As soon as we step into my apartment, Ellie comes running. Well, her form of running, which is “moving slightly faster than a stroll.” She sees Jonathan and stops short. Then she launches into a full-throated purr and begins rubbing against his legs.
As he bends to pet her, I start to warn him and then remember that isn’t necessary. This is Jonathan. His size might make grown men step aside, but animals—like small children—see right past that. This is a guy whose smile can get toddlers to stop screaming. As always, Ellie tolerates his ear scratches without even a raised warning paw.
I don’t invite Jonathan into the living room. This isn’t a “let’s get comfy” conversation. It’s a miracle we’re not still in the hallway with me yanking on his shirtfront screaming “Tell me now!”
“They’re missing, aren’t they?” I say as he tries to hand me a morning bun. “Ani and Hope are missing. They must be. You drove all the way from Unstable in the middle of the night—”
“I’m concerned,” he says. “Yes, concerned enough that I couldn’t sleep. If I went to the police, though, they’d tell me to go home and chill.”
“What’s happened? I was texting yesterday and calling—”
He motions for me to lower the volume. “Cell service went out midday. It’s still out. I saw Ani early yesterday afternoon. I was supposed to come by for dinner and a board game night, but there was an emergency town council meeting to discuss, not coincidentally, the cell service issue. I still expected to swing by and see Ani afterward but the meeting went on forever. You know how it is.”
I do. One problem with having a lot of psychics is that you also have a lot of residents convinced a closer cell tower will microwave their brains.
He continues, “So, the meeting ended just before midnight, and I swung by to see if Ani was still up. The house was dark. I went back to my place and got an hour of sleep before bolting awake. Something at your sisters’ place had been niggling at me.”
“The car wasn’t in the drive.”
My sisters share Mom’s old car, and it rarely leaves the drive. Unstable is a walking town, and we live on the main street.
“When I remembered the drive being empty, I ran back to the house. There was a note on the business entrance. It said they had an emergency job and the shop would be closed for a day or two.”
It’s a plausible explanation. While emergencies are rare, other curse weavers will call us in for urgent cases. Legend says we’re descended from the leader of the arae, which makes us stronger weavers. We also get calls from those with other magic abilities who come into contact with a cursed object.
“But Ani wouldn’t leave without telling us,” I say. “If she had an urgent call . . .”
When I don’t finish, Jonathan nods. “If that call came at night, she’d wait to tell us in the morning.”
“But she was supposed to see you last night. She’d find a way to let you know she’d be gone.”
He shrugs. “Under the circumstances, I wouldn’t expect her to remember I was popping by for a board game.”
“Nothing is urgent enough for Ani to forget you were coming over.”
“Well, then, she knew I’d see the car gone and check the business door.”
I don’t like that answer. I really don’t. Ani is as conscientious as Jonathan . . . and she’s as likely to forget his visit as he is to forget hers.
“That’s why I grabbed coffee and muffins,” he says. “This isn’t an urgent situation, K. I just wanted to let you know. Now we’ll sit down, have our healthy breakfast and wait for Ani to wake up and text us from wherever she is.”
That resolution lasts about as long as my decision not to grab a ShareCar and drive to Unstable at dawn. Jonathan and I manage to drink a few sips of coffee and have two bites of our muffins. Then it’s 7:30, an hour past Ani’s morning alarm, meaning she’ll be awake even if she’s been up half the night curse weaving.
A new text goes unread. Two calls go unanswered. Same with my texts and calls to Hope, and Jonathan’s texts and calls to Ani.
So now I’m outside Connolly’s office as he arrives for work. He’s the first person there, and as he steps off the elevator, he’s reading a newspaper. An actual paper one. The financial section, not surprisingly. He’s so engrossed in it that he walks up to his office, reaches for the door knob and nearly grabs me in a very inappropriate place.
Seeing where his hand is heading, he jerks back, paper rustling. In a blink, he recovers and nods. “Good morning, Ms. Bennett. Dare I hope your early arrival means you’re willing to hear my proposal?”
“No, but I am willing to hear what the hell you meant about my sisters last night. In fact, I’m going to insist on it.”
“Good. I’m glad you’re finally seeing reason.”
He folds the paper and then walks to his offices with such nonchalance that my hands itch to grab him around the neck and shake him.
When he takes off his overcoat and begins to smooth it, I snap, “Are you trying to piss me off?”
“I am composing myself for what is obviously going to be an antagonistic conversation while wondering whether it would be rude to make a coffee before we talk.”
“God, you really are an asshole, aren’t you?”
He turns a cool gaze on me. “You’ve shown up at eight AM to pounce on me as I come into work. Not only have I agreed to speak to you but I’m acknowledging that coffee—which I desperately need right now—should probably wait. Now may I please hang up my—”
“My sisters are missing. They disappeared sometime yesterday. Likely around the time you offered me a job, and when I refused to hear you out, you said maybe they could do it instead.”
He pauses, as if thinking it through. Then his brows rise. “Are you suggesting I kidnapped them?”
