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Rick punched Josie Vargas's number into his cell phone. He'd only dialed the seven digits twice since he'd met her, but the sequence flowed from his memory, with a bit of a melody behind it, as if he'd memorized it with the music like the alphabet song. Their first real date, just last night, had been incredibly ordinary and ultimately fantastic. Dinner. A movie. Talking. Lots and lots of talking.
And then, the kissing.
Lots and lots of kissing.
He'd had to harness every ounce of his self-control not to try and seduce her out of her clothes the moment they'd stepped into her apartment. Not an easy task for either of them, but they'd managed to remain upright and fully dressed.
They weren't teenagers. And clearly, both of them knew a good thing when they saw it. So they'd disentangled from each other with a promise to take things slowly.
Get to know each other.
Become friends first.
Good thing they lived in Chicago, where cold showers were cheap and easy to come by.
Rick hit the Talk button on his phone, then adjusted the crotch of his slacks as he walked away from the office building where he'd just engaged in an unauthorized and unwise operation with his former boss. He'd much rather think about Josie. Her silky hair. Her soulful eyes. Her curvy, sensitive breasts. Thinking about her got him hard as a rock, which made it so much easier to forget just how many rules he'd broken in the past twenty-four hours and how, in all likelihood, his career was about to nose-dive into a backed-up toilet.
Might not be so bad with Josie around. She certainly made all the other parts of his life a lot more interesting.
Rick hadn't been the same since the moment she'd literally run into him at the precinct. She'd been searching for her best friend, Lilith St. Lyon, the department's on-call psychic. Since Rick had been trained from birth by his Cuban-American mother and his equally old-school sisters to socialize only with women who would someday make a good wife, he might not have noticed her otherwise. Her blond, sun-streaked hair, hippy-dippy tunic, long skirt and lace-up sandals put her in the "do not touch" category. And yet, he'd been intrigued.
She broke every rule his familia had laid out.
Good, preferably Latino family?
Her last name was Vargas, so she had a Latin connection, but every member of her family came with a rap sheet.
He hadn't yet garnered her opinion on niños or niñas, but she'd hinted that her crazy childhood hadn't left her unscarred.
Adores cooking and cleaning and tending to her man's every need?
Again, Rick chuckled. He could certainly imagine Josie preferring to live her life barefoot, but pregnant and in the kitchen? Never in a million years.
Of course, his family wasn't stuck entirely in the previous century. They also wanted Rick's future wife (as any and all girlfriends were considered to be) to have an advanced degree from college so that she could, if necessary, support the family should Rick's career in law enforcement come to a violent end. But as far as he knew, Josie had graduated exclusively from the school of hard knocks. And while her career as a shopkeeper seemed successful enough, her business selling custom aromatherapy candles and pagan paraphernalia was firmly entrenched in a coveted location on Chicago's Magnificent Mile. There would be no moving to Miami once the kidlets arrived, as was expected.
The perfect woman she was not.
And yet, Rick couldn't get her out of his mind.
"In the mood for pizza?" he asked after she finally answered the phone with a breathless hello that made his skin dance with a shamefully electric thrill.
The relief in her voice was unmistakable and incredibly appealing. She knew he'd been on the job tonight. She'd been worried, too. And as much as he didn't want to cause her any anxiety, he liked the idea that she cared.
Liked it a lot.
"Is there any other kind of pizza in this town?"
"Want to go out or order in?"
"In," Rick said instantly, then caught the eagerness in his voice. After the make-out session they'd shared last night, he didn't want Josie thinking he just wanted to get her into bed. Even if he did. Badly. "Unless you want to go out."
Josie hummed shyly. "I'm okay with either. Let's decide after you get here. How'd everything go? Are Mac and Lilith with you?"
Rick glanced back at the service door he'd used to exit the office building, expecting his former boss and his lover to appear at any moment. He hadn't wanted to tell Josie about tonight's operation. Hell, he hadn't wanted to take part in the interrogation in the first place. He wasn't a stickler for every single rule in the law enforcement handbook, but he did have limits. And tonight, nearly every single one had been pushed to the breaking point.
