Caleigh O’Bryant loved being a witch. It suited her just fine, and heck, having magic course through your body at the height of a spell was a pretty awesome feeling.
Unfortunately the whole being-a-witch thing meant the Tri-Goddess, or rather her representatives, led the coven. And wasn’t it just lovely that the San Francisco coven was big enough to warrant all three representatives: the maid, the mother, and
the crone? They were just so lucky.
Especially when all three of them called you into their office—she still found it weird to put the words goddess
into one sentence—and told you to find an ancient codex because it included an incantation that would send a newly awakened god back to his dimension. Turned out when Cernnunos, a version of the Green Man and the protector of everything green and alive, awoke, he hadn’t been too happy with the state of the planet. He’d decided that humanity was at fault and needed to be removed.
He wasn’t wrong, they had made a complete mess of the world, but sending a plague that killed its victims slowly and with torturous pain wasn’t exactly the best solution.
Caleigh rubbed her brow. The illness stumped doctors. Panic had begun to creep into the population. Her neighbors and friends were stocking up on supplies. Online articles mentioned gun sales had doubled in the Bay Area in the last five days. And at her store customers had been buying up homesteading and survival books.
So far the outbreaks were contained in four or five major cities across most of the larger countries, but doomsday lovers were quick to point out that if no countermeasures were found, the plague would continue to spread unstoppably. Once the victims had reached a certain number, the balance would tip and humanity would die.
For once those doomsday lovers knew what they were talking about, which was why Mai, Zoe, and Caleigh had been sent on individual quests to find ways to take out the god. It was Caleigh’s job to find this codex, and she had a measly seven days.
If she failed, Cernnunos would be one step closer to ending the world.
Humanity a big fat zero.
It also meant that Mai and Zoe would have to carry Caleigh’s failure. It would be all up to them.
Just the tiniest bit of pressure.
Caleigh had no idea how she got pulled into this. She wasn’t a superwitch, nor did she have an IQ that floated just below the ceiling like Mai did. And she definitely wasn’t someone as good at thinking outside the box as Zoe.
But here she was at eight forty-nine in the morning about to knock on the door of one Finch Carson, the man who supposedly had this codex in his collection. And might be willing to sell it.
She slumped back in her car seat.
Did it make her the worst person in the world that she wasn’t that excited about this quest because it meant missing her monthly book club? She loved books and the great discussions her little group usually had, but the main reason she was bummed was that she wouldn’t sit beside yummy and delicious Sawyer for two-plus hours.
That and having him drop by the store were the highlights of her month.
She sighed. One of the sexiest men alive. No, halt that thought. The
sexiest man alive. At least for her.
And so far out of her league he was in a different universe. But those moments when they talked books—usually disagreeing as much as possible because that was the most fun—she was in seventh heaven.
Well, not this month and if she didn’t get her act together, maybe never again.
Talk about motivation.
Some would say they were on opposite ends of the spectrum, her managing Pageturners, an independent bookstore with all its genre fiction and mainstream best sellers, and him collecting first editions and ancient tomes, but in her mind that just meant they complemented each other.
Eight fifty-eight. Nine o’clock was a reasonable time to knock on someone’s door. She climbed out of her car and locked it before crossing the road and walking up the little pathway that led to the front door.
Steps sounded behind her. She turned around with a smile that died away rather quickly. Kind of hard to smile when your jaw was busy touching the floor. “Sawyer? What are you doing here?”
His eyes widened for a second, but he was much better at catching himself. “Caleigh, what a delight. To answer your question, I am here to see a man about a book.”
She pressed her lips together, struggling to find her brain—why did he have to look so sexy in one of his great suits? He could give Daniel Craig a run for his money. Tall, husky, and built in a way that to her screamed man with muscles in all the right places
without making him look like an overgrown potato. Blond hair streaked with enough natural highlights to know he spent a good deal of his time outdoors. And the most amazing, memorable eyes. “Oh…really? That’s so weird. Me too.”
For a second she thought she saw pure heat and determination and a flash of silver roll through his eyes, but it cleared too quickly back to his normal gorgeous blue for her to be sure. He smiled. “Let’s hope it’s not the same book. Otherwise we’ll have to fight for it.”
She laughed. “Unless you’ve begun adding ancient Celtic texts to your collection, that shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Maybe I am. Where is your sudden interest coming from?”
She didn’t answer his question. Instead she asked, “I’m after Gods & Goddesses in Ancient Celtic Mythology
. What are you looking for?”
Caleigh gaped. “Seriously? Oh no, what are we going to do?”
Sawyer smiled again, set the firebrand that was his hand on her lower back, and nudged her along the pathway. “Let’s see if he actually has it. We can figure things out once we know more.”
