I felt my hackles rise even as Jared Runnel, Erica’s boyfriend, rose from the table and headed for the door, past me. He rolled his dark eyes, one hand rising to squeeze my shoulder on the way out.
Normally, I would have taken a few seconds to sigh over the very handsome, dark-haired Jared, to feed my secret little crush on his broad shoulders, muscles and chiseled jaw, but not now.
Not while doom waited for me in the faces of three witches and a demon cat.
I ground my teeth together, considered a dash for the stairs and my room, but before I could bolt, Mom spoke up.
“Sydlynn,” she said, words heavy with concern, “we need to talk about the echo you encountered.”
The what? Oh, right. A part of my fear faded, stomach unclenching as I realized this wasn’t about my job or Evie. In fact, I hadn’t done anything wrong this time, not technically. It was Mom’s fault for missing him when she swept the house.
A little spark of smug woke inside me as I shrugged, confidence rising.
“What about him?” I fingered the bracelet out of habit, catching myself doing it even as I forced my hands to my sides.
“I swept this house myself.” Mom’s blue eyes snapped with anger and guilt. “There is no way I missed him.”
“And yet,” I said, “you did.”
Zingalingdong. Mom’s cheeks turned bright red while Celeste scowled at me, her horse features thick and harsh.
“You do not speak to your coven leader that way.” I despised her long, thick braid, hanging over her shoulder. She always pulled on it as if trying to detach it from her head.
“Maybe not,” I snapped back, “but this happens to be my mother.” In case she missed it somewhere along the line in the last sixteen freaking years.
“Syd.” Erica’s soothing tone had the opposite effect. I hated being handled and she thought herself a mistress manipulator. Always trying to be my confidant even though I learned long ago the pretty blonde with the shining blonde bob would take everything I told her right to Mom. “We just want to resolve this quickly and quietly.” She smiled, magic reaching out to me. “For the good of the family.”
“Then just take care of it already.” I shot Sassafras a glare as he hissed at me.
“I’ve already told you,” he said. “The echo is tied to you, for good or ill.” From his tone, I could tell he was leaning toward the latter. “There must have been something you did to trigger his awakening.”
Yeah, totally my fault. So freaking typical. And yet, since it was true and I caught myself playing with the bracelet again, I had to fight the guilt trying to win past my own anger.
I could have told them. Should have, probably. But there was nothing I hated more than being cornered by my mother and her goon squad.
Mom must have taken my silence as the stubborn rejection it was, because she sighed and tossed up her hands. “I need to have a look at the incident,” she said. “Don’t fight me, Syd. Please.”
Just. Lovely. My favorite, having my mother’s magic invade my head. I shuddered and took an involuntary step back, but her power latched onto me and held me still.
It was so hard not to fight, to let my squirming power out, to resist lashing back, severing the hold she had on me. Instead, I shivered and stayed in place, entire being tight, wound into a coil of protection as, unable to fight back, my power compressed my shielding into a solid, impenetrable wall.
Syd. Mom’s voice barely reached me through the thick wards. Sweetheart, I hate this troubles you so much. Her blue eyes pleaded with me. But for the sake of the coven, I’m asking you to let me in.
Then let me go. My mental voice crackled with amber fire and blue family magic.
She held my gaze a long moment before her power sighed and released me, oozing free. I stood there, trembling with anger and disgust, stomach performing feats of acrobatics while I panted for air.
I’m sorry, she sent. I never wanted it to be this way. May I?
Wow, she was asking? That was a first. I grunted, unable to speak, hugging myself as I released my hold on my shields. At least to the point she could have a peek.
Creepy. How invasive, her mind sliding into mine. My body rejected her, the magic inside me shrieking at the intrusion. It took everything I had to hold off my need to spin and leave, to walk away and not come back as she explored the memory of last night.
She finally left, hugging me gently with her magic as she did. How did she not understand the squeeze of farewell, so innocent, made my skin crawl and my empty belly burn with churning acid?
“Well, one thing is interesting.” Mom’s forehead creased, little valley between her brows tightening. “You have necromancer power I’ve never noted in you before.”
Celeste’s scowl tightened a notch deeper while Erica, always one to over react, gasped and covered her mouth with one hand before looking at me with wide eyes.
“It does make sense,” Mom said. “Considering Mother’s past.”
Erica nodded, Celeste too, while I found myself with my own frown on my face as I looked at each of them.
Um, what? “What past?”
Mom ignored my question, rising to come to my side. Her floor-length, black velvet skirt swished quietly, silk blouse soft on my bare arm as she hugged me physically this time. The familiar scent of lilacs filled my senses.
When she leaned back, she very gently gripped my upper arms in her hands, face intent and serious.
“Necromancy, the raising of echoes, is illegal for all but Enforcers.” I didn’t know that. Just like I had no idea I shared that power. Did that mean I had to join the Enforcer order now? Yikes. It would be worse than being a coven leader. The last thing I wanted was a job where I was responsible for upholding witch law, where I’d be forced to use magic all the time.
“Evil child,” Celeste hissed. “I told you nothing good would come of her, Miriam.”
Mom’s back stiffened, face hardening. But she didn’t turn on Celeste like I wished she would. In fact, she ignored the other woman, while my respect for Mom—and any thought she had my best interest at heart—took a nose dive into wretched.
Which meant I had to defend myself. I leaned around Mom and flashed Celeste a rude gesture with my middle finger.
“In case you hadn’t noticed,” I said, “this isn’t my fault.”
“No?” She rose in a rush, coming to my side even as Mom turned, face a blank mask. Yeah, way to defend me, Mom.
Before I knew what she was doing, Celeste’s man-hand reached out and jerked on the tassels dangling from my pocket. She held up the little pink bag, the stitched pentagram in silver thread glistening in the light.
“What are you dabbling in, evil one?”
I tried to snatch the bag back, but Mom was faster. She frowned at the little mesh bundle before meeting my eyes.
“Syd?” Was that actually disappointment? Seriously?
“Oh, for the sake of the elements,” I snapped. “Come on. There isn’t a scrap of magic in that, and you know it.” I crossed my arms over my chest, anger bubbling, temper ready to snap. “My new boss thinks she’s a witch.” I rolled my eyes. “She’s just a sweet lady who wishes she had power. End of story.”
I might as well have told them I murdered someone with magic in broad daylight while pronouncing I was the queen of the world. Mom’s hand clenched around the bag while Celeste shook her head, ugly braid swinging. Even Erica looked aghast.
Sassafras, bless him, spoke first before the crap could hit the fan.
Well, before it could go much further than it already had.
“Sounds like the perfect place for you.” His tail twitched, one amber eye winking.
Mom turned to him, distress on her face. “Do you think so?”
But Celeste was determined to ruin my life. What else was new.
“You have to quit that ridiculous job immediately,” she said. “Before you ruin everything for the rest of us. Again.”
Oh no, she did not.
Mom turned back to me, face twisted in worry. No help there.
I had enough. I pushed past her, stomping to the stairs. Paused at the bottom before spinning to deliver my parting shot.
“I had a great first day,” I said, knowing now it was irrelevant, but needing to say it. “Thanks for asking.”
All that was left to make my exit complete was the resounding slam of my bedroom door.
I was happy to oblige.
Family Magic by Patti Larsen is the 2014 winner of World’s Best Story launching August 6th 2015.
Stay tuned for Chapter six of our exclusive prequel to Family Magic.