After returning to the straight and narrow, Cary Westfield hopes to rebuild his life as a stage magician. Only thing is, the success of his new show is entirely dependent on a strange medallion inherited from his late grandfather—an amulet that holds a rare and inexplicable power to captivate the wearer’s audience.
Ty prides himself on his ability to obtain any item of magical significance—for the right price. When a mysterious client hires him to steal a magical amulet from a neophyte illusionist, he’s sure it will be a quick and easy job, earning him a nice chunk of cash.
As it turns out, nothing is sure when greed and powerful magic are at play. When a mob boss with far-reaching aspirations beats Ty to the snatch, Cary and Ty form an unlikely partnership to get the amulet back. The unexpected spark of attraction between them is a welcome perk, but each man has his own plan for the prize.
All bets are off, however, when it is revealed the magical amulet holds a darker secret than either of them had bargained for.
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|Publisher:||NineStar Press, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.58(d)|
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CARY WESTFIELD WASN'T a terribly catchy name for a magician, so the playbill read The Incredible Mr. Mars.
Ty studied the vintage style poster near the theater's entrance, which depicted said Mr. Mars pulling a bewildered-looking white rabbit out of a hat. Despite the old-fashioned font and style, the poster was brand new. Mr. Mars was a relative newcomer to the live entertainment scene and had only been performing at the Garland Magic Theater for two weeks, but the shows had been consistently sold out. Granted, this wasn't the largest or the most prestigious venue in San Francisco; however, considering the act in question wasn't at all original or shocking, consisting of run-of-the-mill stage illusions and a bit of mind reading, it was quite a feat.
The mass appeal would have been something of a mystery had Ty not known exactly what was behind it. That was too bad for poor Cary Westfield — sudden and unwarranted success tended to draw the wrong kind of attention.
Ty followed the line inside. The usher took a look at his ticket and directed him to the back row. Ty took the aisle seat and waited as the lights dimmed. The darkness sharpened the smell of dust coming from the old upholstery, the whispers of the spectators, and most annoyingly, the glare of their cell phone screens. It would seem even the promise of magic couldn't tear some people away from their social media. The emcee announced the magician, and the show began.
Contrary to tradition, Mr. Mars didn't have an assistant. His tricks weren't all that complicated, but Ty had to give him credit for showmanship. He supplied a running commentary for the performance, which was both witty and charming and elicited laughter from the crowd. Smart. People always loved it when a show made them laugh, so they were more likely to forgive the lack of surprise and excitement. Not that Ty was in any way an expert on magic shows, but he was, in a manner of speaking, an expert on excitement.
The magician's looks didn't hurt either. His smooth tan skin and fine features made the gaudy stage costume appear elegant. Ty absently noted the lean figure and the fluid movements, but he wasn't there to admire Westfield's form.
As Mr. Mars struck another impressive pose, pretending to strain to recite the contents of some woman's purse, Ty slipped quietly into the shadows, making himself as inconspicuous as possible. Thankfully, the small theater had an appropriately small staff, even on a busier Saturday night, and no one spotted him as he made his way to the backstage passage. There was only one dressing room, and the lock on it was a joke. He let himself inside and closed the door softly. The runes tattooed into his fingertips with invisible ink prevented him from leaving fingerprints, so he could rummage freely without being encumbered by gloves. That shit always came in handy — bad pun intended.
The small room was cramped, serving both as a makeup nook and a storage space for various costumes and stage props. There was a vanity with a large backlit mirror. Ty looked it over, but saw nothing of interest besides a kohl eyeliner and a few mini-sized bottles of flavored vodka scattered all over the tabletop. Either the Incredible Mr. Mars needed some liquid courage before facing the crowd, or Mr. Westfield had a bit of a drinking problem.
It was more force of habit than curiosity. Ty didn't really expect to find anything of value lying around. He retreated to a far corner, where he spotted an oversized armchair under a pile of old sequined jackets, and settled there, taking out his SIG. The show was supposed to run for at least forty more minutes, but that was okay. He could wait.
IT WAS ANOTHER hour or so before the door swung open, admitting the magician. There was a noticeable sheen of perspiration on his forehead, and he was breathing rather heavily, as if he'd run a race. He looked at the door and frowned, testing the doorknob again, probably recalling he'd locked it before going on stage.
Ty moved before Westfield had a chance to retreat. The magician froze as Ty stepped in front of him, holding the gun to his face. His dark brown eyes widened, making his expression resemble that of the rabbit from his own poster.
"Sit over there," Ty said, nodding toward the armchair he'd been occupying earlier.
Westfield kept as much distance between them as the small room allowed as he slowly walked to the chair and sat down, never taking his eyes off the gun. Ty shoved the door closed again and locked it.
"Now," he said, taking a step toward the other man. "I believe you have something I want."
Westfield licked his lips nervously. His eyes darted to the door, but now Ty was blocking his only escape route. He was wearing a ridiculous top hat that looked like something straight out of a Fred Astaire movie, and even his scarlet cravat was soaked with sweat.