Her heart was about to jump out of her chest because of his touch, but she managed to collect herself and move forward without face-planting onto the walkway beneath her feet as she had done on one previous occasion. A moment she would very much like to magic out of everyone’s memory. Pity those spells were forbidden. Not that she would do it even if they weren’t. Messing with people’s minds crossed a line. “Let’s,” she mumbled, wishing she could magic all her clothes away and experience his touch against her skin.
Not the most appropriate spell, but it would get her naked with Sawyer.
Instead they walked up the three steps and he rang the bell, his other hand never leaving her back. The chimes of Big Ben echoed across the front porch.
He winced. “At least it’s hard to miss.” He rubbed his ear.
She echoed his action. That was one noisy bell. But also pretty cool.
And despite its impressiveness no one answered. Sawyer had just lifted his hand to ring again when the door tore open. “What?” A man in his thirties, with rings beneath his eyes deep enough to give the Grand Canyon competition, glared at them.
“Ahm…we’re here…we’re looking for Mr. Finch Carson,” Caleigh said.
The man’s gray eyes filled with pain and anger. “Well, you’re shit out of luck. He’s dead. What did you want from my father?”
Sawyer stepped forward and held out his hand. “I am sorry for your loss. My name is Sawyer Hudson. This is Caleigh O’Bryant. We are so sorry to trouble you at this difficult time.”
Caleigh was impressed by how Sawyer’s calm and confidence eased the tension that moments ago could have been cut with a knife.
The man sighed and shook Sawyer’s hand. “Alexander Carson.”
“We are searching for a very old book, a tome named Gods & Goddesses in Ancient Celtic Mythology
. Our research indicated that your father might have had it in his possession.”
Caleigh could have watched him all day. Sawyer knew exactly what to say. She had no trouble seeing him conciliate a client on a construction site or dominate a boardroom filled with bigwigs.
Carson rubbed his face. All the fight had gone out of him. Then he stepped back with another sigh. “I’m sorry for snapping at you. It still hasn’t sunk in that he’s gone. Please, come in.”
Caleigh walked into the house, Sawyer at her side. It was like stepping into a miasma of misery. Shock, grief, and anger surrounded her. She knew instinctively it filled every corner of the home. She could barely breathe. Sawyer tensed. His brow furrowed and he snarled.
Her heartbeat turned irregular, her skin cold and clammy. The misery threatened to overwhelm her, to suffocate her, as it connected to the deep sorrow that had been at the core of her since the horrible death of her parents. She tried to gather herself.
“Caleigh?” Sawyer’s voice resonated from far away, but she clung to the sound and used it as a beacon.
A touch on her cheek burned through the fog that nearly drowned her. She blinked, realizing her eyelids had dropped shut, and found herself caught in Sawyer’s searing gaze. Caleigh leaned into his touch, needing the heat flaring through her to relieve some of the sadness. It allowed her to breathe again.
“You all right?” he asked as he cupped her cheek more fully, giving her exactly what she needed.
“Yes.” She cleared her throat. “Sorry.” She flattened her palm on his chest. His warmth and steady heartbeat burned away the last of the fog threatening to take her down. He was like a barricade between herself and the house’s haze of desolation. “Not sure what happened there. I felt light-headed for a second. Thank you.” As much as she wanted to remain in his embrace, she straightened, missing his touch as soon as she broke contact. She smiled at Carson. “Apologies. You were about to show us something.”
The man nodded tiredly and led them through the large house.
Unable to leave this misery unattended, Caleigh rubbed the thumb and forefinger of her right hand together, gently and unobtrusively, while pushing forward through the anguish. It wanted to cling to the three of them like glue, but Sawyer had given her the time to throw up a protective layer around all of them and her small motion made it difficult for anything to stick.
“My father kept detailed records of his collection.” Carson took them to a library.
Caleigh paused in the entrance for a moment. This was the heart of Carson’s father’s collection. Shelves and shelves stacked with books. The temperature was just slightly cooler, and all the windows had been covered to stop light damage. And there weren’t just books. Daggers, swords, sculptures, and even a suit of armor graced the large room.
She walked along the shelves, stroking the spines of some of the books with the fingers not busy circling. Sawyer followed her. As much as she loved his nearness, in this instance he was too close for her to do magic. A distraction was in order.
She maintained the swirling spell while simultaneously using magic to undo the lock on a glass display case filled with beautiful daggers. Sawyer and Carson stopped, trying to figure out what had happened. Carson rubbed his forehead again, clearly baffled by the door coming open.
Caleigh used the diversion to walk to the other end of the room, hoping that Sawyer’s sensitive hearing would not catch her muttering. Hard to come off as sane and attractive when mumbling under your breath.
“Darkness turn to light, misery to dust, lighten the load of this house and allow breaths of fresh air. As I will, so mote it be.”