“Exceptional!” —Jill Smith, RT Book Reviews on The Diamond City Magic series Riley’s lost the last damned thing she’s willing to lose. She’s declaring war and prisoners are optional. After escaping the FBI, Riley and her family have become fugitives, and not just from the law. Every bad guy on the planet wants a piece of Riley. Gregg has been kidnapped. Worse than that, Price’s newly discovered magic is dangerously out of control, and her own is trying to kill her. She has little time to worry about any of that before all hell breaks loose in Diamond City, and she finds herself smack dab in the crossfire. With the clock ticking down, Riley gathers her friends and family to execute a Hail Mary plan that will pit them against seven of the most dangerous thugs in Diamond City, a serial killer, Riley’s psychopath father, and a mysterious billionaire with plans of his own. If she succeeds, she makes herself an even bigger target. If she fails, everybody she cares about dies. But the shadows hold danger even Riley will never see coming . . . . Diana Pharaoh Francis is the acclaimed author of a dozen fantasy and urban fantasy novels. Her books have been nominated for the Mary Roberts Rinehart Award and RT’s Best Urban Fantasy. Shades of Memory is the fourth book in her exciting new urban fantasy series—The Diamond City Magic Novels.
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WINDOWLESS WHITE walls, white floors, white toilet, white sink, white table. The room was unrelentingly white. Though Gregg assumed he was being monitored, he saw no signs of cameras or microphones. His rival in crime — Savannah Morrell — had imprisoned him in this incessantly white box and left him to stew. Stripped of everything but his clothing, he had no idea how long it had been since he'd been kidnapped.
The room offered no weapons. The bed was bolted to the floor, as was the table and the lone chair. The toilet had no seat or lid, and the faucet was motion sensitive. Only his mattress, the toilet paper, and the white cup could be mobilized, and while he could make a knife of the latter, it would have done him little good. No one came.
Nulls or binders deadened his traveller magic. Food arrived periodically. It arrived inside his table, which was attached to the wall. The tabletop rose, and within was a compartment accessible through a narrow panel along the wall. The meal arrived, and warned by the smell, Gregg ate, then shut the table again so that the panel could open to permit the removal of his dirty dishes.
Though plentiful, the food tasted like rehydrated camp slop. Gregg counted meals, even though he knew it meant little to the division of the day or night. He paced and performed a regimen of muscle-building exercises to keep himself ready. He slept in short bursts only when forced to by exhaustion. Mostly he spent his time staring at the sterile walls, mind spinning helplessly.
Somewhere outside this prison, his brother, Clay, was being tortured by the FBI. Or maybe the long week had passed, and he'd been released. Or maybe he'd broken, and they'd locked him in a supermax for the talented.
Gregg knotted his hands in his hair and let out an agonized moan. If he could, he'd kill Savannah for getting in the way of his saving Clay. God, he hoped Riley had made it clear of the trap. His brother's girlfriend had been with him when Savannah's thugs had closed in. He'd sent her running into the night. She was smart and had skills. Surely if Savannah had captured Riley, she'd have taunted him with it already. He had to take comfort in that. He had no other choice.
Thirty-six meals later, he received the newspaper. It came folded beside his paper plate. All the dates had been blacked out. He flattened it on the table and read the headline: Marchont Research Facility Annihilated. His chest exploded like he'd been punched. He knew that place. It was a secret FBI facility, and the one he figured housed Clay for interrogation. His breath coming in short pants, he scanned the article.
A magical explosion had not just leveled the compound, it had left nothing more than a black hole in the ground. A grainy picture of the scene splayed over the entire top half of the paper, with insets of blackened bodies and melted debris. The burn extended up the surrounding hills, leaving behind ridges of slag and ash. One hundred and twenty people had been declared dead or missing.
The article explained that the place had been attacked, though no one knew who might have done it. The reporter speculated that the explosion pointed to domestic terrorism or a Tyet hit.