“I’m suggesting they are missing right after you mentioned going to them with this job. And when I said I’d warn them first, you seemed very unconcerned.”
“Because I—” He glances toward the hall. “Can we talk somewhere else please? Perhaps in your showroom? My staff will begin to arrive at any moment.”
I march to the reception desk, scribble something onto a large sticky note and slap it on the front door. Connolly walks over to read it.
“Fumigation?” He shakes his head. “Please hand me that marker and a new piece of paper. I’ll simply ask them to stay out—”
“Fumigation or biological contamination,” I say. “Your choice.”
He sighs. “May we at least adjourn to the staff room where I might make a coffee? I had a very long night, and I have a feeling you’ll need me to be more coherent than I can manage right now.”
I haven’t really taken a close look at him, being too freaked out about my sisters. Now I notice the purple underscoring his eyes and the first hint of lines at his mouth. Two bright red acne-like spots are, on closer inspection, shaving nicks. His freckles, barely visible yesterday, weave a connect-the-dots pattern across his nose and cheekbones.
While Connolly looks exhausted, he also looks far more human than he did yesterday. Like an actual person rather than an automaton programmed to piss me off.
“Fine,” I mutter. “Get your damned coffee.”
His shoulders sag in visible relief. “Thank you.”
I follow him into the staff room, which is just as ice cold—in decor and temperature—as the rest of the office suite. That makes me think about how he’d planned a more comfortable room for his staff, and some of my own chill thaws . . . before I remember that was a ruse. A ruse to trick and test me.
Connolly walks to the coffee maker, one of those expensive espresso jobs. At the click of a button, it begins grinding beans for a single serving.
“Would you like one?” he asks, raising his voice to be heard.
“No, what I’d like is to talk about my missing sisters. You don’t seem surprised that they’re gone. Something is going on.”
He fusses with the machine. “Yes, and if you had let me explain last night, you’d already know what it is.”
“Don’t condescend to me, Connolly. I had every reason to want to get the hell away from you after you trapped me in that room. Do you know what happened to my sisters?”
“If you’re asking whether I personally kidnapped them—”
“Of course, you didn’t. Guys like you don’t do your own dirty work.”
“True.” His tone stays infuriatingly calm. “I hire people to perform tasks outside my area of expertise. As I tried to hire you last night.” He lifts the mug, takes a sip and exhales in satisfaction. “Are you quite sure you wouldn’t like a cup?”
I unclench my teeth enough to say, “I’d like to have this conversation. Start talking. Now. Or else . . .”
I open my purse.
“Let me guess,” he says. “You brought the Magic 8 Ball.”
That is what I was about to pull out, but when he glances into my purse, he goes still.
“Is that . . . a gun?” he says.
I flip out the tiny derringer. “Cute, huh? It was a going-away gift from my sister’s friend. To keep me safe in the big, bad city.”
When I glance up, Connolly has inched back.
“Really? This scares you?” I wave the gun. “Believe me, my curse bomb is way worse. Look how tiny this thing is. It’d barely put a hole in you.”
“That gun is quite capable of killing someone.”
“Is it? Huh. Then maybe we should try this again.” I aim the derringer at him. “Do you know where my sisters are?”
He swallows and then visibly pulls himself together, his gaze wrenching from the gun barrel and lifting to meet mine. When he speaks, the words come slow and careful, so I cannot misunderstand them.
“I did not kidnap them, and I do not know who did, but I believe I know why they were taken. That’s what I was going to discuss with you.”
“When? After you drank your whole damned coffee? This is my sisters we’re talking about.”
“I understand that, and I apologize if it seemed I wasn’t taking this seriously. I am.”
“Good.” I lift the gun. “So where are my sisters?”
“I just told you. I don’t have them.”
“Are you sure?”
“Really, really sure?”
“Yes. Now please lower the—”
I pull the trigger. A spot of red explodes on the wall behind Connolly. He stumbles against the coffee maker and stares down at his chest.
“Looking for the entry wound?” I say. “There isn’t one. I aimed beside you.”
He squints at the bright red spot, on the wall, far too crimson to be blood.
“Jinx,” I say, twirling the fake gun. “It’s a nice piece, though. Specially made just for me. So much fun in paintball. Do you play?”
Connolly’s expression suggests he really wishes he had a gun right now. And not a fake one.
“Did you really think anyone would buy me a real gun?” I say. “Hell, I wouldn’t buy me a real gun. But thank you for confirming that you don’t have my sisters. Now let’s talk about who does.”
“I am not talking to you about anything, Ms. Bennett. You just—”
“Shot beside you with a fake bullet? I wouldn’t have pulled the gun if you didn’t notice it in my purse. At that point, if I didn’t threaten you with it, you wouldn’t have taken me seriously. My sisters are missing. I’ll keep saying that until you get it.”
“I do get it. I apologize if I seemed to be stalling. I was collecting myself and preparing for what is likely to be a long conversation.”
“Good. Get yourself another coffee, and I’ll meet you in your office.”