Game of Witches - Ebook
Game of Witches - Ebook
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Guests avoid The Twilight Hotel like the plague after the teeny-weeny demon invasion. To keep the hotel from financial ruin, management decides to host a Casino Week to get things going again. Sounds great. There’s just one problem. People in our paranormal community turn up dead.
Worse, paranormals are acting crazy—like full-moon crazy—and vampires and shifters are taking snacks out of humans.
Soon I find myself neck-deep in the crapper once again, and things between none other than the sexy man-beast, Valen, and me are even more perplexing than ever before. He’s shut me out. And I don’t know why.
So when a new nemesis stirs things up in New York City, it’s up to me to settle the score.
And I’m ready for them.
Game of Witches is perfect for fans of urban fantasy, mystery, slow-burn romance, and humor. Get ready for this heart-pounding and laugh-out-loud magical adventure!
Look Inside Chapter 1
Look Inside Chapter 1
I hadn’t seen or heard from Valen since we’d removed the curse from Jimmy and put him back in his human body. That was five days ago. Maybe the giant was avoiding me. Perhaps he regretted the kiss he’d planted on me. Just thinking about the kiss sent a flash of heat through my nether regions. But it didn’t stop me from doing a little research on my own.
I spent days browsing every Google link, trying to decipher myth from reality, because sometimes fairy tales hid a bit of truth. I didn’t want to overlook anything. We’d all heard the stories and seen the movies about vampires and werewolves, and they were as real as you and me. So why not giants?
Still, I couldn’t find much on giants. I’d discovered from human mythology that giants were described as stupid and violent monsters, sometimes said to eat humans. That totally wasn’t like Valen at all.
Yes, he was violent. I’d seen it with my own eyes. But that was because he had protected me and the others from demons who wanted to eat our faces. He’d described himself to me as a protector, a watcher. So the stuff on the internet was a bust, despite my best efforts.
I’d even searched the Merlins’ mainframe database and was seriously disappointed when I found nothing. Only when I’d called the Gray Council and spoken to one of their secretaries to ask for permission to look at their archives here in New York City did I find anything of real value.
“Can you point me in the direction of giants? I’d like to see everything you’ve got on them,” I’d told a frowning old man, who’d gone bald many years ago, as he sat at the archives’ front desk.
“Giants?” he’d repeated, like I was a simpleton.
“That’s what I said. Giants,” I repeated, louder than was necessary.
“Why? Giants have been extinct for hundreds of years. I’m afraid someone is leading you on a ghost hunt.”
He was wrong, but at least he knew they were real. “So, where to?”
Even though the old bookkeeper thought I was mental, in the end, he took me to a restricted section and handed me a single, thin tome.
“Here,” he said. “It’s the only material we have on giants. Written by Theodore Paine himself, head of the White witch court at the time.”
I’d never heard of Theodore Paine, but the tome dated back three hundred years. It seemed to be a journal of sorts, depicting his own experience with a giant called Otar.
From his entries, I’d learned both parents didn’t need to be giants in order to produce a giant offspring. Interesting. Female giants were often barren, most suffering stillbirths and miscarriages if they did become pregnant. I’d learned these facts because, apparently, the Gray Council had taken to trying and breeding an army of giants to protect them. However, according to the entries, that hadn’t gone all that well, and many babies had died.
And like us, giants had demon blood. They were descendants of a demon called Gigas, described as big as a house, though the giants were considerably smaller.
Unmatched in their strength, giants also possessed healing abilities. I believed that after the direct contact with Valen’s skin while riding on his shoulder had healed my wounds. This just validated that.
I couldn’t find anything about a giant’s glamour or other abilities, but I’d experienced them as well, so there was that.
After my discovery in the archives, I decided to take a more hands-on approach to my research.
I decided to stalk Valen.
Yup. I was a total stalker. For the last three nights in a row, I’d waited on the roof of the Twilight Hotel around midnight. All three nights, I’d caught glimpses of Valen taking his clothes off in the alley between his restaurant and the hotel. Then, with a flash of light, he transformed into his magnificent giant self—all naked, all glorious, and all very big.
I wanted to see what he did without having me tag along, like that night when I sat on his shoulder. At first, it was easy enough to follow him. I blended in with the Manhattan crowds, the human population oblivious that they had a giant strolling among them, and protecting them, as I followed him through the streets.
