Excerpt – The Fifth Essence

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.


Chapter 1

Some might argue that alchemy isn’t a science, but I would beg to differ. Like any science, answers are found through the process of experimentation and analysis. But it also takes a big dollop of intuition and confidence to solve an alchemical mystery.

I frowned at the printout, trying to decide if I saw any evidence of alchemy in the data.

“It’s definitely organic,” said Mr. Thomas, the Paranormal Investigation Agency’s lab technician. “It’s not pure blood, but it’s one of the major constituents.” He leaned back in his seat, eyeing me. “Is that normal?”

I glanced at Ian before answering. He lifted an eyebrow, but didn’t offer anything more helpful.

“To be honest, I don’t know if this was once a potion or not,” I told the technician. I had worked with Mr. Thomas before, and he had shown some interest in learning more about alchemy. I didn’t want to deter a prospective student before we had begun. “We found it with some other items that were almost four hundred years old.”

Mr. Thomas blinked, his gaze shifting to the old-fashioned vial that held the brown sludge we were analyzing. “How could something that organic not be decayed away?”

“I suspect there’s a magical component,” I said.

“But four hundred years? That’s before magic returned.”

“New Magic,” Ian corrected. “Old Magic has always been around—as has alchemy.” A smile dimpled his cheeks.

I was half tempted to point out that Ian was over two hundred years old, but learning that Ian was a lich—a dead man with his consciousness still intact—might be a bit much for Mr. Thomas to swallow.

“With closer study, I may be able to determine the potion’s purpose.” I gathered the assorted printouts we had generated and slid them into a manila folder before turning to Ian. “I think we verified our suspicions that it’s blood alchemy.”

“We could have had James verify that when he returns.”

“I didn’t want to wait that long.” I winked and he smiled, but the opening of the door prevented further comment. I glanced over, more out of curiosity than because I expected to see someone I knew. It surprised me when Director Waylon walked into the lab. He had given me permission to use his lab’s resources to analyze my sample, but I didn’t think he had intended to supervise.

“Good, you’re still here.” Waylon’s gaze settled on me. “I feared I had missed you.” Maybe he wasn’t here to supervise.

“Did the lack of explosions throw you off?” I asked. “I told you that I don’t blow up something every time I’m in the lab.”

Only the briefest of smiles creased Waylon’s face before he sobered.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. Something must be troubling him if he didn’t respond to our running joke. “Has George resurfaced?” James’s brother was number one on the PIA’s most wanted list, especially after he and their other brother Henry had murdered three agents last week. James had killed Henry, but George had gotten away.

“No. This is something new.” Waylon’s gaze shifted to Ian. “An odd zombie situation. I wondered if I could get your input, Mr. Mallory.”

I stared at Waylon, shocked that he would ask. He never sought magical help. He made it a point of pride that the PIA operated with an entirely mundane human force.

“I would be glad to lend my assistance,” Ian said. “But such matters are typically brought to the Deacon’s attention.”

“Since a new Deacon hasn’t been officially named, I contacted Doug. He’s already at the scene.”

“I’ll go,” Ian said, then turned to me, his look questioning.

“You can drop me at the lab,” I said. Since my involvement in Xander’s death, I wasn’t comfortable around Doug.

“I would like you to come, too,” Waylon said before Ian could comment.

“I can’t do much with zombies.” Not without some preparation, anyway.

“It’s not the zombie that’s the problem. It’s the man he bit.”

“Did he get an infection?” I teased.

“He got something.” Waylon’s eyes met mine. “He’s now a zombie, too.”

That sobered me. “You’re implying that he became a zombie because one bit him? You know it only works like that in Hollywood.”

“Exactly,” Waylon agreed. “That’s why I need your input. Both of you.”

I glanced over at Ian and found him frowning. “Ever heard of such a thing?” I asked.

“No. I would suggest a lack of competency with the examination, but if Doug is involved, that isn’t the case.”

“Then what do you suggest?”

“I won’t know until I see it.”

“Addie?” Waylon gave me an expectant look.

I released a breath. “Show us what you got.”

Waylon nodded. “I’ll drive you over.”

It looked like I would be spending some quality time with Doug this afternoon. That would probably take all the fun out of this new magical mystery.


I stepped out of Waylon’s car and warily eyed the storefront behind the yellow crime-scene tape. Bernie’s Flowers was stenciled on the wide front window used to display an assortment of floral bouquets and balloons.

“Addie?” Waylon stopped beside me.

“Last fall, a woman was murdered with one of my bullets,” I said, not taking my eyes off the storefront. “She worked here.”

“Yes, I remember. The owner is New Magic.”

“But you said there were zombies. Did the owner piss off a necromancer?”

“Come inside and maybe you can help me figure it out.” He headed for the front door, leaving Ian and me to follow.

The scent of fresh flowers greeted me, a reminder of the bouquets Ian often brought home to use as both ingredients and to decorate Elysia’s dinner table. Though I knew he visited the florist mainly to purchase fresh flowers for his wife Isabelle’s grave.

A couple of men were in the room. One held a clipboard and the other a camera. Waylon greeted them, but didn’t stop to talk. He led us through a doorway behind the register, into a second room set up as a workshop. Several counters were cluttered with half assembled bouquets, spools of ribbon, and other assorted odds and ends a florist might need.

Though more crowded than the first room, I had no trouble picking out the one person I did know. Doug Nelson stood at the far end of the nearest counter.

He turned to face us, his white eyes settling on Ian. “Grandfather.”

Knowing that a necromancer’s eyes only turned white when he used his magic, I studied the older man standing a short distance from Doug.

Goosebumps rose on my arms when I noticed that his dilated eyes were on me. Drool wet his chin, dropping onto the red apron he wore.

“Director.” An agent stopped beside us.

“Is this the owner?” Waylon gestured at the man in the red apron.

“Yes. Bernard Rosenberger.”

Ian left my side and moved closer. His blue eyes faded to white and he grunted.

“What is it?” I asked.

“He’s willful.” Ian studied the old man a moment, then laid a hand on Doug’s shoulder. “I’ve got him.”

Doug’s white eyes reverted to vibrant blue, and he lifted a hand to rub his temple. “Thank you.”

“What do you mean willful?” Waylon asked.

Doug turned to face him. “He is, from what I can tell, a zombie. An animated corpse. He should have no will.”

“This isn’t natural?” Waylon asked.

I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from pointing out that nothing about necromancy was natural.

“No,” Doug answered. “He feels almost blood animated, but he can’t be. His nephew watched him die—after he was bitten.”

“By one of his employees?” Waylon had his notebook out.

“That’s the story I got,” Doug answered. “Mr. Rosenberger…contained that man”—Doug waved a hand toward the far side of the room—“who is also a zombie.”

I followed his gesture and noticed the mass of ivy growing over the far wall. Oddly, a pair of agents stood watching it. I opened my mouth to ask for clarification when the ivy moved.

