to learn that I was working with a necromancer—much less the one that had tried to kill him.

Rowan’s black Camaro—complete with the flames on the hood and front fenders—sat at the curb. The man himself leaned against the rear quarter panel, arms crossed.

I locked the door and hurried over to where he waited. “Here.” I offered him my bag as I drew even with him.

Dark brows rose in question.

“My vials,” I explained. When we first met, he’d refused to return my vials until he trusted me. I figured the events of last fall had negated that trust.

“Keep it.” He stepped off the curb and circled the back of the car to the driver’s side.

I didn’t know what to make of that. Did he trust me to keep my vials or…what?

“Get in,” he said over the roof, then followed his own advice.

I realized I was standing in the middle of the sidewalk staring at him. I gave myself a mental shake and hurried to climb in the front passenger seat. He started the engine and the stereo came on. It was one of the CDs I’d discovered in his console the first time I’d ridden in this car.

“Seat belt,” he said without looking at me.

Overcome with nostalgia, I complied. The faint scent of his cologne flavored the small space, reminding me of more than my first ride in this car. I gripped the bag in my lap as he pulled away from the curb.


I expected Rowan to take me to some seedy apartment in a rough part of town, but after a twenty-minute ride in awkward silence, he parked at the curb in a nice-looking suburb. The driveway held several cars, and I recognized Donovan’s big green Suburban among them.

Rowan got out of the car and started for the well-lit house without waiting for me. I was half tempted to just sit still and see if he noticed, but that wouldn’t answer my questions. I gritted my teeth and climbed out. Lengthening my stride, I was only a few paces behind him by the time we entered the house.

My anger evaporated when I got a good look at the living room. A man lay on the threshold to the kitchen, a smear of blood marring the wall to the right of the doorway. By the angle of the smear, I suspected the victim had fallen against the wall before sliding to the floor.

Several people milled around, but they immediately joined Rowan as soon as he entered the room. Donovan wasn’t one of them. Was he in another part of the house? And where were the police? Then, too, if this was a magical matter, maybe Rowan was enough.

I glanced at the coffee table and the bloody message smeared across the top. It was the same one Donovan had photographed, but seeing it in person made it more…real.

I hung back, not sure what Rowan expected me to do. Nobody had much to offer him. One lady was a concerned neighbor who heard the gun shot. Another, a retired police officer with a few observations on point of entry and position of the body. The third, a lady who possessed a minor psychic ability.

“Maybe you should call Marian,” she told Rowan after admitting that she couldn’t find anything.

“I’m not subjecting a child to this,” Rowan said.

Marian might be a powerful seeress, but she was also a precocious eight-year-old in pigtails. I had to agree with Rowan on this one, but I held my tongue and just listened. The conversation drifted to the other murders, and I realized that all the people in the room were magical—even the neighbor. Unfortunately, none of them had any idea why this man had been killed.

I noticed something on the floor near the couch and moved closer to investigate. It turned out to be the TV remote. I leaned closer, noting that the battery compartment had popped open, but hadn’t spilled its contents. The remote hadn’t fallen far.

“Addie, don’t touch anything,” Rowan called.

Did he think me an idiot? “I know,” I answered without looking up. My attention moved to the couch, noting the splatter of red on the beige fabric.

“Really, Rowan,” a female voice said. “If you thought that little of her intellect, she wouldn’t be here.”

I turned to discover a familiar woman standing at Rowan’s side. She gave me a smile, or tried to. I still didn’t know if it had been an injury or birth defect that had given her features an uneven look.

“Hey, Lydia.” I returned her smile, not yet certain if she approved of my presence here. I hadn’t learned to read her expression, and her words could have been sarcasm.

She crossed the distance between us. “Addie. It’s so good to see you.” She pulled me into a hug. Not sarcasm then.

“Yes. Same to you.” I returned the hug, the gesture awkward. I wasn’t the sort to hug unless I knew a person well, but Lydia didn’t seem to mind.

She released me and continued to smile. “I’m glad Rowan called you in. We’ve really been up against it on this one.”

I glanced at Rowan, but he’d already returned to his conversation with the others. Hadn’t he told Lydia what I’d done to Era?

“Has Rowan brought you up to speed about the messages?”

“He showed me some photos.” I didn’t mention that he’d just dropped them in my hand with no warning. “Then this.” I gestured at the coffee table.

Ask her,” Lydia read the words aloud.

“You think it refers to me?”

“Perhaps the killer knows that Rowan claimed you.”

“But I refused to sign the PIA’s forms.”

Rowan had wanted to register me with the Paranormal Investigation Agency. I would have been declared magical, at least as far as the PIA was concerned, and I would have fallen under New Magic’s jurisdiction. Rowan’s.

“PIA registration is for the suits in Washington. I’m talking about the magical world. Rowan claimed you.”

“How? Did he send out a memo?”

Her uneven smile made another appearance, but she didn’t answer my question. Instead, she turned toward the kitchen and the body in the doorway, her expression sobering. “Let’s see what we can learn before he has to call the PIA.”

Of course. If it was a magical matter, the PIA would be called, not the police. I followed Lydia to the body. A smear of blood marred the linoleum near his right arm, but I saw no evidence of a greater injury.

“What are we looking for?” I asked.

“Clues to how he died.” Lydia pulled on a set of latex gloves from her pocket and snapped them on. “All the other victims have been shot.” She squatted beside the body.

“I assume you have the bullets.”

