Cammy’s eyes dropped shut for a second, then she let out a shaky breath and opened them. “You knew?” she asked Elia.
“I didn’t,” he said, his jaw set. “Not really, until last night. I suspected, yes. But I thought maybe you didn’t realize. It wouldn’t be the first time.”
Sierra stared between the two of them, mouth hanging open. “What are you talking about?” She turned pleading eyes on Cammy. “He can’t be right. Tell me this isn’t–“
“It’s true, Sierra,” Cammy interrupted, leaning forward and placing her face in her hands. “I’m half-fae, from my father.”
“You never talk about your papá,” Sierra whispered.
Cammy looked up. “Now you know why.” She reached out a hand toward Sierra. “I am so sorry I didn’t tell you. I should have, once this all started, I know, but–“
“Don’t!” Elia jumped from his chair and pushed Cammy’s hand away before she could take Sierra’s. “Don’t touch her. You don’t get to get out of this so easily!”
“Elia!” Sierra cried, staring at him. What had gotten into him?
Cammy looked aghast, staring at him with wide eyes. She clenched her hand into a fist and a spark of anger flared on her face. “I would never! Not on my friends, not on her.”
“Never what?” Sierra felt utterly lost.
“She’s fae,” Elia said, hovering over Sierra in a protective stance. He looked like he was about to climb on the table just to stand between them. “Their powers are charm, persuasion, intimidation. They bend people to act according to their will.” He glared at Cammy. “They enthrall people, keep them like pets.”
Cammy stood up and leaned forward, palms flat on the table. “I. Do. Not. Use my powers on my friends,” she said through clenched teeth. “I barely use them at all. I chose to embrace my humanity, not my fae side. I let my father teach me enough to control it, and then I walked away.” Her eyes were full of tears as she turned back to Sierra, begging her to understand. “I have never used my magic on you, love, I swear. I try not to use it at all.”
Elia snorted. “Tell that to Joey, here.”
Cammy winced, then let out a sigh. “I only charmed him a little,” she admitted. “He was on the fence about believing us. I just…nudged him over the edge.”
“Wait, what?” Joey had been watching the confrontation like a spectator at a sports event, but now he leaned back in his chair and wrinkled his nose as he thought it over. “Ooooooh,” he said after a minute. “Huh. Never been whammied by a fae before.” He shot her a lopsided smile. “Kinda liked it.” Elia snorted again and Joey shrugged. “What? It was nice. Helped me forget about this for a bit anyway,” he waved his bandaged wrist at them. “She’s right, I was already leaning your way.”
“Time was of the essence,” Cammy sighed. She shot Joey an apologetic look. “I am sorry, for what it’s worth.” A glance back at Elia, “I meant what I said, I do try to avoid my using my power.”
“Hey, it’s all good,” Joey said, grinning at her.
“You’re taking this remarkably well,” Sierra said to him, arching a brow.
“He may still be under my influence,” Cammy admitted, sitting back down and blowing her hair out of her face. She glared at Elia. “If you’re done accusing me of treating my friends like pets?”
“You have to admit, it seemed suspicious,” Elia allowed, sitting down as well. “I had to be sure.” He shot an apologetic look at Sierra, “You’ve come to mean a lot to me,” he said in a quiet voice. “If she was using you like that, I couldn’t let it go on.”
Sierra just shook her head, glancing between them. “Okay. This is big. I mean, huge and life changing. But we really don’t have time for it right now.” She fixed Cammy with a hard look. “We will talk about this later, though.”
“Of course,” Cammy agreed with a nod.
“And about you assuming you know what’s best for me, again,” she said, turning the same look on Elia.
He swallowed and nodded. “Ah, sì. I am sorry.”
Sierra rolled her eyes. “So. If we’re all on the same page?” She looked around the table, waiting for a nod from each person. “What’s our play? Sierra and I take Joey back to Bobbi Leigh as a sign of good faith, and we convince her Orsino played her about J.D., right? Then, assuming she believes us, we ask her to help us convince Orsino Elia’s dead in exchange for the destruction of the stone?”
“Yes,” Cammy agreed.
“Elia can’t come to our meeting, and neither can the stone. Will it be safe to leave him here with it?” She turned to Joey, “Has your crew had enough time to figure out who we all are?”
“I don’t think so,” he said, “but I have no way of knowing for sure.”