“What the hell is that?” Waylon asked.

“The zombie,” Doug answered. “Well, he’s inside. I sense him. Apparently, Mr. Rosenberger’s magical talent has to do with encouraging plant growth. That’s how he contained the zombie.”

I took a step to the side to see around the counter and noticed that several long strands of ivy covered the floor.

“Where is the nephew?” Waylon asked.

“University Hospital,” an agent spoke up.

Waylon turned to the agent. “Was he bitten?”

“No, but he was injured, requiring surgery. We’ll have to wait until he’s recovered to get a statement.”

I walked over to Ian while Waylon asked a few more questions about the nephew’s arrival time and when he thought Mr. Rosenberger had come into work.

“What do you think?” I asked Ian. “Is this necromancy?”

“Yes…and no.”

“Would you like to elaborate?”

“Doug’s right.” Ian eyed the zombie florist, his expression puzzled. “He feels blood animated, yet I do not sense any blood.”

“Would you care to put that in layman’s terms for the non-necromancers in the room?” Waylon rejoined the conversation.

Ian smiled at Waylon’s phrasing. “There is power in a necromancer’s blood, and that power can animate the dead. Give the dead a sense of purpose—to find more blood.”

“Then why do it?” Waylon asked.

“It makes them easier to control,” Doug said, then turned to Ian. “I didn’t sense any blood, either.” Doug crossed his thick arms. “But there’s…something. It’s like it’s just below my perception.”

Ian’s white eyes shifted to him, but he didn’t comment.

The zombie watched Doug, but its gaze moved to Waylon when he turned away to speak to an agent. The zombie opened its mouth, allowing more saliva to spill free.

“You’re right,” I spoke up. “It’s not like other zombies.”

“How would you know that?” Doug demanded.

“It’s aware of its surroundings. It looks at each person when they speak.” Its dilated eyes had shifted to me.

“It’s a zombie,” Doug said. “It doesn’t think.” The zombie’s gaze shifted to him, belying his words.

“That’s creepy as hell.” I rubbed the chill bumps on my arms. “It reminds me of the time Alexander had a few zombies chase Livie and me.”

“I don’t sense a ghoul master,” Ian said.

“Then what do we have here?” Waylon asked. “Is it necromancy or not?”

“Someone is playing with us,” Ian said. “Someone with the ability to mix necromancy with other magics, say, in a potion.”

“Neil,” I said. Would he do this? Could he do this? Why?

“Last I saw, you and he were working together.” Doug’s blue eyes narrowed. “Did you experiment on a New Magic business just to throw us off?”

“I am not working with Neil,” I said. “Don’t muddy the facts because you’re pissed at me.”

“Then explain that.” He waved a hand at the zombie florist.

“I can’t.”

“How do we explain it?” Waylon cut in.

“Analysis,” I said. “We isolate the magic that created it and track it back to its creator.”

“Are you talking lab analysis or alchemy?” Waylon asked.


Doug huffed out a breath and rolled his eyes.

“And what do we do about this?” Waylon gestured at the florist-turned-zombie.

Ian glanced over at Doug. “Only fire or decapitation stops the undead. Fire would destroy the evidence.”

I swallowed.

“Director?” Ian gave Waylon a questioning look.

“Could I impose on you and Doug to help us take both zombies back to the morgue? Waylon asked. “There’s a van in the back lot—”

“We can transport them there without a van,” Ian said. He and Doug could take them through the land of the dead.

Waylon nodded. “I’ll give Agent Bruner a call to let him know you’re coming.” Doug had worked with Bruner, the PIA’s pathologist, before.

Ian turned to me. “Shall I return for you when we’re done?”

“Yes, please.” It wasn’t like I wanted to join them—and it wasn’t the zombies’ company that disturbed me.

Doug walked over to the ivy-covered zombie and addressed the two agents standing nearby. “I’ll hold him if you two would care to cut him free.”

They didn’t look too certain, but a nod from Waylon got them moving.

Waylon turned to me. “Could I have a word?”

I agreed and followed him back to the front of the store.

“What’s going on with you and Doug?” Waylon asked once we were alone. “Wasn’t he staying with you?”

“He moved out once we resolved the problem with Ian’s brother.”

“Ah.” Waylon continued to watch me.

“Doug blames me for his father’s death.”

Are you to blame?”

“I did nothing to prevent it,” I answered honestly, holding Waylon’s gaze.

He grunted. “I know there was some bad blood between you and Xander.”

“He wasn’t a good person. He Made Megan Fields, to ensure her silence about those magic bullets. He used one of his liches to impersonate a medical doctor to stop me from healing burn victims. The list goes on.”

“But was that Xander or Alexander?”

“After forty years as Alexander’s puppet, there was no distinction.” I sighed. “Maybe there was once, and I think that’s the man Doug remembers. Perhaps Doug thought he would return once Alexander was gone.”

“But he was denied the opportunity when his cousin killed his father. Why does he blame you?”

“I was working with Neil at the time.”

Waylon’s brows lifted. Apparently, no one had given him the full story. “And you could have stopped Neil from killing Xander?”

“I probably wouldn’t have been successful, but I could have tried. I made some bad choices, and now I have to pay for them.”

“You once told me that there are no wrong actions when you’re doing the right thing.”

“I discovered that the end doesn’t always justify the means.”

A small smile curled Waylon’s mouth. “And I discovered that sometimes it does.”

I knew Waylon had covered up evidence to keep Doug from being wrongly accused in one of Neil’s schemes.

“I might be a bad influence.”

Waylon turned serious. “You didn’t kill Xander?”

“No.” Not technically, I just helped Neil use him as an ingredient. An ingredient that I suspected had just come back to bite me in the ass.


I sat on the back stoop outside Bernie’s Flowers and watched a PIA van pull away, carrying the evidence they had gathered to the forensics lab. My attention drifted back to Ian and Doug, who had just returned from delivering the zombies to the morgue. They stood in the small parking lot beside Doug’s car. A car I had ridden in before. I assumed they discussed the upcoming necromancer gathering that would formally name Doug the new Deacon, but I didn’t join the conversation.

I studied the sidewalk at my feet, bothered anew by how much my fallout with Doug troubled me. We had become friends during the time he had stayed with me. At least, I considered us friends. Now, he saw me as an enemy.

After several minutes, Doug and Ian separated, and Doug climbed into his sleek Mercedes and drove off.

I got to my feet and walked over to Ian. “Let’s go tell Waylon we’re done here, then you can take me home.” Back to the lab where I could lose myself in my work.

“I believe Doug will come around in time,” Ian said, ignoring my comment.

“I doubt it.”

“He knows Neil is to blame for his father’s death.”

I didn’t want to get into that again. “What do you think? Is Neil to blame for what happened here?”

“It’s possible, but I don’t see the motive.”

“I don’t see one, either,” I admitted.

“Perhaps we should wait for the lab and autopsy results. Necromancy is no longer the only magic in the world.”