“Ballistic forensics suggest three different weapons, but all the same caliber.” Lydia lifted the victim’s arm, revealing a small bloodstain beneath. She pushed up his sleeve to the meaty part of his forearm and the bullet hole a few inches below the elbow joint.

I glanced at Rowan, but he didn’t seem to care that she was disturbing the crime scene—or maybe that was why she was here. I really had no clue how this type of situation played out in the magical world.

“Entry wound,” she said, then rotated the arm to reveal a larger hole. “Exit wound.”

“How would that kill him?”

“None of the wounds on the other victims should have been fatal.” She gently returned the arm to the floor.

“Something magical?”

“It’s a strong possibility.” She continued to examine the body. “I wondered if they’d been poisoned, then shot to confuse the investigators, but we’ve found no indicators in the blood samples.”


“My colleagues at the Institute of Magical Research.” She looked up. “You still haven’t come for a visit. I meant what I said before: you really could teach us so much.”

“I’m not magical.”

She gave me another of those lopsided, mysterious smiles and returned to her examination.

With nothing helpful to offer, I looked around the living room. My attention settled on the remote and the bloodstained couch. The victim had been sitting when shot and must have run for the kitchen and perhaps a back door in an effort to escape. I backed away, trying to imagine the events. Considering the angle of the spray of blood on the couch, the gunman had stood near the front door or perhaps the landing on the stairs. That realization gave me an uneasy feeling. Had he been hiding on the second floor, waiting for the victim to come home?

Considering the possibilities, I climbed the four steps to the landing and surveyed the room. A large potted plant stood in the corner just past the end of the couch.

“Addie?” Rowan turned toward me. “What is it?”

I didn’t answer. Instead, I hurried back down the steps and walked straight across the room to the potted plant. Pulling the leafy branches aside, I found what I expected: a bullet hole in the sheet rock.

“It was premeditated,” I said. “The shooter was upstairs, waiting for the victim to arrive home.”

Lydia joined me. “Why do you think that?”

“Judging by the bloodstain on the couch and the dropped remote, the victim was on the couch, watching TV when he was shot. From the landing—” I turned to point and froze. Donovan and James stood just inside the front door. James wore only a pair of sweatpants. His lack of clothing and tousled black hair suggested that he’d shape-shifted recently.

“Have you checked upstairs?” Rowan asked them.

James frowned. “No.” He took the stairs two at a time and disappeared into the darkness of the second floor.

Donovan chuckled, crossing the room to stand beside us. He gave me a smile—a flash of strong white teeth through his beard. “Hello, little alchemist.” At six-eight, Donovan could call a lot of people little.

“Hey.” I wasn’t sure what to make of him. He knew what I had done, what I had been, and yet he smiled at me. He should loathe me, like James and Rowan did, yet he looked so pleased to see me.

“Hello, Donovan,” Lydia greeted him. “Any luck tracking the perpetrator?”

“I’m afraid not.” Donovan glanced toward the stairs. He lowered his voice before continuing. “He’d need a sample of the shooter’s blood or a glimpse of his soul to track him.”

Lydia sighed. “I was afraid of that. Still, nice of him to try.”

“He’s a good kid.”

I warmed at their praise of my former sidekick. Out of everything, losing James’s friendship had been the hardest blow. I might have slept with Rowan and even believed myself in love with him, but the truth was, I barely knew him. James had been my confidant, my partner in crime, my best friend. It hurt.

A thump from the stairs and James vaulted the rail, landing lightly a few feet away. A faint glow lit his green eyes. “Addie’s right,” he said. “He waited in a spare bedroom upstairs. The window’s open, and the tree just outside would be easy to climb.”

Donovan shook his head. “You see,” he said to Rowan. “I told you she’d find the answer.”

My cheeks heated and I turned away, pretending to watch what Lydia was doing. She’d pulled aside the plant to study the bullet hole.

“Huh.” She leaned closer to peer in the hole.

“What is it?” Rowan asked.

“There’s something here. It might be…magic.”

“On the bullet? Could it be his blood?”

“My sensitivity to magic is a minor skill, but…” She straightened and looked at me. “It reminds me of the soil sample you sent. The one from the Alchemica.”

I stared back at her. She referred to the soil sample Rowan had taken when we were trying to figure out what had happened to the Alchemica. Before we found out I had happened to the Alchemica.

Then it hit me what she was saying. The bullet was alchemical. My heart skipped a beat, and I looked over at James. He met my eyes then began to frown, coming to the same conclusion I had—or so I suspected. I opened my bag and dug out a set of rubber gloves and a pair of tweezers.

“Addie?” Rowan prompted when I snapped on the gloves.

“Let me check something?”

He studied me a moment and then nodded.

I stepped up to the wall and carefully dug out the bullet. I dropped it in my gloved palm, turning so that the overhead light illuminated it. An iridescent glaze coated the outer surface and though the end had flattened where it had hit the stud, I could see that it had a Nosler tip.

“Oh God,” I breathed, understanding the victim’s mysterious death. It shouldn’t have been possible and yet—

“Addie, what is it?” Rowan asked.

I looked up, but it was James’s eyes I met.

“It’s one of mine.” I turned to face Rowan. “I designed it.”


Chapter 2

Rowan’s gray eyes probed mine. “What do you mean, designed it? Designed it to do what?”

“It’s what I did at the gun shop.” I waved a hand in James’s direction, reminding Rowan that I’d worked at James’s gun shop before we’d teamed up last fall. Suddenly, the crime scene messages made sense. The shooter knew that I would recognize the bullets. “They’re alchemically enhanced to kill animals in under ten seconds.”


