Spell Games (Marla Mason Series #4)

Spell Games (Marla Mason Series #4)

by T. A. Pratt

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Spell Games (Marla Mason Series #4) by T. A. Pratt

Brain-eating fungi, wannabe sorcerers, long-lost relations–does even a hard-core witch stand a chance?

Mad sorcerers, psychic vampires, an army of vengeful demons, Marla Mason would rather face them all than a flesh-and-blood ghost from her dysfunctional family past: her con artist brother, Jason. As Felport’s chief sorcerer, Marla would ordinarily consider it her duty to protect her town from such an unscrupulous ne’er-do-well. As his sister, things are a lot…trickier. Now, as Marla attempts to train an apprentice oracle whose magical wires have gotten crossed, Jason is setting up an elaborate sting and drawing her ever-so-corruptible partner Rondeau into the ruse.

Their patsy is a filthy-rich wannabe mage and their bait is something so valuable, so dangerous, so sought after, it probably doesn’t exist. But now word’s gotten out that the Borrichius spores do exist and instead of a sucker Jason and Rondeau have a much bigger–and much deadlier–fish on their line: a reclusive sorcerer whose devotion to the mushroom god and command of vegetal magic could bring a fungal apocalypse to Felport. It’ll be the mother of all bad trips unless Marla can pull off the ultimate magical switcheroo…and somehow live to tell about it.

From the Paperback edition.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553906196
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/24/2009
Series: Marla Mason Series , #4
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 479,132
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

T.A. Pratt lives in Oakland, California with partner H.L. Shaw, and works as a senior editor for a trade publishing magazine.

From the Paperback edition.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Marlita," the man said again, standing just inside the door to her office. He regarded Marla with an expression of mingled admiration and delight, extending his arms for a hug.

Marla Mason—ruthlessly pragmatic chief sorcerer of Felport, a woman who'd recently outwitted the avatar of Death, who'd once kicked a hellhound across a room, who'd thwarted the king of nightmares, and who had even killed a god (admittedly a very implausible one)—stood behind her desk and stared at him. She'd already said his name once. She didn't think she could bring herself to say it again just yet. There was a dagger in her hand—when had she picked that up?—and she gently put it down. "You. Here. Why?"

"Eloquent as always, little sis." He came around the desk and swept her into his arms.

"Jason." She spoke into his shoulder, almost breathing out the word. Even his smell was familiar, the smoke-and-whiskey scent of a bar's back room. She hadn't seen him in almost eighteen years. The time she'd spent without her brother in her life was, by now, years longer than the time they'd been close. Marla pulled away. "How did you find me?"

"You look beautiful, Marlita." He swept a stray strand of hair out of her eyes, and Marla froze. How long had it been since anyone had touched her so familiarly, so easily? Even her occasional lovers were tentative; they knew her well enough to be afraid a little, even in their intimacy. Jason wasn't tentative at all. He was family.

She grabbed his wrist, hard. "I asked you a question."

Marla was tall for a woman, but Jason had a couple of inches on her. He didn't fight, though. "A man can't visit his sister?" His voice was a perfect blend of surprise, concern, and just a hint of wounded feelings. Finely honed. She felt instantly guilty. Jason still had the knack of manipulation. No surprise there.

Marla let go of his wrist. She took a step back and frowned, looking him up and down. He was past thirty-five now, and his lean good looks were touched with something harder, something that hollowed his cheeks and bagged his eyes. Even the marks of wear and tear weren't ugly, though. They gave his face more character, made him seem like a guy who'd seen hard times, and could sympathize with your own suffering. His dark suit fit his frame perfectly, and his eyes twinkled, bags or not. Jason could have been a politician. He wasn't.

"You still on the grift?" Marla asked.

He raised one eyebrow. "Me? A grifter? Heavens, no. I'm a legitimate businessperson now. Just like you. Nice nightclub, by the way." He sat down in one of the guest chairs before her desk.

She glanced at her friend and associate Rondeau, who had opened the door for Jason and now watched them with undisguised fascination. "It's his club, not mine."

Jason raised his hands and smiled, a smile that said, "We're all in this together," a smile that had emptied many a wallet and opened many a bedroom door. "No need to be coy with me, sis. I'm not from the IRS."

Marla rubbed her eyes. She'd had a long day—actually, a long summer—and this was too much. She'd rather face the literal vengeful ghosts of her enemies again than confront this haunt from her past. "I know it's not in your nature to cut the bullshit, Jason, but, really, why are you here? Do you need money or something?"

