Illusions begin, p.23
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       Illusions Begin, p.23

           N.L. Greene
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  Chapter Fourteen

  Becky took her time walking toward the diner. She was nervous. Way more nervous than she was when she went to the police station for the first time in her life and had to identify a suspect that tried to rob her. She wasn’t even scared a little bit about that. She was even more nervous than she was when she spoke with Ethan and even more nervous than when they went out to dinner. And those two things had her acting like a complete basket case. But now, as she took each step in the direction of where she was set to meet her mystery man, her nerves frazzled more and more. She honestly didn’t know if she was going to be able to walk into the diner and meet him. Her heart rate accelerated, her palms grew sweaty, and she could feel her fingers shaking when she tried to wipe them on her pants leg.

  As she reached the corner just before she would turn onto the street the diner was located on, she stopped and leaned against the building behind her. She took a few deep breaths and thought about what she was doing. She was meeting a stranger to talk about magic. Was she insane? But she was doing it in not only in a public place, but a place she frequented. Everyone at the diner knew her, knew where she worked, and who her parents were. If anything happened, they would be able to help her. There was nothing for her to fear. So why was she so scared?

  It wasn’t in fear of being kidnapped, hurt, or even worse that she stood there trembling. It was in fear of getting her hopes up, only to be let down when she found out that this man was a complete fraud. No matter how many times she tried to talk herself out of it, she really, really wanted to believe what this mystery man had been telling her. She wanted to believe the stories she was reading on the website he directed her to and she wanted to believe in magic again. She really had thought she grew out of her hopes and dreams of real magic, but now that she was being tempted with the possibility of it again, she realized just how much she wanted it to be true.

  She took another calming breath and looked at the time on her cell phone. It was six-thirty. She was half an hour early, but had a feeling he was too. She sent a quick text to her father, letting him know she would be calling her mother later due to an unplanned invite to dinner with a friend. She did make sure to mention to him where she and her friend would be eating, just in case. She may be being naïve about the whole magic thing, but she wasn’t stupid. She waited another few seconds for the response from her father, telling her to have fun and that they loved her, before tossing her phone back in her purse and taking one last calming breath. Before she could talk herself out of it, she pushed away from the dirty brick wall and rounded the corner. In just a few short steps she was in front of the diner.

  She pulled the door open and was greeted by the cool air conditioned breeze, sending goose bumps up and down her arms. She rubbed at them distractedly while her eyes scanned the diner. It was pretty busy but Jenny still managed to yell out a generic greeting at her, which she returned absently. Her eyes had zeroed in on the lone figure in the back corner booth. His back was to the wall, so he was facing her, but she still couldn’t see his face. He was wearing the same black hoodie and New York hat that was pulled low over his face. Did he ever change clothes? She wondered vaguely. He was slumped back into the booth and his fingers were busy playing with the sugar packets that were scattered on the table.

  She studied him for a moment, hoping to pick up some sort of vibe from him that would either send her away running or reassure her that she was doing the right thing. She didn’t get a vibe, instead she got his gaze. As if sensing her arrival and need for reassurance, his head slowly turned up and his eyes zeroed in on her. When they did, her breath caught. His eyes were the deepest green she had ever seen and even from across the room she could see just how beautiful they were. His eyes completely captivated her and all of her attention, filling her instantly with a sense of calm and tranquility. She was so mesmerized that she wasn’t able to pull her gaze away to look anywhere else on his face, but his eyes alone held a smile that she was sure matched one on his lips. Those inviting eyes offered the reassurance she needed to take the final few steps it took to be at his booth.

