sorry, babe. I didn’t mean for it to end this way. I wanted—

Two shots cracked, oddly syncopated. Dez felt something sting his shoulder, but it was Keban who jerked back and grabbed his upper arm.

Dez spun toward the second shooter, instinctively knowing who it was. Even so, his heart damn near stopped at the sight of her.

Reese was wearing the same snug black jeans and zip-down sweater she’d had on earlier. Now, though, she was dripping wet despite the raincoat that hung plastered to her body, and she was packing most of their weapons stash. Her short black hair was slicked to her skull, her strange whiskey-amber eyes were hot with anger, and she looked ready to kick some serious ass.

“You okay?” she asked without taking her eyes—or her .38—off Keban, who had collapsed near the wall, unmoving.

“I’m fine. But keep your guard up,” Dez warned. “He’s—”

“I know who he is. Jocko called to say that a guy with a scarred-up face was asking about you. I put it together.”

And she had come for him even after the way he’d walked out on her. Love surged through him, further pushing back the fog of drugs and compulsion. He loosened his grip on the small statuette, making the handcuffs rattle. “He’ll have the keys—”

Keban uncurled snake-quick and fired the .44 at her, point blank.

“NO!” Dez surged upright and then crashed back down when he hit the ends of his bonds. The cuffs cut into his wrists, the statue’s hard edges dug into his slashed palm, and the whole world just fucking stopped for a heartbeat as the woman he loved went down in a motionless heap. “Reese!”

The storm, which had lulled briefly, flung itself at the warehouse with renewed fury. Lightning flared, strobing the cavernous space as wind-driven rain lashed through the broken windows. Electricity crackled around Dez, inside him, somehow expanding his senses so he saw more, heard more, felt more than he ever had before. And with it came a deeper, darker layer of hatred that was directed entirely at Keban as he raised his weapon and sighted again on Reese, his eyes carrying the same feral glee they used to get while he was lashing Dez with his belt. “Sorry about your girlfr—”

Surging against the cuffs and ropes, Dez shouted, “Pasaj och!”

Thunder cracked and a fat bolt of lightning dead-eyed the warehouse, sparking the old wires and haloing the steel girders with foxfire. Then the sizzle was inside him, radiating from the carving to his head and heart and back again. He was dimly aware of the bonds melting off his ankles and the metal handcuffs arcing with blue-white flame. Then pain lashed, flesh burned, and the shackles sprang open. They hit the floor with a metallic clatter. And he was free!

He lunged to his feet, roaring Reese’s name.

Keban spun, eyes widening.

“Wait,” said the winikin—because that was what he was, a winikin. It was all true, Dez suddenly realized as the lightning—the fucking magic—raced in his blood. Every last godsdamned story was true. He was a Nightkeeper. The last in an ancient line of magic users.

Keban had finally made him into a mage . . . And he’d used Reese to do it. Blood sacrifice. Nearby, she lay far too still, her body a dark blur in the shadows.

“No!” Pain and rage lashed through Dez, calling to something inside him, something that fed on the greed and hatred and then suddenly ignited. Power soared inside him, pressed on him, begged to be set free.

Going on instinct, he pointed at the winikin, stiff fingered. The power surged, a vicious crackle split the air, and a bolt of blue-white lightning shot from his outstretched fingers. It nailed Keban in the chest, blasting him back.

The winikin screamed and landed writhing, wreathed in sparks of blue-white electricity. His body arched; his hands and feet beat at the warehouse floor, and came away bloody.

Magic flowed through Dez. He gloried in it, heart racing. He was a mage, like Keban had always said. He could do anything, be anything, become—

Then, like someone had thrown a switch, the energy cut out, the crackle went silent, and his body shifted from fever hot to deathly cold in an instant. He sagged as fatigue hit him hard and he became, once again, just himself.

What. The. Fuck?

Weeping raggedly, Keban dragged himself to his feet and staggered for the door without a backward look, cackling a high, lunatic laugh.

“Son of a bitch!” Yanking himself out of the last dregs of magic, Dez jammed the statuette into his pocket, lunged for the fallen .44, and came up to his knees firing. The shots pinged off steel, the noise disappearing beneath a crack of thunder as Keban vanished into the storm. On one level, Dez knew he should chase the bastard, finish him off. But on another, more visceral level, he had a different priority.

“Reese!” He scrambled to his feet, bolted across the warehouse and dropped to his knees beside her. Ignoring everything he’d ever learned about first aid, he dragged her up off the floor and into his arms, cursing when her guns dug into him, feeling somehow more substantial than she did. Her body was limp and heavy. Deadweight that smelled of blood. “Godsdamn it, Reese!”

She stirred, then squinted at him through pain-blurred eyes. “Jesus, don’t yell. My head’s killing me.”

He shuddered, groaning her name and holding on to her for a long moment while his heart hammered in his ears. Then he tried to pull himself together, easing away far enough to check for injuries with shaking hands. He was bleeding from his shoulder and his wrists howled where the cuffs had burned him, but she was hurt worse. She had a raised knot on her head that matched her blown pupils, and a through-and-through in her upper arm, the wound wide and angry and weeping blood.

She’d live. But they had gotten lucky.

“He’s gone. I’ve got you. You’re okay. We’re okay.” He said it over and over, not really sure he believed it until he stuck his hand in his pocket and touched the statuette. And for a second he felt a trickle of the power—the magic—he’d tapped into before. He sure as hell hadn’t imagined the way his cuffs had come off, or the way he’d blown Keban off his feet. A guy who could do stuff like that could do anything.

Pressing his cheek to her temple, careful of the sore spots, he tightened his fingers around the statuette, as he said, “I’m sorry about what I said before. I didn’t mean it—I love you. I need you. We’ll make it work.”

But suddenly he wasn’t so sure about that, either. Because if the magic was real, then the other stuff was real, too . . . and what the hell was he going to do about that?


Present day

Cancun, Mexico

December 5; one year and sixteen days to the zero


Reese had long thought that themed wedding hotels were tacky as hell, but she was pretty sure this one took the freaking multitiered, pink-frosted cake.

In case the velvet sombreros and striped serapes plastered on every available surface of the hotel lobby were too subtle, the decorators—and she used the term lightly—had lined the halls with a series of cringe-inducing tropical signs directing her to the wedding chapel. And when she got there, she found the entryway decorated with what she suspected was meant to look like an ancient Mayan temple, but came across as papier-mache gone horribly wrong.

Inside the chapel, a faux stone archway took the place of the usual flower-and-lattice bower, the aisle was

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