“Hey now. Alchemy has always been around, too.”

“True, but the advent of New Magic really opened the possibilities.”

“With alchemy, anything is possible and always has been.” I winked. “Don’t try to downplay your shortcomings.”

He laughed and pulled open the back door, taking no offense, as always.

I stepped inside and waited for him to join me. “Speaking of New Magic, it’s time I got back to work. James might have let me off the hook with Elysia, but I still need to find a way to help Rowan.”

Ian smiled. He had been overjoyed that James had finally found a way to harness the magical compatibility between him and Elysia to undo the damage done to her when the ghost of Ian’s daughter had possessed her. Ian hadn’t even offered one word of protest when James asked Elysia to marry him and she accepted. It had brought tears to my eyes watching Elysia and Ian’s impromptu father-daughter dance at the reception last night.

Ian and Elysia hadn’t been the only ones dancing. I had spent most of the evening in Rowan’s arms. So it really surprised me when he let Ian take me home after an all too brief kiss. I might have temporarily returned Rowan’s control of his magic when I used my blood on him after his cardiac arrest, but he didn’t seem willing to test its limits.

Yes, I needed to get back to work.

Entering the now empty back room, we headed to the front of the store where Waylon waited. But he wasn’t alone. As if my thoughts had summoned him, Rowan stood with Waylon.

“Where have you two been?” Rowan asked. “I’ve been trying to reach you all morning. You’ve got to stop forgetting your phone.” He directed the last at me.

“Sorry. We were at the PIA’s lab using their…” I fell silent, watching him walk toward me. There was something different about him, but I couldn’t put a finger on what.

He wasn’t angry. Actually, he was smiling. “I’ve been trying to call you all morning. Now I’m thinking I should have just called at four a.m. and woken you—or did you notice it, too?” A faint frown wrinkled his forehead. That’s when I figured out what was different about him.

“Rowan, your eyes,” I whispered.

His grin returned, his delight twinkling in eyes that were no longer gray.

“They’re blue,” I finished. A light sky blue to be accurate.

“It’s my natural color.” He gripped my shoulders. “Addie, the magic is gone.”


Chapter 2

“What?” I managed to say, staring into Rowan’s blue eyes.

“New Magic. The Fire. It’s gone. Addie, I’m no longer an Element.”

My mouth dropped open, and it took a couple of attempts to close it. “The others…”

“Cora, Donovan, Era—everyone. New Magic is gone. Just as suddenly as it appeared, it vanished.”

Waylon looked away, and I could tell he wasn’t pleased. By his lack of surprise, I suspected that Rowan had told him before we walked in.

“But why? How?” I asked.

“Who knows, who cares?” Rowan laughed. “Don’t you see? You don’t have to cure me. I’m free.”

“Oh.” I stared at him, trying to absorb what he had said. His joy threw me off. Rowan had never complained about his lot in life. He had accepted his magic, living with the physical limitations as well as the expectations that he lead the magical community. He never shirked his duties, so his obvious joy of being relieved of them surprised me.

“Well?” he asked, his expression growing concerned. “Are you disappointed?”

“That you’re free? God, no. But it really bothers me that we don’t know why it left—or came in the first place.”

“Of course.” He smiled and cupped my cheek in his palm. “Unanswered questions never sit well with you. Perhaps I could distract you?” He leaned down and took my mouth with his, the kiss forceful, passionate, and by no means chaste.

It embarrassed me that Ian and Waylon were still in the room, but after a few moments, I no longer cared. Rowan had never kissed me like this, and I was shocked to realize how much he had been holding back.

When he finally released me, I slumped against his chest, wrapping my arms around his waist.

“Come away with me,” he whispered against my hair. “I need a vacation in the worst way.”

I looked up. “A vacation? To where?”

“I don’t know. The Caribbean? Hawaii? Name a place.”

“I…” The events of the afternoon were still vivid in my mind.

“What is it?”

I stepped back out of his arms. “I’m sure Waylon told you what happened here.”

“It sounds like someone angered a necromancer. Doug is looking into it.”

“I think it’s Neil.”

Rowan frowned.

“We don’t know that he’s involved,” Ian spoke up. “And we won’t know until we get the lab results back. A bit of a getaway is just what you need. What you both need.”

Waylon didn’t look pleased, but he remained silent.

“What about Doug’s upcoming party?” I turned to Rowan. “We can’t leave town. He invited you.”

“He invited the Elements.”

“Do you think it’s wise that we announce that New Magic is gone? What if that inspires Neil to try something…bigger?”

“I’ll be here,” Ian said.

“You’re soul bound to Neil.”

Rowan sighed. “Give it up, Mallory. She’s not going to let this go.”

“Rowan, I—”

He pressed a finger to my lips, then surprised me by smiling. “I know you. You won’t be able to rest until this matter is settled.”


“How about just for the night? I’ll book a room downtown. You’ll be only a quick drive away.”

He looked so hopeful that I couldn’t turn him down—not that I wanted to.

“How could I refuse?” I winked.

Rowan grinned. “Then go pack a bag.” He waved a hand at Ian, suggesting he transport me to the lab. “I’ll book a room and pick you up at your place.” He pulled out his phone and headed for the door.

I smiled. New Magic might be gone, but that didn’t stop the Flame Lord from ordering me around.

Waylon took a step after him, lifting a hand as if to speak, but stopped and let Rowan leave the shop. He turned to face us. “What’s going on?”

I assumed he referred to the disappearance of New Magic. “I’ll figure it out,” I promised him.

Ian wordlessly opened a portal.

I bid Waylon farewell, then followed Ian into the land of the dead.


After a quick trip to my room to pack an overnight bag, I hurried down to the lab and found Ian at his bench, his lab journal open before him.

“No Rowan?” I asked.

“Not yet.”

I pulled up a stool and sat beside him. “What do you think of all this?”

“I think some time away will do you both some good.”

“No, I meant about New Magic. Why did it just disappear like that?”

Ian laid down his pen and looked up. “I understand it appeared just as abruptly.”

“What happens when word gets out?”

“There will be another shift in the world order.”

“But Old Magic has always been around. Things are no different than they were two decades ago.”

“Things are very different,” Ian said. “We no longer hide what we are.”

I got to my feet and paced to the end of the workbench. “I don’t feel good about this.”

“Rowan’s magic isn’t going to kill him.”

“Okay, I like that part, but what happens when he’s no longer around to keep order?”

“I know you’ve had your differences lately, but Doug is a good man.”

“He’s a man of honor and integrity who will make a great Deacon—if he gets to hang on to the title. But he’s not the most powerful necromancer out there.”

The rumble of an engine announced that a car had pulled up behind the lab. It must be Rowan.

Ian rose to his feet and walked over to me. “Stop borrowing trouble.” He gripped my shoulders. “Now go enjoy yourself. I’ll hold down the fort.”

“And you’ll call if there’s a problem?”

“Yes, Mistress.” He smiled.

