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Authors: Eileen Wilks

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Mind Magic (5 page)

BOOK: Mind Magic
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Charles nodded.

Now she knew who he was. “You’re the one who was hurt by the bear.” Hurt saving two human hikers who never knew what he’d done. “I’m honored to meet you, Charles.”

He shook his head, then bowed in a way that born-wolves don’t, going down on his front knees and lowering his head.

Because of the mate bond, the lupi saw her as a Chosen—chosen by their Lady, the Old One who’d created them over three thousand years ago. Lady-touched. “I know you’re honoring the Lady, not me, but it feels weird, so could you get up, please?”

Charles huffed and stayed in his bow.

“I think he’s honoring you, not just the Lady,” Ruben said. “You preserved Wythe’s mantle at great risk to yourself.”

Eight months ago, Lily had played temporary host to the Wythe mantle when the clan’s Rho—the mantle-holder—was killed without an heir. Eventually Lily had found the person the Lady wanted to pass the mantle to: Ruben Brooks. Who was her boss at the FBI and—at the time—not a lupus at all. Turned out he had a teeny trace of their blood in his ancestry, and that had been enough. Like all of the Old Ones, the Lady was barred from acting directly in their realm, but she could act through the people she’d created. The lupi. She could, within limits none of them understood, act on the lupi.

She’d used that trace of lupi blood to turn Ruben fully lupus, then she’d bestowed the Wythe mantle on him. And now the head of the FBI’s Unit 12, a man who had the ear of the president, turned furry at times.

The mantles were the lupi’s deep, dark secret. A clan’s mantle gave the Rho his authority; it united the clan; it helped lupi maintain the balance between wolf and man. Mantles also ensured that no lupus ever felt entirely alone. That sounded partly good, partly awful to Lily, who needed time to herself now and then. She’d said something like that to Rule.

“I can’t really relate to your need for time alone,” he’d admitted. “I try to respect that need, but I don’t feel it myself. But mantles aren’t intrusive, no more than clothing is. You don’t spend your days thinking about how clothed you feel. We don’t notice the mantles every moment, but they garb us, keep us from ever being naked, stripped, isolated.”

Interesting, she’d thought, that he compared being alone to being stripped. As for her, she might not notice her clothes most of the time, but she always enjoyed removing them at night. Especially her bra.

“Charles,” Ruben said, “Lily appreciates the honor you do her, but she’s embarrassed.”

The wolf huffed again and lowered himself to lie on the floor next to Lily. He sniffed her leg, then settled his head on his forepaws with a sigh of what sounded like satisfaction. And promptly dozed off.

“Charles is one of Wythe’s elders,” Ruben said softly. “Last month he celebrated his one hundred and fiftieth birthday.”

Lily blinked. “He fought a bear when he was a hundred and forty-nine years old?”

“He told me he was glad the bear didn’t kill him because he always wanted to go out on an even number.” Ruben regarded the sleeping wolf wryly. “Charles has spent much of his century and a half mastering the art of stubbornness. He’s good at getting what he wants. He wanted to remain wolf for his last days, so of course I granted that. He also indicated—strongly—that he wished to spend those days near his Rho instead of at our elder home. He persuaded me to allow that, too.”

In other words, the wolf dozing at Lily’s feet was dying.

Lupi lived longer than humans. A century and a half wasn’t unusual. Some lived even longer, and they were healthy and vigorous almost up to the end. But there came a moment, a distinct point, when they began to fade—“like a switch was turned off,” one of the Nokolai elders had described it to Lily. They called the remaining span of their lives the waiting time. Some waited only a few days. For most it was a couple weeks, and a few lingered for a month or two. But for all of them, after that point the Change was too taxing without help.

Help was available. A Rho could propel any of his people into the Change, even those who’d passed into the waiting time.

The bathroom door opened and Rule stepped out. He wore a dress shirt with the almost-black slacks, but hadn’t yet donned his suit coat or tie. His hair was still damp. “Ruben.” He nodded once.