  As she took those steps, his eyes never left hers. Once she was standing beside him, he blinked for the first time, almost as if he had been just as captivated as she had been. She would have laughed at the idea had he not chosen that moment to stand. That was when Becky finally took in much more of the mysterious man’s appearance than just his eyes. When he unfolded from the seat, with such grace and confidence, to stand beside her she had to tilt her head up to look at his face. Not only was she not a short woman, but she was also currently wearing four inch heels, and he still towered over her by a couple of inches, meaning he was well over six feet tall. His chest was wide but his waist was slim and his clothes were fitted just enough to tell her he was fit and muscular but not bulky like a body builder. His skin was naturally tan, like that of someone with an Italian heritage and his thick, black hair only backed up that theory. His lips were full and looked soft, his nose straight, and his cheek bones perfect. He was gorgeous, but his eyes were the most attractive part of him. She couldn’t help but to stare into them. He didn’t seem to mind letting her either.

  He didn’t speak when he stood. He only stared back down at her with just a few inches of space separating them. The odd spell she seemed to be under was only dispersed by the approach of Jenny. Their eyes broke from one another and swung toward the waitress who had a knowing smirk on her face. Becky felt her cheeks heat with embarrassment as she quickly sat on the other side of the booth and busied herself with placing her purse beside her and picking up the menu.

  This seemed to amuse Jenny even more. “You’re actually going to look at the menu Becks? You haven’t ordered anything new in forever,” her bubble gum smacked as she smirked down at Becky.

  Becky lowered the menu slightly and glared over the top of it, feeling annoyed with the bubble-gum-smacking waitress for the first time ever. “I just thought I would take a moment to look over the choices, since I haven’t in so long. I think I’ll try something else for dinner. What are the specials?” The truth was, Becky had no intention of eating greasy fried chicken in front of this man. She loved the meal entirely too much to be able to use proper manners. Besides, who could eat fried chicken with a fork and knife anyway?

  Jenny wasn’t fazed in the least by Becky’s tone or sarcasm; instead she smiled down at her and spouted off three different specials quickly.

  “I’ll have the grilled chicken salad and a glass of water with lemon please.” A salad was safe to eat in front of new company, right?

  “Sure thing hon,” Jenny murmured as she scribbled down Becky’s order on a small notepad before turning to her companion. “What about you handsome?”

  Becky watched as Jenny moved closer to the man across from her and seemed to lean in just a fraction more. Her eyes were only for him and her smile was flirtier than Becky had ever seen before. For the second time ever, Becky found herself irritated by the girl. She always liked Jenny, thought she was sweet and pretty and a really great waitress. But now she thought she was dressed just a little too inappropriately for work, her skirt was to short and there were one to many buttons unbuttoned on her top. Her voice was a little too high when she spoke and her bubble gum smacking was starting to irritate her.

  It wasn’t that she was jealous, she reassured herself; it was more about the lack of respect. This man was here with Becky and Jenny shouldn’t be openly flirting with him like this. It wasn’t nice. But she also didn’t want to cause a scene or say something that would give off the wrong impression. So instead, she moved her gaze from Jenny to the man sitting across from her. She was startled to see that he was ignoring Jenny and still staring at her.

  When they made eye contact, he gave her a soft smile and finally answered Jenny, still without looking at the girl. “I’ll have what Becky is having please.”

  Jenny glanced
between the two of them and a small smirk returned to her face. “Okay. Be back in a bit.” Becky didn’t know what the smirk meant but she didn’t really care. Now that they had some privacy and she was no longer mesmerized by this man’s eyes, she wanted answers.

  “Start talking, “she demanded.

  He chuckled, it was low and deep and heartwarming. “Don’t waste any time, do you?”

  “Nope. Now let’s start with your name, how you know mine, and how and why you found me and then go on from there.”

  “Okay.” He let out a deep sigh, brought his hands on top of the table, interlaced his fingers, and leaned a little bit closer to her over the table. “My name is Blaine Winters and I run the MysticSeeker sight. I live here in New York and I spend a lot of my time seeking out people who either have a deep love or an immense talent for magic. I noticed you first at a few different magic shows that I also attended. I saw how mesmerized you were by the tricks and illusions but I also noticed how attentive you were to them. You watched more with a critical eye than with a wistful one. You were studying them, memorizing them, and picking them apart as you watched. I could see that you were puzzling them out and solving them almost as quickly as the magicians could perform them.”

