Authors: Hazel Hunter
HER WARLOCK PROTECTOR
By Hazel Hunter
Her Warlock Protector Book 2
Nicolette Erling is a survivor, hiding in plain sight. As she moves from city to city, disguised as a psychic in a traveling circus, her real Wiccan ability remains hidden—from everyone except Sebastian.
Major Sebastian Corcoran of the Magus Corps has made Nicolette his private project. Though he’s determined to bring the beautiful rogue into the safety of the Wiccan community, he’s unprepared for the fiery passion that erupts between them.
Desperate to remain on her own and unable to leave the brutality of her past behind, Nicolette can’t let herself fall for Sebastian. When duty calls him back to the Corps, he can’t force her to come. But can he leave her vulnerable to the enemies that may find her?
THE GATES HAD opened just a few hours ago, but Nicolette was already willing to call it a day. There was a lull between customers, and she hastened to pour out a little more cat food for Karas. He clattered on his perch, looking as restless as she felt, and she let him butt his head against her hand a few times.
“Just get through tonight, and we'll have a nice long lie-in soon, okay, handsome?”
The African crow flapped his black and white wings at her as if to tell her what he thought of that nonsense, and she scratched his crest consolingly. The work never seemed to get easier or shorter, and when her pet coughed, signaling another person approaching the tent, she scooted behind the table again.
The couple who came in were young. She would guess that they came from the college nearby. They blinked at the darkness of her tent, and when they took their seats across from her, they looked as apprehensive as they were entertained.
“We don't need to hear the phony accent or nothing,” the boy said. “We don't really believe in this junk.”
Nicolette allowed herself a tight smile, and she turned instead to the girl.
“What about you?” she said, and no, there wasn't much of an accent there unless you counted the slight sharpness of her New York vowels. New York was almost a decade ago, though, and as she had learned, everything changed.
“Me?” squeaked the girl. “What do you mean?”
“Do you think this is junk?”
The girl burst into nervous giggles, and the boy rolled his eyes. It didn't take any magic to know what they were like.
“I, um, I don't know? I guess I'm mostly open-minded,” she said.
“Ah, that is a fine thing to be,” Nicolette said, letting her voice warm up a little. Open-minded was something to work with.
“I don't pretend to be in touch with spirits,” she said, though that wasn't her line with other people. “I just feel things, and some of my tools allow me to see what others might not.”
The boy looked skeptical, but he laid down the fifteen dollars willingly enough. Nicolette made it disappear, and then she spread out her Tarot cards. She had stolen them a few years ago from a bookstore in Seattle and spent some time sanding them and spindling them until they looked fissured and worn.
As she shuffled the cards and explained their long and vaunted history to the pair, she let her own consciousness open and expand. She glanced between her cards and their faces, letting herself focus where she could. It only took a few moments before she could see the customary swirl of colors around their heads.
The girl's colors were uniformly soft, rose, amethyst and coral. Threaded through the softness, however, were veins of silver. A girl who was gentle and sweet, Nicolette thought approvingly, but that vein of silver spoke of ambition and ferocity. The boy, on the other hand, was a dull morass of beige and gray, smeared and smudgy with an unpleasant hint of green. His colors were significantly more standard when it came to the people that Nicolette saw regularly, and the green was familiar enough.
She laid down the cards, and was happy to see that the seven of swords came up. It made things easier in some ways.
“This card signifies deception,” she said, keeping her voice almost bored. “Someone is trying to get away with something.”
The words were barely out of her mouth when she saw the boy flinch and the girl glance sideways at him, her eyes narrow.
Ah, good. She might be infatuated, but it looks like she's no one's fool.
“Deception comes in many forms,” Nicolette continued, “but in many cases, it is simple and stupid, easy enough to ferret out, and simpler still to remove from your life.”
The last she directed to the girl and, as she did so, she could see the rose in the girl's aura deepen to a vibrant crimson. The boy's aura turned a sickly greenish shade, and Nicolette knew that she was right.
“I'll bet it is,” the girl said softly. “What else does it say?”
Nicolette stuck with the cards after that. She liked Tarot fortune telling. Though reading auras was really her power, the cards were an excellent tool. They were all about patterns, and once you pointed people toward a pattern, you could largely let them do most of the work on their own.
The couple left, but not before the girl tipped her another five dollars. She looked like she was going to go off and give her boyfriend hell, and Nicolette silently cheered her on.
SEBASTIAN WATCHED THE young couple make their way from the tent. They had a distinctly different body language than when they’d gone in. He smiled a little as they walked briskly into the crowd. Nicolette’s ability could sometimes have that effect. Though he told himself that watching her tent was for this exact purpose—to establish the extent of her abilities—he knew that wasn’t strictly true.
Shadows moved inside the tent, and he knew the one on the left was her. Even her silhouette hinted at the classic beauty that had struck him from the start. It seemed to come from another era, like the trade she plied. He watched, riveted, as echoes of other places and times, other carnivals and festivals all melded. But as the two dark forms took their seats, he came back to the moment. Though the Magus Corps didn’t require he sample her talents directly, he wondered for a moment what it would be like to sit across from her.
