Crimes of Magic
Sweat seeped into my clothes as Viktor and I slowly climbed to our feet with at least a dozen guns pointed in our direction. His fingers remained curled around my arm, keeping me close as if he feared I’d slip away at any moment.
Not happening. Not if I could help it.
“No sudden movements,” Jocelyn commanded, her violet eyes laser-focused on us.
The forest stirred and shadows played along the foliage. Danger leaked through the air, bringing an eerie chill to the night. Light from the moon and multicolored stars spilled through the tree canopies, glinting off the Fae’s metallic weapons.
We’d been through hell recently and the worst had culminated in this long, never-ending night of torment. Viktor and I had faced the Fae queen, a psycho druid, and my evil daemon mother and had managed to make it out alive. The approaching F.I.C. officers weren’t going to tear us apart now.
“I can see where your loyalties lie, Jocelyn.” Viktor’s low, dangerous voice sent shivers down my spine. The unseelie prince could make your fear spike with just a few words.
She bristled and lifted her chin higher, but she couldn’t hide the shake of her hand while it tightened on the gun. “My loyalties are with Fae Investigation and Corrections, and I’m doing my job by apprehending two dangerous convicts.”
The leaves crunched behind us as more officers closed in. I nudged Viktor’s side to get his attention, and when our eyes met, I pushed into his mind.
I can shadowmeld us out of here.
He gave a barely noticeable nod. Let’s go, princess.
Was he seriously going to start calling me that?
Jocelyn was blabbing about not resisting as she grabbed a pair of iron cuffs from her belt. How could we resist if we were gone?
I pulled on my daemon powers, feeling the first inklings of electricity crackle over my skin when a deafening explosion ripped through the forest.
Pain seared my thigh, and I doubled over the same time Viktor let out a string of foreign curses. I ran my hand over my pants, expecting a river of crimson to be soaking the thin material, but the fabric remained clean.
Panic twisted my gut as I stood and moved closer to examine him. Red liquid oozed down his leg, and droplets from the blast stained the surrounding leaves. Viktor had been shot, and I’d felt it through the bond.
“I’m fine,” he gritted out even as the color drained from his cheeks.
He wasn’t fine. He was shot with a bullet made of goblin-mined metal, the same thing our security bracelets were made from. If my leg throbbed this much, I could only imagine how he felt.
A scarlet haze descended through my mind. Someone was going to pay for this.
I whipped around to a tall, lanky elf officer holding the smoking gun. “You did this.” As I stepped forward, his eyes widened so much that they threatened to pop right out of the sockets.
An arm came around my waist to tug me back. “Don’t,” Viktor warned. “I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“We will shoot if you attack an officer.” Jocelyn’s voice held the tiniest quake. She hadn’t expected someone to shoot the prince. She probably wanted me to be the one injured.
If I’d been the one with the bullet in my leg, Viktor wouldn’t have hesitated to attack the Fae responsible.
“I sensed the magic in the air,” the elf said, keeping the gun trained on me. “She was going to shadowmeld.”
“Perhaps you should have shot her instead.” Jocelyn stepped forward with the iron cuffs dangling from her fingertips. “Put these on, Ms. Warren.”
“No,” I hissed.
Her golden eyebrow arched toward her hairline. “Excuse me?”
“Not until you let me heal Viktor.” I studied his leg where the material was now completely soaked. “He’s losing too much blood.”
A chorus of questions radiated through the officers, and Jocelyn even dared to laugh.
“You’re not a full seelie. You can’t heal anyone.” She jerked her chin toward a female officer with a swan-like neck and delicate features. She could have been a prima ballerina with those legs. “Officer Latrice can heal him.”
Viktor bent and used his fingers to dig the bullet out of his leg, clenching his teeth. “If that seelie comes anywhere near me, I’ll break her like a twig.” He took a labored breath. “Sloane can heal me.”
Officer Latrice cautiously stepped back.
Pain lanced through my thigh as Viktor continued to work the bullet out. “Sorry, I know this hurts you, too,” he whispered. “But I’ve got to get it out.”
A lump choked my airways as he struggled. “Want help?”
“Nah, I got it.” With one final tug, Viktor yanked the bullet out and dropped it to the ground. He wiped his blood-coated fingers on his gray shirt. An officer behind us looked like he was moments away from passing out. “Give me the iron cuffs, Jocelyn.”
She glanced warily between us before finally tossing the handcuffs to the unseelie prince. He winced as he locked them around his wrists. My jaw clenched as the iron took effect on Viktor, shoving his powers down too far to reach.
