Harley Merlin And The Stolen Magicals by Bella Forrest, now you can read online.
Fear seized me like a boa constrictor, wrapping tight around my chest. I sank back against the wall of the coven’s elegant hallway and hoped nobody would see me. The shadow of a majestic dragon hid me from sight. To be honest, I’d never paid particularly close attention to them before, despite the statues being absolutely everywhere. Talk about theming. No one could ever be in any doubt about what the San Diego Coven’s mascot was.
I smirked. Wade would’ve killed me for calling them mascots.
“They’re emblems of our strength and fortitude,” he’d have said, no doubt flashing me a withering look for good measure.
Down the hallway, classical music rang out, and my stomach twisted in knots.
Get your ass in gear. You’re a Merlin—stop being a coward. I’d been giving myself the same pep talk all the way down from the living quarters. At the magnolia trees, it had taken every ounce of willpower I had not to turn around and run back up the stairs. In ten whole minutes, I’d moved ten yards down the hall. A yard a minute… way to go.
A few minutes more, and I’d be late.
Then again, what had they expected, leaving me alone in my room to go out-of-my-mind crazy all morning? Whoever thought noon was a good time for a ceremony was evidently out of their mind, too. I’d have preferred dawn, since I hadn’t slept last night anyway. Hell, why hadn’t we gotten it out of the way as soon as I’d said I’d pledge?
I wasn’t really the nervous type, but this felt different somehow. I’d have to stand in front of a crowd of hundreds, with everyone staring at me, silently judging my worthiness. Having never really been part of anything for longer than a couple of years, the prospect of being a true member of the coven was as frightening as it was exciting. This was a lifetime deal, and I kept wondering when the devil was going to pop up and reveal himself. It was the foster kid in me, always expecting the good to be ripped away at the last second. Aside from the Smiths, the San Diego Coven was the best thing to ever happen to me. Here, for the very first time, I felt as though I belonged. I wasn’t an addition to something… I was integral to the whole thing. A cog, instead of a spare bolt left behind in the box.
Not to mention that during the night my mind still raced with thoughts of everything that had happened in the last few weeks. I’d been at the coven for just over a month, but it felt like a lifetime. Katherine Shipton was out there, somewhere, and it was only a matter of time before she made her next move. She had the kids—I knew she did—but we had no way of knowing what she was going to do with them. Plus, she had to be pretty pissed by now. We’d knocked down three of her pawns, stalling her way to checkmate.
Emmett Ryder was dead and buried, with a simple marker above his tomb that detailed his crimes. The coven had put his body in the Crypt, deep below ground in the SDC in a restricted zone that only Alton and the Mage Council had access to. Meanwhile, Emily Ryder was stuck in Purgatory and had yet to breathe a word of Katherine’s plan—or “Katie,” as they’d so sickeningly called her. No person that evil could have such an ordinary name. Stalin, Vader, or Hitler, maybe, but not friggin’ Katie. Finch was the same, stewing in staunch silence. Although, cracks had started to appear in his frosty façade, like the initial split of a heavy boot on solid ice. A bit more pressure, and he might be the first to break.
“Harley?” a voice echoed down the corridor, snapping me out of my gloomy reverie. Wade.
Maybe, if I just stay super quiet, he’ll walk right by me. I sensed irritation emanating from him in spiky waves. He was not in the mood for my tardy antics today. Not that he ever was. Still, it didn’t stop me from winding him up on every possible occasion. It was probably the most beautiful part of our friendship: the endless, sarcastic banter.
I slipped out of the dragon’s shadows. Wade’s deep green eyes widened for a moment. The prickling pulse of his annoyance softened into something warmer, a sudden rush of admiration, mingling with a less tangible feeling that rippled beneath the surface—something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
“I’ve been looking all over the place for you, Merlin! And you’ve been ignoring my texts,” he snapped, though a note of wonder still lingered. It brought a smile to my face. “What were you doing behind that statue? Wait… you weren’t hiding, were you?”
He looked undeniably handsome in his dark blue uniform, which shimmered strangely in the dim lighting of the hallway. The high collar was also odd—a magical stylistic choice, no doubt. Most of it ran around his neck in a band of gold. It reminded me of a chef’s jacket, only way cooler. Gold buttons ran up the front, each embellished with the Latin names of the elements that gave us our magical strength—Terra, Aqua, Aer, Ignis. At the top, I noticed the name Gaia taking prime position just below the hollow at the bottom of his throat. Mother Earth, the one holding all of this together. Beside it, on the folded triangle of his golden lapel, he wore a single red gem. Fire, I supposed. It was a surprisingly militant look for the SDC, but it suited Wade to a T.
I crossed my arms. “I was just on my way to the ceremony.”
“The great Harley Merlin, afraid of public speaking?” He sounded annoyingly gleeful. “Is that it?”
“Please. I’ve got bigger things to worry about than reciting some spiel. I was the one who talked to the Mage Council after the gargoyle incident, remember?”
Wade’s expression suddenly became more serious. “You’re not getting cold feet, are you?”
“I’m fine! I just wanted to take my time on the walk over. Stop making it sound like we’re about to get hitched or something.”
Wade’s eyebrows shot up, and my face heated as the words echoed down the hall. My throat constricted, making it hard to swallow. I had no idea whether the feelings were mine or his. He had this way of muddling me, churning my mind upside down until I couldn’t tell where the trail of his emotions ended and mine began.
“Come on. It’s rude to keep everyone waiting,” he urged, turning on his heel. His voice caught for a split second. “You look good, by the way. That shade of green suits you. Brings out the red in your hair.”
“You mean I look like a Christmas ornament?”