Ruben matched his nod. “Rule. You slept well last night?”

“Very well, thank you. And you?”

“I slept well, also.”

Charles snorted.

Lily glanced down, her eyebrows raised. He still looked like he was sleeping.

“Charles,” Ruben said dryly, “does not approve of our little experiment.”

Nokolai Clan was the majority owner of a perfectly good house in Georgetown, which was somewhat closer to the political action than the Brookses’ home in Bethesda. Lily had stayed there several times. Rule was the public face for his people, and he came to D.C. occasionally to advocate for them. The house had recently been renovated, too—the basement could now sleep up to sixteen guards. But she and Rule weren’t staying there this time. Ruben had suggested that they could sell the Georgetown house and stay with him and Deborah when they needed to be in Washington.

War was expensive. The clan could use the profit from the sale. First, though, they had to find out if two Rhos could share space comfortably—with “comfortably” being the key word. Rule and Ruben could share space if they had to. They were both aces at control, they liked and respected each other, and neither of them would attack or knowingly offend the other. But lupi need hierarchy. They need to know whether they’re the dominant in the room, and each man’s instinct would push him to test the other in subtle ways. When they asked about each other’s sleep last night, they weren’t being polite. They were gathering data.

After a pause Ruben added, “Though I did have an odd dream.”

“Shit,” Lily said. She and Rule looked at each other. When an off-the-charts precog said he had an odd dream, you wanted to pay attention. Ruben’s Gift usually manifested as hunches. Crazy accurate hunches. Lily knew of only one time that Ruben’s Gift had escalated into out-and-out visions. Then, the fate of the world had hung in the balance. But those had been visions, not dreams. “Or maybe not. I hope not. Is a dream the same as a vision?”

He smiled, but it was a bit crooked. “No. For some reason, on the rare occasions that my Gift tries to tell me something about my own future rather than larger events, it often manifests as a dream. Precognitive dreams are distinctive in that they’re unusually vivid and memorable. Also, they tend to recur, and are often couched in symbolic terms. This one certainly was.” Ruben’s tone indicated that he did not approve of dreams that failed to state their meaning clearly. “It may be that I have an enemy I’m unaware of. There were a lot of masks in the dream. But that wasn’t what I came up here to discuss. Deborah wishes to know if you’d prefer cantaloupe or strawberries.”

“Strawberries,” Lily said. “Maybe if you told us what, exactly, you dreamt—”

“I don’t think that would help.” Ruben looked abstracted, as if he were listening to another conversation. His face cleared. “At least that much is plain. It won’t help to tell you more at this time. Strawberries, you say?” He gave them a pleasant nod and headed back downstairs.

FOUR

IF
Ruben Brooks looked like the stereotypical geek with a splash of nerd, his wife, Deborah, was a dark-haired version of the cheerleader every geek is supposed to lust after. She might be past the age for turning cartwheels in front of the crowd at the big game, but her type of beauty didn’t diminish with the years.

Books and covers, Lily thought as she followed Deborah down the basement stairs, heading for the workout room. It wasn’t that the packaging didn’t matter. People responded to it, so it made a difference—but only because of how it affected what was inside, not because it reflected the inside. She knew without asking that Deborah had never been a cheerleader. Deborah was rich, beautiful, and painfully shy.

Lily had been glad to learn that because at first she’d thought her boss’s wife was stuck-up. That might have been partly her own bias—it was all too easy to assume that rich and beautiful meant stuck-up—but not entirely. Deborah did freeze with those she didn’t know well. Once she got past her shyness, though, she was warm and funny and brutally honest. Turned out she could shut down completely with people or she could be wide open. She had trouble with anything in between.

“You’re sure you don’t mind if I go first on the treadmill?” Lily asked.

“Not at all. I’m hoping you’ll run so long I won’t have time to get on it at all. I hate the stupid thing.”

“I’d much rather run outside¸” Lily agreed. That, unfortunately, was out of the question. She’d gotten one bodyguard—and friend—killed because she wanted to go for a run when she was away from home. No way would she put her people at risk like that again.