"I don't have any cash," he said quickly. "The register's at the front."
"Don't play dumb with me, Houdini," Ty said. "The amulet."
Westfield's tawny skin turned ash gray. There was no doubt he knew exactly what Ty was talking about, and he wasn't thrilled about the prospect of being parted with it.
"I don't know what you mean," he insisted, despite Ty's previous admonition.
Ty took another step toward the chair, watching as the magician shrank back instinctively.
"One last chance," he said. "Hand it over, or we'll see if it helps you stop a bullet at point blank."
Westfield pressed his lips together, his nostrils flaring. He looked ready to either burst into tears or lunge at him. Ty tightened his grip on the weapon, but apparently the magician wasn't that reckless. He slowly reached inside his shirt to reveal an embossed silver disk on a sturdy chain around his neck. There was another moment's hesitation as he removed the chain and tossed the thing at Ty.
Unfazed, Ty caught it with his left hand. Amateurs were the worst. Such a powerful thing, and this dude was using it to enhance his cheap parlor tricks. Worse, he was wearing it against his bare skin. No wonder he looked ready to keel over from exhaustion.
What was more surprising was Ty had sensed Westfield could actually perform real magic. Not that he could do so on his own; everything he'd done on stage depended entirely on the amulet he'd been wearing. But Ty could feel Westfield's inherent magical talent coursing through his veins, almost see the genuine spark underneath his skin. Westfield had the gift, the talent for true sorcery, and he didn't even know it, preferring to resort to hashed out illusions augmented by an external power he had no hopes of understanding. It seemed like a waste to let this kind of potential be squandered in ignorance, but Ty had more pressing matters than guiding a newbie magic practitioner on the path of self-discovery.
The round silver pendant, about two and a half inches in diameter and covered in swirling patterns, felt warm to the touch, even slightly too warm. Ty couldn't stop to examine it closely, but he had no doubt this was indeed what he'd been looking for. These things always had a certain feel to them, an unmistakable aura. Ty's talent for magic was nearly nonexistent (as Leland, his former mentor, had made painfully clear), but his sensitivity to its trace presence had been honed like a fine blade.
"Look, man," Westfield said pleadingly. "I know it'll sound lame, but it's kind of important to me, okay? It's not even that valuable, but it's sort of an heirloom. Can't we cut some sort of a deal here? I can give you way more than it's worth."
Oh, so suddenly the man did have cash? Ty almost rolled his eyes, but he didn't have time to listen to any more lies. Undoubtedly, Westfield knew the amulet wasn't a cheap trinket; he'd been consciously using it. But Ty was also certain he didn't have a clue as to its real potential. Otherwise they would be having this argument in a much grander place than the dressing room of a backwater theater.
"I doubt that," he said, pocketing the pendant inside his jacket.
"Come on! I got it from my grandfather. It's the only thing I have to remember him by. You must have had a grandfather, right? A family?" Westfield leaned forward ever so slightly, probably trying to gauge whether he could get any closer to swipe the amulet right out. Picking pockets wasn't Ty's forte, but he knew enough to recognize the telltale signs of someone intending to do just that.
The nonsense about family heirlooms was just a stalling tactic. In any case, Ty didn't have grandparents. As far as he knew, he didn't even have parents. At least not parents who wanted him. And family wasn't something he missed having, not in his line of work.
"Shut it," he told Westfield, taking a step back. As he was contemplating coldcocking the guy so he wouldn't try to follow him, there was a bang on the door.
They both froze, Ty with his gun arm raised, Westfield teetering on the edge of his seat, his black-lined eyes huge in his sweat-dampened face.
"Special delivery for Mr. Mars," said a muffled voice from behind the door.
"You expecting anything?" Ty asked, not taking his eyes off the magician.
He doubted it, though. Westfield looked genuinely startled. Just don't be an idiot and try to tackle me, Ty begged silently. He really didn't want to shoot him, not even to incapacitate, and had already made a mistake, talking with him for so long. He should have just knocked Westfield over the head and gone through his pockets instead of playing out all this nonsense, chatting about the guy's grandparents, of all things.
"Other than someone robbing me? No," Westfield said testily.
The thumping on the door became more persistent. Shit. Could he have competition?
Ty had had time to check the room out before, and he remembered there was a small window on the farthest wall, half hidden with drapes and a rack of old theater costumes.
"Stay quiet and do as I say," he said as he went to the window. He pushed the junk away from it and broke the murky glass with the butt of his gun. Thankfully, they were only on the first floor, and the window led to the back alley.
The knocking stopped.
"Get your ass over here," he hissed at the magician and gestured at the window. He could get the fuck out on his own, but he had a gut feeling whoever was after the Incredible Mr. Mars wasn't going to pull their punches like he had. For some reason, he didn't want the guy to get killed if he could help it. Maybe it was the huge doe eyes, though Westfield was definitely not his type.
"What? Why? What if it's ... flowers? A present from a fan? A job offer? Why the hell should I listen to you? You've just mugged me!"