“Animals,” I repeated. “Human blood can’t trigger the alchemy. The magic remains inert, though the bullet itself could still kill you.”

“Jason was shot in the arm.” Rowan gestured at the dead man. God, he knew him by name?

“She said human blood, Rowan.” Lydia joined us. “We’re not human.”

I stared at her. Lydia was a geneticist. If anyone knew, she would. “Are you saying the magical are different? Genetically?”

“I guess you missed Lydia’s article in Genetics.” Donovan gave Lydia a smile.

“So, the bullet’s alchemical.” Rowan pinched the bridge of his nose. He often did that in frustration, but he also did it when one of his headaches was coming on. Fire Elements walked a fine line. If they didn’t maintain constant control of their element, it could kill them. Headaches were the first symptom.

“Rowan—” I began.

He dropped his hand. “It always comes back to you.”

Not a headache then.

“That’s not fair,” James spoke up. I couldn’t believe he would defend me. “She did design them for game. I helped fill quite a few of them myself.”

I forced myself to speak and not give in to the wailing despair inside of me. “We need to find out who bought the bullets.” I turned to James. “George would have records.”

James frowned. “You want to call him?”

“No, but I will.”

Rowan pulled out his phone, and I thought he wanted me to call right then. Instead, he turned and walked over to the others. He dismissed them, thanking them for their time and asking them to stay safe. Someone was killing the magical—with my bullets.

The other people left and Rowan returned to us, dialing his phone. He brought it to his ear. “Waylon? It’s Rowan. I have another one.” He listened for a moment and then gave an address. He’d called the director of the PIA.

“Take Addie home,” Rowan said to Donovan after ending the call. “I’ll wait for Waylon. James—”

“I’ll stay with you,” James said, then continued when Rowan frowned. “Some nut is shooting the magical with Addie’s bullets. It’s not safe until we catch him.”

Rowan arched a brow. “I believe you qualify as magical.”

“I’m already dead.” He matched Rowan stare for stare. I suddenly felt like I didn’t know James at all. He wasn’t my timid sidekick anymore.

“Fine.” Rowan didn’t look annoyed. He almost looked…amused. I puzzled over this new dynamic between them. I’d caught a glimpse of it last fall, when I met them at the Elemental Offices to heal Era. They seemed more like…brothers.

“Shall we?” Donovan turned to me.

“Yeah. Sure.” I glanced at Rowan. “If you need me—”

“I know where to find you.” He turned and walked away. I’d been dismissed.

I glanced at James, but he wouldn’t meet my eyes. Time to go.


“Why don’t you hate me?” I asked Donovan once we were on the freeway.

“Life’s too short—or maybe in our case, too long—to hate.”


“We all have regrets. Some of us even have to remember them.”

I shook my head. “I can’t imagine you’ve done anything all that bad.”

“I went down a dark path. Lost myself.” His voice grew softer. He fell silent, and I was just about to speak when he continued. “Rowan showed me the way back.”

I decided not to pry. Instead I gripped his arm where it lay on the armrest between us. “I’m glad you found your way.”

Donovan gave me a smile, and for a little while, we rode in silence.

“How is Rowan?” I asked. “He looks…tired.”

“He has a lot going on right now.”

“His antidote?”

“He has a vial left.”

I’d given him two vials a month ago. “I once swore to find a way to cure him—but I got distracted.”

It was Donovan’s turn to pat my arm. There was so much I wanted to ask him, but I didn’t have the courage. I slumped in my seat, and we lapsed into silence again. It wasn’t the stiff, awkward silence I’d shared with Rowan, but I could feel the undercurrent of things unsaid.

I let my mind drift to the alchemical puzzles facing me. Refining my burn salve, helping Rowan, and now, countering my own bullets. I’d have to look up that article Lydia had written. God, if I’d only known that the magical were genetically different, I would have designed the bullets another way. Once again, I’d taken a short cut and used blood alchemy, and it had come back to haunt me.

But I couldn’t change the past. I needed to design an antidote. Something that would work quickly to neutralize the alchemy in the bullets. I’d named them Heart Seekers because the magic was designed to react with the blood, then seek out the heart. If I could—


I straightened in my seat. We’d arrived at the shop.

“You okay?” Donovan asked.

“Yeah. Just…puzzling things out.”

He pressed his lips together, considering me a moment. “You need to take better care of yourself. You’re looking a little worn down.”

“It’s been a rough couple of months.” I gripped the door handle and hesitated. “Thanks, Donovan.”

“Stay out of trouble, little alchemist.”

I snorted. “Like that’s going to happen.”

Donovan just winked. I hopped out of his SUV and closed the door. He remained at the curb until I got inside. I relocked the door and watched his taillights fade through the front glass. I hadn’t realized how much I missed Donovan.

“I began to despair of your return,” Ian said from beside me.

I jumped and whirled to face him, banging my knee against the table by the door. “Damn it, Ian. Would you please stop doing that?”

“Forgive me. I was concerned.”

“Since when?” I headed for the lab.

“You are my guide in this world.” He followed me through the curtain divider. “What did His Grace want?”

“A solution to a puzzle.” I never knew how much to tell Ian. He was the enemy of an enemy, but I didn’t know if that made him my friend. “I have a few formulas to try,” I said. “You up for an all-nighter?”

“And miss my beauty sleep?”

