Port Lewis, a coastal town perched on the Washington cliffs, is surrounded by dense woods, and is home to quaint coffee shops, a movie theater, a few bars, two churches, the local college, and witches, of course.
Ryder is a witch with two secrets—one about his blood and the other about his heart. Keeping the secrets hasn’t been a problem, until a tarot reading with his best friend, Liam Montgomery, who happens to be one of his secrets, starts a chain of events that can’t be undone.
Dark magic runs through Ryder’s veins. The cards have prophesized a magical catastrophe that could shake the foundation of Ryder’s life, and a vicious partnership with the one person he doesn’t want to risk.
Magic and secrets both come at a cost, and Ryder must figure out what he’s willing to pay to become who he truly is.
Brooklyn Ray © 2017
All Rights ReservedChapter One
Ryder flipped over the first card.
He flipped over the second card.
Liam watched him carefully. His hands were folded together, chin perched atop them like he might be praying. He tipped his head toward the cards on the table, gaze resting on the vibrant curved arcs of The Magician, a shadowy figure holding a scepter, his shape accented by a billowing red cloak. The card was faded and the edges torn, a testament to how often it’d been drawn.
How often Ryder had drawn it.
“So?” Liam prompted. His clear brown eyes flicked to Ryder.
“Nothing new,” Ryder said. It was the truth and it wasn’t. Ryder had pulled The Magician many, many times, but he’d never pulled it alongside The Tower.
Liam tilted his head and strands of chestnut hair fell over his brow. He sat back and pushed it out of his face, scrubbing a hand on the freshly shaved side of his head. They’d been friends for too long for Ryder not to know that gesture. It was frustration, the quiet, mellow kind that Liam had mastered over the last twenty-two years.
“That—” Liam pointed to The Tower “—is new.”
Ryder rolled his eyes. “C’mon then, Princess. It’s your deck, what does it mean?”
“Don’t call me that,” Liam snapped. He narrowed his eyes. Ryder heard the click-clack of his tongue ring bounce across his teeth, another Liam mannerism he’d become accustomed to since he joined the circle two years before. This one was a louder kind of frustration, a haughtier, angrier kind. “The Magician is a card of intellect. Yours is inverted, meaning you’ll be making an illogical decision soon. A…” He sighed through his nose and struggled to find the word. “A partnership, maybe, through magic. The Magician channels through his own body, meaning ownership of oneself. But it’s inverted, so you’ll be giving something away soon.”
Ryder licked his lips. Ownership of his body had been a struggle since he was a child, and he wasn’t looking forward to giving any part of it away.
Liam glanced at him. “The Tower is a card of sudden change. Chaos, even. This—” He tapped The Tower. “—with that—” He tapped The Magician. “—is a witch’s worst nightmare.”
“It doesn’t sound that bad,” Ryder said. “I’ll be having a sudden magical change soon. What’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing,” Liam said. He lifted his brows and slid the two cards off the table to shuffle them back into his deck. “If that’s how you want to look at it, that’s how it’ll be.”
“Let’s see what the cards have in store for you, Liam Montgomery,” Ryder said.
Liam’s eyes settled on him for a moment too long. Ryder’s gaze darted away, over the sharp edge of Liam’s cheekbone, the line of his jaw and slope of his nose. Sometimes Ryder wondered if Liam did it on purpose, if he tilted his head the way he did to catch Ryder’s attention, if he breathed the way he did, or smelled the way he did, or walked the way he did to distract Ryder from everything and everyone else.
“Where’s your deck?” Liam’s tongue clicked against the back of his teeth again.
Ryder huffed an annoyed sigh, embarrassed he’d been caught looking. “In my jacket behind you.”
Liam handed Ryder his jacket. The deck was in a maroon felt bag, tied shut with delicate matching strings. Ryder pulled the cards out, their black backs a stark contrast to his pale skin, and shuffled them. Magic stirred and hummed. It looped through his knuckles, invisible, thrumming heat, and Ryder imagined it sinking into every card. He thought of Liam, who sat across from him, watching intently. He imagined Liam’s mouth and the line of his broad shoulders, how his jeans hung low on his waist—stop. Ryder closed his eyes and redirected his thoughts to Liam’s magic, the strong course of Water inside him, waves breaking and the sound of a river flowing over rocks.
There. Ryder swallowed hard and handed Liam the deck. “Shuffle then draw two cards.”