But when Valen leaped and soared to the rooftop of some building, I couldn’t follow. If I could fly, I would have, but I didn’t have a flying broom or magical levitation spells. I wasn’t that kind of witch. Some magical aspects were just out of reach for a Starlight witch.
My body fluttered with warmth at the memory of the kiss we’d shared a few days ago. It had only been a kiss, but you’d think by how my body was reacting, we’d done the assault-with-a-friendly-weapon more than once.
“Earth to Leana?”
“Hmmm?” I turned and found Jade standing next to me in the hotel lobby, her blonde hair done up like a beehive. Pink, plastic earrings hung from her ears, grazing her denim jacket. She didn’t have her roller blades on today. Instead, she’d opted for a pair of black-and-white Converse sneakers.
Right above her, secured over the lobby’s front entrance, a sign read CASINO WEEK AT THE TWILIGHT HOTEL.
After the dealings with the Rifts and the demons, guests avoided the Twilight Hotel like the plague. Word had spread of the deaths, and although we’d handled the issue, the hotel was only filled to a quarter capacity, if I were being generous. It felt like less than that.
Basil had the idea of hosting a casino event to get more guests to stay at the hotel and, in turn, keep his job. The lobby and conference rooms were transformed into game rooms with blackjack, baccarat, roulette, poker tables, and way more slot machines than were necessary.
I spotted Errol in an expensive blue three-piece suit, his pale skin practically translucent. He was adjusting an A-frame floor sign next to the front counter that read CASINO CHIP EXCHANGE—NO REFUNDS! He caught me staring and sent a disdainful look in my direction. With his sharp features and jerky movements, he really did look like a lizard, now that I knew his shifter animal.
Today was the first day of Casino Week, and so far, only three guests were sitting at a blackjack table in the lobby. Two females were nestled next to Julian, who caught me looking and flashed me a you-know-I’m-getting-laid-tonight kind of grin. The other was an elderly witch male, who kept hitting his cane at one of the slot machines. Guess he couldn’t magic his winnings.
Errol dragged another A-frame floor sign across the lobby and settled it at the entrance. This one read NO MAGIC USE ALLOWED ON THE GAMES. CHEATERS WILL BE CURSED AND REMOVED.
In fact, a group of very powerful witches and wizards had come this morning to put special wards and spells to keep magical practitioners from cheating. They could try, but they’d end up with a nasty case of hives or warts—their call.
Sounded acceptable to me, if only we had more guests.
“You’re totally gone,” said Jade, pulling my attention back to her and seeing her smile. “I’d love to know what you’re thinking about. Is it dirty? I bet it’s dirty. It is. Isn’t it?”
Yup. Yup. Yup. “No. Just… thinking about boring stuff.”
Jade snorted. “Sure. I bet you’re thinking about a certain giant,” she added with a whisper.
Damn her perception. “He might have circled around my thoughts.”
The five of us, including Jimmy, had sworn not to tell anyone about Valen being a giant. The guy hadn’t shared his true nature with anyone apart from the hotel owners and Basil, and he had only revealed himself to us to save our asses. We decided to respect that and keep his secret to ourselves.
“Where is he, by the way?”
Jade rolled her eyes. “Valen. You know, the not-so-grumpy-anymore-since-he’s-met-you restaurant owner?”
I shrugged. “No idea. I haven’t seen him in a while.” Total lie. I’d seen him last night.
The way Jade was staring at me told me she didn’t buy a single word coming out of my mouth. “Well, I think you’ve changed him.”
My pulse gave a tug. “How so?”
Jade attempted to brush a strand of hair, but when she touched the side of her hair, the entire section moved like a single entity, like it was superglued. “He’s not so grumpy anymore. Haven’t you noticed? He’s not smiling or doing anything that crazy, but he’s… nicer. A lot nicer. And I think that’s because of you.”
I made a face. “No, it isn’t. I barely know the guy. Why would I have any effect on him?” But her words had my pulse racing, and heat pooled around my middle.
“Because you do,” said Jade. “He’s different now. You’ve had a real effect on him. I can tell.”
“What can you tell?” asked a female voice.
We spun to see Elsa joining us. Her mess of curly red hair brushed against her deep-orange blouse. As she walked forward, green garden clogs peeked from under a long, navy skirt.
