Brock looked over at his team as the SUV glided to a smooth halt in the parking lot. Crowded with silent cars, many people were still waking and beginning their day. Not many people out and about yet. This fit perfectly with their plan.
Jon’s visit, very early that morning caused Brock to make two phone calls. One, to his Gran, infuriated him; while the other filled him with pride. He decided not to dwell on his frustration at his grandmother’s refusal to move the dagger. He’d deal with that later. The other call, to scramble the Guardians to readiness, accomplished much. The team of Guardians had readied within thirty minutes and their arrival here was within an hour from when Jon left Brock’s front door. An aura of excited tension radiated from them. They knew this visit held the potential to escalate swiftly.
Rather than waste time arguing with his grandmother, Brock switched to the other priority of discovering who was behind the disappearances. They needed to know if the ‘bad guy’s’ presence in Madison was the Coven’s fault. Magic users need permission to settle in their city. He’d hate to think one of his friends met with a murderer and couldn’t sense it and allowed them into their midst.
Brock and Eddie’s conversation on the phone determined that this time was best. Though there might be civilians around, the element of surprise would be on their side. Besides, hopefully, this would just be a calm conversation.
Chad Cadfell tapped him on the shoulder and Brock switched his attention to the muscled redhead. “A female with strong magic is in that corner unit for sure.”
“Let’s move into position,” Eddie ordered.
They moved from the vehicle, magic blurring their images. Even while watching them, Brock couldn’t follow their progress with his gaze. They seemed to melt into the early morning shadows within minutes. He felt a mental nudge from Eddie to let him know they were ready.
He straightened out his suit after climbing from the SUV. He decided on this formal wear to let his quarry know this was an official visit. Brock’s hand smoothed over his ponytail, checking its smoothness.
He decided not to wear the uniform of the Guardians, black fatigues with their name on the back. It emulated a security firm, which on paper they were. Their only client happened to be the entire city of Madison. But a suit would blend into the idea this was an official, but not intimidating, visit. Brock didn’t need to spook her into offensive tactics as soon as she opened the door.
His own shields carefully hid his magic from anyone. He looked over at Naomi Peck. The older woman nodded her readiness. Her trim figure in a navy suit and graying blonde hair in a smooth chignon, she looked prepared for a board meeting. She possessed the uncanny ability to sense the truth, so Naomi was the logical choice to accompany him.
Knocking firmly, he waited to the side of the door to meet the young woman. He sensed when a presence hovered just on the other side of the wood panel. Staring at the peephole, he sent a strong compulsion for her to open the door to them. It opened slowly, the chain still in place. Brock met the hesitant green gaze looking out at him and saw it widen.
Was it arrogance to assume that she would recognize him? That descriptions of the Gary Guardian twins preceded them to anyone magical entering Madison? According to the background he’d read, she came from the Boston area. From her reaction, it appeared that the other coven was well informed.
Brock drew himself to his full, intimidating height. “We need to talk.”
Her blonde hair, cut in a chin-length wavy bob, swung as she nodded. Unhooking the chain, she stepped back and waved them in and at the loveseat.
“Coffee, tea?” she politely asked.
They shook their heads.
“Then what can I do for the Madison Guardians?”
“Just to answer some questions, Miss McKenzie,” Brock replied as he seated himself.
Naomi sat next to him and the young lady claimed one of the armchairs facing them. Jade McKenzie smoothed her grey pleated skirt over her long legs.
They were fantastic legs, Brock noted. After all, he was still bi; but it stirred nothing deeper. He knew it wasn’t because this visit was ‘official’, nobility didn’t cling to him. Was the lack of interest due to his recent acquaintance with a certain large handsome detective or something else?
Brock wished his empathy was better developed.
Naomi ‘accidently’ jarred him as she shifted. A pale blue Gary gaze eyed him, reminding him why they were here. Many coven members shared the pale blue eye color, all related, however distantly, to him.
He turned back to his quarry. “Miss McKenzie, I’m Brock Gary and this is Naomi Peck.”
