Chasing magic, p.1
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       Chasing Magic, p.1

           Stacia Kane
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Chasing Magic


  Raves for Stacia Kane

  and the Downside Ghosts series

  UNHOLY GHOSTS

  “Stacia Kane’s Unholy Ghosts is one of the most interesting books I’ve read in months. Vivid characters and superior world-building combine with a wonderful sense of pace to create a gripping book. I was enthralled.”

  –CHARLAINE HARRIS, New York Times bestselling author

  “Expect the unexpected. Kane delivers dark, sexy urban fantasy at its finest. I couldn’t put it down!”

  –KAREN MARIE MONING, New York Times bestselling author

  “Fans of urban fantasy will find themselves sleep-deprived after they start this new series. It’s that hard to put down. Characters with larger-than-life personalities rule against a dark and dangerous backdrop. This is an exciting world you’ll want to escape into again and again.”

  —TOP PICK! 4½ Stars, RT Book Reviews

  “Unholy Ghosts is the first book in Stacia Kane’s new series and is absolutely a full-on winner.… The characters are kick-ass and the plot will have you on the edge of your seat. I absolutely recommend it!”

  —Reviewer Top Pick!, Night Owl Reviews

  “From its harrowing opening scene until its highly satisfying slam-bang ending, Unholy Ghosts grips the reader by the scruff of the neck and never relinquishes its hold.”

  —5 Tombstones, Bitten by Books

  “Stacia Kane has upped the stakes for all those writing in the urban fantasy genre—Unholy Ghosts is gripping and brilliant.”

  —FantasyLiterature.com

  “An ambitious novel … that shuns the formulaic pitfalls and conventionality of other bestselling paranormal fantasy sagas. This is Stacia Kane at the top of her game—it is a writer evolved, a storyteller matured, an imagination fully unleashed upon the world.… Dark, stylish, and wildly original.”

  —B&N Explorations blog

  UNHOLY MAGIC

  “This follow-up to Unholy Ghosts is full of supernatural suspense told in a fast-paced story. With a gutsy heroine, creepy paranormal elements and some page-turning action, it’s a satisfying addition to the flooded urban fantasy genre. It all adds up to a very entertaining read.”

  —4 Stars, RT Book Reviews

  “Like any drug, the first taste gets your attention but it’s the second taste that gets you hooked. I thought the first Downside Ghosts book, Unholy Ghosts, was an impressive debut, but Unholy Magic is even better. I am well and truly addicted to this dark, seductive urban fantasy series.”

  —All Things Urban Fantasy

  “In trying to come up with an adjective to describe the overall tone and feel of this story, I came up short. Gritty seems weak in reference to this book and just does not cover it.… Stacia Kane has written an amazing, spine-tingling novel in Unholy Magic, taking me by surprise by surpassing even the brilliance of its predecessor, Unholy Ghosts.”

  —5 out of 5, The Fiction Vixen

  “The bottom line is this—never before in paranormal fantasy have I read a series that features the combination of grand scale world building, labyrinthine storyline, superb character development, and social relevance. Stacia Kane’s Downside saga is taking paranormal fantasy to another level right before our eyes … I challenge anyone who has never read a paranormal fantasy before to read this series—I’ll guarantee you that you never look at paranormal fantasy the same way again.”

  —B&N Explorations blog

  CITY OF GHOSTS

  “Book Three in the Downside Ghosts series lives up to expectations. Kane’s dark and dangerous world is a unique setting for her anti-heroes. The heroine’s realistic flaws make her more interesting and set her apart from others in the genre. Fans of urban fantasy will love the tight plot, swift pace and twists and turns.”

  —4½ Stars, RT Book Reviews

  “Unholy Ghosts and Unholy Magic stayed with me long after I read them and it was no different with City of Ghosts.… It’s full of witchy magic, action and romance. I literally couldn’t put this book down until I had read the very last word.”

  —10/10 review, Book Chick City

  “There are two words that describe this book perfectly: ‘Nonstop action!’ Other suitable options include: ‘super book!’, ‘whoa Nelly!’ or ‘holy cow this book is going to be the death of me because I can’t go to sleep yet because I haven’t finished it and I must, must, MUST know what is going to happen next because holy cow this book is one hell of a ride!!!’ Yes, I am aware that that is a few more than a couple of words, but they really do describe how I was feeling while I was reading. Stacia Kane hardly gives you a minute to catch your breath before the next wave of jaw-dropping action or gut-wrenching suspense or heartbreaking confrontation hits! Simply put, this book is fantastic from beginning to end.”

  —5 Stars, Yummy Men and Kick-Ass Chicks

  Chasing Magic is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  A Del Rey eBook Edition

  Copyright © 2012 by Stacey Fackler

  All rights reserved.

