“I need to look at the situation from a scientific standpoint. There has to be a formula. X+Y = the birth of a witch. But what is it? And how many lives will be lost before I figure out what the X and Y variables are?” ~Jewel
Four months earlier
Jewel stared out the window of the hotel room. She hadn’t gotten much sleep the previous night. Understandable, considering she’d been dropped off in Los Angeles with no more information than ‘Hey, make witches or die.’ Her mind wouldn’t shut off. She thought about Dalton and what he must be thinking and feeling since she’d left him—again. She thought about Anna and how she’d betrayed the poor girl by turning her into a witch. She thought about the two warlocks who acted more like friends than guards and wondered how exactly they fit into the grand scheme of things. They didn’t seem like the type to just willingly follow someone like Volcan. Jewel thought about her mom and whether she was okay. She thought about the other healers still in the pixie realm and wondered whether or not Peri would be able to get them out. Then she wondered if they should come out because, if they did, they would be vulnerable to capture by Volcan.
The worries and fears were never ending. And on top of all those concerns, she had to figure out how to turn innocent women into witches. After all, she couldn’t just walk up to perfect strangers and say, “I’ve got a proposition for you. I make you a witch, and then you serve a dark, sociopathic fae who wants to take over the world. Oh and, by the way, all those supernatural beings in books? Yeah, they’re real. So, want to jump on board?” Nope, she probably wouldn’t get any takers.
“Do you feel it?”
Jewel had been so lost in thought that Anna’s voice coming from behind her made her jump. “You mean his magic?”
“Yes. I can feel it moving inside of me, like it’s urging me on.”
Jewel nodded. “He said it would do that. He said we would feel compelled to make the witches, that the power inside of us was designed specifically for that purpose and would demand to be used,” Jewel explained, her gut twisting tighter and tighter as she remembered Volcan’s words.
“It’s a bit annoying.”
Jewel laughed. “That’s an understatement.” She heard Anna moving, so she turned around to face her and saw the other girl had climbed back up on the bed and was sitting cross-legged. Her elbows were resting on her knees, and her fingers were pressed together forming a steeple.
“I’ve been thinking,” Anna said. “And you can totally shut me down if you don’t agree with this. But we have to find women to turn into witches. And I’m pretty sure walking up and down Rodeo Drive is not the answer. We need to find people who are … outside the mainstream of society. People who immediately run the other way when we start talking. And I think I might have a couple of ideas that could work. What if we went out to some nightclubs in Los Angeles. I’m sure there are some underground places that cater to a crowd that has different tastes than the normal, high-profile clubs. Maybe in one of these underground places, we could find some women who are open to the idea of the supernatural? That’s the first idea. The other thing I was thinking was that we could look up some occult shops. A lot of the occult shops are owned by self-proclaimed witches, which we obviously know now can’t possibly be true. But maybe we can work some sort of angle with them.”
Jewel let out a breath she hadn’t even realized she’d been holding. “Anna, you’re brilliant.”
“I’m pretty sure you’re the genius in the room,” Anna replied.
“Maybe in some ways, but sometimes I miss the simple answers because I’m too busy trying to overcomplicate the issue,” Jewel admitted.
“Don’t be too hard on yourself, Jewel,” Anna said gently. “You’ve been through a lot in the past few months. You can’t expect your brain to function at its full potential when it’s under such a huge amount of stress.”
Jewel let out a small huff of laughter. “Again, a brilliant observation and explanation on your part.”
There was a knock on the door that joined their room with Sly and Z’s. Jewel walked over to it while contemplating the two warlocks. They had been nice so far, and even seemed to try and put the girls at ease whenever possible. But Jewel had noticed a melancholy sadness that overtook their faces when they thought no one was looking. It was this look that gave Jewel some hope that the pair wasn’t really in league with the evil fae. But even if they weren’t on Volcan’s side, that didn’t mean they were on Team Healer either. She unlocked and opened the door. The two, large males were standing inches from the door with a pair of identical grins plastered on their faces.
“What, exactly, are you two so happy about?” Anna asked, sounding a little wary.
“Are you kidding?” Z asked. “We are in Los Angeles, the city that never sleeps.”
“I thought that was Las Vegas,” Jewel said.
“Las Vegas, Los Angeles, really what’s the difference?” Sly asked.
“Are you guys planning a sightseeing day?” Jewel asked.
Z and Sly looked at each other, and the expressions on their faces made Jewel feel as though they were dealing with two teenage boys let loose on their own for the first time, rather than two powerful adult supernatural beings.
