A Magical Reckoning Sample Chapter

By Any Other Name

 Chapter 1

The Scope agency buzzed with eager officers, all putting in extra hours, desperate to make a name for themselves. Scope only dealt with major and specialized crimes.

Which meant if you solved the right case here, it could put you miles above your pay grade.

None of that mattered to me, though. The only thing I wanted after the day I’d had, was to go home, have a nice bath, and unwind. I should have known it wouldn’t be that easy.

Drena, who’d been on the force a few years longer than me, shut down her computer and turned my way, brown curly hair falling in her face as she did so. “You catch that fly boy, Rye?” she asked, inquiring about the case I’d been working on for the last couple of days.

   I picked up my bag and tossed it over my shoulder. “Yeah, found him at the top of Estes, sent Garrett to bring his ass down.” Estes was one of the tallest buildings in our town.

   She laughed, a victorious grin on her face. That was the thing about Drena, a win for one of us, meant a win for all.

It’s what made her such a great agent and one of my top mentors. “Guess he didn’t know we had a dragon on the force.”

   I nodded, pleased with myself. “I guess not.”

Jerald, who had fly DNA, had escaped to the top of Estes, thinking my skunk ass wouldn’t be able to catch him.

Too bad for him, my buddy Garrett had only been ten minutes away. Garrett had dragon blood, enough said.

On my way home I stopped by Mia’s, my favorite pizza parlor. They had the best food in town, and Scope agents got a ten percent discount.

 No better place to eat, if you asked me. Since I’d missed my lunch chasing Jerald around, I opted for a large, extra anchovy, double pepperoni, triple cheese pizza.

My mouth went dry as the delicious smell of garlic and sauce filled up the car and made it impossible for me to wait. As soon as I came to a stoplight, I flipped open the box and dug in.

Hmmm. The cheese was so damn gooey that half of it slid back into the carton. I loved when it did that and hurriedly snatched it up.

 So what if I burned my tongue and the roof of my mouth? It was worth it. Fresh pizza, straight from the oven, was always worth it.

  The only thing I needed now was a six pack and my night would be complete.

I pulled up to EZStop, the convenient store around the corner from where I lived. I made sure to finish off the rest of the slice before getting out of the car.

Beer in hand, I came out of the store, and stopped cold, taking in the sight before me.

My passenger door was open, and a tall, well-built man, who looked to be around twenty-eight, with shaggy hair, and clothes that looked like they hadn’t been washed in about a century, stood eating his heart out.

“Hey,” I shouted, dropping my bag, and tackling him to the ground.

He’d been so focused on the food, that he hadn’t even seen me coming. “Please don’t spray me. Please don’t spray me.”

 He placed his arms in front of his face as if to protect himself from my toxicity.

I let him go and stood. “I’m not going to hurt you, you idiot, but what the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“I was hungry.” He said it like that was supposed to explain everything.

I crossed my arms and leveled him with a blank stare.

He had the nerve to look sheepish, his eyes straying anywhere but to me. I counted to three, promising myself I wouldn’t strangle him.

After the day I’d had, the only thing I wanted was to go home and relax. The last thing I wanted to do was deal with a food thief. I decided to go. “Just take it. I’ll get myself another.”

He grunted, and then quickly jumped to his feet. “But I came here for you! Your name’s Rye, right?”

I took a step back. “Who are you?”

He stared longingly at the pizza box. The slice he’d been eating was now ground into the road.

I waved my hand toward the car, letting him know he could go ahead and get another piece.

Why the hell not? Something told me my night was already ruined.

He didn’t answer my question, just snatched up another slice, and crammed it in his mouth.

It was disgusting to watch, and I turned my head, trying to give him a bit of privacy. “I’m not going to take it from you.” I thought I should let him know.

His jaws worked overtime, as he tried to talk through a mouth full of food. “Do you really think I can understand you like that?” I asked.

He swallowed the rest and pointed across the parking lot to where I’d dropped my bag when I’d first come out of the store. “Can I have one of those beers?”

“Oh sure, how about a foot massage while we’re at it. Maybe some peppermint tea?”

He smiled as if I was serious. “I’ll take one of those square chocolates on my pillow, and I much prefer backrubs. I don’t much like my feet being messed with.”

I suppressed a chuckle, not wanting to give him any leeway. “Look, dude, what do you want? It’s been a long day, and that spot in front of my TV’s calling me.”

His features turned grave, and I felt the mood shift from playful to alarming in an instant. He reached into his pocket, and pulled out a long silver chain, with a shiny skunk foot on it.

My heart caught in my throat as I stared at the item in front of me. “Got this from a skunk named Cam. He needs your help.”

I snatched it from him and ran my hand over the cool metal making sure the inscription was still there. I’d given it to Cam for his birthday last year, and as far as I knew, he hadn’t taken it off since.

The first thing I did was call Cam’s phone, but of course it went straight to voicemail. Shit.