"Money's always welcome, of course, but I'm not interested in charity. I heard you were here in Felport, doing well for yourself, and . . . I actually have a business proposition for you." He glanced at Rondeau. "One best discussed in private."

"It's a bad idea to do business with family," Marla said. "It's a sure path to heartbreak. If that's all you wanted, I'll pass."

"Now, that's not the Marla I know and love. You were always curious, sis. Don't you want to know what I have to offer? It'll tempt and tantalize, I promise."

"I'm not sure what you know—what you think you know—about my business, but my situation here is complex, and I've got a full plate already. I said I'll pass."


She held up her hand. "Jason, you're my brother, and that gets you a lot of slack, but keep pushing, and I'll have to push back."

Jason sighed. "I can respect that. You always did know your own mind, so I won't try to change it. I've got a hotel room, and I'm here for a few days at least, depending on how my business goes. Don't suppose you could spare an hour for dinner tomorrow? Or lunch, if being your long-lost brother doesn't entitle me to a whole dinner?"

"Fine. Dinner. Come by tomorrow around six, we'll figure something out."

He stood up, started to go, paused, turned back to her. "Hey. Sister. I didn't come to make trouble for you, I promise."

"Yeah?" She wanted to believe him, but Jason . . . she hadn't seen him since she was a teenager, and it was hard to forget those old bad memories. Hard to believe he'd changed. On the other hand, she'd changed, rather a lot, so maybe she was being unfair.

"Really. I just heard you were here and figured I'd look you up, see if I could interest you in a certain opportunity that's come my way. Sometimes I think back. . . . Remember when it was you and me against the world?"

Marla felt her throat begin to close. "That was a long time ago, Jason."

"Formative years." He nodded farewell.

Marla dropped into her chair.

"That's your brother?" Rondeau handed her a glass of water. Sometimes it was good to have a friend who knew you that well.

She took a long drink, glad for the excuse it gave her to delay answering. When she spoke, she felt more in control. "Yes, he is. What tipped you off? The bit where he called me his sister?"

Rondeau sat down across from her, in the chair Jason had recently vacated, and whistled. "Damn. I knew you had a brother, but I guess I figured he was dead or in prison or something."

"I kind of figured he was one or the other of those myself."

"You seem a little shaken up. You all right?"

"Sure. My brother the con man shows up unannounced after nearly twenty years, talking about a 'business proposition'? I'm great. If it were anybody else coming at me with this crap, I'd just throw them out, but he's family. What am I supposed to do?"

"Don't ask me," Rondeau said. "I'm an orphan. This shit is a mystery to me." He paused. "It's not like you don't have any choice, though. If you really want to get rid of him, you are a sorcerer. You can make him forget he even saw you today."

Marla fiddled with the scythe-shaped letter opener on her desk and sighed. "Maybe it'll come to that. But I owe him a lot, from when we were kids, when it was just him and me and Mom and whatever asshole guy followed Mom home from the bar on any given night. Jason kept a lot of bad things from happening to me."

"He's a scam artist, huh?"

"Just small-time stuff when we were younger. Hus_tling pool, short counting, three card monte, convincing drunks to make unwinnable bar bets, selling fake football picks, shit like that. By his freshman year in high school he was so well known in the county that nobody would even play rock-paper-scissors with him, and he'd take weekend trips to Indianapolis to make money. But that was ages ago. Maybe he's reformed."

"Or maybe he's moved on to bigger and better scams. Did you see his suit? It was a nice suit. I know from nice suits." Rondeau plucked the lapels of his vintage green tuxedo jacket, worn over a T-shirt depicting a skeletal rib cage. "He didn't buy a suit like that with three card monte money."

"Wouldn't surprise me. He was always ambitious." Among other things.

"So . . . is there a reason you haven't talked to him in all these years, or do you just object to his moral flexibility?" Rondeau didn't even bother to make the last bit sound sarcastic. Marla was a sorcerer. Sorcerers were the very definition of moral flexibility.

"We had a . . . falling out. Or more like the scales falling from my eyes, and my seeing Jason for what he is. Or was. I don't want to talk about it."

"Sometimes people do change, Marla. You're not the person you were even ten years ago." He rubbed his jaw absently, and Marla felt the old twinge of guilt—years ago she'd ripped Rondeau's jaw off to use as an oracle, and though he'd been healed by magic and she'd made amends countless times, she still hated thinking about it. "Does Jason, ah, know about you? What you really do? With the sorcery and so forth?"