She cocked her head, giving every appearance of excited interested. “Peck, another founding family of the region, isn’t it? It’s a pleasure to meet you.” She paused, and then appeared regretful. “I’m on my way to work, though, so if you don’t mind…”
“Understood.” Before Brock could continue, they were interrupted.
A pale, slender shape skittered into the room from the bedroom of the suite. Brock watched the odd, humping run as the ferret drew closer. It clambered onto the coffee table so it could face them. Rearing up on its hind legs it sat, folding its little paws and studying them with every appearance of intelligence.
Jade smiled, appearing more relaxed. “And this is Kiki, my familiar.”
Brock nodded and made the introductions again, this time to Kiki. The degree of intelligence that familiars possessed varied; but it was best, and polite, to assume it was high. Kiki’s robust appearance reassured him. Though a practitioner might hide the affects of using dark magic from others, it usually showed on their familiars that were used as conduits. Kiki’s friendliness, teamed with her shiny and healthy coat, made this less likely.
Naomi spoke next to him, getting them back on track. “When you previously contacted a Coven member to receive permission to live within the city limits you stated it was for your job.”
Jade nodded, her blonde bob swinging and brushing her jaw.
“You work on the Madison campus for the University of Wisconsin, is that correct?” Naomi seemed calm and friendly, all ‘good cop.’
“With one of the daggers,” Naomi added.
A crease appeared between Jade’s eyebrows. “Yes…”
“Did you steal them?” Brock demanded. Guess he got to be ‘bad cop.’
“Did I… No!” Jade met his gaze with no prevarication. “I did not!”
Brock ‘felt’ Naomi’s slight confusion, thought she outwardly hid it. Hmm… “You know they were stolen, though?” He continued.
She nodded. “That’s why I had them take it off display. A man in town kept calling, trying to pressure us to let him see the piece…”
“You wrote to our historian concerning the dagger prior to coming here.”
“Of course. I’m a researcher and it’s a prominent piece of my exhibit.”
Brock only sense calm professionalism radiating from her now. Any discomfort fled now that the topic turned to the firm footing of her job. He exhaled, frustrated.
Naomi glanced at him and back at Jade. “Why Madison, Miss McKenzie? You told our Coven in your letter that you wished to come here to study and work at the University. But you’re from Boston; surely there are more interesting cities to visit?”
“Madison is one of the few cities in the country with no détente. Your covens rule the area with iron control. This area has also preserved the Celtic customs of old Wales. Only the Appalachian mountain region shows similarities and that is because of its isolated nature. You don’t find that fascinating?”
The young woman’s gaze now shined with interest as she leaned forward, excited. If it was an act, it was a good one.
Though Brock didn’t like feeling like a butterfly in a scientist’s case.
“This is our home, Miss McKenzie, not an experiment,” he growled, annoyed.
She flushed and glanced at him. “I didn’t mean it like that!”
“Have you watched the news?” Naomi put in. “This is getting darker and more serious as more time goes on.”
Jade nodded. “We’ve talked about it quite a bit at work, actually.”
Brock heard a light scratching against his chair and looked down. The other two women continued to talk as Kiki climbed up the side of the loveseat, laboriously trying to get closer to the top. He reached down to help her and Jade laughed.
“She’s faking it,” Jade told him. “She doesn’t need help, she just wants to get close to you.”
Kiki swung her tail around Brock’s wrist and clung with all four paws to him instead of letting him deposit her on the arm of the short couch. He sat back with her in his lap and stroked her back with his free hand, amazed at her light fresh scent. He sniffed. She didn’t smell at all like ferret musk, if anything, she smelled like sage and rosemary…
“I bathe her a lot,” Jade said then. “I make a soap from rosemary herb and sage leaves. She loves it, the dear.”
Kiki grinned at him, showing her little fangs, and then crawled along the couch arm to try and root behind his back. “That tickles,” he murmured.
The ferret pulled back and looked up at him with bright black eyes as he watched her over his shoulder. She then crawled up the back of the loveseat to go along and curl up behind Brock’s head.