“We just assumed all work and no play makes witches grumpy all the long day,” Z answered. The smug grin on his face made it obvious he was quite proud of his little rhyme.
“Okay, first of all,” Anna said, her face scrunched up as she shook her head, “Never do that again. Warlocks do not make silly rhymes. I’m pretty sure it’s in some ancient book somewhere. Second, we have work to do, and if we don’t get it done, we will be gypsy healer stew, brewing in Volcan’s cauldron. So, you two”—she pointed at one and then the other—“need to get with the witch-production program.”
Jewel grinned at Anna. “I’ve never seen you so take charge.”
Anna raised her hands palm up in a what-can-you-do sort of gesture. “When there’s someone else who wants to be in charge, I’m totally okay with letting them take the reins. If no one steps up, I’m willing because I do not like feeling lost or unsure. I need plans and direction. I mean, if you’d rather—”
Jewel cut her off. “No, no. I’m more the behind-the-scenes, researching nerd who attempts to avoid physical confrontation as much as possible. In short, I’m a follower.”
One of the warlocks cleared his throat. “So, do you two Wheelers have some sort of plan for this witch-production program?”
“Here we go with that word again,” responded Jewel. “Yes, we are both witches and healers, but Wheelers? C’mon on.”
“If the shoe fits,” retorted Sly.
“As a matter of fact, we do,” Anna offered. “Just need to do a bit of research, which I vote we do over breakfast.”
“I second that vote,” Sly said, raising his hand.
“And clean clothes would be nice, too,” Jewel added.
“So breakfast, planning, shopping,” Z confirmed.
Jewel and Anna nodded and followed the two males out of the motel room.
They hadn’t walked more than a quarter of a mile when they came to the first fast-food place—a burger joint. It looked less than appealing to Jewel, but then, they were sort of in a hurry and, she didn’t have time to be picky about the food.
Jewel began to speak. “Did you know fast food restaurants have—”
Anna held up her hand. “If you give me some fact about how gross, unsanitary, or unsavory fast food restaurants are that is going to make me want to puke, then I’m going to have to put a spell on you.”
“Theme song,” Z and Sly sang at the same time. “I put a spell on you.”
Jewel was quickly figuring out that they would have to ignore the warlocks at times in order to keep from encouraging their Weasley-brother antics. It struck her as funny that there she was comparing them to Harry Potter when she and Anna were indeed real-life witches. Pot, meet kettle.
Anna couldn’t stop wondering what it was Jewel was going to say. She stared up at the menu, trying to determine what food would be the safest to eat. A sausage patty at least was cooked on the stove so that probably killed all the germs, right? By the time it was her turn to order, she still didn’t have a clue what she wanted so she just said a number. “I’ll take a number six, with a soda to drink.” She stepped away from the counter without looking up at what she’d ordered and tried to ignore the employees making the food. She figured it would just be safer for everyone involved that she remained oblivious.
When they were all seated with trays of food in front of them, she discovered she’d order the chicken biscuit and decided it was acceptable. Hopefully the grease it was fried in was at least under a year old.
“So, let’s hear this plan.” Z spoke up just before biting into some sort of breakfast biscuit containing meat she couldn’t identify.
“Do you have a cell phone?” Anna asked him.
“Actually, I have one for each of you.”
Jewel’s eye’s widened. “He’s letting us have phones?”
Sly shook his head. “The phones are from us. We figured if we got separated at any point, we’d need a way to contact each other.”
“Ah,” Jewel said, looking as surprised as Anna felt. Sly and Z were a mystery. Working for an evil fae, but so far, not showing any real loyalty. She wondered what their angle was.
They both took the phones Z handed them. Anna immediately pulled up the internet and began searching for night-clubs near her. She took screenshots of the ones that looked promising, and then she did a search of occult and New Age shops. She took screenshots of those as well and then set her phone down so she could eat.
“We want to go to some night clubs that cater to a darker crowd and also some occult shops. A lot of those shops are run by self-styled witches. We know they aren’t, of course, but they might be open to gaining real power.”
Both warlocks looked impressed. “So, when we go shopping we need to make sure and get you some club clothes,” Sly said, waggling his eyebrows at them.
“Remember we have werewolf mates,” Jewel said, smiling sweetly.
Both their smiles fell. “That totally takes the fun out of this,” Z grumbled.