  He paused then, waiting for Becky to comment or question him, but she didn’t. She couldn’t. She was so surprised that this man had picked up on all of that from just watching her, without having even spoken to her. She hadn’t realized how transparent she was. He continued almost instantly, reassuring her as if he had heard her thoughts. Apparently she was that easy to read.

  “Only someone like me would have been able to see that in you or anyone else. What you were doing wasn’t obvious. It would have been only seen so easily by someone that not only knew what to look for, but who was actually looking for it as well. I was. After that, I sought you out at every show I attended. Then one night I saw your performance in Central Park.”

  This information startled her even more. “Wait, how did you know it was me? I wore a disguise?”

  “Oh, I would know those eyes and that hair anywhere Becky,” he told her with a look she wasn’t sure how to interpret so she decided to ignore it.

  “Okay, so that still doesn’t explain why you started stalking me and what it is that you want from me.”

  “The show you did proved that you not only had a deep love for magic, but also an understanding and a willingness to know more. You were absolutely amazing, your magic was flawless. You taught yourself all of it didn’t you?” he asked, studying her as he waited for her answer.

  “Yes,” she admitted slowly. So far he had exposed a lot about her that no one else knew but she hadn’t confirmed whether he was right or not. She didn’t want to do that just yet. She still knew nothing about this man and felt very much at a disadvantage.

  “I thought so,” he nodded his head and paused for a second, thinking, then continued. “I followed you that evening to see where you went. I wanted to know more about you. Who you associated with, if you were around magicians or magic users, where you got your passion for magic from, that sort of thing. When I saw where you lived, I couldn’t piece it together so I dug a little. I found out your name and where you worked and then I was really confused but also intrigued. You’re a lawyer.” It was a statement of disbelief, not a question, but she answered anyway.

  “Yes, but what does that have to do with anything?”

  “All the magic users I’ve met have been or are some sort of magician or physic, or work in some sort of occupation that allows them to tap into their magical side and use it. At the very least, they have ties to others like them, whether it is family or friends, they are surrounded by other people like them in some way. You’re all alone when it comes to your magic. You go to the shows alone, no one seems to know that you even like it, and you don’t associate with anyone on a personal level that practices or believes in magic. It is very odd.”

  At his brief but accurate summary of her life, her curiosity turned to anger. “Well thanks. If I wanted someone to point out the obvious, insult my hobby, mock my loneliness, and make fun of just how odd I am, I would have told someone long ago. I don’t think I needed to meet you here for that.” Becky grabbed her purse and began to move from the booth but Blaine reached across the table and put his hand over hers before she could get up. She froze and stared at where his hand rested on hers. It was warm and soft, but it was also electrical. Like really electrical, she could actually feel the hum of electricity coming from his hand and moving into hers, slowly making its way up her arm. Her eyes met his and she could have sworn she saw them spark.

  She ripped her hand back but didn’t move. “Okay,” she breathed out. “You’ve got my attention.”

  “Good,” he moved his hand back to clasp his other again and the spark left his eyes, but the intense look did not, “because I did not seek you out to mock you. I sought you out because you are like me, us. You have a gift for magic and a love for it that is very rare these days. I would like for you to become a part of our group and I would like to teach you magic.”

  “You keep talking about magic as if it was real, but it’s not. It’s all tricks and illusions, smoke and mirrors. I know, I’ve figured them all out and mastered them. There isn’t real magic!”

  “Oh, I assure you Becky. Magic is very real,” there was an intense look in his eyes that made her want to believe him.