I rolled my eyes. I had a feeling that it would have to be a dire problem before he called me.


“Oh wow.” I left my bag by the door and walked deeper into the room Rowan had booked. I called it a room, but it was technically a suite.

Crossing the living room, I pushed open a set of French doors and stepped into the spacious bedroom. In the far corner, a sunken hot tub sat near a pair of doors that opened onto a balcony.

“What is this, the honeymoon suite?” I asked.


I turned to face him, and he grinned at me.

“I’ve wanted to bring you to a place like this for some time—although, I would have preferred a private villa on some tropical island.”

“And I intend to let you fulfill that fantasy.” I walked back to him.

“I offered to book a place like this for James last night. I figured I could at least live vicariously through him, but he had other plans.”

“What other plans?”

“I didn’t ask. I was afraid it might involve a crypt or something.”

I laughed and looped my arms around his neck. “And now you don’t have to live vicariously.”

His hands settled on my waist, but instead of kissing me, he took a breath and released it. “Since I woke this morning, I’ve been afraid this would all turn out to be a dream.”

“It’s not. Your eyes really are blue.” That still weirded me out a little. I had thought the eye color had been a genetic change. Apparently, I was wrong.

Rowan’s brow wrinkled. “I’m scared the magic will return,” he whispered. “What if I’m not prepared?”

“I think you’ll be much better prepared than you were the first time.”

“I intend to continue what I’ve been doing, disciplining myself as if the Fire really could escape my control.”

I nodded. “That sounds wise.” I really wished I could figure out why the magic seemed to come and go on its own.

“But not today.” Those blue eyes held mine as he continued. “Today, I’m going to let go—for the first time in almost twenty years.”

I smiled. “I’m curious as to what that’s like.”

“Shall I show you?”


He grinned. “Let me fill the hot tub.”


The hot tub turned out to be a good idea. I hadn’t realized how tense I was until the bubbling jets of warm water and Rowan’s strong fingers began to loosen my tight muscles.

I groaned, pressing my forehead against the side of the tub while Rowan massaged my shoulders.

“Better?” he asked.


He worked his way down my back, kneading the muscles to either side of my spine. “Had I realized how tense you were, I could have hired you a massage therapist before now. There’s a spa Cora frequents that—”

“I’m really not too keen on being rubbed down by a stranger. I think it would just make me more tense.”

“A lot of people seem to like it.”

“I’m not like a lot of people.”


I glanced back over my shoulder at him.

“What?” he asked.

“Aren’t you supposed to say something like, thank God there aren’t more people like you?”

He smiled. “I’ve got you naked in a hot tub. I’m not going to mess this up.”

“Ah.” I turned to face him. “But you were thinking it.”

He gave me a mischievous grin, then leaned down to kiss me. When he pulled me into his lap, I decided to let the argument go.

I had showered with Rowan before, but something about being submerged in a tub of bubbling warm water with him added a whole new dynamic. Maybe it was the lack of visibility that left all explorations to be done by touch. Maybe it was the buoyancy of the water or the slick feel of wet skin on wet skin. Whatever it was, I reaffirmed that the hot tub was, indeed, a good idea.

But the hot tub wasn’t the only new dynamic. With Rowan’s magic no longer a factor, I could explore his body as he had so frequently explored mine. In the past, he’d usually had to limit himself to just pleasing me, keeping such a tight rein on his emotions that I often couldn’t even touch him. Now that was no longer the case.

“Damn,” he spoke the word on an exhale. “Keep that up and I’m not going to last.”

I arched an eyebrow but didn’t stop what I was doing.

With something like a growl, he cut my exploring short and pinned me to the side of the tub, kissing me with an intensity that left me lightheaded.

“I want to see you,” he said against my mouth. He encouraged me to climb from the tub and join him on a pile of towels.

The air cooled my wet skin, but Rowan didn’t give me a chance to grow cold. He pressed me down against the towels, his hands sliding over my body and rubbing away the chill bumps.

We only had the patience for a brief rubdown as we’d both waited too long for this. I wrapped my legs around his waist, and he needed no more encouragement. I loved seeing him this uninhibited. No hesitation. No fear. This was who Rowan really was.

I gave up analyzing the situation and left my control wherever he had left his until we both slipped over that edge. For one blissful moment, all my worries floated away.

“Huh, no fireworks,” I said as he collapsed on the towels beside me. “Except the ones inside my eyelids.”

He laughed, then pulled me against him, hugging me close.

I waited, expecting him to say something, but he remained silent, his breathing a little rough.


He released a breath that shook, then his lips brushed my forehead. “I’ve waited so long,” he whispered.

I lifted my head to look into those blue eyes I still wasn’t used to. “That bad?”

“Yes.” His gaze held mine. “I could never just feel. I couldn’t lose myself to the brush of your lips or the touch of your hands. I longed to be with you and yet when I was, it was torment.”

I trailed my fingers along his jaw, my heart aching. “I’m sorry I never found a way to help you.”

“That wasn’t an accusation.”

“I know, but…” I stopped, trying to organize my thoughts. “You hid it so well, I had no idea how much you wanted to be free of this.”

“I had no choice but to accept it.”

I thought about Colby, the young Fire Element who had wanted to escape his magic so desperately that he had gone to Neil—and ended up being Made. Had Rowan wanted out almost as desperately?

“I’m so glad you hung on,” I said.

“You were worth it.”

That stunned me to silence.

He cupped my cheek. “But you don’t think so.”

“I don’t deserve the faith you have in me.”

“Yes, you do, and one day, you’ll prove it.”

“I hope so.” I dropped my gaze.

He leaned in and took my lips with his. I kissed him back just as ardently until he tried to roll me onto my back.

“No,” I said against his lips. “My turn.”

He grinned. “What are you planning?”

“I recall a few times when you tormented me, refusing to let me touch you.”

“Do you have vengeance in mind, alchemist?”

“Yes, Your Grace, I do.”


I woke on my stomach. It wasn’t usually the most comfortable position, but the extra soft mattress made up for it. I didn’t want to move, though I wondered what time it was. The light coming in around the drawn curtains had dimmed.

A finger trailed along my spine, and I pulled in a breath.

“Have a nice nap?” Rowan asked.


“Was that a yes?” He ran his palm down my back until he cupped my bare backside.

I gasped.

He chuckled, and his hand slid up my back once more.

“You’re not going to make me move, are you?” I asked. We had done a lot of moving.

“Are you sore?”

“That would require movement for me to verify.”

He laughed. “How about another soak in the hot tub?”

I turned my head toward him. He rested on one elbow, a grin creasing his face.

“I’m intrigued,” I admitted.

My phone, lying on the nightstand behind me, rang. I recognized the ringtone and pushed myself up. “That’s Ian.”

Rowan frowned.

“He wouldn’t call unless it was important.” I scooted to the edge of the bed, pulling the sheet around me before I picked up the phone. It seemed indecent to answer the phone in the nude, even if Ian couldn’t see me.