There was a loud and heavy thud on the door, as if someone was trying to break it in with his foot or shoulder, quickly followed by another.
"Sure, it's flowers," Ty said sarcastically, pushing the broken glass out of the window to clear the way. "Fine, suit yourself."
He wasn't about to force it. Pretty eyes or not, Westfield was welcome to deal with whoever it was on the other side of the door if he wanted to. Ty had gotten what he'd come for. It was high time to get the hell out.
"Shit." Westfield stared at the door for a moment and then darted to the window, apparently coming to the conclusion Ty was the lesser of two evils. "Be a gentleman and help me, would you?"
Ty snorted, holstered the gun, and laced his hands together to make a step for the other man to push off from. Westfield scrambled to climb out just as the old wood creaked and the door burst from its hinges. Ty grabbed the window frame and hurled himself out, feet first, not turning back to see who the unwanted guest was. He landed in a neat crouch in the alley and then grabbed Westfield by the hand, pulling him forward.
Westfield didn't have to be told twice. They ran for a few blocks, taking the back streets when possible and turning corners at random, until Ty finally pulled the magician into a dark alley and almost threw him against the wall, flattening himself against it as well and peering cautiously around the corner. No one seemed to have followed them, but plain eyesight couldn't always be trusted. It was time to bail.
"Now listen to me," he said in a low voice, turning to his inadvertent companion. "My advice — go spend the night in a motel or at a friend's. Whoever that was, they're probably gonna follow you home next, looking for that amulet."
"Who's 'they'?" Westfield asked. He was breathing heavily, and there was an almost hysteric note to his voice. Not that Ty could blame him, really. At least the guy had kept his wits about him enough to follow Ty without making any unnecessary fuss. "For that matter, who are you?"
"As for them — no idea. But you weren't exactly discreet about using that thing, Mr. Mars," Ty said, ignoring the second question. "If I could find you, others could have, too. Next time you're dabbling in magic, try not to flaunt it so blatantly."
"It's called 'sleight of hand,' asshole," Westfield snapped. Amazingly, he still had that stupid top hat on. It must have been glued to his head or something.
"Whatever." There wasn't time to get into pointless arguments. With the competition on his heels, whoever it was, Ty had to make the drop as soon as possible. "Just stay out of it for a while."
He backed out of the alley, keeping his eye on Westfield. It didn't look like he was about to tackle him, but in Ty's experience, desperate people were capable of anything, and watching the source of one's livelihood being stolen was a damn good reason for desperation. But the man was just standing there, watching him and trying to catch his breath. So when Ty stepped onto the street, he turned and walked away briskly, looking out for any possible pursuit.
There was none that he could spot, so he relaxed marginally and picked up the pace, shoving his hands into his jacket pockets. He didn't enjoy the part of his job that required him to actually rob people at gunpoint. He much preferred the other parts, in which he got to explore forgotten ruins and visit faraway places. But those parts were rare and far between. The harsh truth of life was that everyone had to do things they didn't really want to. People like him didn't have all their dreams and wishes handed to them on a silver platter. They had to hustle to make their way in the world. Sometimes other people got caught under the wheels, and there was nothing he could do about it, except to try to keep the damage to a minimum. Mr. Mars would just have to chalk this one up to experience, pick himself up, and move on to the next gig. If he was lucky, soon he'd realize he didn't really need any crutches — that he had magic enough within him. Provided, of course, that he managed to dodge Ty's competition.
But that was none of Ty's concern, was it? He'd done his job, and the mark's continued safety wasn't his responsibility. It was silly to even give it another thought. He'd helped the guy as much as he could, and if he was smart, he'd lie low until the whole thing blew over. Ty's next move was to drop the hot loot with his fence, getting rid of it so he could focus on the next job.
He definitely had no business thinking about the look of despair that had clouded Westfield's eyes as he watched Ty take off with his pendant. None at all.CHAPTER 2
CARY STAYED IN place and watched as his robber cleared the mouth of the alley and disappeared into the street. Helping hand at the window aside, the man was still carrying a gun, and Cary didn't want to agitate him any further. Besides, he'd had the opportunity to gauge his opponent back at the dressing room. The robber was a large man — not really bulky, but tall and built of solid muscle, like an athlete. Cary could gather that much from having practically climbed on top of him to push himself through the window. Even if he hadn't been armed, there was no way Cary — with his self-admittedly fetching, but much leaner physique — could have arm-wrestled him.
He was so damn exhausted and frustrated about someone casually deciding to take his granddad's amulet. At gunpoint. And just as it was looking like things were picking up for him, too. The show was doing great, and he'd been considering changing the venue for something grander. Why was his luck always running out just when he got optimistic again? He felt like bursting into tears there and then, curling up on the dirty pavement amid the smelly trashcans and giving in to the utter helplessness that was nearly choking him.
It wasn't fair. The thought was childish, but he couldn't help it. He had always been such an utter failure in everything he'd done, and why should this be any different?(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Touch of Magic"
Copyright © 2018 Isabelle Adler.
Excerpted by permission of NineStar Press, LLC.
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