  “I don’t believe you,” Becky crossed her arms over her chest and had to admit to herself that she probably looked like a stubborn child, but she didn’t care. Some strange man couldn’t just announce that magic was real and she was going to believe him without any sort of proof. It didn’t matter how good looking he was or how it felt like electricity was moving through her body when he touched her. Blaine smirked at her and there was a twinkle in his eye. Not the electrical spark she saw before, but a mischievous glint that she instantly grew leery of. She leaned back and narrowed her eyes at him. “What?”

  “So proof is what you want?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.

  Her eyes narrowed further. How…? He hadn’t known her thoughts. It wasn’t possible. She shook the idea away and waited without saying another word.

  Blaine leaned back into the booth and began to rub his hands together. “Okay then. Let’s see.” He thought for a moment then glanced down at the table between them. They hadn’t received their food yet and the sugar packets he had been playing with were still scattered around. He quickly shot her a wicked grin then turned an intense gaze to the table top. She watched him for a moment and then turned her attention to the table where he was staring. She was just about to ask him what it was he was looking at when she let out a soft gasp instead, jerking back in disbelief.

  There had been five little white packets of sugar resting on the table and now all five of them were not. Each one of them was standing up, balancing on one corner of the packet. Her eyes quickly darted around, glancing at Blaine again and then at his hands to make sure he wasn’t somehow holding them up, even though she knew it was impossible for him to hold so many packets up at the same time like that. As she moved her eyes back and forth between the table and Blaine as well as the surrounding area, searching for any clue as to how he was doing the trick, the packets began to spin around slowly. They didn’t move around the table, fly in the air, or move anywhere else. They just stood on that one tiny corner of each packet and slowly spun in a tight circle, around and around.

  Becky watched, mesmerized by what the tiny little packets were doing all on their own. She didn’t know what to say or how to react, so she didn’t do or say anything. Truthfully, she was so enthralled by what she was seeing before her, that she probably could have sat there for hours watching. But just as quickly as the packets began to spin, they stopped and fell to the side, lying harmlessly on the cool table top once again. Becky glanced up in disappointment, just in time to
see Jenny approaching the table with their food, thus explaining why Blaine had to suddenly drop whatever spell it was that he had on them.

  She glanced over to see that Blaine was leaning back in his seat again, looking cool and collected. She wished she felt that way. Her mind was going a mile a minute with all of the thoughts and questions she had for him. As if sensing those thoughts, Blaine whispered cryptically, “In time,” just as Jenny started placing their food on the table.

  “Sorry it took so long Becks, we are mad crazy tonight,” she finished setting everything down, wiped her hands on her apron, and looked expectantly back at Becky. “Do you need anything else?”

  Becky blinked a couple of times, trying to focus on what Jenny asked her, but she couldn’t. She just kept thinking about how Blaine made those sugar packets stand up and turn without touching them. She was thinking about all of the magic tricks she’d seen, researched, or heard about and trying applying the technique she used to solve them to what she just witnessed. No matter what scenario she came up with or what solution she tried to apply, she just couldn’t come up with a reasonable way he performed that trick. She didn’t see any strings or magnets, she couldn’t find any mirrors or other tools he could have used, and he performed the trick right in front of her without trying to distract her or draw her attention away from what he was doing. She was completely dumbfounded by what he had done and even more so by how he had accomplished it.

  She vaguely heard Blaine answering Jenny, assuring her that they had everything they needed and thanking her. Truthfully, she couldn’t have cared less about that or even about the food in front of her now. She wanted to know his secrets and how he did that trick. She finally looked up at him, intending to demand just that, but he raised a hand and shook his head. “Not here.”

  “But you just…” she trailed off and looked pointedly at the packets.

  “I know and I shouldn’t have. It’s too risky,” he glanced around as if looking for someone. Becky couldn’t help but to do the same. She peeked over her shoulder and let her eyes sweep the diner before turning back to face Blaine. When she did, he had a smirk on his face. “Do you even know what you’re looking for?” he teased.

  She blushed. “No, but…” she shrugged, embarrassed that he was right but it had been an instinct. “Whatever! Why not here and what were you looking for?”