"I certainly hope not. I'd rather keep it that way."

"So no telling him you're the witch queen of Felport? Or that I'm not so much a human as a psychic parasite squatting in a human body? Or that—"

"Correct, nix on all that, Rondeau. Ideally you'll never see him again, so you won't even be tempted to blather things you shouldn't."

"Another Mason." Rondeau shook his head. "Damn. That's something."

"I don't even want to think about Jason right now. I'm going to go home and crawl under the covers and grind my teeth."

"Still want me to pick you up tomorrow morning so we can go to the airport?"

"Sure. But no staying up all night gambling on the Internet tonight, all right? I don't want to be late tomorrow, and we're going to have a busy-ass day, so you'll need to be well rested."

He said, "You're the boss," but Marla could tell he was already playing Texas hold 'em in his mind. She'd have to make sure Rondeau didn't spend too much time around her brother, or Jason would eventually invite him to a card game and end up owning all Rondeau's worldly possessions.

Unless, of course, her brother had changed—or, rather, changed back—into the brother she'd once loved and trusted. It was a tempting thought, and because she found it so tempting, she did her best to doubt it.

Marla watched the thin trickle of exhausted businessmen and bereaved relatives emerge from the jetway of the red-eye from San Francisco, dragging their rolling suitcases behind them like Jacob Marley's chains. When Bradley Bowman emerged toting a duffel bag, he was so wide-eyed and awake he seemed scarcely the same species as the other passengers. "Marla!" He bounded toward her, dropping his bag at her feet and giving her a hug.

"Hey, B." She couldn't get over it—this scruffily cute, charismatic ex-movie star had flown across the continent to work for her. She was supposed to teach him how to use his peculiar magics, even though his natural gifts were as a seer and a psychic, while Marla herself was about as psychic as an axe handle and specialized in kicking the shit out of people, things, and ideas. But B was good people. They'd find a way to make it work. Her operation could use some charm and diplomacy to go along with the scorched earth and hurt feelings.

B let go of her, but kept beaming. "How'd you get in here? I thought security stopped people from meeting their friends at the gate these days."

"B, please. This is me. Airport security is something that happens to other people."

"I should've known. Where's Rondeau?"

"Waiting with the car. Last time I let him sneak in here, he made his way to the baggage-loading area and started rifling through suitcases. After that, I revoked his conditional invisibility privileges. Come on, we'd better go to the car before he gets bored and wanders off."

"God, it's great to be here." He followed Marla through the terminal. "Don't get me wrong, being Sanford Cole's apprentice was an honor, and he taught me a lot, but these past few months . . ."

"Eh, he's an old guy. He can't help it if he has magical narcolepsy. Besides, after a week of working for me, you'll wish I dropped off to sleep at random intervals every once in a while, just so you could get some rest." They left the secure area, Marla giving a little wave to the security agent, who still couldn't see her.

"I've done enough sleeping," B said. "I'm here to learn, and I don't mind cutting wood and carrying water."

"Better than Rondeau." Marla passed through the automatic doors, out to the summer morning, which was already heating up. "He just cuts farts and carries debt."

"Movie star!" Rondeau crowed, popping upright from his lean against the Bentley's fender. "Welcome to Felport, where we hardly ever get earthquakes, mud slides, and wildfires!"

"Blizzards and ice storms will be a nice change," B said.

Marla let them hug their hellos—the two of them had become quite close during a trip to San Francisco a few months back. She waited for Rondeau to toss B's bag into the car's cavernous trunk before saying, "I'll ride in back with you, B. I need to ask you something, and I don't want to have to twist around to see you."

"I thought apprentices were supposed to get chauffeur duty," Rondeau grumbled, and they all climbed into the car. As Rondeau navigated around dawdling shuttle buses, suicidal cabs, and bleary pedestrians, Marla said, "So are you wiped out? Need to grab some sack time?"

"No, I'm totally wired, and anyway, the plane was nearly empty, I had a whole row to myself, so I slept plenty. Don't worry about me."

"Good. We've got a busy schedule ahead of us. You're no good to me if you don't know the major players in the local scene, so in the next few days, we're going to be visiting a lot of scary, dangerous weirdos and making nice with them."

"Sounds good. But what do you really want to talk to me about?"

Marla grunted. "You being psychic now?"

"Not at the moment. You know I'm lousy at straight thought reading—it gives me headaches. I can just tell there's something else on your mind."