  Published in the United States by Del Rey, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

  DEL REY is a registered trademark and the Del Rey colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.

  eISBN: 978-0-345-52753-0

  www.delreybooks.com

  Cover design: Derek Walls

  Cover image: © Ipatov/Shutterstock (woman); © Andrew C Mace/

  Getty (landscape)

  v3.1

  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-one

  Chapter Twenty-two

  Chapter Twenty-three

  Chapter Twenty-four

  Chapter Twenty-five

  Chapter Twenty-six

  Chapter Twenty-seven

  Chapter Twenty-eight

  Chapter Twenty-nine

  Dedication

  Other Books by This Author

  All of the documents were in place: the Affidavit of Spectral Fraud, the Statement of Truth, two Orders of Imprisonment and two Orders of Relinquishment, and, of course, the list of Church-approved attorneys. The Darnells would want that—well, they’d need it, because they were about to be arrested for faking a haunting.

  At least, they would be when the Black Squad got there to back Chess up. She didn’t always want the Squad to come along; police presence tipped people off, made things more difficult, and most people came pretty quietly once they realized they were busted, anyway. The Darnells didn’t seem like the come-quietly type, though. Something told Chess they weren’t going to take this well.

  But she’d told them she’d be there at six, and it was five past already and their curtains kept twitching. They knew she was there.

  Right. She’d taken a couple of Cepts before leaving her apartment in Downside, so they were starting to hit—smooth, thick narcotic warmth spreading from her stomach out through the rest of her body, a pleasant softness settling over he
r mind.

  That was the best thing about the drugs, really; she could still think, still be coherent, still use her brain. She just didn’t have to if she didn’t want to, and it was so much easier to keep that brain from wandering into all those places she didn’t want it to go.

  And she had so fucking many of those places.

  She grabbed the Darnell file from her bag, locked her car, and started walking along the cobblestoned path to the front door, weaving around the flowers and plants scattered like islands across the impossibly green sea of grass. Bees made their way from bloom to bloom, doing whatever the hell it was bees did. Sure, she knew it was something to do with pollen or whatever. She just didn’t give a shit.

  By the time she reached the porch sweat beaded along her forehead and her body felt damp. Summer sucked. Only the middle of June and already it was scorching.

  Brandon Darnell opened the door before she’d finished raising her hand to knock. “Miss Putnam. You’re late.”

  Asshole. She faked a smile. “Sorry. Traffic.”

  At least they had air-conditioning.

  The entire Darnell family sat in the pretentious high-ceilinged living room, slouching on the ridiculously overpriced suede couch and chairs that were partly responsible for the enormous debt they were in. Debt they’d planned to clear by faking a haunting and getting a nice fat settlement from the Church of the Real Truth.

  Too bad for them, the Church wasn’t stupid—being in charge of everyone and everything on earth for twenty-four years proved that—and had contingency plans for such things. Chess was one of them.

  Brandon Darnell indicated an empty chair along the back wall. “Have a seat.”

  Alarms started ringing in Chess’s head. He seemed a little too calm, a little too … cheerful.

  But all the other chairs were full, so she sat, shooting a glance out the window to see if the Squad had arrived yet. Nope. Damn it!

  The Darnells sat there, unmoving. Watching her. Because that wasn’t creepy at all.

  Mrs. Darnell—frowsy, bad perm, blue eye shadow up to her brows—showed her perfect white teeth in what could pass for a smile. “Do you have any news for us? When will you Banish the ghost?”

  Chess’s phone beeped—a text. A text from the Black Squad, thank fuck, they were almost there. Good. She didn’t have to sit around wasting time with these people.

  “I do have news.” She pulled the forms from the file. “This is my Statement of Truth, copies of which I’ve already filed with the Church. This one is for you to sign. It’s the Affidavit of Spectral Fraud, which is basically your confession, and this one—”

  “What the hell are you talking about? We haven’t committed any fraud, there’s no—”

  “Mr. Darnell.” Normally she’d stand up for this part, but what the hell. The chair was pretty comfortable. “I found, and photographed, the projectors set up in the attic. I won’t bother to point out to you where the holes in the ceiling are, since you already know. The ‘ectoplasm’ on your walls has been analyzed—twice for confirmation—as a mixture of cornstarch, gelatin, iridescent paint, and water.”

  She waited for a response and didn’t get one. Good. “I also have pictures of the portable air conditioner you set up beneath the house—that’s another crime, by the way, putting anything underground, but I imagine you know that—to fake sudden changes in temperature. One of my hidden cameras caught you breaking the mirrors, and another one very clearly shows you and Mrs. Darnell discussing your crimes.”

  Mr. and Mrs. Darnell looked guilty. Their children—Cassie and Curtis, how cute—looked confused. Chess directed her next comments to them.

  “I have two Orders of Relinquishment here. You two are going to be taken to the Church with your parents, but when they go to prison you’ll be moving in with another family member or, failing that, a home will be found for you. You’ll be safe there.”

  She could only hope that last line was true. It hadn’t been for her. None of those “homes” she’d been sent to had been safe, or at least not more than a couple of them.

  But that was a long time ago. That was before the Church was really settled. That was a mistake; she was an anomaly, or something, and it mattered only in her memories.

  Because the Church had saved her. They’d taken her out of that life and given her a new one. The Church had found her and made her into something real.

  The two children looked at each other, looked at Chess, looked at their parents. What was the expression on their faces? Shock, curiosity? Chess couldn’t quite read it.