“Ha ha.” Ian didn’t sleep—or eat, or even need to breathe for that matter. Sometimes I wondered what he did with all that time.

“But I’m not so sure about you.” He stopped across the counter from me.

I remembered Donovan’s comments. “Do I look that bad?”

“Not if dark circles and pallid skin are fashionable in your world.”

I rolled my eyes and opened the cabinet below the bench. I’d need a—

“Before we begin, I have a phone call to relay,” Ian said, interrupting my search.

The only calls I received were crank calls amused by the name of my shop. Perhaps I shouldn’t have named it The Addled Alchemist, but at the time, it seemed apt.

“Dr. Albright would like to see you at your earliest convenience.”

I looked up, alarmed. “Did he say why?”

“No. Such details aren’t divulged to the secretarial staff. His or yours.”

“Damn, you’re on tonight.”

“I try.”

I frowned. Why would the head of the Burn Center call me? Did he want more of the burn salve or had the recent attention it had drawn become a problem?

“He probably wants to increase his order,” Ian said. “I can add it to the other potions you wish me to work on while you get a good night’s sleep.”


“You will make a poor impression for our sole client if you cannot stay awake for this appointment.”

I studied the man who stood before me. “Why are you still here? I don’t buy that I’m your guide. The world hasn’t changed that much in the last….”

“Two centuries,” he finished. “And actually it has.”

My mouth dropped open. “That long?” I frowned. “But you said the Deacon imprisoned you. Xander’s only in his fifties.” Among the necromancers, Deacon was the title given to their leader, the most powerful among them. In the Cincinnati area, that was Xander Nelson.

“I referred to the man who originally bore the title, not his descendant.” Ian snorted. “Xander. He doesn’t possess a fraction of his ancestor’s power.”

I stared at the impossibly old man in front of me. “The original Deacon Made you?”

“How else could he imprison me in that tomb?”

He turned to his workbench, busying himself arranging his test tubes and beakers.

I stepped around to the end of his counter, studying his profile. What had he done to warrant such a fate? Ian was intelligent, but he was also witty, not to mention, pleasing to the eye. What had he been like in life? A ladies’ man?

“How old were you?” I asked. “When he made you a lich.”

He uncapped a bottle of sage oil and added a few drops to a test tube. “Thirty-four.”

A man in his prime. That fit. “Did you deserve such a fate?” I asked.

“I was a necromancer. A practicing necromancer.”

“So was he, apparently. I meant, what did you do to him? Steal his girl?”

Ian looked up, his glare as cold as his skin. “The only girl involved was my daughter.”

I blinked. “You had a daughter?”

“And four sons.”

I hadn’t expected that. “So, what happened?”

“He took my daughter. And three children later, Made her as well.”

“Oh.” My voice sounded small in the sudden silence.

“He’d bring the babies to my tomb, taunting me with my own grandchildren. They were all girls. That’s why he Made her. He claimed I’d cursed her—or that she was a witch.” He turned away. “He has her still.”

“He entombed her? Like he did you? You think they’re both still,” I stopped myself from saying alive, “around?”

“Yes.” His voice dropped to a whisper, then he turned back to his bench.

I suspected there was a lot to the story he wasn’t telling me. Also, he could be lying. “And his descendants, like Neil, continued to use you. This is about vengeance.”

He stopped fumbling with his beakers and turned to face me. “This isn’t petty vengeance. It’s not about a couple of necromancers pissing in each other’s graves.”

Interesting analogy.

“He took my little girl, violated her, stole her life and her death. Even if I could kill him, it wouldn’t be enough.” A manic light danced in his eyes, and I resisted the urge to step back. “I want to take down his family. Everything he’s built.”

“But isn’t his family yours?”


An abrupt answer. The clock on the wall struck the hour. Ten o’clock.

“Write down what you want me to work on, then get to bed.”

“Ian.” I gripped his arm, aware of the coolness of the fabric, not warmed from within.

“Don’t.” He held my gaze. “You don’t know me.”

I pulled my hand from his arm. “What—”

“Write down those formulas, then you can get some sleep. What time shall I wake you?”

I sighed. “Six.”

“This Albright doesn’t come in until—”

“Six, Ian.” I walked over to get my notebook. It had been a long day. I didn’t think I’d sleep, but I could certainly use the quiet to think.


I spent more time than I normally did in front of the mirror the next morning. Dressed in the only thing I owned that wasn’t jeans and a long sleeve T-shirt, I gave the lapels of my jacket a tug, straightening the dark blue fabric along my shoulders. The pantsuit was sadly outdated, but it still had the tags when I bought it. Shopping in second-hand clothing stores rarely netted a fashionable wardrobe—just a cheap one.

I found Ian in the lab, his work area much more cluttered, and a collection of newly completed formulas arranged in my area. The smell of freshly dried thyme hung heavy in the air, mixed with lesser scents I couldn’t identify. It seemed he had indeed pulled an all-nighter.

“You’ve been busy,” I said.

A mortar and pestle sat at one end of his bench. A crucible of charred ivy leaves sat nearby, and a fine powder coated the bottom of the mortar. It was a testament to Ian’s strength that he could create such a powder as fine as flour with such crude instruments.

“What are you making with the ivy?”

“Prep work. Should you need it in ground form.”

“Okay. Thanks.” I suspected he did things like this out of boredom rather than consideration. He had to do something with all that free time. His lab had been incredibly well organized.

“Just trying to earn my keep.” He gathered a handful of vials and headed for the front room.