If Mac Mancusi hadn't been the one asking for his help, Rick would have refused. Mac had been chief of detectives in the Chicago P.D. since Rick joined the unit. Though Mac had been suspended from the job a few days ago for pissing off the mayor, he was still Rick's friend. Rick trusted him implicitlyeven after he'd come to him with a story that might have made a great feature film. A mutually hated defense attorney had supposed ties to a massive drug shipment their sources reported was about to hit the streets. Believable enough. But then Mac had added in the possibility that the well-connected lawyer was also, possibly, a warlock.
Cue the creepy soundtrack.
And yet, Rick had still listened. Lilith St. Lyon had backed up Mac's outlandish suspicions and though she was a little woo-woo herself, she'd never steered Rick wrong, even if she did scare the crap out of him. He'd grown up in Little Havana and while he had a healthy respect for the brujas and santeros, he certainly didn't subscribe to their ways. The one and only time he'd met his maternal great-grandmother, a woman whose Sight had reportedly once caught the attention of Fidel Castro, Rick had been freaked out enough to never want to visit his parents' homeland again. When Lilith, a psychic, had asked Rick to be a conduit through which she could listen in on his interrogation of Boothe Thompson, the defense attorney suspected in the murder of a low-level drug dealer, Rick had reluctantly agreed. The ends justified the means. And he wasn't six years old and in a foreign country anymore.
But they'd learned nothing new. Before Rick had left the building and called Josie, Mac and Lilith had been right behind him.
"Maybe they came out in the front," he said, more to himself than to Josie.
He started walking as he told her more than he should about their operation. He'd already fractured just about every department regulation tonight by conspiring with a suspended officer to interrogate a respected defense attorney. Telling Josie the outcome wasn't going to get him any more fired.
"We got nothing," he admitted. "The man is slippery. I didn't think we'd get him to fess up to anything, and I was right."
"And Lilith couldn't sense anything?" she asked.
While Rick asked the questions, Mac and Lilith had been in a nearby room, listening in through a psychic connection Rick didn't even try to understand. But Lilith hadn't discovered anything they could use to connect Thompson to the murder of the dealer or the impending drug shipment.
"Nothing we could use," he admitted, gulping down his frustration.
For as long as he could remember, Rick had wanted to be a cop. He'd finished high school a year early, studied criminal justice in college and joined the Miami-Dade department before he was twenty-one. Known for his efficient, cool and reasoned thinking, he'd moved up quickly to detective. After five years of an endless battle against the influx of drugs in Miami, he'd moved to Chicago, hoping to broaden his knowledge base. Deal with crimes that weren't always about smack, crack and pot. But now, he was back where he didn't want to bein the middle of yet another drug war, one that was being influenced by someone very powerful and, as of yet, very unknown.
"And what did it feel like, having Lilith use you that way?" Josie asked. "Was it cool?"
The fascination in her voice made him chuckle and forget how the whole setup had initially unnerved him. As a cop, he was used to dealing with hunches, and he'd always guessed that Lilith just had better hunches than most. In Little Havana, however, he'd met a few brujas, like his great-grandmother in Cuba, whose insight had been downright scary. A witch in Miami had predicted his father's heart attack only days before he'd been felled by a cardiac episode that should have killed him. But because of the witch, he'd put an aspirin in his pocketand that little pill had saved his life.
"It was freaky," he admitted. "I could sense that she was there, listening in. At one point, she even suggested that I ask a certain question and I just"
Rick, help us.
What the hell?
He pulled the phone away from his ear. A few people strode beside him on the sidewalk with heads down and strides swift. At the curb, a driver leaned lazily against a stretch limousine, tapping into his iPhone. Rick peered into the office building's lobby. No sign of Mac or Lilith, even though he could have sworn he just heard her voice.
"Rick? Rick, are you there?"
Tinny and distant, Josie's voice echoed from the phone, which he lifted back to his ear.
"Yeah," he confirmed. "I just"
Rick, please. Hear me. He's not a warlock. The mayor is. Thompson's a witch. Black magic. He'll kill us.
"Just what? Rick, what's wrong?"
He shook his head, but the crowded feeling in his mind didn't lessen. Lilith was invading his consciousness, but this time, she was calling for help.
He stopped walking and turned. He spied the plates on the limousine. City government issue. The mayor?