  She squeezed her eyes shut, opened them again. Shit, she didn’t usually have problems like this from her pills. And no way had she gotten a bad batch; Lex had given her those, and Lex might be in charge of the Downside gang in direct opposition to the one Chess’s … Chess’s everything worked for, but Lex wouldn’t try to do her any harm. She knew that. Lex was her friend.

  So what the fuck?

  Her eyes itched, too; she raised her hand to rub at them. Struggled to raise it. In fact, she’d been sitting still for a few minutes, hadn’t she? Without moving.

  The room started to rock around her, as if she and the Darnells sat on the deck of a ship in stormy waters. Nausea slithered through her stomach, up her throat.

  Her skin tingled. Not her skin, actually. Her tattoos—runes and sigils inscribed into her skin with magic-imbued ink by the Church—tingled. The way they always did in the presence of ghosts—or in the presence of magic.

  It took forever to turn her head to the left, on a neck that felt like it was being squeezed by strong, hard hands she couldn’t see. Who was … Fuck, someone was casting some kind of spell on her. Who was it, what was it?

  She couldn’t tell, couldn’t see well enough to tell. Just a shape, a spot of darker shadow in the long hallway. But whatever it was—it felt like a man, she had enough presence of mind to know that—it was powerful, it was strong, and it was about to beat her.

  Something inside her struggled. The noise of the Darnells’ shouting faded, as if a stiff wind had come up and was blowing them all away. The adult Darnells yelling, cackling; the young Darnells panicked and confused.

  And over it all words of power seeping into her consciousness, spoken in a deep smooth voice like smoked glass. Smoked glass with jagged edges; she would cut herself on them, they’d slice into her skin and her blood would spill out onto the floor, staining the carpet the Darnells couldn’t pay for. Staining everything except her soul: That was filthy enough already, covered with grime and pain that would never go away, no matter how many pills she took or lines she snorted. She deserved to be punished for that. Deserved to die for it.

  But she didn’t want to. Not just because she was afraid of the City of Eternity, either. As her breath came shorter and shallower, as the black edge around her vision thickened until she could see only tiny spots of the room, all she could think about was Terrible. The only man in the world who made her feel … like she was okay, like she could be happy. The only one who understood her. The only one who loved her.

  The only one, period.

  She would not leave him. She refused to leave him.

  His face grew in her mind: black hair pomaded into a rockabilly DA, thick heavy muttonchops, the face she’d once thought was ugly and now couldn’t understand why or how she’d ever thought that. Because every scar showed how strong he was, those hard dark eyes thawed just for her, the heavy brow smoothed when he looked at her and it all added up to Terrible, and she was not going to let some shithead scam artists and their rent-a-witch steal her from him. He’d expect her to fight. He’d expect her to win, too.

  Moving her lips hurt. She forced herself to do it anyway. “Arkrandia arkrandia, bellarum bellarum, dishager dishager, arkrandia arkrandia, bellarum bellarum …”

  The Banishing words started to come faster, stronger. Not much, and her vision still hadn’t cleared, but she could feel it. Something was building inside her—power was building inside h
er—and it was chasing away the choking fog of the dark spell.

  She kept chanting, her voice creaky and rough, scraping against her throat, while she made her stiff fingers move. She needed to get into her bag; she had goat’s blood in there, cobwebs and chunks of snake. If she could find a piece of iron to grab, it would help.

  The witch loomed over her, his large body giving off the faint smell of sweat and cheap aftershave.

  Were her feet on the floor? She thought they were, was pretty sure they were, and she guessed it didn’t matter if they weren’t, because she had to try anyway. She started to stand, her legs shaking and hurting beneath her.

  The witch hit her, knocked her back. Fucker. That wasn’t even a good punch; it was a wimpy little bitch slap. Now she was getting pissed. Who the hell did he think he was, this soft bag of shit in a shiny-cheap black tent and a pair of dorky-looking loafers? He thought he could come in to one of her cases, attack her?

  Bullshit he could.

  More anger, to make her even stronger. She was finding it now, that pit of rage deep inside her, the hatred for everyone, for everything they’d done to her. The hatred for herself that never seemed to end, would never end, would never lessen. It was there, and she needed it, and she took it and used it to clench her right hand into a fist, a good strong one. She’d never been too bad at fighting—not with her upbringing—but Terrible had shown her some new stuff, taught her how to do it, where to hit.

  So she wasn’t worried at all when she pushed herself up and punched him with all her might. And she had something nobody else had—or at least nobody who wasn’t a trained witch who’d put some real thought into physical self-defense, which her opponent obviously hadn’t.

  She pushed her power into that fist, all of her energy, the anger and pain and everything else, and felt it reverberate when it hit him. Good. That gave her more strength, more will to fight.

  Unfortunately, seeing her bounce back seemed to give the Darnells the will to fight, too. As she drew her fist to have another go, her energy returning in a rush as the spell was interrupted, an arm wrapped itself around her neck, yanked her against a well-padded chest.

  Where the fuck was the fucking Squad? Yes, the whole thing had probably taken much less time than it felt like it had, but they should be there—

 
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