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Black Magic Sanction

Black Magic Sanction: Page 107

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I'll say I'm sorry, and you can wave your wand and say I'm really a good witch. Shunning rescinded. Okay? But until then, you back off or these papers get filed."

Oliver smiled in a not-nice way, and I wondered if they would kill me between now and then. "Double-blind study?" he said and I quivered. "Will they really go for that?"

The air shook in my lungs. "Oh, yeah. The news loves making me look like a fool."

I jerked as Trent stood up, his chair loud against the tile. His hand was out, extended to me. Slowly I stood and took it. His hand was cool, fitting nicely in mine with the perfect amount of pressure. "Congratulations, Ms. Morgan," he said, his voice rising and falling like water, not a hint of anything but honest pleasure. "Come and see me before the annual meeting. I'd like to talk to you when you have a moment."

There was a strip of paper in my hand when he pulled away, and I palmed it. "I'd like that, Mr. Kalamack." Maybe he had some idea of where Nick had gone.

Oliver had stood as well, but his hands were behind his back. "You're really going to go out there and say it was all a test of your security system?"

"That's exactly what I'm going to do, Oliver. And if you were smart, you'd back off and give her everything she wants." Smiling cockily, Trent inclined his head to me. "Good evening, Ms. Morgan."

My lips curved up, but inside I was shaking. Yd done it. Holy crap on toast. I wish they'd hurry up and leave. I was going to pass out. Trent opened the door, and the sounds of the FIB spilled in to replace him.

"See you around, Trent," I whispered, falling back in my chair. My attention dropped to the little slip of paper. "See you tonight... ," I murmured, reading, TONIGHT. STABLES. WEAR YOUR BOOTS.

Jenks buzzed in, and I crumpled it.

The slamming of my mom's car door was loud, echoing in the moist, sunset-gloomed air from the distant forest. My gaze lifted across the pastures, and I pulled my jacket tighter around my shoulders. The dogs on the hill were silent, and I shivered when I realized they weren't in their kennel.

Okay, I didn't have a valid driver's license anymore, but no one had stopped me, and I wasn't about to ask Ivy to drive me out here to Trent's stables. It had been hard enough slipping out of the church without Jenks knowing. Trent's note hadn't said to come alone, but the fact that he'd written it down, not said it where Jenks could hear, was telling.

Arms swinging, I walked silently across the sawdust parking lot to the stables. Ivy would say I was a fool for coming out here. Jenks would have a fit. Pierce... I smiled as I fingered the contraception amulet around my neck in case shifting twice in quick succession hadn't prevented pregnancy. Pierce would have wanted to come with me, and he had a grudge against the man. I was trying to see Trent as an adult, and for some reason, it was easier now that I remembered him as a kid.

Hoping I wasn't being more of an idiot than Ivy would say I was, I pushed open the stable's door. The scent of clean hay and oiled leather spilled out, and my shoulders relaxed. I couldn't help but wonder what Trent wanted. Band together to get Nick, maybe?

"Hello?" I called, seeing the stables dim but for the usual security lights.

"Back here," Trent's voice rose softly, and my gaze shifted to midway down the long stables where a lanternlike flashlight hung in the aisle.

We're alone? I could tell just from his voice that we were. Unsure, I stepped inside and shut the door. The air in here was warm, a sharp contrast to the cool, damp air rising into fog in the pastures. My boots clunked as I walked past the empty stalls, and I felt a flush of embarrassment when I found Trent in with Tulpa over the trapdoor to his tunnel. He was brushing the horse down, and Tulpa shuffled forward, hanging his head over the side and shoving me. "Hey, big guy," I said, rubbing his neck in self-defense, almost.

Trent straightened, watching me. His eyes were dark in the dim light, and he looked really, really good in his English riding outfit, the trousers tucked in his boots and a cap on his fair hair. "He likes you," he said, watching Tulpa nose me.

"He always has." Smiling, I stepped out of the horse's reach.

Trent took the horse's bridle, and seeing him angle to the gate, I opened it up. "Got your boots on, I see," he said cryptically, and I looked at them, seeing their newness.