 My hand shook as I placed the chain in my pocket and readied myself for what I was about to hear. “Where is he?” I asked, my voice barely above a whisper.

“Drake has him.”

My eyes went wide and I had to lean up against my car for support. That was absolutely the worst thing he could have possibly said to me.

Drake ran one of the biggest drug operations this side of the hemisphere. I’d been working his case for the last nine months and was just starting to make progress.

He’d come on the scene three years ago, and had been relentless in hunting down his top competitors and taking them out, whole crews at a time.

Skunk oil was his top moneymaker, and he needed skunks like myself and Cam to get it.

Taking the fat from the lateral glands in our backs, and then heating it past the boiling point, made for a product consumers were willing to pay thousands for.

I shuddered as I thought about it. The whole process was painful, and it often took days for our bodies to replace what had been taken.

It ranged from us being unable to get out of bed because of the pain and loss of energy, to being completely paralyzed for months. A real fear for anyone with skunk DNA.

The oil had a ton of healing properties. People put it on their skin to protect from the cold and they also used it as a moisturizer.

Got a cold? Rub it on your chest, throat, and nose, to relax the airways and break up the mucus.

 People with arthritis, or broken bones, found it especially useful, as it not only healed them but also took the pain away.

Men rubbed it on their penises and could orgasm for hours.

 Women did the same with their vaginas and had the exact same results. It was even used as a contraceptive in some circles.

Heat it to a certain level, and it would get you high as a kite, so high that you wouldn’t come down for days.

Kidnapping was a crime punishable by jail time, but kidnapping those of us with skunk DNA and forcibly removing our oil, was a death sentence.

If the perpetrators were found guilty, they would spend the rest of their lives in jail, with no chance of ever tasting freedom again.

I turned back to my new friend. “What’s your name?” I didn’t want to keep calling him dude.

“Jax, and I barely got away. Cam was being held down at the time. I couldn’t save us both.”

I immediately grew suspicious. “You’re not a skunk. What did Drake want with you?”

 He wiped sauce off his hands and onto his pants. “No, I’m not a skunk, but I can do this.” He picked up a slice and raised his hand over top it.

The pizza shook and wobbled and then a small dollop of olive oil popped onto his finger. “See? I can reach into your glands and pull the fat out, undiluted, and completely intact. Few can do that, and Drake knows it.”

I watched him wide eyed and impressed. I’d never seen anything like that before. I bit the inside of my jaw hard, trying to suppress the fear steadily rising in my gut.

The only thing this did was add even more profit and efficiency to the whole skunk oil business. “How many of us does he have?”

Jax pushed the pizza out of the way and took a seat on the passenger side. “I don’t have an exact number. Besides, he didn’t keep us all in the same place.”

Shit. I took a deep breath and steeled myself for an answer I may not have been able to deal with. “How was Cam when you left? Is he… Did they… Is he still alive?”

To even have to ask that question hurt me more than words could describe, and I readied myself for his response.  

He nodded, and I closed my eyes in relief. Cam was… well, Cam meant everything to me. He was my best friend, had been since we were kids.

There was nothing we wouldn’t do for each other, and there was nothing that was going to stop me from finding him and bringing him back home.

Cam already knew I’d tear this world apart just to keep him safe. For now, I needed information. “How long have they had him, and how did you escape?”

“They kept us in cages.” He swallowed hard. “Drake’s lackeys would take me out, three, four times a day to extract the oil. I’d never seen Cam before, but when they came to get me this last time, he was on his knees, his hands in restraints. The silver chain was at his feet, and they were taunting him with it. Saying stuff like, ‘If Rye could see you now she’d have the whole Scope team here,’ and holding the chain up, asking ‘Didn’t Rye give you this? Holy shit! What would she say if she saw me holding it?’”

He stopped talking and took a breath. “Drake got a phone call and stepped into the next room. That left only two men guarding myself and Cam. I took them out easily, but before I could get to Cam more men came. So, I snatched the chain up and promised him I’d find you before I escaped.”

They probably kept him chained not only to hold him in place once the pain hit but also to control the thiols, which would sometimes shoot out when we were being drained.

Thiols was what those of us with skunk DNA used to protect ourselves against would be attackers.

That awful inhuman smell could clear a room in seconds, as well as choke the life out of any adversary.

We could also turn it sweet and have you groveling at our feet. That one we didn’t use often, because it caused a breakdown that left us without thiols for days, until our supplies built up again.

Right now, I felt it racing through my veins in a quest for vengeance. Someone had taken my best friend, and they were damned sure going to pay.

I turned to Jax because there was something in his answer that just didn’t sit well with me. “So, you just left him there? Saved your own ass and left him to rot.”

He ran a hand down his face, fingers resting on his lips before he answered. “If I’d stayed, I wouldn’t be standing here with you now, and you still wouldn’t know where Cam is.”