THE NEXT CUSTOMERS were easy enough, and the last, a cheerful old man with a missing arm, even managed to make her smile.
“Pretty girl like you, how do you feel about running away with me, eh? You ran away with the circus, but maybe you'd rather run off with a fella who heads the local historical society. Come on, you can bring your wacky bird with you.”
Nicolette stifled a real laugh, and out of curiosity, she checked his aura. It was a deep, pewter blue, fine and strong, but there was an edge of drab gray to the edges. Depression, she thought, or perhaps even mourning.
“I can't come with you today,” she said, “but someone else is going to say yes.”
“You think so, huh?” he sighed theatrically. “Well, I'm an old man, and every day I get older. I had my yes, forty years of it as a matter of fact, and though I may hope, well, I won't be surprised to hear that that was it.”
Nicolette's heart ached, and she took the man's hand, turning it to look at the palm.
“No, see how strong your love line and life line are? Life is long, and love follows it all the way.”
The smile he gave her was as sweet as honey, and he squeezed her hand gently.
“It is good of you to say so, pretty girl, and I hope it is for you, too.”
He left, and in the lull, Nicolette sat with his words, letting them fill the air around her until Karas fluttered off of his perch and came to sit on her shoulder.
“What, are you worried he was competing with you for my attention, sweetie? Don't worry, you're the most handsome male I know.”
The crow preened at her words, but then he hopped nervously, fluffing up until he was as big as a basketball. The coughing sound he made was a warning, and Nicolette looked up just in time to see her newest customer.
THE MAN ENTERED the tent, and it was as if he sucked all the air out of the room. He simply took up too much space, and Nicolette felt a brief lick of panic run up her spine. Her mother would have said that a goose walked over her grave, but this felt like someone wanted to put her in it.
“You are the fortune teller?”
The words came out thickly, as if they were dipped in tar before being spat out. It took Nicolette a moment to respond.
“Yes…yes, I am Madame Nicole. Please, tell me what you are looking for tonight?”
Her patter sounded false even to her own ears, but the hulking man didn't seem to notice. He dropped himself into the seat across from her, and even then she found it hard to really see him. He was dressed in jeans, a plaid shirt and a baseball cap, all very common to the crowd the circus was serving that night, but he wore them badly.
Like a disguise,
she thought with a shiver, and she braced herself. She had had brushes with strange and dangerous people before, and for the most part, they were simply on their way elsewhere. Nothing told her that she needed to call security. Yet.
“I am looking for my fortune,” the man said, and he held out his hand.
“You wish to have your palm read?” she asked, not taking it yet. “That will be thirty dollars.”
She doubled her price, hoping that he would leave, but instead he counted out a small stack of greasy fives and ones. She took the money, and reluctantly took his hand.
“You are a man who works very hard at what he does,” she began. “You are someone who believes in right and wrong, and that you stand on the side of the angels.”
The man's laugh was a dark thing.
“That I do, that I do, madame. Tell me what else you see.”
Nicolette had read palms from South Dakota down to the Gulf, and she wasn't sure that she had ever liked holding a hand less.
“I see a life behind you of sacrifice. Some regret, some joy. You move forward no matter what, and every day it brings you closer to what you seek.”
“That it does, madame. Tell me, how close am I to what I seek?”
“Will you tell me what you are looking for? It makes it easier for me to sense–”
“I am looking for a woman,” he said, interrupting her as if he had intended to speak all along. “She's been running for a long time, but I'm sure she can't run forever.”
“She's a bad one. A wicked one, and she and those like her, they must be found. They must be
SOMETHING ABOUT A man alone approaching a psychic’s tent was unusual. But when Sebastian heard the loud, forced laugh, the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. He glared at their huddled and unmoving silhouettes. Something was wrong.
He instinctively moved forward, but stopped himself. Barging in could do as much harm as good. Meeting her under these circumstances was not how he’d wanted it to go. He took a step back.
NICOLETTE'S INSTINCTS WERE screaming at her now. When she tried to pull her hand back, the man instead gripped it tightly. She could no more tear herself away than she could uproot an oak tree. He simply stared at her. Now she could see how dark his eyes were and how tight his smile.
Without thinking, she opened her awareness to truly see him, and what she saw made her hackles rise. The man's aura was a stark and sickly white, shot through with gray patches that looked diseased. She had never seen anything like it, and her panic rose up even higher.
“Let me go,” she said through clenched teeth, all pretense of making a show forgotten. “I don't know what your damn game is, but it is over now.”
There was a knife strapped under the table. She didn't want to use it, but if the next thing out of this man-monster's mouth wasn't a mumbled apology, she would have no compunctions about doing so. She reached for it with her free hand, but she never took her eyes from the man's face, watching for a flicker of violence or a whisper of what he intended to do next. On her shoulder, Karas hunched down and hissed like a snake.