I followed, trying to decide if that was a quip about him selling some of his old books to pay the first month’s rent.

“You know I’m going to pay you back for those books.”

“It matters little.” He set the vials along the shelves offering our meager wares.

I remembered the potions that Emil, my former Grand Master, had been selling, and the thriving business he’d done. Of course, Emil had been tinkering with brain chemistry to make the untalented believe they were magical. The weird thing was, that potion had actually been effective on those that already possessed magic. I’d been forced to use it on Rowan, after Ian had nearly killed him.

Ian turned toward me, his eyes sweeping over my attire before settling on my face. “How much sleep did you get?”

“A few hours.”

“When you perish from exhaustion, shall I Make you?”

“Kind of you to offer, but no thanks.”

Movement outside the front door drew my attention, and I turned to see a familiar silver limo stop beside the curb. Sunlight glinted off the polished exterior and I squinted against the glare.

“This looks promising,” Ian said, following my gaze.

A moment later, the back door opened. My heart rolled over in my chest as Era climbed out.

“You need to go,” I said to Ian.

“Friend of yours?”

“Friend of the Flame Lord.”

“Interesting.” A dark portal appeared behind him. He took a single step back and it winked closed.

“Interesting, indeed,” I muttered.

At the sound of the bell jingling, I turned to watch Era walk inside. Her short blonde hair was a little wind-tossed, and a hint of color bloomed in her cheeks. Dressed in jeans, a hoodie, and a long wool coat, she didn’t look like an Element.

“Addie!” Era cried as soon as she saw me. A couple of long strides and she pulled me into an embrace. The floral scent of her shampoo brought back our first meeting. She’d huddled against me in fear of Rowan’s reaction when he caught her going against his wishes and using an oven.

“Hey.” I tried to return the hug, hoping she wouldn’t notice my hesitation. What was with people hugging me lately? But my social awkwardness wasn’t the only factor at play here. I hadn’t seen Era since I’d repaired her mind. Apparently, no one had told her that I’d been responsible for the damage. But that didn’t make this situation any less uncomfortable for me.

“Roe just told me that you opened a shop.” She released me and glanced around the room. “I’m pissed he didn’t tell me sooner. I would have come by and helped you…decorate.”

Aside from a few mismatched bookshelves laden with a sorry collection of vials, there wasn’t a whole lot to my shop.

She continued her survey of the small space, turning to look back at the front door where the name of the shop was stenciled on the half-pane of glass. “The Addled Alchemist?”

“If the shoe fits….”

“Right, the amnesia.”

Rowan must have filled her in. “Right,” I agreed.

“You’re the furthest thing from addled.”

“You might be surprised.” I made a final adjustment to a sample on the shelf. “Not to be rude, but I’ve got an appointment this morning, and to be honest, I need to get moving.” It wasn’t a set time thing, but I didn’t like to keep Dr. Albright waiting—nor could I bear the suspense.

“Let me give you a ride,” she offered.

“That’s okay. I was going to call a cab.”

“I show up, you rush off, and won’t even let me give you a ride.” Era crossed her arms. “You’re going to give me a complex.”

“I don’t want to put you out.”

“Would I have offered if it put me out?”

I considered the cab fare. Money was tight right now. Besides, if I was getting drawn back into the Elements’ world, I had to get used to being around her. “Okay, but won’t folks be suspicious when the Elements’ limo drops me off at the curb.”

Era laughed. “Clearly, you haven’t seen Marlowe in action.”


“Our driver.”


Five minutes later, I stood outside my shop, my mouth hanging open.

“See?” Era gave me a wink.

I stared at the Volkswagen Beetle sitting at the curb. “That’s amazing.”

The driver’s door opened and Marlowe stepped out. He looked so ordinary in his dark suit that I would have never guessed him to be magical. He closed the door and it even sounded like the rattling echo of a decades-old car. But when he took his hand from the rusted surface, a sleek silver limo once more sat at the curb. It didn’t fade or morph into existence. It just was.

“Damn.” I watched Marlowe circle the car and open the back door for us. “That’s impressive,” I told him.

“Thank you, ma’am.” He said nothing else, holding the door until we’d climbed inside.

“Humble, too,” I said once we were alone. “Is he doing that all the time?”

“It’s not as necessary as you’d think.” Era picked up a coffee cup from the nearest cup holder. “Cincinnati is a big city, and this isn’t the only silver limo.”

Marlowe got in and eased the car away from the curb.

“So, you’re making some kind of alchemical salve for the burn patients?” Era asked once we were on the road. She blew into the cardboard cup she held. The scent of freshly brewed coffee filled the air, making me almost wish I liked the stuff. “What does it do?”

I explained how my salve accelerated healing, at least for first- and second-degree burns. There wasn’t much my salve could do when there was no skin left to heal. But I was working on that.

“Amazing,” she said when I finished. “I had no idea alchemy could be used that way.”

Inwardly, I cringed. I’d used my burn salve on Era when she’d burned herself on that oven Rowan had forbidden her to use. Maybe it was a good thing that she remembered little from the time she was mentally damaged. Though it did surprise me that she remembered me as well as she did.

“That’s because alchemy has rarely been used that way,” I said. “The discipline seems to attract the self-absorbed megalomaniacal types.”

She laughed, leaning back against the white leather seats across from me. “Are you speaking from experience?”


Her smile faded to confusion. “I thought you had amnesia.”

“I do, but I’ve met my colleagues. They weren’t nice people.” I watched the city beyond the dark tinted windows. “I was one of them.”