Gregg stared at the pictures. Surely Clay had escaped. A scornful laugh wedged in his throat. God, how naïve and stupid! Clay had been held as tightly as Gregg was being held now.
Unless — maybe this had been a rescue. If Riley had escaped Savannah, if she'd organized an escape mission ...
It wasn't possible. Resourceful as she was, she didn't have the means. Hell, she didn't even know Marchont was an FBI compound. She was practically a babe in the woods when it came to Tyet business.
He found himself sliding to the floor, rolling onto his side as he curled into a ball. Scalding tears ran down his face as he wept, the sounds he made ugly and harsh.
No one came.
Later he read the article again. Then again. Three more times until he noticed the little box on the back page in the "Too late for regular publication" box. It listed an update. A helicopter discovered abandoned a few miles away. It belonged to Hollis Aviation. Investigators were following up.
Gregg crumpled the paper in his fists, hope lighting in his gut. Taylor's helicopter. That meant she'd been there, with Riley. That meant it was possible they'd got Clay out before —
For the first time in hours, his brain shifted into gear. Had they caused the explosion to cover their escape? Had Clay done it himself? But up until the FBI had arrested him, he hadn't known he even had a talent. And even if he had known, he didn't make fire. At least, Gregg didn't think he could. His brother had moved a mountain as a child, before trauma had sealed that memory away in his brain. He hadn't created one lick of fire. Neither could he imagine Taylor or Riley sacrificing so many lives. It wasn't their natures. So what had happened? Who had wanted that building demolished beyond recovery? And why?
He paced. More food came. Another sliding panel opened, revealing a small shower. How long had it been since it last opened? He'd guess at least three or four days by his smell. He went inside gratefully. He washed and put on the clothes left for him inside the table. This time he was given a pair of gray sweatpants and a red Denver Broncos tee shirt.
More food, several more showers, no news. No contact. He fought to keep sane. He stretched and did exercises until his body shook with exertion and sweat ran in runnels from his skin. He made himself perform math equations out loud, if only to hear his own voice, if only to break the crushing silence.
He could do nothing about the smothering white.
And then, when his beard had grown nearly an inch, a different panel slid open to reveal a hallway with a pale blue carpet and flowered wallpaper between white Greek pilasters. Graceful tables held vases of bright flowers. Mirrors reflected the light of small crystal chandeliers.
A slender, dark-skinned man waited with two bruisers at his back. His mouth curved an unfriendly smile. He held up a heavy silver cuff. "Mister Touray, I am Dembe Heinu. Put this on, if you please."
Gregg eyed it balefully, then snapped it around his wrist. He didn't have to ask to know it was a null.
"If you'll just raise your arm, now?" Dembe held a small padlock.
Gregg did as requested, watching as the other man slid the shank through the loop on the cuff and clicked it home.
"I am to tell you that should you attempt to escape, the Micha Center will be destroyed. A large high school cheerleading competition happens there today. The death toll would be eight thousand at a minimum. You should also know that explosives have been placed at two dozen other sites throughout the city. Should you successfully escape, every hour will see further deaths until you return to our custody."
"You suppose I care about other people's lives," Gregg said tightly.
"I suppose nothing," Dembe said. "If you will follow me."
He turned and strode away down the wide corridor. Gregg fell in behind, with the two bruisers bringing up the rear. Tentatively, he reached for his magic, but as he suspected, the cuff nulled his power. Not that he'd dare an escape.
He didn't doubt for a single second that Savannah would follow through on her threat. She didn't mind blood on her conscience. He snorted inwardly. As if she even had a conscience. She was cold-blooded, ruthless, and devious as hell, not to mention ambitious and greedy for power. She liked holding other people's lives in her hands. She liked knowing that they depended on her to keep breathing. She liked it when they knew it, too. Most of all, she liked wielding that power. She'd left a lot of corpses in her wake over the years and wouldn't shy from adding to the body count.