“So we assume it’s not safe for Elia to stay here alone.”
“What if he comes with us, but waits somewhere else in the city while we have our meeting?” Cammy suggested. “Somewhere public. The Galleria?”
“Friday night,” Sierra mused, “a mall is sure to be hopping with teenagers. He’ll blend right in. Will the stone be safe?” She looked between Elia and Joey, “You both say you can sense its magic. What’s the range on that? Will Orsino’s people be able to tell it’s back in the city? Would they risk going after it in such a public place?”
“It depends on how sensitive they are to magic,” Elia said. “I couldn’t feel it until we were in the building. Joey felt it from across the street.” He shrugged. “Unless they are in the mall itself, I don’t think they’ll know it’s there. I’m willing to take the risk.”
“We might be able to dampen its effect,” Cammy suggested.
“How?” Sierra asked.
“It’s fae magic. It can be contained by iron.”
“Meaning, if we put it inside something made of iron, the magic will have a difficult time getting through. It should be nearly impossible to sense.” She gave Elia a sympathetic look. “Easier to handle for you, as well, I expect.”
“If that’s true, why didn’t Orsino have it protected like that?” Sierra wondered.
“He wasn’t trying to hide it,” Elia pointed out. “He wanted Bobbi Leigh to know he really had it here in her city.”
“Oh.” She frowned, thinking that over. After everything she’d learned about him, it shouldn’t come as much surprise that Orsino was willing to inflict that kind of pain on the people he had guarding it, but still. What a jerk. “Do we have an iron container? Something Elia can carry with him?”
Cammy shot Sierra a sad smile. “Just a moment,” she said, getting up again and disappearing into another room. She returned carrying something wrapped in a silk scarf. She set it down on the table and, with extreme care, began to unwrap it.
“You still have that?” Sierra asked, seeing what was inside.
“Of course, love,” Cammy said. “Why wouldn’t I?”
“Well, aside from the fact that apparently iron is bad for you?” Sierra said, reaching out to pick up the cast iron jewelry box. She arched an eyebrow at Cammy. “Most people don’t keep presents from their exes after a breakup.”
“Our breakup wasn’t exactly acrimonious,” Cammy said with a shrug. “And iron isn’t ‘bad’ for me, really. It doesn’t hurt us, just interferes with fae magic. Blocks the signal, so to speak.”
“You two used to date?” Joey asked, looking between them. “Aren’t you in a band together?”
“We started the band after we broke up,” Sierra said, brushing aside the question. “Will this work?” she asked Elia.
He leaned forward, examining the box, then nodded. “It should. I can carry it in a shopping bag or a backpack.”
“Great,” Sierra said, standing up. She picked up the box and carried it over to the counter, where the tuar ceatha rested.
Elia’s eyes widened and he scrambled to his feet at the same time Joey called out, “Wait!”
Too late. Sierra had already scooped up the stone. She let out a strangled cry as what felt like a lightning bolt coursed through her body. Her hand clamped down on the stone and then dropped it as her entire body went limp. Cammy, already standing, reached her first, catching the stone in one hand and grabbing Sierra with the other to keep her steady on her feet. “¿Qué diablos?” she breathed as she leaned back against the counter.
Cammy stared at the stone for a moment, then grabbed the jewelry box and shoved it inside, shutting it with a loud click. She helped Sierra back to the table and glanced over at Elia and Joey. “What was that?”
“Security feature,” Joey said. He rolled his shoulders and looked at the closed box. “Huh. Can’t feel it anymore. Cool.”
“You really didn’t know?” Elia asked, looking at Cammy with curiosity.
“That it would do that to Sierra? Of course not! I wouldn’t have let her get near it if I had!”
Elia’s eyebrows went up and he sat back in his chair. He shot Sierra a concerned look. “Are you all right?”
She managed a nod. “Yeah. Just. Ow.” Cammy was hovering and Sierra waved her off. “I’m okay.” Turning to Elia, she said, “Guess it doesn’t like to be touched by humans?”
“By anyone without fae blood,” Elia confirmed. “For humans with magic it is extremely uncomfortable to be near, but for mundanes it is–“
“Painful, yeah. Got it.” Sierra sighed. “Well. Lesson learned. Don’t touch the pretty magic rock.” She tilted her head. “That’s how you knew for sure, isn’t it? That Cammy’s fae?”