“And you know that how?”

“They told me.” And gave me one of my old journals.

“You believed them?”

I didn’t want to talk about it—and certainly not with her. “It’s the past.” I shrugged. “I get to try again.”

“You say that like you did wrong.”

“I can’t remember what I did.” That was as close as I wanted to take her. I took my eyes from the scene outside the window and faced her once more. “I want to take alchemy in a new direction. Make it available to others. Help instead of hoard.”

“Like this burn salve?”


“I bet Rowan approves. He’s got some major empathy for burn victims. Not surprising, considering what happened to his family.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know, when he came into his power. How it slipped his control.”

Actually, I didn’t. Cora had once implied that something had happened, but she hadn’t given me the details.

“Oh, right,” I said. “I know his family suffered…”

“Not really. I doubt they felt anything.” Era looked down at the coffee cup she held. “Except his niece. He incinerated the house and everyone and everything in it. I suspect he recognized her at the last moment and tried to pull out.” She shook her head. “I guess she lingered in a burn clinic for months.”

I swallowed. Oh, Rowan. “Who all was in the house again?”

“His parents, younger brother, and his sister, her husband, and daughter. I guess they got together every Christmas.”

I remembered again when Era had burned her arm and Rowan had nearly freaked out. He was the one who told me to take my burn salve to the medical profession. I was trying.

“It’s always amazed me how he could lose control like that, then go on to become what he is.” Era looked up, meeting my gaze once more.

“I suspect that is what made him what he is,” I said. A control freak without peer. “He knows what happens when he loses it.”

The limo had reached the hospital and pulled up near the curb. It had begun to rain on our way over, but that didn’t deter the protesters. Near the far door, a small cluster of rain-soaked folks stood holding their smeared and drooping signs. I had to admire their persistence.

The limo door opened, and I glanced up to find Marlowe shielding the opening with an umbrella. “Thanks.” I gave him a smile and started to climb out.

“Let me walk you in,” Era said. “I don’t like the look of that mob.”

I stopped and glanced back at her. “It’s hardly a mob and what would you do?”

She arched a brow and her amber eyes took on a metallic sheen.

“That won’t be necessary. Besides, they don’t let nuts like them inside. Thanks for the ride.”

“I’ll give you a ride back.”


“I insist.”

I decided not to argue.


Chapter 3

It took the entire elevator ride and the long walk through the sparsely populated hospital hallways to get my mind around what Era had told me. My heart ached for Rowan, but it also made me even more determined to see my burn salve accepted by the medical profession. It wouldn’t help his family, but maybe it would give him some comfort to know that burn victims would no longer have to suffer the way his niece had. I could do that much for him.

Ian’s concerns on the earliness of my visit proved to be unfounded. I caught Dr. Albright just fifteen minutes before he needed to be elsewhere.

“Thank you for stopping by,” he said once we’d exchanged greetings and a handshake. “This won’t take long.”

I sat in the chair across from his desk, an uneasy flutter in my stomach. Why did I suddenly feel like I’d been called to the principal’s office?

Dr. Albright settled into his chair with an ease that belied his apparent years. He folded his weathered hands atop a manila folder, and his intelligent blue eyes bored into my own.

“I’ll come right to the point. The last batch of salve you sent us failed to have any positive effect as a burn treatment.”

“What?” I sat up straighter in my chair. I’d been expecting a request to increase his order, or maybe some repercussions on the questions the protest had raised. This wasn’t anything I’d even considered.

“The salve failed. We need to—”

“No,” I cut in. “That’s not possible. My formulas don’t fail.”

“Miss Daulton, I’m not saying it’s a personal failing, but these things happen.”

“No, they don’t. I’m a master alchemist; my formulas never fail. That’s what makes me what I am.”

Dr. Albright frowned. He didn’t look like he bought it, or he thought me the most arrogant person on the planet. Clearly, he hadn’t spent much time around the magical.

“Something’s happened,” I continued. “The salve was not used according to the directions I gave or—”

“The same nurses who’ve used it in the past were the ones administering it.”

“Might the patient be magical? Sometimes inborn magic can react in odd ways with alchemy.”

“There were three different patients and none of them admitted to being magical.”

I frowned. That didn’t mean they hadn’t lied, but it would be a striking coincidence if all three were magical. The greater Cincinnati area did have a higher concentration of magical folks, but the percentage of the population was still small.

“Contamination?” I offered, grasping at straws.

“Possible.” Albright sighed. “In light of the problems inherent with a handmade salve and the pressure we’ve been feeling from the public, I think—”

“Let me try again.”

“Miss Daulton.”

“Please. You said yourself that you’ve never seen people heal the way they have with my salve. Recovery time has been shortened by months. Scars are nonexistent. Can you just throw all that away because a handful of magic haters start waving signs?”

Dr. Albright bowed his head and pinched the bridge of his nose just above his glasses. The gesture reminded me of Rowan. Or maybe it was becoming everyone’s reaction to me.

“I’m also working on a formula to accelerate healing after a skin graft.” In truth, I wanted to develop a formula to regrow skin where there was none. But when dealing with the nonmagical, it was best to start small. Ease them into what I could do.

“That’s possible?” He looked up, interest erasing the frown from his features. When you get right down to it, Dr. Albright genuinely cared. He was willing to take chances—even on a controversial magical cure—if it meant helping people. I suspected that was why Rowan had sent me to him.

“Anything is possible with alchemy.”