“Is she really going to heal him?” Officer Latrice murmured to an elf on her right whose only response was a shrug as she watched us.
“Well, go ahead,” Jocelyn said. “And don’t even think about trying anything, or we will shoot.”
I turned to Viktor, wrapping my hand around his nape to draw him toward me. As soon as our lips met, a husky moan slipped out of him, and heat flooded my body.
The kiss was bittersweet, though. Just minutes ago, we were free and planning to hide out in the dark forest before finally joining Kaden and Jilly.
And now we were headed back to prison with more enemies than when we left.
Viktor’s arm locked around my waist to pull me against him, and even though he had a bullet wound, this was still sending his blood boiling. The triskele tingled on my side, urging us to continue. It didn’t matter that a dozen Fae surrounded us with guns trained at our heads.
The prince’s tongue played chase with mine while he nipped and licked my lips, tasting like the most addictive drug in the world. My thigh began to tingle as the bullet hole finally knit back together.
Someone cleared her throat, but neither one of us was quite finished. The rúnsearc had no intention of letting us break away. If we didn’t have an audience, we’d be rolling on the ground with our clothes off.
“I think he’s healed.” Jocelyn’s cultured voice wasn’t enough to shatter the desire swirling between us.
The strength returned to Viktor’s hold, even bound in iron, and his kiss became more fervent. My knees would buckle at any moment.
“Enough, you two, before I’m forced to use a gun to break you apart.” Jocelyn was proving to be more annoying than Helena.
We finally pulled back, breathing heavily while our hearts tapped out the same beat. If any of them had been shifters, they would have noticed. Most of the officers sported flushed cheeks and glassy eyes. A few looked ready to shed their clothes and take a tumble through the grass.
Glad they enjoyed the show.
Our mental connection opened, and Viktor’s voice spilled into my mind. Save yourself. Shadowmeld out of here.
I scoffed. Shut the hell up, Hale. We talked about this already. We’re a package deal. Where you go, I go.
He released a huff and then kissed me again.
Jocelyn cursed. “Put these restraints on now, Ms. Warren.”
I turned and snatched the iron manacles out of the officer’s hand, wincing from the bite of the toxic metal. My powers plunged deep inside as I secured the cuffs around my wrists, leaving my limbs shaking with weakness.
“Let’s go.” Jocelyn smoothed back a golden lock that had the audacity to break free of her perfect chignon. “You are both going to be in solitary confinement once you arrive at the prison.”
The thought of being separated from Viktor for a long time already had me twitchy.
A group of officers approached from behind to force us forward. “Walk, inmates.”
I rolled my eyes as Viktor and I began to trudge through the thick forest bracken with officers surrounding us. They wouldn’t be so smug without those guns and the iron cuffs.
Viktor reached over with his bound hands to touch mine. We’ll get through this, Sloane. I promise.
I nodded as my mind wandered back to the moments before F.I.C. caught us. Viktor had told me he loved me, and I hesitated. Did I deserve his love?
No, but I sure as hell wanted it.
I opened my mouth, but something in my periphery caught my attention. Tiny glowing Fae creatures descended into the tree branches as we passed. More fluttered through the air on either side of us. The underbrush shook, and glimpses of gnomes and other small beings flashed through the foliage.
Some of the officers noticed, their brows dipping at the company we were gathering. The woodlands seemed to come alive with forest Fae.
I nudged Viktor’s side with my elbow, and when he turned to me, I spoke in his mind. What’s with all the creatures?
He flashed a wry smile. News travels fast here.
And that means…?
He surveyed a group of sprites fluttering above our heads. They heard Kora name you as the seelie king’s daughter. This is the light forest, after all, where seelies used to rule.
My head wrenched back. But I’m not a full seelie. I’m a seelie-dae.
They don’t care. They’re not like them. He jerked his chin toward one of the guards. There hasn’t been a royal seelie in these parts for a long time, and you come from a royal line. You’re a princess to them.
I scoffed, and the officer in front of us glanced back, frowning.
“No talking,” he hissed with his hand hovering over the gun at his hip. “Keep moving.”
Viktor flashed a feral grin at the officer. “Don’t be such a prick, Davis. You act like we didn’t grow up together. We even had the same tutor and enjoyed tormenting him whenever we got the chance.”
The unseelie scoffed. “That was before you became a murderer.”
“You two know each other?” It was hard to picture Viktor as a kid, doing anything but brooding or fighting.
“Davis stayed at our castle sometimes.” He ticked his head toward the tall, golden-blond Fae. “He’s a minor royal.”
Besides Viktor’s family and my father’s, the other royals made up the seelie and unseelie courts. And that was pretty much all I knew about them. “Minor royals have regular jobs?”