“That Valen is into Leana,” answered Jade with a grin.
“I could have told you that,” replied the older witch, smiling, her blue eyes lined with crow’s feet. “He lusts over her.”
Heat rushed to my face. “I don’t think so. Besides, I don’t think he’s over his wife’s death. Not that he should be. I mean, if I loved someone deeply, and they were taken away from me too soon by a horrible disease, I probably wouldn’t be over them either.” No. It just made me like him even more.
Elsa smacked my arm harder than necessary. “Don’t talk like that. No one deserves to be alone. I’m sure his wife wouldn’t want him to be lonely. You can love again, you know. Have more than one love in your life.”
“Says the witch who keeps the locks of her dead husband close to her neck,” said Jade, eyeing the vintage locket hanging from Elsa’s neck.
Elsa stiffened and grabbed her pendant. “That’s different. I choose to be alone. Cedric was my one and only true love, and I know in my heart I will never love again. And I’m okay with that. I have no regrets. I’m perfectly content. I feel lucky to have had a great love. Not everyone can say that. And I don’t need another.”
“You’re really lucky,” I told her, meaning every word.
Elsa wrapped her hands around her locket. “I know. I’m one of the lucky ones.”
I didn’t need a great love, or a man, to feel happy, but having experienced a great love the way Elsa had did sound amazing. Not everyone was so lucky, though. I’d married a man who’d tried to kill me in a back alley just because I’d broken his penis. That was my luck.
I hadn’t seen or heard from Martin since, and I was hoping he’d gotten the message from Valen—the I'll-pound-your-head-in-if-you-come-near-her-again message.
I’d seen something dark in Martin’s eyes that day—blurry, but I’d seen it. Maybe it was more of a feeling, an instinct, that told me he wouldn’t let it go.
A tiny man with a tuft of white hair and a matching white beard stepped into my line of sight. His dark suit fit him perfectly, and his typical pale skin was blotched in red.
Basil, the hotel manager, marched over, his eyes wide under his glasses. “What are you doing? You’re supposed to be greeting the guests, not chitchatting with your friends.”
He pushed his round glasses up his nose, his fingers trembling lightly. The scent of pine needles and earth hit me, along with a familiar prick of energy.
His magic was in full mode, like it was leaking out of him. That happened when witches were upset or in a battle. The guy was stressed.
“You told me to be in the lobby at one p.m., and here I am,” I told the small witch. “I’d greet the guests if there were actual guests. What else do you want?”
“The hotel is paying you,” said Basil, eyeing the main entrance door behind me. “You are an employee, and your job requirement is to welcome the guests—oh! Here they come now!”
I turned to see a middle-aged couple, dressed in expensive-looking clothes and wearing identical looks of disdain, walk through the front doors, their eyes traveling over the game tables.
Basil grabbed me by the arm with strength that surprised me, given his size, and hauled me with him.
“Hello, hello! Welcome, welcome!” said Basil, his voice high as he addressed the new guests. “Welcome to Casino Week, where games are your heart’s desire. We have everything you could wish for. We have themed game rooms, dice, blackjack, roulette tables, and slot machines.”
The couple stared at Basil like they thought he was insane. He did sound a little mad, if not a whole lot desperate.
When their eyes flicked over the lobby with concerned brows, Basil blurted, “This is Leana, the hotel’s Merlin.” He pushed me forward as I gave them an awkward smile. “She singled-handily defeated the demon that had taken residence in the hotel.”
I noticed how he said "demon," like there had only been the one.
“She’s the Starlight witch everyone’s talking about. Say hello, Leana.”
“Hello, Leana,” I said, feeling like a pet Labrador retriever.
The couple seemed to visibly relax at this bit of news, though I wasn’t sure I appreciated him parading me around in hopes of having the guests unwind and stay. Especially the part where he disclosed my magical attributes. Not good.
“Let me get you settled in.” Basil ushered the new couple to the front desk to an awaiting, disgusted Errol.
“Do you feel dirty?” asked Jade as she joined me.
“To be used like that?” she added with a smirk. “He’s whoring you around to the guests. You do know that. Right?”
“Leave her alone,” said Elsa as she stood with her hands on her hips, watching Basil with a frown. Guess she didn’t like it either.