A faint smile twisted his wrinkled face. “The hubris of an alchemist.” He leaned back in his chair. “Dr. Brant did warn me.”

I opened my mouth, about to ask who, when I remembered. Dr. William Rowan Brant. Once a well-respected volcanologist, now better known for his philanthropic endeavors—specifically those that benefitted burn victims. At least, that’s what you learned if you did a web search on him. Very few people knew that he was also the Lord of Flames.

It sounded like Rowan had warned him about me.

Dr. Albright sighed. “Very well, Miss Daulton. I’ll give you one more chance.”

I started to thank him, but he raised a hand to stop me.

“Our work here is coming under a lot of scrutiny, both from the hospital board and at the national level.”

“I’ll personally prepare the next batch.”

He came to his feet and I did the same. “Then I shall expect perfection.” He offered his hand and I took it.

Perfection. That shouldn’t be a problem.


The hospital halls passed in a blur once again as I walked back toward the elevators. What had gone wrong? I knew it wasn’t anything I’d done, but we’d made so many batches lately that I wasn’t certain if it had been me or Ian who’d prepared the last one. Still, I stuck by my assumption that someone had done something to contaminate it. Ian was far too talented to screw up a basic burn salve.

I arrived at the elevators and hit the down button. A newspaper machine sat to one side, my own face looking back at me through the glass.

“Oh shit,” I muttered, moving closer.

Flame Lord Supports Magic in Medicine. The picture was the same one that had made a run in the paper almost two months ago. It showed James and me leaving the PIA offices in the presence of two hooded Elements: Earth and Fire. My upper arms were bare and my tattoos clearly visible. The black bands were a symbol of rank at the Alchemica. Was the photo just to show Rowan’s association with alchemy? Or had I been named?

I reached in my pocket, but I didn’t have any change. Maybe Ian could find another copy.

A hand gripped my arm and I jumped in surprise.

“Looks like you made the front page.”

I looked up into Henry Huntsman’s sneering face. A scruff of blond beard covered his chin, hiding any resemblance he had to his brother James.

“You’re famous, Amelia.”

I guess that answered whether the article had named me. I’d gone by the name of Amelia Daulton while at the Alchemica—though I remembered none of it.

Henry used his grip on my arm to pull me against him, poking something in my ribs.

“A gun?” I whispered. “You brought a gun into a hospital?”

“Don’t do anything stupid.”

“No problem. You’ve got that covered.”

The elevator dinged and the doors slid open. With something close to a growl, Henry shoved me forward—right into another camo-swathed chest.

I stumbled away and thumped my back against the wall of the elevator.

George, the eldest of the Huntsman brothers, watched me through narrowed eyes. The collision hadn’t budged him.

I pushed off the wall and tugged my jacket straight. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your charming company?”

“You can tell us where our brother is.” George leaned close, trying to intimidate me with his size. He spent more time with his weights than anything else, and he had the body to prove it. Not overly tall, he made up for what he lacked vertically in bulk. That might cower some people, but muscle intimidated me far less than a quick mind.

Henry stepped into the elevator with us and the door slid closed.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. “Did your necro buddy renege on the deal?” The last I’d seen of the Huntsman boys, they’d been working with Neil, a necromancer and former colleague from my Alchemica days. “Let me guess, he offered you the Final Formula in exchange for James.”

“The final what?” Henry demanded.

“The Elixir of Life.” George caught both my shoulders and pushed me back against the wall. Like Henry, his face hadn’t seen a razor in a few weeks. “What do you know of that?”

I frowned at George’s question. Come to think of it, he hadn’t been in the room when Neil forced me to recite the Formula.

“It just seemed like something he would offer.” I considered the potion vial I had tucked in my pocket. It would work well in this small space. Unfortunately, it would work just as well on me. I’d bide my time. Meanwhile, maybe I could figure out what these idiots were up to.

“What do you want from me?” I asked.

“Why is our brother always with that Element?” George’s hazel eyes narrowed. “Did you give James to him?”

“James doesn’t belong to me. He doesn’t belong to anyone.”

Henry snorted, and George glanced over at him, a faint curl to his lips.

“That includes you guys,” I added.

They didn’t get a chance to respond as the elevator slowed to a stop and the doors slid open, revealing the busy first-floor lobby.

George captured my upper arm in his too tight grip. “Come on.”

“You don’t have to manhandle me. I’m coming.”

He didn’t release my arm, but I didn’t protest. This wasn’t a good place to make a scene. Of course, being dragged around by two good-sized guys in camo didn’t make for a discreet departure. Every head in the lobby turned to stare at us. It didn’t help that my image currently graced the front page of the Cincinnati Enquirer.

We hit the exterior door and a wet wind slapped me in the face. The storm had picked up strength while I was inside. I threw up an arm to shield my eyes, stumbling against George before I righted myself.

“Knock it off, alchemist.” His growl wasn’t a bad imitation of James’s.

“Hey, there she is!”

I followed the sound and discovered the remnants of the rain-soaked protesters staring at us.

“It’s the alchemist!” another shouted.

A handful of people arriving and leaving the hospital stopped to stare.

“Thanks a lot,” I muttered to George.

“Keep moving.” He jerked my arm again. The bastard was going to leave a bruise.

The protesters started toward us, muttering words of encouragement to one another. I caught “witch” and a similar sounding word. Wow, these people were really pissed off. Maybe I should offer a public apology for relieving pain and saving lives.