“Ian, what’s wrong?” I said into the phone.

“I’m sorry, but I knew you would be upset if I didn’t call and tell you.”

“Tell me what?”

“James is missing.”

“What? Did George find him?”

“Yes, but—”

“I’m on my way.” I ended the call.

“What is it?”

“George found James. Now James is missing.”

Rowan immediately turned and climbed from the bed. “We can be back at the lab in twenty minutes.”

I smiled, pleased that he set aside his well-deserved vacation to go help James. “Neil and George,” I said. “Once we deal with those bastards, we’re heading to that island villa.”

Rowan glanced back, his eyes holding mind. “Consider it done.”


Rowan parked the Camaro in the small lot behind the lab, beside an unfamiliar 4X4 pickup truck. The vehicle made me uneasy, but it wasn’t until I stepped up beside it and saw the demolished remains of a dog box that had been built into the bed of the truck that I got really anxious.

I jogged around the vehicle to the back door and rushed inside, Rowan right on my heels. Hurrying down the hall, I stepped into the lab and stumbled to a stop. Ian and Elysia stood a short distance away, but I only glanced at them. My attention locked on George Huntsman.

“What the hell?” Rowan gripped my shoulder and pulled me back.

“It’s okay.” Elysia stepped forward, and I noticed that she still wore the dress she had worn to her reception last night. She turned a frown on George. “Sit back down.” Her eyes flickered white a split second before he dropped onto the nearest stool.

“Oh my God,” I whispered.

“Yes,” Elysia said, her tone just as soft. “He’s dead.”

James’s last surviving brother was dead. My gaze shifted to Ian. “When you said James was missing…”

Ian’s eyes met mine. “I meant from the mortal plane.”


Chapter 3

My thoughts spun in useless circles as I tried to take in what they told me. All of James’s brothers were dead. Without them, he couldn’t remain on the mortal plane. He was…dead.

“No,” I said. “No. He can’t be gone.”

Elysia walked over to me. A clean white bandage encircled her shoulder, her skin almost as pale. “Not gone, no. Trapped.”

“Trapped? Trapped where?”

“It’s my fault.” A tear rolled down her cheek. “I commanded him not to go into the light.”

“The light,” I whispered.

“Do you remember it? James told me that you almost crossed over, after Gavin clawed you.”

The memory was hazy, but I did remember. I remembered wanting to walk into it very much—until James called me away.

Rowan’s hand settled on the small of my back.

“What happened?” I asked Elysia. “How did George end up a lich?”

“After the reception, James and I went to his place in Athens. George found us and, long story short, James killed him before he could kill me. Then James…vanished,” she finished in a whisper.

“And you don’t know where he is?” I asked her.

“No.” She raked her hands back through her tangled blonde hair. “But it’s dark there.”

My stomach rolled over. “How do you know?”

“I can still feel him, through the bond.”

I turned to Ian. “What does this mean? Is he trapped in the land of the dead?”

“No, I don’t think so,” he answered. “That is just a transitional place, a bridge between this world and the afterlife.”

And we knew he wasn’t in the afterlife. Elysia had forbidden him from going. But he wasn’t in the mortal world. “He’s trapped somewhere between…”

A wave of vertigo hit me, and I fell into a memory.


“Between?” Neil asked. “What do you mean?”

“He wasn’t dead, but he wasn’t alive, either. He was between the two. In the twilight region—”

“Where the manifest becomes unmanifest,” Neil finished the quote. “Are you saying that the grim is First Matter?”

“Maybe? I think the grim’s tomb must be a gateway to that twilight region.” I turned the open journal I held toward him.

He frowned at the diagram on the page. “It’s a summoning circle.”

“What?” I lowered the journal. “Like a medium uses? To summon spirits from beyond?”


I frowned, not yet ready to give up.

“Admit it. You just wanted me to take you to England.” The location of the grim’s tomb.

“I’m right about this.” I hesitated. “Most of this.”

“You’re completely obsessed with this grim lore.” He pulled the journal from my hand and snapped it closed, the ouroboros burned into the cover clearly visible. “Even if it were true, what would it prove? The grim is dead. The Elements killed him. Let this go.” He turned and dropped the journal into a worn trunk before he faced me once more. “I think your theory on New Magic is where it’s at. That’s how we’ll find the Final Formula.”


“Addie?” Rowan’s fingers brushed my cheek.

I blinked my eyes back into focus. I no longer stood in the lab. In the brief time the memory had overtaken me, someone had carried me into Ian’s room and placed me on his cot. Ian stood behind Rowan, who squatted beside me, leaving me uncertain as to which of them had carried me in here.

“Take this.” Rowan pressed a tissue into my hand. “Your nose is bleeding.”

I pressed it to my nose and sat up.

“Was that one of your déjà vu incidents?” Elysia asked. She stood just inside the room, perhaps keeping an eye on George who must still be in the lab.

“Yes,” I agreed. I had called my magical memory surges déjà vu, and the moniker had stuck. I pushed myself to my feet, and Rowan rose to stand beside me.

“What did you remember?” Elysia asked.

“I remembered discussing Gavin’s tomb—with Neil.”

“Why? And why did our discussion about James make you remember that? You were talking about him being trapped somewhere between…something. How did that tie in?”

“Gavin’s tomb is not where Gavin was actually imprisoned.” A faint wave a vertigo washed over me.

Rowan’s hand settled on my back. “Perhaps you should sit down.”

“I’m good.” I turned my attention back to Elysia. “Gavin’s tomb is a summoning circle.” I realized that had been the diagram I had shown Neil. “A permanent one carved in stone.”

Ian grunted, drawing our attention to him.

“What is it?” I asked him.

“I’ve often wondered how the grim could be imprisoned within a simple tomb.”

“If he had been bound in iron…”

“That might work for a time, but not for centuries. Chains rust, stone deteriorates. Beyond that, he would need to eat. Even though a lack of food wouldn’t kill him, the pain would drive him mad.”

Elysia crossed her arms, hugging herself, but didn’t comment.

“I suspected there had to be some kind of necromantic input,” Ian continued. “And a caretaker.”

“Does this circle eliminate the need for such things?” Rowan asked.

“I’ve always heard that mediums can summon and trap spirits,” Ian said. “I didn’t think a circle could be used for something like this.”

“Maybe Lex’s medium phobia wasn’t that far off,” I said.

“The circles only work on spirits. Ghosts,” Ian said. “The grim has a physical form.”

“On the mortal plane. You know how James must shift to move between them.”

Elysia wrapped her fingers in her hair. “What have I done?”

“Ely.” I took a step toward her.

“Do you know where Gavin’s tomb is?” she asked.

“I know it’s in England somewhere.”

“Wait. George knows. I can make him tell us.”

It might have been my imagination, but I thought she seemed a little too excited about the prospect of making George do something.

“Okay,” I said. “But I don’t see how that would help. You didn’t imprison James in Gavin’s tomb.”