Liam drew his cards and laid them on the table.
Something wicked lingered in the space between them. The air pulled away from whatever it was, as if the elements knew something the two boys didn’t. It crept under Ryder’s skin, nibbling at the darkness he’d kept at bay for years. It was getting harder and harder to control, and whatever this was, it wanted Ryder’s twisted, unnatural magic to make an appearance.
Ryder focused on the Fire inside him instead and nodded to Liam. “Go ahead.”
Liam flipped over the first card.
He flipped over the second card.
Liam’s breath hitched. He stared at the table, arms flexed and trembling beneath a tight-fitted black sweater. Heat darkened his cheeks and turned his tan skin the same color as Ryder’s maroon deck-pouch.
“Fatality,” Liam whispered.
“To ravage,” Ryder corrected gently. “To undergo extraordinary efforts. Don’t immediately jump to the cards worst meaning, Liam.”
“And—” Liam flicked his wrist toward The Lovers. “—I’m about to make a fool of myself, apparently. Right?”
“It’s not inverted, so no. You’re going to go through something dark and difficult.” Ryder tapped The Devil. “And it will either push you toward a new love, or it will be because of a new love. The Lovers can mean anything, you know that. It could be a partnership, a romance, a fucking…” Ryder shrugged and sighed. “A meaningless hookup.”
“You know it never means that.”
“Okay, but it could,” Ryder hissed.
“I’m about to do something terrible with someone,” Liam said. He looked at Ryder and shook his head. “Keep this between us?”
Ryder cocked his head. Liam never wanted to keep things from the others.
“Tyler will worry, so will Christy and Donovan.” Liam sighed. His bottom lip was white under the weight of his teeth. “Please?”
“You’ve never been one to break circle pacts,” Ryder said.
Liam’s lips thinned. “I haven’t, but you have.”
Ryder narrowed his eyes.
“Ryder.” Liam breathed his name, pleading in a way Ryder hadn’t heard before. Apologetic, almost.
He tilted his head and dragged his gaze from Liam’s pinched mouth to his feet. “Begging looks good on you.”
“Are you done?” Liam’s cheeks flushed darker. “Yes or no?”
“Fine,” Ryder said. His lips curved into a sly smile. “I’ll keep your dirty secret.”
Liam didn’t thank him. He shifted his gaze toward the candles on the other end of the coffee table and they went out, fizzling as if they’d been drowned. He sighed and pushed the two cards toward Ryder.
“Put them away. We’re meeting everyone in a half hour.” Liam’s bare feet on the worn wood floors in Ryder’s lackluster apartment was a familiar sound. He brushed past one of the many plants Ryder had littered throughout the living room, in baskets on top of the bookshelf on the far wall, in planters beside the entertainment stand, lined up in small pots on the kitchen counter. “Can I get a light?”
Liam plucked a bundle of sage out of a mason jar next to the sink. He walked back over and stood in front of Ryder, still seated on an ottoman in front of the coffee table. Liam held the charred end of the sage in front of Ryder’s mouth.
“Can you?” Ryder teased.
Liam rolled his eyes. “May I, English major.”
Ryder reached for the Fire buried deep in his veins, opened his mouth, and blew gently across the sage.
“Whatever showed up to watch my reading, I want it gone,” Liam said. Smoke drifted into the corners, over the table, all around. The window next to the front door was closed and the blinds were cinched shut, causing the tangy smell of it to fill the air. “Something about it wasn’t right.”
Ryder nodded. No, something about it wasn’t right. But he couldn’t say that, because Ryder shouldn’t have been able to sense it. That was Liam’s reading. Those were Liam’s cards.
Only people affected by the reading should’ve been able to feel what Liam felt.
But Ryder had sensed the wickedness. He’d felt its eyes on them, lurking above and around them, like a wraith with a crystal ball looking at their future before they’d lived it. Their future. He stood, turning from Liam to conceal the surprise on his face. Understanding slithered restlessly in his chest. He wrenched the blinds up and opened the window, shooing whatever strange entity hovered in the apartment out with the smoke.
Whatever it was, it had tethered them. Chills scaled Ryder’s arms.
The Magician. The Tower. The Devil. The Lovers.
A magical catastrophe brought about by a dark, vicious partnership.
Liam was probably right. They shouldn’t tell the others.
Brooklyn Ray is a tea connoisseur and an occult junkie. She writes queer speculative fiction layered with magic, rituals and found families.