Home > Wildfire (Hidden Legacy #3)(9)

Wildfire (Hidden Legacy #3)(9)
Author: Ilona Andrews

His skin was a light bronze, his hair wavy and black with a lot of white. He had bold, strong features: a broad forehead, black eyebrows, a prominent nose, and a square jaw mostly hidden by a short beard that was more grey than black. His hazel eyes, alight with intelligence, looked at the world with a touch of humor. When I saw him for the first time, I thought he looked like someone’s favorite uncle, who owned a vineyard somewhere in Greece or Spain, spent a lot of time outdoors, and laughed often. That was before I knew who he was.

“Good evening, Mr. Duncan.” The Keeper smiled.

My House formation would be witnessed by Mad Rogan, the Scourge of Mexico, and Linus Duncan, the former Speaker of the Assembly that ruled the magical families of Texas. Dear God.

“I’m late, I know, I’m sorry.” The former most powerful man in Texas hurried across the room. “Some people insist on being annoyingly difficult. What did I miss?”

“Nothing of importance,” the Keeper assured him.

Duncan nodded at Rogan. “Major.”

“Colonel,” Rogan replied.

The Keeper took out a fountain pen, cleared his throat, and glanced at me, his black eyes sparkling behind his glasses. “Michael, if you please.”

Michael stepped forward and produced a high-end camera.

“A verbal acknowledgment is required,” the Keeper told me, his tone confidential. “You must say these words to me: I, Nevada Baylor, petition the State of Texas for assessment and recognition of my family’s powers. Are you ready?”

“Yes.”

My heart was beating too fast.

The Keeper nodded at Michael. Michael tapped the camera’s digital screen.

The Keeper raised his pen and looked at me. My mouth had gone completely dry. Somehow I made my lips move.

“I, Nevada Baylor, petition the State of Texas for assessment and recognition of my family’s powers.”

“I, Linus Duncan, Head of House Duncan, so witness,” Duncan stated.

“I, Connor Rogan, Head of House Rogan, so witness,” Rogan echoed.

“So noted.” The Keeper wrote today’s date on the page and added, Nevada Baylor on behalf of herself, Catalina and Bernard Baylor. Witnessed by Linus Duncan of House Duncan and Connor Rogan of House Rogan.

“Your petition is granted,” the Keeper said.

Michael lowered the camera and set it aside.

“It is done,” the Keeper said.

“Congratulations, Ms. Baylor,” Linus Duncan told me.

“Thank you for coming to be my witness.”

“Well, if you’re going to jump into the wolf’s den, it helps to have an ally. Even if that ally is old with blunted teeth.”

A muscle in Rogan’s cheek jerked. He hadn’t said anything, but both he and Michael watched Linus Duncan like he would sprout fangs and claws any second.

“I hope you succeed,” Duncan said.

“Thank you.”

The sound of a woman coming down the hallway in high heels echoed through the room.

“Are you expecting someone?” Rogan asked.

“No,” the Keeper said.

Victoria Tremaine walked into the room, two men in suits behind her. She saw me, stopped, and stared. I stared back. I’d seen a recording of her, but we’d never met in person.

She was thin, impeccably dressed, with the kind of face that made people say, “good bones” despite wrinkled skin. High cheekbones, strong yet feminine jawline, narrow nose, large eyes. Given that set of features, most women would look beautiful. My grandmother didn’t. She looked hard and vicious, like a velociraptor in human skin. Even her platinum hair, cut in a pixie style, did nothing to soften the impact. Vulnerable or unsure weren’t even in her vocabulary. And when she turned to glower at Rogan, I saw my father in her profile. They had the same aquiline nose.

Rogan stepped forward on my left. Linus Duncan stepped forward on my right.

“This farce has gone on long enough,” Victoria announced. “That child is mine. She belongs to my House.”

“No,” I told her. “I don’t belong to you or anyone else.”

“She petitioned the State of Texas for recognition of her powers,” the Keeper said. “She’s in the book. It is done.”

“Linus?” she ground out.

“I’m a witness,” Duncan said. “I’m honor bound to protect her, Victoria. You know how this works.”

Victoria Tremaine’s eyes narrowed. “I’m taking her out of here.”

“I’m afraid I can’t allow that.” The Keeper’s eyes turned completely black. No white remained.

Darkness shivered in the alcoves between the books and grew, slithering across the walls, swallowing the light, a living terrible darkness. An ancient primal thing. Every hair on the back of my neck rose.

Blue fire sheathed Michael’s hands, burning bright against the rising black tide that smothered the ceiling.

“You know the rules, Victoria,” the Keeper said, his voice pure magic. “You will have no contact with any member of the Baylor family. You’ll make no effort to disrupt these trials. We wouldn’t want any unpleasantness.”

Rage shivered in the corners of my grandmother’s mouth. She glared at me. “You’re an idiot. You will regret this.”

Her gaze stabbed at Rogan. “You should’ve returned my calls. You think you have her, but you’ll never keep her. She’ll dump you the moment the Scroll gets a request.”

She turned around and marched out, her human Rottweilers in tow.

“Well, that was tense,” Linus Duncan said. He opened a billfold, took a card out of his wallet, and offered it to me. It had no name, only a phone number. “In case you need help or advice. Call any time.”

“Thank you.” I took the card.

The darkness vanished. The Keeper smiled at me. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Baylor. We’ll be watching you. We’ll be there in case of any problems, won’t we, Michael?”

Michael nodded.

 

Rogan and I didn’t speak the whole way to the car. Outside, the sun had set and the bottomless Texas sky spread above us, an upside-down black ocean studded with stars. We got into the car, and Rogan drove out of the parking lot.

The night city slid past my window while the whole scene kept replaying in my head over and over: petitioning, my name in calligraphy on the page of an ancient book, the raptor stare of my grandmother, the living darkness on the ceiling . . . It didn’t seem real, as if it had happened to someone else.

I glanced at Rogan. There was this odd distance between us. He was there, in the car with me, but he seemed contained, as if I were a stranger.

“She called you?” I asked finally.

“She left a message,” he said.

I waited but he didn’t elaborate. “What did she say?”

“That if I helped her bring you into House Tremaine, she would give you to me.”

“Nice. And was I just supposed to go along with that plan?”

“You would if she had your sisters. Or your mother.” His voice was casual. “Holding a knife to your mother’s throat would make you very agreeable.”

Connor was gone, and I got Mad Rogan instead: cold, calculating, cruel when he had to be.

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