  He leaned over the table and whispered so low she almost couldn’t hear what he was saying, “We are talking about magic here, Becky. Real magic. I sought you out because I could tell that you wouldn’t abuse it and you would keep the secret that we have been keeping for hundreds of years. Of course, that’s not the case with everyone. There are always people that would use it for not so good intentions and we have to keep it from them. I shouldn’t have shown you that but I needed you to believe me.”

  She blew out a breath. “Okay, I believe that part. I’m a criminal lawyer so I know just how bad people can be and I can’t even imagine how much worse those people could be if magic were involved. But who is we? How many of you are there? And why me, really? I’m sure there are hundreds or thousands of good people that believe in magic even more than I do and would keep the secret just to be a part of it. Why did you pick me?”

  He hesitated for a moment and Becky was sure he wasn’t going to give her any answers when he finally started speaking softly to her again. “We are the MysticSeekers. We are an organization of magic users; most of us have inherited the abilities from our parents, passing the abilities down generation after generation. There are just over five hundred of us… in the world. We are a very small group and like to keep it that way.”

  He paused so Becky prompted him. “Okay, keep going,” she motioned with her hand to emphasize her point.

  “You’re right in the fact that there are probably hundreds of other possible candidates, but I sensed something in you. Your willingness to learn and your love for magic will make you a much better student. Plus, I’ve seen you perform and you have a natural ability already. You will be a very easy student.”

  “Okay, so see, that’s where I’m really confused. You talk about it as if you can teach me magic.”

  “I can.”

  She gave him a skeptical look. “How?”

  He shook his head and sat up in his seat. “That is where the conversation has to end for now. We need to talk in a place that is more secure and private. There are too many people in here; the possibility of getting overheard is much too risky.”

  “Well why did we meet here than? If you weren’t going to tell me everything?” she snapped, frustrated that she wasn’t getting the answers she wanted.

  Blaine raised an eyebrow at her frustrated tone and question. “Well, you’re the one that accused me of being a stalker and hesitated to even meet me here. Do you think you really would have come if I asked you to meet in Central Park at midnight?” he asked with a knowing grin.

  This time she glared, knowing that he was right but not wanting to admit it. Now that she had a taste of what he could do, what he was telling her, and what he claimed he could teach her, she wanted more. “Okay, so probably not. But we can go somewhere now,” she said eagerly, causing him to chuckle. “What?” she asked with a pout.

  He glanced down at his plate in front of him, then at hers. “Maybe we should eat our food and then talk about where we go from here.”

  Becky opened her mouth to object but promptly closed it when her stomach growled loud enough for Blaine to hear it. “Fine,” she said grumpily and then began to eat her meal as quickly as she could while still appearing lady-like and using her manners. It was hard though. She wanted to wolf down her food as fast as possible and leave the diner so Blaine could tell her more about magic and how it was that he had that sort of power. She knew that she didn’t possess even an ounce of any sort of magic or power. She was sure she would have felt it or sensed it at some time. So she was still unsure of the real reason he sought her out.

  Becky could sense Blaine watching her as they both ate silently, but she refused to look at him. Although everything he told her and showed her had distracted her, she hadn’t forgotten what this man looked like. She was trying so hard not to notice how attractive he was and to forget the electrical spark she felt when his hand touched hers. She knew now that it was from the power that he must have, but she couldn’t help comparing it to all the romantic notions she heard about feeling a spark with someone special. She never experienced that before, hadn’t even believed it to be feasible, but now her wistful side really started to like the idea of it being possible.