“Oh, there’s Jimmy.” Jade gestured to the conference room, now a game room, where Jimmy came strolling out. A dark suit wrapped his lean frame. His light hair was shorter than it had been, telling me he’d gotten a haircut. He smiled at the guests, his back straight, as he walked with a nice confident gait.
“He seems to be enjoying his new post,” I said. “Assistant manager suits him. He knows the hotel better than Basil, so he’s perfect for the job.” The post had opened after the late assistant manager, Raymond, had been killed… or rather fell into a Rift and then was most probably killed by the hundreds of demons waiting on the other side. Jimmy hadn’t wasted a single second and had asked for the job, which Basil had happily given him.
After the curse was removed, Jimmy took one of the vacant apartments previously belonging to one of the families, who did not return to the thirteenth floor after the demon attacks. With his own place and a new job, our Jimmy looked complete.
“He looks very happy,” said Elsa. “But I do miss the toy dog. He was so cute.”
I laughed. “He was, but don’t tell him that.”
“He looks great. Doesn’t he?” said Jade with a strange, dreamy expression on her face, like she was staring at Jon Bon Jovi.
“He does.” I nodded. “And it looks like he’s coming our way.”
Jimmy’s face beamed as he took us all in. “Ladies,” he said, and Jade’s face flamed a bright red.
It looked like Jade was developing a crush. I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing. “Assistant manager,” I teased, bowing my head.
Jimmy laughed as he tapped his flashing name tag. “Has a good ring to it.”
“It does. It’s the perfect job for you.” Basil couldn’t have found a more eager and perfect assistant. “You looking for someone?”
Jimmy nodded. “Yeah. You, actually. This just came in.” He handed me a small white envelope.
I took it. “Who’s it from?”
“The Gray Council,” he answered as my eyes found the inscription on the front.
The Gray Council? I’d never received a letter from them before. Why would they send me a letter when they could reach me by phone? I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.
Elsa crossed her arms over her chest. “I’ll never understand why they can’t contact people through email like everyone else. They’re still in the Stone Age. I wonder what they want?”
“Maybe you’re going to get a promotion!” said Jade, excitement in her voice. “Or maybe that’s a big bonus check. You can finally get that car you wanted.”
I shook my head. “No. The hotel pays me. Not the council.” I tore open the envelope, hating my shaking hands, and took a breath as I read the letter.
Dear Leana Fairchild,
This letter confirms that we will be investigating a matter that concerns you. A complaint has been made about your conduct. We can change or add to these concerns in light of our investigation. We take all complaints seriously and will investigate thoroughly and fairly. After the investigation, a decision will be made as to whether further action (including disciplinary action) is needed.
You must cooperate with our investigations and answer any queries. We will set up a time to meet with you and give you a full opportunity to provide your account of events.
“What’s it say?” asked Jade. “You look pale, like you’re about to throw up.”
I stuffed the letter back inside the envelope. “There’s going to be an investigation. Someone has launched a complaint about me. And I bet I know who.”
“Who?” Jimmy was watching me with a frown.
“The only person I pissed off lately whose ass sits on the White witch council,” I told them, my heart pounding as anger swept through me.
“Adele?” Elsa’s face twisted in horror. “You think so? You think she would do that?”
I nodded. “I do. This is her. For the Gray Council to open an investigation for someone means that someone must have some power and leverage. Merlins are always bad-mouthing each other, comes with the job, but we don’t seek to ruin others. And we keep our problems within the Merlin group. We don’t go crying to the Gray Council. Ever.”
I knew Adele didn’t like me and was pissed that, with the help of my friends, we’d managed to save the hotel and expose her psychotic plans. This was her payback.
“Okay, so what?” asked Jimmy. “You didn’t do anything wrong. We can attest to that to the investigator. We know what happened.”
“It’s easy to twist the truth,” I told them. “She could have told them I put everyone’s lives in danger when I refused to help her force people out of the hotel when I knew there were demons. She could make it seem like I was responsible for some of the deaths. Like maybe I should have come forward sooner. She can make it look horrible.”
Elsa was shaking her head. “So, what does that mean?”
I let out a breath. “It means, if I’m found guilty of whatever trumped-up charges, or if they think I’ve done something wrong, then… then… I’ll lose my license and my job. I’ll lose everything.”