They finished their breakfast in relative silence, with the warlock twins occasionally making comments about what they hoped the clubs would be like. Anna was beginning to think they should figure out a way to go to the clubs without the Duke brothers.
An hour and several cab rides later, both Anna and Jewel held a couple bags each of clothes, toiletry essentials, and necessities for the nightclubs, namely, make-up and fake piercings. The fake piercings had been Z’s idea, and his grin had been a little too devious for Anna’s liking.
They found another motel and rented a couple of rooms. They’d narrowed their options down to two clubs. However, if they found someone at the first location, then they would probably forego the second place.
“So, which one first?” Jewel asked Anna. “Pure Indulgence or The Snake Pit?”
“Indulgence,” answered Anna as she pulled on the black skirt she’d bought for the night’s activities. “The Snake Pit just sounds … scary.”
“We are making witches, here,” Jewel responded. “Maybe we need scary.”
“I’ll make nice witches, thank you very much. If Volcan wants scary witches, then he’ll have to make them himself.” Once Anna had pulled her skirt all the way on, she frowned at herself in the mirror. “I feel like this was longer in the store when I tried it on.”
“It looks good,” Jewel said as she walked in a circle around Anna. “It’s a little short, but not … give-the-world-a-show short.”
Jewel slipped on the dress she’d purchased. It was a deep green that complimented her red hair and clung to every curve. The material was incredibly soft to the touch. It had a plunging neck line with an Elizabethan collar that rose up in the back, framing her neck.
“Are you nervous?” Anna asked.
“Only because I know we are going to fail horribly and probably get murdered very painfully by a psychotic supernatural being. Statistics are not on our side. If I get into the math behind the likelihood of finding a girl that we can turn into a witch tonight without her thinking we are crazy, then, yes, I’m very nervous. Also, I feel like a weirdo going and searching for someone to turn into a witch.”
“Well, I’m pretty sure it puts us on the weirdo scale, and pretty high up there,” Anna pointed out.
Once Anna had her top and shoes on, she spun in a slow circle for Jewel. “What do you think? Am I club ready?”
“Definitely,” Jewel said with a smile. “Really wish we were just going out as friends with no agenda. I never had friends to go do stuff with.”
“I understand, Jewel. I didn’t have friends either. I was too busy trying to get through school, run my mom’s store, and make sure I had food in the refrigerator. I didn’t want anyone getting too close because I was worried they would find out how much my mom was gone and call social services on her.”
“I don’t think any of our group has had it easy. Maybe that’s why the Great Luna picked us. Maybe she needed healers who had endured hardship in order to understand those who might need our help.”
Anna nodded. “If that’s the reason, then I can live with it and not wish that I’d had something different growing up.”
There was a knock on the motel door, and Anna blew out a big breath, puffing her cheeks. “You ready to do this?”
“Absolutely not,” Jewel answered.
“Excellent. Unprepared and scared is how I roll.” Anna opened the door and shook her head at Z and Sly. “Did you guys get kicked out of the warlock group because you’re not right in the head?” she asked them. They were dressed head to toe in leather. Both had put on eyeliner and fake piercings. Anna didn’t know whether to laugh or lock them in the motel room and go without them.
“Alright then,” Jewel said with a sigh. “If that’s what we’ve got to work with, we’ll just have to make do.”
“Or we could leave them here,” Anna whispered.
“Hey,” Sly said, his brows scrunched up on his forehead. “We’re standing right here.”
“I know,” Anna said dryly.
“You need us to go with you,” Z said. “What if you run into some guys who don’t understand the meaning of no? We’re your muscle.”
“Fine,” Anna grumbled.
They haled a cab and told the cabbie where they wanted to go. He didn’t even bat an eye at how they were dressed. Anna guessed he was used to seeing outlandish things. Her eyes widened as she looked out of the cab window at the famous city. The bright lights of Los Angeles were pretty, but she would never pick it over her native New Orleans.
Gradually, as the cab continued on its way, the lights began to fade, and they were swallowed in the growing darkness. Anna felt her heart beating a little faster as she looked out the back window to see they were driving further and further from the lights.
Just when she was about to ask the driver where they were, a sign lit up the darkness. Letters in red declared the dark building to be Pure Indulgence. There were cars parked across the street, a lot of cars she hadn’t noticed. There was a line to get in, though it wasn’t too long.
The cab stopped, and the four of them climbed out. Sly took care of the fare, and then they were standing shoulder to shoulder staring at the club entrance. The people lined up waiting were dressed very similar to what they were wearing, only tighter, shorter, and covering even less skin.