"That's what you said." Why was I out here? Did he want to go for a ride? Take me out to the woods and shoot me? Oh God. Where are the dogs?

Trent tied Tulpa to a post beside a rack of saddles. "You probably don't know how to ride English, do you?" he asked, and when I didn't answer, he turned to find me in the middle of the aisle, my face cold.

"We've got western," he said, and I backed up a step.

"I'm not going riding with you," I said, unwrapping my arms so I could move.

"Why?" he asked lightly. "I know you're not afraid of horses." "I'm not going riding with you!" I shouted, and Tulpa tossed his head. "Your dogs are out of their kennel!" Oh God. I had to get out of here.

I spun, striding away. "Rachel."

"Nice try, Trent," I said, feeling for my keys. "Rachel."

He touched me, and I turned, finding him three feet back, his hands raised in placation. Damn, he was fast. "I'm not going to let you get me on a horse so you can lure me into the woods and hunt me like an animal!" I shouted, not caring if I sounded scared. I was.

"No," he said, voice calm. "That's not what this is about."

Shaking, I forced my arms from around myself. "What is it then?"

Trent sighed, shifting his weight to one foot. "It's the new moon," he said. "You're late. Ceri and Quen are already out there. I was waiting for you."

I tossed my hair, my stomach clenching. "For what?" "To ride, of course."

I exhaled, shaking. "What makes you think I want to ride down a fox and watch dogs tear it apart? I've been on the other end of this game, Trent, and it's - "

"It's not a fox," Trent said grimly, crossing the aisle and getting out a second, brown horse with a beautiful black mane and tail.
"I thought you might want to take part. Seeing as, well..." He hesitated, the horse snuffling behind him. "I will not be crossed, Rachel. I want to count you as... well, not a friend, exactly. Maybe a business associate. And a hunt is one way to cement ties."

"What are you hunting?" I asked, scared for an entirely different reason. "Trent? Answer me."

Trent led the brown horse past me, her hooves clopping on the old wood. "It's not a what, it's a who."

Oh. My. God. "Nick?" I said, eyes wide.

Jerking, Trent seemed to reassess his thoughts. "No. He vanished right out of a very secure cell. Jumped a line is our best guess." He looked at me questioningly. "I take it you didn't pull him out?"

I shook my head, arms around myself as I thought that through. "How long have you known I can shift realities with a ley line?" I asked.

Trent grimaced, appearing embarrassed. "I've been trying to get into my father's vault since he died, Rachel," he said, the rims of his ears going red. "I didn't even know I could do it until Nick suggested you could."

Oh, that was damn peachy keen, and I couldn't help but wonder who Nick had been taking to. Minias? Newt? Both of them knew my history. Dali? God, I hoped not.

My head turned and a shudder passed through me as I heard a distant horn. Heart pounding, I paced to where Trent was calmly saddling the brown mare with a western saddle. "Who is out there?" I asked, and when his jaw clenched, I breathed, "Jonathan."

The man gave me a sideways look, fingers never stilling as he cinched the girth. Still not answering me, Trent handed me the reins, then untied his horse and led it to the second, much larger door that opened up onto the paddock. I stood there, thinking. "Tell me that's not Jonathan," I called after him.

"I'm telling you it's not Jonathan!" he shouted back, then stopped in the doorway. "If you don't want to ride the Hunt, we can go over the pastures, but it's a new moon, and I'm getting on a horse."

I remembered his anger in the FIB interrogation room when he told me Jonathan had used Trent's work to try to kill me. I didn't believe him. Slowly I tightened my grip. My feet moved, and the horse - I didn't even know her name - followed me with eager steps. But when I reached the opening, I paused.

Trent sat bareback atop Tulpa, looking like he belonged there. The sun had gone down behind him, making the still-bright sky pink and blue. Fog was rising from the damp hills, and I breathed it in, feeling the cool all the way to the bottom of my lungs. According to my dad, to ride with elves meant abandoning your life, to possibly become lost forever. The faint baying of the hounds pricked the horses' ears, and Tulpa stomped impatiently. A shiver went through me.

"Why are you doing this?" I asked, scared.

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