They passed a number of doorways, then took a set of white marble stairs upward to a wide gallery scattered with clusters of furniture and capped by a coffered ceiling. An enormous fireplace dominated one wall, with floor-to-ceiling windows revealing a gorgeous view. The lights of the snow-covered city clinging to the side of the caldera below glimmered like stars against the velvet night.
On the other end of the gallery, Dembe led Gregg around a wall and through a wide archway. Here was a comfortable salon, with white couches and a fully-stocked bar along one wall. The windowed walls rounded outward and rose to curve overhead. He sighed as his deprived senses drank in the world.
"Welcome, Gregg. Would you care for a drink?" Savannah Morrell rose from her wingback chair. She stood no more than five feet tall, though silvered pumps lent her at least four more inches. Blond hair curved around her face in a smooth cap. Her pale face was flawless, her clothing chic. She smelled of expensive French perfume.
Gregg hated her with all his soul. For weeks before his capture, he'd been hunting her, trying to find a hole through her security to kill her. Now here he stood within a few feet, and he might as well be on another planet, as much good as his proximity did.
He made himself relax. He needed to play the game if he wanted to find an escape. "I'd take a scotch."
"That's right. You like a good single malt, if I recall. Dembe, pour him a Macallan, if you please. It is quite good, I'm told. The usual for me."
She motioned for Gregg to sit in a chair and sank gracefully back into hers. Her legs were clad in silk stockings, her body sheathed in a long-sleeved cashmere dress the color of blood rubies. She said nothing, waiting as Dembe prepared their drinks and set them on the table between them.
"Leave," she said with a wave of her fingers.
In a moment, the two of them were alone. Savannah picked up her glass and sipped, making a pleased humming sound. "It's lovely outside, is it not? The new fall of snow makes the world seems fresh born."
"And yet we both know the world beneath the snow is crawling with maggots," Gregg drawled, swirling his scotch.
"We must take it as we find it."
"Or change it to suit ourselves. Is that not what you've in mind?" She shrugged, a liquid movement full of feline grace. "You must admit that you plan the same."
"Except I want to save the city. Shut down the violence and the corruption."
She laughed. "Call it what you want, it's still running the city to suit yourself."
He forced a half smile, lifting his drink to his lips and taking a large swallow. The whiskey was smoky and woodsy, running down his throat in a delicious burn.
"You didn't kidnap me to discuss our competing views for the city," he said. He wanted to ask for news of Clay, of the explosion, but refused to give her the satisfaction. That, and she'd use it against him. Savannah could spot weakness a mile away, and she never hesitated to take advantage. When she went to war, she left nothing on the table.
"Direct as usual," she said with a curve of her red lips. "Very well. I want the Kensington artifacts in your possession, including the vial of his blood. Turn them over to me and no one will be harmed. Don't turn them over, and ..." She shrugged and looked out the window, lifting her glass to her lips.
Fire bloomed in the night. Orange, red, and yellow swelled and burst into bright flowers. A few seconds later, another explosion, then another, and another. Six in all. Gregg leaped to his feet, coming to stand inches from the window, shocked horror yanking the air from his lungs.
He whirled. "What the fuck have you done?" "I've made a point. Sit down. We're not done negotiating."
"HOW THE HELL am I going to help you if you won't even stay in the same room with me?"
I was yelling. I don't know if it was more from fear, frustration, or fury. With incredible restraint, I did not pick up the chunk of petrified wood sitting on the shelf beside me, and I did not sling said hunk of rock at Price's head. I did stay in reach to keep my options open.
"If I stay in the same room with you, I'm going to kill you. Is that what you want? What will you do then? Haunt me?"
Price's voice emerged through clenched teeth. He faced me from the doorway across the room. As usual since we'd come to the safe house, he was in the middle of running away as soon as I came in the room. This time I'd tried sneaking into his bed in the dead of night, but the instant he became aware of me, he was off like he had a dog biting his ass.
