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 Ritual Magic

World of the Lupi 10

by

Eileen Wilks

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

While I might aspire to Lily’s wonderfully anal-rententive and organized ways, at heart I’m more like the dog from Up: cheerful, sloppy, and easily distracted. No doubt this is why, when it’s time to write the acknowledgments for a book, I’m so often surprised to find that I have not kept a list. As a result, I’m sure I have failed to acknowledge any number of helpful people along the way. This time, sadly, fits that general rule. I do have one thank-you to express, however. Ritual Magic has a large cast and my brain played hopscotch with the names of some of the minor characters. (And yes, if I’d kept a list right from the start this wouldn’t have happened, but I’m pretty sure the dog from Up doesn’t make lists, either.) My heartfelt thanks to the beleaguered copy editor who made sense of the jumble as well as keeping the timeline on track.

I also want to apologize to residents of San Diego for, once again, taking liberties with your city. In this story I mention several hospitals. Some you may recognize. Others have no analogue in our world, but I assure you they’re just as I describe them in Lily and Rule’s realm.

ONE

SHE blinked and swayed, so dizzy she had to reach for the wall to prop herself up. Could you pass out without falling down? That was what it felt like—like she’d blacked out. Which she’d never done, not in her whole life, but all of a sudden she was Sleeping Beauty and years and years had passed. Except she was still on her feet, so obviously years hadn’t passed. The ladies’ room was right behind her. She was still in the narrow little hallway of . . .

Of where?

Fear struck, quick and hot and dark, flapping its wings in her throat like a trapped bird. Where was she?

She didn’t know. She didn’t have any idea. She’d been . . . what? She couldn’t remember. She remembered going to bed last night but not to sleep, not right away. She always had trouble falling asleep the night before her birthday. She’d sat up past bedtime—a sin overlooked on special nights—writing in her diary, with the light from her lamp warm and yellow on its lined pages and her lavender bedspread pulled up to her waist. She’d told her diary what she couldn’t tell anyone, not even Kathy, and for sure not her sisters. Everyone was so “I can’t wait” about being a teenager, but she was glad this birthday was twelve, not thirteen. She wasn’t ready for thirteen, but that was okay because she had a whole year of being twelve ahead of her. That gave her lots of time.

But that was all she remembered. She didn’t remember waking up or eating breakfast or lunch or supper. Was it suppertime? Had they come here instead of going to the roller rink like they were supposed to?

Had she somehow missed her whole birthday?

A burst of indignation burned through some of the fear. That wasn’t fair. That wasn’t fair at all, and she didn’t understand, but here she was in some kind of restaurant. The air was thick with good smells—ginger and onions and fryer fat—and she could see a smidge of the room the hall led to. A man sat at a small, cloth-draped table, leaning forward and stabbing his finger at the air the way men did when they thought they were important and people should listen. The woman with him looked bored. They were both Caucasian, but this was a Chinese restaurant. She could tell from the smells and the crimson walls. Out of sight from her vantage point, someone was laughing a quick, barking sort of laugh: HA! HA! HA! Which made her think of Uncle Wu, who laughed in syllables like that, only quieter, huffing it out: Ha. Ha. Ha.

She was breathing really fast. Huffing like Uncle Wu. She clenched her fists and tried to make herself breathe normal. She needed something to be normal.

She felt tired. Tired and kind of heavy, the way she did when she had a cold. She sniffed experimentally. She wasn’t stuffed up or anything. Had she been sick? Maybe she’d had a real high fever. A brain fever. Could brain fevers make you forget stuff? Maybe she’d had a terrible brain fever and got over it, but just now she’d had a relapse—that was why she’d been so dizzy—and—

“Excuse us, please,” someone said behind her.

She whirled.

Two women had come out of the restroom. They were kind of old—maybe thirty—and they were dressed funny. Both wore jeans, which was weird. Who wore jeans to a nice restaurant? One had on a big, sloppy sweater, but the other one wore a tight, stretchy shirt that showed everything, like she was a hooker or something. That woman had great big earrings and super-short hair like Mia Farrow and . . . good grief. She had a little gem in her nose, like it was pierced there.

Her mother wouldn’t let her pierce her ears, and this woman had pierced her nose!

The two women were looking at her funny. She flushed. She was standing around like an idiot, blocking the hall. She stepped aside. As she did, her foot bumped something. She glanced down.

Someone had left her purse right there in the hall. It was a nice purse, too—black leather, the kind that’s so soft you want to pet it. She should tell someone.

She’d taken one uncertain step when someone else came into the hall. A man. He was tall and probably as old as the two women and he was gorgeous. He looked like a movie star—kind of like Clint Eastwood, in fact, who was still her favorite, and she hated that Rawhide had gone off the air. Only this man’s hair was all dark and shaggy and he had really dramatic eyebrows that weren’t like Clint’s at all.

The man looked right at her and tipped his head like he was puzzled. She felt a little flutter in her stomach. Then he spoke to her.

“Julia? Are you okay?”

* * *

LILY pushed the remains of her Kung Pao chicken around on her plate and tried to look like she was paying attention to her cousin Freddie, who was all excited about implied rates and parity and agio. What the hell was agio? Was that even a word?

She didn’t ask. He’d tell her, and God knew how long that would take. It was some kind of broker-speak, though. Probably currency trading, which was his specialty. That was a large part of what he did for Rule these days. Rule’s second clan wasn’t affluent the way Nokolai was.

“. . . not convinced the baht is on the rise, but . . .” Freddie broke off and chuckled. “Your eyes have glazed over.”

“Sorry.” She and Freddie got along better now that he’d stopped asking her to marry him. She’d even forgiven him for doing so repeatedly without mentioning that he was gay. Turned out he’d been in major denial about that and had only come out of the closet with himself recently. He wasn’t ready for the family to know . . . by which he meant his mother.

Lily could understand that. Aunt Jei—who was technically Lily’s second cousin, but Lily and her sisters called all their mother’s first cousins “aunt” or “uncle”—put the passive in passive-aggressive. She was limp, needy, and full of sighs, a widow with only one child, whom she doted on, clung to, and controlled ruthlessly.

Poor Freddie.

Aunt Jei was probably the reason Rule had excused himself to go to the restroom. He’d been seated next to her, and even Rule could only take so much.

“That’s all right,” Freddie said kindly and patted her hand. “You’re probably daydreaming about the big day.

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