“But what if he’s in the same place? Just discussing it triggered your memory. There must be some correlation.”

“Yes, that both of them were trapped somewhere other than the planes of reality we know. It doesn’t mean it’s the same plane.”

“And it doesn’t mean it isn’t.”

I sighed. I couldn’t argue that, so I turned to Ian. “Know anything about summoning circles?”

“Beyond their existence, not really. I had few dealings with mediums.”

“What about Era’s friend?” Elysia asked, her tone eager. “What was his name?”

“Blake,” I answered.

“We could ask him.”

“He’s a sixteen-year-old boy.”

“And a powerful medium, right?”

Again, I couldn’t argue that. Like a necromancer, a medium’s ability wasn’t affected by the loss of New Magic. Blake had even insisted that his talent wasn’t a form of magic, but a sensitivity thing. Then too, with his dislike of necromancers, he could just be distancing himself from Old Magic.

“It wouldn’t hurt to get his opinion,” Rowan spoke up. “If he is unaware of the answer, perhaps he can direct us to someone more knowledgeable.”

“Exactly,” Elysia agreed. “Maybe he can summon James back to us.”

I hoped it would be that simple, but I had a feeling that it wouldn’t. James wasn’t a ghost to be summoned to the mortal world, but Elysia had said that he had vanished, body and all. That had to mean that he was out there. Somewhere.

Elysia closed the distance between us. “I knew you would find an answer.”

“That has yet to be proven, but if some of my nefarious past actions can provide a solution, I’m cool with that.”

She tried to laugh, but it came out as a sob.

My heart went out to her, and I pulled her into a hug. “I will get him back,” I promised her. “I won’t rest until I do.”

Her embrace tightened and another sob escaped. “James believes in you, too. When I asked him how to free him, he sent me an image of those two dragons, eating each others tails.”

I pulled back. “The ouroboros?” Goosebumps rose on my arms as I remembered the journal in my reclaimed memory. Unfortunately, I didn’t remember the details of the diagram I had shown Neil. I hoped I wouldn’t need to.

“Is that what it’s called?” she asked.

“Elysia?” Ian had moved over behind her, but he didn’t seem interested in the conversation. He lifted her thick blonde hair, and I noticed the brown stains coating the underside.

“Is that blood?” I asked.

“In our fight with George, I fell and hit my head,” she admitted. “I made George drive me to the nearest urgent care to stitch it up.” Her eyes met mine, her exhaustion shining through. “Do you have any of that headache relief potion?”

“Of course.” I returned to the lab to grab a vial off my shelf of completed potions. George still sat on his stool. He glanced at me, but said nothing, his face oddly expressionless.

Ignoring him, I turned back to the hall and found Rowan waiting for me. He was watching George, but followed me back to Ian’s room.

I handed Elysia the vial, and she wasted no time drinking the potion. She bent and gripped her knees, her head bowed as she waited for it to take full effect. The bloodstains in her hair and along the top of her dress were clearly visible. The bronze gown that had looked so stunning at her reception now bore several rips and stains. She had been through more than just a blow to the head.

She sighed and straightened. “Thank you.” Her shoulders slumped in relief.

“Actually, I believe Ian made the last batch,” I said.

“Thank you, Grandfather,” she said to him, her tone solemn.

He reached out and gripped her shoulder, his expression concerned. “Go upstairs. You need to eat and rest.”

“I don’t think I can.”

“I’ll watch him.” Ian gestured at the lab where she had left George.

“And may I suggest,” Rowan spoke up, “that you disarm him. He might be dead, but he’s still a Hunter.”

“A dead Hunter who is bound to a soul reaper.” A small smile twisted the corner of Elysia’s mouth. “I purposely let him keep his weapons. It reminds him of what he lost.” She turned to Ian. “And thank you for the offer, but you needn’t watch him. He’s not going anywhere.”

A slight frown creased Ian’s forehead, but he said nothing.

“But I would love a shower.” She turned to me. “Then we can go speak to Blake.”

Ian turned his frown on me. I didn’t need to read minds to know what he was thinking.

“Ian’s right,” I told her. “You’ve been injured, not to mention up all night. You need to rest. Rowan and I will go talk to Blake. And I’ll call you the moment we have a plan.”

“But I—”

I took her hand. “I know. You don’t want to go lie down. You want to keep fighting. But there’s nothing for you to do right now. I’ll have to get Era to get ahold of Blake, then we’ll have to meet with him. Take this time to get your feet back under you. We may need your talents, and it’ll go best if you’re fresh.”

She chewed her lip, still looking undecided.

“You can either listen to me or I can hit you with some Knockout Powder.”

“Don’t you dare.”

I winked. “Come on. I’ll start the shower for you.”

“No, you go ahead. I can manage.” She walked to the door.

“You’ll lie down afterword?” I asked.

“If I don’t fall down first,” she admitted.

I smiled. Yes, she was beyond exhausted.

“Call me the moment you learn something?” she asked.

“Of course.”

She turned toward the hall, then hesitated, looking back at Ian. “Seriously, leave him be. You don’t need to watch him. Remember Psyche’s liches?”

“I do.”

She nodded, then abruptly smiled. “I have yet to decide if I’m going to rearrange his parts.” A final grin, and she left us standing there.

I stared after her, remembering well the liches we had found in Alexander’s catacombs. The liches his mad daughter had Made. Soul reapers could use their blood to heal the injuries of the dead. They could even reattach limbs and make them functional—or move those limbs to other parts of the body.

“Please tell me she was kidding,” Rowan said, his words soft. He had seen Psyche’s liches, too.

“I’m sure it’s just the fatigue talking,” Ian said.

“I almost wish I had my power,” Rowan continued. “I would remove the temptation.”

“That would have been nice,” Ian agreed.

“Maybe you can do something with him while she’s resting,” I suggested to Ian.

“I can’t. She commanded me to leave him be.”

“That was a command?”

“Yes, though I’m not certain she realized it.”

“She’s that powerful?” Rowan asked.

“Yes, but look at the positive. You don’t have to worry about him being armed—or ever leaving that stool.”

Rowan grunted. “If she hadn’t commanded you?”

Ian’s cheeks dimpled. “I would have taken care of the problem.”

“Good to know, Mallory.”

Ian clapped him on the shoulder and with one last smile, left the room.

Rowan’s eyes met mine, and he lifted a brow.

“What?” I asked. “You didn’t think I’d shack up with any run of the mill necromancers, did you? Hey, I’m the Flame Lord’s girlfriend.”

He smiled. “Indeed you are. Come on, alchemist. Let’s go find my little brother.”

I rolled up on my toes and kissed his cheek, loving the way he and the other Elements had adopted James. “He’s as good as found, Your Grace.”


Blake’s mother set another plate of cookies in the center of the kitchen table. “Can I refill anyone’s glass?”

“We’re good, Mom,” Blake said, a hint of exasperation in his voice.