At that moment, the driver spared him a glance. Rick gave a nod, then turned and cursed. "It's Lilith. She's connected to me again. They're in trouble. He's going to kill them. He's a witch, and he's using black magic."
Josie gasped. "Can you"
"Yes," Rick said, "I've got to go."
He snapped the phone shut. He didn't need Josie's warning. For the benefit of the limo driver, he strode casually back down the sidewalk, but broke into a run and yanked out his firearm once he cleared the side of the building. If Lilith had called for help, she and Mac were in deep. Witches? Warlocks? Black magic? This was all too fucking weird, but he had to try and help. He couldn't leave them to die.
He'd used a service door to exit the building, but it had locked automatically behind him. If he tried the front entrance and alerted security or the mayor's driver, all hell could break loose. Demanding instant cooperation from his frazzled brain, Rick spotted a ratty cushion protruding from a nearby Dumpster. He grabbed it, placed it over the unyielding knob and fired his weapon into the lock, muffling the sound as best he could. For a split second, he considered calling for backup, but this had been an unauthorized operation from the start. Rick had helped Mac out of loyalty, out of trust. The backlash against both of them could ruin their careers forever. He'd trust Mac a little while longer. His suspension notwithstanding, Mac was a good cop. And a good friend.
As Rick dashed into the elevator, he closed his eyes and thought hard, trying to communicate to Lilith that he was on his way. He felt her screaming just before the elevator reached the floor he somehow knew she was on. As the doors slid open, he saw her standing across from the recently elected mayor of Chicago, whose hands sparked with electricity that swirled before his eyes and formed into a stunning lethal ball.
Rick couldn't speak. He couldn't move. No one had noticed the elevator, but when the doors started to close, he instinctively stepped out and stood, motionless, unable to fully comprehend what he was seeing. The defense attorney, Boothe Thompson lay motionless and empty-eyed at the mayor's feet. When Mac drew his gun, the mayor shifted and waved his sparking hand. The gun flew across the hallway. Mac dove to retrieve the weapon and before Rick could act, Lilith plunged forward, the glint of her knife flashing only a split second before it disappeared inside the mayor's chest.
Then, they both crumpled to the ground. The mayor, dead, and Lilith ? Rick shouted at Mac, who turned and saw Lilith on the floor. He screamed her name and flew to her side.
Rick stepped forward, but was stopped by a dark shadow that poured out of the mayor's eye sockets and mouth, then surrounded Rick like a wool blanket in July. Itchy. Hot. Smothering.
Take me in, human.
The voice pounded hard against Rick's skull, as if demanding entrance. The excruciating pain stole Rick's eyesight and squeezed his trachea shut. The chain he wore around his neck tightened and the crucifix at the end burned. He dropped to his knees. His gun thumped to the ground beside him.
I am not through with this world, the voice continued, cutting into Rick's ears, stabbing at his brain. So young. So powerful, it expressed lustily. Your rewards will be endless.
A million jumbled thoughts exploded in Rick's mind. Images of decadence, luxury, power and limitless freedom splayed before him, a grand temptation to someone who had not been forewarned.
But Rick had heard his great-grandmother, even if her prophecy when he was six had gifted him with a lifetime of nightmares.
You will fight a great evil who will offer you everything you've ever wanted, she'd said in Spanish. But only you can resist him, niño. Only you can destroy him.
Rick concentrated on the memory, holding on to it like a lifeline, fixing the image of his bisabuela's rheumy blue eyes, kind toothless grin and the saint's medal she'd clutched in her hand as she spoke. Fire exploded in his chest and a scream of anguish unlike any he'd ever heard burst through his eardrums. The pounding in his head intensified, nearly knocking him unconscious as the shadow tightened around him then, in a flash, dispersed. Behind him, the dark entity slid into the cracks of the elevator door and disappeared.
Rick gulped in the cool air as his eyes adjusted, allowing light to penetrate where moments before, there had been only darkness. As he struggled, he had the irresistible urge to throw himself into the nearest steaming hot shower to wash away the filth that seemed crusted, invisible, to his skin.
Grabbing blindly, he found his firearm and attempted to stand. He lifted his weapon, but just as Mac's had, the gun shot out of his grip, landing in the hands of a regal, dark-haired woman dressed entirely in purple. She had materialized directly in his path.