“A lot of them work for F.I.C. in some capacity,” Viktor said, glancing at another gnome who poked his head out of a bush as we trudged by. His wiry gray beard tangled in the briars. “The courts established F.I.C.”
“The courts thought it was high time monarchs didn’t have absolute control. They needed to answer to someone.” Davis angled toward us and flashed his badge. “This keeps you in line.”
I rolled my eyes. “How’s that working out now? Isadora can do anything she wants without consequences.”
Davis’s shoulders tightened at the turn of the conversation. “It may not always seem like it, but the queen is fair.”
A manic laugh slipped out, causing a few of the officers to peer my way. “You must be as crazy as she is if you believe that.”
“She let Viktor live after killing the king and queen.” He shot the unseelie prince a sneer. “I wouldn’t have been so nice.”
A growl rumbled through Viktor’s chest, and he took a step closer to the minor royal. “You should keep your mouth shut, noble, or I’ll shut it for you. Do you really think iron and goblin bullets will stop me from killing you if I really wanted to?”
Some of the color leached from Davis’s face before he angled back around. “Gwen sure did dodge a bullet. You probably would have snapped and killed her, too.”
I rested my hand on Viktor’s to calm him, but it was a little tricky when I didn’t feel so tranquil at the mention of some mystery girl. “Who the hell is Gwen?”
The shrubs we walked past shivered before three gnomes popped out. One started climbing up a tree while two others darted ahead of us and disappeared into the shadows. What the hell was going on?
It seemed like forever before Viktor finally answered. “She’s a minor royal a few years older than me. When I was young, her parents came to mine to propose a marriage between us.”
“Are you serious?” My chest squeezed as I imagined some other girl with Viktor.
“It was common for any prince or princess to marry a minor royal to keep the royal blood strong,” Davis said as if my heart wasn’t hammering at the speed of a freight train. He peeked back as his lips curled in disdain. “They certainly wouldn’t have entertained the idea of being with a disgusting seelie-dae.”
Viktor shortened the distance to Davis until he hovered at his back. “Speak to her like that again, and I’ll rip your tongue out and feed it to a bog dearg while you watch.”
My scalp prickled at the unseelie prince’s dark, dangerous tone, and I wasn’t even on the receiving end of his anger. Davis gave a curt nod. Even cuffed in iron, the unseelie prince was the most intimidating Fae I’d ever met.
My fingers curled in Viktor’s shirt, and I tugged him back to my side before another trigger-happy officer decided to shoot him. “You’re not getting out of talking about this Gwen chick.”
He turned my way with an incredulous expression. “There’s nothing to talk about.”
I beg to differ.
“Were you guys—together?” Viktor was a prince so I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d been allowed prolonged visits in prison with beautiful women.
My still stomach lurched at the thought, though.
“No, nothing like that.” He shrugged his broad shoulders. “Gwen is five years older than me. I was only twelve when her parents came to mine.”
My mouth curled into a grimace. “You were twelve while she was seventeen? Gross.”
He winked. “I’m definitely glad it didn’t work out.”
Davis shook his head but didn’t say a word. He clearly thought, even as a murderer, Viktor could do better than me. Would the minor royal change his mind if he knew my father was the seelie king?
A deva suddenly dropped down on my shoulder, scurrying under my hair to hide from the officers. “Be ready, princess.”
“I’m not a princess,” I whispered.
She giggled and started to braid a few strands of my hair. “Princess, we have friends coming.” She swung from my twisted locks, spreading glitter on my shoulder. “Weeee! This will be fun.”
What the hell was going on?
I peered at Viktor. She said they have friends coming.
He silently scrutinized our surroundings. The creatures were definitely causing a stir. Anticipation hung in the air, thick and heavy like a rain cloud about to burst.
The officers in front came to a screeching halt, causing the ones behind us to stumble.
“What’s going on?” Jocelyn hissed as she moved to the side. “Why did you stop?”
“I-It’s a unicorn, Officer Jocelyn.”
Holy shit! Unicorns were real?
I shifted to the left, and my jaw unhinged at the pure white horse-like creature with a shining ivory horn protruding from his forehead. A mane the color of fresh snow blew in the gentle breeze kicking through the forest.
My sharp intake of air caught the unicorn’s attention, and his large, shimmering eyes found mine. He pawed the ground and then raised on his hind legs, neighing loudly like a battle command.
A long, pregnant silence fell through the wilderness.
The deva tugged on my hair again. “Here it goes.” Her giggles tickled my ear.
And then all hell broke loose.