  Mentally shaking her head, she reminded herself that she wasn’t here for that anyway. She was here because this mysterious man knew magic. Somehow he possessed a power within himself that many people would kill to know even existed, much less to actually possess. She wanted to know his secrets and she needed to stay focused on that goal. She almost let out a rueful laugh when she thought about the two different men that she had met in the same week and how they both affected her in similar ways. She had little experience dating much less with men, especially like the two she just met. Both were beyond handsome, confident, and powerful. What were the odds that she would meet these two, in the same week, and have an instant attraction to both of them? She shook her head again as she let out a frustrated sigh. It didn’t matter. Blaine was here with an agenda and it wasn’t to date her. Ethan, well she didn’t know what was going on with him but the fact that she hadn’t felt the spark with him that she did with Blaine made her wonder if he was the right guy for her. Annoyed with where her thoughts turned, she placed her fork down a bit harder than she intended and pushed her empty plate away. When she glanced up it was to see Blaine had finished as well and was studying her intently.

  “What?” she asked as she wiped her mouth, worried that she may have something on her face.

  He shook his head and removed his wallet from his pock
et. “Nothing,” he began to place money on the table and Becky quickly realized that he was intending to pay for her meal.

  “Oh no, I’ve got mine,” she reached for her purse but he placed his warm hand on hers again.

  The small jolt was there again and she looked up in surprise. He quickly pulled his hand away. “I asked you to meet me here so I would like to pay for your dinner. Please?” he asked when he saw that she was going to refuse.

  “Oh, okay. Well thank you then,” she said kindly and watched him place enough money to cover their meal as well as a nice tip for Jenny. She grabbed her purse and stood beside the table looking down at him impatiently. “Can we go now?” she asked eagerly. He smiled and shook his head but got up quickly and stood beside her.

  Becky had to look away quickly when he looked down at her. The way she seemed to get caught up in his gaze was too much at the moment. She wanted to get out of the diner and away from all of these people so Blaine could answer all of her questions. She said a quick goodbye to Jenny and led the way out of the restaurant and onto the busy sidewalk. Once outside, she put a few feet of distance between the two of them before finally looking back up at him. Thankfully it was dark outside and that combined with his hat pulled low once again, she couldn’t see his eyes very well. It was so much easier to talk to him that way. “Where should we go?”

  “Is Central Park okay? I know it’s a little far, but there’s some stuff I want to show you and we’ll get the space and privacy we need there.”

  A trickle of unease washed through Becky’s body. She still didn’t know this man, no matter how enchanting his eyes were and how well he was able to do that trick with the sugar packets. Central Park was huge. You could literally get lost in the park and at night it was even worse. There were all sorts of nook and crannies that you could hide in and under the shadow of night, not a soul would see or hear you. Going into a place so large, at night, with a stranger wasn’t a really good idea. He could do anything to her there and she would be defenseless.

  As if, once again, he could sense her thoughts, Blaine quickly changed his suggestion to something more reasonable. “Or we could go to Bryant Park. It’s closer and even though it’s smaller, there are places we can sit and have privacy but still see who is around and make sure no one is eavesdropping.”

  In other words, they would be out in the open so if he tried to kill her, people would be sure to see. At least that’s what she heard. The suggestion not only made her feel better about going with him now, but it also gave her some insight into the person he was. He seemed not only thoughtful and perceptive, but he seemed to really want her to trust him and knew what he needed to do to gain that trust. It was working.

  “Okay, that sounds good. Would you like to just split a cab or take the subway?” She said the word subway with a slight wrinkle of her nose. She really hoped he would go for the cab. Now that they had agreed on where they would go, she felt like she couldn’t get there fast enough.

  He chuckled under his breath at her lack of discreetness. “I think a cab will be fine.”

  She let out a breath and practically ran to the street, throwing her hand up in the air and shouting ‘taxi’ as she did so. One came to a stop in front of her just as Blaine was reaching her side, smiling a wide toothy grin. She knew he was laughing at her but she couldn’t find it in herself to be mad at him; his smile was just as captivating as his eyes. Before she could get lost in that smile, she opened up the door and slid across the seat to make room for him. “Bryant Park, please,” she told the driver as Blaine shut the door and the driver stepped on the gas.

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