Distracting little creature, he noted. He had the distinct feeling that the little familiar could answer all of their questions. Naomi, thankfully, didn’t lose her focus as she continued to question Jade on the exhibit. Kiki, meanwhile, attempted to unhook his ponytail holder and play with his hair, so he finally lifted her bodily off the couch and set her on the table. She regarded him with large sad eyes over one shoulder as she flounced over to her mistress. .
Great, a guilt trip from a creature smaller than his cats.
He gazed around the apartment as his mobile buzzed the ‘all clear.’ He felt his muscles unclench, but Jade looked up at that moment and met his gaze. She held Kiki in her lap now, and the ferret looked out the front window.
“Am I in trouble with the Coven?” Jade asked, her tone of voice much more afraid than before.
Brock cocked his head. “Why would you ask that? Have you done something I should know about?”
Jade paled. “No… I just… There’s a lot of you out there…”
Brock gazed at her, trying to read her. “You’re not in trouble. But we would be foolish not to be on our guard.”
“But I’m not going to harm anyone!” Jade cried.
Naomi shifted in her seat, but Brock couldn’t spare the attention to look at her. He let his gaze bore into Jade’s eyes. If he got to be ‘bad cop,’ might as well play it all the way. “I’m not saying you are, Miss McKenzie. But this is a serious matter, you have to agree.”
“I think we’ve said all we can,” Naomi declared, standing. “You know that we’re aware you’re here, Miss McKenzie. The daggers are valuable, and to more than just the historians among us.”
Jade’s expression appeared pinched. “Yes, ma’am.”
“How did you know it was more than just the two of us?” Brock asked.
Jade gave him a strained smile. “You shielded yourselves, not the vehicles you drove that magic clings to. And I can feel four of those, so I’m guessing a dozen arrived with you. Should I be flattered or scared shitless?”
Brock smirked. “A little of both, maybe.”
Naomi made an odd noise, soft, but audible. He glanced at her and saw her trying not to laugh.
Jade smiled again, eyes still tight. “I appreciate the distinction.” Her eyes flicked to the adjoining bedroom that Brock could see as he stood.
“Are you alone?” he asked sharply. He knew he would have ‘felt’ anyone else. Just as he cold have ‘felt’ the presence of the daggers. But there was an odd lingering impression of ‘something.’ It ebbed through the wards the young witch erected in her temporary home that Brock breached by being invited inside them.
Kiki hissed and jumped out of Jade’s grasp. “Yes, why?” Jade asked.
Brock watched the little ferret, wishing his ex-boyfriend were there. Doc Soskoff could have ‘read’ the little ferret, since he was an animal empath, and just told Brock outright what he wanted – needed – to know. “Mind if I check out the kitchenette?”
He headed over that direction without waiting for an answer and Jade followed, nervous all over again. Two bowls sat in the strainer, along with two spoons and a coffee mug. No other clues jumped out to bite him, but he wished they would. His sister was probably better suited to this part of the work, as much as he hated admitting that – even to himself.
“I told you,” Jade insisted, “it’s just Kiki and me!”
Kiki hissed again, and waddle-humped over to the bedroom. Brock followed and Kiki looked up at him, her little face screwed up into an angry scowl. She glared at the bed and the feeling Brock sensed earlier seemed stronger here.
Jade got a can opener and caught the little creature’s full attention, giving her some wet food. Frustrated, Brock walked back to where Naomi waited. “All right, we’ve taken enough of your time,” Brock decided. “Have a good day, Miss McKenzie.”
“Thank you,” Jade answered, coming out of the kitchen with a spoon in her hand.
A bowl for Kiki sat on the floor, just like the two cereal bowls in the strainer. Maybe he was just being paranoid.
On the other hand, maybe his sister and Jon ought to check her out anyway. He sighed, knowing the upheaval his revealing, after not sharing this information, would cause between him and his twin. Not to mention the oh-so-serious detective. He followed Naomi out into the sunlight, annoyed that the answers weren’t clearer.