“You can’t speak for everyone, Blake.” She gave her son a scolding look.

“Thank you, Mrs. Crawford,” Rowan spoke up, “but Blake is correct. Thanks to your kind hospitality, we want for nothing.”

“Except a little privacy,” Blake muttered. Fortunately, his mother was too busy beaming at the praise to hear him.

“Just call if you need anything.” A final smile, and she left us. Again.

I hadn’t been around Blake much, but I had gotten the sense that his parents were a bit overprotective. It had surprised me that his mother had been so willing to let Blake talk with us, but then, she had clearly recognized Rowan. I guess she didn’t mind the Flame Lord paying her son a personal visit.

“I’m sorry,” Blake said now that we were alone.

Era leaned over and patted his hand. She had insisted on joining us when I called her for Blake’s phone number. I had been half afraid to tell her about James’s disappearance, out of fear that she would blame Elysia, but she put the blame where it belonged: on George.

“So, this circle,” Rowan said, trying to get the conversation back on track. “You’ve heard of such a thing?”

“Spirit prisons,” Blake said, keeping his voice low. “I’ve read about them. That’s dark stuff.”

“No doubt,” I agreed. After all, Gavin’s brothers had used one to imprison him. George’s threat to lock James in the gun shop vault paled in comparison.

“Where did you read this?” Rowan asked.

“The Internet.”

“Do you know any other mediums?” I asked.

“Not in real life. I’ve joined a few forums, but I discovered that most of those people are fakes.”

That made me wonder about the legitimacy of Blake’s spirit prison information.

Rowan sighed and leaned back in his chair. I suspected he was thinking the same thing.

“But let’s say James is trapped in such a place,” I said. “Can you summon him back?”

“If a circle bound him, no. The circle must be opened first.”

“I don’t think a circle was used,” I said. “I only asked about the circle because I think the place it accesses is the same place James is right now.”

“Why do you say that?”

“It’s just a hunch.” I didn’t want to go into my déjà vu episode. “Can you summon him?”

Blake’s forehead wrinkled. “I can try, but I’ve never summoned anything. Cleansings and banishments are the only things I’ve done. Well, that and listen to the ghosts at the locations Era visits.”

Era offered a small smile, but didn’t comment.

I glanced over at Rowan. “So, we have a medium with the skill, but not the knowledge.”

“Don’t look at me. New Magic has nothing like this.”

“What about Brenda?” I named the librarian who had helped me learn what had become of Ian’s children. “She has a very similar talent: she can communicate with spirits via the written word. But I don’t see where that would be helpful unless…” A new idea occurred to me. “What if I took her the Huntsman family journal?”

James had found a collection of family heirlooms. One had been the vial of old blood Ian and I had analyzed. Another was the journal. The pages had been too brittle to turn, but Donovan had solved that problem. With his magic, he had turned the pages for me, and Era had photographed them. Unfortunately, the journal hadn’t said much about the alchemy that created the first grim, though Ian still worked to translate it. The journal had been written in the seventeenth century, and the archaic language made it difficult for me to understand.

“You’re forgetting something.” Rowan lifted his hand, touching his cheek just below his right eye.

“Oh.” No New Magic. Unlike Blake, Brenda no longer had her ability. I wondered if Blake could pick up something off the Huntsman journal.

Era got to her feet. “I’m going to step out on the front porch.”

Rowan frowned after her. “Era?”

“I just need a little…air.” She gave him a smile that looked forced and left the room.

“What’s wrong with Era?” Blake asked. “Is she that upset over James?”

I met Rowan’s blue eyes. We couldn’t keep this to ourselves indefinitely.

Rowan sighed and turned back to Blake. “I would appreciate your discretion—at least until it becomes public knowledge.” He continued in a low tone. “New Magic is gone.”

Blake stared at him. “What do you mean?”

“Just that. This morning, New Magic vanished just as suddenly as it appeared two decades ago.”

“Why? How?”

“That’s what I would like to know,” I said.

“At this juncture, it’s immaterial,” Rowan said.

“But who’s going to keep the necromancers in check if you’re not around?” Blake asked, his youthful voice cracking at the end. “The Deacon knows about me.”

“I know you had your differences, but Doug is Deacon now—or he will be soon. He’s a good man,” Rowan said.

“Which is another reason to keep quiet about this,” I said. “He won’t be officially named Deacon for another two days.”

Blake didn’t look convinced, but he didn’t comment. Abruptly, he pushed to his feet. “I’m going to go check on Era.”

I watched him go. Did he worry about his own vulnerability now that Rowan was no longer in charge, or did he worry about Era? I strongly suspected Blake had a crush on her. Although, even without the crush, I could understand his concern. She hadn’t been her bubbly self this afternoon.

“How is Era?” I asked Rowan. “And Donovan and Cora?”

“To be honest, we’re all feeling a little out of sorts.”

“Even you?”

“Yes. I got used to having that other…sense. Being able to feel the world around me with more than just the five senses had become second nature. But my loss is offset by my gain.” He smiled.

I smiled in turn, knowing that firsthand. “And the others?”

“Cora and Donovan feel the loss, too, but they were well into adulthood when they became magical. Era however, was only four years old. She grew up with magic. Now she’s blind to something that has always been part of her.”

“Sounds like how James always described being collared in iron.” My heart clenched at his mention. “We have to get him back.”

Rowan held my gaze. “We will.”

“What about the Huntsman journal or the other pieces? Can’t mediums use objects to communicate with the dead that interact with them? Do you think Blake could get…something from them?” I had no idea what that would be—or how it would help us.

Before Rowan could comment, Blake’s mother walked back into the room. She pulled up short, glancing at the empty table. “Where’s Blake…and his friend Era?” We hadn’t told her about Era being an Element. We hadn’t told her who Rowan was, either—she had recognized him.

“Outside,” I said.

Mrs. Crawford glanced toward the front of the house, her expression concerned. She turned back to Rowan. “Might I ask what it is that you need with Blake?”

“A friend is missing,” Rowan said. “I was hoping Blake could give us some help locating him.”

“Spiritual help.”

“Your son is a medium.”

Her brow wrinkled even more. “Not to tell you your business, Your Grace, but the spirit world is rarely the place for answers. My grandfather used to tell me that those spirits who remain in this world are the least likely to prove helpful. They are usually more lost and confused than those seeking their help.”

“I’ve heard that Blake’s great grandfather shared his talent.”

She nodded. “He was a famous medium in his day, which got him some unwelcome attention.”

“I’ve heard that, too.”

“I’ve always discouraged Blake from using his ability—aside from learning how to protect himself from it. I don’t want history to repeat itself.”

“Blake told us that the Deacon killed his great grandfather thirty years ago,” I said. “Is that true?”

“Well, it’s closer to forty years. That’s the story my grandmother told me, but I have no proof.”

I glanced over at Rowan. “The Huntsman journal?”