“It confirmed my theory, sì. After how easily she convinced Joey to help us I was suspicious. But when she made sure to grab an amulet before going into the conference room, and the stone didn’t affect her the way it should have, that’s when I knew.”
Cammy shook her head. “I’ve heard of tuar ceathas,”she said, “but didn’t realize they were so tied to my kind.” She frowned. “I have left myself ignorant, walking away from my heritage.”
“Which is fine if you weren’t expecting to get thrown back into the world of magic,” Sierra pointed out.
“True. But we’re past that point, so we may as well move on. It sounds as if we have our plan. Might I suggest we leave now and pick up a few burner phones on our way into the city? That way we can stay in contact once we’ve split up, without worrying about being tracked.”
“Sounds good to me,” Sierra agreed, getting back to her feet. She still felt a little wobbly, but was mostly recovered from the shock the stone had given her. “We can also call Bobby and let him and Intira know what’s going on.” She saw Cammy’s face fall and added, “With the plan, I mean. That’s all.”
Cammy drew in a slow breath and nodded, looking relieved.
“Well,” Sierra said, craning her neck to look up at the building in front of her, “gotta say, this is not what I was expecting.” A mansion on the edge of the city maybe, or a supposedly abandoned warehouse, sure. But not an office building in the heart of downtown. That just didn’t seem right for the headquarters of a magical gang.
“Skyscrapers, sweetheart,” Joey said with a grin, “are the modern castles.”
Sierra turned to Cammy, who just shrugged. “Don’t ask me. My people still actually have castles.”
“Wait,” Sierra asked as they started into the building. “Did you grow up in a castle?”
“No, Sierra,” Cammy said with a laugh. Realizing this did not satisfy her friend, she added, “We can talk about this later, I promise.”
“Here we are, ladies,” Joey said, gesturing for them to follow him to the receptionist’s desk.
“Right,” Cammy said, putting on what Sierra liked to think of as her “business face.” She straightened her blouse and strode up to the desk. “Good evening,” she said, offering a warm smile. “Camilla Kay and Sierra Espina. We have an appointment with Miss Williams.”
The receptionist didn’t look up from her computer. “It’s not on her calendar,” she said in a bored voice.
Cammy’s eyes narrowed but Joey stepped up beside her. “You might want to call and check, Pamela,” he said in an even tone. “She is expecting us. I would hate to be you if she found out you wouldn’t let us up.”
Pamela’s eyes moved to Joey and widened in recognition. “Oh!” She blinked. “Of course.” She picked up her phone and punched in a number, tapping her nails as she waited for the other end to pick up. “Miss Williams? There’s a Miss Kay and Miss Espina here to see you. I know they’re not on your calendar, but Joey Brown is with them and–yes, of course. I will. Thank you.”
She put down the phone and stared at Cammy and Sierra with wide eyes. “She’ll see you immediately. I’ll call the elevator now. You can show them the way?” This last was to Joey.
He nodded and flashed her a grin. “Can do. Thanks Pamela.” He ushered them around the desk to a set of elevator doors. It was separate from the other bank of elevators across the lobby, and didn’t have a call button. “This one goes straight to Bobbi Leigh,” he said, following Sierra’s gaze to the empty panel next to the doors. “It can only be called from Pamela’s desk.”
“Smart,” Cammy remarked.
“She didn’t get where she is by being dumb,” Joey agreed.
There was a soft ding and the elevator doors opened. The three of them stepped inside. Again, there was no button to push. The elevator started moving up as soon as the doors shut behind them. Sierra took a few deep breaths, trying to prepare herself for the meeting. The only problem with that was that with every step forward they took, she realized just how unprepared she truly was. Nothing so far had turned out like she expected. So, she told herself as the car slowed to a halt, stop expecting things. We are fully in go with the flow territory here. Another ding and the doors slid open, revealing a very ordinary, if somewhat posh, office suite. Sierra felt a small wave of relief, and a slow smile spread across her face. If Bobbi Leigh’s headquarters were a business office, then it was clear she considered herself a business woman. This was just another meeting with a high-level executive. Office politics. Sierra’s smile widened. That, she could do.
“Joseph,” a short, stocky young man greeted them as they stepped out of the elevator. “I see the rumors of your demise were, unfortunately, exaggerated.”