“Looks like we got the dress code right,” Anna said.
Z wrapped an arm around Anna’s shoulders and began walking them to the end of the line. Sly did the same with Jewel.
When Anna started to pull away, Z leaned closer to whisper to her. “I’m not hitting on you, Little Annie. I’m protecting you. You and Jewel have already caught the eye of more than a couple of the men in this line.”
Anna’s mouth opened in to an O, and she nodded. “Gotcha.”
The line moved quickly, and within a matter of minutes, they were just a few people away from the bouncer. Anna noticed the woman at the front of the line pulled an ID from her bra. Crap. “We don’t have ID,” she told Z.
He dropped his arm from her shoulder and reached into his back pocket. He pulled out a wallet, and inside were two driver’s licenses—one for her and one for him. She saw that Sly was doing the same thing, handing Jewel her own identification.
“Thanks,” she told Z.
He shrugged. “That’s what we’re here for.”
Anna didn’t say anything in return. She had a feeling the warlocks were with them for a lot more than just protection. There was something deeper going on, but she couldn’t guess what.
When it was their turn, Anna held her breath as she watched Jewel hand the bouncer her license. She needn’t have worried. The burly doorman barely glanced at it. Instead, he took her in from toe to head. Appearing satisfied, he made a subtle motion with his head for Jewel and Sly to go inside. He repeated the process when she and Z presented their own IDs. Apparently, she, too passed the visual pat down, because they were both ushered inside behind their friends.
The darkness immediately enveloped them. The foursome walked through a dark, winding hallway that seemed to go on forever. Finally, Anna saw flashing colored lights and began to hear the beat of a loud bass. The hallway ended in a set of swinging doors, and when Z pushed them open, the group was hit with a blast of sound, bright colors, and swaying bodies.
“Whoa,” Anna whispered.
“It’s a little overwhelming, isn’t it?” Jewel said, coming up beside her and leaning in close so she could be heard.
Z took Anna’s hand while Sly took Jewel’s and led them further into the mass of humanity. They moved to the bar and found two empty stools. Anna and Jewel sat while Sly and Z stood protectively next to them.
“What now?” Anna asked.
Jewel pursed her lips as she slowly scanned the room. “We find a girl who looks lonely. Someone that no one here would notice leaving.”
It didn’t take long until Anna and Jewel both noticed a brunette sitting by herself at a table on the far right side of the room. They watched her for a half hour and no one sat with her or approached her. She looked bored, but Anna could see past the boredom to the loneliness in her eyes.
“Sly,” Jewel said. “Go hit on her.”
Z stepped forward quickly. “I should probably be the one to do the honors. Sly’s a bit rusty when it comes to the ladies.” Z looked quite eager to take over the job.
“He does know he isn’t really hitting on her, right?” Anna asked.
Sly chuckled. “Maybe, but that doesn’t mean he won’t enjoy it.”
Fifteen minutes later, Z was walking back toward them with the woman’s arm wrapped in his. Anna smiled at the girl and held out her hand. “Hi, I’m Anna.”
The girl smiled back hesitantly and took Anna’s hand. “I’m Amy,” the girl said.
Jewel held out her hand next. “I’m Jewel, and this is Sly.”
Amy shook their hands and then stood there shifting from foot to foot, chewing on her bottom lip.
“Are you waiting on someone?” Anna asked.
She shook her head. “I just needed a night out. It’s been a rough month.”
“Breakup?” Sly asked gently.
“Is it that obvious?” Amy asked.
“You just look like you could use a friend,” Jewel said quickly.
“You’re welcome to hang out with us,” Anna added, wondering if she sounded like the witch with the apple from Snow White. She sure as heck felt like her.
Amy seemed to think about that for several minutes. Anna nearly let out a relieved sigh when Amy nodded and said, “Okay, that sounds good.”
“We’re going to check out some other scenes,” Z said and started walking toward the exit, Amy in tow. Anna, Jewel, and Sly followed. Anna wondered if they felt as nervous as she did.
They hailed another taxi, a minivan. As they climbed in, Jewel looked down at her phone and began searching for something. When Anna glanced over, she could see Jewel was looking for industrial buildings for sale in Los Angeles.
“Could you take us to 4500 Track Street?” Jewel asked.
The cabbie looked at her in the rearview mirror as if she’d lost her mind, but then nodded.
