Mercenary Magic Page 15

But she had to care. She had to keep this secret—and not just for her. For Alex and Riley too.

She pushed out her best glower. “You’re arrogant,” she told him. “You use people to get what you want. Except you don’t even see them as people. You treat them like they’re tools or—worse yet—toys to play with. You manipulated Riley into thinking you were his friend, just to satisfy your curiosity about me. That’s cold and it’s mean. And you’re not even a very good liar. No one would ever believe that a cruel, arrogant sociopath could be a vet. You actually have to be a real person to care about animals.”

He shrugged. “Our labs do a lot of research on magical creatures. And I do like dragons.”

Why am I not surprised? “Dragons eat other animals. And people.”

He gave her a long, lethal grin. “Come on.” He waved his hand toward the door. “We have to get going.”

“I didn’t say I was going to work with you.”

“No, you didn’t. You were too busy establishing what a tough and rough fighter you are. You’ve had your fun, and now it’s over.” He pulled a bundle of papers out of his desk drawer. “Here’s my contract with Mayhem. It says here that you will be working for me until my problem with the thieves is resolved. Do you really want to break the contract?”

Sera didn’t, and she suspected he knew that. If she were the one to break Mayhem’s contract with Drachenburg Industries, there would be consequences. One of them was financial, but that wasn’t even the worst of it. More than the money, she was worried about the questions. There’d be a lot of them. Simmons took his contracts very seriously, and he’d apply enormous pressure on her to figure out why she’d had the nerve to break one. He’d shove her into the spotlight, where there was a very real danger that her secret could be exposed.

So she followed the dragon out, knowing that her doom might already be sealed either way.

CHAPTER SEVEN

Underpowered

THEIR FIRST STOP was just down the hall. The dragon led her into an office that while smaller than his, was no less extravagant. Floor-to-ceiling wood bookcases packed full with richly colored leather book spines covered an entire wall of the room. The desk, too, was made of wood; a miniature model of an old style San Francisco trolley perched prominently on one corner, a glass jar of colorful bubblegum balls on another. A Wizard House Pizza box was stuffed awkwardly into the trashcan in the corner, the faint scent of cheese and sweet tomatoes lingering in the air. Sera’s stomach growled in appreciation.

Finn, the mad mage who’d tried to magic-slap her into oblivion just a few days ago, stared up from the white leather sofa in the corner. He raised his tea cup in meek greeting, looking every bit the part of the underpowered fourth tier mage in a family of magical powerhouses. Not only did he look weak, he felt that way too. He wasn’t even a shadow of that mage from Wednesday—not in power level, madness, or confidence. He was through and through a complete pushover.

“Kai,” Finn said, standing. His gaze slid slowly over to Sera before dropping to the floor.

“Finn, this is Sera. She’s going to ask you some questions. You might remember her as the woman you recently tried to kill.”

If Finn’s gaze could have sunk any lower, it would have. His shoulders hunched over into a spiritless slouch.

“You’re mean,” Sera told the dragon, bumping his arm out of the way as she extended her hand to Finn. Anyone who understood the awesomeness that was Wizard House Pizza couldn’t be all that bad. “Hello, Finn. I know you’ve been through a lot, but if you can, I’d like you to go over everything you remember from that day.”

The dragon’s eyes narrowed. “Why are you being so nice to him? He tried to kill you.”

“He didn’t mean to.”

“So, basically, what you’re saying is you’ll be nice to me only after I try to kill you—as long as I don’t really mean it.”

“Yes, exactly that.” She flashed her teeth at him. “How about you make your move and see what happens?”

But he was far too smart to be goaded. He locked a stony glare on her. “If I attack first, you can claim self-defense.”

“Yes.”

“Oh, no.” His hard mouth slid into an even harder smile. “You’re not getting out of this assignment so easily.”

“Should I leave?” Finn asked, his eyes shifting uneasily between them.

His cousin turned to him. “You stay right where you are while Sera asks her questions.”

Finn sat back down, folding his hands together on his lap. As Sera sat beside him, he began to fidget with his fingers, twisting and turning them with a nervous twitch. The dragon remained standing, looming over them like a mountain.

“What do you remember?” she prompted Finn.

“Everything,” he replied, squeezing his hands together. “Unfortunately.”

“You were being controlled?”

He nodded, fear streaking his magic.

“Do you know who was controlling you?”

“No. Only that it was someone very powerful. Or something,” he added in a hushed whisper.

“What did this someone want you to steal?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know. Something in the vault. I only know I had to get to that door. The compulsion was too strong. I couldn’t do anything. I was only a passenger along for the ride.” He stole a furtive glance at his cousin. “I guess I’d only know what it was I was supposed to be stealing once it was in my hands.”

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