Rowan turned his attention back to Blake’s mom. “I have an old book that belongs to my missing friend. Would you allow Blake to hold it and give me any impressions he might sense?”

“Do you have it with you?”

“No, I’m afraid not. My original intent was just to ask Blake if he could do it. Would you allow me to borrow him for the evening? I can personally vouch for his safety—at least with regard to the Deacon.”

Mrs. Crawford smiled, and I wondered if she truly believed her grandfather had fallen prey to the Deacon, or did she just repeat the story to make Blake more cautious? “Okay. I’ll let him go with you. But can I have a word with him before you go?”

“Of course.” Rowan turned toward the door, gesturing for me to precede him. “I’ll send him in.”

“Your Grace?” Mrs. Crawford stopped us at the door. “I would prefer Blake not end up on TV.”

“I’d prefer that myself.” Rowan said, and we left the room.


Blake agreed to come look at the Huntsman family heirlooms, though he seemed surprised that his mother allowed him to go. The more time I spent around the young man, the more I believed that he lived a very sheltered life. Not that it was a bad thing to be so loved.

Fortunately, traffic was light when we took Blake back to the lab, so Era and I didn’t have to remain scrunched in the Camaro’s back seat for too long. The small confines didn’t bother me, but Era’s long legs were another story. She complained more than once about leaving her car at Blake’s, but since we were coming straight back afterward, it made sense to take one car.

Arriving at my lab, we found George still sitting on his stool. Elysia had taken our suggestion and rested upstairs—which worked out for the best. I hated to get her hopes up if Blake failed to find anything.

Blake stopped just inside the door and gave George an uncertain look. Did he sense something about him, or did the black fatigues and weapons make him uncomfortable? George had been dirty and bearded during Blake’s very brief encounter with him beneath the old house on Doug’s property. I doubted that he recognized him. When I suggested we move to Ian’s room for this experiment, Blake went without comment.

Ian retrieved the wooden box containing the Huntsman family treasures from the top shelf of the antique armoire that held his clothes. As he carried the box to the table, I glanced over at Blake. He studied the armoire, a frown on his face.

“Blake?” I touched his arm. “Are you getting something?”

He blinked, and his hazel eyes shifted to me. “I…”

“Yes?” I tried to keep the eagerness out of my voice, but wasn’t sure I succeeded.

With a small shake of the head, Blake’s expression cleared. “Nothing.” He walked over to join Ian at the table.

I glanced at Rowan and Era who stood beside me.

“He does that. A lot,” Era whispered, then walked over to Blake’s side.

“Don’t look at me,” Rowan muttered. “We’re out of my element here.”

I smiled. “And what is your element?”

He grinned and gave me a wink before we joined the others.

“It is my understanding that this box has been in the Huntsman family since the grim’s creation,” Ian told Blake. “Maybe even designed by the alchemist who made him.” Ian touched the design burned into the lid. It depicted two dragons, one light, one dark, eating each other’s tails. “The ouroboros.”

“Life and Death,” Blake murmured.

“You are aware of the alchemical concept?” I asked, impressed.

“No, I was told.”

I glanced up at Ian. “Just now?” I asked Blake. “You’re picking up something from the box?”

“About the box.” Blake rolled his shoulders and glanced around the room. “This place is active. I’m still sorting out who is here.”

“Are you saying this building is haunted?” Era asked. She sounded a little too eager to me.

“Not the building, the individuals who live here,” Blake answered.

“Is it the necromancer thing?” I asked Ian. “Ely has always claimed to be a ghost magnet.”

“It’s possible,” Ian said, his tone subdued. He had probably thought, as I did, that we were past that since James had saved Elysia from her magic. Maybe reaping George had set her back more than I realized.

Blake reached out and touched the box. Slowly, he ran his index finger over the black dragon. “The soulless holds the heart of magic in his hands,” he said, his voice soft.

“What did you say?” Rowan looked stunned.

Blake didn’t reply. Instead, he began to trace the white dragon. “Only the blood of the creator can free him.”

“The creator?” I asked.

Blake gasped and jerked his hand from the box. He stumbled away from the table and might have fallen if Rowan hadn’t caught him.

“Your Grace?” Blake blinked up at him.

“Blake, are you okay?” Era asked, moving to his side.

“Yes, I’m fine.” He stepped away from Rowan and bent over to grip his thighs.

“Who was it?” I asked.

“I don’t know.” Blake straightened and ran his hand through his hair, messing the light brown strands. He eyed the box, his expression concerned.

“Do you think touching the box’s contents would help?” I asked.

“No,” his voice dropped to a whisper as he continued. “Only horror waits inside.”

I frowned. The box held a journal, an old miniature portrait of an unknown man, and a rusted dog collar with spikes—on the inside.

Blake rubbed his hand on his thigh. “I’m sorry. I know this seems cowardly, but I’m a physical medium. I learn about things by reliving them, and what’s in that box…”

“You don’t have to open it,” Era said, her eyes meeting mine.

“No, of course not. But I do have one question. There’s an old portrait inside. Do you know who it is?”

Blake didn’t hesitate. “Gavin Huntsman.”


Chapter 4

My mouth dropped open. “Gavin was the original grim?”

“I guess.” Blake shrugged.

Now that I thought about it, I realized that I had never seen Gavin’s original human form. He had been a monster in the land of the dead, and later, he had used the body of James’s brother Brian.

“I’m sorry,” Blake cut into my musings. “I need to get away from that.” He nodded at the box.

“Of course.” Era took his elbow and steered him from the room.

After he left, I opened the box and lifted out the portrait. “Gavin’s brothers were supposed to have built his tomb. Did he have more than one brother, or just Richard? Not that it matters, I guess.” I stared at the young man in the picture. He had been entombed a lot longer than I realized.

I glanced up at Rowan. “What did Blake say about the soulless? You seemed to find it familiar.”

The soulless holds the heart of magic in his hands,” Rowan recited. “Marian gave James that prophecy the day he almost killed Gerald, at Lydia’s house.”

I remembered well the day Rowan had first brought James and me to Cincinnati.

“I had interpreted it to mean Era. She had gone into that old crematorium just before it collapsed. James went after her.”

I could see that as a valid translation of the prophecy. Rowan treated Era like a daughter. “But now you don’t see that as the right interpretation?”

“I don’t know.” Rowan raked a hand through his auburn hair. “I’m beginning to agree that seeking guidance from the other side isn’t all that helpful.”

Only the blood of the creator can free him,” I quoted.

“Any idea what that means?”

“If he’s referring to James, then we’re in trouble. The alchemist who created the first grim has been dead for centuries.” A new thought occurred to me. “Unless…”


I looked up at Ian. “The blood in the vial.” I gestured at the box and the slot that had contained the sample Ian and I had analyzed this morning. I turned to Rowan. “I need to call Waylon and make sure his lab tech put it somewhere safe.”

Rowan pulled out his phone, and with a few taps, had Waylon on the line.

Being the Flame Lord’s girlfriend was handy.


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