"You can kill me from a football field away," I pointed out, quite reasonably. "Probably a lot farther. Your logic is completely stupid."
"God dammit, Riley. This isn't a fucking joke," he said, plowing shaking fingers through his shaggy black hair.
I wasn't sure when he'd combed it last. The rest of him looked about as bad. He'd always been lean, but now he looked gaunt. He'd lost a good twenty or so pounds in the last couple weeks, and his sapphire eyes looked bruised and sunken. His cheeks had hollowed, and his lips pulled flat in an angry line. He wore a pair of low-slung pajama bottoms, exposing his chest. I could count his ribs. It hurt to see his pain, to see him struggling so hard. The FBI had arrested and tortured him, and though they hadn't broken him, they'd done unspeakable damage to his mind and soul.
I loved this man so much I'd risked my life, my family's lives, and committed a dozen felonies to break him out of FBI custody. He could push me away all he liked, but I'd be damned if I'd let him take a road trip into hell without me. That meant tough love.
I lifted my chin and glared back at him. "I never said it was a joke. But you clearly aren't getting anywhere with your strategy, and we're running out of time. Aren't you the slightest bit worried about finding your brother?" The last was a low blow, but I was getting desperate. I felt like he was slipping through my fingers and no matter how hard I tried to hold on, he just kept getting farther and farther away.
It didn't help my anxiety that I felt less than useless. I couldn't help him, and I couldn't leave him, not without taking the chance that his worry for me would drive him over the edge. That meant sitting on my hands while both of my brothers and my sister, Taylor, risked their lives to find Touray, who'd been kidnapped while Price was in prison. Price's obnoxious brother had sacrificed himself so I could get away when we were both being hunted by the Tyet bitch-queen Savannah Morrell. But since going back to the city nearly two weeks ago, neither Taylor, Jamie, or Leo had been able to find him.
But I could, if I were there.
Everybody leaves behind a unique trail of energy wherever they go. As a tracer, I can see it. I can even see nulled trace, which most tracers can't. In fact, I can do a lot of things most tracers can't. Or I could before I overloaded my magic channels saving Price and escaping afterward. In the two weeks since, I'd recovered a lot. I figured I was maybe at sixty to seventy percent of normal. I probably couldn't go jumping into the spirit world or do any major magic tricks, but I didn't need to. Right now, I only had to locate Gregg, and looking at trace didn't hurt that much. It wasn't just for Price. I owed the bastard. Plus, finding him meant taking my family out of the line of fire. For the moment, anyhow.
At my words, Price flinched like I'd punched him in the gut. His face went gray. I held myself still, just barely. God, but I wanted to wrap myself around him and hold him tight. But even if he'd stay in the same room with me, he wouldn't risk letting me touch him. Not after last time, when a simple kiss had turned into a roof-ripping storm. Luckily, Jamie and Leo had still been here and used their metal magic to fix it.
Price's newly rediscovered talent was immense. And seriously scary. He could control wind and air. But it seemed like he was always wrestling for control of it. He was terrified it would get away from him and cause a disaster. When he was a little kid, he'd been kidnapped, and that's when his power first flared up. He'd knocked half a mountain down, destroying villages and killing who knows how many people. After that, he'd blocked his talent and his memories of it. Until the FBI had tortured him, he didn't even know he had a talent.
"Christ, Riley! Don't you think I'd be turning Diamond City upside down to find him if I didn't think I'd end up wiping it off the map in the process?" "Then let me try to help you —" That's all I got out before he cut me off.
"I won't risk hurting you."
"And I get no say? That's not going to work for me. I'm a grown-up. I get to make my own damned choices."
He glared, his jaw jutting stubbornly. "Not this one. This one's mine."
Excerpted from "Shades of Memory"
Copyright © 2017 Diana Pharaoh Francis.
Excerpted by permission of BelleBooks, Inc..
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