"Well, I was just wondering. . . . Have you had any dreams lately? About me? Any of those dreams?"

B shook his head. "Nope, no prophetic dreams about you, not since your last trip to California. Why?"

"I had . . . an unexpected visitor last night. I'm wondering if he's going to make trouble."

"What kind of visitor? Demon king? Dark sorcerer? Eldritch being from beyond the back of the stars?"

From the Paperback edition.

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Spell Games 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
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BluHawk More than 1 year ago
I am glad to report that the fourth book was every bit as fun and entertaining as the first one. I love the world Pratt takes me into, and I can't wait to see what he comes up with next! If you are sick of the same old stuff, give this series a try!!! If you like this series, you might also like Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton for the characters, and perhaps Storm Front by Jim Butcher for the storyline!
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kitkat3ny More than 1 year ago
This book is so good I can't even stand it! I'll never look at mushrooms quite the same way again. The book picks up right where Dead Reign leaves off. Marla's long, lost brother, Jason, pops up in town and sets into motion consequences that will cost someone their life. To make matters more stressful, Marla has taken on an apprentice, Bradley Bowman "B", who will be her successor. Jason is a grifter, and has plans to scam a local billionaire out of millions of dollars. Marla permits him to run his scam in her town of Felport. She also helps Jason come up w/ an imaginary artifact (Borrichius spores) that some have been searching for years and have never found. Unfortunately, the chaos sorcerer catches wind of it and uses this to her advantage. The more chaos that is in Felport, the more her power grows. She makes sure the right ear is listening and hints that the Borrichius spores have been found and are in Felport. Too bad that ear happened to be Bulliard, a slave to the Mycelium mushroom god. Bulliard's power seems limitless, since all he has to do is sprinkling/blow a few mushroom spores on a person and the Mycelium grows in them and controls them. When Bulliard hits town, all hell breaks loose. Jason makes a decision on Rondeau that has a grave impact on B. I was so surprised by the last three-fourths of this book. I was shocked that Tim had events lead to this. This is definitely a must read and I can't wait for the next installment. I highly recommend this book and the rest of the series.
Miching_Mallecho More than 1 year ago
T.A. Pratt has a fun easy-going writing style, that allows readers to enjoy and connect with the characters and the setting. But, for some reason, she keeps killing off the most interesting part of the book... The characters! Over the last 3 books, I believe the time span hasn't been more than a year, and yet, Marla's lost so many great partners. I am rather fed-up with it... I would love to see this series span the ranks of Jordan but I have been getting increasingly upset at how quickly her plot devices move! This is still a very good read, and adds richly to the flow of the series, however, I do hope she writes with a bit more consideration for her fans, and fans of the characters she introduces!
harstan More than 1 year ago
Jason Mason comes to the town of Felport where his sister Marla is the chief sorcerer. She has mixed feelings about her roguish sibling as she expects he will run a scam. He plans to pull a con on mega-billionaire Cam-Cam Compton, who believes in magic and wants to learn how to use it. Jason ask Marla what Cam-Cam would interest him that he would pay a fortune for and she says a vial of Borrichius spore that does not exist. A waiter overhearing them calls the sorceress Nicolette who thrives on chaos; she sends a courier to find the mycronancer Bulliard who should be interested in them. The courier finds his target only to find Bulliard in thrall to the Mycelium, an underground mushroom god. Nicolette knows that if Bulliard comes to Felport, chose will follow to her euphoria.

While coping poorly with her brother as she doubts she should trust him, Marla also works with apprentice Bradley Bowman, who she believes is a worthy successor to her. Jason ropes Marla¿s consigliore into his con. Rondeau, who is a psychic parasite that took over the mind and body of the person he lives inside of, finds the graft an exciting experience. However when Bulliard and his cronies arrive, chaos ensues; leaving a heartbroken Marla to clean up the mess caused by those she loves who betrayed her.

The latest Mason urban fantasy affirms that in a relatively short time, T.A Pratt has become a sub-genre star. Fans will find it fascinating as Marla introduces Bradley to the top sorcerers in town; as each teaches him a little bit of magic. He is like a younger brother to her whom once he learns to control his power will be a perfect successor to her. Readers will admire the heroine, but adore her innocent apprentice while also hoping her sibling will mend their estranged relationship, which she tries to do by assisting him on his scam. Like its predecessors (see DEAD REIGN, BLOOD ENGINES and POISON SLEEP) SPELL GAMES casts a magical enchantment on the readers to finish it in one sitting

Harriet Klausner