I didn’t understand everything that was going on, but for now, I wasn’t letting Jax out of my sight until I could find out more.

He had information about Cam’s whereabouts, and so I’d be damned if I was letting him go.

I picked up the bag I’d dropped and got in on the driver’s side. Jax dropped into the passenger seat and closed the door.

I waited until he hooked his seatbelt. “If you’re lying, or aided in his capture in any way...”

He ignored me completely, and instead of answering, popped open a can of beer and took a big gulp. “Ahhh.” He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “This is the good stuff. You did get my favorite.”

Incredulous, I stared at him. “Did you hear what I said?”

He drunk down some more. “I heard you.”

I shook my head and started the car. “Okay then, let’s go.”


I walked through the door of my small three-bedroom house, placing my keys on the counter.

Jax stood off to the side as if waiting for me to tell him what to do. Well, he needed to get cleaned up before he did anything. “I’ll find you something to wear.” I searched through the closet in the guest bedroom and threw together a decent shirt, pants combo.  

While in the back, I called Scope to let them know what was going on. I had them put agents on my house in case Jax wasn’t who he said he was, and I let them know that we needed to assemble a team to find Cam.

I walked back up the hall to find Jax was still in the same spot I’d left him. “Second room on the right. You should find everything you need in there. Get cleaned up, and then we can talk.” He caught sight of the clothes in my arms and smiled. “Oh, goody. I’ll just take these.” I handed the stuff over and then walked into the kitchen to tidy up.

The pizza had grown cold, the beer lukewarm. I placed them both in the fridge and pulled out a piece of baloney instead. Cam couldn’t stand the stuff, and holding it in my hand now, only made me think of him more.

I wiped my eyes and walked back into the living room. Just the thought that he was out there somewhere, alone and being hurt, left a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I tossed the baloney in the trash and took a seat on the couch. The only thing on my mind was Cam, and getting to him as quickly as I could. To do so I needed to be at my best, so I figured we’d get a decent night’s sleep here, and then head out first thing in the morning.

Jax came back up the hall about twenty minutes later, freshly scrubbed and clean shaven. He’d blow-dried his hair, and black locks reached almost to his shoulders. I tilted my head to the side as I stared at him. He looked good, and I knew under different circumstances, well let’s just say the night would have ended on an entirely different note.

He sat beside me and placed one of my throw pillows in his lap. “You know what we’re doing? Because I don’t.”

I turned weary eyes toward the ceiling, taking a moment to gather my patience. He sounded like we were discussing a school project, instead of trying to save my best friend’s life. “Remember how to get back to where you were held?”

He raised an eyebrow. “You think Drake and the others are still there?”

We were going there either way. “They probably left behind some clues. They always leave clues behind.”

His eyes shifted to the floor. “If you say so.” He didn’t exactly sound convinced.

Before I could respond my doorbell rang. Jax leaned over and peered out the window. He pointed outside. “Do you know him?”

I pulled back the curtain. It was Drew. One of my late-night friends. I’d promised him money for a new pair of shoes. “I got this.”

“Hey, baby.” He wrapped arms around me the moment I opened the door.

I pushed him away. “Not now. I’m busy.”

He started to argue but stopped once he saw Jax. His jaw tightened, and his voice came out hard and accusing. “Busy? That what they calling it now?”

I glared at him, because now really wasn’t the time. My best friend was missing and he wanted to play the jealous card. I riffled through my purse and pulled out eight twenties, thrusting them into his hand. It was time for him to go. “You would’ve gotten more if you hadn’t acted like an asshole.”

His eyes went wide, voice indignant “You got another dude in here and I’m the asshole?”

I opened the door. “I’ll talk to you later.” He stared at me hard for a second then turned his attention back to Jax.

I let out a slow breath, trying to keep my cool. I needed him gone. We had so much to do, and he was only wasting time. Anyway, he knew who I was. He was acting like a boyfriend and I didn’t have one. A couple of friends, yeah. But a boyfriend? Never.

Jax got a little more comfortable on the couch and spread his arms out. “We were just having pizza and beer. Her treat. She is generous, isn’t she?” He sounded mocking and from the glint in his eyes he knew it.

Drew’s nostrils flared, but I pushed him out the door before anything could happen. “Catch up with me in a few days. We’ll have a good time. I promise.” 

Jax watched me closely after he was gone. “You do get it in, don’t you? I like a woman who knows what she wants.”

Ignoring that completely, I pointed down the hall. “Guest room is second door on the right. The sheets are clean and the bed is made. Try to get some sleep. We pull out first thing in the morning.”

I was almost out of the living room, but at the last minute I turned back toward Jax. “I don’t know you, and right now I don’t trust you. The only reason that you’re here is so that I can keep an eye on you while we give my team time to get everything together to move in on Cam’s location. Don’t make me regret it. Oh, and if you come out of your room, alarms will sound. Just something for you to think about.”

Buy: A Magical Reckoning