“I meant that I hate running.”

“Oh.”

Deborah paused at the foot of the stairs to glance over her shoulder with a dimpled smile. “You don’t understand that at all, do you?”

“No,” Lily admitted. “I love running.”

The stairs ended in a short hall. Deborah headed to the right, toward what was obviously the workout room. Lily followed her. “My friend Cynna feels the way you do. I sort of get it. Some parts of working out are tedious. Take crunches. Who could enjoy crunches?” Lily did them because she needed to, not because she enjoyed it. She ran because she needed it, too, but that need was only partly about staying fit.

“I certainly don’t. I used to enjoy Pilates class, though.”

Lily’s hostess had had to give up a lot when her husband was turned into a lupus and inherited the Wythe mantle. Pilates class was the least of it. “I’m not much for exercise classes. Sometimes I get competitive.”

“No! You?”

Lily grinned. “Hard to believe, I know.”

“I would have thought competing with others would make you enjoy classes more, not less.”

“No, because it puts my head in the wrong place. I would’ve thought classes would be a challenge for you, too.”

“You don’t have to talk to anyone when you’re working out. Just smile and nod. I can do that. Here’s your indoor running machine. Shall I show you how to use it?”

“Nice,” Lily said. The treadmill was top-of-the-line, as fancy as anything she’d seen at a gym. The other equipment in the small room looked like good quality, too—weights, a pair of reclining benches, a stationary bike, and a big exercise ball. Lily started playing with the settings on the treadmill. “Looks like it does everything but move my legs for me.”

“It was my parents’ Christmas gift to Ruben. Their way of apologizing for the way they reacted to the unpleasantness last year.”

Deborah’s voice was tart enough to make Lily think she hadn’t entirely forgiven her parents for their assumptions. Ruben had been framed for a nasty murder, part of the Great Enemy’s plans for world domination, and Deborah’s folks had believed the frame. “Your feathers are still ruffled.”

“I’m working on it. This was a thoughtful gift,” Deborah admitted. “They have no way of knowing that he’s not in a constant state of rehab for his condition anymore.”

And there was the reason all the upheaval of Ruben’s conversion to lupus had been worth it for Deborah. The condition that had been slowly killing him was no longer an issue.

Deborah lingered beside the treadmill. “Um . . . may I ask you something?”

“Sure,” Lily said promptly, though she considered that among the world’s silliest questions. The idea behind the question, she supposed, was to warn someone that your question might be offensive and get forgiveness in advance. But if the question was offensive, it would still offend. And why would you want to warn someone anyway? It just put them on their guard. That was no way to get answers. But Deborah was being diffident, which was right on the edge of shy, so Lily didn’t explain any of that.

“It’s about your health,” Deborah confessed. “The condition that has you on indefinite leave.”

“Okay. What did you want to know?”

Deborah blinked as if she’d expected more. “Um . . . what’s wrong?”

Lily’s eyebrows shot up. “Ruben didn’t tell you?”

“No. He said it was temporary, that it would resolve itself in time, but he didn’t say what it was. He wouldn’t,” she said matter-of-factly. “Ruben sees health issues as very personal, not something he could repeat without your permission.”

“It’s not a big deal. A big pain, yes, and it’s secret as far as most of the world goes, but not from you. I’m, ah, having hallucinations. Not all the time,” she added hastily. “Sometimes I don’t have one all day.” And sometimes she had two or three, but never mind that. “It’s a side effect of my mindspeech training.”

Deborah blinked again. “Your what?”

“With Sam. The black dragon. Ruben didn’t tell you about that, either?” Obviously not, from the look on Deborah’s face. “It turns out that a capacity for mindspeech is part of the package that comes with my Gift.”

Deborah’s brow wrinkled. “I’ve never heard of touch sensitives being able to speak mind-to-mind. I don’t see how the two are related.”

BOOK: Mind Magic
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