“Good to see you, too, Phil,” Joey shot back with a smirk.
“It’s Philip,” he hissed before turning his attention on Cammy and Sierra. A mask of polite boredom slipped over his face and he said, “If you’ll follow me, please?” He turned and led them down a short hallway, fingers drumming on the back of the tablet clutched to his chest. Sierra felt a mix of amusement and sympathy. Just another overworked administrative assistant stressing out over the addition of an unexpected meeting to his boss’s schedule.
He led them into a well appointed office with a spectacular view of the sun setting over the city. Sierra hardly noticed the view, her eyes drawn immediately to the woman walking forward to greet them. No one seeing her on the street would think her the head of an organization of sorcerers and shape-shifters. Sierra thought she might be in her fifties, though she looked damn good for her age. Her white hair was cut in a sleek, professional bob, and wore a tailored suit that Sierra was certain cost more than her car. Take her out of the suit, and she might be someone’s favorite abuela, but in this setting, she was nothing less than a successful C.E.O., clearly used to getting what she wanted. “Thank you, Philip,” she said as she reached them. “That will be all for now.”
“I will be outside if you need me,” he said, giving Joey a warning look as he ducked out of the office, shutting the door behind himself.
“Thank you for agreeing to meet with us,” Sierra said.
“Oh, of course,” Bobbi Leigh drawled, gesturing for them to sit in the chairs before the desk. She took her own seat, saying, “I must admit, I was rather intrigued by Mr. Brown’s call. I do love a good mystery. I am surprised you brought him with you. You must know how easy it would be for me to overpower the pair of you. Without the incentive of my employee’s safety, there is no reason for me to allow you to leave.” She arched an eyebrow, settling back in her chair, and tapped a finger on her chin. “Which leads me to wonder what other advantage you think you have over me. I will not do you the insult of just assuming you are stupid.”
Cammy narrowed her eyes, but Sierra put a hand on her arm and nodded to Bobbi Leigh. “We wanted to bring Joey back as a gesture of good faith,” she said, “in the hope that you will hear our proposal.”
She sat forward again. “I’m listening.”
“The first thing I need you to know is that Elia did not kill J.D.”
Bobbi Leigh’s face hardened. “I’m afraid I’ll need more than just your say-so on that.”
“One of Orsino’s wolves found Elia not long after I met him. Elia managed to kill him. I can tell you where his body is. Dig him up and compare it to J.D.’s remains. You’ll see it was two different types of attack. If you’re as smart as I think you are, you already have your suspicions about what really happened to your man.”
“Let’s say you’re right,” Bobbi Leigh conceded, “and I do have my doubts about how poor Mister Dennis met his end. It doesn’t really change anything. Orsino places my people under a very real threat, and it will not go away until he has Mister Sapienti.” Her face flickered in something like pity. “I am not so sure the young man would prefer being handed over alive.”
“That brings us to the second thing you need to know,” Sierra said, drawing in a deep breath. “Orsino’s people don’t have the tuar ceatha anymore. We do.”
That drew a reaction out of Bobbi Leigh. Her professional mask crumbled and her eyes widened. She shot a look at Joey and he nodded. “It’s true ma’am. I’ve seen it.” He shuddered a little.
Fear flashed across Bobbi Leigh’s face and she half stood in her seat, “Tell me you weren’t fool enough to bring here!”
“Of course not,” Cammy snapped. “It’s safe. And hidden.”
Bobbi Leigh settled back into her seat with slow grace, her eyes turning to assess Cammy before moving back to Sierra. “What exactly is it that you want from me?”
Sierra told her.
“I see,” Bobbi Leigh replied after a long silence. “In exchange for the stone?”
“In exchange for its destruction,” Cammy said. “That thing is too powerful. No one should have it.”
Bobbi Leigh arched a brow. “As it happens, I agree. I will need time to consider this, and I’d like to have a few words in private with Mister Brown.”
“Of course,” Sierra agreed.
“Philip,” Bobbi Leigh said, pressing a button on her phone. Her assistant appeared seconds later. He hadn’t been kidding about being just outside. “Will you please show Misses Espina and Kay to the coffee room? I need a moment with Mister Brown.”
Philip nodded and held open the door, ushering Sierra and Cammy out of of the office. “This way,” he said, leading them down the hall.