Sly kept Amy distracted by whispering something in her ear, but Anna couldn’t guess what. Whatever it was, the girl liked it, as evidenced by her giggling, blushing, and playfully smacking his leg. Anna never understood girls who would fall all over a guy simply because he said the right things. Didn’t they want someone who had more substance than pretty words?
The taxi came to a stop, and Jewel opened the door. Each of them climbed out, and Z paid the cabbie. He drove off as though the hounds of hell were chasing him.
Amy, no longer lost to Sly’s charms, looked around, her eyes growing wider and wider. “Why are we here?”
Here appeared to be a huge plot of land crowded with industrial buildings nearly stacked on top of each other.
“We needed privacy,” Jewel said coolly.
Anna glanced at her friend, taken aback at how unemotional her voice had been.
When Amy started to back up, Jewel snatched her arm. Her hand began to glow as she spoke. “You will come with us. You will be calm. We don’t want to harm you.”
Amy nodded, her eyes looking a bit unfocused.
“What did you do?” Anna asked.
“Just influenced her with my magic,” Jewel said.
“We can do that?”
Jewel shrugged. “I kind of figured we might be able to do something like that, considering we basically coerce the body to heal itself when we work our magic in a good way.
“Okay.” Z clapped his hands together and then rubbed them like an eager child. “Pick a building, any building.”
“That one should do.” Jewel motioned to the nearest one.
Sly and Z managed to kick in the door and, after going in and checking things out, came back outside and bowed dramatically. “After you, ladies,” Sly said.
Inside, the building was one big, open area with some large crates stacked on one side. The floor was concrete and covered in what looked like oil stains and paint. The air was musty and left a gritty taste in Anna’s mouth. They walked further in, and Jewel directed Amy over to a stack of crates that was low enough the girl could sit on. As she felt the magic rising up inside her, Jewel noticed one of her fingernails sharpening and growing. The same thing had happened when she’d used the spell on Anna. She reached for Anna’s hand and slashed across it, drawing blood. Then she took Amy’s hands and slashed each palm. Her own palm was the last she cut. Jewel wrapped her uncut hand around Anna’s uncut one. “Now, with your other hand take Amy’s hand and press your palms tightly together,” Jewel told her as she did the same with her own hand and Amy’s free hand. She tightened her grip so that their palms were pressed tightly together.
“Should I be concerned?” Amy asked, her words slightly slurred. Jewel knew whatever magic was inside of her was already working on the woman.
Once all three of them had joined hands, Jewel closed her eyes. Anna looked down at Amy, whose eyes had widened a little. “I’m sorry,” Anna whispered.
Jewel began the same chant she’d recited when she’d done this very thing to Anna. Wind blew around them, even though they were inside the building, and the walls seemed to tremble as Jewel spoke.
“Wind, Water, Earth, and Fire,
Hear my voice, obey my desire.
Welcome us with open arms.
Teach us of power and of charms.
The craft has called to us.
Fate has chosen us.
Now we come, embrace us.
Here we stand, protect us.
Fire, Earth, Water, and Wind,
Pour your power deep within.
Teach us so we may share.
Help us draw more into your care.
Wind, Water, Earth, and Fire,
Hear my voice, obey my desire.
Amy heeds your command.
Anna and I, with her stand.”
As soon as she’d said the last word, dark smoke flew out of Anna and Jewel’s hands. It blanketed Amy’s skin, absorbing into her flesh. When it was completely gone, Anna attempted to let go of Amy’s hand, but she couldn’t. She couldn’t release Jewel’s hand either.
“Jewel, what’s going on?”
Jewel was pulling back on her hand as well. “I don’t know. I did it exactly as I did yours. I don’t get—” Her words were cut off by a gasp of air.
Anna gasped as well as pain shot up her arm. Her eyes closed of their own accord as she felt something forcing its way into her mind and her body.
“JEWEL!” Anna yelled. She could hear Z and Sly calling out to them, but she couldn’t open her eyes to see them. “What’s happening?” As she asked the question, Anna began to see images in her mind. Images of Amy in different places, doing different things at different ages. Were these her memories?
“I’m so sorry.” Anna heard Jewel say.
“Sorry for what?” Anna asked.
“For taking her life.”
Anna felt alarm run down her spine. “What?”
“We are absorbing her soul, her essence. That’s why we are seeing her memories.”
“Why can’t we let go of her?”
“I’m not sure. I just know that I killed her.” Jewel sobbed. “I took away her life.”