The rumble of an engine preceded a squeal of tires, and George’s big 4X4 stopped at the curb, Brian behind the wheel. He kicked open the door and jumped out. To my utter astonishment, he held a crossbow in hand.

The protesters skidded to a halt, and when he turned the bow in their direction, half their number fled screaming. So much for not causing a scene.

“You guys are utter morons,” I said. “I mean, I always suspected, but wow…”

“Get in.” George shoved me toward the open truck door.

“Hey, let her go!” Era ran toward us.

Brian whirled around, bow coming up.

“No!” I screamed.

The quarrel released with a twang, but Era must have seen it coming and tried to dodge. The quarrel took her through the shoulder. The impact knocked her back and she dropped to a knee.

“Don’t waste the special quarrels,” George said as Brian reloaded the bow.

Era pushed to her feet. Her hand drifted to her shoulder, and the muscles in her jaw tensed, but she showed no other evidence of pain. “I said, let her go.”

George reached behind his back and pulled out a handgun. My blood ran cold. That gun was the same caliber as my bullets.

I gripped George’s wrist. “What are you loaded with?”

“What does it matter?” He caught my wrist with his free hand and squeezed until I released him. “Unless…” His hazel eyes shifted to Era, narrowing. She had doubled over, muttering something I didn’t catch.

I shoved a hand into my pocket, fumbling for the vial.

“Unless she’s magical,” George said.

I looked up, understanding. “You know what my bullets can do.”

“Yeah, I know.” He cast me a glance and sneered.

He knew? I found the vial. Sucking in a breath, I smashed it to the ground at George’s feet. A greenish-brown cloud billowed up. It wasn’t much: a weak, alchemical variation of mustard gas. A cloud to obscure the user and confuse the target while noxious fumes burned the sensitive tissues in the nose and throat. The Huntsman boys began to cough immediately.

Era looked up, her eyes going wide as I ran toward her.

“Run!” I grabbed her arm and pulled her around. My eyes began to water as the cloud enveloped us.

Era coughed, but managed to run beside me. The limo was closer than the hospital entrance, so I steered her toward it.

Tires squealed behind us, and I looked back to see George’s 4X4 swerving away from the curb. The cloud of brown-green gas dispersed in its wake. The truck did a U-turn and barreled back toward us.

“Hurry!” I pushed Era into the limo.

“Marlowe!” I called to the driver, climbing in after Era. “We’ve got company!”

“I see. Hold on!”

I closed the door then fell on the floor as he jerked the limo to the left, leaping away from the curb.

Era gripped the edge of the seat, her complexion pale. I wanted to go to her, but it was pointless to try while Marlowe was driving like a bat out of hell.

He drove through the side streets, seeming to choose direction at random. I wondered what the people outside the car saw. A banged up Volkswagen or something else. Illusions aside, there was no denying that Marlowe was a damn good driver. It might look like he was driving a compact car through these narrow streets, but the limo was anything but compact.

We took an onramp to the nearest interstate, and the swerving lessened. I was able to climb up on the seat beside Era. She sat with her eyes squeezed shut, a sheen of sweat already coating her face. The shoulder of her coat was bloodstained around the quarrel shaft, but not excessively. Or so I told myself. I had no clue, but figured she’d be bleeding a lot more if it had hit an artery or something.

“Era?” I squeezed her wrist, just above her clasped hands. “Hey, you with me?”

“I can’t…feel anything.”

My stomach clenched. “In your hand?” Was it nerve damage or—

“No. I mean, the air. I can’t feel it.” She opened her eyes and her gaze locked with mine. “It’s like before, when everything was so…hazy.”

I swallowed.

“I lost them,” Marlowe called back over the seat. “Where to?”

I didn’t want to take Era back to the hospital. “The clinic. Would you call the manor? Let them know what’s going on?”

Marlowe agreed and I turned back to Era.

“Is that okay with you?”

“Oh God,” she whispered. “What if it comes back? I lost three months!”

“You’ve been shot with an alchemically treated quarrel. It’s just Extinguishing Dust. It knocks out your magic, but it’ll wear off in—”

“Addie, you’ve got to help me.” She caught my hands, her grip so tight it hurt. “You cured me before.” She leaned toward me and the fletched end of the quarrel bumped my shoulder. She gasped.

“Just stay still,” I said. “We’ll be there in—”

A buzzing noise drew my attention to the armrest. Era’s phone. Apprehensive, I brought it to my ear. “Hello?”

“What have you done?” Rowan.

“I didn’t do anything.” Maybe I did deserve his condemnation, but not for this. “James’s idiot brothers showed up at the hospital. They shot Era.”

“What the hell was she doing there? With you?”

“Addie, it’s getting worse.” Era’s voice cut out on a whimper.

“Can we do this later?” I asked Rowan. “Era’s having a bad reaction to the Extinguishing Dust.”

“Shit. Where are you?” Rowan demanded.

I leaned to the side and saw a passing road sign. We were only a few miles from my shop. “Meet me at my place. I have an idea.”

“Addie.” There was a warning note in his tone.

“She’s freaking out. She thinks the loss of her magic indicates that she’s…relapsing.” I pulled in a breath. “I can do this, Rowan.”

A pause. “Fine. I’ll be there in ten minutes.” He hung up without saying goodbye.

I frowned at the phone. “The man really needs to work on his phone skills.”

Era didn’t react to the quip. She squeezed her eyes closed and rolled her head from side to side against the seat back. I took her hand and turned to give Marlowe our new destination. I hoped this worked.


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